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Phantom Shift- Limits of Our Vision

A Tale of Sci-Fi Espionage

By Atomic HistorianPublished 9 months ago Updated 9 months ago 19 min read
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Phantom Shift- Limits of Our Vision
Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash

This is Part Five in a series. You can read Parts One, Two, Three, and Four here.

09:15 pm, Georgetown

The sterile smell of latex and disinfectant hung in the air as the paramedics wheeled Alexis into the emergency room. She could smell it in her waking dream state. She could feel the gurney shake back and forth as it bumped its way down the hall. The world was black, her head was pounding, and her ears were ringing, but she was alive. Time was a flat circle again.

09:02 pm,

“Ugghhh!” Jessica screamed at the sudden blast of her ring tone coming through her headphone, “hello? Hold on. This damn thing always disconnects when I get a call while listening to something. Hey Bob, what’s going on? Did she forget something again?” Jessica asked as she keeped beating the cookie batter.

“No, no. Jessica, are you sitting down?” Bob responded in the most serious, but least threatening tone he could manage.

“No? Hold on,” she felt the palpitations rise to her throat, “o-okay, I’m sitting.”

“Jessica, sweetheart Barb is on her way to you. Alexis had an accident outside. She’s on her way to the hospital. I just wanted you to know before Barb gets there.”

“Th-thank you, Bob. I’ll get ready,” Jessica threw her headphone down on the ottoman without hanging up the phone. Looking across to Will sleeping in the playpen, she began to sob as silently as she could to not wake him. Jessica thought that after the transition, Alexis would be safer. But it was just her personality. She was a protector at heart.

But she’s our protector, goodman it! Jessica thought as she began to collect herself.

“It’s fine. She’s fine. Everything is fine,” she began to tell herself as she started to check the diaper bag, and prepare for Barb to arrive.

*****************************************************************

07:31 am- Mariam’s Apartment

As she watched Raul sleep on her couch, Mariam began to thumb through the doctor’s diary. The pictures were amazing. Yet, she could not take her eyes off him. She had wanted a moment like this for so long, but now she had it in the worst way possible. Mamani Mehr had always talked about tempting the jinn with our wishes, maybe this is what she meant.

Images of sketches from the first tests, where the observers sketched out hyperrealistic images of dinosaurs she had never seen. A strange symbol atop what she presumed to be some kind of temple or church. All were interwoven with the handwritten notes of Doctor Cardoso.

Fifteen minutes later, Raul began to stir.

“Good morning sleepy head,” she told him as he slowly opened his eyes

“Huh—, what are you doing?” He asked as he shot up from his lateral position.

“It was on the floor. I thought you were looking at it before bed, and it fell off of you. Why? What is this?” Mariam asked as took a sip from her mug.

“Well, you shouldn’t have that. It's mine,” Raul said as he reached his hand over the coffee table.

“How dare you speak to me like that!? In my house!? Who do you think you are!?” Mariam threw the book on the chair behind her as she shoved her face into his. Raul stood frozen. “That's what I thought. Sit. Do you want coffee?” She asked him in her politest tone possible.

“Ugh, yeah,” Raul responded as he sat back down on the couch. He had faced gun fights, survived a grenade attack in Caracas, and recruited and ran spies across Latin America with the Service on his heels the whole way. But he hadn’t known fear until this five-foot-six woman screamed at him. What is her power?

Mariam walked over to the counter, “Cream? Sugar?”

“Both please,” he responded.

“Do you speak Portuguese?” She asked inquisitively.

“Speak and read. I’m guessing it’s the latter you really need. Remember, I said we needed to work together? Do you speak whatever physics nonsense he wrote?” He asked.

“I’m not sure. Some of the equations make sense, from a theoretical standpoint. But what they’re calculating is beyond anything I’ve ever seen or heard of. I’ll try to sort it out, but I might have to make some outside inquiries,” she said as she sat his mug down in front of him. “All I have today is naan, honey, jam, and eggs. I can make Halim for dinner. If you’re good.”

“I can be good. What do you mean by ‘the equations make sense, from a theoretical standpoint?’ But their calculations are beyond anything you’ve ever seen or heard of.” He asked between taking a bite of his hard boiled egg and the naan with chaat. Mariam watched as his face crinkled. Raul quietly got up and went to the kitchen.

“Would you like some water?” He asked.

“Sure,” she replied. Oh, no, there is too much ginger. Does he just not like it, and won’t say so? Mariam heard the fridge shut as he opened the silverware drawer.

“Aren’t you a physicist?” Raul shouted from the kitchen, as he slammed the drawer with his hip. Coming back, he silently sat back down, popped the top from the peach jam, and slathered it on the naan. “Aren’t you good at math?” Raul asked as he rolled the jam-covered naan, and slid it between his teeth which made Mariam cringe internally as she watched this unwashed soul desecrate her culture.

It’s fine Mariam. It’s fine Mariam. He doesn’t know. It’s not like the Middle East is his area of expertise.

“I am,” she responded as politely as possible, but could not help taking a backhanded swing at his ego, “but like doctors or intelligence officers, we don’t know everything about every aspect of physics. Once you’re past your bachelor's, and especially on the predoctoral path, we’re so specialized, it’s impossible to know everything.”

Raul paused mid-bite to process what possible offense he had made now.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed so much. I just get hyper-focused on my tasks sometimes, and I forget to, uuuhhh…” Raul’s voice trailed off into the void as his mind became overwhelmed with processing everything he had experienced the last few months.

Boy, I’m really making an impression this time. Is it the stress of the last few months? Is it that we’re both still reeling from the trauma of our loss? Who between us has it worse?

I lost the love of my life and an unborn child.

She lost, well possibly the love of her life. A life they had yet to explore because both of them were too nervous and insecure, to open that door. The Pandora's Box of possible pain and rejection.

I don’t want to discount her pain, but I actually knew my love. Rosaria. My Rosie. There isn’t a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about you. But as for the other two, well. I guess we're both lamenting the idea of what they were or could have been in our heads. An imagined love.

But then there’s also that unsettling feeling I get when I look into Mariam’s eyes. Like we’ve met before. The way she looks at me. Not just because Jason and I are each other’s physical doppelgangers. No, it’s the kind of stare someone gives you when they’re peering into your soul. When I lost Rosie, I thought I’d never feel this way again. But, the way she looked at me. Nobody but Rosie has ever looked at me that way.

Rosie told me it was the “female gaze.” The way women look at men is completely different than the way men look at women she would tell me. They’re not as concerned with the physical the way men are. They’re looking at the mind. The way we act, and interact with people. How we treat others and ourselves.

What I never got to tell her, is that’s how men see women too. Well, at least some of us. And I know it wasn’t just me. Because when Estaban and I would have those deep discussions, that’s how we talked about our wives. Oh, Rosie. If I had only told you this more before I left. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for everything. I worked so hard and for so long. And for what? To be starting over in this strange, yet, familiar place. A place that is both recognizable and foreign all at once.

“Hey. Hello?” Mariam said as she waved her hand in Raul’s face. “Sunshine? Are you awake?”

“Uh, yeah, yeah. What were you saying?”

“I wasn’t saying anything, you were the last one talking. That is, before you checked out of reality for a bit. You alright?”

“Yeah, just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Lots of things. Life. Loss. The inexplicable chaos of the universe. Or well, I guess, now we know for sure, the multiverse’s ability to bring two people together. Can we get back to the journal, please? For my sanity’s sake, if nothing else.”

“Of course.” How does he do that? Am I that transparent? Or is he that good at reading me? Well, I guess if he is reading me, I shouldn’t be that surprised. Hell, it’s what the man’s been trained to do. “Okay, you see this here?”

“Yes, the thing that looks like Metatron’s Cube?”

“Exactly. You know what that is?” Mariam asked inquisitively. It was a pleasant surprise to know she might not have to explain physics from the ground up.

“I’ve studied many things beyond my assigned area. When you’re on a stack out, in a listening post, or just sitting in an airport where a smartphone would make you stand out, you have to have something that helps you pass the time. I always carry a book of some kind. But anyways, I always thought Metatron’s Cube was some ‘sacred geometry’ nonsense. Like a lot of ‘esoteric knowledge,’ it’s just a bunch of nonsense that some religious kooks, so-called spiritualists, certain cult leaders, or fringe white nationalists use to justify whatever horrible things they want to do.”

“Well, you’re not wrong on most of those. But what he’s drawn is something he’s calling ‘cleptonio.’ Do you know what this is, or means?”

“Let me see. Uhh, tsh-tsh-tsh. Okay, you got a notebook?”

“Of course. Let me grab it.”

“Yeah, that’ll work for now. Looking at this, I’ll have to get us a clean computer tomorrow. I’ll remove the NIC, and secure it to the extent I can with a commercial computer. I have a lot of work to do with translating this thing.”

“Okay, ready.”

“Cool, boy this is going to be slow. Lots of big words,” Raul said with a sarcastic smile.

“Well, let’s get going. I still have school and work later,” Mariam responded.

Raul couldn’t help but notice the look of deep fascination that enveloped her face as she waited to hear him read the journal. Is she staring at me like that? Or is she just waiting to hear me talk about her favorite subject?

“Okay,” he paused to clear his throat, “kleptonium is a hyper object element that attracts the electromagnetic energy of other atoms. Its actions are reflected in the universe by its ability to create and destroy atoms by changing their electromagnetic properties. It exists as both a part of and separate from the various universes. It is what makes up the boundaries between them. In simplest terms, it is like the land that separates two bodies of water. And just like two bodies of water, sometimes those boundaries become permeable, and the two bodies mix.

When these boundaries between two universes become permeable…”

Mariam couldn’t help but find herself drifting off into a conscious dream as she listened to Raul read the journal.

How does one man contain so many things at once? A seemingly endless knowledge of so many subjects. Yet, he stumbles like an idiot when I speak directly to him about it. He shows happiness in all other ways, but his eyes are filled with such sadness. What has happened to you Raul? What are you running from?

Wait, what am I doing? Am I falling for him? Is it just that he looks like Jason? No. No, this is different. Yes, they’re carbon copies, but, but how is he so completely different?

As she sat there taking notes, she couldn’t help but notice the sloppiness of her writing, trying to juggle writing, her fascination with this man, and the immense sadness she felt for starting to have feelings after just learning of Jason’s demise.

This is unnatural. Surely, nobody gets a second chance like this.

She stared into oblivion as the thought took hold of her mind.

**************

09:47 pm, Georgetown

Jessica rushed to the front desk of the emergency room. Panting, she struggled to flip her hood and hair back from her face as the weight of the diaper bag slung across her chest like she was robbing a bank pulled down on her coat, she gripped the handle of the stroller with Will screaming in tow. Trying with all her might, she expelled the words like she was exercising a demon.

“Jessica O’Bannon, here for Alexis O’Bannon,” she said as clearly as she could.

“ID please,” the front desk clerk asked, reaching her hand to the hole in the window, “thank you.”

Unzipping her coat, she pulled Will from the stroller.

“Shh, shh, shh. It’s okay honey. Mommy’s okay. Shh, shh, shh,” she continued, juggling Will in her right hand, pulling the diaper bag off with her left.

THWACK!! The bag struck the ground as she released it in her monumental struggle. Picking it up by the strap, she kicked it into the undercarriage of the stroller and threw her coat over the handle. Will wriggled in her arms, as she lifted the left side of her hoodie.

“There you go, there you. Yes, I know. You were so good in the car. I know the noise and lights woke you up. Can I help you, sir? Is it your first time seeing a titty?” Making sure the indignation penetrated the man’s soul as he stared at her in disbelief, she grabbed the blanket from the stroller to keep Will warm.

“Okay, got you scanned in. Relation?”

“Wife. Where is she?”

“Let me check. Okay, they’re taking her back to X-ray now. Would you like to wait here? Or I can have someone help you back to the room, so you don’t have an audience,” the clerk said with the kind of smile that only comes from knowing the struggle, and the incredulous nature of old men.

“We’ll wait in the room. Thank you,” Jessica responded as she pulled Will back out from under the hoodie-blanket combo. Lifting her boy in the air, she sniffed his butt.

“What is that young man?” She said, tugging his pants down and onesie to the side, just enough peak in the diaper, “Okay, you’re lucky this time. But next time you let one rip like that, you’re on your own.” Will gave her a silent smile as she turned him back around.

As she began to fix the stroller, so she could put Will back, the door to the back opened with the loud THUNK that only comes from the heavy duty security electronic locks.

“Ma’am, I’m Tim. I’m here to help you back.”

“Oh, uh, okay.”

“Would you like help with that?”

“Please,” Jessica responded as she lifted Will up to her left shoulder, and pulled the blanket around him.

Five minutes later they were pulled into the back waiting area of the Emergency Department.

“Oh, I thought we were going to her room?” Jessica asked out of concern.

“Oh, I’m sorry ma’am. We had to move her belongings to her new room. "

**************

6:53 pm, Mariam’s Apartment the Next Day

Raul listened to water drip down the window as the gods mourned the night.

Shhh, THUNK! Clack, clack.

“Evening. How was your day?” Raul asked as he heard Mariam slam the door shut and turn the locks.

“It was decent. How was yours? What’s that smell?”

“Day was good. The smell is cuchuco de cebada. It’s a Bolivian stew. I swapped the pork for beef though. I didn’t want to offend you.”

“Oh, I’m not muslim. My family’s Zoroastrian. That’s why they moved here in 79, when the Shah was deposed. Benefits of your father being SAVAK,” Mariam explained as she kicked off her rain boots and hung her coat. Walking into the kitchen, she continued. “They don’t usually eat pork or beef.”

Turning the corner she watched Raul’s eyes light up as she let her mane out of the messy ponytail it had devolved into after her braid came loose when the rubber bands snapped between school and work. She had given up the battle when it started to rain, knowing the humidity would win in the end. But the awestruck moment only lasted, until Raul looked back at the pot.

Registering the look of horror on Raul’s face as he pulled the plate back from pushing the beef into the pot. “It’s fine. I’m not observant. Never really was beyond getting treats and gifts at worship and on holidays. I think now the only thing that I still believe in is the jinn. But that might just be me wanting something to blame, instead of acknowledging that I can be forgetful when I can’t find my keys. Anyways, I can’t wait to try it. Smells good.”

“Uhh, thank you. I hope you like it. I,uhhh..”

I swear, you’d think he’d never seen a woman before. Weren’t you married, my guy? Shit, that’s insensitive. He just lost her. And who knows when he last saw her before that. Gotta relieve some of this tension.

“How did the translation go today?”

“Good. Good. Just wish I could go out while I do it. It would be nice to write anywhere that’s outside of here. I spent enough time trapped in that dude’s house. I like the outside world. Meeting people. I don’t know how anyone just goes back and forth from work, with little else in between. The computer’s on the coffee table,” he said pointing to the living room.

Mariam shuffled off to her room to slip into her best sweatpants, not the best looking ones. Nope the ones that felt like home. Slipping on some new socks, she kicked her feet into the back of Buttercup's head, and threw on her Hoyas hoodie, before shuffling back to the living room.

Ohp, here she comes. It’s amazing how she can pick her feet up in any other pair of shoes but those things. Raul could feel his eyes roll to look at his spine as the thought passed through his head. Hanging the towel back on the rod, he twisted the handle.

Mariam sighed, “Again?” She hated how he used the same mug from day to day. Only swapping it out for a new one when the coffee had sufficiently stained the current victim or she was there to supervise. She followed him and put them in the sink whenever she could.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m putting your mug away for you,” she responded.

“I wasn’t done with that. I just sat it down to go to the restroom.”

“But it’s cold.”

“It’s perfect at any temperature.”

“Why do you look at me that way?’

“What do you mean? What way?”

“You keep looking me up and down. Like you’re checking me out. But it also feels like you’re staring straight through me. It’s a bit creepy.”

“Oh, sorry. It’s just when you’ve been in my line of work this long, it’s a bit hard to turn off. I’m not checking you out,” Well, at least not when you’re looking towards me. The thought passed from one ear to the other, feeling the internal grin, knowing damn well that’s what he was doing this time.

Mariam could feel her entire body blush at the thought of Raul checking her out. She would always catch glimpses of Jason doing the same, but he wasn’t very good at hiding it either. She could always tell that her feelings for him were reciprocated. But he was often too lost in his own world. The heartache he carried from everything experienced with Rebecca. He had too much going on. Trying to juggle between being with Símon and Mara when he had them, finishing law school, and whatever it was he did for work. She never quite knew what Jason did. But she also knew that D.C. wasn’t the kind of place where you asked too many questions about that sort of thing. If someone said they were an accountant, but looked like they could lift a car, they were an accountant.

Does she know she’s doing that? Raul loved to watch Mariam’s face when they talked. She had a way of giving away her feelings if you watched her face close enough. Or even the change in her voice. The best though. The absolute best was when he knew she knew he was telling her how he felt about her, even if he couldn’t say it directly. He loved the awkward little “jokes” she made in those moments.

Raul continued, “it’s a thing you learn to do when you have to watch people for signs of danger. I’m watching your body movements, processing what your eyes, hands, and feet are doing. I’m looking for anything unusual with your clothes. Remember when you were surprised I had a gun with me? That’s because most people aren’t conditioned to look for danger in this way. Don’t worry too much about it, it’s an unconscious, automated thing. I’m mostly unaware I'm doing it.”

“So, you do check me out?”

“Yes or no, whichever makes you feel more comfortable.”

He watched, smiling internally, as she struggled with his answer. The ever deafening “awkward silence” that fills the room when two people are clearly attracted to each other, but have to play a game of chicken to see who says it first.

Humans are strange creatures. We want to be desired. We want to know we’re desired. But if you make it too direct, we recoil or clam up. We are photons cursed with consciousness. Leave us be, and we’ll wave right past you. Directly observe us, and it’s like you can see right through us, down to the very particles that make up our soul. The only thing more visceral is the charge you feel when you’re near someone of mutual attraction. The magnetic pull of a relationship beyond human comprehension.

Oh, no. What are you doing, Mariam? She could feel his desire penetrate her. She liked the attention, but at once felt self-conscious of it. Is this his version of flirting? Clipped, half witty, half serious comments wrapped in obfuscation. Am I giving away how I see him more than I think?

“Anyway, wanna start reading, or wait for the food?”

“We can start.”

Mariam sat his mug back down as she turned the computer around, and opened the lid.

“Scooch.”

Mariam unconsciously complied. How does he do that? Okay, focus.

Doctor Hector Cardoso Senior’s Journal

August 8, 1945, Ilha da Queimada Grande

The experiment has gone better than planned. The bomb has left the island devoid of all fauna, without touching the flora or destroying the entire island. We couldn’t have asked for a better result. The use of iron to stimulate the reaction of kleptonium proved both appropriate for the desired outcome, and more cost effective than the cobalt or nickel suggested by my colleagues.

Despite our predictions, the element currently known as kleptonium has produced an explosive force three times what was predicted. This result is both fortunate, and unfortunate. This favors our prospects for using these wonder weapons to halt the German’s advance across Europe. We may not completely stop the Fascist advance on Western society, but we can at least halt them for now. However, we have had the misfortune of losing the four ships, all associated observation equipment, and all souls on board. This is a strange occurrence, as despite our miscalculations of the blast radius, we could not predict the disappearance of manmade objects. At this time, it is unclear if we simply have not widened our search radius far enough, or if the bomb has torn those poor souls down to atoms.

In spite of this the bomb has been a godsend. It is the most wonderful thing to happen to the Empire, the Brazilian people, and myself. What surprised me most was how little sound the explosion made. The momentary, yet extremely loud sound of something akin to the air being filled with every kind of winged insect buzzing around us all at once, was silenced once what we are calling the “clapping of boards" made them hush. This was all followed by what everyone agrees is what god yawning would sound like if men could hear him, followed by a buzz that’s gentler on the ears than our most advanced powerlines. But nothing compares to the sight. If obliteration could be called beautiful, the sight of the bomb going off is second only to when the sun lights Christ atop Corcovado.

However, the strange nature of kleptonium, and the bomb we created from it only grows. Because when the bomb went off, we felt nothing. Nothing could be felt exploding outward. Nor could we feel, or any instrument measure any significant change in air pressure after the atmosphere collapsed around the epicenter. The closest thing to this any of us felt was what many are calling “the wind of the soul.” Some fell to the ground, asking for the Lord's forgiveness, believing we have sucked the souls from our bodies. However, despite my faith in the Lord, I am also a man of science. And we are all still here for a reason. A reason I must find, no matter how long it takes.

Huuuhh, hoooo. Mariam sighed as she paused to take in the Doctor’s notes.

“Okay, I think I’ve had enough for now.”

“Good, because I’m starving. What do you wanna watch?”

“Star Wars?”

“Which one is that again?”

“The sci-fi movies made by George Lucas.”

Raul stared at her in confusion.

“The guy you believe must have died in his high school car crash, because Star Wars doesn’t exist in your world.”

“Oh, right, the one with the weird Caribbean sounding frog guy. Sure.” Raul responded as he sat their bowls on the coffee table, and plopped down, nearly sitting on Mariam.

What is this? He’s never sat this close to me. Oh, well. Just enjoy the ride I guess.

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About the Creator

Atomic Historian

Heavily irradiated historian developing my writing career. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram. To help me create more content, leave a tip or become a pledged subscriber. I also make stickers, t-shirts, etc here.

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock9 months ago

    Completely compelling & engrossing.

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