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Countdown: Three Days

by Peter Cawdron

part 4 of 5

“Where are we going?” asked Cohen, watching as they turned north onto the freeway.

“I’m taking you back to DARPA, just as a precaution, just to make sure you’re safe. We’re going to keep you there overnight.”

Cohen wanted it to end. The whole day felt like a nightmare. He desperately wanted the day to draw to a close, just to curl up in bed with his wife and go to sleep. He hadn’t eaten and the erratic driving made him feel sick.

When they arrived back in the lab Davies activated the time cycle. After a few minutes Davies said, “The imaging is starting to break up. We’re getting too close to current time. The event stream is too compressed.”

O’Malley and Cohen watched as Davies searched through a flicker of images looking for events in New York. For the most part, the images were swirling shades of dark green, deep navy blue and black.

Davies explained that the time cycle captured all kinds of electromagnetic radiation from a variety of sources including deep inside the Earth’s core. What they were looking at was radioactive emissions from deep within the mantle. It was all a matter of fine-tuning, he said, as he struggled to bring up any recognisable images.

O’Malley got Cohen a coffee while they waited. The two men talked idly as time passed. It took almost an hour before Davies was able to isolate any future events from the time stream.

At least these were more interesting to watch, Cohen thought, as the future flashed by on fast-forward.

“Got it,” Davies cried after another forty minutes. “This is Manhattan at 1:15 tomorrow afternoon, almost three hours after detonation.”

A hologram floated in front of them. Dark clouds hung over the city as rain began to fall. Trees swayed in the breeze. Cars and buses, taxis and trucks crawled up and down the busy streets. Businessmen in expensive suits sought shelter from the rain while others, better prepared, walked confidently down the bustling side-walks with their umbrellas up.

O’Malley clapped his hands together, crying out, “Brilliant.”

“But you haven’t found the bomb yet,” said Cohen.

“You’re not thinking four-dimensionally,” replied Davies, “In current time we haven’t found the bomb, but in future time we have. We’ve changed the course of events. We’ve changed the future. It’s just a matter of current time catching up with future time. We’ve got Mathers. At some point in the next few hours we must get the bomb as well.”

O’Malley stood up and walked toward the door, saying, “They’ve taken Mathers to Langley. I’m heading over there to observe the interrogation. You two stay put. I’ll update you as soon as I hear anything. Oh, and I’ll get Johnson to pick up some pizza for you guys.”

As O’Malley left the lab, Cohen turned to Davies and said, “So much for my diet.”

The two men sat around talking idly. There was a sense of euphoria about the moment, a sense of making history, or more specifically, of making history by preventing history from being made. They both felt a sense of relief and talked about the astounding possibilities for the future.

The pizza arrived almost an hour later. Normally, Cohen wouldn’t eat anything with anchovies, but he was so hungry and so excited he didn’t notice the salty taste.

As they finished eating, Cohen looked over at the holographic image of a bustling New York floating above the time console.

“So, can you see anything, anywhere with this thing?” he asked.

“No,” said Davies, finishing a can of Pepsi. “The time cycle has a radius of about 4400 miles, so we can see all of the U.S. and across the Atlantic to England along with the west coast of France. But the imaging is in three dimensions, so there’s an awful lot of rock, crust and molten magma below us, along with a remarkable amount of sky above.”

“What about me? Can you see what’s going to happen to me?”

“Not what happens tonight,” replied Davis. “As we get closer and closer to an event the light gets closer to the event horizon and the image distorts. It gets stretched out like putty.”

“But you could find me in the future?”

“Theoretically, yes. But there’s such a mountain of data to search through and we don’t know precisely where you’ll be at any given point in time. Even with a routine schedule, trying to find a specific person with a window of just a few random seconds in a few random locations, is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Fixed objects, like a building or something large like New York City are easier. But individuals are difficult.”

Cohen thought about it for a minute. “What about the cemetery? Could you find the cemetery again?”

“Yes, but probably not at a specific point in time.”

“It doesn’t have to be at any particular time, just at some point more than three days, seventeen hours and fourteen minutes from now.”

Davies began scrolling with the track-ball, sifting through images as he spoke, saying, “OK, but your funeral would be in about three days and eleven hours.”

“OK. Whatever,” replied Cohen, somewhat surprised by the pedantic way in which he’d been corrected. “But you get my point.”

“Yes, yes,” Davies mumbled half to himself as he flicked through thousands of images. It took about ten minutes, but he found it.

“Ah, OK. This is roughly two weeks from now. It’s right on the fringe of what we can detect, but the image is stable. It’s a twelve-second window.”

Cohen watched intently as the cemetery came up before him. “Can you pan around?”

It took a few seconds, but finally he spotted it, his grave site. Fresh grass had begun to grow over the dirt mound. The name on the tombstone was unmistakeable. James Joseph Cohen. Even the date was the same.

“But we changed the future,” Davies replied, somewhat surprised. “How could you die tonight if you’re here right now?”

“I don’t think we changed anything,” said Cohen. “I think we just delayed the inevitable. Think about it. You saw a snapshot of me talking to Mathers, and that’s exactly what happened. Has anything else really changed? Anything of any real substance?”

Cohen was puzzled by the tombstone. He’d been so shaken when he’d first seen his funeral that afternoon that he hadn’t actually noticed the headstone before, but the stone was in the shape of a cross. “That’s strange,” he said, pointing at the polished marble granite.

“What’s so unusual about that?” asked Davies.

“I’m Jewish. My mother would kill me.”

It seemed like a funny thing to say, even metaphorically, as technically Cohen would already be dead by then, but Davies got the point. Cohen didn’t need to say anything else. The implication was clear.

Davies immediately began scanning for images of New York City. It didn’t take long to find something. Even two weeks after the blast, smoke was still rising from the shattered ruins of the decimated city.

“But... But we saw the city still standing,” said Davies, stuttering as he spoke. He scrolled back through the time cycle images. It took a while but eventually he found it.

At 2:20 in the afternoon a tugboat sailed into New York harbour. As with the first time cycle, the boat docked at the port authority terminal. Several helicopters and a number of small boats charged in toward it. They seemed to be aware of what was about to happen, but it was too late. A blinding flash again revealed a thermonuclear fireball erupting over the city.

“Whatever we did, we didn’t do enough,” said Cohen.

“They never found it,” said Davies. “Even with Mathers in custody, they never got to the bomb.”

The gravity of the moment sank in as the scientist continued, saying, “Mathers must have sent them off on a wild goose chase.”

“Whatever they’re doing to make him talk, it’s not enough,” replied Cohen. “I don’t think there’s anything they could do to make him talk. He knows he holds all the cards. To him, this is simply another opportunity to be a martyr, to be a hero.”

Davies rested his head in his hands as he leaned forward on the desk. After a few seconds he said, “I’ve got to warn O’Malley. They’re going to have to evacuate the city.” His fingers began typing furiously on the keyboard.

“It’s hopeless,” said Cohen, looking at the devastated city in the time cycle. “Nothing has changed.”

There was a long, awkward silence as Davis finished transmitting a flash-traffic broadcast, informing all the relevant managers at once by pager, SMS and type-to-voice messaging.

“You know, my grandfather...” Davies began, but he stopped in mid-sentence.

“Your grandfather what?”

“It’s nothing,” replied Davies, looking down at the polished wooden desk.

“No, go ahead,” said Cohen, interested in the diversion. “What about your grandfather?”

“It’s just, he had this silly saying. It’s kind of a circular argument that, if you think about it, doesn’t really make much sense. But he use to say, ‘Nothing changes unless it changes.’ I guess he meant, nothing changes unless you change it, but it never seemed to come out that way.

“Anyway, it’s a stupid old family saying. The kind of thing that’s supposed to inspire you to take responsibility for your own actions. Maybe that’s our problem. Nothing has changed because we haven’t changed anything of any real significance.”

“But if you can see the future,” replied Cohen deep in thought, “then surely what you see is going to happen or you wouldn’t be able to see it in the first place. To me, the future seems unavoidable.”

“But we did change the future. We captured Mathers and we delayed the detonation.”

“We delayed the future; we didn’t change it, we didn’t stop it,” countered Cohen.

“No,” said Davies. “We didn’t, but we did change the future, even if only by a little. And that proves it can be done, that proves that foreknowledge works.”

“OK. So if we want to change the future again then something else has to change right now. If we don’t change things now, New York is dust.”

“Right,” replied Davies. “But what can we do? We don’t know what to do? How do you change something without knowing what to change?”

“Can you track down the captain of the tugboat?”

“There were no matches for the captain or any of the other deckhands, just Mathers.

“You have to understand,” Davies continued, “we’ve been lucky with the images we’ve got from the time cycle so far. For the most part, working with this thing is like sorting through a jigsaw puzzle without a picture on the box. Up to 90% of the imagery is of the Earth’s crust or the open sky. Those shots we can lock onto are quite sporadic.”

Cohen was silent. After a few seconds he said, “Can you get me to a helicopter?”

“What?” cried Davies. “Why? Where would you go? How would you even know where to go?”

“I don’t know,” replied Cohen. “But maybe that’s it. Maybe I don’t need to know.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think about it. Somehow I’m tangled up in all of this, or at least I will be. So far everything you’ve done hasn’t changed anything of any substance. Oh, the timing’s changed, but none of the essential details have changed at all. I still die. Maybe not tonight, but I die and the city is gone.”

Davies was quiet as Cohen continued.

“Maybe we’re trying too hard to change something we don’t fully understand. For all our efforts, maybe we’re actually helping the future unfold exactly as we’ve seen it. Maybe everything we do to try to change the future only ensures it unfolds exactly as the time cycle predicted.”

“So what?” asked Davies. “Are you saying we shouldn’t do anything? That we should just sit back and let this happen?”

“No. What I’m saying is, we stop fighting the future. We stop trying to change something we don’t understand and we go with it. Somehow, I die tonight, but I’m not going to die here. I’m going to die out there somewhere. Why not follow me? Maybe I’ll lead you right to them.”

“Follow you where? You don’t know where to go?”

“No, I don’t.”

Davies looked Cohen in the eye and said, “We’ve got the army, navy, Coast Guard and Special Forces combing the entire East Coast looking for these guys. What makes you think you’ll find them?”

“Maybe that’s just it. Maybe it’s as simple as that I don’t think like them and because of that I somehow stumble upon them. Call it blind luck. Call it an analyst’s intuition, I don’t know, but it’s not going to happen if I just sit here. The only chance you have is if I die.”

“OK. Hold that thought.”

Davies tapped madly on a small hand-held computer. He brought up an instant message window and started corresponding with a group of NSA agents on the fourth floor. Cohen strained to see what he was typing on the miniature keypad but couldn’t make it out.

After a couple of minutes, Davies handed the portable computer to him and said, “OK. I’ve routed a feed from the time cycle via a military satellite. It’ll refresh this shot of the cemetery every thirty seconds so you know if you’ve changed the future.”

Cohen held the small screen in his hand, listening as Davies spoke.

“The function button on the left will bring up an instant message window. It works like email, only the message is instantly relayed back here to me as you type. Press the same button again and you’re back to the time cycle.

“The function button on the right will bring up a Global Positioning Satellite map, showing you exactly where you are at any give time. Press that a second time and again you’re back to the time cycle image. Got it?”

“Got it,” replied Cohen. At least, he thought he’d got it.

“Agent Johnson from the aviation wing has requisitioned a long-range Sikorsky helicopter from the Coast Guard. It’s on its way up to Fort Clinton, West Point, in upstate New York, to drop off a colonel operating with NEST. After that, it’s all yours. The pilot has been instructed to refuel and take you anywhere you want to go.”

Before Cohen could reply Davies added, “I’ll coordinate things from here and relay any messages on to O’Malley. Your chopper’s warming up on the pad so you’d better get going.”

Davies slapped Cohen on the shoulder and said, “God speed.”

Proceed to part 5...

Copyright © 2009 by Peter Cawdron

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