When there’s pounding on the front door of the house I glance at Ivory’s holo-band still on my wrist, see the time, and realize we’ve been sitting here for three hours.
Adam’s head snaps around. “You stay here,” he says warily, as he gets up.
I’m tense in the chair now, until the shouting starts out front. I let out a breath and jog up the hallway after Adam.
“It’s Ivory,” I tell him before he gets to the door.
“Gathered that,” he says.
“Hey!” she shouts from outside. “I know you’re in there! Did you seriously think I didn’t have a tracker in that holo-band?”
Adam lets me past him, and I open the door. Ivory stops mid knock, drops her arm, and scowls at me. Matthew is hovering behind her, mouthing that he’s sorry and he tried to stop her. Ivory gaze drifts over my shoulder to Adam.
“So you found him.”
“Yeah,” I say. I pull the holo-band from my wrist and hand it over. She snatches it back, shoves it into the pocket of her jean jacket, and gives me and Adam both one more good scathing glare. When she’s done she steps inside. I back up so as not to be bowled over, and I back into Adam’s solid form behind me.
He backs up and apologizes under his breath. His fingers touch my arm and my stomach goes all funny.
“What have you got then? You’ve been here long enough,” Ivory says. Matthew closes the door behind them, and I clear my throat and glance back at Adam. I expect him to be protesting the invasion, but it seems he’s used to people barging into his house already.
“You were saying it should be ready?” I ask.
He nods, maybe a little absent. “As ready as it’s going to be, probably.” He leads us all back to the computer room, and he’s explaining to Ivory after that. “We haven’t actually listened to any of it. There may be some choppiness; they’ve changed their technique a bit. They’ve, um...moved some of the tones into the audible range at intervals, for lack of a better way to put it.”
He swings into his chair in the same movement he used last time, the chair wheels scraping across the floor a few inches and bringing him to rest in front of the screen in the corner again. Ivory and Matthew are both eyeing the room full of computers—Ivory in awe, Matthew just surprised.
“Meaning what?” I ask. I remember him being frustrated at his screen at some point. I asked what was wrong and he shook his head and said he could fix it.
I don’t come up with any more details. I realize that honestly most of what I do remember very well of the last three hours right at this moment is the timbre of his voice, and the way his long fingers moved deftly over his keypad.
Then I feel guilty again.
“Meaning they’re harder to filter out, the way they’ve done it,” Adam says. “At least I think that’s what they’ve done. It’s harder to tell without actually listening to it. There are...irregularities. So there may be bits you still won’t remember once you’ve heard it.”
“Makes sense,” Ivory says then. “They were due for an upgrade. I’ve never actually tried to do this, but the protocols I found a while back seemed a little too easy to compensate for if you knew what you were doing.”
Adam’s nodding. “They updated everything. The information I had on the base frequencies they use was no good, the lot of it. I had to go looking again.”
He’s pulled up the edited file now, lines of sound waves marching across the screen in oranges and reds. We all stare at them for the longest time.
At my side someone squeezes my hand, and I realize it’s Ivory. “Play it,” she says.
At first I don’t realize he’s pressed play, because the voice that starts to play isn’t me, or Matthew, or even Ivory herself.
At least, I think it’s Adam. I’m so shocked, I forget to listen to the words. By the time I do the male voice has stopped for now and the voice speaking is mine.
“-t’s me! I’m here. Listen, Iv – don’t have much time—”
Adam stops the playback at the same moment I say, “Back it up!”
Ivory says, “Wait, was that—?”
Matthew just says, “What?”
We’re all leaned in over the back of Adam’s chair now, which is probably only making him more uncomfortable. It’s me he looks to, eyebrows climbing to his hairline.
“Adam?” I ask. I realize it’s the first time I’ve called him by his name—to his face, anyway. I don’t know why I even notice.
“That was me,” he confirms quietly.
“What are you doing there?” Ivory asks.
Adam’s still looking at me. Not until she asks the question again does he blink and break eye contact. “I um...how would I know? It’s the future.”
“Start it over,” I say. He nods, and a couple of deft taps at the keypad later the recording starts over.
There’s a crackling sound, and Ivory’s voice from the booth yesterday. “Hello?”
“—ry? Ivory James?” This is Adam’s voice, accent and all, which is probably what caught our attention the first time around.
“Who wants to know?”
“Sorry, I know you don’t really know me now. Rora is—”
Running footsteps echo in the background of the recording, on the other end of the line. They begin to sound closer and then there’s the new voice, my voice, out of breath and starting too loud. “-t’s me! I’m here. Listen, Iv – don’t have much time—”
The recordings skips and crackles. Some of it is actual static from the other end of the line, but the skips are clearly the bits Adam was talking about. They’re playing aloud, but they’re being scrubbed from our memories when the memory tones he couldn’t filter out come to the surface.
“Rora?” Ivory’s voice asks. “What’s going on? I thou...aid we’d never call each other! You on this end...scared to death.”
“—on’t doubt it—”
“When are you?”
“I — no idea. That’s the probl—”
“Ivory shut up and listen to me! We...ose this connection any—“
“You...check the call c—!”
“Call center? I’m in—“
“After! Something...happen...eck after. Take Adam with you.”
“Adam? Adam who?”
“—rom the lab!”
“The lab? Adam Roper? Is that who that is?”
Adam’s voice cuts in again. “Yes! I’ll believe you; I kn— omething’s going on there. I can help.”
“Help with WHAT?” The Ivory in the recording takes a breath and huffs it out again in frustration. “Why are you even there? Where am I? Where’s Matt?”
“Not here,” my voice says bitterly. I...she..sounds so tired, I think. Older. I know your voice sounds different to you than it does to anyone else, but this isn’t like that. I know she sounds different. “We called you because neither of us had any tells worked out back then.”
“What’s wrong?” recorded Ivory asks. “What happened?”
When my voice answers, the bitterness has gone and resignation has replaced it. “—don’t really want to talk—just say it doesn’t really matter which of your tells…”
“What?” I ask, here and now.
Beside me Ivory swallows. “I only have two,” she whispers. “Biting one side for me, one for Matt. We were gonna work out more, but that was right before...uh…”
Before they broke up. However that happened. “Right,” I say, so she doesn’t have to go on. It doesn’t matter. Now I’m more worried about that fact that in whatever future the me in the recording is living in, Ivory and Matthew are dead. I want to be wrong in thinking that, but I don’t think I am. They’re looking at each other, shoulder to shoulder, and it seems they didn’t miss that, either.
The recording breaks up much more severely than before, and the Ivory on the recording reacts with a pained sound. “What was that?” she asks.
“File transfer,” my voice answers. “—implant to yours.” Ivory being Ivory, she doesn’t ask how that’s possible. I’ll ask later. “—ave to go.”
“You can’t—! I...more…check for what!”
“I’ll know,” Adam’s voice answers.
“—iles,” my voice comes back in. “Sorry…” A pause. “I miss you.”
“We have to go,” recorded Adam says.
“Rora, what going on?” Ivory’s voice wavers.
I don’t realize how much background noise there’s been on the other end of the line in the recording until it grows louder. A low roar, a clamour...it’s difficult to identify removed twice from the source. Now individual sounds begin to separate. It may be weapons fire, and the ache in my gut becomes a stabbing pain.
“Are those guns?” recorded Ivory questions more anxiously.
A sudden louder sound. I never knew what it would have really sounded like until yesterday. It’s smaller, I think, garbled, but I’m sure it’s some sort of explosion. Something being blasted. A door, maybe. Beneath the percussion is a more faint, higher sound I think is twisting metal. More staccato sounds. Weapons and shouting, and even though it’s through the call and through the recording I’m reminded far too much of yesterday.
I feel the percussion and the heat again. I see the plume of fire and hear the screams again, and have I shut it down and remind myself to breathe.
On the recording the signal has faded to mostly static and the loudest sound is Ivory’s ragged breathing in the booth. “Rora!” she shouts. “Aurora!”
The only other thing I can make out before the call cuts off is Adam Roper’s voice in this future, barely cutting through the static, shouting my name too, like a horrible echo.