Darkness and Light
A frowning Corporal Tregennis pointed to one of the pages on her trio of computer screens and said with perplexity and concern in her voice, “The portal records show that the last person went through alone to a date that makes no sense. And the computer says he made it through.”
“What date?” the athletic, redheaded Major Janet O’Reilly asked as she scanned the square of glass to see for herself.
Lynn Tregennis, her mousy brown hair cropped short and her pudgy facial features belying her slender sinewy build, dragged several virtual “windows” out of the way with her forefingers and scrolled down another. After comparing the older and more recent reports, she informed those clustered around her in the cupboard-filled Cold Lake administration Quonset so recently captured, “To the day after the man first arrived, almost nine months ago.”
Captain René Brazeau’s short, wiry frame tensed and his thin lips drew back from his teeth as his chagrined mutter echoed everyone’s thoughts: “Oh, hell!”
O’Reilly sighed and said, “Well, that explains how their security forces got across the continent to attack us so soon after we took control of Haven’s time portal.”
“They’ll be waiting for us,” Brazeau predicted.
“But why didn’t they notify Howes and their other agents in Haven?” wondered Michael MacGregor, his pure-black hair and beard and bronze skin glinting green, red, and blue with the reflection of the coloured words and figures that glared from the glazing in the otherwise darkened office. “I don’t believe the eastern group expected our little coup d’état.” He rocked his adopted infant son Daniel in his arm as he glanced pensively from one camouflage-uniformed colleague to another.
“Maybe they wanted to ensure complete surprise,” his wife Phoenix Lamb MacGregor suggested as she rubbed her fifth-month pregnancy protrusion with one hand and held the small fingers of her stepson Jamie with the other. The snowy-haired young mother in oversized fatigues elaborated, “Perhaps they were merely taking no chances we’d get wind of their approach. Certainly, if they expected most of their confederates to be at the portal or the quarry instead of in Haven proper, they could issue orders to their troops not to fire on the manufactory and the southern residences where Howes and the rest might be found. That would explain why those areas received little damage during the fighting. And once they had taken over the town, the company’s local contingent would simply have become governors or some such.”
Her husband added, “And if they assumed their takeover would be successful, that they would thwart us, they would continue business as usual on their end.”
Major O’Reilly concluded, “And they’d have been waiting for word of that success.”
Brazeau queried, “But why did they not send more troops to Pangaea to beef up the security they’d stripped in order to attack us?”
“Another good question,” O’Reilly replied. To Corporal Tregennis, she commanded, “Check their communications.”
Complying, the specialist swiftly tapped on the computer console’s keyboard to pull up a new file. She scrolled through messages to and from other western oil towns, reports and requisitions to Futurebase, and a handful of letters home to loved ones, until she found the first of a series of unanswered requests for aid and repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact Headquarters. Inter-community memos and local administration logs confirmed that all of the western oilfields had been cut off from the future for months.
“Perhaps Jonathan’s computer virus will be implanted retroactively and make contact impossible,” said Louis Cleroux in his heavy French accent. The astronomer whose telescope had been used to scan the extent of the illicit Cretaceous-Period extraction operations and the devastation of those enterprises by the frequent and often violent earthquakes to which the region east of the developing Rocky Mountains was prone, shrugged both eyebrows and shoulders nonchalantly, his faith in Haven’s chief scientist and his other academic colleagues absolute.
“We’d better pray that’s the answer,” the eternally pessimistic Brazeau replied in his nasal tone tinted with a hint of his Québec upbringing. “Otherwise, we can expect to have a helluva a fight on our hands when we return to the twenty-first century. If we even manage to get through!”
The major reminded him, “We’ll get through by way of the natural portals. Futurebase may know those exist, thanks to Howes, but not where they are.”
“Unfortunately,” the captain pointed out, “we don’t know where the damn things’ll spit us out in the future, given that the land masses of that time won’t correspond to those of this period because of continental drift.”
Phoenix stated, “We know exactly where a few of the ones around Haven will take us because of our scouting missions. And if we jump ahead to test shortcuts, we may find means to come out fairly close to Cold Lake and Tortuga and locations on the other end equivalent to the various Cretaceous oilfields.”
O’Reilly summed up, “So, we confirm that their exits will allow our troops, in advance of the main assault, to make their way to the Futurebases and set up for the attack. Some of our reconnaissance teams have already made contact with reliable local environmental and social activists willing to help us with transport and temporary lodging.”
And we’ll have other help, as well, thought Phoenix as she recalled her first foray into the future and her encounter with Blue-Eyes, a friend from her own time….
Northern Ontario, twenty-first century
THE LANKY, taciturn man with eyes the colour of robin’s eggs accompanied the Jump Team through the pine and spruce forests of the boreal wilderness to the location of the natural event horizon whence they had come. On the shore of the island on which the temporal anomaly lay, Phoenix stopped to stare into his intense gaze.
Thank you, she thought to him, knowing he would hear.
Through his response in her mind, she saw other Southsiders she had known on the military base that had been her home for eleven years. All were ready to aid the people of Haven.
The Weird-Eyes, they had once been called until they separated from the other soldiers to set up a small camp south of the main structures of Zinderneuf, as the former World War I fort had been dubbed. Eventually, their comrades had stopped fearing the silent warriors who invariably turned up just before an attack that might have ended in disaster without their aid. Indeed, it became a status symbol in the outfit to have one’s own Southsider, a buddy who chose to fight alongside a particular man or woman. The Boss (as the leader of the peculiar mishmash of veteran soldiers and mercenaries, adventurers, academics, and loners was known) had been the first to be adopted—appropriately enough by Blue-Eyes, the unofficial leader of the Southsiders.
Unfamiliar mental images intruded upon her memories of her life on the Middle Eastern desert in the late twentieth century: She saw guarded industrial compounds surrounded by high fences, skyscrapers soaring above cities, and luxurious estates she guessed to be the new enemy’s strongholds. Fleeting glimpses of forests, plains, and mountaintops followed. Then, a clear vision of finger-like menhirs arranged in a circle and surrounded by towering Munros lingered in her consciousness before fading.
She stared at him, certain the last vision was important, but unsure what it meant.
When Blue-Eyes stepped back, she knew the wordless conversation had ended. Again, she thanked him, and she watched a moment as he walked away. Finally, she gathered her teammates for another rollercoaster ride through time.
Cold Lake, present day, Cretaceous
WHEN THE MEETING broke up, all but Tregennis heading off to other duties, Michael MacGregor passed the newly wakened Daniel to his wife, kissed her briefly, smiled faintly as he tousled the jet hair of his firstborn, and strode out to take a turn on the northern security tower that overlooked the desolation beyond the town. Like its counterparts facing other directions, the thatch-roofed platform fitted with a cannon had been erected to protect against any dinosaurs that might cross the open space bared by the earthmovers that now lay abandoned here and there beyond the horizontal-pole perimeter fence. The Scot contemplated the morning’s discovery darkly, his gut warning him that more would come of the unexpected use to which the Cold Lake time portal had been put by the last evacuee.
The scientists of Haven had known that the Haven and Futurebase portals were synchronized to allow each day that passed in the Cretaceous Period to be matched in the Holocene in order to avoid traffic congestion when shipments of minerals, petroleum, and water arrived in the future. A sensible precaution, albeit for nefarious purpose. But the experts of Haven had assumed that the miners and oilers who worked the Cretaceous operations would have limited knowledge of the time technology. Apparently, though, at least one of the men who had come to the past had been familiar enough with the machine to recalibrate its exit point and had possessed enough knowledge of the physics involved not to attempt to return to a time in which he already existed.
Was he a scientist? the Scot wondered. A technician?
But from the back of his mind another possibility pushed to the fore. His wife had often spoken of the dark souls she had encountered in her life, including the bastards who had murdered her parents and tried to kill her when she was but a small child, and the pervert who had raped her in the orphanage in which she had grown up. Michael had seen her clairvoyant capability, for, a few months ago when she arrived with him and Jamie in the Cretaceous community of Haven, she had instantly spotted the evil of the men who worked the quarry; of Howes, the former Chief of Operations for Haven’s mining and manufacturing; and of Howes’s military henchman, Travis. Soon after, events had vindicated her assessments.
Had the last man to leave from Cold Lake been one of these dark souls?
As the Scot climbed the wooden ladder of the lookout tower, a frisson of fear shot up his spine. If such a man knew how to manipulate time and had access to the mechanical means to do so, what would he do to regain his power?
Michael MacGregor prayed his suspicion was unfounded.
“I HAVE TO take care of Daniel, Sweetheart. Can you find something to do?”
Jamie nodded as his mam opened one of the wide doors to the building everyone called “Admin” and held it for him. Outside, she walked to the third Quonset down the way, and he watched after her until she went inside the big shower place where everybody washed. He sighed as he looked about at the dusty greyish land that went on forever, here. He missed Haven, with its flowers and bushes and grass and trees. He didn’t even mind the nasty smells of the stink-balsams and skunk-flowers; they were better than the reek of rubber tires and machines and oil that filled the towns, here. He missed his friends—especially Dana, the dark-haired and dark-eyed little girl who had smiled at him and made him blush and feel funny inside on the very first day he went to school in Haven. And today, he missed the people in The Flats, where he came from: He had not seen Gran and Auntie Elizabeth and Uncle Ben and Cousin Joseph and Cousin Marianne in a long time.
Or maybe he did not miss them so much as he missed the old himself, before all this bad stuff happened. Before he and Da fell into the cold river of strangeness that brought them to the way-beforetime. Before the bad men came to Haven. Before the Travis man kidnapped him and stuck a knife in his da’s belly. Before he hit the Travis man and made the dark light go out of him so the bugger couldn’t hurt Da anymore.
And especially before he saw in his head the awful things Da had seen when he was somebody else with another name. Da had screamed inside himself when he remembered it. And Jamie had heard the scream and seen those things and felt Da’s feelings. Now, he wished he did not know about bad men and what they do.
He pushed out another big breath and decided to go to the Mess Hall to help Sergeant Duff make lunch so he would be too busy to think about people with black souls anymore.
PHOENIX GROANED at her husband’s ministrations as he massaged her aching back while she sat in the Spartan private barracks-room set aside for her family. Daniel lay sleeping on a mattress on the floor near her feet; meanwhile, Jamie had gone to “help” the kitchen staff again as they prepared dinner for the military Strike Team that had come from the community of Haven, far to the east, to the western oil towns in the lee of the nascent Rocky Mountains. The first-time mother pondered recent events as her muscles began, ever so slowly, to relax.
With a great deal of help from nature in the form of earthquakes, and thanks to the interspatial “shortcuts” that had been found, the soldiers of Haven had put a stop to clandestine and illicit extraction operations established here, and had sent the workers back to Futurebase through their own time machines. The final group, formerly resident in this Cretaceous capital, had fled on the eastern team’s approach. Now, Major O’Reilly was gathering Intel from the computers and organizing collection of blankets, clothing, medical equipment, foodstuffs, and other items to be taken back to the recently flooded Haven.
The soldiers would have to leave soon, for the tremors to which this region was subject had destabilized the thousands of derricks that had been built over the last decade, resulting in ruptures that had led to vast tracts of land being flooded with black ooze that fouled air and soil and water. This easternmost operation was farthest from the epicentres, but the frequent shaking had already caused enough damage to flood one of the camps on the periphery.
Phoenix hoped she was right: that these black lakes would become the latter-day tar sands scattered about the earth, rather than some new danger to humanity the consequences of which could not be foreseen. Otherwise, the interference in Earth’s past by unscrupulous corporations and their pocket governments might spell extinction for humankind.
She moaned again as her husband’s manipulations eased the tension in her back muscles strained by the weight of the baby she carried on her front most of each day as well as the weight of the baby growing in her belly. She did not want to be one of those women who complained about their aches and pains all through their pregnancies, and she had refrained from comments. But her man was more sensitive to her moods and her expressions than she might have expected in one who had grown up in a wealthy family in Victorian Canada, with the nineteenth century’s studied ignorance and general disregard of women—although, she admitted to herself, attitudes toward women in the following decades to and beyond her own time had, in fact, deteriorated in many ways. At least in Victorian times women were generally treated with a certain respect, as ladies, though that designation relegated females to a sort of gilded cage. But later attempts to liberate the feminine gender from such constraints had met with a fierce backlash when men of self-professed superiority felt threatened by such emancipation and by its social, political, economic, and sexual impacts. Moreover, from what she had learned from the people of Haven whose time was decades beyond her own, deeply unbalanced cultural and pseudo-religious influences had entrenched a view of women as universally worthless—a view apparently becoming as open and commonplace in the “First World” as it had always been in the “Third World.”
She sighed at the mindless hubris by which men actually reduced themselves to mere beasts: After all, if they objectified their mothers and the women who bore their children as nothing more than base animals, such parentage put the lie to their claims of being god-like paragons.
But Phoenix had found a better man. A worthy man. And one who loved her deeply.
“Thank you, Michael,” she said as she smiled up at the wonderful person who had literally crossed time to find her.
He pushed a snowy lock behind her ear and whispered, “You’re welcome.”
Her face fell at his expression: a faint smile that did not reach his eyes. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
At a facial shrug she recognized as a prelude to a dismissal of the matter, she insisted, “Don’t try to con me. I can see something is bothering you. Spill it.”
He pursed his lips as he drew a long inhalation and regarded her. Finally, he said, “The last man.”
Realizing what he meant, she caught her breath as a shiver ran up her spine. “It’s…it’s probably nothing,” she said lamely as she averted her gaze.
Pulling his mouth into a wry grin and raising his thick, brushy brows, Michael responded, “Now who’s not being truthful?”
Phoenix swallowed and glanced about, wishing she did not share his concern. After a shuddering exhalation, she admitted, “I think I saw him. Through the telescope when Louis was scanning the oilfields.” She swallowed again, licked her lips, and finished softly, “The blackest of those who evacuated.”
MICHAEL MACGREGOR bent to kiss his wife tenderly. Straightening, he gazed into her frightened violet eyes as he stroked her curling white tresses. She had such strength, at times, having long been a soldier, and a battle-hardened mercenary soldier, at that. But she was vulnerable, too. Even more so than her former self, his first wife Anne. Of course, Anne had been much Phoenix’s senior; he smiled inwardly at the memory of how smitten he had been by a woman older than his mother. Many would think such a May-December relationship absurd, but he had loved Anne with all his heart and he knew she had loved him as deeply. Losing her had been the most painful experience of his life.
His longing to have her back had led him to attempt to draw her to him through the temporal anomaly on the island she had once shown him. But instead of bringing Anne to the nineteenth century, he and Jamie had accidentally stumbled into the time stream and ended up here in the distant past with Phoenix—the reincarnation of his Anne, a younger woman who had also become lost in time.
In how many lifetimes had they loved?
When Anne first told him that he was her late husband come back to life, he had thought her a little mad. He had loved her anyway and accepted her eccentricities, for she had awakened in him feelings of which he had thought himself incapable. But a time had come when he suddenly relived the death of the man he had once been. He had even felt the penetration of the bullets and the sense of life ebbing as he bled out into a stream while the bastards who had killed him raped his wife nearby. The vision had been so vivid and so full of rage and sorrow he could not dismiss it. Finally, he had recognized the reality of “life after death” as very different from the conception of it that he had been taught.
Yes, he had loved his wife before and he would love her again. But he did not want to lose her in the here-and-now. Nor to be lost to her, that she would have to care for their children alone. He desperately wanted the life they had envisioned together: a life of peace on a little plot of land among good neighbours. And when they first came upon the circular jewel within predator-infested jungle that was Haven, he had thought they had found such a life.
But it had soon become apparent that creating their idyll would require first removing the obstacles to it: the insane fools who plundered the planet in both past and future and threatened all life with extinction. And now, it would seem, there was another danger: evil men with the knowledge and power to kill their enemies before they became enemies.
A shock ran through him at the realization those men might have been the very ones who had murdered Phoenix’s parents. Suddenly trembling, he pulled her into his arms to cling to her as though to ward off the horrors of her past and the terrors of their future.
He and his family and all of the people of Haven must soon jump to a distant century to fight a war against the most powerful people on the planet. But Michael MacGregor had no doubt that there was another war yet to be fought: against those who would attempt to win retroactively.
And he knew with a certainty he could not explain that his wife would be among their primary targets.
PHOENIX HAD BECOME inured to the chaos and bizarre sensations of the wormholes in the space-between-spaces that directly transports those who enter an event horizon to a distant point on the planet. That place-that-is-not-a-place was not as cold or as jarring as the time stream with its plethora of eddies and currents and exits. Unlike the snaking and curving of its temporal counterpart, the shortcut “structure,” if one could call it that, was formed of straighter channels and comprised intersections where flows in different directions converged. Perhaps in the centre of the planet, she mused as she cornered into a conduit that smelt warmer. She dragged her companions toward its egress and abruptly found herself running across an unfamiliar glade.
She glanced to the sky, its azure dotted with large masses of white. Then, she surveyed the small opening and the surrounding verdant forest of redwoods, pines, and stink-balsams with its burgeoning understory of glossy-leafed laurels; a few twisted yews; white-flowering magnolias in depressions at the treeline; palm-like cycads; clustering ferns; and low, lacy horsetails that extended into the clearing.
At once, the dark-haired and round-faced Lieutenant Oattes pulled from his multi-pocketed jacket a miniature computer tablet and tapped an icon as the other soldiers readied weapons and fanned out to secure the area against predatory wildlife. “Good job, Lamb. We’re thirty klicks out,” the officer announced in his gravelly voice as he sent a message to Colonel MacPherson.
Phoenix shifted the knapsack slung on her back and patted the wakening Daniel strapped to her front. Then, she closed her eyes and concentrated, stretching her mind toward the hog-back where the Haven time machine lay dormant and guarded, and on to the base of its western cliff where dragons dwelt in a pair of hollows there. Presently, she made mental contact with Louie, the first dragon she had encountered and her primary liaison with the winged serpents of the area. Their telepathic conversation ended with his promise to gather friends and relations to her location to fly the returning Haveners to the new human crèche that had replaced the flooded valley that held their former home.
“Well?” Oattes inquired the moment she opened her eyes.
“They’re on their way,” she told him. “And all but the portal crew have moved to a new location somewhere to the south.
“Southeast, actually,” said Oattes. “The colonel informed me.” He added, “And he wants to see O’Reilly pronto.”
“I’ll fetch her,” Phoenix replied. With that, she whirled and ran to the event horizon as defensive perimeter fires flared to encircle the meadow.
PER THE TEAM’S standard operating procedure, Phoenix included all the sensitives—those able to feel event horizons—on the next run so that they would become familiar with the route. Major O’Reilly came as well, and a few more soldiers to augment the sentries already deployed on the eastern end of the wormhole. Also a sensitive, Michael accompanied her on this run, and he brought Jamie. On arrival in the glade, he promptly placed the boy on the smallest of the dragons for immediate evacuation to the safety of the community.
“I want to stay with you,” Jamie complained as his father lifted him onto grey-scaled young Orin.
“We’re not having this conversation again,” said Michael sternly. “You know your mam and I want you safe.”
Jamie crinkled his brows and wrinkled his nose in vexation, but heaved a resigned sigh.
At that, Michael grinned, tousled his son’s hair, and said, “Get on with ye, then. And be good for the MacNivens.”
The mention of Dana’s family lightened his mood and Jamie nodded acquiescence. A moment later, he was airborne and on his way to Haven Two as his parents re-entered the event horizon hand in hand ahead of the rest of the wormhole guides.
THE REMAINDER of the day’s work involved ferrying soldiers back and forth to fetch salvaged materials for the colony that had lost everything from seeds and food to tools and scientific equipment. At least the people of Haven would now have extra bedding and clothing, medicine and provisions (albeit predominantly canned or freeze-dried fare) to supplement what had been retrieved from the flooding town.
As he prepared for the day’s last trip, slipping laden sacks over his shoulders and around his neck, Michael glanced about at the transports that had hauled goods and soldiers from Cold Lake, through tyrannosaur territory on the edge of the manmade desert that was quickly being reclaimed by the flora and fauna, to the greenery-ringed event horizon. The vehicles would be abandoned here in the sequoia forest, just as the derricks, Quonsets, outhouses, and other anachronistic paraphernalia had been abandoned where they lay. Eventually, he knew, the sturdiest steel would succumb to the corrosive effects of weather as surely as the softest fabrics. It was only a matter of time.
Time. It should be inviolable, he mused. But even time was not sacrosanct to those who would use any means to maintain absolute control. Those who wanted the power of life and death over all.
For what purpose? he wondered. What could be gained from such domination? Illusions, a philosophical part of his mind answered. The illusion of safety. The illusion of invulnerability. The illusion of superiority.
What a sad choice, he thought. To give up love and friendship and happiness for a fantasy.
He glanced to Phoenix and smiled as she pressed Daniel to her breast. The boy’s tiny hand rested against the soft, pale flesh as he suckled, and his adoptive mother beamed fondly as she regarded the brown-haired infant.
Watching them, Michael reflected that he could never give up love, for even the crushing blow of losing Anne had not dimmed his desire to experience that passion, that devotion, again. And he pitied those delusional fools who so feared love’s risks as to sacrifice its rewards.
THE SKY HAD cleared after the usual afternoon rain, and the glorious gold that washed the western horizon had deepened to vermillion and then to purple by the time Phoenix and Michael flew above the dusky treetops to the colony with the last of the salvaged goods and with the sentries who had guarded each end of the wormhole. They spiralled to land in a broad clearing, the cobbles of which peeked out amid the aggressive greenery that invaded the chinks. Dismounting, they bade their leather-winged friends goodbye and then headed for the waiting Quartermaster to deliver their burdens. Both MacGregors wanted to find Jamie, food, shower, and bed, but immediate rest after their long day was not to be.
No sooner had the couple arrived in the surprisingly well-built and fortified Haven Two than they were ushered to the command post that overlooked the town. As she climbed the wooden steps to the colonel’s office, the staircase’s new timbers gleaming under the light of the waxing moon that brightened the twilight, Phoenix marvelled that this setup was virtually identical to the original community a hundred or so miles away: Enormous boles laid horizontally and attached to vertical trunks formed the perimeter fence dotted at regular intervals with thatch-roofed security towers; military structures from barracks to Mess Hall to armoury to garage flanked Colonel Robert MacPherson’s towering domain; a sprawling medical facility lay next to the half-finished Orientation Centre; and several dozen houses edged the outer boulevard that ringed the complex. Her belly liquefied at the realization the people of Haven could not have built all this in just a couple of months.
In the office, chief scientist Jonathan Sydenham waited with Colonel MacPherson, Major O’Reilly, Captain Brazeau, Lieutenants Oattes and Shah, and Sergeant Villada. The computer screens perching on the huge slab of redwood that rested on a pair of pine chunks displayed the visages of moon-faced Captain Marie Olsheskie; dark-skinned Lieutenant Stella Trask; and cocky, hazel-eyed blond Lieutenant “Ace” Kiel.
Wasting no time on pleasantries, the colonel told his senior staff, “Here it is, people: We found this town well underway and filled to brimming with the tools and other means to create a whole new colony. Scouts have verified that two more sites are under construction—or, at least they were until we sent the crews packing.”
“Where did you send them?” Brazeau wanted to know. “And how the hell did our airborne scouts miss three great bloody construction sites?”
“Well, there’s the thing,” said MacPherson. “The piles of materials and the structures in progress had been camouflaged; all the easier since, as you may have noticed, no clearing for agriculture has been done. Obviously, the man that got away to the past pushed up the building schedule and anticipated that we might find our sister sites unless they could be hidden.
“As for their security personnel: They spotted our approach and lit out into the jungle.” He added with chagrin, “Though not without leaving a little scorched earth behind.” He waved in the direction of the charred storehouses Phoenix had noted. Then, he went on, “We managed to capture many of the workers, but they knew nothing useful; so, we just sent them on to Futurebase by way of our own portal. Meanwhile, the enemy forces have been sniping at us regularly.”
He grimaced as he concluded, “And we figure their portal lies about forty klicks away to the southwest. When we head in that direction, we meet heavy resistance.”
Jonathan put in, “My people have uploaded several viruses. We think that’s why they’ve kept their distance.”
“They’ve received no reinforcements,” Michael surmised.
“That’s our guess,” MacPherson said with a curt nod. He took a deep breath and announced, “But since it’s only a matter of time—”
He grinned as he interjected, “If you’ll pardon the pun—”
Over the resulting chuckles, he finished, “Before they overcome the viruses, we’ll have to move up our own schedule. As of tomorrow, we’ll head back to the hog-back to start getting out of here.”
Brazeau whistled through his teeth.
Phoenix closed her eyes and sighed.
MICHAEL’S GUT clenched. Christ! We’re not remotely ready for this!
As though in answer to the thought, MacPherson said, “I know we intended to take more time to prepare.” He glanced to Phoenix as he added, “And to allow the pregnant ladies to birth their children.” He panned the room as he continued, “But we can no longer afford to wait.”
He nodded to Jonathan Sydenham. The pale-eyed scientist ran a slender hand through his silky blond hair and took a deep breath before he advised all present, “As I mentioned, we’ve managed to upload viruses, dated back to just before we banished Howes and his people, so we control their systems. From your reports, I conclude that their entire network of computers is linked; otherwise, the western operations would have been able to maintain contact with the twenty-first century despite the issues at the portal tethered to the hog-back. And we believe that once we take control of Futurebase we can access their satellites, as well, to accurately locate all of their clandestine installations and their official enterprises.”
His mind racing, Michael interposed, “In that case, we’ll know exactly where they are and we’ll be able to disrupt not only their communications but their access to information and money. And we may be able to broadcast to the world everything they’ve been doing.” He started at his own statement, wondering how he had known of that possibility. A part of him immediately realized the knowledge came from his previous life in the late twentieth century as The Boss.
A glance to each of the others told him that all were now in “thinking mode,” as Anne would have called it. And Phoenix’s smile held both awe and amusement as she recognized that his alter ego had leapt to the fore. He blushed under her knowing gaze.
Jonathan concurred, “Indeed. We could access their accounts to identify all who have been paid off, and then put that into the public domain, as well.”
MacPherson nodded as he said, “That would certainly stir the pot. The denials and recriminations would fill the internet and the airwaves and have the whole bloody planet in an uproar. Especially when it becomes known they intended to escape Earth and leave everyone else stuck with their mess.”
Villada suggested, “It might even force a premature launch to Mars, if the public backlash is strong enough.”
Sydenham said, “I’m sure the human rights and environmental lobbies would fan the flames.”
Lieutenant Trask commented, “Especially if our people give them a heads-up before we go in. They can be on hand to witness our takeovers and, perhaps, to help overrun and occupy Futurebases, since we’ll be thin on the ground.”
Michael recalled that many of the Haven scout teams had contacted members of those groups. Now he understood why that search and communication had been deemed important enough to risk detection and capture.
The colonel said, “Which brings me to the matter of timing.” He looked to Phoenix and inquired, “Would I be correct in assuming you and the other sensitives can navigate the time stream to a point ahead of—meaning before—our arrival in the future when we activate the portal?”
“Yes,” Phoenix confirmed. “All who have followed the artificial stream can do it. But not all have that experience.”
The chief scientist proposed, “We could get them that experience if we open the portal again.”
Brazeau objected, “How can we do that without tipping our hand?”
Michael answered, “Before we shipped the miners back, did we not send a message that we were having—”
“Technical difficulties,” Jonathan said in unison with his friend from the nineteenth century. He grinned as he stated, “We could calibrate the portal to a half-hour later and claim we’re testing it.”
Phoenix interjected, “And also aim for a date before the last group from Cold Lake went through and send them more viruses, to ensure we get no new surprises.”
“Good point,” MacPherson conceded.
Jonathan said, “And the ruse still applies: We’re testing the equipment.”
O’Reilly reminded them, “But we need to ensure all we send are not among those who arrived in Haven after that timeframe. They must go to a later time.”
Sydenham agreed, “True. We’ll have to draw up a schedule on that basis.”
Michael thought aloud, “We cannot send our civilians, the Trojan Team, to Futurebase to a date before we took control because trouble would have been reported by Howes or his confederates, and the shipments from the Cretaceous would have stopped sooner. But we can send them before the date to which we sent the miners. Even though our enemies were warned of the coup by the man at Cold Lake and then sent a force from this time to regain control, those in the west would not know who was involved in the uprising. They could still be convinced it was a military takeover not supported by the community in general.”
Phoenix added, “And our attack could be timed to take place before the miners arrive in the future.”
MacPherson grinned wryly as he said, “So Howes and the others will walk right into our hands.” He chuckled. “I like it.”
The usually dour Villada, black hair gleaming and black eyes twinkling, allowed himself the hint of a smile.
Michael piped up once more to point out, “But we must not leave enemy at our backs. The forces nearby must be killed, shipped back, or stranded without means to return to the future.” He did not voice his preference for the first option, the one guaranteed to prevent complications.
MacPherson agreed, “Which means we’ll need to send a well-armed team to capture and destroy their portal, at the very least. Then, we could offer them a choice: Leave under guard or be stranded with the dinosaurs.”
The colonel drew himself up to his full height, panned his people, and said, “Right. We’ve got the basic plan. Now, we need to coordinate re-entry for each group.” He fixed the eyes of his 2-I.C. and commanded, “You and our chief scientist will make that happen.”
O’Reilly replied, “Copy that, sir.”
Jonathan nodded his acknowledgement.
To Brazeau, the colonel ordered, “You and I will put together an assault team to hunt the pains-in-the-arse down.”
“Damn straight,” the captain responded with alacrity.
That the colonel’s long-time friend and senior sergeant would join them went unsaid, but Villada nodded.
Wiggling his nose in distaste and cocking a brow at Phoenix, who blushed at the attention drawn to the odour emanating from the little bundle at her chest, MacPherson finished, “And the rest of us will attend to regular business and prepare to ship out A-sap.”
WALKING WITH his wife as they left the command post after the meeting and headed to the Mess Hall for a long-overdue meal, Michael felt his heart lighten ever so slightly at the possibility that his family and the people of Haven might get through the coming trials with a minimum of bloodshed and danger.