Out of Time

Karen Rose

Can you imagine what it's like to wake up in a different world? Where everything you thought was right, turns out to be wrong or at least only half-right. You feel like Dorothy and at first you may even resort to clicking your heels together and reciting, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home." And of course before that even crosses your mind, there's always denial.

"No, there's no way this can be happening. I'm dreaming, that's it…"

"Excuse me, I object to be thought of as something that could have originated from your pea sized intellect…"

"…either that or I'm going mad…"

"Now that I can accept."

"Excuse me." I looked up at the thing that had broken its silence and hobbled towards me, "Do you think this denial will take long? Only you've been doing it for a while and I have a few question to ask."

"Go ahead." Given that I was being spoken to by a giant frog, I didn't see any reason why actually answering it would make that much of a difference, I mean I was clearly already going mad.

"Where are you from?"

"Earth, where are you from?"

"Tallah, where's Earth?"

"Where's Earth?! Where's Tallah?!"

There was a sigh from the other alien in the corner, "This is getting us nowhere." I looked over at the giant…thing that had just spoken for the first time. In English!

"Wait a minute. If none of you knows where Earth is, how come you can all speak English?"

"We don't speak… English. We each speak our native tongue."

"OK I need a seat." I sat and looked at the three of them and tried to clear my thoughts, "Now, let me get this straight. First of all, you want to know if I'm edible and if the little orange git over there can eat me. You don't believe that I'm part of a race of intelligent beings. You've never heard of Earth and you don't speak English, even though I can quite clearly hear you speaking…in English?"

They all looked at each other, and finally the frog spoke. "Basically yes."

"Uhhh…OK just explain one thing."

The frog shrugged, "Shoot."

"Oh please," I looked over at the little orange being, "don't tempt me…there's still one thing I don't understand though…"

"I thought we had covered your lack of intelligence…"

I shot a look and it silenced.

It seemed that even these aliens soon realized that I wasn't to be made angry. Especially when my day so far had already consisted of being knocked unconscious by a control panel on board the Mir space station, waking up to a giant frog, a small orange fraggle and a strange looking hairy giant that looked a lot like Chewbacca after Han Solo had just shoved him in a giant tumble dryer with a bottle of blue dye. Then to find out I'm lost in space with them, I don't know how I got here. They don't know how I got here. They've never heard of Earth. They don't speak English, but they do and the fraggle wants to know if he can eat me!

I rubbed my temples and sighed. Looking around at them, I saw that they looked as uncomfortable with this situation as me.

"How is it that you say you don't speak English? 'Cause I can hear English but it looks like some kind of voice over. Your mouths make weird shapes that don't quite fit words. In fact they don't fit at all."

The frog looked at me as if I was mad, and the way my day was going, I was inclined to agree.

"Because we don't. The air is filled with nanobot translators. We understand from your space station that you may not be familiar with the technology. You seem like quite a primitive race. How could you understand what other beings were saying?"

"Well perhaps because you're the first alien species I've ever encountered…well except perhaps my brother's mother in law…what do you mean, "primitive"?!"

"You mean your brother's mother in law was the only different being on the planet…how awful for her. And I'd prefer if you didn't use the word alien. It's no longer politically correct. Where have you been for the last ten years?"

"Earth."

It was at that point when I realized that I really was lost and that's when I tried the whole "no place like home" thing, which is one of those highly embarrassing stories that I don't intend to tell you about…ever. This was also when I came up with the next theory, which was that I had been sucked into some TV Sci-fi program through the Mir's TV monitor…but somehow even the whole 'lost at the other end of the galaxy' thing seemed to make more sense than that.

I walked through the ships' hallway following the giant frog, who had introduced herself as Rghjya (pronounced Reejya – I asked her to write it down to help me pronounce it, but needless to say that just confused me even more)

"So where was it that you said you were taking me? I mean we hadn't…"

"I'm taking you to the medical bay to get you a sedative."

"WHAT! I don't need a sedative!"

"Oh really."

"Yes really. I'm perfectly calm. I mean, what could I possibly have to panic about? I'm only lost in space and talking to a giant frog. What's there to panic about?…"

"Please calm down. You're getting hysterical again."

"I am not hysterical. I'm…" I stopped and looked as we entered a white room. It was quite small and had only a few beds but it was filled with strange looking boards. There was something odd about them.

"Eh…why are those boards flying and what on earth are they for?"

"They're not for anything on Earth. I told you I'd never even heard of Earth for what possible reason would they be…"

"It's an expression, basically translating as…what are they for?"

"Oh, they're the med. room controls."

"Controls for what? There's nothing here but a few beds, some flying chopping boards and a set of headphones. Where are the scalpols and…and…cutting tools and screens and stuff?"

"What?"

"I don't know. I'm an astrophysicist not a surgeon."

"You use cutting tools?!"

"Yes."

The creature looked at me in complete disgust and shock, "And you were shocked that we didn't think your race intelligent?! You sound like barbarians. Your technology is primitive and you cut each other up."

"Hey, it's not like that at all."

"Then explain it to me."

"Well…I mean we…I…I need help."

After about five minutes of rambling and such, Rghjya was intrigued and started to ask me questions and just when I thought I was making humankind sound like a half decent race, the words "World Wars", "Hitler" and "Hiroshima" left my mouth before I could stop them – they were of course strung together with two important words like "we won" – but Rghjya was now even more convinced that we were primitive barbarians.

"Have you calmed down yet?"

I looked around but all I could see was white. "Am I in a hospital? I had the strangest dream. You'll never believe it, I…" my voice caught in my throat as I saw a chopping board fly over my head.

"Oh no!" I fell to the bed and groaned, "This isn't happening. This is not happening. I must be going mad, I…"

"If you don't stop saying that, Rghjga might just believe you and post you to the Anterres Institution." I looked over to where the voice had come from, "either that or she might let Tae'po eat you, and I doubt you'll want to see the inside of his stomach. He smells bad enough on the outside." I was still staring at him and I think he noticed. Just a guess since the next thing he said was, "You're staring."

"Oh sorry, I…I thought…I…where are you from?"

"Florienna Port. Sorry, kid. They warned me you might think I was from your planet, seeing as we look alike."

"Your mouth fits the words. You're speaking English?"

"My people have a way with languages. All I had to do was study your speech from the camera in the docking bay."

"I did wonder why some of your words were…weird."

"Which ones?"

"The ones that said you were going to post me to that institution."

"On no, I didn't go wrong there. You would actually be posted."

"And we're the barbarians!" He laughed and then helped me off the bed.

"Come on. They said they wanted to see you in the control room when you woke."

"Just as a little note, you might think about making those beds a little softer. I feel like I've been lying on a concrete floor for a week."

"You won't believe how close that actually is to the truth."

"What?"

"Doesn't matter."

After a few very long and sometimes heated conversations, they decided not to send me to an institution, that maybe I was not a barbarian and, much to the fraggle's disappointment, I was not to become supper – for a while at least. But I was still lost and I didn't know when, or even if, I'd ever get home. My new shipmates all had very strange names. The frog was Rghjya, the fraggle, Tae'po, Chewbacca was growl growl growl. I asked him if I could call him Chewy and he agreed because I wasn't pronouncing his name right. He said something about the intonation of the way I growled – which is to say that I actually just said "growl" rather than actually growling – turns out when I said it I swore, which he didn't take too well either. And the human (actually he was Florrien) was Nieay.

"So where in the universe are we exactly?"

"Exactly? Well we're 700 dons left of Tillera."

"OK, sorry I asked." I looked around at the controls. "So all the ship's controls can be accessed if I touch that red crown shaped thing in the middle?"

Nieay looked over to see exactly what 'that red crown shaped thing in the middle' was.

"Yes"

"Cool. Can I try?"

Nieay nodded. "Does your entire species have a fascination with the word 'cool' or is it just you?"

"Some do, some don't…why is nothing happening?"

"You probably pressed it too hard. Try again."

"Is every thing on the ship touch screen? Oh wow!" I stepped back as a three-dimensional interactive holographic imaging processor came to life from the screen.

Don't ask me what all that means because it's too complex - which is to say that I'm not entirely sure how it works. It just does. The ship could also travel large distances in the blink of an eye, which I didn't really understand but I didn't really want to because it had something to do with the a large pool of green goop that didn't make me feel very well and smelled worse than my Uncle Rab's dirty socks.

"So this is an image of the whole ship?"

"Yes."

"Wow."

"That's another word you use a lot."

"Yeah well let's swap situations and you see if you don't say it a lot too. What does this purple dead guy do?"

"What a wonderfully colorful analogy." He grimaced, "It controls the speed of the ship."

"What does the small green triangle next to it do?"

"Turns on the engine coolant"

"The green goop gets hot?"

Nieay laughed and nodded, "Yes, the green goop gets hot."

"And what about the 3D electric-pink jaggy thing?"

"DON'T TOUCH THAT!"

After a few days we were still no closer to finding out how I had gotten here but I wasn't quite as desperate to get home anymore. There were only the five of us on the ship, which wasn't that big really. It was only around the size of a small hotel. I mean I was expecting something that would put The Enterprise to shame. The only thing I was really beginning to dislike – aside from Tae'po – was the lack of facilities. I've never seen a stranger way to…well enough said.

"I don't think I'll ever get used to that. It has to be the most awful way to…"

"Oh you'll get used to it."

"I don't want to get used to it, I want a toilet."

"Sorry but…what's a toilet?"

I looked at him and scrunched up my face, "I don't think that's something I want to explain" I shivered and closed my eyes, a moment later I was on the floor, "Uh, Ouch."

Nieay was laughing, "You might want to watch where you're going in future." He extended a hand and helped me up.

"Thanks for the advice. What's that thing for anyway?" I was looking at the indent in the floor that I had tripped over.

"You know what I'm not entirely sure."

"Wow, something you don't know. Wonders will never cease." That remark was, of course, met with a swift smack to my left arm, "Hey."

"While we're on the subject of me not knowing things. I found this on the Mir in a compartment, what's it for?"

I looked at him in complete horror as he lifted up a condom, "Eh…I…" Nieay burst out laughing.

"You should see the look on your face."

I hit him of course, "Anyway, just to change the subject completely. I've been meaning to ask. I've been on this ship for about a week and I still haven't seen you lot do anything. What exactly do you lot do?"

"Good recovery."
"I thought so."

"We're scouts for the Intergalactic Space Corps."

"And translated that means…?"

"Basically, we look around space for signs of trouble."

I looked at him with a wry smile "Did I qualify?"

"Most definitely."

There was definitely a lot to be said for this place! OK so maybe I'm getting a little side tracked here. I was getting less confused as time went on – not that that was saying much, I was just glad my sentences were no longer starting with noises like "nghja" and ending with "help" or "confusion much". Nieay and I also spent a lot of time together, and started to notice just how sexy…OK too much detail. We also found out what happened to the Mir and why I was here. I wasn't at the other end of the galaxy at all. I was in exactly the same place.

"That's impossible."

"But," I looked directly at him "It's the only explanation."

"Let me get this straight…"

"You're beginning to sound like me." Nieay stopped and smiled. Then he shook himself back into what he was saying, "What you're suggesting is that this is the exact same place in the galaxy as the Earth, only the Earth isn't here because you've traveled into the future."

We all looked at each other, and finally I spoke, "Basically yes"

"Uhhh…OK just explain one thing."

I shrugged, "Shoot." I smiled at Chewy and Rghjya but Tae'po looked confused. He opened and closed his mouth a few times before finally speaking, "I have the strangest sensation of déjà vu."

I turned back to Nieay, "Look the small black octagons on the blue flashing panel in the docking bay said it had found temporal differences between the Mir and your ship, even between me and all of you. I was looking at space on those weird headphones and I recognized some of it and I asked the computer, which by the way is very cool, very Star Trek…and I think I'll stop now as I can see I'm just confusing you even more…anyway, I asked it if it could show me what these things would have looked like a couple of billion years ago, and they fit. I found the Orion Nebula and even where our sun used to be. I'm telling you, I'm from the past."

"And just how do you explain how you got here?"

"Well, I haven't quite got that far yet."

"I have." I looked over at Chewy who was, I had discovered, a man…well, a male of few words.

I take that back, he launched into a twenty minute explanation about the space-time continuum and something about a wormhole that went everywhere and nowhere all at the same time and at different times, all of them…at once. Basically, once again my sentences were starting with noises like "nghja" and ending with "help" or "confusion much". That was when fate came knocking…literally. He was a three armed bandit that looked something like Freddie Krueger after he'd had a fight with a blender and I wont even venture to mention the smell.

There was another blast as the table we were crouching behind took another hit.

"I thought you said you guys worked with some Peace Corps."

"Yeah, well I also told you that we looked for trouble, and Fate is definitely something to be counted as trouble."

"Trouble is one thing, mass murder is another!"

"We're not exactly a mass."

"You're stepping on the point."

"Look, we have our run ins just like everyone else, some are our fault most aren't, and this one definitely aren't…eh isn't."

"Look can't you just send the guy a box of chocolates and say sorry?" He stopped and looked at me, "I'll take that as a 'no'"

"Yeah. Look I'm going to go to the left, and sneak behind him. Cover me"

Now there was something I had hoped he would say, just not in that context!

"Hello?"

"Uh sorry…" I stumbled to regain my line of thought…that is, the one I was supposed to be following. "Yeah sure. Only don't expect too much, I'm not familiar with this kind of technology."

"What's to be familiar with? Point and shoot. It's not that hard."

"When you put it like tha…" I stopped, "Nieay?"

"What?"

"How long has there been no shooting?"

"Eh…I don't know."

"To use a famous quote, 'I have a bad feeling about this'."

"You and me both, I'm going to sneak a look. Wait here."

"Yeah, because I'm going someplace."

"Look just keep watch."

Slowly he crept towards the window then he stood up in confusion. "He's gone." Nieay turned and as he did, his eyes widened.

"LOOK…"

Death wasn't exactly something I had wanted at that particular moment. Luckily it wasn't something that wanted me either. I woke up to a white room and…why is it that all medical rooms are white? Is there a rule or something, and I'm just not aware of it?…anyway, I woke up to a white room, a flying chopping board…and one hell of a migraine.

"You OK?"

"I don't know. Maybe if you could stop the nuclear explosion in my head, I'd feel OK."

"Well you haven't lost you sense of humor, so things can't be that bad. At least not as bad as your sense of humor."

"Ha, ha, very funny. What happened to Fate?"

"He's in the jail on the third floor. Now seriously, are you OK?"

I smiled, "I'll live." I looked right at him, "Won't I?"

He laughed, "Of course you will." We locked eyes and the laughter stopped.

"Look," I noticed that Nieay looked serious.

"What is it?"
"Growl growl growl thinks that he may know how to send you home, to your own time."

"Oh."

"Is that all you have to say?"

"I don't really know what to say, or what to think. I'm just finally getting the hang of things here…and I like it…and the people…"

He looked at the floor, "…But…"

"But, I miss my life, so why shouldn't I go home? I don't really have anything in particular to stay for, do I?"

"You have me."

Well, what would you choose? On one hand I had this whole new world before me. I had new things to learn. I could explore the universe instead of just looking at it, an astrophysicist's dream. And there was Nieay (extra points for being sexy!). But there was home. Everything I knew, everything I could take back with me, everything I had to go back to.

Well, what would you choose?

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