Allison and I walked to the strip mall kitty-corner to the subdivision and found a sandwich shop preparing for the lunch crowd. After grabbing a couple of drinks and a bag of never-before-heard-of chips, we nestled into a corner table as far as possible from the other customers.
“Do you mind telling me what the two of you are doing here?” Allison asked impatiently.
“Matt’s working for the Chinese, but I’m not sure he knows that. Number Nine may not have told him the whole truth.
“Who’s Number Nine?”
“The same guy who cornered me into coming back here to stop you. The same guy who said if I didn’t, then you would die.”
“What?” she looked incredulous and I sympathized with the feeling of having a target pinned to your back. “How?”
“He said they’d be sending a Chinese agent to make sure you didn’t bring back the theory everyone’s looking for.”
“But why me? Why not the other members of my team?”
“Well, answer this first, have you felt any different since being around Crimson?”
“Different in what way? I don’t understand. Other than observing one of the greatest minds in history, how am I supposed to feel?”
“I’m not certain, but I’m sure you’d know if it happened.”
“You’re talking in puzzles, Trenton. What on Earth is going on … and why would Matt be working for an enemy government? I mean, it sounds like he’s lost his mind, that’s for sure, but does that make him a traitor?”
“Like I said, he may not know who he’s actually working for. He probably just thinks it’s great that someone with deep pockets has funded his secret experiments. You know he’s a genius, right?”
“I always figured he was smart, but-”
“He got one of the highest scores ever on the aptitude test.” This seemed to impress her. “And he’s been conducting some super secret experiment in a warehouse owned by Romulus International or Incorporated – I can never remember.”
“What kind of experiment?”
“I don’t know for sure. At first I thought he figured out a way to determine who he was in a past life – you know, because of his palm print condition. But then I remembered that he didn’t lose his prints until a few years after his birth and he was able to hack into the government system to determine who he was based on the prints taken when he was born.”
“Okay, so what’s this new experiment and why is he traveling back in time and trying to kill me?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. But I had noticed a flashing blue light coming from his lab at his house. I’m not sure if this is what he’s working on for Number Nine’s company, but-”
“Hold it, I thought Number Nine works for the Chinese government?”
“He does, but he has a legitimate company that must be secretly funded by the Chinese government.” She nodded. “Anyway, Number Nine told me that a Chinese operative would show up and make sure you didn’t succeed if I was unable to convince you to not follow through.”
“I guess that explains your odd behavior near the soccer field.”
“Yep, and I wish you would have listened. I’m not a traitor, Allison. I know your father believes that my character probably hasn’t fallen far from the apple tree, but I’m not my father – my birth-father, that is.”
“Then why did you agree to help Number Nine and the Chinese?”
“Because you’re more important than anything and if making sure nothing bad happens to you means getting tossed on the wrong side of a geopolitical situation between two superpowers, then so be it. I’d rather suffer the fate of my father than see you hurt. At least I know the truth and that’s all that really matters in the end, isn’t it?” She didn’t answer and instead stared absently into her drink. “Besides,” I said, “I’ve got no one left to disappoint, so what does it all matter anyway?”
“What do you mean? Your real father, Mr. Locke, must be devastated.”
“I don’t think so. In fact, he’s probably watching over us right now hoping we figure some way out of this mess.”
“What do you mean he’s watching over us ... did something happen?”
“Yeah ... he died right after you and I met at the soccer field. I found him when I got home.”
Allison’s eyes watered and the emotion of the moment overcame her desire to be suspect and upset with me. Without responding, she hugged me. It was the best human contact I’d ever had and I suddenly felt as if the whole damn ordeal was worth it.
“I’m so sorry, Trenton. I loved the old guy.”
“Don’t make me cry, okay?” I said with a half-smile while rubbing my watery eyes.
“Well, we’ve got to figure out a way to make all of this right,” she encouraged.
“Without the theory and a safe way home, I just don’t see how.”
“With any luck, Augustus may already have the theory.”
“Augustus, huh,” I said, betraying my disappointment.
“Now don’t give me that. He followed Crimson to his office this morning, while I stayed back to check his home.”
“Don’t tell me it’s just you two who came back.”
“No, but now that you’ve told me about this Number Nine’s threat, things are beginning to make sense.”
“Our team leader, Klovatz, was hit by a car yesterday.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, he’s in a hospital, but I don’t have much confidence in their ability to save him.”
“Why didn’t you take him back to our time?”
“Protocol for one – the mission comes first. Besides, he was so severely injured I don’t think he would have survived the trip back.”
“That’s odd, I was almost hit by a car this morning. At first I thought it was because people still drive cars back here, but now I wonder if I really dodged a bullet with my name on it.”
“Trenton,” she said seriously, “you should know that I’m not going home without that theory.”
“I really wish you’d reconsider. Let the professionals handle this stuff. You’re an intern for god’s sake.” She stared as if about to spill a big secret and add another layer to this complicated espionage cake, but looked out the window instead. “Come on, we’d better find Augustus and warn him about Matt and the other Chinese agent.”
“Right, but I still don’t know what Matt has to do with all of this.”
“The only thing I know is that Number Nine said he and I were rivals in a past life and that I may have destroyed him,” I replied, shaking my head, unconvinced at the prospect. It all seemed too dramatic. Then I recalled the object on Matt’s wrist and began to wonder, but Allison interrupted.
“So you opened your Past Lives Letter?”
“Nope and don’t ask me how he knows. I’m beginning to think his government knows too much about us, not to mention the tabs our own government apparently keeps on its citizens.”
“Knowledge is power, right?”
“In the wrong hands that’s a dangerous thing regardless of the good intentions.”