(This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look)
The early morning wind was cold. The fields out north of Nakskov had very little tall vegetation to speak of, most of it being trees to mark the edges of the individual fields, so there was nothing to really catch the faint winds that blew about. Colliding and merging, those faint winds became stronger.
"I dont get it," Alex said, sounding calmly frustrated.
"You don't get what"
He didn't look at me, his gaze scanning the horizon in a desperate attempt to find the answers he felt he needed. He wasn't succesful.
"I don't get it, this, whatever this is," he restated, this time adding a few waving gestures at the empty fields. "You said you had a plan, fine, but don't you need something to use that plan on?"
Less than half an hour later, I was sprawled out on the ground, the woman in white looming over me and above her, the black canopy of the veil that hid the buildings behind her from the rest of the world. The colony that the time travelers had talked about. A fallen colony, now in her hands.
"You're history. Literally," she hissed. "You, this, all the past. It all happened a long time ago, and nothing you do will change even a footnote in the archives about this age."
All of a sudden, she seemed to have a trembling in her voice, an anger or frustration mixing itself into the restrained chuckle.
"You are all already dead," she added, her voice turning into a sneer. "You did nothing with your life and then, you died. Your friends, your family, the people you see when you walk the street, all dead, all gone. None of this exists any more. It's all past. It's all history."
As she spoke, her tone climbed from soft mockery to a scolding snarl, until she was hissing at me so close that I felt the warmth of her breath in the cool morning air.
"Get the #*@! out of my face," I growled, trying to hide the fear building up in my chest. She stood for a moment, motionless, and then she backed off, taking a few steps back to leave some room between us again.
My school bag was not that far away, thrown in the dry dirt that covered much of the ground under the canopy of whatever that invisibility field around the colony was. Sunlight never got in, the veil bending all light around the place so that it just passed on, making it seem like there was nothing there. The dead ground was a result of that lack of sunlight. Eternal night.
Inside the bag, things were suddenly different. The main room of the bag had been filled with tennis balls rolled in the black dust, a quick and literally dirty weapon against her time traveling minions. But in the smaller front pocket was the cartridge I had grabbed from beneath the old school buildings. Just a random cartridge, one that I would know to grab again later. I would put a tiny bit of it into the time machine and use it as a destination. And then I would go back. That was the energy about to rip both it and the bag apart. And as I gave the bag a hidden glance, I saw the colored dots begin to swarm it.
"Get out of my face," I repeated, my voice suddenly finding new strength. "Get out of my life," I added, noting a slight shift in her expression, as if she was wondering where my newfound energy was coming from. "And get out of my town."
The blast was in two parts. The first part was an explosion in reverse, the impact of a time traveler sending the blast back in time. Karen had never told me that, but somehow, it just made sense as I saw it. The second blast was forward in time, a regular explosion. The time traveler had arrived. The cartridge had been ripped apart, its bits scattered across the field.
"What the..." she growled, dropping her menacing lean over me and standing up straight. She had clearly not even noticed that the colored dots had started to surround her. "Who the #*@! just arrived?!"
In her confusion and anger, she looked down at me on the ground. And I looked over at where the bag had been a moment ago.
"Me," I answered with a scowling grin.
I looked like shit. The colored dots were already swarming me, as soon as I arrived. And from my spot on the ground, I stared with a smile at my kneeling body where the explosion had centered. I looked as I raised my head, bruises and all, and looked myself in the eyes.
"You little #*@!, you're going to destroy the..."
"No," I said, my voice insultingly calm. "The shattered cartridge is all over this place now. It's poisoned. Scorched earth."
For the first time, her eyes lit up with a fear as she shrugged and twitched, the colored dots burning her like sparks on her skin. She screamed something incoherent, something in a language I did not understand. I could hear screams elsewhere, too, knowing that our people were back in the vans, out of reach. It was just me and her. And the other me.
She looked strange, not at all like a mirror image. I didn't even see myself, looking at her. I saw a tired girl, burns and bruises, clothes a mess, hair charred and in places melted together. The colored dots were swarming her, but with a tear in her eye, she smiled. At me.
The screams filled the air, like the cries of birds fighting over scraps of food. At the last possible second, I closed my eyes, and let the blast wash over me as the woman in white was ripped out of my time, torn away by the dust of the shattered cartridge that was no doubt fast mixing into the ground, poisoning it for her for a very long time.
"It worked. It #*@!ing worked," I whispered, and as my future self began to buckle from the pain of time ripping her away, too, she nodded.
"It worked," she said in a tired voice, distorted by the energies surrounding her. Maybe it was because she had traveled across far less time than the woman in white, maybe not, but she seemed to linger almost as if by will alone, looking me in the eyes. And I could swear that I saw the same pride for me that my eyes hopefully showed for her. Proud of what she had accomplished, while she was proud of what I hopefully still would.
And then, a soft pop. Not a loud blast, just a gentle pop and a wash of warm wind as she was torn away, going back to whenever she had come from.
The field was quiet. The dark canopy of the invisibility veil still hung over me, a few sounds of something breaking inside the buildings. This was not a blast on the scale of the one that had happened those days ago. It was smaller, I knew that. But for the time being, the woman in white had lost this ground, lost this battle.
I thumped back on the ground, feeling the cold soil chill my jacket, and I laughed. First a giggle, then a roaring laughter.
The last thing I saw was myself on the ground, looking back at me as the woman in white disappeared, screaming, in a cloud of dots. Then the energies of time overwhelmed me, too, and I felt how they ripped me out, ripped me away from the spot in the field, back through time to where Mischa had sent me from.
It hurt like hell. My veins burned, my mouth tasted like copper, and I fought for breath. It took a moment before I realized that the steam around me was my own sweat, boiling right off my skin, leaving it pink and sore like a sunburn.
"Did I do something wrong" asked Mischa. I smiled, then shook my head.
"No, all is good now."
He looked at me, completely baffled. I wanted to explain everything to him, but I felt myself slipping. The energies from the ruptured cartridge in the field were still affecting me, or maybe their effects just were. I only knew that I had seconds left here, in this time.
"Misch, whatever happens, you need to forget this. You need to pretend it never happened.
"Why?" he asked, surprisingly calm.
"Just... nothing can change. We both did this before, and it needs to go the same way this time around."
His baffled look became a tad more panicked. The explanation clearly wasn't doing it for him.
"Just pretend none of this happened. Especially when dealing with me, okay?"
"Mischa," I said calmly, looking him straight in the eyes, "I'm from a different time, not that far into the future. But my old self is out there. And she's going to need you, very much, in the next few days."
He just nodded. Then his gaze danced around, as it followed the dancing dots of color that formed around me.
"I'll see you around, Misch," I said with a smile as I got pulled out of time.
I arrived back in the basement cave as if slammed into the floor from a great height. Everything hurt. But I looked up and saw Mischa there, by the machine. Emilie sat at the top of the stairs, only just visible from my awkward angle, laid on the platform inside the machine.
"Holy #*@!ing Christ!" I heard Mischa yell, through the loud buzz and sounds like jet engines that filled the inside of my ears. "Are you okay?!"
I lay curled up on the same platform as when I left. My body was shivering, even when I tried to stay still. The smoldering fabrics of my clothes hurt, like hot needles stuck in my skin, but I could do nothing about it. My limbs refused to work, instead obsessively curling me up into a fetal position as I gasped for air.
"Something's wrong outside," I heard Emilie yell down the stairs. Forcing control over at the very least my own head, I bent my neck back to look up at her. She was covering her eyes.
"D-d-did it... wwwork?" I asked nobody in particular, the scolding heat in my body suddenly switching to a jarring cold.
"Ida, we need to get you..."
"Did it work?" I whispered, interrupting him rudely. He had great difficulty in looking away from me, but ended up calling something out to Emilie. He then turned with a strange expression on his face, a mix between confusion and, it seemed, joy.
"They're gone," he said. Then he broke into a laugh. "They're gone. The time people just screamed and disappeared right when the machine flashed. The robots then turned and ran." He broke into an almost frenzied laughter. "We did it. We did it, Ida!" He then looked at the machine as it finally died down and went silent. "Uhm, Ida?"
"What exactly did we do?"
My every muscle burned as I forced myself first up on my knees, then unto my feet. Mischa immediately stepped in to support me, but I found myself a bit distracted. A thought lingered in my mind.
"Misch, the numbers. What were the numbers?"
He stopped in his track, then turned, still carrying me and thus accidentally swinging me around like some lifesized ragdoll as he stared over at the time machine.
"They're still counting down," he said, sounding understandably worried.
"That's usually not good, is it?" I asked, fighting for every breath.
As he dragged me up the stairs, up to and through the wrecked school, debris cluttering every hall and making every step a science in its own right, I saw Emilie stumble along the wall, her legs looking like novelty drinking straws at this point. Neither of us said anything, Mischa saving his breath for hauling me and I myself focusing on getting my body to work again to lighten his load. Emilie did speak, but most of all, she muttered very foul words under her breath.
Out of the school, across the road and well into a nearby field, we finally stopped. The air felt cool against the skin, soothing and kind. The soil was wet, but somehow, sitting down in it felt warm and welcoming.
"Did we maybe overreact?" panted Emilie as she plunked down in a patch of grass on the edge of the field.
"I just went back in time and returned to flashing numbers in a secret underground cave," I panted back at her. "I don't think it's even possible to overreact to...."
A loud rumble ripped through the air, followed by a powerful tremor through the ground, both of them coming from the direction of the school. The sound mixed with that of a few dozen windows shattering, as a puff of smoke billowed out from several places in the building.
"Yeah, I think we reacted appropriately," Mischa said, completely deadpan on his delivery. He then, too, plunked down onto the soft, damp soil.
It was early evening. The day had gone by in a haze, but I remembered that someone Emilie knew had taken care of my injuries, rather than risk strange questions at the clinic. They were real doctors, she had said, refugees from the future, just like her. Part of a network usually restricted to other refugees, but my contributions had softened them up to me. All I knew was that I woke up in a house somewhere on the edge of town, before Emilie and a large man who never told me his name drove me home.
Mischa was there, waiting. He immediately reached out to support me, fearing I would fall, but I calmed him down. I could see a handful of the others, in various states of healing, wait at the edge of the newly lit streetlights. Nobody said anything, not out loud. There was a whisper here and there, briefly, but they restrained themselves. Even Alex and the two other agents were there, though the two others waited a bit farther down the street, by what seemed to be their car.
"Are you ready for this?" asked Mischa, full of concern. "I mean, are you sure this is what you want to do?"
I nodded silently, ironically now feeling even more worried about my decision. None of the others spoke.
The moment I walked up the tile path to the front door, the hedges covered them all, and I could neither hear them, nor see them when I briefly turned my head for a glance back. That was pretty much the idea, but it suddenly felt awfully lonely. A warmth did run through me when Mischa casually stepped out from behind the hedge and gave me a nervous wave from the sidewalk. He stayed there, though. As it was intended.
I never even touched the door. It just flew open, my mom standing inside with tears in her eyes.
"Ida?! Oh god, Ida, where have you been?!" she all but yelled, breaking down crying as she grab me and held me tight. I slowly put my arms around her, squeezing with all my might.
"I'm so sorry, mom. I had to do something, I had to..." I started crying back.
"It's okay, panik," she sobbed, holding me close. "It's okay, we'll figure it out. Just... Just don't go away like that again, okay?"
I silently nodded, unintentionally wiping my tears off on the shoulder of her blouse.
"I love you, mom. You know that, right?"
She fell silent a bit, just holding me. I could almost feel her worry about what I was thinking.
"Of course, panik. I love you too, more than anything."
We stood there for a few seconds, just holding onto each other in the cool evening air. Finally, I let go, and she hesitantly did the same.
"I'll just go say bye to Mischa, and I'll be right back, okay?"
She nodded. She was smiling through the tears, but I could see her eyes, face, even entire body scream with worry.
Turning the corner by the hedge, I saw the rest standing there, still waiting silently. Mischa looked at me but said nothing. I simply gave him a nod. Then I nodded at the others.
My mom waved at Mischa. She was trying to hold it together, but everything about her screamed that she could not do that alone. Inside the house, through what I could see of the hallway, Peter was holding Beebee, who was not surprisingly curious and nervous about what was going on.
"Did Mischa help you get here?" my mom asked.
"Yeah. He mostly just, you know, helped me through a few things."
"Can we talk about it over dinner? It's not a big deal, don't worry. And I'm getting a bit hungry, feels like I've barely eaten in, like forever."
"Sure thing, sweetheart."
And then the door shut. I heard the sound behind me. I didn't look.
"You think she'll be okay?" asked Mischa as we walked away. Alex and the agents had returned to their car and driven off, never saying anything. They didn't have to, really. We had all said what needed to be said, and the looks they gave me told all that remained.
"Yeah. She just needs some feeling of normalcy. She worries. Moms do that."
"Oh, yeah, your mom," he said, sounding a bit surprised. "Yeah, I guess she just needs to believe that you're not, like, selling drugs or something."
"Oh, you meant the copy? Yeah, she's lived my life before, maybe even better than I do. She'll fit in, no problem."
For the first time since watching the copy walk up to the door and into the house, almost symbolically taking over a part of my life, I turned around, looking back at Lavender Street.
"It looks so quiet," I mumbled. "They don't even know what's out there, what's going on."
"That's how they need it to be," Mischa calmly replied. "They need to feel that everything is in its place, that they're safe. That the world isn't, you know, #*@!ing weird."
I turned back again, and we walked on. The main road that Lavender Street branched out from was slowly approaching. A car waited for us nearby.
"We agree that the time machine is, like, gone, right?" asked Mischa, and I nodded with a grunt. "So what is there even left to do?"
At the corner, I stopped. It was fast getting truly dark, the lights of houses and streetlamps being all that there was to see.
"She can never come back here," I started, then smiled a bit at my own words. "Well, not for a long time, anyway. Her base of operations is contaminated, completely off limits to time travelers, and I have a feeling that anything else she has is not that close by."
The car drove up, parking so silently that it almost screamed that it was not a gas engine. Both doors, front and back, by the sidewalk opened. Inside, Camilla and her mom waved us in.
"We are a safe zone, now," I continued as I walked slowly to the car, Mischa taking the back seat beside Camilla. "There'll be others out there who need that. We will do what we can to help them get out of that #*@!ing war."
"What, like a refugee camp?" Mischa asked as he sat down inside the car.
"No," I answered with a sigh as a thousand half-finished plans ran through my mind. "There are others out there who can help. We just need somewhere that can, you know, connect them all up. We'll take in refugees, but they should not have to be refugees for long."
"Oh, like an embassy of some kind. An embassy for time travelers?"
"Yeah something like that," I nodded as the doors shut and the car started moving.
"Well, Madam Ambassador, I look forward to help you," said Camilla's mom with a smile that hid more gratitude than I could even compute.
"Jesus, please don't call me that," I chuckled, finding some relief in the jovial tone.
"Well, the copy is Ida now, we need to call you something," Mischa intervened.
"I'll make up some identity I can use," I just replied.
"What, like some superhero?" asked Camilla from the back.
"Time Girl!" proclaimed Mischa with enthusiasm! "Or... wait... no, that's the only one I can think of."
"No thank you," I chuckled back at him. "Just another name. Something normal."
"Maria is a very normal name," Camilla added.
"Maybe. Yeah, something like that," I nodded. "Maybe just Marie. How does that sound?"
There were calm agreements throughout the car.
"Yeah, Time Girl would require you to time travel, I guess. Not gonna happen now, machine gone and all."
I could hear a sadness breaking through in his voice. His mind was slipping to his brother, Paul.
"No. There is another," I said, my voice almost a whisper as I thought about what lay ahead. "She abandoned the colony. I think there is a time machine there."
Suddenly, everybody was looking at me. I ignored it.