The Longest Week

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Chapter Two

I arrived at the Gregson & Lyle Building a bit before noon, so there were plenty of people milling about on their lunch break that I was able to blend in with. The news story about the explosion had indicated that the blast was believed to have originated on the seventh floor, which is where I decided to begin my search for the device. As I was riding up the elevator, it stopped on the fourth floor where two men in dark suits stepped in to join me.

I don’t know exactly why, but their presence made me feel uneasy. They remained silent the entire time, and their rigid posture reminded me of the way a snake looks just before it strikes. By the time I got off on the seventh floor, I gasped for air, not realizing I’d been holding my breath since the men got on. Fortunately, I glanced back and let out a relieved sigh to see they hadn’t followed me.

Looking around, the floor looked to be a typical business office, filled with cubicles, copy machines, filing cabinets, and haphazardly-stacked papers littering the many desks throughout. It was eerie, though; I didn’t see a single other person in sight. I immediately set to work searching for the explosive device, rummaging through the cubicles, checking behind cabinets, and even opening up the electronics to see if something might have been planted inside one of them. My hunt was proving fruitless until I’d exhausted every option but the corner office that belonged to one of the executives.

Pushing open the door labeled “Michael Thompkins - Executive Vice President of Marketing,” I entered the darkened office and reached out to find a light switch. When I flicked it, nothing happened. Not a great sign. It dawned on me a moment later that I was both incredibly stupid and incredibly lucky, as that easily could’ve been hooked up to trigger the device, so I resolved not to touch any more switches, instead pulling out my phone to use as a flashlight.

As the white light cut through the shadows of the office, the dust particles in the air created a haze within the beam, and I swung it around the room, hoping to see something that stood out from the rest of the decor. When my eyes fell upon a plain brown cardboard box that had been pushed towards the inside wall, my heart began racing. Moving closer, I inspected the outside for a shipping label or writing that would indicate it was being used to store something, but there was nothing on it. Very carefully, I pried open the top, trying not to move too fast and shining the flashlight underneath the flaps to check for any sort of wiring.

When I finally got the box open and peered inside, I let out an audible gasp. I couldn’t say for certain it was a bomb, but it certainly didn’t look like it belonged in an office. It was a spherical metal object about the size of a basketball, and there were a number of strange-looking lights and wires covering its surface. The most unsettling thing about it, though, was a single large black lens at the center of the device that almost felt as if it were staring at me. I got lost in my thoughts as I looked back at the “eye,” not hearing the voice behind me until it was too late.

“Freeze!”

I twirled around in surprise, nearly ready to make a dash for the door when I realized I was staring down the barrel of a gun held by a police officer. This was definitely not good.

*

“I don’t think you realize how much trouble you’re in here, Max,” the detective running the interrogation said in his rough, growling voice that was really starting to grate on me. “First we got a call about a suspicious package seen on the premises, and then when we arrived to check it out, building security told us that they’d spotted someone lurking around on the floor where it was located after the order had been given to evacuate. When we showed up, you were caught red-handed with the bomb. Right now, the only thing that could help you is to start talking to us and telling us your side of the story.”

“It wasn’t my bomb,” I vehemently insisted. “I told you already, I was trying to stop whoever actually did put it there.”

“Because you’re a trained explosive ordnance disposal expert? You work for the police department? Come on, Max, enough with this nonsense! People don’t just go looking around a random building for a bomb on a hunch, much less when they don’t know the first thing about how to diffuse one. Not to mention this thing wasn’t your standard homemade job - our guys didn’t have the first clue as to how to diffuse it, so they were forced to perform a controlled explosion to get rid of it. So, why were you really there? Was it in revenge for the company not hiring you? Making a political statement about their overseas operations? Who else are you working with? Because I don’t buy that you cooked up that thing on your own.”

“I think I need to talk to a lawyer,” I said.

“Yeah. I think you do,” the detective concurred and slammed his file folder down on the table before leaving the room.

While I sat there alone, waiting for the poor public defender who’d be thrust into a situation they had no chance of even understanding, I considered my options. Now that I knew exactly where the device had been planted, I could just wait out the remainder of my week in jail, stonewalling the investigators to buy myself the time necessary until I was able to travel back again and doing the smart thing this time - call in an anonymous tip to the police and let them handle everything. Clearly I was way out of my depth on this one, and I figured that so long as nobody was hurt, my conscience would be clear and I could just forget about this whole affair.

I was startled back to reality when the interrogation room door slammed open and two men in dark suits entered. My heart sank when I realized I’d seen them before - they were the same ones I’d seen back on the elevator in the office building. This was absolutely definitely not good.

“Wow...am I really in so much trouble that they decided I needed two lawyers just to have a fighting chance?” I said, hoping to sound more flippant than I probably came off. The man on the left allowed himself a slight smile, cluing me in to the fact that he’d clearly sensed the fear in my voice. Still, I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of seeing me squirm, so I continued with the charade. “You might need to get at least one more in here. They seem to think I’m part of some kind of terrorist group or something, so we’ll need all the extra help we can get on this one.”

“You are Maxwell Darby,” the suit on the right stated. And it was a statement, not a question.

“Well, at least you know my name already. Saves me the time of introducing myself. I’m not really up on the full roster of local public defenders, though, so you’ll have to go through the trouble of telling me your names.”

“Bob,” said one.

“Bob,” said the other.

“Great. This won’t be at all confusing,” I remarked. “So, how do you guys want to handle this?”

The suits looked at one another a bit too long just to be a glance acknowledging they were in agreement on the matter, almost as if they were having an actual conversation without speaking out loud. When they returned their attention to me, the one on the right said, “You will come with us.”

“Um...I don’t know if you’re a bit new at the whole lawyering thing, but I don’t think the cops would be cool with you just taking a potential terrorist out for an unsupervised joyride. They tend to frown upon losing track of suspects after they arrest them.”

The Bob on the left leaned in towards me menacingly, and this time he didn’t try to hide his cruel grin. “The police cannot help you, Max. You will not be going to prison.”

Normally, being told I wouldn’t be going to prison would be a major relief, especially with what I was being accused of, but in this case, I was far more afraid of the alternative these guys had in mind. Flashes of what they might be planning ran through my mind, and none of them were the least bit pleasant. I pictured them as being the “inflict as much pain before putting you out of your misery” types.

“Hey, detective!” I called out as loud as I could, “I’m ready to confess now! Anytime you guys wanna come back in here and take my statement would be great! The sooner the better!”

Bob laughed. I couldn’t tell you which one, not that it mattered. They’d both begun to circle me like a shark closing in on its prey. “Yes, detective. Come back in and take Max’s statement.”

For one brief moment, I looked hopefully towards the door. I don’t know why I expected anyone to come through it. Bob’s laughter cut through the room and gripped my heart with fear. I was all on my own.

“Get up,” one of the suits said as he pulled me to my feet with a surprising amount of force considering he was just using one arm. “We are going now.”

The Bobs pushed me back out into the station, and I looked around frantically for any sign of life. There wasn’t a single other soul in sight. Computers were still buzzing, their screens looking as if everyone had just gotten up in the middle of whatever they were doing and walked away. Half-drank coffee mugs littered desks covered in paperwork, and even some jackets were still slung over the backs of chairs or on the coat rack. As we made our way outside, it was more of the same. No people, but plenty of evidence that they had recently been around.

I was marched down towards the street in the direction of a black SUV with dark tinted windows. As soon as we hit the sidewalk, though, one of the Bobs shoved me to the left, nearly sending me flying against the door of an old beat-up rust-colored sedan.

“Get in,” he said.

I climbed into the backseat of the car and the Bobs slammed the door behind me before getting into the front. Just to check, I pulled on the door handle, but as expected, it wouldn’t open. They pulled out onto the street and I peered around, noticing that the entire area seemed to be deserted, despite plenty of automobiles lining the side of the road. When we rounded the corner after a traffic light, I saw a number of cars just parked in the middle of the lane, as if they’d been abandoned in the middle of driving. We had to weave in and out to avoid them as we headed north.

Just as I was getting used to this surreal experience, the sound of a roaring engine caught me by surprise, as it was distinct from our own. I turned to the side just in time to see a pickup truck come careening down the cross street as we were going through an intersection, and a moment later, it crashed into us at full speed. The truck made impact with the right side of our car near the front tires, sending us spinning out as glass shattered and metal groaned all around us.

My mouth was bleeding from where my face had smacked into the headrest of the seat in front of me, and I could see cuts and swelling up the side of my arm. The two Bobs looked like they’d been pinned in by the car’s frame collapsing from the crash, but they weren’t immobilized for long. As they began pulling pieces of the metal apart and bending the frame back to free themselves, there were two loud cracks before what was left of the windshield erupted into tiny fragments. Dazed, I squinted my eyes and looked out to see a figure standing in front of the car, sliding what appeared to be a gun back into a holster slung across his shoulder.

The man hurriedly moved around towards the backseat door and yanked it open, revealing a knife in his hand. I recoiled as he reached for me, but he simply cut my seat belt and pulled me out of the car. Up close, I could see he had a fiery look in his eyes, and his coal-grey unkempt beard and disheveled hair looked like it was matted with blood.

“Let’s go kid,” he growled in the husky voice of a lifelong smoker. “Bullets to the skull don’t keep these fellas down for too long.”

My savior ushered me towards a white sedan parked across the street and nodded at me to get in. He jammed something that I was pretty sure wasn’t a key into the ignition and started the car, hitting the pedal so hard that our tires screamed as we peeled out onto the street. Once we were about a block or two away from the crash site, I felt a rush of heavy air around me, and my ears were suddenly inundated with the familiar cacophony of a city street.

“What the heck is going on?” I asked incredulously. The cars on the road were driving like normal now, and people were packed along the sidewalks in every direction.

“You’ve just been drafted into a war, kid,” the man stated. “What’s your name?”

“Max Darby,” I replied numbly, still trying to comprehend the situation.

“Nice to meet ya. I’m Jonah Wexler. I’ve been fighting these S.O.B.’s for years, but things have really hit the fan since they got their hands on those Time Bombs.”

“Time bombs? Aren’t those pretty common?”

“Not time bombs. Time Bombs,” he repeated, this time emphasizing the first word. “Like that device you found. They create a temporal fluctuation wave when they explode, changing the way things play out moving forward. Most of the world never notices, since their memories change, too, but a rare few people like you and me are different. That’s why they’re after us.”

“Who?”

“Tempus. Group of crazies who’ve spent decades trying to control time. They haven’t quite got it yet, but they’re damn close.” He spared a quick glance in my direction and asked, “What do you do? Can you see the future, like me?”

“No,” I responded, shaking my head. “I can send my mind back in time a week and relive it over again.” At this point, I saw no purpose in lying to Jonah. It was odd, because I realized he was the first person I’d ever admitted that to.

“No wonder they sent the big guns to grab you,” he said. “You might be the final piece they need to finish their project. Even with foresight, Time Bombs are still messy and hard to control what outcomes are changed. But with your power, they could alter things with surgical precision. I need to get you to the safehouse fast. We need to talk to the General.”

As we sped off towards the safehouse, I took stock of what I knew: I was probably now wanted for escaping custody and being a possible terrorist, there was some super-secret organization hunting me down for my power in order to control time, and I’m pretty sure I wet my pants at some point between being abducted by the Bobs and getting counter-abducted by Jonah. He apparently noticed as well, because his nose wrinkled up and he gave me a look of disgust.

“We’ve got some extra clothes at the safehouse. But you’re gonna need to toughen up fast if you wanna survive this thing.”

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