Only one remained. An awkward holdout delaying the project and with it the new future they had all worked so hard for. Or rather the new past that heralded a new future.
Others had had doubts but they had been convinced, or at least brought onside after the proper encouragement.
Jane Silver wouldn’t be quite so easy to bring around. She was well known for being fearless. More awkwardly, she was richer than all of them put together and had no weaknesses anyone knew of – the best researchers and investigators had found nothing in her life, nowhere and no one where pressure could be brought to bear, no fissures, no soft spots, no cracks in her armour of any kind.
A tough nut to crack without a doubt. Apparently, she cared about nothing – but if that was really true, why was she so motivated? So driven?
Silas prided himself on his ability to understand people, to hone in on their core essence and prime movers – grasp those essentials and people could be manipulated rather easily he found in a great many cases, not all of course, but surprisingly many. That was a fact that saddened him. He valued a challenge. He looked forward to grappling with Jane Silver to an extent he hadn’t for a long long time.
And so to work.
Attention to detail was Silas’ watchword, and so first he needed to check in on his other partners, to be sure that none of them had developed a case of wavering convictions.
There were thirteen in all, including himself and Jane. One by one the other eleven reconfirmed their loyalty and conviction. Let the real game begin.
Silas called in his two most trusted operatives. Bernard Craion was no one’s idea of a quintessential goon – the man had degrees from Oxford and the Sorbonne and three books to his name – but this organization was as much about the ability to use one’s brain as wield a weapon. Rodrigo Cassus, on the other hand, looked precisely like the movie depiction of a violent heavy, and yet he too was more than he appeared, with a top-notch intellect and a surprisingly delicate sensibility he could express in five languages.
‘Gentlemen, you already know we have a problem. Jane Silver. Time is running out for this project to succeed, she must either be finally convinced or neutralized for all our sakes.’
Silas looked both men in the eyes, just before both their heads exploded.
Brain matter and fragments of bone splattered Silas full in the face. He stumbled backwards in shock, tripped over a chair leg, cracked his head on the side of his desk as he fell and faded into unconsciousness.
How long he was out he couldn’t tell. When he came around he found his hands and feet were tightly trussed up, his eyes blindfolded and his mouth gagged. From the steady vibration he could feel through the hard surface beneath his body, interspersed with a slight roll sideways every so often, Silas guessed he was in a moving vehicle of some sort. Other than that, all he was aware of was the astonishingly vicious pain in his head and a sense of utter bewilderment at the turn of events that had just unfolded.
Since he had nothing else to do, he tried to figure out what had gone wrong, how he had been taken so badly unawares – and most importantly, by whom. Up until some hours ago, he had been the mastermind of a scheme so audacious he was still taken aback at his own nerve and ambition. He remembered the moment when the idea had first come to him. A junior researcher in one of his labs had come fresh from a phenomenal discovery: cold fusion. Unlimited inexpensive power. He had had teams working on the holy grail of energy research for years, the only way he could see of keeping his failing nuclear plant corporation in business.
His real stroke of genius though had come next. Instead of sitting back and reaping the laurels of his (well his employee’s) discovery, he had seen a far far more wondrous possibility. Initially, it was merely theoretical, no more really than personal whimsy founded on a long-time fascination with books on futurology. Ever since he began reading them, one seemingly impossible but oft-mentioned invention had fascinated him – time travel. Author after author had raised the notional possibility of going back and forward in time according to the latest and best brains in physics, but then each writer had decisively dashed any realistic prospect of such an immense achievement by pointing out the vast quantities of raw energy required to power such a process.
Impossible to ever bring about they said. But Silas had brought it about. Very nearly anyway. Even his own vast fortune couldn’t underwrite such a project, so he had needed co-investors, other people as rich as he was. Twelve billionaires had eventually signed on after careful and discrete approaches. Each had seemed as eager and as enthusiastic as he was, so what had gone wrong? Why was he hogtied in the back of this vehicle?
Shortly after, the vibration underneath him stopped. He heard the crunch of tyres on gravel. The hiss of air brakes. And finally the drawing back of bolts. A loud clang and cold air enveloped him. Without warning, he was picked up bodily, hefted on a shoulder and then surprisingly gently deposited on a cold hard level surface. He felt his wrists and ankles strapped down efficiently but not brutally, which gave him hope of surviving whatever this was. Maybe it was just a garden variety kidnap? A coincidence? Nothing at all to do with his project? Ever the realist, Silas couldn’t bring himself to give that comforting flight of fancy serious consideration.
His blindfold was whipped off. His eyes were dazzled, taking time to readjust to light again. The gag was removed and he felt the rim of a glass brought to his lips. The cool water was welcome. Little by little his eyes began to make out blurred shapes. Then more distinct images began to emerge. And finally, unbelievably, but he supposed logically, Jane Silver’s face moved into view inches from his own. He wasn’t sure whether to be worried or not. After all, she knew nothing of what he had been planning for her, or did she? Time would tell he supposed.
‘Silas, you’re looking almost revived already. Excellent. I do hope we won’t have to play any games here. We have a lot to do in a short time.’
Silas glanced around him. He was in what looked like a large aircraft hangar. In each corner stood an armed guard, shouldering a type of weapon he had never seen before. The guards’ faces looked odd, like they were coated in plastic. So were their hands he suddenly realized. Slowly it dawned on him that what was seeing were machines not men. He wondered if he might be concussed.
‘I won’t cooperate Jane. I wouldn’t be a part of your schemes, and you need me, I’m the core of this organization – there’s nothing you can do to me. Except try to intimidate me, and that won’t work. You should have known that.’
‘I do know that Silas, I really do. You see it just doesn’t matter at this stage. I can see from your eyes that you’re confused and uncertain. How often have you been told you don’t matter Silas, rarely I’d say, maybe even never? Is that right, never? You’ve always thought yourself integral to everything around you, eh? This must be hard to come to terms with? Being strapped to a table, powerless and utterly irrelevant?’
‘Tell me what’s going on Jane. Tell me what you want – you must want something, or want me to do something?’
‘Only one thing Silas. Say cheese’.
Before Silas could finish the word, a particle beam generator above the table angled into position. An instant later it fired. Silas’ face bloomed momentarily, glowed and bubbled, and then reconfigured itself into a plasticized mask, devoid of life and expression. The beam moved over the rest of his body. A few short minutes later, what had been Silas and whatever he was now rose and stood to attention beside the stainless steel table. He saluted Jane, who gave a curt nod, and then he, or maybe it, marched toward a corner of the building and took up station, for all the world indistinguishable from the other sentinels.
Jane activated a device on her arm. ‘Problem fixed your Lordship’.
And several millennia in the far distant future, Silas smiled.