sci fi book series 2016
When a disease ravages the population in a not too distant future, the female lead of a group of scientists decides to break the law and travels back in time to try and fix the problem in an unusual way. But a Vietnam veteran refuses to cooperate with the time travelers plan.
“Love is in a state of dormancy in each one of us, just waiting for the right conditions to germinate.”
The Quantum Brain (in exile)
Loriei leaned against the cracked brick of the building behind her. As she bent over and held her shaking knees, she saw more glass broken on the ground than was left in the windows above her head. She was not sure what the building had been used for before the city had mostly collapsed with the rest of the world. Even if she went inside, most of the floors and furniture would be collapsed down into the middle and stirring the debris would probably bring out the homeless creatures whose hosts had died in there at some point in the past.
She was having a bad day. Someone had stolen her car out of the paddock where she had it hidden. Hidden, but not good enough apparently. Walking through the city in the open was deadly, but today was a special day. She could not afford to hide in her bunker today – the world couldn’t afford it.
“That’s not right,” she said to herself feeling the blood pound inside her head. “The car was stolen back when you were a little girl back when your parents were still alive. They are dead now and you are not a little girl anymore.”
Loriei knew she needed to get back to the bunker and out of the open. Her father had always told her it wasn’t safe to be in the open anymore.
“That’s not right.” She whispered to herself and the broken glass. “You don’t live there anymore. You need to go somewhere else.”
She had a last name, but even when she could remember it, she didn’t use it anymore. It had been her parents’ last name too, but she barely remembered them. She had a doctorate and the title that went with it. Her only value to the world was her ability to compartmentalize that knowledge safely away from the other bits eaten away from her memory. Loriei knew like everyone she would one day lose it all and become like most of the others that wandered the ruins of the city.
The city had a name too and she used to remember that as well.
One fat louse fell from her bald head and landed in the glass at her feet. Its legs writhed in the air as it struggled on its back. It was a small one – only a couple inches thick. As it struggled back to its feet sliding the shards aside with its mass, Loriei saw it was striped black and white instead of the adult gray. This was a member of a new generation of lice that infested her skull and skin. The husks of this one’s dead parents had been falling to the floor of her bunker for days, so she knew a few new offspring were on their way. This little guy had lost its grip.
A piece of skin fell from her scalp and slapped raw against the ground. The louse poked at the loose skin as if it was considering it or just trying to find its way.
It scurried through the glass displacing more shards until it found the toe of her shoe and then climbed back up her rail thin leg. She did not bother to swat it aside. As it disappeared under the frayed edge of her baggy dress, she considered that one of its ancient ancestors might have been hurt by the sharp glass. Those creatures were much smaller though and were not as strong as the generations immune to pesticides and treatments.
The creature used the protrusions of bone under Loriei’s black and gray spotted skin as leverage to climb her body under her dress. Loriei felt the progress as pain and itch. She fought the urge to scratch knowing it would make the itch worse and accelerate the damage to her mind. Serotonin would stunt the pain for a second and then would jump the track from the neurons to make the itch worse. More scratching would produce more serotonin which would eventually accelerate the life cycle of the lice. They would feed more and burrow deeper. She would drift away from herself more quickly than she already was.
The immature louse climbed out of Loriei’s dress at the neck and scaled up her skinny neck to the base of her skull. She found herself fearfully hoping it did not attach there. She could not remember exactly why that scared her, but she knew there was a good reason.
Under the glass she saw an advertisement from a magazine pasted to the pavement. It was glossy paper that made the model shine even with the fading of the weather. Her body was skinny, but proportional. The model looked wildly tall and her head was not bulbous like human heads were in Loriei’s time. She had hair and her skin was a healthy brown. This woman could be one of Loriei’s ancestors from before the plagues. She would not be recognized by this model or anyone from her generation.
The lice that were already embedded in her skull shifted as the tiny louse burrowed back into the scalp. They were prepared to fight an intruder that did not match their flock. They recognized the new generation as one of theirs and settled back down. The infestation in her head went from pain back to a dull itch that could not be scratched.
“She would not recognize us,” Loriei said to the glass and the model under her. “This won’t work.”
The words were important. Something needed to be adjusted. Loriei knew she needed to get to the lab and tell this to her colleagues, but then she forgot why and continued to stare drifting further from herself leaning on the brick wall in the open like her father told her not to do.
She felt hunger build inside her and she started scratching at her skin through her dress. Her flock began to stir within the bumpy skin of her broad skull.
It was the music that brought her back. She heard it like a cry or a whine of something in pain. She thought about going to see if it was something wounded that she could kill and eat. As this idea bubbled like an unscratched itch in the lower part of her brain, the strained, higher parts recognized the beauty and then realized it was the strings of a violin she heard. The notes traveling to her ears through the air registered as emotional strains more than they did as sounds. It pulled at her mind and made her feel more attached to herself and her body again despite the surreal haze that fogged her thinking.
She stopped scratching and waited for her lice to settle back into a state of rest while she listening to the bow draw music from the strings somewhere in the distance.
Loriei stood up straight and waited for the wave of dizziness to pass. She shuffled forward through the glass and away from the wall. She steered herself around the rusted hulks of abandoned cars and the debris of fallen cinderblock and broken furniture.
She finally reached a field where she stared out at a man. He was nearly naked except for the shreds of pants that looked like they used to be denim. His skin was completely gray meaning his ancestors had probably been European in origin. His enlarged head wobbled on his thin neck as he played. His scalp was split open and Loriei could see the lice feeding on the bloody wound and exposed brains. He was in the final stages and would not last much longer.
He missed notes from time to time as his fingers danced and the bow glided back and forth, but he otherwise had the tune. She did not understand how he was still capable.
Two of his lice tumbled out of his skull into the tall grass of the field. They were swollen as large as his fists closed together. They lay still and sated not even trying to right themselves as they had gorged themselves on their final meal of their dying host. Once they became active again, these lice would seek out a new host and battle the native flock for control on another’s skull. The unlucky target might not survive the competition for territory. Loriei wanted to be far away when this happened.
The man stopped in mid note. The silence was thick. He held the violin and bow in place as his eyes went wide. He seemed to be waiting for something – maybe to remember his place in the performance.
His fingers went slack and both the violin and the hairy bow dropped softy to the grass beside the shed lice. The man looked down as he shuffled away. Whatever piece of memory that had been touched by the feasting lice had been abandoned or consumed.
It might have saved Loriei’s life, but it was gone now.
She reached behind her back at something pressing on her spine. She feared it was one of the enormous lice coming to claim a new host. She felt the notebook stuffed in the belt behind her dress.
Now her eyes went wide with the flood of memory returning to her. “I have to get back.”
Loriei turned and walked up the street with greater determination than before.
She found the old bank building and worked her way through the dark lobby over the molded carpet. The vault was open and she entered the deeper darkness. Loriei felt along the bumpy faces of the safety deposit boxes. She found herself wondering what might have been left in them. They could be full of precious treasures that might be worthless now.
She found the smooth back wall of the vault and slid her bony fingers down looking for the latch. It was difficult to find in the dark even if one knew where to look. It was tough to find on purpose. The others had probably discovered she was there by now, but they couldn’t help. If she was too far gone and only searching out of a faint hint of memory, then they could not open it for her and let a dangerous shadow mind into the laboratory.
“Like a man remembering to play the violin one last time.” She whispered.
If they heard her talking to herself, that wouldn’t go over well either.
She found the slot and slid her fingers in to punch out the sequence. She wondered if the fingers of a pre lice human would be able to fit in there at all. Maybe a child? There weren’t many children left either.
“All of the human race is a shadow on the world at this point,” she said. “And stop talking to yourself, Doctor … Loriei.”
The door broke loose from the rest of the wall and slid backward. She pulled her fingers from the slot before they were torn off. As the door slid aside to more darkness, she turned her head carefully to look back through the open vault to the light of the street outside. With the creatures boring and feeding constantly, there was the constant paranoid itch that someone was watching. It made Loriei want to close the vault door. She wondered if those below had chosen to keep it open on purpose or simply because there was no one left strong enough to close it.
She stood and stepped through into the space beyond the false wall. The door slid back closed and locked into place. The red security light above her flickered on and the elevator lurched downward. She held the wall to keep her balance. The wall behind her open and she turned before stepping out into uneven, florescent light.
They were waiting coated in folds of plastic that hung off of them like the skin of an elephant, if there had been any still alive in the world.
One of them pressed the syringe injector against her arm and she felt the warmth of the treatment course through her arm and out into her body. The heat brought pain through her heart and fluttered its rhythm for a moment. She waited for her flock to react. Sometimes they had a bad reaction and fought the sedatives. She felt a few spiny feet move inside her skin, but then they went still. Her mind grew clear and focused. The itch subsided.
Loriei blinked and pulled the notebook out of the back of her dress. “I found it. This is all the information I collected on the gravitational wave that passed through the Earth over a century ago. Everything we need is here. We can use this to recalculate the jump.”
The other plastic covered scientist took it from her and set it aside. “What took you so long? You said it was in your old bunker.”
“It was,” she said. “I forgot for a while and went back to living there before I remembered I was supposed to come back here.”
The man that injected her with the treatment pulled the old dress off her shoulders and down off her splotchy body. “You are lucky you didn’t end up going feral like the others.”
“We all are.” The second man said as they pulled a plastic suit on her body giving her an elephant skin of her own.
They pulled a plastic cap over the top of her head and sealed it around her brow. She smiled as much as the tight skin around her face would allow. Having a clean room when everyone was infested with super lice seemed like a silly precaution. She supposed two flocks getting into a conflict in the midst of an experiment wouldn’t be good.
The first man pulled off her shoes and replaced them with plastic boots like theirs.
Loriei’s smile faded as she thought about the glossy picture of the ancient human model under the broken glass with the sad violin playing in the distance. “They won’t accept us. We need to rethink the protocol.”
The men exchanged a look and returned their attention to her. One said, “We already made the jump to 1955.”
Loriei shook her head and grabbed up her notebook from the table. “I need to get into the lab now.”
The men led her through without question.
The glass door to the final section of the lab slid closed behind her. Loriei stared at the letters “CDC” etched backward in the glass. The lights overhead were oddly bright coming from a world where everything had gone drab. This lab was left over from another time when things were clean and the Earth was functional. They had once looked for a cure here in the last desperate moments before all of humanity was infected. Now they were looking for a cure again although they were breaking the law to do it.
Loriei turned away from the barrier and approached the railing to look over at the empty platform. It seemed so barren and plain. The metal disc in the center of the room seemed too simple to be capable of ripping an opening through space and time.
“Destroying the world is so much easier than our ancestors ever imagined,” Loriei said.
The man next to her chuckled. The noise sounded wet in his thin chest. His lice might have caught a pneumonia that they passed on to their host. He should probably be quarantined from the lab, but they were all sick and getting sicker, so what difference did it make? As Loriei considered this, he said, “Hopefully fixing it will just be difficult instead of impossible.”
“How long have they been gone?” she asked.
He stared at her for a moment. “Local time or travel time in the past?”
“I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“Local: they jumped thirty minutes ago. Time spent in the past: we’ll have to see when they return. There is no other way to know, Loriei.”
She closed her eyes for a few breaths and heard the violin’s sadness and missed notes in her memory again. She opened her eyes still staring at the jump platform. She muttered. “Greetings, we come in peace. We are here to retrieve a sample of your lice to save our kind.”
In rural Ohio, in the year of 1955, a warm breeze blew through the meadow, playing with a few elegant white flowers of an Autumn Cherry tree. The evening was peaceful and a few cottontail rabbits were leaping between the short grasses. A large moon was emerging on the horizon. The moonlight was creating a glittering mirror image on the surface of a pond, where hours earlier cattle have been sipping from. A tractor is parked nearby.
Brandt’s family owned the farm for two generations. He had finished the work for the day and entered the house. He is a large man, on his 60’s, wears a jeans overall and a cap.
“Supper will be ready in 15 minutes.” Says his wife from the kitchen.
“Okay.” Brandt replies with a hint of tiredness on his voice.
He removes his cap and sits on the recliner. With his right hand, he scratches an itch on his scalp.
There is a bright flash somewhere in the field outside. Brandt stands up while looking through the window.
“Helen, I reckon the rustlers are trying to steal our cattle this time. I will teach them a lesson they will never forget.” He opens a cabinet with firearms and retrieves a 45 and a shotgun. He walks up to a small table and grabs a flashlight.
“If I don’t come back in 10 minutes, call Mr. Smith.”
“Are you sure you want to go alone? Oh dear, please be careful!” Helen shouts from the door, as Brandt walks toward the darkness of the night.
Brandt can see a silhouette of two men standing on the pasture. He is normally a calm man, but two trespassers that don’t run away when they see the land owner is bad news. Maybe he should have called for help after all. He stops 15 feet away from the duo and points the flashlight.
Brandt shouts “Whatta hell…”
End of preview.
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