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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XIX - Cognizance

“Awareness, realization, or knowledge; notice; perception”

*

Date: Thursday, July 14, 2095

Location: Bruder-2 in flight, en route to FCA-1 (moon)

Age: 35 (Current)

*

I

Dan seemed a bit uneasy when we were clear of the temporal portico. I thought he might get sick, based on the sour look of his face. He did not, shaking it off. The unconscious IA remained unresponsive.

An indicator on the control panel in front of Ryan flashed. A visibly tired Connor leaned over to investigate. “Engine status?”

Ryan sighed. “This ship was never meant for temporal displacement. The power cell took another hit. Engine efficiency is at thirty-three percent. Barring any other emergencies, while keeping life support at peak levels, we should arrive at FCA-1 within the hour.”

Connor rubbed his fatigued eyes, considering this information. “It’s not what I hoped for, but I’ll take it, so long as we get back safely and in one piece.”

“Agreed,” Ryan said as he piloted the ship out of Earth’s atmosphere. The visibility from within the ship through its near transparent hull began to fade from blue to black. The brightest stars imaginable became instantly discernible.

Connor spun around in the co-pilot’s chair to face Dan, shaking his head in frustration. “Where do we begin, Daniel?”

“Wherever you want,” Dan replied, with nonchalance. “I suspect any debriefing you have in mind for me will take some time.”

Dan was right. Inside his head contained at least fifty years of Corporation activity, and secrets. The obvious challenge for Connor would be wading through it all, looking for anything advantageous.

I knew of one affair Dan should be sharing, and I wanted those answers. “I want to know what happened to me in 1989. There was no near miss lightning strike, was there? It was the Bruder-3 transporter and you were somehow involved. I know my memory has already been tampered with once, so it had to be you.”

“You’re absolutely correct,” Dan said. “However, I cannot tell you what happened that day for two reasons, which I believe Connor will acknowledge. The first involves what Connor likes to call a ‘Code Black’. Two, you will remember what happened soon enough. I know this because you’ve already confronted me about it. If you don’t recall that conversation, then it’s another Code Black.” He looked at Connor. “Do I understand your protocol correctly?”

I scoffed. Dan was waffling on his agreement for asylum. I felt cheated, giving Connor an annoyed glance. In his quiet and intense way, he considered Dan’s words. “Tell you what, Dan. You tell me what happened in private, and I’ll make the determination, for Code Black. Agreed?” Dan nodded.

Connor looked at me for confirmation. “Fine,” I said, discouraged.

Connor released Dan from his seat and led him to the rear of the ship. Krissie – who sat next to me – looked over. Guilt still dominated her beautiful face. “How are you, love?”

“Really Kristina, I’m fine. You don’t have to worry about me.” Worry may have been the wrong word. She didn’t look worried. She looked guilty.

She smiled then. A sweet smile, as if she had this charming, yet secret thought. “Kristina,” she repeated softly.

“It’s your name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, but you haven’t…” she said, stopping mid sentence.

“What? What haven’t I done?”

“It’s a Code Black, love.” There were those words again. Code Black. How I despised them.

I sat there dumbfounded. “You’re suggesting you’ve already met me under different circumstances?”

“Code Black,” she said, again. I rolled my eyes. She placed her hand gently on my cheek. “All I can say is, I know you better than you think I do.” That certainly would explain her guilt. If we were closer at some point in her past - my future - then I could understand her guilty reaction.

After several minutes, Connor and Dan returned. He re-secured Dan to his seat. “I’m afraid the information he shared with me falls under it, code black,” Connor said, looking damned sorry. He glanced back to Dan with skepticism. “I’m assuming Dan has been truthful with me. If so, you’ll recall your missing day soon enough. Now, should he be lying to me and events don’t play out as he described, you and I will personally interrogate him with a rather powerful truth serum we have at our disposal. With that, he will without a doubt provide you with them, the answers you want.”

Dan appeared offended. “That won’t be necessary Mr. MacKenzie. I assure you, what I have told you is the truth.”

“Well Daniel, considering our history, brief but sorted as it is, you’ll understand if I take it with a grain of salt, what you told me.”

“A sensible precaution. However gentlemen, I have nothing left to lose. My life is literally in your hands. What do I have to gain now by lying?”

“I don’t know,” Connor said with caution, sizing Dan up. “You Corporation types, there always seem to be an ulterior motive.”

Dan shrugged. “I guess you’ll do whatever you have to do then.”

Connor stared at him without blinking. A long, hard stare meant to intimidate. He brushed the stubble on his chin, contemplating his next question. “What happened to Martin after The Exchange in 1991? He didn’t return dominating Krissie.”

Dan grinned. I answered before Dan had the chance to lie. “Martin saw The Corporation holding Victor hostage and freaked out. I don’t think he had any idea Victor was involved with what he helped set up.”

“He didn’t,” Dan said in agreement. “We believed should Mr. Wexler have information of Mr. Merrick’s involvement, he may not have been cooperative.”

“Of course he wouldn’t!” Connor spat. “Martin always believed The Corporation had something to do with Victor’s disappearance. It’s no wonder he turned on you in the end.”

Dan looked as if he were about to sneer, but thought better of it. “What makes you believe Mr. Wexler turned on us?”

“He didn’t come back,” Connor said, batting the ball back into Dan’s court. “He stranded himself in 1991, probably in an effort to help Victor escape, and hide.”

Dan nodded. “That was our belief as well. It does not mean he ‘turned on us’ as you so eloquently put it. As I said earlier, Victor disappeared with our ship and the pilot. The Corporation spent years in an extensive search for them; the ship, our pilot, Victor Merrick, they all disappeared without a trace.”

A smug grin crept across Connor’s face. “Oh, on the contrary Daniel. I know exactly what happened to Bruder-3.”

Dan seemed genuinely intrigued. “Really? How could you possibly know what happened? Were you there?”

“She crashed and self destructed,” Connor said with no reservation, dodging the question. “What I find ironic is, the whole thing occurred right under your nose, and you had no idea.”

“Impossible,” Dan said, growing slightly red in the face. His expression led me to believe he was in denial and that Connor might be right.

Connor leaned into to Dan’s personal space. “You were there Daniel, you just don’t remember. Tell me, what happened after Kevin dropped you off at the walk-in facility in 1981?”

Dan shifted in discomfort. “The Corporation was alerted to my presence. They sent agents to recover me. From their point of view, I had been missing for close to four years due to that displacement business with Kevin in 1977. They took me back to our headquarters in Baltimore for debriefing. How does that have anything to do with our missing ship?”

Connor flashed me a satisfied grin. “Would you like to tell him?”

Dan looked over as well, uncertain. I joined the grin chorus, knowing I would take pleasure in this conversation. “Obviously you recall I lost control over the temporal displacement portal 1977, right? You forced the car over to the dead end at Old Liberty road.”

“I do. We ended up at the reservoir.”

“We didn’t jump to 1981 at first.” Dan raised his eyebrows in surprise. “We originally ended up in 1991, the same night of the coin exchange and your men snatching up my friend Wald, believing he was me. I don’t know how or why we ended up at that date 1991, except to say I was thinking about the night when you and I met inside my parent’s living room. Anyway, once we arrived in 1991 the displacement portal didn’t close. It was completely out of control, sending flashes of itself in every direction. It took hanging tree branches around the reservoir to a different location, the one where we ended up, in 1981. In the confusion, I forgot you made the trip with me. I think you passed out from the first trip. When I realized I would need to close the portal, since it didn’t happen on its own, it took us to 1981 from 1991.”

Dan said nothing initially, studying me. “That’s an interesting story, Kevin,” he finally said. “I still don’t see what it has to do with our ship.”

“Bruder-3 was en route to your base in Baltimore after recapturing Victor and my friend Wald, correct?”

“Yes.”

“The ship never made it because it came to 1981 with us,” I said, filling in the final piece of the puzzle. “She flew into one of those out of control flashes from the displacement portal, right before I closed it. I don’t know if the ship was already out of control before she flew into the temporal wake or not. Either way, she crashed in the woods a few miles off the reservoir and went into a self-destruct mode due to damage within its holographic core.”

Dan sat back with a smirk and nodded, appearing defeated. “How did you come to know this information?”

“You were a babbling mess, Dan. I thought you were going to die and had no idea what to do. I went through your pockets and found your communicator, which fortunately for both of us was in English instead of that hybrid German. I drove you to the walk-in clinic and went back to see if anyone survived the crash. Victor did.”

Dan perked up. “You know this for certain?”

“Yes, I had a conversation with him via the communicator. He thought he was going to die in the self-destruct and asked me to come get him. He claimed to be stuck inside the ship, with no way out. He also told me he they…” (they, he said they, not I.) “…had taken control of the ship from the pilot and lost control. By the time I got there, the entrance to the ship was open. Victor and the pilot were gone. I rescued my friend Wald, who was unconscious inside the ship, and ran away with him hanging over my shoulder. The ship then disintegrated in some kind of electromagnetic pulse.”

This makes no sense, I thought. Victor said he didn’t know what was wrong with the other guy, meaning Wald. Wald was soul suppressed. The Brüder pilot was also unconscious, so who else was with Victor? I remember his words now. He stumbled after saying ‘we’ and changed it to ‘I’. Someone else was there.

Connor held his hand up. “Kevin left out the part where he rescued the ship’s operating system, hoping to end the self-destruct countdown.”

Dan grinned at Connor, realizing the depths of his defeat. “Nicely done gentlemen, I would never have guessed the fate of our Brüder ship was entwined in this temporal mess. It’s interesting that Victor’s journey ended in 1981, however. He and our pilot never resurfaced. You have to wonder why that is.”

Dan’s cryptic statement grabbed Connor’s attention. “That’s an interesting observation, Dan. Do you know something we don’t? Or am I going to have to spend hours figuring out the right questions to drag it out of you, this information?”

“Truthfully Mr. MacKenzie, I have no information pertaining to the fate of Victor Merrick or our pilot. Nevertheless, I do have a theory. You suggested Mr. Wexler stayed behind in 1991 to help his friend Victor escape. I’ll take it a step further and suggest Martin commandeered the ship’s pilot, thus helping Victor escape from the downed ship before the self-destruct. It would explain why we never heard from our pilot again, even as far back as the 1980s.”

“I think he’s right,” I said, explaining Victor’s verbal faux pas. “If Victor and Martin were working together, I can only surmise Martin didn’t want his involvement known, which is why Victor stumbled the way he did.”

Connor nodded. “Okay, that’s plausible. So then we’re supposed to believe they lived out the rest of their lives under the radar, with Martin parading around in a Brüder body?” Dan shrugged at the question. “What exactly did The Corporation promise Martin for his so called cooperation? What did you have that the FCA could not give him?”

“His freedom,” Dan said flatly.

Ryan spun around to address Dan directly. “I don’t believe that for a minute. The goons you work for brainwashed him.”

“Of course they did,” Dan said, in a jeer. “The whole point of brainwashing is to find a subject’s weakness and prey on it. I believe the pressure of guarding the Spiritual Displacement element was too much for him. You need to understand something gentlemen, I was not there when Martin was captured or interrogated. I can’t give you details I do not have.”

Something about the timeline of Martin’s betrayal didn’t make sense to me. “Wait a sec,” I said, rubbing my temples. “Martin was with us in 2006 when we were attacked over Area 51, but when he overtook Krissie and held me hostage, he didn’t appear to have any knowledge of what happened after the Area 51 attack was over. What does that mean?”

Connor answered, “I don’t know yet. Eventually, and soon, I’m going to have to confront Martin and restrain him from displacing until I have a better understanding of what The Corporation did to him.”

I gazed at Connor in awe. “You can do that?”

“Yes, similar to what Dan tried to do to me in 1977,” Connor said, giving Dan another hard look.

Krissie stepped forward to join our conversation, having previously been examining the unconscious IA. “I’ve got some information for you Connor, should you be interested.”

“Absolutely Dr. Ecklie, go ahead.”

“I’ve examined our anonymous friend here, using these gadgets we brought back with us, and I’m sorry to report that he’s not going to be with us for much longer.”

Connor sighed, shaking his head in sorrow. “Can you elaborate?”

“I’ve not seen anything like it before. This man has been rewired – literally - to send and receive signals much like a twentieth century computer modem. Since I believe we are out of range for this chap to receive signals, he has shut down. He’s literally brain dead.” I loved listening to Krissie talk with that thick British accent. Words like ‘literally’ came out as ‘lit-traly’.

“So he won’t ever wake up then, correct?” Connor asked.

“I’m afraid not, love. Even if there was brain activity, this man has been soul suppressed, courtesy of our Corporation friends, no doubt.”

Connor looked to Dan for confirmation. “Is that true? Is this more Corporation handiwork?”

“Indeed it is,” Dan said with no hesitation. “The Corporation was supposed to have positive control over those agents initially. But as you pointed out earlier, we lost control over the entire project.”

Krissie flashed Dan a visibly disgusted look. “Isn’t that just like you Corporation bastards? First, the Brüder create the human race, deem it a mistake, and attempt to do away with us. Now they successfully created artificial intelligence and lost control of it. What happened there Daniel? Did the Brüder deem it a mistake as well and attempt to shut it off?”

“More or less,” Dan said, barely giving her a passing glance. “Curse me all you like, Miss Ecklie, it was not my doing. If you really believe The Corporation tells me everything they have been responsible for, then all of you are deluding yourselves.”

Ryan interjected after Dan’s derisive remark. “No, I’m sure they don’t. You were nothing more than a tool to them. Now you’re an old man with nothing left to offer them. So what do you do? Cut and run like the coward you are with no other agenda than to save your own ass.”

Dan seemed visibly disappoint by Ryan’s remark. “What do you know anyway Mr. Capcoseve? I am capable of regret.”

Ryan snorted. “Not likely.”

“Well sir, let’s see how you feel about this,” Dan looked at Connor. “The day we captured Kevin in 1989, I coerced the location of the 2025 quarter from him. It revolved around a childhood memory of him hiding it on behalf of what I assume was his older counterpart.” My jaw dropped. Dan caught this. A smug look crept across his face. “I see you understand, Kevin.”

Connor took control over the conversation, “Why are you telling this to us?”

“Isn’t it obvious, Mr. MacKenzie? So you can do your time travel thing and prevent my younger counterpart from obtaining it from its hiding place. It’s under the stairs in the house on Arthur Avenue where younger Kevin hid it. Call it me showing my good faith in my surrender, and furnishing you with information that benefits you, not I.” Ryan scoffed, shaking his head, and returned to the task of piloting the ship.

Connor said, “Did you attempt to retrieve the quarter from that location when you learned about it?”

“Naturally,” Dan said. “It was not there, of course. I suppose you got to it first.” The wheels in Connor’s head were clearly turning as he studied Dan’s body language and facial expressions.

I had to break the silence. Rather, I needed to break it. Too much time had passed and it was now becoming uncomfortable. “What do we do now?”

Connor looked up at me, a man on a mission. “We verify it. You said you wanted to see our observation facility. Do you still want to?”

II

The landing bay assigned to Brüder-2 was twice the size of the ship. Ryan pointed out that one would not be able to see it with any telescope on Earth. Even so, once docking was complete, the bay doors closed, sealed, and a holographic representation of moon’s surface replaced the surface, completing the illusion.

Connor immediately met with members of his security team to discuss the fate of Dan and the four Corporation agents locked down in the medical bay. He gave Dan preferred guest quarters, but confined him there under heavy guard until further notice. The soul suppressed Corporation agent would go to ES-5 (or Area 51 as I still called it) for treatment. The three remaining guards would also go to Area 51 for a different purpose, interrogation by the Western Alliance military. We were in 2095 after all. There was no more American military.

The IA died soon after we arrived, per Krissie’s prediction. She wanted the opportunity to perform an autopsy, to study what the Internet Entity did to that human being. Connor granted her permission. Until then he would remain in stasis, inside the FCA-1, Sector 7, medical bay.

Connor sent Ryan on a different errand. He was to prepare the four of us for a return trip to 2006. Once there, Connor hoped to capture Martin and or rescue Wald from him. Before that, Connor and I would spend some time on the observation platform, which I was anxious to see. During that time, Krissie would prepare for any such medical possibilities involving Temporal Displacement, the capture and restraint of Martin Wexler, and the treatment of men and women hurt during the security breach in 2006. As we would return to Area 51 in the wake of that event, the Corporation agents who avoided capture by killing each other also needed dealing with.

Finally, there was Connor. He wanted to be prepared when he confronted Martin. He was also far from happy about it. Out of all the people Connor worked with over the years, he appeared to be closest with Martin. Facing him would be no easy task.

The observation platforms were located at much higher and secure levels of the FCA-1 complex. Connor’s planned to displace us to the day before The Corporation captured me in 1989, to check on the status of the quarter. I now remembered hiding it there as a child. The memory of doing so came back to me after meeting my younger self at Carrolltowne Mall. Provided the coin remained undisturbed in the eight years that followed, it should still be there safely tucked away under the stairs of the Arthur Avenue house. If it were in fact still there, we would displace to the next day to ensure the quarter was gone and to determine exactly who moved it.

The real surprise was the strict procedures and protocols used in temporal displacement as it related to the eight available observation platforms. The purpose behind this is to insure no time displaced persons attempt to use the same facility at the same time.

Connor led me around the upper levels of the FCA-1 facility until we came to a security door, complete with the potentially lethal red force field used to keep unauthorized folks out. Two Impüls armed guards greeted us.

“Good morning, Detective MacKenzie,” the first said. “Scan please?”

“Of course,” he replied, consenting to the eye scan. The second guard scanned me simultaneously, identifying me as Connor’s guest ‘Conundrum’.

“We have a very strict procedure regarding logging in and out during a temporal displacement,” Connor explained. “When one arrives from a point in time that isn’t current for them, they must login to the chosen observation platform with their identity, where they came from, and why they are here. The same applies when logging out. Since no one but me can open a displacement portal - even if I don’t always go through - such a system is required to prevent not only Code Black scenarios, but paradoxes as well.”

“Makes sense,” I said, even though I didn’t fully grasp the concept.

The walk to the entry of the first observatory platform was much longer than I would have guessed it to be, taking over five minutes to get there. To our mutual surprise, the first observation platform was in use.

“Who’s in there?” I asked.

Connor tapped at the console next to the door. He looked at me and grinned. “Interesting. I really shouldn’t say. It’s not a code black in the strictest terms, but still, you know what they say about curiosity killing that cat.” I said nothing. Should I push the issue or let it go? I typically made these judgment calls based on Connor’s demeanor. Before I could come up with some flimsy excuse, Connor answered. “The occupants are one Miss Ecklie, one Mr. Provance, and me.”

“What?” I said, blurting it out. Shock was not the feeling that enveloped me. What I felt was much more intense. “You mean to tell me there is a future version of myself and Krissie in there?”

“Could be. Interesting, isn’t it?” Connor asked, seemingly pleased. “I think I have your answer about joining the FCA.”

I pointed at the console. “Dude, I want to know what that’s about.”

“We displaced into Observation One from 2071,” Connor said, without looking at the control panel. “That about all I can tell you. It’s Code Black.”

I looked Connor squarely in the eye. “Whatever is going on in there, it’s already happened for you, hasn’t it?”

Connor grinned. “What makes you say that?”

“You answered me without looking it up on that panel there. You didn’t have to since you’re recalling it from memory.” Connor continued to grin, without answering. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Sorry Kev, Code Black,” Connor said, on cue. “Get used to it, when dealing with the observatories, the concept of Code Black.”

“That’s an unsatisfying answer,” I said as we walked away from the first platform. Connor threw his head back, bellowing in laughter.

The trek to the next platform was significantly longer. Connor entered his information and waited for an ‘all clear’ message, meaning that no past (or future) version of him was already in there. He entered the same information for me, and to our surprise, I cleared. “How is that possible if I am right down the hall?”

Connor looked back toward the first observation platform. “It would take too long to explain,” Connor replied, clearly dodging the question. I didn’t pursue the matter. I knew I would get no answers. The door to the platform opened. After we entered, the door slid closed behind us. We stood inside a dome large enough to be a stadium, the top at least a quarter of a mile high, which made the room’s circumference – well, I don’t know how long, but long enough to make me feel encapsulated on that starship from the movie Silent Running.

“I thought you said this was holographic,” I asked as we walked to the center of the platform.

Connor grinned. “I haven’t turned it on yet. Make sure you have your balance. It’s going to feel weird at first. After a few minutes, you won’t be able to tell the difference between hologram and the real thing.

“Compute, console.” A holographic interface appeared directly in front of us.

“No Brüder German?” I asked.

“I’ve mapped the commands for the platforms from English to Brüder in this era. The computer understands both. Compute, verify date: July 12, 1989, 2:00 PM Easter Standard Time. Verify personnel TDI: Connor McKenzie, Guest: Conundrum, Liaison: Kevin Provance. Verify Observation: 2”

The holographic readout that hung mid air read as follows:

July 12, 1989, 2:00 PM EST

TDI: Connor McKenzie: CLEAR

Liaison: Kevin Provance: NOT FOUND

Guest: Conundrum: CLEAR

Observation 2: OFFLINE

Connor said, “Okay, neither of us are aboard FCA-1 during those dates and this platform is not in use.” He paused to look at me. “Should you decide to join, I’ll map your guest status to liaison status to avoid further miscommunication.”

“So now what happens?”

“We displace to the first date and enter our information.” Connor clasped my shoulder with his hand. “You ready?”

“No. Go for it anyway.”

Connor and I gripped arms as he closed his eyes. A flash of bright white light filled the room.

III

Date: Friday, July 12, 1989

Location: FCA-1 Observation Platform #2, observing Arthur Avenue

Age: 35 (Current)

There was a small discrepancy between the platform and our feet when we arrived in 1989, which caused us to stumble. The platform itself appeared no different. Had we not stumbled, I would never have guessed we left.

“Are we here?”

“Yes,” Connor said, giving the area a quick look around. He then turned his attention to the computer. “Berechnen, Konsole. Geben Sie Personal TDI: Connor McKenzie, Gast: Conundrum. Geben Sie Beobachtung: Zwei.” An electronic chirping sound followed. “We’re logged in now. I’m going to take us to the Arthur Avenue location, outside of your parent’s old house.” Connor looked over again. “If you see other people, don’t freak out. They can’t see or hear us.”

“How does that work? How are events on Earth recreated here in real time?”

“There is about a second delay in that ‘real time’, due to the distance the information travels. There are three large communication satellites orbiting the Earth, linked to each other to compensate for line of sight. That means at any given time, there is always one satellite able to transmit to FCA-1.”

I considered this. “Really? Those satellites have been orbiting Earth since the Brüder built this place, and they haven’t been discovered?”

Connor nodded. “First, they are in extremely high orbit. Second, they are cloaked - for lack of a better term.”

“Cloaked,” I repeated. “You mean like Klingon ships from Star Trek?”

Connor laughed quietly. “Not exactly. It’s similar to what Ryan does with visual displacement. Under closely monitored circumstances, that element – which is basically space-time phase shifting – can be replicated for use on inanimate objects.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. If Connor insisted on talking in mathematical terms, I would need a translator.

“I’ll explain later. It’ll take some time to go through the entire process,” Connor said, turning to the holographic readout. “Berechnen, Anzeige Arthur Avenue, Sykesville, Maryland”

The console churned out some latitude/longitude data and disappeared. Several seconds passed. The holographic representation of standing in the middle of Arthur Avenue began to render around us. I had to close my eyes, rub them, and reopen them. Connor was right. Had I not known I was in an observation platform, I would have sworn to everything I hold sacred in my life that I was on Earth, standing in the middle of the street in which I lived on as a child. “Connor, this is absolutely the most amazing thing I have ever seen.”

“It is a rather useful tool when you want to observe another period in time without altering actual events.”

“No shit,” was all I could manage to say. The applications for such a facility were endless. Law enforcement could all but eliminate crime by tracking and catching criminals within moments of their crime, not to mention the ability to track and capture terrorists.

The perception of walking was perfect. Perspective of objects around us rendered perfect as well. The wind around us really blew. I could smell the scent of cut grass. The ambient noise of the neighborhood was all around, in real-time surround sound.

“We really are here, aren’t we?” I asked.

“It’s a perfect recreation, right down to the insects flying around. The only difference is, no one can see us.”

We arrived at my former home, stopping on the edge of the lawn. I looked at Connor for confirmation on what to do next. He looked back with the same inquisitive stare. “The basement door,” I suggested.

“Lead the way.”

I stopped when we reached the basement door, unsure of what to do next. “So, do we just walk through?”

“Open it.”

I stared at Connor in confusion. He nodded at the door. I reached out and grabbed the knob. It was solid, but didn’t truly feel like a real doorknob. It felt…phony somehow. The texture of the steel wasn’t quite right. I turned the knob and pushed the door open. We walked through. “How does that work?” I asked. “The real door on Earth isn't opening too, is it?”

“No. Turn around and look.”

The door I left open was now closed. I reached out and touched it for no particular reason. “I don't get it.”

“It’s interactive, the program that recreates the data from Earth. It's designed that way to fulfill the illusion of true interaction. Once we move away from any changes we make, the program resets those changes to what they’re supposed to be.”

“Wicked, fucking, cool,” I said in awe. “One could make a really kick ass video game using this technology.”

Connor grinned. “We have real life, what could be better?”

I scoffed. “In my time, this could be considered a major violation of one's privacy.”

Connor closed his eyes and nodded, apparently have heard this argument before. “That’s true, but that’s not the FCA's purpose, when using this technology. We don’t spy on people just to do it. If we need to observe an event in time, it's usually for research, to determine if events we’re involved in are part of the history. It’s how we avoid paradoxes.”

I thought it was a slippery slope, but let it go.

In the center of the basement sat an elderly man, working intensely on a ‘ship in a bottle’ project. I stopped to observe him, waving my hand in front of his face. He didn’t respond. I reached out to tap him on the shoulder only to have my hand go right through him, as if he was not even there.

“That’s Luke,” Connor said. “He’s the FCA Brüder who bought this house from your parents in 1981, keeping the quarter and the ES-1 entrances safe.”

I waved my hand into the large bottle with Luke’s half-finished Constellation class ship, and again, my hand went right through. “This is just hard core cool.”

I kicked the chair next to the sofa Luke sat upon, sending it across the floor. When I stepped away and rejoined Connor, the chair reappeared. I grinned, shaking my head with amazement. “Okay, I’m done.”

I led Connor into another room where we could access the underside of the stairwell, the room I remember as the laundry room. I knelt down under the stairwell and dislodged the backboard of the bottom-most stair to reveal my childhood 'secret place'. Inside, on the floor sat several matchbox cars and a half-open pack of Hubba-Bubba bubble gum, and --

“Um, Connor?” I whispered.

“I see it,” he said, dejected.

The FutureQuarter was gone.

“Dan lied to us,” I said angrily, under my breath.

“Not necessarily. We could have removed the coin at a different point. What we need to do is talk to Tom, and maybe Luke. There is someone in this house, at all times. Since there hasn’t been any report of intrusion, there could’ve been a legitimate recovery.”

“Could Martin be involved?”

“I don’t know. He could be lost in time as far back as 1981 if his theory is correct, Dan’s. Whether Martin knew about this hiding place would depend on what Dan told him.”

“Now what?”

“First, we tell Dan nothing. Let’s talk to Tom.”

We returned to the basement room. Luke sat at his workbench, engrossed with his project. Connor withdrew his communicator from his back pocket and flipped it open.

“You’re calling him right now?” I asked.

“Why not? No better time than the present.” I wondered briefly if Connor made that pun on purpose.

Connor selected the frequency he wanted on the communicator’s holographic touch screen, a secure frequency requiring a decryption code. He tapped in a long string of data. Within a few moments, the communicator rattled off its robot bird like chirp. “Identify please,” Tom asked.

“McKenzie, Connor. FCA ID 67910509. I come as a friend.”

“Are things as they appear?”

“No.”

“Welcome back TDI-1. Richards, Tom, FCAL-2 at your service.”

“I need you to patch me through to Luke. We are standing in his basement via observation, and I need to ask him a few questions.”

“Copy,” Tom said.

“And I’d like you to listen in. This may or may not concern you as well.”

“Copy, stand by”

Within seconds, Luke stood up and withdrew his communicator. “Identify please.”

“Richard, Tom, FCAL-2. I come as a friend.”

“Are things as they appear?”

“Yes.”

“What may I do for you today, Richaurdus?”

“I have Connor MacKenzie on freq. He would like to talk to you.”

“Very good, put him on.”

Connor’s communicator chirped, followed by Tom’s voice. “Okay TDI-1, you are patched in.”

“Luke?” Connor asked. “Can you hear me?”

“Yes sir,” Luke said. The lip sync was not perfect. There delay of a second Connor spoke of was prevalent.

“Just so you’re aware Luke, I am aboard FCA-1 observation 2, and am able to see you.”

“Understood,” Luke said, looking around for people he would not be able to see. “What may I do for you today, TDI-1?”

“The 2025 quarter under the stairwell. It’s gone.”

“An FCA liaison with proper credentials arrived some months back - January 13th if I remember correctly - on a mission to retrieve it for the FCA.”

“What time would that have been?” Connor asked.

“Early morning,” said Luke, rubbing his temple. “The five o’clock hour.”

Connor looked at me and frowned. He covered the front of his communicator even though he didn’t have to. It was about pressing the ‘send’ button instead. “I don’t like this. Something obviously happens that causes the coin’s removal.”

“Can you get the liaison’s name?” I asked.

Connor spoke into the communicator, “Luke, what did the credentials say his name was?”

“That was the strange thing, TDI-1. He began to identify himself with a name not on his uniform or ID, but then corrected himself. He offered no explanation. I did not have a retinal scanner, but used a DNA verification module instead. He checked out as authentic.”

Connor rolled his eyes in frustration. “Luke, what was the name he gave you before he corrected himself?”

“He started off by saying ‘Kevin Pro’, and then stopped,” Luke said, looking nervous. “Then he said he was Chief Christopher Manyette. His DNA confirmed it. He explained to me he needed to remove the quarter for safekeeping and that is all he told me. He left afterward.”

My jaw dropped. I knew that name.

“Copy,” Connor said, looking at me. “Who is Christopher Manyette and why would he be using your name?”

“He was part of the Card Players Circle, and also one of Wald’s best friends. They’ve known each other longer than I’ve known either of them.”

Connor nodded and spoke into his communicator, “Tom, are you still there?”

“Copy.”

“As discretely as possible, search the HoloID system and see if there’s a Christopher Manyette in the FCA Liaison program?”

“Copy TDI-1, Give me a few minutes. FCAL-2, out.”

Luke sat on the couch, not looking so well. He looked anxious, as if he might have inadvertently done something wrong. Luke picked up his communicator and said something. A second later we heard, “TDI-1, did I breach security? I followed protocol to the letter and everything checked out.”

“Don’t worry about it yet,” Connor said. He said ‘yet’. I don’t know if Luke noticed, but it certainly did imply that all was not well. “I’m sure this whole thing is completely above table.”

“Copy,” Luke said, staring straight ahead.

Then it occurred to me, it was 1989. “Connor, Manyette hasn’t graduated high school yet, how could anyone know of any future involvement he may or may not have with the FCA years from now?”

“I placed the most recent roster history in the FCA-1 database in 1910, from 2095. Three of us have clearance for that list: me, Jim and Tom. It’s highly sensitive, that information.”

“Whew,” was all I could manage.

“It’s a necessary evil, for identification purposes where temporal displacement is involved.”

Tom came back to Connor in under a minute. “TDI-1, the information you requested is accurate. Christopher Manyette enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1991. After he completed his four, he specifically chose to train as part of the FCA-military liaison operation.”

Connor pondered this information as the worried look on his face shifted to curiosity. “One has to be recommended for that program, Tom. Does it say who it was?”

“Yes Connor, but Code Black applies.”

“Interesting,” Connor said, without sending the message. He looked at me and grinned. “Tom can’t tell me who, as it was probably me or one of my team.”

I shook my head at the coincidence of it all. “Someone I went to high school with, who is best friends with me and Wald was recommended by you for FCA inclusion at a future date can’t be coincidence.”

“I’m sure it’s not.” He turned his attention back to the communicator and Luke. “Luke, was anyone with Manyette, the day he picked up the quarter?”

“Yes.”

“Who was it?”

“Code Black.”

Connor wrinkled his nose with displeasure. “Damn it, I was probably there with him as well. It’s probably what gave Luke the idea that a recent recruit was legitimate.”

I was still stuck on the Manyette connection. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him. It must have been my wedding, in 1997.

Connor spoke into the communicator, “Tom, Luke, I thank you for your help and I leave you as a friend. TDI-1 out.” He looked at me. “We have work to do.”


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