Space is Limited, the sign read.
When I saw it in the window, it seemed innocuous. Just a simple little sign, designed to attract whatever attention it could. No pictures, no other words, just that simple phrase.
Space is Limited.
I have to admit, it intrigued me. The building was simple, your standard market-street fare, with a brick and mortar facade and big windows. They were thickly tinted, however, preventing me from seeing inside when I tried to peer through.
I thought I could see some small movements inside, but I could not be sure. It was, otherwise, impossible to see clearly through.
I started my feet walking again, heading to a job interview a friend told me about. I’d been out of work for a long time and was getting pretty desperate, to be honest. I was not far from being homeless, in fact, though if anyone were to ask, I would have denied that fact wholly. It was not my way to pass my problems off on other people and I always have tended to be reserved about any problems I had. It was what caused most of my relationships to go to hell in a hand basket; most of the women I ended up together with were after one thing – grabbing as much as they could – and I would let them do it.
At least, until I lost my job, lost my way, and found myself on the long walk to getting yet another minimum wage job in another shit-hole fly-by-night company.
I don’t really know what made me bring my feet to a stop, but I did. I turned myself around and walked back up to the window again, staring at the sign.
Space is Limited.
When I walked through the door, I was struck by a lot of different things. The first was the really pretty gal at the front desk, though to say “front desk” is giving it a lot more credit than it was.
The place was not very lit and the desk the woman sat at was an old wooden one, and looked like it had seen fifty years of hard use. A partition was behind the desk, blocking off the rest of the building from sight.
The whole area had an old, worn out feeling to it. The lights were incandescent and shone down on the woman in odd ways; it made her skin look slightly yellowed, almost like an old book. Her hair shone brightly, however, in the glow and the blackness of it was deep.
She smiled as she saw me walk through the door, and I could hear a soft bell sound from behind the partition, signaling someone had come inside.
“Welcome,” she said, her bright green eyes full of sparks. “You’re just in time.”
“Time for what,” I said, confused.
“Time for everything,” she said, smiling.
I shook my head, and said, “I don’t understand. I just came in off the street after I saw your sign.”
“Of course,” she replied, still smiling. “Have a seat. Mister Brock will be with you in just a few moments.”
I did as she said, sitting down in one of the chairs lined along the window front. “Who’s Mister Brock?” I asked, as I shrugged myself out of my coat.
“He’s the best we have,” she said. “He will get you fixed right up.”
I thought about getting out of there. It seemed this woman, though she was pretty, might be a little rattled in the head; she made no sense. However, my sense of curiosity was getting the better of me and, besides, I had not been looking forward to going to the job interview, anyhow. It was for a company I had no real interest in working for and I would have probably taken the job just out of desperation. When in that kind of situation, the job you get is not going to last long. I’d find myself either bored or frustrated quickly and just wander on.
I really hated what my life had become.
There was very little else in the room to attract my attention other than the lady. She was youngish, perhaps in her mid-twenties, and looked to be of some European descent. Her skin was a dark tone, not the tanned skin you see on beaches, but a natural, purer color of skin that looked great and women would pay hundreds of dollars to get, while failing to achieve the naturalness of it all.
Her movements, though, seemed stilted, somehow. Strange, as she moved papers about on the desk or typed into the computer. It seemed not quite right, somehow, but I simply could not place my fingers on exactly how.
Still, she was very pretty and I did not mind waiting if it meant I could take a gander at her for a time. She was certainly more pleasant than the cloudy day outside and the warmth of the building was welcoming.
Another tone sounded, different than the one I heard when I had come through the door, and the woman looked up from the screen she sat before. She said, “Mister Brock will see you now, sir. Go on through.”
She pointed behind her to the door, smiling at me again as she did.
I stood and grabbed my coat, tossing it over my shoulder, then walked through the door.
I thought I would be greeted by a hallway and series of doors, but I was wrong. Instead, it was another partitioned area, much like the first, but this time no windows were to be seen.
A desk, newer than the one from the front area, was placed in the center of the room and the walls, painted white, were brightly lit by the lighting in the ceiling above.
Behind the desk, metal this time, sat a man that was perhaps the oldest I had ever seen. His nose was crooked and short black hair could be seen beneath the fedora he wore, while the rest of him was almost swallowed by the three piece suit he wore.
His skin was wrinkled in every area I could see. The tone was almost as dark as the woman in the front area, but whether that was from some natural product of descent or the age of him, I could not tell you for sure. He seemed small behind the large desk and I wondered if he was once a tall man, shrunken with age or if he had always been small.
He looked up from the computer terminal in front of him and said, “Hello, James. Please, sit down.” He pointed to the chair in front of his desk.
I hesitated. “How did you know my name,” I asked, without sitting. “I never told your greeter who I was.”
“Oh, we know much about you, James,” he replied, pointing again at the seat. “James Norak, living at 1919 Billory Lane. Currently unmarried, no children and no job.”
I was shocked as the words came from him. That shock turned to anger as I said, “How do you know this? Who are you?”
He shook his head, almost sadly, and replied, “No need for you to be upset, James. We know many things, none of which should be of concern more than the fact that you were meant to be here, today, in this place and this time. Please, have a seat.”
I turned away, grasping the knob on the door to walk out, saying, as I did, “Forget this. This is insane.”
“Any more insane than going from job to job, with no prospects and no future?” His words struck me as they came out. “Any more insane than living your life with absolutely no purpose beyond begging for your next meal?”
His voice, though thin and weak, hit me like a brick. How did this perfect stranger know so much about me? How could he? Everything he said was true, but I would not even admit them to myself except, perhaps, in the middle of the night.
“We can help you with that problem, James,” he continued, as I released my grip on the handle and turned back toward him. “Space is limited, however.”
I felt my anger fade away as I took the chair in front of his desk, letting my coat slide to the floor as I saw, staring at him.
“What is this all about,” I said, gentler than I had before. “What is going on here?”
“In time,” he said, a grin coming to his face. “All in time.”
He tapped a few keys on his keyboard, staring at the screen, the smile still on his face. “Do you want to change your life, James? Really change it?”
I laughed and said, “I’m not interested in any religion, Mister Brock. If that’s what all of this is about, tell me now, and I’ll get on with my day.”
“Oh, no,” he replied. “No religion here, though I dare say that’s one of the things about people I find fascinating.” He smiled again, gazing back at me. “It’s what makes humans so different from anything else. So much ego all wrapped up in a few old pieces of paper, and everyone fighting over which piece of paper might have been touched by some god or another.”
His smile turned sardonic. “Of course, God doesn’t deal with people through paper. That’s left up too the bankers.” He laughed, and I could not help but laugh with him.
“No, James,” he continued, “no religion here. What we offer is a change of life in a more drastic, and immediate, kind of way. If you are interested, I would say, after meeting you in person, you are eminently qualified to take part in what we have to offer here.”
“And just what is that, Mister Brock?” I asked, hoping he would finally get to the answer.
“To answer that,” he said, “you’ll have to sign a little waiver. Nothing too serious,” he interjected when he saw me about to voice opposition. “Just your standard non-disclosure agreements and waiving the right to sue if things should not go accordingly.”
He pulled a small stack of papers from his desk drawer and slid them across the desk to rest in front of me. He followed it with a fancy pen, covered in gold filigree. It looked as old as he.
I picked up the papers and looked them over. They were one page after another of bureaucratic legalese and I really understood little of it. Who could, other than another bureaucrat? Still, I knew I had to be careful here. I had found myself in enough hot water over the years because I didn’t read a contract closely enough.
It took me a little time, but I finally got to the last pages of it all. Mister Brock did not seem to mind the wait. He simply stared at his computer terminal while I read through everything. His eyes gleamed, however, when I reached out and took the pen, pressing it to the many places I could see in the documents stating where to sign.
When I was finished, I handed the paperwork back to him, placing the pen on top of the stack. He took them up and flipped through the pages, making sure I signed everywhere necessary. When he was satisfied everything was in order, he put the paperwork back in his desk and turned back to me, resting his chin on his hands and elbows on his desk.
“James,” he said, finally, after staring for what seemed like a long minute, “we have a place for you. It’s really like nowhere else. Have you ever been told you were special?”
I smiled, and said, “Special? No, only my mother told me anything like that. And that was only because she did what any other mother would do for their kid.”
“Well,” Mister Brock said, “you really are. There are only a few people in the world that fit your description, fit what you are qualified to do.”
“Mister Brock, I’m not one for compliments,” I said, “and I really don’t like wasting time. If you have a point, get to it.” After a moment, I added, “please.”
“Very well,” he said, “very well. The sign out front tells the truth of things. Space is limited. Limited, that is, to a very few, very different, individuals. Individuals like yourself, James.” He leaned back into his chair and smiled a little.
“You see,” he continued, after a moment, “there are things which your science does not understand. Things that, if it were to become widely known, would likely cause the whole of the scientific community into an uproar. Might even, at that, send humanity back into the dark ages, or so it would seem.”
He stood, beckoning me to stand with him. He turned to the doorway behind him, opening it as I stood.
“Come with me,” he said, walking through the door without looking to see if I would be behind him. I followed his steps as he went, entering a long hallway with a light at the end.
He spoke as we walked, slowly for his benefit. His steps, shuffling along the ground, sounded loud on the bare concrete floor.
“Certain events in the past were lied about,” he said, “which would, if they were to be discovered, change the way science looks at itself. The lie started out simply enough. Tell the people the United States got to the moon first. Beat the Russians at their own game, you see. Fan the flames of patriotism, create jobs, make it seem America was the best it had ever been.”
As I followed, the memory of the moon landing stories came to me. I think every kid in school has seen the event, heard the words of Neil Armstrong as he took that first step, that giant leap.
What was this old man saying?
“James,” he continued, “America never made it. None of them could, you see, because they didn’t have that special quality. The quality you have. The special genes.”
We reached the end of the hallway and he opened the door there, stepping into a new chamber. As I followed, I wondered if this was all some sort of elaborate joke on me. Did someone put some kind of company up to this? Was this some sort of facility designed to make practical jokes a reality or something?
I was about to turn myself around and walk back down the hallway, to give up on all of this entirely, when I saw what looked like some sort of subway car in the chamber ahead, but… different, somehow.
The room was well-lit, with spotlights shining on the machine and the walls around it. It was really spectacular, as it sat there. I heard a low hum, a vibration emanating from it, could feel it in my bones. It was subtle, but there.
Mister Brock stepped toward the machine and pulled a device from his pocket. He pressed a button on it and I could hear a loud hiss as the door on the side of the machine open, hydraulics gasping as it slid aside, showing the interior. I could discern small lights everywhere inside, LEDS and buttons, as well as room enough for the both of us to sit, with room to spare.
He entered the machine, taking the seat on the far side of it, then turned and beckoned me inside.
I knew, somehow, to do so would put a finality on the life I had lived to that point. Even though I signed the papers, and been offered a small glimpse into what this guy was all about, I knew this was, somehow, the final test to my resolve to be involved.
I also knew, despite the smile on his face and the niceties he had shown, that if I entered this machine and came with him, I could not get out of all of this. I would be in for good, or I would, perhaps, be removed from life.
I admit I was rather shocked at myself for how little time I actually spent thinking upon the decision. I think I had spent more time considering what I would have for breakfast most mornings than I did on whether to enter that machine.
I stepped forward, sitting in the seat beside Mister Brock, staring straight ahead at the buttons and levers and LEDs blinking calmly, while trying to just breathe and relax. Mister Brock nodded, then pressed a button beside him.
The hiss of the door was louder from the inside, but not harmfully so. With a click, the door locked in place.
“Just a moment,” Mister Brock said, as he fiddled with a couple of the buttons before him. I could see a display light up, and words flash across the screen inset into the dash area, but they were gone before I could truly grasp what they said.
The low hum I had been hearing since entering the chamber changed to a louder, more high pitched whine and the vibration of the machine increased dramatically. It made me feel a little queasy, and I was glad that I had very little for breakfast that morning. I might not have been able to hold it in.
As the whine reached a crescendo, there was a bright flash of light and I felt my body almost twist, like all of my joints had suddenly taken leave of their standard positions and become mixed and jumbled.
The feeling passed within a brief moment, however, and I was left more confused than harmed. It was still quite a disconcerting feeling.
Mister Brock seemed to pay no attention or react in any way to it and I did not know if he had felt it or if I were alone in the chaos of that moment. Perhaps he had felt it before and, thus, was prepared for it better than I.
He pressed a button at his side and I heard the hissing of the door once more. As it slid open, I saw the light outside of the machine had changed. The white spotlights seemed to have gone away and were replaced, instead by a soft blue color. It was calming but distinctly unnatural.
The door was opened all the way and Mister Brock indicated I should get out of the machine. I did so, with him following behind.
“There, now,” he said, as he stepped out and stretched. “Better. Much better.”
He started toward a door ahead and, when I saw it, I realized, somehow, we were not in the same place we had been before. The wall around us were not the concrete ones they had been before. Instead, they seemed hewn roughly out of stone.
The door, too, was much different. The one before had been a standard wood door with a knob you could buy at most hardware stores. The one before me was metal, thick steel with no handle whatsoever. Instead, a panel beside the doorway, with multiple buttons, awaited a key press, I assumed, to get by.
This Mister Brock did, speaking as he did so. “You see, James, only a very few people are actually able to go much farther into space than just beyond the atmosphere. It takes a special quality, which most of humanity lacks. Just not bred with it. You, however,” he said, as he pressed the button on the panel in, “were born different.”
“What are you getting at, Brock,” I demanded, confused and feeling at a loss, and not a little afraid of what was happening. Things were getting out of hand. “I don’t unders – ”
My words locked in my throat as the door slid aside, a whooshing sound accompanied by a puff of air ass the pressure around me changed slightly.
Beyond the door, a vast chamber awaited. No, those words are insufficient. It was more than a chamber. It was a huge platform, with transparent material holding back the vastness of space outside. Machinery was everywhere, and the stars through the glassy material were much brighter than I had ever seen them. It was like I could reach out and touch each and every one of them.
“You’ll understand in time, my boy,” Mister Brock said. “Space, you see, is limited.”
He stepped forward, entering the area with his shuffling gait. I followed, glad for his slowness of step, staring around me, turning myself around and seeing space everywhere outside. The light of it all helped illuminate the array of machines, consoles, computers and people I could see throughout the whole of the place.
People? I am not sure that word sufficiently describes what I really saw there.
I could see forms and figures that would never be described as human, but most seemed human-like, with two legs and arms and a head on top, but beyond that, there was little similarity to what you would call a human being. Instead, they seemed to make up a zoologists deepest dreams, or maybe nightmares.
The alien-ness of it all struck me beyond measure and I knew I would never be able to go back to the life I had once lived. I would never be able to grasp how the banality of the Earth could be, the day to day grind of it all as people shuffled their way to work and home and back again the next day. I could never again see myself going back to that way of life and being satisfied.
Not knowing all of this existed, somewhere, somehow.
“What is this place, Mister Brock,” I asked, finally, after a long number of minutes passed with my throat locked against speech. “What does all of this mean?”
“It means, my boy,” he replied, “that you are different. As different as these good people are to those you’ve left on Earth as you are to them. You were born different, you see? Born to something better.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I don’t understand.” I could feel my mind cracking a little, I think, could feel the sanity slipping away from me as I looked around and tried to make sense of everything. I had no point of reference for any of it. Nothing in my experiences had ever prepared me to deal with what I was facing in that place. It was majestic and horrible all at once.
“In your blood,” he said, “runs the fire of people that never belonged on Earth. They were not born there, were not meant to be there, but were there, just the same. They came from out here,” he pointed around him, “long, long ago.”
He led me further into the chamber, towards a set of seats nearby. He sat down in one with a small huff, relaxing his old shell. I followed suit, but I did not rest. My mind was echoing the words he was saying but not really registering them.
“Humans,” he said, finally, “are a strange lot. It’s rather amusing to see how they have turned those that came to them into gods, worshiping them, fawning over them, even after so much time has passed since they have been gone. None of us are even sure how that got started, though it has been a matter of debate for quite a long time. Still, I suppose it’s not unexpected, since they were so primitive to begin with.”
I was just as lost as before, but said nothing, could say nothing, as I stared at all of the beings around us. Some had taken notice of the two of us sitting there and I could see a few pointing at us and staring. It felt a little like being under a glass or an exhibit in a zoo.
Mister Brock seemed to notice my irritation and said, “Oh pay them no mind, my boy. It’s been a while since they’ve seen someone new from Earth come here. It’s quite an event, really.”
He reached over and patted my leg, genially, almost fatherly, and said, “Space is limited, you see, since we had to set shields in place around Earth, to prevent any further contamination of the human species. They’re on a special path and need to be free to make their own choices, set their own paths and their own future.” He leaned back again, sighing heavily. I looked him over and could see a sadness in his eyes as he thought.
“So we’re stuck there?” I asked, wondering exactly what he meant.
“’We’? No. They are. You’re not one of them. Not really.” He smiled at me again.
“What?” I asked, even more confused.
“In your veins, James,” he replied, “is the blood of those that came to Earth long ago. You’re the last of that particular family line, a remnant of the contamination of the human species. That’s how we knew as much about you as we did, James. We’ve been following you, waiting for a long time, to get you away from that place. To bring you home.”
It had been a long time since I had really thought about that word. I had no family, had no spouse, had nothing really to tie me to anyone else. I had drifted from place to place, always looking for what I thought could be home, but never finding anything that satisfied me beyond a momentary pleasure or two. Never anything beyond that.
What Brick said made a lot of sense to me and went far to explain why I had always felt I could not fit into any place I tried to be in. If I was not born to be there, then how could I ever fit in there?
But what, really, was to become of me? If all of what Mister Brock said was truth, and what I saw around me was real, what place would I have here?
When I asked, Mister Brock said, “Space, my dear boy, for you, is unlimited.”