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Tuesday, May 8th, 2018, 5:20 pm
Weeks passed by and while much was learned about the situation in China and Russia, no major weaknesses were found. As they continued their search, China began a European campaign. They conquered Belarus, then Poland and Germany. In early May, they stopped in Germany, but most expected it was just to consolidate before taking France. The Chinese did not touch Lithuania, Latvia, or the Ukraine. While normally it would be a major weakness in supply lines, the Chinese had such an enormous force that keeping a solid grasp of Poland and Belarus was trivial.
With Germany taken, all of the Time-Keepers’ were nervous. It was possible Switzerland would be next. Switzerland being taken would probably not make them physically vulnerable but could cause them to lose their satellite connections. It could also cause the media to become censored. As the home of the UN, Switzerland was almost as likely a choice to attack as France was. France was far more exposed to invasion. Switzerland had a great natural defense, and the Swiss Military was well trained. Even Germany had not invaded Switzerland.
Kara, Mike and Oliver were all going through some Chinese troop placement documents. Up until about a week before the invasion, very little security was used to hide the location of troops. After that week, none of the files remained in their original locations. The few files they could find were heavily encrypted. Fortunately, within a few hours, each file could be decrypted using software Oliver had written and Mike had adapted for the Chinese alphabet.
As Mike and Oliver worked, Mike got up from his workstation and went to Oliver's. Mike said, “I might have something. It looks like the week surrounding Friday, February 16th of this year; most of the troops are on furlough with their families for the Chinese New Year!”
Oliver pulled up the files for those days to verify what Mike had said. “You’re right. Get Kara and we’ll have a meeting.”
Mike was surprised how interested Oliver was. He walked to Kara and they all met at a small table in the middle of the room. Oliver gave Mike a look meaning, ‘Well, go on.’
Mike cleared his throat then said to Kara, “I think we have something. It turns out that on Chinese New Year most of the military goes on vacation to their families.” Mike added a thought as it occurred to him, “Chinese New Year sounds like an important holiday, but the vacations might be done on purpose for the troop’s morale during the nearing invasion.”
Oliver nodded, “Yep, I think you’re right. Now the question is how we will use this to our advantage!”
Kara asked, “What if we get Russia to attack while they are vacationing?”
Mike nodded, “I don’t think Russia will be enough to stop them, even if they’re unprepared.”
They thought for a few minutes and then Oliver suggested, “India and Russia would probably be enough.”
Mike nodded in agreement, but Kara said, “Didn’t we want to keep India out of the war?”
Oliver shrugged, “We might not have a choice. We’re just brainstorming now anyway.”
Kara asked, “OK, so how do we get them to attack China?”
Mike said, “We could warn them about the invasion!”
Oliver shook his head no. “Warning won’t be enough. We need proof. We need the Chinese to do something to cause a . . . counter-invasion!”
Mike said, “I bet we could send battle plans from one of their general’s computers.”
Oliver shook his head again, “It would help, but the Chinese would just deny that it was legitimate. They’d say a spy sent it, which would be true. Or they could say the general went mad.”
Mike said, “What if we take out their leadership. Stage a little coup.”
Oliver shrugged, “It’s always an option, but we could do that any day. With their powerbase still in China, it would be safest to do it after the invasion. It might work, but so many lives would already be lost.”
Mike noticed the look on Kara’s face, as she seemed to ponder an idea. She looked nervous and upset, so he asked her abruptly, “Are you OK?”
She looked up as if she had been daydreaming. “What, yes, I’m OK!”
Oliver furrowed his eyebrows in disbelief.
After seeing Oliver’s gesture, Mike was more convinced than ever. “Something’s wrong. What is it? Is it the baby?” he asked of her pregnancy.
“No, I just . . . no, the baby’s fine.”
“You just what?”
“Nothing, I had an idea, but it was nothing.”
Oliver asked, “Let’s hear it. No harm can come of telling it!”
Kara sighed, “No, I don’t like this idea.”
“Honey, it’s OK. Tell us what it is.” Mike was starting to get agitated.
Kara put her hand on her forehead then said, “I’ll tell if you promise not to do it.”
Oliver frowned, “Kara, we can’t do that! This is important, tell the idea so we can . . . help you judge.”
Kara barked, “No, I don’t need help. I know it’s bad.”
Oliver asked, “Is it worse than having hundreds of thousands die in the war, having the balance of power shifted for the worse, and countries losing their freedom and sovereignty?”
Kara shook her head no.
“Then tell us.”
“It’s going to cause people to die. If I say it, and it happens, I’ll have caused people to die.”
Mike asked, “How many people: hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions?”
“Thousands, maybe hundreds, but probably thousands.”
Oliver said gently, “Well, that has to be better than the millions that could die on the current path.”
“We don’t know that,” she countered.
“Can we risk it?”
She sighed in acceptance, “No.”
Oliver lifted his eyebrows, asking her to go on.
“What if we do Mike’s plan but at the same time get China to invade India and Russia?”
Mike said, “How?”
“We fake orders. We force the Chinese on the two borders to attack. It will prove the orders are real and force a reaction. With only skeleton crews on the two borders the invaded countries will repel the attacks.”
Oliver nodded, “It’s a good idea, but it might not be enough. It has to be convincing. It won’t be convincing if they only send a handful of troops into the two countries.”
Mike brightened, “No, she’s right. We can make this work. We’ll send the documents impersonating a general and make as if the general wants no part of it. As if that day is the start of the invasion. Not only did he try to stop it, by revealing it, but also by calling troops away from battle. We can make the Chinese New Year seem like an excuse.”
Oliver said, “This is scary. We’re going to frame a country to stop it from doing what we are framing them for!”
Mike nodded, “It’s a good thing we’re the ones who control this power!”
With a weakness, found the three went to find Aaron and tell him the news. They did not have to go far; Aaron was with Samuel in the command center looking at graphs of lung positions throughout the past month.
As Kara, Oliver, and Mike entered, Samuel said to Aaron, “It’s too volatile now, and if it keeps getting worn down like this we’re going to have a serious problem.”
Aaron said, “What can we do? Should we make a back-up lung? Do the builders have to be faster?”
“I don’t know.”
At this point, they both noticed the newcomers, and Aaron said, “Ahoy!”
Oliver said, “We’ve found a weakness. Can you find some time to talk with us?”
Aaron said to Samuel, “Listen, think it over, and maybe talk to Jared or Carmen. Keep me up to date on what happens.”
Samuel nodded and walked off, presumably to the Millers’ home or to the lung. Aaron said, “OK, what have you got?”
Oliver said enthusiastically, “Chinese New Year!”
Aaron gave a blank look, not understanding what Oliver meant.
“The week surrounding Chinese New Year, Friday, February 16th of this year, most of the troops are on vacation at their homes. We have a few ideas how to exploit it.”
Aaron lit up, interested. They explained the details to Aaron, who agreed it was the best chance they had found so far. After they finished explaining, Aaron said, “Well, let me assemble a team, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Mike asked, “Shouldn’t we have another meeting with everybody?”
Aaron nodded, “We will, but I want to assemble the team first.”
“Are you going to order them to go?” Kara asked.
“No, of course not, they’ll volunteer . . . just like you volunteered to join the colony.”
After he ate dinner Aaron began talking to the people he wanted on the mission. He already knew the other three he wanted on the team; it was just a matter of getting them to agree. He always liked to work on the easiest first in a situation like this so that he was more prepared for the people who would be most hesitant.
Movies were stored on one of the server hard-drives in the command center. Not only did they have movies, but also they had digital copies of most of the popular shows from as far back as classics like I Love Lucy. While the colony had the equipment to play current satellite television feeds, they did not set it up because they were concerned it would cause them to be too involved with a timeline they would make unstable.
Keith was out with Carmen, and Kara was in her own house. Most nights Aaron spent alone with his wife. She started a movie, an icky chick flick that he was sure to hate as he sat down on the couch with her.
“Hey,” Sarah said with a smile. “I hope you like this movie.”
“We need to talk for a minute,” he said with an affectionate smile.
“What’s up, Honey?”
“We have an outline of how to stop the Chinese, and we need a team of four. I want you on the team.”
“Will you be on the team?”
“Will it affect your decision?”
“No, silly,” she said feistely.
“Yes, I will.”
She frowned, “If you die, who’s going to run things here?”
“I don’t knare.”
She questioned, “You don’t knare?”
“Oh, come on, you haven’t heard that word yet?”
Sarah gave him a ‘you’re crazy’ look.
“I think Jared invented it. It’s a sardonic way of saying I don’t know or care.”
“Why don’t you just say you don’t know or don’t care?”
He laughed softly, “Because I don’t knare!”
She pointed at him and said, “OK, you get the super-freak award.”
“Thank you,” Aaron said with a smile. Then he asked, “So, will you go?”
She did a double eyebrow lift then said, “Of course, Honey, I’ll follow you anywhere.”
“Cool, well I’d better get cracking on the other two then.”
“Stay for the movie.”
He said with a hokey super-hero gesture, “Not now, I have a world to save.”
She raised her eyes then said, “Men. Oh well, we probably don’t have enough tissues on hand for you to stay anyway, seeing how emotional you are.” Her statement was a joke actually beyond the realm of possibility, not only because he rarely cried, but also because they all used handkerchiefs in the colony to conserve paper and builder usage. It took some of them awhile to get used to blowing their noses on fabric, but they adapted.
He had several reasons he needed Sarah with him. First, she was the best of them with a gun. Second, she could handle the kind of pressure under which they would probably find themselves. Lastly, he knew he could trust her. He knew he could trust the others to try their best, but if it came to having to kill a person to obtain the objective and save millions she was the only one he could trust. Maybe Jared could be trusted though; he had fought his way out of his house. Then on the other hand, Jared had fought in defense, protecting himself and his wife. This time Jared might need to kill somebody preemptively, which was not the same as attacking offensively, but would he understand that?
Aaron went on to the next volunteer; the one he thought would be the second hardest to sell the idea to. That was what he had to do, not trick, sell. When Aaron knocked at the Wilson’s door Toby answered. Toby was so tall he looked like a teenager, even though he was still only eleven. Aaron could easily see that Toby had grown since the sealing. Seeing Toby was a harsh reminder of how much tougher the next two volunteers would be to convince.
Toby said, “Hi, Mr. Hunt, please come in.”
“You don’t have to call-”
Aaron was cut off by Emma, who was listening from the next room, “YES, HE DOES!”
Aaron smiled at Toby then said, “Never mind.”
Toby said, “I guess she'll be out in a minute!”
When she came into the room she said, “Aaron, we’re trying to teach our children to respect their elders.”
“Sorry, I meant no harm.”
“So what’s up?”
“Emma, can I speak with Oliver for a few minutes?”
“Sure, let me get him.” She went out of the room and brought back Oliver.
Oliver said, “What’s going on?”
Aaron replied, “We need to talk for a few minutes, alone, if that’s OK.”
Oliver shrugged, “Sure, let’s go.”
After they walked outside Aaron said, “I want you to go on the mission. We’ll need you to get though the computer security for whichever general we choose.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
“Are you sure? It’ll be risky.”
“Back in my hacking days I took on some pretty big risks.”
“Maybe, but you didn’t have children then.”
Oliver smiled then said, “Yes, I didn’t. Are you trying to convince me not to go?”
”No, I’m trying to make sure you know the risks and use them to base your decision on.”
“I know the risks which are far outweighed by the rewards. My kids are younger than yours, but Emma can and will take care of them by herself if I die. I’m not afraid of dying, and I haven’t been for a long time. My family may be afraid of losing me, but Emma and I think even the children understand why we are here and why we need to do this. If you need me, I'll go.”
Glad that Oliver turned out to be easy, he thanked him and went on to his final victim . . . or volunteer. When he knocked at the Millers’ home, his son answered the door. Keith said to his father in a soft voice, “Shh . . . Deirdre just fell asleep, Dad. Were you looking for me?”
Aaron whispered, “No, I was hoping to find Jared. Is he here?”
Keith nodded, “He is . . . but Deirdre is sleeping in his arms. I don’t think now is a good time.” After a moment Keith added, “I can tell him to stop by though if he can get her into her crib.”
Aaron found it funny that his son was telling him this. “OK, let him know I stopped by.” Aaron then asked, “Will you be home soon?”
“Maybe. I was helping Carmen and Michelle keep Spencer busy so Deirdre can sleep. Do you need me home?”
Aaron shook his head no. He had merely asked to make conversation. He didn’t talk with his son as often as he should, or at least as often as he wanted to. Maybe that was OK. Teens do need their space.
“OK, see you later, Dad,” he said with a smile that was a good enough replacement for a hug to Aaron.
Aaron walked home wondering if the movie was over yet. It was not though; he had not been out that long. He still needed to talk to Jared. Would Jared accept the mission? Jared had the most at stake, two very young children, so young that neither of them would probably remember him if he did not come back. Aaron needed Jared to go. They would need an expert with the builders and the time machines if something went wrong. Carmen knew the builders; she had even learned the hardware but had never worked with the time machine. Even so, Carmen was out of the question. Carmen was too young; she had barely started her life and did not even have kids yet.
Aaron began to wonder why his son had not proposed to her yet. What was he waiting for? They did love each other, didn’t they? Yes, of course they did. They spent all their time together, he had seen them kissing and hugging several times. Kara and Mike got married so quickly. Why were Keith and Carmen waiting?
When Aaron got home, he sat down on the couch where his wife was still watching the movie. She paused the movie with the remote, which she held mercilessly in her hand, and said, “So, how did it go?”
“I don’t know. Oliver said yes, but Jared was busy with Deirdre. Keith . . .” he almost said ‘Keith told me Jared was busy’, but instead said “Keith answered the door.”
Because Aaron said it almost like a question she said, “So, does that surprise you? You know he spends all his free time with Carmen.”
“No, well maybe, it’s like at Oliver and Emma’s house Toby answered, but at Jared and Michelle’s house my son answered! Does he ever answer the door here?”
“I guess. I don’t know.”
“He doesn’t. I know he doesn’t because he’s never here. Why don’t they spend time here with us? Carmen is welcome here!”
“Oh, Honey,” she said sympathetically, “They aren’t avoiding us.”
“Are you sure? Are we the uncool parents, you know, the ones that no kid would be caught dead with?”
“Well, we may not be cool, but Jared can’t be cooler than us! Look at him; he’s the colonies number one geek! Actually, they’re all kind of geeky. Carmen and Keith are at least. Then look at us, we look like the Bradys, well maybe the athletic Bradys. See, we’re too cool!”
Aaron was more depressed by what she said.
“Aaron, don’t worry about it. They love each other so they spend their time together. They like playing with the babies, so they spend time there. Also, you need to realize that Keith has been . . . stuck with us since he was born. Carmen missed out on having parents during an important part of her life; you can’t blame her for wanting to make up that time.”
“No, no, I don’t,” Aaron said.
“And you can’t blame him for loving her and spending his time with her.”
Aaron wondered if it was that simple. Was it just that he missed having a family. It couldn’t help that Kara was going to make him a grandfather soon! Before they could say anymore, somebody knocked at the door.
Aaron said, “See, we need him home to be a doorman.”
Sarcastically she replied, “Oh, but, Honey . . . you make a great doorman.” She then made a pouty face.
“Fine, I’ll get it. It’s probably Jared anyway.”
“Well, if it is, invite him in. I’ll help you convince him he should go on the mission.”
“Good, can you convince me he should go, too?”
Before she could ask what he meant, he had the door open, and it was Jared who stepped inside. Aaron said, “Come on in, we are watching a paused chick flick. This type of movie is far better paused than played, don’t you think?”
Sarah threw a couch pillow at her husband, which hit him in the shoulder. Jared said, “Yikes, a hostile pillow thrower!”
Sarah said, “Yep, we’re the worst kind, you know!” Then acting the part of a good hostess she said, “Please, have a seat. Do you want anything to drink?”
Jared sat on a chair across from the couch. “No, thanks,” Jared replied politely.
Aaron sat back down with his wife and said, “Have you heard about the weakness we found? With China I mean.”
Jared shook his head no then asked, “Is it good? How far back is it?”
“It’s early this year,” Aaron replied. “It seems that most of the Chinese army will have a week long vacation for the Chinese New Year.”
Jared said, “Sounds good, so who will go?”
“We are going to go along with Oliver,” Sarah said, indicating herself and Aaron. “We want you to go as well.”
Aaron was glad she had asked. As prepared as he thought he was, he felt a wave of relief pass through him. Still, he needed to say something. “Will you go, Jared?”
Jared frowned, “I don’t know. What’s the plan?”
Aaron’s heart sank, ‘He’s going to say no,’ he thought. ‘He’s going to say no and we’re going to get stuck there!’ Aaron thought about having to live through and wait for the present to come back. It would not be that long, but the Chinese might hunt them the entire time. Being on the run for months or years depending on when they left would not be good.
Remembering that Jared had just asked him a question, he said, “We plan to go back and start the war while they are undermanned. We’ll fake orders to attack Russia and India. We’ll also send forged war plans to various nations and the UN by impersonating a general.”
“Oh,” Jared said, causing Aaron to lose the last shred of hope that he would go.
‘Good plan, Aaron,’ he thought bitterly to himself.
Sarah said, “We need you to go because you’re the time machine expert.”
Jared scratched his head, “Is this going to be dangerous, or do you just want me to escort you there and back?”
Aaron regained some hope; maybe they could get Jared to at least go, but then Sarah said, “We need you the whole time.” With that, Aaron thought it was all but lost until Sarah continued by saying, “If you don’t go, the only other option is Carmen.”
“Carmen, no! Carmen should stay! I’ll go!”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
Aaron asked, “Jared, is it your kids that are making you reluctant to go?” Aaron needed his team to be fully committed. Jared was not the same person he had been when the project started. Back then, he had no children. Now Jared had more reasons to live, more reasons to avoid the situations that the mission would put him into.
“Yes, I never expected we would have children, and now that I do . . .” his voice trailed off. Then he said, “They’re so young. I didn’t know parenting was like this! I don’t even think I love Michelle as much as I love them. It’s a different love, but it’s so . . .” he thought for the right word then said, “Unconditional. Even Carmen, not that it’s difficult to love her.
“I think about it, and it’s like I realize that I only have so many years to spend with them and then they’re gone, like Keith and Kara.”
“They aren’t gone, though,” Aaron replied. “Not gone, just they have their own lives. It doesn’t mean you lose them.” Even as Aaron said it he knew he did not believe it, had Keith not just proven it to him? They were gone, no, they are gone and the house is silent except for the old uncool parents who got left like relics.
Sarah knew what Aaron was thinking and shook her head, “Men. You all make such a fuss when they’re here and then you make a fuss when they’re gone!”
“Well, we all need our hobbies,” Aaron replied. “At least we don’t watch sappy movies!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said. “So, Jared, are you in? We need you to be fully committed. People will die; if you’re not committed it might be one us that dies or all of us.”
“Don’t worry. I am fully committed.”
“Good,” said Sarah. “You boys mind if I finish the chick flick now?”
They laughed. Jared said, “No, I’ll let you get back to important matters. I should check on Deirdre. She seems to have a cold.”
Sarah said, “OK. I hope she feels better! You get some rest, too; you’re no good to her half asleep!”
Aaron walked Jared to the door and said a final good bye. He almost told him to send Keith home, but he restrained himself. Aaron went back to the chair and sat with Sarah pretending not to enjoy the movie. When there was a break in the dialogue he said, “Thank you.”
“For everything, for helping me with Jared, for loving me, for putting up with me, for being you, and for the other hundred things you do.”
She asked, “Hundred?”
“Or more,” he said with a smile.
She grabbed his hand to hold it and said, “You’re welcome.”
He leaned towards her and kissed her gently on the lips.
Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford