Time Shifters 1: Beyond Time
When you wake up in the wrong body within a futuristic world, being yourself can get you killed.
Read the first chapter of Book One: BEYOND TIME to follow Ryder from 2015 to 2127. Torn from his home and forced to conceal his true identity, his troubles are just beginning...
I knew I should’ve taken a different route to school.
At least my little sister isn’t here. I’m glad she’s not going to see this.
Richard Tatum is standing up ahead in the shade, leaning against a tree with his sidekick, Billy. They’re waiting for me. Rick catches sight of me, and I see him smirk as he eases himself off the tree, eager anticipation painted all over his face.
The jerk. I’ll enjoy wiping that smirk right off. My only hope is that I get the satisfaction of a few good punches before Billy holds me down. That’s what he’s here for; the cowards would never fight me one-on-one.
I straighten my shoulders. If their aim is to watch me sweat, they’re out of luck.
“Hey, Dick,” I greet, emphasizing the nickname I know he hates. Not my fault it suits him so well. “Nice of you to walk me to school.”
His smile falters. “It’s that smartass attitude of yours that got you here, Ryder. Time for me to teach you a lesson,” he says, cracking his knuckles. He’s pissed at me that I shoved him into the lockers yesterday. Just because his dad is a big shot at Kaltron Corp, he thinks he can get away with anything. He tries to act like he knows what goes on there, but he’s as clueless as the rest of us. There’s a reason why the compound is on the outskirts of town, far from everything. No one without the right clearances can get in. My dad works there, and I’ve never seen inside the walls. I get more cred by flipping burgers at Joe’s, since everyone wants to know the secret ingredient in the burger rated the country’s best back in 2012. Unlike Rick, I prefer to earn my money, even though my parents insist I don’t have to.
I cock my head. “What? That you’re a scared little boy who likes hassling girls and can’t take no for an answer? I already knew that.”
The lazy expression he’s been trying to master falls away, replaced by scorn. “You should learn when to mind your own business. Girls like to play hard to get.”
He’s as stupid as he looks. “You’d think you’d appreciate the girlfriend you have, since it’s a miracle she can stand you.”
“You’re just jealous because Marnie’s the hottest girl in school.” He licks his lips, and not for the first time, I wonder why Marnie ever got mixed up with him. She used to be a really nice girl, back when we dated in junior high. Now she cares more about being popular, than being nice. Rick tilts his head, lifting his chin. “But just because I’m enjoying the main course, doesn’t mean I don’t like to sample the side dishes. And from now on, you’d better keep out of my way.”
“Hard to do when you’re blocking my path, genius. Too afraid to go another round one-on-one, I see,” I say, jabbing my head in Billy’s direction. I drop my pack. “Not that I blame you for being afraid. I beat you yesterday, and I would beat you again today. But since you need your little babysitter here to boost your odds, I guess we might as well get this over with. I have things to do.”
My insults hit their mark and Rick flies towards me, arms swinging. No finesse. That’s his problem. I easily duck and get a good swing in. Unlike Rick, my fist connects and his head snaps back, his nose bleeding. I smile.
“Billy!” he roars. Billy comes at me, and I punch him in the gut. He stumbles. Rick waits until Billy and I are going at it before he jumps me from behind. I get an elbow into his gut before Billy kicks me. I manage to stay upright for a few minutes before the tangle of limbs causes me to lose my balance. I know once I hit the ground, I’m in trouble. Billy pins me while Rick starts kicking. I see stars but I won’t give him the satisfaction of seeing the pain on my face.
I grab his foot and Rick falls, although I can’t enjoy the sound of him crashing to the ground, because Billy takes his turn, hitting me from behind.
Suddenly, I feel a pain like I’ve never felt before. It feels like I’m being ripped apart from the inside. I try not to grunt but the pain is unbearable. Nausea takes hold and for a second I think I might hurl, but not even that seems possible. I can’t tell which way is up. I can’t hear the street noise, can’t hear Rick or Billy. I must be conscious, though, because I can still feel that terrible pain.
Then I lose all sense of gravity. I can’t see; I can’t breathe. I can’t even feel the ground beneath me anymore. Everything is spinning. I’m so disorientated it feels like I’m hurtling through space at the speed of light.
I wonder if this is what dying feels like. I try to scream but no voice comes out.
* * *
When I feel solid again and I’m able to catch my breath, I open my eyes.
I’m no longer sprawled on the grass. I have no idea where I am, but the first thing I realize is that I’m lying in some kind of chamber. I’m trapped.
How the hell did I get here?
I don’t think about that for long. Survival instinct kicks in and my only thought is getting out. There’s a panel that seems to open but there’s no latch on the inside. The chamber is mostly glass, though, so I think a few good kicks will break me free if I can manage it. I pull my knees up in the confined space, trying to position myself as best I can. My muscles tense. I take a breath and make a mental note to shield my eyes when the glass shatters.
Before I can complete the maneuver, someone appears on the other side of the glass. A man with salt and pepper hair wearing a gray suit. He puts his hands up, showing me his palms, then slowly turns and says something to an older man in a white lab coat standing at a virtual screen of some sort. It’s high-tech, like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I feel like I’ve landed in some sort of sci-fi movie. The older man nods and lifts his finger to the air, touching something I can’t see. I hear a pop and the panel starts to glide upwards, freeing me. The man in the suit looks at me and steps back, gesturing for me to exit.
I don’t know who these people are, or how I got here, but it seems better than being stuck in this glass coffin, so I slowly step out.
My head darts from one man to the other. I scan my surroundings, looking for an exit strategy. I don’t know what kind of lab this is, but I imagine they’re running experiments I want no part of. A light emanating from the chamber I just escaped casts an eerie blue glow over the room, accentuating the ominous feeling that courses through me. The light slithers over the men’s faces, tinting their skin an unnatural color. It is not comforting. I shiver, and a chill crawls across my skin. I can feel the hairs on my arms standing at attention, like little soldiers preparing for battle.
“Don’t be afraid,” the man in the suit tells me. “I’m Dr. Keating and this here is Dr. Suresh.” He gestures to the other man who nods.
“How did I get here?” I ask. My voice is scratchy, and it sounds foreign to my ears. I clear my throat, wondering how long I’ve been out.
“I’m sure you must have many questions. This would be very disorientating for you. Believe me, this is confusing to us as well. How you got here is not normal protocol. I must apologize for that, but I’m afraid it was unauthorized.”
“What was unauthorized?”
“The transfer,” he responds matter-of-factly, like that would make sense to me.
I furrow my brow. Huh?
“Come and sit, and I will explain it all to you.” He speaks casually like I’m visiting his house for coffee. Not like I’ve just woken up in a glass coffin in a mysterious lab.
“I’d rather you tell me now.” I steal an inconspicuous glance at the door, estimating how long it would take me to get to it. My voice still doesn’t sound right, and I begin to worry that they have already tampered with my voice box. Just what kind of experiments do these men run?
“Okay, but this is going to be a shock. It would be best if you were sitting down.”
“I’d rather stand,” I insist.
“Have it your way.” He turns to Dr. Suresh. “May I have a mirror?”
Dr. Suresh shambles over and hands me a small mirror. I eye him suspiciously. What, does he think I’d want to check my hair? Like I’d care. Then another thought pulses through me, stealing my breath. What if they’ve already tampered with my face, too? I dismiss the thought. If they had made any incisions, I would feel the lingering pain. I doubt they’ve brought me here to give me a nose job—or to transform me into Wolverine.
“Just take a look,” Dr. Keating instructs.
I glance in the mirror and then back to Dr. Keating, ready to move to my next question. But nothing comes out. My eyes dart back to the mirror.
A stranger with wide eyes is looking back at me. It’s not that they have made alterations to my face, because there are no similarities between the reflection in the mirror and me. I decide it must be some kind of high-tech gadget made to look like a mirror. I raise my hand and hold up two fingers. The reflection in the mirror shows a boy holding up two tanned fingers, more tanned than they should be. I move one finger down and so does the boy in the mirror. My eyes skim over my hand and I spot a faded scar that shouldn’t be there, which runs over knuckles that are bigger than my own.
My blood runs cold, and I see the horror etched in the boy’s refection. Anxiety seeps into my chest, making my heart hammer. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know how I got here. But what worries me most is: I don’t know who the hell is looking back at me in the mirror.
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 shouldknow. 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!
To continue reading, please go to:
Please click here to read the first story, Beyond Repair, from the UNMASKED SECRETS Anthology – available now for FREE download on Amazon, iBooks and Kobo!
Please click here to get a peek inside the cover and read a teaser excerpt that's not available in the bookstore sample. (The premonition in the teaser relates to the one in the prologue, and any spoilers have been removed.)