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FUTURE'S CHILD by Alyssa
|The wind howled through the church, tearing
at the ancient tapestries and hurling them to the floor.
The candles that lit the old building were whipped out,
plunging the place into darkness. Lightning from the
vicious storm outside lit up the church interior in
brief, irregular flashes, the thunder booming deafeningly
as the sound reverberated up into the high ceiling. The
ornate stained-glass windows imploded, showering the
church floor and pews with tiny bits of coloured glass.
The demon that had been haunting the church, and
terrorising its patrons, shrieked and howled above the
noise of the storm, trying to drive out the small figure
that stood at the altar.
Nick ducked as a candlestick was hurled at his head. It clattered to the stone floor, sending chips of rock dancing through the air. Nick cursed as one of them whipped by him, cutting at his cheek. Nick clapped a hand to the wound, feeling blood seep between his fingers. Not for the first time, he wished that Derek or one of the others was there to help him.
Saint Luke's church, in downtown San Francisco, had been plagued by the demon for several months. Finally, in despair, the pastor had called on his old friend, Derek Rayne. The Dutchman had been busy, helping Alex with some research for Sloan, so he'd sent Nick along to get rid of the demon. No one knew the full power of the creature; before, it had just been throwing around small objects, ringing bells and hiding things. Nick had gone to the church alone, believing that he was dealing with a simple poltergeist. But the minute he'd begun the exorcism, the demon had unleashed it's full power, drawing strength from a raging storm that was building up. Nick found himself up against a powerful demon with absolutely no help whatsoever. He knew that he should have gotten out of there as soon as things went pear-shaped, but Nick's pride refused to let him leave until he'd completely exhausted every other option.
Nick stood at the front of the church, his hair whipping painfully in his eyes. Nick made himself a mental note to get his hair cut before he tried anything like this again. The wind tore at him, trying to tear the piece of paper with the ritual written on it out of his hand. He clung to it fiercely, his only lifeline, determined to get rid of the demon. Nick screamed out the words Derek had written down for him, shaking holy water out of the small vial he'd hung round his neck.
It didn't work.
Incensed, the creature transformed out of it's smoke-like shape, solidifying into cold, hard flesh. It towered over Nick, leathery skin stretched tight over long bones and bulging muscles. Canine teeth protruded from a long muzzle, deepset eyes glinting evilly. It snarled at Nick, advancing on the young man, who backed away, round to the other side of the altar. The thing followed, it's snarls and howls barely audible over the scream of the wind. It raised one, huge meatcleaver of a fist, and struck down. The blow caught Nick on the side of his head, and he spun backwards, crashing into a small sidetable that held a large vase of flowers. The table and vase shattered under the impact, and Nick lay among the wreckage, stunned. A horrible ringing noise sounded in his ears. The demon lumbered over to Nick, dragging him up by the front of his leather jacket. It breathed hot, moist breath into his face, stifling him.
'Rule number one of ghostbusting,' Nick thought, wryly, 'Never go alone.'
Nick felt blood run freely down the side of his face, and his head ached badly. Terror wrapped an icy hand around his stomach, and he swallowed, his throat suddenly dry. With a roar, the demon flung Nick back. He slammed against the wall at the back of the church, feeling something in his back give with a sickening crunch. Nick slid down the wall into a crumpled heap, unable to move. He lay there, paralysed as much from fear as from his injuries, as the demon moved over, looming above him, raising it's fist for the final blow that would finish the young man off.....
Mercifully, Nick slid into blackness before that happened, his last sight of the demon, it's face twisted in a mixture of rage and victory.
Kat Corrigan slumped down into one of the chairs in the hospital waiting room. Her mom, Rachel, was in a meeting and Kat was waiting for her to finish to they could go home. Kat was really bored; Rachel's meeting had overrun by an hour, and Kat had finished all her homework. Well, nearly all of it. She still had some yucky history to do, but she didn't understand any of it. Rachel was hopeless at history, too, so Kat would have to ask Derek. Kat picked up a comic she'd already read twice, and began flicking through it again, when a flurry of movement at the end of the corridor caught her eye.
Kat looked up to see a stretcher being pushed hurriedly down the corridor by two paramedics, who yelled at people to get out of the way. Two doctors in scrubs and white coats ran alongside, and a young nurse in a white minidress accompanied them, holding an IV drip of clear liquid high in the air. Kat looked over, curious, as the group drew nearer, and Kat could see the patient on the stretcher. One of the doctors obscured the person's face, but Kat could see a horribly batted and mangled body, the clothing torn and shredded. Then the doctor stumbled over a soda can left on the floor, and Kat could see the patient on the stretcher.
It was Nick.
The young man's eyes looked round wildly over the oxygen mask that covered his mouth and nose, and, just for a second, his gaze locked with Kat's. Then the doctor righted himself, and the stretcher was wheeled down the corridor, away from sight. Kat slid off the chair, trying to follow it, but a throng of people pushed in front of her, obscuring her view.
Kat saw a middle-aged priest standing nearby, wringing his hands worriedly. Kat recognised him as the priest that had come to Derek for help, the one from St. Luke's. She walked up to him.
He looked down at her, frowning until a light of recognition lit up his tired face.
'Hello, Katherine.' he tried to smile, but worry clouded his features. Kat looked up at him.
'What happened to Nick?'
'He went to the church to...help me.' said Chase, unsure of how much Kat knew about the Legacy's work. 'I was held up by the storm, and found him when I arrived.'
Kat looked worried.
'Did the demon hurt him?' she asked.
Chase sighed. 'Yup.' he said. 'I think it did.'
Kat took Chase's hand in hers, and began to guide him down the corridor.
'C'mon,' she said. 'We need to find mommy.'
Mommy wasn't happy. She was tired and bored, and wanted to go home and have a hot bath. Rachel rubbed at her eyes tiredly, desperately trying to think of an excuse to get out of the meeting, before she died of boredom. Just as Rachel was about to give up and just walk out, the Chief of Staff's secretary came in.
It took Rachel a moment or two to realise she was being spoken to.
'Oh, yes?' she asked, yawning.
'Your daughter needs to see you. She says its urgent.'
Glad of an excuse to leave, Rachel grabbed her things and left, without so much as an apology to the rest of the meeting.
Outside the conference room, Rachel saw Kat and Chase. Both looked worried and anxious, and Rachel hurried over to them.
'Kat? Father Chase? What's wrong?'
On Angel Island, Derek and Alex were still correlating data in the computer room. The task was long, arduous and boring, but Sloan had requested that they do the job. Derek frowned as he looked at a computer printout.
'What's wrong?' Alex asked, noticing his expression. Derek looked over to where she sat at a console.
'I've...got this feeling.' he said. 'Something's niggling at the back of my mind, but I can't pinpoint it.'
'Something to do with the data?'
'No,' Derek shook his head, 'It's more as if there is something wrong, but I don't know what.' Derek gave a halfhearted grin. 'Maybe I left the radio on in the bathroom or something.'
'Well, if you did, I did.' Alex told him.
'What do you mean?'
'I can feel something...' Alex said, slowly. 'As if something's going to happen.'
Then the phone rang, and they soon had a reason for the worry their psychic minds had borne.
Derek and Alex ran along the hospital corridor, towards the waiting area.
'Rachel!' Derek called, as soon as he saw the woman. Rachel turned to greet him, a wan smile on her face.
'How is he?' Derek asked, anxiously. Rachel shook her head.
'I don't know. I've tried everything, but no one will tell me.'
'I thought he could handle this. I had no idea it'd be so dangerous.'
Alex slipped her arm around his waist, leaning her head on his shoulder.
'None of us knew.' she said. 'It isn't your fault.'
'If it's anyone's fault, it's mine.' said Father Chase, miserably., running a hand through his silver hair. 'I was late, I should have been there.'
'No, my friend,' said Derek. 'Don't blame yourself.' He glanced at his watch. 'Aren't you meant to be taking Friday mass at St. Mattheiu's?'
Father Chase nodded.
'Let me know if there's any news?'
'Of course.' Derek reassured him.
Chase turned and shuffled off down the corridor. Derek broke away from Alex and sat down heavily on one of the plastic orange chairs.
'I'm getting a coffee.' Rachel said. 'Anyone want one?'
'I'll come with you.' Alex said. They went off down the corridor, leaving Derek and Kat. The little girl sat down next to Derek, swinging her legs. They were silent a while, each lost in thought. They looked up as a young doctor stopped in front of them.
'Mr. Boyle?' he inquired. Derek looked up.
'No...no, I'm Derek Rayne, a close friend of Nick's.'
The doctor sighed.
'I really need to speak to a member of his family.'
'I'm afraid we are his family!' Derek snapped. The doctor stepped back, a bit shocked. Derek sighed and rubbed a hand over his face.
'Gott, I'm sorry. We're just a bit worried.'
The doctor nodded sympathetically.
'I understand, Mr Rayne. I'm Dr. Skinner.' He paused to shake Derek's hand before continuing,
'I won't lie to you -- it doesn't look good. He has massive swelling on the brain, and his spinal cord has been severely damaged. He's moving in and out of consciousness, but we really don't want to sedate him.
Derek nodded. 'Can we see him?'
'Only one of you, I'm afraid.' said Skinner, 'And only one at a time.'
Derek turned to Kat.
'Can you wait here for Alex and your Mother? They won't be long.'
Kat nodded, then Skinner led Derek down the corridor to a small, dark room.
Nick lay on a bed facing the door. Derek walked over to stand by the bed. The young man lay still and silent, his head swathed in bandages, his neck secured in a brace. Derek could see the bruising and swelling making ugly contortions on the young man's face. Derek reached out, taking hold of Nick's bandaged hand, feeling the bumps of damaged bones beneath. Derek stared down at Nick, listening to the soft sounds permeating the room; the beep of monitors, the hiss of rain outside.
'I'm here, Nick.' he whispered. Silence met him, and he just stood there, unconsciously counting the seconds between the beeps of a monitor.
'One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four...'
'Four?' Derek thought. He counted again, concentrating this time.
'One, two, three, four, five...'
Derek hurriedly looked up, just as the beep stopped, and Nick flatlined.
All of a sudden, the room was filled with people, crowding round Nick. A nurse grabbed Derek's arm, and steered him towards the door.
'Sir, I'm afraid you'll have to leave!' she said, quickly. Derek moved out of the way as a young intern pushed past him with a crash cart.
'Sir, please!' the nurse said, firmly. Derek allowed himself to be guided out the room, looking back through the doorway. He heard Skinner's voice yell,
'Clear!', and saw Nick's body jump as the team tried desperately to resuscitate him. Then the door swung shut, and Derek's view was cut off.
'Derek? What's happening?' said a frightened voice behind him. The Precept turned to see Alex looking at him anxiously. Derek turned back, staring at the closed door.
'He isn't going to make it.' he whispered. 'Oh, Gott, we're going to lose him!'
Skinner came out of the room then, looking old and tired. He glanced up and saw Derek and Alex. He hesitated, then came over to stand before them.
'He's dead, isn't he?' Derek asked, numbly.
Skinner sighed deeply. 'As good as. We got his heart started again, but it's the machines keeping him alive; there's hardly any readable brain activity.'
'Isn't there anything you can do?' Alex asked, tearfully.
Skinner shook his head. 'The only thing we....you can do....is just let him go.'
Derek looked at Skinner for a moment, then turned and walked off down the corridor.
'Derek!' Alex called after him. The Precept ignored her, bursting into the empty men's room. Checking that no one was in the stalls, Derek locked the entrance door. He leaned against the thin wood for a moment, breathing heavily and shakily. Then he moved over to a washbasin, bracing his hands on either side. He stood there, head bowed, unmoving. But in his head was a turmoil of thoughts and emotions. Skinner's voice echoed through his mind,
'Let him go, let him go, let him go...'
mixed with the sounds of memories, forgotten until now, each vying for attention, clouding his mind. Finally, it all became too much, and he tilted back his head, letting out an agonized cry.
He reached out, turning the faucets on full, splashing at his face with the cooling water. He looked up at his reflection, face dripping, hair damp at the front. Derek frowned. There was something odd about his reflection. Derek ran a hand through his hair. His reflection did the same. But there was something.....
Then it struck Derek- his reflection's visage was completely dry! Not a drop of water anywhere! Derek brushed his hand against his face, feeling the water there. His reflection remained still, watching him intently. Derek stepped back, instantly afraid.
The reflection reached out it's hand, placing it on the mirror pane. The palm turned white where it pressed against the boundary.
'Help me out the mirror, Derek.' The reflection's voice was muffled and faint. 'Help me out.'
Derek found himself drawn forward, as if pulled by an invisible string.
'Help me out.' the reflection repeated.
Derek lifted his hand, placing it over that of the image. The mirror's surface rippled, like that of a pond when a stone is thrown in. Derek felt solid flesh beneath his hand, soft and warm. He grasped the hand, and the reflection began to emerge from the mirror. Silver liquid stretched from the surface in thin threads as the face pushed through, then the shoulders and the arms. Derek helped the image climb over the sink, and soon the two stood in the middle of the tiled room.
The spell broken, Derek took a step back, staring at the person before him.
'Who are you?' Derek whispered, hoarsely.
The other laughed, but not cruelly. More as if he had just got the punchline of a joke someone had told him the day before. The image spread it's arms wide.
'Who do I look like?' he asked, smiling.
'You look like me.' said Derek, feeling incredibly stupid. 'But...this isn't possible.'
'Derek, in your line of work, nothing is impossible.' The smile disappeared, the reflection's face growing serious.
'I know what you're going through, Derek.' he said. 'I know how hard this is for you. But you can't let Nick die like this.'
Derek became angry at this stranger with his face.
'Can't I?' he yelled. 'What am I meant to do?!'
'Just listen to me.' the mirror-Derek replied. 'And listen carefully.'
It was many hours before Derek finally emerged from the bathroom. Night had fallen, and the hospital was quiet. The rain still fell outside, occasionally joined by a soft rumble of thunder, and a brief flash of lightening. He wandered along the corridors, getting worried glances from several people at his dishevelled appearance. Derek's mind was working overtime, trying to take in everything the image had told him. And somehow, he believed it all, even though it had sounded like the ravings of a madman. Because that person had somehow, impossibly, been him.
Derek entered Nick's room. Alex and Rachel were there, as was Skinner. They looked up as the Precept entered.
'Mr. Rayne,' said Skinner, 'We were wondering where you were.'
'I've been thinking.' Derek said, absently.
'You might have told us where you were!' Alex told him, angrily. 'We were worried sick!'
'As I said,' Derek ignored her outburst, 'I've been thinking. I want you to turn off those machines and freeze my friend.'
This got shocked gasps from the other two Legacy members.
'Derek, you can't do that!' Alex cried.
'Mr. Rayne, I would advise against that...' Skinner began, but Derek stalked forward, until he was only inches from the doctor.
'And why's that?' he snarled. 'I have the money!' Derek dug out his wallet and pulled out a wad of bills. He threw them at Skinner.
'Here you go! And I'll give you the rest when you're done!'
'The extent of his injuries...'
'I...don't...care!' hissed Derek through his teeth.
Skinner licked his lips nervously.
'I'll...I'll see what I can do.' he stammered, before hurrying out of the room.
Rachel and Alex immediately turned to Derek.
'What the hell do you think you're doing?' Rachel yelled. 'Are you out of your mind?!'
Derek held out his arms, placating her.
'Don't ask me to explain.' he said. 'But this has to be done. You'll understand soon enough, but I can't tell you just yet.' he looked at them pleadingly. 'Please.'
'Okay.' she said. 'But this is because I trust you to know what you're doing.'
Derek turned to Rachel.
Rachel nodded silently.
'I need to take Kat home.' she said, quietly, and left the room, heading for the waiting area where Kat was. Derek looked at Alex.
'Thank you.' he smiled.
'I'm not doing this for you.' she said. 'It's for Nick. And if this hurts him any further...' She left the threat hanging in the air. Skinner returned just then.
'I made some calls.' he announced. 'It can be done.'
'If you'll just give us a few minutes.' he asked. Skinner nodded, and left the room. Alex bent down next to the bed and gently kissed Nick on the forehead.
'Bye, tough guy.' she whispered, squeezing his hand. Then she turned and left the room, without looking back at Derek.
The Precept stood, looking at the nearly-flat lines of brainwave readouts, and the steady, artificial heart rate. Derek bent down and gently whispered in Nick's ear,
'I don't know if you can hear me, but don't worry. You'll be confused when you wake up, but we're coming for you, I promise.'
Skinner poked his head round the door.
'Mr. Rayne? We're ready.'
Derek gave Nick's hand a gentle squeeze.
'See you in three hundred years.' he whispered, before leaving the room. Then the cryo team moved in to begin the process which, unbeknownst to them, would be the most important job they'd ever do in their entire lives.
The next few weeks passed slowly for the San Francisco Legacy House. Nearby Houses, meaning well, tried to take as many cases off their hands as possible, but, with nothing to occupy the initiates, this did more harm than good. Nick's 'death' had affected them hard, even worse than when Julia had been killed. The house seemed somehow ...empty...as if it's very soul had died. The Legacy initiates would drift about listlessly, barely speaking to each other. When they did, it was in polite, clipped conversation. Sloan, paying them a visit on his way to Los Angeles, found himself faced with an awful truth -- the San Francisco House was falling apart. He was losing the best team he had. On the way to LA, Sloan placed a call to his secretary in London,
'Myra? Listen carefully. There's something I need you to do...'
Next evening, the Legacy members sat eating dinner in silence. The storm had returned, pounding the old mansion with the worst of the elements. Kat was in the living room with Emily, watching late-night Tv. Alex, Derek and Rachel sat in the dining room. The women faced each other across the table, Derek at the head. The other places were conspicuously empty.
A loud bell sounded throughout the house, signalling someone arriving at the front door. Alex looked out at the storm, frowning.
'I wonder who that could be?'
'Yes, I wonder...' said Derek, as if he already knew who it was.
'Derek, did you invite anyone here?' Rachel asked, suspiciously.
'No,' replied Derek, 'Come on, let's see who it is.'
They left the room, arriving at the top of the stairs, just as the butler opened the door. A heavy gust of wind and rain buffeted at him, revealing a very wet young man on the doorstep.
'Can I come in?' asked Philip.
'Of course!' cried Derek, coming down the stairs. Philip stepped in, and the butler quickly closed the door behind him. Philip dumped his luggage down, taking off his sodden coat. Derek came forward and clasped Philip's hand in a hearty handshake, clapping him on the shoulder.
'What brings you here?' Derek asked him, a secret smile on his face.
'Sloan...noticed that you were a member short.' said Philip, sadly. 'I've decided...to come back to the Legacy, for good.' He gave a bitter laugh. 'Kind of a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.'
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment. Then Derek spoke.
'You must be tired after your journey, Philip, coming all the way from Ireland. Why don't you take a shower, go to bed. We'll talk in the morning.'
Philip looked surprised.
'I was just about to suggest that.' he said. He turned to grab his bags and go upstairs.
'Oh, one more thing.' Philip remembered, delving into his travel bag. 'This showed up at the church in Belfast, I thought you might be interested.' Philip handed Derek a small box, made of wood. The sides were ornately carved, with a gold webbing on the corners.
'We couldn't figure it out.' Philip said. 'Can't even open it. Enjoy.'
'I will...'said Derek softly, a faraway look in his eyes. He stared down at the box in his hands, holding it as if it might break at any moment.
Philip went upstairs, pausing to hug Alex and Rachel. He looked down at Derek.
'G'night, Derek!' he called.
Derek absently waved a hand in Philip's general direction, his eyes never leaving the box. What he'd been told, it was all coming true. A mixture of fear and excitement coursed through him.
'I'm coming for you, Nick.' he thought. 'Just hang on, I'm coming for you.....'
LATE 23rd CENTURY......
Nick awoke slowly, blinking his eyes against the harsh light above him. His body ached badly, especially his head and back. Nick tried to move, to alleviate the uncomfortableness, but he found himself restrained at the wrists and ankles. Focusing his blurred eyesight, he could see that he lay on a steel bed in a circular room. The only furniture was the bed he was strapped to. Everything was a clinical, blinding white, even the loose-fitting scrubs he wore. His hair felt damp, as if he had just had a shower. Scared, Nick tried to twist out of the bindings, but to no avail. He made a frightened, mewing noise in his throat, petrified at what was going on. A disembodied voice boomed into the room.
'You're awake. We thought you were going to sleep forever.' The voice was cold, unemotional. 'Sorry about the restraints.' The voice continued, not sounding sorry at all. 'But it's just a precaution. Can't have you hurting yourself.'
Nick stared around wildly, twisting his head to see where the voice came from.
'Please don't do that.' came the voice. 'You'll only do yourself an injury.' Nick stopped struggling and lay still, staring up at the lights. Presently, he heard a soft *snick* as a door slid open in the wall to his right. A middle-aged man walked in, carrying a clipboard, wearing a white suit. He had icy blue eyes that stared coldly down at Nick. He reached out and unstrapped the white leather belts that held Nick down. The young man sat up quickly, scooting away to the far end of the bed.
'Don't be stupid!' the man snapped. 'Come here!'
At the tone of his voice, Nick bowed his head and moved forward.
'Come with me.' said the man, turning smartly on his heel, and walking briskly out the room. Nick slid off the bed, and followed the man through a maze of blank, white, cold corridors. There wasn't another person to be seen, and everything was deathly silent. The man's footsteps echoed hollowly around the hallways, Nick's bare feet making no sound. The man stopped after a while, and placed his hand on a panel in the wall. A door slid open quietly, and the man walked in. Nick followed him, disappointed when the room turned out to be identical to the one he'd just left, except with white lockers instead of a bed.
The man opened one locker. It made a small hissing noise as air rushed into the vacuum inside. The man pulled out a bundle of dark clothing and shoved it at Nick, who clutched the clothing protectively to his chest.
'Get dressed.' the man told him. 'Leave the institute clothes on the floor. The exit will open behind you when you're ready.' The man turned and walked briskly to the door, which closed as soon as he passed. Nick ran forward.
'Come back!' he called. There was no reply. 'Please come back!' The only sounds were a crushing silence. Nick hugged the clothing to him, burying his face in the heavy-knit sweater, breathing in the smells of detergent and after-shave.
'This is me.' he thought, concentrating on the scents and feel of the clothes. 'This is me. I am....'
But he couldn't remember. His own name had left his memory. Try as he might, he couldn't remember who he was, or where he was. He slipped off the white scrubs, and dressed in the sweater, blue jeans, and heavy boots. He picked up the faded leather jacket and slipped it on. There was something wrong; this wasn't his. It was too big, made for someone both taller and wider than he was. Nick drew the jacket around him, and a sudden image surfaced in his mind.
He saw a middle-aged man with a thick shock of greying hair. The man was seated behind a desk, gazing up at Nick as......
The memory faded, the rest lost. Nick had never felt so lonely in his entire life.
A cold breeze blew at the back of his neck, and Nick turned to see that part of the wall had swung away, leaving the room open to the world outside. Slowly, Nick walked forward, and out into a nightmare.
It was nighttime outside. Bright stars burned high in the deep velvet sky. The air was scented with the smell of bonfires. Nick looked around; everywhere was desolation and ruin. Small bands of people, dressed in rags and oddments of clothes, moved through the ruins of a vast city. The part Nick found himself in was almost levelled, large blocks of masonry and steel girders twisting into some kind of horrific sculpture, offering small shelter to those who slept by them. About half a mile away, Nick could see the shells of buildings, but the many fires that littered the landscape, both intentional and accidental, didn't offer enough light to see if the buildings were inhabited. Behind Nick towered the massive building he'd emerged from. It was covered in some sort of metal, grimy at the bottom, but clean and shiny at the top. The whole building was windowless, apart from the very top floor which had window-walls, but it was too high up for Nick to see in. Down the hill, Nick could see a huge bay, dark and oily, bridged by the ruins of a huge, steel structure.
Nick began to walk forward, holding the jacket tight around him, keeping his head down against the bitter cold that permeated the air. He wandered through the ruins, gazing about him in wonder. Several people turned to glare at him as he passed, and he hurried by, unwilling to get in anyone's way. Nick pulled up short as someone jumped down from a large pile of masonry to stand directly in front of him. The man was young; tall and muscular with a cold glint in his eyes.
'Well, what do we have here?' the man laughed. 'Fresh meat!'
Nick backed away, holding out his arms.
'Look, I don't want any trouble.' he said, nervously.
'Yeah, well, guess what?' the man grinned. 'We do!' He clicked his fingers, and two men appeared out of the shadows to stand behind him. Turning, Nick saw three more men behind him. Nick looked back at the ringleader, and gave him a nervous grin. The man stepped forward, swinging out his arm at Nick.
Nick deftly caught the man's fist with his left hand, and slammed at his face with the heel of his palm. The man howled in pain, and Nick felt the other's nose break under the contact. Nick swept out his leg, tipping the guy onto the ground. Started at such a display of viciousness from such a small person, the other gang members hung back, unsure of what to do. Nick took this chance to make a break for it, running off into the night.
'After him!' the ringleader yelled, clutching at his bloody nose.
The other men ran after Nick, yelling curses at him. The young man sprinted as fast as he could, dodging masonry and people as he tried to flee; but his body was still stiff and sore, and the gang began to catch up with him. Fear spurred Nick on, but as he rounded a large pile of stone and metal, he tripped, sprawling on the ground. Winded, he couldn't move, hearing the sounds of the gang closing in on him like a pack of wolves.
All of a sudden, a pair of hands snaked out from the heap beside him. One grabbed him round the waist, the other clamped over his mouth, dragging him into a dark recess in the rubbish pile. Nick bucked against the hands, terrified, but he heard a male voice whisper in his ear,
'Stop it! You want them to hear you?!' Nick stopped moving, staying quiet. He saw the gang run by, whooping and yelling, unaware of the people hidden just a few feet away.
When the gang had gone, the hands released Nick and he scurried away, turning to face the man. He was middle-aged, thick, black hair framing a square-jawed face. The guy was at least six foot five, with a strong, wiry physique. He pushed Nick out of the tangle of stone and metal, and then followed him out.
'Let's take a look at you.' he said kindly, taking Nick by the shoulders and stooping to look at his face. Nick looked up at him, eyes wide, unbelieving that he could run into a friendly person in this uncaring world.
'What's your name, kid?' the man asked.
'I don't know.' Nick replied. 'I've forgotten.'
The man frowned, then smiled, 'Never mind. Let's find somewhere and sort you out, eh?'
The man slung an arm around Nick's shoulders.
'I'll take care of you. My name's Gregg, by the way.'
Presently, Nick and Gregg were sitting by a huge bonfire, reclining on the bonnet of an old car that was almost rusted away. Gregg had covered the hood and windshield with tattered rugs, which the two sat on. Gregg leaned back against the windshield, Nick sitting crosslegged beside him, staring into the fire.
'Did you get booted out of the institute?' Gregg asked.
'What's that?' Nick frowned.
'Big white place.' Gregg replied. 'Full of corridors and anal retentive guys with clipboards.'
Nick had no idea what anal retentive meant, but it sounded right. He nodded.
'That's it.' he said.
'Poor kid. They just healed you and dumped you, eh?'
'Healed me?' asked Nick, confused.
'Look,' said Gregg, turning towards him. 'The institute is where they keep people in the deep freeze. People who had incurable diseases and the like. Now, they've woken you up, so's one of them can take your place.'
'The Legacy.' Gregg told him. 'They have a thing about living forever and ruling the world...what's left of it.'
Legacy. That name sounded so familiar to Nick, but he couldn't remember why.
'What happened here?' Nick asked.
'Big war broke out in 2026.' said Gregg. 'Most of the people on Earth were killed, cities ruined, your usual Apocalypse. Most of Europe and Russia was decimated by atomic bombs. There's only a few groups of people left on Earth, like the ones you see here. The Legacy took over.' Gregg laughed bitterly. 'Said they'd help. They're just as corrupt as the governments who got us into this mess in the first place.'
There was silence as Nick tried to digest all this information.
'Anyways,' said Gregg, cheerful again, 'We better work out who you are, see if we can figure out what to do with you.'
'How do we do that?' Nick asked, feeling rather like a small child that has lost it's parents.
'You got any ID?'
'You know,' Gregg said, 'Papers, that sort of thing. If you came from the deep freeze, you might have some.'
Nick dug in his pockets, searching until he found a worn leather wallet in the jacket's inside pocket. Gregg took it from him, opening it up and pulling out an ID card.
'Your name's Nicholas Boyle.' Gregg told him. He squinted at the photo on the card, then up at Nick again.
'Jeez, what happened? You look like Hell!'
'Thanks.' Nick said sarcastically, reaching over and taking back the card and wallet. He stared at the card, thinking his name over and over.
'Nicholas Boyle...Nick...that sounds right.'
He out the card back, searching the wallet for anything else. He pulled out two tattered photographs. The first was of himself and a young woman. Nick stared, transfixed. She was so pretty...He gently ran his finger along the curve of the woman's face.
'Julia...' the name sprang to Nick's lips easily. Gregg looked over.
'Oh,' said Gregg, 'How do you know?'
Nick sighed. 'I just do.'
He tucked the photograph carefully into the wallet again, then turned to study the second picture. It was of a group; Nick, three men, two women, and a little girl. Nick was seated on a comfy chair at the centre of the photo, the little girl on his lap. A young man, a few years older than him, perched on the chair's arm, his arm slung around Nick's shoulder. On the other side sat a young woman, Creole-looking, with long curly hair that shone as it caught the light. Behind the chair was a small blond woman, flanked by two men, all three middle-aged. Nick recognised one of the men at the back as the one he had seen in his vision when he'd put the jacket on.
Nick stared at the happy, smiling faces, and suddenly felt incredibly homesick.
'That your family?' Gregg asked.
Nick scrubbed away a tear that fell down his cheek. He didn't want Gregg to see him cry.
'I think it is.' Nick said quietly. Gregg saw the tear.
'Hey!' he exclaimed. 'Don't be turning on the waterworks with me, young man!'
Nick smiled. 'Sorry.'
Gregg laughed. 'Don't worry. Get some sleep. We'll figure out what to do in the morning.'
Nick lay back, gazing at the stars in silence.
Gregg smiled. 'Don't worry about it. It's a pleasure.' He rolled over, whispering softly to himself, 'Or it will be!'
Late 20th Century............
Derek sat alone in the control room. It was late at night, everyone else had gone to bed. The only light in the room came from a small desk lamp which lit up the workbench in front of Derek. He played absently with the box Philip had brought with him, staring at an entry he had written in his journal the night after Nick's 'death'.
'Penny for your thoughts.' said Philip from behind him, coming in to the room. Derek remained quiet, turning the cube over in his hands. Philip grabbed a chair and shoved it next to Derek, sitting down.
'Have you figured that thing out yet?' Philip asked, nodding at the box.
'Oh, yes.' Derek said, softly. 'I know all about this box.'
Philip looked at Derek nervously.
'Derek? Are you okay?'
Derek nodded, and finally turned to look at Philip.
'Go get Alex and Rachel.' he said. 'Tell them to get dressed. The time has come.'
'Go!' Derek said, fiercely. Philip got up to fetch the women, wondering if grief had driven Derek mad. Philip dragged the two out of bed, ignoring their sleepy protests.
Ten minutes later, the four stood in the control room, Derek facing the others. Alex squinted in the low light.
'Derek? What's going on?'
Derek looked at them, his eyes shining.
'This!' he said, waving the box at them. 'I've been waiting for this night for weeks. I mean, it's all coming true; Philip's arrival, the box, everything as I said!'
'Okay, I'm lost.' Alex told him. Rachel and Philip murmured in agreement.
'Look, Derek,' said Rachel, 'I know the past few weeks have been hard on you; on all of us. If you need to talk...'
'No!' Derek interrupted her. 'You don't understand! Look!' he shoved his journal at Rachel. 'Read it! Everything from that night is in there!'
Rachel looked down at the journal. The entry the book was open at was dated the same as that awful night at the hospital.
'Derek, I don't want to read this...'
'Read it!' Derek yelled, making Rachel jump.
'Okay, okay!' she said, soothingly, deciding that once she had read the entry, she'd get Derek to calm down. Nick's death had obviously disturbed him more than anyone had realised. Rachel should have recognised the symptoms; the strange excitability, the over-eccentric behaviour, locking himself in his study all day with that damn box...
Rachel looked down at the entry, Derek's neat handwriting wavering across the page. Philip and Alex came up behind her, peering over her shoulders so that they too could read what Derek had written. The Precept himself stood in front of them, barely containing his excitement as he fiddled nervously with the box.
'My dear friends. I don't know if you would count this as a message from the past or the future, I'm not sure. But that is the only thing not clear in my mind. You see, tonight, or rather a few weeks ago tonight, I met myself.'
Rachel looked up at Derek, about to say something.
'Keep reading!' he commanded her.
'Rachel, you looked up just then, didn't you? He...I told me you would. I know that this sounds strange, but my reflection came to life. It was when we were at the hospital, and I left you for hours. I was talking to him...me...
I was told of Philip's arrival, what would happen to Nick, the box......the box, the key to all this.
There are words, special words in a language too ancient to comprehend. When they are said over the box, the key, a gateway can be opened. A traveller can pass to any point in time, forward or back, to infinity and beyond.
What I am about to say will sound like a bad movie plotline. We have to travel forward, to 300 years in the future. The Legacy has turned to the Dark Side, destroying mankind, which has been...will be...almost obliterated in a nuclear war. Nick is there, now, with no memories of who he is, or where he has come from. We have to find him; he doesn't belong there. We must find Nick, then defeat the Dark Force that holds the Legacy under its power. You must believe me...you must help me...'
The entry ended, the rest of the page a blank. Rachel looked over at Derek incredulously.
'And we're supposed to believe this...this fantasy?!' Are you nuts?!'
Alex came over to Derek, taking the box from him. She leaned against a work bench, fiddling with the carved object. Derek turned to Rachel.
'I promise you, it wasn't an illusion! It was as real as you are!'
'Hey, Derek!' Alex called out. 'What does this do?' She pointed out a carved depression on one side of the box that looked like a hurricane if viewed from above.
'Alex, don't touch...!' But it was too late. The woman's fingers slipped over he markings, and the box began to make a mechanical clicking and whining. It began to split, the sides breaking away from each other. A cold, blue light shone from inside the box, growing in intensity until it filled the room, almost blinding the four inhabitants. The light began twisting, turning into a horizontal spiral, starting from the box. The centre of the spiral was a thick, blue liquid that sparked with electricity. A great wind howled through the room, tugging painfully at clothes and hair. Alex dropped the box, and the spiral began to grow until it was bigger than her.
'Derek!' she yelled over the screaming wind. 'What's happening?'
'You've started the cycle!' Derek yelled back. 'We must travel now!'
Philip grabbed the Precept's arm, leaning in close so that the older man could hear him.
'What do you mean, now?'
'If we don't travel, 'Derek replied, 'The box will disappear without us!'