They didn’t believe him, because he wasn’t a scientist. And in the year 2113, when the world had come together peacefully at least under the shining banner of the Planetary Union, when science was reaching unprecedented heights of discovery and exploration, when shuttlecraft were flying daily from colonies on the Moon, Mars, and three of the moons of Jupiter, when plans were even then underway for building a massive light-speed ship that could leave the solar system and venture out into the glorious unknown, a person who wasn’t a scientist just wasn’t worth listening to. Jack Jenner was most certainly not a scientist. He hadn’t entered the Solar Fleet Academy or even graduated university. Besides which, as Admiral Susan C. Presterfield had so eloquently testified in her committee’s hearing on the subject, Mr. Jenner’s suggestion was completely and totally wacko. “Our long-range scanner arrays have been searching the universe for years and years,” she’d said to the swarm of holo-cams and droid-reporters of the world’s myriad media outlets. “Never have we found even the tiniest sign that another world exists. Even if one did, it would take centuries to travel there even at light-speed. It would be absolutely impossible, as Mr. Jenner says, to travel there through some sort of magic cave that he stumbled upon in the woods. Honestly, he’s completely delusional.”
Mr. Jenner, bewildered and humiliated, had never said anything to anyone about his discovery again. He had hoped…but they hadn’t understood. No one did. Quietly he left his job, sold his small house and bought an even smaller cabin in the woods, and little by little dropped out of social activities. Very few people even noticed. He didn’t even need to go out to buy food anymore; three years ago someone had finally taken the cue from Star Trek and invented an actual replicator. Jack walled himself away in his cabin, and eventually the world forgot about his odd idea that there might be others in the universe besides themselves.
Then, one day, Jack’s replicator broke down. He hadn’t even the slightest clue how to repair it; he’d read a few manuals but everything sounded like meaningless babble to him. So, reluctantly, he climbed into his ancient speeder and flew into town. No one waved as he puttered past, no one said hello or even acknowledged that he existed. No one, that is, until Tally.
Tally worked in Big Bob’s Replicator Barn. Big Bob’s was a rarity in the 22nd century; not only did it have an actual building where people could go in and physically buy stuff, it even employed real human beings as cashiers and technicians. So it was that Tally, tidying up a stack of plasma-coil phase inducer widgets, saw Jack wandering helplessly around the aisles in search of a proto-polarity-reversal-gizmo-thing, tapped him politely on the shoulder and asked if she could help. Jack turned and looked into her sea-grey eyes, his mouth fell open, and he blurted out a random combination of incoherent syllables. Jack knew at once that he’d made a fool of himself, and seriously considering making a run for it out of Big Bob’s and never returning again as long as he lived. Then it slowly penetrated his astounded brain that Tally wasn’t laughing at him, nor had she turned away to help someone who could actually speak in understandable English. Instead, she was just standing there, waiting solemnly for him to work out what he wanted to ask her. Jack pulled himself together, and in a valiant effort, managed to complete two whole sentences. “Can you show me where the proto-polarity reversal gizmo-things are?
The one on my replicator broke.” To his continuing amazement, she told him. Not only that, but Tally walked him to the proper aisle, and gave him helpful suggestions on the best proto-polarity reversal gizmo-thing to use. Then she showed him where the checkout aisle was, and waved goodbye as he left the store. It was the second most wonderful experience of his life.
A week later, Jack found himself back in Big Bob’s Replicator Barn, allegedly looking for a trans-neural blinkinator button. He was back the next week, and the next, and events went on happily from there, when Jack found himself standing in a glade of tall pines on the top of a hill, looking out over the sea of city lights below. He turned to face Tally, who was standing next to him admiring the view. Carefully Jack got down on one knee, and pulled a small box from his pocket. Many people in the 22nd century liked to do this sort of thing by hologram or vidscreen; Jack preferred the traditional approach. Curiously, he didn’t feel afraid or nervous at all. Jack was convinced more than anything else that he was doing the right thing, and that it would work out exactly as he hoped. He asked the question without tripping over words or breaking into incomprehensible syllables. Then he paused, waiting for her answer. The world seemed to pause with him. Tally looked down with those grey eyes that he knew so well, and said, in a voice that rang clear and distinct in the chill night air, “No.”
“But…” Jack was confounded, worse than ever before. He had no idea what to say now. “But…
“No,” she said, in an oddly repetitive way that Jack might have noticed if he hadn’t been so distressed.
“But…” he tried again. “Please?”
Tally flickered. “Improper response. Improper response. Improper-” she said several times, very fast and high-pitched, and then all of a sudden she winked out of existence.
Before Jack realized what was happening, Admiral Susan C. Presterfield emerged from the pines around him, flanked by a squadron of black-uniformed soldiers. “Rats,” she said. “Hologram generator failed. Oh well.”
“She…she was a…”
"Yep. Tonight, anyway. I did bring the real one though, just in case.” On cue, two of the soldiers dragged the physical Tally forward into the moonlight. She didn’t have the chance to say anything, not with a phaser barrel pressed coldly against her throat. She only had the chance to shoot an agonized look towards Jack.
Jack’s left hand closed unconsciously into a fist. “Why?”
Susan considered for a moment; she hadn’t yet decided whether she really wanted to tell him. Then she decided not. She’d seen plenty of movies, and knew that the villain’s undoing was nearly always his decision to tell the hero of his evil plan by delivering a dramatic monologue. Besides, she didn’t have the time. The gamma ray burst would hit the Earth’s atmosphere within minutes. She drew her own phaser and leveled it at Jack. “Where’s the cave?”
“The cave?” he repeated, honestly not sure whether he’d heard her right.
“The cave. The one you said led to another world. Where is it?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Susan pressed her finger against the firing pad of her phaser. “Forget that. Tell me, right now. We’re leaving this planet tonight, and I’m not going to waste time explaining why to someone as sickeningly pathetic as you. So, lead me to it.”
Jack looked at the phaser, and at Tally, and decided that he didn’t have a choice. Silently, he led the admiral and her minions down the pine-clad hill to a dark, ivy-screened opening near the bottom. He had intended to take Tally there that night after he’d asked her the question. He’d never meant for her to see the cave like this.
He gestured towards the opening of the cave. Susan took a deep breath; she knew she was risking a lot, but really, she didn’t have any realistic alternative. No one else on the planet or the colonies even knew that their lives would end inside that hour, when the wave of gamma-ray radiation slammed into the system. Susan only knew because her department was in charge of the long-range scanner array that had picked up the burst earlier that day. Jack’s cave was the only chance she had to escape. Of course, she didn’t particularly intend that Jack should escape with her.
Several things happened almost simultaneously. The night sky above them suddenly lit up with an unnatural glow, a blinding flare that would be the last sight of trillions of people suddenly awakened. Susan pressed the firing pad on her phaser. Tally’s eyes flashed with a bright blue light and her hand moved quicker than quick, catching the phaser bolt and harmlessly deflecting it away. Before Susan could register that Tally had just caught a phaser bolt with her hand and survived, Tally’s other hand tore the phaser rifle out of the grip of the stunned soldier next to her and brained Susan over the head with it. Then she grabbed Jack by the arm and pulled him hastily into the cave.
“But…” Jack said, as the world burst into flames outside.
“I’m not from here,” Tally answered. They felt the heat of the radiation roaring after them, and then the cave walls dissolved in a blur of shiny lights. Two seconds later, Jack and Tally found themselves standing unharmed in the warm yellow light of a pair of suns, shining down upon them from an untroubled sky.