Terribleminds Challenge: X Meets Y, The Horror EditionIt's time for another Terribleminds challenge. We're smooshing two randomly selected concepts together again, and I got Back to the Future meets The Shining. It's supposed to be horror, but mine turned out more science fiction-y. I was in a bit of a time crunch, so I incorporated my Novoed course plot assignment into this as well. For that, I'm supposed to have a source of interior and exterior force impacting the characters. It had to be under 1,500 words, so this is a bit on the short side for the Terribleminds one, but, oh well... Hope you like it:)
Time After Time
Wide-eyed people rush past me. Desperation drives them forward, even though there’s nowhere to run. A child clutches a toy bear with one button-eye missing. She holds my gaze for a moment, her liquid eyes dark and solemn. The air is filled with smoke and terror and the sound of screams. Time to go. I hurry past the couple necking like there’s no tomorrow. There isn’t, for them. A boy sits in the middle of broken glass in the display window of a sweets shop, eating bright fruit candies from the chocolate castle resting on clouds of cotton candy. I leave them all to burn. This isn’t my first apocalypse. I can’t save them. Or I could, but I might inadvertently destroy the entire history of the human race in the process. So I won’t.Then my heart freezes. I see a familiar shape. A figure, right hand missing from below the elbow joint, face badly burnt. A sonic blade hangs from its hand. How does it always find me? This time I had three whole weeks before it turned up. I don’t know what it wants; only that I can’t let it catch me. I turn tail and run, just like all the others. I round a corner, looking for the rusty iron grate blocking the way to the alley where I left the Icarus. I hear explosions behind me and jump the grate, fumbling for the entry sequence. I glance back, and the figure approaches, an island of calm in this fiery hell. 54-indigo-doom, I think. For a moment I’m afraid I’m in the wrong place, or that the ship has left me to die, but then a door shimmers into being on a nearby recycling unit. I dive in and it seals behind me. My heart hammering, I fumble with the safety straps, break a nail and curse. After sealing the doors I pull the control helmet on, lean back on the couch and finally allow myself a small sigh of relief. It can’t get in. I’m safe. Well, at least from my shadow. The apocalypse outside is another matter. The command module feels like being in a womb. I like enclosed spaces. That’s probably why they chose me. The cooling systems whir into action, their hum comforting and familiar. I see the map on the MindsEye screen and pick a destination at random . Anywhere but here. The hum turns into a high-pitched scream.We fade.
We land on a nice pseudo 18th century beach on one of the Outer Colonies, Triton’s Bounty. I bury my toes into the sand and watch the sunset. It looks exactly like the fires on Iago. I dig a few derms from my pocket, slap on one marked ‘whiskey.’ It’s not the same as the real thing, but it might relax me enough so I can sleep. The image of my shadow intrudes, its amorphous, shiny burns and the sonic blade. The sour stink of terror and smoke. No.I won’t be getting much sleep tonight.I crawl back inside the Icarus and try, anyway.
The next morning I’m grumpy and hung-over. I activate the MindsEye, check my instructions. Daedalus wants me to return to Iago, find out why their sun flared like that. Fine. I’ll do it, but not today. I’ve got a time machine, for gods’ sake. There’s no hurry.
My derms run out after a week. It takes me another one to kick the shakes, but I do. Then, and only then, I program the fade to Iago, one day before the flares and the flamestorm. I figure that’s my best chance of finding something. I watch a few vids via MindsEye as I wait for the Icarusto finish its scans. Everything looks fine. A healthy, yellow sun, barely a third into its lifespan. I decide to come back tomorrow.I land in a different alley, this one in the equator region. I don’t want to run into myself, because that would be bad. I need more derms, and a shot of the real stuff, if I can find it. The bar is on the sand, and I sip my drink as the sun sinks into the sea. The alcohol has a strange metallic tang to it, probably from the planet’s water. It’s not whiskey, but close enough. I wish I could load the Icarus up with bottles, but they’re just too heavy. I’m pretty drunk by the time the shadow turns up; it gets close enough that I can see its shiny burns. It smiles, a grimace that shows a flash of warped teeth. One of the women in the bar screams as it activates its sonic blade. I stumble out of my chair and stumble towards the door. The other patrons slow it down, and I make it outside. I’m almost at the Icarus, but then I trip. The sand leaves a metallic taste in my mouth when I spit it out. I turn. The shadow is upon me. I can smell the reek of its festering wounds. It mixes with the scent of roasting fish and lemon from a barbecue down the beach.“Get away from me!” I scream and scramble backwards, the smooth sand not giving my feet purchase. The shadow mumbles something, but I can’t make it out. “Stop!”It lifts the sonic blade. I can hear its song. Again, the thing tries to speak, but I don’t understand. I roll away as the blade hits, but I’m not fast enough. There’s a blinding pain in my arm, then it’s just not there anymore. It’s a good thing I’m wearing three derms; they help to kill the pain. I can still function. Screaming, I kick at the thing’s legs. It falls. I struggle to my feet, clutching the seared stump that’s left of my arm.The shadow thing cries something. I’m almost inside the Icarus, but I pause.I think it said ‘murderer.’
I seal myself inside the Icarus and activate the emergency medical station. As the ship patches me up I try to think. It gets easier when the painkillers kick in. What did it mean? I haven’t killed anyone, not really. I’ve left some to die, though. Who did I kill?Then the Icarus shudders. The emergency klaxon blares.Hull breach imminent.This ship can withstand almost anything, but somehow the shadow is tearing it apart. I try to activate the fade sequence. Thank the gods for the MindsEye. The ship chirps and whirs to life.But something’s wrong. It’s unstable. The chronocore is going to blow. I use the emergency override to open the door. I’d rather take my chances with the shadow than wait for the explosion. We’ll both die if it doesn’t take off, so I order the ship to return to the last set of coordinates. Then I roll out. The shadow comes at me. Now there’s no escape. It raises its blade. I close my eyes.Sand scatters on my face, but the blow doesn’t come. I open my eyes only to see the shadow throw itself into the Icarus. A searing blast of coolant slams into me. It burns. I stagger up, away from the ship.Then they’re both gone.I remember the last coordinates, somewhere in the star’s orbit.After a few minutes, the flares start.
The sonic blade lies in the sand before me. I pick it up with my good arm. It doesn’t take me long to understand that I’m looping. Tears sear like acid on the burns, but I can’t stop crying.
I find the time machine parked under some palm trees like ferns. It isn’t difficult; I’m the one who parked it there. First, I go back to Tritons Bounty. Then I make a list of all the times I saw the shadow. I’m not going to accept this. I’m not going to chase myself. How ridiculous! I’m sure I can come up with a better plan. I refuse to think of the billions who died on Iago. It’s not real. I can stop it, I know I can. That’s probably why Daedalus gave me another ship. I haven’t contacted them, and I’m not going to. Too many variables already. I’m going to talk some sense into myself, but first I have to find me. It’s easy. I know where I’ll be.
I wear a hat and prosthetic when I go into the bar, but when I get there, I realize I needn’t have bothered. I see myself, passed out in the corner booth. Perfect. I help the younger me up, and grab her purse. Fortunately the bar isn’t far from the apartment. It’s morning when she wakes. I hand her a glass of juice and slap a derm on her arm. She groans.“I know how you feel. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to hurt you. We just need to talk.”Sipping her juice, she nods.