After an easy swim to the surface she breathed in the clean sea breeze smell she loved so much, cradled and calmed by the ocean around her. She added air to her buoyancy compensator that acted like an inflatable life vest. Jennifer followed her plan using her compass on her wrist, heading southeast for the large opening in the reef on Moruroa’ s northwest side.
In the superior morning light, she calculated the distance to Moruroa to be about seven miles to the reef opening. It would be another one and a half miles to her target landing site inside the lagoon on the northeastern section of the island.
The sub-cap was programmed to bury itself in the thick mud on the ocean bottom. It was her only link with the past. She must forget the past and live in the new world under cover for the rest of her life as a person with amnesia. Any news of time travel in the historical record could endanger the mission of her forty-nine colleagues to save humanity. The Syndos must never learn she was here, out of time.
Bittersweet joy suffused her. The trans-time machine worked. If Zexton could only have realized his dream to see it work.
After Zexton won the Nobel Prize in physics he was elected to head the SS. When the Syndos became dominant politically and passed a law to restrict humans in the Australian Astronaut Core and in all intelligence agencies, Zexton responded by secretly inventing Trans-Time One. While the engineers struggled to make his theory into hardware, Zexton led protests and boycotts. Five years ago he’d been assassinated during a protest rally in Canberra.
Her heart broke that day.
The engineers and scientists completed the gargantuan project with minimal outside assistance after his death, while Jennifer oversaw the project in his name. She’d been determined to see his dream reach fruition.
Keenly she felt the pain of being alone with no one to share her experiences; she would have to start life all over again. Could she really shed the burdens of the past? She contemplated so much at once her thoughts became blurred.
Jennifer crawled onto the atoll’s warm beach, her blue eyes matching the clear, pristine ocean endlessly stretching before her. The gentle sea-breeze tossed her long blonde hair and the steady tide lapped her bare feet.
Is this the twenty-first century—or is this my purgatory for abandoning the others?
She shook her head briskly. She was a scientist, top-ranked in multiple fields of theoretical engineering and history due to her aptitude for (and love of!) the advanced education practices she’d undertaken for much of her life. She would not let doubts and guilt swallow her now. As a scientist, she firmly directed herself, the important thing was to review everything she could recall prior to arriving on Moruroa. She needed to keep her mind active.
She had sent the others through the Trans-Time One during the Syndos attack. Teams ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two and one. She’d reset the machine to send herself to the twenty-first century and mounted the platform. There had been a crash and a roar followed by an eerie silence. How long was I out? Jennifer cast about for any detail to show her elapsed time in this now and came up empty. Had she set the Trans-Time formula accurately? She went over the steps in her head: temporal field strength, Trans-Time delay, matter assembly…
She lifted her hand, looking at her fingers. A single drop of her blood contained enough nanomachines to have once let her spy on an entire Syndos operations. As SS’s elected leader and holding the rank of captain in submersibles, she had access to the thirtieth century’s most advanced technology—all of which she had used to its full effect in the Trans-Time device’s construction and in augmenting her capabilities as a deep cover agent. Her Synthetic Symbiotes had allowed her to discover the Syndos’ plan for human extinction, but she could not use them here. The symbiotes in her cells would keep her healthy by recycling proteins to fuel her metabolism until she could find food. Ironic, she thought—reliance on Cellular-Augmenting Synthetic Symbiotes had identified her as a Natural in her time, but here they gave her enough enhancements that she was practically a Syndos in comparison to this time’s primitive humans.
No, she scolded herself. This time is my home now. “There is no way back!” she whispered. “I will not start off by viewing its people as the Syndos viewed Naturals. I left that behind.”
Her gaze traveled up her arm, the smooth, white flesh free of the spots and wrinkles anyone her age should have in the twenty-first century. Well, there was nothing to be done about her appearance. She guessed—based on the historic pictures she’d researched—that she’d be taken for a woman in her early twenties here, and she wondered if she’d have to resort to subterfuge to hide her true age. It was important not to threaten this time with premature technological advancement. Jennifer thought back to her studies of the twenty-first century, using her photographic recall to bring up pages of the textbooks she’d seen encased in nitrogen chambers, accessible only to scientists and historians in digital format.
I should be safe from most detection devices. My cells are protected from primitive radiation sources. I should avoid medical examinations as much as possible as my accent may arouse suspicion. Part of her studies had involved languages of the era, listening to hours of recorded media and wrapping her tongue around the antique pronunciations. But it would take a while to sound like a native.
Jennifer’s thoughts continued in an excited whirlwind of planning and theorizing as she fell asleep momentarily. After waking from her short nap, she attempted to distance her mind from the waves of guilt.
You abandoned them…you abandoned Kylie…
She fell asleep on the sand, exhausted from the seven-hour swim ashore. After she awoke she walked along the beach for miles and saw lots of wood, plastic bottles, a tarp and some fishing nets. She collected several of the fishing nets and stitched two together using the fish line in her survival kit. She made a hammock with the other fish net and set it between two coconut trees in the shade. She lay down to rest after all the walking and work and soon fell asleep again, but this time in her hammock.
She awoke in a cold sweat and looked at her twenty-first century antique watch that Zexton had given to her when she completed her Ph.D. in archaeology at University of Hawaii….so far in the future now. She had been asleep for at least two hours.
The air was much cooler as the sun began to set so she thought about food. She donned her mask and snorkel and dove into the ocean to check out the reef with her new net. She was lucky to see a small school of fish nearby in shallow water. She stood up quickly and threw the fishnet, but it floated and the fish escaped.
She would need to put weights on the fishnet. That was a job for morning so she built a shelter in the form of a simple lean-to structure. The rain often came after dark and she was not well protected.
She remembered a plastic tarp she saw on the beach earlier in the daytime and went after it now. By the time she reached the tarp the rain had stopped and the moon was bright in the sky. This life would be challenging. She needed to work on survival immediately.
She picked up the tarp and carried it back to base camp where she tied it between three trees, tilted to channel the run-off. In a few hours another rain shower rolled through. Jennifer stored the water in the plastic bottles she had emptied and two of the ones she had collected in the dark on the way back. She collected some driftwood and old coconut husks. She had an aluminum canteen from the proper era in her survival kit and six plastic bottles of water as well as two small blowup plastic solar powered water stills of twenty-first century design capable of producing one pint each a day using the sun to distill seawater. That was it, so fresh water was her first priority.
Looking at the survival kit again she counted twelve protein bars and many important tools and fire starters. These tools all looked like they were from this century, as they were patterned on the antique kit she had purchased several years ago when she was studying twenty-first century survival methods. She ate a protein bar produced in the thirtieth century but packaged in a contemporary plastic zip-sealed bag. She drank a bottle of water and gazed at the stars. How bright they appeared. She went to sleep again on her hammock under the stars. She remembered the part of her plan to save humanity, which included selling bottled water with the virus V7 in the 27th century
By the end of one week she had learned to set fish traps, completed her shelter and used her weighted net to catch small bait-size fish. She had made great progress adapting and grew confident. She built a small raft from the wood she found on the beach and decided to explore the ocean on the leeward side of the island and the lagoon.
After trying out the raft in the shallows she took it out further in the ocean.
She dove and found five large shellfish called conch. The water was about ten to twenty feet deep but she saw a narrow opening in the inner reef. Jennifer took her small raft out to sea, using the tidal changes to help get outside the inner reef. She explored the bottom of the outer reef in about thirty-five to fifty feet of water. Lobsters and many bottom fish such as grouper occupied the reef. She grabbed a lobster with her bare hands but the lobster escaped.
After several hours of exploring, the surf became larger, building with waves from the north. She had five large conchs and decided to head back in, as the tide was coming in now. Her crude paddle made from a driftwood branch and a plastic top to a cooler snapped, leaving her without the paddle, so she headed in across the reef using her flippers for propulsion to push the raft. After an hour the wind and waves had carried her out to sea. She abandoned the raft and swam for the island using her compass on her arm. After four hours of swimming the surf became very loud.
She was shocked to see the surf up to twenty feet. In the pale moonlight, the rain drops shimmered before her eyes…suddenly Jennifer was picked up by the monstrous wave and flipped, landing her on her feet… she was picked up again and thrown…
A deep penetrating pain pierced her head; she thought perhaps engendered by deserting her colleagues under fire. It was instead her head hitting the coral. The raft and conchs were lost. Jennifer swam for her life in a daze but she had her mask, snorkel and flippers. As the pain increased she slipped under the waves.
Inky black thoughts of death flickered through her consciousness like fireflies. Beyond the edge of darkness, she was buried in a quicksand of guilt. In the haze of fear, one thought rushed in—of a love so powerful it could pull her from beneath the waves. Her head emerged.
Now exhausted, she was caught in a rip current brought on by the immense waves. Struggle was useless; instead she conserved her energy to remain afloat until she could move sideways out of the riptide. The pack was already biting into the tender skin of her shoulders. Jennifer took a deep breath, allowing the panic seizing her stomach to pass over her. She steeled herself, focusing her body on keeping afloat by adding air to her buoyancy compensator as her gaze fixed on the distant shore to help get her position.
Her rhythmic breathing was interrupted by a splash behind her. She shot her gaze to the source—a thin dorsal fin protruded from the water, swiftly approaching. Primal instincts overcame her training and she let out a scream and kicked away, losing her buoyancy, her head ducking beneath the water. She struggled to rise above the surface, coughing up saltwater before sinking again. Beneath the water, the dark object with the fin swam close and struck her thigh. Jennifer yelped—yet there was no pain of teeth sinking into her naked flesh. The creature stayed pressed against her, textured smoothly instead of a shark’s sandpaper. The touch was gentle and comforting. Looking again without fear-addled eyes, she saw not a shark but a spinner dolphin.
Her heart still hammering, Jennifer swam back to the surface as the dolphin playfully circled her. She took a great gulp of fresh air and tried to regain her composure. While she looked on, the dolphin breached as well.
“You…that was some fright you gave me, friend,” she said through exasperated gasps.
In response, the dolphin squeaked in delight and blew a spray of water.
Jennifer squealed and recoiled. Laughing, she splashed at her guest. Teasing her, the dolphin dodged her attack by diving. Jennifer was left alone in silence for a moment before the dolphin emerged triumphantly and jumped over her from behind.
“Quite the acrobatic fellow, aren’t you?” she asked in amusement, wiping her eyes clear. “Apologies, I have no trick to show you.”
Chirping and clicking, the dolphin splashed the water with its head. It swam in close to her and turned upside down to expose its stomach.
“Oh, I see. I can reward your performance with a tummy rub.”
She gently leaned on the dolphin’s body for support and stroked his exposed stomach. Seeing him up close, the dolphin was a magnificent creature. His top side was light gray while his stomach was pearly white. His smooth skin glided under her hand, belying the strongly developed muscles underneath. The dolphin clicked gently at her touch, the water around them lapping rhythmically.
“Almost feels like a miracle coming across you, friend. A miracle…”
Calmed by another mammal’s presence, a sense of familiarity warmed her core: the smooth rubbery skin against her body…the tug against the current…the soothing chirps.
She stared at the dolphin in wonder as it squeaked, abruptly turned over and submerged, surfacing seconds later to face her. He rubbed against her exposed upper body and nodded as if prompting her to hang on to him. Still wonderstruck, Jennifer wrapped her arms around the dolphin’s dorsal fin and pressed her body close. Together, they swam back toward the island, the dolphin’s strong muscles working beneath her to power through the current and avoid the dangerous surf.
They moved steadily for almost an hour. Re-entering the shallow waters though a narrow circuitous channel in the beautiful and protected inside reef, Jennifer let go of the dolphin and swam ashore herself. Despite her symbiotes swiftly working to dispel muscle fatigue, she felt spent. She lay in the soft sand, allowing the sun to dry her body while she gave thanks for solid ground.
Excited, the dolphin chirped and squeaked as he darted back and forth. She looked up to see him gain speed and leap from the water. He jumped and splashed to Jennifer’s delight, even propelling himself backward, above the water, balanced on his tail.
“Au revoir, mon ami!” She laughed. Her childhood tongue felt like the natural language to use. “Je l’espère pour rembourser votre gentillesse jour!”
After she’d promised to repay her new friend for his kindness, the dolphin gave one last leap of joy—as if he understood—and swam back into the ocean.
Later that night, Jennifer sat under a familiar sky. Dried and clothed once more, she had secured her undamaged supplies under a rudimentary shelter and made a small driftwood fire. The fire crackled as she watched the endless serenity of the heavens.
In another time, in another world…are my friends watching the same moon? Thinking of me as I think of them? Or do they even exist anymore? Trans-Time…
A tear rolled down her cheek. She let it come—no longer would she hide from her doubts, her fears, the longing for her friends and her old life.
Let this be the last tear. Let this be the last of my doubt. That mission and that world are lost to me.
Taking a breath, she again scanned the night sky, recalling compressed astronomical charts she had studied intently over the past five years as she planned her escape. Her eyes focused again and she analyzed the star positions above her as that of the early twenty-first century. Very early. Trans-Time must’ve dropped me somewhere between 2010 and 2020. That’s my time. That’s my future.
That’s my now.
During the next month Jennifer traveled to the eastern end of the island where a large building stood for supplying the underground nuclear testing conducted by the French. There she found wood, several spools of Dacron and Nylon ropes, fasteners, tools, and much more. She constructed a large raft and built a sailing mast. The paddles she made were from a hard wood. After about a week exploring the eastern end of Moruroa and finding two old air strips that had trees now growing on the runways, Jennifer decided for health reasons to explore the west end. While her symbiotes would clean most of the radiation from her system, reducing her exposure in the first place was prudent. She found some papaya and one banana tree but most importantly lots of lobster, conch, and fish. The atmospheric explosions were over the north end of the large lagoon back in the 1960s. After that, the explosions were deep underground.
On the west end Jennifer build a large shelter with table and chairs. The saws she found came in handy. She used the raft to carry supplies, for fishing, using the rope and chain to anchor to the reef. Now she felt like a winner of a lottery. She was glad so much was available to her after all these months.
But after her initial relief of finding herself alone to grieve and heal, she grew lonely.
* * *
She heard it long before she saw it. The low hum emanated from the north. Last time a plane had come close to the island, Jennifer hadn’t had a big enough brush pile prepared. But that was months ago. Since then she’d built several bonfire stacks in multiple locations. A rush of excitement shot through her. She threw down the makeshift fishing net she was mending and rushed out of her shelter. She sprinted her now well-worn paths toward the northwest beach. Nothing remained of her uniform, as she discarded that in the sub-cap in favor of twenty-first century garments, which had since been sacrificed for bandages and thread for mending her nets. She was topless with cut offs. She hoped her state of undress would not be a problem, but there was little she could do about it. Nudity did not bother her as a taboo, but her research suggested it was frowned upon in most world cultures of the twenty-first century.
Reaching the two brush piles on the sand, she set them each alight, using her fire starter from the survival kit. After adding oily palm-fronds to darken the smoke, she peered into the distance to spot the plane. With the fires roaring behind her, she could no longer hear the plane nor could she see it. Panic seized her for a moment before her eye found a silver glint in the distance. Excitement filled her at that single hopeful gleam. She rushed back to the fires to throw more palm fronds on, willing the smoke darker, higher.
The plane’s steady hum came close enough to overtake the fires’ roar, a sound that made Jennifer laugh with joy. The great silver bird flew over the island, banking around her smoke trails. She jumped and waved, yelling with all her might to bring the plane down. It banked again and came in low as it approached from the north side of the atoll.
Jennifer debated chasing the plane to where it landed, but took a moment to calm herself.
They obviously saw me. It’d be best to await their approach; else I risk losing them on the island. Stay where I can best be found.
Her decision confirmed, Jennifer sat in the sand in front of the fires and reviewed her plan. She had long ago come up with the idea to feign amnesia about her past and her appearance on the island. A bit cliché, but it would buy time to figure out for sure what year it was and a believable situation to “remember.” On the spur of the moment she also decided to remain mute until she could acclimate to the language and accent of her rescuers—she’d learned as an undercover operative in the thirtieth century that standing out could be deadly.
She waited patiently on the beach, struggling to keep her bubbling expectation under control. Before long the hum of a motor approached from the north and set down on the lagoon. Then the great noise approached the west end of Moruroa by taxiing to well-protected anchorage near her camp. After what seemed a very long time, a small inflatable boat came into view. Grinning at the sight, she allowed her joy to overtake her as she waved exuberantly to the first individual she would meet in the twenty-first century.