It's time for another Terribleminds challenge. We're smooshing two randomly selected concepts together again, and I got Back to the Future meets The Shining. It's supposed to be horror, but mine turned out more science fiction-y. I was in a bit of a time crunch, so I incorporated my Novoed course plot assignment into this as well. For that, I'm supposed to have a source of interior and exterior force impacting the characters. It had to be under 1,500 words, so this is a bit on the short side for the Terribleminds one, but, oh well... Hope you like it:)
Time After Time
Wide-eyed people rush past me. Desperation drives them forward, even though there’s nowhere to run. A child clutches a toy bear with one button-eye missing. She holds my gaze for a moment, her liquid eyes dark and solemn. The air is filled with smoke and terror and the sound of screams.
Time to go.
I hurry past the couple necking like there’s no tomorrow. There isn’t, for them. A boy sits in the middle of broken glass in the display window of a sweets shop, eating bright fruit candies from the chocolate castle resting on clouds of cotton candy. I leave them all to burn. This isn’t my first apocalypse. I can’t save them. Or I could, but I might inadvertently destroy the entire history of the human race in the process. So I won’t.
Then my heart freezes. I see a familiar shape. A figure, right hand missing from below the elbow joint, face badly burnt. A sonic blade hangs from its hand. How does it always find me? This time I had three whole weeks before it turned up. I don’t know what it wants; only that I can’t let it catch me. I turn tail and run, just like all the others.
I round a corner, looking for the rusty iron grate blocking the way to the alley where I left the Icarus. I hear explosions behind me and jump the grate, fumbling for the entry sequence. I glance back, and the figure approaches, an island of calm in this fiery hell. 54-indigo-doom, I think. For a moment I’m afraid I’m in the wrong place, or that the ship has left me to die, but then a door shimmers into being on a nearby recycling unit. I dive in and it seals behind me.
My heart hammering, I fumble with the safety straps, break a nail and curse. After sealing the doors I pull the control helmet on, lean back on the couch and finally allow myself a small sigh of relief. It can’t get in. I’m safe. Well, at least from my shadow. The apocalypse outside is another matter.
The command module feels like being in a womb. I like enclosed spaces. That’s probably why they chose me. The cooling systems whir into action, their hum comforting and familiar. I see the map on the MindsEye screen and pick a destination at random . Anywhere but here.
The hum turns into a high-pitched scream.
We land on a nice pseudo 18th century beach on one of the Outer Colonies, Triton’s Bounty. I bury my toes into the sand and watch the sunset. It looks exactly like the fires on Iago. I dig a few derms from my pocket, slap on one marked ‘whiskey.’ It’s not the same as the real thing, but it might relax me enough so I can sleep. The image of my shadow intrudes, its amorphous, shiny burns and the sonic blade. The sour stink of terror and smoke.
I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.
I crawl back inside the Icarus and try, anyway.
The next morning I’m grumpy and hung-over. I activate the MindsEye, check my instructions. Daedalus wants me to return to Iago, find out why their sun flared like that. Fine. I’ll do it, but not today. I’ve got a time machine, for gods’ sake. There’s no hurry.
My derms run out after a week. It takes me another one to kick the shakes, but I do. Then, and only then, I program the fade to Iago, one day before the flares and the flamestorm. I figure that’s my best chance of finding something. I watch a few vids via MindsEye as I wait for the Icarus to finish its scans. Everything looks fine. A healthy, yellow sun, barely a third into its lifespan. I decide to come back tomorrow.
I land in a different alley, this one in the equator region. I don’t want to run into myself, because that would be bad. I need more derms, and a shot of the real stuff, if I can find it.
The bar is on the sand, and I sip my drink as the sun sinks into the sea. The alcohol has a strange metallic tang to it, probably from the planet’s water. It’s not whiskey, but close enough. I wish I could load the Icarus up with bottles, but they’re just too heavy.
I’m pretty drunk by the time the shadow turns up; it gets close enough that I can see its shiny burns. It smiles, a grimace that shows a flash of warped teeth. One of the women in the bar screams as it activates its sonic blade. I stumble out of my chair and stumble towards the door. The other patrons slow it down, and I make it outside.
I’m almost at the Icarus, but then I trip. The sand leaves a metallic taste in my mouth when I spit it out. I turn. The shadow is upon me. I can smell the reek of its festering wounds. It mixes with the scent of roasting fish and lemon from a barbecue down the beach.
“Get away from me!” I scream and scramble backwards, the smooth sand not giving my feet purchase.
The shadow mumbles something, but I can’t make it out.
It lifts the sonic blade. I can hear its song. Again, the thing tries to speak, but I don’t understand.
I roll away as the blade hits, but I’m not fast enough. There’s a blinding pain in my arm, then it’s just not there anymore. It’s a good thing I’m wearing three derms; they help to kill the pain. I can still function. Screaming, I kick at the thing’s legs. It falls. I struggle to my feet, clutching the seared stump that’s left of my arm.
The shadow thing cries something. I’m almost inside the Icarus, but I pause.
I think it said ‘murderer.’
I seal myself inside the Icarus and activate the emergency medical station. As the ship patches me up I try to think. It gets easier when the painkillers kick in. What did it mean? I haven’t killed anyone, not really. I’ve left some to die, though.
Who did I kill?
Then the Icarus shudders. The emergency klaxon blares.
Hull breach imminent.
This ship can withstand almost anything, but somehow the shadow is tearing it apart. I try to activate the fade sequence. Thank the gods for the MindsEye. The ship chirps and whirs to life.
But something’s wrong. It’s unstable. The chronocore is going to blow. I use the emergency override to open the door. I’d rather take my chances with the shadow than wait for the explosion. We’ll both die if it doesn’t take off, so I order the ship to return to the last set of coordinates. Then I roll out.
The shadow comes at me. Now there’s no escape. It raises its blade.
I close my eyes.
Sand scatters on my face, but the blow doesn’t come.
I open my eyes only to see the shadow throw itself into the Icarus.
A searing blast of coolant slams into me. It burns. I stagger up, away from the ship.
Then they’re both gone.
I remember the last coordinates, somewhere in the star’s orbit.
After a few minutes, the flares start.
The sonic blade lies in the sand before me. I pick it up with my good arm. It doesn’t take me long to understand that I’m looping. Tears sear like acid on the burns, but I can’t stop crying.
I find the time machine parked under some palm trees like ferns. It isn’t difficult; I’m the one who parked it there. First, I go back to Tritons Bounty. Then I make a list of all the times I saw the shadow. I’m not going to accept this. I’m not going to chase myself. How ridiculous! I’m sure I can come up with a better plan. I refuse to think of the billions who died on Iago. It’s not real. I can stop it, I know I can. That’s probably why Daedalus gave me another ship. I haven’t contacted them, and I’m not going to. Too many variables already. I’m going to talk some sense into myself, but first I have to find me. It’s easy. I know where I’ll be.
I wear a hat and prosthetic when I go into the bar, but when I get there, I realize I needn’t have bothered. I see myself, passed out in the corner booth. Perfect. I help the younger me up, and grab her purse. Fortunately the bar isn’t far from the apartment.
It’s morning when she wakes. I hand her a glass of juice and slap a derm on her arm.
“I know how you feel. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you. We just need to talk.”
Sipping her juice, she nods.