'She's gone over to Emily's flat,' said Davey, running his hands through his straggly long blonde hair. 'She was mad at me for staying out. I think they're going to get a bottle of wine and a takeaway. What the hell does Louise have to do with all of this?'
Archer had arrived by then and all three of them stood around the kitchen table, on top of which lay the goggles he had picked up from the test-shack. Geek was connecting a laptop to the data port on the goggles.
Archer placed his hand on them. 'We haven't even tested these babies yet.' In his head, he too was wondering why his ex- and Davey's current girlfriend was being dragged into this bizarre circumstance. Archer and Davey had come to an agreement nearly four years previously that the Louise affair would not impact on the work of the Axiom Few. And yet here she was, dead centre of one of their projects, even though no one yet knew why. Except Geek, of course, who was always ahead of the curve.
Geek hadn't yet completed work on the invention of the goggles. He had told Archer only a week earlier that he was going to need another month to re-program the code that processed the reflection data. He'd had to start from scratch when he realised that the code he'd used till now was producing anomalous results; upside down images, artifacts that didn't belong in the frame.
The goggles themselves had been designed to look round corners, in a way. They would take in what light they saw, like binoculars, and build new images from the reflections in the first image. The best example of this, and the one Geek would always use when trying to explain his project, was that if you imagined a car sitting at a set of traffic lights in front of you at the end of a road on a sunny day, it's metal and glass would reflect images that you could not see directly. If you magnified part of a reflection of a curved surface you would be able to see down the road the car was turning into, out of your line of sight. These multiple images could then be snapshotted, unwarped, and viewed in slideshow through the goggles. Ideal for when the viewer wanted to see around corners.
'We may not have to test them,' said Geek. 'According to the Bitch From Another Dimension...'
He paused a moment before continuing.
'...or Brenda as she prefers to be called, the goggles work just fine as they are, for the purpose at hand. Though I'm yet to be convinced.'
After a moment Archer shrugged, agreeing in his mind to sit back and see how this whole thing might unfold, but, as leader of the team, be ready to pull the plug on this whenever it looked like it might be necessary. That this was about Louise unnerved him more than he cared to let on.
I've sent you two more emails. For now I want you to open only the first one.
Geek accessed his web-mail from the browser on the laptop. Two unread emails sat in his inbox from Brenda. He opened the first. The email was full of computer code.
Paste this code into the goggle software program just after your first image-processing sub-routine.
Geek scanned the code. Keen to see what this would do to his software, he did as Brenda instructed.
Now re-compile the code.
Geek activated the compiler, and waited for it to complete. The two others watched in silence.
Put the goggles on.
Geek disconnected the cable from the goggles and lifted the strap over his head, reminding himself that he needed to make the whole unit a hell of a lot lighter if it was ever going to become commercial.
The world through the goggles looked just the same as without them. Archer and Davey were gawping at him in glorious technicolour. Geek reached up to the side panel that sat near his right ear to switch to one of the other, reflected, images, when Brenda stopped him.
Don't change the image. Just wait a few moments.
Geek lowered his hand, and waited.
And there it was. A sudden rent appeared in the space between where Archer and Davey stood. It was as through reality had unzipped for a moment and through the torn seam he could still see the kitchen, but the light was different and there was a young boy sitting at the kitchen table, eating a plate of chips. Within a few seconds the slice closed, returning the kitchen to normality.
'What the bloody hell was that?' yelled Geek, hauling off the goggles and throwing them onto the table.
Archer and Davey were coming round the table to him now, both bearing looks of acute concern. 'What the bloody hell was what?' said Davey.
Things go through it. You can send things to that place. That time.
Exactly one solar cycle. A year.
'That boy was living here then. I moved in six months ago.'
And now Geek understood. 'Ok Brenda,' said Geek. 'I understand the how, but I still need to understand the why. Why should we help you? What's in it for us?'
Trust me. When you know everything. Your two friends will be tripping over themselves to do this.
The second email from Brenda contained an attachment. It was a voucher for a free medium cappuccino at the Costa Coffee on the concourse at Waterloo Station. The boys stood and watched while Geek's seemingly one-sided conversation continued.
'What am I supposed to do with this?'
Rips like the one you saw appear and disappear all the time. You can't always know when and where, and as you know they don't appear for long. And you can't even see them with the naked eye. Your goggles can see them...
'That I already know.'
...so can dogs and cats. And as for where? Well, I've started to learn how to calculate the probabilities, but I haven't got there yet. So I rely on chance to some degree. It's important to note that the expiry date on the voucher is tomorrow. Tomorrow a year ago, that is.
'So what do I need to do?'
Get to Davey's apartment. I have predicted with some degree of certainty that a rip will appear for approximately fifty-five seconds inside Davey and Louise's bedroom, between the door and the bed. It will happen tonight. It is a perfect position for her to discover the voucher, if you were to drop it through the hole before it closes up.
'Okay. I think I can do that. But why?'
And whatever you do, you must not look anywhere else in the room through the rip. You must not see anything other than the floor of the room. Even if you see things, you must not see them. Do you understand? I need you to know that Louise's life is hanging in the balance.
'I've pondered this temporal stuff before,' said Geek. 'So I thought it would be something like that. But I need to know why it's so important we save her.'
If you talk about what you see, the consequences might require that I seed another project to remove your friend Archer from the timeline. And I wouldn’t want to do that unless it was absolutely necessary.
Geek nodded, ‘Okay.’
Now I think you have some explaining to do. You have two hours until the rip appears.
And now Geek was talking about going over to Davey's flat. Archer felt a sinking sensation deep down in his stomach. He had managed to avoid such a visit till now. He'd managed to avoid seeing a snapshot of the life that Davey and Louise had built for themselves after she’d left him. Pictures of them together in bars and on beaches. The smell of the Coco Mademoiselle she always wore. A dark cloak settled over his heart.
'Geek, look. What the hell is all this about?'
'Brenda's telling me that Louise will die if we don't do this.'
'Die?' Archer's stomach tightened, and no doubt Davey's reaction was similar.
This was becoming more bizarre by the minute.
Davey hugged himself, 'Why would she die?'
Geek printed off the second email, gathering his thoughts. He picked up the Costa Coffee voucher that expired a year ago tomorrow. 'It's like this,' Geek continued, clearly uneasy about the fact that he was talking about a girl that was, in some way, close to both Davey's and Archer's hearts. 'The goggles, with their new software, are able to see... rips. Rips in time. We can send things through these rips.' He held up the voucher. 'We need to drop this onto the bedroom floor of your apartment Davey, tonight.'
Davey's eyebrows lifted a full inch in surprise. Archer grabbed the voucher from Geek’s hand and read it. 'It's expired.'
'The rip opens to the same place one year earlier. One year ago. Which means, after we drop it though, the voucher will expire tomorrow.'
Davey started laughing in a manner that was both nervous and ridiculed. He seemed to be searching for words to rationalise what he was hearing.
Archer spared him the trouble. 'No questions Davey, remember?'
Davey settled himself and nodded. 'How's she gonna die?'
Geek was silent a moment, looking up towards the ceiling as he listened to the voice that was speaking in his head. Then he spoke.
'In the rush hour traffic on the Waterloo Road,' he said. 'She'll be accidentally shoved in front of a refrigerated food lorry. It won't be anybody's fault. She'll just get shoved by the crowd waiting to cross at the lights.'
Archer considered this for a moment and said. 'So sending her the coffee voucher must delay her in some way.'
Davey added, 'Okay, yes. So she decides to get a coffee when she wasn't going to before, and misses the lorry. She misses being shoved.'
Archer's nerves were standing on end. 'Then what the hell are we waiting for?'
They were all in Archer's car. Archer drove and Geek sat in the back seat, continuing his dialogue with Brenda. The two boys in the front seat remained silent, both no doubt thinking about Louise.
You asked me earlier why I'm doing this? Why am I going to all this effort to save Davey's girlfriend? Let me tell you. I need to exist. Without me humanity would have been extinct a long time now. Among other things, I am responsible for preventing the Voidant War in seventeen point eight trillion branches.
'I've never heard of the Voidant War.'
Archer and Geek both said, 'What?' from the front seats.
Precisely my point Geek. I have saved countless ignorant lives through my predictions of wars, natural disasters, asteroid strikes, dictatorships. Louise and Davey, they have a child together, and somewhere down the line their child grows up to patent the code that led to my creation. One of the challenges of my existence is to ensure my existence in as many branches as possible, because of all the reasons I have given. The Global Consortium, the Space Foundation and the Humanity Council have given me the license to do my work. By helping me you are not just saving Louise's life. You are saving billions of others too. You are helping to close a Darken Loop. And with every Loop I close, mankind lives a little longer. Extinction gets pushed a little further away.
'Does this Darken Loop point back to our own timeline?' said Geek.
It cannot. Paradoxes prevail, Geek. If you were changing your own past right now, then Louise would have already been dead a year. We are changing neither my branch or yours. We are changing the branches where millions have already died. We are saving those lost people so that civilization has more chances at survival further down the road.