a Short Story by Chukwuka Osakwe
Kofi stepped out of his house and checked his watch. The two dials spun wildly for a few seconds trying to acclimatise to the new environment. When they stopped, he looked at the time, 7:41, 4 minutes until the bus was scheduled to arrive. When the bus arrived, he got on and took his usual seat next to the driver without talking to anyone. In the last year, he had not said much on the bus or at school or anywhere else for that matter. If all went well this would be his last day at the secondary school, in the town, and maybe, just maybe, on the earth itself.
While at school he went through the motions. 45 minutes of French followed by a 10-minute break and then 45 minutes of another drab class, and so it went. All the while, his mind was on his room and the plans he had made. While the teachers droned away at the front of the class, he ran through the plans repeatedly. Timing was crucial and he needed to make certain his calculations were accurate down to the nanosecond.
It was 2 pm. The school day now over, Kofi packed his things into his bag and headed towards the bus. As he walked down the corridor, he heard a loud sound and the entire school building rocked for a couple of seconds. In his shock he only got up to run when the shaking stopped and his ears no longer rang. Before going home, he ran to a building not far from school. The building was run-down and abandoned, standing next to a shed of moldy wood in a compound overgrown with weeds. Inside the shed, he turned on his phone’s flashlight and ran his hand across the wall until he found the loose plank, behind which had three levers. He pulled the first two down and moved the third up until he heard three clicks. He let go, stepped back, and closed his eyes.
When the spinning stopped, Kofi opened the door and entered out of a metal box into the basement of his house. Blood trickled out of his nose, and he had to take a couple minutes to steady himself.
He climbed up the stairs, two at a time, a tissue pressed against his nose, another sodden and red in his clenched fist at his side. His dog came bounding towards him, aggressive, expecting an intruder and turning to return to his position at the front door when he recognized him.
In the room, he was relieved to see his mother on the bed still breathing though very softly. Several tubes glowing a faint blue ran from her body to a central hub on the wall. He let out an anguished breath and went to her side, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. ‘’Just hold on a little longer, mom,’’ he bent down and whispered in her ear.
‘’Status report?’’ He asked as he straightened himself.
‘’She is stable,’’ came a voice from nowhere in particular.
‘’Did the quake have anything to do with us?’’ He walked to a keyboard on the wall and began typing furiously.
‘’I cannot be certain at this point,’’ said his AI, Candace. Affectionately named after the only girl who had ever been nice to him at school several years ago, Candice was not usually lacking for answers.
‘’You have been blocked out of their systems then?’’
‘’Yes,’’ came the reply Kofi dreaded. “They have found a way to eject me from the most crucial systems. I only have access to systems running noncritical things like lighting, and I will lose control of even those systems in no time.’’
He stopped typing and closed his eyes for a few seconds. This was exactly the situation he had worked hard to avoid.
In the silent minutes which followed, Kofi walked to the window and stared out at the sky. He let the thought of all he had done to get to this point play in front of him like a movie.
His mother’s diagnosis four years ago had sent him on a wild and desperate journey. Seeking a solution, he had devoured information, reading everything he could lay his hands on that seemed even remotely connected to his mother’s condition, but there seemed to be no cure. Humanity had cured practically everything, built cities underwater, and was in the process of ramping up the Mars colonization, but no cure had been found for his mother’s disorder. Being a disorder which affected an infinitesimal number of people, it had flown under the radar as science marched on in pursuit of much bigger, much more visible goals. As one scientist, whose lab he had broken into, had told him before handing him over to the police: ‘’There are bigger questions to answer.’’
He had felt despondent for a long time. Then one night, while looking up through his telescope, he had noticed something odd in the sky. Although they did not realize it yet, that something odd would turn out to be humanity’s first encounter with extraterrestrial life.
He had established contact with the ship’s inhabitants, the Harbingers, who were surveying the Earth on a stealth mission. In exchange for becoming their informant, they provided him with the technology to keep his mother’s condition from worsening. But still, he was not given a cure.
They had the cure, but they needed leverage to make sure Kofi kept up his end of the bargain. Their agreement was that, come the time of the invasion in 50 earth years from when they first met according to Kofi’s calculations, they would evacuate them both and finally give him the cure. It was a good deal and he accepted it. He did their dirty work, using technology that was more advanced as anything on earth, and he patiently ticked off the days until his mother would be well again.
Then he became impatient. Time passed differently for the Harbingers, so they had no idea what 50 years was like for him. He started poking around on his visits to their ship, started tinkering with the tech he was given for his missions, and building things he should not have built.
Two weeks ago, he commandeered one of the ship’s onboard AIs and used its know-how to build a quantum gate permitting him travel through both space and time simultaneously. His plan was to take his mother and jump back in time but to another galaxy that had sentient life far more advanced than humanity. Using the AI to access the ship’s maps and encyclopedia, he picked a planet and galaxy which possess diverse cultures, and so should not have much difficulty accepting him and his mother.
If he timed his jump well, there would be no traces and both him and his mom would be free, whole, safe, and most importantly, together again. However, he seemed to have miscalculated a bit. The AI was already losing access to the ship’s systems. Systems containing crucial information he needed to co-ordinate his jump. He also knew that the Harbingers had realized what had happened by now, and that they would soon come for him. He had no choice but to jump now and see where it would take him.
“Turn on the gate,” he said, without turning from the window.
Candace complied immediately, and a soft humming sound emitted from the laboratory next door while a bluish glow emanated from the room.
The humming sound intensified but Kofi did not turn away from the window. As he stared out at the evening sky, his thoughts were somewhere else faraway.
On a beach in Legon, a child runs about in ecstasy, waving both arms above his head and screaming. His mother calls out, “Kofi!”, a couple of times but he pays no attention. As she is about to get up and come for him, the man walking next to her pulls her back. “Let him be, Lauretta, he’s just a kid.”
“Maybe,” Lauretta says, ‘’but this one is so stubborn, so impatient. If we don’t stop him now, he might burn down the world someday,” her laughter echoing as if in an empty chamber.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a tear drops from Kofi’s eye.