Dust shook loose from the ceiling, showering down on Frank and the hippie he somehow knew as Lazarus … who the hell was he? An informant? An undercover cop? Frank’s brain screamed in protest as he simultaneously raked his memory, and shoved back against the blackness that bulged in his mind like a tumor. Then he was on his feet, Lazarus pulling him along like he was air as they raced towards the flickering exit sign.
“I dare not risk taking you through the rip, not in the middle of this,” Lazarus cried, booting the door open and taking the steps two by two while Frank stumbled behind, a caboose to a runaway train. A ferocious crash came from Frank’s office – whatever was left of his office, he thought grimly, a crack like lightning ripping through the air as they reached the bottom of the concrete stairwell. “You must be secreted away where you’ll be safe, until you –” Lazarus drew a breath and rammed his elbow down on the metal bar door handle, spilling them into the grimy smoker’s alleyway behind headquarters.
Lazarus narrowed his eyes at the sky; Frank followed his gaze, and was stunned when all he saw was a wedge of a garden-variety, star dusted New York horizon. Well shit, he didn’t know what he’d expected to see. He wrenched free of Lazarus and slumped against the wall of the alley. Images that made no sense whirled through his mind – blood … blood everywhere, a man with the legs of a goat, everything slowly fading into a numb, impenetrable blur. He pressed his fingers to his temples. Christ. That was the last time he ordered fried chicken feet from Madame Wu Chows.
In the fluorescent glow of the solitary street light, Frank saw the hippie’s shoulders slump in relief. “Gone. Something must have called them off.” He whipped round to Frank, fire in his deep set eyes. “What year is this?”
“The rip.” Lazarus spoke quickly, eyes flicking skyward, not quite convinced they were alone. “There is much we are yet to divine of its workings, but once fact is unequivocal - it propels us forward in increments of two years. I need to know where we are, so I can best determine how to protect you.”
Frank took a hesitant step back. The man wasn’t an informant – he was a fucking whack-job. This was a reality that Frank, a New York cop for seven, hard years, could deal with, and he grasped it with both hands.
“How about you just turn around and get on your way, buddy,” Frank said, keeping his tone nice and easy. He dropped his hands to his side, remembering too late his gun lay in his locker, next to the pack of cigarettes he would kill for right now. He eyed the fruitcake. Doesn’t look dangerous, he thought, relaxing slightly. With that beard he probably thinks he’s Jesus … but how the heck did he get in? Frank gave his forehead a mental slap. Henderson! That stupid sonofabitch. The big detective always forgot his keys, had to prop the door open when he came down to sneak a late night cigarette before going home to his wife. Just wait until he saw him next; he’d tear him a new one, and a spare.
“Frank.” The man held out his hands imploringly. “You must trust me. The year. I need the year.”
Shit. “If I tell you, will you go?”
Lazarus tipped his head to one side, eyes glazing over as if listening to something only he could hear. Probably the marbles rattling in his head. “Yes,” he replied, after a long moment. “I cannot stay. They need me.”
“2010. It’s 2010, okay? Now, scram.”
Lazarus’ eyes widened. “So far? I … we … did not know that was possible. To think they have discovered this before us.” Fear rippled across his face, and he swallowed hard. “Frank, listen to me. What we know of the rip is that it is activated by electrical impulses from the body. And it is possible to track those who go through the rip, and where they end up, because of the trail these impulses leave behind. An imprint unique to each one of us.” He frowned, those deep-set, crazy-man eyes nearly disappearing. “But you left no trail; an oddity we have never explained, though Midnight tried all she could to do so. And until today, we did not know that the one we seek had learned to rip time; which means like you, he leaves no trail.” He looked away, eyebrows knitting. “But what could they want here? Now?”
Frank rolled his eyes. The man was a top shelf kook. And by the look of his eyes, he’d probably been off his meds and on something illegal for far too long … furtively, he cast about the alley. Nothing more substantial than a flattened Coke can presented itself as a weapon. He slowly balled his fists. Just in case.
“Somehow it has found you, when we never could. It must sense you … “ His eyes cleared, and he looked sharply at Frank. “You must hide. Somewhere your electrical impulses will be smothered … but where?”
Repressing the impulse to say he’d just go buy himself a tin-foil hat, Frank hunched his shoulders and moved towards the man, slowly, carefully. He needed to slip by him and get the heck out of there. If things got ugly, he’d have to flatten the guy, and that’d mean paper work - and he didn’t have time for any of that because he’d remembered he had to do something … had to meet someone …
“I’ll take things from here.”
Frank straightened with a start. Sam!
She stood behind the kook, face glowing pink and a sheen of sweat on her brow, as if she’d just run twenty blocks … though she couldn’t have, because she wore heels and those goddam jeans that curved over her ass just right …Her eyes ran over his body, and she seemed to let out a breath. Then Lazarus turned to face her. Frank tensed, but Sam simply smiled and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose.
“Let him come with me. I know somewhere he will be safe.”
Ah, she’d been listening!
The guy stared at her. “Simon released … you?”
Her smiled faltered. “Yes. And no. It’s a little more complicated than that. But you must go, Lazarus, quickly. Simon needs you.”
Frank rocked back on his heels, a broad smile plastered on his face. God, she was good. Nothing calmed a freak better than buying into their delusions of grandeur.
Lazarus gave a curt nod. “He is in your keeping. Do all you can to keep him safe, until one of us returns.” He faced Frank, eyes like slits of coal. “You won’t remember why, but you will need this.” Something flashed in the harsh fluorescent light, and Frank’s hand shot out instinctively to catch the silver object. His blood froze. How could he be so stupid? Opening his fingers, he braced himself, half expecting to see a hypodermic needle embedded in his palm … instead, a thick silver ring engraved with weird symbols winked back at him.
“What the …” But the man had disappeared, and Sam was striding towards him, a woman on a mission.
“Sorry babe,” he said, pocketing the ring as he moved to meet her. “I got held up …” Or had she been the one supposed to meet him? It was all so fuzzy now. He shook his head, opening his mouth to explain some more when she reached a hand up to his neck and pulled him in for a hot, hard, kiss.
“Wha … what was that?” he gasped when she pulled away.
“I … I …” A myriad of emotions played across her face. The she drew herself up. “Just follow me, Frank Townsend – and shut the hell up.”
They took his Ford. Sam insisted on driving, which normally would have pissed him no end, but tonight he was grateful. His head was so full of spin and whirl he would have ploughed them into the side of a building if he’d been at the wheel. He hunched in the passenger seat, the collar of his jacket brushing his cheekbones, eyes on nothing. That freak – Lazrus - he’d gotten to him, and damned if he knew why. But that wasn’t quite right, was it? He shifted uncomfortably on the vinyl seat. Somewhere, in that black hole in his head, he knew …
Sam abruptly wrenched the wheel. Frank cut his eyes to the windshield and for the first time he noticed where they were headed – to the industrial precinct and, more precisely, to Chronos Enterprises, the sprawling lab where Sam worked. Veering right, she screeched into her parking space, killing the ignition and the lights before they’d even stopped rolling. That’s when the niggle at the back of his brain crystallised into a fully formed “what the fuck”.
“How the hell did you know that whack-job’s name?”
Sam stopped, half out the car; then her heels scraped on concrete and she was bending over to peer back in at him.
“Out, Frank.” Her eyes flicked nervously to the sky. “We’ll talk inside.”
Sam punched in the code to her wing of the building, crimson fingernails clicking on the keypad. It was a highly restricted area, one he’d visited only once before, when he’d surprised her with flowers and pizza for their first anniversary. It’d taken a month of to and fro with the company suits before he’d been permitted to do even that.
The doors opened silently and she strode ahead of him, the lights in the passage dimmed low. Frank kept close.To his surprise, Sam swept straight past her own office. More clicking of fingernails, and another set of doors opened. These were thick ones, like you’d expect on a bomb shelter; which was where they might as well have been, he thought grimly, considering they were five floors beneath the ground. The room they entered was huge and windowless, banks of computers lining every wall, humming softly as they calculated numbers and problems the human mind could only just begin to grasp. He looked at Sam, bent over a console in her tight jeans, her glasses balancing on the tip of her nose as she typed commands into a keyboard, and wondered not for the first time how this very human woman worked with all these lifeless gizmos.
Sam turned from the keyboard, switching her long, brown ponytail over her shoulder. The look on her face was deadly serious. “Frank, the work I do here –”
“Yeah, yeah, the DNA sequencing,” he said brusquely. “What the hell has that got to do with how you knew that guy’s name?”
Sam pressed her lips together for a moment, the whine of a printer warming up the only sound in the room. “You know some of what I do, but not all of it, and it’s … complicated.” She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s top-secret and very experimental – we’re studying aspects of humanity very few people even know exist.” She spoke in a rush, anxious to get the words out.
“We’ve found a strain of humans with a defect in their DNA. It gave them supernatural powers. Extraordinary speed, invisibility, mind-reading … from some of the ancient documents we’ve unearthed, we suspect some even learned to time travel. But in 1888, this strain died out overnight. We don’t know why or how. There’s no trace of this defect in any generation afterwards, anywhere in the world… until me.” She raised her head and smiled weakly. “I can hear things Frank; from at least five miles away. That’s how I knew his name. That’s how I know when you pull into our parking garage; it’s how I can have your scotch ready for you when you walk in the door. And it’s why you can’t keep secrets from me.” The smile faded. “I think Lazarus is another one like me. And now …” Her throat worked. “I think you are, too.”
Frank stared at her; then laughter rumbled up and out of his throat. “Sammy girl, you’ve been working too hard.” His voice sounded crazy-high, even to his own ears. He moved towards her. “Let’s blow this joint, go grab a couple of martinis at Retros, forget this crazy night –”
“How much of your memory is gone?”
Frank felt the air rush from his lungs and he froze, arms hanging heavy and numb at his sides. He’d told no one. Outside the doctor in the private clinic he’d woken up in ten years ago, naked as a newborn babe and just as clueless, not a goddam soul on this earth knew that apart from the last ten years of his life, his mind was a fucking blank. No idea who his parents were, if he had siblings, where he grew up, whether he had a wife, kids, what he’d done before whatever it was that had caused his memory to be erased. He’d never told Sam. Sometimes he felt guilty for keeping something of that magnitude from her; Sam, the first woman he’d felt safe with. But right now, oddly, all he felt was pissed.
Sam saw it, and she paled. “Frank, it’s not like that. I … I heard you, once. On the phone. You were talking to a doctor …” She licked her lips. “It’s important. The memory loss. It may be deliberate – to cover up where it was you came from.” She reached behind her. The printer on the console had just spewed out single sheet of paper; it trembled as she handed it to him.
A man stared up at him, out of the paper. Walrus mustached, the name beneath the sketch said he was Francis Tumblety – but Frank may as well have been looking in a mirror. Ice speared through his veins, and the paper fell to the floor. “Me? You think this man … the Ripper suspect … is me?”
Sam started forward. “We can test you, test your DNA, try and work out what we’re dealing with here and –”
But Frank wasn’t listening. He pushed past her, his pulse hammering in his throat, the same refrain racing through his head – Go, go, go, go!
He slammed through the thick lead doors. “Frank! You have to stay! It’s not safe out there!” He heard her heels click and then he was running, skidding around corners until he burst out into the parking lot. He raced to his car, Sam still coming hard on his heels. She’d forgotten the keys; they still swung in the ignition and he cranked them round and floored it, leaving Sam screaming in his dust.
Can’t stop! Can’t stop! Frank hunched over the wheel, his breath coming in heaving gulps as he screeched on to the black top and veered west. His head was swelling from the inside. Pain stabbed through his skull with every bump in the road. Lispenard will know what to do. It was a prayer, not a statement. He only hoped he’d reach his doctor before his head exploded; he’d only had the damn car detailed last week.
Gripping the wheel with bleached knuckles, Frank stamped down on the accelerator and sped off into the night.
The beast’s eyes followed the red glow of the taillights. The man it had meant to take still lived. It knew its powers were not yet what they would eventually become - its Master had said as much - but still … something was wrong with the man it had been sent to harvest. He should have died as the others had; it should have been feasting on his entrails this very moment. Instead, hunger gnawed at its insides. The beast was weakening; it needed sustenance, soon, if it was to complete the transformation.
Its attention snapped forward as a sound came from across the street. A figure crouched in the middle of the road. The beast lifted its head, inhaling through the twin cavities in the centre of its twisted face.
Head in her hands, she was making the same noise the others had - once the screaming stopped, when they were nearly beyond themselves - a soft, keening sound. The female slowly raised her head. Her face was wet. Just like the others. The beast’s tongue flicked over its slit lips, remembering the taste of that wetness; then its eyes narrowed, and in less than a second it had sensed the female was utterly alone.
Moving silently on cloven hooves, the beast backed into the shadow of the warehouse. It threw off its cloak. Its eyelids slid shut.
The tremors began in its hooves, moving up to engulf the whole body. Its shape expanded, contracted; the hooves melted into its ankles, talons pulled back into its arms …
A tall, powerfully-built man stepped out from the warehouse. He wore an expensive suit and tie, and gave off a scent the females seemed to find attractive – Gucci, the last one had called it.
He ran a hand over his slicked back hair and rolled his shoulders. The female had not see him. Yet. He forced his new facial muscles to retract into a smile, and began to cross the street.
ETA: I've had a few technical difficulties embedding this week's voting options in my post (read - Rachel does not know what the heck she is doing!) but I think I've managed to at least link the poll ... so, dear reader, simply click on the "Vote in my poll" link below, and go decide what happens next!
Sorry for the technical issues. Because some votes have already been logged through the link, we'll leave both options available on this post. Vote away, folks! :) -Jen