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The Past

Northern Launch Bay

Time-Keeper Colony

Switzerland

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018, 10:30 am

 

 

      Jared held the steering wheel as he flew forward.  When the machine entered the destination time, the thrusters reversed from the rear to the front.  Jared's body jerked forward because of the sudden reduction in speed.  His harness was loose around his shoulders.  When the harness stopped him, he let out a short yelp of pain.  He swore he heard a snapping noise that made him wonder if he had broken something.  He had meant to tighten the harness.  This had happened the last time; how could he have forgotten!  The blur on the screen quickly cleared as he slowed.

      As the machine rolled, the driver stayed in relatively the same position.  The inside portion was made of an inner sphere that did not roll with the machine.  The thin LCD screen was positioned in front of the driver.  The storage area where they put their bags was to the left of the seat.  Below the screen was a steering wheel.  The steering wheel was two handle grips fastened together in the center of the sphere.  Most of the inside was covered with reflective aluminum.

      When the machine stopped, he quickly lifted the door.  The door was actually made of two doors.  When the machine stopped, the inner sphere lined up with the outer sphere so that both could be opened as one.  Sometimes it caused the machine to need to roll a little farther than usual.

      Jared crawled out of the time machine, and as soon as he got to his feet, he fell to his knees because of the dizziness that suddenly overtook him.  Along with the dizziness, he felt waves of nausea.  His stomach felt like it was going to explode.  Now, leaning forward on his hands, he started to look around.  As he looked, black spots began to appear in his vision.  He turned his head, and the spots spun with his head.  The spots grew and everything went black.  Jared was blinded; all he could see was black.  He fumbled around trying to find his way.

      As he continued to fumble, he wondered what time it was.  He thought he was going to die; he would just collapse there to be crushed by Aaron’s machine.  Jared tried to stand but fell again.  As he fell, he felt warmth in his throat and his mouth was forced open so vomit could spew from his mouth onto the floor before him.  He lurched forward with each spurt of vomit.  Jared could feel it ooze down covering his fingers.  It was hot to the touch.  As his vomiting slowed, he tried to control the gagging reflex.  His vision slowly returned.

      Jared looked down to see the yellow and green watery ooze that had come from his mouth.  Suddenly, he remembered his hands and sat up, yanking them out of the vomit.  He moved his hands so quickly that it splashed onto his shirt.  He shook his hands before him then wiped off the rest on his pants.

      He did not know what time it was, so he quickly shut the machine’s door and started to push it.  At first it would not move.  He kept pushing toward the time machine hangar, but it would not budge.  The more he tried the more tired he became.  He felt weak from both the pushing and the vomiting.

      Jared decided to try to rock the time machine so he pulled at it.  It rolled towards him.  He stopped it and then pushed it forward again.  This time it budged a little, but then the weight of the machine grew and it rolled back towards him.  Jared stopped it again, and pushed it harder and faster.  It started to slow again at the same point.  This time when it got to the point it had stopped, it continued a little further then suddenly dipped down and began to roll quickly.  He kept pushing it to get it moving.  When it was fast enough that he was running, he barely had to push it.  It weaved from side to side and he worked to pull it back to the center. 

      As he got to the hangar, he heard a loud noise behind him.  Jared wanted to turn and look but had to keep his attention on the machine.  He stopped trying to push it and now was trying to get it to stop.  He pulled at it with his fingers, but the speed seemed unchanged.  He ran to its side and started pushing back against it.  It continued to roll forward and forced his hands back.

      Nothing was in the machine’s path except the wall that it was quickly approaching.  He got behind it and jumped onto it.  It continued to roll forward, as he went over the top, and started going down towards the floor with the ball he rolled off to the left. He landed flat on his back.  His butt stung as it caught most of the fall.  The time machine continued toward the wall but seemed slower.  He got up but thought it was too late.  Even if he tried the same approach again, it was too late.  He did it anyway and leapt onto the ball.  This time he aimed lower and grabbed at the holes with his hands.  He felt it slow enough so he could push himself back down without having to jump off again.  He pulled at it jumping back, but his fingers could not keep hold. 

      Now the ball was only a few feet away from the wall.  There was a loud bang as it hit the wall.  It bounced back a little after it struck the wall but quickly came to a stop.

      Jared walked to the time machine and checked the damage.  Part of the machine was dented and a large chip of concrete had fallen to the floor.  Jared lifted the concrete, deciding it needed to be hidden so it would not affect the timeline.  He walked down the bay from where he had come.  He saw a time machine at the end and ran, with the chip, toward the machine.  From Jared’s point of view, it looked like it was at the very end of the tunnel.  He thought it must have hit the wall.  When he arrived, he realized it was not close to the wall at all, and it seemed in perfect shape. 

      Jared dropped the chip onto the floor so he could examine the second time machine.  The door was closed and he could not see Aaron, so he pulled on the door.  With some effort, he was able to pry it open.  The inside was bright in comparison to the bay, and his eyes needed to adjust.  Before they could, he noticed an acrid smell coming from inside that made his eyes water.  Suddenly, he felt the nauseous again. When his eyes adjusted, he saw Aaron sitting still inside the machine.  Aaron’s eyes were closed, and Jared feared the worst until Aaron let out a snorting noise that sounded like a snore.  Jared poked Aaron, but Aaron did not move.  Ignoring the smell that now engulfed him, Jared bent forward and shook Aaron with both hands.  Aaron’s eyes suddenly opened wide, and he said, “What happened?”

      Jared said, “I don’t know.  Get out of there.  The smell is hideous!”

      Aaron started to breathe in, but when he smelled what Jared was referring to he stopped.  Aaron quickly pulled at the harness and got it off.  He then practically lunged out of the machine.  He looked back and saw that there was vomit on the bottom.

      Jared asked, “What happened?”

      “I don’t know.  I guess I vomited and then blacked out.  All I remember is trying to get the machine to stop.  Steering wasn’t as easy as I had expected.”  He paused, “Where are Sarah and Oliver?”

      “Right here,” called a voice.  They turned to see the voice was Oliver’s.  Beside Oliver was Sarah. They both looked significantly disheveled.  The left side of Sarah’s shirt was pushed up and her hair was a mess.  Oliver’s hair was sticking up in places and his pants were ripped at the knees.

      Aaron asked, “What happened to you?”

      Sarah said, “I was dizzy, but I found Oliver.  When I found him, he was still inside his machine.  He was having trouble opening the door . . . I think it was because of his luggage!”

      Oliver said, “I almost yakked.”

      “I did yak,” Aaron said.

      Sarah stuck up her nose at him and said, “Yuck, don’t you dare kiss me then!”

      “Aww, come on Honey, just one kiss.”

      “Eww”

      Oliver said to Jared, “Great, they’re at it again.  Are they always like this?”

      “I don’t know.  I’d offer them a toothbrush, but I don’t have one,” replied Jared with a shrug.  “I barfed, too.  In fact, I probably almost got crushed.  As I rolled the machine back I heard-” Jared stopped abruptly.  Then he said, “The time machine!  We have to move it before our past selves, or our selves in this time, see it and screw the timeline.”

      They all gave him a blank look.

      “Come on, help me,” Jared said as he turned running toward the hangar.

      They followed him.  Sarah and Aaron kept up, but Oliver soon lagged behind.  When the three of them arrived, Jared started pushing on the time machine and he said in a panic to them, “Help me.”

      Sarah and Aaron helped him by pushing on each side.  They were much stronger and quickly did most of the pushing to get it moving.  As it started to gain speed, Oliver finally arrived, completely out of breath.  He panted as they passed him.  After Oliver recovered, he found himself chasing them again and falling behind again.

      As they got to the end of the tunnel Jared said, “OK, we have to stop it.  This is tough; I crashed into the concrete wall getting out of the way for Aaron’s machine.”

      They started pulling on it, and with the three of them, it was easier to get it to slow down.  As it slowed and then stopped, Oliver caught up again.

      With Aaron and Jared’s machines secured at the end, they walked down the corridor and moved the other two machines.  Once all the machines were secured, they each went to their respective time machine and collected their bags.  As Aaron went he said, “I hope I didn’t get sick on my bag!”

      When they all had their bags, they walked to the door that led to the cave.  Jared said, “Well, here we go. Let’s see what the future has in store for us!”

      Aaron and Sarah got the door open.  Samuel had built valves above the door to equalize the air pressure.  He said at the time he had got the idea from an old submarine movie.  They did not need it though.  They were able to unlock it and open it with very little force.

      They walked through and into the musty cave.  The air seemed stale, which was surprising since if any air should have been stale it would have been in the bays where they had just been.  They carefully closed the door behind them.  The door was camouflaged to look like rock, as if it was part of the cave wall.  Unless you got very close, you could not see the seams that marked it as unnatural.

      They walked through the cave to the cliff edge.  They quickly climbed up without trouble.  They walked to the tower, which looked like it had not been touched since the day they left. 

      At the tower, Aaron asked about the note they would send themselves.  “So what should we write?”

      Jared said, “You know, as soon as we do this we’ll probably forget that this is the first time we sent a note.  Once we place the note, we’ll only be able to remember having gotten the note.  We will know it was the first time we ran through the mission because China will still invade Russia.  Once we stop China, though, it will be as if it never happened.  Our only knowledge will be from this note and research.”

      Aaron said, “That’s deep,” like he was a beatnik exploring a social ideal.

      Oliver asked, “So what do we write?”

      “I think we should just write the reason for the mission,” Jared replied.

      Sarah asked, “But what about all our research?  We’ll need that.”

      Jared asked as much to himself as to the team, “Will we?”

      The three nodded as if they would.

      “I’m not so sure.  If we don’t do the research, how will we be able to write the research?  It’s impossible.  It’s just like how we can’t go back in time and tell somebody how to make a thinner stronger glass to hold whales or go back and tell ourselves how to build a time machine.”

      Aaron said, “Well, if that’s true, how can we send a note to ourselves?”

      “Good question,” replied Jared.  “Maybe we can’t, but I’ve done it before.  I think the big difference is that it’s a very small change.  Also, the note is something we won’t open until just before it’s time to plan.  So even though we could leave it way back in the past it wouldn’t be opened until the future.”

      Sarah asked, “But you haven’t tried sending more?”

      “No, not that I know of,” he said.

      “What do you mean?”

      “Well, with the stones I kept forgetting what I was there to do.  Plus, when time changes, you won’t know or remember it.”

      “So is it possible somebody went back in time and told you how to build a time machine?”

      “Hell, no, I remember the blood, sweat and tears I put into that thing!”

      Aaron interrupted, “We should get on with it.  If this area is being watched they’ll know who we are and question us.”

      Oliver asked, “But we left on good terms, didn’t we?”

      Aaron said, “Things change.  We don’t want to get caught up in it.”

      “OK, I have the cylinder. Let’s write a note and go,” said Jared.

      Jared took out the cylinder, a pen, and paper from his bag.  He wrote on the cylinder’s label, ‘open on 3/15/2018.’ 

      “How about I say, China will invade Russia . . . no, that won’t be right because we are stopping them; China planned on invading Russia today (3/15), and we have stopped them as you must stop them.”

      Oliver said, “No, that makes NO sense!  They . . . or we . . . our past/future selves will know the invasion was stopped but won’t know they’ll be stopping it.  What if they do the wrong thing?  What if they don’t come back?”

      Jared said, “But that’s the beauty of it, they’ll have to do the same thing we did.  If they don’t, the invasion will happen, and they’ll have to do the same thing, but that’s impossible because we’ll have stopped it.  It’s kind of a paradox.  I can’t tell for sure what will happen, but what I think will happen is they’ll either come up with the same exact plan or they’ll realize what we did and repeat it. Either way, we don’t have to tell them.  The big problem with us telling them is it will change their future and our past.  Watching the events that we cause to unfold will change their lives, too, but not as much as this would.  Lives could change if we muck with time, babies could be born, marriages could be made or broken, and it’s even possible that people in the colony could die.  We can’t let that happen.  Not now, and not on future missions, even if our lives change in ways we don’t want.”

      Jared took a breath then said, “Say for instance Michelle dies because of cancer.  Now say that if the cancer was caught in time it would have been stopped, but that it wasn't.  I can’t cause its prevention.  In fact, even if I wanted to I doubt I could.  It’s like the rocks . . . I couldn’t change them.  We can do very minimal things to change our future lives.  It’s like the Zen of time travel!”

      “This is way over my head,” said Aaron.

      “Just trust me, I’ll write that if China is not stopped between the time the colony is made and the date we ship it that Russia and Europe will be invaded.  I’ll write that they have to prevent it.  You know what: it’s inevitable that they will stop it.  They can’t make a worse plan because of us but they might be able to make another plan.  I’d say write it and see what happens, but we won’t remember this conversation because this won’t have happened.  In fact, the first time through this plan will make sense because we still won’t have changed time.  As soon as I drop the note, we’ll only remember getting the note and having to re-write it.  We won’t know the plan we have in mind because it won’t have been executed.”

      Sarah said, “OK, this is giving me a headache.  Just write the stupid note!”

      Oliver nodded, “Write the note.  I trust you.”

      “Go ahead,” said Aaron with a shrug.

     

Dear Time-Keepers,

      We are currently on a mission to stop China from invading Russia and later Europe. The invasion will begin on 3/15/2018 if we fail.  You must formulate a plan to stop the invasion and execute it on 6/12/2018.  Good Luck!

 

Sincerely,

Jared Miller

Time-Keeper

 

      They all read it. 

      Oliver asked, “So why are you saying when to execute the plan?”

      “Well, because if it’s not executed the same day our futures may be mucked with.  I suspect that they’ll have more information than we did and be able to solve it quicker.  On the other hand, after we execute the plan it may be more confusing and take longer.  I guess at the very worst they’ll have to delay.  In the future we should add some buffer time.”

      Aaron checked his watch, “According to my watch it is 11:10.  The watch updated itself using the satellites, so we should be able to use the 11 am tube.”

      They went up the tower ramp that had the tube for 11 am.  When they got there, Aaron unlocked and opened the tube.  As Aaron held it open, Jared said, “Here goes,” and pushed it in. It instantly disappeared into the tunnel system.

****

“Well, let’s go,” said Aaron.

Jared said, “You realize this is probably the first time we’ve sent this.”

      “Unless we failed the mission,” Oliver contradicted.  “Remember how excited we all were to get the letter?”

      Aaron said to Oliver, “Not all of us were excited.  In fact, I think your protégé was pretty upset that he had nothing to do with it.”

      Oliver shrugged, “I can’t teach him humility.”

      “No, I suppose nobody could. I think what that boy needs is a walloping.”

      “Go for it!”

      They all laughed.

      Jared thought out loud, “So, I wonder if the plan we made when we had no note was the same.”

      “It must have been the same,” said Aaron.  “It’s not like we stopped the Chinese before.  The invasion started the same day we got the note.  If you remember, Kara found me when we got the note, telling us about the invasion.  She told us about the invasion right after we read the note.  I bet we didn’t even need the note.  I’m sure that day we would have started working to stop them.” 

      “The note said it would start if we failed, so maybe we did fail,” Sarah noted.

      “I think this is the first time.  If it wasn’t, we probably would have heard about a failed attempt,” said Jared.

      Oliver said doubtfully, “Probably.”

      “There are no sure things in life!”

      Everybody laughed. 

      “Let’s get going,” prompted Aaron.

      They headed through the property, reversing the way the Chinese had invaded when they searched for the Midas Machine.  On their way, they stopped at a small stream to clean themselves, from the vomit.  When they reached the road, they made sure no cars were coming so Jared could make a truck.  He built one of the trucks that they had used at the colony.

      Oliver reminisced saying, “The last time I was in one of these we were leaving the arcade.”

      “No arcades today, I’m afraid,” Aaron said.  “It was fun though.  I’m glad you convinced me to get a copy of Tourney ’15 for our arcade.  I remember how much of a pain it was for Samuel to put it together.  He kept saying, ‘Why couldn’t we just scan a pre-built one!’”

      The truck was exactly the same as the truck that had been scanned.  Even the license plate and gum on the driver’s side forward tire was the same.  The team put their bags in the back of the truck.  They quickly got into the truck with Oliver and Jared in the back seats and Sarah in the passenger seat.  Aaron drove.

      They headed to the Zurich airport.  When they arrived Aaron, who spoke some German, got them the tickets using fake US passports that Oliver had made them.  Oliver had been able to steal the software the US was using to make passports from the US Department of State’s network.  Oliver had assumed they would have to make forgeries with imaging applications, but after doing a quick peak into their network he found the software.

      Getting through security was a breeze.  The builders, which were in their bags, did not even get asked about when they went through the x-ray machine.

      They had wanted to take a sub-orbital flight because they were so much faster, and cheaper, but the Chinese airports would not allow sub-orbital flights to land or launch.  While they waited for their flight, they had lunch at a German fast-food restaurant. It featured meals of bratwurst, wieners, and ham.  Sarah had bratwurst, Oliver and Aaron had wieners, and Jared had ham. 

      Around 2:00, they boarded the flight to Beijing.  The flight was packed and they were lucky to have got seats.  Aaron and Sarah sat together near the exit hatch over the starboard wing.  Jared had a seat in the center at the very back of the plane.  Oliver had a seat a few rows in front of Jared.

      Even though the flight was going to land at 8:30, it was going to be over twelve hours long.  Each of the seats was equipped with a touch panel computer that let passengers browse the internet or watch movies.  Unfortunately, the panel wasn't very good for browsing the internet, as the interface was clunky.  In addition, most of the internet was blocked by child protection filters, even when the passenger was not a child. 

      The movies, however, were a fairly safe bet.  For a small price, a passenger could pay for headphones.  The headphones were plugged into the armrest but controlled through the screen. With the headsets, you could listen to satellite radio, some satellite television, or pick from the airplane’s on-board DVD jukebox.  Unfortunately, only ten movies could play at once, and the selection was small.  With so many passengers, the ten would quickly be picked on a first-come-first-serve basis. Anybody who wanted to watch a movie after the ten were picked would have to watch one of the already playing movies.  It was a really bad system, but considering the age of the plane, it was not surprising.

      Jared was the only one who did not buy headphones, and it was not for lack of money, either.  They brought a ton of Euros with them.  They did not have any scans of Chinese money. Getting some was one of the first orders of business they would take care of after arriving.

      Jared spent his time on the internet.  He spent most of the time on news websites and technology sites.  He also caught up on some web comics.  He had not spent much time on the internet while they were in the colony.  He had been very busy, and none of them had access to the internet inside their homes.  It had been decided that internet access would only be allowed in the command center.  They wanted to avoid getting involved with the outside world so that any changes they made would not affect them.  This meant that about the only internet access done was watching and hacking.  The hacking only exposed the hackers to technologies and the watching was usually kept to news websites.  Quickly, the colonists had lost interest in celebrities and pop culture because they had so little exposure to it.

      Oliver, Aaron, and Sarah all got headsets.  Throughout the flight, none of them got to start a movie.  Oliver spent most of the time listening to music and reading on the internet.  He found a few good hacking sites whose addresses he memorized.  Aaron watched the latter half of an action movie that one of the passengers had started.  The rest of the time, he watched television.  Sarah also watched some television but watched a few movies, too.

      Around 8:00 pm Swiss time they were fed a meal.  Aaron and Oliver had the airline’s version of chicken cordon bleu.  Oliver had the ham “dinner.”  Considering the serving size, it was closer to a continental breakfast.  Jared had a tuna salad sandwich. 

      At 11:00 pm Swiss time, Aaron and Sarah both fell asleep.  Around 11:30, Jared tried falling asleep, but he could not.  He was too nervous and anxious.  He wondered how Deirdre and Spencer were doing.  Then he realized that at that exact date and time a slightly younger version of him was with Spencer, and Deirdre was still unborn at this point.  He remembered how it had been a tough month for Michelle. Michelle had been really nervous about giving birth in the colony.  She would keep asking him, “What if something goes wrong?”  He would always reply, “Nothing will go wrong,” or “Zoe’s an excellent doctor,” and even the one she hated most, “You’ll be fine.”  She hated when he used the word fine.  To her it meant indifference, to him it meant acceptable or very well.

      As the night wore on, the plane started experiencing turbulence.  At first, it was minor and those asleep continued to sleep.  Then with a sudden shake, it became far worse.  Everybody but the heaviest of sleepers woke.  Sarah woke and got her husband to wake up. Aaron was not too impressed by the turbulence and whispered to Sarah, “Were there any plane crashes on this day?”

      She whispered back, “We’ll find out, won’t we?”

      After a minute Aaron said, “I guess if I understand it, the plane could crash even if it didn’t last time. While to us whatever changes we made here are small, we still made them. Imagine if, for example, we caused the stewardess to take two minutes longer to get the pilot coffee.  When she arrived he got up, not expecting her, and crashed into her knocking the coffee into the co-pilot’s lap.”

      “Oh, you have the most pleasant thoughts.  I doubt it would matter if the co-pilot had coffee spilled on him.  They probably use auto-pilot for the entire flight.”

      Over the loudspeaker and over the headsets a husky voice said, “This is your captain speaking.  We are flying through some turbulence right now.  Please remain seated until we are through it.  Please note the fasten seatbelt sign is now illuminated.  There is a thunderstorm ahead of us that I’m trying to get around.  Unfortunately, it’s proving difficult because of its unusual unpredictability.  Please remain calm.  If we can’t get around it we will turn back, and you’ll receive refunds.”

      After a moment, the same voice repeated the message in German and then Chinese.  The Chinese sounded a little mechanical because a translator made the voice output.

      Sarah quoted to Aaron, “Unusual unpredictability.”

      He laughed softly, which caused a few passengers to turn and give him looks.  Aaron smiled at them and waved at a little old lady who looked like a snarling dog the way she contorted her face at him.  When he waved, she turned in a huff, pretending to watch television.

      Sarah pinched him in the back of the arm.  He said, “Ow!”

      “Wuss,” she replied.

      “Yikes, this whole flight is against me, even my own wife.”

      “Oh, stop with the melodrama, you haven’t even met all the people on this plane.”

      “You know I can still taste that chicken.  It was rather fowl.”

      “Do you always pun in the face of death?”

      “Oh, please, a little rain storm never scared me!”

      Just as she was about to say, ‘It’s not raining yet,’ the plane began to get pelted by a mixture of water and hail.  A huge burst of lightning lit the sky on their side of the plane.

      She said, “What is the point of the fasten seat belt signs?  I mean really, like a seatbelt is going to save us if we crash into land at 600 miles per hour!”

      “I think it’s kind of a control thing.  They think of the seatbelts as voluntary leashes!”

      She let out a little burst of laughter, which she tried to contain.  A woman in the seat in front of them mocked, whispering, “Honestly, what is their problem!”

      Aaron said, “Oh, don’t mind us, we just don’t fly much!”

      They didn’t reply.

      Sarah said, “Can you see Oliver and Jared?”

      He turned his head back to look.  There was a small room between them that presumably held the wonderful airline food.  A curtain was drawn in the two aisles that led to the back, preventing him from seeing.  “Nope.  I’m sure they’re fine though.”

****

      While Sarah and Aaron continued to joke, Oliver had found a command prompt to play with.  He quickly mapped the IP addresses on the plane to seats based on network traffic.  He got a sniffer running and used it to determine the people in front of him using the internet.  It was pretty easy because none of the people he could see were on popular websites.  Once he found the IP pattern, he applied it to the seat numbers and tested it by sending Jared a note using net send to simply say Hi. Jared looked at him after he sent it so Oliver knew it had reached the right person.

      Oliver sent another message that included instructions on how to reply.  They chatted for awhile using net send.  Jared had trouble typing, so he kept his messages short and often dropped letters from words.  One of the lines he sent was so unintelligible it read as, “strom wll dela lnding.”

      Oliver on the other hand was writing notes like, “I can’t believe this person is still asleep, he could probably sleep through a battle.  I wish I could sleep that well!  Maybe he has kids.  That’s probably why he sleeps so well.  He knows when he gets home he won’t be getting any sleep.”

      When Oliver was sure he had Aaron’s IP, he sent him a message stating, “Visit the website where your daughter first discovered Russia’s dilemma.”

      Oliver watched the traffic from that IP address, which was silent for over a minute.  Finally, he saw a hyper text request from the IP for the website.  Oliver then sent a message indicating how to chat with Jared and himself.

      After a few minutes Oliver got a message from Aaron’s IP saying, “I guess you’re as bored as we are here. Oh, and Sarah says hello!”

      Oliver wrote, “Have her send a message and I’ll say hello back.”

      “She said she doesn’t want to, it’s too much work.”

      “Everything OK up there?”

      “Well, as OK as can be expected :p!”

      “Cool, an uber smiley, LOL!”

      Aaron replied with a message saying, “LOL!”

      Oliver wrote, “The person on the other window seat of your aisle seems to have found an unblocked porn site!  Think I should mess with him?”

      “Yikes, mess with him how?”

      “Oh, you know, the old, ‘I’m your computer, and I don’t appreciate the filth you keep using my pixels for.’”

      “OMG, that’s awesome.  Do it!”

      Oliver masked his IP, then sent the message.  Just as he hit enter, Aaron sent another message saying, “I take it back, I’ve been convinced you shouldn’t send it.”

      Oliver replied, “Oops, too late!”

      “Ouch, I just got pinched over this!”

      Oliver wrote back, “Is that bad?”

      “Well, my arm can’t take much more of it.”

      From where Oliver was sitting, he could hear a shout in the cabin ahead of him.  The word shouted sounded like it was in Chinese.  A few minutes of silence passed and then Aaron sent a message to both Jared and Oliver, “Chill with the messages, that guy is the flight’s air marshal!”

      Oliver laughed at the irony but knew the marshal would not be able to identify him as the sender.  After a few minutes, a conservatively dressed short Asian man walked up the port aisle and a few minutes later walked back down the starboard aisle.  Oliver guessed by the way the man was looking ‘inconspicuously’ at everybody that the man was the marshal.

      A few minutes later a voice started speaking in Chinese.  After the voice finished in Chinese, it went on in German.  After the Chinese speech it said, “Attention passengers, we may have a cyber-terrorist or terrorists aboard.  A terrorist has penetrated the plane’s LAN.  They or he should be easy to spot, as they would need tools like a laptop, wire-cutters, and other paraphernalia.  If you have seen any such person please inform us using the computer terrorist alert system or by contacting a stewardess.”

      Oliver was amused by several things the man had said, but he was most amused by the lack of political correctness he used saying stewardess.  Of course, since English was last, it could have been translated that way.  There was no way to be sure.  On the other hand, if he did not know English he would have had to translate it into Chinese to understand it, and it seemed likely something would have been lost on the translation!  Besides the political correctness, he was amused by the absurd comment about needing a laptop and wire cutters.  While the air marshal might not be technically inclined, he should have been able to phone to somebody to discover how the message could have been sent.  Lastly, he thought that using the computers to report a cyber-terrorist was a rather daft plan.

      Because the US forced armed air marshals to be present on international flights, they eventually became common even on flights to other nations.  With all the terrorism concerns throughout the world, an alert system was included in the planes built after 2006.  Older planes (of which there were many) were also updated with alert systems.

      The alert system acted like glorified fire alarms.  Passengers could use their computer to send an alert with a small description to the crew and to the ground.  The terrorists who used airplanes after the alerts were introduced made it their first priority to disconnect the alert system from the ground.  Usually to disconnect the system from the ground the terrorists only needed to employ a jamming device, which even in 2018 had not been banned from flights.  While there were no documented cases of the alert system being used properly and successfully, politicians kept funding the system saying they were an active deterrent that had more than likely prevented several terrorist actions.

      After the speech was completed in all three languages many passengers started to innocently look about to try and find what the voice had described.  Several discussions started about the “terrorist threat,” but nobody seemed too concerned.  Most of the passengers were Swiss or Chinese and did not take terrorism as seriously as US citizens.  Eventually, they all got bored with it and went back to sleep or pretended to ignore the weather. 

      The colonists all eventually fell asleep and stayed asleep until the plane landed.  Apparently, the air marshal did not tell the Chinese as passengers were not questioned after the plane landed.  The team quickly met up after getting off the plane, exchanged some money from euros to yuan, and went to their hotel.

Copyright (C) 1998-2001 East Coast Games, Inc. and 2001 - 2006 Forest J. Handford

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