A Fold in Time by Bryan Aiello

A Fold in Time
Bryan Aiello

Wind whispers through the cave. It tastes of the sea and makes Samuel Toddy think of fresh fish. The Mediterranean is only ten miles North and Sam can’t help but look up from his work. He can smell the water and even though all he sees are the small dots of yellow light sparkling in the valley below, the freedom from the drudgery of this, his last late night dig, fast approaches. After sunrise, he hopes to use his final day in Israel to enjoy the weather do some real sightseeing, maybe take a swim in the sparkling blue waters.

He doubts he will though. Once out of the cave, he has much work to do. The work of cataloging and preparing his finds for the trip back home to Oxford.

He has seen little of the area. In the transport van back and forth from the cave to the hotel, he studies images of the dig. He doesn’t want to miss anything. He doesn’t want to destroy anything. So many institutions can’t afford to put people where he is and he refuses to waste a moment. Though as he takes this small breather, it’s not hard to imagine why Middle Paleolithic man would be content here. The weather is near-perfect year round, the water is less than an easy three-hour hike away, great for fishing, travel, and trade, with only wildlife, earthquakes and squalls from the sea left as deadly elements to deal with on occasion.

Tonight was calm, if not a bit intimidating, only because he had so much still he wished to accomplish before his time in the cave was up.

He flips his wrist up to reflect the light from the Gilmoore lamp and feels a tightening in his gut at the thought of only having two more hours. He bends back down and scrapes a bit more dirt carefully from the Neanderthal orbital bone.

Samuel Toddy is a slight man with small, round glasses and a wiry, blond beard. He wears a ski cap and works in the dank air of farthest rear section of the Kebara cave labeled D-12. Kebara is one of the most important archaeological spots in the world. It holds evidence not just of the migration of modern humans from Africa to Europe but also of Neanderthals and two other groups of human ancestors.

It also was where The Famous Boy was found.

The Famous Boy was the remains of a modern human-ancestor adolescent. Some in the field argue he is from the Middle Paleolithic period. Others have their doubts. He was too healthy, bones too straight, teeth looked fixed, one brave specialist even went so far as to claim.

Fixed teeth?

That man was laughed straight out of the field.

Whether any other paleontologist thought the same thing, none would risk saying so; radiation conclusively placed the boy’s bones at more than one thousand centuries old, so there could be no doubt.

The Famous Boy was found above the section of earth Toddy labors almost a decade ago.

Toddy is digging through a layer of Neanderthal bones. It was theorized thirty thousand years ago, a tsunami washed them all together, each and every one of the bodies were broken, painfully smashed against the cave wall and covered by a thick wall of red clay with the famous boy somehow managing to end up on top.

Male and female, twisted and broken.

Toddy does not make assumptions as he scrapes dirt from a female Neanderthal skull seeking the innermost shape of the eye socket; he might have an opinion but his job is not to make a hypothesis. He seeks evidence. He seeks facts. He collects details. What is published is up to the old scholars. He lets them argue. Right now, his job is to free bone from the ground, find implements of everyday life and bring them home for further study. His motivation is a lifelong career. He is a paleontologist, he digs the Earth to find facts, not conjecture.

He is under special Israeli permit and he works this cache of bones under a stand of bright Gilmoore lights.

Lights powered by time. Time that’s harvested in Egypt, that powers the whole of Africa and most of Europe. Toddy doesn’t understand how. Most of the world doesn’t understand how. They work and that’s all that matters; they do so without the clutter of wires and noise of a generator and illuminate as bright as the sun at noon if so desired, without the heat, into the back corners of the cave.

The lights are aimed to cast no shadow.

Toddy has been working a single skull for an hour. He thinks it’s a Neanderthal female. He hopes so because he has unearthed most of a Neanderthal female skeleton in the last few days and it would be nice to go home with the skull to complete his efforts.

He is one of the few lucky scientists that has gotten to work in this cave. Not many get permits. The site is so special that not only is it listed as world heritage site, but also a company from the Israeli army is tasked to guard it. Two of the soldiers are on guard two hundred feet from the cave opening, now manning a chain link fence that surrounds the perimeter of the hill.

He brushes a bit more of the red ochre away and discovers the orbital bone is severely cracked and the clay has changed from dark, rich red to deep, rusty orange.

By the expiration of his permit, he discovers something as old as the skull, but also as new as the shirt on his back.

***

Maximus Gilmoore appears, and the crowd erupts.

Why wouldn’t they? He is famous and rich and he has invented the thing that has changed everything, changed the world, changed what it means to be a human on Earth. A Human in the Sol system, maybe even a human in the Milky Way.

He has given the people of Earth free energy.

Free power.

Effortless fire.

The auditorium seethes with love and adulation; they stand and reach and call his name. Some jump up and down and clap. Some cry. He has changed the world with magic. The magic of science. He is a rock star to them. They are his people. He is in auditorium 4b on the hallowed grounds of the Gilmoore Campus buried a mile deep in the Mojave desert. This was his first power plant. He now has four altogether. One in the Egyptian desert. Another in the Gobi desert of China, and the last in the frigid south of Dry Valleys, Antarctica.

His plants work best in arid locales.

A small HD camera drone hovers ten feet from him onstage. A small, red light blinks. He looks into the camera, smiles, and winks. Billions of people around the globe are watching live and those that miss the feed will have access to it when they want. By the end the day, this announcement will have been heard about by the majority of the planet.

In time, this video will have trillions of views.

Max Gilmoore is and will always be big news.

When he makes an announcement, the human race benefits.

This announcement is about a 90% corporate finance dump Max Corp will be investing into smaller tech companies. The dump is worth almost a trillion dollars. Most of the money will go towards space exploration and environmental cleanup.

Max smiles and bows at the waist.

The crowd roars.

He is thin and dressed in flowing black silk. He is barefoot. He hasn’t worn shoes in over a decade. He has also not stepped on ground he does not own in just as long. His mop of curly brown hair flops to the stage as he bends over, chest on knees.

When Maximus stands, he raises his arms to the sky and an assistant runs over and mic’s him up. The gesture, reaching for the sky, looks humble because it is. Maximus feels small in his place in the universe. To him, he is a mere man in the vastness of space and time.

Closing his eyes, he thanks the universe for inspiration, for his soul, for the matter of his being. Maximus not only claims chaos built the human race but also proved chaos can be placed in a controlled state and harnessed.

He shakes his fists in celebration and screams, “Thank you!”

This act of thanks makes the investors and employees louder and even more frenzied. Max Corp hasn’t taken a penny from new investors in years, dividends have paid out billions. Employees are some of the most cared-for people in the country. Working for Max Corp is like being in a family. Do your chores and get a fat allowance every week.

He smiles deeply and looks out into the swarming mass of humanity as if seeing them again for the first time. With a hiss, the mic picks up his voice; it flows out over the cheering crowd with ease.

“Yes, hello, my friends, my family, please,’ his words chipping away at the din. He speaks with a slow Appalachian drawl. A down-home charm from growing up in the hollers of West Virginia. He pauses and smiles again. It’s his trademark. He is known for his big, blue eyes, white teeth and huge-lipped mouth with its easy smile, a smile that stretches a bit too wide between the sunken cheeks of a starved intellectual. He lets the screams and applause wash over him a few more moments, like a practiced showman and not the engineer that pulled humanity back from the brink of despair. The engineer that graduated last in his class at Georgia Tech with no prospects was the same engineer who awoke one night at twenty, stinking of weed on the floor in a puddle of bong water with an answer to how to harness time.

In the Max Power auditorium, it might appear as if Max were not in control, but that’s all part of the buildup. The big sell. He lowers his hands from the air as if he has given up, and can do nothing against the will of the crowd. He takes his hands and runs them through his unruly mop of hair, which is just starting to show streaks of silver, and allows the words to build from the middle of his chest, “A decade ago, I asked you a question. How do you move through time?”

The question rumbles over the crowd like a cannon blast careening against the rear of the auditorium and bouncing back, reverberating the very air in which it floats.

Max lets his smile falter into a frown, which is equally affecting, “You don’t! Time moves through you. It moves through everything. It moves through gravity. Solid, liquid, gas. It seemed as real as the dreams of a child. The moments of yesterday coupled with the hopes of tomorrow. Intangible. The stuff of good ghost stories and science fiction. But that was then, what about now? This moment?”

The crowd is wholly his now. The auditorium stills as if ordered.

“The fiction of time travel is not possible. This is well known. Einstein said Time, as a constant, moves forward with a perceptively small delay, but never back. Like a sailboat, if you know how the wind moves, you can harness it. And we do. We know how the wind moves. And time moves. It moves forward! Our homes. Our cars. Our hearts. Our phones. Our tablets. Our trips to the moon and to the stars. We now know how time moves and we have harnessed it.

We once ignored Quantum Effect, the primal force in the universe; we did not fully realize its benefits to mankind. It is in time that we now conquer and answer all the mysteries which have been kept locked away. We will not need to dig our planet dry to fly into the vacuum of the unknown; we have all we need right here to do all that we want. We now make time work for us, not against us.”

The Gilmoore logo on the screen behind him disappears, replaced with an image of an old man hunched and withered, but quickly morphing to that of a much younger man, strong and able.

“And the future of Gilmoore Power is looking at the future of all mankind!”

As if released from a spell, the crowd goes wild.

He smiles into the cheering masses and the steady red light on the HD camera, into the eyes of the trillions and trillions of eyes that will forever wonder.

These are his people. People who invested in him. Who work for him. Who will never be satisfied by the answers given. Eventually, worlds of people will put their trust in him and what he offers the human race.

Max is distracted by a buzz against his thigh.

He reaches into his pocket and fishes out his smartscreen. He activates it and reads: [911 Uncle Sam’s here! Sorry!] floating on the screen.

He looks offstage and sees his business partner, Carolanne Pulaski frantically waving, her eyes red and teary. Both actions unnerve him.

She is an ice queen. A consummate professional. A person who picks up the slack and pushes when he is stuck in daydream mode. To know the difference between when to fight and when not to fight.

She is a tall woman with short blonde hair, tan slacks, and a black blazer, usually severe in demeanor but even in the shadows offstage, he can see her eyes betray fear.

He signals to his CTO to take over. The hard part is over anyway, getting the crowd on their side, not hard, but crowds can be fickle. The next part was going over the list of investments Max Corp would be making in important stuff and life-changing for lots of people around the world.

Exciting stuff, yet kind of boring and more Greg’s speed anyway.

Max bows to his adoring crowd and slips offstage to a smattering of boos mixed in with the cheers, and a half-heard joke from his CTO about being unprepared and wondering how he can fill someone’s shoes when they don’t wear any.

Gilmoore’s heart begins to pound as his partner grabs his hand and drags him away. Nothing good comes from an unannounced visit from Uncle Sam, nothing at all.

***

“I’m sorry,” is all his business partner says she turns from the stage and he follows.

She leads him through a labyrinth of halls toward an abandoned docking bay and a waiting black SUV idling in an empty carport.

Eight security cameras are dismantled and lay on the floor next to new cameras still in the box.

Normal maintenance?

He doesn’t know. That’s not his job, but it’s looking unlikely.

The rear door to the SUV is open.

“They told me to instruct you to get in.”

“Who.”

“You know I love you, right?” and she sobs.

“What? Carolanne?” and the light in the carport is gone replaced by the smell of newly dyed black wool.

“Wait! Carolanne! What is happening! Carolanne! His voice is muffled against the bag and he feels strong hands lift him under the arms and grab him by his bare ankles.

He hears the click of Carolanne’s expensive high-heeled shoes walking away from the SUV. Maybe she backs away. Maybe she is being escorted by the squeak of rubber-soled oxford. Maybe she is running for her life with the rubber-soled shoes quick to follow.

He tries to kick but his feet but meets nothing but air and the trip inside to the roomy new smelling vehicle is short. He sits up but his right wrist is grabbed roughly then his left. They are cinched together with plastic. He is then pushed forward. He lands hard on his face. His ankles are joined together cinched with the same thin plastic strip.

Then his ankles and wrists are joined together. Back in West Virginia kids would call this being hogged tied.

Just before the door is slammed with the woompf of insulated metals and plastics he hears a single small caliber pistol being fired into the fitful clicking of high-heeled shoes, then silence.

A powerful engine roars to life and the SUV races off the Power plant campus.

He lays hogged tied for what feels like days.

He had done horrible things in his pants.

He drifts in and out of fitful sleep.

He dreams of Carolanne saying she loves him in front of a crowd cheering. He dreams of waterfalls pouring ice cold water into his mouth.

He dreams of floating in blackness and a benevolent beautiful creature stroking his face saying, “It’s okay my darling, it is only temporary.”

Then he is pulled from the SUV and carried through a horrible smelling building. It smelled like a dead end. A last stop. A refuge yard where nothing can be recycled. He is tossed roughly onto cold linoleum. His black silk pants and shirt are ripped from his body. His black silk underwear are ripped from his nethers.

He is hosed off with cold water. The plastic straps are cut. He cries as his shoulders are released. The freedom hurts so bad and feels so good all at once. He reaches up and removes the hood from his own head. The light comes from harsh nonGilmoore lights. His instinct is to lecture on the virtue of Time Power but before he can he is roughly stood up by a man wearing black riot gear, a plastic police helmet and a big heavy vest, boots, and black military-style fatigues. he carries a metal baton in his belt and a stun gun.

He drags him into a room, puts plastic gloves on his hands and fingers Max’s private areas then force-inspects his mouth with the same unwashed fingers.

When the cop is satisfied he tosses an orange uniform at him and orange slippers and demands, “get dressed.”

Max does, the uniform fits baggy and he stands after on shaky legs.

“Follow the green line. Don’t step off the green line or you get tazed,” the cops says unholstering the tazzer from his belt opening the heavy iron door and stepping out of the room with Max following/

***

“There is a way to travel back in time. In theory, it seems pretty doable. All one needs do is collect the mass of a medium-sized star, build it into a tube. Get the tube to spin really fast in a counterclockwise direction, and then take a trip through it with a vehicle. Theoretically, you can arrive back at the beginning of the construction process.

Kind of limited.

I surmise building exit ramps intermittently might work for more travel destinations but desiring earlier travel points wouldn’t be possible.”

Max tries to sound nonchalant, but his left wrist is squeezed inside a tight metal cuff, its opposite end is attached to the table. The skin under is chafed and bloody, and he has already pissed his pants.

Three men stand in front of the metal table. They wear black suits, white oxford shirts, black ties, scowls, severe military haircuts and bulges under their coats indicative of Berettas. The fourth agent has his jacket off and sleeves rolled up. His knuckles bleed. His face is growing an unhealthy shade of red. He leans hard against the table, his veins bulge under the pressure.

“You are going to have to try harder, Max,” the agent hisses. “Sarcasm is going to make me hurt you even worse.”

Max looks at the photo again. It’s an orange stain in red dirt.

“I really–” he begins and stops when the huge fist of the red-faced man pummels the side of his head with two neatly aimed haymakers. He feels the ridges in his skull separate and his brain momentarily ceases all activity. Tears form and drip from his eyes and he sobs. He doesn’t want to sob. He wants to handle this better. This. This situation, this unnatural hell he never thought he would be facing. His free hand grips at the black cloth bag and he realizes he has been playing with it since this all began.

With his head ringing, how dare you, I am a billionaire rolls around in his damaged brain, but is quickly replaced by the truth that doesn’t matter anymore.

He is not Maximus Gilmoore, billionaire. He is an animal. And he has something they want. God help him, he has no clue what that is though.

Anyone who knows him intimately might be next. Max Gilmoore, savior of the planet Earth, is poison to anyone who he has ever worked with, over what? Orange dirt?

“Look if I knew, If I had what… If you want money, I can give you anything. Whatever. Just tell me!”

“Max, you know what these are?” the quiet man in the rear, the older man with silver hair sprouting near his temples, steps forward and slips a small, yellow piece of paper across the table.

Max looks at the yellow blotch. When it clears he thinks, numbers.

He blinks, trying to get his head to clear.

He likes numbers. They have always made sense to him. A person can take numbers and make them mean things, different things, turn them into new things, make people believe things with them, but these numbers scare him. These numbers mean something personal to him. These numbers belong to something he owns, something he is not proud of, something he has locked away in a safe in his apartment in the Mojave power plant. Security told him it was better to have one and not need it than to need one and not have it. So he kept it locked up and practiced with it once a year.

They know what those numbers belong to.

He knows what they belong to.

He loathes the thing they are stamped on. Cold black metal, a rubber grip and always smelling slightly of carbon cleanse.

He drops the little, yellow slip of paper. It flutters to the table. He looks up and makes eye contact with the agent, who meets his eyes back with sympathy. He doesn’t like the man. He has blue eyes. He doesn’t like the man even though he has friendly, blue eyes. He doesn’t like the man with the friendly, blue eyes who is just doing his job.

That just makes it worse. It means they are both stuck.

“Max!’ The agent with bulging veins and black eyes, who is looking for an excuse, punches him again in the side of the head. This time he takes a swing with his left and his right, contacting with both fists for a one-two. ‘Answer the agent’s question! What do those numbers belong to?”

He can’t answer right away. The voice hurts. The concussive force of the blows is more pain than he ever felt in his entire life. He tastes blood in his mouth. He might have bit his tongue. There might be tooth particles floating around the back of his throat.

The agent slowly shoves the photo back under Max’s blurry vision.

Large tears fall from his eyes onto the picture. The room is quiet. He sees stamped in the bottom right corner: Property of Oxford University. There is a white border running around the photo. A barrier of string set up separating the orange stain from the red dirt, and he whispers “how,” as his blood runs cold and he sobs slowly, ripping the picture into tiny pieces as if destroying it removes it from existence.

***

Max wakes up and is ten years older. He is nearing sixty. He sleeps on a thin mattress with a worn, fitted sheet and a single wool blanket. The lights are on. The lights are always on. It doesn’t bother him. The sounds of bars clanging and ringing alarms and squeaky wheels and moaning men and heels clicking against linoleum never end. He ignores them. He tunes all the inconvenience off.

He rubs his eyes with long, pale fingers.

Waking up leads to his favorite thing every day.

He stands and shuffles over to the sink. Depresses a silver button and a small fount of water dribbles out. He sticks his free hand under it and collects a palm full of water, then rubs his hands together.

He dries them on a towel.

He unrolls a small white towel on the cold cement floor, turns to a small desk and picks up a small, plastic-bound book. He holds it to his lips and whispers, “I seek refuge in God.”

He opens the book from the right and whispers again, “In the Name of God, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful. Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the Merciful. You have given me gifts for humanity and now I suffer.”

He kneels and bows his head to the ground. He closes his eyes and his mind leaves his body and begins a journey.

He turns and sees himself on the floor in the tiny beige cell. He moves through the floor, he sees other prisoners in orange. Men of many races who he has stopped and studied. Faces he knows, but they are not interesting. Some are horrible creatures. Evil. Some benign, none innocent, all guilty of something. Even himself. He counts himself guilty of hubris of stretching beyond his place. How dare he attempt to fix humanity. That was his sin. He should have left it alone to be doomed. All animals are capable of hurting each other, of pulling triggers, of being scared, of desire, of greed. He can do better than prison and soars beyond it. Beyond the brown plains with mountains to the West and prairie to the East. Every day, he explodes out of the prison and he soars into the sky. Past clouds into the deep blue sky, beyond North America, sucking greedily at the power his mind conjured for them. Then he sees the crisp Atlantic and Pacific oceans of white-capped water. They look so clean; he can imagine no horrible islands of plastic. No choking seagulls. No dying populations of fish. Maybe his money does what he had wished it would do. Maybe it does nothing. Maybe it makes things worse. He breaks through the atmosphere as if it weren’t a limitation. As if it didn’t protect billions of people from the vacuum of space, and he soars, so happy. He soars until the planet of his birth is a small marble, then a pebble, then a blue dot, then a nothing. Each a beautiful thing. He soars and soars until he is encased in black and there is no light. There are no stars, no planets, no comets, no movement.

Nothing but joy.

And he basks.

He fills himself with all the joy and love he wants.

There is an end.

But only when he is so filled with satisfaction that he can handle going back, his eyes pop open and his food is ready on the floor of his cell, waiting for him.

Breakfast is the same every day, eggs that at one point were poured as powder from a carton and mixed with water, not-so-toasted toast, margarine that is probably still frozen when it is smeared, an orange that always seems to be past its prime and might be considered just shy of alcohol, and an empty cup to be filled with water from the sink. He doesn’t mind. He is past caring. He has had the best of the best in his life. He thanks God for what he has been given and picks up his tray to enjoy his breakfast. He sits on his bed and takes a spork full of eggs and enjoys every morsel.

“Morning, Max.”

Max looks up, and the normal figure of a riot-geared guard that stands watch at his cage always looking, always facing in is replaced with the agent in charge of the investigation.

Max smiles but says nothing. They only want certain words that he does not have.

Max wipes away a bit of egg from his long stringy beard, and his eyes fall to the floor like a beaten dog. He knows the man as Agent Bruno. He was there the day he was brought in. But he knows no other details, other than in ten years, the agent has gotten older

Time has passed.

Time, the great curse.

“Max?”

Max looks up and raises an eyebrow.

“How did it get there?”

Max lays the tray on the mattress and climbs to his feet with a grunt of disappointment. If nothing else, he wants an answer also. He wants, needs to know. Not for freedom. His past life is gone. He knows that. Whatever this is, a dream, nightmare a reality, it’s his and he doesn’t want anything to take it away, maybe underneath this reality is something worse and he couldn’t stand to find that out. All he can do is shrug his shoulders as he turns to place his hands near the open Judas hatch so Agent Bruno can cuff him, place his head in the black bag and take him again to the interrogation room.

***

Max is eighty-three years old and dying.

“He has stage three colon cancer, Parkinson’s, dementia, cataracts and severe depression,” the prison doctor says. He looks like a kid, save for the rapidly diminishing head of sandy blond hair and the exhausted, pained look on his face.

Agent Bruno killed himself twenty-two years ago. The new agent in charge of the investigation is a female. She is boxy, like a softball catcher. She is curt. She dresses poorly in cheap, grey suits.

“Just don’t know what they expect me to get out of this guy.”

‘Don’t get attached Agent, umm, Agent. He doesn’t have much longer.”

The officials at the ADX Florence were told the death penalty waited for anyone on duty if he went missing. He has never been out of sight of a guard.

“Max?”

He is back from God and loves the way she smells like ivory soap, dandruff shampoo and mint toothpaste, a woman. He has forgotten women.

“Yes, my love?”

“How did it get there?”

“I don’t—‘ he looks at her, into her green eyes, at her pockmarked face, at her flyaway frizzy, brown hair streaked with grey illuminated with a halo of light cast from the harsh halogen light above her head, lit with electricity from technology he made possible by harnessing the very thing he was out of: time.

***

Maximus Gilmoore died. He might as well have died forty years prior. He was a legend. His name was attached to everything. High Schools, bridges, roads. His face was on money worldwide until money stopped being a thing.

He was a hero who walked away from trillions of dollars.

Statues of the barefoot saint were erected in parks around the world.

When Maximus Gilmoore died in prison at 87 years old, his body was cremated and his ashes scattered over the Rocky Mountains. No one asked what his wishes were. They did not ask him many questions, just the one.

How did it get there?

How did it get there, Max? How did your Glock 18 get one hundred millenniums in the past?

Max never had an answer and he died saying the same thing.

“God knows.”

And maybe God did know.

But God never told him.

Or anyone else.

And a decade passed since Max Gilmoore died.

And a century.

And two and three and four.

And one day, world governments stopped being a thing.

And the Glock was found in with the investigation report, marked top secret. And the world learned the tragic truth of Maximus Gilmoore dying in prison for the ludicrous idea of a time-traveling handgun.

And a world-famous historian was asked if he could do a thorough investigation of the whole situation and write a book by the curator of the Museum of North American Artifacts.

“I would be a fool to say no,” the historian responded and a day later, all of the files pertaining to the case were dropped on his front porch.

***

The book practically wrote itself during the Summer of 2453. The Historian villa was in Zikhron Ya’akov, in the old Haifa District in the hills overlooking the brilliant blue sea in the-the country historically called Israel.

His last sentence was a judgment. He called the imprisonment of Maximus Gilmoore the worst thing the old Empire of the United States had ever done and this one act should besmirch it throughout history forever.

He attached it to an email and sent it to his editor and took his wife out to celebrate drinks and dinner.

They left their ten-year-old child home alone.

The historian’s boy picked the lock on the writer’s safe, because locks made him curious, behind them were treasures and behind this lock, sitting on a stack of papers was the fully automatic Glock 18 fired half a dozen times.

He picked up the clip of ammunition that lay next to it and went outside to play, much like one would swing a sword. He loaded the weapon and aimed it at a clump of bushes, but before he could swing the physics happened and the Earth shook.

It was a diffusing of the Gulf of Suez Rift under the Manzala Rift near the Nile Delta. No big deal really. The boy in Israel never even felt it. The quake barely topped out at 5.1 magnitude, but at the Max power plant, it caused an event.

The engineers called it a brownout. A power hiccup. The first one ever, where the perpetual power machine Max Gilmoore invented is concerned.

The power output in the Egypt plant dipped slightly, but only for a moment and only during the quake and only when one of the crystals that collected mass from their solar input shook. The senior manager on duty took detailed notes afterward, which would start an investigation, which would lead to a slight improvement in crystal couplings.

But none of that will make any difference to the boy.

Whose family mourned him for decades.

***

Most likely, some things need to happen. The circle has to complete. The universe did not conspire with technology and fold over onto itself. It was forced to. Because that was the way things were meant to go.

The boy finds himself thrust into a torrential downpour. Painful drops of rain falling like stones from the sky.

A bright red sun rises from the horizon like a warning. And the Earth shakes, it looks like twenty suns. Buried by dense, grey clouds, the light diffuses like a lamp with a silk hanky over it.

This is not a 5.1 magnitude earthquake. It’s much worse. It feels like the world is ending.

The Earth shakes so hard, the boy feels as if his body is going to fall apart. He drops to his knees. Rocks cut into the flesh of his hands and feet.

He grits his teeth and waits to die.

Lightning crashes from above. The plains of tall grass wave harsh in the wind and he screams in fear at a violent crash of thunder that follows immediately.

He doesn’t hear the first ibex sprint by over the rain hitting the ground in loud plops or the second or the third, but when he stands and is surrounded by frightened animals running for their lives. He looks and sees a muddy wall of water slowly rolling behind him, maybe a hundred yards back, catching the land in a slow embrace. Dozens of animals sprint for their lives just ahead of it. Rabbits and rats, mice and a saber tooth tiger.

And he runs with them.

But legs work only as fast as they are built, so he tries to work smarter so he turns towards the hills hoping they are steep enough to save him.

He runs and runs and maybe it isn’t as far as he thought or maybe time works differently under stress, but he is there in the hills, but the water keeps coming, so he keeps climbing, and somehow he is in the dark.

A cave?

He does not know?

The air is greasy with unwashed bodies, smoke and burned food.

He breathes hard and through the gloom of the cave, monsters glare back at the boy.

Monsters with tiny eyes and horrible rotting teeth and bony heads and long muscular arms. They reach for him and he involuntarily points the gun and it fires, because of engineering and physics. Bullets fly because the trigger is designed that way. And the monsters fall, five maybe six, until a bigger monster takes a bullet, then two and does not fall, and the boy dies in a crushing embrace, and the gun is dropped, and the wave finds them all, washing them to the back of the cave buried by mud to wait for Samuel Toddy to start the whole thing over again.

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