World Recorder: A Science Fiction Short Story

“Grandfather! Look! It’s just awful!” Zarena exclaimed as she entered her Grandfather’s apartment. The door slid closed behind her.

Her grandfather appeared from around the corner, his chair hovering exactly five inches off the floor. He protested loudly at using the chair full time, but his aged body left him little choice. His fully automated house monitored his blood pressure and other behaviormetrics and alerted the emergency services should anything unordinary arise. It was either the chair and monitoring or a full time nurse, which Grandfather flat out refused.

“What has you up in arms this time, child?”

She vigorously waved a small flat triangular disc. “Books! I ask for a PVR and they give me more of these! I don’t want to hear about them, I want to visit them!”

“PVR?” Grandfather smiled.

“Grandfather! Personal Virtual Reality!” Zarena exclaimed with all the drama afforded an officially legal adult at sixteen. “Come on, it’s the latest tech! You can program any previously known book or build your own and it will create the world for you! It’s like you’re actually in the book while you’re safely at home.”

“Why not visit the different worlds for real?” Her Grandfather frowned.

“Who knows what could happen out there! Let everyone else visit the known galaxies. I just want to have my adventures here. Besides, if I were to go all over the place, I’d miss all my friends and family.” Zarena shrugged. She flipped the disk and her pouch onto the closest seat and wandered aimlessly over to a shelving unit.

The entire building was structured in the latest fashion of clear and white hyper-dense plastic. She loved studying the artifacts on the shelves. Her grandfather once traveled extensively and brought back objects from various other worlds. Her favorite was the wooden lion chest. It appeared just how she imagined a pirates’ chest might look from one of her stories. There didn’t appear to be a lock, but she’d never seen it open. Its décor was sectioned into three parts with brass strips and the two side parts each held a brass lion’s head with a large ring through his mouth.

“Oh, my child, if only your interests extended beyond your comfortable home,” her grandfather whispered more to himself than to her.

“Grandfather, when are you going to let me touch the chest? I promise I’ll be careful and I am sixteen now. Please?” Zarena looked at her Grandfather with wide, innocent eyes that usually guaranteed her what she wanted.

Studying her for a long moment, Grandfather slid his eyes to just above her head where the chest in question sat. Sitting in silence, he tried to decide, when a dry cough racked his body. Zarena was at his side in a flash, patting his back.

“Sir?” The house’s female voice chimed. He had fifteen seconds to respond before the blasted thing called the ambulance.

After a steadying deep breath, he finally managed to respond, “All is well.”

“Very good, Sir.”

“Grandfather?”

The coughing episode must have made up his mind, because Grandfather spoke firmly this time.
“Bring the chest to me, Zarena.”

Her eyes widened, but nodding, she quickly bounded over to the shelves. With a look of reverence, she lifted the object down from its long appointed perch. The moment she touched it, however, it started to glow with an inner blue light. She gasped, but managed not to drop the box.

“It’s glowing! What do I do?” She almost shrieked.

“Bring it here,” Grandfather spoke, his voice low and filled with something Zarena couldn’t identify.
She placed the box on her Grandfather’s lap and immediately the glow disappeared. It returned when he laid his own hand on the top.

“What does that mean?” She whispered.

“It means you have been chosen, my child.” A note of longing tinged his voice.

“Chosen? I don’t understand.” She knelt down next to his chair to see into his face better.

“Zarena, this is not just a treasure chest. I have carried this chest with me since I was around your age and I have been waiting to pass it on to the next Recorder.”

“Recorder?”

“The chest is not the prize, child, the contents are. Only those whose biometrics are accepted by the chest can open it.” So saying, he placed both thumbs on the lion’s heads and pressed gently.

Immediately, the chest moved as if it were a block puzzle, rearranging the blocks until they formed a small wooden slab about five inches by seven inches. On the slab lay tightly folded material and a contraption that Zarena had never seen. It had a molded handle for one hand to grip. Attached to the handle was a small white and blue box with a small violet screen and several indigo buttons. The buttons were close enough to the handle that one hand could operate everything.

“What is it?” She asked in wonder.

“A hyperspace individual drive generator,” Grandfather said with pride.

Zarena laughed out loud. “Grandfather! That’s not possible. What is it really?”

“Just what I said.”

“A person can’t go through hyperspace without a ship. Everyone knows that.”

“Everyone here knows that. But this device did not come from here and neither did I.”

Zarena stared at her grandfather. “What do you mean? Where did you… you’re not from here?”

“No, or any of the twelve planets in our solar system. You see, there are a great many galaxies out there, more than this planet has discovered. I came from one of them by using this generator.” He held up the device. “I am what is commonly called on my world a World Recorder. Our society goes to other worlds and records what we find there, such as: what races live there, vegetation, types of technology, weapons, and natural resources. I take that information back to Knowledge and we store it there.”

“But… but, you live here.”

“Only for the past fifty years. You see, the HIDG was damaged soon after I came to this world. There wasn’t the technology here to fix it, so I stored it and waited. By the time I repaired it I fell in love with your Grandmother and didn’t want to leave. The only way Knowledge could track me was if I took the device out of the chest and activated it. So, I never touched it again.”

“You gave it all up for Grandmother?” Zarena’s voice held awe.

“It was well worth it. If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here.” Grandfather smiled and patted her head as he use to do when she was younger.

“That’s true.” Zarena grinned.

“But my job is not complete. I am still a part of Knowledge, which is the name of our society. I am too old now to go through hyperspace. However, it is my last duty to find my replacement. Barring that, I must find a guardian for the chest, until the next Recorder is found. By activating the chest, Zarena, you have proven to be the next World Recorder.”

“Me?” Zarena shrieked and jumped up, backing away.

“The chest is very specific, Zarena. Only those who have a specific biometric enzyme can activate the chest and travel safely through the individual hyperspace. We are a class set apart.”

“No, no way. I don’t want all of that!” Zarena protested.

“You would not be alone. You would travel to Knowledge first. They will train you. You will go out to worlds fully prepared. Think about it! You can live your stories, not in a virtual reality, but in actual reality.” Grandfather pleaded.

“No! I like my home! I don’t want to leave. My family, my friends… I can’t go all by myself. I can’t.”

“Zarena, please calm down. I know this is much to take in, but I have faith in you. You can do this. I will not be around for much longer. I would like to know that you carry on my mission. This is a chance to be part of something so great you cannot even begin to imagine it.”

“I don’t want to imagine it. I don’t want to leave here.” Zarena put up her hands and backed away as if to ward off the device from coming after her.

“Okay, Zarena. Okay. Will you think about it? Can you promise me that at least? If you do not want to go, no one will make you.” Grandfather’s voice was gentle and soothing, but Zarena could still hear his hope that she would choose to accept the impossible.

“I’ll think about it,” she heard herself say. “I have to go. Mom will be waiting for me.”

She ran out of the apartment building without looking back.

Everything she knew and cared about was right here. She never longed for adventures past those of her books. She loved being home with the safety and security that came from the familiar and knowing what was around the corner. This was a change she just couldn’t accept.

She spent the next few days memorizing everything around her and avoiding her Grandfather. She felt as if it was all being torn away from her and she wanted to remember every detail. Yet, Grandfather said it was her choice. She didn’t have to leave all this. If she wanted to travel to different worlds, she would have taken a job that allowed her to do so.

She never desired to see if other worlds cultivated the same type of flowers or if the animals were larger or smaller. She didn’t care if fairies existed somewhere out there or what a world with far advanced or primitive technologies looked like. There were thousands of races, but she’d never thought to go looking for any of them beyond those who visited her own planet. Yet, as she memorized the familiar around her, she found questions like these begin to occupy her time. Still, she wasn’t sure she could leave all she knew, especially her family and friends.

Her footsteps grew slow as she made her way back to her Grandfather’s apartment. He asked for her to come and she couldn’t say no. His health had taken another turn for the worse and Zarena couldn’t help but wonder if her refusal to decide impacted it.

“Grandfather?” She called as the door slid open to admit her.

“Here, Zarena!” His voice came from the direction of the bedroom.

She made her way to the room to find him in bed with a supper tray hovering close by and a light blanket on his lap.

“Don’t worry, child. It’s only a minor setback. The doctors are simply paranoid.” His tone left no doubt about his lack of respect for the doctors.

She nodded her head and stepped to his side, knowing full well the doctors were extremely accurate. “You wanted to see me?”

“I did. You have been avoiding me. I wanted to be sure you understood that I am not pressuring you. Even if you decide not to become a World Recorder, you will always be my granddaughter, whom I love.”

Zarena smiled. “Thank you, Grandfather.”

He sighed, nodded, and laid his head back on his pillow.

“Are you really okay?” She asked.

“Yes, I am fine. There is something you can do for me.”

“What?”

“The choice is yours to become a World Recorder or not, but regardless of your decision the responsibility to find the next one lies on me. It weighs heavy on my heart. If you do not take the position, will you watch over the chest for me? You need only keep it until it responds to someone else. Please, child, I need to know the chest will be safe.”

“Of course, Grandfather, I can do that.”

Zarena responded automatically. Her grandfather’s condition scared her more than she wanted to admit.

He sighed again, but this time in relief. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“Did you enjoy being a World Recorder, Grandfather?”

He kept his eyes closed, but smiled. “I did. It had its challenges, but I loved traveling to so many places. I met many people and made many great friends. I loved to visit them.”

“You could return to the worlds?”

“Of course. I visited my favorite worlds many times. I would record any changes, but mostly I visited with friends as often years passed between trips. I remember one world…”

Zarena listened as her grandfather’s voice washed over her, transporting her to a new world with old friends, telling stories that he was previously forbidden from sharing. She could hear the sadness in his voice that he could no longer see them, but also the pride that he had known them. Over the next few days, he told her many different stories of Knowledge and the family he had there and of leaving them for her grandmother. Stories she would tell the next World Recorder… whoever that was.

What if it was her? She began to see herself in her Grandfather’s stories, meeting the same people, seeing the lands, feeding the animals, experiencing the wonder, making friends and new family on Knowledge. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t come back home to visit. She would have training, so she wouldn’t be unprepared. Her grandfather’s stories and her own questions created a world much larger than any book. It wouldn’t always be safe, but it would always be an adventure, more than that, it was Grandfather’s last wish. It would mean everything to him if she could grant it. He gave up everything for the woman he loved, couldn’t she do something just as great for him?

“I could do it,” she whispered softly.

“What child?” Grandfather paused his latest story.

She hadn’t realized she had spoken out loud. But the words formed again as the desire grew to please her grandfather. “I can do it.”

“Do what?” He questioned, sitting up slightly in his bed.

“You mean everything to me, Grandfather.” Zarena put her hands over his. “Hearing your stories made us even closer. If I can grant your one wish, I want to. I’ll become a World Recorder.”

Her Grandfather’s eyes widened and he couldn’t speak for a moment. A tear rolled down his cheek. “That would mean so much to me, Zarena. But are you sure?”

She nodded. She couldn’t back out now. “I’m sure.” She forced herself to say it out loud.

“Wonderful! I must explain so much! And you must say goodbye to your family. You will see them soon of course. Knowledge is a secret, so there is only so much you can tell them. But I will help you and answer their questions as I can….”

Two days later, Zarena stood before her grandfather dressed in the suit from the chest. The material was specifically designed to withstand the hyperspace jump. She pulled at it again and the clinging material stretched out only to spring back into the exact same place. She sighed. The suit fully encompassed her, leaving only a visor for her to see out of. But what she saw was worth it. Her Grandfather’s face glowed with pride and love.

“Remember, just hit that button and it will activate. Knowledge’s coordinates have already been programmed. I’m so proud of you!”

“I know, Grandfather.” She said with a smile.

Taking a deep breath, she pushed the indigo button and a blue, white, and green stream shot out of the top of the device to slowly build into a swirling oval the size of a single human body.

“It’s been so long,” Grandfather whispered. “You’ll fall in love with all the wonders you see, Zarena. I’ll be waiting to hear all about them.”

Zarena nodded and prayed he was. “Let the adventure begin,” she said as she stepped into the hyperspace portal.

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