He could see the holo now: the blue-and-orange semitransparent lines with a simple input/output display floating a few inches from his face. He could feel the tactile thump response of the virtual keyboard while entering in mission status codes and confirmation thumbprint signature.
But only in his head. No holo interface, no ability for end-of-mission transmission to the Mission Control war room.
Kin grabbed a small black rectangle from his first-aid kit. "Vital measurement scan," he said, and a hologram of letters and numbers floated in front of him, broadcasting his body temperature (slightly elevated due to injury), heart rate (same), hydration level (dehydrated), respiratory rate (normal), and blood pressure (steady). All of that should have coordinated with the beacon to confirm his identity and fuel its thermal-generated power source.
A thin black stick popped out of the device with a quick hydraulic hiss. He gripped the plasma scalpel, palm wrapped around the cylinder so tight that his hand throbbed. Two inches above the gunshot wound. Then a diagonal line about eight inches down, held at a slight angle inward.
In theory, if the beacon had even a flicker of power coursing through it, removing it would fire an emergency retrieval signal to a Mission Control tracking system in 2142 as its final shutdown act, a trigger upon exposure to raw air.
Kin ignited the scalpel, the stench of burning flesh harsher than the gradual burn into his skin.
But if the beacon was totally dead, he'd have a gaping wound on top of his existing injuries. Not ideal conditions for patching up ad hoc surgery, especially with a lack of basic medical supplies.
The scalpel retracted its thin beam of heat.
Towel. Water. Pressure. Binding gel. For now, he bandaged the wound while considering the next logical step. Two more days in 1996 until the end of his two-week mission span, two more days in 2142 before Mission Control scanned for a retrieval signal. Normally, he appreciated the TCB's strict scheduling, a one-for-one policy that prevented field agents from appearing to age at an accelerated rate. Now that just meant two more days of asking what-ifs.
When the TCB failed to detect a signal from his beacon, common sense dictated they'd pick him up and bring him home. Even without the beacon's geopositioning, access to all of the digital records in human history made this easy.
That had to be it. They wouldn't leave him here. Would they?
His wound bound and cleaned, Kin sank his naked back against the bathroom wall. He slid down and let out a breath, an oppressive weight collapsing down on his chest.
A new option appeared in his mind, the only one left: stay calm, wait, and see.
An unknown future. The thought gripped every muscle in his body. Kin's groan echoed off the thin, dirty walls of the motel bathroom, and though this room had harsh lighting, his eye caught something behind the toilet. Despite the burn in his side and stinging in his knees, Kin reached, gut cramping from the wound, and he slid the object into view while fighting off the slight tremble taking over his hand.
A quiet laugh fought past the pain spidering throughout his battered body, past the fears he didn't want to acknowledge. The most worthless piece of physical currency in 1996. Or a sign of something else.
He grasped the coin, his fingers curled into a fist, pressing so hard the edges dug into his skin. A calm came over him, his breath returning to normal and his heartbeat slowing to a regular rhythm. It had to be something, this one little sign of his past—or his future, depending on perspective.
Hope. Of course. What else would a penny be to him?