It is not down on any map; true places never are
― Herman Melville
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale
Dr. Arocha finished with her notes, and then rang for the orderlies. She spoke with them in rapid Spanish; each of them went to either side of Cecilia’s bed and removed the restraints. Cecilia rubbed her wrists where the leather cuffs had chafed the skin.
Dr. Arocha said, “I cannot keep you here for more than another 24 hours. If you remain calm and continue to improve, I will discharge you to the custody of your mother. But you have to promise to come and visit with me – every week in the beginning. We’ll see how it goes from there. Can we agree to that?”
Cecilia nodded, and then – with a raspy voice said “Yes, yes we can agree to that. May I have some more water?” Dr. Arocha nodded at the orderly standing next to the cart with the carafe. He brought it and the cup over to Cecilia’s bedside. He poured some liquid into the cup and handed it to Cecilia. With a shaky hand, she managed to get a few sips, and laid back down on the bed. She smiled at Dr. Arocha. “Thank you for your help – I really am feeling better now.”
Dr. Arocha and the orderlies left the room. Cecilia tried to sit up, but she was still fairly dizzy. Using mind-talk, she said, “Emily – I need you. Where are you?”
It was a few seconds before Emily replied. In a trembling voice, she said, “I’m here. Do you know what happened to Grandma?”
Cecilia replied, “Yes, I was just told about that. I am so sorry, Emily. I know you’ll miss her terribly.”
Emily sniffled, and then began to cry. Through her tears, she said, “I don’t understand this. The police think Grandma did this to herself – but she wouldn’t! She would never do that – she didn’t even have any wrinkles to fix!”
Cecilia said, “I understand Nikolai is also dead, and Javier seriously ill. Is that right?”
Emily said, “Yes, it’s true. Cecilia, what is going on here? What do you think is happening?”
Cecilia asked, “Can you get in touch with Javier? If he is well enough to speak with you, maybe he can shed some light on all this.”
Emily said, “I’ll try. I believe the new version of Second Life will let us all talk with one another. Let’s see.”
There was a pause, and then she heard two voices – Emily’s and Javier’s.
“It would appear you were right about the software. Javier, how are you feeling?” Cecilia asked.
Javier replied, “Still pretty shaky, but I’m better. The authorities wanted to chastize my mother for making a mistake with the cassava, but I know she would never do that. She’s made cassava cake hundreds of times before, and there has never been a problem. It’s a good thing I didn’t eat the whole plate, as I normally do. I’d be dead now!”
Cecilia and Emily chuckled, but only briefly. In unison, they began to speak. “Javier…” Cecilia went on. “Javier, do you have any idea who is responsible for these deaths?”
Javier replied, “Yes, I believe I know who is responsible. I’ve been doing some investigation through my resources in the gaming world, and it would appear that our friend Ishmael is still alive. I believe he is responsible for the deaths of Nikolai and Abuela Susan. I believe he was the one that injected cyanide into the cassava cake, and tried to make it look like an accident.”
Cecilia asked, “Why is he so determined to destroy us? What have we ever done to him?”
Javier sighed, and said, “I think you’re going to have a really hard time believing what I’m about to tell you. But I have information that Ishmael is, in fact, neither an Israeli nor an Egyptian terrorist. Ishmael is a time traveler from a place called Pequod on a planet called Essex. He was one of only a few left in the year 2360. This is because Essex’ inhabitants were annihilated by colonists from earth. In an effort to create an atmosphere on the planet, they injected chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere to produce oxygen and make it warm enough for the atmosphere to continue. The chlorofluorocarbons were toxic to the previous inhabitants. It is not clear whether the earth colonists knew of the existence of Ishmael’s fellow Essexians. But even if they did, it was likely they didn’t care. Earth’s resources will be depleted by 2040, and Essex was the closest planet that had similar characteristics to earth. Ishmael determined that the original concept for creating the atmosphere came from Cecilia’s team working on Mars. So Ishmael time traveled back to 2024 to kill everyone on the team that had anything to do with the work. This was an act of vengeance. Ishmael knew it wouldn’t change history – that someone else would develop the technology and his civilization would still be wiped out. But he didn’t care – he wanted the satisfaction of doing the same thing to us that other earthlings had done to his people.”
Cecilia considered this carefully, but then shook her head. “Javier, how is it possible these people from this Essex planet figured out time travel? And how did they get here? Were they advanced enough in their rocketry, or did they use some other device?”
Javier replied, “I think I know the answer to that as well. Apparently, there was an advance team from earth that set out in 2041 to search for an inhabitable planet to colonize. They landed on this planet, located in orbit around the Gliese star. Their tests indicated a magnetic core, but no atmosphere. So they sent the data back to earth, and were preparing to fly back home when an oxygen leak killed them. It would appear that Ishmael used The Essex to time travel to earth.”
Cecilia replied, “OK, he had a rocket, but how did he time travel? A wormhole? negative energy? How?”
Javier said, “I’ve been doing some research about that as well. A physicist named Gott – back in 1991, proposed an approach that I believe Ishmael knew about and used to return to 2024. It’s complicated, but actually simpler and far less dangerous to life, compared to those other two means you mentioned. Apparently, two cosmic strings could be made to collide, and when they do, it creates an opening in the space/time continuum that, with careful calibration, can put the rocket back at exactly the time and place required. It’s really quite fascinating…if you’d like to know more..”
Cecilia interrupted him. “Maybe some other time. So you’re telling me that Ishmael is alive and well, killed two of our friends, and tried to kill you, using toxins? Actually, that makes sense, given how the earth settlers supposedly killed his people. But given his obsession with revenge, isn’t it likely he’ll keep coming after us – you, me, Emily – Feng Tian?”
Javier replied, “Yes, I believe that is very likely. But he appears to hate you most of all, so you are likely in the most danger now. You need to find someplace to hide…someplace where you’re protected and away from your home and work. Do you know of anyplace you could go?”
Cecilia replied, “Yes, I think I do. And I think it will be highly likely that my psychiatrist will help me get to that place without any hesitation.”
With that, Cecilia pressed the call button, and asked to see Dr. Arocha. The nurse – who bore a striking resemblence to her old nemesis “Nurse Ratched” from Lyubertsy, informed her that Dr. Arocha had left, but would return in the morning. Cecilia thanked her, and the nurse left. Cecilia resumed her conversation with Emily and Javier. “This will give me time to formulate my plan – I think I know just where to go. I’ll be protected – nay, carefully watched! And Ishmael will not be able to touch me. Hey, thanks you two. Watch your backs!”
With that, Cecilia fell asleep – the first good night’s sleep she’d had in months.