Keating looks at me, ignoring the metal rod I have in my hand. It was the closest weapon I could find.
“Well, if you’re not going to sit, I will,” he announces, pulling up a chair. “You know my name. May I ask yours?”
The guy’s casual nature freaks me out. I could hit him over the head with the rod right now, and yet, he almost looks bored.
“Ryder,” I say through clenched teeth.
“Good. Well then, Ryder, let me explain how you got here.” He turns to Dr. Suresh. “Will you please bring a seat for when Ryder here is ready to sit.”
My eyes dart to Suresh who silently obeys. It’s clear to me that Keating is the one in charge here.
“First of all, the year. And trust me, son, you’re going to want to sit for this.”
I continue to stay on my feet, even though the chair is now beside me.
“Stubborn, I see. You are from 2015, yes?” he says, looking at a file. It’s a rhetorical question and he doesn’t wait for confirmation. “You have arrived in 2127.”
At first I think he’s lying, but my legs threaten to give way and I sink into the chair. Something about the equipment in the lab leads me to believe him, despite the insanity of his claim. Not to mention the horror show with the mirror. This is too freaking bizarre. I must turn white because Keating sends his lackey to fetch me a glass of water. I want to ask how any of this is possible, but the air has escaped my lungs. This can’t be happening. I will myself to wake up from this crazy nightmare I’ve somehow conjured.
He continues like he’s discussing the weather, and not like I’ve just landed in a Body Snatchers movie. “Now to the how. An employee conducted an unauthorized transfer, and unfortunately I only discovered this highly prohibited operation after it was completed. You see, our transfers are only programed for the future, where the person is propelled forward, within their own body. We call it time shifting. But Ziron, our now ex-employee, seized our transporter and propelled himself back into your time. Because he was not alive in 2015, he could not use his own body. And so it appears he has hijacked yours. In order to complete the transfer, you were brought here. Into Ziron’s body,” he adds, as if it’s not clear.
As ridiculous as his story is, the pieces are starting to fit together. The pain. That terrible pain like I was being ripped apart. Not apart. I was being ripped out.
I say the first thing that comes to my mind. “Then put me back. I’ll climb back into that box and you send me home.”
“I wish it were that easy, son. But as I said, this is against all protocol and we are in uncharted territory. You have just experienced something the human body was not meant to experience. I’m not sure if you could sustain another trauma like that in so short a time. We’re not sure about the side effects, let alone if you could survive it. Suresh and I were discussing it before you awoke, and we believe that a two-week period would be our safest option. But rest assured, in two weeks we will reverse the transfer. You will go home. And Ziron will be severely dealt with so this never occurs again.”
I say the next thing that pops into my head. “Excuse me, but if this Ziron guy is dangerous, or gone rogue or whatever, then I don’t like the idea of him having a two-week vacation in my body. Who knows what he’ll do? I want to go home now. I’ll take my chances.”
He smiles. “Gutsy as well. I do believe we will be friends. As your friend, it’s my job to protect you. You may be willing to take that chance, but I am not. Ziron has not just risked your life by what he has done, he has endangered our entire program here. Past transfers are highly illegal and there already exists strong opposition to our facility. If this were to become public knowledge, it would not be good for either of us. We need to manage the situation very carefully.”
I can see why he wouldn’t want anyone to find out, but his problems aren’t mine. I have my own.
“I’m sorry but that’s for you to work out. All I want is to get home.” I don’t say what I’m thinking: People should know. The facility should be shut down. Something tells me to keep my thoughts to myself.
Keating cocks his head to the side and raises a finger to his chin. He’s appraising me. I hold my ground. I’m used to dealing with bullies, and I have no intention of succumbing to this one.
“And if it’s that big a problem,” I say, “like I said, send me back now. Let’s roll the dice and hope for the best. I’m willing.”
A smile tugs at Keating’s lips, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Brave, like I said. But I can’t risk exposure by anything going wrong with the reversal. If you do not survive the procedure, we would not be able to explain your death—Ziron’s death to the people here—at our facility. And should you not survive, I can’t be certain whether Ziron will meet the same fate, or whether he will survive and live out the rest of his days pretending to be you.”
I cringe and he knows he has me. I don’t want to die. But even more than that, I don’t want an impostor pretending to be me. No one would mourn my death, because a squatter would be rewarded with a permanent claim on my body, on my life. I’d haunt him until his last breath, but even that would backfire because if he lost his sanity, my family would think it was me who lost my marbles.
Once he has given me a moment to contemplate all of the consequences of playing Russian roulette with an expedited reversal, Keating seals the deal. “Two weeks is mandatory, whether we both like it or not. Unfortunately, neither of us is where we want to be, but thankfully, both of us can help each other fix that problem. Now, will you work with me to resolve this unfortunate situation we have found ourselves in?”
He stares at me intently, and I tap my foot, weighing my options. ‘Unfortunate’ isn’t the word I’d choose. Do I expose this circus act and hopefully shut this place down, or go along and pretend that this atrocity—this bizarre kidnapping—never happened?
He must sense my hesitation because he throws me another curveball. “I’m afraid you don’t quite understand the grave importance of us working together, son, and the critical need for discretion. There are those out there who would not wish this to be exposed, putting you in danger if anyone found out. Then there are those who would love to get a hold of you and run their own experiments. Finally, there are some who would be so afraid of you and afraid that there are others out there who are not who they appear to be, that you could be the trigger to untold devastation. It could foster widespread distrust and turn neighbor against neighbor. Our entire society could collapse. And should that happen, the bounty on your head would be higher than we have ever seen. The rebels wouldn’t stop until they captured you. They would see you as an opportunity to instill fear and advance their agenda to shut down the facility. No one—and I mean no one—can ever find out who you really are. I promise to keep you safe for the next two weeks, and in turn, I need your promise to keep your true identity hidden.”
The gravity of the situation sinks in and my head throbs. He notices me wavering and his tone shifts, becoming softer. “I am honestly very sorry this happened to you, Ryder. I wish you were never brought into this. But I can’t change that now; I can only do my best to look after you and make the best of a very bad experience. Let me try to right this wrong that has been done to you. Please.”
Finally, I nod. Weighing my options, I realized I didn’t have any. I need this guy to send me back—I can’t do it on my own. And if there’s a chance that what he said is true about how people would react to discovering my true identity, I’d rather keep my head. Or Ziron’s head, since it’s the only one I have at the moment.
So for the next two weeks, I agree to be Ziron Something. It occurs to me that I don’t even know the last name of the thief who has stolen my identity, and whose identity is now mine.
Find out what happens next!
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