The air was calm. The water was still. The insects in the surrounding jungle had stopped making a sound. It was like everything had just stopped all at once. Jason looked around, mouth agape at the sudden silence – the deafening cacophony of nature, which had been his constant companion for the past two months, had never once abated. He took another step into the clearing, and tentative sounds emerged once more. Each step towards the obelisk in the center raised the decibel level, until by the twentieth step the sound was back in full force. Vague discomfort faded, and Jason stood examining the object in the center of the clearing.
It stood in the exact center of a perfect circle cut in the vegetation. Vines, trees, and undergrowth abruptly gave way to waving Kentucky bluegrass, itself an oddity in the rainforest. The obelisk stood in the center of the tranquil sea, its alabaster body covered in complex carvings and symbols. The flow of the symbols tugged at Jason, hinting at a meaning beyond his grasp – a word on the tip of his tongue just begging to be heard. Jason moved closer to the obelisk, examining the carvings. Smooth lines festooned the surface, showing no evidence of tool work common among ancient relics in the area. The sunlight reflecting off the surface was unbroken, marred by neither crease nor gouge. The craftsmanship rivaled the greatest of modern fabrication techniques, the perfection bespeaking exquisite care and skill on the part of the craftsman.
Jason reached a tentative hand out to the object. His fingers lightly brushed the surface before he jerked them back, shaking feeling back into them. His arm hairs stood on end, static electricity coursing through him as he reached forward again. This time, there was no shock – his fingers connected solidly with the object. What appeared smooth at a glance felt pebbled as he ran his finger down the side, exploring the texture. His wandering finger found one of the designs – an odd spiral that folded back on itself three times. He began to idly trace the design, his finger moving of its own volition along the curves of the engraving.
The sounds surrounding him began to die out again, but this time a low pervasive hum began to rise in their place. Jason’s eyes widened at the change, but his finger continued to walk the curved path, increasing in speed with the volume of the basso rumble. It came from everywhere at once, shaking Jason’s bones, causing his teeth to chatter uncontrollably, but his finger continued to push onward. His arms visibly shook with effort as he tried to pull away, but he was unable to stop the progression.
At the halfway point in the design the hum became a high-pitched whine. The ear-piercing shriek appeared out of nowhere, starting as abruptly as the basso rumble had stopped. The greenery of the clearing faded as his finger moved, occluded by a white glow originating from the obelisk itself. The intensity grew as he moved down the spiral, becoming blinding while still allowing perfect sight. The world faded into a white light, the obelisk only making itself known through the pebbled texture under Jason’s finger.
Jason’s finger finished its traversal, and everything stopped at once. All the jungle sounds, the whine, the light – all ceased to exist. He blinked his eyes, seeing the obelisk as an after-image against his eyelids in the green and purple of photo-negatives. He opened his eyes to look around, but was met with only darkness. There was no breeze, no odors, no light, no sound – the entire world had ceased to exist. Time dilated as Jason stood in the nothingness. His finger hadn’t moved, but he could no longer feel the obelisk. Minutes passed like seconds, and seconds passed like hours. With no feedback, no frame of reference, an eternity whipped by in an eye blink.
A sudden buzzing caught Jason’s ear. There was a bright flash, and then a rising glow. Bars of light, floating in empty space as they increased in illumination, pierced the blackness. After a few moments details appeared, the soft white light reflecting off matte gray as his surroundings came into focus. Jason blinked a few times, clearing the afterimages as his eyes adjusted to the new light. The obelisk was gone, as was the grass. Unmarked gray lined the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room he found himself in, broken only by the bars of light along the floor of the chamber.
Realizing he was still holding his finger out he snatched it back to his side. He checked the finger, but saw no damage imparted by the strange object. His breathing quickened as he looked around, all signs of the world he knew gone. Jason moved about the room, running his fingers along the unbroken walls, but the only variation in the perfect octagonal enclosure was the light emerging from the floor.
Jason jumped at the sudden sound. The voice came from everywhere and nowhere, deafening, permeating his very being. He clapped hands over his ears in shock, but the sound had left before he completed the maneuver. The silence rang in his ears, stretching as no further information came. Jason swallowed, and spoke to the room.
His voice sounded tentative, the sound small in the acoustically dead space. He waited for a response, but none came. He had just opened his mouth to try again when the voice invaded his body once more.
“IDENTIFICATION INVALID. RESTATE.”
“I, uh, I don’t have any…” Jason’s voice trailed off as he stumbled over the words. “Who… who are you?”
Once again the silence stretched out, and Jason stood silently. After another pause, the booming voice returned.
“IDENTIFICATION INVALID. UNAUTHORIZED ACCESS DETECTED. ASSISTANCE REQUESTED. PLEASE STAND BY.”
The words hit him with a solid force, the meaning both plain and confusing. Jason looked around at the walls, seeing neither speaker nor microphone.
“Uh hey, what’s going on here?” His voice had a bit more strength behind it, but the complete lack of ambient noise made it continue to sound thin. “Where am I? Who are you?”
He waited expectantly, but no reply came. After several minutes, he began to pace the room. He ran his hand along the gray walls, but found nothing. Each edge of the octagon appeared to be six paces long. He bent down to examine the light source, but could detect neither power connection nor method of generation. He stood up and struck at the wall, balled fist bouncing harmlessly off the hard material. He shook his hand and cursed, checking the bones tenderly but finding no damage. After another moment, he returned to the center of the room and sat down.
“Who are you?”
The voice startled Jason, and he turned around to look at the source. A dark figure stood outlined in the center of one of the walls, bathed from behind in bright light. The voice was feminine, but the shape could have been anything – amorphous, columnar, indiscernible. Jason squinted, trying to discern details.
The figure shifted slightly. “Can you understand me?”
Jason nodded. “Yes, I can.”
“Good.” The figure stepped into the room, revealing a woman’s head over flowing purple and maroon robes. The robes obscured the woman’s figure, the lack of lines and smooth complexion of her face bespeaking youthful vigor. “Who are you?”
Jason stared at the woman. “I’m, uh, Jason MacIntyre.”
The woman frowned. “I don’t know of anyone by that name authorized to use this facility.”
The woman ignored his question. “How did you get here, Jason MacIntyre?”
Jason shrugged. “I don’t know. I found this carved pillar in a forest clearing, and now here I am.”
“Hmm.” The woman cocked her head, as though listening to something, then abruptly focused on Jason again. “Please come with me, Jason MacIntyre.”
“What? Where are we going?” The woman either ignored him or didn’t hear him as she turned and stepped back into the light. After a moment’s indecision, Jason got to his feet and followed her. She walked confidently down the brightly-lit corridor, white and featureless walls glowing with a daytime intensity. Jason caught up to the woman. “Excuse me, miss. Where are we?”
“All will be made clear soon enough, Jason MacIntyre.” The woman’s voice lacked inflection and emotion, sounding as mechanical as an electronic answering service. Jason shrugged and continued to follow the woman.
The hallway abruptly ended, leaving the pair standing in a corner. As Jason opened his mouth to ask another question, the woman raised a hand against the wall before them. A circle flashed green around the woman’s hand and the wall simply faded, revealing a small room beyond. Along the far wall was a man sitting at a desk, staring into space. The desk was made of some featureless gray material, similar to the walls in the earlier octagonal room. The woman gestured, and Jason stepped across the threshold. He turned to look at the woman for instruction, but the wall had already reappeared behind him. Jason stepped forward, putting a hand to the wall in wonder, feeling nothing but solid material beneath his hands.
“It won’t work for you, at least not yet.” Jason turned to look at the man behind the desk, who had lost his unfocused look as he eyed Jason appraisingly. He indicated a small chair opposite the desk. “Please have a seat, Mr. MacIntyre.”
Jason moved over to the chair, examining it suspiciously. He reached out a hesitant hand, but felt nothing out of the ordinary. After a moment’s hesitation, he sat down and looked at the man across the desk. “Who are you?”
“You can call me Frank.” The man smiled. “And you are Jason MacIntrye.” Jason nodded. “I bet you’re wondering what’s going on.”
“You could say that again.”
“Well, unfortunately I wish I could tell you that. Your arrival has caused a lot of concern.”
“Arrival?” Jason looked confused.
Frank nodded. “The octagonal room – that’s our arrival area. It’s been closed off for nearly twenty years. I’m guessing some technician forgot to disconnect the power.”
Jason stared blankly. “Ok, wait. What’s going on here?”
“This is going to be a bit hard to take.” Frank sighed. “Mr. MacIntyre, you’ve travelled approximately six hundred years into your future.”
“The device you found was one of our early experiments in time travel. By activating it, you activated a recall beam that pulled you from your time into ours.”
“Time travel? Recall beam? All of that’s impossible!”
Frank chuckled. “I’m sure it seems that way to you, but I assure you it is both possible and feasible.”
“But what about Einstein, and all that relativity stuff?”
“Ideas of science evolve, Mr. MacIntyre. A few thousand years ago, people were convinced that Aristotle’s four elements were all that composed the cosmos. Not all that long before your time, people were convinced that it was bad blood that caused disease. Let’s just say our understanding of physics has changed in the intervening time.”
Jason exhaled deeply. “Huh. So, six hundred years?”
Frank nodded. “Give or take.”
“Where am I, then?”
“You are in a small research facility near what you would have known as Des Moines, Iowa.”
“Would have known? Was there some sort of massive war or something?”
Frank chuckled. “Several, actually, but really we’ve simply evolved past our need for physical delimiters of space.”
“Locale designations, addresses, and so on. Those hold very little meaning these days.”
“So how do you know where you are?”
Frank shrugged. “Call it something like GPS. With the advent of quantum teleportation, we simply refer to everything by coordinates. It’s easier and produces a more accurate description of location.”
Jason frowned. “Teleportation? Like Star Trek?”
“Never mind.” Jason looked around at the room, then back at Frank. “Seems kind of sparse. Does no one decorate in the future?”
Frank chuckled. “Oh we do. We just have different ways of seeing it.”
“For lack of a better way to put it, every person has a computer built into their brain that constantly affects what they see.”
Frank waved a hand. “Look, we could spend years talking about the things you’ve missed. But in the end, right now we have two questions to focus on.”
Jason cocked his head. “And those are?”
“How did you get here, and how in the hell will we ever get you back.”