Thanks to those who have taken the time too read the first three parts of the story. If you’re just stopping in for the first time, I’d recommend beginning with the first part of Time Snatch, or if you don’t feel like reading such a long piece, try one of the shorter works I have on this page. Infidelity, Sun Burn, and Standing Kill Orderlies seem to be crowd favorites thus far. There are only two more parts to the story after this, tune back in on Monday to read part 5, and on Christmas Day for the finale to Time Snatch.
Remember, leave me a comment, tell me anything. Tell me you’re glad the world didn’t end, but that you wish an asteroid would destroy my characters… anything, really. Tell me anything.
The digitalized face representing the house computer appeared in the center of the room.I was watching the final rays of life fade to black from the back door when the voice spoke.
Mr. Denton, you have an incoming call.
I watched Denton, in the reflection of the glass, continue pecking at the air on the holo-graphic keyboard. Without so much as a sideways glance he issued a monosyllabic grunt.
“Are you ready?” I turned from the door. The hands of uncertainty cradled me, her icy fingers digging deep into my flesh, as I watched the computer’s face hovering in the center of the room. Any second now, that face would give way to Malcolm’s, and then there would only be one chance to get this right.
“Yes.” Denton said putting his hands in his lap, the holo-graphic computer, our one chance of pulling this off, disappeared. “We have exactly one minute. Do you understand? You can’t be even a second premature… or late.”
“Got it.” I watched the clock above the corner bar tick away the final minute of Joseph Denton’s life in spasmodic bursts every second. I shuddered, realizing this could perhaps be the last minute of my daughter’s life as well. “Computer, accept incoming call.”
And then, Malcolm’s face was in the room with us, looming larger than life as the digital image of his head appeared twice the size of normal. “Very well done, Detective Mandel.” He said a moment after scanning the room. “I see all my favorite people in the same room, and it warms my heart. Good to see you again, Joseph. It’s been so long.”
“Yes, it most certainly has.” Denton said from the barstool. “Please forgive me for never coming to visit you while you were away.”
“Away.” Malcolm repeated the word. Testing it out as it hung ominously in the air. “That is a most unsatisfactory way of putting it. Regardless, I forgive you, but unfortunately I cannot forget. As you have probably deduced by now, if they haven’t told you outright, these fine Detectives have been tasked with your execution.”
“Of course,” Denton said taking a deep breath from the cigarette balanced delicately between his lips. “I would expect nothing less.” The tendrils of smoke snaked from his nose as he released the air from his lungs.
I glanced at the clock to my left. Only thirty-five seconds left.
“Before I do this,” I said. “I need to know my daughter is still alive.”
Malcolm seemed annoyed by having his attention pulled away from Denton. The holographic imagine dropped the corners of its mouth to form a scowl. A second later, the face of a younger woman appeared beside Malcolm’s on the holo-screen.
“Dad?! What’s going on? Who is this man?” Tracy let loose a quick barrage of questions. She pleaded for understanding with the shrill of her voice.
“Everything’s gonna be alright, Tracy.” I said trying my best to fake confidence in my voice. “I’m coming for you.”
Tracy’s face disappeared quicker than it had appeared as Malcolm said, “That’s sweet. There’ll be time for a family reunion, later… I hope.” He said glancing back at Denton. “Now, I sent you there to do a job. Now would be as fine a time as any to do so.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see the clock ticking down.
I extended my arm, straight as a ramrod, with the pistol gripped tight between my trembling fingers.
Denton rose from his chair and took a step towards me; his face was calm, expressionless as he put his arms out to the side.
My world slowed as every beat of my heart reverberated through my body.
I tensed my finger against the cool metal of the pistol’s trigger and I could feel the bullet of energy lock into place in the chamber.
An image of Tracy playing with her mother in the living room when she was younger flashed across my mind. I looked Denton in the eye and released the bolt of energy into his chest.
Air rushed from Denton’s lungs as the energy blast tore through his body. Denton held a hand to the bloodless hole in his chest, the searing heat of the energy having immediately cauterized the wound. A pang of remorse jabbed at me conscious. I forced myself to watch the light in the man’s eyes flitter away to destinations unknowable. Denton’s body teetered backwards, pausing momentarily before the rigidity in his muscles gave way and he crumpled to the floor in a pile.
“I’ve lost the closest thing I ever had to a friend, this day.” Malcolm’s voice sounded regretful, the oversized eyes of the digital projection studied the dead man’s body.
“We’ve done what you asked, now give me my daughter.”
Malcolm ignored the question; his interest was taken somewhere else. The image of his face stared at nothing in particular in the corner of the room. He must be checking Joseph Denton’s death clock to make sure it had in fact been put to zero. I mentally crossed my fingers and toes and hoped that Denton was as good as he said.
A shiver of relief washed through me when Malcolm said, “Everything seems to be in order here. Good work, you two. I wasn’t sure you had it in you.”
“You didn’t leave me much of a choice, now did you?” I said.
“I wasn’t speaking to you, Detective Mandel.”
I glanced over at Raines who was leaning against the back of the black leather couch. Her eyes were wide, and they remained glued to the dead body. She pulled the corners of her mouth tight so that her lips all but disappeared as she looked up at Malcolm.
“Why should I care what happens to a piece of garbage like that? He told us all about your little mentorship. Good riddance I say.”
“Your words are spoken with such conviction, but your body language betrays you.”
“Release my daughter.” I punctuated every word in interruption.
“You’ve proven yourself able to follow directions exceptionally well up to this point, and in this day and age, that is a valuable commodity. No, I have a task for you.” The reverie in Malcolm’s voice made my stomach twist, knot, and drop. Blood rushed hot into my face.
“You’re gonna string me along doing your dirty work until I die. And then when I reach the end, you’re gonna give me the punch line that you’re going to kill my daughter anyway, is that it”? I said the words, though it seemed my body was completely disconnected from their meaning. “But I’m not gonna do it. You hear me? I’m done with your game.”
“Once again, Detective Mandel, I wasn’t speaking to you. For heaven’s sake, not everything revolves around you. This next task is for Detective Raines.”
“I’m not giving you anything.” Raines said setting her jaw. She folded her hands in her lap calmly and stared back at the holographic head.
“Sure you will. You’re far too honorable a woman to sit idly by; your conscience would consume you. So I’m going to give you a way to satiate your conscience. It’s a gift, really. Because in a couple days this will all be over for Detective Mandel, he’ll be gone and I’ll have had my fun. But you will have to live on knowing; bearing the guilt of what has taken place this day. That is an awful weight for one person.”
Raines digested the man’s words silently.
“If you won’t do what I say for the sake of saving your soul, perhaps you’ll do it to save your life.”
A high pitched alarm filled the room. Raines looked down at her forearm like it was alien to her, no longer a part of her body.
I crossed the room in an instant and took Raines arm in mine. My fingers went numb at the site of her Life Tracker counting down from ten minutes, “What’ve you done?” I all but screamed at the holographic projection of Netten.
“Call it incentivizing.” He said immune to the rage welling inside me.
“What do you want from me?” Raines’ voice was thin, frail, and for a moment during the ensuing silence, I wasn’t sure Netten had heard.
“Somebody, though I won’t say who, notified the police quite some time ago. They should be arriving at Mr. Denton’s house in the next five minutes, give or take. You will turn yourself in for the murder of Mr. Denton, and for aiding Detective Mandel in the murder of six police officers earlier today. Now listen carefully, because this is something I must be very adamant about. If under any circumstances, somebody transfers life to your counter before the police arrive and take you into custody, I will know, and I promise you the next warning you receive will be the final three beeps that will whisk you away to the afterlife.” Malcolm stopped for a moment, letting his words settle like water pooling on the ground. “As for you Detective Mandel, it is my sincere hope that you are not around when the police arrive, for that would make it very difficult for you to be at your next destination.”
“Go.” Raines said. “Don’t waste time arguing with me. Just go.”
I raised my hands to protest, but dropped them quickly as I realized there were no words I could use to talk my way out of this one. “Where am I going?” I said in resignation. My shoulders drooped and I tilted my head to the side watching Malcolm’s head from the corner of my eyes.
“Go to Mr. Denton’s garage, and you’ll find a suitable means of transportation. Your destination has already been sent to the vehicles on board navigation system. You have an hour, and will need every minute of travel time, so you best be on your way. Detective Raines, I’ll be watching to make sure you follow through with your side of the deal. Don’t disappoint.” Malcolm said, his head evaporating from the center of the room.
“Finally, I thought he’d never leave.”
Startled by the man’s voice, I reflexively jerked the pistol I was still holding towards Joseph Denton’s head. My mind was unable to find meaning as Denton’s corpse put a hand on the counter top, and slowly pulled himself to his feet.
Raines was the first to put into words the thoughts that ran through my mind as she said, “How is this possible? You’re dead.”
“Ah, yes.” Denton said tracing a finger around the charred black flesh of the hole formed in the center of his chest by my bullet. “You’ll find I’m quite hard to kill, but we haven’t time for explanations. The police are on their way, and it would not due for them to find me still alive.” Denton crossed the room and pulled a book off the shelf to reveal a biometric scanner and a number pad. Words had still not found their way to my mouth as I watched the formerly deceased man place his palm against the scanner before punching a code into the number pad. Something made a popping sound behind me. I turned to see a small section of wall swivel free, giving way to a safe.
“Pull yourself together, Detective. Now is not the time for falling apart.” Denton grabbed a silver metal box the size of a hard-drive from the safe. “Detective Raines, is it?” he said turning.
Raines simply nodded her head in approval.
“I’m afraid you have become a necessary casualty of war. For the time being, it’s imperative you play the part. That is if you have any hope of stopping Malcolm Netten.” The words flew quickly from Denton’s mouth. He wasted no time heading to the stairs leading to the main floor. “As for you,” he said turning back to me. “You best be following me.”
I seemed to float on a cloud against my wishes, my body carrying me across the room. I willed my body to stop beside Raines one last time. She put her hands on my shoulder pulling me close, “You can stop him, Tom. I believe in you.” She softly placed her lips to my forehead and my face burned with feelings of inadequacy. A single tear escaped from the prison I had held it captive behind for the past nine years. A tear I hadn’t known existed, and now that it was out, there was no shoving it back in, no ignoring, or pretending it never happened.
Maybe, if I was a better man, I could’ve stopped all this.
But I’m not.
Denton slammed his foot down on the gas of his Lexus RSD-420x before my weight had fully settled in the passenger seat. The force of the sports cars sudden acceleration drove me deep into the seat’s cushion. We reached 200 mph in an instant. The low rumble of the engine sent vibrations coursing through my body as we continued our acceleration at break neck speed. My eyeballs pressed deep into my skull and my vision momentarily faltered from the blood being thrust into my brain. Little black dots danced before my eyes, and the fear of blacking out became a very real possibility, when suddenly the engine stalled and began cruising at 350 miles per hour. I lurched forward at the unexpected loss of acceleration, straining something in my neck in the process.
“God damnit,” I said raising a hand to the back of my neck. “Was that really necessary?”
“Time is not your friend here today.” He said adjusting the rear view mirror.
“And I suppose you are?”
“I’m many things. For the time being, you can call me a friend if it suits you.”
“Well, friend… care to explain how the hell you’re still breathing?” I was unable to look away from the gaping hole in his chest.
“Ah, yes, that.” He said the words as if tasting them on the air. “That’s a fairly complicated story, and we’ll have to start with a brief history lesson. What do you know about the Project Adam?”
“Same thing everybody in high school is taught about it, I suppose. It was the beginning of the International Time Bank, more or less.”
“More or less.” Denton said suppressing a slight chuckle. “Well, allow me to tell you a bit more. 823 years ago, all of mankind was brought together during the Grand Unification. This signified the dawn of a new era, whereby poverty, sickness, hunger, and even war were completely done away with. It was a great coup for mankind, and in the next hundred years the world saw technological advancements the like had never been seen before.”
I did my best to listen to Denton’s history lesson, but I was gripped in fear by the ludicrous speeds at which we hurtled down the warp way. Denton droned on as he deftly maneuvered between cars with reflexes that seemed impossibly quick.
“This is when, the Unified World reached its first major crises.”
“Overpopulation, and overconsumption of natural resources.” I said beating Denton to the punch. “That’s when the Life Line was introduced, to create and maintain a sustainable population.
“No, Mr. Mandel, that is what the history books tell us.” Denton said curling the end of his lips in a smile. “And if there is something we know for certain, it is that the victors are undoubtedly the ones who write the history books.”
Denton jerked the steering wheel hard to the left, causing the magnets on the right side of the car to lift up and out of contact with the magnetic propulsion beam of the warp way. A wave of confusion and nausea swept through me as Denton veered the Lexus towards the off ramp at over 100 miles an hour faster than the posted speed.
“I don’t understand, who wrote the history book?”
“That’s the great secret. Only a few people in the world know the answer.”
“Do you know?”
“Oh yes, I know.”
“How so?” I said leaning a bit closer as if by mere proximity to Denton I could figure out what he was saying.
“If you recall, I told you earlier tonight of my time spent siphoning years from the Time Bank. At the most fundamental level my theft was born out of a fear of dying. I’m not one given to thoughts of the afterlife, and so I was quite set on holding onto this life. And for decades, I was content just pilfering years here and there.” Denton spoke faster as his hand began articulating words with pointed fingers thrust in the air. “Then one day, it struck me. In a moment of eureka, I finally saw the truth that had been standing in front of me the whole time!” he stopped abruptly, letting his words hang like a storm cloud overhead.
“And,” I said stretching the words out slowly. “that is?”
“We can’t die.”
My body’s natural reflex was to roll my eyes. I scooted away in my seat, distancing myself from the lunatic in the driver’s seat. But then, I recalled the bullet blast in his chest, and suddenly he didn’t seem quite as crazy.
“I’ve seen plenty of people die, Denton. Somehow, you might be the exception to that rule, but I assure you, the rest of us can die.”
“Of course, I mean to say we can die, but in a very specific way. If that charge in your head never went off, you would continue living, indefinitely.”
“How do you figure?”
“Because mine hasn’t’, and I’ve been alive for almost 600 years.”
“Impossible.” The word spilled out of my mouth.
“Oh? I’m not the only one you know? Malcolm’s been alive almost as long. Do you recall when Malcolm first came on the police’s radar?” Denton said.
I felt like a child being led by the nose to the answer everybody else has already figured out.
“Yeah, it was after the Shanghai massacre.”
“And when you finally got a name, and went digging into Malcolm’s records, did you find any family members?”
I paused understanding at once what he was saying, “No, he killed all his living relatives.”
“How convenient, nobody able to shed any light on the mystery that is Malcolm.” Denton lit a cigarette, the red ember on the end of the white stick danced up and down in the dim light of the car as he continued speaking. “I assure you, we’ve have been alive for over half a millennium. And you know as well as I do how many hours Malcolm has stolen, just in the years you’ve become aware of him.”
“Thirteen million.” The words dropped from my mouth and it hurt me to hear them, for a tiny fraction of those thirteen million years had come from my wife, and I would gladly trade them all for just one more year with Diana.
“I promise, he intends on using those years, unless we stop him.”
“I played a part in making this monster, and after 600 years on this planet, I’m not as afraid of death as I once was.”
“But how?” I said feeling lost without a path to lead me home. “A human can’t live forever.”
“That’s your first mistake,” he said holding up his index finger. “You assume I’m human.”
© 2012 Anthony Vicino