PART 46: OUT OF TIME
Lee joined the others at the hospital. He’d already been tracking Shady in the vicinity, so it had been easy enough to hook up with the group after hearing from Clarke about the latest development. “So, you’re saying future guy is gonna make a play for the track tease again, and that this act is what will make her explode?” he asked.
Chartreuse nodded vigorously, then frowned. “Okay, we aren’t sure,” she admitted. “But probably!”
“The new problem,” Corry mused, “Is whether we should try to stop this Shady – or merely warn him that Carrie knows he’s coming.”
“Warn him?” Lee asked, doing a double take. “Why?”
“To let him try something that would be more effective.”
“WHAT? Are you, like, SERIOUS?!”
Corry reached up to pull the pink haired girl’s fingers off his shirt. “Chartreuse, Carrie seems bent on killing everybody no matter what,” Corry countered. “How does that old saying go, ‘The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one’?”
“Corry,” Laurie said quietly. “Didn’t you tell me two days ago that you would never, ever do something that would kill a person? Was that a lie, for my benefit?”
“No! But we’ve been told Carrie isn’t really a person, she’s more of a…” Corry’s voice trailed off as he saw his sister’s expression. He gulped. “Okay. Thanks for the conscience check, sis. My bad. So, we stop Shady then. The question is how?”
“Maybe the track tease knows a way,” Lee suggested. “She seems to know about everything else going on.”
“You think she’d tell us?” Chartreuse wondered.
Lee shrugged. “Can’t hurt to ask.”
“You might be surprised,” Laurie said, wincing.
Lee pulled on the lapels of his jacket. “I’ll go anyway. She hasn’t vented at me yet, so maybe I’ll get lucky.” He turned away from the group and proceeded down the hallway. Hospital staff had been working for the last half hour to remove patients from the area; it was now mostly deserted.
About two paces from the door to Carrie’s room, Lee stopped. He turned, a puzzled expression on his face. Then he walked all the way back. “Hey, why was I going to that room again?” he inquired.
The others exchanged a glance. “You were, you know, going to ask Carrie if she knew more about the fanatic from the future who’s out to kill her,” Chartreuse reminded him.
“Oh! Yeah,” Lee said. “Sorry, memory glitch.” Again, he went back down the hall to Carrie’s room. Again he paused about two steps away, and then returned, mind spinning. “Hey, why was I going to that room again?” he repeated.
“Never mind,” Corry said, waving his hand dismissively.
“She is getting more powerful, isn’t she,” Laurie said, shivering.
“Hey!” came a new voice. A security guard approached them in the opposite direction from Carrie’s room. “What are you kids still doing here? Get downstairs, all of you! This whole floor’s being evacuated!”
“Um, right, we’re on our way!” Lee assured him.
“Oh no,” Chartreuse moaned. “I hope that Luci and Frank have devised a cunning plan. At this point, that may be all we’ve got left.”
Out in his backyard, Frank flipped open the time machine and inspected the pocketwatch inside. “Great timing!” he said. “We’re back a minute before we even left!”
Luci nodded beside him, belatedly realizing she had a bit of soot on her face. As she attempted to wipe it off with her fingers, she only succeeded in smearing it even more. Whatever. “Okay, so I have the name Holly Rhodes,” she concluded. “As the only female domestic listed for exactly three years, beginning ten years ago, dismissed for no given reason. Think it’s enough?”
“Hopefully,” Frank said, eyeing her.
“We’d better get to the hospital then,” she concluded. “To tell the others and deal with the Shady situation.” She stood and started walking off, only to see Frank wasn’t following. “Something else?”
He blinked. “No. Yes. Just, ah, thinking about what you must have gone through there to help Carrie and Julie out. Not only on that trip itself, but in dealing with a missing day for that long.” He cleared his throat. “You really are amazing, Luci.”
Luci shrugged. “It had already happened. I couldn’t avoid it.”
“That doesn’t negate the sacrifice.” He coughed. “So, I was thinking, if we survive, you want to get a soda together tomorrow? At the cafe? Maybe even… make it a regular thing?”
“Regular thing? What do you…” Luci stopped, seeing his expression. She felt her knees go weak. “Now? NOW of all times you bring this up?!”
“Well if we DON’T survive, I’d hate for you to have thought that… that I didn’t…”
“Frank, if you’re only saying this because you think we might die, you better realize that I am SO holding you to any promise you make here!!”
He smiled. “I would expect nothing less of you. Sodas then?”
Luci felt like her heart was going to burst out of her chest. She ran back to him, throwing her arms around his neck, and feeling him grab her back, pulling her close. “Heck yeah, sodas!” she said in delight.
She savoured the moment, the hug, the way Frank’s arms were running up and down her back, the safety of his embrace, for as long as she could. Ultimately, she sighed. “And I think that’s our extra minute gone.”
“Mmm hmm. Apocalypse prevention time?”
“Apocalypse prevention time,” she agreed. “Let’s get to it.”
“Clarke,” Tim said quietly.
Clarke looked up from his magazine. He’d been hoping that the distraction might help his subconscious come up with some sort of plan. “What is it, Tim?” he said, smiling encouragingly at his friend.
“W-Well… I was just thinking,” Tim began. “The police think Julie shot Carrie. We don’t want them to think that. Right?” Clarke nodded. “So, why not give Julie an alibi?”
Clarke frowned. “I’m not sure lying to the police is the best plan.”
“Oh, I don’t mean lie!” Tim protested. “I mean, well – time machine.”
Clarke stared. Then he sat bolt upright. “Of course! We can take Julie back to the evening of November the twelfth, and be somewhere in public when the shooting occurred. With an alibi on her birthday, the police would have to close the investigation! That’s brilliant, Tim!”
“Y-You think so?” Tim said with a partial smile.
“Definitely,” Clarke said, clapping his friend on the shoulder. “Let’s see if Julie’s up to handling another trip, then I’ll give Frank another call.”
“I don’t like this,” Chartreuse murmured, looking around the hospital lobby. Several police officers had now arrived. Granted, they seemed to be ignoring the teens, more interested in what was happening upstairs with Carrie than the earlier investigations at school surrounding Julie.
“Well, look on the bright side,” Corry remarked. “With all this added security, Shady will find it almost impossible to get upstairs.”
Chartreuse frowned. “Except… I’m now getting the sense that a lot of people are going to die here. Only I can’t put my finger on when or how.”
“Y-You think Shady’s going to shoot his way up to her?” Laurie gasped.
Chartreuse slowly shook her head. “No? It’s not… I can’t figure it out,” she said, frustrated. “I’d try for a vision, but interfacing with Carrie has really tapped me out.”
“You know, we’re missing something,” Lee realized. “To save Carrie, you might have to be close to her – but do you have to be close in order to destroy her?”
Corry blinked. “No, of course not,” he agreed. “In fact, you’d be foolish to do it that way. She’d see you coming.”
“I’ve seen future cult guy in the hospital before too,” Lee continued. “He could have been scouting the place out. After all, say you wanted to destroy someone that you suspected you could no longer approach directly, yet you still knew where they would be – how would you do it?”
“More specifically, how would you do it if you didn’t care about any additional casualties?” Corry finished.
“Oh no,” Chartreuse said, feeling her blood run cold. “That’s it. That’s what I’m sensing.”
“Do you know where it would be?” Corry said, grabbing Lee’s arm.
“Basement,” Lee said. “Bombs are always in the basement.”
“Luci?” Clarke said in surprise. “Where’s Frank?”
“By now? He’ll be at the hospital,” Luci said, marching into the LaMille house with the time machine. “Your alibi plan is great, but we’re short on time. Since Frank is maybe the only one Carrie will listen to any more, I told him to keep going.”
She continued into the sitting room, stopping only once she’d reached the couch where both Tim and Julie were sitting.
“Luci?” Julie murmured, looking a bit dazed as she tilted her head up. “Do you have soot on your face?”
“I do,” Luci admitted. “And it’s your fault. But that’s a long story, and we have a time trip to take.”
A police officer questioned Frank’s arrival at the hospital, but the teenager managed to fake stomach cramps in order to gain access. Inside it was a bit of a madhouse… officers milling about, circulating around doctors and orderlies who were attempting to deal with both any incoming patients, and the ones being shuffled around inside the building due to the impromptu quarantine on Carrie’s floor.
“We can’t get close,” Frank heard an officer say. “People tend to come back with no memory of their assigned task to negotiate. When they come back at all.”
‘That could be a problem for me,’ Frank realized. He then noticed the stairwell was under guard, and saw there was an officer in both elevators as well. ‘Assuming I even get up there…’
He turned in time to see Laurie Veniti push her way past a couple of people to reach his side. “Thank goodness you’re here!” she whispered. “Chartreuse, Lee and my brother think that the time fanatic set an explosive charge somewhere in the basement! They’ve gone to check it out, it might be connected to Carrie’s plan for ending the world!”
“Laurie,” Frank said, taking her by the shoulders. “I’m glad to see you. I have to get up to Carrie’s room.” He pointed. “Can you distract that police officer over there? The one guarding the stairwell?”
Laurie shrank back at first, but then she clenched her jaw. “Golly, I’ll try,” she asserted. “I’ll babble at that cop so much he’ll have no choice but to escort me elsewhere!” She turned to move in that direction – only to pause and look back at him one last time. “Frank… you be careful, all right?” she requested. “I… I really don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
“Of course,” Frank said. He smiled at Laurie reassuringly, attempting to project a confidence he didn’t really feel.
“See anything?” Chartreuse called out.
“Yeah, the need for better lighting,” Lee remarked. “I can’t believe there’s so much stuff down here.”
“Hold on guys, I think I’ve found something,” came Corry’s voice. “There’s a digital readout connected to a bunch of wires and… oh hell!”
Chartreuse hurried towards where she’d heard his voice. As she turned the corner, she heard the voice say “Stop moving” – and then she couldn’t move. Her eyes went wide. Shady was standing there, next to Corry, who was partly bent over what could only be the bomb, given all the wiring with what Chartreuse decided were high explosives underneath. “Stop moving,” Shady said again.
“Thinking no,” Lee retorted, stepping past Chartreuse.
Shady pulled out a gun, and directed the barrel directly at her. “Stop or your friend dies.”
Lee stopped. Which is when it occurred to Chartreuse that the guy hadn’t said ‘don’t talk’. “Stop him, Lee,” she pleaded. “Or EVERYONE dies.”
“I can also shoot Lee,” Shady pointed out. “And I’d say bleeding out is more painful than vaporization.”
“Maybe I die lifting the whammy you’ve put on my friends,” Lee observed.
“Or maybe you use the next five minutes and forty seconds of your lives thinking of a better plan,” Shady reasoned.
Chartreuse couldn’t see the timer from where she was, so she could only assume that was a countdown to detonation. “I hate stalemates,” Corry interjected. “Though it does seem like you’re running out of time to get clear yourself, buddy.”
“Yeah,” Shady granted, sounding annoyed. “The timer’s been giving me problems. Cruddy present day merchandise. Seems like I may die down here with the rest of you.” He shrugged. “Oh well. It’s not like I could ever go home again. My future currency was stolen.”
He waggled his gun. “Lee, go sit against the wall. Pink hair, you join him. Redhead, you too.”
Chartreuse found her feet pacing over towards Lee. “It won’t work!” she blurted out. “Carrie, like, knows what you’re doing! She… she can stop you!”
“Then she’d better try,” Shady said. He grinned. “Because at this point, I have nothing to lose. I’m perfectly willing to die, knowing that I brought down our greatest temporal adversary.”
The three teenagers exchanged horrified looks, as behind Shady, the clock on the bomb ticked down past five minutes.
Frank stared into the hospital room. A golden-eyed blonde stared back at him. “You should not have come,” Carrie said at last.
Frank eyed all the frozen people surrounding them. “I get the impression you could have stopped me,” he observed. “Why didn’t you?”
“There was no point,” Carrie admitted. She turned away from him. “You’re going to be dead in exactly four minutes and twenty six seconds either way.”
Frank felt a chill run through him. “What?”
“There is a bomb in the basement that will go off then,” Carrie explained. She sounded fatigued. “When it detonates, I will channel it’s destructive energy through me, into the rivers of time. The future will explode, and the past will implode right along with it. Should make for a fascinating little light show… a pity that no one will be alive to see it.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life,” Carrie said calmly. She turned back. “That fool with the explosives, he has no understanding of the true powers at my command.” She grinned. “I’ve even been messing with him for the last ten minutes, temporarily making his timer run fast, slow, even backwards one time.”
Her expression shifted, becoming more wistful. “My only remaining regret is that I’ll never get to experience a normal life. No mother, no boyfriend, no friends who could possibly understand me–”
“So we’re back to selfish Carrie then.”
Her lips thinned. “Pardon?”
Frank decided it was all or nothing. “I mean, you have to be pretty full of yourself now, yeah? To not notice what PAINS the rest have been going through to FIX it all for you? I can see now that it didn’t matter. Sorry we were giving a damn.”
“You think YOU’RE in pain?” she shouted. “My life never should have been! Right now, Julie’s past, Julie’s future, they hinge on me, a girl who should never have been born in the first place!” She pointed at her head. “And no matter what you do, with her or anybody else, I know now that I will still FEEL that inside me, as a dull throbbing ache that will never go away! It was always meant to come to this… destruction is my very reason for existence. It’s merely happening sooner than expected.”
“This from the girl who believes in free will.”
“I didn’t KNOW!” Carrie screamed. “I was too naive, too stupid to understand the role I had to play!”
“So you’re giving up.” Frank found that it wasn’t hard to sound disgusted. “Carrie Waterson is giving up, and blowing up the universe.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Frank. I’m not destroying the universe, this phenomenon will be localized to our solar system.”
“Oh, pardon me, big difference. What would your mother have to say about all this, I wonder?”
Carrie lifted her arm, pointing at him. “Oh no. Don’t you dare, don’t you DARE bring her into this!”
“Why not? It occurs to me that if you have all of time at your disposal, you might have looked her up.”
Carrie was next to him in two strides, arm raised as if to strike him. “My MOTHER…” She stood still, then brought her arm down. “Was a time traveler,” she admitted. “Brought back from the future, she was left at an orphanage when she was very young. Adopted, and brought inconspicuously into society, she eventually met and married my father. They then had me. In this timeline. Which is, in a nutshell, the reason why I’ve become what I am. My hands are tied.”
A tear trickled from Carrie’s eye, but Frank forced down his instinct to apologize. He had to keep pushing her. Hell, maybe every time she’d pushed at him, he should have been pushing back. “So?”
“SO?” She reached up to wipe off her cheek. “Given that the decades long presence of my mother had always been a strain on the timeline, with my existence compounding the problem… she had to disappear. I know that now. We can never co-exist again. Which leaves me, a motherless girl, out of time and out of place.” Her hands clenched. “Is it any wonder I’m feeling a little… OUT OF MY MIND?”
“Who says she had to disappear?”
“I… I’m not certain!” Carrie swallowed. “I can’t see where or when she disappeared to.”
“And now Carrie Waterson has lost her curiosity.”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t curious!”
“No, you’re just blowing up the solar system instead of investigating…”
“I can’t help it, Frank!” she choked out. “This explosive force, this pain inside me, it’s too damn strong to resist!”
That was getting closer to the Carrie who had opened up to him in the park, weeks ago. The Carrie that he cared about, in spite of everything. “If it’s inside you, it’s only as strong as you make it,” Frank insisted. “So here’s the real question. Do you want to destroy everything now? Rendering everyone’s actions on your behalf completely meaningless?”
“Or will you push on, letting me and the rest of your friends help you through this?”
“Stop it, Frank…”
“Do you want answers to the questions that remain unanswered??”
“Frank don’t DO this…!”
“Simple question Carrie, will you DESTROY or ACCEPT OUR HELP?”
Her scream was incoherent, even as her palm finally came flying at his face. But he had half expected that reaction. So he ducked.
And then he sprang back up, his own palm out, and scarcely believing that he was doing it, he slapped it hard against the cheek of the girl who could destroy them all. “DO YOU WANT TO CHOOSE US OR NOT, CARRIE?!”
“I DO!” she shrieked back, and her look became one of astonishment, though whether it was at being struck, or at her own words, it was hard for Frank to say. But for a second, when she blinked, her eyes flickered back and forth between gold and their more normal blue.
“I… I choose the unending pain,” she whispered.
“I’m sorry,” Frank apologized at last. “But thank you.” He shook out his hand, then extended it towards her. “Thank you, Carrie.”
Frank frowned. His hand fell back to his side. “What?”
“Bomb in the basement, exploding in about twenty seconds, still taking out this whole building.”
Carrie cracked her knuckles. “So, here’s perhaps the last thing I will ever do… show ‘Shady’ what a temporal weapon is REALLY capable of.” She flashed her fellow time traveller a sad smile. “Thank you, Frank. And goodbye.” No sooner had she said it, then she seemed to wink out of existence, leaving behind only a gust of wind.