‘Requiem for Shiva’, D. Thomas Minton

Illustrations © 2012 Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein.



 [ Walker, © 2012 Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein ] Eighty meters, seventy meters, sixty meters...

The distance to Thomas Endahl’s destination clicked down quickly in the tactical display bio-engineered into his left eye.

...fifty meters, forty meters...

Succulent stalks of sugar cane splintered easily against the mechanized walker’s armor as it cut a scar across the field with its effortless three-meter strides.

...thirty meters, twenty...

The walker burst out of the cane field onto a coral-paved haul road. Green cane formed a dense wall on one side; charred stalks—the field burned in preparation for harvest—clattered like blackened wind chimes on the other.

The target distance flashed zero in his eye.

Endahl initiated the pre-launch sequence for the quantum javelin. Power indicators surged towards red. Stabilizing arms extended from the walker’s torso, driving explosive anchor-bolts into the underlying limestone. Checklist tasks flashed green as they were completed.

The system, now site-calibrated and armed, awaited his command to destroy the world.

Not yet, Endahl thought.

He cracked the seal on the canopy and pushed it aside. The afternoon sun made him squint as it flooded the cockpit. Endahl inhaled deeply. A tang of brine blown in from the sea. A hint of smoky blackstrap molasses from the charred cane. Every shadow-world had a distinctive smell, and Thomas Endahl had learned to savor them like fine scotch.

A flash of pink, low and to his left, caught Endahl’s attention.

He leaned forward until the straps dug into his shoulders.

In a ditch along the side of the road, a woman clutched to her breast a small child in a pink dress. The little girl, pigtailed and no more than three, struggled to get away. The woman’s dark face looked up at him, her eyes wide. Her mouth moved, but no words came out. Yet Endahl could read her lips, as clearly as if he could hear her plea: “Please don’t hurt her.”

Endahl froze, a knot in his gut.

The woman and child prostrated themselves before him like worshipers of an ancient and terrible god.

Endahl squeezed his eyes shut, trying to purge the woman and child from his memory, but they floated ghostlike among the flashing tactical data. Nausea curdled his stomach, and for a moment he felt like he was outside his body looking back at himself. He saw his crinkled brow and the way his hand trembled over the manual launch control. Then, as quickly as it had happened, he was back inside his body, his eyes still squeezed shut. But instead of the launch data, a silent crowd pressed around him. His stomach tightened as he recognized the Bern Railway Station. Desperately he scanned over the top of the crowd, but he could not see them. Then he caught a glimpse of pink, and pushed his way towards it, but he was too late. The woman and her pigtailed child disappeared through the entry gate leading to the Paris maglev.

Endahl’s eyes snapped open. His ragged breaths echoed in his ears.

He yanked the canopy shut and triggered the weapon.

The quantum javelin whistled as it climbed on a column of smoke that looked like a scar on the unblemished skin of heaven. At the top of its trajectory, it turned in a smooth pivot and plummeted back to earth, striking the ground a kilometer away.

The world shook as waves of energy spread away from the warhead’s insertion point like ripples in a pond. As the rings widened, the quantum disruption reached its threshold, triggering a chain reaction that would engulf this world.

Above the walker a shimmering Everett Tunnel opened. The walker’s stabilizing anchors popped as they disengaged and retracted.

Below him, in the dirt, the child looked up. Her face glowed in the blossoming light, her eyes wide, but Endahl was unsure if it was with fear or fascination. Then she was gone, the molecules of her body, her bones, her eyes, ripped apart and spread into the cosmos.

The walker flexed and launched itself into the Everett Tunnel as the atmosphere caught fire and burned with the phosphoric intensity of a million suns.


The walker landed with a solid crunch on the scorched concrete re-entry pad outside of Berlin. Air hissed into the cockpit as the canopy auto-cycled open.

Endahl clawed at the straps holding him. He tumbled onto the tarmac, gasping for air. The little girl’s face, her pigtails and pink dress, filled his vision every time he blinked.

Endahl pushed himself to his knees and vomited.


Endahl did not mention the woman and child during his mission debriefing, nor did he include them in his report, which took him longer than usual to key because he could not stop his hands from shaking. Once finished, he boarded the dedicated maglev home, an M-corps issued apartment in a secure high-rise in the heart of Berlin’s Tiergarten. Unable to sleep, he took a sedative and eventually drifted off.

Endahl awoke several hours before dawn in a tangle of sweat-soaked sheets. His head muzzy with fragmented dreams, he stumbled out to his third-floor balcony and leaned over the rail. Near the security gate, a half-dozen protesters waved signs and chanted anti-war slogans. They were too far away for Endahl to hear the words, but he could hear their chants as a voiceless murmur in the stillness.

He spat over the rail.

How quickly people forgot Paris.

Only four years ago an Everett Gate had opened unannounced and deposited an otherworldly explosive device at the base of the Arc de Triomphe. By some miracle of miscalculation on the part of their attackers, the explosion never crossed the energy threshold needed to cause a quantum chain reaction. Instead of destroying the planet, it had left a forty-kilometer wide crater where Paris had been.

Endahl shivered, even though the night wasn’t cold. He went inside and sat on the edge of the couch. The yellowish light from the end table lamp illuminated the apartment’s bare beige walls and standard issue rust-orange furniture.

From the end table drawer he removed a picture frame. The screen came to life when his fingers smudged through the layer of dust and made contact with the silver metal. The first digital photo appeared: Thomas Endahl, younger and heavier, with his daughter Casey on the steps of the Cathedral Saint Vincent in Bern. She had asked about God that day, and Endahl had struggled to explain Him so that a three-year old would understand. He didn’t realize it then, but Endahl knew now that even he didn’t understand God.

After a few seconds, the photo cycled, replaced by one of Catarina and Casey sitting on a blanket beneath a tree in the Botanischer Garten der Universität. Endahl remembered that day vividly. He had been nearing the end of his sabbatical at the University of Bern, leading an international team of researchers developing stable Everett Tunnels, something Endahl had proven theoretically possible the year before. They were celebrating his team’s first successful retrieval of a tethered camera probe that contained a picture of what appeared to be downtown Brussels. Not the Brussels of their world, however, but the Brussels of a shadow-world, somewhere nearby in the Multiverse.

The picture cycled again to the Bern Railway Station.

Endahl tried to look away but could not.

He and Catarina had been planning the trip to Paris ever since they had arrived in Bern, but breakthroughs in the lab had prompted Endahl to repeatedly delay. The last time they had rescheduled, Endahl had promised her they would spend their anniversary in Paris. Then the Brussels breakthrough happened the day before, and Endahl would not leave. Angry, Catarina had refused to reschedule again. He had taken her to the railway station, hoping she would acquiesce.

“You promised, Thomas.” In her hat and skirt, she looked like a 1950s movie star. Even her frown could not mar her beauty.

“We’re so close, Catarina. Please, we can tour Paris next year.” He reached out to touch her face, but she pulled away. “This is important.” Endahl immediately regretted the hard edge to his voice.

“And when will we be important?” Catarina turned, Casey’s hand firmly in her own, and pushed into the crowd without looking back.

Endahl had snapped the last picture with his phone: Casey, wearing pigtails and a pink flower dress frowning at him as Catarina dragged her toward the Paris maglev.

Endahl put the frame down on the end table and lay back on the couch, wondering why he had pulled it out.

It had been in that drawer since he had moved into the apartment two years ago. On three previous occasions, he had tried to throw it away, but throwing it away required him to touch it, and whenever that happened, he inevitably wound up in a gutter after a three-day bender. He had decided long ago that it would be easier to leave it in the drawer and move to another apartment.

Endahl swept the frame into the end table drawer and slammed it shut. He wanted a drink, or some pills, anything that might help him forget. He ran his fingers through his hair several times. He hadn’t gone through years of therapy to backslide now. He needed to talk to somebody.

Endahl entered the code for Samuel Albright’s room into the video phone. The circuit rang.

“Come on, Sam. Pick up.”

Albright’s answering service clicked in.

Endahl hung up without leaving a message.

He chewed at a ragged nail as he paced the room with staccato steps, unsure what to do. Prior to Paris, he would have laughed at the prospects of becoming friends with a man like Sam Albright. They had first met when they had been paired as bunkmates during advanced training for the newly formed M-corps. Albright had talked him into breaking curfew for a night of carousing that had nearly resulted in both their discharges. They might have gotten away with it if Endahl hadn’t started a fight with a group of drunken Brits who had made a joke about the Paris incident being a good start at cleaning up the continent. Albright certainly would have been better off not coming to Endahl’s aid and spending the next ten hours in a holding cell, but he had waded into the fray, blackening eyes and breaking noses, like a soccer hooligan. “We’re brothers in arms now,” he had told Endahl as they sat in a holding cell that reeked of urine. “If I’m not there for you, then no one is.” Endahl remembered thinking that he wouldn’t have done the same if things had been reversed. But that was then.

Without realizing it, Endahl found himself in the bathroom, holding a bottle of painkillers. He had already shaken two of them into his hand and was staring at the rest in the bottle. After a minute, during which he had emptied the all the pills into his hand and returned them to the bottle several times, he tossed them all into the toilet and flushed them.

Then he headed out for a walk, leaving the apartment door open.


Endahl awoke with a migraine behind his left eye. At least the pain gave him something to focus on. He lay on his kitchen floor. Vague, fuzzy memories of booze and last-call women flashed through his head like shrapnel.

He pushed himself to a sitting position. A puddle of dried vomit had an imprint of his profile in it. It reminded him of an antique cameo pendant that Catarina had worn on their wedding day and that she wore on every anniversary.

After several tries, he gained his feet.

The message light on his video phone winked at him from across the room.

He stumbled over and checked the message ID, hoping it was Albright. It was Jörg, the Watch Commander.

Another mission so soon? But then he realized he didn’t know what day it was. He checked the date on the phone. Five days had passed and he didn’t know where they had gone.

Endahl messaged his left temple; an assignment was what he needed. He rang Jörg at Command.

Jörg’s coffee complexion turned to the monitor from another task. His face was serious. “Thomas, sorry to call on your down day.”

Endahl was suddenly alert. “What’s up, Jörg?”

“It’s Albright. He’s forty hours past due and his transponder is still green.” Jörg let the implication soak in.

Albright was still alive, so that could only mean....

“Rogue? Sam? Not a chance,” Endahl said. “There must be another explanation.”

“That’s why I called you,” Jörg said. “You two are close and Sam’s one of our best. I don’t want to lose him, but in less than eight hours he’s going to be listed AWOL and Central will dispatch the reeve.”

Endahl suppressed a shudder. “What can I do?”

“I was hoping you’d ask that. I’m clearing you for a special-op. Albright’s mission needs to be completed, and then I want you to bring him back. We can come up with a cover and deal with the problem back here, among our own.”

Endahl nodded.

“I can’t send a walker,” Jörg continued. “It will raise too many questions, and what I’m proposing isn’t exactly by the regulation. We’ll send you in a skin-suit. You in?”

“When do I leave?”

“Next window is in forty-eight minutes.”

“I’ll be there with bells on.”

“I knew I could count on you, Thomas. Bring him home.”


...6:58:43...

The shimmering Everett Tunnel collapsed to a quantum singularity and vanished, leaving Endahl alone beneath a vault of blue sky. He unsealed the skin-suit’s helmet and peeled back the soft fabric like a parka hood.

The smell of burnt sugar cane nearly knocked him to his knees. This place....

On his left, stalks of cut cane lay scattered like burnt matchsticks. The field stretched off into the distance, ending at the edge of another field, unburned but already three meters tall and ready for harvest.

He took a deep breath to slow his pounding pulse. This place couldn’t be the same place, he told himself, because he always did his job.

His tactical implant flashed as it acquired Albright’s transponder signal. A compass floret floated in his vision, spinning as he aligned himself and started to walk. Five hundred meters down the gravel road, Endahl came to a building of weathered clapboards. The morning sunlight glinted off a simple cross perched atop a steeply peaked roof. To the right of the open double doors, painted neatly in simple block letters on a whitewashed board, were the words “Church Of Deliverance.” In slightly smaller letters below it: “Now Is The Time To Repent.”

Endahl double-checked the signal and frowned.

He heard a voice around back of the chapel. Behind the building was a graveyard surrounded by a white fence. A semi-circle of people stood near an open grave with their heads bowed. A large man in vestments, with his back to Endahl, spread his arms wide and lifted his voice to the sky.

“Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that fearful day, when the heavens and the earth are moved, when you come to judge the world with fire...”

As the preacher spoke, the congregation seemed to draw strength from his voice. The hunch in their shoulders straightened.

“...I am made to tremble and I fear, because of the judgment that will come, and also the coming wrath, when the heavens and the earth are moved...” The preacher shifted.

Endahl drew a sharp breath.

Samuel Albright stood among the mourners. He was pale and grim-faced as he stared into the open grave at his feet. He wore a somber suit that, remarkably, hung loose on his large frame. He looked ghostly in the sea of black clothes, black hair, and black skin.

“...That day of wrath, calamity, and misery, that day of great and exceeding bitterness, when you come to judge the world with fire...”

Endahl did not want to believe that Albright had gone rogue, but there seemed to be no other explanation for what he was seeing. He wondered what could have caused him to be compromised, because the Albright he knew was a consummate soldier.

“...Grant this man eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.”

As Albright looked up from the hole, he noticed Endahl and shook his head slowly, almost imperceptibly.

Uncertain what to do, Endahl pulled back, but continued to watch from around the corner of the chapel.

The congregation echoed the preacher’s “Amen.”

The preacher took a handful of the red dirt. He weighed it in his hand like a precious metal, and then tossed it into the grave. Albright, followed by all of the other mourners, repeated the action. They filed out of the graveyard and clustered around the gate for a time, exchanging quiet words and long embraces. Albright moved among them, speaking with each of them. Eventually the people wandered away to their vehicles, leaving Albright and the preacher alone. Albright stripped off his suit coat and hung it over the fence rail. The preacher pushed up the sleeves of his vestments. His arms were covered with dozens of scars that stood out white on his chocolate brown skin. The two men took up shovels and began to scoop dirt into the grave. The shovel tips made rhythmic chunking noises as they worked.

Endahl approached the graveyard gate.

The preacher looked up from his labor. He dropped his shovel. Albright grabbed him by the shoulder, leaned in, and whispered to him. All the while, the preacher kept wide eyes fixed on Endahl. When Albright had finished, the preacher went to the far corner of the graveyard. He removed a cigarette and lit it.

Albright stuck his shovel into the pile of red dirt. A smile slid across his glistening face as he engulfed Endahl in a tight embrace. Surprised, Endahl did not return the gesture before Albright let go, but Albright did not seem to notice. “It’s good to see you, Thomas. What took you so long?”

“Sam...” Endahl found he had no words. His mind was a jumble of questions that he could not sort. He stuttered several false starts.

“I won’t do it, Thomas.”

The conviction in Albright’s voice gave Endahl pause. “You don’t belong here, Sam.”

“I’m not sure I belong there either.”

“Talk to me.”

Albright wiped his face with the sleeve of his white dress shirt. “I want you to meet Father John.”

Across the graveyard the preacher had smoked his first cigarette to a stub and was in the process of lighting another. He continued to stare at Endahl.

Endahl found the preacher’s gaze unsettling. “No,” he said.

“Forget the rules, Thomas. This is more important.”

“We all make mistakes, Sam. Finish the mission and let’s go home.”

“No.” Albright yanked the spade free. With aggressive strokes, he continued to shovel dirt into the hole.

Father John crushed his half-smoked cigarette beneath his shoe and came back across the graveyard to retrieve his shovel. While Endahl watched, the two men finished filling the hole. Albright put his left arm around Father John’s shoulders and led him to the gate.

Endahl grabbed Albright’s right elbow. “Walk with me, Sam. Graveyards are for the dead.”


...6:23:35...

A crushed coral road ran along the back fence of the graveyard, separating it from a lush field of two-meter tall swordgrass. The land rose gently, but in the heat, Endahl was quickly covered with sweat. Albright followed a few steps behind; his breathing, deep and rhythmic, was not the least bit labored. As the land crested and spilled out onto a limestone plateau that formed the eastern half of the island, Endahl paused to catch his breath. To the south, the plateau sloped toward the ocean, glassy and dark in the morning calm. The land was a checkerboard of green and black cane fields.

Endahl’s breath caught in his throat.

The similarity of this place to his last mission was unnerving, even though he knew he should expect it. In what now seemed like a distant life, Endahl had pioneered the theoretical and practical development of Everett Tunnels. He knew that a tunnel could only be opened to a shadow-world in close proximity to Earth within Hilbert space; otherwise the energy well was too great to overcome. Proximity in Hilbert space was related to how recently the quantum wave function of the two worlds had decohered or split, so every reachable shadow-world shared a recent history with Earth. They should be similar.

What threw him was that he had visited over a hundred shadow-worlds and had never arrived at the same geographic location. The uncertainty of plotting trajectories through Hilbert space made consistent terminal nodes for the Everett Tunnels impossible. On newly visited shadow-worlds, the first Everett Tunnel could open anywhere. Given enough missions, he had every reason to expect this feeling of déjà vu to eventually occur. Knowing this, however, did nothing to settle his nerves.

Albright’s touch startled him.

“We’re fighting a war, Sam,” Endahl said. “Remember Paris?”

“Of course I remember Paris. How many thousands of worlds have we destroyed fighting an enemy we can’t even identify? Do we stop when we’ve destroyed them all?”

“We can’t destroy them all,” Endahl said. “We only need to destroy the ones that could do Paris to us again.”

“We don’t know who those worlds are, so we shoot every man, woman, and child and don’t even bother to ask questions later. This is wrong, Thomas. We are killing innocent people.”

Endahl yanked his elbow free of Albright’s grip. “And Catarina and Casey? They were innocent.” His hands were shaking.

“This won’t bring them back, Thomas. No matter how many worlds you destroy, it won’t bring them back—”

Endahl dropped Albright with a right hook to his jaw. He continued to deliver blows to the fallen man as quickly as he could, ignoring the pain blossoming in his fists and the blood smeared across his knuckles. Most of his blows were ineffective as Albright curled into a protective ball. After a dozen blows, Endahl tired and sat on the ground. He sucked at the thick air.

Albright sat up, wiping blood from his nose. He moved his jaw around experimentally. “We kill because we don’t know what else to do, but it isn’t the answer. The capacity to feel again is in us, Thomas.” With a grunt, Albright stood. “You learn about people based on how they treat their enemies. We’re not warriors, Thomas. We’re executioners, and those we kill are guilty of nothing more than existing. Are we any better than those who destroyed Paris?”

Albright turned away and headed down the road back toward the chapel, leaving Endahl alone with himself.


...6:04:43...

Executioner. The word rattled around Endahl’s head like lead shot. Those who had destroyed Paris were executioners. Not Thomas Endahl. He was a victim. No one should have to experience what he did that day Paris was destroyed.

It had only been four hours since Catarina had disappeared into the crowd at the Bern Railway Station when Ernst Getzhardt burst into the lab with news that something had happened at Paris.

Endahl went cold, but tried to hide his dread by pretending to be unconcerned. He fought the need to run to the department break room.

When he got there a crowd of lab-coated people were jammed around a small flat-screen television tuned to CNN Europe. Their faces were slack and their jaws hung open. Henri, a visiting French scientist, stood face to the wall sobbing heavily while his lab assistant tried to comfort him.

“What happened?” Endahl’s voice was barely a whisper.

No one answered.

Endahl pushed his way to the front, as if getting closer to the television would allow him to see it was a hoax. News helicopters circled where Notre Dame had once been. The Louvre. The Eiffel Tower. The Arc de Triomphe.

“This can’t be this can’t be no no no.”

Nothing left but a crater billowing ash into the stratosphere.

But Endahl knew that Catarina and Casey had been there. Their train had been scheduled to arrive hours ago, and Catarina would have called if anything had gone wrong. He tried to tell himself that they hadn’t made it, that their train had broken down outside the city or been detained at the border, but he couldn’t convince himself. He knew it was a lie.

His body was numb.

Someone hugged him and cried into his shoulder, but he didn’t know who. His vision had tunneled. Everything but the images on the television had gone black.

“Thomas? Thomas?”

Paris was gone. Catarina and Casey were gone. He was still there, but his life was gone.


...5:31:12...

A gleam of light caught Endahl’s eye, drawing him back from his thoughts. His tactical display auto-zoomed on the pinpoint of light down among the sugar cane fields. At the edge of a bare field stood a walker, its stabilizing arms deployed and its quantum javelins angled for launch.

Albright was the quintessential soldier: dedicated, faithful and brave. What could have caused him to abandon his mission at the last moment?

Endahl felt betrayed. Albright had been the one constant since Paris. It was like he had said back in that holding cell the first night they had met: “If I’m not there, then no is.” After one of Endahl’s drinking binges, Albright had talked a pistol out of his hand and convinced him to seek psychiatric help for his grief. Endahl wasn’t sure why, but Albright seemed to understand his pain.

Guilt stabbed at Endahl’s gut. His friend needed him now, and all he could think about were his own selfish needs. He had to stop Albright from throwing away his career and likely his life.

Endahl took one last look at the walker glinting in the sunlight and then turned back toward the chapel.


...5:02:34...

Albright’s transponder signal showed him a half kilometer to the southwest of the chapel. Along the building’s south side the manicured lawn ended at a tangle of tall mahogany trees and hanging philodendrons with half-meter wide leaves. A dark slash cut into the dense undergrowth, the head of a narrow trail that disappeared into the jungle.

The air closed around Endahl like a cool, damp blanket. The sunlight splashed across wide leaves high overhead, casting green dapple into the forest depths. Everything was slick with water and moss. The trail delved forward with straight-line purpose. After a few hundred meters, it sloped downward, into a ravine. Large ficus trees clung to the jagged limestone with gnarled roots. Somewhere overhead a dove cooed and took flight. Endahl jumped as its wings beat the thick air.

From the bottom of the ravine, Endahl heard water cascading over rocks. Albright was close, perhaps at the edge of the unseen stream.

Endahl slowed, straining to hear Albright through the tangle of vegetation and shadow, but the forest was filled with the noise of rustling leaves and droning insects. He edged forward.

The stream tumbled gently through a series of shin-deep pools bordered by rounded stones. In one of the man-made pools, Albright, stripped to the waist, washed his face and chest. In a pool nearby, sitting on a short wooden stool, Father John scrubbed his feet with a cloth.

Albright looked up as Endahl stopped at the water’s edge.

“We need to talk, Sam,” Endahl said.

Albright’s chest shivered, flicking water from his goose-pimpled skin. “Then talk.”

Endahl glanced at Father John. The preacher watched him warily from the stool a few meters away, his foot forgotten. “Not here, Sam. Come home.”

“Not yet, Thomas; my work’s not done.”

A half-dozen urgent blasts of a car horn shattered the tranquility. Several men crashed through the forest, screaming for Father John. Three men stumbled out of the undergrowth on the opposite side of the stream and nearly fell into the preacher’s pool. They grabbed Father John as he reached the edge of the stream and pulled him into the forest.

Albright pulled on his shoes, and before Endahl could stop him, followed Father John into the forest.

Endahl cursed. The trail up which Albright had disappeared wasn’t much of a trail. Broken vegetation and skid marks in the mud marked the path bulldozed by the men down the steep ravine wall. Endahl used the hanging vines and rope-like ficus roots to pull himself up the incline. Above, panicked voices grew louder.

At the top of the ravine, a narrow crushed coral road cut through the jungle. In the middle of the road, a mud-caked green pickup truck had skidded to a stop. A half-dozen men swarmed around it, their voices an unintelligible buzz. The whole scene reminded Endahl of a stirred-up ant’s nest. In the middle of it all, Albright tried to calm one of the men.

“Move back!” Father John’s deep voice cut through the panic and the crowd fell silent. They stepped back from the pickup. For the first time, Endahl saw people in the truck’s bed. The truck’s suspension protested as Father John climbed onto the open tailgate. The people in the truck’s bed parted.

A woman huddled against the back of truck’s cab, hugging to her chest a limp bundle wrapped in a sheet. She rocked the bundle back and forth. As Father John approached, she screamed. The noise was distilled anguish.

Endahl covered his ears as the crowd took another step back.

Father John dropped to his knees and sidled forward. Gently, he placed his hands on either side of her head and turned her face up towards his. The woman’s scream softened, and then faded into silence. A hush fell over the entire jungle.

Endahl stepped closer, trying to see the woman better, but too many people blocked his view.

Father John carefully lifted the bundle from her arms. As he stood, a pair of small feet tumbled out of the bottom of the sheet. One foot was bare; the other wore a shoe with a pink bow. They swung loosely.

Endahl stumbled back and nearly fell, but Albright caught his arm and steadied him. “What happened?”

Albright’s face was grim. “Drug cartel,” he said. “A warning to the father.”

Endahl felt like someone had punched him in the solar plexus.

The men around the truck piled into it. Three squeezed into the cab with the sheet-wrapped child. The rest leaped into the back. The truck dipped dangerously low to the road. The vehicle roared to life in a blue cloud of exhaust.

Albright moved toward the truck.

Endahl grabbed his arm. “Don’t.”

“I need to.”

Endahl tightened his grip.

“Come with me, Thomas.”

The people in the bed of the truck maneuvered around trying to arrange themselves so that they could all sit, but there didn’t seem to be enough room. The dilemma elicited shouts from one of the men in the cab.

Endahl could not climb into that pick-up truck; not with all of those people. “This isn’t our place,” he said. “These aren’t our people.”

“They aren’t any different than us. Can’t you see that?”

Endahl wanted to take a step back, but he would need to release his grip on Albright’s arm. He didn’t want to do that.

The men in the back of the pick-up truck found an arrangement that allowed them all to sit. The truck started to roll forward.

“Whoa!” Albright shouted. The trucked jerked to a stop. Albright stared into Endahl’s eyes, but he didn’t try to pull away. “Come with me.”

“There isn’t much time.”

“I know.”

Endahl wasn’t sure why he let go, but he did. Perhaps it was something in Albright’s eyes; a pinched weariness, like someone who had seen too much suffering. Or perhaps it was because he really did want to get in that truck and comfort the woman by telling her that he understood her pain. Wasn’t that all people really wanted, for others to understand their pain? Didn’t that make it bearable?

Albright climbed over the closed tailgate. The people shifted around until he could kneel. Albright extended his hand to Endahl.

Endahl stared at it, but didn’t move.

Father John slapped his scarred hand against the cab’s roof.

Albright frowned, his disappointment obvious. “Wait for me at the chapel,” he said as the truck jerked forward and roared off down the road.


...3:02:22...

Endahl sat on the front steps of the chapel, clutching a dog-eared and creased photograph of Catarina holding newborn Casey. Eighteen hours of labor and two hours of pushing had burst a spiderweb of capillaries in Catarina’s cheeks and down her neck. Dark circles ringed her eyes.

She had never been more beautiful.

Catarina hated that picture. Endahl had snapped it against her protests the moment the nurses had put Casey in her arms for the first time. When she had looked down at the perfection in her arms, all of her exhaustion and pain had melted from her battered face. She had glowed.

That day had been the pinnacle of his life.

The pick-up truck woman’s scream haunted him. Like Casey, her little girl had been innocent. Also like Casey, she had been taken away because of something her father had done. Weren’t fathers supposed to protect their daughters?

Endahl had wondered every day if the successful test of the Everett Tunnel had been the cause of the Paris attack. Had his tunnel scared another shadow-world into a pre-emptive strike? The timing of the two events seemed more than coincidence. He had caused three-and-a-half million people to no longer existed.

Endahl touched Catarina’s face on the photograph. It was rough, the picture’s finish having been rubbed away. Carefully he slid the picture back into his pocket.


...2:13:26...

Endahl grew tired of sitting on the steps. The day was too hot, and the open doors behind him promised a cool sanctuary from the midday heat. Hesitantly, he stepped inside. The floor boards groaned under his weight as he walked up the central aisle and sat in the front pew.

It felt odd to be sitting in a church again. He hadn’t been in one since Catarina and Casey’s memorial service. He and God had had a falling out. But now, as he stared up at a stained glass of Christ on the cross, he felt overcome with a need to pray.

He slid forward onto the kneeler and bowed his head.

“Why did you take them?”

Endahl had asked the question a thousand times. He had never received an answer. He didn’t know why he thought this time would be any different.

“Lord, give me the strength to carry on,” he whispered. “Give me the wisdom to do what is right. Show me the path out of this pain.”

Endahl squeezed his eyes shut. He yearned for an answer, for a sign, anything to grasp onto, but he felt nothing, only the hollowness of his life.

Drained, he slumped over the kneeler’s railing. What had he expected? God had turned his back on him at Paris. He had taken his wife and daughter away from him. He had cored him out, like a melon from its rind, and left him to rot. What kind of God did that?

“Fuck you.”

Endahl threw one of the hymnals at the stained glass window but it fluttered awkwardly in flight and landed a meter short. He fled from the chapel.


...0:57:17...

Endahl checked Albright’s location. He was still at the same place he was several hours ago, about fifteen kilometers to the northwest.

He berated himself for letting Albright climb into the pick-up truck. Now it was too late to reach him. All he could do was hope that Albright returned before the reeve arrived.

For what seemed like the twentieth time, Endahl walked around the outside of the chapel. He paused at the graveyard fence and leaned on the top rail. Dozens of headstones, all sizes and condition, were scattered across the ground like morbid wildflowers.

He had never buried Catarina or Casey. There was nothing to inter.

Endahl continued around the outside of the chapel. As he walked along the south side of the building, something in the jungle caught his eye. Endahl’s tactical display adjusted to compensate for the shadow. Something large was buried under stalks of cut vegetation. Some of the palm fronds had fallen aside, revealing dull, grey metal.

Endahl pushed his way into the undergrowth. The buried object was at least four meters tall. He pulled at thick saplings stacked against it, but the tangle of vines, philodendrons, palm fronds, and small trees did not give easily. Eventually, he worked a large sapling free and opened a hole in the camouflaging vegetation.

He gaped at the canopy of a walker.

His mind became a briar patch of questions. How could a walker have come to be buried in the jungle when Albright’s machine was over the rise in an empty field? Jörg hadn’t mentioned sending two walkers.

Endahl pulled at the vegetation with renewed vigor. If he could uncover more of the machine, maybe he could learn more. After pulling a few more thick vines free, Endahl stopped and took a hesitant step back. The sweat on his back turned icy.

Maybe Jörg had never mentioned it because he had sent only one walker.

Another walker from another shadow-world? Where was the pilot?

Endahl looked around, squinting into the dense underbrush, but he saw nothing.

Was the pilot here to destroy this world? What other reason could he have for coming in a walker? More importantly, why hadn’t he finished the job?

Endahl’s head hurt; too many questions and not enough data. He turned at the sound of an approaching vehicle.


...0:27:44...

The mud-caked pick-up truck pulled into the gravel lot. Several men clambered from the truck bed, Albright among them. Father John climbed out of the cab.

Other vehicles arrived, parking in long rows. Soon dozens of men, women, and children milled around the grass, exchanging hugs and talking quietly in small groups.

Endahl crept forward, but remained hidden in the undergrowth. He did not see the woman from the pick-up truck; he wondered what had happened to her.

After several minutes, a final car arrived. The crowd parted and the car parked on the grass near the chapel. Father John opened the passenger-side door and helped a woman out. She wore a simple black dress and a black hat with a wide brim that obscured her face. Father John put his arms around her. She seemed to hang in his embrace, her legs buckled and not holding her weight.

Endahl’s heart ached. He knew her pain.

Over a hundred people had come to Catarina and Casey’s memorial. Endahl was sure he had talked to them all, but he could not remember a single face or word. The pain he had felt was a wall that had blocked out the world, and as he had sat in the church listening to the requiem, he had heard nothing but a roar like the wind coming through the cracked window of a speeding car; he had seen nothing except a blackness so dark he could feel it like dirt burying him at the bottom of a grave.

Father John helped the woman into the chapel. The rest of the congregation followed silently.

Endahl sat on a chunk of jagged limestone. It felt like a giant hand was squeezing his chest. He wanted to go inside, he wanted to share in the mourning for the innocent life lost, but he could not will his numb body to move. He could not will it to do anything but sit and breathe.

He listened to a hymn drift out the open doors and across the grass into the growing shadows. The mournful song drained him and he felt a need to cry, but he had lost that ability a long time ago.

Movement among the parked cars caught his attention.

His breath left him and he did not draw another.

The reeve wore a camouflaged skin-suit that bristled with equipment and weapons. Moving with the grace of a gymnast, he mounted the chapel steps with effortless strides and seemed to melt into the clapboard siding next to the open doors.

Endahl found that he could not move. He had never seen a reeve before, but their reputation inspired fear. They were the ones who insured that no pilot ever fell into enemy hands.

The reeve drew a slender pistol from his belt and held it with a familiarity that made it look like an extension of his hand. He kept it at his side, slightly behind him, so it was unapparent at casual glance. Then the reeve stepped into the open door and strode purposefully into the chapel.

The singing faltered and unraveled into a murmur of voices.

In seconds, Endahl knew, it would be over. He couldn’t allow this happen, not to Sam Albright.

He exited the jungle at a shuffling run and crossed the lawn to the side of the chapel. He pressed his back to the clapboards. His heart pounded painfully against his ribs.

Endahl slid along the wall and stepped up onto the landing. His breathing was shallow and rapid.

Chaos erupted inside. Panicked screams and the tumble of bodies told Endahl he was out of time. Father John’s voice rose above the clamor.

Endahl forced a final breath into his aching lungs and charged into the chapel. His vision tunneled; the chapel disappeared except for those in the central aisle.

The reeve was several meters in front of him, his weapon raised. At the front of the chapel, Albright stood in the middle of the central aisle, his arms spread wide, exposing his chest. Behind him, Father John waved his arms. His mouth moved, but Endahl could hear nothing but the rush of blood in his ears. Behind them all, Christ on the crucifix was dark with shadow.

Endahl leapt at the reeve’s back as three shots tore apart the silence. He slammed into him, driving the two of them forward and to the floor. The reeve’s neck twisted, and Endahl heard a sickening crack as he landed heavily on the man’s back. Pinpricks of light perforated his vision.

Beneath him, the reeve’s body twitched. Endahl scrambled away until his back was against a pew. He stared in horror at the unnatural angle of the man’s head.

The reeve twitched again and then was still.

In the space in front of the altar, Father John held Albright’s head in his lap. A pool of blood had spread beneath them like a crimson throw rug.

Endahl scrambled to Albright’s side and took his twitching right hand.

Blood pumped in weakening spurts from two of Albright’s chest wounds. A third gurgled and foamed where the bullet had pierced his lung. Albright’s eyes were white-rimmed all around.

“Sam Sam what do I do what do I do Sam don’t die on me.”

Albright squeezed Endahl’s hand. He barely felt it.

Albright’s lips moved, but the sound that came out was faint and moist. It faded after the first word: “Forgive....”

“Stay with me Sam stay with me.”

Endahl pressed against Albright’s wounds with his hands, but the blood had slowed to a trickle.

Albright’s eyes dulled as his life bled away onto the chapel floor.

“Don’t you die on me, Sam.” Endahl shifted onto his knees, preparing to administer CPR.

Father John placed a hand gently onto Endahl’s shoulder. “Ain’t nothing you can do for him now.”

Endahl slapped the hand away. “Get away from him!” He swung at Father John’s chin, but missed, glancing his blow off the large man’s shoulder.

With a quickness the belied his size, the preacher grabbed Endahl’s wrist and pinned his fist to the floor.

“You’re hurting right now, Thomas, so I won’t hold that one against you, but you’re mistaken.” Father John released Endahl’s wrist. “I don’t know who you are or where you come from,” the preacher said, “but you showed up here five days ago in one of those machines—”

Five days ago? Endahl went cold.

He scrambled to his feet and ran out of the chapel. Outside, a dozen members of the congregation milled around uncertainly. Endahl crashed through them, knocking one of the men to the ground and scattering the rest like a herd of deer. He stumbled but kept his feet as he rounded the side of the chapel and passed the graveyard.

The crushed coral on the road ground under his boots as he pumped his arms and legs up the rise into the late afternoon light. He crested the ridge onto the plateau of cane fields and pushed himself onward until the pain knifing into his ribs forced him to walk.

He stopped several meters from the walker. From the outside, it looked like any other walker. Warily he approached it, circling it at first and keeping his distance. Finally he stopped in front of it. It towered over him, grey-skinned and deadly. Around its feet and stabilizing arms were dozens of flower bouquets, candles, and strings of rosary beads.

Endahl took a deep breath.

A tang of brine, a hint of smoky blackstrap molasses.

He dropped to his knees among the charred stalks of cut sugar cane and red dirt.

Without doubt, Endahl had been here five days ago. The sugar cane had been cut, but otherwise the area looked—and smelled—the same. To his right was the spot where the woman and child had cowered, before he had scattered their atoms into the void.

Yet, here he was again, kneeling before his own walker.

The shadow world must have decohered as he had prepared to launch the quantum javelin. In his shadow-world he had launched the weapon, but in this one, his shadow-self had made a different choice.

Endahl jumped when a hand touched his shoulder. He hadn’t heard Father John come up behind him. He wasn’t sure how long he had been kneeling in the dirt, but his legs ached and the sky to the west had begun to shade toward purple.

“Who are you?” he asked Father John.

“I’m a preacher, but I know pain when I see it, because pain is universal. I understand pain; I understand your pain. I know you’re wondering how can I understand? I live your pain every day of my life.”

“What do you know about pain, preacher man?”

Father John’s face was cast in shadow. “I wasn’t always a preacher,” he said, his voice also growing dark. “When I was twenty, I got drunk and crashed my car. Killed my wife dead. The guilt ate me from the inside until I was nothing but a shell. I sold myself to the highest bidders—tyrants, dictators, bad men all—and became a killer. Men, women, children; it didn’t matter. They said shoot ‘em; I put one through their eye.” He made a gun with his thumb and index finger and pretended to shoot Endahl in the left eye. “Bang! You’re dead.”

Father John was silent as he contemplated his finger gun. The scars stood out on his black skin. “I got a lot of scars. Most of ‘em you can’t see.” He undid his white clerical collar. Along the right side of his neck was a long white line running from the cleft at the top of his sternum, up over his shoulder and out of sight.

“One night someone tried to take my head off. Probably killed the man’s family, or something; I don’t know. I spent three months in a bed not sure if I’d live. That’s a long time to spend alone with someone you hate.”

Endahl settled back on his heels. The adrenaline had faded from his system.

To the east, the first of the stars began to twinkle in the night sky.

“Men like us; we choose to destroy, because it’s easier to hold on to our guilt and anger then to forgive ourselves.” Father John’s voice was soft, but its resonance seemed to vibrate every molecule in Endahl’s body. “But all that death, all that killing, it destroys us, too, until there ain’t nothing left worth living.”

“Without them, there is nothing.” Endahl’s words came without thought.

“Nothing but destruction.” Father John sat down next to Endahl. His eyes shown in the last of the daylight. “You are the destroyer of worlds, Thomas, but has all that killing healed your soul?” Father John shook his head, but it didn’t seem like a gesture of pity, only understanding. “In the Hindu faith, one of the incarnations of god is Shiva. Like you, Shiva is a destroyer of worlds. But Shiva is essential to the cycle of life. Without destruction, there can never be rebirth. The Hindu understand the dualism of life. Destruction and rebirth are the opposite sides of the same coin. That Thomas Endahl—” he nodded at the walker that was now black and featureless “—had the capacity to transform his life from that of death and destruction to that of life and compassion.”

“I am not that man.”

Father John tapped a finger on Endahl’s chest. “That man is here. He need only emerge.”

“I’m not strong enough.”

“Tell Samuel Albright that. He stayed here so you would come, because he knew the only way to help you was to show you that you could make a different choice. That machine is proof. This world is proof. I am proof.”

“That’s crazy. How would he even know?”

“Because he saw what you were capable of becoming. He was here when one of those men came and killed you because you refused to go back.”

“Killed me?”

“Who do you think we buried this morning? That was you we put to rest.”

Endahl pushed Father John away. He pulled the walker canopy open and climbed into the cockpit, slamming it shut behind him. Endahl pulled the restraining straps over his shoulders and secured the latches. The pounding in his ears slowed.

His tactical display initiated the walker’s operating system and the cockpit panels powered to life. Information flashed across his left eye.

Father John backed away, stopping when he reached a line of people who had gathered a dozen meters away. Two were on their knees praying; the others huddled together, staring wide-eyed at the powered walker.

For the first time, Endahl recognized faces; these people had been at the funeral that morning. His funeral.

The woman who had lost her child pulled herself free of the congregation and stepped up to the walker. She removed the wide-brimmed hat that obscured her face. She was the woman who had clutched the child to her breast in the ditch and who had pleaded with him to not kill them. She was the one whose atoms he had scattered into the void.

For years after Catarina and Casey’s death, Endahl had dreamed about second chances. He wondered how things would have been different if his experiments with the Everett Tunnel had failed or if Catarina had decided not to go to Paris. Eventually he gave up those dreams, because you didn’t get a second chance. But here he sat, his walker awaiting the launch command to kill the same world he had destroyed five days ago.

He removed the photograph of Catarina and newborn Casey from his pocket.

How many lives had he destroyed to balance the debit sheet in his head? He had never looked at it that way, because these were shadow-people. They were lesser things, some of whom had wrought the evil that was Paris. But here Endahl had seen their grief, their struggle, their compassion, and now their fear and hope. They were more than shadow-people, they were real. He was the shadow.

Father John had gathered his flock together for a prayer. They stood hand-in-hand with their heads bowed.

Endahl’s hand trembled against the walker controls. His tactical display urged him to launch the weapon.

He could kill forever and never find his peace, like Father John had said. Like Albright had said. It would never bring back Catarina and Casey.

Endahl deactivated the launch sequence. The javelin racks hummed as they slid back into their locked position along the shoulder of the walker. The anchor bolts snapped as the arms released and tucked back into the undercarriage. Overhead, an Everett Tunnel flashed open, casting a shimmering light across the walker, Father John, and his congregation.

Endahl tucked the photograph back into the pocket of his skin-suit.

He initiated the walker’s destruct sequence, a failsafe that had been installed to stop it from falling into enemy hands. The power system would build to an overload and destroy everything, including the weapon and the tunnel generator. In a few minutes, nothing would be left of the walker but slag.

 [ Dead walker, © 2012 Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein ] He released the straps that bound his shoulders uncomfortably, swung the canopy glass aside and dropped to the ground.

“Run,” he said. “Run and don’t stop until you reach the church.”

The people stared at him without comprehension.

“Run!”

They broke, scampering away into the night. Except for Father John.

“The destroyer and the transformer are one and the same,” Father John said.

Endahl pulled the skin-suit helmet over his head. “Your work is done here. Run to your flock.”

Father John laughed. “We are the same, Thomas Endahl. Our work has just begun.”

“So it has.” Endahl leaped upward and felt the pull of the Everett Tunnel drag him to the light toward home.


© 2012, D. Thomas Minton

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