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Alex Scarrow

The Eternal War

PROLOGUE

2051, New York

Joseph Olivera looked out of the small round window at the flooded cityscape of New Jersey below. The Atlantic was gradually biting chunks out of the east coast of America, leaving tall city blocks emerging in orderly rows from the glistening sea. But ahead of him, where the drop-copter was taking him, he could see Manhattan. The island was still keeping its head above water. Levees built all the way round were going to keep it dry for a decade more, or so the experts were saying.

The copter swooped in over the skyscrapers of Manhattan and headed towards the distinctive convergence of streets that was Times Square. On his left, he spotted Central Park, filled with abandoned cars stacked one atop the other and rusting like a child’s forgotten toys.

Joseph cursed his nerves. He was trembling like a woman at the prospect of a face-to-face meeting with the enigmatic man … the legend … Roald Waldstein.

I will not stutter. I WILL make a good impression. Joseph vowed to himself once again that he wasn’t going to stammer as he normally did under pressure. He was going to avoid the tricky words, those that started with a strong ‘S’. Joseph had rehearsed his greeting over and over. It involved no ‘S’ words. He almost sounded normal.

The copter was now circling above the flat roof of the tallest building overlooking Times Square, circling the helipad like a dog preparing to settle in its basket. Times Square was a lifeless ghost of itself. He could see pedestrians, one or two electric buses, a lot of places boarded up. The levees may have been holding back the rising sea, but Joseph realized it was a futile endeavour.

This city’s dying already.

The copter touched down gently and the pilot shut off the engine, letting the rotors spin themselves out before pulling open the slide door and gesturing for Joseph to follow him.

‘Mr Walds-s-stein is s-s-staying here?’ he uttered. ‘The Marriott hotel?’

‘Mr Waldstein lives here now. He bought the hotel last year.’

The pilot ushered him inside the building, down a breeze-block stairwell to a small foyer, a pair of swing doors ahead of them.

‘Through those doors are his private quarters. He lives entirely alone.’ The pilot looked at him curiously. ‘You know, you’re very privileged to see him face to face. He doesn’t do that … ever.’

‘He lives in this hotel all on his own?’

The pilot ignored his question. ‘A little word about meeting him. He can come across as quite abrasive and rude. That isn’t his intention; he just has no time for small talk.’

‘O-OK.’

‘Don’t try and flatter him, either. I wouldn’t bother telling him he’s a genius, or a visionary or a … a wonderful guy. He’s heard it all before about a billion times over. You’ll just irritate him.’

Great … there goes my rehearsed greeting.

‘Most important of all … do not discuss the “incident” with him.’

‘The … incident?’

‘Chicago.’

Joseph nodded. Of course, he was talking about the Chicago incident, 2044. The day Waldstein first came to public attention.

‘Right … OK.’ Joseph was trembling.

‘Be polite and honest — ’ the pilot offered him an encouraging smile — ‘and you’ll do just fine.’ He pressed an intercom button beside one of the doors. ‘Mr Waldstein … I have Dr Joseph Olivera here for you.’

Joseph looked in a small mirror on the wall beside the door. He straightened his tie, patted down a wayward coil of black hair and wished he’d done a better job of trimming his dark beard this morning.

A small green light winked on above the double doors. ‘You can go through,’ said the pilot.

Joseph pushed the doors inwards and his feet clacked off linoleum on to soft carpet.

Daylight flooded into a circular room from all sides. Joseph found himself squinting back at the glare. He could just about make out a head and a pair of shoulders silhouetted against one of the large floor-to-ceiling panels of glass that made up the walls of the penthouse.

Joseph shaded his eyes with a hand as he walked slowly over. ‘Mr Walds-s-stein?’

The room was large. Forty, perhaps fifty feet in diameter. His eyes beginning to adjust, Joseph noted a bed on one side, a desk, several cardboard boxes full of papers, but nothing else. A very empty space.

Closer now he could see a little more detail: the distinctive shock of wavy, wiry, uncontrollable hair, the narrow shoulders.

‘It is an honour … to meet you, Mr Waldstein.’

The silhouette shifted and turned. He’d been gazing out of the window at New York.

‘They say Lady Liberty walks on water now.’

Joseph had no idea at all what he meant by that. His dumbfounded shrug gave him away.

Waldstein chuckled. ‘Sorry … I confused you. I’m referring to the Statue of Liberty. Liberty Island and the plinth she stands on are all below sea level.’ He spread his hands. ‘So … it looks like she’s actually walking on water.’

‘Ahhh,’ Joseph nodded. ‘I unders-s-s … s … s …’ Joseph struggled with the infernal word. He felt his cheeks burn hot as he wrestled with the ‘s’ and shook his head angrily.

The word was left unfinished. ‘I am s-s … I apologize. I have a … problem with — ’

‘Stammering?’ Waldstein gestured to a chair. ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s not important. Take a seat.’

Joseph sat down. Waldstein flipped open a folder and flicked through some pages of printed paper. ‘Dr Jose Olivera …’

‘I anglicized my name to Joseph, Mr Waldstein. It … uh … people assume there’s a language barrier if your name s-s-sounds foreign.’ He scratched his chin self-consciously. ‘I talk in English just as easily as my native …’

‘Spanish.’

Joseph nodded gratefully at being saved the trouble of speaking the word.

‘Dr Joseph Olivera … you’re arguably one of the most knowledgeable people on genetically imprinted artificial intelligence.’

Be confident, Joseph.

‘I am.’

‘It seems you’ve done very impressive work for some leading military contractors. Working on genetically engineered combat units being trialled right now by the US military?’

‘Right.’

‘And … it says here that you are a firm supporter of the anti-time-travel movement?’

‘I am.’

Waldstein sat forward, his eyes unblinkingly on his. ‘I’d like you to tell me why.’

Waldstein was testing him.

‘Anyone with a s-s-scientific background under-s-stands this. Temporal dis-s-s … s …’ Joseph abandoned the word. He took a breath to steady his nerves, to settle his stammer.

Time travel … theory is potentially the most lethal technology ever invented. Theoretically, it has the kinetic energy to be the end of, well … of everything.’

Waldstein said nothing. He obviously wanted to hear more from him.

‘I believe, Mr Waldstein, very much s-so, that there are s-s-some things that should

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