It always started with the flickering of lights, the thinning of air, and the indistinct whirring that signified the opening of the portal. But no one saw it, the flickering that is, and no one heard the whirring. No one felt the air suddenly go thin like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the open space. The eerie orchestration of light and sound and the feeling of faintness continued for about a second before ending suddenly with a pop.
Jedediah Sims snatched his hat midair as he materialized out of the darkness of the alley. It had materialized a mere microsecond before him. He placed it gently on his head and checked his pocket watch. It was 7 pm. Like the last six times he would have thirty minutes before the portal pulled him back to 2078. He stood in place for a second, checking the alley for any other disruption signatures that would mean the Omega Faction had followed him here. There were none.
He hurried out of the alley and made his way up to 23 Orwell Street. He knocked.
A little girl opened the door slightly, mouthing a silent hello before a voice started to scold her. A lump formed his throat as his eyes met hers, so like his; or rather his were so like hers: a beautiful blue she had inherited from her mother’s German roots.
He could not believe he was staring at her now. His heart beat faster, and he fingered the watch in his coat pocket.
“Angela, how many times have I told you not to open the door at night?”
The door opened wider to reveal the owner of the voice.
“Good evening. Can I help you?” she said.
“Yes, you can. I am detective Jedediah Sims,” he said, swallowing hard. It wasn’t exactly a lie; he was law enforcement back home, after all. “I have news on your husband.”
“My husband?” Cassandra asked. A look of worry crossed her face. She had not heard from Timi in five months. No calls and no messages. Even then Institute of Virus Control where he worked knew nothing of what had happened to him.
“Yes. May I come in, please?”
Cassandra hesitated for a moment and then moved aside to grant him entry. She led him to the living room and pulled Angela close to her on the couch, while Jedediah sat opposite them on a smaller chair.
Jedediah looked around, memorizing the features of the room: the blue chairs, the smell of Cassandra’s cooking, the cool ambience of the orange lighting, the picture of all three of them above the mantelpiece; Angela would have been no more than six months old in that one.
“So what is this news about my husband?”
Jedediah turned to Cassandra. This was the hard part, the part he dreaded in this entire mission.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this,” he said as calmly as he could, “Timi is dead.”
Cassandra had known it. Timi had left for work one morning and not returned. Their family had searched, gone to the police, gone to the media, held prayer meetings for Timi’s safe return, but all the while she had known he would not. Still, the enthusiasm of family and friends had kept her heart floating with hope until this moment when it sank like a stone finally settling into place.
“Do you know how it happened?” she said, barely audible, clutching Angela to her side.
He did. They had been running from assassins the Omega Faction had sent after them. Timi should have come home that day but the Omega Faction had taken his life. In part, that had been his fault. Timi would be alive if he had not given him the sample of the Genesis virus and his mother’s incomplete formula that had helped him create the vaccine. When he had first shown up, Timi had been skeptical. A traveller from the future sounded like something only a person who belonged in a psyche ward would say. But Timi’s scientist mind had been just as curious, and so he had gone with it, eventually. If they succeeded in creating and administering the vaccine, it would lay dormant in people’s genes, thwarting the Omega Faction’s plans for the virus sixty two years in the future when they tried used it to thin out population of the world.
He had spent the last three trips trying to save Timi, but each time the Omega Faction had sent someone back to destroy the vaccine. Each time he had been pulled back to 2078 in the nick of time, and each time Timi’s car had been hit by a missile and gone up in flames. On the last trip, Timi had made him promise not to come back before his death, but instead finish what he was about to do the day he died. And so he was here to do just that.
“It was an accident. It took a while identify him.”
“How do you know it’s him?” Cassandra asked, not out of hope, but to know what it was that had finally delivered her from the endless wait.
Jedediah stretched out his hand to her. “This was found in his car.” He handed Cassandra a squeezed picture of them that Timi had given him along with the vaccine right before he had been pulled away the last time. Cassandra allowed the news to settle in her mind. Eventually, she got up.
“Thank you,” she said, and he knew it was the end of his visit.
“Can I have some water before I go?” he said quickly. “I have travelled a long way to get here.”
As soon as Cassandra left the room Jedediah turned to the girl.
“Hello,” he said. “I am about to tell you a secret, but you can’t tell mommy, okay.”
“I’m not supposed to talk to strangers.” Angela said. She cocked her head to the side and he almost laughed. With him the gesture had always been a form of scolding. It was good to finally know it was a trait she had had since childhood.
“I don’t have much time, but I needed to give you this.” He opened his palm to reveal a small green pill. “I need you to swallow it.”
Angela shook her head vehemently and frowned. He sighed; she was most definitely as smart and stubborn as the Angela he knew. How was he supposed to get a ten year old girl to swallow a pill from a man she did not know?
“Look at my eyes, Angela” he tried again “they are the same as yours. If I were a stranger they wouldn’t be the same,” he said quickly, looking back to see if Cassandra was in sight.
Angela still did not move to pick the pill. He considered forcing her to swallow it, but she would likely scream before he got the chance, and Cassandra would kick him out, and then all would be lost.
“Do you want to know another secret?” he said again. She deepened her frown, and if he wasn’t in such a hurry he would take the time to savor the expression.
“You and I have more in common than just our eyes,” he said. He brought out his watch and showed it to her. Her eyes went wide.
“That is daddy’s watch.” she exclaimed.
She stood and ran up to the mantelpiece. When she returned she was bouncing with excitement, and in her hand was an exact replica of the watch he had just shown her.
“The secret is, many years from now you get to give me that watch,” he pointed to the one in her hand “and that is how I come to have it. But if you don’t take this,” he said, pointing to the pill in his palm, “a lot of people will get really sick a long time from now.”
She still hesitated so he added, “your daddy was supposed to give it to you the day he died. I promised your daddy I would.”
The lights in the room blinked and the air began to thin. He turned frantic eyes on her. “Please trust me, Angela.”
Finally, she picked up the pill and popped it in her mouth.
Jedediah sighed in relief and ruffled her head. He would tell her about doing that and she would shake her head and scold him for it.
“Angela,” Cassandra called out from the kitchen doorway.
She gave him one final look and ran to answer her mother.
Jedediah watched his mother’s little legs run to the kitchen with a smile on his face, satisfied that he had finished his grandfather’s work. One day, if the Omega Faction never found out, she would complete her formula and save the world with the vaccine she would synthesize from her veins. One day his mother would stop the Genesis Project.
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