Waiting outside professor Garnett's office meant one of two things.
Either you had done something exemplary, which meant that you were there to explain your work in an easy to plagiarize way, for it was not unknown to have a paper released by the great man himself that bore an uncanny likeness to the work you had presented to him a month earlier. Work that you were initially told that, although noteworthy and innovative, it was nothing that would grab the attention of your peers nor indeed anyone within your chosen field - Unless it miraculously had the professor’s name on it, that is.
The other reason was, of course, that you were in trouble. The latter, for Mari, was probably the case when it came to her having a ‘little talk’ with the professor. Something that, in the past had usually ended up in her getting at least a week's suspension - Without pay.
The small anteroom that served as a waiting area to his office was decked out with scenes from varying points in history. Groundbreaking events such as the first harmonic explosion, the hydrogen engine and, of course, the Mars landing and subsequent colonies that had now made their homes there. This one was particularly close to her as it was her great grandmother who had been part of the original settlers. A group of scientists that had taken a one way ticket to another planet in order to ‘back up the human race’. Mari herself had been born on Mars and had, despite the legal ramifications and red tape that still, after all these years, tied up such notions, considered herself a Martian. Of human origin obviously, but with no more right to be named as an Earthling than the animals that once roamed its surface.
There was, of course, a stigma attached to referring to yourself in this way, as Mari had found out very quickly on her first visit to Earth and the subsequent application to the university. The form had said ‘Off worlder.’ Mari had, in her naivety, crossed this out and put Martian in its place - Something that had haunted her time here from that day onwards.
The door to the main office opened, the sound of which caused Mari to start from her daydream of subtle tournaments from her fellow students. Years of finding pictures of little green men drawn in her notebooks. Soap laced with food colouring that had turned her green for a couple of hours after she had showered, and of course the hilarious ‘beep beep’ noises behind her back.
“Ready when you are Miss Jenson.” Said the professor.
And that was another thing. Her name was way too close to Jetson for anyone to let that pass. Mari smiled and made her way into his office.
“Thank you for making time to see me Miss Jenson.”
“Not at all.” Replied Mari with a forced confidence that had been honed in the fires of ridicule.
“How may I help you?” She asked.
Professor Garnett seated himself on the small leather sofa that was placed in front of the log fire and away from the imposing oak desk that dominated the room. He gestured towards the chair that sat opposite.
“Please.” He said. “Make yourself comfortable.”
On the glass coffee table that separated them was the paper Mari had submitted some three months ago. Its dogeared appearance gave the impression that it had been looked over many times, something Mari was not sure was a good thing or not. She sat on the edge of the overstuffed chair, placing her hand on her rear and sliding her hand towards her knees so as to smooth her skirt out. The professor picked up the paper and flicked through it.
“Would you consider this to be an idea, or a discovery?”
His light grey eyes stopped scanning the documents in front of him and settled on Mari with pin prick-like attention. His gaze was unnerving. Intimidating almost, and the question he asked was almost accusatory in its manner.
“I have proof.” Replied Mari, who chastised herself inwardly when hearing the slight quake in her own voice.
“Ah yes.” Came a distracted reply as the professor turned the pages of her work once again. “The boy.”
“My son.” Corrected Mari who had gained a little more confidence that had been fueled by anger at having Micheal referred to as ‘The boy’.
Professor Garnett leaned back into the sofa.
“Tell me more of the soccer game.” He said. “If”, he added, “That is okay.”
Mari searched his face for any signs of patronising indulgence, for she was not going to set her son up as an exhibition piece to be ridiculed as she had been. Having satisfied herself that he was showing genuine interest, Mari took a deep breath and began.
“Micheal, my son, is a high performing autistic nine year old.” She said.
“We still use that term?” Asked the professor.
“For want of a better word.” Replied Mari. “Why?” She asked.
He shrugged and leaned forward once more in order to pick up his notepad and pen.
“It just seems to me.” He said. “That with all the advancements we have made over the past two hundred years since we deemed to give a name to this condition, and being no closer as to why it occurs, at least we could do is give it a more non stigmatic description.”
He smiled at Mari and held up the pad and pen. “Would you mind if I made some notes as you speak?”
Mari relaxed a little at the professors last comment. It made him a little more human, a little less - Android. The vast intelligence that was housed within thousands of ferabytes of information stored within the university’s mainframe had created an anamorphic personification. A reference point for the many students that roamed its hallowed halls.
A man in his early fifties. Robust and broad shouldered. Pot bellied and graying hair, suggesting a wild youth and an intelligence ignored or misunderstood that had later found its place within the halls of the university. The building itself was hewn from rocks that had once been part of the volcanic circle, the fury of which was now held at bay and used to power what had once been the Antarctic solar batteries.
“Not at all.” She replied.
He smiled once more, a smile that had been calculated to be warm and comforting at the same time. “Do go on.” He said.
“Micheal does not like sport. He hates it in fact.”
“Why do you think that is?”
It was an odd question, and one that had never been asked of her.
“It’s the coordination factor.” She replied. “He has a hard time getting the timing right when having to engage in something that requires that sort of dexterity.”
The professor made a note and then turned to one of the pages of Mari’s paper.
“What does the term ‘Runs like Woody’ mean?”
“Have you ever seen the film from the 21st century called Toy Story?”
“I know of it.” Came the reply. “A child's movie is it not?”
“And a guilty indulgence by the parents of those children.” Laughed Mari.
A screen opened up in the space between them.
“Show me what you mean.”
Mari rolled up the sleeve of her dress and connected to the screen via the armband she wore.
The ‘Psychic Web’ they had called it. The next step in social interaction. Most people had their interface decoders surgically embedded onto their forearms when they were born. An oraninc affair that grew as they did, gathering relevant and age appropriate information, supported by monthly updates to the wetware chip connected to the host's cerebral cortex. The keypad was invisible until activated and a far cry from the wristband that Mari, and other offworlders wore.
She tapped out the required pathways and the image of the aforementioned character appeared on the screen. The professor watched for a while before saying.
“Disjointed. Flailing almost. An attempt to gain balance to an action that is foreign to its perpetrator.”
‘Runs like Woody.”
The professor smiled once more.
“Runs like Woody.” He conceded. “I like that analogy. Throughout your paper you seem to use a lot of references to early 21st century pop culture I see.”
“I do.” Agreed Mari. “I wanted people to understand what goes on in the mind of children with autism. Something they can relate to. To connect with.”
The professor nooded, almost to himself.
“The angst felt by this ‘Hulk’ person for example.
“Yes. The fury of not being understood, of non-comprehension that boils up inside until…”
“Bang.” Said the professor.
“Bang.” Agreed Mari. “Autstic rage - A meltdown almost.”
“Hulk smash, I believe the saying to be.”
“Indeed.” Agreed Mari, her appreciation for the professors understanding growing to something akin to respect.
The screen disappeared and Mari took this as her cue to continue.
“As part of his social activities, I asked him to join in with a game of soccer, along with the other children at his school.”
“And how did he feel about this?”
Again, another odd question - But relevant nonetheless.
“He was very nervous at first and took some coaxing to agree to it.”
There was a slight pause before the professor asked.
“How did you convince him?”
“I explained the rules to him.” Replied Mari. “The idea of the game and the objective. You see, it is within our own embedded arrogance that we assume that those we speak to know exactly what we are talking about.”
“Indeed. Just because you are aware of the rules, doesn't mean that I am.”
“The rules of soccer?” Said the professor.
“The rules to life.” Replied Mari. “Day to day living. The reason why somethings are wrong and others are right can become massive contradictions to those with autism.”
“So you broke down the game into logical parts of interconnectable information.”
“And this led you to see something that two hundred years of study had missed?”
“I believe so.” Said Mari quietly. “He looked at the ball and then looked at the other players on the field.” An unexpected tear rolled down Mari’s cheek as she remembered the day. “He took the ball from one end of the field to the other, avoiding the other players and passing by them as if they were not there.” Mari looked up at the professor. “He had worked out where they would be in relation to his own body movements you see, and had compensated. He even scored a goal.” She added with a smile.
“Precognitive?” Asked professor Garett.
“Almost.” Agreed Mari. “But more of a working of probable cause and effect, and then using that information to his advantage.”
The professor placed his pen and notepad on the table and stood up. He went over to the large window that looked out over the campus fields. One of the lecturers, a woman by the name of Alexis, looked up and smiled. She executed a small half wave to which the professor reciprocated. A small flush reddened the woman’s cheeks as she put her head down and carried on with her day. He briefly wondered if she knew of his state of existence - Or even if she cared.
“That sounds like programming to me.” He said.
“Which leads me on to my conclusion.’ Replied Mari.
The professor carried on looking out of his window. Information was being drawn from every available source. Facts and figures being examined, used or discarded as necessary. The term ‘As necessary’ hung in the air.
“What do you think?” Asked Mari.
“Billions of things.” Replied the professor. “And that is the point.” He turned to face Mari.
“I have a suppression cap. A restrictive program that filters out what it deemed to be junk.”
“Your point.” Said Mari.
“My point is.” Came his reply. “ Is that without that filter, I would be unable to function as an approximation of sentience. My systems would become overloaded.”
“Hulk smash.” Smiled Mari.
“Exactly.” Replied the professor. He walked back to the sofa and picked up the paper. “Do you know why I put my name to the more important papers and ideas that are submitted?” He asked.
“Plagiarism?” Said Mari, with a note of sarcasm in her tone.
The professor laughed.
“Is that what people think?” He said.
“It’s a source of perturbation, yes.”
“No. I decide what is needed and put my name to it so that the ideas are heard and acted upon. Those who had a hand in my design, and the people they answer to, will take note of what I have to say, where a lesser known academic...” He gestured to Mari. “...Such as yourself, would be ignored.” He picked up the paper. “At great loss it would seem.”
“So you think I’m onto something?” Asked Mari enthusiastically.
“Possibly. But if, as your paper suggests, the human genome is reprogramming itself, evolving into the next phase of existence, then the implications and ramifications of such an idea would have far reaching consequences.”
“Such as?” Asked Mari.
There was no answer.
In fact, there was no movement from the professor at all.
Mari waved her hand in front of his fixed stare.
“Professor? Hello?” She said.
Mari felt uneasy.
The air felt thick and the room had fallen into an almost forced silence.
She looked up at the clock whose slow ticking sound had provided a comforting background noise as it chipped away at the seconds, minutes, hours and days. But even that had stopped as though both it and the professor were one. Maybe they were, she thought. Mari stood and went to the door and opened it in the hope that there was someone else waiting. But it was as silent as the room she now occupied. She closed it again and went to the window, steering a wide berth around the professor as if expecting him to jump out at her, something she had seen in so many of the old horror movies she had binged on in her youth.
The room seemed darker somehow. Colder.
“Such as discimination. Persecution and war.” Said a voice from the shadows.
The voice, dripped with malevolence and hatred, cutting through the air like a knife made of ice. Ice that seized Mari’s soul and stopped her in her tracks...She let out a cry of alarm as she turned sharply towards the sound.
‘Who's there?” She said. Too loud and too shaken.
Part of the room seemed darker than the rest. A small corner that had been used to house a half table and an equally small, innocuous houseplant looked as though a hole had swallowed them up. A hole that swallowed even the light, and it was from here that the owner of the voice detached themself. When the apparition stepped into the light, Mari put her hand to her mouth so as to stifle a scream. Her body began to tremble with fear as she backed away, stopping only when she bumped into the professor's desk. The accompanying taste of bile in her mouth and the warm sensation running down the inside of her leg as she lost bladder control caused Mari’s knees to give out, and as she fell to the ground Mari kept her eyes fixed on the demon that had manifested itself from her darkest nightmares.
“Please don’t hurt me.” She pleaded. Mari despised her own weakness and inability to protect herself. “Who are you?” She asked, correcting herself when the apparition came closer into view. “What are you?” she added. Whatever it was stopped before her and bent at the knees. The black, metallic like dress it wore fell away as if it was made from silk, revealing a long slender leg that was covered in scars. Intrinsic circles and signs bore witness that these were self induced upon flesh that matched the colour of the dress exactly. This mutilation continued upwards, concealed only by the rest of the garment until reappearing between breasts that suggested that, whatever this was - was definitely female. Overly large, green eyes examined Mari like some science experiment, unsure if what was under the glass should be allowed to live or flushed away like so many of its predecessors. The marks continued across its face - Her face - and on skin that was not just dark, but jet black, but most striking of all was the hair. Flame red ribbons that burst from her scalp like an erupting volcano, flowing down her back like rivers of lava. She tilted her head to one side, her eyes flicking down towards the puddle this woman sat in. She was used to the looks, the screams and the sudden reverting to a religion they used as a safety net in case of - Well, her. But this was new. She’d never had one soil themselves before.
“It would take millions of years to reach what you see in front of you now, if you keep what you know to yourself. Years of selective breeding and chance that it may, or may not reach its potential. Years of persecution and segregation of what your peers will be unable to understand - Or unwilling.” She added. “But ultimately you, and what you are now will fall into extinction.”
Mari’s mouth moved up and down, but no words came out. Shocked, as they were into silence.
“It’s a map.” Sighed the apparition, in reference to the scars.
“A - A map?” Said Mari. It was an odd thing for the woman, female - Whatever it was to say.
“Of what?” She asked, unsure if she wanted to know the answer.
“Time.” Came the reply, and on holding out her hand she said. “My name is Destiny Sails. You, Mari Jenson, and I have much to discuss.”
Mari stared at Destiny’s hand for a while before realising that she was offering her assistance to stand up. Mari wasn’t sure she wanted to but took it anyway. With some help she made her way to the chair. The female, who had introduced herself as Destiny Sails, had skin that felt like silk. It was as though it was outside the rules of friction and restrictive force, covering a frame that housed muscles that moved like powerful snakes. An engine almost, and with that thought Mari wondered if this strange woman was of the same ilk as the professor himself.
“Most of me is organic.” Said Destiny as Mari sat down. “In case you were wondering.”
“But human?” Asked Mari. “Or of human descent.”
Destiny shrugged. She sat next to the inert professor and prodded him with her long slender finger. He rocked slightly before settling back into his original position.
“No-one is sure anymore.” She turned her gaze back to Mari. “What do you think?”
Destiny smiled. Her white, pointed teeth bore resemblance more to a shark than to anything human. Demonic even, reflecting Mari’s first impressions. The smile did not come natural and looked as though the practice of which was read about, rather than something born of joy or happiness.
“A creation maybe - But I am speculating that this, sorry - You are a result of what paths we take from this point.”
Destiny sat back and crossed her legs. The dress fell away once more causing Mari to look away as the view compromised the already limited modesty the garment afforded, as she spread her arms along the back of the sofa and the already plunging neckline opened further, adding to this macabre spectacle of sexual contradiction. Her beauty was horrific in its nature - Compelling in its ability to stir both feelings of terror and eroticism.
“A result of a path, yes. But one both you and I will take today.” She said.
Mari raised a shaking finger towards Destiny.
“A map of time, you said.”
Destiny appraised the scars on her arms, pulling away the limited covering the dress afforded to show more of her mutilation.
“Ongoing.” She replied.
This was met by a shocked silence of what Destiny was implying until broken by the confirmation of that implication. “Every new path is mapped onto the only thing I am able to take with me.”
“The dress?” Said Mari. 'Or lack of it.' She thought.
“Will rot. Will tear - Will need to be washed.” She added. Destiny’s hairline raised a little, suggesting that she had frowned at her last comment, but the sheer and uniform blackness of her skin did not give the outside viewer a clue to any subtle facial movement. Mari leaned forward and poured herself a glass of water. The decanter rattled loudly against the glass as the adrenaline turned sour in her veins, pumped by a heart, the beat of which pulsed rapidly within her inner ear. After she had taken a deep pull she wiped the spillage from her chin.
“A decision we will make?” She asked in an attempt to take the subject of this strange woman's self mutilation away from Mari’s already addled mind.
“This moment is known in history as ‘A dark pathway.’ There are no records of what was said, or done here today. We know only two things.”
“Which are?” Said Mari after Destiny had paused for too long. It was as though she was reluctant to continue - Or unable.
“That, your findings, concerning your sons ‘Condition’." Destiny almost spat the word out as though its very meaning and suggestive tones were abhorrent to her. “Are correct.” She continued.
“And the other thing?” Promoted Mari.
“Is that I was here on that day - This day.”
There was another pause.
“On this day, the professor here will put his name to your suggestion that the human genome is reprogramming itself for the next stage in your - Our evolution. It will be found that, due to the filth and poisons you and your kind have pumped into your world, this change is also a rebellion against what can be tolerated no more.”
“So we become - You?” Asked Mari.
“Possibly” Replied Destiny. “You may have become something else had Herrod not risen. Or maybe.” She mused. “What you see now is a result of his rise.”
“There was a book” said Destiny, “A religious text that spoke of a King that slaughtered all of the first born in his kingdom. He thought them to be a threat to him as one of them was prophesied to be the son of a popular deity. A story, of course, but still one that carries the same message of some who would be threatened by those who would replace them.”
“The Bible.” Said Mari. “You're speaking as though it doesn’t exist anymore.”
Destiny shrugged. “I’m sure it does - Somewhere.”
Mari shook her head, trying to bring the conversation back on track and away from what Destiny's comments were implying.
“You said that my findings are right?” She said.
“They are the doorway to a greater understanding.” Replied Destiny.
Mari smiled. The second tear of the day rolled down her cheek.
“And there it is.” Said Destiny. Her tone was filled with annoyance and loathing.
“What?” Asked Mari as she wiped the moisture from her face.
“The arrogance that the understanding was yours to achieve.”
Destiny ran both her hands through her hair before bringing the ends around so that it partially covered her largely exposed bosom. She closed her eyes leaving the redness of her lips to be the only things to betray the cartography of her face. The Cheshire cat in its most extreme and frightening form. When she opened them again, Mari imagined that she could see more than just years and experience in them. They shone with horrors seen and of a future hewn from pain and fire. Sorrow and violence.
“Then whose is it?” Asked Mari when she had pulled herself from the allure of such attractive, yet horrific beauty.
“Those who will take your place.” Sighed Destiny. “Those that will lay the template for the ones who come after. Those who bring us into being.”
“Herrod? Or the embodiment of.” Replied Mari.
Destiny just tilted her head either in acknowledgement or resignation to what fate will come. She picked up the papers in front of the now frozen professor.
“If you allow this..: She waved her hand non-committedly and almost with contempt at the android, “to publish your work, then the pain to a new future will begin.” She paused a little before letting the full weight of her stare, fall with an uncomfortable force on Mari.
“With your son at its heart.” She added.
“Why Michael?” Asked Mari as she felt her own skin trying to crawl away from her body under Destiny’s stare. A stare she broke, to Mari’s relief.
“Because you will thrust him and his kind into the spotlight of basic human fear. You will present him as, not only the next step in their evolution, but as a replacement for them.”
Destiny stood and walked towards Mari. She bent at the hip letting the dress fall forward, exposing more of what Mari did not care to see. She tried to turn away but her gaze was inexorably drawn to the symbols carved over and around breasts that most cosmetic surgeons would only dream of creating. Symbols that appeared to be moving. Growing. Changing.
“Do you expect these savages to go quietly into the night?” she hissed, ignoring the fact that this semi-evolved ape was showing less than eye contact.
Mari tried to swallow the hoarseness from her voice, but what came out was still strangled with fear and revulsion.
“Did they?” she said, surprised more by the fact that she had accepted this woman to be from another time without question, or proof. But the horrors of times to come and atrocities yet to be exacted were evident in the representation of those nightmares that now stood before her. A woman ripped from her own time, brought across the streams to exact judgement and correction on us all. An avenging angel from the depths of Hell’s own pit of pain and fury. Destiny stood straight once more. There was an uncomfortable pause before she replied
“They did not.” she said eventually. “Herrod rose, and not understanding their world was his folly - Their folly.” She added as she sat herself on the edge of the professor’s desk.
“Mankind pushed and they pushed back - Only harder.”
A look of confusion ran across Mari’s face. Something that was addressed by Destiny before she felt that the ape would say something stupid.
“Your child understands this world perfectly. He simply does not live in it. He sees things you do not. He wants things you cannot provide. His failure to understand what you are trying to do for him comes from an inability to think down to your level. But when he feels like his world is being, let us say - Attacked - He will break yours. And so it was.”
“Or will be?” Asked Mari. But Destiny did not answer. Instead she smoothed out some imaginary creases from the skirt of her dress as if to avoid the question.
“What you choose to do here today will delay what is to come - Certainly.”
“It won’t change it then.” Whispered Mari, almost to herself. A statement rather than a question. She looked up at Destiny in time to see the scars on her upper arm move a little further down. On noticing the look on Mari's face, Destiny followed her gaze and smiled.
“It moves forward, but never changes.” She said. “Some paths can be closed and moved. Others are compounded within history's story. Such is the way with Michael’s.”
A sudden rush of despair and anger washed over Mari, and with forced, adrenaline fueled fury she stood up and shouted.
“Then why are you here? What are you for if not to change it.”
Destiny moved to meet her with a speed that was almost imperceivable. The placement from one position to another seemed to come without any connecting movement that would justify the transition from one state to another, and for the second time since first encountering this strange being, the fear rose in Mari so much as to cause another loss in bladder control. The warm liquid erupted from her, staining the front of her skirt before running down the inside of her legs - legs that shook to the point of almost being unable to support her. The burning sensation of bile in her throat caused her to gag and Mari realised that this fear over revulsion was - True fear. Primal and untamed..the evidence of which now pooled at her feet. Destiny’s face was uncomfortably close to Mari’s and she could see herself reflected in those large green eyes - Eyes filled with insanity’s rage.
“Do not dare to question my place in this world woman.” She hissed. “It is because of you and your kind that I and my kind exist. You invited us here. Your greed and arrogance has placed you in history as coming up wanting.”
Mari’s legs would hold her no more and she fell back into the chair she had been sitting in. The uncomfortable feeling of wet clothing went unnoticed, placed as it were as something trivial compared to what was happening right now and what was to come.
The anger seemed to drop from Destiny as quickly as it rose.
“To give them time to prepare.” She said softly. “To limit the bloodshed, and for you to teach them compassion.”
Conflicting emotions of fear and anger were causing Mari’s head to spin and her next words were forced.
“For who?” She asked weakly. “Those that would seek to hurt the children?”
Destiny laughed. It was a horrible sound. Grating. Malicious and without mirth.
“No-one said it was fair.” She said. “But think on - When fairness is only practiced by one person then that person can dictate the morality of those who come after. But when observed by no one.” She left her words to complete themselves with the suggestive undertones of the individual imagination of those who would understand such implications.
Mari let the words settle, lost in the images they created - So much so that she did not notice that Destiny had gone - Realizing only when she Jumped at the sudden reanimation of the professor, who said nothing other than to look confused. He scanned the room and then settled his gaze on Mari.
“My internal clock reports an hour missing from my run time.”
Mari smiled at him because, for the first time in his life, something organic knew more than he did about himself. The oppressive pressure and the treacle like consistency to the air had now gone. Mari’s demon had left her to ponder her words. She had said a decision was made here today - But today was not over.
“We have had a visitor.” She said simply, another tear of relief rolled down her cheek. The tear, unexpectedly turned into a sob that was stifled by a hand to her mouth. The nightmare was far from over. A Storm was coming that would leave a world of demons such as Destiny Sails.
“Or maybe she was an Angel sent to warn us - Who knows?” Said Mari after recounting the last hour to the professor. She picked up the paper she had submitted and tore it in two.
“Your work.” Said the professor.
“It was incomplete.” Replied Mari.
The professor looked around again.
“I have questions.” He said,
“Welcome to the human race professor.”
Mari bent over and kissed the professor on the top of his head, an action that added to his confusion. She folded the ruined papers in half and walked towards the door, very aware of the professor watching her leave. But before she left, Mari stopped and turned to the android.
“Before I go sir.” She said. “I have a question for you.”
The personification of the worlds combined knowledge looked blankly at her and managed to look old and slightly pathetic. Like a confused old man whose younger years had been snatched away by wars whilst his older memories were slowly dissolving through illness and neglect.
“A question?” He asked.
“Something for you to think about, and maybe the completion of my work.” Replied Mari.
Mari looked down to compose her words, noticing for the first time the stain on the front of her skirt. She tried to brush it away before stopping herself from engaging in another futile exercise - Something that her whole life had been full of and brought into sharp focus from that strange visitor known only as Destiny Sails.
“Are you aware of early twenty-first century gaming systems?”
“Indeed.” Replied the professor, still in a state of confusion.
“If you try to place a game in an incompatible console - Would it play?”
“No.” Replied the android. “That's what incompatible means.”
“Does it then mean that that game is broken?”
There was a pause in the conversation, filled only when Mari said.
“Nor are the children - This is something I needed to be reminded of.”
Dedicated to my friend Kevin Hughes - I hope I got this right.