I was aching to solve this mystery; aching to step up and shine a light on everything that could be happening, find the problem, find the solution and save the day. But if I did, how would they ever learn?
The general was belching orders at six random telegraphists tapping away at their devices while receiving and sending messages into the field. The man was pacing back and forth past their backs like a headmaster overseeing a strenuous exam.
"More manifestations, sir," one of the telegraphists spoke. He was lucky he was wearing a headset. The general's shouting wasn't exactly easy on sensitive ears.
I saw the stress was slowly getting to him. The telegraphist's frantic typing only added to the feeling of panic in the room. I watched it from the other end of the room, waiting by the window with arms folded behind my back doing exactly what I was told.
He knew I was watching. Him and the little red lights which flared up within the general's model city exactly to the rhythm of his flaring nostrils. Something was definitely getting out of hand.
"Need any help with that?" I asked. I was only being polite.
His frustration started to emit from him like gas and his forehead glistened with sweat, but he never lost his cool! You have to grant him that.
Every time he sent a messenger away it seemed another entered, burdening the general with more and more problems but he refused to give up some of that weight. He chose to carry it alone.
Another messenger entered and he recited the paper he brought in as he walked in, no longer respecting the rules of confidentiality. The city was in crisis.
"The police are receiving more and more reports of ghostly apparitions."
"Apparitions?" I asked when curiosity bested me, but I was again ignored. Yet the general let me watch and listen and he let me wait. Why?
I wondered if he was really going to harm Amy as he threatened. Was he the sort of man to hurt an unarmed and helpless girl? Could I risk it?
There I was, weighing the life of one girl against the world. What would you have chosen, Amy?
I think you would've chosen the girl. You would've jumped in front of a tank to save a life and in fact you did.
More of them drove through the streets in what seemed like a victory parade.
"They're not real." you said while clutching the life you've just saved long after their gratitude had waned. "They can't be."
The invasion of Paris by the Nazi's had come 40 years ahead of its time. Except it hadn't.
The tanks faded into thin air before they'd even fully materialized. For a split second two timelines that never before met crossed over and 1889 and 1940 merged, but it wasn't alone.
Men with black masks roamed the streets of Paris carrying the victims of the Black Death atop crooked wheelbarrows. Music blasted into the street from a stereo 80 years into the future while Romans crushed rebels and confused Neanderthals watched Napoleon crown himself Emperor a first and second time.
Through the crowds of superstitious screaming you saw a man fiddling with the controls of his lightwave scanner. It hung around his neck looking like a miniature jukebox or an Etch-A-Sketch. You remember those, don't you?
In all the panic he never saw you coming. You took a sweet guess to where he hid his gun and dug your hand there before he could get his hands off the scanner.
He protested in vain because by then there was a pistol and a smug smile pointed at him.
"Right," you said. "You're coming with me."
The needle on the device was jumping into the dangerous zone. Time and space were merging and in a sense the dead did quite in fact come back to roam the Earth.
And they were wasting two excellent experts by not using them! One's imprisoned underneath the city, captured by an unseen enemy and another...
Another's holding back. I had to step in, before atrophy would kick in.
"General!" I said. "There's no more time! You need to use me or lose the city!"
"It's time-travellers like you who got us into this mess in the first place!" he grumbled.
"Interfering with our time. Violating our space! For all I know it could've been you who scratched that word above that boy's body!"
"You need to start trusting me," I said. We were both hovering over the model of the city staring each other down and I always win stare contests if I'm not distracted. I was getting quite cross now.
"This isn't one of your games, Doctor. This is my city. I will not see it destroyed."
"I save cities! Haven't you heard!" I paced in semi-circles around the room with a single finger at the ready to stick into the general's face. I didn't know why.
Then I did. My subconscious had picked up on it. I didn't. Then it all snapped back into place.
"Hang on, what was that? Words...something about words...You said something. What was it?"
I snapped my fingers. I found it.
"Word. Not Words," I said peering at the general. "You said 'word'. "No One" is two words. Say it again. What did you say? You said that for all you knew it could've been me that scratched that word above that boy's body. Word, not words. Singular, not plural. What did it say? General, TELL ME!"
"You know what it said, Doctor," he spoke. "Don't play games!"
"What?" I asked. A messenger had said something. He'd approached the table with another letter and swallowed when I asked him to repeat what had slipped from his lips. It was important.
"Nobody, sir," the messenger spoke. "The message above the body said Nobody."
Nobody. No body. What irony. What mistake!
"How could I've not seen this?" I said slapping my forehead. More circles paced across the shiny floor. Reflections. I crouched down to look at my reflection on the waxed floor. I saw a second me pulling faces at me. A double me.
"Time is splintering," I concluded. "There are cracks in time and space all around us because of some future event, but something else is shattering it. Some other future temporal causality is exacerbating the cracks on a microscopic level. Parts of time and space that never should have touched are colliding, sliding past each other, like plate tectonics, like earthquakes. Earthquakes in Paris. Tiny...tiny cracks..."
"But it hasn't happened yet," the messenger spoke.
"But it is happening. It will happen!" I added and I had to check my watch. "In approximately five hours..."
I turned to the general and realized I was smiling so I stopped.
"Seven hours till the end of the world, gentlemen!" I proclaimed. "But don't worry! I've had worse!"