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Twisted Tails II [Time on our Hands Volume 1of 2]
by J. Richard Jacobs

Category: Science Fiction/Fantasy
Description: Does time exist as a separate dimension? Does it have a unique place with definable limits in space? Does it move independently according to its own purpose? Or does it only move when other things move, completely dependent on prevailing conditions and binding dimensions in its surrounding space--a causal result bound to the whole? Perhaps it's just a simpleminded construct humans have concocted to explain the inexplicable. Is it vaguely possible that it's a set of branes slightly out of sync and we may pass from one to the next at will? Maybe it's a simple kink in dimensions that can be crossed by anyone walking in precisely the right direction. It could be that it's just a mental state altered simply by a minor amount of imagination applied correctly. Perhaps it is no more than a drug- or mantra-induced change of mental state--something hallucinated--something seen but unseeable. Or is there more to it than we can fathom? In the world of physics, all of this--and much more--is being looked into by serious, conservative scientists as well as those with their mental equipment more loosely adjusted--or even unfastened completely, their brains rolling about like marbles in an empty railroad freight car. Whatever time is, it is a concept that has fascinated our species since we became capable of contemplating more than just our navels or being eaten by hungry predators. We consider the future, the present, and the past-how they may all relate and ... interrelate. We wonder what it all means or if it means anything at all. All of the following stories pursue these and other ideas--each in its own way. Time gives way to the authors' imaginings in ways astounding. Amazing flights abound as they probe orthodox disciplines in physics combined with unorthodox musings, stretching the envelope all the way to the breaking point, or take fanciful flights of mind into the unknown realm of ethereal time, gleefully, sometimes flippantly breaking the bonds of "real" science-whatever that means. There are even times when the concept of movement through time is naught but a ploy-means to an end. But they are always asking, "What if..." Just, what if...?" Then, they answer their own questions with trips up, down, through, across or outside the time and dimension lines, crawling cautiously from one time line to another, being ever vigilant so as not to fall off in the wrong where or when. But beware, these stories were designed around the surprise of twist endings, going places unknown, unforeseen. They have been written specifically to catch you looking in some other direction. Some are subtle, others--just this side of a Force 5 tornado--will send you careening through space-time to another place or a different when--perhaps both--and we cannot ensure you safe passage. From now on, you are on your own. No guiding hands. No protective wings. No way to say that, once you're into a story, you'll ever come out. Sorry, that's just the way it is, was, and will be--no guarantees.
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2007 Double Dragon Publishing Inc.
eBookwise Release Date: April 2007

eBookeBook

7 Reader Ratings:
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [334 KB]
Words: 70097
Reading time: 200-280 min.


1. EPOCH

by
Terence West

As if waiting for Godot, two black clad figures sat quietly on a small park bench that had obviously seen better days. One shifted, causing the old bench to creak in agony, threatening to fail at any moment. A stern glance from the second figure stopped any further adjustments. Propping up their collars, the two fought the biting wind that was whipping across the mostly empty park. The rain sprinkling sporadically through the yellow pools of light of nearby streetlights was only making the two feel colder. Pooling on the brims of their fedoras, the water spilled forward onto their black trench coats. Leaning forward, the men confidently checked their watches.

Across the street an apartment complex loomed like a specter in the storm. Heavy on stucco, the details were painted in a horrid southwestern maroon that would have been more at home in Arizona but seemed out of place here. Large trees sprouted from man-made holes in the sidewalk and provided some shelter, but it wasn't enough in the face of the early winter storm that had settled in. Lightning crackled above the complex's roof, arcing dangerously toward some unseen destination.

Amidst the flash of white-blue light, a third figure's form-their target-emerged from the murkiness of the storm. Moving briskly along the sidewalk toward the apartment, his hands were stuffed deep into his battered brown leather jacket while the collar was hiked high on his neck. His shoulders were hunched and his head held low against the cold. Glancing nervously side to side, the man stopped for a moment and reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. Producing a pack of cigarettes, he flipped open the top and drew one of the coffin nails with his lips. As he slid the cardboard pack back into his coat a bright yellow flame leapt up from a small lighter. As the end of the cigarette glowed brilliantly the figure took several nervous puffs and quickly exhaled the gray smoke.

Holding the cigarette tightly in his pursed lips, the man dug his hands back into his coat and headed toward the apartment's entrance. Stopping short, he turned and leaned against the damp stucco exterior. His short, dark hair was matted to his face from the rain, and his five o'clock shadow was threatening to turn into a full beard at any moment. With hollow cheeks and heavy bags under his eyes, he seemed tired as if he hadn't slept in weeks. Lifting the cigarette again, he took another drag and winced. His fingers shot to his face as he leaned forward and traced down the edge of a deep scar that ran from the bottom of his left eye and terminated just below his jawbone. The wound had long since healed, but a phantom pain gripped it. He knew it was this place, this time, causing it.

Taking a slow breath, he tried to block out the pain and concentrate. Another lightning bolt flashed in the sky above him and his mouth became dry. He turned to the left and peered down the darkened street. A lone yellow traffic light flashed ominously over the nearby intersection. He spotted a dim pair of headlights in the distance. Though it was too far away he swore he could hear the familiar rumble of the engine that haunted his dreams. That wasn't just an oncoming truck, it was fate. It was his fate.

The two men in black slowly stood from their seat and hovered just beyond the lights. Their movement was slow and sure as if they knew exactly what was about to happen. They waited. Timing had to be perfect.

"Doesn't he realize," one of the men breathed in anger, "what he's doing?"

The other man's cold eyes flashed beneath the brim of his hat, instantly silencing his partner. They were too close to give away the game now. Everything depended on their focus at this moment, as if they held the very threads of fate in their cold, damp hands. Slowly his gaze fell back on their target across the street. He had once called this man friend and would have given his life to protect him, but that was a long time ago. Now the tables had turned. Fate, it seemed, had a unique sense of humor.

Laughter and the squeak of an opening door sliced like a knife through the sound of the storm. All eyes were instantly drawn to the front of the apartment complex as a happy couple, wrapped completely in what could only be called pure happiness, stumbled onto the sidewalk. Not more than nineteen years old, they held tightly onto each other as they regained their balance and stuttered to a stop. Unaware of everything else, they slipped into each other's arms and kissed lovingly between playful giggles. The man quickly reached up and grabbed his fedora, holding it to his head despite the wind's attempts to the contrary.

Events were set into motion.

Taking a final drag from his cigarette, the man with the scar tossed it away and stared at the couple. His eyes ran over the strange but familiar form of the man and then settled on the woman. Following the graceful curves of her legs up to her red, oriental dress, he could almost feel his hands on the curves of her hips, her breath on his neck. Moving up, he stopped and watched her blonde hair dance playfully against the nape of her neck. He wanted to reach out and touch her. It had been so long. Glancing to his left, he felt a wave of anxiety grip his stomach as the headlights neared the intersection. Was he doing the right thing? Mentally scolding himself, he took a step forward. It was way past time for doubts.

At the same time the two men in black began to circle toward the couple. Hovering like phantoms in the rain, they slowly stepped off the sidewalk and into the street. Timing their steps exactly they had to make this perfect as there were no second chances. Coming around to avoid the oncoming truck, both men reached into their long, black coats.

"Do you know how much I love you, Kelly?" the man asked his beautiful companion as he slipped both of his arms around her waist.

Kelly brushed an errant lock of hair from her face and smiled softly. "I do," she confirmed confidently. "I love you too, Drew."

As the words were spoken, a gust of wind came up and ripped Drew's hat from his head, sending it twisting on the wind. His hands reached up from Kelly's waist just barely missing it. Drew grumbled under his breath as the hat was tossed easily into the air, but the force of gravity couldn't be denied for long. Their eyes were locked on it as it started to arc back toward the Earth. Kelly laughed out loud as she maneuvered under the hat like a catcher tracking a pop fly. Drew's gaze slowly dropped from the hat back to his new bride. Trying to hold the black shawl draped around her waste, she stepped off the curb.

As the oncoming headlights illuminated Kelly's body, Drew's heart dropped into his stomach.

The man with the scar gritted his teeth. He remembered every second of this moment, as it was permanently etched on his mind. He watched Kelly blindly stumble into the road, the nearing truck with its inebriated driver, and her husband begin to act. But he already knew what happened. He could not-no, he would not -let it happen again. The scar on his cheek throbbed angrily. He quickened his pace and started to reach for Kelly.

The two men in black stepped up on the sidewalk and pulled their weapons from hidden chest holsters. With a glance to each other, they knew what they had to do. Hitting a dead run as they approached the scene, they watched the truck bearing down on the woman but it wasn't the reason they were there. History had to unfold, no matter the outcome. The first man cringed and tightened his grip on the weapon. He hadn't been present at this incident, but knew the outcome. His eyes settled on Drew. Watching the man race for his wife, the pain and angst was almost palpable. His focus snapped back to the man with the scar. The man's hand was outstretched as he charged for Kelly. The man in black felt the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up at the sight.

Much like freight trains heading toward each other on the same track, nothing could stop the impending collision. Events were in motion that could not, and should not, be stopped.

The man with the scar felt his heart pounding in his chest as his hand reached for Kelly. Out of the corner of his eye he watched Drew doing the same less than a step behind him. He could feel the heat from the headlights of the truck blazing into him. The driver was about to swerve, but because of the alcohol in his system he was going to overcorrect and worsen the situation.

The man with the scar felt his fingertips brush the flesh of Kelly's back just as a weight hit him in the side. The wind was knocked out of him as the momentum of the hit slammed him and the attacker to the sidewalk.

Kelly froze. Her eyes were wide and her mouth open as the tires of the massive delivery truck squealed under the pressure of the breaks. A breath away, Drew shouted in horror.

The driver panicked and cranked the wheel hard to the left.

As the massive truck slid, its momentum carried it forward. The front wheels tried to turn away from the woman, but the rubber gripped onto the asphalt. The vehicle was tossed top first toward the road, and directly into Drew and Kelly. There was nothing that could stop it now. The man with the scar tried to push a cry from his mouth but found no air in his lungs. Fighting to regain his breath he watched in horror as the truck hit. A shower of sparks erupted as metal ground against road.

The man in black regained his footing and threw his knee hard into his target's chest. Snatching his weapon from the concrete he snapped off the safety and brought it to bear. "Don't move," he warned through gritted teeth, "or I will kill you." The man in black glanced back over his shoulder to find his partner covering the situation, his weapon cradled in his hands. He returned his gaze to the target, but his heart sank. He had seen this look before.

Copyright © 2007 Edited by J. Richard Jacobs.


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