The vault was old. But solid. The old bank was falling down around it. But there in the middle of the rubble standing like a icon from days gone by, was the old walk-in vault.
He stood looking around the remains of the old bank. Pieces of the main lobby were littered around the ground like so much scrap wood. The counters and money trays were crumbed into piles of debri. Most of the material was marble. Slabs of marble leaned against each other, In some cases crushing the counters and desks they landed against. The art deco ceiling lamps that had once hung majesty from the high vaulted ceiling now lay in ruins on top of marble and wood.
Grasping a piece of marble he grunted as he pushed it aside. Such was the way he slowly picked through the remains of the old bank. Each piece he moved, or climbed over brought him closer to the prize. After a couple of hours of picking his way through the debris he reached the door to the vault.
Looking over the door he could tell it hadn’t been opened in a long time. In fact it was showing signs of having been exposed to the weather it was taking its toll on the steel. Rust starting to form around the edges, and the large combination knob in the middle didn’t seem to want to turn. The numbers were getting hard to read. They were small to begin with, and being exposed to wind and rain hadn’t done them any good.
Looking around again he noticed how the day slipped by him. Spurned on by the oncoming darkens, and thus cold temperatures, He took one last look around, Made some notes, on the old pocket notebook, he had shoved into his old coat pocket. He pen barely worked, but he managed to draw a picture of the front of the vault, noting the size and location and size of the handles and combination knob, and hinges. Half rusted and buried under debris he found gold. The small plate listing the manufacture date it was made, model number of the old vault. He copied all the information to his notebook. By now it was almost too dark to see clearly. So he picked his way back out of the remains of the old bank.
Once back in his hotel room, the wrote out all the information he had on the old bank
The bank was in the middle of New York City. The city looked like the bank did. In complete shambles. The latest war had devastated the city. Millions of people had fled. before the attacks had started . The hotel was run down and falling apart. Light was provided by a single bulb hanging from a antique ceramic light fixture in the middle of the ceiling. As much of a run down dump the hotel was; it was a giant step up from where he had been until recently.
The war had taken its toll on the world. Things had started out as small local issues and had been left to escalate into regional, and eventually they had become national and international issues and what once had been a small local squabble had become the catalyst for a major world war. The war had quickly knocked out all the 21 century infrastructure .Within a few months the world was living in the 1940’s. As such there was no television, internet, computers, and anything with a microprocessor in it was basicly useless junk. The leaders of the world had to learn how to lead again.
This had been many years ago The world was still living in what many would call the dark ages.
By the aminic light of the hanging bulb he wrote out his notes on a old spiral notebook, he’d found in a school. Eventually he managed to sleep. It was not a good sleep. He woke up the next morning at daybreak. After a quick cup of warm coffee, and a day old donut he headed back to the remains of the bank. The sun was coming as he approached the bank. Retracing his path he slowly made his way back to the vault. The streets surrounding the remains of the bank were in the same shape as the bank. reduced to stubble, of wood and brick and cement. The silence was he picked his way to the vault was deafening. Occasionally a bird would fly over , its shadow marking its path across the sky on the ground. Other than the occasional bird, looking for food he was alone. Totally alone. In the midday light he was able to examine the door of the vault better. It occurred to him the ideal way to get the vault open was the combination. with that in mind he started going through all the desk buried in the ruins. Someone somewhere had broken the rules and written down the combination to the vault. He was sure of it. But finding it would be a challenge. There on one of the few remaining wall were several pictures of the inside of the bank. It wasn’t much. They were in horrible shape. But he managed to piece together basically what had been the layout of the bank from them. From that he figured where the manager’s office would have been. Once located he begun to dig in earnest. Finding the desk, and file cabinets he went through every scrap of wood, steel and furniture he found. After moving what seemed like tons of debris,and broken furniture he found it On a tiny scrap of paper, taped to the inside of a file cabinet drawer was the combination to the vault.
Shaking with excitement rhe made his way back to the vault door. He cleared the area around the door. Then he carefully began to spin the dial. It tuned not easily at first. But after a few minutes of being turned back and forth it begun to loosen up. When he felt it was worked loose enough to work he started working the numbers, first right left right, He tried turning the big lever to open the door. It didn’t budge. Then left right left. The big lever still didn’t move. So he spun the dial some more and tired again both directions. After several more time both direction it finally worked. When he tried the big lever one more time it moved. Not far but it moved. after working it back and forth a bit he finally got it to move all the way.
The big steel door slowly swung open. The hinges creaked and moaned as they moved. By now the sun was behind him. It shown into the dark vault. The shelves were lined with papers. some loose papers here and there. Boxes filled with papers, money was on a number of shelves.
He walked into the old steel room. The smell of lack of oxygen and fresh air was enough to almost make him sick But he managed to get past it. He spent the next hour going through the papers and boxes in the vault. to his surprise none of them were locked. That got him to thinking. It was obvious no one had opened the vault in decades. But whoever was in there last had a master key to the safe deposit boxes, and had gone through them. That left two questions did they find what they were looking for? and who were they? He wasn’t sure they were, but he had a pretty good idea, who they were. As for did they find what they were looking for? That he could try to find out. He spent the rest of the afternoon well into the evening systematically going through every safe deposit box , Looking at every scrap of paper. he counted the money. Several million dollars, but it was useless now. The jewelry was only slightly more valuable.
In the old Rockefeller bank in New York City he found the lost copy of the Constitution It was definitely worse for the wear. But it was real. The paper was over 300 years old. So now he had the proof that there had been another copy made,That it had been stolen centuries ago. He carefully replaced it in the safe deposit box it had been in. How they had missed it when it was searched he would never know. At this point he didn't care.
He carefully made his way out of the vault. Closing the huge steel door behind him, he spun the knob, locking it again. He debated for a minute what to do with the scrap of paper with the combination scrawled on it. he shoved it in his pocket, and carried the metal box carefully as he made his way out from the ruins of the once majestic bank.
As it got darker it was harder to pick his way through the battered city street. It was dark by the time he made his way back to his hotel room.
Once there he retreated to his room, carefully keeping the steel box hidden from prying eyes. He had been carrying a revolver with him for the last several months. So far he'd been lucky, he hadn't needed it. But he knew the chances of running into a band of thieves, or looters was increasing by the day. If they saw the box, they would want it. so he had to figure out a way to carry it without it being seen. Pulling the cords from the remains of the blinds that were on the window, he fashioned a sling of sorts to hold the box under his old worn topcoat. Looking at himself in the mirror, which he could barely even see himself, he tried several ways of carrying the box under his coat, finely finding one that didn't show from a distance. He knew looters would want the box if they saw it, and once they found what was in it, they'd probably kill him because it wasn't anything they could use. All of theses things lay heavy on his mind as he drifted off to sleep that night.
The next morning new questions plagued his mind. The biggest was how to keep it safe, and who should he get it to.he decided his order of business was to get out of New York city, and hole up somewhere safer. Two hours later he was still picking his way through the streets of New York. At least twice he had to duck into ruins and hide from people. Not that he was anti-social, but he was carefull. It took several days to get out of New York City.
Once he was out in the country he begin to relax a bit. He still stayed off main roads. Occasionally a car would go by. But no one stopped to offer him a ride. A week later he found abandoned farmhouse, and decided to stop for the night. At least he'd have some shelter. rom the cold and rain. Once settled in and feeling reasonably safe to took the metal box out and examined it again. He removed the old constitution, and in the process he felt something in the bottom end of the box. Reaching deep in the long box he felt something in the bottom. He was barely able to get hold of it with his fingers. After a fashion he got it out. It was a legal sized set of papers folded long wise. and tucked into the bottom of the box. Opening the stack of papers he had to read them several time before he begun to understand what they were. He recognized all of the names listed. and many of the places mentioned. They all were high ranking heads of business, and government. There were dates scattered through the papers. The most importent dates were at the beginning. They were the dates that they last world war had started. it was clear that this had been written before the beginning of the wars. Ashe reread t the papers it sunk in.
The entire war had been planned and instigated by a few people here in the states, along with the heads of several foreign governments. It had been a plan to overthrow the governments of the world. It was all handwritten,and had various signatures, and notes in different handwriting on it in a number of places. All of the handwriting could easily be verified. The fact that this was with a original copy of the Constitution was enormous. This put a whole new light on his situation. he hadn't told anyone he was looking for the lost copy of the Constitution. So in that regard he figured he was relatively safe. He was sure he had been declared missing or dead long ago. So he doubted anyone was looking for him. But now he had a whole new set of problems on his hands.
The rest of night was spent trying to figure out what to do with his newfound information. He figured he had two options, hide the papers away and say nothing. Definitely tempting. But he reserved his decision for the next morning.
The early morning sun lit up his room that morning. Showing him just how dingey and run down the old farmhouse really was. It had been dark when he taken up residence there the night before, barely getting the into house and finding a place to to sleep in the moonlight, and by his small flashlight. The flashlight he used sparingly , as to conserve batteries. By morning he was even hungrier than he was last night. As soon as he took care of necessary business, the went out in search of food. The old farmhouse had been abandoned long ago. But they had left some canned goods. Which was fine by him. He was able to get a can of soup open, although not neatly, Using a rusted old can opener was not ideal, but he managed to make it work. Outside he found a stream with reasonably clean looking water, where he collected some, and brought in, added to the soup and heated them up over the fire he’d built in the fireplace. While waiting for the soup to warm up and become something resembling edible, he reviewed the folded papers he’d found again. The second and third reading did little to calm him down. The more he read, the more he was sure he needed to do something. But he was at a loss to to figure out what or how to do anything. The soup was passable. In that his filled him up for a while. It had been a long time since he’d had a really decent meal.
He had been traveling alone now for several years. When the wars had become geopolitical, and natural disaster, he along with millions of people were displaced from their lives, and sent into what was left of the world to make their way as best as they could. Millions of people had died at the initial attacks, many more died in the weeks and months later. As modern technology ceased to work, even more were lost as the technology they depended on stopped working, and thus killed them in one way or another. That left the government such as it was to deal with a massive death toll. Among many other problems. many people fearing for their lives, and safety had either formed groups and become nomads. finding whatever work, and supplies they could, wherever they could. He had become one of them. Somewhere he had remembered reading in his American History, about a stolen copy of the Constitution. As the original one, along with the other original founding father papers had been destroyed during one of the many attacks on the eastern seaboard, Primary Washington DC, and New York City. he had managed to get into records and archives, he’d never been able to before because of the chaos. There he found the notes telling about the copy disappearing. it had been thought be have been stolen just before the turn of the 1900’s. It Was believed that an extremely rich and powerful industrialist had wanted them for his private collection. As most of the people of the day with the power and connections to get something like that lived in New York at the time. So he started his search there. Throughout the course of the war, he had managed to keep out of sight. In doing so it had allowed him to go unnoticed into places that he would never have been allowed to normally.
He managed to see the people who didn’t want to be seen, or see him.
This had become his mission in life. Now he had the prize. But now there was no one to give it to.
“This is one possible future.” The voice said.
Startled he looked around. it had been weeks since he’d heard another voice. At least talking to him. There in the corner of the living room, sitting in the ancient rocking chair, was a being.
The light in the corner was dark and dusty. it was hard to tell what or who was there in the room with him.
“You have a choice to make.” By now he had located the source of the voice. He turned to face it. His hand close to the revolver on his hip.
“You can let the world continue as it is now,”he paused
“Or You go back in time with me and undo the events of the last five years.”
“The decision is entirely up to you. But be warned. if you go back. You may not survive.”
The words slowly begin to sink in.
“You’re telling me history can be changed?” He quarried in disbelief.
“In your case yes. On most worlds, Once something has happened it can’t be undone.”
“But here, you and change history?” He approached the form in the rocking chair. As he got closer he could start to make out the shape of the form. Thousands of question raced through his mind. Instead he said.
Finely standing directly in front of the creature in the chair. He looked down and asked;
“What do I have to do?”
“That my friend , is up to you. How far back do you want to go?” Came the reply.
“1895. New York City.” he answered. “ If the copy of the constitution is never stolen, the small incident that sparked the chain reaction that caused the war would have been resolved, quickly because they still had the original copy to show the new government how to set up a democracy”. He reasoned all of this out in a matter of seconds.
“You know that by going back that far, you will not only change that timeline, but every timeline in the last 150 years.?”
“But what choice do I have?” He couldn’t just suddenly appear with a lost document out of thin air. But he could “Find” it at the right time. thus preventing the events that were unfolding, from occurring as they did. and hopefully stop a chain reaction of event, that lead to World War III. All of theses thoughts and conclusions ran through his mind in the blink of eye. The enormity of the situation had put asides any thoughts of questioning who or what was sitting in the in the old rocking chair. At least for now.
“I could go back and find the lost document. Just before the start of the local war. And hopefully prevent the starting of the events that lead to World War III” He articulated what had crossed his mind.
“Yes. Yes, That might work. Or least change the immediate outcome. There’s no way to tell what else will happen eventually.”
The creature responded after a brief pause.
“So, how do we do it?” he inquired quickly.
“I have to caution you, this is a one shot deal. You only get this one change to change history for the better. It's entirely possible you might make things worst. And they’ll be no way to undo what we do now.”
This fact sobered him up some. But he knew he couldn’t do nothing. As he saw it. The world had pretty much all but destroyed itself already. It was just waiting for the final blow to completely wipe it out of time and space forever. Like it had never existed. This as a one remote chance to fix it before it before it killed itself. Bigger question lingered in his mind. But he chose to ignore them for now. He’d made his decision. As he saw it, he had no choice but to at least try to undo the damage that was about to before the world.
“Ok, how do we do this?” he asked
The creature got up from his chair. Standing he could see it was short, and skinny. But there seemed to be a presence about it. a air of authority, if you will.
“Get the documents.” The creature requested. He got the documents from the safe deposit box. he carefully rolled them up and tucked them inside his well worn white shirt.
“Ok come stand here in front of me.” he complied. “Close your eyes. And stand very still clear your mind. Don’t think about me or where you are now. Think only of being still. So still you can hear the blood pumping in your heart. “ He followed the instruction. So he felt very light and dizzy.
He seemed to sleep for a very short time. When he opened his eyes. The old farmhouse was gone. Replaced instead but a modern city. He looked around. No one seemed to notice him. He looked closer to see if he could tell where he was. After minute he found street signs, and building signs. He couldn't read any of them. After walking a around a bit, he figured out what many of the stores and businesses were by the pictures and diagrams, and even types of people who went in and out. He knew he was in the country that had started the fall into World War III. He had to quickly figure how to get the papers he had with him found. The more he walked around the city streets the more he realized he was invisible to them. They didn’t see him. Somehow he had to get his papers in a place where the right people would find them. He saw it. the American Embassy. Going over what he knew of the history of the situation. He remembered that the ambassador from the United States, was distantly related to JP Morgan, and a history buff. So it would stand to reason If he had the missing copy of the Constitution, that had been stolen by his family decades ago he would want to keep it close at hand and safe.
While not ideal, keeping it in the embassy safe, along with the many other documents that were under lock and key made sense. he certainly wouldn’t keep something like that where it could easily be found. He remembered more details about the incident. The ambassador had bragged he had a copy of the constitution, and was to show it to a few friends. But it wasn’t there. That had started off the tiff. As they didn’t believe he’d ever had it. He himself wondered how it had came to be in the safe in New York city. But that was a question for another time.
It was ridiculously easy to slip into the embassy. He found his way to the main safe. Waited until the clerks were out of the rooms. Slipped in and looked around. He found the safe deposit boxes marked for the Ambassador. Moving quickly he opened them, inventoried the contents. hd found them to be interesting. Among many national security papers, he found a stash of pictures. He figured to find various woman he had been playing with. But no, This was much more valuable Pictures of military weapons, and installations, all which were rated as top secret, Along with list of agents for a number of governments. where they were located, who their handlers were, and many other personal details about the agents. More than enough to get the ambassador tried and convicted for treason by any number of countries. In any of the countries he would get at minimum life in prison, some would just take him out and shoot him.
He knew he had to make some fast decisions. It occurred to him, that he could divert that attention from the lost federal papers to much more important issues, such as spying. So he rearranged the files. So the next person who went into the box, found the papers. He had been careful not to leave any fingerprints, on anything, especially the papers he found. He was pretty sure , being invisible he wouldn’t leave fingerprints, but he didn’t chance it.
With the trap set. He slid back out of the way and waited. Sure enough a aide had been sent to retrieve a file or other information from the main safe. He opened the Ambassador's safe deposit box. There was a strange package right there on top. The aid picked it up and looked at it.
Once the aide realized it was something that was important, He went back to his boss. ithin minutes the who office was on the site. They quickly went over every inch of the Ambassadors files.
Some time later the news was out. The Ambassador had been recalled back to Washington. Charges of treason, and spying were being leveled. Reporters from all over the world were asking questions of everyone at the embassy. The entire embassy staff was recalled, for debriefing, Some more were charged.
And the world went on its way. there was no world War III. He found himself back at the bank. This time the stately old back was still in its glory. The marble walls, and counters remained in their place. The majestic chandelier was still hanging in the center of the elegant lobby. He was sure if he were to look in safe deposit box 0051 located in the bottom left corner of the main vault the missing Constitution would still be there.
"We're not losing time. Time ran away without us decades ago. "
That's what the old man said. The big man lay on the bed. Tired. His face showed years of living.His Skin was stretched in places wrinkles, age spots littered his body. His hands showed the decades of hard work.
"Here , come look at this," He slowly managed to straighten up on the old bed. The room seemed as old as he was. The pictures on the wall where faded, and a few were torn, and wrinkled. He indicated a picture hanging off to his left. Moving closer to him, I smell him. But it's not the smell of a old man. It's the smell of fear, of time running out. The picture is old. Very old . "Take it down." he instructs. So I gently take the picture from the wall. The wall behind it it is three shades lighter from not being in the sun for decades. I step back a bit.
"What is it?" I inquire tentatively as I try to find good light in the dark room to really look at it. Blowing dust from it, wiping cobwebs from the edges, I finally manage to get a clearer idea of the old picture. By now he had managed to get himself sitting upright on the edge of his bed. Even at his old age, with a world beaten body. Sitting there on the edge, it occurred to me how tall he still was. Several clever remarks ran through my head, But I quickly dismissed them. The picture was big probably two feet square. In a black frame. It was dark red on the top half, the bottom showed a flat landscape. The ground seemed to be in a shadow. Then it seemed familiar. I'd seen the picture before. Then I recognized the cloud centered in the top two thirds of the picture. It was a mushroom cloud . Turning it over Printed on the back in neat handwritten block letters, Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. I glanced back at the old man.
"I was there." He reported, upon seeing I knew what the picture was. "I was there for the death and destruction . I barely missed being killed by the radiation . Look at it son, Look close." He got up with surprising agility Coming over to me. He looked down at me. Even at a hundred plus years, he still towered over everything in the room. "And this," walking past me to the display case. Opening, the glass door. He reaching in he picked up a small jewelry box. He opened it. Inside was a yellow tooth. I walked over to see what he had in the little box. In the light of the display cabinet , I saw the tooth.
He carefully picked it up. He glanced over to the picture still in my hand and back to the old yellow tooth. Looking close at him in the light I could see the years had taken their toll on him. He body was bent, and warped by the years, and arthritis and many aliments I'll never know about.
"They found thousands of them. Teeth, That was all that was left of thousands of people. A few bones, and buildings leveled or close to it." He picked up the old yellow tooth, and looked at in the light, Then put it back in the box.
He turned to me. Looking down on my small frame, he stared for a minute. Finally he spoke. It was low and drawn, as if he'd been considering the words he had to say.
"Son, we're in a hell of a Predicament. If our nation doesn't do what is necessary now, Than in all likelihood the enemy will use everything in their arsenal to destroy us. And Yes, I believe that they have atomic bombs. I have no doubt that they'd hesitate one second to use them on us." He paused for effect.
"Well, Mr. President, What you going to do?"
I turned back to the wall behind his bed. There scattered across it were pictures of the world at war. Images from WWI, WWII. A lot of them. Fewer from Korea, And handful from Vietnam. Turning back to the display cabinet; Medals and ribbons were neatly laid across the top shelf. I noted several large campaign patches and medals . On the lower shelf were at least a half dozen written citations . The bottom shelf held several old gns. One I recognized immediately , a Colt 1911 Pistol. It was old, holster worn from spending many months riding in his holster . The finish was gone in all the places it should be for a service weapon. Somehow it made my brand new 1911 seem like a toy. I knew it would never see the kind of use and live the life hs old pistol had. All of this flashed into mind as I went on to notice the captured German Luger, and several other foreign weapons of war.
I turned back to the old man. He had retreated back to his bed.and now sat on the edge of the bed, sipping on his lukewarm coffee. He looked over at me. Even sitting on his old bed, he could still look me straight in the eyes. Suddenly he seemed old and tired again. His question came back to me again. It echoed in my mind. ”Well, Mr. President, what you gonna do?”
He was right. It was up to me. I had come to him to seek advice about the war that was brewing. My advisors had told me not to bother seeing the senile old man. But I knew better. He had been a friend of the family for many decades. He had served under four presidents, served with Eisenhower, at D-Day. Been with MacArthur in Korea, and countless other wars, and police actions for many decades. The wars and battles he won, were the stuff of legends. And he’d been a friend of mine since I was a kid. I grew up listening to his stories. I was there when he retired as a four star General, decades ago. And Now. And now he was tucked into a dingy little house on the outskirts of Washington. He had served his country for most of his life. And this was how they rewarded him. It made me mad to think about it. I put the anger out of my mind for the moment. It had taken me a long time to find him, after he just dropped out of sight. Now I’d found him. I vowed to myself he wouldn’t be living in this dump anymore. But first things first. Two Secret Service agents waited discreetly outside while I talked to him.
I pulled up the old chair and sat down in front of him. “General. You have any ideas, about what to do with the mess we’re in now ?” I asked quietly and pointedly. It was clear he knew what was going on in the world.
“Son, you must be prepared to act fast and ruthlessly . To take to war to them. Before they’re ready for it. Look at World War II, Take the lessons from the great generals of the time. You must have commanders who will push their men and demand they do more than they ever thought they could. Above all. Son, you must strike first and hard. And decisively . There must be no question about if you will win, but only how you will win. Like D-day, the cost will be great, But you must prevail, or we’ll all be doomed. “
There. He’d said it. Exactly what I was thinking. He had put into words thought and feelings I’d had for the last couple of days.
“Thank you. Thank you General for saying what I was feeling.”
I said my goodbyes. I talked to his nurses aid. I informed him that people would arriving later in the day to help him move into a retirement home for Veterans, and that everything he owned here would be taken with him, from the pictures to the display cabinet, I also told him, There would no problem with his guns and other collectables, I gave him the number to my private secretary. If there was any problems or questions; They were to call and they would be fixed immediately.
I said goodbye to the General one more time.
That evening I went on national TV and declared war.