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July 15, 2024

Anachronocity v7p4

By Josh Brown

What a Mess - Part Four

Alex stared at Daniel, paying no attention to the monitors. For all he knew, the Elder had passed through several of the halls already and he'd missed it--but he didn't care. Somehow, his brother was alive and speaking to him from the past, from before the suicide.

"Don't do it," Alex said.

"Do what?"

"Kill yourself."

Daniel laughed. "Not my style, little brother."

"You must be thinking about it even now. People don't just up and say I think I'll kill myself today. Whatever your reasoning is, it's not worth it. Don't kill yourself."

"Don't plan on it."

"I'm serious, Daniel."

"So am I, Alex. Why would I kill myself?"

"I don't know. But you did."

"Been drinking?"

"Shut up. I saw you. I found you. You climbed into the freezer in the basement and gassed yourself."

"Did I leave a note?" Daniel asked with a smile. He clearly wasn't taking this seriously.

What if he hadn't killed himself? What if someone killed him and made it look like a suicide?

"You've never thought about suicide?" Alex asked.

"Not once. What're you doing here, anyway?" His eyes drifted over the wall of life-like monitors. "Shouldn't you be working on getting back?"

Alex turned back to the display, frowning. "We're trying to flush out an Elder." After a quick glance without really seeing anything, Alex looked back at his brother. "Then what would cause you to instantly decided to kill yourself? Cause I'm telling you, you did it. You may be in my present, here in the future, but my present is ten years in your future. Looking at you, I can see this must be farther back in time. You're not nearly as despondent as you were those last few weeks."

Daniel shrugged--typical. "You must be remembering incorrectly. That's just not something I'd do."

"Then why'd you do it?"

"I didn't--and I won't."

"But you did--will."

"I'm telling you right now, Alex. I give you my word. I will not ever commit suicide."

Expecting the world to suddenly change as the past altered, Alex glanced around hoping to find himself at some boring job surrounded by boring people from his own time. If Daniel never killed himself, Alex wouldn't have taken up Daniel's work and wouldn't have ended up here in the future. So... why didn't anything change? The only answer seemed obvious: Daniel still kills himself.

"Still here," he said.

"Yes," Daniel said. "You're still here. Why wouldn't you be?"

"Because you said you'd never kill yourself."

"And I won't."

"Then why am I here?"

"Because you were in an accident while messing with my equipment."

"Ten years after you killed yourself."

"I just told you--"

"I know what you said, Daniel. But the fact remains I'm still here. That means you still die."

"What kind of logic is that? Just because I don't die doesn't mean you don't end up here."

"What about my memories? Wouldn't I remember something else?"

"Not necessarily. You're out of time so any changes might not affect you. And that's assuming you remember correctly."

"I remember just fine. I'd never forget what I saw."

Daniel leaned over. His hand floated in the arm, fingers wrapped around an invisible pencil. As he wrote, Alex watched in fascination. All he saw was his brother. The pencil, table, paper--nothing else involved in the process existed.

"What're you doing?"

"There," Daniel said, standing up straight again. "I wrote myself a note on a post-it and stuck it on the computer monitor. Every day I'll see it and every day I'll remember not to kill myself. Happy?"

"No--I'm still here."

Daniel sighed. "Give it up, will you?"

"What's the date?"

"August 21, 1995."

One month before the suicide--Alex told Daniel as much. "You killed yourself on September 18, 1995. Or maybe even late at night on September 17th. Something between now and then must have changed your mind."

"What could be so bad that it drives me to suicide? Nothing, that's what."

Alex wanted to strangle his brother. If only he could touch him.

The door opened, drawing Alex's attention from his brother. Bethany skipped in, grinning like a fool. "There you are!" She plopped down in his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.

"Little young for you, isn't she?" Daniel asked, eyebrows high.

"What're you doing in here?" Bethany planted a kiss against Alex's lips. "I've been looking all over the ship."

"I'm watching the--" It dawned on Alex that Bethany knew nothing about the killer on the loose. "I'm doing something for Sela. You shouldn't be in here."

"I can help. What're we doing?" She scanned the monitors curiously. Katlyn passed through one of the halls, pausing long enough to pop her head into some storage closets. On another monitor, Horus stalked by. "Hm. Are they looking for something?"

Alex was vaguely aware of Daniel's watchful eyes. It took everything he had to keep from looking at his brother since obviously Bethany couldn't see or hear him.

"Just go away," Alex said. "Let me work and then we can talk."

"It's a small ship, Alex. You don't think these secrets stay secrets for long, do you?"

"What? You know?"

"Of course."

"She's lying," Daniel said over Alex's shoulder. "She's trying to get you to tell her by making you think she knows."

"I knew that," Alex said.

Bethany grinned. "Good! You're not as foolish as you act sometimes. So, what's our job?"

He wasn't talking to her when he said that. This duel conversing wasn't going to work. "If you want to help, you need to talk to Sela."

"Sela... hmm."

"I think maybe you have a little problem here, Alex," Daniel said.

Alex glanced over his shoulder, no longer able to refrain from giving his brother a good long glare.

"What the eetee is that?"

Alex shot a look at the monitor wall. His stomach sank. There on monitor four, the Elder walked through the hall as if he were taking a friendly stroll. The next monitor over showed Katlyn headed straight toward him.

"Bethany, leave. Right now."

She slipped off his lap but showed no signs of leaving. Alex grumbled under his breath, and then slapped the intercom toggle. Screw it. "You're headed straight at him Katlyn. Deck two, service corridor."

"Got it," Katlyn replied over the intercom.

"Keep an eye on him, Alex." Sela this time. "Katlyn, try to stall him until we can get up there."

Bethany frowned at the intercom traffic. "What's going on?"

"I thought you knew."

"I lied. Who is that?"

No sense trying to keep this hidden any more. "That's the Elder that killed Heather and Nicolas."

"What? I thought they... The message from Sela."

"I guess secrets aren't as hard to keep as you think."

"That was rude," Daniel said.

On the monitor, Katlyn and the Elder stood face-to-face apparently talking. No sound poured through the 3D displays, however, so whatever words they exchanged remained a mystery. Bethany had fallen silent, staring blankly at the monitors.

"Think you might have been a little more sensitive?" Daniel asked. "Just because they are strangers to you that doesn't mean these people aren't like family to each other."

"Shut up."

"I didn't say anything," Bethany muttered.

"Not you."

She gazed at him in confusion, and then looked back at the monitors as Horus lumbered down the hall behind the Elder. Sela and Yerik were on either side of him, just a little behind. The Elder spun around. His hands lifted from his sides, palms up.

"Is he surrendering? Why--"

A bright flash of light filled the corridor. The instant the light erupted, the entire ship lurched sideways. Bethany stumbled into Alex's chair, as Alex flew out of the seat and conked his head against the corner of the desk.

Stars filled the air in front of him, the ship rolling all around like a maddening display. It took him a moment to realize the ship wasn't actually rolling--it was just his head.

"You okay?" Bethany and Daniel both asked.

"Fine, fine. What happened?"

When no reply came, Alex climbed to his feet and found Bethany staring at the monitor. Following her gaze, he staggered against the side of the desk.

The Elder was gone.

Sela, Yerik, Horus, and Katlyn were gone, too.

To be continued...
Article © Josh Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-08-28
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