Man of Time

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Chapter 4 - The Forgotten

A deep bellow roared from outside. Flashes of lightning echoed across the pitiful sky. The sky’s sorrowful tune stirred my conscious, pulling me from a restless slumber.

I opened my eyes, half expecting to be back in my bed, under my blanket. The scent of marigolds and sunflowers to comfort my senses. Instead, a musky scent of oils filled my nostrils. Much like everything else, this scent didn’t evoked any nostalgic memories. Nothing here reminded me of 1920. No familiarity to ground me to reality. The only thing that felt real was the stiffness of my sweater.

Rain pelted against the glass walls, echoing throughout the cozy apartment. My mind in awe of the pure energy of the lightning outside. It’s deadly aura naturally illuminating the room. I could only wish for my light to be as powerful as that. Maybe if I even tried, I could wield such a light.

A wave of sadness washed over my body... Even if I did try, I would fail. Like Father always said, I was too stupid to make anything useful. Too pathetic, to make anything strong. Too weak to overcome the anxieties that followed. I buried my head deeper into the blanket. It’s unnatural coziness soothing my cold limbs. The fuzz covered my ears, drowning out the amplified noises of the storm.

I had promised Poppy I would be back in time for dinner. I even brought her a sunflower. Her favorite type of flower...

The scenario of her afternoon cluttered my thoughts. Poppy’s inpatient bouncing at the door, waiting for her Brotha to come home. She’d pester Mama, pulling at her dress, whining. She’d sit and play for her toys for a while. Going into my room to smell my flowers before she’d find herself at the door once more. Waiting. And waiting. By then, the sky must have grown as dark as it has here. Mama would share concern, prompting Father to grumble. He wouldn’t care.

None of them would know what happened. Nor could they imagine it. That their brother and son traveled 100 years in the future. Alone. And afraid. By now, in 2020, Poppy must be dead. The march of time consuming the purity of her mind. I prayed nothing bad had occurred while I was away. Another war, or disturbance with Father.

I wondered what kind of life she lived. One of viture, I hoped. I’d miss all the little things in life, like her first day of kindergarten. Her first partner. Or child, if she decided that was the path she wanted to lead... So much time, all of it lost.

As my thoughts trailed off, so did my gaze. Which stared at the minimalistic design of Blake’s apartment. White floorboards reminded me of the men who stuffed me into the machine. The strict ticking of their clock could drive anyone insane. It reminded me of the ticking timer those men used. The influx of chemicals that invaded my body. I shuddered. My heart twisted in remembrance.

How many others went through this horrifying experience? Blake said there’s a group of individuals who have gotten away from this.. “Lothar Corperation”. Like me, thrown into the desired time, but not location. Were they scared too? In denial of this reality. How long had they lived in this time? Hopefully for not that long. They said this group was working on a way back. This concept of “time travel”... There had to be a way back.

I needed that bright smile back in my life. Her little giggles... At home, she was the only thing that kept me sane. But now she was far out of my reach. Alone. I had been flung into a world with new faces. With new customs and cultures.

Something about that interracial couple rubbed me the wrong way. In a way, I envied their happiness. No one seemed to care either. I wondered if two- CREAK.

The sound of a floorboard dipping from a weight shuddered throughout the apartment. Curiosity gnawed at my conscious with another creak, sending a whirl of questions and skepticism. My body twitched in anticipation. I peeked my head above the blanket, sitting up. No longer embraced by the warmth of the blanket.

A streak of lightning momentarily illuminated the room, the flash exposing the outline of a figure. One very distinctly resembling a human. It stood frozen against the glass, which had a large hole carved out of it. Rain thudded against the wooden flooring, explaining the amplified sounds of the storm. A large puddle formed at the figure’s feet.

For several moments I sat, frozen. My muscles tightened from the rapid frequency of my heart. This couldn’t be the group Blake spoke of. It must be more from the corperation, ready to take me away.

Those scientists, weren’t enough. That man in the alleyway, wasn’t enough.

I clenched my fist, a smooth weight taking form. The muffled glow of my light hidden under the blanket. Not again. I had to defend myself this time. The head of another figure appeared at the base of the hole, it’s body paused at the sight of me in a disturbing staring contest.

A curtain of fire whipped towards the couch. A fragmented shield erupted from my palms in defense. My eyes squeezed shut from the intense heat. Flames licked the exposed couch, singeing it’s square corners. My arm quivered from the energy extorted. Sweat collected across my brow as I held my breath.

A peculiar rope latched my wrist, yanking me away from the couch. A numbing pain warped around my elbow, it’s fragile bone colliding with the floor. The strange rope curled around my other arm. Restricting me to the ground.

Energy surged through my wrist, a blinding light engulfing the apartment. The ends of my light snapping the ropes that bound me.

“HELP!” I shouted for Blake, hoping they’d hear.

I scrambled to my feet. A flash of lightning allowed me a moment to reorient myself, now facing my opponent. A curved figure launched itself at me, causing me to stumble back from the force. My gut slamming into a kitchen island. I wavered in pain as the figure kicked the back of my knee. A thick rope tightened around my waist, preventing my body from collapsing. The rope twirled me in the direction of the invader. A strong pair of hands wrapped themselves around my neck. Choking. A jaded dagger formed from my hand. I gasped for breath, hastily pressing the edge against their neck.

My light revealed the gritted teeth of a woman. Black strands of hair fell over her face. Too short to be tucked into her elaborate braid. The strength of her body focused around my neck. The corners of my peripherals grew dark. Forcing my focus to her blue orbs. The strength of her body centered around my neck. A thud rang through pounding ears. My vision doubled as my light began to fade.

“...Edith?” The grip on my neck released. "Lights on.” My body collapsed.

Blake stood by the couch, their eyes narrowed at my attacker. The woman before me expressed an irritable sigh, her eyelids fluttered briefly before speaking, “Bhaskar,” Her demeanor now relaxed, “Bhaskar you can stop-Bhaskar?!” Edith gasped at the unconscious man that laid on the ground. His freckled features still.

Blake looked at the man and also gasped, “I had no idea that was Bhaskar!” They expressed with an apologetic tone, immediately kneeling to the man’s side, placing their palm over his heart.

Wait. Did this Bhaskar use “they” pronouns too? A swell of remorse emptied my chest. Am I being defensive about assuming one’s pronouns? If I vocalized it would I be judged? How many people in 2020 really used “they” pronouns? By Blake’s explanation of it yesterday, it appeared to be many. Enough to make it commonplace for all to respect. Does Edith use them..? Nausea pooled at the pit of my stomach. The last thing I wanted was to offend anyone, in this time or any other...

Bhaskar struggled for air, bolting to an upright stance. His arm clenched Blake’s forearm, eyes burning like the fire he crafted. The rage in his muscles soothed once he looked to Blake. Who he seemed familiar with.

“It’s Blake.” Edith offered a hand, a hint of bitterness following.

Once up, Bhaskar brought his hand to his chest. His thin brows curved in a similar expression as his hand. A language Edith understood. She responded to his gestures with a nod, “You could have told me you moved apartments.” Edith shifted to Blake, who ran their fingers through their hair.

“It’s been a busy year...” Aggression rolled off their tongue.

“Sounds more like a cop out than an excuse.” Edith folded her arms.

“I have a job, Edith.” They snapped, “A very important one that I choose not to neglect. You know my situation, I have to prove myself in the workplace. I’m advocating for a more diverse future. I have an entire community to represent.”

The brilliance of Blake’s accomplishments ceased to amaze me. Blake spoke with a sense of urgency in their tone, gesticulating their story, wrinkles outlining their lids as they spoke to Edith. Who, despite the nonchalant expression, appeared to care about Blake’s situation.

“You have your priorities, and I have mine.”

Blake’s brows furrowed, “I’m helping in every way I can. I help pay for what you guys need. I’ve been helping Ralph develop new software for searches. Don’t act like I do nothing for the group.” They shook their head, holding back a tear that glossed under their eye.

“I do appreciate the contributions you make towards the group.” Edith shared a hesitant look with Bhaskar, who smiled faintly. “I only wish for you to spend more time at the base.”

Blake revealed a pained smile, “If I did would you not put holes in my wall?”

By Blake’s request, an extension of branches bloomed from Edith’s arm. Slithering across the room and intertwining to cover the gaping hole left in the window. The deafening sounds of the storms damped by the temporary repair.

An unspoken tension consumed the open area. Both Blake and Edith seemed to be restraining their choice in words. Concealing their true emotions within. Blake rolled up their silky sleeves, folding their arms. Their nail pressing into their bicep, leaving a pink mark. The water from Edith’s skin attached her stray bangs to her sharpened jaw and plump cheeks.

A stern knock at the door dissolved the tension that choked the air. Everyone shifted, on edge from the unanticipated noise. Despite their passive aggressive tones, Blake and Edith united themselves with caution. Both their eyes narrowed as Blake stalked towards the door. Their hands discreetly unlocking the lock, twisting the knob.

The door flung open. Blake stumbled back, revealing the slim figure of another woman. Her attire matching Bhaskar and Edith’s slimming black. She peered around the room, observing the contents of the apartment, her eyes falling upon the flower covered hole. A soft smile raised to her lips when she looked to Edith.

“Oh Gaia, I thought you were one of them!” Edith exclaimed, her tone drastically different. Her eyes sparkled a bit more when addressing this stranger.

“Not quite.” The stranger giggled, “You were all taking a long time. I grew worried.” Her compassion attitude resonated through her modest demeanor.

“Just a miscalculation. Nothing more.” Edith shot a glare to Blake.

“Blake!” The stranger rushed to their side, engulfing them in a hug. “I’ve missed you.”

Blake closed their eyes, rubbing her back. “I’ve missed you too, Catori.” It was hard not to smile at Catori’s sweetness.

“Did you disable the tracker?” Edith gestured in my direction, looking to Catori for a response.

“I did so right before I came up here.”

Bhaskar nodded with recognition, amused by Catori’s work. “Nicely done.” Edith nodded, observing my neck.

“Greetings,” Catori’s attention turned to me, “My name is Catori, and yours is?” She stuck her arm out for a handshake. The gravity of her grip much stronger than I expected.

“His name is on the case file.” Edith rolled her eyes.

Catori’s smile widened, not breaking contact with me, “That is why I am on the welcoming crew, and not you, dear.”

In front of us, Edith’s face hardened. But not in a disapproving way. She looked off into the distance, her cheeks tinged pink. They weren’t discolored before. The heat of her face already faded from her entrance. Bhaskar and Blake held in their laughter as they shared a secret eye conversation. An unspoken secret lying on all of their consciences. All the secrecy ended once Catori turned back to the crowd.

My hand reached for my neck, feeling a hard object protruding from my skin. I tried to wrap my fingers around it, but it’s size prevented me from a decent grip. Edith, Catori, and Bhaskar took part in a secluded conversation of verbal and non-verbal gestures. Blake had planted themselves beside the hole in their window, fingers tapping away at the black box many strangers possessed on the street. Once they finished, Blake came to me.

“These are the people I was talking about. All taken from a past decade, like you. Bhaskar, 1850. New York. Catori, 1609. Virginia.” Bhaskar’s bald head gave no knowledge of his era. Catori’s odd phrasing of speech did, however. The intricacies of her long braid aroused some questionability, but not much. “And Edith. She’s from 1400, England.”

My eyes widened. Nothing about Edith screamed 1400′s. That was the time of kings, queens, and witches. Her language matched Blake’s and her understanding of this world seemed better than the others. Edith’s fair skin gave no reason for her to be classified as a minority. Not to sound ignorant, but I couldn’t understand how she ended up in 2020.

“Alright. We got to get Raymond back to base. Coming?”

Blake hesitated. My chest tightened from the lack of response. Nothing in this world was familiar. All of it foreign. And from what I observed, dangerous. By Blake’s description, I knew these people would take good care of me, but Blake was the most familiar thing to me right now. And I didn’t want to lose that.

My desperation began to get the best of me. My eyes pleaded for them to come. Anxiety traveled to my throat and choked the air from it. I wanted to beg for them to come, but I knew that would make me look pathetic.

“Is Ralph there?”

“Yes. Waiting on Raymond.” Edith had already ushered everyone else out of the door, her body halfway out herself.

Blake noticed my anxieties, and reassured me with a smile, “I’ll come.”

We loaded into a small, modern car, driving about 25 minutes across Manhattan, into Brooklyn. Passing what I swore to be familiar buildings, decayed over the century. Many were different, though. Their modern designs conflicting the founding bricks of my time.

Few cars littered the roads with their smog, the late hour permitted that. Edith drove the sleek vehicle with ease while having a quiet conversation with Catori. Who rode in the passenger seat. Her slender fingers tampering with what appeared to be a radio placed inside the car. In any other scenario, I’d have the energy to be inquisitive about new technologies, but right now I accepted the fact that I understood little of this reality, and dismissed it.

In the back held Bhaskar, Blake, and I. I picked up Bhaskar’s sparing usage of conversation. From the way he interacted with others he didn’t seem able to speak with his tongue. Instead he’d convey his messages through complex hand gestures and facial expressions.

The leathery interior of the car alienated me from this world. Dissociation shifted my brain again, convincing my conscience of a fake reality. No matter how many times I processed it... Our cars were bulky, loud, and glorious in design. Modern cars were slim, quiet, and simple. My dissociation wasn’t helped by the fact that I’ve never been in a car before.

Though, I’ve been in a carriage once. Before Father volunteered. Mama was pregnant with Poppy. Mrs. Bonni’s husband had given me a little extra cash for the family. The furs of the horse made my nose twitch and my face itchy. Father switched seats with me so I could be further away, and so I could have a better view of the passing streets. It’s... One of the only good memories I have of him.

The neon signs shined brighter in complete darkness. Or, as dark as you could get with the amount of lights displayed across town. Even the fog that blanketed the roads couldn’t mask the street signs. We drove past a local restaurant where couples danced, children played, and friends laughed. All having someone close to them to dance to the music within the establishment. Someone who could validate that they weren’t alone.

I was taken aback by the mixture of races that resided in that one building. Interracial couples like the one from before. Children played with whoever they desired. And- I couldn’t help but gasp at the sight of a homosexual couple. In plain view of everyone. Unafraid. Two black men, drunkenly singing in each other’s arms. Smiling. Happy. In love.

People stared, but not for the reason you’d think... Envy dwelled inside my heart. A deep, powerful emotion that made me upset. Their love is what stuck out most in that restaurant. Well, aside from the lack of race signs. No “Whites Only”, no “Blacks Only”. Just, people, interacting in harmony. But that couple, unearthed afestering envy I tried to lock away.

“What’s wrong, Ray?” Blake nudged my shoulder, “I can feel that you’re upset.”

The envy within my chest vanished. “Feel?” Her- Their, choice in words caught my attention. “What do you mean, feel?”

Blake squinted their hazel eyes, “Well. Your power is wielding light, yes?” My nod prompted them to continue, “Mine is more internal than that. Emotional. To make it simple, I can feel what others feel. Their emotions, excitements, dreads. It helps if I’m touching someone. I can’t read your thoughts, though!” Blake reassured, lip quivering by the potential error in phrasing. “I can just, feel.”

A bizarre power for an odd wo- person. Well, I suppose all powers were bizarre. Most being distinctly unique to the owner. Everyone had a power. But the extent of that power, fluctuated. It could be as simple as a good writer, a smart mathematician, or a really good hugger.

There were more advanced powers, such as mine. “Anomalies to Nature”, world leaders phrased it. The world had, and I’d imagine still has, varying opinions on persons with advanced powers. It was all the more reason to kill off inferior races like mine. Our powers threatened to powers of our overlords.

Until the war started, Father and Mama made sure to hide my light whenever I left the house. The risk of being backed into an alley were much higher. Jeopardizing my livelihood more than the color of my skin. Like everything else they said, “Be normal. Don’t do anything that would make a while to be suspicious of you.” I remembered that being a hard concept to swallow as a child. I always ran around the house, my light illuminating our poorly insulated home.

No matter how I phrased it, none of what I had witnessed over these last couple of hours felt right. The community. The vibrancy of compassion that I witnessed. Both couples I encountered were free to live as they wished. Unafraid of any spectators they ran into. The intimacy of comradery in this world unlike any I’ve witnessed. This place, was unnatural. Soft.

I bent my head down into my palms. I wanted to wake up. To be home with Poppy and Mama. I’d give anything to feel their embrace once more. Everything alien. Different. Blake’s hand rested upon my shoulder, rubbing circles over my blade.

“How long...” My voice cracked, causing everyone to turn and listen, but I hesitated. “How long have all of you been here?” The tightness in my chest returned.

“5.” Bhaskar held up his fingers.

A broken smile appeared from Catori’s lips, “7 years.” She spoke softly.

“10.” Edith stated bluntly.

A singular tear rolled down my cheek. Curving around my jaw, to my neck. Then another. And another. All pooling at the base of my neck, staining my sweater.

By now everyone but Blake turned away, proceeding with whatever they did before my disturbance. None of them expressed the same devastation as I. Accepting this reality as their plain of existence. Time must have that effect on them. A swelling in my chest blossomed. My heart began pumping blood rapidly. My vision blurred when I tried to focus on my palms. Which held tightly to orange wool. Trying to grasp some sense of familiarity. Something. Anything...

By the touch of Blake’s hand, a soothing wave of comfort filled my lungs. My heart rate slowed as the intrusive thoughts entering my mind halted. My gaze shifted to their eyes, which attempted empathy. But the best they could provide was sympathy.

Blake’s brow hung low with a ghost of a smile. They were absorbing all my fear. I felt it. In any other situation I might have shoved Blake away. Despite the irrationality of my thoughts, I valued them. As much as I wished they’d disappear, I knew- NO. I didn’t miss those thoughts. Not one bit. I clenched my fist with fading anger. I needed to stop lying to myself. The intrusive violations of these bursts of panic were horrible. They made me stupid. Pathetic. Weak...

Calm.

“We’re here.”

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