At long last, I'm posting my entry for Rosalie Valentine's Penprints Flash Fiction Dash. I'm just under the wire with this one–the deadline is today–BUT, I managed to get my story down to nine hundred words. Huge milestone for me. I'm not sure I've ever written anything that short. Even my shopping lists tend to become YA trilogies with spinoff novellas.
This is the image I was given as a prompt:
And somehow, it ended up being about time travel. *shrug* Enjoy!
The man who had poisoned time itself was eating breakfast. He sat at a small table in the courtyard of his walled, palatial estate, tucking into eggs and bacon. The scent of the food drifted across the yard and filtered through the ventilator of Kenneth Blake’s gas mask as he trained his rifle on the slouching, pallid man. His heart pounded, and his muscles burned from maintaining his awkward perch on top of the wall.
Underneath his protective suit, he could feel his great-grandfather’s dog tags pressing into his chest. A gift from his mother, and a relic of a world now lost. In the new timeline rapidly usurping the original, the Nazis had won World War II…with Quentin Doyle’s help. He had torn the world apart with a weapon more terrible than any bomb—a time machine. Now he sat in the ruins of reality, lord and master of a realm he had created.
But still the Priors—the last survivors of the prime reality—fought on, clinging to their existence via protective suits that shielded them from the Anomalies.
And once Doyle was dead, they might actually be able to turn the tide.
“This is for you, Mom,” Kenneth whispered to himself as he slowly squeezed the trigger.
The bullet missed.
“No!” Kenneth cried out.
Doyle became a blur of motion, flickering in and out of reality. He had adapted his original time machine into cybernetic implants fused with his body. Before Kenneth could even think of escaping, it was too late. A hand seized his arm, and the world around him warped. A second later, he was thrown roughly against the paving stones of the courtyard. Doyle had teleported him down from the wall.
Guards streamed into the yard, but Doyle waved them away. “You honestly thought you could kill me?” he hissed at Kenneth. His eyes glittered with hatred as he brushed a few strands of his stringy hair back from his face.
“It was worth a try,” said Kenneth, his voice distorted by the mask.
Doyle shook his head. “I can’t believe you Priors. You really want that world back? That random, chaotic timeline? It’s gone!”
“Not for long,” Kenneth snapped. “I may have failed, but Priors will keep trying to stop you.”
Doyle rolled his eyes. “I’ve got better things to do that listen to you talk. I’d rather watch you burn instead. With so few fragments of the old world left, you must not get many opportunities to take that suit off, right?” He reached out and seized a handful of Kenneth’s mask. “Here. Let me put you out of your misery.”
The mask tore free. Kenneth felt fresh air wash over him—and with it, a toxic wave of false reality. Pain blazed down every nerve, and he fell to his knees.
“Let go and die, you miserable insect,” said Doyle. “I haven’t got all day.”
Kenneth felt as if some wild beast were tearing at his mind, trying to rip away pieces of his memories, his personality, his very soul. He threw his head back and screamed, a raw, primal cry of defiance. I’m real. I won’t be erased. I won’t.
“I won’t!” he heard himself shout, even as he watched his hands flicker and become translucent.
Suddenly, something changed. Kenneth’s hands stopped flickering, and the pain coursing through his brain and body began to abide. He now felt something very different—a rush of new thoughts and memories. He wasn’t being erased anymore, he was being changed. Turned into a different person altogether.
Desperately, he searched for his true memories…and found, to his great relief, that they were still there. He was still Kenneth Blake, member of the Priors, freedom fighter, failed assassin.
But he was also Lieutenant Kenneth Blake, soldier of the Imperial Army, rising star in the new reality, apprentice to the great Quentin Doyle. He was now dressed in a crisp Imperial uniform instead of his dirty protective suit.
“Good grief, Kenneth, what’s wrong with you?”
Doyle had bent down and was helping him up. Kenneth stared at him in shock. The murderous gleam in the man’s eyes was gone. Clearly, he now saw Kenneth as a friend and ally.
“I—I’m fine,” Kenneth stammered. His new memories told him that he’d simply had a dizzy spell and fallen. The new timeline had failed to erase him. Somehow, he had managed to resist, causing time to reform around him instead.
“Perfectly fine. Sorry…sir.” The title came naturally to his lips. He still felt the old hatred for Doyle, but he could use the practiced military decorum that now existed alongside it to blend into this new world.
Doyle smiled. “Glad to hear it, soldier.” He clapped Kenneth on the back and turned away to say something to one of the guards.
I have another chance, Kenneth realized. He now had the opportunity to gather information, to find a way of reversing all the damage done to the timeline instead of simply cutting the head off the snake.
He reached up and felt the World War II dog tags still hanging beneath his uniform. He couldn’t make sense of any of this. All he knew was that regardless of what else had changed, his mission had not. He was going to save the world. The real world. And now, time would be on his side.