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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

XXX – Endgame; Part III

“The final stage of a course of events.”

*

Date: Friday, October 13, 2006

Location: Earth Station 12, Captiva Island, Florida

Age: 35 (Current)

*

I

Silence filled the room after the former Victor Merrick spoke of Vincent Rettori’s birth. His stare never left Connor’s, who sat listening with hypnotic intensity. “Daniel Wilson was right when he told Victor Merrick he would live in ways he never dreamt of. The part of me that is Victor Merrick understands this now. When I awoke as Vincent Rettori, consciousness as SAIN understood it was full of color. Its black and white world expanded to realms it could never comprehend.”

“I cannot imagine what that must be like for you,” Krissie said softly. Victor smiled with child like satisfaction.

“And Martin’s quarter?” Connor asked. “Did you decipher it for him?”

Vincent pulled something out of his pocket and held it up. In his fingers he held the lost 2025 quarter. “Yes. After Daniel Wilson and Agents 534 and 237 left through the temporal displacement portal. With the decryption protocol transferred to my human brain, I read the encryption on the coin’s edge to reveal the location of the Brüder-4 ship, within an undocumented Earth Station located in Oakland Mills, Maryland.”

“Damn,” Ryan said, followed with a sigh of frustration. Connor took the quarter from Victor. “That must be where Martin and Dan are headed.”

Connor met Ryan’s panicked look with a tight-lipped frown. He flipped open his communicator, entering the necessary information to open the reserved FCA frequency. “ES-1, this is TDI-1, please respond.” No reply came from the communicator. Connor waited several seconds. “Richaurdus, please respond!”

Ryan opened his communicator, using it in an attempt to zero in Tom’s communicator location. “We may have a problem, Connor. Tom’s communication device isn’t online.”

“Is Luke’s?”

Ryan tapped at the holographic display. “Yes.”

Connor switched the frequency display on his device. “TDI-1 to FCAL-2, please respond.”

“Do you come as a stranger?” Luke replied in question.

“I come as a friend, yet things are not as they appear.”

“Go ahead, TDI-1.”

“Have you spoken with ES-1 in the last twenty-four hours?” Connor asked. Sweat formed on his brow.

“Negative, TDI-1.”

“We may have a breach of ES-1. Richaurdus is not online or replying. Former TDI-3 Martin Wexler and or Daniel Wilson of The Corporation have knowledge of ES-1 and its location. They’re either on their way or have already breached. Secure the entrances. No one in or out until I give the all clear. Do you understand?”

“Copy,” Luke said.

Connor’s face turned red with frustration, and perhaps anger. “Luke, do not enter ES-1, under any circumstances. FCAL-1 is also MIA and presumed down. The status of the Spiritual Element in unknown.”

“Markaurdus as well?” Luke asked with the slightest sense of disappointment.

“Former FCA Wexler may have killed Jim’s current host. He was in possession of the Spiritual Element ring, Jim was, after we took it back from Wexler. I don’t yet know if he managed to protect it from breach.” Connor paused, staring at Ryan with intense dread.

“TDI-1?” Luke asked.

“I will be arriving with one personnel within the next few minutes. Please keep trying to raise ES-1 until I get there. TDI-1, ten-seven.”

Ryan’s face became grim. “Connor?” He whispered. “The Jaunte here is offline.”

“I know,” he said, not making eye contact with Ryan. I glanced at both men. They knew something I didn’t, and it wasn’t going to be good news. Connor retuned his communicator. “FCA-1 control, this is TDI-1 Actual. I come as a friend; things are not as they appear. If anyone is there, please respond.”

“No one is there,” Ryan said in the same paranoid whisper. “Our original mission didn’t involve control support.”

“Son of a bitch!” Connor snapped.

Ryan put his hand on Connor’s arm. “What are you doing?” The look on Ryan’s face suggested he didn’t need to ask that question. He knew what Connor wanted to do.

“We don’t have a choice,” Connor said, delicately. He pulled up a topographical map of Liberty reservoir. Latitude and longitude coordinates refreshed across the top of the map as he zoomed in on the location of my former home on Arthur Avenue.

“What?” I asked in sudden concern. “What’s going on here?”

Connor glanced at me with apprehension. “We’re going to your former home, you and I.”

Krissie snapped to attention, suddenly understanding the inside joke among them. “Connor! No!” He glanced at her with the same look of dismay, returning to what he was doing with his communicator.

“Krissie is right,” Ryan said. “You’ve only done this once. If memory serves, you fell about twelve feet and hurt yourself fairly bad.”

“I know. We don’t have any other choice right now,” he said, furiously zooming in on the location he sought. “I want you and Krissie to take the ship and intercept anything that comes out of ES-1.”

“Stop!” I said, harshly. “What the fuck is happening here? What are you about to do, Connor?”

Connor sighed, looking up at me from his seat next to Victor. “It’s called Spatial Displacement, and it can be a little bit tricky.”

II

Spatial Displacement, as it turns out, was not another Brüder element. It’s Temporal Displacement with a twist. Instead of jumping to another point in time at the exact same place, Connor would jump ahead one millisecond to a different point in space-time.

The calculations for such a feat would be intense, and complicated. Connor once explained – and as I discovered for myself – the temporal element requires precise calculations between two points in the space-time continuum, enabling one to arrive at the exact same place at any other point in time. The temporal element acts as a program inside the human brain, evaluating those coordinates before opening the portal. Leaving one time and arriving in another in the same place becomes part of the calculation. Connor explained it is possible, although incredibly risky and dangerous, to recalculate the destination at the same point in time. To the onlooker, the subject would disappear into thin air from one location, only to reappear at another location at the same time.

As the Earth is constantly in motion, the process of formulating such precise calculations must be exact. One small mistake and our destination might be hundreds of feet in the air, underground, inside a mountain, or inside a building structure. This is the reason Connor wanted precise latitude/longitude coordinates for the Arthur Avenue house, specifically the pool. Chances were we would fall several feet upon arrival.

To our dismay, Luke disassembled the above ground pool at some point in the last few years, leaving nothing but ground.

III

“A little bit tricky?” I asked, after Connor’s explanation. “It sounds like the most dangerous thing there is!”

“It is,” Ryan said in agreement, still looking upon Connor. “I can’t believe you would consider doing this with just yourself, but with another person?”

Connor threw his hands up. “What other choice is there? We can’t Jaunte to ES-1. We’ll never fly there fast enough to stop them. Even if we tried, where would we land? How would we get into ES-1? It makes more sense for you and Krissie to intercept in case they try to launch Brüder-4. I hope that Kevin and I will get to ES-1 first to stop them, Martin and Dan. If you have a better idea Ryan, I’d love to hear it.” Ryan had none. Neither did anyone else. “Okay, my plan it is then. You and Krissie return to Brüder-5 and get going. Let me worry about my end.”

“What happens to Vincent?” Ryan asked.

“Put me in stasis,” Vincent said. His words did not come out as a suggestion, rather it sounded as if that’s what he wanted. “If Martin Wexler is not coming back, I will be safe until you come back and we can begin our work.”

Victor’s statement took Connor by surprise. “What work is that, Vincent?”

“To return to 2095 and meet with Daniel Wilson. We need to persuade The Corporation it is in their best interest to assist us, since they were the ones responsible for the problem. Daniel Wilson should be able to do that.”

Ryan’s jaw dropped. Connor answered, “The Corporation is responsible for the interruption in the space-time?”

“Yes Connor MacKenzie, but now is not the time to explain this to you. Please, take me back to my chair.”

Connor and I escorted Vincent to his area. Krissie and Ryan took the sub-ship topside, where Connor asked them to wait until we could meet up with them. Vincent sat in his interface chair. “Connor MacKenzie, when I am secure, type RUN STASIS at the keyboard terminal. Follow the on screen instructions.”

Connor did as Vincent asked. When finished, the light emitting nodes surrounding Vincent’s temporal lobes and hippocampus switched from white to blue. A red force field surrounded Victor’s chair and the entire supercomputer sans one terminal. From there, Connor would disable the stasis program upon his return.

Until then, Vincent Rettori would remain safe.

III

The cumulus cloud cover above the PrinzessinErde continued to shield the hovering Brüder 5. Krissie and Ryan wouldn’t need the cover of a lightning strike to transport back. No one else was around. Clear blue water surrounded us for miles in every direction. They stood apart from Connor and I in anticipation of the transport as Ryan opened his communicator to correspond with the ship.

Connor held up his finger to emphasize the point he was about to make. “If Kevin and I can’t stop them, Martin and Dan, you cannot let them leave the atmosphere, Ryan. They cannot be allowed to take that ship into space.”

“Understood,” he replied, cold as ice. All traces of the subtle joviality he recently exhibited were now gone. He was a solider again.

I glanced at Krissie. She returned my stare. At that moment, I believed I might never see her again. She led me to believe a future version of me knew of her unfavorable fate. Between now and when she would meet me for the first time, sometime in my future, something bad would happen to her. What was happening now was bad, and deadly serious. I felt deep down the two events were related. I knew Ryan would take any steps necessary to prevent Martin from taking Brüder-4 into space, even if it meant sacrificing himself and Krissie. It was part of their oath to the FCA. Krissie stepped toward me as I left Connor’s side to meet her. She fell into my arms, clutching at me for dear life. I held her close, feeling her heart race with fear.

“We’ll see each other again,” I whispered in her ear.

She took a deep breath, but paused in her reply. “You will see me again, in 2009,” she said softly, perhaps so Connor or Ryan would not hear. “But I fear this is the thing you wouldn’t talk to me about, when I fell in love with you against my better judgment.”

I pulled away to look into her mesmerizing blue eyes. “You what?”

“I think you heard me,” she said, not playing games. “I want to say more, but…I cannot.”

“It’s okay,” I said in a soft voice, not knowing what else to say. I wanted to promise her she would see me again when all was said and done. I couldn’t say the words. They would have left my mouth hollow and untrue, and she would’ve heard my apprehension. “If something happens, and there is any truth to all this Himmel and soul stuff Jim told me about, you and I will see each other again, somehow.”

“I believe that,” she said softly, looking away. “And you should too. In your darkest hour, please don’t give up. Please, Kevin, promise me now you won’t give up, like you wanted to do with Rose.” She knew something about my fate, and this was as much as she would say. She looked back up. “Say it.”

“You want me to promise something over a situation I have no idea about. You sound like you don’t know how it ends, whatever will happen to me?”

“No, I do not, which is why you have to promise me now you won’t give in. I know you don’t know what that means, but you will, and if something happens to me this day that prevents us from meeting again, you have to hold on and not give up.”

I sighed, bowing my head into her curly red hair. “God damn it, Kristina. It’s not fair.”

“Just, promise me.”

I closed my eyes and kissed her forehead. With great effort and reluctance, I spoke the words she wanted to hear, unsure if I could follow through when the time came. “I promise.”

She took my face in her hands and gently kissed me on the lips. “Thank you, love.”

Connor pulled at my sports jacket. “Come on Kev, we have to go.” I stepped back. Ryan gave the instruction to activate the transporter. Above us, a cumulus cloud glowed pink. With a blinding flash of light, sans the thunder, Krissie and Ryan disappeared into the fading pink glow above.

They were gone. She was gone.

My heart began to ache with the thought of never seeing her again. I turned to face Connor. “All bullshit aside, do you know what she was talking about?”

“I do,” Connor replied, “But it’s Code…”

“Yeah, Code Black, I know.”

“If it makes you feel any better, your 2009 time index is when I meet you for the first time as well.”

I nodded in confirmation. “Yeah, I kinda got the idea you met me before today. I’m not at all surprised.”

“We need to focus on what we have to do now,” Connor said. I looked up. The clouds above us began to dissipate. They had flown away already. “I’ve only done this one other time. When I came through, it was twelve feet off the ground, just about. It left me with some broken ribs and a broken arm.” I winced. “I had hoped it was still there, the pool at your former house, so we could deliberately land in the water, but it’s not. I can calculate our arrival spot down to the second, but not the height. I over compensated the first time I tried this, as not to arrive stuck in the ground, which would have killed me. In our case, I’ll overcompensate again, but hopefully a little less this time so the fall should be shorter. When we come through, be prepared to bend your knees and crouch into a ball when you land, to roll off the energy of the fall. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I said, still uncertain how this would work, or end.

“Are you ready then?” Connor asked.

“What? We’re doing this right now?”

“Yes. There isn’t any reason to wait. Why, do you need a minute? We don’t have many to spare.”

“No,” I said, hesitant. “I guess it’s best to just get this over with and not make it worse by waiting.”

Connor slapped my shoulder. “Good man.”

“Wait!” I said, holding up my hand. “Couldn’t you do the same thing, only instead of going forward a second, you could go back a few hours.”

“In theory, yes. But I’ve never tried it before, and as you should know by now, it’s a dangerous thing in my profession, an unknown variable. Besides, what has happened has happened. We know Tom is offline. We can’t go back and undo what we already know has occurred.”

Connor gripped the middle of my arms, and I his. “Don’t be nervous, this’ll be a piece of cake.” He winked at me as I rolled my eyes.

“Uh huh,” I said under my breath. Connor closed his eyes. The twilight effect began. The flash of the opened temporal portal consumed us. I looked down at the wood of the PrinzessinErde’s desk. In an instant, about five feet below us, Kentucky blue grass replaced it.

IV

We dropped what should have been a short fall, similar to jumping off the top of a ladder, or the edge of a roof. I let go of Connor and tucked into a ball when my feet hit the ground. I rolled off to my right side, opening into a body roll. Connor was right. It was a piece of cake. He stood up, unscathed. I realized as I stood up that I felt sick and nasty from temporal side effects.

“You okay?” Connor asked.

“The fall was fine. It’s the side effects that make me feel shitty.”

Connor withdrew the TS-14 injector from his back pocket. I didn’t remember him pocketing the thing from Krissie. He pushed the injector into my neck and instilled a burst. It must have been a bigger one. Every ache and pain I felt was now gone. I looked over toward the basement entrance where Luke stood.

He and Connor did their back and forth with security until Luke cleared him. Luke then disappeared into the basement.

Connor waved me over. “You still have an Impüls?” I lifted my shirt to reveal its location, stashed in the front waistline of my pants. “Good. Luke won’t be going with us, and he still unaccounted for, Tom is.”

Luke granted us access to the ES-1 hatch. Connor gave him one further order after we climbed down into the entryway: ‘no one in or out’ until he gave the all clear.

Once inside, we ran for the Jaunte room. The posted guards inside and out were unconscious, but not dead. Connor rubbed his whiskered chin. “Martin spared their lives. I thought for certain he would kill them all.” I shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. I had no explanation to offer. We continued our dash for the elevator lift. Once it took us to the bottom, the distance to the Brüder-4 hangar would be at least a mile, maybe more. The guards at the bottom of the lift were also out for the count, but alive.

Connor stopped me before we began our long trek to the hangar. His face was red, seething with anger. “I want Wexler and Dan alive. Let me see your Impüls.” I handed it to him. He adjusted the power and intensity settings. “This is the highest stun setting. Do not change it.”

I returned the Impüls to the pocket of my sports jacket. Connor turned his communicator sideways. “BerechnenBodenstationeinSteuerungs-Schnittstelle.” Its interface changed completely. He glanced briefly at me as I observed from over his shoulder. “I can access the ES-1 system from here.”

“I figured as much. Some of this German I understand.”

“It’s not quite German. Well, Earth German anyways. Hold on. Sperren SieBodenstationein.” I could see changes to the interface, but not around us. “I just locked it down, the station. If Martin is here, he’ll have a difficult time getting out.”

Connor continued leading our run through the long hallways and corridors of ES-1. I kept up as best I could, always farther behind than I wanted to be. He flipped open his communicator. “Brüder-5, please respond.”

“Copy TDI-1. We’re about five to seven minutes away from your location,” Ryan said. “I’ve detected no launch from there as of yet.”

“Good, we may still have a chance. Keep the COM open, TDI-2.”

“Copy. Any sign of Tom?”

“Negative, but he’s a lower priority until I can secure Brüder 4 and take Martin into custody, again,” Connor said, with a bit of self-loathing.

“Understood. When we arrive, we’ll station ourselves above the launch exit.”

“Copy.”

We reached the T-junction I remembered from my first visit, the one that led to the hangar. Far off to the right, almost on the horizon were two people, appearing as dots. Connor pulled me back out of the hallway. “Careful. They could still see us if they’re looking.”

“Can’t we do the spatial thing again, to get closer?”

“Not down here. We could end up in a wall, a floor, a ceiling. It’s too risky.” Connor poked his head around the corner. “They’re inside. Run like your life depends on it.”

We took off down the hall toward the hangar bay, running at speeds I didn’t think were possible. It took over six minutes to reach the entrance, the both of us sweaty and panting for breath when we arrived.

Connor saw something I didn’t. On the floor, directly against the wall was a ring. He picked it up and held it out. Emblazoned on the front was the letter C.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a Corporation ring.”

“Dan lost it?”

“Maybe not. This isn’t something he’d lose so casually. I think it’s a clue.”

I found Connor’s reveal intriguing. “To what?”

“If Dan left this here, or dropped it without Martin knowing, then he wanted someone to find it. He’s sending a message.”

“Which is?”

“I think he’s in there against his will, Dan is. I think Martin has him under duress.”

“What?” I asked, in disbelief. “That makes no sense!”

“Yeah, it does, but I’ll explain later. Get ready, we’re going in. Stun either of them whether they fire or not, but I do want them alive.”

“Understood.”

Connor spoke the Germanesque commands to unseal the door to the hangar.

V

An Impüls blast brushed across the top of our heads when the entrance opened. A good fifty feet away, Martin stood behind a bound Dan, Impüls extended in our direction. “Just so you know, I missed on purpose.”

Connor’s heated gaze didn’t break. He didn’t flinch once. “I know. I trained you better than that.”

Martin barked with laughter. “Yeah, you did.” Connor stepped into the bay, irking Martin into tightening his grip on the Impüls. “Don’t push me, MacKenzie. I’ve already had a shitty day, no thanks to you.”

“What are you doing, Martin?” Connor asked. “I’ve already talked to Vincent. I know what you were originally planning on doing. Without the Spiritual element, you can’t hurt them, The Brüder.”

“What makes you so god damned sure I don’t have it? Huh?”

“I’m unprotected. You could very easily dominate me to take the station out of lockdown.”

A seething Dan shook his head in defiance. “He doesn’t have it. He killed Markaurdus because he wouldn’t tell him where it was.”

Martin gripped the Impüls and smashed it into the side of Dan’s head. Blood trickled from an unseen gash. “Shut up, you! You’ve been more of a pain in the ass, than anything. Your master plan indeed! A total clusterfuck from the word go!”

Dan spat blood, looking up at Connor in a haze. “He doesn’t have shit.”

Martin gripped Dan by his throat and squeezed. “Believe him if you want to, MacKenzie. We both know what a chronic liar he is.”

I couldn’t read Connor, if he believed Dan or not. He continued to stare Martin down with the same cold look. It was impossible to know which one of them was telling the truth.

Or was it?

A light bulb switched on in my head. The Brüder element detection ring Krissie gave me was still in my pocket. I reached in and pulled it out. It glowed red, and only red.

“Connor,” I whispered, sliding it onto my pinky as I held up my hand. Without moving his head, he glanced over. The red band was all the evidence he needed.

He returned his attention to Martin. “Dan’s right, you don’t have it. So what do you hope to accomplish now?” I held up my hand with the ring for Martin to see.

Martin shook his head with disdain. “It doesn’t matter, MacKenzie. You and I? We have the same goal. We couldn’t stop the Corporation here, but on Deneb, they have technology that puts all this shit here to shame. Let me go Connor, let me bring some of it back so we can finally stomp these Corporation bugs and their masters into the ground, once and for all.” Connor didn’t reply. His expression remained unchanged. “What do you say?”

“You want revenge for Victor. We aren’t about revenge, Martin. Once we become the same vicious monsters they are, the Brüder and The Corporation, we become them, making us no better.”

“They killed Kelli! Remember? Your wife?”

Connor’s jaw clenched. “Careful, Martin…”

“Aw, fuck that, man! Not once did you want revenge for her? Lie to me, tell me you didn’t! I was there! I watched you swear over her dead body that you’d avenge her. That was some twenty years ago, and yet you never did.”

“And you believe I’d get satisfaction by blindly running into their headquarters, taking out as many as I could before they killed me? If you really believe that, then you never understood me, or the FCA, at all.” Connor withdrew an Impüls from his belt. He pointed it directly at Martin’s head. “It’s suicide, what you want to do. How does that avenge Victor? You’re going about this all wrong. We will avenge their deaths, the ones we loved, by bringing down The Corporation as a whole, all of them, not just the first few you see on some raving mad revenge spree.”

Martin scoffed with dry laughter. “It’s no wonder we didn’t stop them the first time. You don’t take action when action was needed, man! It’s your weakness!”

“What good did your hot headed, take-no-prisoners attitude ever get you? I’ll tell you what it got, it got Robert killed.”

Bullshit!” Martin snapped, reaffirming his aim towards Connor. “That’s your ass kissing boy Capcoseve talking!”

“Is it?” Connor asked, weapon still carefully trained at Martin’s head.

“Robert died from cancer, how could you possibly say that was my fault?”

“How did Robert get cancer? Hmm?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“Do you remember what we did, the three of us, when we broke out of Cincinnati?” Connor asked, eyebrows raised in question.

“We hijacked that Corporation train across The Boundaries and derailed it. So?”

“We derailed it because it was runaway, because you decided killing him, the engineer, was a good idea. We needed him to stop the damned thing.”

Martin rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, I know. You reamed my ass about that then too. But let’s not forget…let’s not forget we prevented all those weapons from making their way into the hands of Corporation sympathizers. It was a blessing in disguise.”

“Was it? He was exposed to the radiation from that explosion, Robert was.”

“Yes, I know. All of us were spiritually displaced into other soul-suppressed bodies. If the body Robert used got radiation sickness, then it stayed behind in 2062.”

“No, it didn’t.”

Martin appeared confused. “Diseases are biological. They don’t transfer with soul energy. It’s impossible.”

“I thought so to. Krissie proved different. The energy from that radiation infected Robert’s soul energy. Probably due to the side affects of the stage one RAID we were all exposed to, she’s not sure. Either way, she proved it was possible. He died from that business with the train, Robert did, which was your doing.”

Martin’s mouth was open in disbelief. “That’s not fair. I could just as easily say your getting us mixed up with this displaced quarter nonsense caused Victor and me to get stranded in 1981. I could say it was the reason Victor died.”

“Yes, you could. But it wasn’t I who sold out to them, The Corporation, which also led to Victor’s demise, and for what? Because you stopped believing in what the FCA is doing? Because you’re still pissed off over my choosing Ryan to succeed Robert over your friend in Research? What was it?”

Martin looked away from Connor, lowering his Impüls. He instead pointed it at Dan’s head. “It was these motherfuckers who fucked with my head, man. I don’t remember most of it. They had me questioning everything I ever believed in. Even now, I don’t know what to believe about them, or about you. All I know for sure is I must avenge Victor, the best friend I’ve ever had. I’m doing it with or without you!”

Connor lowered his Impüls. “Then come back with me, Martin. Let’s go back to 2095 and work this out. Krissie can figure out what they did to you. Victor is safe. I’ll bring him back with us too.”

“Victor is dead! I only agreed to take care of Vincent because, for some reason, he’s going to help solve the stuck time problem in 2095. Vincent is your problem now.”

“I don’t believe you. I know who made you do it, and that you did under duress.” Connor deliberately left out Dan’s name, dancing across more Code Black eggshells. It amazed me how far ahead the man was able to think in order to avoid giving away too much information.

Martin’s eyebrows lowered in anger. “Fuck you, MacKenzie. You have no idea what I went through, killing my best friend.”

“That’s what you don’t get, old friend. He’s not dead, he’s evolved, and he still looks up to you. I watched the way you were with him, when the two of you came back from the mall yesterday. Those were not the actions of a man who doesn’t care.”

Yesterday. That blew my mind. That event happened several days ago for me, not counting what Connor and I witnessed from the observation platform only a few hours ago. It was however, yesterday for Martin.

Connor’s speech didn’t disarm Martin. In fact, he appeared angrier. With Dan in his clutches and using him as a shield, Martin began walking backwards toward the Brüder-4 ship with Dan in tow. “I have to do this. There’s nothing you can say or do that’ll stop me.”

Connor’s diplomatic demeanor disappeared. He raised his Impüls, face red with fury. “The station is locked down, Martin. The launch exit is sealed. You’re not going anywhere. So please, consider my offer. Come home with me. Let us help you.”

A silent and bloodied Dan had something to inject into the dialog. “They’ll brainwash you, Mr. Wexler.”

Martin whacked Dan’s had with the Impüls. “No, it was you sons of whores who brainwashed me. MacKenzie may be a lot of things, but he’s not a liar. He tells you truth, to your face. That’s not something you Corporation gangsters could ever say.”

“They haven’t completely turned you, Martin,” Connor said. “I know it’s not too late for you.” The diatribe didn’t stop Martin from slowly working his way - walking backward - toward Brüder-4. “Martin, the good person I know, he’s still in there, but he’s struggling. I can help you, Krissie can help you.”

The look on Martin’s face suggested he might be struggling with his options. Part of him wanted to come home, but another wanted to avenge Victor by going it alone. In silence, Martin reached the ship, forcing Dan to enter first. They disappeared into the ship’s open entrance.

“Does he have the device to start it?” I asked.

“Yeah.” Connor rubbed his closed eyes and forehead with frustration as the entrance to the ship closed. “It’s already in the ship. With all the security getting in, there didn’t seem to be a need to lock up the ship’s start dongle.”

“TDI-1, were at your location,” Ryan said over the COM.

“Copy,” Connor replied, tersely. “He’s locked himself in Brüder-4, Martin has, and taken Dan as a hostage. The station is on lockdown. They’re not going anywhere.”

“Copy. We overheard the conversation.”

“I should have known,” Martin said, breaking the channel with the ship’s COM. His tone was bitter. “You have Ryan up there, don’t you? Brüder-2 was docked at ES-5 when I left, so what’s up with that?”

I looked at Connor. The look on his face said it all. Martin did not know about the new Brüder-5 ship. “New things have come to light while you were away, Martin. We have another ship in service. She’s armed, so if you try to escape, we have the ability to take you and the ship down.”

“That’s a lie,” Martin said, in anger. “Unobtanium is indestructible. You could throw a nuke at it and it wouldn’t make a difference.”

“No, it’s not a lie,” Connor said. “Don’t test me Martin, please. Stop this, come back with us. Let us help you.”

The blue glow of Brüder-4’s Ion engines flashed to life, causing the air around us to become heavier. The ship lifted silently off the floor, drifting through the air to the exit tunnel.

Connor sighed in defeat. “He’s attempting to leave, TDI-2. Be ready.”

“I thought you said the station was on lockdown,” Ryan said. “How can he get out?”

“Easily,” Martin said dryly, “That old guy who tried to stop us? I have his communicator. Sperren SieloslassenBodenstationein.”

The dull red glow from the light sources in the room returned to solid white. The silent hum of the ship faded as it rose to the surface.

“We have to help Ryan,” Connor said lowly. “Come on, we have to get to the Jaunte.” With haste, Connor rushed out of the hangar, running back the way we came. As before, I struggled to keep up. He held the communicator to his lips as he ran. “TDI-2, switch to the alternate frequency.”

Several seconds passed as we dashed down the never-ending hallway. “TDI-1, do you copy?” Ryan asked.

“I’m here,” Connor said, speaking in gasps as we ran. “We’re on the way to Brüder-2. Have Krissie clear us for take off from ES-5 as soon as we arrive through the Jaunte. With Jim and the Chief down, I’m not sure whose in charge over there right now, so have her sort that out.”

“Copy TDI-1. Be aware, I have Brüder-2’s start dongle.”

“Copy that. The spare should still be in the hangar. Has Martin appeared yet?”

“Negative. All is quiet over the reservoir.”

“Contact me if that changes, and when we’re clear for ES-5. It’s going to take us another ten minutes to get to the Jaunte. TDI-1, ten-eight.”

Connor kept checking the time on his watch as we ran. It took us closer to twelve minutes to reach the lift and the top of the station. The various stunned security personnel remained unconscious. Connor assured me they would all be fine in a few hours when I asked about their condition.

We entered the Jaunte room, working carefully down the huge set of steep stairs to the portal. Connor worked quickly and with purpose to prepare the Jaunte for transport. Ryan had not yet checked in.

I took my seat on the platform. “Why hasn’t Martin left yet?” I asked.

“Not sure. I’m thinking he took my bluff seriously.”

“Bluff?”

“It has no weapons, Brüder-5. I wanted Martin to think different.” Connor finished his work, flipping open his communicator. “TDI-2, do you copy?”

“Ten-four.”

“SITREP?”

“DRADIS reports Brüder-4 stationary at the edge of the exit tunnel. Krissie is awaiting word from ES-5 about who’s in charge and relayed your clearance instructions on arrival.”

Connor sighed with frustration. “We’re ready to Jaunte now.”

“Copy, we’ll notify them.”

“TDI-1, ten-eight.” Connor climbed onto the platform, secured us, and started the Jaunte. The lights and sounds induced unconsciousness.

VI

On the other side of the Jaunte, a military officer and several black fatigued soldiers met us, two of which I recognized as Lieutenants West and Brashear. The officer stepped forward. “FCA MacKenzie? I am First Lieutenant Bowen and I’m in charge of this…mess.” Bowen held up one of the pen like retina scanning devices to confirm Connor’s identity. Subsequently, Connor released us from the Jaunte platform

“The man to my right is Conundrum, under my protection,” Connor said. “We need to be taken to whatever hangar Brüder-2 is docked at.”

“Hangar niner-echo. If you’ll follow us sir.”

In a quick and orderly fashion, we left the Jaunte room, bypassing the usual security checks at each exit on Bowen’s orders. “FCA Capcoseve briefed me on your situation, sir. Is there anything else I can do to assist you?”

“What is FCA Marks’ status?” Connor asked as we approached the exit of the Jaunte building.

“Dead, sir. Preliminary information suggests FCA Marks was tortured and killed by either the Corporation agent accompanying FCA Wexler, Wexler himself, or both.”

Former FCA Wexler,” Connor said, correcting the Lieutenant. “He’s been discharged from the FCA, Martin Wexler has, and should be considered armed and dangerous until capture. FCA Capcoseve and I are in the process of bringing him in now.”

“My mistake, sir.”

“They’re working together?” I asked. “Didn’t Martin have Dan as a hostage?”

Bowen answered. “Witnesses report Wexler turning on the Corporation agent when they attempted to leave the base. From what I understand, the agent wanted to leave via the Brüder-2 ship. Wexler did not. A scuffle ensued ending with Wexler stunning the agent and bounding his hands. They left via the Jaunte. The destination could not be ascertained due to tampering with the system.”

We left the Jaunte building, walking briskly in the direction of the Brüder-2 hangar.

“Where is FCA Marks now?” Connor asked, showing no emotion.

“Medical, sir.”

“Please see he is treated with respect,” Connor said. “My chief medical officer will tend to him when we return.”

No, I don’t think she will, I thought, glancing at Connor with worry. He didn’t acknowledge my glance.

“Yes sir,” Bowen said.

“What is the Chief’s status?”

“Unconscious and unresponsive,” Bowen said, darkly. “He was responsible for Wexler’s escape.”

Connor closed his eyes in frustration as we hurried along. He predicted this. “Explain.”

“Again sir, this is preliminary information from witness statements,” Bowen said. “The Chief was in medical, unconscious. At approximately four-thirteen hours, he and the Corporation agent were seen leaving Medical for the brig. Security reported the incident to me personally, at which time I reported to the brig with four armed FCA liaison soldiers. By that time, Wexler and the agent escaped. I discovered the Chief unconscious in Wexler’s cell. He did not respond to our chief medical officer when he attempted to revive him. Medical believes the chief has been compromised and possibly programmed by Corporation agents.”

“He’s had some influence over the Chief for some time now, Martin Wexler has.” Connor said. “Wexler has been brainwashed by The Corporation, but I’ll have to brief you on that later.”

“Thank you sir, that would be most appreciated.”

Connor’s communicator emitted its robotic chirp. He pulled it out of his pocket and flipped it open. “Go for TDI-1.”

“Brüder-4 launched out of ES-1 faster than we could intercept,” Ryan said in annoyance. “We are in pursuit.”

“Damn!” Connor snapped. “What’s their course?”

“Martin is wasting no time. He’s heading out of the atmosphere.”

“Standby,” Connor said as we entered the Brüder-2 hanger. Connor led us to a key coded lockbox with a retinal scanner. He entered a lengthy numerical combination and pressed his face up to the scanner. It chirped as a compartment slid out from the bottom. Inside was the black key like device, the start dongle for Brüder-2.

“Is the base on lockdown?” Connor asked Bowen, as we hurried for the ship.

“Yes sir.”

Connor nodded as he and I boarded Brüder-2. Having been through this drill, I took the seat behind Connors. “No,” he said as he sat in the pilot’s chair. “I want you in the co-pilot seat.” I switched seats, looking at him with curiosity. He didn’t explain himself. “Thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll contact you as soon as I can.”

“Sir,” Bowen said, moving away from the ship.

Connor pushed the start dongle into its port. “Berechnung, Kontrollen.” The ship’s interfaces blinked to life. “Berechnung, Tür schließen.” The entryway to the ship disappeared. “Berechnung, volle Energie der Maschine.” The ship’s engines hummed to life. Connor guided the ship out of the hanger and slowly into the air. “Aktivieren DRADIS.” A three dimensional radar hologram appeared over the flight console. Connor tapped at some controls, filtering out much of the air traffic seen in the radar image. Two blips, both labeled unknown raced away from the right side of the picture.

“Is that them?” I asked.

“Yes, and it’s going to be tough to catch up. Hold on.” Connor guided the ship out of its hanger and pushed his fingers forward on the flight panel. It sent the ship careening forward into the sky. The semi-transparent cloak activated immediately, giving the sensation of flying through the afternoon sky. The air pressure around us compensated for the ship’s motion. “We’re going to push some serious speed. If it gets too much to handle, close your eyes. I’ll let you know if I need you.”

I wouldn’t need to close my eyes. I was born for this. We flew far above the clouds, coming close to the outer atmosphere as the light blue sky melted into dark blue. Watching the far away ground below suggested Connor was heading for the east coast in an attempt to follow Ryan’s course.

Schwerkraftzu kompensieren,” Connor said. The waning gravity balanced itself. He then tapped at the communication console. “Come in Brüder-5”

“Copy, Brüder-2,” Krissie said. “I’m relaying for Ryan.”

“Report.”

“We’re within a mile of Brüder-4. Martin has not responded to our attempts at communication. We’ve come close to him a few times, but he increases speed. We’re already at a quarter to the speed of light.”

“Odd,” Connor said. “Brüder-4 is faster than that.” Connor opened an additional frequency. “Brüder-4, do you copy?” Connor paused for a reply. None came. “Martin, do you copy?”

“I thought you said your new ship was armed,” Martin said, disappointed. “I have to tell you Connor, she’s beautiful. Did you discover a fifth ship?”

“Not exactly,” Connor said. “Where are you going? Is Dan still alive?”

“He is, but he’s unconscious. I couldn’t fly and deal with his lying ass at the same time.”

“It’s not too late to turn around and end this,” Connor said, practically pleading.

We could hear Martin sigh. “No Connor, it is too late,” he said with a touch of sorrow. “Too much has happened. You won’t be able to trust me, and vice versa.”

Connor shook his head in defiance. “That’s not true, Martin. Krissie can examine you. She could probably fix whatever it is they did to you.”

“It’s true, love,” Krissie said. “I can help you. You don’t have to suffer anymore.”

Martin did not reply to her. He chose to speak only with Connor. “I’m sorry Connor, but I have to do this. I’m out.”

“Martin?” Connor asked. “Martin, are you still there?” The readout on the COM panel suggested Brüder-4 was no longer receiving. “Damn.” Connor looked at me, helpless. “I don’t know where this is going, Kev. I have no idea what to do.”

“Can’t you fire phasers or some damned thing?” I foolishly asked.

“These ships aren’t combat ships. They’re transport ships. There was never any need for such things. Until you brought us the original Brüder-3 operating system, we had no idea how to damage Unobtanium.”

“So why didn’t you put something like that in Brüder-5?”

Connor shrugged his shoulders. “Because, again, it’s not something I thought we’d ever have to do. We have all the ships. Why would we fire on one of our own?”

“For shit like this,” I said pointing out into space.

Connor nodded subtlety, but made no reply. He increased the speed of the ship as we left the Earth’s atmosphere. “We should catch up to them in a few minutes.”

“Won’t we run out of air?” I asked. “Wasn’t that a concern the last time we did this?”

“No. It’s at 98 percent, the ship’s power level, and there are only two of us. What we have to watch out for is radiation exposure. It’ll deflect most of it, the Unobtanium, but only for so long. We’ll have an hour or so before it becomes an issue.”

“But not for Martin, cause Brüder-4 is space ready, right?”

“Yeah, right.” I heard depression in his voice. Connor reached out and pushed the speed of the ship higher. If I read the control panel correctly, we were pushing four-eights the speed of light, an eighth faster than Martin. He pointed out the view port. “There they are.”

I narrowed my eyes. Four miles ahead were two blue objects, the light generated from their Ion engines. “Where are they going? Can you tell?”

“By the time we catch up to them, we’ll be about halfway to Mars’ orbit.”

I whipped my head around to face Connor. “Are you serious? Do you know how many people from Earth have ever been out this far?”

“Besides us and them out there? None, as far as I know.”

The flight continued to drag on, with the two ships barely coming closer in the viewport. Connor shook his head and pushed our speed to half of light. The two ships then began to grow in size. Connor reduced the speed to its previous setting, putting us a mile away from them. From our vantage point, Ryan was closer to Brüder-4, perhaps a quarter of a mile. There would be no intercepting Martin. Space flight is funny like that, with nothing relative. If Ryan tried to block him, Martin could go in any one of 4 * pi steradians, or 41,253 degrees. With no weapons, I didn’t see how this could end either, with the exception of one variable.

“Connor, how far out does Martin need to be to activate the gravity drive?”

“I don’t know, it’s never been tested. We don’t even know if it works. Ryan discovered plans for the ship in the FCA-1 HoloLog database some years back. It led us to believe they constructed her on Earth, the Brüder did. The original der Widerstand members found her and stashed her away at ES-1. Both were too remain secret. Less chance of either falling into The Corporations hands, so Tom said.”

“Brüder-2, Martin is reducing speed,” Ryan said over the COM. “I think he means to come to a stop.”

Connor looked intensely out the viewport towards the slowing Brüder-4, then at the COM panel. Brüder-4 remained offline. “Copy, I see.”

“If Martin is trying to jump to Deneb, do we even know if the drive will work?” Ryan asked. “For all we know, that drive could blow up, or open a black hole.”

“Whatever happens, Dan isn’t going to die,” Connor said. “We know this already. Either it’ll fail, the drive, or Martin makes the trip there and somehow Dan comes back.”

“Copy.”

Brüder-4 came to a stop, allowing Ryan to close in. “Ryan, keep your distance,” Connor said. “If he tries to activate the drive, I don’t know how far away you’ll need to be from it, the event horizon. I’ll come around from the other side.” Connor guided the ship away from Ryan’s location, coming around in an attempt to face Brüder-4 from a position of several miles. According to the DRADIS output, Brüder-5 stood still as well, within a mile of Brüder-4’s location.

“Maybe Martin will give up,” I said, for lack of anything else to say. “We’ve dealt with an older Dan, and Martin seems to have fallen off the grid as far as he’s concerned. Maybe it’s because he’s imprisoned.”

Connor glanced over doubtfully. “I hope you’re right, but I doubt it. I know Martin. Once he gets an idea in his head, there’s no stopping him.”

“Agreed,” I heard Ryan say, darkly.

The readout display on the flight panel flashed red with the words ‘Alarmstufe radiologischen.’ This grabbed Connor’s attention. “Oh shit.”

“Radiological alert!” Ryan shouted. “He’s activated the gravity drive!”

“I see it,” Connor said under his breath as he brought the ship to a standstill. He opened all FCA frequencies via the COM panel. “Martin, do you copy? Please, don’t do this. It’s never been fully tested, the gravity drive. We don’t know what could happen if you try to use it.” No reply came. I couldn’t tell by watching the COM panel readout if Martin heard. “Martin, do you copy?” Silence. “Are you willing to risk your life on some petty revenge scheme?”

I narrowed my eyes in an effort to see what was happening through the view port. “Can you magnify what we’re seeing?

Berechnen, Anzeige gitter.” A yellow grid overlaid the view port. “Erweitern, gitter zwei sechs.” The grid containing Brüder-4 filled the view port. The blue illumination of her Ion engines disappeared. The ship appeared adrift. For nearly a minute, nothing changed.

“Connor, are you seeing this?” Ryan asked, dropping the formality of radio protocol.

“I am. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing. Or maybe Dan stopped him.” Connor paused. “Martin, do you copy?” Seconds passed with no reply.

In the view port, space rippled away from Brüder-4, like a shockwave. Connor as I looked at each other. “What the fuck was that?” I asked.

Connor grabbed onto the armrests of the pilot’s chair. “Hold on.” I did the same as the shockwave hit the ship, pushing it back and off to the side. We could have been upside down for all I knew. There’s no clear up or down in space without the Earth’s surface as a frame of reference. With the artificial gravity keeping us seated, there was no way to determine our orientation. Connor turned the ship back toward the image of Brüder-4. From our perspective, she was slanted almost ninety degrees.

“What was that?” I asked, as Connor righted our position relative to Brüder-4.

“Had to be the gravity drive.” Connor said, grim, staring intently at the still adrift Brüder-4.

“We’re being pulled toward Brüder-4,” Ryan said. “Our engine is idle.”

“Move away, now!” Connor said sternly, as he manipulated another set of control on the flight panel. The image in the viewport zoomed out, bringing Brüder-5 into view as well. Ryan flipped his ship upside down and proceeded to fly away from Brüder-4. It moved slow, dragging along. The view in our viewport began to tilt toward the top as we watched. Our ship began to move slowly forward on an angle. “I think we have a problem.”

“Our engine is dragging,” Ryan said. “We’re not moving as fast as we should.”

Using his hand over the flight controls, Connor attempted to reverse direction. The ship began to move backward, barely. “It’s the event horizon. We’re being dragged in too.”

Brüder-5 lurched forward, the blue glow of her Ion engines increasing, flickering in intensity. The space around the nose of Brüder-4 bent slowly into a vortex.

“We should be shooting away from here,” Ryan said, panic in his voice. “Engines are at 80 percent power. We’re barely moving.”

“Give it everything,” Connor said, licking his lips. The hum of our Ion drives increased as he boosted the engine power. With appreciable speed, we backed out of the pull of Brüder-4’s gravity.

“Copy,” Ryan said under his breath. The glow of Brüder-5’s engines intensified, engulfing the ship in powerful, blinding blue light. “85 percent power, 88 percent, 90 percent!”

“We’re not moving,” Krissie whispered, in terror. “We’re not going to make it.”

The ball of blue light that was Brüder-5 began to slide back toward the vortex surrounding Brüder-4. Connor smashed his fist into the flight panel, tight lipped. “Go to light speed Ryan, now!”

“Copy. Engine at 95, 96, 97…”

Connor stood up. “Punch it Ryan! It’s now or never!

The blue Ion light surrounding Brüder-5 disappeared. In its place, a blinding white flash engulfed the black of space. Simultaneously, a ball of white light resembling a lens flare engulfed the rear of Brüder-4. In a burst, it ran down the length of the ship to her nose, sending Brüder-4 streaking into the black vortex. Our ship began to move forward again, into the well of gravity. The barely moving streak of white engulfing Brüder-5 began to slide toward the center of the vortex, giving her seconds until the gravity sucked her in too.

“Kristina,” I murmured.

“Remember my words, Kevin. Please don’t give up,” she whispered. “I love you.”

“God damn it!” I shrieked. “We have to do something!”

“Connor,” Ryan said, resigned. “If we don’t make it back, it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve with you.”

Connor’s eyes welled up. “You’ll find a way back, old friend. If anyone can do it, it’s you.”

“Copy,” he said, dejected. “But, just in case…”

“I know, Ryan. The honor is all mine. Both of you.”

I stood up, placing both my hands on the view port as Brüder-5 drifted faster towards the closing vortex. “No,” I said, begging in a whisper. “Please, no.”

“Goodbye,” I heard Krissie say softly, as the ball of light that was Brüder-5 streaked into the vortex. The viewport became black as death with no more illumination. Seconds later, another shockwave pushed our ship farther away. In place of the vortex, a single speck of white light twinkled.

We said nothing, staring blindly out in the black of space. “Will they survive the trip?” I asked, in a whisper.

“I don’t know. I just…I don’t know.”

We continued to stare out the view port, in shock over the loss of our friends. “Do you see that?” I asked.

“What?”

“There’s the smallest dot of white light where Brüder-4 was.”

Connor peered out the viewport. “I do now,” he said with urgency, regaining control of the ship. I sat back down in the co-pilot’s chair as he flew. “Berechnen, zurückgesetztsehen.” The view port returned to its normal view, removing the enhanced image, the new source of light still visible.

“What is that?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. If it’s what I think it is, it’s another question answered.” We moved closer to the object, although it didn’t increase in size. Connor glanced at the panel read out. “We’re within a quarter of a mile of it. Nothing registers.”

I wanted to propose several questions, opting to keep them to myself until Connor said something. He was visibly raw. I didn’t want to irritate him. We watched the object in the viewport grow as Connor carefully piloted the ship closer.

VII

Connor peered out the viewport. “I do now,” he said with urgency, regaining control of the ship. I sat back down in the co-pilot’s chair as he flew. “Berechnen, zurückgesetztsehen.” The view port returned to its normal view, removing the enhanced image, the new source of light still visible.

I looked at Connor. “What the hell just happened? We already did this.”

“It’s a white hole. It just sent us back in time, by about a minute.”

“The same white hole from 2095?”

He looked over, shaking his head with frustration. “Dammit to hell, we created this mess, not The Corporation.” He threw up his hands. “This has to be the reason why they never used it to return home, the Brüder. They knew the ship was flawed.” He slammed his fists into the flight panel and buried his head into them.

I didn’t know what to say. Finally, I said the only logical thing I could think of. “Look, we know Dan came back somehow. You should interrogate him. See if he knows what happened to Martin, or if Ryan and Kristina arrived with them.

“That would be a miracle,” Connor said, speaking with his head still planted into his closed fists. “The composition of that ship, Brüder-4, was different than the others. Tom thought it was to withstand the stress of exiting a wormhole with intense gravity. We weren’t sure if the Unobtanium used for the other ships would withstand the stress.” Connor sat up, meeting my stare. “The truth is, if they did come through, chances are the ship would be crushed into a small mass.”

I swallowed, the lump in my throat not subsiding. “You think they’re dead, don’t you.”

“I have to assume they are.” Connor could not hide the emotion behind his words. “I have to move forward as if they are.”

“So let’s ask Dan what he knows. He did agree to cooperate for asylum. Hold him to his word.”

Connor nodded, wiping away a tear that threatened to fall down his rugged face. “Okay. Let’s do it.”

VIII

Even in Connor’s emotional state, which he tried desperately to hide, there was still protocol to follow. He returned Brüder-2 to its proper place at the Area 51 hangar. While there, we viewed Jim Marks’ dead body. Dan, and or Martin tortured him, breaking both his arms and several ribs, probably in an attempt to secure the spiritual displacement element. Connor was positive Martin didn’t have it, but the blue ring that was its source was missing. Without the element itself, the ring would be useless. This led Connor to believe one of two possibilities. First, the element was safe in its ring housing, carefully hidden by Jim before his capture and death, or two, Jim was using the element when he died. If that was the case, it meant the element would be lost forever, within Earth’s Himmel.

There was no way to know which scenario was the correct one until Jim could reassert himself into a new body and tell us himself. Connor explained that Jim would not use one of the soul-suppressed bodies in care of the FCA. Instead, he would use a clone of the same body he’d been using for the last one hundred years. There’s a facility at one of the other Earth stations under control of the FCA where this cloning process occurred. Whether a clone was ready and available for Jim’s use, Connor didn’t know. Jim would make contact when he could, unless there were complications. Connor wouldn’t go into what those could be.

Lieutenant Bowen arranged for Chief Manyette to receive care on the base for the unknown condition that ailed him. An FCA liaison doctor would attempt to determine why Manyette would not wake up. Connor didn’t believe the Chief was soul suppressed. Rather his lack of response to any stimuli was part of Martin’s influence, much the way the Brüder security phrase activated him after his concussion.

Connor and I traced our footsteps back to ES-1 via the Jaunte in an effort to determine Tom’s status. Some of the security personnel there regained consciousness in our absence and began sweeping the station for intruders. Connor gave them new orders to have their posts relieved and to begin a search for Tom Richards. By the evening of that day, we returned to the Arthur Avenue location so Connor could brief Luke on the status of Tom, which remained unknown. ES-1 would remain on lockdown under purview of either Connor or Bowen for security shift changes.

From ES-1, we Jaunted to FCA-1. With the exception of security personnel, the station was unmanned. Connor gave me another TS-14 injection and took us to 2095, where he could interrogate Dan.

With Ryan and Krissie MIA, Connor temporarily promoted the position of Chief Medical Officer to a new individual, blond haired woman by the name of Diana Hayes. She came from the position of medical officer from one of the lower levels of FCA-1, and was a close friend of Krissie’s. She did not take the news of Krissie’s disappearance well, but assured Connor she was up to the task of filling Krissie’s shoes in her absence. Ryan’s technical position of ‘executive officer’ was another matter. It would take more than a day and an impromptu temporary appointment to fill his position, especially with the loss of the visual displacement element.

Finally, there was Dan Wilson. He was resting comfortably in his more than ample guest quarters when Connor confronted him over the events of the last few hours.

Dan had no idea what we were talking about.

IX

Date: Friday, July 15, 2095

Location: FCA-1, Sector 5

Age: 35 (Current)

Connor called Diana down for her first assignment. Give Dan a polygraph and check him for memory alteration. The polygraph device looked like another holographic medical system. Activated, a blue holographic tube, probably six feet in diameter by ten foot tall materialized around the device. Dejected and tired, Connor motioned toward the self-contained area. “This lie detection system, we took it off the original Brüder-3 operating system and modified it for portable use, so you know how it works.”

“Correct, I do.” Dan said.

“Step inside, please. I want to make sure they’re honest, your answers.” Dan stepped unobstructed into the area of the swirling blue cylinder, moving a chair with him so he could sit. “The holographic output will blink red for a lie and green for the truth, you know this. We did take out that unnecessary thing that’ll zap you if you lie, it’s barbaric.”

Dan seemed taken aback. “Really? I’m surprised to hear that. It certainly did encourage those I interrogated to tell the truth more often, with the promise of discomfort.”

Connor was annoyed. “We don’t torture, the same way you tortured Jim, to his death.”

“You mean Markaurdus?”

“Yes!” Connor snapped. “Him!”

“I have no memory of that, Mr. MacKenzie.”

“We’ll soon find out.” Connor waved his hand at Diana. “Go ahead.”

“Okay Mr. Wilson,” she said in her deep raspy voice. “I’m going to ask you two questions. Answer one truthfully and the second not, okay?

“Sure.”

“First, is your name Daniel Wilson?”

“Yes.” The holographic tube flashed green.

“Good, next, have you ever been mistaken for a girl?”

“Yes.” The tube flashed red.

Diana nodded. “Okay, were ready.”

Connor stepped forward, taking a seat in front of Dan. “Do you remember torturing and killing Markaurdus?”

“No.” Green flash.

“Do you remember Martin taking you hostage?”

“No.” Green.

“Do you recall Martin launching a ship with you aboard?”

“No.” Green.

“Do you recall Martin shooting you unconscious with an Impüls weapon while aboard that ship?”

“No.” Green.

“Do you remember anything when you woke up from that trip, for example, Deneb?”

Dan’s eyes widened in surprise. “No, of course not!” Green. “You’re suggesting Martin took me to Deneb via the ship you call Brüder-4?’

“Yes,” Connor said sternly. “For me, it happened several hours ago. I witnessed the whole thing.” Connor pointed toward me. “So did he.” I nodded my head.

Dan looked at me. “Do you remember everything now?”

“I do.”

“I told you, you would,” he said. I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess the two of you have talked to Vincent Rettori already?”

Connor nodded as I said, “Yes.”

“So you know now we have more work to do. This is why I gave myself up to you, Mr. MacKenzie.”

Connor’s face was wrought with suspicion, “You said you left The Corporation, and that’s why you wanted asylum.”

“Oh, that’s also true. There are other reasons for my decision to leave, which I will share with you when the time is appropriate. As I’m sure you’ve realized, we must arrange to send SAIN to 2006 to complete The Awakening. Afterward, you must bring Vincent here, to me, in this time.”

“Later,” Connor snapped, pacing the area in front of the holographic cylinder. He eyed Dan, top to bottom, clearly infuriated. “So you’re going to sit there and tell me you have no memory of Martin taking you hostage and jumping to Deneb using the gravity drive?”

“None, none at all.” Green.

“So you know nothing of their fate then, Ryan or Krissie?”

“No.” Green. “Did something happen to them?”

“They were pulled into the gravity vortex after Brüder-4 went through.” Connor’s pacing intensified. “Do you remember Martin helping you infiltrate ES-5 with a homemade Impüls cannon?”

“Yes.” Green.

“For what purpose?”

“To shoot down Brüder-2…” Dan pointed at me. “…reclaim his body, and take back the anomaly, the quarter.”

I stood up, pissed. “You were going to kill me? What the fuck?”

“Our goal was not to kill anyone, Mr. Provance. We wanted the anomaly. There was a fair chance of all of you surviving the crash. Don’t take it so personally.”

I gasped in shock. “Heartless prick!”

“Kevin,” Connor said, warning me back.

I sat, staring Dan down. “Do you know why Martin used my friend Wald’s body?”

“It was his idea, but Mr. Wexler didn’t think that decision through. He believed it would help earn your trust, because of the pain of your loss.” Green.

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said. “Connor didn’t even know about the whole mess in Ocean City until we put it together for ourselves, how could Martin?”

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

“Martin knew about it after you confronted him,” Connor said. “He carried that knowledge with him to 1981, and onward. He could have planted the idea in his younger self for all we know.” He looked back to Dan. “Was it Martin who tipped you off to our location in 1977?”

Dan shrugged his shoulders again. “Could have been. I get my orders from higher up. As I explained to you before, Mr. MacKenzie, information in The Corporation is ‘need to know.’ On that day, as I recall, The Corporation ordered me to recover that coin at the location in which I found you and deliver it to our facility at Daniels Mill.”

“And they had the ability to visually displace, The Corporation, as far back as 1977?”

“Earlier I believe.” Green. “I don’t know when exactly. It doesn’t work for everyone, only those with particular body chemistry. We don’t know why. In my work, I only know of six of our agents who could successfully cloak with it.” Green.

Connor smirked. “Because it’s a talent, like the ability to write music, or paint art, you can give anyone the tools, but you have to be born with the ability to use them properly.”

Dan nodded. “Makes sense.”

“You claimed you didn’t know when they captured and brainwashed Martin, The Corporation. Is that still your position?”

“Yes.” Green.

“When did he make contact with you, if at all?”

“In January of 1989, I received word from The Corporation we had a mole in the FCA capable of spiritual displacement, codenamed The Coyote. I would be receiving intelligence from him through various men and women identifying themselves as such. I didn’t know initially it was Martin Wexler using the spiritual displacement element, as that was ‘need to know’ at the time.”

Connor was visibly intrigued. “When did you realize it was Martin?”

“Mr. Wexler revealed himself to me in 1991 at the order of The Corporation that he was in fact, The Coyote. It was necessary for The Exchange. It wasn’t until 2004 he shared with me what was to happen in 2006, with the surfacing of the anomaly. That’s when we put together the plan to overtake Area 51 to shoot down your Brüder ship. We knew it would be coming with Mr. Provance and the anomaly. We used every agent we had capable of visual displacement and lost all of them. That was unfortunate. They had orders to commit suicide in the event of imminent capture, but ended up killing each other. They didn’t even attempt to escape.”

Connor grimaced. “I believe that was Martin’s doing, to cover his ass.”

Really?” Dan asked in surprise.

“Yeah. The talent he held with that element, it was unbelievable. He could have very easily jumped into each of their consciousnesses and influenced them to kill each other, all in the blink of an eye.” Dan looked off, in thought. Connor leaned forward. “But not you.”

Dan returned his gaze to Connor’s. “No, not me.”

“Why is that, do you think? Had you been captured, you could have named him, Martin, as your mole.”

“It was always part of the plan for me to simulate my death. It was the ideal method to get me into the medical facility, where Mr. Wexler would assist me in disguising myself as a member of the base. I would then get close to Chief Manyette and trigger his programming. Alas, that plan fell apart when Martin failed to crash the ship.”

I shook my head in confusion, lowering my eyebrows to show my puzzlement. “How do you ‘simulate death’?”

“As I’m sure you know by now, I used to be a doctor, before The Corporation got their hands on me. To go into a state of hibernation isn’t very difficult. To the untrained eye, it appears as death, no pulse, no breathing, cooling skin. That was all I needed to pass as a corpse for about an hour. Martin knew that no matter what happened on the ground, the false appearance of my death needed to be absolute. That is why he allowed me to live.”

Connor jumped back in. “You mentioned the programming of Chief Manyette. How did that come about?”

“In January of 1989, the same month The Coyote came into the picture, I was ordered to cloak the ship you call Brüder-3 a mile or so to the east of South Carroll High School in Maryland and wait for Mr. Manyette to look out the back most window. He would see ‘something spectacular’ which was nothing more than lighting up the cloud for a moment. He needed to be convinced a letter he purportedly wrote himself from the future was legitimate.”

“Did he?” I asked. “Did Manyette really write himself that letter from the future?”

“We decided to guide the career of Mr. Manyette due to his interest in the military. The Coyote, which again I did not know was Mr. Wexler at the time, reported Mr. Manyette was struggling between joining the Navy or becoming an auto mechanics of sorts. Mr. Wexler dominated Mr. Manyette and had him write the letter he found in that old school room. The day after, Mr. Manyette, under the influence of Mr. Wexler was supposed to find that letter. When he looked out the window, I, inside Brüder-3 would make the ship’s stealth cloud flash with lightning, to nudge Mr. Manyette that what he read was genuine.”

I scoffed, realizing the interference into the life of my friend. “And I suppose he joined the FCA military liaison program all on his own?”

“I believe Mr. Wexler influenced his decision as his career progressed. He was to become our spy, after all.”

I shook my head in disgust. “You know, now that I remember that day in the chorus room, I remember Manyette acting all squirrely. His attitude was all wrong. He addressed me by my first name, which he never did.”

Dan nodded. “Understand something gentlemen, my work with The Coyote at that time proceeded without the knowledge it was Martin Wexler and his annoying habit of overstepping his bounds. All I knew of The Coyote was his intense dislike for you, Mr. Provance.”

“Me?” I asked, aghast at the accusation.

“Yes. I’m not sure where it originated, so you needn’t bother asking. As I recall from the report The Coyote filed about that afternoon, you and your friends got involved with discussions of time travel and other life in the universe, of all things. Mr. Wexler noted he felt you were a, and I quote ‘a fucking know-it-all’ and ‘that you really didn’t know shit’ about either topic. It also inadvertently led an observing Mr. Wexler to the lost quarter’s latest hiding spot. When I say Mr. Wexler expressed astonishment, it’s a somber understatement. Mr. Wexler, dominating Mr. Manyette couldn’t just snatch it from you. He had specific instructions to influence no one but Mr. Manyette.”

“But, he did,” I said, interrupting Dan. “I didn’t know it at the time or understood why I was saying and doing things out of character, but he messed with my head too.”

“Did he?” Dan asked, with some smugness.

“Yeah, Manyette wasn’t acting normally,” I said, returning the attitude. “But suddenly I found myself believing he was, and saying things I didn’t really believe.” I paused to look at Connor. “It was as if I was under someone else’s influence.” He nodded in agreement.

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “Either way, he must have known he couldn’t dominate you and take the quarter in such a fashion. Perhaps he knew something about you that made that option a bad one. What I did know based on Mr. Wexler’s report is your belief the quarter was special, that you would not spend it. Mr. Wexler – as The Coyote - wanted to dominate you and take it that afternoon, but I wouldn’t allow it. You, Mr. Provance were the key to this whole thing.”

“How so?” Connor asked, beating me to the punch.

Dan ignored Connor, addressing me. “We didn’t know enough about how you fit into the picture. I knew of your involvement with the quarter from 1977, when we first met, but thanks to Mr. Wexler’s intelligence, I learned your involvement began in 2006. As you can imagine, finding out you obtained that quarter at the age of seventeen seemed too good to be true. I could only surmise an older embodiment of yourself wanted your younger self to find it, hiding it literally in plain sight. I wanted to find a way to meet you for myself, to get the answers I needed, and if possible take the quarter from you. After your discovery of the quarter in 1989, Mr. Wexler followed you, ensuring the quarter was still in your possession. After five months of patience, it all paid off. At the time, I believed you had some involvement with the FCA. You frequently visited the Liberty reservoir, which The Corporation believed the FCA was using as a ‘secret base’, for lack of a better description.”

Connor laughed, genuinely laughed at Dan’s revelation. Dan turned his attention to him, inquisitively. “What’s so funny about that, Mr. MacKenzie?”

“For the longest time, we believed the same about them, The Corporation.” I glanced back and forth between the two, realizing Dan had no memory of his time at ES-1. As far as he knew, it didn’t exist.

“We did not,” Dan said, followed by a green flash of the lie detector.

Connor nodded. “Please, continue.”

Dan turned his attention back to me. “Because of your frequent activity there, I sent men out to that site to reconnoiter the area, specifically the south side which you seemed to prefer. Some of my men were taken hostage during one of their expeditions. Since I was so eager to meet you, to learn what you knew and claim the quarter, I planned to take you on your next outing to the reservoir. I sent out feelers to negotiate for the release of my agents, in exchange for you, even though I didn’t yet have you. My plan was to take you, get what I needed, and trade you for my abducted agents. Markaurdus negotiated the exchange of personnel. I fully intended to let you go Mr. Provance, even if I took some liberty scaring you into believing otherwise.” Dan then focused his attention to Connor. “But you got there early and damned near messed up my perfectly laid out plan. I should’ve had the intelligence I thought I might find with Mr. Provance and the quarter before we met for the hostage exchange. In the end, I got my men, and you got the young Mr. Provance.”

“But not the quarter,” Connor said.

“No. It turns out the young Mr. Provance didn’t have the coin on him that day. He confessed to hiding it underneath the stairs at his parent’s former home on Arthur Avenue. We checked there and found nothing, even though our lie detection system indicated you told me the truth. This tells me the coin was there at one time and someone moved it, or found it before I could get there.” Green flashes throughout. Dan believed he was telling the truth, due to Martin’s influence. Even now, at his late age, he still didn’t know the truth about that afternoon. Dan looked at Connor. “Were you responsible for moving the coin?”

Connor took a breath to speak. He knew the truth, that Martin compromised Dan’s memory of that day. He also knew Martin took the coin from Dan in 1989 and hid it until 2006. To my amazement, Connor told Dan the truth without having to lie about the details. “Yes, I did.”

Dan waited for Connor to say more, causing an uncomfortable silence. Eventually Dan turned his interest to me. “You had a different surname back in 1989, and then moved to Florida at some point in the 90s. We lost track of you in November of 1997, when you moved back to Maryland and changed your surname. We were not aware you returned to Florida until you turned up at your friend’s coin shop with the anomaly. During that time, we used The Coyote to check in on your closest friends, observing them for anything pertaining to the coin. Nothing came of it.”

“What did you do after you realized the coin was not where Kevin said it was?” Connor asked.

“Since the coin was now off the grid, I proceeded with my plans for The Exchange in June of 1991. I didn’t know then we would be exchanging Victor Merrick for that very same coin. Imagine my surprise. Imagine my greater surprise when Mr. Merrick stole and lost that coin the very same evening.” Dan focused on me. “We believed Mr. Merrick misplaced it after running into your nineteen year old counterpart. Imagine my greatest surprise yet when there you were, again, Mr. Provance, involved with the quarter that should’ve been ours. Naturally, I didn’t believe your variable in the equation a coincidence. Since Mr. Merrick no longer carried the coin, we surmised he passed it onto you, staging the swap by running into you, thus causing the coins you held to scatter on the ground, leaving you to pick up our coin. You might say I was hugely disconcerted when I figured that out. I ordered you captured and brought aboard our ship. We ending up with Mr. VonWald instead, misidentifying him for you on the pier. As Mr. Merrick needed some coercion into telling me what he did with our coin, I soul suppressed Mr. VonWald.” Dan paused, looking off thoughtfully. “Turns out Mr. Merrick didn’t lie after all, and some poor kid paid for it.”

My hands balled into fists as anger coursed through my body when the lie detection system blinked green. I dug my fingernails into the flesh of my hand. “You bastard, that ‘poor kid’ was one of my best friends! There was no reason for you to do that to him! None! He was an innocent kid who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “Irrelevant, Mr. Provance. I obtained the results I needed. I’m not sure when, but Mr. VonWald’s body ended up at Area 51 Medical. Mr. Wexler considered using it in the mission to overtake Area 51 while Mr. MacKenzie and his team brought you in Mr. Provance, or Conundrum as they called you then. As I said before, Mr. Wexler believed he might be able to earn your trust more easily, due to your connection to your old friend. I on the other hand felt you would be suspicious.”

“And you were right,” I said. “I’m not stupid.”

“I explained that to him,” Dan said, with insistence. “But he thought he was right and could play you.” I shook my head in defiance. “Hey, you’re preaching to the choir, son. I agree with you. Mr. Wexler doesn’t think his ideas through sometimes.”

The ‘truth tube’ didn’t flash red once. It was all green, throughout.

Connor nodded as well. “I’d like to back up a little, Dan. Chief Manyette is still unconscious. Do you know how to wake him up?”

“No.” Green. “But Mr. Wexler does.” Green.

Connor sat back down. “What do you remember after using the Chief to free Martin?”

“I don’t remember that.” Green.

“So the last thing you remember from Area 51 is…what?”

“Our agents killing each other. It wasn’t how I planned on feigning my death, mind you. I took a specially made pill to simulate death, coming out of it an hour later. I was not yet in Medical where Martin was supposed to meet me, so I hid and waited for Martin to appear. He never came. You captured him, Mr. MacKenzie. Listening to the chatter, I discovered the Chief was unconscious in the Medical building. In all the chaos, I took some fatigues off a dead solider and used them,” Dan chuckled, “They were too big for me. I’m surprised no one stopped to take notice. Long story short, I found the Chief and revived him with Martin’s programmed command phrase. He and I then went our separate ways.”

Connor shook his head. “What really happened is you and the Chief freed Martin. Then you tortured and killed Jim Marks over the location of the spiritual element. Finally, you and Martin argued about what to do next, a choice between stealing Brüder-2 or Brüder-4 at its secret location. You remember none of that?”

“None.” Green.

Connor looked up at Diana. “Can you check for memory tampering?”

“Yes sir.” She looked at Dan “I’ll need to put you to sleep. Will you allow me?”

Dan opened his arms. “Whatever you need to do, Dr. Hayes, I would be interested to know the results as well.”

Connor disabled the polygraph system. Diana led Dan to his bed and gave him a shot, using something similar to the TS-14 injector. He was out within seconds. She examined the structure of Dan’s memories using a Löschen. It didn’t take her long to report the verdict. “Oh yeah,” she said, still looking into her end of the Löschen. “Somebody knew exactly what they were doing. They didn’t erase the memories, they’re blocked.”

“Can you unblock them?” Connor asked.

Diana continued with her Löschen examination. “We’re talking almost a months worth of information here, sir. If we were talking about a day, maybe two, I could attempt it, but not with tampering of this caliber.” She looked up. “I’m not certain Dr. Ecklie with all her skill could undo this either. We would need someone intimate with the process with nothing to do for weeks but work on this.”

Connor pursed his lips, stepping into Diana’s place to make his own determination. He shook his head and sighed in frustration when he was finished. “You’re right, Dr. Hayes, I’ve never seen anything like this. This work was done by a Brüder doctor, there’s no other explanation.” Connor paused. “If Jim were here…maybe he could undo this, I don’t know. The memories are there. We have no way to get to them. Not without Jim Marks.”

“Son of a bitch.” I hissed, under my breath. “You think this happened on Deneb?”

“That’s the only explanation,” Connor said. “Martin isn’t skilled enough to pull this off. Someone there blocked his entire memory of the trip and sent him back, planting him into his life.”

I perked up. “Wouldn’t that suggest Brüder-4 might be back too?”

“Maybe, but even if it is, The Corporation has her or some Brüder faction on Earth has her hidden. Since Dan has no memory of it, the ship, he wouldn’t know anything about it. My question is, did Martin come back too? And if so, when did that happen and where is he?”

I shook my head. “If he attempted to kill other Brüder, chances are he’s dead, which seems like a good reason to wipe Dan’s memory of it and send him back. Is there more than one of those white holes out there?”

“No, just the one as far forward as 2095. The Brüder would have to send him back via Bruder-4. There’s no other way here, except a trip across thousands of light years.”

“So now what?”

“We put Dan in stasis and leave his ass there until Jim makes contact and we can access those blocked memories.”

Diana was visibly appalled at Connor’s suggestion. “Sir, he didn’t agree to that.”

Connor turned to face her. “I understand that Dr. Hayes. I don’t have time right now to explain everything this man has done, Daniel has. To you he might seem elderly and harmless, because he speaks so well. At heart, he is a Corporation Agent and should be treated as such. The last thing I need to worry about is what he might be doing in low security holding while I research our current situation. I want him in stasis. If you are unable to follow my orders, I can find someone who will.”

“Not at all, sir,” Diana said, losing any emotion previously on her face. She returned to command mode commonly seen among the FCA members. “Are there stasis beds here in Sector 5?”

“No, you’ll need to move him to Sector 6.”

“Yes sir, I’ll do it now.”

Connor stopped her by placing his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry for the outburst. It’s been a long day.”

“I understand, sir.”

“Report back to me when he’s fully in stasis.”

“Yes sir.” Diana left the room to fetch a stretcher for Dan’s transport to Sector 6.

Connor reached into his pocket, and withdrew the FutureQuarter. “All this trouble over such a little thing.”

My eyes followed the coin as Connor held it. “What happens to it now?”

“I destroy it.”

The idea sent a pain through me. After everything we had been through, I still felt the need to protect this damned coin. Maybe, just maybe it still had a part to play, for better or worse. “I have a better idea.”


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