Running, running running. Heart pounding so hard I can hear it in my ears. I try to ignore the gunfire even though I can hear the bullets whizzing past my helmet. It takes all of my focus to concentrate on the voices and what they are telling me to do. Dodging certain death, I use their guidance to move decisively towards my next objective: PFC Williams.
STOP! Death is there! I feel the instruction more than I hear it. Immediately I obey and hunker down beside a huge piece of shattered concrete. I am barely under cover when the rocket propelled grenade streaks past before detonating against the side of the building. The blast is terrific, even the chunk of wall I cower under bounces about.
Go, go, go! The voices in my mind scream but I am already moving. A piece of rebar rips the white armband on my left bicep, but I ignore it. These guys don't care that I'm a combat medic, they don't care that I'm a woman, they're trying to kill me the same as the guys. To them we're all just filthy infidels occupying their country. I don't know how, but I can actually feel their hatred as it burns within them like a molten core.
Despite my size, adrenaline drives me as I drag two hundred pounds of combat Marine out of the firefight under cover of a smoke grenade. Normally I would have treated him where he lay, but right now the voices were telling me to get the hell out of there before they reload the RPG. They've never lied to me, so I know that I need to get a move-on PDFQ before they vaporize both of us. Trying not to slip in PFC Williams' blood I get us clear just a second and a half before the spot erupts like a volcano.
It takes every bit of my strength get PFC Williams back to the triage area we set up. Hurry, hurry...Come the voices in my head as they urge me to get back out there.
"Jimmy, baby. He's all yorn!" I scream to my sergeant as I deposit the injured PFC into the hastily prepared triage area.
"Where the hell're ya goin?" SFC Jimmy O'Connor shouts after me as I turn away.
"To get the others." I yell over my shoulder, never even taking the time to see his shocked expression. To this day I regret not taking just one last look at him, but in the heat of the moment, and with the voices guiding me, I had no fear. They had always shown me to safety.
The battlefield before me is hell itself. It was good ground for an ambush, too bad we didn't pick it. For us, the whole street was nothing more than a murder factory. Only a maniac would have walked back into that; I was running.
Everything you experience in this life, even death itself, is meant to be a lesson.
Clorr San Lek, Sombrero Galaxy, 23rd DuNai Dynasty
On January 1st, 2014, I died of breast cancer. I shouldn't have been surprised; it wasn't the first time the girls had gotten me into trouble.
I don't know what bothered me more; dying of cancer, or dying of cancer after all I had been through. Somehow it seemed unfair for the universe to do this to me. I'd been a good person, mostly. Maybe I was a little saltier than the other girls, but I never wanted to be the debutant type anyhow. Still, there was just no fairness to it. I was only thirty-two. Who was gonna raise my little girl? With her father out of the picture she would be all alone. It was this thought that had terrified me more than anything else I had ever faced; the idea of my baby girl growing up without parents. Compared to that, my own life was insignificant.
But it was what happened next that really surprised me. Although I was raised a Baptist, and spent many an afternoon in Sunday school, deep down I was never a true believer. When I was laying there in my deathbed, sweating buckets and vomiting my guts out from the chemo, I had no illusions of eternal salvation. Sure, I hoped there was something beyond all of this, but I didn't really believe it. Truth be told; I was scared shitless of being blotted out of existence for all time. As much as I would have liked to wrap myself up in the assurance of a hereafter, I didn't believe it. Religion was just a buncha fairytales written by cavemen, that's all it was.
So what was death like? For me it was eighteen months of anticipation, nausea, surgery, and hair loss. I was herded from one specialist to another, handed off to the next guy who would shine a little false hope into my life. It was like falling from a very great height in slow motion. The whole way down you can see the ground getting closer and closer, and you know when you reach it you're dead, but there's nothing you can do but scream into your pillow. Dying sucks, and it's not an experience I would recommend.
So when I wake up in a beautiful forest glade, with trees billowing in the wind and a layer of ferns covering the ground all around me, my first thought was that I was in Heaven. My second thought was that their standards must be pretty low if I got in. Yes, it's true; my misplaced sense of self-loathing had followed me beyond the grave. What can I say; I was a different person back then. Not only was I not the prettiest girl in the room, but I was completely nuts. Tis true, I had spent my entire life talking to dead people. In my mind that made me a certified wacko.
I sit up and look around the forest glade. The beauty is breathtaking, the breeze is perfectly cool, and the sky was the clearest blue I'd ever seen. Really, I'm just surprised to find myself here. Then it occurs to me that mebbe this is where Saint Peter reminds me gently that I was a non-believer, right before the trapdoor under my feet sends me down a slippy-slide to Hell. Would God do that? Bring me here just to psych me out? It seemed needlessly cruel, but then again, this could be an Old Testament God, and all of this was just the waiting room outside of Judgement Hall.
The thoughts in my head had been going crazy. The place looked like Earth, but somehow I knew that it wasn't. Something about the background noise of the place, that buzzing in the back of my mind, the voices were all different too. I shook my head as if that would change the radio reception, but no matter how hard I tried the whispers still spoke with this odd...dialect. Why do the imaginary voices in my head have a Portuguese accent?
That's when I notice there's this old guy just standing there to one side. When I lock eyes with him he gives me this smile and says "Good Morning Jenna."
Just like that he smiles at me, like people wake up from the dead here all the time. I was just about to grumble something when I realize the old guy is suddenly standing right next to me. I never even saw him move. It was like I blinked my eyes and ZIP, he's there, not eighteen inches away. Even more amazing is that he has a cup of coffee in his hand. I was just about to freak about his invading my personal space when I got a whiff of that java. It was exquisite, like a warm blanket.
Doing my best to find a smile, I accept the coffee from him. Dark, dark coffee with a liberal splash of sweet cream, it made me feel like I was back home in my kitchen. That was the image that brought it all back to me.
"My family?" I almost spilled my coffee as I remembered my old life.
"They will complete their natural lives." He shrugged at the thought. "They will live, and eventually they will die, as did you, and as do all things."
"Where is this place? Is this heaven?" There were so many questions in my mind that I had trouble organizing them.
"No, this is not heaven." The old guy gave a snicker at that. "You are in my home." Giving a flourish, he gestured to the glade around us.
"You live in the woods?" I raised an eyebrow.
Giving a wink, the old guy snapped his fingers. As he did I watched the entire forest melt away into massive bookshelves of hand carved mahogany. It took a few seconds for the transformation to complete, but when it did I found myself sitting on the floor of a...a museum. At least that was my first impression of the place. It was like the Louvre stacked on top of the Smithsonian; there were artifacts and objects on display that boggled the mind. I was just taking it all in when I noticed the space shuttle hanging over my head. Challenger I think. Yeah, the place was that big.
When I finally turn back to the old guy, he's been watching me the whole time, like I was fascinating or something. The guy has a strange way about him, like one of those people who finds wonderment in everything. He's prolly a morning person. I hate morning people.
"So where exactly is this place?" I ask as I stand up for the first time. As soon as I do I realize that I am completely healthy, no sickness, no nausea. Right away I start to notice a few other things, like my hips are back down to their pre-child bearing days. Not only that, but a quick pat-down revealed that I had m' girls back. I'd had a double mastectomy among one of the many heroic procedures I'd endured whilst trying to extend my life. It felt good to be whole again. Truthfully, I hadn't felt this good since I was nineteen.
That's when I noticed the image in the mirrored surface of one of the artifacts on display. There was a young girl reflected in the picture, and she had a familiar look to her. It took me a full ten seconds to realize it was me. Turns out that I didn't just feel younger, I really was younger. No longer a 32 year old single mother, I was once again that fresh-faced little girl who had enlisted at 19. I could tell by that awful haircut I had gotten right before I reported for basic training. Hideous, I dunno what I was thinking when I got that doo.
"You have been fully restored to your original adult form." The old guy reassured me. "Come, let's walk."
I followed him along like a lost puppy, trying to listen to the things he was saying while being overwhelmed at some of the exhibits. Half of the stuff I didn't even recognize, and the other half took away my breath. In one room the SkyLab space station was hanging from the ceiling, and in the next room was the Rosetta Stone. I got a glance down one of the hallways, and it looked like there was an ocean liner in that room. Really, an ocean liner!
"My name is DorLek, I am a master trainer for the DuNai, and you have been harvested from your deathbed for a very special calling." Pausing for me to catch up, he had this amused smile, as if he were watching an infant take its first steps.
"Your mission, should you decide to take it..." I kidded in a deep announcer voice.
"Jenna, tell me something." Stopping to look me in the eyes, he ignored my joke. "You had many jobs during your lifetime, but none of them ever seemed a perfect fit."
"Is there a question in there somewhere?" I asked, wondering if I had missed something. Then it occurred to me; "Or is this a job offer?"
"Indeed it is, although the words job and offer may not be the best adjetives." His eyebrows rose as he agreed to my assertion. "I prefer the term career opportunity. This is not another mindless, nine-to-five rat-maze, this is your true calling, that which you were meant for."
"You sound a lot like my Army recruiter. I hear that knucklehead is selling used cars now." Although I kidded, deep down I was wary of it all. Sure, I was glad to be alive and all, but suspicious all the same. Why would anyone go through all the effort to bring me...ME back from the dead. I'm nobody, just some random chick living in a 2 bedroom on the north side. If anything, I was damaged goods. What value could there be in harvesting me, of all people?
"Jenna, have you ever watched ants?" That smug grin was back on his face, like he had this big secret, but it could only be revealed in drips and drabs.
"Yeah, sure, I guess." I admitted. Who hadn't watched ants scurry around at least once in their life?
"Within an ant colony there are many types of ants, separated in purpose by their physical and electronic wiring. There are workers, soldiers, drones, queens, and even childcare specialists. Some colonies even have their own corps of farmers. It is this genetic predisposition for a task, essentially how they are wired, that allows each of these types of ants to do their job. They are literally built, from the ground up, to do their job. It is really quite satisfying to be an ant, to fit perfectly into that square peg where you belong."
"...And the point of that...?" I trailed off, not sure where he was going with his analogy.
"Humans, like the lowly ant, possess this ability towards genetic predisposition for certain types of occupations. It's an evolutionary feature built into humans to ensure there are the right blend of skillsets. Some are born to be hunters, others to be gatherers. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker, we are each wired from the factory to excel at a specific type of work. However, where humans differed from ants is in the degree of specialization. Your species is wired for thousands of occupations, and continually rewiring itself for new professions as your civilization evolves."
I gave it a thought before repeating the phrase my own mother had related to me so many times. "Everyone is a genius in some way, we just gotta find that way, that one occupation that we're perfect for."
"Exactly." Your mother was a wise woman indeed.
"How'd you know who said that to me? You some kinda stalker? Are you the one who's been stealing my socks?" The fact occurred to me immediately.
"Oh, I am indeed." Giving an open grin, he almost mocked me. "Not stealing your socks, but I have been watching you for a very long time, literally since before you were born."
"Why?" I asked with a bemused tone to my voice.
"Because you are the one." He answered simply, knowing I would bite.
"The one for what?" I said with obvious suspicion in my voice. Inside of me there was a real battle going on. On one hand my logical mind was suspicious that the old guy was just a molester in an ice cream truck. But at the same time, the voices at the back of my mind are telling me the guy is legit. It had taken a few minutes to tune 'em in right, but I was finally starting to make heads or tails outta the whispers and their strange new dialect.
"You are to be Timelord for the Milky Way galaxy." He just laid it out like that.
My first thought was WTF?
"But truthfully," he leaned in close as if imparting a secret. "I have always found the title of Timelord a bit egocentric. Personally I prefer the term Temporal Editor. After all, we really don't rule in a classical sense. If a Timelord is doing their job properly then their subjects don't even know they exist. We are the unseen hand, the ever-guiding force that shapes civilizations, cultivates them as if they were roses in a garden."
"And I'm somehow wired for this...to be a super-galactic ruler from a bad British TV show?" I wanted to laugh out loud at the suggestion. Oh, sure, the dark loner who has secret powers. Bullshit, back home I could barely find a job.
"Oh," He gave a snicker at that. "For that portion of the job you will need significant upgrades, years and years of intensive training. You are but a raw lump of clay yet to be worked or molded."
"You try molding any of my parts and I'll punch you so hard you'll look like a Picasso." I threatened, holding up a fist. My Dad taught me how to punch when I was seven, so I knew I could rattle his teeth. Then the real question occurred to me; "How many years?"
"By your calendar, a century or two, usually towards the latter." He shrugged as if it were inconsequential.
"Two hundred years?" It felt like I'd been punched in the gut.
"Pffft" He dismissed it casually. "I have shoes older than that. These in fact." He pretended to look down at his feet.
"Look, I just wanna go home to my little girl, that's all. The job offer is very nice, but I'd like to go home now." I tried to be polite in my refusal, but I was distracted by the laughing in my head. The whispers in the back of my mind seemed almost amused at my choice, as if they had heard it a thousand times before me.
"This career opportunity, this profession of ours, our calling, it is the only path home for you. Only a trained Timelord could find their way to Earth from here. Trust me when I say, you are unimaginably far from where you were just an hour ago." Nodding, his assertion was backed up by a chorus of voices in the back of my mind. They'd never been wrong, and right now they were telling me this guy was on the level, however strange he seemed.