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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

VIII - Exigence

“A case or situation that demands prompt action or remedy; emergency.”

****

Date: Unknown

Location: Sector 7, FCA-1

Age: 35 (current)

****

I

Once the stretching sensation subsided, I fell close to three feet through the air. I landed awkwardly on my feet, losing balance and falling to my knees from the sudden shift in space. Connor fell through the air and landing on his left side with a sickening thump. His ribcage took the brunt of the impact. Considering the pain etched his face, he must have broken a rib or two.

We were still in Medical, albeit farther away from the entrance at the far end of the room. The force field wall remained disabled. With the exception of the medical beds still lined up in a row along the rightmost wall, the room was empty. Reduced lighting gave the room a dull and lifeless atmosphere, leaving it more difficult to see. More importantly, breathing was now a chore due to the thinner air. It reminded me of time I spent in the Colorado Mountains as a young teen, breathing at higher altitudes. It took a concerted effort to catch a deep breath. The air here had a dull, stale taste to it.

When I stood up, I stumbled a bit due to the lighter gravity. Whenever we were, FCA-1, Sector-7 seemed to be dormant. The minimal life support and general condition of the place suggested Medical - if not the entire section – had been undisturbed for quite some time.

The sickening side effect of temporal displacement had not yet taken hold, but it was coming. I looked down at Connor, still on my knees from the fall. He was conscious, but not by much. His other hand still clutched at Krissie's medical bag. “Connor, are you alright?”

“No,” he said, softly. He reached inside the medical bag without observing his action. Using his fingers to identify objects in the bag, he pulled out a red injector. It looked no different from a modern day handheld jet insulin injector. A small rounded tip with a micro grated surface graced the injector end. On the other was a depressible black button. On the side, stamped in big bold black, characters read, TS-14

Connor held out the injector. “Listen to me…carefully. I’m not well…and I can’t take care of you…if you should…get sick and pass out…from temporal sickness. Stick the tip of this…into your jugular and depress…the button. It won’t hurt. It will help…your symptoms and should keep…you conscious.”

I looked at Connor, scared out of my wits. I reached for injector and took it with great apprehension. The boiling sensation in my lower gut began to manifest. Vertigo and hot flashes engulfed me. Connor nodded, reading the panic of what was coming over me. “Do it now…before it’s too late. It will be alright…Kevin, I promise.”

I jammed the tip end of the injector into my neck, shut my eyes and used my thumb to press the black button. The injector made a thock-pshh sound as it released highly compressed medication directly into my blood stream. True to Connor’s word, there was no pain. It felt weird. A warm sensation coursed down my neck and into my chest. From there it instantly spread to the rest of my body, one appendage at a time. For a moment, I felt euphoric tingles in my temples and strangely enough in the tips of my fingers and toes as well. I dropped the injector and fell onto my hands, waiting for the projectile vomit of boiling liquid to come spurting out of my mouth. I could feel Connor watching me, waiting to see if I would become a useless bag of sick meat. Waves of nausea came and went, but no gag followed. As a bonus, I maintained consciousness, although I did feel like complete shit. My joints ached at the mere thought of using them. I also experienced the same ‘melting skeleton’ sensation, but to a much lesser degree. I lied down next to Connor hoping the bad sensations would pass.

“How…are you?” Connor asked.

I looked over and scoffed, but smiled. “I’ve seen better days.”

“Are you…going to…pass out?”

“No, I don’t think so. That said, I don’t feel very good. It’s going to hurt to stand up and worse to walk, I think. What about you? What’s happening to you?”

Connor closed his eyes, shook his head, and waved off someone who was not there. “They...they got off another shot…before we displaced, those agents did. I don't think…I'm going to be able…to walk.”

“There has to be somebody here who can help you.”

“No, there isn't,” Connor said, barely managing the words. “Nor is there anything…in Krissie’s bag…to help me.”

I turned my head to look at a man who might have been dying. “Tell me what to do to help you, Connor. Wherever we are…whenever we are, we don’t belong here, so whatever I have to do, no matter how bad it might hurt, I will do.”

“Okay, let me think,” Connor said, closing his eyes. “If I was able to do the math right…before we displaced, we should be…in the first half…of 1977,” Connor said in gasps. Each new breath brought him visible pain. “Life support here…is minimal…which is why it's harder…to breath. We didn’t start…operating FCA-1…until shortly before the war…in 2032. We did however…restart this facility…in 1910.”

I sighed. “Okay, if there is no one here who can help you, what do we do now?”

Connor finally opened his eyes and looked at me. The buoyant attitude he exhibited only minutes before was now gone. He looked dead somber. Actually, he looked scared. “We have to…Jaunte down to Earth…and hope there is a station…available to receive us.”

“Okay,” I said. “That sounds simple enough. You're going to have to walk me through how to do that.”

“I know. It's an easy process. What worries me…is the timeline. As far as I know…we've not…been in the seventies before.”

“I don't understand. You said you've done this before, observing events in the past. Why would this be any different?”

Connor’s reply – minus the gasps of pain when inhaling – amounted to this, “The observation we do, and that we've done in the past is controlled and done without stepping foot onto Earth. Only in dire emergencies will any TDI inject themselves into past events, and only after we've been able to verify its part of recorded history, their presence. All other observation is done from here on FCA-1, through holographic imagery.”

“I don't understand.”

“It's okay, I didn't expect you to,” Connor said. “What concerns me is that we’ll have to go back down to Earth and make contact with the FCA liaison in this decade, while interfering as little as possible. Since I've not verified you and me in this timeline, there is no telling if what will happen is predestined or a paradox.”

He was talking over my head again. “Look, just tell me what you need me to do and I'll do it. You can't die on me, Connor.”

He smiled, reaching out to clasp my hand. “We'll make it. We should get to the Jaunte station as quickly as possible. If this when is compromised by The Corporation as well, we don't want to be vulnerable as we are here, now, should anyone else show up.”

II

Helping Connor maneuver the hallway of FCA-1, Sector-7 to the Jaunte room turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. The man was in bad shape. I wasn’t much better. Between Connor’s broken ribs and whatever damage the Impüls fire did to him, and my severe aches and pains from two trips through the temporal displacement portal, we were an inadvertent comedy act. There were no wheelchairs or other equipment in Medical to haul Connor around on. The beds were not portable. I checked the other adjoining rooms, returning empty handed. Instead, we came up with a method of wrapping our arms around one another, like drunken friends, while pushing up against each other to avoid falling over. Our steps were small, but solid. Whatever the Impüls weapon fire did to Connor, it fucked him up something fierce. I thought he would pass out cold from the pain a few times during our stumble from Medical to the Jaunte room. The lighter gravity helped, but whatever advantage we gained, the thinner air wiped out. Breathing became twice as hard. The lack of air conditioning left us humid and sweating.

According to Connor, it took us almost as hour to reach the Jaunte room. It appeared exactly as it did in 2006 with only one perceptible difference; the Jaunte octagon was empty. No protective red force field, no redshifted image from the last transport, nothing.

Connor took a seat in the front of the Jaunte platform, holding Krissie’s black bag in his lap. Slowly, and in short precise words, Connor walked me through the process of activating the Jaunte portal. The process amounted to knowing which buttons to push and in what order. The readout displayed German, or whatever German hybrid encompassed the Brüder language. I had no idea what the information displayed on the panel read. “Kevin,” Connor whispered from his seat on the Jaunte transport. “Remember…we have to go through…unconscious.”

“I know.”

Connor achingly looked over to see me. He said, minus the skips in his breath, “When we get to the other side, either we’ll wake up on our own, or FCA security will treat us a threat when we wake up, if any are there. We are not expected, so we may be on our own.”

“Okay,” I said, nervous now. How much of this was I going to have to accomplish on my own? “Connor, in the event we get to wherever we are going and no one is there, or no one is there who can help and you cannot speak, what should I do?”

“Fair question, I’m glad you asked it. FCA Ops are guarding them, each Earth station, to the hilt. Der Widerstand before them, so someone will be there. They will recognize me and verify my identity via this, a tattooed bar code on my left arm. Once I’m conscious, I will tell to them you are under my protection and assisting me in locating our liaison, Jim Marks. They will know who he is and how to contact him. In the event you are alone, it’s up to you to locate him and bring him to me.”

“Do we know where he is at this point in 1977?”

Connor struggled to think about the question. “I don’t know. He may be at ES-5 or he may be at our base on the other coast, living in Maryland somewhere.”

Again with the Maryland connection! Coincidence indeed!

“Interesting,” rolled off my lips instead.

The Jaunte computer finished calculating with an annoying double chirp, displaying the results on the holographic readout. I read out the German style words to Connor as best as I could.

“We have a very short window there, ES-5,” Connor said, gasping for the breath to do so.

“Area 51?”

“Yes, there. You’re going to have to set it, the transport timer, then get back into the transport, and lock in before the light show – as Martin calls it – starts.”

I walked up to the holographic control panel. “Tell me what to do.”

“In the readout, there should be seven choices, tap the one that says Unbewusste then tap the one that says, ‘Uhr

‘Okay, it wants me to enter a number.”

“On the keypad, press drei, null, eingeben.” The numbers 00.30 appeared, plus the question ‘bestätigen?’ and two choices, ja and nein. Even I knew those meant yes and no.

“I assume you want me to tap ja?”

“Yes. You will now be prompted to begin, it will say beginnen. Once you tap that button, you’ll have thirty second to strap into the Jaunte platform before the light show begins.” I tapped the button and limped to the platform. Once in, I pressed the big blue button on the holographic panel, activating the blue holo-restraint. Connor already did his.

We had fifteen seconds to go.

I looked over at Connor, flashing him a small, nervous smile. “See you on the other side, old fellow.”

“You bet your ass I will,” Connor said, lying back, closing his eyes. The readout on the Jaunte display changed. It no longer indicated Earth Station 5, or Bodenstation fünf. According to the display, it now read Bodenstation Eine.

Eine? What does Eine mean? I had no idea what that word translated too.

Or did I?

III

The benefits of studying four years of choir under Karl Kingsley at South Carroll High School included knowledge of the finer details and background of the works we practiced and performed.

One of those pieces of music included Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s ‘Eine wenig Nachtmusik’. The German translates to ‘A Little Night Music’. In this particular instance, ‘Eine’ translates to ‘A’.

In order to graduate, I would be required to take at least one class of foreign language. I chose German for no particular reason, anything but that guttural slop known as Spanish. One thing I do remember from those classes was how difficult it can be, the translations, specifically how they are accomplished. When ‘Eine’ prefaces ‘wenig’ (an adjective), Eine becomes a personal pronoun, hence the letter ‘A’. Remove the adjective and Eine becomes ‘One’.

Earth Station One.

IV

Our Jaunte window to Area 51 closed while the window to Earth State One opened. If I read the map on the Jaunte readout properly, ES-1 fell somewhere on the mid east coast of America.

Connor wasn’t waiting for the light show. He was out cold. It made no difference one way or the other, were he awake, I’m sure he would have suggested one Earth station would be as good as the other, especially considering our quandary.

The euphoric white noise did its thing. I smiled and laid my head back. When the strobes began, I was out.

V

I woke up first. Our surroundings were exceptionally different from the Jaunte portal at Area 51. Wherever we ended up, calling it a dump would be doing it no justice. The room was over run with dirt, mud, and plant life. I could barely see anything. The only available light came from the redshifted image within the Jaunte octagon.

I released my Jaunte restraint and opened Krissie’s black bag in search of a flashlight, or something comparable. A device similar to a penlight sat at the bottom. When I activated it, my mind was once again completely blown. It was unlike any flashlight I had ever used, or seen. It illuminated the entire room and still focused a strong beam of light wherever I pointed it. At the conclusion of this adventure, I would have to ask Connor for one of these.

I put my hand on Connor’s shoulder and shook. “Connor, wake up. We’re through.”

I pointed the flashlight away from the Jaunte portal and toward the back of the room. My heart sank. Connor and I would have some serious stairs ahead and a badly maintained door at the top to open.

The Jaunte interface began to beep, flashing a holographic red button that said Sicherheit. Sec-huer-height. If you said it fast, it sounded like ‘securit’, perhaps a security measure of some kind. I tapped it. The red force field that protected the Jaunte portal slammed into place. I stepped back, recalling how Ryan described it; touching it would kill me twice over, or something to that effect.

“Kevin?” Connor managed to say.

I turned around. “Good morning, sunshine. Quick question: Where the fuck are we?”

Connor looked around. I handed him the flashlight. Excusing his continued breaks in speech, he said, “I don’t recognize this place. I can’t read anything. What did the Jaunte display say before we left?”

“It changed from Earth Station five to station one,” I said. Connor sat straight up, bug eyed, staring into me with disbelief. I thought for a moment he might yell at me for doing something wrong. “It was green lit, as you explained, so I went for it. Why? What’s wrong?”

“Kevin,” Connor whispered. “Earth Station One was destroyed thousands of years ago. There is no way we should be here. The name should never have been displayed in the Jaunte interface.”

“Well, it was green.”

Connor stared around the run down room in awe. “Earth Station One was the facility the Brüder used to do their genetic experiments. It’s a huge station, supposedly over ten square miles. It was lost after the Ausrottung. You are sure the readout gave you a green notification for Bodenstation Eine? I’ve never seen the Jaunte system attempt to connect to it.”

“As sure as we are hiding out in 1977.”

“Okay, I’ll figure this out later. We need to get top side, if there is a way to get topside. Jaunte stations are usually close to a secured exit. I doubt there’s any security here. We can breath, which means the station is still active or air is finding its way in someplace, probably the exit we want.”

“Can you make it up those stairs?”

“Even if it kills me,” Connor said with a huge grin. The discovery of Earth Station One seemed to breathe some life into him. I’m certain Connor would prefer to live long enough to explore it.

“I don’t know if I can pull you up all those stairs,” I said. “I’m still way sore.”

Connor sighed. “We shouldn’t do this, but with no one else around, we don’t have a choice.” Connor picked up Krissie’s bag and withdrew the TS-14 injector, adjusting one of the small dials on its side. “Give yourself that dosage. It should make most your pains go away for six hours or so.”

I took the injector from Connor. “It’ll be more like four hours,” I said, pushing it into my jugular.

Thock-Pshhh

“Why do you say that?”

My head was floating in euphoria. The pain was gone and I felt fine. “Cause…um, my body chemistry absorbs medications faster than most folks. GOD Damn Connor, this is some great shit, what the hell is in it?”

“Krissie could tell you about it. It’s the best painkiller out there, which is why it’s used primarily for temporal sickness.”

“Well fuck, brother! Why don’t you take a shot of this if it’ll make it easier for you to walk?”

“I’m not permitted to use it.”

“What? Why?”

“I got addicted to it during my training, not long after my wife died. I abused it whenever I could to make that pain go away. Krissie found out and we kept it between us – and now you too – and so she helped me kick the habit. I can never have that again, the TS-14.”

Connor made valid points. To force him to use it would force him to break sobriety. I left the subject go, except, “I won’t break your confidence, Detective.”

Connor smiled. “Yeah, I know you won’t.” I studied his face. What did he imply there? He spoke of me as if we had been trusted allies in the past.

I put the TS-14 injector into Krissie’s bag and picked it up. Connor handed me the flashlight so I could help him to his feet.

Each step for him seemed to be more painful then the last. I on the other hand felt fine, giddy, and ready to take on the world. If this kind of euphoria is what I’ve been missing all those years, suggesting drugs were bad, I’ve certainly been denying myself. In fact, I felt well enough to piggyback Connor in order to move faster. He reluctantly agreed. Connor’s weight didn’t faze me in the least. I carefully climbed the stairs to the exit of the Jaunte station, taking it one step at a time, moving slowly for safety. Falling down for either one of us might prove fatal, even with this ecstatic bandage. Underneath it all, I had some bad injuries too.

“How are we going to find Jim?” I asked as we slowly worked our way up the stairs. I figured there had to be at least fifty steps, maybe more.

“There should be a communication device in Krissie’s bag,” Connor managed between staggered breaths. “Its standard protocol for medical personnel and Krissie is the best. Jim is also the best at what he does, so it should not take him long to respond. He will have to come to us, to minimize our participation in this time.”

“Will he have what you need to make you better? Do you even know what’s wrong with you?”

“Yes, he will,” said Connor, pausing briefly to catch his breath. “If he doesn’t, he’ll know where to get what he needs. The Impüls weapon, when set to its higher settings can damage internal organs. It’s comparable to an automobile accident when the body is crushed. When the Brüder designed their weapons, they also designed a way to reverse the damage in the event their own soldiers suffered injury from friendly fire.”

“Just like that, eh?” I asked. “Jim will shoot you with the reverse of the Impüls and you’re all better?”

Connor offered a weak laugh, cringing from pain in the process. “Don’t make me laugh, it hurts.”

“Sorry.”

“No, it’s not quite that simple. I’ve had it done before during my training to operate Brüder technology. It will take some time to reverse, that process, and I do need to get it done sooner rather than later.”

I didn’t like Connor not finishing that sentence. “Or what?”

“Stop,” he said sternly. I complied. He looked directly into my eyes when I turned my head to see him. “Or you’ll be stuck here in 1977. The paradox that could come from that I don’t even want to think about, so let’s not let it come to that, agreed?”

“Agreed.”

It took several more minutes to reach the top of the stairway. The steel double doors of the Jaunte station took a bit of effort to open. They were sliding doors that didn’t want to slide. Due to Connor’s condition, he would be of little to no help. Even with the pain blocked from the TS-14 medication, that last jump and the fall that followed left me in a weaker state. The sharp pain I felt on my left side whenever I pushed and difficult breathing - even out of FCA-1 – all but confirmed a broken rib.

I pushed and rocked on the right steel door for quite sometime. It was my duty to get Connor help. After what seems like hours (it was barely ten minutes), the right door began to move. Each successful push knocked down chunks of dirt covering the other side. Eventually there was enough room to squeeze my body through the two feet of open space into whatever waited on the other side. I used my back and legs to push to the door open further so Connor could easily pass thought.

The scene on the other side of Jaunte station doors was not very encouraging either. There were no lights of any kind. The air was damp and musty, which suggested we were indeed under ground. The hallway we stood in afforded us two directions, right or left.

“What do you think?” I asked pointing the flashlight to the left, then the right.

Connor reached out to touch the wall, brushing off who knows how many hundreds of years of dirt and grime. “Help me look for any kind of writing.”

I assisted in the quest to reach the actual wall, clearly encased under layer upon layer of soil. Connor struck wall first, revealing engraving. “Die Oberfläche. The exit is to the left.”

“What’s in the other direction?” I asked. I couldn’t help it. The curiosity was just too much.

Connor wiped off more of the engraving. “Unterirdisch. It means ‘underground’. If it’s anything like the other stations, somewhere over there is a stairwell leading underground.”

I sighed. “Left it is then.”

With flashlight pointed forward, we slowly walked the corridor until we came to an octagon shaped gate, similar to that of the Jaunte portal.

“Wait,” Connor said, stopping us. He reached into Krissie’s bag, withdrew a small box, and tossed it through the entrance. The box fell to the floor on the other side.

“What was that about?”

“This is a security gate. It’s inactive. I didn’t want to take any chances.” I looked at him in disbelief. He smiled weakly. “The exit should be somewhere on the other side.” I helped him through the gate and retrieved the box. “Look for a door or a hatch.”

In fact, a hatch entrance revealed itself at the end of the hallway. A wall-mounted ladder led upwards maybe fifty feet into a chute to the ceiling. Turned out what I thought was the end of the hallway was not. Off to the left, another hallway began on an upward incline that ended about 100 feet away. From there, another inclined section led even higher.

Connor observed both discoveries. “This is a layout I’ve seen before. I can tell you this is specifically for Brüder to enter and exit the facility. I suspect those ramps over there were for loading cargo, which means there is a bigger entrance farther up.” Connor then looked inside the climb tube. “I don’t think I can make that climb.” He reeked of disappointment.

“I’ll go,” I offered. “Maybe we can figure out something when I get to the top, assuming I can even get the thing open.”

Connor nodded and sat down, propping himself up against the Earth covered wall. I pulled on the ladder several times to insure it was stable enough to hold my weight. It didn’t budge in the slightest, which I found odd. “Connor, which material specifically did the Brüder use to build this station? I can’t believe this ladder isn’t rusting off the wall.”

“It’s the same element as Brüder-2’s hull. It’s not indigenous to Earth. As far as I know, it’s not even on the periodic table of elements. We call it ‘unobtanium’.”

I laughed at this. “I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard that word used in science fiction.”

Connor was smiling and nodding. “Martin brought the word to my attention many years ago. He’s a bit of a science fiction buff.”

“I noticed,” I said, remembering Martin was still at Area 51, in 2006. “Speaking of Martin, we left him behind, when Ryan and I were attacked yesterday,” I paused, realizing the term ‘yesterday’ didn’t seem accurate. In linear terms, that day would not happen for another twenty-nine years. “I mean, back in 2006. Well, no…not ‘back in’ 2006, when Ryan and I left 2006.”

“I understand,” Connor said, saving me from continued rambling. “In a security breach of that magnitude, he knows what to do, Martin does. He’ll be fine. I have every confidence in him. Now, get going.”

I carefully climbed the ladder to the top of the chute, discovering a large hatch door with no discernable device to open or close it. “I’m not sure how to open this,” I called down. “There’s no handle, or locking device.”

“Shit,” was the reply I heard, under breath. “It’s holographically controlled. With no power, we won’t be able to open it. Come on back down.” I slid down the ladder and helped Connor back to his feet. “We’ll have to continue up that way,” Connor said nodding in the direction of the inclined passageway.

We continued slowly and cautiously up the incline, discovering it was a zigzag ending one story up. Above our heads, yet another seemingly impossible large hatch door lay in our way.

“Now what?” I asked.

Connor sighed in frustration, shaking his head. “Berechnen offen.” Nothing happened. “Berechnen aufschließen.” Still, nothing happened.

I set Connor against the wall and pushed up on the hatch. It budged ever so slightly, indicating it slid instead of swinging up. I looked at Connor in surprise.

“That’s it, it slides,” Connor said through a rather intense wince. “Push it in.”

With every effort I had left in me, I planted my hands firmly against the hatch and pushed to the left. It took several tries to move it even an inch. Dirt poured through the vertical opening. It didn’t want to move because it was covered. Now able to get my fingers in the opening, I yanked the damn thing open one bit at a time. With every inch the hatch moved, another wave of dirt would pour into the hallway. When the hatch was two feet open, I figured it was far enough for me to squeeze through. At the very least, I could lift Connor up through it. Complete darkness lived on the other side of the hatch, although cooler air fell through the opening into our musty surroundings. I took a deep breath of it, cool and clean smelling. I considered the possibility of our being under water. I pointed the flashlight through the opening, revealing a small chamber. It looked to be an earthen tunnel.

“It looks like another room, maybe a tunnel,” I said.

“Can you climb up there?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Then go,” Connor said, sliding down to the floor. “Find out where it goes and report back.” I gave Connor a worried glance. “It’s okay, Kevin. I’ll be fine. Go.”

With flashlight secured in my back pocket, I jumped up and grabbed the edge of the entrance. My busted rib screamed in protest. Somehow, I pulled myself up into what was a small nook carved in the ground. I brought out the flashlight to get a better look. The entire nook illuminated, revealing a large piece of equipment blocking an open exit. It pushed aside with relative ease. In the process, I knocked a box over, spilling nuts, bolts, and washers across the floor. I stepped out of the alcove and into the room, shining the flashlight beam at the flimsy door on the other side.

My heart rate jumped, pushing blood and adrenaline through my head in painful bursts. My eyes were wide, looking for a reason to pop out of my skull.

I knew this room. I had been here before, many, many years ago.

As I turned around to tell Connor of my find, activity on the other side of the room’s door caught my attention. The sound of footsteps making the trip down a flight of wooden stairs became audibly clear.

“Charlie, are you down there?” a voice called out. A woman’s voice.

All that hot blood pulsing through my body turned to ice. I froze, figuratively and literally. My hands and arms were cold. Had it not been for the desire to see who was on the other side of the door, I would have long since fainted. The footsteps stopped on the other side of the closed door. She began knocking on it. “Are you in there?”

I swallowed with a completely dry throat. I could not move.

The workshop door opened. A hand reached in and flipped the light switch. The weak light of a 75-watt bulb flood the area as the door swung all the way open.

I stood there, still pointing the flashlight straight ahead. The women who opened the door looked at me, also frozen in place. She wore awful clothes only found in the seventies. Orange bell bottomed pants with a stripped pattern shirt of brown, yellow, and orange. I offered a half smile, turning the flashlight off. She took several steps toward me, never taking her eyes off my face, her jaw open in astonishment. Her eyes squinted as if she could not believe what she was seeing was real. In slow motion, she lifted her hand to touch my dirty face. She knew who I was. It was no mistake

“This can’t be,” she whispered. “Kevin, is that you?”

I sighed. “Hi, mom.”


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