The date is 5.4.3042. Transmission code 3XO9P41.
The place is Colony 522, Sector 19, Andromeda Galaxy.
The situation is dire.
If you can hear me, we need your help. We will die if we do not get help. You are our only hope.
If you can hear me, please reply.
I ended the transmission and looked at Asel. He was silent, and I turned back to the switchboard expectantly.
It was silent.
The silence lasted for a few minutes, until Asel placed his hand on my shoulder.
“G-go? But what about…” My shoulders dropped as I looked from the switchboard to Asel’s eyes.
“…nobody heard…? Nobody’s coming…are they, Asel?”
“No, Mika. No one’s coming.”
We exited the communications chamber, running down the stairs to where Kayir and Rinata were waiting. Power was on minimum civilian distribution in order to conserve and divert it to the most urgent outlets: laser blasters, oxygen shields, plasma ammo. We had no extras for jet packs or air lifts.
When we reached the bottom of the stairs, Asel was out of breath.
“Any response?” Kayir’s hope cut through me, and I shuddered. Kayir took that as answer enough and pulled out a stolen maintenance badge, flashing it towards the guards before escorting us out the door and onto the street.
“Better luck next time, Mika.” Kayir rubbed my back as we walked down the shadowed side behind the buildings. I smiled, though I knew he couldn’t see under my mask. We were two weeks into a siege, courtesy of a fleet of rogue pirates from Nova 057. No cargo ships could reach us, and our supplies were running low. The shields were weakening from constant bombardment, and the oxygen purifier was in desperate need of repair. Nine days ago, we received a transmission demanding the leader of the colony surrender himself to the pirates. Papa went, and none of us had heard from him since. Four days ago, the pirates managed to inject a Novarian virus into our air chamber. Too small for the filters to destroy, the virus had spread quickly. Those not suffering from the illness walked the streets in masks and gowns to avoid infection.
Our mother was one of the ill, which left my siblings and me in charge of a town trapped by pirates and full of plague. The people were tired, frightened, and dying. Even Asel (brave, proud, strong Asel who was never afraid of anything) was overwhelmed. This was our third night sending transmissions. No passing ship had responded, even though the range was several warp-metres. I wondered if the pirates were interfering with our signal.
When we reached the president’s manor, Rinata shone a torch into the second-story window. Dear old Blue unlocked the gates, and we clamoured in, ripping off our biohazard suits.
“I hate these things,” grumbled Kayir. “So hard to move.”
“And hard to tickle,” I giggled before rubbing my hands under Kayir’s shirt.
“AAH! AAHA! AAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA!”
“Children!” Asel crossed his arms.
“Don’t call me ‘bro’.”
Asel did not sleep that night; I heard him pacing in the room next door. I matched my breaths with his steps; both were slow and deliberate.
Around three o’clock I heard Asel ring for the maid. He and Blue were speaking softly, so I took a water glass and pressed it against the wall. Only filtered phrases made it through, though.
“…one of the Novarian scum…”
“…can’t believe that blasted…”
“…betrayal like no…”
“…what to tell the twins…”
“…never thought she would ever…”
“…Rinata’s run off to…”
The glass slipped out of my hand before I could hear where Rinata had run off. It shattered, and I winced as Asel’s heavy footsteps sounded outside my room. He threw my door open, and I looked up, frozen in the pile of glass and paint.
“Mika…” The pain in Asel’s voice was difficult to hear. “Mika, how much did you hear?”
Blue began to sweep away the shards around my feet. I felt tears sting my eyes. “I’m sorry…”
“Mika.” Asel knelt and grasped my hand. “Mika, don’t be frightened. Just tell me what you heard.”
“Rinata’s run off?!?!”
I saw Asel stiffen. Kayir stood in the doorway.
“What do you mean, ‘Rinata’s run off’?” Kayir crossed his arms.
Asel sighed. “What are you doing up?”
“Had a nightmare and…”
“And you were coming to me,” sighed Asel.
“I was coming to Mika,” corrected Kayir.
“…why not me?”
“Don’t change the topic, Asel!” said Kayir. “Where’s Rinata?”
Asel didn’t answer.
“Asel…?” I probed.
“Asel!” said Kayir.
Still no answer.
“Asel!” “Asel!” “Brother!” “Jerk-face!” “Kayir!”
“She has a lover,” Blue said suddenly.
“Where’d she find one of those?”
“Who’d want one of those?”
“It’s a traitor. A spy for the Novarians,” said Asel. “The name’s Cael. They’ve been seeing each other for quite some time. We think Rinata’s been giving him information. Hence the siege. And the plague. They knew the weaknesses in the shields. The system. That’s classified information only Papa has access to. And anyone in the house.” Asel sounded tired. Defeated.
“Why would she give a traitor information?” My voice was husky.
“It may not have been intentional, Mistress Mika,” said Blue, when Asel failed to respond. “People do strange things when they’re in love, and spies have many ways to get information.”
“How do you know it was through Rinata?”
“One of the guards saw her leaving the house. He followed her to the Novarian’s hideout, but they escaped.”
I placed my hand on Asel’s back. He was hiding his head in his hands. “Asel?”
“It’s my fault,” he muttered. “I was blind.”
“It is most certainly not, Master Asel!” Blue bristled. “The blame falls on Miss Rinata and that despicable Novarian scum.”
An uneasy silence crept upon us. I ruffled Asel’s hair.
“So what now?” said Kayir finally.
“I don’t know,” said Asel.
I dropped my hand. Asel didn’t know? “But you’re in charge!” I said. “You always know what to do!”
Asel smiled sadly. “I’m not very old, Mika. I haven’t seen as much of the world as Papa. I’ve never even left the Colony.”
“But I have,” said Blue. “With your permission, Master Asel, I’d like to suggest a plan. Mistress Mika, you do know how to operate the transmission boards?”
I nodded. “Papa showed me before he left. For messages. But we aren’t allowed in there. Not anymore. We’re not trained.”
“You’ve gotten in, though.”
Kayir grinned, and I copied, although a little uneasily.
“Then put on your suits. We have a message to send.”
“What kind of message is this?” I folded the pages in my hand.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Blue. “Have you memorised the transmission?”
Blue snatched the paper from my hand, crunched it into a ball, and put it in her mouth.
I gasped. “You just ate it!”
“Desperate times, Mistress Mika. Now, input the code.”
I turned to the switchboard and began the transmission.
The date is 6.4.3042. Transmission code H4B74DF7.
Alpha date six-four-three-oh-four-two. Beta date fifteen-three-three-oh-four-two.
Initiation sequence 5X042.
I ended the transmission and looked at Blue. “Do we wait?”
“No. Come now. And keep quiet.”
I followed Blue down the stairs, squinting as I stepped into broad daylight. The sun was high. How long had we been gone?
“Blue…” I began.
She squeezed my hand. “Not now.”
Kayir and Asel weren’t waiting for us. Indeed, they were nowhere to be seen, even in the streets, which were full of peddlers, children, and jet packs.
“It is right,” said Blue. “You can speak now, Mistress Mika.”
“Is it over?”
“Is what over?”
“The plague? The siege? How long were we up there?”
Blue placed a hand on my shoulder. “Mika. The transmission board…what did your father tell you about it?”
“It’s a powerful message system.”
“It’s also a very weak time machine.”
“A…a time machine?” A bubble of hope formed inside me. “We’re…in the future?”
“No, the past. Three days before the siege began.”
The bubble popped, but my rational brain began to tick. “We can stop it?”
“No. Yes.” Blue frowned. “I’m not sure, I don’t know.”
“But…Papa is still here. And Mama. And Rinata! We can…we can warn them! We can…”
“We’re just shadows here. Visitors in passing. Invisible. Your father won’t be able to see or hear you.”
I frowned. “Couldn’t we write him a message, then?”
Blue passed her hand through a streetlamp. “You’ll find that difficult.”
“But we have to do something! Why else did you bring us back?”
Blue looked at me. “I was told to.”
I tried kicking a pebble, tripping as my foot only met air. Incorporeality was annoying. And boring, as I quickly learnt.
Blue was pacing the alley, muttering to herself. She had rejected all of my ideas, but hadn’t managed to develop one of her own.
“…got the message…Mistress Rinata missing…Novarians…doesn’t make sense…”
“Of course it doesn’t make sense!” I burst out. “We’re in the past, but we can’t do anything. No one can see us or hear us or…”
“That’s it!” said Blue.
“We have to visit Cael.”
“The traitor? Why?”
“It’s only a few days before the siege; I’m sure he’ll be busy. We might be able to glean some information. Invisible, soundless spies…yes, that’s perfect.”
“Do you know where he is?”
“I know where he lives, and that’s a start.”
Cael’s flat was immaculate. Not a hair out of place. Unfortunately for us. The shelves were stocked with books and maps, but we couldn’t touch any of them. We could only look.
“It’s so curious,” said Blue. “Nothing incriminating, nothing even suggestive out of place. It’s almost as if he were expecting visitors. Or guests.”
“Rinata,” I said.
“No, not her, he wouldn’t clean up just for…” Blue trailed off. I noticed she had paled considerably.
“Blue? Are you okay?”
“Mistress Mika…I don’t believe you were the only person your father taught to use the transmission board.”
Blue dragged me back to the transmission tower. By the time we climbed the stairs, I was certain my arm was bruised.
Blue touched a finger to her lips.
“Why? They can’t hear us anyway.”
“This is the time machine, remember? Everyone sees everyone in here. The room is suspended in the time stream. It’s open space.”
With those words, Blue pushed the door open, and I heard voices. Rinata and a man. Cael. The traitor.
“Of course. The date is…15…3…”
“Hello, Rinata. Cael.” Blue’s voice was hard and cold. Unlike anything I had heard before, even from Asel.
“Blue!” Rinata’s voice had the same tone. “We were hoping you would join us. Cael was just sending the final transmission to our friends in space. Perhaps we’ll see the fireworks tonight.”
“Traitor,” spat Blue. “Both of you. Haven’t you thought of your family?”
“Ah, you are familiar with our plan, then? I thought you might be. Papa mentioned some…interesting capacities of this particular switchboard.”
“Ones you will never use.”
“And ones you have, apparently.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Rinata. Your family. They love you.”
“Oh, please!” My sister’s voice cut through me. “They couldn’t care less. Asel is always out with that Reia girl, and the twins are so self-absorbed.”
“But your parents…”
“Have a colony to run. They know their place. As you should, Blue.”
I peeked my head around the corner. Rinata and Cael were facing the switchboard. Blue’s back was towards me.
If I could get to the switchboard, I could bring us back to the future. Or the present, rather. Without Cael’s completed transmission, the pirate ships wouldn’t have the information they needed to launch the siege. Thoughts of paradoxes and time warps crossed my mind, but the entire experience seemed rather convoluted, so I decided to try.
“…don’t know the strength of this thing,” Blue was saying. “It’s all of time combined. We could see visions from the future. Or the past. Why, any minute…you don’t know who might walk through that door! Your father, maybe. Or a maintenance man. Or a guard.”
That wasn’t what Blue had told me. Was she lying?
“They won’t be able to see us,” Rinata said uncertainly. “We’re in the past. They’d be in the future. Anyone who comes through that door won’t know that we’re here.”
I frowned. Rinata could see Blue. And we were from the futre. Why couldn’t she…
I realised what Blue was doing. If Rinata thought she was seeing a vision from the future, then I would be free to enter the room and complete a transmission.
Since Rinata didn’t know how to use the time machine, she wouldn’t realise what I was doing until it was too late. For her.
Ignoring the continuing conversation, I walked through the door. Towards the switchboard. I completely ignored Rinata and Blue, though I was careful not to bump into anything.
“…see, Rinata. She can’t even see us.” I heard Blue say. Smiling to myself, I began the transmission.
The date is 15.3.3042. Transmission codeVX201BB9.
Alpha date is…
“Papa, do you know much about time travel?”
My father looked over his paper, amusement tinging his smile. “It’s a myth, Mika. Too many paradoxes to work.”
“Do you really believe that, Papa?”
My father set the paper down. “Does this have to do with those bruises on your arm?”
I frowned. The bruises where Blue had gripped me too hard. I had worn long sleeves since that day, but the marks were slow to heal.
“Mika.” My father looked me in the eyes. “As president of the colony, I have a list of all of the transmissions which were sent on the switchboard since the day the colony was formed. Even the ones not addressed to me.”
I frowned. “There are messages not meant for you?”
“Only one. Once. Sent a few weeks ago. It was intended for Blue.”
“Oh.” That message.
“Do you know much about it, Mika?”
I looked at my feet.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, Mika. Now or ever. But I’m grateful for what you did. For whatever you did. I’m proud of you. You know that, right?”
“Would you like me to show you how to use the switchboard? The whole switchboard?”