VII - Elucidation
“To make something obscure or difficult clear; to clarify.”
Date: Friday, May 13, 2095
Location: Sector 7, FCA-1
Age: 35 (current)
I am sitting on the ledge of the stone fountain that is the center of Carrolltowne Mall. I am by myself, waiting for my mom and sister to come out of PJ’s Pub where we had eaten dinner. I love eating dinner at PJ’s. They have the best pizza. The shrimp pizza is my favorite.
I am throwing pennies into the fountain, as this is what ten-year-old boys like to do when presented with an outdoor fountain and time to kill.
I look over toward the restaurant and see the cable car style booths through the window. Mom is still at the checkout with my little sister. She wanted to come with me to throw coins in the fountain, but mom said no. She is not old enough to be out in the middle of the mall with me.
A man who looks old enough to be my dad approaches me and sits on the fountain ledge not to far from me. I know about strangers and that I should not to talk to them, but this man is different. He means me no harm and I can sense it. He has long blonde hair and a beard that surrounds his mouth, but not the sides of his face. He smiles at me.
“Hi little man,” he says.
“Hi,” I say back.
“What's your name?”
“I'm not supposed to talk to strangers,” I say.
“Yes, that's very good advice,” the man says, still smiling at me. “Although you don't know me, I know your parents. I'm an old friend.” I nod. I feel like I may have seen this man before at one of the many family picnics we have. “You don't have anything to worry about, buddy. I’m not here to hurt you, or take you anywhere, or scare you. In fact I can only talk to you for a minute or two.”
“What about?” I ask.
“I was hoping you might do me a favor,” the man says. “I have a very special coin I want you to hold on to for me. Do you have a secret place in your house where you hide your treasures?”
I nodded. My little sister is always trying to take my stuff. I found a special hiding place in the basement that nobody knows about where I keep my very special things.
The man held out a shiny new quarter. “This is a magic quarter,” he says. “It's very special because there is no other quarter like it.”
I take the quarter and examine it. I see nothing special about it. “Why?”
“It was made in the future, a long, long time from now.” I look at the year on the back. Mom told me the year on money is the year it is made. The year on the quarter I am holding says 2025.
“Cool. How did you get it?” I ask.
“Well little man, that's a long story. I'll tell you what. You hide this quarter for me in your special hiding place for a little while and when I come back to visit you and your mom, I promise to tell you all about it. Okay?”
“When will that be?” I ask.
“I'm not sure. It could be a few weeks, it could be a few months,” he says. “But I can promise you that I will come back for it. Can you do this for me?”
I smile. “Yes, I can.”
You’re going to be okay, love, a soft female voice said, far away.
I slipped out of my dream but did not wake up, lingering in that euphoric state between sleep and consciousness. I thought I was home, in bed.
I tried to answer, to ask why. Sleep paralysis prevented it. I didn’t want to fight it, because I might wake up. I felt good where I was.
I remember everything you told me, the voice whispered. It’s difficult to see you here, now, knowing what’s going to happen to you, and her.
Her who? I asked in my head. Far off, I think I mumbled the words. What’s going to happen to me?
Becca, she said.
I was puzzled. Why would the voice be talking about a girl I hadn’t heard from or seen in almost fifteen years?
Do you know Becca? Is she here?
Sorry love, she is not, and I never met her. You told me quiet a story about her, about the two of you.
Sorry, I’ve said too much. I will take care of you the same way you will take care of me.
That makes no sense.
I know it doesn’t. It will in a few years.
Then she was gone, and I drifted back into full sleep.
I awoke with a terrible feeling. What happened? Where was I? An attempt to sit up failed. Sore muscles and joints screamed for mercy. I joined the chorus, crying out over the pain.
A quick scan of my environment gave me the impression of a recovery room. A row of beds lined the right most wall, with workstations along the opposite wall and one central area with monitors resembling a nurse’s station.
A strawberry-blonde haired woman dressed in doctor’s garbs approached me. “Good, you’re awake,” she said with a thick British accent, observing a holographic display of vital statistics on a panel over my head, attached to the bed.
“What the hell happened? Where am I?”
“You’re in a recovery room designed for various temporal sicknesses. What’s the last thing you remember?”
Sector seven? Lunar station?
“We’re inside the moon, aren’t we?”
She nodded. “About a mile down from the top.”
I bit my lip. She didn’t pull any punches with the truth. “I remember getting sick and feeling like I was going to melt into a pool of boiling goo.”
She chuckled with a single breath, making a humph sound. “Considering you’ve had no formal training through the portal, I’m not surprised. I can also imagine you are quite sore.”
“That’s one way of putting it. How long was I unconscious?”
“A few hours. I’m surprised you’re as coherent as you are. I’ve seen men who’ve trained for temporal displacement simulation laid out for days.”
“Great,” I said under my breath.
The doctor opened her cell phone like device. “Central, this is medical. Please alert Actual and XO that Conundrum is awake and coherent.”
Several seconds passed. “Medical, this is Actual. We’re on our way. Please keep Conundrum there.”
I snorted. “Where else am I going to go?” I whispered to myself.
“Copy Actual, Medical out.” The doctor looked at me and winked. “Connor and Ryan are on their way. Here, this will sooth some of your aches.” She pushed some kind of tubular device against my jugular vein. It made a popping sound. The relief was instantaneous. I smiled pleasantly from the euphoria.
The doctor excused herself as I waiting for Connor and Ryan. I closed my eyes, slipping back into half-sleep.
I opened my eyes long enough to observe the entrance to the recovery room disappear.
“I thought that experience would kill you,” Ryan said. He and Connor entered the medical bay. I realized another force field construct comprised the wall separating the recovery room from whatever existed on the other side. The semi-transparent off white, almost natural color fooled me. It looked nothing like the transparent blue fields from the Brüder ship. “I’m glad to see you proved me wrong. Had you died, the repercussions would have been --” Ryan waved his hand in a circle over his head in thought for a proper adjective, “—well, catastrophic wouldn’t begin cover it.”
“I’m sorry about what happened,” I said, looking Ryan square in the eye. I wanted him to see my sincerity. “I never meant to follow you to…well, whenever we are now.”
“I know,” he said, appearing to want to say more. I wondered if he believed me.
“I’m serious. I know I was a pain in the balls about swallowing the quarter, but…oh shit, the quarter! I threw it up, did you save it?”
“Yes, don’t worry about it,” Ryan said placing his hand on my shoulder. “I’m now in possession of the anomaly.” He still seemed distracted.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Welcome to 2095, Kevin,” Connor McKenzie said, beaming a warm and welcoming smile. “How are you doing?”
“I’ve seen better days,” I said. “To be honest, when I woke up yesterday, I never expected to find myself in the future, a mile underneath the surface of the moon.”
Connor smiled, appreciating the humor. “Most people don’t. Having been in a similar position many years ago, I can say I understand how you feel.”
“This happened to you too?”
“If by ‘this’, you mean finding myself not feeling so well in an unfamiliar time period in the future, away from my time index, then my answer is yes. My situation was a little different, in that I was kidnapped and left stranded in an empty city.”
My eyes widened. “This, I have to hear.”
Connor grinned. “Another time, perhaps. For now, we have to get you back safely, to 2006. If what you said when you arrived is true, it might be easier said than done. Now that you’re awake, and from what I can see, coherent, I’d like you to tell me what happened after you and Ryan arrived at FCA-1 in 2006, in more detail. Could you do that for me?”
I nodded, recounting everything I could remember from the time I awoke from the Jaunte ride until the rogue military guard shot his partner, and then attempted to shoot Ryan. “I thought I had been shot when you and Ryan picked me up of the floor.”
Ryan chuckled, a rarity. “It probably would’ve been less painful for you.” He looked at Connor. “If what Kevin said is true, the security breach is more wide spread than I originally reported.”
The strawberry-blonde doctor left her position behind Connor and returned with a cart of medical devices. Connor stepped aside so she could began taking my blood pressure. “Kevin, this is Dr. Kristina Ecklie,” Connor said, nodding toward her. I did a double take when I first observed her up close. She looked jarringly familiar. Somewhere, somehow our paths had crossed before. I couldn’t put my finger on where or when. She smiled in acknowledgment, barely making eye contact. It seemed deliberate. “She’s been keeping you stabilized over the last few hours and is our resident expert in temporal sicknesses, among other things.”
“Connor exaggerates a bit,” she said in her strong, clean, almost royal British accent. Still, it was no clue as to why she seemed so familiar. “You can call me Krissie. The whole ‘doctor’ formality is quite unnecessary.”
“On the contrary,” Connor said, still looking at me. “You couldn’t be in better hands.”
I smiled at Krissie. “Thanks for helping me.”
“No,” she said, stopping to put her hand on top of mine. “Thank you for saving the life of our time hopping mate, Ryan. He’s quite the hero around these parts.”
Ryan looked embarrassed. “Krissie, I’m no hero.”
“Bullocks,” she said giving him a small push away, waving her hand dismissively. “You never give yourself enough credit, love”
Connor heartily slapped Ryan’s back. “You are a hero, old friend.”
“No,” Ryan said, flatly, “That last mission was a complete disaster.”
“Maybe not,” Connor said, giving Ryan a squeeze on the shoulder. “I was able to take a look at it, the HoloLog you brought back. The information is substantial.”
“Does it explain the 2006 FCA-1 breach?” Ryan asked.
“Not specifically. But it does reveal more about the origin of the anomaly and who misplaced it.”
Anomaly this, anomaly that. I needed clarification. “You’re talking about the 2025 quarter, right?”
Connor nodded. “Yes.”
“So who was it?” Ryan asked. “Is it anyone we know?”
Connor sighed, casting Ryan an uncertain glance. “Victor Merrick.”
“Damn,” Ryan said, under his breath. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“I wish I could.”
I threw my hands up in the air. “I give up! Who’s Victor Merrick?”
Connor looked at me and shook his head in clear frustration. “He is…someone we’ve had a problem locating.”
“Is he another Corporation person?” I asked.
“No,” Connor said. “He was one of Martin's best friends, when they were younger. He disappeared under very mysterious circumstances the night we rescued him from certain death, Martin.”
I couldn’t help but notice a startling similarity here. Martin lost a best friend when he was younger. I lost a best friend when I was younger. Then Martin shows up as that friend I lost. There was no way it was all a coincidence.
“You saved Martin’s life that night,” Ryan said to Connor. “Who is selling themselves short now?”
Connor chuckled. “Maybe so. It was a bloody night, to be certain.”
The inside references escaped me. “What are you two talking about?”
Connor directed his attention to me. “You used to live in that area, right? You might remember it as the riot at the Cranberry Mall, in 1989.”
I felt myself go pale. Connor dug at a memory better left buried. The realization of my previously meeting Martin Wexler in my youth clicked in my head like an unexpected splash of cold water. I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I do remember that night. I remember Martin as well. I was there too, and came damn close to getting myself killed. It’s a night I worked hard to forget.”
Ryan shook his head in disbelief, all the while staring at me in wonder. “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is the third instance you’ve crossed paths with TDIs. Connor, this can’t be coincidence.”
Connor’s eyes hardened with surprise. He chose not to answer Ryan. Instead, he focused his attention on me. “Please, elaborate.”
I sighed. For the first time in almost eighteen years, I recalled my part in the tragedy known as the Cranberry Mall riot. Connor, Ryan and Krissie listened intently, not interrupting until I finished. “I awoke in the back of an ambulance after passing out in that delivery hallway, from that pistol whip. Wald and Myer finally arrived and were there when I came to. As you can imagine, I had the worst headache known to man. Under the protest of the EMTs, I declined a trip to the hospital. The Maryland State Police on the other hand kept me occupied for quite some time when I gave them my statement. I don’t know how much of what I told them they actually believed. From what I understand, they never found Martin.”
“No, they didn’t,” Connor said. “They were fatally stabbed, Walter and Martin, while defending Cyndi, Walter’s girlfriend. We rescued Martin, before the state police did.”
I pondered this statement. “Why didn’t you rescue Walter as well? And where does Victor Merrick fit into all of this?”
Connor sighed, frowning. “This might sound a little cold from your point of view, what I’m about to say. Walter DuMont wasn’t imperative to the FCA. Martin was, or is. There were other people looking for him that night, Martin. It was my mission to prevent anyone else from finding him. I took Martin away. That’s all I can really say about that right now. As for Victor, he, Martin, and Walter were all there that night, at the Cranberry Mall. Victor disappeared without a trace before it started, the riot. He hasn’t been seen or heard from since.”
“Until now,” Ryan said. “I’m thinking The Corporation took Victor the night of the riot, instead of Martin.”
Connor nodded, rubbing his chin. “It’s starting to look that way.”
A lot of this conversation made little sense to me. “I don’t get it, what’s the difference between Martin and Victor?”
“A very big one,” Ryan uttered, under his breath.
Connor shot Ryan a glare, deliberately clearing his throat as if to advice Ryan to knock of the stray comments. “I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, he has a rather unique ability, Martin does.”
“If you mean the ability to jump from person to person, then yeah, I have. I don’t suppose you want to explain that?”
Connor sighed. Not the usual ‘I don’t want to answer this’ kind of response I expect from Ryan, but rather a ‘this is going to take some explaining’ kind of exasperation. “It’s a long story.”
“No,” I said, cutting him off. “I mean no disrespect, Detective MacKenzie…”
“Please Kevin, call me Connor. Except when dealing with the military, we’re very informal around here.”
“Okay, Connor. Ryan made it very clear on several occasions that there’s this strict list of protocols and directives you all adhere to fanatically. I get that. He also assured me if you gave your approval, he would tell me everything I wanted to know. So please, I need to know why this Corporation is looking to nap me up every time I turn around. It is a bit disconcerting. I don’t believe I’m supposed to be here in a time when my own son is probably no longer alive,” I paused. Spencer. My heart began to ache. “Am I ever going to see my little boy again?”
Krissie gently touched my shoulder. Ryan studied me with obvious sympathy.
“You will if I have anything to say about it,” Connor said. “Taking you back to your time index in 2006 won’t be a problem. Getting there safely is the question mark.”
“Count me in,” Ryan said. “You saved my life, Kevin. Whatever I can do, I will.”
Ryan’s sincerity touched me. I looked back at Connor. “Does this mean you'll fill me in on a few things?”
Connor pulled up a rolling stool and sat down, informally facing the backrest. “I’ll offer you a proposition. I will answer your questions to the best of my ability, to which our protocols allow. Some information is classified, available only to FCA personnel. In return, I may call upon you at some future date – by your time index – for assistance.”
I smirked at Connor’s proposition. “I’m going to guess you already know the answer to that, otherwise you wouldn’t be proposing it.”
Connor grinned, thin lipped. “Intuitive, I like that. I’ll take that as a yes, your answer?”
“Agreed.” Connor extended his hand for the deal-sealing shake. I accepted it. His grip was strong and firm, the way a proper handshake should be.
“What would you like to know?” Connor asked.
Where to begin?
“You can start with telling me how the hell time travel is even possible,” I said.
Connor smiled. “You don't waste time getting to the point, do you?” I shook my head, but offered a smile anyway. “It's not as simple as pushing a few buttons, entering a date, and driving 88 miles an hour. I can assure you of that.”
“You're going to tell me it's a long story, aren't you?” I asked.
“The truth is Kevin, it is,” Connor said, shrugging his shoulders. “There’s no short way to explain it. Even so, it comes with a price, that kind of knowledge. The responsibility of knowing it and carrying it around with you is greater than you think. It would require a greater commitment from you, and I don’t think you’re ready for it yet.”
“I don't understand. Does this mean you aren't going to tell me?”
“You wouldn't understand even if I did. It would include explanations of questions you've not yet thought to ask, the answer does. It's that knowledge I am referring to, that requires a larger obligation.”
I felt as if I was getting the run around again. “Just tell me,” I said with frustration. “I'm not stupid.”
Ryan interjected. “You remember the explanation of the nine dimensions?”
“Did you understand that?” Ryan asked. “You told me you didn’t.”
“You were talking about inter spatial dimensions in some kind of cosmic time coil,” I said, in retort. “I’d never even heard of such a thing before. You mean to tell me there is no layman way of explaining how it's all accomplished?”
“I think about it,” Connor said plainly, spreading his arms out in a ‘there you go’ fashion.
I looked at him, dumbfounded. “That's it? You think about time travel and you can just…do it?”
“I told you, you wouldn’t understand,” Connor said. “The simplest explanation is I will it to happen.”
I looked at Ryan, who nodded in confirmation. “This is like a bad sci-fi movie. What kind of explanation is that?”
Connor laughed. “You remind me of Martin, when we he and I first met. It’s uncanny. You'll have to trust me when I say there’s a very scientific explanation behind it. Some of it I understand, some of it I don’t. Knowing the entire story of how I became involved with the FCA - which is long - would clear up most of what you don’t understand. But as I said, the price of this information is not one you can afford, my friend.”
“Okay,” I said, conceded to the inevitable. “What does 'FCA' stand for?”
“Fifth Column Alliance,” Connor replied, with no hesitation.
I didn’t see that one coming. The ‘fifth column’ concept, especially as it applied to World War II Germany (and since the Brüder ship oozed with German), left the odds of it being coincidence at nil. “So let me understand this,” I said, squeezing my eyes shut while rubbing my forehead. “You are in charge of a group of people who are - clandestinely of all things - attempting to undermine The Corporation, by aiding their enemy. But aren’t you their enemy? Or is there another enemy involved that I don’t yet know of?”
Connor nodded in approval. “Yes, that is what a 'fifth column' is about, by definition. It is a term we borrowed when we forged an alliance with the movement within the Brüder known as ‘der Widerstand’. They rose up against The Corporation. So technically speaking, the terminology applies.”
“Hold on,” I said, my hand up. “I thought Brüder was the name you gave your ships. But if I’m hearing you correctly, Brüder is the name of the people who built them?”
“That would be right,” Connor said. “Although referring to the Brüder as ‘people’ would not, as they are a completely different race of beings--”
I had to interrupt. “You mean aliens, don't you?”
“Well, 'aliens' is not a term we use when referring to them, the Brüder. They aren’t as alien to the human race as you might think.”
“How does that work?”
“The Brüder are responsible for the appearance of early man, the human beings we are today. We evolved from those early men.”
Ryan jumped in, “You could say we are children of the Brüder, since half our genetic make up comes from them.”
Connor shook his head. “That isn’t accurate, children. Those from Earth who made first contact with der Widerstand used the term ‘brothers.’” Connor looked at me, “Brüder is the translation of ‘brothers’ in their language, and why we call them as such.”
“Ryan said Brüder was half, what about the other half?”
“We don’t know much about them,” Connor said. “We have a very basic understanding about the other race the Brüder combined their DNA with, to create human beings.”
I laughed. “So the human race was raised by its mother while our father abandoned us. That certainly explains some human behavior.”
Connor chuckled. “It's not quite that cut and dry. The original experiment - or die Zukunft as the Brüder called it – they considered it a failure.”
I’m not sure why, but it bothered me to hear this. The human race was a failure, as judged by our creators. This isn’t a fact one just drops in your lap and walks away from, hoping the recipient sleeps well knowing it.
“So let me get this straight,” I said, attempting to sort this out for myself. “The Brüder, another race of life in our universe bred with yet another race – a different race – and human beings were the end result. But wait, here’s the best: The Brüder deemed us a failure,” I paused, looking around at three inquiring faces. “I guess the obvious question is why?”
“Again, it's not that simple, your interpretation,” Connor said. “We're talking about primordial man here, Homo Erectus. They were cave dwellers, violent by nature. The Brüder wanted to create a new form of life, taking what they thought to be the best of both races and combine them at the DNA level. The Brüder succeeded in doing that, but not in ways they hoped for.”
I laughed at this. “The average caveman being the end result? I should say not.”
“You’re not seeing the bigger picture,” Connor explained. “The Brüder knew the experiment was not something that would produce the results they wanted within a generation, or ten, or even a hundred. They waited millennia, tweaking our genetic code along the way, hoping we would become what they wanted.”
I paused, waiting for the answer. “Which was?”
“A master race,” Connor said, carefully. I winced at the subtle German reference. “They consider themselves superior to other known races in our galaxy, The Brüder. In some cases they are. Look at where we are. We’re in an orbiting observation facility that for the most part, still operates as designed. We know it as the moon. You've seen what Brüder-2 can do, the holographic technology that makes it run. The Brüder have all sorts of technology you've not seen yet that will blow you mind.”
“I'll bet,” I said softly, in wonder.
“But even with all their amazing technology, the Brüder are far from an enlightened species with good in their heart. When we, the human race, didn’t perform as the Brüder and their partner expected, they went to great lengths to terminate their experiment, to terminate us as a race. They called the process Ausrottung.”
Ryan interjected. “The Brüder failed miserably. They didn't anticipate or understand the lengths we would go to in order to preserve ourselves. Plus, we had a little help.”
Connor continued, “der Widerstand, the origin of the FCA, were a group of individuals in Brüder society opposed to the original experiment, to the reckless creation of life with no respect for it, but they had no real power to stop what was already happening here. When the Brüder decided to implement the Ausrottung, ending the experiment and wiping out the human race, der Widerstand came to our rescue. They believed since the Brüder created us for their own self-serving purposes - and since we thrived for thousands of years on our own - we had a right to continue living, and to evolve. der Widerstand arrived in the ship we now call Brüder-1, a huge star ship the size of an aircraft carrier. With it, they loaded a generation of humans, wildlife and enough DNA patterns of Earth proprietary vegetation days before the Ausrottung would begin. After der Widerstand escaped with Brüder-1, The Brüder seeded the Earth's atmosphere, flooding it, the entire planet, in a massive worldwide hurricane that lasted a little over a month.
“Der Widerstand took Brüder-1 and its cargo and went into hiding in the space between Earth and the star we know as Alpha Centauri. They returned to Earth a little over a year later, once der Widerstand determined they abandoned the planet, The Brüder. The reshaping of the planet’s surface after the great flood left it more or less at it is today, mostly water with scattered land masses.”
Ryan jumped in, “It might surprise you to know Earth, before the Ausrottung, was originally less than 32 percent water. The Ausrottung provided the planet with all the water it has today. In the long term, the result of the Ausrottung was a huge favor. Once der Widerstand reseeded the Earth of what it lost in the Ausrottung, evolution sped up considerably because of it.”
Connor nodded, and continued, “The Brüder abandoned this observation facility, and the eight underground facilities left on Earth. One of them is what you've might have heard as Area 51 - or Earth Station Five. It’s one of five that survived, those facilities, and are all carefully guarded by the FCA.”
“And the Brüder,” I asked. “Have they been back since then?”
All these FCA members nodded their heads in unison. Connor continued, “Yes, they have. After Brüder-1 and the survivors came back – and not all of them survived the trip, including some species of beautiful animals –”
“What animals?” I asked, jumping in smiling. I wanted to know if he was talking about the dinosaurs.
Connor glared at me, probably a bit miffed I interrupted him. “The Dragon comes to mind, and the Unicorn.”
My jaw dropped, but my eyes lit up. “Those are mythological.”
“To you they are, but the impressions you and others have about them both are completely wrong. The dragon never breathed fire, and was a lot smaller than people think. It was about the size of a Labrador dog. And the Unicorn was larger than a horse, wild for the most part.” Connor cleared his throat and continued, “The remaining members of der Widerstand kept watch over them, the surviving Earth Stations, and this observation facility. They stayed not only to keep the Brüder away, but also to safeguard the survivors of the Ausrottung. At some point - a date we don’t know – A group of Brüder came back to Earth, probably to recover their technology. Imagine their surprise when not only had humans survived, we flourished. They were also unable to get anywhere near this facility or the surviving Earth Stations. der Widerstand defended them, keeping them heavily guarded and protected with their own weaponry. When they realized the extent of their failure, the remaining Brüder devised a new plan. They posed as humans, interfering in our society. This started as far back as first century B.C. Are you familiar with The Holy Roman Empire?” I nodded. “They were Brüder.” Connor stopped to catch his breath.
Ryan picked up where Connor left off. “Brüder-2 crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 when FCA operatives at ES-5 disabled it mid flight. The data recovered from that crash revealed it was here on a reconnaissance mission, hence it’s advanced stealth technology.”
“What happened to the ship’s pilots?” I asked. “Did the FCA ops actually see them?”
“Yes, they did,” Connor said, resuming the tale. “They were disguised as humans. All three were killed when the ship crashed.”
“Or they killed themselves,” Ryan said. “Some believe the FCA ops had them killed.”
Connor tossed him a doubtful glance. “In any event, we now had Brüder-2 and it's more advanced technology. It didn’t take long for them to respond, the Brüder. Knowing they wouldn’t be able to try another Ausrottung to wipe the planet clean, they took a more subtle approach, injecting themselves deep into our society, unbeknownst to us.”
Ryan added, “You might recognize them as some of the more ruthless figures to appear in that last few centuries.”
“We didn't understand the full extent of Brüder involvement in our planetary affairs until it was too late,” Connor said. “They orchestrated the war between the European and Western alliances in 2032, the Brüder did, in conjunction with a few chosen governments of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. That group is known as The Corporation.”
The sinking feeling I felt when Ryan first told me of this future (past) war returned, now twice as intense. “I see.”
“Not yet,” Ryan said.
“He’s right,” Connor said, adding to the pile. “The Corporation didn't completely succeed with their plan. The weapon they designed and used in the 2032 war – called RAID – was supposed to work in two steps. First, the RAID missile would deploy a bio toxin into the atmosphere, spreading quickly, causing all human subjects to die. The second step would seed the atmosphere, causing a massive toxic rain. The rain would then combine with the bio toxin on the surface and inside humans. This combination would then produce an aggressive red gas, its only purpose the forced decomposition of dead bodies, literally crumbling them into dust. After an undetermined amount of time, they would become inert and die, both toxins. On paper, the design was brilliant. Too bad for the Brüder, it failed wretchedly.”
“It did?” I asked.
“In this time, we’re not as extinct as the Brüder would like us to be, the human race. We not sure why the weapon failed, RAID did, and neither does The Corporation. Since 2035, they’ve had a majority of what is left of our race in concentration camps. The survivors who avoided capture live beyond The Boundaries, either at ES-5, here at FCA-1 or in other whens guarding the same sites.”
“What are ‘The Boundaries’?” I asked.
Ryan answered. “Imagine a straight line from the leftmost border of Ohio running straight down to the left most borders of Missouri. The Corporation refers to it as The Boundaries. They lie to the survivors of the war about it, claiming the area beyond is still RAID contaminated. They tell humanity anyone stupid enough to venture out that far would die a quick and painful death.”
I looked at Connor. “Is that true? Ryan seems to imply its propaganda.”
“It is,” Connor said. “Recall I said RAID failed? It didn’t kill everyone. Those closest to the impact zones died, but mass death never followed, and the toxic rain never came. RAID is still present in the atmosphere in most of the western half of the continent, but it doesn’t kill. It did something quite different, something completely unexpected.”
“Did it turn them into zombies?”
Ryan laughed as Connor grinned. “The same reason I can’t elaborate on time travel applies here as well.” Connor paused, cautiously. “I believe there may come a time when you’ll have that opportunity, to choose to know that information.”
Ryan placed his hand gently on my shoulder. “This is not something you should take lightly.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, hapless.
“You will,” Ryan said, with assurance. “You will.”
The blinking of red strobes in each corner of the room broke the conversation. A wailing alarm followed. Connor jumped to his feet.
“What the hell is this?” I asked.
“Lockdown warning,” Ryan said, quickly. “Can you walk?”
“I will if I have to,” I said, sitting up. My body protested with aches and pains, mostly in my fingers and toes. Whatever Krissie injected into my neck was still doing its job. I wouldn’t let this undemanding pain stop me. “What’s the lockdown for?”
Connor looked over at Krissie and nodded. She took a black doctor’s bag off one of the counters and stood ready. Connor flipped his cell phone like device open, reading incoming text. “The Jaunte system has been activated,” Connor said. “It’s an unauthorized transport. Someone is on their way here. We have three minutes or less before they arrive. A response team should already be there.” He tapped on the communicator’s interface. “Sector-7 security, this is MacKenzie. Report.”
“Seitz reporting sir,” the device transmitted in response. “Beta and Gamma teams are in place at the Jaunte now.”
Ryan nodded in approval. “The Gamma guys are the best we have,” he whispered to me.
Connor raised a finger to his lips, hushing Ryan. “Seitz, can you determine the origin of the incoming Jaunte?”
After a short pause, “Negative sir, the information appears to have been blocked or erased.”
Connor frowned, meeting Ryan’s stare. “Our incoming guest has intimate knowledge of the Jaunte protocols.”
“So it would seem.”
Connor spoke into the communicator, “Seitz, keep an open com line and lock that room down until we determine our guest’s identity.”
I timidly raised my hand, immediately feeling foolish for doing so. “Should I be worried here?”
“Security will detain whoever comes through,” Connor replied, half-smiling. “They’ll learn their identity and determine if they’re a threat. Should there be one, this entire facility will lock down. With the exception of security personnel, no one else will be permitted in or out of wherever they are until the lockdown is lifted.” Ho looked at Ryan. “We should be ready to go in the event it’s enabled, that protocol.”
“How many people are here?” I asked.
Connor stared off, considering the question. “At any given time? Maybe a few hundred FCA members. Civilians are a different matter, maybe thousands.”
I looked at the empty hallways through the semi-transparent force field separating the room from the rest of the level. “I don’t see anyone else.”
Ryan leaned over to whisper. “We’re in what you would call a restricted area. Very few people here have clearance to Sector-7. The other teams are farther underground.”
A minute went by, feeling more like an hour. Connor held his communicator out in front of him. We watched it expectantly. After all the mind blowing technology I’d seen in the last few hours, it led me to the inevitable question, “Total shot in the dark here, but with all these holographic wonders, don’t you have cameras or the like to see what’s going on in the Jaunte room?”
Connor smiled, chuckling as he look at down, shaking his head.
To my surprise, Krissie replied, fixing her gaze upon Connor. “You make an excellent point, my dear. But it was felt by some, that HoloMonitors were not necessary in Medical since it’s the least used facility in Sector-7. Our fine Detective MacKenzie and I will need to reevaluate the issue sometime in the near future.” She shoulder jabbed Connor. “Isn’t that right, love?”
Ryan burst out in laughter as Connor continued to smile, shaking his head in defeat. “You’re opinion has been duly noted, Doctor Ecklie,” Connor said, unable to restrain his amusement.
Seitz’s voice interrupted the semi-jovial moment. “Detective?”
“The Jaunte has almost finished cycling, stand by for contact. We are on open com, confirm?”
“Confirmed, standing by.”
On the open com line, Seitz ordered his men to stand ready. Nothing seemed to be happening.
Connor licked his lips. “Seitz?”
“The Jaunte has completed sir, no one emerged. The platform is empty.” Had one of the Gamma boys dropped a pin, we would have heard it hit the floor. A series of harmonic white noises played, then silence.
Ryan said to me, “That’s the protocol for awakening Jaunte passengers, had anyone been seated on the platform.” I nodded.
“Behind you!” a voice shouted through the communicator.
“Get your hands up!” Seitz demanded. The sound of clattering followed, then the shuffle of footsteps.
“Seitz?” Connor asked. No reply.
Ryan shook his head. “Connor, that sound was his communicator falling to the floor. Whatever happened, Gamma and Beta teams are down.”
“How is that possible?” Connor asked harshly, gripping the communicator. As quickly as he asked the question, he dismissed himself, punching a set of codes into the communicator. He spoke into the device. “Enable FCA-1 Lockdown, authorization MacKenzie four, pi, upsilon, omega.”
A high-pitched tone filled the room. The white force field wall enclosing the room switched to red, probably dangerous to the touch. The flashing holographic red lights in the ceiling corners of the room stopped flashing, remaining a steady red.
Connor sighed, turning to face me. “Kevin, you are about to see something you won’t understand. You’ll probably have questions. Save them for a later time, please. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” I said, weakly.
“Ryan,” Connor said, the tone of his voice changing to one of a leader giving orders. “Visual Displacement, reconnoiter only.”
“Understood, sir,” Ryan said with a nod, slipping into military mode.
Then the impossible happened.
I should note here, I never believed time travel to be unattainable. Einstein and his theories convinced me of it. What Ryan did however, qualified as impossible. He disappeared inside of a burst of green light, right in front of my eyes. “What the holy fuck?” I whispered, rubbing my eyes as if doing so would confirm what I witnessed. The door to Medical opened and closed in one flicker.
A black ring Connor wore on his right hand ring finger began to glow a dull green. When I looked at Krissie’s hands for rings (first a wedding ring to ensure she was not married) she was wearing one as well. Her ring glowed two bands of colors, one green, and one red. She caught me looking at it, looking back to my hands, observing I wore none at all. She reached into her black bag and handed me one, it glowed dull bands of red and green. “Put this on,” she whispered. “It’s a spare, and will let you know if Ryan is in close proximity.”
“And what exactly did he just do?” I asked, managing to push the small ring onto my right pinky finger.
Connor held his hand up without ever turning around. “Not now Kevin. Later.”
I looked at Krissie. She shrugged her shoulders. “No worries about it right now, love.”
I leaned over to whisper to Krissie. “Why is there no red on Connor’s?”
“Our rings are detecting Connor, who is red and Ryan, who is green.”
A light bulb lit up in my head. “I get it. Connors’s ring doesn’t detect himself. Why is Connor red?”
“Temporal displacement,” she said. “That’s about all I can say on the matter, for now.” She smiled and gently touched my face. Her unexpected touch sent shivers up and down my spine. I looked away, observing Connor’s ring. The dull green glow decreased incrementally.
Connor’s communicator chirped. “MacKenzie here, go,”
Ryan answered. “The Jaunte room is clear. Gamma and Beta teams are down, but not dead. My Entdecken is illuminating twice its power. I think it’s safe to say we have at least one visually displaced agent on premises. Maybe more.”
Connor turned to face Krissie, looking pale. “Ten-four, Capcoseve. Get back here, double-time. MacKenzie out.”
“Aren’t we locked down? We’re safe, right?” I asked exuding the same anxiety Connor displayed.
“The truth is, it might get a little complicated,” Connor said, quickly. “Whoever Jaunted here, they can do the same thing Ryan does. They can also get into any room not protected by a force field.”
“Well, we’re protected, right?”
“Hopefully. The surrounding rooms are locked down as well, with protective fields. Let’s hope we locked them down before they could get here.”
“Bloody hell Connor!” Krissie swore. “What the fuck are we supposed to do now? They are clearly hostile!”
Connor however, was lost in thought. “The Corporation doesn’t have this kind of ability, Visual Displacement. Something very wrong is going on. I’m close to saying we have a Code Brown on our hands.”
“A mole?” I asked, with a dash of sarcasm. “Ryan thought as much back on Earth.”
“That’s my theory,” Connor replied, running his fingers through his hair. “And I’m not surprised at Ryan’s insight. Only this time I may need to take him seriously.”
“This time?” I asked.
The Medical door flashed opened and closed again.
Ryan reappeared next to Connor in a flash of green light. It was an amazing feat of trickery. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. “Whoever it was is visually displaced,” Ryan said, tugging at his own ring. “This worthless piece of garbage still won’t detect multiple intensities. We need the original rings, Connor.”
“I concur, but we can’t implement the protocols to get to them right now, considering the situation. We’ll have to worry about it later.” Connor looked at me with an attempt at reassurance. “Whoever is out there – should they have an Impüls weapon – won’t be able to fire until they displace.” He turned back to Ryan. “What about access to the other rooms on this level? Did you see any unprotected?”
“No, we’re secure in here unless they know how to take a force field down.”
“Nothing would surprise me this evening,” Connor said, still staring off in thought. “Access to lower levels was cut off during the initial alarm, before the Jaunte arrived,” he said, probably to reassure me. “Whoever is here cannot leave this level. Operations and civilians are safe.” He paused. “Okay, listen up; set the power levels on your Impüls to induce unconsciousness. We don’t want to do worse at this point, killing them.” Ryan and Connor set their Impüls weapons. Krissie withdrew an additional Impüls from a belt under her white overcoat and stood ready. “Take cover,” Connor instructed. Krissie and Connor crouched behind a console in the ‘nurse’s station’. Ryan grabbed my arm, encouraging me to duck down behind the bed closest to Connor’s position. He remained in front of me, a shield from whatever might make entry.
The waiting game began. Connor looked over top the medical console he used for cover. He then sat back down and shook his head.
“The quiet before the storm,” Ryan murmured. Connor nodded in agreement.
Somewhere on the force field side of the room, the sound of a running device powered down. A reflex guided by curiosity caused me to peek over the top of the bed, to see what happened. The illumination from the red force field enclosing the room disappeared. Connor’s face went grim. He nodded at Ryan to be alert.
With one eye breaching the top of the bed, I watched one of our disappearing mystery guests displace in a flash of green, appearing halfway to Connor’s position. He was dressed exactly as the other Corporation agents I’d encountered so far. He held an Impüls exactly as a trained police officer would hold a firearm, grasping it firmly with his right hand while cupping it with the left.
Strategically, Ryan had the best shot to take this man down. Should Connor opt to make a stand from his position, it would give the agent an opportunity to fire first. Since Connor’s position was already in the agent’s line of fire, he would make an easy and vulnerable target. Ryan recognized the tactical flaw immediately. He made a series of hand gestures to Connor, who returned a look of reluctance, but eventually nodded. Ryan readjusted the Impüls’s settings. He turned to me, thrust his Impüls into my hands, and put his lips up to my ear. He spoke softly, practically mouthing the words. “I am going to displace you, so you shift slightly out of normal space-time. It won’t hurt, but you will see everything slightly fuzzy in a green tint. When I do this, stand and take aim at the agent. When you are ready to fire, tap your foot once. I will let go. Then fire. You won’t miss. Then duck back down. Do you understand?”
“Yes?” I whispered. It came out as a question. I was scared and white as a sheet with fear. I didn’t understanding why Ryan needed me to do this.
Ryan reached up under my pants at the ankle and gripped my skin, hard.
We went invisible.
The sensation was like nothing I’d ever experienced. True to Ryan’s words, I observed the room through a fuzzy green filter. Objects appeared distorted, but clear enough to determine what was what, and who was who.
I stood up, Impüls shaking in my terrified grip. I managed to aim it at the slowly approaching agent. I tapped my foot. Ryan let go. My eyesight snapped back to normal. I fired once, just as the agent turned his head to see me. The air between us rippled in his direction, encompassing the agent and several feet on either side of him. I understood now the adjustment Ryan made to the Impüls. Its energy spread on a wide angle, making it all but impossible to miss.
The agent fell faster than I could squat back down behind the bed. I stared at Ryan in confusion. “Why didn’t you do that? It would have been a lot easier.”
“He would have detected me. Passing the displacement onto you by proxy prevented that.”
“I see,” I said, still unsure over Ryan’s reasoning.
Connor wasted no time in moving to pick up and restrain our uninvited guest to the rolling chair. The agent rolled his head in semi consciousness. “You can stand up, folks,” Connor said. “They won’t fire while we have a hostage.”
Krissie and Ryan rejoined Connor. I on the other hand took my time, still confused and concerned for my safety. Something felt wrong, and it began when Ryan displaced me. Connor clapped Ryan on the shoulder. “That was a brilliant plan, old friend.” I joined them, arms crossed. Connor beamed approval. “Nice shooting, Kevin. You held up well under the circumstances.”
I didn’t agree, but decided to keep it to myself. “Now what?”
The answer came from behind. “You give us the anomaly.” I looked over my shoulder. Three Corporation agents pointed their Impüls rifles at us.
“Four of them?” Ryan asked rhetorically, clearly taken aback at the capability of the enemy.
“You won’t fire,” Connor said, tapping the prisoner on his head. “Doing so would hurt your man here.”
“He’s expendable,” the lead agent said, coldly. “Where is the anomaly?”
I glanced at Connor. His attempt to conceal the mix of rage and surprise on his face was failing. The Corporation caught him with his pants down and he knew it.
“It’s not here,” Connor said. The expression on the lead agent’s face clearly said, ‘don’t lie to me, cause now I have to get medieval on your ass.’ With no hesitation, the lead agent fired his Impüls at Connor. A low frequency buzz filled the room, followed by a flash of air rippling light from the weapon. Connor dropped to the floor, groaning and clutching at his abdomen. Angry pain swelled across his face.
“Lie to me again, MacKenzie, and the next wave will put you down twice as hard,” the agent advised. “Where is the anomaly?”
Since I had turned to face the agents, Ryan now stood behind me, his hands halfway up in the air. He was catty-corner to the agents with me in front. His position allowed him to move his left hand down slowly, providing the illusion his hand remained in the air, behind my back. I could not see him, but I heard Ryan slip his hand into his pocket. Since I could hear it, I worried our captors might hear it too. I cleared my throat just loud enough to sound legitimate, to give Ryan cover. With both my hands raised as well, the agents took no notice of me. They were obsessed (and a little too amused) over Connor’s pain and position on the floor.
I felt two fingers reach underneath my sports jacks to slip something into my right rear pocked. Based on the feel and size of the object, I felt comfortably certain Ryan moved the FutureQuarter from his pocket to mine.
“I have it,” Ryan stated, flatly. “If I give you the anomaly, do I have your word that when you leave, you will leave us alive?”
“Yes, of course,” the lead agent said, waving his hand dismissively into the air. I would have to remember that, it was a clue. “The Corporation has no interest in you. They want the anomaly.”
“That’s a lie.” Connor said, hissing through his teeth. He remained on the floor, arms crossed over his stomach. “The Brüder want this station back. They want all of them back. We’re humans. We’re all expendable. Ryan, do not give him the anomaly.” The lead agent pointed his Impüls toward Connor and gave him another jolt. Connor howled in pain, spasming uncontrollably on the floor. I bit the inside of my cheeks in anger. They were torturing him, and enjoying it.
Krissie ran over to Connor and knelt down next to him, obviously not caring about becoming a target herself. She glared at the lead agent. “Stop it, for fuck’s sake. You’re going to kill him!”
“Who cares,” one of the other agents said, suggesting empathy was not one of his better qualities, assuming he had any at all. “The world would be a better place without Connor MacKenzie.”
The lead agent turned his head to give the loose-lipped agent a scowl. He redirected his attention to Ryan and held out his hand. “The anomaly please, Mr. Capcoseve.”
“Do you want to do this by the book?” Ryan asked the agent.
“What?” He replied, cocking his head. “I don’t know what that means. If you have the anomaly, please surrender it.”
“Fine. Then I give you my word to resolve this as quickly and cleanly as possible. Okay?”
Connor coughed, looking up at Ryan with pleading eyes. “If they don’t want to this by the book, then I’ll understand if you need to come up with a different way to handle this.”
The three agents looked at each other in confusion. I didn’t blame them. Ryan and Connor were making no sense to me either. If they were stalling, then I didn’t see the need for it. We were all pretty well fucked.
The lead agent leveled his Impüls at Ryan. “Enough of this silliness! Surrender the anomaly.”
Ryan smiled at the lead agent as he walked past me, pushing me aside so I was closer to the fallen Connor. “This is a conundrum, wouldn’t you say?” Ryan asked, emphasizing the last word. Was this some kind of message to me? “This has got to be the most sought after coin I’ve ever seen. I’ll have to go into my pocket, and open my wallet this time and find my coin place. Otherwise, some of these coins will get away from me.”
Why the deliberate emphasis on some of those words?
Ryan glanced at Connor out of the corner of his eye. Connor nodded, barely. He pushed his hand at Krissie, out of the agent’s view. She stepped back. Connor placed his hand on her black bag. He slid his other hand under my pants at the ankle and grabbed a hold of me. “Get ready,” he whispered, looking weakly up to me. I realized then the importance of the dialog between Ryan and Connor. They were speaking in code. Ryan gave Connor a message right under the agent’s nose. ‘Conundrum, has, coin, open, time, place, get away.’ I nodded ever so slightly at Connor knowing what was coming, another trip through the temporal portal. It also meant I would be sick as a dog again.
The mouthy agent who took a special dislike to Connor realized what was happening. “They’re going to run! Don’t let them escape!”
Connor closed his eyes and began concentrating on whatever he needed to do. The world around me, around us, went as bright as the sun. Somewhere in the distance, I distinctly heard the discharge of an Impüls. The stretching sensation of displacement encompassed my entire body.
Then it was over.