24 June 2011
By Curtis C. Chen
Arnold didn't recognize the room, which was odd, since he always reappeared in the same place after a jump. He was standing on a concrete platform. He tapped his wristwatch controls, telling it to sync to any GPS satellites it could find, and noticed a man dozing in one corner.
"Hello?" Arnold stepped off the platform. Except for that, a computer workstation next to the sleeping man, and a single door behind him, the room was empty. "Can you understand me?"
The man jerked awake, saw Arnold, and his eyes widened. He slapped at the computer.
"He is here!" the man shouted. "Watchman to Order! He has arrived!"
Arnold frowned. "You were expecting me? No, okay, sure. Diane must have figured it out." He checked his watch, but it hadn't synced yet. "What year is this?"
Before the watchman could answer, the door opened, and a dark-haired woman entered, followed by five other men. Arnold noticed that they all wore the same clothing: white long-sleeved shirts, black trousers, and a round pendant on a metal chain.
The woman had dyed her hair the same black color as Diane's, and cut it to the same shoulder length. She approached Arnold and bowed. The men behind her followed suit.
"Welcome back, Lord Arnold," the woman said.
"Okay, slow down," Arnold said. "Are you in charge here?"
The woman inclined her head. "I am Diane, prophet of the Order, keeper of the temple."
"Great. What year is it? How far ahead did I jump?"
"By your reckoning, Lord, it is the year three thousand and twelve," she said.
Arnold's head swam for a moment. "I need to sit down."
He was barely aware of the watchman bringing his chair forward and sliding it under Arnold before he fell backward. It took him a minute to stop hyperventilating.
"Okay. You knew I would reappear here, but you didn't know when. So—" Arnold looked up. "How was your, um, Order founded?"
"The first prophet, Diane of Lynwood, charged us with preserving the Stone of Eternity—"
"You realize that's just a concrete block, right?" Arnold said.
"It is a holy relic," the woman said, unfazed. "Your reappearance, Lord, has proven our faith justified."
"Stop calling me 'Lord,'" Arnold said, rubbing his temples. "But if you're going to worship me, here's my first commandment: disband this religious cult. I'm not a god."
The woman frowned. "No, Lord. We do not worship you. You are merely the chosen one."
"The chosen what?"
One of the men brought forward a cloth bundle. The woman unwrapped it and lifted a large curved sword.
"You will battle and defeat our enemies," the woman said. "So it is written."
"Whoa!" Arnold waved his hands. "I'm not battling anyone! I'm just a mechanic! I order you to back off!"
"You are the chosen one," the woman said. The men behind her hefted chains and shackles. "This is your destiny. And we are honored to convey you to the arena."
For the umpteenth time, Arnold wished he could control his jumps.
Photo: concrete texture 4 by coun2rparts, April, 2009