Chapter Four

Rare sky

“It was a dark night," began the man with no hair, "an owl hooted. Suddenly car headlights flashed through the trees…” Seven hours and fifty-three minutes later he finished, “…a bat flew away into the setting sun and the dark night merged into a beautiful sunlit morning.”

The man with no hair said nothing and walked away, back down the narrow corridors from which he came. Only one person was left in the room where he had told his story. His name was Dan the Nobody. He looked up to the sky, through the cracks where once there had been tiles, but only the wooden slats remained. The sky was a beautiful blue, a rare blue, one he recognised from somewhere in his past. Pondering the strange feeling within, somehow it felt as if he was there. It was so clear, as if time had turned itself inside out…

He was coming down the stairs after a reality session, smiling. Slightly. He could see Professor Ivan through the window in the airlock. He was concerned that he wouldn’t catch him in time. “Are you coming down to the dome?” Professor Ivan asked him, as they caught up.

“Yeah, just a minute, I need to take a leak first,” he said. He came out a short while later and they went together down to the dome. The dome was the only place on the station where they could get away from the cameras. Halfway, they met Secretary Blondy. She was just about to take a star hopper to her own station, but Professor Ivan encouraged her to stay and go with them. Dan the Time Travelling Man walked slightly ahead of them. He wasn’t part of the conversation. He understood some of the technical terms, here and there, but as he had been given a photoclam implant, he was slightly lost.

They sat down by the speed lift that reached away into the suburbs somewhere up in the fifth zone. Dan the Time Travelling Man one side, Secretary Blondy almost a table away and Professor Ivan inbetween. Major Dash 1056, a John Major clone from his reality session, brought some posters to advertise Dan the Time Travelling Man’s record attempt to eat seventeen bowls of rice pudding backwards. Dan the Time Travelling Man removed a small, purple box from his pocket and took a blob of blue-tac out. It was covered in drawing pins. He removed them one at a time from the blue-tac and then stuck tiny pieces in the corners of the posters.

“Aren’t you two talking?” asked Professor Ivan, peering at each of his companions in turn.

“DOES IT LOOK LIKE WE’RE TALKING?” screamed Secretary Blondy angrily.

Dan the Time Travelling Man got up with one of his posters and stuck it on the airlock next to the culture garden. When he returned to his seat, he found Secretary Blondy talking to Professor Ivan wearily. “I’ve been thinking,” he murmurred. “We’re right,” she said, “I don’t like it, life, here, anymore…”

“You think about it,” said Professor Ivan, “the class threes. They run it all. They control what you know. They run the starships.”

It sounded deep, but Dan the Time Travelling Man’s mind was wondering to a different place. He wasn’t listening to them at all anymore. His eyes skipped across the dome instead. They landed on Bright Eyes, chief engineer down on level 3, who seemed to be staring right at him. She was trying to point him out to a NARG (a New Age Rappin’ Giant). “Where…who?” he asked, “You mean Prof..” 

“No,” laughed Bright Eyes, “him there, sitting down.”

“You mean Dan the Sad Man with no friends?” asked the NARG.

Perhaps Dan the Time Travelling Man wasn’t supposed to hear, but he did. He heard, alright. Now he knew who it was who had told the other NARGs not to go near him. That name echoed around inside Dan the Time Travelling Man’s head. Was that how everyone thought of him? Not as the world's foremost time traveller, but just a sad man with no friends?

As he passed, the NARG was rapping to his wrist beat-box, “As I walk thru’ the dome, what do I see? A stupid little kid looking at me…”

Getting up, Dan the Time Travelling Man went to check his post at an inter-server behind a screen of holly, just to get away, but soon got bored of the irritating little man in the corner of the screen telling him, “Critical stop!”

By the time he returned to his seat, the conversation between Professor Ivan and Secretary Blondy had moved on. “Will you excuse us for a while?” asked Professor Ivan, glancing at his colleague.

“Sure,” said Dan the Time Travelling Man, getting up to go.

“Stay, we’ll move,” Professor Ivan told him.

“No it’s alright, I have to put some posters up anyway,” he replied. Getting up, he went through the last airlock to the passage above the docking station. There, he sat down at a table for a while, then he got up and stuck a poster on the screen of another inter-server. He wanted to go back, but he couldn’t. He thought about going outside in one of the old emergency Reliant Sky Hoppers, but he decided against it when he pulled the door handle off one by mistake. He decided to stick one of the posters on the door where the handle should have been in the hope that the corporation wouldn’t find out.

Then he went back through the airlock and the dome, past Bright Eyes and the other engineers on one side and his two colleagues on the other. He looked straight ahead, and looked neither way. He wanted to put the remaining posters up in the workers’ mess, but that NARG was there. All he could think of was what the giant had called him: “Dan the Sad Man with no friends.”

Dan the Time Travelling Man went down the passage to the nerve centre of the station and came out near the experimentation plant so he wouldn’t be seen. He was looking for somewhere to put up the other posters, but as he couldn’t find anywhere, he came back and sat down in a corner. But he was so unsettled that he got up again and walked around aimlessly; he just needed to get away from the heat. Professor Ivan followed shortly afterwards. Dan the Time Travelling Man told him why he was upset, but Professor Ivan wasn’t listening. He had some more important news for him. Bad news.

“Secretary Blondy says she never meant you to be friends," he told him. "Just associates. That’s why…”

Dan the Time Travelling Man’s face changed. His misery was plain for all to see. And the anger in his eyes. He reached into his pocket. “You better give her this,” said Dan the Time Travelling Man, bringing out his wallet and opening it. He removed a piece of paper, neatly folded, kept in pristine condition. It was something Secretary Blondy had given to Dan the Time Travelling Man on his birthday in June. It had a message on it about going on an intergalactic cruise to far off lands, to search out new hairstyles and new clothes, to boldly go where no time traveller had gone before. Secretary Blondy had always wanted Dan the Time Travelling Man to join the cruise club and get rid of those flares. It was signed, “Respect buddy, from your friend, Blondy.” Without reading it anew, he handed it on.

“Aren't you coming back?” asked Professor Ivan.

“Maybe in a minute,” replied Dan the Time Travelling Man. “I feel a bit sick.”

Entering the toilets, he washed his face. His eyes were red. He went back, but Secretary Blondy was still there, so he sat away by the fountain in the garden dedicated to friendship. He felt like screaming, “WHY?” at Secretary Blondy, but decided to respect her decision.

Professor Ivan was fiddling with that message in his hands, for Secretary Blondy had refused to take it. They were talking about something different now. Secretary Blondy was ignoring Dan the Time Travelling Man completely. It was as if he didn’t exist at all anymore.

Witness to this, Dan the Time Travelling Man got up quickly, angrily, and turned to walk away. On his way, one of the engineers with Bright Eyes said, “He’ll think…” As if Dan the Time Travelling Man cared what was going on over there now. Charging away, Dan the Time Travelling Man smashed his own head against the airlock door. He couldn’t stop the tears in his eyes, which welled up with those feeling of betrayal.

When Secretary Blondy returned to her station, Professor Ivan sat down with Dan the Time Travelling Man. “How are you now?” he asked, in that never failing, caring way of his.

“Maybe I should commit system error, like Fag did,” said Dan the Time Travelling Man.

“Don’t you dare!" exclaimed Professor Ivan, "Who would I have then to carry out my experiments on? You’re the best time traveller I’ve ever had.”

A cloud cast a shadow over the room in which Dan the Nobody was sitting. The memory faded away as thunder started to roll on the lower foothills of Kilimanjaro. He thought for a while more. Of all those times that he had thought of giving up. Of all those hurtful things people had done. Of all the times when things got too tough to bear. He smiled, because he had not given up. He was happy being Dan the Nobody. No longer did he have to conform to everybody else’s expectations.

He remembered that was the last day he had to worry about a thing. On that day, he had stepped into the time vortex chamber for the last time, and had slipped away to another time, maybe in the future, maybe in the past, or maybe in a paradoxical alternative reality. It didn’t really matter anymore, because at last he was just Dan.