Walking down the empty street, I felt a sense of familiarity about the area. Surveying my surroundings, I caught sight of a building at the other end of the boulevard with a large sign above the entrance that read, “Gregson & Lyle.” This was about as far from good as things could get. I was right back where I started, except now I was on the run from both the authorities and a secret organization hellbent on my capture. I made sure my hood was pulled securely over my head and kept my gaze directed at the sidewalk, hoping I wouldn’t draw any attention to myself.
It was only about 5:45in the morning by that point, so not many places had opened for business yet. I was able to find a 24-hour bodega a few blocks away and asked the manager if they had any payphones. They did not, but he suggested checking at the nearby train station, as he believed they still had a bank of phones near the terminal. I bought a bottle of water and thanked him for his help before heading out to the station. It wasn’t a very long walk, but I had to stop to hydrate when I was about halfway there, probably because I wasn’t used to all the running around and fleeing for my life I’d been doing.
The train station was fairly empty, but there were still a few people milling about, including several police officers, so I did my best to avoid them on my way to the phones. Using the change I’d gotten from the bodega, I dialed the number that was on the slip of paper in Henry’s wallet and glanced around anxiously as it started to ring. After the third one, there was a click and someone picked up.
My breath hitched for a moment when I realized I knew that voice - it was Emerson.
“Emerson?” I asked.
There was a prolonged silence before he finally responded, “Who is this? How’d you get this number?”
“It’s Max,” I said. “Tempus attacked the safehouse. The Bobs were there. Everyone else is dead,” I told him. “You need to warn the others. Are they still out on their mission?”
“That makes sense,” Emerson remarked. “When we got back, the place was a mess. I guess the Bobs trashed the place before they left. The General’s furious, by the way. We’ve been looking everywhere for you. Where are you?” I told him the name of the city I was in and he started to say something, but hesitated a moment. “Um...that’s where I am right now. How did you get here?”
“I thought you’d gone on the mission,” I said. Obviously he hadn’t been among the bodies I found back at the bunker, but when the group had left, the General ordered everyone who remained behind to secure the safehouse and that nobody was to leave until they’d returned.
“I did,” Emerson replied, “but when we got back and saw what happened there, the General asked me to come check on-” He abruptly stopped talking, and I wasn’t sure if the call had dropped or not.
“Max...how did you get here?” he asked, his voice sounding a bit shaky.
“It’s a bit complicated,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“When we realized Henry was missing, the General asked me to check on his apartment, and right now I’m standing in his bedroom, looking at his body lying in the middle of the floor,” he stated. “What in God’s name happened, Max? Did you have something to do with this?”
“Look, can we meet somewhere? I’ll explain everything, but I’m at the train station right now, and I don’t think I should hang around here for too long.”
Emerson sighed. “Yeah, sure. There’s a small, out-of-the-way coffee shop six blocks east of the station. Just follow 9th down to Green Street, take a right, and it’ll be all the way at the end, near the river. It should be open in about an hour. Meet me there.”
“Alright. Thanks,” I said. “I’ll see you soon.”
“I’m gonna call the General and give her the update, let her know I found you. And Max...be careful.”
I set the phone back down on the receiver, pulled my hood back on, and headed back out of the station. Something felt off about the whole situation. While it somewhat made sense that if Henry disappeared from the bunker, they’d send someone to check his apartment just in case, it was also possible that Emerson was lying. I wasn’t sure if I could trust him or not. It was too much of a coincidence that Tempus somehow found the bunker and infiltrated it right when it was vulnerable. Maybe Emerson was working for them.
Also, the General knew that Henry was pretty much brain dead, but Tempus might not know how far their virus had progressed. Bob saw me disappear with him, and it wouldn’t be a huge leap in logic to assume he had least had enough of his faculties to escape with me somewhere. It’d be smart to send in someone I thought was on my side to check if we’d gone to his apartment. I needed to be careful how I proceeded. But at the moment, I was stumbling around blindly in the dark, so seeing how things played out with Emerson was my best shot at shining some light on the situation.
I took my time walking to the coffee shop, making several detours along the way, so I arrived a bit after they’d opened. I spotted Emerson already sitting at a table in a back corner booth alone, and I checked the other patrons for any familiar or suspicious faces, but nobody seemed to be paying any attention to me, so I went to join him.
“Emerson,” I said as I slid onto the bench opposite him.
“Max! Hey,” he replied. “I figured you must be pretty worn out from everything that happened, so I got you a double shot espresso. You okay?”
“Thanks,” I said and took a swig of the coffee. I definitely needed the caffeine. “And yeah, for the moment, at least. So, what’d the General have to say when you told her you’d found me?” I asked.
“She was glad that you’re safe, but she’s still pretty pissed. Especially since they figured out how Tempus found us - you were bugged.”
“What? How?” I said incredulously. “I thought Jonah said he’d checked for that before he brought me in.”
“Apparently being so close to a Time Bomb when it detonated messed with his abilities,” Emerson noted. “The temporal fluctuations caused him to see a possible future, but not the one that ended up actually happening. The only reason the Bobs didn’t find you right away is because you...erm...were forced to change your pants. That’s where the bug had been planted.”
“Score one for a weak bladder,” I said sarcastically. “So what’s the plan now?”
“They’re packing everything up and moving to a new safehouse as we speak. The raid was a success, at least. We finally got our hands on one of Tempus’ Phase Bubble Generators. I can’t wait to test it out!” When he noticed me giving him an amused look at his excitement, he quickly settled back down and added, “Well, help someone else test it out. I can’t actually test it myself.”
“Why can’t you? What’s a Phase Bubble Generator?” I inquired.
“It’s a device that creates a bubble that will shift anyone inside it slightly out of sync with the user and compresses the speed at which time passes,” Emerson explained. “Essentially, it makes anyone caught in it a ‘ghost,’ allowing the users to pass through them unimpeded and unseen. However, only people like you can be ‘inside’ the bubble. It doesn’t affect anyone with special abilities - something to do with your genetic code - so someone like me can only observe the effects from the outside.”
I thought back to when the Bobs tried to abduct me from the police station, and how everyone seemed to have just disappeared into thin air. Then when we were out on the road, it looked like the cars around us weren’t moving, but if they were actually going incredibly slow, it would’ve been hard to tell the difference while driving at high speeds. And once Jonah and I had fled far enough away from where the Bobs had crashed, everything suddenly went back to normal. Still weird, but at least I somewhat understood the method behind the madness.
“I’m curious about something else: Why did Henry have your phone number in his wallet?”
“Ah, yeah. That.” He shifted uncomfortably in his seat before continuing. “Well, the General had actually found out about him earlier than the others believed. She sent me in to make contact with him and observe the progression of what Tempus did to him. Even though it was still early on in the process, he’d already become pretty paranoid, so she felt that sending someone ‘non-threatening’ would be the best course of action.” Emerson pushed the glasses back up the bridge of his nose and sighed. “I warned him about Tempus and everything, but he wasn’t willing to trust anyone. I gave him my number in case he changed his mind about coming in, but it eventually got to the point where we couldn’t wait any longer, so the General sent Jonah to go get him.”
“Why’d she want to see how the virus affected him?” I asked.
“She didn’t exactly share her plans with me, but from what I could piece together, I think she was trying to figure out how to replicate it, maybe even alter it so it’d be fatal. I’m pretty sure that’s why she was so insistent on keeping him alive, because I never saw signs that any attempt was being made to actually cure him.”
“That’s so messed up!” I exclaimed angrily. “Why would she want to do that?”
“I don’t know,” Emerson said defensively. “Like I told you, it’s just conjecture. But I can understand why she might want a weapon like that at her disposal. No offense, but people with your sorts of gifts can be very dangerous, especially if they were to join Tempus. I wouldn’t blame her for wanting a safeguard in place in case she found out someone was working with the other side.” He stared at me hard, as if studying me for a reaction.
“Of course, that’d only matter if the traitor was someone like me. I’m guessing a good old-fashioned bullet to the head would work just fine if someone like you betrayed them.” I stared right back at Emerson, but I couldn’t read any hints of guilt in his expression. “So what now? Are we supposed to meet up with the rest of the group and move to the new safehouse?”
“Yeah. Our ride will be here any minute. Why don’t we go wait outside?”
We exited the coffee shop and leaned against a nearby wall. Emerson kept checking his phone, but I kept my eyes on the street. I was the first to spot our ride pull up, and was a bit relieved to see Jonah behind the wheel. He opened the window and called out, “Hey, you two. Come on, hop in.”
I was already opening the front passenger door when I glanced back and saw Emerson staring at Jonah with a look of trepidation. “Um...the General said she was sending Ferris to pick us up,” he said.
“Ferris couldn’t make it,” Jonah replied. “Let’s go, Emerson. We can’t dilly-dally here all day.”
“Just give me a second,” Emerson stated. “I’m gonna check with the General…” I was still standing there with the car door open, glancing back-and-forth between the two when I noticed Jonah had pulled a gun. For a moment, I thought he was aiming it at me, but he motioned with his head for me to get out of the way.
“Emerson,” he said forcefully, “I told you to get in the car. Now!” Emerson also noticed the weapon and quickly complied, climbing into the back seat. I got into the front and Jonah took off. “Sorry, kid,” he said to me apologetically. “I really dropped the ball on this one. I didn’t see it till it was too late.”
“See what?” I asked nervously.
Glaring at Emerson in the rearview mirror, he growled, “Why don’t you tell him, Emerson?”
“What? I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stammered.
“Save it,” Jonah snapped. “I was trying to find Max, and when I looked into the future, I saw what you did. I just wish I could’ve gotten here sooner to stop you.”
Emerson sat upright, trying his best to look defiant, but I could tell he was terrified. “I was just following orders,” he insisted. “The General realized Max was working with Tempus. That’s the only explanation for how he could’ve escaped.”
“What? Are you crazy?” I shot back. “I’m not the traitor! You are! I only barely managed to get out of there alive because the Bobs cornered me in Henry’s room, and when the machines keeping him alive were knocked offline, he teleported in the middle of his death throes, and I hitched a ride with him!”
“I don’t buy that,” Emerson responded, folding his arms indignantly. “I’m apparently the only loyal one here.”
“Shut up,” Jonah growled. “Emerson, tell me what you did to Max, now!”
“The General told me to slip a dose of the virus into his coffee. She said he was working with Tempus, and this would be the best way to avoid anyone else dying while trying to ‘protect’ him. We could just leave him somewhere, and by the time they’d realized we’d figured out he was a plant, he’d be of no use to them.”
“Damn it!” Jonah shouted, slamming his fist against the middle console. “You got played, you dolt! We all did!”
“What? By who?” Emerson asked.
“The General! I trusted her, so I never thought to question what she’s really been doing, but now everything’s starting to add up. I don’t think she’s looking to stop Desmond’s plans - I think she wants to take him out so she can use whatever he’s been cooking up for her own ends.”
“I don’t believe it,” I murmured.
“Me neither,” Jonah said. “All this time, we thought we were fighting to stop anyone from being able to mess with time, and instead, we’re just helping one nutcase usurp the other.”
“What? No, not that,” I rebuffed. “I can’t believe this jerkoff poisoned me! How long do I have before I start going crazy and fall apart?”
“I don’t know for sure,” Jonah replied sympathetically. “Maybe a week or two before any external symptoms start showing. I can’t say when it’ll start affecting your mind, though.”
“Within twenty-four hours,” Emerson chimed in. “The psychological effects will be subtle at first, but you’ll start feeling a strong sense of paranoia soon.”
“Like I don’t have reason enough for that already,” I snarked. “Did your precious General have an antidote or some way to cure it?”
“Not that I know of,” he said. “But if what Jonah’s saying is true, then who knows.”
“So you believe me?” Jonah asked.
“No! I don’t know. Maybe. I hate to admit it, but I’ve had some questions about her actions lately, too. I just assumed she was under a lot of stress, but everything with Henry seemed really...odd.”
“Yeah. Here I was, feeling guilty that I didn’t find Henry soon enough, and it turns out you and the General had been watching him for weeks. I should’ve just put that poor kid out of his misery. Hopefully he can find some peace now.”
“So where do we go from here?” I inquired. “We obviously can’t go back to the safehouse. The new one, I mean. Is there anywhere else where we can lay low for a bit?”
“I’ve got a place upstate,” Jonah replied. “My grandfather’s old farm. He left it to my brother when he passed, but no one ever goes up there anymore. We should be safe there, at least for a bit. I’ve also contacted an old friend to come help us. She’s always up for a good fight.”
The trip to the farm was a long one, and it didn’t help that the radio in Jonah’s car didn’t work. Emerson sat silently pouting in the backseat the whole time, while Jonah kept reminiscing about “the old days,” telling stories of his exploits as a mercenary as a freedom fighter in South America, rescuing a diplomat during a riot in the Middle East, and going fishing with Wade Boggs. Apparently that last one was where he’d come the closest to dying.
When we finally arrived at our destination, we could see there was a truck already parked in the driveway. Jonah indicated that it was just his friend, and sure enough, as we pulled up, she came strolling out the front door with a shotgun at her hip. He parked the car and we all got out, although Emerson was reluctant to do so.
“Hey there, stranger,” she called out, waving at us. “So what kind of mess have you gotten yourself into this time?”
“Hey Cass,” he said, wrapping her up in a big bear hug. “It’s great to see you again.” Looking back towards us, he added, “Guys, this is Cassie. Cassie, that there’s Max, and the squirrely one’s Emerson.”
“Emerson. He’s the one you said might not be too keen on being here?” she asked, tapping the barrel of her gun for emphasis.
“Yeah,” he replied, “but so far, he’s been mostly cooperative, so you can stop trying to scare him. For now.”
“Alrighty. Well why don’t y’all come inside. I’ve got a stew on, and you look like you could use a drink.”
We followed them into the farmhouse, and it was clear Jonah wasn’t exaggerating - it looked like something out of a horror movie. The furniture was caked in dust, there were cobwebs everywhere, and several of the windows had been broken by the elements or bored local kids. I doubted the oven worked, since Cassie had the fireplace going and was cooking the stew over that. She scooped some into a bowl and handed it to Jonah, who passed it to me.
“Here kid - eat. You’re gonna need to keep your strength up,” he said.
I sat down and started eating as the others got their food, and then Jonah briefed Cassie on what had happened. She was obviously familiar with Tempus and the General’s organization, since she didn’t seem the least bit lost by what should’ve been an insane-sounding story.
“Wow, Jonah...this is bad,” she stated when he’d finished. I had to agree with her. It was certainly not good. “What’s the game plan?”
“I don’t know yet,” he answered. “I think we could all use some sleep, come at it fresh in the morning.”
“That sounds like a good idea,” Cassie agreed. “You really look worn out. I’m guessing you’ve been using your power more than usual.”
“Yeah. And it still wasn’t enough,” he noted wryly.
“So using it wears you out?” I asked. “I just assumed you could look into the future anytime you wanted.”
“We all have our limits,” he replied. “Like how you can only travel back a week. For me, using my abilities is like lifting something really heavy. It’s not a big deal if I do it once in a while, but if I’m doing a lot over a short amount of time, the strain can start to affect me. It takes a lot of energy, and when I’ve really had to push myself, I’ve even passed out from the exertion.”
“Wow, play. Well, I won’t argue with sleep,” I said.
“Me neither,” Cassie added. “Why don’t you boys go find yourselves a room to bunk in,” she told Emerson and me. “I’ve got a few more things I need to sort out with Jonah here.”
“Okay. Good night.” I got up and nudged Emerson, who was still sitting there staring blankly into his empty bowl. “Come on.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, good night,” he said, and we headed upstairs to find some empty rooms. We found two that weren’t in too bad of a shape, and I decided to take the one with the larger bed. Before he went into his room, Emerson stopped and looked at me with a pained expression on his face. “Max...I’m...I’m really sorry. I know it’s not worth much, but I am. I really thought you were working with Tempus.”
“Just focus on trying to figure out a way to help us. Even if there isn’t a way to cure me, if I can at least make it to the end of the week alive, I’ll jump back again and make sure you don’t poison me.”
“Right,” he said, but kept his eyes towards the ground. “You got it.”
I headed into my room and drifted off into an uneasy sleep, my dreams haunted by that pained look on Henry’s face when he drew his final breath. Except it was me lying in his bed, hooked up to all those machines, using my power for one final time before I died.