December 23, 2004
My routine had been uninterrupted for weeks.
It was 5:35 p.m. and I was returning from the gym. Nothing was different when I keyed my security code into the door of my apartment. (Yes, I had a special reinforced door with a dual code and key lock that the Strata council hated because it would make emergency access tougher. But my job and job history made this a requirement.)
As always, I pulled out the sweaty clothes from my gym bag and put it in its place in the hall closet. The clothes went into the basket inside the bathroom. I never used a T-shirt more than once for a workout without washing. (I have about a million T-shirts from charity runs and other events so why not use them all?) I consider myself organized, my friends find me a bit fussy and the ex-wife grew to find me an unbearable control freak.
After my shower I walked out into the living room and a man was standing in the living room looking at my trophy case.
As an ex-cop, I don’t scare easily, but this guy surprised me. I have three guns hidden in the apartment and I was standing near none of them. Since I was wearing nothing but a towel and a concerned look on my face, I was hardly in a position for aggressive action.
“Hi Brad; I’m Clive. Sorry for the unexpected visit.”
“Who are you? Why are you here and how the hell did you get in?”
“How open-minded are you feeling today?”
After that seemingly irrelevant and banal question, I realized that this guy was slightly transparent. He looked like a white guy professor in his 50s, with a real need for a haircut, but I could faintly see my furniture through his body. Since I couldn’t tell if I was losing it or if he was real, I put aside my urge to run for my cell phone, and played along.
“I’m much more open to intellectual conversations,” I said, “when I’m dressed.”
“Of course; go ahead. I’ll be in your office.”
Clive walked into my office, which was adjacent to the living room, and I ran into the bedroom, threw on some clothes, grabbed my gun from under the bed – which I stuck in the back of my jeans – and headed back out. I was hoping he’d be gone, that I’d been hallucinating or my water bottle at the gym had been spiked with something. But sure enough, he was standing in front of one of my computers; I could see Windows Media Player loading a large file.
“What are you doing?”
“I am loading a file onto your computer.”
I really don’t like people messing with my machines. As an independent security analyst I have a couple of bait servers hooked to the Internet that attract hackers who are trying to breach security. This allows me to test my security set ups as well giving me a chance to catch some of the bastards. It takes a lot of work to set these up so I get testy when people come and load media files on the system.
“Why? Who are you?”
“As I said, my name is Clive and I’m from the future. As you can see I’m a holographic projection.”
“And you are expecting me to believe this?”
“I am hoping so; I’m a recruiter of sorts – we need your help.”
An urge to end this discussion prevailed and I pulled my gun.
“If you shoot at me, you will put a hole in your wall,” Clive said. “Touch me.”
“Touch my arm; you’ll see I’m harmless.”
I reached out and when my fingers touched his jacket sleeve it felt as if I had encountered air resistance – it reminded me of the feeling when you try to push two magnets together and the magnetic fields are resisting each other. My fingers were able to pass right through him.
“OK, I’m listening.” I put the gun back down on a table in easy reach.
“A history lesson about my past and your future would help,” said Clive.
My computer started playing the video file. The clip started with what was obviously a rerun of Friends and cut in with “we interrupt this broadcast for a special news bulletin.”
I didn’t recognize the broadcaster as the video was from the States somewhere, but the date on the screen was September 11, 2007.
“ABC News has just been told that about half an hour ago, three nuclear blasts were detonated in Israel. Information is very sketchy, but the bombs went off within minutes of each other and have affected Tel Aviv, Nazareth and Beersheba. We are now switching to our National News Center for additional coverage.”
The video cut to a different footage, later in that day. George W. Bush was giving a speech from the Manhattan 9/11 site where he was taking part in remembrance ceremonies.
“The war on terror has taken a dramatic turn. America is horrified and shocked at the devastation in Israel. For this administration there can be no doubt that, in choosing this day to attack one of America’s allies, it is as if these weapons of mass destruction had been deployed on our own soil. We will use all means available to find those responsible and bring them to justice.”
Of course I haven’t seen this video since; I am trying to recall the words as best I can.
I was starting to get pretty rattled at this point because the ability to forge or fake this kind of material would require a lot of resources and technology that just seemed too much to be wasted on a nobody ex-cop like me. This started to make me believe Clive, which wasn’t good because I’m the suspicious type.
Clive fortunately didn’t dwell on the video footage of the relief efforts in the region and the horror and hazards faced by aide workers. With around 600,000 dead due to the blasts and lord knows how many from radiation, it was an all around gruesome situation. The video file finished, having only covered the highlights of the first few days following the blasts.
“To make this faster, I’ll tell you the ‘highlights’ of what followed. The Israeli foreign minister set up a remote government in London; he happened to be away when the blasts occurred. His Prime Minister was killed in the bombings. What really started the trouble, and inspired my group’s work, was George W. Bush’s suspension of the US elections for 2008.”
“He did what?”
“He used a war time legal manoeuvre around the 22nd Amendment. He simply decided to sit as President until such time as the crisis was over. He didn’t even have to run again; he simply indefinitely extended his second term.”
“I suppose the point that the war on terror has no predefined end didn’t come up that often, eh?”
“Correct. Our group of scientists was against Bush from practically his first day in office. The utter self-denial on global warming and the support for intelligent design in schools caused us to band together as an informal international group of scientists and try to bring some sense to the US administration.”
“What’s intelligent design?”
“Oh yes; it’s a euphemism for creationism. Some religious scientists – when confronted with highly complicated or amazingly elegant systems (such as our blood-clotting system) – prefer to imagine that something like that had to have a God-like person behind it; they can’t accept that it was natural selection.”
I had to think about that. I always was amazed at some things in the world and thought they were too cool to be accidents. But to think that God took the time to figure out blood-clotting when the entire universe needed looking after seemed unlikely. “Go on.”
“Well, after the bombs fell, we put all our efforts into one scientist’s time theories. We felt there was no way out but to go back and fix it.”
“Wow,” I said while thinking this was all so much horse manure. I truly felt like I was being sold snake oil or a new investment scheme in the stock market. But, here was a nutty professor type in front of me – semi transparent – who showed me videos of the future and talked about time travel with more calm than I possess when considering taking the bus.
“Clive, to move forward with this delusion, I am forced to ask, ‘why me?’ If you have to go time travelling and save the world, carry on. Good luck. Fill your boots. Get out of my apartment, etc.”
“As I said before, we need your help.”
“I hardly see what an Vancouver ex-cop from 2004 can do for you. Wouldn’t need someone senior in government? Or an assassin?”
“First of all, the mathematics of time travel are extremely complex and when we ran simulations that attempted overt changes, things always turned for the worse. The obvious example is to shoot George W. Bush, but who takes over? Cheney? It all just comes apart. The solution seems to be in subtle nudging and allowing the ripples to take effect.”
“So, what kind of ‘nudging’ did you have in mind?”
“Simple stuff, but not in 2004; we need you to go back to 1984.”
OK, I hadn’t expected that. My initial response was somewhat blunt. “Are you nuts?” Followed by, “why don’t you go yourself?”
“This is as far back as we can go. There are engineering limitations. We can project light and sound back quite a ways; matter is, well, a different matter. But, we can chain the effect together. Once you agree, we will put our avatar into 2004 and it can take you to 1984, where the machine will act as a guide and historical database.”
I grabbed my temples. What the hell was an avatar anyway? Why didn’t this guy just go poof and vanish and then I could go to a doctor and upgrade my anti-depressants to something better, like anti-psychotics.
“Even if I believed you, which fundamentally I don’t; and even if you could send me back in time, which seems unlikely, why the hell are you bugging me?”
“Our calculations led us to three people in 2004 who had the right attributes to help us. From what I can gather from reviewing your file, you are ethical and focused and genuinely want to do the right thing. Your police training and experience allows you to handle stress and unexpected situations.”
“How could mathematics tell you that?”
“It doesn’t … the results look more like complex differential equations than a resume, so I’m forced to draw conclusions. Besides, I think you’d find the experience interesting. Did you have anything better planned for tonight?”
“Very funny. You want to start right now?”
“Then you agree?”
“What the hell. I’m still hoping this is a delusion.”
It occurred to me after this that Clive was starting to fade. I found myself hoping he was going away for good.
But Clive said, “I would like to introduce you to the avatar.”
I whirled around because the avatar had appeared literally out of nowhere. She – and I do mean she – was wearing a black jump suit, had dark hair and very dark eyes. And wasn’t moving at all.
Clive was becoming more transparent. “Your avatar’s a girl,” I said.
“It needs to be human shaped to blend in and the team didn’t want something unattractive. I find it gratuitous, but I was voted down. My signal strength is fading. The avatar will activate now. Many thanks for your help. It was a privilege meeting you.” Clive was gone.
The avatar spoke, “Hello Brad Ehnes. I am the avatar. Are you ready for our assignment?”
Her voice was like a CBC classical station announcer, precisely modulated without being unfriendly. “No. I have questions. What’s an avatar?”
“The word was chosen because I am the embodiment of the time travel system.”
“How helpful. What’s your name?”
“I don’t have one.”
“Where are we going in 1984?”
“The first stop is Toronto. December 22, 1984.”
“I better get dressed for that, eh?”
“Does time travel hurt?”
“It doesn’t hurt me.”
“What about humans?”
“Those that have attempted it have reported disorientation.”
“Great.” With that I proceeded into my room to dress for a Toronto winter. 1984? What was I wearing back then? Black. Lots of black. It took me a minute to find my black jeans. The avatar had followed me making no noise. This was going to be fun – a human-shaped time travel machine with no manners or sense of decorum. I just kept it firm in my mind that changing in front of her was like changing in front of a computer. I found as much black clothing as possible and strapped on my Glock, a snub 38 on my ankle and a hunting knife on the other leg. I made sure that the clothes had no 21st century labels on them. I was assuming that incognito would be best.
“Why the firearms?” asked the avatar.
“I think you should be called Eva. Can I call you Eva?”
“It doesn’t matter. Why the firearms?”
“Well, Eva, I don’t go to strange places with strange people without tools for self-defence.”
“The calculations indicate that there is no need to use them.”
“I didn’t make those calculations. The guns go or I don’t.”
Eva stared at me. Normally I would have interpreted that as a hostile glare. However, I thought she was computing something.
“You may take them, but you must not use them unless you are under section 5 (1) (a) of the British Columbia Police Firearm Regulation which states that use of the firearm is necessary for protecting your life or the life of another person. I am excluded from this as I am not a person and I have my own means of self defence.”
I wondered if she realized that my Glock was a full automatic and not a semi, as restricted in the Police Act. I decided not to bring that subject up. Once I had grabbed my warm coat from the closet and visited the can, I said, “I’m ready. What happens now?”
The next thing I knew I was outside, it was very cold, and I was barfing against the side of a building. I never throw up, so this was pretty alarming.
Eva was standing beside me and once my nausea had subsided, she asked, “Are you all right?”
“‘Disorientation?’ This is what you call ‘disorientation?’ Jesus.” I spat on the ground.
“Not all test subjects reported stomach disorders.”
“Great. Where are we exactly?”
“One block west of Bathurst Street and one block south of Bloor Street West. It is December 22, 1984. Saturday morning.”
I looked around and it didn’t really look any different from the Toronto I remembered. Of course I hadn’t been there since the mid-90s and I’d not spent much time at Bathurst and Bloor. As I leaned against the building letting my body adjust to the cool air and the after effects of the trip, I posed the logical first question.”
“Eva, what’s our objective here anyway?”
“Sarah Dalbello lost her husband a few months ago. For financial reasons, she cannot place her son Tony into preschool. This schooling would have detected some learning disabilities early. The mathematics indicate he would be influential had he been helped in preschool.”
“How? What would he do?”
“It is unclear. The mathematics don’t show a full path as it’s all based on probabilities as well as the interaction with other changes we need to make.”
“What do you want to do about this?”
“This is why you are here. Creative thinking. Better local knowledge.”
“I assume our Ms Dalbello” (an 80s song started playing in my head) “lives near here.”
“Show me,” I said and we started walking. Eva was still wearing the same black jump suit as when we left. “Look,” I said, “you may not feel cold, but you are not blending in. The lack of footwear is particularly off putting.”
It was like watching a plant grow in fast motion. Eva literally grew a leather jacket, a red maple leaf scarf and warm but stylish boots from her body. “Is this acceptable?”
My mind had leaped ahead to the problem of the widow and her child, which kind of annoyed me because there were more central issues I hadn’t tackled. For example, why did Eva, a walking time machine, seem to be in a rush? I felt like it was a deliberate effort to keep me off balance and running on instinct instead of thinking this through. So I switched gears and asked the big question, “Who is our opposition?”
“Elaborate,” Eva ordered.
“It seems unlikely that you guys would have developed the technology to mess with history and there not be people trying to stop you.”
“I am unaware of opposition.”
“OK, well, I have another question. Who took responsibility for the bombs in Israel?”
“No one. All terrorist groups denied it. Al-Qaeda was blamed.”
This conversation made me think that probably no one in 1984 Toronto knew the name of any Islamic terrorist groups – other than maybe the PLO, which by this time was a fairly legitimate organization … if you weren’t Jewish.
“What year are you and Clive from, exactly?”
“I am not permitted to release that information.”
“For your own safety we restrict future knowledge.”
“OK, my question is this … has George W been in power continuously since the bombings?”
“And you would consider that a long time?”
“OK, how were the bombs deployed?”
“The best evidence indicates they were brought in from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt by truck.
“Who made the bombs?”
“Was there easy access to data kept by the US Department of Homeland Security?”
“Did you ever get access to what you would consider full and complete data?”
“And they never charged anyone or found out who did the job?”
We had reached Palmerston Avenue. Eva stopped and pointed across the street. “She lives in the basement apartment of that house.”
My mind went back to Sarah Dalbello’s money problems. Assuming I could even put my hands on money in this era, it might upset other balances. I asked Eva a variety of questions and it turned out that the husband had died without a life insurance policy – he had been youngish – and there was no rich relative to help out. I’d hoped there’d be some uncle we could phone and put ideas in his head. “I am assuming,” I said to Eva, “that robbing a bank or counterfeiting money or robbing a person is out of the question.”
“Such an approach would have too many ripple effects.”
“Do we have any money at all?” The paper money in my wallet would be useless. I stuck my hand in my pocket and fished out a loonie, a twonie and a few other coins. “Is the loonie in circulation yet?”
“How about lotteries? Do you have the 6/49 numbers? Tell me they had Lotto 6/49 in 1984.”
“Yes, it had started by now and I have all winning numbers on file.”
“OK, this is easy. You pick a number that wins, but not too big, but enough for her to fund her kid’s school. We buy the ticket and a Christmas card. I write something pithy about hard times and wanting to support the family, blah blah, and she gets the right amount of cash. All you have to do is calculate the impact so that it doesn’t screw up your plans.”
Eva stood stock-still and stared into space. A couple of people walked by, looked at her, and seemed confused by her. Maybe they thought she was a mime.
“I have the number,” she finally said.
“OK. We need about five dollars. Got any money?”
“We could panhandle. Busking might work, but we don’t have a guitar.”
“To avoid creating ripples, we need to obtain the money carefully.”
“How?” I asked.
She started walking the couple of blocks to Bloor Street and I followed. “The money must be taken from an individual for whom the amount’s presence or absence would not alter his or her behaviour.”
Once on Bloor Street, I noticed the morning was starting to get busy. It was the last Saturday before Christmas and people were getting out to prepare for the holiday.
“Frankly,” I said, “the best way to get someone to give us five bucks is to ask them. Nicely. Which would be easier for you. Do you have enough programming to imitate a modern damsel in distress?”
“First of all, you don’t use words as formal as ‘elaborate.'” It took me a few minutes, but I explained how men prefer beautiful intelligent women to ask them for things. Eva, being a machine, had no qualms. After I explained, I retreated a few storefronts away and watched Eva scrutinize people on the street. There was one conservative looking guy in his forties who was just coming out of a shop, clearly doing last minute shopping. I was out of earshot, but it didn’t take five minutes for Eva to ask and obtain money and the fellow’s business card. Once he had moved along, Eva and I met on the street.
“So,” I asked, “do you have a date?”
“He did seem insistent that I telephone him at his office,” said Eva. She handed me a twenty-dollar bill.
We proceeded to the nearest convenience store and I showed Eva the form to fill in for the 6/49 ticket. I picked a nice Christmas card and filled it in saying I was an anonymous neighbour who had heard about the loss of her husband. I wrote, “I can’t afford much, but I hope this will buy you some luck for you and your child.” We paid for the ticket and walked back to Sarah’s apartment and delivered it.
“How will we know any of this worked?”
“I will lose connection with my home base.”
“You mean you are able to transmit to Clive from here?”
“Tell him he’s a bastard for not warning me about the whoopsies you get when you time travel.”
“It’s not that kind of link. It’s more like a beacon. We must proceed to our next location.”
“Hey, wait. I was wondering if we could just walk over to Yonge Street and be tourists for a half-hour. It doesn’t seem likely to me that anything will change until she wins that prize, right? Plus, I likely won’t get a chance to experience this again.”
Eva stood still and processed. “Forty-five minutes,” she said.
We started walking.
People who are or who have been cops get good at lying because they meet so many experts in the field. I did want to look around, but I also wanted something else, which I left unstated. My theory was that Eva likely had a built-in lie detector, so anything other than the most subtle moves would make her suspicious.
This part of the story is the hardest part for me to tell. I am an ex-cop for a good reason. He is a child molester and murderer and I burned out catching the scumbag.
After that monster was convicted, I went home and cried for about an hour straight. His case was about twenty years in the making and I worked on three different forces to do it. By the end I could not do the job anymore. I had used myself up. And the guilt. There were a lot of chances I had missed through bad luck and stupidity that led to children being horribly murdered. Of course it wasn’t just me. Jurisdictional issues, which that monster used to his benefit, and other institutional level screw-ups were also helping him and not the police.
Part of why I stuck with the case was that I had an odd mixture of Criminology with a Computer Science minor. I started out in computers, but found it repetitive and dull and then switched to Criminology. I was one of the first detectives to use computers effectively to help model criminal activity and behaviour. This is how I got the first lead on the monster. When the Internet became big, I was doing public early warning about how pedophiles would use the technology. As the monster kept changing jurisdictions, so did I. Often I had worn out my welcome with the various police departments, so seeing me go wasn’t a big deal.
The challenge with Eva was how to slip away from her. As we approached Yonge Street, I noticed that things were getting pretty busy. My memory of what the corner was like was starting to come back. There were a few TTC entrances and a lot of doorways into malls that led underground. I still had more than fifteen usable dollars in my pocket.
A bunch of kids dressed up in punk clothes approached and I let them get in between Eva and me and then I slipped into a door that led into The Bay. At that point I criss-crossed floors and headed to the men’s wear on the lowest level, which I knew had an exit to the mall at the east end. I found myself at an entry way to the street. I couldn’t see her, which didn’t mean much, but it was a start. There was a bus stop for a route that snaked through Rosedale and I saw the bus in the distance. I waited until it had done most of its unloading and then I ran and jumped on the bus. It eventually connected with a Subway station and I took a train north to Eglinton Avenue, took a bus east and then another bus down to the Danforth.
It took about an hour but I eventually found myself in front of the monster’s house wondering just what I thought I was going to do. By this time in 1984 he had committed at least six child murders and was not even on police radar yet. I thought about the twenty-five children that had yet to be victims. I reached into my jacket and undid the clasp on the holster for my Glock, a gun that hadn’t been manufactured yet.
Just as I was going to walk up the steps I heard, “You should not do this.” She had caught up to me.
“Why the hell not?”
“It’s unethical,” Eva said.
I snorted a laugh. “You must be kidding.”
“No. You spent a lot of your life chasing Joe Clemens, obeying the law, respecting the institutions you worked for. The knowledge you have of the future is unique and should not to be abused. It is an unfair advantage.”
“And just what the hell do you think you’re doing? The same thing!”
“Not exactly. There is more you need to know about this mission. Can we agree that we should move away from this street to discuss it?”
I had the urge to pull my gun on her and try to make her feel the helpless rage I felt. What good would shooting an android do? “OK, you have one truckload of explaining to do. We’re near the Danforth; I hope we can find someone who’ll make a decent latte.”
No Starbucks coffee shops were due in Toronto for about ten years, but an authentic Greek restaurant made me a good Americano. It was cheap too. “I’m in no position to complain about deceptions, but from what you are telling me, there is an opposing force.”
“We deduced that someone before us has made modifications to history. It took a lot of work to determine where these were made and how to counteract them. For example, Sarah’s husband, we think, was the victim of foul play precipitated by other time travellers. We don’t know who these people are or from where or when they come. In other words, we are the opposition.”
“Are we likely to bump into these people?”
“There is no way to know. We are not intersecting with when we think they changed history.”
“You detected them; why can’t they detect us?”
“A good question for which I do not have an answer.”
“Have you completely disclosed why I was chosen?”
“The calculations did lead to you. We were looking for someone who could function under pressure. Plus, we saved a lot of work by selecting someone not from our own time period.”
“You answered a yes or no question with two statements.”
“The answer is no. I am absolutely forbidden from discussing details of the future. Therefore I cannot say yes to the question.”
“All right, let’s get this over with. Where to next?”
“New York City. We have to prevent Jason Kleinberger from having a car accident.”
“I want lots of warning and to finish this drink before going.”
My innards held together better during that transition. I was mentally ready and activating every stomach muscle probably helped.
Eva told me it was Sunday December 23, 1984. We had jumped ahead a day.
Midtown Manhattan was dirtier than I recalled. But I realized this was before the big clean up. Times Square was probably still home to all forms of the sex trade. I remembered seeing it in 2000 and being stunned at how clean it was compared to its reputation.
Eva had the specifics of the car down to the colour and vehicle serial number. Apparently the vehicle had suffered from brake failure on the Saw Mill River Parkway and crashed. Mr. Kleinberger lived in an apartment on 71st Street near 1st Avenue. A search of a nearby parking garage, two levels down, yielded the red BMW.
“So,” I asked, “what were you thinking? We take it out and give it a brake job?”
“I have been looking at this car both inside and out …”
“You have x-ray vision?”
“Something like that … The point is that there is nothing wrong with this car’s brakes.”
“The options are,” I said, “that we have the wrong car, the accident records you have are wrong, or someone sabotaged this vehicle and we are too early to have seen it.”
That’s when someone kicked me in the chest. As I hit the ground, a woman with a ghastly smoker’s cough, said, “Who the hell are you?”
I hoped she wasn’t expecting an answer; I was winded and couldn’t talk. There was a guy with her who was the size of a serious linebacker. He and Eva were facing off, staring at each other the way only machines can.
My wind came back. “Since you came out of nowhere and decided to kick me, I think you should tell me who you are first.”
“Machine,” the smoker said, “what is she?”
“An avatar,” replied the linebacker in what sounded like an English accent.
I charged her and pushed her into the BMW. She grabbed me by the jacket and swung me around and tossed me away. I wondered if she was a machine herself. She had red hair – dyed – and lines on her face that one associates with really serious smokers.
Eva and the linebacker were fighting in a stilted martial arts style. They looked pretty evenly matched. Each hit was blocked and size seemed to be no advantage for the linebacker.
I pulled myself away from the red beemer and pulled the Glock. “Stand away from the car and put your hands up.”
“You’re a cop,” said the smoker. She definitely had an American accent. The look on her face was not one of fear and respect of the police. Her body language hinted that she wasn’t going to step away from the car and was more likely to try to jump me. I shot her once in the thigh. She screamed loudly and, inside the confined parking garage, it was deafening. Her linebacker paused. Eva pushed him so hard he flew across the garage and crashed into another car, crumpling its hood.
“Move away from the damn car,” I said to the smoker. She slid herself away. It was risky, but I still didn’t have a good feeling about how this conflict would end. The objective was to prevent this car from being in an accident. I took a few steps backward, shot the gas tank, and ran.
Like any good paranoid cop, I had scoped out the exits to the garage prior to going in, so I had an exit route planned. I was happy to see the sprinklers come on, but my coat was singed and I was dirty and wet by the time I got out.
I doubt the New York Fire Department was going to be happy with me. I ran down an alley a couple of blocks away and waited. It was about fifteen minutes later that Eva showed up looking none the worse for wear. Her expression was inscrutable as always. I couldn’t escape the sense that I was due for a scolding.
“I’m glad you aren’t hurt. You aren’t hurt, are you?” I asked.
“No. I am wondering why you thought such a dramatic solution to the problem was needed.”
“They were the other time travellers that you suspected had manipulated the past, weren’t they? Both those characters had abilities I couldn’t guess. That woman is from your era, right? She was way too strong. I figured that we needed to definitively prevent that vehicle from participating in the accident and escape unseen.”
“I now have to do some significant recalculations.”
“Are you still connected with your base?”
“Yes. But we now will likely have a different third objective.”
“I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I’m wet, cold and singed. And it won’t take even the most junior street cop more than ten seconds to conclude I was involved in the fire.” There were always sirens blaring in New York City, but there seemed to be a new, growing intensity. Eva was staring into space again; I associated this with her doing the math for the next transition. The impact of what I had done and the where-and-when of this situation was hitting me with a shock reaction. It was about 4 degrees Celsius, I reckoned but, with being wet, I started to shiver and was unable to stop.
“You are right,” Eva said suddenly. “We have to go. I have the general geography of our next jump, but still have work to do to determine the exact adjustment to make.”
Her timing was good; a police cruiser passed the alley. I heard the brakes screech and the engine shift into reverse.
“Whatever you are going to do …”
“Sydney, Australia, December 25, 1984.” That’s what I heard her say as I was heaving my guts onto the grass of some park. Eva seemed unworried about my gastric distress. It was unbelievably hot. Sitting on the ground I peeled my coat and sweater off. It took a few minutes to adjust to the environment.
When I finally looked up, the Harbour Bridge was looming over me and I could see the Sydney Opera House across the water. I recognized them from travel shows. I’d never left North America before now. As I looked around, I had no idea if what seemed to be light traffic was normal or not for a Christmas Day. The strangeness of it being high summer and Christmas was beginning to dawn on me. Eva was staring into space again, which was fine by me; I was in no rush. A couple walked through the park and waved at us, hollering Merry Christmas. When they had had a closer look at us, they frowned. I weakly waved back and said nothing. My shoulder holster with the Glock was in plain view.
“Eva, when you get a chance, you might want to change from your winter wear to something more consistent with the environment.”
She didn’t stop staring into space, but her body seemed to absorb the coat, scarf and boots and then output a sundress and sandals. Saves on laundry, I thought.
“In about four hours George Henderson is going to drown himself in the harbour near the Opera House. We are to dissuade him,” Eva announced.
“That’s nice. When are you going to come clean with me? Who the hell were the smoker’s cough woman and the linebacker machine in the garage?”
“I don’t know. The linebacker, as you call him, is definitely an avatar, but of different manufacture. I do not have a file on the woman.”
“What does that mean?”
“Either her DNA was never put into a database, or she is from a time further in the future from me.”
So, we knew nothing about our adversaries. I was going along with this on faith. If it hadn’t been for the pictures Clive had shown me, I wouldn’t have had any belief at all. Did I believe Clive, Eva and I were the good guys because the smoker who kicked my ass looked like a ‘bad guy’? There was only one thing that was certain.
“Eva, you do know that the other two will try to stop us, right?”
“It is improbable, but worth anticipating.”
“Improbable? How did they know where we were in New York?”
“I don’t think they were expecting us.”
“Even if that’s true, they are likely expecting us now. If I were them and afraid we were messing up their plans, I’d be working really hard to track us down. Plus I’m sure that smoker woman is a little annoyed that I shot her through the leg.”
“I assume that is painful,” said Eva.
“Quite. The other assumption I want to make is that this guy didn’t commit suicide, he was murdered. Maybe he was depressed and so forth, but I think they encouraged him.”
“There is no evidence of that.”
“But there is a pattern. From what you know, Sarah’s husband died because of them. They weren’t at the garage in New York to look at used cars. And I can’t imagine they won’t try to achieve the opposite of our objective.”
Eva stared at me again. I waited. And I wished I had brought sunglasses with me.
“It would be prudent to assume that you are correct,” she finally said. “I don’t know what to do,” she added.
“I have a couple of ideas … but we’ll have to hurry. One thing, how much can you change your appearance?”
Three hours later, I could see a fairly drunk man, who I assumed was our target George, walking with a wobble in his gait. I was out in a speedboat in the harbour – one that we had kind of borrowed – and I was pretending to have engine trouble. I had found a change of clothes – Eva had gently broken into a car for it – and a hat.
George sat down by the water’s edge and a man who looked remarkably like me, approached George, sat beside him and took a swig from a whiskey bottle.
I later had Eva recount this conversation.
“Are you here to drink your sorrows away?”
George was surprised that someone was talking to him. He had no clue that the man he was talking to was Eva. “Uh, yeah. I suppose.”
“As you may have guessed, I’m not from here.”
“Not having a Merry Christmas either?”
“She left me. Spend thousands of dollars to see my sweetie and when I got here and she said she can’t do it anymore.”
“Some Christmas present, eh?”
From my vantage point in the harbour I saw them coming, pretending to be a couple. But the linebacker was too big to miss and the smoker’s red hair was just too obvious. She was not limping or favouring the leg, which was oddly disappointing. I started the boat motor. The big risk was the linebacker recognizing Eva regardless of her change of shape. To further the bluff, I had insisted that she wear my clothes. The ruse did not have to last long.
“Hey cop,” said the smoker, “long time no see.”
Eva, still looking like me, feigned surprise and said “Hey. How’s the leg?”
“Good as new. Where’s your girlfriend?”
At this point I let the outboard motor go as hard as possible. Once in range I unloaded the remaining bullets from the Glock into the linebacker’s centre of mass. I was hoping he’d look surprised, but he did pause. I quickly switched to my spare clip and started firing single rounds.
The smoker uttered a profanity, confused by seeing me double. Eva had my snub .38 and shot the smoker once in the leg – the other leg – which evoked yet another scream.
By this time, George was running as fast as a drunk man could away from the battle. That was the last I saw of him. I realized I was going to hit the concrete jetty with the boat. I cut the engine and wrenched the wheel and messed up one side of the boat.
Eva changed back to her regular shape and tackled the linebacker to the ground. I jumped off the boat onto the jetty, scraping my leg rather badly in the process. The smoker had pulled a gun from a thigh holster, even though she could not stand.
“Drop it,” I said.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked.
She raised the gun and pointed it at me.
It wasn’t much of a decision. Apart from the fact my gun was full auto, it would have been ruled a clean shooting. But it was the first time I’d shot someone dead. … I hardly expected that it would have occurred twenty years in the past in Australia.
“No!” said the linebacker.
Eva ran toward me. “Our connections to home base are breaking.” She grabbed my arm.
December 23, 2004
I was back in my apartment. For some reason the return trip did not make me as ill. But, the apartment was different. Eva was standing next to me, wearing my clothes, and staring into space again. I realized that the apartment was bigger than when we left and that some pieces of furniture were familiar, but the couch, for example, was new. I went to the window. We weren’t even in the same building. The view included a partial view of False Creek. As best as I could figure I was in Yaletown.
“Eva … what happened?”
“I am working on that now. I am doing a comparative analysis of history as I have it recorded and data that I can access from immediately accessible sources.”
“I take it you have a wireless connection to the Internet.”
“That and other repositories.”
“Cool. I’m going to wash. If you want to ditch my clothes, feel free.”
It was a nice bathroom. From looking around, it seemed like I lived alone. And was making good money. In the shower I tried to imagine that none of this had happened. That it was a dream. Of course, when the water hit my scraped leg it woke me up in a hurry. By the time I found some clothes – things were still organized, but just organized differently – I knew that a time travelling android was still going to be standing in my living room and I was not going to know what the hell was going on.
I was right. Eva was still standing there. “So, what’s new?”
“Do you want the world history update or what information I have about you?”
“World History for a thousand, Alex.”
“The plane that struck the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 landed short in this new reality. The casualties were far fewer. George W. Bush was still elected in both 2000 and 2004. But his second win was far from the landslide victory that it had been. It was a split vote. There are some leadership differences in a few countries. Yassir Arafat recently died in a French hospital. You will recall his health was in question, but he was not hospitalized.”
“Stop,” I said. “What about 2007? Do you have any sense that we averted the bombings Clive showed in Israel?”
“It is too early to tell, but the odds are better.”
“OK, give the highlights on me.”
“You are single and never married.”
“Really. Where does she live?”
“The woman you would consider your ex-wife is married with two children in Toronto. You have been running your private security firm for four years. Before that you were a detective with the Vancouver Police Department. Possibly more significant is the fact that Joe Clemens was arrested in 1988 by you and your team.”
“You’re kidding me.” The monster had not touched about twenty kids. And I could see all their faces in front of me – both normal shots and crime scene photos. Knowing some of those ghastly pictures had never happened made my eyes wet. Now that was a Christmas present.
Suddenly I was fatigued. Things were better, apparently, but I realized that I was out of sync. Even if I read every Globe and Mail since Christmas 1984, I’d never be caught up. If I had holidays planned, I knew I’d be in the library.
“So, Eva, when do you go home?”
“I don’t. Without connection to my base, I am not going anywhere.”
“Why? That doesn’t make sense; this isn’t your point of origin.”
“Before we started out together I reset my point of origin to 2004. This was to add confusion in case there were other time travellers. It would have been inconceivable to them that an opposing force would be from 2004.”
“Got any plans? You’d be great on Oprah. Oprah’s still got a show, right?”
“Yes of course, but general knowledge of my existence would likely cause problems.”
“You’ll have to stay with me. And maybe we can just be doubly sure George W doesn’t mess around. Think of it. You don’t have to worry about the future since you don’t have the knowledge of what it should be. Your mind is free.”
She stared at me.
And that pretty much takes me to now. I can’t really tell people what happened because they’d think I’m insane. It is good to tell this to someone. It seems weird to have a fully-grown android in one’s closet. But she prefers being shut down if there is not a specific task at hand. She is great at helping with detective work. Her shape shifting skills let her sneak in places and record things just by looking at them. I can’t use the evidence directly, but it sure speeds things up. And she can hack any computer system on the planet that she can access.
Eva is still a great help with reconciling what I remember with what is real. I did read a lot of “years in review” books and back issue newspapers. Some things still shock me … like the Red Sox beating the Yankees in 2004. But perhaps the worst of it is waiting for 2007. My theory is – and Eva thinks I’m paranoid –that George W Bush had those bombs set off in Israel so that he could stay in power. We’ll just have to wait and see.