I pivot attention from the window to the door. How did Nick even know I’d be here? Last I left him, he was faking amnesia. Now he breaks into my house and insists on seeing me? If it’s a trap, I’ll lose any advantage this mysterious man offers.
The only thing I can do is put Nick off.
The window slides shut.
I rush over and push up the window, grabbing the guy on his shoulder before he slides down the drain.
“Don’t leave,” I whisper.
He turns to me and I see his face.
My heart about stops.
I fall backwards three steps and grab my chest. No. It can’t be.
He reaches at me, toward me, to seize me!
“Please, no,” I rasp. My arms raise to block him and my vision darkens.
“Detective? Detective? Are you okay?”
I hear pounding on the door. At the same time, I see… this… apparition hovering toward me. It touches me. Its anger and rage and overwhelming grief delve deep into my deepest part.
No one can help.
The stench of sulfur wafts over the room. I knew it from the beginning. Sulfur means demons. Aliens, Sasquatch, Nessie, and demons. All smell like hell. All sent to deceive. And this being in front of me is from the same place.
Lord, this is not what I want. I am a child of the King. “Dear Jesus, please help me. Dear Jesus, please help me.”
The name of the Lord should make demons shudder, but instead this being swings back his hand and slaps my face.
“Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!” I scream.
A large body slams against the door. “Reynolds? Let me in!”
“Snap out of it!” the man in front of me says.
He pulls his hood off, and I take in a full, nerve-racking view of the face I should never have seen. Ever.
“How is this possible? Who are you? Why… are you?”
“Tell Nick to go downstairs, and I’ll explain everything.” He crosses his arms.
“He won’t go. I don’t want him to go.” I quiver, like I’d expect my daughter to. Not like a police officer should. But I tremble in dread fear. “Tell me who you are.”
The being steps over to the door and calls through.
“I’m okay, Nick. Please go downstairs and wait for me. I’ll be there shortly. Get yourself something to eat.”
Something to eat?
“You sure you’re okay?” Nick says.
“Yes. I need some time… to pray.”
To pray? Oh, Lord. What is going on? Please, Lord. Help me, dear Jesus.
Nick, my savior, my only help, runs down the stairs… and I am left alone… with myself.
He turns to me and draws a deep breath.
“I didn’t want it to go down like this… Tim.”
He didn’t want it to go down like this. I’m repeating everything he says. I’m repeating… myself.
“Snap out of it. We don’t have time. Let me lay it all out for you, then you decide if you can believe your eyes and believe me.”
I look in his eyes: familiar, but not. His bearded face: aged, haggard, grey. His dress: a strange black cloak.
But in front of me… is me.
An old me.
A very old me.
“If only you hadn’t lost that package, you would have seen this from a much easier position. I wanted you to use the device, to ease you into the idea, to understand everything without having to see me.”
“How is this possible?” How can there be two of me in the same place at the same time?
“I know.” He blows out a deep breath. “That is not even the worst, Tim.”
My nails clench my palms. “This goes against… reality. This goes against God’s ways. No. This is a trick of some sort. Or a dream.”
“I promise you, this is not a dream. It’s as real as this chair or…” he points, “as real as the scarf on your wrist.”
The scarf he had given me. The one that smells like Mercy. “It’s not… there’s…. No. How can it be? Which of our souls is the real soul?”
He chuckles. “The transporter conundrum, right?”
“Yes!” Oh, how I need Mercy right now. Mercy could explain this.
“You almost understood it in the car with Susan.”
“You were there?”
“Yes. In the trunk. Let me tell you how it happened, okay?”
I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be seeing this old Tim who is me, but not me at the same time. This… split… of reality has no place in my world. Lord, what is going on?
He draws a deep breath. “Okay, I know this much. Do you remember yesterday when we stood at the door and had to decide if we would go to Jamie Lewis’s murder scene or to Maura at the hospital lab?”
I nod. “I went to the hospital. And I saw Sophie.”
“Well, I didn’t. I went to Jamie’s murder scene.”
“I can’t explain the why, but I can tell you what happened. It can give you insight into the crimes, but it won’t help you pin the murders on anyone.”
I shut my eyes, steadying my thoughts.
“Jamie’s house is settled on the far side of town. When I got out of the car, all the attending police were pale-faced, and a couple had vomited. I knew it wouldn’t be a pretty scene. But what I saw, and what you never saw, was her body. Believe me when I say you have the better end of the stick. She was on her bed, a skin-covered… water balloon. Her bracelet had a red string on it the same color as the bathrobe tie we found. I studied her and studied that string. When I remembered the layout of the lab. It all clicked right there. I heard McCoy saying, ‘Crazy way to travel! Spreading a man’s molecules all over the universe!’ I heard it as if he was standing right next to me.”
I look up at this man, wide-eyed.
“No, he wasn’t there. Doctor McCoy is a fictional character.”
My stomach tightens. Fiction is what I wish this Old Tim was.
He continues, “I think to myself, What kind of experiment would be so private you connect it to your bedroom? People put treasures in their bedrooms, usually in their top drawer. They feel their bedrooms are their safe place. Where are we right now?” He spreads his hand toward our room. “This is my safe place. Our safe place. But if something is dangerous, you’d want it away from your bed and your loved ones, I think. So maybe whatever he was doing wasn’t dangerous. But he was working in quantum. What if McCoy was right? So I go Lone Ranger. Leaving Louise and the others to finish up with Jamie, I return to the Black mansion. And you know, we aren’t good about telling others where we’re going. The door’s unlocked. Black isn’t around. I wander back toward the lab and hear Briggston. He’d come back. I guess he’d waited for me to leave, then used a back door.
“Black says, ‘It’s over, Mr. Briggston. We’re done. I’m not sacrificing the rest of my family, no matter the benefit.’ Briggston says, ‘We will finish what we started.’ Then Black says, ’There’s no way to do it.’ And Briggston says, ‘That’s not what the contract promises.’” I shift to peek through the crack of the door and Black’s eyes catch on mine. I’m not cowed. I pull my gun and step in. Neither of them have weapons. I tell them to confess to the murder. And I ask if the contraption was involved in Noah’s death. Black confirms it. He’s holding that Antikythera device, turning the nobs. Briggston asks Black to show me how it works. Black takes me to the circle in the center of the room and says “Watch.” Before I know what’s happening, Black shoves the device into my hands, jumps back, and that room disappears.”
“What? It disappears?”
“I end up in 2050. In the future.”
“It’s horrible. Those dystopia stories are what life is like then. The Russian mafia control everything. I eventually find other Christians or I’d have died. It’s illegal to even pray, just like in Daniel’s day. Worst of all, I have the device but don’t know how to use it. I live there twenty years trying to decode it. Twenty years.” He wipes his eyes and the grief floods over me as well.
“I can feel your feelings. Is that because you’re me?”
“I don’t know. The smell is the portal. I think that device taps into the portals that angels and demons use to move through the universe.”
“They time travel?”
He shrugs. “All I know is what I saw and what I guess. The faster than light morphing, appearing, disappearing.”
“So angels and demons have those Antikythera devices?”
“No. Some Greek hacked into their abilities somehow. That’s the sulfur.”
“When you looked up the device, what did you learn?”
“It doesn’t exist. There is no device.”
“Right. Archaeologists were supposed to find that in a shipwreck in 1901. He must have traveled back in time to steal or buy the device from the maker before he got onto the ship. Because in your world, the device was never found. By taking it, they deleted it from being sunk with the ship. Who knows what else they’ve done?”
“How did he get there in the first place?”
“You don’t want to know. Many things have changed because of what they’re doing. It’s tied to that contract. If the contract is written, it’s in that vault.”
“Wait a minute. How are you here? You decoded it?”
“In my future there is no Mercy. There is no Sophie. They die. Both of them. I’m all alone.”
“When? When do they die?”
He shrugs. “I won’t tell you when. But Tim, I can’t live with that fact. I decode the device, and the first thing I do—stupid me. I’m sorry, Tim. The first thing I do is go to the night of Mercy’s car accident. I try to stop it. I try to keep her from being in an accident.”
Old Tim in front of me moans and his eyes fill with tears. He brushes them away and wags his head. “I’m so sorry. I tried to fix it.”
“What happened? What’d you do?”
“You know how they never discovered what made her crash?”
I focus in on this man, the realization of his words settle on me. “You caused it in the first place?”
He nods. The Old Man Tim, weakened by time and grief and a lonely future, leans forward, elbows on his knees, and breaks down.
I watch him, speechless. How can I make sense of this? Why has my world gone sideways? Lord, give me my life back. Even with Mercy in a coma and Sophie dying in the hospital. It’s better than a world where I see my future self saying these things. This man had caused—I had caused—the accident?
Inside, my mind screams at the irony. No! I don’t want it to be true.
“I decoded the device yesterday. Caused Mercy’s accident yesterday. Gave you the package yesterday, and today you hand it back to them.”
This all must be impossible.
But here the future Tim is, as real as Mercy’s scarf on my wrist. Two scarves, two Tims…
“Hold on a second, there’s one piece of the puzzle that doesn’t fit.” I shake his shoulder. “Tim, how did Black get into the past—to that Greek island — in the first place?”
“You did it. Don’t you see? Briggston gave him the device from your bag.”
I stare at this apparition, this vision of me in front of me, this Old, broken, worn-out Tim.
I did it.
Two devices. Briggston stole that from me and gave it to Black.
“But when? When did he give it? Briggston just stole it from me today. Can we stop him or has it already happened?”
My brain strains to find a place for this. What am I supposed to do? Should I be trying to get the device, or trying to solve the murder?
I can see that… somehow… Black used spacetime to take Jamie’s body.
He had it.
Then he didn’t.
Officer Smith had said no one left the room. Because Smith had been there.
Could it have been a future Black I had seen? If so, in that moment in the bathroom, he must have moved Jamie’s body to her home, somehow.
But had the device caused the murder?
It obviously didn’t subatomically debond William Black or Old Tim here.
None of this information can prove the murders. It’s all hearsay.
Old Tim here could not testify in court. Nobody would believe him. Would they?
We need concrete evidence to back up his words, which we don’t have without the device. Maybe Old Tim can help me find get the device back from Briggston and Black. Still, we can’t prove anything about the murder.
Nick is downstairs. He knows the murder side of it, and can explain the syringes.
Except Old Tim doesn’t want Nick to know about him.
A car pulls up outside. Old Tim looks out and gasps. “It’s the Russians. I’m outta here. If the mafia find me, they’ll discover there’s a time machine. It’s what ruins the future!”
Should I try to persuade Tim and Nick to work together to gather evidence, even if the Russians find us? Or should I let Old Tim leave and face Nick and the Russians alone?