A Fold in Time

By Richard Fife

I have never really thought of myself as a special person.  Really, I’m just another cog on the wheel, as I see it.  I pull the graveyard shift as a security guard at a local office building, I’ve had my fair share of failed romances, and I pay my taxes.  Just an average piece in the global scheme.  Shows what I know.

The day I met Katelyn could have been just like any other day.  Well, any other day that you come home from work to find a strange woman waiting for in your apartment.  I had just got home from yet another long night of surfing the Internet between rounds of the halls, and the lights in the hall outside of my apartment flickered.  I paused, looking up and down the hallway, almost expecting something strange to happen, but nothing did.  No, that waited until I walked inside and fumbled around for the light switch.

“I need to get off the graveyard shift,” I said to myself.  “It’s making me paranoid.”

“A little paranoia can be healthy, Thomas,” a woman’s voice said just as I managed to flip the switch.

I don’t know what stopped me from screaming, honestly.  Perhaps it was just how tired I was, or just the sheer oddness of the whole situation.  I still did manage to spin around and assume the deer-in-headlights look.  A woman was standing in the door to my kitchen as if she had every right to be there.  But for as casual as her stance was, her eyes might as well have been cold steel.

“Uh . . . who’re you?”  Hey, give me a break, graveyard shift, remember?

“Katelyn,” she said.  “And I need your help.”

“Um . . . no?”

She smiled–not that it touched her eyes–then walked over and sat down on my couch.  Just the way she moved seemed to make the light in the room shift, like she was a ghost drifting around, ready to haunt me.  She gestured for me to sit next to her.

“How about we make a deal, you and I,” she said.  “You listen to why I need your help and give me a chance to prove it, and if you still want to refuse, then I will leave and you’ll never see me again.”

I licked my lips and took a closer look at her.  She was just a hair’s breadth away from being pretty.  Her jaw was a little wide, and she was on that line between thin and scrawny, so much so that her green dress actually seemed to hang from her body.  Not that much of this mattered, but I just needed time to try and get my thoughts in order.  I mean, how often does a person have this kind of conversation?

I sat down, but in an arm chair well away from her.  Yeah, she hardly looked dangerous, but I have a scar on arm from a time I thought someone looked “harmless enough.”

“OK,” I said.  “Let’s hear it.”

She tilted her head and seemed to look at me as if I was some strange creature in the zoo.  The lights flickered again, just for a moment, then she leaned back and sighed.

“It can’t be helped,” she said softly–perhaps more to herself–then she spoke up.  “I’ll be frank.  I am a seer.  Do you know what that means?”

“That you pretend to see into the future.”  I had heard of the so-called seers, but more as science-fiction hoopla on the streets than anything serious.  I’d definitely never met anyone who claimed to be one.  They were supposed to be rather rare.

“If you insist.”  Her smile changed slightly to the kind of amused twist you might give a child who had said something funny without knowing it.  “I can see the possible futures.”

“Prove it,” I said.  “What am I about to do?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” she said.  “Even if it did, I can’t see your future at all.  That’s why I need you; no seer knows your future.  You’re a free radical against the machinations of fate.”

I laughed.  I mean, seriously, free radicals and machinations of fate?  This coming from a waif of a girl to a night watchman still in his rent-a-cop uniform.  “OK, sure, whatever you say.  So, what do you need me for?  Saving all of humanity, I’m sure.”

She kept the same bemused smile.  “The future is not fixed, Thomas.  I have seen thousands of possible futures, and they all cannot come to pass.  But, sometimes, there’s a future that will not be averted.  Seers call these folds in time, and for the most part we try not to think about them.  But tonight, there’s a fold that we must stop.”

“But you just said folds can’t be stopped,” I said.  “Oh wait, I guess that’s where I come in.”

“Perhaps,” she said.  “No one has ever tried to change a fold, but if anyone can, it would be a free radical.  You have the closest thing to free will, and who can say what will happen if you become involved.”

At this point, I can’t say why I didn’t just kick her out.  She was obviously tripping on some good drugs, or otherwise just plain nuts, but instead I said, “So, what’s this horrible thing?”

“A global plague,” she said.  “A research facility in this city, for whatever reason they do these things, has developed a virus that will wipe out humanity if it’s set loose.  Tonight, someone wants to set it free.”

I almost laughed, but something in her eyes stopped me.  “You’re serious, aren’t you?  You actually believe all this.”

“I never lie,” she said.

“You do need help,” I said.  “But from men in white coats, not me.  You’d best leave.”

She looked over towards the window almost wistfully.  “You should look outside.  In a few moments, a man in a suit is going to be hit by a taxi.  A woman in a blue blouse will jump out of the taxi and run over to the man, and a moment later a crowd will gather around them.  It will take exactly five minutes for the police to arrive, and another two minutes after that before they can start to disperse the crowd.”

I opened my mouth to tell her to leave again but stopped.  Outside, I heard tires screeching and people screaming.  I rushed to the window and looked down to the street, and sure enough, a man was crumbled a few feet in front of a cab.  The woman, blue blouse and all, was stooped next to him, and a crowd was already starting to gather.  I looked to my side and was not surprised to see Katelyn there.  She had a stopwatch in one hand.

“How’d you . . . ?”

“I told you,” she said.  “I can see the future.  It isn’t perfect, but some things are unavoidable.  A biological holocaust, for example?”

Police sirens started to sound from down the street, and I could only watch as the squad car pulled up.  I didn’t want to, but I made myself glance down at the stopwatch; it just passed five minutes.

“Say I help you,” I said.  “What do you expect me to do?”

“I’m not sure,” she said.  “As I said, I can’t see your future, or even the futures of those around you.  I need you near that virus, though, so we can try and change its future.”

Down below, the police officer had finally started to break up the onlookers.  The stopwatch tripped past seven minutes.  Something about the scene below drew my eye, though.  In the crowd, there was a woman–a slightly plump blond in a power suit–that seemed to stand out.  It took me a moment to realize that it was because she wasn’t looking at the ghastly scene before her, in fact she seemed to not even notice it.  No, her eyes were firmly locked on me.

Katelyn followed my gaze and cursed under her breath.  “And here I’d hoped that she hadn’t figured it out.”  She walked away from the window.  “Come on, we have to leave.”

I took a few steps away from the window but stopped.  “Wait, what?”

“That woman down there,” she said.  “She’s a seer too, and in particular not one that’s friendly to our cause.”

“Our cause?” I said.  “I never said I was going to help you.”

She paused and looked back at me, that same mysterious smile that didn’t touch her eyes firmly on her lips.  “Please, Thomas.  I can’t do this without you.  And even if you don’t help me, she’s found you now.”

“If I’m not helping you, why should I care if she’s found me?”

“Most seers don’t like free radicals,” she said.  “You don’t fit in our perfect vision of the world.  You have free will, and that scares a seer.  Most seers will kill a free radical soon as they can do it conveniently.”

Well, that hit me about like a hammer between the eyes.  I can’t say why I believed her, though.  “Guess I’m involved no matter what now, eh?”  She only looked at me.  I sighed.  “Fine, let’s go.”

“You lead the way,” she said.  “She won’t be able to follow us with her sight if you’re the one leading.”

I sighed again and walked over to her.  “For supposedly having free will, I can’t help but feel like I don’t have a choice.”

“Perhaps.”  Her smile was almost enough to make me scream.  “Lead on, my free radical.”

* * *

I can’t really say what was all going through my head while we walked.  Katelyn was about as talkative as a stone beyond saying that we needed to go more than just a few blocks.  So we took the subway downtown, and then I took us into the first breakfast joint I could find.  After all, I still hadn’t eaten since last night, and I figured the least this crazy woman could do was buy me breakfast.

I thanked the waitress for my pancakes and waited to speak until she walked away.  “So, are you going to tell me anything more or just sit there with that silly smile?”

“What do you want to know?”  She kept the smile.

“Well,” I said.  “How about telling me what’s up with this other seer?”

“Her name is Eliza,” she said.  “She’s part of a secret organization that uses seers to manipulate the future for their favor.”

“Of course.”  Seriously, I don’t know why I asked, I should have guessed.  “So, they have unmarked, black helicopters too, I’m sure.”

“I can appreciate that you’re having a hard time believing this,” she said.  “Honestly, when I first starting seeing, I did as well.  But, the sooner you accept it, the easier it will become.”

That sounded a whole lot like sit down and shut up to me.  “OK then, so if you are so powerful and can see the future, why were you surprised when you saw Eliza?  Shouldn’t you have known she would be there?”

“Seers can’t see other seers very well.”  Her voice was nothing short of a teacher explaining something to a very dim child.  At least she wasn’t smiling.  “It isn’t the complete blindness we have with free radicals, but it still makes it hard.  Her involvement is why we are even in the position we are in, actually.”

I sighed and sat my fork down.  “Alright, I’ll bite.  Why’s that?”

She smiled, imagine that.  “Folds in time are usually natural disasters, earthquakes or hurricanes.  But something so manmade–like a war, or this virus–is usually at least somewhat avoidable.  It never has the certainty of a fold to it.  This time it is, though, because a seer has involved herself.”

“So she wants the virus to be set loose?”  I scratched my head.  “Why the heck would she want that?”

“The seer has her reasons, I’m sure,” she said.  “I only see what happens, not why.”

I picked at my pancakes, even though I had lost my appetite.  “So, how are we supposed to stop her?”

“Sadly, killing Eliza probably isn’t an option,” she said.  “She typically has a few goons along with her.”

I sat my fork down and pushed the plate away.  The casualness of Katelyn’s voice was shocking.  “Kill her?”

“As I said, not really an option.”  She put a finger to her lip.  “At this point, it might not stop the fold, anyway.”

“Still,” I said.  “That’s all that’s stopping you?”

“If it will stop what she’s planning, why not?” she said.  “A few lives for the greater cause is hardly something to balk at.  I hate to say it Thomas.  I used to be a nurse, you know.  I want to save lives, not end them, but sometimes, there is no choice.”

“Just like the man who got hit by the cab,” I said.  “You knew that was going to happen, and I bet you could’ve stopped it, couldn’t have you?”

“It was more important that you believed me.”  She glanced away.  “I will do whatever it takes when it comes to this fold, even if it means my own life.  There is no other choice.”

I looked out the window.  “Just another cog on the wheel.”

She sighed and shook her head.  “Anyway, our best option is to try and get into the research lab where the virus is and deal with it directly.”

“Just the two of us?” I said.  “I’m going to guess that the security there is pretty tight.  Just because I’m a night watchman doesn’t mean I’m some sort of master thief too, you know.”

“It will not be tight to someone who can see the future,” she said.  “All security has gaps.  But, right now, I won’t be of much use.  Being near you clouds my vision in general.”

She stood, and I grabbed her wrist.  “Wait, you’re leaving?”

She smiled, and for once it actually touched her eyes.  “I like you.  It’s so refreshing to be around someone that . . . .”  She blushed and looked away.  “I won’t be able to see very well when I’m near you.  I need to clear my head and get a feeling for how tonight will go.  Do you know where the Megger-Tek Research building is on the north side of town?”

I let go of her wrist.  That was where I worked.  “I can find it.”

“Meet me a block south of there at seven.”  She bent down, kissed me on the cheek, then was gone.

* * *

Afterwards, I spent hours just walking around town, purposely taking turns at random.  It’s not everyday that you’re told you’re one of the few people on Earth with free will, much less that there’re those that wanted to kill you for it and that you’re also the last best chance for the human race to survive the night.  Yeah, it’s a bit to swallow.

What’s odd:  I actually found myself swallowing it.  Perhaps it was just being tired still, or . . . dang.  I’m sure trying to dodge the bullet, aren’t I?  Oh, I’m tired.  Oh, it’s just so strange.  Oh, Katelyn just freaked me out.  No, I was swallowing it.  Being a hero has a certain, I don’t know, appeal?  Yeah.

So I just walked around, mostly daydreaming about how the night would go.  I had a pretty puffed up imagination by the early evening.  I was in the middle of some crazy ninja fantasy around six o’clock and wondering around a shopping center when I noticed the lights flicker.  I didn’t think anything of it, turned a corner, and assumed the deer-in-headlights.

“You’re a hard man to find, Thomas.”  It was Eliza, standing with her arms crossed under her breasts and her hip cocked to one side like she was all that and a bag of chips.  Then again, the two rather large goons in black suits behind her helped.

I’m sure this is where I was supposed to spout some defiant line.  Heck, I’d imagined bumping into Eliza numerous times, but, well, that’s why it’s imagination, right?  No, I didn’t mouth off to her.  I didn’t charge in like some crazy long-coat from the action movies.  I turned and ran.

And I bumped right into two more goons in suits.  Of course.  I’d watched enough movies to know that was going to happen.  Perhaps they’d watched too many movies, too, because they really made no move as I whipped out my stun-gun.  There was some advantage to being a rent-a-cop and not having time to switch out of your uniform.

The guy on the left fell like the bag of bricks he was, and I managed to put him between me and the other goon as I ran.  That’s when one of them shot me.  Yeah, not really coming out like a good movie at all, and definitely not like my imagination.  It stung like no tomorrow, so I guessed it wasn’t all that bad.  Not to mention, I was so hopped up on adrenaline that I just kept running.

“Get him!” Eliza screamed.  “Kill him now!”

Well, at least I know that Katelyn was telling the truth about that, too.  I heard the goons running after me, and plenty of people screaming all the while.  I tried to blend into the sudden rush of people that were running and kept an eye out for a pharmacy.  Yeah, I may be a rent-a-cop, but I knew enough to know that I needed to take care of that wound fast.

I really have no clue how long it took me to find the drug store, and honestly, I’m surprised I was still moving when I stumbled in.  I took a brief trip by first aid and picked up some gauze and winding then went straight to the liquor aisle and found the strongest booze they had.  Know what’s really crazy, though?  The entire time, I was smiling.  Smiling!  I just got shot by goons and their evil–and I guess literal–witch of a boss, and I was smiling!  Maybe whatever Katelyn had was catching, or maybe I had just spent too much time daydreaming at work.  I got myself patched up as well as I could, left a twenty on the counter when the wide-eyed clerk couldn’t put two words together, and started to make my way to Megger-Tek.

* * *

Katelyn found me soon as I walked into the intersection.  Even in the late dusk light, I could tell she was smiling from across the street, although she seemed to have picked up a rather large knapsack while she was at it.  Or maybe I was imagining it, but it was a fair guess.  Even with my poor-man’s triage, my shoulder was killing me, and I was probably not all that far from fainting.  Adrenaline only takes you so far, I guess.

Katelyn crossed the street–yeah, she was smiling alright–and glanced at my shoulder.  “Trouble?”

“I ran into Eliza,” I said.  “I thought you said she wouldn’t be able to find me.”

“I said that?”  Katelyn crinkled her face as if she was trying to recall.  “No, I don’t think so.  I said we can’t see your future.  There is a trick to finding you, though.  How else do you think I did it?  We just follow the holes in the future that we cannot see.  Kind of like looking for that blind spot in your vision.”

“Great,” I said.  “Well–”

“Come with me and I’ll take care of that wound,” she said.

I blinked, not exactly sure what to say.  I was standing there with a bloody bandage wrapped around my shoulder, and she talked like she was going to kiss a skinned knee.  But, what choice did I have, right?  I mean, aside from going to a hospital, but that just didn’t seem like a good idea, all things considered.

I followed her into an alley and could only gape as she opened the knapsack and started to pull out clean rolls of bandages, some antibiotics and sterilizers.  She gestured for me to lay down, and I did.

“I thought you couldn’t see my future,” I said.  “How’d you know . . . ?”

“I can’t see your future,” she said.  “But I had a feeling these might come in use.  I figured you had met up with Eliza; the fold shook, but it’s still there.  It would’ve been better if you’d killed her.”

I gasped as she cut away the rough field-dressing and shreds of my shirt.  The wound didn’t looked all that bad, even for a deep groove through my shoulder where the bullet had grazed me.  I’d say it sure hurt enough to be a direct hit, though.

“I used to be a nurse in an emergency room.”  She sounded like she was talking to herself, so I just let her babble on.  “I figured it would be a good job for someone like me.  A seer, I thought, would do all sorts of good in the emergency room.  So many people die just because of bad timing, but it really didn’t matter.  I saw so much death, in both futures and reality.  Hold this.”

I reached over and held the bandage against my shoulder while she wrapped the strings tight.  “Is that why you’re trying to change this fold?  To finally do some good on a large scale?”

She tied the last knot on the dressing.  “Yes.”

I stood up and flexed my shoulder a bit.  It still hurt, but it felt quite a bit better.  “Right.  Shall we go save the world, then?”

Yeah, I can’t really believe I said that either, but on top of not sleeping since the day before, I now had massive blood loss working against me.  I’m going to ignore how much I’d bought into all that was going on.  Anyway, Katelyn just kept smiling and stood up.  When she did, the lights flickered.

“Yes, we shall.”

* * *

I’d like to say our break-in at Megger-Tek was spectacular, with all sorts of secret agent type maneuvers and crawling through ventilation ducts and the such.  But, well, yeah.  I used my access key to get into the building, something that didn’t even seem to faze Katelyn, and then we walked through otherwise empty halls.  Now, I’ll admit that we don’t keep the place under the highest surveillance, but we were walking through some of the tightest areas in the place like we belonged there.  We made our way to the top floor of the building without so much as seeing a guard’s shadow.

I held the door open for Katelyn at the top of the stairs.  “This is what you needed to get away from me for, isn’t it?”

“Knowing the future can be useful,” she said.  “Such as exactly when someone will be not be looking at the camera screens, or when the guards will be late on their rounds.”

“Except for someone who can’t be seen,” I said.  “Why can’t I help but feel like it was more important for you take me out of the equation than throw me in it?”

“Don’t be silly,” she said.  “You wouldn’t even be on shift for another five hours.  And I told you, I don’t lie.  I need you to change the fold.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but I had no idea what.  She had a point, but it still did not answer the question of coincidence.  Why Megger-Tek, and why me?  We walked up to a door with a rather impressive lock, and Katelyn stopped and turned to me.

“I don’t have a key to that,” I said.

She pulled a handgun out of her knapsack.  “While that would have been nice, I did not expect it.”  I took a step back, but she grasped the gun by the barrel and handed it to me.  “I just wanted to give you this.”

“I’ll need it?” I said.  Mind, not that I’m averse to guns, and I honestly would not have minded paying back whatever goon shot me, but it’s still a big jump from theory and fantasies to actually holding a gun.

“How should I know?”  She laughed slightly.  “But the future tends to change easier for those who have the force to change it.”

I took the gun reluctantly, checked to make sure the safety was on, and slipped it under my belt.  She gave me an odd look then turned to the door, where she punched in a code and opened it.  Come to think of it, she probably could have done that down at the first door too.  I shifted on my feet awkwardly and swayed a bit.

She glanced back at me before walking through the door.  “Just a little longer.”

I followed her, not quite registering what she said.  That was probably because my graze was still aching, and, well, you know the rest.  Inside, a lab full of beakers, work benches, and computers looked like any other.  On the far side of the room, a glass wall separated a large, steel cube with all sorts of hydraulics and tubes going to it.  I didn’t have to be able to see the future to know that was what we were after.

Katelyn walked over to the computer right next to the glass wall.  “Stand guard, Thomas.  I’ll see what I can do to here.”

I sighed but did not say anything.  Little good I seemed to be doing, and I again wondered at Katelyn’s real purpose.  So far she had yet to lie to me, though, and for as casually as she talked about killing people, I’m sure that if she really wanted to just keep me out of the way, she could have killed me several times over by now.  She certainly didn’t need me for getting into the building.

I looked up at a clock just as it flipped to seven, and the lights flickered.  I’m sure you know what that means, but of course, I don’t think I need to go through the litany of all that I’d gone through today to excuse myself from getting it instantly.  Fortunately, I was behind a rather tall rack of equipment when the door slammed open.  From where I was, I could see Katelyn turn around, and the sudden bloom of red on her right breast when the gunshot rang out.  The bullet went clean through, although when it hit the glass wall behind her, it did little more than leave a small, cobwebbed crack.  I ducked down and scooted back as Eliza walked up, a gun still leveled on Katelyn.

“You almost changed the fold, Katelyn,” Eliza said.  “I guess that free radical bled out after I shot him.  A shame, if he was here, your plan might have worked.”

I half smiled to myself–this was one of those fantasies–pulled my gun out, and stepped forward.  “I’m not so easy to kill as that.”  Yeah, I thought that up all on my own.

Now, this is the part where Eliza was supposed to gasp in shock, shout “No, you?” and drop her gun.  Instead, she turned around, not the least bit surprised, and aimed right at me.  For some odd reason, a puff of red mist came from her chest, and my ears suddenly hurt a little.  Now there was shock on her face, and I’d imagine the same as mine.  I lowered my gun and looked from one dying woman to the next in shock.  I at least had the small presence to glance around and notice that none of Eliza’s goons were around to avenge their boss, but it was a small, quiet thought somewhere in the back of my mind that was otherwise missing in action.

I rushed over to Katelyn, and she smiled at me.  “Just press enter, and it’s over.  Change the fold, Thomas.”

A small ways away, Eliza sightlessly stared at the ceiling, and her breath came in short, sharp bursts.  I stood up and walked over to the console.  All that was displayed was “Press enter to confirm.”  Talk about a leap of faith.  I glanced up at the virus containment room and pressed enter.

Alarms squealed, and the hydraulics shifted inside the room.  Behind me, Katelyn laughed:  a wheezy, wet sound.  I walked over to her, and she continued to smile.

“You did it, Thomas,” she said.  “Every path, every single stream through time, all said that I would fail, but you changed it.  You changed the fold.”

A robotic voice suddenly blared over the speakers.  “Warning, virus containment breached.  Possible external contamination.”  Katelyn continued to laugh, and I looked around in panic.

“What?  Katelyn, it’s not over.  Is there something else I can do?  We need to stop the virus!”

“No, Thomas,” she said.  “Eliza was trying to stop me, but you sidestepped that.  We did it.  We changed the fold.”

And for the second time, I felt like a hammer hit me between the eyes.  “You lied!  You said–”

“I don’t lie,” Katelyn said.  “I’ve seen so much death, so many futures where everyone died.  I just wanted to see it actually happen.  Just once.  Then it would never happen again.”

Katelyn shuddered and took her last breath.  Slowly, I stood and looked into the containment room.  Large vents were wide open in the ceiling, and the steel cube had opened itself.  How long, or would it even matter?  Katelyn had seen the future, knew what would happen.  I slumped down in a chair and stared at the cube.  I guess I had ended up being pretty important after all.  I now had the wonderful and singular honor of having ended the world.

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