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I can time travel a week into the past, but now something has gone wrong. [Part 2]

Part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - Final
Jonah and I arrived at the safehouse a few hours later, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you where it was located. I ended up falling asleep pretty quickly during the drive there, the combination of physical exhaustion and mental anguish finally catching up to me. After pulling into a makeshift vehicle bay, Jonah elbowed me awake, apparently seeing no reason to rouse me gently.
“Hey, kid, wake up. We’re here,” he said and hopped out of the car. “Come with me.”
I followed suit and trailed behind him as he led me through what appeared to be a bunker of some sort, complete with long, narrow corridors made of solid cement. Every now and then, we’d pass by a metal door with one of those submarine-style locking mechanisms, and at one point, Jonah made me wait in the hall as he entered one and came back out carrying a satchel. We continued on our way, and when we finally reached our destination, he stopped and turned to me with a stern look on his face.
“Okay. Before we go in, I need you to remember a few things,” he told me. “First, don’t speak unless the General asks you to. Keep your answers brief and to the point. She hates ramblers. Second, don’t lie about anything. Don’t even omit something you feel is minor because it’s embarrassing or makes you look bad. And third…” He tossed me the satchel. “Change your pants.”
Newly decked-out in a pair of loose-fitting cargo pants with a musty odor to them that was arguably a lateral move from the previous smell, I walked through the door behind Jonah and surveyed my surroundings. This was what I would describe as the “War Room” of the bunker - the walls were lined with an array of weaponry and military-grade equipment, as well as some high-tech gadgetry that I didn’t recognize. At the center of the room was a large circular table with computer stations set up all around it and people clacking away at their keyboards. Lurking near the back wall was an imposing woman dressed in full paramilitary regalia, and she was busy giving what sounded like orders to a small group.
“General!” Jonah called out, catching the woman’s attention. “I’ve got someone here I’d like you to meet.” He turned to me and motioned with his head for me to follow him. “Come on, kid.”
We strode up to the General and she acknowledged us with a quick nod. “Jonah,” she said in a clipped, no-nonsense tone. After noticing me, her countenance grew dark and she snapped, “Who the hell is this? I didn’t authorize you to bring anyone new personnel here!”
“This is Max Darby,” he stated. “When I was scouting ahead during the mission, I saw him stumbling around looking for the Time Bomb. He got himself arrested and then Tempus tried to snatch him.”
“Why’d they want you?” the General asked me. She stared at me with hard grey eyes that felt like they could pierce into the darkest recesses of my mind, and I don’t just mean that metaphorically. Between what I could do and the other crazy things I’d seen recently, I couldn’t rule out the possibility that she might really be able to read my thoughts.
“I can send my consciousness back in time one week. I’d noticed some discrepancies with certain events lately when doing so, and the first time I traveled back this week, I saw a news story about an explosion that I was sure hadn’t originally happened. So I went back again to try to stop it. I ended up getting arrested for my trouble, and that’s when those Bob guys tried to kidnap me.”
A look of concern crossed the General’s face, and she asked Jonah, “They sent the Bobs for him?”
“Yeah,” he replied grimly. “I had to wreck my truck to stop them. Put one in each of their heads for good measure, but you know the Bobs…”
“I do,” she said, and I noticed her reflexively clench her fists. “Did you at least act like you had some sense and scan him before you brought him back to the safehouse?”
“Of course,” Jonah answered, the slightest hint of offense slipping out in his otherwise steady tone. “I checked while he was asleep on our way over here. I didn’t see anything to indicate Tempus will find us.”
“Fine,” she said. Looking back towards me, she resumed her authoritative demeanor. “Okay, Max. Like it or not, you’re in this with us now for the long haul. If Tempus already has you in their crosshairs, then you’re not going to be safe until we stop them. As such, you need to know what you’re up against.” Searching the room, she spotted a diminutive man with glasses and long hair and called him over. “Emerson!”
Emerson snapped to attention and hurried over to where we were standing. “Yes, General?” he said as he saluted. The General rolled her eyes.
“Emerson, stop saluting. This isn’t the army,” she snapped. “I need you brief Max on Tempus.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.
“Jonah, with me,” the General ordered. “We have to go over the plans for tomorrow.”
The two departed, leaving me with Emerson, who was giving me a goofy smile. “So you can actually time travel, huh?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered. “I was under the impression that was sort of run-of-the-mill with you guys.”
“Oh, nope. Not at all,” he said. “Some of us have special gifts, like the General and Jonah, but actually being able to move through time isn’t one of them.”
“Well, what about Tempus? Can they?”
“Not at the moment. I presume that’s why they sent the Bobs after you. They’d kill to get their hands on your abilities.”
“Lucky me,” I said sarcastically. “So what exactly can they do?”
“Oh, right!” Emerson exclaimed. “Sorry. The briefing. Okay, so how much do you know about Tempus?”
“Their name and that they have two guys named Bob who tried to abduct me,” I stated. “That’s basically it.”
“Right. So the short version is this: Tempus has been developing ways of altering time for years, but they’ve only recently started to make any serious progress. Their founder, Desmond Reaves, used to run this institute meant to research unexplained phenomena, including people like you, and help them learn to better control their abilities. However, a lack of success drove Desmond to resort to increasingly-extreme measures, performing radical experiments on those at the institute.
“When the test subjects finally had enough and confronted him about it, a fight broke out between them, but it ended in a number of deaths. For a long time, those who managed to escape believed Desmond had died there, too, but when he eventually resurfaced, he was running Tempus and had created the temporal manipulation technology they use. He also started abducting new test subjects with special abilities to continue his research. The General was the first to discover this fact, and she got us together to try to stop Desmond and Tempus from reaching their final goal.”
“Okay. So what happens now?” I asked.
“Now we wait for the General to tell us her plan for our next move against them,” Emerson replied. “I’ve got some things I need to take care of, but you’re welcome to help yourself to some food from the commissary. If you go out the door and make a right down the corridor, it’ll be the third door on the left. Just stay away from the tacos. I haven’t seen ground beef on any of our delivery manifests in weeks, so Lord only knows what they put in them.”
“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
I bid Emerson farewell and headed out of the War Room, following what I naturally assumed had been accurate directions to the commissary. However, when I opened what should have been the correct door, I was instead greeted by a blast of rotten air. The stench stung my eyes, forcing me to squint, and making it difficult to make out what was causing the horrid smell. There was a soft hiss coming from the far side of the room, and my blood went cold when I realized it was the sound of labored breathing.
I could just about see the silhouette of what appeared to be a hospital bed and medical machinery connected by a series of wires and tubes when I felt a powerful hand fall upon my shoulder, sending me into a fit of terrified screams. The hand gripped me and pulled me back out of the room before spinning me around and slamming the door shut behind me.
“Calm down, kid,” Jonah said, “It’s just me.” My pulse was still thumping hard in my ears, but I managed to wrangle my fear enough to regain some sense of composure. Jonah gave me a curious look and asked, “What the heck were you doing in there?”
“I...uh,” I began, still struggling to catch my breath. “I was looking for the commissary. Emerson told me to make a right out of the War Room and it’d be the third door on the left.”
“That dolt,” he spat in annoyance, shaking his head. “You’ve gotta make a left out of the War Room, and it’s the fourth door on the right. I swear...that fella’s been here as long as me, and yet he still gets lost. He’s got a great head for numbers, but still can’t tie his own shoelaces.”
“Jonah...what’s in that room?” I asked hesitantly, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer. He sighed heavily and fiddled with his gun holster before looking back up at me.
“That’s Henry,” he said in a regretful tone. “Tempus went after him cause he could teleport. They believed he was actually manipulating time in order to appear to move from one place to another in an instant. I don’t know, maybe that is how he did it. When he popped up on our radar, we knew Tempus knew about him too, and when I looked into his future, I saw them trying to grab him like they did with you. The General sent me to get him first, and I succeeded.
“Problem was, they’d spotted him long before we did and got to him first. You can’t really just do a snatch and grab on a teleporter - they’ll just disappear the moment they realize they’re in trouble. Tempus also needed him alive, so they couldn’t just kill him. But they only needed him to be physically alive, and even then, just barely. Sent some girl in undercover to chat him up at a bar, flirt with him a bit, and slipped something into his drink. Even the fastest acting drug would’ve still given him enough time to make a jump to safety, so they opted for a slow burner.
“He was already halfway gone when I brought him here. Whatever they gave him, it ate away at his mind bit by bit, until his head was nothing more than a soggy potato. We’ve been keeping him alive in the hopes that we might be able to reverse the damage, but with Tempus stepping up their game, Henry’s unfortunately slipped way down on the priority list. We don’t have the resources to take care of him right - it seems cruel to leave him that way, using those machines to keep him alive long past his expiration date, but the General wants him alive, so we fall in line.”
The idea of what Henry had endured horrified me, but I think what made me even more sick was that the people in whose hands I’d placed my life would prolong someone’s suffering like that. I gulped down the hard lump in my throat and asked Jonah the question that had settled like a stone into the pit of my stomach.
“Could they have done something like that to me already?” My mind raced back to all the random encounters I’d had with strangers in the past few weeks, trying to remember if any of the interactions seemed suspicious given this new information, but nothing stood out. I would often have some drinks with fellow gamblers, sometimes buying everyone a round when I had a “lucky” streak going.
“Maybe,” Jonah replied. I suppose he wasn’t the sort to offer a comforting lie. This was really, truly not good. “Look, try not to worry about it, kid. Why don’t we go grab a bite to eat?”
“I’m not really very hungry anymore,” I said.
Before Jonah could respond, an announcement came over the P.A. system.
“Attention all personnel - there is a mandatory meeting set to begin in the Briefing Room in fifteen minutes. Please report there immediately and await further instructions. Thank you.”
“Alright. Guess that wasn’t in the cards for us right now anyway,” Jonah remarked. “Come on, I’ll take you over to the meeting so you don’t get lost again.”
*
The rest of the day in the bunker was a blur of frenzied activity. After everyone had gathered in the Briefing Room, the General came out and presented the plan for their next move against Tempus. Her analysts had located one of the facilities where they were producing their tech, and she intended to raid it. The intention was to steal as much of it as they could and then destroy the rest. However, expecting it to be heavily guarded, she was going to lead the attack personally, and wanted nearly all of their top operatives to join her. Once we’d been dismissed, everyone set about preparing for the mission.
“Don’t worry, kid, you’ll be safe here,” Jonah assured me after escorting me to an empty bunk room. I wasn’t sure if he did this out of kindness or to make sure I didn’t stumble upon any more of their unsettling secrets. “Just try to get some sleep and recover from the shock of everything that’s happened lately. We’ll be back by morning, and the General will probably want to have a more in-depth conversation with you before you start your training.”
“You know, the only time I’ve ever even fired a gun was at a turkey shoot my town had around Thanksgiving when I was kid,” I said. “I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of thing.”
“Look, most of us started off just like you. But you’re gonna have to learn how to take care of yourself. Even if you decide to hop back when the week’s over so you can stay home and keep away from this whole mess, it’ll only be a matter of time before Tempus finds you. One way or another, the fight’s gonna land on your doorstep, so it’s better if you’re at least ready when that time comes.”
“I guess that makes sense,” I admitted reluctantly.
“Course it does,” Jonah said with a grin. “Go on and rest. I gotta get going.” As he turned to leave, he added, “Oh, and there’s a storm blowing through the area right now. Don’t freak out if the power goes off. We’ve got generators that’ll kick it back on after a minute or two.”
“Hey, Jonah,” I called out before he departed. “Good luck.”
“Thanks, kid.”
*
Despite the fact that I was exhausted and the only sleep I’d gotten in the last thirty-six hours was a restless nap in a speeding car, I was still wide awake no matter how long I laid in my bunk. Finally, I decided to get up and try to distract my overworked mind. I slipped out of the room, checking down the corridor for any signs of the few who remained behind in the safehouse, but the coast was clear. I didn’t really have a plan of action - I just figured I’d explore the place and see if I could get a better handle on what kind of operation these people were running.
I cautiously checked a few random doors that I passed, but thankfully there was nothing unsavory behind them. Nothing interesting, either, though. A few other bunk rooms, an empty holding cell, and a storage room filled with unopened cleaning supplies. I did my best to keep track of every turn I made so I could find my way back, but the uniformity of the hallways and doors made it difficult to really tell them apart. At some point, I must’ve gotten turned around, because the next door I opened happened to be my own bunk room.
I was just about to give up and return to bed when I noticed a few muddy footprints on the carpet. The floors out in the hall were already filthy, so a trail of mud wouldn’t have stood out, but Jonah had told me this room wasn’t being used by anybody else. I checked the soles of my boots just to be sure, and while they were caked with some dust and debris, there wasn’t any mud on them. The treads also didn’t match. I nervously glanced around, praying that I wasn’t about to be ambushed by a hidden assailant, but there wasn’t really anywhere for them to hide.
Any relief I normally would have felt was overpowered by the sense of dread knowing that someone had been in my room. I paced around for a bit, trying to piece together a plan in case whoever it was came back, but I didn’t get very far before the lights suddenly cut out. I froze for a moment, but remembered Jonah had mentioned the storm might knock out the power. The storm! It hit me like a ton of bricks - someone would have trailed mud into the safehouse if they’d been outside in the rain. And the General had specifically ordered a lockdown until they’d returned from the mission. There was an intruder in the bunker, and I had a sinking feeling about who it could be.
If Tempus had managed to infiltrate the safehouse, I couldn’t just sit there waiting for them to find me. I couldn’t be certain if they’d known this was the room I was supposed to be in, or if they were just checking everywhere, but I wasn’t going to just stay there and hope they didn’t come back. I was completely defenseless at the moment, so my only shot was to try to find something with which I could put up a fight. I was pretty sure I could find my way back to the War Room, where they had those wonderful walls full of weapons, so that’s where I needed to go.
I waited until the power came back on, and then I slunk back out into the corridor, moving as quietly as possible. Every moment I was out there made me feel increasingly exposed, but I couldn’t risk going any faster and alerting the intruder of my presence. When I finally reached the door to the War Room unscathed, I heaved a sigh of relief and opened it as slowly as possible, trying to keep the creaking from the gears to a minimum as I spun the wheel handle open. I pulled the door open and stepped inside, but I nearly wet myself again when my eyes fell upon the sight in front of me - everyone was dead.
Forgetting all about being silent, I rushed from body to body, desperately checking for any signs of life, but it was pointless. The crew manning the computers had been brutally slaughtered. I didn’t see any bullet or knife wounds - it looked like they’d been beaten to death with a sledgehammer. I rushed across the room towards the wall of weapons and the knot in my stomach tightened when I saw they’d been battered to bits. Kneeling down on the floor, I rummaged through the shards of metal and broken armaments in a frantic hunt for anything that might still be usable. All the way in the corner, I found a small handgun that looked to be intact and grabbed it. It was better than nothing.
I held the weapon out in front of me and could hear it rattling from how bad my hands were shaking, but I pressed forward and exited the War Room. The safehouse had become an enormous tomb, and I had no desire to let it be mine as well. If I could escape from the bunker, I at least had a chance of hiding out somewhere until I had some time to figure out what to do next. Right now, though, I just kept picturing what would happen to me if I got caught, and it wasn’t helping my already shredded nerves. I crept down the corridor, retracing the path Jonah had brought me down when we first arrived, but I didn’t get far before the sound of a voice behind me made me jump out of my skin.
“Hello, Maximilian Darby.”
I twirled around and fired, but the only thing I hit was empty space. I quickly turned back to check in the other direction, but nobody was there.
“A bit skittish, are we?” the voice said, punctuating his remark with a cackle.
I looked up and down the corridor again, still seeing nothing. That was when I realized the voice was coming from the intercom speaker back down the hall. I gave one more glance around before returning to the task at hand, but I quickened my pace a bit.
“I know you’re down here, Maxy-boy. A couple of your old friends are looking for you. Why don’t you be a dear and just give them a shout. You and Jonah have already given them enough of a headache.”
So it was the Bobs that killed those people. They’d already scared the heck out of me before, but now I was downright terrified of them. I thought about poor Henry, and how Jonah had said they’d only needed him to be barely alive, wondering how many hits from whatever weapon the Bobs had my body could take and still qualify as barely alive.
“Look, I’m sure Iris -- ahem -- I mean, ‘The General,’ or one of her flunkies have already told you who I am. If not, my name is Desmond. I’ve spent a long time helping people with special gifts, and now I want to offer my expertise to you. You’re special, Max. Well, special-er. Actually being able to go back in time and relive the past - it’s extraordinary! But there are limits to it, right? A couple of days? Maybe a week? I can help you go back farther than that, my friend. Much farther.
“Imagine what you could do if you were able to return to when you were just a wee lad! You’d have decades of experience and foreknowledge at your fingertips - you could build the life you’ve always dreamed of from the ground up without ever having to even use your abilities again! No more worrying about looking too suspicious if you suddenly became a stock market whiz or kept guessing the right lotto numbers, because everyone would just believe you’d been a tiny little genius from the start.”
I hated to admit it, but that did sound appealing. Not that I believed he actually could help me do that or had any intention of letting me go if I let the Bobs take me in, but his words hit close to home. I’d spent so much of my life alone, not wanting to get too close to anyone and risk them finding out what I could do. At best, any relationships I might have would always have the pall of suspicion hanging over it, wondering how one person managed to have so much luck. Or they’d just think I was a criminal of some sort.
When I first discovered my power, I didn’t have the foresight to use it to build a foundation for myself that I could use later in life. I was a decent enough student, and the idea of having to relive an entire week just to change the score on a math test from a “C” to an “A” didn’t seem worth it to me. Besides, at the time, I was more interested in using my abilities to have fun. In the summer between junior and senior year, I extended the break for myself from six weeks to four months, most of which was spent going to different parties held on the same nights. By the time I realized I could’ve used time travel to make sure I got into a really good college, it was far too late, as going back a mere week wouldn’t change anything.
“Think about it, Maximilian. My boys will bring you in one way another, so why not make it easy on yourself?” Desmond said.
That was thankfully the last I heard of him over the intercom, but creeping around in dead silence wasn’t a vast improvement. I was about to round the corner leading to the lift back to the surface when I heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming from that direction. Poking my head around just long enough to catch a glimpse of who was there, I immediately broke into a sprint back the way I came when I saw the two Bobs striding down the hallway. I turned back around and realized they were closing in on me fast, despite appearing to be walking at a casual pace, and I fired wildly in their general direction. Their heavy footfalls only ceased for a moment - if I actually managed to hit either of them, it clearly didn’t have much of an effect on their pursuit.
I rushed back down corridor after corridor, the suits still keeping up with me no matter how fast I ran. I saw the door to the War Room still hanging open and forced myself not to look inside as I passed, needing to stay focused on trying to escape. I was nearly to the end of the hallway when Bob appeared from around the corner with a grin plastered on his sharp face. Whirling around, I was about to take off away from him when the other Bob appeared, blocking my path that way. I dove for the nearest door, opening it as fast as I could, and slammed it shut once I was inside, turning the handle again and engaging the lock. That was when the foul stench hit my nostrils, and I realized where I was - I was back in Henry’s room.
Forcing myself not to regurgitate from the combination of disgust and fear, I backed towards the hospital bed holding the catatonic teleporter and hunched down behind some of the medical equipment, aiming my gun at the door. A loud thud echoed through the room. Then another. And another. I could hear the door’s hinges groan from the force of the whacks, and soon the only barrier between me and the Bobs was bending inward. With one final blow, the entire door crumbled and was knocked into the room. Standing there with bloody fists was Bob, flanked by other Bob. The terror of realizing that the only weapons they had on them were their fists made me gasp for air. There was no way out. They had me pinned in here like a rat about to be pounced on by a pair of vicious tigers.
“Come on out Max,” Bob said.
“Do not make us come in there to get you,” Other Bob sneered. “It smells bad, and it will put us in a foul mood if we have to go into this room. You would not like us when we are unhappy.”
“Can’t say I like you much now, either,” I called out, trying and failing to keep my voice from wavering. They simply laughed in response.
“Have it your way.” Bob turned to the other Bob and said, “Go get him.”
Other Bob balked at this and replied in a lower tone, “No. You go get him.”
“I just had to break down this door,” Bob hissed. “It will take at least an hour for them to heal. Now go get him, and if he refuses to come quietly…”
“Fine,” other Bob relented. He stepped through the doorway, and I could see his face wrinkle up from the fetid air. However, this didn’t impede his progress, and I only had moments before he’d be upon me. I vainly aimed my gun out from behind the machinery and pulled the trigger, but I didn’t need to check to see that the recoil had caused my shot to miss, hitting the wall near the ceiling. I tried aiming lower and fired again - this time there was a sickening squelch when the bullet made contact with Other Bob. Taking the opportunity to peer out from cover, I saw him sprawled out on the ground. By some miracle, I’d actually shot him in the head.
“That was unwise,” Bob growled. He sounded angry. I definitely didn’t like it. With a roar, he charged forward, ripping the heavy equipment out and tossing it aside like they were made of cardboard. I brought the gun about to fire, but he clamped his hand down around the barrel as I did, forcing it upward. The bullet went through his palm and came out the other side, but it didn’t seem to phase him. He yanked the weapon from my hand and threw it behind him before grabbing me around the throat. His grip tightened, and I could feel the blood in my head desperately trying to pump down to my heart. “You should have listened to us!” he sneered.
Bob slammed me against the wall, his fingers still squeezing me around my neck, and as my vision began to fade, I flailed around in a panic, trying to find anything to grasp onto. My fingers brushed against a tray sitting atop the table next to Henry’s bed, and out of the corner of my eye, I could barely make out the shape of a scalpel of some kind among a few needles and medications. I tipped the tray over enough for the instruments on it to slide forward, snatching the scalpel before it fell and slammed it as hard as I could into Bob’s arm. I then pulled it downward, slicing cleanly through enough tendons that he released his hold on me and allowing a rush of less-than-fresh air to once again fill my lungs.
“Pathetic,” Bob scoffed, but he was cradling the arm I’d just cut, and it looked like he was struggling to move his hand. I summoned every last ounce of strength I had and dashed at full speed for the door, but even in his injured state, Bob was still faster and stronger. Using his good arm, knocked me back, sending me stumbling towards the hospital bed. I tried to steady myself on one of the pieces of medical equipment that hadn’t been tossed around earlier, but I only managed to pull out some wiring as I fell. An alarm started blaring from the machine, and Bob suddenly stopped in his tracks. He wasn’t looking at me anymore - he was looking behind me.
I turned around to see that Henry had shot upright in his bed, a hoarse wheezing noise sputtering from his mouth. He was clawing at his chest, unable to breathe without the machine. The air around him started vibrating, and without thinking, I leapt to my feet and grabbed his arm. With a teeth-rattling crack, I felt a heavy weight nearly crush me, and I closed my eyes, thinking that Bob had gotten ahold of me again. But a moment later, the weight was gone, and I realized I could hear the sounds of cars passing by outside. Opening my eyes again, I found myself in someone’s bedroom. There were posters for popular bands plastered on the walls, and a guitar sitting on a stand in the corner. I glanced at the ground in front of me and found Henry lying there motionless. He was dead.
Running my hands through my hair, I walked over to the open window and looked outside. The tall buildings and glittering street lights illuminating wet asphalt made it was clear I was in a city - I wasn’t sure which one at the moment, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t stuck in the bunker with any more Bobs, and that was at least something. I inspected the room to see if I could get any clues as to where I was, and I discovered a wallet sitting on the dresser. Opening it up, there was a driver’s license with a picture of a vibrant young man smiling and a name: Henry Joseph Watts. I sighed. This was Henry’s room. In his final moments, he instinctively teleported himself somewhere he felt safe. He went home.
I felt terrible for him, but I also knew that it wouldn’t be wise for me to stick around and be found in Henry’s room with his dead body, especially with the condition it was in. I was already wanted as a suspected terrorist by the police, and this would definitely land me back in custody, where Tempus would have no problem getting to me again. I’m not proud of it, but seeing as Henry no longer had any use for it, I took the cash he had in his wallet and changed into some clean clothes. As I was pulling the money out, a small piece of paper slipped into my hand alongside it. The only thing scrawled on it was a phone number, but I kept it in case it might be connected to our mutual friends.
I carefully exited his room and listened for any signs of activity, but it seemed like the apartment was empty. If Henry had lived with anyone else, they at least didn’t appear to be home. I went to the fridge to grab some food, but everything was spoiled. No roommates, then. At least, I’d hope not. I rummaged through the cabinets and spotted a box of breakfast pastries, so I pocketed them. On my way out of the apartment, I grabbed a sweatshirt off the hook near the door and pulled it on.
Maybe I could’ve stayed there a bit longer - after all, if Henry had been reported missing, the police would have gone through the place already, but it didn’t look like anyone else had been there. But I had no way of knowing if Tempus would look for me at his place, since presumably, Bob saw me teleport out of the safehouse with someone else, and it seemed like the list of known teleporters was pretty short.
I think I mainly didn’t want to stay there because I didn’t want to be alone with Henry. Seeing him like that was forcing me to consider the possibility that the path I was on could very well lead me to a fate just like his, and I didn’t want to think about that right now. I needed to figure out where I was, and then find a way to contact Jonah, the General, or anyone else from the organization. They would be finishing their attack soon, and if they’d survived what very well might have been a trap, I needed to warn them about what had happened. The only thing I had to go on was that phone number, so I pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and started walking, hoping I could find one of the few payphones still in operation to give it a shot.
submitted by DarkenedPages to nosleep

Of Men and Dragons, Chapter 50

50 Chapters! I never thought this story was ever going to get this far when I started out months ago! Thank you all so much for all your support and encouragement, I hope I continue to deliver a story that you find enjoyable and satisfying!

As promised, I have a surprise for y'all. There's nothing really spiffy in the chapter, since I didn't want to upset the pacing of the story just to stroke my ego. Instead, I'm posting chapter 1 of one of the spin offs I'm planning, "Of Men and Ghost Ships". It's just an introduction to the characters and a proof of concept atm, my focus will remain on Of Men and Dragons for now, but I thought ya'll might enjoy a glimpse into the future. So if you're one of those people who pulls the chapter up seconds after I post it, check back after you've read it to see if the link to the other story is up and ready!

As usual, I welcome any and all constructive feedback you all might have to offer. I want to know what you're thinking and feeling as you read, (Good and bad) and if anything, in particular, caught your eye. All that being said, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!
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Of Men and Dragons, Chapter 50
A small part of Jack wanted nothing more than to lie down and give up, but the rest of Jack was screaming to get up and hunt down the raiders and get Em'brel back. However, lying in the mud with a spear sticking out of his leg was going to slow him down a bit.
Angela's voice came in over the headset, sounding shaken and ashamed. "Jack, I'm sorry... I couldn't... I didn't know what to do! It all happened so fast, and all I could do was watch in horror. I was certain you were going to die... and now Em'brel is..."
Jack shook his head. "Em'brel is fine, and I'm going to go get her. Call S'haar, and let her know everything that's happened. I'm going to need her and any help she can get to start heading this way now."
Jack reached down and grabbed hold of the spear, bracing himself for the pain of trying to pull it out again when a gruff voice cut him off. "Determined to be a fool then? That's going to end the same way it did last time, and it'll accomplish just as much. Get your hands off that."
Ger'ron was standing over Jack, who released the spear and nodded. The old guard lowered himself slowly, using the crutches he'd evidently retrieved after the battle as leverage. Grabbing ahold of the spear, rather than pulling it out the way Jack expected, he snaped the haft off just above Jack's injury. The pain caused by the sudden jolt caused Jack to blackout again, but it must not have lasted long because when he opened his eyes, Ger'ron was still in roughly the same spot as before.
Angela spoke up again. "S'haar already knows. She's getting a group of hunters together since they can move through the wilds faster than anyone else, and they're going to use the worker's coats so they can keep moving longer. The town guard will follow after, using more traditional cold-weather travel, utilizing campfires as needed. They're lead by B'arthon."
Jack laughed as though Angela had told a bad joke. "So, they'll be of no help then."
Ger'ron helped Jack to his feet and handed him one of his crutches, which was far too large for Jack to use as intended, but worked well enough as a walking stick. Getting back to the cave like this was going to take an agonizingly long time, and with every second, Em'brel was being carried further away. But no other option presented itself, so Jack got moving.
On the way back to the cave, one of the raiders caught Jack's eye, and he painfully knelt down next to the corpse to inspect it more closely. Looking at the coat, Jack could see it was cut and shaped like the worker's coats. It was made of cruder skins and leathers, and the stitching was not nearly as skilled, but the seams were all in the same spots. Flipping the coat open, he could even see pockets, exactly where they should be.
Angela's voice was confused and angry. "Those aren't similar to my design. Those ARE my design! How'd they get their hands on it?"
Reaching into a pocket, Jack pulled out a stone. Still warm to the touch. He threw it on the ground in disgust before standing back up and continuing to the cave. "I don't know how they got one, and that doesn't matter right now. The good news is, these aren't nearly as efficient as your coats, and that might be what makes the difference."
Angela was quiet. Her voice sounded as if she didn't want to say what came next. "Jack... Even with S'haar heading out now... She's a full day behind. The raiders will be back in the mountains long before she can catch them... and even if she did somehow catch them... When I focused my sensors to follow the raider who escaped, I could track him as far as the edge of my range. He met up with more argu'n. I only got a rough glimpse at how many heat signatures there were, but there weren't dozens. There were well over a hundred. They sent out a whole camp. I don't know what to do..."
Jack grunted in pain as his leg moved in such a way that it aggravated his injury. "There's only one option. I'm going to go ahead and slow them down."
Angela sounded as if she was worried Jack had finally lost his grip on reality and needed to be reminded of the obvious. "How will you do that? You can barely walk, even with your 'human endurance,' you'll never catch the raiders!"
Ger'ron was silently following right behind Jack, keeping an eye on the younger man. He couldn't understand a word of what he was saying, but Jack's tone was unmistakable. He was thinking of doing something stupid. "Yeah, but you can rapidly heal my leg like you did when I fractured my ankle by kicking that goon in the face months ago. If I remember correctly, you mentioned that the more pain medication you used, the slower the healing went. How long would it take to heal my leg if you didn't use any?"
This time, Angela knew Jack had gone insane. "That's not possible. Even if I was stupid enough to try, you'd go into shock from the trauma and pain. Also, that would only heal the bone. I could also surgically reattach the muscle, but even speeding up the healing process as much as possible, it wouldn't be fully attached in nearly enough time. You'd be at risk of the muscle tearing again. On top of all that, there's nothing I can do about the nerve damage you've suffered. I simply can't heal you in time!"
Jack walked in silence a moment. When he spoke up again, his voice unreasonably calm. "What if you just deaden the nerves directly? Then you won't need to use pain medications, and the pain of the bone growth would be negligible."
Angeal's laugher had the sound of someone who knew they were dealing with someone beyond reason. "Do you realize how insane that is? Setting aside all the possible complications and side effects, by rapidly healing both the bone and the muscle, but leaving the nerves untended, then going cross country hiking followed by a life or death battle, you'll be lucky if all you get is a permanent limp!"
Jack's voice remained calm, and his gaze focused beyond the rock wall. "I don't care if you tell me my leg might rot and need to be amputated in a few days. Will it do what I need it to do right now?"
Angela sounded defeated. "It MIGHT. At best, I'd say you have a thirty percent chance of your leg holding together long enough to even catch up with the raiders. And for the record, yes, after a few days, your leg might well start to rot. Even if it doesn't, you'll definitely be crippled for the rest of your life. Then there's the question of what will you do if, by some unholy miracle, you pull this off and you catch the raiders? How are you going to slow them down long enough for S'haar to catch up?"
Jack finally smiled, but his eyes remained cold, keeping the expression from containing any warmth. "That's easy. This time I'll bring the big guns."
-
Angela's avatar was glaring at Jack in the medical bay. "Just so you know, doing what you are asking me to do would be considered criminally irresponsible in civilized space."
Jack didn't look to be in a much better mood as he responded. "Well, we're not in civilized space, or else we'd just call in the actual military to resolve the issue, rather than leaving it to an explorer with delusions of grandeur. Now can we get on with this? We don't have any time to waste!"
Angela wasn't cowed one iota. "You WILL demonstrate to me that you fully understand the ramifications of what this could mean, and that you are at least somewhat sane and capable of making this kind of judgment call. I say 'somewhat,' because there's no way a completely sane person would come up with this ridiculous plan of yours! If Em'brel didn't mean so much to me too, I'd have already sedated you and kept you sedated until this injury could be dealt with appropriately!"
Jack bit back his retort, closed his eyes, and visibly calmed himself. He reminded himself that Angela was just doing her best to look out for him and that she was almost as scared as he was at this moment. Opening his eyes, he spoke clearly and calmly. "I understand that this will be incredibly painful, will definitely cripple me one way or another eventually, and that it could even endanger my life. I also understand that even if I do this, the patch job you're about to give me might fail early, or my leg may go lame sooner than expected, and this will all be for nothing. I also know that if I don't at least try, I'll never be able to live with myself. So can we do this... please?"
Angela searched his face intently for a few moments before sighing. "Alright. Whatever you do, don't die on me because of this, got it! I don't care if you have to punch that goddess of death of yours in the face this time!"
A mechanical arm held out something that looked like a long thick piece of leather. "Now bite down on this. This first bit is going to hurt... a lot..."
Not long after that, the screaming began.
-
Jack couldn't remember much of what happened after that, not for two hours at least. He knew it had seemed like a much longer period of time while he was experiencing it, but his memories of the pain were mostly academic. The whole thing felt almost like a dream now.
Angela hadn't deadened the nerves completely, explaining that he'd never be able to walk on it quickly enough if she'd done so. Instead, she cut down his ability to feel by about ninety percent. It turns out that that left just enough feeling for the experience of rapid bone growth and surgical muscle reattachment to be an extremely painful one.
He was surprised at how annoying it was to walk on a mostly numb leg. It felt like his foot was asleep, and he kept expecting the pins and needles feeling to start up at any moment. Angela had also made him wear a special boot she'd designed as she'd worked. It allowed him to walk relatively normally but limited the range of movement to reduce the chances he'd re-tear the muscle again.
Still, that was all behind him now, and his mind was already onto the next task. He was now digging through storage, finding everything he'd need for the rescue. Being a scout by profession, his ship was stocked with all sorts of equipment he rarely used. He was even required to show proficiency in their use every few years, so he knew he could handle them well enough.
The rifle was the first and most important piece of gear. It was meant more for hunting than fighting, but it was designed for up to 10-millimeter rounds. In other words, it was meant to have the stopping power for seriously big game if needed. With a decent scope and a suppressor, he hoped he'd be able to avoid detection for long enough to cause some real fear and confusion.
He looked at a few frag grenades before putting them back in favor of more flashbangs. The shrapnel probably wouldn't have enough power to pierce through argu'n bone plates to any vital organs. On the other hand, the flashbangs could buy him precious moments to move and reload when needed. He also grabbed a few "pepper" grenades. They were a sort of wide dispersal chemical irritant, strong enough to ruin a grizzly's day. Topping off the list, Jack included a few knives, a pair of night-vision goggles, emergency ration bars that were all protein and calories with zero taste, a few first aid supplies, and of course, his trusty handgun.
As he was leaving, Angela met him at the door. She pointed to one last emergency pack that had always been stored by the door. "Take that one too."
Jack raised an eyebrow at her. "You know if I need that, I won't be in any condition to use it, right?"
Angela shook her head. "I don't care. Take it anyway. You still have enough room in your lower right pants pocket."
Jack shrugged and packed it away as Ger'ron came hobbling over. "I wish I was coming with you lad. Even with that thunder stick of yours, what you're planning is suicide. Least I could do is die with ya, since the young lady got herself captured because I slowed us down."
Jack crossed his arms and shook his head. Angela translated as he spoke. "First, she didn't get captured, helping you. She got captured saving me. Second, her capture isn't either of our faults. The responsibility lies solely with the raiders, and whether this works or not, they'll pay dearly for what they did. For now, focus on your recovery, and think more about my offer. If I do come back, we'll need all the help we can get."
Angela glared at Jack, fists on her hips. "WHEN you come back!"
Jack smiled a little sheepishly and nodded. "Yes, when I come back."
Not having much more to say, Ger'ron simply nodded and watched as Jack left.
Once out in the cave, Angela had more to say over the headset. "Once you get out of my range, you'll be on your own for a while. But keep your headset on and ready. When S'haar gets close enough, I'll be able to pick you up on the mobile transceiver and be your eye in the sky, so to speak. Also, remember to take it easy on that leg. I know you are in a rush, but if you cripple yourself before you catch them, you won't help anyone."
Jack grunted his ascent but focused on how his leg felt as he moved forward and at a steady pace. Not knowing what to say, Angela traveled with him in silence, observing and recording every little thing she could think of. She only spoke up again once Jack neared the limit of her range. "Jack, I know how much Em'brel means to you. She means just as much to me in some ways, maybe more in others. But remember, others are waiting for you too. She wouldn't thank you if you got yourself killed going after her. Not that I think you're going to suddenly change your mind or anything... but... Just be smart about this, ok? Use every cheap and unfair advantage you have. Worry about honor and guilt another day, ok?"
Jack frowned a little to himself before agreeing. "Yeah, that's kind of what I was thinking. It's time for me to introduce this world to a darker side of humanity."
-
Em'brel was resting by the campfire. One of the raiders handed her a bowl full of some slop, but she refused to eat it despite the growling of her stomach.
She was sore all over. Her captors hadn't been gentle with her. The only saving grace, so far, was the fact that they were so busy running that none of the raiders had found the time to abuse her like they had the first time she'd been captured. Though she was sure, it was just a matter of time.
When she'd first woken up, Em'brel had hoped that Jack would send S'haar to rescue her again, but when she saw how many raiders surrounded her, that hope had evaporated like the morning mist. She'd honestly considered killing herself then and there, rather than face captivity at these monsters' hands again.
As weird as it seemed, the only thing that kept her going was all the knowledge she now carried in her head. It seemed like sacrilege to just throw away everything Jack and Anglea had taught her. Not that she was willing to use it to help her captors, but she couldn't let it go to waste either.
And yet, she couldn't bring herself to eat or drink anything they offered to her. She knew this was at odds with her determination to not give up and die, but something in her simply refused to accept anything they gave her. She'd just decided to let herself pass out from hunger and make them force feed her, when she was approached by the most terrifying argu'n male she'd ever seen.
Em'brel couldn't quite figure out what made him so scary. He was nowhere near as large as Dol'jin had been. He didn't bear a single scar from any duel or battle, nor did he seem to move with much swagger or bravado. If anything, he moved with the delicate grace of a dancer. Despite all this, all the other males pulled back from his approach, seemingly unwilling to even let his shadow pass over their own.
When he reached Em'brel, he looked down at her bowl, still full of her uneaten lunch, and frowned. He crouched down with grace not even S'haar could manage and reached out a taloned hand that crossed the distance between them far quicker than it appeared to move. His hand covered her mouth with his thumb and forefinger digging his talons into her cheeks until they drew blood.
When he spoke, his voice was quieter than she would have assumed but seemed all the more menacing for it. "If you continue to play these games, I'll have you brought to my tent tonight to make sure you eat well before you share my bed. However, if you're a good girl and do what I say, I'll let you sleep outside, chained to a post like the mongrel you are, cold but untouched."
Em'brel stared at him a moment longer before reaching blindly for her bowl and lifting it expectantly. The male chuckled softly and withdrew his hand, waiting until she took a bite before standing and walking away.
The thing that really bothered her about his was his voice. It lacked the harsh accent of the rest of the hill people. It was smooth and refined, as though he had grown up in a proper village. At the same time, the sound cut like a knife made of ice. Simply listening to his voice convinced Em'brel that this was someone who could kill quickly and without remorse.
As he left, Em'brel could just barely make out his parting words. "That's a good girl..."

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50 Chapters! Holly crap, thank you again! I thought this story would have petered out by chapter 10 or 12 when I first started out. I figured either you all would have gotten bored, or I would have burnt out. Instead, ya'll have shown so much encouragement and support that it's been a real pleasure to write, and I got a ton more Ideas coming. As a celebration for making it to 50 chapters, I'm gonna be posting a bit of a glimpse into that future with Chapter 1 of "Of Men and Ghost Ships"! I figured Holloween was the perfect time to post this chapter as well. Anyway, thank you all for reading so far, and I hope you all continue to enjoy!
If you like my work and would like to support it, consider donating to my Patreon. Don't worry if you can't, there won't be any paywalled content or anything else like that, this is nothing more than a way to show your support. =)
submitted by DrBlackJack21 to HFY