The first thought that ran through Sam’s mind was that he knew why the news had said the worksite blew up. He immediately dismissed that, pretty sure that a twelve year old probably hadn’t brought a bomb to a half finished building. Something else must have happened. He just needed to find all his arms and legs, put them back on and figure out what it was.
A ringing sensation rose in his ears. Actually, they had probably been ringing since the blast he was just getting enough sensation back to notice it. His eyes swam back into focus and tried to make sense of the world again.
Unfortunately, the world stubbornly refused to be sensible. The girl Sam had seen right before everything went haywire was gone. Men on the jobsite were running around at the edges of his vision and probably shouting, although with his hearing the way it was he couldn’t be certain. The scene was dominated by a statuesque woman in a frilled dress with a sash running from right shoulder to opposite hip, then wrapped around her waist. On the sash, in front of her shoulder was a weird glowing shape and spiraling out from her raised right hand was a glowing pattern of lights that were bright enough that Sam couldn’t make sense of them.
Not that any of it really made sense.
The woman drifted towards him, her feet stepping lightly, although in the heels she was wearing she should have had trouble crossing the loose dirt ground at all. On second glance, Sam wasn’t entirely sure her feet were touching the ground so much as just in the same general area. A lifetime of science fiction about time travel flicked through his head, reminding Sam that messing with timelines invoked consequences the likes of which were often severe, if not fatal, and of superhuman origin.
“Hey!” Clark’s voice cut through the haze in Sam’s mind and the ringing in his ears. The floating woman glanced to the side and slid backwards a few steps, defying several laws of momentum. Normally Sam would wonder what his foreman was up to but, given the circumstances, he chose to keep his eyes on the more pressing matters.
Namely the extremely dangerous looking woman and her special effects show.
So he had a perfect view of the moment that her look of confidence and satisfaction morphed into surprise and then panic. He was dimly aware of Clark saying something about hands and then caught the unmistakable sound of a gunshot, short, sharp and loud even over the noise in his ears.
At almost the same moment the pattern of free wheeling light winding in the air spasmed and contorted, the weird glowing design on the woman’s shoulder twisted in sympathetic movement. For a split second it looked exactly like the pinwheel thing the girl had been carrying. Then space twisted, snapped and the woman was gone.
It took a minute for that to sink in then Sam scrambled to his feet, head pivoting one way and the other half to look for the girl, woman or whatever that was half to clear the last ringing from his ears.
Clark, ever the practical man, was slipping a semi automatic pistol back into a holster behind his back. “You okay, Sam?”
It took a quick inventory but he did confirm that there wasn’t much of anything wrong with him. “Should be. If my hearing comes back.”
“So long as you keep hearing me fine you’ve got enough already.” He shook his head and looked around warily. “What the hell was that?”
“I don’t know.” But he had a feeling he could find out.
And he did, although Clark never got to hear the answers. Sam went straight home, ducking out as soon as his foreman turned his back, and asked the future. Sure, it sounded like the woman was mad at him for just what he was doing but, since he was already in trouble, he couldn’t see the problem in doing it a little more. Especially if it helped him stay alive.
Unfortunately all the future could tell him was that, if he went back to work tomorrow he was still going to die, along with two other people on site, one of whom was Clark. There was only one boss Sam had ever had that he’d wanted dead, and he hadn’t worked for them in two years. After a short deliberation Sam decided it was time to be somewhere else, collected some clothes, his laptop and a few other necessities, packed them into his car along with the relay and made himself scarce.
Being scarce proved harder than he’d anticipated. After a week of driving around Michigan’s upper peninsula he discovered that, no matter where he stopped the next day’s news predicted some kind of catastrophe would come along with fatal results. He couldn’t get news far enough in advance to confirm he’d be one of the casualties but there was always some kind of fatality and he really didn’t want to draw anyone else into whatever was going on. Money was getting tight and he figured the relay was his best bet to get ahead of the game.
It was time to win the lottery.
Not the jackpot, that would bring too much attention. But with a little finagling of the numbers he managed to walk away with a $200,000 prize in the bank. That was enough for him to figure out a few things. However the woman was trailing him, bank transactions weren’t a factor. He’d been doing his best to use cash and make withdrawals only when leaving a place so he thought cashing in the prize might be a risk but, to his surprise, it made no difference to how the future predicted his death at all. Furthermore, every news story predicting his death said he died early in the morning or mid afternoon – shortly before most schools started or about ninety minutes after they let out.
Along with the similarity between the glowing, shapeshifting thing on the woman’s shoulder and the plastic pinwheel the girl had carried Sam felt it was fair to assume they were somehow the same person. Far fetched, he knew, but he was also using news from the future to stay one step ahead of her so he wasn’t going to rule anything out. He wasn’t sure what to do with the information besides use it as a new search parameter while using his jury-rigged cell phone to poke the future’s social media. Other than finding a picture he thought was the same girl standing near the place he died in one of the dozens of news reports he looked through it didn’t get him much.
He still didn’t know how she was finding him or catching up to him so easily. She was far too young to drive and no girls her age had been reported missing in the area, so she must have gotten home after showing up the first time.
Finally he decided there was only one thing to do. He spent about half his cash rebuilding the relay, cutting himself off from the future for a tense two weeks during which he kept the hours of a student once again, frantically working on upgrading the relay so he could see further than a few days in the future. When he was done he found the relay could contact itself from nearly a year in the future.
It was time to concoct a counterstrategy. Before he could fight whatever avatar of death was so close behind him he was going to need resources and information.
While learning whoever or whatever the woman chasing him actually was proved still out of reach Sam did come up with a pretty simple way to get resources. He didn’t feel great about it, but U.S. patents were public knowledge. So one morning while school was in session, after a month and a half on the run, he picked up the phone and called the firm of Renninger and Howe, and said, “I’d like to speak with someone about filing a patent.”
Some people spend their whole life dreaming about flying. Teddy Clapper was not one of them.
He spent most of his life dreaming about how to make things easier. Sure, flying could make your life a lot easier in a lot of ways, save you gas money and get you places without having to worry about traffic, but those weren’t the kinds of things Teddy thought about. Teddy’s days were consumed with thoughts of how to pick up money for the rent and to spend at the bar without having to, you know, work. At one time that meant finding cars in alleys in the bad parts of town and doing a little “salvage” work. That went on until he salvaged the wrong car.
Then he owned some bad people a lot of money and they gave him two options. Deal some red caps or, since he did know a lot about cars, become a delivery driver.
Since slinging drugs on a corner had a short career expectancy and tended to end people in the big house, Teddy opted to be a driver. What nobody had told him was that he wasn’t driving product from place to place. He was driving people.
He did it for six months, driving angry gang bangers from place to place, waiting where he was told and driving them away again. He saw a lot in those six months, drove everything he could imagine and then some. Stolen drugs, bleeding people, dead bodies. In the grand scheme of things, life probably would have been easier if he hadn’t gone salvaging at all. But no matter how bad it got he didn’t get directly involved himself. Until one night, when Teddy had dropped his boss off at a meeting with his dealers only to wind up in the middle of a running shootout.
It started when Slim Greg, his boss, ripped the door of the car open, startling Teddy from his cell phone induced trance, screaming, “Drive, TC, get us out of here!”
Slim was holding a gun and smelled like harsh chemicals. For all he’d seen, Teddy had never smelled gunsmoke before. He wasn’t likely to forget it quickly now that he had.
Almost on instinct Teddy’s foot came down on the brake pedal and his thumb hit the ignition button. With the key fob Slim was carrying now in the car it roared to life and Teddy peeled out, swinging along Lakeshore Road and along the side of the small warehouse the meeting had taken place in. “What’s going on, Slim?”
“Boys wanted new management,” he replied, looking out the back window, his handgun waving in a worrying way.
Two people hustled out around the far end of the warehouse and Teddy saw flashes of light from them. The windshield cracked into spiderwebs. Teddy yelped and did his best to duck down behind the wheel, Slim started rolling down his window, yelling incoherent profanity.
The car engine roared as Teddy swerved the car towards the two shooters, sending them diving for cover, then back across the centerline. The speedometer had just ticked past fifty when the back tire blew out, whether from a stray bullet or a well aimed shot Teddy never knew, and the hectic swerve became an even wilder fishtail that he struggled to correct.
He’d almost made it when Slim grabbed his arm, yelling about the docks, and the car went out of control, hit a safety barrier and crashed to a stop. Both occupants were sans seatbelts, not a priority when running for your life, so they catapulted forward towards the windshield.
That’s when Teddy felt the change. A haze seemed to surround him, he put an arm up and pushed out to ward off the windshield and the haze grew stronger. He flew threw the windshield without feeling a thing and kept on going. He was twenty feet up over the surface of Lake Michigan before he realized he wasn’t showing signs of coming back down. Slim Greg was still holding his arm, yelling wordlessly, his hands caught in the haze around Teddy and apparently unable to let go. Not that he’d want to at this point.
Almost as soon as he realized what had happened they stopped going up and started going down. Slim’s hollering changed pitch and he started kicking in fear. But Teddy barely felt it, in fact now that he realized it all he had to do was push whichever way he wanted to go and they could fly that way. He flew a bit further along the shore and set Greg down on the sand beyond the docks, then carefully set himself down as well.
There was a moment for everyone to double over and catch their breath. Then Slim said, “What’d you do, TC?”
Teddy shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Okay.” Slim took a deep breath and straightened up. “Can you do it again?”
Teddy took stock. There was still that weird haze around him. He pushed up a little bit, putting his hands over his head. Sure enough, he rose a foot or so off the ground.
“TC, it looks like you got yourself some kinda superpower.” Slim flipped the gun around and held it towards him, grip first. “And me lookin’ for a new number two man. Think you got what it takes?”
Teddy looked at the gun for a moment, then a hungry smile worked its way across his face. He took the gun and said, “Yeah. Easy.”