“Those are illegal.”
“You don’t say?” Katie grinned back. The first person to catch her ire would find themselves getting shot with a hollow point bullet filled with a concentrated fluid composed of various temporal energies in a liquid state. Expensive ammunition, rare and guaranteed lethal, the round tore through a target aging whatever it struck a hundred years in a few seconds.
The Professor said, “Be ready for anything.”
Seamus grunted. Katie cast a no-shit expression. The Professor gestured for them to follow. The trio headed towards the docking access port. Flynn stayed on the bridge, ready to beat a hasty retreat as soon as necessary.
At the docking point, the Professor checked the scanners. The readout registered two people in the connecting umbilicus yet nothing else. He intensified the scan. The intercom crackled:
“I’m afraid you won’t see anything other than what I want you to.”
The Professor snorted. He flipped the mic on to reply, “And what makes you think I’ll open this door blind?”
Locking mechanisms disengaged, beeping as if in response. Katie dropped to one knee, pistol at the ready. Seamus aimed a shotgun straight ahead. The Professor unsheathed the Black Adder he kept behind his back. A casual glance might suggest he just decided to bring a knife to a gun fight. A casual glance would be wrong. The docking port opened.
On the other side a diminutive man stood. He wore a pair of spectacles almost two inches thick, augmented view screens streaming across the lenses. He tapped commands into a computer terminal mounted in his arm. When he saw the trio he grinned.
Gesturing at their guns he remarked, “There’s really no need for that.”
The Professor turned an eye on the six foot figure standing behind the small man. The figure looked like a shadow made of steel and wires, color by black hole paints. The smaller man tossed a dismissive gesture:
“Never mind him. Kairos is a bit overprotective.”
“Don’t change nothing,” Seamus said.
The little man sighed. Shaking his head he said, “Seamus, you never do learn.”
“I know you?” Seamus growled.
The little man nodded vigorously, “Oh yes, yes. By my estimate, we’ve had this conversation, in one variation or another, ohhhh 132 times?”
The Professor tightened his grip on the Adder, “So what comes next?”
“Hopefully not the same as last time,” the little man smiled.
“Who are you?” Katie asked.
He replied, “My name is Augustus de Porres. Come, come,” – he gestured for them to follow him onto the Occasus.
“Not a chance,” Katie said.
Augustus frowned, “You know, Professor, it often goes this way, and just once I’d like to avoid the unpleasantness of having Kairos, uh, expedite your acquiescence.”
“A moment then,” the Professor said as he sheathed the Adder. He stepped over to Katie, “I want to see where this is going.”
Through gritted teeth she hissed, “To the morgue that’s where.”
The Professor whispered, “He knows us.”
Katie said, “Or he’s playing you.”
The Professor, a gleam in his eye, said, “Then let’s play along.”
Snorting, Katie holstered her firearm. Seamus aimed the shotgun at the floor, but kept it ready. Augustus clapped his hands, a look of supreme delight filling his face.
Giggling he said, “Maybe this time will be different, eh Kairos?”
The sentinel stood silent. Chuckling, Augustus headed over to the Occasus. The trio followed. As the Professor passed Kairos the sentry moved aside, making no sound as it did so. The Professor kept an ear out, and though he distinguished everyone else’s footwear thudding, tapping, clicking, or slapping the umbilicus walkway, he heard nothing from Kairos. Glancing over his shoulder, though, he saw the guard marching at the rear, making no sound at all.
Augustus said, “So now you wonder what Kairos is then try to figure him out. I do love the questions you use trying to ferret out an answer, but I’m afraid that game might not be for the best. Things are going smoothly between us, so to keep things that way I’ll simply tell you.”
“Convenient,” the Professor remarked.
“Assuming it’s the truth,” Katie muttered, barely audible to herself.
“It will be,” a metallic voice spoke, chilling her blood. Turning slightly, Katie saw Kairos staring at her, or at least staring at her as far as she could tell. She felt eyes on her, burning beneath the dark.
Augustus waved his forearm at Occasus’s docking port. The door iris opened. Stepping through, Augustus went on, “Kairos is a cybernetic soldier from 2092 in the timeline IWW3.”
“When the Cold War went hot, though not nuclear.”
“Very good, Professor. You always live up to your reputation.”
“A good historian knows the Pasts. Otherwise, might as well be flying blind.”
Augustus cocked an eyebrow, “Agreed, but that’s not all a historian is.”
The Professor asked, “Is a soldier all Kairos is?”
“In a word, no.”
“All we get’s a word?” Katie sneered. She set her eyes on Kairos. Silent as the grave the cyborg stared right back.
“For the time being,” Augustus replied. He led the way through a series of widening corridors. The Occasus appeared to somehow be composed of simultaneously state of the art and antiquated technology: a 3D holographic computer terminal accessible through a typewriter keyboard, copper pipes dripping the neon purple fuel necessary to generate a way into the rift, ordinary steel plates set into place with a molecular weaver that left no seams.
The corridor opened on an octagonal room. Augustus pointed at to a hexagonal table in the center:
“Please, please sit.”
Hesitantly, the trio took seats.
“Would anyone care for something to drink? I know Seamus enjoys a good vodka.”
Seamus said, “Get to the point.”
Augustus nodded, “Quite right.” – tapping commands into his arm terminal – “As I said, we’ve had this conversation around 132 times. I make my point of view known then you three make some type of crude rebuttal which is really just a juvenile prelude to shooting the place up.”
“Fucking A,” Katie said.
Frowning, Augustus continued, “We fight. Kairos kills Seamus and Katie, though not necessarily in that order. It varies each time. Professor, you manage to kill Kairos, but not before receiving a mortal wound yourself.”
The Professor raised an eyebrow. Anger simmered in Katie’s eyes. Seamus took the information with a blank stone face. Augustus stopped typing. A display of various timelines glowed to life, hovering over the table, each weaving through one another, running parallel here there then perpendicular on occasion – the most complete map of the rift any of them had ever seen.
Augustus concluded, “You then signal the Mirna Loy. I’m not really sure what Mr. Flynn does; however, it causes us all to tumble into the Devil’s Maw.”
“How come none of us recall any of this… except for you?” the Professor asked, unless a person did their own Resurrection some residual element of the previous timeline persisted in memory like a blackout drunk recollection – fuzzy, vague, but there. Only bringing yourself back allowed a person to hold onto the whole memory, and the Professor doubted anyone could escape the Devil's Maw.
“Excellent question. My personal Resurrection Men always inform me of every detail surrounding my deaths, so I can plan accordingly. As such, I, at one point, erased all of you from existence. Memories can't leap across oblivion.”
“You what?” Katie jumped to her feet. Kairos glided into position behind Augustus.
“Hell no, don’t Katie me, Prof. This asshole is not…”
“We’re here now,” The Professor said. Mumbling a string of curses Katie sat back down. Kairos stayed near Augustus. The Professor said, “I’m guessing erasing us had effects you didn’t expect.”
“Too true.” -- Augustus tapped a series of commands. As he did the map of the rift highlighted several timelines, showing how they shifted and distorted. He said, “There are some things one assumes will be discovered; it isn’t a matter of whom, but rather when. Unfortunately, that is not true. And even more to the point, some people only become who they are, become capable of what they accomplish because of the people they know.”
The Professor pulled a cigarette out of a waistcoat pocket. He lit it as he spoke, “So we got you by the balls.”
“It seems so.”
Seamus said, “I don’t follow.”
“Me neither,” Katie said.
The Professor elaborated, “I invented how folks wrangle Phantom Filaments. Without me there’s no way to bring back a lost timeline; and causality keeps him from going back before I invent the process to just give to someone else.”
Katie cracked a grin, “He can’t go back because that would mean he’s got no reason to go back, so he never goes back.”
The Professor nodded, “And since time is happening all at once, this moment is occurring even as he builds to it.”
Seamus said, “The only way around it is to stay dead.”
“Or.” – Augustus held up a finger – “To convince you to join my cause.”
“Nope,” the trio said at once.
Augustus’ eye cracked red, “You never listen to reason.”
Seamus said, “You could give up this madness.”
Augustus snorted, “I am trying to purify time, remove the corruption of all the imperfect histories…”
“Enough of this horseshit,” Katie said reaching for her gun. The second her arm moved Kairos’s palm opened, a rifle barrel extending from inside his forearm. The Professor considered what would come next… then again… and again. It all depended on everyone doing what they always did. What needed to happen was someone make a move seemingly out of character. So he reached behind his back, whipped out the Black Adder, and fired.
A Black Adder resembles a Bowie knife with a trigger, though the similarities are superficial. Designed during the Reunification Wars in Spanish South America circa 1950, the Black Adder can generate and fire blades sharp enough and at a high enough velocity to scar most metals to say nothing about what it does to flesh. The weapon is, of course, reverse engineered from alien technology recovered after the Martian Invasion in 1938.
And without batting an eye the Professor fired, first one blade then another, each striking their targets in the throat. Bewildered, Katie and Seamus collapsed, blood spraying from the canyons in their necks. Kairos aimed at the Professor.
Sheathing the Adder the Professor said, “You wanna point that someplace else? I’m already in a bad mood. My friends just died.”
TRAITOR OR SAVIOR?