Displacement: The Thief of Time


This is the third chapter of a serial: The Confession, The Donner Investigation.

The Thief of Time

I picked up the phone and called my FBI contact.

“Good morning, Gage, what can I do for you?” he asked.

“Yeah, Twenty-One, did you or another Federal agency happen to send out a cleaning crew to my office and our computer systems last night?”

There was silence on the phone for a minute before he asked, “What would make you think that?”

“Missing records from the database, missing paper files, things like that. If it’s the good guys, fine, but if it wasn’t someone on your end, I think you should know about it.”

“Right. I need to check. I didn’t order it. I’ll call you back by the end of the day,” Twenty-One hung up without a further word.

I checked my e-mail account and noted that the sent e-mails to Lieutenant Ekewaka and to Twenty-One were no longer in my sent mail folder. Likewise, e-mails received about the case were also missing, and although there was other mail in my trash bin that had not been deleted permanently yet, those were gone. The electronic folder I had used to store the interview reports while writing them before uploading to the database was also gone. It was as if I had never heard of Professor Gilchrist Donner.

It was a very slow day. Nothing came up where I was needed, and all day there was that question of who had wiped all traces of the investigation from the system.

Finally at about 15:30, Twenty-One called me back.

“Yeah, Gage, the cleaning crew was one of ours.”

I released a breath I hadn’t known I had been holding.

“That’s good. I don’t approve of how it was done, of course, but it’s good to know it isn’t just some random criminals, it’s our government’s criminals.”

Twenty-One laughed, “I’m sure they had all the right paperwork to accomplish what was needed, and if not, they have it by now.”

“Whatever on that score, but it’s a load off my mind to know it was a Federal clean up job. Now I can go back to being an underworked and overpaid detective on a small police force.”

“Yeah, and obviously, you shouldn’t be speaking with anyone about the case or the clean up,” Twenty-One said.

“What case?” I asked. “What clean up? I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Thanks, Gage. You’re a good man, and easy to work with. I appreciate that.”

“Sure, but next time, tell me up front that everything is going to disappear.”

“You know what they say about too many cooks? We may supposedly all work together but we don’t always communicate so well.”

I laughed, “True of every human organization. You should see what my church manages, or doesn’t, in the way of communication, and we have maybe forty people.”

“Okay, Gage,” Twenty-One chuckled, “and very seriously, thanks for the heads up on this investigation. We may not be handling it perfectly, but it is a very serious matter.”

“Alright. Tell the wife and kids hello from me. For now, bye.”

I hung up the phone and sat there thinking for a bit.

The phone rang and I picked it up, “Detective Gage, how may I help you?”

“It’s Russ. Would you be able to stop by after work today?” there was something in his voice. Nervousness? Something else?

“Sure, Russ. I’ll be clocking out in a few minutes and then walk over.”

I turned off my computer and locked everything up to keep the amateurs out, as the sour thought passed through my mind at the time, then clocked out and walked over to the institute and museum. The guy at the desk was waiting for me and gave me today’s code for the elevator lock to get to the top floor.

Russ was waiting as the elevator opened and again led me back to his office. He poured drinks for both of us, and then he started fooling with an array of electronic devices.

Finally, he sat down, “It should be safe to talk. After you left yesterday evening, I started checking a few things on the displacement project, and they didn’t add up. I think that Gilchrist was using the machines while I was tied up in meetings, and then he erased the records.”

“Any idea where he was going?” I asked.

“Well, he was more likely sending some of the drones, but no, not without the records he erased.”

“Could you get a computer forensic expert in to recover the lost records?” I asked.

“Maybe, but I would prefer not to involve anyone else. But it might be why he was kidnapped, if he was. I have an experiment running now, and should have results within half an hour. We’ll look at it when it comes back.”

“You haven’t spoken with anyone else about Donner or his disappearance, have you?”

“Absolutely not. As far as I know, he’s still on vacation in Hawaii.”

“Alright. Good. I get the impression he was into some secret governmental stuff, and the feds have taken over the investigation. Like you, I know nothing about it. I’m forgetting even more by the minute,” I said and raised my glass to him.

We kept ourselves occupied until Russ said it was time. He got up and led me into his lab. He stood in front of what looked sort of like a microwave until a green light went on. He opened the door, and what appeared to be a dragonfly took to the air and landed on what appeared to be a phone charger and docking station.

Russ rolled another chair up beside his as he sat down in front of a computer. After about half an hour of his clicking through things too fast for me to understand what was going on, he brought up a video and started playing through it at several times normal speed. We watched as Gilchrist Donner and his family left the airport and their taxi drove them to their residence for the week. Then followed Donner various places and to meetings with people, some of whom were Chinese. Russ slowed down the video at those parts. They were discussing funding various physics projects. There were no red flags that I could see or decipher in the discussion, but I didn’t follow all of it.

The next place Russ slowed the video was when Donner was sitting at a desk in the office area of the suite he was renting. He pulled out his phone and spoke with Amanda in dispatch and wrote down my name and number. As he ended the call, he looked over in the general direction of our point of view, which must have been the dragonfly drone. He became visibly upset and ran for an external door and disappeared into the night.

“Anyway to see what he was looking at?” I asked.

Russ shook his head, “No, it looked as if his eyes might have been pointing below where the drone was perched. I think there was an open window there.”

“Could we get another angle on it?” I asked.

“Um, I suppose we could. Just those last few minutes?” Russ asked.

“Yeah, see what he saw and where he ran.”

Russ opened a drawer and picked up another dragonfly drone and pulled up a set of screens that seemed to be to program its activities. He put it into the microwave-like device and pulled up another set of screens on his computer to program the displacement machine.

“These drones take a lot less energy than moving a man that far,” he said offhand as he was clicking keys and moving his mouse through various screens.

The light on the microwave turned red, and we waited. About ten minutes later, it turned green, and Russ opened the door to let the little drone fly out and land on the charger and docking station.

We went through the video after he had downloaded it to his computer.

“Holy moly!” I might have used a different word in the interjection. “Is that a grizzly bear? Is this the right place and time?”

There was indeed a real, live, and very large grizzly bear walking beneath the drone and near the house Donner and his family were staying at. The bear walked by the closed door and around the building. About the time Donner finished his call, looked up, and then ran, the bear would have been in view in the window the other drone had flown in through to watch Donner.

The door flung open, and Donner came into view with the grizzly bear visibly trying to squeeze through the window behind him. As he came out the door, he appeared to slap his belly, and he disappeared.

The video ended with the bear still struggling in the window.

“What in hell just happened?” I asked.

Russ leaned back in his chair staring at the monitor in confusion, “I know what I saw, but let’s watch it again to see if we can figure out what it all means.”

We watched it all again.

“Nobody mentioned a grizzly bear in the reports you saw, did they?” Russ asked.

“I didn’t see any reports.”

He pulled up a Web browser and searched for any reports of grizzly bears in Hawaii. It came up negative for real results, just showing stories about Yellowstone and Alaska.

“What about his disappearance?” I asked.

Russ fidgeted for a moment, “It looks as if he had a return belt, like I created when I went to 1908 in Scotland.”

“A return belt?” I asked.

Russ got up and walked to a safe, which seemed to have a quadruple access system to open it. It had a keyed lock, a combination, and two biometric measures. He brought out something that was shaped rather like a championship belt for wrestling or boxing or some such, but it was a plain black belt with a couple of plain buttons.

“This stores the energy and the program to bring a human back from a trip. It gives more control, unlike these drones that are displaced for a set amount of time. You wear it like a cummerbund under your clothes, and then press both buttons simultaneously to return. It has to be pre-programmed, though, and would mean that Gilchrist was actually on a time trip there in Hawaii.”

“Could he have made a slightly different sort of belt? One that could take him elsewhere, rather than back here to the lab?” I asked.

“No, there is a lot more power behind all of this than you see,” he shook his head. “There is both the literal electrical power, plus a whole room of computer servers behind it all. He couldn’t replace all of that with a belt or mobile control no matter how good he was.”

“Could he have duplicated this in one of his own labs?” I asked.

Russ shrugged, “I wouldn’t think so, but right now, I don’t know what to think. He obviously had a belt. He obviously used it to escape. But we don’t know where or when he escaped to. He must have been building his own lab in parallel while we built this one.”

We sat in silence staring at the now unmoving screen for awhile, at least until the screen-saver kicked in. I shook myself out of the trance of thought I had been in.

“What else have you been using this gadget for since your trip to 1908?” I asked.

“Oh, well, nothing very successful. I thought to try to solve some other murders, strictly through the new dragonfly drones I developed,” he hastened to add, “but it hasn’t worked out as I had hoped.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“History is sometimes more complex than we know,” he said dejectedly.

“How complex could it be?” I asked. “You see who the murderer is, and then trace him down. With how many documented suspects there are, it must be one of them.”

“Gilchrist must have had his own lab. His having the time belt explains what I found.” Russ pulled up another video and started it running. It was very difficult to watch. I may be a police detective, but in a small city, and we don’t get a lot of this sort of thing. The last I had seen something like this was in a forensic investigation class in college. I was more than a bit stunned. It wasn’t just a movie at the theater, it was a real murder I was watching.

Russ brought up another and then another and another until he had gone through all of them and then some. There were a few others that I didn’t remember in Jack the Ripper’s count.

I sat back in my chair and cleared my throat, “Did he use your set up for all of those?”

Russ shook his head, “He couldn’t have. I found evidence of a few usages that had their records erased, but they were more like the power usage for the larger drones.” He waved his hand up at a shelf of small commercial drones.

“He must have his own set up somewhere,” I said.

“And somewhen,” Russ agreed.

“Is there any way to trace him?” I asked.

“Not that I know of, no.”

“Can he find out that you know?” I asked.

He shrugged, “It would depend on where and when his base is. If he went far enough in the future, he may have technologies I can’t detect. But I have done everything I could to proof this lab from any sort of spying.”

I rocked back and forth in my chair a bit as I tried to think, “Have you tried spying out other crimes or uncaught serial killers?”

Russ nodded, “Ever hear of Spring-Heeled Jack?”

I shook my head.

He pulled up some more videos.

I watched in horrified fascination. At the end, I said, “At least he doesn’t seem to have killed anyone then.”

Russ shrugged dejectedly, “We can’t know in what order he did things. He may have started out doing the Spring-Heeled Jack pranks and decided he wanted more. Perhaps he sent some of the earlier drones in and realized he had done these things and then decided to do it. Perhaps he always intended to do it. He did seem to have a fascination with his aunt’s murder.”

“So, we have a mad man traipsing through time killing people?”

Again he gave a listless shrug, “No idea. He could have been killed at some point. We know that he hasn’t showed back up, don’t we?”

“We assume so, although I am no longer on the case. I was just doing some local interviews, so I wouldn’t hear anything more.”

He pulled up a browser and started searching on Gilchrist Donner’s name along with terms like “Honolulu” or “missing.”

“It seems odd that the press doesn’t have it,” I said, “unless, of course, the Feds have suppressed it. If he were working on something seriously dangerous and secret, they might not want anyone to know.”

“What do we do about this?” Russ asked.

“I have no idea. We can’t exactly send those videos to the Feds without saying you have a time displacement device. We can’t print stills and send them anonymously, since all modern printers print a hidden code that can be traced. Being able to send electronically without tracing can be done, but it’s not as easy as people think.”

“This sounds like a fun puzzle,” Russ said.

I looked over at him and must have had quite the expression on my face. He backed up as far as he could in his chair, “I mean, figuring out how to convey the information without revealing our identities. We could use time travel to do it. We could go forward in time to buy a new printer, maybe in another country. That way, the printer code wouldn’t be registered or expected for years. Then we could go back in time in a different country to mail the evidence, so that it would have been sent years ago.”

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    Wow, just wow! This is great writing, and in a remarkably different “voice” than his majestic, complex Hidden Angels duo. It’s like you’ve always seen like a vastly more historically based Martin or Tolkien, but (and don’t take this the wrong way, Arahant), this time out, I see a lot more of Dick. High praise, indeed.

    If the imagined-for-the-screen Arahant saga in any reader’s head had a metaphorical production designer and cinematographer up till now, he’d have to call in new ones with different styles and ideas for this series.

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  2. Arahant Member

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    If the imagined-for-the-screen Arahant saga in any reader’s head had a metaphorical production designer and cinematographer up till now, he’d have to call in new ones with different styles and ideas for this series.

    Every series is different. Hidden Angels is set in the Eighteenth Century. Jack the Magicless is set in a world like ours, but where everything runs on magic and the world is generally much more conservative, still in the age of empires and monarchies. Displacement is basically in our universe and time. Makes for a very different look and feel.

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  3. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher


    He pulled up a browser and started searching on Gilchrist Donner’s name along with terms like “Honolulu” or “missing.”

    “It seems odd that the press doesn’t have it,” I said, “unless, of course, the Feds have suppressed it.

    …And guess what else the Feds have now. Paranoia. It’s a life skill.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):


    He pulled up a browser and started searching on Gilchrist Donner’s name along with terms like “Honolulu” or “missing.”

    “It seems odd that the press doesn’t have it,” I said, “unless, of course, the Feds have suppressed it.

    …And guess what else the Feds have now. Paranoia. It’s a life skill.

    Ah, but they really don’t, although that’s several chapters ahead.

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  5. Arahant Member

    Chapter Four:


    • #5