Thaddeus Xyank had spent the last thirty minutes reading up on the theory behind Type B XACTS and studying the blueprints. Once in a while he'd silently shaken his head, and there'd been muttering aplenty, but overall he was pleased with the work he hadn't done yet. He had resolved to not put that memetic trigger in. He knew it was pointless, because he would and he had, but he felt it was important to at least stand up to yourself sometimes.
When dealing with temporal anomalies on a professional level, at some point you just stopped trying to wrap your head around it, and started accepting things that made no sense whatsoever. Mostly because you felt they were probably going to make sense at some point in the future.
"I have no idea why all nine of them got activated at the same time, Dr. Xyank. From what I can see, 00315-XK-001 only calls for three of them to be active at any one time."
Simone van Oldenburg, one of his most gifted field engineers, squinted as she tried to make sense of the log she was reading. At only 24, she'd managed to become one of the Foundation's experts on Temporal Distortion Mechanics, second only to Xyank. Well, if she was completely honest, she had to admit Attie Anastasakos could kick her ass at temporal trivia too. She didn't like to admit it though, especially not to herself.
"I don't even know why these things were installed around Seattle in the first place," Simone muttered, "They're not even a thing yet."
Thaddeus pursed his lips. "Actually, they will be and they are. And they're not. I'll bring you up to speed in a moment. But you're right, three of these Type B XACTS should have activated. Nine of them did. And that…presents us with a bit of a problem."
Simone made a sound that held the middle ground between a sigh and a cough. "I would say so, yes. I'd hate to be in there right now. I just hope we find a way to disable six of these babies without…"
Thaddeus finished the sentence for her: "…removing the city of Seattle from existence."
The two of them stared silently at the continually shifting skyline in the distance. They watched the Space Needle flicker in and out of existence as one XACTS-induced temporal stasis field fought for control with the other two. It was going to be a long day.
George Alan Gimbell had a lot on his plate. The 57-year-old business man had started the day fighting with his wife over the ever-growing stack of bills and the ever-dwindling amount of money coming in. Then, just as he'd gotten up to go have lunch, a call had come through from his distributor; they were filing for bankruptcy and that left Gimbell's Feline Fashion in a lurch. And to top all of that off, he was now trying to keep a straight head as the deli he was in seemed to simultaneously be a barbershop, some sort of futuristic oil refinery or something, and just that: the deli where he'd taken his lunch for the last seven years.
His last coherent memory was of trying to shut the world out as he took a bite of his freshly made BLT on rye. And then suddenly there were so many things at once. It was like someone had triple-exposed a roll of film, with the images continually fighting for dominance. The BLT had lost all taste, and George dropped it to the floor.
He breathed heavily and tried to remember his own name, but it refused to come to him, even when he took out his driver's license. The man staring back at him did not ring any bells, and he panicked. Looking around for help from those around him, George found out it wasn't just him.
The young man behind the counter was slumped over the espresso machine, a glassy look in his eyes. He was mouthing something, but George couldn't make out what it was. To his left was a group of college students, their laptops still open on the table. The kids themselves were spread on the floor, having flopped from their seats only moments before. They looked like goldfish removed from their bowl, their mouths opening and closing without sound.
George couldn't look at them for too long; he couldn't look at anything too long. Whatever he focused on tried to inform him that it wasn't there. And then it was. And then it wasn't. Or might be, who knew.
He closed his eyes and got up. His senses were telling him he was standing on tiles, and smooth, poured concrete, and wood flooring. The stimuli were confusing on so many levels that he could feel his mind trying to shut down, as if it was opting for a coma instead of being subjected to this mockery of reality.
All he could think of was getting home to his wife, and telling her that he was going to get a normal job. That he'd sell the company and flip burgers if it meant having her beside him. Truth be told, there never had been much money to be made selling swimsuits for cats, but he was a proud man. Too proud.
He tried to fight the drowsy feeling washing over him, but when you were, and you weren't, and you might be, you really had no chance in seven hells.
George felt the side of his face hit the deli's floor, and then he was drifting off to sleep with the smell of sandwiches and kerosene in his nose, and his skin itching from the hair on the floor.
"So tell me, Simone. Do we have any idea which of these nine XACTS are linked together, and what they're temporally anchored to?"
Xyank took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
"Not yet, not for all three of those configurations at least. I've isolated one of them though. It's this one, the one on the Tolt-MacDonald Campground, and the one in the Puget Sound. Seems to be fixed on early spring, first decade of the twentieth century. Can't pin it down it any more accurately right now, sorry."
"That's alright. One down, two to go. Think you can manage those?"
Thaddeus felt his eyes burn.
"Actually, no. This is like trying to scrape one layer of super glue off of another, times three. I did get a message I'm sending in a few years time with a brute-forced hash to this set's temporal actuator connection IDs, but nothing for the other three. I don't really know what that means, but I don't like it one bit. I really need your help on this, Thaddeus."
If there was one thing that Thaddeus Xyank knew, it was that when the people under his direction used his first name, they were lost.
"Alright," he said and rolled up his sleeves, "We're going to need to assume that we break the other two right here and now. It's either that or we assume Seattle is lost, and I'll be damned if we let an entire city go down on my watch. Simone, I need pen, some paper and your laptop. And god help me if I find more of that crap on there."
Simone raised an eyebrow and huffed, but handed over the laptop to her superior, taking care not to cross the cables attached to its various ports.
"You might not like it, Dr. Xyank, but I enjoy reading all publications on temporal displacement theory, even if they directly contradict yours. But fine, delete the lot. I know where to find them again."
Thaddeus glared at her.
Kevin sat in the exact center of a bench in Mineral Springs Park and stared off into the distance. He was vaguely aware of a voice calling to him from somewhere, but it kind of got lost in all the other sensory input vying for his attention. He had no idea where he was. The park, obviously. But it also seemed to be a fireplace with a fire burning in it at the moment. And for some reason, a pig pen.
He tried to focus and looked down at the laptop resting lopsided on his legs.
315 closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Listen to me, Kevin. You need to keep moving. Sitting down will only make things worse."
"But I'm tired," Kevin said, and he was. He could feel his body rapidly draining of energy, and with every passing second he was becoming more confused about where and who he was.
315 paused a few seconds before speaking again, "I know you are, Kevin, but I mean it when you say you need to keep moving."
"Why? Why do I need to keep moving? Why can't I just sleep?"
315's tone seemed to change ever so slightly, but between the weird disconnection from reality Kevin was feeling, and the fog clouding his brain, he couldn't figure out exactly how it had changed, or into what.
"Because, Kevin, if you don't keep moving, there might not be anywhere to move to."
"What a wonderful understatement, Kevin. Now would you please pick up this laptop and make your way out of this park. And watch out for the…never mind."
"Nothing, just get moving, Kevin."
Kevin's shoes and pants were on fire, but they weren't. Once.