“Wow. Fifty years makes a big difference.”
Sam broke a newly refabricated piece of ceramic exoskeleton out of his newest ceramic printer. “This? This is more like tech from thirty years forward. I’d need a couple of weeks of retooling in order to produce something on spec for fifty years futuretech.”
“He says it so casually.” The remark was addressed to no one in particular as Sharon picked her way through the living room work area. “Not bad, all things considered. You only had to relocate twice this month.”
“Still more than I’d like. It’s slowing down what I can accomplish a lot.” Sam carried the new piece over to the exoskeleton and started installing it.
Sharon swung around the work space to peer over his shoulder.”So what is it? Power armor?”
“Powered exoskeleton.” He carefully broke a set of seals and pulled out the old left arm array. “I’m waiting until I can put out the next generation of ceramics to print the armor.”
“You know, people the office thinks you’re an entire cadre of supergeniuses cranking out groundbreaking technologies with the help of neuroenhancing drugs.” Sharon laughed. “I’m not sure the truth is any stranger. I mean, this tech is decades away.”
“Three of them, to be exact. Although functional powered exos will be patented first in twenty years.” He locked the new part in place and extracted himself from his project. “I don’t have anything pulled anything new from the future for a patent yet.”
Sharon shook her head. “Not what I’m here for. Although you do have another request to use that memory metal patent from last month. Looks to be another big earner.”
“I’ve been picking things with a lot of potential uses. We’re going to need capital down the line.” He shrugged uncomfortably, still not entirely comfortable with profiting off other people’s inventions. There were going to be a lot of people loosing out on their rightful profits in the next few years. Hopefully he could make it up to them by altering history a bit. “Speaking of, have you looked over the superhuman accords from the latest iteration of the future?”
“No.” Sharon tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, turned the gesture into brushing her hair over one shoulder, leaving her slim neck exposed on a backdrop of golden curls. “I found something interesting last night.”
“Yes.” Sam snapped himself back into the present moment. “Sorry, what?”
She rolled her eyes and handed him a tablet, one he’d modified to be able to access the temporal relay. It showed him a picture of a barrel chested man in a conservative suit that didn’t quite hide the tire around his waist, seated in front of a Congressional panel. “I was browsing the futurenews late last night, just seeing if anything would jump out at me, and I saw this guy.”
“Alejandro Gutierrez. Assistant Director of the CIA.” Sam thumbed down to read the article. “Atlantis. Yeah, I remember seeing something about that a month or so ago. Archaeologists find evidence of it in a few years or something. I didn’t have time to look into it when it last came up.”
“Well,” she took the tablet back from him. “In twenty five years Atlantis isn’t a legend anymore, it’s a real place in the Atlantic. And Gutierrez has a lot of weird rumors swirling around him in days to come. One is that he knew about Atlantis since he was very young, part of a secret society or something, and that’s part of what got him to his position at the CIA so young.”
“Appointed at forty. He’s forty-five in that picture.” She swiped from that article to another one. “Now look at this.”
It was a blurry photo reportedly taken by an U.S. Navy observation drone that showed a fuzzy mound in the middle of the ocean with what might have been a city skyline on top of it. More importantly, a dizzying spiral of glowing light rose above the shape as if the stars themselves had come down to greet it. Sharon pointed at it needlessly. “I saw that and couldn’t help but think of what you told me about The Girl.”
In spite of being an MIT graduate Sam’s brain still insisted on counting backwards very carefully. “So, if Alejandro Gutierrez knew about Atlantis from a young age and he’s forty-five twenty-five years from now…”
“He’s twenty now.” Sharon wiped from the relay to a more standard web browser. It showed a Facebook page for a student at the University of Phoenix. “Worth looking into, don’t you think?”
Sam had exactly zero infiltration skills, something that didn’t strike him as a problem until he got to Phoenix and realized that he had no idea how to find Gutierrez or what his typical routine was. Finally, after a couple of hours poking around the Internet he found the right dorm and started peeking through windows and comparing them to pictures Alejandro had posted online. He felt more than a little like a stalker.
But he did eventually find where he needed to be. Thankfully he was stalking someone who lived on the first floor.
A few hours of waiting, nose buried in technical specifications for new future tech, and Alejandro Gutierrez made his appearance, passing through his room long enough to collect clean clothes before leaving again. With his ear pressed to the window Sam could vaguely pick up the sound of a shower running. Time to get through the window.
After some fiddling he settled for carefully jabbing a single finger of his artificial hand forcefully through the glass, hooking it over the window lock and flipping it open, then carefully pushing the window up on its slide and letting himself in. Hopefully Alejandro wasn’t the type to wander around in a towel after his shower. That could get awkward. He kept reading to keep his mind busy.
The door opened some ten minutes later. Sam, sitting at the room’s desk, glanced up and set his tablet aside. “Nice room. Nowhere’s better than MIT, but it’s close to the same.”
Alejandro froze in the doorway. He was a little shorter than Sam was expecting, although still an inch or so above average, and he hadn’t grown a moustache yet, but Sam could still tell that this was the same man as they’d seen some years in the future. “I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong room.”
“Actually, no. You’re Alejandro Gutierrez and you’re here, so it’s the right place.” Sam stood up from the desk and carefully put his hands at a neutral position at his side. “I need to ask you a few questions.”
“Now?” Alejandro gave him an incredulous look.
“Yes. For starters, how did someone with your family background afford to come to a school like this?” Sam pulled a set of printouts from a shirt pocket. They didn’t have anything to do with what they were talking about but Alejandro didn’t need to know that. “You shouldn’t be able to afford it without a lot of help but you didn’t file for any scholarships this year. Or the last two years since you first enrolled.”
“I had some help from a friend. Look, who are you?” Alejandro pushed into the room, looking around as if he expected a camera crew to be hiding in the corner, waiting to jump out and announce he was being pranked.
Of course, Sam hadn’t expected a straight answer to that question right away. He pulled a printout of the Atlantis picture from the middle of the other papers and held it out to the other man. “Do you know what this is?”
Alejandro gave it a quick look, opened his mouth and started to say ‘no’, then clamped it shut and snatched the picture out of Sam’s hand. “Where did you get this?”
“It’s from the future,” Sam said, half smiling. As he’d expected, that got him another double take.
“No, seriously.” Alejandro crumpled the picture up. “Where did you get it?”
“I have more.” He was in the process of retrieving the phone in order to the next step of the conversation, showing Alejandro a taste of the actual temporal relay, when there was a muffled knock from the outer room. Presumably someone at the door to the suite Alejandro shared with his roommates. Alejandro looked at the door, then at Sam meaningfully. Sam just smiled and nodded, inside he was annoyed but he didn’t want Alejandro doing anything rash or someone at the door letting themselves in and hearing something they shouldn’t.
As the other man stepped out of the room Sam pulled out his phone and thumbed it open, ignoring a handful of notices and opening the relay’s app. There was a brief pause then the screen announced, “Not Found”.
That meant the relay wasn’t responding for some reason. Like it was turned off, or there had been a local power failure. Or it was being moved. None of which should have happened. He quickly backed out and checked his notifications. Sharon had texted him. Several times. The last few looked to be the same message over and over, starting with the words, “SHE was here.”
He switched off his phone and tucked it away quickly, pulling a patch like a nicotine bandage out of the same pocket and pulling the backing off it with shaking hands.
“Hey, this girl with you?” Alejandro called from out in the main room.
Sam slapped the patch to the side of his neck, neurostimulants hitting his blood almost instantly. Time seemed to dilate and his senses sharpened. He grabbed the thumb of his prosthetic arm and racked it back like pumping a shotgun, breaking the body of the arm open and letting him bring the riot gun inside to play. Almost at the same time there was a loud boom from the main room. Sam hooked one foot around the edge of the door and swung it open, tracking across the doorway with the stubby end of his arm, the fingers of the hand splayed to form a crude sight.
Sure enough, The Girl Who Splits Infinity was there, still shimmering slightly from her transformation, Alejandro backing away with a look of shock on his face. Sam thought about making a fist with his left hand and the riot gun barked, sending a two in ball of rubber the rough shape of a fist whistling towards her at close to a hundred miles an hour. It hit her on the shoulder and bounced away without apparent harm. The Girl brushed at her shoulder in that annoyed, anxious manner that maintained his impression that she was still a pretty green fighter, just absurdly durable, then flipped her fingers through the lines of light that came with her transformation and spun them in a wheel, from which leapt a serpentine line of fire that rushed through the main room, winding over top of the dirty dishes on the dining table and punching through the back of the couch that faced the entertainment center before blasting through the spot Sam had been standing just seconds ago, before he dove for cover.
He pumped his riot gun again and turned the mental dial on it up from normal to high and fired the other rubber slug at four times the speed of the other one. It hit The Girl as she stormed forwards and she seemed to notice it this time but it still didn’t slow her. He snapped the arm’s thumb back down, closing it up into a more normal looking prosthetic, and yanked his left sleeve up, pulling it as close to the shoulder as it would go so that the hardlight generator in the upper arm could raise a shield without setting him on fire.
It wasn’t as big as the bubble generator he’d used back at the campsite a few months ago but it was just as powerful and it could run on batteries for at least a half minute so that was something. Enough that The Girl hit it and bounced off in surprise at least.
Before she could recover Alejandro was there beside her. What happened next was a bit of a mystery to Sam. One moment both he and The Girl were staring at Alejandro in shock, Alejandro in the middle of a flawless windup, hips rotating his torso as his fist lind up with The Girl’s sternum.
The next there was an incredible thump and she was gone. Sam thought for a second she’d teleported again. Then he realized there was a new hole in the dorm wall. He gaped at it for a second, then started at Alejandro. “Okay, I’m impressed.”
Alejandro panted for a moment, his head on a swivel as he waited to see if The Girl would come back. Finally, he straightened up and said, “So you know one of them?”
“There’s more than one?” Sam buried his face in his hands. “Why do I even bother?”
“No, no, there’s probably only one at a time. Look. You’ve got some tricks up your sleeve.” Alejandro winced, realizing how that sounded. “I mean, you’ve avoided her this long. Can…” He thought about it for a long moment. “Can I check with some people I know? I don’t know a whole lot about that side of things. You’ve got questions, I get it. But I’m not sure what I should tell you or what matters in your situation or what. So can I get back to you later?”
The kid looked awfully hopeful about it. Obviously he was interested in what was going on now, and understood that secrecy was the order of the day because he was playing his hand really close to the vest. Sam pointed at the printout he’d given Alejandro, left abandoned on the table. “You can reach me at the email on there. That girl’s had it out for me for a while, though, and she’s getting better at catching me faster than I can get better at running away. I’d appreciate anything you can tell me.”
He nodded, very serious. “I’ll tell you everything I can, as soon as I can. Now you’d better get going before someone comes investigating.”
Sam left the same way The Girl had, examining the hole she’d made on the way out. Alejandro had punched her through almost a foot of concrete. Obviously he’d been using kid gloves in this fight. It was time to stop.