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Footprints: Twenty-One - tau

...Cal tried the handle. “Locked,” he said. “Stand clear.” He drew the gun he had taken off the false Bill, and was aiming it at the lock when a voice sounded in his ears. [Cal Ferguson, Wait!]

Cal turned sharply, looked around, and asked Karen. “Did you hear that?”

Karen nodded. “Yes, but there’s no one here. Where…” With a look of wonder, she stared past Cal.

Following her gaze, Cal turned and saw ‘tau, standing not ten feet from him...

Having stepped into a parallel universe Cal and Karen meet on old friend from a previous adventure.

Brian William Neal continues his mind-bending sci fi tale. To read earlier chapters please click on Footprints in the menu on this page.

Washington, D.C.
Reality 1254

It took less than 10 seconds or so for Karen to hurtle thumping down the length of the laundry chute and drop a breathless final six feet into a dumpster-size laundry basket half-full of sheets and towels waiting to be washed. Overhead, she heard a metallic thumping signaling Cal’s descent, and scrambled to one side so he wouldn’t land on top of her, and then foomp! he landed beside her.

“Wow!” he said, and she chuckled her agreement. They lay still, listening for any indication that they had been seen or heard. Silence. Cal struggled upright and waded through the linens, gripped the side, and peered cautiously over the edge.

“Looks clear,” he said. “You ready?”

Karen nodded, and waded over to the side, grabbed the edge and lunged upward like a swimmer boosting out of a pool. She swung over the edge, out, and dropped to the floor, with Cal right beside her. They looked around, saw a door, and went over to it.

Cal tried the handle. “Locked,” he said. “Stand clear.” He drew the gun he had taken off the false Bill, and was aiming it at the lock when a voice sounded in his ears. [Cal Ferguson, Wait!]

Cal turned sharply, looked around, and asked Karen. “Did you hear that?”

Karen nodded. “Yes, but there’s no one here. Where…” With a look of wonder, she stared past Cal.

Following her gaze, Cal turned and saw ‘tau, standing not ten feet from him.

Cal raised the gun, and ’tau opened his hands.

[Put up your weapon, Cal Ferguson] he sent telepathically. [I am not your enemy].

Cal held the pistol on him. ’tau looked as he had when they’d first seen him, on the 10th planet of the solar system so far away in time and space. Tall, almost two meters, and a visage like that of an Earthman of Middle-Eastern descent. His skin was swarthy, he wore a short, black goatee and his dark eyes regarded them calmly above his hawk-like nose. If this were an old sword-and- sand movie, thought Cal, he’d be the evil Grand Vizier, Jafar.

Cal watched ‘tau warily, his gun steady. “Whose side are you on? For that matter, who are you? Are you the ’tau we knew, or are you like that Bill?” he gestured upward with his chin.

’tau smiled one of his rare, thin smiles. [It is good to see you again, Cal Ferguson. As to my identity, I last saw you lifting off the surface of my home world after your Bill O’Rourke had sacrificed himself to allow you and Karen and Jonathan to escape. Is Jonathan with you? I would very much like to see him again].

Cal regarded him, not convinced. “What happened just before we left?”

’tau became grave. [My people shamed me] he sent. [Only by your superior fighting skills were you able to escape, and you still required Bill O’Rourke’s assistance to achieve that. I was embarrassed by the infamy of the actions of some of my people. But thanks to Bill, Klor and the rebels paid].

Karen gripped Cal’s arm. “It’s him, Cal. I know it.”

Cal was unsure.

[If you wish to evade capture by the security forces, you must come with me]. They hesitated, and he added, [It is your choice].

“I think we have to trust him, Cal.”

Cal hesitated, then pocketed the gun and nodded. “Okay, I trust your judgment. Lead the way, ’tau.”
‘tau turned and walked to the far end of the dimly lit room, and produced a small globe from his robes. It began to glow, and by its light, they saw a door they hadn’t noticed. ‘tau turned the door’s handle, and it opened silently. With a small nod, he invited Cal and Karen through. They exchanged a look, then followed him into the sub basement of the White House. They were in his hands.

‘tau led them through a maze of dimly lit or unlighted passages, past steam pipes, water and sewer pipes, and noisy air conditioning fans. Finally, they stopped before a solid-looking door with no doorknob. ’tau touched the door once in each corner and once in the center, and with a small squeak, it eased open, and ‘tau led them through.

As they walked through the doorway, Cal and Karen felt a tingling sensation they recognized immediately; that of passing through a portal. Before they could change their minds, they were through, and the room they entered bore no resemblance to anything the White House might hold.
They were on the bridge of a spaceship; the view through the large screen showed the Earth at a distance of, Cal estimated, about 1000 kilometers. He looked at ’tau, who was moving to a chair at the command console.

“What is this, ’tau? Where are we? Is this our dimension, or another? What’s is going on? And why does this look familiar?”

[Forgive me, Cal Ferguson] ’tau sent. [Has it changed so much that you do not recognize the bridge of your ship, the Hermes? We have modified it somewhat to suit our purposes, but it is still essentially the same vessel in which you and your friends traveled to our world].

“He’s right, Cal! Look, those are the pilot and co-pilot stations where we sat on our return voyage to Earth. It’s the Hermes!” Karen said.

“I think you’re right,” Cal turned to ’tau. “But how? It was in deep water for…it must have been years. How?”

’tau smiled. [It filled with water, so the pressure did not crush it. We salvaged it many years after you and Jonathan left our world. Then we re-fitted it, installed new engines and coated the hull with Kivvex. Then we thought we would attempt to reach lightspeed, as you told us you did. After all, we had little else to occupy our time except await the end of our world.] He stood and led them to a grouping of comfortable chairs. They sat and he continued.

[When we passed the light barrier, as you referred to it, we found we had traveled, not only through time, but to another dimension. It was a simple matter for our scientists, those who had remained behind when the majority left for the new world, to calibrate the velocity and time needed to pass from one dimension to another, and to mark each dimension we visited so that we could return at will. Then we returned to our world and modified all our remaining craft to have this capability.]
Cal nodded, recalling the massive hangar with hundreds of ships, from which they had chosen the craft that had taken them and the Denizen’s embryos back to Earth.

[We had found a world that could support us, and we evacuated our world, and we traveled there. It is a pleasant place, and we will spend the remainder of our existence there. For most of us, this will not be long; possibly one or two hundred years at most.] He looked at wryly, [However, as your Bill might have said, consider the alternative].

“Now there’s a thought,” Cal chuckled. “What was the story with the other Bill, ’tau? The one upstairs. Who was he, and where did he come from?”

’tau hesitated. [He was a clone; using hairs the original left in his quarters, we grew him in one of the cryogenic tanks, similar to those you used to take the embryos to Earth. It is one of their functions, which you may or may not have discovered, and we have had some success with the process. However, with him, there were certain qualities…lacking, if you will; qualities the original possessed, but this one did not. One of those qualities was your friend’s compassion, his ability to relate to others.

[This lack became noticeable when he was fully grown; by then, it was not possible, under our laws, to terminate him, so I took it upon myself to attempt to educate him in the ways of your kind. Unfortunately, I was not successful, and you saw the result.]

[You were fortunate that you were able to overcome him and his guards. He was never without them, which said a lot about his character, and he had become more difficult to control, even for me, who had been with him all of his life. I am sorry I could not produce a better ‘Bill’ for you; it was one of the things I was looking forward to, since your friend was a good man; I am sorry for your loss.]

Cal and Karen were quiet for a few moments, then Karen said, “If Jonathan were here, you would get a pretty sound argument for the lack of a soul in a clone. Could it be that was the problem? No creation by God, no conscience, no soul?”

’tau nodded slowly. [There may be some truth to what you say. My people do not think of what you call ‘God’ in the same way that humans do. For us, it is a different concept.]

“Interesting,” Cal said. “That’s something we didn’t get around to discussing. I know that Jonathan, in particular, wanted to know your peoples’ feelings on the question of a creator. Given that you’d contacted several other alien races at the time, he felt you might have a better handle on such things. But, since then, we’ve probably been in touch with at least as many other races as you have, and we’re no more the wiser on the subject.”

[Nor are we. But we have had other things to occupy us, such as the preservation of our race.]
Cal nodded. “I can see how that could focus the mind.” He turned to the viewscreen. “Is that our Earth, ’tau; or is it the one we just left?”

[It is the reality we were in a few moments ago, Cal.]

“Is there any way we can get to our own…what did you call it, reality? Good name, by the way.”

[I believe it would be possible to visit almost any reality we wish.]

“Can you take us there?” asked Cal, excited.

[I believe it would be possible.]

“We have friends who are scattered over different realities, and we’d like to find them. Can your dimension finder do that?” Cal glanced at Karen.

’tau nodded. [It is possible. It will help if you have something that belongs to them, or that they had at some time.]

Cal and Karen thought about that. “Cal, you’ve got that charm Joe gave you, haven’t you?” Karen asked.

“Yeah. That’d help us find him and whoever’s with him. And I borrowed one of Dennis’s guns. We’d just better hope that he and Joe aren’t together.” They turned to ’tau.

[Very well. Let me have these objects, and I will start my people working on them. I must warn you, however, that although we may be able to find your friends, we may not be able to return to your world.]

Cal and Karen began to protest, and ’tau said, [However, it may be possible to return you to the place where you were last all together.]

Cal and Karen looked at each other in dismay. “Oh boy!” Cal said.

[Is that not a place you would wish to go?]

Cal gazed thoughtfully at the viewscreen. “My friend, let’s go sit down. I’ve got a story for you. It concerns a miserable planet and some really nasty things.” They went to a group of couches by a viewport. “’tau,” Cal began, “do you know of the star we call Rigel?”

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