TIME SPIKE – snippet 11:
Anyone not on duty was crowded into the administrative building’s second floor briefing room. Over two hundred men and women stood shoulder-to-shoulder to hear what had happened to them, and what they could do about it. Forty-two from the night shift, and over a hundred and thirty from afternoons. Forty guards had not been able to make it. They were the temporary crew standing watch so the others could attend the meeting. Kathleen had made arrangements to tape the proceedings, so that once their shift ended they could hear and see what had taken place.
The Quiver—that’s what those who had talked to Edelman were calling it—had taken place fifty-eight hours back. Since then a dozen guards had left, looking for home and family members—and all of them had returned within a few hours, some of them downright terrified. They’d returned with stories of strange animals, stranger insects, and no roads and no homes.
The prisoners had also heard the stories. They knew what had happened. But so far their reaction had been subdued. There had been no confrontations. Even the inmate fistfights that normally erupted almost hourly had disappeared. The prisoners seemed to be holding their collective breath, waiting to see what was going to happen next. As one guard put it, they probably felt safer behind their bars than they would outside them.
Most of the guards and all of the department heads knew this situation would change soon. There were over twenty-five hundred prisoners inside the walls and just a little under two hundred guards watching them, divided into two twelve hour shifts. That was a very dangerous ratio.
Andy stood to the left of Joe Schuler. Rod Hulbert stood at his right. Joe had just finished giving the guards the same report he had given the department heads the day before. He had left nothing out. Andy had watched Jenny as Joe talked. Her eyes never left the man’s face.
Before the meeting she had told him she needed to talk to him in private. Her department’s needs had to be addressed quickly. When he’d asked what the needs were, she had only shaken her head and said now was not the time to discuss them.
Other department heads had not been so reticent. The head of the kitchen had told him they were just about out of bottled water, and that they would be out of propane in less than three weeks. Jake Conner, the maintenance supervisor, had caught him in the hall with still worse news. It turned out that the reason many of the toilets weren’t working was because all the laterals buried three feet beneath the soil on that side of the one-hundred-year-old prison were crushed or missing. The same thing went for the septic tanks.
They could make do for the time being, for a while. But if the rest of the toilets went… Andy suppressed a shudder. Without plumbing, the prison would quickly become unbearable.
His eyes went back to the new nurse. She had been under more pressure than most of the people in the room, yet managed to look fresh, even crisp. Her face betrayed none of the stress of the last two days.
Lylah Caldwell, on the other hand, looked exhausted. Her lined face was now pale and puffy. It was as if she had aged five years for each of the last two days. Barbara Ray wasn’t here. She was in the infirmary with their two patients, Elaine Brown and Frank Nickerson.
Andy had left a guard at the infirmary. They couldn’t really afford it, and since there were no prisoners within the clinic, it was probably foolish. But he couldn’t make himself pull the only protection available to the three women. They were not trained for this. Not that the guards were either, really. Everyone inside the prison was out of their element.
Andy looked at Jenny again. She was listening to the speaker, ignoring everything else going on around her.
Andy forced himself to look away from her and listen to Joe’s recap of his trip into town.
“So, with what Rod and the rest of the guards saw, it’s obvious that we’re on our own. There’s no help coming from the outside. I’m going to let Jeff Edelman explain the technical side of this.”
Andy watched Jeff walk to the front of the room. He was nervous, and Andy knew why. The room was filled with people who had had enough bad news already. They certainly wouldn’t want to hear what Edelman was about to tell them. They just wanted someone to reassure them that they would be getting their world back in a few hours, days or weeks. Not the forever stuff he was going to explain. Andy sighed and Jeff began talking.
“I’m sure most of you have heard all the rumors by now. One of them is that we’re somehow in a different dimension. Another is that there was a war, and we were hit with a new weapon. Or, we were the only people not hit, the sole survivors of the weapon. We’re part of a secret government, or alien abduction experiment and we’re being tested. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if, deep down, some of us think this is just a dream and we’re going to wake up and be at home in bed too late.”
He took a deep, somewhat shaky breath. “Well, it’s not. This is real, people. We just don’t know what it is. We do know there are no satellites in the sky. I had three staff members watching for one all night. From our location, we should have seen dozens of them in the course of just a few hours. All radio and television signals are gone, and this is also worldwide. There aren’t any ham-radios in operation. Nothing.
“The parking lot ends, our world disappears, and the dirt and grasses begin. And if you go a little farther, even the grasses end and the ground cover changes completely.”
He let that sink in then continued.
“I don’t know what has happened to us. And I’m not sure if it even matters. But since I can’t think of anything else that makes any sense, my guess is, we’ve moved in time. The position of the stars strongly suggests we aren’t in our own time line. Exactly when we are, I don’t know. But my second guess is—from what we’ve seen of the landscape—that we went back, not forward.”
“Well, whatever’s happened, can’t it reverse itself?” That came from one of the guards standing toward the back of the room. He needed to half-shout to make himself heard over the little hubbub that had filled the room after Jeff’s last pronouncement.
Edelman shook his head. “That’s a nice thought, but don’t count on it. If we let ourselves think like that we would be committing suicide. We’re here. And if we don’t accept that fact, we won’t survive. We’ll run out of food and water.”
“If you don’t know what it is, then that means it could have been some sort of weapon. You can’t say it’s not. And if it was a weapon, something else could happen. We could get hit again.”
“You’re right. We can’t say what it is or isn’t,” Joe answered for Jeff. He shook his head. “It could be any one of the explanations people have come up with. It could also be one of a hundred things no one has thought of. But does it matter? We don’t know why things are like they are. But we do know we have to deal with the situation. We take care of business now, and then later, when we can, we try to figure out what and why. As for it happening again, we don’t have any control over that, so we have to hope everything’s going to be okay from this point forward and work with what we have.”
Rod Hulbert cut in. “Joe is right. We have too many prisoners inside these walls. We can’t afford to panic. Besides, as far as we can tell, whatever happened is over. It’s like the Quiver caused it, and now we’re in a new time for us.”
Joe nodded and added, “We need some short term and long term plans. And we have to get busy right away. Otherwise we’ll get caught.”
“When are we, then?” Keith Woeltje asked.
Jeff Edelman shrugged. “I’m not sure. To find out exactly, I would need a computer programmed for that purpose. The plant and animal life in the area right outside the prison is not what was there before the Quiver, but they seem modern enough. Yet, when we look at the stars, we know we are definitely not in any modern time frame. We’re at least a half million years back. But keep in mind that is a conservative estimate. I could be off by a million years or more.” After a slight pause, he added: “A lot more.”
A woman in the back of the room called out, “Couldn’t the situation be temporary? Couldn’t we go back home, someway?”
Jeff Edelman shook his head. “No. We’re not in Oz and we don’t have a pair of ruby slippers. We’re here. And the odds of another Quiver or weapon blast, or whatever, coming along and refilling the river and taking out those mountains and trees and putting our town back…” He shrugged. “I believe whatever happened occurs very rarely. I believe we will never experience another one. But I don’t know that because I don’t know what caused this one.”
The room suddenly erupted. It took almost two minutes of shouting for quiet to finally bring the room to a stunned silence.
The room was dead quiet now, and people were listening. It was time for Andy to talk. He knew Jeff had fudged, right there at the end. When the two of them had talked privately, Jeff had said they were tens of millions of years back in time. He had actually guessed, a minimum of fifty million years. And he also believed it could be as much as a hundred million years.
But Andy didn’t see any reason to bring that up here. Fundamentally, it didn’t matter anyway. Half a million years back in time or half a billion, they were still the only human beings anywhere in the world. So he would concentrate on what they needed to do.
“With things the way they are,” he said loudly, “we’re going to have to change a few job descriptions and decide what we should do with the prisoners.”