I walk in and talk to a balding man at a desk. I am not sure why I’m here: the room reminds me of a university lecture hall with banks of desks arrayed in front of a central screen. It looks like a NASA control room, almost. The air smells distinctly like bureaucracy.
“The machine has just been completed,” the balding man tells me.
Standing behind him as he sits at the desk, I can see his name plate. His name is John Kew. He points to the screen at the front of the room – it is some kind of alien made scanner-thing. They are trying it for the first time today. I seem as if I belong here; I’m not out of place. I must be some sort of scientist, or an observer.
Yes, that’s more likely, I think.
John Kew tells me he ‘found’ the blueprints for this device, but he doesn’t elaborate.
I say, “In your own journal, right?”
I smile. I am making a joke. Apparently.
I go on, “I liked this story better the first time I read it. You know? As Never Was? P. Schuyler Miller? He finds a knife in his own museum in the future. Builds a museum and puts the knife in it. It only exists there…” I trail off. John Kew looks at me blankly. He doesn’t know.
“This is alien technology,” John Kew says. “Well, there are aliens involved but no one has met them. This machine allows them to communicate with us and to scan us. We don’t know exactly what to expect here.”
I am free to wander the room. I pass the big screen at the front of the room and stop behind another desk just like John Kew’s. There’s a woman at this desk, strong and serious. Her name plate reads: Anne Stockton.
“We can also scan them through the device, but only a few people know how it works. It took three years just to get it to talk to our computers.” Anne Stockton runs a hand through her short hair and doesn’t look at me.
On the screen is what looks like the aurora borealis dancing in rose and green. The shape and the details of the undulations are some kind of language. The scientists seem able to read it.
I take a hard look at the screen and the picture changes. Gold rings appear, and I think of dripping paint into water. A man at the other end of the room calls out that the aliens have registered my presence.
“Something about the eye contact makes it easier for them to scan us,” Anne tells me.
I look down, and then back up again. I am immobilized by some kind of beam. I can’t tell whether I am seeing the beam or only feeling it, but I can’t move until it abruptly cuts off. I feel disoriented: I’m a few feet farther away from Anne’s desk.
I stagger over to John Kew.
“What the hell just happened?” I say.
“You were gone,” he replies.
I look at him blankly.
“You weren’t gone long,” he adds.
No one seems very worried about this. I expect to be enveloped by security, or a medical team, or something. But nothing like that happens. They don’t seem concerned about where I’ve been or what happened while I was gone. I turn back to the screen: it looks all cremation of Sam McGee again.
“You know, I could be a clone or something,” I say. “I don’t feel like a clone, but still you should check it out.”
John Kew rolls his eyes. He thinks I am making another joke. I thank John Kew for his time, and nod to Anne Stockton. Then I walk out of the room, out of the building, and into the world.