Twicebound: Chapter Twenty Three – Part One

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“I’m hungry.”

Eddie stared at Vančura, a matter-of-fact expression on his face, obviously expecting the big man to do something about the problem.  Armelle rolled her eyes, then blinked thoughtfully.

“You know, I’m starving, too. It’s been a while since we ate.”

With a gesture to the far door, Vančura started off.

“It has been over twelve years since you’ve had lunch, you know.  I’m surprised you didn’t notice it earleier.”

His tone was serious, but there was an amused light in his eye.  Eddie, however, drooped visibly and an air of panic enveloped him.

“Twelve years?  Vančura, y’gotta get us somethin’ ta eat afore we starves to death.  Who’d you get t’help you if’n that happened?”

“Eddie, it’s only been twelve years for him.  It’s only been a couple of hours for us.  Time-travel, remember?”

Vancura led them into a much smaller room, furnished as an office.  He pulled two of the chairs from along the wall towards the desk, then sat down behind it himself and flipped an intercom switch.

“Benwright, we’re in need of lunch down here.  Who’s fastest?  Chinese?  Yes, that’s fine; order enough for at least three and tell the shop to make sure their delivery man wears his uniform this time.  I’d rather not have a repeat of last week’s noodle incident.  Thank you.”

He flicked the intercom off and leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh and closed his eyes for a moment.

“You have no idea how much trouble something like the Sandglass project can cause, Armelle.  The only reason you and Eddie didn’t land in a deserted building covered in cobwebs and dust is because of Bosze, odd as that sounds. This place is the temporal equivalent of a nuclear deterrent now.  The brass built it and congratulated themselves, then realized how dangerous it was, but by the time they decided to shut it down, it was too late.  Other people had time-machines too, so the only option was to keep this one running so we could keep others from using theirs.”

Armelle raised an eyebrow skeptically.

“How’d that work out?”

He laughed.

“Not well.  You can’t really threaten someone with time-travel; you never know whether you’ll actually change their timeline or if it will backfire and erase your own.  Of course, politicians are the ultimate optimists, so they prefer to ignore that inconvenient little fact.”

“But dey aren’t dumb, mostly.  Wot’s in it for dem?”

Armelle glanced at Eddie, then back at Vancura and her eyes narrowed.

“He’s right.  Why didn’t they just shut the place down anyway? “Possible deterrent” isn’t good enough, even if they do want to bury their heads in the sand.”

Vancura shrugged.

“It’s somewhat difficult to shut down someone who has a time-machine.  You might find yourself being ‘persuaded’ to change your mind, before you’ve even gotten around to making a decision. Time travel works like that.”


End Chapter  22– Part 3

Yup, still no idea where this is going.  Awesome!

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen 
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two

Twicebound: Chapter Twenty Two – Part Three

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Eddie had gotten as close as he could to the display and was studying the photo intently.

“I thought y’said y’got Benwright and d’Colonel ta trust you. If’n dat’s so, how’d he ennup in a truck in China?”

“I also said that neither of them saw the attack coming.  Bosze’s superiors were furious when he got caught off guard; after all, he was in charge of a project with a fully functioning time machine…”

That drew a chuckle from Armelle.

“That had to have hurt.”

Before answering, Vančura tapped the console again and brought up a new picture, then turned a sardonic eye on her.

“Everyone involved got hurt, actually.  The “shot-callers” fired Bosze and threw him out of the service as well, but he saw that coming easily.  He was gone the next day, with all of this…”

The picture showed a bank of computer towers, cases removed and tossed on the floor.  Each one had a row of cables dangling from the motherboard, obviously disconnected.

“Hard drives.  Everything the Sandglass facility had on anything and anyone.  Science papers, data from tests, computer simulations, personnel files, all of it.  Quite impressive, too, how he vanished.  We assume he must have had connections in high places to disappear so effectively.”

Armelle frowned, thinking hard, then glanced at Vančura.

“Hold on.  Why didn’t his ‘superiors’ just fire up the time-machine and go back in time and stop the original attack, or at least stop Bosze from making a run for it?”

To her surprise, it was Eddie who responded.

“Coz d’colonel weren’t no dummy.  Not’s’where ‘is own skin wuz conserned, ‘ninnyway, .  ‘m right, eh, Vancy….er…uhm… Vančura?”

The big man stared at him for a moment or two, then nodded minutely.

“He’s right.  Bosze sabotaged the STAd when he escaped.  Three microcharges in critical systems essentially destroyed it.  We scrapped the whole thing and built a new one instead of trying to repair it.  By the time we got the project up and running again, there wasn’t any point in trying to preempt the attack or Bosze’s defection; he had already built two more STAds for other countries.”

Armelle shook her head and closed her eyes wearily.  It was quiet for a few minutes, then she looked at Vančura.

“So, our trip through the knothole and all this… was for nothing?”

He looked surprised.

“Oh, I never said that.  We’re definitely going to fix this.  All of this was just to get you two acquainted with all the little problems that cropped up in the last few years.  Temporal travel was never the answer to the problem, you see.  If we actually want to keep time as we know it from unraveling at the seams, we need to take a slightly more… aggressive approach.”


 

End Chapter  22– Part 3

Yup, still no idea where this is going.  Awesome!

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen 
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One

Chapter Twenty Two – Part One

Chapter Twenty Two – Part Two

Twicebound: Chapter Twenty Two – Part Two

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“Okay, half a dozen time-travel machines is  a bad thing, I get it.  What exactly does that have to do with us, though?  Isn’t the whole plan for us to go back in time and prevent the first one from being built at all?”

Vančura nodded, but didn’t reply.  He just folded his arms and stared at Armelle, waiting.  She frowned at him.

“What?”

“Follow the logic a little further.”

With an exasperated glare, she thought about it a little longer.

“So…  the best way to keep the STAd from being built is to keep me from publishing my paper, or keep me from coming up with the mathematics at all, right?  That should be easy enough; we just go back in time and I won’t do it.  Problem solved.”

In the dim light where he was wandering aimlessly around, Eddie was shaking his head, but she ignored him.  Vančura, however, only raised an eyebrow critically.  She threw up her hands.

“Obviously, you’re taking the logic further than I am.  Fine; what’s so important about this future having too many time-machines?”

He stared at her for a moment longer, then tapped a key on the super computer.  The screen flashed to a photocopy of a file, packed with typewritten text framing a single high-resolution photograph.

It was a photograph of the front porch of Armelle’s house.  In center, the three of them were walking down the steps to the truck they’d stolen, Armelle leading the way and Eddie following along at the rear.  Vančura, by some bizarre chance, was looking directly at the camera.

“Who…”

“Now, where’d y’spose dat came from?”

Armelle sounded stunned, but Eddie had stopped pacing around in the dark and was studying the photo intently.  A sharp look had spread over his face and even his slow drawl had a slight edge to it.

With a quick tap of keys, Vančura brought up two more pictures.  One was a shot of a massive armored door in the side of a hill, partially covered with brush and camouflage netting.  It had obviously been snapped from a long distance; it had been enlarged so much the pixels were visible, though it had been carefully cleaned up.

The other was a profile of a man in the passenger seat of a battered Humvee driving down an overgrown dirt road.  A note, scrawled by hand on the edge of the photo, read “Russia? China?”.

Armelle’s mouth dropped open.

“Is that…”

“Colonel Bosze?  Yes, it is.  Badly in need of a shave, too, it seems.”


End Chapter  22– Part 1

Uh….

Whoa…

Dang…

Wow…

And…

What the heck?

Okay, people, I am officially back to not knowing what’s next.  Colonel Bosze has some explaining to do to his author, ’cause he is AWOL!

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen 
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One

 

 

 

 

Twicebound: Chapter Twenty One – Part Two

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header21-2“Why didn’t you come after us?”

Vančura shook his head and glanced up at the wall display.

“They caught me just as you went through.  It was all I could manage to get the two of you into the STAd before they shut it down.  And of course, later on, when I could have gone through, the STAd’s margin of error was to great.  I could have missed you by months, or even years.”

Armelle was quiet, but Eddie ignored all the new information and focused on Vančura with a surprisingly sharp gaze.

“An’ ‘ere you are, boss-man an’ everythin’.”

Armelle blinked at the little man for a moment, then nodded slowly.

“How did you end up in charge here, anyway?  Benwright acted like you’re the one calling all the shots.  What happened to Colonel Bosze?”

With a shrug, Vančura turned to the desk and tapped a few keys on the computer.  The equations disappeared and were replaced by a photo.  It was a shot of the outside of the Sandglass complex, smoke-blackened and battered.

The double doors had been blasted in and there was a second hole in the wall a dozen yards away.  A combat-medic tent had been set up in the gravel parking lot and half-a-dozen stretchers lay alongside it.  Marines in combat gear patrolled the area, looking as if they were expecting shots to ring out at any moment.

Vančura studied the photograph for a while, then sighed.

“You can only be right so many times before people decide you know what you’re talking about.  After that, it’s a pretty  short step to being in charge.”

Armelle looked from him to the screen, then back again.

“When did that happen?”

“About four years ago.  I knew it was coming, but Bosze and Benwright wouldn’t believe it.  I’d managed to work my into the Sandglass project in the years since you stepped through the knothole and they trusted me, but they were sure this attack was going to come through the past.  That’s what they focused on, so this attack caught them completely off guard.”

“This attack?  Who attacked?”

He turned a skeptical eye on her.

“Hard to say.  You don’t think Sandglass is the only group that built a time-travel machine from your plans, do you?”

Right on cue, Eddie choked.  Armelle ignored him, even though it wasn’t far from her own reaction.

“You mean there are more of them out there, goofing around with the time-line?”

“Well, no-one’s exactly ‘goofing around’.  Everyone’s been extremely careful… surprisingly so, actually.  No-one wants to send an agent back in time and accidentally wipe themselves out.”

She stared at him for a moment, eyes wide.

“You mean there are more of them goofing around with the time-line?”

The big man sighed.

“Yes, there are.  About half a dozen agencies in eight different countries have functioning STAds.”


 

 

End Chapter  21– Part 2

Okay, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see this coming. I totally did.  I might have even planned it.  It’s entirely possible this has been coming for a long time.  Y’just never know.

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen 
Chapter Nineteen
Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty One – Part One

Twicebound: Chapter Twenty One – Part One

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header21-1.pngEddie and Armelle watched Benwright disappear down the hall, then glanced at each other.

“Awfu’ helpful, ain’t he?’

Armelle scowled, then nodded at the double doors.

“Might as well see what Vančura has been up to all this time.  Maybe he’ll be a little more forthcoming.”

She shoved one of the door and it opened quietly, swinging on well-oiled hinges.  The room beyond was dim, kept from complete darkness by a row of lamps running down the middle of the room.  Against the walls on either side, computer towers blinked, status lights running in complicated patterns across them.

At the far end of the room, a single desk stood in front of a massive wall display.  Pages of equations scrolled across the display, numbers changing as the computers solved them.  The chair at the desk was empty.

Eddie was busy watching the shadows nervously, but Armelle stared at the display.  After a moment, her eyes narrowed and she stepped closer for a better look.

“What the…”

“Predictive temporal formulae.  I’ve been running them for years now.  It’s next to impossible to know what will happen if even one thing in the past changes, but with enough computing power, you can make a really good guess at it.”

Armelle whirled, focusing on the dim outline of Vančura, leaning on one of the computer towers off to one side.  Eddie squeaked and sprinted halfway to the doors before he recognized the voice.

“Vančura!”

He grinned at her.

“The one and only.”

Armelle started to say something, then stopped and glanced at the wall display.  She was quiet for a minute, then turned back to him.

“How much time did we skip?”

The big man’s grin faded.

“Twelve years.  You time-traveled twelve years.”


End Chapter  21– Part 1

This installment was a bit short, mostly because the next bit is going to be a long one, with no good places to pause the story.  See you next week!

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen 
Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Twicebound: Chapter Nineteen – Part Three

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The hallways of the Sandglass facility were conspicuously dim, lit only by widely spaced emergency bulbs.  The STAd room had been fully powered on, but it seemed to be the only room in the building that was.

“What’s with the lights, Benwright?  It’s like a cave in here.”

The tech shrugged.

“The building’s been cut off from the main utilities, so we’re running on internal power.  We keep just enough lamps going to keep us from bumping into stuff, but that’s all.  Can’t waste any electricity on trivialities.”

He turned down one of the dark hallways, then unlocked a stair-well access door.  It was still dark, but not the lights were green, instead of yellow.  Eddie hung back, staring at Benwright suspiciously.

“Dat’s a purty strange color…”

“It won’t hurt you, trust me.  Green makes it easier to see in low light.  We never shut off the lights on the lower levels, so Vančura had us install green lamps in the less-used areas.  They use a bit less power.”

Eddie didn’t look any less wary, but he nodded and followed Armelle down the stairs.  Two stories later, the technician unlocked another door.

“Cover your eyes.”

It creaked open, letting a stream of friendly yellow light through the gap.   They blinked, but he didn’t wait for them to adjust.

“Come on.  We don’t exactly have a lot of time to spare.  Vančura was expecting you, but he’s going to have to debrief the two of you.  There’s a lot of work to do after that.”

He smiled at them, a little apologetically.

“Welcome to the clean-up crew and all that.  Sorry about the mess.”

With that, he waved them into the hall and led the way to a set of double doors at the end.  He tapped twice, then nodded to himself and turned to Armelle.

“Go on in.  He’ll be waiting for you.”

“Thanks. What did you mean by ‘welcome to the clean-up crew’?”

Benwright started back down the hall, carefully avoided her eyes.

“Vančura will tell you all about it.  I’ve got to get back upstairs.  This place doesn’t guard itself.”

End Chapter  19– Part 3

Well, ya’ll, this is the last installment before Christmas.  The next time you see Vančura and Co. it’ll be the day after Christmas.  I guess that means it’ll have to be a really good one?  After all, not many stories see two Christmases in a row, do they?

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen – Part One
Chapter Nineteen – Part Two

Twicebound: Chapter Nineteen – Part 2

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“Benwright?”

The laugh rolled around the chamber again.

“Got it in one.  You two are right on time and sharp as tacks.  Good to see the trip didn’t scramble you too badly.  Vancura didn’t know if you’d gotten through un-harmed.”

The technician rested his elbows on the railing of the second story balcony and grinned down at them.

“The boss is going to want to see you, so I’ll have to get you to tell me about your trip later.  I’m dying to know if traveling forwards in time is any different than traveling backwards.  Wait right there, I’ll be down in a second.”

He vanished, but they could hear the clatter of boots on the tile floor above, though it faded fast.  Eddie turned to Armelle, eyes wide.

“Wha’d’we do?”

She shook her head, desperately scanning the room for the tenth time.  There were only two exits; the door and the knotholeBenwright was coming through the first – doubtless with a troop of thugs behind him – and she was locked out of the STAd.

“We play it by ear.  Not much else we can do.”

Eddie’s face crumpled.

“I jus’ hopes we still got ears t’play wid after Bosze gits done wid’us.”

The door opened and they spun to face Benwright.  He was conspicuously alone.  When they realized he didn’t even have a pistol out, Armelle and Eddie exchanged a surprised look.

“All right, you two.  This way.  Everything’s on the clock, so we don’t have a lot of time.”

Neither of them showed any  sign of moving and Benwright blinked at them.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“Why on earth would we go anywhere with you on purpose?”

Eddie shook his head at Armelle, then squinted at the technician suspiciously.

“What I wants’ta know is, why’re y’asking?”

For a moment, they all stared at each other, then Armelle finished sorting through Eddie’s question.  Her eyes widened.

“Good one, Eddie!  Why are you asking, Benwright?  Why not just have some of your jackboots haul us to the interrogation room?  If you’re expecting us to go willingly, Bosze is going to have to wait for a long time.  I’ll bet that will thrill him to no end.”

To their surprise, Benwright started laughing.

“Oh.  Okay, my fault.  I forgot, you still think we’re enemies.  Time-travel, remember?  We’re on the same side now.”

He grinned when he realized they didn’t believe a word of it.

“Well, to put it more accurately, I’m on the side you’re on.”

They studied him, Armelle weighing his words carefully, and Eddie trying to figure out exactly what the tech had said.  Armelle was the first to respond.

“Say we believe you.  What exactly is this “side” we’re all getting cozy on?”

Benwright frowned, as if she’d asked him what oxygen was.

“Vančura’s, obviously.  What else would I mean?”


End Chapter  19– Part 2

You didn’t see THAT coming, did you?

Want to read the previous installments? They’re right here!

Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three,
Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six,
Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten,
  Chapter Eleven, Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen,
Chapter Fourteen  Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen  Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen – Part One