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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XXIX - Exodus

“A going out; a departure or emigration.”

*

Date: Thursday, June 13, 1991

Location: Ocean City, Maryland, Room 13

*

I

Victor Merrick, now into his second year of custody at the hands of The Corporation, began to show clear signs of clinical depression. Dan stopped coming around as often as he used to, even if only to amuse himself at Victor’s expense. The day before the exchange, after Brüder-3 with Victor aboard arrived at Ocean City, Maryland, Dan offered Victor some time to walk the beach during the nighttime hours, under close supervision. Victor passed. He didn’t care about such indulgences anymore. Vague references Dan made to ‘The Exchange’ over the last few years was now almost at hand. He insisted numerous times to Victor that he had no idea what the IAs planned to do with him. He also made no effort to allay any of Victor’s fears. The only thing he knew involved Dan admitting the IAs would not kill Victor after The Exchange. That information came to light in 1989 after The Corporation and Dan kidnapped another kid. His name was Kevin. Dan held him in the cell next to Victor’s. Kevin allegedly carried a future dated quarter, and Dan wanted it.

After a lengthy interrogation, Kevin did not have the quarter Dan so badly wanted. However, Kevin did eventually give up the quarter’s location. As a ten-year-old boy, Kevin received that quarter by what Dan determined was an older version of Kevin himself. Dan also revealed Kevin would – at some future date – become involved with a group of people who have the ability to travel through time. In an effort to hide the coveted quarter from The Corporation, Kevin entrusted it to his younger self, who took the coin and hid it under the basement stairs of his childhood home. For almost ten years, the quarter lay safe there. With the quarter’s location secured, Dan decided to let Kevin go.

But before that happened, Kevin tricked Dan into admitting there was no threat to Victor’s life from The Corporation or the IAs. Kevin accomplished this by using the ship’s built in lie detection program. Afterward, Dan informed Kevin that The Corporation would blank his short-term memory, ensuring he would have no recollection of everything he experienced that morning. Victor attempted to help Kevin with techniques to recall their experience on board the Brüder ship, so Kevin could bring help. Help never came. Victor held out hope as long as he could, but as the months passed, so did his optimism. Eventually he resigned himself to believe Kevin didn’t remember his Corporation captivity and help would never come.

*

“Wait a sec,” I said. “That is not how it happened.”

Connor jerked his hand out without looking at me, this time advising me to stand down. “Go on Vincent,” he said. “What happened next?”

*

When Dan investigated the location Kevin provided, the quarter wasn’t there. Either Kevin lied, or someone moved it.

Dan eventually settled Victor into a permanent land based prison. As far as prisons go, Victor could’ve done worse. The Corporation provided him a holographic environment in which he could manipulate to live any way he chose. Victor recreated family and friends he missed, to help comfort him during his lowest points. He became so lost in the recreation of Carroll County, sometimes he forgot about his actual dilemma. He was still a prisoner, waiting for Dan to transport him to The Exchange. Victor often left Dan messages inquiring when that day might come. Dan would either visit or reply with the same answer, ‘I don’t know. Soon.’ Victor’s wait for ‘soon’ dragged on for two years. He eventually realized he might have the perfect holographic setting within to live his life, but it would never replace the real thing. In the end, he was a prisoner, suffering the same psychological effects one left in isolation might experience.

After a long absence – Victor couldn’t tell how long - Dan paid a visit, informing him the time of The Exchange had come. Brüder-3 would transport them to their destination, to meet the IAs. Two years ago, Victor might have protested. Now he didn’t care, all but welcoming the change in his situation. This ‘exchange’ was his fate, and he accepted it as such. Victor went with Dan willingly, minus restraints. He gave up on escape long ago. Each attempt ended in recapture, followed by solitary confinement.

The flight to the destination of The Exchange was quick. When Dan and Corporation agent Buckley escorted Victor off Brüder-3 into the salty night air, he immediately recognized the locale as Ocean City, Maryland, landing on Assateague Island near the Pier inlet. A thick fog surrounded them as Buckley led Victor to a waiting car: A black Cadillac with darkly tinted windows. Victor walked aimlessly, without words or emotion. He didn’t care. His time with The Corporation would soon be over, with a new chapter of imprisonment or torture to begin.

The drive from the island to their destination in Ocean City took longer than Victor expected. They arrived almost a half-hour later at a multi unit building on Boardwalk and 21st street. According to Dan, The Corporation owned a fair amount of property in Ocean City.

*

“Why is that?” I asked. “What’s so special about Ocean City to them?”

Connor looked over. “We believe Earth Station eight is some miles off the coast, under Corporation control. It’s one of the few that doesn’t register on the Jaunte network.”

“You are correct, Connor MacKenize. The facility known as Earth Station eight does exist four point eight miles off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland and seven point two miles down. It is only accessible from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. The artificial wormhole portal remains offline due to damage The Corporation cannot fix. They do not have replacement parts.”

Connor shook his head in wonder. “How do you know this, Vincent?”

“SAIN knew of the location and status of all Corporation bases.”

Connor nodded. “Please, continue.”

*

Dan and Buckley kept Victor secure in the building until the following evening, when they led him into room thirteen. There, Buckley kept Victor off to the side off the room, away from a red rectangle painted in the middle of the room, on the floor. Dan explained the cordoned off area is where ‘The Coyote’ and the IAs would appear from a future point in time, to deliver the much talked about quarter. Victor asked on more than one occasion why the quarter held so much significance to The Corporation. Dan would never say, except the information contained on it would turn the tide of the cold war with the FCA. Victor thought during those times if he could escape, he might be able to make contact with the FCA, or its leader, a man Dan called Connor MacKenzie. Then Victor would quickly dismiss such thoughts, knowing the punishment Dan and his lackeys would dole out should he make such an attempt and fail. Some experiences could be worse than death, or so Dan suggested.

Dan, Buckley, another agent and Victor awaited the Coyote’s arrival, purported to be 7:00 PM exactly. The accuracy of the time was no exaggeration. Dan was looking at his watch when it began to happen. The air in the room seemed to expand the instant before the brightest light Victor had ever seen formed over the rectangled off area. A small star formed mid air, expanding in size while the room grew inexplicably darker, twinkles of light scattered throughout. Three people stumbling into the room from out of the light, taking a step down from it as they arrived. The star like anomaly held steady, hanging off the ground as it pulsating at a lower intensity.

An exceptionally attractive red head with crystal blue eyes was the first to arrive. She was one of the first women not dressed in a black suit Victor had seen in a long time. She held another man hostage at rifle-point, a familiar looking man who didn’t appear so healthy. His posture suggested intoxication. The last arrival - the IA – could have been mistaken for a Corporation agent due to his professional attire. Instead of a black suit, he wore black slacks and a black vest over a white shirt with buttoned ruffles in place of a tie. An amulet with the letters IA engraved within covered the top collar button.

The red head took one look at Victor and lost her composure, horrified at his presence. Her expression suggested she knew him, and didn’t expect him there. “Victor?” She asked in a small, trembling voice.

The unexpected encounter with the first beautiful woman to speak Victor’s name without coercion confused him. He didn’t know her. In his life before The Corporation, Victor would have welcomed such a attractive lass requesting his attention.

Her attention quickly focused on Dan, the shocked look on her face replaced by raw anger. She raised her Corporation style rifle, took a step forward, and pointed it directly into Dan’s face. Buckley and his partner snapped to attention, pointing their rifles in her direction, ready to take her down with a single command. The threat of Dan’s men didn’t daunt her. She took yet another step in his direction. “You didn’t say anything about this exchange involving Victor Merrick! Did you kidnap him? Have you been holding him all this time?”

Dan didn’t flinch. His creepy smug grin crawled across his face, a grin Victor had grown accustomed to. Dan casually made an uninterested glance at the weapon pointed at his chest. “You’re right on time Martin. Welcome back.”

Victor’s confusion doubled. Martin? He called her Martin? Martin Wexler?

Red lowered her rifle and approached Victor. Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down her face. Victor instinctively took a step back, taking cover behind Buckley. “Victor,” she said softly. “It’s me. Martin.”

Her claim was one hard to swallow. Victor didn’t believe her. “I don’t know who you are.”

“No, it’s me,” she said, patting herself on the chest. “I have this ability to jump my consciousness from one body to another. I wasn’t able to come here as myself.”

“No,” Victor said, holding his ground. After two years of hell as a Corporation prisoner, it would be too good to be true if his best friend found a way to find him, to rescue him. “If you were really Martin, you would help me out of this mess.”

“No dude – I swear. Walter knew all about it. I was going to tell you about it the night you disappeared at Cranberry Mall.”

Her statement piqued Victor’s curiosity, and interest. Dan, and by extension The Corporation had told him so many fantastic and unbelievable things since he was snatched up, things Victor saw for himself. Hovering space ships, teleportation, time travel, holographic images so realistic they were sometimes indistinguishable from the real thing, would it really be a stretch to believe these people would also have the ability to move their consciousness from body to body? This woman knew things about Victor’s after appearing literally from out of thin air. Maybe there was some truth to her claim, or his claim. “I was told Walter died that night in a riot, and that Martin disappeared.”

“Walter did die,” she said, her enthusiastic demeanor faltering. “He gave his life to save Cyndi. I took a knife to the throat to save him. In the end, I wasn’t fast enough.”

Victor stiffened up. It was the story Kevin told him during their time together. It dawned on Victor then, the man Red held hostage - the one on the verge of collapse - was Kevin, albeit much older. He never came back after hid release, so it stood to reason he would have no memory of Victor. Victor turned his attention to Kevin, hoping he would be coherent enough to communicate. “Kevin?”

He snapped out of his haze, genuinely surprised at Victors speaking his name. “You know me?”

“You don’t remember me, do you?”

Red turned to face Kevin, confusion painted on her face as well. Dan continued to grin in his typical smug fashion.

“You look familiar to me,” Kevin said slowly, leveling his eyes in an effort to see Victor better. “I don’t know why.”

A wave of sadness washed over Victor as he sympathetically shook his head. Kevin never remembered their imprisonment together. “Dan was right about you being some kind of time traveler. How old are you now?”

“Thirty five,” he said in a small voice, growing even paler. Victor’s reveal seemed to breathe some life into him. “Why? At what age do you remember me?”

“It was two years ago. You were seventeen.” Victor said, in wonder. “You’re thirty five now and you still don’t remember.”

“But you remember me,” Kevin said, with additional enthusiasm. “What happened to me that day?”

Before Victor could offer a detailed answer for his old POW comrade, Dan stepped in front of Victor, preventing it. “Sorry Kevin, but I can’t allow Mr. Merrick to answer that.” Victor’s disgust for Dan raged to a new high. Dan didn’t want Kevin to know.

Kevin appeared pissed. He shot Dan a look that could kill. “You know too, don’t you?” Dan shrugged, giving the impression he didn’t give a damn. “You bastard, I saved your life. You owe me the truth!”

Victor recalled that topic coming up during Kevin’s imprisonment. Dan had praised him for saving his life at some point in the future. Kevin didn’t understand then as it was two years ago and he was a teenager.

Dan didn’t take kindly to Kevin throwing that up in his face. “On the contrary, I’ve already repaid that debt. It's the reason you are standing before me instead of serving at my whim. I understand you have no idea of what I am talking about and for that, I forgive your lack of respect. But now knowing you still have your freedom due to my act of compassion, I would appreciate the respect you owe me.” Kevin didn’t reply to Dan’s declaration, but continued to stare him down. Victor quietly shook his head in an effort to let Kevin know he should drop the subject. Having only been Dan’s prisoner for a few hours, he didn’t know the kind of mental hell Dan could put one through, if he so desired.

Dan turned his attention to Red. “An interesting dilemma, wouldn't you say, Mr. Wexler? I suppose we'll find out shortly where your loyalty lies.”

Martin returned Dan’s smarmy comment with a gaze of hatred. “Fuck you, little man. I could kill everyone in this room in an instant and walk away clean.”

“I believe you,” Dan replied, unfazed by the threat. “But I'm guessing you won't. You want what my superiors promised you, correct? Your freedom?”

Victor remained ignorant of the meaning behind the barbs traded within the room. Martin reappearing as a red headed woman, Dan threatening him with his freedom and Kevin looking like he was ready to keel over dead, none of it made any sense. Dan once suggested Martin was working on behalf of The Corporation, but Victor refused to believe him. He told the truth after all, apparently. For whatever reason, Martin wanted freedom from something and The Corporation could provide it.

Martin backed down from a defensive stance, looking to the IA on his right. “Go on, give him what he wants.”

The IA stepped forward, producing a single quarter from his vest pocket. Victor didn’t need to see that date on it. The 2025 quarter he and Kevin discussed during their time together was right here, the IA holding it in his fingers. Victor stared at the floor, completely disconsolate with his situation, his life. Whatever his future held, it would be with these IA people, away from his parents, his friends, everyone he ever knew, and he would never know why.

Dan and the IA began arguing over logistics of the exchange. Victor ignored them. Why should he care? Martin was supposedly standing right before him, partially responsible for what was happening. Why wasn’t he helping him escape?

Victor looked up, witnessing Dan taking the quarter from the IA. Dan then nodded at Buckley, who forced Victor to step forward. He turned to Dan who held the 2025 quarter up to the light. “Was it worth it Dan?”

“Was what worth it?”

“Kidnapping me and holding me hostage the last two years,” Victor said, sourness dripping off each word.

Martin interjected, glaring at Dan. “I knew it! Why Victor? Why not me?”

“As you'll recall Mr. Wexler, when we first met, The Corporation had another task in mind for you. Then you escaped. Not that it matters at this point. My superiors asked for Victor Merrick by name. He is a better candidate.”

“Candidate for what?”

“The final phase of The Awakening, of course.”

“I don't understand what that means.”

Dan laughed. “And nor do you need to.”

Something inside Victor snapped. He decided right then and there that he was done with Dan and his smug, self-righteous attitude. Additionally, whatever this Awakening was, it didn’t sound at all appealing. He would take no more.

Martin’s banter with Dan gave Victor the opening he needed. Dan was distracted, not giving any attention to the quarter he continued to hold up into the air. Victor reached out and snatched it from Dan’s fingers, pushing him backward onto the floor. Martin lifted the rifle, pointed it in Victor’s direction, and fired. It produced the ugliest bass reverb Victor could recall. The blast hit the Corporation agent next to Victor, sending him across the room and into Buckley. Both fell to the floor. Victor realized Martin was helping him, not the Corporation. Buckley struggled to regain his footing, struggling with the unconscious agent on top of him.

Victor leapt for the door and kicked it open, knocking it off one of its already flimsy hinges. Martin called after him. “Run Victor, hide. I'll find you.”

Out the door, Victor leapt over the guard railing of the first floor and landed on the 22nd Street sidewalk below. In the process, he barely missed a couple walking towards the beach. They said nothing, watching him flee. Victor didn’t look back until he reached the overcrowded boardwalk. He caught a glimpse of Buckley and the IA as he disappeared into the crowd. No Dan. This did not surprise him. Dan very often didn’t engage in dirty work. Chases counted as dirty work.

The dash down the boardwalk was harder than Victor anticipated. The early evening crowd roamed in full force. He slipped through the crowd as best he could. A few blocks later, he ducked into one of the many boardwalk T-shirt shops and hid behind a carousel, hoping the men giving him chase would pass by. Buckley ran past the shop, stopping a block down to scan for Victor. He walked to the concrete barrier separating the boardwalk from the beach to lean over and glance below.

The IA was not running. He walked halfway past the T-shirt shop, stopped in his tracks, and fell to the boardwalk face first. Passers by shrieked as he hit. Blood splattered on both sides of his face. A crowd quickly formed around him, including Buckley who returned to see what happened. Almost instantly, the Ocean City police pushed their way through the crowd to the downed man, insisting people step back to give them room. Buckley remained vigilant for Victor, looking in every direction.

Beyond Buckley, Victor observed the cloud formation over the ocean. The reflection of the sunset bounced off them, giving the entire beach and boardwalk an eerie, almost florescent orange glow. He knew somewhere up there in those clouds, Bruder-3 hid, waiting to take him back should they find him.

Victor decided getting out of Ocean City as quickly as possible was his best option. Jumping down onto the beach to dash for the inlet wouldn’t work. In addition to Buckley easily spotting him, Brüder-3 could pick him out with no effort. Safety in numbers was the name of the game. Victor would stay lost in the crowd of boardwalk patrons.

The crowd of people gathered around the fallen IA gave Victor the out he needed. While Buckley’s back faced him, Victor ducked out of the T-Shirt unit through a side entrance, which led into the adjacent beach access alley. He crossed the access to its other side and worked his way back to the boardwalk a black away from Buckley and the fallen IA. Victor moved briskly down the boardwalk towards the pier, some ten blocks away. There he would find the inlet parking lot and with some luck, a car to boost to make a speedy getaway from Ocean City.

Victor stopped running when he could see the entrance to the Photon arena, now a block away. The parking lot lay on the other side. Sweet freedom was within his grasp. The wind had picked up substantially, blowing Victor’s uncut black hair into his face. He looked out towards the ocean, looking for any sign of the Brüder ship. Rain began to fall. Victor closed his eyes, unable to remember the last time he felt rain on his face.

“THERE HE IS!” Buckley shouted. Victor snapped his head around. Buckley and five Ocean City cops clumsily made their way toward him through the crowd. With no thought of the folks around him, Victor ran for the Photon arena realizing there was only one way around it to reach the parking lot.

The crowd thickened as he dashed for the arena, making it difficult to run. “MOVE!” Victor shouted. “GET OUT OF THE WAY!” Most people obliged, with the exception of some kid and his girlfriend messing around with one of the vending machines. Victor attempted to leap over them, missing by half. The three of them toppled to the ground like bowling pins. Coins flew in all directions as Victor landed on his back, rolling onto his feet. Victor scanned the concrete in panic, knowing he dropped his precious quarter. There was no way to know which coin was the future dated coin. His effort was in vain; there was too many coins scattered about from the run in.

“What the FUCK is the matter with you?” The teen he collided with snapped. Victor looked up at him to retort, recognizing him instantly. Sitting on his backside, propped up by his arms sat Victor’s former captured comrade, Kevin, at his proper age. Victor said nothing, downhearted that Kevin would not recognize him from their captivity together two years ago. Instead, he looked over Kevin’s head, observing his captors drawing closer. Victor was genuinely scared now. He didn’t want The Corporation to recapture him. Scanning the ground, Victor scooped up as many quarters as he could find and fled in the direction of the parking lot.

“Did you see that?” Victor heard Kevin say as he ran. “That fucker stole my change!”

Trust me, I didn’t, he thought, running for the other side of the arena. I just saved your ass.

Victor dashed into the parking lot after clearing the arena. The cops were closer to him than Buckley was. Victor considered explaining to the police about his captors, wondering if they might offer him protection. He quickly dismissed it. Knowing The Corporation as he did, they more than likely told the cops he was at fault for the fallen IA. Victor ducked down behind a row of cars, trying each one for an unlocked door. None opened. His effort failed to the point of recapture by Buckley. He threw himself into Victor from a different direction of the police, crushing him against a car.

“Where do you think you’re going, boy?” Buckley asked, restraining Victor’s hands. He slammed Victor’s head into the truck of the car. He didn’t answer as Buckley waved off the local heat. “Do you have the quarter?” Victor maintained silence. “Fine, be that way.” Buckley frisked him from top to bottom, searching through every pocket. He found the three quarters Victor took off the sidewalk, studying each one closely. Buckley flipped Victor around. “Where is it?” Victor shrugged. The act earned him a backhand. “You see these three quarters here?” Buckley asked holding them up. He tossed them into Victor’s face. “Worthless! What did you do with our coin?” Victor grinned, irritating Buckley into kneeing him in the groin. Victor fell to the ground. Buckley flipped open his communicator. “Daniel, Merrick does not have the item. I think he dropped it when he ran into that other kid.”

“What other kid?” Dan snapped back.

“I don’t know. Some kid and his girlfriend were messing around with a vending machine when Merrick ran into them. Their coins got all mixed up on the ground. I think Merrick picked up the wrong ones.”

“Do ya think?” Dan asked with sarcasm. “Stand by Buckley. Cristalstimus, come in.”

Stehend von,” the voice said. Victor recognized the low, dry, almost demonic sound, the voice of the Brüder pilot.

“Did you follow Merrick like I asked you too?” Dan asked, clearly perturbed.

Ich habe.

“Did you see this run in Buckley described?”

Ich habe.

“Great,” Dan said, with sarcasm. “Can you identify the individual Merrick ran into?”

Ich kann und habe. Er nähert sich dem Pier mit einigen seiner Freunde.”

“He’s on the pier? This will be too easy,” Dan said in jeer. “Buckley, I’m sending Waters to pick you and Merrick up. Cristalstimus, have the kid who has our coin transported aboard and locked up. Everyone return to Assateague so we can board. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Buckley said, frustrated over the failure.

Ja,” Cristalstimus said. “Aus.

Buckley grinned at Victor as he slowly made his way back up to his feet. “I wish I could say I was sorry I have to do this.” He quickly scanned the lot, removed an Impüls from his suit jacket, and shot a low intensity pulse into Victor’s chest. He fell unconscious.

II

Victor, can you hear me?

Victor mumbled something, still half in and out of consciousness. He could hear the sound of muffled tires driving along the road as he lay in the backseat of The Corporation’s Cadillac. Buckley sat in the front passenger seat, half watching Victor.

Victor, wake up, but don’t let Buckley see you’re awake.

What the fuck? Victor thought.

It’s Martin. I’m talking to you through your consciousness. It’s okay, don’t be afraid.

Victor carefully slit one eye open. Buckley faced away from him, looking out the windshield. “Martin?” Victor whispered. Buckley didn’t hear.

Shhhhh, don’t talk aloud, Martin said. Buckley might hear you. Talk to me in your head. I can hear you.

Martin? Victor thought.

Yeah buddy, it’s me. Damn it’s good to see you alive. I thought you were dead.

Victor closed his eye, feigning sleep. I heard you went missing after the mall riot, Victor thought. They never found your body.

No, I lived, Martin said. It’s a really long story I’ll tell you about another time. For now, keep pretending to be asleep. We need to get aboard the ship so we can hijack it and get the hell away from these people.

We’re going to hijack the Brüder ship? Victor thought. With all the agents on board? We’ll get caught. Neither of us knows how to fly an alien ship.

You let me worry about the other people. I can influence their thoughts and actions. As far as flying that heap, I’ve done it before.

You HAVE? Victor thought, nearly shouting in his head.

It’s a long story my brother, a very long story.

The Cadillac came to a stop. Victor cracked open an eye. Brüder-3 was visible through the windshield

Now what? Victor thought.

Feign sleep.

Buckley didn’t let Victor off so easily. He opened the backdoor of the Cadillac and slapped Victor across his face. Victor opened his eyes, pain registering in them. “Bitch!”

“Spare me, Merrick,” Buckley said with a smirk. “Get your ass out of the car, its back to your cell with you.”

Victor stepped out of the car, allowing Buckley to walk him aboard Brüder-3, Impüls planted firmly in the small of his back. They stopped at the transport platform en route to the cellblocks. Standing alone on the transport platform behind a red force field stood another teenager who was not Kevin. Victor didn’t recognize the kid. He knew then The Corporation took the wrong person. Kevin was still somewhere out there with the future dated quarter. Victor smiled smugly, taking pleasure that Dan would again be livid when he realized the mistake.

One of the agents gave Buckley an annoyed glance. “We got another fighter here.”

Buckley pushed Victor in the agent’s direction. The guard pointed his Impüls rifle at Victor. “Lock them both up,” Buckley said with exasperation. “I have to go pick up Dan.”

Victor already knew the way to the cellblock, having walked it several times over the past few years. The frightened kid standing on the transport platform, on the other hand would probably begin asking too many questions, earning himself a smack or two in the process. He stood there shivering, soaking wet, his brown hair plastered to his head. The second agent dropped the red field and with his rifle motioned the kid to step down and stand next to Victor. He complied, hands raised. Victor leaned over to him. “Look dude, trust me on this, say nothing! They won’t hurt you if you don’t talk to them. I’ll explain all this to you later.”

“Merrick!” Buckley snapped. “Shut. Up.”

Buckley walked away as the two agents led Victor and his new companion to the second level of the ship where The Corporation keeps their prisoners. A dismal place Victor called home for several months. The agent escorting Victor ruthlessly pushed him into his all too familiar cell as the other pushed the newly captured teen into the adjoining cell. The agents left, leaving the two teens alone.

“Merrick?” The other kid asked, unbelieving of his environment. “What the fuck is going on here?”

“My name’s really Victor, and you’ll want to prepare yourself for what I’m about to tell you. You’ve been abducted by an entity called The Corporation. This ship and the transporter they just used to bring you here, it’s…alien.”

The brown haired kid looked offended, as if to say ‘how dare you try to feed me such unbelievable bullshit’. “Okay, Merrick? I mean Victor?” He said, sarcastically misstating the name on purpose. “You can go to hell.”

Victor shrugged his shoulders. “That’s okay. The last guy they captured and put in here next to me had a problem believing too. In fact, I think The Corporation meant to grab him up and got you instead. I think you’re here by mistake.”

The kid’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“Yeah, they grabbed the wrong guy. The guy they want is still down there somewhere.”

“Down there?”

“I told you, we’re inside what amounts to an alien ship.” Victor said, repeating himself. “These force fields around us? They’re not really force fields, they’re holographic. All their technology is based on it.”

The brown haired kid reached out to touch the blue field between him and Victor. It buzzed, encouraging him to withdraw his finger. “This kind of shit hasn’t been invented yet. Is it from the future?”

Victor laughed quietly. “Just the opposite. This ship, the technology it uses, it’s thousands of years old. I’ve heard The Brüder call it an antique.”

“The Brooder?”

“That’s what we humans call them. I have no idea how they refer to themselves. I do know they come from a planet that orbits a blue sun called Deneb, about three thousand light years from Earth.”

“Have you ever seen a Brüder?” he asked, perhaps giving Victor a chance to explain himself.

“Yes, I have, several times. The ship’s pilot is Brüder. His name is Cristalstimus. They're about seven feet tall with short fat fingers, but look nothing like us. Their skin is a mixture of blue-grey and they have solid black eyes. Oh, and their voices? They’re downright creepy. Imagine a voice so low, it sounds demonic.”

The kid stood in awe of Victor’s words. “You’re fucking serious, aren’t you?” Victor threw his head back and laughed. “What’s so fucking funny?”

“That’s the exact same response I got from Kevin, who stood in your place a few years ago. That’s the guy The Corporation meant to capture, not you. Who knows why they screwed up.”

The kid went pale. “I'm here with a guy named Kevin. Is that who they want?”

“Is he with a short blonde gal, nice rack?”

He snorted. “Tessie.”

“Yeah, that's him. I dropped a certain quarter when we ran into each other. I think he picked it up by accident and that’s why The Corporation wants him. They want their quarter back. The first time Kevin and I met in 1989 was over that same quarter. The Corporation abducted him from Liberty reservoir and held him in the same cell you are in now. They thought he had the quarter then. He didn’t and they let him go.”

“These Brüder, do they use lightning to bring people to this ship?”

“Sort of. The lightning is a cover to hide whatever they’re using to bring things up and down.”

“I'll be fucked,” he said in wonder. “Kevin thinks he was stuck by lightning at that reservoir in 1989. You’re telling me he was taken by this ship instead?”

Victor offered a weak smile. “Yep.”

“Kevin is one of my best friends. If he knows all about this – and I have to wonder why he never told me about any of it – he’ll be figuring out a way to get me out.”

“Don’t count on it,” Victor said, indifferently. “The Corporation wiped his memory of that day before they let him go. He didn’t recognize me when we ran into each other.” Victor paused, contemplating whether or not he should reveal the time travel angle and that Kevin in his thirties still didn’t remember his original abduction. He decided against it, believing it would only complicate matters. “To him, he witnessed a strike of lightning hitting the pier and nothing more. By the time he starts looking for your body in the debris, we’ll be long gone.”

“Are you fucking serious? How the fuck are we supposed to get out of here?”

Victor looked up towards his eyebrows and smiled, as if he were thinking something to himself. “Trust me. I have a friend on the inside who’s going to help.”

“Really? When? Soon?”

“I don't know. When I know, you'll know.”

After a period of awkward silence, Victor asked, “You have a name, dude?”

He sighed. “It’s O’Bryan VonWald, but most people just call me Wald.”

“Okay Wald, my name is Victor Merrick. It’s nice to meet you.”

Wald nodded. “What's so special about this quarter of yours?”

“I don't know. All I know, is The Corporation wants it in the worst way. They tried to trade me for it a little while ago.” Victor paused and scoffed. “I managed to throw a wrench into those plans.”

“Yeah, and got me involved in the process,” Wald said, accusatory. “Thanks for that.”

“I don't know why they took you instead of Kevin. I'm sorry about that, but it's really not my fault. You're just going to have to trust me. When I get out of here, I'll take you with me. Will that make us even?”

Wald nodded.

Dan stormed into the room from the stairwell entrance with Buckley and two other Corporation agents carrying equipment cases. His typical smug demeanor was gone. Raw, seething anger replaced it. He stepped up to Victor's cell, eyebrows drawn down into a menacing glare. “I’ll bet you’re real pleased with yourself right now, huh Victor?” He flashed Dan an arrogant grin. “I’ll also bet your standing there thinking I won’t do anything to you, because the IAs want you in one piece and unspoiled. Well guess what Victor, you’d lose that bet!

“I don’t think so,” Victor said, snarling the words out, tight lipped. “There is nothing left for you to take from me, except my life. And the truth is I’d rather be dead than live like this anymore. So go on Daniel, do your worst!”

Dan grinned and nodded. “Thank you for your approval. Computer! Deactivate all cell blocks.”

Every force field in the room disappeared leaving all five men standing out of place in the large empty room. Buckley trained his Impüls on Wald as Dan pushed Victor up against the hull of the ship by his throat. Victor struggled to breath.

Wald gasped. “What are you doing? Stop!”

Dan pointed a finger at Wald without breaking his stare into Victor’s eyes. “Shut up!” Dan tightened his grip on Victor’s throat, preventing the tiniest amount of air to enter. “I spent years setting up that meeting, Victor. You have no idea the lengths I went to for this day to happen, and you…you think you could just fuck it up and walk away unscathed? I’m here to tell you, you little shit, I don’t think so!”

Dan turned his head to address to the additional agents. “Do it!”

The agents set their cases on the floor and opened them. As a team, they assembled a device Victor believed to be the Brüder version of a 12-gauge shotgun. The barrel was several feet in length, with a goggle type eyepiece as its terminator. The firing end held a trigger assembly, attached to a transparent rectangular box glowing a dark blue color. Unlike a standard shotgun, there was no loading slot for a cartridge. A pull switch on top of and between the twin barrels connected to the trigger mechanism. The agent holding the device pulled the switch back to the trigger assembly. The other agent assaulted Wald, pushing him against the ship’s hull, holding him there.

Victor struggled to speak, clawing at his neck and Dan’s death grip on it.

The agent holding the device pushed the goggle end up the barrel over Wald’s eyes. They disappeared behind the shaded goggle apparatus. Wald begged for his life in between screams of terror. Tears dripped from Victor’s eyes as he struggled to see what was happening. He knew something bad was about to happen to Wald, and there wasn’t a damned thing he could do about.

Martin’s presence in Victor’s head was M.I.A. He hadn’t felt Martin’s presence in his head since leaving the Cadillac. If Martin was in fact here somewhere, Victor needed him to arrive soon and stop whatever was happening, from happening.

The click of the trigger from the device echoed across the room. Wald ceased his screams, believing for a moment the device failed to fire. A high-pitched ringing that resembled a charging camera flash filled the brief silence. At its apex, the transparent box attached to the trigger assembly flashed a blinding florescent blue light. The slide between the barrels rapidly slid to the front, sending the energy released by the flash into the goggles covering Wald’s eyes. His body stiffened for a moment, then fell limp. The agent holding Wald against the hull let him drop to the floor.

Dan released Victor, who also fell. He gasped for air as he clawed at his red irritated skin and sprained neck, hitching in breath after breath. “What…did you...do…”

“Mr. Wald’s consciousness has been suppressed,” Dan said, calmly, adjusting his black tie. “His soul is a prisoner inside his own mind. Cross me again Mr. Merrick and this is exactly what I will have done to you. The IAs, they won’t care if you are conscious or not, as long as you are alive.”

Dan turned and left the room. Buckley restored the cell walls while the agents dissembled their weapon, returning the pieces to their respective cases.

Victor crawled to the partition between the cellblocks, staring at Wald’s comatose body. Wald’s eyes remained open, a fleeting look of terror would forever unresponsively stare straight ahead. “Oh no,” Victor whispered through a hoarse whimper. He began to cry, guilt rising over his responsibility of Wald’s demise.

Dan walked back in, his demeanor completely opposite of what it was when he left. “Victor?”

“Fuck off, you son of a whoremonger,” Victor hissed.

“No Victor, its Martin.” Dan’s voice spoke the words, but the usual self-important tone disappeared. Victor looked up. Dan stood there. His body language completely different, and his eyes…they were blue? The same crystal blue Martin used to brag about, when he would boast about how many women he bed with them before The Corporation ruined their lives.

Victor stood up. “I’m seeing it, but I don’t believe it. It really is you Marty. Holy shit!”

“Computer, deactivate all cell blocks,” Martin said. The holographic force fields disappeared.

The two men stood apart, sizing each other up. Martin approached Victor, putting him arms around him. “God damn brother, it’s good to see you again.” Victor cautiously returned the hug. Martin backed up and handed Victor an Impüls. “You fire this just like a gun. It’s set to knock down the target and render him unconscious. You don’t want to kill unless you have to. Okay?”

“Um, okay. So you are controlling Dan right now?”

“Yeah. That fucker might have a nasty bark, but inside he’s a weak-minded pussy with no backbone. Dominating him was easier than I thought. The good news is he won’t remember any of this. I’ve already ordered Buckley and his goons off the ship to deal with the IA who collapsed on the boardwalk.”

“I saw that, what was that all about?”

“Don’t know, dude, and don’t much care. The Corporation lied to me about this entire mission, so my alliance with them ends here. Had I known they involved you in this mess, you would have been free a long time ago.”

“But these guys are evil,” said Victor. “Why would you work for them? Why are you not helping the good guys?”

“And who would they be?”

“The FCA? Connor MacKenzie?”

Martin flinched. “How do you know about them? Dan told you, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll explain everything to you once were out of here,” Martin said. “For now, I need you to help me cover the pilot. Once I force Dan off this ship, dealing with the pilot is going to be more difficult.”

“Because he’s a Brüder?”

Martin smiled. “I guess you know more than I thought you did. Yes, he’s a Brüder. He’ll be harder to dominate because of his evolved consciousness. Once I start, you’ll have to keep that Impüls pointed at him so he’ll let me control him. We won’t do that until we’re in the air. Leaving him behind might present a bit of a problem because of the way he looks.” Martin sighed. The part of him still FCA couldn’t help but show itself. “Our society is not ready to know the truth about the Brüder, or that they exist.”

“And what happens to Dan?”

“He’ll think he’s supposed to help with the fallen IA while you are transported back to their base in Baltimore, which I am dying to see since no one in the FCA knows where it is.”

*

“Hold on,” I said, interrupting Victor’s tale again. “Martin can erase memories?”

“No,” Connor replied. “What he can do is influence someone else’s thought processes deep enough so they’ll think something else happened in its place and influence them to go do something else. In the correct hands, it’s a nice thing to have.”

*

Martin sent an influenced Dan on his way to supervise the recovery of the fallen IA, returning to Victor’s consciousness. Okay, now we wait, he said.

Minutes later the Brüder ship lifted off inside the fog bank over Assateague Island, carefully making its way into the upper atmosphere to avoid sight and detection.

Victor, listen to me, Martin said. I want you to let me guide you into the cockpit. From there all you have to do is point the Impüls at the pilot. I’ll leave your consciousness and enter his. Since he’s a Brüder with an evolved consciousness, it’ll be a struggle for me to retain control of him, so keep that Impüls pointed at him at all times. The threat of death – or death as the Brüder understands it – it not something he’ll want to deal with. So between us, we should be able to take this ship and go into hiding. I know a few places The Corporation won’t find us.

Whatever you have to do, Victor thought aimlessly, wanting this nightmare to be over for the last time.

Martin stepped forward into Victor’s consciousness, taking over his body. Victor felt his consciousness move to the back, observing everything Martin did. Without haste, Martin sprint down the holographic stairs to the first level and proceeded to the Bruder-3 cockpit, where Cristalstimus flew the ship. He leveled the Impüls at Cristalstimus’ head. “Don’t move, Brüder.”

Cristalstimus turned to look at Victor. His coal black eyes peered back in fury, his small mouth frowning, knowing there was very little he could do while piloting the ship. “Sie wird nicht weg von mir,” he said, scowling. The alien language Victor didn’t understand translated in his head through Martin. You will not get away from me.

“Wrong,” Martin said though Victor. “You won’t get away from me.” When Martin left Victor’s consciousness, he left behind residual anger, leaving Victor in no hurry to lower the weapon.

Cristalstimus’ eyes changed from pitch black to a glossy black-blue. “I’m in Vic, but keep that weapon trained on this body!”

Victor nodded, pruning his face at the unnatural sound of the Brüder’s voice. “He has dried timber wood for vocal chords.”

Martin changed the ship’s course, seeming distracted as he worked. “I’ll be damned,” Martin said in the alien voice. “There’s an undocumented Earth Station in Florida.”

“Another what?”

“Forget it,” said Martin. The black-blue eyes shifted to jet-black. Although Cristalstimus did not move from his chair, there was clearly a struggle going on inside his head for control. Victor kept the Impüls pointed at the Brüder’s head, ready to fire.

The Brüder won, once again in control. He glared at Victor. “Nicht schießen. Wir zum Absturz bringt!

“I don’t speak Brüder!” Victor said in a bark. “Speak English!”

Cristalstimus’ eyes went black-blue again with Martin in control. “Vic, when I leave this fucker, shoot him in the head!”

“Then who’s going to fly this ship?” Victor asked, in panic. “I can’t!”

“You’ll be rendering this Brüder shit unconscious, not me. Just do it!”

Victor appeared doubtful, still pointing the Impüls at the alien’s head. When the Brüder’s eyes went black, Victor didn’t debate his ability to do as Martin asked. He fired. The blast knocked Cristalstimus out of the chair, across the floor and into the wall.

The ship began to veer off course with no one at the helm, beginning its decent into the lower atmosphere. Victor waited for Martin to dominate the Brüder. It didn’t get back up.

“Martin?” The Brüder remained unconscious. Martin didn’t reply in any form. “Martin!”

Martin returned to Victor’s consciousness as the ship began to dive toward the surface of the planet. Martin, in control of Victor’s body, jumped into the pilot’s chair in an attempt to correct the level of decent.

“What the hell happened?” Victor asked aloud.

The Brüder’s eyes are closed. I can’t jump into his body. The eyes need to be open, Martin said, panicked. We’re in trouble. The ship is falling too fast. Hold on.

Martin attempted to decrease the ship’s speed while using his free hand over the holographic console to pull the ship out of its dive. I need the Brüder’s hands, Martin said, kneeling out of the seat, onto the floor. He brushed open Cristalstimus’ eyes, stood back, and left Victor’s body. The Brüder stood up and regained his position in the pilot’s seat.

For whatever reason Martin needed the Brüder’s hands to steady the ship, it worked, the ships decent began to level out. Because they had fallen so low to the surface, the still cloaked ship buzzed across the taller treetops by mere feet, snapping off branches with sheer force. In the distance ahead of them, somewhere from within one of the wooded areas a bright flash lit up the area. Victor raised his hand to cover his eyes. “What the hell was that Marty?”

“I have no idea.”

The flash came again and then again and after a few seconds, a third flash burst away from its origin on the ground, like a shockwave of light. With only seconds to spare before reaching the source of the flashes, Victor could see their origin. They burst away from an area of water between two wooded areas spanned by a bridge. Two additional flashes burst away from the ground. The first one dissipated into the sky before impact. The ship collided with the second.

III

Date: Friday, November 13, 1981

Location: Liberty Reservoir, Eldersburg, Maryland

The first thing Victor noticed was the change in environment. The sky boast post dusk colors of dying red and purple on the horizon. It was no longer early evening,

Brüder-3 cut across the treetops of the forest surrounding the reservoir, tearing a hole into the leftover sea of autumn colors covering the countryside. Martin pushed Victor into the co-pilot’s seat, spouting off some command in the Brüder language before the ship tore through oaks and elms. Seconds later, the ship slammed into the ground. The sudden termination of flight knocked the wind out of Victor. He gasped for air in panic, realizing whatever Martin did, it saved him from becoming a bag of bones across the viewport of the cockpit. Instead, he sat fully restrained in the co-pilots seat, arms and legs secure to the seat in holographic restraints. Martin had not been so lucky. When the ship collided with the ground, he didn’t have a chance to restrain himself. Instead, Martin attempted to use the standard crash position airlines teach their passengers during a flight emergency, he crawled the Brüder body up into a ball, half jutting out from underneath the control console. To make matters worse, all the holographic panels were flickering. One by one, they winked off, including Victor’s restraints. He fell into the control panel, which now sat at a forty-five degrees into the ground. Behind him, the complex of holographically separated hallways and rooms disappeared, leaving a huge open space, the unobstructed interior of the ship. In the back next to the transport platform, the holographic emitting engine whined unhappily.

“Martin?” Victor whispered through the confusion and pain. Martin did not reply. Victor attempted to regain his balance to assess the situation. A severe wave of nausea met his attempt, forcing him to return to a fetal position on top of the control panel. Seconds later he vomited over the side and passed out, confused over the reason for his sudden illness.

IV

“Brüder ship, are you receiving this message? Please respond.”

Victor opened his eyes. The Brüder body remained unconscious, sprawled underneath the ship's flight panel. “What?”

There was no reply. Perhaps he imagined the voice.

“I repeat, Brüder ship, if anyone is receiving me, please respond.”

The voice originated from the side pocket of the Brüder’s vest. Victor perked back to life knowing the transmission came from a communicator, hopefully similiar to the one Dan kept with him. Somebody was looking for them. With much effort, Victor reached down and pulled the device out of the Brüder’s pocket, using his thumb and forefinger to open the flap. “Is somebody out here?”

“Yes! Who is this? Are you hurt?”

“My name is Victor. I'm okay for the most part,” he said, beliving he was communicating with someone from The Corporation. “I think the Bruder pilot is dead, I don't know. And the other guy here, I don't know what's wrong with him.”

“Are you human?”

The odd question took Victor by surprise. It's not a query a Corporation agent would ask. A glimmer of hope streamed through his aching body realizing someone other than The Corporation might come to his rescue. Maybe the FCA was calling; the organization Dan loathed. “Yes, are you?”

“Yes, I am. My name is Kevin.”

The same Kevin I met two years ago? What were the chances of that? Even if it were the same Kevin, he wouldn’t remember Victor, not now, not in twenty years. If Kevin was communicating through the FCA, he still might be able to help. “Are you with the FCA?”

A brief pause. “Not officially. I've been working with some of them on a different matter.”

“Do you know Connor MacKenzie?” Victor asked with hope.

“Yes, I do! I'm trying to find him right now! We became...separated.”

“Please, will you come get me and take me with you? He's the only one who can help me.”

“Help you how?”

Victor felt panic. Between the unexplained sickness the crash caused and the stress of everything, he merely wanted out of the ship and away from his captors. “The Corporation kidnapped me two years ago. They’ve been holding me hostage because they want to trade me for something very valuable they want. I guess it's taken two years for them to put this deal in motion.”

“Who is 'them'?” Kevin asked. Disappointment continued to flood Victor. If this was the same Kevin he knew, Victor would have to go through the process of explaining everything to him a second time.

“Honestly, I don't know. I've only met one of them, and the Corporation agent holding me called him an IA. I have no idea what that means.”

“Do you know what they want to trade you for?”

“A quarter,” Victor said flatly. “This is all over one quarter.”

Another pause. “Does The Corporation have the quarter?” Kevin asked in a suspense-laden whisper.

“No, they never got it. The IA guy originally had it was supposed to give it to The Corporation in exchange for me. I panicked and stole the quarter from the IA and ran with it. I was going to go into hiding until I could locate someone from the FCA to help me. I never made it. Somewhere during the chase, I dropped the damned thing before they recaptured me. The Corporation locked me in a cell in this ship with some other guy they captured. I was in the process of taking us back to their headquarters. We, um…I tried to gain control over the ship and ended up crashing it.” Victor knew he needed to tell that small lie to cover Martin, whom he did not want to reveal since it seemed to Victor, Martin was not thrilled with the FCA.

“Where are you now?”

“Stuck inside the damned ship,” Victor said in frustration, looking around at his hopeless situation. It was the first time he noticed text on the panel underneath him. The readout gave Victor cause for additional panic. “I don’t know how to get it open and if I am reading this console right the ship is going to self destruct in about eleven minutes.”

“Victor, don’t say anything else, I’ll be there in a few minutes. Hold on, okay buddy?”

“Okay,” Victor said, not sounding very enthused. “Please hurry.”

Kevin didn’t say anything else. Victor sensed he wanted it that way. Someone else could be listening in, someone from The Corporation.

With many aches and pains, Victor slid off the flight panel, propping himself against the co-pilot's chair. The angle of the ship jutting from the ground made it difficult to climb to the top of the ship itself. Victor could see no doors for escape, feeling entombed. He slid back down to the flight panel, watching the seconds on the auto-destruct clock count down. Eight minutes left.

The Brüder body underneath the flight panel stirred from its awkward position. Victor looked down at it in fear. “Marty?”

“Yeah,” it replied in its dry deep voice, rubbing at its almond shaped eyes. “We crashed, didn't we?”

“We have less then seven minutes before some kind of self destruct happens. How the hell do we get out of here?”

“Berechnen, offene Luke,” Martin said. A section of the ship father up the hull dissolved into an opening. The countdown on the flight panel ticked down below six minutes.

“You’re going out as a Brüder?”

“He’ll die in the self destruct. There won’t be anything left of this ship and everything in it. We’ll need him before all is said and done.” Martin climbed out of the cockpit area, picking up one of the many non-holographic objects that fell to the floor and had slid to the front of the ship. “Climb up to the opening. We have to get as far away from here as possible.”

Victor began to climb. “Someone is coming to help us,” Victor said as he carefully climbed up the corner towards the opening. “Shouldn’t we wait for him? He can take us to the FCA.”

“No!” Martin snapped, looking down at Victor. “He can’t help us. Besides, he won’t make it here in time. It’s better to let him and the FCA believe we are dead. We’ll be safer.” Martin exited the ship, followed by Victor who fell to the ground. Dead leaves and twigs continued to rain down overtop the ship and onto the ground, covering them both.

They began running to the north. Considering the pain shooting through his entire body, Victor kept up as best he could. “Are you sure?” Victor called out. “You’re not taking us back to The Corporation, are you?”

Martin stopped to answer his friend. “No way buddy, we’re on our own now. Just...trust me.”

Victor limped along, using Martin’s exceedingly tall Brüder body as a crutch, forcing his aching muscles to comply with the demand to run. “Why do I hurt so bad Marty? I threw up and fainted after we crashed. Is that normal?” Martin stopped running, confronting Victor with fear on his alien face. “What is it Marty? Why do you look so scared?”

“Those are side effects of temporal displacement,” Martin whispered in fear. “We may have a bigger problem here.”

“Temporal what?”

“Time travel Vic. I’m thinking now those flashes we saw before the ship crashed originated from a temporal portal. There is only one man I know who can create them. What he would be doing here in 1991, I have no idea, if this is even 1991.”

“What?” Victor asked. “This isn’t 1991 anymore?”

“I don’t know,” Martin replied, frustrated.

Before Victor could respond, a massive flash of light from behind illuminated the night sky, sending the shadows of trees and branches around him across the dead leaves on the ground. The imprint of the branch’s skeletal like structure burned onto his retinas. Victor rubbed his eyes in a futile attempt to make the image go away. “What the hell was that?”

“The self destruct,” Martin said, indifferent. The shockwave of electromagnetic energy knocked them onto the ground.

*

“Hold on Vincent,” Connor said, interrupting his rather lengthy tale. “You've answered a lot of questions for me so far, and I appreciate it, your openness, but the information I want to hear of is regarding the day Victor Merrick becomes Vincent Rettori. Recounting the last twenty-five years to that day will take longer than we have.”

“I am sorry, Connor MacKenzie,” Vincent said, apologetic. “I will skip ahead.”

“Thank you. Please, continue.”

“That thing Martin Wexler picked up before we left the ship was the same device Daniel Wilson used on O'Bryan vonWald. After the shockwave, Martin Wexler did not get back up. He entered Victor Merrick's head and asked if he could control him again. Victor Merrick allowed it. Martin Wexler used that device to make Cristalstimus not wake up.”

“Is that device here?” Connor asked.

“It is,” Vincent said pointing at shelves near the HMS keeping Cristalstimus in stasis.

Connor nodded towards Ryan. “Destroy it, please.”

“With pleasure,” Ryan said, retrieving the two cases that held the weapons components. He dropped the four pieces that comprised the soul suppressing device to the floor, withdrew his Impüls, adjusted its settings and fired repeatedly at the mechanisms until they were warped and broken. The transparent box holding the faint blue light cracked, releasing the energy within. It dissipated into the air.

Vincent cocked his head inquisitively. “What did you do that?”

“It’s a dangerous piece of technology, that thing. It should never have been invented,” Connor said, with authority. “Now it can’t be used to hurt anyone else.” He looked back to Vincent. “What was the original purpose of this station, do you know?”

“Yes, communications. Cristalstimus was building a transmitter to broadcast faster than light. He was not able to finish it.”

“So the Brüder could contact their people?”

“Yes, but when Martin Wexler used the device Ryan Capcoseve just destroyed on Cristalstimus, all his work stopped. Everything Martin Wexler did involved finding the quarter Victor Merrick stole and lost in 1991. Martin Wexler was very angry with Daniel Wilson and The Corporation, at first. He wanted revenge for Victor Merrick. But since they were stranded in 1981, Martin Wexler had to pretend to be friends with Daniel Wilson and The Corporation, is that not what you said?” Vincent paused as Connor grimaced. Disappointment bled over Vincent‘s face. “That was a lie?”

“I think so,” Connor said, putting his hand on Vincent’s knee in comfort.

“Martin Wexler sacrificed Victor Merrick so I could be alive. Is that why he did not fight back when forced to do as Dan and SAIN wanted?”

“I don’t know yet,” Connor said. “Martin should have made contact with me, when he was able to.”

“Victor Merrick suggested that several times. Martin Wexler said the FCA could not help us. He believed you would not allow him the kind of revenge he wanted. ‘Satisfaction’, he called it.”

Connor nodded. “He was right Vincent. We don’t kill others, us in the FCA, unless there is no other choice. It’s not important right now. Go on with your story.”

“When Martin Wexler would run out of money, he would steal to get more, using his spiritual element to take money from other people. Victor Merrick did not approve, but did not stop him. Martin Wexler insisted it was necessary to stay ‘off the grid’. He would also say they were in an era that didn’t belong to them and needed to do their best to stay out of the way, the same way Cristalstimus did.

“A few days ago, they received an unexpected visitor from the year 2095. Daniel Wilson appeared in this room through a temporal displacement portal with instructions for Martin Wexler to receive the entity I used to be. SAIN.”

V

Date: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Location: Earth Station 12, Captiva Island, Florida

The work of dissembling Cristalstimus’ faster-then-light transmitter - or as Martin termed it, a ‘sub-space transmitter’ - over the years turned out to be a long and tedious undertaking, one Martin didn’t expect. He wanted the device torn down, never to be finished. There could be no risk of the Brüder discovering Cristalstimus’ work. Contact with the Brüder planet couldn’t happen under any circumstances. Martin suspected the transmitter might also be capable of contacting the generational ship en route to Earth.

Cristalstimus was the Brüder equivalent of a communications specialist and an engineer of Brüder technology. Earth Station 12 contained room after room of massive stockpiles of Brüder machinery, more than enough to build his theoretical transmitter. Through spiritual displacement, Martin absorbed enough of Cristalstimus’ memories and intelligence to use and manipulate the available parts and tools, even if he couldn’t comprehend every how and why of their inner workings. He gleaned enough knowledge to dissemble the transmitter and attempt to build a new system capable of accessing the FCA satellite system. Such a system would give him access to the endless streak of information contained in the FCA HoloLog banks.

On the day SAIN arrived at ES-12, Martin - using Cristalstimus’ body - and Victor continued to sort out and catalog parts from the disassembled transmitter. As they discussed their plans for another outing on the PrinzessinErde, the room - already poorly lit – began to lose light.

Martin recognized the signs of what was coming before Victor, the beginning of the twilight effect. With fear stricken eyes, he gazed upon his friend. “Vic, get behind me, fast!”

Victor, sitting on a crate, stopped cataloging his inventory. He looked up to Martin, confused. “What? What is it?”

“Just do it!”

Victor jumped off the crate and dashed for safety behind the large Brüder body, peering out from behind. The growing star like brightness of a temporal displacement portal filled the room, twinkling light floating towards its apex.

An elderly man stepped through. He was not Connor MacKenzie, the only known human to carry and use the Brüder Temporal Displacement element. Martin and Victor watched as their guest looked around the room, clearly impressed with what he saw. The temporal portal remained open. It diminished in size and intensity. “So this is Earth Station 12? It was good of Cristalstimus to share this crucial bit of information with me,” he said, voice tinged with sarcasm.

Martin recognized the attitude immediately. “Daniel?”

Dan’s glance quickly shifted to the towering Brüder, unaware he was there. “Cristalstimus?”

“No, Martin.”

Dan chuckled with the fatigue of an elderly man. “I see Mr. MacKenzie left out more than a few crucial details. How typical of him. So this is where you’ve been hiding out all those years when you refused to tell me where you living.”

Martin attempted to smirk with the lipless Brüder mouth. “Need to know, Dan, right? How many times have you said that to me?”

“Touché, Mr. Wexler,” Dan said, with a respectable nod. He motioned toward Victor, standing behind Martin’s Brüder host. Victor seethed with anger. “Good to see you again as well, Mr. Merrick.”

“Fuck you Daniel,” Victor spat. “It’s nice to see old age doesn’t agree with you.”

Dan leaned his head back and laughed. “Always the barb, Mr. Merrick. I really do miss your unique sense of humor.”

Victor tensed up, ready to leap out from behind Martin to strangle the old man them into his final moments of life. Martin anticipated his friend’s reaction, holding out the large Brüder arm to restrain him. “You aren’t among friends here, Dan. What do you want?”

Dan appeared visibly irritated. “Which is why we are still working together, you and me of this era, correct Mr. Wexler?”

Martin firmed his stance, towering over Dan. “That relationship is almost over. But since you have no way of communicating with your younger counterpart, I’ll tell you this: I’m doing what I need to do to keep Victor and I safe. In a few days, we’ll finally be free from you, The Corporation and the FCA.”

Dan laughed at Martin’s declaration, pointing at him in mockery. “Oh, that is funny, Martin. You have no idea what’s going to happen! And why would you? Oh no, my former partner in crime, our adventure is just beginning. Alas, I cannot tell you of these things to come, not that you’d believe me, I’m sure.” Martin said nothing, staring Dan down. “It’s irrelevant anyway, Mr. Wexler. I’m here on an entirely different matter, and you are going to help me.”

“Don’t hold your breath!”

Dan shook his head in dismissal of Martin’s defiance, opening a communicator. “You two may want to take a few steps back for this,” Dan said, moving several steps away from the portal. He held up the communicator. “Send it through, please.”

Martin guided Victor backward to the entrance of the room as the flickering portal ballooned in size and intensity. It nearly filled up the entire middle section of the room. When the portal subsided to its idle state, it left behind a massive system of networked computers, a mishmash of both human and Brüder technology. On top of the largest structure, a beacon extended. It emitted a dull, erratically pulsating red light. To Victor, it seemed to focus on Martin for a moment, and then on him. It continued its focus upon Victor without deviation.

Dan smiled proudly at it. Martin’s jaw dropped, amounting to barely an inch in Brüder size. “What the fuck is that?”

Dan clapped his hands together in marvel. “That gentlemen, is our new ally. The artificial intelligence you will come to know as the Internet, or SAIN as it likes to refer to itself.”

*

Connor shook his head in disgust. Having information of future events put him in the unfortunate position of knowing he would be required to do more of Dan’s dirty work or risk a paradox. “It was I who opened that portal, to send your original intelligence back, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but not against your will,” Vincent said, staring innocently at Connor.

“Excuse me?” Connor asked, in disbelief. “Dan didn’t force me, or coerce me in some way?”

“No.”

Connor looked around at us, gauging our reactions. My mouth was open in astonishment. Ryan looked back to Connor, shaking his head. Connor finally turned back to Vincent. “Vincent, you are telling me now, truthfully, I cooperated with Dan.”

“With The Corporation,” Victor said, with indifference. “I told you Connor MacKenzie, I have no quarrel with the FCA. The Corporation is my enemy, but the enemy of my enemy is my friend, as you once told my former entity.”

Ryan put his hand cautiously on Connor’s shoulder. “We’re getting into some deep Code Black stuff here.”

Connor nodded. “I know. Vincent, what did Dan mean by ‘new ally?’

“Then enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Victor said, repeating himself.

Connor nodded. “Okay, your artificial intelligence is enemies with The Corporation, because they helped create you, then tried to kill you, am I right?”

“Yes.”

“So you’re suggesting you allied yourself with them, The Corporation, over a mutual enemy?”

“A mutual threat,” Victor said, correcting Connor. “A threat to you, to me, and to The Corporation.”

Connor sat up straight, suddenly understanding Vincent’s words. “Oh my God,” he whispered, and said nothing more. Ryan leaned forward in anticipation, expecting Connor to say more.

Victor appeared confused. “But, there is no God,” he said in child like confusion.

Ryan dismissed Connor’s remark with a wave of his hand. “It’s a figure of speech, Vincent. Connor figured out something, and is neglecting to share it with the rest of us, as usual.”

‘Our mutual threat,” Connor whispered. “The survival of all of us; human, Brüder, machine.”

“Yes,” Victor said. “When time stops.”

“In December of 2095,” Connor said, finishing Vincent’s sentence.

“December 21st, if you want to know the right day,” Victor added.

“You can’t tell me anymore Vincent, of your purpose in my sending you back to 2006,” Connor said, weight on his voice. “I know too much already.”

Victor lit up with understanding. “Yes, Temporal Directive number one.”

“Without revealing it to me, the purpose, what happened next?”

“Martin Wexler refused to help Daniel Wilson…”

*

“Why, for fuck’s sake, did you bring it here, Dan?” Martin asked.

“For the final phase of The Awakening, of course,” Dan said, repeating a line he spoke to Martin twenty-five years earlier, by Martin’s time index.

“Leave the room, Victor,” Martin said, not taking his eyes of Dan.

Victor clutched onto Martin’s large Brüder arm. “Is it here for me, Marty?”

“I don’t know, but let’s not take the chance.”

The pulsating red beacon on top of the hardware sitting in the middle of the room intensified. Dan reached into his pocket, withdrawing an Impüls weapon. “Please don’t move, Mr. Merrick. I would hate to resort to violence.”

“Martin?” Victor asked in fear.

Martin continued to stare down Dan, unflinching. “What are you going to do Dan, shoot us both? What will that accomplish?”

Dan shrugged. With uncanny speed, he pointed the Impüls at Victor and fired once. Victor fell to the floor unconscious.

Martin’s Brüder face pruned with anger. “I’m going to kill you, you fucking worthless piece of shit!”

Two IAs stepped out from behind SAIN’s hardware, pointing much larger Impüls rifles at Martin. Dan shrugged again. “You probably could Mr. Wexler, but you would die as well. We don’t need you alive, only Victor. Your choice. Oh, and before you attempt to jump from that Brüder body to mine, or those of my colleagues here, we came prepared with some of those very cool contact lenses preventing you from displacing to any of us.”

Defeat washed over Martin’s face. “Connor is helping you, isn’t he? I helped design those. You couldn’t have gotten them anyplace else.”

Dan smiled plainly. “An interesting hypothesis, Mr. Wexler. How do you know we don’t have our own stop measures to protect ourselves against you? Hmm?” Martin said nothing. The glowing eye like device on top of SAIN focused on him. “It’s a shame we never recovered the coin with the encrypted location of the missing Brüder ship, as our new friend SAIN here would have happily decrypted it for us.”

“What does that mean?” Martin asked. “I thought this whole thing with Victor was over an exchange for that information. You’re telling me you’re going to give Victor to this…thing in return for nothing?”

“I wouldn’t go that far, Mr. Wexler. We have a mutual threat. You, having been Connor MacKenzie’s right hand man for so long should know about that business towards the end of 2095.”

Martin’s tiny mouth opened in surprise, again. “How could you possibly know about that?”

“Bigger things are going on here, bigger than a missing Brüder spacecraft.”

“And you need to sacrifice Victor to accomplish this?”

“Simply put, yes,” Dan said, with indifference. Martin frowned. “Not to worry Mr. Wexler, your friend will not suffer, quite the opposite in fact. The life he will have when The Awakening is complete will be one neither you nor I could ever imagine.”

“Why Victor? Why not someone else? Why not me? He’s already been through too much shit, mostly at your hands.”

Dan nodded with some sympathy, although he didn’t lower his Impüls. “It has to do with his DNA and marker compatibility. I could spend the next few years attempting to explain it to you, but I doubt you’d understand without eight years of medical school. What I can tell you is we spent many years both before and after the failed exchange in 1991, looking for a compatible match to the specifications SAIN provided us. Victor Merrick has been the only one. And now it will be him who saves us all when SAIN’s consciousness is merged with his.”

Martin scoffed. “After everything you and I have been through, I’m supposed to trust you and just ‘take your word for it?’ Not likely.”

“Not at all,” Dan said, pulling a HoloLog out of his inner jacket pocket. He tossed it to Martin. “Perhaps you might trust your old mentor, Connor MacKenzie.”

*

“Stop,” Connor said, shaking his head. “I left Martin a message on that HoloLog?”

“Yes,” Vincent said.

“You can’t tell me about it, what that message said.”

“I know,” Vincent said with a witty smile. “I was going to say Martin Wexler had a tough time believing your words.”

Ryan scoffed. “I’ll bet.” Krissie smacked him gently on the back of his head.

Connor, choosing to ignore Ryan’s comment, continued with Vincent. “After viewing my message, he agreed to help, Martin did?”

“Daniel Wilson lied to Martin Wexler about not needing him alive. They needed Cristalstimus’ knowledge to finish completing the human interface.” Vincent pointed towards the faux dentist chair with the head contacts. “That is where I am able to download and upload digital information into my human brain.”

A quick glance at Krissie gave me the impression she wanted a closer look at the technology. The ability to transfer information from a brain to a computer and vice versa would have endless applications.

“But Martin agreed to help, correct?” Connor asked.

“Only because he had the lost coin Daniel Wilson spoke of,” Vincent said. “The one with the location of Earth Station One and the lost Brüder ship.”

I gasped. “How did that happen? Dan took that coin from me in 1989, yet the story you told suggests Dan never had it. Instead, he has some false memory of him not taking it from me and my giving him some bogus location. You sat right here and told us that very story.”

Vincent looked at me. “That is correct, Kevin Provance. That is what Daniel Wilson and Victor Merrick believed, until Martin Wexler told them different…”

*

Daniel Wilson’s adverse reaction to Martin’s confession of possessing the 2025 quarter was more than he expected. Martin knew he would be pissed, but not distressed to the point of a full out meltdown.

Standing in front of a watchful SAIN, Martin held the coin up into the air where Dan could see it for himself. The 2025 date stamp rounded upside down, across the top.

Dan’s face went unnaturally red. He twisted his neck to the left, making a cracking sound and blew out an exasperated breath. “That certainly does explain a few things. I don’t suppose you want to tell me how exactly you came upon it, do you?”

“I stole it from you,” Martin said, with smug satisfaction.

Dan raised his head in curiosity. “Interesting. I have no memory of that, Mr. Wexler.”

“No, you don’t, and neither does Victor. I made sure of that. What I did for Victor was for his protection. It was bad enough watching him sit in that cell, miserable with the life you forced on him, not being able to do anything to help him without fucking up the time line, but you? Complete and total payback for duping me into facilitating your exchange of this fucking thing in return for my best friend, you fuck! So go ahead, point your fucking Impüls at me, like you’d actually use it. I get the feeling SAIN over there will do business with whoever gives him Victor, whether it’s you or me.”

Dan fired the Impüls into Martin’s chest. The Brüder body fell to the ground as the coin tumbled off towards the other side of the room. Before Dan could take his first step in its direction, Victor’s body jumped to life, his brown eyes replaced by Martin’s ice blue. Martin sprinted for the quarter, grabbing it before Dan knew what happened. He pointed the Impüls at Martin again, but did not fire.

Martin stood up. “Go ahead Dan. Damage SAIN’s prize, I dare you!” The red beacon atop SAIN pulsed angrily.

“Do not harm Victor Merrick,” one of the IAs said. “SAIN commands it.”

Dan turned his head toward the direction of the IAs. One of them now trained his Impüls rifle in his direction. “I am not going to permanently damage Mr. Merrick. Understand something, gentlemen – and I use the term loosely - my entire career in The Corporation has revolved around that fucking quarter.” He turned back to Martin. “What did you do Martin? I know you and Victor ended up stranded in 1981. Did you follow me, and dominate me after letting that kid go at the reservoir? Please, tell me, to satisfy my curiosity.”

“When you snatched up Kevin in 1989, he had the coin,” Martin said. “I knew I couldn’t interfere with you kidnapping Victor and keeping him prisoner for so many years, but I stopped you from having your precious coin and The Corporation from getting their hands on Bruder-4. After you took it from Kevin, I took it from you, dominating you into hiding it where only I knew it would be, and influencing you to believe something else. It was easier than I thought, Dan. You have such a weak mind.”

“You little shit!”

Martin threw his head back and laughed. “My, my, Dan. How quickly does your civilized demeanor disappear when you’ve been outsmarted, huh? I always knew underneath all that pomp and circumstance you were nothing more than a common thug!” Dan threw the Impüls to the floor and stormed Martin, knocking him to the ground with a violent push. “I’m going to kick your ass, old man!” Martin spat, attempting to stand up. Dan kicked him in the chest, knocking him back over.

One of the IAs approached Dan, Impüls rifle trained squarely at his back. “Daniel Wilson, step back!”

“I don’t think so,” Dan said, under his breath. He reached down and lifted Martin to his feet by the shirt, meeting him face to face. “All of this over Victor’s kidnapping?”

“I’m going to bring those bastards down,” Martin said in a hiss. “You people fucked with my head, making me think the FCA were the ones responsible for my life being so miserable. It was you who lied to me by omission, never telling me you were trading my best friend for your fucking coin, for Brüder-4. You whores used me, and now Connor will never trust me again. He was right all along! Now it’s on me to make you Corporation bastards pay, and the Brüder, all of you. Victor’s death – which is what it will be, his death – will not be in vain. I’ll get Brüder-4’s location, I’ll take it to Deneb, and with the spiritual displacement element, I’ll kill every last one of you motherfuckers, even if it takes me the rest of my life!”

Dan let go of Martin’s shirt, letting him fall to the floor. He chuckled, shaking his head in reaction to Martin’s speech. “Okay, Martin. Fair enough.”

Surprise replaced Martin’s visible anger. “What? That’s it? ‘Fair enough?’” Dan shrugged. “What do you know that I don’t?”

“Code Black,” Dan replied with a smirk. “I need you back in Cristalstimus’ body to help us finish this contraption.” He turned to the IAs. “You can take him now.”

*

Connor nodded at the newest information. “I agree with you, Vincent. Dan knows something we don’t, about Martin’s plans. Answering with a yes or a no, do you know what he knew, Dan, about Martin’s fate?”

“No, I do not. He forced Martin Wexler to help under the threat of Impüls fire…”

*

The IAs forced Victor Merrick awake after they secured him to the black recliner chair. Attached to the headrest was the human interface to SAIN’s hardware. Martin worked to connect the interface hardware surrounding Victor’s head to SAIN’s mainframe. Both IAs kept their Impüls rifles trained on Martin. Dan stood off toward the rear of the room, the idle displacement portal flickering dully behind him. SAIN’s pulsing red eye watched everything.

“Marty? What’s going on?” Victor asked, dazed and confused. He unsuccessfully attempted to move his arms and legs from their restraints. Martin frowned at Victor, giving no reply. “Marty?”

“He’s under orders not to speak to you, Mr. Merrick,” Dan said, moving closer to Victor. “I thought it might be better that way.”

Victor ignored Dan, continuing to plead with Martin, shaking in panic. “Martin? Please, don’t do this. I don’t want to die.”

Martin stopped working and closed his eyes in restraint. Dan answered where Martin clearly wanted. “You’re not going to die, Mr. Merrick. Quite the contrary, you’re going to live in ways you’ve never dreamed of.”

Victor turned his bitter stare to Dan. “Then why don’t you sit your ass down in this chair?”

Dan approached Victor, putting his hand gently on Victor’s chest. “You might not believe this, but if my body was genetically compatible, I would gladly take your place. This is a gift, Victor! When it’s done, you will understand everything.” Sincerity became Dan’s face. “It won’t hurt, Victor. You and SAIN will do the greatest work for humanity, and machine alike. I genuinely do wish I was in your place.”

Victor craned his neck to look back at Martin. “Please Marty, you’re my best friend. Don’t kill me.”

“Vic,” Martin whispered, holding back emotion. He looked at Dan, knowing he wasn’t supposed to speak. Dan shrugged. “I don’t have a choice. They’ll kill me and do it anyway. With Cristalstimus’ know-how about how all this shit works, you have a better chance of surviving. I promise you, when it’s over, I’ll be here for you. I’ll take care of you as I always have.”

Victor began to sob. “No Marty, please, don’t do this.”

Martin turned to Dan. “Can’t you put him under for fuck’s sake? You’re making this worse for him…and me.”

Dan looked inquisitively at the IAs. One looked back, seemingly listening to a voice in his head. “Negative, SAIN requires Victor Merrick conscious.”

“Sorry, Mr. Wexler,” Dan said, shaking his head. “It’s out of my control.”

Martin closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead in frustration. “It’s going to be okay, Vic.”

“No, it won’t,” Victor said, through weeps. “You’re going to murder me, so that…thing, can live.” Martin ignored Victor, taking a seat in front of one of the 21st century computer terminals.

The lights from the interface terminals surrounding Victor’s head blinked to life as Martin typed. Victor struggled to look at them, tears rolling down his face. Martin turned to the IA s and nodded. They communicated silently with SAIN through their modem links. Finally, one of them motioned to Dan. “We are ready, Daniel Wilson.”

“Okay,” Dan said, facing Martin. “We have no idea what he’ll be like once the transfer is complete. It’s up to you, Martin. You will be responsible for Victor until the time when he’s needed comes. For your trouble, you will receive the coordinates of the Brüder-4 spacecraft, after my associates and I leave.”

“You don’t want them?” Martin asked, unsure of Dan’s intentions.

Dan sighed. “That part of my life is over, Mr. Wexler. It’s up to what Victor will become and the FCA to set things right.” He paused. “Besides, I’m too old for this shit now. It’s over for me.”

Victor looked at Martin, betrayed. “You’re getting something out of this?”

Martin shook his head and sighed. “I guess I am. It’s now how I wanted it.”

Victor became red with rage. “You backstabbing motherfucker!” He spit at Martin, only hitting the oversized Captiva Island, FL T-shirt. “Everything bad that’s ever happened to me if my life has been over that god damned quarter.” Victor paused, giving Martin time to meet his stare of hate. “It should be worth thirty pieces of silver in your hands.”

“Vic, please don’t say that. They would have done it anyway, and the chances of your survival would have been less.”

“My survival? I’m going to die, brother!

“You know what I meant.”

“Ha! Yeah, I guess I do.” Martin made no reply. “I hope it’s worth it, Martin. I hope my death brings you the revenge you so badly need.”

Martin peered toward Dan. “Us, Victor, revenge for us, and I’ll get it in your name.” Dan shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll take care of Victor, you have my word.”

“I believe you, Mr. Wexler, for whatever it’s worth.”

One of the IAs interrupted their dialog. “Will this station have enough power for the transfer?”

Dan looked at Martin for the answer. “Yes, the Jaunte is offline.”

“Let us proceed then,” the IA said. “SAIN waits.”

Martin took his seat at the terminal, still under threat of the IA’s Impüls rifles. Victor twisted his head to see Martin. “You get your quarter deciphered for murdering me.”

“Vic, more is going on here than you know. Once this is done, you’ll understand.”

“What is it, Marty? You owe me that much, since you’re getting something out of this.”

Martin sighed and looked at Dan for approval. Again, he shrugged his shoulders. “Something bad has happened in 2095. Time stops after December and we don’t know why. Connor believes some kind of inter-dimensional entity is stuck there, and we don’t know how or why. SAIN has theories, but can’t do anything about them until it’s free of its hardware. You are the only living compatible donor to receive SAIN.” Martin stopped, giving Victor a look of pure sincerity. “Believe me brother, I’d trade places with you if I could.”

Victor’s sobbing lessened some. “You’re telling me I have no choice? I have to sacrifice myself to save everyone else? I have to give up everything I am, and hope by doing so it’ll all work out in the end, even though there is a chance it might not?”

Martin nodded, a tear streaming down the blue-grey alien face. “Yes. Otherwise, come December of 2095, we all die, everyone who ever existed.”

“Is it going to hurt? Tell me the truth.”

Martin looked at Dan once again for approval, and again Dan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t think so. It’ll be like all those times I shadowed your consciousness. Instead of dominating you - pushing your consciousness back - it’ll merge with yours, combining all of SAINs digital memories into your human brain. This union should create a new personality.”

“But I’ll still be dead.” Martin sighed. Victor knew there was no easy way for him to say yes. “No Martin, please don’t do this, we can find someone else who can…”

“We’ve tried, Mr. Merrick,” Dan said, but not in his usually smarmy way. “When I joined the Corporation in 1975, it was my charge to find a human being with a very specific set of DNA attributes. Personally, I didn’t think it was possible. The characteristics were too rare, a combination of them even more so. Yet somehow, you turned up. We continued the search after discovering you for a backup. None came close. When the original exchange failed, we searched well into 2035, but a war happens in 2032. Living people, much less healthy people are hard to come by after that. It’s always been you, Victor. There is no alternative.”

Victor attempted to twitch in his chair. “Damn it! It’s not fair! I don’t want to die! Please Marty, rescue me from this!

Martin pointed at Victor’s head, suggesting one of the IAs to keep his head still. SAIN observed everything from his now flashing red beacon. Victor’s screams for his life, for mercy, went disregarded. Martin took his seat in front of the terminal. He began typing.

The lighting around the room began to dim as the sound of the station’s machinery began to wind down. SAIN’s red beacon flood Victor in dim red light, blending with the light emitting interface nodes surrounding Victor’s head. The idle temporal portal with the surrounding twilight effect provided more than ample light for the room. Dan returned to his place at the rear of the area, closer to the portal.

Martin entered in another series of commands. The lights surrounding Victor’s head from the nodes grew a thousand fold in illumination. Victor screamed, causing Martin to cringe, and pause.

“Just finish it, Mr. Wexler,” Dan said from behind, soft but firm. “Please.” Martin typed in the last set of instructions, resting his forefinger on the ENTER key.

“MARRRRTEN!” Victor screamed. The noise emanating from his friend’s mouth was indescribable.

“I’m so sorry, Victor.” Martin whispered. “I love you, brother.”

Martin pressed the ENTER key.

The red light from SAIN’s beacon disappeared completely. The light nodes surrounding Victor’s head pulsated wildly. Victor ceased his noise, becoming eerily quiet. The lights in the station fell dimmer as the supercomputer sucked up all available station power for the transfer. Victor was awash in bright white light, the figure of his body barely discernible.

In one giant, blinding flash, the process was over.

Vincent Rettori was born.


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