The Boy who Shattered Time’, Mark D. Dunn

Illustrations © 2012 Cécile Matthey.



 [ Rats, © 2012 Cécile Matthey ] “All we’ve got is the word. Come on, brother, don’t turn your back.”

Malcolm had already turned his back to the man, rolled over on the plank cot to face the darkness of the Den.

Muffled screams echoed through the building.

Long ago, it was a hockey arena filled with bleachers and bright lights. The bleachers were gone now. The spectator’s bowl divided into levels on which were crammed hundreds of beds. On the floor, a plywood labyrinth wobbled in a grid of cells, with a cot against each wall.

It was safer on the street. Even with off-duty Orderlies prowling the alleys, drunk or revved on Prorotin, looking to settle a score from an earlier encounter. Only in winter was the Den preferable to the street. Although the snows of memory—toboggans, stick-armed beings rolled from snow—never came, winter still bit. More so with nowhere to sleep.

Only the Den on those nights.

Thank god for the Den when the puddles on the sidewalk are frozen.

Some desolates risked the fringe land on the edge of the city, the scrub brush where the desert begins. The place where absolutely no laws apply. Beyond government and community. But most kept to the alleys and carways within city limits. Better chances there.

Malcolm hovered on the doorsteps of communities, no matter what neighbourhood he found himself in. He was always outside.

He’d come to believe that people naturally gravitated toward civil order. Everywhere he went, he found people had settled into a largely cooperative mode of existence. Within the apparent chaos of the wasted city, small communities emerged, grew and quietly prospered. It was not what Malcolm had been trained to believe. For the first ten or so years of his adult life, Malcolm made life or death decisions based solely on his perceptions, which had been slanted and directed toward all the prejudices inherent in infinite variations in anyone.

On the streets, dodging animals and Orderlies, finding shelter in doorways and ravines, sometimes deep in the sewer, at times in the doorways of kind strangers, that was how Malcolm had lived these years. But on nights such as they’d been having, when chill clawed in the winds, all the cots were full and Malcolm came inside.

It was best to have no possessions when sleeping in the den. You never check out with what you brought in, and having too much put you at risk. Malcolm had only the clothes he wore and a notebook. The pencil he’d carried for months, worn down to a bullet, had been stolen the previous night. The thieves hadn’t found the book, which Malcolm kept in his armpit.

The digital revolution of the previous century had promised prosperity to all, just as the industrial revolution of the century before had promised the same unattainable goal. And for a time in the first decades of the newest millennium, it seemed the promise could be fulfilled. No one had thought to factor greed into the economic predictions, nor the dwindling energies of the biosphere. Someone had to pay the price for prosperity.

A rat tap-danced across the floor. Malcolm heard the sharp scramble of its claws growing louder like a missile in its approach. He saw the flinched shadow enter his cell and disappear beneath his cot, where it settled in the corner.

It would make a meal for someone, not for Malcolm. It had been almost ten years since he’d eaten meat. The rat must have sensed this. If Malcolm smelled of anything it would be popcorn and rice, and the greens he found growing in sidewalk cracks and on the sides of trees and buildings. Malcolm imagined that he and the rat had made a pact: Malcolm agreeing not to eat the rat, or trade the rat for food, or Prorotein, or whatever someone might trade for a rat, and the rat agreeing not to eat the eyes out of Malcolm’s sleeping head.

He spent fewer nights in the Den than most. Over the years, he’d developed an untested tolerance to the cold. Malcolm had stayed outside on nights so cold the buzzard drones were grounded. Malcolm on the corner, his long coat hiked to his ears, steam smoking off him like the mist from a waterfall, and no one else around. Only the wind moving past.

And he’d been fine.

He remembered warnings about staying awake when lost in winter. As a kid, he learned to make shelters out of sticks and snow, and how to stay awake when every cell of his body cried for sleep.

One night, not long after he’d gone off the books, Malcolm let himself fall sleep in the cold. He followed his mind into the snowdrift where thoughts dissolve into the shared dream. And, instead of dying, he awoke with the sun dancing red and green to the East, and the shadows of the buildings curling away, clutching toward him.

No matter where in the Den Malcolm bunked down, and how infrequent his stays, that rat found him.

“Hey, man. I know you’re listening,” the man continued. “I also know you’re a smart one. Everyone knows about you. You refused Construction. How can you deny us?”

In other times, the man might have spread the gospel of resistance with tracts and manifestos. During the digital boom, he might have blogged and texted—all those strange words, nouns to verbs and verbs to nouns—about the revolution. Now, as before, he had only his voice.

Through the daisy chain of distorted messages, word that a charge on the Central Office of TimeConstructCorp, just down the street from the Den, was in the works for the morning. It had been the case before that word was not always accurate. Once, Malcolm had stood outside the World Affairs Embassy waiting for The Queen God to arrive. Word had been wrong.

“Tomorrow, man. Fifty-thousand strong will stand against the Office. You gonna be there?”

He introduced himself as Lonny. Although Malcolm had seen him around, it was the first time the men had met. Certainly the first time they’d spoken.

“You’d better get your sleep then,” said Malcolm.

Then he turned to the darkness of the Den, listening to the screams, pretending to sleep. He heard the rat’s breath from beneath his pillow, beneath the cot.

“That’s okay, Malcolm,” Lonny said, his voice a sharp whisper that carried a distance through the old rink. “We’ll fight for you, anyway.”


A siren drilled the air. The creak of cots and the scramble of bodies shocked into wakefulness, all the swearing voices, were blasted mute by the siren. Morning. Even desolates without the ability to hear were shaken by the siren. When the siren went off, all anyone could do was race to the door, out into the streets. The sound of it shook a body to the cells. Only the dead, and there were several each morning, remained in their cots.

The sunlight scrubbed the sleep from Malcolm’s eyes. Lonny, his roommate from the night before, had followed him, talking and pointing as they ran together for the exit.

“It’s time. It’s time,” Lonny pointed across the street where several dozen people stood on the sidewalk in front of the Central Office.

The streets and buildings had been scrubbed and on every flat surface were identical posters.

“That doesn’t look good,” Lonny said.

A girl, born too late to have attended school, was pointing at the posters and asking everyone who passed to read it for her.

“What’s it say? What’s it say? Sir,” she asked Malcolm as he passed. “What’s it say?”

Malcolm read the poster aloud. “Conscription begins today.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Malcolm told her. “Won’t bother you in the least. You’re not old enough, and your guardians will be exempt.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

“Whoever it is that looks after you won’t have to go. Only adults without children are being called in.”

“People like us, I imagine,” said Lonny. “Hey, kid. You want to adopt me?”

The girl ran from the steps, down the street, and away.

If Construction was beginning a conscription drive, Malcolm would be among the first rounded up. He had been university educated. He’d shown an aptitude for math, a born engineer his proud instructors had said. But after graduation, Malcolm dropped from sight.

He’d been arrested half a dozen times for attempting to leave the continent. Once, he’d built his own boat. He was two days offshore when a Global Orderly craft spotted him. Another time, Malcolm tried to follow the maze of underground sewers to the coast. On the other four occasions, he’d simply walked until the Orderlies arrested him for wandering. With each arrest and subsequent trial, Malcolm was able to make a stand in the courts of logic.

Construction wanted him. Each time, they offered a clean record, riches, and threatened him with imprisonment if he declined. And each time, Malcolm successfully argued that he had the right to choose between service to Construction and the life of a desolate. That argument would no longer stand with conscription. Next time he was arrested, Malcolm would be sent in for training.

Orderlies were gathering in front of the Central Office of TimeConstructCorp. Word of the protest had filtered through. Word always did, even distorted and twisted into new, inaccurate forms.

Autocams filmed the crowd. Malcolm knew to avoid it. If he was seen there and recorded, his face identified, he’d be hauled in. His best bet: climb down a ravine until the excitement ended.

The mob expanded. Its mass attracted individual desolates like iron shavings to a magnetized wheel. Malcolm fought against the flow of bodies, most of whom were oblivious to where they were walking or why. They walked because others were walking, because there might be food at the other end of the long line.

Just as Malcolm became locked in the jam of bodies, the Orderlies arrived.

“Shit,” Malcolm said.


He was among the few to be spared.

The Crews were cleaning up, tagging the bodies of protestors for processing. Knots of limbs, contorted by nerve blasts, were tossed into the tank. They were no longer human, just carbon mass now. No more pain of hunger or fear of fate. Nothing more than fertilizer for the gardens.

Their bodies resembled the husks of dead spiders.

Malcolm and the few spared desolates were herded up the marble steps of the TimeConstructCorp building. Force gates deactivated to allow them entry.

A door slid open. Two orderlies waited on the other side. They led him through a maze of narrow halls and hidden doorways.

“Hello, Mr. Prouse,” said the man behind the front desk. “Glad you’ve finally come around. Welcome home. Welcome to TimeConstructCorp.”

The man’s name was Goldie. Before he joined Construction, Goldie had been an irrigation specialist and part-time history instructor at the university. Malcolm remembered the class.

In particular, he recalled one long debate about the siphoning of the Great Lakes, which Goldie railed against in favor of regenerative procedures. Most of the students supported the popular belief that the water systems of the world were too far gone for rejuvenation and that the only salvation lay in the exportation of freshwater from North America and Russia. Goldie held his own.

“Pouring freshwater into a desert only perpetuates the practice that brought about the drought,” Goldie had said.

Malcolm had admired the man then. But since that time, Goldie had given up his post at the university to work for TimeConstructCorp. Every time Malcolm attempted escape, it was Goldie who waved the golden lure. Malcolm also suspected that it had been Goldie, working on his behalf, who kept him out of jail.

“You are far too important, Mr. Prouse,” Goldie said to Malcolm from behind the desk at TimeConstructCorp, “to be allowed to waste away in the dens. In fact, this whole conscription thing is your doing, believe it or not. You can no longer run from your civic duties, young man.”


Entering the barracks, the trainees found tables containing more food than many had seen in their lives. But over the next few weeks, Malcolm refused to eat or drink. He spoke to no one. He kept his eyes closed most of the time and thought of Lonny, the man he’d just met, who might have become a friend if given more time, and of the little girl who was young enough to be his daughter, had he ever had children.

And yet, his hunger strike didn’t excuse him from training. Everyday, he was strapped to a chair, along with the other trainees. Circuit patches were taped to his skull, face, arms and scrotum.

Training could take up to three months, depending on the prior conditioning of the trainee. Malcolm knew he was reaching his breaking point. He hadn’t the physical energy to resist much longer. He decided to think of ways to kill himself.

During the sessions, he felt what he thought of as himself, his personality, dissolve away, leaving blank bone, a rack on which to hang a uniform, an ideology.


A blurred reel of audio burned through his ears. His eyes, rolled white, perceived the blossoming of galaxies, the revolution of planets, the dissolution of stars.

He heard a voice, metallic and still in the foreground:

“This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins...”

And then the voice of his old college teacher, Mr Goldie, mixed to harmony with his own, saying, “We all want to live in a world where children can chose their destinies, Mr. Prouse. Where Replay is just another of a multitude of career options. But this is not the world as it is. It is time for all of us to recognize our role in the world as it is...”

And the sound of his own voice, singing, although he never remembered singing, “This is how the world begins. This is how the world begins. This is how the world begins. This is how the world begins.”

And Mr Goldie, again: “Wouldn’t it be nice if smart people like you had a choice. They will one day, we promise. When you’ve completed your duties to humanity, after you’ve swung back, you’ll have every opportunity to do as you please. As for now, young man, it is time for you to serve.”

This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins...

“Think of the children, Mr. Prouse, born everyday in the den. The millions of desolates who won’t get the chance to serve, do it for them. Your mind is too precious to belong to one man. You belong to Construction.”

This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins...This is how the world begins...


One day Malcolm found himself eating the day’s meal in the cafeteria and talking about the beautiful opportunity Replay had given humanity. He no longer thought about killing himself.

Little lay ahead. Certainly there was nothing in the present but the dens and hunger. The past was his future.

But the question still nagged him: If the present and the imaginable future were dreary, how could constructing the past as it had always been change anything?


This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins... This is how the world begins...

The greatness of the species is behind it, Mr. Prouse...The only future is in the past...


It was good to see Goldie in front of a class again. Malcolm sat in the middle row, focusing on every word.

“Can you imagine the expressions on the faces of our great benefactors when they stepped into that world?”

Goldie was energized. His lectures on The First Swingback were always inspired.

“They opened their eyes, expecting to see the Great Pyramids of Giza, already under construction, but what did they see? Class? What did they see? Recite. Come on.”

“‘Nothing but hungry desert,’” the class intoned with controlled glee at having made Goldie wait for the answer.

“Exactly. Good. These are the words of Benefactor Alexander: “‘We opened our eyes slowly because the hot sun was upon our faces. Before us were no signs of construction. We charted the stars, and the measurements confirmed our position, but none of the villagers appeared to have considered the task. We were in an Egypt that did not resemble ancient Egypt.’”

“And how does Benefactor Alexander describe the villagers? Mr. Prouse?”

Malcolm began to formulate the answer a breath before Goldie had called on him. “Benefactor Alexander describes the villagers as unfocused, without drive or direction. I believe his words are: ‘They have no sense of history.’”

“And how does Benefactor Alexander remedy their ignorance?”

“He introduces a system of class, a hierarchical structure based on his own extensive knowledge of ancient Egyptian law and culture. In essence, Benefactor Alexander becomes the first Pharaoh.”

“Very good, Mr. Prouse.”


When Malcolm Prouse was in grade school, rumours of Replay spread through the playground like influenza.

Didja hear about the scientists who went back in time to Egypt and when they got there, there weren’t any pyramids? They’re still there. Right now. They’re building the pyramids.

The teachers refuted the rumours as nonsense.

And by the time Malcolm reached university, TimeConstructCorp was recruiting openly with building-sized billboards and electronic bulletins:

The Past Is Paved With Gold... We Have A Job Waiting For You, Yesterday... The Best And The Brightest Are Swingingback... The Future Is In The Past

...and on the advertisements ran. Offers of forgiven student loans to those who’d Swingback. The promise of riches and glory.

Five years’ service in Construction earned the participant a lifetime pension. What the advertisements neglected to mention was that five years in the Replay program aged the body by approximately thirty years. Most of the trainees in Malcolm’s class wouldn’t make it out. They’d die in Replay.

Fortunately for TimeConstructCorp, a waiting list two generations long was on hand, eager to sacrifice their lives to get out of the Den. With desperation like that, Construction would continue far into the future.

And now, after a lifetime of resistance, Malcolm was in.

“Are you ready, Mr. Prouse?” Goldie stood behind a glass wall. Beside him, technicians checked monitors.

The straps dug into Malcolm’s wrists and ankles. A band across his forehead held him still. The mouth guard kept him from complaining. He grunted assent and raised one thumb.

“Good. And good luck, Mr. Prouse.”

The straps were necessary to prevent Malcolm from writhing to the floor during the Swingback tremens. These were inevitable. Some convulsions were so severe as to leave the traveler a drooling wreck. Many travelers, more than anyone admitted, arrived dead, buried in the past somewhere.

As a matter of biochemistry, Malcolm was the perfect candidate. His body produced energen-A, the element necessary for Swingback, in such quantity that he did not require supplements. The only preparation, apart from the months of physical and psychological conditioning, was a shot of electrolytes. This was more precautionary, as electrolyte imbalance was certain after Swingback.

“In Five, Four, Three, Two, One...”

It begins as a dull ache in the center of his torso; as if his sternum had peeled away layer by layer to reveal red marrow. A sound sizzled up his neck into his ear. My brain’s on fire. Malcolm’s body begins to flap like a bellows, extends out with a breathy whine, crumples back, drained and withered. He bites through the rubber mouth-piece. Two fingers on his right hand snap from clenching, but this pain is nothing. My brain is burning. And he smells fire, smells singed hair, smells something darker, unspeakable. He remembers his life before Construction. A childhood in grass, by rivers, play-hunting through the woods with his brothers. His mother on a bench, knitting scarves through the summer. Winter will come, don’t let sunshine fool you. He remembers university, his class with Goldie. Hydrology 314. This is how the world begins, Mr. Prouse. Other memories: running from unseen danger, falling. Dreams. He is on the Pequod, Ahab’s foot kicks him down. That wasn’t me. I was the reader. No matter. He remembers the warm thump, the red-tinged darkness of the womb, the flow and beat of language before words. Faces. Faces. Too many to remember. All memories. Stars, remembered. The elastic stretch, his mind falling up into night. Comets. An electric squeal, like a guitar, the sound of his nerves frying.

“You awake? Brother, you awake?”

It hurt to breathe. All the necessary things hurt, Malcolm thought.


He raised his hand to his eyes. Even the dim light hurt them. His bones felt like wick inside his arm.

“Someone really messed you up? Who did this to you?”

The creaking of the cot beneath him brought Malcolm to his senses. The Den. It’s always the den. Through the dark, he heard screams, moans, and the wind outside tearing up the world.

“Did they take you, man?”

Malcolm said nothing but rolled to his side to face the darkness.

“...don’t turn your back... tomorrow, man... Fifty-thousand...”

As sleep blinded him, Malcolm saw a wheel of desolates thronging toward their deaths.

The siren shook him awake. Lonny in the cot beside him sat already, his hands cupped over his ears. “Let’s go!” he shouted.

Together, they left the den. Beating back the shock of sunlight, Malcolm saw that the Orderlies had been busy the previous night. Posters glistened like new skin on the crumbling walls.

A small girl pointed to a poster. “Are you going to tell me what it says?”

Malcolm read the poster aloud. “Shit,” he said.

Lonny pulled at his arm. “Come on, man. Everyone’s gathering. We’re marching on the office. Let’s go.”

Malcolm pulled away. “Lonny, no. Wait. There’s something.”


“I’ve been... this... all this... before.”

“You got the Day-Jah, that’s all.”

“No. More than that. You know how when we first met you said that I refused Construction?”

Lonny leaned away from Malcolm. “First met? Man, that was last night.”

“Okay. Last night. You said that I refused Construction, remember?”

“Yeah, I said it. Everyone knows you, man. You’re Malcolm Prouse, Construct’s darling. The one that got away.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think I did get away. Not exactly.”

“You’re crazy, man. Look,” Lonny pointed toward the square where people swirled like a galaxy cluster.

“The revolution is today.”

“Listen to me, Lonny. The revolution was yesterday, too. We have to get out of here.”

The girl near the wall had been listening, but seemed uninterested.

“This con-scrip-shun,” she said. “It’s really bad, yeah?”

Lonny and Malcolm looked at her. “Really bad,” said Malcolm.

“We should go to the safe place,” said the girl.

“What safe place? There’s no safe place,” Lonny saw the Orderlies approaching in formation, saw that the protest was a setup for extermination, another dream corrupted.

“There is, too. But I can’t tell you. I have to show you.”

She ran past them, back into the Den, covering her ears against the siren.

“It’s the place the angel showed me,” she shouted back to them.

“After you,” Malcolm said to Lonny, and they followed.

Running through the shrieking den was a little like running through fire, Malcolm imagined. Most of the residents had fled to cluster in the streets, a single, writhing target for the Orderlies’ guns. Other residents, overcome by the sirens, or knocked to the ground in the scramble, lay broken, their mouths twisted with inaudible screams, their hands clawing the air.

The girl led them into a plywood cubicle. She slid under one of the cots. She seemed to be wrestling with something. Her head appeared again and she pointed wildly at the space under the cot. Malcolm reached under. The grimy floor reminded him of the theatre he worked in during high school. Half expecting to find a set of car keys among unnamable clumps and clutter, Malcolm instead found a notch in the floor. The girl gestured with her hands: PULL.

The floor beneath the cot slid away and the girl hopped into the opening. Malcolm and Lonny followed after, each letting his feet dangle over the edge. Malcolm felt the girl’s small hands on his ankle guiding his foot to the rung of a ladder. In the opening, which was much like a sewer drain, a pit, the howl of the siren above was noticeably muted.

“Close the door,” the girl called up to Lonny.

Darkness then as the closed hatch severed them from the slim light of the Den.

“Where are we,” Malcolm said.

“Wait a minute,” said the girl.

She climbed down the ladder, making each rung sing, as if she could see in the dark. Below, her footsteps on concrete were more tentative and prodding. Malcolm heard the gasp of an orb light coming to life and saw the slow glow build until all three had to shield their eyes. The girl adjusted the orb.

“That’s better,” she said.

She held up the light, swinging it to fill the unwritten depths around them.

“We are underneath the city,” said the girl.

Malcolm looked down to see that he was only about three feet from the ground. He hopped down from the ladder.

The pathways underground were surprisingly clear of carnage. The rodents scuttling by and flying overhead seemed uninterested. It had been a long time since Malcolm had seen so many animals.

“How did you find this place?” Lonny had said little for the many minutes they’d been walking the tunnels.

“The angel showed it to me.”

“Where is this angel?” Malcolm walked closely behind the girl, and bumped into her every time she stopped to consider direction. What he’d thought was a natural instinct to protect the child, he realized, was actually a fear of being lost.

“A little space, please,” said the girl.

She carried the only light. Like it or not, she was in charge.

“Maybe the angel will come back,” she said. “If she comes back, I will introduce you, Malcolm.”

“You know my name.”

Without stopping and without looking up, the girl said, “Of course, I know your name. You taught me to read the poster the other time. Don’t you remember?”

“That was just an hour ago. When we met.”

“Yeah, we just met today again. I’m talking about the other time.”

“I think you all got the Day-Jah,” said Lonny. “Say, is there any food where we’re going.”

“There is food in cans and the angel brings bread sometimes. There’s also a shower. The water’s cold but you can drink it.”

“Sounds like heaven,” said Lonny.

“What’s your name?” Malcolm tapped a finger on the girl’s shoulder.

“Siobhan. My name is Siobhan. Do you think you can remember?”

The hallway ended at a large grey door behind which lay a vast room lit by small ventilation shafts that wormed up through concrete to the surface. Siobhan placed the orb into a holder mounted to the wall.

“The food is in there,” she pointed to an aluminum chest.

Lonny opened its top and smiled at what he saw. He began to rifle through the cans and boxes within.

“There’s drinking water in the jugs behind you,” she told him. “And more in those taps, but you have to let it run for a long time. It tastes funny if you don’t.”

“Tell me about the angel,” said Malcolm.

Siobhan unrolled a knotted blanket across a stack of pallets. She climbed up, covering her shoulders against the draft.

“After a while, we can turn on the heat,” she said.

Lonny and Malcolm looked at each other.

“Is there anything you don’t have down here?” said Lonny.

“No video. No broadcasts,” said Siobhan. “There’s no way to know what’s going on up there.” She held her index finger to the ceiling.

“Tell me about the angel,” Malcolm asked again.

Siobhan sighed. “I don’t know anything about her. She shows up sometimes. Brings me food and other things. She’s not really an angel. I just call her that. You’ll think she is, the way she walks out from the light, and all the things she knows. She saved my life, brought me down here. She told me to find you.”

Lonny dropped a can of green beans which rolled across the floor to Malcolm’s feet.

“She knows me?”

“She told me to find Malcolm Prouse. You are Malcolm Prouse, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” said Malcolm.

“See, brother. I told you you’re famous,” Lonny said.

“I didn’t know who she meant at first. I had to ask her and she said you were the guy who reads the poster to me on the day the soldiers kill everyone.”

“I remember some of it,” said Malcolm. “I remember meeting Lonny. Not last night, but before.”

“You don’t remember me, though?” said Siobhan.

“I’m sorry. I don’t.”

“It takes time. I remember parts of it. Three times, you came out of the Den and read the poster to me. That is why I knew what it said this morning. I remembered that bit from the other times.”

“Wait. Why can’t I remember any of this?” Lonny said through a mouthful of canned meat.

“Because sometimes you’re dead,” said Siobhan.

Lonny stopped chewing.

“Kid’s crazy,” he said. “Been down in this hole too long if you ask me.” Lonny went back to eating.

His companions were asleep when the wall opposite Malcolm began to glow. Slight vibrations wafted against him as an unfelt breeze.

“Siobhan,” he called. “Little girl, your angel is here.”

Siobhan called from her bed. “Cover your eyes. It’s going to get bright.”

Malcolm and Lonny shielded their eyes with their hands. In the shade between his fingers, Malcolm saw what looked like a human shadow walk out from the wall. The light dimmed to what Malcolm recognized as a cathode glow. In the centre of the dimly glowing patch stood a woman in technician-white, her hair combed up beneath a starched hat. She looked more like a doctor than an angel.

“Good work, Siobhan. You remembered this time,” said the angel/doctor. “Mr Prouse, there isn’t much time. You have to stay away from the machine this time.”

“The what?”

“The machine.”

“What machine?”

“You don’t remember the machine?” she seemed to be angry.

“I remember many machines. Can you narrow it down a bit for me?”

“The machine they use to tap your Energen-A.”

“My what?” It had been years since Malcolm thought about Energen-A. He remembered the hospital room. The tests the doctors ran, finally coming up with a diagnosis of hyper-thyroidism brought on by unusually high concentrations of a compound called Energen-A. There was no cure, only chemical supplements to quell the accelerated production. And, as far as anyone could tell at the time, there was no danger in having high levels of Energen-A.

Later, it became apparent that being so endowed made one a target for the time-flipping militant-corporate types.

She was fading. Her voice was choppy and he could see through her, faintly.

“Take this,” she said. “I need...”

She held out a cylinder. Malcolm reached for it and in the moment they both held it, like relay runners tagging off, Malcolm was fully in the hospital laboratory, and she within the cavern. Each was real and whole to the other.

Lonny and young Siobhan saw Malcolm and the angel wink out and grow dim, with broad bands of darkness running across their bodies, as if they were tuned into a sympathetic frequency.

“Do you know who I am?” said the doctor.

Malcolm peered through the blurred air. Around him, two scenes were imposed upon each other like onion skin pages etched with line drawings. Ignoring the cavern under the city, Malcolm saw a hospital room with a large window overlooking a river. He recognized the view. In his fever, during those months hovering between the cold place and the world he shared with his mother, father, and schoolmates, Malcolm had stared through that window, memorizing every detail. That window told him when he was awake.

“Do you remember? You spent two days here,” said the doctor. “Many times.”

“You were there,” said Malcolm.

“I am here. So are you.”


“Now and then. I was a doctor on the floor where you stayed. You have to believe and trust me, Malcolm.”

Her eyes, brown with wild flecks of orange, stared into him without blinking.

“Take this,” she said. “The link is closing. We will need your blood.”

She let go of the cylinder and Malcolm snapped back to the cavern. The doctor disappeared into the wall.

“That was cool,” said Siobhan. “You almost passed through to where she is. What was it like?”

“Scary,” said Malcolm.

Inside the canister was a syringe filled with a green liquid. A note inside read,

Malcolm, I will return to this place when I can. Before you attempt to cross over, you need to inject this substance. It will amplify the Energen-A in you and allow you to pass through to where I am. Something went wrong when you were a boy. Everything is not as it should be. Time is broken. You must trust me. This serum will not harm you. It has been formulated from your DNA.

What had happened in the hospital? None of his memories were set. They changed, squirmed around the more he concentrated. His memories were influenced by everything he’d experienced since that time. Multiple memories, overlapped, vibrating in and out of focus. Sometimes, recalling an event from his childhood, Malcolm wondered if it hadn’t happened to someone else.

He was not convinced of it. But she was here again—if not in a strictly physical way—from the past.

Letter was signed with an “S.”

Lonny reclined in near delirium. His head swam from what he’d just seen. Unable to process it all, he concentrated on the discomfort of his body.

“I think I ate too much,” he said.

When no one answered, he decided to change topics from his extended stomach to matters more at hand.

“The time travel stuff is bunk, if you ask me,” he said, aware that no one had asked him. “I don’t think it exists. Swingback, Replay, Construction, whatever you want to call it. I think it’s just a story to keep people off balance. Everything’s gone to shit, and no one’s doing a thing to change it. Everyone’s so eager to qualify for Construction. I’ve known tons of people who made it into the program. They never come back. There’s lots of talk about them. They’ve retired to an island somewhere in the Pacific. We’ve all seen the advertisements. But I think they’re all just gone, out of the way, forgotten.”

“What about the woman?” said Siobhan. “She’s from the future. I know she is.”

She looked to Malcolm for support. “She may be from another time,” he said. “But I think she’s from the past, my past. That room where I went—partially went—is a hospital room I was in as a child. Your angel is a doctor in the hospital when I was a boy. Twenty-five, no, thirty years ago.”

“From the past?” said Siobhan. “But how come she knows about things that haven’t happened. She warned me about the soldiers who come to kill everyone. She told me about you and where you’d be standing. How could she know that?”

Malcolm looked at the letter in his hand. “I’m not sure.”

“What was wrong with you when you were a kid?” Lonny asked.

“I had a fever so high I was hallucinating. I saw people who weren’t there. I remember slipping away into a sort of dream.”

It was the cold he remembered, the draw of an undefined chill. His body convulsed with it. When the fever broke, his natural sensitivity to the cold evaporated with it. The fever had burned away that vulnerability.

That was the first time he’d heard of Energen-A. The doctors explained the fever, and his remarkable recovery, as being byproducts of his unusually high levels of the compound. They took much from him then, vials of blood, tissue samples. They tapped his spine and extracted its fluid. And never explained what they were doing beyond to say that he was unique, and that these tests might help other people.

He held the syringe. The canister contained instructions for injection, along with medicated swabs, clean gauze and bandages.

There was no way of knowing when she might return. There was a boy in the room with her, in the bed. He was sure of it. Could he have just seen his ten-year old self? Perhaps. Replay was a strange thing, but a strange thing that most people—apart from conspiracy theorists, wingnuts like Lonny—believed in. So, why couldn’t the boy in the bed be him, and his own shadowy form a manifestation that haunted him years before?

He tied a shoelace around his upper arm as the diagrammed instructions showed. Tapping his finger against the blue veins, he squeezed his fist to increase the pressure. Then, after swabbing the area, he poked the needle through his skin, and missed the vein altogether. He tried again, making another hole in his skin. This time, the needle grazed the vein. It popped away like a worm from a hook.

He looked up to see Siobhan watching him.

“Let me help you,” she said.

She climbed down from the pile of wooden skids and took the needle from him.

“Like this,” Siobhan said, and slid the needle into the vein channel. She squeezed the plunger, placed a cotton ball where the shaft met his flesh, and slowly removed the needle.

“You can untie now,” she said.

“Where did you learn to do this?” Malcolm asked her.

“My mother was a lab technician. She used to practice on me.”

“She gave you needles for practice?”

“No, I mean, I gave her needles. Vitamins. She was on all kinds of weird diets.”

“Where is your mother?”

“I don’t know.”

Nor did she know why she felt compelled to lie. It didn’t matter if this man knew that her mother was cranker, that the injections Siobhan gave her were the drugs that kept her calm, the drugs she’d do anything to get, but trusted only her eight-year old daughter to inject.

“She left a couple of years ago.”

Two hours later the wound on his arm was still bleeding, although not much. Siobhan kept apologizing.

“It’s not your fault. I’ve always had clotting problems. Besides, I think the hole you made has pretty much healed up. The jabs and stabs I made are causing the problem.”

She seemed satisfied with this explanation and Malcolm was happy he could bring her some peace.

Malcolm had expected a reaction to the green serum. Besides a mild thirst, he felt fine.

The wall began to shiver and the air before him unfolded like the petals of a solar sail and locked into a glittering mass, a woven band of silver around the Woman in Room 227. Malcolm remembered more upon seeing her a second (or was it a third?) time. A file of image and sound unlocked in his mind as his sense of memory returned in a single unit, one dark hallway opening into light.

No one in the cavern was surprised to see a ring erupt in empty space. Malcolm had dreams like that. When the cold fever of the fifth dilation shook him. He smashed his head into the pillow, arching his belly into the air as if strung up by the navel. The strongest one yet.

She kept the other doctors away from this patient. A boy, eight years old next Tuesday, he said. If he lived. He’d been in for a few days with a hibernal core temperature, no fever. And he’d come from nowhere. The room had been empty. Then the boy was there.

All this night she’d been in the room. Whatever it was that he had, she had it too.

She discovered the cloud of heat around the boy when her gloves began to melt. Shortly after, she felt her body temperature rise. They were quick to seal her in the room with him. Another reason not to call in other doctors unless absolutely necessary—there was no need for anyone else to come in contact with the dilation.

The current theory held that the fever, whatever it may be, became contagious only in its fourth dilation, which Dr. Ringrose had witnessed. She’d reached to brush the wet ropes of his bangs from his eyes and felt the hair on her arms begin to curl. Dr. Ringrose pulled herself away and peeled the gloves from her hands. A heat rash. On her arms. Likely on her cheek too. The kid is radioactive. Why didn’t anyone mention the kid could be radioactive?

A Geiger counter clucked in the corner of the room now, but had shown only trace levels of radioactivity. The boy had passed through two more dilations and the counter needle hadn’t budged.

She was not feeling well, and had been experiencing hallucinations.

“You doing alright, Von?” It was Terry’s voice through the intercom. “You look like you were gonna fall over there for a moment.”

“Had a big bounce. Had a big bounce,” said Ringrose. “I might be calling for a bed soon. Not yet, please. I’m just saying that a bed could be prepared for me. Patient has variable lucidity. How are his vitals?”

“We’ll watch his vitals from out here. Monitor his physiology, Dr. Ringrose. His temperature fluctuates hibernal to steam bath. Heart, pulse, blood chemistry all good. Just very slow. Von, let me ask you. Have you heard of Energen-A?”

“I read about it. The Chrononaut’s Gene it was called.”

“You got it. So does the boy.”

“I didn’t know it was contagious.”

“It’s not. It’s congenital. And you both have it. They are about two hours away from lifting the quarantine, but you didn’t hear that from me,” said Terry, signing off.

“You hear that, Malcolm. We’re both genetic marvels.”

The chromosome known as Energen-A was discovered years ago. About one in a thousand carried it. While there were no known dangers to possessing the chromosome it had been observed that carriers were more susceptible to chronologic delirium, a condition popularly, and shamelessly, called Deja Flu. It was one of the ways government and corporate entities had been able to enlist thousands of people into serving in the Construct scam during the early part of the century.

I am getting colder, she thought. Cold but not uncomfortable, and in no danger of freezing. The tremors and hallucinations were the most troubling part of the experience. The boy’s third dilation had activated the dormant Energen-A in her. This delayed contraction was beneficial from an evolutionary point of view. It allowed the hosts alternating periods of lucidity. While one dreamed, the other watched. In that way, both survived, with the lucid one helping the one in dilation. Alternating nursemaids, so to speak.

She’d lost count of her convulsions. Dilation One, Three? She didn’t know. Not as advanced as the boy, for certain.

In the last bump she saw the girl again, talking with the man on the steps of the hockey arena. A memory relived, or Replayed, as the phenomenon had been called when she was younger.

She remembered her entire life. Forty years seen in a crisper light than she’d known while living it. How could her memories be clearer than the present? The man who they said disappeared in time, Malcolm Prouse the Chrononaut, had read her the poster just before the guns began. The man pushed against the crowd, tried to reach her but was dragged into the stone building. The girl ran without considering direction, just darted into any opening in the crowd and somehow made it to the fountain, ornate bronze warhorse rearing up in the center of a circular pond. She sat on the ledge and cried until the angel came, and told her where to find the cavern. For years after, she would dream of that moment, or dream similar scenes: a girl at a well, or a lake, in a safe place underground.

And now the memories, more defined than the present moment, turned over in her mind.

Her older self was here, beside the boy, talking with the man the boy would become, eventually, long ago.

How many places could she be in at once? She called for a bed.

That was the first time the boy appeared, relived a thousand times perhaps. Now she remembered the serum. Alter the boy’s chemistry to bring the man through. There was a chance.

He was standing in the hospital room. It wasn’t a dream, a vision. He was there, his feet on the white linoleum. In the bed, the boy he’d been convulsed and flung the sheets wildly over the side rails. The boy moaned. Malcolm’s arm ached from the injection.

“What was it you gave me?” he asked the doctor, who was curled on her side on a hospital gurney.

“It was an enhancement. It won’t last long. Soon you’ll be zipped off. Back there,” she said.

Even as she said it, she didn’t quite believe that the man from her dream, the man on the steps of the hockey arena, was standing here in the room.

“It was you. You stepped through the air and gave me the syringe. Told me it would help bring me through. Why?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s something I did before.”

A voice barked from an intercom. “What’s going on in there? Von, are you okay? Where’d this guy come from? Security’s on the way.”

“Wait,” said Dr. Siobhan Ringrose. “We need his blood. The man’s blood. We need the aged sample to give the boy.”

Terry’s voice crackled through the intercom, “Von, you’re not making sense. Who is that man?”

“He’s Malcolm Prouse,” she said.

The boy looked up from the bed. “That’s my name,” he said.

“You’re both Malcolm Prouse,” said Dr Ringrose. “And you’re both in the wrong time.

All his life, Malcolm had endured a feeling of mild boredom. From a young age, he was convinced he’d seen it all, although he’d really seen nothing of the world. His parents suspected that the fever, and his disappearance from hospital, had left him somehow jaded. He remembered nothing of the days after he wandered off from the hospital. At first, the Prouses suspected kidnapping, but security cameras showed that he hadn’t left the hospital room. When he turned up in bed a few days later, seemingly unharmed, everyone just assumed he’d sneaked off, hid somewhere in the hospital, and had somehow found the blind spots in every security camera throughout the complex. Either way, they were happy he’d returned.

The fever faded, but Malcolm never recovered. From that point on, he was a different child: easily confused, always distracted, and uninterested in what went on around him. For years after the illness, he talked about his hallucinations as if they’d been real. There were people, he said, in the room with him. A doctor who brought in a bed so she could stay with him, and another who talked through a box in the wall. None of these people resembled the staff Mr. and Mrs. Prouse had met. He also described the waterfront, the view from the south side of the hospital. Out there, the river slipped by as always, but he could see only parts of it. Houses and condo buildings blocked the view. Two days before, nothing was cluttered along the shoreline.

Standing in the hospital room, Dr. Ringrose in the bed before him, his younger self in the other bed, Malcolm felt a sensation he’d not known since before the fever. He had no idea what would come next. Nothing was familiar anymore. His heart knocked in his chest.

“Give my blood to this boy?”

“It’s the only way to set it right. To stop it from happening. To stop him from coming here, and from all those people dying. None of that had to happen. The massacre. It didn’t have to happen.”

Terry had entered the room. “Von, you’re making no sense. What massacre?”

“The massacre at Time Corp.”

“You’re talking ancient history, Von. Thirty years? Something like that. What about it?”

“It didn’t have to happen. None of it. Take his blood and give it to the boy.”

Terry walked back to the outer room. Siobhan stood from the bed.

“Help me,” she said to Malcolm who took her arm, cradling her elbow. “Your blood as it is now will quell the fever that brought him here. You’ve built immunity to the dilations. That is why you’ve never slipped away again. Only through that machine.”

She sat limply on the bed with the younger Malcolm.

“Block the door with that chair,” she said.

Malcolm dragged the chair to the door and wedged its back under the handle, kicking the legs to secure it.

“Hey,” Terry called from the other room. “Siobhan, don’t do it. We have no information on these patients.” Then said into a telephone, “I thought security was coming. Dr. Ringrose is about to perform an untested transfusion on Patient X with blood from an unknown donor. They’ve secured the door. I can’t get in.”

Malcolm brought Siobhan the needle she asked for.

“This is the second time today you’ve given me a needle,” he said, thinking that he understood at last.

“For you maybe. It’s been thirty years for me,” said the doctor.

“Will this hurt?” said young Malcolm.

 [ Needle, © 2012 Cécile Matthey ] “Not at all,” Siobhan said. “It’s a dream, Malcolm. You’ll wake up soon. And everything will be different this time. No machine, no den, no conscription.”

Malcolm turned his head away from the needle. It wouldn’t hurt as much if he didn’t watch. One needn’t see everything to know it was happening.

Outside, the river slid past houses that were not there, through a park that had been swampland just a few days before. The water was low, and the sky was a rusted grey with no clouds at all.

© 2012 Mark D. Dunn

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