A young psychic tries to win the heart of his tutor by solving the riddle behind the formation of the Asteroid belt in Earth's solar system.
Originally posted at the now defunct www.dreampassage.com, this short story won 2nd place in their June 2004 contest.
"What does he see?" asked Lieutenant Riley, as he glanced at the computer monitor displaying the sleeping quarters of William Finley, guest of honor aboard the USS Pronounced-Might.
"It all depends on what we're after," Mildred Anson replied, adjusting the focus of the monitor in front of Riley. "In this case, I really have no idea what to expect."
"So long as he sees it, I'm satisfied," a voice sounded from the lower hatchway. A few seconds later, chief astronomer Charles Langdor floated into the observation pod, his hefty, three hundred pounds made weightless by their travels through space.
"Ah, Charles. We were just having a look in on Will. He seems to be resting quite well for his first time in space," Mildred said, grabbing onto Charles and helping his over-speedy approach. Even after a dozen similar trips through space, the astronomer was fairly cumbersome in zero gees.
"How is your subject?" Charles asked, grabbing hold of a support loop to stay in place.
"Please, don't speak of him as if he were a sick patient. He's a talented past-sight specialist," Mildred reminded.
"Yea, that's just great," Riley said with a sneer. "Tell me again about this far-fetched plan of yours."
Charles strapped himself down into a chair near the central observation podium and responded. "We're heading for the asteroid belt, in the hopes of uncovering the origin of that most mysterious astronomical formation."
"Yea, but with a psychic?" the Lieutenant said skeptically. "Listen, even if he has this gift to see into the past, how far do you really think it'll reach? I mean, come on. The asteroid belt's probably been there a billion years, or more. What do you think he'll see there?"
"On the contrary," Charles rebutted, "in recent years, through modern analysis of asteroid samples, and study of historical gravitational fields among the surrounding bodies, we've learned that the asteroid belt is most likely no older than a few million years, perhaps even younger."
"And William's my colleague," Mildred added. "I've worked with him for ten years, and he's out-sighted me time and time again. I've never met anyone else like him, and his previous sightings are responsible for the government sanctioning the use of this vessel for our experiment. Trust me, we'll get results."
"Call me a skeptic, but I think there are still a few things God's keeping close to his chest, if you know what I mean," the Lieutenant replied. "Half the psychics are only half right half the time. Isn't that what Abraham Lincoln said?" Riley joked.
"Not in this post-Eugenic era, Lieutenant," Mildred said, pointing a finely manicured nail his way. "Today's psychics aren't freaks of nature. They're bred to sense things regular humans can't. William is a third generation remote-viewer. Both sets of grandparents were gifted, as were his mother and father."
"I still don't get this whole seeing the past thing," Riley said. "It's not science. It's superstition."
"It's a sensory talent of a psychic's pre-frontal lobe, and very much today's science," Mildred chided. "If given an object, William is capable of observing its past, watching its creation, seeing people handling it throughout history. William has demonstrated this ability, not only on manmade objects, but on geological formations as well. It was his idea to attempt this experiment, after being handed a sample from Mars."
"Okay. Whatever," Riley said, unstrapping himself from the chair. "Listen, I'm about to go off-duty, so why don't you hang around 'til my replacement shows up, okay?"
"Sure thing," Charles said politely. He and Mildred watched their skeptic float out of the room through the access hatch.
"Tell me, Charles," Mildred asked, "when are we psychics ever going to be taken seriously?"
"I don't know if you ever will be," Charles replied. "Humans have the failing of viewing the world from within. They believe only what their limited senses tell them, and believe everyone and everything in existence sees things similarly. When someone such as yourself or Mr. Finley speaks of their talent, people try to answer why they would say such things. Unfortunately, most people have a jaded heart, and can imagine you deceiving them, for they would in your place. We can't help it. It's born into the best of us."
"Thanks for that uplifting commentary," Mildred said, releasing her chair's velcro straps. "But I like to hold onto the hope that people are just taught to disbelieve."
With a kick from her slender foot, Mildred floated free of her chair and headed for the hatch. The thirty year old brunette was much more agile and acclimated to weightless spaceflight than her chubby friend. She slid down the hatch and was several decks below in seconds, hardly having to touch the access tube's ladder rungs.
Three decks below the observation pod were the sleeping chambers, and that was where Mildred was headed, for William's room. The dimly-lit, blue hallway was quiet and peaceful, with no one lingering about. Drifting at a slow pace down the fifty foot hallway, she stared forward, watching the twinkling stars outside a small, round window at the end of the corridor. The majesty of space still thrilled her, even after a dozen trips through it.
William's door was at the end of the hall on the right, so Mildred kept her eyes staring at the starlight until the window became large before her eyes. As she stopped herself in front of Will's door, her eyes finally turned away from the distant light and onto the aquamarine door in front of her. She knew the combination, and didn't want to drag Will out of bed yet, so she tapped the six digit code into the door's lock pad, and the door opened silently.
Stepping into the small living quarters, she instinctively slipped off her white boots, leaving them floating by the door. As she pushed against the wall and drifted toward the bed, the sleeping figure under the covers stirred to awareness.
"Hello, Millie," William said, sitting up against the cushioned headboard. The young man of eighteen cracked a youthful smile and clicked on the lights without getting up. Several loose straps across the covers kept him from drifting out of bed.
"Hi, Will," Mildred replied, kissing him lightly. She only intended a peck, but William's arm pulled their lips tight, and extended it into the impassioned moment he sought.
"Say, you ever go at it in space before?" Will asked crudely.
"Why, no, William," Mildred said, sounding a little flustered. His question had caught her off-guard.
"Well, maybe we can make that a first for both of us," he said presumptuously. "You know you can't say no to me."
"What?" Mildred shrieked. She tried to float back, but Will's arms had her pinned in against him.
"You know," Will continued, "I've really got to get out of this bed. Its last occupant was a really horny soldier."
"Oh," Mildred breathed a sigh of relief. Will had just been reflecting psychic residue he was receiving from the previously used bed. She was glad to see the height of puberty hadn't gone totally to his head.
"Could you grab me a pair of pants?" Will asked, exposing a little patch of naked thigh, reminding Mildred that he always slept nude.
"Of course," she said, floating over to the closet. Left of the bed, the entire wall was covered by cabinet handles, each a different drawer filled with clothes and toiletries. She opened the one Will directed her to, and she extracted a clean set of clothes for him. Not the stylish white jumpsuit she liked to wear, but the khakis and t-shirt seemed appropriate for Will's personality.
"Are you sure you don't want to get out of bed first?" Mildred asked, handing Will the clothes.
"I'm still drowsy, and high on the bed's psychic juice. You don't want to see what I've got under these covers," he assured her, dragging the pants beneath the sheets.
"I've seen others before," she assured him.
"Aw, shucks. And I thought you were saving yourself for me," Will replied, as he pulled the pants on.
With his pants secure, Will slid out of bed, then pulled his shirt on, in the process starting to spin. This was his first time in space, and he was having as much trouble getting used to it as Charles. Fortunately, Mildred had a firm grip on a bedpost, and was able to halt his spiral before he hit anything.
"Thanks," Will said happily, amused by the strange floating sensations. "Sorry about the dirty talk," he said, returning to his regular, modest self.
"I understand," Mildred said. "More than anyone, I can relate. Believe me, if it hadn't been for these psychic senses of mine, my 'first time' probably wouldn't have happened."
"A minute ago, I'd been eager to hear about it," Will replied. "Now, not so much."
"What, you need a psychic echo to enhance your libido?" Mildred asked, sounding taken aback.
"No, it's just, I don't want to think of you like that with other guys. Something about it just makes me sick inside. I know I've seen it done a thousand times from touching bed sheets, table cloths, bathtubs, even sitting in a chair once, but when I think of you, it's almost like I'm a normal guy. When I touch you," he grabbed her arm, "I don't sense things like I do with other people."
"We've gone over this a million times, Will," Mildred said. "Our psychic energies work opposite each other, canceling one another out in close proximity. That's why we can't read each other, and why I was assigned to mentor you in the first place."
"It's the reason I can love you, unlike anyone else," Will replied.
"I know," Mildred responded, pulling his hand off her arm. "Be that as it may, I have been your tutor for ten years. You're twelve years younger than me. It would feel weird to be anything more than like a sister to you."
"We'll see about that after I crack the biggest story this solar system's ever known," Will said, floating over to the wall of drawers. He pulled out a white jacket and put it on.
"Do you really think you can do it?" Mildred asked, as Will floated back over.
"I know I can. I mean, I did it with the Mars rock, didn't I? I was able to tell that that thing had been sculpted, and sand-blasted by a catastrophe beyond imagining. I know the truth that no one's willing to believe, even though the archeological finds on the red planet all corroborate it. I've got to see more, and you know what that means."
"Yes, but the asteroid belt?" Mildred questioned. "I still think it would have been better to have brought you to Mars, done some prospecting."
"The psychic energy on Mars is cluttered with tourists and scientists who've walked all over it for the past hundred years, Mildred. I need something nobody's touched since 'it' happened."
"The collision? What more do you expect to see?" she asked.
"I expect to see a lost existence," Will said. Without another word, he made his way to the door and opened it, inviting his mentor to follow. "Coming?"
* * * *
A few hours after Will's breakfast, the small military vessel of the United States fired its breaking thrusters, preparing for maneuvers through the dreaded asteroid belt. They were only the third vessel to have deliberately navigated into this field of deadly debris. Most ships wasted time flying over it, those on their way to the lunar habitations around the gas giants.
The Captain announced their approach over the ship's intercom, and the crew prepared for action, repair crews standing by to patch any holes stray meteors punched through the hull, navigators to plot the safest path in. Even with the advanced technology of the day, they'd be lucky to get a few miles inside this field of drifting rocks before having to turn back. Then, they'd have even more fun trying to find a new path out, since their entryway would be blocked by the constantly shifting asteroids.
"Hey, Finley, get any vibes off the rocks yet?" a cynical Navigator asked.
"Shut up and fly the damn ship," Will replied, watching their progression into the belt from a science station monitor near the flyboy.
"Mr. Finley will not receive any visions until he has had direct skin contact with an object," Charles answered seriously for the various crewmen aboard. "I suggest you prepare some high-tensile grapples to gather samples."
The Captain motioned to a technician to do as Charles requested.
"Keep your spectrometers sharp for some iron samples," Will asked.
Half the crew on the command deck chuckled a little, amused by the request.
"William, there is a high quantity of iron in the majority of these asteroids," Charles told him.
"Yea, you might as well try looking for Hydrogen in a sun," the Navigator mocked.
"Well, then try looking for high carbon steel. That'll be a bit more scarce, won't it?"
The crew kept quiet and did as he requested, a few whispering among themselves. Will knew what they were doing, and he hated it. Even in this day and age, they still made fun of his gifts. He was, at best, a circus attraction to them. He wondered if they deserved the answers he was to uncover.
This mission was more than a fact-finding expedition. Certainly, he felt it important to learn the truth of what happened to form this asteroid belt and desecrate Mars. He already had some ideas, but they weren't enough to release any findings to the public. He needed to see more.
The Martian samples he'd been exposed to had let him see the vibrant world that planet had been not so long ago. Rivers of fresh water had flown there, and the trees bloomed with flowers in the spring, and birds had flown through the blue sky. So like Earth it had been, before it all burned to ashes.
Sighting back a dozen millennia, Will had seen the death of an entire planet. The sky turned black, with fire and molten rock pelting everything, destabilizing Mars' electromagnetic field, until the atmosphere of the planet was burned off, and nothing remained but near vacuum and dust.
What could have caused such destruction? The collision of two planets which formed the asteroid belt. Yet, what could have forced those planets to annihilate one another so abruptly?
Questions haunted Will like no one else. Answering that which his gifts revealed to him was his lifelong profession, what he'd been born and bred for. Yet, this particular quest was more personal to him. Beyond legitimizing himself in the eyes of humanity, proving past-sighting wasn't just an "alternative science," accomplishing this monumental feat could very well be the key to a woman's heart; the only woman that ever mattered to him.
Will was determined to add the name Finley to Mildred's moniker.
* * * * *
In a few hours, Will followed Charles into the ship's secondary cargo port, where a number of asteroid fragments had been brought aboard. Moving into the room, anticipation was high for both men, as Will prepared to see what he could see.
"These chunks all have a partial makeup of high-carbon steel in them," Charles said, glancing at the cargo manifest report on a wall com-access. "Just as you requested."
Will drifted around the cluttered floor, weaving through the samples which varied in size from little pebbles to half-ton boulders, all held down by the magnetically-charged floor. Moving past each one, he touched them, getting nothing. He huffed in disappointment.
"Sensing anything?" Charles asked.
"Nothing," Will replied. "Damn it. These stones are dead. All their innate psi-energy has been drained."
"I wasn't aware stones had psi-energy," Charles said.
"Well, they do. At least, if they're touched by anything living they do. Whenever an object is touched by a human, animal, insect, or anything living, it leaves a psychic imprint on it, sort of like mental DNA. We, meaning people like me, can see back to the moments those objects spent in contact with a living creature. Though most past-seers can only see things touched by people, my skills far exceed that, sometimes extending to objects touched by weak-sentients, like cats or chimps." Will touched a few more boulders with no results.
"What does that mean?" Charles asked, clearly unversed in psychic mechanics.
"It means, if a chunk of dirt's had contact with a living creature, I can witness when it did. Damn it, these asteroids haven't been touched by so much as an insect."
"Perhaps they've never been touched at all," Charles added. "For the collision theory to be correct, the two planets which formed the asteroid belt need not have supported life."
"But I was so sure," Will said, reaching for a pebble on a table. Touching it, he suddenly felt something. It wasn't very strong, but definitely a sense of past life. Something alive had touched this pebble sometime in the past.
Noticing Will's change of facial expression, Charles asked, "Have you found something?"
Will remained silent and closed his eyes, trying to focus his abilities. Flashes of light penetrated his mind, as his enhanced senses attempted to probe the past, seeking to see what another creature had once seen while in physical contact with this little chunk of metal. All Will could discern was broken emotions, some of which he took as his own feelings being reflected back at him.
Opening his eyes, he responded to Charles. "Are you sure no one has physically touched these fragments?"
"Yes," Charles replied. "Miss Anson made certain they only used inorganic devices to handle them."
"Well, if no one aboard-ship has had skin contact with this pebble, I may have just found something."
"You've seen into the past?"
"Only an emotional echo," Will replied. "This is going to take more than my natural state of mind can manage. Get Mildred. Tell her to meet me in the infirmary in ten minutes for a hypno session."
Charles acknowledged and hurried off to make it happen.
Will picked the small pebble up out of its metal dish and studied it. The pocked, little stone looked like volcanic debris, hardly what you'd expect to change the way humanity perceived their existence.
"You may not know this, my little friend," Will mused, "but you're going to win me a lady's heart."
* * * * *
"It's not enough!" Will cursed, pulling himself out of the chair after a failed attempt to see the past through hypnotism. "The pebble's signature's too weak."
"Calm down, Will," Mildred said. "We knew this was a longshot before we left on this mission. You can't expect to be omniscient."
"No. It's not a longshot. Not for me," Will said, trying to pace around in zero gees. "Look, I've been able to identify a psychic signature from this stone, and the hypnotic session brought me a step closer. God, Millie, it's intelligent. The being that touched this had a sentient mind." He held the asteroid fragment up. "This has to be it!"
"But it's already drained so much out of you," Mildred said, honestly concerned. "Even if you're right, it still may take years for you to get the answers you're after. Haven't you had enough for one day?"
"No," Will said, clenching his fists. "If I stop now, I might never get another chance. The ship's on a return trajectory for Earth, and the farther away we travel from this stone's origin, the weaker its signature will become. It has to be here and now, before whatever energy's left in this dies too."
Will sat back down in the chair, curving his frustration. "It's time to go to the next level."
Mildred's face quickly wilted in trepidation "Drugs, Will?" she said. "Wait and cool off before you tell me you're really sure about this."
Will closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "I need to know, Millie. I must learn the truth."
"But you've never used a single pharmaceutical in your sightings before. You're not sure it will do any good."
"It's never failed for other psychics," Will replied, floating out of the chair again. He reached for a see-through cabinet filled with various medications. Opening it, he looked over the different chemicals, selecting three different vials, which he completely loaded into a syringe with the same skill as the last physician to handle it.
"What do you think you're doing?" Mildred asked, floating over to him.
"I'm not going to fail you, Mildred," Will replied, tying a rubber strap above his left elbow. "You'll see I'm worthy of love." With the solution ready, he found a vein and injected the fluid with rash haste.
"God, Will, what the hell are you thinking?" Mildred screamed, slapping the empty syringe out of his hand.
"Don't worry. It's just a combination of sedative and neuro-synaptic enhancers. I'll be fine."
Mildred grabbed the three empty vials out of the air and looked at their contents data. What she found did not calm her in the slightest. As she glanced back at Will, the young man's eyes curled up into his head and he collapsed, floating lifelessly in the air.
Before she could bring Will's unconscious body back to the chair, the ship's physician rushed through the previously-locked infirmary door. He had been observing the hypno-session from outside, where his psychic energy would not interfere with Will's past sighting.
"What the hell did he just take?" Doctor Judeski asked, rushing over toward the medicine cabinet. His bald head almost smashed into the open holding compartment before he caught himself.
"Metapycophene, Neurosyzine, and Mono-Pykadrine," Mildred shouted, strapping Will into the chair.
"How much?" the doctor shouted back.
Mildred flicked the three vials toward Judeski and he caught them. Looking at each, his eyes flared wildly. "My god. There's enough here for ten sessions. We've got to neutralize them from his bloodstream before his brain fries."
As Doctor Judeski prepared the proper solution to negate the effects of the lethal overdoses, Mildred watched Will intently, observing the shivering which overtook his entire body, as the shock set in.
Doctor Judeski cursed as he fumbled through a rack of vials, failing to locate what he was after.
Mildred turned away from Will only a second, to observe the Doctor's dilemma. When she turned back, Will's eyes were open, locked onto her face.
"Will, hang on. Judeski will have you fixed up in no time," Mildred said, unable to hide the anxiety in her voice.
"I'll be fine, Millie. I'm going to find the sixth planet. I'd do anything for you. Let me do this for you," Will said softly, unable to raise his voice in his delirious state. "I want you to know I'm the best."
"You are the best," Mildred assured him.
"Remember that when we're married," Will said, as his eyes curled back to white. His body tensed up as the drugs soaked into his brain tissue.
"Doctor!" Mildred shouted.
"I've got it," Judeski replied, tapping an air bubble out of a syringe. "I don't know how it will work. He took some really hard stuff. I can't even speculate on the damage done to his brain."
Even unconscious, Will could still hear what went on around him. Opening his eyes, he soon realized he wasn't using his eyes at all, but staring at his surroundings with the power of his mind alone. He watched Judeski inject the solution into his arm, and saw Mildred crying at his side like he'd never seen her weep before. She really did care, but never enough to attain the level Will sought. He could never gain her heart, and his disembodied state of mind finally let him accept that.
Will now had only one thing in mind. Staring at the pebble still clenched in his body's fist, he sent his mental projection down on it, deep into its subatomic structures, seeking out the faint psychic echo he knew lingered within. Locating that sparkle of mental energy, he expanded upon it as never before, ripping through millennia of time, searching backwards through history to seek out answers.
Burning through years of time, blinding light penetrated his being, leaving him blindly pushing on. Eventually, he felt that tingle in his soul, which let him know he'd arrived at the proper time period.
Halting his progression, Will found himself in darkness, staring at the insides of a steel wall. He remedied that by moving forward, out into the room which the wall was part of. There, in that large box of metal and concrete, he saw a number of alien beings, near-identical to humans in physical form, working at computer stations. One of the muscular, bronze-skinned beings glanced at a data screen, which displayed data in a dialect wholly unfamiliar to Will. Knowing the data was important, Will expanded his mind to decode it, and eternity taught him an entire language in an instant. The writing was now his to understand.
Before reading the few lines of words on the screen, Will's mind expanded outward, receiving answers as to the meaning of this place. It was a research station on the sixth planet, a world uninhabited, but rich in primordial life. These aliens were visitors, from the fifth planet, seeking to perform a monumental experiment, one that would lead to the destruction of all life across three worlds.
As his mind returned to regular time, he read the screen's data and learned of their experiments. They were preparing to reverse this planet's electromagnetic polarity, in an attempt at creating anti-gravity. Truly a massive and monumental undertaking, altering the gravity of an entire world.
Will knew what the results of their experiment would be. Sending his thoughts a few minutes into the future, he watched as their test became a success. The sixth planet was made weightless in space, allowing it to roam free of its orbit and hurtle into its neighbor, the homeworld of these human-like people. The resulting catastrophe would result in the formation of the asteroid belt, and send a massive wave of debris hurtling in the direction of Mars. Billions of tons of molten iron and rock would pelt the red planet, killing that world as well, eradicating the final settlements of the aliens who'd caused their own destruction.
Lonely Earth, the last planet capable of supporting life after the destruction, sat on the far side of the sun at this moment, sheltered from the impending devastation. There, several small research colonies studied the primitive natives of that world. The last living survivors of a society which spanned three planets, they were to become the gods of human mythology.
Finally, Will had what he wanted. Answers were all his, more than any normal man could learn in a lifetime. If he returned home, it would take the rest of his life to record the data he now possessed; intimate knowledge of an alien people, their language, technology, and customs.
He pushed the details to the back of his mind for the moment, as he returned to view events happening in regular time. The curious scientists of this facility were in the last stages of initiating the act which would doom billions, and pave the way for humanity to inherit the solar system.
As he watched them prepare to activate their network of electromagnets, Will's mind was drawn to one of them in particular. A solitary lab technician, scribbling notes on a clipboard. Such dark hair and frosty eyes, the gentle air about her; she was someone so perfect, it made him sad to think of what was to happen to her. She deserved better than that.
An entire race was about to be wiped out, but Will only felt for this one, sad woman, who was writing down notes off a computer screen.
The woman paused from taking notes a moment, and reached to adjust her computer screen, accidentally brushing against a steel wall vent with her soft, tan knuckles. A static spark left her nursing tingled fingers. Little did she know she'd just imprinted her psychic energy on that metal grate.
Will had experienced it a hundred times before in past-sight trips. He'd see the person who left their mark on the object he was viewing through and sense an empathic connection to them. The intense link mimiced the emotions of love.
In this instance, he knew something bad was going to happen, but it was all in the past, and there was nothing he could do to change it. Or was there?
Here and now, Will felt the power of his mind, sensed that he wasn't merely observing the past from the present, but was actually there, living in it, free from tethers in the future. Here and now, he could make a difference, if only he thought hard enough.
Utilizing his mind like no one before in human history, Will shattered through the barriers of time, pulling his body back through the centuries, until it caught up with his mind, and he found himself standing there, looking over the young woman's shoulder, physically a part of the time he'd been sighting.
Suddenly back to his regular state of mind, paralyzing indecision overtook him. A moment ago, as he watched with virtual omniscience, he'd thought it a good idea to stop this experiment, and save billions of lives. Yet, now, restored to human consciousness by a physical body, he couldn't help but consider what changing things would mean for him. If he stopped this, the future he knew would cease to exist.
To save these alien beings and the lives of three worlds, Will would most likely be erasing his own existence. The people and places he knew would never be, or would be so different under the influence of these alien people that he'd never recognize them.
What would these people's scientists do to Earth and humanity, if their race were not wiped out?
So many things directed Will to forget about altering the past; let the next minute pass without interference, and allow history to take its course. He felt it was only right.
Yet, history had its own plans for Will.
Swivelling around in her chair, the young lab technician who had touched Will's heart from twelve thousand years in the past locked eyes with him. Shocked by the face of this strange, alien person, she scrambled out of her seat and backed up against the wall.
"Stop," Will said, feeling as though he hadn't spoken in a thousand years.
The young woman replied in her native language, which was like nothing Will had ever heard before. Yet, the memory of it was there from his time of omniscience, and he could speak to her with ease.
"Please, don't do this," he said in her language.
"Who are you?" the woman asked frightenedly. "Why are you here?"
"This experiment of yours, you can't go through with it. It will mean the death of everyone and everything you know."
Will spoke from both his heart and his head. In considering what to do, he'd felt the loss of his future, the people, the cities, and of Mildred. He'd considered how he'd feel if they all ceased to exist, and knew he could bear that burden, if it meant preventing such a burden from being placed upon anyone else's shoulders. Especially that of this beautiful lab technician whose soul he had sensed from afar.
Will's presence halted the scientists' experiment, and the explanations he gave them thereafter prevented it entirely. The sixth planet stayed in orbit and did not collide with its neighbor. Will Finley became a hero, married the lovely young lab technician who'd touched his heart so dearly, and lived a long and healthy life, rocket-hopping among four separate planets.
Or so it played out for him, as a composite reality, created from the elements he had seen in that past world. Truly, he had reformed history into a new reality, yet was it another dimension, or simply all in his mind?
* * * * *
The Terry-Welch Home seemed so peaceful whenever Mildred Anson stopped by. The late summer breeze made a calming sound passing through the stand of maples leading up to the crumbling front step, and the comforting sun gave aging muscles renewed life. Earth's gravity was becoming troublesome for her these days. Perhaps, in another decade, Mars, with its .39 gees, would be a suitable retirement locale.
She came to the Home whenever she could get away from her duties as Dean of the Finley Past-Sight Institute. Visiting never made her feel anything but deeply sad, but she'd become a bit of a mental masochist in her old age. Happiness was overrated. Sometimes, she needed a good cry.
The halls were dim and silent, as she walked down the soft carpet toward the comatose ward. The rooms there were almost always devoid of visitors. The handful of patients there were sad and alone, forgotten by friends and family, their minds all somehow lost to the ether.
Mildred found the private room at the end of the hall and made herself comfortable in her usual seat next to the bed. Glancing at the middle-aged man beside her, she reached over and touched him gently.
"Hello, Will," she said, patting his hand. "I know it's been a few weeks since I last stopped by, but I have a good excuse."
Removing a folder from her handbag, she opened its contents and showed them to the catatonic man. "I was at a psi-convention in Ohio. You wouldn't believe the advanced minds they've got today. They almost rival yours." She flipped through the papers in the folder.
"They figured out what happened back then, Will. They finally did it," Mildred said, reading a few lines of a past-sight report on the formation of the asteroid belt. "It may have taken over thirty years, but they found out, just like you."
She paused a moment, as she pondered a question she'd asked for three decades. "I still wonder, you know," she said. "What did you see, Will?"
Will Finley gave no response, but Mildred swore she saw him smile. A muscle twitched at the corner of his mouth, leaving her with a tear in her eye, and the memory of a life they once knew, but could never share.