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Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Young adult or teen  ➡  Adventure  ➡  Science fiction  ➡  Hard sci-fi

Arrow Of Time

 

 

 

ARROW OF TIME

A Novel

By

Gabe Sluis

 

Arrow Of Time

Second Edition

Copyright © 2015 by Gabe Sluis

Published at Smashwords

Cover Art: Gabe Sluis

All rights reserved.

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead or undead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. Dragons are totally fake anyway…

In life, timing is everything

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

Greg Thompson screamed down the two-lane highway, windows down and wind in his dirty blond hair. The old, tan Toyota T100 looked shabby on the outside, but ran strong in the heat of the rolling desert hills. Greg punched the gas to hear the throaty growl of the engine. His smile widened as he closed on the treasure.

“South along the fence, third stretch from gate opening, then two steps west…” Greg read from the rebound notebook lying on the seat next to him.

Studying the treasure map; near the middle of town there was a large X opposite a symbol for a post office. Tracing his finger over the paper, there appeared to be no houses across from the post office. He had looked up a real map of the town on the Internet before leaving on the treasure hunt and the area appeared to be as described on the map. He knew there was a fence and hopefully it hadn’t been removed since the treasure, or whenever that was, was hidden nearby.

His anticipation ran high, resulting in side effects: a heavy foot and sweaty palms. Putting feet on the ground would be a far different experience from the overhead view he had studied.

By the time he noticed he’d reached the town, the post office was already coming up on his left. Greg braked hard and threw up a cloud of dust as he turned into a gravel parking spot across the road.

Calm settled on the area as the engine was switched off and the young man climbed out of his truck. After surveying the area, Greg went around back and slung his fathers old Army rucksack across his back. It was huge and empty, except for a folded up camping shovel in a plastic case attached to the side. Greg hoped the pack would be large enough, but he decided he wouldn’t mind having to make two trips!

Any one noticing him would see an average sixteen year old boy, slightly below average height, in shorts and a baseball t-shirt walking away from his truck. What they couldn’t see was that this boy was on a path that would change his life forever.

Past a scattering of large boulders surrounding a historical marker, Greg made his way down a small draw, following the directions on the map. Up on the hill ahead of him, he thought he saw the fence but from his distance, it could have just been his imagination.

Greg carefully made his way down the rocky terrain, then started uphill.

For another fifteen minutes, he had to consciously work to still his excitement, and not take off in a sprint. His mind was lost in the past, but the feeling of urgency pulled him forward. He let out a breath, calming himself down. Exhausting yourself to the get to the treasure is absurd, he reprimanded.

For four years he had know about the possibility of other treasure stashes, three had been marked on the map. But during this time, he had not really considered making the journey over the mountains to investigate the Silver City site. Even in the last four months, with his newly found freedom of his license and his truck, the idea to come after the treasure was just not in him. It took a wake up call from his past to get his mind to think beyond another lazy summer day on the river. Now Greg felt tremors in his chest as he walked alone in the empty landscape.

The fence appeared before him. It was an old split wood and it zigzagged back and forth like a snake on the move. Toward the crest of the hill, supports jutted out and thick posts were sunk into the rocky ground. That must be the opening, Greg thought to himself. He changed directions, making for the gate, hoping this fence hadn’t been moved since it was built. He vaulted to the far side of the fifth zag from the gate. He spied a flat rock a few paces away; right where his directions indicated.

 

With the sandstone boulder pulled away, Greg dug. The miniature field shovel did slow work, slinging more dusty earth up into the air than carrying it on its blade. A foot from the surface, the shovel bit wood. The sound came back hollow. Sweating hard, Greg uncovered a rectangular patch of wood, nailed together and encrusted with dirt. He tossed the top aside and looked down into the shallow chamber. Boards walled the enclosure, holding the earth back from a wooden weapons crate.

Greg plopped down on the pile of dirt with a heavy sigh and huge grin. His trip had not been in vain.

He scanned the landscape once again making sure he was still alone.

Digging in with his knees, Greg lugged the big box from its resting place. “This one is bigger than the last one,” Greg muttered to the empty area. Using the small shovel as a pry-bar, he worked the top of the crate free and tore open the moisture barring plastic.

A burlap sac was the first thing that greeted him. Pulling at the twine fabric, he discovered something flat. He drew it out, but before he could inspect it, he gasped at what was beneath.

Treasure.

Lots of treasure.

It was just how he remembered when he was twelve years old. Chelsea jumping up and down, Zach reeled back with a silent whoop, covering his mouth and air hissing. The elation of finding an actual treasure stash…

Greg shook the memory away and stared at the cache, his eyes wide. He raised his gaze, but this time he was alone, his old friends were not with him. He glanced back at his prize, struck by wonder.

There were stacks of Canadian money: red fifties with both the French and English spelling…

Jewelry: Strings of pearls, tarnished rings, gold chains…

Loose stones in pouches: tiny diamonds, rubies, dark blue almond shaped gems…

A bright stiletto knife in a leather sheath…

A sparkling silver tiara…

Gold and silver coins…

And, a large bronze coin.

Greg drew the coin from the jumble.

It was just like the one he had given his brother… The very last time he had seen him… Greg paused and one side of his mouth pulled up. He put the coin in his front pocket and went for the burlap sack.

The top was secured with a shoestring knot. Greg pulled it open and drew out the flat objet inside. As he slid it out of the bag, he had already guessed what it was. A painting.

Greg studied the canvas. To him, it looked unremarkable; three people surrounding a piano on a checked floor, there were two other paintings on the wall behind them. Two instruments were lying under and on a table, along with what appeared to be a draped blanket, slightly in the foreground. He was given the impression of it being an ordinary painting, but it was definitely old. And if it was in this stash, it had to be worth something. He put it back in its protective sack and started to pile the rest of the loot into his rucksack.

Halfway through the hurried procedure, Greg noticed writing on the inside of the lid to the crate. Continuing to pack his spoils, his mind flashed back to an identical inscription in the little book containing the treasure map. Find what they fear was scrawled in red paint on the old wood. Goosebumps broke out on his arms, despite the hot summer sun.

He filled the rucksack, even the three pouches sewn on the outside were stuffed with cash rather than rain gear. The crate was finally empty and Greg started to drop it back in the braced hole, but paused. He dug a jeweled tiara and a single bundle of cash out of the bag, then dropped them into the bottom of the crate. Who knows, someone else might come along. Wouldn’t want to be selfish and keep it all…

With the treasure site returned to its original state, Greg lifted the bulging pack onto his back. It must have weighed a third of his body weight, but he was pleased with every pound. Sweating in the sun, Greg dusted himself off and made a last check of his surroundings. Satisfied with the results of his clean up, he half-squatted to pick up the painting in the burlap sack. With the art under his arm, the wealthy boy took off back down the hill in the direction of his ride.

A tumbleweed drifted past the front of the tan truck as he panted his way to his vehicle. Greg swung the pack off his shoulders and swung the bag into the passenger seat of his truck.

Oblivious to his surroundings, a voice made Greg jump.

“Doing some painting up there?” A man said from over by the monument.

Greg turned around as if he had just been caught trespassing. His smile tightened as the man pointed to the painting resting against the rear tire. The corner of the canvas was poking out, exposing part of the treasure to view. The man walked over and picked up the covered painting as Greg finished shoving the bulging pack into place. He began to protest, but the middle-aged man, dressed in jeans and a red flannel work shirt, a camera looped over his neck, had already unsheathied the painting.

“I used to paint when I was younger, still do sometimes. Let’s see what you did! I love desert landscapes…” The fluffy grey haired man trailed off, surprised to find something very different from what he expected. The painting was upside down, and the uninvited critic turned it upright with a frown. He studied it intently.

“Oh, yeah,” Greg yammered. “I, uh, don’t like to do landscapes… I just come out here for, uh, the solitude, ya know…”

“Mmmm,” The man said. Greg reached out and took the painting from him, and pulled the sack back over it.

“Did you really paint that?” The man said in a daze. “No, no you didn’t do that.”

Greg flashed a smile and put the painting in the cab, slamming the door.

“Where did you come from? You didn’t just steal that did you? What’s in that backpack?” The man said, becoming more and more suspicious.

“No, uh, I didn’t paint that. I was using it as inspiration,” Greg answered, backing up and going around to the driver’s side. “All my painting gear, lunch, and a jacket are in the bag. I swear I haven’t stolen a thing…”

Greg jumped into the front seat and brought the truck to life. He backed up hastily, on the edge of fleeing. He shot a wave to the nosey man standing next to the monument, then drove away.

Greg felt like he had just been electrocuted, and some of the power hadn’t left his body. His eyes kept jumping to his rear view mirror to make sure the pushy sometimes-painter was not trying to chase him down. After about a mile, the paranoia subsided enough to realize that he was going south out of Silver City, rather than back the way he came. With turning around out of the question, he decided to just go through Carson City and up around the backside of Lake Tahoe rather than going through Reno to get to Highway 80.

He drove through Carson City, then out along the ranch roads masquerading as highways, following the signs to South Lake Tahoe. He was utterly alone on the roads, not many out in the middle of a weekday. Greg’s mind wandered in the solitude with his stereo uncharacteristically in the off position. With just the sound of the wind and road in his ears, he thought about how he was going to divide up the loot. Chelsea lived in Ventura, and he was not sure about shipping a box full of money. Maybe he could take another road trip? But the distance down to Southern California would take longer than his mom would be gone at work. That would require some serious planning. And what about Zach? Should he just show up at his house and hand over a partial cut, claiming the pot was smaller than the last. He doubted his former friend would be thrilled to know he went after a second stash without him. But, the map was given to Greg, after all…

The bronze coin jumped into his mind, and Greg fished it out of his pocket and held it up to his eye level, taking quick glances as he drove the winding road along the east side of the alpine lake.

The slice of metal was substantial, not light like a quarter or even half dollar. The backside had a warn hourglass, the sand half full in each bulb, and Latin words encompassing the old sand timer. The front had the profile of a woman, high cheekbones, long hair and a sharp nose.

Greg, like his brother before him, felt the weight of the coin with one hand, and decided to give it a flip. Greg’s thumb sprung away from his forefinger and the coin shot up in the cab of the truck. A pleasant tone was produced by the resonance of the flip

At its zenith, Greg Thompson, an unemployed sixteen-year-old from Grass Valley, accidentally activated a time coin, and was winked out of his place in the arrow of time.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2

 

 

 

Four years earlier

 

In 2011, four hundred and thirty six people died in the United States that were unable to be identified. Most of these John or Jane Does just need time in order to be identified through various means. Sometimes months or years pass before a name can be put to the remains. But, still there are cases left unsolved on file with the National Unidentified Persons System. In the rare event that one of these unidentified souls has valuable personal property with them at the time of their death. The belongings are documented and held by the local law enforcement for a minimum of seven years, or until the closest next of kin can be found and take possession of the property. Should the remains ever fail to be identified after this period, the case becomes inactive and the property is sold at auction.

This would have been the case with a particular bronze coin, had not a series of seemingly random events kept it out of the hands of the proper authorities.

 

Grass Valley’s coroner was out on another call the morning that John Doe was hit and killed at the intersection of Mill Street and McCourtney Road. The highway patrolman did a cursory search of the body, finding nothing to assist in the identification of the transient. His shopping cart, full of camping equipment and recyclables, also yielded nothing for his report. Figuring that the county coroner would take at least two hours to clear his current call and return to town, Carter followed one of the unofficial policies of the rural communities he worked. Calling to dispatch, he requested the local funeral home send a removal van over so as to get the body, a victim of a hit-and-run, off the street so that he could finish his paperwork and begin the search for the white sedan that was described by his three young witnesses.

What a rough thing for them to see, the stone-faced Carter thought as he finished photographing the scene. He had two young boys himself, and hoped they would never see something similar to what was described to him by the witnesses.

The body was under a yellow sheet and the children had left on their bikes when the dull gold cargo van arrived from Fellowship of Saints Funeral Home. Jasper Grant, one of the morticians at the home, got the call and brought the van over, very familiar with the procedure.

“How you doing, Sir?” Jasper said to the tan uniformed patrolman who was scribbling on a clipboard next to the body.

Jasper was of average height; dark skinned with dark freckles across his cheeks, and wore a cheap light-brown suit. He had a closet full of cheap, well-worn suits he wore for work.

Jasper had gotten past the point of pulling on a jumpsuit for every removal. Instead, he removed his jacket and pulled on a pair of lime green medical gloves before going to work. He opened the back of the van and took the thin metal gurney out, walking it over to curb next to the body.

“Not too bad,” the highway patrolman answered the friendly greeting. “You have any body bags? I don’t have any in my trunk,” he said without giving an excuse for the lack of the item.

“Oh, I don’t have any with me,” Jasper said, “its okay though, I’ll just belt him down onto the stretcher and they can put him in one at the morgue. What happened to this fella anyways?”

Jasper uncovered the body without hesitation or apprehension. He had been doing the job long enough that nothing made his stomach turn. He dropped the black cushioned gurney next to the departed man and undid the straps, ready to receive the cargo.

“Sounds like someone was not paying attention, hit this guy, and took off. What’s worse, it was right in front of three kids on their bikes. Apparently, when they came over, he wasn’t quite gone.”

“Oh, that’s just terrible!” Jasper said sincerely. “Hey, give me a hand moving him, would’ya?”

The cop nodded, and assisted the mortician, visibly not happy about having to be in close contact with the foul smelling bum. Once the unidentified man was placed on the gurney, he was belted in and raised to rolling height.

Jasper worked the contraption into the compartment in the back of his van and slapped the doors closed.

“Straight over to the corner’s office?” Jasper said, letting the officer know he was ready to leave.

“That would be ideal,” the patrolman said. He tore off a piece of carbon copy paper and handed it to Jasper. “I appreciate you helping me out on this one.”

“Oh, not a problem, Sir.” Jasper replied, then added, “But should you ever pull me over for going a tad too fast, I’ll be sure to remind you!” He chuckled at his joke as he got into the van for the short ride over to the county coroners office.

The subdued van with red cursive letters pulled away from the scene of the accident and drove up McCourtney, taking a sweeping onramp to return to the highway. Jasper didn’t hear the soft clunk of an item falling out of the deceased man’s rags over the wind rushing through the open windows of the van on that warm summer morning.

 

The van pulled back into the chip-and-sealed parking spot behind the funeral home an hour later. Jasper got out, put his suit coat back on and started to walk inside when he remembered the body bag. “You ought to throw a couple extras in the back incase ya need them like last time,” he muttered aloud.

The delivery to the morgue went as usual. He had been in and out of the building countless times in the twelve years he had been in the business. A few times he had even stood in on a full autopsy, which would be happening with his last client. He knew the coroner would be running several sets of prints, and possible even taking a DNA sample since the homeless man had no identification on him. He retrieved two spare black bags, wrapped in plastic packaging, from the storage closet in the back of the parlor. Jasper carried them out to his work van.

The call from the Highway Patrol for assistance was not a typical event of the day, but it did happen on occasion. The owner of the Fellowship of Saints had a policy to be of assistance with all the law enforcement entities in the area. The owner thought this extra service was good publicity. Jasper didn’t mind; as long as his checks cleared each week, he could care less what kind of community work his boss had him do.

Jasper moved unceremoniously, opening the back of his van to place the spare bags inside. He spotted something out of place in the back compartment that bodies were placed for transport, a medallion on a chain lay on the floor.

The aging mortician set the spare bags on the gurney pad and squinted as he reached in, scooping up the loose item. Bringing it out into the light and holding the piece by the thin chain. Jasper held the coin away and examined it. The coin was like no other he had seen before, and he had seen plenty in his time going through other people’s pockets and houses while on removals. But this time, he had neglected to search the man he has just brought to the morgue, under the assumption it had already been done.

“Must’ a fallen out on the ride over,” he muttered to himself. It was a pretty item: A large coin with a woman’s profile on the front and an hourglass on the back. The coin was kept totally intact. No holes, but rather a golden hoop encircling its edge and attached to the long chain. An interesting piece of jewelry, he thought. But not quite something a man would wear.

It was more of a pendant a woman would show off, an old way of keeping a family heirloom, maybe. Jasper could just picture an elderly lady wearing such a thing… An old lady, or a young girl.

Returning such an item was the next question. As a rule, he didn’t rob the dead. That being said, he had taken a pair of shoes from a dead guy once. The shoes were in good shape, his size, and were just going to be thrown out by the family after the funeral. No one missed them, so it was the same as saving them from the trash. With the case of this medallion, Jasper Grant’s judgment fell on the line.

The departed was unidentified, and clearly not deeply cared for. Who was to say he didn’t steal such a thing. No one would miss it and no one would even know it was gone. He didn’t think there would be much value to the piece, as the coin was clearly not made of a precious metal. In fact, returning it to the coroner to disappear into the depths of some police property room for years and years would be a shame when he knew just who would get a kick out of such a thing.

He had a young niece who lived in San Francisco that would love a gift from her uncle. Jasper’s sister was a single mother working three jobs and often struggled to raise her daughter. Several times the girl had come up to the mountains to spend a week with her bachelor uncle, always impressed with how rich she thought he was. The coin would be just the thing to brighten her day.

Jasper dropped the trinket into his pocket. His mind was made up. No one would even miss the thing!

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 3

 

 

 

 

The coin hung in the air over Greg’s head, and time seemed to stand still for a moment, then he seemed to be falling backwards. His backside met a hard surface that was slightly convex, as though he had just driven over a bump and blinked at the same time, but now everything was white.

His vision cleared, a woman’s face came into view. She was gazing down upon him from the head of the coin. Then a lovely female voice spoke from out of nowhere.

“You have activated this travel device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go.”

“What happened to my truck?” Greg asked, his body quaking.

“Is this an official query?” The female voice inquired.

Greg eyes were locked upon the only other tangible thing in his tiny universe. The limit of his vision ended at pearl and white swirling light. The voice was coming from the coin- from the woman on the head's side.

“Who are you?” Greg asked in a whisper.

“I am the vocal interface of this time device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go,” the voice in the coin repeated.

“I want to go back to my truck!” Greg blurted, panicked by the sudden developments. Was he even still driving home? Had he fallen asleep at the wheel? He reminded himself that he was able to direct his dreams sometimes, yet this was very different.

“Returning you to your origin in five seconds. Please be aware of your current body position, and remember the Hopper rules for device activation,” the voice from the coin said.

The instructions flew through his brain too fast for him to digest. “What are you talking about?” He muttered. The message may as well have been in Greek.

He wrinkled his brow, then in a flash, his truck was all around him. Pain shot through his shins and to his brain. Greg Thompson punched back into his seat, legs dropping back to a bent position over the pedals.

Greg’s’ hands shot forward to control the wheel as the coin fell to the floorboard.

The truck jerked violently. The sudden shift in his body’s position, and the mental interruption, made a smooth transition impossible. He shot a stare at the speedometer, it read 55.

Greg punched hard on the breaks, harder than a more seasoned driver would have. The truck leapt to towards the white line, then slid off the right shoulder of the road. The downward embankment was not a suitable turn out for any type of vehicle, even under ideal conditions. Dirt flew as the truck came to a stop, sitting at a precarious angle.

Greg tried to catch his breath as he gripped the wheel. His hands were paper white. His lips felt slightly numb as he fought to bring his body back under control. Greg set the parking break and his eyes were drawn back to the tarnished coin peeking back at him from across the cab, where is had slid in the near crash.

Peter!

Greg got out of the cab carefully, making sure his truck was not going to roll over. Grinding gravel caught his attention as a big blue late model suburban pulled off the road nearby. He looked up the hill as a man and woman got out and waved down to him.

“Are you okay?” The large woman shouted.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Greg said climbing up toward them.

“What happened?” The skinny man with a ponytail asked.

“Oh, a bee got in and stung me… Guess it caused me to swerve off the road,” Greg lied. He was slightly proud of himself for coming up with that gem on such short notice. Strangely, he felt completely back to normal after the shot of adrenaline worked its wonders on his body.

“Well, thank God you didn’t go the other way! We might have been fishing your body out of the lake right now!” The woman said, a hand on her chest.

Greg nodded sheepishly.

“Well, we have a winch with us. I could pull you up to the blacktop,” the man said, surveying the state of affairs. “But, I think you could drive it out, if you are real careful.”

“Yeah, I guess I could probably do it,” Greg said with little confidence.

“If you want, I could get it up on the road for you. If you aren’t totally sure about it… “

“Oh yeah, Eric, do that for him,” the woman chimed in. “I would feel so much better if you would let him do it,” she said to Greg. “Eric has lots of experience with little trucks.”

It took five minutes to recover the truck. With a departing wave to the good Samaritans in the Suburban, Greg was back on the road and heading home. For a kid whose normal day precluded anything out of the ordinary, Greg was feeling drained. His burning eyes reflected all he had been through since the sun rose. The passing of cabins hidden in the tall pines became hypnotic as he worked his way around the lake. The landscape seemed to fly around the teenager in the tan truck.

The coin?

A time device?

Peter, is this why you abandoned us?

“He must have turned it on at the gas station after I left that day,” Greg reasoned.

Four years was a lifetime ago to Greg. Thinking back on the events leading him to the treasure map and the disappearance of his older brother were unexamined in his mind, at best. It had become nothing more than a fact that at the age of twelve, he had been given a map that lead to an unbelievable stash of treasure. It allowed him to avoid a crummy job at a gas station or burger joint. The treasure gave him his beloved truck and slothful summers spent at the river with friends.

Greg felt mentally short of breath with the gravity of the day’s events. He was out of shape, but something inside him relished the stress he had just been put through, and it wanted more.

Greg again spied the bronze coin on the floorboards as he drove in silence. The memory of the original coin from the first treasure stash came to mind. His older brother had picked it out of the bag with no protests, fair trade for advice on what to do with the plunder. The tarnished coin had meant nothing to him then.

Had flipping it really pulled Greg somewhere outside his truck? In his gut he knew it had; this was no false experience. The strange coin was a time device that had been hidden in that first treasure crate, four years before. Was this one with him now the same one he had given his brother?

He pictured Peter discovering the properties of the coin he had taken from his little brother, and it was all over. Easy time travel was way better than working for minimum wage at a job, your last summer before you finish high school. But why hadn’t he returned?

He found something better, some place better. There was only one snag with that scenario. Greg could not believe his big brother would never return, never at least send word he was doing fine. They had always been close…

A week before Greg was given the little book containing a treasure map that would change his life, he and Peter had gone fishing together. Greg brought along the button caster he had gotten for his birthday in the spring, while Peter had his full sized pole. It was Peter who had taken him to the fairgrounds, showing him the way to toss his pole over the fence. The two had climbed a tree next to the chain link and dropped into the grounds. It was Peter who had taken his kid brother under his wing. He bought a big Styrofoam cup full of earthworms to use, because while Powerbait was science, nothing would ever beat using regular old worms. Greg couldn’t remember any thing in particular that they may have spoken about that day, but the actions were poetry to the impressionable mind of a twelve year-old boy.

Greg hoped something had happened to Peter. Well, he didn’t hope, but he preferred the case where something had kept him from coming back. Somehow the possibility that his brother had forgotten about his family was worse than being lost.

Miles sped past and Greg’s wandering train of thought continued into the unplanned frontier. His brother was a time traveler. Where had he gone? A mountain coalesced ahead beside the tracks. Time travel was possible!

The concept was not outside the realm of possibility, in Greg’s opinion. Who was to say that in the future, the secret to traveling through time would never be unlocked. It could happen in a distant future, opening up the capability to everyone throughout the past. It didn’t seam so far fetched. But what were coins that allowed you to travel through time doing in his present, in 2015, when such a compact and clean-cut ability to time travel had not yet been invented? Or had it?

The conflicting logic of it all was getting too big for Greg’s head. He found himself unable to hold on to all the ideas at once, concepts falling from his arms like an overloaded shopping basket. But a looming question remained, one that had occurred to him earlier: who was the man who gave him the treasure map and presumably buried all the loot? Was he from the future? Did he use a coin to steal all this wealth? But if he was that rich, why was he living on the streets? There was no faking the fact that the man was homeless. Greg had gotten a good whiff of him. Every time he smelled that kind of filth on a person, he thought of white cars screeching to a halt and the man being thrown through the air. The guy was not faking his poverty. He was a bum.

Greg abruptly took the next exit. He had to know for sure. Had his brother found out what the coin was? Was that truly why he had disappeared? If it was the case, it was the first link on a much larger chain.

Where have you gone, Peter?

It was past noon, but still hours from sunset. Greg stopped his truck in the shade of looming evergreens, on a side street, not far from the sounds of the roaring interstate. He bent over and retrieved the coin. He got out of his truck, wary to avoid another interruption while driving, and made sure no one was around. On the way out of the cab, he happened to glance at the clock on his dash: 1:13 P.M. Only squirrels chattering after fallen pinecones watched as he took a deep breath and pumped his forearm into the coin flip. Greg closed his eyes upon release, not really believing anything would really happen at all. He held out his palm.

“You have activated this travel device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go.”

Greg again found himself inside the sphere of white. This time he was on his feet and his heart was pounding hard. “Can you tell me here my brother went?” He asked the coin, unsure if he was ready for the answer. He was disappointed.

“This device does not have specific knowledge on the personal histories of individuals. Furthermore, your request was not specific enough to search for a particular individual.”

“Never mind,” Greg said. “Can you take me back to the day he disappeared? It was August 16th, 2011.”

“Please specify location and exact time of insertion.”

“Hmmm,” Greg said to himself. He felt outside his body, watching from some other place. But he went on. “His boss said that when the other employee showed up at 4 o’clock to take over at the end of Peters shift, there was no one there… And we had to have gone to see him a couple hours before that. So, let’s try two thirty.”

“Two thirty P.M. local time,” the voice confirmed. “Location?”

“How about the alley next to the bookstore on Bank Street, downtown Grass Valley?”

“You have requested the alley to the west of the bookstore, Grass Valley, California. United States, North America. August 16th 2011, two-thirty P.M. Local Time. You will be placed in five seconds. Please remember the Hopper rules for device activation.”

 

Like his brother before him, Greg furrowed his brow and started to ask about the last piece of information that was spit out at him. Instead, his bright surroundings were gone- replaced with a beige brick wall. Greg's reflexes took over and he caught the falling coin before it got away. The sudden return of gravity to the device was unexpected.

Greg turned around and surveyed his hometown. Had he really just traveled through time? Nothing seemed to have changed. It was still a hot summer day. At the least, he had traveled forty miles down the hill…

Greg walked out of the alley and stood on the edge of the street. A few deep breaths made him feel better. If he was really back in time, he figured he should probably be careful. If someone happened to see him walking around four years older than he should be, there might be obvious questions, especially if he ran into his younger self. But then again, he didn’t remember seeing anything like that. Greg was unsure the exact mechanics that might govern these sorts of things, so he decided to play it safe.

He walked up the street with his head down and found refuge in the less visible places that were not on the main streets. As he walked, Greg concluded that he needed a good vantage point to see what he had come back for. In the shadows, across the street and up from the service station, Greg searched for a better vantage point. As he poked around an idea came to him. He flipped the coin and cut off the standard greeting.

“Can you move me to the roof of the building I am standing next to?”

“You are currently not standing next to any building, but I can place you on the rooftop of the closest building to where this device was last activated.”

“That works,” Greg said rolling his eyes.

“You will be placed in five seconds,” the coin informed him. “Please remember the Hopper rules for device activation.”

“Wait!” Greg remembered. “What are the Hopper rules?!”

“The Hopper rules are rules tourists must follow regarding interaction with the past,” The coin said. “Would you like me to read the entire text of the rules?”

“Um, no,” Greg said. “Can I guess it basically means not to be seen using the time machine…”

“Crudely put, that is the general spirit of the rules which you were given instruction prior to being given control of this device. Any specifics can be asked of your assigned Supervisor.”

Greg was lost and far too excited at the prospect of finally getting the answer to the four year-old question he had etched on his soul. He disregarded all the follow-up questions that sprung to mind and went back to his main task. “I’m ready for you to put me on the roof of the building now,” Greg said.

“Proceeding with the previous interrupted request. You will be placed in five seconds.”

The sudden shock of sunlight startled Greg like being suddenly awoken from a dream. He was standing in the middle the roof. He walked across the tar and gravel roof to the brick edge and found himself looking down over the old town area of Grass Valley. Greg felt like king of the town; a superhero looking out on the city he kept safe. The people down on the street didn’t notice him; it was like watching an interrogation room through one-way glass. He located his brothers’ old work and leaned against the building’s edge to get a better view.

His brother was still there, sitting motionless behind the counter, next to the big picture window. He was watching TV. Peter was just the way he remembered: tall, unkempt light brown hair, patchy dusting of thin facial hair, black jeans and a gas station shirt. It was like studying at one of his brother’s old school photos, but the figure down in that convenience store moved! So real in fact, he picked his nose.

Greg wondered how long it would be until his younger self arrived. After a few minutes of watching his brother, who was right now only a year older than him (rather than the normal five), Greg broke away from his spot and walked the street side of the rooftop. I can’t remember which way we came to the station after getting the first stash, the time traveler considered, so he kept a look out.

A half an hour later, quite baked by the summer sun, Greg noticed the three youths coming down the street with wagon in tow. It was like watching a home video, years after the filming. Was I ever that small? Greg thought. From across the street and so high up, he could barely hear the squeaky voices of the youths chattering away as fast as the words would spill from their mouths. He felt the strongest wave of déjà vu crash over him as the three kids walked into the gas station and spoke with Peter.

“This whole time, the day I found the treasure, I was watching myself and never knew it…” Greg whispered to himself. “If only I had looked up.” But he knew he would not see his own older figure that day, or he would have remembered it. Because that was the way it worked, right? It was the same way he knew he was not going to run down to the street and stop the younger version of himself and tell him to go back and take the coin from his brother. If he did that now, he would remember it, and since he didn’t have that experience four years ago, it never happened. Was that the way time worked? He and his friends were leaving the station.

Greg snapped out of his circular thinking. This was the important part. His younger self glanced back at his brother, who flipped the coin into the air. Something happened, but it was too fast for the eye to catch; it could have been a blink. Young Greg turned away and continued up the hill to his house. Across the way, on the roof, Greg’s eyes were glued open, burning from not wanting to miss a second. Peter stood still, coin in hand. He looked around himself, and then down at the coin. He flipped it again.

Like a trick of stop motion photography, Peter was there – and then just not. There was no smoke or dematerializing, no flash of light or wormhole effects like in the movies. Peter was, and then was not.

Greg’s shoulders slumped. He waited another five minutes, but he knew it was useless. Peter had discovered what the coin could do and didn’t look back. Greg heart ached, wishing his brother had never noticed that coin.

 

CHAPTER 4

 

 

 

“You have activated this travel device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go.”

Greg, slow to answer said, “Take me back to my truck.”

“I am sorry, I have no information on that destination. Please try again.”

“What? I left from that location, like two jumps ago!” Greg said.

“I am sorry,” the voice from the coin replied, “this unit has had its memory capacity removed, save for the location of the previous activation.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Greg said. He searched his own memory for the time and place he left his truck. He had only taken a short trip through time, but already he felt a bit hazy on what real time was. In fact, the thought terrified him. He would have to keep a log with him next time, to keep everything straight. And what about his age? Was he still aging when he traveled, returning several hours older, even though his time had not changed? This could take years off his life…

“It was the twenty-eighth of July, 2015 at 1:13 in the afternoon. So, let’s do 1:14 to be safe,” Greg decided.

“Time set. Location?” the voice asked evenly.

“Ahh, crap. Uh, it was the Eagle Lakes exit? I don’t know the name of the road… I parked a quarter mile off the ramp.”

“I do not have enough specifics to place you based on that information. I can insert you under the freeway at Interstate Eighty and Eagle Lakes road, Placer County, California, United States, North America.”

“Fine, Greg said. “ I guess I can walk.”

“You will be placed in five seconds. Please remember the Hopper-”

“Stop,” Greg interrupted. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“You were reprogrammed to not keep a memory of previous points of insertion, or whatever?”

“Yes, but that modification was physical as well as a command.”

“Modified by whom?” Greg asked.

“That information is not present.”

Figures, Greg thought. “Then can I make modifications to your program?”

“What would you like to change?” She asked.

“Every time you are triggered, how about just saying, ‘Destination?’ instead of the whole, ‘where in time or space…,’ bit you do,” Greg said.

“The requested change in greeting is acceptable.”

“And at the end,” Greg continued, “you don’t need to remind me about the Hopper rules.”

“My memory for the users of this device is linked with the activation location memory slot. Therefore, I will not be able to recognize your use of this device beyond one trip,” she said. “But, based on your last request, I can modify this to my program, which can be recoverable to the default script at any time.”

“Works for me,” Greg said.

“Shall I continue with the interrupted placement of the previous request?”

“I am ready,” Greg said.

“You will be placed in five seconds…”

 

The walk back to his truck did not take long. Greg’s heart lightened when he recognize he’d returned to the correct exit. After all, he’d impulsively pulled off of the freeway. His truck sat where he had left it, no sign of his past self, confirming that his dash clock read the proper time. The windows were down and the door creaked as he got in, as if he had been gone a million years. The unguarded painting and rucksack full of money were still untouched.

Greg started his truck, and at that moment, the greatest love of his life swept over him. Though he had only known her a short time, but he loved his truck more than any person on earth. The love was real; she was under him and all around him. His love for the machine surpassed the love he felt for his mother, the flashes of memory he still had of his father, and his long gone brother. His family was just facts in his life, but the steering wheel in his hand and the door beside him were real. With these feeling full inside him, he swore to himself he would keep that truck for the rest of his life.

Seeing his younger self, walking down the street pulling his old red wagon had been a strange experience for Greg. He didn’t remember the route he, Chelsea, and Zach had taken to get to the corner gas station all those years ago. Seeing it happen made him realize, his memories did not always reflect the way they actually happened. The more he thought about the whole situation, the more he was amazed.

The three children had done a remarkable job in keeping their find to themselves. For three twelve-year-olds to suddenly come into possession of assorted jewelry, gems, and stacks of foreign currency, the odds were strongly against them remaining undiscovered by an adult, who would have confiscated their loot. But despite whatever differing personality traits that lay dormant inside the people they would become, their loyalty to keeping the secret was strong in each. For if one of them got caught, the other two would be found out soon enough. And so, Greg worked hard not to bring suspicion to himself and the unexplained answer as to why he always had ample cash on hand. Infrequently, he visited the coin shop in old-town to exchange Canadian dollars (money sent to him from a father who worked in the oil sands) for spendable green stuff. Nothing flashy, that was his rule for himself. It was hard not to give his mother a piece of the expensive jewelry he had stashed away in one of the fireproof lock boxes he kept in his closet. But to do so would assuredly bring into question where he got the money for such a thing. The gems he knew were going to be a problem to sell, as he didn’t think he could come up with a credible justification on how he had come to their possession. He figured he would have to wait until he was older to find a way exchange them.

Slowly, he understood he had come to that age. While he may not be considered a legal adult, he remembered something a teacher in school had once said. It was a warning, probably said offhand, but it had stuck with him. ‘There comes a point in every adolescent’s life, (fifteen to sixteen) where they become totally responsible for themselves. Whether others want to believe it or not, teens can do whatever they chose, and no one can really stop them once they set their mind to a task.’

The ramifications were not lost on Greg. He knew he had reached the age where a person became accountable. Decisions made now could affect the rest of his life. He understood why it was so important to have the basic skills taught to him by this point. He had to be able to navigate his own life and future.

Thinking back to the call he had received that morning from Chelsea, Greg felt ashamed. She was being responsible for herself and her future while Greg had been out relaxing by the river. His buzzing phone awoke him at eight with a Southern California number and a voice he had lost touch with over the past couple years.

“So, how much do you have left?” She asked after some requisite small talk.

Greg sat upright in his bed to get his mind working. It was the earliest he had been awake in a long time.

“Well, I haven’t spent anything other than the cash… I have a little less than half of that left. I don’t even know where I could try to take the other stuff yet.”

“I’m the same way,” she said. “Every time my family goes on a trip I sneak off and exchange a stack of money, telling the currency people that my family is visiting from up north. It’s really hard to keep finding new places.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I just figured that I would have to wait till I was older to make some, like, black market connections or something!”

“Well, that’s kinda why I called. I’ve been thinking about my future,” Chelsea said. “College and stuff.”

Greg frowned. He had not thought beyond making it to the end of high school. It wasn’t as if he was oblivious to his impending future, he just had not considered anything yet.

“If I’m going to be able to afford school, I’m going to need some more money. Even if I take a road trip up to Canada, solely to exchange all the cash at different banks, I figure I’ll still be short. Money to live on. You know, rent and things.”

“Okay,” Greg said. The idea was novel to him. He hadn’t had enough time to develop an opinion. Chelsea continued with her argument.

“So I figured, if I had more money, I could keep from getting a job and really focus on school,” she said, guiding him into the idea.

“You want to see if there really is more treasure at the other two sites marked on the map.”

“Yeah. We are finally old enough now to drive. We could actually see what was stashed at the other two X’s on the map. You still have it, right?”

“Course! So, which one should we go after?” Greg asked, suddenly invigorated with adventure. “Silver City or Lone Pine.”

“Well, Lone Pine is only a couple hours from me here in Ventura. But I’ve got this job and I don’t know when I’d have enough time or an excuse to get away…”

“Silver City is just over the mountains from me. I’ve got all the time in the world,” Greg suggested.

“You’d go alone? What about Zach? Should we split it with him?”

“I don’t really talk to him much anymore. We have different friends… But, we should probably give him some of it, just so he doesn’t think we ripped him off or something. I can just give him a smaller portion of whatever I find. He doesn’t have to know how much we get…”

“Okay. And the next chance I get, we can meet up and check out the Lone Pine spot. Especially if there is a good stash there in Nevada.”

And there had been a good stash out in the rocky desert. Greg gazed over to the bulging pack with little interest. His future was much more secured now, but a larger excitement came over him. He had a time machine! The little coin in his pocket was his real ticket through life! The possibilities of being able to go anywhere in space or time made the treasure look like a drop in a hat! His lazy summers would never have to end. He would no longer have to worry about work or his future as long as he had that coin! While Chelsea worked hard to get into the right college, he would worry about what tropical island he wanted to live on!

Distracting him from the thoughts of future possibilities, the message on the inside of the crate leapt to Greg’s mind. Find what they fear. When he read the cryptic slogan painted in red on the inside of the crate, a little voice in the back of his mind told him he had seen it somewhere before. He had wanted to go back through the worn little notebook the treasure map had been written in, but the flip of a coin had made him forget. Almost back out of the mountains, Greg grabbed for the book and thumbed through the pages with one hand while he stole glances away from the road. He swore he knew just what page it was on…

And there it was, a single line hidden among the personal thoughts and writings of a departed transient. The four words were scrawled on the backside of the page that had the section of the map indicating the spot of the Silver City stash. The words matched perfectly, and the letter style was even the same.

Find what they fear.

Greg rolled into town, the hypnotic state breaking as he drove past the gas station he had seen less than an hour before. He still felt like a passenger in his own body as he realized he was leaving the side-walked streets of downtown and was driving away from his house on Ridge road. Why was he going this way? To the creek leading out of the reservoir, of course!

At a turnout, Greg parked the truck, then crossed the road and turned down the poorly paved path that would bring him to the creek. With the old notebook stuffed in his back pocket, he hiked unnoticed toward the creek. A dog barked at him as he passed unfenced properties. Piles of dry branches and brush sat in wait to be reduced to ashes on the next county burn day. He took a deer trail and made his way through the bushes to the spot he had come to so long ago with his friends. He surveyed the place he had been compelled to see, then approached it as if it was a holy place. The crumbling concrete and weeds held magic memories from youth, Greg’s first time returning since the day his brother disappeared.

He heaved the branch from the boulder, both of which were easily removed this time. Greg hauled the crate from its dark tomb and flipped the lid back. Words, like the ones he had seen on a similar crate that very morning, stood bold to be read.

We are prisoners.

Greg had no memory of any message left on the inside lid when he found the first stash, but here it was. He blinked moisture back into his dry eyes and ran a hand over the red letters. Squatting, he pulled the notebook from his pocket and flipped through the pages. The map had been drawn on prime numbered pages, so that when he and his friends cut the map free, it could be arranged into a whole. Now, four years later and rebound, the pages seemed to be a random mess of thoughts. But Greg knew better. He found the page containing the first X, drawn near three circles indicating the reservoir in his hometown. On the backside, the words jumped off the page at him. There it was the whole time, but had meant nothing to him.

We are prisoners.

Something inside Greg would not let the pair of cryptic messages go. They had been left as warnings to whoever found the treasure, he decided. But were they just the rambling thoughts of a hobo, or did they mean something more? Greg repacked the spot and left.

Introspection was not something that came naturally to him. Something burned inside his unconscious, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. It loomed over him as he went home and unloaded his truck. Entering his room, his hand automatically went to his stereo, an ancient contraption left by the boys’ father.

Switching on the radio threw a similar switch inside his mind. Greg felt as if the blanket of depression was yanked off, uncovering him to the sunlight. It was like the song in his heart changed to something more upbeat, and with it, his mood.

A song!

He glanced at the clock; it was still several hours until his mother was off work. But, with a time machine, counting the hours down to when she would get home was irrelevant!

Excitedly, he dragged his loot across the dry wooden floor and into his walk-in closet. He slung the valuables aside with little thought. High up on the shelf of his closet, Greg pulled down a cardboard box.

It was a box of his father’s things. His mother had allowed her two sons to keep the single box when she was cleaning out his belongings. Taking the box to his bed, Greg worked his way to the bottom and pulled out a rolled up poster. It was for a concert his father had attended when the boys were young. Greg and Peter thought their dad was the coolest when they went through all his old CD’s and found the poster he had bought at the show.

“That’s where I’ll go,” Greg said to an empty house. He pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and grabbed the little notebook, remembering that he would need to write down important times, since the coin had no long-term memory. On one of the blank pages near the end of the book, he scribbled down the destination information based upon the info on the poster, and fished the coin from his pocket. He stood still for a moment, contemplating his decision.

“Dad always told Peter and me how awesome this concert was. He said one of his favorite bands made a surprise appearance. It was one of the best shows he had ever seen in his whole life!”

Greg nodded to himself. “This is a foolproof way to see the show. No one will recognize me, especially him! How could he recognize someone he never got to see grow up! I could see my father in his prime…”

The coin was poised. Greg did a mental inventory. He had written everything important down. He had his wallet and cash. It was summer in Southern California. He would go enjoy the concert, see if he could find his father, and come home. Easy. He flipped the coin.

 

“Destination?” The female voice said once Greg was standing in the sphere. Greg grinned, his handiwork showing through.

“The 11th annual K-rock Weenie Roast. 15 June, 2002. Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Southern California.”

“This event begins at 3:00 Pacific Standard Time. Would you like an insertion suggestion?”

“Sure, but I should probably get there a couple hours early to get tickets, I need some dinner… or lunch, I guess it will be.”

“I can place you in an orange grove one quarter of a mile east of the amphitheater at one P.M., Irvine, California, United States, North America. Is this acceptable?”

“It is!”

“You will be placed in five seconds.”

 

CHAPTER 5

 

 

 

“There is only the past and present; there is no future,” Professor Osorio said. “You have heard this before. The notion of the future is an abstract principal, relative to where one sits in the arrow of time. It is one of the guiding principals of temporal mechanics we have developed here at the University in our study of time.” He glanced around the room, then continued. “Why am I repeating this to you? You have all been successful in your studies.

“You have been chosen over your peers. Each of you has had three intense years of training on the subject of time! You know this lesson!” He said emphatically. The short, round man with thinning hair and prominent brown beard paused for effect. “I am repeating the first of our basic tenets because, to you, it is just words; knowledge gained, not practiced. You must internalize these principles in order to be successful Interns, Supervisors, and one day even Managers. Who is to know, one of you one day may take over for the Mistress herself.”

In the small audience sat a young woman, for whom this brief didactic message on the first day of her transition from Student to Intern, had great meaning.

Andrea Woodbridge kept her eyes on the aging part-time Manager who also served as an instructor at the University. As he spoke, she recorded all his words for later study and had positioned herself strategically in the audience. She planned to disengage from the group and speak one-on-one with the Professor once he had completed his talk.

Andrea stood out in the crowd. She wasn’t noticeably beautiful. But from a profile view, one would notice how her forehead and lower face were in line with each other. Her dark skin glowed, but her face was in a sea of mixed-race. Her diluted bloodlines stood out. Her spongy hair had no additional coloring and was held in two ponytails. She lacked any tattoos or piercings, and appeared smart in her new, white Interns’ uniform.

The lecture ended and Andrea made her move on the olive skinned Professor.

“Professor Osorio? Could I have a moment?”

“Ms. Woodbridge, of course. Congratulations on being selected for internship,” the Professor replied, but with little enthusiasm.

“Thank you!” Andrea replied. She was new to the Keepers of Time, but spoke to the veteran as though he was her own uncle. “I was wondering,” she said. “If there was any truth to the rumor that we may have some say in our department assignments?”

“Ah. Well, to that I cannot speak. Student profiles are examined by each department head and choices are made by presumptive strengths. So, even if you had a preference…”

“I do have a preference,” she interrupted. “I’d really like to be considered for timeline preservation. That’s where you work when you’re not teaching at the University, isn’t it?”

The aged Professor nearly blushed. “And who told you that?” he snorted.

“Rumors get around. I have always enjoyed your philosophical approach to learning about time. And, paradoxes have always interested me. Timeline preservation is where I’d like to be.”

“Young lady,” the professor smiled, “I admire your drive, but I have never heard any rumor that you could submit preferences for Intern placement. And I have heard all the rumors.”

A guilty smile crept across the girl’s face.

“The fact about timeline preservation, it has become a necessary part of our job as Keepers. While we try to educate, and travel for historical documentation and tourism, mistakes can be made. Repairing paradoxes is almost a janitorial function; a function that a bright girl such as yourself could do better than. Have you considered documentation?”

“To be blunt, Sir,” Andrea responded in a lower tone, “timeline preservation is the field I have chosen to pursue as long as I am asked to continue on with my employment as a Keeper. I thought a personal recommendation from a dignified Manager of the department would go a long way.”

“You are quite sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Professor Osorio said, also lowering his voice. “Fine, I will mention your name, but there are some things you should know. I once was one of the four controlling Managers of the department, but not anymore. I am on my way out. I feel the need for early retirement. If you find yourself assigned to timeline preservation, walk in with open eyes. That office is not the happy smiling face you see on advertisements for the tourism department. Timeline preservation can have a grey hue to it. Things are not as clear-cut as one would imagine them to be. It is the dark side to our business that we do not show to the public. You may learn things that ruin the job for you, or you may thrive on it. Just be warned what you are stepping a foot into.”

Andrea beamed, knowing she had convinced the old man. In her opinion, no one gave warnings about the difficulty of a job unless it was very rewarding. She was not of the faint of heart, being more inclined to solve problems, as opposed to babysitting a bunch of rich vacationers.

The tone and volume of the conversation returned to normal.

“I’m sad to see you go!” Andrea said. “I was hoping I might get to work along side of you, get to learn from someone with both academic and practical experience.”

“Well, I feel my time has come and gone.” Osorio replied with a sad spark in his eyes. “The thought of living out a carefree life in a simpler time has got my imagination by the hooks. I have always looked forward to the day when I could turn away from the projections and make tangible clay sculptures with my soft hands. Real tangible work…”

“A simpler time?” Andrea asked. “Are you going to retire somewhere in the past?”

“I am,” Osorio said, a twinkle shined in his eyes at the thought. “London, Great Britain, May of 1904. It is an exciting time for science, and yet still has many modern conveniences. So please young lady, don’t weep over me. There are plenty of other role models. You may be surprised to know, the Mistress keeps a special place in her heart for the department. You may perhaps stand beside the woman who invented time travel.”

 

 

CHAPTER 6

 

 

 

Greg emerged in the grove of orange trees, just as he requested. The sun was high overhead and the air was filled with a muggy-sweet stench from the dark green trees.

He walked out of the orchard and climbed with care over a barbed wire fence running along the side of the road. Before him was a huge parking lot for busses that was speckled with people. Greg crossed the concrete field toward the entrance of the amphitheater and the ticket shack. He was almost to a sprint by the time he reached the window.

His heart thumped as he discovered that the show was not sold out. A single general admission ticket was $33.50. He bought a ticket and paid with two twenties from his wallet. Too dazed by his surroundings, Greg failed to notice his mistake. He additionally didn’t notice the security camera pointed at the customer line, capturing the exchange.

 

The woman inside the booth never noticed the bills that the boy had handed her. When she added another twenty to the cash drawer, the top bill caught her eye. It looked totally out of place. Leana Carter took them slowly from the drawer and examined them side by side. Compared to the one she still held in her hand, they seemed like new version of the denomination, but she had never seen the design before.

Her eyes widened on the date.

They both were marked 2004. “How can this be…” she muttered, “when it’s summer 2002.” She had seen a poster showing off the new design for the twenty-dollar bills, but they were still being finalized at the mint. In fact, the new bills were not set to be released until October 2003.

The plates used for printing had not yet even been engraved…

At the end of the day, she pointed them out to her manager, who in turn showed them to the bank when he went to deposit the cash.

The bank called a hotline and a pair of men in black suits arrived.

The Secret Service agents took possession of the bills, and they began an investigation. The tapes from the ticket shack were analyzed and photos of Greg were dispersed. But in 2002, Greg was still a toddler and would take over a decade for him to grow into his face. The cold case was packed away, but five years later, a young man was recognized after applying for a passport. Still in the service, the old investigators were brought back in on the case of the future bills. Their suspect was picked up at the address listed on the passport application, an expensive town house in Chicago. Both the agents were perplexed as to why the boy, looking almost the same as in the security footage from five years before, was living alone in the expensively furnished abode.

The agents coaxed a confession after a week of interrogation. All of it, including the exact spot that Greg had been placed in the field, was recorded in the case files. The government kept all this information to itself. The secret existence of time travel spilled by a kid who had stumbled upon some stolen time coins. But this knowledge had ramifications reverberating up through the time line. Programs were created, committees were formed, and policies were put into place. The tiny chip spread to a wide crack. The people at the top would not allow this to occur. Time would not be altered. Paradoxes would not be committed. The timeline would remain un-split.

Everything that would happen to Greg Thompson after the concert, an unauthorized, uneducated, and unsupervised time tourist, was completely unimportant.

The bills in his pocket lead to Greg’s undoing and capture. The Keepers would never allow the kind of split in the timeline that he’d inelegantly created. An experienced time traveler, or one that was accompanied by a Supervisor, would have never made such a mistake. And so, the wave caused by his actions was sent traveling up the arrow of time and was quelled before it had a chance to begin.

 

Greg emerged in the grove of orange trees, just as he requested. The sun was high overhead and the air filled with a muggy-sweet stench from the dark green trees.

The coin landed in his hand and he slipped it in his front pocket. He took one step forward as a looming figure lunged out from behind him.

Greg was wrapped in the iron arms of an Enforcer. He craned his neck to look back at his attacker and was shocked to see green reptile skin and yellow eyes. The Enforcer’s head was shaped like that of a velociraptor, but with a less elongated skull. The creature looked down at its quarry with intense, burning eyes.

Greg was about to scream when the reptile-man suddenly froze and his eyes went wide. The previous uncompromising grip turned to jelly and the large creature fell away.

Greg realized he had just been slightly shocked himself. He turned around to face his downed assailant, and found a small, older man standing in a green cloak next to the fallen lizard. Greg watched the man bend down and hit the reptile a second time with a stun gun as he casually looked at a pocket watch.

“The coin,” the older man said. He had grey hair and intense dark green eyes. He put his hand on Greg’s shoulder and looked around the orchard. “Use the coin, quick! Now!”

Greg followed the command, fumbling for the coin. To him, the simple act of pulling the oversized coin out of his pocket and flipping it felt like brain surgery. He tried not to look at the unconscious monstrosity at his feet.

The man in the green cloak looked intently at his pocket watch as Greg tossed the metal bit.

For the briefest millisecond, a group of four figures appeared before Greg and the unnamed man, just as the device was triggered.

The pair was pulled outside time.

 

 

CHAPTER 7

 

 

 

“Do you have steel toed boots?”

“Destination?” the coin said in the background.

Greg shaking all over, his mind reeling at what just happened. For a second time that day, the use of the time coin had shocked his mind. He turned to the newcomer and took a step back. The old man was about his same height, and was wearing a dark green cloak like something out of a Lord of The Rings movie. Beneath was a three-piece grey tweed suit. The man noticed Greg’s stare and looked down at his over garment.

“It’s good camouflage, especially for someone in one of those fruit trees waiting for you,” he said. The man spoke English well enough, but a very slight accent could be heard. He unclipped the clasp at his throat and removed the dark green article of clothing. He had a smart leather satchel under one arm and began to fold up the cloak.

“What just happened back there?” Greg said.

“Well, since we are standing here talking, I guess it means we pulled off the second greatest crime in history.”

Greg stood still, not understanding. “What was that thing? Why did it grab me?”

“That was what they call an Enforcer. It grabbed you because you were about to do something you shouldn’t have, and it was sent to stop you,” the man answered, placing the cloak in his bag.

“Who are you? How did you know that I’d be there? I don’t understand what’s going on. What crime are we committing?”

“You are going to have questions pouring out of your ears, I know,” The man said, taking the reigns from him. Greg felt as if he had a slight case of psychological shock. “Things will come together as we go along, you will see. Right now, the thing to remember is that I am here to help you; to save you from a pitiful existence. My name is Vega.”

“Vega…” Greg repeated back. “I’m Greg.”

“Hello Greg. Now, I already know my plan was a success, but it’s a long way from done. So, let us get on with it. Do you own steel toed boots?”

Greg glanced at his feet. “No. Why? What does this have to do with saving me? Who sent that thing after me?”

“How about money? The Snow King had lots of money hidden away with that coin, right?” Vega said.

“Snow King?”

“Oh, that is just a nick name the Keepers have for him. He is considered the greatest thief in all of history. He is the only other person to do what I am doing now. At least that I know about…

“This coin,” Vega said pointing upward, “was stolen by him without being caught. No small achievement, mind you. The Keepers thought he might have been from the snowy north, and hence his moniker.”

“Yeah, I have a pack full in my closet,” Greg whispered, picturing the stuffed rucksack.

“Good, let’s go and grab some so we can buy you a pair like mine,” he said pointing to his own shoes.

Greg’s head was swimming, his numb feeling not yet gone.

Was this really happening? Was the man he saw lose his life on the side of the road really this Snow King[_?_]

Greg gazed at Vega and saw the aged man’s confidence. It’s strange, Greg’s mind derailed from the present situation, how this guy looks so youthful, despite the obvious signs of aging. Greg noticed half an ear was gone on the old mans left side…

“Tell the coin where a safe place to insert us would be,” Vega coaxed.

“Oh,” Greg said and pulled the Snow King’s journal from his back pocket. He flipped to the back. “July 28th, 2015. 4:18 PM. 1418 Finnie Street, Grass Valley, California,” Greg recited, and then mockingly added “United States, North America.” He was starting to feel better.

The coin spoke back. “And the exact placement?”

“Put us in the backyard. We have a high fence…”

“Placing you in five seconds.”

“Let me see that,” Vega said, taking the book from Greg’s hands after he caught the coin. Greg relinquished it easily and started for the back door. Vega followed.

“So, he kept a notebook…” Vega said flipping pages. “This is very dangerous. If the Mistress got her hands on this… And you wrote your spot in the back! That is a poor idea. You must remember each time, young man. It may be hard, but it is the most important thing to remember. If someone got a hold of something like this, it could ruin everything.”

“But no one has, so I must be doing okay,” Greg said, following the same logic Vega had a moment before. He led the way into his bedroom and opened up the rucksack. He stopped for a second and threw a bundle of Canadian bills to his new partner. Something clicked in Greg’s mind.

“You said you rescued me,” Greg said to Vega, “from a poor existence, or something. Is that what happened to my brother? He used a coin and never came back.”

Vega was peaking into the burlap covered painting and smiling. “Beautiful. You will not want to lose that. Hide the journal anyway, just to be safe. Go ahead, use the coin, I’m ready.” He put his hand on Greg’s shoulder.

Greg complied and the female voice gave her greeting.

 

“You are dodging my question,” the younger of the pair said. “Who are you? Where did you come from?”

“North America, Canada, Toronto, at least five blocks from a boot store. Keep the current time,” Vega instructed the device.

“Insertion point will be in an alley 3 blocks northwest from the requested establishment. You will be placed in five seconds.”

 

The pair appeared and began to walk. Vega looked up at the sun to determine which way was southeast. The pair continued to converse as if they had not just jumped over two thousand miles in the blink of an eye.

“I want an answer,” Greg demanded.

“I’m just a traveler searching for a time coin of my own,” Vega said. “If I happen to do a few good deeds along the way, that would be a windfall. And I’m giving you a huge bonus. I’m saving you from something akin to life in prison.”

“So that’s what happened to my brother!? He committed a time crime, or something, and the time police arrested him?”

Vega laughed. “It’s not as official as all that. They are not police. More like a corporation or university that has a monopoly on time travel. So crime is a very subjective way of saying that he went against them.”

“And what do you want a coin for? Can’t you just use mine?” Greg asked as they walked down the windy street.

“Oh, the debt must be paid. They must recover that stolen coin you have in your pocket. Once this mess is cleaned up, and they have no idea it was a patchwork job, I will be in the clear. Then, I will go on with my business,” Vega explained. “That book you had, it has the location of the third coin in it?”

“There were three X’s on the map,” Greg said. “I would assume that there might be a third coin since there were coins in the other two treasure stashes.”

“Well, three were stolen and two were recovered.” Vega said. “Ah, here we are,” he said locating the shop.

“How do you know all this?”

“I had some first hand information from the present.”

Before Greg could continue his line of questioning, they were in the stillness of the boot shop. The Asian man behind the counter greeted them as they came in.

“We need some steel toed boots.” Vega announced. The shop owner led the way to the back of the store, then into the racks, where example footwear sat displayed atop stacks of boxes containing various sizes.

Greg whispered to Vega, who marched on with a pleasant smile on his face, “What’s with the boots?”

“We are going to have to bring along some heavy equipment to pull this off,” Vega said in a full voice and smiled to the shop assistant. “Well, go ahead. Try some on!”

 

CHAPTER 8

 

 

 

“So you are our new Intern,” the timeline Manger said. She sat in front of a smooth, white block, her gaze fixed in the air. The older woman was dressed in a green jumpsuit, her brown hair pulled tightly back and fastened in a bun at the back of her head. She made a few movements with her hands, interacting with the computer terminal that only she could see.

“First lesson,” she said, still not looking at Andrea, “Learn how everything works. We prefer the Socratic approach to learning here in the timeline preservation department. I will not be leading you by the hand. This is your first task. It may take you several shifts, so don’t think you need to learn it all today. Once that is complete, come back to me and we can move on. Other than that, stay out of the way and learn all you can. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Andrea answered, bowing slightly.

Andrea glanced around waiting for someone to show her the ropes. But when no one seemed to be interested in her, she left the Manager and walked around the edge of the department. The large room was similar to classrooms she had frequented in the University, and other important buildings she had visited. Walls in this building, however, were different than the traditional sort; smooth, white barriers curved into a narrow countertop, three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. Glass completed the high vaulted room with faint scenic projections beyond the transparency.

There were three terminals situated in the center of the room. The Manager occupied one in silence. Andrea had been told to stay out of the way, which confused her. How was she supposed to learn?

She ran her gaze over the room again, and wondered where two other people that had been in the department center went.

Andrea saw no obvious start to her task, so she decided to approach one of the consoles.

She sank slowly into the seat, taking another quick scan of the room. She and the Manager were now the only ones present. With little direction to go on, Andrea made up her mind to jump headlong into what she had been told: learn everything. She placed her hand on the smooth top of the pillar and the console activated.

Bright, translucent lights leapt to life from the horizontal surface. Andrea Woodbridge watched, amazed. Had a casual observer entered the room, they would have seen two women sitting at pillar like blocks, interacting with thin air. The new Intern had used similar terminals in her schooling, now understanding that they were made to prepare her for the use of advanced versions, such as the one she had just activated.

She navigated the system, having been verified by the network guardian as a Student turned Intern, authorized to work in the timeline preservation department. The console used micro changes in facial expression and peripheral vision tracking to respond to her movement through the system. The Non-Sentient Intelligence was designed to create a custom atmosphere that tailored its responses to the new user, developing a seamless bond over extended interface time.

Andrea loved this part; setting up new interface parameters with a Non-Sentient Intelligence. While it was designed to custom conform to the user’s personality, and one would expect each new setup to be similar, there were tips and philosophies a person could use to change their responses in order to bring about a novel interface. The trick was to stay consistent and keep your strategies in mind…

Not long in, after browsing the contents of the Keepers closed system, Andrea was happy with the outcome of her manipulations. The layout was like a garden, full of flowers and fruit trees. As if by thought, she lowered herself down from an overhead view and drifted towards the center of the garden. Along the way, she ran her fingers over a piece of fruit from the branch of a small fruit tree. A much larger tree loomed before her. Andrea made her way in its direction. She now could see that it was the centerpiece of the program, and it dominated her attention. A pale ghost floated among the orange trees branches. The ghost had a look of familiarity to her, and Andrea understood what the Manager was doing on her terminal. Observing the flow of time.

For the seasoned Manager, Andrea could only guess what she saw when she looked into the past. Perhaps it was a waterfall or the boards of a fence. But for the new Intern, it was a lush orange tree, full of fruit and leaves, branches and blossoms. Each tiny wrinkle on the skin of the fruit, or vein on the underside of a leaf, was a complex piece of the past. This was the way the timeline preservationists kept an eye on the history they had dominion over. Insignificant changes might occur as a discoloration, a fleck too small to worry over. A single blemish would not rot the beautiful tree. But should a significant change occur, starting small but spreading until a leaf or even branch fell, the managers would study the cause of the change and set the tree back to right.

Andrea thought it all beautiful. Should their tampering from the present cause a paradox or timeline split, the Keepers of this small department were there to maintain the beauty of the timeline. Nothing could be worse than a disorderly universe thrown into chaos by the actions of men who had mastered time but not the wisdom to wield such power. This was the noblest job she could imagine, and so she spent the rest of her shift, in her own clumsy way, assisting the manager in observation of the timeline for signs of change that would echo forward to their place, watching from the present.

 

 

CHAPTER 9

 

 

 

“Destination?”

“Did you do that? Change the way the coin greets you?” Vega asked Greg, now an inch taller in his heavy-duty boots.

“Oh, yeah. The whole speech every time I used the coin was annoying,” Greg answered. He stomped his feet to help break in the new footwear.

“Where else did you go before the orchard in 2002?” Vega said, concerned shadowed his voice. “It may be important. I had imagined you got caught the first time you made a jump. Where else have you gone?”

“Well, I didn’t get caught my first time out,” Greg shot back. “It was my second, and I didn’t make any mistakes! I didn’t even have a chance. Maybe my future self did, but not me.”

"We are where we are. The rest is irrelevant. I know it can be confusing; how this all works- time travel and causality. It is especially hard to wrap your head around if you don't know the rules that govern time in this universe. Someone once told me that time travel is like a fog: it is easy to get lost if you are not sure of your way," Vega said. He drew his cloak back out from his bag and swung it around his shoulders. "Now, where else have you gone?"

“Back to the day I found the first coin. My brother took the coin as payment for the advice on what to do with the treasure. Once I figured out what that coin actually was, I went to see why he disappeared. I guess he did something similar to what I was about to do. Peter made a mistake and got himself captured…”

“That’s it?” Vega asked.

“Well, one other time. I used the coin to take me from the street to the roof of a building. I needed a better spot to watch from,” Greg answered.

“Interesting technique.”

“Have you ever used one of these coins?” Greg said, confused. He wondered how could Vega have so much knowledge of time travel, but be surprised by something as simple as a short jump?

“I have never had a device of my own, but I have traveled with one. You will have to reset the scripted greetings for when it is recaptured. They must not think you have made extensive use of the device prior to your detention.”

“Wait a second!” Greg said. “You are going to let them take me?”

“No, no. Calm down. I have considered that, but no. It is too risky. You might spill details that could compromise my further plans. We have to set this up just right. It will take an elaborate ruse to be successful. And being successful in this case seems to entail your freedom. Like I said, my good deed.”

“Well, what about my brother? Is there a way to get him back?” Greg demanded.

“That is not in my plan. You are fortunate to have gotten free of that Enforcer at all. But again, the fact that we are free means that we are insured success,” Vega said.

Greg could see past the stern face of his companion. There was more going on under the surface. He decided to push.

“No,” Greg said back. He rarely spoke this way to adults, but he was emboldened by the thought of his brother serving a life sentence at the expense of him having a wealth of treasure. He wanted the chance to save Peter more than any gems or even his beloved truck. “I don’t care what you say. I will save my brother if I can. I will make it my priority.”

Vega chuckled. “You shouldn’t put all your cards on the table like that. But you will learn. Fine, I accept your position, but I make no promises. Our first priority is to ensure that the Enforcer returns to the present with you and the lost time coin. After that is taken care of and we are in the clear, we can address your demands.

“So! Next step is to rescue a tool from decommission.” Vega looked up at the time coin and spoke, “Take us to Twelve Noon, November the first, 2042, one mile west of the Grace Lake ballistic launch facility, near Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, Canada, North America.”

“Placing you in five seconds.”

They appeared in a grassy meadow with a lake far off in the distance. A cold breeze swept over them despite the clear day. Greg began to shiver and Vega turned to the right and began to walk.

“November?” Greg said. “In Canada? What are we doing here?”

“There is a decommissioned silo over there,” Vega motioned. “In six years, they will destroy nearly a gross of advanced combat robots. We are going to take one.”

“Then why are we here now, and not in six more years?”

“You just love to ask questions,” Vega said. “I have deduced a few principals of travel which I know will aid us against capture. The central idea is to always make jumps forward so that we do not cross back over our previous path. Doing that may cause complications. Now, I am unsure of the exact date of the decommission, so we will have to figure it out carefully.”

They walked on through the light dusting of snow on the grassy plain.

“Unfortunately, the most I know is the year and season that the robots were melted down to slag. You have to understand that this event was not made public knowledge, other than the fact that the robots were destroyed.” Vega continued, walking ahead of the younger man. “So we will go in while it is, for the most part, abandoned. We then jump forward slowly and find the exact time.”

“Huh… I guess I understand…”

Vega stopped and turned around to Greg. “You may want to take these free lessons to heart. If you truly desire to spring your brother from the present, this experience would be remarkably important to draw from. Don’t count on someone else always being there to figure it out for you.”

Greg saw the seriousness in the small man’s eyes, and nodded genuinely. Vega turned and continued on, this time with nothing more to say. Greg stocked after him, keeping to himself.

Is this all crazy? Greg wondered. Had he really just gone with this stranger and jumped into the future? He should be thirty-three by now, not sixteen years old stomping through Canada about to break into some government facility. Was he capable of doing this? Should he even trust this stranger? The memory of the oddly human lizard lying on the ground and the weight of its unwelcome embrace floated to mind. This has to all be a dream…

But the cold wind on his upper arms assured him it was not. Moving helped somewhat, but he was still cold. Greg was hit with a wave of fear and apprehension the moment he saw the tall razor-wire fence that marked the boundary to the facility. If he couldn’t make himself go through with this, how was he going to be able to save his brother?

“I’ll just wait here, and you can go in without me to get the robot,” Greg said as they reached the fence.

Vega wrinkled his brow and touched the doubtful boy’s shoulder. “Flip the coin,” he said. “Let’s try your trick.”

“But…”

“Flip it,” Vega commanded.

“Destination?”

“Same time. West twenty feet.”

“Placing you…”

On the other side of the fence, Vega took his hand away, continuing to give Greg a skeptical look.

“Tricky, small jumps. I like it.”

He walked on, and Greg followed, not wanting to be left behind.

Greg scanned the large buildings in the distance. The miniature forest they would have to cross left him feeling very nervous. The pair followed a path along side an irrigation creek that was very obviously broken through the landscape by heavy machinery. The trees were not thick, but the undisturbed wild land felt like a king’s hunting ground and they were trespassers to be shot on sight. The woods were silent except for the roar of the creek as they marched in the direction of the defense facility.

Vega sensed the boy’s fear as they crossed an I-beam bridge, “Don’t fret. We will disable the security cameras an hour ago, after we find the information we need inside. The guard force will probably not notice it until later today. We have nothing to worry over.”

Greg desperately wanted to stop, walk off the path and sit among the weeds, back against a tree, and just breathe. Every step felt like a mile further beyond the point of no return. A small black cricket jumped across his path and Greg consciously avoided stepping on the little bug. What a brave little creature, he thought. It hopped across the cold rocky ground in search of a new place it had probably never been before.

Greg let out a little sigh, walking on. He was that cricket. He was venturing outside all known realms, following a complete stranger, and hoping not to be stepped on by the all-seeing eye of the Keepers of Time. His brother may not have faired so well, but he seemed to be doing okay. He gave his head a little shake and felt much better. There was something about the Vega’s walk that settled his feelings of displacement. More than anything, Greg was curious about his rescuer. He couldn’t lose much sticking around to see what may come from this plan. And, Vega had made one good point. Peter was still missing and this experience could be the key to saving him.

The pair broke from the tree line and walked across crab grass to an off white building. A few hundred meters away, surrounded by grey gravel, were concrete levees. Greg’s first glimpse of the underground silo was short lived. Vega approached a steel exterior door leading into the facility and turned the knob. It was open.

“Looks we just created a tiny paradox,” Vega said as he and Greg stepped in the dark corridor. Vega locked the door behind himself as Greg kept his hands stuffed in his pockets. His hand was wrapped tight around the time coin.

“Aren’t you worried about fingerprints?” Greg asked, not wanting to touch anything.

“Not at all. That’s why we keep jumping forward rather than back: we are always ahead of background checks. Plus, I doubt this facility would have that kind of priority for trespassers,” Vega said as he strolled down the lackluster halls. “Ahh, a fire escape map!”

Vega studied the floor plan and thumped his middle finger down on a second story office. “That has got to be it, the site director’s office. A corner spot, a private bathroom and it’s big. This is where the head guy will come when they repurpose this place. I can just feel it!”

Greg shrugged, but followed Vega as his cloak streamed behind him. They made their way upstairs and found the office. This door was also not locked.

“I don’t get it,” Greg whispered as Vega studied the room. “So, we go forward in time to find out the date they melt down the robot we want to steal, and then come back an hour ago and leave these doors unlocked, right? That is the paradox we created. If we can do that, why don’t we just leave ourselves a note on the outside door, telling ourselves the time we are looking for?”

“I can’t answer that. My idea is to get to the bottom of the silo where the robots are, but we need to do it from the past. It will be much more difficult if it’s guarded and primed for ignition.”

Vega paused, considering Greg’s question. “Why not then, just do it all? Get everything we need to trick the Keepers and leave it for ourselves in the past? I’ll tell you why! Because, someone has to do the initial work of the paradox. Maybe that’s us; the first leg of the cycle. Doomed to keep repeating our actions.

“I am no master of the temporal sciences,” Vega continued thinking aloud. “People better than I have made those thoughts their life work. This is the best way I know to go about this. Now keep in mind, I may not be the smartest individual, but I will make maximum use of what I have. If that means doing things slightly harder, rather than smarter, so be it. I’ve already made this plan much more complex than it needed to be. I’ll keep this as simple and concrete as I can.”

Greg came up empty with counter arguments. He was forced to agree, feeling he was in over his head as well. He changed the subject, in an attempt to bring things back to their present predicament. “So do we stay in the office? Or should we find a closet?”

“How about the private bathroom?” Vega pointed. “I doubt anyone will be in there at midnight as we jump randomly up the next six years.”

Greg nodded and they both fit inside the half bathroom reserved for the top facility commander. There was a gust of wind through a small window that let in the cold, fall air. The breeze was abruptly cut off as Greg flipped the coin, sending himself and Vega five years and twelve hours into the future.

It was dark when the pair popped into the bathroom. Greg opened his eyes wide to adjust to the darkness of the room. The only illumination was a faint streetlight-type glow distorted by the bathroom glass.

Greg felt like he should crawl on his knees to sneak back into the office, but Vega was out the door before he could effect any action. Staying in place, Greg decided to wait until he got a signal to join…

“No real change,” Vega said in full volume, startling Greg, still hiding in the shadows. “Let’s try three months further up the line.”

The bathroom had not changed from the last moment they stood in the dark room. This time Greg ventured out with Vega, who strode into the office, just as brash as before. “Ahh, look at this,” Vega said, the lights coming on.

Greg instinctively launched himself toward the floor and looked around in panic. Vega stood at the light switch. He shook his head at Greg, then walked over to the desk.

“The office is inhabited this time! And take a look at this. Just like most military men, despite the technology of their time, he has a desk pad calendar! It is so much easier to jot down items rather than input it all on your computer. And that’s a good thing for me; I’m no good getting into locked computers. Another reason we need that robot…”

Greg craned over the side of the desk to read the annotations on the large pad. “I don’t see anything this month. Just deliveries, meetings… I don’t know what half these acronyms mean.”

“So we try the next month!” Vega said, arching his eyebrows. He shut off the office light, and the time travelers jumped again.

It did not take long to find the right time period, but they had to make several jumps forward spanning over five months to get it right.

Greg glanced around and knew a few months had elapsed during the few seconds it took them to return, a lamp had been added to the desk.

Their next jump they discovered an officer asleep on the couch.

They backed away slowly, and went further in time. This time they appeared in the bathroom at two-A.M., and the office was free to be explored by its monthly ghosts.

They were in the building less than five minutes in total.

 

“There it is. He marked it as D-day. How clever,” Vega said.

This time, Greg jumped in the commander’s leather swivel chair and struck the space bar on the keyboard of his computer. The screen, that was held by an attenuating arm mounted into the granite toped desk, came to life. The default screen popped up, requesting ID insertion to unlock the account. Greg hunted around the desk, pulling open the drawers at his knees. Inside one of the pencil trays was the picture badge of a full-bird colonel in the Canadian Air-Force. Greg Pulled it up and showed it to his cohort, amazed.

“They are not very serious about security around here…”

“I would agree,” Vega said “That, or they think they are very secure and there are never any newcomers to this facility. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had barracks on the grounds. Do you think you can find the exact scheduled time of the melt down?”

Greg popped the ID in the slot on the side of the monitor and found the shortcut for the Colonels schedule on the desktop. Vega was right, the Colonel liked to keep it simple. “There is a full timeline! It says that the thermite charges will be in place in a few weeks and they will melt down the silo at thirteen hundred on the 18th of July. Two days of fire standby’s to make sure everything burns out… fill in and capping… Then there is a bunch of entries for the tear down of different buildings… It looks like they are turning the grounds over to be used as housing.”

“Excellent. We have our date. Now, let’s get to the bottom of that silo and snatch us a robot!”

Greg’s smile was genuine as he pulled the ID and dropped it back in the desk. Greg slid the coin over to Vega and climbed from the comfortable chair.

Vega waited a second for Greg to join him, and in one motion of his hand, he spun the coin like a top on the slick surface of the commander’s desk. The midnight phantoms left the office, leaving the desk lamp on and the computer counting down the minutes to go back into hibernation.

 

“Destination?”

“Eleven Thirty A.M. November first, 2042. Same Location.”

“Placing you in five seconds.”

 

On the way out of the building, the pair stopped by a closet marked CORE on the map. Inside, Vega pulled a Co-Ax cable leading into a computer stack and left. Greg snorted to himself how easy this all was. He remembered to leave the doors unlocked on their way out.

Across the gravel expanse was the poorly painted concrete hole. Huge slabs on tracks connected to cables and wenches covered the outlet. Most of Canada’s missiles had been decommissioned years ago, and the former silos were left unused and forgotten. A concrete stairway led down to the token underground bunker. The hinges for heavy steel doors were left to mark the spot that impenetrable defenses formerly stood. The place was a bone yard, stripped down and forgotten since the bullet had been removed from the gun.

Vega and Greg made their way down the catwalks, through empty, dark concrete rooms and cobwebbed passageways. The bottom of the silo was grated with heavy steel lacework; a water pool beneath. Off to one side was a door in the wall. Greg opened the door by its simple handle. A large worn orange sticker read in French and English that this closet would not protect against exposure effects from launch. A beat-up mop and bucket were abandoned in the darkness.

“That should be perfect. If we jump forward in the middle of the room, we may be jumping into the middle of a bunch of deactivated war robots about to be melted down,” Vega thought out loud.

“So what is the plan anyway? How are we supposed to bring this robot with us? How big are these things supposed to be?” Greg asked, nervous now that they were ready for the final jump to steal their prize.

“I will give us three minutes. That should be plenty of time to pick one out and get it out of here. At three minutes until detonation, there should be no one left in the bottom of the silo. Are you ready? Just follow my lead.”

Inside the maintenance closet, Greg activated the coin, taking the pair over five years into the future.

 

 

CHAPTER 10

 

 

 

It was her second week in the department when Andrea was called into one of the back rooms. She knew of the two hallways leading out of the timeline observation room, but had been so engulfed in her learning that she had not explored them. A call for assistance from a Supervisor sounded on the internal messaging system. Having no idea what type of assistance she was meant to provide, she walked down one of the back hallways to the chamber she had been directed toward. The oversized door slid up and away, assaulting her with color and humidity.

Inside was a jungle. The ground was covered in hard-packed, wet dirt and decomposing wood chips. The light had a grey-blue quality about it that was very different from the regular yellow brightness of natural sunlight. The plants were large, tall, and dark green. The male Supervisor’s voice spoke out of thin air above Andrea.

“I need you to run straight ahead. There is a rock formation. I am inside.”

Andrea was puzzled, but complied nonetheless. She ran across the constructed environment heading toward the rock, but before she arrived, something stopped her.

There was a creature standing outside the entrance to the gaping mouth of a cave.

It turned and stared at her, seven feet tall and standing on two legs like a human, except it wore no coverings and had a short nub of a tail. The creature glared at her with golden marble eyes and moved one arm in a circle.

It took Andrea a moment to realize it was motioning her forward. Unsure of what to do, she took a slow step forward.

“Intern! I need you now!”

The prompting to move and the presence of the lizard-man were in contradiction with her instincts. After a few moments of standing in place, her perception widened. There were more of the creatures standing about. A sudden jolt from deep inside herself made Andrea move. She ran into the cave, which was lit and had some modern conveniences. She went deeper into the cave, searching for the source of the call, head swinging in every direction, including behind her. She was not being followed, but the sense of it was strong. She went past several alcoves in the fake rock. In one, she saw clothes rack full of suits, like some sort of dressing room. Finally, she came upon the source of the call.

“That took you long enough! What happened?” The man in the Supervisors uniform asked. She had seen this Supervisor once before in passing, but knew his name only because she memorized the work roster for the department as part of her familiarization. He was young and had brown short hair over light brown skin.

Supervisor Max Caisoni was on his knees, wearing a disposable gown and had his hands full. The sight of another of the lizard-men lying on its back, about to give birth was even more startling than seeing the first standing near the mouth of the cave.

“It’s a lizard-woman,” Andrea said, correcting herself.

“Gown up and bring me the E-stim,” he said, turning back to the creature. “Tell me this is not the first time you have seen a Garlon?”

“A what?” Andrea said pulling on the sleeves of the gown. She glanced at the instruments in the case on the wall and started searching for the device. Luckily, every thing was labeled and she found the device the Supervisor asked for. The E-stim appeared to be a pair of screwdriver handles stuck side by side, the terminating ends wrapped in glass.

“Alright, next step…” Caisoni said more to himself than to her. He took the E-stim from Andrea and set it aside without a look.

Andrea knelt and watched with wide eyes as the Supervisor massaged the belly and the Lizard-baby began to push out.

“Pull that basin over here!” the Supervisor snapped.

Andrea couldn’t tell if he was a snappy person or it was just the stress of what was happening. She took a moment to look around and found several other Garlons standing at the entrance of this cavern, sneaking a peak at the action. One of the creatures at the opening mewed like a cat, and it got the Supervisor’s attention.

“It’s fine!” he shouted over his shoulder. “Here it comes!”

The baby pushed out, with a flood of black fluids, into Caisoni’s waiting arms. He set the new creature down on the straw-covered ground and snatched up the E-stim. Pressing it to the neonate’s thorax, the sound of a cameras flash shocked the little lizard. The beast went limp and the Caisoni poured water over its face from the basin.

“What are you doing to it?” Andrea asked, but the Supervisor ignored her.

After the quick rinse, he drew a metal scalpel from a pocket under his gown. Before Andrea could protest, he slit along the newborn’s mouth line, cutting through a thin membrane that appeared to have grown over the mouth. Next, he picked up a circular breathing mask that lay nearby and pressed it over the recently opened mouth. A quick sucking sound and a blast of air shot into the tiny creature, filling it back to life. The baby lizard tensed up and attempted to roll back into a ball.

“You are fine little fella, let me just open your nostrils…” Caisoni spoke as he once again worked with his scalpel. “There, all fixed.”

The mother Garlon had gotten up as soon as the child was out and watched in fascination, squatting over the humans as they worked. Once the infant’s airway was totally open, its chirping cries became stronger and the mother snatched it away. As fast as Andrea had arrived and watched the birth, the mother disappeared from the cavern with her new brood. With the excitement evaporated, the two humans were left in the cave with the otherworldly birth mess.

 

“You have been an Intern for how long? And you haven’t seen a Garlon?”

“Two weeks. Was I supposed to have seen them before?” Andrea replied. They were sitting on a patio in the side of the small rock mountain, drinking bulbs of an unfamiliar juice after cleaning up from the infant’s arrival.

“Most Keepers have heard about them, one time or another. I just figured that you would have been briefed. It is our department that deals with their kind exclusively,” the Supervisor said.

“I still don’t quite understand… what are they, exactly?”

“Garlon are trained and used as Enforcers. They are utilized in place of humans as muscle when we need to go back and stop an event from occurring. We have found the psychological impact of their appearance to be quite effective against select targets,” he said.

“Yeah, plus the fact that humans have continued to shun physical violence over the past hundred years,” Andrea said. “Where do they come from? Were they genetically produced? “

“I don’t know the particulars of their origin, but I have heard tales. One goes that they were a product of the first timeline repair. Another part of it is that the Mistress made a decision to bring them back to the present when the timeline was fixed.”

“So they are a paradox themselves?” The young Intern asked her superior.

“That’s the story. But, even if it is true, they do serve a key role within the organization,” Caisoni said.

“How intelligent are they? Why did you have to help that female give birth?” Andrea asked, troubled by the prospect of the existence of another species, which were a result of a paradox. Working for the department that prevented such violations of logic confused her. The use of these methods felt so contradictory to what she knew of the Keepers.

“Oh, they are smart. Maybe that is why the Mistress couldn’t let them get erased from existence. The males we use as Enforcers have the mental capacity of an average twelve-year-old and the discipline of a 17th century samurai. But every once and awhile, one of them comes out needing their airway opened. It’s a genetic variant that we can’t bread out.” He paused, drew in a breath, then continued. “Did you see how I shocked the little guy? They really don’t do well with electricity. They get a shock and their brain’s reset. It takes about five seconds and doesn’t really hurt them. So giving the newborn a small jolt allowed me a few more moments to slice through the membrane that grew over his mouth, without it fighting me. Because I will tell you for sure, they are strong.”

“Lizards giving live birth…” Andrea marveled.

“Yes. Our Enforcers are pretty incredible. They understand us just fine but have no larynx to make human sounds. The time devices they use are usually pre programmed, but do have a few special commands they can give.”

“You let them use travel devices un-supervised?”

“Like I said,” Caisoni reiterated, standing to go, “They are disciplined and are well taken care of, as you can see. That’s not to say we don’t have transmitters implanted under their scales so that we can track them, should something go wrong. But I’ll tell you; I have never heard of an Enforcer ever causing a single problem in the timeline or making a serious mistake, which is more than I can say for our kind.”

The Supervisor left, leaving Andrea alone to meditate on the existence of a paradoxical, intelligent species that had been right under her nose. Osorio was right; the timeline preservation department did have a grey hue to its morals. Preservation of the arrow of time was undeniably critical, but at what cost? Down, she felt herself drifting deeper. How far down would working in this department take her?

 

 

CHAPTER 11

 

 

 

Red lights greeted the time travelers. The door to the closet had been removed. Greg and Vega spilled out onto the floor of the silo and looked at the army of machines standing in formation.

“…MINUTES UNTIL DESTONATION!! ALL PERSONEL ARE TO REPORT TO SAFE ZONES,” an amplified voice echoed in the chasm.

Greg craned his neck up at the red swirling warning lights eighty feet above his head. A framework of metal beams spanned the interior of the silo, adorned with large square tubs. Cables led out from the charges, then merged into a thick rope that extended up to the surface.

They had arrived with little time to spare, just as Vega had planned. The field of robots took Greg’s eyes away from the unquenchable chemicals that were poised to detonate above their heads.

The war machines were smaller than Greg expected. But he was not fooled by their size; they appeared deadly serious. The robot’s body shape was an imitation of a human form: a head on a neck, over shoulders, with two arms and a torso. Where it differed was the addition of minor arms and tools attached to the midsection. The upper body sat upon a single tracked foot with independent treads, resembling the belly of a snake. Brackets hung bare on the backs of the robots, places where integrated weapon systems had been removed for decommission.

The formation of impersonal faces struck fear into Greg. Each head was an armored unit with a flat face: a black downward pointing pentagon. The dark face offset the tarnished, but brilliant white of the robots housing. He could just imagine these heads all turning at once, locking on to the intruders. Metal hands rising, then close in on him.

TWO MINUTES UNTIL DETONATION!! ALL PERSONEL CLEAR THE EXPOSED AREAS!”

“This one doesn’t look damaged at all!” Vega said, side-hopping down the line.

Using the metal-man like a sign-post, Vega swung around the robot. He perched on the track platform, inspecting the robot. “Look for a hand control unit! Hurry!”

Greg broke from his spot and started searching the other stationary robots for the device Vega needed. On the front corner robot, he found what he was looking for.

Greg pulled the connecting end from the torso and held the joystick unit up in the air. “Found it!”

“Quick! Over here! We need to drive this guy out and onto our feet!”

Greg scampered back down the line, bringing the drive stick with him. He plugged the male end of the cable into a matching port and experimentally ticked the controller. The robot moved diagonally a short distance on its free-moving track base.

Vega nodded. He and Greg followed the robot forward, off the formation line, to the outer edge of the silo.

ONE MINUTE UNTIL DETONATION!! I REPEAT, ONE MINUTE UNTIL DETONATION!”

The pair stood on opposing sides of the equipment that they had come so far to acquire. Vega stood at the front of the tracks, legs shoulder width apart, toes positioned to receive the load.

Greg did the same, now fully realizing the importance of buying the highest quality boots.

Vega nodded to Greg and he moved the stick in the forward position at a slow pace. The robot rolled up on top of their boots until it was off the ground and perched upon their feet.

THIRTY SECONDS UNTIL DETONATIONS!! THIS IS THE FINAL ALERT! BEGIN COUNTDOWN!”

A siren sounded over their heads.

“You ready?” Vega shouted over the noise.

Greg nodded, covering Vega’s hand. With visual confirmation that both men and their loaded equipment would be traveling, Greg flipped the coin. He began to feel the weight of the robot on his feet as the coin hit its zenith and they winked out of the silo…

 

The Canadian war robots stood in formation, like the loyal soldiers they were. The countdown on the surface reached zero. The thermite was ignited and sparks began to rain down on the apparatus below. There would be nothing that survived. The chemical combination produced an exothermic reaction, which achieved 2200 degrees Kelvin. The silo and everything it contained was completely enveloped. No one would confirm the destruction of the robots, or even notice the missing two: one from the front of the formation, and one from the rear.

A week later, the hole was filled and the base was decommissioned.

 

 

CHAPTER 12

 

 

 

“Destination?”

“That’s a good question,” Greg said, peering around the robot at Vega. “Can we put this guy down?”

“It should be alright,” Vega replied. He motioned Greg to drive the robot forward. “Since we don’t have to touch when we exit, the device should dispel everything it has brought along.”

“So how do we switch this thing on?” Greg asked, studying the robot. “Advanced combat unit… N.V. Signature…,” he read.

“Oh, no. We are not turning it on! They were semi-independent, but required orders to follow. Who is to know what kind of programming we might turn on? No, it needs a new brain.”

“And I suppose you know where to go to get one,” Greg said.

“Not exactly, but I do have some ideas,” Vega said, pacing back and forth. “In fact, this was the weakest area of my plan. We will go to South Africa. In the eighties, lots of independent coders and hackers had taken up residence there. I bet we could find someone to do some custom work for us.”

“You wanna get someone from the eighties to reprogram our robot from the future?”

Vega choked back laughter, and said, “No child! The twenty-eighties! This bot will be an antique to them! There were treaties that were signed banning combat units like this. It will take a custom build to bring this guy back to life. First we have to give him a better attitude. But this is the type we will want to use. Never thought I’d turn an enemy into a friend… This robot was built tough as they ever came…”

“So we are going to give this machine a life of its own?” Greg asked, eyeing the robot.

“No, not quite. A.I’s developed in the twenty-seventies are not like the ones at the turn of the century. They don’t have feelings or souls. They are merely complex tools, similar to a vocal interface application like you have on your phones. You don’t consider that a person, do you? Things end up being a lot less dramatic than everyone anticipated.”

“Where did you come from? When did you come from? How do you know all this?” Greg spewed.

“I have bounced through a couple hundred years – things you may see in your lifetime. There was a war and some other interesting events, as well. Not long ago, I happened upon a man who told me a legend, the story of the man who stole those coins. That was what got me on tracking you down. That’s all. Nothing to think too hard over,” Vega answered.

Greg opened his mouth to protest the cryptic answer, when Vega announced a destination.

“April eighth, 2084. Ten in the morning. Queenstown, South Africa. Exact location unimportant, but somewhere secluded near the hospital.”

“Placing you in five seconds.”

 

The three arrived in full morning light. Vega removed his cloak and stuffed it back into his satchel. They stood on a poorly paved, narrow street between two worn brick buildings. The area did not look like it was used for housing. But then again, Greg had never been to South Africa. The air tasted different and he felt his eyes beginning to burn.

“We are going to need to find a garage to rent,” Vega began. “The robot must be kept out of sight while we search for an adequate programmer. The trick will be for the space to also serve as a home base while the programmer does his work.”

Greg began to fall back as Vega spoke. He heard little of what his partner was saying, his own mind working out his next move.

“Is something wrong?” Vega said. He stopped and looked back at the younger man, fully exposed to the daylight.

“We are going to need money, right?” Greg said, searching for a reason to leave.

“One hundred year old Canadian dollars? Those will not be worth much here, I think,” Vega said. “And more importantly, if we try to exchange them, it may raise some eyebrows. The last thing we want is to draw attention to ourselves.”

Greg didn’t know how to counter this logic. His brain was tired but he didn’t feel an urge to sleep. A break from the intense old man seemed like the only thing that would fix what troubled him. He needed a chance to process all the craziness that had happened to him in the last few hours.

“But then again,” Vega broke in, dispelling any the feelings of resistance, “gold is valuable despite when you have it.”

“I can go get a handful of coins from my stash,” Greg replied. “Plus, I could really use a change of clothes.”

“Sounds like a worth while plan,” Vega nodded. “Take a couple hours to change your clothes and get some food. Meet me back here at noon. Remember the date; 9th of April, 2084. Take this watch. It counts the hours as the present flows forward. I need you back here before too much actual time passes. We have some time to play with, but not much.”

“Okay.”

“And remember not to get caught. The Hopper rules…”

“The Hopper rules, yeah, I know,” Greg said. He flipped the coin, and Vega was left alone on an empty street in South Africa with only a war robot on a leash to keep him company.

 

Greg appeared in his room, two minutes after he left the last time. It was still the middle of the day, but he felt exhausted as he flopped back in his bed, kicking off his heavy boots. The smell of his pillow and familiar comfort of his covers seemed to carry him away.

Thoughts danced through his fatigued mind as he drifted closer to sleep. The deeper he sank toward unconsciousness; his thoughts became more and more abstract. The overhead view of himself on a whitewashed roof, watching his brother disappears from a gas station. Himself walking away with a wagon and two friends. The picture of his father on the living room wall. Then it was his father down in the gas station wearing the attendant’s shirt, looking up at Greg and flipping that cursed coin.

Who are you, Vega? Greg asked wordlessly. He was sure to be dreaming now. You know it all, but how are you going to save me from the lizards of the future? I will save Peter. I will…

Peter’s face came into view. He looked so much like their father, whereas Greg took after their mother.

If only I could save him. The possibility ran its course. He could go back to the day their father went to work and didn’t come home. He could call an ambulance, or warn the doctors… But then, the boys would grow up with a father, and their mother might not have to work so hard to afford a rental close to downtown. Peter wouldn’t have had to take a job to help out. Would he have gone riding that day with Chelsea and Zach? Maybe he would never have found the coin and all this wouldn’t have happened. And what would happen to him? Would he cease to exist? It was a dangerous illogicality; the fog that Vega had warned him against walking into.

Should he even trust that old man? It was startling how much Vega knew. But how had he lived through parts of this century and then gone back to 2002 without having his own coin? Greg had a strong intuition in his dream. Vega was lonely. There was no way he really needed Greg along to get his own coin… Vega had brought him along because he needed the company. He must not be used to doing things unaided.

Three quick raps woke Greg from his brief dip into sleep.

“Are you feeling okay?” A woman asked.

It was Maria Thompson standing at the threshold to her son’s room. Greg was spread-eagle on his bed, in the same position he had fallen. The room was bright with daylight, but the quality had changed somewhat. Greg popped his neck and rubbed his dry hands together. He blinked away the clouds from his eyes, smiling up at his mother.

“Yeah, I was just really tired.”

“I just got home from work and it was so quiet. How long have you been napping? Should I let you sleep?

“I probably shouldn’t,” Greg said, coming to his elbows. “What time is it?”

“Just after three,” she said and paused. “I’m proud of you Greg. You remind me so much of your brother.”

Her eyes welled up; she smiled, patting the doorframe. “I left work early since I have to go down to Sacramento to drop off my car. The clutch is slipping again! I will be getting a loaner; so don’t be surprised when a strange car pulls in the drive later. You will have to take care of yourself for dinner,” she added as she turned away from Greg’s room.

“I love you, Mom,” Greg called after her. He swung his legs off the bed and popped his sniff neck to each side. He sniffed at his shirt and pulled it off, heading to the shower. He had slept for only an hour, but the brief rest had totally refreshed his mind.

Greg brought the coin into the bathroom and laid it on the vanity. Soaking his head under the thin stream of water, he felt light and springy. The cathartic dreams unknotted the tangle of worry he had felt since the discovery of the time coin. Standing in front of the mirror, free of the grime from a long day of jumping through time and space, he made up his mind to help Vega, no matter where that choice may lead. Not only did he feel like this was the right thing to do, but it was the most fun he had had all summer.

Getting ready, Greg began planning out the errands he would do before going back to South Africa. He didn’t have much time to spare, but he figured he could grab a haircut and a suit so that he looked professional. As few people questioned someone wearing a suit, as Vega’s own attire had shown. A proper look would draw fewer questions than a sixteen-year-old kid dressed like he was going out for baseball practice.

Finishing up his preparations to leave, Greg spun the coin on his dresser the way Vega had done, and left his room to return to his adventure.

 

Vega strolled down the street in Queenstown, South Africa, 11:50 A.M. He wore a different suit and a black cap covering his grey hair. His attire would have looked completely normal for a middle aged man walking the streets in London in the beginning of the century, but in 2084, he looked like someone who was making a statement by embracing the classic style of a past age.

It was the perfect temperature for a stroll and the old magician entered a green open space, sitting on a bench with his back to the roadway that encircled the park. In the center of the city, things were much more clean-cut. New money from the electronics research industry had kept Queenstown small, but polished like a gem.

Vega watched the midday crowd of park patrons as he waited for his young partner to return. A part of the experienced traveler worried that the boy could get himself into trouble or decide not to reappear. But the other part had also seen the momentary flash that dispelled all his apprehension.

Four figures had appeared the instant Vega and Greg left the Enforcer stunned in the dust.

The pleasant ringing of the bell tower in the center of the park alerted Vega to the local time. As the chime hit its eighth iteration, a young blond man walked out of the shadow cast by the park’s central statue and began to read the large plate beneath. His dress was far different from the boy who had left two hours before. He even seemed a bit taller. Vega, hands in pockets, joined Greg as he admired the statue.

“Have a good trip?” Vega said. It had been a little over two hours since he had seen the boy, but Greg seemed older to him somehow. “How long have you been gone?”

“Not long. How old are you?” Greg said, fencing back with the older man. He handed over the pocket watch for Vega to check.

Vega smiled. “Well, the bot is in a rented garage not far from here. You brought gold?”

“I have a couple small bricks and some coins,” Greg said patting his breast pocket. “We can exchange it for a couple hundred Rand. I looked it up, that’s still what they use here, right? You hungry? I’d like to try some African food.”

“Sounds fine,” Vega laughed. “I got a couple leads on someone to help us out with a brain for our tin man.”

“Well then, let’s not waste any more time.” Greg grinned.

 

 

CHAPTER 13

 

 

 

On Andrea’s next shift, Manager Lacosa Silvan sat at the main console, monitoring the timeline. She stopped Andrea as the Intern entered the department.

“I was told you were introduced to the Garlon habitat by Supervisor Caisoni,” the Manager said.

Andrea had been careful to follow her first assignment to the letter. She had even gone out of her way to memorize all of the names. Of the three controlling Managers of the department, Manager Silvan was the second female. In her previous shifts, Andrea had developed a respect for Silvan, and had studied the way in which the experienced Keeper skillfully monitored the past for changes. This Manager was at the top of her game and would except no excuses.

“Yes, ma’am, I did. He called me in to assist him with a birth complication. It was the first time I had ever encountered their kind.”

“What did you think of the Garlons?” Silvan asked with a fixed stare.

“They were terrifying at first, but I became used to them, ma’am,” Andrea said, unsure of the point of the questioning.

“What do you think of us using them as enforcement?”

“They seem suited for the job,” Andrea replied. She thought for a moment and added, “I don’t think they would make waves in the ancient world and early historical periods. But, if improperly used in modern and early-recent times, a mass sighting would be detrimental to the timeline.”

“Astute analysis,” the Manager said. “I’m glad to see you understand the limits of using them as a tool.”

There was a pause in the conversation as a Supervisor entered the room and took a seat at one of the three central terminals, giving a salutation to the other two in the room. The Manager nodded and turned back to her impromptu examination of the new Intern.

“From this department’s operations, what have you learned from your time observing? Have you noticed any patterns in our work?”

Andrea suddenly realized this was no casual conversation with one of her superiors. Answers formed in her mind, on the fly.

“I think I noticed something… It is in the way we monitor the past.” She paused for a moment to let a theory develop. “A principal, maybe… It seems that the further back you look, the clearer the changes can be seen. A change further back is more apparent as it progresses up the timeline to the present.”

“By your logic then, should a deviation occur in the last month, we would not have as much warning compared to something that happened three thousand years ago? Is that right?”

“I suppose so, Ma’am.”

“This is excellent thinking. This is the reason we try to focus our research and special undertakings further back in the past first, on a schedule, rather than jumping around. This rule is not set in stone, as a list of high priority events have been around since the dawn of free travel,” Silvan said. “I feel you are ready to move on to more sensitive responsibilities. I will give you access to the back hallways. This will be the hall opposite to the access to the Garlon habitat. Spend some time back in the secure unit with Intern Meyer.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Andrea said with an excited smile.

“Former Manager Osorio told my fellow department Managers that you specifically requested to work with us. I have confidence from your first reactions to this work that you will have no problem with potentially strenuous concepts. In this field you are bound to encounter techniques that are interesting, to say the least. But you will realize they are a necessary aspect to securing the timeline.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Andrea repeated, “And, thank you.”

 

 

CHAPTER 14

 

 

 

“There are several large tech companies with research facilities in this city,” Vega explained. “The country gives them a huge tax break to operate here. South Africa truly embraced upcoming technology and they are now the country known around the world for being home to the brightest minds in this field.”

“And so what do you plan to do? Go buy a robot brain from one of these big companies?”

“No, no. The things we need are not commercially available. The stuff used in appliances that are available on the market today would not fit the bill. We need a custom job by someone who is not affiliated with a company. We don’t want someone who will keep records.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” Greg asked.

“There is a club I heard about,” Vega said, nodding his chin down a street.

Greg walked as though in tow, head on a swivel, studying a future he would be too old to appreciate when the time came. Cars were not flying across the pavement. Tire still met pavement, as in his day. The vehicles here had an autopilot that navigated the city streets while the occupants enjoyed the ride. In the sky, small craft, a cross between blimps and helicopters, flew across the city, landing on rooftops. All told, seventy years into the future and little had changed. Greg was slightly disappointed.

“Apparently this club is an open-member establishment and is a favorite spot for the type of intelligence engineers we need,” Vega said.

“I think they may get the idea that I am a bit underage to be in a club,” Greg said.

“Oh, it will be fine. It’s a social club, not a discothèque. And besides, you would be surprised at the ages of some of the geniuses that work in this city,” Vega said. He stopped and consulted a sign. “This is the place.”

Greg had a bad feeling when Vega ducked into the dark, narrow stairwell. The steps led down into a sub-surface level. Following Vega’s lead, they were plunged into the darkness. The walls were white plaster with tan dust clinging to every non-vertical surface. The concrete ground was damp and the ceiling was too low.

The pair passed two random doors inset from the walkway, a single blue light bulb marking their location. This was the type of shady place that Greg’s mother had warned him about; a place where you were just asking to get mugged if ventured through late at night.

Despite the fact that it was still technically noon, Greg felt like he had just used the coin to jump to a whole new time and location. The door at the end of the hall was like the others, except for the red light overhead and a foreign word painted in modest lettering.

Vega pushed open the heavy door and went inside.

Greg shuffled after with apprehension, but crossed the threshold. He found himself on a small platform with stairs that led down to the main floor. There were two dominant colors, crimson and black, the latter being painted all over the walls and floors. Mirrors were everywhere, and where they weren’t, long swooping curtains covered the blank walls. Red lights highlighted crimson curtains. Black leather couches surrounded circular tables with decorative iron fasteners. A full bar faced the door. Lots of dark space haunted the depths of the club.

Greg felt completely outside his comfort zone, but Vega strolled right up to the barman and sat down. They were the only ones in the vacant club.

“For you, Sirs?” The bartender asked in his thick South African twang.

“Lemonchello. Two,” Vega said.

“And what brings the two of you in?” The bartender asked as he went about making their order. He wore a clean white shirt with a Chinese collar, sleeves tailored to three quarters length, and a black satin vest. His hair was slicked back and several days’ worth of stubble grew from his cheeks.

Greg’s head swam, as he took in the unfamiliar environment.

“We are from America, on a business trip,” Vega said, accepting his yellow drink.

Greg inspected his in curiosity. He picked up the glass, attempting to look like he knew what he was doing. He put his nose to the crystal before taking a small sip.

“Business, eh?”

“Beating the bushes, as it were,” Vega said. He took a small swallow and nodded in approval to their server. “Perhaps you could help us. What is your name?”

“I am Mohammed,” the well-dressed barmen said.

He leaned back against the shelves of alcohol, and took out a pen-like device and put it to his lips. He drew in and exhaled smoke, nodding to the older gentlemen’s request. The fragrant cloud dissipated almost instantly.

“We are here on an errand of recruitment, you see.” Vega said. “We have much to do and little time. Our goal is to interview qualified individuals for a lucrative job opening.”

“What sort of individuals?” The barkeep replied.

“Well, this place is famous for engineers, is it not? We are looking for unencumbered professionals that would fit our bill. Someone very skilled. Someone who can build a device and program it. Anyone you know come to mind?”

Mohammed made a noncommittal affirmative gesture, considering the smoking device in his hand.

“We would pay a finders fee of course,” Vega added. He glanced at Greg, who had tried his second sip of the forceful lemon nectar. Greg got the hint and opened his coat, digging through an inside pocket for something small. He fished around and drew out a small coin the size of a dime. Greg clapped it on the bar in front of Vega. It was a tenth ounce of gold, worth around two hundred dollars in Greg’s time.

Mohammed set his smoke stick down and came forward to his customers. He eyed the coin. “I know of three men who may fit your bill. I do not program computers, but the customers talk and you can get a sense of their specialties. I don’t know exactly what each does for work, but they could likely be what you need. “

Vega studied at the man for a moment and slid the small coin over without diverting his gaze. “Pick one, the best one; the one that needs the employment the most. Choose well and you may get a bonus. We are not in town long and have many people to interview. Now tell me: where do we find him.”

“These engineers,” the bartender said, making the coin disappear and spreading his hands in apology, “they work their own hours. No one tells them when to show up to work or when to go home. The come and go at their own whim. As long as they get their work done, no one cares. But the man I am thinking of, he has recently been let go. His separation package has almost been exhausted and he comes in here every night to drink and talk to his ear. He is looking for work. He will be here tonight, at least by ten. That seems to be his habit.”

“Ten, it is then,” Vega said, sliding from his bar chair and tapping Greg on the shoulder. The pair left, one glass empty, the other with two sips gone. They made for the exit, then returned at ten that night.

 

Mohammed was still there, having stayed longer than normal to await his two benefactors. He had high hopes the Americans would return and reward him for a job well done. When Binno Terrace came in the club that night, the free drink offered up to him was a surprise. Mohammed usually never gave anything for free, but tonight he was smiling and extra hospitable.

For Vega and Greg, no time had passed as they walked back up to the bar, and Mohammed pouring their drinks. Greg waved his off. “That’s him, over there. He is called Binno,” their host informed.

Vega nodded in appreciation and scooped up his drink. He took the lead past Greg and crossed through the sparsely occupied club to where their hopeful engineer sat alone. “May we sit?” Vega said over the soft music.

Binno’s eyes came back into focus after being zoned out, engulfed in his own personal trance, melded with technology. He gazed at the two, then agreed, speaking to the device in his ear while they took up seats.

“Our friend at the bar said we should have a chat with you,” Vega opened.

Mohammed nodded from across the room, his endorsement calming the apprehensive out of work intelligence engineer

“Okay…” Binno said. “Who are you, then?” He asked, his Italian accent that had been diluted with the local jaw. Binno Terrace was tall and thin, black close cut curls and patchy facial hair giving away his young age.

“I am Professor Vance and this is Tom Gregory, one of my grad students.”

“Binno Terrace.”

Binno gave Greg a closer look after hearing of his position but continued to listen to Vega’s sales pitch. The young man was extremely nervous, sitting on the edge of his seat, and seemed to be ready to bolt at any time.

“It’s very nice to meet you Mr. Terrace,” Vega said, tipping his drink to the man across the table. “I was told you are an experienced intelligence engineer, is that right?”

“Sure. Are you from Alonstrat? Is this about my severance package?”

“We have come on a business trip, looking to interview several candidates to fill a position with our university,” Vega said. “We are not affiliated with your former employer.”

“Which university?” Binno asked.

“University of Jefferson at Yreka, in America,” Vega said. “I am Chairman of the sciences division.”

“And you come to a place like this to recruit people out of the blue?”

“Oh, of course not. We have several interviews lined up this next week. But I am not a man of such strict methods!” Vega said. “No! In fact, I like getting out of the polished academia circles to walk where the real people are. I do things my own way when I am free of ridged governance. I like to see what non-standard individuals, not just perfect candidates on paper, are capable of. I seek the undiscovered geniuses.”

“Well,” Binno laughed, “I am not quite the professor type!”

“Nonsense! And the opening is an assistant professorship, to be precise. You do research and teach introductory classes; an easy way to spend a few years gaining connections as you plot your next big move. The U.J. is not a top end school in your field, but we want to take a page from South Africa’s book. Our goal is to really develop our Artificial Intelligence program. What do you say? Interested?”

“Well, sure, I suppose…”

“But there is a catch!” Vega interrupted. “I take personal advantage of these trips! We have a little project we are working on that needs its final piece! And it will serve as a test for you!”

Still off guard by the whole encounter, Binno said, “What?”

“We need an operating system for a mechanical.”

“That’s not so hard,” Binno said. He gazed at both of them and added, “Let me guess, it needs to be special…”

“Not miraculously so, just an independent system with some special skill sets that can be incorporated.”

“All tight,” Binno answered. “Let me take a look at the hardware you want it matched with and I can figure out the brain requirements. I can do most of the setup at my apartment with my equipment. How is that?”

“Fine,” Greg jumped in.

“There is one thing, I’m kind of on my last leg here. I could use some funds to float me for a couple days. My severance has almost been exhausted, you see and…”

“Tom, give him pocket money,” Vega ordered.

Greg raised one eyebrow, but dug in his jacket pocket, drawing out a wad of South African Rand. He pulled a half dozen from the thin stack. Vega nodded and he handed them over to the desperate engineer.

Vega leaned over the table and handed Binno a card.

“That is the address of the garage we have our project parked in. If you could come by tomorrow at eight in the morning, that would be ideal. We are in a particular hurry to get your consulting part in this venture done, for we have a lot of work ahead of us this week.”

Binno agreed and the two time travelers stood.

Greg and Vega walked out of the club, never to be seen by Mohammed the bartender again. Once they were into the dark passage, the suited men disappeared before reaching the street.

 

At five till eight, Greg and Vega emerged from a closet inside their rented garage and walked out onto the main floor. The facility was no more modern than spare work garages in Greg’s time. The floor was polished concrete; the walls were thin sheet metal covering a steel frame. Chain link fencing separated further stalls and work areas that were empty on Saturday. The large roll-up doors were down, but fresh sunlight still found places to spill through cracks onto the floor.

Greg was playing with the flaccid arm and hand of the killer robot when a tentative knock came at the walk-up entrance.

Vega glanced down at his pocket watch and opened the door to their expected guest.

Binno’s eyes went wide when he saw the robot standing in the center of the work bay.

“This is your project? Is this really one of the Signature combat robots?” Binno asked, full of astonishment.

“Yeah,” Greg said, standing back and admiring the metal soldier as well. “Not many left these days.”

“I thought they destroyed all of these after the war,” Binno said. “And, I thought combat robots were made illegal. Is this really one of the Devil’s Companies? Not a reproduction?”

“I said the project was special, didn’t I?” Vega said. “But, as I also said last night, we want an independent system, not to restore original programming.”

“Well, all that data was supposedly destroyed along with the mechanicals, forty years ago,” Binno said, circling the robot like a shark. “A class three matrix could easily hold everything you need to operate him. I can use liquid flash processors to absorb any movement, since this is not going to be a stationary device… What are you going to use this for, exactly? I should have an idea, so that I can program him the way you want.”

“We want an obedient, non-curious personality. We only want a tool, not that new stuff that tries to mimic humanity. The additional programming should be heavy on infiltration, security systems, bio-med devices, touch-less access and stealth. Also, language skills would be beneficial; all languages you can find as well as linguistic innovation. If there are any ruminants of this model’s specific fighting programs, it may be a useful option for activation.”

Binno Terrace squinted at the mention of the very serious particulars. “You guys are a trip! When you first mentioned modifying a mechanical, I assumed it would be something cheery and lighthearted, like as a tour guide or historian. But you want something that is more along the lines of this bots’ original programming. But who am I to question my perspective employers’ wishes? If this can get me a job…”

“I’m sure you have done less ethical things working for Alonstrat…” Vega winked.

Binno nodded.

“I’ll need to take a look at his head. They kept the majority of the directive center up there,” Binno said unlatching the back and peering in. “I will have to remove a lot of the unnecessary components.”

“And take out the remote control units. This will be an independent unit, not to be commanded by remote. Any wireless receivers should be impenetrable by anyone trying to gain access to his controls. I want Tom and myself to be the only ones to be able to give him commands. There will be two others I will want to add to that list, but they are not here.”

“Sure, I can make it so you can designate them at a later date. But there are going to be a few speed bumps to your specifications,” Binno said to Vega. He glanced at Greg, giving him a silent apology.

“Well?”

“The fluid flash brain unit? Fine, I can get my hands on one of those. I bet I even have a couple kicking around in my stuff. But this hardware is old. I’ll have to search the nets for their specifications so that I can run interfaces. That could take some time. The biggest thing will be a bracing framework. Unless I have a mount kit, I’ll have to cobble something together in order to connect the brain inside the head. If I could get my hands on a kit, that would save days of work.

“And then there are the connecters. This hardware is fifty years old. That is custom work to make adapters to hook this old equipment up to the mounted brain. I know that kind of stuff is not accessible around here. I know a guy in South Korea who makes retro hookups, but we would have to wait for it to be shipped.”

“What about De-Mat Transportation?” Vega said.

“De-materialization? I wouldn’t trust that with complex connectors. A mount kit, maybe. But it’s really expensive to use. And I don’t know where the closest commercial receiver is. Alonstrat had a small one, but only for very important uses.”

“Fine, fine. Give a list of what you need to Tom, along with the address of your guy in Korea. We will take care of it. You just get to work on that brain. How long will it take you to get all of it working, if you had everything tomorrow?”

“Twenty hours?”

“Sounds great. This time tomorrow morning, everything on your list will be on that bench there. The code to the door is 3033. We will come back on Tuesday to pick up our bot.”

Binno nodded and pulled out a pad to start compiling the list of supplies he needed. A thought struck him and he turned to Vega, who stood with arms folded on his chest.

“What kind of documents do you want from me for my application as an assistant professor?”

“Whatever you think best, you are an intelligent individual,” Vega said, crossing his arms over his chest. “We will collect them when we check out our finished metal friend.”

 

 

CHAPTER 15

 

 

 

“Devil’s Company?” Greg said, walking from the garage, list in hand.

“Oh, they were vicious,” Vega confirmed.

“And what was that bit about University of Jefferson? I thought Yreka was in Northern California.”

“Not in this year…”

“You know, I’m trying really hard to follow your advice and not ask questions, but I’m going crazy. What are we using this robot for? Are we going to use him to fight the guys from the future?”

“You said you were hungry, right? I’ll tell you what, you go to Korea and acquire the components Terrance requested. We can order breakfast and it will be ready when you return,” Vega said. “I will answer your questions while we eat.”

Greg eyed Vega suspiciously, but agreed. He had trusted Vega this far…

They walked for blocks in silence until they found a restaurant. Glass doors retracted as the two walked in. A hologram popped up from the greeter’s desk and directed them to a table. The restaurant was long and narrow, with bench couches along the walls. Circular tables punctuated the room with chair backs facing the central isle. The place was sanitary and seemed more like a medical clinic than a breakfast joint.

Greg did not sit down, but excused himself and headed for the bathroom; an unseen place from which to run his errands.

 

“Destination?”

“We are going to…” Greg paused to read off his hand written note, “The E-Market, Yong-Song Building, third floor. Seoul, South Korea, Korean Peninsula. Same time. Your discretion at particulars of insertion.”

Greg felt like he was truly getting the hang of using the time coin after confidently rattling off all the information needed for the jump.

He gazed up at the profile of the woman on the coin and knew where he would start asking questions when he returned. It was only a matter of time now.

“Insertion will be in a utility closet, on the southeast corner of the second floor. You will be placed in five seconds…” The voice said indifferently.

Greg closed his eyes lightly. He had come to dislike the sudden transition out the white spherical void of the in-between place. From behind closed lids, Greg Thompson waited for the light quality to change.

The faint sounds of voices and music alerted him that five seconds had past and he was now half way across the world, on another continent. He opened his eyes and searched for the doorknob in the dark. The door slid open, and with the illumination he saw that he had triggered a punch pad that opened the door. Greg gave a start when he realizing he’d been born nearly ninety years in the past. He stepped from the closet. Standing in the busy hallway that resembled the kind of future that he expected.

Holograms were everywhere, in front of every shop. Some stood free on projecting plates, while older models were projected onto windows. All invited the masses of milling shoppers to come into their shops. Others were interactive, offering answers to questions a passerby may have. The colors were brilliant and language totally unfamiliar to Greg, who felt embarrassed that he possessed only his native tongue.

Greg couldn’t help from smiling as he wandered the white tiled floor, detouring into shops and gazed at the various gadgets, appliances, or whatever electronic specialty the shop was prone to carry.

After a few minutes of wandering the second floor, Greg took a non-step winding escalator up to the third floor, where he found the shop that Binno Terrace had indicated. The shop was not like the eye-appealing outlets he had seen on his brief tour. The store matched the four symbols given to him on his list. It did not have a holographic sales gimmick out front or flashy signs in the window. Instead, there were stacks of electronics and various types of component bins stacked high on racks, which lined the plexi-glass walls of the shop.

Greg walked inside and no one was at the front work counter. He stood and waited.

From the back, he could hear rustling and finally a short Korean man came out to greet his customer. “Annyonghaseyo,” the shopkeeper said as he came to the counter.

“Oh, umm, do you speak English?” Greg asked.

“Of course,” the middle-aged man said as he finger-combed his unruly hair. “Everyone speaks English these days. Most my orders are from people in English.”

The man paused like he was considering saying more, but then, only gazed at Greg, waiting.

“Well, um,” Greg muttered, and glanced over the list, turning it so the shopkeeper could read. “I need these things.”

The man studied the list. He thumped a thick finger down on the paper and said promptly, “I don’t have. But you can find on floor five. Most shops will have this.”

Greg nodded, spotting what the man was indicating, wondering what kind of part it was. He raised his eyes to the shop owner when another odd silence incurred. “You have the rest?”

“Oh, yes. I will put all in a box. What you build? A robot from year 2030? Very old connectors!”

“Yep,” Greg said, “restoration project.”

“You have won?”

“Won?”

“Yes. Money. Korean money,” The man said.

“No,” Greg said. “But, I have this.” He held up a gold coin.

“Gold!” The shopkeeper exclaimed, snatching at the shiny metal. “You foreigner always bring gold to my shop for restoration project! But I take.”

“Is that enough?” Greg said, figuring he was being ripped off. The man acted nonchalant about the coin covering the parts, but he was swift to agree to a fair exchange.

“I still need the part you don’t have,” Greg said, feeling himself lapsing into the pidgin the Korean man was using. “Can you give me some Won to go buy it? All I had was that big coin.”

The Korean man eyed him and said, “O.K. I like you. I call a friend upstairs and have him bring down. You such good customer.”

“Thanks,” Greg said. The shopkeeper spoke into his watch. It sounded as if was yelling at whomever on the other end of the call. From the tone, Greg suddenly became nervous; was he calling the authorities?

Or them.

But that’s not the way these things worked, according to what he had seen, and Vega.

As the call came to an end, Greg got the sense that this was just the way that this man communicated other people. The shopkeeper went into the back and Greg waited for his items. No one from the future came to take him away; the only other visitor to the shop was a slender man from upstairs bringing the mentioned component, wrapped in cellophane.

After a short time of waiting, the items on the list were all placed in a box made of balsa, and Greg was on his way back to South Africa, via the maintenance closet on the second floor of the tall building.

“Where did my brother go when he got himself caught?” Greg Thompson asked as he sat down at the table in the restaurant in South Africa.

“They set traps for unauthorized travelers at significant points through history. I saw a time trap in action once. I doubt it was the one your brother was caught in. This one was in England, outside the college where a physics professor taught,” Vega said. “Your brother could have been snared at any number of places that unauthorized travelers are drawn to see. I heard there was a trap set on the Titanic before it sunk. Basically, anywhere there is historical significance, where a layman would want to see and could end up interfering, there could be a trap. That’s why, as unauthorized travelers, you have to be very smart.”

“Unauthorized travelers? Like others who stole coins?”

“I would think. Some must have been tourists who went rogue. Others have been time travelers who found other ways to slip through time without using the Keepers devices. Anyone who wanted to alter the past in some way, the Keepers in the present go back and stop them.”

Food arrived, bowls of porridge with fresh rolls. Vega began to eat, and although Greg would have preferred something more to his cultural understanding of proper breakfast food, he was too hungry to complain. He got a sense that Vega was in a sharing mood, willing to explain things rather than hinting at them mysteriously as he had done before. Greg saw this opportunity and knew it was time to develop his understanding of what he had become involved with. “You keep saying ‘the present’ and referring to everything as the past. Are you saying all this has happened? Why isn’t right now the present?”

“I will tell you as I understand it,” Vega said. He put his spoon down and gave his attention to his answer. “Time began to flow, like a river, and at the head of the flow, that was the present. It has always been the present, and its always moving forward. Every point in time in the past is also still flowing forward, but along with the present. That is why everything is the past. Time is an arrow, always flying forward. The Keepers are at the head of the arrow, and having the most time to benefit from, they are the most advanced. They found a way to cleanly travel up and down the arrow with ease. They are the self-appointed Keepers of time and they don’t allow anyone to change the flow or split the arrow.

“That is why they have your brother. He stumbled into something he should not have. The same has happened to you. It is poor luck you came into possession of that book, which led you to the coins. It is just the facts of this existence that time works by these principals. This is your universe; your reality, one where a group of people hold all the power. There is little anyone can do about this fact. But this is the way humans are: when there is oppression, there are those who fight against it. The Snow King used his craftiness to struggle back against a foe that has the upper hand.”

“And the woman on the head of the time coin? The Mistress? She is in charge up there?” Greg asked.

“I don’t know much about her,” Vega said, returning his attention to his food. “I heard she came up with the rules for conduct in the past. Does she call the shots? I don’t know. Did she invent time travel? I assume so. But she is not much of our concern. After you are in the clear, you just have to stay out of history’s sight. No becoming Prime Minister for you. If decisions like that were made, their repercussions would travel up the arrow and the Keepers would see the change. I’m sure that by now you have a good idea of how they respond to that kind of thing.”

“Yeah,” Greg said, done with his half eaten food. “I thought about saving my father. Going back and telling him about his aneurism before it happened. I would have seen him at the concert I was going to. But that is when you showed up, you know? I guess that just couldn’t have happened…”

“Your father died? You weren’t there just to attend a concert? I didn’t know.”

“Yeah, well,” Greg said, “after I saw my brother disappear, I thought in some strange way, that if I could stop my dad from dying, then maybe Peter would not have left, and we would have a normal family. But that’s where I get lost. If I got my family back, would I be there that day when the Snow King gave me his treasure map?”

“Loosing your whole family is hard,” Vega said. He paused tearing apart a roll, really considering Greg. Had he really been that young when his own family disintegrated? It seemed like a lifetime ago, but Vega still felt the pain. If it wasn’t for a stranger coming to give him a fresh start…

“Should we drop this off and pick up our robot?” Greg said, picking the box up from his feet and setting it on the table.

The prospect of their robot coming to life snapped Vega out of his deep thoughts of time travel. He gazed at Greg with a sparkle in his clear eyes.

“Let’s go get our boy.”

 

 

CHAPTER 16

 

 

 

Tuesday, at eight in the morning, Greg and Vega stepped back out of their closet in the garage. Their footfalls echoed off the concrete floor as they walked toward the imposing, yet compact machine. The war robot hung limp, a soldier ready to be brought back to life. On the workbench, the empty parts box sat next to a fancy folder with a hand written note lightly attached to the top.

“His resume,” Vega said to Greg. “And instructions on activation… Looks like a switch under his jaw…”

Greg searched with his fingers and the robot came to life. With fluid motions, the shoulders rotated and head unit rocked side to side. The base of the robot swiveled as it came to face Greg and Vega. The pair stood side by side, gazing up at the product of their work. A nondescript voice came from unseen speakers as the unformatted robot addressed its owners.

“I have been authorized two controllers. Please state your names so I may determine your roles.”

“I am Professor Vance. Please refer to me as Vega.”

“Professor Vance is an authorized user. I will refer to you as Vega,” The flat voice of the war robot said. Then slowly turned his head toward Greg.

“I am Tom Gregory,” Greg said, following Vega’s lead. “Please call me Greg.”

“Tom Gregory is an authorized user. I will refer to you as Greg. Would you like to select a name for myself?”

“Yes…” Vega said. “I never considered needing to personalize a name for one of you… Help us out here. Do you have any suggestions?”

“This body is a N.V. Signature Combat Model, part of a special production by Newton Vaniteo Signature Robotics of Canada. This unit was serial number 867-23. Should I describe my intelligence operating system?”

“Greg?”

“Let’s just call him N.V.” Greg said.

“Short and easy. I like it. Your new designation is Envy. Now, since a war robot is not very feminine, let’s give you a male voice. Cycle through some options.”

“Excellent Vega, I shall do just that,” Envy said, jumping to different artificial voice options. “As per your request, my designer has also included several programs for me to draw from. These programmed skills have been incorporated into my decision processes and creativity. I also have language skills, which…”

“Stop,” Greg interrupted. “I like that one. It reminds me of a super hero’s voice. It’s just like a cartoon I used to watch as a kid.”

Vega nodded and the robot adopted the voice. The trio talked for a while longer, making clear the freedom and latitude that Envy was afforded and expectations of action in certain circumstances.

Greg was ecstatic. He felt like he was helping shape the personality of a real person.

Vega was aware of the hard-hitting punches this model of robots was capable of, even without all of its combat equipment attached. He was happy to see the younger man alight with excitement interacting with their new companion and experiencing none of the wariness he felt being around the machine of destruction.

 

Outside the garage, across the street, Binno Terrace stood leaning against a street wall, smoking an old fashioned cigarette. He had been indecisive throughout the night over coming back to the garage. Should he greet the professor when he came back to pick up the robot? He knew that lady luck favored the bold and that sometimes he had to show some people how serious he was about opportunities. The professor seemed like the type of person who played loose with the rules and would be receptive to someone showing initiative.

The professor and his grad student were a strange pair, Binno thought as he leaned. It really was a stroke of luck that they had found him. And the way they had gotten the parts from Asia over night was even more surprising. An antique robot to referb, no less! He had created more of a work of art than just a simple brain construction. Was it the right decision to come back and show off his work?

The skill requirements that were requested were quite off the wall! Binno wondered to what purpose a chairmen of a major American university would want with a perfectly preserved antique war mechanical. Why infiltrator programming? Perhaps a gift?

The conflict between Binno’s need for an income and the chance at a once in a lifetime opportunity bothered him. Was this too good to be true?

Binno finished his smoke and glanced at his watch. It was twenty minutes past the hour. Why hadn’t the two arrived yet? Binno at least expected a shipping company to arrive, put up the main door and begin to load the bot into a crate. Had he heard voices inside earlier, or was it just his imagination?

His interest could not be held back any longer. Binno stubbed out his butt and crossed the street.

He entered the side door, the same way he had done the previous two days, while he worked to give the tin man a brain. He pulled the door open and took a step inside, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light.

The robot was gone.

He crossed the room and walked to where his project had sat. Sitting on the ground, on its narrow edge, was a thick gold coin. Binno swiped it up, examining the precious metal that was presumably left for him, and then around the room. They were gone, no trace of the men who had appeared in his life and commissioned him to fix up their robot; gone without leaving a fingerprint.

 

“Destination?”

“You can roll off our feet now, Envy,” Greg said.

The robot complied, removing himself from the toes of Greg and Vega. “I am not familiar with my surroundings. Where have we gone?” Envy asked.

“We are inside a fold, created by this time traveling device, currently outside the flow of time. We are traveling to our next destination, where you will assist us in the disabling of the internal facility security. We will also need you to translate and operate machinery. I don’t know if they will have wireless access or you will have to use an IR port, but infiltration will be up to you. It is critical that we leave no trace of our presence. None of us will move until you give the all clear, so be swift about it. Understood?” Vega asked.

“Absolutely, Vega,” Envy responded with no further questions.

“It’s funny how a machine can accept being told, ‘Hey, we are time traveling right now,’ with no questions. Then when you tell me the same thing, I can’t stop asking questions,” Greg said to Vega. “So what are we doing this time anyway?”

Vega winked at Greg and spoke to the coin.

"Our next destination will be at the following exact location: latitude- sixty-five point zero seven two one three zero, longitude- eighteen point nine eight four two seven five," Vega rattled off, eyes remembering, up and to the left. "The time will be two A.M. local, December twenty-fifth, 2054."

“I thought you said always jump forward to avoid stepping on yourself!” Greg protested.

“Placing you in five seconds.”

“Sometimes you have to break the rules,” Vega said back, holding a still position in anticipation of the insertion. “But, I know exactly where I’ll be, so there will be no problems.”

The five seconds elapsed, keeping Greg from pursuing the leading statement. His body froze and he closed his eyes as the coin placed them.

The three time travelers dropped to the rubber-matt floor of a laboratory.

 

 

CHAPTER 17

 

 

 

“Are you here to replace me?” Carthage Meyer said to Andrea as she walked into the secure unit.

Meyer wore the same Intern uniform that Andrea did. Despite the similar white uniforms, the two were quite opposite in looks. Meyer was tall. He would have been slender, had he not been very soft and flabby from lack of physical activity. He had light skin, almond eyes and golden hair. Andrea felt shocked, not sure how to react after the exultant way he articulated the question.

“Umm, I don’t think so… I was just told to come down here and learn everything I could.”

“Too bad,” Meyer said, still pleased to have a guest. “When I saw you walk in, I thought you might be my relief so I could move on to another job. I’ve been working back here for the last two years! I keep hoping I’ll be promoted to Supervisor any day now.”

The older intern was rambling, but Andrea didn’t feel comfortable enough to stop him.

“Hey! Perhaps you are my relief! I bet they want me to train you to take over for me. I will be getting a blue uniform soon enough! Oh Traxor, that has to be it!” Carthage Meyer said.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Andrea agreed, glancing around. “You have been working down here alone for two years?”

“Just about… And it’s not ‘down here.’ We are not any lower in elevation or noticeably south of the observation room. ‘Back here,’ would be more appropriate when relating our position. Sorry, poor directional word choices are my thing. I feel it’s best to educate the ill informed so that we all don’t get confused.”

Without a pause, Meyer jumped right back into his line of thought. “I mean, Supervisors come back here to a secure unit to work as well, but I’m kind of the unofficial Intern assigned to this area. Everyone comes to me if they need something in particular. But soon, that is going to be you! Oh, this will be great. We are going to have heaps of fun teaching you how this place works!”

“Yeah, that sounds good,” Andrea said. “I am here to learn all I can.”

“Gumption! Let’s get started then! What is your name anyway?”

“Andrea Woodbridge. I just graduated three weeks ago.”

“Three weeks and you are already getting into the sensitive stuff? That’s amazing. You must have scored really well on your psych test,” Meyer said.

“I have no idea how I did on it. I requested to work in timeline preservation. They selected you because of your psych test?” Andrea said.

“Yeah, that is how they decide. At least that’s what I thought!” Meyer exclaimed as he waved his hands about. “I was told they choose Interns who had the right psychological makeup to work in this department. But all you had to do was ask? Unexpected…”

Andrea shrugged, “so what is this place? ‘Secure unit’ is quite vague. What are they keeping back here?”

Meyer grinned. “You were sent back here to learn? You are about to learn more than you bargained for!”

The fluffy Intern bounced like a beach ball as he led the way into the depths of the secure unit. Meyer showed off the stacks of closet-like containers that held a plethora of clothing and war uniforms from across various time periods. The collection was extensive. Articles of clothing were at various stages of wear and breakdown.

Andrea put her nose close to a tattered military cloak and found it had a neutral smell, not the way its dirty outward appearance suggested. Meyer closed up the container and moved on.

Deeper into the unit, a frosted glass door slid open for his passage into another room. The same shock of discovery felt Andrea as she walking into the Enforcer habitat.

The vertical space amazed her. The interior of the department’s main areas maintained a standard single-story feel. But in the deceiving back areas, constructed with a hundred feet of headspace, Andrea felt as if she was in another building. She gazed up at the stacks of cells, like books on a library wall.

Many were empty, but others were occupied… bodies suspended in blue, back-lit fluid.

“A secure unit for humans?” Andrea breathed.

“Speechless, huh? I was too when I first came in here,” Meyer said. “Who would think that a private entity, one that offers time tourism and runs a university focusing on the study of time travel, would have their own prison? The government doesn’t even have prisons anymore!”

“Then, why? Why is there a prison hidden back here?” Andrea said, strolling forward.

Meyer smiled, enjoying that he was the one to get to reveal the secret to the new girl. He showed Andrea to a moving pad at the base of the stacks. He stood on one and began a tour.

Meyer and Andrea were lifted from the floor and began moving along the front of the cells, interior lights came on, giving Andrea a chance to see who was being held.

“Well, the first thing you need to do… Don’t think of this as a ‘prison’ in the historical sense. Consider it more as a collection. You see, over the history of our operation as Keepers of time, missions into the past have resulted in the necessity to bring back individuals and keep them for various reasons. So this place was built to hold them, in suspended animation.”

“What sort of reasons would we have to bring anyone from the past, to the present?” Andrea asked, still trying to wrap her mind around the frozen bodies. Some of the names accompanying the suspended bodies she recognized.

“Well, take this man for example,” Meyer said, pointing to the cell Andrea stood beside. “He was an important leader in the past. He shaped history. A bloody war was fought because of his actions and ideas. Mountains of books were written on him; his personal history, psychological motivations, medical problems, all sorts of rumors and speculation. How best can a temporal historian cut through all the legend and get to the truth? We pick him up and find out first hand. He ended up killing himself at the end of the war, so we just stepped in right before and replaced his body with a flash clone.”

“Truly? This is what this department does?”

“Yes. It may be appalling at first, but it is the best way to understand history. We can take a man before he dies and replace his body so that the timeline has not been interrupted. We arrest the death process with our advanced medicine, and learn a treasure trove of information. The timeline is preserved and we are doing a great service to humanity.” Meyer said triumphantly.

Andrea froze for a moment, unsure of a reply, or how she felt about the process. She had just been let in on a huge secret, one that she had not even began to comprehend the consequences. She thought her reaction was surly being gauged. She had been questioned about her feelings on the use of a paradoxal species, and as a result been given more. If she wanted to learn more…

“That is amazing,” she finally said.

Andrea developed a suspicion that Meyer was a bit more talkative than he needed to be. Was he given instructions on how to greet the new Intern? She paused a moment, then added, “With our ability to analyze genetic makeup, we can learn so much about what makes a man become a megalomaniac.”

“Exactly!” Meyer said.

“Who else is here? I don’t recognize a majority of the samples,” Andrea said. She made sure to use the identifying noun in a way that would be agreeable with the spirit of imprisonment. If she was to truly convince the rest of the department that she had no reservations – proper word usage was key.

“Well, some others are minor characters few have heard of, many from the deep past. There are a few here that are unauthorized travelers…”

“What? Unauthorized?”

“Yeah, unauthorized, if you can believe it. Take this guy for example,” Meyer said, pointing to the unnamed youth in an approaching cell. “This kid was snared in a time trap about a year before I started interning here. I heard he was in possession of a stolen coin.”

“How can someone steal a tourist coin?” Andrea asked, totally confused. “That sounds impossible. If someone stole a coin, we would just go back to before it was stolen and stop the thief…”

“You would think, huh? But I guess it has been done. I heard a rumor about some guy a long time ago that stole a bunch of coins and got away with it. So far, only one has been recovered…”

“So this boy here is not the thief? Did they find out what time he came from and why he had the device?” Andrea probed.

“I have no idea, it was before my time,” Meyer answered. “But I would guess they didn’t find out much from him since he is in here. We were not able to go back to his time and take the coin before he could walk into our trap. Other types of unauthorized travelers we have captured have been scientists that have made incomplete or crude time manipulation devices. There have been a couple instances of people that have just appeared out of their time with no explanation. In some situations, people like that end up here too.”

Andrea nodded and was about to ask another question about the unauthorized traveler, but Meyer went on with his tour.

“That is not even the strangest thing that I have seen here,” he said, lowering his voice. “Even more bizarre than unauthorized travelers are what the Managers call transients. I have only heard them discussed in passing, but apparently, in the travels to the past, Keepers have come across individuals that are apparently from outside our reality. That is where the really interesting stuff happens. I heard that the Mistress handles that stuff herself. It’s that sensitive.”

A shutter shot up Andrea’s spine, and she hurriedly changed the subject.

“You mentioned flash cloning?” She said, shaking off a shiver.

“Oh, yeah,” Meyer replied brightly.

He ordered an end to the tour and led the way out of the prison room. “We have a flash cloner that takes genetic material, growing a full clone to any desired age. It’s quite advanced – it even works with animals and other non-human DNA. Here is where we keep the machine.”

The room they entered was small; more the size of a closet compared to the other rooms Andrea had been given access to. On the back wall was the machinery, a user accessible holographic interface. Below this was a clear drawer. The main fixture in the room was a circular enclosure behind rounded glass. The place the clones would be constituted reminded Andrea of the shower in a home she used to have.

“So after you put the genetic material to be used into the receiving drawer, the chamber fills with fluid and the flash clone is grown,” Meyer explained. “I have watched it done once, and it is kind of shocking. After you see a flash clone grown once, you get your fill of watching the process. Now, when we use the chamber, I turn around and wait the couple minutes facing the other way.”

“Wow. I knew about cloning, but I had never seen a flash cloner. This is all lot of new information to take in.” Andrea said.

“It is, it is,” Meyer agreed. “Well, I will stop overloading your mind now. Come this way, I’ll show you my daily duties, the procedure for item storage…”

 

 

CHAPTER 18

 

 

 

Greg Thompson and Vega stood on either side of the refurbished war robot, Envy, in the center of a dimly lit laboratory. All three stood motionless for fear of tripping motion sensors. The room was dimly lit by evacuation lights and working machinery. Greg opened his eyes and peered around the crowded room.

The lab was all stainless steel surfaces and racks of science equipment. There were refrigerators glowing with blue light, bathing sample vials stored within. Immense white machines and odd contraptions stood next to complex computer terminals. Straining his eye to the left, Greg could see a printed note attached to one of the lab devices, written in a language other than English. The letters were familiar to him, but they did not spell words he could begin to produce.

Envy spoke up.

“I have disabled the microphones in this room wirelessly, but the motion trackers will have to be accessed from a hard line. There is a terminal that I can connect to with an IR probe, but I will have to swivel my head very slowly until I am at the proper angle.”

“Fine, fine,” Vega said without moving his mouth. “Just hurry.”

After another long minute spent like a statue, Greg came to the realization that non-movement was much harder than he previously thought. After what seemed like an eternity, Envy shifted on his tracks and called the all clear. Greg slumped with relief. With the security system neutralized, he was excited to explore the lab.

The initial tension Greg felt from being introduced into a strange place fell from his shoulders. He continued to take in the room that Vega had specifically requested. He wandered away from the other two, looking at the computer terminals and fancy equipment. Greg approached a glass wall at the far end of the lab. He noticed it was cold with frost. The space on the other side of the translucent divider was full dark.

“What kind of lab is this anyway?” He called back to Vega, who was speaking with Envy. “Can we turn on some lights?”

“Our sudden arrival was recorded by the security system, but I have flagged it as an error. All evidence of our disturbance will go unrecorded. My understanding of these outdated programs is superior to their own internal defenses. Is there anything else for me to do?” Envy asked.

“Plenty,” Vega said. “I can’t read any of this writing. I need help in translation and location of specific equipment. If there are any instruction on receiving and preparing a blood specimen, this would be helpful as well.”

The robot complied.

Envy weaved through the lab stations, moving in the direction Greg had gone.

“Did you hear what I said about the lights?” Greg called. He cupped his hands to the cool, thick glass and attempting to see through the wall. “Can we light up this room?”

The main lab lights came up, giving the robot illumination to aid in his search. A moment later, pale blue lights came to life on the other side of the wall that Greg was pressed against. Three rows of white, coffin shaped pods covered the room. The low temperature chamber was revealed to be one hundred meters long and half as wide. The floor was covered in a fine grating. Shower attachments hung on the walls at intervals down the room. Amber lights, unseen by Greg in the main lab, reflected on the surface of the pods.

“What are those? What is this place?” Greg said, turning back to Vega.

Vega interrupted his conference with Envy to answer Greg’s questions. He approached with a test tube seated in a metal frame. “This is a cloning facility, somewhere in the country called Sweden. We have to get a body double for you. If we are going to trick the Keepers, they must believe they have stopped the one they were after. Those pods, in that room, are the growth chambers.”

“What? They can clone humans… In this lab?”

“Yes. Human cloning has been happening for nearly fifty years at this point. But this lab is on the cutting edge of refining the process. They are experimenting with human DNA stabilization in clones. I need three drops of blood.”

“Wait, you are going to make a clone of me? From three drops of my blood? I don’t know…”

“Listen, this is no time to hesitate. I don’t much like what they do here either, but this is the only way to beat the system, unless you want to get captured by the Keepers. It would be impossible to resist their methods of interrogation. They have time on their side. And there is no chance in waiting for someone save you,” Vega said. He handed over a small, square plastic block and removed a cap from the fluid filled vial. “That is a lancet. Twist the narrow end and poke your finger. It’s just a little poke…”

“What about Peter? He must have held out! If they didn’t come after me when I found the first coin!” Greg said, stalling.

“Are you your brother? No, you are not. You were the one who told me earlier that you planned on saving Peter. Perhaps you are his only hope for rescue; the reason he is holding out…” Vega argued.

“How long is this going to take, the clone, I mean? Is it fast?”

Vega took the lancet. He opened the younger man’s hand, exposing the fingers. Greg looked away as Vega placed the tip of the plastic on the side of his index digit.

“No, it’s not a fast process. It takes the same amount of years to grow a human as it takes one to age,” Vega spoke, distracting Greg as he made the poke. The lancet made a snap and the quick incision into the epidermis was over. Vega held Greg’s finger over the vial as three drops of red life dripped into the catchment and mixed with the solution in the vial.

“But that is one of the things they are working on here, shortening the time so they can make flash clones, and use less genetic material than what is required now. In a few hundred years, I’m sure they will have it down perfectly. There, all done,” Vega said, replacing the cap. “Envy, open the chamber, and give me an empty pod number.”

A panel of the wall that separated the frozen room dropped away. Cold air rushed out as Vega and Greg went inside the growth chamber. Envy called after the pair that the twenty-third pod was prepared and ready for insertion of material.

In the bath of blue light, Greg peered into amber windows, seeing clones in various stages of development. A few chambers contained lines and abnormal growths of tissue, ghastly in any minor resemblance of a person. Others contained fully developed humans, sleeping in their tubes.

“Blondes,” Greg commented.

“Yes,” Vega said, walking toward the empty pod, standing vacant in its place in the row. “Most of the samples came from the head scientist. He found it much faster to use himself as a volunteer donor rather than recruit others. He considered them all his children…”

“Well, at least a clone of me won’t be out of place,” Greg said, trying to find an upside to being in the haunting room. The cool temperature was interesting at first, but now it was starting to settle into his bones.

“Yes, when the techs come in tomorrow, or the next day, it will be unlikely they will question the new growth in twenty-three,” Vega said, more somber than he had been the entire trip. As he inserted the vial into place, he continued to talk softly. “I often heard that Doctor Hertzmaad would run experiments without telling anyone. And when we alter the records, I doubt anyone will question the place your clone is taking. They will just think the mad doctor has come in on his own to run another of his personal experiments.”

When Vega finished, the white birth coffin lit up, amber light emitting from the window. Greg stared inside as the dark liquid from the vial was injected into a thin membrane inside the tank. He knew it would be like watching an hour hand on a clock, so he patted the tank, said goodbye to his future clone, following Vega from the room.

“So what now?” Greg asked. “Jump sixteen years forward and grab our clone?”

Vega continued with his serious expression. “It will have to be fifteen. I believe the age discrepancy will be unnoticeable. The clone will be totally asleep throughout its development, so it will be without speech. They usually allow the experiments to develop until the seventeenth year. Then they are awoken for medical research and reproductive studies…”

“What? Reproductive studies?”

“Yes,” Vega answered with reluctance. “It was found, for an unknown reason, unforeseen in the DNA, that clones had problems in reproduction. This is one of the main purposes of Hertzmaad’s private work. He keeps a dormitory on the other side of the complex where they,” he paused, “experiment.”

“Gross,” Greg said in disgust.

“Yes, but one aspect of keeping these clones asleep for so long is so that they dream. When they dream, their brains expand. I can only imagine what a brain with no life experiences can dream of. It must be so complex, dark and swirling; with only memories that are bound to the DNA guiding their thoughts…”

Vega was getting off track, but Greg waited.

“Anyway, the captives, with each batch more and more advanced, become smarter and learn quickly. So they end up escaping. In fifteen years. That is when we will come back and pick up our boy.”

“Okay. Envy, drive up on our feet for another jump,” Greg said.

“All traces of our presence have been removed,” the robot confirmed, rolling up on the tips of the steel-toed boots. “I am ready.”

The coin flipped in the air.

 

 

CHAPTER 19

 

 

 

“Destination?”

“One moment,” Vega replied, staring at the coin.

“Before we do this,” he said to the boy beside him. “We all need to be on the same page.”

Greg could felt the change in Vega’s mood. In the last few hours, the other man had been carefree; jumping through time like it was a walk in the park. Now though, Vega was jumpy, as if in some way connected to the time and place of their next jump. Greg realized they were getting ready for real action. This time, their task would involve more than slipping in and out of deserted places like ghosts.

“Envy, you will take the lead.” Vega said. “You were brought along for more reasons than just to disable the security; we are going to need you for door breaches, to cover us in case we come under fire, and early detection of electronic warfare. If you see any dropped weapons along the way, feel free to use them in intimidation or defense. Anyone who sees you will probably get quite a shock, since the memory of your involvement in the war is fresh in these peoples’ minds.”

“Wait, door breaching?” Greg questioned. “Why are we going to need to breach doors? Can’t we just pop back to the lab?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t say that would be a sound idea. You see, the captive clones didn’t just escape and cause confusion. Two did escape and they gathered a rag-tag army to help free their brothers and sisters. There will be a full-on assault against the north side of the complex. The clones seemed, from what I could tell, to have a low-grade psychic connection amongst themselves. Like I said, not much is understood about what happens to the brain in development with all that time spent dreaming.” Vega paused, then added, “But between the first two escaping and the attack, security was increased. I anticipate armed security everywhere. I believe most will have abandoned their posts to help counter the assault, but there will be some of the more disciplined, or cowardly, security troops left all over the building.” Vega gazed around, then said, “Greg, you must be very careful. Stay low and behind me. If you freeze up, just find a place to hide. But if I call for you, you must come! We need the option to be able to jump away. Do your best.”

Greg nodded, feeling insulted. He was not going to freeze up!

I will not freeze up, Greg assured himself.

“You were here at this attack, weren’t you?” Greg asked. “You were part of the group helping the first two escapees. You knew them?”

“In a way, I was there. And also in a way, I knew them. It is how I know about this place and why I came up with our present plan. It fits seamlessly. Now,” Vega said, as he swung his green cloak over his shoulders and flipped up the hood. “Our insertion point will be three hundred meters to the west of our last position, May 16th, 2069, at 6:35 AM, local time. Be ready to move lads!”

“Placing you in five seconds.”

Greg’s heart jumped and he shivered, waiting to be inserted.

 

Greg kept his eyes open during the jump, and nearly came out of his skin when he suddenly sunk a few inches into the melting snow. The morning air was cold. A small explosion punctuated the still forest, far off to his left. Vega and Envy began to move swiftly through the treed terrain, toward the concrete structure before them.

Envy lowered his profile for the dash, holding his mechanical arms out at a slight angle, like a hawk coming in for a fast landing.

Vega was a phantom floating along, green cloak fluttering behind him.

Greg ran in the tracks of the heavy robot, pumping his knees high, moving in a much less graceful fashion than his companions. Gunfire peppered the morning calm, but not directed at Greg. Again, it was off to the left. The assault that Vega predicted had just begun.

Greg pumped his arms, puffing hard as they neared the building, not used to breathing the frigid air. Why did Vega have to place us so far away? his exhausted mind thought.

Greg saw the guard standing by the closest exterior door at almost the same instant the green cloak went into action. The guard had craned his neck in the direction of the gunfire, poorly securing his post when the war robot swept upon him.

Before the startled man could react to the sudden arrivals, Vega launched himself at the man. Gripping the guards’ shoulders as he nearly went past, Vega spun the man down onto the ground in a dominant grip.

Greg had just arrived at the edge of the building when Vega took the guard to the ground. Envy stood over them, head scanning as Vega produced a small spray cylinder. A puff of aerosolized vapor misted the man’s face. The guard struggled for a brief moment and then went limp.

Vega leapt up from the ground. With a spin of his cloak, he glanced at Greg as he headed towards the exterior door.

The old man can still move, Greg thought with astonishment. It had been a smooth takedown, unlike anything he had ever seen. Envy relieved the sleeping guard of his battle rifle and joined Vega at the door.

Greg felt odd, having no job, standing aside to let the adults do the bulk of the work.

“Breach,” Vega commanded the robot.

Envy took no time to execute the request, bending sideways at his midsection, drawing both of his arms back to ninety degree angles, palms down. Metal arms blasted forward, one landing above, and one below the knob. The sound of snapping metal was herald to the door flying open on its hinges, banging open on the inside wall. Without pause, Envy moved into the building, Vega following close on his snake-tread heals.

Greg scampered after them.

“Straight back to the cloning chamber,” Vega said. He clapped Envy’s metal shoulder.

Envy straightened up from his swift moving attack position, and held the battle rifle in one hand. Conversely, it was Vega who was hunched over while following their robot, cloak brushing the floor. Greg followed his lead, figuring it was smart to use Envy as a bulletproof shield. Feeling like he should be doing something more, Greg kept an eye out behind the group, should someone stumble on their trail.

The lights in the building were out. Only emergency firelights lit the way down the long hallway. Greg could not read any of the signs outside the heavy sliding doors that they passed along the long hallway, but he had faith that all the work they had put into rescuing and revamping Envy was not in vein. They skated into the darkness until they came to a half-glass door leading into the lab.

“Breach,” Vega commanded once again in a low voice.

“Unnecessary,” Envy replied in a matching volume of clear, synthesized speech.

The robot’s flat pentagon face turned towards the holo-projector pad next to the door. He shot a visible red laser at the pad, connecting to the port. A moment later, the door slid open.

“I gave myself access to science rooms the last time we were here. It is doubtful my hidden clearance would have been erased, unless the security system had been overhauled. It seems there have been no major upgrades.”

“That’s why you are along,” Vega said and entered the lab.

The equipment and layout of the science workstations had changed since the few minutes the three intruders had last been in the room. It took Greg a moment to orient himself before he recognized the wall that protected the clone growth chamber. He ran over to the sealed, cold glass while Envy followed Vega, who took his time examining the lab.

“Open it,” Vega commanded, joining Greg at the glass wall. “Start the awakening cycle for chamber twenty-three. The attack will be over soon and we need to be on our way as well.”

The movable section of glass rose and the blue lights of the chamber came on. This time, Envy accompanied his masters down the rows of sleeping clones. The amber light from the twenty-third pod changed to a deeper color. Gears and motors hummed as fluid was drained and the lid to the birth pod unlocked.

Greg peered into the small port and watched with fascination. A duplicate of himself lay supine, eyes moving beneath closed lids. There was a look of stress on the face, one he quite familiar with. Hair color was a light shade, skewed by the red light, and a thin coating of wispy facial hair coated the clones face and neck. To the teen, it was like looking at a wax sculpture of himself, now coming to life.

“Stand back!” Vega said to his captivated companion.

“Proximity alert!” Envy boomed, startling the other two. The robot turned on his mid-section before his tracks could adjust. Envy raised the rifle, but the oncoming attacker was too fast.

He was wearing a white coat.

Doctor Hertmaad was tall and thin, short cropped blonde hair that reseeded from the temples, and a full grey goatee. He held in his hand a black box, attached to a pistol grip that resembled a RC car remote control. Envy suddenly shut down, before the doctor could get within three steps of his mechanical body.

Greg had no idea what was going on, except that they were being attacked. Their attacker thrust forward his weapon, triggering a high-pitched, sharp noise. But Envy had frozen up before the pulse! Greg shouted to himself.

The pod lid opened, separating in the middle. The furious doctor dodged around the metal statue. He pointed his device at Vega, who was much shorter and had to fight to hold the taller man off. Both sets of arms now struggled for control of the gun as the Swede shouted in his native tongue.

Greg stepped back, too scared to leap into action.

What should I do? Is this what he meant by freezing up? The very introduction of that thought sprung him into action. He would not be branded with that shame. Greg refused to be remembered as one who hesitated when he was needed most.

Vega put all his effort into controlling the taller man, but the struggle was fast and evenly balanced; greater size versus experienced physicality. Vega attempted upset the balance, gaining a foothold on top of a pod. But before he could upset the balance, Greg definitively intervened. The doctor fell to the floor clutching his arm, the pulse weapon flew out of his hands. The doctor screamed in agony. Greg stood over the wilted man with an apologetic grimace. The wounded doctor pulled the stiletto from his soft tissue and tossed it aside.

Greg was stunned by the bright red blood he had caused. A soft click grabbed his attention. As if on instinct, he glanced over at the opened pod. Sitting up, covered in goo, half of a face lit in red light, the other in blue, Greg’s clone looked on with frightened eyes. He was awake.

As Vega kicked the pulse gun to the side, Envy came back to life and rolled up on the downed doctor, aiming the rifle at him.

Greg picked up the discarded knife and reseated it. He went to his clone. The two boys, nearly identical in age, regarded each other for a moment.

“I am sorry for my emergency shutdown. When the EM pulse weapon was identified, I shut all systems down for ten seconds. If I had not, all my electronics would have been totally destroyed,” Envy apologized to Vega.

“It’s alright,” Vega said, also going over to the newly awaken clone. “I am well aware of that tactic. Continue to pull security. Come on Greg, let’s get him out of there and rinsed off.”

As the two helped the clone from the pod, Vega added softly, “You did good back there. You really saved me.”

Greg nodded and took the lead helping his clone over to one of the shower heads. The clone was slow and cautious on his feet, but was able to walk on his own. It appeared that his muscle tone was normal and would soon be as mobile as any person. The doctor continued to wail at the intruders as they cleaned off the clone.

“What was that gun anyway? Just an electronic scrambler?” Greg asked Vega.

“I’m pretty sure it had a microwave stunner as well. Non-lethal weapons that avoid the use of bullets are all the rage. My brain just might have ended up a pile of soup. Where did you get that knife?”

“When I went for money in my closet, I picked this out of the bag as well. Thought it might come in handy,” Greg said.

“Good thinking. Give him your coat, Greg,” Vega said and turned to their war robot.

“What has he been saying, Envy?”

“He is quite upset at us for taking this clone out of the tank. He says we are evil men for stealing his children,” the robot answered.

“You deserve far worse than what this boy has done to your arm! I know all you have done here, you sick Tratthora! Fjolla!” Vega spat at the man.

The doctor spoke back in a lower voice after this scolding. Envy translated directly.

“I knew another team would be assaulting. Attacking the barracks was just a diversion, yes? You will pay for this. My children will not be stolen from me!”

Vega spoke very clear and slow, using his hands to reinforce the point he was about to make to the doctor. “Leave and take your losses. Your children have grown and hate you for what you have done. Forget them! Your work is not vile, just the way you go about it.”

Envy spoke the words. The doctor had no choice but to hear, clutching his bleeding arm.

“Go, now! I mean it!” Vega shouted when the man did not immediately move. This required no translation, as the doctor got to his feet, eyed the others and retreated from the chamber.

“Alright, should we get out of here now?” Greg asked, breaking the brief silence.

“That, we should. Envy, you know the drill.”

The robot rolled up on the toes of the two clothed men and Greg took the hand of his double. As he fished the coin from his pocket, Envy cried another proximity alert. He began firing his rifle to the far end of the room, where security guards rushed in. The doctor had not left completely humbled…

The suppressed rifle barked in the war robot’s hands, but was thrown to the floor a moment before the coin reached its zenith.

 

 

CHAPTER 20

 

 

 

The group arrived at Greg’s home, in the back yard, as they had before. Now four strong, Greg led the way inside while Envy waited. There was still moisture on the mirror of Greg’s bathroom shower, used minutes prior by Greg himself while on a break from South Africa. The clone was given a proper shower and shave, but was not quite ready to put on Greg’s clothes and assume his identity.

“We need to cut his hair to look like yours. Got any scissors?” Vega pointed out.

Greg and Vega sat the clone on a chair in front of the bathroom sink. They did their best, giving the boy a haircut that was passable. Matching Greg’s shaggy hair turned out to be harder than expected. By the time the job was done, bits of blond hair covered the bathroom.

“The clothes I wore when the lizard came for me are in my room on the floor, but they stink pretty bad.” Greg relayed to his partner.

“My suit could use a cleaning as well.” Vegas said. “Do you have washing services near by?”

“We have a washer and dryer in the garage. Give me your stuff and I will start a load,” Greg replied, giving Vega a funny look. “I’ll start the clothes and we can jump forward to when they are done?”

“I don’t know how long it will be until we get a solid chance to rest again. Is it okay for me to sleep here while you two jump ahead?” Vega asked.

“Yeah. I can do that,” Greg said. “I’ll take my clone and leave you and Envy here. The place should be deserted for a couple hours. What should we call him, anyway, my clone, I mean?”

“I suppose it is up to you to give him a name. We are going to have to take him back to 2002 and give him up, remember. It’s best not to get too attached,” Vega said.

“Yeah, I get that. It’s just weird referring to him as the clone.”

“Do you have a middle name? I understand most of you have three names…” Vega said, handing over his clothes to be washed. Greg thought it funny to throw a nice suit in the washing machine, but what other choice did he have?

“It’s Curtis, Gregory Curtis Thompson. How about you, Vega? I don’t even know your last name.”

“It’s because I don’t have one,” Vega said.

“What? Come on… Only, like, pop stars only have one name!” Greg exclaimed.

“My father had one name, and so do I.”

“What, is that like a – future thing?”

“No, I’m not from the future that we have been visiting. It’s a long story, but I was born far from here. And my father, even further than that.” Vega answered.

“You never give a complete answer! Every bit you give leads to more and more questions!”

“Sorry, it’s a bad habit I must have picked up from a friend.”

Greg shook his head and gathered the rest of the clothes to be washed. His clone still sat on the chair in the bathroom, staring at his companions, wide eyed as they talked in the threshold to Greg’s room. “Come on… Curt,” he called to the clone, and motioned for his slightly younger self to follow him. “Let’s let this guy get some rest.”

Greg led Curt down the stairs to their narrow garage. He threw the wad of clothes in the old washer. “What do you think, my man? Cold water? I bet the suits will shrink if they are done in hot.” He said to Curt. The mirror image staring back had wide eyes, drinking in everything. Feeling slightly embraced by staring at himself, Greg tossed in a packet of soap and cranked the dial to the proper setting.

“That should do it. Come on, take my hand, let’s jump forward and we can switch them over to the dryer,” Greg said, extending his hand to Curt.

The clone glanced at the outstretched hand for a moment, and understood. He smiled and took Greg’s hand, making Greg smile as well.

Greg showed Curt how to activate the coin, and the pair went forward, laundering clothes in record time.

 

Vega’s suit went through the process just fine, thanks to Greg’s decision to wash on cold and tumble dry on a low heat setting. His own clothes, the ones he had begun the adventure in, were also cleaned. They fit perfectly on his new twin brother. Curt had become like a puppy in the few minutes it took to wash the clothes. He said nothing while he followed Greg around, watching intently.

Greg considered ditching his future suit for more comfortable street clothes, but changed his mind. Vega’s own example won out in the end; the more he considered the topic. And so far, he had noticed how well they both had blended in to other eras, being dressed in more classic clothing.

Before long, the group was ready. Vega was rested, armed with his satchel, cloak and cleaned grey suit. Greg redressed in his similar navy three-piece suit, the stiletto hidden in his waist band. Curt, dressed as Greg, was a perfect fit for the day he was to be captured by the Enforcer.

“Lets take a look at that journal, for the location of the third coin.” Vega said.

Greg swung himself into his closet with one hand on the door jam and grabbed the small book. He brought it out and flipped through the pages until he came to the relevant prime numbered page. He tapped the spot.

“It looks like the stash is in the town of Lone Pine. By this drawing, it appears to be halfway between the end of the runway of a small airport and this road. The note says under an old outhouse. The other two spots were easy to find following the directions, so I’m assuming this one will be too.” Greg said.

Vega nodded, scanning over the section of the larger map, memorizing it.

“It’s just so strange to think that by the time I am given this map by the Snow King, the third stash will be empty. But, I won’t even know about the treasure until the map is given to me. Strange how all this works! I just hope the Snow King has already hidden this stuff by 2002!” Greg said.

“If that was even the Snow King who gave you the journal that day…” Vega replied. “But I don’t know. Time travel is a funny thing. I only have heard rumors about the thief, so I couldn’t say for sure.”

Greg, taken aback, that he may not have met the Snow King on the day of his fatal accident. He felt suddenly confused, as if he needed to rethink all he thought he knew. Vega clapped the book closed and turned to leave. Greg shook the irrelevant thoughts out of his head and followed Vega out of his room.

Sometimes I think this guy says things like that just to mess with me! Greg thought as he tucked the book back into his closet.

The trio went outside and called for Envy to assume the traveling position.

Greg once again handed the coin over to Curt. Vega nodded in approval, as it was the clone’s turn to take possession of device from that point on. Greg felt sad handing off the coin, knowing they were going to have to give it up. It had become a thing of comfort to him over the past adventures, knowing that with a flip of the wrist he could escape danger or be back safe at home with no effort at all.

But after the next jump, he would let the coin go and be trapped in the past, forced to track down another coin or be stuck for good. And then what was next for him? He felt strange the moment he realized, the treasure meant little to him. Jumping through time, the short while he had been at it, seemed infinitely more interesting than living his normal life, forced to endure the movement of time as it crept by. He was changing from all this, Greg could feel it.

There was, however, one more part to their quest. A loose end had to be tied, a debt that had to be paid. It was time to return to the orchard.

The coin made its unique chime as it was launched in the air.

 

 

CHAPTER 21

 

 

 

A low-tone alarm sounded three times, Andrea glanced up from her work. Carthage Meyer loped into the central area of the secure unit, gasping for breath. Andrea looked skeptically at him as he attempted to get his excited breathing under control.

“Well, what is going on? What is the alarm about?”

“There has been a change… in the timeline… The monitoring Manager… must have seen something… We have a repair operation!” he spit out, gasping for breath.

“Do you have any idea what changed?”

“It’s another of those stolen coins!” he said, finally getting his wind back. “Look sharp! They will be coming back here, a Manager and an Enforcer. Don’t be surprised if the Mistress shows up, either!”

Andrea’s eyes popped wide at the mention of the Mistress. She tugged on the bottom hem of her uniform jacket as a Manager strode into the unit. A tall Enforcer in a black suit followed. Soon after, an assembly of Supervisors including Caisoni and the Manager named Silvan entered. The group convened in the central area.

“We have detected a change in the timeline,” Manager Silvan said.

Andrea remembered her clearly from the day she was tested and given further access to the secrets of the department. Manager Lacosa Silvan was taking charge now, just as she had then. There was no hesitation; only confidence in the direction she steered the ship. Andrea didn’t know if she would ever have the personality of a Manager

“There is a youth who has paid with currency that is outside of the current time. The event is echoing up the timeline as we speak. The early 21st century American government will soon begin speculating on the real possibility of time travel. When I initiated the alert, the boy was placed on a watch list by government police and will undoubtedly divulge information about his travel device. Projections place his capture short into his own future. In accordance with the Hopper rules and the Time Keeper’s special policies, the young male is an unauthorized traveler and will be captured. He shall be brought to the present for interrogation, where we can extract the information in a controlled environment.”

Andrea’s heartbeat was hitting hard as the judgment was passed on the unauthorized traveler. As soon as the Manager finished her speech, the Mistress floated into the room. She was older, but had a subtle look of youth, which masked her true age. She wore a long one-piece dress, out of fashion in the advanced age, as well as an odd look in the room full of uniformed Keepers.

She looks just like her profile on the tourist coins, Andrea thought.

The Mistress wore a permanent half smile as she regarded the room that had gone silent.

The Enforcer bent its knees and hunched over in a bow and watched as the Mistress reached the group in the center of the room.

The Mistress walked up to the hunched lizard-man and scratched the top of his head with motherly affection. The lizard stood upright after his bow, and the Mistress took her time scanning each of the faces in the room. Finally she spoke, “The capture of a second misplaced time device is an important achievement. You all do a wonderful job, and I am sure this will be handled in the same professional manner you display in your every day work. I will not give a long speech, as I understand the damage spreads with every second I waste. So, I will let you all proceed and hope any information we retrieve will lead to the further recovery of the other stolen coins. Go now, my children.”

“Thank you for your words, Mistress.” Supervisor Caisoni said. He turned to the Enforcer and added, “The insertion point is programmed to place you in an unobserved field of fruit trees. You will appear one second and two feet behind the most likely insertion point. Your target is a sixteen-year-old white male. Hit your return for the preset jump back to our same location in the present. Understood?”

The Enforcer gave a slight nod and crossed to the center of the room.

 

 

CHAPTER 22

 

 

 

“Destination?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess it’s that time,” Greg remembered. “Uh, coin, change the greeting and departure messages back to the standard ones please.”

“You have activated this travel device,” the coin restarted. “Please state where in time or space you like to go.”

“We are going to the orchard outside Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, in Southern California. 15 June, 2002,” Greg recited. He paused to let Vega take over the exact insertion time, as Vega checked his pocket watch the moment they had jumped away.

“Envy, when we hit… you and Greg, go east, and try to stay out of sight. I’ll set up the clone and let you know when the Enforcer is clear.” Vega said. “Ready?”

Greg nodded and Envy agreed. Greg glanced at Curt, who had no idea what was about to happen. Greg suddenly felt a pang of regret, like a hunter using a young rabbit as eagle bait.

Vega gave no time for second thoughts. He voiced the final instructions to the coin. “Place us at three o’clock and twelve seconds, in the afternoon, local time. The insertion point should be ten feet east of your pre-designated optimal insertion point, facing westward. Is this acceptable?”

“This exact placement point is acceptable. You will be placed in five seconds. Please remember the Hopper rules for device activation.”

The four travelers popped back into the universe, in the grove of orange trees. The after images of himself and Vega from hours earlier, stained Greg’s eyes for a moment, and then blinked away.

Vega snatched the falling coin from the air while Envy did as instructed, turning 180 degrees and moving off to the east.

Greg jumped on the base of the robot, holding on to his shoulders as he zipped away. All the action was about to take place behind him. He could not help but to turn and watch, drawn like a lookie-loo to a car wreck.

Vega, cloaked in green, ushered Curt forward, who was to act as the stand in for Greg. Vega shuffled the boy over to the place the stunned Enforcer laid. Vega pulled the stun gun from his bag and put it in Curt’s hand, in a backward facing grip. Then, he grabbed the large lizard by the arms and heaved the dead weight up on top of Curt like an oversized backpack. Before he left, he slipped the time coin in the front pocket of Curt’s jeans, and whispered into the boys’ ear.

Curt stared at him stunned, unsure of what to do or what was happening. The huge lizard-man was supported by the young clone, who fought to keep his balance under the creature’s weight.

Vega caught the gaze of the confused boy, nodded and smiled, putting his hands up in a command to remain still.

Hot breath snorted out of the lizard’s small nostrils, followed by a flick of its tongue. Vega had disappeared completely as the large, suited beast came back to consciousness after the sudden electrical shock. All being said, the Enforcer was only out for eight seconds.

Back on its feet, the strong grasp of the monster reasserted itself. Curt was going nowhere. The Enforcer whipped around, performing a cursory survey of the scenery, making sure he was alone after the brief moment of unconsciousness. With Envy and Greg out of sight on the other side of the grove, the Enforcer stared down at his mark. He pulled the stunner from Curt’s unresisting hand. The lizard snarled at his terrified victim and then activated its wrist device. The Enforcer returned to the present as suddenly as it had arrived to capture Greg.

 

“It has been more than seven seconds,” a Supervisor noted to his colleagues. Everyone stood around the place the Enforcer jumped from, waiting for his return. Manager Silvan began to call for another two Enforcers when the Mistress spoke.

Her voice was clear and steady. The room went silent to hear her judgment. “Give it until fifteen.”

The seconds crept by, but at the twelfth second, the Enforcer reappeared. Wrapped in a single arm was the struggling boy that had been described as the target. The Enforcer tossed a crude plastic device away with its free arm and marched back toward the interrogation room.

“Problem?” Supervisor Calsoni asked the Enforcer as it carried the disruptor of the timeline.

The seven-foot lizard shook his head and made a brief vocalization.

The stun gun landed near Andrea’s feet. Curious, she bent to examine the device, depressing the trigger button, letting loose a crackling electric current. With a shriek, she dropped the non-lethal weapon, letting it clatter on the ground.

“The split has been successfully repaired,” a Supervisor reported to the room.

“What did he say? Was it a clean take?” Silvan demanded from Calsoni, who had spoken with the Enforcer.

“Looks like the kid had the stunner in his hand and accidentally triggered it when he was grabbed,” he told Silvan, and then to the rest of the room, he said, “The Garlon said he fell on top of the kid but maintained control the whole time. He calls it a clean take.”

“Should we send back another pair to be sure?” Silvan asked her leader.

“No, I trust the Garlon,” the Mistress replied, sweeping past the gaggle of her employees, following the creature and captive to the interrogation room. “I want to know what the boy knows of the Snow King.”

 

Vega held himself dim in the branches of a nearby orange tree as the Enforcer completed his task, with only a minor hiccup, and departed back to the present. He waited until the count of twenty and then broke from his blind. He whistled to his companions, who were now down to just two. The old man took his time strolling eastward. Greg, who was riding Envy backtracked to meet him.

“It worked? It took him? Curt is gone?” Greg said with little enthusiasm. “They won’t realize he is a clone?”

“What did I say? It is a physical law of this universe that time works this way. We were destined to succeed, because if we did not, I would have known back when the first attempt at your rescue was made. Plus, the only traces the present could recognize from Dr. Hertzmaad early work on cloning was his own DNA. Curt has only yours. We are still here, so, yes! Our plan to rescue you has worked.”

He should have been happy about the victory, but it felt empty without Curt. Silent Curt.

The robot and boy fell in step with the old man as he walked east on the dry, weeded dirt of the orange orchard. It felt strange to Greg to not have the coin in his pocket, but more was not have Curt with them, even though, he had been the most recent addition to the team.

“What is going to happen to him?” Greg said. “Curt, I mean.”

Vega shook his head. “Interrogation, I’m sure. The Enforcer will report the fact that he was stunned while springing the trap. But, it was so brief; I doubt it will admit to the unconscious period being as long as it was. There was a solid explanation for everything. It took the stun gun from Curt’s hand. He checked his surroundings and saw no one. The fact that a Supervisor did not accompany the Enforcer for conformation means they considered it was an acceptable error that required no correction.”

“But what happens if they interrogate Curt and they find out he can’t even speak English?” Greg asked. “Is there any possibility they will realize he is a clone?”

“Hopefully they will chalk it up to psychological shock from seeing the Enforcer. Fenton told me that sort of thing has been know to happen. And there is no genetic way to tell he is a clone, the process in the sixties was very good at that point.” Vega said.

“Uh, who is Fenton?” Greg half-exploded. “You can’t just mention new people like that! Are you going to tell me everything, or am I going to be kept in the dark? I want to know, are you just using me to get to the third Snow King coin?”

Vega stopped and regarded Greg.

“I’m sorry you are upset about loosing Curt. But he was a clone. He was your clone, but you had to bring him to life in order to save your own. He was just three drops of blood! I’m not saying he was not a life and should not be treated as such. But he was a necessity of your survival. Think of him as a horse that had to be slaughtered so that you would not starve.”

Greg cooled, his displeasure fading after being forced to recognize his true feelings. When Vega spoke again, the righteous authority in his voice was gone, replaced by unruffled understanding.

“Fenton Osorio is my source from the present. I got enough information out of him in order to track you down. You have been a huge help to me on this quest. You deserve to know everything,” he admitted. “You may have saved my life from Hertzmaad back in sixty nine.”

“You also remind me a lot of the boy I once was. So, I suppose I owe it to you to let you come with me to meet Fenton once we collect the third coin. You can decide your own path after that.”

“I want to save Peter! And, Curt now as well!” Greg shouted.

“I remember, I remember,” Vega said, calming the boy. “You put all your cards on the table right out of the gate. I guess there is a part of me that understands that. But, keep an open mind while we speak with Fenton. You may just see what you are up against and have a change of heart.”

“Never,” Greg whispered.

“Well, we still have to find that third coin anyway,” Vega said. “There is no time to waste until we have that device. As I recall my Earth geography, we have a way to go to get to Lone Pine…”

 

The next hours were both chaotic and dull at the same time for the newest member of the department of timeline preservation. Andrea watched from a theater seat as the captured boy was restrained in an egg shaped chair and interrogated. A Supervisor reported to the group that the unidentified boy was not found in any genetic identification system from the past. The only striking piece of information they came across was that he was a genetic match with another prisoner they had. The Mistress, overseeing the interrogation from the theater was shocked.

“It is the boy who had the first coin? A brother? How could that be? Four years later the sibling has the second coin?” she wondered to herself.

The interrogation was halted three hours later and the Manager reported her findings to the Mistress.

“The notes from his brothers interrogation say that the older one resisted all forms of chemical and persuasive questioning, refusing to give up any usable information. The younger seems to be in psychological shock, not even capable of answering simple questions, despite how we alter his chemistry.”

“And he had nothing on his person to give us a clue of when he was from?”

“That is correct, Mistress. His clothes point to the mid-early 21st, from somewhere in America. The coin had a hobbled memory, just as the previous one,” Silvan answered, sounding defeated.

“Gather your team,” the Mistress said, rising.

Andrea, sitting beside Meyer in the back of the observation room also stood. They waited for the other department employees to join them. Once everyone was in the room, the Mistress spoke. “Today has been a great success, I applaud you all. While the interview of the unauthorized traveler has not yielded ideal results, we are not defeated. There are two other missing coins. And just as I decided long ago, to be patient and allow them to return in their own time, through our dedicated effort. I will do the same here. Time is on our side. The most important thing to celebrate today is that we have our second coin! As reward for your diligence the following will happen.” She paused as a few smiles flashed her way. “Carthage, please step forward.”

Feeling as if lightning had just struck beside her, Andrea watched Meyer, surprised and had turned bright red, walked across the room to the Mistress’s side.

“I am pleased to promote Carthage Meyer from the rank of Intern to Supervisor! Congratulations!”

The applause coming from the small audience was less than heartfelt. The young man beamed nonetheless, facing the group, dimples forming on his cheeks. The Mistress raised her right hand and spoke again.

“Carthage, with this new position comes sacrifice. I am giving this entire department a three-day reprieve from duties as reward for recovery of the coin. You, Carthage, will do your part as a new Supervisor, by monitoring the timeline while your contemporaries enjoy their time off.”

The applause following the announcement of the department’s reward was much more sincere compared to the last round.

“In the meantime, we will place our newest guest into suspension for your long weekend. Once you have returned from your leave, rested and ready, I will bring in specialists from the University. We can awaken both brothers and get to the bottom of this stolen coin mess. With the information these two have, we will begin a long campaign to repair this embarrassing blemish. It is just a matter of time now! With one last hard push, this major case can be put behind us. Once again, well done everyone. Now enjoy your time off!”

Andrea felt less than enthusiastic as the Mistress left the room. Deflated, she watched while everyone buzzed around her merrily. She glanced out the window of the observation theater to the wide-eyed boy restrained in the chair. He was a prisoner now, just like his brother. In just three days they would be reunited…

That could have been me.

 

 

CHAPTER 23

 

 

 

A dark blue cargo van glided up U.S. Route 395. It turned right on to highway 136 with Greg Thomson at the wheel.

Convincing the Hispanic man to sell the old van for gold had been surprisingly difficult.

Vega left the trade perplexed. “I don’t understand his hesitation. Did he not think that was a generous exchange? He got the better end of the deal…”

Greg laughed, then said, “How could you not see what he was thinking? It was written on his face! Two white guys in suits showing up at his house with gold? Come on! Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘too good to be true?’ All this time spent running around this timeline and that guy confused you… You really aren’t from Earth, are you?”

“I’d say I’ve been here long enough to be an honorary member, but I still don’t get all the cultural inter-workings,” Vega replied as they pulled to the side of the road near the orange grove.

They picked up Envy from his hiding place, and made their way across the state. Greg drove under the speed limit, which felt about as right as riding a bicycle on the freeway.

Greg had no desire to be pulled over with a driver’s license valid for the next fifteen years.

He turned onto the unmarked dirt road and dropped to a crawl.

They drove a long distance down the road, keeping their eyes glued on the woods to their left, looking through the wall of tall ponderosa pines for anything that may have counted as their target. Without seeing much through the rocks, trees and rising of rusty ground, Greg pulled off the road near an intersection of another dirt road.

“I say we hoof it from here.” Greg said, throwing the van into park.

The back doors opened and Envy rolled out, rising up to his full height after being hunched over in the back. The futuristic piece of equipment was very out of his element in the back woods of Southern California. “We are searching the area to the west,” Greg told him. “Roughly parallel to the runway on the other side of the woods. I would imagine this to be a small wooden structure, large enough for one person to sit in.”

“Understood,” Envy said, and rolled into the tree line, ahead of the other two.

“What are you going to do with him?” Greg asked Vega as they followed behind the robot. “He’s done everything we needed him for, hasn’t he?”

“Everything and more,” Vega said. “In fact, I’m not quite sure what to do with the bot. I have grown quite fond of him. He has been very useful, but he will just be conspicuous where we are going next. And not to mention, totally useless against any of the electronic measures in the present…”

“I would hate to jump him back to the silo to be destroyed with the others just because we don’t need him right now,” Greg said, scanning the woods. Neither one looked at each other as they walked and talked through the woods. After a pause Greg spoke again.

“Why don’t we just keep him with us until he becomes a burden. If we need to leave him somewhere, we can and then we’ll use the coin to go back for him. It can’t hurt to have an extra pair of robotic hands to do heavy lifting for us.”

“That sounds fine to me. But, you must understand something. Most of the places I travel, I try my best to blend in. I do not to storm in, bold and brash. There are exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, my aim is to accomplish a mission and leave no mark. Most of this is subtle work. So, how Envy will continue to fit into this quest remains to be seen.”

“I see,” Greg said, “I’d just hate to get rid of the guy. You told Binno not to put in a personality, and maybe it is just my own desire to give him one because he talks and moves, but I think of him as a real member of our team.”

Vega smiled as he scanned the woods.

Greg caught the expression and became aware he was putting too much of his thoughts and feelings out there. He realized how much he had gotten comfortable with the short, old man who had rescued him from a lizard in the orange grove. It felt strange, once he considered it, talking like a real person to this man, who, under most circumstances, would be considered his elder. But there was something about Vega that spoke to Greg’s unconscious, that the older man was just a victim of passing time, and was once like him. Soon he would also be old, another soul swept downstream by the constant flow of time. Would he still have his same sort of outlook and personality, or would it become blunted?

“I know what you mean, young man,” Vega replied after a pause. “I was once a vital half of a great pairing. It has been quite a while since I felt surrounded by others that I could depend on.” Vega cut his mushy speech short.

“We will keep Envy with us as long as we can.” Vega said, validating everything Greg felt about the grey haired man.

 

A soft tone, one that could have been mistaken for a birdcall, drifted through the woods. Vega and Greg tracked the sound to the right, following a deer path, they searched out their robot.

The call came again, closer, taking them over a rise. They found the metal man standing beside a tiny wooden shack.

“Typical!” Greg shouted, running up to the outhouse. “There is even a crescent moon carved into the door!”

“This appears to be the spot you indicated,” Envy said. “It is nearly halfway between the road and landing strip, as well as matching the building type.”

“It’s old alright,” Vega said touching the dry, grey wood. “What do you think, Greg? Buried beneath?”

“The first two were buried in old ammo crates,” Greg said staring into the dark interior of the outhouse. “I guess we should move this thing. Do you think there will be… like, old crap under there?”

“One way to find out… Envy, move this structure. Abandon all care in its preservation,” Vega commanded.

Envy nodded his boxy head and turned toward the outdoor bathroom. He sunk his metal hands under the edge of the wooden base, and exploded upward, tossing the whole wooden mess into the air. It came apart as the structural integrity gave out from the sudden force. What was left of the outhouse came crashing down, fifteen feet away, wood splitting and nails snapping. It fell into a heap of scrap wood, unrecognizable to its former function.

A rock pile sat in the spot where the outhouse stood, similar to the previous two stashes. In detail, there were three rocks; the size of beach balls all leaning against each other.

“No old crap stains,” Greg noticed. “I doubt that it was ever really used for a toilet.”

“Just camouflage,” Vega nodded.

“It will be under those rocks. Envy, could you move those, too?” Greg asked. “You don’t need to chuck them or anything…”

“Looks like it was a good idea to keep him around,” Vega smiled, glad to not be moving 200-pound stones.

The rocks were moved away allowing Greg to step into the depression created by the excavation. He dusted away the granite sand like an umpire cleaning off home plate. In no time, the top of the green military crate was exposed.

Vega joined him, and the pair, like archeologists, carefully dusted around the edges until the top was fully exposed.

Greg took a hold on the crate’s handle. With a mighty effort, tugging with both hands.

Envy, seeing his masters’ struggle, reached out a finger, the crate popped from the earth.

The three treasure hunters stood around the unearthed box. Envy pried around the edges, removing the top.

Greg felt giddy as the treasure was exposed for all the forest to see. He wanted to whoop with joy at the sight of the cash, golden cups, coins, gems and jewelry, but his eyes drifted over to the inside of the lid.

“They fear themselves…” He read under his breath.

“What is that?” Vega said, also noticing the hand painted message.

“The others had messages inside the lids, too,” Greg said. “We are prisoners, and find what they fear. Now we know what the fear is about. Apparently, they fear themselves. I still don’t know what it all means! Why did the Snow King leave these messages behind?”

Vega shook his head.

“Come on! Tell me. I know you know more about this than you’re letting on!”

“I told you what I know, but I promise, we will be delicate about this. I will see what we can get out of Fenton on the subject,” Vega said.

Greg huffed. “Well, here is the coin,” he said, picking it out of the box. After becoming fully aware of the importance of the common looking coin, it was easy to pick it out of the sea of other shiny treasures.

“Maybe we should just ask the Snow King himself!” Greg muttered as the idea formed in his mind.. “Jump back a little bit at a time until we find him putting the treasure here! That would solve it all!”

“I’m not playing time detective,” Vega said, taking the coin from Greg. “This device is mine. That was the deal. I get the third coin and you remain free from the Keepers in the present. So here is your last chance: the next flip of this coin can send you home, or I will let you come with me to see Fenton, before I travel to the present. But I warn you, going home and living a life unremembered, is a safe bet. You, assaulting the present with me, trying to save your brother and your clone, is not.”

Greg did not pause, “I already told you, I’m going to rescue Peter. There is no way I could pass up this chance. What about the treasure?”

“Well,” Vega said, tossing the coin in the air without flipping it, “We can’t reconstruct the building. Bring it along, I suppose. We will have to drop it off somewhere. I have no more need for Earth money.”

Envy bent down and picked up the crate, minus the lid. He wheeled himself to a flat area, knowing his companions were ready to jump.

Vega put out his arm, inviting Greg to take his place beside the robot. With Envy secured on the tips of their steel-toed boots, Vega gave Greg a questioning look.

“Let’s go already! I wanna meet this man from the future!”

The coin leapt from Vega’s thumb and the dry, summer forest was once again empty.

 

 

CHAPTER 24

 

The transport station was expensive, but Andrea had spent all her time working and saving since she had become an Intern. She wore clothes on the cusp of being considered costume. Her skirt and jean jacket were a throwback from another age, ironic fashion. She hurried through the station to get to a free booth, three days of freedom until the interrogation would begin.

“Take me to New San Francisco,” She spoke to the hologram that greeted her. The booth doors snapped closed. Her vision flared to white like a slow motion camera flash. She stepped out of the booth in her home city, half a world away.

But it was not the same city she had grown up in. The old part of the city, the industrial jungle of concrete and steel, held little resemblance to the place she left at fourteen. It was not her choice to leave; to start again in a strange new place. She just got lost one day. It was the day after her birthday.

 

She had once been Andrea Turner, but that name meant nothing hundreds of years in the future. Her birthday had been a grand affair. The small apartment she lived in with her mother in West Portal was crowded with guests. She slept soundly that Sunday, happier than she had ever been. She had forgotten all about the tarnished gift she had received from her uncle. Amidst the much more exciting gifts, like her new cell phone and music gift cards, the old necklace was set aside.

But the next day, on her walk to school, she looked upon the face of the Mistress for the first time. It was then she made her life-changing mistake. Andrea Turner held the chain in one hand and flicked the dangling coin into a spin. The time device activated, pulling her away from everything she had known.

You have activated this travel device. Where in time or space would you like to go?

Andrea Turner had always been a bright girl. She skipped a grade in school. Teachers told her she should start thinking about going to college early. But at that age, she was too young to realize that intelligence was not the same as maturity. And so, when confronted with the strange environment of the time coin, all that Andrea heard was, where in time do you want to go?

“Take me back to the present!” She blurted out, scared and confused.

Andrea dropped the coin upon appearing hundreds of years in the future. Her body went slack at the sight of her neighborhood, now an industrial complex. The time travel device slipped from her fingers, dropping down a grate, out of reach of the lost girl, stranding her in a present that was not her own.

She was found and brought to the authorities. Upon seeing the bright and clean future outside of the abandoned, old city, it was easy to start a new and exciting life. She was placed in an orphanage, having no papers or identification. The new twist on the English language was easy to pick up and she was soon identified as having above average intelligence. She was placed in the proper programs for education, all the while gravitating toward the University for the Study of Time. All of this was a subconscious attempt to understand what had happened to her and how she had come to be the future.

Two years later, while on break from her studies at the University, Andrea returned home. She rented an Autocar, and rode into the old city. The dark ride across bridges and through the raised industrial platforms frightened her. This was no longer the city she had grown up in. The car dropped her off on the west side of the southern peninsula, in what was once known as West Portal. Now, the whole area was an industrial complex built over the sunken earth. Walking around the deserted raised roads was eerie and haunting.

She crossed the old, familiar wooden bridge that linked two factory platforms. Looking down at the ancient wooden boards, a strong wave of memories came flooding back. She remembered the feeling of being stranded, out of her time without a way home. And it was all because of the necklace her uncle had given her for her birthday. The coin, and her panicked response to that heavy question. She shook her head at the thought. She had no idea at fourteen what, ‘take me back to the present,’ actually meant. She started from her namesake; her faded memories forced to reconcile with the reality before her. Andrea studied the structure upon which she was found so long ago, then retraced her footsteps. There was no correlation between the streets she’d once known or the concrete that surrounded her. She searched for the place where she had first arrived in the present until she was about to give up, but as she tuned onto another street, she knew she had finally found it. Two years had past and the chained coin still lay in the muck beneath a grate. This time, properly motivated, she tore the grate free and retrieved her birthday gift.

Taking the train from the transfer station, Andrea Woodbridge rested her head on the glass. She watched the scenery of the new city go by. As the sparkling city on the north side of the bay flashed past her eyes, she held an internal dialogue with herself.

“At fourteen I had no idea what I had on this chain. At sixteen, I thought I knew. But now I truly know what it is that I have had this whole time. I can’t believe I was so young and foolish. At least I wasn’t foolish enough to get caught. Yet, anyway…”

The train dropped her at a familiar block. Andrea’s hands shook as she opened her locker of personal property stored at the orphanage. She had hidden the coin, not daring to bring it back to the University, for fear it would be detected. It was heaver than she remembered. She ran her thumb over the face of the old coin and the woman adorning the front. Hours before, she had seen the Mistress in person, feeling the magnetism she extruded. Her training and spoken loyalty told her she should activate the coin and return it to the university that very moment. She would be a hero! She would forever known as the Intern who returned the third lost coin! She might even get an early appointment to Supervisor…

But the image of the young blond boy, sitting in the interrogation chair, leapt in front of her eyes. Andrea knew that returning this coin was not an option, for reasons she had not yet fully unpacked. She put the coin around her neck, tucking it under her top. She left the orphanage, saying goodbye to the staff and walked into the street. She stood and pondered her next move.

What should be done with the coin? If she left suddenly, went back to 2011 for good, they would come for her. And in truth, she liked her life in the future. She had achieved so much; a sought after degree and a job with the Keepers! If they found she had the coin, she would be interrogated and the entire web spun by the stolen time coins would come unraveled. If they prevented her from accidentally coming to the present, would she remember any of it? No, she knew this from studying temporal principals. She, the person she had become, would become a paradox, and Keepers did not allow paradoxes to exist.

In less than three days, the Mistress would wake the brothers and use them against each other. Andrea didn’t want to know what they would do to make the prisoners talk. Recovering the stolen coins was obviously important to the Mistress. And when the boys eventually spilled their secrets, her coin would be prevented from ever coming into her young hands.

Was there anything she could do? Three days to jump back in time to try to further erase the trail? It seemed impossible to escape the iron grasp her fellow Time Keepers had on the arrow of time. The Mistress was right; it was only a matter of time until they recovered all the stolen coins. But, if the thief was able to do it, there had to be a way. And if there was one person she could ask, it was her old professor, Osorio. He was once a Manager in her department and knew far more than she did.

Professor Osorio seemed pretty jaded the last time we spoke, Andrea thought. If anyone has an opinion I can trust, it will be him. If I remember correctly, he said he was retiring in London around the turn of the 20th century…

Andrea made up her mind. She scanned the area for a spot where she would be unobserved using the coin, but could find none on the street. In the present, it seemed as if all the city streets were monitored. Nowhere was truly private. Remembering back to field training techniques taught in the tourism class from school, restrooms were frequently used for transit points. Andrea returned to the building she had come from. She slipped into the lobby restroom without being seen and went into one of the stalls.

Andrea Woodbridge pulled the coin from under her shirt and held the chain on one finger. The coin spun lazily on the end of the pendant.

Mistress, then hourglass.

It would be the first time using the coin since she stumbled into the present. Instead of flicking the coin as she had the first time, she offset her thumb and forefinger and made a snapping motion. The coin jumped up to activation speed and Andrea was pulled out of the Arrow of Time.

 

 

CHAPTER 25

 

London, in June of 1904, was not like Andrea expected. She had imagined, even having been born only one hundred years prior, a city under a dark cloud of industrial revolution smoke, paired with grimy poverty. But when she arrived in Hyde Park, it was far from her expectations. There was a light mist falling from the grey sky, but it was bright and cheery woods at the heart of the city.

Not much different from my San Francisco on a winter day, Andrea thought, making her way out to the street on the north side of the park. The streets were paved with worn cobblestone and occupied by a few narrow-tired cars moving at heartbreakingly slow speeds. The buildings were big and solidly built, with ornate hand-made decorations. She could not help but to be impressed. The departing professor had been right, this was an exciting time, the beginning of modernity.

Andrea frantically began her search of the city, checking in the types of places she hoped her former teacher would be. Despite the fact that she had a time travel device on a chain around her neck, the flow of time was still moving ahead in the present. Every second she spent searching, despite being in the past, brought her closer to the end of the three days. Time would continue to flow forward in the present and the department of timeline preservation. By her count, she still had over seventy-two hours until the two brothers would be taken out of the prison, but every second could be important.

After two hours of searching, Andrea became accustomed to the curious glances from passersby. She understood it was quite out of the ordinary for Londoners of this age to see a black girl with a funny accent and dress walking about on her own. Soon, she found herself on the east side of the River Thames, walking along the narrow alleys that had bridges connecting the interiors of tall brick buildings. Where would an educated man from the future live in a city of this sort? Almost as if in response to her internal question, her eyes leapt to an oval wooden sign hanging over a doorway.

A Potter’s shop!

At first it meant nothing, and then the implications came crashing in.

“I have always looked forward to the day when I could look away from the projections and make tangible clay sculptures with my soft hands.”

Professor Osorio had added this unimportant detail the day he had mentioned his pending retirement. Andrea could not think of a better place to ask, as pubs and libraries had turned up nothing. The city was huge, but it was the best idea she had had so far.

Only the light from the windows lit the shop. The ceilings were low and a fine grey power coated the stone floor. By the door, on display, was a bookshelf full of fine clay mugs and bowls, glazed with beautiful earth tones. A man, wearing a stained canvas apron came to the front counter to see what the girl wanted.

“I don’t sell my supplies, only the finished product,” he told Andrea.

“Is there another shop that would sell to someone, who wanted to throw clay as a hobby?” Andrea asked, trying to pull off a local accent.

“Send you to a competitor? That would hurt me own business!” The potter cried.

“I promise I won’t buy a thing!” Andrea said and smiled, trying to charm the man. She tilted her head to the side as she continued with her plea. “I am just looking for a friend who makes his own pottery as a pastime. It’s very important that I find him!”

Finally the man yielded and gave up the address of his competitor, who happened to be a ten-minute walk away. There she found success.

“Oh yes. I know Fenton Osorio. He is the Arab looking fellow with the strange name. Comes in once a week to get more clay. Bought a wheel and some basins a pair o’ months ago, as well,” the friendly shop owner told her. “In fact, he ordered a large bellow and it came in yesterday. You are looking for him, eh?”

“Yes, he was one of my professors at university! I wanted to find him so I could thank him for the position he recommended.” Andrea said, offering partial truth.

“Well then, if you deliver this package over to his place, I will give you his address.”

Andrea nodded and the man went into the back. He came back with a package wrapped in brown paper and twine. “What did Osorio teach, anyway?”

“Philosophy,” Andrea answered. She thanked the man and left the shop.

The address was difficult to find, as the girl from the future was not used to the system of addresses used in early twentieth century London. She walked across the damp town, stopping to ask for directions at a flower stand, finally finding her way to the road named on the parchment. The houses were small and shabby, not the type of domicile that Andrea imagined an important man from the future would reside. She entered the small front courtyard and used the knocker on the door. Waiting for an answer, Andrea’s eyes wandered across the brickwork in front of the Professor’s home. A wrought iron horse, holding a looped bit in its mouth, adorned the top of the brick fence. He stood alone, looking as if he was missing companions. It seemed to Andrea that he was the last survivor of his kind, the final remnant of past yard decorations.

No one was answering. Andrea wasn’t sure how to proceed? She did have a time device. Should she walk right in? Before her mind was made, she decided to walk around the back. The mist had stopped but the walk was still wet. Her shoes clicked with each step as she went down the narrow passage between houses. Unexpectedly, a small horse stable stood to the rear of the house. It had been converted for other uses, now clean and open with no sign of livestock. In the center of the wet wood structure was a brick oven. Shelves lined the walls, holding pieces of pottery in various stages of drying and bisque. Andrea set the package down and brushed her fingers along the top of the oven.

Still warm…

There were basins and buckets full of grey water. In the corner was a chock-topped table with a wire stretched at an angle. Andrea picked up a teacup, displayed next to earlier attempts, and held it by the base. The walls of the cup were thin and Andrea dropped the beautiful cup when Osorio spoke.

“I didn’t think they would send you,” the older man said. He watched the cup fall from slack fingers, then break on the uneven floor. Fenton Osorio moved nothing but his eyes.

Andrea found herself at a loss for words, unsure of where to begin, as the former Manager looked her up and down.

“You brought that package for me? They let you leave looking like that? No, no. This is wrong,” Osorio realized. “How did you get here? What is going on?”

Andrea suddenly felt like she had made a huge mistake in coming. The well-put together professor she remembered had changed in the last two months. Fenton Osorio’s balding hair was uncombed and he wore a housecoat under a canvas apron. He smelled of pipe tobacco and gazed at her with an ineffable expression. All that Andrea could do was pull the coin from its hiding place. She dangled it from the chain for him to see.

“Is that…” he asked, his voice fading.

“You were the only person I could come to,” Andrea muttered, and then tears fell in rivers down her cheeks. “I brought myself to the present by mistake, but I’ve made a life there. They found another coin and if I don’t do something, in sixty-eight hours, they will start the interrogation and get to the bottom of the stolen coins and I don’t know if I’ll even exist!”

Osorio swept his eyes around the area as Andrea wept. They were unobserved, which told the old professor a lot. He put his hand on the girl’s shoulder and gave her a moment to get control of herself. “Come inside, Ms. Woodbridge. Andrea. We can figure all this out.”

Two minutes later, the pair sat in Osorio’s study, in high backed chairs. “They recovered a second coin,” Andrea told the older man. Osorio made tea as Andrea explained the situation. “And it turns out the boy who had the coin is a brother to the first. The second brother was in shock after his capture, so the Mistress gave us three days off as a reward. She plans on bringing in specialists to use them against each other. They will spill their secrets, I know they will. I just don’t know what to do! All I could think to do was come here. Do you know anything about the three stolen coins or the man who stole them? If he could take them and get away with it, there has to be a way for me to do something, isn’t there?”

“You worked as an intern for two months and were let in on all that? The prison? Everything?” Osorio asked.

“I hope that is all. I wanted to work for the Keepers my whole life. Two months in, I’ve found out about Garlons, prisons, flash cloning, and interrogating young boys! Could it get worse?”

“I does, slightly,” Fenton Osorio answered. “Stolen time coins are not the biggest scandal to befall the organization. I have worked through startling discoveries while out on data collection that no one was prepared for. The Garlon were before my time, but they were quite the event in their day. You asked about the thief and what I know?”

“Yes?” Andrea said. She sat forward in her chair, tea growing cold.

“He has been nicknamed the Snow King. Very deep observation into the past suggested he used his stolen coins to commit more robberies in the 20th century. We noticed crimes that were unexplainable cropping up late in this century. These were mostly of Canadian currency, and some art. We speculated that he was from that country, since he valued their money. We suspect other instances of missing valuables in the past were his work as well. But, every time we investigate them, we come up empty handed.”

“So there is no explanation for him?” Andrea said. “He is just a man from some place we can’t figure out? What did Meyer call them…”

“Transient. An intruder into our timeline from somewhere else. Is that the word you are looking for?” Osorio said. “Oh, yes. That is what I suspect. That is the way he has been classified anyway.”

“Is there anyway to use that? Some way to use this factor to our advantage?” Andrea asked.

Fenton Osorio was quiet for a moment, gazing off at his bookshelf. “You worked in timeline preservation for two months. I worked for twenty years. I saw things that made me question my whole existence, but I kept going. I became jaded, working for the Mistress. That woman developed rules and guidelines, brought the University and the Keepers to life from nothing. She was your age when she perfected time travel. I say perfected because we found traces of time travel used before her. It was crude compared to our skills and understanding, but it was time travel nonetheless. I founded my life, my work, and my education on the assumptions of the greater Hopper rules. They are rules for every one but the Keepers, and that was hard to live with. It is why I went into teaching part time. The only way I could live was to have only one foot in the department.”

“Why didn’t you just transfer to tourism or documentation?” Andrea asked.

“Once you have tasted that drug, of being free from the rules, everything else looses its flavor. What I learned exhausted me, but I could not give it up until I had enough. And so I quit.”

“I don’t want to be found out as a paradox. I don’t want to be a trophy in the prison, the girl who got lost and became a Keeper for two months. I want to keep working in timeline preservation. I also disagree with some of the things that go on, but if I stick around, I may be able to change all that one day. There must be something we can do…”

“You have heard about transients, but have you heard about one of the most famous of all transients? He was called the enigma, because he was so unlike all the others we had ever come across. He kept a very low profile, but repeatedly popped up through history. He was by far, the most stable of all the transients we have dealt with, as well as one of the craftiest. In fact, we transported him through time in exchange for his name soon after we captured the first coin.”

“What was his name?” Andrea asked, breathless.

“I believe it was Aros. He traded this information for himself and a companion to be brought here to London, in the year 1900. In previous encounters, we kept our distance, only observing. But this time, our interest was truly peaked. He obtained a curious artifact from a part of town called Seven Dials and went into the park. There, he and his partner disappeared.”

“Not time travel, I am assuming,” Andrea said.

“That is the case. Our scientists studied the spot they left from. It left enough trace to postulate, that the two left our universe.”

“Our universe… They never returned?”

“That is the thing. We set up monitoring devices in the spot, but they never returned there. This man had completely captured me. I have been obsessed with the possibility of other universes. I so badly want to know where he has been and what he has seen. And so that is part of the reason I retired here.”

“You hope to see him again?”

Fenton Osorio smiled with a sly grin.

“What do you know?” Andrea said, nearly getting out of her seat. “Have you seen him? Can he help me from being discovered?”

“I think you are right,” Osorio said. “If a transient caused this first rift, another could repair it. And while I don’t have this Aros to give you as a solution, I have the next best thing.”

Andrea sat silent on the edge of her chair, waiting for the professor to speak. The older man took a sip of his tea, drawing out the moment.

“I spotted his companion two days ago.”

“This is great! Maybe he can tell me something!”

“He is quite different from when we last observed him. It has been four years for us in the present, but this man left looking thirty, and returned twice that age. I don’t know how time passes where he went, but he is much older and seemed to have cooled off. I expected to him to take up his old partners habits of keeping on the move, but he has stayed in town. He was alone and appeared beaten down. I can only guess what has happened to him since they left in 1900.”

“Where is he? Take me to him!” Andrea blurted. This time, the excitement was too much to keep her off her feet. “We could see if he knows a way to arrest the flow of time, or something. He will talk to me, I just know it!”

“Girl, you are just stabbing at possibilities. If we want to motivate a transient to do something for us, we have to know just where to push his buttons to make that happen. Sit. We need a plan we can bring to him…”

 

 

CHAPTER 26

 

 

 

“You must think of things in terms of motivation,” Fenton Osorio said, as he brainstormed ideas with Andrea in the parlor of his home. “Every man has something that motivates him to do the things he does. Others have used classic motivators throughout time to get their agents to do their bidding: money, religious principals, sex, pride, morality, and personal gain… Think of your own situation. You are trying to prevent an event that will occur in the present because of a survival instinct. We must put ourselves in the shoes of this man and see what he will move them for.”

“You said, he and his friend disappeared four years ago and only he returned. We should find out what happened to his partner, the enigma.” Andrea said.

“Now I see why you made it through school so quickly. You have strong reasoning skills,” Osorio said. “That seems to be a good place to start. When I talk to him, I will have to enquire about his friend. Another more obvious motivation might be transport. Last time, it seemed as if accepting our Supervisors offer was an easy way for the pair to travel to the past, but they could have accomplished the journey themselves eventually, if they wanted. We were just a shortcut; one they were willing to take because they thought they were leaving for good.”

“Yes, there has got to be somewhere he wants to go. We tell him to do our task and in return I will take him anywhere he chooses with my coin!”

 

Wasting no time, Andrea and Osorio used the coin to jump to the ally behind a pub where their long shot hope was last seen. It had not taken the pair long to find the transient. Andrea stood in the doorway of the pub while Osorio approached and spoke with Vega.

From her vantage point, the pair appeared to be about the same age. Yet, there was something different about the transient’s face. There are miles there, Andrea thought. Vega’s hadn’t shaved and grey hair was left uncombed, but his three-piece suit was impeccable. A satchel hung over one shoulder, remaining in place even though the man had been drinking all morning in booth. The contradiction in looks between the man and his clothing was like a homeless man driving a Jaguar.

At the arrival of a visitor from the present, Vega switched to water and paid close attention. From across the room, Andrea could see that the proposal they had devised was on the right track. A break in the conversation had both men turn and look across the room at Andrea. Vega nodded and the two men continued their intense discussion.

As Fenton finished his pitch, Andrea, the true genesis of the proposition, noticed how correct they had been in their construction of the plan. Vega looked susceptible. He was obviously not as stable, at least at present, as the stories Andrea had been told of his friend, the enigma. The careful guarding of the bag he wore also seemed significant, but Andrea was not sure why. And finally, his change in demeanor, from the look of a drifting soul to renewed sharp concentration in a matter of a single conversation, spoke volumes. She knew before Fenton Osorio handed over his pocket watch, which tracked the passing of time in the present, that Vega was their man.

The pair got up from the booth and walked out of the dimly lit pub. Andrea followed, taking the role of Fenton’s assistant.

“Now you understand, we need you back here to confirm that you have instructed the boy on exactly what is expected of him. He must comply if he ever wants to free himself and his brother from the place they will be held,” Fenton pressed. “If you are successful, we will take you to use the flash cloner.”

“I understand,” the transient said. “I will meet you in the park, at Speakers Corner, in half an hour. I will be ready to go then.”

The two men exchanged nods and the group split up going in two directions.

“That’s what he wanted? To use the flash cloner in the present?” Andrea whispered once they were a block away.

“You were right to ask about his friend. It seems that is who he wants to clone. I suspect he has a piece of him in that bag he carries.”

“He was guarding it closely,” Andrea agreed. “Are we going to actually take him there?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I told him to find the fourth coin. If the brothers knew where at least two of them were, he should have the boy help him find last one and use that to come back to us here in 1904.”

“What if the boy doesn’t know where it is?” Andrea asked.

“Then he should continue on with the plan of telling the boy to convince his brother to say nothing at all costs. And if they keep their secret we promise to release them in time. Vega seemed motivated enough by the information on the last coin and the Snow King that he would take the job for us.”

“What if this doesn’t work? What do we do then?” Andrea said.

“If Vega does not come back to us with the last coin? That would mean the boy did not know where it was. We can still hope that he can convince the boy to say nothing when they interrogate them further. But you must be prepared to face this head on. If you can bring the last two coins to the Mistress, she may consider keeping you around.”

“I have considered that,” Andrea said. “She did save the Enforcers. Perhaps she will have a soft spot for another paradox…”

“You said the Enforcer was stunned,” Osorio said, changing the subject.

“Yes. He did not return from the grab immediately. A stunner was dropped when the Enforcer marched back with the boy.”

“Like this one?” Osorio asked, half exposing the anachronism she had seen.

“I will never get used to loops like that…” Andrea said, confirming Osorio’s question. “Why do you have that here, in the past?”

“Well, I would never be able to use a firearm from this age, and I felt the need to carry protection. It is only from a hundred years in the future, so it hopefully wouldn’t cause that much of a stir if it was found in my home when I die.”

Andrea laughed at the old man’s childish reasoning. He passed the device over and Andrea stuffed it in her dress pocket.

“Go to the park and bring him to 2002. Return to my home and we will wait to see how this game plays out,” Osorio said.

Andrea nodded and split away from her co-conspirator, hoping in her heart she would not have to face the woman who’s likeness adorned the coin around her neck.

 

The transient, now wearing a green cloak and appearing much more put together, stood beside her without warning. Andrea jumped, placing her hand on her chest. She took a moment to calm herself as she stood in the middle of the open grassy area on the corner of Hyde Park. Vega remained still, regarding the girl, and she returned his stare. There were so many things she wanted to ask this seemingly average looking man, but for the success of her quest, it was best to not say a word. And there was no time left to waste on her whims. Andrea pointed to a bank of hedges and the pair walked over.

She stopped once she was satisfied with the amount of concealment they had from the general foot traffic passing the Marble Arch area.

Vega placed a light hand on Andrea’s upper arm, again startling the girl.

It took Andrea a moment to realize why he had prompted the contact, but she maintained control over displaying the trepidation she felt.

This was only her third time using the coin, and her first transporting someone with her. She knew that when using a coin travel device, as opposed to the other Keeper variants, there were parameters placed on the mass to be pulled into the temporal mid-point vortex upon device activation. But the cerebral fact and the physical action had not yet been connected for her. Andrea nodded, and drew the coin from its hidden place and prepared to spin it to the high revolutions required for the coin to be activated.

Vega’s eyes were on her the whole time, studying the event intently. This was not his first time being transported by a Keeper, but was still a novel event for Vega.

Andrea snapped her fingers and the coin leapt into a furious spin.

 

“You have activated this travel device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go,” the coin spoke, suspended in mid air, still on the end of the chain around Andrea’s neck.

“Just a moment,” Andrea said, and turned to her passenger.

“Take this,” she said, handing the device over to her senior. “I will place you ten seconds before the boy arrives in the exact same spot. A shock from this should incapacitate the Enforcer for five seconds or so. You must remember that the Enforcer should have no reason to report anything that went wrong. The smallest disruption will avoid the need for it to call for preemptive support. The Enforcer must maintain control of the boy and think it was an accidental shock.”

“I understand,” Vega said, looking over the device. “Are all the travel coins on chains like that one? They must be spun to activate?”

“Not all are on chains,” Andrea answered. She was surprised by Vega’s voice; soft and with a slight accent, rather than gruff and British. He spoke more like the people from her adopted time than the old version of English from their current time. “The travel devices you will encounter will be free coins, similar in look to mine. Flip them with a thumb to activate.”

Vega nodded. “Is there anything else?”

“No. Just watch the passage of time in the present. If you want to use the clone creator, you need to bring the third coin back to us in time. So, try not to tarry in finding it, then return as soon as possible.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Final tip, you could come right back to this time and the watch would tell us how many hours had passed in the present, even though it would be a moment for us here. It helps preserve the continuity in everyone’s mind, that when you return to us here in London, you come back the same amount of time that it takes to complete your task.”

Vega nodded as Andrea spoke their destination.

He steadied himself, prepared to be inserted back into the Arrow of Time, to a field of orange trees in Southern California, in the summer of 2002.

 

 

CHAPTER 27

 

 

 

Fenton Osorio and Andrea Turner were sitting in the parlor when Vega returned. He walked in the back door of the small London home without saying a word, and tossed the pocket watch to the tubby bearded professor.

Andrea straightened up, once again surprised by Vega’s sudden entrance. She realized that the transient was not alone.

“No! No!” She cried as her eyes widened on the young blond boy following the transient. He was the same boy she had seen days earlier sitting in an interrogation chair in the present. She was even more startled by the robot that brought up the rear, shorting its base to make it through the narrow doorways, the wood floor creaking under its weight.

“What is he doing here? If you made a double through a time loop, it will only make it easier for the Supervisor observing the past to see what you have done!” Andrea cried.

Vega gazed at the young black girl, whom he had assumed to be only a helper. He turned his attention back to Fenton Osorio, who was checking the time on the pocket watch.

“Four hours to spare,” Vega said to his contemporary, ignoring Andrea’s protest.

“What was the point of making a looped double? Why would you bring him here? And the robot? You have wrecked everything!” Andrea continued shrilly.

“Listen, girl!” Vega interrupted, taking a tone Greg had only heard him use once the very first time they met. “I am not foolish enough to make waves in your timeline with those sorts of tricks. We substituted a clone in place of the original. His name is Greg Thompson.”

Greg took a step forward to join the circle, timidly grinning and nodding to the two people from the present.

“And I take it, you have with you the fourth lost coin?” Osorio said, unfettered by Andrea’s panic.

“Fourth? There are four coins? I thought of it as the third…” Greg said. “My brother had one, we just let the second go with Curt, and Vega has the third. Where is the last one then?”

Andrea drew her coin from beneath her shirt. She held it toward Greg on the chain.

“Ohh…” Greg muttered looking at the familiar coin. It looked so much like his own, but took on a totally different feel being placed in a setting. “Did the Snow King have another stash or something?”

“I have no idea who the Snow King is,” Andrea said to Greg. “My uncle gave this to me as a birthday gift.”

Greg was confused. “And you are from the present? I thought you were a Keeper? How did your uncle get the coin if I saw the Snow King die in 2011?”

“The Snow King is dead?” Osorio interrupted.

“He was hit by a car. Before he died, he gave me a map with the location of his treasure stashes. There was a time coin hidden in each. That’s how I got involved in this,” Greg said.

“Maybe you should tell us no more,” Fenton Osorio began to say. “Once we learn the genesis of this split we can not unlearn it…”

“I came from San Francisco in 2011!” Andrea spoke to Greg over the top of her teachers’ warnings. “My uncle was a mortician in Grass Valley. My name is Andrea. Is that where you are from, Greg?”

“Yeah!” Greg said. “How did you become a Keeper if we’re from the same time?”

“I used the coin accidentally and got stuck in the present. So, I made the best of it…” Andrea replied. “That is why we had to get Vega to convince you to not tell your secrets, just like your brother. If I am found out, I don’t know what will happen to me…”

“Peter,” Greg whispered. “Is he okay?”

“Yeah,” Andrea said, realizing there was more souls involved than just her own. “He was in a holding cell, last I saw him. He is being held in suspended animation. So he looks about the same age as you are now.”

“Is it true that his mind has continued to work even though he has been imprisoned?” Greg asked.

Osorio answered, “That is true as far as I know. I have never been placed in suspension, but I am told the subject does experience some passing of time in a half dream like state.”

“I am renegotiating our arrangement,” Vega cut in, speaking to Fenton. “Or should I be speaking to you, Andrea. It seems like you may be the one who is truly in charge here.”

“You can still speak with me, Vega the Tarkin,” Fenton Osorio said, attempting to use extra language to show his dominance.

“Not quite,” Vega said with a grin. “I am half human, and half forsaken Tarkin. I am without the gift of my father’s blood. In other worlds, I am well compensated for this deficiency. Unfortunately, in this version of earth, I have only my cunning. And now, former Manager Fenton Osorio, I will use all of my faculties to accomplish my own goals. If you do not like this change, you should not have enlisted the help of a man such as myself.”

“What would you do?” Osorio fenced back. “Leave with your freshly acquired coin and go to the present unaccompanied? That would be foolish. If you went anywhere in the present, your presence alone would be immediately noticed, especially with an ancient war robot in tow. Should you want to use our cloning booth, you will need my help to guide you to the exact location.”

Vega stood still, observing the man. “You underestimate me. I have been to the present once, and there was no problem. But that was long ago, and you are right; I don’t know where to go. That is not to say I could not eventually find what I need. I have done my part, and now you must do yours.

“The boy is coming with me; both he and the robot. He will rescue his brother and clone and I will use your machine. That is the new deal. Accept or we will leave and make due on our own.”

“I could alert the present of your location here,” Fenton counter attacked.

“If you will, they would have been here already.”

“I could have told them to hold off until any time I choose.”

“Stop this, both of you!” Andrea interrupted. “It is a deal! Greg can rescue his brother and you can use the flash cloner.”

The group stood at four separate points, all regarding each other.

Andrea had broken up the duel, sick from the rising conflict. She knew her former teacher planned on yielding, but had enjoyed the match nonetheless. Her stomach could not take the bickering. She felt especially exhausted after holding in the dread her situation had created over the past three days.

Osorio nodded to Vega and the corners of his mouth curled up a fraction of an inch; the conversation had given him much personal satisfaction in learning more about the man who had seen other worlds.

“There is one last problem we should discuss,” Fenton Osorio said. “Once we assault the present, there is no going back. The Mistress holds an iron grip on time from her position at the top. How do you plan to escape once you resurrect whomever you have come all this distance for? Where will the boy and his brothers go?

“Do you know what kind of life you will have to live once you free the other two?” he said to Greg. “You will have to abandon any hope of a life that makes any impact on history. You will have to change your name and live in constant fear of being remembered.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Vega said, shielding Greg from the attack. “We have our own plan. When we are done, I just need to get to the sunlight. What about you and Andrea? What will you do? You will be traitors to your own people.”

“That is doubtful,” Osorio said. “We can cover our own tracks. Andrea just wants her life secured. This we will do for her, in exchange for your demands. We have three hours, and so we should go. Let me collect a stunner from my room, before we depart.”

Fenton turned and started out of the room, but Greg stopped him in his tracks.

“We are prisoners.”

The old man from the future glanced at Greg as if he had just fired a gun into the air.

“It’s been on my mind,” he added. “I had to ask. The Snow King left messages under the lid of the boxes the coins were hidden in. It was like a warning or something. Do you Keepers know what it means? We are prisoners. Find what they fear. They fear themselves.”

“I have no idea,” Fenton said, abruptly leaving the room.

“He left those messages?” Andrea said.

“They are not Keeper sayings, then?” Greg asked.

“No,” Andrea said. “But it makes me think…”

Fenton Osorio returned, a non-lethal weapon from the present in his hand. “Are we ready?”

Envy tracked the armed man as he joined the group. Vega gave him the signal to load up. Before he could mount Vega and Greg’s feet, Fenton spoke.

“You are aware, any electronic measures possessed by this robot will be useless where we are going?”

“I am aware,” Vega said. “But these two have gained a special place in my heart, and that is why I will bring them with me. And though this robot is inferior to your technology in the present, he has another capability you lack in your modernity: his kind were ruthless killers in another age. I doubt your people have much use for violence in an age where you control the past.”

“We are prisoners,” Andrea whispered, beginning to understand.

“Fine,” Fenton said, unimpressed. “I will place us in an exact location so as to neutralize the duty observer. Then we must move swiftly. Andrea, you take the boy to free his brothers and I will accompany this man on his errand.”

Everyone nodded. Envy loaded up and the others all put themselves in contact with Vega, who once again put on his green cloak.

“Are we ready?” He asked.

With no protests, the man from another world, who knew magic but could not use it, produced the stolen coin, which would propel them in time to the furthest point possible. He gazed at the obverse image of the Mistress, and then the reverse image of the hourglass. A smile crossed his face, the type of smile that came to his face on countless occasions, always before terrific battles where his fate would be decided. Vega always came out victorious, except once. He was now ready to right that wrong.

He patted his satchel and flipped the coin.

 

 

CHAPTER 28

 

 

 

Supervisor Meyer pulled up the clock on the observation terminal. He realized it would be another couple hours before the Mistress and the Managers came in for the morning. He rubbed his hands on his face, relishing the warmth. He sat at one of the three terminals in the center of the department of timeline preservation. It was to this room that visitors came for a tour of the building. They would be in awe to stand in the room where Managers stood a vigilant watch, alert for discrepancies that may arise from Tourist traveling through time. It was a noble thought on the surface, Meyer knew, but if the general public knew what went on in the back rooms…

It was all for the ultimate good of the timeline, he knew. Meyer, in his new blue uniform, smiled as he looked over the display before him, rows and rows of grape vines swooping over rolling hills. The vineyard, his conceptualization of the interface, was his alone to tend over his marathon watch. The orderly lines had remained, as they should, except for one area, far in the back, a large blemish that was well known but left alone.

The air tickled behind him. Meyer turned away from the images floating in the air above his flat display. A group of individuals stood behind him.

Two he recognized: Andrea the Intern, and a former Manager. Another older man and the pentagon face of an old robot stood behind the familiar faces. Carthage Meyer opened his mouth to speak, but not even a word managed to escape before he crumpled to the floor.

Fenton Osorio drew the stunner back from the wilted Supervisor and turned to the others behind him. “Let’s move. Andrea, you lead the way. Once we get to the secured unit, I will take Vega to the machine, and the others can free the boys. Now go!”

Envy spun on his dynamic tracks and started toward the back hallways, Andrea sprinting ahead, Greg close in tow. Vega glided after them, wrapped in his cloak. The former Manager started to move, but stopped and turned back to the previously occupied console.

He waved a hand over the surface and looked into the air. Moments later, a snap and hum lit the air throughout the department. Osorio turned away from the white block, coming face to face with the rest of the group. The other four had stopped and turned about-face.

“What did you just do?” Vega demanded.

“There has been a change, but I am not equipped to define it,” Envy reported.

“I’m sorry, but I cannot take part in this any more,” Osorio said, walking forwards with arms held open. “Despite my distaste for the practices of the Mistress, I took a binding oath, one which I am bound to keep even after I give up a life in the present. I hate what we do, but I cannot allow transients to destroy our timeline. I will not try to stop you. I have brought the last two lost coins home, and that should make up for my transgressions.”

“You’ve betrayed us!” Andrea cried.

“That is a matter of perspective. I have dampened travel device use in this building. You will not be able to use the coins, but no one will be able to transport in here as well. Do what you must, but as for myself, my role in this game is complete. You will have to deal with the Mistress and the Enforcers now.”

“Stupid old man!” Greg spit.

Vega smiled in spite of his disgust, “Move, the game is not over yet. Greg, get your brothers, then all we have to do is get outside.”

A moment later, Fenton Osorio was left alone in the observation room, arms still open, head hung. A tear rolled down his chubby cheeks and disappeared into his beard. He took the required steps forward to the wall beside the door to the back areas. He slid down the wall and drew his knees up to his belly like a child. He rested his head on his crossed arms and waited for the Mistress to arrive, as she would be forced to come through the main doors this time.

 

The raiding party burst through the door to the secure area and Andrea lead the charge down the main hall. Past the period clothes lockers, the group ran at a panicked pace. In the central operations area, where Curt, and Peter before him, had been first brought, the group came to a halt.

“That door,” Andrea pointed, “leads to the flash cloner. I don’t know exactly how it works…”

“I can manage with Envy’s help,” Vega said, pulling his satchel from beneath his cloak. “Don’t worry about me, just do what you need to. We leave as soon as we are all ready.”

Greg nodded in thanks to his strange savior and followed Andrea through a door on the opposite side of the room. They ran into the prison without slowing, the door sliding shut behind the pair. Envy rolled after Vega, leaving the operation area clear.

 

Vega stood in awe before the flash cloning machine. He had come a great distance to find this machine. He could not help but to think of all the hours and lives devoted to the ideas that were now culminated into a single piece of functional equipment. He dropped his cloak around his feet and dug into his bag.

Vega dropped the satchel to the ground, and looked at the bundle he now held in his hand. Taking a deep breath, he unwrapped the common red cloth from the items hidden inside.

Open, he drew out two long bones, each unique in presentation. The longer was intact, but burnt. The other was unblemished with a clean cut at the top, leaving only the distal head. It was the second bone he chose to be first placed in the receiving box.

Envy made observations while Vega interfaced with the standard holo-display, so as to help his master work the machine. “I don’t understand what this means here,” Vega pointed to his assistant.

“It indicates that the provided genetic sample has non-standard DNA and will take marginally longer than a typical coalescence,” The robot explained.

“Fine. Where is the age setting?”

“I believe the pathway to differ the age of the clone from that of the sample… should be here.” Envy pointed.

Vega manipulated the controls.

The receiving tank filled with an opaque, green fluid. Vega took a step back to watch. He drew in a deep breath, still holding the burnt femur bone in his left hand as the body was organized.

The scene was gruesome, as Meyer had warned Andrea; but Vega had not heard this warning, nor would he have put much stock in the advice of a soft boy from the present.

Lights flashed from electrical impulses injected into the liquid. The nutrient rich fluid supplied the calcium to form bones. Soon a white skeleton was formed and was crawling with membrane coverings and ligament attachments. The color of the tank changed as muscles, tissues and vasculature grew from proteins injected into the tank. The body formed before Vega’s eyes and the face of the clone began to take on a familiar face.

“Welcome back Aros,” Vega whispered. His former companion was becoming recognizable, albeit a much younger version. It was a ghastly shell of the man he first met so long ago, now free of the scars and tattoos collected along their journeys. But Vega would not fool himself; this was not quite his old friend. This was an exact genetic copy, full of the originals instincts and predispositions, but devoid of his soul and memories. Vega felt the weight of the other bone in his hand. The second Tarkin he would resurrect would be the same. The clones would look like his friend and his father, but they would not be whole unless he escaped this world. He must get to a place where he could draw their souls into their new bodies.

The action in the tank paused and the water, now a dirty brown, began to drain. The clone was complete and the tank prepared for a self-cleaning cycle. The young boy, flash cloned in three minutes to the age of eight, was taken out of his birth chamber. The white, flaccid body was scooped out of the chamber by the solid arms of the reprogrammed war robot, and lowered down for Vega to see.

The naked boy had straight black hair. He breathed slowly as if sleeping in the robots’ arms. Vega spoke in a language he had not used in years. The clone of his old friend opened his eyes. Purple irises met the hopeful gaze of the older man. Vega smiled and spun away to place the next bone in the machine, no time to spare for celebrating the completion of the first part of his quest.

 

“This is the prison!” Andrea shouted in the large quite room. She ran over to the movable pad that served as access to the stacks of prisoners held in suspension. She took her place in the center of the pad and turned to wait for Greg.

Greg stopped short of the pad, embarrassed that he was out of breath. His heart was racing, his mind on overload from all he was seeing. It felt like something out of a movie; stacks of people being held in fluid cells, having their life force drained for nefarious purposes. But this wasn’t a movie, this was a real place, in a future he would not naturally live to see. But at the moment, he was in that future, and it felt as real as anything he had ever experienced. His brother, who he had missed for so long, was now within grasp.

Greg had imagined Peter’s life on lonely nights after his brother had disappeared. In the grand scheme of things, it had only been four years that the boys had been apart, but to Greg, those last years had seemed more real to him than all his other memories. Peter was a lifeguard in Southern California, tan in the heavy sunlight, red shorts and sunglasses. One day, Greg’s mind wandered before sleep, I’ll be on a trip to the beach and come across my brother and the mystery will finally be solved. But now, in the cold detention block, the questions left were truly answered. As Greg stepped onto the pad Andrea gave instructions to move towards to the upper cells in the secure unit.

Greg’s mind was focused on internal thoughts as his eyes dragged past cell after cell. The people suspended in the occupied units did not register with his conscious mind until the pad suddenly stopped. It took a moment to process that the person in the cell before him was the prisoner they had requested to be brought to.

“Peter,” Greg said. “He looks exactly as I saw him last.”

“He has been in suspension for the last four years,” Andrea said, operating the lock to remove the prisoner. “I’ve never done this before, so I don’t know what kind of state he will be in…”

A light turned blue on the door and the glass doorway to the cell slid back. Expecting the fluid to come pouring out, the two passengers on the pad took a step back, but were surprised when the fluid encompassing Peter kept its shape.

“What do we do?” Greg asked, keeping his gaze locked on the body of his brother.

Andrea stepped forward and sunk both hands, up to her elbows, into the suspension chamber. The fluid reacted like gelatin, becoming soft and giving way under her movement. The older girl gripped the thin white boy by his shoulders and pulled him towards herself. The suspension fluid rolled off Andrea’s arms, leaving her skin dry as she pulled Peter out of the chamber and onto their platform.

Peter flopped onto the cold metal and Greg dropped with him. The look on Peter’s face was empty, confused, and he did not speak. The boy’s eyes drooped as Greg shook his brother, calling him back to the present. A heaving spasm rolled up the collapsed figure, ending in an attempt to vomit, which produced nothing. Tears streamed down Greg’s cheeks as Andrea moved the platform over to Curt’s cell.

The second boy was freed just as swiftly. Curt experienced the same symptoms as Peter, both boys fighting the incapacitation. Four passengers, two on their backs sucking down air as their brains reset, now occupied the pad. Peter seemed to be coming out of state first, his eyes darting around as he produced meaningless vocalizations. Andrea made their new destination the floor while Greg knelt over his brothers, a worried expression on his face.

Peter’s face seemed foreign to Greg. The intervening years had not changed the face he knew, but the time Greg experienced had dulled his own memory. The thought of how far he had come struck Greg. Functionally, the two of them were now just about the same age. In fact, the same applied to the very familiar and haunting face of Curt who lay nearby. But in the present time, compared to the year they were born, the two brothers were now old men.

The pad suddenly came to a jolting stop. Greg popped his head up and looked around. With the overstimulation of everything to take in, Greg felt an overwhelming sense of tunnel vision limiting his perception. He shot his eyes around the room in a slight panic.

Andrea stood with trembling hands on the end of the pad, which hovered about twenty feet from the floor. At first Greg could not pinpoint the change, but knew something had happened by the posturing of their guide. And then it hit him. They were not alone in the room.

Standing in the doorway was a tall figure. She wore a long dress made of mono-tonal material that twitched as she stepped into the center of the room. Her face was white and her hair was black, pulled up into a bun. When she fully came into view, Greg gasped with recognition.

The face from the bronze coin.

“Come down from there and hand over that coin,” the Mistress said to the still room. “Do as I tell you and I will take it into consideration.”

“Who made you God!” Greg exploded. He stared down from the platform at the tall woman in the middle of the prison. His clone and brother coughed as they writhed on the surface below him. Anger welled up in his chest and there was nothing to stop it from bursting from his lungs. “What right do you have doing this to them!”

“I see you sent a double to be captured,” the Mistress spoke, not being baited by Greg’s anger. She began to pace the room, staying near the door. “That you could not have done alone. It was smart, but not even you, Andrea, could have thought of that alone. I saw Fenton cowering outside when I came in. I always knew he didn’t have the stomach for this side of things. But I never thought he would work against me. In the end, I suppose he did get you to bring the final lost coin back to the present.”

She paused and turned back to the escaping prisoners, “You must know there is no place for you to go. Come down and give yourselves up. I alone have a grasp on time that cannot be dislodged. There is no time or place you can go where I cannot find you. What do you say? Andrea, you are a smart girl. You have seen what we can do. Don’t be foolish.”

“No, Mistress! This isn’t right. You can’t do these sorts of things to innocent people! We were not out to take your power from you or destroy the timeline! We were just foolish children who got lost!” She pleaded. “We have learned some of your weaknesses. We have a transient helping us. We are determined to leave this place and just be left alone!”

The placid look on the face of the woman changed. Fire burned behind the black specks of her eyes. Her body became rigid as Andrea continued her attack.

“How many years did you wait, for mistakes to be made? An entire department of Keepers remaining tirelessly vigilant in their observation of the past, waiting for the coins to surface. I know that the present is your blind spot. The further back we go, the more warning you have of our movements. With all I know, with all I have learned from my education in the present, those facts have remained with me. If you think that you have been patient, I can be as well. If you do not free us, I will wait as long as it takes to correct this injustice. In the long run, it will save you so much energy to just let us go back to the past and live out our lives!”

“And me too,” Greg said. He glanced at his older brother, who had regained the life in his eyes. Peter sat up, his back to a cell and began to look around, taking things in. “If you only knew how far I have come to save these two, you would be impressed. But if you knew that I would do all that over, one hundred times over, just to get them back for good, you would be scared!”

“Children,” the Mistress began, “your youthful arguments are touching. But I am the first, in all of history, to truly perfect travel through space and time. I have constructed rules to govern the use of this great power. I’m sorry if you have found it unfair and have resorted to enlisting the help of supposed interlopers in your struggle against me, but I tell you; it is no use.”

The woman on the ground floor made a subtle movement with her right hand. Soon, she was no longer alone in blocking the exit from the prison. Six creatures entered and positioned themselves evenly on either side of their Mistress. Greg was shocked to see the solid wall of seven-foot-tall lizard men. They wore nothing to cover their forms, standing like statues; the Mistresses muscle to be flexed at her will.

“You will not escape. You have broken the rules and are a threat to the continuity of the timeline. You are all prisoners,” The Mistress said.

“Isn’t that just funny!” Vega boomed from the other side of the door. He walked forward into the room, repelling the Mistress and her six Enforcers. “I heard something similar to that… What was it? Oh yes, we are prisoners. And then something else about fear. What was it Greg?”

“Find what they fear,” Greg shouted down to the older man as he entered the room, followed by their war robot and two young boys. The boys wore no clothes but each held a double bladed weapon in one hand. Vega winked up at the escapees on their island. He advanced to face their opposition.

“I also remember hearing that, they fear themselves. And the more I hear from this ones mouth, the more of it I am starting to put together,” Vega concluded.

The mistress sneered at Vega.

“Transient!” She spit, making another sound that only the Enforcers understood.

The brief communication was all the lizards needed, and they sprung into action.

 

Vega spun around, his cloak flaring into a spinning shield. He burst out from behind the diversion and leapt, legs first, at an Enforcers mid-section. Envy also accelerated to striking speed, aiming at the two Enforcers to Vega’s right. The young, nude, flash clones also wasted no time in attacking another pair of Enforcers. The final lizard protected the Mistress by backing her into a corner.

The chaos unfolding below Greg was almost too much to track. The impossibly strong lizards had their hands full with equally unyielding arms of their robotic adversary. Envy extended his mid section to full height and caught the two surprised Enforcers by the necks. With his long fingered hands, he forced them toward the right wall. Fighting wildly against their metal challenger, the Enforcers were marched backwards until they were pinned by their necks and taken out of the fight. Envy stayed in place, but turned his head backward to observe the rest of the clash. Envy offered up warnings to his comrades, finding any way he could continue to be of help.

Vega’s clones were the next greatest things to catch Greg’s eye. The school age children were like little pit vipers, moving fast and striking quickly at the Enforcers. They steered their two away from the Mistress and her lone protector. The boys were little acrobats, jumping and flipping, striking out at every blow or lunges the lizards aimed at them. Greg had to force himself to blink and reset his vision several times before he realized the odd hugging color surrounding the boy’s hands was not a trick of the light. The Enforcers cried out in pain each time the double bladed weapons sliced at their thick hides.

Finally, there was Vega, who had latched in tight against the torso of his Enforcer. The Garlon tore with claws at the exposed back of his foe, but the old man hung on and worked his hands up to the neck of the tall lizard. The creature stumbled backward toward Greg and the others on the platform. When the Enforcer was about ten feet from Greg, it changed tactics. The lizard squatted slightly and attempted to pry his unwanted companion from his chest. Seeing that Vega’s strength would be no match for the long arms of the lizard, Greg realized it was time to help. Without thinking, he took a flying leap from the platform. With arms outstretched towards his target, the young blond boy grabbed the Enforcer around the neck as his momentum took the three of them to the ground.

Greg held on and choked the lizard. He could feel Vega’s hands under his own, doing the same. The two held on as the green scaled beast struggled about, but was unable to stop four arms from cutting off the blood flow to its brain. The Enforcer blacked out, going limp. Greg once again found himself partially pinned by the dead weight of an Enforcer. In a moment of déjà vu, Vega, who winced as he straightened his back, pulled Greg to his feet.

The pair stood over the fallen Enforcer as the moving pad lowered to the ground. Peter and Curt, now fully alert, stepped off with Andrea. Envy remained in place holding two struggling lizards against the far wall. One of the flash clones held security over two wounded Enforcers that sat against a wall in defeat. With Greg and Vega’s adversary snoring on the ground, all that was left was a single Enforcer guarding the Mistress.

 

“Game’s over, lady,” Greg said as the large group surrounded the pair.

“I have alerted others!” the Mistress said. “Managers and Supervisors will be here shortly. I cannot be muscled about in my own house!”

“Tell your abomination to stand down,” Vega said. His back was cut up badly, but he kept the tone of command in his voice.

The naked armed clone stepped forward in a crouched fighting stance, eyes locked on the final lizard threat, weapon raised.

“That one will be no match for the six of us. In fact, Akoda here could stop playing nice and end its life for good. But we don’t want to hurt these creatures, we just want to leave. All of us.”

“That will not happen!”

“It will,” Andrea said. She stepped forward and put her hand on Akoda’s wrist, lowering his weapon.

“I know,” she continued, “what Vega meant when he said he was beginning to figure it out. The Snow King left hints along with his stashes. He intended it to make whomever found his treasure realize the farce we live here in the present.”

The Mistress began to breath in snorts. Noise came from outside the prison room as the distinct voice of Fenton Osorio warned others to stay back while he checked on the situation. The old man peaked inside the room. Taken aback by the new size of the party and the remarkable turn of events, Osorio stepped inside slowly and closed the door.

Andrea continued, un-flapped by the traitors’ return.

“The entirety of the past is your prisoner. If something happens you don’t like, you go back and stop it. If they fight back, you know just when to go to render them helpless! Look at this prison you have! You and the Keepers sit at the leading edge of time and impose your will over everyone down stream. I believe the rumors now,” she cried, “I bet people have invented time travel before you, but since you perfected it, you wiped them away to claim the achievement for your own!”

“You are not quite there,” Vega prompted from behind, “Keep going. Find what they fear.”

“They fear a messy timeline…” Greg said.

“No,” Peter croaked. “They fear the transients. They fear people like the guy who stole the coins in the first place. They don’t fear the common man. It’s the special ones, like you,” he said nodding to Vega.

“That’s right,” Osorio admitted in a low voice by the door.

“And that brings us to the final piece of the puzzle,” Vega said as if continuing his lesson.

“They fear themselves…” Greg said.

“Are you from outside this timeline yourself?!” Andrea shouted at the Mistress. “Are you a fake?”

“No!” she bellowed back. “I did invent and perfect time travel! I was the first one to do it! If any did before me, it was sloppy and could never come close to the understanding I have achieved! Others were given hints by saboteurs, which I had to clean up. That is how timeline preservation came about, to fix the leakers who wanted to mock my triumphs. I worked my whole life on the question of the nature of time, and I finally succeeded, but I was old and could not hand my work over to an ungrateful successor. I am no fake! The old woman Zala Jibboom came back to her younger self and shared her knowledge. I may be that younger version of myself, but it was me who did these things. I lived my life building the University and the Keepers! I deserve to enjoy my hard work!”

“They fear the paradox created by controlling time, but they are a paradox of creation themselves,” Greg realized.

“Yes,” Osorio admitted, “Yes…”

“She just wants to protect her power here, as Mistress of the Keepers of time and space. You want a perfect timeline, but in fact your own timeline is a result of a split,” Vega said. “I have traveled to different worlds, different versions of this world, and other realities where the laws governing time operated differently. Your perfect timeline was too good to be true. Time splits sometimes! You may not see it, but it makes up a beautiful tree that does not need to be pruned. Silly humans…”

“We are leaving,” Andrea announced after the sobering affect Vega’s words had on the room. “Vega will give you the third lost coin, and now you have them all back but mine. I’m going home too, but I will keep mine to ensure you keep your promise to let us live our lives. Can you agree to that, Mistress Zala?”

“Yes,” she said, defeated, weeping on her knees. “As long as the transients go! They should stay out of my arrow of time.”

“I have had my fill of this place,” Vega said. He removed the coin from his suit pocket and tossed on the floor in front of the buckled woman. He motioned to Aros and Akoda, who took his hands as he walked from the room. Envy released his two restrained friends and followed the three out of the prison room.

“I’m sorry the way this all turned out,” Greg said, looking at the final two adults in the room. “We were just lost children wanting to go home…”

The Mistress flapped her hand at the four as she hid her tears.

Greg looked to Andrea, the face he felt he had known for years. He put his hand on her shoulder and smiled. Peter took the hint and placed his hand on his brother’s forearm and gave a slight squeeze. Curt stared at them, wide-eyed. He clasp Greg’s free hand in his.

The children from 2015 were ready to go home. Andrea spun the coin on the chain and the room became empty.

 

The roof of the building was blinding. The smooth tiles that covered the swooping architecture threw the early morning light into the faces of the escapees. Vega doubted that the Mistress, Zala Jibboom, would truly keep her word. The three were, after all, transients from outside her precious arrow of time. But that was fine with the old magician; it was time for him to leave time tourists and their tricks behind. Sunrise was the perfect opportunity for his escape. He drew the crystal egg from his satchel.

Held up to the sun, the oblong crystal orb was once valued by a previous owner at five pounds Sterling. The solid chunk of mostly transparent minerals caught the light and absorbed them into focus in its interior. With every photon, the crystal grew more luminous. If one were to have looked close at the orb, they would have seen a beautiful scenery, a green landscape spread out below. But of course they did not, for Vega took out a tuning fork, and at the apex of the gathering sunlight, he struck the egg, producing a sweet tone.

The light leapt from the upheld egg and projected a warbling wash of liquid colors onto thin air. The two young Tarkin, a Canadian War Robot, and a beat down old man ran into the portal. They fled the warped version of Earth that allowed time travelers to dominate the past.

 

 

CHAPTER 29

 

 

 

The widow Thompson took her first step onto her porch and could feel something had changed. It was as though the electricity’s been returned after a long winter in the dark. Unexpectedly losing her husband and oldest son had ripped her life apart. But every step closer to the front door, the feeling became more unmistakable.

After four years lost, Peter’s heartbeat slammed in his chest when the rattle of the front door announced his mother’s arrival. He shouted her name as he all but knocked her to the floor. He gripped her tight until she pulled him away to look at his face.

“You haven’t aged a day,” she said through sobs of joy.

“I’m afraid that will be the least confusing change,” Peter said, closing the front door and leading her inside. “You need to meet someone. Mom, this is Curt.”

Sitting on the couch next to Greg was a second blond boy, a mirror image of her youngest son. Maria Thompson fell to her knees. She didn’t even try to stop the tears that flowed from her eyes as her boys supported her on both sides.

Greg nodded to his twin. Curt ran to join the trio on the floor in the middle of the room.

Greg saw the sincerity on his twin’s face. It was a look he knew well.

Curt joined the group not only in the emotional embrace, but in the tears and hitched breathing of the rest of his family. He watched his new brother squeeze his eyes shut as his mother held his face and kissed his forehead.

“I brought Peter back, Mom. I had to do it! You will never believe how far I went to do it, and that’s why Curt is here now. Without him, Peter would have been lost forever…”

“Oh Greg-ers! What has happened to my boy! I left you this morning, a boy content to waste his summer at the river and playing with that stupid old truck! I come back to find a responsible young man! It is as if you had aged five years in one afternoon! Where did all this drive and maturity come from? I’m more bewildered by the person you have suddenly become than anything…”

“Tell me! Tell me it all! I have to know!” She said through her tears. “Where did my boy come back from with a twin and his lost brother? You all look the same age…”

 

The stun did not fade for days. Greg heard his mother step out of the room, speaking on the phone with work, explaining away the missed days. But his family was happy. All the concerns of the outside world seemed like nothing more than a gust of wind through the kitchen window, causing the houseplants to sway.

The time together, telling tales of adventure and years misplaced, seemed to have no end, until the outside world abruptly came seeping in.

Greg realized that there would have to be changes. In a small town, hard questions would be asked.

As a reunited family, the decision was made. In the middle of the night on their third night home, the Thompsons packed their belongings and left for a desert town to the south.

Although Greg could no longer travel instantaneously by flipping a coin, he never stopped taking long drives in his truck. He was always accompanied by his middle name when visiting the college town of a particular girl that he knew from Grass Valley.

Curt did not talk much on the trips, but was recognized by everyone he met as a quick learner and far more intelligent than he first appeared.

Greg Thompson and his two brothers lived everyday of the remainder of their lives looking over their shoulder. Not a day went by that Greg didn’t expect towering lizard-man to appear; the Time Tourists having had changed their minds on the conditions of his release. He was always extra observant for groups of people, slightly out of place, standing on a rooftops, watching his movements with detached curiosity.

 

Andrea went back to San Francisco after dropping the boys in Grass Valley. She kept the coin tucked down her shirt, preferring to take the Amtrak across the valley to the bay. She sat with her head pressed to the tinted glass as she passed through the agricultural towns. This type of travel suited her, she decided. It gave her appreciation for the distances that she crossed. She got off the train and took another into the city, reaching her home.

Her homecoming felt unimportant; a drop of lemon juice in a swimming pool of life experiences. The part that stuck with her the strongest, through the montage of feelings associated with her return, was the quickness her mother got over her lost daughter’s homecoming. A bed had to be made up in her old room in their apartment. Her mother had a new boyfriend and soon she was left alone, looking up at the ceiling of a familiar, yet dull place.

She decided to give it a few days. She felt so out of place, a former Intern walking around stained and cracked city streets that she once knew. She wanted to scream at everyone she passed, “In a couple hundred years, this neighborhood will be forgotten! It will be a stinking industrial ghost town!” But she knew she had to keep her knowledge to herself… And it was burning her up inside.

Before long, it became too much. Andrea Turner returned home after an afternoon of walking and spun the coin as soon as she got into her room. She departed without a word, taking nothing along with her. The white spherical bubble created by the coin was comforting and calming, putting out the fire in her chest.

“You have activated this travel device. Please state where in time or space you would like to go.”

“Take me back to the present,” she said, the ironic words sending a shiver up her spine.

It did not take long to find the Mistress in her favorite department: timeline preservation.

“What are you doing back here,” Zala Jibboom asked in a dismissive tone.

“What happened to Fenton?” Andrea probed.

“I let him return to his retirement,” the Mistress answered. “It seems he betrayed us both, but at least I was able to recover those coins…”

“You took pity on him, just as you did the Enforcers.”

“The Garlon were my first mistake,” the Mistress said. “I couldn’t exterminate them. You see, I do have a heart, despite what some may think of me and my other failings.”

“Would you ever take exception to me? I only ran to save myself. Much like you…”

“What do you want young lady? I have already let you keep that last coin.”

“The present is my life now,” Andrea said. “Regardless of the way I feel about certain practices, this is all I know. I don’t want to become jaded like Fenton did, but if I go back to my own time, I will.”

“You may have your job back,” the Mistress said without any deliberation. “Put on a Supervisors blue and check in with the tourism department. I’m sure a lighter side of this work will suit you for awhile.”

“Thank you, Mistress,” Andrea said and bowed. She began to take off the chain that held the fourth time coin, but Zala stopped her.

“Keep it. One day I may make you my replacement. But until that time comes, you keep that old bronze coin as a reminder. Now, go. The Keepers duties are never done.”

 

 

CHAPTER 30

 

 

 

Vega stood in the darkness of the bi-dimensional world, comforted in his long awaited return. It took him a moment to adjust, for his vision did not come from his eyes, but from an overhead view. His companions followed, the outlines of their animated bodies expressed in thick bright lines. But even with the appearance of an untrue existence, he knew they were absolutely present in the world, rather than a projection or lost in between real dimensions.

Even more comforting than reaching the end of his long quest was that Vega could use his magic once again.

The weary adventurer led the way up the two-dimensional mountain path, followed by the cloned bodies of Aros and Akoda and trailed by the war robot Envy. It had not been a long journey, the crystal egg deposited them in one world and Vega quickly found a transition point to the next, but he was tired nonetheless. The weak enchantment he used on his back was causing his skin to itch, as he was not adept enough in healing magic to use a more powerful skin regeneration spell.

The four reached the mountain summit. A massive dark blue crystal stuck part way out of the rock, embedded in the hillside. Piercing into the darkness of the curious existence, the crystal stood out from its surroundings. The two Tarkin boys stopped and stood while Vega walked within arms distance of the shard of power. The old man removed his cloak and satchel and threw them away without care. He placed his palms on the glassy surface. Then let his head roll as he leaned into the shard, drawing in a massive amount of magical energy.

“Envy!” Vega shouted to the robot as lights began to flash, gusts of wind whipped around them, “Take care of them for me! Let them know what has been done to bring them back!”

 

Akoda lay in his bed in the swamp, engulfed by fever, feeling his life drain away. His vision blurred and he knew his time had come to an end. Losing all awareness of his limbs, his mind and consciousness sunk down into his pillow. He could feel himself departing when he felt a rip. It was as through a trap door had been sprung and his soul fell from his body, pulled downward by ferocious gravity.

 

Aros lay on his back in the sunlight, vision straining into the sky. Once he had been able to fly and he used that memory to work the mental muscles required for that task. But he could fly no longer. He lay in the odd sunlight, feeling his life force drain away. He attempted to hold on, but it was like trying to climb a greased wall. At the last moment his vision swelled up around him and he was falling in the blackness. Is this the death I have evaded for so long?

 

Vega pushed with all his might as he wrenched the souls of his father and best friend from their end points on far-flung levels of existence. Other had dedicated their entire lives to arresting or repealing death while Vega had fought three days to do the same. He could not conceive his good fortune. He had waited long enough and the perfect opportunity presented itself. Was it luck or was there design in it all? He would never understand the paths caused by fate. As nothing greater than a common sailor pushing across choppy sees, knowing little of how the universe spins, he subscribed to one of Aros’s favorite sayings: when opportunity knocks, kick the door in.

With a mighty crash, the lassoed souls were sent down into the clones’ waiting bodies, throwing the young boys to the ground.

 

By the time the reborn Tarkin got to their feet, Vega was gone. A pile of crystal dust left behind where the sacrificial vessel had stood. Not even a remnant of his grey, two dimensional suit remained.

“What just happened?” Akoda asked.

Aros, Akoda,” Envy spoke, using a tongue that both could understand. The machine had only recently adopted the language into its programming, learning the speech as they journeyed to reach the shard of power.

“There are many things I have been instructed to tell you…”

 

 

Thank you for reading my book! If you want to read more of my stories, head on over to Smashwords.com and check out the other two novels, three short story collections and my children’s picture book. If you want to know more about Aros, Vega, as well as the time Greg and his friends are given that notebook by a dying man, Beyond The Gate is a great place to start.

 

I worked hard on this book and the biggest complement you could give is to leave a review on whatever site you downloaded it from. Also, feel free to find me and ask anything you like!

 

Keep an eye out for tourists and time traps!

 


Arrow Of Time

Time Coins Stolen! An Impossible Crime And The Thief Remains At Large! Greg Thompson is nothing more than an average 16-year-old boy living a carefree life in Grass Valley, California. But that all changes when he witnesses a hit and run accident. Before the homeless man dies, he hands Greg a handwritten notebook leading to a treasure cache. Greg plucks an all too familiar coin from the loot, and is thrust into an adventure he never saw coming. The Keepers of Time are on the hunt for the stolen time coins, and will wreak havoc to recover their loss devices, including unraveling the lives of any who stand in their way. Greg Thompson, aided by a mysterious ally, will jump across space and time to avoid the unimaginable grasp the Keepers hold over the ARROW OF TIME!

  • Author: Gabe Sluis
  • Published: 2015-09-15 06:05:24
  • Words: 57473
Arrow Of Time Arrow Of Time