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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XIII - Recovery

“The act, process, duration, or an instance of recovering.”

*

Date: Unknown

Location: Old Liberty Road, Eldersburg, Maryland

Age: 35 (current)

*

I

The car did not drop out of this air this time. It landed much harder, with the force of an explosion from underneath. In the fading evening twilight, I could see debris from underneath the car settling across the deteriorating road. I had no idea when I was except to say it was significantly later in the evening than it had been only seconds ago.

The sound of crashing branches littered the evening calm. It dawned on me. Those were the remains of tree branches from 1991, caught in the portal flashes.

Far off in the distance I heard what I believed to be the sound of an impact. Whatever had been flying through the air when it collided with the portal flash also made the trip.

The physical ailments of temporal displacement were slowly catching up to me. I sighed, realizing the treatment was in a black bag at my mother’s house on Arthur Avenue, in 1977.

Dan whispered, “I feel sick.”

I jerked in my seat, looking over at him. The human Corporation mouthpiece made the trip with me. “Oh shit. You’re here, with me.” Dan ignored my observation, opened the car door, and blew chunks all over Old Liberty Road. I felt sick too, but not to the point of vomiting. Either I was getting used to the temporal displacement or the medicine Connor gave me an hour or so ago was still working.

Well, an hour by my time index.

Regardless the reason, I remained grateful for my diminished symptoms. Dan on the other hand passed out. He hung out the door of the car, still soaking wet from the thunderstorm we left in 1977.

I opened the driver side door and fell out onto the rough concrete of Old Liberty Road, knees first. The nausea attacked me in waves. It became a clear and important goal to pull myself together so I didn’t suffer from another panic attack, or another episode of temporal psychosis. I allowed myself to fall onto my side so I could curl up into a fetal position until the sickness passed.

The Dodge sat in a crater, which I guessed to be about a foot deep. Chunks of concrete and heavy dust littered the reservoir end of Old Liberty Road. At first, this didn’t make sense to me. I know it was chaotic getting to this point, but I would have remembered the car falling this deep into a crater.

Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, I thought, answering my own dilemma. It stood to reason when we arrived, or when the portal opened, it existed beneath the surface of the road. Anything in that space would have been forced away to make room. There had been no explosion underneath the Dodge; an entire section of Old Liberty Road blew apart when we entered this space in time. Even in my sickened state, I found the concept fascinating. I struggled to remember this particular crater in all my various travels in and around the reservoir. Nothing came immediately to mind, although that meant very little. Public usage of Old Liberty road discontinued in 1953 when Baltimore County built the Liberty Dam, creating the reservoir. Decades of deterioration plagued the remaining sections of the road, which were now boat ramps leading into the water.

Still lying on my side, I reached into my pocket for the communicator I still carried. I hoping someone, anyone, might be listening. To my disappointment, nothing happened when I flipped it open. The holographic interface did not magically appear. It was a dead piece of equipment. I tossed it into the car as I sat up.

The night was chilly, exacerbated by the wet clothes I still worse. A quick visual reconnoiter of the area told me it was well past summer, and most likely past autumn too. The trees were almost bare, devoid of leaves. My current environment suggested the month to be October or November. It was the story the sky and horizon told that brought me relief. They were clear as a bell. Missing clouds meant no Brüder ships lurking about.

I sat up on my knees as the temporal sickness diminished. Out of my back pocket, I withdrew my wallet and the FutureQuarter. I was now responsible for a broken alien communicator, Connor’s temporal displacement ability, and the 2025 quarter, which was now further lost in time than it had been previously. Fearing for the quarter’s safety, I slipped it into a hidden pouch in the fold of my wallet and returned it into my rear pocket.

I located the Impüls jammed in the space between the driver’s seat and the body of the car. I grabbed it quickly and stuffed it into the front of my pants, underneath my shirt. Even with Dan all but incapacitated from temporal sickness, I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Finally, I pushed the dead communicator underneath the cars driver’s seat to keep it out of sight. Until I had a clear idea of where in time I was, it didn’t seem necessary to keep it on my person. It was bad enough carrying the Impüls weapon around with me.

Standing now, I walked around the Dodge to inspect the damage. The car looked fine on the outside, no more beat up than it had been before this trip. Dan however was a mess. I knelt down in front of him to see if he was alive or conscious. His pulse was rapid, his breathing shallow. It was obvious he needed some kind of medical attention.

“Dan,” I said, hoping for a reply. He hung out the door, unresponsive; his fine black suit covered in bloody vomit.

Oh yeah, Dan-O, I remember my first time too. Dan was going to be out cold for the next day or so.

The communicator he kept in his pocket beeped intermittently. I pushed him back into the Dodge and pulled the communicator out of his pocket, flipping it open. A holographic map of the surrounding area appeared on the interface. A blinking red dot appeared over the area on the opposite side of Old Liberty road, across the reservoir. The new Liberty Road (or Route 26) spanned two large sections of the reservoir. Understanding that, the other side of Old Liberty Road would dead end into the other side of the reservoir. Somewhere on the other end of that body of water, the source of this transmission originated.

Cautiously, I tapped the blinking red dot. A holographic screen opened, displaying text. To my relief, it was English, unlike those other communicators whose read outs were in German.

The outputted message read:

COM LOCKOUT.

AUTOMATED DISTRESS CALL.

PILOT UNRESPONSIVE.

HOLOGRAPHIC CORE DAMAGED.

SHIP SELF DESTRUCT IN T-56 MINUTES.

One of the Brüder ships collided with the time portal flash in 1991, which brought it here, whenever we were. I stood up and looked toward the other side of the reservoir. Jim had said the last anyone heard from Bruder-3 was in 1991. It disappeared into thin air.

“Oh my God,” I whispered, realizing the gravity of the situation. Did my inexperienced time jump accidentally swallow up the missing Brüder ship from 1991, bringing it to wherever we are now? For good or bad, her disappearance could very well have been my doing. Now she was on the verge of self-destructing. I had no clue what kind of an event that would be. Chances were her remains – if any - would be unidentifiable. If anyone found it, any remains would be a pile of scrap.

I thought about this for a minute. Was that pile of unidentifiable junk I discovered in 1989 and was never able to find again the wreckage of Bruder-3? I smiled knowing if my theory was correct, everything Connor and I had done up to this point was predestined. I’d made the correct choices so far. A shimmer of hope warmed my body. I began to believe I might get out of this mess after all.

The time readout on the communicator still indicated the date was one in 1977. I lifted the device and spoke into it, to give it a command. Here is where watching all those hours of Star Trek might save me.

I spoke into the device. “Computer.” It chirped a single sound, indicating it waited for me to continue. “Sync time?”

The device replied with a nasty buzz. It didn’t like my command. “Sync clock?”

This time, the communicator chirped a few more times. It displayed a new interface. Configuration settings, by the look of it. A holographic ‘SYNC’ button flashed red. I tapped it and waited.

LOCATING ECHO COM…FOUND

ECHO COM 3…CONNECTED

FREQ 1.1013 EHz

SYNC...COMPLETE

DATE: NOV 13, 1981

TIME: 6:16 PM EST

COM LOCKOUT IN PROGRESS.

I frowned. How in the hell did I end up in 1981?

I shook Dan’s shoulder. “Dan? You awake? C’mon buddy, up and at ‘em.” He remained unresponsive. He needed help, plain and simple. I could not in good conscience leave him here to die, even if he deserved to. The closest first aid facility I could recall amounted to a walk in clinic at the rear of Carrolltowne Mall. I remembered this as it was next to the orthodontist’s office where I spent many a day having my braces painfully tweaked and adjusted during the early eighties.

I pushed Dan completely into the car and slammed his door shut. To my amazement, the Dodge started after a few tries. I pulled out of the crater, turned around, and drove to the top of Old Liberty Road. The car protested some as I rejoining traffic on Route 26. It appeared the car would cooperate after all, even as it shook violently at higher speeds. For good measure, I turned on the car’s heater in an attempt to help dry our wet clothes.

II

The trip to Carrolltowne Mall took a little over ten minutes. The drive was not as difficult as the one I partook in 1977. It was darker, making the landscape uniform. Some landmarks that had been missing from my last trip were now in place.

A drive around the side of the mall revealed it was still unenclosed. At some point in the eighties – I don’t remember when specifically - the mall underwent a renovation, becoming enclosed, taking away its open-air charm. I couldn’t help but smile at the A&P grocery store. A brand name I hadn’t seen since SuperFresh took it over in the later eighties.

I parked the car as close to the walk-in clinic as I could get. Sitting there, I considered my plan of action. First, I would need to appear detached from the situation. When I bring Dan into the clinic, it would be under the guise that I found him in his current state. I would then need to make a prompt exit, perhaps citing I had family waiting elsewhere. Then there was the matter of identification. If Dan had any, I needed to get rid of it. I couldn’t imagine there was a missing person’s report on the man, considering his employer. I felt Dan’s pockets for a wallet, finding one in inside his inner jacket pocket. It contained a standard laminated Maryland driver’s license of the 1976 era, identifying him as Daniel Wilson. He also carried money. Two fives, a ten, and three ones all dated before 1981. At last, I had some era appropriate money I could use without contaminating the time line.

I slid Dan’s wallet under the seat with the busted communicator. Within a few minutes, the parking lot was clear of pedestrians, giving me the opportunity to remove Dan from the car and carry him anonymously into the clinic.

The process turned out to be a lot easier than I thought. I was in and out of the clinic within minutes. One of the on staff physicians suggested I needed to stick around in case the police needed my statement. Apparently, reporting these types of incidents to the local police was protocol. I declined, citing my need to return to my family. I gave them a phony phone number and left.

My next thought would give Connor a heart attack, were he privy to it. Here I am at Carrolltowne Mall in its prime, with one of my favorite child hood restaurants – no longer in business in my time – at my disposal. I’m talking about PJ’s Pub. I also had no idea when I last ate. The thought of a slice or two of PJ’s pizza made my stomach forget about the persisting nausea. It grumbled in hunger. It made sense if everything I had done so far fit into history as I knew it, a quick bite to eat at a restaurant I would never see again shouldn’t create a paradox.

Besides, I had to eat.

I walked briskly down the sidewalk toward a junction that would take me to the center of the mall, where I would find PJ’s. No one noticed as I made my way inward. Why would they? I was just another adult engrossed in his shopping experience. Who would possibly suspect I was twenty-five years from the future, breaking all kinds of Temporal Directives and Protocols along the way.

I made the turn at the junction into the heart of the mall thinking about how delicious a slice of PJ’s shrimp pizza would be. I could see the old stone water fountain at the center. Sitting on the edge of the fountain was a boy I guessed to be about ten years old, kicking his legs in boredom. My pace slowed. For a moment, I could have sworn I was looking at my son, Spencer. The tousled bright blonde hair hanging down over his ears, his small skinny frame, and that face, I would recognize that face anywhere. He was a dead ringer for my little boy. My heart ached to see him again. A few more steps in, I stopped as the memory of this day from my childhood came flooding back. No, it came bursting back.

How could I have forgotten this?

I experienced recurring dreams about something close to this over the years, but not the actual memory. A missing piece inside my head that I didn’t know was gone, returned.

I approached the boy, who turned to look at me with big blue eyes. I was looking into the eyes of myself from twenty-five years ago. The memory of this day played in my head in real time as I was living it now.

“Hi, little man,” I said to him. A nickname I gave to Spencer and used with him often.

“Hi,” he replied, a little apprehensive. He studied my face. I knew what he was feeling. He was surprised to see someone who looked like one of his older cousins.

“What’s your name?” I asked, knowing the reply.

“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he informed me, asserting the fact that he was a big boy and could handle himself.

“Yes, that’s very good advice,” I said, smiling. “Although you don't know me, I know your parents. I'm an old friend.” He nods at me, thinking he might actually know me from one of our many family picnics over the years. “You don't have anything to worry about, buddy. I’m not here to hurt you, or take you anywhere, or scare you. In fact I can only talk to you for a minute or two.”

“What about?” He asked, genuinely interested.

I knew what I needed to do now. Not only did the memory of this day suddenly reappear, but the events that followed did as well, and that’s the important part. I was going to give my younger self the FutureQuarter to hold onto, to hide in my ‘special hiding place’ knowing that within a few days my younger self will forget all about it. He will forget about it as my family of 1981 is in the process of moving to our new house in Woodbine. I know the FutureQuarter will remain hidden. I know The Corporation will not find it. If they had, this current chase across time would not be happening.

Besides, if you can’t trust yourself, whom can you trust?

“I was hoping you might do me a favor,” I said. “I have a very special coin I want you to hold on to for me. Do you have a secret place in your house where you hide your treasures?”

He nodded, thinking to himself that such a place had been necessary since his little sister was always taking his things. It was in the basement of the house on Arthur Avenue, a cavity of space under the stairwell, covered by a loose board.

I reached into my back pocket for my wallet and withdrew the FutureQuarter from it. I held it up for my younger self to see. “This is a magic quarter,” I told him. “It's very special because there is no other quarter like it.”

He takes the quarter and looks at it with the innocent curiosity of a child. “Why?”

“It was made in another time,” I said. “It was made in the future, a long, long time from now.”

He looked at the year stamped on the back, remembering Mom once told him the year money gets made is stamped on it.

“Cool. How did you get it?”

“Well, little man, that's a long story, but I'll tell you what. You hide this quarter for me in your special hiding place for a little while and when I come back to visit you and your Mom, I promise to tell you all about it. Okay?”

“When will that be?”

“I'm not sure. It could be a few weeks, it could be a few months, but I can promise you that I will come back for it. Can you do this for me?”

Younger me smiles. “Yes, I can.”

“Thank you,” I said, standing up to walk away. “One more thing, Kevin, you must keep this quarter a secret. If you tell anyone about it, especially your mom or dad, they might take it away. It’s very, very important to keep it a secret.”

“Okay,” he said a little unsure. I knew he would not tell anyone. “How did you know my name?”

I glanced over at PJ’s, seeing Mom getting ready to leave the restaurant. “I’ve known you a long time, buddy,” I said, looking back to him. “Since the day you were born in fact. Someday we’ll see each other again and you’ll understand why.”

He grinned again and nodded. I did the same and quietly walked back the way I came in. Alas, a trip to PJ’s Pub was not to be. I glanced over my shoulder as I turned the corner, en route back to the car. Mom and my sister joined little me at the fountain, so we could toss pennies into it, making a wish for each one. I remembered putting FutureQuarter into my pocket for safekeeping while using the pennies mom gave us. I even recall my first wish. I wanted the man who had trusted me with his special quarter to come back and tell me about the future. It was not something my father would do for me – trust me with something special - and little me knew that as well.

In the end, I got my wish.

III

It was time now to set another goal. As I climbed into the Dodge, I decided it my new goal be to locate Connor and or Jim. With the current situation stable - for lack of a better word - I was able to give my current situation more thought.

Where would Connor go, inadvertently (and accidentally) stranded in 1977? Assuming he and Jim survived the confrontation with the Corporation agents, they would have ES-1 and the Jaunte system to FCA-1. Knowing Connor’s devotion to his Temporal Directives, specifically involving non-interference with timelines he isn’t part of, it would be logical to assume he would be at one or the other. The only way to get into ES-1 that I knew of was to go through one of the entrances via my childhood house on Arthur Avenue. The only working entrance was inside the house, the other was DOA. Getting inside that house in the middle of the night - knowing it as well as I do – with everyone asleep wouldn’t be very difficult.

I flipped open the communicator to see the time.

6:46 PM.

It would be six or seven hours until I could make a discrete and safe entrance the house on Arthur Avenue.

Another message from the downed Brüder ship displayed itself. There were 26 minutes left before the self-destruct.

I was about to start the car and drive back to the crash site of the Brüder ship when I saw them, The Corporation ‘men in black’. Three of them approached the walk-in clinic where I left Dan. The last agent stopped in mid walk to scan the parking lot. I froze. I knew him. The night in Ocean City when Wald disappeared, he was the man chasing the runaway kid who collided with me next to the Photon arena, the man who stopped and stared back at me. Since that event hasn’t happened yet for him, he wouldn’t recognize me now. He finished his scan of the parking lot and joined his comrades in the clinic.

I wondered in awe how The Corporation arrived. How could they possibly know Dan was here so quickly? It didn’t matter now. I left with haste and began my drive on Route 26 toward the second bridge over the reservoir. According to the locator in Dan’s communicator, the ship was in a section of the woods off the far end of that bridge. My drive was expeditious. I had a little less than half an hour to get there, before the self-destruct.

I flipped open the communicator as I drove, tapping the red dot on the holographic map comprising was the ship’s location. I ignored the unchanged status report and pressed over the ‘transmit’ button. “Brüder ship, are you receiving this message? Please respond.”

As I expected, there was no reply.

“I repeat, Brüder ship, if anyone is receiving me, please respond.”

Nothing.

I was about to close the communicator when a voice spoke from it. “Is somebody out there?”

“Yes!” I said, excited now. “Who is this? Are you hurt?”

“My name is Victor. I’m okay, for the most part. I think the Brüder pilot is dead, I don’t know. And the other guy here, I don’t know what’s wrong with him.”

“Are you human?”

“Yes, are you?”

It was a fair question. “Yes, I am. My name is Kevin.”

There was a brief pause in Victor’s reply. “Are you with the FCA?”

Victor’s question piqued my curiosity. He was involved somehow. “Not officially. I’ve been working with some of them on a different matter.”

Victor asked, “Do you know Connor McKenzie?”

My heart rate jumped. “Yes, I do! I’m trying to find him right now. We became…separated.”

With desperation, Victor asked, “Please, will you come get me and take me with you? He’s the only one who can help me.”

“Help you how?”

“The Corporation kidnapped me two years ago. They’ve been holding me hostage because they want to trade me for something very valuable they want. I guess it's taken two years for them to put this deal in motion.”

“Who is ‘them’?” I asked.

“Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve only met one of them, and the Brüder who’s been holding me. They called him an IA. I have no idea what that means.”

“Do you know what they want to trade you for?” I asked, now driving across the first bridge over the reservoir.

“A quarter,” he said. “This is all over a quarter.”

I literally felt the blood drain from the upper half of my body, leaving it cold and numb. For fear of fainting, I pulled over and off the road when I reached the end of the bridge.

“Does The Corporation have this quarter?” I whispered, through winded breaths.

“No, they never got it. The IA guy originally had it was supposed to give it to The Corporation in exchange for me. I panicked and stole the quarter then ran away with it. I was going to go into hiding until I could locate someone from the FCA to help me. I never made it. Somewhere during the chase, I dropped the damned thing before they recaptured me. The Corporation locked me in a cell in this ship with some other guy they captured. They were in the process of taking us back to their headquarters. We, um…I tried to gain control over the ship and ended up crashing it.”

“Where are you now?”

“Stuck inside this damned ship,” Victor said, in frustration. “I don’t know how to get it open and if I am reading this console right, the ship is going to self destruct in about eleven minutes.”

I stomped on the gas pedal to get to the other side of the second bridge, speeding laws be damned. “Victor, don’t say anything else. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Hold on, okay buddy?”

“Okay,” Victor said, not sounding very enthused. “Please hurry.”

I drove as fast as the Dodge would allow, reaching my destination in under a minute. The first thing I did when I left the car was flip open the communicator to determine where I had to go. I had ten minutes to venture through the woods surrounding Liberty reservoir - in the dark - to find a downed spacecraft. From the road, there was no evidence of a crash in the form of broken trees or trails of smoke rising from within the woods.

I used the holographic light from the communicator to help light the way, so I could see where I was going while following the best path I could find on foot to the red dot on the display. I remembered that cool little flashlight Connor used when we arrived at ES-1, how it illuminated the entire room. I wish I had it now.

With six minutes left, I was still not there. If I were to believe the red dot on the communicator’s holographic map, I was getting closer. I had already fallen down five times and collided with three trees in the process.

I spoke into the communicator. “Victor, are you there?” There was no reply. “Victor, its Kevin, talk to me, brother.”

Something was wrong.

I had no idea how far into the woods I was now. The noise from Route 26 was all but gone. I stopped running so I could hear more clearly. Off in the distance, in the direction I had been running, the sound of a high-pitched alarm firing at second intervals echoed. I ran in that direction as fast as I could without colliding into any more trees or stumbling over.

I thought I might miss the ship completely and didn’t know why. It was probably because I was expecting something like Bruder-2, consisting of a small, compact, and to the point kind of design.

The craft I discovered instead - half-rammed into the ground before me - was much larger, perhaps the size of a 50 foot yacht. I could only see the half of the ship in which I stood next to. Even so, the body style was close to that of Bruder-2, only a hell of a lot bigger. Toward the front, a doorway into the ship revealed itself. The source of the squawking alarm came from within.

The communicator duly informed me I had three minutes left until the self-destruct event. Typically, in sci-fi stories, a self-destruct meant a great explosion, to destroy the craft. This gave me literally no time to look inside of the downed ship.

I climbed up the wing and stood within the entrance. All I could see inside was the same black shell, devoid of any holography. If the holographic core of the ship was in fact damaged, then nothing would work.

“Victor!” I yelled out, looking around. There were no walls to separate the large interior of the ship. All I saw before me was a huge dark space with some kind of flashing device at the rear of the ship’s hull. That would be my first destination.

The malfunctioning device looked very similar to the holographic generator Jim used to help Connor. The difference here was shape and size. It wasn’t round, but cylindrical, built in sections. Each section seemed to act as its own device to read the holographic glass rod. There were twelve of them with at least three attempting to do their job. The machinery within the active sections spun around, attempting to read the HoloLog within. A single red button on top of the device labeled auswerfen pulsated weakly. I had no idea what that meant, but pushed it anyway hoping the holographic storage device would eject and the auto destruct would cancel. The device slowed down and stopped, pushing the glass rod out of the top. I picked it up and examined it. It didn’t look broken to me with the swirls of different colored light contained within. I recalled Ryan suggesting they were indestructible.

I slipped the rod into my back pocket and proceeded to leave. There was nothing else for me here. I could only assume Victor discovered a way out and ran for his life. With approximately two minutes left until self-destruct, it was time for me to do the same. I dashed for the opened space in which I entered the craft only to trip over something en route, sending me crashing to the floor. I swore loudly.

Unmistakably, I stumbled over a body. I turned the communicator so its light would illuminate a face.

For me to claim surprises like these seem to come one after another would not be an exaggeration. One might go as far as to suggest I was getting use to them. No amount of preparation could have ever equipped me for this one.

The body I tripped over belonged O’Bryan VonWald, still seventeen years old, dressed in the clothes he wore the day he disappeared in Ocean City. I never expected the other person Victor spoke of to be my long lost friend. Wald was unconscious and unresponsive. Knowing I had very little time, I picked him up, tossed him over my shoulder, and ran for dear life as the communicator chirped a one-minute warning.

I jumped out of the ship and onto the wing with Wald over my shoulder. We slid to the ground. I ran in the first direction I saw as fast as I could go. It would not be very far. Between carrying Wald’s limp body over my shoulder and the unseen debris of the woods, we both came crashing down onto the ground. The impact compounded the wounds of all the other falls I had taken over the last twenty-four hours. I didn’t have the strength to get back up this time. The communicator flew off in another direction during the fall, and although I couldn’t see it, I could hear it. There were only seconds before it would all be over. The safest place now was flat against the ground as I could get. I covered my head with my arms, expecting the worse.

There was a magnificent flash, followed by a pulse similar to the Brüder Impüls weapons. There was no explosion, no fireball, and no crashing debris. Instead, the worst case of vertigo I ever felt set in, causing me to lose consciousness.

IV

When I came to, I had no sense of time, except to say it was still night and bitter cold.

The first thing I saw was Wald, lying face down in the leaves. I crawled over and shook him, asking him if he could hear me. He remained unresponsive. I checked his pulse, ensuring he was still alive. It was strong, but slow.

Finding the communicator was no chore as it was still open, the holographic display pouring light onto the ground. It displayed a single message:

CONNECTION LOST.

COM LOCKOUT IN EFFECT.

To my surprise, the time was now 11:14 PM. I’d been out for a little over four hours.

I walked back to the Brüder ship, where it had been entrenched into the ground. It too was easy to locate, the remains of the ship crackling and sparking as if I had walked upon a large pile of dying sparklers. The once grand ship was now a pile of undistinguishable junk. The entire hull collapsed in on itself. It left me wondering how the indestructible material Connor called Unobtanium succumbed so quickly, leaving piles of unidentifiable remains.

Standing before the ruins, I realized the site was the one I discovered in my exploration of the woods surrounding Liberty reservoir in 1989, the week my old girlfriend Christina Buchanan broke up with me before going to Ocean City.

I hoped Victor got out in time. If he found escape on his own, I had to believe he would have said something to me. This left the possibility of the Brüder pilot regaining consciousness and taking Victor, leaving Wald behind. If this were true, where could they possibly go?

I called out for Victor, loudly. All I heard in reply was my own echo, disappearing after the third or fourth iteration. If Victor got away, or his Brüder host took him away, he was on his own. I had my own problems to consider, beginning with what to do for Wald. I couldn’t take him to any hospital in this time as I had done with Dan. Wald was one of my dearest friends I wouldn’t leave him stranded here left to his own devices. Dan on the other hand was of no concern to me. I saved his life and that would be enough. Besides, with the arrival of those Corporation agents after I left the mall, he was bound to be just fine.

Carrying Wald back to the Dodge took a lot longer than I anticipated. Had it not been for the passing traffic on Route 26, I would have been lost in my own version of The Blair Witch Project, stuck in the woods surrounding Liberty Reservoir. I secured Wald in the front seat of the Dodge and checked the communicator for the current time. It was minutes until midnight. I studied the information currently displayed by the communicator. I was not sure how to navigate through these holographic menus. The communicator interface was vastly different from the familiar Windows or Macintosh interfaces to which I was accustomed. I couldn’t find an easy way to check for Connor or Jim’s frequency.

“Computer,” I said. The device happily chirped. “Display channels.” The communicator made the ugly sounding chirp it did when it didn’t like a given command. “Display frequencies?”

Success. A holographic list of available frequencies floated over the back panel of the device. Pushing up or down at that list displayed additional frequencies. Unfortunately, there were too many to try.

“Computer.” Chirp. “Locate Connor McKenzie.”

The bad chirp virtually spat at me.

I sighed. “Computer, scan frequencies.” A spinning symbol filled the area signifying work in progress. It displayed two in use EHz frequencies.

EHz?

An abbreviation for Exahertz, EHz represented a frequency higher than any other currently in use. Twentieth century broadcasting technology has yet to exceed the 300-gigahertz range.

If I had to guess, one frequency belonged to The Corporation and the other to the FCA. I attempted to eavesdrop on both. Neither was on the air. I didn’t want to broadcast until I knew which one belonged to the FCA. I closed it and put it back into my breast pocket.

Once again, the Dodge was good enough to start for me. I drove cautiously back to the Arthur Avenue house and parked the Dodge off the side of the road, opposite the house.

I collected Dan’s wallet and the broken communicator, storing them in the inner jacket pockets of my sport’s jacket. There were not items that needed discovery by some wondering person. I carried Wald to the backyard and down to the pump house side of the pool. I set him down into one of the lawn chairs. My plan was to get into ES-1 through the basement, find Connor, and retrieve Wald through the entry by the pool pump. I didn’t want to take Wald into the house in his condition. It would also make my job that much more difficult.

As I predicted, getting into the house was a piece of cake. We never locked the basement door. I stole inside through the mutt room. The basement was completely dark and deathly quiet. On occasional creak or groan from the settling house broke the silence, causing me to freeze in my tracks.

The basement looked completely different from the one I left earlier this afternoon, a half a day for me, four years for everyone else. The ceiling, originally nothing more than the support beams and upstairs floorboards was now an erection of supports that held Styrofoam rectangles and florescent lights, like a cheap office. I remembered this, of course, simply forgetting the date of completion for this work. Nineteen seventy-nine, I think.

I looked directly at the door to my father’s workroom. It was dark, door closed. In 1981, he would have kept a motorcycle in there, one he was working on to my mother’s chagrin. It became a serious cause of disagreement between the two until she insisted he sell it, which he did at some point before we moved.

With the stealth like moves of a fox, I made my way to the door of the workroom and let myself in. Someone else was in here with a little flashlight and a Penthouse magazine strewn across his lap.

Charlie, my father, jumped out of his chair and took a defensive posture. “Who the fuck are you?”

I froze. The childhood fear of what the man would do to me in a situation such as this controlled me. Charlie did not approach. I was bigger than he was now. I now held the title of intimidator.

I smiled. “Hi, Charlie. Recognize me?”

“Joey?” He asked, mistaking me for my older cousin. He and I looked very similar.

“Try again,” I said, overly friendly.

“I don’t know. You look like what my son Kevin might look like as an adult.”

“Bingo!” I jeered. “You even get a prize, Charlie.” I grabbed him by the grungy open collar work shirt he usually wore, picked him up, and threw him into his motorcycle. The force of the impact knocked them both over. He never saw it coming. And why not? He was sitting on his chair, pants down, while masturbating to a Penthouse magazine.

The man writhing on the floor quickly pulled his pants up, falling off the side of the motorcycle in the process. He stood up, but did not approach.

“How can you be Kevin? He’s only ten years old!”

“I would love to explain it to you, Chuck,” I said, toned with sarcasm. “The problem is you’d have to be intelligent to understand it, which you are not.”

“Are you calling me stupid?” He asked, with surprise. At least he understood the insult. Mother would say the same thing to him when they would get into spats.

“Uh, yes, I am. The things you did to me as a kid, and the things you will do to me as an adult are unspeakable! You are a shitty father.”

“I am not,” he insisted. “I love you and your sister.”

That weak declaration made me angry, but I didn’t want to show it. Instead, I laughed in his face. “You and I, we’re both adults now, Charlie. You think you’re man enough to take a shot at me now?”

“Why would I want to do that?”

I fingered my chin in contemplation. “Oh, I get it. You only pick on those weaker than you. That’s the only way you can walk away victorious. Fucking pussy coward.”

Charlie stepped forward this time, asserting himself. “You’re not my son. What do you want with me?”

“Nothing, I’m not here for you. You being here was not a variable I counted on. You should be in bed.” I paused, remembering the endless complaints about the lack of sex. “But that’s right. Mom doesn’t put out for you. I can’t remember how many times you made me listen to your complaining about everything mom didn’t do for you. That’s why you’re down here, pulling on your prick with all these magazines. Mom started turning you down flat because of your messing around with Ilene at the skating rink, didn’t she?”

Charlie’s eyes widened at the mention of Ilene. “Who are you really? Are you her new boyfriend?”

I threw my head back and laughed harder this time, forgetting that Mom and two children were asleep upstairs. I pushed him into one of his workbenches and watched him fall off balance, onto the floor. Charlie stood up, raising his fists in defense. Before he could make some remark about the situation, I smashed him in the nose with the palm of my hand. He yelped out, falling to his knees. I stepped over and kicked him repeatedly. Finally, I picked up his barely-fighting-back limp body and threw it on top of the motorcycle. Gauging the look on his face, he was not experiencing feelings of joy and happiness. I knelt down and threw the hardest punch I could manage into face, followed by several more.

“KEVIN! STOP IT!” Mother. I turned around to face her. She looked a lot older than four years should have been. She stepped forward to touch my face. “It was real,” she whispered. “Almost four years ago I dreamt I met you as an adult and you told me about all these bad things about Charlie and what he did to our family. But it wasn’t a dream, was it? It’s all true, isn’t it?”

I sighed. I suppose Connor’s work was more incomplete than he hoped. “Yes Mom, it’s all true. It happened in 1977, four years ago for you, maybe six or seven hours ago for me.”

I never knew my mother could widen her eyes to that of a deer caught in headlights. “Really? That’s all?” She paused, looking off. “Yes, I remember now. The black sports jacket you were wearing, it’s the same one. But you’re all filthy now. What happened?”

“There was a bit of an altercation after Connor tried to blank your memory,” I said. “I panicked and accidentally jumped my way here.”

“What are you doing back?” Mom asked, gently hugging me, ignoring the beaten and bloodied Charlie still limp on the floor.

“I have to get back into the tunnels underneath the house. Do you remember any of what I told you about Wald, my friend who was killed in Ocean City?” She cautiously nodded. “He's not dead after all, but something is wrong with him. He's with me, but he needs Connor’s help. Do you remember Connor?”

Mom nodded. “The Irish guy who can time travel, right?”

“Yeah, that's him. Connor's been stuck here since that day in 1977, when he was hurt. My theory is he’s hiding in those tunnels underground. That’s where I am trying to go, through the entrance in the nook behind that old fridge,” I said, hitching a thumb behind me. “At least until I discovered porn boy here, spanking himself.”

“No surprise there,” Mom whispered, under her breath.

Charlie groaned, attempting to right himself. “Who the hell are you?” He managed to ask.

“I told you who I was, asshole,” I snapped, yanking the Impüls out from underneath my shirt. I aimed it directly at his chest. “I'm the son you try to kill ten years from now.”

“Kevin, no!” Mom said urgently, reaching out for my arm. “You can't kill him.”

“I'm not going to,” I said, switching the Impüls intensity to one of the lower settings. “But I can't have him following me either.”

I fired the Impüls, sending a low intensity burst of electromagnetic energy into Charlie's chest. Bright light surrounded him, followed by the low bass hum. His body jerked in spasms for a few seconds, then fell silent. I checked his pulse, which was strong and steady.

“Is he okay?” Mom asked.

I nodded. “He'll be fine, but this situation presents a much larger problem I didn’t anticipate.”

“Our memory of this incident.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

Outside, a strong roll of thunder crashed. I could now hear the sound of the increasing wind. The night, which had been peaceful and quiet only minutes ago, was now a coming thunderstorm. It meant only one thing.

The fucking Corporation.

I flipped open the communicator to check the status of the two EHz frequencies. One was active, but scrambled, according to the readout. I tapped at the frequency entry anyway, halted by a prompt for a decryption sequence. Someone was out there approaching fast, doing their best to avoid detection.

“Kevin? What's the matter? You look scared out of your wits.”

“They're coming,” I said, in a whisper.

“Who is?”

“The bad guys,” I said, turning to face her. “Listen, no matter what happens here, you don’t need to worry about me. I will be okay. The Corporation - the bad guys - are not going to hurt me. They want something from me that I've hidden very carefully. I have trust in Connor that he is going to rescue me in the event The Corporation captures me. What you need to do is make sure nothing happens to me. That is, little me sleeping upstairs. Can you do that for me? Please?”

“I will,” Mom said, gently hugging me. “What about us? What's going to happen to Charlie and me? Are we supposed to have memories of this day?”

“I don't know,” I said, giving this some thought. “I do remember this night, I think. I vaguely remember hearing voices in the basement as a child, and the storm outside. I don't believe this is a paradox. Somehow this is going to resolve itself, I just don't know how.”

Mom said nothing and watched as I carefully made my way to the old refrigerator blocking the nook. Only this time, the creepy feeling of evil and death I experienced so many times in my youth was present. I was scared to go back there.

Why now? What not in 1977?

“You can't do it, can you?” Mom asked. I shook my head. “I tried to as well over the last few years, curious about what I thought to be a dream. Trying to go back in there leaves me feeling sick and scared.”

“Yeah, I had that experience too, growing up here. The same thing happens by the pool pump.”

“I know,” Mom said with a small smile. “You've complained to me about it many times. I told you --”

“-- that it's all in my head,” I said with a grin, finishing her sentence. “I remember that too. Only I don't think it is, or ever was.”

“No, me neither.”

I turned my attention back to the area behind the old fridge. There was no evidence that a hatch was back there. It looked to be the same earthen ground it always was. Connor and Jim must have covered their tracks.

Deliberately, I took a step directly into the nook closer to where the covered hatch should be. My head filled with noise, like someone taking a guitar with the distortion turned all the way up and banging it against the wall. The force threw me back into the workroom. I grabbed at my head in pain, shaking off the feeling of nausea and impending doom.

“I can't do it,” I gasped, taking several steps away from the fridge. “I feel like it’ll kill me.”

The sound of pouring rain filled the silence as thunder rolled back and forth. Somewhere out there, the 1981 embodiment of Brüder-3 was hiding, waiting. What else could it be?

Down by the pool, hard rain drenched an unconscious Wald. I couldn’t leave him there, not in this kind of weather and exposure. Brüder-3 could snatch him up at any time.

“What are you going to do?” Mom asked.

“Wald is outside in one of the pool chairs. I need to get him in here before The Corporation takes him.”

“Then go get him,” Mom said, pushing me out of the workroom door. “Then we'll figure out what to.”

I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this. Staying here any longer than necessary put everyone in danger. Looking out the basement door, I realized this was not going to be an easy task. Wald’s retrieval would need to be a hasty matter. Every second outdoors was a second exposed to the Brüder ship. I leapt out the basement door into the wind. It blew hard enough to make the impact of rain on skin a painful thing.

Halfway to the pool, I could see Wald and the lawn chair. The hurricane strength wind had knocked them both over. Lightning flashed overhead, immediately followed by the inevitable crash of thunder. The force of the wind knocked me down into the wet grass and mud. I slid the rest of the distance to Wald, pulling him into the pool pump area. The feeling of sickness and dread began to creep into my body, but not in the heightened degrees experienced in the basement.

The chaos of the storm was fantastic. These were hurricane level conditions in progress. The very same conditions Brüder-2 could create. Something was different with this storm. It contained a greater intensity, somehow. Much more so than the previous storms that surrounded Brüder-3. This storm was more organized, and not so sloppy. I looked up out of the pool pump house. Somewhere in the boisterous sound of the wind and rain was the screaming of an engine. It wasn’t the harsh sound of the Brüder-3 transporter system. It was different, smoother.

“We gotta go, Wald,” I said under my breath. Standing in front of Wald with my back to him, I pulled him up onto my back, piggy backing his limp body. I stepped out of the pool pump nook, bent over, cutting into the winds that tried relentlessly to push us back. I was not ten steps into working my way back to the basement door when the intensity of the wind increased, if that was even possible.

I thought if I looked up, I might see the cone of a tornado. I was scared out of my mind. Pure adrenaline kept me going. It felt as if the wind was no longer pushing at us. It was now pulling us, sucking us back toward the gate of the pool itself.

“WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!” I shouted as loud as I could toward the house. With no traction on the muddy grass, the wind pushed (or pulled, I couldn’t tell) Wald and I into the fence of the pool deck, flipping us both over onto the other side. I grabbed onto Wald for dear life, not wanting the wind to take my friend away. The gale tossed us both into the pool as if we were nothing more than hapless leaves. Bitter cold water enveloped me, my only reprieve. Standing in almost six feet of water makes one almost impervious to wind.

I held onto Wald with one arm in an effort to keep him above water. With the other, I thrust my middle finger into the air toward the unseen Brüder ship. “FUCK YOU!” I screamed at it. “YOU’LL HAVE TO KILL ME FIRST.”

From a quarter mile up in the air, a concentrated beam of light covered me. I covered my eyes with my free arm, allowing myself to see right into the source of it, a circle of intense white light from the bottom of the ship.

I held onto Wald. If they were going to take one of us, they would get both. Live together, die alone.

The world around us filled completely with white light as the wind pushed back and forth. It was so intense. I had to close my eyes.

Then the pulling began again, the same pulling sensation during temporal displacement. I felt unconsciousness enveloping me as the tunnel vision began. I clutched onto Wald as hard as I could.

The end came with a surge of energy. There was no pain, but it was clear a strike of lightning was involved. It hit the pool. My tunnel vision of white slowly speckled to black. I had no choice but to release Wald, devoid of energy and seconds away from fainting. Wald did not fall. He was in the light beam with me.

Then it was all over. The noise, the wind, the light, it was all gone. I passed out.

I was their prisoner.


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