Foresight: Book 3 in the Timesplash series
Ice-cold rain slapped at Jay Kennedy as he juggled bags, coat, and umbrella out of the cab and stepped quickly across the pavement into the foyer of his apartment building. The building greeted him and called the lift. It was after nine on a Tuesday evening and no-one else was about. He entered the lift and confirmed he wanted his own floor. The doors closed and it started rising.
That’s when the Earth moved.
The lift shook and rattled but kept going. Jay’s first thought was: Explosion? He could hear a deep rumbling that went on far too long. Earthquake? The lights flickered. He dropped everything he was carrying and moved back against the corner of the carriage. He called up a twenty-four-hour Berlin newsfeed on his commplant. An earthquake in Berlin? He’d lived there more than two years and had not heard of such a thing.
“Whoa, what was that?” the anchor was saying in German. The man looked around, obviously frightened. Out of shot, there was the sound of equipment falling over.
“It feels like an earthquake,” his co-anchor said. She put a hand to her ear and added, “We’re starting to get reports from elsewhere in the city. It seems to be—” She stopped mid-sentence, staring at something Jay could not see.
“Oh my God,” said the anchor.
The lift stopped and the doors opened. Jay grabbed up his belongings and ran out into the hall. For an instant it seemed as if the floor and walls twisted sideways. Jay stood rigid, staring at them, but everything looked square and solid. It could have been a trick of the eye, a moment of paranoia. Yet his heart began racing and his stomach knotted. It had looked like something all too familiar. Leaving his stuff in the hall, he went to his apartment and hurried inside, syncing his commplant to the big virtual displays. He pulled up feeds from all the major European networks and then called the office.
For a long time, there was no answer. And that was scary too. Jay ran a section within the Military Intelligence division of the European Defence Force. There was always someone manning the netID he’d just called. Always. Yet tonight the number rang and rang.
Then he noticed the chair—an armchair that usually stood by the window. Now it was at the other side of the room. Only it wasn’t. It was still by the window. There were two armchairs. Two identical armchairs.
“Yes, Chief.” The voice sounded flustered. The face in the display belonged to a young soldier whose gaze kept flicking sideways, nervously, as if he were keeping an eye on something that had him worried.
“Connect me to Captain Harnois,” he said. His office was across town in Unter den Linden. The TV studio was at least two kilometers away in Prenzlauer Berg. Jay’s apartment was in Torstrasse. That meant the affected area was at minimum a three-kilometer circle.
While he waited for Harnois, another shock hit his building. Crockery rattled in the kitchen. A painting fell from the wall. He needed to get out of there and into the street. It would be marginally safer outside if … He hardly dared name the terrible possibility.
He spun round at the sound. His daughter stood in the kitchen doorway.
“Cara? What are you doing here?” One obvious possibility presented itself. One that would be consistent with … with whatever was happening. Cara’s mother must be in trouble. “Is Sandra all right?”
Cara looked shocked. “What?”
“Sandra. Is she here? Is she OK?”
Cara gaped at him. “What are you saying? Mum’s …” The words seemed to catch in her throat.
“She’s what?” He closed the distance between them. “Where is she? What’s happened?”
Cara’s face was white. Her lower lip began to tremble. In a small, weak voice, Cara said, “She’s … She’s dead.”
It hit Jay like a blow to the chest. “Dead?” How could she be dead? It wasn’t possible. He tried to frame a question, overwhelmed by the enormity of it. “How?” he asked, at last.
Tears began to roll down Cara’s cheeks. She looked pleadingly into his eyes. “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
“Wrong? You mean this?” He cast his eyes around the room. He noticed an ornament on a shelf that he had never seen before. It reminded him of the danger they were in. “We need to get out of here,” he said.
“Harnois here, Chief,” a voice from his commplant said.
He seized on it like a lifeline. “Captain, what the hell is going on? Is it a timesplash?”
If so, it was the strangest one he’d ever seen. Even as he asked, he noticed the newsfeed displays around him. There were fires burning in Rome, a plane crash in London, an earthquake in Japan: disasters everywhere.
“We don’t know yet, sir. We’re trying to collate reports, but there are so many. It looks as if, whatever it is is affecting the whole world. If it’s the backwash from a timesplash, sir, it’s bigger than anything we ever simulated.”
Jay looked away from the display as a deep rumbling shook the floor. Cara was still watching him with a tear-streaked face. “I’ve got to do something first,” he told the captain, “but I’ll head for the office as soon as I can.” He hung up and took Cara by the shoulders. “We’ve got to get out of the building. It’s not safe here.”
She resisted him, twisting her body as if she didn’t want him touching her. “Why are you being so weird about Mum?” she asked. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Honey, we need to get out of the building. It’s some kind of backwash. Something massive. We’ll be safer in the street.” Maybe. The news about Sandra came back to him in a rush and stopped his breath. When he could speak, he said, “I’m sorry to hear about your mum. You know I always …” But there was no time for that. “Come on, we have to go.”
Cara shook her head. “No. You go.” She began to struggle in his grasp and he released her, shocked.
“What are you doing?” he asked. She backed away from him. “Cara?”
“What’s wrong with you? What’s going on?” She pointed at him, accusingly. “You didn’t even have that suit on when you went out with Laura. Then you come in here talking like you don’t know about Mum, acting surprised to see me. I don’t know if you’re even my real dad.”
She was distraught, her voice sounding more frightened with every moment. He stood still, trying not to alarm her. Could her mother’s death have unhinged her like this? He didn’t know what to do. He needed to get her outside. For a crazy instant he thought about throwing her over his shoulder and carrying her out. His breathing was becoming ragged. Her behaviour scared him. The backwash that was going on around them, the news about Sandra and Cara’s growing fear of him were ripping his composure to shreds. He summoned up one more attempt at calmness.
“Cara, I don’t understand what you’re telling me. I didn’t know your mum was dead until you just said so. I didn’t know you were here until I saw you. I haven’t been out with anyone called Laura. I’ve just got back from work. Now, look, we can talk about this, sort it all out, but we should do it outside. Do you understand? It isn’t safe in here.”
Cara started to shake her head again, building up to another outburst but, before the words came, the floor shook and a crack shot up through the outside wall. Plaster exploded into the room, floorboards splintered, and glass erupted from the windows. They both flinched at the sudden violence. It was alarming but the real horror, from Jay’s perspective, was the second armchair. It had begun flickering. A pale aura surrounded it and it was moving, sliding across the floor towards the other chair, just a few centimeters, then snapping back to where it started, all in the blink of an eye.
Jay couldn’t wait any longer. He grabbed Cara by her upper arm and heaved her into motion. She was a tall girl, but slight, and he had no trouble dragging her across the room and out the door into the hallway. He went straight to the staircase: the lift would be suicide.
In contrast to the carpeted opulence of the public areas, the emergency stairs in his building were plain concrete with a painted metal handrail set into the wall. It was cold in the unheated space, made colder by the white glare of the lighting. Cara was no longer fighting him but he kept hold of her arm as they hurried down the stairs, their steps clattering and echoing.
They went down three floors before Cara suddenly pulled up and grabbed the handrail, almost jerking Jay off his feet. He lost his grip on her arm.
“Come on!” he shouted. The building was shaking constantly now. It might come down on them at any moment.
“No!” Cara glared at him, as if daring him to try moving her. The stubbornness in her face was an expression he’d often seen on her mother’s.
“Yes,” he insisted. “You must see we’re in danger here.” He would pick her up and carry her if he had to.
“How could you forget that Mum died? How could you forget I’ve been living with you for a year? How could you forget Laura? It’s not possible. It’s not right. Nothing makes sense.”
He reached out to take hold of her again. And stopped.
She had a faint aura around her, just like the armchair. His heart thudded. Thudded again. Not Cara. No, not Cara.
“Darling,” he said, gently. “Please.” He held out a hand for her to take. “Please let me get you out of here.” As if that would make any difference to what was happening. But it was all he could think of.
She started crying again and shook her head. “I don’t understand anything,” she wailed. “Are you even my dad at all?”
Jay swallowed hard, fought to keep his voice steady. “Of course I am. I don’t understand it any more than you do, honey. Something very strange is happening—and I wish to God it would stop—but I’m still your father, I still love you, and I only want to make you safe.” She looked as if she’d heard him, as if she believed him at last. “So, please, let me get you out of here. We’ll work it all out, I promise. We’ll get to the bottom of it. But, first, we need to get outside.”
She studied him through big, wet eyes. He could see her struggling to decide whether to trust him. Then she reached out her hand to his, slowly, half-reluctantly. His heart leapt. He took a shuddering breath. He stretched out his hand a little farther for hers. Their fingers met.
And passed right through each other.
In a blind panic, he rushed to his daughter, clutching at her, but she was already fading. His arms passed through her. He stepped back, stunned. Before his eyes, she vanished like smoke.
He stumbled and fell. On his hands and knees in the concrete stairwell, he gasped for breath, fighting the nausea that threatened to choke him.
Cara was gone.