Six months later Kalehia returned home, exhausted after a long day of at the lab, topped off by an evening staff meeting. It wasn’t the job that tired her, or the hours. It was the ongoing challenge of working next to Begay, day after day, week after week, while keeping her feelings in check. Straddling the shifting line between being professional and showing just enough personal affection so as not to be considered inappropriate left Kalehia feeling weary. Not to mention the strain of hiding her feelings from co-workers.
Kalehia suspected there were some feminists would consider her obsession with Tanisha as a kind of betrayal to the sisterhood. But she knew that no scientific breakthrough, however significant, would fill the hole in her heart that yearned for intimacy. In her brand of feminism, love was foundational, Kalehia told herself. If she couldn’t fall truly, madly and deeply in love with a woman who inspired her to reach for the highest of nā hōkū, her life achievements would be, well, somewhat lackluster, to say the least.
On the other hand, Begay was not in any position to respond to Kalehia’s affections, even if she noticed them. To do so would be considered a serious conflict of interest. The professor could be fired for such a transgression and Kalehia could be expelled. She would never put Begay in such a position. At least not until after defending her thesis and graduating at the end of the year.
Resigned to her predicament, Kalehia touched the keypad to her casita and stepped inside when the door slid open. The lights came on as expected. What she saw in her living room, however, was not expected. She gasped.
Hiko arose from her favorite chair and saluted her with a mug. On the side table was a tray complete with her teapot and another mug. “Relax. I’m not here to –“
“Get out!” She was surprised by her rage. She left the door ajar, pulled out her cell, tapped the mic and said, “Call 9-1-1. Report a break-in.”
Hiko looked disappointed.
“No signal,” the cell reported. “Unable to complete your call.”
That’s weird. Kalehia repeated the command with the same results. Hiko folded his arms and she noticed the sparkle of a glitter patch on his forearm. “Are you jamming me with that device in your arm?”
“Can we talk now?” Hiko shivered as a cold breeze wafted in through the open door.
Kalehia noticed he was more appropriately dressed for summer this time, with jandals, shorts and t-shirt. Except now it was winter. She glared at him.
“You’ve been working on this Scalar Propulsion thing for six months now and you still can’t entertain the possibility that I’m from the future?”
Kalehia considered this. It was a possibility. A wondrous one. “You have the technology to travel infinitely through spacetime and you can’t manage to knock on my door before entering?”
He chuckled. Suddenly she wasn’t afraid or angry anymore. Just curious. She shut the door. “So, I’m going to be famous.”
Hiko resettled into her chair. “That depends.”
Kalehia tossed her coat, poured herself some tea and sat opposite her visitor. Her grandson. “Enlighten me.”
Hiko warmed his hands on the mug. “It’s because of you, what you’ll do decades from now, that I can be here, my ship undetected in orbit, my presence unnoticed by any military institutions, space agencies or even amateur astronomers. Unfortunately, it’s equally because of you that the future, my present, is a disaster. We’ve sent a few time travelers back to try to prevent a terrible war that will leave all life on Earth on the verge of extinction. Your team, though well-intentioned, has the worst timing in the history of humanity.”
Kalehia was, of course, skeptical. “And you’re here to reset my clock?”
Hiko smiled. Weakly. “The development of the AVG — Axion Vortex Generator — was paradigm shifting. Revolutionized space exploration, made time travel a vacation experience, and attracted the attention of extraterrestrial races all over the galaxy.”
Kalehia’s face lit up. “Aliens, you say?” She’d always believed humans weren’t the only intelligent life in the universe. The kūpuna had said so. Although she no longer considered them viable sources of information, of course.
Hiko sighed. “There are all kinds of life out there. In infinite numbers and unimaginable diversity. And somehow, we managed to piss them all off.”
“Because of Begay’s work?”
“It was a factor.”
“If you’re about to suggest I scuttle the ScaDrive, don’t waste your time. Even if I could, there is more than one scientist, more than one team, working on this. The collective consciousness of the global scientific community has taken us to this historic moment. We can’t possibly be the only team in the world developing Scalar-based technologies. The Axion Vortex — whatever you call it– is going to be reality. Sooner or later.”
“Later would be better. For the human race.”
He thoughtfully sipped his tea, possibly wondering how much to tell her. “The development of the AVG coincides with the election of a narcissistic, warmongering, fascist SecGen.”
“Secretary General of AGE.”
She looked at him blankly.
“Allied Governments on Earth? Oh, right. Hasn’t happened yet. Sorry, I’m not a historian. I got this gig because we’re family.”
“Nice to know nepotism still exists in the … What century did you say you’re from?”
“Does it matter? You’re my great, great grandmother. You do the math.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you adopted?”
“Focus, old lady.”
“Watch it, kid! So, a fascist gets elected president of the world and …”
“Shortly after we make first contact with an extraterrestrial species. One representing an alliance of species. It’s a tense moment for humanity. The alliance had peaceful intentions initially, but you know how we humans are. Religious zealots, military jarheads, egotistical politicians … there was so much fearmongering. You think we have a problem with racism now, just wait till extraterrestrials join the mix.”
“Am I still alive through all this?”
“Just the start. You get assassinated by some nut job who blames you for opening a portal to the demon dimension.”
“Well, I’ll look out for that.”
“Don’t worry.” He waved dismissively. “You’ll have lived a full life by then.”
Kalehia was still not sure she believed his story. “As a time traveler, don’t you have rules about divulging the future and changing it?”
“The future needs to be changed. That’s the point of why I’m here.”
“Right. So, what do the aliens want?”
He shrugged. “To get to know us. Build relationships. Bask in our music and stories and works of art.”
Kalehia raised a cynical eyebrow.
“When you have the capacity to travel through space and time in the blink of an eye, all the resources of the cosmos become available to you. Stuff has no value anymore. Water. Gold. Name your treasure. You can access more of it than you could possibly use, even in a very long lifetime.”
“So, you become a consumer of culture?”
“As an avenue for spiritual development. Which moves to the top of your list of priorities.”
Kalehia’s eyes widened in amusement. “They think we’re key to spiritual development?”
“I know, right? But maybe there’s something to studying the flaws and mistakes of others.”
“So, they’re studying us?”
He nodded. “The way a tourist might interact with locals on a learning holiday. At least that’s how it was at first.”
“I’m guessing this fascist SecGen starts a star war.” She chuckled at her lame joke.
Hiko didn’t seem amused. “It’s amazing what damage can be done in a four-year term. The next SecGen tries to make peace but it’s too late. AGE shatters under the weight of various divisions between hawks and doves. Independent nations attack alliance ships while others sue for peace. The ETs can’t really get their brains around the nuances of various human factions, so they hit back. Hard.”
Kalehia considered this information and decided she was hungry. “Do you still eat popcorn in whatever century you come from?”
“Yeah. We have popcorn. No butter though. Everyone’s gone vegan.”
“The future really does suck.”
After discovering she was out of butter, Kalehia emptied a bag of tortilla chips into a bowl. “You ever think about assassinating the SecGen before he gets elected?”
“She……and it wouldn’t make any difference.” Hiko studied a chip like he’d never seen one before. “Takes more than one person to start a war. Or stop one, as it turns out. It’s humanity. We’re …” he searched for a word … “we’re frickin’ horrible.”
Kalehia laughed. “They still say ‘frickin’? I mean, aliens killed most of the human race and you don’t think it’s worth a curse word or two?”
Hiko put the chip back in the bowl. “My bosses wanted to kill you. And your team.”
Kalehia paused mid-chew to raise an eyebrow. “Doesn’t killing me make you die too?”
“Actually, it means I’d never be born. So, I’m against it. But they don’t need a bloodbath. Just a few years of delay.”
“Measures are being taken by my colleagues to ensure there are serious setbacks to any scientists working on scalar technology. If the AGV comes out just five years later the new SecGen will have a totally different approach to first contact.”
“Thought you said one person wouldn’t make a difference.”
“No but election results are a measure of the collective mindset. After four years of the fascist jerk, people will be ready to elect someone responsible.”
“So, you want me to stall my team’s progress? By five years?”
“We can help, if you like. Delayed supply shipments. Equipment failures. A lab fire here and there. Things can be arranged.”
Kalehia suddenly lost her appetite. “Why me? I mean, I know we’re related and all, but wouldn’t convincing Tanisha — I mean Dr. Begay — to postpone her project be more effective?”
“Begay is too…” he searched for a word. “…passionate.”
“I always hoped so.” On seeing Hiko’s raised eyebrow, Kalehia quickly added, “I mean about scalar energy. She’s really passionate about her work.” Kalehia gulped some tea, then asked, “What if I refuse?”
“To be honest, I don’t know. But I can guess. So can you.”
Yes, she could. His ‘colleagues’ could decide to kill Tanisha. Maybe her too.
Hiko rose, carried the tea set back into the kitchen.
“Is that all you got?” Kalehia demanded.
He shrugged. “You’ll either do it or you won’t. If things go well, you’ll never see me again. If they don’t go well …” he shrugged again.
“Okay then. It was nice knowing you. I guess”
“Good luck.” Hiko tapped his forearm and faded away like a ghost who’d decided to walk toward the light.
Some moments after his departure, Kalehia picked up the unfinished cup of tea Hiko had been drinking and the metaphorical scalar light bulb over her head winked on.