Genre: Speculative Science Fiction, Suspense Thriller
Audience: NA (New Adult), Adult
Reader Review: Had me on the edge of my seat… Once I got started, I didn’t want to put it down. Bravo, Candice. Fantastic tension, organic anger, and responses. ~Tess K
Nexus Gate 4037: The Animal
Most important rules of time surveillance; never disrupt your host timeline and never step into the future. Decorated Surveillance Specialist Vivian Leona of 6037 has broken both.
Losing her husband, John Joseph Spruce, in the Nexus of time past, Vivian mistakenly pulls the wrong man into the future, a man recorded by history as having died on that very day in 1837. The consequences for keeping him alive in the future could prove far worse than Vivian bargains for, especially in the American South’s New Golden Age, 4037, where any overt emotion or cause of such, like racism, is seen as a deadly contagion—‘conditions’ cured only by euthanasia.
Slave foreman and bounty hunter ‘Tucker’ John Josephus Spruce of 1837 is called ‘The Animal’ by those he hunts, and a ‘necessary evil’ by those who enlist his skills, but are his ‘talents’ enough to keep him alive when he steps into a deadly snare set twenty-two hundred years in the future where he is now pawn and prey?
Will Tucker John’s instincts lead him towards retribution for his abduction, or will they make Vivian his only ally while setting him on an unexpected hunt for the one not only out for his blood, but the very woman’s he’s purposed to destroy?
*TEASER CHAPTERS BELOW*
Nexus Gate 4037: The Animal
*Note to Readers about certain ‘words’ found within this document.*
In the following pages, you will meet with several words, epitaphs that you will most likely find very jarring and offensive. These words will be spelled out in plain text while other words, such as curses or profanity are abbreviated.
The reason behind this choice, to abbreviate the profanity while leaving the slurs intact, has to do with the importance of acknowledgment while also upholding my own personal convictions. While most if not all profanity is easily recognized in an abbreviated form, racial slurs are not. The importance of leaving the slurs as they are is indeed for you, the reader, to empathize with the victim while seeing the victimizer for who they are.
This choice was not taken lightly, but being as I wanted no room for misunderstanding I again, left these words in plain text.
Now, without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy the teaser!
“You think you can keep me here, stringed up like some nigga’ who done run’d off!? I swear ‘fo god I’se gone kill you with my own hands, rip your dark hide clean from them bones, you black b!#@^!”
The broken words of his old southern drawl were so muddied that Vivian had to cut through them to decipher what he was saying. She would have been better off not knowing what he said. Even with the near absence of certain consonants like ‘R’ and the lengthening of vowels when he spoke, she could clearly hear his hatred and rage for her. She felt it like biting teeth ripping through tender flesh.
She almost thought him justified in his hatred of her. Fear had that effect on the mind, brought out the worst in the powerless.
Three days, it had been three days since the man she held bound had awakened, and she already felt like she was going to break! The familiar sense of ordered control was sifting like sand through her clenched fingers, mocking her attempts to hold everything together.
But she would hold it together. She had to. John Jay’s life depended on it.
Fisting her hands as tightly as the man did his bared teeth, she forced herself to remain in place, not retreat. She couldn’t give the appearance of weakness. No, she needed him to calm and she needed him to trust her; a near impossible task since she was the one who’d abducted him. But it had been the right thing to do, the only thing she could do to buy herself and John Jay more time, to buy this man more time.
The thought of her husband and the raging of her detainee strapped down in her lab, made her shudder.
How the notion had slipped uninvited into her mental rooms of reason that abducting a fully grown man and holding him against his will was an act of control or even a viable option for survival was beyond her. But there were no other options, of this she was certain. She’d made a deadly error within the last ten days. Truth was, she’d made several, but she was trying to rectify them. She was trying to get her and her husband’s lives back…and save that of her unwanted guest’s in the process.
At least she hadn’t been found out. Not yet at least. As far as the Cleric’s Office knew, all was well with Team V.Leona-Spruce 4034-44G.US, from timeline 6034. They were in good standing, had been for the three out of ten years of their surveillance, and hadn’t made any disruptions in their host timeline in the Field, 4037.
All of that was a lie, but Vivian hadn’t meant to hide anything. She’d always been an excellent Team Lead. She held tight to the rules of Surveillance steadily and repetitiously breathing them in and out like the very air. By rote, she recited them in her thoughts. Never give away your cover in the Field. Never reveal anything from future times that could disrupt the threads of history. Blend seamlessly into the host timeline of your assignment. Always keep your Century Cell Group apprised of all activities and findings.
Yes. She knew every rule, but she’d somehow managed to lose each rule like an apostate their religion the very moment her husband, John Jay, had gotten lost within the Nexus Gate, deeper in time past.
She hadn’t meant for any of this to happen! She had come to the 4030’s for two reasons, to survey and restore. Time Surveillance, verifying the happenings of history was her lifeblood. She was there to find the root of the Silent Revolution, the crucible that burned through the dross of The New Golden Age and shaped her very world in the 6030’s.
She was also there to restore what had begun to dwindle into heatless embers within her marriage.
It seemed like the perfect solution, take a decade-long Field study two millennia in the past, block out every distraction, survey the timeline, and use it all as a way to repair her emaciated relationship. What she and John Jay had built in the 6030’s as man and wife would hold in place just as firmly as their decorations for excellent Fieldwork had held in place.
But nothing had held, not even the faulty Nexus Gate that had lost John Jay somewhere in time and had exchanged him for a vile being that too many people referred to as ‘The Animal.’
“You hear me, negress? I’m gonna—” Blocking out more curses that spewed from the bound man’s lips, Vivian let out a deep groan and shuddered away the sickening roil that had assaulted her stomach. The sickness had plagued her for several days all while the world as she knew it crumbled in her hands like sun-dried clay.
Her effort to diligently restore, her dream to build not only a better future in time surveillance but her personal life had been replaced by a nightmare that bore the same name as her husband.
“Please be still, John, Tucker John,” she quickly added on the other nickname that history had recorded for the bound man. She couldn’t call him an animal no matter how much he behaved as one. “You’re going to harm yourself,” her voice was deceptively tranquil, a great contradiction to the trembling in her hands that she eased toward his restraints. They were still holding, but just like everything else, there were only so many traumas they could take before they too fell apart.
Tucker John snarled when she drew closer to him, his mono-lid eyes closing up to dark slits. His solid frame tensed. Every muscle strained with sharp definition the more he violently struggled against his restraints. “Be concerned for your own self, negress! I’m gonna make you pay for each day you done held me here. I’m gonna kill you slow and savor every minute of it! I swear ‘fore god I am!”
Vivian withdrew from his side, quickening her pace with each step, pinching back the slicing pain of stress that cut through her temples. His insults bounced loudly off the walls of the corridor as she hurried through from the laboratory where she kept him. Grateful she hadn’t locked the door behind her she rushed into the upper-level of her house and slid the hidden wall shut with shallow breaths. Leaning her back against it, she pulled the mask she’d worn from her face and placed it on a nearby shelf before moving away from the wall completely.
Tucker John continued to roar. Vivian moved to the far end of the room, turning away from his low knocking and distant grumbles. “Jesus, please make him be quiet!” She needed a moment to collect herself before she had no choice but to tend to the responsibilities that had been thrust at her, the responsibility of him. What could she possibly do with him? Dealing with him was like trying to tame flames of fire with her bare hands. She was definitely going to get burned.
A deep breath escaped her lips. She rested her weight against the window sill and stared out into the vastness of the countryside, forcing herself to focus on the silence of her thoughts, completely blocking out Tucker John’s muffled sounding-offs from the other side of the wall and the underbelly of the manor house.
Just thinking about him made her wince. Each time he slung his curses at her she had to remind herself that she meant him no harm, would do him no harm, whether he knew it or not, whether she felt it or not. He was just as much a victim as she or John Jay. He wasn’t meant to be in that millennia just as she had no option but to hold him bound until she could explain to him why he was there in the first place and why she couldn’t send him home…at least not yet.
She was doing this for his own good, even though he seemed as a prisoner and promised her a violent death the moment he got himself free.
She’d managed to keep that one thought on track. This man was not her prisoner, but he was a prisoner of his upbringing and his own doing, and if she set him free it would only mean his death. He had been bred by a culture of ignorance and had not sought out truth. Most of them didn’t, not back then. In 1837, the deep American South, his lashing words and condemnation of her melanin was the accepted norm. She nearly burst into laughs of hysterics. If he only knew how much this melanin cost….
But now twenty-two hundred years into his future, his ideology was deemed an abominable condition—a contingent with no cure, one that only euthanasia could contain. There was no mercy for those cursed with his sickness, no hope of reprieve, no trial, just death.
Vivian wouldn’t have his blood on her hands.
She took another deep breath and tried to steady herself. This was ‘Tucker’ John, John Josephus Spruce, slave foreman and bounty hunter from 1837, the one called ‘The Animal’ by those he hunted and a ‘necessary evil’ by those who enlisted his skills. He was not John Joseph Spruce, beloved husband and Surveillance Tech Engineer from the year 6037.
How in God’s name had she mistaken Tucker John for her husband in the first place? She already knew how, yet it still made no sense. This situation made no sense. Her breath caught in her chest, the anxiety choking her like a hand around her throat. She suppressed an urge to scream and weep, and clutched the white obsidian stone pendant—a gift from John Jay—that hung just above her heart, before she offered a quick prayer for forgiveness, and another plea for help.
Thirteen years she had been with the Ministry of Time. She had been a Surveillance Specialist for thirteen years, started in the Cleric’s Office at age eighteen before entering the Field only two years later in 6026. In all that time, in all the places she had been—and she had been to many—she had never made a single mistake, or broken a single rule…until now.
Now, in the deceptively pristine, almost sterile backdrop of the Georgian South of 4037, she found herself on the other side of the good, having withheld knowledge from her Cell Group a handful of happenings that were certainly beyond reproach, while completely blowing her cover.
She reasoned that she hadn’t broken the first of the rules. Yes, she had blown her cover, but not to any denizen of that specific era. Her self-defense within the cusp of the scenario was nothing more than a loophole, one she could narrowly fit through, but it was a hole nonetheless. She also hadn’t stepped into her own future even though she’d made a way for Tucker John to step into his.
The Nexus Gate had gotten it all wrong, or Vivian had gotten it wrong in her haste. She didn’t remember. Her nerves were still too raw to recall. Lourdes, her and John Jay’s assistant, a local denizen, had tried to help, but it was to no avail. Tucker John was there now in his future, a place forbidden to those of the past, and John Jay was still missing in time.
It was a mess, one that had Vivian on her knees with a guillotine blade threatening to make contact with the back of her quivering neck.
She swung her attention to the lab wall again. Anger, frustration, fear boiled inside of her. The muffled roaring beyond the wall had grown even louder. She had to intervene, face the source of the terrible clamor; make Tucker John stop.
“Lord, please help me. I need Your help.” She kissed the obsidian pendant and let it fall back to its place by her heart before again slipping on her porcelain mask, walking away from her visual sanctuary and into what she was beginning to think was nothing more than the bowels of hell.
(Ten days earlier)
Vivian burst through the side door of her home racing down the hill some two-hundred yards to the very place the Nexus Gate would open up an Emergency Portal or E.P. She only had three minutes to get there. She would be in place in two.
One last kiss. John Jay’s last words to her, his last gesture before he disappeared within the Nexus, drummed in her head, smothering her like the thick humid air that pushed against her. Tears blurred her eyes and her knee-length tunic tangled in between her legs. She fell hard. The impact jarred her joints and grass stains smeared the fabrics, but she pushed on.
She ran even faster, slowly picking up momentum, hardly catching her breath. How had he gotten lost? What happened? One last kiss. She called out his name as the unfamiliar crackle of the Nexus tearing open an E.P in mid-air surrounded her. She prayed John Jay’s words were not true. One last kiss.
“JOOHHHHNNNNNN JAAAYYY?!” She sucked in more hot air, tears sliding down the sides of her brown checks burned red from exertion. Circle ripples grew outward before her very eyes like liquid mercury right in the spot the Nexus Gate had indicated the E.P would appear. Vivian stopped only a few yards away, her chest rising and falling against the strain of stress. She needed to catch her breath. “John Jay?” Her voice shook. “JOHNNNN JAAY?!”
“What’s going on?” Panic echoed in Lourdes’ voice through Vivian’s earpiece.
“Nothing! I-I don’t know! John Jay, please! Come on!” She pulled at the roots of her hair with clenched, nervous fist. The portal quivered ominously but it had ceased to make a sound, taunting her with its silence.
Several seconds passed, hardly a matter of minutes before Vivian could stand it no longer. She called out his name again before reaching out her hand to touch the E.P.
A rush of wind broke forth from the break in the timeline, knocking her backward with a force that rattled her equilibrium. Lourdes’ distorted voice wobbled in her ringing ears. Blinking deeply, Vivian pushed herself up on all fours only to fall back on her stomach, her mouth open in a shocked ‘o’. The world seemed to be spinning around her. If it wasn’t for the clamor that she heard echoing outward from the portal she might have collapsed completely.
She careened her head in time to see the back of a woman, dressed in tattered antebellum slave attire, run barefoot from the mouth of the portal and out into the expanse of her property, never breaking her stride. The sun-bleached, sweat- stained threads beat against the woman’s legs with each pounding pump and push of her swift legs. She hadn’t even realized she had leapt two-thousand years ahead in time, out from the grasp of one hateful century deep into a future that could prove far less volatile but far more deadly.
Several dogs barked, taunting male voices, and gun shots echoed outward from the mouth of the E.P. Vivian forced herself upward beyond the veil of terror that had pinned her to the ground. She had to move. She had to contain the breach!
Three men on horseback broke through the ripples of time, screaming curses at the back of the woman they pursued. None of them, not the men, the horses, the dogs or the slave, had noticed the change in time, or Vivian frozen on the ground.
What was happening? She staggered to her feet, grimacing from the bruises she’d been given from the impact of her fall, and called out to Lourdes from her microphone. “Lourdes! LOURDES! Power up the Perimeter Fence! Close off the property!”
“WHAT? What’s happening? Is John Jay alright?”
“Power up the fence, Lourdes! We have a time breach,” Vivian panted, running back up toward the house. “There is a runaway slave and a posse on horseback! We can’t let them leave the property! I need the fence up, and I need a set of intermezzo’s! Have them at the back door and bring trackers!”
She tore back up the hill to her house. The perimeter fence lit up like a dome around the 6,400 acres of property before falling invisible. That was an even ten square miles covered. Still, she needed to move quickly. No one really came out to her manor without announcing themselves first, but she couldn’t take the chance. She needed to get the slave and the posse back through the E.P as soon as possible, and she needed to find John Jay.
Lourdes met her at the back door with the items she had demanded; trackers to locate anyone on the property and an intermezzo to suspend them in time once they were located. Lourdes’ face was sheet white. Her shoulders kissed her earlobes from the tension and fear that hung thick in the air. She wasn’t familiar with such emotions. “What are you going to do? Where is John Jay?”
Vivian cut her eyes at Lourdes. “We are going to locate the people who came through the portal and we are going to send them back to their proper time in history.”
“But they have guns! Rifles and dogs—”
Vivian hurriedly checked the intermezzos. All she needed was one shot and she could get them all in a time net, suspended in a single moment in time and then she could send them right back to where they came from. “Stay out of the way of the guns and the dogs and remember to use your intermezzo.”
“But John,” Lourdes pressed, her face suddenly washing bright pink from tears. “Where is Joh—”
Vivian cut her off, snatching one of the trackers from her hand and biting at her with a clipped answer. “I. DON’T. KNOW!” She felt her chest tensing and her body shaking. How had this happened? John Jay was only supposed to recalibrate the nexus gate, prepare it for the new fittings like he’d done many times before. But something went wrong this time. What went wrong?
Lourdes’ mouth clamped pronouncing her quivering chin. Guilt pricked at Vivian. She tried to calm herself as much as her coursing adrenaline would allow before she routed the settings on the tracker and speaking again to Lourdes.
“I don’t know where John Jay is, Lourdes.” Her voice cracked. “We’re going to find him. I’m going to find my husband, but we have to deal with this first.”
She stared into her glassy grey-blue eyes and mustarded more compassion. Lourdes had never cried before in the three years she’d known her. “We can’t let them stay here. This is their future. There is no telling what kind of damage or paradoxes they’re causing by being here. The longer they’re here,” she wiped her glistening brow with the side of her shaking arm. “The longer they stay, the worse things will be. Dogs and rifles will be the very least of our problems.”
* * *
Vivian flinched as if she’d been slapped straight through the porcelain mask that covered her face. Even though she knew in her mind this was not John Jay, her heart couldn’t shake the wicked daggers that Tucker John hurled at her. Each one landed with a knee buckling thud to her core that spouted rivers of blood, invisible to the eye—soul wounds.
Eyes narrowed, she studied him, quite like she had when he was sedated. Her eyes froze against the curl of his snarling lips. They looked like the lips she used to kiss, his bottom lip twice as full as his top, only these were drawn and hidden within a long bush of pale blond hairs.
His mono-lid eyes were a gun-metal grey, but they were wild, angry, and cold as ice. Apart from his hair being too long—to the bottom of his shoulder blades—and sun-bleached to pale honey, his body being too cut, and muscularly formed from the life he lived of more physical labors, he was the exacting image of John Jay, even down to placement of his scars, and solid stature.
* * *
(Ten days earlier)
A half an hour spent and nothing. They hadn’t located a single being. Vivian had gone from frantic to outright angry. Why had she gone on this goose chase on foot? She should have gotten a sled. They could reach speeds of up to sixty miles with their tops down, twice that when covered, hovering mere inches from the ground, gliding on the face of the wind. Best of all they made little to no sound while in motion.
Now completely infuriated with anxious frustration, she kept her jaw clamped shut. She had already given Lourdes an undeserved tongue lashing, blaming her for her incompetence. She’d even gone as far as to blame her for the mess that had come through the E.P. Had she not let Lourdes help none of this would have happened. Stubborn from the fear that hardened her heart, she refused to give place to guilt, or remorse for her ill-laid blame. Instead, she stopped talking altogether. She would make peace later.
The tracker recalibrated in her hands startling her to a stumbling stop. It had located the slave woman.
“She’s just north of the creek!” Vivian whispered. “We have to be careful, understand?” She looked back at Lourdes who scowled back at her.
“Listen, save the attitude for later. It’s imperative that we get this right. She cannot see us. Our appearance could give her a mental break. If she talks about these things back in her time there is no telling what the consequences could be for her. She could die before her time, be locked away…most likely, she would be put to death. It could throw off an entire timeline.”
“We’re wearing knee length, linen tunics and trousers I don’t think that could break a timeline.”
Vivian gave her a warning glare.
Lourdes raised her chin, a tear falling down her check. “Fine! I won’t let her see me. Believe it or not, Vivian, I’m just as stressed out as you are.”
Vivian selfishly found that hard to believe. Lourdes’ husband hadn’t disappeared into only heaven knew where. She didn’t even have a husband! Vivian shook her head. She was being unreasonable, still the bitterness that coated her tongue kept her from saying so. “Let’s just take care of this fiasco and, and…let’s just go.”
The sun had already begun to set by the time they located the slave woman. She’d hidden herself nearly an hour north of the creek and had somehow managed to fall asleep within the short moments she’d found refuge. How she’d lost the posse was beyond Vivian. She imagined the slave woman had taken much time in planning her flight so she would know where to hide, which also meant she knew how to hide and not get caught. She would have almost had the upper hand if Vivian wasn’t aided by technology.
“She’s hiding in the roots of that dead Oak. There’s a lot of mud and water under there.” That explained how her scent had been lost to the dogs.
“How do you suppose we get her to come out of there without us being seen?” Lourdes asked.
Vivian grumbled. That was a good question. She smacked an ornery mosquito from her neck and thought up the quickest plan she could. “Since the perimeter fence is up we can do a virtual simulation, angry bees,”
“In the dead, muddy roots of a tree? Not bees. Scorpions are more believable.”
Vivian considered Lourdes’ suggestion before introducing a third option—mud wasps. They were native to the area. “We need to catch her from behind, so I’ll take the left flank and you take the right. Once she comes out I’ll get her in with the intermezzo. You hold yours at the ready.”
It took a little longer than Vivian had expected, but the simulation did work and the slave woman did come bolting out of her hiding place. Before she could let out a scream, Vivian had her frozen within the time net. She had only gotten a few paces away from the woman when Lourdes’ intermezzo shot off cutting through the active path of Vivian’s net, unlocking it. The slave woman reanimated.
Panicked, Vivian lunged at Lourdes yanking the intermezzo from her hands. She quickly turned toward the slave woman who obliviously batted at her muddied clothing, aimed the intermezzo at her once again but hesitated in firing when Lourdes called out her name.
Vivian flinched. The slave woman turned to face them, her chocolate brown eyes locking with Vivian’s. Both Vivian and the slave woman’s faces contoured in utter horror. Vivian quickly pulled the trigger on the intermezzo.
Once again the woman was frozen in time. The horrified expression hadn’t budged, nor had the slave woman’s pointing finger and outstretched arm. She was pointing at Vivian. Vivian wanted to point back. Even through the mud, the sun-bleached hair, tattered slave clothing, and skin sun-darkened a shade or two more than hers, the slave woman bore an unsettling resemblance to Vivian Leona.
A glob of mucus and spit landed at Vivian’s feet, snatching her out of her assessment of the man.
“You think I can’t see your darkie skin through that mask? I see that look in your eyes, negress!” Tucker John shouted. “You just buuurnin’ to have a romp with me, ain’t you? Y’all like animals in heat, aching for the touch of a white man! GO ON! Turn me loose. I’ll give you what you want so bad!”
His voice was a fowl hiss, the look in his eyes intent, dangerous. “And when I’se done with you, I’se gonna catch that other negress who done run off and I’se gone whip the hide right off ya’ll’s backs!”
Vivian stepped away from him. Her head was spinning again. She was going to collapse, thinking about the slave woman, her twin through time. She was the reason that Vivian wore the mask. The same way Vivian mistook Tucker John for John Jay was the same way Tucker John would mistake her for the slave woman that he hunted down like an animal. Their likenesses were so close Vivian had no choice but to keep her face covered.
There would be no mistaking of anyone’s identity now. Vivian had already sent the slave woman—Vivian, she was also called Vivian—back to 1837.
* * *
(Ten days earlier)
“She looks exactly like you, Vivian!” Lourdes panted and pointed, her grimace somehow resembling a grotesque smile.
At first glance, it was almost like looking into a mirror. The other woman wore Vivian’s face even if it were framed in a different fashion; round cheekbones, aquiline nose, naturally arched brows, long lashes and chocolate brown eyes that had always been called demure—John Jay said they reminded him of melted chocolate—full lips that set above a smooth pointed chin and narrow jaw line.
Vivian nearly collapsed staring at the frozen visage of her time-twin. Her legs felt as useless as cotton-candy, her heart beating with an erratic tattoo making it near difficult to breathe. She couldn’t even blink.
Lourdes grabbed at her shoulders still calling her name. As if burned by her touch Vivian snatched away. If she was tender before, now she was completely raw with anxiety. Call Raul. The thought came unbidden to the forefront of her mind. She could call Raul. She should call Raul, her Century Cell Group Leader. Raul Manuel would know what to do, she prayed he did. But how could she let him onto her property without letting the posse out?
There were too many variables on the table, most of them unknown. She couldn’t afford the gamble. All she needed was a bit more time to fix this, find John Jay, put everything back in order and then—
The tracker recalibrated again, the sound of it punching a startled scream from her belly. Gaining her bearings, she took a step away from the slave woman and Lourdes, mentally distancing herself from the shock of her time-twin. She quickly took note of the tracker’s readings and got a visual of the posse’s location. They were just on the other side of the rise and fall of a few hills and pastures not a full two miles away from them.
Sweat tickled her temples and the side of her cheek. She smacked the moisture away with several more mosquitos that dared make a meal of her. “The posse is on their way. They’ll be here in less than five minutes. I can already hear the dogs.” She narrowed her eyes and looked in their direction.
Lourdes extended her hand, her throat rising and falling as if she struggled to swallow. “They probably heard you scream. I need my intermezzo back.”
Vivian glanced back at her, shook her head before pointing her eyes back in the direction of the posse. “Not a chance. You almost got me with that thing last time. You wait here with her,” she pointed at the slave woman without looking at either of them. “I’m going to net the posse and the dogs from the hill. Once I give you word that they’re frozen, you are to head back to the house, send me a sled and a Drag Net. There wasn’t one with the intermezzos and we’ll need one to get them back to the E.P. I’ll also forward you their stats, make sure they are all green to go back to 1837 within the next few hours.”
She didn’t wait for Lourdes’ response. She quickly ran toward the hill top and waited for the posse to come. What a surreal picture it all made, standing on pasture land and Georgia’s red clay, looking down on a posse of hateful humans who called themselves men, hunting a defenseless woman just because of the color of her skin.
Vivian never wanted to get this close to that part of history, stare inexplicable hatred in the face. No, she’d left the foul stench of all things antebellum to those within the Ministry of Time who had stronger constitutions than she. She almost agreed with the ideology of the timeline she was surveying in 4037 concerning that behavior. Ethnic hatred and xenophobia were indeed diseases, but in Vivian’s mind they were more forms of mental illness that had uncanny ways of spreading like plagues. Still, she viewed them as curable, unlike the denizens of the New Golden Age.
Without a hitch, she had the posse netted and waiting for transportation back to the E.P. She had just barely finished assessing both the men and their beasts when the same sound that she’d heard when the slave woman, and the posse emerged from the E.P sounded again. Her breath caught in her lungs.
“John Jay,” his name had hardly left her lips before she took off in full sprint in the direction of the E.P.
“Lourdes! Someone else has come through the E.P! It’s John Jay! It has to be John Jay. Send the sled, now!”
She didn’t wait for Lourdes’ response but kept on running. At the edge of the creek bed, the sled met her. She hopped on, not wasting a single moment to draw up the cover even though that would have given her the ability of greater speed. The lag in velocity did afford her a few moments to consider her direction. It would do her no good to go toward the E.P if John Jay was headed for the manor house.
She looked down at the tracker. It had finally recalibrated and located the individual who had come through, but he wasn’t heading toward the manor. Instead, he was following in the exact path that everyone else had gone. It was like he knew where they were headed. Vivian’s pulse sped again. She was suddenly grateful for her lack of speed. Reasonable conjecture pricked her. What if this wasn’t John Jay either, but another posse member looking for the runaway slave? What if she was heading right into the mouth of a lion?
She decreased her speed and waited out of sight of the new arrival. The thickness of the wooded area framing the figure’s riding path hid her like a blank.
Within a few short moments and he came into view, easing his way through on horseback, rifle across his lap.
It was almost completely dark then; the gentle glow of fire flies danced in the clearing darkness of the sky, but Vivian could still see his large frame and broad shoulders swaying with the easy gait of the horse he rode upon. She could almost make out the color of his shirt, and the paleness of his long hair beneath the worn leather cowboy hat brushing the tan overcoat he wore. The hat’s brim caste a blue-black shadow over much of his face but not the beard that hung down to the bottom of his breast bone.
The sudden rush of blood to her head nearly knocked her unconscious. This was not John Jay.
Swallowing down the bile of disappointment, she stilled her breath and raised her intermezzo. She’d do him like the others, identify him in history, verify his future, and send him right back to where he came from. Then she’d call in Raul. She had no other options now. She couldn’t leave the E.P open much longer nor the perimeter fence engaged.
With a whip of blinding movements the man had his rifle raised and aimed directly at her. Tree bark flew outward from the impact of the shot. The shattered evidence of it was only a foot away from Vivian’s head. She crouched low against the tree, adrenaline numbing her from the pain the tiny cuts the debris had made on her face and neck.
“Found you,” the man’s tone was matter-of-fact. There was no humor in it, more an edge of boredom.
Vivian’s mouth was cotton. Her body trembled like it had been bitten by frost. She’d never been shot at! She ducked and pulled herself further behind the trees covering her head. Her intermezzo lay several feet away from her. She’d dropped it with the gunshot.
Cold fear pressed her painfully against the rigid bark of the tree. The man had dismounted and was heading right for her.
“You ain’t think it was gonna be that easy to get away from me, did you? Now you know I could’a took your fool head clean off your shoulders, but under the circumstances, I’se feeling mighty tender-like right now,”
Vivian’s ears perked. That voice . . . it was John Jay’s but the accent was all wrong. His words sounded like the heat of the day had melted them together into a thick drawl just as soon as they passed his lips. But it was his voice.
“John Jay?” She couldn’t help herself but say his name even as her voice cracked.
The man growled. “Hell yes, it’s Tucka’ John! You mind me, gal! Com’mon now! Get your black @$$ out from behind them trees over there before I let that fool posse set them dogs on you! You know them dogs don’t cotton to thick-minded folks,”
It was John Jay! But was it John Jay? It had to be. John Jay was finally home, but he had a rifle aimed at her and had already shot once. And there she sat in the heat of the night, her face now stinging from sweat and tears that coursed through her wounds and she was totally unarmed.
Each step he made in her direction only forced her heart to kick harder against her ribs. She didn’t want to hurt him, couldn’t, not even if he wasn’t John Jay. She needed her intermezzo—but she still had Lourdes’!
With clumsy fingers she managed to free it from her deep pocket only to drop it near her feet.
“Jesus, please!” She hissed.
“Don’t be involvin’ Him in yo’ mess. Hell, He ain’t gonna stop what you got comin’. You done begged for this.”
Stifling the need to scream, Vivian steadied her quaking fingers, counted to three, and without a second thought sprung from behind the tree and shot the intermezzo. ‘Tucker’ John shot his rifle as well. The bullet went still, suspended in the air, caught in the time-net of the intermezzo aimed in the path of her thigh.
The terror-filled scream that burned her insides rent from her belly and drove her to the ground with gulps of tears. She choked before emptying her stomach in the grass, the black shadow of the man cloaking her.
He was a statue and Vivian was bullet free.
She forced herself to breathe easy, taking air through her heated lips and exhaling it through flared nostrils all the while staring at the metal ball that still glowed hot in the time-net. She’d have to trap the bullet somehow, dig the other from the trunk of the tree. All evidence of that day would have to be sent back to 1837 along with the man who called himself Tucker John. But for that moment, all she could do was sit and stare, pulling at the grass as if it were the very heads of her head.
What had she done? What was she going to do?
The moon washed a pale blue glow across the forested path causing inky shadows to dance around her like mocking demons. She needed to move and she needed to move him. She forced herself to rise, taking careful steps toward him—her John Jay—and his aimed rifle. She’d been staring at him long enough for the sky to turn black and a true chill to chase through the air. She knew her husband’s face. She knew his hands, his eyes. She knew him, but what had happened to him? Time had twisted him in such a way, turned him violent, took his mind…changed his name.
She’d heard of time-breaks. It was a common part of education within the Ministry of Time. There was always that risk in Time Surveillance, losing one’s mind and a grip on reality. But John Jay’s mind had been tested just like hers. Rigorous tests and training had been applied to ensure they could withstand the regression on the timeline.
Both of them had passed. But nothing was said about anything like this. She’d never heard of a single case where a person had been lost in their Nexus Gate for a matter of hours only to reappear on the timeline a completely different human being. But somehow, John Jay had.
Her body shook like a dry leaf in the autumn wind with each step she took toward him. Her eyes blurred with fresh tears and her skin itched more from fear than the bug bites that dotted her flesh.
She quickly scanned his structure. She had to be certain it was him and not some freakish look alike like the slave woman she’d encountered. She prayed it was so. If that were the case, she’d just keep looking for her husband. She would contact Raul and get more hands in action.
Her heart sank and another cry parted her lips. The results were a one-hundred percent match for John Jay. The slave woman was an eighty-six percent match to her even though at first glance they were identical.
This was John Jay? All she could think was that he had been lost a long time through some tangent, and had lost himself and his mind in time. What was she going to do? What was going to happen to him now? What would she tell their families, or John Jay’s best friend, Marcus Taylor? Marcus had warned her to take care of him and she had failed. Vivian’s insides went ice cold.
Where was Lourdes?
* * *
Vivian turned without a word and left Tucker John to his cursing threats and spittle, again. She’d feigned her calm control for a week and could do it no longer. Lourdes would have to medicate him today. He’d worn her nerves thin with his threats and bellowing.
Where was Lourdes?
Where was Lourdes? Vivian slid the door in the wall shut, ripped the mask from her face, and pushed the nervous sweat from her forehead. She walked as far away from the laboratory as she could, finally ending up at the front entrance of the house dropping her weight down on a cushioned bench in the foyer.
Sighing, she rolled her eyes up the white walls, across the mahogany barreled ceiling, before allowing them to flutter closed. Somehow she could still hear Tucker John screaming at her. It amazed her that in such a large manor she could still hear the man cry out like a rabid animal trapped within her walls.
The Animal. Slaves had called him that for the way he’d tracked them and maimed them with the little wicked inventions and traps he’d made and set for them, and how he made sport of them before returning them to their oppressors. They said he moved after them barefoot, wearing nothing but his breaches, covered in Georgia’s red clay, hair pulled back in a mess of twigs and debris, his rifle strapped to his back, ropes and blades secured to his waist and the scent of nature covering his being.
He was like a ghost in the shadows, a lone wolf thirsty with bloodlust. It was a rare thing when he hunted dressed as a man, but even still he was nothing but an animal.
Vivian wondered if this moniker had more to do with his thrashing and howling than his hunting. And what a waste of a man he was. To be a racist, foul mouthed, violent drunk, he was extremely good with his hands. She’d gone through his belongings and found little contraptions he had. One had sliced through her finger, drawing blood, with the same fiery bite his words did.
Wasted gifts poured out on a wasted man.
She dropped her face into her hands and leaned forward on the very verge of crying again. She had never cried so much in her life and she couldn’t have been in a worse place or era to do so. The New Golden Age was no place for fountains of tears.
Amid the restored outward Zen beauty of that society, structured upon a foundation that believed peace was precious and thriving in one’s interconnectedness to nature was the key to harmony, was the dark shadow of the fear of uncapped emotions and differences.
According to the ruling ideology, differences as well as emotions, left to their own devices, produced contagious diseases and viruses through vehicles of fear, emotional violence, and racism or xenophobia, which then produced chaos.
Chaos was the loss of control, and to lose control was to gamble with the quality of life for future generations. It was an affront to the New Golden Age, a threat to perfect peace, and the purification of the human soul.
The past attested to these truths.
A person born into the world during that time was bred into a society that was rightfully questionable in the view of someone like Vivian, a person who understood the need for tears.
Sure she appreciated the simple lifestyles, warmth of smiles, tenderness of conversation, rustic and yet full diets, and the breathable flow of linen clothing for most seasons. It somehow kept the mind at ease and often blinded from the spiked-pit-of-death that lay below. One false step, one laugh deemed too hardy, too many tears at the loss of a loved one could lead to the immediate extermination of life.
The loss of a loved one…Too many tears…She began to choke on the offensive things in that very moment, struggling to hold them down.
“You shouldn’t look like that so close to the door, people might think you are sick with sadness. Tristitia Lacrimo Murbus, or ‘Sad Disease’.” It’s highly contagious, thus dangerous.” Lourdes pushed the ten-foot tall door closed behind her. Vivian hadn’t even noticed that she had come in.
“Where have you been? What took you so long?” She straightened up on the bench, sniffing back the moisture that had clogged her nose.
Lourdes robotically showed her the bag in her hand. “I was picking up the items you requested from the Cleric’s Office and pharmacy, and I had some other errands to run. I hadn’t seen my mother in a few days you know?” She slid off her conical hemp hat and hung it up on the wall with the other two that were already there. “How is,” she paused, looking down the hallway. “…the patient?”
She shook the bag by Vivian’s ear when she didn’t get an answer. Vivian sat up straight once more, she had rested her face back in her hands again. Taking the bag she peered inside, noting the one tucked inside the other, and gave a sigh of relief before she shifted the contents and looked back up at her assistant with raised brow. “And the parts for the Nexus Gate?”
It was because of the missing pieces of the Nexus Gate that John Jay had gone inside of it to do temporary maintenance. It had almost been a year since he had ordered the pieces and for some odd reason they still had not been shipped back from 6037. John Jay was missing because of that. He was still missing because she hadn’t figured out how to find him.
Lourdes shook her head. Vivian answered her question. “He’s alive, like he was yesterday and the day before that. He’s in ‘okay’ health, considering the condition of life that he lives, and for his age. Contrary to some former historical belief, slave foremen did not have the greatest of living conditions.”
Lourdes suppressed a scowl. Vivian noticed.
“This isn’t a pity party for him in the least. I’m merely answering your question, and making an observation. Anyhow, I need you to medicate him today. Sedate him if you have to. He’s been screaming his head off for hours and it’s only going to get worse. Right now he is attacking me, later he will be begging me for help.” She stood and walked out of the foyer. Lourdes followed behind.
“What are you going to do? Torture him? You can’t do such things.”
Vivian gave her a look. “Lourdes, the thought never crossed my mind. However, he is going to think I am torturing him. He is a functioning alcoholic, which means he drank regularly and heavily. It’s been ten days for him without a drink. The medication for his liver, which was not in the greatest condition, has held back the symptoms for withdrawal. He is to take his last dose for that, and then comes the really fun part.”
She entered the large kitchen and pulled out one of the four boxes in the bag that came from the Cleric’s Office. “This, we will start giving him within the next forty-eight hours. You have to give him his last liver treatment first and then we will go in with this.”
She handed the container to Lourdes who studied it in her hands. “What is this?”
A wan smile shaped her lips. “XBalance. That is to help him with the pain of detox, but it won’t work until the symptoms are evident in his body which means,”
“Forty-eight hours. Great.”
Vivian reached across the cold granite island top and squeezed Lourdes’ hand. “I’m sorry.”
* * *
Tucker John growled and pulled his body up against the restraints one last time. He felt the straps digging into his upper arms and wrist, across his chest and abdomen. Almost blacking out, he dropped his head back down into the cushioning at his back.
He didn’t have a mind to study the room again. That was all he’d been able to do besides scream.
White. Everywhere he looked, everywhere he was able to see, he saw white. White walls, white linens, white ceiling, large white counter and simple stools to the right of him at the center of the room, white cabinets. There was no other exit or entrance besides the one at his back. The way them wenches sounded when they came his way indicated they were making a descent so he was in some lower-level room, done in white because there were no windows.
He closed his eyes and waited to catch his breath. For three days he had been trying to break free. For three days he had been screaming at the top of his voice during the times that he was awake.
He kept being put to sleep! He didn’t know how, but they were putting him clean out. There were two of them though, both female, one white the other a brown-skinned wench wearing a white, porcelain mask. “Two females,” he said, his voice was so dry, hoarse.
He tried to remember how he got there, how he had been taken prisoner by two skinny women who couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds apiece, especially not the white one. She couldn’t have been more than a hundred and ten if that.
They’re probably some vigilantly pair of anti-slavery-temperance-busybodies. At least that must have been the white woman’s conviction. The black wench must have been going along for the ride. None of that mattered. Tucker John was going to get free and he was going to put both of them in their places.
His hardly calm attitude suddenly flared up again when he heard footsteps coming his way. Like the last times, he didn’t hold back. “Wench! You got yourself five good seconds to turn me loose or,” his words halted at the tip of his tongue. The white woman stepped into the light of the room. She didn’t bother making eye contact with him. She hardly acknowledged his presence.
Tucker John relaxed again. He was angry, and he was tired, but the little woman in the room wasn’t bad to look at for a good second, even if he wanted to ring her tiny neck.
He leaned his head back and took in her form. There really wasn’t very much to see from the billowy fabric that hung over her body. The floosy wasn’t wearing nothing more than a long sleeved nightshirt and ankle length drawers. “Who are ya’ll?” He would try to be civil with the woman, see where that got him. Even loose women liked to be talked to nice. It made them pliable and he intended to work her for all she was worth.
* * *
Lourdes checked the medical equipment and recorded his vitals. He was in very good health now, one treatment away from excellent, the detox not being considered. She sighed. His broken, backwoods English was grating her nerves. She could hardly understand him, the fact that she had even thought of him as ‘backwoods’ disturbed her all the more. That, she was going to keep to herself. Derogatory assessments of another person were viewed as toxic by the great minds of the New Golden Age, but treatable if gotten out of hand. Embarrassment over her mistake flushed her cheeks. She was one of the purified. She knew better.
“I asked you a question!” Tucker John snapped. Fist clenched he tugged toward her to no avail. “I swear fo’ god I’se gone have your hide once I’se free! You and that negress running about here in your undergarments like a pair of whores! Her I understand, but a white woman? Ain’t you got no sense in your fool head about propriety? Not to mention kidnappin.’ That’ll earn you a hemp necklace and a few inches to your puny height.”
Lourdes could hardly hold back her laugh as she opened the container of his last liver treatment and set it aside. Who was he, a slave foreman, a filthy bounty hunter, to tell her anything about propriety or what was legal? She had read his history, what was there anyway, Vivian had as well. There was nothing nice there, and yet he thought himself in a position to speak about what was proper. She almost snorted. If he was this bad she hated to imagine what he was going to be like once the detox began. That was enough to make her stop laughing altogether.
From what she’d learned, alcoholic detox could be a deadly thing if not monitored and treated properly, not to mention messy. Alcoholism was simply unheard of in her day and age. She and Vivian were going to be flying blind for the most part. The last thing they needed was a dead body on their hands. But then if he simply died on his own, all they would have to do is reopen the nexus gate E.P and shove his hateful corpse right back to where it had come from, add closure to his pitiful life story, give it some redeeming value—he died. The Century Cell Group need never know he was ever there.
She had completely lost herself in thought when she heard him ask the question again. Finally she responded. “Who do you think we are?” Her eyes flashed when they met his.
Tucker John growled. “If I knew it, would I be asking?”
Lourdes picked up his liver medicine and carried it to him. Tucker John’s muscles tensed again, and as had become his way, he jerked against the restraints. Lourdes proceeded with his treatment, loading the medicine into his Osmission, a noninvasive form of injection, no needles required, only a skin connection between medical applicator and patient.
“You shouldn’t jerk like that. You’re not only hurting yourself, but you could damage our equipment which would not make Vivian very happy.” She bit her bottom lip and her eyes slowly edged toward Tucker John.
“Vivian?” He shouted. “Vivian the one behind that mask? That treacherous harpy! I should of blowed her head off when I had the CHANCE!”
“Clam. Down. If you keep fretting I’m going to put you back to sleep.”
“It’d be in your best interest to kill me now.” He snarled, foamy spit catching in the matted hairs of his beard. “Cause I’se gonna skin you and that ungrateful wench! You yankie b!*#%! You some kinda naked abolitionist?!”
“I’m no yankie, those don’t exist. Nor am I an abolitionist, those don’t exist either, but then neither does slavery or slave foremen.” Lourdes snapped and began the sleep sequence. “You will be out in thirty seconds.” Without another word she turned and left the laboratory wishing she could wash off the filth of his presence and the chill that had tingled her flesh the moment she let Vivian’s name cross her lips in his presence.
* * *
Tucker John jerked even harder at his restraints. The heat of anger made him bite his tongue but he couldn’t even register the pain for the rage or the fog of drowsiness that was suddenly assaulting him. It was all still so dull what had happened the night he’d found Vivian hiding behind the trees. He remembered very little and even less as his eyelids pressed downward. He did remember firing at her once, twice and then… …nothing….