Galen and Moose stood across the square from the large stone building. A few eyebrows had been raised as they walked into the Town. Moose, wearing a thin, skintight undergarment while carrying his spacesuit, and Galen, whose clothes had seen better days. However any interest in them ended at raised eyebrows. No one stopped them. No one seemed to find them noteworthy at all.

“We’re supposed to go in there, aren’t we?” Galen asked.

“You feel it too?” Moose replied, making mental notes about all the other buildings around the square. There were shops and offices lining every side. Food, clothing, toys…. The strange thing was, although they were all written in very different scripts, he knew what each of them said. Just as Galen’s language sounded strange, yet Moose could understand him.

“Tell me how is it that we both feel that we should go into that building, when neither of us has ever been here before?” said Galen.

“Tell me how we both wound our way through the streets to get here, as if we knew the way?”

“I don’t want to obey this… witchcraft. I do not trust it.”

“I’m not so keen on it myself.” Moose held one of his suit’s gloves and pushed at the controls. It should be running out of power, but the gauge read full. Not everything worked, but he was able to tell that the people around them had beating hearts, and the sun seemed to be identical to the sun of Earth.

Both men’s heads snapped to the left, towards a main street that led to the square. There was nothing immediately obvious… a combination of vehicles that were drawn by livestock and vehicles that ran on their own power, much like pictures Moose had seen of how a colony on a new planet might look. Sometimes, you use tech. Other times, a simpler solution like a service animal is the better solution.

Galen turned to face the main street, shielding his eyes from the sun, trying to see whatever it was that had caused them both to turn. “I think it’s not here yet…”

Moose nodded agreement. He considered the options. They seemed to be safe, although both of them had been in imminent danger before finding themselves in this strange place. But the directional pull, the emotional imperatives planted in their brain were… disconcerting. “What would you think about meeting this… whatever it is… on our own terms? Before it gets to us?”

Galen glanced back at him, showing a hint of dimple as he began to smile. The two of them strode purposefully toward the Main Street, and Moose rolled his eyes to see that it was indeed called “Main Street.”

“That one.” Galen said, gesturing to a fancy carriage that was just cresting a hill in the distance. It was pulled by a pair of beautiful white horses, walking sedately along with the light traffic.

Moose considered what to do with his suit. He didn’t want to set it down; it was all he owned and had some very useful features. As quickly as he could, he pulled on the space suit and fastened the helmet to the neck opening. The gloves had a hook they could hang from, so he could use his hands.

Galen stepped out into the street. Traffic didn’t seem to mind. It wasn’t terribly busy, and the few carts and cars that did go by simply veered around him. Moose remained on the sidewalk.

The carriage approached, and Galen held up a hand, commanding it to halt, which it did. A woman emerged. She was dressed in a simple gown covered by what he figured might be called a travelling cloak. She appeared to be in her late thirties, petite and blonde.

She screamed.

Moose jumped back like he’d been slapped in the face. The woman recoiled, but mis-stepped as she tried to back away from him, and ended up on the street, partly under the carriage.

Knowing that the horses, no matter how well trained, could get skittish and pull the carriage directly over her at any time, Moose dove towards her and pulled her out of the way. She screamed even louder as he dragged her to the sidewalk.

“Hey lady! I’m not trying to hurt you!” Moose let go of her once they were away from the carriage, and removed his helmet. They’d seen a lot of strangely dressed people in the Town, but certainly no other space suits.

The woman saw his face and froze. She stared into his eyes, as if seeing something there beyond his rugged features. Self-consciously he wiped at the stubble on his chin. He was used to being clean shaven.

“You have Louis’ eyes…” she said, as if in a trance.

He had no idea how to reply to that. She definitely wasn’t flirting. If anything, she seemed melancholy. “Umm… thank you.”

Galen called out to him, approaching with a tall, slender woman in a gown similar to the blonde woman. The two women were like night and day, one dark, one fair skinned. “Moose! This is Nyota. She has been looking for us.”

The dark woman smiled and extended a hand in greeting. He wasn’t sure whether he should shake it or kiss her fingers, but he decided to do what he was familiar with. “Pleased to meet you Nyota. I’m Moose.”

“And I am Marie.” said the blonde woman, recovered from her screaming fit. “I’m sorry I screamed… you just looked so strange in your… helmet.”

They certainly didn’t seem at all threatening. “Where are we? Why have we been brought here?” he asked.

Nyota spoke for them both. “We will be more than happy to tell you everything we know. We have only arrived recently ourselves. May I suggest we sit down for a meal while we talk? I’m sure you must both be hungry.”

The fish they’d cooked for breakfast had tasted exceptionally good, especially considering the rough conditions under which it was prepared. But sharing a meal seemed like a nice, reasonable, civilized thing to do.

Nyota exchanged a few words with their driver, and led them back to the square in front of the large stone building.

There was no longer any pull telling him to go there.

“We thought we’d find you in the Pantheon. We didn’t expect you’d come out to meet us.” said Nyota.

“We both felt pulled there.” answered Galen, gesturing to the large building. “But neither of us trusted such a strange imperative.”

“I understand. Marie and I were both pulled toward the Hamlet when we arrived. We thought you would be too.”

“How do you know us?” Moose asked as Nyota led them into an eating establishment.

Galen balked. “I have no coin…”

“Of course not. I will pay for this meal, so do not worry. And after we eat we can get you both some new clothes. I’m sure it’s tiring wearing a space suit all day.” Nyota paused while a bubbly young woman led them to a table near a window in the back of the restaurant. “And we don’t really know you… we only knew that two men, named Galen and Moose, had arrived, but not found their way to the Hamlet.”

“How did you know that?”

“Majel told us,” answered Nyota.

“The bell tolls every time a new guest arrives. Majel always knows who they are and where they are to live.” Marie added.

“To live?!” Galen and Moose exclaimed together.

“We’re trapped here?” Moose reined in his temper. The women seemed to be honestly trying to help, and they did say they had also recently arrived.

Nyota shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea. I have not tried leaving. But I don’t know where I would go. The last thing I remember before I arrived was diving into a hut, trying to escape the men with guns. But although the clothes I was wearing clearly showed a bullet hole, my baby and I were unharmed.”

Marie related her own last memory in a soft, reverent voice. “I felt a blade on my neck. I knew my head was about to be severed from my body, but then I was in the Meadow, here.”

“I felt a noose on my own neck.” stated Galen, looking carefully at Marie. “I assumed the rope broke, because I did not die.”

“Or did we?” said Moose bluntly. “I stepped on a mine. I was blown into space. There’s no way anyone could survive that. And I was on the moon when it happened. I’m certainly not on the moon now. This is definitely Earth gravity.”

They were all quiet for a few minutes. There were menus on the table, but none of them made a move to open them.

“A gun is a weapon?” asked Galen. Nyota nodded. “And gravity is a pull down?” Moose nodded. Galen seemed confused, but he picked up a menu and started looking at it. One at a time, the others did the same.

There was a wide variety of food on the menu. Each item had a description written underneath it, as if the restaurant was used to customers who did not know what a hamburger was.

“Ground fresh beef formed into a patty, served between two halves of a soft yeast bread roll…” the description went on to list the various things a customer could have on their burger. It even described ketchup.

A waiter came by and asked them what they’d like to drink. His companions all asked for water, so Moose did the same.

“How long have you been here?” he asked the women.

“We arrived on the same day, although our previous lives we have figured out were more than two hundred years apart. We have been living here for almost two months, by my counting, although the locals do not seem to have any real sense of time beyond a day.”

“Who is Majel?” Galen asked. Moose was glad he went back to that… it was a good question. Galen was young and brash, but he had a good head on his shoulders. Moose wondered if there was body with a limp head and a broken neck somewhere back in time, or whether there was some kind of cloning going on.

“Majel is our housekeeper.”

“You live together?”

“No…” Marie answered. “We each have our own house is the hamlet. But Majel is in both…”

Nyota looked directly at Moose, not Galen. “I do not think Majel is completely… real.”

Marie blushed, but did not object.

“Not real?” asked Moose.

“She never goes outside. She never gets tired. And we know that she will be at both our homes at the exact same time, and she remembers everything that both of her selves did instantly. She is very sweet and kind, but sometimes when we ask for answers, it is as if she does not understand the question.”

“Like “Where are we?”” asked Galen.

“Exactly.” answered Nyota. “The answer is always The Hamlet, The Meadow, The City, The Town… no place has a name.”

“How about “How did we get here?””

“To that, she answers “I have no idea how it happens. But you’re fine now, aren’t you dearest?”” Nyota answered, imitating Majel’s motherly voice and smiling from behind her water glass.

“What have you been doing all this time? Have you found out anything more?” Moose probed.

The women looked at each other. As usual, Nyota answered for them both. “We find and greet new arrivals. We help them adjust, although strangely most people seem quite content to transition into new lives here. Honestly, I have found the transition for myself to be a positive thing. Where I lived before, there was constant fear. No one was safe. Strong men with wishes for power terrorized all the villages. I do not know where I am. But I am safe, and my baby is safe. I have a place to live, money that, although I have no idea where it comes from, seems to be provided regularly and generously.” Nyota took a deep breath, and smiled at the men. “I have many questions. But I am glad that I am here.”

Moose glanced over to Marie to see if she agreed with everything Nyota said. He sensed she was telling the truth, and he couldn’t think of a reason to automatically distrust her, but it would be telling if her companion showed any reaction to certain parts of the tale.

Marie was in a daze. She was running her finger around the top of her glass. With a finer piece of glassware, it might sing, but the glasses they were drinking from were not that fancy. “Nyota…” Marie looked up at her friend, then paused, as if trying to figure out what she needed to say. “There… is… something… else we need to do.”

What Would Have Been

What Would Have Been is a short story (or novella… who knows?) that I am publishing one chapter at a time… as I write it. It’s a fun exercise for me, and hopefully a bit of entertaining reading for you!

This story is dedicated to the Janes. The real ones and the fictional, the ones who survived, and the ones who didn’t. For all of you.

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