Every day I write fiction. Here is where I post my first drafts. Follow along! Or pick up a book of finished fiction I wrote on Amazon: MAN FROM ZERO First time here? Start FIRE ESCAPE here. Start the MOMENTA saga here (FIRE ESCAPE is part of MOMENTA).
“You didn’t get her? What happened?” KJ asked after seeing my materialize from the Fire Escape.
“You did! Well, technically, you me and Kate oh, and who ever drove, did.”
“So.... what?” Jill said, sounding puzzled.
“I was walking across the street when we came out of nowhere in a car.”
“Was it my red baby?” Dot asked.
“No—I’d remember that car. This was just some generic car.”
“Probably a ride-share,” Kate said.
“Well, do we have any other cars than Dot’s?”
“We do have other vehicles but nothing like Dot’s space car,” Jill said. "Or any regular c-c-car, so yeah, you probably did a Lyft or whatever."
I was thinking about the two choice Jill's algorithm gave us--the other choice is farther away but closer in time. "We'd almost have to take a car to get there in time. Well, this plan makes enough sense, let's do it!"
"Whoa--hang on," KJ said holding his hands out. "What about causality?"
"Oh, you're theoretical physicist now, Kage?" Kate shook her head.
"No, but I've read up on it and I just want to know how this is even possible! How is it that something we haven't even done yet is influencing what we're doing now?"
I shrugged and quickly explained: "Because we went back in time and influenced us in the past."
"But that should not be possible without creating an alternate reality."
"No," Jill began, "well, yes, but no in any practical s-s-sense. Like I said, before, time travel as far as I have experienced is part of time. If your way is true, we'd have no way of knowing it anyway, right? You'd-you'd-you'd go back in time to get the woman, then get the woman and go on with the timeline. If something went wrong, the first time you go to get the woman, you'd come back to Nowhere House, get your posse together head back and get in your own way, thus creating this new future, that removes the original reality from your memory because now, the only experience back in time that you remember is the one where you got interrupted by yourself, not the one where something else went wrong, but cause now you're in a causal loop."
"Uuuuuuhm, I'm sorry I asked," KJ said, shrugging.
"No, it makes perfect s-s-sense, KJ! Listen to me. If you were changing the timeline, either your memory gets erased or there's a duplicate you now in this reality because you've just come over from that alternate reality. Since there's only one you, or in this case, there's only one Jake and,
Jake, you don't remember things going wrong the first time, right?"
"Huh? I mean, I no--I mean, them being in my way was the first time," I said, only barely following what Jill was saying myself.
"Exactly--so this hypothetical alternate timeline that existed before you went back to get in your own way, effectively no longer exists because you can't recall it. If it did exist, it's not relevant anymore because you now g-g-got in your own way. Therefore, time travel is part of time."
There was a long moment of silence, broken all at once by words.
"Well, now that that's settled!" Dot yelled. "Let's go save the woman!"
"Actually, Dot, you weren't there," I said somewhat sheepishly.
"Whaaaaat? Why wouldn't I be there?"
"I don't know--but you weren't."
"Well, we all c-c-could have been there if we kept out of Jacob's line of sight! So, just decide who needs to go and who doesn't, aside from the obvious players and do it. You think you'll need a doctor? Bring Green, you think you'll need a mechanic with experience in extra terrestrial--"
"AND temporal!" Dot interjected.
"--and temporal issues, bring Dot."
"Yo, what about you?" Kate asked.
"Me?" Jill looked at Kate surprised. "Why would you need me?"
"I dunno, cuz, like, you're the one who knows everything about the technology we're using?"
"Nah. You've been studying with Jim for a few months now. He's told me how quickly you're learning. I think you're more than adequate for the mission."
cracked a grin. "WOW. More than adequate? Kate, you should be proud--that's a helluva compliment coming from my sis!"
I chose the Fire Escape that was closest to the coffee house. I figured that there were always things that could go wrong with traffic or trains or even just walking.
So, I killed time window shopping, literally since it was after 8pm and most shops were closed except for food. I hadn’t had much Earth city food over the last few days so I grabbed a couple Papaya dogs and made my way back up to the coffee place. As I jaywalked across the street to the coffee house—half way across, a car screeched to a halt right in front of me. I stopped, obviously, unsure what to do.
The rear passenger door closest to me opened and KJ climbed out, eyeing the coffee house. He knocked on the roof of the car with his knuckles. “It’s all good, Jake! Manchester is in there! Traffic is good, too.”
The other passenger door opened and I saw another me run into the coffee house. Then KJ
glanced around as though he were looking for something. Then he spotted me. “Ah! Hey, Jacob!”
“Hi!” I said waving.
“Will you guys quit goofing off!” Kate said from the front passenger side window.
“Hi Kate!” I said.
“Can you guys tell me what’s going on?”
“Quick! Kage! Here he comes!” Kate said, causing her and KJ’s attention to turn back to their missing before they could answer my question.
Just then the other me came out of the coffee house, with Manchester following. They climbed into the back seat and the car sped off.
I shrugged and then decided to head back and get a third Papaya Dog and then head back to the portal and back to Nowhere House.
After a few more minutes of preparation in the form of more information on Mary Manchester, and us coming up with a plan of what to do with her, I was back in the center of Jill's lab, spinning through the history on the Accessory to find a Fire Escape entry that had an exit point close to the time stamp on the CCTV footage both geographically and temporally. Jill showed me how access the search-by-time-and-space option. First you select the location and then the time and Jill's software matches you up with the closest in both space and another in time.
As Jill at one point explained to me, the nature of the portals themselves prevents you from using a portal at the same or too close a time as someone else, unless you are coming from the same starting point in time and in space. So, Jill's algorithm finds a Fire Escape that has been used as an exit point around the same time as your target time. That way you can use it without having to worry about getting in that other person's way or materializing partially inside of them. Yeah, teleportation's a bitch if you're not careful. Jill said the nature of the portals and their relationship to the dimensions on either side of it is supposed to automatically correct for that, but she decided it would be best to play it safe and have the software correct ahead of time, just in case.
So, the two Fire Escapes the software found for me were both annoying. One was close to the location, but not the time and the other was the opposite. Both gave me the same options, really. Either I got there early and close and wait, or get there far away, with barely enough time to walk there. By this point, we had gotten some things from our apartment, including my phone and watch charger, so I could just ride share, if worse came to worst, anyway.
"Keep it simple, kid! Just get there early and close." Dot said.
"I should come with you. Or, somebody should," Kate said.
"Yeah, that's just what I was thinking," KJ said.
"We only saw Jacob in the CCTV footage, so we only know for sure that he was there," Jill said.
"Exactly--what if we were there and just stayed outside? Across the street or something?" Kate said. Jill nodded. I put my hands out with my palms facing KJ and Kate. "Guys, I can do this on my own. All I have to do is go talk to a lady in a coffee house."
"Hey, that can be really challenging, man!" KJ said. Kate smirked at him shaking her head, and then looked back at me. "Jacob, you know that only you have the Accessory. You take it to go there, we can't run support for you."
"I know. I was in that boat before when I got kidnapped by the Galak-ga. It'll be fine."
"Dude, the run-in with the Galak-ga was anything but fine!" KJ had a point.
"This is Earth this time. It'll be fine."
Both of them crossed their arms and shrugged.
I held the Accessory in front of me and activated it, and disappeared.
Luckily, Jill was just in her own world enough to ignore Dot's declaratives. Jill crossed her arms and wondered aloud: "Can we find out who that lady is before we go and have Jake go and get her? There's no guarantee that she's as vulnerable as she looks."
"What?" KJ said, looking back at the lady in the hologram of the coffee house. He shook his head.
"Trust me," Jill said. "Jim, can you do some face rec on her and ID her?"
"Searching databases will take a bit of time."
"No worries, we've got plenty of that."
I was anxious and about to say something when Kate grabbed my arm. She usually isn't one to touch anybody.
"Jake--are you sure you want to do this?"
"Kate, what do you mean? You saw the hologram--I do it."
"Yeah, but there are alternative explanations, dawg."
"Like what? You saw me in the holgram--it was me, dressed like me, doing something me would do."
Kate smiled slightly. "I just want you to be sure. You in this video could be anything. What if it's not this you but a you in the future? Like not today, but in a few days."
"I'm literally wearing the same clothes in the holo that I am wearing right now. Besides, what's the worse that could happen?"
"You could get eaten by a shadow? I dunno, man! We're dealing with a pretty wide cone of certainty, here."
"Cone of certainty, or is it uncertainty? I forget. It doesn't matter. It's just--imaging looking through a cone--toward the narrow tip, you see very little. Through the wide end, you see a lot more."
"So, a wide cone of certainty means there are a lot of things that could happen?"
"Word. That's what I'm saying. We're dealing with aliens from outer space, other dimensions, we know this dude is a Conva or whatever, what if she's not human either? You heard what Jill said."
"That is a good point but what else is there to do? We needed a lead--something to investigate Tedesko with and now we have it--or are about to have it."
"Her name is Mary Manchester," Jim announced. Jill began to read from a file that appeared, floating in front of her. "She works for the New York State Chamber of Commerce. Though, her background is in international relations, on the c-c-corporate side. She's negotiated multi-b-b-billion-dollar deals. Yeah, I can see why she m-m-might be on the HNT."
"Looks like we have that clue," I said, looking back at Kate.She just shrugged weakly.
"What the hell are you doing, Jake?!?" Jill was super accusatory--as though I should somehow know what I was doing in the hologram when I clearly wasn't doing it yet.
"Obviously, Jill--that was something I haven't done yet."
Just then, an ambulance arrived outside the coffee house and in minutes had taken Tedesko's body and laptop from the scene.
"Lighten up, kid--you're brother clearly hasn't done this already, er, yet."
"Well, clearly, I am going to do it," I said.
"It does look like she was in need of rescuing," KJ said.
"How so?" Kate asked, adding, "You think all women are in need of rescuing."
"Aw, come on! That was once!"
"KIDS," Dot said, loudly.
"Seriously--she was probably one of the other members of the HNT."
"HNT?" Jill sounded unimpressed.
"Yeah, the Human Negotiation Team!" KJ explained.
"Makes sense," I said, shrugging.
"She was there in the coffee house for a secret meeting with our guy Teddy Ted. They were instant messaging back and forth and not talking out loud because, DUH."
Jim nodded his head to one side. "So, if we spin that footage back, maybe we can look at what was on her tablet and see what they were talking about."
"Good idea!" Jill said. "Jim, KJ, good work."
"Thanks!" KJ smiled softly.
"Let's just hope we c-c-can actually see something useful," Jim said. "Here's the footage again."
We watched as the room around us jumped back in time to the minutes before the shadow enveloped the back row of tables. We moved around to see what the lady was typing on her tablet, only to see that she was actually looking at a lingerie website.
"Oh, hello!" KJ said.
"Dude," I said so flatly that KJ was instantly apologetic.
"Look--she's switching to another app," Jim said.
"That's the chat app," I said.
"Looks like the Signal app," KJ said, adding: "It's Ed Snowden's favorite."
"Uh-huh," I said, focused on what she was typing. The message was: "Do you think anyone else knows?"
We looked over to Tedesko. Jim pointed at Ted's fingers. "Look at what he's typing."
"Oh good idea, Jim!" KJ said.
"Word. Or we could just wait for it to pop up over here," Kate said. I shrugged as KJ was reading out the letters as Ted typed them.
"Kage, we're just gonna wait," I said. KJ groaned and stopped. Then the message popped up on the lady's tablet.
"What's it say?" KJ asked.
"I was worried for a time, but I think my secret is safe for now. Just you and I know."
The tablet lady started to type her reply. I read it as it appeared in the app. "I would be very careful. I'm worried about you, Ted."
"Thanks, but I can take care of myself."
The lights began to dim.
"Jim, you can't crank up the brightness on this footage can you?"
"I can, but would it help?"
"No chance. Those shadow generators are hard core," Dot said. "They emit a field that refracts all photons of light inside of the field in on themselves so zero light can escape. Even the best software can't enhance light that isn't there."
"Damn it," I said, backing away from the shadowed area of the hologram. "I better go get her, then, right?"
"Sure looks like it, kid." Dot always had the habit of sticking a pin in it.
Using his own facial recognition software, Jim was able to pick up Tedesko's trail and followed him, via CCTV cameras to a coffeehouse on the west side of midtown.
"I think I know that coffee house," I said, staring at a VR hologram of it.
"When was this taken?" Jill asked.
"This was last night. I am now searching footage from the last week," Jim said.
"If this c-c-coffee house is someplace he goes to often, maybe it's where he meets the human team."
"Why would they meet at a coffee house, though?" Kate asked.
"I have no idea. It's some place to start though, right?" Jill said.
"He's been there three times this week. Looks like he brings his laptop. Whoops--he's using encryption to hide what data he's accessing," Jim said, suddenly the exterior hologram of the coffee house was replaced by interior footage.
"Nice--Jim, sir, you are one dope AI!" Kate said, in awe.
"Thanks kindly," Jim said. "Can anyone see what he might be doing on his laptop device? I don't have any three dimensional date to render what is on his device display."
"How are we supposed to be able to see what the camera can't see?" KJ asked. I moved around to look at Tedesko's laptop screen and saw nothing but black where the screen and part of the keyboard was.
"Just not enough cameras in here," I said.
"Too bad he's not wearing glasses," Dot said. "Coulda seen something in the reflection, maybe."
Then I realized something and moved very close to Tedesko's face. I looked directly into his eyes to see any reflections.
"You see anything?" KJ asked.
"Great idea, Jacob, but the resolution will b-b-be too low to make anything out."
I could see little colored blobs that I decided looked like chat windows.
"He's chatting with someone. Via some sort of messaging app."
"Can you read anything?" KJ asked.
"No chance at that resolution. Even blowing it up won't help," Kate said.
"The data just isn't there, I'm afraid," Jim said.
Just then, I noticed the lighting starting to dim. For moment I had the thought that I was starting that morphing process. However, I was not. "Anyone else see the light dimming in the back there?"
"I do," KJ said.
"Jim, what's up with the f-f-footage? Can you up the brightness?"
"I'm not of any quality loss or technical issue that could be causing this lack of light in the photo beyond a lack of light in the space."
Tedesko seemed to notice the dimming lights, too. He looked around nervously. There was one other person at one of the tables in that back row of tables, another of which, Tedesko was at. She was looking around with vague concern, but Tedesko looked down right terrified when he noticed something behind where I was standing. I turned around and saw the rest of the coffee house, in the hologram, perfectly lit.
"Look! The rest of the place is perfectly normal, but--" everyone looked and saw what I saw, but as I hesitated, I turned back to that back row of tables and saw that it was completely enshrouded in shadow.
Then the lights came back on to reveal Tedesko slumped over his laptop.
"Oh, no!" KJ said.
I looked over at the woman and saw that her face turned pale white and she was looking at Tedesko. I looked at the tablet she was using and saw a similarly colored app running. It was a chat app.
"She must be another member of the human team," KJ said, adding: "she better get out of there!"
"Hey! Jake, what the--?!" Jill suddenly said. I turned and saw myself entering through the front door of the coffee house, approach the woman and begin talking.
"Jim! Audio!" Jill barked.
"Sorry, the coffee house CCTV isn't equipped with audio," Jim said.
The woman gave the hologram-me a grave look but then shoved her tablet into her purse and followed hologram-me out the door.
For a taste, read the latest words below this line:
"So, then how do we find the other members of the human negotiating team, man?" KJ asked. Kate quickly replied. "The way things are these days, you don't have to ever meet in person to be part of a team. These dudes could be anywhere in the world."
"Kate is right," I said. "When I was trapped on that Conva ship I met with Tedesko without him even being on the ship. With the hologram tech we have here in your lab, Jill, we could be meeting with someone who wasn't actually here with us and not even know! Hell, your A.I. butler made us food made of light and we had no idea until we cut into it."
"Are you still bitter about that?" Jim asked.
"Dude! You fed us LIGHT," KJ said, smirking at him.
"Word. Finding them is going to be hard."
"Well, we just start with our heads," Dot said.
"How's that?" KJ asked.
"I mean, just think for a sec. We gotta start somewhere, so start with our pal, Ted."
"But by approaching him, we t-t-tip our hand that we know he's back. Do we want to lose that advantage?"
"Well, we don't even know it's an advantage, really."
"Now that we know where he is, let's just tail him," I said, adding: "None of our other leads have gotten us anywhere."
"Time to bring it back to Teddy," KJ said.
"It is good to not trap him while not meaning," Dr. Green said. "Many patients were scared, upset, even..." she waved her hands around, looking for the word... "smashing things. They thought trapped. They thought no hope."
"That's a good point, Doctor," I said. "If we make him feel threatened, he'll be much less willing to help or even think he has any option but run or worse."
I paused, for a moment flashing back to the massacre on the Conva ship that I could not remember, and had a realization. "Maybe that's what triggered my transformation back on that Conva ship."
I saw a very brief flash of recognition cross Jill's face that was gone before I had a moment to focus on it. Once again, she was keeping something from me--something that could help me understand what had happened to me and what I had done all those years ago, but that would have to wait.
"Well, can we look at more CCTV footage in the area of that support building?" KJ asked. "That camera can't be the only one that caught him."