Moving Day: A Commander Future Story
I'm still not entirely sure what my new job as the Official Biographer of Commander Future entails, but one thing that I'm sure is important is an attention to detail.
It's definitely important to him. He said as much when he hired me for the job.
And based on the reaction to the first piece about him that I published, it's important to you, the general public, as well. I've gotten something in the neighborhood of 273,000 e-mails about him so far, and that's not an exaggeration.
I haven't even come close to reading them all, but I see the same questions, over and over. People want to understand him, and it's apparent that many people fear him.
This is not an inappropriate response.
People see him as a sign of religious apocalypse or scientific collapse, the end times in human form, more than anything, they want to know what he's like in person.
Honestly? I'm not sure I can answer that yet. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to answer it in the way people want. All I can do is keep a reporter's notebook, be as complete as possible, and do my best to stay out of harm's way. And if I'm going to be complete, then I have to actually back up a bit from when I published. I mentioned that I'd been moved in to my new home for about a week. I glossed over what happened the first few days of my new arrangement in an effort to give that initial story a button.
The truth is, I am only able to digest these events in small bite-size pieces. And I am only now able to fully explain certain things.
When he offered me the job, one condition of my employment was that I had to move downtown to the Future Center, as it's called. The city granted him perpetual ownership of nine square blocks of the absolute worst real estate you can imagine. Destroyed by crime and abandoned to rot, no one else had any plans for the land, so it seemed like giving it to him was, at the very least, a lateral move. If he never chose to do anything with it, there was no real loss to anyone.
It only took him six weeks from the day he signed the papers to completely transform the area.
I remember taking a full day off work, like many other people from Triumph City did, to watch what Commander Future called the "Nanoforming" of his compound. The entire nine-block structure appears to be made of some sort of more rigid variation on the material that makes up his living suit, a thought that does little to comfort me when I'm trying to sleep in my new room at night.
By the time I took off to watch the construction, he was well over halfway done, There were no crews. Nobody assisting him. It was like watching a conductor coax a performance out of an orchestra, this one man raising obsidian towers from this urban blight. It was beautiful, but something about it freaked me out as well.
That's my overall reaction to the Commander so far. He's remarkable, and he's undeniably weird as shit.
If, by some odd chance, you haven't heard of Commander Future by now, his real name is Dr. Franklin Adams. He was a particle physicist with a deeply-seeded hatred of travel. Not just air-travel, even though the one time he ever flew somewhere on a plane, he had such a profound physical and emotional reaction that he had to be physically restrained. It was the very notion that you had to give up time and money just to go and do something on the other side of the plane that offended him, and he spent eleven years chasing a solution to what he saw as a fundamental problem.
He was in the same lab where he spent just over 4,000 days at the same task, heartbreak after heartbreak, disappointment after disappointment, when he made one small adjustment, crossed two wires that he'd never thought to cross.
Twenty-three minutes later, he reappeared two feet to the left.
I've tried to talk to Commander Future, as he was dubbed by the press, about the six years he spent in the future, from 3175 to 3181, but so far he has no interest in shedding light on what happened to him, or how he went from a gangly 5'11" to a solidly built 7'3". He's not the man he was when he left. I'm not even sure he still technically fits the definition of a "man" as we know it.
When you deal with him, one thing is important: listen and follow directions. When he tells you something, it is most likely important information that will keep you from being turned inside out or sent to some alternate dimension. It's crucial.
For example, I recently wrapped up all of my business obligations, then prepared myself for something that is stressful under the best of circumstances: moving day.
I was not ready.
"Leave everything exactly as you have it. You don't need to box anything."
"So the movers will pack it?"
"Do not interrupt me. Stand separate. No touching anything."
"Fine. I'm not touching anything."
"Dude. Yes. I haven't packed, and I'm not touching anything."
"Excellent. Tell me when you're ready."
This was on the phone, about seven minutes after I woke up. It was only a little bit after the sun came up, and I was already stressed and freaked out.
"I'm ready, I suppose."
"Tell me exactly where you are and what you're doing."
"I'm standing in the center of my room. The closest piece of furniture is five feet away."
There was a sudden smell of ozone, and the hair on my arms and legs bristled, stood straight up. All around me was a silent flash of blue-white light, just for one quick second and then it was gone.
And so was I.
There are far more living quarters at the Future Center than are currently in use. I'm sure the Commander has his reasons. There's very little about this place that seems random or accidental. My particular suite takes up the entire top floor of one of the four thirty-story towers at the corners of the property. It's an amazing view of the city, so much of it revitalized in the wake of Commander Future's arrival. There was a time when the name "Triumph City" was a bitter joke, tarnished in the sixty years since its christening by corruption, mismanagement, and basic human weakness. But no more. It is alive again, and I can see it all now from my balcony.
When I appeared in the living room for the first time, that flat metallic smell still fresh in my nose and on my tongue, Commander Future stood waiting in the living room. I tried to say something but just a thin, pinched wheeze came out.
"Wait. The process plays havoc with the respiratory system for some reason. But look on the bright side… almost no one throws up."
There was a moment of panic as I tried to draw a breath, suddenly aware of my closed throat, my tight chest, then suddenly my lungs relaxed and I gasped as I took a deep breath, drank it in. "You… really… need to work… on how… you warn… people," I managed.
"I did tell you to stand clear of the furniture. I've had some strange issues with molecular consolidation."
"Wait, you mean like in 'The Fly'? Like I could have become half-man, half-couch?"
"No, of course not," he said dismissively. "If you were combined with something, there's no way you'd survive."
"Well, thank goodness for that."
I took a few moments to walk around the enormous suite of rooms. At first, I thought it was completely empty, but all of my things had been transferred over. It's just that I don't own that many things. I've been living in a journalist's apartment on a journalist's salary. I've got some great records, a decent little collection of movies, and several bookcases full of books. Essential furniture, but nothing more. And seeing my things in a space like this put my life into an unsettling perspective. I felt exposed, like I was only play-acting at being a grown-up.
As I stepped into one room in particular, I was struck by the way the high windows bathed the place in light, and I imagined using it as my writing studio. As I stepped further into the room, a vaguely man-shaped pillar of crackling energy appeared in the middle of the room, and I watched dumbfounded as it resolved into a specific human form, then went vague again. A human scream filled the room, sudden and overwhelming, coming at me from all directions, and the energy resolved into human form again, holding this time.
It raised one arm, and I took a step back, afraid it was reaching for me. Instead, it drew a symbol with its finger, the energy hanging there even after it put its arm down again, a perfect oval burned into the space between us.
One more scream, loud enough to drive me back out of the room, and I was alone again, my entire central nervous system on high alert now. When the Commander put his hand on my shoulder, I flinched and bit my tongue at the same time, flooding my eyes with angry tears and my mouth with the copper taste of blood.
"What you just saw was a reflection, an echo of something that hasn't happened yet."
"What was that? What was that circle?"
"It wasn't a circle. It was a zero. Or it will be. It's complicated. But you were in no danger."
"Good to know."
He turned and headed into another room, and I realized we were done with that particular conversation, and it was time for whatever was next on his checklist, like giant sentient piles of energy are an everyday thing. I followed and caught up with the Commander outside a particularly sturdy closet door.
"When you travel inside the Center or to specific locations, this is how you'll do it."
He opened the door to reveal a metal-walled room, each surface polished to a reflective gloss, with a sort of ceramic ceiling and floor. I could smell that hard ozone smell again, too.
"Is this a teleporter?"
"So at least you finally finished that, right? Your original goal."
"Yes." For a moment, he almost looked nostalgic as he looked around the chamber. "You just have to state your destination, then give the send command."
"Let me demonstrate. We need to get started anyway."
"It's like 7:20 AM. You just moved me in. What's so urgent?"
"You'll see." He pulled the door closed. The room was big enough for both of us, with room for another dozen or so at least. "Intrusion control A. Transfer begin."
Crackle. Gasp. And we were there.
Part of getting used to working for Commander Future is learning the vocabulary he uses and getting comfortable with it myself. I get the feeling he's doing his best to give simple names to complex ideas or inventions, trying to make it easy to understand.
When he first referred to an Intrusion, I'm not sure what I pictured. A break-in or a burglary or some sort of event like that. Not some ongoing interruption in time and space. The word "Intrusion" is almost polite. It's not alarming. Maybe that's the real reason behind the careful, matter-of-fact language Commander Future uses.
I think the truth of it is that if he described things more specifically, everyone would be scared shitless all the time. Like I am.
There was a noticeable difference in the humidity, the quality of the light, the very taste of the air. We'd gone much further than crosstown.
I found I'd already mastered how to take a breath just before the jump to minimize that crushed-lung sensation, so I recovered quickly. Keeping up with Commander Future, who was already walking quickly, seemed important.
"Where are we?" Looking around, it appeared to be an upscale neighborhood, but the architecture was unfamiliar.
"London. Notting Hill." I stopped a moment when he said it, startled, then hurried to catch up. He was already climbing the front steps of a four-story house. "This is why we're here." He stopped me halfway up the steps, one arm out. "Can you hear it?"
I listened to the street sounds you'd expect in a late afternoon posh neighborhood but nothing else. "No. What am I supposed to be hearing?"
"Get closer," he said, moving his arm. He walked up the last few steps and pressed his ear flat against the door. Motioned for me to do the same. It sounded like a waterfall inside.
I stepped back. The sound was so wrong, so out of place, that it triggered a basic fight-or-flight in me. "What is that?"
He grabbed the front doorknob, which suddenly lit up from the inside, scanning him for identification before it opened with a click. "Infinity. Let's have a look."
The foyer of the house featured an open plan, straight up, all four floors. Windows everywhere, letting in as much light as possible. Striking, but ordinary in fashion, it must have been a wonderful place for a family. It looked like no family had lived in the house for a while, though, with no furniture or photos or indications of normal life.
A desk sat in the middle of the foyer, and at the desk, a tall whip-thin man with a grin like a radiator grill and a pointed chin that, taken with his shock of surfer blonde-white hair, made him look like an exclamation point. He was typing onto the surface of his antique overused oak barge of a desk, which I thought odd until I got a look at the touch-screen embedded there.
He was typing a stream of consciousness text faster than I could have said it out loud, but he didn't seem strained. There was nothing audible to me, but he sat with his head cocked, listening as he transcribed in real-time. I was afraid to interrupt, but as soon as we stepped in, he look up at me and smiled.
"So this is the guy."
"Be nice, Eggs."
"How was that not nice?"
"I know. I'm just asking you.."
"You don't have to. I was just saying. This is the guy. That is a statement of fact?"
"Of course it is."
"So you acknowledge that this is, in fact, the guy?"
The guy stood up, 6'5", lanky and laconic, overpoweringly chipper. He put out his hand like he wouldn't be able to go on unless I shook it. "Arthur Williamson." Once he said it, a bell went off. I knew the name and I knew the face.
"Williamson…" He was really working my arm, shaking the holy shit out of my hand. "I've seen you on TV."
"But you didn't know I was friends with the Commander, did you?"
"Speaking as a scientist, I can tell you there is nothing on Earth more important to study than Commander Future. Whatever advances we make in the next 50 years, the next 100 years… even the next 1000 years… he's where we start."
That waterfall sound was louder now, from behind a door on the left side of the foyer, and that entire open chamber filled with the sound, so that our entire open chamber filled with the sound, so that our entire exchange was shouted more than spoken.
Commander Future stepped around the desk so he could scan what Williamson was typing. "Anything unusual today?"
Williamson smiled. "The whole thing is unusual. Every second it exists is unusual."
"You know what I mean…"
"Our only guest is the one you brought."
"Good. Thank you." Commander Future laid his hand flat on the surface of the screen, and for a moment, I could see words flash up his arm, like the suit was somehow absorbing the data. One last ripple and the suit went still again as the Commander looked at me. "We're going inside now. You're going to see an ulcer in time-space. Prepare yourself."
I flashed back on the moment in Triumph Plaza, during what I later learned was my job interview, when I peered through what looked like a broken pane of glass in the sky. I shuddered at even the fleeting thought of what I saw on the other side of that break. Blood and sorrow and suffering, pure malice in physical form.
The Commander saw my reaction, saw me shrink back from the door. He put one giant hand on my shoulder to steady me. "Don't worry. It's contained."
Even with him standing there reassuring me, my anxiety levels spiked as he reached out and opened the door. Inside the room, there was what I would describe as an energy event, maybe eight feet in diameter, roughly three feet off the floor. This wasn't anything like the broken-glass appearance of the thing from Triumph Plaza, though. It was more like a clean hole, and all the light in the room bent in towards that hole, pulled towards it. There were several small devices in the room fixed to the wall and the floor and the ceiling in an irregular pattern, all of them generating a violet light that fully surrounded the event.
"That is an Intrusion."
"What does that mean?"
"Exactly what it sounds like Something that has no rightful place in our time has broken in, and what that happens, there is a… scar… left behind."
"You mean something came through that hole?"
"Is there danger of us getting pulled into it?"
"Not with those repressors in place. The worst that might happen to you is a slight headache from exposure."
I stepped closer to the Intrusion, my curiosity stronger than my fear at that point. If I moved to just the right angle, I could see into the center of it. On the other side, there was something bright, polished, crystal architecture. It was impossible to make out what it was exactly, but it was obviously somewhere else, somewhen else.
"So how often does this sort of thing happen?"
"There are nine active Intrusions in the world right now. Since the original Incident, there have been fifty-four of them altogether."
"Is that a lot?"
"Every single one of them threatens the structural integrity of our timeline. So, yes, that's a lot."
The door behind us opened again and Williamson stepped in, holding a gun the size of a scuba tank. He grinned as he handed it over to the Commander. "Something just tripped the first barrier alarm."
Commander Future threw a switch on the side of the gun, and the barrel began to spin, a low hum filling the room as it did so.
"Okay, when I said the worst that could happen was a headache, that wasn't entirely accurate…"
"Why?" I felt the rush of endorphins being released as the fear hit me like a blast of cold water. "What's the worst that could happen?"
With a huge roaring sound, there was a blast of white light, suddenly blinding, and it was like a still photo, one frozen moment I could still see even after I closed my eyes. In that moment, I saw something, or just the arm of something, looming up over the Commander, sharp barbs the size of a man all closing in around him as he held out the gun straight in front of him.
By the time I opened my eyes, the burn-in fading, the arm was gone, and the Intrusion had returned to its original size, as calm as a hole in time and space could be. The gun in Commander Future's hand slowly cycled down, the rotation slowing, blue energy crackling along the surface of the barrel. He looked over at me as he handed the gun back to Williamson.
"That is the worst that could happen."
My heart was pounding, and I could feel my hands shaking from the flood of adrenaline. "AND WHAT IN THE HELL IS THAT?" I asked, not intending to bellow, but too pumped up to control myself successfully.
"That is the dominant form of life in an alternate timeline, two hundred years in our future."
I struggled to keep my voice down, and the effort helped me calm down, bring my pulse back to an acceptable level. And what did you just do to it?"
"I killed it." He looked at me with real anger on his face. "Given enough time, I could speak to one of them and possibly even reason with it. But the time that would take is longer than I'd be able to keep it from tearing apart and digesting all the organic matter in the room."
It took me a moment to process that. "That thing was going to eat us?"
"Yes. But it wasn't personal."
One more jump back, and Commander Future and I were standing in the teleportation room in my apartment again. In the living room, I found a chair and dropped into it, all of my strength gone, and I looked up at him, still shaky. "Tell me… do you ever get used to it? All of these Intrusions and teleporting and these crazy monsters and stuff?"
"Interesting word. Monster."
"What would you call them?"
"The human throat can't form the sounds that make up their name."
"Then 'monsters' will do just fine."
"There is nothing heroic about having to kill one of them. There is no intentional anger in their response to us. They don't even fully recognize us as sentient. They act by instinct, out of pure need. They aren't monsters. They are too tragic to be called by such a pointed name."
"So… how about it? Do you get used to this sort of thing?"
He considered the questions for a moment. "On the day of the Incident, when I felt that bolt of energy hit me and I was pulled apart on a molecular level, it was both terrifying and thrilling. Part of me was afraid of what was happening, but the fact that I could feel it happening seemed to suggest that whatever it was, it wasn't killing me."
As he spoke, he paced, not looking at me, and it was like putting these experiences into words was taking a toll on him. "There was a period of what I can only describe as… unbeing. I was not myself. I was not bound in any way by any sense of self. I could see and feel and experience all of time at once, an endless ribbon stretching out in all directions, and I could fold it in, one point to another, see things start and finish side-by-side. I watched the Big Bang, and I have seen the Final Sigh. I have watched lifetimes flash by in an instant, spent weeks studying single frozen moments."
Finally, he stopped. When he looked at me, I saw that same rolling intensity of emotion, just barely held back, that had scared me a few times before.
"Time collapsed. My understanding of time collapsed. And when I did mange to regain my sense of individual perspective… only when I remembered that I was, in fact, myself, did I become aware that I was in a specific where and a specific when. I had landed in a place where I had no business being. I was the monster. I was the Intrusion."
"That doesn't answer my question."
"No. You will not get used to it. Nor should you. I think I have been doing you a disservice so far. Downplaying things. I should be more forthcoming. You are, in fact, in danger. Great danger."
"Okay, that's not really what I was hoping to hear."
"The thing of it is that everyone is in danger. Every single person on Earth. All the time. Grave danger. That's why I hired you. I need your help. There is a threat…"
"Wait, how am I going to help you? I'm a writer. You're a time-traveling superhero. We don't really share a skill set."
"Tell me… how do you feel around me? Do I make you feel comfortable and relaxed and safe?"
"Sorry, but no. Hell, no."
"These things you're dealing with make me feel like the whole universe is about to come flying apart."
"See? You say something like that…"
"You asked for the truth."
"Well, the truth is terrifying."
"Yes. It is. There is a threat. And that is not the entire story, because I don't know how to tell you the entire story, and it's certainly not the only threat. But right now, I need to change my approach. I thought if I was careful and refused to alter the course of things, that was enough. That would secure the future. But that only works as a rule if everyone agrees to play by rules."
He was on the move again, upset as he spoke, getting more upset by the moment. "I am afraid I must finally confess the truth to myself: there are no rules. There is no order. You can make a choice to stand in the path of the chaos, and you can make changes. You can save people, save places, save whole worlds. Or you can assist that chaos, encourage it, and surf abandoned and dying timelines for fun. And either way, only you are affected in any way by whichever rules you choose."
He stopped by one of the large windows, looking out over the city. "There is a threat…"
"You keep saying that. It's very cryptic. It's also terrifying."
"In order for there to be any survivors of what's coming, mankind must move forward, and not in the time they would if left alone. There must be a fundamental shift in people, and it must be accelerated. In order for this to work, people have to know what I'm doing. They have to understand that all of my efforts are for them. They have to trust me. You have to trust me."
I understood my role immediately. And for the first time since he asked me to work for him, I wasn't sure if I'd be capable of what he wanted me to do. "Did you read what I wrote about you?"
"I don't know what to think of you."
"You understand me as much as anyone so far has."
"But I don't know everything."
"No. Not nearly."
I got up, mustering some reserve of strength and pushing myself out of the chair so I could stand eye to eye with Commander Future. Or eye-to-mid-chest, since he's such a tank. "You understand that none of this makes sense to me, right? I'm trying to keep up with you, but you haven't given me any context. Just details."
"Yes. I know."
"But just the fact that you reached out to me… that gesture says something. It says that you're serious. You're ready to tell us some of what you know, and you're sincere. You want people to listen. And you know enough to know that you have no idea how to talk to people."
"I need people to listen. It's the most important thing there is."
"Because there is a threat."
The relief that poured off of him was palpable. "Yes. You understand."
And seeing how important that was to him, and seeing how significant it seemed to be to him, he finally seemed human to me. Just for that one moment, which really wasn't much more than an expression on his face, an emotional ripple, he was no different than me.
Then he turned and walked through the wall.
If there's any one thing that will keep me up tonight, it's not the barrage of things I glimpsed today, and it's not the implications of some of his statements about alternate worlds and infinite possibility, but is instead the effort of trying to imagine what, exactly, we're going to have to save the world from.
These things I've seen so far, these glimpses of realities I never knew existed, have been met without so much as a second's hesitation by the Commander. Whatever's coming has him so scared that he's got to enlist the help of each and every person on the planet. So… no pressure.
At least I've got a good seat for the show.
Triumph City, NY
About the Author
Drew McWeeny has had a lifelong appetite for pulp fiction of all types. His father taught him to love Fleming's Bond, The Destroyer, Travis McGee and more, and his mother taught him to love Asimov, Heinlein, and Robert E. Howard, among others. Now that he has two little boys, most of his days are spent knee-deep in Godzilla movies. You do the math.