Chapter no 52

Quantum Radio

The plane made landfall in a deafening explosion that threw Ty from his feet. A wave of heat washed through the tall grass. The cry of metal twisting groaned in the night. Dirt and airplane pieces rained down, hot as coals from a fire.

Ty lay face down and covered the back of his head with both hands, feeling the wreckage pelt his back, legs, and arms. He was trapped.

He waited, listening, body tensing, half expecting a massive chunk of the plane to fall on him at any second, piercing his body, a fatal blow that would bury him in this strange world. It was a hopeless, nerve-wracking feeling to be pinned down, helpless.

Finally, the shower of fragments and earth slowed and then stopped, and all was quiet again except for the crackle of fire at the crash site.

“Nora!” he called out, still lying face down. “I’m here.”

“Tanaka!” Kato called. “Status green. Santos, report!” Silence stretched out.

In the distance, Ty heard a jet engine roar again. Was it the pursuing plane? Or a new one?

“Santos!” Kato called again.

Maria’s voice finally broke the silence, sounding weary and annoyed. “Quit calling me Santos! We’re not on a football team.”

Ty smiled. She sounded fine.

He sat up and peered over the swaying grass at the mangled plane.

Simmering flames danced over it, lighting the vast field.

The plane that remained in the air was getting closer, engines screaming as it drew near. Gunfire rang out, the tat-tat-tat of its mounted guns hammering in the night.

Ty followed the sound, scanning the skies, horrified by what he saw. The pilot who had ejected was floating to the ground, a broad parachute swaying above. The pursuing plane passed by, the light from its guns flaring as it fired, trying to pierce the parachute’s canopy.

Kato stalked over to stand beside Ty, watching the parachute sway in the wind. Nora rose and joined them, then Maria, the four of them witnessing the deadly assault in the air, like a duel in which one person was helpless, left to await their fate.

The plane shot past the parachute, then turned sharply, its course veering toward the wreckage on the mall. Gunfire once again spewed from its guns, the shots ripping up the earth, a line of death making directly for them.

“Go!” Kato shouted as all four of them turned and raced toward the National Museum of Natural History directly behind them.

Dirt fell from the sky where the gunfire dug into it. The shots thumped into the ground, shaking it beneath their feet.

Kato altered course once, then again, and the shots ripped past them, barely missing.

The doors to the museum were only a steel skeleton. All the glass was gone, the pieces nowhere in sight.

Kato slowed as he reached them, enough to test whether they were locked, and pushed them open.

The rotunda beyond was in ruin. The light of the moon and stars above shone through the punctured dome overhead.

The giant elephant that stood on a raised platform, which Ty had seen so many times, still towered over the foyer. To the right, Ty knew, was the Hall of Fossils and Deep Time, and to the left lay the Mammals exhibit.

Kato apparently knew the museum’s layout as well. He marched toward the Ocean Hall, which lay between the café and Smithsonian research wings. The Human Origins and African Voices exhibits lay beyond, but Kato veered toward the stairs.

“Wait,” Nora called out.

Outside, gunfire erupted again, and the jet engine screamed into the night.

“We need to get below ground,” Kato said. “We need cover. And there’s an exit onto Constitution on the lower level.”

Nora crept back to the glassless doors and peered out. Ty arrived just in time to see bullets rip through the parachute and the pilot began

plummeting precipitously.

“We have to help him,” Nora said.

Apparently sensing he was in a losing argument, Kato came to join them. A second later, the pilot crashed to the ground, disappearing in the sea of tall grass that covered the mall.

“I’ll go,” he said.

“He—or she—may need a doctor,” Nora said.

“I have medical training,” Kato said, still peering through the door’s metal bars.

“Kato and I will go,” Ty said. “We’ll carry the pilot—”

“Moving them may not be wise,” Nora said. “That’s why you need a doctor to make that assessment.”

Kato turned to Maria. “Stay here.” “No way. I’m going.”


Maria shook her head. “Horror movies.” Kato bunched his eyebrows. “What?”

“In horror movies, the person who gets separated from the group always

dies. Always. I’m not going out like that.” “This isn’t a movie.”

Ty held up his hands. “Okay. Let’s all go.”

When the sound of the plane had faded, they ventured out onto the grassy mall, stalking past the simmering wreckage of the downed plane.

The gunshot-riddled parachute had settled into the field, mashing flat a large swath of grass. The suspension lines snaked through the blades, a trail leading to the pilot, who lay on their side, helmet still on. Unmoving.

Kato reached the downed pilot first, held a hand to the person’s neck and whispered, “They’re alive.”

He moved his hands to the helmet, but Nora reached him then and waved him off. She bent down and examined the person’s neck. Ty assumed she was looking for bruises or any sign of swelling, but he wasn’t sure.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.

Kato removed the helmet, revealing a man’s face, slender almost to the point of emaciation, deep eye sockets, like someone who hadn’t slept well for a very long time, and close-cropped, thinning hair. The man’s eyes were closed. He was sweating, Ty assumed, from the pain or shock of the impact. As Ty studied him closer, he realized the man was trembling too, as though

a fever process was at work. He wondered if the man was sick. And if whatever had sickened him was contagious.

As Nora examined him, Ty took in the pilot’s uniform. There was a patch on the man’s chest with what Ty assumed was his last name: James. He wore the rank insignia of a major, and the next thing that caught Ty’s eye was the flag on his right shoulder. It was red, with a map of Europe and Asia on it.

“Can you hear me?” Nora asked, leaning close to the pilot. The man didn’t stir. His breathing was shallow and irregular. Kato unsnapped one of the bundles clipped to his flight suit. “Here’s a survival kit.”

He detached a larger sack and tossed it away. “What was that?” Ty asked.

“Life raft.”

Nora unzipped the survival pack and began visually taking stock of the contents.

“We need to get back to the museum. For cover,” Kato said. Nora eyed the man. “We shouldn’t move him.”

“We shouldn’t be out here. We’re sitting ducks.”

“All right,” Nora said. Ty could tell she didn’t like it. He didn’t either, but he had to agree with Kato—every second they stayed out in the open was a risk.

Kato unclipped the parachute and slipped his arms beneath the man. “Careful,” Nora said. “He could have internal injuries.”

Ty moved to help Kato, but the SEAL shook his head. “If we have to run, this will be easier.”

Ty wanted to disagree, but he had to admit that Kato was probably right. He could run faster carrying the man than the two of them could together. And Kato seemed to be bearing the weight easily.

As they marched through the grass, Ty listened for the plane, expecting it to cry out in the night at any moment and gunfire to follow.

But there was only silence.

Inside the museum, Kato strode past the elephant in the rotunda, his feet grinding over the dirt and grime that coated the marble floor. It was clear to Ty that no one had been here for a long time.

At the stairwell just to the right of the entrance to the Ocean Hall, Kato turned to Ty.

“Going to need a light.”

Ty clicked his flashlight on and shined it ahead, lighting Kato’s way down the stone staircase.

Kato turned right at the bottom of the stairs, then right again, and slipped into the Gallery Store. The shelves were mostly bare except for a few figurines and trinkets. A thick coat of dust blanketed everything. The air was stale, like a tomb.

Kato set the pilot down, then took out his own flashlight, switched it on, and placed it on the floor, letting it shine up like a lantern.

“We need answers,” he said to no one in particular.

Nora crouched by the pilot, unzipped the survival bag, and began laying out its contents.

“The device,” Kato said, “the… radio. It destroyed the world.” “I don’t think so,” Ty said.

“Looks destroyed to me.”

“I don’t think the quantum radio did this.”

“Cause and effect,” Kato said. “We turned it on, and look what happened.


“I’m not sure,” Ty said, instantly feeling guilty for not disclosing more. But he wasn’t ready to discuss his theories—not without a little more certainty.

Nora seemed to sense his reluctance. She looked up from the bandages and medications. “But you have an idea.”

“A theory.”

“The device altered the timeline, didn’t it?” she asked. Ty bit his lip. “I don’t think that’s exactly it.”

“Some of the buildings on the mall are gone,” Nora said. “Buildings we’ve been in—you and me—many times over the last thirty years.”

“They could have been destroyed,” Kato said.

“There was no rubble pile,” Nora replied. “It looks like they were never built.”

“Or they were razed,” Kato said. He paced away from the group. “Actually, we don’t need to speculate. We can go get answers. Right now. Next door.”

Ty squinted, confused.

“The details of what happened here should be in the building beside us,” Kato said. “In the National Museum of American History.”

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