Pivots of Time
Author: Mike Barlow

Chapter 4
Sanctuary

Alex opened his eyes.

            A white ceiling dominated his vision. The room was brightly lit, but the light seemed odd somehow, slightly artificial.

            Looking around, he saw the back of Lauren’s head beside him.

            “Lauren?” he croaked.

            She whirled around to face him. Her face was a picture of shock – after a moment, happiness bubbled through.

            “You’re awake!” She squealed.

            Alex nodded weakly. Lauren threw her arms around him, and kissed him passionately. She pulled away after a few seconds.

            “Sorry.” She smiled.

            “Stop apologising.” Alex laughed as best he could – his throat felt like he had gotten drunk the previous evening, as did his memory – he remembered nothing of how he had gotten here. “What happened?”

            Before Lauren could answer, Alex spotted movement behind her. It was an old man. He seemed somewhat familiar…

            Suddenly, it all came rushing back. The airport, the gun fight…the old man…

            Pushing Lauren off him, he leapt to his feet, ready to fight – halfway through the motion, sharp pain shot through his left side – crippled, he fell to the floor.

            Lauren helped him back to the bed, wincing at the sight of his agony. “It’s okay.” She said reassuringly as she helped him lay down. “He helped us.”

            Alex looked at the old man questioningly. He stepped forward, closer to the two of them. “I stopped your assailants from killing the girl. I stopped her from killing any of them.” He glared at Lauren as he said that – Alex wondered if he was missing something. “And I brought the two of you here, to this safe place, where I healed you.” He gestured about the room. 

            Alex took a proper look around. The room was large, empty, and bright, despite the lack of windows. The light presumably came from the rows of sterile strip lighting dotted about the ceiling. Aside from the bed in which he lay, there was only one other bed in the room – a bed which looked like it had not been slept in for a long time. At the far end of the room was a wooden white door, presently closed.

            Alex looked back at the old man. He stood watching silently. Alex felt his gut – he could feel a slight scar where the bullet had entered, and most likely been removed, but apart from that, there was no evidence that he had been shot, discounting the throbbing pain that intensified with his every movement. And he supposed that as himself and Lauren were still alive, and still free, that this strange man could be trusted – if only a little.

            “I believe I owe you my thanks.” He croaked, extending his right hand toward the man.

            After a moment, he reached out, and gripped Alex’s hand, shaking it firmly. “There was no way I was going to let them kill her. And since you are her protector, my protection extends to you also.”

            Alex sat up a little – Lauren helped shift his pillows to accommodate this, looking for all the world like a worried mother. “Who exactly are you?” Alex inquired.

            The old man looked at him. “You may call me Flinn.”

            Alex shrugged. “But who are you, that you can best me in a fist fight, take on a group of armed men, and hide us from the Des…from some very determined hunters.” He finished.

            Flinn shook his head. “Later. First, more rest for you. You should rest also.” He said the latter to Lauren, gesturing at the unused bed. With that, he stalked out of the room.

            When he was gone, Alex turned to Lauren. “Are you sure he’s okay?” he asked.

            Lauren shrugged. “He got us out of there, and he kept us safe. I would say so.”

            Alex nodded, having come to trust Lauren’s intuition highly. “You know, I am tired.  And something tells me you haven’t had much sleep either.” He nodded at the tidy bed across the room.

            Lauren smiled. “That’s what you think. Move over.”

            She slid into the bed beside him. Looping an arm around her, Alex drifted off into sleep.

 

Over the next few days, Alex slowly recovered his strength. They saw little of Flinn – roughly once a day, he would enter their room to check on them, and also to bring food. It made Alex feel like they were being held prisoner, though he knew they were not – having seized the opportunity while Lauren was asleep, he had checked the door to find it unlocked, and unguarded.

            When they were not sleeping, Lauren helped to fill in the gaps in his memory, mostly concerning the events in the airport, both before and after his injury. She could not tell him where they were, however – she told him that she had not been paying attention to their location that night, although they had not been travelling for a great length of time.

            Despite Alex’s gradual recovery, the wound in his side remained as painful as ever. It was not a constant pain – it struck when he attempted to move, sending pain arching up his left side. Alex did notice a change in that it required more and more violent motions in order to trigger the pain – he supposed this was a good thing, although in his profession, violent motions were commonplace.

            On the fourth day since he first awoke, he collared Flinn as the man entered with food.

            He gestured at the scar on his abdomen. “Why does this still hurt?” He asked bluntly. “I have basic medical training, you know. Having removed the bullet, the pain should quickly fade.”

            Flinn looked at him. His expression was severe, although Alex had never seen it any different. “Well then, there’s your problem.”

            “I’m sorry?” Alex asked, holding back a sigh – the old man was annoyingly roundabout.

            “When I operated on you, the bullet had splintered. I removed most of it, but there was a splinter of it lodged underneath your intestine – if I tried to get that put, I could have caused a hell of a lot more damage.”

            Alex looked at him incredulously. “So, there’s still part of a bullet in my gut?”

            Flinn nodded, seemingly unconcerned. “The pain will lessen – after a few weeks here, you won’t notice it.”

            Alex shook his head. “We can’t wait a few weeks. They’re going to find us eventually, and we need to get moving before they do.”

            Flinn disagreed. “The Destroyers won’t find you here.”

            Alex opened his mouth to reply, and noticed something. “How do you know about the Destroyers?”

            Flinn sighed. “I never did tell you who I was, did I?”

            Alex shook his head – Lauren, who up until now had been relaxing on the bed, sat up, suddenly interested.

            Flinn sat on the other. “I…was once an Agent. Like you.”

            Alex nodded slowly. “That explains a lot.”

            Flinn lowered his eyes – when he spoke, it was as if he was no longer talking to them – more like he was reliving it in his mind. “I was the best Agent alive, the Agency’s most valuable asset, an indestructible warrior. I was sent to protect four different Pivots – I failed every time. I couldn’t understand it – the Destroyers always knew where I was, where I was going, when we would be vulnerable…They could never take me down, of course, but I lost all the Pivots I was supposed to be protecting…”

            He looked up at them. “Eventually, I put two and two together, and realised that the Agency was betraying me. They were betraying every Agent they had. Turns out I was exactly right.” His eyes fell on Lauren for a moment, before returning to Alex. “There’s hundreds of Agents like you, Agents who truly believe in the opportunity that a Pivot can grant. But how many who would fight against the Agency itself to stand up for that? So far…just the two of us. At least, only we succeeded.”

            “You left the Agency?” Alex asked.

            Flinn nodded. “I fled. I figured that I would do better finding Pivots on my own, but I was never fast enough to help anybody.”

            “Until now.” Alex grinned.

            Flinn smiled a little. “I heard that an Agent had gone rogue, and was being hunted for killing a Pivot. Only an idiot wouldn’t see through that cover story. I suspected that you had discovered the Agency’s true motive, fled with your Pivot, and would be on your way here.”

            “How would you know I was coming here?” Alex asked in shock.

            “Any Agent in your situation would want to leave the country. And Gatwick is the safest choice.”

            Alex nodded. “So, what is this place?” He gestured about the room.

            “This was the original Agency Compound.” Flinn grinned at Alex’s stunned expression. “This is an underground bunker, some five miles across. When I was still part of the Agency, every Agent, all the support personnel, and the Overseer himself, a different man of course back then, lived and worked down here. It was only after I left that the compound was relocated to Scotland – to an old Royal Air Force base I believe.” Alex nodded. “Anyway, when I needed a place to hide out, I remembered this place.”

            “Surely the Agency will know where we are, even if the Destroyers do not?” Alex asked, unconsciously brushing his leg where his pistol would ordinarily be.

            Flinn shook his head. “Anyone who worked here will be dead by now. You know how short the average Agency life expectancy is. Even if they do know about it, they can’t get in – I could remember the door access code from when I worked here, and I changed it when I arrived. Rest assured that if they find us, they will not get inside. This place was built to withstand anything short of a nuclear strike.”

            Several possibilities were occurring to Alex. “So, is this place full of equipment we can use?”

            His spirits sank when Flinn shook his head. “The place was stripped of weapons and most of the portable equipment when the Agency relocated. Although we do have a large number of training rooms available to us – they could be useful.”

            Alex nodded absent-mindedly. Flinn looked at Lauren for a moment, before turning back to Alex. “Come with me for a second.” He grunted, moving towards the door. Alex and Lauren moved to follow. “No.” Flinn said, pointing at Lauren. “Please stay here.” Lauren shrugged, and sat back down.

            Alex, curious, followed Flinn out of the room. They did not go far – once the door was closed behind them, they went only around the corner.

            “Look,” Flinn started as they rounded the corner, “ever since I heard you two escaped from the new Compound, I’ve been keeping an eye on you.”

            “How?” Alex interrupted.

            “I have my sources.” Flinn said mysteriously. Alex let that go. “Strange things seem to happen around that girl. You know she’s more than you told her.”

            Alex opened his mouth to protest. “Or you think she is anyway.” Flinn interrupted.

            “I…I suspected.” Alex admitted. “But, there’s no way it could be right….”

            “Any why not?” Flinn demanded. Alex opened his mouth angrily – and realised he had no reply to that.

            Flinn softened his tone. “You have to accept that what you suspected is true. And once you’ve done that, you must tell the girl. It is unfair to keep her in the dark.”

            Alex nodded. “But if its true...there’s no way I can protect her.”

            Flinn leaned forward, a dangerous intensity in his eyes. “You can. Because I will teach you. I will teach you as Agents of my day were taught, and when I have finished, you will be indestructible.”

            Alex nodded, almost believing the old man’s words.

            Flinn pointed at an inscription on the wall. It seemed ornamental, yet inspiring.

 

My Motivation

An Oath I’ve sworn to Defend

My Dedication

To all that I’ve sworn to Protect

A Declaration

That I shall never Surrender

            Having read the strange passage, Alex turned back to Flinn questioningly.

            Flinn spoke, passion evident in his voice. “Those were the words spoken by the first ever Agency Overseer. Or so it was taught in my day.” Flinn sighed. “I don’t know whether he was in league with the Destroyers or not, or if not, who the first traitor was, but the words are significant nonetheless. Remember that.”

            Alex raised an eyebrow – the old man seemed a little crazy, though maybe that was to be expected after years of hiding out down in this labyrinth.

            “So, what’s our next move?” Alex asked.

            Flinn looked at him levelly. “First, you need to tell the girl. She needs to know what she is up against.” Alex nodded. “I’ll leave you two alone for a while. I’ll be back in a few hours.” With that, he turned and strode purposefully away into the cold, echoing halls. Alex shuddered – he could not imagine spending his life here.

            After a moment, he slowly made his way back into his and Lauren’s temporary living quarters. She looked up and smiled as he entered.

            “Where’s Flinn?” She asked as he closed the door behind him.

            “He had some stuff to take care of.” Alex improvised. “Can we talk?”

            Lauren raised an eyebrow. “Sure.” She answered, sitting up a little as Alex sat down heavily behind her. “What’s this about?” She asked, clearly picking up on his sombre mood.

            “It’s about you.” Alex started bluntly. “About why you seem to know things are going to happen before they do, even unconsciously. Just like with the metal tin, the biro, the traitor we were chasing, and all the rest.”

            Lauren looked at him. “You knew. I did wonder.”

            Alex shrugged. “I didn’t see how it could be so – still, anything is possible.” He paused. “As part of the Agency staff, we have a pretty large contingent of scientists. They develop weapons and gadgets for us, detect readings of Pivots, et cetera. Anyway, they observed that not all Pivots affect the time line in the same way – some are stronger, and have a larger impact, while some are less strong. They also noticed that weaker Pivots are more common, while they become less and less common as they get stronger. And they came up with a theory.”

            Alex fell silent for a moment. Lauren waited for him to continue – when he did not, she spoke softly. “A theory?” she asked.

            Alex nodded. “They theorised that there would exist a Pivot one day stronger than any other. A Pivot this strong would be so uncommon that we could expect to see only one in the entire length of life on this planet. They extrapolated abilities that stronger Pivots possess, and they theorised that this Pivot, what they came to call the Master Pivot, will have the ability not only to affect the timeline, but also to interpret it.”

            Lauren frowned. “Seems more like a prophecy than a theory.” Alex grinned. “What do you mean, interpret the timeline?”

            “The Master Pivot should be able to sense the timeline around her. She will have a deeper understanding of past events based on the perceptions of others, and, to some extent, she will be able to foretell future events, though nobody could ever agree on how pronounced that ability would be.”

            “And you think those feelings I had, about the biro and the other things, was me foretelling the future?”

            “I think so. The significance that you felt was most likely a foretelling, but you did not know how to interpret the knowledge – its not something a normal person would have to deal with. That’s why the feelings were indescribable and vague, but powerful.”

            Lauren shook her head vehemently. “This is ridiculous.”

            Alex gripped her shoulder. “I know it’s hard. Right now, it just feels like some strange knowledge that just comes to you, but with some training, I think you might be able to use the ability properly.”

            “What, actually read the future?” Lauren asked sarcastically.

            Alex nodded, in all seriousness.

            They sat in silence for a moment. “So…you really think I am the Master Pivot?” Lauren asked hesitantly.

            Alex nodded. “It means that you’re probably going to have a much larger impact on the world than we originally thought. And also, that if the Agency, or the Destroyers, find out, they will drop everything to come after you. There’ll be so much attention on us, we won’t be able to go near any sort of civilised settlement.”

            Lauren nodded bitterly. “Great.”

            Alex smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry too much. After all, we have Flinn helping us now. He agreed to train me up to his standard, and I’m sure he will help train you to harness your abilities as well.”

            “Don’t tell me – psychology is included in the Agency training, right?” Lauren grumbled.

            “Yeah, that’s right.” Alex grinned.

            Lauren rolled her eyes. “When do we start?” She muttered.

            Alex sobered. “I wouldn’t really know where to start. I was hoping Flinn would know, but I suppose the only person who can really know is you.”

            “I figured you’d say that.” Lauren sighed.

            “Go on.” Alex urged. “Give it a go.”

            Lauren shook her head. This was absurd – the feelings she had were definitely odd, but she couldn’t see that it was a form of precognition. Seeing Alex watching her intently, she closed her eyes.

            Unsure what she should do, she concentrated on…something. She thought about the future, about what might happen – nothing seemed more or less likely than any other outcome. She fought to tear down the veil that hid the future from her, struggled without reward.

            A voice floated into her consciousness. She recognised it as belonging to Flinn.

            “You must picture it.” The voice whispered to her. “Imagine the line, flowing from the beginning to the end. Imagine its kinks, its twists.”

            The voice permeated her entire being. Lauren obeyed – before she could think, the line burst into magnificent brilliance before her closed eyes, burning its light into her eyes. The line moved as she watched it, bending, snaking across her vision. Directly in front of her, at the start of the line, or at the end, or in the middle – she could not tell – there was a…difference. She could feel that moment, feel every detail of that moment in time – she knew instinctively that this was the present, her present.

            “Move your consciousness.” The voice urged. “Extend your vision into the future. Look, and see!”

             She concentrated hard. She grabbed the moment with her mind – and with all her strength, she wrenched it forward.

            Dizziness struck her suddenly. She felt pain from a long distance. The darkness around her swirled, dissolved – the line itself remained faintly, burned into her memory.

            A scene formed before her. It seemed hazy, indistinct, but pulsed with a sensation of truth.

            The hot sun burned in a cloudless sky.

            The city bustled.

            A car stopped. Another.

            Men climbed out – she knew they were armed, though they kept their weapons hidden.

            They entered a building, taking the elevator to the basement.

            They used explosives to blow a hole in one of the walls – behind was a dark, descending stair.

            The men descended.

            They entered a chamber, large, well lit.

            A giant stone door barred their path.

            They gathered more explosives, preparing to make their way inside.

            They pressed the detonator.

            With a flash, the image left her sight. Lauren opened her eyes.

            Alex and Flinn stood above her, concern evident on both faces. Lauren realised that she was lying on the bed. She sat up.

            “They’re coming for us!” She stammered.

            The two men reacted quite differently. Alex drew his pistol, checked the weapon’s readiness and moved to check the door. Flinn frowned, his attention on Lauren.

            “What did you see?” he asked her.

            “I saw men, armed men.” Words bubbled out of her, the scene replaying in her head as she spoke. “They found a secret passage, a door, they were blowing their way in!” She finished frantically.

            Alex came back, shaking his head. “It’s all quiet out there.”

            Flinn nodded. “It was the future that you saw. But how long ahead were you peering?” He mused.

            Alex looked at her. “Do you know how far you were looking?”

            Lauren shook her head, triggering a pounding pain in her temple.

            Flinn placed a hand on her shoulder. “You will not have that much control for a while yet. Still, were there any clues in what you saw?”

            Lauren thought hard. All she remembered was that it had taken place in a city, though she saw so little of it she could not say which city. Although…the sky…

            “It was summer.” She remembered. “It was a hot, clear sunny day.”

            Flinn relaxed. “And yet, it is still autumn. That means we have at least two seasons of safety here. That is sufficient time.”

            Something about Flinn’s presence triggered something in Lauren’s memories. “I thought you were leaving for a few hours?” She asked him. “I heard your voice in my head as I practiced.”

            Alex sat down. “Flinn was gone for hours.” He said softly. “After you closed your eyes…you passed out, or something. I couldn’t wake you up.” He looked a little stressed, Lauren noticed just then. “When Flinn came back, I told him that you had tried to look into the future, and he guided you through it.”

            Lauren’s protests died in her throat. As she checked her watch, she noticed it was indeed several hours later than she thought. Had she really been out that long?

            Flinn noticed her brooding. “Do not worry. Now you have the technique, your speed and efficiency will increase with experience.”

            Lauren nodded. “Let me try it again.” She enthused, ignoring the pain now building inside her head.

            Flinn cocked an eyebrow. “I think not. You are clearly in need of rest. I must have your word you will not try again tonight – it is dangerous when you are so inexperienced.”

            After a moment, Lauren nodded sullenly.

            As Flinn left the room, she overheard him whisper to Alex, “Keep an eye on her.”

            Alex lay down beside her. Lauren felt sleep wash over her once more, a welcome relief from the pain that burned with the intensity of a thousand fires inside her skull.

 

Alex watched as Lauren settled herself for sleep. Gradually, her breathing became more regular, more evenly paced – and eventually slower. After a few minutes, she seemed to be in a deep sleep.

            Conversely, Alex’s mind was racing. Lauren had actually seen a vision of the future – could she really develop this ability? If she could….it could help them immensely. If she could predict where the enemy would be, how they would attempt to counter Alex’s group’s movements…then he might actually be able to get to the Overseer after all.

            Alex had so far regarded this as a hopeless quest. It had been a distraction, something to aim towards as he struggled to simply keep Lauren alive long enough for her to fulfil her purpose. Had they managed to make their way to the United States, he had planned to stall as long as he could before attempting a break in – infiltrating the Agency Tower was no small accomplishment for an assassin. He sighed as he realised that deep down, he had always expected to be killed long before Lauren had a chance at her Moment.

            Considering the recent events, though, Alex felt his spirits lifting a little. Flinn’s assistance would aid their cause greatly. If he trained Alex as well as he had said, and if Lauren was truly able to harness her abilities as Master Pivot, then they might just have a chance. If he could topple the Overseer….maybe, he thought, he could set the Agency back on the right path…

            Yawning, he gave up on his night-time vigil. Lauren was sleeping soundly, and the building was secure. He lay down beside Lauren – looping his arm around her, he closed his eyes. He was asleep in moments.

            As Alex slipped into sleep, Lauren opened her eyes.

            He seemed truly asleep – even though he had clearly thought the same as Lauren lay still, she did not think he was pretending as she had been.

            Carefully, she moved his arm off her, and slid off the bed. Standing, and ignoring the crippling pain ripping through her head, she staggered over to the other bed, and sat down. She knew that she must try again – she would never sleep after what she had just seen. She closed her eyes.

            She did as she had done before, imagined the line glowing before her. And suddenly, there it was.

            She focused, shutting out the pain, and concentrated on the area she knew instinctively to be the present. She did as Flinn had said, grasping at it with her mind.

            As she did so, the pain surged – gritting her teeth, she tried to pull her perception forward as she had done moments before.

            The pain reached unbearable levels, and Lauren stopped trying for a moment. Breathing hard, she pulled with all her might, the pain building to a crescendo, he entire being burning with it.

            Bursts of images flooded her head. Pain. Blood. Death. And as she pulled further and further on, an incomprehensible sense of sacrifice, filling her mind.

            And just as suddenly as it began, the tidal wave of horror stopped. Lauren felt her consciousness slipping away as she slumped forward, the last thing she felt the hardness of the floor as she fell.

 

Alex awoke feeling refreshed.

            He lay there for a moment, his eyes closed, reflecting – it had been months since he had been this relaxed.

            Realising his arm was now lying on the mattress, he opened his eyes and sat up.

            Lauren lay face down on the floor by the other bed. She was out cold.

            Alex vaulted out of the bed at the same time that Flinn entered through the room’s only door. They both looked at Lauren lying there on the floor, and their eyes met.

            Sprinting over, Alex helped Flinn lift Lauren’s still form onto the bed. She did not wake.

            “Is she alright?” Alex wondered.

            Flinn shook his head angrily. “She tried to look into the future again. She won’t wake up for a while.” He turned away and began walking toward the door.

            “Come.” He said to Alex. “It is time for your training to begin.”

            “What about Lauren?” Alex shouted after him.

            “She will be fine.” Flinn calmly replied. “She will wake up in a few hours with the worst hangover of all time, but she’ll live.” With that, he left the room.

            Alex hesitated, glancing between Lauren and the door. After a moment, he rested his hand on her shoulder briefly, before sprinting after Flinn, slamming the door in his wake.

            He caught up with Flinn around the next corner. “So, where are we going?” He asked.

            Flinn gestured to a room coming up on their right. “This will do nicely.” He entered, followed by Alex.

            The room was roughly twice the size of Alex and Lauren’s sleeping quarters. The ceiling also was much higher, and the floor padded with foam tiles in place of the hard concrete of the other rooms. There were no beds in this room – at the far end, Alex recognised an amateur made shooting range, comprising a few rough cardboard cut-outs and a shooting line; on the left hand side of the room were a series of large boxes that Alex could fathom no use for, and on the right hand side, a table groaning under the weight of weaponry, from pistols and rifles to knives and, oddly, even a couple of swords. Alex recognised his own two pistols and the rifle he had taken from that Agency SUV.

            Flinn sat on the floor in the centre of the room, gesturing for Alex to do the same. Alex did so, wondering what the purpose of this was.

            Flinn started immediately. “Before we begin training, you must understand what you are working towards. You must fully understand the oaths you swore when you became an Agent.” Alex furrowed his brow. “Specifically, the oath you swore that you would never surrender.”

            “I understand that.” Alex said impatiently.

            Flinn shook his head. “You think you do, but you do not. This is something that has changed for the worse since I left the Agency. The interpretation of that oath has been warped. It is taken to mean, ‘Never stop fighting. Fight to the death to protect your Pivot’. This interpretation is wrong.”

            “What other interpretation is there?” Alex demanded.

            “Think it through, logically.” Flinn urged. “The aim of any Agent is to keep his Pivot alive at any cost. If he must lay down his live in order to keep her alive, then that is what he must do. But if you are fighting to the death for her, then she will die soon after, and thus you have failed.” He paused, and looked at Alex levelly. “This is why fighting on when the situation is hopeless is not keeping to the oath – you are surrendering your life to the enemy, and her life too.”

            “And what is the correct interpretation?” Alex asked.

            “There must always be a chance of success for you.” Flinn continued. “That chance is what you must never surrender to them. If you are facing impossible odds, give up. Throw down your weapons, throw yourself on their mercy. By doing so, there is still a chance that you may emerge victorious, that the situation may change in your favour and you can strike while their guard is down.” He leaned slightly closer. “What I am saying, is that in order to never surrender, you must sometimes surrender.”

            Alex blinked.

            “Now.” Flinn said briskly as he stood. “Take this weapon.”

 

***

Over the next few months, Flinn’s brutally efficient training began to have an effect on Alex. After only a few weeks, Lauren noticed and commented on a change in Alex’s physique – as the months past, Alex watched his muscles bulge beneath his skin. Each day, Flinn arranged as many oddly shaped boxes and crates as he could into a rough obstacle course, pushing Alex’s ability to quickly and easily navigate unfamiliar terrain. He sparred against Alex frequently, urging him to become faster, stronger, more unpredictable – by the end of the second week, Alex was able to crack a concrete block in two with his fist.

            Flinn spent as much time whipping Alex’s weapon skills into shape. Alex’s pistol skills were already excellent, Flinn admitted, and before long Alex was able to take down a handful of cardboard cut-out enemies in only a couple of seconds. Using a corridor, Alex developed his skills with a rifle, and after a couple of weeks, Flinn began to train him with knives. They sparred together, the deadly weapons glinting and dancing through the air as the two duelled. Alex also demonstrated great accuracy when throwing a knife – luckily, Alex thought ruefully as he remembered the events in the second safe house, that first night so long ago.         

            On one such day, Flinn handed Alex a pistol and a rifle, and led him to a room containing randomly placed cardboard cut-outs.

            “You must aim before you have turned to face the enemy.” He said. “Use your peripheral vision – aim out of the corner of your eye as you turn.” He pointed into the room. “Walk straight down the centre. Face straight ahead. Hold a weapon in each hand, and without looking directly at the targets, I want you to hit them all.”

            Alex looked at him incredulously, words of protest dying on his tongue – they had done him little use so far.

            “Aim with your peripherals.” Flinn instructed as he pushed Alex into the room.

            Alex walked slowly through the room, aiming out of the corner of his eye as Flinn had said. It was difficult aiming from two sides at the same time, though to his surprise, he managed to hit most of the targets.

            Flinn was waiting at the other end of the room. This was one of his more annoying habits, and to increase Alex’s annoyance, he had been so far unable to figure out how the old man did it.

            Flinn nodded as Alex left the room. “1 minute 34 seconds.” He reported. “Good. Now, again, but faster.” Alex sighed, turning back to the room.

             

            While Flinn spent his days keeping Alex on his toes, he spent the evenings with Lauren, developing her newfound ability. There was little actual input on Flinn’s behalf – he simply insisted that he be present any time Lauren attempted to look ahead, for safety purposes. After her first experiences with foretelling, Lauren understood why.

            The pain and nausea she had initially felt with the technique soon began to lessen. She also began to achieve a greater control over the period of time she witnessed, and later found herself able to directly control her perception of the moment, watching and re-watching moments in time as she saw fit. Though her adeptness improved, she failed to see anything else of any use to herself, Alex, or Flinn. Nor could she extend her perception past the original vision of the attack on their sanctuary, or indeed past the moment that the door was blasted open. Flinn once again proved himself a reliable source of impossible knowledge.

            “You cannot see past that moment – or how that moment ends – because the outcome is unsure.” He explained. “Depending on how myself and Alex act on that day, you will either live or die – and that will impact hugely on the time line following the event.”

            Lauren nodded, and then a thought occurred to her. “Do you think I will ever be able to see my Pivotal Moment – before it happens?”

            “No.” Flinn said shortly. “And I would not advise you to try.”

 

The months wore on, and before long Spring was in the air. Thinking about how lucky they were to shelter from the winter underground, Lauren watched Alex and Flinn begin to prepare for the day of the attack. They set up multiple areas suitable for ambushing attackers leading from the door they know would be the target – Lauren’s visions had revealed no attack was going to take place at the complex’s only other entrance – now their escape route. They constructed barricades across many of the corridors and hallways leading to their sleeping quarters, and several more towards the exit that could be assembled in a hurry – to give them extra time, Flinn explained, should the attackers be in pursuit. Alex wondered about the scale of the defences that he aided Flinn in setting up – Lauren’s vision had only revealed a handful of attackers after all. Before long, he gave voice to this thought.

            “No prediction can ever be 100%.” Flinn replied, without pausing in his work. “While I expect the time frame of the attack will be fairly accurate, I believe there will be far more attackers than she saw in her vision. These are Destroyers after all – they would not send a handful of men when they have hundreds to spare.”

            Alex agreed that this made sense, and the work continued. By the time summer burst its way onto the surface of the world above, the preparations were completed.

            It was then that Flinn arranged a look out schedule. Initially it contained only himself and Alex, but Lauren demanded to be included – she did not see it as fair that she should be the only one who was not sleep-deprived. Every night, one of the three would spend the dark hours at the entrance to the base – listening intently for sounds of footsteps outside, sounds of weapons being readied or explosives being wired….

Lauren found herself hating this duty, although having insisted on performing it, she didn’t feel she had the right to complain. She sat through the cold early hours as the loneliness ate away at her, and almost wished for the attack to happen, so that the agonising wait may end.

During the day, the three of them stayed in the area around the entrance, Alex and Flinn sparring in order to keep themselves in good shape, Lauren focused inward, quietly struggling inside her head to glimpse what they day might hold.

The summer months drudged by, and no attackers appeared at the gates. Too soon, it seemed, the weather once again began to grow duller outside, and no attack had yet been attempted.

With Flinn’s encouragement, Lauren once again dove into her mind, into the mire of the future. The vision playing in her head was different than it had been before – there were more attackers, as Flinn had predicted – but apart from minor details, the vision remained the same. Still the sun burned overhead with a fervour reserved for the depths of summer.

Flinn did not seem perturbed by this news. “Perhaps the attack will come next summer.” He sounded unconvinced however. “We should continue our vigilance.”

Alex and Lauren accepted this. The nightly guard continued, as did the daytime paranoia and exhaustion.

September passed in a flash of dull skies and rain. October began in the same way, and without warning, a heat wave rolled in from the continent. Flinn, convinced the time for the attack was imminent, doubled his vigilance, encouraging Alex and Lauren to do the same.

            Lauren’s vision still showed the attack occurring in the exact same way, which cheered Flinn up immensely – events are less likely to change when the foretelling is less advanced, he explained. The days were spent in a daze of tiredness and jumpiness, exhaustion merging with alertness as well as it could.

            Lauren snapped out of her thoughts and attempted to focus her mind. It was difficult – her watch read 3.14am, and several times she had felt her eyelids begin to droop. She shook off her lethargy, and attempted to perform her duty as best she could. Reflecting on how much she hated the night watch, she leaned her forehead against the giant steel door she was guarding, the cool metal pleasant in the uncomfortably warm room.

            A clatter resounded in the chamber beyond the door.

            Lauren jumped back. Had she imagined it? Leaning closer, she listened, concentrated only on the sound of silence.

            A silence soon broken by the scuff of a foot on a stone floor, and a muffled voice quickly cut stifled.

            Panic began to rise in Lauren – quashing it as best she could, she ran toward the sleeping area, her mind full of one thought only – the attack was under way.

            She burst into the bunk room – the second she threw open the door, four eyes opened, glowing in the darkness. Alex’s sat up first.

            “What’s going on?” he asked.

            “It’s happening.” Lauren replied breathlessly.

            Instantly, Alex and Flinn rose. Sprinting after them, Lauren found them arming themselves near the door, through which barely audible sounds could still be heard.

            “I don’t understand.” Alex was saying as he buckled an ammo belt around his waist. “Lauren’s vision showed the attack in the middle of the day. Why is it happening now?”

            “Events change.” Flinn replied, as he loaded a pistol before tucking it into his trousers. “Usually not this quickly, though that is just our unfortunate luck. No matter.”

            Alex slotted a pistol under his belt, and picked up a semi-automatic rifle. “Ready?” he asked.

            Flinn nodded. “You know the plan.”

            In unison, the two left the main entrance chamber, Lauren in hot pursuit. Two of the three corridors leading away from the entrance were sealed – blocked by Alex and Flinn a few weeks previously. The three sprinted down the only remaining passageway – and vaulted the barricade they had constructed at the end. Alex and Flinn crouched behind it, resting the butts of their rifles on the barricade. Lauren crouched beside Alex – her part of the escape plan had been to stick to Alex like glue.

            They waited.

            Several tense moments passed in silence.

            And then, Lauren felt something…ripple.

            “Now.” She whispered.

            An explosion rocked the bunker – a few chunks of stone broke away from the wall, and for a moment the lights flickered ominously. Alex and Flinn tightened their grip on their weapons.

            Suddenly a piercing pain shot through Lauren’s head – gasping for air, she closed her eyes –

            The door before him exploded. Shards of metal littered the floor. As one, the army surged forward, weapons were readied, preparations were made…

            So many…so many men.

            Lauren’s eyes snapped open. She was back behind the barricade – all was still quiet. Alex and Flinn looked at her worriedly.

            “What did you see?” Flinn asked.

            “Hundreds.” Lauren gasped. “Too many…”

            Alex and Flinn exchanged looks of horror.

            Sounds of feet came from the corridor ahead.

            Looking up, the three saw a swarm of attackers – moving carefully, advancing in teams.

            “Open fire!” Flinn yelled into the quiet.

            The sound of gunfire echoing throughout the corridor caused Lauren to duck down, her hands clamped tightly over her ears. Alex and Flinn fired – the front rows of attackers dropped quickly. The rest scrabbled for cover – yet more came, sprinting from the entrance into the corridor, lambs to the slaughter.

            Alex ducked to reload. Flinn fired a few last rounds – a few attackers crumpled, then Flinn ducked also.

            Amid shouting from down the corridor, and the metallic clatter of grenades, smoke began to fill the corridor.

            Flinn looked over. “Back!” he shouted. “Back to the next barricade!”

            Reloading as they went, Alex and Flinn backed quickly around the corner at the end of the hallway, shielding Lauren as they went. Once around, they sprinted toward the end of the next corridor, where another barricade awaited.

            Before they were halfway down the corridor, the attackers rounded the corner in pursuit. Motioning for Flinn and Lauren to head for the barricade, Alex spun, dropping himself onto the concrete and firing from the floor, wincing as he did so from the sharp pain digging into his side. The most eager of the attackers fell to Alex’s unexpected attack, and the rest quickly ducked around the corner to cover themselves.

            Having reached and traversed the barrier, Flinn shouted for Alex to join them. Alex turned and ran, keeping low to the ground, as Flinn fired above his head and kept the attackers cowering at the end of the hallway. Alex vaulted the barrier to join them, turning as he did so to spray the corridor behind him with bullets. Ducking down to reload, he didn’t flinch as bullets ricocheted around the corridor, or when the barricade dented under the barrage of attacks.

            Flinn risked a glance over the barricade, seeing as he did so their attackers arming yet more grenades. “Back!” he shouted.

            “But we only have one more barricade to rely on!” Alex protested. “We have to hold them as long as we can!” As an over-eager attacker burst around the corner, Alex fired – the bullet struck the grenade in his hand, causing an instant detonation. The man fell screaming, cradling the remains of his arm.

            “Forget it!” Flinn shouted. “There’s far too many for us to deal with, we’ll make a run for it.”

            Alex nodded, spraying more bullets down the corridor as the three of them fell back to the next corner. Diving over the next barricade, and leaving it unattended, the three sprinted towards the exit, and safety.

            Lauren stumbled. Her mind raced. Gasping as she almost fell, held up by Alex, she shut her eyes tight.

            She saw the three of them running on down the corridor. She saw their pursuers too far behind to stop them. But she saw…more attackers, rounding the corner ahead, mowing them down before Alex or Flinn could react. She saw the attackers at the exit door.

            She opened her eyes. “Come on!” Alex urged. “We have to go!” Flinn stopped a couple of paces ahead of her, looking back questioningly.

            Lauren pointed to the end of the corridor ahead of them. “They’re coming!” She breathed.

            

 

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