The room is the same as always; smooth glowing satin walls of gray, the banks of vidphones winking in and out as attendees join and leave. the only illumination is the one light overhead our two chairs.
This week’s subject sits with eyes closed, face calm, hands resting gently on knees. I study her minutely. The hair is shorter than the photo on the old and battered dust jacket that has survived, but the face is the same; high cheekbones, deepset eyes, smile lines around eyes and mouth. Her clothing – jeans, t-shirt, unbuttoned red and blue check flannel – is casual – far more so that it should be. Could we have gotten the coordinates incorrect somehow?
No time to ponder the question; the chime sounds, and her eyes snap open.
Well-muscled shoulders tense, and intense gray-blue eyes flick from the low table to me and around what little can be seen beyond the circle of light. “My name is Kalistan, I’m a historian, and the year is 2354 as you would calculate it,” I say before the discombobulation of transport can become fear. “You’ve been brought here so my students can gain firsthand knowledge of you and your time.”
One eyebrow arcs high in what seems to be a habitual gesture. “Right,” she says, drawing out the vowel.
I am familiar with the 12st-century custom of sarcasm. “Truly,” I say, and work the controls to reduce the overhead lighting and adjust the visual permeability of the walls so she can see her surroundings.
Thoughts flicker across her face as she studies the view that must seem to her like an aquarium – only she is the one inside the glass bowl. Outside the walls lay the middle deeps, the tonnes of water needed to mute the energetic ripples pulling someone forward causes. Rainbow coral grows up against the nearest, and the fish the colony houses dart in and out.
Her eyes narrow, and I answer before she can ask the inevitable question. “No, it’s isn’t lit. The visual spectrum is being enhanced by the walls.” It’s a grossly oversimplified explanation, but it usually suffices.
She stands, her motions smooth and graceful, and moves toward the view. Her body radiates leashed power of a kind most people her era would never notice, but it gentles noticeably as she leans up against the wall, gazing at the brightly-colored fish. It’s not an uncommon reaction. After a few moments, she begins to hum.
Her voice is pleasant – no doubt an outgrowth of her musical upbringing – but the tune is unfamiliar. “Under the sea,” she murmurs in tune, “under the sea. Darlin’ it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from me.”
She pivots abruptly, and once again I am struck by the energetic force of her bioelectric field. “It’s a bit elaborate for a prank, I’ll give you that,” she says. “Time travel, huh?”
“Indeed. If you would take your seat, please?” I indicate the chair she had risen from.
She doesn’t move. “Humanity has developed the ability to travel in time, and future historians are using it to pluck people out of the past in order to talk to them? Why not just go whenever you want and observe for yourselves?”
Another common question. “Too many variables,” I say, knowing she of all people will understand what I don’t say.
“I’ll bet,” she says. “No telling what kind of influence you might have on the past if you’re not careful, and past begets future.”
“So what’s the idea, then? You bring people forward and, what?”
“You’ll be here for just this one interview, and then your memory of it will be unwritten from your synapses as we send you back to arrive the second before we borrowed you.”
Disappointment fleets across her face. “So why me?” she asks, crossing her arms over her chest.
“My class is currently studying the greatest moral and social influences on our present-day culture,” I explain, “one of which is the Guardians of the Sphere.” I hold up the historical relic – one of the prizes of my personal collection. Carefully, as it has shown signs of fragmentation in recent years
At first, confusion is present on her expressive face. Then recognition dawns. “What year did you say this was?”
She blinks, shakes her head. “Durable book.”
“Durable message,” I correct her. “Humanity by this time has developed into a global society where the guiding principles are consideration of others before self within the framework of personal responsibility. Of course there have been many influences, but the question is always the same; where did the influences come from?”
She stares. Then her face twitches, contorts… and she bursts into delighted laughter.. “Oh, that is too, too funny! Three and a half centuries, and people still want their ‘once upon a time?’ That is priceless.” Still laughing, she comes back to the chair and sits down. “Okay. What do you want to know?”