The Makriaziton Mechanism

Standard

“There were people who once knew how to harness energies that we haven’t yet discovered, or rather, rediscovered,” Dr. Taisho said as she strapped the leathery cuff around his right wrist. “They did so by learning about the world around them and building tools to understand and then use the forces and energies they observed. Wars and calamities overcame the world and most of the knowledge and the tools were destroyed or lost. There are those in the present time who are trying to regain that knowledge. They are finding some of the tools and devices and testing them to see if they still work. This is one those devices.”

Brian Bicknell listened attentively as the postdoctoral researcher who had introduced herself as Tora Taisho explained the general purpose of her research project, which was centered on the cuff that she was strapping onto his wrist. She’d made him wash his hands and arms down to the elbows, but that was all.  He was astonished that the university allowed such cavalier handling of an ancient and presumably precious artifact.

She sat him down on a laboratory stool and began to affix various other things to him: heart rate monitor, electrocardiogram, blood pressure gauge, and several other detector instruments that he didn’t recognize. Brian gazed at the device around his wrist. The thick strap appeared to be made of leather. Affixed to the top was a square metal casing with three metal tubes running out of it from either side and wrapping all the way around. Within the metal casing was a dial with tiny mechanical buttons, several metal discs stacked together, and several circular symbols inscribed on the inside perimeter. Dr. Taisho called it the Makriaziton mechanism, MZN for short.

“Amazing,” Brian said.

Dr. Taisho raised her brow.

“The Amazing mechanism. Can I call it that, doctor? Rolls off the tongue easier.”

She smiled. “Sure, and call me Tora,” she said, sliding a cap over his head that was embedded with electrodes, each with a wire attached that led down and away. “So, Mister Bicknell, what made you volunteer for the study?”

“Actually,” Brian said, his face beginning to grow hot. “I’m aiming to get admitted next semester. I was hoping that volunteering here might be something I could add to my application. Sounds silly. It’s not as if I’m actually conducting research with you. But I just want every edge I can get.” Brian laughed and shook his head at himself. “I really want to go back to school.”

“Did you drop out?”

“No, I finished my Bachelors. I just always wanted to go further.  I didn’t get the chance until now.”

“Oh yeah, what did you get your Bachelors in?”

“English, with a focus on myth and folklore.”

“Really?”

“That’s why your project interested me.  I hope my cooperation demonstrates how serious I am about being involved in this field.”

Tora chuckled. “Mister Bicknell—Brian, if you actually get this cuff to work, you’d pretty much be making my career for me. I’d call that serious.  But don’t get your hopes up. Odds are nothing will happen. Still, if you’re really serious, it’s a good idea to get an inside perspective, talk to someone who’s already in the department.”

“Good thing we’re on a first-name basis, then.”

Tora grinned. “Let me tell about that device you’re wearing.”

All the dating tests that could be done without destroying the device placed its origin between the second and fifth centuries AD somewhere in what was now Tibet. The style and construction of the device were atypical. It was historical accounts that placed it by geography. It was not unique. Multiple cuffs had been crafted, and their ownership and use was carefully tracked. According to the records that Tora found, all devices but one were destroyed. Some were destroyed by accident. Some by purpose. The last one was hidden. But it was hidden so well that it was soon lost to human history.  By the time it was found again, the device was quite inert, not because it was useless in itself, but because there were none left who knew how to use it.

“According to a note found with the device, presumably left by its last owner, ‘It is safe in the hands of those who have not learned to see,’” Tora said.

Brian turned his wrist around and marveled at the cuff. “What does it do?”

“If you believe the accounts, it has some ability to harness the powers of time. A lot of the accounts I’ve gathered are translations of translations. But I believe it’s supposed to alter the perception of time. In the same way that a telescope can allow one to see far off to sea and know that a ship is coming to port, long before one’s naked eye could, the device would allow the user to see farther as well, just farther ahead in time.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, so devices need settings and power sources, correct? Fair warning, the power source for this device is the human body itself. I have a vague notion of the settings based on the dial and metal discs—I’m calling them lenses—inside of the main casing. I’ve set it to where it should be to give you a brief glimpse. So all you need to do is trigger the device and pay close attention to all five senses, remember, and report.”

Brian felt a sinking in his gut. “Has anyone gotten this work?” He turned to her. “Are you allowed to tell me?”

Tora had picked up a tablet and was swiping and tapping on the screen. She looked up at him and smiled. He remembered the agreement he had signed. She was not at liberty to tell him anything about the other volunteers and how their sessions had gone. He could only ask questions about the device. He could back out at the last minute, or at any time during his session. But he couldn’t ask about the others.

Brian took a deep breath and exhaled. Following Tora’s instructions, he raised his right hand and brought the device closer to his face. He stared at the dial as he moved his left hand over to the cuff and triggered the device.

A sudden wave of nausea lurched through his gut. Brian gasped and steadied himself in his seat just as someone walked into the lab. It was another researcher, holding a file. He handed the file to Tora and asked her a question. Tora answered, nodded, and flipped through the file as he walked away. She pulled out a bright orange page. But at the same time, it seemed, she turned and gaped at him.

Brian felt a strange pressure and then a sudden lightness in his head. Dizzied, he blinked and gripped his chair.

“Are you okay?” Tora asked.

Brian shut his eyes. The dizziness subsided. “Yes.”

“Anything yet?”

Brian opened his eyes. “Uh…I don’t think so. I haven’t seen or perceived anything, except your colleague.”

Tora raised her brows.

“The one who handed you the file.” Brian noted that the file was nowhere to be seen. “Or, was I not supposed to know about that? Sorry, I couldn’t help but—“

“Describe this person and the file.”

After he was assured that he hadn’t eavesdropped inappropriately, Brian told Tora the details of what he had seen and heard. Tora’s colleague. The question. The answer. The bright orange sheet of paper.

A moment after he was done, the very colleague he was talking about walked into the lab again, with a familiar-looking file in his hand. He asked the question. Tora answered and nodded as he walked away. She held the file in her hands, but she didn’t flip through it. Instead she turned to Brian and gaped.

***

“Either that device is working or Mike is pranking me and you’re in on it,” Tora said pointing a finger at him. “But the session is not over yet.”

Brian was too dazed to consciously put together what was going on, though somewhere in his subconscious he felt he had figured it out. The device had worked.

Tora adjusted the dials on the device. Then she prompted him to trigger it again. He did. Again, he felt the nausea, though he was better prepared for it this time. Tora’s cell phone went off. She answered and spoke a strange phrase in greeting to whoever was calling. But she also dropped the phone before she could answer. Her back was turned to him when she answered the phone. But she was also turned toward him, leaning against the lab bench with her arms crossed, peering at him and shaking her head.

That strange pressure built up in his head again and that sudden lightness. The dizziness. He exhaled. Tora stood beside him with her tablet.

Brian started reporting what he’d seen. Tora nodded as she noted what he said. After he was done, he felt thirsty. Just as he was about to ask for a glass of water, Tora’s phone rang. She picked it up, but dropped it. She sighed and reached down for her phone, tapping the screen. The tone stopped. She set the tablet and phone down on the lab bench, turned around, leaned back against the bench, crossed her arms, and peered at him.

“I wonder if I dropped it because you said I would,” she said. “It’s possible I would have anyway. But how did you know about the phrase?”

Brian held his tongue. It didn’t seem the right time to ask for water.

“I’m going to come clean with you, Brian,” she said. “Those two situations you witnessed were set-ups. Maybe you’ve already figured that out. I had prompted my colleague to walk in and hand me that file. The bright orange sheet was there to provide a solid and specific detail to the forward vision. I don’t think Mike would sabotage my project. But just in case, that second scenario was also a set-up. I set an alarm on my phone to go off.  I was going to answer it, as if someone is calling, and speak a specific phrase.” She rubbed the bottom of her face with her hand and exhaled through her lips. “You passed these two tests.”

Brian nodded, bracing himself. “Well let’s do the rest of them and be sure.”

Tora laughed. “There are only two tests. Up till now, there has been no need for any more.”

***

Tora asked him a slew of other questions as he enjoyed a cold drink of water. Brian started feeling tired, drained. His eyes felt dry and sore. His eyelids dragged. He wanted nothing more than to lie down, anywhere.

“It’s the device,” Tora said. “It drained you to use it. I’m so sorry. But you should be okay if you get some rest.”

“I mean, I had some trouble the first time I put on three-D glasses, but this is a whole other level,” Brian said.

Tora told him she would follow up with him the next day. She had taken the device off and locked it up. But she stared at a photograph of it in wonder.

“I really hope that once you’re rested, you’ll be up for whatever else I can throw at you.”

“Okay,” Brian said, only half-aware of what he was saying. By the time he got home, he felt all right again. Present. He was hungry, so he ate. He was thirsty, so he chugged a pitcher of water. Then exhaustion overcame him within moments, and he fell asleep on his couch.

The next day, Brian woke, stiff from having fallen asleep on the couch in his day clothes, but otherwise well-rested and awake. He’d slept for almost twelve hours. He remembered the events of the previous day, and that Tora wanted to follow up with him. She sounded surprised when he called and asked if she was ready for him to come in to the lab.

***

“I tried to use it,” she admitted as he walked in and they shook hands.

She had tried to use the device the previous day after he left, but it didn’t work for her. She wanted him to try it again, and if it wasn’t a fluke, she hoped to work more closely with him. But she also admitted that she had been excited at the prospect that the MZN mechanism actually worked. After calming down, she thought back to how drained he had been after only two sessions. She realized it wasn’t fair of her to goad him into returning. She assured him that he didn’t owe her or her study anything. He had done his part and if he wanted to end his participation, he had every right to, and without fearing it would in any way endanger his application to the university.  But Brian saw the eager hope in her eyes.

After a full night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, he felt ready for more, ready to help. They both agreed that if he felt pain or became too sickened to continue, they would stop. While Brian slept, Tora had spent all night researching, not the cuff, but the information she had gathered on the volunteers.  She had revealed that no one else had gotten the device to work.

“Maybe I have a special gene,” Brian suggested.

Tora smirked. “No doubt you have many special genes, and I suppose that’s a possible explanation, but I don’t think so. Remember that note I told you about? The one found with the device? ‘It is safe in the hands of those who have not learned to see.’”

Brian nodded.

“I think you already had the knowledge to work the device before you put it on. I think you have already learned to see.”

“That’s weird. How could I know but not know what and how I know?”

“We pick up a lot of knowledge during our lives. Learning, then forgetting. Relearning. Adapting new knowledge to old. The device requires a certain level of education. This is similar to how one needs to have some training to use the more sophisticated and powerful functions of an electronic device or software program.”

“But people study a specific subject and focus on it to learn more advanced skills,” Brian said. “They don’t just pick it up by osmosis. I mean…right?”

“You’re an avid reader. I thought I read a lot, but you, you have a full-time job and volunteer activities. I don’t understand how you find the time. The subject matter too is just right. You read a lot of books—both fiction and non-fiction—about ancient devices, time travel, the paranormal, and so forth. You have fifteen magazine subscriptions, to mags about general science, archaeology, literature, DIY. See, I don’t think it’s about learning how to use the device, the switches and dials and settings. I know how to do all that. What I don’t know how to do is perceive what the device is showing me. If I were someone living in the stone age and you handed me that telescope we were talking about and pointed it up to the stars, to the moon, I wouldn’t know what the heck I was looking at.”

Brian shook his head and laughed at himself. “So I can see because I believe?”

Tora shook her head. “No, I’m pretty sure I had a few other volunteers who believed in this device’s abilities more than you or I did when we first started yesterday. And those who had the will. And those who were just as smart and educated. I could do a closer study of the actual catalog of reading materials that all the volunteers have read. I’ll admit my vague understanding is based on uncertain knowledge, but I think your readings have prepared your mind.”

“Or I could have a gene.”

“We’ll look into.”

***

The research into the how and why of Brian’s ability to use the mechanism fell by the wayside as they focused on the actual use of the device. Brian completed more and more trials. He changed his diet, began meditating, continued avidly reading, and slept more than he ever had before, all to assure he had more stamina and energy to expend on using the device. He learned to set the dial on the device himself. He made fast progress. Over several weeks, he refined his use of the device and the various lenses.

He also made another extraordinary discovery.  He could not only look forward, but backward as well. He adjusted some settings to the opposite of what they should be one day, just to see what would happen. Tora was unaware. She had stepped into the hallway to take a phone call. He didn’t know what was happening at first. He felt more nauseated than usual after triggering the device, and he went to ask her if he could take a break. He hadn’t noticed that she’d returned to the lab. She was standing right beside him, studying her tablet. He tried to speak to her, but she didn’t answer.

Something seemed vaguely familiar about the scene. A wave of anxious nausea heaved from Brian’s gut into his chest.  He rose from his stool and found he was not tethered by the electroencephalograph cap. He turned and was stunned to see himself sitting on the stool, swinging his arms around in a final stretch before starting another trial. They’d been trying to determine if he could look farther forward than the ten or fifteen minutes he had managed thus far. The event he was witnessing had happened five minutes prior to when he reversed the dial and triggered the device.

When he snapped back to his present time and present position.  He felt woozy and disoriented. A sense of vague anxiety overcame him. He suddenly wanted to take the cuff off, because he wasn’t sure if he liked not knowing if he was in the present or if he was seeing the past or future.

When Tora walked back in, he told her what he’d done. She looked troubled, but not just about his new discovery.  She was still clutching her phone.

“Who was that on the phone?” Brian asked.

***

Tora warned him it might happen. He was walking to his car a few days later after their session and was approached by three individuals in business attire. An older woman who introduced herself as Mrs. Winsome, and two men who seemed to be her bodyguards but also associates, Mr. Gomez and Mr. Imago. Mrs. Winsome provided a card and claimed to be from a subsidiary of a corporation that was renowned for collecting and caring for artifacts. They had recently heard of the university’s unique treasure in the Makriaziton mechanism.

He accepted the offer, the same one given to and accepted by Tora already, to be driven to a not-so-secret location, a warehouse/laboratory where he was shown numerous displays of artifacts that the company already had under study. The artifacts were secure and studied under controlled circumstances. People in pristine protective gowns and masks, handled artifacts in one area. Others were mounting artifacts that had been restored. He saw engines, automata, illuminated manuscripts, tablets—the stone variety, weapons, tools, elaborate masks, and more. There was a “restricted access” area where Mrs. Winsome said the testing of artifacts possessing unusual and extraordinary functions was conducted. When she noted Brian’s eyes widen, she chuckled and assured him there was no such activity on the grounds.

“We’re the custodians of these devices, but we don’t actually use them,” she said, her heels clicking on the smooth, seamless floor as they reached the end of the tour. “Some of these tools and devices have functions that might disrupt the very fabric of reality. As dramatic as that sounds, it could be true. Or it could all be a bunch of myths and legends.  Either ways, we must study these tools and devices until we are sure we know how they function and how to safely use them.”

Brian wondered how much the woman knew. Tora was right. When she warned Brian, she had told him that the corporation had somehow found out that Brian was using the MZN mechanism. It worked. Now they wanted it. At best, they were sincere, and merely wanted to contain it, and study it fully before someone tried to use it again.

Brian claimed that he was not the one in charge of the device. He was only a volunteer in a research study, and they would need to talk to Tora Taisho.

“Thank you, Mister Bicknell. We will. We just wanted to let you know, as a courtesy, that we’re in the process of acquiring the artifact from the university. In fact, we hope that Dr. Taisho will consider coming along with it and joining our team.”

Brian tried not to frown as he shook her hand.

***

Brian had called Tora that night and spent much of his time trying to comfort her.  She felt her project was being ripped away from her just when she had discovered something extraordinary. She had forgotten all about her research article and had started wildly brainstorming with Brian the many ways they might be able to help people just by glimpsing a few moments into the future. They had also talked about how to keep Brian’s morals and principles in check now that he was endowed with what was, in no uncertain terms, a superpower.

Tora had found nothing untoward in her first attempts at looking into the company and Mrs. Winsome. She had a feeling she would have no choice but to succumb to the move from the university to the company, if she wanted to keep studying the MZN mechanism.  They agreed to go into the lab early the next morning to devise a strategy.

Brian arrived first the next morning, so he was first to receive the shock. The laboratory had been broken into and trashed. He called out for Tora. He knew he shouldn’t disturb the scene, but he walked in far enough to see Tora’s office. It was equally upturned. Drawers pulled out. Papers and office supplies spilled over the desk and onto the floor. He spotted blood near one edge of the desk and panicked.

But then he heard her call his name. She walked in and found him. Each was relieved that the other wasn’t hurt, and each bewildered.

They called the police. The blood Brian had found was from a booby trap that Tora had set in a drawer where she kept her research notes for the day. The ones she hadn’t had time to copy and back up. The trap was vicious and very much outside school policy, but she had set it up after they discovered that the device actually worked. Brian knew about it. He had forgotten completely. All he’d seen was the blood. But the notes were safe. As was the MZN mechanism, which was kept in a vault in a different location. Tora checked on the device while Brian and a police officer stood guard.

Brian and Tora told the police about their respective visits from the company that was aiming to acquire the artifact they were studying. Maybe that corporation had hired someone to break in and find the artifact, in case the university denied their offer to acquire it legally. Tora only told the police that she had recently discovered that the artifact was far more valuable than first thought. In the beginning, the university didn’t want to cover the expense of giving the device a spot in their most secure vault. Tora had to fight for that privilege and protection. So as far as anyone but she and Brian were concerned, the device was not worth much. At least it wasn’t until last night.

***

After the police left and the crime scene investigators were finished, Brian and Tora set about cleaning up, and trying to figure out what to do about their new apparent dilemma. Tora threw out an idea. Brian could use the device and look back to the previous evening. He had never gone that far back, and he had never tried to see a moment in the past where he wasn’t present or that he couldn’t reach by “walking” his vision-self short distances. He hadn’t been in the lab when it was vandalized. But it was as good a time as any to try a new trick with the device. They retrieved it and managed to get it back to the lab, even though they felt as if every person they passed in the hallway might lunge at them and try to steal it. Brian wrapped it onto his wrist as soon as they were inside the lab.

As it turned out, Brian didn’t have to use special powers. An officer called Tora just as he was setting the device’s dial. They collected a fingerprint smeared in the blood that the culprit had left behind. He was in their database for prior thefts. They had already found and apprehended him. He had yet to be questioned, but the police would contact Tora again if they found out anything she needed to know.

“Yeah, like will they send others,” Tora quipped after hanging up.

“We need to look ahead now, don’t we?” Brian asked.

Tora answered with a thoughtful frown.

“Then I’ll need some food.”

***

They were waiting inside the laboratory when Brian and Tora returned with takeout, Brian still wearing the device. To most people it just looked like some kind of steampunk watch. Tora didn’t want to let it out of her sight.

Brian saw the regret on her face at her decision not to return the device to the vault when Mrs. Winsome and her two companions greeted them at the door to the laboratory. She noted the cuff on Brian’s wrist.

“I just learned about what happened here. I’m glad you’re both all right. And that the device is still in your keeping.”

“Really?” Tora said. “You’re playing innocent after your failed attempt to steal it from us? I hope that thief you hired is good at keeping quiet. He probably is, isn’t he? You’re too sophisticated an operation to get some easily intimidated goon…”

As Tora kept talking, Brian crossed his arms and tried to look angry and self-righteous as he triggered the Makriaziton mechanism. It was still set to look backward. He strained as far as he could and jumped to when Mrs. Winsome and her people were walking in. He strained as far as he could, walking his vision-self out into the empty hallway. He went to the building’s main entrance and watched Mrs. Winsome enter. He and Tora hadn’t been gone long. He could strain far enough back to see the white sedan arrive. He strained just a bit further and jumped back. It was strange to see someone else’s past, not just his own. He let the vision move forward. Mrs. Winsome and her people exited the sedan, walked in, and found out from the security guard that Dr. Taisho and her assistant had stepped out for lunch. The guard hadn’t been warned against letting those people enter. Brian followed them to the lab.

“Do you think he’s found them?” Mr. Gomez asked.

Mrs. Winsome shook her head. “If he hasn’t, it’s just a matter of time. We need to get them.”

Brian snapped back to the present and reeled just a bit.

Mrs. Winsome noted his discomfort. “Mister Bicknell, are you using that device right now?”

He quickly switched a lens, turned the dial, and triggered it again. This time he looked into the future for a few moments. Tora would call campus security, which would cause Mr. Gomez to lunge for Brian and the device. Mr. Imago would grab Tora. Mr. Gomez would overpower Brian and take the device from him. Or… Brian would surrender himself. He would be allowed to keep the device on so long as he cooperated and went with them. Tora would protest that the device did not belong to him.

Brian snapped back to the present. He fought off a spell of vertigo from jumping backward then forward. He held up his hands and took a lurching step toward Mrs. Winsome.

“So long as it stays on my wrist, I’ll come with you. We can work something out.”

Mrs. Winsome peered at him. He knew that she suspected he had used the device to see ahead. “That would be the wisest course of action,” she said.

As he had foreseen, Tora protested and she glared at him. Brian ignored her. He didn’t bother trying to give her a signal. She likely already knew that he was just trying to do his best, that they were no match for the people they were facing. She turned her glare toward Mrs. Winsome and insisted that the device was not Brian’s to give away. But Mrs. Winsome assured that her company would soon complete negotiations with the university, that the compensation for the MZN mechanism would include a large sum earmarked specifically for Tora to continue her research, on a different project of course. The deal would include “visitation rights” to learn how the research on the device was progressing after she handed the project off.  On the other hand, if she wished to leave the university, the offer to join the company was still open. Tora fell silent, just glaring and shaking her head.

***

Brian was allowed to drive his own vehicle. Mrs. Winsome and Mr. Imago gave him directions back to the warehouse/laboratory where they had taken him the other night. They would be following him. They also placed a tracking device on his car after he got in the driver’s seat. Mr. Imago stayed behind to help a stubborn Tora gather her research notes.

They allowed Brian to keep the device on, even though Mrs. Winsome must have suspected he would try to use it to escape. But then, Mr. Imago was still with Tora. Maybe they knew that Brian wouldn’t try anything if he thought Tora might get hurt. Still, if he could see far enough head, maybe he could figure something out. He set the device to look ahead.

He glanced at his rearview mirror and spotted the white sedan following him. He returned his gaze to the road ahead and pressed his brakes as a semi began to turn into his lane. The brakes weren’t responding. His turned his steering wheel, but it wasn’t responding either. A spike of fear pierced his gut.  His car was right alongside the trailer. He wasn’t slowing down fast enough. The truck was inches away.

Brian triggered the device.

His brakes had failed. His seatbelt would fail. He would go through the window.

Or…he would open the door and hang onto the car as it was struck by the semi. The car would roll over on him.

Or…he would leap like an Olympic diver. He would survive the crash, but he would have bruises, abrasions, broken bones. He would lie there dazed until he heard a voice telling him help was on the way.

Or…he would open the car door, stand on the threshold of the driver side seat, jump down and roll away. He would get lucky, barely a scratch on him if he jumped and rolled away as soon as he could.

Brian snapped back to the present. Terrified, he opened the driver side door and jumped out just as his car was struck.  He rolled and scrambled away. Somewhere at the corners of his conscious, he heard the horrendous crunch of the vehicles colliding, the metallic moan of his car tilting, and the crash of it falling onto its back. Stunned that he didn’t have worse than a few scrapes on his elbows and minor road rash on the knees of his pants, he rose.  His right shoulder felt bruised.

He reached for his right wrist. He adjusted the settings and triggered the device. He jumped backward. His steering and brakes had been working up until the point the truck started moving into his lane. He watched the truck driver, who was distracted and just didn’t see him. The man didn’t seem to have caused the accident maliciously.

Brian did something that he had not done before. Something that he and Tora had on their agenda for future trials. He adjusted the dials and slowed the event until the cars were moving slower than he could walk. He stepped toward the white sedan. He looked inside. Mrs. Winsome’s eyes were wide. She had her phone out. The display read “911.” Mr. Gomez was driving. He was frowning. He had a tight grip on the steering wheel. Brian looked around the car for any evidence of some remote control, something that might have triggered the malfunctions in his car.  But it didn’t make sense. He was giving them what they wanted. Unless…they wanted to kill him and take the device from him. But why would they risk any harm to it? Why had they let him keep it? It didn’t make sense.

He snapped back to the present time and his present position. Traffic had stopped. He checked on the truck driver, who was unhurt, but visibly shaken by the crash and by his relief at seeing Brian alive and well. Brian’s next thought was of Tora. The white sedan had pulled up, and Mrs. Winsome and Mr. Gomez were rushing toward Brian to see if he was okay. Mr. Gomez asked him why he didn’t brake or turn.

“You couldn’t, could you?” he said.

“We need to see if Tora is okay,” Brian said. “My phone was in the car—“

“I’m already calling,” Mrs. Winsome said, her phone to her ear.

“We need to go back.”

Mrs. Winsome nodded. “I’ll go. You need to stay here with Mr. Gomez until the police arrive.”

“I’ll come back. But we need make sure she’s okay.”

“Agreed.”

Mrs. Winsome took the keys from Mr. Gomez, who volunteered to explain when the police and paramedics arrived. Brian would likely still have something to answer for, but he wasn’t worried about that now. Mrs. Winsome managed to reach Mr. Imago, who said that he and Tora were fine. She explained what had just happened and asked him to guard Tora with his life.

***

As Mrs. Winsome drove, Brian triggered the device and looked ahead. In the vision, they were just pulling up to the laboratory building. He was calling Tora on Mrs. Winsome’s phone, but she wasn’t answering. There was a scene outside in the courtyard. There was a circle of people. Campus paramedics had responded. They were waiting for an ambulance. Someone had been shot.

Brian called out for Tora. She was there, crying. Mr. Imago had been shot. The paramedics were losing him. Tora didn’t know what happened. She didn’t hear anything. One minute, Mr. Imago was walking along with her. The next, he dropped, and Tora didn’t know what was happening until she saw blood and called for help.

Or…

Brian called out for Tora.  Mr. Imago pushed through the crowd of people.  He tried to tell Brian that Tora was down. She was already gone. Brian glanced around at the crowd, but he didn’t see anyone suspicious. He was in over his head. He wouldn’t know what to look for. He strained his sight, froze the moment, then rewound it. He was part of the event. The device, his vision, wanted to take him back to the car, but he strained against it. He felt himself split. Part of him walked backward to the white sedan. Another part of him, stayed and watched. He searched. And he found. He found the shooter. He studied the man, in case they were not able to catch him right away. He noted scars, tattoos, the cuff of a gray shirt peeking from under the black coveralls he wore. He tried to reach out for the rifle. But he couldn’t touch anything. He could only see. He wasn’t really there.

He snapped back to the present. His head stayed still, the world spun. A headache pulsed through the vertigo, and he couldn’t speak for a moment, but he wanted to tell Mrs. Winsome. She had already called Mr. Imago. Brian managed to tell what he saw.  Mrs. Winsome had been busy during his vision. She told him that she had deployed more of her private security.

Brian could barely stand when they reached the laboratory. There was no crowd gathered outside. He felt his eyes fill with tears. They were sore. His eyelids dragged. Mrs. Winsome’s security had arrived. They were swarming the area around the laboratory, searching for a man that fit the description Brian had given. They hadn’t found him where Brian said he’d seen him in his vision.

In the laboratory, Tora, no longer angry, but wide-eyed with worry and fear, rose up to meet Brian. She all but caught him when he staggered back into the lab. Mr. Imago had told her about the accident and how Brian had escaped by a hair’s breadth. Brian surprised himself by managing to stay conscious for the next part.

Mrs. Winsome sat them down and leveled with them.

“I had thought I knew who was coming after you,” she said. “But my…acquaintance would never try murder.”

There were others in the world who hunted such artifacts as the Makriaziton mechanism, artifacts capable of unusual and extraordinary functions. It was one such party who had trashed the lab. Maybe the same party, or another tampered with Brian’s car.  Maybe that same party tried to kill Tora for what she knew, or kill Mr. Imago so they could take Tora and learn what she knew.  Brian’s vision was not clear on who was the true target.

“Give us the device and walk away,” Mrs. Winsome said. “That might be the safest option.”

“But even then we might still be targets because we once touched it,” Tora said. “And we know how to use it.” The day’s events had sobered her. She no longer seemed rankled at the thought of the device passing into the hands of new keepers.

Mrs. Winsome nodded. “I fear that’s true. We do have resources that the university does not have, to protect you and the artifact. But we can’t promise to protect you from every threat if you continue to be involved.”

“I don’t think we have a choice in the matter,” Brian said. “We are involved.”

“We are the experts on the mechanism. We’ve taken responsibility for it.  We woke it.” Tora turned to Brian. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”

“I volunteered.”

“Not for this.”

“I think they were trying to test you and the device,” Mrs. Winsome said. “Whoever tampered with your car. They weren’t trying to kill you. That would be foolish if you were the only one who could use the device. It was a test. If you had died, well, it meant you or the device weren’t the real deal, or if you were, that you weren’t all that good at using the device. But surviving means that you are as valuable as the device.”

“If that’s true, it was a stupid test. There could have been no future where I survived the crash.”

“There are so many unknowns,” Tora said, gazing at the floor. “So many variables.”

Mrs. Winsome gave them a sympathetic smile. “You don’t have to figure them out on your own.”

***

That night, in Tora’s living room, with private security guards stationed outside, Brian and Tora sat on the couch, drinking tea. Brian’s right wrist was bare. He found himself twisting his left hand around it every so often. They had both agreed to work for Mrs. Winsome, with reservations.

“If only you could see far enough ahead to know if we made the right decision,” Tora said.

“We might foresee all the different outcomes and still not know what the best decision is.”  Brian stared down into his teacup.  “Sometimes, we just have to go with our guts.”

 

Copyright © 2017. Story by Nila L. Patel.  Artwork: “Crash Test” by Sanjay Patel.

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