"Excellent!" To her chagrin, Control sounded approving. "You think quickly: this might just work. Listen, you need to go to one of the S-Bahn or DB—main railway—stations. Use the Major's transit pass—it's a plastic card labelled BVG, you tap it on the ticket machine as you board a tram or catch the subway—then when you get to the station you must look for a kiosk. Ask the kiosk owner for a booster battery and get them to show you how to connect it to the phone. Younger ones, under fifty, they mostly speak enough English—"
"I can get by in German." I hope. "How much will this cost? I don't know how much money is worth here."
"Somewhere between five and twenty-five euros is about right. How much do you have? "
Liz rummaged through the Major's wallet. "Three notes that say one-hundred euros. And two fifties." Also some small change. She rummaged some more. "I found the BVG card." I think.
"You can buy a cheap restaurant meal and a drink for ten to twenty. Find a kiosk, get a phone charger, take yourself somewhere to eat, and I'll call you back within the hour with directions to somewhere you can stay the night. Can you do that? "
Liz looked around uncertainly. Another tram was approaching, its electronic chime sounding slightly flat. The moving sign on the front of the streetcar agreed with the sign on the shelter. "I think so," she said, setting her shoulders. "I'll try."
"Take care, then! Control out." The phone went dark as the tram drew up beside her. Liz slid it in her bag and stepped aboard. Moments later the doors sighed closed and the tram lurched into motion, bearing her away into the streets of East Berlin.
TEMPELHOF AIR FORCE BASE, BERLIN, TIME LINE TWO, AUGUST 2020
"This isn't public yet—we don't want a panic—but we just lost time line four. The Dome, the Bridge, and Camp Singularity: they're all gone."
Colonel Smith, formerly of the US Air Force and then the NSA, now led a shadowy unit within the para-temporal division of Homeland Security tasked with countering intruders from other time lines. He stared at his boss's face on his tablet screen. He'd started the conference call expecting to share some good news for once—a captured enemy agent, just one loose end left to collect—with her. The change of track was jarring. "Damn! How? What's the impact assessment? Is my side of operations intact or do I need to re-plan?"
His boss, Dr. Eileen Scranton, cut across him. Their conversation was time-lagged by the satellite link across the Atlantic. "It impacts everything, Eric. Over a thousand people got out of the research facility at Camp Singularity—just in time, luckily—but now several thousand more people know what happened there. It's going to leak, there's no way to keep an alien invasion secret—"
"—A what? Excuse me, but I could swear you just said the words alien invasion? " Eileen Scranton didn't play games. At least, not with her core staff: "What? "
Dr. Scranton glared through the video link. Smith shut up, chagrined at his lapse. After a couple of seconds she resumed. "I was supervising an operation at Camp Singularity." The camp, in time line four, was an archaeological dig site of military significance. The dig was excavating the high-tech ruins of a destroyed para-time fortress. These included a still-functioning gate to a time line where the Earth had been destroyed—compressed down to a planetary-mass black hole—by an as-yet unidentified enemy. "I was there in person. We dropped a space probe through the Gate on a flyby of the hole. It was a reconnaissance mission, but it woke up some kind of weapons platform."
"A space probe? Which one?" There were at least three probe projects Smith had heard of, all with different goals and factions promoting them. None had been green-lit for launch before now, and he was mildly irritated to find himself on the outside.
"ERGO-1." A joint Space Command project, with lots of interest from the Air Force. "They were testing the black hole as a tool for gravitational slingshot maneuvers. It case they needed to launch a first strike against the Commonwealth, sending warheads through para-time." Dr. Scranton looked mildly disgusted at the scheme's lack of subtlety. "The headbangers on the National Security Council want a bigger club. As you have to liaise with the Commonwealth directly, you were kept in the dark for plausible deniability."