“Sarge, look out!”
I shove Boice out of the way and grab Old Tim’s hand before he can jab my boss with the syringe.
“What are you doing, Tim!” He struggles with me to gain control of his arm.
I keep it raised and walk him back toward the door.
“The future of the world is on the line. Let me go.”
Boice unholsters his gun and points it at us, aiming it at Old Tim, then at me. “What’s going on? Who is this?”
Boice does not recognize the Old Tim as me.
“Say nothing you’ll regret later.” Old Tim stops struggling and I yank the syringe from his grip.
Boice, not convinced, trains the gun on me.
Old Tim lunges toward the door and shuts it.
“Open the door.” Boice flicks his gun.
“I will not.” Old Tim says. He leans against the door and crosses his arms. “I’m the only one who knows what is really going on.” He eyes my gun in the middle of the floor.
“Tell him,” I say and lean down to pick up my gun.
“Uh-uh,” Sarge flicks the gun at me. “Up against the door, Reynolds.”
“Me? What’d I do?”
He looks from me to white-bearded, long-haired Old Tim and back again, his eyebrows pinching tighter. “What gives? Is this your father, Reynolds?”
“Don’t tell him,” Old Tim whispers.
“No. It’s not.” The syringe is still in my hands like a hot potato. Only my prints will be on this. Anything Tim does implicates me. “Sergeant Boice, William Black’s lab is a time machine. Somehow it’s involved in the murder.”
Sarge lowers his gun. “A time machine?”
Before I can say more, Old Tim snatches the syringe from my hand and lunges toward Boice, knocking him onto the bed. I jump out of the path of Sarge’s flailing gun. Old Tim jabs the needle into Boice’s shoulder.
I try to pull Old Tim off of Boice, but my boss goes limp. I groan. “Why? Why?” Running my fingers through my hair, my attention pivots from the door to the window.
“There is no time left.” He picks up both guns and sticks one in his coat pocket. The other he points at me. “Out the door.”
Boice is passed out on the bed with a syringe next to him. They’ll think it was me again.
I open the door and turn right toward the stairs. “Left.” He stops me. To the right and downstairs are all the people who can help me. But I must go left. I’ve got to get away.
He directs me to Sophie’s bedroom in the back of the house, then opens her window and makes me go out on the back patio roof. He follows.
The police are all out front waiting for Sergeant Boice and me to come out. I know what Old Tim is planning. It’s what I’d plan if I were him: out the back gate into the alleyway, toward the freeway, from there into hiding.
No way am I going with him. I draw in a breath to scream for help when I feel the gun on my back.
“Don’t,” he whispers. “Don’t call them. Hear me out. Let’s go.”
The sun is almost down, and rainy haze is all around. Was it just this morning I opened his first package? Have I been at this all day?
If he’s so gung-ho on needling people with a drug to get his way, he is not me. Not really. Which is pretty depressing. Is this what I become?
Ten minutes later we are under the freeway overpass a mile away. Way over around my neighborhood, police helicopters shine their lights in the backyards looking for me. I hope Boice remembers this guy running at him with the needle. I hope he knows it wasn’t my choice.
Or was it?
I did agree to come.
I did choose to not scream for help. “I promised my boss I would be back in five minutes. You made me break my promise.”
“You shouldn’t have promised that. No one can know about that machine. You compromised everything by telling him about the portal.”
“But I know about it! How can we move forward in the case without the team knowing what caused the deaths?”
“Because there are worse things that will happen—more people will die—if they find out. The only way we can stop that police state from happening is if we get to the lab. You’d have to live it to want to stop it.”
“I thought you said the Russian Mafia controlled the future.”
“I never said that.”
“Uh, yes you did.”
“No. There’s a totalitarian government controlling the future I was in.”
“What about the Russians?”
“What about them? And did you forget?” He points to himself. “I am stuck here. You are the only person who cares what happens to me. But it seems you don’t care. You should want to help me.”
“Your ideas are absurd. Or full on deceit.” I untie the scarf on my wrist. “Why am I even wearing this? You gave me this package, all cloak and dagger. But nothing came of it. What’s wrong with you? Your plans are half-thought-through.”
“They’re not. Put that scarf back on. That’s your only measure of what has happened to me. That scarf is from my time. From what I understand, if that scarf disappears, it means you’ve undone the decision I made.”
I blink as I focus on him, trying to understand. Shrugging, I tie it back on my wrist. What can it hurt? If the scarf is gone, I’ve succeeded.
“So what… do we do?”
“We’ve got to stop Briggston and Black before they use it.”
“How do you know it’s not already used? If you think about it, we’re only here because someone killed Noah and Jamie, using the machine somehow.”
“So how did the machine kill them?”
He runs his fingers through his long hair. “I don’t know.”
“What about Nick’s syringe? Grigory said he saw him come in through a portal, and he had a syringe. I saw with my own eyes what happens with that syringe. Animals, and people, turn to blobs.”
“Maura said it pulverizes their bones.”
“Strange. That’s not what happens when I go through it.”
“So how did the syringe get my or your bone marrow in it?”
“I don’t know. Nick has that answer, but you turned him in.” He jumps up. “Let’s get moving.”
“Are you even telling me the truth? It seems like I’m the only one who wants to do what’s right. You injected my boss with who-knows-what. You have no value for truth. What happened to you? Why are you like this?”
“The same thing that would happen to you, if you lived under a police state. Get up.”
“You don’t need to point a gun at me. I’m on your side.”
“Yeah, right. Give me your badge.”
I pull it from my belt clip and he slips it onto his. Then he makes me jump a chain-link fence and walks up an on-ramp. “Stand here.” He puts me in the center of the road.
“What are we doing?”
Headlights appear at the top of the cloverleaf. “Stay there!” he shouts at me then holds up my badge to the approaching car. He pumps his hand up and the car rolls to a stop.
The male driver puts down the window. “What’s the problem, officer?”
Old Tim points the gun at the man. “Get out. Official business.”
Hijacking a car? Oh, no.
Yes, maybe I considered doing the exact thing less than an hour ago. But it’s one thing to hijack a Russian who kidnapped you a day earlier. Quite another to carjack a stranger off the freeway.
“Sorry, this is an emergency. Call 911 and tell them we had to take your car.”
“How do I know you’re really a police? What are you wearing?” He surveys the hooded robe. The man steps out of the car. Thankfully, there are no kids in the car.
Oh, Lord. What am I doing? I just want to do what’s right, and I’m sucked into this strange nightmare.
Old Tim climbs in the driver seat and waits for me to get in.
I speak over the hood to the driver. “Detective Tim Reynolds. They’ll know.” At least there I told the truth. He’s clearly perturbed, standing there in the drizzle.
But I jump in and shut the door.
Old Tim pulls the car into gear and presses the gas. It squeals onto the freeway and I lean back, stunned.
“What has happened to you? To us, I guess. Why are you like this?”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures.”
“I don’t think so. Aren’t you a Christian anymore?”
“Of course I am.”
“Do you even know what it means to be a Christian?”
“Do you? You wanna talk about how you haven’t visited your wife in more than two days? If you knew what I knew, you’d never leave her side. If you’d lived what I lived, you’d take a leave of absence to be with your girls instead of hunting down ghosts.”
“Like you? Are you a ghost?”
“Not as far as I understand. I’m a man, stuck. And the only way out is getting to the lab before they use the machine.”
“And how do you know they didn’t use it yet?”
He waves his hand around him, ending with his palm on his heart. “It wouldn’t be like this. I wouldn’t be here with you. The circuit would be complete and things would be set. You and me, we’re both here. You have Mercy’s scarf on your wrist. We are moving forward, so we still have time.”
“And you know this… how?”
“Electricity. Circuits. Current. Electromagnetism.”
“If you were Mercy, I’d believe you. She knows all the physics behind quantum stuff. But you are me, and I know nothing about those things.”
“I’ve lived twenty years more than you, don’t forget.”
He’s going a hundred, swerving around cars. The rain picks up, and the windshield wipers wipe away reflected lights flashing on and off from streetlamps we pass, all the lights blurring together like a Monet painting.
“You can’t even remember the Russian mob who ran your country.”
“Police, not mob. I never mentioned Russians.”
He pulls off the freeway, toward the highway leading to the cliffs where the Black Mansion is located.
He’s forgetting things, or lying.
“Tim, we have to work together here. Can you stop your antagonism just for now? Don’t you want to save Mercy and Sophie?”
“How can I do that?”
“If that scarf disappears, so does my experience, and they don’t die.”
“That makes no sense.” Oh, for the days when hair strands and DNA under the fingernails was enough to find a killer. “How do you figure your timeline will disappear? How does that happen?”
“I’ve only had two days to think this through. I thought I was the only Tim. I thought I was going back to the past. And then I saw you.”
“You saw me?”
“I tried to get to the crime scene, to see the murder. But instead, it sent me to the library.”
“You were one of the people I counted?”
“Strangely, I was even one of the people I counted.” His eyes met mine. “Ours is not to reason why. But I left and pulled together the package for you. My plan was for you to learn about the spacetime device without knowing about me. When the Blacks were under interrogation at the station, you were supposed to investigate the lab and vault. That fell apart right away.”
“Wait a minute. You went to the murder scene, but you couldn’t see who killed Noah?”
“It had to be the portal. But why? How? I don’t know. The device wouldn’t let me choose that time-space.”
“It sounds crazy. If we can’t prove anything, you realize I’m going to prison for it.”
“We’ll have to prove it, then. Briggston and Black have a contract. It will show us the motive.”
The car turns onto the dirt road leading up to the Black Mansion. My heart grips me inside, fear hangs tight. What if they send both of us through the portal, but without the device? Or worse, what if they use the portal to turn us both into… molecularly debonded bodies?
“Pull yourself together, Tim.” Old Tim snuffs and flicks his attention to me, then back to the road. “I’ve had a long time to think this through. You’ve had a few hours, I’ve had twenty years to ask why God would allow time travel. The government in the future had, at some point, access to the device or a form of it. But it wasn’t functional, or else they’d have reverse engineered it and it wouldn’t have been so hard for me to return. My question always was, why?”
He doesn’t offer an explanation.
“Stop the car,” I say.
In front of me is the long driveway to the Black’s house. Here in the rain, at night, the whipping wind threatens a storm. My heart hears the portent and agrees. It will not go well with me.
“Twenty years and you still don’t have an answer?”
“I’ll know why when I fix your life.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Your life is the one that should be.”
I look at this strange replication of myself. There is much to say, and we’ve arrived. “And you know that because…”
“Because this is the life I’m in. This is the only life where I have volition, where you have volition. Your life has a question mark in the future. This is the only one we can change.”
“So why would God allow time travel?”
“Because time is in the mind of God.”
I don’t understand his rambling. But I do know one thing. My future is still ahead of me, and my future rests on two things. One, my decisions. Two, God’s promises. Both working together will bring me good, not evil.
I look at this weary man in front of me. “Tim, I’m sorry you’ve been through what you have. I’m sorry I can’t understand what it’s like to be you. But I’ve got to be responsible for my life and my decisions. God will hold me accountable for both. So from here on, this is my game. I’m chief here. Let me decide. Don’t force me, agreed?”
He smiles. The first smile I’ve seen from him. Relieved, hopeful, tired. He closes his eyes and gives a bowing nod.
“So how are we going to get in?” I ask Old Tim. “We can sneak in, through the back, or we can ring the bell.”
“If you want to catch them unaware, you can’t let them know you’re here.”
I’m not sure. “When you did that last time, they sent you into a time warp. I think a direct approach might be better.”
“What’s our goal here? To get into the vault or to talk with people? If our goal is to talk, let’s ring the bell. If it’s breaking down barriers and hacking their secrets, let’s sneak in. They’re probably in the lab as we speak.”
“We’ve used our warrant. Anything we find upon illegal entry will be dismissed in court. Besides, we can’t be certain Briggston gave the device to Black. It’s all a supposition.”
“Tim, you need to forget about court. This is about you, me, and decisions. We are trying to get rid of my future. Merge our futures, I guess you could say. That will only happen if we deal with the… rip… in time and keep them from hurting the world. The Antikythera Mechanism disappeared from the past. Who knows what else or who else has been erased from history because of their meddling. Time is holy. It’s not to be treated as mundane.”
He has a good point. We do need to stop them, if they’re here. We need to right the damage this device has made, including the damage on Old Tim’s life. On the other hand, I’m a detective trying to officially solve a murder. Maybe the direct approach is best.