First, there's the light, like a thousand flashbulbs all going off at once, then the skidding as I panic, try to steer away from the light, the car losing control and nailing the guardrail, then the screaming of metal as the car goes over, tumbling, rolling, crashing, finally coming to a stop, me hanging upside down, held in place by my seatbelt.
I feel horrible stuff going on all over my body. That was a shit-kicking if I ever had one, and I've had plenty. And yet, I have the feeling that the worst is yet to come. The car gives a little jerk, as if to reinforce that thought. Okay, I have to get out of this car, but the ceiling doesn't look like all that pleasant a place to land and I'm not sure if I have the strength or mobility to cushion my fall.
Fortunately, the steering wheel air bag has deployed, which gives me something to hold onto. I grab it with one arm, release the seat belt buckle clip and lunge for the air bag with the other arm, getting a good grip just as I start to fall. It kinda works. I manage to get my legs swung out from under the steering wheel and sort of ooze my way sideways onto the ceiling. It's not easy to get oriented. There is some light filtering down from the highway above, but it's dark in the vehicle and I can barely make out where the doors are. Eventually I find the handle and let myself out.
Now, the real work begins. I need to get out of this gully. It's impossible to see the bottom, assuming there is one, but the lights from the highway make the way up partly visible, yet seemingly impossible. It's hard to tell how or why the car even stopped where it did. It looks like there is, not a path, but certainly a way that I can move up ten feet or so, so I do. As I get going, it's not all that bad, especially after what I've just been through. The path seems to reveal itself a little at a time and after some serious effort I can hear traffic.
Eventually I pull myself up over the edge and end up about a hundred yards past where the car went over. I can see the hole in the railing. What I can't see are emergency vehicles. Surely someone saw me go over. Whoever or whatever shone that light at me did. The fact that the authorities weren't notified sends a chill up my spine.
I no sooner have that thought than flashing lights come on behind me. A car has crossed over from the other direction and is slowing down as it gets to me. But it's not like any cop car I've ever seen. More military. And very stealthy. The car stops and a masked officer gets out in a uniform unfamiliar to me, the lights from his car as well as his flashlight in my eyes.
"Mind telling me who the hell you are, and why you're out on this highway, alone, dressed like that, at this time of night?"
"Brewster," I say. "Hardow Brewster. I'm out here dressed like I am because I just went over the railing in my car and then climbed out of the gully. Look at the fence. You can see where my car went over."
The officer shines his light vaguely in the direction of the scene of the crash.
"Maybe it did and maybe it didn't. Nothing to see in the dark. That would have to be substantiated in the daylight. You got ID? Let me see your papers."
I fumble around in my pockets. There's nothing. I wasn't even thinking about it. Everything must have fallen out with all the rolling. Who thinks of things like that when they're fighting for their life?
"I'm sorry," I say, "I must have lost everything in the crash. Everything I tell you can easily be verified. I'm a Detective Sargent in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, on loan to your State Police. I specialize in investment fraud."
"Uh, huh. Well, Mr. verifiable Police-man for sure from wherever, I think your whole story is bullshit. Lean up against the car."
I lean up against the car and he searches me pretty good, puts handcuffs on me, and pushes me roughly into the backseat. I ask about a seatbelt and I think for a moment that he's going to give me a backhand, but he closes my door, gets in his own and swings the vehicle around, lights still flashing, then guns it down the highway. There's little traffic, so he's really going. He looks in his mirror at me.
"Brewster, what kinda name's that?"
I try not to look directly at him in the mirror as I talk.
"I don't know what kind of name Brewster is. My folks didn't really go into family history much."
"I'll bet they didn't. I'll bet they did their best to cover a lot of things up, didn't they? I bet you got all kindsa shit going on in you. But that's alright. We'll get you tested when we get back to HQ. Tell me more about this, what did you call it? Royal something or other?"
He's gotta be joking. How can he not know this? This time I look at him directly in the mirror.
"Are you being serious? You don't know of the RCMP? They're the national Police force of Canada. What part of what force are you with?"
"I think you better watch your mouth, mister serious mysterious national police force guy. I ask the questions here. Are you going to tell me I don't have the right to tell you I've never heard of your national police force? I think you're just another bullshit scam artist from the back-lands who's trying to scheme his way into the pure-zone. I think you got so many problems in your code that you don't even know or care who your ancestors are, what kinds of immunities you have, what kind of devastation you could bring into our world. But, we care. I care. It's my job to intercept and investigate persons such as yourself. See, there's always the possibility that you actually are one of us, that you did go over the edge in a car and got hit in the head and have lost your sanity and that's where the bullshit story comes from. So, I'll have you checked out and then it's simple. You either stay, or you go."
"What did I just tell you about asking questions? I guarantee you, if I have to stop this car because of your questions, you're not going to like it."
I shut my mouth. Before long we arrive at a Police barracks and the cop pulls up in front of the main building, gets out, hauls me out and takes me into a spartan, military-style bunker. I'm taken into a room, where other masked officers take photographs and blood samples, then put me in a holding cell where my handcuffs are finally removed. The door is closed and I turn to see a bunk with some sheets, blankets and a pillow. There's a stainless-steel unit that has a mirror, wash basin and toilet. There's a knock at the door and I turn to find someone is pushing a tray through a slot. There's some food and a container of milk. I take the tray and eat like there's no tomorrow. The way things are going, there may not be.
When I'm done eating there's another knock and someone asks for the tray. I pass it back through the slot and another tray comes in with some tooth paste and a brush. When I go to take the tray, I'm told to just take the items, so I do and go brush my teeth, kick my shoes off, then lay down on the bunk. Out of sheer physical exhaustion, I fall asleep immediately.
They must have turned the lights right down at some point because I remember waking up once or twice in the semi-darkness to have a pee. All in all, I have a powerful sleep and I'm just waking up when the lights come up and there's another knock at the door. This time it's opened and the same officer who picked me up signals for me to follow him. I get up, throw my shoes on and head out.
We walk down a couple of hallways. He stops at a door like all the rest, knocks, then enters, beckoning me to follow. When I'm in, I see an older, unmasked man coming around a desk. He nods to the officer who brought me in, who turns and leaves. The older man then comes to me, shakes my hand and leads me over to a couple of easy chairs on the other side of the room. I sit in one chair and him in the other. There's a table with a thermos on it and two cups. He pours me a cup of coffee. It smells delicious. I add some sugar and cream and have a sip. It is delicious.
"Well, well, Mr. Brewster. That is your correct name, I hope. Hardow Brewster? That's an unusual name. I've never heard it before. The officer who brought you in was under the impression that you were from a Royal family. Is this true? We've looked at your genome. It's very unusual. Royalty could explain a lot."
A royal family? My genome? Who am I dealing with here? "No, sir, not from a Royal family. I work for an organization known as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I'm a detective. I'm on loan from that organization to your State. Or, at least, that's what I believed yesterday. Now I'm not so sure. Would it be impolite of me to ask what State I'm in? Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere."
"A wrong turn? Maybe. You say you were involved in an auto accident. We have investigated the area and there definitely was a crash there. I went down personally with an investigative crew. There was technology used in that vehicle that is foreign to us. We have a good life here in the pure-zone, Mr. Brewster. Change, especially in the form of technology, is not welcome. We pushed the car off the ledge it was sitting on. It will eventually be reabsorbed back into the earth. As will you and I."
Technology that is foreign to us. I guess, now that I think about it, the vehicle I rode in was awfully quiet. I ask him whether it was electric.
"Well, of course, Mr. Brewster. All of our energy here is either electric, or, in some cases, vegetable oil, which we will burn in lamps when electricity is not abundant. It comes and goes, you know. Like the tides and the winds. We live by the natural cycles, Mr. Brewster. But, let's get back to you. Who you are? Where you are from? What you are doing here?"
I think about this for a bit, because I have the feeling an awful lot depends on my answer.
"Well, everything I've said is true. Or, at least, it was yesterday. But something has happened that has made it all not true. Or some of it anyway. I mean, we're speaking the same language I was speaking yesterday, but something has happened. A whole bunch of things are different. Maybe it was that light that blinded me and forced me off the road. Did I travel in time or to another dimension or something? I don't know what else to say."
He gets up and shakes my hand again. "Very well put, Mr. Brewster. My name is 471B." He laughs. "You're cringing. I'll bet, for you, a great deal is set by a person's name. It is here too, but probably not in the way you think. I can call myself Hardow Brewster or anything else if I want and no one will mind, but my actual name, 471B, once you understand, tells you everything you need to know about me. Please, come for a walk with me. I think that will clear up a lot of your questions."
We go down a hallway, out onto a gravel path, through a screen of trees and into a community. There's only one way to describe it and that's 'green'. Everything is green. Lots of trees. And everywhere I look, there's a garden. Houses don't have lawns, they have gardens. I see rows of corn, twined with beans and bordered by squash, in the Native way, what they called 'the three sisters'. Some yards seem to specialize in this mixture alone, while others have more variety or specialize in some other crop. Off in the distance, I see wind-powered generators and most of the houses have reflectors on the roofs with tubing, apparently to heat water, running under the reflectors. There are people about, either tending their gardens or socializing. I turn to 471B, or Billy, as I think of him.
"This is amazing. I've never seen anything like it."
"Yes, I suspected you might say that. Wherever or whenever you come from, Mr. Brewster, I get the feeling there are some serious flaws in what goes on. You talk about being a detective. We have no detectives. There are officers, like the one who brought you in, patrolling our borders, but within, we have no need for things like that."
I shake my head and look back at the scene of tranquility in front of me, then turn back to Billy.
"So, what do I do? More importantly, what are you going to do with me? I obviously don't belong here but I don't belong out there either. Whatever is out there, it can't be what I left."
At that point, several of the people from the settlement are pointing, saying 'it's him, it's him'. They come over and seem very obsequious, calling me by my name, complimenting me on my outfit and inviting me over to visit. I don't know what to make of it. Billy eventually waves them off.
"Mr. Brewster, your present us with a unique opportunity, something we have wished for and even prayed for. You see, wherever you came from has altered your genetic code in a way that we have never seen before. You carry immunity to diseases we've only had cursory and unpleasant contact with. And your basic genetic code is incredibly pure. Purer than anyone now living in the pure-zone. In a way, you're more us than we are."
He laughs. I don't know what to say.
"We want you to stay, Mr. Brewster. We want you to become one of us, and share your beautiful code. We want you to donate blood on a regular basis, and to mate with a number of our single females. You could bring great things to the pure-zone. Naturally, you could live as you please. If you want a house of your own, that's no problem. Or you can move in with a family if you find one you like. You can keep a garden yourself or the community will look after you."
I look at him disbelievingly. Is this even possible? A free home? Food? Women? There must be a catch. I look over at the people gathering in a crowd over at one of the houses, staring and waving at me, some very attractive females giving me very seductive smiles.
Then it dawns on me.
They think I'm their goddam messiah.