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Time Assignment

By Nancy Elizabeth Casady

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“This is what the Lord says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts”
Isaiah 45:11-12
It felt dark. But it always did inside time. With just five senses and their incredibly limited human bodies, Malak and Ben had to stay focused on this time assignment in order to avoid the claustrophobia. They had a contact to meet and a message to deliver.
A maintenance shaft served as their exchange point. It was here that they entered into time and human form undetected. Quickly adjusting to the new confines, Malak lifted a grate-covered opening, gave a quick glance down the passage and eased into the mass of bodies crammed into the concrete tunnel. Ben followed. The space was only wide enough for five people to walk side by side, yet the uniformed humans were able to navigate without touching one another. Malak ducked his head under a filthy cap and stuffed his hands in the pockets of equally filthy coveralls. Dressed similarly, Ben followed him swinging a standard issue toolbox with one hand. No one would give them a second look.
Forever curious about the earth-dwellers bound in the existence of time, Malak took the opportunity to wonder as he saw them within their own existence. “Which ones will participate do you think?” He asked over his shoulder.
“One we know of for sure. And she knows we are coming.” Ben replied without making eye contact with Malak.
“I am still amazed.” Malak whispered. He took Ben’s cue and looked forward. Malak had never met a contact who knew he was coming before, and grew excited with the impending appointment.
As they made their way down the passage tube they monitored every second that passed, each face they expected to see and the footfalls that they could barely hear on the thick carpet. Malak’s work boots made their 116th step when the passage opened wide around him. Even though he had prepared for it, the drastic change made him feel vulnerable.
“Oh my goodness.” Malak stopped into Jasper’s path with the opening of the tunnel.
“A bit different than observing from the outside isn’t it?” Jasper spoke under his breath as they adjusted back to their pace.
The hallway expanded to a spacious and seamless metal tube roughly five times as wide and tall as the walkway from which they had emerged. The shiny walls created the illusion of being inside a giant silver pipe. The only feature in this tube was an amazingly bright vein of light centered above, but it still felt dark to the travelers. A flat walkway covered with a shiny, woven carpet shone just like the metallic walls, and provided a level surface for transportation. Hundreds of people strode along this gleaming floor in various directions. They were dressed in dark-blue boxy uniforms with snug hoods that covered everything but their faces. Men and women were nearly indistinguishable from one another. The harsh reflected light of the corridor gave each countenance a sterile, yet sickly, glow. Their carefully sterilized attire helped Malak and Ben to avoid any interaction. No one would want to have to re-sanitize themselves on account of two lowly maintenance men.
Malak and Ben observed individuals as they stopped at various places along the passageway and pressed one of their gloved hands against the shiny wall to reveal a door which they would then silently walk through. As soon as they had passed through it, the opening was replaced by the seamless wall again. They rarely talked to one another or acknowledged each other's presence. The only distinguishable sounds were humming machinery and the huffing of a large air filter system.
The sound of the machinery became louder as Malak and Ben made their way toward the meeting place. With each step, they were more alert for the opening that they had prepared for their contact.
Ben whispered through his teeth barely loud enough for Malak to hear, “Destination is 4.5 meters ahead on the right.”
Their destination was the only framed door in the large corridor. It had security codes but no visual or auditory recording devices. They wouldn't need one of the programmed bio-gloves to get in. The clicking sound of shoes all around them attested to a change in the floor's structure. It was built to withstand the vibrations of the machinery beneath. Suddenly, they heard the sound of running feet coming just ahead.
“Right on schedule” Malak said. They had timed this entry perfectly.
The owner of the running feet sprinted by. Men dressed in gray hooded uniforms pursued closely behind. Malak and Ben reacted along with the rest of the crowd by jumping out of the way and against the sides of the hall. Seconds after the man and his hunters had passed, airborne and gravity-bound vehicles blurred by. The sound of an explosion followed the latest rush of people as if chasing them. It echoed through the hall, reverberating like some kind of bass instrument. More gray uniformed people came running down the hall. Another deafening moan carried through the corridor and caused a strange wave to ripple through the floor and walls. The occupants of the corridor tried to avoid falling into each other. Then, just like the explosion, smoke flashed through the hall and sent more feet running. Chaos broke loose in the midst of people gasping for air and shoving to get down the passage or through the seamless doors and away from the incoming smoke.
Ben huddled himself on the floor and cradled his toolbox while Malak bent over like he was coughing from the smoke. Ben mimicked the actions of someone choking while he slowly crawled in the direction of the door. Malak watched and waited for him to get into position while maintaining his coughing act. They knew it was unlikely that anyone would stop to help either of them; they just needed to appear helpless enough to be left alone.
Within minutes the great hall was filled with smoke and Malak could not hear, see or smell another human being. He pressed his ear against the wall and tapped Ben’s signal with his work boot.
A few feet down the hall, Ben lay slumped against the wall next to the door to the room where their contact was waiting, and called out in gasps, "Is anyone there? Can someone help me?" A few loud coughs and wheezes later, he resolutely stood up, pushed open the door whose security system had been disabled and stepped inside the small room which was lined with machines. Malak was close behind him. Closing out the smoke-filled hallway Ben re-set the security code as instructed and sealed the door. He then set his tool case on the floor and turned around to examine the room.
“She should be here.” Malak said. “The scene out in the hall had been her perfect cover.”
Ben shook his head and shrugged. Malak scanned the room which was only seven feet square and had no other entry or exit passages. He stood perplexed.
“Did I misunderstand the assignment? Did we miss something in our research?” Malak asked.
Ben looked down at his tool case. It held the precious information she had requested. And she wasn't here. She just wasn't here.

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