"Holy cow!" Beckett said, though it immediately seemed inadequate, considering what he had just seen. "Hold on... what... how... how did you... just... No way!"
"I did." Annie replied.
"Now that is where it gets complicated." Annie replied and turned back to her computer. "Think of time like a computer code. It's just a bunch of 1s and 0s and depending on where those numbers are, you can change the program. I figured out time's code, and now I can look back over that time and insert your code into it. But, your code isn't part of the pattern, so you can roam freely. Your code can move around the past code."
"Does that make you part of history? Does your code become part of it, or can you come back out?"
"You can come back out, but I don't know what happens to the past code. I only went back for a few minutes. I need someone to go back for a few hours. Then I can see the impact that their presence will have on time."
"How will you know?"
"Look." Annie maximised a window on her screen and pointed to it. "There it is, Beckett. This is time."
Beckett moved towards the computer and stared. It was an unending stream of numbers, all moving in the same direction.
"Crazy, isn't it. It's all there." Annie said. Annie typed a few numbers into a search bubble within the window. "Do you see this? This is where I went when I made that video of us. I have a before and after recording of the trip." She opened a new window with a screen shot. "You see? Nothing changed. But I didn't interact with anyone. I need to see what happens with a longer trip and even interacts with people."
"A longer trip? You're gonna go again?" Beckett asked.
"I'm not. You are." Annie replied.
"Me? Ha. Where am I gonna go?"
"Who's your social studies project on?"
Beckett froze as he started to realise what was starting. "Whoa, Annie, no way. I'm not going back to Rome."
"Rome? Who was it you were writing about?"
"Julius Caesar. But Annie, forget it. Why would I do this?"
"Because it's insane. It's ludicrous. It's risky! I could get killed!"
"You won't get killed. All you have to do is take this." Annie said as she passed him a plastic wristwatch.
"What's this?" Beckett said staring at the watch in Annie's outstretched hand. It looked like a cheap plastic digital wristwatch, but instead of a digital display, there was a large red button.
"It's the return switch. Just push the button, and you'll come right back." Annie said. She walked up to Beckett and wrapped the watch around Beckett wrist.
Beckett looked at the watch. The red button stared back up at him.
"Once you're finished, or if things get dangerous, just push the button and you'll come right back."
Beckett's heart was pounding.
"No way, Annie. I can't do this." He finally said; he began to take the watch off.
Annie waited a few seconds. "Ok, well at least go back 15 minutes, just like I did. Get a video of yourself."
Beckett thought it over. He was terrified, but couldn't help being curious. 15 minutes seemed reasonable
"Fine. 15 minutes." He replied. "So what do I do?"
"Awesome! Just use the camera on this phone." Annie said, passing him an old phone. "Make the video and hit the return switch. Easy."
"Ok, but what do I do NOW? How does this thing work?" Beckett said, looking back at the platform.
"That's easy." Annie put her hands on Beckett's arms and backed him onto the platform. "Just stand there." She said before walking back to her computer. She sat down, and opened up a new window. The window had a clock of the current time. "This time is linked to the atomic clock. So it's precise to the nano-second." She pointed at a second clock. "This is where I input where you are going. Then the computer finds the spot in the time code, and sends you there." Annie inputed the date. "How did you come here today?" She asked.
"I came down Douglas onto Hardwick." Beckett replied.
Annie pulled up a map view of the street.
"Alright. I'll put you in the front yard of this house." Annie said. She clicked on the location in the map. "You ready?"
Beckett stood silently for a moment. "You know what? Maybe this isn't such a good idea." Beckett replied. He took a step towards the floor.
"Too late!" Annie said. She then moved the cursor on the screen over to the 'execute' button on the screen.
The lights in the room darkened as the humming grew slightly louder. Small currents of electricity streamed between the columns at the corner of the platform. Suddenly, a bright white light formed in the corner of the grid. It began circling slowly around the platform coming closer to Beckett with each circle. He followed the light until it was under his shaking legs. He closed his eyes tight and made tight fists. There was a loud thump.
Beckett's feet fell away and light surrounded him.
There was a flash of light, and suddenly Beckett landed on his rear in the wet grass. He stood up and looked down at his rear-end. Now his pants were thoroughly stained.
"Great." He said to himself. He then looked around and realised he was in someone's front yard on Douglas. He quickly got up and looked around.
Suddenly, Beckett saw himself walking towards the house. He dropped down and ran behind a bush.
After watching himself walk down the sidewalk, Beckett smiled, realising what he was witnessing. Oh my God! I'm... in the past! He thought to himself. Annie did it! She actually did it!
Beckett took out the camera and went behind a tree and started filming his past self walking away.
Beckett smiled as he was filled with a strange mix of shock and amusement. Out of the corner of his eye, however, Ben Michaels came into view. Beckett stopped smiling. Beckett continued filming as his past self came across Ben. Beckett watched as his past self looked at the ground, trying to avoid Ben and then got pushed over.
Beckett stopped filming as he watched his past self get up. Beckett saw the look on his own face after the encounter. It was a mix of shame and embarrassment. Beckett watched for a few more seconds, then looked down at his wristwatch and pushed the button.
Beckett was back on the platform in Annie's basement. Annie stood there smiling at him. Her eyes beamed in anticipation.
"Well...?" Annie asked.
It took a few seconds for Beckett to get over what he had seen.
"Umm... yeah, uh, what did you do, Annie? How is this possible?" Beckett managed to ask through the mixed feelings of amazement and embarrassment. "Annie, explain this to me. How did you do this?"
"It's not easy, but it's simple." Annie began. "So, all programs on the computer are coded. Everything is a sequence of 1s and 0s. So I just figured out what that code is, and found a way to locate different space and time within it, and then insert myself, or in this case, you, into it."
"How is that simple?" Beckett asked.
"It's a simple idea. Writing the code is the hard part. I've been working on this for a while. Mom thinks I'm studying, but I've been in here."
"So what does that mean? Time and space are a code? Are we living in a code? Are we in a computer program?"
"That's above my pay grade." Annie replied, quoting Lieutenant Jansen again. "So, do you wanna go back and see Caesar?"
Beckett stood silently for a moment thinking about it. "I don't know. That seems a little risky. I mean, I can get enough info from the books, I think."
"Well, I know that, but I want you to go back so I can monitor what happens when you go back further and stay longer, like a couple of hours. I want to see what effect it has."
"Nah." Beckett said.
"Beckett, it's right here. You can just go now."
"Forget it! I thought we were gonna play video games." Beckett said.
Annie looked at Beckett for a moment and then turned around. She began to shut down her computer. "Alright. Let's play." She said.
Beckett and Annie sat on the floor in the basement and played Crisis Shock in battle mode. The gravity of what Annie had accomplished slowly sunk in as they played.
"So what are you going to do with this program? I mean, are you going to sell it? What's the plan?" Beckett asked
"I don't know." Annie replied. "I figured I could use it to somehow get into university. You know, like get a scholarship. It'd save my parents money. Maybe my dad could work less."
"University? How are you even thinking about that? I'm not even thinking about high-school yet."
"It's all my parents think about. Dad went to Seoul National, the top school in Korea. He wants me to go to a top school in North America."
"So then, what will you do? How are you going to turn this machine into a scholarship?"
"Well, once it's ready, once I know it is safe and I can prove that it's safe, then I'll contact the Science Faculty at SFU or UBC, and hopefully that will start the process."
"But isn't this program dangerous? I mean, we're just using it to go back in time a few hours. What if someone uses it to change the past? What if someone goes back and messes up, or even erases our timeline? We've seen too many movies to not know how dangerous this stuff can be."
"That's what I need you for." Annie replied. "I need someone to go back in time for a longer period of time, and even further back in the past to see what could happen. I can monitor what happens in the past code from my computer. That'll provide me with useful data. I need to get the bugs out of the program."
"Bugs? You want me to help you de-bug the program? It's too dangerous."
"You'll have the wrist-band on you. You can come back if things get ugly."
"Look, maybe..." Beckett began. "Maybe we could do something, like go back a year, somewhere in the neighbourhood... Nothing too big, though."
Annie listened and then replied. "Alright. Look we can take it slow, you know. Go back a few hours, then maybe a few days. We'll build up to it."
"Good." Beckett replied.
Annie sat quietly, looking at Beckett. "You're a time-traveller. How does it feel?" She asked smiling at Beckett.
"I think I'll wait and see how I feel when I go back a little further." Beckett replied. "But to be honest, Annie, I'm not sure I totally believe what you've done. I mean, you've made maybe the biggest discovery in the history of science, and here we are sitting and drinking hot chocolate. Shouldn't we be calling NASA, or Harvard, or the CIA?"
"To be honest, Beckett, this is why I need you to help me." Annie replied, suddenly quite serious.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"I need to understand what happens when we go back in time, and further back, when someone interacts with someone from the past. If there is a danger that we can affect the timeline, then we need to know. It could be too risky to just hand this over to someone. Remember what happened in Crisis Shock? As soon as Lieutenant Jansen gets the data for the cure, the Agency shows up and takes the data to reverse engineer the virus.
"I'm not handing this program over to the university just to see someone take it to use it for their own nefarious purposes." Annie said, borrowing the word 'nefarious' from Lieutenant Jansen.
Beckett started to understand that there was more at stake. Annie really needed his help. But Beckett was still terrified. Going far back in time just seemed risky, especially if he got stuck somehow.
"Look, um..." Beckett started. "Let me think about it."
"Cool." Annie replied. "Thanks."
Beckett and Annie returned to Annie's house and spent a few more hours in her basement (the part of the basement Annie's mother knew about) and played Crisis Shock. A beep came from Beckett's phone. Beckett paused the game and checked the screen. His father had texted.
Just ordered pizza for dinner. 20 minutes.
"My dad just ordered dinner. I should get a move on." Beckett said.
"Ok. see you Monday?"
"See you Monday."
Beckett put on his jacket and started walking home. He took a slightly longer trip home. He avoided Douglas Road because he was scared he would see Ben again.
Beckett got home and walked into the kitchen. The pizza was on the kitchen table as Beckett's father set down the two plates.
"What happened to your pants?" Beckett's father asked.
"Oh." Beckett had forgotten that his pants were still stained. Normally, Beckett would have lied and just said he fell down. "I had a run-in with Ben on the way to Annie's." He said.
"Ben Michaels?" His father asked.
"Yes." Beckett replied, regretting his honesty.
"Oh." His father replied.
There was an awkward moment of silence before Beckett sat down. The two ate quietly
"You know you could think about going back to karate-"
"It's fine, dad. Whatever." Beckett replied.
They ate pizza in silence. When he was finished, Beckett got up and went to his room. He sat down at his desk and stared at Rome at War for a few minutes. He began reading.
He reread the part of the book about Caesar's conquests in Gaul. After a few hours of reading, and watching a few videos online, he started to feel like he understood what had happened, although why it happened was a bit unclear.
Beckett lay down on his bed. He thought about what Annie had done. She'd created something that might change the world. Even if she never shared what she invented, she actually sat down and figured it out. Now, by chance, Beckett had a chance to be involved, but he was still scared. He thought about what had happened that week, his warning from Mr Hashmi, his run-in with Ben, then his father's reminder of things that Beckett had quit. Beckett sat and thought about the fact that if Annie hadn't showed him what she had done, that it would have been another weekend of video games. By Sunday night, he'd have been sitting in his room, feeling regret that he hadn't done any studying.
Beckett took his phone out. He opened the camera app, and went to the video he made of himself earlier that day. He watched as he desperately tried to avoid Ben, but was inevitably pushed to the ground. He turned of the camera and let out a deep breath.
He texted Annie.
I'll go to Rome.. See you tomorrow.
After a few minutes, Annie replied: awesome.
Beckett was back at Annie's house the next day. He had spent the rest of the night reading about Caesar. One of the stories that got his attention was a naval battle in Tellany in Gaul against a tribe called the Veneti. It was as good a place as any to start.
"You're going now. Let's pick a time. What have you learned about Julius Caesar? Didn't he get killed by other people in the government?" Annie said, recalling the Crisis Shock narrative.
"Don't know if I want to see that." Beckett replied. "But I did read about this famous naval battle he had in Gaul."
"Where was this?"
"Let's take a look." Beckett took Rome at War out of his bag and put it next to the computer. He and Annie looked through it.
"Ok. It's in 56BC. That's a good place to start." Annie opened a new window on her computer and a map showed up. She plunked in a few numbers and suddenly the map swirled, showing her a lapse of the year. "This is the year. Now we just need to find when exactly it happened."
After a few minutes of looking through the book, they had determined that the battle was early spring in 56BC. After scrolling through the season on Annie's computer, they managed to find images of the ships along the coast of modern day Brittany in France.
"Well? Are you ready?" Annie asked.
"Hold on. What am I going to do exactly?" Beckett asked
"Just go watch. Apparently Caesar watched from the shore. Just go and watch; see if you can get close to him. You know some Latin right. Just go talk to him."
"I don't think it'll be that easy."
"Fine then just watch. If you don't go, you won't do either."
"Fair point." Beckett shrugged his shoulders. "I guess I can just try speaking Latin with any Romans I find there."
"Ok. Stay for at least 1 hour. I've got it set up that for every hour you're gone, 5 minutes will pass here. I'll watch the time code on the computer, and see what happens, if anything changes. Then when an hour's passed come back, which reminds me... take the return switch." Annie said, passing him the watch with the red button on it.
Beckett took the return switch and strapped it to his wrist. "Stand on the platform." Annie said, turning to face her computer.
Beckett looked down at his feet. He was standing next to the fibreglass platform. The contrast between slick blue colour and the dusty grey concrete of the basement floor stood out. Beckett took a deep breath, exhaled, and stepped onto the platform. He moved himself towards the middle of it and turned around to face Annie. "So what happens next?"
"You'll see." Annie pressed the space bar on the computer and a low humming noise began. "Oh, by the way, don't get the watch wet, it's not waterproof."
"I'm going to a naval battle." Beckett replied angrily. "And I'm wearing jeans!" He added, suddenly realising that he was wearing blue jeans and his green baseball jacket. However, the whirring of the computer and the platform under his feet had drowned him out. He was on his way.
As Beckett stood in the middle of the platform, the lights in the room darkened as the humming grew slightly louder. Small currents of electricity streamed between the columns at the corner of the platform. The bright white light formed in the corner of the grid. It began circling slowly around the platform coming closer to Beckett with each circle. He followed the light until it was under his shaking legs. There was a loud thump. Beckett's feet fell away and light surrounded him.