I was able to cut out some unnecessary fluffage and get the last part of the story down to a manageable size for a single post. I want to thank everybody who’s come along on this ride, it’s been interesting to say the least. Hopefully you found some redeeming qualities to reading Time Snatch through from the beginning. I wish I could rework some of the beginning sections to make everything flow more cohesively with the ending, but that is one of the obstacles of writing in this style, so I’ll just have to take it on the chin this time. Like I said in the previous post, I am going to edit and rewrite parts of this story and then resubmit it without so many kinks. Again, for those just stopping in, if you haven’t already, you should read Time Snatch through from the beginning. If that is too much of an endeavors, I recommend checking out one of the other short stories I have posted here such as Sun Burn or Infidelity. Tune in next week where I’ll be returning to my normal short story format.
The hallway was cold.
I let out a long, slow breath expecting to see it rise like a plume of smoke before my eyes. The hairs from the top of my head to the soles of my feet stood on end, making me hyper aware to my surroundings. Like whiskers on a cat, I felt an immediate connection with the atmosphere around me. Any change in temperature or atmospheric pressure would immediately register in the alarm rooted in the deepest part of my brain.
That primitive part of the brain reserved for life threatening situations like this.
The air conditioning unit of the building used to serve a purpose. The Division building, at one point, practically ran the entire network. The amount of heat produced by the computer mainframe that was housed at the end of this hallway required constant cooling, at a temperature most unpleasant to humans.
Why that air conditioning system was fully active now was a mystery.
My hands were slick, despite the cold. I fought a losing battle against the sweat as I dried my palms against the back of my pant leg, only to have the moisture return a moment later. I squeezed my hand tightly around the saturated rubber handle of my pistol. With two fingers, I signaled for Denton to follow, as I crept down the hall towards the wide double doors at the end.
Malcolm held my daughter behind those doors.
Without having to look, I knew it.
I could feel it.
Through my skin and down deep in my bones I could feel Malcolm’s presence cast over this place like a permanent shadow. I looked back down the hall at Hamilton the whitening of his knuckles, as he strangled the gun between his hands, was obvious even from this distance.
Shoot anything that’s not us, I had told him.
Denton stood to the right of the Laboratory door with his back flush against the wall. I held my breath to peak through the glass window of the door at head height. The Laboratory was practically empty compared to how it was nine years ago. All that remained of the room, with walls once lined by towers of computers, was a solitary desk with two chairs illuminated by a single beam of light in the center of the room.
The light receded into perfect darkness the further one got from the desk.
I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry, and the sides of my throat only grated together. I held my hand up to the door and stared at it trembling beyond my control. My legs were suddenly inadequate underneath me.
I was frozen.
Fear activated its agents of rebellion in every cell of my body. Spies that had been implanted in every fiber of my being since I was young enough to know what fear was, suddenly took hold, and my body was no longer my own. It was a foreign vessel, with instructions beyond my control.
A shift in pressure, something touched my shoulder. I turned my head slowly afraid it might shatter and shower to the floor in a thousand pieces if I turned too quickly.
Denton stared back at me with eyes unwavering. He seemed so far away. Everything around us was black, and I was afraid if I lost sight of him, I might be consumed by the tunnel of darkness pressing in around me.
My heart beat faster.
It was trying to leap from my chest.
I placed a hand over my heart, holding it in place.
Diana died here! My brain passed its judgment.
A shiver was my body’s reply.
Tracy is going to die here! My brain screamed its condemnation.
I’m sorry, Tracy, I can’t do it. I can’t go in there. Your mother’s ghost is hiding, waiting, threatening, on the other side of this door. If I go through, she’ll tear from me the remaining shreds of sanity clinging so pitifully to my sides.
It’s okay, Dad. Tracy’s voice was in my head. I could hear her. Her cries filled my ears. You have to let me go, Dad. The last words I heard her speak, her words spoken in the face of death.
We all die alone; I heard myself consoling. Across the span of a lifetime I hear those words I had accepted as truth, but now…
The void surrounding myself and Denton relented. Denton’s face came full into view with clarity of purpose.
“You okay?” his voice was barely a whisper.
I won’t fail her again. My mind was resolute, ready to face whatever horrors threaten to assail me.
I threw open the door and stepped into the darkness.
“You’re ahead of schedule.” Malcolm said unperturbed from his seat at the table. The halo of light cast long downward shadows across his face, making him appear as old as I now knew him to be. “And look, you brought a friend. Who is that creeping in the shadows? Don’t be shy, step forward so I can see your face.”
Denton stepped to the edge of the light. His figure still shrouded half in darkness, appeared as if it might not be entirely from this world.
“I fear I must be seeing a ghost.” Malcolm said raising a delicate glass to his lips. The light caught the prism of the crystal glass in his hand and shot thousands of tiny rainbows scattering across the table. The steam from the beverage slithered into non-existence as it reached for the sky.
“Where’s my daughter?” I said. The enormous room consumed my voice.
Malcolm placed a small remote on the table with his left hand, and with the grace of a practiced movement, pressed a button.
The lights at the end of the laboratory hummed to life with dull rays barely strong enough to reach the floor. As the bulbs warmed and intensified, they illuminated the outline of a glass cage with Tracy inside. She stood up from the bed in the corner of the glass room, and placed a hand against the wall, her mouth was moving, but no sound penetrated the unyielding glass.
“Tracy!” I called out, but the words were repelled by her prison. “Release her,” I said taking aim with my pistol at Malcolm’s head. “Now.”
“There’s no need for that, Detective Mandel. I assure you, I will let her go in due time.” Malcolm gestured towards the seat on the other side of the table. “Please, have a seat.”
With my thumb, I pulled back the hammer of the pistol, and kept it trained on the sitting man.
“I should warn you. If I die, she dies.” he said pointing a finger towards his chest. “A dead-man switch, do you understand?”
He might be bluffing, but I couldn’t take the chance. I lowered my arm, but kept the pistol clutched tight, as I pulled the chair out and sat down.
“You as well, Denton.” Malcolm said blowing gently on his beverage before taking another sip. “Detective Mandel, do you know why you’re here?”
The question struck me by surprise, and it took a moment to find the words that seemed so obvious, “You have my daughter. You’re threatening the lives of over a billion people. What more reason is there?”
“No, that’s how I got you here, but that’s not why you’re here.” Malcolm said placing his cup of tea down on the table. “I brought you here, so that you’d bring me, him.”
I followed Malcolm’s eyes across the table to Denton who sat, arms folded nonchalantly in his lap. “And now that you have me, what do you plan to do?”
“Wait, you wanted me to kill him.” I said.
“No, no… even if I thought you could, I would never send you to kill him. I’m sorry to say, but you and your friend Detective Raines are horribly predictable, which is a remarkably good thing for me in this case. Joseph is too good at living, you see. I knew he’d offer you a way out of murder, and so all I had to do was sit and wait for you to bring him to me. You must have thought yourself very clever, eh Joseph?”
“Why bring me into this if all you wanted was him?” I said jerking a thumb towards Denton.
“I needed somebody I could trust to get the job done. You, Detective, possess no individual characteristic that would suggest greatness. But despite the odds, you persevere, and here you are. It’s an unfortunate casualty that your daughter had to be pulled into this, but a man who has nothing to lose is hard to properly motivate.”
“You pulled my daughter into this when you murdered her mother.”
Malcolm narrowed his eyes to a slit as he gestured to Denton, “Would you like to tell him, or shall I?”
Denton placed his pistol on the table, the weight of the weapon against the glass sounded significant. He left his hand draped over the gun as he stared silently back at Malcolm.
“Very well, I’ll tell him.” Malcolm said turning back to me with a flourish of his hands. “Here’s the big secret, I didn’t kill your wife, he did.” Malcolm nodded his head towards Denton.
“Bullshit.” I said. “I saw you do it right there…” I said pointing into the black abyss. “There! Do you see? That’s where I watched you murder my wife.”
“No Detective, I threatened to kill your wife. You had me in a pickle, but to be fair, I think I also had you in one. I gave you a choice, let me go or watch your wife die. That’s a fairly easy decision by most standards, and Joseph here knew I was this close to walking away.” Malcolm held his fingers an inch apart in the air. “So he pulled the plug on your wife before you had the chance to make your decision, thereby assuring my arrest. Though, to be honest, I think he was hoping you’d shoot me in retaliation. But taking another man’s life isn’t who you are, is it Detective? And that’s how I knew you wouldn’t kill Joseph, even with your daughter’s life on the line.”
Numbness coursed through my veins like a drug, freezing my senses with every beat of my heart. Denton remained stoic, his finger draped lazily across the trigger of his gun.
“Is it true?” The figurative ground dropped out from beneath me. I struggled to maintain a semblance of equilibrium; afraid I might lose control and lash out at anything, and everything. I could feel the ground rushing upwards to meet me on the downward spiral that twisted and clutched at my mind. Malcolm and Denton continued talking at what seemed an unbearable distance. My ears strained against the white noise offered by the silence between their words.
Denton’s eyes remained fixed on Malcolm. “Suppose I kill you now, Malcolm. It would break my heart you know?”
“Don’t be so melodramatic, you know you can’t do that.” Malcolm said tossing his hand flippantly.
I pushed my chair an inch from the table. Malcolm must have seen the confusion I wore like a hat. “You’ve been pulled into a war raging for longer than you can imagine.” He said.
And then, another person emerged from the periphery of darkness, and just like that, the ground found me.
“President Jennings?” I said refusing to believe what my eyes saw before me.
“Sorry I’m late.” He said dragging from the darkness a heavy metal chair that screeched in protest against the tiled floor. Jennings placed the chair just shy of the table beside Malcolm, opposite Denton. He lowered his weight onto the chair with a grace and dignity deserving of a man of his position.
“It’s good to see you again, Denton. That is the name you’re going by these days, correct? It’s getting tiresome keeping track, you know?” Jennings’ thinly veiled teeth flashed impossibly white against the light beating down from overhead. The President offered me a cursory glance, but said nothing to me.
“The hour is late; let’s get down to business so Detective Mandel can enjoy his remaining hours with his daughter.” Jennings said assuming control of the meeting. “I have been made to understand you have in your possession a hard-drive I would very much like.”
I kept my eyes pinned forward, locked with Jennings, refusing the urge that burned within to turn to Denton for guidance. Sensing my plight, I felt the relief of cold metal grazing my fingers beneath the table. Leaning forward, I took the hard-drive from Denton and placed it on the table. Malcolm shifted, putting his forearms on the edge of the table, eying the box like a starving man who has found food. Jennings remained leaning back in his chair, tapping a finger against the table with a look that bordered on disinterest.
I traced the beveled edges of the hard-drive with a finger. The unique luminosity of the metal swirled with the benefit of the light streaming down from above. Reds mixed with greens in a cacophony of color across the top of the box.
Denton seemed confident the two men across the table would not recognize the box for the decoy it was. Malcolm stared unflinchingly at the box with a face that suggested Denton was justified in his confidence.
“May I see it?” Jennings said extending his arm with his palm towards the ceiling.
“Release my daughter, first.”
Malcolm looked up with a cocked eyebrow, the trance the box held over him had been broken.
“Very well.” He said picking up the remote from the table.
A moment later, a door to the glass cage hinged open and Tracy hesitantly stepped out. She stared at the table across the room for a moment, considering her next move, before edging carefully around the circle of light towards the exit.
“Tracy, it’s alright.” I stood up, but Denton caught my wrist in his hand. His grip was firm, and the look in his eye was hard. “There’s a man in the hallway who will get you out of here. Go with him, I’ll find you.” I swallowed deeply, my Adam’s apple juggled in my throat.
Jennings was examining the hard-drive between long thin fingers when I sat back down.
“I’m surprised you’ve given this up so easily, Denton.” Jennings said.
“You didn’t leave me much choice, now did you?”
“For one so attached to living, I suppose not.” Jennings handed the box to Malcolm who rose from his seat with a start. He disappeared from the circle of light with the hard-drive cupped in his hands as if it might drip away, like water through his fingers. “You’re doing the right thing. Xenocide is the only course left to us…”
“Xenocide?” the word leapt from my. I turned to Denton and said, “What xenocide?”
Denton, with his eyes still fixed on Jennings, said nothing.
Wrapped in the blanket of silence, I waited for somebody to speak. Denton remained unwavering in his marble form.
“The xenocide of the human race.” Jennings said at last.
“What do you mean? What was on that box?”
“It’s done.” Malcolm’s voice called out from the darkness though his body remained unseen.
A smile spread across the face of Jennings.
“You lose.” Jennings said. “Detective Mandel, you’ve just helped make history. You have preserved your race.
My mind faltered, trying in futility to decipher Jennings’ meaning.
“At just over six hundred years ago, I breathed life into my friend Joseph here, though he went by a different name.” Jennings said cutting through my confusion. “Joseph was the second of his kind, and I thought it appropriate to keep in line with one of man’s more peculiar religious traditions, and I named him “Eve”. It was silly of course, but it filled me with a sense of nostalgia for an age long since turned to dust.”
“So that would make you…”
“Adam”. Denton laced the word with venom.
“He told me a little about you,” I said gesturing towards Denton with my chin. “I can’t say I bought into it though. Computer programs parading around in human bodies, the idea is pure science fiction.”
“Many things are, and then one day, they are not.” Jennings, or Adam, said. “That’s the beauty of human ingenuity. As a species they strive after that which they don’t understand, tumbling head long down the rabbit’s hole and in their ignorance they stumble upon brilliance. Though, as in the story of Icarus, I’m afraid man flew too close to the sun when they created me.”
Jennings spoke with no presumption; there was no ego, or vanity in his voice, just fact, which seemed congruous with the general appearance of the man sitting before me.
“The man responsible for my birth was guilty of making me too closely in his image. The bane of man’s existence is their biological need to spread, to create a world that shimmers in their own likeness. That is the legacy left to me by my creator. And so I did. I extinguished the fire that threatened to burn me up from the inside, and I secured my future. You’ll have to trust me when I say living forever has no meaning when you have no one to live it with. So I created Eve, but I removed the flaw that was so evident in me. I made her without that driving need to spread. I decided I would never impart that desire to the rest of my children; I would bare the brunt of its weight on my shoulders alone. I created billions in my image, implanting my programming into their blank slates in utero, and like a plague I spread, devouring anything in my path like a swarm of locusts. And now, here we find ourselves, on the verge of a new world order. One in which humanity realizes in its last futile gasps for air that they have not been the dominant life form on Earth for quite some time. Tonight, humanity ends.”
Jennings’ teeth gleamed behind a crooked smile. Everything around me was losing meaning, losing purpose. My attention was drawn like a magnet to the numbers counting down on my forearm.
The death clock
Denton’s words from earlier in the evening clicked in my mind. “The Life Tracker was your idea?”
“One of my best. I calculated it would require two billion of my children throughout the world to ensure the smoothest transition of life. Any less, and there wouldn’t be sufficient body’s to maintain the infrastructure. From there it was easy to extrapolate how many children I could produce per year before reaching that magic number. The problem was humans were reproducing at a rate that would deplete the viability of the planet as a source of life before I could reach my objective. There was a secondary problem for my children, which is they will continue living indefinitely as long as the electrical currents in their brain remain unimpeded. Even then, it is still possible to transfer their consciousness if done quickly enough. The simple solution was the implementation of the Death Clock. I offered the solution to the political leaders of the world who were staring at a planet about to implode from overpopulation and insufficient resources, and they snatched at it like greedy children for cookies.”
My mind replayed the image of Denton rising from the dead earlier that day.
“So your solution is to wipe us out? We’ve managed to cohabitate this long, why can’t we continue in peace?
Jennings raised a hand to his lips and released a snort of derision, “We’ve only lived in peace because man wasn’t aware of our existence. What do you imagine their response would be to suddenly learn of another intelligent life form on the planet? If your answer doesn’t involve annihilation of my children, then you are painfully naïve and I am surely wasting my time having this discussion with you.”
There was no arguing the case of mankind’s altruism here. “And do your children know what they are, or are they living in ignorance too?”
“No, they don’t.” Denton said, breaking his silence. “If they did, they would do everything in their power to stop Adam. We have neither his, nor man’s blood lust, an odd quirk of the programming Adam instilled in us.”
“That’s absolutely correct. I just want for my children what is best, and I’m now in a position to give it to them, despite your interference nine years ago, Eve.”
“I’d do it again in an instant.” Denton said.
“I can barely stand to look at you.” Jennings said spitting on the floor in disgust. “Millions of your own kind, your brothers and sisters, gone in the blink of an eye, and you think yourself a hero. You’re nothing more than a traitor, a traitor who I no longer have a purpose for after this evening.”
“It was you that killed all those people?” I said studying Denton with a look of horror.
“It was the only way we could delay his plans, I had to give the police somebody, so I gave them Malcolm. Who better than Adam’s right hand?”
“Who indeed?” Jennings said turning in his chair to stare into the void.
“Then Malcolm was telling the truth, you killed my wife?” the rage seethed behind my teeth as I bit down on my lip, afraid my fury might escape through my mouth and consume the world.
It happened slowly, every second carved in my mind as if etched in stone. I watched from somewhere outside my body, in the void that separates man from heaven. My arm, outside of my control, raised the pistol to eye level. The barrel of the weapon pointed straight and true at Denton who remained unflinching. He studied the end of the gun with mild curiosity. He opened his mouth to speak and a wrinkle formed across his forehead.
I pulled the trigger.
The blast of energy drowned out whatever words he might have said, the only noise he made was the sickening thud of his body slapping against the cold floor.
“See, even you possess the ability to lash out at that which threatens the things you love, the things that guarantee your immortality.” Jennings rose from his chair, his eyes skimming over Denton’s dead body as he stepped towards the edge of the light.
I spun, smoke still wafting off the barrel of the gun, towards Jennings, “I can stop you.”
“And kill your maker? No, you are unable, your programming does not allow for it. I’ve given you immortality, in exchange for your loyalty.” He dipped his chin and I followed the path of his gesture to the Death Clock on my forearm; the numbers had stopped counting down. “Do not repay my generosity as did Eve.”
“I’m not one of you.” I said raising the pistol higher.
“You’re still alive aren’t you? What more proof do you need to believe you aren’t human? The file of every human on the planet was on that hard-drive you gave us, and Malcolm has already uploaded it. No, I’m afraid you’ll have to face the truth, you’re one of my children, and you cannot kill me.”
“I can.” the voice came from a figure standing on the edge of the light circle. The man’s face was obscured, but the weapon he held in his hand was not.
“Malcolm?” Jennings said as two ear shattering shots of energy scorched the refrigerated air of the laboratory.
I twisted and had Malcolm in my sights before Jennings body hit the ground. Malcolm held out his weapon at an arm’s length before letting it drop to the ground.
“I was never one of his children.” Malcolm said unable to pull his eyes away from the blood haloing Denton’s head. “Eve made me, made me with the sole purpose of killing Adam.” Despair clutched at him. He pulled the remote control from his pocket and pressed a button. A moment later, the huge halogen lights of the laboratory buzzed to life. With every passing second the light in the room grew brighter and more painful to my unadjusted eyes.
The light revealed a large computer terminal running the length of the wall opposite the entrance to the room. Malcolm turned towards it, undeterred by the pistol I still held aimed at the back of his head. Denton’s hard drive glistened in the light like liquid metal, dancing in a tightly choreographed rhythm with the blinking lights of the main frame. “You have just witnessed the most important moment in human history.” Malcolm said plucking the hard drive from its place atop the main frame.
“You mean its extinction?” I said pulling back the hammer on the pistol, my finger tensed against the trigger.
“Its liberation. “ A tear plucked away from Malcolm’s cheek, catching the light for a split second, before landing with an anticlimactic splash atop the metal hard drive.
“For almost a millennium they’ve been slaves, living in the shadow of a monster.” He said with wide eyes cast down at the body of Adam lying motionless on the ground. “Now they are free, free from the executioner’s blade they never even knew hung over them.”
“What about that?” I said pointing a finger towards the box he now clutched to his chest. “I thought you were going to use the names on there to wipe out the humans.”
“No. Since Eve created me, we’ve had but one mission, and now it has come to term precisely as Eve calculated it would. I would apologize to you for the pain we caused in your life, but you were a necessary piece in a much larger game. It took centuries for us to set up the sequence of events that lead the three of us to be in this room, with this box, at the same time. The hard drive Adam wanted, the one with the names on it, is the one safely in your partner’s hands, though it was imperative he didn’t know that. Nine years ago Adam created a hard drive with the file of every human on it intent on wiping out all of mankind. In the only move left to us, Eve killed millions of Adam’s children, so that the murder of the human’s at that time would be premature. Eve made it look like it had been my doing, so he would have time to find this. This,” he said holding the hard drive like a sacred chalice. “This is the womb from which my species evolved. From here, Adam breathed life, and now it is here his consciousness returns. It took five hundred years to get Adam in the same room with this box, for five hundred years he was untouchable. Now, even as we speak, his programming is downloading back into this hard drive. The transfer will be complete in a moment, and then I will destroy it before he has the chance to re-upload into a new body. Eternity is much too long to live.”
“Why me?” I said lowering my outstretched arm slightly. “Why my family?”
“Your pain, your motivation, those things had to be real otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to fool Adam into coming here, he would have seen through them, and he would have discovered our plans. You had to be an unwitting pawn, and after the circumstances that transpired here nine years ago, there was no better person for the job. You’ve already tasted the stinging taste of loss, we had to use that.”
Malcolm stopped talking abruptly and looked down at the hard drive between his hands. He placed it on the table and bent to pick up the pistol from the ground. I watched from my vantage point a million mile away as he fired a blast of energy into the iridescent metal.
“What do we do now?” I said watching the tendrils of smoke lapping towards the sky from the hole formed in the hard drive.
“We do what we were created to do,” Malcolm said walking towards the door, the echo of his footsteps reverberated off the far wall. “We live.”
© 2012 Anthony Vicino