Here we go again, drawing ever closer to the conclusion of Time Snatch. This has been an interesting process for me, to say the least. Giving myself such a tight time frame for this story has taught me a lot about my method. I will be writing the conclusion of the story today and tomorrow, and it’s harder than I expected tying all the pieces of the puzzle together. I hope I’m up for the task, cause I can’t imagine anything worse than letting the story have an ending that fizzles. It’s a tough one, and I’m not entirely sure how I’ll pull it off, but check back tomorrow and we’ll see if I manage to pull it off.
For those of you just stopping in, I recommend starting from the beginning of the series with Time Snatch, or if you aren’t so interested in reading one long piece, try one of my shorter stories like Sun Burn, Firefly, Antikythera, or Standing Kill Orderlies.
As always, leave me a comment. Your critiques, criticisms, and advice are what help me become better at what I do.
Time Snatch, part 5
“You see,” Denton continued without missing a beat. “Fifty years after the Grand Unification, a scientist by the name of Rommel created a program named Adam.” Denton turned from the steering wheel, his eyes reflected the neon blue light accents of the car’s interior. “Adam was the world’s second sentient being, behind man of course.”
“A computer that could think for itself?” I said feeling the conversation fishtailing.
Denton looked at me as if I had just blown my nose on his sleeve. “You oversimplify, it didn’t just think for itself. This program had the ability to feel, it was self-aware. It’s Artificial Intelligence, man’s greatest creation.”
“Some creation, if nobody’s ever heard of it. What happened to the Adam program?”
“You’re looking at it.” Denton’s teeth were so white they nearly glowed in the darkness of the car as he smiled from ear to ear. “Not, the Adam program, of course. I mean it more in the way a child speaks of a parent.”
“What are you?” my voice was shaky and betrayed the mix of fear and morbid curiosity that held my mind prisoner.
“What am I?” he said with an air or condescension. “Maybe you should be asking yourself that question.”
“I’m a man.” There was no hiding the indignation in my voice.
“Of course I am!” I said the words loud with the hope it might make them truer. “I was born. I had parents. I have a kid for god’s sake.”
“Goats have kids, doesn’t make them human.” Denton said. “You think you’re a man, cause that’s what you’ve been told, that’s what you’ve been made to think you are.”
Wispy clouds of confusion twisted through my mind. The stream of headlights floating above the city was the only thing that made sense anymore.
Follow the lights, there’s truth in the light. I had heard that somewhere before.
If Denton was messing with me, it was certainly working. Is this how he did it, is this how he made disciples? Was this the same story he fed Malcolm all those years ago?
“How can I trust what you’re saying is true?”
“You have no choice, for now.” He said bringing the car to a stop. “We’re here.”
I leaned forward in my seat and craned my neck to see the top of the structure that loomed overhead. A carnival of colored lights shimmered across the glass surface of the building that thrust its obelisk sides into the sky. It cut the darkened night like a sword of red, blue, and green light.
“Why would Malcolm want me to come here?” I said absently.
“Oh, this isn’t where Malcolm wants you to be. That’s on the other side of the city, I’m afraid it’s far too late to make it there on time, unless you have a jet I’m not aware of.”
I turned to Denton, unable to mask the horror on my face. “Why would you do this? He’s going to kill my daughter.” The rage spilled over, taking hold of my muscles. With hands flexed tight I threw a balled up fist towards Denton’s face. The pain in my hand sent conflicting messages of relief and pain as my fist made impact with his nose. He twisted and pulled back just enough to deflect the blow from being a direct hit. Even so, his nose turned into a faucet as a stream of blood poured from his face
“Wait, wait, wait.” He said holding one hand to his nose, the other he put out in front of him to shield himself from the next blow I had already prepared to deliver. His voice sounded nasally when he said, “She’s better than dead if you continue allowing Malcolm to lead you about the city on a wild goose chase. He’ll enjoy humiliating you for a bit, but once that grows old, and you’re still no closer to finding him, he’ll realize the obvious, you can’t give him the challenge he desires.”
Denton paused to look at the blood on the back of his hand. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and, wincing, gently blotted at his nose, “But I can.”
At the moment, with dull red blood caked across his face, Denton didn’t look like a formidable match for anyone. I relaxed the muscles in my arm I still held cocked overhead. It was one of those days where everything was just out of your control. Best you could hope for was to buckle up and hold on for dear life.
“Why are we here?” I said turning back to the building glimmering in the night sky. A million questions pounded at the inner walls of my mind, but those would have to wait. For now I had to clear my mind and focus on the task at hand.
“We’re here to get a head of Malcolm.” Denton said putting his wrists together. The magnets attached to the inside of his wrists locked together, and the fluorescent green lights of the holographic keyboard filled the car with a warm glow.
“How are we doin’ that?” I said. “Like you said, once he gets bored of me, he’ll kill me and my daughter. All you’re doin’ now is accelerating that process.”
“Do you recognize this building?” Denton said not looking up from his keyboard.
“No, should I?”
“This is the residence of Mr. Derek Hamilton.”
My mind did a pirouette trying to recall the name. “The Vice-President’s son?”
“The one and only.” Denton said opening the driver’s door and jumping out into the artificially lit street.
I made to follow. My legs creaked under the weight of my body as I rose from the car. I extended my arms over-head in a cat like stretch sending a wave of relief sweeping through my body. I watched Denton rummaging through the trunk of his car before stepping back with a small metallic object clasped tight between his closed fingers.
Denton opened his hand and extended the object to me. “Take this. Keep it on you at all times.” It was slightly bigger than a lighter, but surprisingly dense. Smooth silver metal ran the length of it, and it didn’t appear to have any openings.
“What is it?” I said. The light flickered across its surface as I held it up to the street light.
“That’s a jamming device I cooked up some years ago.” Denton said. Pulling the collar of his jacket up high on his neck, he hurried towards the front entrance of the building.
“What’s it jam?” I said shoving the device into my pocket.
“You, to be specific. As long as you keep that on you, nobody will be able to activate that electric charge in your head.”
“Malcolm won’t be able to kill me on a whim, huh?” I hadn’t realized how much that burden had been weighing in the back of my mind ‘til it was suddenly removed.
“No, but that can.” He said gesturing towards the numbers counting down on my forearm. “That system is all internally controlled. Once that number hits zero, games over. Jammer won’t make any difference.”
“What about Tracy?”
Denton offered no reply. We stepped into the foyer of the upscale condominium, and a man in suit and tie approached from his post at the front desk.
“Can I help you, Gentlemen?”
“Yes, we’re here to see Mr. Hamilton, he’s expecting us.” Denton said, moving swiftly past the man’s outstretched hand, on his way to the elevator.
I followed closely behind Denton who moved like a man on a mission.
“I’m sorry, sir. If I could just have you come over here for a moment.” The man said quickening his pace to cut us off. He extended an arm in the direction of the front desk.
Denton stared contemptuously at the man. “Make it quick.”
“Of course, sir.” The man said as he put his wrists together and a holographic computer suddenly appeared from the ether before him. “And your name, sir?”
“Walter Blackwell.” Denton said the words like he had spent a lifetime saying them.
“Very well.” The computer disappeared and the man gestured towards the elevator. “Sorry to have kept you waiting, please head on up”
Denton did not thank the man. Instead he shot the man a scornful look and turned away briskly.
“Blackwell?” I said when the silver metal doors closed before us.
“From a different lifetime.”
The elevator lurched to life, rising quickly into the sky. “How did you manage to get us in here?”
Denton looked at me like I had just sprung tentacles from my face, “There are few, if any, networks I can’t access.”
Derek Hamilton writhed on the ground.
I stepped into his penthouse condominium and shut the door behind me. The look of shock on his face was damn near priceless when he opened the door and saw me standing there. His body jolted into the air, though his feet never left the ground. It was an odd site to see, made only odder by the fact that he toppled backward to the ground without any attempt to break his fall. Now, I followed him across the room as he butt scooted his way to the opposite wall.
“What are we doing here?” I cut him off. We didn’t have all night to waste on him stuttering out words. “We never got a chance to finish our conversation from earlier.” I said squatting down so my face was inches from his.
“I… I already t..t..told you. I didn’t do anything!” he said finally finding his words.
“Ya know, in a past life, I was a detective, a pretty darn good one at that. And I have this sixth sense, part of my lizard brain, that goes off whenever anyone tries to sell me a line of shit. Do you know what my lizard brain is saying right now?”
Hamilton’s eyes squirmed in their socket, trying desperately to avoid making contact with mine. “What makes you so sure I did anything? You have no proof.”
“I don’t need proof to follow a hunch; I’m operating outside the bounds of the law at the moment.” I said grinning. “In my experience, the guy who can’t make eye-contact is the guy who’s trying to hide something. In the board meeting I interrupted this morning, you were the only one avoiding eye contact with the President while he was talking. Now why was that? Were you afraid he’d see your guilt? ‘Cause whether you realized it or not, you were wearing a mask of shame for everybody in that room to see.”
“You don’t understand, he’ll kill me.” A tear strolled down Hamilton’s cheek.
“Who? Netten? No, I understand that better than you think.”
“No, not Netten.” Hamilton said in slight shock.
Hamilton brushed the tear on his cheek away with the back of his hand. He remained silent with his eyes fixed to the ground.
“If I’m not mistaken, I believe he is referencing the President.” Denton said from the corner of the room where he pecked away at the holographic keyboard before him.
“President Jennings?” I said standing up. “Why would he want to kill you?” Hamilton placed a palm against the glass window overlooking the artificially lit city thousands of feet below as he stood up.
“Because,” Hamilton looked like he could start bawling at any moment. Shoot me if it comes to that, I’ve had too much crying for one day. “A couple weeks ago, the ITB network threw up a red flag regarding the Final Countdown protocol. I brought it to President Jennings, but he assured me it was nothing, then he showed me he had authorized the change in protocol himself. I didn’t think anything of it, until this morning when you blew up the ITB.”
Well, my gut feeling had been partly right about Hamilton at least.
“Don’t overreact, I didn’t blow up the ITB, just a conference room.” I said turning to Denton. “Can you hack the ITB network to see if what he says checks out?”
“Of course, it’ll take a couple minutes. It’ll go quicker if somebody would just give me their login code, though.”
Hamilton shifted uncomfortably like an ant beneath a magnifying glass. “There’s still no proof that the President did anything to help Netten escape. This could just be a coincidence, but I know for sure if he finds out I helped you, I’ll end up in a private jail cell with no window for the rest of my life.”
“You have an opportunity to do the right thing, Derek. A lot of innocent lives have been lost today, and the death count is only going to rise, unless we stop Malcolm and whoever might be helping him. Sometimes it’s okay to be afraid, and sometimes it’s okay to be brave,” I said putting a hand on Hamilton’s trembling shoulder. “Right now, it’s alright to be both.”
God, I hate giving inspirational speeches.
With Hamilton’s network codes, Denton ran wild through the International Time Bank’s system. It took him little time to find the updated protocols the President had implemented to the Final Countdown. Hamilton’s clearance only allowed Denton to see that a change had been made to the protocol, though. To see what had been changed in the programs source code required the President’s access.
“We can’t just call him up and ask for it, now can we?” I said throwing my hands out to the side in frustration. Hamilton stood stiffly beside Denton who had looked up from his computer terminal long enough to give me the news. “I thought you said you could get into any network.”
“I can.” Denton’s words were calm and precise. He wasn’t allowing me to goad him into an emotional response. “But that would take time, a lot more time than you have I’m afraid. The best way to get in is with Jennings’s codes”
“Good luck with that.” Hamilton said unfolding his arms to point an accusing finger at me. “After the stunt you pulled this morning, nobody outside of the ITB is getting anywhere near the President.”
“Nobody outside of the ITB, but you could.” Denton said
“What good would that do? He’s not going to just give me his codes.”
They were both right, of course. “Even then, we still have no guarantee that those codes will lead us to Netten, right?” I said.
“There might be a chance that we could back trace any systems that have accessed the Final Countdown via the new protocol.” Denton said distracted once again at the computer. “With Malcolm though, it’s still a slim chance, he’s not one to leave a trail unless he wants to be found. I’ll be honest, I was really hoping this guy was working with Malcolm.” He said gesturing towards Hamilton. “At least then we might be able to crack him.”
I watched Denton’s fingers dancing on the air like they were controlling invisible marionettes while he typed away at his holographic keyboard. “We’re up a creek then?” I said.
Denton and Hamilton stared back at me blankly. I wished Raines was here. She was the smart one; she might actually know what to do. My mind drifted to thoughts of Raines under arrest for murders she never committed. I looked down at the fist my hand had involuntarily made. So much risked, so little gained. Our one hope of finding Malcolm before he killed my daughter had rested in this condo. Denton had pushed all my poker chips in the middle on a gut feeling about Hamilton. Now here I am worst off than before, a hundred miles away from the other side of the city where in a few moments Malcolm would be calling to have me do only God knows what.
“Denton, could you trace Malcolm’s call?” I said snapping away from my reverie.
“It’s possible, I suppose.” Denton cocked his head to the side. “I wouldn’t know unless I tried, but that won’t do your daughter any good. Once Malcolm realizes I’m hacking him, he’ll cut off communication; kill your daughter, and that Detective friend of yours just out of spite.”
The puzzle pieces of a plan twisted into place in my mind.
“What if we made it look like it wasn’t you.” I said setting my gaze on Hamilton. “Could you make the trace look like it’s coming from inside the ITB network?”
“Hm, it’ll take a bit of setting up.”
Hamilton remained rigid, arms crossed in front of his chest, with his jaw set firm. “Do I get a say in this?”
“Only if you’re agreeing to help us.” Setting it up to make it look like Hamilton was running the trace would put the Vice-President’s son directly in Malcolm’s crosshairs. I was treading on some morally dubious ground, but a man pushed into my position starts making some questionable calls.
I could justify it in my mind easily enough, though
Anything it takes to save my daughter.
Anything it takes to save the billions of lives threatened by a maniac with his finger on the button of a giant Time Bomb.
The little hand was gaining on the big as I glanced down at my watch. “Malcolm’s gonna be expecting me to answer his call in your car in five minutes.” I said holding the gold plated door knob in the palm of my hand. “You stay here with our friend, tap into the car’s system, and be ready for his call.”
Denton shot me a blank stare, “Of course.”
“What should I do?” Hamilton said as I opened the door.
“Just try and stay out of the way for now. We’ll be out of your hair soon enough.” I dug the silver jamming device from my pocket and tossed it in a high arc across the room. Hamilton tracked its flight before snatching it out of the air. “Keep that on you and you’ll be safe from Malcolm for now.”
“I only got one of those.” Denton did not pause to look up from the computer.
“Well, let’s hope you’re as good as you say you are.”
The evening air was crisp, which stood in sharp contrast to the oppressive heat of the day. I stood beside the driver’s side door of Denton’s Lexus watching the red ember tip of my cigarette flicker out before letting gravity pull its used remains to the ground. I studied the cigarette butt roll to a stop. I ground the remains beneath my boot imagining Malcolm’s head in place of the cigarette butt.
If only it were that easy.
I opened the door to the Lexus as the holo-screen chirped to life. What little light there was left in the street faded as I sat down behind the steering wheel.
My breath was short, my heart was pounding, and my hands were slick with sweat. I wiped my palms on my pants before reaching to accept the incoming call.
“Hello, Detective Mandel.” Malcolm’s head said floating above the console. “I see from the GPS in the late Joseph Denton’s car that you’ve reached your destination. I trust you didn’t have any problems with traffic?”
I silently thanked God for Denton who had thought far enough ahead to alter the car’s GPS reading. Now, it was just a game of stalling and praying Denton could find a way to trace Malcolm without giving us up in the process.
“Traffic was fine.” I said unable to stop the edge of my lip from curling in a look of contempt as I stared into the computer generated image of the man’s face. “Before I go any further, I need assurance that my daughter is still alive, and unharmed.”
“Of course, that’s only fair.” His voice hovered over, and stretched, the word fair.
Malcolm’s head shifted to the side, making room for another. Even as a computer rendering, Tracy had her mother’s unmistakable eyes. “Dad,” her voice was clear though strained like her throat was rubbed raw from crying. “Listen to me, don’t give this bastard anything.” Her head was pulled violently from view of the camera, but her voice still reached out to the microphone. “Let me go, you have to let me go, Dad.”
No, this has to be a dream. I buried my face between my hands, but there was no escape from her cry reverberating in my skull. “She’s done nothing to you.” I screamed at the computer.
“A minor detail.” Malcolm’s eyes seemed to shine even brighter. His serpentine tongue flicked from between his thing lips, savoring the taste of my pain. “Are you ready for your next task, Detective Mandel? I warn you, this one will be quite a bit more difficult than the last.”
A blue light blinked to life on the dashboard indicating an incoming message. “Let’s hear it.” I said watching out the corner of my eye at the text message streaming across the upper right portion of the windshield. I read the two words and suppressed the smile that threatened to give me away.
In one instant I felt the winds change, the power of balance shift, and with that one message, a new game had begun. I listened intently to Malcolm, doing my best to act demur. I had the element of surprise on my hand now; it wouldn’t due to tip my hat by being over eager. I wanted nothing more to scream from the top of my lungs, I’m coming for you, asshole. But I resisted. I sat quietly, listening, waiting.
It wasn’t the time to strike back, but soon.
© 2012 Anthony Vicino