The alternate dimensions machine had done exactly what O'Hara wanted this time around, transferring only what was in direct contact with it. Sam suspected there would be a rectangle of earth beneath the machine itself but nothing else. In fact, he suspected he might not have come across with her this time if Jillian O'Hara hadn't wrapped her hand around his before hitting the enter key. He could hear sirens beyond the lobby of the Federal Science Institute and he looked out with trepidation, certain he already knew what he would find in the street beyond. The first time O'Hara activated the machine it had transferred not just the original laboratory and some of the adjoining corridors, but also a spiraling pattern of other objects. Although they had moved some distance from that original site in search of water and ammonia, the damage should still be visible.
"You go first," O'Hara stated nervously, and Sam nodded before taking that first step forward.
He looked around in confusion. It was wrong. All of it was wrong. Sam had expected to see parts of that alternate dimension's forest scattered around but nothing had changed except for the street and all the buildings looking as empty as the lobby of this building. That's when it occurred to him that there should have been several guards stationed at the entrance by the metal detectors. Turning towards the sound of the sirens, he could see smoke rising in the distance from dozens of structural fires. Another police car flashed past with sirens blaring, and the cop riding shotgun gave Sam a look that could only be described as, 'What the fuck are you doing there?' The patrol car never slowed though, turning the corner at the far end of the otherwise empty street.
Silence fell, broken only by the distant sirens... and gunfire.
O'Hara stepped up beside him and she looked equally confused. With a tight smile, Sam stated, "I don't think we're home." He came to a swift decision and pushed her back into the concealment of the lobby entrance. "Wait here."
Running hard, he returned to the machine and picked it up, his lips twitching as he saw his theory confirmed by the patch of flattened grass left behind. With the weight of the machine, it took him a little longer to get back to O'Hara and he was glad she had listened for once when he found her exactly where he had left her. Sam pointed down into the street towards a couple of cars parked haphazardly at the curb with their driver doors left wide open, as if their owners had simply slammed to a halt and abandoned them.
"Let's try one of those."
Special Ops had taught him a lot of skills he had never expected to use on homeland soil, and jacking cars was one of them. The first was completely dead so Sam moved on to the second. He turned over the engine and could hear it trying to start but this time it was easy to figure out what was wrong: no gas.
Getting out, he hunted through the whole car looking for a strip of tubing but found nothing except for an empty gas can. Moving to the other abandoned car, he checked that one too and when nothing turned up, Sam improvised by tearing out tubing used to wash the windshield. He pushed one end into the gas tank and sucked hard on the other end, coughing and spitting out the unwanted mouthful of gas before quickly filling up the container. Once it had filled, he used his thumb on the end to stem the flow while O'Hara poured the gas into the other car. Leaving her to take over the second filling, Sam turned the key and this time the engine fired up. He waited for her to finish emptying the second can into the gas tank and climb into the passenger seat before pulling away.
"Where are we going?"
He glanced across at her. "So far, all I've seen are subtle changes. The buildings look almost the same but that patrol car had extra stripes. The only place I can think of that would likely exist in both this and our dimension, and have a military presence and a command center," he emphasized, "is the Pentagon."
O'Hara nodded. "And it shouldn't be too far from here."
"My thoughts exactly."
As they drove through empty streets, Sam began to notice the damage to some of the seemingly abandoned buildings. Smashed out windows and fire damage, bullet holes peppered into exterior walls as if they had missed a running gun battle.
"This wasn't us," he stated solemnly. "Whatever happened here, it wasn't us."
Sam thought he saw movement occasionally but it was all wrong. Whatever hid in the shadows moved strangely like a chimpanzee, except they didn't climb vertical walls. He said nothing, not wanting to spook O'Hara after all they had already been through in the other dimension. The wail of sirens grew in volume, along with the sound of gunfire. Soldiers were firing into the shadows as people fled from nearby buildings. He saw a woman snatched as she raced past a narrow gap between two buildings, and whatever had grabbed her did not look human.
Turning the next corner, Sam slammed on the brakes when he saw the massive traffic snarl-up ahead. People were hurrying between the cars on foot, carrying suitcases and children. The sun dipped behind one tall building, casting a new, deep shadow over the fleeing people... and the screams started. Sam stared in horror as gray creatures that looked like hairless apes came out of the shadows to snatch up more people. When several of the creatures turned towards them, Sam sent the car into reverse, not stopping until they were back in the sunlight but Sam knew it was only a matter of hours before the sun set, and it was likely that these creatures mainly hunted at night. But what were they?
With so many cars bumper to bumper--mostly abandoned by their fleeing owners--Sam knew there was no way they could get through this way. Yet, even as he thought it, he watched as a car managed to force its way through the snarl-up ahead by smashing back and forth into the abandoned cars ahead of it until it had made enough maneuvering space. The driver pulled his now battered car up alongside and rolled down the window, revealing an ordinary looking man with desperate blue eyes and a downward slanting mouth.
"Don't head that way. You need to get out of the city. Morlocks."
"Morlocks? What's going on?"
The man frowned. "You don't know? Where have you been this last year?" The man glanced in his rear view mirror, and Sam took a moment to note the five adults and six kids squashed inside the car. "Look. If you want to live then find some place safe to hole up before you lose the sunlight. And don't get bit."
"What happens if you get bit?"
"You turn into one of them." The driver looked back again before shaking his head. "I'm sorry. I've got to go before everything falls into shadow."
"Wait. I'll follow you."
The man looked like he was going to object but then looked startled as if seeing Sam properly for the first time. "You're a soldier?" The man sighed raggedly and nodded, swallowing hard. He drove off and Sam made a u-turn across the wide street so he could follow on behind, heading back the way they had come. Throughout the short conversation with the other driver, O'Hara had remained silent but she spoke now.
"What about the Pentagon?"
"We can't make it that way. Not before it gets dark." He glanced at her. "Our best bet is to hole up for the night and get some intel... and this guy seems to know what's going on around here."
The other car pulled up in front of one of the old brick-built office buildings and the driver hustled the passengers from his car into the sunlit lobby. Sam followed with O'Hara, hesitating only a moment before deciding to leave the dimensions machine in the trunk. The other man found an executive office on the second floor that had only one window and a solid wood door. As soon as they were all inside, he and the others began to barricade the window. Recalling that the creatures could walk up the side of buildings, Sam helped to shift a heavy bookcase in front of it before checking out the washroom attached to the office. It was a small windowless room with a single basin and toilet. He tried a tap but there was no running water but it was still better having the latrine separate from where they would be sleeping this night though he suspected it would smell rank before too long.
Returning to the main office, he eyed the heavy oak desk.
"We can wedge the desk against the door," Sam stated, "But first, I thought I saw some vending machines on one side of the lobby."
"You did? They're probably empty but we just about have time to check them out." He looked to a young man who was barely out of his teens. "You know what to do. If we're not back in fifteen, seal the door until sunlight."
The boy nodded, scared but determined. Sam gave O'Hara a reassuring nod before he grabbed some bags and slipped out into the corridor with the other guy. He heard the desk being shoved in front of the door and moved quickly to catch up.
"Colonel Sam Synn," he offered as they headed at a fast pace down the wide staircase. The other guy looked confused momentarily before replying.
"Radnor. James Radnor."
"So tell me what's going on here, James."
Radnor froze for a split second mid-step but carried on down the remaining stairs. "You really don't know?"
"It was... my fault." Radnor looked across at Sam. "I'm a doctor of theoretical temporal mechanics and I figured out a way to open a rift to another time. Sixty years into our future. At least, I laid the ground work but someone else continued after the original project was abandoned. There was an accident and I was sent through the time rift to recover a missing--" He sighed in annoyance. "Let's just say we came across these things... the Morlocks... and I thought we had destroyed them all when they crossed back into our time but...." He glanced around the sunlit lobby.
"Look. We don't have time to stand around and discuss this right now."
"Okay. Later then."
They reached the vending machines and Sam was pleased to see they were untouched. Most of it was junk food--chips and chocolate--but there was also bottled water and other soft drinks. Sam made to smash open the glass front but James grabbed his shoulder, stopping him with a shake of his head.
He pulled out a small toolkit and removed the front panel, leaving Sam to start filling up the bag while James worked on the drinks machine. Quickly, they packed in as much as they could carry and hurried back up the stairs. The shadows were starting to move across the lower floor as the sun disappeared behind the buildings opposite, and Sam could now see movement in the deeper shadows surrounding those buildings. Radnor noticed his attention on the other buildings.
"They can't see us in the light but they can sense movement and have more acute hearing than humans."
Sam nodded to himself, as this explained how one had managed to snatch that woman off the street. They must have heard her rapid footsteps. As they approached the barricaded office, the door swung open far enough to let them slip through and was closed firmly behind them. This time the adults lifted the heavy desk and set it into place carefully, soundlessly. After a round of quiet introductions, they ate in silence and Sam was grateful when the others shared what little real food they had with him and O'Hara. Charlotte, a blond-haired woman who used to be a Senator's aide, started to complain but Radnor simply reminded her that she had been in the same position not so long ago. They kept the talking to whispered conversations and put any noisy food aside to be consumed while they traveled in daylight. Eventually, most of them huddled up and went to sleep, the children strangely quiet despite their young age. Sam tucked a worn blanket around O'Hara's shoulders, not surprised that she was one of the first to close her eyes. The past few days in the other dimension had worn them both down but Sam found it difficult to relax.
He looked across the dark room, seeing only the occasional glint of light reflected from Radnor's eyes and shuffled across until they were seated together. He whispered to him, "So tell me the rest."
Radnor sighed softly, his breath warm against Sam's face, slightly minty from the sweets he had eaten only moments earlier.
"We thought we had destroyed them all. Well. We had destroyed them all but some research scientists used DNA harvested from one of the creatures to experiment on a gene therapy treatment to cure terminal cancer. It worked too well. It cured the patient but the man kept evolving... devolving... changing. My ex-wife was his first victim. He bit her and several others during a rampage after escaping from the experimental oncology unit. Except no one realized that the bite had introduced the modified DNA into their systems. It took a few weeks before anyone figured that out, and by then they had started to attack others and spread the mutation across the world."
"So those creatures out there?"
"Were once human."
Sam nodded. If he hadn't just experienced monsters in another dimension, and seen the ones attacking here, then he might never have believed such a story. Yet, if what Radnor was saying was true then they needed to get out of heavily populated areas as fast as they could.
"So where were you heading?"
"You're taking this pretty calmly for someone who's just learned that the world has come to an end."
Sam shrugged. "I've seen my own share of strange things lately. So where are you headed?"
"South. Winter's coming. The days are growing shorter and colder, and if we stay here, we'll starve to death if the Morlocks don't get to us first." Sam heard Radnor take in a soft breath. "Now it's my turn. How could you not know any of this?"
"You and O'Hara have more in common than you think. She developed a machine to see other dimensions. Except that worked a little too well and we ended up in one that had some nasty creatures that liked fresh meat. We thought she had managed to calibrate it to get us back home but... "
"But this isn't your dimension, just a close parallel."
"Huh! I had a theory about parallel dimensions and worked my original thesis-- Jillian O'Hara? Now I remember that name. I sent her father a copy of my thesis twenty years ago and he pulled it to pieces. He told me to throw it all away but I used it as the foundation for my time dimensions equations and eventually created the latch." Sam felt Radnor's strong grip on his forearm. "He stole my work!"
"Well, it's probably a little too late to get outraged over that now. Not with the whole world falling to pieces."
Radnor fell silent for several minutes before he sighed deeply. "If you want to come along with us then we need to check you for bites or changes."
It made sense, and full body medicals were nothing new to him anyway, just another part of being a soldier. He wasn't sure how O'Hara would take it but guessed that Radnor would have one of the other women check her over.
"I'll be as impersonal as possible but you have to understand--"
"I do. I do understand. If these changes take weeks to appear then you have to make sure everyone is clean... especially when you're all squashed up in one car."
Radnor huffed quietly. "I'll check you over in the morning. For now, we should sleep now."
"I can stay on guard."
Radnor huffed softly again. "No need tonight. We'd hear them before they broke in. Better to get some rest while we can. It could be a long drive tomorrow."
A few minutes later, he felt Radnor's head slide onto his shoulder. Though he ought to have pushed the man away, the last few days had fed a need to feel another warm body pressed against him, just to remind him that he was alive and whole. Eventually he must have slept too, lulled by the soft, snuffly breaths around him.
When he awoke, a slither of early dawn light had found a few of the cracks around the heavy bookcase, and Sam looked down as he realized Radnor had snuggled in closer during the cold night. His head was still partially supported on Sam's shoulder but his arm had snaked around Sam's body, lying heavy across his stomach. It felt good, stirring memories of past lovers, something he had denied himself since the incident that led to the black mark in his jacket. His only mistake was following the orders given by the President against his better judgment, but that was his sworn duty, to be a good little soldier and obey his Commander-in-Chief. He had his share of regrets, knowing he had been fed to the wolves to avoid a political scandal, but he had accepted the reasoning behind it. He had taken the punishment, babysitting scientists in Washington rather than commanding on the battlefield, determined to make it through the last few months and retire with his pension intact.
Sam wondered what had happened to the Colonel Synn in this dimension.
Radnor began to stir, cheek rubbing against Sam and arm tightening its grip around him. He tensed, and Sam smiled knowing Radnor was now very aware of the way he was wrapped around Sam. Sam expected him to pull back slowly in the belief that Sam was still sleeping. What he didn't expect was the way Radnor's arm tightened just a fraction first, as if seeking a little extra comfort. Radnor had spoken of having an ex-wife but Sam was bisexual by nature so he'd had his share of female lovers in the past too; he knew what he preferred though, and the man slowly pulling away from him was definitely his type.
After several near-death experiences in the other dimension, and the danger in this one, it seemed stupid to hold back. No one else was stirring and it had been too long since Sam felt another man's body against him. Sam pulled Radnor back against him and kissed the slightly chapped lips, feeling the indrawn breath of surprise before Radnor relaxed into the kiss. In a room full of people, Sam knew they couldn't take it any further but the heel of Radnor's hand against his growing erection proved that Radnor had no such qualms. The dark shadows still covered them and Sam gave in to the agile fingers that made short work of his fastenings and slipped beneath rough material to wrap around his cock. He wanted to reciprocate but the angles were all wrong, and Radnor seemed to understand his slight distress, whispering roughly, "Next time."
After so long without human touch, it took only a few strokes before he was coming, his harsh breaths smothered by Radnor's mouth. Shattered, he let his head fall back against the wall behind him, opening his eyes in time to see the devilish delight reflecting back from Radnor. Uncaring of the mess in his pants, Sam took Radnor's face in both hands and kissed him soundly.
"Next time," he promised.
Radnor handed him a not-so-clean pocket handkerchief and Sam cleaned up as best he could before making his way quietly across the still sleeping bodies to the washroom. With no flush facilities, the room stank so he did what he needed to do quickly and shut the heavy door behind him when he came out to keep the worst of the smell out of the main room. Everyone was stirring now but staying silent as they pulled out the makings of a meager breakfast.
He dropped down beside Radnor, smiling wryly as he accepted a handful of crackers and scraped off the small bloom of mold forming on the cheese.
"We'll head out as soon as the sun's high enough to push back the shadows in the lobby," Radnor stated softly, and Sam agreed with a nod.
A thump and shuffle in the corridor outside made them all tense. A strange howling came from beyond, muffled by the thick door. Radnor turned to Sam with wide, scared eyes.
"They know we're here."
Another howl just beyond the door made one of the children whimper but her mother placed a hand over the child's mouth and shushed her softly. The door shook as something smashed into it and Sam could see the panic rising in everyone's eyes. He shushed them all and pointed to Radnor and the younger man, Greg. Together they moved the bookcase just enough for the largest of them to slip through and Sam checked outside. Although still early, the sun was up and shining on this side of the building. Opening the window, he poked his head out to check the walls and ground for Morlocks but it was all clear. He suspected the interior of the building was still in shadows, affording the Morlocks the darkness they needed to hunt. Another vibration shook the heavy door and Sam heard the wood start to crack around the hinges.
"We don't have much time. We need to get out of here now and this is the only way." Sam grabbed Radnor by his shoulders. "James. You need to go first, then Greg. One of you guards while the other helps the others get down."
Radnor nodded and Sam helped him through the open window, holding onto him and finally letting go. Radnor landed awkwardly but got back on his feet and stood guard as Greg went next. One by one, Sam took the weight as he helped each of them hang from the open window and fall into the waiting arms below. He had to trust to them catching the children, and all the while, the splintering grew louder along with the roar of the Morlocks hammering against the door. The door splintered and, looking back, Sam could see claws and sharp teeth through the ragged holes. The desk began to shift as he forced the last frightened woman through the window. He heard it scrape behind him and he knew he had run out of time. As he hung for a split second, something grabbed at his sleeve, and he looked up. Foul breath wafted over his face as the creature snapped towards him. He let go of the ledge, the material in his jacket giving way with a loud rip. His fall was broken by the people below him, several of them tumbling to the ground beneath his weight but, fortunately, no one was seriously harmed. One of the Morlocks tried to come out the window but it screeched and fell away from the sun's light.
They scrambled into the two cars and drove away fast.
Getting out of the city proved harder than Sam thought because every road they tried was blocked with abandoned vehicles. They saw a few people on foot. Several groups tried to wave them down as they passed, with some becoming angry when they didn't stop. One group chased after them, hurling street debris. Sam could understand their frustration, aware that they saw the city as a death trap now, slowly running out of places to hide from the Morlocks. When they reached another junction that offered no easy escape, Sam yelled across at Radnor.
"I was stationed here for a few years. I know some minor routes that might not be so snarled."
Radnor nodded and Sam took the lead.
Driving through the city towards the suburbs was like negotiating a maze, and they came across numerous blocked roads. It helped that there were no police around to stop Sam from taking one-way streets in the wrong direction and, eventually, the houses became sparser. With dusk only a few hours away, Sam pulled over into a quiet and obviously abandoned street. Radnor pulled up alongside.
"What are you doing?"
He moved to the trunk and pulled out the gas can and hose. "Filling up while I can. I suggest you do the same."
Radnor looked momentarily surprised, but nodded. "Yes. Good idea. We might need to keep driving through the night and I'm running low after our mystery tour of D.C." He winced. "No offense."
Sam grinned. "None taken."
They set the others to guard for Morlocks and humans alike as they filled the tanks of both cars, before refilling the gas cans one last time as a precautionary measure. Within thirty minutes they were back on the road but Sam pulled over one last time at a local convenience store. The shelves were empty, seemingly stripped clean by desperate people, but Sam hoped they had missed stores out back. He drew his gun before going beyond the public area, listening for the sound of anything moving in the shadows. There wasn't much out back, but a few cases of groceries had been missed in the panic buying, along with some scattered boxes of bullets. Not his gun's caliber but he knew he might regret leaving the shells behind if they did come across a .22 or a shotgun.
They loaded up the cars--splitting the food between them just in case they got separated--before heading out of Washington D.C. eager to be away from the city before the shadows fell. Sam glanced in his mirror at the woman and her child seated in the back of his car. He knew her name was Lauren but not much else as she barely spoke except when pushed. He recognized the signs of trauma, having seen plenty of civilians caught up in wars around the world. He guessed the end of humanity was of little difference in that respect.
As the miles passed beneath them, Sam wondered what had happened to those who had managed to flee the city before it became grid locked. Radnor had not mentioned any refugee camps or centers, only that they would head south. South to where, though? He had seen no cars since they left the city and yet there should have been plenty. Several more miles up the deserted highway, he thought he saw red taillights in the distance, and slammed on his brakes hard as he turned a sweeping curve to find the road ahead completely blocked. Radnor stopped alongside and together they stared at the mass destruction. Sam glanced across at Radnor, catching his eye and shaking his head. He doubted if anyone had survived the massive pile-up of vehicles visible in the pale moonlight. Sam climbed out the car and walked a few paces forward, rubbing a hand through his hair subconsciously as he looked upon the sight in dismay. He was not surprised when Radnor joined him.
"You see anyway around this?" Radnor asked, and Sam shook his head.
"Not in the dark."
A thump and the now all-too familiar howl of a Morlock made them both tense.
Sam gripped Radnor's arm, but his eyes never left the pile of wrecked vehicles, watching for inhuman movement. "I thought I saw a dirt track a few miles back. Might be a farmhouse at the end that we can hole up in for the rest of the night."
Radnor nodded and together they backed off towards their cars, gunning the engines and turning quickly, wanting to put some distance between them and the Morlocks sifting through the wreckage for food. The dirt track ended at an old farmhouse just as Sam hoped, and this time Sam hauled the alternate dimensions machine inside once they had checked the house was empty. Barring the windows and doors of the main room--and blocking any possibility of the light being seen from outside--came next, followed by another cold and meager meal of stale crackers and chocolate.
Radnor sat down beside him, looking pale and drawn. "We'll head back in the morning. See if there's a way around the... accident."
"You know it's no accident. You said yourself that it took weeks for the virus to show, that every city was infected before anyone figured it out. There won't be any refugee camps. Just a life running and hiding until we get so worn down we make a mistake and end up dead."
Sam stood and dragged James to his feet. He pulled Radnor over to the corner of the small room where O'Hara was sitting hunched against the wall looking small and afraid. Sam pointed to the machine lying at O'Hara's feet.
"You said her father stole your work, and that you built on that same work to open the time rip."
O'Hara straightened up in first shock then anger. "My father stole no one's work."
Sam could see Radnor taking in a deep breath, ready to refute her claim, and he preempted it.
"Personally, I don't give a fuck, but if you work together, then maybe we can find a way out of here before we all become either Morlocks or their next meal."
"Out of here... how?"
"Another dimension... another time. I don't care. Just find us a way out of here."
The anger faded from Radnor's eyes and the tightness around his mouth softened. Radnor glanced down at O'Hara and Sam saw them both nod in agreement. He handed them the small light and left them to whispers in a language he didn't understand: mathematics. When Radnor stood up an hour later, Sam went over to him.
"We need to find a screen," Radnor stated softly.
"There was a computer in the other room."
They glanced at the barricaded door and Radnor huffed softly. "I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow. We need decent light anyway."
"Then we'll stay here another day... if we can. Let you guys work."
Radnor nodded and started to turn away but Sam grabbed his arm. "We've been up twenty hours straight already, and there's only a few more hours left till dawn. Why don't we both get some rest."
"In truth? I don't think I could sleep."
"Maybe I could help with that," Sam whispered, recalling his promise to make it good for Radnor next time.
Radnor dropped his eyes and his mouth tilted up in a gentle smile at the sound of soft murmurings from the others in the room before he looked back up at Sam. "We don't have the privacy for what I need."
"Come on," Sam murmured regretfully, and led Radnor back across the room to where O'Hara still worked feverishly over her equations. He sank to the floor and pulled Radnor down with him, letting Radnor use his shoulder as a pillow once more. When he awoke a few hours later, Sam was surprised to find them both covered in a blanket. This time the sun rose without the howl of Morlocks seeking a way into their hiding place and Sam allowed himself the pleasure of feeling Radnor curled up against him; his body warm and heavy. He watched as the others began to move around quietly, smiling when Greg peeled back a little of the covering from the window to let in the sunlight. Radnor stirred, and Sam watched as long, sandy lashes flickered several times before he saw sleepy blue eyes open fully. Radnor scrubbed a hand through his short brown hair, leaving it sticking up in tufts, and Sam winced a little when he found the sight endearing rather than silly.
"Looks like we both caught a few hours sleep," Sam murmured softly.
"Yes. Well, I guess I should find that screen now."
Sam nodded. He had seen the original presentation to Senator Crenshaw, which displayed several alternate dimensions on a view screen before the malfunction took them to the other side--a world inhabited by monsters. He knew why they needed a view screen, as some of those other dimensions could not sustain human life. Radnor squeezed Sam's arm.
"You do know we can't get you back to your own dimension? It moved out of alignment. The best we can do is find another near-parallel dimension that doesn't have Morlocks... or any other monsters."
Sam sighed. He had suspected as much but had hoped he was wrong, even though he had little to go back to in his own dimension.
Radnor spent the day working with O'Hara while Sam organized the others into foraging for food and anything else that might make their short stay a little more comfortable and secure. They even risked a small fire to make a hot meal--his first in days--but they made certain to douse the fire and dispel the aroma of cooked food long before the sun began to set. Once more they sealed the windows and gaps around the door frame to prevent any light seeping outside, not wanting to reveal their position to any Morlocks.
Sam turned as he caught the first flickers of light dancing across the screen now attached to the machine. It revealed a world covered in ice for as far as they could see. O'Hara tapped on the keyboard and another world slid into view but, once more, it was inhabitable as volcanic ash spewed across the sky. Another dimension slid into place and Sam wondered what monsters lurked in the depths of a forest that looked too reminiscent of the place they had escaped from only a day or so earlier. That world would have slipped out of alignment by now so he knew it was not the same dimension.
As O'Hara tapped on the keyboard, Sam heard the skitter of something moving on the gravel outside. A distant howl made them all freeze and listen intently. It was answered by another Morlock, but this one came from inside the farmhouse. One of the children whimpered in fear and the mother pulled the boy tight against her bosom, rocking the boy softly as she looked to Sam and Radnor in terror. Carefully, Sam brought everyone across the room as silently as possible and settled them down around the machine.
Another dimension flickered onto the screen but it was a desolate wilderness, barren of life. O'Hara tried another, and another, freezing as something scratched against the barricaded door. The door shook suddenly and violently as snarls and howls sounded from right outside the door. Glass shattered from behind the barricade and something tried to gain access through the window. Another Morlock crashed against the wall and a huge chunk of plaster smashed to the wooden floor. Sam realized too late that he had underestimated the intelligence of the Morlocks as they attacked the same spot over and over, slowly tearing a way through the very fabric of the building, through the wall until a gray arm with viciously taloned claws thrust through. The little girl screamed, and the Morlocks howled in response, attacking the room more intently on all sides. Sam could hear them in the room above, scrabbling across the ceiling, trying to tear their way through. He looked to O'Hara.
"We're out of time!"
He watched as she sped back through the dimensions to the only one that had offered any hope of survival--the forest dimension.
"Hold hands!" He yelled, and grabbed at both Radnor and O'Hara, making sure everyone was holding on in a chain around the device before he nodded firmly at O'Hara. His last sight before the world whited out and the forest formed around them was of teeth and claws as Morlocks crashed through the walls and ceiling.
It was still daylight in this forest world and Sam kept a tight hold on Radnor as he scanned the trees in all directions but no Morlocks had come through with them and nothing else stirred. A familiar noise pulled his attention behind him and he walked briskly through the trees, unconsciously drawing Radnor along with him. The noise came again but this time Sam watched from the edge of the highway as a car drove past. As he followed it with his eyes, he saw a road sign for a small town he had never heard of before--New Spring, population 1670, 2 miles.
The small, weary group reached the town an hour later and Sam left them partially hidden as he entered the local sheriff's office with Radnor. The deputy looked up and came to the front desk.
"Can I help you..." His eyes scanned Sam's tattered uniform. "Colonel?"
Relief filled Sam from knowing this man had recognized his military rank, which meant things were not too different here.
"My car broke down a way back and I was hoping I could use your phone."
"Yes. Certainly, sir."
Sam picked up the phone and dialed the emergency number he recalled for the Pentagon. He waited until it was picked up and gave his name, rank and serial number, offering a brief comment on his position before hanging up. The front desk phone rang a few minutes later, and the deputy handed it over after a few seconds.
"It's for you, sir."
With so much else similar to his own dimension, Sam took a chance and gave a specific code devised by the military for dealing with unconventional experiments or events.
The disembodied voice spoke to him. "Were you alone, Colonel?"
"No, sir. Seven adults and six kids, including myself."
"Put the deputy back on, Colonel."
"Yes, sir." Sam handed over the phone and watched as the deputy was handed orders. "Yes, sir. I'll make sure they are comfortable."
"Someone will come for us," Sam stated softly to Radnor. "Go get the others."
The debriefing took several days and in all that time he caught sight of Radnor only once at the end of a long corridor, accompanied by a security detail. He knew the rest of the group, except for Dr. Jillian O'Hara, had been questioned far lighter before they were taken to a low security hospital on the outskirts of Washington D.C. to recuperate from their ordeal.
As he was escorted to yet another debriefing, Sam noticed that this room was not one of the nondescript interrogation rooms. Instead of a single table with bolted-down chairs, this room had a long oval conference table with luxurious seating. Only three of the fifteen seats remained empty and he was shown to the center one. He saluted sharply upon seeing several higher ranks among the twelve occupants.
"At ease, Colonel Synn. Please sit."
Sam took the seat indicated and sat tall and straight. Behind him, the door opened again and he could not prevent a smile tugging at his lips as Radnor was shown the seat on his right. O'Hara took the seat on his left, and he nodded a reassuring greeting to her as well.
The appointed chairman for the meeting, General Adams, spoke first.
"Thank you for your patience during this lengthy round of debriefing. You can obviously understand how vital it was for us to verify such fantastical stories and to deal with the consequences. You will be pleased to know that in this timeline, the alternate dimensions presentation was delayed by half an hour due to Senator Crenshaw's busy schedule. This meant that the solar flare that caused the machine to malfunction occurred before our machine was switched on. With proper shielding--or better timing--there is no reason to abandon Doctor O'Hara's work and, if you are in agreement, perhaps this Doctor O'Hara might wish to join her counterpart to improve upon their work.
"Yes. I would like that very much."
Adams continued. "As for your work, Doctor Radnor, the Tempus Flats experiment was not as advanced as in your dimension though they were about to re-open the rip for the second time. Colonel Wichita has been reassigned and the project suspended temporarily. But we still have people trapped in the other time. Patterson and his men."
Crenshaw interrupted. "Wait. If you open the time rip then you could bring about the very future they described."
"We cannot abandon our people--" Adams stated.
Radnor rubbed his forehead in a gesture that Sam had started to recognize as a mixture of tiredness and frustration, before taking a deep breath. "The Morlocks came about by bringing one of them back from the future and tampering with human DNA by mixing it with Morlock DNA. If the first Morlock--Wichita's son--is never created then there is no reason to believe your soldiers are in any danger from Morlocks. Just living sixty-eight years into our future."
Crenshaw leaned in. "But we cannot know that for certain. And is it worth the end of the human race just to find out? Each of those soldiers knew the risk they were taking when they accepted the assignment."
Radnor sat upright. "What if we can look into that future before stepping through?" He glanced around Sam towards O'Hara and Sam saw her eyes widen.
"Doctor O'Hara?" Adams queried.
She nodded. "It's possible. With Doctor Radnor's help."
Adams looked to Crenshaw questioningly, and Crenshaw nodded. "Then we're in agreement." He looked at Sam next. "Colonel Synn. Your counterpart in this universe was exonerated for his actions after Dr. Karen Fast uncovered evidence that your counterpart had acted upon a direct presidential order. President Garvin was impeached and removed from office following a formal investigation. Our Colonel Synn is currently on assignment in Afghanistan, but in light of these extraordinary circumstances, we are willing to allow you to retain your rank and seniority, if you so wish."
"Thank you, sir."
"As your first assignment, I would like you to take command of the new Tempus Flats project, working alongside Doctors O'Hara and Radnor."
Adams looked around the table. "Any more questions?"
Radnor spoke up. "You never said what happened to my counterpart."
"I'm afraid your counterpart died four years ago in a car crash. I'm sorry." Adams glanced around the table once more. "Any other questions?" No one spoke. "Then this meeting is over."
Sam did not see Radnor for two more days, not until after he arrived at Tempus Flats to take command of the project. Radnor was working in the main laboratory with the two Jillian O'Haras and he looked good: clean and well rested. When Sam approached them, Radnor turned and smiled brightly, eyes dropping a little in a subconscious gesture that told Sam that Radnor was still interested in continuing with the relationship they had started in another dimension. The thought filled Sam with equal happiness, grateful that the regulations of this dimension would not disallow a relationship between them.
"Doctors," Sam greeted, and he listened as they outlined what they had managed to accomplish so far. They hoped to use the latch to open a view into the other time by the end of the week, and depending on the outcome, Sam would organize a mission to retrieve Patterson and his men.
At the end of the day, Sam caught up with Radnor outside his assigned quarters, and the intense kiss shared as soon as the door closed behind them was almost enough to short circuit Sam's brain. He pulled back and gazed hard at the man holding him just as tight.
"I still have a promise to keep," Sam whispered as he leaned in to nuzzle against Radnor's throat.
"Then it's high time you kept it."
This time they stripped each other naked, reveling in the sight and sensation of skin on skin as they kissed and caressed, without the discomfort of knowing others could be watching. This time they allowed the moans of pleasure to fill the air as Sam licked from the base of Radnor's cock to its tip, lapping at the pearl of precome beading at the slit before sinking down on him, without fear of being overheard. Soft cries of passion and the scrabble of fingers tugging at his hair drew Sam back in time to watch Radnor...James... fall to pieces, come striping across his face.
This time Sam pulled the light covering up only as far as their waists as they curled up together, clean and sated, and safe in each other's arms. They fell into a restful sleep without the sound of Morlocks howling in the night, and when they awoke hours later, they brought each other to a slow and exquisite climax, with silent promises of a brighter future... together.