Ilsa had hummed quietly in the background, filling the near silence. The only other sound had been Grace and Phillip’s typing. Each key had slammed into its slot, rhythmically creating the code necessary to send Grant into the past.
Trevor had stood still, back pressed to the wall. His engineering skills hadn’t been necessary in this scenario. The Director had provided all of the digital information the programmers needed and Simon had perfected the transfer device. There hadn’t been much use for his presence after he’d covered the bodies with sheeting. Grant had found the plastic in a store room, preferring to wander instead of lay motionless on the chair Traveler 001 had occupied.
“Favor, Trev?” Grace had asked, still focused on the monitor in front of her.
He’d walked across the room and knelt beside her. “Anything.”
“Wheel me over there.” Weakly, she’d raised her arm and pointed toward Ilsa. “I need to check the connections. We only get one shot at this.”
Trevor had done as he’d been told. As soon as Grace had given the go-ahead, the connections good to go, Grant had taken his place within the transfer device. There had been no need for ceremony, they’d all said their goodbyes when they’d worked out the Director’s plan. Everyone had watched as his body had writhed in pain before going slack.
“Is something supposed to happen?” Phillip had looked around the room. Holding his hand in front of his face, he’d asked, “Do we disappear?”
The team had voiced similar thoughts after they’d deflected Helios. What actually happened when they saved the future?
“Pretty soon we get hit by a nuke,” Grace had answered tactlessly. “Protocol Omega is still in effect. Grant is saving the future, just not ours. This is the timeline we live in. But hey, at least it isn’t for much longer.” She’d powered down her computer and pushed away from the table. “Do you mind if I have a moment with the old man?”
Phillip had nodded. He’d given Trevor a gentle squeeze on the shoulder before leaving. In a semi-tradeoff, Trevor had taken the now vacant seat. Resting his elbows on the tabletop, he’d steepled his fingers and waited for her to speak.
“I messed up.” Grace had turned her head so she could meet his eyes.
“We all did the best we could.”
“I mean that I messed up things between us. Even after you warned me.” She’d taken in a heavy breath, but it had caught in her broken ribs. A coughing fit had taken over. Trevor had placed his palm to her back, straightening her posture. When she’d recomposed herself, she’d continued, “You wanted your life to end on your terms. But I made your last days miserable. I’d say that exposing you to the apocalypse trumps kidnapping your teacher in the woods.”
He’d laughed, leaning forward until his forehead had touched hers. “It’s not a competition.” Averting his eyes, he’d focused on the blood dripping down her chest. “But today, you win.”
“Really?” she’d asked as silently as possible, like voicing it might make it untrue.
“Ms. Day, would you care to join me outside? I’d like to see the sunlight one last time.”
“I would love that.”
A teenage boy entered his counselor’s office. He’d been visiting her off and on for a month. She was patient unlike his teachers or parents. She was nothing like his coach.
Today, he was having a hard time closing the door behind him. He was going to tell her something he swore he’d keep to himself. He trusted her, more than any adult had given him reason to, but he did. So he spoke, and she listened.
A woman programs code in one of the leakier domes. Drops of acidic water splash in a puddle near her foot. Shoes have protected her skin, but the hem of her smock has been eaten away over time.
“Fourteen, You got any snacks back there?” she shouts.
“You ate all my tack. All I’ve got left is this afternoon’s yeast rations,” a man behind a tower of cables and components shouts back.
“You gonna eat it?” the woman tries again.
“It’s mine. Get back to work,” he says.
The woman stands up and rams head long into a stranger practically twice her size. He’s younger than her, only a few years past boyhood. His face doesn’t show any surprise or frustration about holding her upright. At the same time she is glaring at him, he is taking mental note of all her features.
Her build is naturally slender. Unlike most of the colony, those dealing with the Director get a larger food allotment. ‘Brain Fuel’ they call it. Regardless, she is thin, and the bones of her clavicle jut from her collar. Though the roof is leaky, no sun reaches the room. The faint freckles on her face must be genetic. A speckled line of marks leads down her long neck and under her clothing. Her black hair is trimmed short, but doesn’t lay flat. The thickness causes it to stick out like the air is electrically charged.
Programers are nearly as old as the first ‘consciousness transfer’ test subjects. Once they knew it was possible, they’d been quick to extend their own lives. The woman in front of him can’t be in her original body. This is a host.
There is a feeling he can’t place. She seems familiar. He’s never met the woman, host nor consciousness, before.
“The Director summoned me,” he says, releasing her, suddenly aware that he’s been rubbing circles against her biceps with his thumbs.
“That’s weird. It doesn’t talk to anybody besides me and Fourteen,” she says, nodding her head in the older man’s direction. “Hey, Director, why’d you send an engineer in? Did I knock out one of your servers again? If the packrat stopped leaving shit around, I’d stop tripping on it.”
A set of clear panels behind the young man come to life, casting a purple glow across the dome. He turns around and sees an elderly woman projected on the screen.
“We wanted.” The image switches to the second panel and a man speaks this time. “To thank you.” The screen shifts for the last time. “Grace.”
“Is that some sort of prayer?” she asks. “You know I’m not religious.”
The Director is already silent, the projections gone.
“Grace can be a name.” He isn’t sure what prompts him to blurt it out. No one in their division has used names in centuries, deferring to the Director for assigned numbers.
“Of course I know it’s a name,” she snaps back. “I wasn’t born zero-zero-two-seven. God. It’s unprofessional of it to call me that. Especially in front of a kid.”
Her face reddens, obscuring the freckles that he’s instantly become fond of. He smiles back, in a full way, both ends of his mouth turning upward. There is no smirk; he looks at her with a warmth that floods Grace with endorphins.
“Who said I was a newborn? While I go by 0115, you can call me Trevor.”