“I don’t believe you,” she whispered as she lay on a rattan matt in tattered slacks and what once was a white blouse.
“OK, then explain how I got all of the way out here to Saipan?” I replied.
“Is that where I am?”
I nodded. “Yes.”
She thought for a few moments before replying. “Fred’s injured, you know. It’s his leg, by the way. I’m fine. It is he you should be helping, not me.” She glanced at the bars of her cell, and then turned back to me. “What I can’t explain is how you got into my jail cell unless the Japs let you in while I was unconscious, …or perhaps you’re merely a figment of my delirium.” She shivered. “I must have a fever. Would you be so kind as to feel my forehead, and tell me?”
I did as she bid. “Yes, ma’am. You have a fever.” I tucked what passed for a blanket all around her and helped her sip water from a dented aluminum cup.
She squinted an eye at me, and mumbled to herself, “I don’t know how you got here. Umm, maybe the same way I came to be here, by getting shot down by the Japs, he-he.” Instead of repeating my earlier explanation I smiled at her in the dark.
Her end cell was a concrete box with a high open window guarded by thick steel bars under a clay ceiling. I could hear roaches skitter away from chameleons and rats squeak in the dark. From a pit in a back corner a horrific odor wafted over us from time to time on the irregular tropical breeze. She was in the final stage. It was dysentery and probably malaria. She was very weak, semi-conscious, and burning with 104° fever. Opposite her end of the cellblock her navigator slept his last night, too. Their captors had kept them apart purposely the whole time, ever since July 1937.
She moaned her discomfort, and slurred, “Enough of this nonsense. If you are indeed not colluding with the Japs, won’t you please take me away? You will be rewarded handsomely if you do.” And then to herself she said, “I’m babbling to myself…no one is here to hear me…ohhh, my beautiful Electra is broken….”
“No, you are not imagining me.” I pinched her. “I am quite real.”
“Yeah, well, that doesn’t prove you’re not working for them.” She flipped her heavy head in the direction of the bars of her cell door. “How’d you get in here?”
“Well, I’m not working for them,” I replied emphatically. “I’m here to give you some hope before you die.”
She stared through me. Deliriously she said, “I haven’t finished…yet, Fred…we need to shove off now or we’ll be late to the next checkpoint.”
I interrupted her fugue. “Ma’am, try to listen to me for a moment, please.”
“Uhhh, what? Who are you? How’d you get in here?”
“I have a key,” I produced a brass key from my pocket and pressed it into her hand in order to focus her attention. “I am here because I have always admired you and I wanted to meet you before we initiated the retrieval process. You’ve always been one of my favorite historical figures.”
She tried to peer at me through the dark and her feverish fog. “Uh, what’s your name again?”
“Charles Dawes,” I replied, and I wished mightily to myself that I had slipped the clock a few hours earlier than I had so that I could at least have a lucid conversation with her.
“You’re going to get me out of here now, right?”
“No ma’am I am not.”
“But why ever not?” she whined.
“Because it would alter the timeline, and that we cannot do without consequences. I’m here to meet you before you pass over.”
“Huh? What do you mean? Pass over what?”
“You’re going to let me die?”
“If you admire me so much, why don’t you rescue me instead?”
I reiterated from a few minutes before when I first materialized in her cell. “Because you died in 1940. And because you died in 1940, that event has to happen on schedule. If I were to rescue you from your historical demise, history would be altered. That must not happen. Your demise happens tomorrow morning.”
“I don’t believe you,” she whispered. “This is preposterous. I should call the guards.”
“I’ve incapacitated the guards. They can’t respond, besides, watch this. I can prove it.” I linked a message via my implant to my ship’s AI, and held out my palm, whereupon a 3D holo image appeared of a shiny propeller driven airplane being shot at by small arms fire and deck-mounted machine guns as it flew low over Mili Atoll.
Her eyes bugged. “My Electra! That’s me flying it! How’d you…?” Her question trailed off as she realized the unbelievable. In the holo illumination she glimpsed my face for the first time.
I smiled at her in the blue light. “It’s the bees’ knees, isn’t it?”
She seemed suddenly alert. “Super! How did you make a motion picture appear in your hand? That’s impossible!”
I replied, “Impossible in your timeline, but commonplace in mine. It’s called a hologram. We use it for communicating, entertainment, and other purposes.” I relaxed my hand for the image to disappear, but retained the low light in my fist against my chest.
She turned to look at me with clarity for the first time. “So, Mr. Dawes, is it?”
I nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
“Are you some sort of Jules Verne or H.G. Wells?”
I chuckled, “Yeah, I guess I am something like them in a way. I’m from the distant future where technology has advanced sufficiently to provide the unimaginable.”
I shifted my position. The bare concrete floor was dank and hard. I was sitting across from her with my back to the wall. “A new life for you, ma’am, in a new time; my time.”
“And when is that?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I am from the twenty-first century, however I live in the twenty-sixth century,” I replied, realizing that that alone would be incomprehensible. Heck, I can still barely believe it, I thought to myself.
She snorted, and said matter-of-factly, “Sir, either you are or I am as mad as a hatter.”
I quipped lightly, “That would probably be me, madam. You, I am glad to say are quite sane.”
She grimaced, squirming on her rough matt. “So, tomorrow is it?” I nodded affirmatively. “Well, just as well I feel like dying at this point anyway. You wouldn’t happen to have an aspirin on you, would you now?”
“Actually, I could relieve your suffering. That wouldn’t compromise the timeline.”
“By all means, please. I’m at the end of my rope!” she chuckled. “Uh…perhaps literally?”
I pretended not to hear her question. “Fine then,” I replied and sent a signal to the AI to do just that. “Here goes.” I snapped my fingers for effect which immediately produced a smile of relief on my lady’s face.
She blinked and sat up. “Wow! That was quick. I could go dancing!”
I laid a hand on her arm. “Not so fast there, ma’am. You may feel better but your body is still quite weak. We’ve pumped you full of something or another to relieve the symptoms. If you would, please just sit there and drink some water and talk to me, if you don’t mind. You’re bound to have a slew of questions, as do I for you.”
She looked at me. “Yes Mr. Dawes. I do.” She paused briefly before asking the $64,000 question. “How do I die? I noticed that you ignored my earlier inquiry.”
I sighed. “I know. This is difficult for me because, uh, you are such a giant figure in history.”
“I’m flattered.” She cocked her head with insistence. “Please tell me.”
I relented. “They shoot you.”
“Well, that’s a relief,” she sighed. “I was worried that they would hang me, or lop off my head. The Japs are incredibly cruel race.” Then a thought must have crossed her mind. She looked startled. “Oh my, not in the face, I hope?”
I shook my head in the dark, and said “No.”
“Lord oh mercy!” She exclaimed, and then sniffed sarcastically, “Thank God for small favors. So, it’s tomorrow, is it?”
“This will shock the world, I would imagine. Some will want to retaliate, you know. It might even lead to war – I flatter myself, of course – the Japs seem to be itching to expand the war they have under way in China already.”
I said nothing. In the dark she could not see me well, but I could see her clearly because of my optical augmentations.
“Alright, so when will the world find out?” she asked.
I shrugged, not wanting to reveal the truth. “A lot of people know you are here and have been taken by the Japanese, many of the local Javanese and of course some of the Japanese soldiers, as you well know. Later U.S. forces during and after the war….”
She interrupted. “So, there really is a war coming?”
“December 7th 1941 at Pearl Harbor. The American fleet will be almost wiped out in a surprise air attack.”
“I see. And who wins in the end, and when?”
“The Allies do, the U.S., the British Empire, the Russians, and others. In August of 1945.”
“And when do they find out about my execution?”
“Long after, I’m afraid. Of course there was a huge outcry. The ‘search of the century’ went on for ages, but they never admitted finding you or the wreckage of your plane. The public did not know what happened to you until my timeline because it was not until now that we finally had the capability to play the timeline backwards and forwards like a phonograph player.” I used terminology that she would understand.
She was thoughtful. I could see her trying to process it all. After a moment she said, “What do you mean ‘admitted finding my plane’s wreckage’?”
“Your plane was discovered by U.S. Marines toward the end of the war, in 1944. The Japanese had stored it all along in a hanger right here on Saipan. Quite a few American G.I.s saw it and figured the plane was yours. They also discovered your brown leather satchel in a safe. A couple of marine privates blew the door off of the safe and absconded with it. Eventually it was turned over to Admiral Nimitz who sent it by courier to the White House.”
“What became of it?”
“Don’t know, yet. I have a couple of retrieval artists working on that lead as we speak.”
“What’s a retrieval artist?”
“Someone who slips back in the timeline to extract something or someone. I usually slip for lost artifacts because I am a collector of art, antiques, and books. My first major artifact retrieval was the lost contents of the Libraries of ancient Alexandria and Ephesus. You will be one of my first sentient extractions. That’s what I’m doing here now, actually.”
“But you said that you weren’t going to rescue me?”
“Correct. In your case we cannot because it would alter the timeline, but if say, you had flown your plane into an active volcano when no one was watching, then I could have safely extracted you while you were still in your body a moment before the event. The timeline would not have been affected in that scenario. But I am sorry to say that we cannot extract you because there will be eyewitnesses: your Japanese executioners and onlookers.”
She mumbled, “So you have to wait until after the fact.”
I sighed. “Correct.”
“After the fact. Then what?”
“Then I’ll retrieve your soul, take it back with me, and provide you with a new shell, which by the way you can alter the appearance of now by stipulating details. You want to be taller, or something?”
She wrinkled her nose. “No! I’m happy with my ‘shell,’ thank you very much.” She was thoughtful for a few moments. “What if I don’t want this for me, this extraction thing that you’ve described?”
“I will honor your request, and go away, and then you will die never to be reborn again.”
“That’s what I believe happens anyway.”
I shrugged. “Many people used to think that.”
“And now, in your time?”
“Fewer don’t believe now because of the Timeline Initiative. That’s what we are talking about at the moment, to be technical. The TI is the science and administration of the retrieval process and the practitioners like me are referred to as Retrieval Artists.”
She looked in my direction. “Retrieval Artist?”
“Yep. You are, or can be if you consent, a product of this initiative. We would love to have you in our time. Personally, I would consider it a fantastic achievement to bring Amelia Earhart back from the dead.”
She harrumphed, “Right.” I let her contemplate that tidbit for a few moments. “I don’t know. What would I do in the future?”
“Practically anything you wish, actually. Anything is possible. You can work on any project that interests you or lie on a beach and do nothing at all. In my timeline I have the authority and the resources to provide you complete flexibility.”
“Uh-huh. You said I could ask any question?”
“What happened to my plane?”
“It was destroyed and buried under the end of a runway – which is still in use today – here on this island. It and a bunch of other planes were bulldozed into a shallow fire pit, and then covered up sometime in early 1944.”
She shook her head sadly, and said, “Speaking of ‘cover up,’ why on earth would anyone do that, for Pete’s sake?”
I sighed audibly. “You were acceptable collateral damage, sad as it is for me to say. During this period the Japanese were encrypting their communications. They thought their top secret messages were indecipherable. They were wrong. The Americans had broken the Japanese cipher code. Because of that, at the highest levels of the U.S. military and government it was actually known where you were. And they could have easily rescued you, but….”
She finished my sentence, “…but that would have tipped off the Japs.”
I nodded. “You got it.”
“So they let me suffer and die on this miserable rock instead.”
I said nothing.
“What about Fred Noonan?”
“He cannot come with us.”
“Because unlike you who has no more incarnations, Fred has one or more remaining lives to live out before we can extract him.”
She exhaled thoughtfully.
“So, Amelia, what do you want to be in the future?”
Without hesitation she replied, “A pilot, of course.”