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The Man In White
As Mark fell asleep, his mind wandered to days of the past. He saw his mother, bidding him farewell as he left for his 10 year journey in space. His sister telling him to come come with an attractive friend or not to come home at all. Most of all, he dreamed of what was just outside his sleeping quarters. The final frontier, as its been labeled. The vast expanse of darkness was littered with just enough twinkling lights to give a person a sense of majesty everytime they looked out the window. Mark never wanted to do anything other than be a Jumper. To be the one of the men and women who jump from system to system in one of the greatest modern marvels: a Hyper-Ship.
The massive feat of human engineering glided through space with beautiful ease, allowing everyone aboard to sleep peacefully. The computer would awake the crew if there was an emergency. Everyone slept and dreamt of their loved ones, their families, and was at peace. If you anything about life, though, it is at this point of peace that everything must collapse. This 'collapse' will be called The Incident from this point on. Approximately six minutes before The Incident, Mark awoke to a soft clinking. The computers in his room sensed his awakening and a soft, relaxing glow warmed the room. Mark looked around. His door was open, which was not how he left it, and an arm, clad in white, was reaching in and softly knocking on the doorframe. Mark got up and rushed to the door. The computers sensed his increased heart rate and activity, illuminating the room with an intense white light. Mark looked out of his small room just to see a white shoe disappear around a corner. Mark grabbed his gun and raced down the corridor. As he rounded the bend, Mark faced a dead end. And no white-clad arm, foot, or attaching appendages. As he stood stupefied, a red light caught Mark's eyes. A computer was blinking a warning light, but wasn't relaying it to the rest of the ship. Strange. Mark checked the message.
WARNING: EXPLOSION IMMINENT. MAXIMUM GAS PRESSURE IN SECTOR 6.
Mark ran after reading only the first two words. He had one destination: Aaron's room. His best friend since the Academy. Mark sprinted down the two flights of stairs and sent a warning message to the first mate of the explosion. Mark ran to the lower levels and rapped on Room 43's door. Aaron, still half asleep, opened the door. One of the youngest at the Academy, only twenty-four years of age, his small frame looked too young to be among the big Jumpers he shared the ship with.
"Mark? What is it?"
"An explosion." Mark was still catching his breath. "Aaron, in Sector 6, there's going to be an explo-" just then, Mark's warning became fact. A shuddering beneath his feet, hot air blasting through the halls, and then ringing. He never heard the boom or bam, just ringing in his ears. He was jolted up and slammed into the roof. His arm was extremely hot, then there's was no feeling in it. He wandered in and out of consciousness until blackness overwhelmed him. He awoke in a dream. Dressed in his clean, new uniform, the shiny gold tag reading "LIEUTENANT FORD" shone in the bright fluorescent lights. He looked around him. He was in a small white room, sitting at a table. His arm was not on fire, it was perfectly fine. He looked forward, at a man who was sitting across the table. Had he been there the whole time? The man was dressed in completely white, and had both palms on the table. Mark understood the man's unspoken instructions. He too brought forth his hands and placed them on the table. As he did, he closed his eyes. The cold metal table become warm, then hot. Mark struggled as the red-hot table burned beneath his hands. He wanted to remove his hands, but the man in white wouldn't let him. Mark could feel beyond his closed eyelids, the white-clad man commanding with his dark pupils to remain still. Finally, Mark could no longer take it. He removed his hands and instantly paid the price. The burning on his right arm was back, the numbness was gone. He opened his eyes and saw the grim scene in the ship's hallway. Exactly a dozen bodies were strewn across the floor, some bloodied, some still on fire, and some looking perfectly normal, as if they were sleeping. But one could just look at their body and knew life was gone from them. Mark dared to look at his arm. It was red and black, and smelled of what it was: charred flesh. He gently stood and opened a Med-Locker in the hall. There were five Med-Lockers on every floor. And each had medicine for every scenario. If you we're bit by a small spider or Pervian Spotted Mud Tick, there was medicine for it all. Mark quickly found the gel for burns and scooped up a big glob of it. He tenderly rubbed it on his arm, each touch stinging more than the last. When it was evenly distributed, his arm went back to cool numbness. He put the container in his pocket, along with a vile of Pain-Away, in case of any more survivors. He walked down the hall. Apparently he was thrown about fifty feet down the hall, because he was in front of Room 72. He jogged back down to 43, and tried openeng the door. He tried knocking it down, but realized there was a body on the other side stopping it. He pushed as hard as he could until there was enough space to get in. Aaron was a cadet, so unlike Mark, he had a roommate. Charge Adams, a man whose large muscular body suited his surly name, was propped up against the door. Mark checked for a pulse, to find none. He turned around, and immediately threw up. He found Aaron, he found Aaron several times. First his leg, than his torso, and an arm, a foot, and lastly his head. It seemed as if Aaron's body was thrown into the thin metal shelving bolted to the wall. His body was sliced cleanly at every spot. He kneeled down at Aaron's head, and closed the eyes, still wide open from fear. Mark too closed his eyes, resting his hand on his friends head. He stood and left, hoping to find other survivors. All the computers were flashing damage warnings. It seemed like Sector 6, the fuel sector, had tanks that had been punctured by a falling piece of equipment. It was only a matter of time before some slight spark initiated the blast. The entire ship was damaged. Areas that had been exposed to the dark clutches of space had been sealed off. All seven engines were down, and Mark didn't want to know the last piece of information. The computers had a life-scan check, to find the tracers in all of the twenty-seven crew. Mark entered his crew ID and started the process shakily.
SCAN COMPLETE. ONE OF TWENTY-SEVEN TRACERS FOUND ACTIVE: LIEUTENANT MARK FORD, LOWER-LEVEL 2, HALLWAY B
Mark broke down and cried. He was the sole survivor. Captain Hendricks, First Mate Sully, everyone was dead. Mark cried into his hands. He was banging his hands onto the hot floor when he heard a shuffling. He looked up and at the opposite end of the hall saw hm. The man in white. Mark was filled with rage. Somehow this was his fault. He got up and ran at the man. Mark tackled him and pinned him down. The man struggled to get up, and in the blurred fighting, he spoke.
"Mark! Mark get off me! What are you doing?" The man yelled, but Mark kept trying to hold him.
"Mark! It's me, Aaron!" Mark lifted his head and looked, it was. It was Aaron. He got up and so did his friend. Or was it? Was this the man in white disguising himself as Aaron? No, as Mark looked at his face, he knew who it was. The constantly nervous look, the twitch in the eye, this was Aaron. Mark embraced him tightly.
"Mark, what is it?" Mark let go and suddenly it hit him. The actual situation revealed itself to him. His disembodied friend was standing in front of him perfectly well, Mark's arm was fine, and they were in the same hallway, but it was gleaming and filled with a live crew.
"Captain, is everything okay?"
"What about the explosion?"
"There hasn't been an explosion here in-" Mark realized what Aaron had said.
"Captain? I'm a lieutenant, Lieutenant Mark Ford, right? And your Cadet Aaron Williams?" Aaron had genuine confusion mixed in with his normal nervousness.
"Yes Mark Ford. Captain Mark Ford, sir. Your First Mate is Kevin Sully. And I'm not a cadet, I'm Lieutenant Aaron Williams." Mark rubbed his head.
"No, no I am a lieutenant, and you are a cadet. We took classes together at the Acadmey and graduated in 3109!"
"Sir, we took classes together, but graduated in 3129." Mark rubbed his eyes.
"Please tell me it's the year 3117 right now." But Mark knew Aaron would give him an alternate answer.
"Sir, it's 3149." Aaron began to get a look of fear.
"What were you about to say about the explosion?"
"Well, there hasn't been an explosion on this ship for twenty years, sir." Mark was getting frustrated.
"There has never been an explosion on this ship before today. And stop calling me that! You're dismissed." Mark decided to use the authority Aaron seemed to think he had. He made his way to a computer. He entered his crew ID and the computer rejected him. He tried again with the same result. As he was entering it for the third time, he realized something. If it was 3149, and the last and only explosion on this ship was twenty years ago, that was the year 3129. Mark felt nauseated. He tried using a voice log in instead of his ID number.
"Computer: Log in crew member Lieutenant Mark Ford."
"No members found." Mark sighed, he tried one last thing.
"Log in crew member...Captain Mark Ford." To his disappointment, the computer logged him on. "Do a ship-wide database search, keyword: explosion." The computer thought for a moment, then returned one result. The soft female digital voice informed him:
"On May 5th, 3129, a section of stairs in Sector 6 fell one hundred feet onto a gas tank, puncturing it and releasing a total of eight hundred pounds of a mixture of explosive gasses. A worker in this sector produced sparks upon scraping a metal rod on the ships inner-hull, igniting the gas and immobilizing the ship." The computer wasn't finished. It's final two pieces of information was the part Mark did not understand. Computers never made mistakes aboard this ship. "All twenty-six members aboard at the time were killed, and black box records indicate one crew member notifying another about the explosion. At the time, no computers were warning of an explosion, so mystery surrounding this crew member, who could not be identified by vocal patterns remains unexplained." Mark was stunned. The crew count for every Hyper-Ship was twenty-seven. Always. And why couldn't it identify his vocal patterns? And there was a computer warning of the explosion. Mark had another idea.
"Computer, display list of crew members at the time of said explosion." The computer did so and displayed all crew members, except Mark. Even Aaron was there, his face and bio, but his birthdate was twenty years earlier and his name was displayed as Joe Denham. Mark tried something else.
"Computer, search crew members, Lieutenant Aaron Williams." Mark skimmed the information until he got to date of birth. January 15. 3125. If it was 3149, Aaron was still twenty-four. So Mark was twenty years in the future, but everyone was the same age? And Mark was captain? Mark suddenly clutched his stomach as he threw up and blacked out for the second time. When he awoke, he found himself in a familiar setting. A white room, with a man in white ahead of him. Mark tried getting up and lunging at the man, but could not move. The man spoke his first words.
"Hello Mark. I'm sorry you've been caught up in all this." Mark just looked at him, angrily.
"Sorry? I don't even know what the hell is going on!" The man placed his palms on the table.
"Allow me to explain. You were an accident." Mark chuckled sarcastically best he could. "You see, this is a result of a small error in a very complex system. I'm going to try and explain it best I can." He removed his palms, reached under the table and produced blocks of white and black blocks. He arranged them in two straight lines, parallel to each other, and replaced his hands to their default position. "Mark, the timeline of this universe is a sure straight line." He motioned to the white blocks. "And the course of human events is a separate continuum, running alongside time." Now the black blocks were addressed. "Since time was first laid out, there are certain...irregularities, you may call them. A natural disaster similar to an earthquake or hurricane, caused by an event in human history. They can't be stopped, and are random. What happens is," he picked up one white block. "certain sections of time are separated from the timeline, and moved to other areas." In the middle of the line of white blocks, he pushed them back to fill in the space of the taken block, and he placed the stolen rectangle in the newly formed crevasse. "This is what has happened with you, with a gap of twenty years being crossed. Up until the movement, which took place during the year 3129, events still exist in the same time. World War Three was still fought in 2032, the Old Founding Fathers still signed the Declaration of Independence in 1774, and so on. Still with me?" Mark was not at all with him. He stared at the moved white block.
"Wait, then how come I'm the only one that has noticed the change, how is Aaron and the rest of the crew alive, and why am I captain?!" The man did not alter his lecturing expression. He moved on to the black blocks.
"Now, imagine a hiccup. A random spasm that cannot be anticipated. These happen in human events. When all of human history was laid out, none of these events were there. They crop up and are executed the moment they appear. Like a hiccup in human events." Mark was beginning to understand.
"The explosion...was a hiccup?" The man smiled.
"And do you know what these spasms cause?" He tapped the white blocks.
"White blocks to move?" The man clapped his hands together.
"Brilliant! Yes, random seizures in human events cause sections of the timeline to break away in move, just like your situation."
"So, the explosion propelled us twenty ears into the future."
"Very good. Now, no one was supposed to know about the explosion. Everyone was meant to be sleeping peacefully and to die that way. Since you and Aaron Williams were awake, you two are the only ones that have changed. He was not informed of the explosion in time, so he does not remember anything."
"So I only remember because I knew?" Mark remembered this man in white waking him up and leading him to the warning computer. "But I wouldn't have known if you didn't wake me up." The man in white looked down.
"Yes, well I don't like seeing people thrust into the future with a huge gap in their memories. This explosion was identified early on, and I thought if you notified people in time, everyone would be propelled forward without having their memories robbed of them. It was a stupid thing to do."
Mark thought. The computer that had warned him. That was at the end of his hallway on the left. All computers on ship were located on the right and side of the hallway, the computer was an illusion. Mark was now a captain and Aaron a Lieutenant because they were awake and Mark knew. He knew and he remembered. The burned bodies, the blood on the walls, and most of all, the real Aaron, in pieces.
"This is your fault." Mark said. "This is your fault!"
"Mark, I feel terrible. If you want, I can take away that part of your memory. I can make you believe it really is 3149, and you can captain this ship alongside Aaron, he can live." Mark thought. He thought a long time. He made his choice, and awoke in his chambers. He walked into the control room, and stood next to First Mate Sully, who was steering the ship through the vast expanse of the unknown. Aaron was sitting at the navigation computer. Mark stood by his decision. He would captain this ship and always remember the real Aaron Williams. The one still in pieces in Room 43. As Mark gazed out at the suns, planets, and galaxies, he commanded his first mate.
"Sully, I've seen a lot of things. There's a crew I once worked with, a good crew. They died asleep, but in peace. I want you to bring me the unknown. We go on in their memory."
"Aye captain." First Mate Sully smiled. He knew what crew the captain was referring to. Because Mark had sent him a message. A message Sully finished reading just as the ship exploded. He gave the man in white the same decision Captain Mark did. How many more people in the universe have sat in front of a man in white, and made a difficult decision in front of two sets of white and black blocks? Maybe someone you know. Or maybe, just maybe, you did. And you chose to have your memory stripped. Just something to consider, as you picture the sleeping crew of the Hyper-Ship Tempus, at peace. And you just may want to consider what you'll say in case you meet the man. That man in white.