It was dark, black as pitch, and every bone in Dan’s body screamed. He barely managed to not let that scream come out of his mouth as he caught himself on the wall; barely managed not to fall flat on his scraped-up face. The hospital room had been brightly lit. Here, wherever here was, he couldn’t even see his bandaged hand in front of his face.
The building felt familiar, despite the darkness. The air was stifling, heavy and laden with the scent of incense and gunpowder. The stone floor beneath his bare feet was warm, worn smooth by constant traffic. He turned a corner, and found himself staring at the little room he’d been imprisoned in last trip. The recognition made his stomach twist in a knot, though he’d already suspected as much.
Dan hobbled down the hall, one hand on the paneled wall, listening to the steady, even sounds of many, many people breathing. He’d arrived in the compound’s dormitory, which meant there were probably some forty-odd people in this wing.
Fortunately, they were all asleep. Dan crept past, feeling his heart pounding in his ears. If he was in the compound, he half-knew why he was here.
Eleven year old Hannah Kaplan.
According to Jack, the police reports and the F.B.I’s internal analysis of the raid, the girl had been out of bed when the F.B.I. came in the door. Everything else had gone according to plan – but Hannah had ended up in front of her father’s gun.
No child deserved that. Dan shuffled through the strange building as quietly and as quickly as he could. Even the simple act of walking still hurt, pain spiking through his legs and arms, but this…
This is more important.
He soon came to a lower level: a shallow, wide-open living area, lit by low burning candles. His eyes adjusted slowly as he eased himself down the steps. A newspaper rested on the back of one couch. He picked it up and glanced at the date.
August 27, 1980.
The night of the F.B.I. raid.
He tensed at motion in the corner of his eyes, started to turn, and -
Livia’s voice came as a loud, relieved whisper in the silence. He barely kept himself upright when she practically tackled him, regardless of the bandages and the dead hush around them. She was trembling. He could feel it in her arms around him, her fingers when she brushed them down his cheek. “Dan, I thought…I thought he killed you.”
“Two seconds later and he would have.” He could still feel the razor edge against his jugular vein, the bone-deep certainty that he was going to die, bleed out thirty years from home. Livia’s fingers brushed the knick in his neck, and he pulled away from the touch.
“Sorry.” Livia looked around the room; Dan was sure he could see tears shining in her eyes, bright in the golden glow of the candles, but when she whispered again her voice was all business. “Why are we here?”
“Well, for starters, Brian turned on Jeremy.”
Livia made a scoffing noise low in her throat. “I don’t blame him.” She moved away, looking around the living room. The table he’d been strapped to had been removed, but Dan could remember exactly where it had been placed, remember the way the ceiling looked above him. Livia seemed to be avoiding that section of the room too.
“Brian stayed in the Court for years, actually.”
“Even after Jeremy tried to kill him? That’s loyalty…”
Dan chuckled, dryly. “Not quite. He was working with the F.B.I. the whole time, feeding them information…”
Livia looked up from going through a pile of magazines. “But you don’t think that’s why we’re here.”
“No,” Dan agreed. “I think we’re here for Hannah.”
“Kaplan’s little girl?” Livia set the last magazine down, brushing her long hair behind her ear.
“Yeah, she…ah.” Dan waved a hand in the general direction of the front door. “The F.B.I.’s going to bust in here any minute, and she’s going to get killed almost after the fact. It might not be her, though; it’s just a…hunch.”
“What did I tell you?” Livia chided, “Trust your instincts. Go with your hunches.” She ghosted across the room, opening a wood-paneled door to peer inside. Dan shifted towards the other side of that door, reaching out to brush his fingers over a framed piece of newspaper.
Chivalry is Not Dead – Tradition and the Court of the Ninth Star King read the headline. Under that, by Frank Vassar.
He still didn’t remember his father writing about the Court. He was about to take the framed article off the wall when something creaked, loudly.
“What was that?”
Livia pointed, one hand drawing Dan a little closer to the wall. Dan followed her finger. Hannah Kaplan was galloping down the hall; a little boy on her back, his arms wrapped around her shoulders as he grinned in obvious delight. Hannah skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs with a low neighing noise, and hopped down them two at a time, landing with a thump of feet and the little boy’s muted giggle.
“Shhhhh, Jerry, you’re going to get us caught,” she hissed at the little boy, who clamped a hand over his own mouth. “And then you won’t get cocoa for a week.”
Dan drew a little further back, going so far as to step into the half-open closet frowning thoughtfully. None of the articles had said anything about a second child. He was about to mention that fact to Livia when two things happened simultaneously.
Brilliant floodlights blazed through the windows – and Hannah looked up and saw them standing there.
Dan was moving before he could think, one hand over the girl’s mouth as a loud voice blared out, blocking the rest of the cry that managed to escape Hannah’s lips.
“Jeremy Kaplan, this is the Federal Bureau of Investigations…”
Livia was on his heels. She caught the little boy as he dropped from Hannah’s shoulders, hauling him off his feet as Dan pushed the girl carefully into the closet and scrambled in behind her. Livia pulled the door closed just as the nearest dormitory door slammed open.
Dan fell back against the wall, body throbbing from the bursts of motion. Two days in the hospital, if would seem, hadn’t been sufficient to heal what Kaplan had done. Livia flashed him a concerned look as she sat holding the little boy, who thrashed against her grip.
“I’ll…I’ll be alright…” He panted, leaning his head back against the wall. Everything burned, though, as he dug his cell phone from the pocket of the pajama pants he’d pulled on when the headache flared behind his eyes, jerked him out of his sleep.
Hannah squirmed out from under his arm, her confused expression visible in the light creeping beneath the door and from the phone. “Daniel?”
Dan felt his blood run cold as he froze against the door, inexplicably frightened by this little girl who knew his name. Hannah blinked wide eyes at him.
“But…why aren’t you….didn’t….I thought Daddy killed you.”
“You….remember me.” The words took a lot of effort. Dan stayed leaning back against the door. He could hear footsteps outside, in the living room. Footsteps, a lot of shouting. Angry shouting, scared shouting. The light from beneath the door kept shifting, changing as people ran in front of the spotlights. He held his breath, hunkering down as best he could, one arm around Hannah’s narrow shoulders.
“I remember everything,” the girl said, her voice older than it should have been. “Daddy says it’s a sign that I’m just like he is. He says it means that if the King doesn’t come before Daddy moves on, I have to take his place.”
Livia looked at Dan, one eyebrow raised, as he winced.
“You know, you do have a choice…” He pointed out, unwilling to end the conversation right there, despite the raised voices just on the other side of the door. Hannah laughed. It, too, was an old sound.
“You told me that before. Remember? Back when Jerry was being born. You said I had a choice. And then…then you begged.” Hannah’s voice went suddenly very, very small. “I…I couldn’t look. I looked away. And Daddy…he told us all he killed you. And that that was how Jerry was born OK.”
The little boy in Livia’s arms blinked wide green eyes open at the sound of his name. Hannah gave him a little smile before she looked back at Dan.
“He said you were the one we’d been waiting for,” Hannah added, her voice becoming a little more firm. “That everything was going to get better now.” She cocked her head, looking at him sideways. “I guess this explains why it wasn’t…”
“If you were waiting for Dan,” Livia pointed out, voice confused, “Why did your dad try to kill him?”
“Because the Tenth Star King can’t be born while he’s still in a mortal vessel.”
Dan wasn’t sure which was worse – the fact that an eleven year old girl was discussing his death as if it could have been a good thing, or that she was talking about it with a completely straight face. He blinked in the darkness, feeling that nervousness in his gut twinge again. All of the articles about what the Court believed had appeared after his would-be sacrifice and his disappearance. The idea made his hands shake, just a bit, when he asked.
“Your dad…thought I was the Ninth Star King?”
“Daddy said you…ascended?” She sounded as if she was tasting the word for the first time, and Dan made a sound of assent, “And that’s why there was no body, and now all we had to do was wait. That the Tenth would find us and everything would be…perfect.”
Something crashed out in the living room, loud; glass shattering. Hannah jumped, and Dan tried to regain mental equilibrium. It was harder than he would have anticipated.
Everything that’s happened since 1974 has been about me? Livia kept staring at him, and he tried to give her a reassuring smile. Given her expression, it left much to be desired.
“What do you think is going on out there?” He asked softly, changing the subject as Livia continued to rock the little boy in her arms, without once moving her hand from his mouth. Hannah shrugged, moving Dan’s arm in the process. He tried not to whimper at the sudden sharp pain.
“I…I don’t know. Daddy’s been watching a lot of TV lately. He won’t stop talking about Jonestown. He kept saying that Mister Jones had some good ideas…” Hannah frowned. “I don’t think they were very good ideas at all, but…” she shrugged again, and Dan hurriedly pulled his arm away.
The girl’s eyes lit on the bandages, the bright white almost glowing in the dimness of the closet. “You…you said you’re not the Ninth King, so…are you an angel?” she asked, out of the blue, and Dan froze. Jerry stilled in Livia’s arms as they both listened for Dan’s answer.
“Why,” Dan spoke carefully, “why would you say that?”
“Because that’s where Daddy cut you.” Hannah replied, matter-of-fact, reaching out and touching one of the bandages. Her fingers tapped against his jaw too. “And there…and-”
Gunfire sounded beyond the door, loud and sharp in the darkness. They all jumped, and Hannah started to scramble to her feet. His hand closed tight around her wrist.
“Your dad’s alright. And I’m not the one you were waiting for. I’m not an angel,” Dan hurried to say, as Hannah tugged against his grip and Jerry turned interested eyes on him as well. “I’m…”
Hannah was a smart girl, but she was still just a child. Even if she was to tell anyone what she’d been told, no one would believe her, and he would be long-gone. He pulled her back down to sit next to him, and drew in a deep breath.
“I’m from the future.”
“….the future?” Jerry breathed out as Livia moved her hand, glaring daggers at Dan. But Dan barreled on, talking over the sounds from outside.
“I’m from May of two thousand and eight.” Jerry’s eyes went wider, his jaw falling open. “I travel to help people, I watch over people, so I’m sort of like an angel, but…” He waved a hand at his bandages. “I’m human, just like you. I can promise you, though, in the future, nobody has to kill people just so other people can be born.”
Hannah shrank in on herself a bit. “Why are you watching over us? We’re not…we’re not good. Daddy’s bad and he’s made us bad, and…”
This one tore through the closet door, leaving a circle of splinters and a halo of light streaming through the hole it left behind. If Hannah had still been standing, it would have hit her in the forehead. Dan quashed the swell of nausea as Hannah buried her head against his chest.
“You have a choice,” Livia chimed in, firmly, reaching out to brush sawdust from the messy curls of Hannah’s hair. “Your dad can’t make you bad. Just remember that.”
“Please remember that,” Dan added. Behind him, the door shifted, like someone was pulling on the doorknob. He reached up to grab the knob, hold the door shut tight for as long as he could, feeling the familiar pressure rising inside his skull.
“Just remember, I’m watching out-”
The door slamming open was the last thing he saw before the light took him back to his life.