The muscle paralysis subsided slowly. I began to move again but my back and neck ached terribly. I felt as if I’d taken a tumble down a flight of steps. I stretched and twisted in a horrifying display of contortions. During part of my IDSA training, I had only seen a volunteer take a burst from an Electro-Muscular Disruptor. A room full of tough cadets winced and cringed as the subject writhed on the ground and tried to regain control of his body. The lasting effects were much worse in person.

As I strained and struggled to lift myself from the floor, the man with the pistol sat silent and trembled uncontrollably. His wounds were serious, soaking nearly every piece of his clothing with dark red. His condition was critical. He would die soon and there was little I could do to help. A sudden coughing fit seized him and he exhaled a great torrent of blood spray. The EMD pistol he’d been pointing at me earlier finally dropped from his hand. I only glanced at the pistol and made no move to seize the weapon. In his present condition, I doubted that he could even pick it back up again.

Across the corridor from us, more screeching and howling and racket erupted from behind the hatchway door. It reminded us that we were still in terrible danger. The two LMOs trapped in the Power Conversion Locker would beat their way through soon enough. I had little time.

“Maxim,” I said, leaning in toward him, trying to regain his attention. No response. His head hung low to his chest and a red trickle of saliva ran from his lips to his shirtfront. “Maxim!” I shouted. He twitched once, startled, and then he opened his eyes to me.

“You said that they’ve been after me for some time.”

“Yes,” he said, with a soft gurgle.

“How? Why? Why have they been after me?”

He made no reply. He stared at me with dark, sunken eyes. Beneath the pain and the exhaustion, I thought that I could see frustration and disbelief. For a moment, I thought to run to the Medical Lab on the upper deck, but I couldn’t be certain that he would still be alive by the time I would return. I had to question him now.

“Maxim, please!” I shouted again. “You have to tell me what happened here. Tell me what you know.”

Then, raising his head again and resting it against the corridor wall behind him, he spoke. “This ship, crew, the mission.”

“Yes?”

“We’ve been here for two years, waiting and watching for you.”

“My ship’s AI calculated a twenty-three month difference. Can you tell me why?”

“Something happened. I heard talk of a fluctuation. Disturbance kept us moving in and out of space. It drove them mad.”

I looked around at the damage to the interior of the lower deck. There was trash, filth, blood smears and physical damage everywhere. “They did all this to themselves?”

“Yes. They attacked me. They attacked each other.”

“What is happening? Why do the LMOs want me?”

“You are the only link they have to an alternate past in which they are a slave race. They want you… and all that you know… eliminated.”

“They came after me for what I know?”

“Yes. When I was a boy, they took over everything. You have the knowledge and the records that can do damage to all their efforts.”

I stared at him, this other Maxim, my other self, in absolute disbelief. His voice and his words felt like needles raking over my arms and chest. My chest felt like it was filled with stones. “Who are you really?” I asked.

“Maxim Akihiko Broussad, a camp laborer. I was chosen for this mission because of you.”

“You were raised at Atsugi? Your father was a U.S. Naval Captain, mother was a Japanese linguistics professor?”

“Yes, before the Development Plan, the hostilities, the labor camps.” His words ended in another coughing fit that sprayed blood across the floor between us. Some of it spattered my neck and collar. I closed my eyes but didn’t move. Then, his chin dropped again. His arm slipped from his chest and I stared in horror at a large hole in his chest. It was as if he had been impaled with an object and then torn outward as it was pulled from his body.

“Maxim,” I started again, reaching out to shake him by the shoulder. “What did they want to stop me from doing? What did they want to destroy?”

He didn’t answer. I reached out and put my fingers to the side of his trachea and felt for his pulse. It was very low and unsteady. His eyes fluttered once and he spoke weakly. “Go back through the wormhole. Deliver what they wanted from your ship. Give it to the people. Help them save us.”

“Help whom?”

He was momentarily lost again. His eyes rolled to the right and his jaw hung open. I grabbed his shoulder again and propped his head up. “Tell me!”

“Insurgents,” he said. Then he was gone.

[Communication sent: 06FEB2186 Shinkai Maru 5]

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