"Les, plug the red cord in… now." Jared Frost said into his headset from where he sat in his jeep with his laptop sitting atop his knees. On the screen of his computer, he was being fed live footage from Leslie Card's sunglasses, fixed with a microscopic camera in the center of the lens.
Leaned against the door of the jeep was Michael Ko with a toothpick sitting gently between his left canine and the tooth beside it. His arms were crossed through disappointment that he was forbidden by Frost to go into the Halifax Industries building with the fun part of the team, but he supposed he saw Frost's point as well; after what happened last time, they couldn't be taking any chances with him again.
In the building, Leslie Card and Morgan Jane were stationed at the southeast wing, attaching a small package of explosives that would allow them easy access to the indoor power-plant. There, they would just have to flip a couple switches and plug a cable into the wall for Jared to be able to tap into the security. From there, it would just be a few taps on his keyboard before he would be able to shut out all of Daniel Halifax's software for a couple months. With no software, Daniel would have absolutely no dominance over the Time-keeper squad; meaning that they would have no interferences in their further plans to take back control of their lives.
Taking back our lives, Michael snorted, using his tongue to move the toothpick to the opposite canine, Farfetched idea. Mother would never allow us to do that. Once she's done repairing the damn headquarters again, she'll be right back on our asses. Only this time, I think, she'll finally win.
She would win, he believed, because Coran was no longer with them to stop her.
Sitting against a tree amongst the tundra horizon in the Outbacks of Australia was Shana Jane, Morgan's little sister. In her fingertips she fluttered a fresh leaf from the tree branches above her, looking at it distractedly as her other hand clutched the locket around her neck. Inside that welded locket there was a single drop of Coran's blood, pricked from his finger and placed inside before he'd sealed it and given it to her to show that their hearts would always be joined…
"He's not coming back," Shana whispered to herself, allowing one and only one tear to be shed from each eye simultaneously; bright, sapphire eyes glistening beneath the sunlight. The wind swept across the fields of tall, thick, dry grass and the spears gently brushed against the hairs of her arms, giving her gooseflesh. It had been six months since he'd left them, and her golden hair had grown to a point just beneath her shoulder blades since then.
Time had flown by rather quickly since they watched Coran step out of the jeep and walk up the steps of what is now his new home in Denver, Colorado. Since then, very little has happened to the team of Time-keepers – humans entrusted with the power of science; the power of time-traveling – and in fact, this was only their second mission since. Their last one was a failure, though they all had escaped without being noticed; the red cable Leslie was currently attaching to the explosive had been a dud and they had no other choice but to evacuate. That attempt was only a month ago.
Hector Hatcher's eyes closed gently from where he lay on his back atop the roof of Jared's jeep. Thoughts of his brief encounter with his brother, Dante, ran through his head like a never-ending loop of filmstrip. He didn't know his brother was still alive.
He didn't even know if that memory of his brother was real.
See, Jared – the only person in the group that could have possibly seen Dante – claims that the room had only Hector, the specimens, and Dr. Reiko when he'd arrived. But no Dante character…
Hector groaned and rolled onto his side. Who are you, Dante?
After this thought, Hector opened his eyes to be looking into a fresh pair of eyes. He cocked his head slightly and saw long shocks of blonde hair and olive-green eyes and a thin face looking at him with a smirk below the narrow nose. "You boys want to take a ride with us?" The man asked loud enough that Michael stirred.
Hector could see an FBI badge sitting plainly between the man and himself and his eyes widened with fear. "Cops!" Michael screamed, spitting his toothpick to the side as he tore open the back door of the jeep and scrambled in. "Jared, hit the gas! We've got to get out of here, now!"
Hector shot to an upright sitting position, but the cop was fast and had a gun aimed at him before he could make another move. "Get off the jeep with your hands in the air!" The man demanded behind the gunpoint of the handgun.
"You two! Out of your vehicle, now!" A cop behind Hector shouted with a handgun aimed at Jared in the driver's seat. This cop was tall and burly with a five-o'clock shadow planted up to his cheekbones. His hair was short and umber and across his eyes there was a thin-lens pair of sunglasses to shield today's bright sun on the tundra plain. Both cops wore black business suits, showing Hector that they were so much more than just regular street police. They were FBI agents.
Jared wasn't moving. He knew how hard Hector had been training for this particular situation. All he did as he sat there with his laptop in the seat beside him now was pray with Michael frantically rolling through a mess of rope to get to the window where the blonde cop's shirt ended and his pants began. Michael could see the cop's zipper plainly and he smirked and drew back a clenched fist.
Above, Hector waited for his cue, sitting frozen at the sight of the gun so close to him; accurately aimed at his forehead, for sure. "Get off the car." The agent shouted obnoxiously slowly to Hector, "This is your last…" He recoiled away from the jeep, dropping his gun. Hector swung his leg in a long arc along the outer frame of the roof and kicked the cop's thin, metal badge hard with the toe of his boot.
The badge launched at a magnificent speed across the distance between the vehicle and the bigger agent, notching the area between his brows as it ricocheted slightly back toward Hector. It all seemed to have occurred in slow-motion through Hector's eyes, giving him enough time to shout to Shana, – still by the tree, but horror-stricken at the turn of events – "We'll be back for you, I promise."
Shana nodded and clutched her locket as she watched Hector smile at her just before he spun over the window frame and slid into the back seat, just beside Michael. "Go!" He screamed as he rolled up his window, seeing the blonde cop dive toward them.
"Ma'am," the bigger cop said as he entered the interrogation room at the station, followed by the blonde cop, "My name is Special Agent Travis Mendriff. This is my partner, Agent Lance King. We have some questions for you, if you don't mind us."
"Save your breath, pig, I'm not going to tell you anything you want to know." Shana snapped; her arms crossed as she stared blankly at a pencil sitting nicely on the smooth-top table before her. At the other end of the table from her, the cops stood motionless for a moment, looking her over as if analyzing how dangerous she was.
The blonde, Lance, placed his hand on Mendriff's shoulder and leaned forward to whisper something. Mendriff didn't seem pleased, but he nodded and excused himself from the room. Lance closed the door behind him and turned and smiled to Shana. "You're certainly one of the prettiest girls we've ever had in this room. I haven't been on the force long, but I've seen enough crooks to tell that you're either innocent or really damn good at what you do."
He pulled out a chair at the opposite end of the table and entwined his fingers into a ball lying perfectly centered in the table. "Can we start with a name?"
"Ballsy Hooper. Good enough?" Shana asked, keeping a straight face as she locked glances with King. "Can I have a Pepsi or something or do they not pay this trash dump enough funds to afford a good vending machine?"
"We'll worry about the Pepsi later, ma'am." Lance said, keeping his cool as he was trained to back at the academy. "What were you and your friends doing out there on Halifax's property?" He asked. She didn't respond. "Drinking? Using?"
"If we were drunk or high, believe me, Mr. King, you would have the whole group in this station at the moment."
"So why do we have you then? Are you the weakest link?"
Shana didn't respond.
"Can I have your name yet, ma'am? For the record?" Lance asked, sliding a clipboard across the table to where the pencil lie. On the page there were several lines asking Shana to record her personal information; name, age, sex, weight, height, etc.
Shana simply tapped her fingernails briskly on the tabletop and cocked her head to him, "How about that Pepsi, Mr. King?"
"That's right; evacuate. There's no point in finishing this foolish mission when there's still one more left to do." President Daniel Halifax of Halifax Industries mumbled to nobody from above a burning cigarette as he stared at a monstrous monitor on the wall, mapping the property of Halifax Industries and all the humans walking about it. About an hour ago, the names of the Time-keeper team appeared on the screen and two of them progressed directly onto the building mapping. It was only, only when the names entered the barrier of his building map that he called up the best of the best in Sydney's FBI branch.
He didn't mind the Time-keepers spying on his work, no; it was the sabotage that bothered him. Spying? Well, spying was all that Daniel did for a living, thanks to the software he created originally for Ajax a couple years ago. That was before he broke their rules and separated to build an industry similar to theirs.
Last year, Ajax owned eighty-percent of the industrial world. Today, Ajax owns ten-percent, ever since the Time-keepers took down much of their headquarters. They set a record for largest decline in the stock market overnight. Today, Halifax has now what Ajax lost; eighty-percent. Two years is all it took for Daniel to make it to the top, and he had all expectations of keeping his throne.
The door hissed open and there were soft, padded footsteps on the red carpeting of Daniel's office. Halifax pushed the close button on his remote to screen the tracking monitor as he turned to meet the coming visitor. "Well, well, well," Daniel said when he saw the man in red uniform marching confidently toward him with his left hand pocketed, "You're a man I haven't seen in a very long while. Tell me, Leone, how have you been?"
Leone Fratoire reached up and removed a pair of sunglasses from his eyes to reveal violet-red corneas between thick eyelashes. His black hair was out of his face, but not far off and gelled to make sharp points at the tips. His cheekbones were full, but there wasn't much facial hair for he wasn't much older than the Time-keepers themselves. Around his left shoulder there was a twin-barrel sawed-off shotgun, the barrels crossing the small of his back to a clip sewed into his red trench-coat.
"What do you want, Halifax? And make it quick." Leone said with a smooth yet harsh voice as he stood with one hand pocketed and the other holding his hip impatiently.
"A colleague, Sky Pierce, is on the helipad waiting for you as we speak, Leone. He is going to be your back-up for a little favor I want you to do for me. We'll call it the first official test for that new bioweapon we put in you a couple months ago?"
"I'm not interested." Leone said snidely, turning away from Halifax.
Halifax lifted his cigarette from its ashtray and flicked it before taking a drag. "Take another step and I'll unplug you, Leone. Fair warning."
Leone stopped in mid-step and glanced behind his shoulder at Halifax and eventually turned completely around. His eyes narrowed and he sighed, "What do you want?"
"What's with the Pepsi?" Mendriff asked, pulling King away from the entrance to the interrogation room.
"She was thirsty. I went to get her a drink. Maybe she'll soften up a bit, you know?" King said as they observed her through a one-way mirror. She just sat there, twiddling her thumbs and perhaps singing.
"Let's go then." Mendriff's hand brushed the doorknob before it was pulled back. "What?"
"Let me go. You stay here." King said; his facial expression filled with hope.
"Can I get your name now? Please?" Lance King asked from the other end of the table as Shana cracked open the can of soda and took a long drink.
Shana swallowed and looked at the can and then to King and shrugged. "What does it matter?"
"You committed a crime. You and I both know that you and your friends were planning on vandalizing the building, right?"
"So what? Crimes are committed every minute of every day, and about ninety-percent of the criminals get away with it. Face it, Agent King; cops just aren't what they were back in the days of Sinatra and Monroe." Shana took another drink. "My name is Shana Jane. That's S-H-A-N-A."
Lance wrote down her name on the clipboard with the paper and then leaned back in his chair. "What about your friends? Who are they?"
"You wouldn't believe me." Shana said.
"Ok," Shana said, also leaning back as she took another sip. "We're Time-keepers; the whole group. We're not a cult; we're not a gang; we're a very small group of kids who just so happen to have the power to travel through time. We don't do it often; we're afraid of how screwed up the world can get if we keep doing it."
"Screwed up like how?"
"Let's just say that mentioning Dornia – that eighth continent, you know? – would make you the world idiot back in our original time." Shana said, never looking at the agent as she spoke, but instead stared at a fly flying around a hanging lamp.
"I don't believe this." King said, climbing to his feet with a smirk on his face.
"Told you so." Shana said before finishing the rest of her soda.
A moment later, Mendriff burst into the room. "King! We've got to move; there's something going on downstairs!"
"Give me the captive Time-keeper," the man in the red trench-coat called with crossed arms from where he stood in the middle of the court. All around him there were cops with handguns aimed at him, but he was not intimidated. "Give me the captive Time-keeper," he tried again, "or by refusal you shall find yourself bleeding."
Nobody moved. Cops stood behind overturned tables, behind support beams; wherever they could to keep most of their bodies out of his sight. The man uncrossed his arms, placing one hand immediately into his coat pocket. The other slowly moved down to his hip as he looked them over. He counted perhaps one-hundred or so and knew that this certainly would be a good test, as Halifax promised.
He closed his eyes, ignoring the head officer's next words ("Fire at will!") as he concentrated on what was inside his body. Soon after his eyes closed, much movement began inside him; some from the bullets, some from the creature. When he opened his eyes, a single tear of blood leaked from the corner of his left eyes as he cast out his tentacle-like left arm. The tentacle rushed forward, expanding its mass of excess skin into a tight, needle tip. The tentacle blasted into and out the back of the lead officer's skull, creating a sickening crunch as the tentacle swirled around inside the core of his brain.
And so it went like this, with Leone Fratoire taking steps into a circular walking motion as his tentacle – with a mind of its own – tore bodies in half or severed spines or removed limbs, as a blade would do. He did not mind the wrongdoings of the creature inside him, for it was mostly just a more advanced way of doing what he was trained to do. Back when John Ko was still the leader of Ajax…
Over the gunfire and shouting, Leone heard the unmistakable voice of his prey; one of the Time-keepers. "You'll die out there! You've got to come with me!" Shana shouted, tugging King's jacket sleeve as he began to leave the interrogation room.
"You're not going anywhere. Now, the situation is under control. Just sit still and you'll be safe again in no time." King rationalized, pulling away.
Shana gritted her teeth and threw back King's jacket and drew his gun from its leather holster, aiming it now at his head. "You're coming with me, Agent King; for your own good. Come on; take me to the patrol cars."
Maybe coming to Barney's Pub on Saint Patrick's Day was a mistake. Michael thought as he, Hector, Leslie, Morgan, and Jared walked through the pub toward their usual table. The pub was located five miles east of Sydney, at a traveler's rest stop area. The rest stop had a separate road from the interstate that led to a small suburban town called Oz.
They took their seats in the corner booth; Michael in the middle of the semi-circular table, Hector on his right, Morgan – his girlfriend – on his left, Leslie beside Hector, and Jared beside Leslie. Outside, in Jared's jeep, the golden Labrador waited for its masters' returns.
"Well, long time no see!" Barney Huckle – the pub's owner and bartender – greeted with a wide smile and open arms as he left his bar unattended and glided to their table. He was a tall man; barrel-chested and bearded from ear to ear. But despite his rather threatening appearance, Michael knew that he was one of the nicest persons he'd ever met. "Jeez, Michael, what happened to your face? Looks like you got yourself one nasty set of cat scratches there!"
(Raven reached out her hand and gently glided her fingernails across Michael's cheek and though he was now terrified, he did not flinch. "Oh Michael," she said, "it's so good to have you home again."
She drew back her hand and slapped it across his tanned cheek, her fingernails cutting four deep gashes into his thin skin. Michael screamed "Leslie! Run!" as he fell to the floor, clutching his face.)
"It's nothing, Barney; really." Michael said, gently pressing his right hand against his scars as he turned his head subtly to avoid any other notices amongst the pub. "Happy Saint Patty's Day, by the way. Things are pretty busy tonight, I can see. That's good." He said, changing subjects as he looked around the pub.
The bar wasn't very large at all – consisting of maybe thirty tables, each fit for six people – and every chair in the room, it seemed, was filled by a person. Above them, speakers played music of Irish tradition. Even though half the people in the room were too drunk to speak full sentences, it was still rather comforting to the team of Time-keepers.
"Yes, yes, business is nice here tonight, indeed. And Happy Saint Patty's Day to ye kids, too." Barney looked at the group and cocked his head, "Kind of short on the party tonight, ain't ye?"
Michael noticed Hector tense up to his right, but he kept his cool. "Coran is home with his mother in America…"
"What about your sister, Morgan? Is she alright?" Barney asked sincerely, leaning forward with his massive hands placed on the edge of the table.
"We had a bit of a situation outside. We're here to celebrate, Barney, but we may also need to use The Room for a few minutes to plan out her escape, if you don't mind." Leslie said before anyone else could reply.
"Well," Barney said, digging around a bit for a key that he passed to Leslie, "I hope it's nothing too serious. But sure, you can certainly use The Room. Take whatever you need; anything for you, darling. How about the rest of ye? Michael, Morgan, and Leslie are eighteen now, I suppose. Feel up for a drink to celebrate? It's on the house."
"I'll have an orange juice," Hector said after a moment.
Jared added, "Make that two, please." Soon after, the rest of the group had also made their requests for orange juice, because they had all read Steven Young's journals, and knew why not to allow alcohol into their system before time-traveling…
Barney wrote out the tab and excused himself and the Time-keepers looked to Leslie, who was dangling the key to The Room on the index finger of her right hand.
"It's this car, let's go." Lance said as he and Shana ran down an iron staircase into the garage behind the FBI headquarters. At this point, Shana had dropped her aim at his head, knowing that he wanted to leave too, but she still kept it in her hand as they ran just in case. The car was a long, black Camaro with recently replaced tires, so it was bound to get them far away from the building, fast.
"What do you think you two are doing?" Called a strong voice from behind the gunpoint of an FBI standard 9mm. handgun. It was Special Agent Travis Mendriff, standing at the top of the iron stairwell.
"Agent Mendriff," Shana cried boldly, "That man in there is Leone Fratoire; he's dead, but was brought back an unstoppable creature – a bioweapon! You have to come with us or he'll kill you too!"
"He's after the girl, Mendriff," Lance said, pulling Shana behind him to keep her out of gunpoint. "It is our duty to keep her safe; criminal or not. Come with us or stay here, I don't care, but we've got to leave now one way or the other."
After a moment, Mendriff lowered his gun and ran down the staircase. "I'm driving."
"Gentlemen, I feel my time here has come up short, and I must leave." Leone called out to the policemen whose heads had caved from his tentacle. He saw one living cop amongst the sea of dead, and there were possibly more in hiding. The living cop was shaking with fright, shooting air from his empty gun; his fingers and face a bloody mess, though it wasn't his blood.
"Do not fear me, sir," Leone called, musing himself as he walked toward the man. To his side, the tentacle of his removed left arm was whipping itself clean of blood as it retracted into his body. He reached into the inside pocket of his red jacket with his good arm and he removed a small pendant the size of a quarter and reached out to the cop. "Take it. It's a gift so that you do not forget me."
The cop continued to pull the trigger, his gun clicking after each pull, and Leone soon became impatient and slid it into the breast pocket of the cop's uniform. "Thanks for being such a good sport."
He turned on his heel and walked toward the exit not twenty feet away, minding his feet from all the rubble and pools of blood on the nice tile floor. He pushed open what was left of the glass double-doors and walked slowly down the long staircase toward his parked motorcycle.
To his right, the sound of a diesel engine lit up the silence as a black Camaro tore out of the underground garage's ramp toward the highway. Leone lifted his eyebrows at this unexpected event, but did not rush his steps. He simply mounted his motorcycle and started the engine before looking at his pocket watch. Inside there was a slide where a pendant could sit, but he'd just given it away to the surviving cop. He smiled and pushed the button as he drove onto the highway, after the Camaro. Behind him, the headquarters erupted in loud noise as it exploded from detonation of the tiny pendant.