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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XXV - Anamnesis

“The recollection or remembrance of the past.”

*

Date: Thursday, July 13, 1989

Location: Liberty Reservoir, Eldersburg, Maryland

Age: 17

*

I

Here I was again, yet another summer morning with nothing to do. My girlfriend (well, sort of girlfriend.) was away in Ocean City with her family for the week. We hadn’t been getting along so well recently. Christina Buchanan amounted to one of those dreaded ‘I need my space’ kind of girls. As any guy knows, it is the excuse their girlfriend uses when she wants to see other people, without actually giving him up. In my case, Christina laid this information on me the night before she left for Ocean City. It meant she was probably fucking one of the longhaired hippie douche bags who ran the Photon arena. Teenage girls seemed drawn to them, probably due to their self-perceived ‘elite’ status as a Photon employee. Sadly, in the month that followed when she finally served me the official Walking Papers, I would come to find out I had been right on the money about why she really wanted her space. After all, what teenage girl goes to the beach tied down to one person?

Christina was another disappointment in a long line of disappointments I have come to call the opposite sex. As was my habit when feeling troubled over the fickle ways of whomever I was dating, I would drive to one of the inlets of the Liberty reservoir and walk the shoreline to kill time, and think.

There was also the matter of that huge pile of junked equipment I found yesterday. I wanted to…no; I needed to take a better look at what exactly I discovered. At first, it didn’t occur to me to be overly curious about it. This is Carroll County after all. You couldn’t throw a rock in these parts without hitting a silo or a hay barn. It was common for owners of old run down equipment to abandon it in some remote location where it would eventually rust and decompose back into the Earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It wasn’t until I returned home that evening and gave the matter additional thought that I realized I couldn’t identify what I had seen. Three huge piles of twisted rusty metal jutted from the ground, giving no discernable shape. As hard as I tried, I could remember no specific detail about the structures. I wish I had taken more time to closer study that find, because I will never find it, or see it again.

This day, I would snake my way along the shoreline of Liberty reservoir from an inlet off the south bridge and into the woods on the far side of the water. The same route I traveled yesterday when I stumbled upon that pile of trashed old junk.

I parked on the south end of Old Liberty Road. It dead-ended into an over grown mess of bushes and plant life. From there I would journey to the reservoir on foot. It wasn’t a long walk to the water. I would need to travel through the abandoned pine tree farm to do it. Rows upon rows of pine trees planted in such a way to create a grid. No matter which direction one looked, there was an endless line of old pine trees, stretching to the sky. It was fascinating to watch as I walked, the way the trees seemed to be in perfect symmetry to each other. The only thing that bothered me about being there amid that grid was the same anxious feeling of doom, death, and panic I felt when dealing with the basement and pool pump nook of my old house on Arthur Avenue. I believed the interconnection of these instances to be no coincidence. It was no natural phenomenon.

The walk to the water’s edge from the pine tree grid was no longer than five minutes, give or take. I stood on the shoreline of the reservoir, for lack of a better description. The drought of the dry spring and summer left the reservoir dangerously low. So low in fact that in several places, any given person could cross to the opposite shoreline completely on foot.

The summer morning weather was perfect for a stroll or an exploratory mission, a nice seventy degrees, with no humidity. The sky was clear crystal blue, with the exception of a few stray cumulus clouds towards the south. The very same direction I would be heading after I walked the shoreline around the cul-de-sac of reservoir water. It was low, but not low enough to walk across as the crow flies to the woods on the other side.

I walked south on the shoreline for close to an hour thinking about my turbulent love life. Ultimately, it boiled down to sex versus drama. ‘Love’ was not part of the equation at this point as I was beyond certain there was no love on Christina’s part. What I felt was irrelevant. There was no reciprocation on her part. Anything I felt that resembled love would only cause me more pain, leaving only sex.

During that first hour, a thin fog began to appear while I was lost in thought. The farther south I looked, the thicker the fog became. I looked up towards the cumulus clouds, noting they were still there. Something seemed amiss with this situation. The air didn’t seem cold to me, so why fog had rolled in was a meteorological mystery.

The south most point of the shoreline where I would enter the woods was less than a mile away now. The fog didn’t let up during my walk. If anything, it thickened as I went. It became so bad I could literally no longer see my hand in front of my face.

When I reached the point where my trip would take me into the woods, the fog blocked out the sky. Twenty feet into the woods, the fog all but disappeared. Easily, this weather phenomenon was the freakiest I’d ever witnessed. Curiosity drove me to investigate further. I walked further south toward the site of the junked equipment, all the while keeping the fogged up shoreline within eyeshot. After a few minutes, I needed to make a decision. Continue deeper into the woods to search for the junk site, or return to the shoreline and the mystery fog.

I decided to give the shoreline one last look before disappearing into the woods. Upon return to the shoreline, I heard voices far off to the right through the cotton like fog. I couldn’t hear exactly what they were saying, sufficed to say they were loud enough to discern a disagreement in progress. Early morning fishing was a common practice around the reservoir, so chances were a group of anglers was having a spat about one thing or another, probably over whether or not to continue fishing in this unearthly fog. I walked carefully and quietly closer to the group of voices with the ultimate goal of introducing myself, to let them know I was in the area. Oddly enough, the closer I walked to them, the thinner the fog became. Eventually I could begin to see three of them. The one wearing a black suit stood alone, arms crossed. His body language suggested defense as he protected his personal space. Who the hell would wear a black suit to go fishing? The other two stood apart from the suited man, keeping their distance. My original hypothesis looked as if it was the correct one. There was an ensuing confrontation. I also couldn’t help but notice the person standing closest to me was a very beautiful woman with flowing red hair.

I was about to make my presence known when the weirdest thing happened. The air around me became ‘heavy’, as if the gravity increased by half. It gave me a mild case of vertigo. Surely, the others must have felt it too. I urgently began to walk over to them. The man in the black suit noticed me first.

“Did any of you feel that?” I asked. The red head and her companion looked surprised – and shocked - to see me, and not in a good way.

The man in the black suit spoke, “Conundrum? Is that you?”

“No,” I replied. “My name is --” The red head lifted her hand to her mouth in panic, indicated to me that I should keep quiet.

Her companion then spoke to me, “Sir, you need to get out of here, now! This is a private matter.”

“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “Do I need to get some help?”

The suited man smiled. There was something phony about it, something phony about him. “Everything here is just fine, my friend.” He withdrew a small walkie-talkie like device and turned away to speak into it. I was unable to hear what he said.

The red head looked terrified. “Kevin, you need to leave, now! Run away as fast as you can and hide.” What a beautiful British accent she had.

“How do you know my name?” I asked, more concerned these strangers knew who I was versus my actual safety. Yet another man stepped out of the tree line, staring at me as if I were the grim reaper himself. His wardrobe of jeans, white-collar shirt, and black sports jacket caught my attention, the same wardrobe I preferred to wear during cooler weather. In his right hand, he held some kind of futuristic looking weapon.

The appearance of this individual caught the black suited man off guard. “What the hell is going on here?”

The man in the sports jacket stared me up and down, jaw dropped. I couldn’t help but stare back. Maybe it was the fog, but I could have sworn I was looking at a much older version of myself, complete with significantly longer hair and a goatee.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked, squinting in an attempt to see him better.

“On my God,” he said, ignoring my question. “This is it.”

I was completely confused. “What? Who are you? Seriously.”

The silence of this unusually foggy morning broke with the sound of a jet engine slowly roaring to life. I looked up into the sky expecting to see some kind of aircraft. There was nothing there, save for thick fog.

The older mirror image of me stood there, frowning. He made no effort to ward me away. Instead, he slowly backed off as the screaming noise above us peaked. The other three people scattered, taking cover within the woods. Impending doom washed over me. I was terrified to the point of immobility, literally scared stiff. I reached out my hand. In a small, frightened voice I said, “Help me.”

Blinding white light enveloped my world, accompanied by the sound of an explosion. The experience was a painless sensation of stretching across a great distance. The white light twinkled away, revealing a new location.

II

I was no longer standing on the shoreline of the Liberty reservoir.

I didn’t know where I was.

The shift in location was confusing. It took a few seconds to regain my thought processes, since they had been broken apart and shaken up by the near instantaneous change in reality. Upon coherency, I realized two people - a man and a woman - wearing black suits were standing in front of me. Both pointed weapons in my direction, the same kind weapon Sports Jacket Guy carried.

Cautiously, I asked, “Where the hell am I?”

“Move,” the suited man said, waving his weapon to indicate I should step down off the platform upon which I stood. I raised both my hands into the air. I did as he asked, stepping down onto the floor. The air around us pressurized, knocking me slightly off balance. The black suited female grabbed the back of my shirt and forced me out of the room. I turned my head to look over my shoulder. The platform I stepped off of disappeared behind a red force field. At least I think it was a force field. The black suited man pushed his weapon into my back, silently suggesting I should look forward and continue to move.

This had to be a dream. It was all too surreal to be reality. The only logical explanation I could come up with involved something happening to me on the shoreline of the reservoir, resulting in my losing consciousness. What I was experiencing now was the ensuing dream.

The two well-dressed guards escorted me through a series of short hallways. The walls were not really walls, however. They appeared to be force fields, transparent blue, instead of red. They were fogged over just enough to prevent one from seeing what was on the other side. It was like nothing I’d ever seen.

“Where am I?” I asked, attempting to sound cooperative.

“No questions,” the female guard insisted, tightening her grip on my shirt.

We approached the end of the current hallway. To my right, the outline of a door appeared within the clouded blue wall of energy, accompanied by an intricate control panel. The male guard tapped at a series of holographic keys labeled with letters of the old German alphabet, similar to Suetterlin script. The half semester of German I took during my last year in high school was not a total waste after all.

The force field door disappeared, revealing a long upward flight of stairs also force field in nature. A much larger room awaited at the top of the stairway, divided into a series of individual jail cell sized units. A transparent yellow force field partition separated each unit. I forgot myself, engrossed by the futuristic style technology. The female guard said something in German, causing the front of the cell before me to disappear. She pushed me in, speaking another command to close it. They left they way we came, leaving me by myself.

I reached out to touch the blue force field wall before me.

“You might not want to do that,” a voice advised. I jumped backward, clutching at my chest. Sitting in a corner of the cell to my left, dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, a kid close to my age shook his head.

“You scared the shit out of me!” I snapped.

“Sorry,” he said, indifferently. “If you touch that wall long enough, it’ll start to hurt.”

I put my hand down. “Thanks,” I said cautiously. “Do you know where we are?”

The kid chuckled apathetically. “I’d tell you, but you won’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“You’re on a space ship,” he replied in the same uncaring tone. I blinked in surprise and finally laughed. He smiled back. “I told you.”

“Who are you? How do you know this?”

“My name is Victor. I’d shake your hand, but…” He gestured toward the yellow tinted force field separating us. “These people - they call themselves The Corporation - kidnapped me…um, what day is this?”

“Thursday.”

“No, the whole date,” he asked, correcting himself.

“I think it’s the 13th of July. 1989”

Victor stared off, frowning. “It’s only been two months? Fuck.”

“You’ve been here for two months?” I asked in disbelief. “How is that possible? Somebody has to know you are missing.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Victor said, clearly dejected. “Even if my parents and friends are looking for me, they won’t find me.”

“What do these people want with you?” I asked. “They must want you for something.”

Victor looked back at me, shaking his head. “I have no clue. I wish I did. Maybe then some of this would make sense.” Victor’s answer didn’t install optimism in me. If this poor bastard had been here for two months and didn’t know why, then I couldn’t imagine my situation being any better. “What’s your name?”

“Kevin,” I said, sitting down on the floor that too was a force field, the blue foggy sort.

“Do you know why you are here?”

“No,” I said, recalling the events of the morning to my new friend.

When I described the little guy in the black suit with the walkie-talkie, Victor interrupted my monolog. “His name is Dan. As far as I can tell, he’s in charge of the stuff that goes on around here. He’s also a real asshole.”

“So then this other guy comes out of the woods and freaks out when he sees me. They all know my name, which doesn’t seem possible. This guy - I swear he looks just like me, or at least what an older version of me might look like - goes on about a day he can’t remember. Then the noise began. It sounded like a dying jet airplane.”

Victor nodded. “And then the white light, the thunder and the twinkling lights.”

“Yeah,” I said, surprised. “That happened to you to?”

“It’s a kind of transporter system. Its how they send people to and from this ship when it’s in the air.”

I paused. “You’re serious, aren’t you? This really is some kind of space craft, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Without any warning, the solid black wall our cell walls extended from, what I assumed to be the hull of the ship, flashed like a strobe.

I jumped back from it. “What the hell was that?”

“That was the transporter. Someone just came up, or left. I can never tell which.”

“Is it alien? Are there aliens on board?” I asked, caught somewhere between fear and excitement.

“I’m not really sure. I’ve not seen any aliens, just people in black suits. Maybe they’re aliens, I don’t know. Whatever The Corporation is, this ship belongs to them.”

“It’s more advanced than anything I’ve ever seen,” I mused. “All these force fields, and a transporter system?”

“They’re not really force fields. The little information I’ve managed to get from Dan amounts to everything here being holographic.”

I felt my eyes bug out in fascination. “Holographic? Jesus Christ, that’s not even been invented yet.”

Victor carelessly tossed his hand about. “As you can see, it has.”

Dan and the two guards who escorted me here moments earlier appeared at the top of the stairwell leading into our row of cells. They approached my cell. Dan stood in front with his phony smile. I stood up to face him, staring him down.

“Oh my,” Dan said. “If looks could kill.”

Victor scoffed. “Then you would have been dead a long time ago, fuckwad.”

Dan let out a psychotic giggle. “Come now Mr. Merrick, we’ve taken very good care of you. Why must you be so astringent?”

“Compensating for your small dick with big words again, Danny?”

This drew more laughter from our jailor.

“You’ll have to excuse Mr. Merrick,” Dan said, giving me a small wink. “I suppose these accommodations don’t agree with him, even though he has everything he could ever want here.”

Victor scoffed again. “Except my freedom.”

Dan ignored him, focusing his attention to me. “Good morning Conundrum, it’s nice to see you again.”

Short of the civil introduction, nothing else Dan said made any sense. “Dan?” I asked. He nodded, grinning. “You’ll have to excuse my ignorance here, but nothing about what you just said means a thing to me. My name is Kevin, not Conundrum and I’m one hundred percent certain we’ve never met. So if it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to ask you a question.”

Dan spread his hands. “Please. Although I make no promises about giving you an answer. Understand if I do, it will be honest one. Agreed?”

I looked over a Victor, who continued to sit in the corner, unimpressed. He nodded. “I will give our host credit where credit is due. If you can ask a question he’ll answer, he won’t lie about it.”

Dan looked down towards Victor. “Thank you sir, I appreciate your honesty as well.” Dan turned back to me. “What we must accomplish here will go quite smooth if we understand one thing. I will give you honest answers and you will give me honest answers. Otherwise, this process could become uncomfortable for all of us. Oh, and I should probably tell you, if you decide to tell a lie, I will know. That’s why I do so love this ship of ours. It has the coolest technology you could ever hope to dream of, including the ability to see right through a lie. You might say we have the perfect lie detector. This ship can measure every vital statistic you have and more. It knows when you’re fibbing.”

That scared me. I believe Dan implied in a civil way if I lied, I would be hurt. “How does that work?”

“You want to try it out?” Dan asked, with enthusiasm. “Certainly! Computer, engage safety protocol, grid four.” The ship chirped in compliance. “Now, I’ll ask you two questions. Answer the first one honestly and lie about the other. Understand?” I nodded. “Very good. First, is your name Kevin?”

“Yes,” I replied. The color of the yellow holographic partition flashed green and returned to its normal yellow. I stared at the wall in awe. “Fascinating,” I whispered.

“It is, isn’t it?” Dan asked rhetorically. “Next, are you a male or a female?”

I grinning, knowing I would lie. “Female.”

The color of partition flashed an angry red, and returned to normal.

“Here’s what you don’t know Kevin, had the safety protocol not been engaged your lie would have been followed by a particularly uncomfortable jolt. Not very painful at first, kind of like a warning. The intensity increases exponentially. Do you understand?”

“Yeah,” I said reverting to my hard stare.

“Computer, disengage safety protocol, grid four,” Dan said. The ship complied with its happy chirp. “Now, your question?”

“You implied we’ve met before,” I said. “When was that? What do you want with me?”

“Well Kevin, it’s complicated. I’ve already met you. Well, you twenty years from now by your timeline give or take.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. The partition flashed green.

Dan beamed. “See, I told you its fool proof. Of course you don’t understand. It’s not happened for you yet. After today, you won’t see me again until you are thirty-five. I’ve already met that future version of you.”

“You’re a time traveler?” I asked in a whisper.

Dan threw his head back and laughed. “No, no, no! You have it all backwards. You are the time traveler! Well, you aren’t yet, but somehow, someday, you will be.”

“And what happened when we met? Were we nemeses? Is your kidnapping me now a result of that meeting?”

“Our original meeting was just a coincidence. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, people I was looking for. I had no beef with you. I was looking for an anomaly in the form of a special quarter. My employer would really like to have that quarter back since technically it was stolen from them.”

“Who stole it?” I asked.

“I’m sorry Kevin, but on the advice of my employer, I decline to answer,” Dan said.

Victor chuckled. “Better get used to that answer Kevin. You’ll be hearing it a lot.”

Dan continued to ignore Victor. “That quarter belongs to a group of folks who call themselves the IA. They contacted the top people in my organization—”

I interrupted him, “You mean The Corporation, don’t you?” I wanted to see if my knowledge of information Dan had not yet shared would rattle him.

Dan pasted that shit eating grin across his smug face. “I see you’ve been talking to Mr. Merrick over there. Very good. Continuing, The IA contacted the top level folks at The Corporation about this matter and impressed upon them the importance of finding the anomaly again. The task of accomplishing this goal fell upon me. Now, since the charge of locating and inviting Mr. Merrick into our program was already mine, I suppose they figured I was the best man for the job.”

Victor laughed. “Yeah Danny, considering your string of failures I can’t see how you’re the ‘best man’ for anything, except maybe for the grim reaper’s nuptials should he ever decide to get hitched.”

The jab had Dan howling in laughter. “Oh Victor, I do enjoy our time together. Beyond any doubt, you are the funniest person I know. I will miss you.”

With this new information about his future possibilities, Victor asked, “What the hell is that supposed to mean, Daniel?”

“Sorry Mr. Merrick, but on the advice of my employer, I decline to answer,” Dan said with emphasis, probably to annoy Victor.

Victor looked at me with his hands spread. “See? What did I tell you?” He then looked back at Dan. “Did I hear you right? You ‘invited me into your program’? I guess my invite got lost in the mail. The way I remember it, you kidnapped me from the parking lot of Cranberry Mall. That’s hardly what I would call an invitation.”

“Hindsight Mr. Merrick, I did you a big favor. I’ll bet you didn’t know that an hour later all hell broke loose there. A race riot started in the food court that spread throughout the mall like a virus. It was a bloody mess with people receiving death for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Dan turned to me again. “Something you seem to have a problem with, Kevin”

“I was there that night,” I said. The lie detector system flashed green. “I damn near got killed in the process of trying to get out.” The wall flashed green again.

“Really? Fascinating,” Dan quipped. His tone indicated he could have cared less. “It’s good to know that you’re an honest fellow. Let’s continue along those lines, shall we?”

“Whatever gets me out of here,” I said.

Dan flashed his shitty grin. “Well, we’ll have to see about that. It’s not up to me who stays and who goes. Now, do you have our quarter?”

I paused, unsure of what Dan was asking. “I don’t know,” I said. It was an honest reply. The green flash came and went verifying this.

“Fair enough,” Dan replied. “Do you have any money on you at this moment?”

“Maybe, I don’t know what’s in my wallet.” Green flash.

“May I see your wallet, please?” Dan asked. I withdrew the pouch of black Velcro from my rear pocket. “Please toss it to the ground and kick it to me. When I lower the force field I expect you to remain where you are, otherwise my associates here will have to take some measures which I am sure you’ll find unpleasant.”

I tossed the wallet toward Dan and raised my hands again to demonstrate my good faith. “No problem.”

Dan retrieved the wallet with a few commands to the ship, lowering and raising the cell door. The guards never took their weapons off me. He flipped through the few dollars I had in there and inspected each coin with the utmost attention. Whatever it is he wanted, he did not find. Dan appeared visibly frustrated.

“Here’s the problem, Kevin. The information I have indicates the last known location of the anomaly in your possession. It’s a quarter stamped with the year 2025.” My eyes widened. Dan wanted that phony quarter I found in the chorus room with Manyette and Myer earlier this year. Dan smirked. “I see you know exactly what I am asking about.”

“Yeah, I do actually,” I said, followed by a green flash from the cell wall. “Some friends and I found it in the back of a classroom last January along with a supposed note from the future.” The walls flashed green.

Dan’s eyes hardened. He was attempting to conceal surprise. “Really?”

I decided to throw it back in Dan’s face. “On the contrary, I see you know exactly what I am talking about.”

“Partially. I didn’t know about the existence of the quarter in that location. Had I, I would have simply taken it myself. I do believe I am the recipient of some faulty information. I’ll have to look into that.”

“Uh oh,” Victor added with jeer. “Somebody is going to get their ass kicked.”

Dan walked over to Victor’s cell to confront him. “Would it interest you to know Mr. Merrick, the source of that information came from your best friend, Martin Wexler.”

Victor leapt up off the floor, standing as close to the force field that separated them as he could, without touching it.

“Fuck you Daniel, I don’t believe you. Martin would never do anything for you people.”

“Settle down Mr. Merrick, before you hurt yourself,” Dan said in suggestion. “Have I ever lied to you? I thought we were past this.”

Victor backed off. “Okay, explain to me then how Martin works for you. I mean, since I know the guy better than he knows himself, I know he would never ‘help the bad guys’ so to speak. Explain it to me Dan. I would really like to know.”

“Sorry Mr. Merrick, but on the advice of my employer, I decline to answer.”

“BASTARD!” Victor screamed, punching the force field, accomplishing nothing.

“I told you to settle down before you hurt yourself Mr. Merrick. You should have heeded my suggestion.”

Dan walked back to my cell, focusing his attention on me once again. “The note you mentioned, I orchestrated it.”

“What the fuck for?”

“Please refer to the answer I just gave Mr. Merrick,” Dan said, beaming.

“Why Chris Manyette? What does he have to do with any of this? Does he work for you in the future too?”

Dan paused. I expected another act of contrition coupled with counsel from his employer to send regrets, adding my query would collect no response.

“No, your friend Mr. Manyette does not work for me or The Corporation. He simply needed a little nudge regarding his choice of career. That’s all.”

“By duplicating his handwriting in a cryptic note?”

“Not at all. My associate Mr. Wexler paid Mr. Manyette a visit. Mr. Manyette then wrote his own letter and left it for himself.”

That kind of interference into the life of a friend disturbed me. “And then you somehow wiped his memory, didn’t you?”

“Something along those lines,” Dan said, dodging a direct answer. If he was not going to give me one now, there was no way I would ever get one.

“We thought they were fakes.” This time the wall flashed red, sending a nasty jolt into my body. I jerked at the mild pain it brought.

“Tsk, tsk Kevin,” Dan said with sarcasm. “Let’s not start telling lies now.”

I was pissed. “Let me clarify then, they thought it was a fake.” A green flash followed.

“But not you?”

“No, I thought there might be something behind it with broader implications.” Green flash. “I can see I was right.”

Dan giggled. “You have no idea how broad my friend. Tell me, do you still have the quarter?”

“Yes.” Green flash. “It’s in my wallet, in a hidden pouch, behind my license.” Green flash.

Dan fumbled with the wallet, quickly digging out the stashed quarter. He held it up, staring at it in awe. “I’ll be damned,” he whispered. “It is real.” It was creepy the way Dan ogled over it. “Thank you Kevin. I cannot begin to express how you’ve made my day.”

“Does this mean I can go now?”

Dan clenched his fist around the quarter, looked back to me and smiled. A real true smile, as if the man was actually expressing happiness. “I’ll see what I can do for you. Honestly, I will.” He scampered off back down the stairwell, leaving the two guards behind.

The female spoke, “Berechnen, deaktivieren Lügendetektion.” The walls flashed yellow and remained steady. The two guards left Victor and me to our own company.

“What the hell was that all about?” Victor asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, contemplatively. “I always thought there was something strange about that coin and how we found it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, my friends and I somehow got on the topic of what we would if time travel was possible, one of those ‘what if’ conversations. We decided to leave ourselves messages from the future in that very classroom. One of them was that quarter and the other a note to one of my friends, supposedly from his future self. The three of us accused each other for weeks of attempting to dupe the other into thinking it was real. It wasn’t I who set all that up, and my friends never came clean. Still, it wasn’t those things that made me a believer. It was the storm cloud and the lightning.”

This caught Victor’s attention. “What do you mean?”

“Right after we found the note, there was this lone dark storm cloud in the sky we could see through the classroom window. Manyette’s letter said something about seeing something spectacular. The cloud seemed to flash lightning. Manyette and Myer eventually dismissed it as coincidence. I did not. I mean, how does one fake something like that?”

“This ship hides inside of clouds,” Victor said. “I don’t know how or why, but when The Corporation wants to spy on someone this ship can generate a massive cloud around itself. I’ve seen it happen a few times while locked up here. They use lightening flashes sometimes. I’ve always guessed it was to signal other ships or to make other aircraft go away.”

“Fuck me,” I whispered. “There was something out there that day. Dan even said I would be involved with time travel when I was in my thirties. Maybe I really did leave myself that quarter.”

“It sounds that way. A future dated coin.”

“Yeah, from the year 2025. That would put me in my late fifties. Dan said I was in my thirties when we first met and it was over that quarter. It doesn’t make sense.”

“Nothing about these people makes sense,” Victor said, clearly disillusioned.

I began to stare off, thinking about a different incident from my childhood involving a future dated quarter. I think I had seen this future dated quarter before. I don’t know why I had not remembered this before, when that quarter turned up back in January.

“Kevin?” Victor asked. I snapped back into reality. “What is it?”

“I don't know,” I said. “I think I used to have a similar quarter when I was a kid.”

“With the 2025 date?”

“I really don't remember. The guy who gave it to me said it was a 'special quarter' and he wanted me to hide it for him in my 'special hiding place'. It was nothing more then a nook behind a board under the stairwell. I must have been nine or ten. I put the quarter in there and forgot all about it. We were in the process of moving to a new house.”

“So it's still there?” Victor asked, intrigued.

“As far as I know. I hid stuff in that place to keep it away from my younger sister, who was always stealing my shit.”

“Do you remember anything about the man who gave it to you?”

“Sort of. I remember he looked a lot like my older cousin Joey. He did promise he would come back for it. He never did.”

“Or maybe he did after you moved.”

“Maybe.”

There was a pause in the conversation. Victor looked at me as if I should be saying something. “You don't get it, do you?”

“I guess not.”

“Dan said you would be involved with time travel at some point. Obviously it has something to do with their 2025 quarter.”

“Okay, and?”

“Call me crazy, but it sounds to me like an older version of yourself gave your younger self that quarter to hide.”

Something in head clicked. As unbelievable as Victor’s theory sounded, it was the most plausible explanation. A textbook case of Occam's Razor.

“It still doesn't explain how or why I would leave myself that quarter in the back of a classroom in high school.”

Victor pondered this scenario. “I don't know. Maybe it'll be another case of you entrusting yourself with the safety of that quarter.”

I frowned. “And now here I am and the bad guys just took it from me.”

The expression on Victor's face indicated he shared my sense of disappointment. He switched the subject. “There was a riot at Cranberry Mall?”

“Oh yeah, a big one,” I said. “I never saw anything like it before. It was crazy.”

“What happened?”

“It was a gang thing that started it, the blacks, and the farmers. They ended up not starting the fight. The crowd gathered around did. They went bat shit when the gangs backed off each other. You know where Subway is in the food court?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where I was when all hell broke loose,” I continued. “The kid working there was a farmer and pissed off some black kid by kicking him in the balls.” Victor cringed upon hearing this. “Anyway, the manager there took off into the service tunnel that leads under the mall and I followed. I don’t remember what happened to her. I ran into another guy, his friend and his girlfriend. She seemed to know the layout of the tunnels. They were making their way towards the other side of the mall where Tully’s is, so I tagged along. Then the farmer kid caught up with us with some black kids chasing him over the ball kicking thing.”

“Wait a sec,” Victor interjected. “You said you ran into two guys, one with a girlfriend who knew the layout of the service tunnels?”

“Yeah, the one guy said his name was Martin, I think.”

Victor sat up. “Martin Wexler?”

“Yeah, that’s it. You know him? Dan said he was your best friend.” I asked.

“He is,” Victor said sadly, staring off. “The other guy is Walter. His girlfriend’s name is Cyndi.”

This revelation was an unfortunate one considering the aftermath of that riot. “Small world, I guess,” I said, looking away.

Victor stared at me with urgency. “What is it? Did something happen to them?”

I sighed. “Walter was stabbed. He died protecting his girlfriend, or so the papers said. I was already out cold after taking a blow to the head. Martin disappeared into thin air. His body was never found.”

Victor appeared crushed by this news, even more so then when I had met him. “Martin is still alive,” Victor whispered. “Dan’s mentioned his name before. If they don’t have him, then he’s in hiding. I’m sure of it. I think they meant to snatch him up that night as well.”

“What happened to you that night?” I asked.

Victor chuckled. “Martin bet Walter and I that he could nail this one gal he just met. He was a player, to be sure. He gave it his best shot and she shot him down cold. Then for reasons I can’t explain, she changed her mind and wanted to do him right then and there in the men’s bathroom, and off they went. A few minutes later I excused myself to use the men’s room over at one of the anchor stores, Leggitt’s at the dead end of the mall.” Victor was referring to the end of Cranberry Mall devoid of open stores. Leggitt’s was the only store open there at the time. “Then this guy – who turned out to be Dan dressed in normal clothes – comes running up to me asking for help with a flat tire. He was really acting panicked, like he had no idea what to do, so I helped him. He led me to his car in an isolated part of the parking lot on the side of the mall where the pool hall used to be. When I knelt down to look at the tire, he hit me on the back of the head. He bound up my hands, taped up my mouth, and drove off to some remote part of Westminster, I’m not sure where exactly. I woke up during the car ride but couldn’t tell where we were going. Eventually we stopped in the middle of a field, directly underneath this huge cloud. I guess it was a mile or so up. I heard the same noise you told me about earlier, followed by the lights and noise, and ended up on this ship. I’ve been here ever since.”

“And you don’t know why?”

“No clue,” Victor said.

“That’s fucked up. Don’t they feed you? Or let you use the bathroom?”

Victor smiled a bit and waved his hand over the upper left corner of the back of his cell, the one wall that was completely solid black and not a force field. A holographic control panel appeared on the wall. “From here I can activate a holographic toilet, shower, or sink, whatever I want. It even produces water. As far as food goes, they give me these pills every four hours that makes me feel like I’ve eaten. Dan claims they contain everything I need to keep me alive.”

“And you’ve lived like this for two months?” I asked in complete incredulity. “I would go fucking bonkers.”

“I sleep a lot,” Victor said, looking down. “Dan attempts to come up and keep me company sometimes. I can’t get past his smug attitude. His love for this Corporation entity is an obsession. Sometimes I think he’s been brainwashed.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me. I think he’s psychotic.”

As before, without warning, Dan and his minions appeared at the top of the stairs. Obviously, there were no sounds of approaching footsteps when using a holographic stairwell. Dan spoke with his trademark grin, “I’ll let you have that one Kevin, since I’m in such a good mood.”

Victor scoffed. “Playing favorites now, are we Daniel?”

“I take exception to that Mr. Merrick. I’ve been nothing but civil to you.” Victor said nothing. “I’m here to see Conundr— Kevin.”

I scoffed. “I’m flattered.”

“You should be. I had a short chat with my superiors about what to do with you. They decided your fate should be in my hands.”

“Great,” I quipped.

“No, no, no, not at all,” Dan said with a hint of sincerity. “I’ve decided to let you go.”

Both Victor and I stood up, surprised. “Why?”

“Because - to be honest with you, Kevin - you saved my life some years back.”

I looked at Victor who looked back with an accusatory stare.

“I have no memory of that,” I said. “Saving one’s life is a fairly big deal that I would clearly remember.”

Dan corrected himself, “Okay, I misspoke. Someday, you will save my life.”

“If I ask you to explain why, are you going to give me your standard ‘decline’ reply?”

Dan tossed his head back with a laugh, pointing at me in the process. “Oh my dear Kevin, you’re just as sharp as your friend Victor here.”

I had to wonder why any future version of me would give a second thought to choosing life over death for a douche bag like this. “Is that a yes or no?”

Dan approached the holographic field. “Technically, no I should not explain why. Nevertheless, since you won’t remember this conversation anyway, what harm can it do? After all, I have to let you go so you can grow up and fulfill your destiny of saving my life. If I don’t, we’d have a fairly nasty paradox on our hands.”

“Fine,” I said. “What happened?”

“At some point in your life, you are going to meet a man named Connor MacKenzie. He’s the head of a group called the FCA, whose sole purpose is to stop The Corporation from completing the ultimate goal--”

“Which is what?” I asked, interrupting.

“I can’t tell you that Kevin,” Dan said, appearing mildly cross. “And please, no more interruptions or I’m not going to tell you anything else.”

“Sorry.”

“Apology accepted! Now, where was I? Oh yes, Connor MacKenzie. He has this neat ability to travel from one time to another, using the Earth’s moon as a base of operations. He does this as not to contaminate the timeline. They have a bunch of Temporal Protocols they strictly adhere to. One of our listening posts in 1977 picked up a transmission between you and Maurkardus, or Jim Marks, as he likes to call himself. He’s one of Connor’s FCA buddies, not to mention a traitor to his own kind. We dispatched this ship to determine Connor’s location. It was also reported Connor had possession of the anomaly. My agents and I showed up at the house where he was hiding and that’s where you and I met.”

I raised my hand, wanting to ask a question. Dan laughed and nodded. “I figured you might be confused.”

“You are telling me that as a thirty-something year old person, I am in 1977?”

“Yes, I am. Again, I don’t know why but you and Connor decided to take a trip to that particular year. I do know Connor was hurt and you were looking for Maurkardus who had the technology to save him.”

“I don’t understand, but please…continue.”

“Connor refused my request for the anomaly,” Dan continued. “So we were prepared to take it by force. Before that could happen, you Kevin, you attacked me, took me hostage, and forced me into your car. My men failed to stop you. During your escape, my head smashed against the window, gashing it open. I lost consciousness for a bit. When I came to, you were in the process of opening a displacement portal with no control over what you were doing. If fact, I don’t think you did it on purpose. Crossing a time portal in the middle of a gas station parking lot next to busy road could have caused a major paradox. I tried to tell you but you were completely lost while attempting to control what you were doing and failing. I stepped on the gas and drove us across Liberty Road onto an old unused road that ended up at the bottom of the Liberty reservoir. This was the best place I could think of on such short notice for crossover.

“The other problem is crossing the portal itself. It’s very taxing on the body if one has never done it, and I was not prepared. The car and the two of us ended up in 1981 where I became sick, very sick. I tried to stay conscious, but was unable to. My life was completely in your hands. You had a choice, Kevin. You could have left me to die there under the reservoir bridge or you could have taken steps to make sure I received proper medical attention. I am truly grateful you chose the latter. I never had the opportunity to thank you for your act of kindness. So even though it’s not the same you who saved me and even though we are going to erase this day from your memory, I still want to say thank you for saving my life.” He sounded sincere.

Dan ordering the opening of my cell door, extending his hand, the arrogant grin gone from his face. Cautiously I accepted his handshake, while the two guards kept a close watch. “Unfortunately, you did leave me four years from where I should have been, which tossed a wrench into our plans, but you know what? That’s okay. Accidents happen. Besides, you gave us this--” Dan held up the quarter with the 2025 engraving in his other hand. “Thank you Kevin, sincerely. After what I will put you through that day, you had no reason to save my life, and yet you did. I have respect for you.”

Dan released the handshake and stood back to lower the cell door with the appropriate command.

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

“Semantics,” Dan replied with that shitty smile. “We’ll consider all debts paid in full. So, for those reasons and the obvious paradox issue, I have decided to let you go with one small caveat.”

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

“Yes, I’m afraid we have to,” Dan said quietly. “The alternative isn’t anything you’d want, believe me. You see, normally my associates would bury your soul so far in your subconscious that you’d never wake up again.” Again, Dan demonstrated more sincerity. I guess my future self saving Dan’s life had a bigger impact on him than I could have ever imagined. Karma must have been on my mind when I made that decision.

“This memory blanking process, will it hurt?”

“Not at all. You go to sleep and we use a tool called a Löschen, which can study memories and display them in the form of blocks. We erase those blocks. If memories from this day have already begun to commit to long term memory then the process becomes more complicated.”

“How so?” I asked.

Dan laughed and said, “Kevin, you worry too much. When it’s over, we will drop you off someplace near where we picked you up and make sure you are safe before we leave.”

I looked over at my new friend Victor who appeared miserable. “What about Victor?” I asked. “Could you blank his memory and let him go with me?”

With the asking of that question, Dan seemed to revert to his old hateful self. “Sorry Kevin, Victor’s destiny lies on a completely different path than yours. He must stay here until the time of The Exchange.”

Victor finally piped up. “What does that mean, ‘the exchange’?”

“I’m sorry Victor, but on the advice of my employer, I decline to answer,” Dan said.

Victor mumbled under his breath, “Fuck you.”

Dan shrugged him off and looked back towards me. “Excuse us for a moment while we make preparations.” Dan and his minions left. I looked at Victor with guilt dripping all over my face.

“My days are numbered,” Victor said, looking back at me.

“You already told me they weren’t going to kill you,” I said.

“The Corporation won’t,” he said. “It’s this ‘exchange’ that has me worried. I have no idea what the IA is or what they want with me.”

“If they wanted you dead, you’d be dead.”

Victor looked back up to me. “It’s okay Kevin, you need to get out of here and try to remember what happened here today.”

“Shit. If they are literally going to erase my memories, how could I possibly recall them?”

“You hide them,” Victor said. “There is this trick I learned in my first year of college, in Psych 101. Think up a phrase, completely unrelated to this day and tell yourself when you hear this phrase, you will remember what you associated with it. We do it all the time unconsciously, only now you will do it consciously so when those memories are removed, the association might in affect cover them up or some of it anyway.”

“I am hungry,” I said. “And I want to eat at PJ’s Pub. I want a shrimp pizza in the worst way.”

“Associate that with something.”

“The man who gave me the quarter at Carrolltowne Mall.”

Victor sighed in frustration. “Do one for this day.”

I had to think about this for a moment. Coming up with a memorable moment unrelated to this situation was harder than I thought. “Um, I love Christina. I want her. I want to make love to her. I will associate the act of lovemaking to Christina with the memories of this day.”

“Good,” Victor whispered. “Don’t fight them when they take you. You have to get out of here and let everyone know what happened and that I am alive.”

I held my hand up to the force field wall. It buzzed a bit, making my skin tingle. Victor did the same, showing our solidarity. Eventually I had to pull away as it began to hurt.

“I’ll do whatever I can to help you,” I said.

Victor looked desperate. “Thank you.”

Dan and his troupe returned, this time from the other side of the room fully armed. One of the agents pushed a wheelchair device, ready to escort me to where I needed to go. Dan released the door to my cell as both guards training their weapons on me. I raised my hands again.

Dan held out a single red pill. “I want you to take a seat in this chair and take this. It is a very fast acting sleep inducing agent. When you awaken, you won’t remember any of what has happened here this morning.”

“Then what happens?”

“We’re going to leave you close to where we picked you up. You’ll wake up thinking you passed out.”

I glanced back at Victor who met my glance and said nothing. He nodded slightly. I looked back at Dan. He motioned towards the wheelchair. Carefully I took a seat in it and held out my hand. Dan dropped the pill in it. The male guard handed me a glass of water.

I paused.

After several seconds, the male guard thrust his weapon forward and ordered me to take the pill. Dan held his hand up, motioning the male guard to back down.

“What is it, Kevin?” Dan asked. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m fucking scared,” I said harshly. “How do I know I’ll even wake up? How do I know this isn’t some trick into killing me? Technically you won’t have killed me because I will have done it myself.”

Dan nodded. “I understand your hesitation,” he said. “I did promise you that I would be honest with you. Have I lied to you yet? Even Mr. Merrick confirmed to you that I don’t lie. Friends and lovers tell lies. Enemies share truth.” I said nothing.

Dan stepped into my cell and said, “Computer, enable lie detection.” The walls flashed yellow as the ship chirped in success. “Go ahead Kevin, ask me anything.”

It was a bold move on Dan’s part. I took advantage of it. “Am I going to be killed in any way shape or form before I wake up from your procedure?”

“No,” Dan said. The wall flashed green.

“Do you personally or professionally mean me harm?”

“No.” Green flash.

“Is Victor going to be killed before or after this ‘exchange’?” I asked in an attempt to make my new friend feel safer.

Dan looked over at Victor with a clever smile. “Nicely done. No. Victor is not going to die at the hands of The Corporation or the IA.” Green flash. “Are we done here?”

In reply, I took the pill with the water provided. Before I fell unconscious, I repeated the same phrase in mind, over and over again.

III

I want to make love to you, Christina.


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