Bessai wondered if orientation would take the entirety of the day. After all, he had a class to teach. He had thought ahead and recorded a holocast of himself talking about linguistically impressive content. After about thirty minutes he told the class to spend the remainder of the lecture practicing their foreign language of choice with a partner: each student of his was given the task of learning a foreign language during the term.
Bessai had hoped this “lesson plan” would work and that the president would allow his leave of absence. However, Bessai knew very well that if what Katayoko said was true; people could travel back in time, he likely would not return to his teaching career in London.
He sat next to Katayoko then on an aircraft bound for the coastal district of the Eastern World. She was wearing a black suit jacket and pants with a black shirt that hugged her neck. Bessai thought she looked chilling. As if she were dressed in all black to intimidate or remain unnoticed. Either way, she didn’t say a word to him. Bessai figured he’d keep his mouth shut and save his one thousand and one questions for the first official orientation meeting.
The meeting took place in the coastal district’s central city: Beijing. Their aircraft touched down on the other side of the city. From there Bessai, Katayoko, Aku and two members of Aku’s security force, travelled in a smooth looking black hovermobile toward a massive research facility near the heart of the city.
Once they arrived, the security checks were intense. Bessai felt as if he were going before the United World’s leaders.
After being scanned, searched and then scanned again, the group finally made it through security and into a series of small corridors. One of which, led them to a larger room filled with people.
Bessai stopped in the threshold and stared. He had seen almost every face in that room somewhere before. Slowly, his brain began to realize what was before him.
Yvette Garçon, the United World’s leading intellectual on archeology and early century history, sat at a table to the left. Charcon Brown, an expert on all things related to the extinct continent: North America, sat next to her chatting surely about something great.
Bessai’s eyes gleamed at the sight of over two dozen renowned intellectuals and scholars. Although he was a proud man, it was then that he truly felt honoured to be there.
Callaghan Hans walked past his view.
“Herr Hans…” he couldn’t help but say.
Mr. Hans turned and looked at the severe junior who seemed to be trembling. He scoffed, bowed in reverence to Aku and Katayoko and proceeded to sit at a table, without speaking a word.
“Is that how you knew him?” Bessai whispered in Katayoko’s ear.
She stepped forward with that typical bounce in her stride. “Hmm,” is all she said as she looked back and smiled. Aku had drifted to the right to speak with another man seeming to be of Western World decent; formerly known as European. Thus, Bessai followed the only person who seemed to stand to look at him and took a seat next to her at a table.
“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here now, samurai?”
Katayoko’s chest fluttered but she didn’t know if it was because this man was so charming or annoying. “To time travel, Professor.”
Bessai leaned back, rolling his eyes. He did not like not being in the know. He figured everyone there probably knew the plan except for him. “You know, you don’t have to call me Professor.”
“I don’t have to do anything.”
This woman’s cool exterior was making Bessai go mad. He laughed and decided to await the commencement of the apparent meeting in silence. And sure enough, eventually, the man Aku spoke with made his way to the front of the room. Along with another man and three women. All dressed in the finest of clothing.
“Doctors,” the first man began. “I am Grand Komornovski.”
“Shh!” Katayoko silenced Bessai’s sudden excitement. She knew he would marvel at seeing Grand.
Grand Komornovski had lived an extraordinary life and rose to extreme wealth, all outside the reaches of the United World. He was a loathed symbol of success for those who hadn’t joined the unifying regime. And he was a known protestor of that very government.
“Many of us,” Grand continued, “have been inspired by those who have made history. But we are here to see that history for ourselves. Many men and women have travelled to the deepest part of our oceans, or have travelled through the vastness of space. As you have been made aware by your benefactor—“ Bessai wondered why he would have used that word— “we have found a way to travel through time itself. In Orientation Briefing Number One, we are here to discuss our mission openly, make known the benefactors and the teams, advise what will be required of you all, and explain how we intend on travelling through time.”
“That is quite the itinerary.” Bessai thought to himself.
“We’ve planned this itinerary through systematically, so please hold questions until the end,” Grand went on. “Graciously, we have twenty benefactors who have sponsored this endeavour. Each of them sponsoring one of you. These are corporations, individuals, or researchers who wish to learn more about Earth’s history. Not just the history of the World.”
Grand said this referring to the United World. He continued his speaking by introducing each benefactor by name. Bessai had not heard of any of them except for Aku Guo Kan, his own “benefactor” as Grand had called him.
“There will be ten teams,” Grand continued, “each of which will contain two of you. And each team will travel back to a specific point in time agreed upon by the benefactors and our organization. These will be key points in history that could redefine everything for us, depending on what we find.”
Bessai thought this remark interesting. He leaned over to Katayoko but decided to hold his tongue. “Does he not think history is accurate? Or at least the current record of history?” he thought.
One of the women next to Grand stepped forward. Her accent was English, like Bessai’s. “I am Gloria Wilcox, I will be overseeing each team’s physical status. This mission, these journeys, could be gruelling to your body. I am here to ensure you are in tip-top shape prior to embarking.”
Another woman stepped forward. “I am Che’tamba,” she said with a very thick accent that took Bessai a moment to determine. With the help of her dark skin colour, he was able to surmise she was from Africa: Southern World. But Bessai knew the Southern World was cut short and most of the continent of Africa hadn’t joined the United World. “I am responsible for your psychological well-being. I am to ensure your mind is fit for what lies ahead.”
Bessai hadn’t heard the names of either of these women before. It was clear they weren’t well known amongst the United World’s intellectual community. However, they clearly had enough knowledge to grant them a spot at the right and left hand of Grand Komornovski.
“Doctors,” Grand continued as he captured the room’s attention once again. “These women are your ticket back. Whether that be to the past or home, is up to you. Listen to them and obey them. Now let’s get down to the how.
“Some time ago, Mr. Guo Kan and I set out on a quest to uncover historical truths we believed to be buried in this very coastal district. As we dug, we found more and more people who had faint knowledge of a, literally they called it: “a buried treasure.” United World archaeologists have scoured most of the dirt left and have published or altered whatever they’ve found so the chance at an untouched quarry peaked out interests.”
“Altered?” Bessai pondered, fuming slightly. He looked at Grand, and then Che’tamba and then Gloria; all three were from outside the United World. And they were spearheading this venture? Even Aku, his own benefactor was from the outside…
Without further ado, he decided to raise his hand.
“Professor Bessai, welcome.” Bessai tried to hide his awe from Grand knowing his name.
“Thank you, Mr. Komornovski. Why are you interested in time travel?” Bessai asked plainly.
“Our organization, comprised of professionals, like yourself, and benefactors, has the desire to observe the happenings of history at key points. Each point being of particular interest to the specific benefactor.” He said this as if reading it off the back of a napkin.
“I can’t imagine this is a cost-efficient venture,” Bessai stated. “Thus the question remains: why do all this just to observe history. We already know history!”
The room went silent. Katayoko breathed softly as she looked down. For moments, no one said a word.
“We wish to view it… for ourselves,” said the third woman at the front. It was upon hearing her voice that Bessai recognized her as Lera Scanch, an executive in the franchise-like run independent country of Australia.
Bessai then realized what he was party to. Almost everyone in that room had something against the United World and now he knew they didn’t trust recorded history. They wanted to record it for themselves. But to prove what?
He stood. “Am I missing something here, folks? I am always the first to know and the last to be ignorant. The very fact that this meeting has gone on without blatantly stating why you defective—“
“Enough!” Mr. Hans stood, red in the face, staring at Bessai. “Sit down, young fool. You know half as much as each person’s canine in this room. Sit and listen. If you do this, your questions will be answered.”
Katayoko took Bessai’s hand. A gesture that alienated herself from the rest, except Bessai. She tugged lightly to encourage him to sit. He did. She could feel his rage and possibly embarrassment. His arrogance bothered her but she couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. She kept holding his hand underneath the table.
Bessai’s anger slowly died down like a flame that lacked oxygen. And in likeness, he felt tired and less bright. But when he realized Katayoko’s firm hand was still in his, he felt calm. He tightened his grip slightly in an attempt to express his gratitude. She returned the gesture.
“Thank you, Mr. Hans,” Grand said. “We will have time for questions later. And perhaps the Professor would due well to speak with his benefactor regarding some political differences the United World puts forth.” The man danced around saying anything directly against the United World and glanced icily at Aku. “As I was saying, Mr. Guo Kan and I, at last, found the site. It was simply a hilled landscape but after calling our friend, Gern Redden, lead archaeologist in Oceania-” Bessai almost finished the title. Again, another individual esteemed outside of the United World. Oceania hadn’t budged on the unification; a decision, members of the United World, like Bessai, were led to believe contributed to third world-like living. Based on the individuals in the room, that could be less than the truth.
“When Gern arrived,” Grand continued, “he surveyed the site we had found and figured it could have been a cave of sorts but any entrance was completely covered by grass-covered rock. We worked away at the growth and uncovered markings in an ancient dialect Aku was able to translate for us. It was a warning. Not an X marking found treasure.” Grand chuckled. “But did we listen? No. We dug. Working through the rock took Gern’s excavation team a few weeks. But at last, we found the chasm. A small dark hole, hidden in the earth. And it contained this.” Grand waved his fingers and a holographic image appeared in the centre of the room. The image was of a chest unlike anyone had seen. The room was silent in awe. Grand smiled as he scanned the faces of all those gazing upon his finding.
Bessai instantly looked to the symbols on the lid of the container. Pictographs of some form; legible, but foreign. He had studied a great number of languages, mastered most and reviewed all. But he couldn’t recognize what hovered before him. Sooner than he would have liked, Grand swiped his hand which rotated the image into the next.
“This is what was inside.”
A stone. Or a brick? Another container perhaps? No one in the room could figure it out. It was oval, but with a rough edge everywhere so it didn’t have a perfect shape. It had cracks; like veins running through and around it revealing a glowing core. The hologram didn’t offer a perfect depiction of colour, but the light that the object put forth was clearly visible.
“This stone could be the greatest discovery we have made as a people,” Grand said as he pinched his fingers, turning the holographic image off and reintroducing himself. “The warning on the outside of the cave was this- no, wait.” He gestured to Aku. “You say it, friend.”
Aku Guo Kan stood. “Sealed beneath, the power to turn back the stars and visit the past.”
“Doesn’t sound much like a warning,” Bessai thought.
“Yet for mortal man, this power cannot be,” Aku finished his translation.
“Fret not, Doctors,” Grand continued. “We’ve tested this. It works and we’re safe. To explain, I’ve brought Dr. Harcott Miguela.”
The fifth person at the front next to Grand, who hadn’t yet spoken, stepped forward. “The stone responds to energy. Specifically, the energy produced by electrical currents. With enough power, the stone can function according to its purpose. Which, determined from the message on the entrance is visiting the past. The trick was figuring out how. Luckily, the message tells us that too. When it reads ‘turn back the stars,’ this isn’t just a figurative phrase. This is literally how this incredible technology works.” At calling the stone technology, Grand coughed. Dr. Harcott dismissed the call for correction and continued speaking at a pace that was truly difficult to follow. The man was a scientist and didn’t notice when he was speaking too fast. “Grand, Aku, and Gern found the stone nearly forty years ago. They brought me in close to five years later as they were unable to determine how it could be controlled. I didn’t crack the code until seven months ago. That’s right, we’ve been at this a while. But what I figured was if this stone could turn back the stars, perhaps it’s like our hovermobiles: in need of a starting point and an ending point. Except for your transport takes you from your home address to your favourite restaurant,” Bessai could tell this fellow was from inside the United World by his use of references, “and for the stone, it works based on what I’ve called: stardates. You see, the stars are always changing and moving: everything is. And so, thirty-five years ago, I recorded where the stars were. With each rotation of the earth, I was able to see the same stars and over time I’ve been able to develop the rate at which they are moving. Now the only thing that could affect this is an extreme cosmic event, but we haven’t seen one-“
“Doctor,” Grand said. “Let’s skip to the good part.”
“Right. Basically, I’ve been able to determine where the stars were three, fifty, six hundred and seven thousand years ago. By treating these as coordinates hitting a circuit board, I can send the information to the stone, while hitting it with enough energy to activate it. We tested it by sending Mr. Hank back. At that time I was so excited about achieving our goal that I didn’t have a return plan. But I’ve developed a technology that is interfaced with the stone when it’s powered and it acts as a return home mechanism.”
The room was silent.
As if understanding what everyone thought, Grand said: “Trust me, it works.” He waved his fingers again, bringing up holographic video footage of the second test.
Bessai leaned forward to continue studying the three-dimensional projection that hovered in the centre of the room. A man in an odd-looking trench-coat was strapped to a semi-vertical platform. He had straps that looked to be fabric restraining him by both legs, the wrists and shoulders, one over his forehead and several going across his chest. Everyone in the room Bessai was in, held their breath as they saw what happened next. The platform the man was on started to buzz with electricity. It was connected via several massive black wire casings, stretching beyond the site of the holographic video footage, which split off into hundreds of smaller wires. These smaller wires were attached to an array of mechanisms on and around the man. The site was truly remarkable and for most of the people in the room, incomprehensible. It was like lightning surged through the room and into the man’s body. At that sight, most of the doctors around Bessai gasped. This man was surely going to die. However, as if everyone forgot about what the man was intending to do, he disappeared and it stunned the crowd.
Katayoko had seen the footage before. She looked over at Grand and saw him smirking.
Murmuring broke out amongst the room as people discussed what they witnessed. And only moments later, the room, shown in the holographic footage, filled with electricity again. And to everyone’s surprise, the man reappeared on the platform he had been strapped to. The humming and lightning faded and soon people, dressed in slim hazmat suits, approached the man and took off the restraints. He was very excited, from what Bessai could see and had grown a long beard during the ten seconds he was out of sight.
The grey, holographic orb in the room showing the footage faded again and the lights turned on. “I assure you,” Grand began, “this footage was not altered but taken straight from our operation room’s surveillance feed.” He gained the attention of the room once more. “As you can see… It works. Now, you have the expertise of the five of us here. Let’s answer some of your questions.”
The room went abuzz for a moment before everyone realized only one question at a time could be answered. Bessai leaned back. He realized he was still holding Katayoko’s hand. Simultaneously, they let go and folded their hands on their laps, not saying a word to each other. But slightly, within each of them, they wished they hadn’t let go.
Bessai kept silent during the question period, still scathed by his interaction with Grand Komornovski and Callaghan Hans. The questions put forward by everyone else were interesting and pertained to the how, the who, the when, and the where of each team. But Bessai really just wanted to understand the why. Why did these people not trust the United World?
After two or three hours, the meeting adjourned. Gloria Wilcox stepped forward to address the teams prior to dismissal.
“I’ve advised your trainers what the first round of exercises are for the first circuit. You are to do these faithfully for seven days before moving on to the next circuit. Please keep in mind your trainer will be evaluating your abilities to ensure you are capable of surviving this trip.”
Bessai glanced over at Katayoko, whom he assumed was his trainer. It bothered him that he hadn’t been told about most of the procedures and plans. Katayoko seemed to have a way of intentionally bothering and trying to belittle him. But her display of affection, of comfort, had him questioning her motives. And for the first time if Bessai’s life he understood something: he does not know everything. It was a healthy realization. It ensured he could actually learn a thing or two from Katayoko.
Grand closed the orientation meeting with some words of encouragement and sent the teams off. Everyone stood and shuffled around, conversing with one another. Aku exchanged some harsh words in Japanese with his daughter that Bessai tried to pretend he couldn’t understand.
“Let’s get some air, Professor,” Katayoko said as she put her hand on Bessai’s shoulder while she stood. “You and I need to have a discussion about time travel.”