Detour to Deimos

It was another long shift at the observation station on Deimos, and Londria dealt a fresh hand of Solitaire on her laptop. "Why did I ever take this job?" she grumbled to herself. "I'm bored!"

The clock chimed, and she took yet another set of readings from the master terminal in the corner of the room. After a glance at the star-studded sky, she made a fresh batch of microwave caramel corn.

After she finished her game, Londria glanced at the master terminal. "What in the hell is that?!" she hissed when she saw the blinking red light on the screen.

She yanked the cabinet drawer open. "Where in the hell is the handbook?!" she screamed. "I don't remember the abort launch code sequence!!"

Just then, an emergency klaxon blared. Londria raced to the observation window. To her horror, the silver hairpin-shaped missiles were flashing as they left their silos.

"You are under arrest!" the station officer said, as he burst into the room. "Please come quietly!"

"You can't do this!" Londria shrieked. "It was not my fault!"

Two more uniformed crew members arrived. "Take her to the holding cell!" the officer ordered.

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Several days later, Londria was hauled in front of the tribunal. After she was sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, she faced her questioners. "Where was the code book?" one of the officers demanded. "Why did you not follow the proper procedure?"

"I, uh, couldn't find it," Londria stammered. "It must have fallen out the back of the computer stand!"

After several more questions, the presiding officer announced: "I pronounce the prisoner guilty as charged! Sentencing will take place at eleven AM Solar Standard Time tomorrow!"

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After a sleepless night, Londria faced the tribunal to hear of her fate. "In cases such as this," the presiding officer said, "the usual sentence is death by firing squad. However, because we were able to shoot all but two of the missiles out of the sky, and because the two missiles that did strike Earth were deflected so that they exploded in an unpopulated area of Greenland and over a remote part of the Atlantic Ocean, we can be a little less harsh."

Londria closed her eyes and held her breath.

"I sentence the prisoner," he continued, "To be transmogrified at six PM SST one week from today!"

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The next day, the counselor made her first visit. "I can notify your friends," the woman told Londria. "Since you have no close relatives, that makes things easier. That was one of the reasons why you were hired to work here."

Londria stared at the floor.

"When you're transmogrified," the counselor continued, "you won't retain any memories of your life here. You will assume a new identity and make a fresh start. We're going to send you to the late Twentieth Century. You'll be learning about the time and place during the next few hours, of course, and I think you'll like it. Cheer up! You'll be happy there."

Londria swallowed hard as her eyes filled with tears.

"In the meantime," the woman said, "get packed and ready to go!"

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Londria pulled her knapsack out of the overhead rack, and picked up her handbag and her favorite jacket. "I mustn't leave anything behind!" she thought, grimacing as her head throbbed.

"I'll show you to your room," the counselor said. "We don't have much time left now. Come along."

The woman led Londria along a long gray corridor and unlocked one of the doors. "Your supper is inside," Londria's counselor said. "Try to eat a good meal and go to bed early. There's an envelope full of traveler's checks, enough to get you started. When you wake up tomorrow morning, you'll be living in a new year!"

I'm in a small boat — a ferry, I think — in the Arctic Ocean near Greenland. I have no idea how I got here, or why I'm here all by myself. Suddenly, the sky turns into fire and the sea turns into blood.

Londria woke up panting. The orange tabby cat sitting on the window sill enjoying the view through the half-raised venetian blinds turned to look at her.

"I guess I was just dreaming," Londria thought. "Oooh, I feel so disoriented. Yesterday, I was in a prison cell .. Hey, wait a minute! I thought they said that I wouldn't remember what happened to me!"

The striped cat jumped onto the bed, and curled up next to Londria. She looked at the golden plastic tag attached to the cat's collar. "Josefina," the tag read, "I belong to Londria Smith." There was an Oakland, California, address on the back of the tag, and a telephone number.

"Oakland," Londria thought, "across the Bay from San Francisco. So what on Earth will I do in Oakland?!"

She looked around the cottage. It was just one room with a small bathroom in one corner and a kitchen in another corner. The other half of the room held her bed, chest of drawers, and a computer stand and chair. "A computer stand, but no computer," she thought.

After breakfast, Londria bought a newspaper while she shopped for a laptop computer. Saturday, September 6, 1997 was the date on the newspaper.

Londria checked her calendar on the bulletin board in the kitchen when she got home. Someone had had written school starts! on September 8th.

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Londria's first class at the Center for Electronic Art in San Francisco was "Using the Macintosh Computer." She managed to arrive twenty minutes early, so she chose a computer near the back of the room. A very thin young woman wearing a peacock blue silk T-shirt, black trousers, and black ballet flats sat down next to her. "Mind if I join you?" the woman asked.

Londria tried to smile as she said, "That would be all right."

"We'll need to share this computer," the woman said. "My name is Talisman, but my friends call me 'Tal.'"

"I'm, uh, Londria Smith," Londria replied. "I'm, uh, pretty nervous!"

"Not to worry!" Tal said. "I've had some experience with this stuff. Let me treat you to some coffee after class, if you're not busy."

After the class was over, Tal and Londria went to a coffee shop near City College. "There are some people you should meet," Tal said, pointing to the table in the far corner. Londria tried to smile as she sat next to a very tall woman dressed entirely in dusty rose. Across from her sat a tiny woman with silver hair that came very close to matching the jumpsuit that she was wearing.

"Girls, this is Londria Smith. Londria, this is Kya, from Mars and the twenty-fifth century, "Tal said, indicating the woman in dressed in rose. This scintillating lady in silver is Ogg the Cave Dweller."

"I'm pleased to meet you both," Londria said, trying hard not to look shocked or bewildered.

After the coffee drinks and pastries were served, Tal said, "I know that you're going to find this hard to believe, Londria, but try to hear me out. We know who you are and we would like to help you."

"We know what happened to you," Kya said quickly. "My grandparents told stories about the previous century, about the kangaroo courts and the way everyone was armed to the teeth. There were missiles everywhere, but people were starving and no one could trust the government. Then, when the accident happened with the silos on Deimos, people finally revolted. Nobody was hurt or killed when two missiles hit the Earth, but everyone finally realized how dangerous things had become. The old government fell, and new leaders were voted in. You wouldn't believe the changes a few decades could make!"

"Without trying to be, Londria, you were a hero," Ogg the Cave Dweller said.

"I don't know what to say!" Londria said. "Can I go back home?"

"Honey," Ogg the Cave Dweller said. "You could but you shouldn't. It's too dangerous for you and for us."

"Other times and places are more fun," Tal agreed.

"Why visit a totalitarian state," Kya asked, "when you can party in Ring City?"

"OK!" Londria said, smiling. "Can I bring my cat?"

"Sure! Come on!" Tal said. "Let's go see what's happening at Fleur's Place!"