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Standing Still

“Are you sure you wanna do this, doc?” The patrolman gestured across the lobby at the subject. “He’s got some sort of a device, with a trigger of some kind duct-taped to his hand. S.W.A.T. says it’s probably a dead-man switch.”

Dr. Lefkowitz lowered his head to peer over the top of his glasses. The subject, a fit-looking Caucasian in his mid-thirties, sat on the floor, his back to an outside wall. Although his brow was furrowed and his eyes flicked about the room, intent, no doubt, on discerning any threat, he did not seem to be agitated. His hands were steady and his blue, dress shirt was unstained by sweat, even under the arms.

“Well, Sergeant, the fact is that I am going to do this, whether I want to or not. First of all, it’s my job. Second, I’ve got my Kevlar vest on.” Lefkowitz jerked his head toward the subject. “Notice that the top two buttons of his shirt are open?”

The cop shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Obviously, our perpetrator is not wearing a vest. So, unless, he is suicidal, I don’t think he is going to blow up anyone, assuming …” He raised his eyebrows as he looked at the cop.

“Yeah?” said the cop.

“… assuming the S.W.A.T. guys don’t shoot him while I’m talking him down.” He lowered his eyebrows. “It is a dead-man switch, after all.”

The cop gave him a tense, crooked smile. “Don’t worry, doc. I’ll make sure the macho squad doesn’t get trigger happy.”

“Thanks, Sergeant.” He turned to leave, mumbling to himself as he began to move in slow, sure steps toward the fanatic-of-the-day, “Just another day at the office.” He opened his palms and half-raised his hands, holding them away from his body, as he separated away from the throng of police, onlookers, and emergency personnel watching the scene unfold, and continued to move toward the threat.

When he was about fifty feet away, he got the usual response.

“Stop,” yelled the man with the trigger. “Stay where you are. There’s a lot of people at risk here.” The man waved the duct-taped trigger toward Lefkowitz as he spoke.

“I’m not armed,” said Lefkowitz in a calm, practiced voice. He moved his hands up and interlaced the fingers behind his head and did a slow turn in place. “No gun, no cuffs, not even a wire, as you can see.” He completed his demonstration and faced the subject once again. “I could strip down to prove it, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t make me. It’s a bit chilly in here, don’t you think?”

The subject ignored his question and moved on to what was the next typical question according to the textbook on these things, a textbook that Dr. Lefkowitz had helped write. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“My name is Morris Lefkowitz and I’m a doctor, a crisis counselor of sorts. I work for the police department. My job is to keep everyone safe … including you.”

The man bobbed his trigger-hand at Lefkowitz. “This is keeping me safe at the moment.”

“I can see that. All of us can see that. What would happen if you were to let go of that trigger, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“A lot of people might die, including you, maybe.”

The doctor tilted his head to one side. “Including you, too.”

“The world might be a better place without me,” said the man. “Besides, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

Lefkowitz took a small step toward the man. “I see. I’d like to talk about why you feel that way, but I’d like to do it without shouting across the room. Can I come closer and we can sit and talk?”

The man’s eyes flicked to a wristwatch on his left wrist, the opposite hand from the one clutching the device. “Alright, I guess. I’ve got some time to kill.”

Lefkowitz started to walk toward the man.

“Not too close,” cautioned the subject. “You stop ten, twelve feet away and sit on the floor.” He seemed to consider something for a moment. “Cross-legged, with your palms on the floor at all times.”

Lefkowitz nodded and did what he was told. “It’s not a very comfortable position,” he said lightly.

The man actually smiled. “Life sucks,” he said. “And then you die.” The smile faded. “Or maybe not.”

“Bad things happen,” agreed Lefkowitz as the cold from the floor began to cool his palms, “but I don’t think life sucks just because some bad things happen, do you … I’m sorry … I don’t know your name.”

“That’s right, doc. You don’t know nothing about me or my life.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t go that far.”

The subject’s eyebrows popped up. “What could you possibly know about me? And don’t give me any of that ‘You’ve been hurt’ crap.”

Lefkowitz pursed his lips. “I know that you’re not a lawyer.”

Now the subject’s eyebrows popped down in confusion and consternation. “How would you know that?”

Lefkowitz smiled. “My name is famous in legal circles. You didn’t remark on it. Lawyers always do.”

He was drawing the subject in. “You a famous defendant or witness or something?”

Lefkowitz shook his head. “No. But there’s a famous legal case about someone with my name, from years and years ago. Lefkowitz vs. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store.” One of the methodologies utilized with people on the edge was to have a conversation that was as normal as possible, with all the asides and trivialities that entailed. He’d used this bit before with success. “The case is always taught in contracts class, so lawyers have always heard of it. Contracts is taught in the first year of law school, when everyone is their most compulsive, so they read and summarize and digest all the facts of the case and then, ten or twenty or even fifty years later, they remember the name Morris Lefkowitz.” Now for the useful segue. “Funny how things in the past can affect us now, isn’t it?”

The man said nothing.

“How about your name?”

“Edwin. You can call me Ed.”

“I see,” intoned Lefkowitz, “Can’t say I’ve ever met an Edwin before. It has a nice, old-fashioned ring. What about your last name?”

“You won’t have heard of me. I’m not famous and nobody with my name is famous either.”

“Maybe not, but I’d still like to know who I’m talking to.” Lefkowitz actually didn’t care personally about Edwin’s last name, but he knew the police were listening in from the sidelines. If they got a name, they could run the subject for priors or contact his doctor or his wife or somebody who could help talk the guy out of whatever it was he had planned. So he pressed the issue. “What’s your last name, Ed?”

“You don’t need to know. It won’t do you any good to know. Besides, it’s against regulations and … despite all this … I do my best to follow regulations.”

Lefkowitz was startled. He was expecting a lone crazy, saddened by the death of a loved one or pissed off at an employer in the building who fired him, not a military man on a mission. “Are you a soldier, Ed?”

Edwin glanced down for a second, but didn’t respond. Lefkowitz sized him up. The guy was fit and strong, his hair relatively short. He had the look of a Marine.

“Are you a member of the Corps, Ed?” Edwin flinched at the word ‘Corps’, but he still didn’t respond.

“Semper fi,” pressed Lefkowitz. Marines almost couldn’t help but respond in kind when you said “Semper fi.”

He almost grinned as Edwin started to respond, but the response killed the smile.

“Huh?” said Ed.

“It’s the Marine Corps slogan, Ed,” replied Lefkowitz. “There’s not a military man in America that doesn’t know that. There’s probably not a lot of military men in the world that don’t know that.”

Edwin scrunched up his nose, but went back to silent-mode.

“You, Ed, have the look of a military man. And I could tell from your reaction, that you are a member of some ‘Corps’, so how is it you don’t know that?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you. Besides, you wouldn’t believe me,” answered Edwin in a world-weary tone.

Lefkowitz looked Edwin in the eye. “Are you supposed to be sitting here, threatening all these people?” He almost removed his palms from the floor to gesture at the distant crowd, but stifled the impulse.

It was almost fifteen seconds before Edwin responded. “No.”

“I didn’t think so,” said Lefkowitz, secretly relieved that this didn’t seem to be part of some military or terrorist plot. “So, as long as you’re breaking the regulations, why don’t you explain to me what military group you belong to and why you’re doing this?”

“I told you, you wouldn’t believe me … and it would be a problem if you did.”

“I’m a psychiatrist, Ed. People tell me things I don’t believe all the time. They tell me that they’re Napoleon or Jesus Christ or that they’re from another planet or that nobody in the world cares about them. I listen to them, but I don’t believe them when they say those things. How about this? You tell me who you are and what’s going on and, if you want, I’ll promise not to believe you.”

There was a long pause. “Standing Still,” Edwin finally murmured.

“Huh?” said Lefkowitz, with less than professional aplomb.

“It’s our motto, our semper fi, the slogan of our Corps,” explained Ed, his voice low, his eyes darting about as if to see if someone was going to challenge him for what he had said or was about to say.

Lefkowitz tilted his head to one side. “I see, standing up against enemy fire, never surrendering, like at Masada.”

Edwin shook his head, smiling wanly as he did. “No. Standing still, like unchanged … unmoving.”

Maybe his subject didn’t know the story of Masada. Lots of people didn’t. So Lefkowitz tried to explain. “Right. Never retreating. The Jews held a fortress at Masada against overwhelming odds for months…”

Edwin shook his head more vigorously. “No. Never retreating, but never progressing. Everything unchanged. That’s what we try to do.”

Lefkowitz’s shoulders slumped in defeat. “I don’t understand. Why would a military force have a slogan like that?”

“I told you, it’s not a military force. It’s …” Edwin pursed his lips and used his left hand to finger a gold ring on his right hand, turning it as he thought. “I’m from another time.”

Lefkowitz had seen this before. He sighed. “Past or future?”

Edwin shrugged. “Both.”


“The Dimensional Defense Corps, the organization I work for, is from the future, your future, everybody’s future. It exists at the edge of time itself.”

Lefkowitz said nothing.

“I was recruited from the past, your past, to help them with their mission,” continued Edwin.

“Which is?” prompted Lefkowitz. A trained professional, he knew it was better just to let the subject run on when you got to this point.

“To make sure that things happen the way they originally happened.”

Lefkowitz’s eyebrows tilted inward and his brow crinkled. This was a new one. “And, why wouldn’t they happen the way they happened?”

Edwin stared out into the distance. “It’s complicated and … more than you need to know. Let’s just say that there are bad guys out there that try to change history in an effort to enslave and subjugate mankind. The Dimensional Defense Corps was formed to make sure that doesn’t occur. They recruit people from the past to fix the changes the bad guys make before they can become permanent.”

Now Lefkowitz was really confused. “But if time can be changed, then how can the changes become permanent?” He regretted the question almost as soon as he had blurted it out. It was dangerous to attack the internal logic of a delusion, at least in the field when the subject claimed to have a bomb. But the question didn’t seem to faze Edwin at all.

“It takes awhile for the change to propagate into the future. Once it has, no one remembers the way things first were. So the Corps, it has these emergency strike force teams that dash off into the past when a Corps historian in the future notices that a change has occurred in the history books that makes them different from what he knows actually occurred, to make sure the change is changed back.”

“I see,” mumbled Lefkowitz, noting to himself that the delusion was self-reinforcing. Whatever the subject did was justified by the fact that he believed that what he did was what had originally occurred. Kind of like believing in pre-destination. No individual responsibility for your actions. “And you’ve done this.”

“A great number of times. Usually it’s pretty straightforward. You save the political leader from assassination by the enemy or you rally the troops to make sure the battle goes the way it should. Sometimes it can even be fun. Why, that whole ‘Paul is dead’ thing …” Edwin trailed off. “Sorry. I can’t really talk about some things …”

“So, you save people, like a fireman.”

“Yeah, just like that, at least at first. That was the best part.”

Now we were getting somewhere. “But, not now? What changed?”

“Different alterations of history require different types of responses to set history back on its original course. Sometimes you’re not saving someone.” Edwin’s eye twitched twice before he continued, his voice low. “Let me tell you, nobody wants to be the guy on the grassy knoll. It can screw you up real bad.”

Lefkowitz frowned for a moment, but let it slide. Edwin was obviously too young to have been in Dallas or anywhere else in November 1963. Best to drop that topic. He decided to ask a broader question, instead. “So, sometimes the missions involve unpleasant tasks, even moral dilemmas?”

Edwin snorted. “It’s not what I expected when I joined, that’s for sure.”

The two of them were silent for a few minutes. Edwin seemed depressed and Lefkowitz was uncertain how to proceed. Finally, he decided to press on the logic of the delusion a bit more.

“You know, Ed,” he said in a calm, soothing tone. “I don’t know much about you. You said you were recruited from the past. When? Where?”

Edwin shot Lefkowitz a sharp, fearful look. “Don’t ask that. Nobody asks that.” But then his eyes softened a bit. “Sorry. You wouldn’t know. In the Corps, no one would ever ask that. It’s the rudest, most dangerous thing you can ask.”

Lefkowitz wanted to scratch an itch on the side of his neck, but kept his hands on the floor. “Why is that?”

“If someone knows when and where you are from, they could betray you to the enemy. Your recruitment could be wiped out, wiping out every mission you had ever done. Recruiting is very important, but very secret.”

“But,” said Lefkowitz, “doesn’t recruiting change history?”

Edwin smiled. “You’re pretty smart, doc.” He motioned with his left hand at the doctor. “You can take your palms off the floor, if you want. Just keep your hands where I can see ‘em and don’t move too fast.”

Lefkowitz raised his palms off the floor in a slow, even movement, then satisfied the itch that had bothered him.

Edwin continued talking. “The Corps says it recruits some people that it has determined are so unimportant that the Corps knows their disappearance will have no impact on history.” Edwin exhaled in a quick huff. “But, of course, they can’t really know that, can they? The entire premise of the Dimensional Defense Corps is all about the unforeseeable and often unintended consequences of little things. The only time the Corps actually can be sure they’re not changing history when they recruit people is when they enlist them right before they were going to die in real time and do it in a manner and or situation where they can leave another body behind and no one will be the wiser. Fires are good, drownings too. Especially before sophisticated DNA analysis.”

Lefkowitz was chilled by the grisly turn of Edwin’s explanation. Could this guy be a serial killer? He made sure to make eye contact with his subject before asking the next question. “You’ve recruited yourself, haven’t you, Ed?”

“I can only wish.”

It was not the answer Lefkowitz was expecting. “You haven’t?” he pressed.

Edwin frowned. “Nah. I don’t have the proclivity or whatever, they say. Emergency response, that’s my job.”

“That sounds satisfying,” replied Lefkowitz, trying to reassure his subject of his value. Building self-esteem was always good for dissuading suicide bombers.

“It was for a while, but not now. Y’see the bad guys, doc, they figured out that the Corps recruits people who are about to die. The enemy may not be able to find out an individual recruit’s time and place of recruitment, but they know where to go after them wholesale …”

“You mean …”

Edwin interrupted him. Lefkowitz could almost feel the pressure of the words that began to flow from the now agitated, delusional time traveler. “That’s right, doc. They disrupt major disasters. You know what my last mission was, doc?” asked Edwin, before pushing on without even hesitating for a response. “The Titanic.”

Lefkowitz was confused again. “A haunting tale. A good movie came out of it and a few major industrialists died with the others in the actual event, but I can’t imagine it had that much impact on history as a whole.”

Edwin’s left hand darted out, waving away the response as if a triviality. “Sure it did, doc. The whole ‘women and children first’ chivalry set back the suffrage movement years. Maritime regulations were changed because of the incident. And the sinking of the Titanic made the New York Times the preeminent newspaper in New York.”

Lefkowitz’s eyes went wide. “It did? How?”

Edwin gave him a half-smile. “When the first radio reports came in, they didn’t say the boat had sunk. Everyone ran the same story about a collision at sea. But the New York Times ran a headline that the boat had sunk. Of course, they were guessing. They just wanted to sell more newspapers. But when it turned out they were right, suddenly the New York Times was the only news rag you could trust. One of those unforeseeable consequences, I guess. But all that’s not the important part.”


“Don’t you see, doc? Hundreds of people drowned on the Titanic and their bodies were never recovered. But the boat took hours to sink. It’s the perfect recruiting ground for an organization like the Dimensional Defense Corps. All the enemy had to do was make sure the boat didn’t sink and the Corps was screwed.”

The color drained from Lefkowitz’s face. This was one sick delusion. “So, that’s where you came in?”

Edwin gave a curt nod. “My team had to make sure the Titanic sank. Of course, we suspected that those interfering with the timeline would slow the ship down and make it take a more southerly course, so we figured we would have to hole the ship with explosives.”

“I see,” mumbled Lefkowitz.

“But it was even worse than that. These guys had really disrupted the timeline. When we got on board, we found there were more lifeboats than should have existed. And there were regular lifeboat drills for the passengers and extra training for the crew on proper load capacity and lowering procedures. There was even a chatty radio operator on the California, a big ship that in real life was nearby during the sinking but didn’t get the distress call. In altered time, the California’s radio man was in constant contact with the radio operator on the Titanic.”

He didn’t want to know, but he asked. “So, what did you do?”

Edwin was agitated. His hands shook, his now loud voice quavered as he completed his crazed rant. “I did what I had to do, what I had been sent to do. Standing still. That’s the motto.” He spat on the floor. “My team wrecked most of the lifeboats so they wouldn’t float. We killed the radio operator and replaced him with one of our operatives. We faked an order to speed up the ship and send it further north and farther away from the California. We blew a hole on the ship and …” Edwin faltered.

“And, what?” asked Lefkowitz, his voice barely a whisper.

“We had a list of, you know, who lived and who died and we … pennied people in their cabins.”

Lefkowitz felt faint. He placed his hands back on the cool floor to steady himself. He had known rowdy students in his dorm, back in college, who had pennied people in their rooms. You took a penny or two and shoved them parallel to the door between the door and the door frame. The pressure against the door pressed the bolt tight against the housing and made it nigh impossible to turn the bolt to open the door, trapping the person inside their room. It was dangerous enough in a building where there could be a fire or other emergency requiring quick exit. In a sinking ship it was murder. Mass murder.

Of course, the story was utter nonsense. Edwin hadn’t been alive when the Titanic sank. But stories, like dreams, have meanings, even if they are fabrications. Edwin had obviously done this at some time to someone, with disastrous consequences to them and to Edwin’s psyche. Lefkowitz looked at the S.W.A.T. members, growing uneasy in the distance. Their help might be needed yet. It was time to get to the point.

“Is that what you’re here to do, today, Ed? Did someone tell you to make a lot of people die here today?”

Tears were flowing down Edwin’s cheeks, but his hand still gripped the triggering device that had held S.W.A.T. at bay since before Lefkowitz had arrived.

“Yes,” came the reply, almost too weak and high-pitched to hear.

“But you don’t have to do what they say, Ed. You don’t.”

Edwin turned his face, apparently unwilling to face Lefkowitz. “I know that. Don’t you think I already know that?”

“So, why don’t you just disable whatever it is you’re holding there and you and me and all these other people here, we can go about our business. No one has to die here today.”

“God, I hope not,” gasped Edwin. He turned finally to look Lefkowitz in the eye. “That’s not what they say, you know. They say it changed history. It made us stronger, more united, more vigilant. It ushered in the governmental oversight of everything that was fundamental to the creation of the Corps.”

The subject was losing it. He made less and less sense to Lefkowitz. But it was important to press the key point. This time, when Lefkowitz spoke, his tone was clear and firm, his voice loud, with an edge of command. He used the subject’s formal name, like a parent would. “No one has to die here, today, Edwin. You don’t have to complete your mission.”

Edwin laughed, a crazed, sobbing laugh that scared Lefkowitz to the bone. “Don’t you understand, doc? I’ve already not completed my mission. I betrayed my team—you’ll hear about it on the news tonight, no doubt.”

Lefkowitz tried to lighten the mood. “Could be. Mayoral election today. Election results tend to take up most of the coverage on days like today.”

“It’ll make the news. A bunch of arrests, all called in by an anonymous tipster early, early this morning. There’ll be another story later, about a dialysis machine, but you won’t understand the connection. It’s just insurance that what didn’t happen today won’t happen later.”

The subject was babbling. None of it made sense to Lefkowitz. He decided to be direct. “Okay, Ed, if nothing’s happening here today, what’s that device you’re holding trigger? What does it connect to and what will happen when you let go?”

Edwin looked at his hand and the trigger, as if he had forgotten about them. He smiled. “It’s an anomaly field generator. It lets things out-of-time continue to exist for short periods in a limited space.”

More delusions. “And what happens when you let go?”

Edwin studied the trigger. “Nothing … or really nothing.”

From delusional to psychotic. “What does that mean, Ed? What happens when you let go of the trigger?”

The crazed look faded from Edwin’s eyes, as he turned his head back to the doctor. “The anomaly field generator stops working. The protection from the time stream’s history ends.” He looked at his watch. “The wave has propagated by now. There’s no time to send another team. They’ll never even know what didn’t happen.”

Edwin’s eyes flicked back to Lefkowitz to acknowledge the doctor’s question, before he continued. “If the Corps still exists when the anomaly field generator is turned off, nothing happens. It will mean history did not change enough to wipe out the Corps. I’ll still exist because the future still exists. You’ll wave the guys with guns over and arrest me and tomorrow, you’ll probably come to whatever psych ward they put me in and we’ll chat about what was on the news tonight.”

Lefkowitz’s head had begun to throb, but he had to ask. “And if the Corps no longer exists?”

“It will mean that this had to happen for the world to be what it was. And I will simply disappear. And you’ll watch the news tonight and wish you had someone to talk to with about it tomorrow.” The tears started to flow again, but Edwin made no move to stem them or wipe them away. “It will mean that I betrayed history, that I betrayed the Corps, and that all I now know is lost. Perhaps I’m just weak, but I couldn’t do what they asked. I couldn’t make history occur the way it originally happened. It’s not right to ask. It’s not what I signed up for.”

Lefkowitz could tell he had pushed too hard. Something was about to happen. He tensed to signal the S.W.A.T. members to move in, but it was too late. Suddenly, Edwin raised the hand with the trigger, a serene calm coming over his face. He smiled at Lefkowitz.

“Before I was recruited,” he said in a quiet, clear voice, “I was a fireman, back in the day. I save people. I don’t kill them.”

Lefkowitz flinched, throwing himself to the floor both from instinct and training as Edwin let go of the trigger. Those watching ducked behind their shields and a sniper shot rang out from the top of the escalators, ricocheting noisily off the floor, shattering a window behind and to the right of where Edwin had been standing.

And when Lefkowitz looked up, Edwin was no longer there. Instead, a bevy of S.W.A.T. members were frantically searching the premises and the area outside the shattered window, cursing and looking embarrassed.

It took a while before the debriefing was done and the search was called off, but Lefkowitz still had time to vote, so he started to hustle over to the nearby taxi stand. When he exited the building, he turned back to the scene of the day’s bizarre events, where so much had happened, but really nothing had happened.

The twin towers of the World Trade Center gleamed bright and white against the blue sky of the crisp September day.

Standing still.

Recommended14 Simily SnapsPublished in Adventure, Contemporary Fiction, Drama, Fiction, Sci Fi


  1. I like the fact that the story is left open as to the question of whether the event will have a net positive or negative effect on future events. From our perspective, it’s all been negative, but who knows?

  2. Told very well, Donald. Great alternative universe story. Of course, if this were picked up for a series you’ve just killed off your main character along with the entire Corps.
    Really, really good story.