PICTURE POSTCARDS -- Part 2
Frederick’s overwhelming curiosity forced him to withdraw one of the cards from the box. The picture was like a hologram, but with true color, vibrant and…alive. He could feel movement in the card. He moved it to various positions in his trembling fingers and it responded with a will of its own. He turned it over to read the description.
“Valdricor,” it began. “Fifth planet orbiting a hard binary red giant and white dwarf star system. There is food aplenty on this planet and there are no indigenous lifeforms dangerous to humans. Artifacts of an ancient civilization may be found on Valdricor. The atmosphere is similar to that of Earth in constituents and pressure except that it is difficult to breathe without a filter for ammonia gas. The oxygen content is also a little high, so be sure to breathe a little more shallowly than you are accustomed to on Earth. Protective clothing and breathing apparatus are recommended. You can survive without these precautions, but it will be extremely uncomfortable.”
Frederick returned the card to the box, his hands shaking a bit, then picked another at random from somewhere near the middle. He repeated what he had done with the first.
Be a witness to the battle at Thermopylae from a safe distance and a great vantage point above the cliffs at the pass. Some fine artifacts will be available after the battle. It is recommended that you wear a light, natural wool toga of the period with no adornments so that you will not be mistaken for a wealthy merchant or a combatant. Either of those perceptions will bring you unwanted attention and may result in your death. You might be well advised to carry a shepherd’s staff to sharpen the image of harmlessness. Be prepared to leave at the first sign of danger to yourself, although there should be none if you stay where you find yourself after transit and do not attempt to approach the area of conflict until several days after the final battle is fought. You will have ample opportunity to collect….”
“Incredible,” he said to the room as he stared out the window, watching traffic on the freeway beyond the runway. “So this is where Dad got that Spartan sword he sold to the museum. And the cards explain why he never mentioned to anyone where or how he had obtained any of his treasures. There were no donors who made him swear he would remain anonymous as he had often said. How utterly fascinating.”
Frederick pondered the possible origin of the cards and concluded that, because they had been in the Farmington family for generations, someone from the future must have either lost them or deliberately left them—perhaps even given them to one of his distant ancestors. Yes, that must have been it, he thought. How else would anyone of the time have known how to handle them, or been able to decipher what would surely have been nothing but cryptic symbols on their backs. And the pictures. Hell, those would have been witchcraft. Sorcery. Surely they had to have been given to the family along with the instructions and explanations. Even then, it was probably a hard sell.
It sounded ludicrous at first, but it was the only possible way it could have come about, but all that seemed unimportant. He had them, and he was going to use them to the fullest.
In the morning, Francine Farmington arrived within an hour of his call. When he opened the door for her, she stepped into the room with her usual brusque impatience and immediately shrieked at him.
“This had better be damned good, Freddy. I have a lot of things to do to get that musty old mausoleum you dad called a house into some kind of condition to make a sale. I don’t have all day, so get on with it—whatever it is.”
“Oh, it is good, Francine. It is exceptionally good, believe me,” Fred said. “Come over here and take a look. Have you ever seen anything like that?”
“No, I can’t say that I have. Nice picture. Um…weird place. How did they get it to look so real and three-dimensional? Hologram?”
“Not a hologram, Francine. I don’t know how they did it. Now, put your palm on the picture and tell me what you feel.”
“Damn it, Freddy, is all this really necessary?”
“Just humor me this once, then we’ll be free of each other forever.”
“Good,” she said with imperious finality, then flopped her hand onto the picture, obviously anxious to go on about her business. At the instant her palm came in contact with the picture, she began fading from view and flicking in and out of focus.
The last Fred saw of her, she was nothing more than a nebulous remnant of her prior self, clawing at her throat and gasping for breath. Then, she was gone.
“Welcome to Valdricor, Francine,” Fred said to the space where Francine Farmington had been. A gurgling chuckle slipped from his throat as he carefully moved the Valdricor card to the side of the desk, then drew another card from the box.
He laid the new card face up in the center of the desk, then settled back into the chair to await Franklin’s arrival.
Franklin, always punctual, tapped on the door at precisely 10 o’clock. It was his only saving grace. He wore a bright red shirt with a high, wide collar, garish yellow stretch pants, and strange looking leather sandals with thick, black tire tread soles. An unlit but costly cigar dangled from his thin, stingy lips. He, like his sister, appeared to be in a hurry.
Oh my god, wait til they see this.
“Okay, Freddy, whatever it is, let’s get it over with. I’ve got a super hot babe waiting for me in the parking lot and I don’t want her to cool off. You know how it is—well, in your case, you probably don’t.”
Fred, with some difficulty, suppressed his anger and showed Franklin the card on the desktop, a particularly vibrant picture of the middle of the Neander Valley, verdant and lush, then explained what he wanted Franklin to do. Franklin complied, though with some reluctance and, as his equally easy-to-hate sister had done, vanished. Fred picked up the Neandertal card, slipped it back into the box. Giggling insanely, he closed the lid. He held the box high over his head and danced a little jig.
“Gotcha, by damn. Gotcha both,” he chanted over and over between maniacal laughs.
Dance finished, he broke into a long, continual string of hysterical laughter and cradled the box under his arm. Halfway to the door, Fred realized he had forgotten the Valdricor card. He tossed the box on the bed and returned to the desk, snatched the picture up and stuffed it into his pocket. As he headed back for the bed, the distinctive and pungent odor of ammonia entered his nostrils. He gagged and coughed as he stumbled over the rocks in his path.
The door opened slowly.
“Cleaning service,” she said. As she entered the room, she noticed a mahogany box on the bed. “Oh, what a beautiful box. I wonder what’s in it.”