Strapped for Time with no time to waste

Strapped for Time with no time to waste

He was lucky. They only took his watch. They weren’t interested in him this time.
As the doors of the red line train slid closed, he sat down in the nearest seat and quickly amended that thought. They weren’t interested in him yet.

That would change as soon as they had the supposed gold watch analyzed.

He smiled grimly as the train began to move. As the victim of a recent mugging, he was in relatively good shape. A bruise to the side of his face, a cut lip and a badly bruised – probably cracked – rib.

He hunkered down, keeping his hoodie pulled over his head, and tried to blend into the emptiness of the car. The lurching and rattling of the train as it clattered along toward the next stop was oddly reassuring. In spite of the comfort he found in the journey, he was still grimacing when the train pulled into his destination.

Kendall/MIT station.

. . .

Richard Falcone slammed his fist against the file cabinet. “Dammit, what the hell do you mean there’s nothing special about it?” His years in the field as an NSA operative had kept him lean and on his toes. His reputation for quick and efficient operations had landed him an increasingly difficult array of assignments. This one should have been easy.

“It’s a watch. Just a wrist watch,Just like any popular mens watches” the lab tech replied.

Freddy. That was his name. Freddy Macomber.

Falcone nodded silently as he took the report from Freddy and read it through. A standard timepiece. Identical to one found in a local “big box” store for under twenty dollars. He silently cursed himself for telling his men just to make it look like a mugging and just snatch the watch – now he needed the kid.

It could be done as a simple snatch-and-grab, but there was a complication: they’d lost track of him after the field team had completed its mission. Now they had to figure out where the kid was going and set up some way to grab him without attracting any more attention.

. . .

Paul Donahue looked like any ordinary young man. You wouldn’t normally pick him out as “different” on the street. Twenty-five, tousled hair, average build. But he had a secret.

He wasn’t quite sure what that secret was, but he was closer to figuring it out than his pursuers.

He needed to get into the lab again.

. . .

“Think, people. Where would he go?” Falcone eyed the three agents standing opposite him. Carolyn Bradley, Mitchell Phillips and Robert Stark. They had been working with liaisons from the Cambridge police and MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory to establish a new security protocol necessary for a project that the Department of Defense had awarded the university. They’d been part of the initial responders when the Donahue kid apparently waltzed right through the security perimeter.

The only thing they could think of to explain the sudden faults in the system that let him pass by without setting off any alarms was that he must have some sort of advanced technology that interfered with it. The only technology that the new bio-scanner had detected on him was his watch. And the way he seemed to know when security was suddenly interested in him, and kept glancing at his watch in the security video – well, that just reinforced it.

He must have had some type of advanced tech in his watch that they’d never seen before digital watches for men. And now that they had the watch, they realized they’d been wrong.

Carolyn Bradley was the first to speak. “He must have taken off across the road and come into the train station from the side. That’s the only way he could have gotten out of there without us seeing him.”

Stark opened his mouth to object, but Phillips cut him off. “Bob, it makes sense. He found and tossed the tracker just before Lewis’s team got the watch, so we have no way of knowing – ”

“Hey! I got him – he’s at Kendall!” interjected Bradley.

Falcone was already headed toward the door. “Oh, crap – he’s heading back to the lab! Move it!”

. . .

Getting back into the lab had been surprisingly easy. He just walked in, just like before. He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath until he suddenly let it all out as he turned the corridor toward the lab’s storage closet.

The watch was important, but it wasn’t any kind of special technology. It just helped him keep him his mind focused and not strapped for time. Any sort of timepiece would do. That watch had been analog. He’d had digital watches before: those were better. Something about the electronic nature of them seemed to tie-in well to whatever was going on in his brain. His friend Michael had said that it was something like being linked at a quantum level with everything else. “You’re quantum-entangled with all the morphic fields in reality,” he’d said with a laugh. Paul had no idea why it was so funny. He didn’t get the concept of morphic fields – that was, in his mind, pseudo-science. He suspected that was part of the reason why Michael had specifically phrased his jibe that way.

Quantum entanglement? He knew a little about that. He didn’t get how it affected him – or, more precisely, how his odd abilities seemed to tie in.

He didn’t believe in the paranormal. He didn’t believe, but he trusted his gut feelings. He trusted his instincts. He didn’t question how he knew things – when or if something happened, or his ability to spontaneously time complex actions down to the precise second when he wanted to get somewhere quickly.

It all just happened.

And it happened more often, and more efficiently, if he was wearing a watch.

What got him into trouble late yesterday was that he had, finally, given in. He had tried to distance himself from his strange ability, and not worn a watch in years, but times change. He needed to get his special sense of timing back, honed to precision. It wasn’t like high school – he was self-supporting, putting himself through college and trying to work to pay his way through. Too many events to coordinate, and he needed to push the envelope of his luck a little further than usual in order to keep things humming along.

He broke down and bought a cheap apple watch. Analog. Nothing fancy – nothing that would put him so at ease that he might slip up and set himself apart from others.

And then he stupidly got lost in thought while visiting the lab, and managed to walk through seven security checkpoints undetected.

He stopped at a small unmarked door. This is where he could get himself into really big trouble — but then, he was already in really big trouble.

This is the only way he could stay one – or six – steps ahead.

He pushed open the door and walked in.

. . .

Traffic in Cambridge on a rainy Friday night was lousy, even with sirens blaring. Falcone scowled darkly as he tried to force his vehicle through. The pedestrians all seemed to have a death wish that he was half-tempted to grant. Phillips sat silently in the passenger seat, his knuckles white as he gripped the oh-hell handle.

He hit the curb and parked half-on, half off. They were already out of the car and racing for the door when Bradley and Stark hit the curb and jumped out of their vehicle. Cambridge officers were already in the building, conducting a search that began at the meta-materials lab and worked outward.

So far, they’d found nothing.

. . .

Paul breathed a sigh of relief. He checked his gold watch as he sat back on the train, waiting for the doors to slide shut again.

He’d picked up the prototype from the lab after he had left the storage closet. It was a fairly simple watch – digital, with some built-in PDA functionality that would enable it to sync contacts, tasks and memos with his computer. The only thing special about it was the casing and band rather like a bracelet watch. They were constructed of a new meta-material that was developed in the lab, with an outer protective shell of amorphous gold titanium steel fusion. Oversized watches like these were unusual.

The meta-material – a “negative-index photonic meta-material” – was somehow linked to the watch’s electronic components in a way that allowed the watch to run without batteries. He vaguely recalled that the lab had been testing to see if the new material could provide continuous charging through a combination of kinetic and photonic reactions.

It meant, as far as he could tell, that the gold watch would never need a battery.

Ever.

It felt like it was a part of him now. Never to be strapped for time again.

In one smooth fluid motion, he rose and turned just as the train pulled to a stop. The doors opened almost immediately as he stepped forward onto the platform.

He couldn’t go home – at least, not to stay. He’d grab a few things and head out west. They weren’t going to stop looking for him.

But now, time was on his side and he was no longer strapped for time. He could stay ahead of them until he could figure out a way to make a bargain that would let him live a nearly normal life again.

He was sure of it.

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