The Faction: 1977
When terrorists decided to wipe out two hundred thousand people, they did it in the heartland
The young woman walked into the trailer home and set her purse on the table. The house was quiet. There was a letter on the countertop, written on yellow notebook paper, and she picked it up and started to read:
The most awful terrorist attack of all time happened in 1977, but you don’t know it. Thank God for that.
It didn’t happen in a city or a busy airport, either. No. When terrorists decided to wipe out two hundred thousand people, they did it here in the heartland, on the high plains. Right here in our town.
I was young, then, honey. I was only 24 and you weren’t yet a glimmer in my eye, but I remember it so vividly, like an old technicolor TV show. We were livin’ in your grandma’s old lake trailer back then, and I have the best memories of pilin’ blankets and pillows and bean bags into your dad’s pickup… did I ever tell you about that? Your aunts and uncles would jump into the bed and we’d all head down to the tailraces to fish. I can just about hear the Steely Dan and taste the Pabst Blue Ribbon if I think real hard.
Anyway, depending on how this turns out, I don’t even know if it’s possible this message will make it to you. But you’re gonna have a lot of questions one day. If I don’t make it, your dad is gonna tell you he had no idea about any of this, and you should believe him. He’s been clueless for the entire time since I arrived.
I’m sorry. They trained me well.
I don’t know how much things might change. This might be the last time I ever communicate with you. You could be left here without me. Or maybe I won’t exist at all. It’s up to the temporal gods.
I can’t go through with this mission without at least offering you some explanation, baby girl. You deserve to know.
I got involved with the Static Door program in 2037. A recruiter found me online and expressed some interest in my credentials. He said he was looking for go-getters for a new government program, but he couldn’t tell me more. The secrecy put me off at first, but the salary for the position was unreal.
That’s why I took the job, honey. For the money.
They needed people like me — people with math skills and acting skills. Childless operatives. Agents without living parents… There’s no way to ease you into what I’m about to tell you, so I will just spill it.
In the 2030s, a war has begun. A temporal war.
It started when they turned AI loose on the web and they had no idea what they were doing. Open source artificial intelligence. Did people even grasp what that meant? It meant an artificial intelligence was loose in the world, and anybody could copy it and modify it with no constraints. By the time it was released, it was already too late to police it.
I know you don’t understand what I’m saying right now, but someday you will.
Within ten years, AI had cracked the code on temporal displacement — time travel — and the Static Door was born.
The problem is, you can’t trust anybody, honey. You just can’t. Money and power and greed poison everything. It only took two more years for the Static Door team to fracture, and there was a breakaway group of renegade researchers who struck out on their own. They were enriching themselves through subtle influence of the timeline. Their abuses of the technology made them fabulously wealthy and eminently powerful.
Soon, some of their own faction left the group, frustrated with what they saw as shallow personal enrichment. The Faction wanted to make dramatic change. They wanted to tear down our entire society and start over with the rules that they set. They saw terrorism in the distant timeline as a way to accomplish their goals with minimal interference, back when everybody wasn’t so on-guard all the time.
Our operatives knew they were planning something, but it took us a long time to figure out what it was. A man named Thomas Frey, a scholar and futurist, wrote about it in the 1990s, but nobody really paid attention.
The Faction beat us to it. They traveled back to July, 1977, and bombed the dam at Fort Peck. They knew the dam had been compromised while it was under construction in 1938, and that it wouldn’t take much money or gear to pull it off. Using Zodiacs and backpack bombs, they destroyed the dam and caused the greatest flood in North American history.
The water raced down the Missouri, devastated Montana, burst the dams in the Dakotas, and raced down the Mississippi all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, leaving 200,000 people dead in all the major cities along the river — Kansas City, St. Louis, Memphis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. The country was literally ripped in two.
It was judged an unnatural event by the Temporal Integrity Commission, and I was sent back with another agent to stop it.
When I arrived, though, I was alone. I don’t know if the other agent got lost in the static or what. He was just gone, and I was by myself.
Fortunately for you, the technology was primitive when they sent me back. Temporal targeting was like trying to hit the broad side of a barn but hitting your neighbor’s barn instead. Accuracy was shit.
That’s how your mom ended up in 1974, baby girl. I was stuck. There was nothing I could do. My partner was gone and I couldn’t go back. I had to wait it out. Three years.
What do you do for three years?
I got a job waiting tables and I met your dad, and a few years later, you were born in a world that knew nothing about The Fort Peck Incident.
Because mommy took care of that.
I had all the time I needed to plan the event. It was still dark, in the early morning hours of July 9th, 1977.
The Faction operatives were not expecting me.
I picked them out the night before. They’d arrived at the campsite that afternoon and I noticed they seemed to be carrying more gear than your average campers. I wasn’t sure I had the right suspects until later that night, when I watched one of the operatives use a rotary-dial payphone at the campground office in a manner that was a little too tentative.
What kind of dipshit doesn’t know how to use a rotary-dial phone? I knew it was them. I followed him back to their staging site and set up my sniper’s nest. Later that night, as they inflated their rafts and armed the explosives in their backpacks, I turned them off like a light switch, one-by-one.
You’ll find my rifle in the case behind dad’s canoe out in grandma’s garage. I used that rifle to kill them, and it has served me well. Now, you use it to protect our family.
I was supposed to go back. When my mission was accomplished, I was supposed to go back.
But I didn’t.
And now my partner is back, talking about dereliction of duty and contaminating the timeline. But I can’t leave you, baby girl.
Stay here at the lake. You’ll be safe here. If I succeed, I’ll come back for you and we’ll go find a new place — somewhere nobody knows — where we’ll be safe and we can be a family again.
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