The Future is Now, Part One
by Casie Blevins
Words: 3489 (half now)
Ben Burton was the kind of guy you could rely on, a real standup guy. A go getter. With his winning smile, charming nature, and commanding presence people couldn’t help but notice him. They were drawn to him, moths to his bright flame.
He was first in his class at Princeton, good old class of 1947, had had his choice of women on campus and off and had his pick of job offers after graduation.
He’d only considered one, with NASA. He’d worked there now for twelve years, really put his time in and paid his dues. He’d excelled in all aspects of the job, and advanced through the ranks. He was in good health, physically prime at 35 years of age.
And yet, when NASA prepared to send a team into space, Ben Burton was not on the list.
He wasn’t even in the running.
Johnny Wendig came from a privileged background. The Wendigs were an old New England family and Johnny had grown up in the best schools with the best opportunities offered to him. He had small lips and bushy eyebrows and was no one’s idea of handsome but he had never hurt for female companionship. He was 42, as yet unmarried, and had bludgeoned his way onto the staff at NASA through family connections and a muleish can do attitude after spending a few lackluster years at Harvard. He was smart, but scattered, unreliable but entrenched in office politics. He was a solid figure with thick muscular arms and untamed chest hair. He worked just hard enough to make an impression with the other staff but never put himself out there.
Still, he should have been a solid option for NASA’s space team, but his name was not on the list.
Franklin Pulliam was a slight man who had worn glasses ever since he was eight years old. He never stood out being both small in stature and small in voice. He could often be found chewing his lip, his attention turned inward. At times it would take a few words to engage his attention. He was a genius in his field, remarkable in his predictions and invaluable at NASA who had recruited him out of high school. He was twenty-eight years old, virtually unknown to women, and an absolute shoo in for NASA’s space team.
He wasn’t on the list either.
Last but not least was Ivan Kratowsky. Ivan spoke at least three languages, though was hardly heard speaking one had graduated at the top of his class somewhere outside of the country. He was most often buried in books, working in his office, solving or postulating some theorem that had been put to him. He had been married seven years and had three kids at home.
Although not for the top of the list, Ivan should at least have been considered for NASA’s space team.
He was, however, transferred to a new department, the newly appointed Interdimensional Space Operative, or ISO for short. His first day was Monday and he arrived exactly on time, a book tucked under one arm and a pen and notepad in the other. he’d received his transfer letter on Friday, had read it once, then set it down until after lunch. He hadn’t questioned it, he went wherever NASA chose, and he was used to being shuffled around to wherever NASA required him.
The room had nine chairs around an oval table and Ivan sat at one of them and waited. There was nothing on the walls to distract him, or inform him so he opened his book to his last read page and began sifting through its mathematical contents.
He was soon joined by Franklin and Ben Burton, who likewise sat around him, then lastly by Johnny Wendig who was a few minutes late.
Once assembled, they sat looking at one another, not speaking, just curious. They knew of each other, after all, NASA wasn’t a big place, but none were well enough acquainted to make chitchat worth the effort.
Johnny cleared his throat, looked at his watch and grimaced. He had a lunch date with Miss Betty Robin and he wanted a shower beforehand. How long would his meeting take?
Suddenly, panelling at the back of the room, slid aside and a gray suited stern-faced woman stepped into sight.
“Gentlemen,” she said, nodding to each of them. “Welcome to ISO.”
They each looked at her expectantly but none spoke. She continued to stand before them, looking each in the eye intently.
Finally, Franklin mumbled, “Thank you.”
Johnny stood up. “Honey, before your boss gets here can we get some coffee and a couple of sandwiches?”
The others remained seated but all nodded their heads. The woman gave him a stony glance and a sigh, then returned her attention to the rest of the group.
Undeterred, Johnny continued “Who’s the big man, anyways? I’ve never heard of an ISO division before. Is this Kip Parkins outfit?”
“You are waiting at my pleasure, gentlemen,” she said.
“And who the hell are you?”
She smiled, just a small smile. It was miles from reaching her eyes. “I am Katarina Graham. Chief of ISO, and your boss.”
Shocked silence thundered inside the room.
“A woman? You can’t be serious?”
“Is this a damn joke?”
“I want to talk to your boss right now.”
She waited for the room to settle, until they had gotten all of their bluster and hubris out and then she stepped forward.
“Gentlemen, you have been chosen for a very important mission, a classified mission more important than NASA’s public goal of reaching the moon. The mission you will be undertaking is of utmost importance, and will forever alter the universe. At least our pocket of it,” she conceded.
Johnny sat down abruptly. “You can’t be serious!”
“Furthermore, you will not be leaving the earth, you will remain here, on Earth for the foreseeable and um, unforeseeable future. Your mission, gentlemen, will be as saviours of our mighty planet.”
“Woman, I am an astronaut trained and ready, not some damn thick-headed Marine–”
“You will address me as Chief Graham, Mr. Burton.”
Johnny stood up again, pointing a finger at her. “Now see here–”
“Settle down, Mr. Wendig.” Her tone offered no compromise.
Johnny sat down, winded, infuriated, speechless for once in his life.
“Now since we will be working over lunch I will send my secretary in to take your order.” then she left back out the panelling with the first genuine smile spread across her face.
A young man followed after, brightly greeting them and took their lunch order.
“Dominick Wheeling is my name, gentlemen. I’ll be your go between if you need to contact Chief Graham. Just call Dominick, I’m in the book.”
After he left Johnny walked listlessly around the room, his dalliance with Miss Betty Robin completely forgotten. “Chief Graham,” he muttered. “Who does she think she is?”
“It does seem an odd title. I’ve never heard of her before, have you?” Franklin said softly.
“Of course we’ve never heard of her,” Ben exclaimed. “There are no women in management here. This is NASA, for god’s sake!”
Ivan cleared his throat. “I’ve heard of her.” he said.
“What?” Ben asked.
“I said, I’ve heard of her. Katarina Graham. I’ve read some papers that she’s written. All theoretical stuff but–”
“Papers!” Johnny spat. “What is she, a scientist too?”
“Yes, her theories on time–” He was interrupted by the return of Dominick.
“Chief Graham will be in momentarily, gentlemen. She prefers to eat alone.”
“What is it with this Chief nonsense, Dominick? What are we all playing at Cowboys and Indians here?”
Dominick stopped setting out containers of food, and looked startled. “I always forget that you new guys don’t know.” He chuckled, emptying out the last bag and standing up straight. “ Chief Graham is Chief Graham because where we come from she is President.”
“President of what?” Ben asked.
“President of the United States, of course.” Then he slid back out of view through the panelling in the wall.
“I think someone is having a joke on us.” Franklin murmured.
“I think it’s much more involved than that.” Ivan said, smiling widely. “I think that you will be pleasantly surprised.” Then he set to eating.
In due time m they were joined by Chief Graham who had a smooth gray object in her hand. She held it out to them and they could see that one side was black and shiny.
“What’s that?” Ben asked sullenly.
“This gentlemen is going to change your world.” She tapped the shiny black side and it lit up. Without thinking about it the men scooted closer to get a better look.
“What is it?” Franklin asked. “Some kind of lighted picture?”
“We call it the A2 Tablet. It’s a computer, gentlemen.”
Ben and Johnny sat back stunned and incredulous. Ivan’s eyes widened appreciatively and franklin leaned closer still. “May I see it?” he asked quietly.
Chief Graham handed the tablet over. Franklin turned it over and over in his hands. “Where are the buttons?”
“It’s a touch screen. Just use your finger.”
Very gingerly he lifted one finger and as the rest of the men crowded around him he leaned forward and touched the screen. It changed instantly bringing up another picture and then to the amazement of the men, it began talking.
Franklin dropped the Tablet, and the others jumped back and gasped. The Tablet went silent.
“What kind of witchery is this?” Ben exclaimed looking for the first time at Chief Graham with fear in his eyes.
“As I’m sure you have by now surmised, gentlemen, I am from the future. A future that desperately needs you. A future that won’t exist without your help.”
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR THE CONCLUSION OF THIS STORY….