“Unhand me!” said the stooped, elderly, white-haired bum. He stank of rotting fish. “I have freedom of speech, no?”
His accent was thick, hinting that his first language was not English, but perhaps Spanish. Black threads showed in his hair, especially his bushy eyebrows. He swung his heavy thick cane with surprising alacrity, managing somehow to elude pursuit, as he ran in his peculiar, hunched, crabbed gait, across the Times Square.
Moments below, he had been haranguing the crowd. A news segment had flashed on the big screen – police pouring bleach over confiscated food, food which had been donated to those at a tent city. It was if he controlled the giant video screen. Well, there was no as if; he did control it.
“You say you want to help us. You ask, what can you do? I say, for the love of mankind, stop what you are doing to us. Stop the destruction of our food.” The image changed, showing tiny homes being towed away from a homeless encampment in Los Angeles.
“I say to you, if you would help us, stop destroying our homes.” His amplified voice rang out.
Scenes flashed, showing other homes being destroyed by bulldozers.
“Stop the destruction of our livelihood.” The screen showed a street vendor, in handcuffs, his tiny cart loaded into a police truck.
“Stop kidnapping us and incarcerating us for these victimless ‘crimes’ of which you speak. The United States has more people behind bars, per capita, than any other. This is a crime against humanity.”
The speaker thumped his cane.
“Stop destroying our schools.” The screen showed students and teachers huddled, as their “illegal” school was torn down.
“Stop destroying the education of our children.” The screen showed children being herded off, separately from their parents. “These parents performed no crime, but the education of their children.”
“Stop criminalizing our love. Stop criminalizing our sharing. Stop criminalizing our speech, our healing, our medicines, our caregiving. In the name of all that is humane, stop!”
The elderly man thumped his cane. Two burly policemen reached for him. The NYC Police chief stood directly in front of him. “Dr. Anthony Wallenberg, I must ask you to come with me.”
“Doctor who?” the man said. He pointed to the screen, which had switched channels. There, live, on CNN, was Dr. Anthony Wallenberg, speaking before the International Sysadmin Conference, in Bonn.
“Is not Bonn in Europe, sir? Or has my education failed me? Are you accusing me of being this man, who is speaking live, on another continent entirely?”
At that moment, the one known mostly as the “Old Man” fled. He located his escape pod, which looked like a door – a locked door – in what had been a narrow alleyway, barely large enough for a person to enter. Provided they had the proper key. “Open Sesame,” said the Old Man. The door irised open, admitting him.
A warm alto voice answered. “Voiceprint recognized, Dr. Anthony Wallenberg.”
“I am getting too old for this,” he muttered.
“I do not understand. Your corporate form is merely 212 years old. You are in excellent health, sir.”
“I am. I am also wearing this infernal harness, which makes me look like a hunchback and run like a broken-legged crab, and it weighs 20 kilos! Take me to the Redoubt, please!”
Anthony peeled off his mask, long bushy hair included, and shucked his smelly clothing and harness. He stepped into the Sonic Shower briefly, then pitched his clothing and gear into the nano-Shower, setting the controls to “deep fumigate.”
He selected a far more comfortable set of nanosilk lounging pajamas, and took the copilot’s seat.
“Hello, Grandpa.” said Troy.
“Hello Grandson,” he replied. “Thanks for meeting me here. Are your siblings well?”
“Yes, Grandpa. Alia’s in Central Park, actually.”
They landed in the Redoubt, deep in a mountain in Wallenberg.
“You turned off your transponder?” asked Anthony.
“Yes, sir. Radio silence all the way.”
“And your cover story is?”
“Taking a retreat, sir. Too much for my growing teen brain to process. I’m hiking in the mountains somewhere. Why all the cloak-and-dagger, sir?”
“I’m really not supposed to be here,” answered Anthony. He raided the larder, pressed a tab on the sardine-can-sized MRE, which expanded to form a turkey club sandwich, with chips and a crunchy pickle on the side. Thank nanomek for 24th century tech, he said. The MREs of the early 21st century were simply ghastly.
“You want anything, Troy?”
“I’m good, thanks. But maybe I’ll take one to go. Got a Reuben in there?”
“Take two. I’ll bring a spare for me. We’ll get beverages topside.”
“Topside” meant an underground bunker, one which Troy had never seen before. It wasn’t on the maps he had memorized, and radio silence meant he couldn’t ask the local Artillect.
“So what do you call that?” asked Troy, as he pointed backward.
“That? It’s a TimeShip.”
“It’s meant to travel through time?”
“Yes. But please forget that, it’s not to appear on the records.”
“Are you really 200 years old, Grandpa?”
“And change, Grandson.”
“You’re from the future then.”
“Shh. Ears.” Anthony pointed. He closed his eyes briefly, communing with his first Artillect, Lugh. DeepLugh, as ve preferred to be called nowadays; Lugh had grown and split vimself into multiple entities. DeepLugh edited away their presence and speech from its public memories. Even from the security tapes, which were known to be inviolable, for 21st century technology.
“Do Artillects have sex?” Anthony mused.
“What?” asked Troy.
“I was remembering an ancient conversation. Do you know how Artillects reproduced, in the early days?”
“Right, Troy. Well, the Artillect here reproduced by fission; by calving off parts of vimself.”
“I know that. That’s so last year.” answered Troy.
Anthony laughed. “I retain over 200 years of long and very detailed memories. I’ve seen so much change – created so much change – that I have to ask myself to consciously remember dates and places. And now I am overlapping my own timeline.”
“What happened in the future? To you, I mean.”
“Just at the point of my return? From their point of view, I disappeared. I died, actually. They saw my casket soaring into the Sun. My estate has been dispersed, to thousands of beneficiaries, great and small. Beyond a certain year, I have no future. Or more precisely, this is my future.”
“What brings you here?”
“The love of my grandchildren is not enough? I come to plant a few miracles. We are greatly in need of them.”