London, 2184 – 301 Years Before Impact Day
Mason stood over his daughter’s bed, barely able to feel. She looked so peaceful in death, and he wished he could cry. James had cried. Mason just felt hollow.
For nearly a decade, his research had consumed him. He’d neglected Alice, assuming there’d be more time. Then she was gone, and he had nothing. His research had failed to yield the answers he needed, his husband was inconsolable, his daughter out of his reach.
He felt lost, directionless. Close to hopeless. He alone knew what was coming, and he alone could stand against it. James hadn’t listened, wouldn’t believe him. Haylie didn’t understand. He had no friends outside of that. Tyson, maybe. Tyson understood, but he wasn’t nearly bright enough to help. A useful tool, nothing more.
But a tool was useless without a purpose, and Mason no longer had a purpose to direct Tyson towards. All he had were dead ends and grief, and the unwavering certainty that the end was coming.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, reaching down to brush Alice’s cold cheek.
It shouldn’t have happened. He should have noticed earlier. James should have noticed earlier. Between the two of them, they should have been able to save her. Instead, all they did was make her suffer more. At least the suffering part was over.
Eventually, he couldn’t look at her any longer. He couldn’t return home, couldn’t bare to see James. Instead, he went to the only place that ever felt safe anymore. He went back to his lab.
He slumped into his desk chair, dismissing endlessly scrolling pages of simulation results. It didn’t matter. None of them listed the successes he needed.
“I’m sorry,” Glory said, from behind the glass barrier. Mason did his best to ignore it. Glory was taunting him with his daughter’s voice.
“Or what?” Glory asked, shifting to Tyson’s voice. “What could you possibly do to me?”
For years, Mason had experimented on Glory, looking for answers. He knew nothing about them, except for their obsession with Haylie, whose secret he had kept for ten long years. James knew, of course, but nobody else. Not even Tyson.
Glory was, though he was loathe to use the word, impossible. Their body defied any known laws of conservation of mass or energy, regenerating cells endlessly, living without any need for food or water, despite showing hunger and thirst. Extracted blood or tissue tended to simply evaporate or fall apart after a length of time, as if returning to the host body. They aged, but didn’t die.
Eventually, he’d given up. Whatever mysteries were locked inside of Glory were inaccessible to him, and he had more important work to do. He had an apocalypse to prepare for, a species to uplift, defenders to create. After ten years, he hadn’t come any close to any of his goals.
More than once, he’d considered letting Glory go. It felt cruel, keeping them locked up. If not for Haylie’s insistence, he probably would have let them go. She wanted them contained, though. So he obliged.
“I can always think of something worse,” he said, without really meaning it.
“Have you considered asking for help?” Glory asked, this time in his own voice. Somehow, that was the most disturbing.
“There’s nobody in the world who can help me with this,” he said, sighing.
He looked at Glory, sitting calmly with their legs folded underneath them. They very rarely moved, not that there was a lot of room to move.
“How?” he asked.
“After ten years, you finally ask,” Glory said, in Jame’s voice. “I know what the Destroyer is. And I know there’s only one thing that can stop it.”
“Tell me,” Mason pleaded.
“Why should I?” Glory said, now sounding like Haylie. “After everything you’ve done to me, why should I help you?”
“What do you want?” Mason asked. “Why bring it up now?”
“Maybe I just want you to suffer,” they said, in the voice they’d first used, ten years ago.
“You cannot bring me more pain than I’m already feeling.”
Glory looked at him, then stood, placing their palm against the glass.
“The Destroyer comes from another world,” they said. “Compared to something like you, they may as well be a god. They possess the power to deconstruct life itself, and shape it anew.”
“What could possibly stand against that?” Mason asked.
“Me,” Glory replied.
“The Great Destroyer is not the only god,” Glory said. “Every world has one.”
“In the flesh, so to speak.” They gave a smug bow. “And I am the only chance you have at stopping the Destroyer.”
“Haylie captured you easily,” Mason pointed out. “I trapped you effortlessly. What power do you have?”
Glory sighed, and returned to a seated position, legs folded beneath them.
“I’m not a fighter, not really. I tried fighting the Destroyer before, a long time ago. I lost. I’m weaker now.”
“Then what good are you?”
“Surely a man of science can see value beyond just martial prowess?” Glory asked, in his own voice once again. “I have answers, and I have the ability to resist the Destroyer’s entropic powers. Between the two of us, I think there’s a chance yet.”
“And why are you suddenly offering your help?” Mason asked, suspicious.
“Because you’re finally desperate enough to take it,” Glory said. “And because I’ll be damned if I hand my world over to the Destroyer.”
“So what do we do?”
“We continue your research,” Glory said. “You were only missing one key component.”
“What? How do you…”
“Use me. Use my blood as a bonding agent.”
“Your blood always evaporates,” Mason pointed out.
“Unless I choose to let it stay.”
“You’ve been blocking me, all this time?”
“I’ve been a prisoner all this time. Now, we’re collaborators,” Glory said. “Oh, and this time, think bigger.”
“How much bigger?”
“Think in the hundreds of thousands,” Glory told him.
He shook his head. What Glory was asking, it was unthinkable. But then…
Melbourne, 2175 – 310 Years Before Impact Day
“So, you’re Mason,” the creature said, scowling at him with burning eyes. It spoke with a resonance in its voice that shook him to his core.
Whatever he was looking at, it certainly wasn’t human. Humanoid, maybe, though even that was questionable. It had four limbs, each bound to a surface on the baroque obsidian throne it sat on. It seemed to have flesh, although it was difficult to tell for sure. The skin was a deep black that seemed to absorb all light, with pulsing red veins that glowed against their dark backing.
It had a head, and the head had eyes, but they weren’t human eyes. Glowing red orbs full of malevolence and hate, sitting above an opening too wide to be a mouth, filled with sharpened blades too cruel to be teeth.
Its chest had been ripped open, and a crude mechanical harness laid on top of it. He could see through to an empty chest cavity, and wires and pipes draining the creature of whatever was inside it.
So this is where the power comes from.
“How do you know me?” he asked, keeping a safer distance than needed. “Why did you ask for me?” The creature tilted its head slightly, the mouth-like opening curling into a sadistic smile.
“Because of what you do,” it said.
It gnashed its teeth, attempting to lunge forward. The bonds held tight.
“I don’t understand,” Mason said.
“You don’t need to,” it replied. “There’s only one thing I need you to understand. One day, I am going to be free of this prison. When that day comes, I am going to find you. I am going to destroy you. I am going to destroy your entire world, and there is nothing you can do to stop me.”
Mason took a step back, overwhelmed with fear. It was a deep, instinctual fear, one he felt powerless to fight.
He believed the creature. He believed it intended to kill him, and he believed it truly would. He felt incapable of believing anything else, as if by speaking the words, the creature had set that future in stone.
“Why?” he asked, his voice trembling.
“Because that’s what I do,” the creature told him. “And because your sins deserve the kind of Hell only I can inflict.”
“I haven’t done anything,” he protested. “I wouldn’t do anything!”
“Now, Mason,” the creature said, in a soft, almost soothing voice. A voice that sounded almost human. “We both know that isn’t true.”
“I’ll stop you,” he said, trying to will himself into believing it. “I’ll save this world, and I’ll stop you from destroying anything.”
The creature didn’t say anything after that. It only grinned.
For as long as he lived, he would never forget that grin.
London, 2185 – 300 Years Before Impact Day
Mason smiled at the young girl, filled with pride as she opened her eyes for the first time. He didn’t think of the cost it took to get this far, or the work still ahead of him. All he thought about was that for the first time in a year, he had his daughter back.
“Good morning,” Haylie said, as the girl looked around the room. Mason watched from behind mirrored glass.
“Hi…” the girl said, sounding confused. “Where… Who am I?”
“Specimen A,” Haylie informed her. “Alice. You’re deep underground London, in a genetics research laboratory.”
“Am I not real?”
“You’re more than real,” Haylie said. “You’re the first.”
“The first what?”
“Progenitor,” Haylie told her. “Soon, you’ll have siblings. One day, you’ll form the template for a newer, stronger humanity.”
“Why?” Alice asked.
“Because that’s what it will take to save the world,” Haylie said. “But there will be plenty of time to discuss that later. Would you like to meet your father?”
Next Week: Sanguinary Affliction