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Displaced I: The Exchange

By Kevin Provance All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Adventure

IX - – Asymmetry I

“The quality or state of not being identical on both sides of a central line.”

****

Date: Friday, May 13, 1977

Location: Arthur Avenue House, Eldersburg, Maryland

Age: 35 (current)

****

I

The 1977 version of my mother couldn’t stop staring at my face. She examined every detail. “How old are you now?”

“Thirty-five.”

Mom laughed in spite of herself. “You’re older than I am, son. How is this possible? Where did you come from?”

I smiled and hitched a thumb toward the alcove behind the busted up refrigerator, knowing how unbelievable this was going to sound. “From back there, believe it or not. There are, um…a system of tunnels that run underneath this house.”

“No there isn’t,” Mom insisted, arms folded. She craned her neck around to look anyway. “Is there?”

“This whole thing started a couple days ago, in my time, in 2006,” I said, scanning the room for a length of rope. I knew there was one around the basement somewhere from my days as a Cub Scout. “I can’t really tell you how this is all possible. They guy I’m with is real strict about his Temporal Directives.”

“Somebody’s with you?”

“Yeah, and he’s hurt pretty bad,” I said, struggling to remember where we had kept that old yellow rope. “Is there still rope in the mutt room?”

Mom appeared flabbergasted, as if the revelation of something new to her was old for me. “You remember that?”

“Turns out, Mom, I have a fairly eidetic memory.”

“A what?”

“Photographic, sort of.”

“Yes, I always knew that about you,” she said, smiling.

“Wait here for a sec,” I said. “I have to get that rope.”

I walked quickly out of the workroom into the basement I’d not seen since I was ten. I literally stepped back into old memories of my childhood. It was as surreal as surreal gets. I passed a shelf of toys that my sister and I played with as kids. I really wanted to stop and touch them again. I hesitated, knowing that doing so would make what was happening even more real. I began to have a nagging sensation that accepting the full reality of where I was might not be such good thing. Part of me needed to believe this experience was somehow not real. I also believe Connor would object. Instead, I retrieved the rope, catching a glimpse of the old pool in the backyard through the windowed basement door.

Then it hit me. If my sense of direction was accurate, the first hatch Connor and I were unable to open should be directly underneath the pool pump house. I had been in both areas from my youth that gave me the creeps to the point of fainting. Yet now, I had felt no apprehension.

Interesting.

I carried the rope back into the workshop, working my way into the nook behind the old refrigerator. Mom followed, cautiously.

“Jesus, there is something back there,” she whispered, peering around the fridge into the entrance, the unobtanium tunnel clearly in view. “What the hell is that? Who’s down there?”

“My colleague, Connor MacKenzie.”

“And that’s part of the tunnel system?”

“Well, sort of,” I said, keeping it vague. I unpacked the rope and tossed one end into the hole. “Connor, can you secure yourself to that rope? I should be able to lift you out.”

Connor begrudgingly stood up and began the task of harnessing himself to the end of the rope. “Who’s…up there…with you?” He asked.

“You don’t want to know,” I answered, looking away.

“Actually, Kevin…I do. Who is it?”

“It’s um – my mother,” I finally said.

“WHAT?” Connor shouted, stopping his effort to tie himself up for lift. “Are you fucking serious?”

“Yeah, I am,” I replied, annoyed. “The station one exit comes up under the foundation of this house. It explains quite a bit from my childhood.”

“Kevin…we have to go…somewhere else,” Connor said, in warning. “The damage…to the timeline – if this is…not preordained – could be…catastrophic.”

“Look at you,” I said, harshly. “You can barely fucking walk. Where else are we supposed to go? Searching through what must be miles of Earth station one for another exit we don’t even know exists? Yeah, I don’t think so. Finish with that rope and let’s just get this over with.”

Connor glared back, unhappy. He finished looping the rope around his waist. Lifting him out of the hole was not as difficult as I thought it would be. I helped him out of the workshop and onto a sofa in the basement. He opened Krissie’s bag and searched for something. He pulled out the Löschen device used to blank short-term memory.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to blank…your mother’s memory…so she remembers nothing…of this.”

Mom grabbed my arm from behind. “What is he going to do to me?” She sounded scared.

“Nothing,” I insisted, not taking my eyes off Connor. “Put that away, Connor. Our priority is to get you well, and mom might be able to help. When all is said and done, then we can have a discussion about it.”

Connor considered my words. “Fine…I’ll allow it…for now. But this…isn’t over, the conversation.”

“Agreed,” I said, turning to mom. “Don’t worry about this right now. I promise, nothing bad will happen to you. Do you believe me?”

Mom hesitated and then sighed. “Yes, son. I believe you.”

Connor put the Löschen away. He looked bad. I was afraid he was going to pass out at any moment. “Is there anyone else…here besides…you, Mrs. Provance?”

Mom gave Connor a confused look. “Provance is my maiden name, Mr. MacKenzie. My name is Jayne Garrison.”

Connor looked at me, confused. “But Kevin, your last name…is Provance. How can that be?”

Mom turned to me with the same confused look. “You changed your last name? Why would you do that, Kevin?”

“Oh boy,” I said, muttering under my breath. “In 1997, I had my former last name of Garrison changed to Provance. I had my reasons for doing so.”

Connor nodded as if he had just solved a puzzle. “That explains…a lot.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask Connor what he meant by that. However, mom looked disturbed. She remained the focus of my concern. In 1997, she had been supportive of my desire to change my surname. The thirty-four year old version of her would have no clue why, since she has yet to realize what a prick of misery my father – her current husband – turned out to be.

Connor sighed, with great effort, and wiped his face with his hands. “Okay, first thing’s…first. We need…to make contact…with Jim Marks.” Connor reached into the bag and withdrew a communication device. He flipped it open, pressed a series of buttons, and began to talk. “TDI-1…breaking for FCAL-1…please respond.”

Nothing happened.

Mom leaned over to whisper to me. “What is that?”

“It’s like a cell phone, only smaller.”

“What’s a cell phone?”

I looked at her with disbelief. “Yeah, that’s right. The cell phone hasn’t been invented yet.” She looked at me like a bewildered child, awaiting clarification. “In the years to come, the phone companies create portable phones about the size of the device Connor is holding. It operates on a cellular network. They haven’t replaced land lines yet, but it’s getting there.”

“Land line?” Mom asked.

“Home telephones,” I said. “Cell phones are so popular in my time, the teenagers refer to the old telephone as a ‘land line’.”

“The old telephone,” Mom repeated. “Amazing.”

“You have no idea.”

“Kevin! Shush!” Connor said in a bark. “Mrs. Garrison…is there anyone else…here right now…besides you?”

“No. Charlie, my husband, is at work and the kids are in school. They won’t be back until 3:30 or so. Charlie won’t be home until 6:30-ish.”

“What time…is it now?” Connor asked.

Mom looked at her watch. “Twenty-two after.”

Connor looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders. “After what?” Connor asked.

“Ten,” Mom replied.

Connor thought about this. “We have a little…over four hours…to find Jim…and get out of here…before we have a serious…paradox situation.”

“Jim still hadn’t responded?” I asked.

“No…but that doesn’t…mean anything,” Connor said. “He could be…asleep…for all I know.”

I sat down next to Connor. “Can you locate him with that thing?” I asked, motioning toward the communicator.

“I can locate…his communicator. If he doesn’t have it on him – and he should - all it will tell me…is where he had it last.”

Connor punched in some information. Within a few seconds, a map appeared with a glowing holographic blip. Mom watched intensely from the side of the couch, arms folded.

“So, where is he?” I asked.

“On the outskirts…of Westminster…off Route 27,” Connor said.

I felt jolted by the convenience of it all. “Really? He just happens to be one town over. I am finding it hard to believe that everything going on now seems to revolve around Carroll County, Maryland.”

Connor smiled weakly. Ignoring his breaks for breath, he said, “I am from Westminster, believe it or not, as is Martin and Robert, whom I’ve not yet told you about. The whole thing we are involved in right now started in Westminster, for all of us. Jim Marks has always lived in Westminster. He was instrumental in each of out lives, Robert, Martin and I, until we all got together.”

“How can that be?” I asked. “I might believe some coincidences, but that seems pretty big to me.”

Connor sighed. “Jim Marks is a Brüder from der Widerstand. He’s very old and very wise. It’s been his goal since he left the Brüder’s version of their military to assist our cause, any way he can.”

The relationships began to make sense with this reveal. Now I understood how Jim Marks would help Connor. “So what do we do now?” I asked. “We can’t just wait around for Jim to answer the phone, or whatever you call that thing.”

“I know,” Connor said. “It’s important that he comes to us instead of the other way around. That way we avoid um - any more, uh - time line contamination.” Connor was having a lot of trouble speaking now.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, dropping to my knees next to him.

“I’m fighting to…not lose…consciousness,” Connor whispered. “Kevin, listen to me. If I do go unconscious, it’s important that you…that you contact Jim…and bring him to me…here. I don’t think…I have much time left.”

“I understand,” I said, biting my lip, scared of where this was going.

“No…Kevin, listen to me carefully,” Connor said, fighting to keep focus. “Do not tell your mother…anything about the future…or more important…your future. I know that might…might be difficult for you…but you must fight the urge…to share information you may not…think means anything. Doing so could…it could have disastrous effects, and since the portal we took…to get here is closed…the future we go back to…it could be radically different. Do you understand?”

“Yes, I do.”

Connor handed me the communications device. “All you have to do…is press the lower left green button…to talk. It’s already set up…to receive. This is the important part…so listen very carefully. You must identify yourself…as TDI-1 Proxy…codename ‘Conundrum’. If you receive a reply…my authorization is…‘MacKenzie-4-Pi-Upsilon-Omega’. Repeat it.” I did. “Afterwards…brief Jim on the current…situation and answer…any question he asks honestly…and to the point. Don’t exaggerate…or say more than needed. If you don’t know an answer…just say so. Jim will know…what to do.”

“Okay,” I said. “Anything else I need to know?”

“Yeah,” Connor said, mysteriously. “Lean in closer…to me, I need…to tell you something…very, very important.”

I leaned in, putting my ear to his lips. He grabbed the temples of my forehead and pushed hard. Before any chance to push away came to mind, my head filled with white light. The force of that action knocked me on my backside. Mom yelped in surprise. I sat back up and crawled over to Connor.

“What the hell did you do to me?” I asked. Connor closed his eyes. He was no longer responding. “Connor? CONNOR!”

Mom knelt over Connor and took his pulse. “He’s still alive, Kevin, but his breathing is really erratic. What happened to him? What happened to you?”

I looked at Mom and stood up. “I don’t know what he did to me. As for Connor, he saved me life. So I owe it to him to get him the help he needs.”

“How did he save your life?”

“Mom, I can’t say,” I said, biting my lip. The fuzzy white light seemed to float around inside my head. “I’d like to tell you everything that happened, but Connor said that kind of information could be dangerous to you, and us. I have to respect that so nothing bad happens to any of us.”

Mom looked a bit disappointed, but nodded. “I can understand that.”

I tried calling Jim on Connor’s communicator. There was no reply. I pushed the button I watched Connor push to reveal the location of Jim’s communicator. Route 27 before Braddock Road. This placed him well out of Westminster City limits toward Eldersburg, where we were. If I remembered it correctly, the location on the holographic map was one of the driveways off Route 27 that led into the woods. That’s where I would find Jim Marks.

I turned to face Mom. “Besides the Camero, is there any other car here I can use? The old Ford? The Chevette?”

Mom’s jaw dropped. “You’re leaving? Didn’t Connor tell you not to?”

“Yes, I know he did,” I said, frustrated. “But we don’t have a lot of time and I believe the quickest way to do this is to go to Jim and bring him back here. Connor never said not to.”

Mom was shaking her head. “No, he didn’t. However, I get the idea had you said that to him, he would have said no. The quickest way would be to take Connor to Jim.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But if something should happen to me or Connor en route, our paradox problem becomes much bigger. Connor needs to stay here.”

Mom considered this and finally nodded. “Your father took the truck to work today, so the Chevette is out there. Do you know how to drive stick?”

I scoffed. “I learned to drive with the Chevette. It was my first car until it broke apart.”

“How did tha—“

“Mom, don’t ask,” I said, in warning. “I can’t tell you.”

“Fine,” she snapped. I offered her a hug to show I meant no ill will. She took it with caution. “I can’t believe how tall you grew.”

I said nothing and pulled back. “I’m going to take the Chevette and see if I can find Jim.”

“What if something happens to Connor while you’re gone,” Mom asked.

I thought about this for a moment. I walked into the workshop and looked around one of the workbenches. Sure enough, my memory was right on target. Charlie kept his CB radio in here. I only remembered due to the multiple warnings I received as a child never to touch it. I smirked as I turned it on, tuning it to channel 13. “If I remember correctly, the old thing still works. I do remember that Charlie has a CB radio in the Chevette. If you need to get a hold of me for emergency reasons, call me on that.”

“It’s weird listening to you call your father by his first name,” Mom said. “Why don’t you call him ‘Dad’ or ‘Father’?” I didn’t answer her. She was watching my face. “Your eyes and your facial expressions tell a lot, Kevin. Something happened, didn’t it? Something bad. That’s why you changed your last name to Provance, isn’t it?” I shook my head to tell her I could not answer those questions. Now I know how Ryan must have felt when he and I first met. Mom was not taking her eyes off mine. I suppose I was giving too much away without saying anything. “Each time I’ve brought up your father, you look – angry. What did he do to you Kevin?”

I looked away. I didn’t want to tell her that story, even if I had permission to do so. “Mom, you’ll find out in time. The only thing I can tell you, when you realize what’s going on is to not go into denial about it. Do something about it. You’ll understand by the time I graduate high school.”

Mom stood her ground, hands on hips. “I would never look the other way if your father was doing something bad to you, or your sister.”

I shook my head. Tears streamed down my face. Mom hugged me as I fought off the urge to break down and cry. The thought of Connor and his clinging to life snapped me back into reality. “Do you have a key to the Chevette?”

Mom nodded, hiding her own tears. She went upstairs, returning with the spare Chevette key. “Don’t get pulled over,” she advised. “If your driver’s license is from the future, you might have a tough time explaining that.”

“Plus, it’s a Florida driver’s license,” I added, walking over to root through Krissie's bag. I picked out the Impuls and put it in my pocket.

Mom seemed appalled. “You live in Florida?”

“We all do,” I said, correcting her.

“Megan, Charlie, and me, we all moved to Florida? When did this happen? Was it to get a new start?”

After you divorce the bastard and get remarried to a proper fellow, yes.

“Mom, I can’t go into it. You knowing too much about your own future can be a dangerous thing. Even after all I’ve been though the last few days, I know nothing of mine. And what I do know about the future from my time, I don’t much like.”

“Is that why you look so sad, Kevin?” She asked.

“What do you mean? If anything, I’m stressed, and tired.”

“No, that’s not it,” Mom said, holding the side of my face with her hand. “It’s in your eyes. You look so sad, like there isn’t a lot left to you.”

I sighed. “The last few years for me have been very difficult, and that’s all I can say. Take some comfort that you are still alive and very supportive.”

Mom smiled then. “That’s good to know. I’ll always be there for you and your sister.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said looking away again, hoping the questions would stop. I think she wanted to know that her children grew up to be happy adults in a big happy family. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it didn’t quite work out that way. Her life twenty-nine years from now would be drastically different, albeit better, although the journey would be very difficult. I think that should a thirty-five year old version of my son suddenly appear in my life, I wouldn’t want to know what happened to me. I certainly hope I’d never have to deal with that scenario.

“Okay,” I said. “Please watch over Connor. Stay in touch with me on the CB and I will contact you once I’ve found Jim Marks.”

Mom nodded and watched me go as I climbed up a set up stairs I’d not seen in fifteen years.

II

Stepping outside the house into the warm spring air of Maryland in 1977 felt exactly as it did when I was six. It felt like 1977 somehow. Even the air felt cleaner somehow, more pure. I walked down the driveway passing the old 1949 Fold my father kept under a tarp. He used to proclaim he would fix it up, but never did. Behind it sat the 1976 Chevette that would become my first car in 1987. I couldn’t get over how new the Chevette looked. When it became mine, it was beat up, run down, and in terrible shape. The car sitting before me now was barely a year old.

Driving it was much easier than I remembered. I turned on the CB radio, tuned to channel 13, and decided to run a test. “Break one three for home base. Conundrum calling for a channel test, please respond.”

Pause. “I hear you, Kevin,” Mom said through the CB speaker. “Can you hear me?”

“Ten-four.”

“I don’t know CB talk,” Mom said. “Is that okay?”

“Copy,” I said. “Don’t worry about it. I’m leaving now. Break channel if you need me.”

“Okay, be careful.” I smiled. That was something she always said to me after I learned to drive, and carried it on into my adult life.

The drive up Arthur Avenue was – well, I don’t know if surreal would cover it. Strange, weird, bizarre, dreamlike, all mixed into some larger word whose name is still unknown, even in 2006. I passed the Freedom Bingo Hall down in the valley. The mercury vapor lights that lit the parking lot would keep me awake on Friday nights when the seniors played Bingo. I remembered lying in my bed as a child, in my old bedroom, watching those lights and the activity below. I used to see if I could stay up long enough watch those lights turn off. Things such as this I obsessed over as a child. Friday nights were so cool when I was six. At 8:00 PM, I would watch ‘The Incredible Hulk’, building up the excitement for the next show, my favorite show, ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’. At ten, mom declared ‘bedtime’ so she could watch Dallas. Life was so much simpler then. Life was fun. I felt safe. What more could a child ask for?

Then of course the real world would fall into my lap twelve years following and it all becomes a completely different story. Those feelings of comfort and safety are long gone. Now all I have to look forward too is stress, work, divorce, court dates, and wondering how to pay the bills each month. I think that’s why I constantly dream about living in the Arthur Avenue house of my childhood. It was my safe place when life was good, when I had no worries.

When I reached the top of Arthur Avenue, I chose to take Route 26 through Eldersburg, straight to Route 27. There I would make a right and continue to the dirt driveway where Marks was supposed to be. It might not have been the shortest route, but it was the simplest and that would do fine.

When I reached the intersection to turn onto Route 26 toward Eldersburg, I pondered the scene in amazement. In my time of 2006, there was a full-fledged traffic light at this intersection. In 1977, there was none. I had forgotten about that. The cars that buzzed back and forth were all late model automobiles from the sixties and seventies. I couldn’t wrap my head around the reality of where I was. To everyone around me, this was all real and current. To me it was all almost thirty years old, yet completely new. I wondered, were I were to mingle with other people, would I would stand out somehow? I worse only jeans, a white collar shirt and a black sports jacket, but I had to wonder if there were enough differences between the clothing styles of 2006 and 1977 to stand out.

When a space in traffic opened up, I pulled the Chevette onto Route 26 and began the trek toward Eldersburg. The beauty of the landscape without all the development Eldersburg had been subject to over the last thirty years overwhelmed me. When I reached the bridge crossing Liberty reservoir, it was lower and smaller than I remembered. It wouldn’t be until the 1980s when the bridge would get a serious overhaul. I never realized it when I was younger, and smaller, but driving across the original bridge was a bit intimidating. I see that now, as an adult. The road was so small and there were literally no guardrails.

The big shock came when I reached Eldersburg. All the landmarks familiar to me from my childhood and teenage years had not yet built. The older mom and pop businesses such as the Harvest Inn and the Tangiers Crab House were still here, although much newer in appearance. The Hardees building and the Pizza Hut - both places I worked in my youth - on the opposite side were still undeveloped land areas.

The entrance to the Carrolltowne Mall was not yet the intersection I remember. There was no McDonald’s restaurant across the street. The road leading to the McDonalds entrance was still a dirt path. Also absent were the strip and mini malls that lined Route 26. Watching the Carrolltowne Mall as I drove past it was an experience in and of itself. As a child, I vividly remember the mall as unenclosed. It wasn’t until the 80s that the mall became enclosed. But damn if I don’t remember the complex being so small. The old FotoHut kiosk in the parking lot brought a smile to my face. Another staple of my childhood that disappeared into the mists of time was alive and well.

When the mall passed, I drove miles through farmland as far as the eye could see. The business boom of the 1980s had yet to come to Eldersburg. Part of me wanted to stop and purchase a disposable camera to document this trip. How wonderful it was too see Eldersburg again in its youth, when it was just a baby. Connor’s disapproving voice invaded my tempting thoughts; no contact with anyone. Also, I’m pretty sure there were no disposable cameras in 1977. The bigger issue would be money. The only bills I had on me had been printed after the year 2000. Since it was money from the future that got me into this mess to begin with, providing Connor and Ryan with yet another mission to correct someone’s ignorance of the timeline didn't seem a wise thing to do. There was already going to be hell to pay for leaving my mother's house in this time.

With that thought, I gave Marks another try on Connor's communicator. The result was not optimistic. One would think that such an advanced device would have some kind of voice mail feature. I wondered, since it didn’t run on a cellular network, exactly what kind network did it run on? I would have to ask Connor about that later.

The next major intersection out of Eldersburg was Route 26 and Route 32. I also forgot the right turn onto Route 32 was an offshoot, a curved road off Route 26. This brought a smile to my face as well. Yet another small detail I overlooked when the intersection turned into a traffic lit, multilane road.

Without forethought, I switched into that right turn lane and began traveling south on Route 32, a clear out-of-the-way detour to the outskirts of Westminster.

"What the fuck are you doing, Kevin?” I asked myself.

I knew what I was doing. I was heading directly toward Freedom Elementary School, where my five-year-old self attended first grade. Something I needed to accomplish awaited me. Something I remembered.

III

It was Gym playtime. Keri Wilk, Jeri Ryan, and I were taking turns climbing across the jungle gym. Keri and Jeri were giggling with each other because my belly button was showing every time I hung upside down from one of the jungle gym bars. I kept asking them to stop because it wasn’t funny.

*

I passed the large empty field where Liberty High School would eventually become and the future intersection that would lead to it. For now, it was only a right hand turn onto Bennett Road. Freedom Elementary would be the upcoming entrance on my left. I slowed, taking that left, my heart racing. I remembered this happening, only I remembered it differently.

*

As I pulled myself up onto the jungle gym, I saw daddy's car pulling into the parking lot in front of the school. He was driving his new car and not the blue truck he usually drove to work. I pointed to the car to show Keri and Jeri. 'That's my daddy's car,' I told them.

*

I pulled the Chevette into the parking space nearest the playground area, which was still a considerable distance to the playground itself. Even so, I could see the three children playing on the recently installed jungle gym. I remember that so clearly, the new jungle gym. It was a big deal back then. The boy at the top of the jungle gym pointed at me.

*

Jeri asked me what my dad was doing at school. I shrugged my shoulders and waved at daddy.

*

In awe, I watched a five year old version of myself wave at me. He believed I was his father, driving the old (new) Chevette. I lifted my hand without thinking and waved back.

*

I could not see daddy’s face, but he waved back. I waited to see if he was going to come see me. He did not. He drove away.

IV

Coming to my senses, I pushed the Chevette into reverse and quickly drove back toward Route 26, resuming my trip to find Jim Marks. The reality of where I was and how much trouble I could get into began to set in. It didn’t feel good. I felt very alone, knowing there was no one I could turn to, especially if something bad were to happen to me. Would I turn to the 1977 version of my mother? The paradox danger there was so high, I wondered if my life back in 2006 would remotely be the same. The mother I knew in my time would have been carrying around the secret of my time travel for close to thirty years. How does one do something like that? On the other hand, would I ultimately allow Connor to use the Löschen on her, thus blanking this whole experience?

The overwhelming sensation of being alone ate at me. I was consciously aware this might lead to a full-blown panic attack, a condition in which I was all too familiar. Obtaining a quickie prescription for Xanax would prove impossible, assuming Xanax was even a viable product in the late seventies.

Three miles out of Eldersburg, the panic had not yet subsided. In fact, it was getting worse with the realization that I was indeed in 1977, lost in a time not my own. All the landmarks lining Route 26 I took for granted over the years were gone. ‘Gone’ wasn’t even the right word to describe what I was seeing. Technically speaking, they weren’t gone. They never existed. I expected certain things to be in order and they were not. It’s like a form of chaos, in reverse. The reality I know has not happened yet. I am living in the past, but it’s technically the present in which I am supposed to be a five-year-old boy. I don’t belong here. It doesn’t feel right to be here. I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to be back in my house in Florida, waiting to see my own son, where everything is right and in order, even if life in 2006 sucks.

Sweat began to trickle down my brow. This is it. This is the panic attack that will force me to interact with people in 1977. I thought - over and over - will this be something Connor can fix? The pressure of remaining isolated bore down on me to the point where I thought I might snap.

Where was I now? No landmarks I know to keep my frame of reference are there.

I’m lost! Where am I?

I pulled the Chevette over to the side of the road and stopped. I then pulled the button on the steering column to flash the hazard lights. These actions became necessary, as I believed I was losing consciousness. The tunnel vision began, my head spun. I grabbed the top of the steering wheel, lowered my head to the horn, and screamed.

The communicator device in my breast pocket blared out its robotic chirp. I yanked it out and flipped it open.

“Help me!” I said, in a gasp. “I’m losing it! I don’t know what’s happening to me!”

“Who is this? Identify your self,” the voice on the other side demanded, its accent notably German.

I completely forgot what I was supposed to say. “Kevin, my name is Kevin. I mean Conundrum. Is this Jim Marks?”

“How are you accessing this frequency?” The voice asked. “This is a restricted frequency.”

(Zis iza vestreeckted vreequenzy)

“I’m here with Connor McKenzie,” I said, eyes squeezed shut so I did not have to deal with the tunnel vision. I feared doing so would only make it worse. “He had a bunch of stuff he wanted me to say, uh, TDI-1 Proxy, code name Conundrum. And um, some Greek letters. Fuck, I can’t remember what they are now. Something is wrong with me. I’m going to pass out. I can’t think straight.”

“Okay, Conundrum, listen to me very carefully. I believe you are experiencing a mild form of Temporal Psychosis. It will pass. You need to take a deep breath and focus on my voice. Do you understand?”

A mild form?

“Yes,” I said, through my erratic breathing and his barely comprehensible German accent. I took in a deep breath and held it for a moment. My racing pulse was demanding more air, immediately. I released the breath, attempting to breath slower. “Is this FCAL-1?”

“It is,” Jim replied. “I need you to try and remember what Connor told you, Conundrum. It will help me understand your situation.”

“Okay,” I said, forcing control my breathing, not looking up from the floor of the Chevette. “I think it’s MacKenzie-four, uh – Pi, Epsilon, no wait, maybe it was Upsilon, then Omega. Is that it?”

“Which is it?” Jim asked. “Epsilon or Upsilon?”

“I don’t know, man!” I snapped. “They both sound the same to me!”

“Okay, Conundrum, hold it together. I know you do not understand what is happening to you and I am going to help. I am already on my way to your location. Please, do not leave the car or drive away. I will be able to find you with the communication device you are using. Can you do this for me, Conundrum? Can you wait until I get there?”

I sighed. “Kevin, my name is Kevin,” I said. “I don’t know how or why I got stuck with the Conundrum name.”

“Fair enough, Kevin,” Jim said, calmly. “You may call me Jim.”

“I’ll call you savior if you can get me out of this mess,” I said. “None of this feels real to me anymore, Jim. I feel like I’m in a bad dream that I can’t wake up from.”

“I understand what you are feeling,” Jim said, with assurance. “We all go through it once or twice. Focus on your breathing and the sound of my voice until I get there.”

“It’s Upsilon,” I said. “I remember now, cause I thought it sounded like Epsilon when Connor said it.”

“Okay,” Jim said, sounding more convinced. “So I am to understand Connor became incapacitated and is hiding here in this time, seeking help from me before he dies. Is that correct, Kevin?”

“Yes, it is actually,” I said in awe. “How did you get all that from those Greek letters?”

Jim chuckled. The clear German inflection reminded me of Alan Rickman from the movie ‘Die Hard’. “It is a complicated code we use when dealing with proxies. It is for the protection of everyone involved. Do not take it personally.”

“None taken,” I said, lifting my head a little to see the countryside. The attack was passing. Now that I had Jim Marks to help me in Connor’s absence, I felt I might be okay now.

“Tell me what happened in as few sentences as you can,” Jim said. “The quicker I understand the situation, the quicker I can devise a solution.”

I gave Jim the summary of what happened over the last two days, beginning at the Sarasota Square Mall to me ending up on the side of the road freaking out. “Is that good enough, Jim?”

“Yes, Kevin, you did fine. I understand everything completely. I will be at your location within five minutes. I am driving a tan 1971 Plymouth Duster.”

I whistled. “That’s an obscure old car.”

The CB radio crackled. “Kevin, are you there?” Mom asked.

“Ten-four, home base,” I replied. “What’s going on?”

“Connor is getting worse,” Mom said, sounding deadly serious. “How close are you to finding this guy?”

“Did you copy that, Jim?” I asked, not keying up the CB mic.

“Ten-four,” Jim replied. “Find out what is wrong, please.”

I keyed up the CB mic. “What do you mean ‘getting worse’, Mom?”

“His breathing stops sometimes for a few seconds, then starts again. Sometimes he coughs and it’s started getting bloody.”

“Copy that,” Jim said.

“He’s with you?” Mom asked, in surprise. “Why didn’t you say so?”

I sighed. “He’s not, yet. I’m talking to him on Connor’s communicator. He should be with me soon and then we’ll be about ten minutes out.”

“Okay, Kevin,” Mom said, unsure. “Please hurry.”

“Ten-four,” I said, hanging up the CB mic.

“Here is my plan, Kevin,” Jim began. “When I get to you, I want you to lead me back to Connor’s location as quickly as possible. It is serious enough that we should drive quickly, probably over the speed limit. If law enforcement pulls us over, let me deal with it. Otherwise, time is running out.”

“Copy,” I said, feeling helpless.

V

Within minutes, Jim’s Dodge pulled up over the hill and slowed down to allow me to take the lead. We drove down Liberty Road through Eldersburg, back toward mom’s house. I pushed the Chevette as fast as it would go, which was not very fast compared to my Corvette. The Chevette began to top out close to ninety miles per hour. Jim was able to keep up without any difficulty. Within five minutes, we returned to my mother’s house, sans any stops by the police.

In other words, we got lucky.

I can only imagine what Jim would have done to a cop who stopped us. Maybe I didn’t want to know what this Brüder was capable of, even if he was a fifth column Brüder.

Mom was waiting for us at the side door off the driveway. Jim parked his Dodge off to the opposite side of the driveway, making his way into the house without paying either mom or me much attention. I did get my first good look at him. Connor suggested he was very old, but he didn’t look any older than I did. He had the typical German facial features, dirty blonde hair, and blue eyes. He also carried a black bag of his own.

I parked the Chevette exactly as I had found it, looking over at Jim’s car as I walked around the Chevette, back to the house. I stopped in my tracks at the sight of Jim’s car. It was eerily familiar. At that moment, the déjà vu was too much to explain. It was as if I had literally stood on the edge of this very driveway looking at this very car.

Why?

Mom called out for me. I looked back over my shoulder.

In my head, I saw the exact same image of my mother holding my baby sister’s hand. In this image, she quickly walks over to me to move me away from the abandoned car at the end of the road. A tan Dodge.

I gasped, recalling the event as real. It actually happened to me when I was a child. It was the night after that freak thunderstorm woke me up. It couldn’t be the same car, yet I knew in my heart it was. The contradiction with the memory was my age. I was ten when we discovered the Dodge abandoned at the bottom of Arthur Avenue. The year had been 1981, four years from now. The timing was all off. Was this part of Connor’s theory of preordainment? Or was our presence here in 1977 actually a paradox? I needed to get this information to Connor.

I walked back to Mom. She gazed at me with disbelief after Jim breezed right by her and into the basement. I shook my head. "Don't take it personally. He's really concerned about Connor."

"Are you okay? You don't look well."

"The whole time travel thing is a little hard to grasp," I said as I walked into the house, admitting my mortality. "It's getting a little too real for me. Seeing Eldersburg the way it is now, or the way it was, I don't know how to process it."

I proceeded down the stairs into the basement. Mom followed. "The way it was," Mom repeated. "I suppose it is a lot different in the next century."

"You could say that," I said. "I wish there was a way I could go to PJs Pub before I leave and have their pizza one more time."

"They’re closed?"

"Yeah, sometime in the 90s I think. Eventually it becomes an enclosed mall and everything changes."

Mom said nothing. I walked over to Jim who was using a device I didn’t recognize. He used it to take readings from an unconscious Connor.

Jim looked up, addressing both Mom and I. "Have you given him any kind of medicine? Given him anything to drink?"

"No," Mom answered. I shook my head in agreement.

Jim picked up the device I used on myself to ease the trauma of time travel. "What about this? Did he use this on himself?"

"No," I said. "Connor had me use it on myself when we arrived to avoid getting sick again."

"Okay," Jim said, reaching into his own bag for a similar device. He gave Connor the injection.

"You got sick?" Mom asked in whisper.

I chuckled softly. "Yeah, that's one way of putting it. Time travel isn’t a pleasant experience. The first time was horrible. This last time wasn’t as bad with that injection. It takes away a lot of the pain."

Mom put her hand on my upper arm in comfort. "It's so weird to hear you talk as an adult," Mom said. "You express yourself well."

I looked over and smiled. "Thanks."

Jim stood up. "I need to make some room. Is it okay if I push this sofa back?"

"Yes, of course," Mom replied.

With Connor still on the couch, Jim pushed it toward to back of the basement about ten feet from where it sat, leaving a wide-open space in the middle of the floor. He brought a spherical device out of his bag and set it down onto the floor, in the space he created. He gave the sphere a gentle push down. The top half of the sphere opened into five sections, revealing a small tube protruding from the center. The inside of the sphere appeared to be the same type of unobtanium mercury like substance as Brüder-2’s exterior. Jim withdrew a glass rod from his bag, which looked exactly like the HoloLog rod Ryan took off The Corporation agents. Jim was prepared to push the rod into the tube in the center of the opened sphere, when he looked up at us.

"This may take you by surprise," he said. "Do not fear. This is what I need to do to fix Connor's injuries."

Mom nodded, gripping my upper arm tighter. She peeked around from behind me. Jim dropped the rod in and stood back.

What happened next would have given Asimov, Clarke or Phillip K. Dick a waking wet dream.

Some kind of rotor inside the sphere began to spin, sending out what I can only describe as colored light off the sphere's mirrors. Out of thin air, and entire series of holographic panels and bed assembly formed, right there in the middle of the basement. The sphere, which was obviously a holographic projector of sorts hummed quietly beneath the bed assembly. My jaw was open as I stared in awe of what I was seeing. I could only assume Mom's reaction was ten times as powerful as mine was.

"What the hell is all this?" Mom whispered.

"I...I don't know," I whispered in reply.

Jim gently picked Connor up off the sofa and laid him on top of the bed assembly. "It is a portable holographic medical facility," Jim said. "It will save Connor's life."

"Is this how things work in the future?" Mom asked.

"No," I said. "This technology is thousands of years old."

Jim continued to strap Connor into the bed. "Thousands would be an exaggeration. We have adapted a lot of the original Brüder technology into the devices we use today."

"What is Brüder?" Mom asked.

Jim looked over toward her and then me shaking his head in disapproval. What could I say? Jim was a Brüder, although he looked perfectly human.

"I think, Mom, the question is 'who are the Brüder', and I don't think it's anything I can discuss at this point."

Jim looked up from one of the control panels. "That would probably be for the best. Maybe you should take your mother into another room for the time being, so I may work"

I tugged at moms arm to move upstairs. "Can you save him?" I asked Jim.

"Yes," he replied flatly, not looking up.

I followed Mom up the stairs and into the kitchen of my childhood, complete with the gaudy 70s brown and tan decor. I sat in a chair that I had not seen since I was in elementary school.

"Mom, you realize that you are going to have to keep everything you've seen here to yourself," I said. "You can't tell anyone. Not even your closest friends, Charlie, me, no one."

"I don't know if I can do that, Kevin," she said, unsure. "Not that I would do it on purpose, but keeping a secret this big would be tough, for anybody."

"Believe me, I understand that," I said. "Maybe we need to think about having Connor blank your short term memory, so that you don't remember any of this."

Mom sat down in the seat across from me. She lit up a Kool menthol cigarette, not appearing thrilled. "I don't think I want him using that thing on me."

"I understand your skepticism," I said. "I don't remember it, but I'm certain that device was used on me before, when I was younger."

Mom looked alarmed. "What? When was this?"

"It was right after I graduated high school. It seems I stumbled, or will stumble upon something related to the facility Connor and I came out of. I only remember bits and piece of that day. It feels more like a dream to me. Therefore, if Connor blanks this day for you, you will wake up feeling as if everything that’s happened here was nothing more than a fleeting dream. Eventually you’ll forget even that."

Mom sighed and looked at me, as if for guidance. "I don't know, Kevin. What do you think I should do?"

"You've never said anything about any of this to me, growing up. Maybe the Mom I know agreed to it, because if what is happening now has happened for me, then you either don't remember any of this, or indeed kept the biggest secret there is." I took her hand in mine. "I wouldn't let Connor do anything to you that I thought would be harmful."

Mom said nothing. She dragged on her cigarette, thinking over her options. "Maybe it would be better for all of us if I didn't remember what’s happening here."

I smiled. "I promise. It'll be okay."

"Since I won't remember any of this, could I ask you something?"

"Why not?"

"Are you married? Do I have grandchildren?"

I laughed at this. As a parent, it might be the first thing I would ask my son should I meet an older version of him. "I was married. It didn't work out."

"Oh, Kevin, I'm sorry,"

"Don't be. It was necessary for your grandson to be born. His name is Spencer, and he's six." I reached for my wallet and pulled out his picture.

Mom stared at it in awe. "Oh my God, he looks just like you. I mean the you I know right now."

"I know. It's uncanny. We sometimes refer to him as 'little Kevin'."

"What about your sister? Does she have kids?" I sighed and looked away. "What? What is it? Does something happen to her?"

"No, no, nothing like that. She and I don't really talk, so I am not privy to what she does. She has two sons."

"You and your sister don't talk? Why not? What in the hell happens to our family, Kevin? First, you say you and your father have no relationship, and now you tell me that you and your sister are estranged. Something bad happens, doesn't it?"

"Mom, it doesn't matter. My telling you about everything that happens will just upset you. Why would you want that? There isn't anything you can do to stop it, especially if Connor is right about this whole time travel thing. What happens...happens. If you try to interfere with it, the consequences apparently can be very, very bad."

"I don't understand what that means,” Mom said.

"I don't either," I said. "Connor said in his time they tried to stop something terrible from happening, something that happens in the late twenty first century, and in doing so they made that situation worse. So now, they have a series of directives concerning time travel to prevent such things from happening. Connor isn't even sure if what's happening now is preordained or if we're changing things right now that will affect my future. If we mess things up now, the place I end up going back to may not be the place I left. I don't know if I could live with that, in a world where Spencer did not exist. So until I can get back to the 2006 I know, I'll do whatever it takes to save Connor and do whatever it is he asks of me."

Mom nodded. "Do Charlie and I get divorced?"

I sighed, deliberately. "Mom! Didn't you hear me? Why do you want to know about these negative things?"

"I won't remember them anyway. Please, just satisfy this one curiosity. I won't ask about anything else."

I paused. "Yes," I finally said.

"Honestly, I am not at all surprised to hear this.”

I nodded. "Hindsight is twenty-twenty."

"Do I get remarried?"

Well, so much for Mom not asking me about anything else that pertains to the future. "Yes, and he's a good man. He's very good to you, and us."

Mom smiled. "Well, I'm glad to hear something good comes from out of the ashes."

"All you've been asking about are the not so happy things. There are many good things too. You embrace the role of a grandparent with no resistance and flourish. Spencer adores you and Phil."

"Phil? Is he my next husband?" I covered my mouth, knowing I said too much. Mom nodded in understanding. "What becomes of your fath--, Charlie?"

"I really don't know. Nor do I really care. And neither will you."

Mom stood firmly. I knew what was coming. "What happened with him, Kevin?"

"Seriously, you'll find out in due time," I said, dodging the question again. Mom did not break her stare. She stood, arms folded. A stance I had come to recognize over the years that indicated she was serious and I was going to have to confess something.

"Please, tell me."

"Charlie is a very selfish man," I said, with a sigh.

Mom rolled her eyes and offered a partial smile. "That's not much of a secret, Kevin."

"Yeah, but it took on a whole different level after you two were divorced. He eventually found a woman who would put up with him. However, she didn’t much care for me."

"Why? Did you like her?"

"No," I said flatly. "She is as self absorbed as Charlie is. I suspect she didn't like me because Charlie didn’t like me. He wanted her to move into the house we were living in at the time and she wouldn’t. Well, at least not until I moved out."

"How old were you then?"

"Twenty. But I had a whole set of my own problems at the time, from years of his abuse, which left me with the mentality of a sixteen year old. I had no money, no job, no self-esteem, and no place to go. I was trapped."

"I don't understand. Where was I? Why didn't you stay with me?"

"That's a whole different story I don't even really understand to this day," I said, looking away. "You were in your own world with your own issues. It was a time of change for all of us, and sometimes change is hard."

"So, then what happened? Charlie threw you out and you had no place to go?"

"If it had only been that simple. This wasn't just some incident that happened out of the blue. It was years of abuse and rejection from Charlie that fucked me up. Charlie was very angry back then. I took the brunt of that anger. I also took a good bit of anger that should have been yours. Then one day he snapped and I think he meant to kill me. Or at the very least was looking for an excuse to do so."

Mom covered her mouth in shock. “I can’t believe that, Kevin.”

“Are you sure you want to know what happened now?”

Mom paused, but finally nodded her head in short, unsure movements.

VI

I began to speak of things I have never spoken of before.


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