wasn't meant to happen like that," the self-christened Nikolai
said, shaking his head as he reviewed the archived, yellowed newspaper
carrying the story of The Windsong Diner murders. "We must
can we, Teacher?" Nikolai's favorite student, Bernard, questioned
his mentor. "The timeline is established. The boy died. If
we were going to interfere, we should have done it that night.
Had we only known the dopamine donors would react so violently!
A little schizophrenia, a little Parkinson's Disease, we could
predict. But a blood lust in a rural café? It was unpredictable,
and thus, unavoidable. We mustn't waste more time dreaming of
setting right what we set wrong."
the contrary, my dear Bernie. Knowing what occurred then that
led to what is occurring now obligates us to act. We cannot claim
ignorance of our role in the impending human disaster. Knowledge
has armed us."
are you saying?" Bernard asked. "We can change all that?
Two insane humans that we made insane kill three other humans
in an eating establishment over fifty Earth years ago and now
you think we can undo that?"
may be a way."
how regrettable it is that we have assisted humans in escalating
their own demise, we cannot undo the circumstances that killed
Hoyt. The excessive amount of dopamine extracted that night and
the murderous madness which developed cannot be undone."
Bernie, it can. If we go back, we can branch off and start another
timeline. We caused a problem when we allowed a neophyte to extract
could make things worse, you realize. At least now we have a little
time to evacuate a sample breeding stock."
ignored Bernard's remarks. "We need a scenario where the
cook takes the bullet instead of young Rodney Gerald Hoyt. We
need Hoyt to walk out of The Windsong Café that night."
just difficult. We'll need a storm."
thought we tried that before. Several times, in fact," the
young apprentice reminded his teacher. "Why can't we learn
to produce synthetic dopamine? The humans have done it themselves."
are beginning to sound like a heretic, Bernard. We are Gleaners,
not producers. Humans are producers. To each species, a gift was
given. If Gleaners were meant to manufacture products, we would
have compulsively tinkered with matter until we recognized our
gift and fulfilled our destiny. But that is not what we were created
gave his protégé a stern look, but when Bernard
returned the stare, Nikolai added, "To suggest changing the
master plan is blasphemy, and you know what the Guardians of the
High Council do to blasphemers? Exile, my young friend."
Nikolai wanted to slap the insolence from his student's face;
instead, he remained silent for a few moments, allowing the impact
of his words to sink in.
do not do well in exile. So, a word of caution, Bernie. Keep those
reckless ideas to yourself. Besides, who among us would be willing
to toil for days or weeks for what we can so easily extract in
a couple of minutes?"
could recruit some humans to set up laboratories here and"
Enslavement? Is that what you are suggesting?"
is running out, Nikolai. Attempting to go back to The Windsong
only wastes resources that could be applied to rescuing a remnant
of the species. I'm sorry, sir, but I refuse to support the vain
hope that we can change history, only to discover we are not really
capable in reality of doing what your esteemed colleagues claim
we can do
studied the face of his young apprentice before answering. "Think
of what we are attempting to do as a stage drama. Characters are
played by actors. If an actor falls ill or dies, another actor
takes over. The character continues on, but within a different
body. A different actor, but the same character."
unethical to take the life of a present day human to resurrect
the life of a human who died years ago. The Ethics Committee will
ban this foolhardy endeavor and with good reason."
end justifies the means, Bernard. It is better for one to perish
than for a species, namely our own, to languish in our former
torpor. Should we be deprived of that exquisite, electrifying
elixir to which we have admittedly become
because of some ethical question?"
you wish to call it is fine with me. As long as I have my supply,
you can disdain my dependency all you like. We have come to enjoy
the humans' brain chemicals, as well as their art and literature
and their very names and identities. Your own name, Bernie, and
mine as well, we took as a way of acknowledging our appreciation
of humans. If we occasionally harm one in the retrieval process,
it is not done maliciously. Debate one human life's worth for
an eon if you choose, just don't interfere with our methods of
preserving our way of life."
you continue on this path, you will have squandered our diminishing
opportunities for evacuating fertile donors, and you will have
eliminated our only hope of establishing a colony elsewhere. Then
what? No other source of suitable dopamine exists anywhere near
us, and we will all suffer the throes of withdrawal because of
an unproved theory."
and your scruples." Nikolai glided across the room to retrieve
a document from the recently transcribed human archives. "Read
this. They understand in their limited way that sometimes, the
living and the dead meet. Go on, Bernie, read it aloud."
This is the season when the dead branch and the
green branch are the same branch. Nightmares fill with light like
Good and evil, dead and alive everything blooms
from one natural stem. Poetry translated from the writings
of Jalalu'ddin Rumi, a thirteenth century Sufi Mystic." Bernard
handed the slate back to Nikolai. "What does that prove?
That you can pluck words from human documents to justify your
actions? Killing another human in an attempt to unkill a dead
human is insane as well as immoral."
took the tablet from Bernard's hand as he quickly offered one
last suggestion. "What if we select an innocuous character
substitute? We only need a stormy night. Another lightning
strike, another barometric drop, another infinitesimal fissure
and we send back"
Bernie covered his ears. "I won't listen to this madness."
Nikolai continued. "Someone who is historically more or less
worthless. We send him back through time and he saves humanity.
An ironic twist of fate, eh?" Nikolai added with a chuckle.
to who? His family? His community? How do you know who is worthless?
How do you know with absolute certainty what Rodney Hoyt would
have done if he had lived? He was barely more than a boy. How
can you be so sure that he would have led a revolt against restrictive
legislation? How can you know his colony would have survived the
terrorists? You don't."
have our projections, Bernard. Our projections! He was a born
leader. If he had remained alive, he and his followers could have
succeeded in impeaching their country's appeasing leader. What
almost transpired was nearly miraculous. With Hoyt, we believe
it would have worked."
do you think Hoyt's presence would have ensured anything different
than another massacre? Humans are naturally self-destructive beings.
The best we can hope for is to cull the herd and start human colonies
that we can closely monitor. If our demand exceeds the available
supply, assign the task of producing synthetic dopamine to the
captive humans and let them occupy their time doing something
are referring to imprisonment. Enslavement is how it would be
seen by the humans. And that, Bernie, would put us at risk. They
might taint the source. In addition, humans fall prey to depression
when in captivity. And we've learned that depression greatly corrupts
organic dopamine. But perhaps you haven't gotten that far in your
studies." Nikolai spoke in a patronizing tone, hoping to
remind his student of the many years Nikolai had studied humans.
"Our present arrangement is best. The way it is now, they
know nothing of us and produce their dopamine effectively. They
are happy; we are happy. I believe that is called a symbiotic
is more accurate, unless you consider the not infrequent cases
of Parkinson's Disease and schizophrenia we occasionally cause
to be beneficial to humans."
those individuals may well have developed those afflictions without
our harvesting their"
an answer, right, Professor?" Bernie smirked. "I expect
no less from you, sir."
docemus. Teaching we learn," Nikolai offered, his eyes
scanning the ancient scrolls rolled and stacked in the cubicles
that lined the large auditorium. He kept his gaze high over his
student's head. "I can't remember which human society I gleaned
that from. I believe it is Latin, one of their dead languages."
appropriate," Bernie responded in disgust before turning
and charging out of the assembly hall.
watched his departing protégé disappear behind the
heavy doors, leaving the elder scholar to his own thoughts. "My
self-righteous little Bernie. Without your dopamine injections,
your outburst would be nothing more than a smudge of viscous drool.
Your emotional tirade would be barely more moving than a yawn.
You need our little addiction far more than I do," Nikolai
muttered as he reached inside his pocket to check on his own dwindling
for all their trouble, were worth saving for their amazing production
of a substance that would be difficult now to live without. "Yes,
for the love and procurement of dopamine," the scholar whispered
to himself, aware that his student Bernie would be of no assistance
at all. A pity. Bernard had been Nikolai's first choice to earn
the coveted apprenticeship at the Institute for the Study of Human
Donors. The young aspirant had been christened with a human name
for human studies, an honor bestowed only on those considered
most likely to be leaders in the field. A wonderful name wasted.
the scrolls contained other names of other interesting humans,
and Nikolai could select a fitting one for another student. Still,
it was disappointing to lose Bernie. Nikolai would be forced to
work with less skilled, less probing minds. But the honor of being
selected from the swarming pool of eager applicants would surely
be flattering enough to guarantee compliance from his next nominee
whom he might call Bach or Milton, or maybe Rumi, after the Sufi
mystic. He hadn't the time now to ruminate over which name would
be more soothing to say over and over as he addressed a young
follower. He'd think about that later.
needed to concentrate for now on how to recreate the scene at
The Windsong Diner where young Rodney Hoyt had been gunned down
by two enraged, well-armed invaders. That night, if recreated
with a vital variation or two, could hopefully allow a future
to emerge that could help preserve the rich supplies of natural
objections seemed so idealistically immature. Humans, after all,
were creatures under their care and dominion. Though they were
fascinating to study with their arts and their wars, and exotic
to behold with all that fur and those industrious digits with
their prehensile thumbs, they were, in the end, another form of
livestock and should be treated as such.
alter the self-destruction that was about to occur in the human
population, Nikolai and a few likeminded scholars agreed they
needed only to return to an event that was never meant to happen
in the first place. When two neophyte Gleaners extracted too much
dopamine from a couple who were never meant to stop at The Windsong
Diner, insanity was the result. It was a pity. The enraged couple
shot and killed three of the four occupants, including young Rodney
Hoyt. He was shot while sipping a cup of coffee. Nikolai and his
colleagues only wanted to put things right. They argued that a
timeline correction could not be deemed as evolutionary interference.
There was a huge difference, but they seemed to be the only ones
that understood that.
boy that was killed that night and the cook that died a month
later from a clogged heart valve needed to return to the diner
one more time and switch places, despite the fact that their flesh
had decayed decades ago. It made sense for the cook to take the
bullet aimed at the boy so the boy could live to kill a future
president, didn't it? That was the question that Nikolai and his
associates asked each other as they planned the recreation of
that dreadful night. They needed only to procure fresh flesh and
replay the scene.
you don't like history," Nikolai quoted aloud one of his
favorite Gleaner philosophers, "be brave enough to re-write
it with a more suitable outcome."
colleagues chanted, "Wisdom be praised."
a select number of Nikolai's peers agreed with him, the majority
of scholars from the Institute did not. The debate raged between
those intent on accepting what they termed "the inevitable
demise of the majority of donors" and those who believed
along with Nikolai in the theory of splitting timelines and retrieving
madness had not been produced by an improper extraction process,
for which we Gleaners accept full responsibility, humanity would
not be on the verge of its own nuclear destruction," Nikolai
offered to the assembled elite. "We have an obligation to
undo the damage we did."
camps are our only hope, and the humans' only hope, too."
It was Bernie making the case for evacuating a breeding stock
and exposing the extraction process to the captives. "They
have a right to know what is being done to them."
who?" one of Nikolai's colleagues argued. "They are
equivalent to livestock. If we take them, I say, tell them nothing.
Their fear might escalate their dopamine production. With fewer
donors, we'll need higher production. Keep 'em terrified, I'd
are violent by nature." A young zealot took up the argument.
"Sooner or later, they would have self-destructed. Our inadvertent
interference in their histories may have hastened the date, but
we are not responsible for their own inadequacies. Their lack
of foresight shows that they have learned nothing about their
own nature, despite centuries of warfare. Not arming against suicidal
invaders cannot be laid at the feet of the Institute. Humans must
be protected against their own stupidity. Let us vote for where
the first colony should be established."
hear!" the chorus cried, and the vote went down. Specific
populations were earmarked for deportation based more on their
entertainment value than strictly fertility and dopamine production.
Watching humans had become a favorite pastime and certain societies
were more interesting than others. The meeting was adjourned after
votes were tallied for most popular human cultures and artifacts.
The Institute would do its best, all agreed, to retrieve the relics
deemed most meaningful to the humans chosen.
caught the eyes of those who had voted against immediate evacuations.
He nodded slightly and they, in turn, nodded back. The clandestine
meeting, which had previously been discussed, would indeed transpire
later when the other members of the Institute were smugly patting
each other on the back, congratulating the body for its egalitarian
principles, confident their mandate would be enforced.
storm was coming. Nikolai and several others among the Institute's
elite understood Rodney Hoyt's real purpose. Yet to have explained
that would have surely set off all sorts of alarms. Better their
opponents think Hoyt would be a future leader than to know he
would drive his vehicle drunk one night across the center line
into oncoming headlights. The other driver, an idealistic grad
student who without Rodney Hoyt on the road that night would have
driven on safely and years later become known as the Appeasement
President, was fiddling with his radio, momentarily distracted,
so close to home.
the greater good, sacrifices must be made," Nikolai was saying
to the secretly gathered cabal as they each donned a green, glowing
monocle and focused in unison on former events through a tiny
lens, changing the scene ever so slightly, but just enough, they
a biker arrived. He pulled his Harley Davidson into the parking
lot of a defunct restaurant. This night it appeared to be open
for business with its neon lights shining an appealing invitation
to a select few.
biker dashed inside the diner to escape the rain, removing his
helmet as he stepped through Time. His head was suddenly covered
by a Confederate flag bandanna. He grinned at the décor
of the newly resurrected Windsong Diner. Shaking off the water
like a wet dog before depositing some coins in a Wurlitzer Jukebox
in the corner, the biker hollered out, "Anybody here?"
He didn't get a response, but he didn't feel uncomfortable, even
if he were alone. The music was nice; the weather was not. He
seated himself in a booth near the jukebox. The lyrics flowed,
and the biker began singing along like he knew the song by heart.
flashing neon lights in the parking lot grew brighter, drawing
two more cars, each pulling off the road at the sight of The Windsong
Diner. A blonde woman rushed inside first, holding a magazine
over her head to keep off the rain. For a moment, she stared at
the biker, perhaps nervous to be alone in a diner with him. But
then, as though she suddenly remembered they were good friends,
she grinned and called out, "Hi, ya' handsome." He grinned
as she grabbed an apron hanging on a nail over a framed photograph
of President Eisenhower. She reached beneath the counter for a
spray bottle of Shalimar cologne, spraying herself generously
before tossing the magazine she had used as an umbrella into the
kitchen for the cook to read when he had some time.
other arrival was slower to exit his car. Did he think the appearance
of the diner was substandard? Perhaps, he sensed something else.
Nikolai and his fellow conspirators leaned in, joining in thought
as they intensified the glow from The Windsong Diner sign. With
its neon green and red colors mystically flashing, it beckoned
to hungry, tired travelers to stop and rest, perchance to dream.
But more importantly, to be there when the doors flew open and
let in the past.
just maybe they could save young Rodney Hoyt from the spray of
bullets that showered the diner that horrifying night documented
in the yellowed newspaper that Nikolai had retrieved from the
we don't want to go back to that stilted state of apathetic complacency,
we must focus!" Nikolai instructed his companions to unify
their concentration. "It can be done. It must be, if we are
to maintain our way of life."
diner's occupants were ready for the psychopaths. As the approaching
car rounded a curve in the storm, the driver and his passenger
were unaware that cell phones could become handguns when aimed
correctly. They were equally unaware that their names would soon
be Lorene and Bubba instead of Charlotte and Martin, at least
temporarily, while they executed other travelers taking refuge
from the storm. The diner sign lighted up the dark stretch of
a wet, slick highway. They were drawing closer as the rain intensified,
making it nearly impossible to see anything beyond The Windsong's
think it's working," Nikolai whispered as he and his companions
watched the cook scraping something off the grill. "Nudge
him," Nikolai said. "Harder. Again. Bring him out from
the kitchen toward the jukebox. Send the kid quickly to the kitchen
to fetch the magazine. There, boy, the waitress has asked you
nicely to please get her magazine. She wants to show her boyfriend
and the cook something
done!" a hollow voice cried out as the door of the diner
swung open and shots rang out. The cook lunged forward to shield
the waitress, and the boy in the kitchen ducked down, clutching
the magazine to his chest, frozen with terror as the bullets struck
first the cook, then the waitress, then the jukebox, then the
biker. Wild laughter, the cash register dinged and somebody hollered,
"Lorene, we ain't broke no more!"
boy hid under a counter, listening as the crazy couple rampaged
through the diner. When they finally departed, Rodney Hoyt was
alone with three dead bodies sprawled on the floor and a gurgling
drain that sucked down a faltering future.
cell phone is smoking!" Charlotte Phelps exclaimed as the
couple stepped outside the abandoned diner. "What do you
think could have caused that?"
me see. Wow. Lightning, maybe?" her husband suggested, glancing
back at the darkened, burned out shell where a restaurant had
once stood, wondering what in the world they were thinking to
stop at a dark, deserted building in the middle of a storm. "Let's
get out of here," Martin Phelps said, noting that his hands
were trembling and that he felt oddly nauseous as he reached for
the car door.
survived," Nikolai sighed with relief. "Dopamine shall
be plentiful for a while longer."
became president?" someone asked.
unyielding, headstrong type," Hannibal, the senior member
of the collective asserted, after having reviewed the incoming
data. He smiled before adding, "This wouldn't have been possible
if our dopamine supplies had run out. We couldn't have mustered
the desire to concentrate and fix the problem. If the Institute
were allowed to have its way, we'd all be languishing back in
our own Dark Ages."
be praised," they chanted, knowing they could never share
what they had done with their fellow citizens.
thought of Bernard, his prized student, still so naïve. Bernie
sincerely believed that maintaining ethical standards was nobler
than survival. Someday, Nikolai mused, he would reveal to his
young student what had transpired here tonight. But for now, he
would let life unfold and the plentiful supplies of dopamine continue
to be harvested.
colony of humans would have been so much trouble. Feeding, corralling,
vaccinating, and whatever other chores were entailed in providing
a suitable environment for human livestock. This way was much
better with the animals running wild and fending for themselves
until needed. A restraint, a probe, an extractor, and a little
hypnotic amnesia provided all the maintenance required for harvesting
the highly prized dopamine.
someday, Bernie would understand when he was older, wiser, and
more accustomed to the exhilarating effects of consuming an extra
dose occasionally. There were large, unexplored areas of expression
waiting to be tapped inside his brain and, like the rest of Nikolai's
close associates, Bernie would eventually tire of the rationed
amounts of mild emotions. He was too bright not to question what
experiences were possible beyond what were permitted.
time, Bernard would surely join the rogue league and dare to indulge
his curiosity. Until then, Nikolai would continue to covertly
explore his own sensory potential, delighting in his mental adventures,
pondering how far his mind would let him go.