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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XIV - Exegeses

“A critical explanation or interpretation of a text or story.”

****

Date: November 14, 1981

Location: Unknown

Age: 35 (current)

****

I

Dan. “You had a choice, Kevin. You could have left me to die there under the reservoir bridge or you could have taken steps to make sure I received proper medical attention. I am truly repentant and grateful you chose the latter. I never had the opportunity to thank you for your act of kindness. Unfortunately, you did leave some of my associates ten years from where they should have been, which tossed a wrench into our plans, but you know what? That’s okay. Accidents happen. Besides, you gave us this--”

Dan holds up the quarter with the 2025 engraving.

I reply. “I didn’t give you anything, you took it from me.”

Dan. “Semantics. We’ll consider all debts paid in full. You’re square with me again. So, for those reasons and the obvious paradox issue, I have decided to let you go with one small caveat.”

I reply. “You’re going to blank my memory of this day.”

II

I opened my eyes and sat up, rapidly. It took a few seconds to recall my last conscious memory, my abduction by a Brüder ship. A sense of urgency quickly replaced my fleeting dream. I didn’t know where I was.

“It’s okay, Kevin,” a voice with a notably German accent said off to my left. I thought it might be Jim. I snapped my head around. An older man stood with his hands raised. He was not Jim Marks. He stood next to Wald, who lay asleep in a separate cot. “I am not your enemy. You are in a safe place.”

I jumped out of the cot onto my bare feet, looking around frantically. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“My name is Tom Richards. You and your friend are my guests here at Earth Station One.”

For a moment, I thought I was at the FCA-1 moon base medical facility. The layout of the room was similar. I quickly looked around the room for other people, guards specifically.

“Is Connor MacKenzie here?” I asked, with urgency.

“Yes,” Tom replied, calmly. “If you will allow me, I will get him for you.”

I nodded, studying my host more closely. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a Brüder communicator. I knew this man, but could not quickly ascertain his identity.

He spoke into the communicator. “TDI-1, would you join me please? Kevin is awake.”

“We’re on our way,” Connor replied.

I looked down at myself, realizing I wore nothing more than boxer shorts.

“Your clothes are there on the edge of the bed,” Tom said. “They were rather dirty, so I had them cleaned.” The clothes I had been wearing since this whole adventure began were indeed clean and folded up neatly on the edge of my cot.

“Thank you,” I said, cautiously. I quickly dressed myself. I also noticed the pain in my ribs from the many falls I had taken over the last day was gone. I patted my ribcage to confirm this.

“You had three broken ribs,” Tom said. “I took the liberty of healing those and a few other injuries you sustained.”

I continued to stare at Tom, anxiously attempting to figure out why he looked so damn familiar. “Where do I know you from?”

“I do not believe we have met before,” Tom said. “Not to be boastful, but I have a fairly good memory.”

“No,” I said. “I remember you from somewhere. I have a good memory too and rarely forget a face.” I looked around the room again. There was no discernable door. “This is all Brüder stuff, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Tom replied, still friendly and inviting. “This is Earth Station One, located mostly beneath the Liberty Reservoir.”

The Liberty reservoir!

Now I knew who Tom Richard was. My eyes bugged out at the realization of who I was looking at. The man before me was the same Tom who rescued me the day I fainted at Liberty reservoir. The same individual who talked me through shock as he drove me to Carroll County General Hospital. The same individual who disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again.

“You,” I whispered. “You saved my life back in 1989, at the reservoir.”

Tom gently grinned. The same grin that lurked over me as he drove my shock paralyzed body to the hospital. “I did? I am sorry, but the year 1989 is eight years away. This is the first time we have formally met.”

“What year is this? Is it still 1981?”

“Yes.”

“Are you Brüder as well, part of the FCA?”

“Indeed I am, on both counts.”

I took an instant liking to Tom. He projected a pleasant disposition. There is no forgetting that he will save my life someday. The real conundrum begins the day Tom will rescue me and I will have no idea who he is as I was seventeen then. Tom will have already met my 35-year-old self.

“In that case Tom, I’d like to thank you ahead of time for saving my life. I never had the chance to tell you in 1989.”

“Thank you, Kevin, I appreciate it. It will not be a problem and I will be happy to do it.” Hearing him speak in future tense was weird. I supposed with Connor and his team, they do it quite often.

A yellow outline of a door formed on the wall to my right. The space within the outline disappeared.

Jim walked into the room, beaming. “Kevin, it’s good to see you again, my friend.” We embraced for a moment. “I see you have met Tom, or Richaurdus if you prefer.”

Richaurdus, Markaurdus, a pattern was emerging, a glimpse into Brüder genealogy.

“For the second time,” I added.

Jim’s grin disappeared, “What do you mean?”

“Tom is the man who saved me after the incident at the reservoir in 1989.”

Jim looked at Tom, who shrugged in return.

Jim said, “When Connor gets here, we must tell him immediately.”

“He knows about that day.”

“Does he know the Tom involved in your rescue is actually Ricaurdus?”

I stopped to think, reviewing the story I told Connor. “No, I don’t think so. So how exactly did I end up here, Jim? The last thing I remember is the transport to Brüder-3.”

“That ship was not Brüder-3,” Jim replied. “That was…a different ship.”

Jim’s answer aroused my curiosity. “I thought Bruder-3 and Bruder-1 were the only ships with transport capability. Was it the latter?”

“Connor will explain,” Jim replied, in his elusive way. “He should be here momentarily.”

My curiosity burned like a Florida wildfire. “So you and Connor have been living down here for the last four years?”

“Some,” Jim said. “I divide my time between this facility and my home in Westminster. I still have appearances to keep in human life. We were concerned for a time we might never find you. Consequently, our ad hoc FCA group accomplished quite a bit in the event you were lost or killed. I am very happy we found you when we did.”

Connor belted out from behind Jim at the door into the room, “Is that Kevin Provance over there I see alive and well? Come here, you son of a bitch!” Connor’s grin was ear to ear as he embraced me and spun me around the room.

I laughed as Connor set me back down. “It’s good to see you too, man. You’ll forgive my lack of enthusiasm as it’s not even been twenty-four hours since I last saw you.”

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you, Kevin. I wasn’t sure if you would ever turn up and even more worried you might have been killed since you took Dan with you.”

“Yeah, that was interesting,” I said with mild sarcasm. “He didn’t take to time travel as well as I did.”

“I know,” Connor said. “Once we determined the temporal disturbance by the reservoir was you, we followed your every move until we could retrieve you.”

“Back up a bit,” I said. “How did you get out of my mom’s house in 1977 without blowing the place up?”

Connor chuckled. “It wasn’t that big of a deal. You took care of quite a bit, taking Dan with you and taking out one of the agents. Jim and I took the other three down without much effort and covered up our presence there. By that time, you were long gone. The communicator you were carrying completely disappeared off the frequency range. We took shelter inside ES-1 to evade The Corporation and discovered our Brüder friend Tom here, who has been guarding this facility for – well, quite some time.”

“I tried to get back here through my mother’s basement. I couldn’t get anywhere near the entrance,” I paused. “Oh shit, I revealed myself to both my parents! They have memories of me as an adult!”

Connor put his hand up in reassurance. “It’s okay, it’s been handled.”

“How so?”

“After we retrieved you and your friend Wald from the pool, we used another lightning strike to send a very low electromagnetic pulse across the area of the house, essentially putting everyone inside asleep. Jim performed some fancy footwork with the Löschen to erase that encounter and patched your father up from the beating you gave him. He woke up in his work area believing he fell asleep and out of his chair. Your mom woke up on the sofa believing she also fell asleep. Neither have any memory of meeting you yesterday.”

“Why couldn’t I use the entrance in the basement?” I asked. “When I tried to get close to it, I felt those feelings of dread and death I told you about a few days ago, yet it wasn’t a problem in 1977.”

Jim answered, “That is part of a security system. It prevents unauthorized human access by broadcasting a low-level electromagnetic frequency that interferes with the cerebral cortex. Once we realized the proximity of the Earth Station one entrances to an unguarded and unmonitored structure, those measures were activated.”

“Son of a bitch,” I whispered. “That really messed with my head growing up you know. I thought that house was haunted.”

Jim grinned. “It is a very efficient system.”

The scope of what Jim suggested did not seem possible, and I had to ask about it. “How is all of this possible to begin with? I mean, it’s every boys dream to find hidden passages under his house, but in real life that just doesn’t happen. This place is supposed to be thousands of years old and the entrance just happens to be under the house I lived in as a child? C’mon.”

Jim appeared baffled. Tom addressed my quandary. “It is one of the entrances. There are several, some accessible, some not. The hatches underneath your old house were originally the equivalent of service entrances. This facility was partially above ground before the great flood that reshaped the planet. The material used to build this structure is indestructible. The Earth has shaped itself around it over the centuries. Earth Station one and its entrances are now beneath.

“When I made the decision to declare this facility destroyed and offline, I sealed all entrances but one, the one closest to the Jaunte portal, which happens to be the one now underneath your old home. For hundreds of years there was nothing out here, no people, no homes, no roads, nothing. The entrance I was using remained undisturbed until what you would call the sixteenth century. At that time, I obscured the area and it remained that way. In 1800, a man by the name of John Elder, who was an early settler in the town that would become Sykesville, would buy all the land that would become Eldersburg. It was during this time I incorporated myself into human society, not to interfere, but to observe. I was confident I sealed the other entrances into Earth Station One well enough to remain undiscovered. In the 1860s, George Melville built the Oakland Woolen Mills where the Liberty reservoir is today, directly over this facility. His work brought him closer too some of the hidden entrances than I preferred. I took a job at the mill in maintenance to insure those entrances remained hidden. As the mill grew, I worked my way into Melville’s inner circle. In my position, I was able to keep watch over everything that occurred here. When it became age appropriate for me to retire, I returned to Earth Station one and monitored mill activities from here.

“In 1953 I joined the Baltimore County government as Tom Richards to help facilitate the sale of the Melville Woolen Company to the county and assisted the construction of the Liberty Dam to form the Liberty Reservoir. This would put all but a few of the sealed entrances underwater.

“In the mid 1960s, development for single family homes began around the reservoir. In 1967, I purchased the lot that your old home sits upon, where the only working entrance exists, and built it around those hatches. I lived there for a few years, but preferred to work inside this facility. I brought in one of the remaining der Widerstand members, Caspaurdus, to live in that house and guard the hatches. At some point in 1975, he disappeared. I believe The Corporation had something to do with it. They attempted to capture and convert as many der Widerstand members as they were able. I was not aware my friend disappeared until Connor and Markaurdus turned up in 1977.”

“Yeah,” I said, musing over the history of my childhood home. “I remember something about that. My parents bought that house from the county at some insanely low price. As I recall, it involved the man who lived there disappearing and eventually presumed dead. I often wondered if that guy had died in the house, lending to my belief the house was haunted.”

Tom grinned. “This is why those security measures you are not fond of were put in place. We did not need any more unauthorized entries.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s an amazing story.”

Jim interjected, “Kevin, you should tell Connor about your 1989 encounter with Tom.”

Connor looked curious. I turned to face him. “Remember when I…or was it Ryan, who told you about the incident at the reservoir in 1989?”

“Yes. I still suspect The Corporation abducted you. Why?”

“Do you recall the manner in which I was rescued?”

“Sure, you said a boater found you and took you to the hospital. His name was Tom—”

Connor’s eyes widened, his mouth hanging open. He recomposed himself quickly. “You’re telling me the Tom who rescued you that morning is the same standing behind us?”

“The very same. I inadvertently told him when I woke up, as I wanted to thank him for his bravery in saving my life. He had no idea what I was talking about.”

Connor glanced at Tom who shrugged again. “We have a Code Black here, gentlemen, although I suspect it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Tom stood up. “It is not a problem, Connor. When the time comes, I will be happy to help young Kevin, even if he will have no memory of me. I am sure whatever happens that day that catches my attention will present itself without issue. Do not worry so much.”

Connor tossed him a sarcastic look. “It’s my job, Tom.”

I looked Connor, noticing he was wearing a ring with a red glowing stone. He caught me observing it and anticipated my next question. “Yes, that’s the Temporal Element from the Brüder Trinity. I’ve already used it to transfer the Temporal Displacement element from you to me.”

“Thank you,” I said, relieved. “It was more trouble than it was worth. I don’t understand how you live with such a responsibility. I can see how in the wrong hands it could be a dangerous thing.”

“Exactly,” Connor said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m so happy we recovered you. I don’t mean to put you down, but you aren’t trained to use it. Now that I have it back, the FCA can get back to work.”

“No offense taken,” I said, with assurance. “I’m glad to be rid of it. Now, I was asking Jim about the ship that took me, and Wald. He said it wasn’t Brüder-3 or Brüder-1. What’s up with that?”

Connor grinned. “Bruder-3 didn’t capture you, another far more advanced ship did.” He gestured towards the door. “Walk with me while we talk, can you walk?” I nodded. “Good, I have something to show you.”

III

The four of us walked down some lengthy and never-ending hallways, with several halls intersecting as we progressed. Areas where doors should have been contained engraved labels with the Brüder-German hybrid, while others were in good old-fashioned English.

I looked over toward Connor. “You seem to be in a good mood.”

“Yes, I am. I have to admit, there were times over the last few years I believed we were in the worst possible position, the FCA as a whole. We had no idea how to find you or where you were. Then yesterday you dropped right into our laps with the crash of Brüder-3. That was good news I gladly took, without question. It was the information you brought with you that really made my day. It made it all worth it, the last four years of isolation.”

“Listen, Connor,” I said. “I’m really sorry about leaving 1977. I have no idea how it happened. I panicked and it started all by itself.”

“It’s okay, Kevin,” Connor said, patting me on the back. “It’s apparent to me now they were predestined, these events. They had to happen, especially to bring us the information you did.”

“I don’t understand.”

Connor withdrew a HoloLog and handed it to me, “Does this look familiar?”

“It’s a HoloLog?”

Connor laughed, tilting his head back. “Yes. Yes it is, but not just any HoloLog. This is the operating system for Bruder-3.”

“Yeah, that’s right. The ship was in some kind of self-destruct mode. I thought ejecting that from the assembly it was inside of would stop it. I was wrong. I stashed it in my back pocket and forgot about it.”

Connor stopped walking to look directly at me. He took the HoloLog and held it up. “The information contained on this is priceless!”

“But it was damaged,” I said. “That’s why the ship self destructed.”

Connor grinned again and deferred to Jim. “The HoloLog itself is indestructible, as is the material our ships are constructed of, or so we believed. According to the small amount of data retrieved so far from that HoloLog, The Corporation discovered a method to compromise the Unobtanium compound our ships and HoloLogs contain. Bruder-3 was the only ship with such a self-destruct program. We believed The Corporation made those modifications on purpose, in the event of its capture. With this information, we can now protect our remaining ships against a threat we previously didn’t know of.”

Connor added, “Not to mention we have the Bruder-3 operating system. The re-creation of that ship is now a possibility, and she’ll be in our control.

“Kevin, the information you brought back to us, it’s one of the biggest finds the FCA has ever boasted. Thank you, so much.” Connor hugged me. I hugged him back, still unsure but happy to be among my new friends.

“Listen, Connor, there is something you need to know about Bruder-3,” I said. “The one that crashed and self destructed is not the ship from this time, in 1981.”

Connor’s grin disappeared. Leave it to me to be the party pooper. “Explain.”

“When I left 1977, the time portal was out of my control. I had no idea what was going on. I was frozen in place, looking into a bright white object in which 1977 and another time gave me a wicked case of double vision.”

“Sounds normal,” Connor said. “After a while - and lots of practice - you learn to make that process instantaneous.”

I continued, “That other time period was 1991, not 1981. Dan knew what was happening and forced us to drive to an insolated side of Old Liberty Road, by the reservoir.”

“An ideal precaution,” Connor said, careful at the mention of Dan’s name. “Had you displaced in a public area, the aftermath could have been considerable. You and Dan could have been killed.”

“Yeah, he said the same thing. Anyways, once we landed in 1991, the portal didn’t close by itself. It stayed open and started bursting in flashes. I didn’t know it then, but anything caught in those flashes came with us to our next destination, here in 1981. Before the jump to 1981, Brüder-3 flew overhead in stealth mode. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear it. It left an air distortion in its wake, and that distortion flew directly into one of those flashes. When I finally figured out how to close the portal object, it took us to this time in 1981, along with several tree branches and Bruder-3. It crashed farther out into the woods by the reservoir and self-destructed. Therefore, the ship that crashed was Bruder-3 indigenous to 1991. For the next ten years, there is still a Bruder-3 running around out there somewhere.”

Connor considered the information. “Well, this does explain a lot. The information we took off that ship’s primary HoloLog contained information dating to 1991. We were concerned The Corporation finally figured it out, temporal displacement.”

Jim interjected, “Fortunately, this is not the case. It also explains why Bruder-3 went missing in 1991, never to return. It’s now a pile of rusting debris in the middle of the woods.”

“And our next mess to clean up,” Connor said. “Since Kevin said he first ran into it in 1989, we cannot prevent that from happening. So following that day, we will need to move those ruins into ES-1.” Connor paused. “Well, it’s still the find of the century. We’ll just have to implement some additional safety protocols to detect Brüder-3 in case she comes back.”

“Agreed,” Jim added.

We continued walking.

“Connor,” I said apprehensively. “You are aware then I had no choice but to save Dan’s life.”

“I am,” Connor said, but did not change his disposition. “That was a very noble thing for you to do. It speaks a lot about your character.”

“Should I be apologizing here?” I asked.

Connor laughed. “No, not at all. I would have done the same thing. Any of us would. You have to understand, we are not violent or heartless people, those of us in the FCA. Would we defend ourselves in a fight? Of course. Our goal is to eliminate the control they have on our planet, The Corporation, either by surrender or if need be, elimination. We’ve attempted negotiations in the past, and they’ve all failed. The option of defeating them is a real possibility, through a battle. The level of that defeat is up to them.”

“The 2025 quarter, “I said. “I hid it.”

“I know this also,” Connor said. “You gave it to your younger self. We followed him as well to insure he did so. You picked a very safe spot no one would ever find. Nice job with that as well.”

“How do you know all these things?”

“We have an observation platform aboard FCA-1. It allows us to watch in real time, what’s happening here on Earth.”

“That I have to see.”

Connor laughed, “In time, my friend. In time.”

The hallway ended at a T-junction. I looked in both directions. Each direction disappeared into infinity even with the width of the walkway at six feet or more. As Connor prepared to turn left, I had to ask the obvious, “This place goes on forever. All of this is ES-1?”

Connor urged me to continue walking as he answered. “We’re a little over a mile underground. The facility itself is a little over ten square miles.”

“Jesus,” I whispered. “I thought you told me this place was destroyed thousands of years ago.”

“That’s what we were led to believe as well,” Connor said, tossing a doubtful glance to Tom. “Turns out that wasn’t entirely accurate.”

Jim picked up the explanation, “der Widerstand wanted to keep this facility a secret. So much so they did not bother to inform me.”

“Refresh my memory,” I said. “der Widerstand is the Brüder faction that saved mankind from extermination, right?”

“Correct,” Jim said. “That event was called Ausrottung.”

“Is there an English word for that?” I asked.

“Extinction,” Jim said, flatly. “Tom here is one of the original three members who began the der Widerstand movement.”

I looked back at Tom as we walked, flabbergasted. He smiled gently and nodded his head. He had to be as old as, if not older than Jim, who already admitted to being thousands of years old. “Where are the other two?”

Tom replied, “At other facilities on this planet performing the same task as I, guarding them, until the Brüder return.”

I looked at Connor with squinted eyes. Perhaps it was the stress of the last twenty-four hours, but I could have sworn he said different. “You told me The Brüder were already here.”

“Yes, I did. You should also recall I said they were a small group whose mission was to recover whatever technology survived the Ausrottung. After they discovered it failed, their plan, they assimilated themselves into human culture to spy on us and when possible, interfere with our evolution.”

The implication of what Connor suggested was chilling. “So you are saying more are on the way?”

“Yes. I didn’t have until yesterday, this information. As I said, the data you brought us from the Brüder-3 HoloLog is massive.”

“Hold on,” I said, a bit panicked. “This is bad, isn’t it? If the Brüder are sending an army to finish off the job, then we’re pretty well fucked, aren’t we?”

Jim answered, placing his hand gently on my shoulder. “Not necessarily. When my people performed the human experiment on this planet, my home world was well over two thousand light years away. At that time, we did not yet have the ability to travel faster than light. I still believe we do not; otherwise, my people would already be here. As the universe is in a continuous state of expansion, our worlds are constantly moving further away from one another. Therefore, the trip from my planet to Earth would now be much longer than before, at least another thousand light years or more.”

I considered this. “So you’re telling me it’s going to take them longer to get here.”

“Correct,” Jim said. “The Ausrottung event occurred approximately two thousand three hundred twenty five years ago. Since it is impossible for me to account for every variable since then, the closest I can calculate the arrival of that force would be at least another thousand years, probably more.”

Connor interjected, “The good news is that force has not arrived by 2095.”

“How is that good news?” I asked. “You all but told me our world is in ruins by then. What’s left of the human race is captive in camps controlled by The Corporation.”

“That’s true, but you’re only counting the people living under their control. When you account for the survivors they haven’t captured, The Corporation, the amount of saved people working with the FCA is much higher. Higher than you might think.”

Then I remembered something from my excursion from 1991 to 1981. The year 2095. Something was not right there. “Connor, why haven’t you talked about anything past 2095? I mean, if you can time travel, why have you not gone further? Why is that the ending point in every discussion we’ve had?”

Connor stopped walking. He turned to face me, disturbed. “Why do you ask?”

“Recall the problem I had closing the portal, which took me from 1991 to 1981?” Connor nodded. “Inside that second jump, I felt something. It was like pure evil and it scared the shit out of me. I think it had something to do with 2095, December specifically.”

Connor looked at Jim and said, “Code Black.” Jim nodded, seeming to understand. Connor then directed his attention to me. “Shortly, I’ll need to debrief you in private. Until then, there can’t be any discussion about your last 24 hours. Understood?”

“Yes,” I answered, feeling a bit scolded. I think Connor pickup up on this.

We continued walking. “Remember Kevin, we’re still in 1981. There are events they have yet to experience, Jim and Tom. There’s also information about future events that we can’t share until the time is appropriate. Doing so could be bad, and I mean more bad than normal, especially since we’re so far from where we should be, here in the past. It wasn’t planned or authorized, our trip to 1977 from 2095. It was necessary to avoid capture by The Corporation.

“When we wrote the directives in 2065, Martin, Robert, Jim, and I, we planted Jim in 1910 to act as our liaison. The only information from the future he has is the parts he’s involved in through the natural course of time. Anything else is Code Black, and he understands that I must withhold non vital information until the appropriate time.”

“Okay, I think I understand,” I said. “But if you planted Jim in 1910 from 2065, what was he doing before that? It sounds like he’s living twice through this century.”

Jim answered, “I existed as a discorporate entity, expelled by The Corporation for questioning their motives.”

I stared at Jim, speechless. “That’s impossible,” I whispered. “One can’t live without a body.”

Jim didn’t seem surprised by my reaction. “Recall I told you some time back that the Brüder culture is significantly different from the human one? In our culture, when the body dies our souls are able to discorporate until a new body is available. This is how we are able to live as long as we do.”

“Significantly different?” I asked, bug eyed. “That’s an understatement. What you are suggesting simply isn’t possible. It’s always been my understanding that a brain is required for sentience. Everything is processed there.”

“There is truth to that,” Jim said. “In general terms, think of the brain as the central processor for a supercomputer. Then think of sentience as the operating system, or the main program for that computer, in which all other tasks run. Now, where do you think this information comes from?”

“A hard drive?” I asked. Jim appeared befuddled.

Connor stepped in, addressing Jim’s confusion. “A hard drive is the 20th century equivalent to a HoloLog.”

“Okay,” Jim said. “I can work with either. A soul would be the equivalent of a hard drive, containing the sentience program for the brain. Like most hardware, a computer can break down and become useless, but the hard drive still contains all the data it has accumulated over time. Would you then take that hard drive and move it to a new computer?” I nodded. “The same concept is applied to the soul and the body.”

“Not for humans,” I noted. “As far as I know, once we’re dead, that’s it. Game over. No resurrection from discorporate soul.”

“Correct,” Jim said. “What I described applies to Brüder society.”

“Where do your souls come from?” I asked. “Hell, where do ours come from?”

Jim tossed an inquisitive glance to Connor, who nodded his approval. “In the beginning, a layer of energy surrounded my planet. It seemed to serve no purpose. Upon its discovery, we termed it Himmel. It was - it is a higher intelligence, singular in nature. When life on my planet evolved to problem solving intelligence, the Himmel sent small pieces of itself, Seelen, into Brüder children, giving them sentience. Self awareness and the true evolution of our people began.”

“Small pieces of itself?” I asked. “How does that work? You said it was a singular entity.”

Connor answered, “Think of that energy like a body of water. It’s one entity. If someone were to throw a rock into that water, the splash would create water drops. What was one now become several.”

Jim continued, “When a Brüder body dies, the Seele returns to the Himmel, taking with it the knowledge it accumulated. Repeat this process over millions of years and Himmel evolves. As that evolution continued, a Seele was able to make conscious decisions apart from Himmel, or perhaps Himmel began to allow it, we still do not know. The process of the Seele not returning to Himmel, choosing instead to return to a new body allowed our people to live longer lives, retaining everything they know from their previous body.”

“Stop,” I said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were talking about the soul of a body.”

“Correct,” Jim said. “Seele translates to ‘soul’.

“Then just say ‘soul’. It’ll make it easier for me to understand.”

“As you wish,” Jim said. “Apply this to the analogy of the computer. When a computer becomes unusable due to old or degenerated hardware, move the hard drive to a new computer. No data is lost. Does this make sense to you?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s a little hard to believe, but I understand. You also mentioned the same is not true for humans. Do you know why?”

“I am not able to give you a specific proven reason,” Jim said. “A similar energy comparable to Himmel surrounds Earth. It works the same way with one exception. A soul from Earth, once separated from its Himmel wants to return to it upon death of the body. It does not want to exist over several lifetimes. Why that is, we do not know and is the primary reason the Brüder experiment on this planet failed. Our theory is, Earth’s Himmel is not as evolved as ours is. Sentient life on your planet is still very young. Millions of years separate our cultures, and age of our respective planets. In comparison, Earth is merely a child and thus the theory of un-evolved souls.

“If the human race survives another million years, it is postulated Earth’s Himmel will evolve, allowing the individual soul control over its destiny. It is strictly a guess, mind you. We believe each returning soul adds knowledge and experience to Himmel. When Himmel releases new souls to lock into new bodies, they incrementally evolve at the subconscious level. It becomes more intelligent. When that body dies, the knowledge obtained during that period passes to Himmel. That is how we believe the soul evolves.”

“Do you know where this Himmel originated?” I asked.

“No,” Jim replied. “Some believe they are a by product of what you call the ‘big bang’, the creation of this universe. Not every planet has a Himmel encompassing it. When the Brüder originally sent unmanned scouts to search for planets to conduct their experiments, the goal was to find one without a Himmel. Data from Earth indicated it had none. Those scientists did not know what to look for, as Earth’s Himmel is much younger than ours is. Our technology did not detect it. Had those scouts discovered Himmel around Earth, your race would not exist. Our mistake paved the way for your species, and one of the primary reasons der Widerstand fought to preserve your existence. My people created sentient life and labeled it a mistake. One does not create sentient life - even by accident - and throw it away simply because the desired result was not obtained.”

“Unbelievable,” I whispered, looking at Jim with new wonder, and respect. “So let me understand this; instead of being born into life via live birth – like humans – bodies are specifically created for you?”

“Close,” Jim replied. “When a Brüder body dies, the soul becomes discorporate and a new body is created for that soul. The Brüder female – for lack of a better description – will mate with a Brüder male the same way humans do, fertilizing an egg within her. Within three Earth days of fertilization, she will expel an approximately eight-pound egg from her body. A third sex in our culture incubates it. In approximately four Earth weeks, a fully able insentient body emerges from that egg and the waiting soul enters, locking itself in. Brüder children mature very quickly. It takes them less than one Earth year to fully mature into an adult.”

“So how does all of this pertain to the failed Brüder experiment?”

“The ultimate goal was to create a hybrid of two species,” Jim said. “A species we call the Lebendgeburten - or Leben for short - and ourselves. The Leben are the only species we know capable of live birth. The name itself translates to ‘live birth’ in English. The Leben themselves however, are fundamentally different. When their children are born, it develops similar to a human child, minus a soul. It cannot achieve sentience. The Leben world is without the Himmel layer our planets have. Instead, Leben children undergo programming by their elders at the DNA level to provide a form of artificial intelligence. They live until the body expires. Upon death, the programming it acquired during the course of its life is lost. The Leben were experimenting with ways to save memories to a separate medium, and return it to a new body to facilitate longer life.

“The Brüder convinced the Leben a hybrid of our two species would solve our respective problems. The Brüder would be capable of live birth while the Leben would experience true sentience. The proposal was deliberate Brüder deception. My people withheld information from the Leben about Himmel, which is required for sentience. The Brüder did this selfishly, to their benefit in obtaining live birth.”

“Why?” I asked. “What’s so special about live birth?”

“Mortality rate,” Jim replied. “Until we knew of the Leben, the concept of live birth was myth. Some of our historians believe our species was capable of live birth millions of years ago, evolving into an egg producing species. When we discovered the Leben and witnessed the practice and benefits of live birth, it became clear that if our historians were correct, we devolved over time. The Brüder culture is a vain one, and perfectionist. The suggestion of a more advanced species created unrest. This framework begat the experiment leading to the human race.”

“Okay, I get that,” I said. “But you said the Brüder considered the human race a failure. Was it because our Himmel was not as evolved as yours?”

“No,” Jim said. “The evolutionary state of Earth’s Himmel was irrelevant. The fact that it was there at all resulted in the experiment’s ultimate failure. We did not detect the energy around your planet originally, because of its early stage of evolution.

“For centuries, my people attempted to create the perfect hybrid with the objective of creating a live birth species that would accept Brüder souls. The goal was two fold; first, repopulate Brüder society with these superior human bodies. The second, move our entire population to live on Earth. Your planet is a lush, fertile world, abundant in water and other natural resources. Planets like Earth are extremely rare. The experiment in its first stages, spanning thousands of years were a success. But as humans evolved, their children began to receive soul energy at birth. Our scientists did not detect the soul energy initially, as they believed Earth was without Himmel. Generations passed before their data revealed souls indigenous to this planet. It was then our scientists realized a much larger quandary beyond the successful unification of the Brüder and the Leben into a new species; two souls cannot share the same body.”

I looked at Connor who was nodding in agreement. “Yeah,” I said. “I can see where that might present a problem.”

Jim continued, “Life indigenous to this planet never achieved sentience on its own. The animals originating on Earth – dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and others, most of which are now extinct - did not receive a soul. Our theory suggests a certain amount of evolution is required before it can manage sentience. The Brüder experiment involving our human hybrids and live birth facilitated this evolutionary process, speeding it up. It inadvertently forced Himmel to attach a soul to the new life. Earth’s Himmel was not nearly evolved enough to proprietarily separate itself into individual souls, giving bodies true sentience. When the human offspring body died, the soul returned to Himmel. At the time, the concept of uncontrollable souls completely baffled our scientists. It lead to the theory of the Himmel evolution. That discovery also led to another characteristic of un-evolved soul energy. Souls on this planet do not communication with Himmel as they do on our planet, another concept humans do not yet have, or understand.”

I felt my jaw drop. “You’re talking about ESP, aren’t you?”

Connor answered. “In a more refined sense, yes.”

Jim sighed. “I believe if such communication were possible on Earth, your society might not be as violent and disunited as it currently is.”

Jim may have been right about that supposition. It was on the tip of my tongue to mention that even a unified society like the Brüder seemed to lack enlightenment. He continued, “The Brüder attempted to circumvent the human soul. They were never able to compensate for it. The results were disastrous. Some of the effects are still seen in your people today.”

“How so?” I asked.

“When Brüder scientists discovered they could no longer use human bodies as vessels for Brüder souls, they attempted to remove the Earth soul from the human body or prevent it from locking in. This occurs in the third trimester of human pregnancy. The latter caused what you know as a form of mental retardation due to incomplete removal of the soul. As our scientists attempted to code the preventative measure at the DNA level, it became a genetically inheritable trait, passed down since that original coding.

“Over time, and after much failed experimentation, the Earth soul removal process was refined to levels deemed successful. In the process, a consequence of forced soul removal presented itself. It does not return to Himmel. It becomes lost and stays lost. You know them as ghosts.” I gasped. “Brüder scientists eventually perfected the worst experiment in our history; tools to suppress the soul into the subconscious, so another may be inserted, Brüder or human. The first trials involved human souls, before attempting to use those of a Brüder. Upon the death of a soul-suppressed body, the suppressed soul does not return to Himmel, but instead locks to another body, usually a child where it can lay dormant for years. We do not know why. The result is what you know as schizophrenia or in very rare cases, multiple personalities.”

I stopped walking at this point. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Connor displayed concern. “Kevin? Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “It’s just that I – I would have never guessed that –”

“Any of this was possible?” Connor asked, finishing my sentence. “I understand completely. My initial reaction was similar.” Jim nodded in confirmation. Connor continued, “I believe I’m a good judge of character. I also know you don’t believe in the concept of God and religion. We seek out personalities like yours for inclusion in the FCA, as they’ve proven able to accept this kind of information without defying their beliefs as a human being. Believe me when I say no one who practices religion and believes in a God can handle it, these truths. Some who tried ended up attempted suicide. It takes a certain type of personality, those we let into the upper echelons of the FCA.” Connor put his hand on my shoulder. “I believe you are that kind of person, especially considering how you’ve handled temporal displacement. This is why I’ve allowed Jim to share all this information with you.”

I had a gut feeling Connor was going somewhere with his speech, and I wasn’t ready to hear it. In diversion, I looked back to Jim. “You mentioned your planet was dying. What’s wrong with your planet, does it have a name?”

“Yes, it is called Deneb. There is no literal Earth translation. Earth scientists identify our star as Alpha Cygni. It is in the process of going nova. It is slowly dying, although the final stage of its death will not happen for several more millions of years.

Connor cut in. “Jim, finish the story.”

Jim nodded. “Communication between Earth and Deneb, even with relay stations set up across the space between our worlds is not an instantaneous process. Between breaks in communication and the work of our scientists to circumvent the human soul, thousands of years passed. Brüder scientists made most of their observations from the moon base, which we constructed specifically for observation. Earth did not indigenously have a moon.

“We quickly learned the sentience of the human soul was not very evolved. The first generations of humans released into the wild to fend for themselves were nothing more than rudimentary cave dwellers, hunters, and gatherers. The Brüder observed humans evolve over thousands of years, making occasional genetic adjustments, hoping to facilitate the evolution of their sentience. Instead, humans grew territorial and violent towards one another and in some cases, themselves. It was the hope of our scientists that human sentience would evolve to a point where it would be similar to our own. It never happened. In fact, as Earth souls evolved, it bound itself to human bodies in ways ours never did. In our society, we have no musicians like Mozart, or artists like Picasso.”

“But look at the technology you have,” I said, interrupting. “Holographic ships, time travel, medicinal advancements. Where do I stop? You guys are centuries ahead of us.”

Jim smiled, extending his hand to the wall. “All the things you see here, that you have seen on the ships, are ancient technology. It is outdated by millennia.”

Again, I was dumbfounded. I could understand Connor’s belief that sharing this information – the truth about our species – with the general human population would be disastrous. Not only would few believe it, but also those who did could send our society into upheaval. How does one tell a civilization who largely believes in a God that God doesn’t exist, or ever existed, or that the concept of God was another sentient race not indigenous to Earth?

Connor stopped at a non-descript section of hallway labeled 'Bucht vier'. “We're here,” he said, flashing a huge grin. “You’re going to love this. Berechnen, Bucht vier offenen

A holographic control panel appeared on the wall, eye level with Connor. He stepped up to the panel. It scanned his retinas, presumably for identification and security purposes. A yellow outline in the shape of a door formed as it had done in the room in which I awoke. The section where the door would have been disappeared, allowing us entrance. Connor allowed the three of us to enter what was an unbelievably huge and open area. It could have easily been a quarter of a mile in any direction. The walls of the bay began to emit a soft yellow light, giving the entire area illumination.

Centered further down the bay sat another ship, clearly Brüder in nature. She was at least three times the size of Brüder-2, the smallest of the ships. While Brüder-2 looked more like a sports car molded into a spacecraft, this ship looked more like a true space ship. The front of the ship was saucer like with its body extending out from the middle of the saucer.

“It is another ship,” I said, in awe. “She's breathtaking.”

Connor whispered in my ear, “And hardly a myth, wouldn't you say?”

I turned to face Connor. “You mean this is--”

“Yes,” Connor said, interrupting me. “Brüder-4,”

IV

Wald’s breathing was calm and steady. I sat next to his bed, watching him sleep in his comatose state. Buried deep inside his subconscious, Wald’s soul suffered with no way out. Jim made this determination upon closer inspection of my old friend. Connor would be sending Wald to the ES-5 facility in 1991 (where he should be), where the FCA would care for him, and others like him afflicted with the same condition. Connor explained if Wald did not get regular electro-therapy for his body, all his limbs would suffer from atrophied. There he would stay until Martin Wexler would use his body as a host. I took comfort in knowing my old friend would receive the best care possible, by the best FCA doctors proficient in Brüder technology. It was all I could do for him until the opportunity to free his soul was possible. Connor claimed such technology existed in 2095. After our mission in 2006 –to determine how The Corporation infiltrated ES-5 and FCA-1 – Connor assured me Martin would take a different receptacle and we would revive Wald. He said after everything I’ve done for him, it was the least he could do. Connor MacKenzie is a stand up guy, to be sure.

I heard Connor walk into the room, but did not look up to greet him. I continued to watch my best friend, remembering him as he was in our youth. I still missed him even though he lay here, right in front of me.

“Kevin? Are you okay?” Connor asked.

“Yeah. Just thinking about everything.”

“I understand. That was a lot to take in at once.”

I shook my head and sighed. “You have no idea, man.”

“That’s why I asked if you were okay. Not everyone can handle the kind of information we shared this morning.”

Connor referred to the recent debriefing, although I’m still not sure who debriefed whom. “I’ll be okay Connor. Very little of it was not much of a surprise. Knowing it’s all so…real, and accepting it, knowing it for the rest of my life, it’s strange somehow. Plus, I won’t be able to talk about it with anyone I know.”

“True. But you should also know you now have a large community of FCA members you can talk to. When we get back to 2095, Krissie can help you. We are all one big family, Kevin. Should you choose to become a permanent member of our family, anyone of us at any time will be here for you. That’s how it works.”

“I know. I just need a little time, that’s all.”

“I understand,” Connor said, smiling reassuringly. “I also stopped by to let you know we are ready to transfer Wald to ES-5 for proper care.”

“Okay. Could you give me a few more minutes, please?”

“Of course,” Connor replied. “Jim and I will be back in say, ten minutes?”

I nodded. Connor left the room.

“What am I going to do Wald?” I asked my unresponsive friend. “Life as I know it has changed forever. I know the truth about so many things now. My reality of the last 35 years has been a cover up.” I paused, considering the reoccurring dreams of Wald and his cryptic messages. “Indeed, things are not as they appear. Did you know in 2032 there will be a third world war and nothing any of us can do will stop it? It’s coming, like a dark violent thunderstorm on the horizon. My son Spencer will be 31 when it happens.

“Connor made me the most generous offer to join the FCA. The reason for this involves my long-term memory. It’s been tampered with already. Somehow, Jim was able to look into my eyes and know I had once undergone a procedure to blank my long-term memory. It was probably the day I fainted at the reservoir after the lightning strike, the one you’re always breaking my balls over. It turns out, it might not have been a real lightning strike after all. Connor believes The Corporation kidnapped me for some reason I can’t remember. Since I’ve already had the procedure done once, I can’t have it done again. The risk for severe brain damage is too high now. The alternative is to join the FCA as a liaison in my own time until the war in 2032 begins. Then I would go to the year 2095 with Spencer to help the fight against The Corporation. That’s assuming it can be done before December of that year, before—”

Before time itself comes to a screeching halt.

“During my debriefing, I again brought up the subject of the evil stalking the end of the year 2095, where the time index has stopped. No one knows what it is or why time stops after that point. Connor told me that after he discovered the anomaly, Martin displaced himself and Connor and tried jumping to 2096, as discorporated souls. There was nothing there at all, but eternal blackness and eternal nothingness.

“Time has stopped in December of 2095.

“Future Jim theorizes some entity compromised the fourth dimension and does not belong there. It’s stuck somehow, and pissed off, which suggests to me that it’s somehow alive, or sentient.

“The proposed plan as Connor explained it involves bring The Corporation to their knees using whatever means necessary, inform them of our common impasse, and hope they have technology to discover what exactly is happening. The trouble is, in doing so he would reveal the existence of Brüder-4, which would be required to get to and from Deben – if need be - using its gravity drive. A defeated Corporation would be unable to steal the coveted Brüder-4 ship, or so Connor thinks. Future Jim also seems to think the information and intelligence in Deneb’s Himmel might know something more.

I laughed. “Brüder-4, damn. If you thought Brüder-2 was a finely tuned precision instrument, then you have to see this ship. She’s amazing! Did you know her Ion drive engine is capable of space travel? She has a gravity drive that would let us travel to distant points in space in the blink of an eye, just like the movie Event Horizon, minus all that ‘ship coming to life and killing its crew’ bullshit. You would have liked that movie, Event Horizon, I think. You would go nuts over Brüder-4. She has a slick-as-shit transporter system that compresses one thin enough to ride an energy beam from ship to shore and vice versa. All of this under the guise of a lightning strike to cloak the process. All this Brüder technology is amazing. I wish you were awake to see it. All those nights when we would try to write the perfect science fiction novel, it’s all here, right in front of us, and it’s real.” I paused to catch my breath.

“So I told Connor about everything that happened during my little adventure through time, how I got you back. They still don’t know why The Corporation wanted you.”

Connor interrupted my monolog. “I do.”

I turned around to look at him. “Has it been ten minutes already?”

“Just about. Jim was able to retrieve more information from the Bruder-3 HoloLog. Some of it is about you and your friend Wald.” I stared at him, waiting for him to continue. “It turns out they were not after Wald that night, The Corporation. They were after you, but missed.”

“Me? Why?”

“We still don’t know. He wasn’t able to retrieve that information due to the damage. I need to get it back to 2095, that HoloLog. We have better equipment there to get it, the damaged data. What I do know is whoever operated the Brüder-3 transporter that night confused Wald for you.”

“It was because I was wearing Myer’s ball cap, wasn’t it?”

“Yep. You picked up and put it on, his baseball cap, if I remember your story correctly.”

“That cap blew off Myer’s head, and I knew it was his favorite cap. I grabbed it and put it on so it wouldn’t end up in the ocean.”

“Whatever they wanted with you, The Corporation, they didn’t get. That could have been you lying there, in a coma.”

I sighed. More life changing news I didn’t want to know about. “I don’t feel relived Connor, why should I? They got Wald instead! And he didn’t do a fucking thing to them!”

“I know,” Connor whispered, sympathetically putting his hand on my shoulder, and maybe to calm me down a bit. “I do promise you, I’ll do everything in my power to help him, so he can live out the rest of his life normally.”

“I know you will, and I thank you for that.”

“It’s time for us to move him now,” Connor said, as Jim walked into the room with a stretcher. “He’ll be fine. You’ll see him again.”

Connor was right. I would see him again. Martin Wexler would be using his body as a vessel. I look at Connor. “After everything that’s happened, don’t you find it more than coincidental that Martin used Wald’s body when this whole thing started in 2006?”

Connor nodded, with a sigh. “I’ve given it a great deal of thought actually. It does seem to be an amazing coincidence. The FCA also cares for many other people whom the Corporation has harmed. I also knew Martin displaced using surrogate bodies, as not to harm his own, but I wasn’t aware of it at the time, Martin using your friend’s body. Why would I? Before you came into the picture, I’d never heard the name O’Bryan VonWald. In any case, I’ll be asking Martin about it when I see him again.”

I stepped back from the bed, holding back tears as Jim moved Wald from the cot to the stretcher. He wheeled him out of the room. “See ya later, buddy,” I called out, choking the words. “Stay safe.”

V

Connor asked me to wait for his return. I don’t know why I thought it would be a long time before he returned. In fact, only five minutes passed before he walked back into the room.

“Wald is on his way to ES-5, in 1991. Now you and I have to go. We have a mess to clean up.”

“What's the plan? Are we finally going to return the quarter to wherever belongs?”

To my surprise, Connor said, “No.”

I blinked. “Say again?”

“Walk with me to the Jaunte portal,” Connor said, picking up what I perceived to be Krissie’s black medical bag off of the counter. I followed Connor as he explained. “What had been one day for you has been close to four years for me. I've had a lot of time to think about it, our next plan of action. Everything that happened, including The Corporation breaching our facilities seems to revolve around this quarter. Your involvement is also no coincidence, although I can’t say why just yet. Then there is the matter of Victor Merrick.”

“Victor? The one who disappeared from Bruder-3 after she went down? That was Victor Merrick?”

“The very same.”

It made sense to me then. I couldn’t believe I didn’t put it together earlier. “That's Martin's friend who disappeared in 1989, during the riot at Cranberry Mall.”

“Affirm. Your chat with Victor regarding his captivity matches information about his disappearance, information Martin told me when he and I first met. I always thought they were behind Victor’s kidnapping, The Corporation, and now I know I was right. They will, or have traded him for the same quarter we now have. The Corporation wants it back, because Victor stole it and lost it. How it ended up in your hands specifically, I don’t know…yet. It’s clear to me now that whatever is encoded on it, your quarter, is worth lives to them. It makes The Corporation much more dangerous now.”

“You don't have to remind me of that.”

Connor grinned. “I suppose I don’t. I need to put together a trail of its entry into 1991 until now, the 2025 quarter, starting with these 'IA' people. The quarter originated with them in 2025 with whatever information they encoded onto it.”

“Do you know who they are, or what IA means?”

“I don’t. They have information The Corporation wants, enough so to trade a young boy’s life for it. We also need to figure out why they want Victor. Based on what he told you, Victor, they singled him out, holding him in captivity for years. There has to be something unique to him, something the IA group wants. We also need to find out what happened to Victor after the crash of Brüder-3. If he's in hiding and out of The Corporation’s grasp, we should find him and place him under our protection.”

“How do we do that?”

“Jim followed you from the observation station within FCA-1 last night, after you broke frequency. He’s reviewing that data now to see if we can determine what happened to Victor. The good news – if you want to call it that – is Victor and The Corporation pilot transporting him ended up here in 1981 from 1991. It sets them back at least ten years, The Corporation, as they don’t have temporal displacement. As of 2095, Victor hasn’t reappeared or been heard from. I believe it’s because we’ll uncover the truth behind the 2025 quarter.”

We stopped walking. Connor stepped up to a blank section of wall engraved Oberfläche. He gave the command for the holographic security panel to appear and underwent the retinal scan to open the entrance. “This is the lift to the surface, we’re almost there.”

“Where are we going once we get to the Jaunte?”

“I need to get my team back together,” Connor said. We stepped into the lift. It closed and began its ascent. “We left them in 2095 in a bit of a pickle, Ryan and Krissie. We need to diffuse that situation. Afterward, we need to determine Martin’s status in 2006, after you and Ryan left. We concluded there’s a mole in the FCA, Jim and I. Worse, we think they might have the ability to send messages across time, which could be how he showed up at your mother’s house in 1977, Dan did. That’s a dangerous variable we need to account for and eliminate.”

“So we’re going back to 2095 after we were attacked? Call me crazy, but isn’t that dangerous? I don’t know if I should be tagging along for that.” I was scared. I didn’t want to get caught up in another situation with the potential of leaving me stranded in another place or time not my own.

“Not to worry,” Connor said, with assurance. “I’ve had a lot of time to work them out, the details. I promise, this’ll be a very quick and decisive process. Trust me.”

The lift slowed and stopped shortly thereafter. A yellow outline of the entrance glowed for a moment. The entrance door disappeared. It was fascinating to watch. I would have to remember to ask Connor how that worked. The unmaintained system of hallways on the other side was as dirty and messy as it was in 1977. “I’m guessing the cleaning crew hasn’t gotten to this section yet, huh?”

“Tom prefers to leave the upper section of ES-1 as you see it. In the event anyone else makes their way down here, however unlikely, it gives the illusion the facility is offline.”

“Makes sense.”

We walked up a set of oversized stairs. Connor stopped, facing me. “Since our arrival in 1977, I’ve ordered security posts in and out of the Jaunte entrance here. They’ll be defensive, as it’s their job. Just follow their instructions.”

I nodded. As we turned the corner at the top of the stairs, two heavily armed men turned towards us, automatic rifles aimed in our direction.

“Identify yourselves, please,” the first guard ordered.

“Connor MacKenzie, FCA #67910509. Accompanying me is Conundrum. He is under my protection.”

The second guard stepped forward, holding up the same Löschen-looking device used to verify Ryan and Martin’s authenticity at Area 51. We allowed the scan. The second guard nodded at the first in confirmation. They lowered their weapons and opened the door to the Jaunte room. The door slid open with ease this time. To my amazement, once inside the Jaunte room we underwent the same procedure by a completely different set of guards with Jim present and observing. Connor was clearly taking security seriously.

Connor looked at Jim. “Well?”

“Nothing,” Jim said. “The range of observation was not large enough.”

“Damn,” Connor said. “Keep monitoring any communications that turn up and log them. I’ll check the database for your reports when I’ve stabilized the CTI.”

Jim nodded. “Understood.”

“CTI?” I asked.

“Current time index,” Connor said. “It’s the point in time where I am supposed to be.”

Connor extended his hand to Jim. They shook. “I’ll see you when I see you, old friend.”

“I look forward to our next meeting, Connor,” Jim said. He then offered me his handshake, which I took. His grip was firm. “It’s been a pleasure, Kevin. I hope to see you again as well.”

“Me too. Thank you for everything you’ve done.”

Jim nodded, stepping back. Connor opened the black bag and withdrew the TS-14 injection device.

“We’re going to do this a little different, this time,” Connor said. “First, I’m going to give you another dose of this, the TS-14. We need to be careful how much of this you take, because it can become habit forming.” I gave Connor a concerned glance. “When taken before displacement, you might feel some euphoria.”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“Normally, trained TDIs can withstand the stress of temporal displacement and don’t need it. This dose should last for the next day or so. The euphoria’ll wear off once we arrive on the other side of displacement.”

Connor injected the medication into my jugular vein. He wasn’t kidding about the euphoric effect. It was like a triple dose of a good painkiller. I never felt so good in my life. I sat down on the Jaunte transport platform from the head rush. “Oh my God, it’s like being in the womb.”

“It’s a nice buzz, that’s for sure. We’re going to go through the Jaunte first. Doing so will put us in FCA-1 undetected. Afterward, I’ll displace us to 2095 while you’re asleep. It’ll make it less stressful for you. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I managed, closing my eyes. The euphoria was so thick I thought I might vomit.

I sat back in the Jaunte transport seat and closed my eyes. I was asleep before the Jaunte’s sleep inducing protocols began.


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