Aug 19, 2022
54 mins read
S O L V E N T S
NICHOLAS LAWRENCE CARTER
Copyright © 2020 NICHOLAS LAWRENCE CARTER
All rights reserved.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Publisher: Nicholas Lawrence Carter
Cover design by rabiaaamir_ on Fiverr
A special thank you to Jeffrey Knight.
For my mother, my hero.
“The results are in! The moment you've all been waiting for is at hand. Tonight, only two advance, and two will go home. I have in my hand the names of the two contestants that will advance to the finals, live next week! Drumroll, please!”
Audrey leaned forward, her deep red hair hanging over her face, her hands clasped together in front of her mouth. Clifford shifted in his seat, his leg brushing against Audrey's. The concentrated woman was so caught up in the moment; she didn't acknowledge the accidental nudging.
June Daughton and her brother Reese Daughton shared a tension-filled glance. They knew one of them would lose one hundred credits tonight. June's silky mid-length brown hair fell over her left eye; she brushed it aside, pinning it behind her ear. Her stark green irises gleamed and pulsed with anticipation. Reese leaned back, his arms folded over his slender chest and his mouth pursed in agonizing unease.
Miranda Nolan anxiously switched her crossed legs. Her slender but surprisingly toned frame swayed with the action. Her pale palm rested under her chin, her elbow propped on the side of the small recliner. Each of the eager viewers was angled at an optimal position to view the massive wall screen. A setup that Miranda carefully organized.
“Advancing to the finals, held live next week, will be....”
“Oh, come off it!” Audrey screeched, her voice stretching. “Just tell us already!”
The host's eyes widened. “Marko Tomlin!” he belted.
June's eyes squeezed shut. Her forehead wrinkled, and her lips pressed together. Reese sat forward, a groan of unease slipping from him.
“Bollocks!” June exclaimed.
Her brother's head whipped to her, his eyes wide in disbelief, a crooked smile smacked across his face. He pointed at her and bellowed a high-pitched squeal of excitement.
“I won! I won! I can't believe it!”
“Caitlin is shite!” June said, exasperated and annoyed. “What is happening? Keira was in top form!”
Reese held up his wrist, showing his ID chip to her. “I'll be taking my credits now,” he proclaimed.
She slapped her wrist against his. “Oh, piss off!”
Audrey shook her head, her mouth hanging agape. “I can't believe Keira didn't make it!” the redhead crooned.
Clifford's gaze landed on his companion, his brow heightened. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he could utter even a syllable, a bright flash of light exploded in the center of the room.
A strange ring of deep blue electric current blasted into reality, hovering in the air. The ring surged and rotated with fury. Darkness held within the large ring, a total void of black emptiness.
A jolt, another flash of light, then a galactic landscape appeared before them from within the ring. Stars vibrated, planets orbited, a celestial body of luminescent gas splattered the cosmic visual with hues of pink and violet. As though it were a clock, the ring whirled, the visuals within it changing.
The galactic view kaleidoscoped across the imagines of deep space, to water-filled planets, deserts, pyramids, towering buildings, busy city streets, then, finally, to a lush valley of green populated with gleaming flowers and a clear sky.
Audrey gripped Clifford's shoulder, her nails digging into the fabric of his shirt. Reese threw his arm in front of his sister, pressing her against the couch. Miranda rose from her seat, her brow lowered, a stern expression upon her face.
Their eyes stung with strain, all the alterations within the ring of current happening in a matter of moments.
A man appeared in the valley, running for the ring. His dark complexion and bald head glistened with perspiration. His black and gray clothes were heavy and thick. He jumped from the valley, through the ring, and rolled into the living. He braced himself on the hardwood flooring, his hands and knees propping him up. He panted sharply, his breath slowly returning to him. He rose on his knees, his torso leaning back. He pressed a finger against the top of his wrist, then the pulsing ring vanished.
He scanned the room until his gaze landed upon Miranda. He panted heavily, his chest pumping with vigor. Sweat beaded from the top of his bald head and dripped onto his thick gray and black clothing.
“Codax,” he said, his lungs gasping for air, “has returned.”
Miranda's stance straightened, and her joints tensed. “When?” she asked.
The eyes of her guests darted to her; confusion swept across their faces.
Audrey tilted her head. “Miranda-” she began.
Miranda's hand popped up, directed at Audrey. “Hold on,” the party host said, her gaze never leaving the man knelt in her living room. “When did Codax resurface?” she asked.
“Three weeks ago,” the knelt man replied. “We tried to contain him, but we failed. Konu, Sabine, and Vitor are dead.”
“Any sign of Akari and Rez?”
“That's why I'm here. They found me. We're safer together. We need to report to headquarters.”
“Anya and Luca?”
The intruder's gazes fell to the floor. He shook his head. “I don't know.”
“Shit,” Miranda said. “Did they see you tunnel?”
“I don't think so.”
Her teeth clamped down on her bottom lip as her mind raced with possibilities. The man on the floor pushed himself to his feet. Their perspectives reversed, he looking down at her, and she looking up at him.
“Mira,” the man said, “I scrambled my timestamp, but it won’t last long.”
June leaned into her brother, creating as much separation away from Miranda as possible. Her eyes fixated on the woman who invited them into her home.
“Mira? Who is Mira?” June asked, perplexion fully taking hold of her.
Reese's head arched back, his furrowed brow digging so deep it might never relent. “Miranda?” the curious male sibling began, “Where's your accent?”
Their questions were not answered, their presence not acknowledged. A short moment of silence passed. The man in the center of the room glanced at June, then returned his gaze to the party host.
“Is she?” he asked.
Clifford shot up from his seat, his hands balled into fists at his side, his legs quaking. “What the bloody hell is going on?! What was that….that thing?”
The sizable man in the center of the room pivoted on his heel and regarded the upset man. Clifford's posture straightened as he took a step back.
“I know you're confused, but I can't explain. You need to leave. All of you.”
Audrey's face scrunched, and she turned to the party host. “Miranda? What is the meaning of this?”
“You need to go,” Miranda said.
“I don't understand.”
“I know; it's better that way.”
The man in the center of the room peered over his shoulder, looking to the one they knew as Miranda, but that he called Mira. “Where do they live?”
“82 York Court,” she replied.
His attention returned to Clifford and Audrey. “This is going to be uncomfortable.”
“What?” Clifford questioned, his voice elevated.
The man pressed a finger against the top of his wrist, and the deep blue portal reappeared. With their attention directed on the portal, they weren't aware of the man moving toward them. He grabbed Clifford by the arm and pushed him into the portal. Audrey yelped. June grabbed Reese tightly. The man pulled Audrey off the couch by her arm then she, too, disappeared into the portal. The man shifted his gaze, landing on Reese.
“Don't you dare touch me!” Reese exclaimed.
“He's June's brother; he can stay,” Miranda said.
He tapped his wrist, and once again, the portal ceased to be. June's expression of utter shock hadn't left her face since the first portal appeared. She blinked, but there was no real understanding behind the action. Miranda turned to face June and her brother Reese. She brushed the stray strands of hair out of her face and took a deep breath.
“June, there is no easy way to tell you what I need to tell you. None of this will make sense, so for now, I'll keep it brief. My name is not Miranda Nolan. It is Mira, and I am from the future.”
Waves from the pulsar sped out into space and washed over the vast abyss. The red and yellow hues gleamed. The mixture created orange at the center. The celestial anomaly spun, discharging electromagnetic waves at an extraordinary rate. A lone figure floated in the expanse of space, gazing upon the magnificent oddity.
The figure stretched her bipedal form out wide. Her mouth opened, and she yawned; slumber could be had freely. Years and years of rest to build strength and fortified concentration.
A tunnel brimming with quantum energy exploded into her view. The tunnel pulsed as she was basked in the flow of the emitting light and radiation.
She leaned her torso back and gave herself over to the empowering surge. The tunnel slowed, and another figure appeared—this one a man. He exited the tunnel. She concentrated, waved her hand, and the tunnel ceased to be. He allowed weightlessness to overtake him and floated in space alongside her.
“You have returned,” she said.
“I always do,” he replied.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
She extended her arms, swimming through the mass of empty darkness around them. Her hand gently ran along his arm, up his torso, and over his neck and cheek. She cradled his body against hers.
“Rest easy, my love, for, in time, you will fill the void within you,” she said.
“How are you content, complacent?”
“I am not. I am patient. I bathe in the love you bring, the warmth you fill me with. Do you not feel these?”
“Yes, of course, but I am-”
“I know, my love. You search for fulfillment of self, for peace within your mind, for something that love, nor I, can grant.”
“Do you not crave these?”
“I do, but I see time. I see the expanse, the infinity, the endless. I see only success, gifted through patience and virtue. I see love creating the path to opportunity.”
He rose his gaze to meet hers, his cheek resting upon her shoulder.
“You see more than I,” he said. “You always have.”
“I see differently. I am not sure that it is more. That is why we need each other. We are different sides of the same existence. The reason that battle was futile and that our deaths could not be had at the other's hand.”
“We are linked. A cosmic duality of perpetual struggle.”
“Where you see struggle, I see opposition begging to be conquered. Together.”
“We are two, not one, yet we are the same.”
“In many ways, yes, but different in manners that provide the most possibility for success.”
“You are certain we can do this? That it will be us to correct the course?”
“I am more certain of that than I am of my love for you. It is not a feeling; it is a knowing, an eventuality.”
“Yet,” he said, his gaze distant, “neither of us knows how to accomplish this.”
“It is not clear now, for that you are correct, but as with all things, time will make it clear.”
His gaze returned to the pulsar, his eyes illuminating from the electromagnetic waves.
“It was a gift and a curse to become what we are,” he said somberly.
“Curses are only gifts in disguise, waiting to be uncovered.”
“Shall we watch another birth?” he asked, looking up to her again. “Another creation?”
“You find them inspirational.”
“They are comforting.”
“Then let us gaze upon magnificence once more.”
“What the hell are you saying?!” Reese exclaimed, his brow furrowed in perplexion. “Time traveling space agents?” He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck.
“Metaphysicals,” Mira answered. “We are something different, something that is hard to believe. June's birth mother was a form of this as well, but the highest form—called a QOT.”
“I can not explain that weird….” Reese motioned at the center of the living room. He scoffed, hesitating for a moment. “That weird thing! But time-traveling space agents? That is preposterous!”
“It is a lot to take in,” Mira said.
June rose from the couch, moved to behind it, and paced. “So,” she said, “let me get this straight. Your actual name is Mira, and he is someone called Drex. You two are products of an experiment in the future, Quantum something or other?”
“Quantum Atomic Restructuring,” Drex replied.
“Right,” June said, her eyes still wide. “And there are more like you, but before your….version, I guess? Before you, there were two others?”
Drex nodded. “Your birth mother Larilla, though you know her name as Bethany Strickland, and a man called Codax. Larilla was the first.”
June sighed, shaking her head once more. Her fingers rubbed her temples.
Mira regarded her, a gleam of care and empathy within her gaze. “To put it bluntly, in the future, humanity does not survive. In the time that we came from, there were only two million humans alive, and the death of all was inevitable and quickly approaching.”
Drex's hands came up to rest upon his hips. “We have a headquarters that exists outside of time and space, in a sense outside of reality. Don't ask how that works; I'm not really sure myself. I just know it's there because I've been to it. Only a few people work there, and it doesn't seem that Codax can locate it. Which is great for us.”
“Because we are QARs, we do not age,” Mira said. “Our physiology is constantly being rewritten and refreshed. We remain the same age that we were when we underwent Restructuring. In the beginning, our purpose was to observe the past, assimilate into different eras, and attempt to prevent the future. We know this is possible because the future we came from no longer exists. It has already been changed.”
June's pacing halted. She rested her hands on the back of the couch, nearly slumping down on it. “And how do you know that?”
Reese frowned at his sister's question, throwing his arms in the air.
Mira ignored his outburst and continued to regard June. “Because Headquarters can no longer detect light signatures or timestamps from our era, not the ones that we contain within us. They're different now. Our purpose has become stopping Codax and any who follow him, and believe it or not, over time, he's amassed more followers than you’d find comfortable—though, now most of them are dead.”
Drex took a seat on the couch that Audrey and Clifford previously occupied. He glanced back and forth between Reese and June. “Are you still with us?”
June inhaled a sharp breath and nodded. Reese's hands flailed in the air before slapping down on his sides. “Bloody hell!” he said. “This is madness!”
Again, Mira ignored Reese's outburst and kept her attention on June. “We can travel through space at will, and in a way, we can also travel through time. Though, with time, it's like being in an aquarium. In fact, that's exactly what it's like. We can see the exhibits, but we can’t interact with them. We are unable to alter time of the past. We don't think Codax can either, but we don't know. Something has been done to change the future, and it could be as simple as us just existing in the past, but again, we don't know.
“If all of this is true,” June said, “then how are you here? If you can't interact with the past?”
“That’s complicated,” Drex answered. “Let me put it this way. We, us, QARs, are in an aquarium when we time travel. We can look through the glass and see the fish in the tanks; those are the past. We can not enter any tanks, except when there is a timestamp from a QOT. They are from our era, and thus we can penetrate the tanks after they have done so. Because your mother came here, so could we. The two of us were assigned to this era to watch over your mother, study her, and figure out why she went rogue.”
“So,” June began, “why did she?”
“We don't know,” Mira replied. “She came here four hundred years ago. We followed her after about twenty years. It took us that long to locate where she had gone. Until your birth, she lived normal lives, traveling from country to country every thirty to forty years. She attended universities, worked many jobs in different fields, and even lived a very mundane life once. You are her child, and you carry her timestamp. During this time, Codax has not been around. He hasn't made any moves that we're aware of in hundreds of years.”
“We have been anticipating Codax's return,” Drex said. “It's only a matter of time until he locates you.”
“Alright,” June replied. “And what does that mean?”
“It means,” Mira said, “that your life is in danger. We believe he's going to try to kill you because you share a timestamp with Larilla. Somehow, he might see that as a threat, even though it's almost certain you do not have any of her abilities.”
“Abilities?” Reese asked.
Drex eyed Mira, then cocked his head. “That’s too much to get into right now.”
June scoffed. “If I’m not like her, my mother, then I couldn't possibly be a threat, so why would he want to kill me?”
“Because he's a madman.”
Lingering heat from the supernova washed over their celestial figures—the residual radiation illuminating their forms. Stars burned white-hot, and though their distance was great, the two could feel them as if they were inside the cosmic bodies. The two slowly rotated in the vastness of space. Her hands whirled with fury, space folded, time quickened, and their eyes fixated on the forming of a new galaxy.
Her fingers glided to his hand, grasping it tightly. She rolled herself along space and into his arm—pressing her body against his. He wrapped his arms around her. She cradled his head and buried her face into his chest. He stroked her flowing, weightless hair.
“Has your appetite been fed?” she asked.
“Yes, for now.”
“Must it always be for now? Are you not fulfilled in my arms?”
“It is a different yearning. I can not help it.”
“It is not you; it is me.”
She placed her hand upon his chest, feeling the rhythm of his pumping murmur. She looked at him, their gazes locking onto one another.
“I long to fill this void within you,” she said.
“My love, you have filled more of me than I knew possible.”
“But it is not enough, is it?”
His face contorted, and his gaze broke. Her lips pressed together, squeezing to the side.
“Tell me, wanderer,” she whispered.
“In my mind, I-I long for solution, for a totality that I do not know how to achieve.”
“We are endless. We can see infinity. Experience the eternal. We have nothing if not time to answer all questions, yet, you remain restless. Spoken to from another place, carried away on whims, distracted by possibilities. We are solvents, my love, and we will cure.”
“Your words comfort,” he said, “and your vision is clear. It has always been more crystalline than my own. You are the essence of ascension. The very core of a budding framework.”
“Does this not quell you? Does it hinder you? Are you threatened by superiority? I can not help what I am. I can only be who I should—as is true for all.”
“I am inadequate. Ill-equipped to restructure, to recode, to realize the imagined in true form.”
“This is not true, Misha, for apart we are mighty, more than all, but together we are the very quarks of design.”
“Certainty has always been your way. You are not broken like I.”
She leaned her head away, drawing the arching of his brow.
“That does not mean I do not understand,” she said, “that I do not feel your pain—here and now. It beats within you, entangled in your life force, twisted around your purity. I know you suffer. I begrudge, but I can not erase it. It is not my doing, yet it is my only regret. Is this not love?”
He took her hand in his, rolling his fingers over her knuckles.
“We love, we meld, we connect, but I am missing. There is a link that should be present, one small bead fractured and broken.”
“And this keeps you from me?”
“This keeps me from myself, from the calling.”
“It does not. You do not see it, but time will bring clarity.”
“Your absolution soothes me.”
She buried her face into his chest again, her hand caressing his warm cheek.
“I speak only in truths,” she said.
“June, you can not be serious?!” Reese exclaimed.
Her brother stood before her, his hands furiously gripping his hips, his eyes slanting in disbelief. A portal hung suspended in the air, once again open in the living room. Mira and Drex stood just beside it.
“I can't explain it, Reese, but I believe them,” June said.
“This is madness! You can't just jump through that thing!”
“I have to.”
“No! No, you don't!”
“I'm not sure how to even aptly describe what I'm feeling, but everything within in me is telling me to do this. Not one ounce of my being is telling me to hesitate.”
“You make terrible decisions! And these people are loonies!”
“How do you explain the portals, Reese?!”
“Surely there must be some reasonable explanation that doesn't involve time-traveling space agents from the future!”
“Reese, they said things about my mother that I've never told anyone. Things that were very difficult for me to learn. How would they know them?”
“The internet knows everything June!”
“You're not listening to me. Some of those things were personal; some of them couldn't be known unless they actually knew my mother and had been to where she once lived.” She sighed. “I know because I tracked down her old house. There were things in that house that I can not explain.”
His eyes widened. “You never told me that.”
“I never told anyone that, and yet they know what I saw in there. How?”
He struggled. He didn’t want to accept anything that had happened. “They must have gone there!”
“Yes, but how would they know where to even look?!”
“June, listen to me, you found it, and you're not exactly a detective.”
“No, you're right, I'm not. But why would anyone want to know? She wasn't anyone special, at least I didn't think so until now. She lived a very boring life, but somehow, she had items that were hundreds of years old. She had books in almost every language, diaries written in dozens of languages, and scientific equipment that shouldn't even exist! I thought that maybe she was some secret scientist or something, but what they've said kind of adds up.”
“Oh, come off it, June!”
Mira stepped between them, holding her hands up.
“Listen, I know you're confused, Reese, and concerned, and you have every right to be, but we don't have time for this. June wants to come with us, and she's going to. You don't have to believe anything we've said, but don't make this hard on yourself.”
He raised his brow. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“You're a smart man, Reese. You know what I mean. Step aside.”
The older brother scoffed, his eyes wide in shock. He looked at June once more. Her gaze offered compassion but also determination. He suspected there was nothing he could say to stop her. She'd always been fiercely headstrong.
“June,” he said, a plead in his tone, “please be careful. These people could be dangerous, and I can't believe you're actually going to do this.”
“I can take care of myself, Reese.”
“Please do. Let me know you're alright, however you can, as soon as you can.”
June suddenly moved forward, her arms coming out and wrapping around her brother. “I love you.” She pulled away, but his grip on her didn’t loosen, and he pulled her back in. His face was red and puffy, the corners of his eyes glistened.
“I love you too, Birdie.”
Drex nodded to Mira, then stepped through the portal. Mira held her hand out to June and motioned for her to follow. June took a deep breath, glanced at her brother, his face smothered with concern. Then, she stepped into the anomaly. Mira turned away from the portal and regarded Reese.
“I'm sorry it had to happen like this. It wasn't how I intended it.”
She waited for a short moment, but Reese didn’t say anything. He fell back onto the couch, his face buried in his hands. Mira turned back to the portal, jumped through it, then a moment later, it disappeared.
A bright kaleidoscope of colors whizzed past June, the entirety of the rainbow washing over her ocular sense. Distorted images of planets, stars, exploding supernovas, meteors, satellites, and spaceships flashed from within the magnificent display all around her. Just in front of her, Mira and Drex walked side-by-side, deep in a conversation she didn’t fully understand.
They spoke of timestamps again, of residual energy and exit points. Drex uttered a phrase she couldn't quite make out as he used a small device to cut a hole in the bottom of the multi-colored tunnel they were traveling through. June approached the duo, staring at the floor and looking through the opening Drex created.
June reached them and looked down to see what had captivated the odd duo. A yelp escaped her as her eyes landed on the opening—for below them were the events that had just transpired in Mira's living room. She watched Drex jump through the portal, then herself, then Mira. She saw Reese seated on the couch. His emotions broke, and his sanity split. He cried, his tears wetting his cheeks and spilling down onto his shirt.
“What is this?!”
Mira's attention turned to June.
“We call it Top View Time, or TVT. We use it to examine recent moments, to make sure we didn't miss anything, as well as to see events that happen after we exit a specific moment in time.”
The lights in Mira's apartment flickered. Reese jumped up from the couch, scanning around the room. Suddenly, another portal appeared in the living room, just a few paces in front of him. June couldn’t see what was inside the portal, and she didn't need to. Reese's terrified expression told her all she needed to know.
“What is going on?!”
Mira and Drex didn’t answer. Instead, they watched intently. Out of the newly formed portal, another man and a woman emerged. The man grabbed Reese by the throat and pinned him on the couch.
“We have to help him!” June exclaimed, her voice shrieking.
Mira put her hand out at June, who jumped back from her.
“You don't want to see this,” Mira said.
June didn’t heed the warning; she couldn’t, not when her brother was in peril. The woman in Mira’s living room removed an odd, oblong device from her black trench coat. She pressed a button on the top of the device, causing small thin leg-like structures to shoot from the other end. She jammed the device onto Reese’s forehead, penetrating his flesh and bone, bringing forth a scream of horror and pain from the confused man.
June gasped. “Oh my...”
Reese writhed on the couch, his body convulsing violently. The man had climbed onto him, pinning his legs and arms down. The woman forced the device onto his head with more pressure. Reese screamed again, squirmed for a short moment, then fell limp. The woman removed the device, clicked a button on the side, then removed a microchip.
“Why...” June began, but the strength to continue her thought escaped her.
The woman handed the microchip to the man. He tapped the screen on the small device around his wrist, a device similar to the one Drex used earlier. He inserted the microchip into the device. A short moment later, a holographic scene of Drex’s arrival to the apartment played out, detailing all the events that just happened. The man pressed the screen again once he and the woman arrived. The woman’s head tilted up at the ceiling, her gaze cold and raw. June felt her eyes piercing through her. The distraught sister jumped back, covering her face.
“Oh my...is he...is he...gone?” she muttered, tears streaming down her face.
“It won’t be long until they trace us. We need to get moving,” Drex said.
“Get moving?!” June screamed. “They just murdered my brother!”
“I’m sorry, June,” Mira replied.
June’s hands balled into fists, straining at her sides. “You knew this would happen, didn’t you?! It’s why you didn’t make him leave. It’s why you told him all that stuff. You knew he wouldn’t be able to tell anyone else!”
“We had to know how close they were.”
“You used my brother as bait!”
“We didn’t have any other options. It had to be him. They know who you are. They would’ve found him eventually.” Drex said.
Mira glanced at Drex, then regarded June again. “June, I know this is a lot to handle, but we have to get moving.”
June took a step back. “I’m not going anywhere with you! You’re horrible people!”
“The world doesn’t work the way you think it does,” Mira said, her face blank as stone. “There’s more gray than anyone would like to believe, but I assure you, we are trying to help you.”
“Some bloody help you are! You just let my brother die!”
Drex’s somber expression swayed to frustration. H exhaled and removed a square silver object from his jacket pocket. “We don’t have time for this,” he said. He moved toward June, quickly and precisely, holding the square device up.
“What are you doing?! What is-”
A flash of dull red light emitted from the square, interrupting her questions. Her eyes sagged, her limbs fell limp, and she crumbled.
“Drex-” June began.
“We don’t have time, Mira,” he said, cutting her off. “You know that.”
Mira’s brow scrunched, and she sighed. “You’re right.”
“We need to hyper-tunnel to HQ.”
“They’ll detect that immediately. We won’t be able to use this space-frequency again.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
Mira nodded, then removed a device like the one on Drex’s wrist from her pocket. She clamped it around her small wrist, engaged the touch screen, and pointed it at the fluorescent wall of the tunnel. A moment later, the wall bent and contorted, forming another portal. Drex scooped up June, threw her over his shoulder, and jumped through the newly formed portal.
Mira watched Drex pass through the whirling blue passage and braced to enter it herself. A crackling, a faint buzzing blasted her ears. She turned to see a large glowing orb burst into reality. The orb spun furiously, expanding with each rotation until it became the size of a portal. It inverted, collapsed into itself, then disappeared, leaving behind two figures—the man and the woman that killed Reese.
“Stop running, Mira,” the woman said. “You’re only delaying the inevitable.”
Mira’s jaw clenched, her teeth grinding together. “Go to hell, traitor.”
The woman smirked. The man scoffed. Mira leaped into the portal, then it disappeared.
“They’re going to HQ,” the man said.
“They can’t stay there forever. We’ll find them again.”
“You tussle, you are to leave me again.”
Her grasp on him broke as she allowed herself to float away from him. The light from the giant star behind her illuminated her mystic figure.
“I am uneased,” he replied.
“Conflict is your essence, your nature,” she said, “but so too are creation and solution.”
“My conviction is not like yours. I am not a fortress of inner strength.”
“You are, but your mind betrays you. Your weakness overpowers you.”
“I do not think I will ever be what you need me to be, what all need me to be.”
“You do not see it. There is much you do not see that comes to pass.”
He reached out to her. Their fingertips touched, a melody of screaming stars and colliding atoms accompanied the transcendent act. Her eyes flashed, their blues dissolving into a smokey translucent. Her flowing hair caught fire. Her body, a mirror of the galactic all existence, sparkled and fluttered, glowing white-hot.
“We birth galaxies without thought,” she said, molecules shooting forth from her mouth with every word, “bring realities into correction with little effort, yet, thousands of years ago, we could not fathom this.”
“We are ascension and destruction. I can not reconcile to two.”
“You do not have to. We are not meant to. Creation, destruction, ascension, solving, correcting, altering, these are all layers of the same depth.”
“A depth I am incapable of viewing, an understanding that does not proxy with my being.”
“You speak in damnation because your mind wants to accept that you are less.”
“I am less, of will, of constitution, in ability.”
“We are as Zeus and Athena.”
“You speak of myths. We are higher forms, but we are not the One.”
“We are correctors, modifiers, and destroyers. We are fragile, we fail, we succeed, and we carry on. We are imbued.”
His cosmic form curled, and his head hung. Gaseous tears of radiant energy bellowed from him.
“I am flawed, broken,” he said.
“Perfection is a lie. Ability, will, determination, these are truths.”
He reached for her again. She grasped his hand and rolled herself into him. Their chests pressed together. Her brow rested on his cheek.
His anguish took hold of him. “Why can I not be what you need me to be?”
“Because you can not see that you already are.”
June's eyelids fluttered, her lashes momentarily distorting reality. She groaned and grabbed her head. A whirl of dizziness pulsed inside her. Her mind scrambled, then, like a door being opened in the morning, the light came back to her.
She shot up from her prone position, hopped off the smooth, soft bedding and onto her feet. The room was solid white with no decorations of any kind. There was a bed, a bright light overhead, and a strange square panel on the wall next to the door. Indecipherable numbers zoomed across the panel at a breakneck speed. She studied the door. There was no handle, but there was an indention with a blue flashing light.
June approached the door, waved her hand under the blue light, and the door slid into the wall, creating an exit. She stepped out of the room and into a strange corridor. The floor and the ceiling were unlike anything she had ever witnessed—panels lit by lights underneath them. The walls were beige monotone. The corridor was narrow but long, and every twenty paces, there was another door—alternating on either side.
The end of the corridor presented a fork. Each path appeared to be identical. June decided on the left and ventured.
“June Daughton, how may I assist you?”
The voice came from behind her. She whipped around to see a holographic figure of a woman. The image was dressed in an odd, one-piece, light blue latex suit. The holographic woman stood with her arms behind her back, her short light-brown hair styled to the side, a mirror of her complexion.
“June Daughton, how may I assist you?” the hologram inquired again.
“What are you?”
“I am the All Station Assistant of the Headquarters, but you may call me Asa.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know the names of all who occupy the Headquarters, temporarily and permanently.”
“Where did you come from? Just now, you appeared out of thin air?”
“I materialized when it became apparent that you need assistance.”
“Yes, I am built into the station. I can be anywhere and everywhere. Right now, I am assisting you and three others.”
June shook her head. “I don’t understand that at all.”
“Yes, that would be appropriate. My program module was not created until the year 3019.”
June gasped, her mind working to process the number. “What….what year is it right now?”
“Where we are does not have a year. Time does not exist in the Headquarters.”
“How is that possible?”
“Would you like the exact technical explanation? I can tell you, but you will not understand it.”
June rubbed her cheek. “No, I think I’ve heard enough of the inexplicable for one day.”
Asa smiled and nodded.
“Where are the people who brought me here? Mira and Drex?”
“Agents Mira and Drex are in the Director’s office.”
“Can you take me there?”
Asa fell silent, still smiling. June wasn’t sure why, but the smile didn’t comfort her; if anything, it was unnerving. A short moment passed, then a gust of hot air struck June’s face, followed by a portal bursting into existence. Asa directed her arm at the portal.
“You may enter the Director’s office now.”
June’s brow raised, her eyes growing wide. “You can create these as well?”
“No. I informed the Director of your location, and he sent the portal. They are waiting for you.”
She investigated the portal to see images of Mira, Drex, and an older man she did not recognize staring back at her.
“Can they see me too?”
“Yes, and they can hear you.”
Mira gestured at June. “Come on. We have a lot to talk about.”
She saw the star in her mind, reached forward, and pulled herself to it. The heat from the twinkling celestial empowered her being. Her toes touched the surface, turning her cosmic body blue with energy. She allowed herself to fall to her back, stretching out on its surface. Her eyes closed, her breathing skipped and caught the rhythm of the star—both heavenly bodies becoming synchronous.
Her figure melted down into the star, becoming one with the core. She vibrated. Hydrogen, helium, oxygen, carbon, neon, and iron shed from her body and seeped into the galactic orb. The star heated and expanded, absorbing the cosmic nutrients. She pulsed, and the star flickered. A glorious explosion spread across space.
She shot forth from the star, her body still surging with energy and radiation. Her eyes opened, and she gazed upon the newly formed yellow dwarf. She smiled. Her eyes gleamed. She threw her hands out, summoning asteroids, dust, and other matter into the dwarf's gravitational pull. She zipped across space, spinning around the debris and the expanding mass of heat—a tornadic whirl of creation.
The stray matter fused, creating a solid core of iron and nickel, layered sparsely with gold, platinum, and uranium. She touched the outskirts of the matter, creating layers of protection. First molten magma, then a rocky barrier.
She raced to another swirling field of debris, smoothing together layers to create a dense globe. She breathed violet flame across space, melting another mass to liquid, then inhaled, dehydrating the sphere into a gaseous state. She pulled together asteroids and deposits of pure metal, formed them into rings, then tossed them across the black void.
She threw her appendages out wide. Her form surged with light and energy, then exploded. Bits of her being broke away and scattered across space, spinning and enlarging, a blanket of adolescent stars to coat the backdrop of this fresh system. Her mass reformed, and her matter rematerialized into a bipedal figure. She floated among the giant orbs, satisfied with her efforts.
“Before Quantum Atomic Restructuring,” the Director said, “The Headquarters employed a Quantum Organic Threading method, hence the shorthand of QAR and QOT. It's a complicated process involving artificial black holes, cryo freezing, and the bending of light, time, and space, but the results are similar to QAR; however, much, much more powerful.”
June remained seated on the odd, circular chair. A chair that encompassed almost her entire body. The wide-eyed expression on her face didn’t change. Despite her considerable anger and sadness, the information relayed to her was so dense that confusion broke through.
“Everything seemed to work better than intended with Larilla,” the Director continued, “but complications arose with Codax. We're not sure what happened or why, but the QAT process altered his mind significantly. He became unstable.”
The Director rose from his desk and walked over to a space on the stark white wall. His close-cut black hair was a contrast to his bright blue latex suit. His five o'clock shadow did nothing to hide the stress his position carried.
“Because of this, QAT was scrapped, and we started again from scratch to create Quantum Atomic Restructuring. There were fourteen volunteers. Four died in the process, one died in the field through his own error of judgment, two defected and joined Codax, and recently, Codax’s followers killed three—we think. Only four remain, and for the time being, all four are safe.”
He waved his hand underneath a faint green light, and the section of the wall morphed into a clear screen. The projection of a hologram of a man appeared, life-size and full-bodied. The man was taller than the others in the room. He didn’t appear to be more than thirty, had short gray hair, a chiseled jaw, a tan complexion, and dark brown eyes. The Director motioned at the hologram.
“Meet Codax. A ruthless and unpredictable entity. I say entity because it is no longer apt to call him a man or a human. He is something else entirely now.”
His gaze moved from the hologram to June.
“I understand your foster brother died in your extraction.”
“Died?” June scoffed. “That's an easy way of putting it. Your two agents here let him be murdered.”
“I am sorry for that, truly. I am sure you are not inclined to believe me, but we are trying to do what is right. It's not easy to hear, but the simple fact is that your life is important and at risk.”
“But my brother wasn't?”
Her eyes slanted, her lips squeezed together. “That's a load of bollocks.”
“It's not what you want to hear, but your brother did the most helpful thing he could have.”
“What's that?” she spat. “Die?”
“Provide a distraction to allow your escape. Had Akari and Rez caught up with you three, I can't guarantee you'd be sitting here right now. They had finally discovered who you were and your whereabouts. If not for agent Drex's appearance, everyone that was at Mira's gathering would be dead.”
“Agent Mira wouldn't have been able to protect us?” June questioned with a raised brow. “That's comforting.”
“It's not likely Mira and Drex together could've stopped them. Before their defections, Akari and Rez were our most accomplished agents. No one equaled Rez in combat, and no one could strategize in the manner Akari does, and to add to it, they're each more than capable in both aspects.”
“So,” June began, “Mr. Director, what exactly do you do?”
“Much of what I do you would not understand, and the methods in which I accomplish my goals will be completely foreign to you. I was born two thousand years after you. Physically, humans from Kepler are much different than Earthlings.”
“Kepler?” June asked, her face scrunched.
“Right,” the Director replied. “Before QATs and QARs, we do eventually colonize another planet, Kepler-452b. However, the planet is hit by a meteor. One that was never charted or recorded. One that seemingly appeared from nowhere and was already on a trajectory that could not be prevented. We think Codax might have made this possible.”
“He can do that?” June replied, surprising herself with the question.
The Director's brow dipped. “To be entirely honest, we don't know what he can do, not to his fullest abilities. Larilla worked alongside the Headquarters for a time, then suddenly went rogue, and we don't know why. We are under the assumption that she is dead and that Codax killed her. There have been no traces of her timestamp since your birth. She just disappeared.”
“What do you know about Codax?”
“The little we do know has been gained from tracking him, watching events from a distance, and the wealth of information we have on your mother. They’re both QATs, so we know a lot of their abilities overlap.”
“What was she capable of?”
“Let me ask you this,” the Director said, “you are aware that the total amount of energy in a closed system, such as the universe, can not be destroyed, yes? It can only be repurposed.”
She squinted, her brow folded. “Sure.”
“Larilla was capable of destroying both energy and matter as well as creating it anew. If you can imagine it, she was likely able to do it.”
Her brow furrowed. Her radiant skin blazed with fury. Stars painted the cosmic backdrop like embers burning in the distance.
“Why?” she asked, purple cinders bellowing from her mouth.
His stance widened, feeling the sudden urge to brace himself. “They are doomed. We must restart.”
“You do not know that.”
“I do. We both do.”
“No, we can not see the future. Nothing is certain.”
“Misha,” he said, “we have watched them fail for eons. We are the reset.”
“Not in this way.”
“There is no other way.”
Her hand cut through space. “That is true only now. Now that you have stolen from them their opportunities. They are primal, primitive, and always will be, but they have grace and fortitude.”
“You place too much value within their capabilities.”
“I would say that you do not place enough.”
He allowed himself to fall limp, rotating to a prone position. He glided toward her, but she threw her arms in front of her and swam in retreat. He reached for her, but she no longer occupied the space he called to. He pulled a face, his eyes slanted at her.
“We are the future, my love. We must set it for them,” he said.
“You speak of love, yet you act heinously.”
“Are we not heinous? Have we not killed trillions? Have we not set the clock back to zero over and over again?”
“That is different, and you know it, Xibalba.”
His face scrunched, the name digging into his very soul.
“You cut deep, Gaia.”
Her lips slammed shut, and her brow sagged again. She breathed deeply, pulling debris from surrounding orbits into her own atmosphere.
“You mean to disparage, but I wear the name as an honor,” she said.
“You are not Yahweh.”
“I do not claim to be. I am merely an instrument of design purposed for creation and correction. We both are.”
“I have acted in support of that notion.”
Her hand thrashed forward, sending ripples and pulses of magnificent energy out into the universe.
“NO!” she screamed. “You have not! You have stolen and deprived.”
“You are clouded because you do not agree, but agreeance does not equal righteous.”
Her head lowered, her eyes drooping in shame. Fluorescent tears rolled down her burning cheeks.
“You are lost. I do not know you, not this you in front of me,” she said.
“I am the same. I am flawed, broken, but I have acted in accordance to what we have always done.”
“But you have not.” Her chest heaved, a sharpness stabbing into her, halting her words momentarily. “You do not see it, and that is sadness. I do not know how to rectify this. I can breathe matter into existence, form planets in moments, spin galaxies, and weave time into place, but I can not even the flow within your mind.”
“You mean you can not correct me.”
“Even with love rooted so deep that I have become one with the word, even in a place outside of space and time, outside the very fabric of reality, even when the laws of existence no longer bind us, even in total freedom, I can not solve your riddle.”
“I am not whole, but they were on a path to nothingness, and I have corrected that.”
She reached out to him, bending space onto itself and collapsing the distance between them. She cradled him in her arms, her fingers gently rubbing his face. She leaned into him, their lips meeting in a cosmic union of affection. She tilted her head back, her eyes opening to meet his gaze.
“I am sorry we have failed. I thought, I….” She swallowed another deep breath, her chest rumbling. “I thought we were one, linked beyond what is possible, but now I feel as though I know nothing.” She broke their embrace, floating away from him. “I must go. I do not know you. I do not know us.”
He reached for her hand, but she pulled away.
“Please, my soul, my essence, do not leave me,” he begged.
“I am sorry, my love.”
Her tears flowed again. Her body illuminated a kaleidoscope of colors and frequencies. She vibrated vigorously, her form decaying with every pulse. A burst of purple and blue flame erupted from within her, coating her figure and blinding his sight. A great force washed over him and knocked him back, sending him careening out of her orbit. His eyes opened to find darkness—the embodiment of his celestial purpose vanished right before him. She was gone.
Mira grabbed one of the many handguns from the space in the wall. The designs were completely foreign to June. Some small and compact, some larger and more brutish. All of them tones of silver and gray, and none of them shaped like what she was accustomed to seeing.
“Why are all of these weapons shaped so oddly?” June asked.
“These guns do not discharge lasers or lead bullets like the ones you are familiar with,” Mira replied.
“Then what do they discharge?”
“To explain it as simply as I can, they emit electromagnetic pulses. When passed through our bodies, the vibrations disrupt what we call our core and halt our cellular regeneration. When hit with enough shots, our bodies go into shock, and our organs shut down.”
Drex turned away from his station. “After that happens, we die within minutes,” he added.
Mira nodded. “Because a normal human is not infused with anti-matter or quantum energy, these guns do not affect them.”
“They can not harm innocent bystanders,” Drex said.
June nodded, pretending she understood.
Mira continued, “Has to be continuous blasts or a barrage over a few minutes. Otherwise, we can recover from it relatively quickly.”
“Sure,” June replied, wide-eyed once again.
Drex returned to his station, continuing to strap on an oval piece of equipment to his bare chest. “A few shots sting; a lot of shots kill,” he said.
June's directed her attention to Drex. “And what's that?”
“Basically,” Drex began, “it's a bulletproof vest, but for these types of guns. It doesn't prevent the vibrations from penetrating, but it slows them down. It is purely to give a small tactical advantage.”
June shook her head, brushing off another overload of information. “So, the plan is that basically, we have no plan? Once we leave the Headquarters, Akari and Rez will be able to detect you?”
“Not us, you,” Mira said.
“Right, they can detect me because I share a timestamp-frequency with my mother. I'm still not sure how that works or what a timestamp even is.”
“Think of it as a fingerprint, but one that special machines can detect whether you're near them or not. As long as your 'fingerprint' exists somewhere in a section of time the machine has been, then it can detect it.”
June exhaled sharply and brushed stray strands of hair out of her face. “Yes, that's what I meant.” Drex chuckled, drawing June's attention for a moment. She turned back to Mira. “The plan then,” June said, “is to quickly get to the safe house, wait for them to show up, and take them out once and for all?”
“You got it,” Drex replied.
“And this will work?”
Mira's brow raised, her head tilting in a flash. “That is part of the plan.”
“You're positive Codax will not show up?”
Mira glanced at Drex, then back to June. “We hope he won’t. Akari and Rez are his minions. He has them handle the grunt work.”
“If I'm so important, then why would my capture be considered grunt work?”
Drex pressed a button on the device over his sternum, and the odd-looking vest restricted into place. “Because by all accounts, Akari and Rez should be able to dispatch of us.”
“Then why are you so confident now?”
Mira held her gun up, motioning at it with her eyes. “Because we have these.” A sly grin rolled across her face. “And some other tricks.”
June sighed and rubbed her forehead. “Comforting.”
The molecules twisted, binding together. Her lips curved. Her eyes gleamed. She tilted her head as she studied the strand floating in front of her. She split the braided strand into two lines, whirled them, extracted a sole nucleotide, then rejoined them. She brought the strand up to her face, marveling at the simplicity.
She blew life-giving air from her celestial lungs, bathing the DNA in a glorious explosion of mutation. The strand bloated, expanded, and replicated. Her hands whirled again, and the strands shot from her palm, sped across space, and caught in the gravitational pull of the nearby planet.
A barrier of light formed around the strands, protecting them from entry into the harsh atmosphere. The strands floated along on the wind, over greenery, over bright blue waters, and finally glided down to rest upon the hot dirt.
Her torso arced. Her arms stretched down her sides. Her figure spins, and she vanished—a trail of glistening energy left in her wake. She surged across space, moving with light and gazing upon star systems and galaxies as she passed through them. She closed her eyes. Her will strengthened. She increased speed and left light behind. Darkness folded around her, and time slowed. A tear in the great black ripped open, and she passed beyond it.
Her reflection stared back at her from every angle, a great mirror house displaying her every action across the depths of time she lived in and wandered. She touched a mirror. A drip, a ripple, a nothingness overtook it.
“I still can not see it,” she said to herself, to all her reflections.
She touched another, and darkness flowed through it as well.
“Will I ever be able to cure this ailment? Correct this devious course of time?”
She scanned around, her eyes racing across each reflection. Her gaze stopped to rest upon the lone, towering, bleak, and empty break.
“Still a link missing, a reconciliation I can not arrive to.”
She flowed across the vast darkness, stopping just in front of the empty gap in mirrors.
“I know you are within me. You exist in my mind. You have eluded, escaped my clutches. I will solve you. I will fix, as I have been designed to do.”
The bleak space vibrated, breathing itself away from her, then expanding toward her—like a rhythmic, beating heart. The life of nothing, yet the encompassing of her greatest failure. She raised her hand, moving along the edges of the emptiness. Her fingers outlined the void, the absence of detail disturbing her—as it had each time she laid her eyes upon it.
“You are a piece of me. This is me, my mind, myself. A place outside of reality, outside the walls of existence. Why do you hide so? Why do you refuse to align?”
The void breathed again, trembling on the exhale, quivering at the gentle touch of her grazing fingers. It sucked itself back, moving away from the luminous figure before it. Her head tilted; her eyes narrowed.
“Perhaps,” she began, her mind racing with wonder, “I have misunderstood you? Failed to realize the true meaning of your presence.”
Her fingers extended again, her hand stretching out wide. She placed it on the emptiness and pushed through it. Darkness engulfed her appendage. She plunged further, burying up to her elbow in the darkness.
“You are not opposition, are you? You represent my oversight, my resistance to look somewhere I am afraid of.”
The bleak void breathed again, beckoning her.
“Yes, you speak truth. I must trust myself fully, give over to my mind, embrace the totality of my being.”
She inhaled heavily, feeling the weight of the universe on her shoulders, the fate of all sentience dependent on her ability. She closed her eyes once more, exhaled, then stepped into the void.
They raced through the bright tunnel, rainbow waves of light colliding all around them. June lagged behind Mira and Drex, awed by the sight of her surroundings. Gushes of what felt like pounding, tornadic wind followed loud crashes and thunders. Mira peered over her shoulder, glancing at June.
“It is indeed amazing, but we can not slow down. There's no doubt they have already detected your timestamp.”
June's gaze snapped to Mira. Her eyes slanted. “Can they find us in here?”
“No, but we can not stay inside a tunnel for too long.”
“Why is that?”
“Because,” Drex shouted, “tunnels do not stay open forever. If it closes with us inside it, we'll cease to exist.”
June's eyes grew wide, “So, do not slow down. Got it.”
The three continued their mad sprint, skipping along the moving parts of what seemed to be a floor beneath them. Below the almost stone-like platforms they hopped between, June saw images moving just beyond the barrages of light.
“What am I seeing down there?” she asked, her voice raised to her fullest.
“Time,” Mira shouted back to her.
“We are literally,” June paused to gulp down a large breath, “moving through time?”
Drex glanced at Mira, a smirk upon his face. The female agent looked back over her shoulder at June again.
“Yes. This is what time travel looks like.”
“Then what were we doing before? When we left my apartment?”
“Moving through space.”
“But we saw-saw into my apartment.”
“We looked back on a time in a space we had just left.”
June shook her head, but before she could speak again, Drex pointed ahead of them, nodded to Mira, then s