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Hindsight (Daedalus Book 1)

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Hindsight

 

by Josh Karnes

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 Josh Karnes

 

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 your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Table of Contents

Prologue

Sunday

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Monday

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Tuesday

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Wednesday

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

Synopsis

Free Preview of The Griffin Paradox

 

Prologue

After many years of development, Daedalus engineers have begun to demonstrate the world’s first partially-functional teleportation device in a Thermion laboratory on an island leased from the United States Department of Defense in Puerto Rico. In late spring of this year, the Daedalus project scientists were routinely teleporting 1 cm cubes of carbon from a portal in their island lab. Where these cubes were being sent remains a mystery. Thermion’s billion-dollar science project has a bug.

Daedalus is the brainchild of physicist and project leader Larry Duncan. Drafted by defense contractor Thermion right out of college, Duncan had spent most of his life searching the true final frontier. No, space is not truly that final frontier. Duncan knew the truth.

Space is not much of a frontier at all. Consider: why is space vast? Why does it seem to have no boundary? Why are the boundaries unreachable? What is the fundamental cause of man’s inability to fully quantify and contain space? The answer is simple: time.

Man is inextricably bound to follow a linear path at a preset pace along this continuum of time. Space is only big because of the finite quantity of time that each man has available to explore it. It is only huge and without boundary when considering that to find the boundary would likely take an infinite quantity of time. And while space appears to be without limit, time is an absolutely critical resource to humankind, limited for each and every one of us. One can only explore that which he can reach within some reason of time. The attribute of space that is the cause of its vastness is time. Space has no limit. Yet time has only limits.

Yes, according to Duncan, the final frontier of man is not space. It is time.

Given the ability to control the pace of time, man can explore all of space. Humankind could plumb the depths and measure the boundaries. Must we speculate what lies beyond our universe? No, we can simply go and see. That is, if we can control time. If we can skip through time at some pace of our choosing.

Even our observation of the space around us has the iron fist of time holding us back. With telescopes, man observes the edges of space as light makes its way to the earth. But even that light cannot escape the grip of time. We are doomed to observe only those things that happened in the incredible distant past. We do not ever even know the present of our own universe. Our entire observation of our existence is fundamentally bound in desperate service to the master of time. It is the one thing humankind has never overcome.

As men, we can only measure time. We hurry, to produce whatever result we desire within some limited quantum of time. We exalt great men and women who overcome the ordinary limits of their timely existence to do great things: to make money or innovations within the limits of their youth, or within their lifetimes; to touch or influence more people with their ideas than anyone else can do within their lives; to move beyond the failures that consumed some portion of one’s life and excel within the remnant; to score more points than the other before the buzzer sounds or to cross the finish line before the next competitor. To be the first is to be the best. To innovate is to become great by being quick. Nearly every human achievement is inextricably linked to this constant of earthly existence that we call time.

Yes, truly time is the final frontier. And to conquer time, to master it, is the domain only of God.

It is this pressure to overcome this fundamental human limitation of time that has driven Larry Duncan nearly his entire life. One of Larry’s oldest memories is the first time his little brother Zach joined in to play kickball in the street with the other neighborhood kids. Larry was the Duncan boy who had always been the best at this kind of thing. He was carrying the torch. But that day when little 5-year-old Zach came to play, suddenly nobody could run fast enough or throw the ball quick enough to get this kid out. Zach was just so fast. And that day, Larry realized that time was his enemy. Even the two-year head start he had over Zach was not enough to make him faster. And that wasn’t the last time Larry was the slowest.

He never got picked. When all the guys would meet up at the vacant lot to put on a baseball game that summer between 3rd and 4th grade, he’d get picked dead last. Not because he couldn’t hit, because he could. Not because he couldn’t catch the ball and make a tag out with the best of them. He could do that too. But he was slow. He always got beat running the bases. He rarely could chase down that grounder quickly enough to get it fired off to second base and prevent the double. Larry just was not fast, and eventually he figured out there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t control how quickly he could cover that distance. But deep down he knew that if he could just take a shortcut through that field, between Mr. Gibson’s mailbox that served as 1st base for their kickball game and Zach’s sweatshirt standing in for second, if he could somehow just bend that road or that field and skip over it, he’d never be beat. He wouldn’t have to be fast, if he could just be that smart.

The truth is, Larry Duncan was only slow when it came to foot speed. While Zach would run off and leave him, often literally, any time they were running or playing football or swimming or riding bikes, almost nobody could keep up with his quick mind. In any feats of mental acuity, Larry was always several steps ahead of everyone else. In complicated math problems, he could just skip past the work and get to the result in just one move. Like great basketball players are said to have “court vision” where they seem to see the entire court and how the play is evolving all at once, Larry had “math vision” of sorts. He could see the entire range of a problem all as a whole and derive the answer from this three-dimensional space of the problem rather than having to move linearly like most ordinary thinkers. If a problem were like a maze, everyone else would have to go through and turn corners and move in a linear path even if they never made a wrong turn, but Larry could see the finish and mentally move there as if skipping right over the top of the maze.

Duncan’s cognitive superiority was not only contained to math. Problem solving was his forte. Logical problems, computer programs, algorithms, solutions to multifaceted problem sets, this was Larry’s true area of strength. And he spent most of his energy applying these great mental strengths towards solving the problem he first encountered as a child: how to bypass space, create a shortcut, in order to cheat time. Be fastest by being the smartest.

While this search for the ultimate final frontier is what had driven Larry Duncan to become a physicist, Daedalus was not about being like God. Daedalus was about building a specialized machine for the United States Department of Defense. Time travel is the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, but has little practical market value, even if it were possible. But being able to shortcut through space, or make an object cover ground very quickly or nearly instantaneously, well that is an idea that got the attention of Thermion CEO Carson Lee. That is a project worthy of investment. Larry Duncan was just the man to head up this project.

Daedalus represents the culmination of a lifetime of seeking a shortcut through space for Larry Duncan. Albert Einstein offered many theories suggesting the possibility of time travel, but after more than a century of effort, great scientists standing on the shoulders of those standing on Einstein’s foundation yielded no success in actual time travel. The foundational concept is that objects which have mass create a bending of this fabric of space-time, creating an effect known as gravity. One other effect of mass is the distortion of time: time passes more slowly for objects in high gravity compared with those subjected to less gravity, somewhat analogous to the object traveling along a curved path of space-time. If that curve could be deflected so far that it folded back upon itself, such as making point “A” touch point “B”, where A and B were different points along a timeline, then in theory, an object arriving at point B would return to point A, thus traveling back in time.

For a variety of reasons, however, creating any type of controlled “time travel” was at a minimum unfeasible and in most cases considered logically impossible. All of this suddenly changed with the discovery of a reliable method of creating a stable form of matter with so-called “negative energy density” by Larry Duncan’s small team of scientists working in the lab on a skunkworks, off-books project. Such matter is like ordinary matter only it has negative mass, and behaves in many ways opposite to ordinary matter.

Once this new material was discovered, many questions about the properties of matter with negative mass were soon answered, and some questions still remain. One critical discovery is that the physical force of gravity created by one object’s positive mass can be reduced or nullified by placing a negative mass object near it. This discovery alone opened the door to something akin to time travel, since the time-traveling object would no longer experience a crushing force of gravity that would prevent it from arriving at its destination intact.

In due time, a high negative density material that could be manipulated in position with electromagnetic energy was forged, and aptly named Gravium. With a manipulable material, Thermion had found the path to create their teleporting device. The bending of space-time sufficiently to travel back in time, while possible in theory, was still considered a dream; the stuff of science fiction. But the ability to make an object travel from one place to another extremely quickly was at hand. A little bending of space-time gives just the shortcut that Larry Duncan had been seeking for most of his life.

Thermion’s execs committed to use this novel new material in a device that enables the rapid transport of some object, such as munitions or equipment, into a target or a theater of war so rapidly that the enemy would not be able to defend against it or impede it. With enough mass and enough distortion of space-time through localized gravity, it would be possible, in theory, to deliver materiel almost instantaneously over any distance on planet earth. The Daedalus project was initiated by Thermion with the goal of creating such a device. Larry Duncan was appointed project manager, fittingly considering his team had discovered the material in the first place.

Now, after painstaking construction of what is likely the most advanced device in the world, one which makes the Hadron supercollider look like a Lego toy, the Daedalus team is on the cusp of revolution. For months now, they have been teleporting 1 cm carbon cubes using the Daedalus device portal on in their island lab. Thirteen of these cubes have been put into the portal one at a time in controlled experiments, and each one has duly vanished from point “A”. The only problem is that none have arrived at point “B”. In fact, Daedalus engineers and scientists do not know where they have gone. The Daedalus device has a bug.

Sunday

Chapter 1

Isla De Vieques, Puerto Rico

“Don’t forget to tip them.”

Melissa was trying to be nice. He was really trying; she had to give him credit for that. James intended this trip to be his last ditch effort at pulling the family back together. The irony is that they wouldn’t have ever been able to afford a trip like this had it not been for the very thing that had made it necessary in the first place. But, she had to admit, this place is beautiful. And for just a few seconds, if she pretended that the last two years hadn’t happened, it felt very much like paradise to be here. Damn you, James.

“I know. I’m not an idiot,” James said mostly to himself as the cab driver hoisted their bags out of the back of the Ford Focus taxi that had shuttled them from the tiny Antonio Rivera Rodríguez Airport on Vieques. But of course, he didn’t believe it. I am an idiot, he thought. Every single day.

James knew this was, in fact, his final effort to hold his family together. More accurately, it was his best opportunity to keep himself in his family. They were slipping away, and it was one hundred percent his fault.

As the bellman exchanged a baggage claim ticket for a five-dollar tip, James led the way as the Grady family walked up to the open-air check-in desk at the Ensenada del Mar resort.

“We have a reservation. Grady.”

“Yes, Señor James. Welcome to the Ensenada del Mar. I hope you had a pleasant flight here. We have two adjoining rooms for you on the second floor overlooking the beach. Did the bellman give you a baggage ticket?” the young lady spoke with only a hint of an accent.

“Yes. Right here,” James said, handing her the claim ticket.

The clerk deftly folded two magnetic room key cards into a pamphlet for the resort and flipped it over revealing the facility map printed on the back as she laid it down on the counter.

“Here are your room keys. You are in rooms 203 and 204. Just past this counter you turn left before you reach the bar, and your room is up the next stairs,” she said while tracing the path they were to take on the map with a pen. “If you would like, after you are settled in your room we are serving dinner beginning at 7:00, which is in just a little while, in our main restaurant, just over here,” she pointed to the restaurant on the map. “Otherwise a short taxi ride will bring you to the town center where there are restaurants and dancing and music. Our concierge can help you to choose, and there is a guide in your room describing the restaurants.” She handed him the pamphlet and room keys.

“Okay. Thank you very much”

“Thank you, Señor James. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Not now, I don’t think.”

“Okay, then. Again, welcome to Ensenada del Mar, mister Grady.”

With that, the Grady family filed off towards their rooms.

James prompted, “So, guys, what do we want to do for dinner? Take the trip into town, or just hit the resort restaurant?”

“Mm, I dunno. In town could be cool. What’s there?” said Joey.

Melissa was not in the mood. “I’m not sure I’m up to it. We’ve been on planes and in taxis all day. I don’t think I can take getting back into another taxi right now. Maybe tomorrow. What do you think, Joey?”

“Whatever. Maybe I’ll just head down to the beach then.”

Eli took charge. “Look. Let’s just take a few minutes and wait for our bags to make it to the room, check out the view and chill for a minute. Then we can meet at the restaurant here in the hotel for dinner at 7:30. Sound good?”

They arrived at their rooms and it was settled without further discussion. Since things had started to become more difficult for the Grady family, Eli had felt increasing pressure to take over. His mom was pretty angry most of the time. Maybe not so much angry. Disappointed. A little hopeless. Kind of like the wind had been knocked out of her emotionally. Eli was halfway through college when he had to step up. Eli had been old enough to man up, but Joseph was only fifteen then. Dad was still very much his hero. Eli was not really ready to be the “man of the house”, but if things kept going the way they were going, he wouldn’t have much of a choice.

All along he had been the big brother, he had to stand up for his little brothers, particularly Joseph. He wasn’t really a troublemaker, but he somehow always seemed to wind up walking into situations where he needed to be bailed out. There was this one time when Joey and Mark were walking home from middle school. As usual, Mark was just on a bit of a mission: get home. He was always like that, just driven. Focused on the task in front of him. All business, no horsing around. And he had to drag Joey along with him, and Joey was easily distracted to say the least.

While Mark was conducting his full-ahead march, Joey was taking in his surroundings and taking his time. Mark wasn’t going to wait up. Joey looked around the corner and saw none other than the Ford brothers, Charles and Randy, come busting out of A&J’s Qwik Mart, each with a 12-pack of Bud under each arm, in a full-on sprint. Now, these Ford brothers were not exactly “good kids”. They caught sight of Joey and he turned toward home and lit off in a full on sprint, flew by Mark within a block and hoofed it double time all the way home. Just some dumb kids stealing beer. Big whoop, right? But the Grady kids had that reputation for being straight-laced, upstanding citizens. Charles and Randy thought for sure Joey was going to turn them in.

Once Joey got to the sanctuary of home, he figured he was safe. He told Mark what had happened, but Eli got home from high school later and didn’t know what was up. Joey decided to hit the driveway before dinner to work on some skateboard tricks and not one minute after he went outside, old Charles and Randy showed up. Perhaps they figured they were going to put the fear into poor Joey, keep him quiet. Once Eli heard the ruckus outside he stormed out there and when the Ford kids got a look at the six-foot tall, 180 pound, seventeen-year-old varsity baseball player, well, suffice to say the fight drained out of them rather immediately.

That was hardly the only time that Eli came to Joey’s rescue. Whether it was getting lost on a hike, wandering into the locker room at NRG Arena and nearly being arrested, underestimating how much gas was needed to get him home from whatever middle of nowhere he thought it would be cool to go visit on a whim, or whatever other quasi-adventure Joey would wrap himself up in, you name it: it was Eli to save the day.

Eli loved his little brother and wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • * *

The rooms were luxuriant and the view was pretty gorgeous. They had arrived just in time for them to have a stunning view of the sunset in the cove right off their balcony. If the Grady family’s mess could not be sorted out while immersed in the beauty of this place, then maybe it was hopeless.

Dinner came and went with only simmering tension and thankfully no drama. Somehow James and Melissa managed to avoid getting into a fight before bed, which was rare these days. James thought it was probably just because they were very tired from traveling. Once Melissa’s batteries were charged back up again tomorrow, she’d probably turn the heat back up. Truth is, whatever it was, James deserved it.

It was fully dark by the time dinner was over and moonlit strolls along the beach were not on the agenda, not for the disinterested brothers or for the parents. The not-so-happy couple retreated to their room and the boys to the other, and all resumed ordinary bedtime rituals as if they were back home in Houston: one watched a little TV in Spanish, one read a book, one figured out the internet access and researched what to do on this little island on his smartphone, one lay in bed indifferent while one wallowed in self-pity and guilt.

How on earth James was going to do this, he didn’t know. How do you start that conversation? Do you just sit everyone down and say, “Okay, Gradys. Here’s the situation. Yeah, I blew it, but that’s in the past. Now it’s time to pull together and to move on. Nothing we can do to fix it now. We just have to make the best of what we have now. Gradys Go on three! One-two-three!”? Do you just kind of hope the magic of this idyllic island will smooth over and heal the wounds? Did James really, truly expect for his wife to just move on, forget? “Oh gee, honey, since you took me to that beautiful place and we did those fun excursions, I just can’t even remember those silly things that happened way back when.” Not likely. This isn’t going to work. It really isn’t even worth a try. But they were there anyway. Might as well enjoy it while they can.

 

Chapter 2

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Larry Duncan told his most trusted engineer, “Maybe I’m just not that smart, Kyle. You are going to have to spell it out for me.”

“Larry. This is really not very simple. We can’t just observe this problem. Nobody has ever seen this before. We don’t have any example to point to. There’s no precedent.”

“But the cubes can’t be literally just disappearing. They have to be going somewhere.”

“Of course. But we just don’t know where. Look. The problem really is that Daedalus literally distorts space-time. It’s easier to think about it distorting both space, and time, at the same time but in different ways. Maybe. We don’t exactly know. But that’s the crux of the problem. How do you observe something that is itself a distortion of space? How can you possibly trust your observation? And that’s even without getting into the issue of time distortion. We may be looking in the right place, but at the wrong time. Hell, we may need to be looking in the past, and that’s just not possible. Maybe we need to be looking in the past and in a different dimension. Maybe the cube jumped from the positive space-time to negative, and now it is actually in the opposite place where it should be. We just don’t know enough yet, and we don’t know how to know more.”

In this new uncharted science, the Daedalus team had been operating in relative isolation for over a decade. With no broad group of peers to share ideas with, they made much of this up as they were going along.

Daedalus was made possible by the discovery of material that has negative mass. To bend space-time for the purposes of shortcutting requires a tremendously strong gravitational force. So strong, if we were to create such a force here on earth, it would suck all of earth into it, crushing and collapsing everything, kind of like a black hole. This would, of course, make use of such a technology unreasonable. While the Daedalus scientists knew how to create micro black holes with Daedalus’ particle accelerator, they were not able to shape or project these micro black holes and of course if they were to create them, there was great risk that they would destroy the very device that created them by collapsing it, and maybe the earth along with it. However, using negative mass particles to create micro black holes gave the option of canceling out these huge gravitational fields. So Daedalus project scientists had figured a way to make even large micro black holes possible on earth without destroying the very planet.

With gravium, negative gravitational energy can be applied locally and used to shape gravitational fields. One early discovery the team made was how to project a narrow beam-like gravitational field, similar to how a lens focuses light, by applying localized gravium micro black holes to shape the positive-mass gravity. Such a narrow, long field is the pathway that a teleported object would follow, in theory, if Daedalus were working correctly. Unfortunately, it was not working correctly.

“So let me get this straight, Kyle. You are telling me that not only do you not know what is going wrong with Daedalus, but it may be logically impossible for you to know, and you do not even know how to tell the difference. Is that about it?” After two months of failed trials, Larry was losing his patience.

“Yeah, Larry,” replied Kyle. “That sounds about right. Or it could be worse. A lot worse.”

“What do you mean, worse?”

“Look man. We are dealing with forces that intentionally bend space and time. We don’t have any way to observe the dimension of time. Now, we are trying to control something that we can’t even observe. That’s a big problem right there. But the thing is, if we can manipulate space and time, but we are so limited that we can’t even observe it, then—”

“No!” Larry cut in. “Don’t give me more of that religious crap—”

“It’s not religious crap! It’s just one possibility we—”

“No it’s not. We are not considering the possibility that some magic supernatural beings are unbending what we are bending, or are fixing what we are breaking. If I can’t measure it, if I can’t see it, it doesn’t—”

“That’s my point! You can’t see time or space, you can’t see how we are manipulating them, and that’s why we can’t find the cubes! But you know it exists! What else that you can’t see might exist?”

“Okay… Okay—”

“You can’t see the cubes anymore, are you sure they exist?”

“Okay! Enough! You made your point. But it doesn’t matter because we can’t do anything about that. If there is some force or phenomenon we are not accounting for because we don’t know it exists, how are we supposed to solve our current problem?”

“We’re not,” Kyle replied flatly. “Seriously, Larry. We are relying on mathematical models based on as-yet unproven theory. We know it does something but we are really not sure what is actually happening. We believe we are bending space-time by pinpoint application of high gravitational forces but what if we bent it too far? What if we looped it back? We have to consider that maybe the cubes are not disappearing. Maybe they are just moving into a different time. Or maybe they never existed.”

“Say again?”

“Well if we are manipulating time, it’s possible that the cubes have disappeared now because they are skipping through a time loop. Maybe they were sent back in time and no longer exist in our time. Who knows? We can’t know.”

“No way. Now you’re starting to sound like Emmett Brown. Are my siblings going to start disappearing from the picture in my wallet next?”

Larry was referring to the so-called “Grandfather paradox”, which suggests that if a man travels back in time and kills his own grandfather, then would he cease to exist? This is a classic science-fiction paradox that was used to great effect in Back to the Future, where Marty goes back in time thirty years and inadvertently puts his parents meeting at risk, thus causing his own existence to begin to be at risk. It makes for a fun movie, but a far simpler and less entertaining limitation applies if a person were to try and go back in time to some time before their birth, or very far back in time. This is a problem of matter. Accepted theory suggests that there is a fixed quantity of energy and matter in the universe, and you cannot add to it or destroy it. So if an object of any kind is sent back in time, then it cannot add its matter into the universe, existing alongside a younger copy of itself.

So if Daedalus’ cubes were being sent back in time, then one theory suggests they would just become their previous selves, inasmuch as it is possible. So if one cube were taken from a box of a hundred cubes and put into the portal, and it went back in time to yesterday then it would just be found in the box again, of course, yesterday. There would still be only a hundred cubes in the universe. So what would have happened to the cube that went into the portal? Since it’s in a time loop, it would be in the box, up until it got moved and put into the portal, today, and then it is sent back in time, to yesterday, whereupon it is back in the box. But today, it would have still disappeared from the portal. To find it, you would have to look in the box, yesterday. The cube would effectively cease to exist in the present, from that day on. It would have stopped progressing through time once it was put into the portal, which looped it back to a previous time. So while nearly everything else in the universe would continue to just move along time, the cube would have started to go into a loop so it wouldn’t progress. From the perspective of one who had no choice but to progress, the cube wouldn’t seem to exist.

Kyle responded, “I’m not kidding about this, Larry. Until we can gather some evidence of what is going on, we have to leave all options on the table. One option has to be that we overdid it and folded at least some small part of space-time back on itself and created a localized time loop. If it was deep enough to get them back in the container, then we’d never know and they’d stay in the loop forever. Or never. Or whatever.”

“Quit it Kyle, you’re making my head hurt. What did Laurie come up with?”

“I don’t know. Come with me. She is still working on it.”

The petite, blonde, tough as nails Laurie Carter is the team’s chief computer scientist and architect of the software that controls the gravium servos, stabilizes the black holes and directs the gravitational beam that makes Daedalus work. It’s really the brain of Daedalus; the supercollider and gravium servos are the brawn.

Kyle led Larry to the control room at the other end of the lab. Laurie had been working in there nearly non-stop for two months trying to find any code errors or logical flaws that might explain their negative results. So far, no good.

“Alright Laurie, what’s the word?” Larry asked.

“I think I know why we are not able to debug this.”

“What? Not able to debug it?”

“Here’s the thing. All of our control devices, servos, computing devices, even communication links, wiring, you name it, all depends on an ordered sequence of events for it to work right. Imagine a simple if… then conditional. What if you get to the ‘then’ before you do the ‘if’? Or what if there are more than one if… thens in a row, and you skip to the wrong ‘then’ that doesn’t match the ‘if’?”

Kyle took the bait, “Well, that’s a logic error. You just fix it. The compiler should catch it.”

“No, Kyle. It’s not that the code is wrong. It’s our assumption that is wrong. Look, we are making these really focused gravitational fields and we are controlling them with the gravium servos that are very near to the micro black holes—”

“Oh, I get it,” said Larry. “We didn’t account for the time distortion localized at the servos.”

“Exactly. So the controller tells the servo to spin at a certain rate, but you know the rate is just a function of time and the servo doesn’t spin at the rate we expected, since time for the servo is passing far slower.”

“Okay. So we can fix that…?”

“Not easily. The whole purpose of the servo is to create a negative gravitational field, which might have an opposite effect on time for the servo and those things near the servo. So as we add negative gravity, then time could actually be speeding up for the servo. The problem is the control circuitry. We have to use oscillators to time the binary data bus. Since the time is changing constantly, then the rate of the oscillators is also changing constantly and possibly in different directions. I’m not sure we have the computational capacity to predict it or compensate. It’s kind of like trying to control weather. There are just too many variables that all interact with each other,” Laurie explained.

“Alright. Got it. The elegant method of doing this, design it to work right, might be, umm, let’s say, challenging. How about brute force. Think of it like I have a rifle with a bent barrel. Every time I shoot at the target a hundred yards away, I miss twenty feet left. Once I know where I am hitting, I just aim twenty feet to the right and then I can hit the target. Is there something like that we can do here?”

Kyle replied, “We would have to figure out where the cubes are going to do that. Or when. If it’s a ‘where’, then we might be able to just aim wrong and get it right. If it’s a ‘when’, well we may never be able to find it.”

“Wait a minute. We are sure we are bending space-time, right?”

“Right.”

“Then we can look for time distortion anomalies and maybe find the cubes, whether they are ‘where’ or ‘when’, right?”

Kyle said, “That’s right, but how do we look for time distortions?”

“Clocks.”

“I don’t follow.”

Laurie zeroed in, “Oh, I get it. We can use devices with accurate clocks, look for errors that are too big.”

“You mean, like atomic clocks?” Kyle asked.

“No,” Larry said. “We can find it with GPS. Fortunately that may also tell us pretty much exactly where to look.”

GPS, or “Global Positioning System”, is a system that uses an array of satellites to aid in precise navigation. The technology is based on precise time, and as a result GPS receivers synchronize to the very precise time that is being transmitted from the satellites based on accurate atomic clocks in the satellites. Once every second, the GPS satellites send a message that informs receivers of the exact time. Receivers can use these time messages to triangulate their position, and also to synchronize their time. Many industries that require precise time synchronization use GPS to set the time for sensitive equipment.

Larry continued, “Since the GPS satellites are very far from the micro black holes used by Daedalus, they would be immune to the effects of the increased gravity. However, any GPS receivers on the ground near to the Daedalus’ gravity beam would experience a very large time drift due to their own internal clocks running much slower than the GPS satellite clock.”

Laurie picked up Larry’s logic. “Once the next second comes around for it to synchronize, any GPS receiver that was affected would have to make a big correction. If we monitor the GPS receivers for large corrections, then we can find the anomaly.”

“And if we can find the anomaly, maybe we can find the cubes and adjust Daedalus to ‘aim wrong’ in order to compensate. Brute force method,” Larry said.

“OK, Larry. So I guess we can set up some kind of grid of GPS receivers and monitor their offsets, then put a cube in the portal and see if there’s a spike on any of the GPS receivers in the grid. Of course this will only work if the cubes are being sent to some place above ground and outdoors. If they are going into the middle of a mountain or 500 feet underground, we can never find them.”

“Do it. Whatever you need, you will get. I want some results by the end of the week.”

With that, Kyle set off to get some GPS receivers and figure out how to monitor them. At least they had a plan.

 

Monday

Chapter 3

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

The Grady crew straggled in for breakfast and coffee at the palapa beach bar that the resort uses for snacks and quick meals during the day, just inches from the white sand beach and amazing Caribbean waters.

Eli began handing his phone over to his father, “So dad. Last night Mark was surfing his phone and found this. It’s called El Pliegue, which means something like, ‘the crease’. It’s sort of like an elongated sinkhole in the ocean, nearly a mile long and over 700 feet deep in one spot. It’s just off the coast of an uninhabited island right past Culebra. The water is nearly crystal clear here, but you see in that picture in ‘the crease’ it’s a midnight blue, nearly black. Supposed to be one of the best places to dive in the world.”

James took in the image of a deep blue blur that appeared like a giant parenthesis in the middle of the crystal turquoise sea with a pristine beach of a tiny island just in the background. In the picture was a dive boat and you could see a few divers in the water. It did look fascinating.

“Culebra, eh? That’s the other island, right? How far is that?”

“It’s about 30 miles to ‘the crease’ from here. There’s a tour that leaves from the north side of Vieques.”

Melissa interrupted, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on a minute here. What exactly is it that you boys are planning?”

“You wanna go take a look at this thing, son? Look into the abyss? Does it look into you? That sort of thing?”

“No, dad. We want to go on the diving tour.”

“No. Way. Forget it. There is no way I am sending you boys out on some boat to the middle of nowhere to go SCUBA diving into some abyss!” said Melissa.

Mark pled their case, “Mom, look. It’s totally safe. All of us have our diving certification since we took the classes last year in Clear Lake, and Eli’s been diving like a thousand times, since he was twelve. The water is crystal clear. It’s dark in the sinkhole and it’s bright up top. It’s impossible to get disoriented or lost. Plus, this is a group diving tour. They will have professional guides that do this every day. I mean, look at this place. These people know diving! And there will be like thirty people on the tour. If thirty random tourists can pull this off, we definitely can.”

Eli cut in, “They say this is maybe the greatest place to dive in the world. We shouldn’t miss this chance when we are this close.”

“James, tell them,” Melissa commanded.

Now. Here’s a moment of truth. Who is really the boss of this family? Shouldn’t James start by standing up to Melissa? And wouldn’t he win back some of his boys’ admiration if he was on their side?

“Alright, look. Your mother and I don’t have a diving certification. You would have to do this on your own. Eli, are you up to taking responsibility for your brothers? Mark, will you promise not to leave Joseph behind? Can I trust you guys to do this?”

“James!”

“Come on, honey! Eli is a grown man. We have to stop telling him what to do sometime. If he says we can trust him with his brothers on a tourist diving trip, then we can trust him.”

“Dad. This is the chance of a lifetime. I promise you I will keep Mark and Joey in my sight at all times. Hey, it’s just a couple of hours on a boat, an hour in the water checking out this colossal sinkhole, then a couple of hours back on the boat. We’ll be back by dinner time.”

“Alright, alright,” James said. “Okay. When does this tour leave?”

“Equipment check, safety instructions and sign-up is at nine thirty at the marina. Boat leaves at ten. They serve lunch on the boat when they get to the crease and we anchor for a couple of hours, then head back at three. We should be back at the hotel by five at the latest.”

“I don’t know about this, James. That’s all day. There’s no cell phone service out in the middle of the ocean. What if something goes wrong?”

“Mom. Nothing is going to go wrong. It’s no different than diving back home. Well, it’s different because it’s way better. The water here is mint. It’s like diving heaven,” Mark said.

James made the final call. “Alright guys. We had better hustle if we are going to make it over to the marina in time to sign you up.”

“Sweet!” hollered Joey.

Melissa didn’t look convinced. James consoled, “Look, honey. These are responsible kids. Eli has been watching out for his brothers since they were infants. Let’s let them have some time to do brother stuff. We can go into town and walk around, mix with the locals, maybe do a little shopping…”

“Alright. I don’t like it, but I trust you boys,” Melissa made a point not to look at James. But you don’t trust me, James thought.

After equipment checks, safety briefing, safety waivers signed and astronomical fees paid, James and Melissa watched as dozens of sunburned suburban looking tourists loaded onto a pair of dive boats and then puttered off from the marina. Lord, bring my boys back to me safely, Melissa prayed silently.

 

Chapter 4

Houston, Texas

#
h4((<>{color:#000;}. Two years ago

James Grady sat in his cubicle amongst the run-down cube farm that contained TCP Compudyne’s technical services group, really just himself and three other engineers. Just like most mornings for as long as he could remember, he found himself in sort of a daze. ‘Consumed’ might be the right word. He was unable to get interested in work today. There was something weighing on him, crushing him. It didn’t help that he was also pretty bored at work.

Tim whizzed into the entrance to James’s cube in a style that reminded James of Cosmo Kramer’s famous entrances to Jerry’s apartment. Only Tim was not hip and funny and cool; he was just another geek who thought he was smarter than everyone else and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t the guy on top. His appearance in the cube rattled James loose from his daze.

“Jamesey! You catch that Rockets game last night? What is up with Meeks? That guy doesn’t snap out of it, we miss the playoffs.” He shook his head in mock disappointment.

“Hey Tim. No. I didn’t get a chance. We had dinner with Melissa’s mom last night up in The Woodlands and on the way home we blew a tire. That kind of ruined our whole evening after that, you know?”

“Yeah, well you didn’t miss much. You blew a tire, Meeks blew the game, man. Things are blowing up all over H-town last night.”

James got up from his desk, “Guess so. Hey, I’m gonna grab a coffee. You in?”

“Oh, can I?” pleaded Tim.

The two men followed the worn carpet to the break room only to find the coffee pot empty, as usual. So with a little bit of gritted teeth, James set in making another pot.

Tim Chandler was one of those “work friends” that middle class work-a-day tech people always end up with. The personality types who are attracted to this kind of work tend not to be overly social, and not much into building a consistent ring of friends and acquaintances that can endure. Ordinarily a bunch of introverts who prefer being alone, working out problems, thinking and talking to themselves over hanging out with friends or doing things together with new acquaintances, the tech set tended towards transitory “friendships” with people they work with daily.

That is, with people they work with, and who they can tolerate. For James, Tim was that guy. The overlapping area of the venn diagram of people he can tolerate and people on his team at work contained only one person: Tim Chandler. Outside of work, James and Tim wouldn’t likely be pals. But if you didn’t have someone you could have a casual conversation with at work, you’d go nuts in this place.

Maybe James was going nuts anyway.

As the fresh coffee started to drip, Tim began with a hushed, conspiratorial tone, “Yesterday I was checking up on those douchebags over at Roth. What’s our contract with those guys? Like ten K a month? Chump change. Those guys are raking in like ten K a minute, and they do nothing. Nothing! The computer system does all of their heavy lifting. Only thing the Roth dudes have to lift is a giant sack of money.”

Roth Partners managed a hedge fund in downtown Houston that relied exclusively on an automated trading platform. The system monitored a huge array of trading feeds to identify arbitrage opportunities, when at the same moment in time one buyer is offering more for a commodity than another seller is asking, and by utilizing extremely high performance network and trading systems, Roth would buy the cheap commodity and instantaneously sell it to the buyer and pocket the profit. Their system did this thousands of times per second in some cases. It really was like printing money. It hardly seemed legal.

“Yeah, well, that’s what you end up with if you have no soul, you know?”

Tim emphasized the point, “Seriously. No soul. Bloodsuckers. But anyway, you know it’s the system we built and maintain for them that does all of the work. I mean, why did we build out that network, and we only get maybe a hundred K a year and those guys make like a hundred K a minute with it. We should just be doing this trading thing and get out of this SI business.”

‘SI’ stands for Systems Integrator, which basically summarizes the business of TCP Compudyne. TCP started out at the dawn of networking when nobody knew what networks were, the internet ran at 2400 baud and Appletalk was considered revolutionary. Back then it was Thomas & Carlton Partners. When the internet began to catch on, they changed it to TCP to match a popular internet acronym. TCP would design and install networks for clueless companies around Houston. But pretty soon, by the early 2000s, networking became easy, and wireless, and college drop-outs and high school kids were wiring up smoking-fast networks for pennies on the dollar of what TCP was trying to charge, so they changed their model. They were reinvented as TCP Compudyne, building systems for the elite, those who demanded extremely high performance networks and data centers and were willing to pay for someone to monitor them and keep them in top shape.

It sounded pretty awesome and high-tech, but really once you had half a clue what you were doing, it was pretty simple and even somewhat boring. Modern computer systems and networks are very high performance and very stable. TCP would usually just buy the best stuff on the market for their clients, install it with well-known best practices, and then have James, Tim and the other guys on his team check up on these systems regularly, preemptively fix issues that may come up, and keep collecting the monthly bill.

“Tim, if we were nearly as smart as those guys, we’d be the ones who were rich. Face it. The big money is not in building computer systems. This stuff is a commodity. Anyone can do it. My kid, Joey, knows like ten times as much about this stuff than I do, and he’s only fifteen. Those dudes at Roth, they’re the geniuses. Figured out how to use something cheap and available to make a mountain of money.”

“Yeah, well they still have no soul.”

“That’s true,” James conceded as he poured his coffee.

As they shuffled back to the cube farm, James asked, “So what was up with Roth yesterday?”

“Oh, nothing. Routine check. It’s one of my Monday to-dos. They monitor the log to make sure I’m logging in and looking around. I think they are hoping I miss something, then they’ll sue us.”

“No, they won’t sue us. We don’t have enough money. But they are basically relying on glitches in the system to make money, but one glitch in their operation could wind up costing a ton of money very fast. They are just trying to be smart.”

Tim’s comment about being sued did hit a nerve, and James had to work hard to keep himself from dropping to rock bottom for the few seconds he thought about it.

Almost a year ago to the day, Melissa had sat down with James and they had to face some tough facts. Eli’s scholarship was not nearly enough to cover the entire cost of Rice, and even though he had stayed home they were still racking up debt way too fast. Mark would be a senior in high school the next year and this problem was only going to get bigger. He didn’t even want to think about Joseph. He thought Eli and Mark would probably both go on to have killer careers and take over their own payments but Joseph didn’t look like the career type. He’d probably wind up with a degree in literature or art history or the like from U of H, then become a rafting guide and move to Utah or something. Or become a helicopter pilot and work for some aid outfit flying food and medicine into third world countries. Who knows with that kid.

They were lining up for a difficult financial time. James had not made it to the top of his career ladder despite the fact that he was a smart, hard worker who really cared about his company’s success. He was just not a shrewd, dog-eat-dog, cut-throat business type. So he collected a decent paycheck but it wasn’t making them rich. And right about then, he needed to be rich.

TCP had all the business they could handle and wound up throwing back some little fish when they came along. The little startups on a shoestring budget or deep into venture capital that needed some help usually didn’t want to pay for a big monthly retainer. The one-man-shows, like private day traders or guys running their own service like network security analysts or private investigators, all had needs that TCP could fill but they didn’t have the money to get TCP’s interest. So TCP let these scraps fall off of the table. Last summer, James picked one of the scraps up for himself.

Tony Greer was a lawyer who had moved into the network surveillance, corporate espionage, digital investigative side of things. He wanted TCP to put together a one-off system for him that was too small potatoes for his employer: about a hundred thousand dollars upfront and no recurring monthly maintenance. TCP declined, but James knew he could do the job and he sure could use the hundred thousand. He should have known better than to do business with an underhanded lawyer.

James took the contract and worked it on his own time, putting in forty or fifty hours extra for a couple of weeks to set up a beautiful system for Greer, and then by the end of the summer he got paid. Right about the time Greer’s check cleared, he did just what Tim suggested Roth was going to do. He produced some log data that suggested James had deliberately screwed something up. Never mind what it was, James didn’t do it. It was pure fabrication, but being an expert at computer forensics, it was a nearly perfect fabrication. Perfect enough to convince a judge. Greer sued James personally and won a roughly four hundred and thirty thousand dollar judgment. The court seized the Grady family’s assets, all of them. They had to sell the house, they were already upside-down on the cars and the chances of paying for Mark’s college were completely blown away. At the end of the day, the Gradys found themselves with ruined credit, renting a house half the size of the one they had once owned, and an additional three hundred thousand dollars in debt.

What had been a difficult financial challenge had suddenly turned into a crushing financial disaster for a middle-class, work-a-day tech guy. The irony was that Tim was right. With his own mind, James had designed and built Roth’s system, and for what? A TCP Compudyne paycheck? And Roth made enough money in ten seconds off of that system to not only pay off all of James’s debt, but to ensure that the Grady family would never again be in debt.

Maybe it pays to have no soul.

Chapter 5

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

James and Melissa sat across the table from one another on the patio in front of an amazing picturesque little café in Isabel Segundo, the town on the island of Vieques. They had enjoyed a late lunch and were appropriately sipping piña coladas while watching the people walk by. Melissa’s wavy chestnut hair was a halo as the breeze picked it up and it was caught by the early afternoon glint of sunlight.

After dropping off the boys for their great adventure to ‘the crease’, they took a taxi into town and wandered about doing a little shopping and taking in the local flair. But Melissa had been unable to relax; she was just so worried about the kids. They are grown, or nearly grown, but she was still their mom and it felt very uncomfortable to send them off on their own.

Of course James could not relax at all. He was drowning in a conflicting sea of emotions. On the one hand, he was crippled by guilt and shame. On the other hand, he was anxious and fearful about his family and his marriage. He felt the incredible urge to just do something to fix his family, while simultaneously being paralyzed by his guilt.

Finally, after avoiding the topic right in front of their faces, Melissa broke the silence. “James, what is it you are trying to do here?”

“What do you mean?” James said, knowing full well what she meant.

“You know. All of this. I mean, we never have taken big vacations like this. Are you trying to somehow buy back your family? And this thing with the kids. Letting them have their way like that? What is this, like a divorced dad buying his kid a pony? Are you trying to get some brownie points? Be the ‘good guy’ parent and make me the ‘bad guy’? Honestly, James. This is not going to work.”

“No. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to win anything. It’s not like that. I guess I just thought that if we got away from the stresses of our normal life, you know, maybe we’d be able to kind of start over. Start planning the rest of our lives together. Maybe it’d bring us back together as a family.”

“Bring us back together? Seriously, James, you don’t get it. If anything, it is you who is driving the family apart! How are you going to bring us back together?”

“That’s not what I meant. This is not coming out the way I wanted to.”

“I sure hope it’s not.”

“I can’t explain it, I guess. Maybe this was just another bad idea.”

“It’s just too late, James. We can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube. The situation is what it is. You’re not going to be able to magically make it like it used to be.”

“Look, don’t you think I know that? There’s nothing I can do about it now! I did what I thought I had to do at the time. It’s not like I can go back in time and decide not to do it. I can’t give the money back. Who knows where it even came from? And it’s not like we weren’t headed for a disaster—”

“We were not heading for disaster!”

“Yes we were! We lost our home, had to sell the cars, had collection agents calling constantly and no way out of this debt. Do you think our marriage was going to hold up through a complete financial collapse? What in the world was I supposed to do?” James was trembling. The dam holding back the ocean of his crushing guilt was beginning to crack. Melissa just looked at her lap. This had turned into a full-on fight. That was definitely not the plan.

“James. Listen to me very carefully. When I married you, I didn’t expect you to be rich, or to take me on luxurious vacations and buy expensive cars and houses. I fell in love with a man with integrity. You were the first man I ever met where I really thought, ‘well here’s someone that I can trust to be the father of my children, to raise them and teach them, by example, show them, that you do the right thing, not the easy thing, no matter what the cost.’ You were that man. But then once things really got hard, right when we all really needed you to be that man, you… you…” Melissa was crying now. “You just are not the man I married. I’m sorry, James.”

“No. I’m sorry. You’re right. Well, maybe. I am still that man, but I just made a mistake. I don’t know how to take it back. What’s done is done. I didn’t change, not at all. I just screwed up.”

“I don’t believe you,” is all she said. It’s all she needed to say.

  • * *

James paid the check and hailed a taxi. They rode back to the resort in uncomfortable silence. James wondered what was going on in her head. Was she working out how to make it work? Did she really consider James’s insistence that he hasn’t become a corrupt man? Did she want to believe that he was still the man she married? Or was she plotting her exit from this relationship? Figuring out how to tread water until Joey graduates and goes off to college, then she can leave and not worry so much about the impact on the kids?

Melissa, for her part, stared out the taxi window and settled on a realization: she had spent the last two years slowly cultivating this disdain for James for what he had done. She felt betrayed. She had entrusted her family to James. She believed he would always do the right thing, and then one day he didn’t. It was like a slap in the face. A complete betrayal. The rug pulled from under her. Her immediate response to the situation was to yell, scream, and fight. To run. To leave. But then some things got so much easier. It was true, they were headed for a financial disaster. And then suddenly they paid off all of their bills, bought new cars and a new house, and could just cross ‘money’ off of their list of worries. Wasn’t this a good thing? Shouldn’t she be thankful for that? It was very attractive. It was hard to leave now. It was just so easy to stay. She was still disappointed in James, but she was getting used to the money. She knew that if she divorced James, she would get half of the money, but that just didn’t feel right. If she was going to get the benefit of his money, she should have to pay some price. And that price was pretending that everything was ok and enduring living with a man she no longer looked up to. A man she no longer respected.

James didn’t try to talk to Melissa the entire taxi ride, and she was freezing him out when they got back. She walked into the bathroom, came out with her trim body peeking out from her bikini, with a hat and sunglasses on and a magazine under her arm and walked straight out the door. James asked, “where are you going?” and she just closed the door without answering or even acknowledging the question. The boys would be back in a couple of hours, so James decided he’d just head to the marina and wait for them there. He convinced himself that he was letting Melissa have her space. She’d snap out of it and join them at the marina by the time the boys got there. Truth was, he wasn’t strong enough to face her.

James found a bar on the walk to the marina, ordered a beer and then wondered if his life was really completely ruined. Bono sang, “Love, rescue me” over the speakers in the beach side bar.

Yes, James thought to himself, Love, rescue me.

 

Chapter 6

Tampa, Florida

“Hey! Someone shut off that alarm!” Lucas “Poppy” Jackson yelled across the manufacturing floor as he marched towards the source of the noise. Poppy was a short, stout, lovable black man in his fifties, who was regarded like a father by many of the young folks working on his factory floor, thus his nickname.

“What’s the hold up?” Poppy asked the line operator.

“Looks like the saw got caught on something, tripped the safety override and the alarm went off. I was just going to check it out,” Mike said as he donned his hard hat to go take a look at the stuck manufacturing line.

Florida Scientific Supply was a custom manufacturer for all kinds of specialized products needed for the more advanced scientific community. Thermion was one of their biggest customers. FSS made all kinds of stuff for Thermion, including producing the raw material of exotic materials they needed to run their supercollider down in Puerto Rico, plus just about anything else special they needed. Sometimes they’d need some wire with special plating or made of a special superconducting alloy, or some unusual controllers to operate a servo but not actually embedded into the servo. They usually were just given the specs and they found a way to make whatever the thing was, without really asking a lot of questions about what it was for or what it did.

Mike and Poppy were standing, staring at a sixteen inch automated chop saw that was at the front end of a manufacturing line they had to make these weird little carbon cubes that Thermion ordered by the dozen. This was a small line, and you feed it a piece of wood on one end, it chops it down to the size that will fit in the oven, and then it is burned at the correct temperature and oxygen content to yield elemental carbon a large, dense chunk, which were then laser cut into these little perfect shiny black 1 cm x 1 cm cubes.

Mike said, “Well, the saw is stuck alright.” He pulled the release pin from the arm of the saw so he could manually pull it free of the log. Once the cut was clear of the saw, he shined his LED pen light into the cut. “There’s something stuck in the log. Maybe a nail or a piece of barbed wire or something? These were from some pretty old trees.

“Alright, then. Is the saw blade ok?” Poppy asked impatiently.

“Yeah, looks ok.”

“Okay. Get another log on there and reset the safety lockout, get the line going.”

“Will do, Poppy,” Mike said. And he did just that, yanked the flawed log off, stuck another one on and fired up the line again. Once it was rolling again, Mike took a closer look at the log that stopped the saw. He couldn’t see the foreign object in the log through the cut, which was only about three fourths of the way through the log. He hauled it over to the workbench and pulled out a crowbar. With a three-pound sledgehammer, Mike pounded the crowbar into the cut and eventually the log split in two, revealing the object stuck in the log.

“What the hell?” Mike breathed to no one in particular. “Hey, Poppy!” he shouted at his supervisor who had returned to the other side of the floor. “You have to come see this!”

Poppy rolled his eyes and walked back over by the wood line. “What is it, Mike?”

“Look at this. That’s what the saw got caught on.”

“That looks like… that was in the log?”

“Yeah. It’s too hard for the saw to cut it so it got caught and stalled.”

“But how in the hell did it get in there?”

“Man, I don’t have any idea. But it was there. It doesn’t make any sense, at all.”

“No, it doesn’t. I’m going to have to take this up to Phil. Good job, Mike. Listen, don’t tell anyone else about this until we can get to the bottom of it, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, Poppy. I don’t even know what I’d say. If I told anyone they’d think I was nuts.”

Poppy picked up the log and walked straight to Phil McLain’s office.

They had found one of the missing cubes.

  • * *

Poppy made his way from the manufacturing building over to the offices of FSS and knocked on Chief Technical Officer Phil McLain’s closed office door. It was way outside of protocol for a lowly manufacturing manager to barge in on the CTO, but this was no ordinary problem. It was way over his head.

“Come in,” Phil invited. Poppy turned the knob and came in with a log under his arm. It seemed very out of place in the rosewood-and-windows office. “Lucas. What’s up?”

For a CTO, Phil was pretty casual and didn’t mind mixing up with his underlings. He had a real knack for seeming friendly and remembering people’s names. This felt very much like visiting a college professor’s office. Phil even looked a little like a prof, always wearing starched-stiff khakis and a button-down-collar oxford, with tortoise shell glasses and barely a fringe of hair.

“Mr. McLain, we had a stop on the wood line where we make those cubes for Thermion. You know, the cubes?”

“Yeah. Little carbon cubes they feed to their machine. Kind of weird. So you had a line stop?”

“That’s right. The saw that chops the logs got hung up on something it couldn’t cut. So Mike Keenan, the guy who manages that line, took a crowbar to the log so we could see what stopped it.”

“I presume this is the log.”

“Yes. I thought it would be best to just bring it up and show you directly, because this don’t make no sense at all to me and Mike.” Poppy set the log on the round table in the middle of the office as McClain got up from his desk to come take a closer look. When he saw it, his eyes went wide.

“Thank you, Lucas. You can leave the log here. Let me know immediately if you have any other issues like this on the line.”

“Okay, Mr. McLain. Will do.”

As Poppy left the office, Phil McClain was already dialing the phone. Hopefully someone at Thermion had an explanation for this.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 7

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Kyle Martin put his boss’s authority to use and commandeered 27 Android smartphones, all of the ones he could find or steal from the entire Isla Roca installation. Many of them didn’t have service agreements attached, but it didn’t matter; he would run them on wifi. He put together an ad-hoc team of technicians and engineers to help him put up a cobbled-together grid using these smartphones as GPS receivers.

Laurie whipped up a script that would run on the phones, making them send an update to a server every second, indicating the GPS time offset compared with their local time. After they put another cube in the portal, they could collect the phone time offset data out of the server’s log file and use another script to pick out the outlier; the one with the biggest offset. They then just go find that phone in their grid and hopefully the cube would be nearby. That was the idea anyway.

After Laurie had pushed the script out to all of the phones and verified she was getting data on the server, Kyle dragged his rag-tag team out and gave each of the five guys a stack of phones and instructions of where to put them. They distributed them as evenly as possible in a grid covering a quarter-mile radius from Daedalus. Many of them had to be affixed to buoys floating off the shore of Isla Roca. Given the extraordinary pressure to solve this problem, the team cranked this out in just half a day. By afternoon, they were ready to start another test.

Larry Duncan had to be in the driver’s seat with every test.

“Kyle, Laurie, we good to go?” Duncan said.

“We’re go.”

“Ready.”

“OK, start the test. Same pattern as before. Target one meter from origin location at the portal, due north, same elevation”

“Line laid in,” Laurie responded.

“Initiating beam acceleration. Full gravity beam in thirty seconds,” Kyle announced to the team. They waited, holding their breath. “Beam strength, one hundred percent. Put the cube in.”

Larry placed the cube into the portal and Kyle flipped a switch. Cube number fourteen vanished, just like the previous thirteen had.

“Laurie—” Duncan began.

“On it!” Laurie cut in. “Give me just a minute to analyze the data”. Laurie typed furiously into her laptop and then stopped suddenly, peered at the screen, and then said quietly, “this can’t be right.”

“What is it?” Duncan asked as he rushed behind Laurie’s shoulder to look at the data himself.

“Look. The four phones furthest from here, the ones on the buoys out in the water, all of them have huge negative offsets. All of the other phones are just a couple of milliseconds at most. Has to be an overflow or variable type bug in the script.”

“I checked it, Laurie. There’s no bug in the script. It’s only like five lines of code,” Kyle commented. “The data must be right.”

“Well how is that possible? You can’t have a negative time offset, and this is like…” she counted to herself, “four..five… like a hundred thousand  seconds, negative. And then they didn’t post another time update the next second. Has to be a bug or a glitch. How is it even possible? Even if the clocks stopped completely on the phones, it’d have a maximum of one second of error.”

“That would be a positive one second. This is negative. It means the clock didn’t stop, but it went fast. Very fast, from the looks of it. Hundred thousand seconds, what’s that, a day or so?” Kyle asked.

“Something like that,” said Duncan.

“Well if those clocks really ran a hundred thousand seconds in the time that the GPS satellites only ran one second, then the batteries would be dead before the next GPS second.”

“What? Batteries?”

“Yeah. Batteries. If time is going at a much higher rate, where a day passes for the phones for every second that passes for the GPS satellite, then the battery would go dead in like, a second or two, since for the phone that’s like a day or two.”

“You mean, the phones are time-traveling?” Duncan asked.

“Looks like it,” said Kyle. “I am just reading the data”.

“I don’t buy it. Kyle,” Larry said. “Get the guys to go out and see what’s up with the phones that are not reporting. Maybe the buoys tipped over and they croaked when they hit the salt water. Maybe that’s the glitch. Once we fix those phones or replace them, let’s repeat the experiment.”

“Excuse me, sir,” Jennifer Swinton, a procurement specialist for Thermion walked up. Jennifer managed acquiring most of the materials and equipment that the Daedalus team needed.

“Yes, Jen, what’s up?”

“Mr. Duncan, I think there’s something you need to see.”

“Okay, Jen. We’re done here until we can get these broken phones working again anyway. What have you got?”

“I just got off the phone with Phil McClain from Florida Scientific. They found one of our cubes, embedded in a log.”

“Say that again,” Larry said with a stunned look on his face.

“They were feeding a log into their machine that turns wood into our carbon cubes, and their tool got hung up on something. Turns out it was one of our cubes, somehow roughly in the middle of a log.”

“How is that even possible?” asked Laurie, as Kyle gave Larry a grim look, like he knew a terrible truth.

“We are not really sure what is possible, Laurie,” Kyle replied. “Jen, you say this is a log that they were using with some machine that makes our cubes?”

“Yeah. That’s how they do it. They basically barbecue a log in a special furnace and it turns it into kind of a specialized charcoal briquette, and then they use a laser to cut the briquette into a cube. Ironic that this is the very machine that makes our cubes, and one of our cubes turned up there.”

“Where did they get the log?” Duncan asked.

“Well, they have a bunch of them there, they have been sitting for a long time, couple of years. They let them sit to dry out so they don’t have as much moisture content and we get better cubes. That log has been there maybe two, three years.”

Kyle Martin and Larry Duncan exchanged a long look.

“What are the odds that we sent the cube to Florida, and it happened to end up at the manufacturer that made the cube, inside a log that was going to be made into a cube?” Duncan asked rhetorically.

“Zero. That could only mean…”

“What? You lost me,” said Jen.

“Me too,” said Laurie.

Kyle was thinking, maybe they did send a cube back in time. Back to before the cube was manufactured. Maybe the cube’s carbon atoms in the past were locked in that log, and when it got sent back, it just realigned those atoms into the cube shape inside the log, where it really had started out. And if that was true, then this could not be one of the cubes they have already been working with, because this particular cube, the one stuck in log, would have only been manufactured yesterday. That particular cube must have been sent back sometime in the future, at least a few weeks from now. If the saw hadn’t caught on it, then they may never have known. It would have just been part of the carbon lump that would have been carved into a new cube and nobody would have known.

“We may have sent this cube back in time. That could be the log it would have been made from. It can’t be any of the cubes we are currently looking for because that log hasn’t been made into a cube yet. There’s like a dozen logical flaws with this, but it’s the only explanation that fits the evidence,” Kyle explained. “This doesn’t really help us find the cubes we are looking for now, but it does open up a pretty unexpected set of possibilities.”

“You don’t think all of the other cubes are stuck in other logs at FSS?”

“Well, I don’t really know what to think. But no, whatever logs are in the stack at FSS have not been turned into cubes yet, so if there is another cube in one of them, that has to be from some experiment we haven’t done yet. Who knows, maybe in a month or a year we make other adjustments to Daedalus and end up sending a cube back in time, and this is that cube. But we may not have always been sending cubes back in time. There’s just no way to know.”

Duncan just buried his face in his hands.

Chapter 8

Off the coast of Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

The dive over El Pliegue, or ‘the crease’, had been spectacular. Eli was a pretty experienced diver, having gotten his PADI certification while he was in middle school. It seemed like a cool idea at the time, and literally none of the other kids were doing it. Growing up in Houston, he wasn’t lacking for opportunities to dive, but the conditions were pretty awful off the muddy Texas coast. Once he was old enough to drive and make his own way, he had taken a spur of the moment trip to Biloxi and hooked up with some locals, where he experienced clear water diving for the first time. He wasn’t going to make a career of it or anything, but he had done this enough to have some experience.

Mark and Joey always looked up to Eli and they also got their PADI certifications the previous year. They went diving a few times with their brother just out in the deep water out of Freeport where it was a little clearer away from the Mississippi mud. Since their parents were not exactly getting along, it was one of those things that they could do together and get away from the maelstrom of James and Melissa.

After they buttoned up all of the diving for the day, the tourists took up positions among the saloon benches and sun-deck tables on either of the two day boats for the long ride back to Vieques. Since you can’t talk while you are actually diving, the boats were abuzz with tourists jabbering on, recounting the incredible diving conditions of ‘the crease’. From what Eli could overhear, it sounded like most of these people on the tour had rarely or never been diving, and were more accustomed to snorkeling. It had been a huge experience for the bulk of the group.

As usual, Joey had pushed the limits of adventure on the dive, electing to frequently test the max-depth alarm on his dive computer. Since Mark and Eli couldn’t shout at him to come back to the fold, they were left chasing him down underwater just to keep an eye on him. They had promised their mother that they would not lose sight of him but this was a lot harder in practice than it had seemed when they made the promise. There is surprising tunnel vision through a diving mask, and Joey was a master at giving his overseers the slip. While it had begun as a frustrating effort to rein Joey in, eventually Joey’s sense of adventure and independence did cause Mark and Eli to explore a little deeper and closer to the edge than they would have on their own.

Experienced divers were not in abundance in this tour group, but they did seem to find each other by the return trip. Fortunately for Mark and Eli, the ones that found them were Ruby and Harper, a pair of cute girls who recently graduated from Southern Cross University in Lismore, Australia.

“Diving in Australia is really great. I mean, we have the Great Barrier Reef. It’s great if you want to look at fish. But we have nothing like ‘the crease,’” Ruby explained while Mark sat wide-eyed and Eli played cool.

“Ooh! Did you see that school of black-tip sharks?” said Harper.

“No,” explained Eli. “We were busy trying to keep tabs on our little brother Joey, who seemed determined to scare us to death following a tiger shark.”

“You saw a tiger shark? I heard they were not around here in Puerto Rico.”

“Yeah, it was really deep in ‘the crease’. We weren’t in much danger. I don’t think he was interested in us. We also saw a whole pod of dolphins down there,” Mark responded. “Before this, the scariest thing I had seen diving had been a barracuda.”

Harper offered, “Yeah, we were surprised just how many big fish there were down there. In Australia around the reefs we have lots of colorful little fish. We also saw a squid or an octopus. Not sure which.”

“I guess it could have been an octopus. Really there could be just about anything down there. That’s the deepest sinkhole in the world,” Eli said.

“So, where is this brother of yours anyway?” Ruby asked.

“Oh, I think he got on the other boat. We had our eye on him until we all had to surface and there were like thirty or forty people lining up to get back on the boats. We got separated in the crowd and I think he didn’t make this boat,” Mark was actually more than a little bit worried. He didn’t actually see Joey get on the other boat, he just assumed he was on there because he didn’t seem to be on this boat. Plus, where else was there for him to go? They were diving, then the time alarm went off telling them they had to return, they hit the surface and then started loading into the boats. There were no other boats there and no other place to go. He had to be on the other boat.

This worried him also because Joey’s bag was here, on the boat with he and Eli. It had Joey’s phone, wallet, shoes and shirt in it. So if he was on the other boat, he’d be stuck with no way to communicate and he’d have to deboard in just his swim trunks at the marina. Mark figured that if Joey had been on this boat with he and Eli, then he would have at least gotten his bag.

Mark tried to put Joey’s status out of his mind, since they’d find out when they got back to Vieques, and there was nothing he could do about it until then. He lost sight of Joey just for a minute, and he lost track of him. What are the odds? Maybe Eli saw him get on the other boat. Once Eli was through flirting with these Aussie babes, Mark would ask him.

But Mark didn’t get the chance, because Eli never did quit chatting with Ruby and Harper. Mark didn’t blame him. They were cute, smart, and they had an intoxicating accent. Surely if Eli hadn’t seen Joey get on the other boat, he’d not be so easily distracted by these girls.

Chapter 9

Houston, Texas

#
h4((<>{color:#000;}. Two years ago

What Tim had said about Roth earlier in the morning had been gnawing at James all day. James knew Tim was mostly just bitter and jealous, and that he was prone to exaggeration, but still. There was a lot of truth to what he had said. James didn’t really have anything against the Roth guys. They had figured out a really successful system for making money, so good for them, right? But the one thing that did really bug him is that they mostly weren’t gambling with their own money. They just rolled the dice with someone else’s chips on the table, and took part of what they won. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about it just didn’t quite seem fair. Maybe it was just that he felt like he had earned his money the old fashioned way: get a job, try to work hard and do right, collect an honest paycheck. That way seemed right, but why did the Roth method work so much better?

This conflict had been in the back of James’s mind all morning while he went about his normal tasks, consulting the white board to see what was next on the list and knocking out each item. He had a number of daily checkups to be done on systems TCP had installed for their clients and he had to write up a report entry for each one. Most were on a once-a-week basis. Some were daily. Then he had some new work projects to contribute to, but these were mostly paint by numbers. Plug in how many users, how many so-called “speeds and feeds”, how much data had to be stored and transmit, a few other concrete values, and voila, the design is basically pre-defined. Every once in a while someone would come up with some new product or feature that would cause them to make an adjustment to their formula, like when the next generation wireless technology hits and it causes ripple effects into the core networks. But by and large, this was a really simple problem to solve. So those projects didn’t really get him too excited. And the Roth thing would sneak in, and annoy him. What is it Morpheus said? You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. This was starting to be kind of like that.

Just as he was pondering this, none other than Tim Chandler came bopping into his cubicle again. Didn’t that guy have work to do?

“So, James. You eat?”

“What?”

“You know. Eat? Lunch? English? America? It’s lunch time, bro.”

“Oh. Yeah. You know I’m not much for going out to lunch. I’m a brown bag type of guy,” James said as he rattled the paper on his authentic brown lunch sack to emphasize the point.

“Dude. Throw that in the fridge and let’s hit Paulies.”

“Nah, man. I’m on a budget.”

“I know. It’s on me. I’ll even drive. Come on.”

“I just started on my update to the Reliant refresh.”

“It’ll keep. Come on. I need to bounce an idea off of you. I need that big brain of yours. I won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” Drama queen, laying it on thick. Must be another take on his get-rich-quick schemes. Some emerging multi-level marketing thing. Or internet currency. Or a perpetual motion machine that the government has been covering up for decades. Or how to game the health insurance system. He was full of this stuff. Some of it was even legal.

“Okay. You drive. You know I’m sharing a car with Eli, he dropped me this morning.”

“Roger that. Pizza’s getting cold.”

Tim didn’t let on what was on his mind while driving over, instead complaining about the Rockets for the five-minute trip. It hardly mattered, because James really did need to get away and get his mind off of things. Roth, Greer, debt, financial catastrophe. It did occur to James that it was Tim that brought all of this up this morning. He really needed some new friends.

Paulies was a noisy and crowded pizza-by-the-slice joint that was extremely popular with the geek set during the lunch rush. It featured grimy decor that looked like it was recycled from an 80s Pizza Hut or maybe one of those thousands of New York food-court style pizzerias. They grabbed a booth featuring buffed smooth naugahide red upholstery with only a few cigarette burns and genuine Formica table veneer with various ‘John + Jane = Love’ type pocket-knife carvings on the surface, some of which were emphatically enhanced with ball-point pen ink. Adding to the class of the joint was the grease-saturated paper plates, plastic sporks and brown paper towels on a roll that passed for china and linens. The experience could only be enhanced with a light beer in an opaque plastic disposable cup, but since it was the middle of the day both guys opted for the flat Diet Coke. Don’t want to overdo it.

The pizza was good and the vibe was just right for what Tim had come to present.

“Alright, Tim. I’m on pins and needles. Tell me what you got cookin’.”

“Remember this morning I was telling you about Roth,” Tim started in a hushed tone, eyes darting around. It was like a spoof of a spy movie.

“Yeah, I remember. Roth gets rich using our system to print money, something like that.”

“Yeah, something like that. You know how it works, right?”

“I think I know the broad strokes. They use high performance networks and computing systems to make favorable trades. Some other rich guys buy into their fund, and they make trades with the fund money, take a commission on the winners and let the investors lose on their own. Something like that?”

“It’s kind of like that, but more tricky. They actually look for opportunities for arbitrage. You know about arbitrage?”

“I have a general idea.”

“Okay. So they lease network feeds from several different banks. These network feeds are basically like a stream of trade data, offers to sell and offers to buy. All of that monopoly money stuff those guys trade, from stocks to commodities like steel and oil to foreign currency. Whatever. And they feed these streams all into one computer system, the one we built. This system runs a special piece of software, the only part we didn’t build, that monitors all of these streams of data and looks for when, for just an instant, one feed is offering to sell something for a lower price than another feed is offering to buy the same thing. Then, BAM! The computer makes a gigantic trade and all at once they buy and sell the same thing and pocket the profit.”

“When you say, ‘the same thing’…”

“Okay, say for instance it’s, umm, Reliant Energy stock, okay? So just for example, say on feed A, there is an offer to sell a million shares of Reliant stock for twenty dollars. And at the exact same moment, feed B has an offer to buy a million shares of Reliant stock for twenty dollars and ten cents. So the computer recognizes this match and automatically buys the million shares for twenty and sells them immediately to the other buyer for twenty and ten cents. Just like that, they make, what’s that, a hundred thousand dollars, all in one instant.”

“I get the idea, but why would there ever be conditions like this? Seems like the guy on feed B would just buy them for twenty bucks even from the seller on feed A, cut out the middleman. Don’t the banks talk to each other?”

“Aha! That’s where the magic is. That’s why Roth is paying us to provide a super high performance system. The thing is, there are delays. You know, latency? It takes some time for the data to make it from point A to point B. So let’s say it takes fifty milliseconds for sell offer to make it from the bank at feed A to Roth, and it takes a hundred milliseconds for the buy offer to make it from feed B. The buyer on feed B may have missed the offer on feed A because it happened before. And to top this off, the banks have a window of time where they give you a chance to respond to any offer, buy or sell. They do this because of this delay. Some other broker, without an ultra high performance system, it may take two hundred milliseconds for the offer to get there. So Roth may be able to act on the offer before someone else can, because of their super high end system.”

“Alright. So Roth has this killer system for making money by leveraging timing differences between bank feeds. Is that the basic idea?”

“You got it. That’s exactly what they do. And they do this like thousands of times a second in some cases. Buying, selling, buying, selling. Racking up the dough.”

“You didn’t bring me here just to tell me about Roth’s money making system…” prompted James.

“Right. Here’s the thing. Why should guys like Roth make all the money on this?”

“Maybe, because they are the ones that came up with the idea and they are taking the risk?”

“Right, but what if there was a way to do something similar, without the risk. Sure thing. Same principle.”

“Tim, how do you do the same principle without any risk?”

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. I had an idea. What if we could get two offers, one buy and one sell, both from the same feed, with the buy offer higher than the sell offer?”

“How would we do that?”

“We use the delay. Imagine you get a retail trading account and you live in Timbuktu, so you have like six hundred milliseconds of delay. You get an offer to buy something for a certain price, you can buy it. But someone else getting the same offer in a building next door to the bank in New Jersey can respond a half of a second quicker. The bank has to cover both sales, right?”

“I guess so.”

“They do. So even if the price goes up before you can respond to it in Timbuktu, they bank has to sell it at the price they offered it. So imagine you could buy it in Timbuktu, and then go back in time like a half a second and sell it to the guy in New Jersey at the higher price.”

“Well, that’d be quite a trick. If it was possible, everyone would be doing it.”

“It is possible. Here’s how. We get two feeds from the same bank. We set up a computer with two network cards, one for each feed. Now, I put a switch in between the wall and one of the network cards, and I blast traffic into the switch, jumbo frames and that kind of stuff, so that there’s a ton of delay on one of the feeds. Then, we can watch the price of a stock on the fast feed and know what’s coming on the delayed feed, maybe a half a second before it hits. So if a stock takes a quick drop in price, then we buy it on the fast feed, after it has dropped in price, and then sell it on the delayed feed, before it drops.”

“Tim. Man. That has got to be illegal. And surely the bank has a way to protect against that.”

“Yeah, they have a way to detect it if you do it a lot, like if I just monitored all stocks and trades and did this like a thousand times a day. But if we do it just once, then it’s not a pattern. They won’t see it.”

“Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s say I am buying into this. And I’m not. But if I was, how would you pick the stock? How would you know what was going to drop?”

“You pick some commodity to watch, something that is really volatile, that has lots of big jumps happening in short time.”

“Right, but then how in the world do you catch it when this happens, and then make the trade? You would have to be literally watching this twenty-four-seven.”

“And that, my friend, is where your big brain comes in. You write a script to monitor the feeds and look for the condition, and then make the trade. We build up the system, we put money into an account from some trading house, and then we just run the script. It hits and we get our target number, we pocket the profit, and then shut it down.”

“I don’t think that would work. The reason Roth can do this kind of thing is because there are millions of dollars of other people’s money to buy stock with. Even if we doubled our money, that’s like, what, a thousand dollars? Totally not worth it. We’d have to have like hundreds of thousands of dollars to make it worth it.”

“No, I figured that out too. You heard of leverage? If we do this with foreign currency, then there are brokerages who will let us trade up to a thousand to one leverage. That means for every dollar in the account, we can trade a thousand dollars. It would normally be incredibly risky since you are basically getting a loan from the brokerage and if you lose your dollar, you also owe a thousand dollars to the broker. But we are not going to lose. We would have it wired. So we put a thousand dollars in the account and we can trade a million dollars.”

“Wow. Well, the problem there, Tim, is I don’t have a thousand dollars. And with my credit, no broker on earth is going to give me one of these thousand to one loans. I don’t think I’m the right guy.”

“James, I know about your situation. But I can’t do this without you. I’ll supply the money, you supply the software. We split the profit. Simple as that.”

“You sure this is legal?”

“How can it not be?”

“Man. I don’t know about this.”

“James, what do you have to lose? A few hours of your spare time to write some code and help me fix up the system. Then we turn it on, wait for the magic, turn it off and cash the check. Nobody needs this more than you do man. This would get you all of the way out of the hole. You could get your house back, or get a new house. Get yourself a car. Stop worrying about college bills. Plus, you would be designing the system that does it, you and me. Just like Roth does. But this time, we get rich. We get what we’ve earned from all these years of work.”

Tim had a point. They had both devised systems that could be used for this. All that would be left is really writing a trivial amount of code to catch the opportunity and make the trade. Roth does essentially the same thing thousands of times a day. Why should those guys get all the profit from systems that James designed?

“So, what do you say? In? Are we doing this?”

James considered how happy Melissa would be to get out of debt. All of that stress, gone. No more worrying about money. It had always been about money, all of their worries, all of the stress, and now the court and the collection agents. Just a little bit of code, and we wipe that out in one fell swoop.

“James,” Tim said to knock James out of his reverie.

“Okay. I’m in. But just until we hit our number. That’s it. We just do enough trades to get what we need, for better or for worse, then we’re done. Agreed?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Agreed? Just until we get our number.”

“Yeah man. Agreed.”

James had a muted pang of a feeling, somewhere down deep. Had he just made a deal with the devil? The words of Morpheus rang out again in his mind, You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. What was that he was thinking before? Something about Roth, didn’t seem quite fair? He couldn’t put his finger on it. Was Tim’s plan really any different? Was it really any better? Was it just envy that made him feel that way about Roth before? Something was making him feel that way now, just a tiny bit, but now it was about himself.

 

Chapter 10

Isla De Vieques, Puerto Rico

Melissa found an empty deck chair under a little palapa on the beach below the Ensenada del Mar. She dragged the chair out into the sun and began to soak up the rays. Maybe the sun, the sound of the waves, seeing the other miserable people, all of this would help put her life in perspective. Maybe James was right. It was just one mistake. You can’t condemn a man forever for just one mistake, can you? Every other man she would ever meet would have made at least one mistake in his past. It’s just that James made this mistake while she was trusting him not to. For some reason she couldn’t understand, that made all the difference in the world.

Melissa actually was beginning to realize that much of her depression has been because she hates herself for not being able to forgive James. For not moving on. Not looking at the bright side. And she also realized that she feels guilty for taking part in the fruit of James’s error. She tasted the fruit from that tree and she liked it. Did that not make her guilty as well?

She lounged on the chair thinking these thoughts and ignoring her magazine for the better part of an hour before the tennis ball flew by and the dog jumped on her.

“Bart! Get down, Bart! Ma’am, I am so sorry!”

Melissa had to make a visor from her hand to block the sun enough to see who was talking to her. He was about six feet tall with a slate buzz cut in a guayabera over navy shorts and no shoes. She thought he looked like he must live on the beach. I could live on the beach, she thought.

“Here. Let me get you a towel. Bart just chases that ball no matter where it goes. I should have been more careful where I threw it.”

“That’s ok,” Melissa said as she sat up and leaned back on her elbows. “It’s the beach, after all. What’s a little sand and salt water?”

“No, I insist. I’ll be right back.”

He trotted away and Bart the killer beagle followed along. Less than a minute later he returned with a towel and a pair of piña coladas, handing one over to Melissa. She sat all the way up now.

“No, really. I’m fine. I don’t need anything else,” she said, trying half-heartedly to refuse the drink.

“Again, I insist. It’s the least I could do. It is an all-inclusive resort, so it was free. Don’t think too much of it.”

“Okay, if you insist,” Melissa said as she took a tiny sip and set the glass down in the sand. The stranger sat down on the sand next to Melissa’s deck chair and Bart sat between them.

“Dave Gooding,” he said by way of introduction. “And I think you have already met Bart.”

“I’m Melissa,” she said, trying to feign disinterest.

“Nice to meet you, Melissa. Sorry about the circumstances. Are you here on vacation?”

He was chatting her up. This was not what she needed right now. An hour ago she stormed out on her well-meaning husband of over twenty five years, and in less than an hour she was to go pick up her sons from their tour, which still terrified her. And now here’s a handsome gentleman using some lame ‘my dog did it’ line to worm his way over to her. And he brought her a drink. She was a wife, and a mother. She was not here to be chatted up by some guy.

What am I even doing out here?

“Yes. I’m here with my husband and three sons.”

“Oh yeah? Are you staying here at the resort?”

“Yes. My boys are off on a dive trip and my husband is … on his way down.” Maybe if she just talked about her husband the whole time, he’d get the hint. Maybe she would get the hint, too.

“You’re going to love it here. It’s an amazing place… gorgeous views,  the food is fantastic, it’s so relaxing, beautiful people. I have an apartment in San Juan where I spend a few months a year for my business, and sometimes when I’m in Puerto Rico I will take a few days and stay here at Ensenada del Mar just to unwind and take in the beauty.”

The guy has an apartment in San Juan, she considered. He brings his dog with him when he comes on business. Who has business that takes them to Puerto Rico for a couple of months a year? She was intrigued.

For the next little while, Melissa and Dave Gooding laughed and talked about meaningless things. They took turns throwing the tennis ball towards the water and Bart returned it to them playfully. Melissa finished half of her piña colada and Dave polished his off. As Dave was getting up to go get another round of drinks Melissa realized a few things with a start: she was late to go meet the boys at the marina, and she was playing with fire, dancing dangerously over the line.

“Dave, it was nice meeting you but I have to go.” Melissa stood up abruptly and snatched up her things.

“Okay. Well maybe I’ll see you around the resort. I’ll be here for a few more days.”

Melissa turned and began to walk away with purpose, absentmindedly waving behind her as Dave said, “Buenas tardes, amiga.” She tried really hard to ignore him.

  • * *

Melissa didn’t bother going back to the room. She had not brought her phone with her because she really didn’t want James checking up on her or knowing where precisely she had gone. But she realized she could also not call her boys, and more importantly, they couldn’t call her if they needed her. How could I have been so selfish?

She assumed that James would be responsible enough to go and wait for the boys. Again, she thought, why would she assume that she should be able to go off and giggle like a schoolgirl with some stranger on the beach and her husband, the one she just castigated for being untrustworthy, would take care of the family? She was becoming aware that there was some deep flaw in her judgment on this matter. Of course James would be there for the kids. She should also be there for them. And she should be there for James. Dear God, what am I doing?

As she walked down the wood plank walkway toward the marina she caught sight of James sitting at a bar with a Blue Moon in front of him. Well, maybe she couldn’t trust James after all. Maybe the boys have zero good parents. At least Eli probably took care of the younger boys.

“James!” she called as she came up behind him. James turned and then suddenly realized the time.

“Hey babe. I was just hanging out here near the marina and lost track of time.”

“Let’s go. They will be back any minute,” Melissa commanded. This was no big deal, James hanging out in sight of the marina. Why had she snapped at him like that? Why am I being so nasty? Guilt. That, and she didn’t want him to ask where she had been. She didn’t want to tell him the answer. She didn’t even want to think about it. And she wanted it to be his fault. She needed everything to be his fault.

The marina was only a few steps away and as James and Melissa approached they could see the dive boats pulling in to their dock. Right about the moment they got to the right slip, Eli and Mark were hopping across the gangway, making brief goodbyes with a couple of pretty girls. Boys! Melissa thought. Then, “Where’s Joey?”

“He’s on the other boat,” Eli said nodding his head towards the other dive boat, pulled just behind the one they came from.

“The other boat? I thought you were going to keep him close at all times! Eli, Mark, you promised.”

“Mom, it’s alright. We just got split up at the last minute. Everything went great. We followed Joey all over that sinkhole, all the way until we had to come up. But then it was like a mass exodus from the water with all of the divers returning to the boats all at once and we got separated, that’s all. By the time we saw that he was not with us, we were already underway and couldn’t change boats.” Eli was trying to be diplomatic and keep his mother from ripping him, even though he deserved it. Mark was trying to keep his mouth shut. Once Joey was back on dry ground, she’d forget about their little oversight.

Melissa began moving quickly to the other boat to wait for Joey, but as she got there she could see that all of the tourists had been unloaded. She hailed one of the tour guides, “Excuse me, sir. Do you speak English?”

“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”

“Is everyone off the boat?”

“Yes ma’am. They get off just now.”

“Are you sure? Maybe someone is in the bathroom?”

“No ma’am. I check, just now. The boat is clear.” The guide began to turn to go back to collecting the dive equipment when Melissa stopped him again.

Señor, I am sorry, but please, did you see a boy, 17 years old, almost six feet tall, light brown hair?” she said, holding her hand up to indicate Joey’s height.

Si, ma’am. Some boys like that diving, look like brothers, but they did not ride back on this boat.”

“Not this boat? Is there another boat?”

Si ma’am. In front,” he pointed to the boat Eli and Mark were on.

“No, I mean another one, besides that one?”

“No, ma’am. Just these boats. Everyone come back on these boats.”

Melissa’s family had joined her at the second boat’s gangway by then. “You find Joey?” Mark asked.

“No. The guy said all three of you were on the other boat. Everybody has already unloaded from this one.”

“That’s got to be a mistake. How’s this guy going to keep track of every single person that was on both boats? Joey had to be on this boat, he just didn’t notice,” Eli said.

“Alright, so maybe we missed him while you guys were getting off over there,” James said as he tilted his head toward the first boat’s gangway, “and maybe he just turned that way,” he continued, indicating the opposite direction from where they had all come, “and he’s strolling through the marina checking out the boats or something, or reading some of these signs for other tours,” James suggested, in a tone of reasonableness. “Heck, maybe he found an Australian girl of his own on the second boat.”

Mark blushed. “You saw that?”

James just raised one eyebrow.

“Let’s just call his cell and see where he is,” James suggested.

“I have his phone right here,” Mark said, holding up Joey’s bag with his shoes and shirt from the boat. “Joey left his bag on the boat with ours before we started diving, and then got on the other boat while his stuff was on our boat.”

Now, this was really starting to look worrisome, Melissa thought. Joey wouldn’t have gotten that mixed up and left his bag with all of his stuff on the wrong boat.

“Well, we need to just fan out and look for him. He’s got to be right here at the marina somewhere. Does everyone else have their phone?” James said.

“I think mine is back in our room,” Melissa said.

“Well then you take Joey’s phone with you. Let’s all head out and look for him and meet back here in…” James looked at his watch, “at six o’clock sharp. Keep an eye on the time, we don’t need to get back here with Joey then have to go looking for you. Whoever finds Joey, send a text to the group or call my phone, then we can call off the search party and go get ready for dinner. Sound like a plan?” Nods all around. Melissa took Joey’s bag, certain she would find him and he’d need his shoes and clothes too, and marched off into the marina. Mark shrugged at Eli with kind of a, ‘what’s up with her?’ look, which Eli returned with a knowing tilt of the head. “I’ll head towards town, you guys know what kind of bunny trails Joey would follow, so follow your instincts. Six o’clock.”

“Roger that,” Mark said with a mock salute, and they all left their spots in search of Joey.

  • * *

When six o’clock came, James arrived at the dive boats to find Eli and Mark already there waiting. “We got nothin’,” Eli informed James as he walked up. “There’s just not that many places he could have gone around here.”

“Yeah, same here,” James said, right about when Melissa came speed walking towards them.

“You didn’t find him?” she said, accusingly, eyes a little wild, just holding back panic. “Where did you look? Did you check any coffee shops? James, what about that bar? Are there public bathrooms?” she fired off questions rat-a-tat before anyone could answer, her voice gaining pitch with each word.

“Calm down, honey. It’s only been about forty-five minutes. It’s not time to call in the National Guard yet,” James said, and as the words left his mouth, he realized his attempt at humor to settle things down would be interpreted as mocking, and he’d made things worse.

“James! Our! Son! Is! Missing!” Melissa reminded, nearly shrieking now. “This is no time for your games!”

Eli tried to diffuse the situation. “Seriously, mom. Dad is right. It’s not like this is all that unusual for Joey. We’ve been looking for that kid all his life. He might be a little bit of a space cadet sometimes but he’s a smart kid. He’s probably doing something totally reasonable but we just haven’t thought of it yet.”

“He may even be back at the hotel, wondering what’s taking us so long,” Mark offered.

“You think he would go there? Does he remember the way?”

“Yeah, mom. He knows the way. He’s not a five-year-old lost in the mall. Geez,” Mark said, thinking he needed to get better at keeping his mouth shut.

“Well, we’ve looked everywhere else, and he doesn’t have his phone so maybe he did just go back to the hotel knowing we’d eventually meet up there,” James said, trying to return some calm and reason to a situation that was quickly becoming out of hand. Melissa was already borderline hysterical, and it had only been less than an hour. Mark and Eli were a little bit indifferent, considering they had been drafted to keep an eye on Joey and then find him when he had wandered off literally all of their lives. Their blasé attitude was not helping Melissa any. Someone had to remain confident that they would find Joey, and reasonable enough to get a plan together. James knew that would have to be him. After all, he was the one who had brought them all here, and letting the boys go on their own was his idea. Once Melissa remembered that detail, he was not sure he could keep her from completely flipping out. She would need to be able to rely on someone, and that had always been James.

“One way to know for sure: let’s just go back and check,” James said. And they all made their way back to the Ensenada del Mar where James assured himself they’d find Joey waiting.

 

Chapter 11

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Larry Duncan sat across from the digital image of his boss, Thermion CEO Carson Lee, as it spoke to him over his computer’s speakers. He had wrestled all afternoon with how to communicate this new information to Lee. Despite Kyle’s implication that they had inadvertently created a time loop, Duncan still wasn’t sure of exactly what was going on. They did not have nearly enough evidence to form a solid conclusion; they didn’t even have nearly enough evidence to speculate what might be going on. All they really had was a totally inexplicable anomaly and Kyle’s gut feeling that it was a time-traveling cube. That was not nearly enough. Larry knew that once he brought this up, Lee would have an endless stream of hard questions and Duncan didn’t have any answers for them. It was his job to have these answers. But the truth—no, the facts—that Duncan was now confronted with was that he lacked the capability to even begin to answer these questions. The Daedalus team had stepped off the cliff, into the abyss, and they were now drifting in a sea of unknowns. While Duncan knew this to be true, it would not satisfy Carson Lee.

Truth. Facts. That’s really the root of what was troubling Duncan the most about this. Kyle was sort of a mystic of physics. His position reminded Duncan of Ian Malcom’s line from Jurassic Park: your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should. But with Kyle it was not that simple. He was curious, dedicated, and very smart. And he was practical. He would do whatever was necessary to make progress towards the goal. But he had this odd sixth sense that cropped up, like an intuitive understanding that they were going one step too far, and that all that they knew and understood in the universe would not be enough to guide them once they took that step. Kyle seemed to think that not only were there things they didn’t know, but there were things human beings could not know. And once we ventured into that realm of the unknowable, then the consequences could neither be predicted nor controlled.

Duncan’s rational mind rejected this line of thinking absolutely as some sort of quasi-religious hooey. Mankind only did not know that which they had not yet discovered. You can’t learn anything new without pushing past old boundaries of thought and reason. This was true science. Everything had an explanation, no matter how seemingly complex or unpredictable. Throughout human history we had ascribed those things we did not understand to the acts of gods. But in every single case, eventually man had discovered the true explanation for those things former generations considered supernatural. In most cases, it was the observations that could not be believed.

He realized only now that it was easy to judge the errors in logic of past generations, but when you are the one experiencing the inexplicable, it gives you a different perspective. He couldn’t help but wonder if Kyle was right. Maybe Duncan’s trust in the ultimate logical explanations was really intellectual arrogance. Kyle was no fool; in fact maybe it was Kyle who was the real genius here. Maybe it was Duncan who was relying on faith in something for which he had no evidence—a scientific explanation for the inexplicable—and Kyle who had a firm grounding in reality: that there are things man is not meant to understand.

This is why Duncan was not feeling his most confident as he tap danced in a videoconference with his boss from Thermion’s offices in Alexandria. “Look Larry, I trust your judgment. Damn, you’re probably the world’s foremost expert on space-time anomalies, which is why we put you on this project in the first place. What do you think is going on?”

“The truth is, we just don’t know enough yet. We are going to keep working the problem and try and find a way to get more concrete evidence. We scribed a serial number on each of the cubes we have in the lab and asked FSS to begin serializing the new ones they make for us, which is what we should have done to begin with. We didn’t know we’d need to positively identify which one we were sending, since we thought we were just moving the thing three feet across a lab table. We’ve now lost track of fourteen cubes total, and we have recovered one of them. We know going forward all of the new ones will be marked with a number, so the one we found in the log has to be one we already sent.” Larry knew there was a problem with that statement as soon as he said it.

“I trust you are working the right process, and I don’t need to micromanage your decisions on this. I freely admit I don’t understand the first thing about what you are talking about. Mostly what I need from you is some feedback on the timetable. How far has this set us back? And when can we get back on track?”

Timetable? Duncan thought. Can this guy be serious? They are potentially making fancy blocks of charcoal travel through time and Carson Lee wants to know how that affects the timetable? The absurdity of this whole conversation hit Duncan like a medicine ball to the chest. He was about to try and estimate the schedule impact of—let’s face it—a time machine. Maybe I ought to put myself in the portal, go back in time and slap my previous self, tell him to get out of this doomed project while he still can, Duncan thought, uselessly. Probably screw up and kill my grandfather in the process. Put me out of my misery.

“I’m sorry, Carson, but there’s just no way for us to know that. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that Daedalus is not working as expected, and we are doing everything we can to determine why.” And we may be, quite literally, moving heaven and earth, Duncan didn’t say. “The one bright spot is, if we are actually creating a time loop, then it means the theory of operation of the Daedalus is sound. It’s bending space-time just as expected. We are possibly just bending it too far.”

“Well, see that you bend it back on track. I know I don’t have to tell you, but we are over ten years into this project and God-knows how many billions of dollars and even the United States taxpayer doesn’t have unlimited funds, not to mention patience. I have avoided making promises but the DoD is going to start to call our bluff any day now.” Maybe we should start putting stacks of money into the portal then, Duncan mused. He was losing it.

“I’ll do what I can. Now I need to get back to the lab. I just wanted to get you this information while it was still fresh,” Duncan said, pressing away from the call.

“Okay, thanks Larry. I’m sorry to be such a jerk about this. You know our Puerto Rican science project will bankrupt every one of us if we can’t pull this off, and then we will have some very dangerous people looking for heads to roll. Even though on paper we are working for DARPA, the nerd’s big brothers in the DIA will not hesitate to make us all disappear if we break their toy.” Yeah, well I can make lots of things disappear when they go into the portal of my science project.

“I hear you. I’ll keep you in the loop,” Duncan said, instead of what he was thinking.

“You do that,” Lee said, and hung up.

Larry Duncan needed a drink. And a vacation. And a new life. But instead, he left his office and headed off to the lab.

Chapter 12

Houston, Texas

#
h4((<>{color:#000;}. Two years ago

It only took James two weeks of sneaking around for he and Tim to get the trading system set up, open the account, and for James to write the script that would execute the trade. They had decided after some quick research that they should be doing foreign currency trading, known as “Forex”, and they decided to watch the UK Pound vs. the Australian dollar and the Euro vs. the Australian dollar, due to volatility and the common side of the Euro. The broker offered a four hundred to one leverage ratio and Tim put two thousand dollars into the account, so they could trade up to eight hundred thousand dollars.

They had to hit it just right. James programmed the system to watch for a drop of two percent or more for either of their two currency pairs to occur within a two hundred and fifty millisecond time window on the fast feed, and then the computer would buy low currency on the fast feed and then sell it when it hit the high value on the slow feed, which was delayed about three hundred milliseconds. If this worked, and they got lucky enough to hit a big drop, they might double their money. James would get four hundred thousand dollars or more after all was said and done, which was enough to pay off all of his debts and leave some left over to get ahead on a car and get back into a house.

The beauty of this plan was that they just had to let the system start listening, and once the conditions were met, it would automatically perform the trade without them having to watch it or do anything about it. James had set it up to send him an email alert when it had made the trade.

James didn’t like having to sneak around behind Melissa’s back while he was setting this up, but he didn’t want to tell her about it until he was sure it would work. He didn’t want to have to explain the whole scheme to her, convince her the way that Tim had to convince him. Number one, she wasn’t a finance genius. Number two, she would worry. James was convinced that there was no risk, but she wouldn’t be. By the time he could explain it to her, the deal would already be done. He’d rather break it to her when he had a half a million dollars in his pocket.

They kicked off the script Sunday night. The London market session opened at two in the morning Monday, Houston time. The email came while James was asleep only minutes after the market opened. Things got interesting as soon as James woke up and checked his phone.

“Hello?” Tim said sleepily into his phone.

“Why did I get three emails?” James demanded without greeting his friend.

“James? Man, it’s… dude, it’s six in the morning. We can talk about this when I’m awake.”

“We’re talking about it now! It looks like someone reset the script after it hit our number. Now, I don’t know how that could have happened, since only you and I had access to it. I was sleeping and you promised me we would be done once we hit the number. So what happened? Tell me, Tim. What happened. How did this happen?”

“Calm down, man. It’s no big deal. Look. I logged in and checked on it when it kicked off. I just wanted to make sure it was working, not that I didn’t trust your code. But I had to be sure. I mean, that’s my money on the line and if it went south I would owe the broker eight hundred thousand dollars,” Tim explained. “And in like two minutes, the script kicked in and made a trade. It worked like a charm! We made about thirty-six K. In two minutes. So I rebooted it, ran it again, and this time we got close to a half mil.”

“Yeah, Tim. That was the whole idea! The plan was, we button it up and get out after we hit half a million. That was the deal!”

“I know, but James! It was just so perfect. Your script, our system, worked like a charm. It’d have been a total waste to shut it down after the second trade. Look. The first time it hit, we made over four percent, which is pretty good. But that still was only about thirty-six K. So I reset it. This time we had the money from the first run in the account. It took only like ten seconds, and this time when it was done, even though it hit only about three percent, we had nearly half a million dollars. I could have stopped there but I couldn’t help myself. I reset it with the half mil again and let it ride. It took a little longer the third time and we only caught just over two percent, but by the time it was over we had made over four point six million dollars!”

“Say what? Four point six million dollars?” James was running the math in his head but it was hard to nail down considering the leverage, his emotional state, and the fact that he hadn’t yet had any coffee.

“That’s right. Two point three million each. It’s sitting in the forex account. I was tempted to run it again but I was afraid the bank would recognize a pattern and then we might get in some kind of trouble.”

“Trouble? I thought you said this was legal.”

“I said I thought it was legal. Anyway, it wasn’t worth the risk one way or the other. I figured over two million each was plenty. But we have to move it out of the forex account. And this might be difficult. It’s hard to keep a two million dollar deposit off the radar with your ordinary bank account, you know?”

“What, are you saying we need a Swiss bank account?”

“I don’t know, man. Swiss, Cayman Islands, something like that?”

“Tim, that’s what criminals do.”

“No point in attracting attention, you know?” Now, Tim was sounding like a criminal. But James wasn’t ready to attract Melissa’s attention.

“Okay. We’ll figure something out.”

“We have to figure it out today, James.”

“Okay, we’ll figure something out, today.” James hung up. Oh my God. Two point three million dollars, he thought. This was a whole different story. He had dared to hope for enough to break even on his debts and have a little left over, but this was life-changing money. This was quit-your-job money. Play it halfway smart, this was no-more-debt-ever kind of money. Even after paying off their debts, buying a house and tucking away college money, they could just about live on the interest alone.

James had a very hard time focusing on work that day. He had a lot to do. He had to figure out where to put the money, to find a bank somewhere. He had to figure out how he was going to explain this to Melissa. He had to think about his future, his job. And suddenly he found himself constantly looking over his shoulder. He had some kind of sneaking feeling that he was going to get caught. For what, he wasn’t sure.

Tim had done a little homework and they transferred the money electronically into two numbered Swiss bank accounts, one for each of them. James was planning to let this tense energy he had blow over for a while, let the money sit in the Swiss bank and then pay off some debts before telling Melissa what was up. But all day Monday, it was driving him absolutely mad. He just couldn’t get it off of his mind. He realized it was mostly guilt he was feeling, and it was probably mostly guilt for not having told Melissa. He didn’t lie to her. He didn’t keep things from her. This was not who he was.

Monday evening went as usual. Eli was studying for finals at home, while Mark and Joseph were pretty much done with school for the year and watched TV as Melissa cooked dinner. James pretended his way through dinner and decided to break the news to Melissa as they were going to bed.

“You know Tim Chandler, from work?” James started.

“Umm, Tim? Yeah. What’s up with Tim?”

“You know how he’s always coming up with get-rich-quick ideas, right? Well, he came up with one a couple of weeks ago involving foreign currency trading.”

“Foreign currency?”

“Yeah, you know how you hear on the news, the dollar is weak and the Euro is strong and all that? Well it turns out you can make money pretty quick trading different currencies.” James was trying to make it sound routine.

“Yeah. Well people trade all kinds of things and make money,” she said skeptically.

“Well, Tim came up with this idea, a way to make money doing foreign currency without any risk, but he needed my help to write a script to make it work. He offered to put up the original investment money if I would write the script, and we would split the profit.” Again, with the “no-big-thing” tone.

“How can you make money without any risk?”

“It involves tuning the network performance a certain way so that you can buy and sell currency after you already know which way the price is going to go.”

“You mean, like cheating,” she frowned.

“It’s not cheating. They give you a window of time to make a trade and we just use that window of time to make a guaranteed winning trade,” James said, trying to convince himself almost as much as he was trying to convince his wife.

“Guaranteed, huh? Sounds like cheating.”

“Well, it does. But it’s not.”

“How much money did Tim ‘invest’?”

“Tim put in two thousand dollars. I wrote the script that makes it work. The deal was that we’d split the profit.”

“This sounds pretty shady, James.” He had to admit, saying it to her, it did sound shady.

“That’s what I thought at first, too, until Tim explained it to me.”

“Okay. So what are you saying? You did this deal? Did it work?” She said this not with a hopeful tone, but more bored, and consoling. Almost condescending. Almost.

“Yeah, we did it, and it worked just like it was supposed to. Like I said, there really wasn’t any risk.” James realized his own blasé candor probably was leading to her low expectations.

“Well, stop with the suspense. How much money did you make?”

“Two point three million dollars, give or take,” James said, as if he were saying ‘I found a quarter on the sidewalk today’.

Melissa chuckled, “You don’t say. Well don’t forget about us little people, mister moneybags.” She really thought he was kidding, and she was giving back the good-natured ribbing.

“Honey. I am not joking. I made two point three million dollars.”

“Really, James? It’s not that funny. And how did you come up with that number?”

James produced his phone and opened the web browser. “Just a second…” he said as he typed in the account number and password, then handed her the phone. It showed the balance of a numbered account on HSBC in Switzerland: $2,304,011.00.

“What… what is this? Is this ..?” she was speechless.

“That is the balance in my bank account. Our bank account. I opened it this morning.”

“James… that’s… that’s two million dollars!”

“Right. I told you. Two point three million.”

“How did you get two million dollars?” she said with eyes like silver dollars.

“It’s just like I said. We used a script to monitor a network feed for currency trading, and then made a couple of automated trades when the conditions were right.” James was deliberately leaving out details, because he was now starting to realize that he had lied to himself. If this wasn’t illegal, it was at least unethical and probably immoral. His actions would not withstand his wife’s scrutiny.

“A couple of trades? How is that possible? How do you turn two thousand dollars into two million dollars?”

“Well, we actually made over four and a half million. This is just my half,” James said, digging the hole deeper.

“Oh, well that explains everything! Excuse me. How do you turn two thousand dollars into four and a half million?”

“We used leverage. The broker sort of loaned us the money at a four hundred to one ratio against what we had in the account. So we were able to buy eight hundred thousand dollars worth of one currency and then sell it for more in a different type of currency, and we keep the profit. Then we used the profit to do it again with the four hundred to one leverage, two more times. We had a good system, and we did three trades to make this money.”

“If the system is so good, why on earth did you stop after three trades?”

And there it was. That was the dagger. She had cut right to the root of the matter. Why indeed, would anyone in their right mind stop using a system that turns two thousand dollars into four and a half million every fifteen minutes after only three trades? James knew why, but he didn’t like it and didn’t want to say it to his wife. He was ashamed. He knew at that moment, clear as day, that what he had done was wrong. He had lied to himself. Suddenly it was as if the very ground beneath him had vanished and he was beginning free-fall. He was taken for a fool. He made a deal with the devil, and now he was feeling his soul being ripped away.

Now he had a choice to make. He could tell her the truth: we stopped so we wouldn’t get caught. Or he could make up a lie. Something like, we stopped because it quit working. Or we let it run but that’s all we could get out of it. Or they only had a limited number of trades available from the broker. He could make something stick.

What am I thinking? Am I a crook, and a liar? Am I going to lie to my own wife? What have I become?

He decided to come clean. Right here, right now. “We stopped because we thought the bank might recognize it as a pattern. We thought we might get caught.”

“James, how could you? You knew all along this was illegal, and you did it anyway?”

“I didn’t know it was illegal. I still don’t know that. And we need the money. Plus, we didn’t expect to get this much. The best I had hoped for is to get us out of debt with Greer and maybe get us back on track to get a house and get back to normal, like it was before the lawsuit. We never expected to make millions of dollars.” It was the best he could do, but he couldn’t rationalize this away.

“James, you have to give it back. This isn’t right. We can’t do this.”

“I can’t give it back. There’s nobody to give it back to. It’s done. There’s really nothing we can do about it now. I thought I was doing something good for us.” And that much was true.

“I can’t deal with this right now. We will settle this in the morning,” she said. But she didn’t really mean it. They wouldn’t settle this for a very long time.

James called in a personal day Friday morning, and after sleeping on it, Melissa had warmed a little to the idea of being a millionaire. They paid off Greer in full and then started finding reasons to keep the money, two million of them to be fair. Melissa began to hate herself for what she had let herself become, and she began to hate James for doing this to their family. But more than that, James hated himself for letting her down, for abusing her trust. And mostly he hated himself because he led her into this. This must have been what Eve felt like after Adam took a bite of that apple. This must be what hell feels like.

Chapter 13

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

The Gradys conducted what began as a thorough search of the Ensenada del Mar but it occurred to James that a shirtless and shoeless teenager with no money and no room key would not easily blend in, even on a beach resort. They combed the common areas and grounds of the resort with a balance of fervency and haste, knowing that they would be running out of daylight in just a few minutes and once dark set in, finding Joey would become considerably more difficult.

After their search produced no results, they decided to return briefly to their rooms to regroup and talk about a plan. Melissa needed to change into street clothes and get her purse and other things. In a vain effort to keep an eye on the beach just in case Joey happened to be there, they held their brief family meeting on the balcony of Mark’s and Eli’s room. Worst case, if he found his way to the resort without a room key he would either knock on the door or probably plead with the front desk clerk to call up to the room or make him a new key. They didn’t think they’d miss him if he returned.

James, ever the logician, began to lay out the problem. “Okay, guys. The way I see it, there are a few options, and we need to come up with a plan to check them out. First of all, Joey may have just taken off on his own for whatever reason. Maybe he got distracted or something caught his attention, maybe he just wanted some time to himself—”

“Dad, that’s not—” Eli interrupted.

“Let me finish, then let’s discuss it, okay?” Everyone nodded. “Second option, he met with some trouble of the criminal kind, either on the boat on the return trip, or after he left the boat but before we went looking for him there. Vieques is pretty safe, in general, but it still is not completely crime-free. Now, to me this makes little sense because a teenage boy with no shirt, shoes or wallet is not a very good mark for a mugger.” Just then it flashed in his mind that they were not exactly poor, and that means Joey could be a good target for a kidnapper. But how would any kidnappers know that they had money? It was mostly locked away in a numbered account and he wasn’t a public figure of any kind. Sure, they were staying in one of the nicer resorts, and they did arrive by plane, but they took a taxi to the resort and generally appeared no more extravagant than the average Norte Americano tourist in this place. James extinguished this thought, convincing himself that it was not at the top of the list. Yet. And the last thing he wanted was to plant this idea in Melissa’s mind.

“Third option, which seems almost impossible, is that he never made it back on the dive boat. If that happened, he’d likely have to hitch a ride with another boat, fisherman or other pleasure craft, if there were any in the area, and in that case he’s probably on dry land but may be at a loss for how to find us,” James suggested, concluding his overview and opening the table for discussion.

“Well, for your first option, Dad, like I was saying, Joey may have wandered off or gotten distracted by something, then got lost, but there’s no reason to think he intentionally went off somewhere. He wasn’t overly upset or acting like he wanted to be alone, and he’s never done that kind of thing before. I don’t think we should waste our time trying to find him camped out in a bar or coffee shop,” Eli said.

“And I’m with you, I think it’d be a dumb mugger to try and rob a kid in swim trunks. Plus, Joey’s not some ninety-pound weakling. He’s bigger and stronger than most of the other folks I have seen on this island,” Mark said, conveying a little bit of pride in his younger brother.

“But it’s not impossible. If some mugger got ahold of him, he may be laying beaten in some alley somewhere!” Melissa said. Mama bear was starting to sharpen her claws.

“Okay, okay,” James responded with a slight calming gesture, his left hand waving subtly above the tabletop. “We will look into that. But first, before we go off, Mark and Eli, you guys were out there in the water. Were there other boats around? What might Joey have done if he did get separated from the dive group and missed his ride home?”

“Well, there were plenty of boats out there. It’s gorgeous, and there was another tour with a bunch of people doing some snorkeling, that kind of thing. I noticed one or two party boats full of drunk people, couldn’t see any fishermen,” Eli began.

“And there were a couple of guys zipping around on one of those rubber rafts with a motor, you know,” Mark said.

“Zodiac,” James prompted.

“Yeah, in a Zodiac, and they were running back and forth to some buoys messing with them.”

“Right. So it sounds like between party boats, another dive tour, some spies in a Zodiac and some, what, two, three, buoys—”

“I counted four,” Mark said.

“Right. Four buoys, it looks like even if he missed the boat, he’d have other options to get back. He’s a smart kid and speaks a little Spanish, so he probably could find a way home. No way we’d find him in the dark if he were clinging to a buoy anyway. So, I think that means we have two things we can check tonight. Eli, you and your mother should go to the Vieques police, file a report and see if they can help you determine if he is either lost in the city or has been victim of some crime. They will be best able to help find him if that is the case. And Mark, you and I will go down to the marina, ask around about other boats that may have brought home a stowaway, and you can help me by translating if necessary.”

“‘The crease’ is way closer to Culebra. The boats out there might have been returning there. Also they could be coming from the main island, from Fajardo or some tiny town,” Mark suggested.

“Good point, Mark, but we can’t do anything about that tonight. Let’s just check what’s here on Vieques first, keep in touch with your cell phones. Truth is, I think Joey’s probably either hanging out at the marina right where we were supposed to pick him up, or he’s at the police station and they are trying to figure out who he is and how to contact his family. So odds are we will find him in just a few minutes and be here in no time,” James said optimistically, trying to keep Melissa from freaking out.

Melissa was already up from the table before James could finish saying, “Sound like a plan?”.

“Sounds good. Let’s go, Eli,” she said and they bolted from the room. James checked that the door locked when they had left, then brought Mark with him through the adjoining room door and they left from the other room locking the door behind them.

 

Chapter 14

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

When Larry Duncan arrived back in the lab, he found that Kyle had moved on without him, taking charge of the team to work out what they should do next.

“Hey Larry,” Kyle said as Larry joined the group huddled in the control room. “We’ve been hashing out our available options, and I think we have made some progress. And I think we have identified another flawed assumption that we’ve all been working under, and if we get past it, we may have more options.”

“What’s the flawed assumption?”

“Space-time. We have been trying to fold space-time in order to make a shortcut through space, without having to also follow the same distance in time. Sound about right?”

“Yeah. That’s a gross oversimplification, but it’ll do.”

“No, it won’t. That’s the problem. It’s a gross oversimplification, just like you say, because we have to grossly oversimplify it in order to get a handle on it. The assumption we made is about the relationship of space and time in so-called ‘space-time’. We are just so stuck in thinking of time as this one-dimensional path, like an axis on a graph that goes on in only one direction forever, that we assumed that when we bend something, what we are bending is space. I think it’s natural for us to assume that, since we can bend ordinary things in space all the time and we use that analogy so often, we just make it too literal in our own minds.”

“I don’t follow,” Larry admitted.

“We assumed we can skip across space, using a shorter path of time. Like somehow we were able to not only separate space and time from one another, but we could manipulate the shape of space, bending it, while keeping the shape of time as a straight line. You know, we put a cube into the portal, and in just a fraction of a second in time, we expect it to move through space to some location we determine, along a straight line of time, linearly, where one second follows the one before it predictably. That’s ridiculous in its arrogance, in addition to being a totally flawed assumption.”

“Wait a minute. Arrogance? This is well-accepted theory, originating from the mind of the man Albert Einstein himself. Every single thing Einstein ever theorized has been proven correct, even in spite of enormous effort to prove it wrong in many cases. Remember the CERN thing with the neutrinos—” Duncan’s speech was interrupted.

“Einstein never said that time will remain linear and space alone can be curved by gravity, did he?” Laurie Carter, the computer scientist, interjected.

Right then, Larry Duncan knew Kyle was right. And he also was beginning to realize that he was putting blind faith in Einstein’s theories, which he and many others may have misinterpreted or not fully understood. And this was little different from religion.

Duncan left Laurie’s question on the table and redirected, “Kyle, what are you getting at?”

“What if it’s the other way around? We always imagine that a time loop is like this, where something arrives at a point in space, then reverts to another position in time while maintaining its position in space. That’s the whole Back to the Future story that’s been ingrained into our cultural psyche. You drive the DeLorean to eighty-eight miles per hour, and then it pops out in exactly the same place, only thirty years earlier. But that’s a complete fabrication with no basis in science.”

“Well of course it is. It’s a science fiction movie.”

“Yes, but we are assuming the same thing about Daedalus whether we intended to or not. That’s why we were confused by the cube in the log. What the cube in the log tells us is that when we send something back in time, we also send it back to where it was, in space. So imagine I could put my watch into the portal and Daedalus was tuned to a one-hour time loop. The watch would not appear in the portal when it went back in time. That would be to add its matter to the universe, which we can’t do. What will happen is my watch would just become an hour fast while it sat on my wrist. When I send it ‘back in time’, what I am actually doing is sending it’s new spatial orientation, that is the charge in the battery, the position of the movement, the hands, et cetera.”

“So that’s why we can’t find the cubes, if we have actually created a time loop,” Laurie said. “Something we are not compensating in the control loop is causing us to fold space too far, and we wind up with an uncontrolled time loop. When we put anything in the portal, we have to look for it wherever it was at the time we are sending it to. Since we don’t know what time is, we don’t know where to look. And the cubes are a really poor choice for this experiment since there was a time, not so long ago, when they were just carbon atoms locked up in a log.” It took the only non-physicist in the team to boil down the problem in terms they all could grasp. “So we need to be testing with something that has been around exactly as it is now, for a long time, and we know exactly where it has been for a long time, so we know where to look.”

“Yeah, sort of. But that won’t work because we can’t go back in time ourselves to look for it,” Kyle said.

Duncan responded, “We need to mark it, change it in some way, like your watch analogy.”

“What do you mean?” Laurie asked.

“We need to test with an object that we can change in some noticeable way, but a way that will stay that way. Like, take a book off the shelf, fold a page, and then put it in the portal. Then we’ll look on the shelf and see if the page is folded. That will tell us whether we have a time loop.”

“That won’t work. Whatever page we folded will already be folded before we put it in the portal. We won’t have any way to tell ourselves, in the past, that we folded that page and that it is important. Plus, for all of the time between now and whatever past time we would send the book, the book remains out of our control. Who’s to say someone didn’t remove it and unfold our page?”

Laurie offered, “Not only that, if I understand what you guys are saying correctly, then once we put the book in the portal, it will never again be on the shelf for us to check. Unless something changes the timeline, we will always take the book off the shelf and put it in the portal today. Isn’t that what you said about the cubes before, Kyle?”

“You are right. So we need to test with something that we can also use to communicate to us not to do the experiment. I mean, if this works, then the result of the experiment is going to appear immediately after we put the thing in the portal, and we need access to the thing, whatever it is, after. That means we have to avoid putting it in the portal the second time around, so to speak.”

“How about a hard drive?” Laurie said.

“What?” Duncan said.

“A hard drive. All that changes on a hard drive when you write data to it is the alignment of magnetic fields on the platter. That should stay the same when we send it back in the portal. And we can put a tremendous amount of data on it if we need to. All we have to do is find a hard drive that’s been in use for a long enough time to get caught in our time loop.”

“Yeah, but how will we know to go look at the data on some old hard drive?” Kyle said.

“We pick one that we have to use every day, so it stares us in the face,” Laurie said as she glanced over at their rack-mount server that runs their main control system. “That server, for example, has been up and running doing this daily for, what, six years? If we pull the hard drive, we could reformat it and set it up to just boot and display a message, like ‘Your time loop worked! Don’t put the hard drive in the portal next time!’ or something. The hard drive will end up right back in the server where it is now, but with this new data on it.”

“I don’t think that will be enough information to get us to not do the test. Remember whenever we discover it, and we don’t know when that will be, but in the past sometime, we will not have any context. We won’t know that we have ever run into this problem or even what kind of experiment we were going to do,” Kyle pointed out.

Duncan broke in, “Guys. Are we really talking about being able to send a hard disk drive, with a terabyte or more of storage capacity, back in time? Do you realize just what kind of opportunity that is? We should zip up all of our notes, a complete chronicle of what we have done, what we have learned, what worked and didn’t work, photos of the cube in the log, the whole thing, all of our research, and put it on that hard drive. Then we will never encounter this problem to begin with! This is a way to actually communicate with our past selves. We can shave years off of the project schedule.”

“Larry, I’m not sure—” Kyle said,

“The notes, the pictures, all that won’t exist for us to put on the hard drive if we don’t follow the same path we did to get here, will it?” Laurie said, brainstorming the new paradoxes that seemed to be materializing.

“All that has to exist is the shape of the particles on the hard disk platter,” said Duncan.

They all stood in silence, thinking, for several seconds before Kyle spoke, “Well, it’s worth a try. Worst case, it doesn’t work. We have a backup of that server, right?”

“Yes,” said Laurie.

“Then let’s do it,” said Duncan.

  • * *

They spent the better part of the afternoon putting together their data time capsule with all of the notes and information they could find. They made a duplicate of their server’s hard drive so they could run the control system to conduct the test. With any luck, the duplicate hard disk would wind up back on the shelf where it came from and the original would be back in the server immediately when they did the test.

Laurie reformatted the server’s hard drive and installed a simple Linux OS so it would boot up and then display the following message:

Daedalus Team:

This is not a glitch. Do not attempt to remediate.

This message is for the following people: Larry Duncan, Kyle Martin, Laurie Carter

The fact that you are reading this stands as evidence that Daedalus is working in an uncontrolled time loop of indeterminate time. On May 9, 2016, this message was written and all of the data on this hard drive was added. The hard drive itself was put into Daedalus’ portal on that same date. If you are reading this at a time before this date, then it indicates a time loop has been formed and you can estimate the time offset.

The team is in the midst of investigating the apparent disappearance of carbon cubes which have been put into the portal with the intent of moving them one meter across the lab. The working theory is that these cubes also are in a time loop and we will not be able to find them. We have determined that a hard disk drive was a suitable test subject that allows us to send information that may endure the trip back in time, if that is what is happening.

The previous contents of this hard drive have been replaced with the current contents. DO NOT DELETE THIS DATA. A full set of our notes and other information is included on this hard drive, so that you may avoid whichever error we have encountered that is causing the time loop.

Once the hard drive was prepared with the correct data, Kyle prepared to put it into the portal.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Kyle said as he placed the hard drive in the portal, and what was far and away the largest and most complex object they had ever considered putting into the portal disappeared before their eyes.

Just as the hard drive vanished, Laurie had a faint deja vu. Didn’t we have to replace a crashed hard disk in that server a couple of years ago? She wondered why she hadn’t remembered that earlier, but she decided it was not important.

Larry Duncan smirked when he said, “I was about to say ‘now, we wait’, but then I realized that it’s quite the opposite.”

 

Chapter 15

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Melissa initially rejected James’s effort to control the plan to find Joey, and she was appalled at his apparent lack of emotion. This was his youngest son, after all. How was it that he was not beside himself, driven to run into the streets and turn over every rock, invade every bar and alleyway, take ahold of those tour guides that lost him by the throat and demand that they produce Joey? But then she gradually realized that James’s calm and steady hand was exactly what this needed. His methodical setting of priorities and dividing up the tasks helped focus their attention on what they could do and what they should be doing.

Melissa was becoming an emotional wreck. Maybe James was right about this plan. This island. This vacation. She had spent the past two years hardening herself against James, slowly becoming distant and allowing herself to see him as someone other than the man she loved. But in just the past twenty-four hours, she had begun to recognize that she was being unreasonable. She hadn’t ever given James any space or chance to do right. And really, what had he done that was so wrong? Now that they were searching for Joseph, she was at the edge of losing it, and just like the ‘old’ James, she had to admit, her husband was helping her keep it together.

Still, she truly thought that James was wasting his time looking again at the marina, where they had already been. She was certain that something terrible had happened to Joseph, and the police would be invaluable to help her find him if he had become mixed up with criminals. Even though she appreciated James’s calming personality, she was afraid he might talk the police out of taking Joey’s disappearance seriously.

The police department in Isabel Segunda was adjacent to City Hall in an aging yellow and white building with three flags flying from the rail of a second floor balcony, just a short taxi ride from the Ensenada del Mar. To Melissa, the appearance of the place made it feel like she was in a third-world country rather than a territory of the United States of America. The pair walked in shortly before seven thirty to find the waiting area populated with a small crowd of various tourists. Melissa had the sense that most of them were there to report minor property crimes. Cameras stolen, pickpockets, assault in the form of bar fights. Nothing important.

Buenas noches, señora, ¿En qué le puedo ayudar?” the desk officer asked as Melissa approached the desk with Eli following. The officer’s uniform had a military-like appearance that added to Melissa’s sense of being in a third-world country. She shook off the feeling. This was America, she was certain.

“Hello, officer. Do you speak English?”

“I get someone. Momento,” he said and left the desk. A minute later an older man arrived at the desk, wearing a short-sleeved button-down shirt, slacks and a tie along with a nametag that said ‘Ramos’.

“Yes ma’am. I am Lieutenant Ramos. What may I help you with this evening?”

“Lieutenant. My son is missing.”

“Missing? Are you certain?” Lieutenant Ramos asked, briefly glancing at Eli.

“Yes,” Melissa said. “Positive. He went with his brothers on a diving trip near Culebra and did not get off of the boat when they returned.”

“I see,” Ramos glanced at Eli again, “and your companion?”

Melissa replied with a mix of urgency and annoyance, “This is my other son, Eli. He was with his brother on the diving trip. Lieutenant, my son has been missing since this afternoon. We need to be looking for him now.”

“Yes, of course. I understand. Will you please follow me? We can speak in my office.” Lieutenant Ramos gestured towards a hallway beside the counter and then followed Melissa and Eli, directing them to his office. He closed the door as Eli and Melissa took the two chairs in front of the grubby chrome and faux wood desk. Ramos sat in a threadbare upholstered chair behind the desk. “Please, ma’am. May I ask your name?”

“I am Melissa Grady, and this is my son Eli.” Ramos began writing in a large bound notepad after settling his reading glasses near the end of his nose.

“And your son, the one who is missing?”

“His name is Joseph. Joseph Grady.”

“And what is his age?”

“Seventeen,” Melissa replied.

Ramos continued taking notes and looked up. “Yes. Joseph Grady, Seventeen. Now please tell me what happened, from the beginning.”

“My husband and I, and my three sons, arrived here yesterday for vacation. The boys went this morning on a diving trip to a place called…”

Eli spoke, “El Pliegue.”

“Yes, El Pliegue,” Ramos repeated, making eye contact with Eli over his glasses. “Past Culebra.”

“That’s right,” Eli confirmed, leaning forward and resting his forearms on Ramos’ desk.

“So you went on a diving trip, yes?” Ramos addressed to Eli.

“Yeah. Mark, that’s our other brother, found out about it on the internet.”

“I see. And what is Mark’s age?”

“Mark is nineteen,” Melissa replied.

“Do you have a picture? Also, if you have his passport or any identification, that would help.” Melissa produced Joseph’s passport, and found some pictures on her phone. “Can you email those pictures to this address please?” Ramos suggested as he handed her a business card with an email address on it.

“Yes, I will.”

“Thank you. Please continue,” Ramos prompted.

Melissa picked up the narrative, “Eli, Mark and our son Joseph went on a diving tour to this ‘crease’ that left this morning from the marina on two different boats. They did the diving and then when the time was up, they all returned to the boats. Mark and Eli were on one boat and Joseph was on the other.”

“Excuse me, ma’am,” Ramos interrupted, and then spoke to Eli, “Señor, did you see your brother Joseph get on the other boat?”

“No. He was with us when we were swimming back towards the boats to board, and then once Mark and I boarded, we noticed Joseph wasn’t with us. We assumed he got on the other boat.”

Ramos made more notes, and then said, “So, it is possible that Joseph did not get on either of the boats, then. Is that right?”

“We didn’t leave him there! He must have gotten on the other boat. The only thing I can think is that he thought we were on the other boat. We just got separated, that’s all,” Eli replied defensively.

“Of course, señor. I am only asking if it is possible that he did not get on the other boat. I understand it may not be true.”

“Well, then, anything is possible. I guess that’s possible.”

“Yes. Thank you. Ma’am, your husband. What is his name?”

Melissa shifted in her chair impatiently. “James. James Grady.”

“And where is Mister Grady and your other son… Mark?”

“They are at the Marina double-checking to be sure Joseph is not there, but we already looked.”

“Good. Mrs. Grady, please tell me, what is your husband’s position? At work?”

“He is an engineer. He works for a computer company in Houston. What does that have to do with—”

Ramos interrupted, “You arrived yesterday. Did you come on the ferry from Fajardo?”

“No. We came on a little plane. I’m sorry, but how does—” Melissa protested.

“It is nothing,” Ramos said as he continued his extensive note taking. “Ma’am, I have to tell you this. It is most likely that your son Joseph has taken up with a chica. A young lady. Or perhaps he has found his way into one of the bars or restaurants near the marina. It is very common for Norte Americano boys to become attracted to our bars and our young women, and to take the chance to get away from the eyes of their parents. But no matter. Just as your husband and your other son, we will begin our search in the bars and restaurants near the marina. This is probably where he will be found.”

Melissa couldn’t believe it. She could feel her anger rising up. Fortunately Eli stepped in and offered some diplomacy. “That’s not Joseph. He has never done anything like that. He’s a good kid, never gets into trouble. He’s lost somewhere, but he hasn’t left on purpose.”

“Yes, my friend, I hear this many times. But it is always the same. Your brother should be found by our officers near the marina. We will send officers to search for him there tonight. It will be better if we can return him home before it gets too late,” Ramos said with an air of resignation, as if this was routine good news tainted by the revelation that this mother’s son was not as squeaky clean as she believed. “Ma’am, may I ask where you are staying? So we can contact you when we find your son?”

“No, I am going with you!” Melissa insisted.

“No, ma’am, I am afraid that is not possible. Our officers are professionals and they know where to look. And they will be permitted into places that you cannot go. We will find your son and bring him back to you at your hotel.”

Melissa didn’t like it, but it made sense. She felt impotent. She had always protected her children, above all things, and she was repulsed by her own inadequacy to protect Joseph now.

“I understand,” Melissa said. “We are staying at the Ensenada del Mar, rooms 203 and 204”

Ramos raised an eyebrow and looked up from his notes. “The Ensenada del Mar? That is quite a nice hotel. Is it not very expensive?”

“I don’t know. James booked it,” Melissa said truthfully.

“I see,” Ramos replied suspiciously. “You arrived by airplane yesterday to go to the Ensenada del Mar, correct? Are you sure your husband is merely an engineer?”

“Of course I’m sure,” Melissa said, somewhat offended. “What are you suggesting?”

“Is there something else you should tell me? Is your husband, what is the word? A ‘very important person’? Or are you? Ma’am, are you especially wealthy?”

Melissa began to be offended. “Lieutenant Ramos, I am not sure I understand what you are implying.”

“It is nothing. I will also call the FBI office in San Juan. They assist with missing persons investigations in Puerto Rico.”

Melissa was confused and didn’t understand what Ramos was getting at. Was he trying to extort her? Was he going to work harder to find Joseph if he thought they were VIPs?

“Lieutenant, I will do whatever it takes to find Joseph. You understand? Whatever it takes.” Melissa hoped this got the message across. There had to be some benefit to James’s money. If it would help find Joseph, she’d spend every penny.

“I understand, of course, ma’am. I hope you do not have the wrong idea. We will do everything possible to find your son. I am confident we can return him to you this evening. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to speak with the other officers so they can begin searching the marina. Please write down your phone numbers here and we will contact you as soon as we know more.” Ramos handed Melissa a clipboard with a paper on it for her contact information.

“Now, please excuse me,” Ramos said as he got up from his desk and left the office to summon additional officers to perform the search. Melissa filled out the form with their phone numbers and she and Eli got up to leave themselves, resigned to return to the hotel. As she was leaving she dialed James’s number on her cell phone. She overheard Ramos talking in Spanish to two other officers.

“James, the police are sending officers to do a more thorough search of the marina. You can come back to the hotel. Oh, and they are calling the FBI.”

“The FBI? Why?”

“I don’t know for sure. The officer, Lieutenant Ramos, was acting kind of funny, asking lots of questions whether we might be VIPs.”

“What did you tell him?”

“That we’re not. But I’m not sure he believed me. Anyway, they are calling the FBI from San Juan. I don’t think there’s anything else we can do tonight. The police will continue searching bars and some other places near the marina. They refused to let me go with them.”

“Well, Mark and I are not finding anything here. We just don’t know where all to look. I bet the police will.”

“I think so too. So what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to come back to the hotel. The police are doing all they can, right?”

“They say they are. I think they really want to find Joey, avoid a publicity problem. So I think they are on it.”

“Well then they will do better than me. I’m coming on back.”

“OK, I’ll see you back here,” she said.

“Alright. I love you,” James added.

Melissa hung up.

  • * *

James had canvassed the restaurants and bars around the marina as well as he could, but the proprietors consistently said they had not seen Joseph or anyone matching his description. There were numerous alleyways but they were mostly abandoned at this time, being a Monday night. It seemed clear to both James and Mark that the odds that Joseph had not been there. It was just not the right place.

“That was your mother, from the police department. She says they are sending officers here to look for Joseph and question the bar and restaurant owners,” James said to Mark after he hung up with Melissa.

“Didn’t we just do that?” Mark asked. “They should be going out to ‘the crease’.”

“They can probably get the owners to talk, especially in Spanish. I think most of those guys were just blowing us off. They won’t blow off the cops. Oh, and your mom also said they are calling the FBI.”

“Well we should go back to ‘the crease’,” Mark said.

“Mark, I have already been thinking about this. I think we should wait until tomorrow morning, first thing. There is pretty much no chance Joey’s still out there. He’s probably hitched a ride on another boat back to Culebra, maybe Fajardo, or back here to Vieques if he could find someone going this way. Just about the only way we’d find him out there is if he’s still hanging on one of those buoys.”

“He can’t do that all night.”

“You never know. I think he could float on a buoy all night if he had to. Anyway, we are going to need your mom and Eli, plus the police and maybe the FBI to help cover all of the ground where he might wind up. Let them rule out the marina area here tonight first and I’ll make sure we make ‘the crease’ our first priority in the morning. Sound good to you?”

“I guess,” Mark said, not really convinced.

Right about then a pair of police cars pulled up with their lights on, and four officers climbed out. One officer in particular seemed to be in charge, he began by directing the other officers to various spots. James walked up to this officer in hopes of getting an update.

“Excuse me, sir. I am James Grady. Are you here looking for my son, Joseph?”

“Yes, Señor Grady. Do you have your passports?”

“Yes, just a minute,” James responded. He handed his passport to the officer and Mark did the same with his after digging it from the cargo pocket on his shorts.

“Yes, gentlemen, we are looking for Joseph Grady. I believe your wife is at the station speaking to Lieutenant Ramos. My men are asking the bar owners and others who may have seen him earlier. We will turn over every rock in this area until either we have found your son or we are absolutely certain he is not here, near the marina. You may go home to your hotel and Lieutenant Ramos will be in touch with you when we have more information. Now, if you will excuse me, I must be questioning these restaurant owners.”

“Shouldn’t you be looking out in the water, too?” Mark butted in.

“Mister Grady, the area near the marina is the most likely place we will find your brother. Once we have searched here, we continue the search elsewhere if we have not found him yet. Now please, time is short. Lieutenant Ramos will contact you.” The officer turned and went into the nearest restaurant with purpose.

“What now?” Mark asked his father.

“Now? Let’s get back to your mother and Eli. These guys have this area under control.” Mark shrugged as his father began the short walk back towards their hotel.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 16

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

As they were walking back, James began to realize just how little he knew about the situation that he found himself in, beginning with the place where they were. It had been such a blur, this being their first full day of vacation and everything blew up, he had nearly forgotten why they were there. He chose Vieques for their vacation because it was an idyllic place with a fantastic resort. He thought that would be the perfect environment for them to begin putting their family back together; to stop the decline they had been in for the past two years. But besides the natural beauty, what else was here? Mark had found the world’s deepest ocean sinkhole just a boat ride away with only a few minutes searching on his phone. There must be other information available.

“Hey Mark, where did you hear about ‘the crease’, anyway?”

“Oh, that was easy. I just did a search, ‘what to do in Vieques’, on my phone. It was mostly beaches, surfing and eco-tours, like the bioluminescent bay stuff. But there were several diving tours and this one was tops on the list. Looked like a cool thing to do. We’ve been wanting to do something like this ever since Joey and I got certified.”

“Was there any other information about ‘the crease’? It’s by Culebra, right? Anything about that?”

“Not really. Actually it’s closer to Culebra than it is to Vieques, but it’s really close to a little private island that is supposed to be uninhabited. Remember those guys I told you about that were in a raft-looking boat, messing with the buoys?”

“The Zodiac.”

“Right. The Zodiac. They looked like they probably came from that private island. Who knows what they were up to.”

“Is that island swimming-distance from ‘the crease’?”

“Maybe for a really strong swimmer. Joey’s a really good swimmer but remember, we had been diving for over an hour. I’m not sure he’d make it all the way to the island. And what would be the point? There’s nobody there.”

“Yeah. OK. Maybe he hitched a ride with the Zodiac guys. We need to find them in the morning and ask. Maybe the police know something about that and can get in touch with them. Also we will have to check Culebra. That island is a lot smaller, right?”

“I guess. Looks small on the map. We didn’t see it.”

“We have some research to do,” James said to his son as they came upon the entrance to the Ensenada del Mar. “Let’s find Eli and your mom, get something to eat, and then see if this place has some kind of business center with computers with internet access.”

When James and Mark arrived at their room, Eli and Melissa were already there. Melissa was practically pacing a hole in the rug. She was clearly not happy to leave tonight’s search completely in the hands of the police. When James walked into the room, she began. “James, what are we doing to find Joey right now? He might be out in the ocean stranded, clinging to some buoy, about to drown. He may have been kidnapped by some…   some… some bad people, and he might be who knows where. He might—”

“Mom,” Eli said. “Hold on. First of all, those buoys that are out there, they are a lot bigger than you think. He could climb up on one and go to sleep if he wanted to. Secondly, if he’s gone with anyone, including ‘bad people’, then it is going to take a deliberate search by people who know where he might be, and who the bad guys are, here in Vieques. That’s not us. We don’t know where to look. The police are doing everything that can be done.”

“I think there’s plenty we can do tonight,” James said. “Eli is right. We don’t know enough about this place or what typically happens with lost people here. We need to get educated and begin to formulate a plan.”

Melissa was a little more calm. “The FBI are likely to be here in the morning. They will certainly have a plan.”

“That’s a good point. In the meantime, we can become more educated. Here’s what I suggest. Let’s head downstairs and get something to eat, to go, and convene in the business center of the hotel. We’ll spread out on computers and do some research, take notes, figure out the lay of the land here. We need to nail down where Joey could be so we can know where to look. So far we’ve been flying totally blind. This was clear to me and Mark when we were asking around down at the marina—”

“Had anyone seen Joey?” Melissa asked.

“No. Not that they would say. We think the police will get better information. But really, we didn’t know who to ask, or where to look. We need to find out where we need to be looking. Tomorrow we are going to have to go back to ‘the crease’ and follow whatever trails that Joey may have taken, which includes hitching rides on boats and we don’t know where those would go, finding a place to stay overnight, we don’t know where that could be, that kind of thing. The FBI will have some ideas but we may be able to help more if we get educated first. What do you think?”

Melissa wanted to blame someone for this. She wanted to blame James most of all, but she could see now that it was not fair. James brought them here to try and fix things, because he loved his family and wanted it to work. Melissa was going to have to consider taking the chip off of her shoulder when it came to James. He is smart, and more than her, he was thinking clearly and rationally. She could tell that she was too emotional, too frazzled, to really make the right choices. James was always very well grounded. This was infuriating sometimes, but right now it was what they needed. What she needed. She needed to convince herself to trust him, starting now.

“Okay, James. Let’s go. Why don’t we go to the business center and order room service there. Then we can spend all of our time working on this problem,” Melissa said. She was trying to be a team player, even though nearly everything inside her was screaming for her to steal a boat if she had to and head out to ‘the crease’ in the dark to go get her boy. She knew that was ridiculous and probably also impossible. James’s idea would have to do. It wasn’t a bad one.

“Good idea. Let’s go.”

The staff of the Ensenada del Mar reluctantly delivered the Grady’s room service order to the business center where the family was found working on four of the six computers hosted in the enclosed space. This resort was clearly not tailored to the business traveler, and most guests who wanted to use a computer brought their own laptops and took advantage of the hotel’s wifi. The Gradys had intentionally left Houston with nothing more than their smartphones in order to “get away”. Now they were close to claiming Ensenada del Mar’s business center as their search headquarters. They had not informed the hotel of the situation, in hopes that it was just a temporary scare. Surely Joseph would be back here shortly, what with the police combing the marina area and the FBI on the way.

James had given orders and the family was following them to maximize their search efforts. James was searching for possible landing places where Joseph may have wound up had he caught a ride on another boat, along the Puerto Rico coastline and among the numerous tiny islands in the area where he was last seen. Eli was researching possible boat rentals and private SCUBA guide services so they could mount their search immediately in the morning. Melissa was busily combing the various other police stations, hospitals and hostels web sites for any indication that Joseph had been found or had found help. She also posted their contact information anywhere she could. Mark, the most internet-savvy of the bunch, suggested to his dad that he should try and figure out who the guys in the Zodiac were, and what was happening on that private island, just in case that’s where Joseph had ended up. James thought that was a brilliant plan.

After a couple of hours of heads-down studying of maps and web sites, James announced, “Well there are dozens of tiny islands, too many to make a list. I think our best bet is to just print the map and have a guide take us by boat first to Fajardo, where we can hit the Villa Marina after we troll along the coastline looking for less formal docks, and then we can just go to each of the tiny islands one by one. Most of them are around Culebra so we can then circle Culebra and check it out as well. That will definitely take all day. If we strike out on all of that, then we’ll have to consider whether we head over to St. Thomas. It’s just as close to ‘the crease’ as Vieques is. Eli, did you find us a ride?”

“Yeah, I have a couple of options, so we’ll see who is available in the morning. I think I should go with you tomorrow to search in case we need someone with a lot of diving experience,” Eli said.

“Well, we have to hope it doesn’t come to that. But that sounds like a good plan anyway. Mark, you can stay here with your mom and deal with the FBI.”

“James, I can handle the police and the FBI on my own tomorrow. They will have plenty of people to help me here. I think Mark and Eli both should go with you, especially since Mark can speak Spanish pretty well and that might come in handy,” Melissa said, knowing that Mark would go nuts stuck in some police station or their hotel all day while his brother was out there looking where they had last seen Joseph.

“Plus, I think I have figured out who the Zodiac guys were. We definitely need to talk to them.”

“Really? What’s the scoop?”

Mark explained, “That little private island closest to ‘the crease’ doesn’t have a name on the map, but I found some people online calling it ‘Isla Roca’, means ‘rock island’, which sounds like the right place. According to the information I could dig up, it looks like it belongs to the U.S. government. A bunch of other divers and people on fishing tours also have noticed activity on this island, apparently it’s mysterious and out of place. Rumors are that the US military is doing weapons research there, or some kind of weird experiments, something like that. Anyway, since it’s U.S. property you would think that the FBI would be able to find out if they picked up a lost diver, and also that they probably are taking care of him if they did. I think we need to look there for sure. It was probably their buoys anyway, so maybe they found Joey hanging onto one of them, or they will in the morning when they go back to check them like they did today.”

“That’s great information, Mark. We’ll hit that right after Fajardo and the nearest coastline of Culebra,” James said as he noticed Melissa’s downcast look. “Honey, any luck with your search?”

“No. There’s just no way to get the information we need from other police stations and hospitals. It doesn’t look like they post that kind of stuff. I don’t know how anyone ever finds someone who is lost around here.”

“They look,” Eli assured. “Just like we are doing.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 17

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

#
h4((<>{color:#000;}. Two years ago

“What the…” Cindy began under her breath, as the monitor in front of her displayed a glitch and the computer completely froze. Less than a second later, a beeping alarm began to come from outside the control room, and she heard Kyle Martin almost shouting.

“Laurie, I am seeing a big spike in gravity indicated at—” Kyle said.

“Kyle! I have lost control of the gravium control servo. It seems to be frozen,” Laurie said, frantically scanning her workstation.

“Guys!” Cindy said. “I think the server froze.”

“What?” Kyle replied wide-eyed. “Shut it down!” he commanded but Laurie was already moving to the emergency cut-off button.

Larry Duncan burst in just then, “What the hell just happened?”

“Looks like the server crashed. We had to hit the ECO,” Kyle said.

In these early tests of Daedalus, they were struggling to get control over the micro black holes in order to create the necessary focused gravitational fields that Larry and Kyle had theorized. This was one of the first full-power test runs, and they had been making progress, very slowly, up until then. A dead server would be a frustrating setback.

“Get the IT guys over here to check it out, right now. We can’t afford the downtime. Laurie? We do have a current backup, don’t we?” Duncan ordered.

“Yes. We have a complete backup from last night. We haven’t made changes to the control server since the backup was made. We should be able to get it right back up where it was in an hour.”

“Make it half an hour. We need this working like yesterday.”

“Right. Cindy? Make sure that server is shut down. I’ll call IT down here right now to check it out.”

Laurie called their IT tech and had them rush to the control room. The tech checked the MD5, which is sort of like a data signature, of the server’s hard drive, comparing it to the MD5 of the most recent backup. They were not a match, leading the tech to conclude the hard drive had crashed. He replaced the hard drive with a spare he had brought with him, and then kicked off a restore from the backup. It was just a matter of minutes before they would be back up and running, just like they were before. Nobody would be able to tell the hard drive had been replaced.

While the tech was working, Duncan approached Kyle Martin and spoke quietly enough that the rest of the team would not overhear. “Kyle, when this crashed, did it do any permanent damage?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. We are toying around with manipulating space-time here. When a server crashes and we lose control of our own system, the very thing we are using to control gravity… I don’t know, I just wonder if we might be overlooking something. Maybe we can break things that are hard to fix.”

Kyle conceded, “Sure. That’s possible. The thing is, Larry, we don’t have any way of knowing. If we broke something, we won’t know until we see the effects of it. We just have to keep on experimenting and note any anomalies, make sure we chase down any pattern that comes up.”

“Okay, Kyle. Just checking.”

“This is new ground. We don’t know what to expect. Nobody does. Nobody’s tried this before. Some failures are to be expected. We are learning as we are going here.”

“Thanks, Kyle. Let me know when this gets back up and running. I’ll be in my office.” Larry Duncan went to his office to take some notes about this broken server. Maybe that information would be useful sometime once they started to collect real data.

 

Tuesday

Chapter 18

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Before the sun was all the way up Tuesday morning, the Gradys had split from their hotel. The search was on in full. Melissa took a taxi again to the police station while the guys walked the short distance to the marina with Eli’s list of dive operators on their itinerary.

The first two tour companies they talked to were already booked up for the day and could not help them. They were beginning to feel desperate when they talked to the third, SCUBA Blanca.

Señor, I am afraid all of our boats are booked today with group tours,” the young lady with the clipboard informed them when they inquired about renting a boat and hiring a guide from SCUBA Blanca.

Just as they were about to run to the next, and last, operator on the list, Eli chimed in, “You said all of your boats are booked. Are there any guides available we can hire? Maybe we can rent a  boat separately.” Why hadn’t they thought of asking that before?

“Unfortunately, we do not have tour guides here today except the ones who are leading a tour.”

“But we are not doing a diving tour,” James corrected. “We just need someone familiar with these small islands and Fajardo who can take us to them while we look for something. Is there someone like that you know who we could hire for the day?”

“Well, maybe there is somebody I can call. But you will need to rent a boat, and they are very expensive.”

“That’s not a problem. Call your friend, and then we can find a boat.”

She retrieved a cell phone from beneath the counter, and dialed a number. She spoke briefly in Spanish and then hung up the phone. “Luis, the owner of this company, will help you. He will be here in just a few minutes.” She pointed down the row of shop fronts and said, “While you are waiting, the man under the yellow awning there may have a boat you can rent. He is Luis’s cousin.”

Gracias,” Mark said, exercising his Spanish, which sounded much too Texan.

“Eli, stay here with your brother and wait for Luis. I will go see about getting us a boat,” James instructed as he turned to leave for the yellow awning.

About a half hour passed and the three Grady men were underway aboard Luis Blanca’s cousin’s outboard-equipped 1980s ski boat with Luis at the helm. This boat was hardly ideal for diving but Luis assured them that if they had to take a quick dive, it would suffice. He had also loaded up two SCUBA rigs, one for himself and one for Eli, in the event they needed to take a look under the water. They quickly made for the Puerto Rico coastline at the southern end of Fajardo. James instructed Luis that they were not sightseeing, and time was of the essence. Luis pressed the throttle all the way forward and they were off.

They had at least a half hour of travel time to the coast, and Mark chose this time to get some answers from his father. “So what’s the big deal, dad? I mean, we get it, you did some foreign trading deal and made a ton of money, and now mom’s mad at you and we have to have some crazy vacation to try and fix it. I don’t get it.”

James really didn’t want to get into this right now. He was trying to hold his guilt under the surface, and Mark seemed determined to dig it up. He was completely responsible for this whole mess. Had it not been for what he had done, they would have not needed to come down here to Puerto Rico to sort things out. And even if they wanted to, they couldn’t afford it. They would be doing some lousy vacation at Galveston or something close to home, and be happy but broke. But instead James had to try and fix everything on his own and now his son was missing, and it was all his fault.

“Mark, let’s just focus on getting your brother back with us, okay?” James pleaded.

“But we’re kind of rich now, right? So why is mom mad about it?”

“Mom is mad because dad didn’t involve her in his scheme. He went and did it on his own and then sprung it on her. She’s taking it a little too far, but I can kind of see her point,” Eli explained while James leaned back in the bench and tried to make this all just go away.

The boys didn’t know the half of it. At first, Melissa had been mostly upset that James had done this without her. She felt betrayed, like he broke her trust. They were a team and he did this deal with Tim, and that was like a slap in the face to her. On the other hand, it had worked and it sure helped with their financial situation.

“But you’d think mom would be happy that dad used a clever system that he came up with to make a ton of money,” Mark said to Eli.

“Yeah, you’d think. But women are more complicated than that,” Eli explained.

No, Eli, the situation is more complicated than that, James thought. In January, months after they had done their arbitrage deal, Tim got a 1099 tax form in the mail from the broker. In retrospect, James realized just how foolish they had been to do this deal without thinking about the consequences. The account had been in Tim’s name and the form said that he was on the hook for nearly seven hundred thousand dollars in taxes. Now, this was nearly a third of the money Tim had from the deal and he didn’t plan on paying it, especially since the money was already out of reach of the IRS in an offshore account.

Tim filed for a few extensions and then before his time ran out, he disappeared. He went off the grid. James didn’t know where he went and didn’t want to know, but he assumed that Tim fled to somewhere where the IRS couldn’t find him. James didn’t try and contact him. At the beginning of this year, a warrant had been issued for Tim’s arrest.

James was certain Tim wouldn’t tell them about his involvement, even if they caught him. But he didn’t want Tim to go to jail over something that they both owed. Technically, only Tim owed the taxes. James first rationalized this, told himself he didn’t owe any of the taxes. But he soon realized that this made him an employee of Tim’s, as if he was hired to write the script and the two million dollars was his compensation. This was much worse since that meant that James owed income taxes on this money, some forty percent.

So while James had told himself that this whole thing may have not been illegal to start, the tax evasion was definitely illegal.

Certainly Melissa had also figured this out. She was a sharp lady. But she had never brought it up with James. Deep down, maybe she was just as conflicted as James was, and didn’t want to openly deal with her own corruption. Easier to blame James if she never bothered to try and remedy it. But if she had brought it up, then she’d be accountable for not turning themselves in. It was denial, but it was working so far.

“Guys, there’s really a lot to this that you don’t know about. Your mother is upset for very good reasons. But we need to figure out how to make our family work.”

“What ever happened with your partner, what was his name?” Eli asked. “You know, the guy who thought of this idea to start with.”

“I don’t know. Tim and I don’t talk anymore. I haven’t heard from him in a year,” James said what was true enough, but not completely honest.

“Why did you even have to do it? We weren’t in that much trouble,” Eli asked.

“Yes, we were. We had to do something, and this was the best thing I could think of. I thought it was going to help. I had no idea how it would end up.”

“I could have kept my job, worked to help pay for school. We could have made it work.”

“No, Eli. It’s not just your school. We owed a lot of money to this guy Greer who sued me before. We didn’t really talk about it that much. And both of your brothers were coming up on college. You can’t possibly make enough working part time to pay for it all, and do you think you would have graduated with honors if you were having to wait tables instead of studying your junior and senior years?”

“Maybe I could—”

“No, you couldn’t. Trust me. It’s a lot harder than you think.”

“I just don’t think it was all worth it,” Mark said.

“Mark, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told your mom yesterday when she said the same thing. You are right. If I knew what I know now, I would not have done it. But I can’t go back and fix it. What’s done is done. We have to figure out a way to move forward,” James said firmly. “Look, we need to get serious about finding your brother. This problem with me and your mom is nothing compared with Joseph.”

“Okay, dad,” Mark said. James’ oldest sons wanted to trust their dad. They wanted to look up to him. They wanted to forgive him for whatever this was and get on with it. But if it had led to Joey’s disappearance, and if they couldn’t find him, then there was no way they would be able to.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 19

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

When Melissa arrived at the Vieques police department on Tuesday morning, Lieutenant Ramos was already fully engaged in the search for Joey. After she had left the night before, Ramos had filed the information about Joseph’s disappearance with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, who would likely put out posters and coordinate tips and leads that were called in. Additionally, he entered all of the information into the NCIC, which is the FBI’s criminal database. With these administrative details out of the way, he finally called the FBI so they could open a file and assign agents to head up the investigation.

“Mrs. Grady. I believe you would like an update,” Ramos said.

“Yes, please.”

“Where is your husband? And your son?”

“My husband is getting a boat to go search along the Puerto Rico coast and some of the islands around ‘the crease’. The boys are with him.”

“Oh. I see. He did not want to wait until the police and the FBI could look?”

“Well, we thought we could get a head start.”

“Okay. I understand. Now, four of my officers went to search the clubs, bars and restaurants around the marina where the dive boats landed. They questioned all of the owners and many other people. Unfortunately none of them remembers seeing Joseph.”

“Then what are you doing now?”

Señora, we are waiting for the FBI. They will want to take command of the search. They should be here soon. May I get you some coffee?”

“Coffee? No. I have already had coffee. We need to be out there looking for Joseph.”

“Ma’am, we will. The FBI are due any minute now, and they will certainly have a good plan for finding your son. In the meantime, would you help me go over some details? What was the name of the dive tour company that Joseph was with?”

“I think it was called something like ‘Isla Bonita SCUBA’.”

“Isla Bonita. Yes, we know of this one. We will interview the owner today.”

“And there were some Australian girls on the boat who Eli and Mark were talking to. Maybe you should talk to them?”

“We will ask for the entire list of who was on the tour and talk to each one we can locate. Now, I know we talked about this before, but again can you tell me, how certain are you that Joseph did not perhaps go off on his own? Is there any chance he knows someone here? Or has he talked about seeing or doing anything that maybe you and your husband had not yet allowed?”

“No, absolutely not. Listen, this is a complete waste of—”

Just then, another officer opened the door and burst into the office. “Lieutenant Ramos, agentes del FBI están aquí.”

“The FBI are here,” Ramos said to Melissa as he rose from his chair. The interview was over, for now.

Melissa followed Lieutenant Ramos out of his office and found a man and woman each dressed in gray suits striding purposefully down the short hallway. “Ray Ortiz, Assistant Special Agent in Charge,” the man said as he extended for a handshake, “and this is Special Agent Allison Morales.” Morales shook the hand of the Lieutenant.

“I am Lieutenant Miguel Ramos, and this is Melissa Grady, mother of the missing child,” Ramos said. More handshakes were shared.

“Do you have an office or conference room where we can get set up?” Ortiz asked.

“Yes, of course. This way,” Ramos said as he directed them back down the hallway past his office to a shabby conference room where the FBI agents set down their bags.

“Lieutenant Ramos, where is the rest of the family?” Morales asked.

“The boy’s father and brothers have rented a boat and they are looking along Fajardo and the islands.”

“Did you send them on this search, perhaps with one of your officers?”

“No, they are on their own.”

“They have their cell phones with them,” Melissa added. “I can call them if you need to speak with them.”

“Thank you,” Morales said.

“Lieutenant, I would like to go over your notes with you and get a look at the file you have on this case. While I am doing that, Special Agent Morales will get a complete statement from Mrs. Grady,” ASAC Ortiz directed.

“My files are in my office. This way,” Ramos said, leading Ortiz out of the conference room back towards his office.

Special Agent Morales indicated for Melissa to take a seat while she closed the door to the conference room and continued by opening her bag and removing a notebook. She laid the notebook on the table alongside her phone, and sat down. “Mrs. Grady—” she began.

“Melissa.”

“Melissa. I know you have already told this story to the Lieutenant, but I would like for you to tell it again, from the beginning, when you arrived here at Vieques up until right now. I will be making a recording using my phone and taking notes.”

“Okay,” Melissa said with impatience. “But shouldn’t we get started looking for Joey? I have already told all of this to Lieutenant Ramos. Joey has been missing all—”

“We need to get you to tell it again. Maybe you will think of something this time that you didn’t mention before, or maybe I will notice things that the Lieutenant didn’t think to write down in his notes. And this time we will have a recording so nothing will get missed. This won’t take long, and it will help ASAC Ortiz and I to do our best finding your son.” Allison Morales gave what she hoped was a disarming smile. She needed Melissa to cooperate; to feel like they were doing the right thing.

When they had gotten the call last night from Ramos, Ortiz and Morales were put to work researching the Gradys. They verified when they arrived in Puerto Rico and where they were staying with passport control and credit card records. They found the payment to Isla Bonita SCUBA and miscellaneous purchases in town, which they had yet to match up with their story, but it was assumed it would match. These looked, on the surface, like ordinary people. But they had just started to look.

In cases of missing American teenagers in vacation spots, the most likely cause was a runaway, and temporary. The teen gets his first taste away from his folks and makes a break for it, soon discovers life is better with money and returns of their own volition. Next most likely is new friends or vices. The boy has met a girl who is showing him a good time, or has met up with other new friends and been introduced to drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the teen already was into drugs or alcohol and makes a beeline for local supply. The Grady kid didn’t seem like the type, but again, they had only just begun looking. And lastly, you always have to keep criminal contact in mind. The boy may have been robbed, beaten up, or kidnapped. If Joseph Grady were not big and strong, then human trafficking might be more likely. Ordinarily kidnapping moves to near the top of the list when the teen is the child of a known wealthy family. So far, they had no reason to suspect kidnapping because it didn’t appear that the Gradys were rich.

Melissa told the story from the beginning in detail while Morales recorded it and made notes. Morales collected photographs and a detailed description of Joseph Grady. When Morales ran out of questions for Melissa, she announced, “Now I need to get the same statement from your husband and each of your sons.”

“They are out on a boat looking near the coast where Joseph may have swam or ridden back on another boat.”

“Well, we need to call them back here. Your sons, especially, since they were the last ones to see Joseph. We need to get their statement.”

“Okay, I will call them and tell them to come back.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 20

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

What’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything? Laurie Carter was reminded of the scene from The Matrix when the oracle told Neo not to worry about the vase he hadn’t broken yet. That was the nature of this paradox.

Yesterday they had put their control server’s hard drive into the Daedalus portal, under the working theory that they may be sending things back in time. This was meant to be an experiment and also a shortcut. But now, she didn’t know what to expect. If the hard drive had gone back in time and they had read all of the data they had put on it, then what? Nothing had changed. It’s not as if some grand revelation had suddenly emerged. But would it have done that? Would she even know?

“Hey Kyle,” Laurie asked. “Tell me what we should be expecting now.”

“What we should be expecting?”

“Yeah. We put the rewritten server’s hard drive in the portal. So what are we expecting to happen?”

“Well, if the hard drive went back in time with the data intact as we wrote it today, then it would have alerted us whenever it happened. Now, I don’t remember finding any great treasure of information about the future and about these anomalies suddenly popping up on our monitors, so I have to guess it didn’t work.”

“How so?”

“Well, if it had worked, then our memories would be different now. For one, we wouldn’t remember putting the hard drive in the portal, because, well, we probably didn’t. Instead we would remember making a crazy discovery some time ago about what was going to happen in the future. In other words, since we know we put the hard drive in the portal yesterday, that pretty much proves the experiment didn’t work,” Kyle explained. He tried not to think about the paradox.

“You know, just as the hard drive vanished, I remembered back when we first started running the Daedalus, like two years ago. We had a hard drive crash while we were doing one of the first full-power runs. I think we called in IT who fixed it really quickly. Do you remember that?”

“Now that you mention it, I do remember something like that. But we had all kinds of problems a couple of years ago when we first got started on this. It’s hard to put my finger on one specific incident.”

Laurie took on a more serious tone. “Well I can remember, probably because the computer controls are my main responsibility. I remember being worried about the stability of the computers to control the micro black holes, and what would happen if they crashed while we were further along. You know, could we cause some big problem? I remember when they were first firing up the Hadron collider, there were all those theories that if they botched it, it could convert everything into strange matter and destroy the earth and everything in it. That kept me up nights. What we are doing here is not that different.”

“Yeah, I have worried about that too. A lot. And since we are hacking on space-time, the truth is, we could potentially cause a much more subtle range of problems. I try not to think about it too much. Larry and I go round and round about this.”

And what’s really baking my noodle, Laurie thought, is whether we already broke it, and we just don’t know it yet. As she was pondering just what kind of people they were to think they could control space or time, Carl Jacobs and Aaron West strode into the lab in their direction.

“Just the two I was looking for,” Carl called out.

“What’s up Carl?” Kyle asked.

“Well, remember those phones out on the buoys that had a big time offset and dead batteries? Well yesterday we went out and hooked up solar panels on each of the buoys to power the phones, and we swapped them for new hardware just to rule out a fluke of four bad phones. We have been monitoring their time offsets and they are huge, but they correct each second when they get a GPS update. But within just a couple of hours they all crashed right about the same time, looks like ran out of storage space.”

“What happened with the storage space?” Laurie asked. These phones had about sixteen gigabytes of storage space, and they had nothing on them except for the operating system and the script that was reporting their time offsets. It’s not like someone was downloading apps or media files onto them.

Aaron responded, “Best I can tell, it’s syslog.”

“Syslog,” Kyle prompted.

“Syslog is a log file that Linux-type operating systems write to on the device, whenever events occur. These Android phones work this way. So when things happen like a driver has an error or it can’t contact a server it needs or whatever, it writes a line to the log file,” Laurie explained for Kyle’s benefit. “But the syslog file is usually tiny. How could it cause the phones to run out of storage space?”

Aaron answered, “Well, for every second of GPS time, they were running over one hundred thousand seconds of local time, phone time. So each second they were accumulating about a day’s worth of logging. Best guess is, after a few hours, it accumulated something like 30 or 40 years worth of logging data.”

“How is that possible? Are you sure about that math?” Kyle said, astonished.

“Yeah, look,” Carl said, “those phones were racking up about a day’s worth of RTC time each second. There’s thirty-six hundred seconds in an hour. That’s about ten years worth of seconds for the phones. So every hour we left the phones out there running, they each wrote a decade’s worth of syslog. Give or take.”

The reality of what was happening was sinking in. The group stood in stunned silence for a few moments. “Ten years in an hour,” Kyle said, eyes fixed in the distance. “Dear God.”

“Carl, when did you say this all happened?” Laurie asked.

“It was last night. We got the phones refitted and solar panels up before dark.”

Laurie gave Kyle a grave look, “That was about the time we put the hard drive in. We haven’t done any experiments since then, have we?”

“No. Daedalus has been powered down. You would have known if we had it up,” Kyle looked over at Aaron and Carl. “You’re sure about the time,” he said needlessly, mostly reminding himself so he could be sure.

“Yeah. Last night, they crashed. We were about to go out this morning and get them, figure we should just bring them back for a post-mortem. We will have to find another way to monitor the time anomalies because these phones obviously aren’t going to work,” Aaron said.

Kyle fixed his eyes on Laurie. “How is that even possible?” he asked. She didn’t answer.

  • * *

Aaron and Carl left Kyle and Laurie to solve the mysteries of the universe on their own. They had other work to attend to, notably to retrieve the four dead phones and see if they could determine just what had happened to them. They hadn’t expected the degree of concern that Kyle and Laurie were exhibiting, and neither was sure what they were talking about with the hard drive.

As soon as they got clear of the building on the way to the dock, Aaron started in, “What do you make of that, Carl? I think those guys are worried about this.”

“It sure seemed like there must be something more going on than malfunctioning smartphones,” Carl replied.

Only the core team working on Daedalus knew the extent of their experiments, and information about the cubes disappearing was controlled to a very short list. When Kyle had sent the team out on Sunday to set up the smartphone array to monitor time anomalies, the project was presented as just a way to keep track of whether Daedalus was interfering with GPS communication. Since GPS is relied upon for navigation in virtually everything from private cars to ocean liners and smart bombs, anything that disrupts their communication can be disastrous. Or so they were told. Now Carl was not sure that was the whole story.

“No kidding. When scientists who are working with a supercollider that some people say is capable of destroying the earth get nervous, well that kind of worries me a little, Carl.”

“Let’s just get the phones and get to the bottom of this,” Carl said. “Probably the Pelican cases are not watertight, maybe it’s corrosion or some heavy metal contamination. Maybe there’s a localized magnetic anomaly there. You know those buoys are close to that giant sinkhole out there, who knows what could be in there. Back when the Navy was running test facilities on Culebra, they left behind lots of materiel and there’s plenty of unusual pollution. Something weird is going on with these phones, for sure. We need to figure it out so if the Daedalus is breaking them, Kyle can fix it. Last thing we want is for them to build something that screws up our guidance systems by jamming GPS.”

Those were all good explanations, Aaron thought. They would definitely need to get to the bottom of this, even if it meant literally getting to the bottom of the sinkhole. Maybe there was some sunken magnetic material down there, or maybe one of the Navy’s tests during the cold war impacted the ocean bottom and localized heating and magnetic field from a nuke did something to the rock that changed its magnetic properties.

“Alright, Carl,” Aaron said as they boarded the Zodiac and he flipped on the ignition. “Let’s get the phones back to the lab, let some of the techs there tear it down and see if they can figure out what went wrong. While they are doing that, we should come back out with diving gear and some EMF meters, see if there’s something in that sinkhole that could cause the phones to go haywire.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Carl said as they sped off in the direction of El Pliegue.

Chapter 21

Northeast coastline and islands, Puerto Rico

James was glad to see the Fajardo coastline coming up quickly, signaling an end to the uncomfortable discussion he had been drawn into with Mark and Eli. Even though what they were having to do was for a horrible reason, it really was good to be out with his boys doing something together.

Luis Blanca had expertly navigated the boat along the Fajardo coastline and assisted them in questioning a few locals who had boat docks between the edge of Fajardo and the big marina where the Culebra and Vieques ferries launched. They flagged down some boaters, among them a few fishermen and some chartered pleasure craft with local guides not unlike the Grady’s current crew. None had any knowledge of a Norte Americano teenager who may have stowed away or asked for a lift.

There was, however, a concerning trend of the people they talked to discussing something in grave tones with Luis in Spanish. Luis seemed to be blowing it off most of the time, and when they asked, he told him these were just superstitious people, talking about the mystique of El Pliegue, kind of like it was the Puerto Rican “Bermuda Triangle”.

Luis came alongside a chartered fishing yacht with a small group of American tourists and a crew of four locals. When James began explaining to the tourists that they were looking for Joseph, the men said they had only been out today and directed them to ask the crewmen directly. Luis obliged to help by way of translating and the initial inquiry.

“Ask if he has seen or heard about a teenager who may have been picked up by another boat,” James instructed after Luis had begun talking with the yacht’s captain. Luis began to ask in Spanish, but the captain stopped him and responded directly to James in English.

“No, sir, we have not seen this boy. We were out here yesterday on another tour. Who was this boy with?”

“He was with his brothers,” James nodded towards Mark and Eli, “and a few dozen others on a diving tour at El Pliegue yesterday.”

“There are many tours with diving near El Pliegue. We saw them yesterday. But we did not see anyone who was left alone. There were some men, in a raft, you know, with a motor?”

“A Zodiac?” Luis suggested.

Si, a Zodiac, near some buoys at the edge of El Pliegue. If your son was lost, they most likely picked him up. It was a small boat and they would notice a boy alone in the water.” The captain of the yacht turned to Luis and said, “you know about El Pliegue, right?”

Luis responded with a dark look. “Yes, we know,” he said, hoping the captain would get the hint and not begin talking about the mythology of the place. He didn’t want the Gradys to get any more worried than they already were.

“So you know, many things go into El Pliegue and are never found. Just last year a customer dropped a three hundred dollar Penn rod just off the bow when we were fishing the edge of El Pliegue, and we watched as it vanished before our eyes. We hear of divers losing a fin or their camera all the time. They always say, they just vanish. That is not a good place to be.”

Here it was again. The story, “El Pliegue is the Bermuda Triangle of Puerto Rico,” sure sounded like bunk. But here they were, looking for a missing boy. It was like some cheesy paperback or sci-fi TV program. It just rubbed James’s rational mind the wrong way.

Luis thanked the yacht captain for his time and pushed off. James asked him to go straight for El Pliegue. The search along these tiny islands was less likely to bear fruit. He wanted to see this ‘crease’ up close. As they skipped over the waves, James’ phone rang. It was Melissa. “Hey,” James answered.

“Any luck?” she asked. “Did anyone out there see Joseph?”

“Not so far. We are headed to ‘the crease’ now to get a closer look, start from the start.” he did not want to tell her about the Twilight Zone story he’d suspected the locals were feeding Luis.

“Well, the FBI are here at the Vieques police station. They want you to come back here. You and the boys.”

“We’ll be back after we check everything out here.”

“They are insistent. They say you have to come back right now. They say they will send a helicopter to get you if you don’t come on your own.”

“Wow. Why do they need us there so bad?”

“They want to take your statement and won’t really get started looking for Joey until they do. I guess I can see their point.”

“Alright. Well we’ll turn around and come back. It’ll be at least forty-five minutes until we can be there. See if they will cool their jets that long.”

“That will have to do. And James,” Melissa began to plead, “be careful. Don’t let Mark and Eli out of your sight.”

“Okay. I won’t.” James hung up the phone, and then addressed Mark and Eli. “That was your mother. She said the FBI needs us to come back to give a statement.”

“Well, we have a lot to check out first,” Eli said. “Can’t it wait?”

“Your mom says it can’t. But I’m not going back until we look at El Pliegue ourselves, and make sure Joseph is not hanging on a buoy.”

The boys both smiled. Within a minute Luis pulled the boat to a stop and announced, “We’re here. El Pliegue.”

They trolled around El Pliegue and saw dive boats coming in but didn’t bother to wait for them. It would be different tourists and they already spoke with the dive operators. Mark noticed the four buoys spread out at the far end, nearest the tiny island, and when James looked in that direction, he saw a Zodiac floating nearby one of them with two men aboard. “Let’s go talk to those guys before they head back,” James said to Luis. They sped off in the direction of the Zodiac. As they pulled up, James noticed that the two men appeared to be American mainlanders.

“Hey guys,” James shouted to them, “mind if we come alongside?”

Aaron and Carl looked at each other, What are these guys doing here? they were both thinking. “Sure!” Carl shouted back. Luis steered their boat up to the starboard side of the Zodiac.

“Hi. My name is James Grady. We were wondering if you guys were out here yesterday.”

Aaron didn’t know if he should respond. Carl gave him a shrug. What could it hurt? They were right out in the middle of the water for all to see. “Sure. We were out here yesterday checking our equipment,” Aaron said.

“Great,” James replied. “Maybe you saw a young man, seventeen years old, about five-eleven, light brown hair? He would have been here with the diving tour yesterday.” James leaned his head in the direction of the arriving dive boats.

“Well, we saw a bunch of people diving but I don’t think I noticed anyone in particular. Carl?”

“I don’t think so,” Carl confirmed.

“Well, he may have been separated from the group. Thought he may have asked for a ride back. Or maybe he hooked up on one of your buoys here, and you might have noticed him hanging on?”

“We didn’t see anyone around the buoys. Sorry.”

“So, what are you guys doing with these buoys anyway?” Mark interjected.

“Oh, just some GPS tests. Routine stuff,” Aaron said.

“You work there, on the island?” Eli asked, pointing towards Isla Roca.

“Yeah,” Carl replied, thinking this might be getting too personal.

“What kind of work are you doing on the island?” Eli asked with a note of suspicion.

“Well, we, uh. We…” Carl began. He was grateful when James cut in to rescue him, noticing his obvious discomfort with Eli’s probing questions. No need to spook their source.

“Well, if you do find a stowaway or think of anything you may have noticed, will you call over to the Vieques police department? We would appreciate any help you can give finding our son,” James said diplomatically.

“Sure thing. And good luck finding him,” Aaron said. Carl and Aaron both turned away from the Gradys and Luis, signaling the conversation was over. Luis started the engine and puttered parallel to all of the buoys as James and his sons studied them, looking for signs of someone hanging on. There were no such signs, but they did notice solar panels on top of the buoys, with wires leading to small hard plastic boxes that seemed to be bolted to each buoy. Some piece of electrical equipment must be in each box, he thought. They said GPS tests. Survey equipment? Who knows. Could be anything. He needed to do more research.

Once they were clear of the buoys James told Luis to take them back to Vieques, assuring him he’d be paid for the whole day as promised. Luis pushed the throttles up and they were off. James gave the tiny island a close look as they passed by it, wondering what it really was they were doing there.

Chapter 22

The edge of El Pliegue near Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

“What do you think that was about?” Aaron asked Carl.

“Probably some kid had his first taste of rum and didn’t bother coming home last night. Rich parents think it’s time to call in the National Guard. Something like that. You know how parents are these days. Don’t let their kids play outside, think they’re ‘missing’ if they are more than ten feet away,” Carl said, shaking his head.

“Yeah. I suppose,” Aaron agreed, still not convinced.

They were moving to the fourth buoy to get the last phone when the Grady boys had shown up. They moved to collect the fourth phone once they were out of sight of the tourists. “Shocker. Four for four,” Aaron said as he turned the fourth phone over in his hands looking for any signs of damage. “Screen comes on for this one though, still seems odd.”

“I figured ‘corrosion’ was a long shot. Whatever damage is done to these phones is going to be more subtle. The one with the dead screen is probably just defective hardware to begin with. We’ll have to let the techs back at the lab figure out why they are dead.”

Aaron still had a sense that something was not exactly right with these phones. They were brand new when they put them out here, and now the three screens that worked seemed to have taken on an amber cast to the backlight. And he could swear that the plastic covers also appeared slightly yellowed. They were in totally mint condition, but they had somewhat of a patina. It just seemed strange. “Well let’s get moving. We need to get back here with EMF meters and check the next theory, now that we have mostly ruled out corrosion.”

Carl fired the engine and gunned it for Isla Roca.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 23

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

James, Eli and Mark hailed a taxi from the marina and arrived at the police station shortly after they were expected. Lieutenant Ramos walked up the hallway towards the desk to greet them as soon as he heard the door to the police station shut behind them.

Hola, Señor,” Ramos said as James approached with his sons behind him. “I assume you are James Grady?” Ramos said as he reached out his hand to shake.

“Yes, and this is my son Eli,” James said as he shook hands and leaned his head towards his eldest son. “And Mark.”

“Hello Lieutenant,” Eli said as he shook Ramos’ hand. “We met last night.”

“Of course, I remember.”

Mark shook hands without speaking.

Ramos directed them back to the conference room that the FBI was using as a command post, where they found Melissa sitting along with ASAC Ortiz and Special Agent Morales. “Hey mom,” Mark said as Melissa got up to hug her boys.

“Did you find anything more?” Melissa asked.

“Nothing since we last talked. We did swing by the buoys that are there at the edge of ‘the crease’, and we talked with the Zodiac guys. They didn’t see Joey,” James said.

Ortiz broke up the homecoming, “Mr. Grady. We need to get a statement from you and each of your sons. Can we get started?”

“Sure,” James said, really not at all sure. He gave Melissa a questioning look, and she responded with raised eyebrows and a slight shrug. I don’t know what the big deal is either, she seemed to be telegraphing.

“Mr. Grady, if you will come with me, we can take your statement in the Lieutenant’s office. Eli, Mark, you will stay here with Special Agent Morales.” The boys both looked over at Allison Morales, standing with her arms folded across her chest advertising toughness. “She will take your statements,” Ortiz said.

James was led across the hall to Ramos’ shabby office as his sons were directed to sit at the conference table. After he entered the office, Ortiz shut the door behind him.

“Mr. Grady,” Ortiz said as he indicated the chair for James to sit in, “My name is Ray Ortiz. Assistant Special Agent in Charge, San Juan office of the FBI. I will be leading the investigation to find your son Joseph.” Ortiz sat behind Ramos’ desk. James didn’t respond. “First, some formalities. Do you have identification with you?”

“Yes,” James said as he retrieved his passport from his pocket and placed it on the desk. Ortiz gave it a cursory look, doing a rapid match of the picture to James’s face. Satisfied that James was who he said he was, he set his phone on the desk beside the passport.

“I will be recording this conversation and we will transcribe it and it will be added to the digital file along with the audio recording. For the record,” Ortiz said for the benefit of the recording, “I am ASAC Ray Ortiz, interviewing James Grady of Houston, Texas regarding Bufile seventy-nine, SJ, seventy-three oh one. Mr. Grady, do you consent to this recording?”

“Yes,” James said simply.

“Okay, thanks. Now, can you take me through the events that happened beginning when you arrived in San Juan up until now?”

James recounted the story, beginning with their arrival at the airport, the puddle jumper flight over to Vieques, and all of the other events up until now, including his fruitless search of the area around El Pliegue. Ortiz interrupted for clarification a few times, but otherwise allowed James to tell what was now a reasonably familiar story.

“These men in the Zodiac, did you get their names?”

“No. Since they didn’t seem to have any information, it didn’t seem important,” James said. Ortiz made a note.

“Did they tell you that they worked on the little island?”

“I asked, and one of them confirmed. Said they were doing some routine GPS tests.”

“They didn’t say who they work for? Name of the company?”

“No. I didn’t think to ask.” James was now beginning to really feel inadequate. He hadn’t asked nearly enough questions, not the right questions, didn’t take any notes, didn’t make a recording. What was he thinking? He was no investigator. He should have just left this in the hands of the FBI from the beginning. He hoped he hadn’t tainted the investigation.

“Could you find the little island on a map?” Ortiz asked.

“Yeah, sure.”

Ortiz produced a map of the ocean area between Vieques, Fajardo and St. Thomas. “Right there,” James said, as he pointed out a tiny island right next to El Pliegue on the map. “Isla Roca,” James said, reading the label on the map.

“Okay, Mr. Grady. Let’s shift gears a little bit,” Ortiz said. “Tell me about the money.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 24

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

James was awestruck. He was completely taken off-guard. How does he know? What does he know? James thought.

After the call came in from Lieutenant Ramos yesterday, Ray Ortiz was assigned to the case and opened a new missing persons file. He began by looking into the family. He quickly found the U.S. Customs and Immigration report of their entry into San Juan, which identified exactly who they were dealing with. None of the Gradys had any kind of criminal record, but there were plenty of other records. It appeared that the majority of the family’s income came from James’s engineering job with an outfit in Houston called TCP Compudyne, where he earned barely six figures. Ortiz learned that they were sued a couple of years ago and owed big money from it and then suddenly paid it all off without any apparent source of extra pay. Now a working-class family of five was on a reasonably expensive vacation and it didn’t feel like they were on any kind of tight budget. Something was up, and Ortiz wanted to know.

Ortiz had crafted his question to intentionally put James off balance, maybe keep him from protecting himself as effectively.

“What money are you talking about?”

“Come on, James. There’s no use in hiding, we’re going to find out eventually. Might as well come clean now.”

He doesn’t know, James thought. He’s fishing.

“Mr. Ortiz, you are going to have to be more specific,” James said, bluffing.

“Listen, James. We’re trying to find your son here. See this file?” Ortiz held up a paper, “See that first number? Seventy-nine. That means ‘missing person.’ Now, we need to be sure that that shouldn’t say seven, which is ‘kidnapping.’ Family shows up on luxurious island resort, suddenly no longer in half a million dollars of debt, spending money like it grows on trees? That sounds like someone with a lot of money. But I checked your bank accounts, retirement, stock options, 401K, the works. Looks like you’re living above your means.” James just looked at his hands. He didn’t respond. “I’m not from the IRS, Treasury, Secret Service, SEC, not with the DEA. We’re not trying to nail you for whatever it is that paid for this trip and paid off your settlement debt two years ago. We’re just trying to find your son. That’s my only goal here. But to do it, I need to know what I’m dealing with.”

Kidnapping. Could that be? Could it really be that Joseph was kidnapped? No way. Nobody else knew about his money. Nobody would kidnap the son of an engineer from Houston. But Ortiz had brought up a good point. Should he come clean? Would Ortiz really look the other way? Did the FBI investigate this kind of thing? Would they turn him over to the IRS? And if he didn’t come clean, what had Melissa told them? Or what would she tell them? The boys didn’t know the details, so he didn’t have to worry about keeping their story straight. But Melissa knew exactly how much money they made on their arbitrage deal and precisely how they did it. Would she tell? Did she hate James enough to send him to prison?

“Mr. Ortiz,” James began, speaking deliberately. He was being recorded after all, and making a statement to a federal agent. He would say as little as possible. “It’s true that a couple of years ago I was given enough money to pay off our settlement debt. But this didn’t make me ‘rich’ and there’s no way this would make us a target for kidnapping.” That was at least partly true, or part of the truth.

“You were given half a million dollars?”

“The debt was more like three hundred K.”

“Excuse me, James, but do you really expect me to believe that? Who gives you three hundred thousand dollars? Did you write out a receipt?” Ortiz said sarcastically.

“How is this important to finding Joseph? You just said you are not interested in how I got the money. I just told you that it’s not enough to have made us rich. You saw our bank account. If even the FBI doesn’t think we have a ton of money, then how would some random kidnapper think differently?”

James had a point. Ortiz wasn’t going to get anywhere with more questions, even though his gut told him that where there was smoke there was definitely fire. But he needed the Gradys to be on his side and to be honest and forthcoming if they were to have any chance of finding Joseph, so he decided to drop it. For now.

“Alright, Mr. Grady. But before we move on from this, I need you to be dead straight with me. Again, I’m not here to investigate you for any wrongdoing, unless somehow you are directly involved in your son’s disappearance, which I sincerely doubt. But if you are somehow crossways with the criminal element, I need to know that right now if we hope to find your son. Drug deal gone bad, double-crossed the wrong money launderer, didn’t make a payoff you were supposed to make, I don’t know. There’s lots of bad guys who would take your kid as leverage. Doesn’t have to be the ordinary rich-guy-ransom deal.”

“Mr. Ortiz, believe me. There is nothing, nothing, like that. We are just an ordinary family on vacation here. It’s just like I said before. We needed a vacation. We came here to Vieques because it’s beautiful and peaceful. This is not exactly Monaco or the Seychelles. Americans go to Puerto Rico because it’s the Caribbean on the cheap. I have an ordinary job and don’t have anything to do with any criminals.”

“So not you, but your wife? Maybe your kids? One of your boys have a run in with a pot dealer? Your wife play bunco with a gangster’s wife? Something like that?”

“Dude, seriously. No. No way. Nothing at all like that.”

“Okay James. I believe you. You know, I had to ask. Kidnapping is a very real threat, although not as bad here as it is in many other places for Americans. I’m still not going to really rule it out one hundred percent, but I’ll move it to the bottom of the list. Unfortunately, that leaves very little on the list for us to investigate.”

James tried not to breathe a sigh of relief. But he knew he was not really out of the woods. He was under the microscope. If they didn’t find Joseph in the next few hours, and if this Ortiz had any more time to dig, James had no doubt he’d find something. Someone would say something. One of the kids would say “foreign currency” or Melissa would say “James’s other bank account” and Ortiz would be all over it. If this drags on for a week, James is done for. He carefully considered what he had just stated, on the record, to a federal agent. As far as he could recall, everything he had said was true, but hardly the whole truth. So maybe he wouldn’t add “lying to a federal officer” to his list of offenses.

“Mr. Grady, I think I have enough for now.” Ortiz stopped the recording and put his phone back in his pocket. James reached to collect his passport. “Thank you for your candor,” Ortiz said. “I may have more questions. I will need you to be available to work closely with us on this. We’re all after the same thing: to find your son.”

James nodded, and they both rose and exited Ramos’ office. Across the hall, Mark and Eli appeared to have finished their statements and someone had brought in some food. Melissa and the boys were eating and chatting with each other, along with Morales and Ramos. “You can stay here, go back to your hotel, whatever, but we are going to buckle down and find Joseph. We have a lot of work to do this afternoon,” Ortiz said to the group.

“What can we do to help?” Melissa asked.

“Just be available when we have questions or if we need you. Keep your cell phones handy and charged up. Stay nearby so we can get you quickly if we need you.”

With a minimum of grumbling, the Gradys all filed out of the police station and left the FBI agents and Ramos there in the conference room.

“Allison,” Ortiz began, “I need you to begin tracking their phones. We need to monitor the calls and text messages coming in and going out. Also, to the degree we can, try and get a location history on the phones. I know tower coverage may be iffy here, but I want to know if any of them leaves the island. Set up an alert if any of them hit on a known criminal phone number.”

“On it,” Allison Morales said, as she hunkered over her laptop.

“Lieutenant Ramos, I need you to coordinate with the police in Fajardo and Culebra. We need to do a canvass of those areas like you did last night at the marina here. Let’s use local resources there.”

“Got it,” Ramos replied, and he left for his own office.

Ortiz then sat down at the conference table, confident in having delegated the urgent matters, and began his own task: find out what was going on at Isla Roca.

Chapter 25

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Aaron led the way as he and Carl entered the lab with the four phones in hand. Their plan was to briefly drop the phones off with the bench techs and grab more gear and head back out. However, they ran into Larry Duncan before they could get to the techs, and he had different plans.

“Are those the phones with the bad time data?” Larry asked. Larry had missed out on their earlier briefing directly but got a summary from Kyle. He had decided that the phones were a critical piece of the puzzle and wanted to take command of this analysis himself.

“Yeah. One of them, the screen won’t come on. The other ones boot loop, but at least the display works,” Aaron reported.

“Come with me,” Duncan instructed. They followed him to his office where he picked up his phone and spoke, “Hey Kyle, grab Laurie and meet me in my office.” He hung up after getting an affirmative response and within seconds Kyle and Laurie entered the small room. As they entered, Larry announced, “Aaron and Carl have the phones from the buoys. They say the screen is dead on one and the others boot loop.”

Laurie took the bait, “We will have to get them on the bench to figure out why they are not booting, but let’s assume Aaron and Carl were right before, they’re out of storage space. The real question is why.”

“Right. As soon as we finish this meeting, Laurie, can you take them to the bench techs? If they have to tear them down to the components then do it. I want to know why they did this, exactly,” Larry commanded.

“Larry, when these guys came in earlier, they were talking about an anomaly happening even when we were not running Daedalus. What are the chances this is unrelated?” Kyle said.

“Well, anything’s possible. But I think it’s safe to assume that we caused a disruption. It can’t be a coincidence that we are doing gravity experiments and we are seeing gross timing distortions.”

Aaron and Carl had not yet been privy to this line of thought. They knew the phones were malfunctioning, but they had not been told that the experiments they were doing there at Thermion’s facility on Isla Roca might cause actual time distortions.

“Wait a minute. Are you saying you think the phones are actually aging faster than everything else? That somehow these phones are experiencing more time passing than the other phones in the grid?” Aaron asked, disbelieving.

Kyle realized that Larry let something slip that he probably should have kept to himself. “We don’t know what is happening, not with any certainty,” he said. “All we know is that the phones we put in the buoys were reporting anomalies that the other phones didn’t report. So something is different. We ruled out hardware, so it has to be some external thing.”

“Well, these buoys are right on top of that big sinkhole out there,” Carl said.

“Sinkhole…” Duncan said, not being familiar with much that lies outside the lab.

“Yeah. It’s a seven hundred foot deep hole in the ocean just a thousand yards off our coast here,” Carl explained.

“Hey, anyone know how that thing got there? Did it have anything to do with the munitions testing the Navy did on Culebra?” Laurie asked.

“No way,” Duncan said. “It’s big, right? You said seven hundred feet deep? There’s nothing the Navy could have done to make a hole like that. It has to be naturally occurring.”

“Well what is it, anyway?” Laurie asked.

“Guys. It’s just a hole. Nothing special. There are several of them around the world, some nearly as big. And this is by no means the deepest thing in the ocean. It’s just unusual because it’s a hole where the surrounding water is only sixty or seventy feet deep so that seven hundred foot deep hole looks like a giant hole, but it’s not really that big of a deal. It’s just a geological feature,” Kyle said. “That’s a red herring. It’s not causing these anomalies.”

“Well, there are sure a bunch of divers out there who think it’s special. There’s at least one tour out there every day, dozens of divers,” Carl said.

“That’s interesting,” Larry said. “Whatever our anomaly is, it must be extremely localized, if dive tours are out there every day and dozens of divers operate without noticing it.”

“Actually,” Aaron said, putting the pieces together, “if those phones were actually aging a decade for every hour they were out there, and it was not just an oscillator malfunction on the phones, then any divers that got near it would drown.”

“Drown?” Laurie said, surprised. “Why would they drown?”

Carl answered gravely, “They’d run out of air. I mean, if it was like the phones, then they would be underwater for hours while only seconds passed on the surface. They would run out of air, probably before they could surface.”

“No. I don’t think so. They’d dive and all indications for them while they were diving would be that they’d been down for an hour, their dive computer would tell them to go up, their air would be running low. Then they’d surface and on the surface it’d only be seconds or minutes. But they’re moving, so if this is truly localized, then they might not notice at all. Get close enough to the perimeter of the anomaly, whatever that is, and they’d just experience a mild and very temporary acceleration of time. So they’d be under for, say, 59 minutes, but their dive computer would say an hour,” Kyle explained.

“Okay, so this doesn’t have anything to do with divers,” Larry said.

“Well, there was a group out there looking for a lost diver today. Don’t know if that’s related,” Aaron said. For just a moment, everyone in the room thought that maybe, just maybe, Carl was right. A diver must have drowned. But then the moment passed.

“That’s just a random coincidence,” Larry said hopefully. “You guys going back out there?”

“Yeah, we thought that there may be electromagnetic anomalies from the sinkhole, maybe remnants of something the Navy deposited there, so we thought we’d take an EMF meter out and check it out,” Carl said.

“Worth checking. But I’m more concerned about the timing anomalies. The phones obviously aren’t going to work anymore. I have another idea.” Larry lifted a large case onto the desk and opened it. Inside were four electronic devices each about the size of a paperback book. “These are portable atomic clocks. CSAC,” he pronounced it see-sack. “They just tell time, and they are extremely stable over a long time. We can rule out oscillator anomalies by using these.”

“CSAC?” asked Laurie.

“Chip Scale Atomic Clock,” said Kyle. “It’s an ultra-stable real-time clock chip that’s better than a normal clock but not quite as good as a real atomic clock like a cesium.”

“Well, if there’s an electromagnetic anomaly, they would still be affected,” said Aaron.

“We can shield the pelican cases with mu-metal,” Kyle said. “It is the only stuff that can shield a magnetic field anyway. We have some in the supply cabinet. I’ll get it for you. You can cut it with tin snips and then just copper-tape the edges.”

“Sounds good, but how do we know it’s not radiation causing this?” Carl said.

“That’s ridiculous,” Larry said. “But you might as well check. Take a Geiger counter. I’m sure Kyle’s got one right next to his mu-metal,” he said sarcastically.

“Actually, I do,” Kyle said, with a wink.

“Well guys, it’s been fun, but we have to get moving if we plan to get this all set up before dark,” Carl said. Aaron reached over to close the case with the atomic clocks, while Kyle motioned for Carl to follow him to the supply cabinet.

  • * *

Aaron and Carl wasted no time getting back to the Zodiac, and then back out to the buoys. They did not continue to discuss the topic of what was causing the anomalies, but instead just focused on getting the atomic clocks set up.

When they arrived at the buoys, Aaron took measurements with the EMF meter and the Geiger counter while Carl rigged the first Pelican case with mu-metal sheets and copper tape. “I am reading ten or twelve milligauss on the EMF meter away from the buoy. It is peaking up around twenty when I get it over by the power cable inside the box,” Aaron said.

“How about now?” Carl asked as he closed and latched the lid on the Pelican case after sealing up the atomic clock inside with mu-metal.

“Maybe fifteen. Power cable?”

“Yeah, it has to connect to the solar panel. They have batteries but they might have the same problem as the phones keeping charged. How’s the radiation?”

“Let me check that now,” Aaron said as he switched on the Geiger counter. It began ticking and within a minute or so he had a reading. “Twenty-two.”

“Well, looks like it’s zip on EMF and radiation. Help me rig the other atomic clocks. We can just leave the meters on and check them after we set everything up.”

They trolled up to the next buoy and Aaron assisted to make short work of the mu-metal box for the next atomic clock, and then they moved on to the next after noting that the EMF and radiation readings had not spiked. When they were finished rigging the fourth atomic clock, Carl looked out over the sinkhole. “Hey Aaron, something odd about that?” he said looking over at the dive boats.

Aaron got the hint. They had just put four super accurate atomic clocks on the buoys, and when they latched up the last one it said “19:02”. He knew the GMT time displayed was two minutes after three pm in their local time zone. “Yeah. The boats are full of people. Isn’t that a dive tour?”

“It sure is. You wanna go check it out?”

“Might as well.”

They powered the Zodiac towards the dive boats and came up alongside. “Hola, señor!” Carl hailed the captain of the first boat. “Are you guys on a diving tour?”

“Yes,” the boat captain said simply.

“What’s up? Equipment trouble? Shark?” Carl asked.

“No, not that. Only three people are diving. The rest don’t want to go in.”

“Why not?” Aaron asked.

Superstición,” the captain replied. “One boy who was diving here yesterday is lost. They think he is down in El Pliegue. Perdido. You know.”

“Everyone here is afraid to dive?” Carl said.

“Yes. All but three. The others pay, they don’t have to dive. Easy for us.”

“Was the missing boy on your tour?”

The boat captain shrugged. “Who knows? We are the only diving tour that was here yesterday. Must be us.”

Carl looked at Aaron and raised an eyebrow. They talked to the missing boy’s father earlier today. “Thanks for the information,” Carl said as he pushed off. “Watch out for el cuco!” he teased, referring to the local version of “the bogeyman” as they pulled away. The boat captain chuckled and waved back.

“I predict we are about to have a lot of extra visitors out here,” Carl said to Aaron as they approached the dock at Isla Roca.

“That’s the last thing we need,” Aaron said.

“Larry’s not going to like this.”

“No, he is not.”

Wednesday

Chapter 26

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Yesterday afternoon, after sending the Grady family on their way, Ray Ortiz began looking into Isla Roca while Special Agent Morales worked with Lieutenant Ramos to ramp up the search effort, coordinating with other police departments in the area. While Ortiz had the distinct impression that James Grady was hiding something, he didn’t truly think he had anything to do with his son’s disappearance. On the other hand, the boy possibly disappearing just off the coast of an island owned by the U.S. Government was too perfect a coincidence to ignore.

Puerto Rico had a long history of conflict with the U.S. Government with regard to their ownership and operations on the small islands in the area. Vieques, in fact, had only less than two decades earlier experienced an incident where a civilian was killed in a Navy operation near the live fire range that once was operated there. This event had sparked major protests and eventually the Navy moved their operation off of Vieques. All of Culebra had been taken over by the U.S. Military during half of the 20th century, used for exercises and live fire. Reports of materiel and equipment left from these old days abound, including unexploded bombs and rumors of experimental weapons. Toxins such as heavy metals are reported to pollute the land and plant life since the U.S. Military have left, and many blame them for it. There remains a great mistrust of the U.S. Government operations, particularly the military, in much of Puerto Rico.

Ortiz grew up in Puerto Rico and could not escape learning this same suspicion as a way of life. The irony that he now worked as an agent for the very same U.S. Government that engendered so much mistrust did not escape him. Ray Ortiz was a patriot and a true believer in his cause as an agent of the FBI. But he knew all too well that corruption and deception were not absent from his employer. Physical evidence of such abounds in Puerto Rico.

Ortiz discovered that Isla Roca as it was now known, formerly Cayo Oeste, is a very small island just northwest of Culebra and closest to El Pliegue. The island has a fresh water supply but is otherwise too small to support significant habitation and has never had supporting infrastructure or agriculture. Just as James Grady had reported, the island is owned by the U.S. Government, although it was twelve years into a thirty-year lease to a defense contractor from Virginia, Thermion. What had been built there seemed to be veiled in secrecy. Even with the FBI’s resources, Ortiz had not been able to find the answers.

Satellite photos indicated a sizable compound had been built on the island, as well as what looked like evidence of serious excavation. Nearly the entire coast of the island is rock, with only a very small beach area and one pier where small craft are docked. There was no indication that shuttle service was provided on the island to get personnel from an inhabited area such as Culebra to and from the island, so Ortiz assumed that the personnel must live on the island in some barracks. The compound was certainly large enough to support this.

Ortiz found records of a weekly supply delivery by boat to Isla Roca, which included not only food and other human necessities but also unspecified equipment and so-called “scientific materials”.

All of this information, as incomplete as it was, only served to make Ray Ortiz even more curious, almost suspicious, of what was happening at Isla Roca. Popping in for an unannounced visit was definitely on his agenda.

“After they left yesterday, I show all three of them huddled around the marina area. No specific detail on movement. They exchanged a few text messages with each other, I presume coordinating whatever they were doing or meeting up. Looks like mom and Eli were moving around more than Mark and James. They were in the area until evening, went back to their hotel, didn’t move after that,” Special Agent Morales reported.

“Probably figured maybe they would catch wind of Joey, looked around for clues, had dinner at a waterside restaurant, called it a night,” Ortiz speculated. “No calls?”

“No calls. I pulled their logs starting when they arrived at San Juan. It all squares exactly with the story they told us. Only calls were to one another. Only thing that’s mildly out of the ordinary is that it looks like after Melissa called James yesterday from the police station to tell him to come back, James and the boys kept on moving out towards El Pliegue. They parked there for about ten minutes then made a beeline back.” Is that interesting? Ortiz thought. He decided it wasn’t. The smallest of mutinies. They were already en route when James got the call, so they just finished their mission before returning. After all, what good investigation didn’t start where the missing person was last seen?

“Anything else interesting?” Ortiz probed, halfheartedly. Allison Morales was a crack investigator. An excellent agent. He knew she would get everything right and make the right decisions about what information to share and what was irrelevant. But Ortiz was in charge of this investigation, so he had to ask.

“Not from the data record. Fajardo region were already spinning up by the time we got here yesterday, they are combing through right now. They should be in the bird by now too,” Morales said, referring to a search effort the local police were engaging with a helicopter over the beaches and open water. “Ramos is itching about whether to call in DEA, BATF, or even the Coast Guard. I told him to hold off for now, but if we still have nothing by tomorrow, I think we have to bring them all in.”

Ortiz knew she was right, and also that Ramos was right to be thinking about this. He, himself had considered the drug angle, because on these islands off the edge of Puerto Rico, missing people and drug money go hand in hand. But the Gradys sure didn’t seem to be the type. Guns? It’s possible. They were from Texas after all. But kind of far fetched. Bringing in DEA and BATF would only muddy the waters now. Ortiz hunch was that it wasn’t drugs or guns. The Coast Guard, on the other hand, was an intriguing idea. If the kid was lost in the water, they had the best chance of finding him. But to call in the Coast Guard would require bringing in the rest of the Feds first, and Ortiz was not quite ready to that. Between the San Juan FBI office and the Fajardo region police, they had plenty of boats and choppers. They’d manage for another sixteen hours without bringing in the big guns. Right now it was best to keep a lid on it.

Plus, Ortiz considered, he needed to see what was happening with the guys on Isla Roca before Uncle heard the alarm. That’s a defense contractor operating out there, and Homeland would almost definitely shut them out of investigating Thermion’s connection with this as soon as they caught wind of it. Right now, that information was under his control. Once DEA, BATF and the Coast Guard were called in, definitely some Senate committee honchos, the DIA, DHS and everyone from the national security advisor on down would know that the little San Juan FBI was poking around where they didn’t belong. If there were answers on Isla Roca, Ortiz had to get them before word got out. He had a day, max.

“You okay keeping the hunt going with Ramos? There’s one angle I want to run down myself,” Ortiz said.

“I think I can handle it. Ramos is a good cop and he’s doing most of the legwork with the rest of the Fajardo region guys. I’ll keep an eye on the family. It’s the island, right?” Morales guessed.

“Look, let’s keep a tight lid on this for now. It’s probably just a coincidence that the kid went missing near a U.S. Government property, but I want to rule it out before this goes up the chain and they close down that angle,” Ortiz explained.

“Homeland,” Morales said with a knowing look. Ortiz nodded. “Okay, Ray. I’ll hold down the fort here, you go check out the rock. I’ll make something up if Ramos asks where you are.”

“Thanks,” Ray Ortiz said as he got up from his chair and headed for the door.

Special Agent Morales did continue coordinating the ground and sea search for Joseph Grady. The Fajardo region police were fully engaged roughly under Lieutenant Ramos’ direction. They canvassed every neighborhood, showing pictures of Joseph Grady and chasing down the extremely slim quantity of leads that turned up. They raked the coastlines of Culebra, Vieques and Fajardo. They made a conspicuous show of looking hard for the lost teenager.

Ray Ortiz made a quick call to arrange his ride, and then hopped in the FBI chopper. He would not be able to keep this off of the radar for long, and certainly the Thermion guys out on Isla Roca were going to see him coming literally a mile away. There was no way around it. This was as close as he could get to surprising them. He hoped it was close enough that they wouldn’t be able to cover everything up or call in the other Feds before he got some answers.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 27

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Who does that guy think he is? James thought to himself, incredulously. He thinks he’s the FBI agent in charge of finding your son, he heard his mind reply. James had to keep reminding himself of this fact all day yesterday since he and the rest of his family were summarily dismissed by Assistant Special Agent In Charge, Ray Ortiz.

It felt like they were being sent to the kid’s table. Let the grown-ups take care of this problem. We are not idiots, James thought, uselessly. Of course they were not idiots, but they were not professional investigators either. They didn’t have a badge that would compel just about anyone to talk to them and answer their questions. They didn’t have the ability to summon help, or to commandeer resources from other departments. Who was he kidding? They didn’t know whom they should be questioning. They didn’t know what they should ask. They didn’t know what resources they needed and even if they could muster them, they didn’t know what to have them do.

Regardless of how much they wanted to help, how responsible James felt personally for this problem, how every fiber of his being was shouting for him to do something, the cold fact was that the FBI would do a much better job with the Grady family out of their way. And this realization hurt. On top of feeling guilty, he felt powerless. Helpless. Impotent.

At that moment, James decided to do something about it. “Melissa,” he said to his wife, who was in a state somewhere between fuming and shell-shocked. “We need to get the boys up.”

Melissa looked over at James, as snapping out of a daze. “What?”

“Mark and Eli. Let’s get them up and going.”

“Why?”

“Because even though the FBI knows the most about how to find missing people, we know the most about Joseph. So we need to get in there and help find him. I’m going to get that agent Ortiz to give us something to work on. We can help find Joey, and we will.”

Melissa didn’t look convinced, but she was not going to fight. “Okay. You wake them up. I’ll get ready.”

Melissa had spent most of the previous afternoon vainly searching the marina for any clue of Joey’s whereabouts, with her family in tow. James knew she wasn’t going to find anything, and he was certain she also knew it. But they couldn’t just do nothing, and they had been kicked out by the FBI. Then they just got dinner and came back to the hotel to go to bed. Melissa had considered calling her parents back in Texas to tell them what was going on, but decided they’d be better off to wait one more day. She still hoped they would find Joey and not have to break the news of his disappearance to his grandparents until he was back with them.

James knocked on the door between their rooms and Mark opened it up right away. Both he and Eli were already up and seemed to be itching to get out and get to work. James understood this. Each of them had their reasons for feeling responsible for this mess, and each wanted to slay these demons by putting all of their energy into finding Joey. James’s own reasons were many. Mark had promised his mother not to take his eye off of Joseph and he had been watching over his brother like this for as long as he could remember. And Eli, well Eli felt the pressure to be the new man of the house. He didn’t know if his mom and dad were going to make it past whatever rough spot they were in together, and he was already sizing up the burden that he would bear if his father was going to eventually be gone.

“Guys, let’s go to the police station. Time to stop the pity party and get in the ball game,” James admonished. The guys’ eyes lit up.

“Way ahead of you, dad,” Eli said as he rose, wound up like a clock spring.

  • * *

The Grady family filed purposefully into the police station to find an officer they didn’t recognize at the desk. “We’re here to see Ortiz,” James said in a manner that didn’t invite debate.

“Yes. This way,” is all the officer said, and he led them back to the conference room command center.

“Mr. and Mrs. Grady,” Allison Morales said by way of greeting as they entered the small room. James piped up before she could continue.

“Where’s Agent Ortiz?” he said.

“ASAC Ortiz,” Morales corrected, “is not here at the moment. He’s in the field investigating a lead.” Morales was curious about James’s outburst. He didn’t have this energy yesterday. She wondered if he knew something or had something to add to the investigation “What can I do for you?” she asked.

“Well,” James began, suddenly feeling the fire being extinguished. He really didn’t know exactly what he wanted her to do for them.

“You need to put us to work helping find my brother,” Eli said firmly, bailing James out. “There has to be some base we can cover.”

Morales was mildly surprised and even the slightest bit impressed with the signs of life from the Grady family this morning. She quickly considered what task she could put them on, at least to keep them busy. Maybe there was something they could help with after all. And it would be much easier keeping them from stepping on the toes of the Fajardo region police if she had them working on something here in the Vieques office. “Sure. I have something for you to work on,” she began as she stepped over to the table and sat down in front of her laptop. With a few clicks and keystrokes she recalled a document. The Grady family was assembling behind her to see over her shoulder. “This is a list of the other people who were on the diving tour with you,” she said glancing over her shoulder at Eli. “I am going to transfer this to another computer here in the office so you can look at it. If you scroll through,” she said as she demonstrated scrolling the document, “you can see most of them have a picture, their passport photos or whatever photo we had on file. I want you to look through all of them and try to think if anyone here was talking to Joseph. We may want to interview some of them, especially the ones that rode back on the other boat who may have talked with Joseph or seen where he was. Anyone who looks familiar, you pick them out for me. Okay?”

This was busywork, James could tell. But it might be useful. And what did he expect? “Okay,” James said. “The boys can look through that but what do you want us to do?” Melissa stepped a foot closer to James in solidarity.

“We’ll figure something out. For now just go through these pictures with them and maybe you will notice something too,” Morales said. She was improvising. They hadn’t planned on putting the Grady family to work at all.

“Maybe we should go back out to El Pliegue,” Melissa said. “Or to that island. You didn’t get a chance to go over the coastline did you?” she said to James.

“No. That’s not a good idea. Look, we have police detectives searching everywhere and they will handle all of that. When ASAC Ortiz returns, we will put together a better plan.” It was all she could think to say.

James brought his hands to his head and turned in place in an expression of exasperation. “Okay,” he said, looking to Melissa. “Get us set up. We’ll see what we can see in the pictures. But I want to talk to Ortiz when he gets back.” It was a start, and it was better than nothing.

Chapter 28

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Larry Duncan sat in his office thumbing through his handwritten notes in one of many college-style lab notebooks that he was fond of keeping, thinking maybe something would jump out at him. Maybe there was something he had missed. He was doing an inventory in his mind.

What were the facts?

Their tests on Daedalus resulted in disappearing cubes.

A cube like the ones they sent into the portal was found in a log that was to be used to produce the same cubes.

There is an inexplicable massive time anomaly being reported by four GPS-equipped smartphones at the edge of their perimeter in the ocean.

A hard disk drive they put into the portal with information on it also disappeared and they didn’t know where it was any more than they did the missing cubes.

Now, what were their assumptions?

The cube they found in a log may be one that they put into the portal.

The time anomaly reported by the smartphones from the buoys may be real.

What were their theories and hypotheses?

The cube found in the log was sent back in time, and the log in which it was found is the original source of the carbon atoms that made up the cube.

The hard disk drive was also sent back in time. No clue where, or when, it is now.

Daedalus is causing a time anomaly in the ocean just off the shore.

The real problem with this is that there were just too many unknowns. And these were unanswerable questions. If they were in fact observing a time-travel event, then this was likely the first time in all of human history that such an event had been seen. There was no established method to catalog data. There was no prior experiment that could be referenced to instruct his team. And on top of that, the so-called “observer effect” was certainly impacting this event. How was their observation of these events affecting their outcome? This is what was confusing Larry more than anything at this exact moment.

He was looking through his notes, but the fact is that whatever he didn’t remember has likely not even occurred. If a change had been introduced in the past, such as if they had succeeded in sending back the hard disk drive and alerting their former selves of the problem that lay ahead, then he would remember it. His own memory would be different now than it was before. And so would his notes. But maybe, he thought, there was something in his notes that was important now, knowing what he knows, but that was not important to him at the time. It was a long shot, but he was looking anyway.

He knew that Kyle really had a better handle on all of this paradox madness than he did. But Kyle was a zealot. Intuitive. He had faith in things he could not see. Larry just could not accept that. Not yet. He wasn’t ready. He wasn’t that desperate.

And then there was that other thing. Carl was talking about a missing kid. That had to be a coincidence. A giant sinkhole with a bunch of amateur divers and nobody bothering to check PADI certifications, it was a given that one would drown from time to time. And if someone drowned over the sinkhole, they’d likely not wash up on shore. Larry wondered if the police were going to come looking on the shore of Isla Roca for the drowned kid. The last thing they needed right now, while they are trying to solve a complicated quantum puzzle, is for a bunch of cops to be running all over the island.

And then there was the completely irrational. There was really literally no way that Daedalus had anything at all to do with the missing kid. Why, then, did Larry Duncan, physicist and logician, have a tiny hint of fear that somehow they had caused this? It had to be Kyle, with his inexplicable faith, rubbing off on him somehow.

Just as Larry was shaking off this feeling, his cell phone rang. “Duncan,” he said.

“Larry, it’s Carl. We have an issue.”

“Tell me about it,” Larry said sarcastically, and instantly regretted it.

“No, I mean, a new issue. There’s a helicopter approaching. I am guessing it’ll be landing in about two minutes. I think we should prepare for some visitors.”

This had to be about the missing kid.

“Alright, Carl. Can you meet them at the helipad? Whoever it is, try and get rid of them. They are not authorized to land here anyway. But find out who it is and let me know as soon as they are clear.”

“Will do.” Larry hung up the phone and filed his notebook with the rest of them on the shelf. He retrieved his current notebook from his desk and began writing out a note about the lost kid and the helicopter. Who knows? Maybe he’ll be looking back on this note one day and find it is important. About five minutes went by before his phone rang again. “What’s up, Carl?” Larry said.

“Larry, it’s an FBI agent. He insists on seeing you. We are on our way to your office.”

Larry ran his hand through his hair and looked at his watch. It was only nine in the morning and already this was turning into a long day. “That’s fine, Carl. Bring him on in. Straight to my office. Do not bring him through the lab. I don’t want him seeing anything we are working on.”

“Of course. We’ll be right there.”

  • * *

“Ray Ortiz, Assistant Special Agent in Charge,” Ortiz said as he entered Duncan’s office and extended his credentials for Larry to see.

“Mr. Ortiz,” Larry said as he extended his hand to shake, “I am Larry Duncan. I am the project manager of this facility. What brings you to Isla Roca?” Larry said, trying to sound nonchalant. He handed Ortiz a business card.

Ortiz turned his eyes towards a chair in front of Duncan’s desk, and Larry motioned for him to sit. “Please,” Larry said, and then to Carl, “Carl, I think I can take it from here.” Ortiz sat and Duncan joined sitting behind his desk. “So, what can I do for you?” Duncan said, prompting again, hoping for a quick explanation.

“Mr. Duncan,” Ortiz said as he looked at the business card in his hand. “I’ll get right to it. A teenage boy from Texas has gone missing, and he was last seen just off the coast of your little island here. I was hoping to find any information I could about Isla Roca that might help us to find him.”

Larry Duncan knew that the key to controlling information was to keep the other party from suspecting you were hiding anything. To do that, you must be forthcoming and open. And the truth is, Larry didn’t think Daedalus had anything to do with this boy’s disappearance, so he could be completely transparent about everything that might help find the boy.

“We heard about the missing boy. Carl, the man who escorted you here, has been working on a project out near some buoys that we use for experiments and had the chance to speak with the boy’s father and some others about it. Carl and another technician of ours have been the only ones out there near where he went missing. They told the boy’s father they hadn’t seen anything, but you are welcome to ask them and maybe they can give you some information that will help.”

Ortiz had the impression that Mr. Duncan was trying to brush him off by handing him over to some flunkies. “Here’s two low-level staffers who don’t know anything. They will be happy to tell you all they know,” was how Ortiz was translating Duncan’s doublespeak.

“Thank you. I will certainly want to talk to them in a bit. But first, I would like to get some information from you about the operation here.” Ortiz took a notepad out of his pocket along with a pen to begin taking notes. Without Duncan noticing, he also started recording the audio on his phone, which he left in his jacket pocket.

“Sure,” Larry began, hoping again that he could lay out what information he wanted to share and it would extinguish further questions. “I am the manager of the project we are working on here at Thermion’s Isla Roca facility. As I am sure you know, Thermion leases this island from the U.S. Government and we do specialized research here.”

“Specialized research,” Ortiz prompted. “What kind of specialized research?”

Duncan had prepared for this. “Mr. Ortiz,” he said. “You are familiar, of course, with GPS. As you know many military systems depend on GPS. The GPS system of satellites was originally created by the DoD in order to provide better navigation systems than what we had previously. And today, a very large number of military systems depend on GPS, and not just ordinary navigation. So-called ‘smart bombs,’ precision-guided munitions, missile guidance systems, you name it. Part of the overwhelming power of the American military is due to GPS.” Duncan paused, and Ortiz responded only with a look that said ‘get to the point.’

So, Duncan continued. “What you might not know is that GPS operates by using precise time signals. This signal is transmitted through the air over a radio transmission from each satellite. A GPS receiver determines its position by calculating differences in time between an array, or a ‘constellation’, of GPS satellites. There are two problems with this,” Duncan ticked off with his fingers, “One, radio signals are not immune to jamming. And two, any timing error results in a position error.” This time Duncan paused, but he would not continue until prompted. A few seconds went by before Ortiz responded.

“Mr. Duncan, I appreciate the lesson in GPS technology. But what are you doing here.”

“Here, we are studying methods of minimizing or eliminating the position error caused by timing errors.”

“Timing errors. Okay. So I mean, what exactly are you doing?”

“We are conducting experiments. We have a small particle accelerator that can be used to induce precise, very small timing errors in atomic clocks here in our lab. These timing errors emulate errors that occur in nature, or that may be caused by human interference, intentional or unintentional. By introducing a controlled error, we can then analyze the effectiveness of our solutions to make navigation systems immune to such errors.”

“Thermion is a defense contractor, is it not? Are you on a government-sponsored research project, or are you working on a device or equipment, precision munitions or whatever, that you intend to sell to the DoD?” Ortiz asked. His B.S. detector was lighting up. He hoped to knock Duncan off balance and get him to reveal something he was supposed to be hiding.

“It’s not a research project. We are developing a navigation system that can be used in precision-guided munitions that will be immune to these timing errors,” Duncan said. Now he was improvising. This line of questioning had better end quickly.

“I’m not sure I understand this,” Ortiz began. Duncan had bitten the hook. Now it was time to start reeling. “You guys have a pretty big operation here. Huge. If I’m not mistaken, you have a staff who lives onsite here on the island. We have satellite photos of a pretty enormous excavation going on here a few years back. There’s a big supply boat that comes here once a week, and it’s dropping off not only food but also equipment, other materials as far as we can tell. I have it on good authority that you have a bunch of buoys with equipment on them that requires some daily service out in the water a half a kilometer off of the coast. You have a small fleet of boats. There’s a nuclear reactor here, for God’s sake. Now forgive me for not being an expert on defense contracts, but this seems like a pretty expensive operation just to research how to build a slightly better navigational system to improve on what are already state-of-the-art precision-guided munitions.”

Ortiz didn’t know the half of it, Larry thought. Below the ground was a supercollider, more expensive by several orders of magnitude than all of the things Ortiz had ticked off. But it was true, Ortiz was onto something, and Duncan was rapidly being backed into a corner. Time to play some defense.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ortiz. What does any of this have to do with a missing boy?” he said.

“I’m just trying to get to the bottom of what you are doing here, so I can determine how likely it is that your operation might be related to our missing person. No offense, Mr. Duncan, but you just fed me a line of bull about this GPS thing. It was very convincing. Lots of background. A detailed story. But it doesn’t make sense. Nobody would spend, what, billions of dollars, renting a private island and building a space-age facility like this, just to make navigation computers. Now why don’t you tell me what’s really going on.”

Duncan looked down at Ortiz’s business card. This was about to get messy. “Mr. Ortiz,” he began. “I want to help you find the lost boy. That is the absolute truth. And I will do everything in my power to make that happen. But much of the work we are doing here is a trade secret. Considering the fact that we are working directly under a DoD contract, some of it may affect national security. There is a limit to what I can tell you and what I can show you here on the facility without a warrant or other court order, and I am prepared to go up to that limit. However, if we have to go past that limit, then I am going to have to send this up the chain, and you and I both know what is at the end of the chain. Why don’t you let me help you as much as I can right now, and then if things have to go further than that, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Duncan hoped his contrite act of diplomacy would appeal to the practical lawman he believed was at the core of ASAC Ray Ortiz’s character.

Ortiz got the message. If he pushed harder, Duncan would clam up and make a call, which would almost definitely shut down Ortiz’s access to this island altogether. Partial answers, half-truths and lies were probably better than no information at all. And if Duncan was serious about offering help, then maybe that left the door open for the search team to search this island as well.

“Okay, Mr. Duncan. I get the hint. We are on the same side here. I just want to find this kid, and really I don’t care about what you are doing on this island except for if it may be involved in this disappearance. Here’s what I’d like to do. We are going to need to search the area near the buoys I mentioned before. The boy was last seen at El Pliegue, which is near the buoys. Also, we may want to search the coastline of the island here, just in case he swam to shore or, God forbid, washed up somewhere. And I will need to have one of our investigators talk to your staff.”

“Okay. I think we can come up with something that will work,” Duncan offered. “How about this. Carl Jacobs, the man who brought you in, along with Aaron West are the most knowledgeable people we have here on the island when it comes to the area out by El Pliegue. They work out there every day. And we have a lot of equipment that may help you in your search, for example if you wanted to search the depths of the sinkhole without having to dive it, we can bring in sonar equipment and other detection devices that will help identify what’s deep below the water. How about if I assign Aaron and Carl as your hosts, and offer our boats and equipment, anything we have, to help find the boy.”

It was a bargain. This wasn’t at all what Ortiz had asked for. But it was not a bad idea. And if it kept Duncan from calling someone who might call in Homeland, then it may be worth it.

“That sounds good to me. But I will need to get a tour of your facility here, and also interview some of your staff.”

“Why don’t we start with the search of the area, and let me check on which staff I can spare and what I can show you without requiring legal counsel,” Duncan offered.

Ortiz decided to take the bird in the hand. He already had a much better idea of what was going on here than he did before he came. Something big was going on, something they were trying to keep secret, and there was definitely something they were hiding. But to get to the bottom of these things would require trust and subtlety. Pressing too hard now would just force the door shut.

“Okay, Mr. Duncan. We’ll start with the search, like you said. You will hear from me or my office again later today.”

  • * *

As soon as Ortiz left his office, Duncan called Carson Lee, Thermion’s CEO, to tell him about the FBI investigation into the missing boy. He cast it as just an unfortunate coincidence, which Lee seemed happy to accept. Larry relayed his concerns that this may impact the Daedalus project schedule. Carson Lee hung up the phone with Larry and then immediately called Senator Todd Burlington, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And just like that, the clock started ticking on Ortiz’s investigation of Isla Roca.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 29

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

While the Grady family dutifully killed time flipping through pictures of others who had been on Joseph’s diving tour, Special Agent Morales continued her investigation. Lieutenant Ramos was heading up the ground search for Joseph Grady, coordinating with detectives from the main island and Culebra. He had that search well in hand.

Morales had been digging in more detail about the Gradys financial situation after Ortiz had interviewed James Grady. Ortiz shared his hunch that James was hiding something but that it wasn’t critical to the case, but they had to be sure. Morales was more suspicious, so she was digging.

First, she found their enormous debt, just a few years ago, that was paid off in one big payment. James had told Ortiz that this was some kind of compensation for a job he did. But he didn’t show this much income on his tax return that year, or the next year. And he never had this much in his bank account.

Then there was the house. The Gradys were living in a rental house when they paid off the three hundred grand. But they bought a house just a month later. And not just any house. This place was nearly a half a million dollars. No mortgage. Cashier’s check. In a six-week period, the Grady family went from living paycheck to paycheck, drowning in debt and crammed into a shoebox rent house, to being nearly debt-free, living in a McMansion with no house payments, and had dropped over three quarters of a million dollars that no record showed they earned. That was odd. So Allison Morales dug deeper.

She didn’t have to dig much until she found the source of the money: a numbered account in a Swiss bank. It is a cliché for a reason. She found the account number but could not get the balance or positively identify the account holder. She assumed it was James’s account, but it could be empty or have a billion dollars in it for all she knew. If she could positively link this money to criminal activity, then they might be able to make a request and get information out of the Swiss bankers but that was a long shot. And of course, there was no direct evidence of criminal activity.

The next link in the chain was known associates. The Grady family were extremely boring people. The boys went to school and had normal friends with other normal boring middle class families. Neither James nor Melissa had any particularly interesting friends. Not a single criminal record among any of them. When looking for coworkers relationships, Morales hit pay dirt: a Federal warrant had been issued for James’s former coworker Tim Chandler for tax evasion. Chandler had executed a short series of extremely lucky forex trades with a net of a few million dollars that he didn’t report to the IRS.

The specifics of this event didn’t make much sense. Chandler was not a forex trader, and as far as she could tell, this was the one and only time he did any forex trading. In fact, he opened an account and then just a few days later closed it after making these trades all on the same day. On the one hand, maybe he was the rare good gambler. He opened a forex account thinking he was going to learn to trade and turn it into a post-retirement career or supplementary income like the day-traders of the nineties, but then he hit the jackpot a couple of times in a row and decided not to press his luck, cashed in his chips and shut it down.

On the other hand, maybe there was some kind of crime: insider trading, illegal tip, gaming the system somehow, and he quit before he could get caught. It was either a well-crafted plan or an astonishing run of good luck. In either case, it was just too much of a coincidence to brush it off. Just a few days after Chandler’s lucky streak, James suddenly paid off his debts and then a month or so later bought a house, all with money from a numbered account. Morales imagined a way these pieces could fit together, even though there was no hard evidence.

Ortiz walked in the door of the Vieques police station just before lunchtime. He noticed the frazzled-looking Grady family gazing into a computer monitor at passport photos, and he dismissed his impulse to find out what they were up to. Busywork, he figured. Morales must have set it up. As he turned into the conference room, Morales rose and closed the door behind him. “Any luck on the island?” she asked.

“Well, yes and no. They have a pretty serious operation going on there, but their boss man, Larry Duncan, tried to pass off a story that they are just doing research on GPS accuracy. It sounded like B.S. to me so I pressed him on it, and he basically admitted that there is more to it but he wouldn’t tell me more without a court order. He threatened to call their lawyers and try and get someone to shut us down from above.”

“He said that?” Morales asked.

“Not in so many words, but that was the implication. He mentioned trade secrets and possible national security. I recorded the conversation on my phone in my pocket and took a few notes. I’ll write it up in a little while. One good thing, though. He did offer to lend us a couple of his guys and whatever equipment we might need including sea floor scanning equipment for us to do a physical search of El Pliegue and the island’s coastline. I get the impression he wants his boys to keep us off of the scent of what they are really doing on the island, but it’s worthwhile to follow up. Keep those guys cooperating and talking, maybe we can crack the shell and get more information out of them without having to get a judge on the line.”

“Yeah, that sounds like good news.”

“Anything new here?” Ortiz asked.

“I think I may have dug up the money thing with James Grady. Here’s the theory. James’s buddy from work, Tim Chandler, runs some forex scheme two years ago where he makes about four and a half million dollars in one day. Opened an account one day, does a couple of trades all on one day just a couple of days later, then shuts it down. All of the trades were winners. Incredible luck. Turns two thousand bucks into four million and change in just one day.”

Ortiz raised his eyebrows and whistled. “How is that possible?” he asked.

“A scam? Luck? Should have bought a Powerball ticket? Who knows.”

“Okay, so what does this have to do with James Grady?”

“I’m getting to that. Let me finish. So this Chandler guy put half of the four and a half million dollars in a numbered bank account, and the same day another numbered account is opened and the same amount is deposited, presumably James Grady’s account. Just a few days after this all goes down, James Grady pays off his settlement debt, and then a month later he gets another four hundred and change to buy a house.”

“Again, how is Grady involved?”

“I’m guessing Grady paid that three hundred grand and paid for the house both from withdrawals from that second numbered account.”

“Coincidence?”

“No way. Can’t be. Too close.”

“Do you have anything solid?” Ortiz asked.

“No, unfortunately. It’s all conjecture.”

“How do we know about this Chandler guy?”

“Federal warrant for tax evasion. He didn’t report the four mil. Once the warrant hit, Chandler got lost. Nobody’s seen him since.”

“What about Chandler’s numbered account?”

“Empty,” she said, making a gesture like an umpire calling a base runner safe. “My guess is he moved the money somewhere else. We could probably find it. If I look.”

“So we really have no proof. Not even Chandler. We don’t know whether that was Grady’s account, and even if it was, we don’t know if it a result of the same trade as Chandler—”

“We don’t know that yet.” Morales insisted.

“Okay, yet, but even if we did, this is not proof of a crime. Even if James Grady did get money from Chandler’s forex deal to pay off his debts, it’s not ill-gotten gains. They just have Chandler for tax evasion, and he’s not even been convicted or even arrested yet. This is nothing, Allison. Only possible thing we’d have is if, and I mean if, we could link all of this together, then James may also owe some taxes on the, what, seven fifty? That’s not our job.”

“But—” Morales started before Ortiz cut her off.

And, sounds unlikely that Chandler would give James the whole four mil. So he’s probably living on part of it. Costs a lot to live on the run. So the seven fifty may have been all James ever got. Even if he had the whole four mil, there’s only three and change left. That’s not a kidnapping motive. This is not worth chasing down. Sounds to me like what we’ve done—with circumstantial evidence that depends on a partnership between James and Chandler that we have not yet established—is eliminate drugs, guns or any other criminal motive from the potential kidnapping case.”

Special Agent Morales considered this. She didn’t like it, but Ortiz was right. Half of Chandler’s take on his forex deal, minus the house and the settlement, was not nearly enough for a kidnapping motive. And if this was their source of money, then it wasn’t some big criminal enterprise. There were plenty of questions and possibilities but the chances that they would turn up something juicy were slim. “Yeah, Ray,” she said. “I guess you’re right.”

“You probably solved the riddle, and if there was a crime there to investigate then you’d be well on your way. But we have to find a lost kid, so all that matters in this is whether it is a kidnapping motive. Sounds to me like James Grady’s money, however shady it is, is not the type to attract kidnappers. You got this in the file?”

“Yeah. I put the theory in the file, possible connection to Chandler, all that.”

“If we don’t turn anything else up, then we may dig some more in this. For now, let’s just put it on the back burner.”

“Right,” she said, looking at her shoes.

“You got the family looking at mug shots?”

“They showed up here this morning gung-ho to do something, so I have them looking at the passport photos of the other people from the dive tour to see if they recognize anyone.”

“Not going to do any good. I guess there’s a slim chance they find someone and we can get some info, but most likely…”

“Yeah, it was just something to keep them busy and out of our hair.”

Just then Ortiz had an idea of how to kill two birds with one stone. “Come with me,” he instructed Morales. She followed him into the office where the coastline poring over pictures.

“Hey guys,” Ortiz said with a chipper inflection. “Find anything in there?”

“No,” Eli replied. “We recognize most of these people but none stuck out as having talked to Joseph.”

“Yeah, that happens. No big deal. But there’s something else we need you to do.”

“Oh?” Melissa said, perking up.

“Yeah. I just got back from Isla Roca. Talked to the head of the project there. He offered to assign two of his guys to help us search the island’s shore and El Pliegue, and also offered up boats and other equipment we might need. I’d like to send you guys out there to take him up on his offer. Get our detective from Culebra,” he snapped his fingers a few times to recall his name.

“Vega,” Morales said.

“Detective Vega. Get him to go along with you, help direct the search effort. You guys can comb the area where you last saw him while we continue looking here, in Fajardo and on Culebra. What do you say?”

“When do we leave?” James said.

“As soon as I can round up Detective Vega,” Ortiz said.

“Then sign us up,” James said. He was sick of the useless task looking through these photos. They needed to be in the fight.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 30

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

As it turned out, Ray Ortiz didn’t have to round up Detective Vega. He was already on his way along with the two detectives from Fajardo, Rivera and Torres. They had a one o’clock “task force” meeting with Lieutenant Ramos, Morales and Ortiz at the Vieques police department in their temporary command post. Ortiz held off on sending the Grady family back over to Isla Roca until after the briefing was finished. He didn’t want to pull Vega off of a critical search vector if one was identified.

The task force detectives, along with patrol officers on Culebra, Vieques and in Fajardo, had turned over every rock and questioned everybody who might have had a chance to see a seventeen-year-old Norte Americano boy, but they had turned up nothing. At least, they turned up nothing on Joseph.

The questioning did yield some interesting responses from the locals. A few missing persons reports were already on the books from the past twenty-four months where the missing had last been seen near El Pliegue. These remained unsolved. It was assumed that the missing had drowned, but having not produced a body, each case remained open. On top of these existing reports, many anecdotal reports came in—more like recent folklore—of mysterious things happening at El Pliegue. They would be easily dismissed as ghost stories if not for the consistency and number of them. Things, it seemed, had a way of disappearing near El Pliegue.

Now, this was perfectly reasonable. El Pliegue is a seven hundred foot deep sinkhole that is an impenetrable patch of midnight blue in a sea of otherwise crystal clear waters, in stark contrast with the whole of the area. If you drop an object off of your boat, such as a fishing net, SCUBA tank, that kind of thing, then ordinarily you can see it beneath these picturesque waters of the Caribbean. Then it is a simple matter to dive down and retrieve it, or say goodbye to it forever. However, if you lose something over El Pliegue, it’s going to sink to a place where not only can you not see it, but you can’t dive down and get it, even with SCUBA equipment. It takes specialized equipment and experience to dive to the bottom of El Pliegue. It’s just not done.

However, the reports were not of small objects you often lose in the ocean like nets or tanks. Entire boats are reported to have disappeared, complete with their contents, leaving no sign. Objects that ordinarily float, like oars and kayaks, are said to have disappeared from the surface of the water, sinking immediately, not to be seen again. While the rational among the task force sharing these reports sought reasonable explanations for these mysterious reports, such as a vortex sucking up floating things, there was a troubling sense from the locals that they actively avoid the place. The only boats that have been reported in the area over the past few years are the ubiquitous diving tour boats like the ones Joseph and his brothers were on, and the mysterious Zodiacs launched from Isla Roca. Everyone else, including ferry operators, yachtsmen, deep-sea fishermen, and other tour guides, avoid El Pliegue completely. This complete sense of dread from those familiar with the place was unsettling to the task force, and even to the FBI agents present who are ordinarily very disinclined to believe in such nonsense. Nobody missed the irony that they were searching for a lost boy in this area. It is difficult to dismiss reports of people and things disappearing from El Pliegue when your very mission is to find such a missing person.

In addition to the “Bermuda Triangle” styled reports of El Pliegue, there also was reported a consistent sense of distrust and suspicion towards the inhabitants of Isla Roca. Every person who didn’t think that El Pliegue must have swallowed Joseph whole thought that somehow the “military” facility at Isla Roca must be to blame. There was a strong sense that even though Isla Roca was supposedly in use by a private company, it really was the American military pulling the strings. And Puerto Ricans, especially those on these islands, have a strong suspicion of the American military.

While the locals’ theories and suspicions reported by the task force were legion, real leads to find Joseph Grady were totally nonexistent. Given the summary of these reports, it became tempting for Ray Ortiz to give up hope and assume that indeed El Pliegue had swallowed up Joseph Grady, if not literally then figuratively, and he had drowned. But that was an investigative cop-out. It’s a non-answer, and until they had a body, it was not provable. So Ortiz pushed that theory to the back of the list and refocused the task force on finding Joseph on dry ground.

Once the task force briefing had concluded, Detective Alex Vega was tasked with escorting the Grady family out to Isla Roca by way of the FBI helicopter, where they were to commence the search of the island’s shores and the depths of El Pliegue with the assistance of Thermion’s men wielding a wealth of equipment. Ortiz gave Vega instructions and handed off this leg of the investigation to him, while in the back of his mind processing with horror the possibility that he may be sending the Grady family directly to where they would find Joseph’s dead body. But he still refused to accept that Joseph was dead and all was lost. They would find him. He was sending Vega and the Gradys on a fool’s errand. He was sure of it.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 31

Arlington, Virginia

Carson Lee had been concerned with Larry Duncan’s dragging schedule for years now. His concern for this project had been simmering for quite a long time, but he kept giving Larry more rope, more money, more personnel, more time. After the discovery of gravium by Larry and his big-brained team, the project took off like a rocket. A huge outpouring of money and resources, completion of the facility in Puerto Rico and putting everything in motion to defend against corporate espionage as well as the prying eyes of his own government had been shifted into high gear. If word of what they had discovered were to get out into the scientific community, it would be no time before scientists all over the world would be reproducing the same results as Thermion had, and then this would turn into a race amongst some very formidable competition. Daedalus was only as valuable as it was primarily because only the U.S. would have it. But if the Chinese were to develop something similar and then sell it to Iran or Russia, then not only would that be very bad for America’s peacekeeping efforts around the world and defense of her homeland, but it would also likely spell the ruin of Thermion. They had doubled down time and again on this project. It had to pay off or they were going to lose it all.

Not only did Thermion have to defend against technological thievery, but also other players within the U.S. Government were a serious threat to the project’s success. In this business it’s all about money, and keeping the money flowing is all about politics. From Carson Lee’s viewpoint, half of the Congress were jealous of the money coming his way for this super-secret project and wanted to bring that bacon home to buy votes from their own constituents, and the other half were blindly suspicious of their work. They seemed to think, maybe it was a secret project that did nothing but waste American tax dollars, maybe it was a secret project to develop some evil technology that would do untold harm to America’s citizens and her allies. The lunatic fringe would always be suspicious of any defense project, preferring to believe that money spent on the national defense was a down payment on violence and just fed some kind of “war machine.” To these people, Carson Lee suspected, we should instead spend that money only on education, welfare, jobs programs, government-funded health care, and any other veiled vote-buying scheme to prevent people from relying on themselves. Protecting American troops abroad did not buy many votes, and the truth was most of the troops’ votes were not really for sale anyway. But a billion dollars would feed and clothe a whole lot of unemployed single moms’ families and prop up plenty of economically-destitute American cities, and all of these affected people would be sure to show their appreciation at the ballot box.

Carson Lee told himself this, and even made himself to believe it. But the fact remained that Uncle Sam was a seemingly infinite source of money and power, and Carson Lee controlled a big slice of that pie without having to get a single person to vote for him. Well, that was not entirely true. He had to get one person to vote for him, or at least to vote for him to keep getting the money. That person was Senator Todd Burlington. And that’s why Carson Lee found himself on the phone with the good Senator at this very moment.

“Thanks for getting back to me on quick notice, Todd. We might have a problem in Puerto Rico that you can help with,” Lee stated.

“A problem. You mean, another problem. It is always a problem down there. When are you going to call me with some results? Never mind,” Senator Burlington said. “What’s the problem?”

“Well, we are right on the cusp of some breakthroughs on Daedalus, but key members of our team are being distracted by an investigation by the FBI. It seems some teenager from Texas has gone missing near our island and we had a visit this morning from the Assistant Special Agent in Charge from the San Juan office.”

“FBI, huh? What did this agent do during his visit?”

“He just had a sit-down with Larry Duncan. Larry told him we were doing GPS research but he thinks the agent didn’t buy it. They want to search the island, and he asked some uncomfortable questions that got Larry squirming.”

“What did Larry tell him?”

“Nothing. He stuck to the party line. We’re doing GPS research, you want to know more you had better get a court order, that kind of thing. The FBI guy backed down but they are almost certainly going to come back and make another run at a search. They might be able to get a district judge to sign a warrant, and if they do then they definitely are going to want to look under the covers at what we are doing there. But even if they don’t, we can’t afford to have to babysit the Feds or put our work on hold while they sort this out.”

“Why haven’t I heard about this lost kid until now?”

“Seems pretty fresh. I guess it hasn’t hit the news cycle yet. Plus this isn’t L.A. or Miami. It’s going to take something special to get the media spun up in Puerto Rico.”

“Alright, well, we need to keep that from happening. This problem may be bigger than you think,” Burlington said. The fact, as he knew, was that a missing American teenager vacationing in Puerto Rico would be national news, and as soon as any reporter got a whiff that there was an investigation going on, then they would lose control of the situation quickly. A public outcry to investigate Isla Roca and Thermion would be difficult to suppress. The last thing they needed were news helicopters and reporters making reports from the dock right outside Daedalus’ headquarters on national TV. “We have to make this investigation stop right now. The best way to do that is to find the kid. I know you are worried about the schedule but the reality is that we can afford the delay much easier than we can afford the media circus of a lost teenager on an island paradise. Remember Natalie Holloway? That was on the twenty-four-hour news cycle on all of the major networks for months,” Burlington explained, referring to an American teenager who had gone missing in Aruba about a decade before.

“No, Todd. I need you to shut down the FBI. We can’t have them poking around there. Who knows what technical experts they will bring in? Who knows who they will leak this to? We can’t contain this down there.”

“Look, Carson, if I try to shut this down from my end then it’s just going to raise the stakes and invite all of the conspiracy nuts to start digging. Right now it’s just a lost kid that happens to be near your island, right? We need to keep the attention on the lost kid and not your island. The best way to do that is to help the FBI find the kid, and help them to not find your lab. The media will follow the FBI’s scent. We can control them by controlling the FBI investigation. And I don’t need the FBI fighting back.”

“So what do you want me to do?” Carson Lee asked the Senator.

“Full court press. As soon as this news gets to me through normal channels, I will press for us to provide extra help from Washington. We’ll throw more FBI agents, Marshal’s service, Coast Guard, whatever it takes at this to find the kid. We’ll stack the deck. Until that happens, you need to get your guys down in Puerto Rico to do the same. Put the project on hold and make it your mission to help find this kid. Once we find him, then the circus ends and we can get back to business.”

Carson Lee marveled that this was exactly what Duncan had already done, instinctively. Maybe that guy wasn’t just a single-purpose geek after all. “We already started that, and I’ll tell Larry to double down. We have a lot of resources we can bring to bear down there. But you have to keep the FBI from entering the facility. Whatever you can do, do it.”

“I will. Just keep calm and help with the investigation. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. We don’t need to do damage control until there is damage. Got it?”

“Alright.”

“Keep me in the loop, Carson. My neck is on the line just like yours.”

“You have got that right,” Carson said, unintentionally threatening, echoing an uncomfortable truth. In response, Senator Burlington hung up.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 32

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

As Ray Ortiz watched the helicopter carrying the Grady family and Detective Vega take off on its mission back to Isla Roca, Special Agent Morales shouted over the rotor noise to get his attention and direct him back into the building. “Ray,” she beckoned.

Ortiz followed her back into the building and upon entering the conference room he noted troubled faces of the other officers in the room. “It’s out,” Morales informed him.

“What’s out?” Ortiz asked.

“That was Amanda Delgado, a reporter from WORA TV,” Lieutenant Ramos said as he hung up his cell phone. “She was asking for a quote about the search for Joseph Grady.”

“You told her ‘no comment,’” Ortiz said.

“Of course.”

“AP already has the story,” Morales said, looking to her laptop screen where the story was displayed.

FBI SEARCHES FOR MISSING TEXAS TEEN

[_ SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP)- The FBI and local law enforcement are engaged in a search for Joseph Grady, age seventeen, of Houston, Texas, who has been missing since Monday evening, according to an unnamed police source. Grady reportedly did not return from a group diving trip near the island of Culebra late Monday afternoon. The FBI could not be reached for comment. _]

Culebra is one of many small islands in Peurto Rico and is often visited by American tourists on short day trips from Puerto Rico’s main island.

Police are questioning all of the tour operators who work here,” said Mike Gomez, owner of tour company Goventure in Fajardo. “I think they hope another boat picked him up.”

Joseph Grady and his two brothers were on a tour with Isla Bonita SCUBA from Vieques on Monday. Isla Bonita SCUBA offers diving tours around the Puerto Rico islands daily.

The FBI is coordinating the search for Grady. They have not released an official statement.

“Who leaked this?” Ortiz asked, looking around the room at the two Detectives from Fajardo, Ramos and Special Agent Morales. Nobody confessed.

“It was bound to come out soon enough. We should have already released a statement,” said Ramos.

“It hasn’t been forty-eight hours yet,” countered Morales.

“Well we don’t have a choice now,” said Ortiz. “Lieutenant, can you arrange a press conference for this afternoon? We need to get in control of the story.” Ramos nodded and began to dial his phone and step out of the room.

  • * *

The press conference was scheduled for two o’clock, which didn’t leave Ortiz enough time to report the status of the investigation to the Special Agent in Charge in San Juan, or so he told himself. It would be better to wait to talk to the SAC until after the presser was over.

At two minutes after two, Ray Ortiz straightened up his tie and went to the steps in front of the Vieques police department, flanked by Ramos, Morales, and the two detectives from Fajardo. A small contingent of reporters was waiting for him there.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming on short notice. I am Ray Ortiz, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in San Juan. On Monday evening my office was contacted by Lieutenant Ramos from the Vieques police department here to report a possible missing person, Joseph Grady of Houston, Texas.” Ortiz continued in his overview of the case for the benefit of the press without mentioning Isla Roca or Thermion. He concluded saying that the investigation was ongoing and he appreciates any information that anyone may have that would help them find Joseph. And then he opened the floor for questions, and most of the reporters’ hands went up. Ortiz called on a compact woman in front.

“Do you believe Joseph Grady is a runaway?” she asked.

“We have not found him yet, and so we can’t speculate as to his motivation for leaving, if in fact he has left of his own will,” Ortiz said briefly, and attempted to call the next reporter but the first interrupted with a follow-up question.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, silencing the other reporters, “But if he is not a runaway, what is the motivation? Is this a kidnapping?” The buzz among the reporters erupted into a low roar. Ortiz sought to put a lid on it.

“We have no reason to believe this is a kidnapping at this time,” Ortiz said firmly. “Sir,” he said, calling on another reporter, before the first could begin talking again.

“Who are Joseph Grady’s parents? Is his family wealthy or politically connected?” the reporter asked. Ortiz could see where this was going. Kidnapped VIP teen from Houston was a juicy story. Random kid who wandered off and would turn up any minute was not.

“We have no evidence that Mr. and Mrs. Grady are wealthy or have political connections. Now, if that is all, we must get back to the search for Joseph Grady. Thank you for your time,” Ortiz said and then immediately retreated back into the police station double-time, in defiance of the shouts of the reporters he left behind.

“Allison, are you sure you got everything on the kidnapping angle?” Ortiz asked.

“I told you everything I know about it earlier. If the Gradys are rich, they are hiding it from everyone including us. You said it yourself, doesn’t sound like kidnapping,” she said.

“Well we had better be double sure. Those reporters are on the scent of a kidnapping story and we need to make sure they don’t discover something we don’t know. Maybe get Rivera and Torres to check into a possible drug motive.”

“But you said—” Allison began.

“Yeah, I know what I said. I still don’t think it’s a kidnapping, and I don’t think it’s drugs. But I think those reporters are going to ask about it and someone in the Fajardo police is in their pocket. So we need to know what they are going to tell the media, even if it is thin.”

“Okay. Want me to pull Rivera and Torres off of the ground search then?”

Ortiz sighed, “No. No. Not yet. Get them to run down the drug angle first thing in the morning. Rest of today, we need them turning over stones looking for Joseph Grady.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 33

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

The Gradys, along with Detective Vega, were met by Carl on Thermion’s helipad at the Daedalus facility as soon as they landed. Vega exited the helicopter first and greeted Carl while the Gradys were filing out and the rotors were still turning. “Detective Alex Vega, Fajardo police,” Vega shouted over the rotor noise as he reached out to shake hands with Carl.

“Carl Jacobs,” he responded, directing the new arrivals away from the helipad along the concrete path adjacent to the building. “I assume you were sent by Agent Ortiz.”

“Yes. He said I should talk to Larry Duncan, and that Mr. Duncan offered assistance and equipment to search El Pliegue.”

“That’s right. I will be helping you out, along with Aaron West who is meeting us at the dock with the equipment we will need.”

“And what about Mr. Duncan?”

“Larry is not much use out here. Aaron and I do this every day,” he said, and then looked past Vega toward James. “We met yesterday out by the buoys,” he said. “I apologize, I forgot your name.”

“James Grady,” he said, shaking Carl’s hand. “This is my wife, Melissa, and you may remember Eli and Mark.” Carl nodded greeting to each of them.

“So, the plan?” Carl asked.

“We are to go search for Joseph Grady at El Pliegue,” Vega said.

“All of us?”

“Yes. All of us,” Melissa responded.

“Alright then, we had better get moving.” Carl promptly led them to the dock to meet up with Aaron. The dock was a long walk from the helipad, nearly a quarter of a mile, but Carl didn’t look back or encourage additional conversation. Frankly, he didn’t think it was a very good idea to take the lost kid’s family out on the water looking for the kid. He knew for sure they weren’t going to find the kid, not alive anyway. And he wasn’t equipped to deal with the grief-stricken family if they found the kid and he wasn’t alive. But, Carl considered, this is really a wild goose chase. Most likely they’d go out and troll over El Pliegue doing a sonar mapping of the bottom, and they might find something that might be the kid but there would be no way to know for sure without diving. If the kid drowned in El Pliegue while SCUBA diving, he’d sink to the bottom of a seven hundred foot deep sinkhole and not even Thermion had the equipment necessary to dive down there to check anything out. So, what was the point?

They arrived at the dock and Aaron was there waiting with equipment already loaded in one of Thermion’s Zodiacs. When he saw the approaching posse he realized that they would be exceeding the capacity of one Zodiac with seven people plus the equipment. “Hey Carl,” he said as Carl made his way onto the dock.

“Aaron. This is Detective Vega and the Grady family. They want to go out to El Pliegue and do a sonar search.” Carl turned around, “Guys, this is Aaron West, another one of our scientists.”

Detective Vega stepped forward and addressed Aaron. “What is it exactly that you do here, Mr. West?”

Aaron had been prepped on how to respond to these questions. “Mostly we do research,” he said. “On GPS vulnerabilities.” It didn’t feel right to lie to these people, but Aaron had convinced himself that this statement, by itself, was not entirely false.

“GPS. Yes,” Vega said. “Then why all of the boats?”

“Well, we’re on a tiny island here. If we need anything that didn’t arrive on a weekly supply boat, we have to go get it, and the boats are a lot cheaper than your chopper. Or if we need to shuttle people on or off of the island here, we use these Zodiacs.”

James interjected, “Yesterday you were out working on some equipment out in the water.”

“Yeah, we have been doing some GPS testing that required us to set up a grid of GPS receivers, and four of them had to be out in the water attached to buoys,” Carl said.

GPS receivers in a grid, James thought. A big enough grid that it went off of the shore of the island a few hundred yards to El Pliegue. What kind of GPS experiment would use this kind of grid? He asked himself. The engineer in James was curious. Something was going on that didn’t precisely add up. If they were testing GPS vulnerabilities, as Aaron West had just said, then you would only need one GPS receiver.

James knew about testing vulnerabilities. You have one target and you launch whatever attack against that target in order to see how it handles the attack. Whatever holes there were, those are your vulnerabilities. It would be the same whether testing networks, like James did routinely, or testing GPS receivers. The principle is similar. But a grid. A grid would be deployed in order to locate something. But what would you locate with a grid of GPS receivers? There had to be something missing from this story. Were the GPS receivers just an accessory to some other sensor that sensed the presence of the thing you are locating? That would make sense. Or was there something about GPS receivers themselves that made them sensitive to the presence of whatever thing these Thermion guys were trying to locate? And speaking of which, what thing do you need to locate out here, above the surface of the water or land? Something you can’t see. James’s radar was beginning to ping. What is it? He asked himself. And then it occurred to him: these Thermion guys had lost something out here too. Could this possibly be related? Is this too much of a coincidence?

James decided he shouldn’t bring this question up just now. He needed to pay attention to these scientists’ every move and see if he could pick up on some clues on what they were really up to, but he had the sense that they were not telling the whole truth right now and if he probed too much they might shift to full-on lies. But he couldn’t shake the suspicion that whatever they were looking for was related to Joseph’s disappearance, and maybe whatever they were doing to find their lost thing could also find Joseph.

Instead of following up his thoughts with further inquiry, James decided to try and move them from conversation towards action. “So if you guys are doing GPS research, then I guess you have a pretty solid sense of the geography of this place. Looks like we came to the right place to get help with a search. When can we get started?”

“Well, we need to come up with a plan,” Aaron said. “You see, each Zodiac has a capacity of only seven people, but that’s with no extra equipment. We have some extra sonar equipment loaded up on this boat for mapping what’s at the bottom of El Pliegue, so really there’s only room for five in addition to the sonar rig.”

“We’ll have to take two boats,” Melissa said.

“Yeah, that’s no problem. We can take two boats. But maybe we can cover more area with two boats,” Aaron said.

“You mean, split up. One group goes to El Pliegue and the other, somewhere else?” James said.

“Something like that,” Aaron said.

“Tell you what. Let’s have Aaron take a couple of you with him out to El Pliegue and map with the sonar. I’ll take another boat and the rest of you with me and we’ll search the coastline. The water is super clear and we have plenty of daylight left today,” Carl offered.

“Me and Eli will go with Mr. West to El Pliegue,” Melissa said. “And James, you can take Mark and Detective Vega with you to search the coast.”

James considered this. He wanted to be out there at El Pliegue himself. It felt like being on the J.V. team to go back to the coast to search. But on the other hand, if the worst were to happen, and Joseph turned up on the coast in less than perfect health, then he didn’t want Melissa to be the one to find him.

“Do you have SCUBA equipment?” James asked Carl.

“Yeah, we can load it up. Why?”

“Get it. I’ll take Eli with me and Detective Vega to search the coast with Carl here,” he said. “That way if we need to do any diving, Eli can do it, he’s a pro. No point in diving out at El Pliegue because it’s just too deep, like he said. Sound like a plan?”

“I guess I’m with you,” Mark said to his mother.

“Well then let’s get moving!” Melissa said. Carl and Aaron insisted that everyone wear a life vest, citing his desire that they not expand the search to include members of the current search party. Carl retrieved two SCUBA rigs for his boat.

Detective Vega felt like a fifth wheel. This was not his idea of police work. He was beginning to realize that he was babysitting, and that Ortiz had sent him out here with the Gradys mostly to keep them busy and out of the way. But he boarded the Zodiac along with Carl, James and Eli without complaint.

Both boats were launched and Grady family members waved at one another as they departed. James sincerely hoped they all would fail to find anything. He came to the grave realization that the chances of finding Joseph unharmed out here on this rock were almost zero.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 34

Arlington, Virginia

“Are you watching Fox News?” Carson Lee heard Senator Burlington ask over the phone.

“No. What is it?”

“Turn it on.”

Lee turned on the TV in his office and tuned it to the Fox News Channel. He had caught the talking head mid-sentence. “…family vacation in Vieques, an island in the east of Puerto Rico.” He watched as the video changed to a shaky video obviously taken from a phone with a banner overlaid at the bottom, which read, “Ray Ortiz, FBI Press Conference”. He noticed the crawl across the bottom of the screen telling the breaking story of a lost teenager from Texas as he heard Ortiz begin talking.

“When was the press conference?” Lee asked Todd Burlington.

“Half hour ago. Two o’clock. AP ran the story at around noon and then the feeding frenzy started.”

Just then Lee heard the FBI agent say, “We have no reason to believe this is a kidnapping at this time.”

“Kidnapping? Do they think the kid was kidnapped?” Lee asked Burlington on the phone.

“I don’t know. You are getting this information at the same time I am. I have a call into Director Flanagan to get more information, but she hasn’t called back yet,” Todd Burlington said, referring to the director of the FBI in Washington.

“Is there any mention of Thermion?”

“I don’t think so. Not yet. But it won’t take long for the reporters to catch on, figure out who is on that island. Then they’re going to start digging. You know what this means,” he said.

“Yeah. I’ll call Larry and tell him to expect a lot more company down there. And I’m going to get on a plane this afternoon,” Carson Lee said.

“I think that’s a good idea. I don’t know exactly how long it will take, but I expect the Coast Guard to be knocking on your door before sunset. If not sooner. Get ready. Put the project on hold. Make sure nobody talks to the press or anyone else. I’ll try to keep Homeland out of this. If they get a hint of—”

“Yeah, I know. You don’t have to tell me again. Everyone knows what to do.”

“Make sure they do.” Senator Burlington said, and then hung up the phone.

Carson Lee dialed Larry Duncan’s office and Larry picked up on the first ring. “Larry,” Carson said. “You need to get ready for visitors.”

“They’re already here. Carl and Aaron each took a Zodiac out with a detective from Culebra and the kid’s family to search the coast and do a sonar map of El Pliegue.” Duncan said.

“Different visitors. Coast Guard and more FBI at least. Figure out where you are going to put them, they probably will want to set up a command post of some kind and we need to let them. Shut down the Daedalus. We can’t afford anyone to go sniffing around. Backup story is live for everyone. And make sure nobody talks, not to the FBI or to the Coast Guard.”

“Carson, that’s not going to work. We are going to have to talk to these guys. I’ll put Carl and Aaron on point for this and I’ll stay in it myself.”

“Okay, but only you, Carl and Aaron. Make sure they know exactly what to say. For God’s sake, don’t let Kyle or Laurie talk to the Feds.”

“Will do.”

“I’m getting on the Gulfstream. Should be there by eight. See you then.” He clicked off.

And so it begins, Duncan thought.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 35

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Special Agent Morales was joined by Lieutenant Ramos at the conference table, and the Fajardo detectives Rivera and Torres were called in to the speakerphone as Ortiz began the impromptu briefing. “Okay, here’s the situation. Since the press conference, a lot of heat is coming down on our investigation because one reporter had cell phone video that has been playing on cable news channels since about two thirty. By the time I called my SAC in San Juan, Director Flanagan had already called him from Washington.”

“Is Flanagan coming down here?” Morales asked.

“No, but Otero is, and he’s bringing Miller and Casas,” Ortiz said. “I need everyone to make sure they have their notes in order, because we will have another briefing with SAC Otero, it’s looking like six o’clock. Everybody know what they need to bring to the table? Ramos, you can give us the ground search results. Allison, you’re on kidnapping motive. Let’s get some results so we have something to show for the past…” Ortiz looked at his watch, “It’ll be forty-eight hours. This thing is all the way public. After our briefing I am sure SAC Otero is going to do another press conference, so we need to give him something to talk about.”

There were nods from the people in the room, and then Ortiz adjourned the meeting and the team went back to their searches.

Special Agent Morales had been digging into the drug angle an hour before the briefing. She began by interviewing Fajardo narcotics detectives over the phone. They detailed much of what Morales already knew about drug trafficking and who the major players were in Puerto Rico, and given Fajardo’s location, the Fajardo to Culebra route was a well-known gateway to the Eastern Caribbean islands for drug trafficking. However, none of what the detectives told her made Morales believe the Gradys could be involved in any way. And kidnapping a random Norte Americano teenager was just not the modus operandi of the Puerto Rican drug runners.

Morales still wanted to run down kidnapping, even if it was not related to drugs. That left the Gradys’ mysterious financial state. To be sure, she would need to get more information about what she believed was James’s numbered account. To do that would take a warrant.

After the briefing Ortiz remained in the conference room command center and was just hanging up his phone after telling the helicopter pilot to return to Vieques when Morales approached him. “Ray, I just finished talking with the Fajardo narco detectives and it looks like that’s just going to be a dead end. They said that a random kidnapping of an American teen is not something the drug runners here would do.”

“Random, sure. But what if it’s not random? You’re sure the Gradys are not connected?”

“We are on day number two of this investigation,” she responded a little too defensively. “There’s no way to be sure. It’d take a month of looking into this guy, digging into all of his activities, local Houston cops helping, you name it. No, we’re not sure. But it really isn’t looking like drugs are part of the mix.”

“Okay. You see this?” Ortiz gestured towards the TV they had pulled in showing Fox News continuing coverage of Joseph Grady’s disappearance. “This… circus? It’s just getting started. By this time tomorrow Joseph Grady will be a household name in all of America. You and me will probably be assigned to a task force to find him, and as long as those reporters are digging and doing remotes with their cell phone cameras, we will be putting everything else on hold while we search for this kid. We don’t have a month. Is there any way to find out for sure if it’s drugs, or what kidnapping angle it could be?”

“This is all over the TV,” she said. “If it was kidnapping, wouldn’t we have a ransom demand by now?”

“We might, but maybe the Gradys have been contacted directly. I sent them out with Vega to look around El Pliegue.”

“Do you think they’d tell us if they got the call? Or how would they even get a call? Can they get a cell phone call out there?”

“One way to find the answer to both questions. I’ll talk to them. What about their family back in Texas? Do they have relatives that might have gotten the call? We were so focused on James Grady’s cagy reaction about his sudden wealth that we might have overlooked an obvious family connection. Do they have family money?”

“I don’t know. I’ll dig. But speaking of that, we need to get into James’s numbered account at HSBC in Switzerland. We don’t know if it’s ten dollars or ten million. And if it’s ten million then that changes everything. Plus, if he has gotten a ransom demand, if he’s keeping the money secret don’t you think he’d keep the ransom demand secret too?”

“That’s a good point,” Ortiz conceded. “But he seems motivated to find his son, and he’s out there on a boat searching in some sinkhole. You think if he thought, or knew, that, A., he had ten million dollars that some bad guys knew about, and B., he had been contacted for a ransom payment, that he’d be out there looking for his kid when he knows damn well exactly where the kid is?”

Allison Morales looked at the floor, considered this for a beat, and then responded. “That is all the more reason we need to know what’s in that account,” she said. “We need a warrant. We need to get moving on it now. It’s going to take some time even after our judge issues it to get them to open it up.”

“What do we have to go on? There’s no crime that we can pin on James Grady. No cause for a warrant.”

“Tax evasion?” Morales suggested.

“We don’t have evidence of that, do we? No IRS record, no indication of payment for services, besides James’s own statement, which we both agree, is full of holes. Not nearly enough for a warrant. Look, if James is motivated to find his kid then maybe he’ll be more forthcoming. Yesterday when we talked, we all thought maybe the kid had just wandered off or found a girl, that he’d turn up any minute. Now that we have another twenty-four hours of investigation behind us, with a team of detectives with nothing to show for it, maybe he’ll be a little more open.”

“You going to call him?” she asked.

“No, I’m going to wait to ask him about this until we can do it face to face. Otero is going to be here in less than an hour, then I will go back out to Isla Roca myself and I’ll ask him then. I just got off the phone with the pilot and the chopper’s on the way back right now.”

“Whatever you say. I don’t think he’s going to tell us anything,” Morales said.

“Well I hope you’re wrong, because we don’t have time to find out your way, and we can’t afford to make enemies out of the family on national TV. At least not until we know for sure they are dirty. And right now, I don’t think they are.”

Morales knew the conversation was over and Ortiz turned to walk out of the conference room. She didn’t like depending on the honesty of citizens, since all of her experience indicated that people lie. And she knew without a doubt that James Grady was hiding something, and his family was covering for him. She wanted to know what it was, and she would keep digging, even if the ASAC was convinced that James was the good guy. It was Ortiz’s neck on the line, so she’d do it his way. But she’d work on the backup plan. Time to find a back door into that bank account. Time to find out about the family back home. Time to call her friend in the cyber division.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 36

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Laurie Carter sat assembled in Larry Duncan’s office with the three other team leaders of the Daedalus project including Kyle Martin. Larry had been distracted with something most of the day, visitors to the island and meetings with Carl Jacobs. Besides that he’d holed up in his office, which was unusual for Larry, ordinarily a hands-on working manager. Kyle had also seemed focused on some project of his own, although he’d been pinging Laurie for data dumps of their test results and config data throughout the day. He, too, had spent the day in his office. For her part, Laurie had been ruminating in the control room, hoping for a distraction to come along to rescue her from her thoughts, like a request to run another experiment or make an adjustment to the parameters on Daedalus. She was mystified about the missing hard disk drive. How did that plan not work? Or did it? How could they know? She wasn’t used to considering these ideas, the simplest of which were brazenly illogical and an affront to any scientist’s belief in reason. She wondered how Kyle and Larry kept it together.

“Team,” Larry Duncan began. “We have a minor distraction that’s going to require some special treatment. It seems a teenage boy has gone missing, possibly near Isla Roca. I had a visit from the FBI earlier today, and Carl and Aaron are presently escorting detectives and the family on a search of El Pliegue.”

“El Pliegue? You mean that sinkhole? The kid went missing there?”

“Well, that’s a theory, and not a particularly bad theory. The kid was on a diving tour out there, Carl says they have them out there daily where tourists go diving over the sinkhole. The kid never made it back from the tour. They figure maybe he drowned.”

“That’s terrible,” said Laurie.

“Yeah, it’s heartbreaking,” Larry said, only slightly sarcastically. “But the fact is that the FBI and maybe even reporters and local cops are probably going to be showing up here, poking around, asking questions. We are hoping that by sending Carl and Aaron out with some Zodiacs to help them search, we could either turn up the body quickly or establish that the kid isn’t here, but we are going to err on the side of caution. We need to shut down all work on Daedalus until further notice. Power it all down, close up and lock the lab, lights off, you name it. Everyone will remain in the dorms and don’t talk to any visitors. If you are approached for questioning by the FBI, police, or a reporter, then send them to me.”

“That’s kind of extreme, don’t you think?” Kyle said.

“Yeah, but it’s not my call. Carson Lee made the call. But it’s still probably a good idea. We don’t even know what’s going on with our own project right now, not absolutely, and we don’t need it advertised on national TV. Plus, you know these Puerto Ricans are not all that friendly with the DoD, and I’m sure that includes us. We need to keep this project under the radar. Best way to do that right now is to shut it down. This will blow over in a day or two and we’ll be back in business. Just take a couple of days off. But we have to stay here on the island.”

“Larry, this couldn’t be a worse time to shut this down. I’m—” Kyle began before Duncan cut him off.

“I know, I know. You’re just about to solve our riddle. But we don’t have a choice.”

“I have been running the math again all day. Making sure there wasn’t something we overlooked. I think there’s something we didn’t account for. I’m pretty sure we did create a time loop, and I think I might know why. But we need to do more tests to be sure, and collect some data where we weren’t looking before.”

“We’ll get back on that in a couple of days. Right now, we’re shutting it down. Got it?” Larry commanded. Kyle thought about arguing for a half a second before he bit his tongue. It wasn’t going to do any good. Larry had orders from on high. He might be a scientist, but he still had a job to do.

  • * *

After the meeting broke up, Kyle hustled to catch up to Laurie to enlist her help in one small act of forgivable insubordination. “Laurie, how long does it take to fully shut down Daedalus?” he asked when he caught up to her.

“We haven’t shut it down before. We don’t even have a protocol for it. We’re going to just have to make it up as we go,” she replied as she walked briskly towards the lab. “We’re probably looking at two hours. Why?”

“Maybe we have enough time to sneak in one more test.”

“Larry was pretty adamant—”

“Yeah, I know. But I have an idea and I’m not sure it can wait.”

“Okay. Let’s hear it,” she said as they walked.

“I think we broke two things. One is an assumption, Daedalus whole operating principle, that somehow we can skip across time in an isolated fashion, without a corresponding skip in space. I think the cube in the log proves we are wrong about that. When we skip something through time, it rewinds to its same place in space.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard this theory of yours before. But that would mean we have a time loop, and so we sent the cubes back in time and space, right? That’s the theory?”

“Yeah, that’s the theory.”

“Well then why didn’t the hard drive test work?”

“It was too disruptive, I think. Too ambitious. We didn’t just try to prove that we had a time loop, we tried to use a time loop to our advantage. It’s too much. We need a much, much simpler experiment.”

“Okay, but you said two things. What’s the other thing we broke?”

“Well, we never set out to create a time loop. In fact, we were not even sure of the physics, whether it is even possible. But now we have what looks like evidence of something that previously had been thought to be potentially impossible. We have to establish whether or not this thing is possible, which is why we need to run a test. But we need to also identify how we did this without knowing. And I think I know how, or at least I have an idea. Again it’s the problem with trying to decouple space from time. All of our math is based on time, and time only. But what we overlooked is that when we bend space, we also reorient all of the objects in that space with respect to one another.”

“What do you mean, ‘reorient’?”

“Think for a minute about two objects, each with some mass. Each has its own gravity that pulls on the other object, and the intensity of that gravitational force on each object is inversely proportionate to the distance between the objects. But what if you bend the space between those objects? What happens to the distance between them?”

“It changes? How is that? The distance is measured through space, right? So you bend the space, the distance stays the same.” Laurie said this, even though she had a hard time making sense of it. She knew in theory, it must be correct. She had written millions of lines of computer code based on this assumption. But she still wasn’t sure. Daedalus was not behaving as expected, after all.

“Yeah but we are applying negative gravity with the gravium miniature black holes. Our feedback loop doesn’t take this into account. We know that the gravium has a canceling effect on gravity but not on the time distortion created by the gravity, but we assumed—”

“We assumed it cancels out the space distortion too…” Laurie said, finishing Kyle’s though. “So we are not compensating…” she trailed off, her eyes beginning to sparkle with realization that she was close to a solution.

“Exactly. One more test.” He knew he had set the hook. She was now invested.

“Okay. One more test. But then we are shutting it down, no matter the results.”

“Of course,” Kyle said, meaning it. “We just have to get it all shut down before the cavalry arrives.”

“What’s this test you want to do?” she said as they entered the lab together.

“Just like the hard drive. We send an object, but one we can mark and one we are sure to find, today. One that would not have caused us to destroy it or change it like the hard drive.”

“What did you have in mind?” Laurie asked while Kyle directed them to a workbench with hand tools instead of towards the Daedalus control room as she had expected.

“My class ring,” he said. “I have had it on my right hand for twenty years. I never take it off. I would not notice some tiny change to it unless I was looking, but even if I was, it wouldn’t make me stop wearing it.” Kyle rummaged through the tools on the bench and found what he was looking for: a small pointed impact punch.

“What are you going to do?”

Kyle removed his class ring, and then laid it on the bench. “If I made a mark like an engraving or a scratch, then it would be sort of repaired by taking the trip back in time, if my theory is correct. That’s because I’d be taking material off of the ring by scratching it, and then that material, wherever it is, would just be back there when I send it back. I need to make a change that doesn’t materially change the ring.”

Laurie didn’t fully understand what Kyle was getting at. Obviously he had given this some thought and already had a plan. She let him continue uninterrupted.

“So I’m going to use this punch to create a small dimple in the ring, inside the band,” he said, and then began to line up the punch to make a dimple in the ring, but he stopped suddenly.

“Kyle?” Laurie said, transfixed on the ring he was holding in his hand. “Your ring.”

Kyle stared in stunned silence at the ring in his hand, and then finally said, “it worked.”

“But we didn’t…” Laurie said.

“We must have. We did. We had to,” he said, convincing himself. “Laurie, this proves we made a time loop,” Kyle responded, awestruck, staring at the tiny dimple in the ring as he held it in his hand.

“How…” Laurie trailed off, confused.

“We must have made the dimple, put it in the portal, and then it went back in time. Back onto my finger. Then when we got to this same place in the time line. We went to put the dimple in it, but it already has it. This will kick us out of the loop, because we aren’t going to make the dimple again and put it back in the portal.”

“You mean, in some alternate version of… I don’t understand,” Laurie admitted.

“Neither do I. Not really. But the evidence of it is right here in my hand.”

“We have to tell Larry,” Laurie said.

“Yeah. Are we shutting Daedalus down?” he asked.

“We’d better wait.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 37

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

Michael Otero, the Special Agent in Charge from the FBI outpost in San Juan, arrived in the Vieques police headquarters a few minutes before six o’clock along with two more special agents, Gabriel Casas and Greg Miller. Ortiz met him at the door and brought the additional agents back to the command center they had set up in the conference room.

“Lieutenant, this is Special Agent in Charge, Michael Otero,” Ortiz said to Ramos as he entered the room.

“Miguel Ramos,” he said as he shook hands with the SAC.

“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant. Are you in contact with the detectives working the search?”

“Yes. They are reporting to me for this investigation. Would you like to go over the reports?”

“No, that won’t be necessary. I am sure you and Ortiz have it under control. I am not here to take over,” he said. “Special Agent Morales, can you and Lieutenant Ramos get Miller and Casas up to speed on where we are with the search effort while I have a quick meeting with Ray?”

“Sure,” Morales replied, and directed the new agents to sit at the conference table to join her and Ramos.

“This way,” Ortiz said, and then led Otero across the hall to Ramos’s office for a quick meeting. Ray Ortiz sat down behind Ramos’s desk and Otero stood and paced slow, short strides after closing the door.

“Alright, Ray,” he began. “Like I said on the phone, I’m only down here because Diane Flanagan called. Once this hit the national news, Washington shifted to PR mode and brought out the big guns. I’m sure you and Morales are doing everything that can be done to find this kid. I don’t want to slow you down.”

“Thanks, Mike.” In the small FBI office in San Juan, the agents all had a close rapport. Ortiz genuinely liked his boss and he knew Otero trusted the team to do the right thing. This was a political problem and not a lack of confidence.

“Since I’m here mostly to help with PR, I’ll take over press briefings and handle whatever pushback we get from D.C. I want you to run the whole team including Miller and Casas. I brought them along to help spread the load and knock this out as quickly as possible. Let’s have a five-minute briefing every hour at a quarter after the hour just so I can be up to speed on what’s going on and then I can fight fires and keep the press and Flanagan off our back. Sound good?”

“Sounds perfect,” Ortiz agreed.

“By the way, we’re not the only ones getting pushed on this. They’re doing the full-court press. Since the kid likely went missing in the water, don’t be surprised if the Coast Guard shows up. If they do, we’ll need to assign an agent or two to sit with them but let’s hand over the ocean search completely to them.”

“Maybe Miller and Casas.”

“Sounds about right. And if you’re right about Isla Roca, then you had better bet someone from Thermion is leaning on their connections in Washington to try and get us off of that island. An interagency battle is not what we need.”

“Right. That’s why I went out there myself this morning. And in fact, I think considering the fact that Homeland is likely to show up any minute and boot us off of Isla Roca, I should get back out there as soon as possible and we need to make damn sure the kid is not there before that happens.”

“Good plan. Take Miller and Casas with you. If the Coast Guard is going to show up, that’s probably where they’ll be anyway. They won’t give me a heads-up. I’m going to call a press conference for seven. Anything else I need to know before then?”

“Yeah. Special Agent Morales has been digging hard for any further information on the kidnapping angle. Narco detectives in Fajardo say it’s probably not drug related, this isn’t the right M.O. She still thinks maybe James Grady is hiding big money in a numbered account and she asked me to request a warrant, but I couldn’t come up with any cause. So I’m going to ask Grady myself when I get to Isla Roca.”

“If it’s anything like before, the reporters will be all over kidnapping.”

“Right. And really, we don’t think this is kidnapping.”

“Good. I’ll tell them we have ruled it out so far. Anything else?”

“So far I don’t think they are on the scent out at Isla Roca yet, but they are bound to notice an FBI helicopter shuttling back and forth there. And if the Coast Guard comes, then you better bet the place will be crawling with reporters. Plus, they already know it was a dive trip, and the tour operators got the news on the grapevine before we even started looking. I guarantee you they are going to be looking out at El Pliegue soon, if they are not there already. Thing is, any more attention out there, that will just get us shut down quicker. We need to keep that profile as low as we can, as long as we can.”

“Right,” Otero agreed. “I’ll see if I can’t steer the media back towards the island here, on Vieques. I’ll come up with something. That all?”

“Yeah, that’s all. Now I’d like to get moving back to Isla Roca.”

“What are you waiting for,” Otero said, with mock impatience. “Grab Casas and Miller and get going.”

“Roger, boss.”

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 38

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

“Is it just because it’s too deep?” Mark Grady asked Aaron, who was tinkering with the color touch screen on the side-scan sonar device’s display. Mark thought it reminded him of a high-power scientific version of a fish finder like he’d seen in fancy fishing boats back in Houston. Only this one had a towfish, a five-foot-long torpedo-looking thing attached to a cable that they dropped into the water. This allowed it to more accurately measure at the extreme depth of El Pliegue. They were using it in some sort of 3-D mode to show objects and forms on the bottom of El Pliegue. Unfortunately, it was not giving a coherent image, and Aaron had been adjusting it and trying to get the image to clear up for the better part of an hour. Meanwhile, Melissa and Mark were just wasting time out here, peering into the abyss below, seeing nothing but deep blue.

“No, we can map way deeper than this sinkhole. The problem is just incoherent readings. Like distortion. I’ve never seen anything like it before with this equipment. It’s like…” Aaron trailed off as his mind picked up the thought, it’s like the echo is arriving before the tone is sent.

He didn’t like this thought at all. He and Carl had been right out here in this area measuring extreme time errors even in clocks they had posted in these buoys. Larry suggested they might actually be experiencing time distortion; time was passing faster for the phones than it was for other things. If the sonar tone were to be affected by the same time distortion, then it would be heard by the sensor earlier than it should, which would indicate an object closer than it really was. But for the tone to arrive before it was sent? He tried not to think about it. It must be a calculation error, he thought. Maybe if the tone arrived too early, the device couldn’t correctly calculate it, and it had a math error that resulted in a negative number when it was just a very small positive number. Or maybe the thing was programmed with an offset. Who knows, besides the engineers that made the sonar rig? Whatever the cause, these readings he was getting were useless. They were not going to be able to map this.

“Well, can you fix it?” Melissa asked, impatiently. Aaron didn’t blame her. They’d been out here over an hour and he had nothing to show for it.

“I have been trying, but I am beginning to think it’s just not going to work. The side-scan must be damaged, or maybe there’s a software bug. One way or the other, it’s not getting meaningful images.” Aaron explained without revealing his true thoughts.

“Could this be because of the tests you are running? Or your other equipment?” Mark said, pointing out the buoys, the closest of which floated only about twenty yards away from their boat.

“No, I don’t think so,” Aaron lied. “Those are just clocks in the buoys. They couldn’t affect the sonar.” At least that much was true.

“Clocks?” Melissa asked, confused. “I thought you guys were doing GPS testing.”

“Yes, we are. But GPS uses precise time measurements to calculate location, so some GPS errors are really just time errors. One way to measure time errors is with a precise clock.”

“Why not just measure it with a GPS receiver? That would seem to make more sense,” Mark said. Mark was too clever for his own good. He was curious and sharp. This was going to be a problem for Aaron, firstly because he liked the kid, and really did want to talk to him. And secondly, because Mark was clever enough to see through Aaron’s crummy attempt at deception. Aaron was not a dishonest person. It was uncomfortable for him to try to avoid speaking freely about this problem. And he thought Mark was likely to find a way to crack his flimsy defense of the facts.

Aaron thought of another way to explain it that might not reveal too much. “Yeah, we do that too. But these clocks on the buoys are much more accurate than the clocks in GPS receivers. You see, the clocks in a GPS receiver synchronize themselves with the GPS satellite clock every second, so if they’re wrong, like if they are running too fast or too slow, then the amount of error that can stack up is just however much can happen in one second, which is not much. But the precise clocks we are using for testing can stay accurate for a long time without having to synchronize with the GPS. It helps us to measure errors that may stack up over a long period of time, like minutes or hours.” What Aaron said was true, and not at all related to the thing they were measuring. He hoped it was also far enough over the heads of Mark and Melissa that it would discourage additional questions. It didn’t work.

“So these GPS, umm, problems, you are testing. They would have to be time problems then, right?” Mark said. “Since GPS uses time to figure out location, right?” Aaron nodded, and thought, well, crap. “So, did you measure any time problems? Because that’s how sonar works too, right? It sends a ping or something and then starts counting time when it sends it, then when it echoes off of something and comes back, you stop the clock and calculate the distance to the object based on how long the ping took to bounce off. Isn’t that right? If that’s how this sonar works, then wouldn’t a time problem screw it up?”

Aaron considered his options. He could try to shut down the discussion using misdirection and being cagy. This wasn’t working at all so far. Or he could come clean with Mark and his mother. Larry would probably fire him if he found out. Maybe there was a middle path.

“You’re right. It’s possible that timing problems could throw off the sonar, even this side-scan. And we have been measuring time problems out here.” Aaron thought for a moment of how to say this honestly, while not telling the truth. “The equipment we are using out here can measure extremely tiny time errors, and extremely tiny time errors are enough to cause major problems with GPS, but that’s because the signals that GPS receivers are using to determine position travel at the speed of light, and that’s about a million times faster than the sound waves that sonar uses.” Aaron didn’t bother mentioning the fact that the signal from the GPS also has to travel about a million times further than the sonar signal does. Maybe Mark wouldn’t figure that out.

Aaron continued, “Look, it really doesn’t matter what is causing the problem. One way or the other, the side-scan sonar is not working. We’re going to have to come up with another way to—”

Suddenly the Zodiac they were in lurched and the tow cable that was attached to the sonar’s towfish down below the water briefly became taught before the lightweight carabiner holding it to the tie-down on the boat’s floor snapped open. The cable went overboard, and pulled along with it the side-scan sonar unit, which went under without a splash. This all happened in a fraction of a second. All three of the boat’s occupants stared overboard in vain effort to see the sonar unit rocket into the abyss below, but it was gone before they could even get a glance.

“What the…” Mark began, aghast.

“We need to get out of here, now.” Aaron strode to the helm, fired up the engine and pinned the throttle forward as Mark and Melissa instinctively hung on for dear life.

Dear God, Melissa thought. And then, Joey…

Chapter 39

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Carl could almost feel the wheels coming off of their balky containment effort when he heard the rotors chopping through the air in the distance. He could see the FBI helicopter making its way back to Isla Roca for the third time today, just as they were nearly three quarters of the way around the island in their search of the coastline. This had been one more awkward afternoon for Carl.

How he got stuck with this particular job, he wasn’t sure. He hoped that Aaron’s search of El Pliegue was more peaceful. For a couple of hours now, he had endured a constant volley of poorly directed accusation and innuendo from all three of his guests on his boat. One minute it was the son, Eli, grilling him about their operation at Isla Roca. The next minute, Eli was hassling his father about some financial deal gone wrong that Carl didn’t even want to know about. Then, the detective, Vega, would start questioning James about this financial deal, and a bunch of other uncomfortable questions about the lost kid. Eli would pipe in and defend his father, argue with Vega.

It seemed obvious that Detective Vega had not yet had a chance to interrogate the family to his satisfaction. Vega did seem to have a pretty good nose for finding the lost kid. He also was very good at sniffing out the holes in Carl’s story, which was not that hard since the story was full of them. Vega continued asking Carl questions he couldn’t answer about what they were doing at Isla Roca. In a way, Carl thought the FBI arriving again might be a relief. This Culebra cop was going to ferret out everything if you gave him the chance.

Carl was thankful for the times when they were actually searching for the lost kid. They didn’t have any reason to dive, even though they had brought along equipment. The water was crystal clear and there were no signs of anyone washing up or swimming in at the shore. On the northeast side of Isla Roca, the waves had been too heavy for them to search that close to the rocks. That was the only area they didn’t cover in detail. But it seemed pretty obvious to everyone: Joseph Grady was not on the shore of Isla Roca.

“Who is that?” Carl heard Eli ask, thinking Eli must have seen the helicopter. But Eli was looking in a different direction, towards Fajardo. What was coming from that direction was not a helicopter, but a boat.

“Looks like the Coast Guard,” said Vega.

Eli stood up to get a better view. “What do they want?”

Just then the VHF radio came to life and the voice on the other end instructed Carl to maintain his speed and heading, which would be easy since they were nearly standing still. Within seconds the Coast Guard rigid-hull inflatable pulled along the port side of Carl’s Zodiac and two of its four men boarded the Zodiac along with Carl and his three guests. Carl did not expect this to be a routine inspection, and he was not disappointed.

“Gentlemen, I am Chief Warrant Officer Charles Gibson, and this is Chief Petty Officer Baker. I presume one of you is James Grady,” the taller of the two young men said, standing at the rear of the Zodiac. This man seemed to be in charge and was doing most of the talking.

“I am James Grady, and this is my son, Eli.”

“And you are?” Gibson said.

“Carl Jacobs. I work here on this island.”

“Thermion, right? Defense contractor?”

“That’s right.”

“I am Detective Alex Vega of Culebra.”

Gibson ignored the detective and turned to James, “We received a report that your son, Joseph Grady, has been missing since Monday, and it is thought that he was lost in the waters here.”

“That’s right. The FBI and police are heading up the search,” James said, nodding towards Detective Vega, and then continued, “Carl here, and his colleague, are helping us with these boats. We have been out here searching the coastline of this island for the past couple of hours.”

Gibson looked at Carl, “What is your involvement in this search? I presume Thermion is involved?”

“The kid was last seen diving out there, at El Pliegue. After the FBI guy came here this morning, my boss told me to help them search, since we have boats and other equipment, and since it is our island. Aaron and I know the area in the water pretty well. We work out here every day.”

“Aaron…?”

“Aaron West. He took the rest of their family out to El Pliegue on another Zodiac with a side-scan sonar to look at the bottom of the sinkhole.” Behind and to Gibson’s left, Chief Baker was taking brief notes.

“Mr. West, he’s out there now? Are there others with him?” Gibson asked.

“My wife,” James replied. “Melissa. And my other son, Mark. They left the dock at the same time we did earlier this afternoon.”

Gibson looked over at Chief Baker, who handed him a manila folder. “We are going to assume command of the search for your son at sea,” he said, while opening the folder and showing James a printout of one of the pictures they provided the FBI of Joseph. “Is this a current picture of your son?”

“Yes. That’s Joseph.” James replied.

“Mr. Jacobs, will you radio Mr. West and ask him to return to your dock and meet us there? We will follow you to the dock and wait for the others there.” Just as he said this, the FBI helicopter passed nearly directly over their heads. The Coast Guard men took notice but did not say anything. Gibson inclined his head towards the radio, prompting Carl to move in to make the call to Aaron.

“Aaron, the Coast Guard have boarded our boat. They are asking us to return to the dock,” he said into the microphone.

“Way ahead of you. We’ll probably beat you there,” Aaron said, with an edge to his voice that puzzled Carl a little bit, but he didn’t want to discuss it in the presence of the Coast Guard men. He wasn’t sure why they were here, but he knew that they were not called in by the FBI. The fact that the Coast Guard showed up here and already had a briefing folder on the lost kid meant this search must have been escalated above the FBI.

As soon as Carl finished talking to Aaron, Gibson and Baker boarded their own boat and Carl piloted his Zodiac quickly back to their dock with the Coast Guard boat following closely. One good thing to come of this development was that the other three men on Carl’s boat had stopped their incessant accusatory banter and instead sat in stunned silence for the duration of the short trip. And very soon, Carl would probably be freed from this mess as soon as the Coast Guard took over.

When they arrived at the dock, Aaron had beaten them by a few seconds and was tying up his Zodiac. Melissa began to rush to meet James and Eli, but slowed when she saw the Coast Guard boat coming behind. She said, apprehensively, “James, what’s going on?”

“They stopped us just as we were finishing our search, told us they have ‘orders’ to take over the search, on the water at least. It’s just as well. We didn’t find anything out there. How about you?”

Melissa was still in a mild state of shock. The past fifteen minutes had been a whirlwind. James could see something was wrong, and he said, “Honey. What happened?”

“I don’t know, James,” she said, honestly. “We were trying to get the sonar thing to work. It was broken somehow.” Mark started to interrupt but James’s look silenced him. Melissa continued, “then all of the sudden, the boat… well it kind of… tilted?” She looked at Mark for clarification and he only shrugged and nodded. “Then the cable, something was pulling the cable.”

Mark interrupted this time, “the towfish. It’s a part of the sonar, you drop it under the water.”

“Right,” Melissa continued. “The cable on the towfish. Something was pulling it, and then the hook that was holding it broke and it pulled the whole sonar thing overboard. It was the craziest thing. It just happened in a flash. Then Aaron’s face went white as a sheet and he said ‘we have to leave now’ and before we even knew what was happening we left the sinkhole about as fast as the boat would go.”

“What, was it a fish, maybe pulled the, what did you call it?”

“Towfish”, Mark said. “No, dad. That was no fish. No fish is that big and that fast. The towfish is like five feet long, five or six inches in diameter. It’s like a small torpedo. Probably fifty pounds at least. It was hooked using a steel cable, probably five hundred feet. And the data cable was connected to the side-scan sonar unit, which is probably eighty pounds and the size of a small suitcase. If some fish got it, it would have to be big enough to chomp on a five-foot long torpedo and fast enough to rock our boat, snap an aluminum carabiner, and also yank that whole sonar unit down with it. And dad.” Mark paused for dramatic effect. “The sonar unit went straight down. It didn’t go off like it was being dragged by a fish or whale or whatever. It went straight down into the sinkhole.”

“It sunk?” Eli asked.

“No Eli. It didn’t sink. It was pulled down, so fast we couldn’t even see it. By the time we could look over the edge, it was gone into ‘the crease’. Something pulled it down there, violently.”

Mark’s description of the event had the effect of deepening Melissa’s state of shock. She thought again about what happened. Mark was right. It was violent. The sonar didn’t just fall. It was pulled—no, jerked—from the boat and driven into what looked like a bottomless pit. Is that what happened to… she couldn’t finish the thought. She willed herself to stop thinking. She was beginning to shut down, because to not shut down would be to go crazy with grief.

James could sense his wife’s emotional state hardening, and he embraced her in effort to offer some comfort, but he knew it would do little good. She was closing herself off. This event had affected her deeply. He could see Aaron and Carl talking in hushed tones, presumably Carl reporting that they had not found anything and Aaron telling the same tale as Melissa and Mark had just told him, but perhaps with some insight that he lacked. And then he saw that the Coast Guard boat had been tied up but the men aboard had not come over to the dock yet, so they had not overheard this story. He remembered the helicopter that had likely landed by now and he knew deep down that everything was about to change.

Chapter 40

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

After dismissing the team to go shut down Daedalus, Larry sat in his office and conducted a mental inventory. He went over what all was happening. What was connected, what was not connected. What could be connected? Could the disappearance of this kid actually be connected? And he considered that Kyle had just told him he had evidence of some kind, at least in theory, that they had created a time loop. Larry Duncan desperately wished he had been able to go to the lab and chase this down with Kyle rather than shutting down his project and running interference on a totally unrelated distraction.

To get his mind off of this, he opened up an email that had been sent to him just a little while ago from his lead technician. This was the report of the teardown analysis of the malfunctioning phones from yesterday’s test. Ordinarily he would have Kyle and Laurie handle this, but since he had just sent them to the lab to shut down Daedalus, it left him both with time on his hands and nobody else to look at this.

All,

We completed our analysis of the four Samsung phones with boot loop and other issues that were taken out of service yesterday. Here is an overview of our findings:

[_ a. All four phones, including the one with the dead display, were boot-looping as suspected, due to insufficient storage space to write to the syslog file. The system partition is 100% full on all of them, the majority of space taken with the syslog file. We downloaded the syslog file from each phone's flash and reviewed it. It is odd that the syslog file is almost completely filled with network error reports and the timestamps seem to cover a 44-year time period. It looks like a constant radio error, unable to connect to the network logged over and over again. We deleted the giant syslog files and all four phones booted normally and appeared at least partially functional, except for the one with the DOA screen. They will not consistently hold a GSM signal, however, and we could not get them to connect to wifi without a lot of packet overflows and the connection flapping. We stored the giant syslog files on the server if you want to review them yourself. _]

b. We disassembled the phones and found a tremendous amount of oxidation, far more than expected. Also, some of the PCBs were delaminating and the adhesives that hold the screen on and other adhesives were brittle and fell apart easily. You can see in the attached photos the extreme oxidation on the pins of the fine-pitch parts and particularly the battery connector and antenna contacts.

[_ c. In order to identify the issues with network connectivity, we powered the oscillators in the phone and found all of them were way out of spec. Some of them were close to 1% under the rated frequency. This would explain why they were unable to hold wireless network lock. Maybe these were a defective batch of phones. Did they ever work before? _]

We wrote up a more complete report (attached) and put it on the server. It was odd, but these phones just looked like they were very old.

Thanks,

Cindy Li

The phones looked old, Larry thought. And the frequency wrong on the oscillators? That’s what happens when they get very old. The adhesives all degraded? That happens when they get old. All of the corrosion? Old. Plus forty-four years of syslog entries. Even though these phones were at most six months old, Larry had to agree. The evidence seemed to indicate they were nearly half a century old. Considering they were trying to bend space-time, Larry had to believe they had succeeded.

But if the evidence was to be believed, then what was happening was opposite of what they expected. If there was a strong gravitational anomaly occurring near the phones, then time would pass more slowly for the phones than for objects in the surrounding area.

The other thing that was baffling was where this was happening. These phones were way out in the water. How is it that they were experiencing this extreme time distortion, while the others they were monitoring all over the island were not? And then, does this mean that maybe that’s where some of the lost cubes are going?

Larry sat, considering these questions and working out possible answers plus additional questions in his head when a knock came at his office door. “Come in,” he said. Kyle and Laurie filed in one after the other.

“Larry, we confirmed the time loop,” Kyle said.

“I know. You told me that before. But we don’t have time to look into it until—”

“No, before I mentioned that I thought I had identified what we did wrong that could result in a time loop—”

“Which was…”

“We were not compensating for the spatial distortion caused by the gravium—” Larry kept cutting Kyle off, getting ahead of his thoughts.

“Right. I wondered about that. It was a coin flip. So you think this error could cause a time loop? Like a wormhole?” Larry said.

“No, Larry, we know that it did cause a time loop—”

“No, we assume it is a time loop because of the log—”

This time Laurie had had enough of these two interrupting each other so she blurted, “Larry! We tested it and we confirmed we absolutely did create a time loop.”

“You tested it? How did you do that? Daedalus is shut down.”

“No, it’s not,” Laurie corrected. “Kyle wanted to—”

“I coerced Laurie into helping me run one last test before we shut down Daedalus. Then after we finished the test, we wanted to tell you the results before we shut it down. If I am right about this error, then we might be able to make a minor adjustment and get Daedalus working correctly today.”

Larry Duncan took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. He rubbed his forehead with both of his palms. The man was torn. “Okay, Kyle. You ran an extra test. Tell me about it.”

“We needed a way to test that would work more reliably than the hard drive. I believe the hard drive test worked. We sent it back in time, just as we expected. But I think the problem was that when we got it, presumably, sometime in the past, we changed it back to how it was supposed to be, or we ignored it, like it just had a glitch or something. Laurie said that IT had to replace a hard drive in that server. Maybe that was it. Anyway, we need to test with something simpler, and something that we can predict where it will be, but that we won’t try to change back or discard when we get it, in the past.”

Larry was following along. This made sense. “So what did you test with?” he asked.

“My class ring,” Kyle said, as he removed the ring from his finger and set it on Larry’s desk. “I figured, I have had this ring on my finger almost continuously for over twenty years, so I know exactly where it would be today. And since it was on my finger all this time, I probably would never notice if there was some small change to it. I was going to use a punch to make a little dimple in the inside of the band.”

Larry was looking inside the ring as he held it in his hand. “This little dent?” he asked skeptically.

“Yeah, that dent.”

“So, what, you put a dent in the ring and then put it in the portal? Then what? The ring reappeared on your finger or something?”

“No,” Laurie said. “We never made the dent.”

“I don’t get it,” Larry said.

“Kyle started to put the dimple in it with the punch,” Laurie said. “But when he took the ring off, the dimple was already there.”

Larry was confused. “I still don’t get it.”

Kyle attempted to explain, realizing that it was not going to make any sense as he said the words. “The dimple wasn’t there before. We must have put the dimple in it, with the punch, then put it into the portal. But that caused the ring to go back in time, how far we don’t know, so that by the time I took the ring off, it was already dimpled.”

Larry was still confused, and more than anything, he was conflicted. Kyle was showing him a ring with a dimple in it, but that was hardly proof of a time loop. Kyle could have made the dimple before he brought Laurie to the lab for the test. Larry thought there was no way Kyle would do something like that, trick his team mates and undermine their work, but he still couldn’t shake this seed of doubt. “Maybe if I saw it, it would make more sense. Look. I also have a class ring,” Larry said, stretching out the fingers on his right hand. “Let’s go do the same test, with my ring. We’ll use your punch to make a dimple just like that.” Larry removed the ring from his finger and briefly glanced at the inside of the band, and then did a double take. His jaw dropped open and his eyes went as large as silver dollars.

“What?” Laurie said.

“Your ring. It has a dimple doesn’t it?” Kyle said.

Larry stared at his ring in awe. “Yeah…” he muttered through his daze. “It has a dimple.”

Laurie and Kyle looked at each other in amazement. Kyle began to smile broadly. There, in the middle of a cluttered office on an island in the Caribbean, they were making history.

Then a sudden noise rocked them out of their reverie. It was Larry’s desk phone ringing. Larry looked at the phone for three long rings before snapping out of his trance and picking it up. “Duncan,” he said.

“Mr. Duncan, this is ASAC Ray Ortiz. I hope I am not disturbing you.”

“Ray Ortiz? FBI? Yes, Mr. Ortiz. Funny you should mention it. We are actually extremely busy right now—”

“Well, you’re about to get a lot more busy. I just landed here at your helipad and I noticed a U.S. Coast Guard vessel approaching your dock when I flew over.”

Larry held the phone and hesitated for a beat. “Okay. I’ll have someone meet you there at the helipad. Give me a few minutes.”

“I think we’re going to need to set up a command post here. Do you have some space we can use?”

“I’ll see what I can do. We’re really not set up for this. Stand by.” Larry hung up without waiting. Laurie and Kyle just stood there disoriented by Larry’s distraction.

“What’s going on?” Kyle asked as Larry dialed his phone again.

“Remember the lost kid? FBI is here. I have to talk to Carl real quick. One second—” He hesitated as Carl answered on the other end. “Hey Carl, how’s the—”

“Larry,” Carl interrupted. “The Coast Guard are here, at the dock. They stopped us in the water and told us they are taking over the search. Aaron lost the side-scan. I’ll tell you about it later. But I think you need to get down here to the dock and talk to these Coast Guard guys. This is above my pay grade.”

“Aaron is there with you? And the Grady family? Everyone is safe?”

“Yeah, we’re all here. Just got here.”

“Did you find anything out there?”

“No. No sign of the kid, and Aaron never could get the side-scan working before it went overboard.” Overboard? Larry thought, but his mind was reeling from their discovery moments before and he didn’t have the capacity right now to chase down this new mystery. He thought, What on earth is happening to this place?

“Okay. It really doesn’t matter,” Larry said, forcing his mind to focus on the urgent matter at hand. “I’m going to go to the helipad and get the FBI guy. He just called, he’s there waiting. Then we’ll be at the dock in just a few minutes.”

“We saw the FBI helicopter while we were stopped with the Coast Guard.”

“Hang tight. I’m on my way,” Larry said, and then hung up.

“What’s going on?” Laurie asked.

“I have to go escort the FBI guy down to meet the Coast Guard at the dock. We’ll have to talk about this later.”

“Do you want us to shut down the Daedalus?” Kyle asked.

“No. Not yet. It’s too late anyway. I’ll try to keep these guys from coming up here but make sure the lab is cleared out and you guys get back to the dorms. I don’t want there to be any reason for the FBI to sniff around the lab. Okay?”

“You got it.”

Larry began to walk to his door after Laurie and Kyle left and then suddenly he turned back as if he forgot something. He picked up his class ring from his desk where he had set it down, took one last look at the little dimple and then put it back on his finger. This day couldn’t get any stranger, he thought as he left his office.

Chapter 41

Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

As soon as her boss had left to go back on the wild goose chase at Isla Roca, Morales made a call to California.

“Burke,” the voice on the phone said.

“Hey Des. Allison Morales. How’s things?”

“Allison Morales,” Burke said rhythmically like it was a song lyric. “I don’t remember you ever making a social call. You need a favor. Lay it on me.” Burke sat back in his chair and a hint of a smile formed while he waited for Special Agent Morales to tell him why she really called.

Desmond Burke was in Morales’s class at Quantico. Twenty grueling weeks that was in small part Lord of the Flies but with way too many type-As all quietly competing. It was a bit like a high school football team in summer training camp, but with thirty quarterbacks and the rest a mix of linemen and tight ends wondering how in the world they’d make the team. Morales was one of the type-As. A quarterback. But she found it hard to fit in, being the only Puerto Rican woman in the entire class. A quarterback is not much good without a team, and Morales figured that, as usual, her naturally tough demeanor and atypical nationality would necessarily turn her into a lone wolf. She didn’t make friends easily. Or, more accurately, others didn’t find it easy to make friends with her.

Desmond Burke was not one of the Quantico Type-As. At five-foot-six, Burke wasn’t going to keep up with all of the alpha dogs so common to the FBI. His IQ was higher than his weight, and he had an open, almost innocent personality. He made friends with everyone. Some people who don’t fit in grow up finding themselves outcast and they withdraw, become hard and private. Allison Morales had. But some go the other way. They become bubbly and open. They make friends when they can and always seem to find joy in those friendships even if they are mistreated. And that was Desmond Burke. The little geek who barely passed his weapons qualification but aced the academics at Quantico was just right to be Allison Morales’s only friend at the Academy. He was the only one not repelled by her hard exterior.

“Not much for chit-chat? Are you all-business now Des?” Morales was still manipulating the poor man. Teasing him. She couldn’t help it. It was her way. It was actually the foundation of most of her friendships.

“Come on, Allison. I’m not some noob you have to chat up in order to get me to help you. If you’re going to use me, then get on with it.” Burke was grinning now. He was playing along, teasing her back. For a fleeting moment, Burke considered if Allison was the one that got away. But that only lasted a second until he dismissed it. No way, he thought. She was just a sad, mean woman he met a long time ago who never cheered up. She needed guys like him in her life, but he didn’t need women like her, even if she was tall and kind of hot in a “don’t look at me or I’ll punch you in the face” kind of way.

“Alright, you got me.” she said. “I do need a favor. We’re working a missing person case, teenager, and I need to chase down some financials for the family.”

“You think it’s kidnapping. And I guess you’re calling me because,” he hesitated, “it’s a numbered account, SAC won’t get a warrant, et-cetera, et-cetera.”

“Yeah, yeah. You have me all figured out,” she said in mock offense, still playing along.

“Details?”

“James Allen Grady. Houston, Texas.” she continued giving James’s details including social security number, date of birth, and place of employment.

“Yeah, I got him,” Burke said after a string of rapid typing on his laptop. “Engineer… looks like… bought a house not too long ago, not cheap, paid cash.” Burke whistled at the thought of a plain-Jane engineer paying cash for such an expensive house. “Wife, Melissa, three kids.”

“Yeah that’s the guy. He says he got paid for a piece of work he did about two years ago and that’s how he bought the house, also paid off some big debts. But he didn’t say exactly what he got paid to do, or who he was working for. We figure he was working with,” she typed a few keys on her own laptop to bring up some notes, “Timothy Wayne—”

“Timothy Chandler. Got him too. Looks like Timmy here performed a minor miracle in forex. He opens an account on March three, two years ago, a Monday. Two thousand bucks. Three days later, Thursday March six, three trades in a row, four hundred to one leverage, in just a half an hour, wee hours of the morning, and bingo, he closed the account and cashed out four point six million.”

“Yeah, that, we already knew. What I need to know is how James Grady is connected.”

“Right. Well I have Jimmy-boy talking to HSBC bank in Switzerland from his home computer, one of them anyway, I can’t trace it to a specific one, just his house. His router’s IP address. The data’s encrypted and we don’t capture it anyway, we just have transaction logs, so there’s no way to get exactly which account he was talking to. But it’s no stretch to connect the dots. A few hours after Timmy closed the forex account, there was activity from their office computer, TCP Compudyne, talking to HSBC. Can’t be a coincidence. Two accounts opened at HSBC originating from TCP Compudyne’s network. Without deep-packet inspection, no way to know how much was deposited in each account. And this was two years ago, so we don’t have the data anyway even if we could look. Then you have a lot of transactions from James’s home network to HSBC, cashier’s checks out of one of the numbered accounts in amounts equal to big debts James paid, including the house and it looks like a debt settlement about three hundred thou. A bunch of other smaller cashier’s checks written out of that HSBC account throughout the last two years, without running the math I’d have to guess a grand total less than two fifty K.”

“Okay, so we have some idea how much he spent from the HSBC account, right?”

“We can know exactly how much he spent, if you want it. That’ll take a minute. But you want to know how much is in there now, right?”

“Right.”

“Well I can make a good guess. See here the other account opened on the same day, we assume is Timothy Chandler, is still open but we have a two-point-three million or so transfer to a Caymans account. I can’t follow the trail after that without opening a file and going deep. But I think it’s safe to assume that’s half of the four point six he made on the forex deal, and the other half must have been in James’s account. James has withdrawn roughly a million from his HSBC account in cashier’s checks, so I think it’s safe to assume he’s got a million three left in there. Give or take. I’m just making quick numbers in my head, but it’s probably close.”

Morales considered this. Just one point three million in a numbered account was not nearly enough to justify a kidnapping motive.

“Anything else in there? Has James been getting cashier’s checks from other accounts? Or making big deposits to his personal bank account in Houston?”

“No. Looks like his paycheck gets direct deposited like clockwork into his personal bank account. They move a little bit around to a savings account, pay into a 401K, ordinary stuff. But nothing sticks out. No big deposits. And I don’t see any other numbered accounts. Looks like your Bond villain is pretty boring. If this was my case, I’d start by guessing James was partnered with Chandler on the forex deal even though it was done in Chandler’s name and he got an even cut. Chandler’s on the run and did a good job hiding his tracks, but James is not really trying to hide. He put the money somewhere that we can’t look without a warrant so it keeps the IRS off his trail directly and either IRS, Treasury or SEC would have to want to look into this to run him down for something illegal. He doesn’t have a mortgage on that house so he’s not taking a big deduction on interest, IRS may not notice. Whatever he did he probably got away with it. But it’s small potatoes. Looks like a one-shot deal, James got a big payday for an engineer and packed it in. Sorry Allison. Looks to me like your guy is pretty clean. Not spotless, but unless he’s a criminal genius who made his two million dollar deal only slightly hard to find while doing hundreds of millions of bad deeds totally off the radar, then I don’t see how he’s a target for kidnapping.”

“That’s what we thought too. Had to check. I just get the feeling from the guy that he’s not being honest with us. He’s hiding something.”

“Yeah, he’s hiding something. He’s hiding two million dollars that he got by some miracle of forex trading that was probably illegal to start with, and he probably owes half of it in taxes and penalties even if it was legal. But my guess is he’s hiding this because he’s not a criminal, generally speaking. He’s probably more afraid you’ll tell his wife about it than he is afraid of prosecution.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“No, Allison. Look, not everyone is a crook. There are nice people out there. Lots of them. If I were you, I’d give this guy a break. I mean, his kid is missing, right?”

“Right. His youngest son, Joseph. Age seventeen.”

“Geez, Allison! Go find the kid. Stop catching bad guys for a second and help some good people.”

Morales felt the anger start to rise up. She began to craft a retaliatory response to Burke’s admonishment. But then she softened before she said anything. After all, she had called the one FBI agent she knew who had a heart. And Burke was right.

“Okay, Des. I hear you. Thanks for checking all this for me,” she said.

“Glad I could help. Now I have to go, got real bad guys to hunt down. Take it easy, Allison.”

“I’ll try,” she said, and hung up.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 42

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Larry came up the walk to the helipad and saw Ortiz and two other men he assumed to be FBI agents talking with the Thermion security guard stationed there. Is he interviewing him? Larry thought. “Mr. Ortiz!” he shouted, hoping to interrupt whatever the guard was saying. Larry hadn’t briefed the entire facility on how to handle the FBI.

“Mr. Duncan. I was wondering if you were going to make it,” Ortiz said as he followed the walkway to meet Duncan along the way Miller and Casas followed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were busy covering something up so I wouldn’t find it.” Larry turned the other way back down the path and began to lead Ortiz and the other two FBI men on the long walk towards the dock.

“No offense, Mr. Ortiz,” Larry said in a measured tone. “I know you are just doing your job here. But we do have a legitimate reason to protect what we’re doing here on this island. There is corporate espionage and also since we are working under a DoD contract, there are political enemies within our own government that I have to look out for.”

“You don’t want to lose your funding, is that right?”

“Of course we don’t. But we are working on a project that is in the interests of our national defense. Just because we have secrets, that doesn’t make us the bad guys.”

“You’re a patriot, then?”

“We’re on the same team, or I assume we are. But just like you don’t want me digging into your investigations, I’d prefer not to have others digging into what we are doing here. We don’t have anything to hide, but we do have things to protect. Plus, it’s a distraction for my staff to have investigators and reporters here. We are just trying to do a job.”

“What, exactly, is that job?”

“Mr. Ortiz, didn’t we already have this conversation this morning? We are doing GPS research. Looking for how to correct for timing anomalies that might affect GPS accuracy.”

There it was, Ortiz thought. The GPS story again. Ray Ortiz decided to let this slide for the moment. “Sure thing. GPS. Just like before. Secret GPS technology that some cut-throat spy might want to come steal, or that if the wrong Senator found out about, they’d cut your funding or cancel the contract. I have to hand it to you, Larry. You’re sticking to your guns on this one.”

“It’s easy enough to do when it’s true,” Larry said.

But Ortiz knew he would crack. This man was no professional liar. He was no politician, either. He was a scientist, clearly uncomfortable with this line he was telling. And Ortiz could see just ahead of him, another pair of scientists who looked even less capable of sustaining a cover story than their boss. And these guys have been worked over all day by Detective Vega and the relentless Grady family. If that family was as suspicious of these Thermion guys as they were of each other, then they probably had already cracked the case.

“Aaron, Carl,” Larry said as they approached. “This is Special Agent Ortiz of the FBI.”

Carl, who had already met Larry in the morning, just inclined his head. Aaron offered a handshake, and said his name. Ortiz acknowledged the Grady family and Alex Vega with eye contact alone.

“These are Special Agents Miller,” Ortiz said, looking back at his colleagues, “and Casas.” The newly arrived special agents kept quiet and inclined their heads, not wanting to dive into what was clearly an in-progress conversation that Ortiz had picked up where he left off earlier in the day.

Approaching the group on the dock were the same two Coast Guard men that had boarded Carl’s Zodiac earlier. They immediately commanded the attention of Ortiz. He glanced at Vega, shooting him a look that said, “who are these guys?” and Vega responded with a slight shrug that Ortiz interpreted as “beats me”.

“Good evening gentlemen, my name is Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Gibson and this is Chief Petty Officer Tom Baker,” the taller of the two young men said as he approached.

“Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Ray Ortiz, FBI,” Ortiz said, flashing his credentials, which Gibson took in his hand briefly to have a closer look. “And Special Agents, Gabriel Casas and Greg Miller.” In turn, Casas and Miller each offered their credentials for inspection.

“And I’m Larry Duncan. I am the project manager of this facility.”

Before Larry could take over the situation, Ortiz jumped. “What is your involvement here, Mr. Gibson?”

“Sir, we received a call from our group commander of intel forwarded from DHS reporting a missing person at sea. Joseph Grady. Mr. and Mrs. Grady here have confirmed this report. Our patrol boat, the USCG Grenadier, has already commenced a search pattern to find Joseph Grady.”

“Who made this call? You said DHS?” Ortiz asked.

“Sir, I don’t have that information. You would have to ask Lieutenant Fox on the Grenadier.”

“What are the parameters of your search?”

“Normally, we are going to cover a radius of about one nautical mile out from El Pliegue, which will include all of the coastline of this island.”

“Just your patrol boat?”

“No, sir. Chief Baker and I will continue searching the rocky coastline in the RHI while Lieutenant Fox runs his grid on the Grenadier. I expect Lieutenant Fox also will order air support.”

“A plane?”

“No, sir. HH-60 Jayhawk,” Gibson said. Seeing the puzzled looks on most of his audience, he clarified, “A helicopter, sir.”

“Okay,” Ray Ortiz said. “Is there anything else you need from me?”

“No, sir. But we would like to get a download of what you found on your search,” Gibson said, turning to James and his family.

“Me, too,” said Ortiz. “Stick around. Vega?”

Detective Vega stepped up to offer his report. “We were split up on two boats, one with Carl, and the other with Aaron. I was on the boat with Carl, along with James and Eli. We searched most of the coastline, and we didn’t find anything. The other boat was going to El Pliegue with sonar.”

Mark picked up where Vega had left off. “We could never get the sonar to work. There was some kind of distortion. And then it was pulled into El Pliegue by something, so we didn’t get any sonar results.”

“What do you mean, pulled in?” Ortiz asked.

Aaron replied, “Look. We were having some kind of error from the side-scan sonar.” He looked at Carl briefly, and then directly at Larry. “The echoes were not returning at the right time. We could not get any meaningful readings out of it. I tried everything short of reprogramming the firmware. We were just about to give up on it when the towfish must have gotten snagged on something and the side-scan was pulled overboard by the cable.”

“That is not what happened!” Melissa said. “The thing didn’t get snagged. The whole boat was rocked by whatever was pulling the towfish thing and the sonar was violently yanked from the boat and pulled straight down into the sinkhole.”

Melissa’s outburst was met with stunned silence and raised eyebrows all around. Miller and Casas looked at each other silently communicating something like, “what have we gotten into?” But nobody disputed Melissa’s assessment.

“You saw this?” Larry asked Mark.

“Yeah. It happened just like my mom said. The boat rocked, it felt like it might tip over, and then we noticed the cable from the towfish was pulled super tight just before the carabiner blew up and just like that the sonar went overboard and disappeared into the sinkhole.”

“Aaron?” Larry said. Aaron just nodded in response.

James suddenly realized that he was in the company of men who probably knew things about El Pliegue that no amount if internet research could turn up. He turned to the Coast Guard men and asked, “What exactly is down there?”

Gibson responded. “It’s just a sinkhole, sir. It’s much deeper than the surrounding sea floor, but besides that, there’s nothing unusual about it.”

“Are you doing some kind of experiments there? Have you positioned equipment of some kind in the sinkhole?” Ortiz asked Larry.

“Absolutely not. All of our work happens inside our lab here on the island. The sinkhole out there is just a geological feature that has nothing to do with our work.”

“Really?” Eli said. “Then what’s with the buoys out there? These guys,” he waved his hands towards Aaron and Carl, “have been out there every day fiddling with some equipment on these buoys. Why would you do that if you don’t have something out there?”

“We told you,” Larry said. “We are doing GPS research. We are monitoring GPS signals over a wide area that happens to include the water, which is why we have buoys out there. But there is nothing under the water. All of our equipment is attached to those buoys.”

“Sir,” Chief Baker said, “What equipment do you have on the buoys? And where exactly are these buoys?”

Carl answered for his boss. “The buoys happen to be located right over the closest edge of the sinkhole.” He pointed out over the water in the direction of El Pliegue. “It’s just a coincidence that the sinkhole is there. We have laid out a network of GPS receivers on a grid throughout the island and four of our grid positions are in the water, and they happen to be on the edge of the sinkhole.” Larry affirmed Carl’s description with a slight nod.

Baker continued, “What equipment do you have on the buoys?”

This time, Larry answered. “Over our whole network, as Carl described it, we have deployed an array of GPS receivers. It just so happens we are using cell phones with special software, since they each have portable GPS receivers that we can easily monitor wirelessly. So we have a couple dozen of these phones deployed all over the island. The four we initially put on the buoys have been replaced with a more precise instrument.” Larry had chosen his words carefully in effort to allay suspicion.

“Wait a minute,” Ortiz said. “Are you saying you have a network of these GPS monitoring stations with cell phones in them, but you upgraded the equipment in the buoys?”

“That’s right.”

Only the equipment in the buoys? The cell phones were good enough for a ‘couple dozen,’ as you said, other monitoring stations. But for some reason you needed to put a, um, ‘more precise instrument’, in the buoys. Is that right?”

“Yes,” Duncan said, realizing it sounded pretty suspicious when Ortiz laid it out.

“When?”

“Excuse me?” Larry said.

Ortiz clarified, “When, exactly, did you upgrade to these precise instruments, as you put it?”

“We upgraded those stations yesterday,” Duncan said.

“When did you first set up this grid?”

“Monday.”

Some pieces were falling into place for Ray Ortiz. “Why? Why Monday. What happened Monday that prompted you to put out a few dozen GPS monitoring stations?”

“We just needed them for our research.”

“How long have you been here, Mr. Duncan? Not you, specifically, but Thermion, with this facility. Doing this ‘GPS research?’ What, ten, twelve years? And only Monday, two days ago, did you begin to monitor GPS, what did you call it earlier today? GPS timing errors? Only Monday did you think it was worth it to monitor these GPS timing errors, after nearly a decade of research. Is that right? Am I getting the time line right?”

“Mr. Ortiz, I am sorry, but I can’t—” Larry began to deliver his line about sharing trade secrets when Melissa interrupted.

“Something happened, didn’t it?” she said gravely. “On Monday. When my son went missing, you knew something happened, so you had to put out special equipment to monitor it. But you knew, didn’t you?”

“Mrs. Grady, I can assure you that our testing has nothing—”

Chief Baker interrupted Larry again. “Mr. Duncan, sir. We need to know exactly what these ‘precision instruments’ are on the buoys.”

Duncan was backed into a corner. He would prefer to talk to the Coast Guard guys about this in private, but here he was standing out on the dock for the world to see, and to ask them to retreat to his office would only raise Ortiz’s suspicions, and he didn’t need that. What he needed was for Carlton Lee to get here and call in favors with whomever he needed so he could get all of these people off of his island.

“Mr. …” Duncan began.

“Baker. Chief Petty Officer Baker, sir.”

“Mr. Baker. Chief. Do you know what an atomic clock is? We put portable atomic clocks in the equipment boxes in those four buoys.”

“Atomic?”

“Atomic clocks. Not radioactive or anything. They are just very precise clocks that remain accurate for a very long time. They allow us to take more precise measurements in this location. More precise than the phones we had there before.”

“I thought you said this was GPS research?” Ortiz butted in.

“It is!” Larry said. “And like I said this morning, Mr. Ortiz, the GPS errors we are looking for are caused by tiny time errors. So we need equipment that can be used to measure tiny time errors.”

“Why do you need—” Eli jumped in, but Chief Baker interrupted again.

“Mr. Duncan, we will need you to cease this GPS testing in order for us to conduct our search.”

“Of course. We have already shut down our testing for the day.”

“And,” Chief Baker continued, “We need you to power down your network of monitoring devices, including these atomic clocks. You can resume your monitoring once our search pattern is done. That’s a lot of potential interference. We won’t take long to finish our search. We’ll be searching overnight. Hopefully we will not delay your testing too much.”

“Okay,” Larry relented, weary of fighting. “I’ll have to go back up to my office and call in some of our people to go out and power down the phones out on the island. Aaron and Carl will go out and shut down the atomic clocks in the buoys.”

“Good,” Gibson said. “Mr. Ortiz, here are the cell phone numbers you can use to contact myself and Lieutenant Fox. We will update you on what we find in our search effort. Meanwhile, besides the trip to go turn off the atomic clocks, we need you guys to stay off of the water while we conduct our search.” Gibson handed a card to Ray Ortiz.

Ortiz interrupted Gibson and Baker as they began to retreat to their boat. “I’d like you to take Special Agents Casas and Miller with you. Maybe one can go with you on the inflatable and the other can join with your patrol boat. Then they can keep us apprised of the search.”

“Sir, I would have to clear that with Lieutenant Fox,” Gibson responded. “But I guarantee you he is going to say ‘no’. I suggest you contact him yourself so we can get on with the search.”

Ortiz let out an exasperated sigh but he knew this was probably right and not a fight he’d win standing on this dock. He’d have other things for Miller and Casas to do anyway in the meantime. “Okay, Mr. Gibson. I’ll make the call to your Lieutenant.”

“If that’s all?” Gibson said, and then after the briefest of pauses he and Baker turned and boarded their boat. They departed promptly from the dock and Ortiz could hear Gibson making a radio call to his patrol boat skipper as they pulled away.

Ortiz turned to Larry Duncan and said, “We’ll all follow you back up to the facility. You said you can set up a command post for us. I expect more people to be joining us here soon and we’ll need a place to set up.”

Great, Duncan thought. Just what we need: more FBI. The entire entourage began walking up the way to the building. “Okay, we have a conference room located near the lobby. I can give you that room.”

“We are going to also need unlimited access. I noticed your staff carrying badges, and your security man I talked to earlier said that you have a guard at the desk and all of the doors are badge-operated. We’ll need you to issue us badges so we can move freely.”

“How about if we disable the card readers on the main door and conference room? That would be much quicker than programming a bunch of badges.”

“That will work,” Ortiz conceded. “And one other thing. The family,” he started.

“We can set them up in one of our dorms.”

“Thanks.” Ortiz took his phone from his pocket and composed a quick text message to Special Agent Morales that read, “get everyone to roca stat. incl otero”. Within seconds the response came back, “k”. Here comes the cavalry.

Chapter 43

San Juan, Puerto Rico

The television played out the career-ending drama right before his eyes as Carson Lee sat in Thermion’s Gulfstream on approach to San Juan. The Fox News correspondent was reporting from what looked like the deck of a boat, with Isla Roca plainly evident and adorned with Thermion’s compound in the background.

Lisa,” the correspondent said as reporters do, talking to the anchor as if they are having a conversation, “As you can see, the Coast Guard has been called in to assist in the search for Joseph Grady that is now focusing on this tiny private island known locally as ‘Isla Roca’. Since late this afternoon search teams in a large patrol boat, a small Zodiac as well as a Coast Guard helicopter can be seen combing the water and coastline in effort to find the missing teen. Additionally, a FBI helicopter has been frequently shuttling back and forth between Isla Roca and tourist-centered Vieques to the south, where we are told the temporary headquarters of this search has been set up. Local authorities assure us that this is a rescue effort, and they hope to find young Joseph Grady, alive. Lisa.”

That’s Katie Compton, reporting from the water near Isla Roca, Puerto Rico on the search for Joseph Grady, missing since Monday. The FBI Special Agent in Charge of the San Juan office read a statement just moments ago at the steps of the Vieques police station. We have the tape.” The scene changed to the now-familiar Vieques police station facade where a serious-looking man began to speak as a banner below him read, “Michael Otero FBI Puerto Rico.”

The search for Joseph Grady has moved its focus to Isla Roca, near Culebra. The US Coast Guard has committed resources to assist the FBI and local police in the search. We have every indication that Joseph Grady was lost during a diving trip near the small island and for the immediate future we are committed to finding him there.

The crawl at the bottom of the screen continued to list cursory details about the investigation. Joseph Grady, age 17, from Houston Texas. Why the family was in Vieques. Who is heading the investigation. Some brief information about El Pliegue. And then, of course: Isla Roca, private island leased by defense contractor Thermion, conducting secretive research, et cetera. How long until they dug into what they were actually doing there? Days? Hours?

The news report on the screen transitioned to an interview with one of the Gradys’ friends in Houston just as the plane touched down. Carson Lee didn’t wait to arrive at the terminal before dialing Larry’s cell phone number. “Duncan,” the voice said on the other end of the phone.

“Larry, what in the hell is going on down there? I just saw my own facility in the background of a news report with some infobabe telling me about the Coast Guard combing through the water there and a team of FBI agents on my island. On national TV! This was on Fox News, Larry. They are running this story around the clock, or so it would seem. How did this get out of control in the past couple of hours?”

“Carson, with all due respect, back off. I really have my hands full here. A whole team of FBI agents and detectives including the Special Agent in Charge from San Juan just landed and I am walking right now to meet them at the helipad. The Assistant SAC is already here onsite along with the whole Grady family and a detective. This guy, Ortiz, he’s not buying the GPS test story. And I only can assume that the Coast Guard is here because you rattled someone’s cage in Washington. They got tipped by Homeland. The mythical reports of stuff going missing mysteriously at El Pliegue are starting to look like they might actually have some validity. And Laurie and Kyle have convinced me that we have an uncontrolled time loop happening in the Daedalus lab. I still haven’t even had five minutes to get my head around that problem, and believe me, Carson, that is a big freaking problem!

“Alright, Larry,” Carson said as he boarded the helicopter that would ferry him to Isla Roca. “I’m getting on the chopper now. I’ll be there in a half hour. I know you are up to your neck in this. When I get there, hand off the FBI and police brass to me and I’ll see if I can keep them out of your hair. You can get back to the lab and figure out this time loop. I don’t even want to know what you are talking about, so don’t try to explain it. Can you keep a lid on things for half an hour until I get there?”

“I’ll see what I can do. Gotta go.”

“Me too. See you in thirty.” Carson hung up his phone as the pilot fired up the chopper.

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 44

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

ASAC Ortiz had assembled his large team of five FBI agents and four Fajardo detectives in the visitor’s conference room adjacent to the lobby of Thermion’s Isla Roca facility. SAC Otero was in attendance but true to his word, he yielded control of the investigation to Ortiz. The Grady family was also in attendance. The Thermion staff members were not invited.

“Team,” Ortiz said, calling the meeting to order. “Let me go over recent developments since I left you in Vieques. First of all, as you may have noticed, the Coast Guard has taken over the search in the water and along the coastline. I am not getting direct updates from the Lieutenant running this search from their patrol boat, but they know how to get in touch with us if they find anything. They are running a systematic search using their patrol boat, their rigid-hull inflatable to search the rocky coastline, and a helicopter. If Joseph Grady is in the water or on the coast, be assured they will find him. That leaves it to us to search on the grounds of this island and within this facility.”

“Sir,” Special Agent Greg Miller asked, half-raising his hand. “This is private property, isn’t it? Do we have PC to perform a search of this facility, or a warrant?”

“It’s not that cut and dried,” SAC Otero responded. “The island itself belongs to the U.S. Federal Government, but it is leased to a private company here. For the moment, we are going to say the exterior grounds, the entirety of the island’s surface, is fair game for a search. As for the interior of the facility itself, that’s a little more of a gray area. I understand the CEO of Thermion is due to arrive here any minute, and I will ask him nicely to grant us access to the facility. If that doesn’t work, we’ll have to go to plan B.”

“That brings me to the second thing. This facility.” Ortiz continued his summary of the search effort. “We have been given a cock-and-bull story from the project manager here, Larry Duncan, that they are developing some kind of jammer-proof GPS guidance system, but it doesn’t exactly wash. They are hiding something here and I want to find out what it is, even if we can’t get permission to search the facility. I’m not sure searching their lab is going to tell us what they are doing anyway. We need to talk to the staff here. Janitors, security guards, anyone we can find who will talk, and see if we can get a few more pieces to the puzzle. But let me lay out the key data points that we have so far.” Ortiz paused to allow the team to begin taking notes if they so desired.

“These guys have laid out a grid of GPS-equipped smartphones that they are using, so they say, to monitor GPS timing errors around the island. They just set up this grid on Monday, the same day that Joseph Grady went missing. The Coast Guard asked them to shut down these phones and also shut down whatever testing they were doing that used these phones, and they agreed. So we should expect to see a bunch of Thermion geeks start to head out into the dark reaches of the island any minute now to go manually shut off these ‘few dozen’ phones. This is a prime opportunity to catch these guys in the wild and get them to talk. This will be our number one priority, squeeze the Thermion scientists while they are outside the building.”

“What, exactly, are we to be asking?” asked one of the Fajardo detectives.

“Ask what they are doing, get them to explain how the monitoring works, what they are trying to catch with these test stations, what kind of errors they are looking for, what might be causing the errors. Anything to get them talking. Record what they say. We’ll compare notes later tonight and see what extra facts have entered into the narrative. Now,” he said, leaning on the table. “Four of these GPS monitoring stations are on buoys out in the water right next to El Pliegue. Remember the last time Grady was seen was at El Pliegue. Then yesterday, the Thermion scientists apparently had some cause to ‘upgrade’ the equipment on those stations with atomic clocks instead of smartphones. They couldn’t really explain why. I want to find out what caused them to do that. Because that brings me to my third thing.

“Joseph Grady went missing sometime between when he was last seen actively SCUBA diving at El Pliegue, and when the dive boat he was on returned to Vieques. We have already combed through Vieques, Fajardo and Culebra thanks mostly to the detectives here, and there’s no sign of him there. Also, Special Agent Morales has been diligently looking for any cause for us to think this might be a kidnapping, and she is confident that there is no reason to suspect it is. That basically leaves us with the probability that Joseph Grady went missing while diving, in El Pliegue. The Coast Guard are searching for him and they will find him if he’s out there. But we need to do what we can to put the pieces together as to why. What caused him to go missing in the first place.” The room began to go abuzz with comments from all of the team.

“Wait, wait. I know, all signs point to drowning. But I will add this one thing that makes me curious about this. Mrs. Grady and her son Mark were on a Zodiac this afternoon with one of the Thermion scientists with a side-scan sonar trying to search the bottom of El Pliegue for Joseph. This should have worked. But for whatever reason, and I don’t have any reason to think it was intentional on the part of Thermion, the sonar was not able to get a valid reading. They said there was ‘distortion’. The Thermion scientist on the boat, Aaron West, said he tried to adjust it and make it work for an hour and could not get a single valid reading from it.” Again the room became noisy and Ortiz had to settle them down.

“Just a minute, let me finish. I know it sounds like they are hiding something and sabotaged their own equipment. But what happened next makes that sound very unlikely. Everyone who was aboard that boat, including Mrs. Grady and Mark Grady, agree with this story. They say the towfish, the part of the sonar that is under the water, was violently pulled by something under the water, pulled so hard that it rocked the entire boat, broke a carabiner holding the steel cable to the boat’s deck, and then proceeded to drag the entire sonar unit under water with it.

“Now I know that sounds pretty far-fetched. But this is a story corroborated by three witnesses, two of which we know have absolutely nothing to hide. So let me recap this piece of the story. A., we have some kind of error with GPS, so they say, that makes them deploy a whole array of sensors all over the island to figure out what it is, on the day Joseph Grady went missing. B., there is something special about the four sensors that are mounted to buoys out at El Pliegue, exactly where Joseph Grady went missing, and I am willing to bet what is special is not the sensors, but the results of the measurements they were taking there. And C., we have this crazy story today of something reportedly in El Pliegue violently pulling the sonar unit out of the boat by the cable attached to the towfish. Now I don’t know about you, but to me, those three things don’t sound like a coincidence.

“In just three days, we have someone who is missing in El Pliegue, and something big happening on this island enough to make these scientists cobble together a field of sensors covering a square mile to track it, and then the focus of their tracking coincides with a really strange happening of another thing going missing, so to speak, off of a science vessel. I want to know what it is they were tracking. What in the hell are these guys doing here? I think they know what happened to Joseph Grady, and they are covering up something big. Any questions?”

They all had questions. They had nothing but questions. Ray Ortiz had just laid out an outlandish scenario that was so far outside the norm for this team that they didn’t even know where to start. But Ortiz put together a story that, while crazy, was at least plausible. And worrisome. And if Otero wasn’t disputing this right now, then it meant that the whole team was to get on board with Ray’s theory.

“I have a question, boss,” Allison Morales said. “Aren’t they going to shut down those atomic clocks out by El Pliegue too? Who’s going to question those guys?”

“Yes, they are. And I intend to be on that boat when they go out to El Pliegue and I’ll get eyes on those atomic clocks. I’ll get them to talk while we are out.”

James heard Ortiz say this and he decided he would find a way to join Ortiz on that boat.

“Any other questions?” Ortiz asked and waited a moment. When no further questions came, he continued, “All of you know what to do? Good. Everybody keep your cell on. Let’s meet back here in this room at ten pm.”

The meeting broke up and the team each went their separate ways. SAC Otero approached Ortiz and said, “You heard the chopper land? Since all of our guys are here, that has to be—”

“Carson Lee. My thoughts exactly,” Ortiz said as Otero nodded. “Have you got this?”

“Yes, I’ll go head off Lee and you head out to El Pliegue like you said. Find out what’s happening out there on this island. I’ll keep Lee and Duncan out of your way as long as I can,” Otero said, and then departed.

Chapter 45

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Carson Lee would have preferred to have had a one-on-one meeting with Larry Duncan prior to speaking with the FBI, but this plan was thwarted nearly as soon as he departed the chopper. A slender man in his early fifties wearing a navy suit approached him, calling his name.

“Carson Lee? Carson Lee.” Otero confirmed. “Mr. Lee, you and I need to have a conversation.” Otero joined Carson Lee moving at a rapid pace towards the lobby of the facility in order to avoid the rain that was beginning to fall.

“You are?”

“Michael Otero,” he said while showing his FBI credentials. “SAC, FBI San Juan. I need to meet with you and your man, Duncan.”

“Do you have a warrant, Mr. Otero?”

“Mr. Lee, the FBI is requesting your voluntary assistance in a search for a teenage boy. This is a missing persons case. As you might be aware, every hour that passes dramatically reduces our chances of finding him alive. Frankly, we don’t have time to get a warrant. We don’t have time for legal wrangling. A life is at stake.”

“What do you want with Larry Duncan?”

“He is the man who has been in charge here during the time the boy went missing. I just need a few minutes of your time. Please take me to Mr. Duncan and we can get this over with.”

Carson Lee thought about this. He didn’t like the prying eyes on his operations and he thought the longer this dragged on, the more footage of the Daedalus facility would be shot and shown on national TV. The longer this took to find the kid, the more likely some reporter would turn over the wrong stone or one of his staff would leak some critical piece of information. “This way,” Carson Lee said as he swiped his security badge and the magnetic lock on the door clicked open.

Larry Duncan was joined in his office by Laurie and Kyle. Kyle’s assertion about the time loop and his cursory proof in the class ring was completely distracting him from the political storm that had blown in by way of the Coast Guard and the FBI.

“I have been thinking about this non-stop, and I am still having a hard time with it. Lay it out for me, Kyle. Just a week ago, we were not even sure that a time loop was possible. I mean, you are suggesting, in essence, we have created a wormhole. And we did it by accident. I can’t wrap my head around the paradox of it.” Larry stopped talking. He was rambling. He wasn’t making sense, even to himself. He needed to give Kyle space to make it clear.

“Look, Larry. I am not sure I can explain it well. I just saw it. We have evidence of it staring us in the face. I have a feeling about how it works but I can’t make it work mathematically yet.”

“I don’t need the math right now. Give me the feeling. Let’s start somewhere.”

“Okay. I think this is really so much simpler than we have made it in the past. There’s not alternate universes or alternate time lines and all of that crazy sci-fi nonsense. There’s just one universe, and it’s made up of matter, existing in space-time. So an object exists across space and time as dimensions of the same fabric, so to speak. It’s just that ordinary objects we are used to, all matter, in fact, just moves through time. The problem for us is that we are not able to see across the dimension of time. We just follow it and we can’t affect it, normally.

“We made a change to the matter, and the changed matter then exists in its changed form across time. Let’s say our time loop is a week. So we put something in the portal, and whatever change we made to it before we put it in the portal takes effect a week ago. So if we dented your ring today and put it in the portal, then the dent really appeared a week ago. We just didn’t notice it until we looked at it to consider putting it in the portal.”

“But we didn’t dent it. We didn’t put it in the portal.”

“Yes we did. The proof is the dent in the ring. But we didn’t continue doing it. So the ring didn’t continue looping.”

“You mean we changed the future.”

“We changed the ring. The future, well it’s not set in stone. It hasn’t happened yet for us, since we are forced to move through time at a constant pace and in only one direction. But that’s just a human limitation. A four-dimensional being would be able to see the path of the ring the entire way like we can see the length, width and depth of your desk, for example. If we could perceive time as a dimension, then we’d see the whole lifetime of your desk along with the length, width and depth.”

“I’m still not getting it,” said Laurie.

“Yeah, me neither—” Larry was interrupted by new visitors coming in his door. It was Carson Lee and a man he didn’t recognize.

“Larry,” Carson Lee said. “This is agent…”

“Michael Otero. SAC, FBI San Juan.” The men shook hands.

“Mr. Otero requested a meeting with the two of us,” Carson Lee said.

“Okay. Kyle, Laurie, we’ll continue this later.” Kyle and Laurie got the hint and got up and left. After they left the office, the door was closed and they presumed the big wigs were having a private meeting. They took this opportunity to retreat to the lab.

“I need you to help me work out the math of this. Since we know what is happening now, maybe we can find the math error and figure out where, or when, our cubes have gone. And maybe we can tune it to make a shorter loop that we can observe better.”

“Come up with a better test,” Laurie said.

“Exactly.”

“Let’s do it.”

Chapter 46

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Ray Ortiz half-jogged to the dock, cursing himself for not being better equipped for the weather. The rain was sporadic, but the bottom would fall out any minute now and Ortiz would be drenched in a suit and tie. He saw Aaron West and Carl Jacobs putting some miscellaneous gear onto a Zodiac. “Hey guys,” Ortiz called to them.

Both men looked up from their work. “Mr. Ortiz,” Carl responded. “What’s going on?”

“Are you going out to shut down the clocks on the buoys?”

“Yeah. We were just about to shove off. Why?”

“Mind if I tag along?”

Carl looked at Aaron and Aaron shrugged in response. “Why not? You’re going to get soaked.”

“I’m already soaked.”

“Here,” Aaron said as he retrieved a folded rain poncho and handed it to Ortiz.

“Got any more of those?” the voice of James Grady said from up the dock. James was followed by his two sons. Ortiz was about to rebuke the three men and turn them back when James started again. “If you’re going out to El Pliegue, we are going with you.”

“I don’t think that’s a—” said Ortiz.

“Look. It’s my son who is lost out there. Their brother. What else are we supposed to do? Mark and Eli were the last ones to see Joey there. They may notice something you don’t. And you know, we’re going to go nuts if we are stuck in that dorm. If the boat’s going to El Pliegue, we want to be on it.”

“What about your wife?” Ortiz suggested.

“She’s back at the dorm, talking to her mother on the phone. This won’t take long, right?”

“Shouldn’t,” Aaron said. “We just have to power down four atomic clocks. Nothing to it.” What Aaron didn’t say is that they were planning to note the time on those atomic clocks to see if they are experiencing the same time distortion as the phones that they replaced.

“Well then let’s do it,” Eli said, grabbing a poncho from Aaron’s hand and boarding the boat uninvited. The other men followed suit.

“Okay, saddle up.” Carl said, and then started the Zodiac’s engine. It was a short trip to the buoys and with the rain and wind there was no room to talk. When they pulled up to the first buoy, the stopped the boat and began to open the Pelican case holding the atomic clock.

“Is that the time on the clock?” Ortiz said, looking over Aaron’s shoulder as he opened the case.

“Yeah. It just keeps time and displays it right on the front panel. It’s much more accurate than ordinary clocks.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Ortiz said. The Grady men and Carl all joined Ortiz, crowded around Aaron, looking at the clock. Ray Ortiz looked at his wrist watch to compare, although there was no point. The time showing on the atomic clock’s front panel read 04:27:14 and was ticking away, while Ray’s watch indicated it was about ten minutes until eight pm central time. The atomic clock was over three and a half hours fast.

“Is that supposed to be the right time?” Mark asked.

“Well, we set them using GPS when we put them out here yesterday afternoon. The time showing here is what time the clock thinks it is.” Aaron explained.

“How is that possible?” James asked.

“Well, I’m not sure I can explain that,” Aaron replied.

“Can’t, or won’t?” Ortiz asked with an edge of suspicion.

“Can’t,” Aaron said, suddenly deciding to come clean. The sooner they learned what was really going on was the sooner they would stop chasing ghosts and be able to focus on finding the boy. “Look. This is not really unexpected,” he said as Carl shot him a cautionary look. “Come on, Carl. These guys are not here to steal Thermion’s secrets or shut down Daedalus. They are looking for a lost boy. Anything we can tell them that might help them find him, I’m going to tell them.”

Carl nodded gently and breathed, “Alright.”

Aaron continued. “We told you we were monitoring GPS timing errors, which is mostly true, but not the whole story. We were searching for any small timing anomalies and we decided that we could use GPS receivers to locate these anomalies, if they existed. What we found were some pretty serious timing anomalies, but only on these four stations. On the buoys.”

Anomalies,” James repeated. “What sort of anomalies are you looking for?”

Carl responded for Aaron. “The Daedalus project, the work we are doing here on Isla Roca, is basically trying to manipulate intense gravitational fields in order to make it possible to move objects from one place to another very quickly. We have a test system in the lab and we have been testing this device, trying to move these little black cubes from one place to another in the lab. But the cubes were just disappearing and we didn’t know where they were going. We set up this matrix of GPS receivers to try and find out where all of the cubes were ending up. The idea was that the effect of the Daedalus device may cause a slight timing error at the destination of the cubes.”

Aaron picked up the narrative. “So we put out this matrix of GPS devices, ran another test and looked for an anomaly. We used cell phones at first, since they are portable and we had a ton of them available. Our computer scientist wrote a special program to monitor their time and this was supposed to help us detect any minute timing anomaly.”

“So, you detected this anomaly out here, on the buoys.” Ortiz suggested.

Aaron responded, “Well, not exactly. We expected the clocks to run very slightly slow. Like, maybe lose a few hundredths of a second between the synchronization intervals.”

“What do you mean?” Eli asked.

Aaron answered, “GPS receivers get a time update every second from the GPS satellites, so they can synchronize their local clocks once per second. We figured we’d see a few hundredths of a second of error within one of these seconds, which sounds tiny but for GPS would be a huge error.”

“But this clock is not a couple of hundredths of a second off.” Mark said. “It’s way off.”

Carl then continued, “Well, the phones we put out here were probably much worse. We went through two different sets of phones before switching to the atomic clocks. We thought maybe some radiation or magnetic fields were screwing with the phone’s electronics. So we put these atomic clocks out here, which use much more stable oscillators, and shielded the enclosures. We also measured for radiation and magnetic fields. That’s what we were doing when you ran into us out here yesterday.”

“And now,” Aaron said, “We have these atomic clocks that are, as you put it, way off. Well at least this one. I guess it could be defective. Could still be radiation, but maybe it’s transient, only happens occasionally and it wasn’t happening when we were measuring.”

Mark was looking at his digital watch and noticed that the time was ticking off at the same rate as the atomic clock. “Well, it’s not running fast. It seems to be counting seconds at the same time as my watch,” he said.

“Could be because some transient condition is causing the clock error, could be that if there’s a constant condition, it’s affecting your watch just the same as the clock. Who knows,” Aaron said.

“Okay, I think I get what’s going on. But did you find any of your lost cubes?” Ortiz asked.

“No. But we were so focused on the really screwy behavior of the phones, and now this clock, that we didn’t really look. Plus, if the cubes wound up out here, they’d sink in El Pliegue. They are only one centimeter by one centimeter. We’d never find them.”

“Guys, let’s just get these clocks turned off and get out of here. We’re not getting anywhere with this, and I’m tired of standing here in the rain and the dark,” Carl said. Aaron turned off the atomic clock they had been looking at and sealed it back up in the Pelican case. Carl powered the boat to the next buoy, where Aaron commenced opening the case to reveal the next clock.

The time on the second atomic clock was also fast. This clock’s panel read 09:41:23 and was counting seconds. Mark saw this time and compared with his watch which now showed it to be eleven minutes after eight pm central time. “This one is four hours faster than the other one was,” he said to the group.

“So it is,” Aaron replied. He really didn’t have an explanation and now that he’d gotten what he knew about this testing off of his chest, he wasn’t interested in continued effort to solve this problem. He would report the error of these clocks back to Kyle and the others and let them sort it out.

“So,” Eli said to Mark, “You and mom were out here earlier today and your sonar unit was pulled under, right?”

“Yeah, we were just over there, a few feet,” Mark said and pointed. Aaron knew exactly where they had been. He hadn’t been able to shake his unsettled feeling after that crazy event all day.

“What if this time anomaly is worse under the water? Maybe whatever it is that pulled the sonar overboard is the same thing causing it.” Eli suggested.

“Yeah, I guess if we continue doing this test, tomorrow maybe, or after you guys find your brother, we might drop these clocks under the water,” Carl responded.

“We’re right here. Let’s just drop one under right now. It’ll just take a minute. I’m pretty curious about this now,” Eli said. Mark nodded in agreement.

“No, no way. We’re just here to turn them off, that’s it. We’ve already wasted too much time talking about this. It’s raining. It’s dark. The rain is going to get worse and we do not want to be out here on this little boat if the thunderstorm moves in behind this rain. The Coast Guard will have to start looking for us,” Carl said firmly.

James’s curiosity was also piqued, and he also wanted to see for himself this violently-pulled-under event that his wife and Mark had described. He didn’t really know why, but he had a hunch that this was related to Joseph’s disappearance. He said, “Come on guys, it’ll only take like five minutes. Aren’t you curious?”

Ray Ortiz stepped in, “No, I think Carl’s right. We have to think about your safety too. This is a dead end.” The truth is, Ray’s whole objective was to get Aaron and Carl to talk about what was really happening at Isla Roca, and they had already done so. He was ready to get back to the island and start poking around in the facility.

“Look,” James said. “We have this rope here. We could just tie it off on that D-ring and tie the other end to that Pelican case handle. The case is waterproof. Just drop it under, then pull it back up. My five minute estimate was too big. One minute.”

“It’s not—” Carl started before James interrupted.

“One minute. We can afford one minute.” James said.

Carl rolled his eyes and repeated, “One minute. Aaron, reset it to the correct time first. I’ll pull the Pelican case.”

Aaron connected the atomic clock to the Zodiac’s GPS antenna and allowed it to sync the time while Carl removed the Pelican case from the buoy and rigged it with the rope as James had suggested. Then Aaron mounted the atomic clock back in the Pelican case. “It’s going to float. We need some ballast,” Aaron said. Carl produced a length of chain from under one of the Zodiac’s seats and stuffed it into the case along with the atomic clock.

Aaron sealed up the Pelican case and then said, “Here goes nothin’” as he tossed it overboard. The 150-foot rope was quickly drawn out as the case with the clock in it sank into El Pliegue.

“Alright, it’s down there. Now let’s get it up and get out of here,” Carl said. James and Eli began pulling the rope to retrieve the Pelican case. It was heavier than they expected due to the bulky chain that Carl had put in the case.

Suddenly the rope jerked as if something was pulling on the case hard from beneath the water. James thought it felt like the case had gotten ten times as heavy. As he was straining to pull up what was now a very heavy case, the other men on the boat could see something was wrong and began to come to his aid.

“What is it, dad?” Mark asked.

“It just got real—” James said just before it pulled again even harder, and this time James lost his footing on the deck of the Zodiac and went over the edge. James was glad Carl had insisted they all wear life jackets as he watched his sons and the other men scramble to rescue him.

“Swim!” Carl shouted, but James was way ahead of him. As he was pulling through the waves the few feet back towards the boat, he watched the boat itself tilt in the water and the rope holding the atomic clock then snapped somewhere beneath the water’s surface. James grabbed the rope to pull himself back to the boat and then felt the rope slip through his fingers as he, too, was pulled under.

Chapter 47

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

Dear God, I’m gong to drown, James thought, as he felt the cool water flow over his body. And then, what have I done?

Joseph… oh my God… this is what happened to Joseph.

James had a surprising moment of mental clarity after just a few brief seconds of absolute terror. This was all his fault. Every single thing. It all started with Greer. No, it started before Greer. It started when James had decided to do some moonlighting and earn some extra money. He was only trying to provide for his family. How could he have possibly known? How could he anticipate that taking a side job to help pay some bills would result in the destruction of his family, the loss of his son, and now his own imminent death?

He knew it was his fault, absolutely. This was an objective fact. But it wasn’t the truth. He did what he did, everything, out of love for his family. That was the truth. He had made choices, some bad but some perfectly good, simply because he wanted to care for his wife. His sons. To provide for them. This was his calling in his life. It was all he ever wanted. To be a father they could depend on. To give them what they needed. How could such a noble desire turn into such tragedy?

In this moment of introspection, with the water rushing by his open eyes as he descended into some pitch black abyss of nothingness, he considered: his desire was not so noble. Had he just stuck it out, they would have made it, even without the moonlighting. It would have been tough, but they would have done it just fine. Looking back, the irony was that they had made the changes that would have made their financial situation work, but only after they were sued by Greer. They downsized, shared cars, tightened the belt. This was what responsible people did. This is what his father would have done. Or his grandfather. But James didn’t do that. He decided the solution was more money, and he went after it. There’s nothing noble about that. It’s pride. Or greed. Or maybe vanity. But it was not one hundred percent noble.

After that, James had reached the pinnacle of his pride. He violated his wife’s trust. Undermined his relationship with his children. Broke the law. All of this to correct for his previous error. He easily rationalized the first choice. After all, working a side job to make extra money when the bills piled up may not be completely noble, but it’s hardly wrong. But when the wheels fell off after the lawsuit, he responded with a very wrong choice, and it was that choice that had led him directly here. It solved his money problems with a vengeance. But everything else fell apart.

Had it not been for the money he made with Tim, he would not have needed to “fix” his family. They wouldn’t have needed this vacation. He wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway. Instead of being pulled underwater by some mysterious force, James would now be sitting at home in their old shabby rent house around the dinner table, having just finished dinner, laughing and talking with his beautiful wife and amazing sons. All three of them. But instead, one boy was gone, and now James was following him to a watery grave. He considered, have Mark and Eli jumped in after me? Perhaps they all would die here, in this hole in the water.

James considered the horror that Joseph must have felt, being pulled under in the same way. The pain of the water entering his lungs. The terror of knowing he would not be rescued. The feeling of a weight on his chest so heavy he cannot bear it. The shock of the darkness that James was now enveloped in. Did Joseph have this same moment of mental clarity that James now was experiencing? Did he have peace, or violence?

As James was considering that any moment now his own lungs would be filled with water as he would inevitably fail to keep from exhaling what air was in there now, he began to notice an unexpected sensation. It was as if time itself had stopped. He could no longer feel the water that he knew surrounded him. He could no longer feel the force he knew was pulling him under. The blackness that enveloped James was complete, eternal. It was as if he was ceasing to exist, and his awareness of his own existence was diminishing, even the memory of it. This must be death, he thought. To cease to exist. To cease remembering. To no longer be. But how was he aware of his drifting? He could sense that he did still exist, but just not in the same type of awareness that he was used to. There was no worry, no rush. No regret. No concern. Just darkness. Stillness. Is this peace? He thought.

And then there was what felt like eternity. Eternity with no thinking. No memories. Just nothing. And after this eternity of nothing, James began to sense his own awareness of life. In a disorienting rush, he saw his eyelids as they pulled away from his eyes, revealing his surroundings in a way not unlike the opening of a curtain. And it felt to James as if he was just then beginning to exist. For a moment he had no memory. No awareness of time, or of his own history. The past, the future, these ideas were only newly being formed as if his own knowledge of himself was being rebuilt.

The light of the room he was in assaulted his eyes. The suddenness of sounds, voices around him and noises he realized he recognized as dishes rattling against silverware, air moving, muted sounds of traffic, all exploded to life in his ears. He saw a person sitting directly in front of him. The man was talking.

“So, what do you say? In? Are we doing this?” James heard the man say.

With a jolt, James realized at that moment, like pieces abruptly being assembled into a giant puzzle that was his life, exactly who he was, where he was, and what he was doing.

“James,” Tim said, prompting him for a response to his question.

In response, James abruptly stood up from the table, delivered a short, stunned look to his former friend, and ran out of the restaurant as fast as his feet would carry him.

 

Epilogue

Joseph Grady bolted upright in bed and took in his unfamiliar surroundings. He was waking from the deepest sleep he had ever experienced in his young life. I was drowning, he thought. And then, am I dead? But as he looked around the mostly-dark room, with morning’s breaking sunlight peeking in, his mind reeled with an overwhelming sense of deja vu.

I must be dreaming, he thought. Either he was dreaming, or he was awaking from a dream so long and so real, he couldn’t begin to understand. Something was seriously wrong. His mind couldn’t make sense of where he was, what he was doing here. Nothing made sense. He was overcome with a powerful disorientation, and he felt his vision narrowing and his head becoming lighter. Just before he could complete his thought, he passed out.

When…

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Acknowledgements

As an avid reader, I am always impressed with a well-researched book, accurate in technical details as well as cultural and other factors. To that end, many people helped me to ensure Hindsight is credible and accurate to the extent a science-fiction work can be. In addition to plain old-fashioned research, I relied on a few experts with life experience who chipped in: my wife Shileen regarding kidnapping investigations, Kristian Alveo about Puerto Rico, Todd Wright about forex and arbitrage, and Shawn Bouldin about the U.S. Coast Guard. Thanks guys.

I would also like to thank my family and friends. You have all helped me just by encouragement and your support. In particular, thanks to my wife Shileen, I really couldn’t do this without you.

Most importantly, thanks belong to God, who inspires me to do all good things. It’s my hope that this book is one of those good things.

Synopsis

James Grady just wanted to bring his family back together, years after he made a mistake that sent them into a slow drift. When he takes his troubled family on vacation in the Puerto Rican Caribbean, they see their problems escalate from the routine family drama to something much worse as they cross paths with scientists working on a secret time warping experiment on a nearby island. Tension and excitement build as the family’s desperate plight leads them into a world where the scientists are deeply involved in solving a mystery of their own.

 

Free Preview of The Griffin Paradox

The following is a free preview of Book 2 of the Daedalus series, The Griffin Paradox. In The Griffin Paradox, the story of the Grady family and Thermion scientists continues with more mind-bending science-fiction action. If you enjoy this preview, please see Josh Karnes author page on Amazon’s Kindle store where you can purchase The Griffin Paradox and other books that continue the Daedalus series.

http://www.amazon.com/Josh-Karnes/e/B0181L8DYO/

Monday

Chapter 1

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

9:33 AM ADT

“Okay, go ahead,” Antonio said, as he positioned the oscilloscope probe’s tiny tip into the test point on the mysterious little device. It had taken him more than a few minutes to coax the probe into the right spot this time, and he was looking through a stereoscope, sort of a big microscope for both eyes, so he could see the tiny circuitry well enough to keep the probe in the right spot. The first time they tested this odd prototype servo controller, the readings were inconclusive. The little board would not power up and boot correctly, and they thought it might have been due to the way they grounded the probe. This time, Antonio had soldered on a capacitor to AC-couple the probe’s ground, in hopes that they could get some useful information without overloading the delicate circuit. Still, he really didn’t know why this was such a big deal. And why didn’t they just buy this off the shelf? Robust digital servo controllers that someone else had already debugged were a dime a dozen. But this was his job, and even though the non-disclosure agreement was very unusual and a little bit scary, it was a really great job. What they were working on was interesting, to say the least.

“Okay, I’m powering it now. Hold what you’ve got,” Kyle Martin instructed the Puerto Rican technician. Antonio kept one eye on the oscilloscope’s screen while the other was glancing into the stereoscope so he could try and hold the tenuous position of the probe until the tiny device could complete its boot cycle and Kyle could start the test program. Within a few seconds, the flat line on the oscilloscope’s screen began to jiggle and spike. It looked like Antonio’s idea of using the capacitor on the ground lead was going to work. Maybe this would be the turning point, and they could finally get this Daedalus machine, whatever it was, to work.

“Okay, it’s finished booting. I’m starting the test program now. Is the scope recording?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, it’s been recording since before I put on the probe.”

“Alright, then. Here goes nothing.” Kyle hit a few keystrokes and watched briefly as text began to scroll on the screen’s terminal window, and then he abandoned the computer and joined Antonio at the other end of the bench to watch the oscilloscope screen. With any luck they’d see the correct pattern on the scope that would prove that this last piece of the complex framework that made up the Daedalus’ control system was functional, so they then could begin testing the entire device.

Kyle Martin was the lead engineer on the top-secret Daedalus project that a defense contractor called Thermion was running on a private island they had leased from the U.S. government off the coast of Puerto Rico. Kyle was more than just an engineer working on a project. He was a rare genius, with an almost supernatural intuitive sense of how the theoretical quantum physics concepts common to science fiction applied to the real world. It was only because of Kyle’s practical aptitude that the Daedalus project had ever gotten off of the ground.

Kyle was maybe the only person among a team of real geniuses who truly understood the ramifications of the Daedalus device they were building. This was a device that, if everything did not work perfectly, could in all likelihood destroy the entire earth. There had previously been a great outcry of well-founded and legitimate fear that CERN’s Hadron supercollider could potentially destroy the earth, and this well-publicized campaign to stop it was much more than ravings of loons and conspiracy nuts. If only they knew about Daedalus. In terms of risk, the Hadron collider was dwarfed by Daedalus. Fears over the Hadron collider were due in part to a theory that certain theoretical materials might be accidentally created. The properties of those materials were unknown by scientists, but sound theory predicted catastrophic consequences beyond any human imagination if those materials were to come into contact with the matter that the earth itself is made of. But the Daedalus scientists had already discovered one of these materials, and the Daedalus device intended to control and contain it. If the Hadron collider scientists were like children playing with matches, then Daedalus scientists were like teenagers tossing a live hand grenade with the pin removed back and forth in a game of catch. One missed catch and the spoon flips open. Everyone dies.

It was nothing less than the fate of humanity that was pressing on Kyle’s conscience as he watched the oscilloscope screen. This was a precarious tightrope walk between discovery and danger like no other. Perhaps this was the greatest demonstration of the arrogance of man in all of history.

“Looks good?” Antonio asked, as he looked at the stair-step shape being displayed on the screen. It was a familiar shape, since one very similar was presented in the printed test procedure in the ring binder open on the bench, partly buried among tools and components. Kyle, to be double sure, pulled the test manual from under the pile and held it beside the oscilloscope.

“One volt per division,” he mumbled. “One microsecond…” He counted in his head. He pointed a pencil on the screen, comparing the precise waveform to his test spec. “Looks stable.”

Antonio was getting tired of holding this position, afraid he was going to slip and end up shorting out the delicate little circuit board and destroy a week’s worth of work. He asked Kyle, “You got what you need?”

“Yeah, I got it. Hold on while I power it down.” Kyle stepped back over to the terminal and stopped the test program. He quickly initiated the shutdown sequence and it took only seconds to complete. The oscilloscope screen changed its pattern to blips and what looked like static while the servo controller was shutting down and then as both men watched, the screen took on the wrong pattern altogether. It held a distorted version of the picture they had seen before and it was frozen. The scope had crashed.

Antonio looked up at Kyle who was standing just behind him. “Well it looks like we got what we need just in time,” Kyle said. “Has this scope crashed before?”

“No, never.” Antonio wondered if something about the test they were doing could have affected the scope. He dismissed this idea almost as soon as he considered it. Then he said, “Maybe RF interference? Magnetic?”

“I don’t know,” Kyle replied. “Could be anything. At least we got the result before it went down. Let’s just reboot it.”

Antonio hit the reset button on the front of the oscilloscope. These modern digital sampling oscilloscopes were essentially highly specialized versions of ordinary computers. They had a traditional computer CPU and motherboard, and they ran a customized version of a normal, common operating system like you would see on most normal computers and laptops. This particular scope ran Linux, but many ran Windows as well. Rebooting it was just like rebooting a computer. They watched, expecting the scope manufacturer’s splash screen to come up. But instead, it did something that made Kyle’s heart skip a beat.

It showed a message on the screen. It began, “This message is for Kyle Martin.”

Tuesday

Chapter 2

Houston, Texas

5:18 AM CDT

It was an almost debilitating sense of déjà vu. He had seen this before. He had been here, in this place, before. He had lived this part of his life before. But not just this moment, or only the next few minutes. No, this is no ordinary déjà vu. He had lived the next two years before. He knew precisely and exactly what was going to happen, not just in a minute, or in a month, but for the foreseeable future. No, not just the foreseeable future; for a future beyond any teenage boy’s wildest projection. Two entire years. There it was, in his mind, just like a memory. No, not just like a memory, but literally a memory. And now he was being reminded of this memory as he was reliving these moments since he startled awake in the night. But this time, it was different, because he didn’t startle awake before; he didn’t remember that. He remembered what is to come in just an hour: getting up, getting ready for school, having breakfast, going to school, the ordinary things he did every day. He had a general memory of an ordinary school day, and a distinct awareness that he was living an ordinary school day, or would be in just a little while. One of hundreds he lived. And as time progressed, the memory was becoming more crisp, more detailed. He didn’t remember startling awake on this day, but he did remember waking up and going about his normal day.

Was it a memory? Could this be just some kind of insane, intense dream? Is it even possible to have a dream that lasts two years? Joseph suddenly remembered a movie he saw, where people could insert themselves into others’ dreams and it had some kind of time effect. What was that? Five minutes or real time was an hour in a dream? If that was true, then two years would mean nearly sixty hours of sleeping. That can’t be. But that was a movie. Maybe you can dream two years worth in just six or seven hours since he went to bed, he thought.

And then he remembered the end. If that was a dream, then it was a nightmare. He had been on a diving trip with his brothers. They were diving off the coast of some tiny island in Puerto Rico. He remembered a deep sinkhole, but it was not round. This one was elongated, like a sort of crack, or crease. In fact, he recalled, it was called El Pliegue, which means “the crease”. The dive boat had sounded the alert for them to return, and he had surfaced. Joseph distinctly remembered inflating his BCD, breaking the surface, pulling his regulator and swimming towards the boat. Then the next thing he remembered was like suddenly he was loaded with a weight belt and he was dragged under even though his BCD should have held him up top. He ditched his tanks and vest but he still could not swim to the surface. He couldn’t overcome the pull as he was pulled into the sinkhole. He remembered that he was beginning to drown, just like it was yesterday. Just like it was an hour ago. And then before he breathed in the water, he awoke here in his bed. In his old house. In a time and place he recognized but that didn’t make any sense.

What he remembered, what he recognized to be happening to him right at that moment, all of that was impossible.

He had to be dead. Or he was still dreaming. Or he was going crazy.

Whatever it was, his alarm was going of now and in just a few minutes he would be going to school. He knew this not only because that’s what he always did, but also because he remembered this very moment. Impossible or not, it was happening. Time to get up.

In his head, Joseph heard his brother Mark saying “You gonna get that?”, directing Joseph to turn off the alarm because it was closer to his bed than it was to Mark’s. Oh yeah, he thought, I share a room with Mark. Going backwards was not going to be cool, not at all.

Joseph turned off the alarm before Mark could make the request, and just the moment he did, his memory of what was to come began to get just a little more unclear. He must be going crazy. Instead, Joseph said, “Mark, you getting up today?”

Mark rose on his elbows and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “Did the alarm go off?”

Joseph was ordinarily the late sleeper. Mark typically had to drag him out of bed. The alarm usually sounded for over a minute before Joseph was finally coaxed into waking up enough to turn it off, and then he would pull his pillow tightly over his head just before Mark would aggressively yank the blanket off of him like one of those old-time magicians whipping a tablecloth smoothly from beneath a formal dining setting. That would be a normal day. In fact, that would have been this day, the way Joseph remembered it. But today, none of that happened. Today, Joseph was already up. He knew what Mark was going to do, so he changed it. It must be a dream, he thought.

“Yeah. I had a weird dream. Woke up a while ago.”

“Well, you should have called dibs on the bathroom. Snooze you lose,” Mark teased as he left for the shower.

  • * *

Joseph Grady tried to snap out of this weird state of crazy déjà vu for the first part of the day, but eventually he gave up. Most things went just as he expected all morning. Just as he remembered. He knew what was coming most of the time, and by the time he was halfway through his first period class, he just decided to go with the flow. He realized that he didn’t need to pay much attention in class; he had already heard this lecture and taken the exam at the end of the year. And passed. He didn’t have to pay much attention in any of his classes. That left his mind free to work out this problem. To study his condition.

He was learning about this as he went along. The first thing that he plainly realized was that nobody else was experiencing the same thing he was. Considering how he could accurately predict pretty much everything, especially if he didn’t try to alter it, he knew it could not be a dream. There is no way you could dream the future in such detail that it felt like a memory. He had dreamed things before that he felt like were going to happen, like they were the future. But they never turned out that way, and dreams never had this kind of tactile detail like a memory.

Next he became quite aware of just how fragile this “future” in his memory was. Just like turning off the alarm early this morning had upset the course of events to the degree that he couldn’t predict them exactly, any time he didn’t follow along the memory-script in his head, he found it would alter the outcome in the near term and make the next future unpredictable. This put him in an odd quandary.

It was like he was somehow given a second chance to live his sixteenth and seventeenth years on this earth. The question of why, or how, was too difficult to even consider at this point. However, Joseph had quickly adapted a great security in knowing what was about to happen. There was a tremendous comfort in eliminating the unknown. But there was no opportunity to improve it if he did not risk changing it, and that risk was all but guaranteed to take away this comfort of knowing what was to come.

Speaking of what was to come, he had to risk changing it, because what was to come was that he was going to drown. And what would happen after that was utterly unknown. Could he prevent his eventual demise?

He was snapped out of this line of thought as he heard Mr. Freeze, his chemistry teacher, repeat his name. “Mr. Grady? Are you with us?”

And just then the immediate future-script in Joseph’s mind began to unravel and fray. What happened next was no longer sure, because Joseph could not help changing everything by simply thinking differently.

“Yeah, sorry. Can you repeat the question?” he said to a chorus of chuckles from the class. Oh, well, Joseph had always been a bit of a space cadet. Nothing new here. He usually preferred thinking on his own over interacting with others.

“How many valence electrons does carbon have?” Mr. Freeze asked, apparently again.

Joseph remembered the answer without even considering it. But he remembered someone else had answered it. It was Jenny. But this time, it was Joseph who said, “four”.

“That’s right,” Mr. Freeze affirmed. “We know that because it’s in group four on your periodic table…” Mr. Freeze continued but Joseph tuned him out. He knew all of this. Or at least he thought he did. In fact he didn’t know for sure what he knew about anything. Just a few hours ago when he woke up this morning, he could remember the next two years just like it had just happened yesterday. And now it seemed like that memory was some kind of illusion that was coming apart at the edges and would never hold together.

Chapter 3

Isla Roca, Puerto Rico

8:03 AM ADT

At the request of Thermion’s CEO Carson Lee, Larry Duncan had assembled his entire team in the large conference room just to the right of the lobby of their Isla Roca facility. The message and other information Kyle had found inexplicably present in the oscilloscope the day before had sparked a chaotic firestorm of activity at Thermion, and Carson Lee himself had jumped on the company’s Gulfstream jet to fly down from their Arlington headquarters as soon as he had hung up Larry’s call. If this development was anything but an elaborate prank, then it was a monumental development that would change the very purpose of the Daedalus project. Carson Lee arrived in the room and the chatter among the team came to an abrupt halt. It was unheard of for the CEO of the company to address the team, and in particular in this type of meeting, which had the feeling of a working session and not a presentation.

“Alright, everybody. None of us are leaving this room until we have a new plan for going forward in light of this new information. I know many of you have already become involved in this new development, but from this point forward you are all full-time on the task of reorienting us for our new project plan. Now, first I’d like Kyle Martin to bring us up to speed on what he found, and then Larry will lay out our new mandate. Kyle?” Carson Lee prompted. “Oh, and before you begin, Kyle, I’d like to remind everybody here: everything we are discussing is in the highest confidence. Not a word of this is to leave this facility. Kyle?”

Kyle Martin sat up a little straighter at the conference table after being called on, and quickly the conference room’s projector showed the disorganized contents of Kyle’s laptop display on the pull-down screen. Kyle was an engineer and a scientist, neither comfortable nor skilled presenting to C-level staff. But he knew why he was on the hot seat.

“Okay,” Kyle began as the screen displayed a simple text editor showing the contents of the note he had been presented with on the oscilloscope the day before. “Yesterday, while Antonio and I were doing the final checks on the gravium servo controller, the DSO crashed and when it came back from reboot, this message was the only thing on the screen.” The room began to buzz as the team members began to read the eerie note that was shown. “Of course, since it was a note written directly to me, I read it. As you can see, it says that there is an archive of data on the hard disk of the DSO that the team should read, and it intimates that this data archive comes from some time in the future. Almost two years to the day from today, in fact.

“Now, I know what you are thinking and that’s what I thought too. Crazy, right? Well as some of you know, it’s not that crazy. I can’t explain exactly how it happened but after reading through a lot of this data, I think it’s pretty clear that two years from now we succeeded in creating a time loop with the Daedalus device, and the hard drive in the DSO was rewritten at that time with data that is on it now. Considering the fact that Antonio and I actively witnessed this scope suddenly change, and the data on the scope’s hard drive changed right before our eyes, there must be some credibility to this claim.”

“Wait a minute,” Carl Jacobs said. “What do you mean, time loop? I thought we were doing GPS accuracy research here.” The room’s occupants put up a dull roar of commentary about this point and Larry Duncan cut in to settle them down.

“It’s true,” Larry said, “what we are working on here is tangentially related to GPS accuracy. The tools we are building can be used to fine-tune the intensity of gravitational fields we can produce using the particle accelerator by creating micro black holes, and that by tuning those gravitational fields we can investigate the effects of gravity on GPS time accuracy. But the stretch goal of the Daedalus project has always been to use these controlled gravitational fields to create pathways through which we can move matter from one place to another nearly instantaneously.”

Aaron West stood up. “A worm hole?” he replied, incredulously. “Do you seriously expect us to believe—”

“Not exactly a worm hole,” Larry clarified. “More like a localized gravitational field, where time for the object in the field passes at a lower rate relative to the time for things further from the field, like the rest of the stuff on earth.”

“But the amount of gravity that would be required to make a meaningful difference in time would be—”

“Yeah, that’s what the gravium is for,” Kyle said, taking over the narrative. “Gravium is used to reduce the effect of these strong gravitational fields on other objects, so we can use this sort of space-time shortcut without crushing the thing we are trying to move,” he explained. “In theory, anyway. We haven’t made it work yet.”

“Sounds like we have,” Carl said.

“Okay, I’m getting to that,” Kyle continued. “The point is, we never intended to create a time loop. It was an accident. Let me get into what the data archive has in it.”

“Keep it high-level,” Larry instructed his subordinate.

“Right. High-level. Okay. Anyway, once I suspected something was up with the hard drive in the DSO, I called Laurie to come investigate. She found that the hard disk had been totally rewritten, and it contained a very compact Linux OS to just boot up and display the message you see on the screen, and the rest of the disk was filled with an enormous amount of data and notes from all of our research, including most of the material we already have now and are working with daily, plus more. It looks like the same kind of data but all of our research and findings for the next two years are in this archive.”

A low murmur quickly descended into stunned silence, and Kyle allowed it to settle before continuing. “I haven’t read all of the data. No way I could have since yesterday. But I did spot check and skim, and found some things that stick out. It looks like we had completed the Daedalus device and we were in the process of testing it, trying to move one-centimeter carbon cubes across the lab. The cubes were not showing up where we expected them to, and in fact we only found one of them, from what I can tell. The one we found was inside of a log that was the original source of the carbon that they used to make it, back at Florida Scientific. Then, apparently I tried putting a little dent in my class ring with an impact punch and put it into the Daedalus portal, but before I could make the dent, it was already there. Same thing for Larry’s ring.”

Kyle removed his class ring and set it on the table. Laurie picked it up and her eyes were fixed wide as she took in the ring. She said, “you mean this dent?”

“Yeah. That dent. Apparently I put that dent in it sometime in the future and put the ring back in the portal. I can’t explain it any better than that. But there it is. So based on this theory that we were sending material back in time, we decided to try and send information back in time so we could accelerate our research. Looks like we tried it many times and it never worked, until we used the DSO’s hard drive.”

“How is that even possible?” Carl asked.

“Well, just like the class ring, we changed the hard drive’s contents, and then put it into the portal. It wound up back where it was in the past, which was yesterday, inside the DSO. But it was different. The data was changed on it. Just like my ring wound up back on my finger with the dent in it. I am not really sure how it works. Nobody has ever done this before.”

“In reading through the contents of the hard drive,” Larry continued, “it looks like Kyle actually developed a theory about how this works. We still are trying to put the pieces together.”

Still standing, Aaron raised his voice above the rising chatter and said, “So if what you are saying is true, then that means we must have eventually made the Daedalus work. So far we haven’t even finished putting it together so we can begin testing.”

“That’s exactly right,” Larry said. “But this is where this whole problem gets very confusing. Sometime between now and two years from now, we will have completed the Daedalus device and we will be using it to transport objects, apparently back in time. And the data archive on the hard drive contains all of our notes on how to build it, so we can now skip all of the trial and error and get it completed in just a few days rather than years. If I am correct, we have already constructed all of the pieces and have them mostly put together, and we were just treading lightly and cautiously testing because we know the risk is very high if we make a mistake. But with the data we have in hand, we know what the mistakes are and what works, so we can complete the project immediately with far less risk.”

This was a point of great concern for Kyle. In fact, the implication in the statement that Larry had just made was one of Kyle’s greatest fears. An intense sense of dread had taken hold of Kyle from the moment he saw that message on the screen of the oscilloscope. Now, mixed with this dread was guilt, given the evidence that he had taken part in this experiment, or at least some future version of himself had done so. When Kyle signed on for the Daedalus project, it was clear that they did not intend to attempt actual time travel, but simply something akin to Star Trek’s “Warp” technology. They wanted to bend space and send objects through a shortcut, to use Einstein’s analogy. This was a crazy, ambitious plan to begin with. This was a new frontier, dealing with science and technology that had yet to be invented. They were making an attempt at application of what had been pure theory for most of a century. Kyle found this idea thrilling. It was like being an astronaut on the first moon mission; a dedicated effort to pierce through what was a hard barrier of human ingenuity, with full funding and support by not only the private company Thermion, but America’s government as well. But the bright line was that they didn’t want to fold space back on itself and attempt to send objects back in time.

This was a critical distinction to Kyle because the risk to the so-called “fabric” of space-time when moving objects forward in time was, to his thinking, reasonably small. An object may exist today, and it will continue to exist tomorrow, contingent on what happens to that object through the passing of time. If you leave your car keys on the night stand when you go to bed, then they will still be there just as you left them when you wake up in the morning. It wouldn’t make much difference in a universal sense if they keys actually only aged a few minutes while you slept alongside them for eight hours. They will still exist.

This question became only slightly more prickly in Kyle’s mind when considering moving data, or people. It’s not as if someone like Carson Lee could use Daedalus to try to live forever. The whole concept was limited by the time passing at different relative rates depending on gravity. So if a thing—or a person—went into the Daedalus portal then they might be able to pop out halfway across the planet, in a place that would have normally taken them hours or days of travel to get to, but to those not in the portal, only fraction of a second would have passed. This was the whole point of Daedalus. There is no way for a would-be sci-fi villain to use Daedalus for these types of human selfish purposes.

At its core, then, Daedalus was a device that had the potential of making travel or transit across actual space happen extremely quickly. In theory then, it may eventually unlock the potential for man to explore the far edges of space, even if only to observe. For example, if an object could be moved from one place to another faster than the speed of light, then why not light itself? Why couldn’t Daedalus’ technology be used to create a new generation of telescopes, allowing man to see, in real time or near real time, the edges of space that are millions of light years away from earth? Given sufficient development time, these things were possible.

But actually making objects, information, or people travel back in time was not possible. At least, it was not supposed to be possible. It was not the goal of Daedalus, even at the limits of the project’s ambitions, to make travel into the past a reality. However, it appeared now that they had accidentally created a device that not only had the potential of sending objects and information into the past, but he had physical evidence that they had accomplished this feat. For Kyle, this was a terrifying new development.

The chatter in the conference room was now growing to a new level, since most of the team members could not help but to begin talking with their colleagues about the implications and possibilities implied by what Larry had just said. Kyle wanted to steer the conversation in a productive direction, but he had to nearly shout to bring the meeting back to order.

“It is true, as far as we can tell, that the data contained on the DSO’s hard drive may give us information to help shortcut some of our development work. But I want to make something very clear right now. It was not some distant third party group of people who did this work and sent information back. It was us. We are the very people who did the work to bring about a semi-functioning Daedalus. So whatever is contained in those records, those are discoveries and innovations we would eventually make on our own without assistance. This is not a miracle of solving all of our problems that we are not capable of solving. This is just revealing to us the solutions that we would have eventually come up with anyway. We are just going to be able to get to some of the answers with less effort. We still have to proceed with caution. This device we are building has the potential to break things in our universe that we don’t even know exist.”

“Right, Kyle. We still have to proceed with caution. But we now know what many of the wrong answers might be, and just like you said, we can trust this data because we came up with it ourselves,” Larry said while giving Kyle a disapproving look.

“On the contrary, Larry. Not only can’t we trust it because since we came up with it, like you said, ourselves, but we also can’t judge what errors still exist. It’s a huge mistake to assume the answers in this data archive are the right answers. It is just a snapshot of our thinking at the time when the archive was made. I would like to point out: Daedalus was not working correctly at the time we made this archive, some time two years from now. Sending this data back was an act of desperation from our future selves. This is no triumph. This is just a chance for us to pick up where we left off, which is with a broken Daedalus that has accidentally created a time loop that we don’t know how to control, using a system that we designed and thought would produce a movement across only space a few hundred feet across the lab. This is far from a solution. It’s much more like a confused physics student, unable to solve the problem, and then presenting all of their work to the professor to ask where their mistake is so they can move on. Only in this case, we are the confused physics students, and instead of an appeal to our professor, we have elected to present our work to a younger version of ourselves, who have not yet taken the class. Or the prerequisite class! We are just not prepared to continue the work shown in that archive. Not yet. Maybe not ever.”

Kyle’s rebuke of Larry’s statement left the room silent. Kyle was extremely well respected by his team. The Daedalus team represented here in the conference room was made up of a broad mixture of rock stars in their varying disciplines, each of them having a particular aptitude for physics. They had all been hand selected due to their understanding of space-time theory in addition to their other merits. But among this team, Larry Duncan knew that Kyle was maybe the only person who could potentially understand all of this. Kyle had an intuitive sense of space-time that was on a level above everyone else in the room, including his boss. Over the years, Larry had learned not to ignore Kyle’s often troublingly moralist objections, and he guessed that not many in this room of experts would take Kyle’s concerns lightly. But still, what Kyle had just stated was toxic to the development of the project. Larry knew that this data archive was a gold mine. It was like manna from Heaven. Kyle may not be wrong often, and he might not be wrong about this, but brazenly airing his concerns among the mixed team was not the right thing to do if they had any chance of moving the Daedalus project forward.

“Okay, Kyle. We see your point,” Larry said. “However, we can’t stop working just because we don’t know what the outcome might be. This is the nature of science. We have a wealth of new information that will help us move forward. And on that note, we have a plan of action.”

Larry disconnected Kyle’s computer from the projector and connected his own. Showing on the screen now was a slide with an organizational flowchart. Each of the team members instinctively began scanning the slide for their name to try and anticipate what assignment Larry was about to lay out.

“As you can see, starting immediately we will commence final assembly of the Daedalus subsystems. The leadership team of Kyle, Laurie and myself will make sure we follow up on any questions or failed tests that are indicated in the data archive as we continue to study the mountain of data. There are two years’ worth of notes in there, it will take us some time to get through all of it. But we are beginning near the end to commence the final assembly of, as Kyle put it, a partially-functional Daedalus device. Each of you can see your assignment on this chart. I won’t go through it in detail. I will email this to each of you so you can know exactly where to get started. Aaron and Carl, you will oversee the assembly and right now everyone here is a technician until further notice. We are in assembly mode. This is not going to be just Antonio and Kyle hand-tuning everything in the lab. We have a good idea of what things need to be changed or redone to get them to work correctly without having to go through the trials we would normally do, and Kyle and Laurie will oversee all of that, Kyle with hardware and Laurie with software. The goal is to have Daedalus up and ready to test by this time Thursday. That means we have about forty-eight hours from now. It can be done but it will be heads-down to make it happen. Everyone clear?”

Heads nodded around the room as some continued to squint at the chart and others made notes or began to gather their things, sensing the meeting was nearing the end.

“Alright then, let’s get to it. We have no time to waste,” Larry instructed. “Kyle, Laurie, if you could stay for a minute.”

Kyle wondered, right at that moment, if this was where the ambition of man exceeded his ability, and if this marked the beginning of the end of the world.


Hindsight (Daedalus Book 1)

James Grady just wanted to bring his family back together, years after he made a mistake that sent them into a slow drift. When he takes his troubled family on vacation in the Puerto Rican Caribbean, they see their problems escalate from the routine family drama to something much worse as they cross paths with scientists working on a secret time warping experiment on a nearby island. Tension and excitement build as the family's desperate plight leads them into a world where the scientists are deeply involved in solving a mystery of their own.

  • ISBN: 9781310767012
  • Author: Josh Karnes
  • Published: 2016-12-07 18:50:23
  • Words: 85070
Hindsight (Daedalus Book 1) Hindsight (Daedalus Book 1)