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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XXIV - Revolution

“A procedure or course, back to it’s starting point.”

*

Date: Friday, October 13, 2006

Location: Landing Bay, Earth Station One (ES-1), Eldersburg, Maryland

Age: 35 (Current)

I

Tom stood across the landing bay by the control room, waiting for us well out of the way of the temporal displacement. Seventeen years passed for him in the span of a minute for us. Tom and Connor gave each other nods as Connor excused himself to confer with him, leaving Ryan and I to exchange confused glances. The two of them clearly knew something we didn’t.

“What do you think is happening?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Whatever it is, Tom knew about it before we left. If it has anything to do with the capture of those Corporation agents, it was code black before we left. Now it isn’t.”

We watched Connor nod repetitively as Tom clapped his shoulder in reassurance. Connor jacked his thumb towards the Brüder-2 ship, at us. They paused, both looking in our direction.

I didn’t like where this was going.

Connor wiped his forehand across his brow, the way a man does when he knows there is bad news to deliver, and doesn’t want to. Since it was I they were specifically looking toward, I assumed the bad news was about me, or for me. With reluctance, Tom and Connor joined us.

“Looks like we got what we wanted,” Connor said. “The Corporation sent out feelers in January of 1989, not too long after we snatched up their agents. They claim to have one of our own, wanting to negotiate an exchange.”

“Who do they have?” Ryan asked. “Did they say?”

Connor flashed me a worried glance without responding. It made sense now.

“It’s me,” I said. “We already know they kidnapped me in July of 1989, when I was seventeen. That’s who they have hostage. We’ll probably have to trade those agents for my release.” I paused. “What am I saying? I’m standing here now at age thirty-five. The exchange has already happened.”

“It has and it hasn’t,” Connor said. “It’s already happened for you when you were seventeen, when you were unaware of what was happening. The actions of you, by extension of the FCA have not. We know now what we have to do.”

I glared at Connor. “So your decision to take those Corporation agents is what got me kidnapped? I have to be honest with you Connor, I’m not real happy with this.”

“I understand your frustration, Kevin,” he said, appearing as apologetic as possible. “I made it in the heat of the moment, my decision. I thought it was the best course of action to get us back safely.”

“That day fucked me up,” I snapped. “And I still don’t remember what happened!”

“You will.”

Connor’s words of assertion did not help. “Cause Dan said so?” I asked, wanting him to see I was annoyed. “You’re placing a lot of trust into the very same person who kidnapped me.”

“I never said I trusted him,” Connor said, firming up his stance. His body language let me know there was only so much of my attitude he would tolerate. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and over that time you learn a few things about people, especially where The Corporation is concerned. Do I believe everything he’s told me since his surrender, Dan has? Absolutely not. Do I think he has ulterior motives? Probably. My gut tells me if those things are true, it’s to his benefit to sprinkle some truth over his lies. The answers you want are coming. You’re just going to have to trust me. Okay?”

I sighed in frustration. I would have to trust him and believe him. I was in too deep now to walk away, especially since I wasn’t even in my own body.

Tom had more to add to Connor’s explanation. “The Corporation was present at the reservoir the day Connor captured their agents, because they are surveying the area. Since the altercation at your parents home in 1977, Dan has been keeping tabs on you.”

“What?” I asked. “I was just a little boy then. That makes no sense.”

“True, but when you reached your teenage years, did you not begin spending more time at the reservoir?”

“I guess I did, especially after I learned to drive. It’s where I used to go to be alone, and think.”

Tom continued. “Dan was not sure when you became active with the FCA back then. It is my theory he believes we recruit you during that time. Your journeys around the reservoir become a topic of interest to him. I monitored their communication between the time they lost their agents and the day they took you. They wanted to know where you went, what you were doing, and whom you interacted with, if you actually did. It was their hope you would lead them directly to us. Fortunately, this was never the case.” It came as no surprise my missing day from 1989 revolved around something like this.

“There’s more,” Connor said. “They know your seventeen-year-old counterpart has the coin, or at least they believe you do.”

“But, I did, right? Manyette remembers me finding the quarter in choir class.”

Connor answered. “That’s where we are stuck. The quarter goes missing again. Older Dan - the one we have in custody - said you didn’t have it on you the day he took you prisoner, the quarter. If he’s telling the truth, all he claimed to get from you was its location, under the stairs at the Arthur Avenue house, and we know what happened with that. Sometime between January and July of 1989, something happens to the quarter. I’m hoping when the come back, your memories, it’ll fill in that piece of the puzzle.”

“So now what?” I asked, hand still perched on my hips. “We go back to the day I was taken and trade those Corporation goons for my younger self?”

“First thing’s first,” Connor said. “I don’t want to put you in these circumstances while you are still using Chief Manyette’s body, and in position of the spiritual element. We go back to ES-5 first and resolve those issues, and then we take care of this business.” Connor turned his attention to Ryan. “Take Kevin and Burder-2 back to ES-5. Have Jim coordinate the spiritual transfer. Also, tell him about the Chief’s gibberish Kevin has been hearing. It means something, and we have to know what it is. When everything there is squared away, the two of you return here via the Jaunte.”

I felt mild panic with Connor’s plan. “You’re not coming with us?”

“No. To negotiate for your younger counterpart’s release, I’ll need to confer with Jim in 1989 to set it up. We’ll be ready to go, by the time you and Ryan return.”

Ryan shook his head. “I don’t know how to access ES-1 from the Jaunte system. The only person who does is you.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Connor said, scratching his chin. “I’ll preset the system to bring you back automatically.” He glanced at me and winked. “When you’re ready to leave, Ryan, run a macro I’ll label ‘conundrum’. The system will bring you here, removing the log entry. The only evidence of the trip will remain here.”

“Copy,” Ryan said.

Connor withdrew the blue ring from his pocket and placed it firmly in Ryan’s hand. “Jim will need this.”

Ryan nodded in acknowledgement. Connor and Tom left the hangar, discussing their next plan of action. Ryan offered a half smile. “You ready?”

“I don’t think I ever was.”

II

Ryan made no haste returning to Area 51. During the flight, I asked how the Brüder ships evaded other aircraft. He explained when flying in the upper atmosphere, there was no need to worry about other air traffic. We could fly as fast as we wanted. Even so, the ship was equipped with an advanced version of radar, called DRADIS, an acronym for Direction, RAnge and DIStance, which would prevent the ship from flying into any other object. It would make necessary course corrections well in advance of any potential impact. I also asked how Brüder ships avoided Earth bound radar systems. Considering the ‘ancient technology’ involved, Ryan explained it to the best of his ability. Radar signals would bend around the ship when it flew at slower speeds and not refract, thus no blip would appear on radar image. In most cases, the ship traveled too fast for radar to notice it. Occasionally, there were some instances of newer, more advanced radar bouncing back off a Brüder ship, but because the ship travels so fast, the radar operator would read the blip as an object moving at speeds not possible. Radar operators call those blips ‘temperature inversion’. Ryan explained that thin air at higher altitudes generally doesn’t hold heat well, as does the heavier air at the Earth's surface. Radar signals easily pass through the air, reflecting the flying objects it comes across. Sometimes, often during periods of high temperatures and humidity, pockets of hot air refuse to dissipate as they rise. When radar beams encounter those warm air pockets, they refract downward and reflect objects on the Earth's surface. As one air pocket dissipates, the radar beam jumps to another and the resulting refraction makes it appear as if the blips are moving at warp speed.

Area 51 was the sole exception, using the Brüder DRADIS system. A safety precaution against Bruder-3 (when it existed) and any other ship The Corporation might have.

Upon our approach, Ryan notified Area 51 with the usual ‘stranger/friend’ banter and docked in a different hanger, away from the one we docked at originally. The previous hanger was now a crime scene. It remained taped off and unavailable for use.

Jim Marks and Krissie Ecklie met us as we disembarked. Before we exchanged words, Ryan offered the blue spiritual element ring to Jim. He took it with a nod. That’s Jim’s way, to acknowledging actions with a mere nod. He seemed to say so much in that one gesture. Relief, appreciation, and respect were all there.

“Is my body fixed?” I asked, breaking the silence.

Krissie smiled. “It is, love. Good as new.”

“Then let’s get this over with. The sooner I am back in my own body, the better. Having absorbed some of Manyette’s personality has not been the highlight of my life.”

Krissie grinned, giving me a sly look. “I know what was,” she whispered under her breath.

“What?”

“Nothing,” she said, secret smile applied.

As we walked, Ryan reported our recent activities to Jim. He also mentioned the gibberish I kept hearing in Manyette’s head when attempting to access his memories. Jim looked to me after Ryan had finished his report. “Could you please speak the phrase for me, Kevin?”

“It goes like - Shh, calm us friend. Dying cynic dimmer, we see Earth Shinin’!”

Jim made no facial expression, as all ‘Brüder as humans’ tend to do. “It means nothing to me.”

“I didn’t think it would,” Ryan said. “It makes no sense.”

Jim continued to observe me as we walked towards the medical building, where my real body lay in waiting. “Is it Chief Manyette’s voice making the statement?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s in the ‘mind’s voice’, the voice in your head when you have thoughts. It has no discernable depth or timbre.”

“Understood,” said Jim, contemplating the information. “If the voice had been the Chief’s, it would have been him communicating with you. You would feel his presence. I do not believe the Chief is saying those words. Any thoughts Dr. Ecklie?”

“It would be easier if I could discuss this with Martin, since he understands this concept more than anyone”

“That ain’t gonna happen!” I said, channeling Manyette’s personality.

“Seconded,” Ryan added.

Jim still appeared troubled. “I cannot explain why, but the phrase seems familiar to me. I believe I have heard it before.” He glanced at Ryan. “Did Tom have any thoughts?”

“None.”

Jim frowned, saying nothing more as we entered the medical building.

The moment I dreaded was finally upon me. Armed with the knowledge of my body’s restored health, there was still something off-putting and downright creepy about seeing my unconscious self. I had gone to great lengths to avoid direct eye contact. Now I had no choice.

“How do we do this?” I asked. “I’m not certain I fully understand how to move myself back over.”

“You won’t have to,” Jim said. Krissie rolled over an additional bed and positioned it next mine. “I will facilitate the transfer. All you need do is lie down, close your eyes, and relax.”

I felt the need to look at Krissie for some kind of confirmation. It was not that I distrusted Jim. I had full confidence in him and his other worldly abilities. Krissie’s approval simply made me feel better. She smiled and nodded, holding the hand of my waiting body.

I did as Jim instructed. The last image I witnessed through Manyette’s eyes was Jim slipping the blue ring onto his own right index finger. I closed my eyes as Jim took my left hand in his. “Okay Kevin, here we go.”

There was a strange sensation of my consciousness pulling away from Manyette’s body.

Then nothing.

III

I awoke feeling Krissie’s fingers entwined with mine. I opened my eyes, head turned in Manyette’s direction. He lay in his medical bed, still unconscious. I looked up Krissie, who was smiling. Always smiling. God, she was beautiful.

“Good morning, sunshine.”

“Is it morning?” I asked, hearing my own voice this time. I inadvertently broke a small grin. How good it was to hear my own voice again. “I’ve lost track of what time it actually is.”

“It’s late afternoon. You’ve been asleep for over an hour.”

“Is that normal? Did everything go okay?”

“Everything went fine, love. I am little concerned about the Chief. He’s not responding to any stimuli.”

“He’s in there, although he’s not aware of what’s going on around him.”

I looked down at our intertwined fingers. She followed my glance and casually withdrew her hand. “I should not have done that, I'm sorry,” she said, looking away.

“Do we have some kind of history together, Kristina?”

She smiled at my use of her full name. A twinge of heartache quickly eclipsed her twinkling blue eyes. “No love, my history with you is your future. I want to tell you more, but I cannot. Not now.”

I suddenly remembered Connor telling me about the names Ecklie and Provance aboard the FCA-1 observation platform in 2095, a future embodiment of myself and a past incarnation of Krissie. Perhaps Connor was right about my accepting his offer of inclusion within the FCA. What else would explain such a thing?

“How old were you?” I asked.

“When I met you originally?”

“Yes.”

“It was several years ago for me. That’s all I can say. Please don't ask me anything else. I can’t be responsible for creating a paradox merely to satisfy my own appetite.”

I could do nothing else but look at her, knowing she was experiencing some level of heartache. When her glance shifted to make eye contact with me, she smiled again, attempting to let me know she was okay. This time I took her hand. She let me.

“Did Ryan tell you what happened while we were gone?” I asked.

“He did.”

“It’s fucked up. I mean – whatever we do is obviously going to be successful because I’m lying here talking to you, but I have no idea why. There are still so many unanswered questions. I don’t know why I’m so scared to go through with this.”

I watched Krissie’s pupils shift from side to side. She was studying the expression on my face, and the fear in my eyes. “I will go with you.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Connor didn’t say anything about you coming with us. What if something happens to you too?”

“You’re going to have to take my word for this, when I say I’ve been through much worse as far as The Corporation is concerned. You went to great lengths to take care of me once. Let me watch over you for a change.”

I squint my eyes in uncertainty. “You keep dropping these hints about something significant happening to us, if not between us. Can’t you just tell me what happened?”

“I really want to. I’ll have you know you did the same thing to me, alluding to what is happening now and refusing to tell me because of our sodding code black protocol. You were very protective of me. I could not help but think it was over guilt.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. You were going to tell me the night I had to leave. Circumstances prevented us from seeing each other again before you could say. Something ghastly happens to me, I think, something that hasn’t occurred yet, but will.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t go after all.”

“No, I want to,” she insisted. “What ever happens to me – if indeed something does happen - is supposed to come to pass. I came to terms with this a long time ago.” She was right of course. Attempting to prevent an event we know happens could create a paradox, and Connor frowns upon those. “Besides,” she continued with a superior stance, “I am the ranking medical officer here. If it’s my medical opinion you require observation during your mission, then I am obligated to tag along.”

“So I’m guessing that’s your way of saying arguing with you would be pointless?”

A bigger grin. “Exactly.”

Before I could pursue this witty/flirty banter to see where it went, Ryan charged into my curtained cubicle. “Great, you’re awake,” he said, out of breath. “We have a missing person problem now.”

Krissie discreetly removed her hand from mine. “Who is it?”

“We don’t yet know.”

I scoffed. “Well, then how do you know they’re missing if you don’t know who it is?” I paused briefly, following it with a Cheshire cat grin. “Isn’t that a conundrum?”

The play on words drew a hearty laugh from Krissie. Ryan shook his head with a half grin, rolling his eyes. “No one from the FCA is missing,” he said. “One of the Corporation agent corpses is missing. Lieutenant West, who is acting commander until the Chief wakes up, said the total body count was twelve. When West’s team moved them to the morgue, one was missing.”

“Was it the guy who got his head blown off?” I asked.

“No, it was someone else. We don’t have names for these pukes, so we tagged them John Doe one through twelve. John Doe number eight is missing.”

Krissie said, “Is Jim aware of this discrepancy?

“Yes. He instructed me to make sure you two were safe and accounted for.”

I grinned. “As you can see, we are. Do you think one of them actually lived?”

“The base coroner verified all twelve agents were dead before tagging them,” he replied. “Between that time and his trip to the Coroners office, one disappeared. It either got up and walked away or was stolen.”

I pondered the situation, looking at all the angles. “Has anyone bothered to make sure Martin was alive and secure?”

“Yes, Jim verified it personally. He also ordered additional security where we are holding him. No one gains entry until Connor returns. And I mean no one.”

“The spiritual element,” Krissie said, tapping at her ring finger. “Does Jim still posses it?”

“Yes. And because he does, I suspect one of the agents’ bodies was stolen.”

I cringed. “Who the hell would want to steal a dead body?”

“I think the question should be, ‘who the hell would want to steal a dead Corporation agent’,” Ryan said.

Krissie answered. “Another agent?”

“Exactly,” Ryan said. “Jim is locking down the base again. No one in or out, with the exception of Kevin and me.”

“And me,” Krissie added.

“Dr. Ecklie, I don’t think that’s wise considering—”

“I’m going Ryan, and that’s that!” She said crossing her arms. She pulled the same ‘medical officer’s opinion’ stuff she did with me.

Ryan knew it was a bogus excuse, and sighed in relent. “Okay Krissie, put together whatever you need. We’ll be Jaunting to ES-1 shortly.”

Her eyes lit up. “Earth Station One? Really?”

“Yes.”

“Excellent, I’ll be ready then. Thank you for including me.”

“I don’t recall being given a choice,” Ryan said under his breath as he walked away. Krissie dismissed him and excused herself for a few minutes, leaving me alone with Manyette, who didn’t have a whole lot to say.

I looked at my old friend, who lay silently on the medical bed, his breathing slow and steady, just like Wald. Now two of my oldest and best friends were here, rendered unconscious. “Thanks for letting me use your body, Manyette,” I said, realizing the casual passer by might have misconstrued the statement for something it was not. I cringed at my vague words. “Allow me to rephrase; Thank you for hosting my consciousness so I didn’t die. We see Earth shinin’, dude. Someday I hope you can explain to me what exactly that means.”

An exceptionally loud and annoying buzzer echoed across the building. Based on the reverberation outside, the entire compound got it as well. I covered my ears. A message followed.

“This compound is currently locked down by order of FCA Jim Marks. Off-duty personnel should return to their quarters immediately. On-duty personnel please confine activity to your assigned area. There are to be no personnel outside their assigned building without proper security. There are no exceptions.”

“Except for us,” I said in a mumble. Krissie returned expeditiously, carrying her little black bag of Brüder tricks. “That was quick,” I observed.

She smiled, leaning in to give me a close hug. “I don’t require much to make me happy,” she teased.

“I’ll note that for future reference,” I quipped in return.

“Yes, I imagine you will.” She pulled back and gazed into my eyes.

“Did I feel the same way about you, Kristina? When I will know you, will we be close, like now?”

“Like now?” She repeated. “Are we close now?”

She called my slip. “Sure, why not? I mean were as close as – any two people who…”

“Shut up and kiss me,” she whispered.

To say her kisses were as sweet as candy would not only be cliché, it wouldn’t be enough to describe how it felt. I thought our kiss would last forever. When she finally did pulled back, she said, “Tell me sweetheart, does this help negate the plans you had for that little tart you meant to visit before you found your FutureQuarter?”

“How did you know about…”

“You told me. I know everything you did in the weeks leading up to your sue—”

“Okay Kristina,” I said, interrupting her thought. “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

She put her hands on her tiny waist and feigned a pout. “Fine!” She stood that way for several seconds before bursting out in laughter. “Sorry, love. I’m just having a bit of fun at your expense.” I shook my head and sighed with a smile. “To answer your original question; yes, you and I become close, but not at first. You will need to be patient with me. That’s all I can say. When we meet, you will understand why.”

“Okay,” I said, pulling her closer to me so I could kiss her one more time. The feel of her soft hand on my face was exquisite. I could lose myself in it forever.

Ryan discreetly cleared his throat, bringing us back to reality. He stood at the foot of Manyette’s bed, smiling awkwardly. I felt like a humiliated teenager whose mother walked in on him making out with his girlfriend. We quickly got to our feet, looking around uncomfortably.

“Been here long?” I asked, attempting to balance the situation.

“Long enough,” Ryan said, with a wink. “Don’t worry about it. We do need to get going though.” I felt relieved. Even though I was not officially part of the FCA, breaking any possible rules regarding fraternizing with other FCA would not have given me the best start.

Jim waited for us at the exit door of the medical building, along with Lieutenant West who would be our assigned security for walking about the base during lockdown. He was surprised to see Krissie accompanying our group. He looked at Ryan. “Is Dr. Ecklie joining us?”

“Yes. She feels in her capacity of CMO the wounds Kevin and I sustained should be carefully monitored,” Ryan said, covering for her. I had to respect his loyalty, even if it was for Krissie’s benefit. Jim nodded and said no more, as he always does.

The five of us walked vigorously in silence to the Jaunte building. The vacant compound resembled a ghost town. It was downright creepy. Even with Jim’s status and reputation, security in and out of the Jaunte building was tighter than ever. Instead of the usual two guards at the building entrance, there were four. The tunnel entrance, the portal entrance, and the portal itself also benefitted from additional personnel. Each was ready to use their weapon without hesitation.

Jim would not be accompanying us. Instead, his 1989 counterpart would be participating. He had the lockdown of the base to deal with since Manyette was still unconscious. There was also the matter of the missing Corporation agent body to investigate.

True to Connor’s word, the ‘conundrum’ macro programmed inside the Jaunte system was ready to run. It would take us to ES-1 and leave no trace of the event. Five minutes later, Ryan, Krissie, and I were awake in the ES-1 Jaunte room with two FCA military soldiers pointing their weapons at us. Jim notified Connor and Tom via communicator of our impending arrival. They waited silently in the background while the Jaunte guards verified our identities. Per protocol, the five of us endured the same verification as we left the Jaunte room.

Connor did not seem surprised at Krissie’s inclusion. It led me to believe he knew more about what was coming than he let on, and it bothered me. Not so much his withholding information behind the code black protocol, but his withholding information about what happened after the Corporation snatched me up when I was seventeen. After older Dan surrendered, he revealed something Connor was keeping to himself. I wanted to know what it was.

When the verifications outside the Jaunte room were complete, Connor and Tom shook hands in anticipation of our departure. Tom would leave toward the direction of the lift to take him down into the ES-1 complex. This indicated to me we would be traveling in the opposite direction, towards the hatch into the Arthur Avenue house.

“I will be monitoring your progress,” Tom said to Connor, barely out of earshot range. “I will wait for your call.”

“Thank you, Tom,” Connor said. “We leave as friends.”

“And I you. Good luck TDI-1.” Tom looked over towards the rest of us. “To all of you.” He may have addressed all of us, but he was looking at me.

Connor turned around, walking to the head of the group. “Once we have displaced to July of 1989, we’ll be entering Luke’s house through the hatch into his hobby room. Jim Marks is already there finishing the memory erasing procedures on our two captured agents.”

We walked in silence down the hall toward the ramp leading up to the hatch behind Luke’s hobby room, formerly my father’s workshop. Krissie walked with me, looking over a couple of times to see how I was doing. I didn’t bother to look back. I could only focus on my fear.

We stopped at the top of the hatch ramp, next to the hatch ladder bolted to the end wall.

In a huddle and a flash, Connor took us once again into the past.

IV

Date: Thursday, July 13, 1989

Location: ES-1 Exit Hatch, Arthur Avenue house, Eldersburg, Maryland

Age: 35 (Current)

When we were through, we righting ourselves from the slight stumble of displacement from one time to another. Connor flipped his communicator open and entered the decryption routine to contact Jim.

“Are you a stranger?” Jim asked through the device.

“I come as a friend,” Connor replied. “Things are not as they appear.”

Translation: I am with the FCA and we time traveled to get here.

Connor continued, “We’re under the hatch.”

“Copy,” Jim said. The holographic door comprising the hatch disappeared. Connor climbed up first. He said something to Jim I couldn’t hear. Jim peered down into the tunnel. “Gentlemen, Dr. Ecklie. Come on up.”

The stress of temporal displacement caught up with me again. The mild vertigo began to make me nauseated, in addition to the usual symptoms. Climbing up the ladder through the hatch took more of an effort than I anticipated.

Krissie noticed right away. “Are you okay?”

“That last jump isn’t agreeing with me. The stretching sensation when we went through was more intense this time.”

“When did you last receive a TS-14 injection, hon?”

“I don’t remember. Right after I woke up in Manyette’s body?”

“Before that.”

I struggled to recall. My once sharp memory was not working as well as it used to. Identifying the current day based on the constant of the previous was no longer reliable. That constant was now a variable, changing every few hours. One minute we are in the middle of the afternoon, the next it’s night. It simply never occurred to me to look around and say to myself, ‘gee, I’m in the year 1989’. If I did, I would probably go nuts or suffer from another episode of temporal psychosis. Focusing on what I was doing, and meeting whatever goal needed satisfying kept me from thinking about when I was. It can mess with your head, existing in a different time where everyone you know and love is present, but you can’t have any contact with them. I also didn’t consider those same people who may not yet be alive, or who have passed away. I can’t. It would create a level of unfathomable stress.

“I don’t know,” I finally replied, having been lost in thought for several seconds. “Not since Martin overdosed me, I think.” Krissie glanced away briefly. Evidently, she still had some guilt, even though I assured her it was not her fault. “I’ll be fine,” I said. “I don’t want anymore of that stuff unless I absolutely can’t take the pain. I’ve already been feeling withdraw symptoms.”

Krissie’s eyes widened at my admission. “Why didn’t you say something, sweetheart? I can treat it without making it worse for you.”

The diatribe caught Connor’s attention. “Are you okay, Kev?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said, projecting some annoyance over the unwanted attention. “I promise, if I start feeling sick I’ll say something. I just want to get this shit over with.”

“Understood,” said Connor, leaving it alone.

I followed the group out of Luke’s hobby room into the main basement. An active HMS encapsulated both captured Corporation agents. They were unconscious and bound to the holographic bio beds. Instead of their usual black suits, each wore normal attire, jeans, T-shirts and the like. Luke stood before one of the holographic panels, studying the displayed data.

Connor joined him, reviewing the data as well. “How did the procedures go?”

“By the book,” Luke said. “To be safe, several days’ worth of memories up till their capture could be lost or blocked.”

With repugnance, I looked at the HMS generated machine used to remove memories. “Did they use something like that on me?”

Krissie wrapped her arm around mine. “Most likely,” she whispered.

I looked down at her. “Can you use that set up to fix whatever they did?”

“We’ve tried in on others in the past, love. It’s never been a successful endeavor. The side effects of those failures are not something you want to risk.”

“Fuck,” I said, under my breath.

Connor stared at me as I gazed upon the holographic wonder that could not help me. When I met his stare, he appeared on the verge of saying something. He wanted to say something. Instead, he directed his attention to Jim. “How long?”

“Daniel wants to meet at eleven AM,” Jim said. It would figure Dan was involved somehow. “We should count on him arriving early. Therefore, we should attempt to arrive earlier. Tom is monitoring the entire area. He will signal when there is activity.”

Connor walked around from behind the HMS. “The plan Jim and I have is a simple one. We trade these agents for him, Kevin’s younger counterpart. Dan and I are supposed to meet one on one with no reinforcements.”

“Whoa,” Ryan said, interrupting Connor. “Are you seriously going to meet with The Corporation without backup? You can’t seriously expect them to abide by the same.”

“Of course I don’t. Krissie will accompany me in her capacity as chief medical officer. You, Kevin, and Jim will back us up, visually displaced. If Dan does have backup or attempts anything other than the exchange, you’ll reveal yourselves, fully armed. We know the Corporation has the visual displacement ability, four of their people we know of. They’ll probably use it. I want to be ready for anything.”

I looked at Ryan. “Can you do that? Make Jim and me invisible?”

“The two of you will need to make physical contact with me as I displace.” Ryan looked back to Connor. “Where exactly is the ‘exchange’ taking place?”

Connor sighed, flashing me the same worried look the last time this question came up. “The reservoir.”

My life flashed before my eyes. This was what the huge reveal Connor was hiding. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said, lowly.

The news was about to get worse.

“I pushed for that location,” Connor said.

“You WHAT?”

Connor lowered his head, rubbing his forehead. “This is how it’s supposed to happen. We already know he’s going to recover you from the reservoir, Tom will. We know where. He’s all set to go. The exchange will be a success.”

I had to sit down. I thought I might faint. Krissie sat directly next to me, her arm still wrapped around mine. “It’s okay, love. I’m going to be there too. Any medical attention you need as a young lad, I will give him.”

In a show of camaraderie, Connor approached and took a seat on my opposite side. “Believe me. I understand how you feel, the stress. It’s not the exact same situation, but I went through something similar when they kidnapped me originally, The Corporation. Whatever happens, whatever you see, we’re going to get through it. I’ve seen young men and women come and go through the FCA over the years, and with the sole exception of Ryan, I’ve never seen anyone handle the stress of what we do as well as you have, over the last few days. Not a single person.” I looked up at Ryan, who nodded in agreement. “What we’re about to do will be a piece of cake by comparison. Remember earlier today when I asked you to trust me?”

“Yes.”

“Do you?”

I looked up at Connor’s aged face. There was nothing but sincerity there. “I do.”

“Then trust me when I tell you this will all work out. I pushed for it, the reservoir location, not only because of your recovery location, but for tactical reasons.”

This sparked Ryan’s interest. “How so?”

“They’ve been nosing in and around this section of the reservoir over the last several months here in 1989, The Corporation has. They think there is something here. Our wanting to meet them here could dispel some of those curiosities. Every type of scanner and monitor we have aboard ES-1 is on full. Tracking Bruder-3 after it cloaks – even knowing what we do about that ship now – has still been an ongoing problem. If she shows up today, there is a very good chance we can track her now and figure out exactly where they park her. This’ll reveal its location, The Corporations HQ. We know they have one in Maryland, most likely Baltimore County. Knowing where they hide the ship will be very helpful before its all said and done.”

I looked around the room at all the faces looking back at me. I stopped at Connors. “I’m supposed to be there? You know this for certain?”

“That’s what I think.”

But you don’t know for certain, do you, I thought.

“Okay,” I said against my better nature. “Let’s do it.”

V

It was warm outside, in the lower seventies with no humidity. A typical Maryland summer morning (although my body still felt like it was early evening, the time of day we left 2006). Jim pulled his new car – a 1988 Chevy Cavalier – up to the kitchen door, at the left side of the house. His previous car, the Dodge I left abandoned at the bottom of Arthur Avenue sat in a Maryland State Police impound lot. The police took it away the following day since no one showed up to claim it.

Directly across from the kitchen door, with approximately six feet in between was the door to the basement. We were able to move the Corporation agents from the basement to the car unseen. Jim kept them heavily sedated, ensuring they would not wake up for several hours. He felt this measure necessary to make certain neither one would have any memory of the Arthur Avenue location.

As there was no way to squeeze seven people into Jim’s Cavalier, Connor and Krissie drove the Cavalier with the Corporation agents secure in the backseat. Jim drove the rest of us in Luke’s Toyota. Out of our group, Jim held the only valid driver’s license. Mine would not be legitimate for another seventeen years, and no one else had one. In 2095, there was no need.

Before we left, Connor and Jim demonstrated how to use the communicators in ‘open COM’ mode. There were no fancy holographic tricks this time. I slid a small hearing aid type device into my outer ear. It operated much like a Bluetooth headset, transmitting and receiving from the communicator device in my pocket. When separated, we would be able to hear one another via our communicators. The concept took a bit of getting used to at first, listening to everyone engaged in multiple conversations. The coolest part involved the communicators’ ability to display where each of us was in proximity to one another, in the event we became separated.

Connor and Krissie drove to the south end of Old Liberty Road, taking the beaten path through the pine tree grid to the reservoir shoreline. They carried the Corporation agents into the pine tree grid, securing them to one of the larger trees, away from the path. Connor’s concerned regarding our hostages revolved around their visibility from the shoreline. Should Dan or his agents easily spot them, they could use Brüder-3 to transport them up without living up to their end of the bargain. I didn’t say anything to Connor, but this situation was a breeding ground for a Mexican standoff.

Jim drove our group drove to the other side of the South Liberty Road Bridge and parked in the same area I did when I attempted to rescue Victor from the Brüder-3 crash in 1981. We made the rather lengthy hike to the Brüder-3 remains and awaited the order to proceed north to the reservoir shoreline. At that time, Ryan would visually displace us, hiding our presence.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where we were. The cul-de-sac section of reservoir water where Connor and Krissie were hiking was the same section hiding the underwater ES-1 entrance. The area appeared much smaller when flying above it. Here on the ground, the region was significantly larger in breadth.

Close to a half an hour passed after our arrival at the Brüder-3 wreckage. The time on the communicator said it was only a few minutes past ten in the morning. A lull in the conversation prompted me to ask the obvious question. “When do you guys remove these remains? There is going to come a time when my curious younger self will find his way back here never to rediscover them. It drove him – um, it drove me nuts. I thought I had imagined the whole thing.”

“I do not know,” Jim replied. “Since you have brought it to my attention, it is something I should think about doing. Did you copy Connor?”

“Ten-four,” Connor said in my ear. “It’s a low priority item right now.”

Jim nodded, even if Connor was unable to see him. “Is there anything happening down there?”

“Not a thing. It is a little chillier though.”

What anyone else might have construed as a passing comment on the weather, Jim interpreted differently. “I believe this is a prelude for some form of weather phenomenon to conceal Brüder-3.”

Connor paused. “ES-1, do you copy?”

“Go ahead, TDI-1,” Tom replied.

“Jim believes Brüder-3 may be en route. It’s dropped a few degrees, the temperature. Will you confirm, please?”

Pause. “Confirmed. It is almost sixty eight degrees where you are now.”

“Okay everyone,” Connor said. “This is it. It looks like Dan means to show up early. Ryan, lead your group to the shoreline. Stay twenty feet or so away from edge of the woods. Be ready for anything. When Tom gives the word they are in range, I want radio silence until you hear from me.”

Five different people said ‘copy’, more or less at the same time.

Ryan turned to address us. “Okay, this is going to be a little weird. Once were displaced, the view around you will be distorted. There isn’t anything we can do about that. I will lead you. Take large steps to avoid tripping over anything, because if any of you are separated from me, you’ll be visible. Kevin, you’ll take my grip. Jim, you take Kevin’s. I’m not sure how long it will take to get there, so move quickly, but carefully. Questions?” I had several, but they didn’t pertain to what we were about to do. Consequently, I shook my head no. Jim did the same.

I held out my arm to Jim. He gripped it as football players do when assisting one another up off the ground. I took Ryan’s in the same manner. The aura of green filled my perception of the world. As before, everything appearing distorted through a green filter. This time I noticed a difference in sensory perception. Someone could have taped wax paper around my ears and I would not have known the difference.

Ryan began to walk, with purpose.

“Can you hear me?” I said. I might as well have been speaking into a pillow. My voice was that indistinct.

“Copy,” Ryan replied. “Big steps Kevin, c’mon…keep up.”

“How is this possible?” I asked, giving in to the temptation to ask at the most inappropriate time.

“It’s a very microscopic phase out of space-time,” Ryan said. “We can receive stimulus, although we don’t give any off. To everyone else, we are invisible.”

“Connor can’t hear us on the COM?”

“No, but we can hear him. It also means that if The Corporation has displaced agents out here, we will see them. They won’t be able to contact their ship without revealing themselves. Have your Impüls weapons ready. Fire only if I fire first.”

For invisible people, we made quite a bit of noise tromping through the woods in big steps towards the shoreline. The length we traveled, I don’t know. It took us close to half an hour to reach our goal. If I concentrated hard enough, I could see Connor and Krissie waiting at the edge of the woods.

Ryan tapped out a series of clicks with the communicator.

“Copy, TDI-2,” I heard Connor say. “Fog is beginning to form.”

“ES-1 to FCA team, Brüder-3 is near, repeat; Bruder-3 is near. ES-1 now observing radio silence. Out.”

Minutes passed with no activity. Fog formed around as the temperature dropped and the humidity increased. This was no ordinary fog. There was only one other time I could recall such thick fog. The day the Corporation took me from the reservoir, but that event should already have occurred.

“It’s too bloody quiet,” I head Krissie say through the communicator. “Even the wildlife has gone silent.” She was right. The ambient sound of birds, frogs, and crickets had ceased.

“They’re close,” Connor said, softly.

“Look,” Krissie whispered, “Someone’s coming.”

After several second, Connor said, “Its Dan. He’s walking down the shoreline from the east. He appears to be alone.”

The east? Even with the lower water levels in the reservoir, to come from the east meant Dan would have walked more than several miles of shoreline to get to where Connor was, and there had been no lightning strike disguising the Brüder-3 transporter.

“Ryan,” I whispered. “Something’s wrong. There is no convenient path to the reservoir from that direction.”

“Copy. It’s too late to signal Connor. He’s own his own for now.”

Dan was close enough that I could see him approaching Connor, even through the distorted green view. “You’re early,” Dan said. “I believe we agreed to meet alone? Who is this?”

“This is Dr. Ecklie. She’s my chief medical officer and is here strictly in that capacity. Besides Daniel, I don’t believe for a minute you are here alone, so let’s not play games.”

“Oh, but you are mistaken, Detective MacKenzie. I am here alone.”

“Would this explain the Brüder ship hiding somewhere in this fog bank?” Connor asked. “Don’t insult my intelligence.”

“Of course. My apologies,” Dan said in his deliberately annoying way. “You are correct, but I assure you our ship is not here to interfere with our exchange. The fact is you are here early. Too early, in fact. I had other business here to complete before our prisoner exchange.”

“Really?” Connor asked with no belief in Dan’s explanation. “What exactly would that be?”

“Why don’t you see for yourself,” Dan said. One could hear the smirk on his face.

The air around us became heavy. I knew what that meant. Brüder-3 was nearby. Near enough for her engines to mess with the air pressure. A new voice called out from left of where Connor and Dan were having their palaver. “Did any of you feel that?”

I looked around toward the direction the voice’s origin. Between the displacement distortion, the distance, and the fog in between, I was unable to see any discernable figure. It didn’t matter. I knew who it was. In horror, the realization of what was about to go down caused the blood to drain to my feet. “Oh no,” I whispered.

“Conundrum!” Dan called out. “Is that you?”

“No, my name is--” The voice was cut off.

“Sir,” Connor shouted. “You need to get out of here now! This is a private matter!”

Our guest did not heed Connor’s warning. “Is everyone okay? Do I need to get some help?”

Dan answered him. “Everything here is just fine, my friend. In fact, you are right on time.” Dan paused. He continued in a softer voice. “Target acquired, take him.”

In a panicked voice, Krissie shouted, “Kevin, you need to leave now! Run!”

Ryan’s grip on me tightened. “Oh shit, we fucked this up,” he said under his breath.

I turned to look at Ryan, anger on my face. “They lied to us Ryan, they fucking lied! They don’t have me, they’re about to take me!”

A fearless seventeen-year-old version of me demanded, “How do you know my name?”

I yanked my arm out of Ryan’s grip, my distorted field of vision instantly righting its self. Jim attempted to restrain me, but truly didn’t put up much of an effort. Ryan visually reappeared, attempting to reach out for me. “Kevin, no! Don’t do it.”

I ignored him and sprinted for the tree line, stepping out onto the vast reservoir shoreline. No more than fifty feet in front of me stood my gangly seventeen-year-old self. I looked at him in awe, the messy blonde hair, the bad florescent tie dye T-shirt, and ripped jean shorts. I was never that skinny and unkempt.

“What the hell is going on here?” Dan spat, realizing Connor did not come alone.

No one answered. I couldn’t take my attention off younger me, looking him up and down, jaw agape. He stared back at me, realizing he might be looking at a much older version of himself. “Who the hell are you?” He asked.

“Oh my God,” I said. “This is it.” I wanted to call out to him to run away, to take some kind of cover from what was about to happen to him. I did none of those things. I simply stood there, frozen in place, knowing that young man was about to be snatched up by an ancient alien ship. Any attempt to stop this event would most certainly create a paradox.

“What? Who are you? Seriously.”

I didn’t answer. The sound of the Brüder-3 transporter warming up filled the air with its jet engine scream. The boy in front of me stared up into the sky with no clue about what was happening. Frowning, I began to back away as the screeching sound of the transporter peaked.

He looked back at me, reaching out. “Help me,” he whispered in a small, frightened voice.

The last thing I saw was the terror in my own eyes before the flash of simulated lightning filled our worlds. The force of the explosive transport blew me off my feet, onto my back. Thunder rolled away from ground zero. The force of the impact knocked the wind out me. I clutched at my gut, gasping for air, when what I really wanted to do was cover my ears. I didn’t know which sound was louder, the remnant of the thunderclap or the newfound ringing in my ears. I couldn’t focus or think clearly about anything but the inability to catch my breath. To make matters worse, the sudden flash of lightning left a negative imprint on my corneas, temporarily blinding me. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t regain normal breathing. I struggled to force my diaphragm to relax so I could inhale. Two men picked me up by my arms and dragged me into the woods. I tried to speak. Pitiful gasps were the result.

“It’s okay,” Ryan said. “We have you.”

The green aura of Ryan’s displacement filled my peripheral vision overtop the negative image. Slowly but surely, it began to slowly sparkle away.

“Whats…happ…” I tried to say.

“There are a bunch of Corporation agents chasing Connor and Krissie. They didn’t see me and Jim…” Another lightning strike hit an area further down the shoreline. “Damn!”

I managed to pull in a full breath as the tension in my abdomen began to subside. Random bursts of energy tore through the air, crashing through leaves and branches. “Impüls fire,” Jim said. “Can you stand?”

“I will…if I have too,” I gasped.

Ryan let go of me. The green aura disappeared. I was able to see more clearly, although white sparkles continued to dance across my vision. Standing was not as difficult as I thought it would be.

I could hear shouting in the distance. Additional bursts of Impüls energy tore through the tree branches, higher in orientation. The positioning suggested its origination came from deeper into the woods, on higher ground.

Jim handed me the Impüls I dropped on the shoreline after I went down.

Ryan pointed towards the south. “They took off in that direction, towards the Brüder-3 wreckage. Shoot anything wearing a black suit.” I nodded.

It was a struggle to keep up with Jim and Ryan as we ran deeper into the woods. Energy bursts continued to fly above our heads. I fell far enough behind to lose sight of Jim, and Ryan way too far ahead of me to see him. Out of thin air in a massive green flash, a Corporation agent materialized directly in front of me, his back turned. He meant to fire on Jim or Ryan. There was no physically way for me to avoid running into to him, so I didn’t try. I threw myself on top of him, knocking the weapon out of his hand. He went face down into the ground with the weight of me on top. I rolled off him and fired the Impüls directly into his chest. The force of the blast carried his body across the ground and into a tree. He didn’t get back up. I wasn’t sure if he was dead or unconscious.

Ryan must have heard the commotion. He ran toward me from out of nowhere. “Are you okay?”

“The fucker appeared out of thin air,” I said, between breaths. “I ran into him.”

Ryan picked up the Impüls I knocked out of the agents hand and stuffed it into the front of his pants. “Nice job. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” I said, taking Ryan’s extended hand. He pulled me up to my feet. The once prevalent fog was all but gone, making it much easier to see into the distance.

Another bolt lightning struck the area, father back behind us in the direction of the pine tree grid. Thunder rocked the area. I shook my head. “They just picked up their captured people.”

“Sounds like it,” Ryan said, shrugging off the matter. “C’mon, let’s go.”

We continued to run in the direction of the waning Impüls fire, coming upon another downed Corporation agent. Ryan stopped long enough to put an Impüls burst into the agent’s weapon, shattering it. This left at least three unaccounted agents we knew of. We continued out dash southward through the forest. I could no longer hear traffic from Liberty Road, leaving me with no bearing on where I was.

Ryan stopped running. “Hold on, I want to check something. Don’t move.”

Before I could reply, Ryan disappeared. I stood frozen in place as several second passed. When Ryan reappeared, he had his index finger pressed on his lips, indicating I shouldn’t speak. He pointed off to the left, held up two fingers, and briefly covered his eyes. Two displaced agents were lurking off to the left. I held out my hands and shrugged my shoulders, physically asking ‘what do we do now?’ Ryan looked around, spotting a larger tree we could use as cover. He held out his arm. I took it. We displaced, sending my world once again into a distorted green state. I allowed Ryan to lead me to the tree. He crouched down and indicated I should do the same.

Ryan pressed his lips to my ear and all but mouthed what he wanted to say. “They are displaced and could see us. We wait here until they move closer. I’ll take the one on the left, you the right.” I nodded.

The wait stretched out forever. In reality, it was only a minute, maybe two; time is funny like that. At last, the two displaced agents came into view. I ever so slightly poked my head around the tree to discover them slowly walking in our direction. Within the sea of green displacement distortion, two human shaped images moved carefully, giving off a strong green aura.

Ryan pointed his Impüls, giving me a nod. We fired simultaneously at our respective targets when they cleared the rear of the tree. Both went down and reappeared into normal space-time. Ryan returned us to our normal state. Two black suited female agents lay unconscious on the ground.

“Are they dead?” I asked.

“I doubt it. They’ll be out for hours though, long after we’ve left this place. I think we have one to go.” Ryan brought out his communicator, reopening the open COM line. “Connor, do you copy?” Silence. “Does anybody copy? Come back.”

Krissie answered. “Ryan, where are you?”

Ryan flipped the communicator open and tapped at several holographic buttons. An overlay of the area appeared with two yellow dots in the center, representing Ryan and I.

“I don’t see you on tracking,” Ryan said. “Do you know where you are?”

“I’m hiding underneath the Brüder-3 wreckage. Come get me.”

“Copy, were on our way,” Ryan said. He adjusted the overlay on the communicator display, widening the search radius. The first adjustment produced nothing. The second showed the area of the Brüder-3 remains and a yellow blip representing Krissie.

“That’s almost a mile away,” I said, pointing out the obvious. “What about Connor?”

“Connor isn’t even on the map,” Ryan said. “He may have jumped to another time to prevent capture.” I felt panic wash across my face. “Not to worry. If he did, he’ll be back. We should get Krissie.”

Ryan and I hurriedly hiked the distance to the Brüder-3 debris. Krissie hid underneath one of the larger pieces, positioned to fire on any enemy that should approach.

I knelt down to her. “Are you hurt?”

“No love, I’m fine. A couple of near misses here or there.” I helped Krissie out from underneath the heap and held her close. Krissie glanced at Ryan, then me. “Where is Jim?”

“I don’t know,” Ryan said. “We became separated. He was headed in this direction.”

“He never got here,” Krissie said.

Ryan widened the search parameter on his communicator to encompass two miles. Neither Jim nor Connor appeared on the layout.

A speck of bright light appeared above the remains of Bruder-3. I knew what that light meant, the hovering miniature star. Connor was about to displace. The three of us backed up a respectable distance. The speck flashed, encompassing the entire pile of wreckage. Then nothing. The wreckage and the light were gone. Before I could contemplate asking Ryan what just occurred, a burst of the same ultra bright light flashed and disappeared, leaving Connor in its place.

I looked at Ryan. “You were right.”

“Where did you go?” Ryan asked.

“I took the agent who was chasing me to a future point in time, as I couldn’t outrun him. In his confusion and sickness, I incapacitated him right there, underneath the remains of Brüder-3 at some point in 2032,” Connor said, flashing an evil grin. “What’s the story here?”

Ryan answered. “The good news is we took out four other agents. I think that’s all of them. There were two other lightning strikes. One we think was to reclaim their people at the pine tree location. The other must have recovered Dan. The bad news, Jim is unaccounted for. We thought he might be with you.”

Connor’s smirk quickly disappeared beneath serious worry for his missing mentor. “Have you searched for him yet?”

“He doesn’t appearing on tracking,” Ryan said. “My guess? Something happened to his communicator.”

“Agreed,” said Connor, rubbing his chin. “Okay. Let’s form a line, fifty foot spread back down to the shoreline. Absolute silence until we find Jim. They might still be out there, other agents.”

We formed a 200-foot long line, each of us at a fifty-foot interval and began the slow trek back to the shoreline. I couldn’t see the status of the others. As for me, I held onto the Impüls as if my life depended on it, ready to fire at anything in a black suit.

Within minutes, Krissie discovered him, calling out for Connor. Jim took a hit from enemy fire, knocking him several feet back from where he once stood. Both his communicator and weapon lay in pieces. He was alive but unconscious and not responding to stimuli. Connor knelt next to him, appearing angry, and cold. “Did they soul suppress him?”

“I don’t know,” Krissie said. “My gear is in the car.”

Connor looked around carefully. “We should go before more of those bastards show up. Brüder-3 is still around. It’s going to return younger Kevin in the next hour. Tom will retrieve him and drive him to the hospital.”

No one disagreed. Connor carefully carried Jim over his shoulder as we walked in silence, hiking our way southeast to Luke’s car parked on the side of Liberty Road. Several times, Connor attempted unsuccessfully to raise Tom on his communicator. He was M.I.A., probably en route to prep for saving younger me. No one said it, but we knew Tom should have his communicator on him, or perhaps he was in a position where radio silence was necessary.

When we reached the Honda, Connor laid Jim upright in the backseat next to Krissie and Ryan. He opted to ride shotgun, leaving the job of driving to me. We returned to Jim’s car so Krissie could reclaim her medical bag. She quickly determined Jim was not soul suppressed. However, the Impüls fire he sustained was substantial. He would be out until he woke up on his own, with no ETA when that might be. With no one to drive it, Jim’s car would have to wait for retrieval. Connor begrudgingly instructed me to drive Luke’s car into Eldersburg, with care not to attract undue attention, specifically that of the police.

With his hand over his closed eyes, Connor spoke. “Obviously, this mission didn’t go as planned. Tom is supposed to be tracking it, Brüder-3, and he still might be through his communicator. My not being able to contact him however is a problem, a variable I didn’t expect. Since I don’t know what’s going on with him, we have no way of knowing if The Corporation is tracking us, currently. I also didn’t expect to have a man down, in Jim. We can’t go back to the Arthur Avenue location, or ES-1. If they are tracking us, The Corporation, and I believe they probably are, we’ll need to regroup someplace else until Tom makes contact.”

“What about Jim’s place?” Ryan asked.

“No,” Connor said, almost before Ryan finished the question. “We don’t want to lead The Corporation there, even if they claim to know where he lives.” Connor looked at me. “Are there any motels in Eldersburg during this era?”

“No,” I said, frowning.

Connor half grinned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m seventeen in this time. When kids my age want to get a hotel room, we have to go all the way to Westminster. Eldersburg has none. The first one doesn’t get built until 1997.”

Connor sighed in frustration. “I really didn’t want to travel that far away from ES-1. If we get involved in events of this era, well…I don’t have to tell you why. We’ve done no research from the observatories. I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing now.”

“There is a shitty little motel called the Red Barn Inn in Westminster,” I said. “It’s a dumpy hole in the wall. I know exactly how to get there unnoticed.”

“So be it,” Connor said. “There is to be no interaction with any of them, the people of this era, if you can possibly help it. I’ll deal with getting us a room at the Inn.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why not just take us to some date in the future and regroup there?”

“I will as a last resort,” Connor said. “We’ll wait for Tom to contact us. Once he returns to ES-1 and makes sure the area is not under Corporation surveillance, we’ll be able to return to 2006 using protocol. If worse comes to worst, we’ll displace to some point after the war and deal with them then, the risks.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Risks? What other risks would there be?”

“Even if we displace to some future time, where there is no longer a functioning society, we still have to get back to ES-1 safely. After the war, moving from place to place on this side of The Boundaries isn’t as easy as you might think, where there is a huge Corporation presence.”

“Why not displace closer to Eldersburg?” I asked. “It’s closer to ES-1.”

“Assuming we could find a safe location to do that without being seen, and assuming they are tracking us, The Corporation, falling off their radar so close to ES-1 might raise suspicion. It’s obvious they suspect there’s something there worth investigating, around the reservoir. I don’t want to give them any more cause for curiosity.” Connor grinned. “Not to worry, it won’t come to that. It’s part of the job, patience.”

VI

Five hours later, when 3:00 PM rolled around, Connor’s patience was beginning to run out. Jim had not yet regained consciousness. Tom still had not checked in and wasn’t responding to any queries. Connor believed should Tom be avoiding ES-1 over fear of someone following him, he would have notified him as such.

Connor checked our group into two separate – but adjoining – rooms at the Red Barn Inn using era specific money from Jim’s wallet. Protocol allowed Tom twenty-four hours to make contact before he would officially be declared missing in action. It meant we would be spending the night in Westminster, Maryland of 1989. I was fine with this, to be honest. Most of our group was pushing close to twenty-four hours without sleep. Even though it was mid afternoon, my body insisted it was closer to midnight and demanded rest.

Krissie was the first to succumb to fatigue. She excused herself to the adjoining room and immediately fell asleep on one of the two available twin beds. Connor and Ryan sat around the small table at the front of the next room, discussing possibilities for Tom’s radio silence and feasible options should he not make contact by 10:00 AM tomorrow.

As for me, I lied down on the twin bed closest to the table and drifted off to sleep, a very light sleep by its rawest definition. I could hear the ongoing conversation, but it was far off. So much so, there came a point where I couldn’t distinguish reality from an oncoming dream, the point in semi-consciousness when time itself means nothing. An hour could go by in a minute, or even a second. I could literally feel the pressure of the day’s events seeping out of my head, recharging my brain for the next day’s worth of input.

Then there was silence, deafening silence. Connor finally broke it. “We could contact Martin.”

I opened my eyes, already facing the direction of the roundtable. Ryan barked off an unmistakable, “No!”

I sat up, propping myself on my elbows. “Did I hear you right?” I asked. “You want to contact Martin? How is that even possible?”

Connor turned to make eye contact. They were sunk into his skull, circles of black underneath. “It happened two months ago, the riot at Cranberry Mall, by this time index. That’s when I rescued Martin and brought him to 2062 - where Robert and I were living at the time – and saved his life. This was before we had Krissie. Martin stayed with us for a while, to finish what we were working on back then. I brought him back to his current time index after that, to June of 1989, close to a month after I took him away. Martin has work to do here, until 1993, and then until 2003, before he’ll join us 2076.”

“None of that makes sense to me,” I said, flatly.

“It’s okay,” Connor said, reassuring me with a tired chuckle. “It would take more time than we have, to paint the entire picture. Martin is in this era now, as an eighteen-year-old boy, and not the forty nine year old guy you met. The Corporation has not gotten to him yet.”

Ryan scoffed. “Or so you hope, sir.”

Connor gave Ryan an annoyed look. “Statistically speaking, the odds are so high it might as well be impossible.”

“I think he’s ‘trusting his gut’ again, Ryan,” I said, smirking.

Connor pointed at me with a grin. “You got it.” I thought it was a grin, but as I was seeing double of everyone, I couldn’t say for sure. I was more tired than I thought. “So what could Martin do for us?”

Connor paused, unsure of how to answer. “He could go back there, to ES-1 and see what the hell is going on. I could raise him on his communicator and give him instructions. The Corporation is not watching him.”

“No,” Ryan said, “You cannot do that.”

Connor appeared momentarily dazed. “You’re absolutely right, old friend. Thank you.”

“Why can’t Martin do that?” I asked.

Ryan answered. “Martin can’t have any memory of ES-1 due to his future involvement with The Corporation. None of us should. It was supposed to remain a secret.”

“This is why I have the team I do,” Connor said looking back in my direction. “Under normal circumstances, these temporal displacement missions involve careful planning, down to the second to avoid the mistake I almost made. I’ve been awake too long. I’m not thinking clearly.”

“You should get some sleep,” Ryan suggested. “We all should.”

I stood up to adjourn to the next room. “No argument there. I’m out.” I walked into the adjoining room. Krissie was long asleep on the bed by the door. I flopped onto the other bed and fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

VII

My sleep may have been deep, but it was restless all the same. If I had dreams, I didn’t remember them. The only thing I remember was waking up suddenly with Krissie spooned next to me, dressed only in her underwear and bra. I felt the blood rush to my extremities giving me a pleasurable sparkle.

“Kristina?” I whispered.

“Kevin,” she whispered in reply.

“What are you doing?”

“Cuddling up to you, sweetheart. I feel safer.” I bit my lip. I would never get back to sleep with a raging formation in my pants. She turned in the bed to face me. “We’re all alone,” she said softly. “Everyone else is asleep.”

“So I gathered.”

“Do you want me?” She asked with her sweet smile, those twinkling blue eyes staring deep into mine. I didn’t know how to answer her question any other way then ‘yes’.

“I…um, Kristina, this is a weird time for…”

“You didn’t answer my question, love.”

I sighed and leaned forward to kiss her. She kissed back with the intensity of a lightning strike. She rolled over, lying on top of me. Her firm breasts pressed against me, her long red hair falling into my face as we kissed deeply. She was doing all the things I liked, things that turned me on. It was information I must have shared with her when she knew me previously. She sat up, grabbed my hands, and placed them on her breasts. She bit her bottom lip with a soft moan. I was so ready to give in, and to hell with any rules or protocols forbidding these kinds of incidents, if any. I wanted her, now.

“I do,” I finally managed to say.

An evil grin crept across her face. “You do what?”

“Want you.”

“Then tell me Kevin, tell me what you want and maybe I will grant your wish.”

“I want you Kristina,” I whispered in her ear as she leaned down onto me, dangling her hair in the process. “I want to make love to you, Kristina.”

Kristina. Christina.

I want to make love to you, Christina.

Images of a different girl filled my head, one I had not seen since 1989. Christina Buchanan. We dated during the last half of my senior year of high school and part of the summer of 1989. Echoes of my seventeen-year-old self repeated the same sentence over and over again, ‘I want to make love to you, Christina.’

It all came back to me at once: The morning in choir class when Myer, Manyette, and I found the quarter, Brüder-3, Victor Merrick, Dan and his interrogation, everything I endured while I was a Corporation prisoner aboard Brüder-3.

I remembered.

All of it.

I sat straight up, wide eyed and gasping, nearly knocking Krissie off the bed. “I remember now,” I whispered.

“The missing day?”

“Yes.” I knew things. Things Connor needed to know. “We need to wake others.”

VIII

“I’m not sure where to start,” I said, sitting at the round table in the other motel room. Krissie – now fully dressed - sat next to me, holding my hand. Connor and Ryan sat across from me. Jim, still off in sandman land lied still on the bed farthest into the room, breathing deeply.

“At the very beginning,” Connor said. “Leave nothing out, no matter how insignificant you think it is.”

IX

I took a breath and began to speak.


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