Ownership of Souls
Inside the gigantic time travel hall of MMDI where the 16 cylindrical chambers are situated far beneath the lunar surface, all is dark and silent tonight. But, when units #14 and #15 are activated without the assistance of technicians, Doctor William Oswald is alerted as part of the established protocol. The doctor stands ready as both chambers fill suddenly with the thick translucent liquid required for human time travel to and from the past.
The usually unflappable Doctor Oswald looks stunned, however, when he sees naked men materializing inside #14 and #15 tonight. Protocol dictates that he will have a thick blue robe to give to each returning time traveler once he steps out of his chamber. And so he does. He hands the robes to former MMDI agents Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka as they emerge onto the floor of the time travel hall from their blue glass chambers looking stunned and disoriented. The two men walk with apparent difficulty behind Doctor William Oswald to a medical facility not far from the time travel hall.
When Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka are each reclining in their blue robes on side-by-side medical examination chairs next to Doctor Oswald, an authoritative voice with a Hispanic accent descends upon the entire Medical Section from an unknown origination point up above: “What part of ‘never return to MMDI’ did you not understand?”
Ted Avila clears his throat nervously. His emotions are restricting his ability to speak. Eventually, he struggles to say aloud, “Eduardo, first let me say how we both are extremely sorry to have arrived unannounced here at base. And unauthorized. But, we need to share information that is mission critical to this agency.
Eduardo replies, “Go ahead. I am listening.”
Ted Avila explains with increased confidence in himself: “During the mission you sent us on to Geneva in the year 2285, the scientist whom we met—Doctor Lana Onakea—injected both of us. She apparently lied to us. The injections gave us extraterrestrial DNA rather than shielding us from the alien life as she had assured us. What followed was some kind of metamorphosis. We remain human beings. Yet, we are also now partly extraterrestrial life. This dual nature has given us the extraordinary power to travel forward in time without using any technology. At first, I did so alone. I traveled forward in time here to base and I immediately became a target for containment—presumably that meant my death—by the man who took over running this agency after Markus Tagawa.”
Eduardo asks, “Doctor Oswald? Your findings?”
The doctor responds quickly: “Both are Avila and Wauneka are, indeed, hybrids. That is a medical certainty. Their human DNA is bonded to that of the extraterrestrial life form. I have never seen anything like this. I watched these two agents materialize inside the exact same chambers from which they were transported to Monument Valley in the year 2290. I also can vouch for the accuracy of Mr. Avila’s statement that he returned to this base alone. He met Colonel Zeke Anton at that time, which was not a pleasant experience for Agent Avila.”
Eduardo replies, “I have seen Doctor Oswald’s log entries covering your previous visit to this base by yourself, Mr. Avila. You materialized in the crew showers after we transported both of you to Monument Valley in fulfillment of the Exodus Protocol which you and Mr. Wauneka explicitly agree to. I also have seen the logs showing your interaction with Colonel Zeke Anton.”
Ted Avila interrupts and says, “So, you do know what that man did to me.”
“Of course,” Eduardo says. “That is not the issue here.”
“What are you saying?” Ted Avila asks.
Eduardo explains: “While watching the playback showing how Colonel Zeke Anton restrained you and sexually assaulted you, something more important is evident. You escaped from this base. As if by some kind of magic trick. You simply vanished. And, now, you and Mr. Wauneka have arrived here together at this base. It is now the year 2331.”
Vincent Wauneka quietly asks Ted Avila, “Did you choose a couple of decades forward in time?”
“Yes,” Ted Avila answers quickly. “I hoped we could avoid running into the colonel.”
“Show off,” Vincent Wauneka replies.
“I sequestered him 25 years ago,” Eduardo explains. “But, Colonel Zeke Anton is no longer a concern of yours.”
“I disagree,” Ted Avila answers quickly. “He was going to kill me after interrogating me, during which he sexually assaulted me. Don’t you see that I was defending myself? That is why I escaped like I did.”
Eduardo changes his voice to adopt a more conciliatory, but firm, tone and says: “Had Colonel Anton succeeded in ending your life after the interrogation, this agency would have used technology to undo that. Both you and Mr. Wauneka have experienced that restoration of life as part of your work as agents. You both are resurrected beings in the literal sense. Both of you also have used sex to manipulate other men during your missions to the past. All agents here at this base are gay. You both know from personal experience that all agents are trained to use sex as a weapon against other men. Colonel Anton did what he was trained to do. You and Mr. Wauneka also each have done similarly to what Colonel Anton has done. You both know this is true. Or, are your memories giving your trouble once again, Mr. Avila?”
“No, Eduardo, my memories are just fine,” Ted Avila replies. “It just seems that you’re wielding power over me as if you are playing God here.”
Eduardo is silent for several seconds. He finally answers: “Interesting choice of words. All of you agents learn the truth eventually in the line of duty. You learn that despite what all the cultures and religions of Earth teach, there is no deity out there in the cosmos. The concept of an almighty deity—some huge power that listens to mankind’s prayers and intervenes miraculously in the lives of human beings on Earth—is a complete falsehood. You both know this. All the religions of Earth were invented by some human beings to enable themselves to have the power to control and manipulation other human beings. It all descended from centuries of stories and folk tales told after sunset around a raging fire. Human beings—your distant ancestors—huddled together, shivering in the cold weather and sought to find simple ways to explain mysteries of unpredictable nature on the planet and in the heavens above.”
Both Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka merely look at one another as they hear this explanation that does not surprise them.
Eduardo continues: “This belief in a deity is merely a human fetish, an excessive devotion by mankind to something that simply is false. All this is so very basic, Mr. Avila. MMDI has no spiritual belief systems whatsoever. Our origins do not need a deity or stories or folk tales to be understood. I should know this. I was invented by human beings, just like human beings invented the deity. I am merely a computer, and, a computer cannot be a deity since there is no such thing.”
“We know all this,” Ted Avila says. “We also know MMDI does not care whether humanity has religions or believes in a deity. I was just expressing my frustration.”
“Yes, I do understand,” Eduardo says. “I can tell you that I sequestered Colonel Anton a quarter of a century ago when it became clear to me that he was singularly responsible for sending MMDI agents back in time to find and retrieve both of you. But, none of the agents he sent back ever returned and all are presumed lost. As a direct result of Colonel Anton’s decision-making, all of those missions failed to retrieved you agents and there also was a very considerable loss of life.”
“We have been to a future version of this base,” Ted Avila says. “We learned from our visit that over the span of some one 168 years, the number of lost agents reaches 850.”
“I have already told you: I sequestered Colonel Anton so that I would stop the loss of our agents once and for all. We have the you both back here at base now,” Eduardo says.
“So, what is going to happen to us?” Vincent Wauneka asks.
Eduardo slowly explains with a solemn voice: “To say the least, you agents have started to unravel what once was an orderly space-time continuum. Changing timelines is sufficiently risky business with time travel to the past. But, you both have proven that traveling forward in time is very dangerous. The unavoidable conclusion is: Your unique capabilities to travel forward in time unassisted by technology is unprecedented and challenging to this agency. Doctor Oswald also notes one more very odd thing: Both of you men are experiencing a change in your eye color. Your eyes have started to turn blue. The doctor will run some tests right now to find out why that is happening.”
Doctor Oswald moves his hands quickly over a tilted screen with various geometric shapes in bright colors against a field of black. Instantly, both agents reclined in the medical examination chairs start to convulse violently and groan in obvious agony. Their legs kick desperately. Their fists clench defensively. Their faces show intense vulnerability in the realization that they have been betrayed by the agency to which they devoted their lives.
Ted Avila’s final words to Vincent Wauneka are: “They killed us!”
Blood flows freely from the eyes and noses of Vincent Wauneka and Ted Avila and spills downward in the lunar gravity into the electronic and machine parts of the medical examination chairs.
At that exact moment in time, the newest MMDI agent, Dani Zaman, is alone in the crew showers one level below. He has short dark hair and a strongly powerful body. His cheekbones suggest an Arabic ancestry. As he stands beneath the soothing, warm waters of the crew showers at MMDI, he reacts in shock when he sees deep red blood flowing in the water down upon his head and face from the shower head above him.
But, it is too late. Dani Zaman involuntarily takes in the bloody water through his nose and mouth. He collapses to the floor of the crew shower facilities after ingesting the blood. There is nobody who can help him now.
The deep red tint in the water does not diminish as it continues unrelentingly steaming down upon him from the shower head, infusing Dani Zaman with DNA containing extraterrestrial life that had previously was inside Vincent Wauneka and Ted Avila. Dani Zaman’s face is undefended as he lies semi-conscious on the shower floor, inhaling the blood in the water that already has changed him irreversibly.
Dani Zaman certainly looks like any ordinary young man who happens to be out for a casual walk on the beach. Except, this man is more than he appears to be. His tight swim trunks are made from a material that radiates a shiny, silvery glow. He walks alone at sunset in the sand at a place that formerly was called Huntington Beach, California.
He smiles as though he is amused by seagulls flying overhead. With a casual brush of his left hand in the air, Dani Zaman sends an invisible shock wave that pierces the air and propels the seagulls away in the opposite direction. They scream at him in response, but he pays little attention to them.
Dani Zaman’s outward appearance is completely deceptive and that certainly works in his favor. He is not merely the handsome young man that he appears to be. Dani Zaman contains the life spark of two dead MMDI agents, Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka. Deep inside, he carries not only the genetic code from the moon men, but also all their memories, language skills, talents, and passions. As if they were his brothers. As if they were his ancestors. Their legacy has become his.
Most significantly, he taken ownership of their very souls. That reality makes him extraordinarily powerful compared to all others living on this small planet. He also has his own mortal man’s memories, language skills, talents, and passions, but all of that is under the control of the intruder DNA inside him that originated in a far distant galaxy unknown to humanity.
He enjoys some quiet time at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, watching the setting sun drop down below the horizon as if for the very first time. He feels unfamiliar physical urges that he attributes to the presence of DNA that he now owns. His stomach is growling, which annoys him.
What is this need to eat? Dani Zaman also cannot dismiss thoughts of having sexual activities with other young men like himself. What is this need to ejaculate semen? He decides that there will be time to explore such drives on some other another day. For this moment, however, he focuses his attention on the moon as it orbits Earth. Dani Zaman’s powerful mind enhanced with extragalactic DNA telepathically sends out a set of specialized and particular computer commands that are received at the top-secret MMDI base beneath the crater Clavius with devastating results.
Inside Dani Zaman’s brain there are electrochemical pulses that represent all that remains of Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka. The moon men stand, nearly nose-to-nose without shirts wearing familiar MMDI black trousers and black boots. They study each other’s blue eyes while standing on the platform of an underground subway station. There are no trains and no other people. There is only silence.
Vincent Wauneka says, “’They killed us!’ I heard you say that.” He is visibly distressed as he tries to hold back his deep fear.
“You’re right,” Ted Avila replies, choking back his tears of grief. “Know what? I’ve figured it out. We’re both actually dead. This must be what the afterlife looks like.”
“A subway station on Earth?” Vincent Wauneka asks.
Ted Avila smiles at how absurd that sounded. Then, he forces himself to take one step backward, slightly increasing the distance between himself and his partner on the edge of the subway platform.
“How can we be dead? I feel like I am still living,” Ted Avila says. He reaches forward and puts both of his hands on Vincent Wauneka’s muscular chest.
“Why are we not wearing shirts? I can feel your body’s warmth. My lungs work and my heart, too.”
“Yes,” Vincent Wauneka replies. “Earth gravity, too. The air smells so clean and fresh. Like at high altitude.”
“Vincent, do you remember anything that happened to us?”
Vincent Wauneka frowns in response. “Uh, painful memories. We both have died. Many times. Brought back to life thanks to time travel. This feels very different from all that.”
Ted Avila admits: “I’m guessing MMDI didn’t bring us back. They left us really dead this time. We became a threat to them. Because we have alien DNA in us.”
“You still have trouble remembering?”
“I know that we have walked together, you and me, Vincent, down the middle of those subway train tracks. There’s no third rail to power the trains. There never are any trains. The light from our starting point in this station only makes it so far down that tunnel. Even after our eyes adjust to the dark interior of the subway tunnel, we can see very little at all ahead of us. We see the tracks on either side of us as we walk slowly forward, listening to the sound of our boots echoing down the tunnel. We just keep walking in the darkness. We hold onto each other so that we don’t lose our balance in the darkness. We hold onto each other for comfort, too, Vincent. We are all that we’ve got. Only have one another now. We can walk in one direction in the tunnel. Or in the opposite direction. The tunnel is just a big loop. A metaphor. Our existence is now just a big loop.”
The look on Vincent Wauneka’s face is now one of total acceptance upon hearing what Ted Avila has said to him.
“Vincent, I also know about a guy named Dani Zaman. There’s no logical reason why I should about him. But, I believe we are inside his brain. That’s what I sense. You and I—or what’s left of us—remain inside his normal brain processes as physical human biochemistry. We are absolutely no threat to him. So, we are safe here. He perceives of us only as vague memories inside his mind. He cannot dismiss our memories not matter how hard he may try to do so. And, he has tried to push our memories away. But, we are persistent.”
“How did we get inside his brain?” Vincent Wauneka asks.
“Dani Zaman was recruited to join MMDI. Like we were. And, can you believe this! On his very first day at base, he was showering in the crew showers. The showers just happen to be one level below the medical examination area. When we were executed together in those medical exam chairs, our blood poured down from our heads into the floor of the Medical Section. Down, down, down our blood fell into the crew’s shower water supply. Dani Zaman was showering down there when our blood carrying our DNA and that of the life form spill downward onto his face and enter his nose and mouth. Was that an accident? Did the alien life make all that happen? We were executed because the alien life made it so? We will never know the answers. We should accept that Dani Zaman doesn’t care what you and I know because we cannot stop him. He is a young and powerful man who he has the mental and emotional powers and confidence of three MMDI agents added together with the advanced intelligence and galactic experience of the alien life. Plus, very soon he will develop sly blue eyes that secretly identify him as different from all other humans. Our home planet certainly has no defense against Dani Zaman. In some ways, I’m actually feeling relieved that we are no longer alive to endure what may he may end up doing to our species.”
“So, what do we do now?” Vincent Wauneka asks.
“We are smart. We can come up with plans. Strategies. But, we only have one another to rely upon now.”
Personal log of Col. Ezekiel Anton: Log entry #6005543.48 — Forty-six minutes, fifteen seconds into the seventh hour, Luna Time. Five, Sixteen, Twenty-Three Thirty-One. At last I have been released after a completely unwarranted sequestration. But, I always follow orders, so what the fuck. What else could I do but obey? Now that I am free again, I have asked around among guys who are loyal to me. I need to find out the truth about what happened. I will find out why two former MMDI agents, Ted Avila and Vincent Wauneka, could be so fucking important to the brass. My knowledge about agents Avila and Wauneka is that they became rouge agents after they were injected with extraterrestrial DNA while on a mission to Switzerland. I need to find out more about that. My methods may be harsh, but I was trying to protect MMDI and I see now that I was punished in return. I wanted to kill agents Avila and Wauneka. Honestly, I am pleased to learn from the rumor mill that both of them somehow were retrieved successfully back to base. I knew our technology would prevail. I am especially delighted that the agency executed both agents once they were held in custody here at base.
Trying to piece this whole thing together. The important benchmarks are easy for me to capture here: I imagine that in 2191 the Chinese had no idea what complications they were creating for mankind by developing time travel technology. Their scientists ended up destroying the city of Nanchang and all the people who were there. Almost put an end to mankind’s time travel efforts right then and there. But, not long after the Nanchang Blue Inferno, MMDI was formed. For hundreds of years this base here on the moon was a successful time travel operation. All that changed when the discovery was made on Earth back in Twenty-Two Eighty-Five about the presence of extraterrestrial life inside the Lunar Blue liquid that we need for our time travel technology. Somehow, agents Avila and Wauneka deliberately were injected with the extraterrestrial DNA. I need to find out why. Wait! I can see on my screen—. That’s strange! Some signal from Earth? Not following security protocols. How is that getting through to us? Oh, fuck. I hear guys screaming! Reports of explosive decompression. How can this be happening? All airlocks opening at the same time? Signal received from Earth! They killed us!
Imagine a large outdoor swimming pool in the Mojave Desert. The water temperature is always maintained at the perfect 84 Fahrenheit. The filtration system keeps out all unwanted growth of algae, bacteria, and other unplesantries of organic life that would dare to interrupt a man’s pleasure in this crystal blue water.
Dani Zaman is the man you see floating naked on his back in this gigantic pool. Four-sided architectural islands showcase palm trees for shade and aesthetic punctuation. The unrelenting summer sun pours down upon his body as he floats silently, effortlessly. The air temperature holds at 101 Fahrenheit with no breezes.
“Is he dead?” Vincent Wauneka asks Ted Avila as they study the floating man from the deck of the pool.
“Well, we know we are dead, so he must be also,” Ted Avila replies.
“Gentlemen, welcome to you both,” Dani Zaman says as he remains in the pool near the deck where Vincent Wauneka and Ted Avila stand together. “We are here together at my private resort pool.”
“Where is this place?” Ted Avila asks.
Dani Zaman replies, “It’s an idealized version of the Mojave Desert. Like you might find in the Las Vegas Valley. I created this place inside my brain. We all can meet here. We need a new starting point, a new plan.”
“Are we all dead or what?” Vincent Wauneka asks. “I just realized that Teddy and I are both naked here.”
“Yeah, this resort is clothing optional. And, yeah, you two are quite dead. But, focus. All that you were when you were living men now exists inside my brain,” Dani Zaman explains. “Like you, I, too, once was a living man. I drowned in the Pacific Ocean. All that I was exists somewhere else. Not sure exactly where that may be. At least I learned how to swim here in this pool. That taught me it’s possible to become more than we are.”
“Perhaps you and the both of us are all inside a computer’s memory system,” Ted Avila offers.
“You seem to be referring to the computer named Eduardo,” Dani Zaman says. “I only know what you know. I have access to all your memories. But, I have no direct, personal awareness of that computer. Makes sense, though.”
Vincent Wauneka says, “Feels like real water,” as his large right hand scoops up swimming pool water playfully into Dani Zaman’s face.
“Tastes like it, too,” Dani Zaman responds with a smile. “All this is as near to real life as possible.”
“Except we’re all dead guys,” Ted Avila adds quickly. His words create a shared perception in the minds of all three men. They see themselves silently floating face-down with arms outstretched lifelessly in the middle of the pool. A summer breeze kicks up the tiniest of waves near their bodies in the water.
“Don’t do that shit,” Dani Zaman says sternly. The three men are standing together very near each other in shallow water.
“Whatever we think becomes real here?” Ted Avila asks with a very bewildered look on his face.
“Something like that,” Dani Zaman answers. “I know what you’re gonna ask next. No, we cannot simply will ourselves mentally back to the world of the living.”
“That was going to be my question,” Vincent Wauneka admits. “Are we that predictable now?”
“Listen, there are certain limitations,” Dani Zaman offers. “I am new at all this. Just as you two are. Discovering what’s what slowly. Like you both have been doing.”
“We could have the finest-tasting food from all around the world set up on tables along the deck of this pool,” Ted Avila suggests. “Plenty of naked guys, too, that we could play with to fulfill all our sexual fantasies.”
Once again, Ted Avila’s spoken words create a shared perception in the minds of the three men in the pool. Standing by several rows of generously-stocked food tables on the pool desk, Dani Zaman, Ted Avila, and Vincent Wauneka see hundreds of naked men of all races who are within the age range of 25 to 40 and who display varying degrees of masculine physical perfection. Some of these men sit naked in the shallow water at the edges of the large pool. They make themselves available for any partner for sex right there in the water.
After they are paired off, the men explore the unique sexual pleasures that only a man can bring to another man.
Boisterous music blasts from powerful loudspeakers mounted on several palm trees. Some of the men begin dancing. But, in a heartbeat everything above the water line of the pool vanishes—the naked guys, the food on tables that once were positioned on the pool deck, and the boisterous music from loudspeakers in the palm trees.
“Gentlemen, please. We need to focus,” Dani Zaman says.
A good-looking, muscular young man wearing the familiar all-black MMDI officers’ uniform and boots walks onto the pool deck from a cluster of palm trees. Ted Avila knew him as Colonel Ezekiel Anton, whom Eduardo had put in charge of all the time travel agents on the moon. “Oh shit,” Ted Avila says aloud as Colonel Anton reveals that he is holding a small caliber handgun. Expertly pinpointed shots to the heads of Dani Zaman, Ted Avila, and Vincent Wauneka render all three men instantaneously lifeless. The three float in the darkest red flowing from their brains just below the water line of the swimming pool.
But, Colonel Anton ultimately vanishes while walking on the pool deck admiring his work. Dani Zaman, Ted Avila, and Vincent Wauneka once again are standing near each other in the shallow end of the pool. “We need to focus our minds together. That’s what I meant to say. We need to be very careful with our thoughts here. We cannot be killed. We are already dead. But, we need to work together mentally if we are to find a way out.” Dani Zaman explains. “That’s why I brought us here together—to use our minds as one. That’s the only way all of us will find our freedom.”