Exhausted from their trip to Earth, Nicholas and Claudia agreed to meet the next day for breakfast to discuss what they saw. Claudia was talking to friends when Nicholas sat down at the table across from her. The women laughed among themselves, gave him an odd look and then left, continuing to laugh.
“What was that all about?” Nicholas asked.
“Oh, you know women. They were asking if you were keeping me busy and away from the parties. I said of course!” she said with a wink. “It was a lot easier to let them think whatever they think than it would be to explain where we were and what we saw.”
“So I take it you believe me now about everything.”
“I believe Earth is an amazing place and there’s something beautiful and interesting going on there. There was definitely more to Jesus than your average two-year-old. So, I definitely believe you that you weren’t standing me up and avoiding me. Something I am very happy about, by the way.”
“I’m happy, too.”
“What’s the next move?” Nicholas sensed Claudia was several steps ahead of him in reasoning out the situation on Earth and where to go from there. He was more than happy to let her take the lead.
“I want to do some more research and see what else we can learn. There’s something going on there we don’t understand.”
“I checked again this morning to see if it was just a glitch, but there still isn’t anything on the knowledge database about Earth. It acknowledges that it is a planet, but that’s about it.”
“I know some sources of information that might be helpful. They aren’t part of the database. They’re off the grid,” Claudia explained.
“How do you know about things like that?” Nicholas asked, looking at her suspiciously.
“I was working on a research project in my last year at the university and I needed some historical information that wasn’t in the database. I received clearance to visit the old national archives. There is still a lot of information in there that isn’t part of the database.”
“Do you still have your clearance?”
“I can’t think of any reason why they would take it away.”
“Why would an old archive have anything about an alien planet that isn’t in the database?”
“I don’t know if it does. I’m just trying to think of alternatives,” Claudia said, a little defensively. “It seems as if someone is hiding something about Earth. If it’s a place we can visit, or at least we have access to, there should be a lot more information on it than there is.”
As soon as they finished breakfast, Nicholas and Claudia walked outside to catch a shuttle that would take them to the archive. They never made it. As soon as they hit the street, they were surrounded by Controllers, the men and women who kept things on the planet under control for the central government. While both Nicholas and Claudia had seen Controllers before, in ones or twos, and they instantly recognized the Controllers from their bland white uniforms and matching pale complexions, neither of them had seen 10 Controllers working together.
In seconds, Nicholas and Claudia were whisked into separate transports.
“Where did you go? How did you get outside of the approved planets? You know that is forbidden, right?”
“What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to subvert the peace of Eridani?”
“Are you a traitor to your world?”
“We’re going to interview your family and everyone you’ve ever met. This will be a lot easier if you tell us what you were attempting to do.”
“How did you get the travel console to malfunction?”
“Did Nicholas put you up to this?”
“Did Claudia put you up to this?”
Nicholas woke up in his bed, at home, completely disoriented. He rolled over and immediately his hands flew to his head. It was pounding. He shook his head to try to clear the cobwebs and almost threw up. He was in the process of standing and he crumpled to his knees. His body was in complete rebellion.
When his room stopped spinning, Nicholas slowly opened his eyes and attempted to focus. He brushed his hand against the touch screen. It took him a moment to realize what the clock and calendar said. The interface showed it was the morning of the 16th. He lost two full days.
Nicholas sent Claudia a note through the communication system. He kept his note extremely vague. He simply asked if she was feeling all right and suggested them meet up “where they first met”. Nicholas didn’t wait for a reply. He simply headed out.
Rather than going straight to the meeting spot, Nicholas took his time. He entered the shuttle system and jumped on several different carriers. Paranoid? Probably. In reality, he knew the Controllers had DNA trackers for every person on the planet, but he hoped they wouldn’t bother.
Nicholas criss-crossed town for about 45 minutes until he made his way to the park where he first met Claudia. They had several classes together in school, so technically they had met before, but they literally ran into each other—Nicholas knocked her down playing ball with his friends—and he spent the rest of the day apologizing to her. He was certain she would know where he meant.
Nicholas found a large tree in the center of the park and sat down with his back to it. He did his best to look relaxed and not seem suspicious, although he was certain the more he tried to look casual, the more he seemed uncomfortable. It wasn’t long before Nicholas saw Claudia walking toward him. She smiled when she saw him, but he could tell she had a rough experience, too. She looked unsteady on her feet and had a haunted look in her eyes. Nicholas stood and wrapped his arms around her when she got close enough. Claudia began to cry so he simply held her until the sobs began to quiet.
“I am so sorry I got you into this,” he said in her ear.
“Don’t you dare ever say something to me like that again,” she said as she pushed back and looked up into his eyes. “You didn’t get me into anything. I got myself into it. I’m not upset with you. I’m angry at whoever, or whatever, did this to us. How dare they!”
Nicholas could tell Claudia’s fire was back. She had just needed to get the crying out. Now she was all business. He motioned for her to sit down beside him on the ground and they got comfortable. She leaned against him. It made it easier to talk quietly. It felt good, too.
“What happened to us?” they said at the same time.
Nicholas laughed. “You go first.”
“I’m not completely sure,” she began. “Everything is fuzzy and I just remember bits and pieces. I remember the Controllers firing questions at me. I couldn’t even think. It didn’t feel like I had control of my body or my brain.”
“Sounds pretty much like what they did to me. They asked me if I was a traitor and if I was trying to subvert peace.”
“I remember those questions, too. I remember them threatening me,” Claudia said. “They said they were going to question my family and my friends and dig into my life.”
“Are you scared?”
“Of course I’m scared. But I’m angry, too. That’s not the Eridani I know. We don’t treat people like that.”
“Definitely not the stories we grew up on. Sort of makes you wonder who is in charge and what they are hiding,” Nicholas agreed. “
“Do you even know anyone who has ever met a Controller before?”
“This is free and open society built on information and knowledge. It makes me wonder what else they aren’t telling us about,” Nicholas agreed. “What do you want to do next?”
Nicholas had already decided his next move. He was going to go back and try to learn what he could about Earth and see if he could figure out why it was “unsafe” and visiting there brought them to the attention of the Controllers. He didn’t want to pressure Claudia into anything, though. If she wanted to back out, he would understand completely. He was pleased by her reply.
“I want to dig into this and find out what’s going on. I want to find out why they took us in for questioning and interrogated us. The way I feel now, they must have used some sort of mind-control system. I want to know what they found out when they were digging around in our brains without our permission.”
“I knew I liked you for a reason,” Nicholas said with a smile. “I remember asking them if they were restricting our travel and they said we could go anywhere we wanted. I think it is time to test that.”
“Do you think Earth will be available in the travel console? I’m sure they’ve blocked it.”
“I’m not 100 percent sure it’s supposed to be in the system at all. For some reason, it seems like we were meant to go there,” Nicholas said. “Do you remember the Controllers actually asking you about Earth? Or were they just asking you where you went?”
“Wait. You hit on two things there. No, I don’t remember them asking me about Earth specifically. It seemed like they didn’t know where we went at all. We must have disappeared from the network and they got suspicious. Which makes me a little more nervous that they are tracking our movements, but that goes back to everything the Controllers are doing right now,” Claudia said as she struggled to remember the events of the last couple days. “And to your first thought, you’re suggesting that someone or something made Earth available to us on purpose.”
“I don’t know what I’m suggesting, but it seems like someone or something else is involved in this to me.”
“Hmmm, I don’t know, but I think we need to split up and look in different places. You go back to Earth and see if you can figure anything out there. I’m going to the archives and see if I can find out anything about Earth that isn’t in the database. Maybe I can find out what they’re hiding from us.”
“Are you sure you feel safe on your own, here?”
“You’re the one taking the big risk. For all the Controllers know, I’m just going to do some research in some musty old archives.”
Nicholas found himself in another new place on Earth. It looked similar to the towns he visited before, but it was bigger than any place he had seen to that point. There were crowds in the streets and people going every direction. He didn’t know what to think of it all. He had expected to see Mary, Joseph and the boy Jesus at their home in Nazareth, but this was someplace all together different.
“I wish I knew why the travel console kept putting me down in different places. This doesn’t make any sense,” Nicholas said out loud as he walked along a busy street. “Where am I now?”
“What is that, my friend? What did you ask?” It was a street vendor selling fruit from a stall.
“Sorry. I was talking to myself. I said I didn’t understand the meaning of the crowds here today.”
“Ah, you must be a sojourner from another land. The festival of Passover ended three days ago. Many people are still leaving to head back their homes. All Jewish men come to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals each year, as ordered by the Law of Moses,” the man explained. “That is why my selection of fruit is so poor today. The travelers have bought everything for their return trips. I have nothing to offer you.”
“You are right. I have traveled here from a great distance and just arrived. I am sorry I missed the festival. I’m certain it must have been something to see.”
“You are correct about that, but I’m sure you are hungry. Please take something from what I have as a welcome to our city and know that we treat strangers well, here.”
“I’m sorry, but I have no money to pay you.”
“It is a gift. Treat another stranger well and you will repay me.”
“Thank you,” Nicholas said. Knowing better than to refuse the gift, he selected a small bunch of grapes and nodded to the man. “I will speak of your kindness to my people.”
At least I know the name of the city, now, Nicholas thought, careful to stay quiet. I still don’t know why I’m here, though.
Turning a corner at the end of the street, Nicholas got a clue to the second question on his mind. He saw Mary and Joseph walking quickly through the streets. They appeared to be looking for something…or someone. Nicholas quickly realized Jesus was not with them. The boy must be lost.
Nicholas decided to follow them and help if he could. He reminded himself that time seemed to move differently on Earth than on Eridani. The last time he saw the boy he was about two years old, but there was no telling how old he was now. It had been days since his last visit.
Following along with Jesus’ parents, he could tell time had passed. He hadn’t seen Joseph on his last visit with Claudia, but Mary looked older. There was a touch of gray in her hair that hadn’t been there before and a few lines in her face. It could be worry, he reasoned, depending on how long the boy was missing.
Without meaning to, he closed on the couple as they spoke to people on the street.
“We’re looking for our boy. He went missing when we left the festival to return home. Have you seen him?” Joseph asked. “We just made it back to the city to look for him.”
“I am sorry. I haven’t seen him.”
“How old is he?”
“Where did you last see him?”
Both parents were continually frustrated by the responses they received. They were growing frantic. Nicholas thought about it. They said the boy went missing when they left Jerusalem, but the fruit seller said it had ended three days ago. They must be frantic looking for their son, he thought. Maybe it’s my job to help find him.
He began to look harder, trying to think like a child. Where would a boy go in a place like this? The place is crowded and crazy now. It must have been chaos when all the visitors were here for the festival. It would be so easy for a small boy to get separated from his parents. Where would I go if I were the boy?
As he walked, Nicholas thought about the times he saw the boy. Angels talked to his parents before he was born and announced his birth to the shepherds in the hills. Kings traveled for months to see him. This was a special child.
Where would a child that is followed around by angels go?
On Eridani, the concept of religion was something to be studied, but not actively pursued. He knew there were a few people who still believed in gods and prayed, but most of his people had long since left those beliefs behind. He understood the concepts, though. Usually, there was a place of worship where people went to pray. Nicholas stopped a passerby. “Where is your main church? Your temple?”
“You must know where the temple is,” the man replied. “It is the place of God.”
“I am a visitor to Jerusalem. I have just arrived today and I want to pray,” Nicholas explained.
“Welcome, my friend. It is down this street. You can see it there,” the man said, pointing.
“Thank you and may God bless you,” Nicholas replied, hoping he got that right.
Nicholas climbed the steps to the temple. He didn’t know how to act or what the custom was to enter, but he fell into step with a group of men who were going in and tried to mimic their actions. The last thing he wanted to do was to stand out and draw attention to himself.
Moving inside the temple, Nicholas was overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. He heard prayers and people talking. He could smell incense and burnt offerings. Moving to the side, Nicholas saw a group of men sitting and talking. A few sat on stools, others on pillows and some sat on the floor. As Nicholas approached, he saw the group was almost entirely made up of older men, their long beards hung to the middle of their chests and their hair blended with the robes on their backs.
In the middle of the group was a young boy about 12. It was Jesus. The boy smiled, recognizing Nicholas instantly. Nicholas was floored. The boy was 12 years old, strong and healthy. A week before, by Nicholas’s time, the boy was in his mother’s womb. Now he was growing into a man and sitting like an equal among teachers, having a discussion. When their eyes met, Nicholas sensed that same strength and depth that he felt before. Nicholas turned to go. He wanted to tell Mary and Joseph where the boy was so they wouldn’t worry any more. As he did, Nicholas saw the couple walking through the entrance.
Nicholas moved closer to hear what the men were speaking about. He realized Jesus was answering a question to explain something the man didn’t understand. Jesus was an equal in the discussion, not a pupil. Before Nicholas could hear any more, Mary and Joseph arrived and everything was chaos. Mary ran to her son while Joseph spoke to the men in charge, trying to determine if their son had caused any problems. Nicholas heard one of the men answer Joseph.
“He is your son? The elders have been amazed by his understanding. He is a boy of great wisdom,” the elder said. “I am a little disappointed that you have come to take him home.”
Mary was visibly upset while Jesus seemed at ease with the situation.
“Why did you disappear from the caravan?” she asked. “Your father and I have searched for you since we realized you were gone. I was afraid you were taken away and sold into slavery. I have been worried sick for you.”
“I am sorry to bring you distress mother, but why were you concerned and why did you have to search? You know I must be about my Father’s business. I have to be in his temple.”
Nicholas was confused by the boy’s reply. Jesus said “my father’s business”. Unless something had changed in the last 10 Earth years, Joseph was a carpenter, not a religious official. Joseph didn’t appear to have any standing in the temple at all. Was the translation program malfunctioning somewhere? Did he hear that right?
Regardless of what the boy said, it appeared to mollify Mary. Still, it was time for them to leave. They had a three day trip back to Nazareth still waiting on them. When all was done, Jesus walked past Nicholas as he left with his parents and stopped for a minute.
“It is good to see you my friend. I hope what you have seen today helps you understand your future role on this world and in my Father’s presence as well.”
Without saying anything else, or explaining his meaning further, Jesus left Nicholas standing alone in the temple.
Claudia entered the ancient archive building and immediately felt lost. She was used to having every bit of information available to her simply at her finger tips. From nearly any console on Eridani she was able to access and learn about anything she wanted to. Well, maybe. The events of the last few days, and her close encounter with the Controllers, led her to believe that she might not have access to “everything”.
Entering the front room of the archive, she saw an older man sitting behind a table. He smiled at her when she entered, but didn’t say anything. Claudia looked around for a few minutes, trying to find an access panel or some sort of interface that would explain to her how to find the books she was looking for. She had seen and read from a few books over the years. At this point, they were mostly a novelty. In school, a professor had each student reada few pages from an ancient text so they could understand their history. She understood books in general, but determining how to find the ones she was looking for suddenly seemed harder than she imagined.
Behind the man, she could see rows and rows of books on shelves. There must be thousands, or thousands of thousands of books here. Claudia started to get depressed. She hoped Nicholas was having better luck on his part of the quest than she was.
“Young lady, may I help you?”
“I don’t think so, citizen,” Claudia replied using an older greeting, assuming the man would appreciate her formality. “I am trying to determine how to find information from the books.”
“Then I can help you. That is my job. I am the Librarian. I can help you find what you are looking for even if you don’t know exactly what that is.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize that,” Claudia said approaching the man. “I don’t know the title Librarian. What does that mean?”
“It means I care for the Library. That is where you are now. Maybe it would help if I referred to myself as an Archivist.”
“That I do understand.”
The man smiled at her. “I appreciate the older title. It stirs fond memories for me.”
“Is there an interface somewhere that helps me determine which books I need to look through. There is some information I’m seeking, but I can’t find it on the data network.”
“There is a touch screen that has a cross-referenced list of every book in the library. You are welcome to access it if you like. But I will be happy to help you find what you’re looking for. I don’t get many visitors here so I’d enjoy the chance to help you find the books you need. I might even know of a few that you won’t find in the database. I’m not sure everything was entered correctly. You can’t always trust others when they control access to information.”
Claudia looked at the man for a moment, wondering what he meant. She realized his comment was eerily similar to what she was thinking about as she entered the…library.
“Thank you. That would be most helpful. I am looking for anything we might have in the archive about Earth. A friend stumbled on the planet, but we haven’t been able to find much in the database. I volunteered to come here and look.”
The Librarian looked at Claudia for a few moments before he responded. She could feel his eyes searching hers. She began to grow uncomfortable as he stared.
“I will certainly help you find what you are looking for,” the Librarian said, gesturing to the stacks of books behind him. “I know exactly where to find what you need.”
The Librarian showed Claudia to a table near the back of the main room and offered her a seat. He left her to find the books she would need, explaining that it would be faster if he simply brought them to her. Since he had few visitors, he had memorized the placement of nearly every book. Her growing suspicions about the Controllers restricting her access to information, made her wonder if the Librarian was doing the same thing, just in a different way. She decided to wait and be patient. If he came back and reported that there was nothing to be found in the Library, or nothing more than what she could find through the information system everyone had access to…well she would do something. She just wasn’t sure what. She really didn’t want to run afoul of the Controllers again.
Claudia heard the old man approaching and turned to see him carrying a half dozen large books in his arms. Well, at least he is showing me something, she thought. It will be a start.
“These books aren’t all about Earth, of course,” the Librarian explained as he sat them on the table with a knowing smile. “A few of them are reference books written about a number of other planets, cultures and civilizations, but each of them contains information about Earth. Knowledge and information are different,” he explained, his face growing dark for a moment. “We have access to an incredible amount of information today, but very little understanding. And most of what we “understand” is manipulated by others.”
Just as quickly as the dark look passed over the Librarian’s face, his smile returned.
“But you are on the right track now, searching for information. Good luck to you. Let me know what else I can do for you. When you are done, just leave the books on the table and I will put them away for you,” the man said as he turned to walk away. “Oh, one more thing. Sometime soon, you may have nowhere else to turn and suddenly help will come from an unexpected source. Accept that help and trust it.”
“Ummm, okay, I’m not sure what that means…” Claudia started to say, but the librarian was already heading away and never heard her reply.
When she was alone, Claudia began flipping through the first book. She remembered that many books had a Table of Contents and looked for that page. From there, she found the section on Earth and began reading.
A moment later, Claudia realized she was stiff and her back hurt. Her eyes were tired and burning and he leg was asleep. Straightening up and rubbing her eyes, she discovered more time had passed than she realized. The pile of books in front of her had moved to the side and there was just one more book left. She had been reading for more than four hours. She learned quite a bit more about Earth and the people that had explored the planet over the years. None of the books were written recently, but she didn’t know none of it was in the database. Someone was definitely restricting information. But why?
Several of the authors of the books talked about the belief systems on Earth, detailing a series of gods various cultures followed. Two writers spoke of a particular group called Israelites who followed a single God they simply called Father, or Lord. At least one writer ascribed events to the God of the Israelites that he could not easily explain as coincidence or happenstance. Claudia read several references to angels in the sky or voices from the clouds…that seemed to agree with the scene that Nicholas described to her when the angels appeared in the sky to announce the birth of the child. She couldn’t wait until Nicholas got back so she could tell him what she found out.
After spending hours going through the books, she knew she could trust the Librarian who brought them to her. She learned more in four hours in the Library than anyone else on the planet knew about Earth.
Claudia glanced at the last book on the table in front of her. She immediately wondered why the Librarian brought it to her. It wasn’t about Earth at all. The book was about the ancient history of Eridani. Her own planet. He must have brought me this book by mistake, she reasoned. Still, she opened the book up to see if there was some connection.
The chill of the interplanetary transporter stuck with Nicholas as he walked out of the entertainment complex. He felt off balance and confused as he stepped out into the bright light of day on the streets of his homeworld. Maybe his confusion had nothing to do with the transporter.
“The boy spoke to me and knew me. How is that possible?” Nicholas said out loud as he walked aimlessly. “Maybe he wasn’t talking to me at all. Maybe I imagined it.”
“What was that young man?” a passerby asked.
“Oh, sorry sir. I was talking to, ummm, well, I didn’t mean to disturb you,” Nicholas said as he hurried away from the man. I really have to stop talking to myself, he thought. That is all I need is for the Controllers to get a report of me raving in the streets. They will lock me up for good.
Nicholas stopped at a street café to sit and think about his next move. “It is good to see you my friend. I hope what you have seen today helps you understand your future role on this world and in my Father’s presence as well.” That was what the boy said to me. And he was looking right at me. He was definitely talking to me. I know it. But how could that be? We’ve never met and the last time I saw him, he was only a child.
“Aaarrgh,” he said. “I just don’t understand!”
Realizing his outburst was out loud, Nicholas stood and hurried away from the café trying to hide his face from the others who were there. They were all staring at him and he was sure he saw one or two pick up their communicators, probably alerting a Controller of a madman on the street.
Nicholas jumped on a shuttle and headed toward the archive to find Claudia. He wasn’t sure how long he had been gone so he didn’t know where she would be. Time moved differently on Earth so it might only be a few hours since she headed for the archive. He could always call her on her communicator, but he was afraid someone might be listening in.
Leaving the shuttle, Nicholas headed down the side street where Claudia said the archive was located, he could tell Controllers didn’t pay as much attention to this part of town. If the Controllers weren’t here as much, maybe they didn’t have the area under as much surveillance. Nicholas walked forward but he was looking to his left studying the facades of the buildings on the other side of the street trying to determine exactly what an “archive” might look like from the outside when he nearly ran into Claudia leaving a building.
“Oh hey!” Claudia said as she realized the person she was trying to dodge on the street was actually the person she wanted to see most.
“It’s you!” Nicholas said. “I’m so glad I found you.”
“Me too. You’re never going to believe what I found out!”
“You first!” they said together.
“Okay, hold on,” Nicholas said, gesturing to an open area at the end of the street. “Let’s sit down in the park and talk. We probably shouldn’t do this out here in the open.”
She immediately took his arm and put on a show.
“Oh Nicholas, it is so good to see you! It has been too long. How have you been? You’re right, let’s sit and catch up,” she said loudly.
Nicholas stumbled for a moment until he realized what she was doing.
“You are right, it has been much too long,” he said with a smile, assuming a character as well. “I have so much to share with you.”
Arm in arm, they walked to the end of the street and found a lonely park bench. Heads close together, they dropped their act and began catching each other up on their discoveries.
Claudia began by explaining what she found out about Earth and Earth’s history. Then Nicholas described his latest encounter with the boy Jesus. He explained how much the boy had changed since they last saw him and that Jesus had recognized him in the temple.
“It was amazing. He didn’t seem to be at all surprised by my presence there. I don’t know how, but I’m sure he knew I wasn’t from Earth at all. He said ‘I hope what you have seen today helps you understand your future role on this world and in my Father’s presence as well.’ He seemed to know that Earth was a different world. But how could that be? Their culture and science haven’t progressed that far.”
“I can’t explain what’s going on, but I have something else to tell you about. It seems to make sense with what you saw and heard,” Claudia said.
“What is it? What else did you find out?”
“I spent hours going over the Earth history books. When I was done there was one more book there. At first I was convinced the Librarian must have brought it by accident. It was an Eridani history book. At first I started to ignore it, but I opened it up out of curiosity. It was old, written about 100 years ago,” she explained. “There was a lot of history in it that I have never heard about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m guessing someone decided that some of our history isn’t important any more. There were sections and topics I’ve never heard anything about in any class we’ve taken. I tried to look up a couple things on a database panel in the archive when I was done, and I couldn’t find anything. It was as if someone went into our history and erased certain events and parts of our culture.”
“That’s pretty amazing. Who would have done something like that?”
“I can only guess the Controllers. It would have to be someone with a lot of power to make something like that happen.”
“That makes sense, but why? How could information about our past be so dangerous that they government would want to erase it?”
“That’s the interesting part. There was an entire section on Eridani culture that described a belief system like what we’ve seen on Earth. It talked about worshipping God in churches and in temples.”
“Really? I’ve never heard anything about that,” Nicholas said, genuinely surprised.
“It seems as if religion was widely practiced on our world, but then something changed and they erased all presence of it.”
“You don’t think the God our people used to worship is the same God on Earth, do you?”
“It would make sense. The three kings talked about him being the son of God, right? And the angels you saw when he was born. They said it too. The Father he was talking about was God.”
“I’m not sure I know what to think,” Nicholas said. “This is almost too much to deal with. What you’re telling me completely rewrites everything we know. It totally rewrites history.”
“Actually, it seems like it is giving us our history back. Someone else rewrote it and for some reason, we’re learning about what really happened,” Claudia said. “What do you think we should do now?”
“Did you ask the Librarian why he brought you that book?”
“I looked for him, but he wasn’t anywhere around. He seemed to disappear.”
“Then it seems like we need to go to the one place and the one person who has the answers we are looking for,” Nicholas said. “We need to go back to Earth and ask Jesus what’s going on ourselves.”
The transportation shuttle dropped them off just outside the entrance to the entertainment complex. They hadn’t spoken much since they left the park outside the archive. They didn’t want anyone to overhear their conversation.
Stepping from the shuttle, Nicholas almost didn’t see the Controllers waiting outside the entrance to the complex. Claudia saw them, though. Doing her best to seem casual, she took Nicholas’s arm and squeezed. He glanced at her with a smile at first, not realizing what she was trying to tell him. She dug her fingernails into the underside of his arm. The pain cut through his thoughts. His eyes darted in the direction she was looking and saw what she was afraid of. There were four Controllers standing outside the entrance. It was possible their presence had nothing to do with the two of them, but Nicholas doubted it. He had never seen Controllers standing guard outside the entertainment complex before.
Nicholas and Claudia continued walking straight past the entrance to the complex. Passing directly in front of the four Controllers, Nicholas could see they were examining everyone who entered the facility but not stopping anyone. Of course, they didn’t really have to stop anyone until they found what they were looking for. The genetic signature of everyone on Eridani was in the computer network. It occurred to Nicholas that their technology might give them tremendous advancements over primitive people like those of Earth, but they had given up a lot of personal freedom and privacy at the same time.
Nicholas started veering away from the entrance, pulling Claudia with him. Until he knew what, or who, they were looking for, he wasn’t prepared to risk falling back into their hands. They almost made it past the Controllers and were nearly in the clear when they heard one of them shout.
“You there. Nicholas. That is your name. Stop. By order of the Controllers and Central Authority, Stop!”
Nicholas froze for a moment. His eyes grew wide as he turned and looked at the four controllers advancing toward him. Before he could decide what to do next, though, Claudia decided for him.
“Stop staring and run!” she shouted as she pushed him away from the Controllers. That was all it took and Nicholas and Claudia took off at full speed. Instinctively, Nicholas led Claudia toward a crowd of people exiting the transportation shuttle. He hoped they could blend in and escape.
“Slow down and act natural,” Nicholas said, doing his best to control his breathing.
“What are we going to do? What have we done that is so bad?” Claudia hissed under her breath.
“I have no idea…to either question.”
Joining the crowd, they made their way toward a new shuttle. It didn’t matter where it was headed, they just wanted to get away from the city center. As they approached the entrance, Nicholas slowed. More Controllers.
“They know. We can’t use the shuttle.”
“What do you mean?” Claudia asked.
Nicholas turned to face Claudia as the crowd thinned out around them. In just another moment, they were going to be alone on the platform and easy to spot. Nicholas put his arms around Claudia and pulled her close.
“I really don’t know what’s going on here. This is crazy, but we are in the middle of it now. We’re going to have to make a run for it,” Nicholas said. “We can’t use public transport. Everything is connected and they will be able to find us wherever we go.”
“Then I guess we’ll just have to find other ways to get around.”
“We’re not going to have any money or resources,” Nicholas said. “The network is everywhere…”
“Then we go public with what’s going on. We find someone to tell our story and get them to protect us. Everyone can’t be in on this,” Claudia said. “And before you say it again, I’m not sorry I’m here. I love you. Maybe you don’t understand that, but I do. I am right where I want to be.”
“I…I…I don’t know what to say.”
“You could start with ‘I love you, too’,” Claudia said with a smile. “But I can wait for that. In the mean time we probably need to move. Everyone else is gone from the platform and the Controller by the shuttle is watching us.”
“I do love you. I thought everyone had forgotten about love. I know none of my friends ever talk about love, but I know these feelings I have for you can only be love. I do love you,” Nicholas said as he kissed her.
“The Controller is heading this way,” Claudia whispered.
“Then we better move the other direction.”
They broke their embrace and turned toward the exit. The Controller began moving toward them a little faster. Nicholas was about to break into a run when a group of people came through the doors to the transportation shuttle platform.
“There you are!” a couple of the people from the new group said as they crowded around Nicholas and Claudia, screening them off from the Controller. “We’ve been looking all over for you. How did you get lost?”
“I don’t know who you people are, but you need to move. We have to leave now,” Nicholas said, doing his best to remain calm. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the Controller had paused.
“We didn’t know where you had gone. We were just coming to look for you.Thank you for finding us,” Claudia said, squeezing Nicholas’s arm. “Honey, aren’t you glad our friends have found us.”
“What are you talking about?” Nicholas said, catching on a bit more slowly.
“Come on you two. Let’s go where we were headed. We don’t need to take the shuttle,” the leader of the new group said, motioning toward the door.
“Sure, you guys lead. You know we aren’t from around here. We don’t know where everything is,” Claudia continued.
Nicholas was still confused but he decided Claudia knew more than he did. These people were going to help them get away from the Controllers and that was all he cared about for the moment.
Heading back outside, Nicholas glanced around and realized the Controller stopped following them.
“Okay, I think we’re safe. Let’s break off and head to my place,” Nicholas said to Claudia. She simply shook her head and smiled in return.
“I really think we should…”
“No, Nicholas. Trust me,” Claudia said.
The crowd of newcomers kept Nicholas and Claudia in the middle of their group while they talked and laughed like a group of friends out heading for a party. They made jokes and talked about what they were going to do that evening.
Turning down a side street away, Nicholas realized they were in an older part of town. The group made their way to an apartment building and everyone headed upstairs. As they entered the building, the laughing and joking stopped, but the group kept Nicholas and Claudia in the middle. Nicholas was getting nervous, but at least they weren’t in the hands of the Controllers. Every minute that was delayed was a good thing in his eyes. He didn’t know who these strangers were, but Claudia seemed at ease so he did his best to relax. Entering a large apartment, the group broke apart and began to take their seats. Another stranger came from a backroom and smiled.
“I’m glad my friends found you in time. I was worried about you,” the man said.
“I was worried about us, too. But when you’re friends found us, I knew it was going to be all right,” Claudia said with a smile. “I remembered what you told me. ‘Sometime soon, you may have nowhere else to turn and suddenly help will come from an unexpected source. Accept that help and trust it’.”
“You know this man?” Nicholas asked.
“Nicholas, I’d like you to meet the Librarian for the Archive.”
“That’s great, but it doesn’t explain why you’re helping us, how you knew we were in trouble, or what is going on,” Nicholas said.
“I don’t know that I can explain it all myself,” the Librarian began. “My friends and I, along with others spread around Eridani, have worked peacefully against some of the changes the government has made recently. There seems to be a plan to make us completely reliant on the government and take away any and all belief systems. They want to control the very fabric of our lives.”
“How did you know we were in trouble?”
“We monitor the network and communications between Controllers. They sent out an alert about you and we knew we had to do something for you. My friends would not have done anything to you if you hadn’t willingly come along with them, but I asked them to do what they could to camouflage you and bring you to me. You may have noticed this is an older part of the city. The networks aren’t as thorough here and they cannot watch us as closely.”
“That just leaves ‘why?’” Nicholas said.
“That is a little harder to explain and I am not sure you would believe me right now if I told you. I believe there is a plan for you…for both of you. We believe in something higher and more powerful than the government of Eridani,” the Librarian said. “For the time being, I think it will be safer for you both if you go elsewhere for a while. There is one more lesson you have to learn.”
“What does that mean?” Nicholas asked.
“The Controllers can find you anywhere on Eridani when they want to. The safest place for you to go until we understand what is going on will be back to Earth.”
“How can we get there? We can’t go back to the entertainment complex. They will be watching the transport console,” Claudia asked.
“We have a way to get you there.”
“I’m not so sure about this,” Nicholas said.
“I don’t see that we have any choice,” Claudia said, moving closer to Nicholas. “These people can’t protect us for very long. He’s right, they’ll find us eventually. We have to go somewhere outside of the network.”
“I understand that.”
“The only other option is to give ourselves up to the Controllers and see what they want.”
“Considering what they did to us last time, I don’t see that happening,” Nicholas agreed as he turned to the Librarian. “How do you propose we do this?”
The librarian led Nicholas and Claudia downstairs and into a dark hallway. He showed them the way using a small flashlight. They walked for 15 minutes without ever going out on the street. Finally, they came to a locked service door.
The librarian used a key to open the lock, something neither Nicholas nor Claudia had ever seen before. All the doors they used were opened with key pads or palm prints. The Librarian turned on the lights using a wall switch and Nicholas immediately recognized a travel console, although it looked different from any system he ever used.
“Where are we? What is this?” Nicholas asked.
“This is one of the first interplanetary transporters ever built on Eridani. It was only accessible to the scientists and researchers who made it. I’m sure the current government has long-since forgotten it ever existed. It predates the database you have both grown up with and the transport consoles that you use. We’ve kept it up to date with technology, but there is only one problem. It is a one way trip. You won’t be able to come back home on your own. The return works by transporting from a given location at a given time. We will send someone to you to coordinate your return when everything is ready.”
“I’m not sure I like leaving Eridani without a way to come home,” Nicholas said staring at what he thought of as an “ancient” device.
“Nicholas, I know you’re concerned, and I am too, but I don’t see that we have a choice. We will just have to trust these people. We are just going to have to see it through,” Claudia said quietly.
Nicholas searched her eyes for a moment and then made his decision. “Let’s do this.”
The Librarian smiled and got to work. The old transporter wasn’t automated like the modern ones. It took him a few minutes to get the equipment set up and the destination programmed into its computers.
“It’s ready,” he said finally. “Please take your positions on the platform.”
Nicholas and Claudia stepped into the device holding hands.
“This will work just like the more modern transporters. You will be able to communicate with the people around you and you will be dressed appropriately. The only thing we can’t do is communicate with you to bring you home. I will come and find you.”
“We’re ready,” they said together.
The Librarian nodded and returned to his equipment. He punched a couple buttons on the computer interface and the transport began.
The older transportation system might do the same thing as the newer models, but it wasn’t as efficient. They both felt as if they were “in-between” longer than normal and they were cold. There was always a feeling of cold on the transports, but this time it was a deeper chill than they were used to.
They also found themselves somewhere new.
“Do you recognize this place?” Claudia asked.
“Not at all,” Nicholas said. “Although just about every time I’ve come to Earth it has been to a different location.”
“What do you want to do? Do you think we will see Jesus on this visit?”
“We need to find some food and shelter for a few nights, maybe longer. Who knows how long we will have to stay here. It might be weeks,” Nicholas said.
The transporter delivered them to an area by a large lake. The hills surrounding it were green and fertile. Off in the distance, across the lake, they could make out a small town on the water’s edge. Where Nicholas and Claudia stood, though, there was no town or structure close by. They did see several small fishing boats pulled from the water and resting on the beach.
“What’s going on up there?” Claudia asked.
Turning, Nicholas saw a large group of people on a hillside behind them. It looked like an outdoor concert or show of some sort.
“Not a clue, but we might as well go check it out,” Nicholas said. “Maybe we’ll find some food or a place to stay with all those people. At least, we’ll be able to get a ride to the town on the other side of the lake.”
It took Nicholas and Claudia about 20 minutes to walk to where the crowd was gathered. The closer they got, the larger they realized the crowd was. There were thousands of people sitting together, listening to the speaker who stood up the hill. Skirting the edge of the crowd, they made their way toward the front. They wanted to see what the gathering was all about.
As they drew near, Nicholas stopped cold.
“That’s Jesus,” Nicholas said.
“How can that be? That’s a full-grown man. You were just here and he was 12,” Claudia said.
“I don’t understand it either, but I’d recognize him anywhere. He has grown, certainly, but the eyes are the same. I don’t know why, but we keep seeing Jesus on every one of our trips to Earth. There’s some connection, but I just don’t understand it yet.”
As they approached the front of the assembled group, they heard Jesus speaking. He told the thousands listening to him to sit down into groups of 50. Nicholas marveled that they could hear him so clearly over the crowd. His voice carried to the furthest parts of the audience and everyone began doing what he asked.
Jesus spread five small loaves of bread in front of him and two small fishes as well. He closed his eyes and looked toward the sky. “Father, thank you for the blessings of this day. Thank you for this food we are about to receive. Bless it to our bodies so this crowd can listen to your words and learn from them,” he said.
When he was done, he motioned to the men standing behind him and began to break the bread and the fishes apart. He gestured for them to begin giving it to the crowd. Nicholas and Claudia stood in awe as the men continued to distribute what they had. They spread through the crowd giving out more and more food. When they were done everyone had enough to eat. Then the men began walking through the crowd to pick up what was left over and they filled 12 baskets.
“I really don’t understand what we just watched,” Claudia said as they sat with a group who had been listening to Jesus speak. “It was amazing.”
“That makes two of us. There is no way to explain it. At least not with science and physics,” Nicholas agreed with a smile. “But it was definitely real. It even tasted pretty good, although the bread was a little plain for my taste.”
“It is simple. God has provided for us,” said a man sitting close by.
“Do you know Jesus?” Nicholas asked. “The leader?”
“I know of him, but I don’t know him as a friend,” the man answered. “I have listened to him teach many times and I am always struck by his message. He is the son of God and has come to save us.”
“Thank you, my friend,” Nicholas said. Then he gestured to Claudia and they moved away from the crowd.
“It seems as if Jesus is controlling our visits and bringing us here to meet him,” Nicholas said when they were alone.
“That fits with what I learned in the archive about Eridani history.”
“And it fits with what the Librarian said just before we left to come to Earth. He said ‘I believe there is a plan for you, for both of you. We believe in something higher and more powerful than the government of Eridani’,” Nicholas recited.
“Since we can’t go home anyway, I think we need to hang around with Jesus and his followers and see if we can figure anything out, then.”
Nicholas agreed and they began looking for a place to sleep for the night, staying close to the crowd and the man they had come to watch. Nicholas saw Jesus look their way once and smile, but he never approached them. Nicholas and Claudia were content to stay out of the way and observe.
The next morning, Nicholas and Claudia awoke with the sun to find most of the crowd was gone and Jesus and his followers were gathering up their few things to leave. They decided to follow along and see what happened. While they traveled, most of the group was quiet, or chatting among themselves. Jesus walked at the front of the group, but stayed quiet. From Nicholas’s perspective, he seemed to be lost in thought.
As they approached a small village, the people began to come forward to meet Jesus. Word traveled quickly that the Messiah was approaching and entire families came forward. Parents brought their children out to meet Jesus. As they did, Jesus’ followers stepped in front of the children and spoke to the parents.
“Keep your children back.”
“Don’t you see out master is thinking.”
“The master cannot be disturbed by noisy children right now. Have some respect!”
Nicholas could see Jesus’ eyes as he watched the men.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
For the next hour, Jesus kneeled down and spoke to each child, touching them on the head while he closed his eyes. Nicholas and Claudia watched silently.
“He seems to truly be connected to the children,” Claudia said. “He looks happier now than he did all day yesterday with the thousands of people.”
“I think you’re right,” Nicholas agreed. “I’m probably just imagining things, but I think he looked over here a couple times, too. He seems to want to make sure we are watching.”
“Do you think he is doing this for our benefit?”
“Yes and no. I don’t think he is talking to the kids just for our benefit. But I think this is important for whatever is going on.”
After spending time with the children and telling a few stories to the townspeople, people brought out food and they all began to eat, feeding Jesus and his followers. Nicholas and Claudia joined in and sat to the side of the group so they could seem a part of the process, but far enough out that they could see everything that happened as well. They were both quiet as they absorbed what was happening to them.
Suddenly from behind, a voice broke their silence.
“What have you learned?”
With a start, they both turned to see Jesus standing behind them. He smiled at their obvious discomfort and sat down on the ground with them.
“What have you learned in your time here?”
“Master, I’m not sure what you mean,” Nicholas said, stumbling for time. Claudia recovered quicker. Nicholas had been trying to understand their purpose on Earth while she was thinking about what Jesus did and said.
“I believe you are telling us children are important, because we all need to believe simply. Your messages are all very simple, but have a lot of meaning as well. I can tell that when I listen to you speak. You want us to believe with the faith of a child,” she said.
“I am gratified you have seen what I needed you to see. Your world is different from this one, but not so different. Your people had that child-like faith but they lost it. Science and knowledge comes from my Father. But the bedrock of existence is faith. The only way to achieve that faith is by looking at your world with the wide-eyed understanding of a child.”
“You know where we come from? You know we are not from this world?” Nicholas asked.
“Of course I do, my friend. It was I who brought you here,” Jesus said with a smile. “I have a mission for you on your own world.”
“But, we can’t go home. We have to wait until our people come for us,” Claudia said.
“I can send you home. You don’t need your technology,” Jesus said. “But I will ask you to make a promise for me first. It will not be easy at first, but you are the ones to make it happen. It will end up changing your world and this one. Are you willing?”
Father and Samuel left the older man’s office and headed out to make the deliveries. The promise Nicholas made that morning on Earth slowly became a project the entire planet of Eridani had taken on, but not without some struggle. When he looked at himself in the mirror, Nicholas saw the same young man he had been many years ago, but he also saw someone different. He saw Nicholas and he also saw the Father. He was heavier now, and he had long since decided to grow a beard to help protect his face from the cold of the interplanetary travel. He also designed a special red suit to negate the effects of the interplanetary travel and keep him warm while he jumped back and forth between Eridani and Earth on his deliveries.
The promise Nicholas made wasn’t to deliver presents to millions of children on Earth, even though that was what it had become. It was about bringing faith and purpose back to Eridani and giving his people something to believe in. Nicholas quickly realized the lesson of faith from a child’s perspective was important and he began the delivery of presents on the anniversary of Jesus’ birth as a way to honor that lesson. The project took on a life of its own and grew from there. Today, it had become the major purpose for the people of Eridani. The entire planet worked together to make the presents and get them ready for delivery.
After they got back from that last meeting with Jesus, Nicholas and Claudia married and worked together to make the deliveries happen. For Nicholas and Claudia, who were now known throughout Eridani as Father Christmas and Mrs. Claus, that was most important part.