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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

III - Peregrination

“A course of travel; journey.”

*

Date: Friday, October 13, 2006

Location: Home, Bradenton, Florida

Age: 35 (current)

*

I

I will never look at the moon the same way again.

Ever.

II

“Okay,” Ryan said, holding out his hand. “Time’s up.”

“Is it?” I asked, never taking my eyes off the quarter. “You travel through time. How can time ever truly be up?”

Before Ryan could answer, I slid the quarter in my mouth. The fingerprint oil I used to grease up the coin made the effort of swallowing it easier. His eyes widened in disbelief, mouth opening just wide enough to inhale in surprise. “I don’t understand, Kevin. Why would you do that? I don’t get it,” he said, calmly. I did not intend to reply. Before I could come up with a snappy answer, Ryan leaped across the distance between us and slammed me up against the wall. “WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”

“Because it can’t end here, like this. Now you have to take me with you. Wherever you go now, I go too. It’s as simple as that.”

Ryan sighed in frustration, rubbing the temples of his forehead in thought. Were I to hazard a guess, he was recalling the chapter of his Temporal Directives dealing with ‘How the Fuck Do I Get Out Of This Mess’ situations.

Finally, he spoke, “Kevin, don’t mess around with me. Please?” I thought I detected sincerity in his voice. Perhaps it was because there were all kinds of bad things he could do to me, and would rather not. The quarter would take priority over all, with my safety taking a distant second. “Just go out back, stick your finger down your throat, and throw up the quarter.”

“I can’t. I know you won’t believe this, but I have no gag reflex.” It was a lie, of course. What did Ryan know? I didn’t want to puke. I fall into the category of people who would rather feel as if they are dying from drinking too much, rather than barf it up and feel better.

Ryan slouched onto a bar stool in front of the breakfast nook, hands over his face in clear frustration. “Alright,” he said, still collected. He whipped out his Impüls device and positioned it in front of me, point blank. “I can make you feel sick enough to vomit, without hurting you. Then it’ll all be over.”

I then did something I’m well known for; acting without any thought of the consequences. I kicked Ryan’s Impüls out of his hand and into my son’s completed K’Nex project, The Motorized Ball Madness Machine tower. The Impüls hung within the K’Nex support structure. Ryan looked in its direction, mouth agape. I can only hypothesize his unfamiliarity with the toy and everything around it giving him pause. His lack of reaction gave me the advantage I needed to push him away, into the foyer area. He tripped and fell back into the front door. I dove for the Impüls and yanked it free of Spencer’s K’Nex tower. Small K’Nex parts flew across the living room.

Dammit! Spencer’s gonna be pissed. It took us two weekends to build that fucking thing, and now look at it. It’s a wreck.

I turned toward Ryan and pointed the Impüls at him. Four buttons with a level indicator for each comprised the device’s control panel. There were no labels to identify any their functions. I had no idea what button adjusted what setting. In the interest of solving the matter quickly, I pushed all the buttons so the red meters were at full.

Ryan observed my actions with panic in his eyes. His objection was immediate. He reached out as to shield himself from gunfire. “No! Kevin! Don’t do that! You could kill me!”

“Then don’t make me! I want to go with you, wherever you have to go. I need to go!”

“You know you can’t,” Ryan said, calmer, holding up both hands to demonstrate submission. “You have responsibilities here. You belong here. I don’t. The longer I stay, the more unaccounted variables come into play, and the more dangerous my mission becomes.”

I scoffed. “You don’t know shit about me, bub! This situation here? It’s the first thing that’s happened to me in a very long time that gives me purpose. The concept of time travel to a geek like me is like Arthur and his brothers finding the Holy fucking Grail!”

Ryan’s response to my assessment was enigmatic, at best. He looked at me as if I had told him Santa Claus was real and would leave presents under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. “The Holy Grail? From the Bible? Are you kidding me?”

I ignored his inexplicable reply. “My life has been shit for so many years now. All I do is work and raise my son. I have no life, no friends, and no girlfriend to lie down with at night. I need to know if all my science fiction fantasies are real! This is for me, Ryan. For me! I need this!

Ryan did not look surprised. “Yeah, I know you do, Kev,” he said, still calm, still collected. “I know quite a bit about you, believe it or not. I studied everything we have on record for you, including events you’ve yet to experience. I also know what you were planning on doing at the mall this morning.”

My jaw dropped. He shouldn’t know about that, since I came up with that idea on the fly only a few hours ago. “Well, since you know me so well, you should know that I prefer not to take no for an answer. Now, since I’m fairly certain that killing you would cause a lot of trouble where you’re from, I suggest you take me to where you have to go, or I’ll start pushing more buttons!”

Ryan stood up, arms still raised. “You don’t understand. Not only would taking you with me violate one of the most important Temporal Directives, but I don’t think you’d survive the trip.”

“You did!”

“Yes, Kevin, but I’ve trained for temporal displacement. It doesn’t affect me the way it would affect you. You might live through it, but for the untrained, travel through the displacement portal is very painful and traumatic. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve seen men die from the experience. Is it worth dying over?”

Yeah, maybe it is!

“Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have put it that way,” Ryan said. “You have too much to live for here. You have a son who needs you.”

“Stop!” I said, pointing the Impüls at Ryan. “If I understand half of what you’ve been telling me about the concept of time travel, I can be back here before anyone even knew I was gone.” Ryan did not retort. His hazel-brown eyes froze cold, leading me to believe I was right. “My car is in the garage. You’re going to drive us to wherever you’re going and that’s that!” I grabbed the keys off the counter and tossed them to him. “Where are we going?”

“Kevin, with the training I have, I could very easily take the Impüls away from you and have your memory wiped of this whole day within a matter of minutes,” he said, tapping at the Löschen. I held the Impüls closer to my chest, still pointing at him. I didn’t think I could fire if called upon; however, I didn’t want Ryan knowing this weakness.

Another forgotten image of the three people from my lost morning at the Liberty Reservoir appeared in my head. I think now maybe one of them had been carrying such a device. I wondered if those people captured me and used a Löschen on me so I would forget what happened that morning. Did someone like Ryan erase my memory? Did I stumble across other time travelers? Did they blank my memory, and leave me on a small island. Was Tom involved too or did he really find me passed out, offering aid and succor? Tom spoke with a German accent, didn’t he? And didn’t all of Ryan’s cool little toys have German sounding names, like Impüls or Löschen. Coincidence?

I needed to tell Ryan about that day. Somehow, it has something to do with the events of this morning. I turned the Impüls handle side toward Ryan, presenting it to him. He gently took the weapon, nodding in approval. “You did the right thing, Kevin,” he said, fixing the settings I changed on the Impüls. “If you had fired this at me, it would have killed me. The damage from that to the space-time continuum would have been…exceedingly bad.”

“Why?”

“I still have missions to accomplish before--” Ryan began, but cut himself off. Was he contemplating saying something interesting, or revealing? “Before my work is finished and I retire.”

“I still want to go with you, Ryan. And I don’t want you to use that, thing, on me.” I said pointing toward the Löschen. “I think someone already has, a long time ago.”

My reveal earned Ryan’s undivided attention. He looked downright shocked. “You do? Are you certain?”

“Yeah, I think so.” I said, telling him about the morning at Liberty reservoir. He listened intensely, without making a single interruption. It wasn’t until I began to talk about the three people encompassed by fog on the shoreline did I observed a genuine reaction. Ryan’s eyes widened at the mention of the woman with red hair. I paused, hoping he would say why. Instead, he motioned for me to continue. I did. Afterward, he said nothing for several seconds, contemplating the new information.

“If what you say is true, Kevin, I’m certain you encountered a group of TDIs that morning. Quite certain, in fact,” Ryan rubbed his chin, recalling something. “I think I know of whom you described, the woman with the red hair. She is our chief medical officer. Then there’s the area of Maryland in general, which I can’t go into right now. The entire area that encompasses Liberty reservoir is a very important piece of real estate to the FCA.”

“I knew it! I knew there was more to that whole area! Why did some of those places make me feel like I was going to die? Can you at least tell me that?”

“No,” he said, crushing me with disappointment. “However, I might be more open in allowing you to accompany me for a while longer after all. I think – rather I believe - your involvement with the FCA may not be so random.” Ryan paused and chuckled. “Connor, you know, Detective MacKenzie? He wouldn’t answer me when I asked him about your involvement in all of this, the randomness of it.”

Hell, I could have told him that. I’ve felt it all my life, believing I’m supposed to be doing something greater than writing computer programs and taking other peoples dollars for it. “So what does that mean, do you think?”

“It could mean everything, or it could mean nothing,” Ryan said, reaching into his pants pocket. He brought out what appeared to be the thinnest flip cell phone I had ever seen. “Sometimes Detective MacKenzie is…what was the word you used, cryptic?”

“Indeed!” I said, with a small grin, indicating I understood.

Ryan flipped open the cell phone thing with a flick of the wrist. “Brüder-2, TDI-2, please respond.”

“Copy, Ryan,” the voice over the communication device said.

Something ticked in my head. The voice that resounded out of Ryan’s future cell phone was deep and articulate.

(‘You’ll just fuck her and throw her away. You don’t deserve her.’)

I knew that voice, but couldn’t put a name to it. It had been years since I last heard it, decades perhaps.

“How’s it going down there? Did you find Conundrum?”

“Ten-four, Brüder-2,” Ryan advised. “What’s your twenty?”

I smiled in amusement and confusion, blending the two into one facial expression. They were using Citizen’s Band - or CB - codes, the kind truck drivers use while hauling their loads from state to state. Ryan’s use of 10-codes stuck me as particularly odd, considering how old they were. Why in a future where they have advanced technology would the FCA still be using archaic 10-codes? Ten-four translates to ‘message received.’ Twenty or ten-twenty is another way of asking where the receiver’s current location is.

“I’m at your location now, TDI-2,” the phantom voice said. “Take a look outside.”

Ryan and I exchanged glances before I bolted for the front door, leaving Ryan on the barstool where he had resettled himself. There were no cars on the road, no parked cars in front of my house, with the exception of Ryan’s enormous and somewhat injured Hummer in my driveway. Nothing but a blue sky littered with random cumulus clouds. Ryan joined me at the pavement to the driveway. One of the larger and darker cumulus clouds flickered with internal lightning.

“I see you,” Ryan said, into the flip phone. “Stand by for instructions. TDI-2, ten-ten.” Transmission complete, stand by.

I looked Ryan squarely in the eyes. “So you’re going to tell me there’s a space ship hiding up there, inside that cloud?”

“It’s the smaller of our two craft.”

My mind reeled. “TWO?”

“Four, originally.”

My eyes bugged out in an expression of surprise, and wonder. Ryan showed no emotion one way or the other. This was just another day at the office for him.

“So now what?” I asked. “Do we just ‘beam up’?”

My question earned an actual laugh from the stone-faced Ryan, who tilted his head back slightly as he did, holding his mid section. “You and Martin – my colleague piloting Brüder-2 - will get along quite well. He’s also a fan of the old Star Trek program. To answer your question, the technology we have isn’t like any of that old television stuff. In the real world, the science behind a ‘matter-to-energy transporter’ is flawed. It would never work as you’ve seen it shown on fictional television. We have something similar to a transporter, although it works a bit different from how you might expect. Even so, Brüder-2 doesn’t carry a ground-to-ship transporter program. She will have to land.”

“Land? Land where?”

“Well, that’s the problem. There are no local land zones in this part of Florida, at least in this decade. The nearest is in Tallahassee, about eight hours from here.”

“So how did you get here?”

Ryan looked slightly stunned, as if he were talking to someone with no common sense, “I drove?”

On any normal day, I would have returned said sarcastic quip in kind, with another of equal or greater value. I refrained from doing so, as Ryan was in a serious frame of mind. He’s difficult to read. It’s hard to tell when he’s jovial.

Ryan must have sensed the uncomfortable pause, or the look of displeasure on my face. “I secured the SUV in Tallahassee after Martin and I arrived. The FCA has a small landing hangar up there. I drove down when we learned of your pick up location. Martin backed me up via Brüder-2. He and I were supposed to return to FCA-1 once the anomaly was acquired and safe. Now that variables have changed, so has the entire plan.”

“So, you’re ‘winging it?’” Ryan stared at me as if he did not understand, and then said as much. “Making it up as you go along,” I said, correcting my slang.

“Yes, and where temporal displacement is involved, ‘winging it’ is a very dangerous variable. The less interaction I have with people from this period, the better, which brings me to our current dilemma. The quickest way for us to get back to where we need to be is onboard Brüder-2, especially since law enforcement might be looking for my automobile. Brüder-2 will need to land in a remote location. Tallahassee is too far away to drive and is the only Florida land zone for the FCA in this time-period. I suppose I don’t have to tell you why the airports are not an option.”

I nodded. He was right, of course. Landing an alien ship at Sarasota-Bradenton Airport or Tampa International would raise a few eyebrows, not to mention break some rule or two in Ryan’s Temporal Directives handbook.

“So, you need some place isolated,” I said, reiterating Ryan’s query. I pulled at the whiskers of my goatee as I considered possible locations. “Even if I could think of such a place, a ship landing is going to be seen for miles around.”

“That won’t be such a problem. In the simplest terms, the craft is stealth in flight. The only time cover is necessary is when the craft is stationary. As designed, it will produce an average cumulus cloud in observation mode. When she lands, she’ll be inside an artificially created fog bank. All we need is an isolated area for about five minutes.”

I thought about this, flipping through locations in my head like photos in a filing cabinet. I stopped at one that would almost be perfect. I wondered if Ryan would accept ‘almost’. “At the south end of Siesta Key is Turtle Beach, nothing but beach for about a mile. We could drive there and park in their public lot. We’d then have to walk about a half mile south. I think it’s the best we can do mid-day.” Ryan sighed. He didn’t look convinced. “Or, we could wait until it’s darker, or hope an afternoon thunderstorm rolls in. That’ll chase people off the beach in a big damned hurry.”

Ryan snapped to attention. “Perfect! We can create our own thunderstorm.” He flipped open his communication device. “Brüder-2, TDI-2, please respond.”

“Copy. What’s the plan?” There was Martin’s voice again. I knew that voice.

(‘I’ve loved her almost all my life, you don’t love her at all, and it’s NOT FUCKING FAIR!’)

I’ve never known anyone named Martin, so I found myself hoping I could meet the man with the curious voice and see his face. It might answer a few questions of my own.

“Query ‘Siesta Key’ and ‘Turtle Beach’,” Ryan said. “Find the least populated area. Go as far south as needed. Once you’ve found a suitable landing zone, create an atmospheric disturbance to ensure as few unaccounted variables as possible.” Ryan paused, in thought. “Say, a five-mile radius to be safe. Contact me once you’re in place. We’ll meet you there in approximately one hour.”

“Uh, we?” Martin asked. The apprehension in his voice was unmistakable. “Is Conundrum ten-twelve?” Visitors present.

“It’s fine, Martin, the situation is stable. TDI-2, ten-eight.” In service, subject to call.

“Ten-four. Brüder-2, ten-eight.” Ryan flipped his device closed.

Something about Martin’s reaction to my inclusion concerned me. Maybe it had something to do with his all-too-familiar voice, I don’t know. Something felt wrong. Fool I am, I ignored my better judgment. The idea of tagging along with a man who works for some kind of future agency that deals with time travel was just too big a deal. Nothing would stop me from sampling his world.

III

In the thirteen years I’ve lived in Florida, I’ve never ventured south on Siesta Key beyond Turtle Beach. I never saw the point. Turtle Beach consists of a parking lot, a few scattered picnic tables, and lots of quiet beach. Only one road takes folks the two and a half mile trip there, Midnight Pass Road. According to Martin and some super computer at his fingertips, Midnight Pass Road extended farther beyond Turtle Beach. I was surprised to hear this, having not been to aforementioned beach since the year of 1995. Martin reported lots of development had gone up over the last ten years. Turtle Beach was no longer the private little area I used to take prospective women for some extra curricular activity. It was now a fucking campground.

Our only hope was to take the campground road, Blind Pass Road, all the way to its terminus, after which the road becomes private. Once there, we would need to find a place to park my car and walk about 1000 feet south bound on the beach, far beyond the private condos where – according to Martin – it’s so isolated, ‘you could bone your girlfriend in the middle of the day and not even God himself would see.’

Ryan scoffed at the God reference, advising Martin to keep his silly beliefs out of our work. I suspected that like me, Ryan was an atheist. He and I should have lots to talk about during the flight to FCA-1.

Ryan decided the quickest way to our destination involved my driving the two of us in my car. First, I could get us there faster knowing the area as well as I do. Second, Ryan had participated in a hit-and-run incident while saving my ass from the Agents in Black. Never mind the minimum but apparent damage to Ryan’s SUV from the collision, but fleeing the scene of an automobile crash in Florida is a second-degree felony. I felt it safe to assume law enforcement might be searching for Ryan’s SUV, even if the Agents in Black fled to avoid questioning. No one – cops or otherwise – were on the lookout for my Corvette.

The matter of proper credentials also needed addressing. Ryan carried a phony Nevada driver’s license. The last thing we needed was some copper spotting Ryan’s bad ID while on the lookout regarding an APB about a slightly damaged black SUV. With this in mind, and to avoid possible neighborhood-watch drive bys, Ryan parked his offending SUV in my garage before we left for Turtle Beach.

Our drive would require a half an hour, give or take. It all depended on the mid-day traffic. I also needed to be careful. In my enthusiasm to see the Brüder-2 ship, I did not want to violate the speed limit and attract more unwarranted attention.

Ryan expressed respite when I relieved him of his driving duties. He took the time to relax as we snaked our way through pre-rush hour traffic. Exhaustion surrounded him. He didn’t say much. I on the other hand was brimming with questions. I didn’t know where to start, or if Ryan would (or could) answer them. After the first ten minutes of the trip, he must have sensed my overflowing curiosity. More likely, I think it had something to do with my constantly looking over at him.

“What is it you want to know now?” He asked, not with impatience, but with resignation to inevitability.

“You look wiped.”

“I am. I don’t really know when I slept last,” Ryan said, wiping his face with his hands. “Even with the training, sometimes my internal clock becomes confused as to what time it really is.”

“How does that work?” I asked. “I mean, you said you started time traveling in 2083 as a job. Do you ever go back to the point in time you’re supposed to be, or are you perpetually living in other periods of time?”

“It’s a carefully worked schedule. I return to my own time after each mission for a recovery period. We do our best to keep the time I spend away from home linear with the time I go back.” Ryan paused, thinking his answer might have been sufficient. I glanced at him a few times with wide unsatisfied eyes. He continued, “For example, if a particular mission takes twelve hours, I return to my time twelve hours after I left. If a mission takes a week, then I go back a week after I left. We do this specifically so I do not appear to age faster than I should. Each of us has our own time index, a point in time where we are supposed to be. Those of us who temporally displace try to keep our time/age index as current as possible.”

“Wow,” was all I could say. “I can’t imagine what that must be like.”

“Martin compares it to something called ‘jet lag’. Do you know what that is?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s like that on a more grand scale.” Ryan said. “The truth is, it’s a very complicated procedure from scheduling to implementation. There are teams of people whose only job involves ensuring our missions work correctly, and go as smoothly as possible. All I do is show up and do my thing. If I worried about every aspect of it, I would mentally collapse. The FCA is a very well oiled machine that I’ll never fully understand. Nor would I want to. Most of it is compartmentalized. Some sections have no idea what the TDIs are doing, and we have no idea what exactly those who calculate the variables do, just as long as they deliver the correct data. I think if we were to get in each others’ way, the program would fall apart.”

“So when you’re done here, you’ll go back to 2083 and…what? Take a vacation?”

Ryan chuckled dryly. “Sort of. I don’t really understand how the FCA decides who goes where and when. There are very specific protocols about what we can and cannot do based on information we know. There are missions that are waiting for me even after this, but from your perspective, they might have already happened, or have yet to happen. It’s not so much of a deadline situation as it is an intelligence situation. As I said, there are groups of people who sort all these things out ahead of time, accounting for every conceivable variable before I go anywhere. But to answer your question, I may go weeks or months where I have no mission, plus there is a required period of rest after each mission to deter what we call Temporal Psychosis.”

“Do I want to know what that entails?” I asked. It sounded bad.

“In short? Insanity, or death. Sometimes both.” Ryan said flatly, making eye contact when I glanced over.

“What does your family think about what you do?” I asked. Ryan sighed. I knew that sigh having heard it several times already. He either did not want to answer, or could not.

“I don’t have a family,” Ryan said, regretfully. “My parents were killed after the war…” he paused, probably realizing he let slip something he should not have, “…I have no wife or children. It’s all part of working as a Temporal Displacement Investigator, and to some degree, required. Understand one thing Kevin; the TDI program is not public knowledge. There are rumors about it closer to my time but nothing anyone can prove. You also need to understand that where I come from, it’s a radically different place than your when. It’s a lot more complicated. Society is very different. There is no government to speak of, unlike now. There is only The Corporation, and they dominate the entire planet. The FCA, the organization I work for, is working to take down The Corporation and restore some order to a very badly damaged planet.”

I thought for a moment I might faint, leading me to let off the gas a bit. We were over half way where we needed to be and ahead of schedule by at least ten minutes. My brain heard what he said, but was denying it. “I don’t know if I can truly believe what you are telling me, Ryan. Chances are I will live to see the world you are describing, and I have to tell you, I’m not very enthused about it.”

“I don’t blame you.” There was no comfort in his voice.

“Is it inevitable then, this ‘war’? Is there anything than can be done to prevent it?”

No immediate response. This warranted my glancing over to see what kind of physical clues Ryan might be giving off. He looked serious. Too serious. “Do you really want to know?”

I paused. It was a good question. Did I really want to know the future my son and I had to look forward to, besides a ‘very badly damaged planet’ controlled by ‘The Corporation’? They sounded big and dominating, like a tall building looming over shorter ones, its shadow always cutting off much needed light.

“I think I got my answer,” I finally said, flatly. My blood began running cold again. What started out as a dream-come-true endeavor to learn about what the future held turned out to be a nightmare in waiting. “I guess it would be pointless to ask if you’re sure about that.”

“Yes,” he replied, matter of fact, no ifs, ands, or buts. “Let me explain something about the space-time continuum; she’s a fickle bitch with a bad temper. One simply can’t go back and prevent some catastrophic event from happening. We tried once, hoping to defeat The Corporation. Not only did it not work, the side effects have been…well, bad. It set our work back years and made a bad situation worse. This is why we have a strict set of protocols that must be followed, too the letter.”

I bit my lip. I wasn’t sure how much more I wanted to know. “What about this war you mentioned?”

“Understand I have some discretion on what I can and cannot talk about. I’ll be making contact with Detective MacKenzie soon enough. After I brief him on what you’ve told me about your experience at Liberty reservoir, we’ll find out what that mission was about and what your involvement was. If he gives me permission to do so, I will tell you anything you want to know.”

I sighed. “Fair enough. We have about ten minutes before we get to Turtle Beach.”

“Very good, thank you.” Ryan slid back into the passenger seat of the Corvette, making him self comfortable. “This seat is quite comfortable. Is this considered a luxury car?”

I honked a short laugh. “It’s no Mercedes Benz or Lexus, but yes, the Corvette is considered upper class.”

“I don’t know those names, but I understand your meaning.”

“You said you had four ships,” I said, treading gently after a minute or so of silence. “Any harm in asking about that?”

“We have two of them. Brüder-1 is large, about the size of an old time aircraft carrier. She remains docked underground in this time-period for security reasons. She’s the only craft that is space-worthy. Brüder-2 is - to use a Star Trek term you'll understand – like a ‘runabout’, powered by a twin Ion drive program. She’s designed for travel within the atmosphere, although she can maintain an orbit if necessary. Brüder-3 disappeared under control of The Corporation in mid 1991. We believed she either crashed or was lost. Brüder-4 - which we have only records of - is still unfound, even in my time.” Ryan paused, looking off into the distance. “I would really like to see her before I retire.”

“Why?”

“It's rumored she’s equipped with a gravity drive that can bend space-time, which would make faster than light-speed travel possible.”

“For real?” I asked. “The way I understand faster than light travel, you’d need to be in two places at the same time, literally.”

Ryan smiled, which was not a common thing. “You’re absolutely right. As I understand it, the laws of physics cannot be broken, but they can be bent. In theory, the gravity drive creates a black hole that bends space-time, converging two points in space and time, so they coexist. This would allow instantaneous travel to the chosen destination.”

“Event Horizon,” I said aimlessly.

“No. An event horizon is the area surrounding a black hole. Events there cannot affect the outside observer. Light emitted from beyond the horizon can never reach the observer. Anything that passes through the horizon from the observer’s side appears frozen in place. The image becomes more redshifted as time continues.”

I looked over at Ryan, completely confused. “What?” Ryan looked back equally surprised. “I’m talking about the movie, dude. You described the movie Event Horizon with the gravity drive and what not.”

“Oh. I’ve not seen it, or heard of it. A lot of literature and art were lost after the war, including movies.” Ryan paused. “Was it any good?”

“Eh, the ending sucked. That’s the problem with most science fiction stories these days; they’re unbelievable, with bad endings. As I recall, their gravity drive didn’t work so well. Instead of doing what you proposed, the ship ended up in another dimension, making it ‘alive’ and evil. It killed its crew.”

Ryan chuckled. “Complete nonsense. Even with nine known dimensions, one does not get there through a black hole. Those old movies are filled with inaccurate fictional drivel.”

“Nine dimensions? Really?”

“Think of time like a cylinder. Its direction is not a straight line, but cyclical, overlapping itself in regular loops. Marin compares it to a ‘Slinky’.” I nodded at Ryan’s questioning glance. “The bottom of that spiral would represent the past and the top extending into the future. Time is the fourth dimension; the fifth represents the temporal radius. The sixth is the distance between temporal cycles and is what makes temporal displacement possible. The last three dimensions are those of inter-space between the respective spatial cycles.” I said nothing. Ryan was not making a lot of sense. “Did I lose you?”

“Pretty much.”

“It’s all basic temporal mechanics. I don’t really understand the complexity of it. Detective MacKenzie can better explain it.”

“I think I’ll just take your word for it.” I said, resigned. It was then I noticed the dark sky over the horizon as we approached the south Siesta Key drawbridge. Ryan’s communication device emitted a robotic chirp.

No shitty ring tones in the future. Awesome.

Ryan flipped it open. “Go ahead, Brüder-2.”

“I’m in position to set down,” Martin said. “I’ve got a nice little T-storm going. What’s your ETA?”

Ryan glanced at me for the answer. “Five minutes, give or take.” I said.

“You copy that, Brüder-2?” Ryan asked.

“Ten-four. There is a parking lot about a half a mile from my location,” Martin said. I nodded, acknowledging its location. “Head down along the beach line, I’ll signal when you’ve arrived.”

“Ten-four. TDI-2, ten-eight.”

“What’s with the 10-codes?” I finally asked. “Do you really use them that far into the future?”

“Detective MacKenzie implimented it. Before he became part of the FCA, he worked as a police detective. I believe that’s where those codes originated.”

I was eager to ask follow up questions to Ryan’s answer.

The sudden bad weather prevented it.

IV

There are thunderstorms and there are Florida thunderstorms. Having experienced both, I can attest to the following fact; Florida’s are by and large far worse, albeit shorter in duration. Whatever thunderstorm the Brüder ship was cooking up might as well be a hurricane for all its violence. Occasionally these ‘mini-hurricanes’, as the locals call them pop up from time to time. No one would suspect some kind of alien or supernatural activity behind it. Driving through it on the other hand, was a major pain in the balls.

The drive to the end of Blind Pass Road, with all its twists and turns through the many lush and beautiful trees was an episode of ‘Dodge the Broken Palm Tree Limbs’. For those who have never seen a palm tree limb, it’s a big, wide, hard stick with a huge palm leaf the size of a big screen TV on the opposite end. When something this size rips off a palm tree in hurricane strength wind and flies at you, you stand up and take notice. Or in our case, swerve like a professional racecar driver and hope not to hit anything in the process. I was in no mood to test any of Newton’s Laws of Motion.

As I drove, the wind pushed the car from side to side. I caught Ryan waving his arms in front of his pale face a few times, curling down into the seat.

When we reached the turn onto Turtle Beach Road, the precursor to Blind Pass Road, the storm began to taper off some, leaving one serious fog bank in its wake. True to my prediction, the various parking lots and campgrounds were clear of other vehicles and people. True to Martin’s description, the Turtle Beach I remembered from the nineties was no more. This small, once private beach was now a tourist attraction. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust. Private beaches were now only for those with money, who could afford to live on the private Sarasota Keys, like Casey Key, Bird Key, or the obscenely rich Longboat Key.

When Blind Pass Road crossed over into a rocky private road (or perhaps ‘shelly’ would be a better descriptor, since shells are used to pave Florida roads instead of rocks and pebbles), I lessened our speed. Even with the appreciable wind, the fog was thicker than pea soup. In the back of my mind, I marveled at how similar the fog had been that elusive morning on Liberty reservoir, before I allegedly ‘fainted’.

The private end of Blind Pass Road ended in a cul-de-sac, leading to a series of private condominiums higher up on left side the beach. In this fog, they were barely visible. Ryan and I would also need to partake in a bit of a hike down the beach to be safely away from their view.

I parked the Corvette in a spot next to what I guessed to be a maintenance building. I didn’t see any warning signs proclaiming my car might be towed to ‘Billy Bob’s Garage of Junk on Jerkwater Road’ should I park without permission. I took the spot.

Ryan’s concern involved other people inadvertently spotting the ship at what was probably the most inopportune time of day. His unease of a UFO spotting had us running a damned marathon down the beach. I could feel wet sand building up inside my sneakers, making for an uncomfortable trot. Martin guessed we would need to run 1000 feet. It felt more like ten miles. At the end of it all, it was worth the pain. I witnessed the most magnificent thing I believe I had seen up until that time.

Brüder-2.

And she was beautiful.

True to Ryan’s Star Trek description, the ship bore a similar resemblance to a Star Trek Federation Runabout, with appreciable differences. Bruder-2 was much smoother, and more flat. It seemed to be composed of a substance similar to solid mercury, like what one might see after breaking open an old thermometer and letting the mercury roll around on a sheet of paper. It reflected everything, giving it an accidental pseudo camouflage. More mesmerizing than the ship’s appearance was its lack of noise as I watched it hover down onto the beach. I wasn’t sure what a twin Ion drive was, but damn it was quiet. If I hadn’t known a hovering UFO was waiting for us, I would never have known one was here. It was that silent.

When the craft finally landed, the air around us became heavy, as if gravity around us doubled. I looked over the length of the ship, examining every detail, what few I could see. The front of the craft contained no definable windshield or viewport, nor were there any lines indicating where the entry might be. By all measure, the ship appeared to be one big aerodynamically shaped glob of mercury.

Almost a foot off the ground, extending out from both sides of the craft on a downward angle, low hanging wings bragged the most noticeable and attractive feature of the ship’s body. The wingtips doubled as the landing gear. Platforms started at the outer most tips and extended forward several feet. A perfectly symmetrical hole in the center middle of each wing held moving blue rings of light, presumably some component of the Ion engine. The rings moved on an axis, providing thrust based on pilot control. Extruding from the rear of the ship was the tail, the design reminiscent of an old Huey helicopter. In place of blades were more holes with the rings of blue light.

“This,” I whispered, waving my hand in the direction of the ship. “This can’t be real. I’m dreaming. None of this is possible.” I turned to face Ryan and grabbed him by his shoulders. “This is impossible, man!”

“You wanted to see it. Here we are,” Ryan said, gently pushing my hands of his shoulders. “Detective MacKenzie has a saying, ‘be careful what you ask for, you might get it.’ Do you understand it?”

“Yes, I do. My mum has said that to me before, many times.”

Ryan scoffed. “She does, does she? Why am I not surprised?”

I looked at Ryan, my mouth in the shape of an O, eyebrows raised in surprise. He wore the biggest grin I’d seen from him yet, as if he had smugly proven a point. I wasn’t upset at the unexpected swipe, quite the opposite in fact. I was flabbergasted. Ryan didn’t strike me as one who used irony as a tool when dealing with people. I suppose after the speech I lambasted on him earlier that day regarding my tagging along, he was more than entitled to cross-examine me with sarcasm should my carefree attitude falter. Ryan chortled with laughter at the expression of surprise on my face. I nodded in approval, my lips pressed tightly together as I looked down, letting him have this one. He earned it. It was nice to see he wasn’t a complete cold fish. Ryan slapped my shoulder in comradery, turning away to face the left side of the ship.

“Now what?” I asked, whispering for no apparent reason. “I don’t see a way in.”

“Wait for it,” he replied, smiling. It was a smile of love. Perhaps this ship explained all this new light heartedness from Ryan. He clearly felt love for these craft. Without warning, as if the ship was indeed liquid, an entry formed. It went straight down the left side following the contour of the hull, about half the ship’s body. To my disbelief, there was no door, only a doorway. The door that covered the entrance disappeared into thin air, revealing the interior.

“What the hell?” I whispered, gazing at the newly formed rectangular hole in the side of the ship. Ryan gently pulled the crease in my sports jacket toward him as he walked up into the ship. I followed, my heart beating a million miles a minute.

Surrealism has its own sublevels, ranging from, ‘wow, I can’t believe this is happening’ at the bottom, to ‘this must be a hallucination’ somewhere in the middle and ‘this is impossible, it defies all logic’ at the top. Experiencing Brüder-2 pushed me to the top, and over. Realizing one of my life-long geek fantasies was about to come true, I boarded the futuristic aircraft.

I wish I could say my first impression of the interior was as exhilarating as seeing its exterior. Jet-black panels with no discernable controls or patterns lined the ship’s interior. They were smooth as onyx, suggesting a black shell encompassed the ship’s interior. To what end, I couldn’t explain. I couldn’t fathom how it was possible to accomplish anything in here, much less take off, and fly.

It must be some kind of mind-link control. Yeah, you think about what you want to do and the ship responds. It has to be! What else is there?

In front of what was supposed to be the windshield, a dash panel surrounded the entire cockpit area. Opposite the dash panel sat four chairs, the pilot’s on the left, and the co-pilot’s on the right. About four feet behind the pilot’ chair, another chair faced a dash panel on the left side of the interior as some kind of ‘operations’ position. Finally, the chair also four feet behind the copilot’s faced the dash panel on the right side of the interior, again, maybe an instrumentation, or communications position. It took me a moment to realize the most unusual aspect of what I was seeing. Everything in the cockpit was somehow, overly big. It was as if the designers of this ship made the seats, the space between them and the dash panels, and the panels themselves just a little bit bigger than they needed to be.

Empty space made up the rear of the ship. The only noticeable shape stood against the rear most wall. From the distance between it and me, I guessed the large black box to be the size of a standard hot water heater. It hummed, ever so smoothly.

Martin sat in the pilot’s chair, facing forward. He swiveled around to meet us. In my fervor to see this spacecraft, I completely forgot about Martin and his phantom voice. When I turned away from the rear of the ship to face him, no seer could ever have predicted the coming series of events, not on their best day. Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true, especially if one considers my involvement in this matter preordained. That said, if the ‘well oiled machine’ Ryan insists the FCA to be had done their homework properly, they should have known what would happen if, or when ‘Martin’ and I would come face to face.

When he saw me, he froze. He knew. He knew I knew. I finally realized why I knew his phantom voice. A voice I had not heard or thought about in some fifteen years.

Ryan wasted no time recognizing the tension in this empty section of the ship. “What’s wrong here?” Ryan asked, demanding in nature.

I spoke before giving ‘Martin’ the chance. Whatever he would say would almost surely be a lie, or some twisted form of the truth I would never be able to prove.

“His name is not Martin,” I said, pointing towards the man standing before me. “His name is O’Bryan VonWald, and he’s dead! Or at least he’s supposed to be,” I faced Ryan. “Wald was one of my best friends from high school. I watched him die, Ryan. Even worse, it was my fault what happened, what ultimately got him killed.”


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