September 19, 2032

The name and title on his access badge read NSA Security Supervisor Gary Hampton. The aging man looked at the badge, considered the acronym in the title for a moment, and then swiped the card through the security station. The door whistled slightly as it slid open.

Even the break room has triple encoded security. Incredible.

Incredible, but not unbelievable. This site was one of the most valuable in the nation, and it needed to be kept safe. Just walking around the building was a little hazardous. Still, the shortcut through the break room would shave a few minutes off his schedule, and save him the agony of using the lift. Almost two centuries since the invention of the elevator, yet elevator music hadn’t improved whatsoever.

Off in the corner, a water fountain bubbled, making little blurbing sounds that barely carried over the sound of the TV. The volume was low, but it didn’t matter. Every person in the break room had their eyes glued to the screen. Gary just passed it by and kept on walking, overhearing just a few sentences of a broadcast that he helped organize.

“-while plans to fully eradicate the pathogen are progressing slowly, the Bureau of Bio-Terrorism Response and Containment recently released a vaccine to counteract the biological fallout. The vaccine is available at all major hospitals, and mobile clinics are being established to reach those in more isolated areas. The people responsible for these acts of terrorism have not made their intentions known, and the government is pouring all military resources into locating-“

Gary didn’t catch anything else. Exiting the break room, he walked down the corridor, took two lefts and a right, and quietly ducked into a small room about the size of his granddaughter’s closet. It was pitch black for a minute until a blue crosshatching of lasers appeared. As the lasers scanned him, a faint misting of the vaccination sprayed out of pores in the walls.

“Decontamination complete,” a robotic, rather HAL-9000-ish voice said out of a hidden speaker. “Enter.”

The wall ahead of the man retracted and he stepped into Sacred Ground.

Well… it wasn’t really sacred ground. Some of the employees just had a habit of calling it that, but those men and women were a little… how to put it nicely… eccentric? Gary supposed they’d earned the right to name the lab whatever the hell they wanted. Without the people here, the vaccine would never have been made, but there was something else much more important that they were working on right this moment.

There were few people in the room currently, and as Gary entered they all stood up and saluted him. The man rolled his eyes and sighed. He wasn’t in the military anymore. Why did they all insist on the damn salute? The gesture was getting a little outdated.

A man with a badge identifying him as Chief Engineer came forward, hands clasped firmly behind his back. Gary gave him a expectant look. “Is it done?”

“Yes, sir.” The engineer handed Gary a file. “This is all the data. You can review it if you want.”

Gary glanced down at the file and the simple title printed on the front.

Timecypher.exe

“Do we have clearance to proceed with Timecypher, sir?”

Remember, Gary, this is going to help. Nodding, Gary clapped the engineer on the back and smiled, a gesture that apparently startled the very formal man. Well, his wife always did tell him he a flair for the dramatic. “Go ahead. Make history.”

Gary himself wasn’t going to be present when Timecypher.exe went into effect. His wife had anniversary plans. Of course, Timecypher was important – he’d spent his entire NSA career helping make it happen – but the simple fact that it was happening wasn’t that exciting. He knew he could rely on these people to get the job done.

Make a history no one will remember, boys and girls. Have fun.

 

 May 28, 2033

 

“Dad, you have to come home. Mom’s not doing real great. She misses you.”

“I know, sweetie, I know… but you know I can’t come back, not yet. I promise, I’ll get home as soon as I can. I love you, Carrie.”

“…Stay safe, Dad. Love you too.”

The phone line buzzed in Carrie’ ear and went dead. Rubbing her eye, she stared at the phone for a minute or two, completely frozen on her bed. She knew exactly where her father was, what he was doing. She thought he was brave, strong, stupid. Someone had to do something, or things wouldn’t change, wouldn’t get better, but why did it have to be her dad?

Someone else could just as easily rally the citizens and make a public stand against the government. It was an easy job, everyone was already angry. Hell, Carrie could’ve done it. It was easy. Just a little talking, a few select announcements in the right QuisCustodiet.net forums, and everyone would be raring to take action. Simple.

Her dad was, to be honest, a fanatic. Carrie was actually the one to show him QuisCustodiet.net, the online movement to snuff government involvement in bioterrorism. Her dad went off like a firecracker, turning into a gung-ho campaigner. Carrie’s mother tried to support it, but while she knew what was wrong with the government, she wasn’t a radical activist.

Carrie wanted to be helping her father, but he told her to stay home, look after her mother and little brothers. Carrie was doing the best she could, but she knew she would be more helpful with her father. She could organize people, it didn’t matter that she was only sixteen. She wanted to help.

She imagined the riots.

Gritting her teeth in pained fury, she hurled the phone across her room, knocking a snow globe off a shelf. Glass and dust flecks and a little porcelain figurine shattered all over the floor. Carrie curled up into a ball on her bed and refused to go clean up the mess. The snow globe was precious, an heirloom, and she didn’t care.

She imagined windows of cars and buildings being broken, Molotov cocktails being thrown and riot police coming with their giant shields and visored helmets. The riots were being spotlighted all throughout last November, or ‘NanoV November’ as it was called.

Carrie just remembered that month as the month the vaccines stopped working.

The TV streamed the riots against the newsfeeds, day and night. Carrie stayed up for hours just watching them. She went a little deaf in one ear from all the screams, the people crying, the explosions. If the bioterrorism threat had seemed great back when the bombs were originally dropped, then peoples’ horror doubled all over again when they found out the vaccine – the promised salvation – didn’t work.

All kinds of conspiracy websites started popping up around that time, and QuisCustodiet.net had the strongest following of them all. Only the people who were directly exposed to the nanovirus bombs were dying, since for some reason the virus got weaker as it was transmitted through people. Carrie suspected that the virus carried in the bombs was a prototype, and most people agreed with that thought.

Above all, every conspiracy nut in the nation believed that the government and the Bureau of Bio-Terrorism Response and Containment was lying about their supposed lack of insight as to who deployed the bombs and how to defeat the virus.

At first, the people supporting QuisCustodiet.net and the movement to expose the government and find a real cure for the nanovirus were just holding demonstrations, protests, fund raisers, and other efforts to get their influence into high government. No one was really talking about it publicly or on the Internet, but their were other ways to spread the word that the movement had changed. They weren’t just talking now.

Carrie closed her eyes and remembered the riots, and the panic shooting that happened in her school that made her parents start homeschooling her. Things had changed. The situation was more dire. People weren’t just protesting anymore, but no one had said it yet. Carrie could see it in her father’s eyes, but he refused to say it.

It was all because of that thing her father had found. Timecypher.

She knew. She whispered it under her breath, burying her face into her knees and wrapping her arms around herself. She said it, over and over, hoping against hope that people would come to their senses and she wouldn’t have to miss her father anymore.

Things had changed. People were done with just trying to be heard. The movement was no longer a protest.

Now, it had escalated to war.

June 6

 

“Darren Walker? I’m looking for Darren Walker?”

Darren looked up, pulling an iPod bud out of his ear. The sound of the playlist his daughter and sons had created for him out of their favorite music faded away, and now he could hear the sound of trucks and cars moving, people talking and running around, and guns being checked and assembled. Turning around towards the voice looking for him, he said, “That’s me, what is it?”

The young man almost lost his glasses as he hurried through the cabana, a semiautomatic shotgun slung over his chest. “We’re almost ready to go. The trucks are loaded, we’re just finishing up with the radios. We can tear down in two minutes.”

Tucking the iPod into a pocket, Darren zipped it shut and picked up his own firearm from the folding table. “Help me break this down, will you?” he asked the kid. The man nodded and practically jumped over. They had the table broken down quickly enough and carried out out to one of the half dozen maintenance sheds speckling the scrubland.

Already some of the trucks were pulling out onto the silent stretch of highway, kicking up plumes of throat-scratching dust. Darren motioned for the young man to follow him towards one of the bigger pickups. “What’s your name, kid?” he asked.

“Eli Sumner.”

“How old are you, Eli? I have a sixteen year old daughter at home, and you don’t look too much older than her.”

Eli scratched the back of his neck, shuffling the shotgun around as he climbed into the back of the pickup. Darren followed, still waiting for a reply. Soon enough his patience was rewarded. “I’ll be twenty-four in a week. Hope I get to celebrate with the government finally waking up and noticing what they’ve done.”

Darren grinned and patted the young man on the back. “We’re all hoping for that, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet. Keep your head in the game, Eli. Focus on what you volunteered to do here and now.”

“I will, sir.”

The older man snorted and nudged Eli’s shoulder. “You don’t need to call me sir, Eli. I was only in charge of ammunition.” Technically, even that wasn’t true. He’d bough most of it, yes, but considering his distinct lack of organizational skills, most of it would’ve vanished off the face of the earth if not for his daughter, Carrie.

This time, Eli was the one who grinned and laughed. “And what’s going to be keeping us alive out there?” he snickered, patting the stock of his shotgun.

“Hopefully?” Darren chuckled. “A bulletproof vest.”

June 8

 

“General Reese, we have reports of widespread attacks on airbases and known military suppliers. They’re starting to barricade the highways to the capital. These aren’t random attacks, sir. They’re coordinated.”

“Do you know how they’re communicating with each other?”

“My best guess? They’re using outdated radio frequencies. I don’t know how they got a hold of the codes, though, we shut those antiques down with ECHELON almost a decade ago.”

“…Dammit. We have a leak. What about the Internet?”

“Sir! Sir! We just got an update! They’ve taken Comanche airbase! They used a tactical incision, they’ve got it completely locked down.”

“General, if they have Comanche…”

“I know, I know! But tell me honestly, Walter, do you think they know about Comanche and ECHELON?”

“You heard what she just said. Tactical incision. They knew they had to take it quickly, and they were much more careful with this base. They know.”

“So you’re telling me that the rebels now have a direct route to ECHELON. How did they get their weapons? They had to have help. Walter, get someone down to the other sites. We have a leak, and I want it found and plugged!”

“Right away, sir.”

“Mariah!”

“Sir!”

“How many bases in the DC area have the rebels secured?”

“…almost all of them, sir.”

“Do they have the NATRAN base?”

“No sir, they do not! What do you want us to do?”

“We have to stop these rebels before they start a civil war, by any and every means necessary. If they find ECHELON, they find Timecypher, and then it’s over before it even begins. Contact NATRAN. Get them in the air and send them to every known location the rebels have taken. Tell them it’s time for Operation Acid Rain.”

“..sir, is that really necessary??”

“Get it done, Mariah. Now. And get me a microphone.”

“Yes… yes, sir.”

“Attention, base ECHELON Zero. This is General Wyatt Reese. The rebels have seized the majority of the bases in the DC area, along with one of the auxiliary ECHELON sites. We cannot let them find Timecypher, and we cannot let them incite a civil war.”

“If I may speak frankly, sir, this is a mistake.”

“Noted, Mariah. Now please, let me-“

“Of course, General.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, as of this moment… Operation Acid Rain is in effect.”

June 8

 

Eli surveyed the brightly lit Comanche airbase, pulling his jacket tightly around his body to ward off the sudden chill that was rolling in. It was the beginning of summer, yet the air seemed almost frostbitten. Several of his associates were complaining about the cold, too, but they weren’t letting it stop them. They’d left their families a week ago to help prepare for the assault, and finally, they had ECHELON in their control.

Well, maybe not the central ECHELON facility, but one of its branch sites. Eli still wasn’t sure what ECHELON had that was so important, but he wasn’t about to argue. Their sympathizer in ECHELON had been scared to death when he’d contacted them, and Eli didn’t think he was faking.

All he knew was that this mystery menace was called ‘Timecypher’, and it had something to do with the nanovirus and the failure of the vaccines.

Tilting his head back, he looked up at the cloudy night sky. The thin layer of smog in the air reflected the lights from the airfield, creating strange displays in the upper atmosphere. For a moment, it looked like there were contrails in the sky, tracing lines from the engines of plains.

Eli smirked and looked back down at the railing, rubbing his hands together to stave of the nippy chill. Keeping his shotgun pressed close to his chest, he fished a small photo out of his pocket. Two younger versions of his parents smiled at him. If they’d lived long enough to participate in the revolution, they would’ve gone at the government with guns blazing. They were a little anarchistic.

Mom, Dad, Eli promised silently, I’ll make you proud. 

A viscous speck floated across the corner of his eye, and Eli stopped smiling. He quickly shoved the picture back into his coat pocket and braced himself against the railing, clenching his fists around the cold metal and squeezing his eyes shut. If he couldn’t see the little black floaters, they weren’t there.

If only he could believe that.

Just like the chill, he knew other people in their little rebellion were talking about the floaters, too. When they weren’t planning an attack and seizure, that’s what they were talking about. The nanovirus. When it hit the US last year, its first and one of its only symptoms went completely unnoticed.

Floaters.

The little black flecks in peoples eyeballs that were completely harmless and only lingered for a few seconds before drifting out of sight. Who knew they could be so important, tied to such a dangerous disease? The bioweapon bombs dropped on the West Coast last May had released a nanovirus, a disease partially constructed from nanomachinery.

The tiny, cell-sized machines burrowed their way into the brain, regulating the slow release of the biological component of the virus – prions. As the prion disease started eating away at the victim’s brain, the nanomachines were free to duplicate themselves and spread to other people. Unlike regular viruses, the microscopic machines left nothing to chance. They moved on their own, like a tiny plague of mosquitoes.

The only reason anyone noticed that there was in fact a nanovirus loose in the US was because people started dying. Eli wasn’t a doctor, but he did know enough from the emergency broadcasts. Nanomachines were specialized to be able to spread, and the vaccine didn’t work.

How, then, were any of them still alive?

Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes, only to find the floaters were still there. Apparently, one of the side effects of nanomachines moving through your body was that they dislodged flecks of orbital fluid, creating a surplus of floaters in the eyes of infected people.

I should be dead.

Their ECHELON spy had said that the reason fewer people were dying from the nanovirus now had to do with why the vaccine failed in the first place. Of course, that analyst had been unhelpfully unspecific. One of the objectives of capturing the military bases was so they could get their informant out of ECHELON. At this point, it was stupid to think that the government didn’t know they had a leak.

Eli felt his fingers twitch nervously. Right now his group was busy locking down Comanche airbase, but he expected that they were going to move out sometime soon. They needed to reinforce one of the nearby bases they’d captured. Last Eli had heard, the tech team was still busy trying to crack into the ECHELON compound underneath the airfield.

Loudly thumping down the stairs, Eli made his way towards the trucks. Darren Walker was over there, and if anyone would know what exactly was going on, it was him. As he walked, he noticed something out of the corner of his eye, and this time it wasn’t a floater.

This time, Eli knew he wasn’t imagining the contrails.

Instantly, he broke into a run, charging towards the trucks. “Darren!! Darren!! The sky! In the sky!!” 

Something buzzed in the back of Eli’s mind, cruelly reminding him that the government has big guns, too. We all knew what would happen, doing this. You volunteered. You risked your own life. We all did. 

Elsewhere in his own mind, he was screaming I still don’t want to die!

Eli skidded to a halt and grabbed Darren’s arm. The look in the older man’s eyes as he snapped his head up at the clouds was a look of terror. The man was built like a tank. Eli didn’t think he was capable of being afraid, but he was. When they’d been driving on the road, Darren had talked about his family, his wife and children.

Suddenly, Eli realized why Darren was scared. His fear wasn’t for himself.

The contrails in the sky burst into flames, just as the jets screamed overhead, arcing upwards and circling back for a second run. Something hit Eli’s cheek, and his skin screamed. He screamed.

“Eli! Eli, run! RUN!!”

He tried. He really, really tried. But when his feet left the ground, it wasn’t because he was running. Now he was flying. The air and the ground and the on-fire sky shattered to pieces. When Eli hit the ground, the air was knocked straight out of his lungs. He knew he heard at least one of his ribs crack.

The last thing he saw was a truck flying through the air as the burning sky rained down.

June 11

 

When Carrie heard a something break in the kitchen, she up and ran over to see if she could help her mother clean up the mess. When she finally did reach the kitchen, her footsteps slowed to a sudden halt. She watched her mother sink into a chair, covering his face in her hands and sobbing.

“Mom?? Mom, are you okay? What’s going on?”

It was at this point that Carrie noticed that the TV was on, and turned to the news channel. She didn’t even need to hear the broadcast to know what was going on, and slowly she felt her heart start to break. Behind her, Carrie heard her brothers thump down the stairs.

She stood completely still as they rushed past her into the kitchen, dodging the broken ceramic on the floor. Carrie stared as her mother turned to the little boys and pulled them into a hug, her hands shaking as she squeezed them. Something tightened in Carrie’s chest.

Finally, she heard the news.

“While there has been a significant increase in Internet animosity towards the government, it was previously believed that the violence only went as far as riots. However, in a shocking display of rebellion, an as-of-yet unnamed group of well armed individuals recently executed a series of coordinated attacks on known military installations in DC and the surrounding area. The threat has been successfully contained, but the government is still worried about repeated attacks-“

The camera panned over a base, a destroyed base. Wreckage was strewn everywhere, and trucks and planes still burned, sending sparks that jumped towards the hovering lens. Carrie couldn’t breathe. Contained, the newscaster said. She knew what contained really meant.

Dad you can’t be dead you can’t you can’t.

Now her brothers were crying, too. They were young, but old enough to understand where their father had been for the past week, what he was doing, and why he wasn’t coming back home. Carrie tensed. The news cut back to a brightly lit room, and the woman started talking again.

“All major highways within a ten mile radius of the bases destroyed during containment have been shut down in the interest of public safety. It is believed that these attackers may have possessed a bioweapon similar to the one used last year, and officials are cautioning that the destruction of these military bases may have released contaminated fumes into the atmosphere.”

“Bullshit!” Carrie snapped. Her father and the Quis Custodiet fighters would never resort to a bioweapon, and the idea of the government pinning that kind of atrocity on her father only reinforced her hatred of the government. There was nothing wrong with the air, except maybe the stench of dead bodies.

Carrie started running for the door, hearing her mother yell something as she ran. She didn’t stop. Her mind as skipping frames as she grabbed her keys and raced out the door, jumping into her chipped-pain car pickup. The newscast had been highlighting the destroyed airbase, but they hadn’t zoomed in closely. Carrie remembered the riots. People survived them, even when the government stared raining smoke grenades onto the rioters.

Dad you’re alive, you have to be!

In silence, Carrie drove. It was starting to rain, heavy and dark, bringing down particles of smog in the rainwater. She knew which base her father had been going to – Comanche. It was five in the afternoon, and the airbase was five hours away. Carrie wasn’t stopping. She knew she would have to deal with roadblocks, but she’d seen maps, plans her father helped make. She would get there.

I’m bringing you home, Dad. 

In silence, she drove.

 /-//-/ 

 

Pain. Panic. Silence.

Pain again.

Silence. A ringing, deafening silence.

I’m still breathing. I’m still breathing. 

Everything burned. His skin burned, if only from the heat. The thin Kevlar under his jacket had saved him.

Something was lying on top of him, something that stank of charred flesh.

Tears leaked out the corners of his eyes.

I’m still alive I’m still alive – good God, no one else is alive they’re dead they’re dead-

Consciousness started to leave him.

He could hear a sound, different from the helicopter. This was an engine sound. Distant, but getting louder. Closer. Much closer. The military, come to finish the job?

How could you burn us like this, you bastards??!

Pain again.

Silence.

/-//-/ 

 

Carrie screeched to a halt just outside what used to be the gated entrance to Comanche airbase. Now, the entire fence was gone, reduced to a smoldering, twisted heap of metal wire. The hideous stench ate away at the inside of her nose and her throat like hydrochloric acid. It made her want to puke.

“C’mon, Dad, you have to be here…” she whispered, slowly making her way over the rubble.

There were no helicopters in the air, no news crews or military reinforcements watching the destroyed base. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like the government had used the footage of the destruction to their advantage and then forgotten about the place. Use ’em and lose ’em. How fitting.

Something squished under her foot. Biting her bottom lip, Carrie glanced downwards while staying completely still. Instantly she regretted looking. Now, there wasn’t just broken glass and shrapnel laying everywhere. Now she was standing on human bodies, too. What was left of them, at least.

She was standing on a hand, a hand attached to an arm. The arm only got as far as the elbow before ending. She would’ve expected a charred stump, but this cut was clean. Blood was coagulated on the skin, cloth, and the ground.

This time, Carrie doubled over and actually did throw up.

She spent a few minutes crunched into a little ball, balancing on her toes and tightening her arms around her chest. After she fought the bile back down her throat she stood up, slowly so as not to trigger a wave of nausea. Once upon a time, her family had kept pet chickens, until they were killed by a coyote. Carrie remembered seeing the dead bodies.

Human corpses were nothing like chicken corpses.

For one thing, they stench was a hundred times worse, and for another… when humans died, especially from violent explosions, their eyes were forced open. As Carrie power walked through the carnage, they stared at her. She didn’t stop to stare back.

Despite some of the flaming wreckage, the base was dead silent, and dark. Only a few lights up in the hangars still functioned, casting a dim, ghostly flicker over the dozens of dead bodies. On the edge of the compound, the bodies were few and far between. Here, where she assumed the runway should be, the bodies were starting to pile up on each other.

Dad, please be here…!

Carrie crouched down and started turning bodies over, her hands shaking. Human bodies seemed so much heavier, when you knew they were dead and just a hunk of flesh and bone and organs. Carrie was barely strong enough to heave one body off another.

Time passed by. Her arms got tired. The stink of burnt flesh was starting to make her dizzy.

That was when she heard it.

Faint but there, the sound carried over to her ears, and it took a few moments for her to register what it was. Her thoughts raced through her mind in a rising panic. The music was tinny, cut through with static, but Carrie could still identify it as ‘Reason’ by Nami Tamaki. It was one of her favorites.

It was one of the songs she’d put on the playlist for her dad.

It’s coming from… there! There!!

Carrie charged to her left, tripping over her own feet and the feet of other people in her haste. The song was wearing to a close, and she had no way of knowing if her father’s iPod was about to run out of battery, or if the song playing now was just a fluke.

She skidded to a halt near a flipped-over conversion van and started shoving rubble away, her desperation mounting with every jump in the tempo of the song. Her breaths came in short and rapid as she dragged one body off another. The song was practically screaming at her now.

…There.

The iPod was clenched in the hand of a man laying face-down in the dirt. Carrie felt her eyes cloud with tears. With sudden renewed strength, she shoved the last piece of rubble off the man’s legs and turned him over. She gasped as soon as she saw his face.

“Dad…!”

His face was charred, burnt on one side, and bloody. Carrie’s tears started streaming down her face in horror, and she pressed her head down to her father’s chest. At the same time, she pressed her finger to his throat.

“-setesunaku mune wo sasu sore wa yume no kakara-”  

The song faded away, deafened and drowned out by the sound of Carrie’s own heartbeat – a heartbeat she couldn’t hear in her father’s chest.

“No…” she gasped, tears streaming down her face, “No, you’re not! You’re not gone, god dammit, you’re not! Wake up, Dad, come on… wake up…”

He didn’t breathe. He didn’t move. He was gone.

Carrie pressed her head down onto his chest and sobbed.

/-//-/

He could hear someone singing, and someone crying. Immediately, his mind jumped to the most unlikely thing. A different song.

“Hark the herald angels sing…”

No, brain, I’m still alive. I’m not dead. At least I think I – PAIN!!

He’d made the mistake of trying to move. His chest and ribs screeched at him as he breathed, and he tried so desperately to forget that he had a heartbeat. Alive, but for how long? He would’ve preferred a quick death to this lingering hell.

Maybe he was hallucinating the singing.

He gasped, breathing sharply through clenched teeth.

Yeah.

I’m dreaming. No one’s here. They’d be stupid to come. There’s nothing here. 

Nothing. 

Nothing but pain.

/-//-/

 

Carrie had no way of knowing how long she sat at her father’s dead body, curled up and hugging him and silently begging him to wake up. She hated herself. She hated herself for not getting there quickly enough, for leaving her family, for hearing that damned song, and for starting to accept that her father’s heartbeat wasn’t coming back.

For half a second, she considered just staying here with her father’s corpse, waiting to starve to death or for the military to come nuke the place. Then she remembered her mother, her brothers, and she bit herself hard on the wrist.

Wake up, you bitch. Just think about what Dad would say if he saw you.

But he couldn’t. He couldn’t see her, even though his eyes were wide open. All the movies, when the people closed the eyes of their dead friends, they all lied. Carrie knew she couldn’t close his eyes, and he was just going to stare up at the black sky. At her.

Dad… how can you be gone? Mom needs you, I need you, Ronnie and Jase need you. 

But he was gone.

Carrie closed her eyes and listened to the silence.

…or maybe not.

If Dad’s gone, why do I hear breathing?

Her head snapped up abruptly enough to give her whiplash, but at the moment the pain was unnoticeable. Carrie still had her hand on her father’s throat, feeling for a nonexistent pulse, but she could hear someone breathing – someone besides herself.

Shaking, she tried to stand up, but her legs collapsed underneath her. The breathing was faint, so it had to be nearby, and if she had to crawl, then by god, Carrie was going to crawl until she found the source of the breathing. There was so much death around her, yet someone was breathing.

Where are you??

She could be imagining it. For all Carrie knew, she could be so desperate after realizing her father was gone that her brain was starting to pull at every tiny sound and make up that there was someone still alive. How could anyone survive a bombing like this?

As Carrie crawled over a body that wasn’t moving, she heard a hissing sound, like a clenched gasp. Freezing in place, she slowly tilted her head down and back to see what was underneath her. Her knee was right on top of someone’s chest.

Maneuvering around quickly and rather spastically, Carrie shoved another body off of the person’s upper shoulders and face. He was a young man, broken glasses somehow still hooked onto his ears. Clasping either side of his face with her hands, Carrie pressed her face up within two inches of his mouth.

His eyelids were fluttering, and he was breathing.

“…You’re alive,” Carrie croaked weakly. “You’re alive.” Her tears were still blinding her, but now they were just barely tainted with tears of relief. Someone was alive. One of her father’s companions, maybe even friends, had survived whatever the military had done to them.

“You’re alive.” Her head sank down to the man’s chest, where his heartbeat still thundered erratically. The words became a mantra, repeated over and over and hitching in her throat. Carrie knew her father was dead, gone, no matter how much she wanted that to not be true. But this man… he was still alive, if only barely. His lower neck and upper right shoulder were singed, and he was bleeding from cuts all over, and Carrie assumed some of his ribs were broken, but he was still hanging on.

She made her decision.

Carefully looping her arm underneath the man’s shoulder, Carrie slowly lifted him up from the ground. A few times she almost dropped him – she forgot how damn heavy Kevlar was. Once she got to her feet, she wedged herself under the man’s arm, supporting his weight on her petite frame.

Half carrying, half dragging the man through the rubble, Carrie tried not to think about the fact that she was leaving her father’s body behind. With Quis Custodiet’s plan in ruins like the airbase, there was nothing to stop ECHELON and Timecypher. At the moment, Carrie tried not to think about what was now inevitable.

She could only think of the half-dead weight on her shoulders.

I will save you, God dammit. You’re alive, I’ll save you. I’ll get you out of here.  

You won’t die alone.

 

June 12, 11:45 PM

 

Begin Timecypher.exe 

 

Eli was happily surprised to find out that he was no linger in blistering pain.

Opening his eyes, he found himself in the dark, save for a light leaking through a nearby door. He was in a room, presumably in a house by the domestic furnishings, and he could hear muffled voices from somewhere else in the building. Everything was blurry as he sat up, wincing against a dull soreness in his chest.

Yep. Ribs were still broken.

At first, Eli thought he was alone. Only after he reached out his arm, trying to get a feel for his surroundings, and then doubled over from a sharp spike of pain did he finally realize there was someone else in the room. He heard a thump, and then all of a sudden he felt a hand on his shoulder, and another hand pressing something into his.

His fingers curled around the object on instinct. It was a pair of glasses. Quickly, he put them on, looking up at the person who’d given them to him. He was surprised again to find himself looking at a girl who couldn’t be older than sixteen. She also looked somewhat familiar.

“Who… what happened?” he rasped, still groggy. “Where am I?”

The girl didn’t smile. “You’re not at Comanche airbase, for starters.”

Holy mother- Comanche. Oh sweet Jesus. Gaping at the girl in shock, he finally remembered where he’d seen her before. She was in a picture he’d been shown once, not too long ago – a photo belonging to Darren Walker. “Holy shit,” he whispered, “You’re Darren’s daughter. Cassie?”

This time, the girl was the surprised one. Her eyes widened at him, and she crouched down. “It’s Carrie,” she said softly. “He talked about me?”

“Yeah. You and your mom and brothers. We didn’t talk much, but he had a picture.” All of a sudden Eli felt very out of place. This was Darren Walker’s daughter, which meant he was more than likely in Darren’s house. For a second he felt hopeful. “This is your house, right? Is Darren here?”

Silence. Then: “He’s dead.”

Eli cringed. “Oh.”

At first, he thought Carrie was going to get upset that he didn’t say something more appropriate, like ‘I’m sorry’, but she barely reacted at all. She just looked away with hollow eyes. Her hand slipped off her shoulder, and Eli’s eyes followed it. He noticed for the first time that he was bandaged, and wearing a button-down plaid shirt that was a little too big for him.

“So… what’s your name?” Carrie asked quietly.

Jesus Christ, she doesn’t even know my name, and I’m in her house. “Eli.” 

A thought then crossed his mind, and it was a horrified thought. “Uh, Carrie… how am I here??” How many days had it been since Comanche? What had happened after the napalm dropped?

Carrie looked at him solemnly. “Yesterday, the news feeds were showing the aftermath, talking about attack on military installations. I knew Dad was at Comanche, so I went to get him.” Eli could see her shivering. “Never seen so many dead bodies.”

Eli’s stomach tightened. Oh lord, please no. Tell me she didn’t… 

“I thought Dad was still alive, somewhere in Comanche,” she whispered, “but he wasn’t breathing when I found him.” Her faintly misted eyes flickered up to Eli’s face. “You were, though. You were still breathing.”

It hadn’t sunk in fully with Eli until that moment. Carrie went to Comanche to get her father and bring him back home, hoping against hope that he was still alive. When she found him dead, she could’ve easily left the airbase and not looked back. Instead… instead, she brought Eli with her, rather than leaving him to die.

He wasn’t sure if he would’ve done the same, if he’d been put in such a situation.

“…You got me out of there??” he croaked, feeling the need to hear it from Carrie. Instead of answering, she just nodded. Eli wasn’t sure why, but he felt incredibly guilty all of a sudden. He couldn’t remember a damn thing about what happened after those first jets appeared, and now he was safe.

“Yeah.” Carrie scratched her arm, staring dazedly at the wall behind Eli. “I snuck you in. Mom doesn’t know. I thought she might kick out anyone who wasn’t Dad.”

So I’m in her bedroom…? Good God. Talk about awkward. He couldn’t think of anything to say except for “Thank you.”

Carrie shrugged, standing up and moving away from the futon Eli was sitting on. She walked over to the window and looked through the blinds. Eli noticed that some of the light in the room was coming through the window. The light fell across Carrie’s face, and he couldn’t tell what kind of emotion had appeared on her face.

“Don’t thank me just yet,” she sighed, “You might have wanted sleep through this.”

“Sleep through what?”

Carrie didn’t answer at first. Sitting down onto her bed, she leaned against the bed backing and curled her knees up to her chest. She just pointed near Eli, and he looked over to his left. There was a small table next to him, with an unlit lamp and a single file sitting under it. He picked up the file. It only said one thing on the front.

Timecypher.exe

Eli’s breath caught in his throat.

This… this is what we were fighting against. To be honest, Eli had never really known what Timecypher was, and what ECHELON was planning to do with it. Hesitating for only a moment, he opened it up and started scanning down the page.

On her bed, Carrie stared out of the window at the distant city. Her room was silent for a few minutes. Eli Sumner… so he’d talked to her father, once or twice. By the way he said it, slightly detached, gave her the impression that Eli knew her dad as a figure, not really as a person.

Dad showed him the picture of all of us. In another life, Eli probably would’ve been a good friend of her father’s. But now her father was gone, and soon enough everything else would vanish, too.

Eli’s voice broke the silence as he sucked in a harsh, ragged gasp of shock.

“Oh my God…”

Carrie almost smirked sadly. “That was Dad’s reaction.”

His head snapped up and he stared at her in horror. “This… I knew Timecypher was bad, but I didn’t know it was like this.” Carrie watched as his hand clamped over his face, one finger trailing over his eye. “The virus, the vaccines… the floaters…”

“You have them, too?” she asked.

Eli nodded sordidly, clenching his hands into fists. “Three months.”

Carrie tugged at a stray lock of hair. “Mine showed up about a week and a half ago… happened to my brothers and mom at the same time.” She then gave Eli an odd look. “Three months? Shouldn’t you already be dead?”

Her comment got a little chuckle out of the man, but whatever smile had made its may onto his features disappeared quickly. “I don’t know why… I never got the vaccine.”

“That’s probably why you’re still alive,” Carrie observed. “That thing killed more people than the virus did.”

Eli gulped, glancing back down at the file in his hands and narrowing his eyes at it. Timecypher… this was the thing they’d been fighting, the thing that almost incited civil war. Now that the movement was shut down, nothing was stopping ECHELON.

“Eli,” he heard Carrie whisper, “Look at the date. The execution date.”

He leafed through the papers and found the date. He wished he hadn’t. Eyes widening in horror, he looked over at Carrie. Her face was pale, and completely expressionless, except for her eyes. Her eyes were brimming with tears. She was just as scared as her father had been, right when the sky lit on fire.

Timecypher… begins now. Words and names raced through his mind, and suddenly it started to make sense.

The Bureau of Bio-Terrorism Response and Containment.

ECHELON.

The vaccines.

The virus… oh my God. 

He wondered if the floaters in his eyes would disappear when Timecypher went into effect.

Eli couldn’t breathe. He could only stare at the shaded windows in horror. In the entire country, who else knew what was about to happen? Who else had seen this file? Obviously, the people who created Timecypher would know, and how could they live with that knowledge?

“Shouldn’t…” he said, his voice cracked, “Shouldn’t you be downstairs, with your family?”

Carrie shook her head. “One of mom’s friends came over… her husband and older daughter were fighting, too. They’re gone now, like Dad. Her little girl is friends with my brother. They’re helping each other cope… they’ll be okay.”

Eli gulped, feeling his Adam’s Apple bob in time with his racing pulse. Sitting on the corner of her bed, Carrie stared through the gaps in the slat blinds, the lights from the distant city just barely casting shadows onto her face.

In another life, Eli would’ve thought the girl was beautiful. She sat there in silence, her lips just barely parted as she breathed.

Every breath she took was a shudder. Eli felt the same chills shiver down his spine. The girl shouldn’t be up here, alone, watching the world end. Eli could faintly hear the echoes of a Saturday morning cartoon downstairs, the loud voices of children, the conversations of their mothers.

Carrie should’ve been with her family, and her father but instead she just stared out through her window. She breathed in deeply, crunching her legs up closer to her chest.

“You can hear it, right?” she whispered, parting the blinds with a finger. “It’s starting.”

Eli nodded. His glasses were starting to fog up, too. Between his breath fogging the lenses and the floaters in his eyes, Carrie was quickly reduced to a blur. With a shaking hand Eli wiped the mist off the lenses. He wanted to see this.

Pulling a chair away from Carrie’s desk, he rolled across the floor and over to the window, sitting beside Carrie’s bed and peering out the window. He could see the city, and its lights, and for a moment he thought they were the most beautiful lights in the world. The sight was almost tranquil.

Too bad his ears still worked. Bracing himself against a chill of fear, he listened to the sounds of Timecypher beginning. As a siren wailed into the night, Eli suddenly stuck out his hand towards Carrie.

She only looked away from the window for a moment, staring at his extended offering in confusion. Then she bit her lip and took Eli’s hand. He could feel her shaking, but she clenched his hand tight.

“I saved you,” she breathed, “I saved someone. It’s enough, right?”

Eli wanted so desperately to smile, but he couldn’t. Not now. “…yeah. Maybe I’m biased, but yeah, that’s more than enough. It’s good. Really good. Thank you.”

The light caught her face just right, and Eli froze. She was crying.

“If I’d found my dad alive, I would’ve left you there. That’s horrible, right??”

Eli shook his head, not taking his eyes off the window. “No, it’s not. It’s human.”

“The people who made Timecypher, do they think they’re just ‘human’, too?”

That was a question Eli didn’t have an answer to, so he stayed silent. He did not let go of Carrie’s hand, and he only watched her with half-focus out of the corner of his eye. Neither of them said it, but they could both feel it. The nanovirus was in their blood, and the siren was in their ears.

A floater drifted across Eli’s eyes and settled on top of his pupil.

“If you wake up before me, Eli, make sure my family’s okay.”

“I will. Promise.”

The siren reached the peak of its pitch, screaming like a flat lining heart monitor.

And one by one the lights in the city went out.

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