CHAPTER 19: Backwash

If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi

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Luke had slid from his chair onto the floor, and was still, apparently lifeless. Motionless beside his daughter, his eyes rolled backwards into his head.

Nearby, Daniel was lying on his back, having been hit by a toppling chair, but was clearly breathing and fine, he lifted his head, shaking it dizzily, then he looked at me, then across to Luke and the now-adult Tina, and started to get to his feet.

“Are they okay?” he said, wiping blood from the corner of his mouth with his sleeve. “And, like, what the …?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, and reached out to touch Luke’s neck, to check for a pulse. “He’s dead,” I said slowly. “Dead. No marks on him. And I can’t believe it was the drink. So how?”

“I don’t know,” said Daniel, but he was looking at me with a wary, fearful expression in his face. I realised he was thinking that somehow Tina or I had killed him. For the first time he was looking at me differently, like he was actually afraid of me.

Tina began to stir, stretching and opening her eyes. She looked up at the both of us, and recognition lit her face. “Mike. Daniel. What happened?” Then she looked down. “And where are my clothes?”

Then she saw her father lying lifelessly next to her. “Dadddy,” she said dispassionately, with no emotion in her face. She looked at us questioningly, and said: “I don’t even remember him, although I know it’s him.”

She gazed around the room. “I’m home. But how is my father here, and why is he dead? What is going on?

I gave Tina my jacket, and she covered up a little, putting it on, putting a chair upright on the other side of the table away from her father, so she wouldn’t have to look at his body, and pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping the jacket around her to cover herself.

“I’ll go look for something for you to wear,” Daniel said to her, avoiding the question and trying not to look too closely at Tina or her dead father lying on the floor. “Mike – I think you’d better explain to Tina what just happened. I just witnessed it all, and I have absolutely no fricking idea what just happened.” He just about ran from the room.

I couldn’t take my eyes from Luke’s body. Another death, and Tina an orphan within the space of a few hours.

Just like it was supposed to happen, I thought, In the other time line. The proper, real time line. Were those who had died in that other version of reality equality doomed to die here? But if so, what had killed Luke? I had a chilling suspicion I knew.

“What do you remember?” I asked Tina gently. “What are you last memories?”

“You and Daniel,” she said, recalling events slowly, pursing her lips, and screwing her eyebrows together in concentration as she pieced events together. “You came to my house. To here – to this place. There were tiny machines…nanorobots…in capsules…and you had taken them…”

She looked at me, her eyes wide as the memories flooded back. “Kayly and me. We were there. Here, I mean. Then you ran, both you and Daniel. We thought you’d be okay, but it was only minutes later that a woman came to our door. I answered it….she asked who I was, and I didn’t tell her, but she seemed to know anyway. Then she aimed a gun at me – or something that looked like a gun, but it was a type of weapon I’d never seen before – and started saying numbers, like co-ordinates on a map, except there were times jumbled in with it all too.”

She started to shake, and breathed deeply, taking control of herself again. “Then…I don’t know…everything went black, and I…I was dissolving. The world disappeared. And then I was here. With you and Daniel. But everything is different….it feels different somehow. I feel different somehow.”

Daniel came back into the room, carrying a pile of men’s clothes and a blanket, plus a pair of women’s boots. “This is all I could find that looked like it might fit,” he said. “Your mother’s things looked like they’d all be too small, apart from the boots.”

“My mum?” asked Tina, stunned. “Where is she?”

“Oh God, Tina,” I said. “I’m sorry. She’s dead too. In the Cathedral, a few hours ago. I’m so, so sorry.” I didn’t mention the Bishop, the knife, the blood. She didn’t need to know, and she was still looking disoriented.

Tina nodded slowly, and hugged her knees more tightly. A single tear slid down her cheek.

She didn’t need to know the truth about her mum. But she did need to know one fact.

“Tina: you do need to know something,” I began, tentatively. “I know it sounds incredible, but we’re not in our time anymore. Today is January 29th. 2030. We’re twenty years ago.”

“But I lived in this house,” said Tina, considering what I’d said. “If we’re in 2030, where am I? I should be a baby, here with…” She stopped, her eyes flicking over to where her dead father lay. She choked up a little, then continued. “Where am I – the me that is a little kid in this time?”

“We need to go,” said Daniel, changing the subject. “Here, get these on…” He passed the clothes to Tina, who rose from the chair and started getting dressed into her father’s old clothes: a pair of jeans, a shirt, belt and jacket, and the Dean’s thick leather walking boots.

“I’ll ring the hospital, and ask someone to come and collect your Dad,” continued Daniel. “I don’t even know if the hospital is operating right now, but someone might answer our call. I don’t see what else we can do. Either way, it’s not good for us to stay here with him.” Daniel moved forward, and put a blanket he’d been holding over Luke’s body gently, covering him from view.

“Where were you planning on going?” asked Tina, tying her shoelaces.

“To the wharfs,” said Daniel, and he went to the kitchen cupboard, and started loading some cotton shopping bags with food, and grabbing bottled water. “It’s the weekend; they’ll be mostly empty. All the food comes in to Dunedin through the wharfs and the railway, and by keeping away from the main population areas it’s our best chance of staying healthy.”

He put a few bottles of alcohol into a bag. “There have been a lot of casualties,” he added, in response to Tina’s querying look. “I don’t know how long it will take the authorities to clean them up, and disease won’t be long in spreading.”

Tina looked down at the form of her father, covered by the blanket. “It doesn’t mean much to me, you know, seeing him there,” she said. “I can’t remember him. He died before I was even talking.”

“I know,” I said. “But I still think the sooner we get out of here, the better it will be – for all of us. The lady who fired at you, who sent you into this time…she told us her name is Athena Papdopoulos. She brought us here too – we time-skipped in the Cathedral. But I just don’t understand why Athena Papadopoulos would time-skip you through to here and now. I don’t get what this is all for. And I don’t understand what it’s done to you, how it has affected you.”

“She might be able to explain all that to us herself,” said Daniel, looking out the kitchen window towards the front of the house. “She’s coming down the street right now.”

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I opened the door for Athena Papadopoulos. It seemed pointless to pretend we weren’t there – I’d realised by now that she could track me down as fast as I could run, and I was getting real tired of running.

“The Bishop?” I asked, opening the door.

“Escaped,” she replied, entering and marching through the house down to the kitchen. “I held him off for as long as I could, to give you time to escape. Then he time-skipped out on me. Goodness knows where he is now. Reporting to his faction in the Order, I suppose, and planning his next move.

She winced, and rubbed her arm, which I noticed was covered in thick, purple bruises. “Not that there’s much to plan – just more murder, more brutality, more closed-mindedness. More fun sticking their ridiculously idiotic heads in the sand, and ignoring the truth about everything that is going on!”

She reached the kitchen, and faced us all. “It’s absolutely amazing how the truth can be staring a person in the face. Nose to nose. But if he’s stupid enough, and determined enough, he won’t see it.” She sighed heavily, angrily, then she looked at the outline of Tina’s Dad on the floor, and nodded. “I’m sorry. It was inevitable when the power spike hit. And his time was come.”

“You need to start explaining to me,” I said. “I need to know what is going on! What is the Bishop planning to do, and what can’t he see? And you still haven’t explained to me what the ‘Order’ is!

“We need to get out of here,” she said, ignoring me and gazing around the room. “This isn’t a safe place to stay.” She indicated the full shopping bags, which Daniel had rested against the back door. “You’ve got a plan, I suppose?”

“Yes,” said Daniel. “But how’s about before we tell it to you, you tell us whether that Bishop can track us, and what the hell you did to Tina. And what this bloody Order is!” I could hear anger and suspicion rising in his voice, and I didn’t blame him one bit.

“We can talk someplace safe” she said. “But not here. Now, Mike, one moment please…” She took a pouch from her jacket pocket, producing a pill box. Inside were some red capsules. “Take one of these.”

I raised my eyebrows. “It will mask the Tracer we’ve got on you,” she added. “The Bishop won’t be able to follow you by Tracer, and will have a harder time tracking you down.”

“And I’m supposed to believe that?” I said. “Why should I believe you?”

“You don’t have a choice,” said Athena. “If he finds you, he’ll kill you. And he’ll find you. With a Tracer on you, you’re all sitting ducks. That energy spike would have been trackable from anywhere on the planet. With the Tracer masked, you at least have a small chance of surviving the next 24 hours.”

“But that was you, that spike thing!” I protested angrily. “You – and whatever it was you did to move Tina through time. I had nothing to do with it. You did it to me! Tina told me what happened, how you pulled a gun on her, and she ended up here.”

“You miunderstand what you saw and experienced,” said Athena. “Listen closely: the spike was you. The energy wave that washed across the whole of the Southern hemisphere and was centered right here, right in this house, was you. All of it: you.

“Tina had nothing to do with it.” She gazed into my face earnestly. “The spike you created – the energy you produced – sent enough shockwaves spiralling through time and space that I was not only able to track it down to this house, and this time, this moment, but I was easily able to hook Tina on to the backwash – the flow of the tide as it receded, so to speak – and move her here.”

“Is that even possible?” asked Daniel, half in awe and half-skeptically.

“It’s possible. It’s absolutely possible. But that level of power is also uncontrollable. The spike finally washed out with Tina here, as I planned, but Luke, touching her physically at the time that she backskipped, and already having his own timeline compromised – remember, he was supposed to die tomorrow: the quake was not mean to happen until tomorrow – well, Luke was a weak and easy target for the energy to release itself onto.

“Luke was no match for the power that came through this house when you released that spike of energy. You killed him, in a manner of speaking, although of course it was unintentional. I had some small amount to do with it, in guiding Tina back to this point in time.

“But it was your energy release that killed him; that’s a certainty.” Athena’s eyes suddenly fixed on me with an intensity that unnerved me. “Indeed, you could ask what might have happened had I not soaked up residual energy in time-skipping Tina. In all likelihood, the energy you’d have released would have killed Daniel as well as Luke, plus anyone within a mile of you.

“No…” I wanted to close my ears, block out what Athena was saying.

“It’s the truth. As for the ‘gun’ Tina saw, it was my Time-skip. It’s a tool used to travel people though time. Here: see…” She held out what I had thought was her wrist-phone when I’d seen her in the hospital – was it yesterday? – and flicked a switch. Instantaneously a long, barrel-like neck shot forth from the gadget, and loaded itself into her fingertips.

“That’s it,” said Tina shakily. “That’s the thing she pointed at me.”

“It’s a tool, not a weapon,” said Athena calmly. “The spike was trackable, and measurable, and I simply shifted you along its receding tidal flow. The wash was so powerful I didn’t even have to energise your movement.”

She turned to Daniel and me again, and continued. “And the reason I moved Tina here is because we’re going to need all the allies we can get. Tina’s record is clean. She won’t be suspected. The Order isn’t tracking her. She’s beneath their notice.”

“Thanks,” muttered Tina.

Athena ignored the interjection and went on. “As a baby, the record now shows that Tina died in the earthquake, here in this house, today. On January 29th. She has now, in essence, disappeared. She’s a non-person, dead on the register, and absolutely useful to us. No-one goes looking for dead babies when they’re hunting for an anti-Christ.”

“Great” said Tina, interrupting, beginning to raise her voice, almost hysterically. “You’ve brought me here and killed me, on the same day that I’ve lost both my parents. Now that’s what I call tasteful and considerate. Terrific. Thanks for asking my permission, bitch.”

“I’m sorry,” said Athena, and her tone was so level and blank that it conveyed no sympathy at all. “But we must leave here now. Take the capsule, Mike.” She was still holding it out in front of me.”

“Oh crap,” I said. “Whatever.” And I gulped it down. Daniel threw me a hip flask of something nasty he’d found in one of the cupboards – homeburnt, from someone’s illegal still – and I took a swig. It didn’t make me feel any more positive or confident but it washed the capsule down.

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The Dunedin wharfs were only a few streets away, down across the railway lines, and it didn’t take us long to reach them. The area was deserted, being a weekend, and we had our pick of warehouses in which to settle down. We chose an old ice-cream factory, much of the machinery still intact, the faded scent of sweetness and dairy lingering in the air after what must have been decades of abandon.

After checking the place was completely empty, and that we had at least two routes of escape out, we dumped a pile of blankets into a corner, and sat down on them on the concrete floor. Daniel pulled food from the cotton bags he’d packed, and we ate.

“What is the Order, and what is happening to me?” I asked, addressing Athena bluntly. “I don’t want excuses, and I don’t want lies. I want the truth.” While we’d been walking, I’d become aware that the air was once again become thicker around me, and my skin was beginning to prickle with energy. The power was building in me again, stronger and faster than ever this time, and I was afraid.

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