Aspyn climbed into the cramped shuttle and sealed the door behind her. Avia and Callum were already strapped into their seats, clenching the handles and whispering to each other. Aspyn squeezed into the seat adjacent to them and pulled the lap bar over her head. Once prepared, she clamped her eyes shut and steeled herself for the liftoff.
The bright white lights on the ceiling of the craft blinked five times before dimming, leaving the passengers’ faces to be illuminated by a distinct glow. Aspyn gripped the handles on either side of her seat as a countdown blared from the shuttle’s speakers.
She gritted her teeth to distract from the sensation of weightlessness as the shuttle rose and accelerated. It was impossible to tell where exactly they were in time, as the shuttle was flying at such a high speed. Aspyn dared not to let go of the handles for fear that she would end up hurtling into the vast space surrounding them. The muscles in her eyelids were squeezed shut so tightly that white sparks appeared in the darkness of her vision. Seconds later, the shuttle began to slow and gravity became more apparent. When finally the craft landed and she could release the handles, Aspyn unlatched the belts securing her to the seat and rose shakily.
She followed Avia and Callum out of the shuttle and paused to let her eyes adjust to the blinding sunlight. They had landed in the corner of an alley, hidden amongst heaps of discarded trash where the smell began to cloud her senses. Waste was scattered abundantly around the shuttle, forcing Aspyn and her associates to tiptoe carefully out of the alley and onto the adjoining street.
Avia nodded to a building on the other side of the road. “That’s the old building. I used to work there a few years ago.”
She examined the corporate skyscraper, which she remembered had been torn down a year ago in real time. The building, still in pristine shape since its construction three years ago this time, towered above every other building on its street and stood out like a sore thumb. Businessmen and women filtered in and out of the rotating doors regularly.
Aspyn turned to Callum, who held the time map and had a precise knowledge of where they were. “So this is the right time?”
He nodded grimly. “2088.”
“So it is.”
The three headed down the street and turned the corner of the block. People rushed past them, oblivious to the new arrivals. Having gone back a decade, the group had had to prepare for the fashion trends of this time. Aspyn, now appreciative of her research on clothing, was satisfied to note that the outfit she’d chosen was very similar to that of the women around her.
Callum discreetly handed each of the women a pinkie sized, cylindrical charging unit. “We should only need one each. Half to get in and half to get out.”
Aspyn pocketed the small unit and continued surveying the masses of people who passed. Though her nerves buzzed with excitement, she kept her head down and tried to walk at a comfortable pace. The lack of chaos was slightly disturbing. No one was screaming or running. No explosions filled the air with smoke, no children crying for their mothers. Instead, people chatted amiably with each other while sipping mugs of espresso.
She knew she wouldn’t see herself here, but still, Aspyn scanned the faces for her younger self. Her thirteen-year-old self.
A group of elegantly dressed women approached, forcing Aspyn to split to the side and allow room for them to pass. One of them, in the midst of conversation, gave Aspyn an odd look before continuing ahead. Aspyn could swear she had never known or seen the woman in her life, but she proceeded after Avia and Callum with increased caution.
Callum gestured to the end of the block and nodded. “We’ll cross there and then split off. Meet back at that corner in case we’re watched. Can’t have the Kaiser’s men following us back.”
He turned to Aspyn, “Remember, you must remove his brain or the outcome will not be effective in the future.”
They continued to the end of the block and merged with different crowds. Aspyn fingered the gun tucked securely in her waistband and carefully loaded the charging unit into its barrel. She hastened her pace and circled back for the skyscraper they had passed.
There was a back entrance to the building that Callum had instructed her to use. She passed through swiftly and without detection. Quickly, she discarded the cloak she had been wearing, pulled her hair back into a tight bun, and shoved a pair of sunglasses onto her nose. No one stopped her as she brisked down the immaculate hallway, and nor did they give a second thought to the demeanor at which she held herself—determined yet bordering on frantic. Because somewhere, in her distant present time, there was a war raging, and the future of their present world rested on her shoulders.
Aspyn noted certain landmarks on each floor and hallway she left behind. A piece of artwork hung in the center of the wall; a potted plant in the corner. Rounding the top of another stairwell, Aspyn shifted the safety lock on her gun and kept a hand tight on its handle. She had reached the eighteenth floor, the highest floor, and there was only a single door at the end of the brightly lit hallway. Peering around the wall, Aspyn could see that the door was blocked by two heavyset male guards armed in bulky leather vests and gripping electronic revolvers.
With one reassuring breath, Aspyn did her best to conceal the gun and stepped onto the landing purposefully, as if she was supposed to be on that floor and in that room. She walked down the hall with a stiff composure, feigning confidence as she neared the door.
When she was only five feet from the doorway, the two guards leaned forward apprehensively and trained their weapons on Aspyn. She paused, considering her options, before removing her sunglasses.
“I’m here to see Ethiers.” She went through her mental archive of the facts that Callum had told her to memorize for this mission. “Tell him Allegra O’Hara has arrived and that I wish to speak with him.”
The guards did not falter.
“We’re not telling him anything until you show identification,” the taller of the two grunted.
Aspyn released the gun handle behind her back, its barrel still tucked into her waistband, and crossed her arms indignantly. “Relay my message to him at once or you’ll have to sacrifice your paychecks! You will acknowledge my superiority in this organization and respect my orders. How dare you insult me so!” she replied haughtily.
The smaller of the guards relaxed his revolver but did not return it to his vest. Slowly, he unlatched a microphone from the collar of his undershirt and held it to his lips. He muttered something inaudible, but Aspyn could tell she had played her role well when he nodded to his partner and swiped his wrist over the door’s scanner. The scanner beeped and the door clicked open.
Aspyn entered the office and waited for the door to close. With one methodical click, she was sealed in.
There were two parts to the office: the waiting room she now stood in, and the actual working space—which Aspyn assumed wound around the entire floor—that remained behind another closed door. Had she not examined a blueprint of the rooms beforehand, Aspyn might’ve assumed that this waiting room was Ethiers’ office. The room was already quite small to begin with, but the clutter of outdated records and stacks of books made the lack of square footage more apparent. Beyond the disarray, the room, unlike its immaculate, white outer walls, revealed panels of bare wood streaked with different colors of paint. Aspyn admired the artistic element but questioned if their Kaiser had really appreciated this artwork in his younger days.
A creaking noise behind the closed door made her whip around. Moments later, the door slid open to reveal a young man clutching a bundle of papers on the other side. Merely a teenager, his face was still slightly rounded and youthful, but unmistakably recognizable to Aspyn. She flinched unnoticeably and tried to look indifferent as he moved aside and welcomed her into the office room. One of the papers in his hands fluttered to the ground, and she pretended not to notice as he stooped down to retrieve the document.
She rounded the corner and stopped short. In the middle of the next room was a large desk, spanning nearly the entire width of the space and allowing only a few feet on either side to pass by. Behind the desk, in a high backed, throne-like, swiveling chair, sat Atticus Ethiers ten years prior to the dictator fighting for world dominance in Aspyn’s present time. She forced her hands to unclench and lay awkwardly at her sides. A thousand impulses rushed to her head, but she exhaled and relaxed her features.
Ethiers looked up from his desk where he had been scribbling something on a piece of parchment. Though a decade younger than the Kaiser Atticus Ethiers she was accustomed to seeing, Aspyn recognized the man immediately. His hair was no longer grey and balding, and his face was less wrinkled, less tense. His eyes were not yet clouded with the urge to kill.
“Hello, Allegra. I haven’t seen you in quite a while. You look...younger. You’ve been well I assume?” He gestured to one of the chairs opposite him.
“Yes, thank you,” Aspyn replied as she pulled out the chair. “And I would like to congratulate you on your campaign thus far.”
He nodded and bent back over his work. “Yes, it’s all going very well. I believe I owe you my gratitude for all your support.”
Aspyn offered a tight-lipped smile, but her gaze burned into the top of his head.
Ethiers signed the bottom of his parchment and folded it neatly into thirds before tossing it onto a stack of identical documents. Finally, he gave her his full attention. “I hope you’ll excuse my disorganization, but I wasn’t expecting you for another ten minutes.”
Aspyn swallowed but remained resolute.
“Anyhow, I understand we were to discuss the recent statistics report—DESR WHERE’S THAT REPORT?”
The young teenager fumbled with the stack of papers in his hands before sliding forth a thick packet. Ethiers fingered through the packet and read off some numbers that meant nothing to Aspyn.
“So you see, we’ve exceeded last month’s status quo. Shouldn’t be long now until the tides turn,” he concluded.
When Aspyn remained silent, he barked to Desr, “Boy, where are your manners? I told you to prepare the Brandy!” Turning to Aspyn he added, “I apologize for his presence, but there’s really nothing I can do with him now. I’m ashamed to have my own son working as an assistant, but he refuses to study the art of politics.”
Aspyn shifted in her seat and slid the barrel of her gun from her waistband before Ethiers could grow suspicious of her silences. She glanced at her watch. She had only to stall for one more minute. When she looked up though, Ethiers was smiling maniacally, resembling his future self more and more as the seconds passed.
“You got this far at least,” he whispered under his breath.
Aspyn cocked her head, confused.
Ethiers continued, “It was a decent plan. I never would’ve guessed that it would be you. My future daughter-in-law, I should say, though at this point it seems unlikely.”
Aspyn thrust her arm forward and released the trigger. Where the ray had hit there was a patch of seared fabric, but Ethiers still remained upright, unharmed. Aspyn fired again to the same result.
His smile broadened, and his eyes burned into her. “A gift,” he patted his abdomen. “From myself.”
Impossible, Aspyn thought. How could his future self have known? She kept the gun trained on him but hesitated.
Ethiers chuckled. “I suggest you lower your weapon. Or else I will have no choice but to eliminate your accomplices.” He paused. “It is a pity that I will have to kill you. You look very much like your mother, and I genuinely appreciate the work she’s contributed to my campaign.”
A loud knock could be heard from outside the waiting room.
He glanced at the thin band around his wrist. “Ah, I believe that’s her now. Right on time.”
A wave of panic and indecision flooded Aspyn’s thoughts. Had Callum and Avia both failed to stop the real Allegra O’Hara from coming? What was happening-
The office door slid open, but her mother did not appear in the doorway. Instead, Avia approached the scene, her gun trained on Ethiers’ skull. Aspyn would have sighed with relief had she not been working out the improvisions to their backfired plan in her head.
Avia fired her gun with no hesitation.
The beam of light hit Atticus Ethiers square in the face, and his head lolled backward.
Avia tucked her gun away and traded it for a scalpel, which she passed to Aspyn. “Quick. He’s only stunned. Callum and I were ambushed, so he stayed to hold them off.”
“And O’Hara?” Aspyn inquired as she traced lines over Ethiers’ forehead with the scalpel.
Aspyn made the first incision. And then the next. Flaps of skin gave way to muscle, and rivulets of blood trickled from the severed vessels.
Avia supervised Aspyn as she pressed the knife further into Ethiers’ head. “Make sure you get as far into the brain as you can, or else he still might be able to travel back. I’m sure you are aware now that Ethiers was onto us.”
Aspyn ignored Avia, but increased her speed. Sawing into his skull with renewed urgency, she hacked away at bone and flesh until she could puncture the brain. She clenched her teeth as blood continued to dribble down her wrists.
A strident crash made her flinch and had she not clenched her fist on instinct, the scalpel would’ve fallen into the abyss below. Aspyn’s eyes shot upwards, but Avia already had her gun pointed at the intruder.
Desr Ethiers froze, eyes racing around the room as he processed the man, his father, lying on the ground drenched in blood. At his feet was an array of shattered china and a growing pool of wine.
“Assassins! Y-you killed him! You killed my father. I’ll kill you-” He fumbled with the inside of his jacket and drew a small handgun.
Avia’s finger stalled on the trigger. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”
Aspyn gave her a withering look, but did not stop Avia from loading her gun. She looked away and returned hastily to her job.
A piercing shriek caught Aspyn off guard, and the scalpel was lost in the cavity of Ethiers’ skull. Avia had collapsed on the ground, unconscious, and peering over her was a stout, bald man holding a gun identical to her own.
Despite his well-composed attire, his crazed eyes revealed the madness that plagued his current self. Dark circles ran beneath his eyes, and several indisputable scars were etched into his forehead. Desr yelped and backed away, but the man paid him no heed.
“You all thought you could stop me,” he laughed madly. “Well? Think again fools!”
His eyes finally caught on Desr, on the handgun still gripped between his fingers. “Don’t be stupid my boy. I am your father. Don’t let that madwoman destroy my body further!”
The boy glanced at Aspyn, still kneeling over the prior Ethiers’ body, and his eyes flitted between her and the insane man before him. His grip on the handgun slackened.
Ethiers glared at his son and brandished the gun at Desr. “Don’t be daft, silly boy! You must shoot this woman who is to become your wife in the future. Kill her and you can prevent all of this from happening.”
Indecision and shock occupied Desr’s face. The gun slid from his grip and he continued to back away.
Faster than sound, the ray hit Desr in the face, and his body collapsed on the ground. Aspyn bit her tongue as fresh smoke permeated the air. Quickly, she snatched her gun from where it lay next to the unconscious body and aimed in Ethiers’ direction. Without thinking, she fired.
The ray missed his head by an inch and was absorbed by the wall behind him. Aspyn adjusted the mode on her gun to lethal and shot again. Once more, the shot deflected off of Ethiers’ chest, only scorching his clothes.
Ethiers sent rays of light in her direction to rival hers. She threw herself behind his desk and ducked into a tight ball. The smell of burning wood began to infiltrate her senses. She stayed there, crouched, until Ethiers kicked the desk aside and stood above her. She shot once. Twice. Each ray bounced off of his armor and landed elsewhere. His image became blurred as the smoke filled her lungs.
“I am quite disappointed in you; I thought that you once cared enough for my son to sacrifice your motive to kill me. I was wrong, but so were you. No one can stop me, not even you.” He elevated the gun until its barrel was inches away from her face. “I will reign forever.”
Ethiers dropped the gun and waved away the fresh smoke. Then he disappeared.