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Chapter One: Ariel
Last summer, I traveled fifty years into the future, switched places with some girl named Stanley, and almost got sent to prison. I also joined the swim team at my pool.
See, I had a rather more interesting summer vacation than most of the other kids in my class. I didn’t go to camp, or Disney World, or Botswana (wherever that is), but somewhere more exciting than all three put together. It didn’t start out too interesting, though—far from it. In fact, my vacation experience was in danger of being desperately dull.
“Ariel,” sighed my mom about a week into summer. “I don’t think we can do a vacation this year. I’ve been so busy with work lately, I just don’t have time.” She must have noticed my face falling, because she added quickly, “There are plenty of fun things to do around here. You’ll get to spend more time with Gregg, too.”
“Gregg’s at camp,” I let my mom know. (Gregg Henson is my best friend, and has been for a long time, possibly since birth.)
“Well, there’s always Jasmine,” said Mom.
“She’s at Disney World.”
“She’s in Botswana.”
“Oh.” Mom considered this for a moment. “Where’s Botswana?”
“No clue,” I replied.
At this, Mom sighed again. She’s been sighing a lot lately, ever since she and my dad got a divorce about a year ago. She also works nonstop— she has some difficult job that includes going to meetings; wearing hideous, formal, gray suits; and sighing at a laptop computer a lot. I’m sure it’s a fascinating job, but she’s almost never home, and when she is, she acts like it’s still the office. Well, my summer certainly was shaping up to be a lot of fun. Stuck at home with my workaholic mom while all of my friends were away. Absolutely smashing.
As if to reinforce the point, the phone rang. It was Gregg, calling from camp—Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp, to be precise. Although both of us are interested in fantasy and sci–fi stuff, I prefer to read and write it, while Gregg… well… he’s the kind of kid who thinks that a Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp is the height of cool. “Hello,” I greeted Gregg over the phone. He replied in Elvish.
“Oh, um, so are you role–playing an elf, then?” I asked, attempting to sound even mildly interested.
“No, actually, I’m an orc,” he corrected me.
“What you are is a dork. So, how’s camp?” I asked.
“Pretty cool. There’s this one kid, called the Dark Lord—”
Unbelievable. A kid existed who was weirder than Gregg? “’The Dark Lord?’ What’s his real name?”
“I dunno. He won’t tell anyone.” Gregg changed the subject. “Listen, Ariel, I left my Dungeons and Dragons book at home, and I really, really need it; but my parents are on a second honeymoon, so neither one of them are home. So could you please, please, please get your key to my house, get my book for me, and mail it over? I’ll be your eternal slave, I promise!” Gregg can be very dramatic when he wants to be, which is probably ideal for role–playing an orc.
“Hmmm. Eternal slave. I like the sound of that,” I mused, “Okay, I’ll get your book for you. I’ll be right over there.”
“Thank you SOOOO MUCH!” gushed Gregg. “You are a lifesaver. Well, gotta go now, the Dark Lord needs to call his mommy. See ya.”
And so, I set off, key in hand, ready to face the nearly insurmountable terror that was Gregg’s room. You’re probably thinking, ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just a kid’s bedroom.“ But this is Gregg Henson we’re talking about. His room is always a total state of chaos, filled with his latest crazy projects, and knowing him, his Dungeons and Dragons book was somewhere insane. It was probably inside the fish tank or super–glued to the ceiling or something.
I unlocked the door to his house and stepped inside. Most of the house was unnaturally clean, as his parents are neat freaks, a trait which was not inherited by their son. In fact, I noticed as I stepped into my friend’s room, that Gregg seemed to have reached new heights (or is it lows) in untidiness. Mountains of clothing loomed from every corner, forests of bookcases bristled with precariously balanced volumes, action figures and comic books littered the floor, unfinished snacks sat congealing on paper plates, and the entire place gave off the slight odor of mold.
Wrinkling my nose, I approached the nearest bookcase, the most likely hiding place for the book. But I was distracted on my way there by the strange contraption sitting in the middle of the floor. Gregg likes to build things—a few weeks ago, he made a scale model of the Death Star from Star Wars, and before that, he had done an entire medieval castle, complete with mini working drawbridges and catapults. (“No, it’s not a dollhouse!” he had protested.) But this thing was the weirdest of the weird. The invention, whatever it was large and gleaming white, and consisted of a cube perched atop several spider–like legs. A blue light flashed menacingly from the side of the cube, and a faint yet ominous beeping noise sounded each time it did so. I squatted down next to the invention, trying to figure out what it might be used for, and what it could have possibly possessed Gregg to have built this thing, when suddenly, a bright blue beam of light shot out from the side of the invention.
It hit me full in the face. I stumbled and fell on my back, and that’s all I could remember for quite awhile. But when I opened my eyes, I couldn’t believe the sight before me.
Chapter 2: Stanley
Stanley is not exactly a common name for girls, but, then, it’s not 2056 yet. If it were 2056, it wouldn’t be too unusual to meet Stanley Kemper. She was pretty much your average girl—she lived with her parents and was forced to endure school and an annoying older brother. She liked to spend time with her friends and go online. But her life was about to become significantly un–average… if that’s even a word.
June 23rd started out like any normal day. She awoke at five o’ clock, washed up, and put on her clothes for the day—a tight–fitting white shirt with a stiff blue jacket and tight–fitting blue pants. She then headed downstairs for her breakfast (a few energy pills washed down with an energy shake) taking care to shout “GET UP, YOU LAZY BUM!” at her brother Nigel’s bedroom door as she passed. As she slurped down her breakfast, she and her parents watched the news on the wall screen.
“This message is brought to you by Jon K. Feld,” it boomed, showing the face of a middle–aged man whose features were unusually average. “Hello,” he said evenly. “I am your president, Jon K. Feld.” Here he paused so that Stanley and her parents could applaud dutifully. “On behalf of the American States and Nations Confederation, I would like to tell you that we continue to thrive. Last week, we successfully annexed Romania, Thailand, and Botswana.”
“Where’s Botswana?” Stanley whispered.
“No clue,” replied her mother.
“They have joined the 93 other states and nations already part of ASANC. Meanwhile, several radical protesters were arrested in Washington, DC yesterday. They were demanding the reuse of the old Constitution of the former United States of America, claiming that the old Constitution described a better form of government,” he continued, staring directly into the camera. “This, however, is not true. There is no form of government more efficient than Feldism, and you, as citizens of ASANC, can testify to that. Have a pleasant day, and remember, ASANC is a sanctuary.”
And with that, Mr. Kemper switched off the wall screen. “Stanley, go wake up Nigel,” he instructed. “He’s five minutes behind schedule.” He tried, unsuccessfully, to keep the panic from his voice.
Stanley nodded. According to schedule, she still had seven minutes before she had to begin her schoolwork, while her parents only had four before they had to work. It made more sense for her to wake Nigel, but that didn’t mean she wanted to.
Her brother was fourteen, a year older than her, and chronically weird. He could go straight from euphoric to miserable to livid in just a few seconds, while nobody else she knew had much of a temper at all. He was the only person she knew who had ever expressed any doubts that Jon K. Feld was the best president ever, and he never even set much stock in his government–issued life schedules. Secretly, Stanley feared that her brother would one day be arrested for Disruption of Standardization or Ineptitude at Conformity, or another one of those charges. But Nigel seemed far from caring about things like that—he didn’t mind in the least telling people how very intelligent he was, and he never hid his natural gifts like everyone else did. In fact, he had a habit of rubbing such things in other peoples’ faces, which meant that he was not very popular, even with the laws of Perpetual Inclusion.
Stanley knocked twice on the door to Nigel’s room, which bore a scrolling screen that read, “NIGEL KEMPER’S ROOM. NOT YOURS. GET OVER IT.” Evidently, her brother was in a less than cheerful mood, which did not bode well. “Nigel,” she called. “You’re six minutes behind schedule. You’d better come down and eat breakfast before you get a warning.”
“And I’m warning you,” came a tired voice that apparently was being muffled by a pillow. “Don’t bother me.”
“What a nutcase,” thought Stanley, ignoring the sign on the door and turning the doorknob. Her brother may have been much taller than her, but that wouldn’t keep her from dragging him out of bed. But Nigel was not in bed, something that she noticed immediately after entering his room. He was fully dressed and kneeling on the floor, tinkering with a strange machine sitting in front of him. Stanley couldn’t think what the machine could possibly do, but she did know that whatever it was, it was probably Nigel’s own invention, and almost definitely not government approved. It was large and gleaming white, and consisted of a cube perched atop of several spider–like legs. A blue light flashed menacingly from the side of the cube, and a faint and ominous beeping sounded every time it did so.
“What,” demanded Stanley, “is that thing?”
Nigel glared at her. “None of your business, that’s what. And what are you doing in my room anyway? I distinctly remember suggesting that you scram.”
“You know how upset Mom and Dad will get if the government sends you another warning,” admonished Stanley. “Now come on, if you don’t hurry, I’ll be behind schedule too, and we’ll all get in trouble.”
Her brother rolled his eyes annoyingly, and at that moment, an extremely unusual thing happened. Suddenly, a bright blue beam of light shot out from the side of the invention. It hit Stanley full in the face, sending her reeling backward. But when she hit the ground, it wasn’t the same ground. Everything had changed.
Chapter Three: Ariel
The first thing that I saw when my eyes flew open was a hand. Now, a hand is not a particularly unusual sight to see, unless it’s disembodied or something, but a human hand was one of the last things I’d expected to see. You see, it wasn’t my own hand. And the last time I’d checked, I’d been alone at Gregg’s house.
“Stanley? Hello?” came a voice from above me. It was low and flat, with just a slight accent of some sort. I didn’t know anyone whose voice sounded like that.
I sat up. “Who’s Stanley?” I demanded. “And who on earth are you?”
Now that I was sitting up, I could see the boy who owned both the hand and the voice. (Apparently, neither was disembodied.) “Stanley is you,” he said slowly. “And I’m me.”
Well that certainly cleared things up… not. I was beginning to wonder whether his brain was disembodied. The only Stanley I knew was my school janitor, and I could never be mistaken for him. I squinted, and the boy squinted back. He was tall—he looked about a year older than me—and he had shrewd dark eyes under thin, equally dark eyebrows. His hair was very dark as well, and was tied back in a short ponytail, which was a little bit weird. I’ve seen plenty of boys my age with shaggy hair, but none with an honest–to–goodness ponytail. His clothes weren’t exactly typical either—a tight–fitting white shirt with a stiff black jacket and tight–fitting black pants. He looked like a member of a garage rock band, or possibly another planet. I had no earthly (or otherwordly, for that matter) idea of who he was, but he was definitely not Gregg.
And I realized with growing disbelief that this wasn’t Greg’s room, either. “Where am I?!” I asked, not in the calm, collected way that I like to tell my friends I used, but in the shrill, panicked voice of a little girl.
The boy looked alarmed. “Stanley, are you okay? Does your head feel all right?” There was something unusual about the way he spoke, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Whoever Stanley is, I’m not him,” I snapped. “And this is too weird for words. Last time I checked, I was in Gregg’s room!”
“Who’s Gregg?” the boy said flatly. “Look, this is really funny and all, but stop acting like that. It’s scary.”
That was when I noticed how very strange the room around me was. One wall was devoted to a giant poster–thin screen that couldn’t be anything but a gargantuan TV. Bookcases lined the room, but there was not a single book to be seen—the cases were stacked high with CDs. Everything was sparkling white and spotless, and there was no closet, just a single, folded outfit on his bed. But the strangest thing about this immaculate room was the device sitting next to me on the floor. It was the exact same crazy thing that had shot the beam of blue light at me… but nothing else was the same as Gregg’s junk heap of a bedroom. My jaw dropped to my chest.
The boy was studying me very closely with his dark, cunning eyes. It was like I was a forged painting being examined for mistakes, and I didn’t like it. “You’re not Stanley,” he remarked at last, his voice surprisingly calm. I don’t know who looked more surprised or confused, him or me.
“Uh, yeah, I think I already told you that…” I began.
“You look just like my sister, though,” the boy continued, his eyebrows furrowed. “Except… you have freckles, and braces on your teeth, and you’ve got a funny accent.”
Now I was just plain bewildered. Ignoring the fact that he was in fact the one with the funny accent, I asked, “Stanley’s a girl?”
“Yeah.” He pushed a few buttons on the wall screen, and voila! A photo appeared—a photo of a girl who looked almost exactly like me. She had the same long light–brown hair, pale blue eyes, fair skin, and pointed face. She looked about the same height as me, and smiled in the same way, though her teeth were enviably straight.
“What kind of a name is Stanley?” was all I managed to choke out.
The boy stared at me again. “Um, a pretty normal name. This is 2056, remember?”
My eyes resembled saucers right about here. “Wait, say that again, because it almost sounded like you were saying it was 2056, not 2006.” I demanded in a quivering voice. I couldn’t have heard that right—everyone knows that time travel is impossible.
“What are you talking about?” laughed the boy.
This was the part where all reason dropped out of the situation. I was in a strange place with a strange boy, I was being mistaken for another girl, and now I was being told that I was fifty years in the future? I decided right then and there that this was all a dream, and that nothing should surprise me anymore, because none of it was really happening. It would be just like that strange recurring nightmare I used to have, the one that involved Gregg attacking our lunch lady with a cheese grater—just another nonsensical dream.
So you’re saying you came here from 2006?“ the boy said slowly. ”What happened? Who are you, anyway?”
“I’m… I’m Ariel Storch,” I stammered. “Well, the last thing that happened was, I was alone at my friend Gregg’s house, and I walked into his room. And there was this, this thing in there, it was a white box on top of these weird mechanical legs, and when I bent down next to it, a blue light shot out of it and hit me. And next thing I knew, you were waving your big ugly hand in my face.
The boy ignored the comment about his hand being ugly. ”A white cube on legs? Like this?“ He picked up the invention that I had recognized as being the same as Gregg’s. ”Because what happened to me was, Stanley came into my room to tell me it was time for breakfast—like I needed to be told—and a blue beam from my invention accidentally hit her, and she fell on the ground. And I guess you… you switched places with her!” His eyes looked like they were in danger of parting company with their sockets. “My sister’s in 2006!”
“No, she isn’t. This is all a dream,” I told him comfortingly and mildly insanely. “And you don’t exist either, whoever you are.”
“I am Nigel Thaddeus Kemper for your information, I am as real as you are, and you’re behaving like an idiot,” he informed me. “Look, this is really, really rush! Think about it! I’ve invented a time machine!” His eyes began to gleam in the same rather scary, maniacal way that Gregg’s sometimes did.
I didn’t ask what ‘rush’ meant—and frankly, I didn’t care. “What, are there no time machines in 2056?” I asked sarcastically.
The boy, Nigel, shook his head emphatically. “No, there aren’t!” he exclaimed, very excited now, though his voice remained low and flat. “My invention was supposed to change the age of things. Like, you could put a rotten banana under it, and the machine could turn it yellow again by setting back the time. Or you could take a green banana, turn the time to the future, and the banana would be ripe! But I must have made some mistake. This is so, so rush! I know that popsicles and white–out were invented by accident, but that’s nothing compared to this!”
Nigel, continued in this vein for a bit, apparently not at all worried about his guest from the past (moi), or his poor little sister, Stanley, stuck in 2006. (Not that this was really happening, I reminded myself.) He only had eyes for his stupid invention, and he kept repeating, “This is so rush!” incessantly. It would have felt really great if I had smacked him across the face just then..
But I didn’t get the chance to, because a woman’s voice called in a slightly panicked voice, “Nigel! Stanley! Come downstairs right now!” During this, Nigel mimed the words with exaggerated hand movements and pulled crazy faces. Let me reiterate here how very glad I am that I’m an only child.
When the woman, who I guessed was Nigel’s mother, was through speaking, Nigel quickly threw me a tight–fitting white shirt, a stiff blue jacket, and tight–fitting blue pants. “Here, put these on,” he hissed. “What? These? Here? Why?” I asked so very eloquently.
“Well, not in front of me, of course, I’ll start heading downstairs. I’ll just tell Mom and Dad that you and I were arguing, that’s why we took so long—that couldn’t be too unusual, especially since she thinks you’re Stanley,” he suggested.
I couldn’t argue with that, so I put on the clothes (they were not comfortable) and headed downstairs. Everything was so sparklingly clean that it made my eyes hurt—Gregg’s parents would have loved it—and I was afraid to touch the banister, for fear of besmirching it with my fingerprints. Sitting at a tale were a man, a woman, and Nigel, the former two looking irritated and more than a little worried. The woman had the same fair skin and light brown hair that I did, while the man was darker, like Nigel.
“Stanley, I apologize for making you fall behind schedule,” recited Nigel in an insincere, sing–song voice. “There. I said I was sorry. Can I go now? ”
Mr. Kemper looked at him sternly. “You missed seeing Feld’s daily update this morning, Nigel. And you’re over ten minutes behind schedule on your schoolwork. This had better not happen again.” He had the same slightly strange accent that his son did.
“Okay, Dad, I’ve got the point. Well, according to my scheeeeeedule,” (Here Nigel drew out the word in a deep, pompous voice), “Stan and I should be doing schoolwork. So, we’ll catch you later, goodbye.” He turned and headed for the door. I was amazed by how different he seemed around his parents, sullen and laconic, not at all the enthusiastic, rambling boy who had ranted on and on about his invention.
Mrs. Kemper looked at me. “Stanley, sweetie, are you all right? You’re very quiet,” she commented.
“I’m fine. Just a little tired,” I replied, trying not to move my mouth, thus showing off my un–futuristic braces in all their glory. And with that, I followed Nigel out of the room and back upstairs.This was definitely the weirdest thing that had ever happened to me. Not that it was really happening.
Chapter 4: Stanley
“Nigel, what in the name of Feld was that?” demanded Stanley, dragging herself up off of the floor. “Your really could have hurt m—” the words died in her mouth when she noticed her surroundings. This room couldn’t possibly belong to Nigel—anyone with a room like the one she was in would have definitely gotten in trouble with the government for Disruption of Standardization and Possession of Non–Government Approved Items. The place was squalid. Stanley thought she saw a glimpse of green carpet in one corner beneath all of the mess, but on closer inspection, it turned out to be only mold. The beige–ish walls were plastered with low–resolution pictures that looked like they’d been taken with fifty–year–old equipment. Stanley didn’t recognize anyone in these pictures, but one of them, captioned “Darth Vader,” gave her a particularly strong case of the creeps. Bookcases all over the room were full to bursting with books, like something from a museum. Where was she? She recalled the last thing that had happened before she found herself here—she had walked into Nigel’s room, and an electric blue beam from his stupid machine had hit her… and now she was in a totally different room…
Next to the Darth Vader poster, there was a calendar, showing a picture of a man with rather pointy ears and a long sheet of blond hair. He was dressed in a tunic and drawing a bow. “Legolas,” the picture was captioned. But it wasn’t Legolas’s picture that captured her attention—it was the writing underneath it. It read, “JUNE, 2006.”
June 2006?! Stanley shook her head in disbelief. She was seeing things, she had somehow mistaken the “5” in “2056” for a “0.” There was no way she could really be in 2006… oh no… “Nigel,” she said aloud, in a low, dangerous voice. She wouldn’t put it past her crazy brother to have built a bona fide time machine—that was probably what the white box she had seen was. Well, if this was how most bedrooms in 2006 looked, she was glad that she was born 50 years later. Stanley had always been a levelheaded person, not prone to panic or moodiness. This was a very good thing, because if she had not been that kind of a person, she would surely have freaked out. Instead, she did something fairly logical—she decided to look around for someone who could give her advice. As soon as she departed from the filthy room, she noticed a sudden change in décor. The hallway, the staircase, the entire rest of the house was much neater than the room she had been in, only a little bit less spotless than her own home. This house was also totally devoid of other human beings. The only thing that looked recent was the blue and silver tennis shoes—really old–fashioned footwear—lying next to the staircase. They looked as though somebody had entered the house, kicked off her shoes, and disappeared altogether, an idea that Stanley found rather disconcerting.
She was just running out of logical ideas when there was a knock at the door. The first human being she’d seen since landing in 2006 (Legolas and Darth Vader didn’t count) was standing on the front porch—a rather tired–looking, short–haired woman in a formal grey suit. Stanley opened the door, deciding not to say anything unless she absolutely had to—she didn’t know much about 2006, but if the government was anything like that of 2056, she could be arrested just for behaving out–of–the ordinary.
“Ariel, there you are,” sighed the grey–suited woman.
“Okay, so I’ve been mistaken for someone named Ariel,” thought Stanley, keeping her face blank.
“Gregg is on the phone again, sweetie. He told me that he had sent you down to his house, and that he needed to talk to you,” explained the grey–suited woman. (Stanley guessed that she was Ariel’s mother, whoever Ariel was.)
Stanley simply nodded and followed the grey–suited woman down the sidewalk, listening to her mutter, “I know that you and Gregg are best friends, but two collect long–distance phone calls in one day? It’s ridiculous!” and “I certainly hope he hasn’t hung up. I left him on the phone when I ran over to pick you up.” Stanley was baffled, but she was also an excellent actress. She followed the grey–suited woman, saying nothing but thinking very much. The street on which she was now walking looked familiar to her, and she thought she knew where she had seen it before. Although the houses were painted differently, the gardens and yards were different, and the cars were all old–fashioned, this had to be the same street on which she lived.
“…which is why the report I was giving at the office fell through,” rambled the grey–suited woman. Stanley wasn’t really listening, though small snatches of what the woman was saying remained lodged in her head while the rest slipped through her brain. “So!” the grey–suited woman turned to look at Stanley and blinked. “What are you wearing?” she asked, confused.
“Uh… clothes?” replied Stanley, then mentally kicked herself for being disrespectful toward an adult. She could get a government warning for that. Composing herself, she lied, “Oh, well, um, Gregg left it for me at his house. He thought I’d like it. It’s, uh, not really my style, though.” She wondered what could possibly be strange about her attire. Everyone dressed the way she did—this lady’s old–fashioned grey suit was the oddity.
After a short walk, the grey–suited woman unlocked the door to a house and shepherded Stanley inside. This house was, again, shockingly cluttered and disorganized. Scraps of paper—real, genuine dead trees, if you could believe it—littered tabletops and overflowed dustbins everywhere. It was nowhere near as messy as the disgusting bedroom that Stanley had been in earlier, but, then, so was the average pigsty. She gaped—didn’t these people know that the government could catch them for keeping an untidy house? Using dead trees alone was guaranteed to get the perpetrator sent to a Miscreants’ Colony.
“Well, what are you staring at? You’ve seen a telephone before!” laughed the grey–suited lady, handing Stanley an old–fashioned telephone. “You’d think you’d be used to them by now, seeing as how you spend half your life on the phone!”
“Hello?” she spoke into the phone.
“Hi, Ariel!” replied a boy’s awkward, still–changing voice. “Took you long enough to get on the line!” Just when Stanley was about to apologize, the boy—presumably Gregg, whoever he was—interrupted, “So, did you mail me my Dungeons and Dragons book?“
“Um, no…” began Stanley. “But…”
“Good,” said Gregg. ”I won’t be needing it—I’ve just been expelled from Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp.”
“Yeah,” Gregg continued, sounding rather proud of himself. He must have interpreted Stanley’s confused ‘What?!’ to mean that she was amazed at his audacious deeds. Actually, she just didn’t know what Lord of the Rings was. “See, what happened was, remember that Dark Lord kid I told you about?”
“Yes,” prompted Stanley cluelessly—who in the ASANC was the Dark Lord?
“Well, I sort of joined his forces of resistance… actually, I was his forces of resistance, nobody else would join, but that’s beside the point, and this is a run–on sentence. Anyway, at dinner, we sort of, like, jumped on top of the table wearing masks, and we tried to take over the camp.”
“And how did you do that?” asked Stanley, genuinely interested now, but still totally confused.
“Uh, we sort of tied the counselors to their chairs with duct tape. And then, we threatened to force feed them the camp’s creamed spinach—I swear, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, and I actually like spinach—if they didn’t let us take over immediately. It, um, didn’t work too well.”
Stanley was shocked. And this Gregg kid only got expelled from camp? He was lucky to have not gotten sent to a colony! “You duct taped and threatened counselors at your camp?!” she exclaimed.
“Uh… a bit, yes…” Gregg muttered sheepishly.
Stanley couldn’t help but smile. There was actually someone in the history of the world who was even weirder than Nigel! “So now what are you going to do?” she asked.
“Well, wanna give me a ride home?” He suggested cheerfully. “I mean, my parents are still on a second honeymoon… or, like, fourth, really… and I don’t have anywhere to go. Soooo, can I stay with you?”
“Oh dear,” thought Stanley. First the annoying grey–suited lady, now this insane kid. How would she survive in 2006?
Chapter Five: Ariel
When last we left our hero (that’s me, by the way), I was about to tackle Stanley’s schoolwork. “So, when are we going to school?” I asked.
Nigel rolled his eyes patronizingly. “Don’t be stupid. We aren’t going anywhere.” And with that, he plopped down on the floor of his immaculate bedroom and switched on the wall screen. After he pushed a few buttons on a hand–held object that looked suspiciously like a TV remote, a window opened. “Welcome, Nigel Kemper,” read a line of bright blue letters that flashed across the screen. “It’s time for English class.” Suddenly, the screen filled with words. When I looked closer at it, I saw that it was the first chapter of the book Jane Eyre.
“So you do all of your classes on that screen? What else do you use it for?” I asked.
Nigel tossed his ponytail over his shoulder in a haughty sort of way. “You can use a wall screen for almost anything,” he replied, as though he was explaining to a very slow kindergartener that brown cows don’t make chocolate milk. “That’s why we have one in every room. It’s like a combination computer, television, telephone, and pizza oven.”
I gasped. “Pizza oven? You’ve got to be kidding!”
“You’re right, I am,” Nigel grinned. “No, actually, the government banned solid food eight years ago. Now we can only have these disgusting vitamin pills and energy drinks.”
I squinted at him to make sure that he wasn’t kidding again. He looked honest, so I decided to press on. “But why?”
He shrugged and scrolled down on the wall screen. rIt’s part of standardization. That Feld idiot wants everything to be the same—he says that if everything’s exactly alike, we’ll have world peace, which, by the way, is garbage. But that’s not the point. The point is, that’s why every single minute of our lives are scheduled—and the pills and drinks have the exact number of calories we need for the day. It’s very efficient. It’s also very stupid, which is why I don’t really care about the laws. There are too many to keep track of, anyway.”
I stared at him, just taking in what he had said. This was only fifty years in the future! How could life have changed so much? What was the point of living if your whole life was scheduled? “What happens if you break the laws, then?” I asked. “Do you get, like, sent to jail, or whatever?”
“No, you don’t get‘like, sent to jail or whatever,’” replied Nigel with a twisted smile. “Oh, no, they just put you in a Miscreants’ Colony.” His voice was positively fraught with irony.
“A Miscreants’ Colony? What’s that?” I asked. I wanted to find out as much as possible about life in 2056.
“What is it? Basically, jail,” he said flatly. “Yeah, Feld doesn’t want people who don’t fit in to spoil his perfect little society, so he sticks them together to live in colonies. The lawbreakers get shipped off to colonies, and the slow people, or people who are ugly or unusual–looking, or different from other people. Feld says that colonies are good because they make everyone feel like they belong—but you know that’s not why he had them. He just wants to get the weirdos out of his sight. There, done with that!“ Nigel had just finished reading the first chapter of Jane Eyre in a ludicrously short amount of time, and he clicked another button.
”Nigel,“ I gasped. “Nigel, those… those colonies… those are like concentration camps!”
“What are those?” he asked, confused.
This was a nasty surprise. For someone so intelligent, this was a big oversight to make. “You know, like Hitler?” I prompted. Nigel’s eyes remained blank. “Haven’t you studied history?” I exclaimed.
Nigel rolled his eyes. “Uh, no. Only the history of ASANC, which is, like, twenty years. According to Feld, we don’t need to learn about the mistakes they made in the past, but really, he’s just trying to keep us ignorant enough for us not to notice that he’s totally corrupt. He’s done a good job, too—I don’t know anyone else who doesn’t think that he’s practically God. And now, Ariel, you’d better go into Stanley’s room and do her schoolwork, or you’ll get a government warning.”
I raised an eyebrow. What a hypocrite he was! One minute, he was lecturing me on the evils of scheduling and government corruption, the next, he was warning me to take care not to break the laws. Why can’t I break the laws if you do it so much?“ I demanded.. ”
Nigel smirked at me. “Because I’m going to work for the government in a few years.” I gagged on the air. I couldn’t imagine anyone less likely to work for the government than Nigel, who hated all things Feld. “Why do you want to do that?” I choked. It seemed that I couldn’t go five seconds without being totally shocked.
“I don’t want to work for the government,” he said calmly. “But I’m still going to anyway. I mean, it’s not as though I have a choice—I’m a genius, so the government is obviously going to come recruiting. And besides, Feld isn’t immortal. If I’m a good obsequious little toady, I’ll eventually end up in charge of ASANC, and then I’ll be able to make some changes.”
“That’s totally unfair!” I exclaimed.
“That’s government,” he corrected me.
I had never really been one to talk politics. Before they got divorced, my parents used to argue over current events, and a lot of my friends were really into that sort of thing, but I’d never been passionate about civics or history, and I thought they were just a waste of time. The same went for Gregg—I mean, he probably thinks that the president of the United States is Yoda or something weird like that. But, listening to Nigel talk, I suddenly felt like I was taking our government for granted. Even though this was only a dream (it had to be a dream) things really could end up like that fifty years in the future. “Well, I’m not going to do any schoolwork right now. It’s summer vacation, for crying out loud!” I stated.
“Summer vacation? You must be kidding!” Nigel snorted. “‘ASANC is like a factory,’” he recited in his best Jon K. Feld voice. “Each part of it does its job as efficiently as possible. And remember, ASANC is a sanctuary!”
He’s crazy!“ I said. ”Feld, I mean.
“Yeah, terrific deduction. Good student. You get a biscuit,” Nigel drawled in a bored tone. “Now, just tell the rest of the world. If you think Feld’s crazy now, you should have seen his speech last week. He really got into it—by the end, he was waving his arms around spastically, shouting, ‘I AM ASANC!’”
“Wow,” was all I could say.
“Yeah, wow,” confirmed Nigel. “Yeah, he is ASANC, if ASANC stands for Avaricious, Sadistic, And Narcissistic Cretin.” He laughed dryly.
“You know, I didn’t know half those words,” I told him casually. I had actually found a person who was a bigger nerd than Gregg, though in a much different way. Unbelievable.
Suddenly, Nigel’s head jerked sharply upward, and his eyes focused on the time, which was displayed on the upper right corner of the wall.
“8:27, June 23rd, 2056th,” he murmured, his lips barely moving. “Oh no, I forgot all about Feld Day!”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You come with an endless arsenal of questions, don’t you?” muttered Nigel. I’d never met anyone who talked the way he did—like a character out of a book, with that peculiar accent of his. “Anyway, Feld Day is a really big event over here. Each state or nation in ASANC has its own Feld Day during June—Feld actually travels around to all of the states or nations. We all have to run outside, and stand on the streets, and wave at him as he goes by. Then, later in the day, he makes a big speech and unveils some new plan he’s been formulating.”
“Sounds cool,” I said sarcastically.
“Stop saying ‘cool!’” Nigel groaned. “Nobody’s said that for about forty years.”
I rolled my eyes. “Well, only losers say ‘rush,’ Anyway, that’s off–topic. What were you saying?”
“Basically, we have to get out there by 8:30,” Nigel told me. “And right now, it’s 8:28.”
We exchanged glances, then tore out of his spotless room, through the spotless halls, down the spotless hall, down the spotless staircase, out the spotless door, and onto a spotless street. And just in time, too—I saw a futuristic–looking car in the distance, moving silently toward us. (I guess they had some invention that allowed cars to move silently in the future.) It was a convertible, and sitting arrogantly in the passenger seat was a middle–aged man whose features were unusually average. As he drove by, the people standing near me went nuts—they screamed and waved and jumped up and down, but the whole time, they kept their hands in a sharp salute at their foreheads. I glanced sideways at Nigel. “Should I, uh, salute?” I whispered..
Nigel was about to answer when he looked up and went silent. He nudged me in the ribs, and I looked up, hoping I wouldn’t see what I feared I would. But I wasn’t that lucky. Staring directly at me with piercing eyes was none other than Jon K. Feld.
Chapter 6: Stanley
Stanley had always been pretty good at coming up with excuses, which came in handy. She managed to wriggle out of going to pick up Gregg from Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp by saying, “The guest room’s still pretty messy. I should clean it up so it’s ready for when Gregg comes over.” The grey–suited woman (whose name was Mrs. Storch) bought this excuse and drove off happily in her old–fashioned SUV, leaving Stanley behind.
She was now home alone in a 2006 dwelling, and free to explore. Although her history lessons only stretched back to 2036, she knew enough about the past to figure out that somebody would eventually notice that she was not Ariel if she wasn’t careful. It only made sense, then, for her to make a visit to this Ariel’s bedroom to see if she could find out anything about the girl she was impersonating.
Stanley headed toward the room, pausing every now and then to stare at some insane, outdated device. Toaster ovens? Radios? This place was hilariously old–fashioned. And so different from houses in 2056, she couldn’t believe that it was only fifty years in the past—her grandparents had been around fifty years ago, for the love of Feld! The bedroom she now entered was nothing at all like her own. The walls were electric blue and sparkly, and the floor was covered in thick, fluffy white carpet. There was a curtain of beads across the window, and a squishy blue beanbag chair in the corner. The unmade bed was topped with a fluffy white comforter and lots of fluffy blue pillows. And sitting at the foot of the bed was a stuffed animal—a mythological one that Stanley remembered was called a ‘white tiger.’ But, of course, tigers didn’t exist, everybody knew that. (Nigel sometimes said that they had once existed but had been killed off, but this was probably just another one of his crazy theories.)
Stanley flopped down on top of the bed. On the nightstand next to it was a framed picture of a boy and a girl riding an old–fashioned amusement device that Stanley vaguely remembered being called a ‘roller coaster.’ The boy was obviously screaming, and his face was an ominous shade of green, but it was the girl who really caught her attention. This could have been because the girl was, for some deranged reason, smiling while on this truly treacherous ride. Or it might have had something to do with the fact that the girl was the spitting image of Stanley. It was true—she had the same hair, the same eyes the same nose, the same shaped face, everything. “No wonder even Ariel’s own mother thought I was her,” thought Stanley. “This is really weird!”
After ogling the picture for some time, she spent the better part of an hour discovering such old–fashioned commodities as blenders and Gameboys, becoming more and more amazed at the things that these 2006’ers thought up. She also had quite an exciting (for her) encounter with 2006 clothes, selecting at last a pair of strange denim pants and a green shirt made of an unusual soft fabric. (It read, “I don’t suffer from insanity… I enjoy every minute of it!”)
Shortly after her little dress–ups game, Mrs. Kemper arrived home with the infamous Gregg, freshly kicked out of Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp. “Hi!” Gregg greeted Stanley. He held up his hand in a very strange gesture, so that his fingers were together, except for his third and fourth fingers, which were spread wide apart.
“Hi,” replied Stanley, not saluting him back, partly because she couldn’t figure out how to do it. Gregg was the same boy who had looked nauseous on the roller coaster—he was a few inches shorter than Stanley and thin, with spiky blond hair, big green eyes, and a turned–up nose. He would have looked like any other thirteen–year–old boy if it weren’t for the rather disconcerting black cloak that he wore over his t–shirt and jeans. “Uh, nice…cloak,” Stanley mumbled.
Gregg looked confused. “Are you okay? I’ve had this cloak since my tenth birthday! I wear it almost every day!”
“Oh, I thought it looked like a different one,” said Stanley, inventing wildly. “I mean, it’s probably just the light or something, but it, uh, looked like a different kind of cloth.” How many more stupid mistakes could she afford to make before somebody realized that she was from 2056? “Come on, I’ll help you carry your suitcases up to the guest bedroom,” she offered, changing the subject.
Gregg nodded, and rather unchivalrously handed her both of his suitcases, trotting up the stairs ahead of her. When he reached the guestroom (considerably earlier than the panting, suitcase–carrying Stanley), he collapsed onto the floor. “Well, that’s the last time I go to a Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp,” he exclaimed. “Yes, sir, I’ve learned my lesson. Next year, I’m going to Harry Potter Role–playing Camp instead!”
“Who’s Harry Potter?” asked Stanley, perplexed.
Gregg stared at her. “Who’s Harry Potter?” he repeated. “Who’s Harry Potter? Stanley, what’s wrong with you? You’re crazy about Harry Potter! You think he’s cute, remember? What, did you have a lobotomy or something while I was gone for all of two days?” He looked even closer at her. “Hmmm… I don’t know about that, but something is different… what is it, though?… Oh! You’ve gotten your braces off! I am soooo perceptive!”
Stanley breathed a sigh of relief. “Yes. Yes, I did get my braces taken off,” she lied. She desperately wanted to go home.
Chapter Seven: Ariel
If you remember, I was in a rather sticky situation when I last left off. To be specific, Jon K. Feld, dictator of ASANC, was staring right at me, and I didn’t think it was because my fly was undone. From there, things went from bad to worse.
“Those are the ones,” I heard a guard riding next to Feld whisper. This particular man, like everyone else in the vicinity, was wearing the same blue outfit that I was. His hair was very neat and cut just short of the tips of his ears, the same hairstyle favored by every male the eye could see. Standing next to the black–suited,untidy–ponytailed Nigel made me feel very conspicuous, and it didn’t help much that the presidential Batmobile… I mean, car… was heading right toward me. Particularly when it stopped right in front of me.
“You are Nigel Thaddeus and Stanley Elizabeth Kemper, are you not?” asked the guard. His accent was the same dialect as Nigel’s, but stronger.
“Yes,” Nigel and I responded in unison. I came this close ( ________ ) to accidentally giving my real name. And that’s pretty close.
“Both of you have been charged with Respect Issues. You failed to salute to President Feld, and engaged in a conversation that mocked authority and government,” he informed us stiffly.
“How did you know?” I gasped ever so intelligently.
The guard laughed. “Everyone knows about the security chips in the houses,” he jeered. “How dense are you? The chips automatically pick up anything disrespectful toward the government and broadcast it over to our office. It’s very handy, as you can see.” He pulled an instrument from his belt and pressed a few buttons. “There. Now a notification has been sent to your home. You can either accept your sentence, or appear in front of President Feld to plead your case in twenty–four hours.”
I was totally speechless. This was probably a good thing, because fact: I would probably say something really stupid, and fact: the guard had plenty more to say. He peered at Nigel and muttered. “Now, you wouldn’t happen to be that genius kid, would you?”
“That would be me,” replied Nigel calmly.
“Then you, as a future government employee, have impunity,” said the guard, “You’ll just receive a warning. But by the way, you’re wearing the wrong colour outfit, black was yesterday. And cut your hair.” And with that, he was off, as was the rest of the procession.
I sat down, alarmed, on the spot. “Nigel,” I whimpered. “What am I supposed to do?”
“That’s a very good question,” he responded in his typical expressionless voice. “Everyone gets a really lame choice. They can either be arrested and sent to a colony, or you can plead your case in front of Feld. I’d recommend the latter, but there’s one little difficulty—if Feld decides that you’re guilty, you get sent to a worse colony. Personally, I don’t want you to get sent away…”
“Wow, you have feelings?” I said bitterly.
“Occasionally. Anyway, best bet is to try to convince Feld that you’re innocent,” he finished up.
“Okay, Mr. Genius,” I sighed. “What’s your brilliant plan for this mix–up?”Nigel furrowed his dark eyebrows. “I don’t know, but I think I have an idea,” he told me slowly. “What we do is, we tell the truth.”
I looked at him incredulously. There was no sarcastic smirk on his lips, no facetious cock of the eyebrow. “That’s your amazing plan?” I asked..
“I wasn’t finished yet!” elaborated Nigel. “See, you’re from 2006, so you don’t know about the laws in 2056. If we prove that you’re not really Stanley, you’ll be off the hook, and so will Stanley when she comes home—I’ll just send you home with the time machine after the trial. Everybody wins.”
This plan had more holes in it than Gregg’s favourite pair of jeans, and they were more hole than cloth. I wondered where Nigel had gotten his reputation for brilliance. “Where did you get your reputation for brilliance?” I asked, disgusted.
“You really want to know?” he asked rhetorically, cracking his knuckles mildly repulsively. “Okay, well, it all started two years ago when I was twelve, and there was a computer virus attacking the entire government network system. Naturally, Feld was not too happy about this, and he offered to give a reward to anyone who could fix it. Well, all the best scientists and government flunkies tried, but nothing worked, so I came over there and fixed it in about two minutes flat.”
“No way. You fixed it?” I made sure.
“Yes, it was easy. Especially since I put the bug in the system in the first place,” laughed Nigel. He was officially the most confusing person on earth now.
“Um, okay. Why?” I asked.
Nigel rolled his eyes patronizingly. “It was for government recognition. I wanted the government to know what I was capable of, and so instead of sitting around and waiting for a virus I could fix, I created one. And it got me this great reputation with the government, which is really rush.”
He was not only the most confusing person on earth, but the most selfish as well. Didn’t he realize that some people might be affected by the entire government’s computer system crashing? Didn’t he have a moral problem with being involved in the government he loathed so much? Or did he not care, so long as he got recognition? I couldn’t imagine him ever doing anything that didn’t completely suit his tastes. “We’d better get inside,” Nigel instructed flatly. “Mom and Dad are going to want to lecture us.”
It turned out that Nigel was right about the lecture. Two hours after returning home, our brains were oozing with the information that Mr. and Mrs. Kemper were “very disappointed” with us, and shocked that we “could find fault with our government system,” and that they had “come to expect a lot more” from us, as well as many other gems. I don’t know what Nigel was thinking of during this tirade, but I can guess. And my guess was that he had been formulating a plan, because he was full of ideas when we were finally set free.
“Now, the best evidence to prove that you’re from the past is… yourself,” he explained, striding across to the wall screen. His dark eyes were sparkling, and he looked as enthusiastic as he had been when he realized that his invention was a time machine. “So what we do is… we get your future self to help plead your case!”
He let this dramatic announcement sink in before adding, “If you’re 13 in 2006, you’re going to be 63 in 2056, so you’re still going to be around unless something really went wrong. We just need to look up your name and find out where you live. Piece of energy pill.”
“Piece of energy pill?” was all I could say. My abilities in the art of sarcasm were really flourishing, now that I was in the presence of a master.
“Cake is illegal,” Nigel told me. “And now for… Operation Find Older Ariel On The Population List And Send Her A Note!”
“Catchy name,” I noted.
We pored through a list of the entire population of ASANC for what seemed like ages, but we couldn’t find the name “Ariel Storch” anywhere. There was a “Mariel Storch,” and an “Ariel Torch,” but as far as we could see, either I had dropped off the face of the earth or, to put things into Nigel’s own words, something had gone really wrong..
I looked over at the boy next to me, still concentrating intensely on the wall screen, its flickering blue light bathing his pale face in an eerie glow. “Uh… Nigel, do you think I’m dead?” I asked bluntly.
“You certainly sound alive to me,” he replied absentmindedly, scrolling down the list of resident names without taking his eyes off the screen.
“You know what I mean,” I prompted.
Now he turned to look at me, and his face was very serious. “I… can’t say,” he mumbled, not meeting my eyes. “It might just be a glitch… your name could have accidentally been left off the list.”
But he was on shaky ground, and we both knew it. “Oh, spectacular,” I spat. “I’m stuck in the future, I’ve been arrested, and now I learn that I’m dead as well? This has been a really cool day.”
“Don’t say ‘cool,’” snapped Nigel. “You sound like someone’s grandma…” his voice trailed off mysteriously, and his whole face lit up. “Grandma! That’s it!” he shouted, and raced out of the room behind him, dragging me along behind him. Now I was really bewildered.
Chapter 8: Still Ariel
You’re probably thinking that the story here is going to shift back to Stanley and Gregg, but if you think that, then you’re wrong. No, what Nigel and I were doing was much more interesting than Stanley’s activities at the time. (Namely, making me seem weirder and weirder to Gregg.) No, Nigel and I were on a mission. I just didn’t know what it was yet.
“Nigel,” I panted as he tore down the street. “Nigel, what on earth are we doing? Are we running away?”
Nigel laughed rather wildly and kept running. I had only known Nigel for a few hours, but I already knew this about him—when something excited him, he’d become manic and scary about it, and he would not, repeat, not give up. “What’s going on?” I repeated.
He pointed at a passing futuristic truck, running by silently. “We’re following that truck,” he told me rather impatiently. I looked at the truck, but I didn’t see anything special about it. It was large and gleaming white, and marked, “PROPERTY OF ASANC GOVERNMENT: COMESTIBLE DELIVERY.”
“Why are we following it?” I asked.
“So I can do this,” replied Nigel, and here he did something totally strange, something I never would have dreamed even he would do. He reached into his pocket and produced a thin straw and a sharp, gleaming needle. “Observe,” he said, inserting the needle into the straw and placing it between his lips.
I laughed out loud. The great Nigel Kemper, reduced to using a pea shooter? “So what’s that you were saying earlier about the greatness of modern technology?” I joked.
“Shut up,” he replied cleverly, and blew on his home–made pea shooter. PWING! His aim was spot–on—the needle flew through the air, hitting the tire of the car directly and puncturing it, “YES!” he crowed. “Perfect!”
I still couldn’t see what popping a tire of a delivery truck had to do with me not getting sent to a colony, but Nigel seemed to know what he was doing, because he hissed, “Great, that man will get out of the car any second now.”
This proved true. A man wearing the same blue outfit as everyone else (except for Nigel) got out of the truck, muttering to himself about things like, “the fifth new tire in less than two months,” and “tires don’t grow on trees.” While he was bending over to examine the damage done and replacing the punctured tire with a spare one, Nigel grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me over to behind the truck. “Get in,” he hissed.
I blinked. “Are you crazy?”
“Yes. Now get in!” He flung open the door, gave me an encouraging little push, and before I knew it, I was sprawled among the packets of energy pills in the back of a futuristic delivery truck. Definitely not normal. Of course, this was all just a dream, I reminded myself for possibly the squintillionth time. Nigel climbed in after me and slammed the door shut, just as the truck driver screwed on a replacement tire and started up the trunk again.
I felt it move soundlessly beneath me. “Uh, Nigel… what are we doing?” I asked, trying to sound reasonable. I had no earthly idea what we were doing.
“The regular food pills have already been delivered,” he answered simply. The trucks are heading toward the colonies now.
“Okay, but that doesn’t explain anything,” I said. “Why are we going to a colony?”
Nigel blew a few stray strands of hair out of his face. “My grandmother was arrested for protesting the change in the constitution ten years ago, and she’s been in a colony ever since. I have a feeling she can help us out,” was all he said.
Of course, trust him to find the weirdest possible way to pull off this plan. Even though futuristic cars could go faster than regular ones, I knew that our trip would still take quite some time, so I supposed I might as a well ask a question that had been bothering me for ages. “Hey, I’ve been wondering, how did you build that time machine in the first place?”
“Oh, funny story,” replied Nigel, settling back leisurely, his long limbs stretched out across the back of the truck. “See I was just sitting there in my room one day, and I realized that this floor board was loose. And underneath it was this old scrap of paper—we call them ‘dead trees’ in ASANC—that had the instructions written down on it. So I tried it out, and… here you are.” He shrugged.
This was a surprise. Now that I thought about it, the street on which Nigel lived looked very similar to Gregg’s… could his home possibly be the one Gregg had lived in in 2006? Were the plans under the floor board the same ones that Gregg had written? That would explain a lot. The idea was a little scary—the connection between my own best friend, and this boy fifty years in the future. I couldn’t help but wonder how it had happened.
“The time machine is so useful, though,” continued Nigel. “And I have a plan. I want to send myself back in time, to back before Feld, and try to change the past. It’s worth a try. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll just stay in the past—it’s got to beat 2056, that’s for sure.”
We discussed this, and other philosophical topics (i.e. “What’s the line between democracy and dictatorship?” “Can you change the past?” “Why don’t Apple Jacks taste like apples?”) before I felt an abrupt jolt.
“What was that?” I asked, alarmed.
“It means that the truck’s come to a stop,” replied Nigel. “Quick—sneak out, but don’t let them catch you!”
We slid quietly out of the back of the truck and surveyed the flat, barren landscape that was a Miscreants’ Colony. Like a concentration camp, it was surrounded by a fence, and the houses resembled barracks. But everyone looked clean and healthy, and they were dressed in the same blue uniform as everyone else.
There were guards, but somehow, nobody spotted us. I guess that even ASANC wasn’t totally efficient—2006 airport security was tighter than this, for Pete’s sake! “It’s house number 948400,” Nigel whispered. “Everyone goes by number in a colony—they lose their name when they arrive.” This really was a concentration camp.
Even if the guards didn’t notice, the inmates in the colony did. They stared out at us as we walked past, but nobody said anything. What lovely people they were!
Nigel rapped sharply on the door. “Hello, this is Nigel Kemper,” he called.
A slim woman opened the door. She was in her early sixties, but she looked younger—her short hair was brown (probably dyed, though it didn’t look fake), her skin was barely lined, and her blue eyes sparkled, despite the fact that she was stuck in a colony. “Nigel! Stanley!” she exclaimed, hugging us both. “I haven’t seen you in years and years! Why, Stanley! You were only three! And Nigel, you were only four!”
I stifled a laugh here—I couldn’t imagine a four year old Nigel. In my head, I visualized a four–year–old’s body with regular fourteen–year–old Nigel’s bony, intense–looking face stuck disproportionately on top.
“I’m guessing you snuck in illegally?” asked Nigel’s grandma. “So, something must really be wrong. What’s the matter?”
Nigel looked absolutely grave as he said, “Grandma, this isn’t Stanley. This is Ariel Storch.”
For some odd reason, hearing my name caused Nigel’s grandma to look as shocked as someone whose cow has just been abducted by aliens. She gasped, and clapped hands over her mouth. “I’m confused,” I said lamely.
Nigel laughed and slung a lanky arm across my shoulders. “Ariel, meet your future self!” he introduced, gesturing toward his grandmother.
Chapter Nine: Yep, Still Ariel
I was totally speechless. How was this possible? Why hadn’t Nigel told me before? The only thing I could say was, “I’m your GRANDMA?! Okay, that’s officially WRONG!”
Nigel smirked. “Your name wasn’t listed on the population list because you’d been married, and your last name changed,” he told me. “And then I remembered—my grandmother’s first name is also Ariel, she’s the right age, and it would explain why you look so much like Stanley.”
I couldn’t believe it. This was too weird for words—and Nigel was being so commonplace about it! Didn’t he realize how bizarre it was to meet your future self?
“People who have been sent to colonies can still present evidence when people appeal against a punishment,” he continued. “It’s one of the last almost–fair things left in our government. Anyway, Grandma, I was hoping that you could give us a hand.”
My future self, who was still staring at me, laughed. “I can see that I passed down my opinion of the government to you, even if it did skip a generation.” She ran a hand through her hair in thought. “You know, I actually remember going to the future when I was thirteen.”
“What happened?” I asked eagerly. Then an even more exciting thought came to mind. “Who do I marry? Nigel said that I was married— and what do I do for a living?”
“I can’t tell you that!” exclaimed my future self. “It’ll ruin everything if you already know what’s going to happen to you. Just make your own future, don’t worry about those things.”
These were wise words, and I knew it, but I was still curious. I changed the subject. “So… how are we going to get back?” I asked.
Nigel looked embarrassed. “I didn’t really think about that part,” he mumbled.
A few minutes later, we were back in the food packet truck, having jumped back inside just in time. We’d left my future self back at the colony—government officials would pick her up from her place of residence to take her to the appeal when the time came. There was no point in helping her escape—she’d probably just get arrested again
I was incredibly nervous, more so than I had ever been before. What if Nigel’s plan didn’t work, and I had to live in a colony. What if I never returned home to 2006? What if the hokey–pokey really was what it was “all about?” My thoughts got stranger and stranger as we rode on in the food packet truck. But I was in a state of shock—I was about to go on trial, I had just met my future self, and, of course, I was in 2056. Even for a dream, this was totally bizarre!I remained like this for the rest of the ride back. Even Nigel must have had a rare sensitive moment, because he didn’t try to press me with questions or attempt to break the silence. Maybe it was because he felt the same way that I did, but didn’t want to show it. In any case, all was silent until we arrived back in Nigel’s town, slipped out of the truck, and darted into Nigel’s house. If anyone had asked, we would have told them that we’d been home all along. But we never were asked—everything was so scheduled that no one had any doubt as to where we were.
Still convinced that this was all a dream anyway, I tossed and turned as I lay in Stanley’s hard, flat bed that night. I couldn’t get to sleep—I was far too nervous about the next day. When I finally did manage to close my eyes, my dreams were terrifying—legions of clocks on legs chased me around Gregg’s house, where, for some reason, my Civics teacher, Nigel, and several Oompa Loompas were dancing to the Beatles. But the worst part of the dream was the end, when Feld informed me that I was sentenced to spend the rest of my life in a colony for listening to the Beatles. I actually like the Beatles, but that’s not the point. I woke up in a cold sweat, which I thought only happened to people in books.
I have had some very strange dreams (like the one about the giant strawberry that possessed my mom), but never a dream within a dream before, and that was the most disconcerting part. What if being in the future was not a dream, but a reality? What if I really was in 2056? I was what–iffing again, as nervous as ever, and I still kept drifting in and out of slumber.
I awoke just on schedule the next morning, got ready for the day, and headed down the stairs to my pill–and–energy–drink breakfast. It was funny how such things could become a routine after only one day. Even Nigel had bothered to wake up on time—amazing! But today, Mr. and Mrs. Kemper weren’t angry at us. They were just very, very sad, which was somehow worse—it was like the time when I broke my mother’s favourite vase. I’d expected her to yell at me, but instead, she just cried.
Even Nigel did not look so confident anymore. His face was pale, and he wasn’t as talkative as usual. Apparently, we’d have government escorts to the hearing, and Mr. and Mrs. Kemper weren’t allowed to come. They weren’t too happy about this, but I was—I wasn’t so sure I wanted them to know that I wasn’t really their daughter.
Mrs. Kemper sobbed and hugged us when our escorts arrived, which I have a feeling was not on her schedule for the day, and whispered, “No matter what happens, I still love you.” She had never made a single comment about the fact that although I could be sent to a colony, Nigel didn’t have to worry about it—apparently, she didn’t ever question the government’s actions.
Nigel and I rode in a sinister–looking futuristic black car, sitting beside each other without saying a word. I just couldn’t think of anything to say—what could I? “Hey, Nigel, I heard a really good knock–knock joke the other day!” Or “So, how ‘bout this weather we’re having?”
Although we were both dressed in the regulation outfit (it was brown that day), we were as smartened up as possible. Even Nigel’s long hair was sleek and neatly combed. What with that, the long black car, and our grim mood, I felt like we were going to a funeral. Finally, Nigel said in a rather strangled–sounding voice, “I, uh, brought the time machine with me, just in case.” He gestured toward a bag that he had carried with him. “You never know when you’ll need one.”
“Yeah, just like a makeup compact,” I tried to joke.
“I wouldn’t know, personally,” he said gravely. He shifted in his seat. “So, if you’d never come in the time machine, I wouldn’t have to go through all this.”
“Hey, hey, show some respect for your elders!” I exclaimed, starting to feel a little less nervous by now.
“You? Elder? I’m fourteen, and you’re thirteen, in case you forgot,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but I’m your grandma!”
We continued in this vein—probably totally confusing our chauffeur—for some time, before pulling up in front of an imposing–looking building decorated with white columns. Just the sight of it took my breath away, along with my nerves, everything I’d thought to say, and (unfortunately) my deodorant. “So this is it,” mumbled Nigel.
“Yeah. This is it,” I replied.
We were led into a huge, gleaming white hall, and sat down in uncomfortable chairs on a raised pedestal. Sitting on a row of benches nearby were several important–looking men and women, as well as my future self, surrounded by guards. An ornate chair that looked suspiciously like a throne sat nearby.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Jon K. Feld!” proclaimed one of the important–looking women, and everyone rose to their feet. They did this in accord with the lump in my throat.
Chapter Ten: Oh My Gosh, When Will The Ariel Chapters End?
Feld strode into the room, accompanied by an entourage of guards. The whole time, he kept his piercing eyes fixed on Nigel and me as he settled down leisurely into his throne–like chair. As he did so, the same important–looking woman as before mounted the platform, and stood behind a podium. She had the same straight ear–length hair as all adults and boys (young girls, like yours truly, wore their hair long) in a dull reddish colour, and she had the same arrogant, power–seeking look in her eyes as Feld… and Nigel. A name plate in front of her read, ‘JUSTINE LAKE.’ “Stanley Elizabeth Kemper, will you please stand up?” she demanded in ringing tones. It took me about two seconds to remember that that was supposed to be me, and I did so, shakily. “Stanley Elizabeth Kemper is charged with Respect Issues for failing to salute the President and for slandering him and the government.” She turned to me. “Stanley Elizabeth Kemper, do you acknowledge this to be the truth?”
“Y–yes, I do,” I replied, not able to look away from Feld’s cold eyes. “But…I’m not Stanley Elizabeth Kemper.” The room went so silent, I think I heard a fish burp in Timbuktu. Feld actually stood up at this, and demanded in a flat but oddly powerful voice,
“What is the meaning of this nonsense?” His voice had a ringing tone to it that caused me to almost lose my nerve altogether.
“I… I…My name is Ariel Katharine Storch,” I said, my voice building in strength. “And I came here from 2006. I came here… by time machine.” There was more silence. I heard one person actually laugh dryly, then quickly stifle it. “That’s why I broke the laws—I didn’t know about them. I can prove it,” I continued. “I call Nigel Thaddeus Kemper to the stands.” I learned that one from watching too many courtroom dramas!
Nigel rose and joined me with his black bag. Unlike me, he no longer seemed nervous. His face was hard and set, and his eyes blazed defiantly. I could definitely see him acting in a courtroom drama. “This,” he announced dramatically, “Is a time machine.” He reached into his bag and produced the white cube on its spiderlike legs, as though he were Perseus pulling the head of the gorgon Medusa out of a sack.
“Really, this is absolutely ludicrous!” exclaimed Justine Lake, the important–looking woman. But Feld shook his head silently, and motioned for Nigel to continue.
“With this time machine, which I built, my younger sister Stanley and she switched places. Stanley is currently back in 2006,” he said, very seriously. And then, “I call Ariel Katharine Storch to the stands… the woman, not the thirteen–year–old.”
My future self was led by the guards to the podium, and Nigel took over playing the attorney. “You are Ariel Katharine Storch of the Withersburg Miscreants’ Colony, are you not?”
“Yes, I am,” responded my future self.
“You brought with you your birth certificate, did you not?” asked Nigel.
“Yes, I did.” My future self pulled a laminated sheet of paper from a case, and many people gasped—from what I heard, it was illegal to have paper in the future—apparently, it was against the law to kill trees. But she held this illegal piece of paper firmly in her hand, and gave it confidently to Feld himself.
“Now, Ariel—the thirteen–year–old, not the woman, who were your parents?” asked Nigel. He was good at this.
“Jan and Edward Storch,” I said, knowing exactly what was about to happen. And it did.
“That… that’s correct,” said Feld. There was something just slightly vulnerable about his voice just then, something less powerful than usual. He leaned forward, and the power returned to his voice and his face. “Did the accused come in contact with Ariel Katharine Storch before this hearing at all? She could have looked at the paper.”
Justine Lake shook her head. “No. No, not at all. According to our sources, Ariel Katharine Storch has been in a colony for the last ten years.”
Feld was at a total loss for words—this was actually much, much easier than I had thought it would be. “Oh, one more thing. Look at my teeth,” I said, moving closer to him. This was easier said than done. Feld had an almost palpable aura of power around him—it was like trying to stand next to someone wearing horrifyingly strong cologne.
I bared my teeth at him, feeling like a total fool. But as stupid as I felt, I knew that my braces were a clue that I wasn’t Stanley. “Braces,” muttered Feld in a hushed voice. “Those haven’t been manufactured for twenty–three years.”
The whole room was looking expectantly at him now, and Feld was looking unusually old and tired. “What is the verdict?” asked Justine Lake, really reminding me of a TV lawyer.
Feld’s posture was ramrod straight. “The girl…” he said slowly, not using my name (I think he was confused!), “Will go free, with only a warning issued.” Justine Lake opened her mouth to speak, but Feld raised a hand. “IF,” he continued. “Nigel Thaddeus Kemper leaves the so–called time machine to the government.”
“Mr. President, with all due respect, it’s nothing but a toy!” protested Justine Lake. I had a feeling that she was the next in line for the title of dictator, and she probably had about as much respect for Feld as Nigel did.
“Ms. Lake, you are familiar, I am sure, with Nigel Thaddeus Kemper,” replied Feld, coldly. “This is the boy who debugged the entire government network system at the age of twelve. He invented the speed–of–sound engine that we use for operating government transport vehicles at the age of thirteen. Only two months ago, he discovered a new element, Feldium. If anyone in ASANC can create a true time machine, it would be him. He has a future with the government.”
I stared at Nigel as though I was seeing him for the first time. He had told me about how he had fixed the computer, but not the other two—and here I thought he was the sort of boy who would brag about any and all of his accomplishments. And I had a feeling that this was by no means a complete list of everything he had done. But if I was re–judging his character here, it was nothing compared to how I felt after what he did next. “Sure,” he said casually. “Sure, here’s the time machine, Mr. President.” He made a mocking little bow toward him as he placed the gleaming white cube on top of the podium.
I gasped. “Nigel!” I hissed. “Nigel, what are you doing?! You know how dangerous the machine will be when Feld gets it!”
He smiled in a strange, twisted way. “Oh, I don’t see a problem there. It’s voice activated. He’ll never be able to use it, unless he miraculously turns into me overnight,” he whispered.
What a typical Nigel idea—make a machine that only he could use. “But… what about your dream?” I asked. “You really wanted to go back in time and change the past!”
He shrugged. “I really wanted to do that. But I really need to do this.”
“Do you know how corny that sounds? If this were a movie, cheesy music would be playing in the background,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll have to work on my profound statements,” he replied simply. “That’s a particular deficiency of mine.” And then, he raised his voice loud enough for Feld, who obviously felt that he had won, to hear. “I just have one request to make. I want to send Ariel back home—just use the time machine one more time before you can keep it forever.”
Feld lifted his head. “That can be granted. I believe we’d all like a demonstration of how this machine works.”
Nigel bowed in the same slightly mocking way as before, then moved forward toward the machine. He pressed some buttons on the side, then muttered something unintelligible to it in a low voice. Instantly, the machine sprung to life, kind of like my mom after drinking a cup of black coffee. The blue beam whirled, and its beeps and whoops echoed throughout the room. My feet suddenly felt like they were made of lead, but I stumbled over to the machine anyhow. Just before a beam hit me, my eyes found Nigel. “Hey,” I said. “I’m proud to call you my grandson.”
He looked back. “That sounded really, really wrong,” he replied.
I grinned. “See ya!” I called. “In fifty–odd years!” And just then was when the electric blue beam spun right toward me and hit me squarely in the face—and I knew that it wasn’t a dream.
I think cheesy music played.
Chapter Eleven: The End of the Story
When I landed on the disgusting floor of Gregg’s bedroom, I actually laughed with relief. Manically, in fact. “I’m home!” I screeched. “I’m home, I’m home, I’m home, I’M HOME!!!! Well, actually, I’m at Gregg’s house… but I’M BACK! AND I’M NOT DEAD! HAHAHAHAHA!” I was so glad to be back, glad to not be sent to a colony, glad that nobody else was in Gregg’s house at that time.
This was when I realized that I was lying flat on my back on the ground, and that I should probably head back over to my house—gosh knows what sort of deadly disease I could contract from being in Gregg’s room. But before I could go anywhere, I saw it lying on the floor before me—the Dungeons and Dragons book. But not only that—inside the front cover was a thick, folded sheet of paper.
A piece of paper was nothing unusual, but the words scrawled across the top were: “A DEVICE TO CHANGE THE AGE OF AN OBJECT.” In my mind, I heard Nigel’s low voice say, “ My invention was supposed to change the age of things. Like, you could put a rotten banana under it, and the machine could turn it yellow again by setting back the time. Or you could take a green banana, turn the time to the future, and the banana would be ripe! But I must have made some mistake… ”
I knew what I had to do. I pulled it out of the book, and searched around on the barely–visible floor for a loose floor board. Finally, I found one, under the computer desk, pulled it up, and gently placed the time machine plans beneath it. “Good luck, Nigel,” I whispered to myself. I felt almost as though I were burying a person in a freshly dug grave, only… not.
When I straightened up, I accidentally bonked my head on the underside of the computer desk, and the computer beeped. Of course, trust Gregg to leave his computer on when he left for camp! “You’ve got mail,” announced the computerized voice. Being typical, nosy me, I clicked on the box, and a new email popped up on the screen.“To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Message: Hey Gregg!
How’s life treating you after being kicked out of camp? I’m good. I devised a new plan for world domination, involving BANANA SLUGS! And POPSICLES! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA… heh… heh. I’ll explain later. Anyway, in case you want to email me anytime soon, my email address is email@example.com. I got yours off of your website.
Take over your world later,
The Dark Lord.
P.S. By the way, you never found out my real name—it’s Jonathan Kermit Feld.”
I just stared at the email, my mouth dropping like a python unhinging its jaw to swallow a pig. The Dark Lord—Gregg’s friend from camp! He was Jon K. Feld! He would grow up to be the dictator of ASANC! This was almost impossible to believe, and I couldn’t help but be amazed and horrified at this. Somehow, I just couldn’t imagine Feld being a geeky kid who attended Lord of the Rings Role–playing Camp… but then, Gregg always had the weirdest friends. Wait, what was I saying? I was Gregg’s friend!
I realized that I’d been in Gregg’s room for almost fifteen minutes now, and I really needed to go home so I ran out of Gregg’s room, down the hall, down the stairs, out the door, down the street, and into my house. Mom was sitting there at the table, typing something on her lap–top computer. “MOM!” I yelled as I flung open the door to the house. “MOM, I LOVE YOU!” I gave her a big hug.
Mom looked really surprised at this, which offended me somewhat. “What did I do?” she asked, bemused.
But I didn’t answer. I just dashed on up the stairs and into my room—I was suddenly full of energy. But I stopped short when I saw Gregg sitting there on the floor. “Huh? What are you doing here?” I asked. “I thought you were at camp?”
He squinted. “I got kicked out, remember? I think it was the creamed spinach that did it—I might have gotten away with the duct tape alone.” Well, thank you, that made absolutely no sense. “Anyway, what happened to you? You just, like, disappeared for about fifteen minutes, and now you’re back.” He squinted at me even more. “And you have braces! I thought your braces were off! And you were acting really strange! Was that like your evil twin or something?”
Oh man, I hadn’t counted on this happening. “Um… I think you’ve been reading too many sci–fi books, and then you had a dream. When I walked in, I think I woke you up,” I invented wildly. It was a lame story, but Gregg was pretty gullible.
“Oh!” he nodded slowly. “That makes sense!” He suddenly looked horrified. “You didn’t know who Harry Potter was,” he told me.
I laughed. “Definitely a dream, then,” I said. “Come on, let’s go outside and play basketball.”
“But I hate basketball!” he whined. “I have no hand–eye coordination skills, remember?”
I grinned evilly. “Precisely.”
So, my summer vacation turned out not to be so bad after all—definitely not as boring as I feared. Going to the future may not have been all fun, but I think it was really important for me to go, and I would definitely choose it over camp, or Disneyland, or Botswana. And, although Nigel had to give up his dream about going back in time to prevent Feld from becoming president, I realized that he didn’t really need to. It doesn’t take a time machine to change the future—even I could do that. And with some work and some help, I could try to change it myself—it was like my future self said. I could create my own future.
My summer vacation was not exactly normal, even after I came home. Of course, life never is when your best friend is Gregg Henson. And although I hid the time machine plans, I did not hide the time machine, so there’s always a chance of going back and seeing Nigel and Stanley. I plan on doing this sometime in the future, preferably before 2056.
Ariel, although your story was creative, I asked for an essay, not a fictional piece. Try to follow directions next time. ––