London, 2173 – 312 Years Before Impact Day
Charles Mason stood outside, waiting for someone to let him in. While he waited, he admired the architecture of the place, hands in his pockets, wandering aimlessly. It was definitely the sort of place he could picture himself working, if his application was accepted.
And why shouldn’t they accept him? His work was years ahead of anyone else in the field, promising to change the world forever. Who would reject a man who could single-handedly save the human race?
As his route took him back by the front door, there was a soft chime, and they slid open. He noticed the thickness of the door, deceptively heavy-duty, and approved. Security was important, and he appreciated the combination of aesthetic and function.
A man walked out through the door, slightly older than he was, with a sort of gentle handsomeness and inquisitive brown eyes. Mason smiled automatically at the man he recognised from photos, James Buttersworth, owner of the facility.
“You must be Charles,” James greeted him warmly, offering his hand. Mason took it, feeling a slight tingle as their palms touched.
“I hope I’m not too early,” Mason replied, the reflexive smile still on his face.
“Not at all. I’ve been looking forward to showing you around.”
Good sign. They were taking him seriously, genuinely interested in supporting his research.
James stepped aside, allowing Mason to enter the facility. The two of them walked together, at a casual pace, as James talked about the features of the facility, and the laboratories contained within. The deeper they got, the more excited Mason became. As far as he was concerned, the place was perfect.
Security far above anything he’d seen anywhere else. Access to resources he’d never imagined possible. Complete privacy and secrecy. State of the art technology. It was almost too good to be true.
“This is the empty lab,” James said, once they’d looped all the way around, and arrived near the entrance again. “Does it look big enough?”
“Plenty,” Mason replied, without a moment’s hesitation.
“It’s yours, then,” James said.
“Just like that?”
“Well, there’s paperwork to fill out, of course. But if you want to work here, you’ll find our doors open.”
“Why?” Mason asked. “You haven’t even asked about my work.”
“I’ve been paying close attention to it,” James replied. “It seems the perfect complement to my own. To be honest, I never expected to find anyone interested in the same work as me, let alone with the level of innovation and genius you’ve been applying. It’s not just interesting, it’s exhilarating.”
“That’s… beyond flattering,” Mason said, astonished. Buttersworth was an idol, an inspiration. The opportunity to work in proximity to him had felt like a dream come true. For Buttersworth to take an interest in his work, to praise it so highly…
“To be perfectly frank, I was planning on demanding to see the prototype before making the offer, but… Well, I think it would be a mistake to risk letting you walk way.”
Buttersworth smiled at him, a staggeringly sincere smile that caused a flutter in Mason’s heart.
“I… I would love to show you what I have, of course,” he said. “I would be honoured if you would give me an honest appraisal.”
“And I absolutely will,” Buttersworth said. “Just know that it isn’t a condition of entry. Now, let’s get the logistics sorted, shall we? Let me introduce you to the lifeblood of this facility.”
Mason just nodded, still overwhelmed. Buttersworth tapped his watch, and a few moments later, the elevators opened. A young woman stepped out, fair-skinned with long auburn hair and intense yellow eyes. She walked over to them, and Mason couldn’t help but to notice a weight to her motion that seemed strange, almost… inhuman.
“This is Haylie,” Buttersworth said, introducing her. “She’s the logistical supervisor of the facility, and… I suppose a kind of communal assistant? There’s very little she can’t do.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, extending a hand to Mason. He shook it, surprised by the weight and strength of her grip. She had a pleasant, American accent. “I’ll help you get set up.”
“I’ll leave the two of you to it for now,” Buttersworth said. “But Mason… Uh, Charles, would you like to get dinner tonight? I feel as though we have a lot to talk about.”
“I’d love that,” Mason said. “Thank you, uh…”
“Call me James,” he said, repeating the same sincere smile. The effect wasn’t diminished the second time.
* * *
It took almost no time for Mason’s lab to be set up. Haylie moved astonishingly quickly, having everything ready to go within days. Almost immediately, he fell into his work, overjoyed to have the opportunity to do so. Everything felt perfect, in a way he hadn’t ever expected to feel.
Buttersworth… James, rather, was tremendously helpful. He came in practically daily, poring over Mason’s notes, offering feedback and opinions, and generally making small talk. They ate together once or twice a week, and before long, Mason really started feeling at home.
Haylie proved to be incredible, too. She was always around, and always available. Mason suspected she didn’t actually sleep.
Despite her introduction as an assistant, it was obvious she was brilliant. She knew everything he needed her to, confirming formulas, concepts and past studies faster than he could have looked them up. Why she wasn’t a researcher herself was beyond him.
He discovered why one night, after several months of work. He’d stayed back late, as was common for him. Haylie stayed with him, assisting as she often did. They didn’t talk much, but that seemed preferable for both of them.
All of a sudden, she looked up at him, a concerned look on her face.
“There’s been an intrusion,” she said.
“What? Where?” he demanded, looking around the lab.
“Front entrance. They seem to be headed this way.”
“How many?” he asked. “Is security on their way?”
“Just one,” Haylie said. “I’ve called security, but they won’t be here in time. This intruder is—”
At that moment, the entrance to the lab was blown open in a powerful but controlled explosion. Mason whirled, wishing he carried some form of weapon.
“Get behind me,” Haylie instructed.
“Are you mad?”
“This is part of my responsibilities,” she insisted, stepping in front of him.
A person emerged from the smoke of the explosion. Mason was surprised to see they looked young, with thin limbs and gentle, emerald eyes, dark skin and light hair in an asymmetrical cut.
“Who are you?” he demanded, but the intruder ignored him.
“It’s you,” they said, staring at Haylie. “I can feel it.”
“Security’s been called,” Mason said, irritated and slightly scared.
“Don’t care,” the intruder said. “I’ll be quick.”
“Stand back,” Haylie instructed, and Mason obeyed without thinking. “You’re not from DARPA,” she said, addressing the intruder.
“DARPA? No, of course not,” they said.
“Who are you, then? What do you want with me?”
The intruder shook their head.
“Not me. I’m not the one who wants you.”
“The other me,” the intruder said. “My reflection. Glory.”
“I don’t understand,” Haylie said.
“Me either,” the intruder said. “But I need to do this.”
With that, they launched themselves at Haylie, moving faster than any human should have been able to move, with a grace that terrified Mason. From somewhere, they pulled out a weapon, a shimmering dagger, and drove it into Haylie’s chest!
Mason screamed, but Haylie didn’t even react. She just stood there, staring down at her chest. Then, carefully, she grabbed the intruder’s wrists, and effortlessly twisted them around, pinning them to the floor. As she turned, Mason saw her chest, dagger sticking out of it, no blood to be seen.
“Security is nearly here,” she said, seemingly unfazed by the wound in her chest. “Mason, I… Can I ask for your help?”
“Of course,” he said, his whole body shaking.
“I need you to lie,” she said.
Next Week: Nothing, From Nowhere