Crossover: a time travel novella, p.1Jack Heath
by Jack Heath
Copyright 2013 Jack Heath
Cover photo copyright Rhphotos, licensed via Dreamstime.com
To all the readers who recommended my books to others. You made this possible.
The flash grenade was cold in Agent Six's hand. A plastic bulb, filled with gunpowder, magnesium dust and a loop of copper wire. Having been so silent for so long – swimming through the maze of storm water drains, crawling slowly through the rubble-strewn courtyard – it was hard to convince himself to throw it.
But stealth had taken him as far as it would. A ring of soldiers surrounded the facility, goggled eyes sweeping the darkness, gloved fingers trembling on the triggers of Eagle automatic assault rifles. If Six was going to stop Soren Byre from activating the machine, he was going to need a distraction.
The grenade had no pin. Instead there was a switch – when it was flicked, the wire would heat up and up until it was hot enough to ignite the powder. It would take about three seconds.
Six adjusted his anti-flash goggles, inserted his moulded earplugs and pulled on his gloves. He removed the cap from a syringe, steadied his thumb on the plunger and tapped the chamber to remove the air bubbles from the grey fluid inside. Then, with his other hand, he hit the switch on the grenade.
He held it tight for one second. Two. Then he swung his arm and hurled it as far as he could.
The bulb sailed through the black fog over the heads of the soldiers, none of whom seemed to notice it until it blew apart at the apex of its trajectory. A flash rippled out across the sky, as if lightning had struck the compound. A tremendous crack left Six's ears ringing, even through the plugs. The sound doubled the adrenaline pumping through his system as he scrambled out from behind his hiding place and sprinted to the nearest soldier at a superhuman speed.
The young man was staring up at the sky, just like all his colleagues. At the last second, he saw Six in his peripheral vision, or perhaps heard his footsteps – but he turned too slowly. Before he had a chance to cry out, Six jammed the syringe into his neck and depressed the plunger.
The soldier shuddered as the paralytic pumped through his veins and leaked into his brain. By the time he stopped quivering, Six had already dragged him behind a mound of broken cinder blocks and wrestled the rifle out of his twitching hands.
Another soldier turned back to look at Six.
'Where did that come from?' he demanded. 'Do you see anybody?'
Six kept his face impassive behind the goggles. 'No-one,' he said. As a sixteen-year old, he stood slightly shorter than the soldier he'd poisoned, and his voice probably had less depth. Hopefully the other soldier was too disoriented and deafened to notice. 'You keep watch. I'll warn them inside.'
He jogged over to the facility door – a thick rectangle of steel, framed by reinforced concrete. Without giving the other soldiers the time to wonder why he wasn't using his radio, he heaved the door open, slipped through, and pulled it shut behind him.
* * *
The inside of the facility reminded Six of a submarine. Narrow, damp tunnels ringed with piping. Metal grates underfoot. The Deck hadn't been able to recover any blueprints for the building, so he would have to navigate the labyrinth on his own.
'Hey!' A muscular soldier stood beside the door, a Hawk 9mm pistol in his hands. 'What are you doing inside?'
'Sorry,' Six said. 'I only brought one syringe.'
Six lashed out, thumping his boot into the soldier's belly. The soldier doubled over, wheezing. He swiped his clumsy fists through the air, but Six sidestepped around him. He clapped his palm over the soldier's mouth and wrapped his other forearm across the throat, and squeezed.
The soldier gurgled helplessly as the blood flowing into his brain slowed to a trickle. It only took a few seconds for him to go limp. Six waited a moment longer to be certain, and then lowered him to the ground.
The others would be coming after Six soon. He turned back to the door, grabbed the two heavy bolts, and slid them closed. He thought about bending the metal so as the door couldn't be opened even from inside, but the risk was too high. He might not be able to find another exit.
Six moved through the tunnel as silently as a ghost. Neon lights buzzed and flickered above his head. According to Kyntak, this facility was radiating rising levels of electromagnetism. Kyntak had assured Six that the radiation was harmless, but it meant that Soren Byre had already switched on the machine. If it reached full power before Six could shut it down, the resulting explosion would leave a smoking crater several kilometres wide.
Six didn't need to check his watch to know how much time he had left. Twenty-eight minutes. He didn't doubt that he would be able to find the machine in time, but working out how to switch it off was another matter entirely.
One empty corridor after another swept by. No soldiers, no machine, no sign of Byre. Six added each intersection to his mental map, ensuring that he missed nothing.
A hatch in the floor caught his eye. He kicked it up and stared down into the darkness. Even with his superhuman eyesight, he couldn't see more than a few metres deep. A flashlight was bolted to the barrel of his stolen assault rifle – he switched it on and took aim.
The beam sliced through the shadows, revealing a rusted ladder which stretched down to another metal floor about ten metres below. The facility was much deeper than Six had guessed.
He had no time for ladders. He turned off the flashlight, stepped into the hatch and plummeted like a glass bottle.
The floor hit him hard. He had kept his legs bent, but his feet stung. The impact rang out through the maze of corridors, coming back as wet, distorted echoes.
Nothing moved in the blackness. He had hoped the sound would elicit a gasp, giving him some clue to Byre's whereabouts. But there was no indication that anyone had heard him.
His eyes were adjusting, but not fast enough. Instead, he used the echoes of his footsteps to judge the positions of the walls.
He could smell something familiar. Six had once tried to repair the navigation systems of a concorde as it spiralled toward the ground, shortly after an attack drone struck it with a MASER cannon. The burning circuitry had filled the air with this same tangy scent.
Up ahead, light streamed under a closed door. A low hum filled the air. Six cradled the rifle in one arm while he reached out with the other and pushed the door open.
A starscape of illuminated switches and buttons covered the far wall. A grid of LED televisions were mounted on the opposite side of the room, graphing rapidly-changing various metrics.
A woman stood in the centre of the room, her bare feet on a plate of glass. She was clutching a pair of metal canisters which dangled from the ceiling.
Her grey hair was wound into a tight bun. Six could still see the scar tissue from the bullet wound in her neck. Her caramel eyes fixed on his.
'Six of Hearts,' Soren Byre said. 'I'm afraid you've arrived too late.'
* * *
'Let go of that,' Six said, 'and take three steps back.'
Soren Byre didn't move. 'Or what?'
Six had thought that was obvious, given the rifle. 'Or I'll shoot you.'
'You wouldn't kill an old friend,' Byre said.
'I don't have any friends.'
'Colleague, then.' Her voice was rougher than Six remembered. She spoke as though her throat were full of pebbles.
'You don't work for the Deck any more,' Six said.
'That doesn't mean we're not on the same side.'
The humming grew in volume. The metal ceiling creaked above Six's head
He moved his finger to the inside of the trigger guard. 'Step back,' he said. 'I won't ask you again.'
'I can stop ChaoSonic from ever existing,' Byre said. 'Imagine – no more massacres, no more checkpoints, no more toxic fog, no more Seawall. I'll save more lives than you have in your entire career.'
When Six joined the Deck, a secret group of vigilantes, he had sworn an oath to protect the City from ChaoSonic's destructive greed. Byre made the same vow. Perhaps he could convince her that defending the citizens was more important than destroying ChaoSonic's corporate empire.
'You weigh about sixty kilos,' Six guessed. 'The amount of energy required to send you back that far will kill everyone within the eight-kilometre blast radius–'
'Only temporarily. After I've hunted down the original board members and changed history, the explosion will never happen. Everyone will survive – except you.' Her eyes narrowed. 'That's why you're really here, isn't it? If I stop ChaoSonic from forming, they won't be around to engineer you.'
Six hesitated. He hadn't realised that Byre knew the truth about his birthplace – a jar in a ChaoSonic laboritory. Kyntak had told him that time travel was impossible, so Six wasn't worried about Byre's plan succeeding. He was much more concerned about the impending explosion.
'Anyway,' Byre said. 'It doesn't matter. As I said, you're too late. The countdown can't be stopped.'
When she worked at the Deck, Byre had been fond of mind games. Six suspected she was lying, but he was running out of time to prove it. The cylinders in her fists were starting to glow. The barrel of his gun kept jerking downward as the giant electromagnet powered up beneath the floor.
'Your machine won't work,' Six said. 'You need ununoctium.'
Kyntak had told him to say this. Ununoctium was a super-heavy element, the last stockpiles of which had been missing since the 21st century. It could theoretically make Byre's machine work, but it was extremely unlikely that she had any.
For the first time, he saw doubt in her eyes.
'You're wrong,' she said. 'My calculations–'
'Are flawed,' Six said. He pointed to the control panel. 'So, are you going to pull the shut-off switch, or am I?'
He didn't know which switch was the right one, but just as he'd hoped, Byre glanced at it. Her eyes rested on the rubber-handled lever for only a fraction of a second, but Six saw.
He dived toward it.
'No!' Byre shrieked.
Six grabbed the lever and pulled it downward. Something groaned beneath the floor, and a shower of sparks blasted out from the control panel. The graphs disappeared from the televisions, and a warning appeared: CRITICAL ERROR.
Something slammed into the side of Six's head. He dropped the gun and staggered sideways, his brain wobbling in his skull. As he tumbled to the floor, he saw Byre clutching a fire extinguisher, her face twisted into a mask of fury.
'You've ruined everything!' she screamed.
She raised the extinguisher, ready to crush his face–
And then it flew out of her hands, slamming into the glass panel in the centre of the room.
Six reached for the gun, only to see it skittering out of reach. The magnet is still on, he realised. It must have a separate switch.
The metal ceiling groaned.
Six tried to stand up, but his limbs still wouldn't obey him. 'We have to get out of here,' he said.
Byre ignored him. She was fiddling with the control panel like a concert pianist. 'Come on, come on!'
Six pressed one palm against the floor, rising to his knees. The world was still spinning, but more slowly. He was confident that he had prevented the explosion, but the building was full of metal – he had to get as far away from the magnet as possible.
'Byre,' he said. 'We need to–'
Then the lights went out, and the ceiling collapsed above him.
* * *
Six rolled aside just in time. The metal grate slammed into the floor where he had been kneeling. Another blast of sparks lit up the room, revealing a mountain of twisted metal in the centre. Six couldn't see Byre anywhere. He guessed that she had been crushed.
The door had been ripped off its hinges. Six scrambled to his feet and stumbled through the doorway. Even through his earplugs, the rattling and groaning of the building was deafening. It felt like being trapped inside the bottom level of a sinking cruise ship.
He ran through the darkness, arms outstretched, hoping the ladder was still where it was supposed to be. The greater the distance from the magnet, the less pulling power it had, but the bolts which fixed the ladder to the wall hadn't looked sturdy.
Six crashed into the ladder hard enough to bruise his shoulder. It was closer than he had expected, and it was no longer straight – it spiralled upward like a strand of DNA. But there was no other way out of here. He grabbed the bent rungs and started climbing.
Something crashed up above. Perhaps the magnet had knocked something over, perhaps the soldiers were coming in. A flickering glow illuminated the top few rungs. Six heard the crackling and spitting of flames.
A chunk of metal piping tumbled through the hatch and plummeted toward Six. He swung sideways. The fragment barely missed him as it whistled through the darkness and clanged into a rung somewhere below.
The ladder rattled in his grip. A hailstorm of bolts and screws fell from up above. Six shielded his face with one hand, put the other on the side of the ladder, and climbed using only his feet.
When his head emerged through the hatch, he immediately felt the flames nearby, drying out his skin. A power point on the wall was spitting sparks, and it looked like the oil stains on the floor had caught alight. If he hadn't been up here only minutes ago, he would never have been able to find his way out through the thick smoke.
He clambered out of the hatch and started running. The pipes shook above his head as he turned corner after corner–
Until he bumped into Soren Byre.
Her clothes and hair were blackened by soot, but her eyes were bright as ever. An unbalanced grin split her face.
Six stared at her. How had she gotten up here before him?
'It works,' she hissed at him. 'It works!'
Then a shard of metal erupted out of her face.
Six gasped and jumped back as the blood sprayed his clothes. Byre slumped to the floor, the piece of magnetised shrapnel skewered through her head. The body shifted, and for a moment Six though she was trying to get up, but he soon realised that it was just the metal, dragging her obscenely across the floor.
If he didn't get out of here quickly, the same thing might happen to him.
He sprinted through the flickering shadows, trying to avoid the burning patches of the floor. A knotted electrical cable flew through the air towards him, and he sidestepped around it – only to nearly collide with a hurtling pipe. The metal ceiling was ripping apart. The whole facility was imploding like a black hole.
Six had almost reached the exit. The guard he had knocked out was nowhere to be seen. As he watched, the bolts snapped and the door lurched out of its frame. It rocketed toward him like a bullet train. He flattened himself against the wall as it sped past.
Five more steps. Three. One.
He dove out the door and skidded across the dirt. Behind him, the facility folded in upon itself like an oragami house crushed in an enormous fist. The girders squealed as they bent. Glass exploded outward from the barred windows as the frames shrunk.
The implosion stopped abruptly, leaving the building silent and still but for the roiling smoke above it. Six guessed that the generator must have finally shorted out.
Looking around, he saw the soldiers from earlier, lying on their stomachs with their hands cuffed behind their backs. A group of Deck agents stood nearby, faces inscrutable behind their black masks. Six was too far away to read the ranks stitched into their uniforms, but one of the agents was shorter than the others.
'Kyntak,' he called.
Six didn't laugh. 'The machine is destroyed.'
Kyntak nodded to the collapsed building. 'Yeah, I figured. And Byre?'
Six didn't meet his brother's gaze. Kyntak knew him too well to ask if he had killed Byre, but he would be wondering what had happened.
'That might be for the best,' Kyntak said finally. 'If she'd survived, she would have tried again.'
Six said nothing.
Kyntak gestured at the prostrate guards. 'We've got a bit of cleaning up to do here. The gates are unlocked – you should go home.'
Six had already started to walk away.
Chapter One: The Taur
The cars grumbled past, the sterilised rain poured down between the skyscrapers and the fog swirled around Six like ghosts of the millions who had died breathing it. His superhuman lungs were less susceptible to the toxins than most, but he wore a filtration mask like everyone else.
He was ChaoSonic's most wanted. Standing out was a sure way to be killed.
Almost two months had passed since Soren Byre's death. Six had completed several missions since then, but he still found himself scrubbing his face harder than he needed to each morning – he could still feel the droplets of her blood on his skin. Six was no stranger to death, nor to failure, but this event had stayed with him, perhaps because he had known Byre when she was a Deck agent.
By the time he spotted the razor wire of the ChaoSonic checkpoint up ahead, it was too late to turn back. Unmanned aerial vehicles would be circling above, armed with thermal cameras and ready to follow those who ran. Instead, Six joined the queue of shuffling pedestrians, hoping his fake triple C – ChaoSonic Citizen Card – would fool the armed guards.
The checkpoint hadn't been here yesterday. It was very close to the Deck. Six hoped this was a coincidence, but he made a note to plant some decoy data in ChaoSonic's network, leading their search teams further away.
Crossover: a time travel novella by Jack Heath / Fantasy / Actions & Adventure / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes