Chapter 1 – Plane Ride
I looked up again at the post next to me. The post has the numbers 11-15 with an arrow on either side pointing outward. Group A should be boarding soon. It was a bit extra, but upgrading to business should allow me to get a nice seat. And it is a business trip, after all. I can probably expense that. For small talk, I say as such to the old man who is in line behind me.
“Yeah. It costs a lot if you do it when you buy your ticket, but only a bit if you do it right before the flight. I always do so as well.” The old man commented.
The attendant at the podium announced that they would begin boarding disabled passengers first.
I can’t quite see it, but there appears to be a commotion happening over by the service desk. I see some yelling and a bit of hand waiving, with and a garbled ‘upgrade to business’ making it through over the rustling sound of other passengers taking their bags and lining up.
A call comes from the loud speakers.
“Business class passengers for flight 3489 from Chicago to Oakland, please take your place in line, we will begin boarding you shortly.”
I hear a gasp and a clatter come from behind me. When I glance behind me, I see the older gentleman with a case. He turns as well, and I lower my gaze. A couple spots behind him is a girl about a head shorter than the old man and I. I’d say she was about 5’6″ in height, with messy dark blue hair that covered her ears. She had an tired expression. She was catching her breath, in between which she would look up towards me. Not the monitor above me, or the attendant at the podium, she seemed to be keying in on me. Yep, right at my chest. I’m not wearing a graphic tee, just a solid colored long sleeve shirt, so nothing to look at here. Love at first sight? Nah. Just a weirdo. She looks tanned and fit, but out of breath. Just how far did she run?
The attendant picks up the PA and begins speaking over the intercom. She announces that passengers for our flight for group A can begin boarding now. I pick up my duffel bag in one hand, my boarding pass in the other, and start walking towards the ramp. The beep of the scanner rings out, and I go to board the plane. Behind me, I am pretty sure that I can hear someone having the ticket scanning process explained to them in an exasperated voice, followed by a bark about cutting in line.
Ah, the joy of being near the front, a window seat is available. Second row, left side eh. I stow my bag in the overhead, take off my backpack, and sit down. In the window seat, of course. I stuff my bag under the seat in front of me.
As I am fashioning my seat belt, the old man who was behind me moves in and sits in the middle seat next to me. I was kind of hoping to lay my coat on the middle seat and save some room, but the old man looks like he’d make a good conversation partner, and it is a 5 hour flight. Incidentally, the weird girl with the blue hair pushed past the the few people who boarded after us and made a bee line right to the seat behind me. Well, it is a coveted window seat, after all, but she was rather rude wasn’t she?
Ah well, none of my business.
As the plane boards, and we wait on the tarmac, I should exchange pleasantries with the old man who has sat beside me.
“Winter sucks out here, doesn’t it? It will be a nice break from the snow.”
Ah. He beat me to it.
“I can’t agree more. What do you do?”
“Oh, I should introduce myself first. My name is Dr. Freeman. I am a professor over at the Northwestern University.”
“A professor? What do you teach?”
“I am the head of the Engineering and Computer Science department.”
“What’s taking you out to the west coast?”
“It’s an interesting story, actually. My students and I were clearing out the old Computer Club room to make way for a new classroom. The room hasn’t been in use since the 90’s, so there was a lot of old equipment and parts there that need to be recycled.”
“Did you find anything good?”
“We did, as a matter of fact. Something a bit nostalgic actually. It was something that belonged to one of my old students, as a matter of fact.”
The professor said that with a downward note.
“Ah. Did something happen?”
“Well…” The professor looked down at his hands. “That student that thing belonged to, she disappeared.”
“Yes. It must be about 20 years now, isn’t it… Everything seemed to be alright, and she was behaving normally, if even a bit energetically, but the next day she just disappeared as suddenly as she when we had first met.”
He looked a bit wistful.
“Are you sure she didn’t just run away?”
“Oh, no, no. Her world centered around her son. But he was just left behind at the student housing. We looked all around for her, but we couldn’t find her at all.”
“What did the police say?”
“Well… she was here illegally, so we couldn’t really involve…. But well, eventually we had to give up the search. We hoped that maybe she went back, but… well…”
He looked downcast.
“What happened to the son?”
“One of the club members took care of the boy and raised him.”
“I see. What was her name?”
I interrupted him before he could reply,
“Was it… Sarah?”
“Huh? Yes, that was her name. Did you know her?”
“Well, there was not much I could remember, other than stories that Skip could tell me. But, thank you for looking after Mother.”
“Oooh. My, my, I can’t believe it. Sarah’s son, I can’t believe it. Well then, I guess this would be yours, though you will have to excuse me, as I cannot relinquish it to you at the moment, since it is the subject of my trip, after all.”
The professor reached down and pulled out his briefcase. He opened it, and then pulled something out of it.
“Here we are.”
The professor held the object out.
I felt a rustling from the seat behind me, but I ignore it. She’s peaking through the gap between the chairs. I suppress my urge to give her a poke in the eyes.
It was a blue sphere, made of a material I had never seen before. It was covered in, well what can I call it other than circuits. The lines were intricate and clean, and for some reason, yes, a bit nostalgic. I could also feel my inner hardware nerd pulsing with eagerness. I think I know where this is going.
“This is what you’re going out to California for?”
“Yes, as you can see, the this orb, the more you look at it, it is undeniably a computer of some sort. But I have never seen anything like it. The circuitry is more complex than even the hardware we work with today. I do not know how she would have managed to have this even now, let alone twenty five years ago. My former colleague works at a a large computer processor manufacturer, and he was able to reach out to an expert, so I am flying out to meet with them.”
“What a coincidence. I also happen to be going there on business. One of my old bosses told me that their friend had found an interesting piece of hardware, and called me in to take a look at it.”
I ignore the scratching on the back of my chair. Damn that woman is annoying.
“Ha ha, so that’s it. That bastard, he had to drag the both of us all the way across the country instead of just meeting us in the city. But to think that Sarah’s son would be the one. She appeared out of the blue one day in the club room. Didn’t speak a lick of English, but damn did she run circles around us when it came to circuitry. I see that it rubbed off on you after all; like mother, like son.”
“I do not know if it was her influence or not, but you know that Skip, ah, that’s my guardian, he and a couple other friends run a prototyping company. So I grew up basically surrounded by computer chips and soldering irons, with everyone building new products all day. Thank’s to that, I’ve always been good with stuff like this. My main business is design and consultation of unique hardware solutions. So this is right up my alley.”
“Well then, here you go. What can you make of it?”
The professor handed me the sphere.
The grinding on the back of my chair is driving me crazy. Should I reach back and thwap her on the top of the head?
Whatever. Ignore it, ignore it. Let’s just take a look at the sphere first.
The sphere was, as I mentioned, intricately designed. I turned it around in my hands.
“It’s interesting. These are definitely circuits. But it’s weird.”
“Yes. These circuits, it’s like they are all independent from each other. They are not connected except in a few places. Like this, look at this part here. It looks like it is part of the larger circuit around it, but that’s not the case. It never actually connects to any other part.”
“But then, how would each circuit communicate? Are they connected to a central area?”
“No, they are not talking at all with each other. I can’t even see how they are getting powered, even. Unless the sphere itself is powering them.”
Hmm… I look closer. What’s this, what’s this?
“This bit here… it is like a marking or comment. No, a label. It says… Memory Circuit?”
“Oh? Let me see. Huh? I can’t read it. What language is that? Ah. Well, of course I can’t read it. Though I guess it is natural that you could, huh….”
“Natural? What do you mean?”
“Nevermind, don’t worry about it.”
So it’s only natural that I can read it? Because it belong to mother? The points of my ears are getting itchy thinking about it.
“Hey, look right here, Professor. You see this part?”
“There? What about it? What do you see?”
“Well, it’s broken. Or should I say unfinished? Right under the area where the writing was. You see this part and this part? They are supposed to be connected to each other, but right here, you see, right there, there is a small piece blocking it that wasn’t carved out. Let me see here…”
The scrapping on my chair back is driving me nuts. I want to hit this person. Ignore it. Ignore it. Why isn’t the person next to them stopping them?
Speaking of scrapping… I pull out my backpack and rummage for a bit. I pull out a nail file. It’s a small, cheap, plastic one though. I try and scrape at the small portion that is blocking the circuit from completing. But it’s no good. The file is too thick, and it’s plastic anyway.
Out of desperation, or maybe just habit, I start scrapping the blockage with my thumbnail. I get tunnel vision when this type of thing happens, so I am focusing a little too hard on this, aren’t I?
“Whoah!? What was that?”
Both of us exclaimed together.
At my thumbnail, there was a small flash of light, and the indentation went away.
We both looked at each other for a second.
The sphere started to warm in my hand, and began to start glowing with a pale light from within it.
The sphere rushed at me like a line drive off the sweet spot of the bat, right at my chest.
No, not at my chest. In my chest.
The scratching sound behind me has stopped, and I feel a coolness on my back.
“Where did it go?”
“I… I don’t know… what…”
“How do you feel? Are you alright?”
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s kind of like… my chest is lighter, but denser? I don’t know how to describe-AAHHHH!!!!”
What the hell is going on? Is this Alien’s or something?
My eyes are screwed up with pain. There are bolts of electricity flying all around me.
The old man is yelling. Ah, he just got electrocuted!
I glance down. There is an arm. An arm going right through my chest. From behind the back of my chair, through my chest, and in front of that was a hand. A hand groping and grasping at the blue sphere that was just out of reach.
Anger like I never knew flashed over me. This bitch. Not again. Wait, again? Whatever. How do I deal with this? What do I do? Crap. Crap. Ungh. It hurts like hell. Do like last time? Last? Whatever. Do it. Whatever it is. do it.
I grit my teeth. I hold out both of my hands in front of me, and hold them as if I was holding a sword. And like that, a sword of lightning forms in my hands. But not like a normal sword would, this one is facing inwards.
“What?! Why that again!”
I hear something from behind me. Screw you, take this.
I shove the sword of lightning through my chest and into the one behind me.
Everything hurts. There is electricity everywhere. The sphere is flashing colors, and I can see a circuit on it start to glow blue. It’s the memory circuit that I had just fixed. And another one. I can’t read it. I can’t concentrate. Fuck this hurts.
A flash comes out of the sphere like a nova and pushes everything away from us. Chairs, passengers, the plane, reality, you name it. Everything goes blue. Then everything goes black.
When I come to my senses, I am falling from the sky. The blue sphere moves back inside my chest, and I feel a reassuring warmth from it.
But where is the plane? Did it blow up? Are we crashing? Did I get sucked out?
I look around, but there is no sight of it. Below, I see a fleet of old fashion sail ships, and in the distance I can see land.
In front of me is the girl. That cursed girl. Her right hand and arm, burnt and bloodied, covering her face, and her left hand extended out towards me.
“You! I’ll get you for this!”
She started to mumble something that I couldn’t make out. Anyways, I need to get away from her. How do I get away from her? We’re literally skydiving without a parachute.
< fireball! >
A burst of flame soared towards me.
Fuck! For real?
Right before it hit, and I burst into flame, I saw her smiling whilst floating away towards the land and away from the ships.
Then everything went dark.
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