Jewellery. Goma, 2021.
Helen asked me the question, 'Did our safari lodges sell our jewellery?' I had no idea and made a call, finding out that they didn't, and that neither did our hotels.
In the morning I issued a decree and just about made it the law in Africa for every hotel and safari lodge to sell our jewellery. Our Dutch and Israeli friends recruited an extra two hundred people for President Faster and Cheaper.
Meanwhile, Jimmy had won CAR a massive contract in North Korea, a contract to mine numerous areas, CAR's share price climbing. Well, when you had a chief salesman like Jimmy Silo you'd always do well. His cold calling technique had a hundred percent success rate.
As the summer approached, I gave my deputies more responsibility and concentrated on the enclaves, and Mining City. Our clever 3-D modelling software was fantastic, and a great time-saver. I could click on a building and see who was building it, what its schedule was. The brain-trust kids then modified the software, and half- finished buildings could be displayed on screen as half-finished buildings. I could alter parameters and either view the finished article, or where we were at the moment.
Impressed by that, I put a team on the Palestinian enclave - to digitise it. Using the same technology that Google Earth had employed over the years, a helicopter flew low over the enclave and digitised images for me. In my office, three A3 iPads then gave me a three-dimensional view of the enclave, other screens displaying work schedules.
With Jimmy in the UK, I settled down to what I was good at, and built things.
Stateside, Brad was using Jimmy's rhetoric to pass bills. Mentioning future terror threats, he passed a bill that tightened the border controls of the States, additional resources being placed with the coastguard and with federal agencies. The DEA lost staff and the border agencies gained staff and budget increases, in some cases quite sizeable increases.
I was then surprised to see Brad militarise the Mexican border. He had gained the vote of the Hispanic community and much of the black Democrat vote in order to win the election, but now risked alienating those Hispanic voters. His next speech then shocked me, not in what it was, but that it came from him.
'If an American were to travel to another country illegally, they would face imprisonment, beatings, and deportation after heavy fines were paid. But if an illegal immigrant comes to America we turn a blind eye to it, and may deport only a small number of them.
'If an America citizen, living illegally in another country, stayed there for a few years, held down a job and started a family, they would not be entitled to remain because of it. If the immigrants of the world wish to be treated fairly here, then they should petition their own governments to treat American citizens the same way in their countries of origins.
'There are troubles ahead - I've been made aware of them, and I'll now takes steps to return America's right to govern its own people, and control its own borders. We ... will decide who settles here, and with due process and law; the immigrants will not decide for us. There must be law and order, and our borders must be respected.
'As such, strengthened laws will see businesses or individuals fined ten thousand dollars for each illegal immigrant that they employ. If the company is caught twice, that'll be twenty thousand dollars for each illegal. A private citizen, employing an illegal as a nanny or housekeeper, will be fined just the same — and no excuses will be acceptable.
'Starting this week, additional resources will be channelled towards repatriating illegals from this country. Some compensation will be paid to those who have resided here and worked for many years, since we don't wish them to suffer unduly when they return to their countries of origins.'
I was shocked, and called Jimmy. Jimmy explained, 'The number of Hispanics will grow, and become a serious issue after 2025. If and when the economy goes to shit, the Hispanics will organise into self- help groups along the lines of The Ark, but eventually turn militant. So we'll ship them out, millions of them.'
'Will they be taken back?'
'The various governments will be offered inducements, ' Jimmy reported. 'And we'll help.'
'We'll help?' I questioned.
'Yes, helping to deter those deported from turning to crime too early on after their return home. We'll build apartments in various countries, offer loans, send solar panels.'
'Brad will never get a second term, ' I noted.
'He'll lose most of the Hispanic vote, but a large number of them don't vote anyway, and those that are entitled to don't usually bother. As for the rest of the States, their minds have been polarised by the Hawaiian displaced; they're all for kicking out the illegals. And while we're on the topic, keep encouraging recent Africans emigrants to America to return — and those here with itchy feet to stay.'
After that conversation, I checked to see how many Africans were returning, finding that it was around six hundred a month. I increased the budget, saying that I wanted Africans educated in The West back here and helping to start new businesses. We soon had six hundred a week returning from North America, a hundred from the UK, many from Spain.
'Two or three hundred years?' Jimmy repeated. He stared at Doctor Singh, then took in the faces of the other members of the resistance.
'When we opened the micro-portal, we received and isolated various radio signals, and one was a news programme that described the Falklands War, ' Doctor Singh explained. 'In the broadcast, the British lost the Falklands War.'
'Lost it? They won it.'
'Not where the signal was coming from.'
'And ... just where was the signal coming from?' Jimmy puzzled.
'An alternate earth, an alternate history, an alternate time line, ' Singh carefully stated.
'An ... alternate earth?'
Singh nodded. 'We don't believe that the portal would ever allow us to travel back in time through this particular timeline, this planet's history.'
'Then what the hell are we all here for?' Jimmy loudly asked. 'If this can't be fixed?'
'It can't be fixed, but there are other things to consider.'
'Like what, for fuck's sake?'
'We can't go back through this time line, but we can go back to certain points in other dimensions, maybe even thousands of them, and they all share the same basic fate as this world. Jimmy, if you could save the people of a ... a carbon copy of this world, would you do it?'
'An almost identical copy of this world - with some slight variations, but physically the same planet. There'd be a version of you there, your family, people you know. The man who you sailed here with, he'd be there ... but in 1982 or 1992 — alive and well.'
'But facing the same war as we suffered, ' Jimmy said, turning away.
'And many planets like that, all facing the same problem, ' Singh said with urgency in his voice. 'We've isolated thirty so far, most very similar, some quite different.'
'After millions of years of evolution, how could they be similar? How could I be born on any alternate planets?'
'I'll start at the beginning.' They got comfortable.
Sat on the patio, Helen and the girls at a function, Jimmy said to me, 'I should probably tell you something about the time machine. To start at the beginning, Doctor Singh was a clever young Indian astrophysicist. He did his PhD on the background noise of space, but then decided it was all wrong and dropped out for a while. You see, he had a radical idea; it made sense to him, but no one else. He started everything off with the idea that background noise in space was caused by nearby parallel dimensions.'
I eased up and stared across at Jimmy, my mouth opening. 'You are from a parallel dimension, you big lump. I've been discussing that with Shelly for years, but it never made sense — the detail you know of this place.'
He nodded. 'This is the first time I've been here, this planet. This ... is not my world, and nothing I do here will affect my own world, my own version of earth.'
'And if you went back?' I asked.
'That timeline would continue, and we'd eventually be overrun by The Brotherhood.'
'You can't stop that?' I puzzled.
'No, not directly. There is ... a plan, which is also a hope, and that I can't discuss with you yet. It's ... not completely hopeless, but it is tricky, and it's linked to success here.' He lifted his head to the stars and gathered his thoughts. 'Let me start simple.
'If you stand next to a high-speed train as it goes past, you see a blur. But inside the train — if you weren't looking out the window — you wouldn't know that you were moving at all. People live in that space, and then later on others live in that same space.
'Now, imagine a train travelling close to the speed of light. Ten thousand of them would pass you in a second, just a blur, but to each person on each train they had their own little world, unaware of how fast they were travelling. If you took a single second in time, then all of the people occupied it - ten thousand trains and a million people, all crammed into an area a few metres high and wide. Take a look over you left shoulder.' I did. 'See the lion stalking the antelope?'
'Er ... nope?'
'Because they're on a different train. They're here, but moving too quickly to be seen. And since we're moving just as fast, we couldn't see them anyway. Open a portal, and you'd see the lion; you'd see the people on the other trains, and stepping across is far easier than you think, so is stepping across at varying places in their timeline. Trying to go back in time on this train is fucking hard, and we never mastered it. Now, consider the Big Bang; there wasn't one.'
'No Big Bang?'
'No, the universe is a circle, but ... shaped like an apple. Think of it like this: big old magnet at the centre, a solid object. From the top of the magnet, lines of magnetism radiate outwards, curve around and eventually hit the arse end. But the lines are not lines of magnetism, they're lines of pure energy. Everything ... is energy in one form or another, there's no such thing as sold matter. Solid matter is just energy that has cooled down a bit, it's vibrating less on an atomic level, and temporarily forms atoms and electrons, and then molecules and matter.
'From the top of the big magnet at the centre of the universe, lines of concentrated energy flow out and around, eventually hitting the arse end billions of years later. All this, this planet, will eventually go back to energy.
'Now, as the lines of energy travel out from the top of the magnet, they split apart and cool down — for want of a better phrase, and become strands. Each strand is an expanding universe as we perceive it. In those universes are planets, like this old rock, and after a few years, or decades, the strand that we're now in will split in two as it cools down and gets further away from the centre, the centre being the apple core.
'When the line splits, a complete carbon copy is created, since there's more than enough energy around us to split hundreds of times and not notice it. This planet, and the molten core and its gravity and its moon, that's a template. And when the strand splits, when the timeline splits, it doesn't go anywhere in effect. It's over your left shoulder, but occupying the same space, like those fast moving trains, but they're parallel, not one behind the other — or something like that.
'This particular timeline split from another in 1976, which was after I had been born to my parents, and you to yours; we targeted it specifically because it was a recent split. If I had gone to another timeline, then the Germans may have won the last war, or mankind may have died from a plague. And finding the closest timeline was real easy; we just used the minimum power settings. Since they were so close, we only had to take a small step.
'After Doctor Singh had thrown away his PhD, he figured that background noise in space was coming from events in nearby parallel dimensions. Problem was, they all thought him a bit crazy, so he did his research in private. But when he arrived in Canada he was a prime candidate to assist on the time machine, fronted by NASA, and ran some of his own tests. He opened a micro-portal when NASA had just about given up — and without them knowing about it.
'After that initial success he recruited other scientists, those he knew were disenchanted with the Army's approach to things, not least because the Army wanted to go back and nuke the Middle East in 1991, when the Russians were at their weakest.
'So Singh formed a resistance movement, and eventually asked me if I would go back through time, only not back through our own time. It took a while to understand it all, and to see what they were after. But, at the end of day, this planet is just as worthy of being saved as the one next to it.'
'I figured you'd been here many times, you know so much.'
'No, I've been to many worlds many times, all almost identical, a few subtle changes. Like you with a moustache.'
'I had a moustache?' I asked.
He laughed. 'No.'
Jimmy waited till dark before approaching the field. Stood in the open field, he took his bearings from nearby mountains, spending almost an hour checking and re-checking his position. Knowing that a micro portal was permanently open, he took out a small device and switched it on, a radio signal sent, the same code over and over. Wrapping it in a plastic bag to keep it dry, he placed it onto the damp grass and stepped back.
At 4am he could hear a distant helicopter, and see lights towards the nearby hamlet. Stood shivering in the cold rain, he stared at shadows in the trees, wondering if he would make it.
Half an hour later he could hear dogs on the breeze, certain that he would be captured. Stood there, hopping from one foot to the other to stay warm, considered taking his own life to keep the authorities from finding out what he knew.
By 5am the sound of the dogs had faded, but he could now see the headlights of vehicles in the distance, still the intermittent sounds of a helicopter. Thankfully, the weather was terrible.
A flash of blue light startled him. He turned to the left and began running, sloshing through the mud. Reaching the illumination of the portal, its edges shimmering brightly, he could see the laboratory the other side, well lit and with people in white lab coats peering towards him. He reached down and grabbed the transmitter, soon realising that the base of the portal was a good two feet off the ground. He ran as fast as he could manage on the wet grass, car headlights close by now.
Reaching the portal, he jumped headfirst, a burst of light and warmth preceding an impact with a concrete floor.
'Close it, they're right behind me!'
Singh cut the power, Jimmy laying on his back and panting. Easing up with the help of the others, he sat looking at his wet trousers and muddy shoes. Up on his feet, he took in the laboratory and its equipment, and a few faces that he had almost forgotten. 'How long was I gone?'
'Hour and fifty minutes, ' Singh reported.
'Eleven years that side, ' Jimmy reported, blowing out hard. He took his coat off as a technician wiped down his muddy shoes.
Singh brought forwards a backpack, placing it down with an odd look on his face, almost apologetic. Jimmy stared at it. Singh said, 'We've isolated another timeline, closer than the last.'
Jimmy slowly nodded, staring at the backpack. 'I made millions on the stock markets, ' he idly commented.
'We couldn't hear any radio programmes mention you, and you're back before the use of wireless Internet locally, ' Singh noted.
'I bought hotels in Africa, and a mine or two. It was going well, but I slipped up somewhere because the CIA we all over me. I was interviewed twice, they took DNA samples — good thinking of yours to replace my younger self — and I gave them the slip in Seattle. They caught up locally; another day and they would have had me.'
'We'd like you to go through in an hour, ' Singh said after a glance at his colleagues, seeming apologetic.
'What's the time here?' Jimmy asked.
'One o'clock, Saturday morning.'
'Do you think we'll do it?' Jimmy asked after a moment.
'Yes, we're on schedule. We knew the first time would be the worst, and you've learnt from it no doubt. But Jimmy, Monday morning they'll be coming through that door.'
All of the technicians brought over chairs, forming a circle, notepads in hand. 'Tell us what happened, ' Singh requested, some urgency in his voice. 'We'll make a modified plan.'
Jimmy accepted a coffee and sat. 'The fake passports were fine, and the money. I almost got caught fencing the diamonds you gave me, I'll have to be careful in future. When I arrived back I got a bus to Toronto and made like a tourist, bought a case and packed it out; that survived inspection in London airport.
'I stayed in London for two years, placing bets on horses and making good money, studying hard, but keeping the weight down. In 1984 I got a place in Cardiff and studied my younger self, eventually just knocking on his door. I ... killed him and hid his body, taking his place just before I — he — was due to move to London for a new stockbroker job, not seeing my parents for almost five months, and when I did they accepted me.
'I traded the markets and made a fortune, bought a nice apartment, a nice car, and all the while sent letters about disasters to ambassadors in London. Those letters never leaked out, and I could see disasters being avoided — so it was working well enough. I used the name Magestic as we discussed, but the CIA was looking for me.
'I made contact with a future British Prime Minister, and gave him a detailed briefing. He's due to take office in the years ahead, so he may well make a big difference. I also gave him the chart for gold prices for a few decades, and a few hints at technology to come, so I'd like to think that he would make a difference.
'The British security services paid me a visit on more than one occasion, but never figured it out. I lived the high-life when I knew they were watching, and they lost interest.'
'And if you did it again?' a lady technician asked.
'Oh, I could do a much better job of it. And I know who I could recruit and trust to help me.'
'Recruit?' Singh asked.
'It'll be difficult by myself, ' Jimmy insisted. 'I need people I can trust, and I know of one now.'
'You told him who you were?' they asked.
'Yes, and he offered to help. After seven years — no problems, but ... well, I think they have him in custody.'
'And the Russians and Chinese?' Singh asked.
'I speak a reasonable amount of each language now, and I warned them both of the future to come by letter.'
'Did they try and find you?' Singh asked.
'I don't think so.'
'Did China research coal-oil technology?' they asked.
'I read an article about it just before I came back to Canada, ' Jimmy informed them.
'I have a signal from that world, ' someone said from behind Jimmy. 'It's... 2017 ... it's ... military ... it's ... post apocalyptic.'
Everyone collectively sank.
'Next time, ' Singh insisted. 'Next time.'
With the briefing over, and a few ideas bounced around, Jimmy put the backpack on, checking his fake passport and money. Stood next to the portal he turned and looked back at the expectant faces. 'Wish me luck.'
A week after Jimmy had revealed more about who he really was, my head was still full of all things temporal. I was dying to discuss it with the girls, but dared not.
But now things were different for me, and different between Jimmy and myself. He was the outsider now, and this was my world, that's how I felt. I was being trained to assist him — but here, and some day soon he'd be gone. I felt more attached to the world all of a sudden, that realisation that this was my world, and that there were others out there. The care and belonging I had felt for Africa I now started to feel for the planet as a whole.
Brad had, apparently, been given his own briefing, a private one-to- one that lasted six hours. Two people on the planet now knew, three if you included our version of Doctor Singh, who was in a secret location in India and busy working on his theories behind closed doors.
In the States, Brad had passed a bill that basically paid us back almost half of what was still owing to us from various American states and our coffers were full, if not bursting. With this new reality about Jimmy, and the new reality of full coffers, I continued to work hard on the enclaves, certain that they would make a difference.
In New Palestine, Shelly had become involved after studying satellite photographs of the enclave. She had noticed a nice beach just outside the enclave, and a nice stretch of coastline. Without my knowledge she had approached Abdi, and nagged that he extend the enclave by four miles. Abdi agreed, since it was just parched soil, and Shelly dropped a project on my desk.
'There's a great beach east of the Palestinian enclave, the potential of a great coastal region. So, if we developed that region, added another marina, it would help to generate future income and to develop a small tourist trade.'
'Tourism? To a Palestinian enclave? People will think of Gaza!'
'Till they see the pictures. Abdi has agreed the land, I asked him nicely, then sat on him and refused to move till he agreed.'
'He agreed more land?'
'I asked for a mile, and took four. Who's counting? Anyway, if you move the fence and landscape the beaches will be lovely. Put a road at the back, then parkland, then nice apartments.'
I had been given a firm nudge, and sent additional builders up — not wishing to be sat on till I gave in. Their work was simple enough, the road completed quickly, the parkland down in a few days, sand moved around on the beaches. Hundreds of labours moved rocks and filtered the sand, trying to create a perfect beach. They even swam out and removed rocks from the shallows, save important paying tourists stubbing a toe.
When the hotel chains of the world saw the sketches, and accompanying photographs of the beaches, many wished to plant a beach hotel nearby. I sanctioned the building of twelve immediately.
Meanwhile, the dustbowl was taking shape, some three hundred apartment blocks either complete, or soon would be, the first row of nice villas built. A police training college had been knocked together next to an army barracks, the Rifles in charge of both for now. Former security staff from the occupied territories signed on, the Israelis on the phone straight away.
'Paul, Ben. Will these Palestinian soldiers be trained like Rifles?'
'No, I've specifically forbidden it, so relax. They'll have just basic training, no super-drug, and a nap at 3pm each day. We're not creating Palestinian super-soldiers, because they might bite us on the arse as much as you.'
'And the Somali base nearby?'
'Is there in case trouble breaks out. Relax, worry about your economy instead, huh. That's heading towards the toilet.'
Fearing a growing Israeli interest in the enclave, I ordered that the basic dirt airstrip that the nearby Somali base offered become a half- decent airfield that would hold a squadron of Kenyan F15 fighters. Or two. I also had the breakwater harbour at the Somali base increased in size, asking that Somali and Kenyan coastguard cutters be based there all the time.
When Ben Ares popped down for a visit, we touched upon the subject of the enclave.
'Ben, their army will be tiny, and not trained like the Rifles. But, should they be a problem, I'll invade them myself and sort the problem. But if you were to launch a raid I'd consider it an act of war, and I've already signed a defence treaty with the enclave's provisional council. If you fire a shot, you're at war with Rifles.'
He was not a happy bunny, but I assured him that I would take responsibility for the conduct of the enclave, including the searching of ships. I also pointed out that the colony offered the death penalty for the private possession of a firearm or explosives.
We toured the massive jewellery factory, and its equally large offices, some four hundred Israelis now working in the city. A temple had been built near the offices, and the city now boasted three restaurants that could be described as offering Jewish cuisine.
A week later, Rahman and al-Qa'eda reared up, and attacked Dubai again. I had to wonder about their logic, since the city was dying anyway. A bomb had gone off in Dubai's tallest tower, another building set-alight. The economic damage may have been great, in another time, but now it hardly made the news.
Stateside, Brad was earning friends on the right and losing them on the left, and I'm sure that Sanchez was turning in his grave. The TV news showed Hispanic illegals being deported, businesses being raided or shut down for employing illegals. Unemployment rates amongst Hispanics soared, even if they were legal, but Brad held firm.
Brad told a TV interviewer, 'When a person lands at JFK they show their passport, because that's international law. If someone wishes to come and live and work here ... then they apply to do so — within the laws of this land!'
Studying a political analysis website, I could see Brad gaining on the right and losing on the left, but overall he was doing OK. Jimmy then waded in with a TV interview.
'During 2025 and after, there will be the danger of high unemployment and civil unrest here in America. In the years following 2025, some groups of Hispanics will turn militant and fight the authorities, making some areas no-go areas, hundreds of police offices and soldiers being killed.'
That frightened right-wing America, who now called for even tougher action. Landing in Goma a week later, Jimmy gave an interview to our TV station.
'New Kinshasa is a beautiful city, and the Democratic Republic of Congo has done well. But unchecked immigration by those without jobs could spoil all that. Control of the people, and application of the law is important in any country. If we allowed it, we'd have millions of unemployed people in our region and beggars on the streets. That would harm business, and investment.
'That's not saying that we don't like the people from other countries, that's saying that we'll help people in their own countries, and allow movement with legal paperwork. We help the Ugandans in Uganda, and we help the Kenyans in Kenya, but we don't allow anyone to just move where they please and put up a tin shack.
'President Kimballa is in office to govern the people of the Congo, not to govern the people of any other nation. His first loyalty is to his own citizens, and to consider overseas workers afterwards.
'Personally, I don't like to see Africans with an education going to work in The West. I think they should be here, making things better for their homeland. If they work in The West to get experience and come back, then fine.
'As for the foreigners in New Kinshasa, they are all legal; we know who they are and they have papers, invited here to do jobs that locals can't do yet. And working alongside these Westerners, our people learn to do the jobs themselves.
'I am all in favour of people mixing, but done so with control and the rule of law, not done without planning, and not like the Mexicans climbing over the fences on the American border.'
When he arrived at the house, I asked about the situation in America. Jimmy began, 'There was a time when American politicians realised that their health service and welfare bill was a giant Ponsi scheme; the new arrivals paying for those already in it. The thinking was that new migrant workers would increase the size of the population and help to prop-up the welfare bill and pensions years later.
'The health dividend eased that greatly, but it also means that Americans will live longer, and their obesity problem hasn't gone away. Senator Pedersen's own health insurance company now screens out obese people, or charges a great deal more. People are living longer, and that'll stretch the pension payments greatly.
'Brad will soon tackle that, and people who've been injected with the drug will be told to retire ten years later - and to contribute more to their own pensions. It's a ticking time bomb, unfortunately, but he will hit it head on - or die trying!'
'Will he get re-elected?' I asked.
'He doesn't care. He'll tackle every problem I give him and do what he can, and to hell with it.'
'Hispanics are not happy.'
'They're illegal, they have no rights — certainly not to be complaining about it. Besides, I know what'll happen, and they need to go.'
'Mexican border sewn up tight?'
'Getting that way, as well as Mexico's border with Guatemala. And I've given the Mexicans money to ship South Americans out. America used to gain people every year, now they're starting to lose them, but it's a decade or two too late.'
A week later I had a visit in the Pentagon building from some of the brain-trust kids.
'We've been working on the drug to slim down the pigs, ' they said.
I had to stop and stare. 'Slim down ... pigs? Are our pigs overweight?'
They smiled. 'It's a drug for humans, sir.'
'Ah, ' I realised, and I remembered the visit to the pig sheds. 'Yes, yes. So, how's it going?'
'We think we have it, the trial on the first hundred humans is being conducted now, and so far there are no side effects.'
'And their waistlines?'
'Much better, sir. But they need another injection if they put the weight on, which is what Mister Silo wanted.'
'Yes, sir. They have to keep buying more.'
'Ah, good idea. And it could be worth a fortune to us. What do you need?'
'We'd like to create our own pharmaceutical company here, sir, and then sell the drug locally first.'
'You'll have everything you need, ' I promised. I sent for my deputies and instructed them, asking the group, 'When do you think it will hit the shops?'
'I may be six months, sir, if all goes well.'
'Try and accelerate it, conduct a bigger trial; I want to make a lot of money from this ready for 2025.'
I informed Helen that lunchtime.
'Could be worth more than our gold, ' she suggested. 'Just think of the women who'll want it; they can eat chocolate all day and then just pop a pill.'
Security for the group was duly tightened, armed bodyguards for the key researchers; I had PACT take on board the project's secrecy until the drug was ready, my target audience being the chocolate munching women of the world.
Jimmy washed his bloodied hands in cold river water. Standing, he took in the view, a wooded river valley leading to gentle hills devoid of trees. 'It's beautiful. I guess it's what the original settlers saw; virgin territory.'
Corporal Diaz straightened, taking in the view, stood in his drab green uniform with his hands on his hips. 'It's also deadly if you have no food, tools or weapons, or if you don't know what the fuck you're doing.' He pointed at Jimmy's cut hand. 'That OK?'
'Be gone by the morning.'
Diaz took a moment. 'You going to explain that at some point, buddy? And back there; you killed those three men like they were made out of straw. You going to explain that?'
'At some point, ' Jimmy acknowledged with a smile.
They grabbed their heavy backpacks, trudging slowly onwards, always north and towards the Canadian border. Diaz had carried an M16 rifle, Jimmy wore an AK47 slung and a pistol on his hip. They had already glimpsed a bear, but it had been more afraid of them and scampered off.
'So, this place ... Manson, that's where the British Army is?' Diaz asked.
'That's what I heard.'
The next day they found a road, but decided to avoid people; those that they had met so far had tended to shoot first and say hello afterwards. They crossed the road, pressing on along a little used track. Finding a wooden cabin, partly burnt, they dropped their packs and investigated, weapons ready. Inside the cabin they discovered three bodies; two charred, the third partly eaten by animals.
Diaz said, 'That one - she killed the other two, burnt them and the cabin, then killed herself.' He pointed at a photograph above the fireplace. 'Parents and daughter by the look of it.'
Tinned food was liberated, powdered milk, but little else.
'Diaz?' Jimmy called from an outhouse.
Diaz came running, weapon ready. Jimmy pointed. 'Saddles. So where are the horses?'
'They probably let them go.'
'If they were broken-in, raised tame, then they wouldn't have gone far.'
Leaving the outhouse, Diaz pointed towards a large field. Reaching the open gate, they could see four horses grazing happily on the far side.
'You know horses?' Diaz asked.
'I was having lessons a few years back.' Jimmy turned. 'We'll need food for them, and the householders probably grew their own. C'mon.'
They discovered an overgrown vegetable patch towards the track, beyond it a line of apple trees, a dozen apples collected by each of them.
Back at the field, Jimmy tried to whistle. 'Never learnt to fucking whistle, ' he cursed. 'You?'
Diaz dropped his apples, put two fingers in his mouth and created a loud whistle, repeated many times. The horses were now staring across, the first starting to amble towards the humans, the previous providers of sustenance.
A full twenty minutes later the first horse nervously approached, sniffing the air. Jimmy tossed it an apple, soon gobbled up and munched, a second following. The horse edged closer. Holding several apples, Jimmy stepped to it and halted, standing perfectly still. Five minutes later the horse was close enough to sniff the apples, Jimmy holding one out on his upturned palm. The horse took the apple and munched it loudly, the remaining three horses closing in, Jimmy tossing them apples.
The first horse, the most confident, allowed Jimmy to rub its nose. 'Hello there, ' Jimmy quietly offered.
Diaz eased forwards, offering an apple to a second curious horse. 'What now?' he whispered.
'Now we take a few days to get to know them, them us, and for them to get used to saddles again. In the meantime, we close the gate, move the bodies and set-up a happy home.'
With the three bodies buried, Jimmy marked the graves with a shovel, and a photograph in a glass frame from above the fireplace, an image of the once-happy family. He joined Diaz on the porch.
'We fucked it all up, man, ' Diaz stated, focused on the graves. 'Fucked it all up big time.'
Jimmy took a moment to stare at the graves. 'Attacking China was a mistake; your President fucked the whole world in one go and started the war.'
'I never voted for the arsehole.'
'Can you keep a secret, Diaz?'
'Who'd I tell?' Diaz scoffed.
'You've seen me heal, you've seen how fit and strong I am, how little sleep I need, but you seem to accept it.'
Diaz shrugged. 'I'd be dead without you, man. You got me out that camp — fucking Texans would have sent me back to Mexico. I was born here man, a serving corporal, and those fucking rednecks wanted to deport me, or lynch me.'
Jimmy gently nodded, then turned his head and made eye contact. 'In Manson there's a secret facility. Inside it is a time machine. I'm ... from another time.'
'Shit... ' Diaz slowly let out.
'And I need a favour.'
'It's important that I get to Manson, because I may be able to go back in time and alter all ... all this. If we run into trouble, I need you to do everything you can to get me there, even if it costs you your life.'
Diaz stared back. 'You can alter this?'
Jimmy nodded. 'I think can, at least I hope I can.' Wistfully, he added, 'I just need to figure a way to stop your fucking President from nuking China because of your economy, and your economy not failing because of OPEC, and of OPEC not dropping the dollar.'
'Jesus, ' Diaz let out.
Jimmy stood. 'I found a syringe in the bathroom. Take off your jacket and roll up your sleeve, I'm going to inject you with my blood.'
'Inject me ... with your blood?'
'Afterwards you'll be just like me: fucking indestructible.'
The horses accepted apples twice a day every day, Jimmy and Diaz getting to know them, Diaz improving his strength and fitness. On the third day, Jimmy showed the horses a basic rope harness and bit, getting them bridled eventually, the bridles removed at dusk. That following day, Jimmy led the horses around on a rope, each in turn, running and jogging.
'They seem OK, ' Jimmy told Diaz. 'But I'm no expert. And I've no idea how to check their shoes.'
In the morning, Jimmy tied his favourite horse to the fence, stroking and patting it for five minutes. They seemed to have an affinity. It took a while for Jimmy to figure out the saddle assembly, instructing Diaz where he could. Finally ready, Jimmy saddled his favourite horse, leading it around the field before tying it to the fence again.
An hour later, with Diaz stood ready, Jimmy checked the saddle position, tested that it wouldn't slip, and mounted up. Diaz smiled widely as the horse simply stood there.
'Untie me, ' Jimmy called.
Diaz released the knot, tossing Jimmy the rope, watching now from the fence as Jimmy walked the horse around the field for half an hour. Back at Diaz, he said, 'Your turn, Corporal.'
Jimmy held the horse, rubbing its nose as Diaz mounted up. 'Slow gentle kicks with your heels. Talk to her, reassure her, pat her neck.'
Diaz dug his heels in and walked the horse around the field. 'How do you turn?' he shouted back.
'Pull the rope with your left or right hand, turn the horse's head.'
Diaz survived the experience, back with a huge smile. 'We're like proper cowboys, man.'
'Release your left foot, hold the big bit in front of your groin, move your weight forwards, then right and down, keeping hold on the rope.'
Diaz landed on his back, laughing hard. Unbridled, Jimmy rewarded the horse with apples.
Four days later, Jimmy and Diaz, travelling companions, sat atop their horses, the final two horses roped behind and carrying their back packs. From a gentle rise they looked back at the cabin.
'Could have stayed there, man, ' Diaz said. 'Vegetables and all, and fucking apples.'