Year One, страница 1
Alice: The Last Founder (Book 1)
Copyright © 2018 by Jason Hamilton
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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Story Hobby Media
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Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
People may think it strange, and even selfishly self-serving, to dedicate one’s book to a fictional character. But Alice has always felt more like a family than fiction. She has become a deep and important part of my life. So I dedicate this first chapter of her life to Alice, the last of the Founders.
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And may you, the reader, have as much fun learning about her story as I did.
Prelude: The Elusive Founder
About the Author
Also by Jason Hamilton
Luke's eyes opened, and their light bathed the dark room. These eyes were not what anyone would call normal. They glowed a brilliant blue and could be quite eerie if you weren't used to them.
Luke was shut up in his room, located near the center of Argo Force Headquarters. He had just finished sleeping, which he only did for three or four hours each night these days. His connection to the Hand made it difficult for him to calm his mind enough to rest. Whispers and thoughts tread constantly on his brain, and it was one of these that woke him. It was a voice that spoke clear as day, something that hadn't happened in a while.
"IT IS TIME."
With these words came associated thoughts and impressions, thoughts that Luke had learned to interpret with pin-point accuracy. So he knew what the words meant: the last of the Founders was about to be born. They would need to send someone to protect her, because if Argo Force knew about her, rest assured the others would be coming.
Of course, "about to be born" was a relative term. Argo Force Headquarters had no concept of linear time. Luke and the other Founders observed the timeline like one might observe a planet from orbit. But the Hand's meaning had been clear: their next priority was to facilitate the birth of Alice, the last Founder.
Alice was already familiar to Luke. He had even met her a few times. Time travel made such things possible, but in the relative time that Argo Force Headquarters currently maintained, she had not yet come to them. Luke hoped that she would eventually arrive and train with the other recruits; his few experiences with the girl had hinted as much. However the timeline was not always set in proverbial stone. Things could change.
Luke rose from his bed, not needing a light as he washed his face and put on his robe.
The others would want to hear about this. It had been a long time since the Hand had sent Luke such a specific revelation.
After he finished dressing, Luke moved towards the door. It opened by itself, and Luke exited his room. As he walked, the halls were quiet; most of the others were still asleep. Soon, he passed the center of Argo Force Headquarters, where a great energy resided, the source of all their power. Luke spent much of his time there, as his connection to the Hand would often grow stronger in its presence. He hesitated, feeling the lure of the power within. But his proximity also enhanced the message the Hand had sent him. No, Alice took priority now. He could return later.
He strode on, heading first for the quarters of Jason, the Argonaut. As the leader of Argo Force, he should be first to hear the news. Then he could inform the others.
Michael stood opposite a new recruit, John. John was just entering his first year at Argo Force Academy, and this was his first time training with Michael. The boy looked nervous. Understandable because Michael was the best of the best. In all of his years at Argo Force, he had only been defeated once. He could match anyone in their organization, but he still liked to take a moment to personally train the new recruits in their first year. It helped him remember the days when he had been at their level, learning for the first time. Of course, he had excelled at a pace that most did not. But these kids didn't know that. To them, it was an inspiration to train with him, an honor. And most would not get a chance to do so again until their advanced classes, which were reserved for the elite.
The boy stepped forward and performed a standard punch. Michael caught it in his hand, then motioned for the boy to repeat. After a few repetitions, Michael had John take a defensive stance and slowly corrected his posture. More repetitions followed. Michael moved the boy through the exercises, until sweat began to flow freely. More and more, the boy seemed to grow frustrated as Michael continually corrected his technique. Eventually Michael saw the boy say, "How many times do I have to do this over and over?"
It was a common question, one that Michael received often in his training of the new recruits. His normal response was, "Until your body can do it better than you can." He signed these words at the boy. John looked confused, but then understanding and surprise manifested on his face as he realized Michael could not hear him. The boy opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. He resumed his fighting stance and resumed practicing.
Michael sighed. This happened every time. The child would realize that he was deaf, then try to pretend like nothing was wrong. Once they understood Michael's limitation, they would usually stop trying to make conversation. It made for a rather silent training session, with movement being the only form of communication between them. On the rare occasion that a new recruit understood ASL or another form of sign language, the situation was much different. It didn't look like John understood any of the signs that Michael made.
As they progressed through the training session, Michael noticed Luke walking hurriedly past the gym. It wasn't common to see the Founder outside of the inner rooms of Argo Force Headquarters. John let his stance fall as he stared at Luke's glowing eyes beneath the hood. Chances are he and the other new recruits had never seen Luke before. It was always a bit unnerving the first time.
There were many places Luke could be going, but Michael figured he was visiting Jason, who lived in that direction. Luke seemed to be in an unusual hurry. Michael motioned to a nearby teacher to continue working with John, then ran out of the gym to join Luke. The glowing-eyed Founder saw him coming and signed a greeting. Michael returned it.
"You're heading to see Jason," signed Michael. "Anything important?"
"Yes, in fact." Luke signed back. "You may come with me if you want. It will involve all of us."
Curious, Michael let Luke lead the way to Jason's quarters.
Prelude: The Elusive Founder
Sunlight scorched the already burning desert of Iraq. The wind carried wisps of sand across the dunes: beautiful rippling patterns of golden fire. No one watched the scene unfold, no one except a lone woman who stood in the midst of the sand. Sh
Few people knew the identity of this elusive woman. She had never revealed her name to anyone, not even those at Argo Force, though she suspected that the pale one with the glowing eyes knew more about her than she would like to admit. But Luke was reclusive, and he respected the wishes of others. The Founders would learn her identity-- eventually. For now, she had her reasons to keep it secret. But her secrets didn't keep her from helping. She was one of the five Founders, people from all over time who would eventually come together (or had already done so) to create that great organization: Argo Force. So far, she had only met three of the other Founders, but her part in the Foundation of the Force had not yet taken place, and the Hand would not reveal much of her future.
Her gray eyes surveyed the land. Before her was a dusty, sand-covered street. It connected two of the neighboring villages. She recognized the road immediately--the one from her dreams. It appeared ordinary, yet that sudden twist in the road was unmistakable to those who were looking for it.
She moved forward to find her goal. After a few minutes of careful searching, she found it: a small cylindrical object, made to blend in with the sand. It was partially uncovered, but still well hidden. A land mine.
The woman observed it carefully, keeping her distance. After some thought, she retreated behind the nearest dune, a safe distance from the mine. She planted her feet, feeling a connection to the ground. The sand swirled around her. A light from her hand glittered through the particles. It was her ring-- her Argo Force ring. A power unknown to most lifted the hair on her skin as she directed it ahead of her. Suddenly, the land mine exploded in a shower of sand. The woman covered her face, then looked back. A small crater lay where the mine had been. It no longer threatened anyone.
The woman waited a moment longer before she saw the convoy in the distance. Multiple military trucks approached, full of soldiers. One of those soldiers was going to be President of the United States in about 30 years, and he would be one of the greatest presidents the nation had ever known. He would go on to bridge international barriers and save countless lives. She had just saved his life, though no one, including the boy, would ever know it. The woman watched from a safe distance as the convoy passed. Her work here was done.
Suddenly a thought pressed unexpectedly into her mind. A prompting--like the one that had brought her here to save the future president--yet stronger. She needed to return to Argo Force Headquarters. She hesitated; her last trip to Headquarters had not been pleasant. While she respected the organization and its cause, she had little patience for some of its members. She preferred to operate alone. However, as the prompting came again, she realized that she couldn't ignore it. She had to go. Something was about to happen and they would need her. The incantation poured from her mouth even though she had not spoken the words in years.
Only the swirling sand remained.
Jason's quarters were not so much a place to sleep and rest as they were a command center. His bed and living area seemed almost an afterthought, tucked away behind a wall. On the other side of the wall was a large table, usually reserved for his meetings with the Founders or Argo Force teachers. It also doubled as an excellent dance stage at parties.
Most people, however, when they entered Jason's quarters were struck by the awesome spectacle displayed on the wall opposite Jason's bedroom. In fact, it didn't look anything like a wall at all. To the naked eye, the room extended into space. Brilliant lines moved in complex variations--merging, splitting, intertwining in infinite possibilities. Most of these lines collected in isolated ribbons, like massive tapestries. A trained eye could identify each wave that represented worlds with millions or billions of people on them. This was Jason's view of the infinitely complex representation of time, presented as best it could in visual form.
Jason sipped his morning drink. He was a tall man, with dark, curly hair that hung down around his ears, and a goatee on his face. His skin was a light bronze and looked like he spent all of his time in the sun. As he stared at the spectacle before him, he allowed himself to soak in a moment of peace. Today, there didn't seem to be any massive anomalies for Argo Force to worry about. It was all business as usual, a quiet morning. Which means something big is probably about to happen, he thought.
As if on cue, there came a knock on his door. Jason set down his drink and walked to the large oak door to see who it was. When he opened the door, he was greeted by the cool shine of Luke's glowing eyes. Jason smiled and motioned the Founder inside.
"Good to see you, Luke," Jason said. "It's been awhile since you visited me here."
"I have a message from the Hand," Luke said, without preamble as he marched inside.
Jason noticed Michael standing behind Luke. He motioned for the other Founder to enter as well.
"Jumping right in, I see," Jason laughed as his attention shifted back to Luke.
"The Hand does not wait on our conven--"
A loud bang filled the room, accompanied by a bright flash that coated them all in a small layer of dust. No--not dust--sand. All three Founders were suddenly on their guard, but that quickly changed as they realized who had arrived in the flash. She was another Founder, the most mysterious of the four. None of them had ever learned her name, but that was not for lack of Jason trying. He would learn it one day, if it killed him.
There were now four Founders in the room, even though Jason, Michael, and Luke knew little about the fourth. Well, Jason corrected himself, at least Michael and I don't know much. Jason was pretty sure Luke knew more than any human alive.
The woman smiled upon seeing all of them. "Michael, Luke, it's been too long!" she greeted them warmly.
"Um," said Jason. "Hi, I'm also here."
"Yes you are," said the Elusive Woman.
A pregnant pause hung in the air before Luke cleared his throat. "Just as well, you're all needed for this one," he said. "The Fifth Founder is about to be born. The Hand has revealed to me her location, and we are charged with her protection for these first crucial moments of her life."
All three of the Founders looked excited at this news. Michael's eyes grew wide, Jason set down his drink, and the Elusive Woman smiled eagerly. The Fifth Founder was someone they all knew would join them eventually. Only Jason and Luke had ever met the person (in their future), but they would not say much. Time travel often involved keeping a lot of secrets. But they knew that he or she would play an important role in the Foundation of Argo Force near the dawn of time.
"Hang on," Michael signed. "Did you say her? A girl?" This was more information then he or the Elusive Woman had known.
"Correct," Luke answered. "She is born on Earth on the morning of December 22st, 2016. The Hand wants us to send help."
"I presume Invergence knows about her?" Jason cut in.
"Most likely," Luke said, a hint of distaste on his lips.
Jason thought for a moment, then went into what Michael called, "Greek hero mode."
He stood up straight, placed his hands on his hips, and turned first to Michael. "We'll need you to assemble every fighter we have for the night of her birth. Who knows what Invergence will throw at her." Turning to the Elusive Woman, he continued, "You, go watch over her relatives. Invergence might take them to get to the girl’s parents."
The woman raised an eyebrow at Jason's demanding tone.
Jason blinked. "Um...if you could...please?"
The woman nodded, muttered some words, and vanished in another white flash.
Jason turned to Luke, "If you could write down all the specifics, that would help."
Luke nodded, then said, "The parents will need someone to guide them along. At least at first, though we can't risk constant contact with them. It could slow down their progress."
"I've already thought of that," Jason said. He moved to the infinite wall
"What are you doing?" asked Luke.
"Sending myself a message in the future," replied Jason. "Or I guess it's more of a reminder since I'm sure I will remember today...probably. Anyway, I'm hoping he--or I-- can send some very special help to the girl's parents. They're going to need it."
“It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized most people don’t believe in the supernatural. For me, time travel and monsters were a part of my life since birth.”
Night grew upon the house.
A girl crouched outside the gate, stalking the shadow that moved nearby. It had arrived first, but for some reason, remained outside.
The girl didn't like fighting someone from Invergence. Doing so required a completely backwards thought process in combat. When you would normally expect a retreat, they would attack. When you expect them to fight, they would find a way to trick you. Members of Invergence were masters of the unexpected, not because they planned it that way, but because they simply thought...backward. As she observed the shadow, it moved. Too big to be a human, she thought, but too calculating to be a large animal. She reconsidered confronting it; more information was needed before she could fight. Had Invergence found a demon to do their dirty work?