Augustus raised an eyebrow, “An interesting gambit.”
The Professor shrugged. Sitting down he said, “Not really if you understand our impasse.”
Augustus gestured. Kairos retracted the gun barrel into his arm. The cybernetic bodyguard took an at-ease military stance.
Augustus probed, “And the nature of said impasse?”
The Professor said, “All of us dying prevents us from getting to the next moment.”
Chuckling Augustus said, “You want to know what happens next?”
“What could happen next.”
“Ah ha,” Augustus took a seat across from the Professor. Tenting his fingers he murmured an order only Kairos heard. A moment later the cyborg returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses. He served drinks then resumed his position as Augustus’s shadow.
The Professor said, “Now let’s get down to it.”
“Cheers to that.” Augustus raised his glass. After a sip he said, “However, if I may, there is still the possibility this is all a play.”
The Professor nodded, “Maybe, but there’s only one way to find out.”
“Indeed.” Typing into the terminal in his arm Augustus went on, “The Phantom Filament I wanted you to wrangle would cause the beginning of a domino effect. A chain reaction as it were. The strand itself was originally ripped to pieces eons ago when it stretched across time.”
The Time Map glowing above the table traced the route of the restored Filament as a green line.
The Professor remarked, “It intersects with so many others, the paradoxes it causes are…”
“Countless,” Augustus cut in, “Hence its initial destruction. The instability caused by the resultant paradoxes proved cataclysmic, but primarily only for the one timeline.”
Folding his arms across his chest the Professor said, “You think reintroducing it would cause more expansive devastation.”
A series of keystrokes caused the map to shift into a computer model. As it played out Augustus offered commentary. Paradoxes emerged then tore themselves out of existence. Once gone some timelines withered away, becoming at best Phantom Filaments; however, others, now ripped strands flailing in the wind, reached out to connect with the nearest stable line. Consequently, the dying timelines latched onto healthy ones causing new paradoxes which started the whole process over again. The Professor watched one line after another shatter and fade, or drift like sparks towards oily rags. He watched the computer model run its course: a prediction of time on fire.
When the show stopped Augustus said, “In the end, only one line will survive.”
The Professor smirked, “You sure about that?”
“Quite sure. The computer models I’ve run…”
“Reality ain’t a simulation. It can behave in annoyingly unpredictable ways.”
Augustus pursed his lips. Glaring at the Professor he said, “I assure you, I know what I’m doing.”
The Professor clapped his hands together, “Well, I’m satisfied. Let’s do this!”
He jumped up. Kairos dropped into an aggressive stance. The Professor ignored him, heading straight back to the Mirna Loy. Augustus called after him:
“A moment, Professor.”
The Professor shook his head, “No time like the present.”
“I would like Kairos to accompany you just to be safe.”
The Professor waved, “Come on if you’re coming.”
In what felt like half a second the stygian skinned cyborg sidled up next to the Professor. The two returned to the Mirna Loy. On the bridge Flynn turned in his chair.
He started, “You set those assholes strai…” -- stopping at the sight of Kairos.
The Professor said, “Don’t mind him. You remember the coordinates the Kid gave us?”
Flynn replied, “Sure. Even if I didn’t they’re in the nav.”
“Then set a course.”
“Don’t you wanna wait for the others?”
“The others are dead,” Kairos said in a flat metallic voice.
The rift runner glanced at the Professor. He trusted him, but Flynn didn’t always know what game the Professor was playing. The Professor winked at him. Flynn went to the navigation computer. He punched up the coordinates. With the route locked in he said, “Off we go. Should be there in an hour.”
Wrangling a Phantom Filament is no easy task. It requires on the fly calculations, nerves of steel, and a dash of death wish. Calling it more art than science would be near the mark. The mechanism, designed by the Professor himself, essentially acted like a magnet. Imagine that a magnet could be tuned like a radio, certain frequencies attracting certain elements. Dialing in one station attracts metal, while another coaxes the attention of wood. Now think of timelines elements, and the picture gets a bit clear.
Transmitters for wrangling, known as Hooks, are not common issue. Though the schematics got out thanks to a lousy poker hand, no generic apparatus exists. Every Wrangler builds their own custom made Hook which causes problems in and of itself.
The Professor sat down at the Hook terminal. Flynn announced their approach to the Phantom Filament. Eying the readouts the Professor started dialing in the right frequency. Timelines shift frequencies, but those shifts tend to be predictable. Once he found the current number he waited for a shift then another, and another until he figured out the pattern. 68.762, 84.6, 100.438, 97.638, 94.838, 92.038, 107.876… the frequency increased for three shifts at a rate of 15.838 before decreasing by 2.80 for another three. Time being what it is, eventually the numbers would collapse to zero when the Phantom Filament flickered out of existence for a millisecond. The Professor just needed to watch for the collapse then dial in the appropriate frequency.
After twenty minutes zero appeared. The Professor dialed in, 15.838, getting ahead of the pattern from the get go. The Phantom Filament began creeping towards the Mirna Loy.
Addressing Kairos without looking at him the Professor said, “Trick now is getting this to the nearest timeline without it catching up to us.”
He continued adjusting the Hook, coaxing the Filament along. They lucked out. The nearest timeline resided barely six minutes away. The Filament wouldn’t need to attach, just get close enough to absorb the residual energy from the neighboring temporal strand. Like a jump started battery the Phantom Filament would come to life, restoring itself in a matter of moments. However, if the two completely disparate timelines connected, the resulting explosive disruption would shred the Mirna Loy into metal confetti.
Aware of that fact, Flynn eased the ship at a snail’s pace – better safe than sorry. He still didn’t know the Professor’s angle, but figured now was not the time to get sloppy. The Phantom Filament flickered on screen.
Flynn said, “She’s starting to snack.”
The Professor shut the Hook down, “Get ready for it.” – he went over to Flynn. He leaned in, pretending to watch the display screen as he said, “Back in Tunguska you said you had something new.”
Flynn said, “Sure do.”
“When this is all over I’d like to see it.”
Sensing the Professor’s line of thought Flynn remarked, “We can see now if you like.”
Kairos snarled like a robotic wolf, “Don’t try anyth…”
But it was too late.
Flynn smashed a button on the steering console activating what he called the trapdoor. Immediately a rift ripped open beneath Mirna, and the engines fired at full speed plunging the ship through it. The drop caused zero gravity, and everyone onboard hit the ceiling. Unprepared for it, Kairos slammed hard. The Professor managed to catch himself.
Mirna Loy appeared in the sky above the signing of a historic peace treaty ending the decade long war between the bloody thirsty Swiss and the United States of South America. It existed there for the merest fraction of a second before falling through another of Flynn’s trapdoors. Meanwhile, the Professor whipped out the Adder. Taking aim he fired at Kairos. The cyborg moved quickly, deflecting the incoming blades, but the Professor didn’t hesitate. He kept shooting as he moved towards the soldier.
Flynn shouted, “Damn button’s stuck!” – as Mirna fell through one timeline after another. He managed to get it unstuck in a reality where the Earth was entirely ocean.
The Professor slashed at Kairos. In one deft maneuver the cybernetic soldier blocked the attack and took hold of the Professor’s wrist then proceeded to break the Professor’s arm in three places. The Adder fell from his hands. Kairos caught it, stabbed the Professor in the stomach. Kairos pulled it across, opening his stomach. A curious sensation then occurred. Kairos felt more than heard the thud as a bullet ripped through his head, a galaxy of static filled his eyes then nothing.
The solider collapsed though his grip on the Adder remained frighteningly determined. The Professor fell alongside him. Flynn hurried over, pistol in hand.
Seeing the grizzly wound Flynn said, “I got my gun fast as I could.”
“It’s all right,” the Professor said, “It’s all right. We don’t have much time. Here’s what I need you to do.”
Aboard the Occasus the Professor felt a subtle nausea as his personal timeline realigned. Katie Extinction and Seamus had matching expressions suggesting the same sensation. Kairos cocked his head to one side.
August went on, “As I said, we’ve had this conversation roughly 132 times. To date, I make my point of view known then you three make some type of crude rebuttal which is really just a juvenile prelude to shooting the place up.”
The Professor cut in, “No, actually, this'll be the 134th time.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Searching his pockets the Professor said, “Yeah, it must be hard paying attention to other people when you got a speech you're just aching to give. Ah, here it is.”
He pulled out a small data pad. Calling up a file he chuckled, “A moment ago you said ‘I live up to my reputation.’ Well, let me tell you something about that. A good historian knows the past is made up of far more than people are willing to tell. Take your shadow, Kairos, for example.”
Augustus spread a taut grin. His eyes narrowed, making him look very much like a serpent. He said, “What about him?”
“Kairos, execute command Omega Failsafe JX-37.”
Kairos stiffened sharply. Short arcs of blue electricity crackled off his body. Augustus jumped away. The cyborg let out a hideous shriek, and fell in a heap.
“Holy shit,” Katie said sounding delighted.
The Professor said, “See kids, where Kairos was from, all cybernetic soldiers had termination codes built in just in case any of them got any ideas. Can’t have a weapon that turns on its users, but you also can’t really get folks to volunteer for a program that puts a suicide switch in your head so unless you’re really good at researching the past…”
Katie interjected, “You ain’t gonna know shit.”
“Well put,” the Professor said lighting a pipe.
Augustus pulled his eyes away from the smoking ruin of his bodyguard. Swallowing hard he addressed the trio, “What now?”
Katie smiled, “I got an idea.”
Seamus dragged the man kicking and screaming to the Mirna Loy. Once the trio got back on the Unterseeboot they left Augustus in the docking bay. He pleaded with them, but all ears were deaf to his cries. The man wanted to exterminate infinite expanses of reality in the hope that one pure time might exist, and not once did he consider he might simply be lighting the match that burned everything into oblivion. Either way, he deserved no pity.
Katie did the honors. She disengaged the umbilicus linking Mirna to the Occasus. She waved to the screeching man inside as raw time poured into the open compartment surging around Augustus pulling him into the future and past at the same, every molecule speeding in a different direction ripping him to pieces from the inside out then snapping him whole again. He shredded and coalesced, died and was reborn, over and over again until little bits of him drifted into other time strands, other realities where they couldn’t find their way home; and soon enough he shattered into a trillion pieces lost on the winds of time, each fragment dimly aware of itself; frozen forever at the moment death strikes.
“Fuck,” Katie grumbled.
“What?” Seamus asked.
Her shoulders slumped, “We should’ve made popcorn.”
Turning to the Professor Seamus said, “I have a vague memory of you killing us.”
“Me too,” Katie added.
The Professor tucked his hands into his pockets, “I did what I had to.”
Seamus said, “Just sayin’ first round's on you.”
“Fucking A it is.”
The Professor grinned, “Fair enough.”