“I don’t know what it is, but it’s wonderful!” Laurel cried. She was halflaughing, half-weeping. “I love it!”
“I hope we’re safe here,” Bob said. He had to raise his voice to be heard. “I think we will be. We’re out of the main traffic areas.”
“What’s going to happen?” Brian asked. “What do you know?”
“When we went through the time-rip headed cast, we travelled back in time!” Bob shouted. “We went into the past! Perhaps as little as fifteen minutes... do you remember me telling you that?”
Brian nodded, and Albert’s face suddenly lit up.
“This time it brought us into the future!” Albert cried. “That’s it, isn’t it? This time the rip brought us into the future!”
“I believe so, yes!” Bob yelled back. He was grinning helplessly. “And instead of arriving in a dead world — a world which had moved on without us — we have arrived in a world waiting to be born! A world as fresh and new as a rose on the verge of opening! That is what is happening now, I believe. That is what we hear, and what we sense... what has filled us with such marvellous, helpless joy. I believe we are about to see and experience something which no living man or woman has ever witnessed before. We have seen the death of the world; now I believe we are going to see it born. I believe that the present is on the verge of catching up to us.”
As the colors had flared and faded, so now the deep, reverberating quality of the sound suddenly dropped. At the same time, the voices which had been within it grew louder, clearer. Laurel realized she could make out words, even whole phrases.
“—have to call her before she decides—”
“—I really don’t think the option is a viable—”
“—home and dry if we can just turn this thing over to the parent company—”
That one passed directly before them through the emptiness on the other side of the velvet rope.
Brian Engle felt a kind of ecstasy rise within him, suffusing him in a glow of wonder and happiness. He took Laurel’s hand and grinned at her as she clasped it and then squeezed it fiercely. Beside them, Albert suddenly hugged Bethany, and she began to shower kisses all over his face, laughing as she did it. Bob and Rudy grinned at each other delightedly, like long-lost friends who have met by chance in one of the world’s more absurd backwaters.
Overhead, the fluorescent squares in the ceiling began to flash on. They went sequentially, racing out from the center of the room in an expanding circle of light that flowed down the concourse, chasing the night-shadows before it like a flock of black sheep.
Smells suddenly struck Brian with a bang: sweat, perfume, aftershave, cologne, cigarette smoke, leather, soap, industrial cleaner.
For a moment longer the wide circle of the boarding lounge remained deserted, a place haunted by the voices and footsteps of the not-quite-living. And Brian thought: I am going to see it happen; I am going to see the moving Present lock onto this stationary future and pull it along, the way hooks on moving express trains used to snatch bags of mail from the Postal Service poles standing by the tracks in sleepy little towns down south and out west. I am going to see time itself open like a rose on a summer morning.
“Brace yourselves,” Bob murmured. “There may be a jerk.”
A bare second later Brian felt a thud — not just in his feet, but all through his body. At the same instant he felt as if an invisible hand had given him a strong push, directly in the center of his back. He rocked forward and felt Laurel rock forward with him. Albert had to grab Rudy to keep him from falling over. Rudy didn’t seem to mind; a huge, goony smile split his face.
“Look!” Laurel gasped. “Oh, Brian — look!”
He looked... and felt his breath stop in his throat.
The boarding lounge was full of ghosts.
Ethereal, transparent figures crossed and crisscrossed the large central area: men in business suits toting briefcases, women in smart travelling dresses, teenagers in Levi’s and tee-shirts with rock-group logos printed on them. He saw a ghost-father leading two small ghost-children, and through them he could see more ghosts sitting in the chairs, reading transparent copies of Cosmopolitan and Esquire and US News & World Report. Then color dove into the shapes in a series of cometary flickers, solidifying them, and the echoing voices resolved themselves into the prosaic stereo swarm of real human voices.
Shooting stars, Brian thought wonderingly. Shooting stars only.
The two children were the only ones who happened to be looking directly at the survivors of Flight 29 when the change took place; the children were the only ones who saw four men and two women appear in a place where there had only been a wall the second before.
“Daddy!” the little boy exclaimed, tugging his father’s right hand.
“Dad!” the little girl demanded, tugging his left.
“What?” he asked, tossing them an impatient glance. “I’m looking for your mother!”
“New people!” the little girl said, pointing at Brian and his bedraggled quintet of passengers. “Look at the new people!”
The man glanced at Brian and the others for a moment, and his mouth tightened nervously. It was the blood, Brian supposed. He, Laurel, and Bethany had all suffered nosebleeds. The man tightened his grip on their hands and began to pull them away fast. “Yes, great. Now help me look for your mother. What a mess this turned out to be.”
“But they weren’t there before!” the little boy protested. “They—” Then they were gone into the hurrying crowds.
Brian glanced up at the monitors and noted the time as 4:17 A.M.
Too many people here, he thought, and I bet I know why.
As if to confirm this, the overhead speaker blared: “All eastbound flights out of Los Angeles International Airport continue to be delayed because of unusual weather patterns over the Mojave Desert. We are sorry for this inconvenience, but ask for your patience and understanding while this safety precaution is in force. Repeat: all eastbound flights...”
Unusual weather patterns, Brian thought. Oh yeah. Strangest goddam weather patterns ever.
Laurel turned to Brian and looked up into his face. Tears streamed down her cheeks, and she made no effort to wipe them away. “Did you hear her? Did you hear what that little girl said?”
“Is that what we are, Brian? The new people? Do you think that’s what we are?”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but that’s what it feels like.”
“That was wonderful,” Albert said. “My God, that was the most wonderful thing.”
“Totally tubular!” Bethany yelled happily, and then began to clap out “Let’s Go” again.
“What do we do now, Brian?” Bob asked. “Any ideas?”
Brian glanced around at the choked boarding area and said, “I think I want to go outside. Breathe some fresh air. And look at the sky.”
“Shouldn’t we inform the authorities of what”
“We will,” Brian said. “But the sky first.”
“And maybe something to eat on the way?” Rudy asked hopefully.
Brian laughed. “Why not?”
“My watch has stopped,” Bethany said.
Brian looked down at his wrist and saw that his watch had also stopped. All their watches had stopped.
Brian took his off, dropped it indifferently to the floor, and put his arm around Laurel’s waist. “Let’s blow this joint,” he said. “Unless any of you want to wait for the next flight east?”
“Not today,” Laurel said, “but soon. All the way to England. There’s a man I have to see in...” For one horrible moment the name wouldn’t come to her... and then it did. “Fluting,” she said. “Ask anyone along the High Street. The old folks still just call him the gaffer.”
“What are you talking about?” Albert asked.
“Daisies,” she said, and laughed. “I think I’m talking about daisies. Come on — let’s go.”
Bob grinned widely, exposing baby-pink gums. “As for me, I think that the next time I have to go to Boston, I’ll take the train.”
Laurel toed Brian’s watch and asked, “Are you sure you don’t want that? It looks expensive.”
Brian grinned, shook his head, and kissed her forehead. The smell of her hair was amazingly sweet. He felt more than good; he felt reborn, every inch of him new and fresh and unmarked by the world. He felt, in fact, that if he spread his arms, he would be able to fly without the aid of engines. “Not at all,” he said. “I know what time it is.”
“Oh? And what time is that?”
“It’s half past now.”
Albert clapped him on the back.
They left the boarding lounge in a group, weaving their way through the disgruntled clots of delayed passengers. A good many of these looked curiously after them, and not just because some of them appeared to have recently suffered nosebleeds, or because they were laughing their way through so many angry, inconvenienced people.
They looked because the six people seemed somehow brighter than anyone else in the crowded lounge.
Shooting stars only, Brian thought, and suddenly remembered that there was one passenger still back on the plane — the man with the black beard. This is one hangover that guy will never forget, Brian thought, grinning. He swept Laurel into a run. She laughed and hugged him.
The six of them ran down the concourse together toward the escalators and all the outside world beyond.