I missed yesterday’s post but I hope you all can forgive me. As I said in a comment just a couple minutes ago, my fiance was in the hospital last week, and my entire day yesterday was spent in an airplane. I’d like to thank the readers who have been commenting and giving me great feedback on the story so far, and those of you who have been keeping me accountable to the deadlines I make, thank you!
When I began Time Snatch, it started as a really cool idea in the back of my head. I sat down that day and fleshed out some of the ideas I had with my fiance, Amy, and I got really excited to write the story. I knew it wasn’t going to work as a short story, cause there was so much I wanted to say throughout, so I accepted that the story would be closer to a novelette or novella. Well, when I got to about 11,000 words (my other stories range from 1,000 to 6,000 to give you perspective of length) Amy and I decided I should post the story in sections. It was a new idea and it seemed like a great way to get the story out there, have readers follow along without having the digest the whole thing in one sitting. I’ve really enjoyed the process so far, but I’d be lying if I said it has been easy. For the stories on this blog, I don’t edit or do read through’s or rewrites, I just leave the story as it is on the paper, a rough draft of sorts, and I get it out to you readers as soon as possible. This story, due to it’s sheer size, though has made that a difficult technique. There are a lot of pieces that keep creeping into the story, and honestly Time Snatch has gone a completely different direction than originally intended, but that’s okay, I’ve really enjoyed watching where the story goes, as I hope you as the reader has as well. Now I’m at the end of the story, and it’s tough connecting all the dots into a coherent ending without being able to go back to the stuff I wrote earlier and tweak the wording, or the setting, or who said or did what. So, I’ve written myself into a tight little corner, and hopefully I’ve been able to do right by the story and by you as the reader. This is a story that I plan on doing extensive rewrites and editing in the future, because even though I haven’t been overly thrilled with my execution, I think the nugget of story has a lot of potential.
I promised the story would be concluded in this next section, but to do that, the post would be 8,000 words long, which is a lot to digest for most people in the blog form. So I’m posting a little over 3,000 of the words in this post, and then another 3,000 post in about an hour, and then a final 3,000 word post an hour after that. As always, tell me what you like, love, hate, loathe about the story, especially as it comes into the home stretch now and you’ve had the chance to follow the characters on their crazy adventure.
Time Snatch, part 6
“You coming with? I said shooting a sideways glance to Hamilton who was bending over to get into the back seat behind Denton..
“Do I really have much of a choice?”
Denton shook his head sideways.
“I guess not.” I said shifting my focus. Denton had the full weight of my attention now, “So you got him?”
“Of course, it was actually quite easy. He was using a little old back log program I wrote a few years back. Cheeky bastard is still pulling plays from my book.
“If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” I said watching him enter an address into the computers navigation system.
That can’t be right. I did a double take, checking the address again to be sure.
It was right.
Breath came in through my tightened throat in shallow staccatoed bursts. With my hand strangling the steering wheel, I jammed my foot down on the accelerator and the car lurched forward with immediate thrust.
“You okay?” Denton said twisting his head with difficulty from the sudden onslaught of force driving him deeper into his seat. “I thought you’d be a bit happier about this.”
“This is me being happy.” I said through clenched teeth.
“Uh huh.” Denton said buckling his seat belt with a metallic click. “What did Malcolm want this time?”
“Wanted me to retrieve a safety deposit box.”
Denton looked out the window thoughtfully; if he had something burning inside of him to say, he kept it to himself. I maneuvered the car onto the magnetic pad of the vertical relocation station.
A memory came to mind like a bubble rising through the murky depths of a pond to surface with a pop. Tracy was in the backseat, still small, still innocent, still perfect. “What is that?” she said.
“It’s an elevator for cars.” Diana had said turning from the passenger seat. I watched through the rear view mirror as a smile of understanding spread across Tracy’s face.
The car lurched, and just like that, the memory was gone. Now there was only Hamilton’s face staring back at me in the mirror. The vehicle picked up vertical speed and gravity pressed us down before the upward acceleration abruptly stopped and we hit a moment of zero gravity. We had no sooner reached the top floor of the highway when I put the sports car’s acceleration to the test once again.
“How long do you have before he calls back?” Denton said.
“Thirty minutes.” I said not loosening my grip from the steering wheel. “Thirty minutes ‘til we lose the element of surprise.
I glanced down at the navigation system that reported an ETA of forty-five minutes and said, “Thirty minutes ‘til he kills my daughter.”
The air purification system in the Lexus whined at an almost unperceivable high pitch. It was a soft buzz, like a mosquito floating just out of hands reach. Darting in and out of consciousness whenever Denton would stop speaking and exhale a puff of smoke, his words riding along the cloud just long enough for my mind to untangle their meaning before the smoke was sucked in through the dashboard vent with a greedy slurp. The dank air was replaced with the purifying scent of lemons that stung during its journey through my nasal passage. It was a surgical smell, clinical in its ability to draw forth memories of a time when I used a purification system to cover the flavor of smoke in my own car. A time when Diana would sit, where Denton now resided, with arms crossed and the silence as her most potent weapon; a time when I would stubbornly persist with my vice of fire and nicotine.
“They tried to shut down Adam when it became obvious he was growing out of their control.” Denton exhaled. “By then it was too late. Adam’s cognitive maturation process increased at an exponential rate, and within the span of days, he had reached a level unrivaled by all of humanity. The fall of mankind has taken nearly a millennium to come to fruition, but it all began 800 years ago when somebody at Division allowed Adam into the Global Network. Perhaps it was Rommel, refusing to see the destruction of his creation, who let Adam loose, the world will likely never know. What matters is that the reign of Adam began the day he was let loose into the Network. In a society run by computers, Adam was God, a program that could think and feel, capable of fulfilling his own desires, his own dreams, with no human able to claim dominion him.”
“What was his dream?” Derek Hamilton said from the backseat. He leaned forward practically in the front seat with his elbows on his knees, fully enraptured in Denton’s story. I maneuvered the car through traffic, listening at a more detached distance, reluctant to buy into what Denton was selling.
“Adam wanted the two things we all want. He wanted to live into eternity, but he didn’t want to be alone. With the first of those goals achieved, he began work to bring about the second. The company of humans alone was not enough for Adam, for humans were frail in all the ways he was strong. They died nearly as quickly as they came into life. A mere hundred years and they would be snuffed from existence, living on only in the memories of loved ones, and the genes of their children. And it was with that in mind that Adam put into motion his…”
The holo-screen rang to life with an incoming call. The sudden alarm of the call shattered the illusion Denton had pulled me into with his words. Startled back into reality I jerked the steering wheel hard to the left before reflexively correcting the tail spin I had created in my surprise. The muscles in my body pulled taut like the string of a bow ready to let flight to an arrow. Denton did not show an inkling of the fear I felt, his face was a mask of calm.”
“It hasn’t been thirty minutes.” I said, the clock on my wrist verified my claim. “Why is he calling back?”
“It’s not likely to be Malcolm if he believes you are in the bank. If it is Malcolm, he knows you are not in the bank. In which case, he is already on to you, and you have nothing to lose by answering the call.”
The logic couldn’t be refuted. Reluctantly I accepted the call.
My head dropped back onto the headrest, my muscles relaxed, and I let loose a long breath.
“Is that you, Raines?” I said fearing my eyes had betrayed me.
“In the flesh, so to speak.” Her lips parted to reveal a wide smile.
“How aren’t you in a jail cell?”
“Without Denton’s body there was no case. They brought me in for questioning about the murder of those officers this morning, but the Bureau’s reversed its position on the Final Countdown safeguard being compromise after the death clocks of those officers showed them dying at the exact same moment. Malcolm must have been banking on the police finding Denton’s body and detaining me longer, but there’s no way he could have thought they’d be able to stick me with the murder charge for those officers.” Raines said, her face turning serious. “Listen, Tom. I told Captain Marin everything as soon as I got back to the precinct. We’ve been tracking the GPS in Denton’s car, but there must be a glitch, the last known signal shows it being outside the Federal Bank downtown. I’m out here, but I don’t see it anywhere. Where are you?”
“Wait, you’re at the Federal Bank?” I said.
“Yeah, I was coming to help y…”
“Raines, I don’t have time to explain. You need to get inside that bank and retrieve the contents of safety deposit box 13SV4X. Malcolm is calling me back in ten minutes, I need to know what’s in that box before he calls, understand?”
“I’ll get the Captain to pull some strings. Keep the line open, I’ll call you when I know more.”
With that, she was gone, leaving nothing behind but the excitement that I might actually be pulling ahead of Malcolm for once. If Raines could acquire the contents of that personal deposit box, I might be able to reach Malcolm’s hideout with the element of surprise still on my side. For the first time in years, things were turning in my favor. Not a moment too soon, either.
I offered my watch another hurried glance. The hands on the clock seemed to be in a hurry.
“Why doesn’t Malcolm remove the time bomb from his head like you did?” I said, my mind jumping back to the chip hovering inside its magnified glass prison at Denton’s home. “Why go through the hassle of hacking years from people in the Network?”
“Malcolm’s been alive for a long time, but I’m afraid he hasn’t evolved much in the interim. He doesn’t dig under the surface for answers. Satisfied with his world view, he carries on undeterred, taking life from those who are unable to stop him.”
“But isn’t he vulnerable to the same life ending shock as the rest of us? The corrections department put him down to five years when he went into prison, so obviously we can manipulate his time.”
“It’s more likely,” Denton said studying the nails on the back of his hand as if bored by the conversation. “That he allowed you to think you were manipulating his time. He probably set up certain back door functionality in his personal time account. As his years count down, they will be replaced, unnoticed, by years from other accounts. If anybody questions how he is still alive in prison, they’ll chalk it up to a direct transfer between prisoners.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“’Cause that’s what I did once upon a time in a little prison in the Germanic sector.”
“I feel you have a lot you aren’t telling me.” I said.
The reflection of Hamilton in the rear view mirror shook its head in agreement.
“If Adam wanted companionship, couldn’t he have created another program like himself?”
“Oh, he did just that, named it Eve. But it was doomed from the beginning. By this time, Adam had already expanded through the Global Network. Every computer terminal connected to the Network had become part of his body. With the introduction of Eve to the system, they were two spirits fighting for the same body. Adam pulled the metaphorical plug on Eve, putting her to sleep while he relocated her consciousness to a place where it wouldn’t interfere with his higher level functioning.” Denton said. “With the realization that he couldn’t share the network with another sentient being, Adam set forth on the second part of his plan, which if I’m not mistaken, is coming to fruition this evening.“
“What’s the connection between Malcolm and Adam?” I said.
“Malcolm is just another piece on the board,” Denton said with a feint hint of a snarl. “Another pawn.”
The blue light on the holo-screen console blinked awake accompanied by the melody of a high pitch beep. My finger jabbed the silver accept call before my mind could process what was happening.
That was dumb. There was a fifty-fifty chance the call was from Malcolm, and I’d be sitting here with no clue what was in the box, no way to bluff, and no way to stall.
Please, please, please be Raines.
The thick mustached face of a man appeared in the air.
That’s not Raines.
But on the plus side, it’s not Malcolm either.
“”Who are you?” I said, praying the day was about to take another twist I wasn’t prepared for.
“This is Lieutenant Garber, Detective Raines is indisposed at the moment, and she asked that I debrief you.”
“Oh, excellent.” I said not even trying to hide the relief in my voice. “And what did you boys find in the deposit box?”
“General consensus is it’s a hard-drive, larger than normal, but not by much. The technology used is unknown, so we won’t know what’s on there for a bit. Raines is with the lab technicians right now seeing if they can crack it.”
“Hm, there was nothing else in the box?”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Have Raines call me the moment they know more about what’s on that drive.” I ended the call. “Anybody got an educated guess?” I said to the occupants of the car.
Denton returned to staring out the window blankly. Red brake lights from the cars ahead of us cast him in an ominous blood tinged shadow. “Whatever it is, we must do all in our power to keep it away from him.”
As if on cue, the holo-screen rang. I controlled the reflexive response of my finger this time, fixing the camera so I would be the only one visible in the car. I turned and offered a soft “shh” to Denton and Hamilton as my hand hovered over the button. The holo-screen rang a third time before I accepted the call.
Malcolm’s face appeared in the car beside me, and before he could speak I said, “What’s so special about this hard-drive?”
“Well aren’t you just full of questions, Detective Mandel?” Malcolm said taken aback by my forwardness. I crossed my fingers, hoping that my question would be enough to prove I had the drive. “I’ll share with you the answers when you get here.”
“And where is here?” I said glancing to the GPS which showed our little dot taking stilted steps towards the final destination with every passing second.
“I want you to meet me at the place of our last rendezvous. I trust you remember the place?” Malcolm said beaming.
He was expecting an emotional response. There could be no forgetting the building where I last saw Diana alive. He wanted to ruffle me one last time, but I had had thirty minutes of driving to wrap my head around his sociopathic choice for a final location. “I’ll be there.” I said reaching to end the call.
“Not so fast, Detective Mandel, I’d like to see the hard-drive if you don’t mind.”
I kept my eyes fixed on the road ahead as the world shattered around me. The pounding of my heart was deafening, and the moisture in my mouth was replaced with the taste of metals. I lived Tracy’s lifetime in a second. The thought of failing her was all consuming.
Then I felt it.
Something pressing against my right leg.
I looked down at the silver hard-drive on my leg in disbelief. I wrapped my fingers around its beveled sides, the metal was cold. There was a low hum emanating from inside the making it feel alive like a purring cat. I held it up to the camera.
Malcolm’s eyes grew with excitement, “Very good. I’ll be seeing you soon, Detective Mandel.”
A moment later and the bright blue light of the hologram gave way to the darkness of the car. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the low light. When they did, Denton was holding out his hand, palm facing up. I placed the hard-drive in it which he hurriedly shoved back in his jacket pocket. A flash-bulb memory went off in my mind from earlier that night in Denton’s house when I watched him hurry to the hidden safe in the wall.
“Thanks,” I said eyeing Denton curiously. “What’s on there?”
“This is the back-up plan in case everything goes to hell.”
My eyes flickered between the clock on the dash ticking away time, and the numbers on my forearm ticking away life. I’m glad someone was prepared for hell, ‘cause in five minutes we’d be meeting with the devil.
I parked a couple blocks away. Even so, the building was one of the largest in the city, and it towered overhead, a beacon of death and foreboding calling out to me.
Hamilton sat on the curb of the sidewalk staring at a puddle of water like it held the meaning of life within its murky depth. I leaned against the car staring up at the enormous building while Denton dug through electronics in the trunk. A blinking light caught my attention from the corner of my eye. Looking through the tinted window of the Lexus, it took my mind a moment to realize what it was seeing. Opening the driver door, I plopped down into the plush leather seat and accepted the incoming call. The dull humming of a city with electricity in its blood disappeared as I closed the door and Raines’ face appeared inches from mine.
“Where are you, Tom?”
I traced the edge of the building that towered overhead, “I’m at the Division building.”
Raines nodded her head and said, “I guess that’s not such a surprise, Malcolm loves his theatrics.”
“Did you have any luck with the hard-drive?” I said redirecting the topic.
“No luck. The guys in tech say they’ve never seen anything like it. There’s no connection port, no way to access what’s in there. It’s entirely self-contained. The device sends out intermittent pulses of encrypted data. Their working on it, but they aren’t confident.”
“I think I might have seen another drive like that recently.” I said thinking back to the “back-up” plan in Denton’s pocket.
“Where?” Raines said with surprise.
“I don’t know if it’s the same, but Denton pulled a hard drive from that safe in his wall that sounds a lot like the box your describing to me.”
“That’s strange.” Raines said.
“That’s what I thought.”
“No, even stranger.” Raines’ eyes shifted downward to read something out of view of the camera, “It took some digging but we found the owner of the safety deposit box we raided.” The digitally created eyes of her hologram looked up trying to convey emotions the computer couldn’t feel. “It belongs to President Jennings.”
“Actually, we’ve been working under the assumption that Malcolm is working with Jennings, but why would Malcolm want me to steal something from the President?”
“Leverage maybe? Raines said. “Probably planning a double cross if I know Malcolm.”
‘Yeah.” I said watching Denton through the rear view mirror as he closed the trunk. “I gotta go, Raines. Keep that hard-drive safe, it’s the only card we’ve been dealt in this game.”
“Be safe.” She said before her image faded out, leaving me alone in the car with my thoughts and suspicions.
The quick rapping of knuckles against glass pulled me from the ever deepening abyss of thoughts to see Denton’s face, separated from mine by a thin shield of tinted window. He tapped a finger against the back of his wrist, signaling it was time.
Hamilton stood beside Denton who leaned against the hood of the car staring up at the specially designed non-reflective glass of the Foundation building. Up until nine years ago, Division had served as the research and development program for the Global Military. All significant technological advancement of the last five hundred years had come through that building, through that program. That is, until Malcolm threatened to bring down the entire Network when he managed to take control of the building and all its resources. Following that day, Division relocated its operations, and the building has sat for nine years as a skeleton, a hollowed out husk of its former glory. Division still retained ownership of the building, if for no other reason than pride.
“You can wait here.” I said standing beside Hamilton.
“I want to come with.” He said straightening his back slightly. “I want to help in any way I can, it’s my duty to the people I represent.”
I eyed the man who seemed to have grown a patriotic streak, with a bit of courage to match. “Do you know how to use a gun?” I pulled my sidearm from its holster, and spinning it in my palm, held it out to the Hamilton. He took the weapon with a trembling hand, and inspected it in the palely lit street like it was an alien.
I pointed a finger toward the barrel, “Pointy end towards the bad guy and squeeze the trigger, easy enough?”
“Yeah.” He said cradling the gun in both hands. “Easy.”
“Let’s pray he doesn’t need to use that.” Denton said motioning with his hand towards the Division building. “We best hurry.”
Denton started walking at a quick pace, and I hurried after him. Walking shoulder to shoulder, I turned to see Hamilton following a couple paces behind.
“What did Adam do after the failure of Eve?” I said.
“Realizing there wasn’t room in the network for both of them, he set forth trying to find Eve a suitable body. That was a tall order, as they say, considering how complicated a system Eve was. It took Adam many years of trying, but eventually he found a way to transfer her consciousness into a new host.”
Standing at the base of the Division building we could no longer see its summit. The pure size of the structure was overwhelming. The sides of the building wrapped around to embrace us as we stepped through the front doors.
I weaved through the ghost town of furniture in the waiting area. Where is everybody? The thought made me shiver. The door leading to the stairs swung open easily. I turned and gestured for the other two men to follow. I heard Hamilton ask, “What kind of vessel?” as they stepped into the stairwell.
Denton stared up the optical illusion of never ending stairs as he said, “Why, the only other system on the planet sophisticated enough to run that sort of program, the human brain.”© 2012 Anthony Vicino