A Story Within a Story

She didn’t stop. She was determined.

“Ariadne?” I asked her as we were about to leave the room.

This time, she stopped beside a panel, wrenching it open and reading what she saw within, before actually hearing me and lifting her eyes from the socket of wires that only she could read. “Yes, Serena?”

“How do you know all this?”

“I…” She blushed a pretty shade of pink. “I grew up with the idea. They sent a letter when they returned to their own time. Something passed down through the generations, my mother’s grandmother's childless sister’s et cetera et cetera. Plus, your tale is a bit of a myth in our community. People want to know about the very first time-traveller.”

“Stop calling me that! The Cohens are the first!” I cried, marching out of the house just as Ariadne commanded for a bookcase. “Surely they don’t have physical books still?” I grumbled. I pushed a stone along until it met the banks of the moat, falling with a wet plop into the stagnant pool.

“They do, though. I’m sorry. I can understand – no…I can’t understand, but please, listen for a minute longer. I know you don’t want to see this, but, Serena, you must.”

She lifted a leather tome she must have taken from the hidden bookshelf. Turned out that they had physical books after all. This one was old; at least, I guessed so from the peeling binding and the scratched title that I couldn’t read.

Ariadne gently placed the leather-back into my hands, leaning across me to turn the ‘pages’. Unsurprisingly – at least, it should have been unsurprising to me now – within the cover were two synoptic screens.

“It’s so that all public data can be stored accessed,” Ariadne said, reading my mind. “”These page-screens, and the wall-pads, are linked to the Skynet system run in the Capitol. Information running quickly at a fingertip to the mind. ‘The processor direct to minds,’ so they say. Anyway, look at these archives.”

I was glad to see that the ‘page-screens’ were less electronically visual than the wall-screens. No pictures were crushed into corners whilst blocks of text bobbed and bragged for attention. Instead of the boxed in format of every segment, there was no fighting on the page-screens; instead, I was presented with the kind of layout I did expect from a factual book: prose in a continuous downward stretch, interrupted only occasionally by a picture.

Oh, but what a picture to accompany the title of ‘Serena Porter’! My face made the grainy headline. My mug-shot. It was as if I had been forced to the police for questioning. In a moment, however, I realised that the tight-lipped smile was part of my driver’s licence. I was already beginning to forget the past….

“Serena Porter disappeared from her farmer’s village in 2012: fact,” Ariadne narrated. “What happened to her, however, remains a mystery. Even the newspapers of the time could think of no explanation for her disappearance. Mr and Mrs. Cohen reported her calling around to their home in the woods on the day of her disappearance, but, when police searched for the couple to question them further, they were gone. When their house was searched, what remained was the evidence of a unique science beyond knowledge present at the time and Serena’s clothes. Neither of the couple nor Serena were ever found.

“In 2120, the case was reopened under the new jurisdiction of Martha Kapur, at the time Chief of Police. She claimed that her late grandmother had left her a piece of writing – more precisely, a letter – in her will that claimed her grandmother was related to Susan Cohen. Upon searching the woodland cottage again, Martha and her team uncovered pieces of metal, most significantly one part of a 20s hatchet crank, which could not belong to even modern science. They carbon dated the materials to discover that the aluminium should belong to the 23rd century.

“For literally centuries, generations of scientists have puzzled over the meaning of Serena’s disappearance, if there is one. Has she been abducted by aliens? Was she, as many laymen believed, the first ever ‘time-traveller’? And had the Cohens taken her back to their own ‘time’. Only the contents of that letter explained the situation…

“I could go on,” said Ariadne, “but I won’t. That’s enough myth for the morning. Back to reality. Look, here you are.”

I stared at her. She pointed down to another configuration of me, stretched out above a possible family-tree, be it of me or of the described story of the Chief of Police. It was a bit of a tangent.

“As you can probably tell,” Ariadne continued, “Martha was my ancestor. One of the few descendents of hers rose up in the ranks to find himself Mayor of a small town. And here I am.”

I was speechless. Finally, I managed to choke out, “stunning.”

“It’s pretty marvellous.”

The End

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