“I just wish that you could actually get this thing to go into the future. I want to know that the chry-chambers stay fully functional all the way through the trip,” Sophia grouched. It had been a full two years since Corbin’s offer, and since the War began. Drought had set in after the destruction of most of the Asian continent by the Grey Monster. The drought had also brought with it pestilence. In its wake, half of the population of America disappeared over the course of a year.
Sophia had successfully brought dogs and rebus monkeys out of a series of test chambers counting from days to months and a year. Today she was defrosting a rebus at the longest time they had for testing, eighteen months. She was betting with this test that they would finally be able to start acquiring people for Corbin’s proposal.
She tapped the end of her pencil on her desk and hung her head over notes. She was exhausted. She had left from the California office and made it to Fort Dade a month ago, before the bombings hit the West Coast. Corbin had barely made it away from California before all air traffic was grounded due to a lack of personnel. Military operations were retracted from the European continent. Soldiers coming home were faced with a wasteland, and many came home to empty and decaying houses. The troops decreased by a third within the first several weeks of being back on shore.
Corbin stood at the edge of the blue portal, ready to make his first true leap into the past to retrieve a person for the purpose of the Subgalaxia protocol. He looked back at her, pursing his lips. He shared her fears and trepidations. He had been relieved with every successful awakening. The scientists and machinists he had acquired were working on the spacecraft he had designed to house the chambers. With the discovery of a set of military files on a server that had once been connected to the facility that the Grey Monster was reported to have come out of, he and Sophia had been able to come up with a design for the spacecraft to hyperjump. That, too, was something that they were going to have to trust to scale. Small testing on many more monkeys and special brain implants designed off of the military files had successfully moved a ball from one end of a short room to another, but they would needed a much larger catalyst to make the spaceship jump.
“Go, find us this polyglot you found in your super great-grandmother’s journals. We’ll need her.” Sophia waved Corbin through the portal. They only had one chance in the person’s timeline. They couldn’t recycle back on a line if Corbin missed them by just a second. They couldn’t back up their years or go forward the years if they were too young. If they didn’t get it right the first time, they were screwed and would have to go find a replacement. They figured this out the hard way when Sophia got it in her head to test the question why no one who could time travel wouldn’t get rid of Hitler. They entered in on his timeline right after he committed suicide. That was a bitterly frustrating week of try and retry.
They had tried to enter the military compound reported to have produced the Grey Monster. They had ended up in it as the building collapsed. Corbin had almost ended up getting impaled by falling rebar. Sophia pitched a fit and banned him from going into dangerous timelines like that. She also sat him down at his computer and set him to the task of re-coding his time machine for better time prediction accuracy. SAM had been created to continuously monitor the clock for this reason.
He stepped out onto poorly clad wood flooring. It smelled of bitter body odour and faeces. The room was closed off, and the windows boarded up. He glanced around quickly, wondering where he had ended up. He heard gunshots on the other side of the wall, a distance away, but the report echoed, telling him they were up against hills. A thick report with a rolling echo had him ducking his head. Cannons. He had stepped out of the portal into the civil war, but he hadn’t expected to be dropped so close to the fight.
A wet cough drew his attention to a dim corner of the room. A frail, middle-aged woman lay on a ragged blanket. Her skin had gone sallow and ashy, her fingernails chipping and splitting. Her vitiligo left her smattered with a constellation of spots and speckles. An emaciated young girl of no more than five with massive markings more pronounced than her grandmother slept under the bed, her foot chained to a hole in the bed frame. Corbin’s gut twisted. He couldn’t take her with him if he wanted to come into existence.
He moved toward the bed quietly, afraid to startle the two. He knelt down near the head of the bed and laid a gentle hand on the older woman’s forehead. She was burning up with fever. He checked her up and down and found that she had been shot in the leg, the wound left to fester and turn gangrenous. His heart dropped along with his gut. The reality of how his family had come into existence hit him like getting squashed between a mac truck and a brick wall.
“Mera?” he asked gently. The woman rolled her head back and forth as she tried to come awake. She groaned. Yellowed eyes finally opened to look at him. She would have gasped, but she was too exhausted.
“Are you Gabriel?” She smiled up at him, hopeful.
“Who is Gabriel, Mera?” Softly, he brushed her frizz back behind her ear.
“God’s angel, come to take me away from here.” She leaned into his hand.
He smiled sadly. “No, I’m sorry, Mera. I’m not Gabriel. My name is Corbin. I’ve come to ask you a question. Is that all right?” He took her hand and held it, trying not to cry.
“How do you know me, Mr Corbin?” She coughed wetly.
“I’ve heard of you and that you knew of a great translator once. Are you the translator, Mera?” He pushed gently.
She leaned against the hay mattress and closed her eyes, trying to draw in wheezing gasps. The woman shook her head, but when she looked up at him again, a spark glittered in her eyes. A nostalgic smile touched her chapped lips for a moment. “I heard once, from my great-grandfather, of men…men who could talk any language, just through touch.” The woman reached her hand up to Corbin’s face. Corbin leaned forward, allowing her to touch his forehead. “Here.” She touched the centre of his head. “White-haired twins. They were healers, knowing when men were sick and hurting.”
“When would I find these men, Mera?” he asked, willing her to not give up.
“They were spoken of so long ago, though, Mr Corbin. It has been a century and a time since those days,” she murmured, fighting the pain. Corbin could have cursed if not for the lady present. Gunshots echoed out along the hills. He cringed as a thump and reverberating boom told him the cannons had been brought in closer. She was running out of time, but he couldn’t move her. If she was dying, she surely would die if he picked her up.
“Corbin!” Sophia called from the blue arc in the corner.
“I know!” he called back to her, feeling the strain, “I know, dammit all,” he mumbled quietly under his breath, low enough the old woman thankfully couldn’t hear.
“Who am I looking for? Where, Mera?” he pressed the woman.
“Tau said they came to our people as father and children. We called the father Lightning Bird, the great Impundulu. They became the water-lilies, the purest flowers of Persia,” she wheezed, her breath rattling in her chest. Her eyes drifted behind heavy lids.
“No, no, no, no. Mera!” He begged as her eyes slipped into the unseeing. Her breath stilled, and her heart slowed to a stuttering stop. Corbin bowed his head over her hand and thought for a second. This was going to need research. There wasn’t time for research. He rose and laid her hand upon her chest, closing her unblinking eyes. “Rest free, Mera,” he whispered. He turned and took Sophia’s outstretched hand. “Take me home, please.” He fell into her, wrapping his arms around her as his sorrow tried to pull him into the ground. He had come too late to do any more for her.
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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