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Zoltan and the 31st Century

N.T. Finn


Copyright 2017 Nicole Finn

Published by Brunette Publishing at Smashwords




Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Dedication


This book is dedicated to my children, David, Josephine and Pierce, who are preparing me for the future.


Contents

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

About the Author


Chapter I

David Finn was not an ordinary boy. He seemed to be in trouble far more often than an ordinary boy, and for many more reasons. David himself felt that this was due solely to the fact that there were simply too many rules for him to keep tabs on. Every time he turned around, it seemed that a new rule sprang up out of nowhere, usually after he had broken it. There was no safe place to turn, either. School had a million rules; home had a million and one of them, and they were all different. Not only were the rules different everywhere you went, but they were constantly changing. So, David just resigned himself to being in trouble with someone all of the time; or totally grounded some of the time; or on the very brink of breaking some new rule at any other time. That way, he didn’t need to put himself through the trauma or shock of finding himself in trouble when he had quite innocently thought that he was obeying every rule and doing everything he could think of to stay out of trouble. Staying out of trouble was not possible. He had accepted that.

At school, the problem seemed to stem from the teachers’ wholly unrealistic expectation that a child of 10 or 11 – or any age – could make it through a lesson without speaking to his fellow students. If they didn’t want us to speak, thought David, why don’t they just let us sleep? When he put this notion to his mother, she shook her head.

Wouldn’t work,” she advised. “You talk in your sleep, too, Davo.”

At other times, David was just trying to be helpful, assisting other students with work they couldn’t manage on their own. Was he supposed to use sign language? Was he supposed to ignore the pleas for help from his classmates? Would that be kind? David was confused. It seemed that you were supposed to help others and treat them as you would like to be treated, but not in school. School was cutthroat. It was every kid for himself. If you didn’t know how to do something, you had to ask the teacher for help, which was the same thing as telling her that you hadn’t been listening when she had explained it to the class a few minutes before, and who wanted to do that? Teachers said that they wanted you to do well in school, but David didn’t think so. What they really wanted to do was keep a record of what you did and didn’t do; what you did and didn’t say, or write. They wrote it all down, and turned the words into numbers, and that was your report. Then you were in trouble all over again.

That was school. Home was, if possible, even worse. At least at school, the teachers were required by law to keep a lid on their personal emotions. Parents were not required to follow the same standards of professionalism, and often displayed emotions that their children would much prefer that they kept to themselves. At David’s place, his younger brother and sister seemed to demand, and get, more than their fair share of his parent’s attention, and by the time they got to David, they were tired and cranky. Also, just because he was six years older than the next child, he was supposed to be able to do everything for himself, even keep his own room tidy!!! The younger ones didn’t have to do anything for themselves. In fact, David had to help clean up after them! The most annoying part of it all was that since Mum said she did not want to have any more babies, David knew that when the little ones were his age, they wouldn’t have to clean up after anyone but themselves.

Of course, Mum saw things differently. “You had me to yourself for six years, Davo. These two never had me to themselves. They’ve always had to share me with you, and then each other. Think about all the cool things we did before they came along! Six whole years! They will never have that.”

David was consoled by this thought. He had enjoyed having his mother all to himself, except when she was at work, of course. And with the babies came a whole new set of rules. Instead of being the little darling of the house, David was suddenly the Big Brother. The whole house became the domain of the babies. David couldn’t even bring certain toys into the house, because the babies might choke on them, or hurt themselves in some other way. And while David had to do everything quietly for fear of waking them up, the babies could – and did – scream their heads off wherever and whenever they liked. Not fair!! They could make a mess, and he had to clean it up. And just because they needed total quiet to go to sleep at night, David had to go to bed, too! He had an earlier bedtime than any of his friends – it was so unfair.

Don’t think your bedtime is for their benefit, Davo,” his mother explained to him. “Your bedtime – and theirs – is totally and exclusively for my benefit, and I thank you for it, darling!” Mum thought she was so funny.

Actually, when David went to bed, he was asleep in about three seconds, and could barely wake up in time to have breakfast before the school bus arrived. Mum knew that, and David knew it too, but it didn’t change the fact that his life was a map of rules, laws and timetables that he could barely remember, let alone perform in the required order. He had to get out of bed at the same time every day, get dressed, make his bed, eat breakfast, brush his teeth, get the bus, work all day at school, come home, do his homework, play with his brother and sister till dinner time, have dinner, play after dinner for a while, tidy the playroom, have his shower, got to bed, read for half an hour, and lights out at the same time every night. If he didn’t do all these things every single day, he would lose some pocket money that week.

But David had his own dreams. Not sleep dreams – awake dreams. He dreamt that he could fly, without an aeroplane or any equipment at all – just fly, like a bird. It was his favorite dream. He also liked to just think about things in his head. Things that had happened, or might happen – anything at all. His thoughts and dreams were all his own, and he could forget where he was and feel like he was somewhere else entirely, just by letting his thoughts go rambling where ever they wanted to go. After a day of endless, mindless, meaningless rules, which changed constantly and made no sense at all to David, this was a very relaxing way to spend some time. It was, of course, against the rules, so he had to choose his times carefully. He’d learned that the bus was not a good place to do this, because he might (did) miss his stop. Also, the bathroom at first appeared to be the perfect place to do this mental wandering, but it invoked the ‘no more than five minutes in the bathroom’ rule, and that wouldn’t do! So, it had to be in the back of the car while on a boring drive to a boring, non-toy carrying store, or while pretending to do homework, or something like that. Dream-time.

Reading was fun, too, especially if you had a really good book, like a Hardy Boys, or a Brian Jacques, or Harry Potter. Sometimes David would get into a story, and then dream about a different turn the plot might have taken, or a really clever comeback the hero could have said, but didn’t think of at the time. Adventure stories were his favorite, and Harry Potter his absolutely best ever all-time unbeatable favorite, but didn’t everyone think so? He just wished that the Harry Potter author would get on with it and write some more stories. Why the long, boring wait? What was he supposed to read in the meantime, and what was the author doing, anyway?

You should write a story,” his mother suggested. “You have a good imagination, and it would be enjoyable. You have your own computer on your desk in your room. You’d be putting it to better use than just playing games on it!” But writing a story was a lot of work, and what if no one liked it? Then you’d have wasted all that time that you could have spent relaxing and having fun playing computer games or reading – if you had anything good to read. Maybe he was just lazy. He would admit that. When he was a grown-up person, he’d have to go to work and he wouldn’t have any time to laze around and do nothing much. David wanted to use this time, now, doing as much lazing around as he possibly could, to make up for all the years and years of hard work that lay ahead of him.

I don’t want to grow up,” he told his parents. “I want to stay a kid, and live at home with you guys.” His parents didn’t take him seriously, though.

You are only eleven years old, David. A new century is here now. In ten or fifteen years’ time, the world will be a very different place, and you will be an adult! You will have your own life, your own plans – even your own money. You won’t want to be living with us! We will probably be lucky to see you, you’ll have so much going on!”

What did they mean? Were they trying to get rid of him? Nah – they loved him! Didn’t they want him to live with them when he was a man? He thought they’d be happy that he preferred them to ‘His Own Life’!

David’s mother had some idea that David had great things ahead of him. “You are one of the lucky ones, Davo. You have the kind of brain that can absorb knowledge easily, and you have a wonderful memory. You are healthy and handsome and you like people, and they like you. You go to a wonderful school, and your teachers work very hard to help you develop into the best student you can be. You have the maximum number of choices for your future – many more than most of us do. The only limitations you will come across will be those you impose on yourself. No one could ask for more.”

“More pocket money!” he said.

Pocket money!” laughed Mum.

And how was the world going to be different? David like it just the way it was, except for the rules. What did she mean – the world would be a different place?

Technology changes the way we do things,” Mum had said. “Computers, robotics, lasers – the way we transport things and ourselves, the way we communicate with one another, the way we solve health problems and other problems – technology changes the way we solve these problems. It doesn’t really change what we do, though. We still need to live in buildings with people we love and care for, and we still like to eat and watch each other on TV! The TV just gets fancier!”

David hoped Mum was right. But Mum didn’t know everything – in fact, Mum didn’t know a lot of stuff. What if the world became a totally different place in ten or fifteen years’ time and he really didn’t like it? The whole world wouldn’t just change back because David Finn wasn’t happy about the changes! He’d just have to get used to it. And then all the rules would change all over again. He could just see it. He knew his mother had a lot of experience, and even more opinions, but she had her way of looking at things, and David had his own point of view. Often, they looked at things the same way, but just as often they looked at things very differently. David thought his mother spoke about his future as though it was a book that only she had read, and only she knew how the story would end. She seemed so sure of things that to David seemed impossible to know or predict, and so non-committal on subjects he thought she should be more definite about. David suspected that she did that just to annoy him, especially when he wanted a straight answer to a perfectly simple question, and she went all hazy on him. But that was grown-ups: Totally contradictory most of the time.

Not Boy Scouts, though. Boy Scouts made a lot of sense. They gave you a handbook, and you started at the beginning, worked your way through to the end doing all the exercises, and received badges along the way as you completed task after task. The plan was laid out, the instructions clear, and your instructors had the experience and desire to help you succeed at your task. Every scout had his father or mother present at the meetings, and sometimes the whole family was invited. David’s mother accompanied him each week to the troop meeting. She said she enjoyed the time alone with him, and Dad enjoyed the time alone with his kids – the little ones – too.

David’s dad was his stepfather. When his mother and stepfather had first met, David had simply called him Jon. After they got married, he had started to call him ‘Dad’. David was just five years old. His mother laughed when David referred to it as ‘our wedding’. He liked getting married. He was glad when his mother had told him that he was going to have a new brother or sister, too. He hadn’t known how much trouble they were going to be. As it turned out, he got a new sister, and very soon after, a brother. Still, he liked having a normal family, with a mother, a father, a sister and a brother. He also liked being the oldest child, even though he complained about it. Sometimes you had to point out how unfair things were, otherwise no one noticed.

But being the oldest child in the family was the best spot to be in, no doubt about that. For one thing, there were no hand-me-downs, and all the things you got were brand new. Not that David minded wearing bigger boys’ cast-off clothes, provided that the bigger boy was someone cool. But some things were better when they were new, like bikes. When David had needed a new bike last Christmas, Dad had gone out and looked in all the bike stores and ended up getting David a Diamondback, 21-gear bicycle, in chrome and metallic blue. It was the coolest bike in the neighborhood, and it was brand new.

And then there were the bedrooms. His brother and sister, being just a year apart in age, shared a room. But David had his own room, because he was the oldest. They had to share a computer, too, while he had his own. Things like that certainly compensated for the inconvenient aspects of being the oldest child. His friends thought so, too.

One day, he and Hannah, Peter and Andrew had been walking home from school. They couldn’t decide whose house they wanted to stop at.

If we go to my house, Tim will be there,” Hannah said, referring to her older brother. “If Mum is home, we won’t want to be there.”
“Why?” asked David. “I like your mum. She always likes it when we come by.”
“It’s not us,” explained Hannah. “It’s Tim. We were away this weekend, and Tim stayed home, and had some of his college friends over, and they trashed the house. Mum is still upset over it.”
“What did they do?” Peter was instantly interested. The very thought of someone being in really big trouble was enough to make him salivate.

Oh, you know, they broke into the liquor cabinet and drank some special bottles of stuff. They threw stuff in the pool. But worst of all, someone was sick in my mum’s bed.”

How did your mum find out?” asked David. “Didn’t they clean it up?”

Hannah laughed. “Oh, sure! They washed the sheets, shampooed the mattress and the carpeting, then they bought a big bunch of flowers and put them on the bedside table.” She shook her head at David. “What do you think? We are talking about Tim, remember?”

OK, well we won’t go to your place.” David tried not to laugh at Hannah’s brother, just in case she really was upset about it.

If we go to my place,” said Peter, “my big brother will want to join in with us, but he won’t want to play. He’ll just want to wreck whatever we are doing, and we’ll end up having a big fight. I’d rather go to my place on a day when he is at swimming lessons, or something.”

They others nodded in agreement. “Let’s go to your place, David,” suggested Andrew.

“Why can’t we go to your place?” asked David.

“No one’s home,” answered Andrew.

“Perfect!” said Peter.

Yeah, but I’m not allowed to have people over. I even have to go next door and wait until they get home, which is better than going to my sister’s boring basketball games. So, how about your place?”

David shrugged. “I suppose we can,” he said, “but don’t forget I’ve got a little brother and sister. We’ll have to put up with them hanging around.”

“They’re cute!” said Hannah.

OK, then – my place it is. If they get too pesky, we’ll just go up to my room and play on my computer.”

His friends didn’t really like their older brothers and sisters. Hannah thought her big brother was nothing but a troublemaker. Peter’s big brother always tried to blame Peter when he did anything wrong, and Andrew’s big sister played so much sport that he couldn’t do anything at all on the weekends except watch her playing in some dumb tournament. He said it was so boring you wouldn’t believe it.


*

Chapter II

It was one of those late September afternoons – sunny, cheerfully bright, and warm. The only thing to spoil the day was the last lesson before the bell – strings.

David didn’t really mind learning the violin, it was the teacher he objected to, and he wasn’t the only one. “Here she comes,” hissed Peter. Hannah nudged David and pulled a really gruesome face while scratching her side in an exaggerated way. David tried not to laugh. This was not a good way to begin the lesson. Even though Mrs. Craddock was very stern and quite ugly, there was something comical about her mannerisms and facial expressions. She was about sixty years old, and wore her black and gray (salt and pepper, David’s mum called it) hair in a big coil at the back of her head. For some reason, she wore black eye shadow all around her eyes, which made her look like a witch who hadn’t had enough sleep. She didn’t wear glasses like normal old people, but a monocle which magnified one of her eyes enormously. Her dresses seemed to be made out of curtain material, with the petticoat showing at the back. She always wore dangley earrings, and gold rings on her fingers, usually holding gemstones that were so large you doubted that they could be real. The funniest thing about her, though, was that she repeatedly scratched the back of her hip – just above the rump. Possibly she wasn’t aware of her habit, or perhaps she thought no one noticed, but sometimes it was simply too much for her class and they fell into uncontrollable laughter. Trying to retain a serious frame of mind was part of the challenge, because just watching the teacher brought on funny thoughts, followed by -

David Finn, have you been paying attention? Here we are, on the eve of the twenty first century, about to perform for the entire county, and I still have students who will not follow a simple instruction!” Bits of spit were flying out of her mouth as she roared at David. Now she was coming towards him, brandishing her conductor’s baton, which David noticed was held together with a rubber band and what looked like a drinking straw. She was using the baton to emphasize her words, but the closer she came, the more certain David was that she would lose control of the thing, and it would be flung from her bony hands and hit him right in the face. Instead, the rubber band came loose from the baton, projecting the drinking straw onto Mrs Craddock’s face, flicking the monocle off her eye and sending it flying into the air. David watched the monocle spin up, up into the air, seemingly in slow motion. Would it ever come down?

Then, all of a sudden, the entire scene changed. Gone were Mrs. Craddock, the other students – even the classroom. Now he was standing in an open field, holding not his violin but a baseball bat, and a very fast pitch was coming, aimed right at his face. Before he could even think, David automatically stepped forward and slammed his baseball bat into that ball as hard as he could. There was a split second of silence as the ball sailed farther and higher through the air, and then cheering as it continued to travel right out of the field. The fielding team shook their heads, but David’s team was screaming, and they screamed at him as he stood there, in shock.

Run! Run!” they were shouting. David faltered in confusion, then ran the full circuit back home. His team ran up to him.

Zoltan! Way to go, Zolt!”

“That was good!”

Hey, Zolt – what have you been saving it for, buddy?”

Zoltan? Who were these people, and why were they calling him Zoltan?

A tall man who was obviously the coach walked up to David and crouched down so that their faces were level. “Wow, Zoltan,” he said, “that was beautiful! I couldn’t believe it! You’ve been practicing, huh?” He jabbed David’s arm with a playful punch.

David was feeling a bit stunned by this stage. For one thing, where was he? The last thing he recalled was being in a very tedious violin lesson with the other kids in his strings class, and then: KAPOW! He’s hitting a home run for a group of strangers who call him Zoltan! David had a feeling that it might not be a good idea to tell anyone what had happened. It seemed so weird, even to him! Another person, especially a stranger, might not understand. David looked around at the other ball players and their spectators – family members, no doubt. What was it exactly that made them all look so different? Well, for one thing, the haircuts were way out; even the adults had spooky ‘doos’! And their clothes – oh boy! Everyone looked as though they hadn’t quite decided whether they were going to go camping, or deep-sea diving! David’s observations were interrupted by a vibration on his arm. At first, he thought he was receiving an electric shock, but when he looked at his wrist, he saw a tiny TV screen there, like a wristwatch, showing a woman’s face. She was speaking!

-waiting and waiting! Where are you? Get your stuff and meet me at the park stop.” Then she was gone.

Wow!” thought David, and he began to examine his wrist band more closely. It seemed to be some kind of operating panel.

Just then, David became aware of a boy and a girl, both a few years younger than he was, apparently watching him. The girl was imitating his attempts to examine his wristband, and she walked around in circles trying to look at her back. The boy laughed, and asked her in a phony voice “What’s the matter, Zoltan – can’t find your elbow?” Then both of them squealed with laughter. David blushed, then cleared his throat and approached the children.

“Hi,” he said.

The girl spoke. “Mum said we had to go with you to meet her at the park stop.”

The boy came right up to him, and congratulated David on the great hit. “That was fantastic, Zolt – can we practice when we get home? That was the best hit I’ve ever seen you do! Dad will be so sorry he missed it!”

David smiled at Zoltan’s brother’s eager little face. “What a cute little guy,” he thought. “What do I do now? What should I say? Should I tell them I’m not Zoltan? What if they think I’m a weirdo? I sure feel weird!” David couldn’t decide on the spot, so he decided not to decide right away. He said aloud “Sure we can practice, but we’d better get going, right?” He turned to the girl, and she nodded vigorously.

Yeah, so come on Zolt – let’s bolt!” shouted the boy, and he turned and ran towards the far end of the field.

Hey, wait Pierce! I’ll tell Mum!” shouted the girl, but she ran after him anyway. Zoltan shrugged and ran with them.

They ran towards some trees, where a group of people was standing, as though waiting for a bus. There was no road, though. All David could see was a large circle, like a big cement dish in the ground. A ring of lights glowed blue and orange around the edge. These lights quickly became red, at which time everyone began to arrange themselves around the circumference of this large cement circle. A low beeping sound heralded the arrival of what looked to David exactly like a flying saucer – or, what he imagined a flying saucer would look like. The entire vessel was a bright, light, luminous red color, and sliding doors were opening all around it. Everyone walked quickly on. The interior lights dimmed slightly, and the vessel lifted off.

David looked at Pierce and the girl. They were eight or nine years old – the girl was probably the elder – and they looked quite different to one another. She had long, wavy blonde hair, and he had short but still unruly brown hair. They both had large, sparkling blue eyes, but as her complexion was quite fair, and his rather swarthy, the effect of these blue eyes was very different on each of them. She looked calm – almost innocent, and he looked mischievous! Each of them wore a wristband similar to David’s, with the small screen. They were standing beside a woman – their mother – and when David looked at her, she beckoned him to come over.

Oh boy,” he thought. “Well, here goes!” He took a deep breath, and moved the few steps it took to get close enough to speak to his new family. Clearly, this woman was Zoltan’s mother, and Pierce and the girl were his brother and sister. It was also clear that they all thought he was Zoltan. Things had been happening so fast that David hadn’t really had time to analyze his situation. What was going on? Was he dreaming? Was he going nuts? Were his parents – his real parents – worried about him? Or – was this Zoltan guy at his, David’s, place, just as he was here in Zoltan’s life?

The woman, Zoltan’s mother, was telling him something. “-and your father wants all of us to be there.” She was looking at him and speaking softly but firmly. “I know you’d prefer to play tunnel vision with Cue and Sean and Michael, but your dad doesn’t ask us to do much for him, so I don’t think it will hurt to make a bit of an effort on this occasion, and there will be other game sessions.” She stopped talking and waited, looking at David as though waiting for his response.

David was still taking in his surroundings, and his new family. His “Mum” seemed nice. She was pretty, with brown, ordinary hair – not spooky, like some of the other people he had seen. She looked a bit preoccupied, but friendly.

The girl looked a bit sad. David could see that she was watching a group of girls her own age, who were huddled together, twittering about something. Pierce, on the other hand, was totally engrossed in conversation with a boy of his own age.

Zoltan – answer me.” It was ‘Mum’. “Can I count on you tonight?” Obviously she was nervous about something.

Sure, Mum,” said David, before he had even thought about it. Reassuring parents came so naturally to a boy! “What do you want me to do exactly?”

Mum looked shocked. This was not the response she had been expecting, and she smiled. “Thanks, Zolt, I appreciate it. Just come along without griping about missing your game, and pay attention to the seminar so that you can speak to Dad intelligently about it later.”

“OK,” said David.

Zoltan’s Mum gave him a hug. “You’re growing up, you know that?”

“I hope so!” David laughed self-consciously.

The doors had opened, and outside people were bustling about, walking in different directions. Gone were the trees and parkland. This place looked more like a fairground!

Josephine, Pierce – stay with me,” Mum said. So – the girl was Josephine! Another piece of information, thought David. They walked over to a covered area that had a roof supported by poles, but no walls, and contained hundreds of bicycles. David followed his new family into the enclosure, but flashing lights immediately brought a uniformed guard over. “Excuse me, city, please?” she inquired. David was aware that he had caused the flashing lights, but he had no idea why. Mum rolled her eyes. “Zoltan, will you please stay tuned?” Then, to the guard, she said “We’re very sorry, ma’am. We are from Fairfax n7c51139a.” She then asked David “Didn’t you palm?” And she raised her hand so that it looked like she was making a ‘stop’ gesture.

Er – sorry,” said David.

Come on, guys,” said Mum. They each took a bicycle, and followed her onto the road.

Well, at least the landscape looks familiar,” thought David, “and this bike is fabulous!” It was lightweight, yet had very accurate responses to braking and steering. The pedaling was very smooth and gave a good, strong push. David loved bike riding, and began to relax and enjoy himself.

The road, which also carried many other cyclists, but no cars or trucks, traveled through wooded parkland. They rode for about two miles before arriving at another awning with bikes underneath. They dismounted, and this time David “palmed” the air as he entered the enclosure. They each stacked their bikes away, then walked along a path through a beautiful garden. They were headed towards a huge stone wall, with a small archway in it. Two guards stood beside the archway, ensuring that each person “palmed”, and that only one person entered at a time. By now David was careful to observe what everyone else did, so that he wouldn’t make another mistake. Luckily, he was able to enter after Zoltan’s family without drawing attention to himself.

We’ll go straight to the dining room for dinner,” said Mum. “Zoltan, you can join your friends if you like.”

“Can we go, too?” asked Pierce eagerly.

No, just Zoltan. He’s 11 years old, Pierce. And Zoltan has to let his friends know that he won’t be playing tunnel vision tonight.”

David was trying to take in his surroundings and listen to Mum at the same time. He had to keep reminding himself to pay attention to her words because what he was seeing was so much more interesting!

-So meet us in the 39a at 8 o’clock, Zolt. That way you’ll be in time for Dad’s speech. OK?”

“OK.”

See ya!” Pierce waved to David as he, Josephine and Mum headed off. Josephine was by her mother, complaining at the unfairness of letting Zoltan go -

Where?” thought David.

He looked around trying to take it all in. Apparently, he was standing in an enormous vestibule which ran between the huge stone wall in the garden outside and a kind of partially covered garden patio. This vestibule had a very high ceiling, and the walls were illustrated with colorful murals, depicting people, flora and fauna. David looked more closely, and saw that the animals were moving! Before he could decide whether the pictures were movies or windows, three kids of around his own age ran up to him. David recalled seeing them at the baseball game.

They were two boys and a girl. One of the boys and the girl were clearly related – they both had huge, dark brown eyes and the same strong brow and dark, soft looking hair. The other boy wasn’t as tall as these two, but he was muscular looking, with reddish sandy colored hair, which was cut in a flattop style. Each wore a smooth wristband.

Hey, Zolt – come on!”

Great game – what a hit!”

“I hope they have pizza tonight!”

Yeah, me too,” responded David, glad to be on familiar territory in the food department at least. He followed the other three upstairs into a large hall, which overlooked the same garden onto which the patio opened. It was an attractive room, light and airy, with delicious aromas wafting through the air.

Mmm,” said the dark-haired boy. “Smells like apple pie, ice cream, butterscotch sauce and toffee sprinkles!”

And pizza!” added the girl. “Come on Sean, let’s find a booth, before they are all taken.”

OK, OK, Cue – don’t pull my arm off!” Sean wrenched his arm from his sister’s grip. “Keep your hair on – we’re coming!” He turned to David. “Let’s get a booth at the back,” he said. “Hey, Michael – up the back!” Michael nodded, and the four of them headed to the back of the room, where there were booths which sat about six people comfortably. The rest of the room was filled with tables of different shapes, colors and configurations, some of which were double-decker. Dozens of kids, aged between about 10 and 15, sat in groups eating and talking. The food certainly smelt tasty, and David realized with a pang just how famished he was. A number of well stocked food carts traveled from table to table, apparently by remote control.

Cue was talking to another girl, who had very curly black hair. She was smiling at Cue, then took Cue’s arm and they walked over to the booth.

“Helene is joining us,” announced Cue.

Hi Mike, hi Sean. Is Zoltan here too?”

Yes – hi, Helene,” responded David.

Helene’s smile slowly faded from her face. David was watching her – she was quite pretty, even the crazy, curly hair was nice – and he realized with a jolt that Helene was blind.

Well – I’ve never heard you say my name before, Zoltan,” Helene spoke nervously. “I was getting used to you calling me Fuzznut!” Helene had a puzzled expression on her face as she found the table and edged her way in.

A food cart had arrived, and everyone was peering at the contents. A voice was describing the contents of the cart, but try as he might, David could not find a speaker, or any kind of sound outlet –

“– Chicken pot pie, vegetarian pizza, tuna casserole and rice, hamburger with fries.”

Pizza,” said Sean, Michael and Zoltan all at once.

“It’s much easier for the boys to decide what to have on Tuesdays -” laughed Cue.

Pizza night!” Cried Sean and Michael.

And what more could anyone want?” asked Michael, in mock surprise. “You have each and every food group represented in pizza. The crust is made from grain, which is cereal; the tomato is your fruit, the onion your vegetable; the cheese provides both fat and protein. In fact, pizza is the perfect food! Tomatoes have vitamin C, cheese is full of calcium, -”

The conversation waned as everyone ate their meals. David made fast work of his, as he tried to have a good look around without being too conspicuous.

David was seated next to Sean, and Michael had pulled a chair up to the end of the booth. The girls were in the opposite side. Although David knew that Helene was blind, he felt that she was observing him none the less, and he felt uneasy.

OK – let’s plan tonight’s game,” began Michael.

Oh, that reminds me,” interrupted David. “I can’t play tonight -”

Ha ha, Zolt – yeah, right,” quipped Sean.

No – really, I can’t,” insisted David. “I have to listen to Dad make a presentation.”

You’re serious?” Michael was disbelieving. “You’re not playing tonight?”

Everyone stared at David, incredulous at this news. Helene sat quite still, obviously waiting to hear what happened next.

I-I-I’m sorry. Mum kind of pleaded with me to be there for Dad. What could I say?”

Michael sighed heavily and hung his head. “OK. What do we do now?” Laughter could be heard from the next booth. A couple of heads appeared over the top of the divider between their booth and the neighboring one, two boys.

What’s up, boys? Lost our star player, have we? Diddums!!” And they sank down below on their side, snickering gleefully.

Have we no privacy in this place?” Demanded Michael loudly. Then he crouched over the table and whispered across it to the others. “Good thing we haven’t discussed our strategy. It’s 7:50 – we’ve only got -”

7:50! I’ve got to go!” David jumped up, almost upsetting the table. “Sorry!” He tried to straighten it up, then slid out of the booth. At that point he realized he had no idea where to go! As though in answer to a prayer, Helene spoke: “Hold on, Zolt – I’m going to 39a – I’ll come with you.”

OK,” said David, relieved. Then he saw the faces of the others, a doomed crew. He felt awful. “I’m sorry, Michael. I just couldn’t say no to Mum.”

Yeah, I know,” said Michael gloomily. “It’s not your fault. But you know we’ll lose this one – it’s Vladco’s dream come true!” Michael shook his head and Sean groaned in agreement.

David thought he was making them feel worse and not better. “Look, I’ve got to go. Good luck.”

Helene took David’s arm, and before he could stop himself he had asked her “Which way?” He was surprised to see a small smile on her face, but she answered as though it was a perfectly normal question.

“Out of here, downstairs, through the vestibule, across the garden and left at the audio lab.”

“Er, right, OK then,” mumbled David, and off they went.

David had to concentrate on both Helene’s directions and leading her without pulling her down the stairs or into other people, the furniture or doorways. It was quite tricky. They made it onto the patio, and were about to enter the garden, when Helene said “You’re very quiet, Zoltan. Is anything the matter?”

“Well, I’m late meeting my family,” he answered carefully.

No, I mean with you.” She stopped walking and held onto his arm, so that David had to stop too. “You are not yourself, are you? Something’s bothering you. Tell me!” Helene sounded so sensible and matter of fact, and actually David was keen to confide in someone, unburden himself, but he had to be sure of the person he chose to tell. Besides, he needed help. He wasn’t going to be able to fake it forever. Helene spoke again. “Whatever it is, it won’t hurt to talk about it, and it just might help. You know you can trust me, if it needs to be a secret, whatever it is.” David couldn’t resist the temptation, and Helene did seem very decent.

OK Helene, you’re right, and I do want to talk about it – to tell you, I mean. But I have to get to 39a – I’m late, you see. Please help me get there, and then we can talk.”

OK,” said Helene gently, and she directed David to the door of a large auditorium. “Do you mind if I sit with you?” She asked. “My dad is speaking, too.”

No – sure – I mean, fine.” David swept a look across the room, and spotted Pierce and Josephine sitting next to Mum and another woman. He led Helene to where they were sitting, and they sat beside the others.

You made it!” whispered Mum. “Hi, Helene. I was afraid Michael and Cue wouldn’t release you from the game!”

It was a bit like that,” laughed Helene. “But I rescued him for you, Mrs. Xavier.”

Good girl! By the way – your dad is on first, and Zachary is after him. Ssshh!”

The Master of Ceremonies took the podium. The crowd, numbering roughly 300 David estimated, quieted down to hear him speak.

An ordinary looking guy addressed the crowd. “Good evening, citizens! How very interesting that so many of you could join us for this purely conjectural, some might say ‘fantasy symposium’, when so few of you could attend the Historical Society Gubernatorial Review Statement last week.” There was some uncomfortable fidgeting and muttering from the crowd. “But I suppose we would all prefer to be entertained than educated, eh?” The speaker here gave a strained laugh, which sounded more like a cough, and a few people laughed with him in a frightened sort of way. “So, without further ado – I give you Declan Dempsey – scientist extaordinaire!” And the speaker backed off slowly, clapping feebly.

A big man, with red, fuzzy hair, strode slowly onto the stage. He looked like a man who was forcing himself to walk slowly; forcing himself not to look at the master of ceremonies, but once or twice his shiny brown eyes shot out a look of pure contempt. He managed to reach the microphone, and appeared to breathe slowly and deeply before addressing the assembly. When he spoke, he had a deep, guttural voice, which was at once gentle and masterful.

Tonight’s display will attempt to trace the recent journey of our own City of Fairfax Galaxy Glider through the outer continuum.” The lights dimmed, but before the room became black, planets, stars and suns loomed into sight, all colorful and luminous. It was as though the people seated in the auditorium were floating in the vast blackness of space, past these enormous planets. The distant skies were lit by millions of twinkling stars. “As you can see, the Galaxy Glider has allowed us to reconstruct the outer continuum with great accuracy because we have exact dimensions and even gaseous samples from the atmosphere of each and every planet you see here tonight. These planets have not yet been named, but as we compile more” and here he paused, almost spitting out the next word, “factual data on each, appropriate names will be chosen, hopefully in the 31st century, which is, after all, but a few months away.”

“What?” gasped David.

“Ssshh!” said Mum, on David’s right, and Helene, on his left, in unison.

Er – sorry,” whispered David, his mind in turmoil and his thoughts raced. “The 31st century? That means it must be...2999!” David sat back and digested this shocking news. “But it was 1999 only this morning! What’s going on?” He started to feel sick. However, he was distracted by the vision surrounding him.

Everyone was enjoying the feeling of floating past the beautiful, glowing planets. It was as though they were sailing through space, totally at one with the infinite universe. The gorgeous colors of the auras, which surrounded each globe, may well have been phosphorous emissions, but they were no less beautiful because of it. Tiny shards of ice in the atmosphere of one of the stars caused that orb to be surrounded by glistening, sparkling light – like millions of tiny diamonds. David had never seen anything so wonderful in his life. At last the planets and stars faded out as the lights were raised and the room was fully lit. “Of course,” continued Declan, “none of this exploration would have been possible were it not for the inimitable work of my brilliant colleague, Zachary Xavier. Dr. Xavier alone designed the Galaxy Glider, which enabled our work to continue. Now that public spending on space exploration in particular – and scientific advancement in general – has fallen to a 300 year low,” (people gasped at this) “Yes, this year less was spent on scientific research than was spent on bicycle tires for our city. Dr. Xavier’s design and construction of the vessel, which is now our major source of data, centered on efficiency and effectiveness: low cost material, high quality data. I give you the humble genius himself -” and with that, Declan put his right hand on his chest and his left hand behind his back, and bowed his head as he backed away from the dais.

A short, thin, balding yet quite boyish looking man, with bright eyes that reminded David of a squirrel, bounced softly onto the podium. He was smiling broadly, showing large teeth, but everything else about Dr. Xavier was small and frail looking. He spoke with an unusually mellifluous voice, but -

H-h-hel-l-l-o, a-a-a-and th-th-th-tha-a-nk y-you,” he stammered. He then smiled hugely again, turned to his friend Dr. Dempsey and shook his hand before waving happily to the assembly and trotting lightly off the stage. All present broke into loud applause, except for the M.C., who appeared to have lost something under his seat.

“What was it like?” asked Helene.

Amazing!” answered David. He then did his best to describe the spectacle. Helene smiled and nodded. “Dad will be so happy that it all went well – he was terrified that the special effects wouldn’t work, or the lighting would be wrong. He is so proud of your dad’s work. I know he wanted tonight’s show to do him justice.”

Tell him it was a complete success,” said David generously. Everyone was leaving the hall now. Helene reached past David, and touched Mrs. Xavier’s arm.

Mrs. Xavier? Would it be OK if Zoltan walked me home?” She asked.

Of course, honey – I should have suggested that myself! I dare say Declan and Zachary will be here for a while putting the equipment away. Off you go, darling -” she gave David a kiss on the cheek -”and come straight home. You can stay at Helene’s for a little while if you like, but no detours coming home – understand?”

“That means no going to Michael’s, Zolt!” interjected Josephine, who had been eavesdropping.

Zoltan knows perfectly well what it means, thank you Josephine,” said Mum. She pushed a strand of hair off her forehead. David thought she looked tired.

“OK Mum, no worries,” said David.

By the way, Helene,” added Mum, “I hear your mother’s band – The Heavy Negative Ions – have another concert planned? I’m a big fan, you know.”

Helene didn’t say anything, but David thought she blushed.

Well, we’d better be going,” said Helene. “Thanks, Mrs. X.” With that, Helene grabbed onto David’s arm, and almost pulled him out of his seat.

“Yes, OK, good-bye Mum,” said David hurriedly as he followed Helene.

Hey, wait on – aren’t I supposed to be leading you?” he asked. Helene laughed.

Sorry. I just get so embarrassed when people ask about my mother’s band.”

“Why?” asked David.

Now I know something is wrong, Zoltan. Take me to the garden. We must talk, now!”


*

Chapter III

David led Helene to the door, then tried to remember which way to turn to get to the garden. He realized with a jolt that there were no signs – not anywhere. As though reading his mind, Helene prompted him: “Right, into the pathway, then straight ahead to the garden.” Helene seemed quite expert at finding her way around the garden, which was nicely lit and totally uninhabited except for them.

How do you find your way around so well?” He asked. “Have you memorized the layout?”

Sort of, but actually there’s more to it than that. I’ve had microscopic electronic sensory receptors inserted into the epidermis on my feet, knees, hips, hands, shoulders and scalp – basically all the extremities of my body. They emit messages of varying frequency and depth to denote the distance between my body and another solid object. I’m fine in a room of inanimate objects. It’s when I’m someplace like a crowded dining room, or a transport stop, where lots of people are milling around, that I need assistance. Over the years I’ve learned to respond to these signals without much conscious effort at all – I’ve virtually “learned” a new set of reflex actions!” Helene laughed at herself. “But, you know what’s really interesting, Zoltan?”

“What?” asked David in a soft voice.

“Your own father, Dr. Zachary Xavier, performed the implants for me years ago, and you’ve always known about it.”

David hung his head and sighed. “Yes, I should have realized that Zoltan would have known.”

You speak of Zoltan as though he is someone else!” Helene sounded a bit nervous.

How about that!” laughed David bitterly. “Oh I’m sorry, Helene – I’m not trying to freak you out – it’s just that I’m freaking out!”

Tell me!” insisted Helene.

“Do you really want to know?”

Zoltan! Tell me! Now!”

“Can I trust you?” pleaded David.

“Zoltan!”

They sat on a bench in the middle of the garden, and David told Helene everything he knew about what had happened to him that long, lonely day. “So you see,” he said when he had finished, “My name is David Finn, not Zoltan Xavier. Where I’m from, it’s September 1999, not 2999. My father is an economist, not a scientist, and I have no idea what I’m doing here, nor how I got here.” David felt quite emotional, and had to take deep breath before continuing. “It’s very nice here, but I really want to go home. My parents must be out of their minds with worry by now.” David felt close to tears, and was sure Helene knew it.

And he was right. Helene felt very strongly David’s sense of bewilderment and fear. She put her hand on his forearm, patting him gently. “You’ve been very brave, Zoltan – I mean David. You must be very level headed to have gotten through an entire day with all this on your mind.”

Thanks, yes, well,” said David gruffly. “But what do I do now?” He felt quite desperate, now that he had stated his position out loud.

OK.” Helene sounded firm. “OK. Deep breath.” Helene took a deep breath, and for some reason, David followed suit. It felt good! “What do we have?” Although Helene was asking the question, she was speaking to herself as much as to David, and did not require a response. She continued. “Somehow, you have been supplanted 1000 years ahead of your own time, into the life of Zoltan Xavier, a boy of your own age. You don’t know why. You want to get back home to 1999. Right so far?”

Right,” said David. Oddly enough, this recital of the facts was having a calming effect on him.

So, what resources do we have at our disposal?” asked Helene, again of no one in particular. “We have David; we have Helene; we have -” here Helene grabbed David’s arm – “Zoltan’s dad, Dr. Xavier!”

Won’t he be angry when he finds out I’m not really Zoltan? Won’t he want to know where Zoltan is?”

Well, yes of course he will, but you must remember that his is the greatest mind on Earth. If anyone can help us – your – Zachary Xavier can.” Helene jumped up. “We must go to the auditorium now, at once, and tell him everything. Our fathers – I mean, mine and Zoltan’s, will be packing up – let’s go!” She offered her arm to David, and began to lead him through the well-lit garden towards the auditorium.

I suppose you’re right,” said David in a resigned tone. I guess I haven’t got much to lose,” he thought to himself. Aloud, he said “Slow down, Helene – you’re charging away at a rate of knots – I can barely keep up!”

Helene laughed. “It’s just that I usually have to move so slowly and carefully. When I’m somewhere like this, where there are no other people moving around and sending me confusing signals, I really cut loose and go for it!”

“That’s understandable,” said David.

Here we are,” announced Helene. But she couldn’t see that the whole place, previously so well lit and open, was in darkness, and the entryway was shut.

They must have gone,” said David. “All the lights are out, and it looks deserted.”

No, they’ll still be here,” insisted Helene. “There’s no way they could have packed up all that stuff in such a short time, and believe me, they would not have left without their precious equipment.” She led David to the door of the auditorium, and pushed it open. From the blackness within, they could hear voices.

Helene stood still, holding David’s arm firmly. With her other hand, she took David’s chin in her hand, then put her hand firmly over her mouth. He understood that he wasn’t to speak. Helene tugged at David’s sleeve, and whispered under her breath, “Hide!”

David led her over to a half-wall to their left, which ran along the back of the auditorium. They crouched behind this half wall, so that whilst they were hidden from view, they could hear everything that was being said very clearly. “The acoustics of this room are really very good,” thought David. Then, he heard a voice he recognized as the master of ceremonies from the presentation earlier on.

“- A very close watch on you, Dr. Xavier.”

“I-I-I-I d-d-don’t kn-n-n-now wh-wh-why,” stammered Dr. Xavier.

Oh, I think you do. That little crack about us spending less money on scientific research than on bicycle tires?”

Hardly seditious stuff, Marsden.” It was Declan – Helene’s dad. He sounded angry and frustrated. “Merely statement of fact – aren’t facts your specialty? Historical data?” Declan laughed scornfully.

I just want you both to know that big brother is watching you – looking into every test tube -”

You mean every garbage can!” It was Declan again.

Go ahead – laugh if you like. There was no need for me to warn you, you know. I have the authority to instigate and perpetuate any scheme I deem necessary -”

Raspberry! Does everything you say rhyme in some way?” Declan was chortling now.

“We know you are working on something designed to overthrow the current regime -”

“W-w-w-w-we -”

-Which the Historians govern for the benefit of all. Trying to reclaim the hundreds of years of lost knowledge in the Erasure of the 28th century has been our major focus. If you scientists are going to try to distract resources from this task, you can expect direct interference from me personally, and the Historians as a governing group.”

“I-i-i-is th-th-th-that a thr-thr-threat?”

“It’s a fact, Dr. Xavier, and as your colleague has pointed out, facts are my specialty.”

Hidden by the shadows, David was watching the entire scene from the rear of the amphitheater.

“Another fact in my possession,” continued Marsden, “is that you are working on a genetic code which would allow a person to access his or her past lives.”

Both Zachary and Declan froze, then looked at each other in shock. “Aah – I see by your reaction that I have hit a nerve! So – my information is accurate!” Marsden was laughing softly, and rubbing his hands together in a satisfied way. “Really, doctor – this is a bit far fetched, even for you!” Now Marsden was openly chuckling. “I suppose I should be comforted by the fact that while you are engaged in these preposterous experiments, you can’t be doing any real harm to the advancement of historical research.”

“The way you go about it, Marsden, ‘historical advancement’ are mutually exclusive terms!” Declan was speaking through gritted teeth.

Yes, yes, Declan – blathering on as usual. Well, my mind is at rest now. Good night to you both.” Marsden clicked his heels together, and put his right hand on his chest, his left hand behind his back, and bowed his head. He then strode purposefully toward the rear door of the auditorium. David ducked below the half wall, and hid there in the shadows with Helene as Marsden and his companion passed by them and out through the door. As soon as the door swung shut, David and Helene came out of their hiding position and hurried to the stage, where Declan and Zachary were in conference. They didn’t notice Helene and David until they were right with them, so engrossed were they in their muttered conversation.

Helene!” said Declan. “What are you doing here?”

Dad, we have to talk to Dr. Xavier.” Helene was a bit breathless after her hasty journey from the back of the room.

At hearing his name, Zachary was alerted to their presence. “Oh, hi Helene,” he said. “Hi, Zolt.” He then resumed his thoughtful but gloomy demeanor.

David noted that Zachary hadn’t stuttered at all. “Another question,” he thought. Aloud he asked, “What was that all about?”

Zac answered. “Oh, you know, the usual thing. How dare the scientists direct any efforts towards unraveling the mystery of the Erasure? How dare anyone criticize the Historians’ methods -”

Dr. Xavier,” interrupted Helene. “I think Zoltan has something to tell you.” Then she turned to David, and said “It’s OK – you can speak in front of my dad.” The two parents looked slightly taken aback by Helene’s instruction, and they awaited her further directive.

This time, it was David who spoke. He looked directly at Dr. Xavier, who returned his intense stare. Then, in a quiet, calm voice, he began his tale.


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