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​​Douglas Phillips Books

Quantum Time

@Copyright 2018, 2019 Douglas Phillips. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1 Traveler

 A yell shattered the quiet lobby. Almost a scream, though when men scream it comes out kind of wonky.

Sergeant Jamie Copley glanced up from her work, scowling. The double-pane door at the police station’s entrance was slightly ajar, allowing the heat and humidity of central Florida to seep in, along with whatever commotion was going on in the parking lot.

Another scream, almost animal-like.

“Not again,” she whined. The station had been calm for a Tuesday morning and Jamie liked it that way. One drug dealer booked—that was it. Officer Doherty had already taken the scumbag to a cell down the hall, along with the guy’s street stink, leaving the lobby tranquil once more. A young couple sat in one corner waiting to provide a statement on a stolen car case. Another guy, who said he needed to speak with Deputy Chief Jones about something or other, paced.

Doherty leaned against the counter of the reception desk entering an arrest record on his tablet. He seemed unconcerned about the yelling.

“Can you get that?” Jamie asked him. The door sometimes didn’t shut properly, and arguments over who-knows-what seemed to break out at least once a week between lowlifes in the parking lot. Just the sight of Doherty in uniform would shut them up fast.

“Yeah, no problem.” Doherty set his tablet on her desk and headed across the lobby.

As he reached for the handle, the door burst open and crashed against the wall. A huge man lurched through, knocking Doherty to the floor. The man’s face was scarlet, his eyes ablaze. He beat a fist against the side of his bald head and like a savage dog, bared his teeth.

Doherty scrambled away on all fours as the big man threw his head back and screamed once more. The young couple in the corner flattened against the wall. Jamie leaped from the chair, nerves tingling and heart pounding. She reached for the service pistol on her hip.

Assess the situation, her training echoed.

Weapon? One hand carried a motorcycle helmet and the other continued to pound rhythmically against his head. But the oversized belt covered with electrical wires wasn’t there to hold up his pants.

“Bomb!” she yelled. “Take cover!” Jamie dropped behind the desk. Down the hallway, doors slammed. The front door crashed against the wall again, hopefully someone getting away.

So much for the light day.

Rising, Jamie peered over the desk and leveled her weapon at the intruder. He swayed in the center of the lobby, eyes glazed. The couple still cowered in the corner, but pacing guy was gone. Crouching behind a large chair, Doherty aimed his gun.

There was no control unit that Jamie could see, but some bombs detonate on a preset timer. The man took one stumbling step, almost tripping. His face contorted in a grimace and blood dripped from one ear, streaming down his neck in a red ribbon. This guy was in pain, not rage.

“Drop!” Doherty yelled. “On the floor, now!”

The intruder collapsed, whether from pain or following orders, Jamie didn’t care. He was down, with no visible weapon or detonator. No reason for either of them to pull the trigger just yet. If it was a bomb, a bullet might even set it off. Hopefully, Doherty was thinking the same.

Jamie rose higher, keeping both hands on her weapon, pointed at the man’s head. She motioned to the frightened couple. “Come over here. Get behind me.” They hurried across the lobby and squatted behind the desk, the young woman sobbing quietly.

With civilians as safe as she could manage, Jamie’s focus returned to the intruder. He lay on his side. His body heaved with each breath. A red smear across the tiles marked where he’d hit the floor. The leather belt around his waist was at least ten inches wide with what looked like an elongated D-cell battery on one side. Wires crisscrossed its surface connecting a variety of electronics components. The man’s shirt had lifted above the belt with skin showing. Thank God, no sign of explosives.

Eyes still glued to the figure on the floor, she yelled over her shoulder. “All station personnel. Situation is under control. Suspect is down with injuries.”

Doherty spoke into the radio attached to his left shoulder. “Orlando Southeast precinct, one at gunpoint, two officers on the scene. Signal 30, 44.”

The radio screeched, “Copy Southeast, two units enroute.”

Jamie holstered her gun and pulled out handcuffs. “I’ve got him. Cover me.”

Doherty nodded, keeping his weapon pointed while Jamie rounded the desk and bent over the crumpled body. The man offered no resistance as she cuffed his hands behind his back. She donned latex gloves, put a finger to his neck and located a pulse. She lifted eyelids and checked inside his mouth.

She squatted close to his face. “Can you hear me?”

The man murmured.

“What’s on the belt? Anything dangerous?”

His voice was weak and slurred. Each of his heavy breaths pushed out one word at a time. “Nothing… not… bomb.”

“That’s good. Very good,” Jamie said. She turned to Doherty, whose expression had relaxed a bit even if the grip on his gun was still viselike. “Ambulance on the way?”

Doherty nodded.

Jamie patted the man’s shoulder with a gloved hand. “We’ve got help coming, sir. But before they get here, I need to take this belt off.”

The man mumbled something, but the words were slurred. Up close, the belt didn’t look threatening — more like a utility belt that a carpenter might wear. Electronics components with connecting wires were stapled into the leather like a homemade array of superhero gadgets. The mega-battery, if that’s what it was, fit into a sleeve on one side that might have otherwise held a hammer. Still no sign of any explosive material. False alarm, but she’d made the right call and would do it again.

She flipped two snaps and the belt loosened. With a few tugs, it released from the man’s hips. A workman’s tool belt—enhanced—though what the wires and electronic components might do was anyone’s guess. She laid it flat on the tile floor. There would be time later to figure out what this guy was up to.

A quick scan didn’t find any external wounds, but the internal injuries were probably serious, most likely head trauma. Blood still leaked from one ear—and now from his nose too.

The man croaked, not much louder than a whisper. “Help.”

She bent down. “Yes, sir, medical help is on the way. Hang in there. Just a few more minutes.” A faraway siren could be heard through the still-open front door.

“No... this,” the man said. He lifted his right hand, still in a fist. “I come… from… the future.”

“Huh?” Either she’d hadn’t heard him right or this guy was a serious wack job. Doherty moved closer, his weapon still pointed. She held up a hand. “Wait, he’s holding something.” A glint of metal shone between the man’s chubby fingers.
He opened his clenched hand to reveal a large silver coin. Bigger than a silver dollar and thicker, with markings on its face that wiggled.

“Give… this,” the man grunted.

Jamie leaned in closer. “You want me to give the coin to someone?”

The man nodded. “Daniel.”

“Daniel? Daniel who?”

“Rice,” the man wheezed. “Give… to Daniel Rice.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The EMTs, the bomb squad and the frightened couple were gone now, returning the lobby to calm. One of the detectives had taken the belt to a back room for examination. The bomb guys had declared it was harmless.

The intruder had no wallet, no phone on him. One of the police techs was running a face and fingerprint match. No results yet. But the guy had left a calling card, of sorts.

Jamie, Doherty, and two other patrol officers stood in a semicircle around Deputy Chief Jones who held the oversized coin in a gloved hand, twisting it beneath overhead lights.

Both sides of the silver coin shimmered with a rainbow of colors when tilted, like the surface of a DVD. Closer examination revealed animated holographic images. On one side, a three-dimensional golden eagle popped out, its wings flapping as the coin was tilted one way and then the other. On the back, an imposing building was fronted by columns that extended beyond the coin’s surface.

It seemed far too complex to be money, but Jamie had never traveled the world. Maybe this was money in some faraway place. Or maybe it was a commemorative coin of some kind.

“And you say this guy wanted you to take it?” Deputy Chief Jones asked, still studying the details on its surface.

“Yes, sir,” Jamie answered. “He said I should give it to Daniel Rice.” She looked down, combing fingers through her hair. “Those were his last words.” They’d received a call from the EMTs—dead on arrival at East Orlando Hospital, brain hemorrhage. Jamie hated when people died, even the perps.

Jones’ brow twisted. “Did he mean the scientist? That Daniel Rice?”

Jamie shrugged. “I’m not sure, sir. But that Daniel Rice is on TV all the time. It’s probably who he meant.”

Jones turned the coin on its edge. “Did he say anything about the writing?” He held out the coin for her examination. Given the coin’s thickness, the bold capital letters stamped around its circumference were easy to read:

SPIN UPON MIRRORED GLASS

“No, sir,” Jamie answered. “The man didn’t explain the writing or anything else. He just asked me to take it.”

The chief looked her squarely in the eyes. “Did you try spinning it? Did anyone?” Jones looked at each officer in the circle.

Jamie shuffled her feet. They’d all been curious as soon as they’d read the words but had played things by the book. “Well, sir, none of the detectives were in the office, so we bagged the coin and put it in the evidence room along with the belt and the helmet.” She paused and lifted her eyebrows hopefully. “But chief… there’s a small mirror in the bathroom that’s only attached by a few screws.”

Jones rubbed a hand on his chin for a moment and then spoke. “Yeah, I guess we’ll need to know what we’re dealing with before I take this any higher up the chain of command.” He glanced around the empty lobby. “Okay, sergeant, go get the mirror. The man who thinks he’s from the future certainly has some interesting toys. Let’s see what it does.”

She hurried down the hall and returned carrying a rectangular mirror which she laid on the front desk. Jones touched the edge of the coin to the mirror and cocked his wrist.

Backing away, Jamie asked, “You don’t think it will explode or anything, do you?”

Jones shook his head. “We got an all-clear from the bomb squad, but hell, who knows. The world is full of strange things these days.” He lifted the coin from the mirror. “You want to leave?”

Jamie’s curiosity was piqued. After the excitement of the morning she couldn’t miss the grand finale. How bad could it be? It was just a coin. A smile spread across her lips. “No way Chief, I have to see this.”

“Here we go, then.” Jones returned the coin to the center of the mirror’s surface, pinching it between his thumb and index finger. With a quick snap he started it spinning.

It spun like any other coin but made a low hum. A vibration, almost like the sound of a helicopter’s rotor beating the air. After a few seconds, rather than slowing down and falling over, the coin’s spin intensified. It rotated ever faster, becoming a blur. The vibrational hum increased too, its pitch getting higher as the coin sped up. Maybe this coin-helicopter-thing was going to lift off the mirror and fly through the station lobby.

Jamie took a step back, as did everyone else. The sound became shrill, piercing the air with an almost inaudible pitch, and then faded away altogether. Maybe a dog could still hear it.

The spinning coin emitted a sharp click and a vertical cone of white light flashed from its base toward the ceiling. The onlookers flinched in unison.

Images appeared around the perimeter of the light cone, human faces, each twisting as if the perspective was spinning along with the coin. A rainbow of colors reflected across the faces, cycling from violet to blue, green, yellow and finally to red. It was a bizarre mashup of light, form, and color, startling in its seemingly-impossible origin but strangely beautiful too, as if a modern art exhibit.

The rotating faces stabilized like an old flickering film projection that eventually locks into synchronization. The multitude of perspectives and colors came together within the center of the cone, forming a single face with natural skin color. It was a man’s face, and fully three-dimensional.

As Jamie stared in awe, the eyes of the floating head blinked, looked left and then right. The lips of the apparition lifted on one side, forming a wry smile.

“Holy cow,” Jamie whispered. “Maybe this guy really did come from the future.”
 

Chapter 2 OSTP

Daniel Rice leaned against a bookcase, his arms folded and a grin spreading across his face. He always enjoyed showing visitors around the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the building just steps from the White House, but this visitor was special.

Nala Pasquier sat in Daniel’s high-back office chair, kicked her shoes off and put bare feet up on his desk. “I love your office. Way better than my closet at Fermilab.” She leaned back and clasped hands behind her head. “Ahh… I could get used to this.”

It was her first venture into Daniel’s home territory and she’d made herself comfortable right away. But that was Nala. Adaptable. Ready for anything. Physical attraction was the easiest part of their relationship. Those silky legs splayed across his desk seemed incongruous among the pens, paper and other objects of his routine workday, but he was only too happy to soak in the view. Nala wasn’t just attractive, or smart, or sexy. She was adventurous, a trait Daniel treasured more than any.

Friday afternoons at OSTP were generally quiet with most of the employees wrapping up for the weekend. It was a good time to show his house guest where he worked. “You’d fit right in around here.” He brushed a finger across her toes. “Except for your complete disregard for the rules.”

“What? No feet on desks?” She gave him a crooked smile.

He shook his head. “You’d be surprised how formal it gets in an office that advises the president.”

She scrunched up her nose in a fake pout, a classic Nala expression that Daniel found adorable. It was one of many looks from this brown-skinned beauty that made his heart melt.

“Well… poofy poof on you,” she said, clearly holding back. Her more usual taunts could singe the lacquer off the door. She been on best behavior ever since they’d walked through the office door.

Nala pulled her feet from the desk and sat up straight. She gazed innocently up at Daniel, her large eyes partly hidden behind strands of wavy brown hair. “Sorry. You won’t punish me, will you? At least… not here?”

Daniel laughed, resisting the urge to kiss her. “I’ll give you a pass this time since you’re a visitor.”

She rolled those gorgeous eyes to her forehead. “Not quite the response I was looking for. Role play, Daniel, role play.”

Daniel sighed. Another missed opportunity. It happened a lot. “I should have said?”

She stood up and put a hand to his cheek. “I can’t put the words into your mouth, that’d ruin all the fun. But don’t worry, you’re getting there.”

Nala certainly knew how to have fun. She’d arrived a few days before and they’d spent their days touring the Washington sights. Smithsonian, the Lincoln Memorial, and more. She’d never been to the nation’s capital and absorbed his guided tour like she did everything — with an eager curiosity for all things new. But each evening, on return to his condo across the river in Virginia, she’d wrapped her arms around his neck and took command. She guided, he followed. He loved every minute of it, even when her assertive style pushed him into new territory.

“Guess I’ll have to… I don’t know… tickle your badly-behaved toes when we get home.”

She put a hand to her chin. “Hmm. Very boy scout. But going in the right direction.”

“Nala, I don’t think I’ll ever be like you.”

She knitted her brow. “Like I’d want that? We’re different people and that’s fantastic. Some of the best relationships start from opposite corners. Jesus, it’s why men and women are attracted to each other in the first place. We’re different, physically, emotionally. I have lots of girlfriends, but I’m looking for something else in a man.”

He leaned in close to her. “Do I meet your requirements?”

She brushed the tip of her nose against his and spoke in a low, sultry voice. “Oh yeah, Mr. Government Scientist. You most certainly do.”

She twirled around in place, the tone of her voice doing a similar one-eighty. “What else you got in this office that I should see?”

“You’ve seen all this dungeon has to offer.” He looked at his watch. “Shall we head out for drinks before dinner?”

She nodded, and he led into the foyer of the office where the OSTP receptionist, Janine Ryder, studied a computer screen. Janine looked up. “Did you get the full tour?”

“Yes, your office is beautiful,” Nala answered. “I love the French architecture.”

“I do too,” Janine said, “but not everyone favors the Eisenhower Building.” She jerked her head toward Daniel.

Daniel shrugged. “Come back in January. It feels like a nineteenth century crypt in here, only colder.”

Janine laughed. “Pay no attention to him, Nala. He just likes to whine about living anywhere east of the Mississippi.”

“A westerner at heart, I guess,” Daniel said. He had nothing against the east, but the rugged west had always been the foundation of his soul. He longed for another hike deep into the Grand Canyon, another climb up Mt. Rainier. What easterners called mountains were not much more than speed bumps.

“What’s up for the weekend?” Daniel asked Janine.

“Poconos with a friend. The fall colors should be great,” she answered. A year ago, Daniel could have been that friend but dating a colleague was awkward at best, a notion Janine didn’t argue. With Nala in the office, long-standing tensions were swept away. Daniel’s had a girlfriend now, even if their long-distance relationship was limited to getting together once a month.

“How about you two?” Janine asked.

“A hike on the Appalachian Trail. Fresh air and all that,” Daniel answered.

“I’ve never been, but I hear the trail is very pretty.”

“You know, it’s funny—” Daniel’s thought was interrupted when two men in dark suits walked through the open door and into the foyer. One carried a briefcase, tucking sunglasses into his jacket pocket. Very official. Very serious.

Daniel had no idea who they were. Nala tensed, glancing his way. She’d never been comfortable with figures of authority and these guys radiated it. Daniel stepped aside, allowing Janine to do her job.

“Good afternoon, welcome to OSTP. How can I help you?” Janine asked sweetly.

The elder of the two glanced at Daniel then spoke to Janine. “FBI. Agent Griffith. This is Agent Torre.” They both displayed identification. “We’re here to see Dr. Daniel Rice.”

“Agent Griffith,” she acknowledged. She motioned toward Daniel just as he offered his hand. “Meet Dr. Daniel Rice.”

“Always happy to help the FBI,” Daniel said. “What brings you here?” As a scientific investigator and part-time public figure, Daniel rarely interacted with law enforcement. The investigation at Fermilab the year before was a notable exception. He felt Nala’s hand touch his back, a quiet signal of her need to stay close.

Agent Griffith’s eyes narrowed, deepening the wrinkles across his forehead. “Before we get to that we’ll need a meeting place. Preferably a SCIF.”

SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, was basically a conference room sealed to the outside world. Sound-proofing construction, electronics isolation, the works. SCIF’s were all the rage in Washington, almost a competition between agencies. My SCIF is bigger than your SCIF—that kind of thing.

The Eisenhower Building had just such a room in the basement. Looking over Janine’s shoulder, Daniel could see that she’d already brought up the room reservation form on her computer.

Ordinarily, he’d cooperate without hesitation, but today he had a guest. “Sorry, could this wait until Monday? I’m not officially working today and was just about to leave. I’d be happy to schedule some time.”

The agent shook his head once. “Sorry, Dr. Rice. We wouldn’t normally barge in like this, but it’s a priority investigation. It can’t wait. Twenty minutes, plus or minus, depending on how our conversation goes.”

Daniel took a deep breath. These guys didn’t look like they were going to take no for an answer. He glanced over his shoulder. Nala’s naturally buoyant personality had become restrained with the FBI presence and Daniel understood why. She’d faced arrest on a long list of FBI charges only a year before in the Fermilab investigation.

Nala didn’t say anything, making it clear enough that the next step was his decision. Twenty minutes. A small delay in their plans for the evening, but nothing major. Best to accommodate the FBI.

“Do you mind waiting here?” he asked.

Nala whispered, “No problem, I’ll be fine.”

Janine hit a few keys on her computer. “You’re booked.”

Daniel managed a smile. “Okay then, Agent Griffith, Agent Torre. Let’s chat.” He gave Nala a one-armed hug. “Make yourself comfortable. Back in a flash.”

Daniel led the two FBI agents down several flights of stairs to the basement. They checked in with a clerk who confiscated their cell phones and ushered them into the SCIF. The massive door closed with a thud. Eavesdropping from the hallway would be impossible.

Inside, it looked like any other conference room though the walls were bare.

“If it makes any difference, I have top secret clearance,” Daniel said as they settled into chairs around a large table.

“Yes, sir, we know,” Agent Torre said. He laid his briefcase on the table, aligning it precisely parallel with its edge. In any other circumstance, Daniel might have joked about the man’s idiosyncrasies, but Torre seemed to be entirely humorless. Agent Griffith didn’t look any better.

Torre drew a photograph from his briefcase and slid it across the table. “Recognize this man, Dr. Rice?”

Daniel picked up the photo. It showed an overweight man with glasses, bald. Posed, perhaps for an employee badge or driver’s license. “I don’t think so,” Daniel answered, passing the picture back.

“How about the name, Elliott Becton?”

Daniel shook his head. “Doesn’t ring a bell. Should I know him?”

Griffith picked up the line of questions without missing a beat. “Apparently Becton knew you.”

“Knew?”

“Yes. Elliott Becton is deceased,” Griffith answered. “Three days ago. Walked into an Orlando police station, collapsed on the floor and died.”

“Sorry to hear,” Daniel said. “Of course, a lot of people know me. I do lectures, late night TV, Star Talk.” There were blank expressions on both men’s faces. “It’s a science radio program.”

“Yes, sir, we know,” Torre said flatly. Torre pushed another photo across the table. In it, a white oval doorway stood alone in a large facility. Daniel recognized the location immediately—the Operations and Checkout building at Kennedy Space Center and the portal to other worlds. “You’ve worked here? You’ve used the alien transportation device that’s installed there?”

“Uh, yeah. Once. A visit to Core.” Daniel recalled his impromptu and somewhat disturbing passage directly into the interior of the moon-sized gatekeeper to the galaxy. “Is my trip through the portal related to Becton?”

“Possibly,” Griffith answered. “While you were at KSC, did you meet any of the NASA engineers?”

Daniel shook his head. “No, I don’t recall anyone besides Zin. Aastazin. The android. Core’s representative here on Earth.” Daniel held up a hand at the steely look from Agent Torre. “But, you already knew that too, right?”

Torre didn’t flinch, his face seemingly made of stone.

Griffith asked once more, “So, no contact with any of the engineers at NASA while you were at KSC?”

Daniel fished into his memory of the brief visit six months earlier. Jan Spiegel had joined him from Fermilab. Marie Kendrick, who regularly made jumps through the portal, was there too. They’d gathered around the alien doorway while Zin explained the astounding technology that could whisk you to a planet a thousand light-years away. Daniel didn’t recall meeting any NASA engineers.

“None that I’m aware of,” Daniel said.

Griffith looked at Torre, who nodded. With any luck, they were ready to share the purpose of their little inquisition.

“Dr. Rice,” Griffith said, “Elliott Becton was a NASA engineer, employed at Kennedy Space Center. A twenty-year veteran. He was one of the key people who installed that portal. Becton had access to some very advanced alien technology.”

“And,” Agent Torre added, “we believe that he may have figured out how it works. A security camera recorded him walking out the KSC door. Ten minutes later he was dying in an Orlando police station—fifty miles away.”

A three hundred mile-per-hour car? Teleportation? Or something else?

 In the quantum world, it was always something else.

Daniel analyzed Torre’s statement in its entirety. A NASA engineer, with access to Zin’s portal technology—but not necessarily with Zin’s help—may have reverse engineered the portal’s function to obtain its secrets. And then he died.

Unfamiliar technology, misused. Always a recipe for disaster and Becton had paid the price. Surely, he must have known that returning from 4-D space could be deadly; that much was common knowledge. In fact, it was the whole reason that the katanauts at KSC used the alien portal to jump interstellar distances.

Griffith described the scene at an Orlando police station and showed Daniel a photo of a utility belt covered with electronics that Becton had probably made himself. Nothing on the belt looked remotely like the KSC portal, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t based on the same idea.

Passing through 4-D space and coming out alive on the other side required a special trick. Zin’s portal could do it. The yin-yang object they’d recovered from Soyuz could do it too. But those were alien devices. As far as Daniel knew, humans hadn’t conquered this part of the technology.

Until now?

“Becton’s dead,” Daniel said. “Whatever he learned about jumping through quantum space, it wasn’t enough.”

Agent Griffith shook his head. “We don’t think he was jumping through any kind of space, Dr. Rice.” He pointed to the photo of the alien portal. “As a scientist, perhaps you’re familiar with one aspect of this technology. It produces a temporal offset.”

Daniel recalled a brief explanation from Zin. To survive the return from quantum space required what they called a temporal offset—a dimensional trick that suspended the flow of time. The lost Soyuz astronauts had been frozen in this time warp. Daniel had briefly experienced it himself during his trip to Core, a process that was unnerving but not deadly.

“You sit in a specially-designed chair, a portal transfer station, they call it. A hood covers your face and a yellow light flashes. The flash repeats once you’re back in 3-D space.” No doubt there was more to it but that was as much as Daniel knew. Zin hadn’t been generous in his explanation. “It’s really no big deal, even though it leaves you with an odd feeling. Like you’d just passed out.”

Both agents nodded. “You know more than most people we’ve talked to,” Griffith said. “But the next question is the kicker, the reason we came to see you.”

“And that question is?”

Agent Griffith cleared his throat. “Dr. Rice, do you know how to travel to the future?”
  

Chapter 3 Coin

The questions from the FBI agents were getting ever stranger.

Time travel. Really? Are we going there?

Daniel didn’t mind helping on the science side of their investigation, but educating these guys on time dilation, relativity and the limits theorized by Einstein, Hawking, Carroll, Thorne, Greene and others was going to take a lot more than twenty minutes. Nala was upstairs waiting.

“Do I know how to travel to the future? Absolutely,” Daniel said. “We all do. We’re doing it right now. Tick tock. Now we’re in the future.”

“Not exactly what I meant,” the Agent Griffith responded. He looked irritated at Daniel’s rather flippant remark. Fair enough, but his was a beginner’s question.

Daniel avoided further eye-rolls and bit his facetious tongue. “I apologize. Of course, that’s not what you meant.” There was no reason to waste the agents’ time, but neither was there any reason to waste Daniel’s. “Maybe you can tell me the reason for your questions? I’m a scientist, but I’m not a theoretical physicist or a cosmologist and I’m certainly no expert on the inner workings of the portal down at KSC. These might be good questions for Zin or Core, though I doubt they’ll tell you much. I can also recommend a few books.”

Both agents sat stony-faced. Daniel gestured with both hands. “Look, I’m sorry to hear this engineer misused the technology to kill himself, but what does any of this have to do with me?”

Without answering, Griffith looked at Torre. “Are you satisfied?”

Torre nodded. “I believe so. I think we can proceed.”

Griffith eyed Daniel. “Our apologies for the indirect questions, but we needed to be sure you had no relationship with Mr. Becton, either now or in the future.”

“Mr. Becton is dead,” Daniel answered. “I don’t think he has much of a future.”

“Not anymore, but he may have been to the future, possibly your future.” Griffith’s serious demeanor hadn’t changed in the slightest even if the conversation had taken a turn toward the incredible.

“An interesting statement. Your evidence?” As the cosmologist Carl Sagan had famously said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This had better be good.

Torre unzipped a compartment inside his briefcase. “Before he died, Mr. Becton told the Orlando police he was from the future.”

“A little fanciful, wouldn’t you say?” Flippant remarks could be set aside out of politeness, but not Daniel’s innate skepticism. “Your own investigation identifies Becton as an active engineer at NASA.”

“Perhaps Becton is not from the future but had recently been there.” Torre reached into the briefcase compartment and pulled out a coin. It glittered with gold and silver colors as he turned it. “He told the police to give this coin to you. He mentioned you by name. I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen it?” He handed the coin to Daniel.

Moving holograms popped from each side along with the spectrum of colors. Daniel absorbed the details, including the writing around the edge. “Quite a beautiful object. It certainly gets your attention, but no, I’ve never seen it before. And as I said, lots of people know my name.”

“Yes sir. I think we’ve established that you don’t currently know Mr. Becton.”

Daniel looked up. “But I will know him? That’s your premise?”

“We’re not sure,” Griffith answered. “It’s possible Mr. Becton was your associate. Or will be.”

Once more, Daniel glanced at the writing around the outside of the coin and turned to Torre. “My guess is you have a mirror in your briefcase?” On cue, Torre withdrew a circular mirror about the size of a dinner plate and set it on the table.

Daniel nodded. “Okay, I’ll bite. You’ve done this before? Spinning this coin?”

“We have.”

Daniel smiled and reached out to the mirror, placing the edge of the coin on its surface. “Well then, I feel left behind. Time to catch up.” He snapped his fingers and started the coin spinning.

The coin spun, and not just for a few seconds as expected. It wound itself up, spinning faster and emitting a throbbing tone that grew higher in pitch. Clearly more than a disc of metal, Daniel felt his natural skepticism beginning to fray.

“Fascinating.” He lowered his head to better examine the point of contact between the coin and the mirror. “It either has an internal energy source or it’s drawing reflected energy from the mirrored surface. Maybe a feedback mechanism creating an amplification. Nice science demonstration you have here.”

“Stay tuned,” Griffith said, a grin appearing on his face for the first time.

The tone’s frequency quickly surpassed the limits of human hearing, the spinning coin made an audible click, and an inverted cone of light illuminated the ceiling. Photographic images rotated within the cone, a man’s face as seen from different directions. The blur of images settled, each independent view coalescing into a single three-dimensional image of a man’s head as if a puzzle had self-assembled.

The man, probably in his seventies, had long white hair pulled back in a ponytail and several days of stubble on his face. He looked remarkably like Daniel.

Every detail of the face was depicted with the precision of a three-dimensional video. The eyes looked left and then right. The man smiled, and as the floating face began to speak, a chill went up Daniel’s body.

“This message is for Daniel Rice at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.” Except for some scratchiness, the voice sounded like his.

The older man cleared his throat. “This probably comes as a shock to you Daniel. It did for me too. Like it or not, we’re one person but at different points in time. Odd, isn’t it? Looking at a future version of yourself. You’re skeptical, of course.”

The floating head looked down. “It’s really not much different than watching any other recording of yourself. Of course, the time order is reversed but you’ll get used to it. By the way, remember that time in high school when you got caught with a condom in your pocket? Yeah, you remember. So, do I.”

Daniel took a deep breath, staring at the moving image inside the cone of light. He hadn’t told anyone about the high school incident, a private memory. His mind raced through every possible explanation. An elaborate hoax, an alien technology, or something else? He squinted at the hovering head, noting the crook in the man’s left earlobe. He reached up and felt his own ear.

The 3-D video continued. “As I speak, it is April 14, 2053. That’s a Monday, if you want to look it up. From your perspective it’s thirty years in the future, but from my perspective it’s today. Of course, I could tell you things about the past thirty years that you can’t possibly know but too much information isn’t wise, so don’t expect any stock market tips.”

He cleared his throat again. “But I will bring up one event, and it’s the reason for this message. A tragedy that will soon happen… soon, from your perspective.” The man looked straight ahead and spoke with conviction. “It was a nuclear missile launch. Very bad, with millions killed and significant areas still uninhabitable even in 2053. But here’s the thing, Daniel. There’s hope. We believe this destruction can and should be prevented. In fact, we believe that you can prevent it.”

Daniel’s skepticism slipped further. The older man spoke in the same manner and tone as Daniel did. Even the word choices matched his style and thought process. If this was a fake, it was a damned good one.

Not so sure about the ponytail, he thought. Would I do that?

“I’m going to ask a big favor, both for myself and all those millions of people who lost their lives. Come to 89 Peachtree Center, floor 97, Atlanta, Georgia on the afternoon of June 2, 2053. Use the belt to get here. It works, you’ll see. I know you’re skeptical about all of this. I was too. This message is only one piece of evidence. Examine the rest and I’m confident you’ll arrive at the right decision. You will come to 2053, because I remember doing it.”

As the video concluded and the cone of light switched off, Daniel shook his head, believing in the clever technology but not remotely ready to accept the premise of the message.

Quite impossible.

Yet the conviction of his initial assessment was accompanied by an odd feeling of déjà vu. Standing in the Diastasi lab a year before, he had held a four-dimensional tesseract in his hand. Another impossible feat that had somehow found a niche in reality.