Enioreh noticed, a little at a time, that she was alive and deeply breathing. They were sitting on the ground – the Prince and she. He was slumped against her shoulder – breathing deeply, too. They were sitting on something like grass, only it was soft and green. The shadows of trees fell on them.
She didn’t want to notice any of these things. Noticing meant being separate; she wanted to keep on being part of it, sitting and breathing and letting the peace be all there was. But there was something in her that couldn’t be stilled – something that remembered, something not ok. Birdsong was the last of what she noticed; trilling and wistful and sweet behind other sounds, bidding her sad farewell as she groaned softly, and made herself be separate all the way.
They were sitting in some kind of courtyard, it looked like – only, a huge courtyard, bigger than any building Enioreh’d ever seen. They were sitting on a green hill; a little ways down it, there were the metal wires and chains and claw-like bars she’d last seen enclosing her in the torture-room. Further down, at the bottom of the hill, was a path of flat white rock, winding in between enormous trees. People were walking on it, brightly dressed. And people were – rolling on it, balancing on metal bars attached to wheels, helmets strapped to chins.
What was this place? The sky through the trees was not lighting up, not even at the edges. No laser-flash, no smoke. It was just, all…blue. Enioreh trembled. This wasn’t war.
She glanced at the Prince, still slumped against her shoulder with a happy-doofy face. She shrugged and he fell over, still with the smile. “Hey.” She prodded him with the point of her shoe. “Hey. Your Highness. Hey. Prince. Princey. Prince. Your Highness. Hey. Hey. Hey!” She kicked him really hard on the last one. “Wake up!”
The Prince coughed a little, smile fading, and blinked. “Wha…?”
“Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t death. But it doesn’t look like Theminus, either. So…”
Recognition dawned in the Prince’s eyes at the mention of the battle. “Theminus…” he murmured. “Yes…we should be…where is this?”
Enioreh rolled her eyes. “I just asked you that. It’s your master-plan; you’re the one who’s supposed to be on top of this.”
“Yes,” he responded slowly. “But…it was your brain that brought us here.” The Prince sat up, rubbing mud and grass off the side of his face. The fog in his eyes iced into fear as he looked around, and then he was on his feet, making unsteady circles down the hill. “The bars…the cage…but it all should be here…” The Prince whirled on her, wild-eyed. “The Chronojuice!” His voice broke. “It’s all gone! There were four other cartridges in my hand, in the case. And now where are they?”
“But…this is fine, though, without the Chronojuice. I don’t know what happened to it, but this place…this could work for me.”
“Of course you would think that…” The Prince waved a dismissive arm in her direction. “This is where you wanted us to go. Which means…” The Prince fixed her with a scrutinizing glare. Then he smiled with his old purring certainty. “Sweet lady! This dear, enchanting land hails of your mind. There is, in you, something that called us here. Take a look, and tell me – what is it you know?”
Enioreh blinked, and looked again – at the trees, the white rocks, the people rolling and running through it all. It looked like nothing she had ever seen before. But somehow, it did feel familiar – like something she’d dreamed a long, long time ago. Before she knew it, Enioreh was tripping down the hill and threading through the clumps of giant trees.
“Where are we going?” The Prince whispered behind her.
Enioreh ignored him and kept going into deeper woods, cut through by clear dirt trails. She stopped once and stared above her at the trees, trying to believe that things so big could be alive. Her heart was filling with things like memories, then reaching, searching craggy trunks for something lost. She leaned into a tree, pressing her face up into its grooved notches, breathing in the safe-and-growing smell.
“Stop that.” The Prince was tapping her shoulder.
Enioreh blinked. There were a few people on the path behind her, wearing clothes that exposed their legs and arms, and staring. They walked on quickly when she growled.
“Do you recognize this place, yet?”
“It seems like…” Enioreh shook her head vaguely. “I feel like I know it. There’s something around here that’s very important.”
“Find it swiftly, then!”
Another couple of people passed them by, staring as they went.
The Prince stepped behind a tree and pulled Enioreh with him. “It’s best we don’t draw attention to ourselves before we know exactly where we are. Here,” Hedoniet pulled a couple of U-shaped bits of metal out of a pocket hidden in the ruffled tail of his shirt. “Put this one on your head, and hold my hand.”
Enioreh looked at the metal piece uncertainly. Its underside was covered in little tines.
“They are called Invisibands. You slide it on your head and in an instant, you become invisible.”
Enioreh’s eyes widened. “I haven’t seen one yet. I didn’t know they looked like that.” She slid the Invisiband on, over her hair, and the Prince put on the other, taking her hand at the same time, which made her feel so weird she had to look away.
Except, suddenly, there was no looking away. All things beamed with brightness, exquisite in detail. They wouldn’t be dulled, even if she blinked or turned her head – she could see everywhere and everything, almost. There were intricate puzzles of roots and stems, vines scaling trees, shaking in the wind. Bark and leaves, ferns and toadstools, flitting green-blue beetles twinkled with sunlight and colored so intensely you almost had to swear to get it out. “Hot shit…” Enioreh gasped. There was a pressure on her hand, and she remembered the Prince being there.
“My thoughts exactly.” He sounded like he had a smile, but she couldn’t see him to know for sure. “Your future-self spoke true of you; if we were stranded here I don’t believe she – you – would have been able to come to me. You know this place – now lead us to what we’re meant to find.”
Wanting the Prince to shut up, Enioreh started walking again. Hedoniet didn’t say anything for a long time after that, and Enioreh was so engrossed with the way that things looked she kept forgetting he was there. She remembered him whenever she miscalculated her farness to a solid thing and he stopped her from crashing, or else crashed along with her.
One time she got in front of a pair of men, and stopped to look at their faces. Hedoniet pushed her out of the way, and then she kept walking after them, not passing and not letting them get too far. They were part of the feelings she had about this place.
One was black with just a skinny strip of hair down the center of his head. The other was bronzed and hot and shirtless. The bronzed man started laughing, after a few turns and twists brought them deeper into the woods, and the weird familiar feeling grew. “Hey look!” He said, pointing to a big, block-shaped stone on one side of the trail. It was multicolored, decorated with shallow, overlapping handprints. A green-turning copper plaque read, “Welcoming the Future.”
“ ‘Gift of 1999,’ ” The black man read. “ ‘This sustainably-minded sculpture was made in part from recycled tin cans and plastic bottles rescued from university trash barrels.’”
“How cool!” Said the muscly man, fitting his hand over an imprint near the top. “And I never even noticed this before. Here,” he said suddenly, handing his friend the checkered basket he’d been carrying. “This is where we’ll have lunch!” He hoisted himself up onto the flat surface. “Come on,” he urged.
Faisal still stood uncertainly on the trail, but…Faisal? Enioreh stopped herself. How did such a strange name wind up in her head? And why did it seem just so…right?
“Give me the basket and I’ll help you up,” the bronze man insisted.
“Are you sure about this?” Faisal was asking. Enioreh couldn’t even help calling him that in her mind. “This thing doesn’t look made for sitting-on.”
“Of course it is,” His partner laughed. “You read the plaque – it’s a gift from past students. We’re the future they were talking about. I appreciate the welcome very much.”
“They didn’t leave it here to make us feel welcomed,” Faisal grumbled, but he was climbing up, too. “They left it here to make a mark. Why, if the class of ’99 knew we were sitting on their hand-prints, I’m sure they’d be turning over in their graves.”
“They only graduated nine years ago,” Jesse laughed. He was Jesse. Enioreh knew. “I hope none of them are in graves.”
“Well, for sure they’ll be squirming uncomfortably in their corporate cubicles, then.”
“If they’d wanted to leave something just to mark their place, it wouldn’t be sitting here in the middle of the woods,” Jesse reasoned. “It would be on a hillside, with all the other little boxes.”
“Like the song?”
Jesse returned Faisal’s smile. “Maybe,” he said. “If you’re thinking of the same song I am.”
“Little boxes,” Faisal sang, in a beautiful voice. “On the hillside,”
“Little boxes, made of tick-tacky!” Jesse joined in, his voice nice-sounding, too – and then they were singing together, a twisted-together harmony that the trees drank in, and that across a valley the air gave back in echo. Throughout civilization, humankind has sought out energy in the farthest reaches of our planet. We have looked to the sky, to the wind, even grasping at the sun itself…But there is one place we have not looked –
Enioreh pulled off the band on her head without really thinking. She caught her breath sharply, shocked at her own appearance, and at the way it seemed like the world had receded out away from her. There was a hard puff, and the Prince was standing next to her, crowding her breath.
Jesse and Faisal hadn’t noticed – they were busy unpacking what looked like plates from the checker-marked basket.
The Prince watched Enioreh, looking tense. Enioreh started walking again, closer to the cube-rock. The men looked up when she was standing right in front of them, not moving. Faisal’s eyes lingered over the Prince’s metallic-shiny uniform.
“Hi?” said Jesse.
Enioreh didn’t say anything. She was having one of those moments, when she could look at something and see it apart from other things – kind of pull it from its background and see it for the first time again. She was looking at the two men, their eyes connecting, sharing silent feelings, and seeing their togetherness as something everlasting. Was this peace, really?
The Prince, seeing her hesitate, stepped forward with an air of authority and gave a stately bow.
“Good noon, gentle friends,” he said purred. “General Prince Hedoniet, at your service. And may I inquire as to your honorable identities and occupations?”
There was a flurry of surprised eye-activity between the dreamy-seeming men. Faisal responded in a careful, measured voice, eyes darting around as though braced for attack. “Uh, hi,” he said. “Is there something we can help you with?”
The Prince smiled regally. “There are several things you can help us with. First of all…where are we? What time is it? Are there any Cycs available around these parts, and if not how do I get to the nearest castle? Is it of such a distance that I shall require food and lodging? Make haste, kind sirs!”
Jesse smiled warmly. “Would you like something to eat?” He asked, dangling the basket over the big rock’s edge. He shrugged off an incredulous stare from Faisal.
The Prince inspected the spread with interest. “Tree fruit?” he observed, picking up a round red thing with a stem at the top. He looked at Enioreh. “Is this antebellum fare?”
Enioreh studied the thing in his hand. “I think it is,” she said slowly. “It feels like it must be before the war.”
“Oh, are you guys visitors from a dystopian future or something?” Jesse asked excitedly. “I think that’s awesome! I’ll help you warn humanity against the evils of the present, no worries, future-friends!”
The black guy’s shoulders relaxed a bit, but his forehead puckered, more tense than ever. “What is this, some RPG adventure gone awry? I mean,” he shot a glance at Jesse, who nudged him with his foot. “That’s good for you, however, if you’re into that. Nice costumes, too – I’ll give you that much.”
“Costume?” The Prince repeated stiffly. “This is no costume – can you not discern the decorations of a warrior?”
“Forgive him,” Jesse said with a snicker. “He’s a scientist – fantasy is not his forte.”
“Scientist?” Enioreh repeated, looking at the man named Faisal. A kind of light had gone off in her head, an overpowering sense of déjà vu. She knew him, somehow – she felt sure. This scientist. Something about him was very important. “Can you make us Chronojuice?”
“Chronojuice – how cute!” Said Jesse. “Faisal, that must be what they used to come here to the past. Play along – it’s good for your imagination.”
“Uhh….yeah.” Faisal sighed. “Sorry – time-travel technology is probably like, ten years away, at least.”
The Prince squinted suspiciously at Faisal. “How could you know that?”
“Umm,” said Faisal, with a weak shrug. “Sorry. I’m trying to keep up with you guys but I’m new at this whole…role-playing, thing. It’s not really my personality.”
“You’re over-thinking it,” Jesse said to him. “Here – watch. Ohh, no!!” He said loudly, throwing his hands in the air above his head. “You mean you’re stuck in the 21st century? That’s terrible!! I guess you’ll want us to explain the reason behind all our bizarre customs, then?” Jesse turned to Faisal, grinning under his breath. “Isn’t this fun?”
“No thank you, gallant stranger,” said the Prince, beginning to dig through the instrument pouches on his uniform. “We have no intention of acclimating to this…environment. Here!” He pulled out a green memory stick and key. “I made a portable copy of my engineer’s notes. If you’re a scientist you might have a try at developing the serum – or at least direct us to a person so inclined.” As he spoke, Prince Hedoniet twisted the key into the memory stick, unlocking a neat holographic table-of-contents.
Faisal and Jesse’s eyes bulged as the graphics swam through their space.
“Just what kind of fundraising have you been doing?” Jesse gaped. “I could help…”
Faisal stared at the hologram, then, tentatively, reached for a chapter heading. It lit up under his fingers, opening a series of complicated-looking particle diagrams. “What the…” Faisal leaned in so close to the hologram his nose opened three new pages. “This is psytron technology,” he choked. “I’ve dreamed about this for…the patterns of movement match exactly! This is my fantasy…but there’s even more to it…How did you….where did you….who are you?” Faisal stood, looming over Enioreh and Hedoniet from his perch on the rock.
“Enioreh Relevart, pleased to meet ya.”
Faisal shook her hand awkwardly from his angle.
“Yes, yes,” said the Prince, impatiently shouldering up in front of Enioreh. “Regarding the serum? Be swift, kindly – there are creatures about.” The Prince was eyeballing a bushy-tailed rodent with some trepidation as it darted from a tree to a spot a few feet from his leg. He hissed and it ran away. “Sinister…”
“Are you really researchers?” Faisal asked slowly, sounding dazed. “I don’t have facilities of my own. But maybe I can convince the university to let me use equipment, test some of these models…I’m in a doctorate program now, so I have connections.”
Jesse was looking at Faisal.
“These are my ideas,” Faisal half-whispered to him. “My pipe-dream. I never really talked about them to anyone. I thought maybe I’d start exploring more when I had the Ph.D. and everything, I didn’t have enough of a concept yet to even test…But this is so advanced…I don’t know who you are,” Faisal said to the Prince, in a louder voice. “I know for damn sure you’re not actors – or if you are, you were hired by somebody who knows what they’re doing. I don’t know how you found me here, or what you could possibly hope to gain by sharing this. I just…don’t know.”
The Prince took a backwards step, taking in every bit of Faisal with his eyes as though looking for something he’d lost. His smile burst out suddenly. “I believe that you and I might work well together,” he said. “Very well, indeed. I know who you are. I see in you a man who dreams great – who believes in things that others call impossible. With your help, we will not only invent time-travel – we will use it to end war all the world over. Now I have chosen to believe in you – dare you to believe in me?”
“Hey,” said Enioreh, loudly interrupting. “Yeah! I forgot the Prince was all about ending war – I didn’t believe him about time-travel, either, at first but look at me now! It’s like Jesse said – we actually are visitors from a dystopian future. All we want is peace, just you like you.”
“How did you know my name?” Jesse gaped.
“World peace…” said Faisal, in a distant, dreamy voice. “I know that this is crazy. It’s crazy. In a second I’ll wake up in bed and not remember anything. But for right now, Jess…” He took his hands, tenderly. “If it is just a dream…world peace, at least, is a dream worth believing.”