Authors: Kailin Gow
they getting into that it has you so worried?” Rosie asked. “My guys…
guys are the best of the best. What more do they need?”
t un">ys are the “They need to keep him from transforming,” I say. “He… he’s the Devil, Rosie.”
Rosie starts to laugh, and then stops, staring at me with something like horror. “The Devil. You… you’re serious, aren’t you? What
“There still isn’t any time,” I say, “but Wilson Hammond caused the apocalypse. He stood in the middle of a room, transformed into something… something that gives me nightmares just thinking about it, and called down a rain of fire. We
let him do the same here. Do you…”
I’m cut off by the sound of an explosion from within the room. Not just the sound, though. I can feel the force of it rippling over us as the doors blow off their hinges, even part of the frame coming away from the wall.
“We have to get you to safety, Ma’am,” Rosie says, reaching out for me. I step aside.
“No,” I say. “We have to deal with this, or
will be safe again.”
Jack and Grayson lead the way back into the lab room, but I’m not far behind them. The members of Rosie’s team lie scattered around like rag dolls, some injured, others not moving at all. Hammond crouches in the middle of it all. There’s blood on his shirt and he’s breathing heavily. I don’t know what happened in here. Did Hammond do this? Did one of the soldiers, realizing how desperate the situation was, use a grenade?
Hammond rises unsteadily to his feet. He’s bleeding from a dozen wounds, none of which seem to have stopped him, but the cumulative effect of which is to slow him down at least. This is our chance. Our chance to finally stop him. It’s a chance we didn’t take back in the past, because I couldn’t see what Hammond was then until it was too late. Now, in our time, it seems like I’m getting a second opportunity to make things right. To save what’s left of humanity.
Hammond is back on his feet now. He tears away his shirt, and it’s an almost animal gesture, showing the wounds that zigzag across his torso, but which are already starting to close. No, they aren’t closing. The rippling of Hammond’s flesh isn’t that. He’s transforming. Already, I can see the beginnings of horns taking shape on his forehead, the nubs of leathery wings rising from his back.
We have to stop him. There were so few survivors the first time he brought down fire and brimstone. In a world ravaged by the Fever, where even our largest population centers are still smaller than the ones they had in the past, there will be no surviving this time. Hammond, or the creature inside him, will finally get his wish. Humanity will be gone.
No. I won’t allow that. I can’t allow that. Whatever it takes. Even if it kills me. And I have the tool to stop himol
There’s anger. Anger at all the people who have died. Dr. Cook. Dr. Florence. Jonah and so many, many Faders. Lionel, who didn’t deserve to die despite how terrified he was of me. All the billions of innocent men, women and children who died in the first apocalypse. Every death is a burst of fuel I use to stoke the fires that sit inside me. But it’s more than anger. It’s love too. It’s the fact that I care about the people who will die if I don’t do this. It’s the fact that Jack and Grayson are standing in this room, counting on me…
I glow. I glow with power.
“You think that will stop me?” Hammond demands. “I have the flames of Hell at my command.”
“In your human form? You have modern flame retardant materials,” I counter. “Or you
I can see the sudden look of terror on Hammond’s face as I reach out for him, throwing myself at him in an embrace. He created the Others to watch out for people like me, maybe not even knowing why he was doing it. He tried to destroy us, calling us a danger to the world. I’m willing to bet that there’s a reason he did that. That if he was scared enough to try to kill me, it wasn’t without a cause.
I hold to him, clamping onto his clammy, almost leathery flesh. Almost. He hasn’t transformed yet. He’s still human, trapped in a human body for all his power. I’m burning hotter now than I’ve burned before, because this close I can feel the hatred. Feel the jealousy that makes him want to destroy us. I scream as I think of the pain and suffering he has inflicted on people. I scream as I
it, because this close, it’s like I can see into Hammond’s mind. Maybe he wants me to see. Maybe he thinks that seeing what’s in there will drive me mad.
It doesn’t drive me mad. It
me mad, and I burn all the hotter because of it. Hammond must have been right about being tougher than a human, because it’s only now that he starts to scream. It’s only now that his flesh burns white hot as I cling to him, not caring if this heat is going to be enough to burn me too. This is what I’m for. This moment, clinging to him, everything I am pouring into him at temperatures that would make the heart of the sun seem cool by comparison.
I stare, just for an instant, into Wilson Hammond’s eyes. “Be gone. You are not welcome here, Beast.”
There isn’t enough time to say more than that, because in that moment, Wilson Hammond is gone. What there is of him burns, and I hold to it while it burns, but I don’t have to hold to it for long. Wit ore than tith this much heat, in a matter of seconds there is nothing but ash. There’s as little left of Wilson Hammond as there was of the first people I burned, what seems like a lifetime ago.
There’s a difference though. For once, just for once, I don’t feel any horror at what I’ve done. I don’t feel like my humanity is slipping away, or like my power is a curse. For once, it feels like I’m doing what I was always meant to do. Maybe I was. Hammond went to such a lot of trouble to find me. Maybe he knew that this was how it might end. Maybe we both knew in the moment I burned him that it was my destiny.
I stand there looking at the ashes remaining after I’ve burned him, and I smile. I smile, because finally, it’s over.
ack moves to hold me. No one else could right now. Maybe that’s a sign too. He puts his arms around me and gently moves me away from the ashes on the ground.
“It’s over, Celes. You can stop burning now. It’s all over.”
Until he says that, I don’t realize that I have tears in my eyes, falling down onto my cheeks and then bubbling up as instant steam. It’s over.
Even saying it like that, it’s hard to believe. I cling onto Jack. We’ve been through the apocalypse together. We’ve stopped another one. All in less than a week. Or a few thousand years, depending on how you’re inclined to count the time. For
it was a week, and that’s kind of all that matters. Us.
The burning goes back into me so easily this time. Normally, I have to fight to put it back in whatever box that talent lives in within me. Now though, it goes as easily as a sword being put back in a scabbard. It’s done what it was needed for. It’s done the most important thing it will ever be needed for, I hope.
Suddenly, I’m tired. So very tired. Part of it is the sheer energy I’ve just put into destroying Hammond. That makes me sag against Jack so that he has to support me just to stop me from collapsing to the floor. There’s more to it than that though. So much more. We’ve been running around almost constantly for months now. In the last few months of my time, I’ve had to run from secret organizations, infiltrate bases, fight battles I didnbox ore ten runnt know anything about, and come to terms with an ability that seemed utterly horrifying most of the times I used it.
Now, suddenly, it’s over. All that rushing, done, just like that. It’s like all the effort of it is catching up to me at once, now that I’m finally,
able to stop. It’s exhausting, but it feels good somehow too. Hopeful. Everything I’ve done has been to try to make things better for my people, and we’ve succeeded. We’ve actually done what we set out to do.
I look round at the others. At Jack, Grayson, Johnny. Even at Rosie, stuck back here while the rest of us went off into the past. I love these people. My team. The people who have done so much, and risked so much, to save this world. Even the soldiers currently scattered around the room.
them, because some of them have given up their lives for this, staying loyal even when it must have looked like we weren’t coming back. Sometimes it isn’t just about the people doing the exciting part of things. Sometimes it’s about the people holding things together back home too.
That thought snaps me out of my exhaustion a little. “I’m fine,” I say. “Rosie, get help and get your team to the infirmary.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Rosie says, snapping off a salute. She and a couple of her team who are strong enough to walk start to help the others out of there. They pause at a couple and shake their heads. I try not to think about what saving our world has cost them, even though I can’t help thinking that it has been worth it.
“Grayson,” I say, looking at him now. “I’m fine to stand on my own now. I need you to go start rounding people up for a meeting. I’m pretty sure that by this point, everyone will be wondering what is going on here, and seeing you will help to hurry things along. You’re in the best position to organize all this. We can give them the news of how the mission went and get up to speed on what’s been happening here.”
Grayson nods. “Whatever you need, Celes.”
He turns and heads for the door. It occurs to me as he goes that things are probably going to be complicated again in the near future. There are going to be meetings, decisions to make, and probably arguments. I might even have to spend time proving that I am who I say I am. After all, I don’t exactly look the same right now.
In other words, everything is going to be back to its normal high speed whirl. The world doesn’t stop, even when you’ve just saved it. Yet for now, for a little while at least, I can enjoy the moment. I want to find out exactly how well we’ve succeeded, though.
“John,” I say. “We’ve changed things, but I need to know how
we’ve changed things. You’re in the best position to understand the data. Go check on the Fever. If we’re lucky, we’ll have destroyed it completely, but I’m worried about wo that. Rosie seemed to know about it, and if we’d gotten rid of it completely, then she wouldn’t. I just hope that we did enough to weaken it. Maybe we can finally deal with it.”
John nods. “I hope so. We’ll see results, I’m sure of it. If we’ve reduced the numbers of those creatures, we’ll have reduced the disease stock the Fever could evolve from. And with Hammond gone…”
I hadn’t thought of that. The Fever was one of Hammond’s weapons. One he no doubt had a huge role in maintaining. With him gone, will the Fever fade and die like its creator? I hope so.
John runs off, leaving Jack and me as the only two people in the room. It’s probably a breach of protection protocols for the president, but I guess that the security teams aren’t used to having me around right now. Besides, it means that Jack can turn me to face him, pull me tightly against him, and kiss me with more passion than I’d have believed possible until he does it.
“I’m so glad I’m here with you,” Jack says, brushing a strand of my hair aside with a delicate touch of his fingers. “Even when I got into the Fading machine, I was so scared. I thought… I thought we might be separated like last time.”
I can imagine how terrifying that must have been. Last time, we landed years apart. And what if he’d forgotten me, or I’d forgotten him? I know I have to check.
“Jack, can you remember everything?”
“Everything,” Jack assures me, with a gentler kiss that nevertheless sends sparks running along my nerve endings. “Every moment with you. Every inch of you.”
“That isn’t everything,” I say with a playful laugh.
“I’m pretty sure I remember everything else too,” Jack assures me. “I’m just not sure that it matters much right now. So long as I remember the things that count. And so long as I’m here with you. Remembering you but not being near you would be the hardest thing of all.”
I kiss him back then, and it feels like we could spend the whole day just doing that. Maybe more. “I would have found a way back to you, Jack, even if it meant putting the Fading machine back together bit by bit to follow you to a new time period.”
“That could be fun,” Jack suggests. “Pick a time period, Celes, and we could go.”
“Here with you is just fine,” I say. “Besides, when we’re done here, I think we’re going to take the Fading machine apart. We’ve used it for good, but there would be plenty of people who wouldn’t.”t “T
Jack smiles, cupping my face in his hands. “That’s the Celes I know and love. So determined. So strong, but still thinking about everyone else except yourself.”
“I think about myself sometimes,” I argue.
Jack arches an eyebrow. “Like when?”
“It was pretty selfish of me to jump back after you.” I step back from him slightly. “I should have been here running things, but I couldn’t stop myself.”
“And you saved the world because of it,” Jack points out. “Besides, it’s kind of nice to know that the woman I love will abandon running the free world to follow me into the past.”
“Now though, I have to go back to doing that,” I say. It’s not such a hardship. Not really. Even so, it does feel a little like a weight pressing down on me as the return to responsibility hits home. “I’ll have to go out and reassure the people about the Fever once we have the confirmation from John that we can stop it. Then there will be the meeting with the Cabinet. Do you even think they’ll let me go on being president? I mean, physically, I’m a lot younger than I was when I got the job…”