Written by: Rosemary Wakelin
Jager’s eyes were like slithery pools of black oil, thick, viscous and strangely hypnotic. Bret staggered back until he collided into a bench, quietly thanked it for keeping him upright. “Who the hell are you?”
“Someone who wants to help. Trust me.”
Bret wasn’t sure what smacked him first, disbelief or disgust, perhaps an insane combination of the two. He shook his head and laughed a short, dry laugh, one devoid of any humour. “Trust you? You, who stand there with your jelly-wobble eyes, talk about some damn happy beach, and then carry on as if Masterson doesn’t exist any longer.”
Bret’s wide-eyed gaze alternated between Jager and the console. He swore silently. Both he and Masterson were aware of the consequences in performing such dangerous explorations. But never had Bret imagined his long-time friend ghoulishly holed up in some black box on some metallic alien console. A sudden, sharp pain scorched Bret’s chest, reminding him to breathe.
“I can feel your anguish,” Jager said, “It is well justified. That’s why I want to help. But I don’t have much time. They could be watching us.”
Questions, many of them, swarmed Bret like a plague of ravenous march-flies. He dropped open his jaw but no words came out.
“Masterson was our fault,” Jager explained. “We thought that if we executed the plan without Masterson’s knowledge, it would protect him. We were wrong.”
Something new stirred in Jager’s eyes. Regret? Sorrow perhaps?
“We knew that if a younger Masterson interacted with his older self on the beach it would create a temporal paradox and, hopefully a small opportunity to reverse time… save lives.”
“The ones on your planet.”
Bret stilled, pictured a well-used elastic band stretching, ready to snap. “I don’t understand….”
“My race became, as you humans would say, too smart for our own good. Our intelligence accelerated at a remarkable rate, out-living any species. Our bodies, however, didn’t. They rotted as dead flesh does, slowly at first, then more rapidly, the stench unbearable. Our leaders informed us of other worlds, of other species’ bodies we could infiltrate once they were newly dead. But our leaders lied. They weren’t utilising those dead… they were utilising those living.”
“And the beach?”
“An alternate world, purely superficial, very controlled, designed to allay our leaders’ growing guilt. Whatever remains of their hosts, believes they’re happy at the beach. There are many of us who want to stop our leaders.”
Bret grimaced. The tale was sick, truly twisted. “What do you need me to do?”
The beach was all sharp sun-lit sands, large explosive waves, a kaleidoscope of coloured towels and umbrellas and the perpetual babble of plastic people with plastic personalities. In the distance, the smell of freshly cooked hot-dogs caused Bret’s stomach to grumble, begged him to follow his latent urges.
He couldn’t. Succumbing to them meant becoming like those around him.
Besides, he had a mission to execute.
He had to find his younger self.