1. The Shot
confined to fantasy and science fiction, time travel is now simply an
Michio Kaku, Wired Magazine, Aug. 2003
Los Angeles, August 2029
Less than one minute before the armed man broke into coffee shop, Nick stood behind the counter and tried to coax the espresso machine into cooperation.
Nick's head was filled with the rich smell of coffee as he investigated the car-sized apparatus. He was trying to tune out the sirens, the music and the shooting, and he was making progress: by now, the drone of the helicopters, the blaring megaphones and the cars racing past were an ambient background noise. He had more immediate concerns, such as getting the measurements of ground beans right.
The sunlight filtered through the café’s windows and turned the dusty air into a faint, honey-coloured fog, driven into a leisurely spin by the air conditioner. A private, gentle cyclone, mirroring the turmoil on the street outside the café, just as the chaotic street reflected the havoc that gripped most of planet Earth.
His first attempt at making a single espresso had seen him showered in coffee powder and scorching hot steam. A dozen trials and errors later, he’d figured out how to negotiate the temperamental machine, and after a string of near-perfect brews, he was seeing the end of the world as he knew it through a hyper-alert, caffeine-glazed haze.
When he had squeezed through the back door twenty minutes earlier, the café had been empty but intact; looters, revellers and others in different but equally volatile states of mind had not yet thrashed the place. Green tables and chairs were neatly arranged around square franchise-standard tables in white plastic. The spotlights still worked. The view over the plaza and the cityscape beyond was great. It was as good a hiding place as any other. And it had a range a syrupy-sweet drinks, too, as well as a small mountain of cookies the size of dinner plates.
Nick refocused on making his coffee. He was on his seventh cup. Another roasting, a new rush, and a slightly different experience.
On the counter, near the cash register, lay the gun, untouched since he’d made his way into the cafe. He’d found the weapon tossed into the gutter on a side street, and he’d kept it for the simple reason that he did not know what else to do with it. Someone had probably discarded the gun during the first mad hours of the previous night. Despite the current tumult, leaving such a dangerous item behind had felt wrong, and he’d known picking it up would not change anything.
Or rather, he had known that his decision would not matter. He still had to find out whether the gun itself would play a part of what was about to happen. Since the night before, he’d the feeling that there was an enormous clockwork-like mechanism hidden under the surface of the world, each cog controlling the motion of the next. That sensation was the worst, and he could not shake it off.
Nick sighed and breathed in. He’d tried and failed to make sense of his current journey without coming close to a perfect metaphor. He craved a picture that both his soul and his demand for an explanation could accept. Two paths curving together behind the bend, perhaps. Maybe thousand different roads twirled into a single blind alley. Or a headlong, wingless flight down a tunnel to a new and much stranger place. He carefully wiped a drop of coffee from the small porcelain cup, inhaled the aroma, and looked up when one of the shadows outside stopped at the front door.
A moment later, the door exploded in a hail of shattered wood and glass.