“By travel. Glass, water.” The last she commanded to another wall-pad, which produced a whir and a large square of the wall below slid away, its mechanism marks barely visible to me, to reveal a tray with a simple glass of water upon it. “Drink this.”
I clasped the beaker with two hands. It felt real enough. As did the water when I sloshed it around. I needed the drink. I lifted to the glass to my lips and tipped it back, draining the cool water from it within seconds. It certainly felt real. And now the pounding in my confused head was beginning to fade to a subtle buzz similar to that emanating from the present wall-pad.
After she had ordered the wall to reset itself, Ariadne sprang over to the screen and began tapping away, her voice rising from the thuds of her fingers on the pad.
“I know you thought you were doing the right thing, running (which might indeed have been good), but the people you met were just waiting to ensnare you-”
“Stop!” I cried, my face and hands cold again. “Please, tell me how you know every aspect of my broken life, instead of filling my ears with paraphrases. Is this some crazy future-tribe divination? What have I done?”
Ariadne stopped short of opening her mouth wider and whispered, “you sustained us in our darkest years.”
I stared at her, more irritated than incredulous.
“What did I do? Why you?”
“Well,” Ariadne cleared her throat, “we were renewed by your idea rather than anything else.”
“No: the idea of you.”
“But…” My mouth opened and closed; I was the fish out of water by a mile. I shook the fallen hair out of my eyes, tapping the empty beaker with my nails as I watched Ariadne. The glass made a tinny sound – but at least that was real to me, a little bit of auditory hope.
“If you want the straight facts, I guess it’s not my right to conceal them. They tricked you-”
“You know who. They said that you would be helping the world, and you, fairly, accepted. I might have done the same, but that part is beyond my life… Now, that machine was their disguise for a time-machine, because they only have one use for you, but one that involves you here, at this hour.”Tap, tap, tap: the wall-pad shimmered and images rushed past as Ariadne fiddled, determined. “Look.”
She indicated the screen. Upon it hovered the faces of two people that she must have called up when I had looked away for only a moment. With a chill, I recognised the faces in cold blood, their information already scrolling but too fast for me to read.
Turning away from the wall, extrapolating her standing to the middle of the room, Ariadne said aloud, “extend to hologram.”
I wondered whether she got a kick out of commanding inanimate objects to do her will.
With a whir- a super-sonic, quicker-than-light whir this time- the picture vanished from the slowly-extending arm of the wall-pad, where now a minute camera bloomed. In two more seconds, the camera had clicked into life as a projector: beside Ariadne stood shadow re-creations of the scientist couple I had met mere hours ago.
“Joshua Cohen and Susan Ford, later Cohen when she married him, but that was after they had vanished from their aristocratic homes in the 20s. They arrived in your time. They didn’t mean to, but a vehicle arrived pout of nowhere. Being explorers, they took a chance and disappeared inside. However, as you found out, machines like that send themselves back to their previous owners once they have made the trip. Susan and Joshua were stuck in your time.”
The holograms moved, beginning to greet each other with smiles and silent words. I looked away. The mouthing figures were too lifelike for comfort.
“I think they stole technology, or at least re-routed it. That’s what the information here suggests. Of the past, we can never be sure. After that, they began to construct their own function of the machine, though how they knew of the blueprints, I don’t know.”
“Stolen technology?” I cried. Had I been subjected to their experiment all the same?
“By stolen people. They only want to return, like you.”
“But...they’re using me.” Suddenly, the full truth of the experimentation came to mind. “Either this is a brilliant dream-life that I myself have conjured up inside the Happiness Machine- which it isn’t- or they never intended I be happy. It was a false machine!”
“That’s right,” Ariadne purred. “They sent you here for one reason alone. To send them home. A machine, so the information says, that must have come from the year 2345. It’s ironic, really. We’ve been persuaded to explore this technology after learning that we will make it. In a way, we have already been determined to make it.”
“Paradoxical,” I wondered aloud.
“Now, we need you and your expertise to help finish the prototype,” she finished. “That’s the only way the Cohens will get their hands on it.”
“But I know nothing about engineering.”
“It’s not that; I need you to come with me and help me fetch a crucial part. Then the two of us will operate the machine. I can’t do this on my own.”
“Okay...” I trembled as I spoke, my voice catching in my throat.
Before I could think twice, Ariadne had closed down the wall-pad, killing the figures of the Cohen couple in a flash of yellow light. She shot one glance in my direction, before striding off back the way we had come.
“Wait!” I cried.