Two men and a woman appeared in a gray corridor.
“Did we just travel through time?” Harry winced, rubbing his forehead and looking at the crude plastic-and-glass computer screen on the desk in front of him. He had unconsciously leaned against this desk in the hall the moment he appeared. Dizzy and unsure what had just happened, he wasn’t quite lucid enough to be afraid yet, so he started examining his uniform. His name badge and wrist beacon were still in place. And his sturdy boots looked awkward on the expensive carpet beneath him.
“Don’t be an idiot!” snapped Jen, jumping up from the ground where she had been lying, stunned by the event. She was a whole ten centimeters shorter than the men, but spoke in an authoritative tone, “There’s no such thing as time travel. We were just pushed into a younger universe, that’s all.” As she spoke, she scanned the hall for signs of their whereabouts. There were no other people nearby. The building seemed to be deserted. There were twentieth century fluorescent light fixtures lining the ceiling, harsher but dimmer than the LEDs she was used to. She squinted under their buzzing luminance. Jen was about to make an observation regarding the business-like décor when Tyson burst out,
“What do you mean ‘that’s all’? We may as well have died and gone to heaven in that blast!” Tyson was already experiencing an accelerated heartrate. He was on his feet before Jen, but now leaning against an adjacent wall to balance himself and catch his breath. He blinked deliberately and shook his head as if someone had just slapped him.
“It wasn’t a blast! It was a… a quantum… er a proton… resonance surge!” Jen’s mind was foggy, “And all I’m saying is that, we shouldn’t freak out. We’re not going to contaminate some imaginary timeline. Time is just an invention, a way of triangulating motion. We’re not in danger of producing any of those so-called grandfather paradoxes your high school physics teachers taught you to be so afraid of.”
“So we’re not going to mess up the timeline?” asked Harry, now rubbing his big brown eyes.
“Didn’t you listen to anything during the briefing?” barked Jen, as she started trying doorknobs in the hallway, “There is no such thing as a timeline, just a spontaneous series of quantum entanglements. We must have been shunted to a neighboring universe by the… whatever that was.” She made a veiled glance at her two companions when she said this. Neither of them seemed to notice her ambiguity.
“Then why does this look so much like…” Tyson leaned over the desk and twirled a primitive paper calendar around to look at it, “the year two-thousand and one!? It’s September, two-thousand and one!” Flabbergasted, he picked up the little calendar and held it in Harry’s face.
“Like I said…” Jen began to respond.
“That’s almost seventy-five years ago.” Harry interrupted, speaking in a daze as Jen talked over him,
“It must be a younger universe,” she said, “probably identical events as in ours just occurring a little behind schedule, relative to ours.”
Then Harry spoke up again, “A little behind schedule?! Seventy-five years! My parents haven’t even been born yet! Ok, it’s two thousand one on the calendar, but where in the world are we?” He followed Jen into the hallway jiggling some of the locked doorknobs she had already tried, “do you think there’s a window in one of these, uh, offices? This must be some kind of business right?”
“Why do you think I’m trying to get in?” Jen retorted, trying the fifth door down hall, “We need to get a look outside to see if we’re anywhere near our original location at the Helix Station.” Tyson jogged passed them toward the T at the end of the hall, where there seemed to be a different kind of light refracting from around the corner to the right. Meanwhile, Harry began throwing his weight against a door. His shaggy brown hair bounced with every thrust. Jen continued,
“We have to get our bearings if we’re going to get back before the resonance dies. Then we can recalibrate our beacons and figure out…” As Tyson was nearing the end of the hall, his big feet clopped to a stop and Jen called to him, “Tyson, don’t go too far, we all need to be together if we’re going to activate our beacons, remember?” Harry dashed to the next door, which Jen hadn’t reached yet. He began slamming his shoulder against it violently. Bang! Bang!
“Guys!” Tyson spoke in a voice not quite loud enough to be heard from the end of the hall. Apparently, some horrible realization had reduced his voice to nearly a whisper. He was motionless, staring down the corridor to the right. Bang! Bang! Harry backed up to use his foot.
“Guys!” Tyson shouted, just as the door frame gave a crunch under Harry’s heel and the office door swung open revealing huge floor-to-ceiling windows.
“What, Tyson!?” Jen shouted, in an annoyed tone, pausing with her shoulder against a door to look his way. Now Harry was also standing motionless looking through the doorway he had just kicked open. The two men were now sharing parallel views of a very old Manhattan skyline. They spoke in unison,
“It’s September eleventh, two thousand one.” Stunned for a moment, Jen’s eyes widened. Just then, she noticed a growing noise and felt the floor beginning to vibrate. Harry’s shaggy mop was now as still as Tyson’s bald head, but she was a quick thinker, disinclined to shock like the two new recruits. She burst into a sprint toward Tyson, slapping Harry hard on the back as she whizzed by,
“C’mon!” She now had to yell over the growing rattle, glancing at the beacon strapped to her wrist, “Tyson! Is there an elevator down there!?” Her beacon read 44.7118 degrees North, by 74.0105 degrees West, the same global location where they had been standing moments before in a Quantum Helix tube, analyzing a malfunctioning proton emitter.
“Yeah, but why does that matter?” Tyson ran his fingers over his smooth head, a look of terrible anxiety on his face. Harry tore his eyes away from the office windows to follow Jen.
“Just tell me what floor we’re on!” She shouted. Harry muttered as his pace quickened to catch up to her,
“I can’t believe we’re here. Of all the places and times in the universe!” His voice rose, “Of all places, in all the universes! The twin towers! What time is it?” Now shouting over her as Jen repeated her question about the floor number, “Tyson! Is there a clock by that elevator?” Harry called.
“I, uh…” Tyson hesitated, “It’s 9:01.”
“The floor number!” repeated Jen harshly for a third time, rounding the corner to look for herself. As she read the numbers 102 followed by the words Aon Insurance, Harry came to a stop beside her and yelped, “We only have two minutes! There’s no way we can take an elevator down far enough in that time! United 175, hit the south tower at 9:03 am. This has to be the south tower, look Jen!” He pointed out the window were the three companions beheld smoke billowing from the adjacent building just out of sight. Then he looked at the words above the elevator, where Tyson had already turned his gaze.
“Why does that word look so familiar?” asked Harry.
“Aon. It’s an old Irish word for ‘fear’” replied Tyson, “You know how they say that in quantum flux, everything is connected? Like, you see things and they mean something… because everything is connected in quantum reality. I remember that word because I thought it was a clever section heading in our new employee handbook. That was the section where they talked about the disorientation that can result from coming in contact with quantum resonances. Didn’t you teach that section Jen?” She didn’t respond. “Why the heck would an insurance company name itself ‘Fear’? What kind of nightmare is this anyway?”
“No it’s not Irish,” Harry’s eyes brightened as he spoke, “It’s old English. It means ‘one’! As in one more minute and we’re all dead!”
“Or one, as in there really is only one timeline, and we’re messin’ it up right now,” rebutted Tyson, “Man we’re screwed!”
Jen was adjusting the location modulator on her wrist beacon as she said calmly (to herself as much as to her frightened comrades), “Time is only an invention,” Mumbling calculations to herself she glanced back and forth between her wrist beacon and the black plumes outside, “Two point seven meters per floor, roughly ten centimeters per support, times one-hundred and two, plus foundation, maybe another three meters…”
“Do you think we’re still resonating?” Tyson worried aloud, “Do you think that’s what the vibration is?”
“Don’t interrupt me,” Jen spoke in monotone as she calculated, “I’m triangulating.”
“What direction did the second plane come from?” Harry asked walking to the window with his hands outstretched”
“You can remember the time, but not the direction?” replied Tyson, now beginning to pace, “Are we still resonating Jen? What direction did you come from this morning to get to the Helix Station?”
“I remember numbers, not much else!” Explained Harry, defensively, “And what does my commute have to do with anything? Jen?”
“I’m working on the numbers guys!” She said impatiently. Tyson continued,
“Everything is connected in quantum reality man!” replied Tyson, “whatever direction comes to mind, that could be the direction of the plane, the direction we should run, the direction we’re looking now… It’s, it’s, it’s all…” Harry interrupted him,
“I don’t know if I believe all that Ty,” Then turning to Jen, “The Helix tube was exactly 370 meters above the surface. What’s our altitude? If we’re not within…”
“We’ve got to be between 360 and 378,” She finally announced.
Harry instantly countered, “If we’re more than 5 meters outside our original position, we won’t be able to establish a quantum resonance path! You have to be more exact than that!”
“Well we don’t really have time to scour the archives for exact schematics of this building, do we!” Jen shot back, “Our best guess is going to have to do!” Tyson interrupted,
“That clock could be wrong!” said Harry, “Or it could have been a few minutes later in this timeline.”
“Well thank God it wasn’t a few minutes earlier,” responded Tyson, ironically.
“Time is an invention” Jen reiterated to herself. The vibrations suddenly increased, nearly causing their ankles to roll. The large window pane warped and threatened to break as a roaring engine-like sound engulfed them. Lights flickered. Jen finished calibrating her wrist beacon and put her finger on the resonance initiator. Upon the last syllable of her yelling, “I’ve got it!” a violent jolt and deafening boom knocked them all unconscious.
A few moments later, Jen awoke and stretched her arms out over her head, bumping her elbows against (of all things) the headboard of her bed. Smooth blue sheets were warm against her skin. There was a buzzing sound in her ears. She sat up quickly and grabbed her phone from the nightstand. 1:00 am, January 2nd, 2075. The buzzing receded to an almost imperceptible ringing and she swiped the screen to look at her day planner. The nightlights of New York glowed across the water outside her window. The Helix Station was easily visible, dwarfing everything else on the skyline, its many protrusions and antennas twinkling with their distant flood lights. Sure enough her calendar read:
“1:00 pm today: New employee training: Section ‘Aon’. Take two newbies to the faulty proton emitter, give them a firsthand taste of the dangers of the quantum maintenance business. Should be fun.”
Jen swung her legs over the side of her bed and stared out at the fiery nightscape of Manhattan, her eyes wide, her rapid heartrate persisting, and images still lingering in her mind. It felt so real and she still felt dizzy. With bated breath, she whispered to herself,
“Time is just an invention.”