XX - Cataclysm
upheaval that causes great destruction or brings about a fundamental change.”
Date: Thursday, July 14, 2095
Location: FCA-1, Sector 1, War Room
Age: 35 (Current)
“Neat trick,” Myer says. “How did you do that?”
“It’s just a quarter,” Manyette says. “For all we know it’s been under there for years.”
I scoff. “I’ll bet it’s not even below eighty-eight.”
Myer leans over for a closer look. “What does it say?”
“Um…it’s not even a real quarter,” I say. “It’s got a future date on it.”
Manyette jerks in place. His pale blue eyes blaze bright blue now. “What did you say?”
I hold up the coin, showing it to Manyette. “2025.”
Manyette licks his lips. He wants the coin and reaches for it, but I pull it away.
“Bullshit,” Manyette says. “Let me see that.”
I toss him the coin. “It has to be a fake.”
“It doesn’t look fake to me,” I say.
Myer takes the coin. Manyette is displeased. Myer bites into the coin. “Looks real to me too.”
“And tastes?” I ask.
Myer scoffs, scratching his forehead with his middle finger.
I snatch the quarter from Myer.
Manyette says, “Since I think you set this whole thing up yourself, Kevin. I want to pick the next location where we’ll hide something after you build your time machine. Because once you do, I want to be in on it.”
“Please Christopher, go for it.”
I watch Manyette contemplate his request carefully. He looks around the room, stopping to observe the announcement corkboard. “Okay, this is what I plan to do. I am going to leave myself a note explaining how what is happening here is possible.”
The three of us intensely watch the corkboard, expecting some note to appear out of thin air.
Manyette says, “There is an envelope up there with my name on it.”
“No there isn’t,” Myer says. “I think you two are putting me on.”
Manyette walks to the corkboard, yanks the envelope down, and opens it, revealing a letter. He read it, tossing me a doubtful glance.
“Well?” I ask.
“I think it’s you two who are putting me on,” Manyette says. “This is impossible.”
Myer leans over to see the contents of the note. “It’s certainly in your cat scratch handwriting.”
Manyette reads it aloud. “It says…”
I jerked awake, jarring my plate of half-eaten food on the table. I had fallen asleep, more tired than hungry. I didn’t have much of an appetite to begin with. The after effects of all the TS-14 medication and the two recent trips with Connor left me with little desire to eat. I looked at the plate and the creation upon it. Connor said it was lasagna. It tasted more like bland cardboard. The meal started off with the four of us seated at the table. Now Connor and Ryan were gone, apparently finished with their meal. Krissie was standing behind me, gently rubbing my shoulders. “Bad dream, love?”
“No. I think I was remembering something from my high school days involving that fucking quarter. I’m not sure now. How long was I asleep?”
“Maybe a half an hour? You drifted off not five minutes into supper. Connor decided to let you be.”
“That was nice of him.”
“Are you still hungry? I can have something else sent up if you don’t care for this dish. I know the provisions here aren’t exactly what you’re used to.”
That was one way to put it. Connor explained in order to sustain everyone who lived and worked here, dozens of food service specialists worked around the clock preparing very make shift meals. Most of the ingredients we take for granted in the very basic of meals no longer grow on Earth. Wheat, rice, corn, fruits, vegetables, things of this nature are now the product of hydroponic facilities, hence the considerable difference in flavor.
“No, not really,” I said. “Blandness aside, I just don’t have an appetite right now.”
“It’s okay, I understand,” she said giving my shoulders a comforting squeeze. “How did you like the observation platform?”
“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” I said looking up at her. She smiled sweetly, with squinted twinkling eyes. “Even more interesting, you and I were already in one of the observatories.” Krissie’s smile faltered a bit. “What?”
“You know I can’t talk about that,” she said. I sighed in frustration. “All good things, love.”
“Connor thinks if Dan had my memory blanked the day he kidnapped me in 1989, then he probably went to the trouble of removing all memories of that quarter. So if something happened in high school involving the FutureQuarter, that’s probably why I can’t remember it.”
“It’s possible, sweetie. It would have been the only sure way to prevent any recall on your part.”
I turned to look at her. “But yet I remembered my older self giving me that quarter for safekeeping when I was ten. It all came back to me moments before I saw my ten-year-old self. Why then?”
“There is still so much we don’t know about the human brain. Memories are mapped together by all our senses, including taste, touch, auditory, etcetera. It’s possible something from your experience in 1981 triggered an association for the lost memory when you witnessed your younger self, causing you to remember it.”
“Could the same thing happen for other memories The Corporation took from me?”
“It’s possible. Long-term memories cannot be erased in the same manner as the short-term. Instead, they are blocked. It takes someone who knows their way around. It can be a dangerous procedure,” Krissie said, with a warm smile. I put my head back down, enjoying the massage.
Connor and I returned to 2095 after our time in observation, about ten minutes after we left. I didn’t have much to say during the walk to the ‘War Room’, where FCA missions are discussed and prepped. Truth told, I was more than a little nervous. Connor’s behavior had become erratic and edgy since learning of Martin’s deception. His focus became less about tracking the FutureQuarter and more about retrieving Martin so Krissie could do some brain scans to discover how bad The Corporation messed with his head, and whether or not the damage could be reversed. I didn’t say anything about my feelings on the matter, as I didn’t feel comfortable sharing them. I felt that Martin in his present state was a dangerous concept. He could clearly jump into anyone’s consciousness at any time and control them, or worse, kill them. That worried me more than anything else did.
Several minutes after my brief chat with Krissie, Connor and Ryan returned to the War Room. Connor set a small box onto the table. “Okay folks, this is going to help us catch Martin without fear of being displaced by him,” he said, opening the box. Inside were several smaller containers resembling contact lens storage devices. “These are modified non prescription contact lenses. When worn, they prevent Martin from overtaking your consciousness.”
I took one of the containers and studied one of the lenses within. There didn’t seem to be anything special about them. “How does this work?”
“He does it through the eyes, when Martin displaces to another body. It’s the only direct pathway to the brain. We’ve had it up our sleeve for some time, this contingency plan, in the event The Corporation developed a way to displace spiritually. This is it.” Connor paused, looking down at the box. “I never thought we’d have to use it against one of our own.”
I’d never worn contact lenses before. Krissie patiently helped me apply mine. Aside from a slight irritation of having something foreign floating over my eyeballs, I would have never known they were there.
A somber mood filled the room as we prepared. Each of us carried an Impüls, a communicator and a detection ring. Krissie also carried her black bag of medical tricks. Ryan and Connor carried restraining devices similar to handcuffs. Instead of steel shackles, they used force field energy. Finally, Connor gave Krissie a goggle like headband to carry in her bag. He explained that when applied, it would prevent Martin from spiritually displacing after detainment.
Connor made it clear to us he didn’t want to do what he needed to do with Martin, but would, remembering the bigger picture. We still needed to prevent the FutureQuarter from falling into the hand of The Corporation. Allowing that to happen would expose ES-1 and the location of Bruder-4. Should The Corporation obtain Bruder-4, they could use her gravity drive to travel to and from the Brüder home world in a matter of seconds. That one thing would spell certain doom for the FCA – and humanity. He pointed out that simply because the FCA had no knowledge of The Corporation capturing that ship as far as July of 2095, it didn’t mean they couldn’t have stolen it at some point in the past and used it without anyone knowing it. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, he said, shortly followed by, assume nothing.
Our first stop was the Jaunte portal, to transfer down to the Area 51 complex. Heightened security measures forced the four of us to undergo multiple retina scans merely to gain entry into the FCA-1 Jaunte room. The same process replayed itself once inside, before the two guards would lift the force field over the Jaunte octagon.
Connor programmed the Jaunte system to put us to sleep and send us through. We were to expect the same security treatment on the other side when we awoke.
The whole process went smoothly.
The 2095 version of the Area-51 Jaunte building was radically different from its 2006 equivalent. It was cleaner and more modern, versus the dungeon type atmosphere in 2006. The deadly red force field system similar to the one used to restrict entrance and egress through the Jaunte system took the place of the door systems. The guards who cleared us upon arrival released the barrier, allowing us to exit the Jaunte room. As in the last three instances, guards posted to the entrance of the building scanned our retinas, verifying our identities.
The layout of Area 51 was also completely different from 2006. Instead of various hangers and buildings, a large master planned community filled the vicinity. What caught my attention was the sky. What should have been mid afternoon looked more like dusk. It was also no longer blue. Instead, a mix of sunset orange and red filled the world, completely devoid of clouds. The creepiest part about the whole scenario was the sun, or lack thereof. The only object in the sky was a lone but severely atmospheric distorted light source too small to be the moon and too large to be a star.
“What happened to the sky? And what the hell is that?” I asked, pointing towards the twinkling anomaly. “It’s too small to be the sun.”
“We’re not sure,” Connor said, looking up towards the distorted light. “It’s believed to be a white hole. We became aware of it in the years following the war in 2032. When it actually formed, no one knows.”
“Can’t you use Bruder-2 to get closer to it?”
“It’s been tried. That’s why we think it’s a white hole, the opposite of a black hole. Instead of sucking in matter at the event horizon, it ejects matter, causing a reverse time phenomenon.”
I sighed. “In English?”
“If we fly too close to it, time repeats itself. You’d end up at some point in the distant pass - usually minutes - fully aware of the displacement.”
Connor’s development alarmed me. “So it’s expanding, right? Is this going to be a problem at some point in the future?”
Connor didn’t appear bothered by the question. “It would be, if it wasn’t moot. You’re forgetting about time coming to a standstill, later this year.”
I had forgotten about that. Connor was right. Who would care about an expanding white hole when no one would be around to do anything about it?
I threw up my arms. “The future sucks!”
Ryan nodded in agreement. “Welcome to Paradise Ranch,” he said, sans the fervor. “This is the world I grew up in. It’s been over sixty years since the war in 2032, when reality as you know it goes to hell. This community is the last free society on the planet. Everything east is controlled by The Corporation, although you won’t find any blue sky over there either.” Ryan paused. “Or hope.”
“I don’t much fancy the atmosphere here either,” Krissie said, adding her two cents. “It’s bloody creepy.”
Sadness flashed across Ryan’s face. “As archaic as the early twenty first century is, it’s still the most beautiful period in time I’ve ever seen. The sun, the blue skies, the rain, the snow…we don’t have those simple pleasures here.”
I looked at Krissie with surprise. “I thought you were from this era. You’re not?”
“Oh heaven’s no. I was born in the year 2000.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she appeared repentant. Based on the disapproving glance Connor gave her, she clearly said too much. He attempted to distract my interest in Krissie’s revelation.
“Remember I told you about the RAID bio weapon, the one The European Alliance dropped on us? That’s what caused it to become so distorted, the sky. The sun’s light is scattered now. We can’t see it anymore. On a good night, we can sometimes see a very fuzzy moon.”
“Yeah, I remember you telling me about RAID the other day,” I said. “It was supposed to cause death without the mass destruction, but failed.”
Connor nodded. “The creation of the European and Western Alliances in the aftermath of The Awakening was to its chagrin, The Corporation’s. It’s always been their plan to eliminate the human race, not unify it. Long story short, The Corporation started the war of 2032 fully aware of the mutually assured destruction doctrine. After Europe launched the RAID weapon, the Western Alliance nuked them. But as I said, RAID didn’t kill everyone like it was supposed to. It soul suppressed most of the population.”
I considered Connor’s disclosure. “What would be the difference then? With no rescue, all those millions of people would eventually die anyway. I don’t get it.”
“We didn’t either, until now,” Connor said. “Many people were not soul suppressed, some due to a natural immunity, some because they were nowhere near blast zones. Most of the people who live here at Paradise Ranch are descendants of the original survivors. The FCA cares for them. What we know about it now, RAID, is it was tampered with, and not by The Corporation.”
“Then who?” I asked.
Ryan answered. “In light of everything we’ve learned over the last twenty-four hours, it looks to be the work of the Internet Entity.”
Connor added, “I have a theory why it failed, RAID. Dan admitted The Corporation lost control of artificial intelligence, attempting to kill it. The tampering of the RAID weapon, which The Corporation designed, could have been a kind of payback.”
I threw up my arms up again. “Then those IA guys did us a favor, didn’t they?”
For once, based on the confused expression on Connor’s face, I think I caught him off guard. “How so?”
“It’s simple. Had they not tampered with RAID, would anyone have survived? Would we be having this conversation? Maybe the goal was to ensure some kind of human survival, however minimal. What better way to muck up The Corporation’s plans to rid the planet of human life.”
Connor nodded in approval. Ryan interjected with his own thoughts. “That might be true, but I think there is something else involved. The two IA guys we knew about were soul suppressed. Perhaps that’s the only way the Internet Entity can…reprogram them? And if that’s true, maybe the failure of RAID was to give it the pick of whomever it wanted to reprogram; to create its own army, so to speak.”
Connor pondered this theory, rubbing his chin. “Hold those thoughts. Jim should be part of this conversation. For now, we need to get on with what we came here to do.” Connor led us to the rear side of the Jaunte building. “Ryan, I need to know the exact date and time you and Kevin originally went through the Jaunte portal.”
Ryan withdrew a hand-sized notepad. “The Jaunte log placed it on October 13, 2006 at 4:16 PM.”
“Alright, that’s where we’re going. Group up. Remember, I want absolute silence when we arrive. I don’t want him to leave the Jaunte building, Martin, while we still have the element of surprise. I don’t think we’d be fast enough to restrain him before he displaces.” Connor paused and sighed, “If need be, I’ll render him unconscious with a mid intensity Impüls burst. No one else will fire, unless in self-defense. Questions?”
There was none.
Date: Friday, October 13, 2006
Location: Jaunte building, Area-51 (ES-5), Groom Lake, Nevada
Age: 35 (Current)
The temporal jump affected me this time. The sensation of stretching during displacement returned, even if minimally. I felt slightly nauseated, but kept it to myself. I didn’t want more of the TS-14. Coming down from its euphoric side effect left me feeling lousy, more so than some queasiness. The sudden change in environments might have contributed to the sour stomach. One second I stood beneath a destroyed red sky, the next was bright blue with the sun beginning its decent into the west. The temperature, previously in the upper seventies was now at least ten or more degrees lower. Imagine closing your eyes for a brief second and opening them again to find your world completely changed without taking a single step. It’s disconcerting. Even the most iron of constitutions might feel a little nauseated after such a shift in reality.
Connor motioned us to stay back and remain silent. He peered around the corner of the Jaunte building. Muffled screams and shouts came from within the Jaunte building, then ceased. Immediately after, screams from both men and women ripped out from the hanger where Ryan left Brüder-2 docked.
I ran to the far end of the Jaunte building and carefully poked my head around the corner. The bodies of black ops guards laid scattered on the ground. Some twitched for a moment, flaying like fish out of water, then fell silent.
I looked back at Ryan, who quickly joined me. I nodded towards the bodies. “What the fuck is going on over there?”
Ryan and I witnessed additional deaths of personnel surrounding the Brüder-2 hangar. He clenched his teeth is raw anger. “We need to stop that little fucker,” he said, through a hiss. “Come with me.”
We quickly returned to Connor’s side. Ryan approached him and whispered audibly in Connor ear. “I think Martin’s killing these people with displacement. We have to stop him, now!”
Connor looked genuinely disturbed by Ryan’s report. “We can’t do anything until he returns to the body he’s using, otherwise we’ll never catch him.”
“Damn it, Connor,” Ryan said crossly, coming dangerously close to breaking the whisper barrier. “All these people are going to die.”
“No, I don’t think that will happen” Connor whispered. “I think Martin wants Brüder-2. Everyone in his path is dead, but not the entire base. That would take too much time, time he doesn’t have. He’s going to move quickly, so be ready for anything.”
When noise again emanated from the Jaunte building, Connor looked back, motioning us to follow. He did what he needed to do with the retinal scanner next to the unguarded entrance to the building. The underground entrance was already open and accessible. Ryan and Connor slowly made their way down the stairs into the underground facility, covering each other as they walked. Krissie and I followed carefully until we reached the four light panels leading to the Jaunte room. Just beyond, the entrance leading down into the room remained open. Connor looked back to Krissie and nodded. She reached into her bag, pulled out a disk resembling a marshmallow pie, and handed it to Connor. He carefully made his way to the open entrance and set it next to the doorway.
“What the hell was that?” I asked her, toying with the whisper barrier myself.
“A contingency plan, love. That device emits a sort of static barrier around that entrance. It’s sort of like an invisible force field to prevent Martin from leaving while in a discorporate state. You can’t see it, and it will not affect you in any way.” She smiled. “We always have a plan B.”
“I see this.”
Connor looked back to us and tilted his head sideways, indicating we should follow. “We’re going in. No one fires on him but me. We’re all protected from his displacement element. There’s nothing he can do to us.”
The four of us descended into the Jaunte room, Ryan and Connor with Impüls’ drawn. Martin - in Wald’s body - faced the Jaunte control panel. Scattered about the room were the four bodies of black op guards and one Colonel Robinson. Martin killed a high-ranking officer. If the FCA didn’t punish him, someone in the military most certainly would.
Connor stopped at the bottom stair and lowered his weapon. “Martin.”
Martin spun around, immediately recognizing his old friend. “For fuck’s sake MacKenzie, you scared the shit out of me.”
“How are you, old friend?” Connor asked.
Martin didn’t answer. He glanced around at the scattered dead bodies while Connor stared at him. “Martin, I think we need to have a little chat, don’t you?”
Martin pursed his lips and shook his head. “I knew this day was coming, I just didn’t think it would be today. Sorry Connor, I have things to do and need to go.” Wald’s body fell to the floor as Martin displaced from it. Within seconds, he returned to Wald’s body and stood up. “Seems I can’t get out of the room or displace any of you. That’s a neat trick, Connor. I do believe I helped design those protocols. I never thought in a million years you’d use them against me.”
Connor chuckled. “Funny, I had the same thought.”
“So now what? I’m obviously not leaving this building until we’ve had our chat, so let’s get on with it.” Connor reached into his pocket and withdrew a blue ring. It looked exactly like his red one, sans the red. Martin looked at it and laughed. “I’m guessing you want me to put that on so you can reclaim the spiritual element.”
“Yeah Martin, I do,” Connor said with regret. “I think under the circumstances, it’s probably the best thing, or the right thing to do.”
Martin studied Connor’s face, seriousness etched in stone. “Connor, what if I told you I would happily surrender the spiritual element when I was finished doing what I need to do.”
“And what exactly would that be?”
Martin flinched. “I can’t tell you that right now.”
Ryan replied in a truly annoyed voice. “It seems you don’t have much of a choice.”
Martin frowned, shaking his head. “You never really liked me, did you Ryan?”
“I liked you fine, or at least I did until you betrayed the FCA.”
“Oh, that’s such bullshit and you know it,” Martin said, annoyed. “You’ve had it in for me since Robert chose you to replace him.”
Ryan shook his head, but made no reply. Martin surveyed the room. “I’d like to talk to MacKenzie, in private.”
Ryan objected, “No way.”
Connor leaned over to Ryan. “It’s okay, he can’t get out. Take Krissie and Kevin, and get the thing we talked about earlier.”
Ryan smiled at Martin, never breaking his gaze. “Copy. With pleasure.”
Ryan marched out of the Jaunte room. Krissie and I followed. “Where are we going?” I asked.
“To retrieve Martin’s real body. He’s in Medical with all the other stasis patients.”
A brisk walk to the medical building did not take long. It seemed odd no one else was around. “Where is everyone?”
“Lockdown, probably,” Ryan said. “Before you and I arrived here a few days ago, The Corporation was in the process of overtaking this facility.” He paused. “No thanks to Martin.”
“He was with us, on the ship. Remember?”
“It doesn’t mean he didn’t have a hand in it. He displaced down here twice before we could land. Who knows what he was doing during all that time.”
I couldn’t argue that point. Nor did I want to.
The ‘stasis’ room was hardly a room. It was at least the length of three warehouses pushed together, containing row after row of soul-suppressed people. Each patient lay on a bed, wired into a holographic monitor over each. Some patients experienced spasms due to a low-level electric jolt to combat atrophy. I looked around, unsure of what I was looking for. “I really hate to be the party pooper of the group, but how exactly are you going to find Martin among all these people.”
“I know exactly where he is,” Ryan said. It was a harsh reply, without expression. The tension over Martin’s betrayal was more than evident.
“Do you two not like each other?” I finally managed to ask. “I sensed friction between you guys when we flew out here.”
“It’s complicated,” Ryan said, without offense. “I was not part of the original FCA. A man by the name of Robert Evans originally held the visual displacement element of the Brüder Trinity. He and Connor formed the original FCA with Jim Marks in 2062. They rescued Martin from certain death after that riot he was involved in because he held the Spiritual Displacement element at the time. The four of them were a tight unit and started something great with the FCA. Robert took Martin under his wing. Then Robert got sick and passed away. Before he died, Robert handpicked me to take his place. Martin believed someone else in the FCA was more qualified. Do you see where this is going?”
“Exactly. We hashed all that out years ago, or so I thought. Sometimes Martin and I quibble over superficial stuff, but never did I think he would do something like this. Even if The Corporation brainwashed him, his wanting out and the easy exploitation of it bothers me.”
Krissie interjected. “Dan could have been lying, Ryan. He has a habit of doing that.”
“We don’t know what happened,” she continued. “For all we know, The Corporation spent weeks breaking him down and building him back up under the lie of wanting out of the FCA.”
Ryan stopped walking and impatiently turned around to face Krissie. “Is that something you can determine after we capture him?”
“You know I can,” she replied, holding her ground. “Let’s not make any swift judgments till we have all the facts, shall we?”
Ryan continued walking towards the back of the warehouse without replying. We approached two military personal dressed in black fatigues, guarding a door. Another man dressed in a doctor’s overcoat conversed with them.
Ryan approached. “Capcoseve, Ryan. FCA 17914011. Connor MacKenzie has asked me to retrieve FCA Wexler’s body and transport it to the Jaunte building.”
The doctor turned to acknowledge Ryan. “What the hell is going on around here?”
“We’re in lockdown sir, please step aside so that I may carry out my orders.”
The doctor appeared shocked. “Where is Colonel Robinson?”
“Colonel Robinson has been killed by a Corporation intruder, as well as many of his men. We currently have the intruder locked down. I need you to contact whoever is next in the chain of command and have him report to the Jaunte building where I or FCA MacKenzie will give them a SITREP.”
“I don’t know who that would be,” the doctor sheepishly said.
One of the military guards appeared disturbed by Ryan’s report. “The Colonel is dead? You saw this for yourself?”
“I have, Lieutenant. Do you know who is next in the chain of command?”
“No sir, but I can find out.”
“Please do. I also need you to secure hanger niner-echo.”
The other guard stepped forward, retrieving the pen like version of the retina-scanning device. “Sir, I need to confirm your identity.”
Ryan allowed the scan and passed. The other military guard called for additional hanger reinforcements and requested the next in command to report to the Jaunte building.
We entered the room where Martin’s body lay, peacefully. I immediately recognized him from the Cranberry Mall riot, although he was now much older. If I had to guess, he was my age, maybe a little bit older. I expected Ryan to ask for my help in carrying Martin’s body back to the Jaunte building. That didn’t happen. Instead, Ryan picked up the body and slung it over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Krissie appeared slightly disturbed by this action, but said nothing. Ryan stopped to address the two guards waiting outside the room. “You two, come with me.”
“Yes sir,” the both said in unison. Ryan vigorously began walking back toward the Jaunte building. Krissie glanced over at me as we struggled to keep up. She was clearly worried.
The radio on one of the military guards squawked. “Lieutenant West, acknowledge!”
West grabbed his radio and responded. “Go ahead sir.”
“What the fuck is going on down there? Did I hear Robinson is dead?”
“Yes sir. FCA Capcoseve says FCA MacKenzie has a Corporation intruder locked down in the Jaunte building and is requesting backup there and for hanger niner-echo. He also is requesting the next in command report to the Jaunte building for a SITREP.”
“That would be the CMC,” the radio blared back. “I’ll alert him immediately. What is your status?”
“FCA Capcoseve is transporting FCA Wexler’s body to the Jaunte building. He also requested Brashear and I to accompany him, sir.”
“Copy. The CMC will rendezvous will you at the Jaunte straight away. Bowen out.”
Ryan turned his head back to address West. “Listen to me very carefully Lieutenant. Under no circumstances is the CMC or any of your men to enter the Jaunte building. We have a protocol in place that no one on this base is familiar with. Any breach of that protocol will put additional lives in danger, including whoever enters the building. When MacKenzie has stabilized the situation, he will exit the building and brief the CMC. Do you understand?”
Off to my right I could already hear the activity of additional military personnel securing the hanger containing Brüder-2. Most of the chatter consisted of questions regarding the fallen men and women, the ones Martin recently killed. There was clear anger in those voices. Martin would probably do better to have Connor’s protection once it got out he was responsible for this mess.
We arrived at the Jaunte building where a small contingency of troops awaited. Ryan explained the situation and placed Lieutenant West in charge until the CMC arrived. I entered the building trailing Ryan and Krissie. Connor and Martin were still talking.
Martin froze at the sight if his body slung over Ryan’s shoulder. “What are you doing with my body?”
Ryan sat the body down on one of the oversized stairs. Connor applied the restraining device on the head, just shy of covering the open eyes. He also slid the blue ring on the body’s right index finger. Connor stood up. “Please Martin, return to your body. Let’s just get this over with.”
Martin glanced bitterly over to Ryan. “You’ve got more of the military up there waiting, don’t you?”
“They’re going to want my blood for all the people I killed.”
“Probably.” Flat. No emotion. I wondered if Ryan truly didn’t care or was putting on an Oscar worthy performance.
Martin sighed. “I need to get to Brüder-2 and finish what I’ve started. Once this is over, I will surrender and return the spiritual element.”
Connor shook his head. “What do you need to accomplish, Martin? Please don’t say you can’t tell me. If you want me to even consider your request, I must know what you intend to do. We’re having a small trust issue here, old friend. I need to know.”
Martin stared at Connor, considering his words. He had to know the only way out of here was Connor’s way. “I have to meet Victor. He’s hiding on Captiva Island in Florida. I need Brüder-2 to get there since there are no Jaunte portals in Florida.”
Connor pushed both of his hands face out. “Whoa, stop. Back up for a sec. Victor Merrick is alive?”
“He is. As you know, I didn’t come back with Krissie to 2025, after The Exchange failed. I left to help Victor. When The Corporation recaptured him, I dominated the pilot of Brüder-3 in flight to their HQ in Baltimore. Since the pilot was Brüder, he was spiritually stronger than I was and fought back. He tried several times to push me out. We lost control of the ship and crashed. But - and here is the interesting part - somehow, we ended up in 1981! Ten fucking years in the past from where we should have been! The crash knocked the Brüder pilot out cold. I soul suppressed him so Victor and I could escape. We went into hiding. I waited fifteen fucking years to get to this point, when I could resume my position in the FCA, just as if I never left. I have to tell you Connor, that fifteen-year stretch has been a real major fucking pain in the ass! But wait, it get’s better. Earlier today, Victor, in one of his bubblehead moments spent the 2025 quarter on his fucking lunch and our new friend Kevin here found it. Now, if I remember the story Dan told me correctly, he ended up losing it again.”
Martin’s perception of my losing the quarter was inaccurate. Since this was Connor’s show, I said nothing about the misinformation.
Connor studied Martin’s face (which was really Wald’s face) for the sign of a lie. “So you mean to tell me Victor had the quarter in his possession all this time? Dan told us he didn’t have it on him when he was captured.”
“Of course not!” Martin said, visibly frustrated by Connor’s inability to keep up. “He knew he was going to be recaptured, so he hid it, thinking once we escaped we’d go back and get it. We did escape, but needed to wait those ten fucking years for that moment to come around again. We returned to Ocean City and the spot Victor hid it, and back into hiding we went. End of story.”
As I listened to Martin’s tale, I realized this new information was the final few pieces of the puzzle we did not have. We knew Victor’s fate, and we knew where the quarter was all this time. It also appeared Martin changed his mind about working for the Corporation once he realized Victor was involved. All he cared about was saving his friend’s life and keeping him hidden. With the spiritual element, Martin could easily have paraded around as other people, abusing his power to keep Victor safe and hidden.
“I still can’t let you go, Martin,” Connor said. “Not while you are holding the spiritual displacement element. However, if you agree to return to your own body and surrender it, I will help you find the quarter and protect Victor.” Connor used an interesting tactic, allowing Martin to believe the quarter was lost when we knew exactly where it was.
“No!” Martin snapped. “Victor doesn’t want to be found. Make no mistake about it Connor; I will die to make sure he stays that way. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Is he afraid of the IA folks?”
“Partly,” Martin said, more calm now. “But after all this time, he doesn’t want any of this. He’s in his thirties now and is not the same person he used to be. I can personally attest to this. Victor is off the table.”
“Okay,” Connor said. “Same offer, minus Victor.”
“No can do,” Martin said, without a flinch. “I need the spiritual element to keep him safe. I can’t do what I do to keep him hidden using my own body. We’d be found eventually. You know this!”
Connor shook his head in defiance. “I’m sorry Martin, but you aren’t keeping it, the Spiritual element. That is non-negotiable. One way or the other we will get it back, even if I have to force it from you. You betrayed the FCA, you abused the gift given to you by the Brüder who sacrificed herself to do so, and you betrayed me. We won’t even talk about them, all the innocent people you killed in the process, or the hell you put Kevin through. I cannot and will not keep you in the FCA under any capacity. I must take the element back from you. You made your choice, brother. My hand is forced. I’m sorry. Once this is done, I will be happy to give it to both of you, asylum on FCA-1, where no IA can go.”
Martin shook his head, defiantly indicating his position. He said nothing more. I didn’t understand how Martin expected to win this standoff. Connor raised his Impüls, preparing to knock Martin down and force the issue. “I'm sorry,” he said in a small broken voice.
Before Connor could fire, a loud buzzing alarm filled the room. Several indicators on the Jaunte control panel flashed red. An evil smile crept across Martin's face. Someone was about to come through the Jaunte portal. Someone unprotected from Martin's ability. The red force field covering the Jaunte entrance dropped long enough for one person to walk through. It took me by surprise, as one needed to be unconscious before moving through the Jaunte system.
Connor panicked. “JIM, SHUT YOUR EYES, NOW!” It was too late. Wald's body fell to the ground. I watched Jim's eye color change from dark brown to Martin's crystal blue. He dominated Jim.
Martin smiled, “What are you going to do now MacKenzie, shoot Jim? I don't see that happening.”
I looked over at Wald's body. It laid lifelessly, eyes still open. If I could close them, Wald would be free of Martin's control. Unafraid of what Martin might do, I broke formation and cautiously walked over to Wald’s body. Connor watched me leave. “What are you doing?”
“Freeing my friend of this debacle,” I said, with anger behind the words. Martin watched me cross to Wald's body and close his eyes with a brush of my hand. Connor trained his Impüls on Martin as a suggestion to stay where he was, to let me do what I had to do. Holding him under the arms, I carefully dragged Wald to the base of the stairs.
Ryan perked up. “You just gave me a great idea.” He stepped over to Martin's body and pushed it down the remaining two stairs with his foot. It crashed to the floor with a sickening thump.
Krissie reacted badly. “Ryan!”
Martin's eyes bugged out. “What the fuck are you doing?”
“Enough of this shit,” Ryan spat. “Get the hell back in there where you belong.”
Martin's glance shifted back to Connor. “This is a breach of protocol. You can't let him do this to my body.”
Connor appeared genuinely taken aback. “You're going to lecture me about protocol? Surrender Martin, and this will all be over.”
“I could kill him, you know,” Martin said lowly, a dark shadow passing over his eyes. Blood trickled out of Jim’s nose, dripping off his upper lip.
“What would that accomplish?” Connor asked, unmoved. “You won’t escape. All you’ll have done is murder another person.”
“Not just any person, Connor. We both know how important Jim is to you and the FCA.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Connor said without resistance. “You should also remember, like me, Jim would lay down his life to protect our cause. So again I ask you, what will you accomplish?” The pain on Jim’s face was undeniable. Blood poured out of his nose, running down his face and onto his shirt. The two men stared each other down.
“Fine,” Connor said. “If you want blood, take mine.” In a flash, Connor removed the contacts from his eyes and flicked them to the floor.
“Connor!” Krissie gasped. “What are you doing?”
“Finishing this,” he answered, calm and collect. “C’mon Martin, you obviously want something. Let’s go together.”
The turn of events had me in shock. The thought of losing Connor scared me. “He could kill you,” I said, close to a whisper.
“No, he won’t,” Connor said, with confidence. “I saved his life once. He knows this. Martin owes his life to me. He swore his oath over it. While he’s shown he’s willing to hurt other people, I don’t believe he’ll kill me.”
“That’s ballsy,” Martin said, studying Connor’s unprotected face. “It'll never be over, you know. Even if I surrender, this will all continue. The only way out for me is to leave, now. I swear to you Connor, I will return the displacement element when I am done, when Victor and I are free.”
Ryan stepped down to Martin's body and gave it a good swift kick. Krissie cringed. This streak of anger was unlike Ryan, who always appeared so calm and cool. Something deeper was going with him. “Get in there Wexler, or so help me by the time we force you back in there, you'll be broken.”
Martin was clearly distressed. “I can't believe you are doing this.”
“I can’t believe you fucked us over!” Ryan shouted in reply.
Jim’s face was turnip red as Martin spoke through it. “Ryan, stop. I swear, I’ll kill him and it’ll be on your head.”
“And then I’ll kill what’s left of your body, Wexler. Then where will you be? You swore you life in defense of the FCA and I will hold you to it. You can either man up and walk out of here alive or remain in a discorporate state, stuck in this building for all eternity. I’ll destroy the Jaunte portal and cement this building down myself. I don’t care which it is. You decide.”
The unspoken bad blood between Ryan and Martin was now at the surface for all to see. No one would mediate or get in the way this time. Martin clenched his jaw in anger, all his exits blocked. He was a ticking time bomb, rapidly approaching zero.
Martin shook Jim’s head in jerking motions, as if fighting off the urge to pass out. Jim's eyes briefly shifted back to dark brown. “Connor, SHOOT. SHOOT NOW!”
Connor raised his Impüls, arms fully extended to eye level and fired directly into Jim’s chest. The low frequency bass resonance rippled throughout the small room. Jim’s unconscious body dropped to the ground. Without any forethought, I leapt across the room and slid into Jim's fallen body on my knees, brushing his eyes closed. Martin had only one place to go, his own body. I no longer believed Martin would dominate Connor.
The room fell deafly quiet. I looked around. “Is he still here?”
“Yes,” Connor said, without emotion. “He's discorporated.”
Ryan stood over Martin's body and pressed his boot over Martin's neck. “Not for long.” Martin's body began to spam, drool pouring out both sides of his mouth.
A visibly distraught Krissie could take no more. “Ryan, stop. You're killing him.”
“No I'm not.”
Krissie spun back around, her fists balled up. “Connor, please. Stop this.”
Connor didn’t reply. Instead, he carefully measuring what Ryan was doing to Martin's body…waiting. Ryan stepped off Martin's neck when the spasming began to subside. He then gave the body a swift kick in the ribs. I swore I heard one or more crack. Ryan looked up into the air. “Come on, you coward son of a bitch! Get in there, now!”
Several seconds pass with no result. Ryan stepped around to face Martin’s body. He pushed one of the legs aside with his foot, spreading them, positioning himself to step on the genitals. Finally, Connor spoke up. “Ryan?”
Ryan lifted his foot, meaning to bring it back down, full weight of the heel square on the testicles. The blank stare of Martin's open eyes disappeared leaving only sheer terror. Connor jumped in and pushed Ryan away, turning swiftly to apply the goggles on Martin’s face, preventing him from displacing.
It was over. Martin was secure, unable to displace to another body. Krissie made her way to the fallen Jim Marks. I stood up and walked back to the stairs next to Wald’s body. I let out a sigh of relief and sat.
Martin shook his head in resignation. “You don't understand what you've done here, Connor. Victor is helpless without me. You've killed us both.”
Connor looked at his old friend in disgust and turned his back. “I'm going outside to brief the CMC,” he said to no one in particular and walked out of the room.
Ryan stood over Martin, Impüls carefully trained on him. Krissie helped Jim to his feet, thanking her for the prompt attention. When his glance finally met mine, I grinned. “Good to see you again.”
“You have not aged a bit,” Jim replied, with a small grin.
“I have to ask, how did you go through the Jaunte conscious?”
“That is a side effect in humans due to your young soul energy,” Jim said. “The system is designed for the Brüder. I do not need to be asleep when using the system.” I could only stare back blankly. What an obvious answer. I should have known.
“So what brings you out this way?” I asked.
“Connor requested my presence here at this specific time when you two left in 1981. Even so, I monitored the communication between Brüder-2 and Earth Station 5, realizing there was a security breach in progress.” Jim threw a glance at the defeated Martin Wexler. “This obviously explains Connor’s request.”
Lieutenant West and Brashear entered the Jaunte room, racing down the stairs to secure Martin. Ryan holstered his Impüls and walked away. Martin was clearly in pain from the abuse Ryan inflicted upon his body. He could not stand up straight or walk. Jim approached Martin and looked him over, his emotionless expression never faltering. Martin looked wearily back. “Martin, I cannot express to you how disappointed I am with your actions.”
“You can stand in line, I’m sure,” Martin said, uninterested.
Jim stepped behind Martin, doing something with his hands I couldn’t see. A dull blue glow splashed over Jim’s face as Martin pleaded for him to stop, tears streaming down his face. Jim finished his task, returning to the center of the room with the spiritual displacement element secured safely within the ring of its origin. It was no longer in Martin Wexler’s control.
Martin hung his head and gazed at the floor, completely beaten and dejected. Ryan said something to West I didn’t hear as I studied Martin’s catatonic stare. West and Brashear led Martin up the stairs and out of the Jaunte building. Ryan called after them, “And I do mean the highest security you have at this facility.”
“Yes sir,” West called back.
Martin was gone.
Krissie walked over to Wald’s body and began tending to him. Wald’s head took a minor bump when his body fell to the ground upon one of Martin’s exits.
I gazed down at him, watching Krissie check his vitals. “What happens to him now?”
“I suspect he will be returned to stasis,” she replied. “At least until Connor says otherwise.” She looked up and smiled, those crystal blue eyes twinkling. “Its okay love, I know Connor intends to help him once the situation here is sorted out.”
“I need some air. Will you excuse me for a moment?”
She grabbed my hand and gave it a small squeeze. “Of course, dear.”
Outside, Connor worked diligently to keep calm among the military personnel who were unmistakably distraught over Martin’s actions. I stood back, deciding this might not be the best time to interrupt a clearly tense situation. Off in the distance, towards the hanger where the casualties were the worst, an angry voice ripped across the complex. “I want to know what happened to these men, and I want to know now!”
“There’s the CMC now,” someone said.
Connor looked in the direction of the hanger, as did the rest of the men. The CMC, flanked by four additional men strode swiftly towards the Jaunte building. All wore the same black military uniforms. Their black boots clomping with purpose in each step they took. “Where is FCA McKenzie?” The CMC barked.
“That would be me,” Connor said stepping forward, defending the rest of us in case of wrath.
“Would you mind explaining to me what in the blue fuck happened here?” The CMC approached. I recognized him right away, as did Connor. The mystery of my old friend Christopher Manyette’s involvement with the moving of the FutureQuarter began to come into focus. Manyette looked at me, his expression of anger changing to surprise. “Well, I knew this day was coming. How are you Kev?”
“Good to see you again, Manyette,” I said, hiding my excitement over the situation.
“You and that damned quarter from high school,” he said, shaking his head. Manyette’s remark dumbfounded me. All those dreams, they were repressed memories. Something did happen. “What are you talking about?”
Manyette stood there, staring blankly back at me. “Are you fucking serious? The quarter with the future date on it? The letter I supposedly left myself about joining the military? Any of this ring a bell?”
Ice-cold water replaced the blood in my body. Light-headedness gripped me as if the grim reaper was giving me the Heimlich maneuver. “No,” I said, with urgency. “But The Corporation did something to me in the summer of 1989 causing me to forget everything associated with that quarter.”
Manyette nodding as if he understood everything I said. He shifted his attention and crass demeanor back to Connor. The carefree easygoing guy I remember from my youth no longer stood before me. Here, now, was a trained military man, ready to do battle. It was weird to see him this way. “Yes, The Corporation. Seems one of your operatives has been working for them, causing the cluster fuck you see behind me, which now I have to clean up!”
“I assure you Mr. Manyette, it’s a breaking development, FCA Wexler’s behavior, I was just now able to contain.”
Manyette’s displeasure with Connor increased two fold, at least. “First off - Detective MacKenzie - it’s Command Master Chief or ‘Chief’ if you prefer. Second, I’ve got at least fifteen men down – including Colonel Robinson - due to FCA Wexler’s unique ability to fuck with other people. How many other ‘breaking developments’ will there be before all is said and done? Please, answer me this, if you would be kind enough to do so.”
Jim Marks, who had been standing near the entrance to the Jaunte building, answered the question. “Presently Chief, none.” Jim held up the faintly glowing blue ring, the Spiritual Displacement element.
Manyette carefully studied the elderly man who answered on behalf of Connor. “Are you Jim Marks?”
“Yes sir, Chief Manyette. How may I be of service to you?”
“Am I to understand by that glowing trinket there that you’ve neutralized FCA Wexler?”
“Yes sir, indeed we have,” Jim replied.
Manyette looked back to Connor. “So what happens to that ring now?”
“FCA Marks will be responsible for it, until I can transport them back to FCA-1, the ring and Martin, to my current time index. Until then, I need your personal assurance he will remain unharmed, Mr. Wexler will.”
“Of course he will remain unharmed,” Manyette said. “What exactly are you suggesting?”
“He killed innocent soldiers,” Connor said, not beating around the bush. “Sometimes, people look the other way. Things happen. While I understand there could be anger and the need for justice, I need you to understand he’s my problem, Martin is.”
“I take exception to your suggestion, Detective MacKenzie,” Manyette said, never breaking eye contact with Connor. The two men stared each other down. Finally, Manyette took the radio off his belt. “Lieutenant West, do you copy?”
“This is CMC Manyette. Under no circumstances is anyone to have access to Mr. Wexler with the sole exception of the attending doctor, FCA McKenzie, and myself. And when I say no one, I mean no one. Do you understand me?”
“Sir, yes sir,” West replied.
“Manyette, out!” He looked back at Connor. “Good enough?”
Connor nodded. Although per my observation, Connor did not look as reassured as he should have been. “Chief Manyette, there are several matters I need to brief you on, to bring you up to speed. It’s important that…”
A series of shouts and screams interrupted Connor, originating from the Brüder-2 hangar. Gunfire followed. The four men flanking Manyette encircled him without pause, offering their own bodies as protection. Ryan leapt out of the Jaunte building offering Connor the same protection. Connor in turn shielded me.
A man dressed in a Corporation Black suit ran out from behind the Brüder-2 hangar. It was not apparent whether he was running from something or running to us. Out of the corner of my eye, I observed Jim take protection behind the door into the Jaunte building.
“THE CHAIN OF COMMAND IS BROKEN!” The Corporation agent screamed. “WE TURNED ON EACH OTHER, HOW DID THIS HAPPEN! I’M STILL ALIVE MOTHERFUCKERS, I AM STILL ALIVE!”
The sound of withdrawn firearms set to fire filled the air, the FCAs Impüls weapons also at the ready. Even I, amid the excitement withdrew mine from the front of my pants and pointed in the direction of the scampering surviving agent. Should he not calm down in the very near future, he yelling and screaming would surely cease. When the agent was closer, I could see a rifle slung over his shoulder, a weapon of our military, and not The Corporation. He slowly approached us, zigzagging from side to side. Half of his head was gone, blown apart by a bad shot. He was delirious from his wounds. Sticky, clotted blood covered the top part of his torso, and his face.
Manyette’s entourage kept their weapons fully trained on the raving lunatic. “Drop your weapon now, or I will open fire,” one of them demanded.
“THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!” The agent screamed. “WHY DID CLEMENS TURN ON ME? WHY DID WE TURN ON EACH OTHER? WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY?”
One of Manyette’s protectors called out, “This is your final warning, Corporation agent! Drop your weapon now or we will open fire and kill you.”
“THIS WAS THE NEW GUYS’ FAULT!” The agent insisted. “HE MADE US DO IT TO EACH OTHER! I HAD NO CONTROL. CLEMENS HAD NO CONTROL, BUT HE MISSED. THE MOTHERFUCKER MISSED!”
“Okay boys, be ready,” one of Manyette’s guys advised. “I’m taking a shot.” The virgin clean report from his firearm filled the air. The bullet penetrated the agent’s chest. He stumbled a bit, but continued to walk. “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?”
“Just drop the weapon buddy! That’s all you have to do. Drop the weapon and we can talk about this.”
The Corporation agent fell to his knees, holding his arms into the air. “OH MY GOD HELP ME. I DON'T WANT TO DIE!” With that, he flopped over onto the cement ground, on top of his weapon. Excruciatingly long seconds ticked by. The downed agent remained motionless as the pool of blood surrounding his misshapen head grew in size.
Two soldiers covering Manyette slowly moved their way forward to the downed agent, their weapons trained to kill in an instant. The leading soldier made a twirling motion with his hand, indicating to the other to flip the agent over. No one around me had yet lowered their weapons. The other soldier circled around to the front of the agent and used the barrel of his rifle to flip the agent over onto his back.
The agent belted out an unearthly scream, arms wrapped around his M-3 rifle as he held down on the trigger. The automatic weapon fired stray rounds in every direction. The two soldiers surrounding the agent wasted no time in emptying two clips worth of ammunition into the writhing, screaming mess that used to be a human begin. Blood and other matter sprayed over the soldiers like pressurized water from a busted pipe. When the agent was truly dead, releasing his death grip on the M-3 rifle, the lead soldier kicked it away. The only sound remaining was the echo of gunfire.
The first casualty I witnessed was Manyette and the man standing next to him. They were both on the ground having taken rounds from the agent's stray gunfire. Manyette clutched at his chest and fell backward, taking a nasty blow to the head. The soldier next to him took a round to the face, mortally wounding him. The back of his head was a dark red cave with blood and brain speckled on the white cement ground behind him. So much blood surrounded them. It was surreal.
I started to feel lightheaded, assuming it a reaction to the gore. I looked at Ryan, who took a round in the shoulder to spare Connor one in his chest. I shook my head, attempting to shake off the vertigo. “What’s happening, I don't feel so good.”
My legs were rubber, shaking uncontrollably. I reached out to Connor in order to not collapse under the weight of my own body. He caught me, propping me up against his right side. I knew something was wrong then, deadly wrong. A sharp jolt of pain shot through my abdomen and up the length of my entire body. Bolts of blue lightning, with bursts of white sparkles in the peripheral filled my vision. I squeezed my eyes shut, screaming out in terror.
“Oh no,” I heard Connor whisper. Now I was scared. The pain subsided enough so I could open my eyes, to see why Connor expressed such a bad reaction. The first thing I saw was not his face, but the right side of his white shirt, now smeared with blood from his supporting me.
It was not his blood. It was mine.
I had instinctively used my left hand to cover my gut. Both my hand and shirt were awash with blood, thick red blood. The kind of blood one hopes never to see. “Have I been shot?” I asked, hearing the weakness in my own voice. “Am I going to die?”
“No,” Connor said, lowering me to the ground. He knelt down, carefully placing my head on his lap. I looked up, trying to focus on his face. It was difficult to see. The blue and white visuals of pain blurred him. What I could see of his face was not at all convincing. “Krissie is coming. She'll help you.”
The shadow of Jim appeared behind Connor, looming and giant. He said something to Connor I couldn’t understand. Was it because I truly couldn’t hear him, or because he was speaking in Brüder German? The debate raged on in my head, seeming so important. The kind of uncontrollable thoughts one might realize shortly before falling asleep.
What did he say?
Dying? Only way? Save him?
I knew then my consciousness was slipping away, piece by piece.
“I'm not dying,” I said. It came out as a stifled whisper. “I'm not going to go to sleep.”
I thought I heard Krissie's voice somewhere in the melee that was the sound of rushing water. There was no water; it was all in my head.
Someone took my hand and started rubbing it. A soft blue light filled my head. With great effort, I finally managed to open one eye. All I could see was the far off body of Christopher Manyette, his eyes half open and glazed over, my peripheral world enveloped in soft blue light.
“Kevin, can you hear me?” Connor asked. I squeezed his hand, if it was his hand. “I want you to think about leaving your body.”
“No,” I said in a mumble. “I don't want to die.”
“You're not going to die. You need to trust me. Concentrate on what you are looking at. You can move your consciousness forward, out of your body. You are not going to die. You are going to live, but I need you to focus. Can you remember what you did with the temporal displacement element? You need to do it again, only this time you will consciously leave your body.”
“This isn't real,” I whispered. “What's happening to me?”
“Push!” Connor said, ignoring my babbling. “Push yourself out.”
The hazy blue light floating in my consciousness formed a tunnel.
This is it, I thought. I really am going to die.
The last thing I could see were the dull lifeless eyes of my old friend Manyette, the tunnel of misty blue light in my mind pointing directly into his. I began to move through that tunnel, leaving the soft warmth of my body behind.