I regained consciousness and immediately wished I could go back to the nothingness. The pain in my shoulder was throbbing and the rest of my body felt like I’d gone five rounds with the Heavyweight Champion of the World. The dark shapes around me slowly began to take form, and I realized I was back in the bedroom at Jonah’s farm. When I made my way downstairs, I found an array of interrogation implements arranged atop the kitchen table. Cassie and Jonah were seated on the couch near the fireplace, talking in hushed tones.
“What’re you guys doing?” I asked, still half-dazed.
“Hey! You’re up,” Cassie said happily, flashing me a warm smile. “We were starting to get worried. How’re you feeling?”
“Terrible,” I replied. “My shoulder is killing me. I really hate getting shot, apparently.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, kid,” Jonah apologized. “Me and Cass went through a bunch of possible plans, and I was checking to see how we’d do with them. When we found one where we got the General and everyone survived, we had to go with it - I couldn’t push myself much further without risking being too worn out to complete the mission. I’d made sure you would survive getting shot, and we brought everything we needed to extract the bullet and treat the wound. Part of me had hoped if we could move a bit faster, we might be able to avoid that part, even if it meant you guys leaving me to find my own way out of the bunker, but no dice.”
“Why didn’t you at least warn me?” I asked angrily. “If I’d known I was supposed to get shot, I could’ve tried to avoid it!”
“Exactly,” Jonah retorted. “If you knew you were supposed to get shot, would you have jumped out and put yourself in the line of fire to help Cass?”
“Of course!” I insisted. “I mean, probably. I don’t know…maybe not. I didn’t really have time to think about it. I just reacted.”
“Right. And even if you’d only hesitated a second or two, that guard would’ve spotted the General being dragged towards him by some unseen force and opened fire. She’d be dead and we wouldn’t have the General tied up in the barn, waiting to answer some very important questions.”
“You haven’t talked to her yet?” I asked in surprise.
“Well, we would have, but someone used a bit too much knockout juice when they grabbed the General,” Jonah remarked, casting a disapproving look towards Cassie.
“Hey, we were on a time crunch and I had no idea how long it’d take us to get back here,” she argued. “Next time, you can sneak up on the scary special ops commander and inject her with whatever amount you deem necessary, and I’ll run around having fun, blowing everything up.”
“Oh, yeah - nearly charbroiling half my face was a blast,” Jonah sighed, but I could detect a slight smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth.
“Geez, you two...just get a room already.” I heard Emerson before I saw him - he was sitting down behind the counter in the kitchen with his laptop, hidden from my view when I first came downstairs. “Anyway, it looks like she’s wide awake now.” I moved over towards him and saw a video feed from the barn of the General bound to a post with heavy chains and security wires, her wrists and ankles still zip-tied together. I didn’t think it was enough.
“So how does this work?” I asked, still staring at the camera feed. “Do we do ‘good cop/bad cop’ or something?”
“Nope,” Cassie said in response, gathering the implements from the table into a small bag. She held it up and added, “We use these.”
“We’re gonna torture her?” I exclaimed. “I don’t know how I feel about that…”
Cassie shook her head. “Not torture. At least not if we don’t have to. I doubt the General’s the sort who could be easily broken. We’ve got a special sodium pentothal derivative that should get her talking. The other stuff is just there to let her know we mean business.”
“Don’t worry. She’ll talk,” Jonah assured me, placing a hand on my shoulder.
“How do you know? Did you check the future already and see it?”
“Don’t have to,” he replied. “I know the General. We’ve worked together for a long time. She’ll have already ascertained our intentions and decided trying to stonewall us would be a waste of time. We’ll find out her plans. Knowing that, she’ll try to convince us why what she wants to do is the right course of action. That’s something she’s really good at. She can find a vulnerability in someone and exploit it, be it fear, desire, or something else. Do you remember when I first brought you to meet her, I told you not to lie to her?”
“Yeah,” I said. “The way she looked at me almost made me feel like she could read my mind.”
“Well, she can’t read minds, but something pretty close to it,” he revealed. “She can see into a person’s past. Everything they’ve ever said or done. And she’s far more adept at looking back than I am at looking forward. So she’ll try to find something in your past that might make you sympathetic to whatever she intends to do, and use it against you. Do your best to steel yourself against it.”
“Wait - you want me to go in there with you guys while you interrogate her? I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I protested. “She scares the heck out of me just looking at her when she’s completely immobilized on a computer screen. I don’t think I could handle dealing with that in person, especially if she’s gonna be trying to Hannibal Lecter me.”
“Why would she try to eat you?” Emerson asked in confusion.
“What? That’s not-” I said incredulously. “I’m talking about the psychological mind-games stuff, like when Jodie Foster or Edward Norton had those talks with him while he was in prison.”
“Oh. I only ever saw the one where he makes Ray Liotta eat his own brain. It was pretty gross.”
“Enough, boys. Can we get back to the task at hand, please?” Cassie said.
“I still don’t think I should go in there,” I insisted.
“I want her to be able to do a thorough inspection of your past,” Jonah explained. “Maybe once she takes her time to view everything recently, she’ll see that none of your interactions with Tempus included you working with them in any way. Then, hopefully, she’ll realize her mistake in poisoning you and tell us if we can reverse it.”
“Fine,” I relented, “but I’m staying in the back. The second I get any ‘quid pro quo, Clarice’ vibes from her, I’m out.”
Cassie and Jonah finished getting the stuff together for the interrogation, and then I followed them outside to the barn. The last hues of dawn had almost faded entirely from the sky, and the light was causing the crystalized dew covering the lawn to shimmer as the grass swayed in the wind. It was actually quite beautiful, and I probably would have really enjoyed the sight, if not for the fact that my stomach was currently in knots over what was about to happen.
When I entered the barn, I could see the General looking exactly like she had on the video feed. She was completely motionless, and I wasn’t even sure if she had blinked once since we got there. Cassie pulled a needle out of the bag she was carrying, filled it up with the “truth serum,” and injected it into the General’s shoulder.
While we waited for the drug to take effect, the General stared hard at Cassie. Eventually, she stated, “You can turn invisible. I was wondering how someone managed to get the drop on me.” Cassie said nothing in response, so she continued. “It’s interesting that you’ve worked so hard to stay off the grid, and yet here you are, getting in the middle of a war between two groups that would be very interested in your abilities.”
“You know why I’m here,” Cassie hissed, her eyes glaring furiously at the General.
“I do,” she replied. “But do you?”
Jonah said firmly, standing in front of the General with his arms crossed. “We’re here because we need answers. For years, I fought for you, believing in our cause, but the things I’ve seen lately have made me question what exactly it is I’ve been fighting for. I thought you wanted to stop Tempus and end their attempts to control time, but you want to take them over for yourself, don’t you?”
“You’re way out of your depth on this one, Jonah,” the General answered. “You were a loyal soldier for a long time, but for someone with the ability to see the future, you’re disturbingly shortsighted. Nobody can ‘control’ time. They can try to influence or manipulate it, but true control is something that will never be attained. Desmond knows this. His goal is to simply find flashpoints he can change in order to alter the way specific events play out, eventually nudging things towards the result he desires.”
“And what would that be?” Jonah asked.
“Peace. Order. Prosperity for all,” the General answered.
“This is the guy you’ve been trying to stop?” Cassie said to Jonah in surprise. “Sounds to me like you’ve been working for the wrong team.”
“Try to really think about it,” the General stated. “To attain this, he’d have to influence elections, government policy, the economy...and it couldn’t be on a massive scale. If you can’t change the way every citizen chooses to vote, you’d have to find other ways of ensuring a specific candidate rose to power. Force certain people who might otherwise win to back out or make sure they aren’t around to run for office. The decisions made by the winner might not be popular, but they’d have the power to enforce them anyway. Desmond would have to help create a tyrant in order to build the world he wants, and it would have to happen slowly, chipping away bit by bit at the will of people until they believe it’s the only way to survive. Still, there will still be plenty who recognize what’s going on, and they won’t sit by quietly and just let it happen.”
“You’re saying a lot of people will die,” I offered.
The General gave me a condescending smirk and said, “Ah. It speaks. Yes. That’s what I’m saying.”
“How does he intend to do this?” Jonah inquired.
“He’s already doing it,” she responded. “Those Time Bombs he’s been setting off have been placed strategically in the vicinity of key moments he wants to change. Whether they go off on their own or the police are forced to detonate them themselves doesn’t matter - as long as they explode, they’ll affect the timeline. They don’t always work out, and sometimes there are other unintended consequences, but it seems like they’ve been successful enough for Tempus to continue using them.”
“Does that mean he can predict the future, like Jonah?” Cassie asked apprehensively. I hoped that wasn’t the case. That would not be good for any of us.
“No,” the General answered. “But he has the capability to view the past in a limited capacity. He got that from me.”
“How so?” Jonah questioned.
“When Desmond was running his institute to study people like us, I was one of his first patients. I hated having this power - I was constantly seeing every horrible thing that happened in the lives of everyone I met, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t control it and I was desperate, so I went to him, believing his claims that he could help me. He did, but I got much more than I bargained for. He’d created a machine that could enhance someone’s special abilities, but it also allowed him to replicate them. That’s how he developed most of his tech, like the Phase Bubble Generators. The only problem is that using an artificially-replicated version burns through their energy source too fast to use on a wider scale.
“The best way for him to properly utilize someone’s gifts is by essentially turning them into a battery, where he can drain the power from them and use it for himself at will. During my time at the institute, he started doing that to us as he refined his machine, and eventually we’d had enough. I led the other patients in a revolt against him. We destroyed his machine and everything else in the institute before I confronted him personally. I had trusted him and he’d betrayed me. We fought, and while I wasn’t as skilled as I am now, I won. And then I killed him.”
“Clearly you did a bang-up job with that, considering he’s still alive,” Cassie said sarcastically.
“No, I definitely killed him,” the General replied coldly. “I watched the life fade from his eyes. He was definitely dead. The only problem was that he’d apparently planned for such an eventuality. I guess the fact that performing cruel experiments on human beings might end up making them try to kill you in revenge wasn’t something he’d overlooked. He had a failsafe in place to upload his consciousness to a hidden mainframe somewhere. I didn’t know this at the time, but when I started seeing signs of his technology reappear, I peered back into his past and confirmed that he was behind it. If I hadn’t been so green at the time, I would’ve known to make sure I stopped any backup plans he might have before I ended him.”
“This is crazy,” I said in disbelief. “When the Bobs attacked the safehouse, he spoke to me! Are you saying that I was just talking to some computer with his mind?”
“Something like that,” she confirmed. “After you led them to our base, the Bobs must’ve opened an uplink for him so he could get into the system. I’m guessing you only heard him over speakers of some kind?”
“Yeah. It was over the intercom,” I admitted.
“Think about it, Jonah,” she said. “When you were his prisoner, did you ever actually see him? Or did you only ever hear his voice?”
Jonah seemed to think about it a moment and answered, “Just his voice. He always had his lackeys doing the hands-on stuff.”
“Well, there you go,” she stated. “His mind is faster and he has the ability to store data and recall it with absolute precision. He’s even more dangerous now than he was back when he was alive.”
“So then we find whatever blasted machine is housing his brain and we destroy it!” Jonah exclaimed.
“Right. Because I hadn’t thought of that, right?” the General snarked. “Technology’s evolved enough over the last few decades enough that he’s not bound to a physical mainframe anymore. He’s a part of the internet; he’s in the Cloud. That’s why all our equipment works on a closed network. I didn’t want to risk giving him a way inside.”
“So then what have we been doing?” Jonah asked in a defeated tone. “Why have we been fighting him if we can’t stop him? What’s the grand plan you’ve actually been working towards this whole time?”
“Don’t you get it? There is no ‘grand plan!’ I’ve been playing keep-away with him for years, trying to bring in anyone that he could use his machine on to deny him access to them. I’ve only recently found an actual solution, and ironically, it was Desmond who provided me with it.”
“The virus,” I said as the realization hit me. “The one you had Emerson give me!”
“Yes,” she confirmed. “I studied how it progressed in Henry. I realized Desmond had learned from his mistakes. He must’ve rebuilt his machine, but he wasn’t going to take the chance using it on anyone who could possibly fight back. All he needs to do now is turn someone into a vegetable, and as long as they’re still alive, he can plug them into the machine without any worries.”
“I don’t get it,” Cassie interjected. “If Desmond wants them alive and unable to run or fight back, why would you infect Max? Aren’t you basically serving him up on a silver platter?”
“I synthesized the virus and altered it so that it’s fatal,” the General replied. My heart sank at this revelation. So Emerson had actually been right about something.
“Is there a cure?” I asked hopefully, but I tried not to show it. She recognized this and laughed.
“There is, but it doesn’t matter. I didn’t want to risk knowing how to make it in case Desmond ever managed to capture me, so all the truth serum in the world won’t get it for you. There’s only one person I would trust with that kind of knowledge, as with everything else, and he’s long gone by now.”
Cassie, Jonah, and I looked at each at the same time. “Emerson!” Jonah snapped. “Cass, check the house, now!” She took off out of the barn as the General’s laughter followed behind her. By the time she got back, we could tell by her face that she didn’t find him.
“He’s gone,” she said solemnly. “So’s my truck and all our stuff.”
“That rat!” Jonah growled. Turning back towards the General, he demanded, “Why would you trust something like that with him? He’s a fool! If Tempus finds out he knows so much about the organization, they’ll find him in no time! He can’t defend himself against something like the Bobs!”
“He won’t have to,” she stated confidently. “They’ll never know how important he really is for the same reason you didn’t see this coming - he’s like us, but his power would be otherwise useless to pretty much anyone else. He projects an aura that makes him appear entirely non-threatening, which even extends to things like someone’s ability to see into the past or future. As far as anyone’s concerned, he’s just a normal tech geek not worth bothering with. It makes him the perfect counter-intelligence agent.”
“This is all getting too much,” I said. I was feeling dizzy and had to sit down. “I think I’m just gonna redo this whole crazy week. If I wait too long, I won’t be able to return to a point where I haven’t been infected.”
“I think you’re right,” Jonah agreed. “How long till you can jump back again?”
“Two more days,” I answered.
“Do you really think it’s that easy?” the General remarked. “You forget - I’ve seen your past. All of it. Every week you lived out more than once. I know that the things you experience stay with you. Like the time in college when your friend decided to drive home after spending all night drinking and got himself killed. You had to identify his body for the police. Even though you went back in time and stopped him, you had nightmares about that for years afterwards. This virus isn’t that much different. Sure, you can go back to the start of the week and the virus won’t kill you, but the effects on your mind will remain. You’ll go after Emerson for the cure, which will put you on my radar. Once I look into your past and see all this, I’ll just kill you. And if you don’t, you’ll end up spending the rest of your days locked up in a psychiatric hospital.”
I looked to Jonah for guidance, but he seemed as lost as me at the moment. “Then we’ll just have to find Emerson now,” I stated.
“My power isn’t gonna help with that,” Jonah noted. “I’ve already tried. I’m just seeing him sitting at his laptop in the farmhouse still. Wherever he really is, unless we can figure out someone he might be with who I can use to piggyback an accurate vision off of, we won’t locate him that way.”
“So what?” Cassie said. “We’ll just find him the old-fashioned way. Who’s up for some gumshoeing?”
“What about her?” I asked, gesturing towards the General. “Should we just leave her here? Surely Emerson’s contacted the organization by now to let them know where she is. They’ve probably already got people on their way to get her.”
“Well, we can’t bring her with us,” Cassie replied. “It’s too risky.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Jonah said. “Cass, give her some knockout juice.”
“As much as you can,” he told her, and I saw a slight grin pass across her face. “It’ll be easier if she doesn’t wake up for a good long while.”
We gathered up what meager supplies Emerson hadn’t deemed worthy of stealing, loaded the General’s limp form onto a large blanket, and we all took turns pulling it in the direction of a nearby farm. Jonah was sure there would be a vehicle of some sort that Cassie could use her power to obtain, and then we’d be on our way to tracking down the one person who held my only hope of salvation.