The first thing she was aware of was the steady beep…beeep…beeep of the vitals monitor. Dhalre struggled to open her eyes, momentarily blinded by fluorescent overhead lights, fixed in a white tiled ceiling. She blinked furiously, trying to clear her vision. The room began to come into focus. Definitely a hospital room, she decided. She looked down and noticed the red glowing pulse oximeter attached to her index finger, and IV tube protruding from her right arm. Memories came rushing back in flashes.
Last she could remember it was Tuesday May 5, and her 50th birthday. She’d woken up with this twisting feeling in her gut that something wasn’t right, like something horrible was about to happen. She’d never cared for birthdays, she convinced herself that the terrible thing was just turning half a century old. Not to mention the obligatory social interactions she would have to endure tonight at the unnecessarily extravagant party her wife was throwing for her. In-laws, mom, dad and step-dad, all together…in the same room. So far the bad feeling didn’t seem out of place. Unfortunately she’d always had an irritatingly accurate and persistent intuition, and it was telling her that the horror was bigger than unbearable in-laws and social overstimulation.
It had happened more times than she could remember; that feeling of knowing something was about to happen before it did. Once, she’d called her mom to tell her to check up on grandma. An hour later, her grandmother suffered a stroke. There was another time when her sister was pregnant. The baby wasn’t due for 6 weeks; but one night while sitting on the couch reading, Dhalre had a sudden feeling that her sister needed her. After calling a few times, with no answer, Dhalre jumped off the couch. She drove the hour and thirty minute drive to her sister’s in forty-five minutes, in her robe and slippers. Learie, her sister, went into labor forty minutes later. Learie’s husband had been away for the weekend on business and Learie had slept through all of Dhalre’s calls. God only knows how it would have gone if she hadn’t shown up, only that Learie would have been alone and woken up by labor pains instead of a frantic pounding at the door.
“Focus D! What else do you remember about that day? Oh right, feelings of looming disaster.” The strange thing was, on the morning of her birthday the feeling didn’t come with an urge, or particular direction to go with. Usually her intuition led her to an action. A sudden thought of calling someone or going somewhere.
This time, the only thought coming to mind was “Something is going to happen!” Instead of waiting for her family to call and wish her happy birthday, Dhalre decided to call and check in with everyone she could think of. First she called Xasha, her wife, who was already out getting things together for the party.
“Hey Hon, what’s up? Did you find my happy birthday note in the kitchen? Everything OK?” Xasha answered with enthusiasm and a hint of concern. They didn’t talk over the phone very often. They both preferred to communicate through text when they weren’t together, unless it was something urgent.
“Hey Baby. Everything is good. Just wanted to check in and make sure you’re doing OK. Haven’t found your note yet. Just woke up, haven’t even made it out of bed.” Dhalre replied, relaxing a little at the sound of her wife’s voice.
“All is good over here, love. I’m just making sure the doves can breathe inside of the cake, and that the strippers have the right address.” said Xasha teasingly.
“There better be exactly 50 doves and 50 strippers or I’m walking out.” Dhalre said, matching her teasing tone.
“You got it babe. I won’t let you down.”
At the end of the call, Dhalre felt better, but still not right. She called her mom, sister, and even her dad, who she normally only spoke to on holidays. They’d all wished her happy birthday and told her they were looking forward to her party tonight. Four phone calls later, she decided that everyone was fine, but the gut feeling had hardly subsided.
The door of the hospital room swung open. A short, tan woman, wearing scrubs covered in sunglasses and palm trees, walked in carrying a fresh bag of fluids for the IV.
“Ah you’re awake” she said without a hint of surprise. “Good. I’m Theodora, one of your AIDES. You can call me Theo. We need to talk to you.”
“W-w-” Dhalre cleared her throat loudly “We?” She responded, struggling to find her voice. She looked around the room that was empty, besides the two of them, and raised her eyebrows at Theo.
“Yes, the All of us.” replied Theo without expression, as though this was supposed to help Dhalre understand.
Theo looked at Dhalre’s still confused face, “OK lets start from the beginning. Can you tell me your name, where you live and where you’re from?”
“Dhalre Dennis Winezor, D for short. I live in Valencia, Spain, born in Rota.”
Dillan woke to the sound of her alarm. 5:55 a.m. The same time she got up every day, Monday through Friday. She reached over and silenced the alarm. She sat up, rubbed the sleep from her eyes, and looked over at the sleeping figure lying next to her. She and Rachelle had been together for four years now. They’d met during Dillan’s last year of law school. Two promotions and a penthouse with a Chicago River view later, Dillian was still crazy about her. She leaned over, gently kissed Rachelle on the forehead before standing up and heading to the bathroom.
Dillan was a rather habitual creature. She carried out her morning routine without a second thought, every motion automatic. Teeth brushed, 10 minute morning yoga, 30 minute Peloton, shower, grab a yogurt, coffee and out the door. Only today, when she went into the kitchen for her breakfast, she noticed the clock on the stove still read 5:55 a.m. “Strange” she thought. She stepped in the living room to check the analog clock hanging on the wall. 5:55 a.m. “Ok super strange”. Pulling her phone from her pocket, she looked at the screen for the first time since the alarm had gone off. Still, 5:55 a.m. A hard twist of unease set in her stomach. Normally she had no need to check the time until she was at the train station, as the train’s punctuality was commonly unreliable, Dillan’s however, was not. Her morning routine was so practiced that her body automatically knew how much time she had to complete each task.
Dillan walked briskly back to the bedroom and quietly picked up Rachelle’s phone, pushing the side button to light up the screen. 5:55 a.m. Something was definitely wrong. Squelching down her panic, she walked out the door and made her way down Clarke St. toward the train station. No matter what time it actually was, it was certainly time for her to get to work, hopefully it wasn’t too late. She’d never been late to work before and she didn’t plan to now just because the satellites were having a meltdown or something. Whatever was going on, she still had bills to pay. The walk to the ‘L’ was also strange. It felt like everyone she passed was looking right through her. She’d tried to ask the time from a man staring at his phone, waiting to cross the street. Before she finished speaking; the light changed and he crossed without a word, never lifting his face from his phone.
The train felt even more invisible. But still, something about this morning was all off and the squelched panic was beginning to creep back up. Two stops before her’s at Millenium Station; a woman in a long, flowing purple dress, green head scarf, and too many metal bracelets on each wrist boarded the train. Looking every bit the psychic, gypsy, fortune teller lady from any cliche you know, the woman glided over and stood next to Dillan.
Then two things happened for the first time that day, the woman looked Dillan in
the eyes and spoke to her. “We need to talk to you”.
“Excuse me”? said Dillan.
“We need to talk to you”, the Lady said again.
“We”? Dillan asked again. Raising an eyebrow, looking around for other psychic gypsy ladies, or anyone else who seemed to be noticing her existence today.
“We All”, Mrs. Mystic said in response.
“Who is, We All?” asked Dillan mockingly.
“The All of us” said Professor Trelawney. Looking up and motioning her braceleted hand in a slow circular motion.
“I see” replied Dillan, accepting that this day could only get weirder. “Well I’d really love to talk to All of you, but my stop is coming up and I’m pretty sure I’m already late for…” she paused midthought and considered her chances for a helpful answer, “...actually, you don’t happen to know what time it is, do you?”
As she had anticipated, the answer she got was as odd as the rest of her morning had been. “There is no time” Bracelets replied, “there is only the All and All is timeless”.
“Got it,” Dillian replied disappointedly, as the automated train voice announced ‘Millenium Station’. She smiled awkwardly at Madam Tallula and stepped off the train, half expecting to see a purple dress and green head scarf trailing behind her. Dillan took another invisible walk to her office building. As she approached the building’s revolving doors she noticed a middle aged, stout, balding man in a business suit sitting on one of the benches just outside the entrance. He was smoking a cigarette, looking at his phone. She recognized him, she’d seen him here and there on the train to work. She was fairly certain that he didn’t work in the building, and definitely not in her office. For the second time today, Dillan found herself being looked at.
As she neared, the man stood, smiled, and said “Happy Birthday Dillan”. It was her birthday. She’d almost forgotten. The day had been too bizarre for her to have time to think about turning 35. How had this stranger remembered her birthday and she hadn’t? She honestly didn’t even want to know. All she wanted to do was go to her office and bury her face in Mr. Rich Man’s files.
“Thank you…I’m sorry but how did you know it was my bir…”She cut herself off “How did you know my name?”
He let out a sort of chuckle under his breath, “Not the oddest thing to happen to you yet today I imagine, hmm?”
“Well if we’re being honest with one another, not really” Dillan remarked.
“We need to talk to you”, he said flatly.
“Not this again” she thought, but replied “Who is We?”
“The All” replied Wallace Shawn’s doppelganger.
“Listen man, I don’t know what’s going on here, but all I want to do is get to work.” She replied exasperatedly.
“Well I’ll wait around for a bit in case you decide to change your mind”, he said with a kind of knowing look on his face.
Without a glance, Dillan stepped into the revolving doors and pushed her way inside. Finding a sense of relief and security inside the marbled structure. That was, until she noticed the digital clock hanging in it’s usual spot in the main entrance lobby. 5:55 a.m.
“WHAT FUCKING TIME IS IT?!” Dillan screamed at the top of her lungs in the middle of a bustling, crowded lobby. Nobody flinched. No one turned or batted an eye, or so much as glanced in her general direction.
“HELLLOOO!!” Dillan screamed again, waving her arms frantically back and forth in the air. Nothing.
“Shit.” Dillan turned, defeatedly, back towards the revolving door through which she’d come. He was still on the bench, smoking. “Alright man. You got me. I give. What the actual fuck is going on?”
He smirked from behind the screen of his cellphone. “I had a feeling you’d come around” said Vizzini, smugly. “My name is Raezinn..”
“Like the dried grape?”, she cut him off.
“Yes like the grape, but with more letters”, he replied without emotion, as though he’d answered the question many times before. “I am going to explain this to you as quickly and uncomplicatedly as possible. You are a part of a research program, consisting of roughly 50,000 participants, developed on a planet called Alltheria.”
“Uh-huh?” Dillan replied with an expression that oozed distrust and sarcasm.
“We haven’t the language, or the time to fully explain it here, but Alltheria is a planet which consists of beings made purely of light and consciousness. You are familiar with the electromagnetic spectrum, yes? Light waves? UV rays, X-rays, gamma rays, infrared, and the sort?” Dillan nodded. “Well imagine those waves basically taking form and walking around the planet. That is the best way to describe life on Alltheria. Only the waves have a consciousness and are connected to each other, via a sort of conscious network called the Allther, or the All for short. There is little sense of individuality, no audible communication, only an awareness of each other's needs and desires. There is no tangible matter, no touch, smell or sound. You were sent to Earth with a group of voluntary researchers, scattered all over the planet, set with specific directives and allotments of time, in an attempt to collect data, in efforts to artificially recreate the human senses.”
“Uh-huh. And how does that explain the clocks stopping at 5:55?” Dillan asked challengingly.
“There is no concept of time on Alltheria. 5:55 a.m, May 5, 2020 is when you were “born” on Earth, and at the time of your directive’s expiration, in this case 35 years later, it is the last time that your ‘mind’ is able to process the concept of time. I am here today to offer you a choice. You may stay on Earth as Dillan or return to Alltheria to relay the data and continue the research. Should you choose to stay, you will be required to become one of the AIDES.”
“Alltherian Initiative and Directive Enlisted Supervision. Remember the woman on the ‘L’?”
“Vividly” replied Dillan.
“Well those who choose to stay, are given the task of ensuring that other researchers stay on course to achieving their directive. Often they are instructed to be mentors, teachers, bosses, ‘psychics’ that an unknowing researcher will be drawn to, who help guide them towards their directive.”
“And the invisibility?” Dillan raised her eyebrows.
“Yes. Well the de-assimilation process is very delicate. We have found that if we allow full memories and directives from the Allther to come back all at once, or send the researcher to Earth with memories of Alltheria, they can lose touch. They get lost somewhere between the reality of Earth and Alltheria. As we speak, your body on Earth is dead. The reality you are experiencing is merging into your existence on Altheria.”
“So what you’re telling me is I’m an alien?” she asked hesitantly.
“Ultimately yes. On Alltheria there is no sensation, no physical body. If you were to stand up and walk out of this room right now, no one would see you or hear you. Your physical body would remain in this hospital bed, although you would perceive yourself to be walking and experiencing all of your senses. Your mental perception of Earth has not yet caught up to that of the Allther.” Theo explained.
“Are you telling me that I’m dead right now?” D asked, her voice breaking.
“Your earthly body is dying, yes. Your body expired, at the time appointed in your directive, 50 years after initiation. To the human world, you’ve suffered a brain aneurysm. Your neighbor, stopping by to wish you happy birthday, found you on the floor of your apartment. You now have two choices. I must warn you though that remaining on Earth comes with certain risks.”
“What kind of risks?” D asked, hesitant to hear the answer.
“Should you choose to stay, you will almost certainly not be the same. Your realities will have merged and there is a likely chance that you will experience Earth in an entirely different way. ”
“You’re saying I would become like ‘Professor Trelawney’ on the train?”
“There is that possibility, yes.” Reazinn replied. “It’s not like that for all of us. I was a researcher once, and offered the same choice. Some of us take the transition more seamlessly, but it's not guaranteed. There are also those of us that transition more gradually. The ‘Trelawney’ you speak of may be freshly merged and may ease back into society after more practice. That is not to say that there are not those of us who remain more maladjusted, or worse. Some lose touch with reality on Earth all together. So called “schizophrenics, delusionals, often Alltherians who could not withstand the merging process.”
“ Well Grapes, looks like I'll have to get some metal bracelets and head scarfs. I’m not ready to go yet.”
Raezinn looked at her, unamused by the nickname. “You’re sure?” he asked.
“Alright then. Happy merging.” He shook her and she found herself back on her bed, looking down at Rachelle.
“So it’s either leave my loved ones forever, or stay past my ‘allotted time’ and risk losing touch with reality altogether?”
Theo replied, “In the simplest terms, yes.”
“Can I say goodbye?” asked D.
With a solemn expression Theo said, “Unfortunately it’s too late for that. The de-assimilation process has already begun. I’m sorry.”
“Well, I’ve lived half a century full of love, laughs and joy.” said Dhalre, a mix of nostalgia and resolve on her face. “I guess it’s off to the Allther.”