Sorry for the delay, and thanks for being patient. 😀
The Short Fiction page contains all the previous installments if you need to catch up.
Holding his shirt to his face, Vortel followed Axel’s vague outline deeper into the tunnel. The air gradually cleared but went pitch black. A bluish light winked on. Axel held a glowing sphere the size of a light bulb.
“That should hold them long enough,” he said.
Vortel stumbled after him, still reeling from what he’d seen.
“Listen, carefully, my man,” Axel said. “Tebin screwed us. I didn’t have enough time to boost the power.” A grim note edged his voice. “You only have one shot at this.”
“If it fails?”
“It won’t, but I need you to give me the precise information I ask for when we get there. Otherwise you might end up drifting in an asteroid belt a thousand years from now.”
They rounded the corner and stopped at the transporter. It had undergone some modifications since Vortel last saw it. Several cables ran from a metal box on the ground that was equipped with two dials and a gauge. Attached to the box, a clear cylinder held andonium powder.
“It’s crude, but it will do the job,” Axel said, flipping a switch mounted to another box on the wall. A floodlight cast a dim glow.
“What do you need?” Vortel asked.
“Hang on. Giving it power.” Axel moved to a large panel propped against the wall, equipped with several switches, a keyboard, and a cracked screen. A tangle of colored wires snaked from the bottom of the panel to the hollow legs of the transporter.
The screen flashed to life with a hazy blue glow. “Here we go,” Axel said, punching keys. “I need the date, the exact time of the assassination, and the location on Trannis.”
Easy enough. Details branded into Vortel’s mind forever. He relayed the info and Axel typed rapidly, lips pursed. A minute later, he said, “Done.” The screen flickered and beeped.
“It’s time for you to go.” Axel looked on his creation with a glint of pride in his eyes. “Are you ready, my man?”
Vortel nodded. “How does it work?”
Axel pointed to a circle scratched in the stone floor, between the two angled legs of the transporter. “Stand there. Hold perfectly still and don’t breathe. I’ll give a countdown from five. When I finish, I’m going to throw this lever.” He patted a metal lever attached to a tube that ran from the andonium-fed box to a metal ring fixed at the tops of the legs like a strange headband.
“That will activate the andonium. I’ve created a vacuum unit that will pull the dust through the box, the tube, and into the ring, which is hollow.” Axel gestured as he spoke.
“Once the andonium disperses, I’ll give it an electrical shock. The friction will cause a reaction, sending a ripple back up the time stream. Anything inside the ring will be transported. I’ve programmed your location and time into the placement device, accounting for extra time to stop the assassination.”
“Is that all?” Vortel asked as he stepped into the ring. A chill washed over him. This was absurd but incredible. Breathe deep.
“You’ll experience a sharp shock, and you might be numb for a minute after you arrive.”
Axel’s face curved into a tight smile. “That’s it. You’re ready.”
Vortel wasn’t sure. “What about you? This isn’t large enough for both of us.”
Axel’s weak chuckle brought a chill to Vortel’s skin. “Change of plans, my man. I’m not coming. Didn’t have enough time to expand its power for a second run.”
Vortel went numb. “I can’t stop them by myself.”
Axel held up his hand. “No use arguing. You’ll need these.” He pulled up his sleeve, opened the compartment on his arm, and handed Vortel what resembled two pens.
“What do they do?”
Axel’s grin could have competed for a kid’s expression upon entering a candy shop. “One’s a mini-flashlight and the other is tipped with an electrical voltage shocker.” His grin widened. “And they both double as highly concentrated explosives. Small blast radius, but they pack a punch worse than Tebin’s.”
Vortel smiled in spite of himself.
“Push the button on the end, give it three seconds, and pow!” Axel grew serious. “Take this.” He thrust a folded piece of paper into Vortel’s hand. “Don’t read that until you’ve succeeded.”
Vortel stuffed the paper in his pocket.
A muffled sound floated down the tunnel. Axel’s face contorted. “They got through. They’re coming.”
Vortel sucked in a long breath. “Axel…thank you.”
Axel flipped a switch, and the transporter began to vibrate and hum. “Do me a favor. Make this chance count.”
The voices neared. Lights bounced on the wall.
“I will.” Vortel held still.
Axel counted. “Five…four…three…two…one.” He pulled the lever.
Vortel stared at Axel, fixing the image in his mind. For a moment, nothing happened. Vortel wanted to move but locked his muscles. Then the air bubbled. Bright lights flashed, piercing his brain. A chill washed over him, as if he had dived into an icy pool. Silence engulfed him, and the thud-thud of his heart pulsed in his ears. Axel smiled. Then the tunnel, the equipment, and Axel melted away.
Vortel hurtled into a free fall, surrounded by blackness. Something pulled at his body, like huge jaws trying to rip him apart. A jolt. He hit something hard. His eyes were open, but he saw nothing.
A burst of sound, color, and smells slammed into his senses. He blinked and it was as if he’d stepped from the darkness into a lighted room. He stood in a dimly lit street, surrounded by apartment buildings. Ahead, the street emptied into a huge square where people flocked past. One of them wore a tattered brown coat that reached the knees.
Gurn, the gang leader.
Vortel nearly choked. Everyone was gathering for the annual city fundraiser, where the Prime gave a speech, and where tonight, he was about to die.
From his position, Vortel had a clear view of City Tower jutting into the air. Projected in blazing red numbers on the side of the steel building, the time read 8:41 PM.
Nineteen minutes before the assassination.
The conclusion rapidly approaches. How do you think it will end?