CHAPTER 2: 1976
A great deal of my next childhood was spent hearing tales of the missing Grant girl. It was a big deal, in part because the Grant's themselves were offering a rather substantial reward for news of Elizabeth's whereabouts. It was not common to have such a high profile individual go missing in Supara. I could only bite my tongue, and act like just a regular child. No one would have believed me if I had told them I was Elizabeth Grant reincarnated, even if I did have details of her life in my head that would have made it easy enough to prove. Being locked up in an asylum will do me no good, besides which I'm sure Charles was smart enough to destroy the body.
Growing up in the 1960's was a unique experience for me. I found myself reborn in one of the poorer sections of Wesvale. Granted Wesvale was nowhere near as bad as some of the ghettos I have managed to grow up, it was a stark contrast to my recent life of luxury in New Heiwa. But I had managed to live during the black death. I had to constantly remind myself, everything was luxurious compared to that.
On the positive side, I found myself male once again, which was a welcome respite from the overly feminine body Charles Hudson had decided to rob me of. It's not that I minded being female, in fact sometimes it was rather enjoyable. Unfortunately for me, my mind still identified as male. A sort of paradoxical existence that I just dealt with the best way I could.
My mother told me I was a fussy baby, often waking up throughout the night screaming. I can only imagine it was due in no small part to how I had most recently died. Really any of my various deaths would be reason for a developing mind to go slightly off. Can you imagine waking up to a flashback to burning at the stake? It's an interesting thing to note, that I don't generally remember anything about my various lives before the age of 4 or 5. It would seem that the mind takes a little while to develop to the point that it can process a seemingly infinite regression of past lives. I've come to refer to this gap between death and full cognition as a mental vacation.
Due in large part to the circumstances of my recent demise, I grew up filled with a seemingly unquenchable rage. I was prone to violent outbursts, and some rather dark thoughts. I don't think there has ever been a 5 year old that pondered murdering someone violently quite as much as I did. Fortunately, I managed to suppress it for the most part, instead I allowed it to simmer just below the surface, providing the motivation for all that I must do. Revenge would be mine, but I had to have patience. I told myself I had all the time in the world.
I nearly lost my will to live, when just a few short months after the JFK assassination, everything in the world went spiralling out of control.
I was in 4th grade when the 3 Day War began. Violence erupted in small riots around the world. There were people blamed the powers for killing JFK, apparently taking to heart the concept of the magic bullet theory. Other people supported the Powers, claiming they were doing their best to keep us safe in these uncertain times. Violence erupted between two groups in Supara, and then all hell broke loose across the country.
There were riots in demonstrations in any city big enough to have been touched by one of the Powers. Fire consumed London. Blood filled the streets in Tokyo. New York and LA were flooded with protesters. Things got so bad, the Beatles canceled their third appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, due to rioting in the streets. Despite the violence raging outside my window, I remember being a little disappointed I didn't get a chance to see that third performance. Like many of the young people in the nation, those boys from Liverpool had really caught my ear. However, I had to force my mind tp remain focused. There was only one thing that mattered.
As the violence boiled over, for a brief moment, I thought my plans to end that bastard's life would be taken from me. One of the larger riots to break out in Supara, what would be the final conflict of the whole ordeal, came to a bloody crescendo. Over 100 people died that day, and who would go charging into the melee to restore order other than Supara's own “beloved” hero, Charles Hudson, the man they called Sarge. Things got crazy, but when the smoke cleared, Charles Hudson still stood. His uniform was singed and bloody, but he stood there looking like a damned hero. It seemed that of all the members of the Foundation, he was the only one who refused to die.
My fear that I may not get a chance to kill that bastard, drove me to redouble my efforts. It was in the years that followed that my plan started to really develop. It seemed that fate was on my side, too. The chain reaction begun by the 3 Day War, seemed to be forcing all the pieces to fall into place. My revenge was seeming like a foregone conclusion.
Shortly after the war ended, a major recession hit. The stock market went plummeting as people began to lose faith in everything. An era of having gods walk among them, giving them a sense of security to live lives of excess and privilege had ended. I watched the papers, as Charles Hudson scooped up the National Division of Science at a ridiculously low price. It seemed absolutely absurd that a private citizen would be able to do so, especially in a recession. He took it, and rebranded it, made it his own little corporation. In what I can only assume was a fit of ego stroking, he named the new company “Hudway”. To the outside world, it looked like nothing more than a private citizen doing his part to advance scientific development. I knew differently. I knew that he had finally found a legitimate cover to continue work on his insane experiments.
I waited patiently, the presence of his new corporate headquarters would help me get close to him, like nothing else could. Drawing on the accumulated knowledge of thousands of lifetimes, I easily skipped some grades. The interesting thing about math and history, is they tend to not change a lot. Having lived through a lot of the history, I was able to breeze through it. The hardest part was working my way to an advanced degree in electrical engineering before I was even legally allowed to vote. I never really focused on technology, although it fascinated me to no end. It took a lot more work to get through that than I had anticipated.
In the early spring of 1972, I applied for a job in the labs at Hudway. It didn't take long to get hired on, managing to graduate in the top 10 percent of your class will do that. Time was not an issue, so I waited, and worked my way up the ladder. I went from a lowly lab technician, to a lab supervisor, and then turned down the promotion to be the VP of their Research and Development division. For my plan to succeed I needed to be in the lab working, and not sitting at a desk somewhere.
While I worked on various projects, I spent a lot of time memorizing Charles' work patterns. He was a strategic genius, but where his company was concerned, he was a creature of habit. One could set their watch by his schedule, he arrived and left at exactly the same time every day. For years, his schedule stayed the same, never deviating.
I really began working hard on the next part of my plan, as the nation as a whole began gearing up for the big Bicentennial. It's almost amusing how excited people can get for such trite celebrations. In the grand scheme of things, this bicentennial was meaningless. It was if history taught them nothing. Empires rose and fell at the whims of warring factions. To last a mere 200 years was but a drop in the bucket on the imperial scale.
I'm sorry, I seem to have digressed again.
The joy of having a boss that worked like clockwork, and having a job that left you to supervise yourself, was that you could plot for the greatest assassination attempt ever. Working long hours, and even having several nights where I worked long into the night, did not make for a great social life, but it did allow me plenty of time to work without all of the prying eyes.
During my many late nights, I ended up making friends with the security guards. There was a relatively small number of them, considering the size of the building, but once they warmed up to me, they were a rather chatty lot. It was through this friendship, that I learned Hudway was on the forefront of video surveillance technology. Every day the cameras would record everything, then for about an hour from 22:00 until 23:00, the cameras were all shut down so that their tapes could be changed. During that time frame, Security in the building was almost nonexistent, as the guards were mostly preoccupied with changing the tapes.
It was during that hour, I worked on my bomb.
It's surprisingly easy to work on a small explosive device when you work in a building with huge government contracts. Volatile chemicals were easily obtained, and when taken in sufficiently small amounts, over an ample time frame, the diversion is rather easy to conceal. Since I worked in the Research and Development section of Hudway, I had access to every chemical, electrical component, and building material I could ever hope for.
Over the course of two years I built my bomb. It wasn't an overly flashy ordeal, a simple binary system, two volatile compounds kept separated by glass and tubes. Apart, they were mostly inert, but when combined in a specific ratio and provided with a small spark, they would create a violent explosion, that would make dynamite look like a firecracker. The timer could be set to set off the reaction in a matter of seconds, or up to two weeks away, depending on my needs.
The planning of when to set it off to result in the lowest body count possible while insuring that Charles Hudson would be caught in the blast was the hardest part. He had given himself a top floor of the building, the room where in the not too distant past, a young Elizabeth Grant had danced her last dance. This room afforded him a great view of the city, but also made it so he could secure his office to the point it was nearly impenetrable. The only way to get to his office was either through a private elevator, or by way of a private staircase. Both were accessible only with special key cards, and only three people had those cards; Charles, his personal housekeeper, and the head of security.
If I wanted to get in to his office, I needed to either steal one of those cards, or find some other way to bypass the security system. I knew there would be no conceivable way to get close enough to Charles to actually steal his card. This left the head of security, and the housekeeper as my only valid options. Pursuant to my plan, I studied the two of them, learning what little I could glean from watching them. I also ruled out the idea of trying to crack the system. I imagine that any effort to bypass the system would alert anyone and everyone, and shut down the entire place.
This narrowed my options down to either stealing from the head of security, or stealing from the housekeeper. As fate would have it, the decision was made for me, in a most fortuitous way.
One night, as I toiled over my bomb in the lab, the head of security showed up unexpectedly, managing to sneak up on me before I could hide my work. “What are you up to this late, Jack? Didn't your shift end five hours ago? Go home...”
I looked up cautiously, putting down my soldering iron, and removing my safety goggles. “Sorry Gary, have a project I'm working on, want to have it ready to propose to the boss by the 4th. You know how it can be, right? Time flies when you're heaving fun.” I put on a fake grin as I started to stow my work away. “And you're one to talk. You should be home with your wife, it's your day off.”
Gary doffed his hat, and ran a hand through his sparse hair. “Don't I know it. But Maggie called off. 'Woman problems' she says. Don't know why the boss makes us hire 'em, though. Broads don't belong working security, this is a man's job!”
Having not that long ago dealt with such problems myself, I gritted my teeth and faked a laugh. “I've known some pretty feisty ladies. Maggie could definitely hold her own in a fight.”
Gary nodded his head reluctantly, and replaced his hat. “I suppose you're right. After what happened to her cousin, I'm sure her family wouldn't let her out of that house if they didn't think she could handle herself.”
I bit my tongue, remembering exactly what had happened to her cousin. I knew that somewhere within these walls was the room where Maggie's cousin died. Where I died. “22 years, and they still haven't found her yet?”
“A damn shame.” Gary shook his head. “Ya know, I was there that night? It's where I met the boss. Saw Maggie's cousin there, too. She was drunk, but man was she a looker. Wouldn't have minded coming home to those tits every night, ya know? Her parents were loaded, too. If I had gotten up the nerve that night, I might be a made man, rather than some schlub security guard, y'know what I mean?” He got a faraway look in his eyes, as I imagine he was pondering the life he could have had. “Ah well, Miriam was quite a catch. No use crying over spilled milk.”
If I bit my tongue much harder I was going to draw blood. I had to get rid of him fast, or I was gonna lose it. “Was there something you needed, Gary? It's been a really long day.”
Gary frowned, seemingly a little sad that I was not eager to discuss the endowments of my last incarnation. “Nothing really, Jack. Was just patrolling the halls, while everyone else works on changing the tapes. I saw the light on in the lab, and decided to see who was still here.” He turned slowly, and began to walk away before stopping. ”You gonna be here long? You look like a little tired. I could let you out. Would sure save me a lot of time having to unlock the door for ya later.”
I sighed and looked at the clock. “I suppose I should head home. I have to be back at 8.”
While I finished locked up my work, Gary prattled on incessantly about various conspiracy theories about the ultimate fate of Elizabeth Grant. Things ranging from alien abduction, to running away and becoming a famous movie star. I ignored him for the most part, not really giving a damn about any of his nonsense. After everything was put away, and locked up, I walked with Gary to the elevators, reluctantly joining in with whatever mindless drivel began to spew from his mouth in an effort to not come off as a complete jackass.
As we walked, my eyes were drawn to a card attached to a retractable cord, hanging from a carabiner on his belt. If my suspicions were correct, that was the key to the Charles Hudson's office, and the pathway to my ultimate revenge. I licked my lips in anticipation, as my fingers worked at the cord deftly. When you live an endless series of lives, you tend to learn a few skills, some a little more unorthodox than others. The skills I learned during many a past life spent as a pickpocket, returned to me like second nature. Before the elevator even arrived, I had worked the card off of it's fastener, palmed it, and slipped it into my pocket, without Gary ever realizing what happened.
“Only a couple days 'til the 4th, Jack” Gary seemed intent on making conversation all the way to the exit. “Got any big plans?”
“Not really. Just plan on catching up with an old friend.” Having my revenge so close at hand, I couldn't help but feel a little giddy with excitement. “It should be a blast.”
Gary nodded his head slowly. “Well, if you get bored, Miriam and I are gonna be grillin' some burgers, you're more than welcome to come.”
“Thanks, Gary. If my other plans fall through, I'll keep that in mind.” I actually was considering it. I didn't have to be on site for the bomb to work, and being somewhere else would give me a decent alibi. “Would you need me to bring anything? I don't mean to brag, but I do make some amazing potato salad.”
As we talked, the wheels in my head went into overdrive. I had everything I needed, my revenge was ready. However, I would have to step up my time frame for placing the bomb. If Gary reported the the key missing before I could act, everything might be lost. If I set the bomb up tomorrow night, I could set it to detonate in a week on the 4th, and get Gary back his key, hopefully before anything is noticed.
I slept fitfully that night as my brain obsessively worked over the plan. Mentally dissecting my design of the bomb, trying to see if there was anything I had missed, any small miscalculation. Everything should work flawlessly, but my brain was not one that was wired to accept that I had everything right, and insisted on attempting to discover some small issue with my plan.
By the time 6 AM rolled around, and my alarm went off, I think I may have slept all of 15 minutes. Every time sleep seemed imminent, a new potential flaw in my plan came to mind, and I had to work it out before I could once again sleep. That morning, I brewed the coffee extra strong, as I began my short walk in to the office.
I headed up to the lab, and spent the day, working mindlessly on small projects, every once in a while, my eyes darting to the locked drawer that held the bomb. By the time quitting time hit, I was ready for another strong pot of coffee. Part of me wished I had some amphetamines or something similar. I couldn't afford to allow my mental acuity to drop too far, I had a lot to do before the night was over.
The day seemed to stretch out longer than any other day in memory. At one point, after the rest of my staff had left for the day, I laid down in our break room, and took a short nap, hoping that a little rest might revitalize my waning mind. Later, right as the clock struck 10, I gathered my bomb and made my way to the penthouse office of Charles Hudson. My nerves were on edge the whole way up the stairs. This would be my first time in that room in over 22 years, and I still had bad memories of the time I spent there.
Exiting the stairs, I was amazed at how familiar everything still felt. Even with the decor change, it was impossible to change everything. The office still reminded me of that horrible night. It was quite possibly the last time I had felt happy in a long while, even if now all it did was fill me with an unspeakable rage. The room itself was massive, filling the entire floor from wall to wall. Large windows surrounded it on all sides, providing an almost perfect 360 degree view of Supara, and the surrounding areas. Off to the west, you could see the Pacific Ocean lapping at the shores, a few smaller crafts docked at the marina jostled by the choppy waters.
Far away against the northern wall, sat a large desk a large chair that made me think of a Bond villain dominated the far side. Not far from the desk, a fully stocked bar sat, low light illuminating the multitude of top shelf liqueurs. Looking at the bar, I could only think of the many drinks I had had on that fateful night, and my stomach churned. That man's face dominated my memory, and all I could think about was my desire to stab him in the face.
I shook my head, striving to banish the sudden flash of anger. I needed to focus on the task at hand. I made haste to Charles' desk, hoping that I had made my device slim enough to fit underneath it undetected. I crouched down in the footwell, hoping to slide it in, set it, and get out of here.
As I inspected the desk, looking for a spot to hide the bomb, I heard the slow, steady sound of clapping hands from the other side. I peaked over the desk, and my heart sank like a lead balloon. There, standing only a few feet away, was Charles Hudson. The look on his face was impassive, but his eyes spoke of a rage that I could easily relate to. “What might you be doing in my office, Mr. Parks? The doors are locked for a reason, you know.”
I fell back against the massive leather chair. My bomb, temporarily forgotten about, sat under his desk, hidden from view. “Why Mr. Hudson, I wasn't expecting to see you here tonight...”
“Cut the charade, Parks.” The corners of his mouth twisted into a cruel grin. “Or did you prefer to be called Miss Grant?”
“How could you...” My mind raced as I looked back over my time at Hudway, seeing if there had ever been a time that I might have given myself away.
“You insult my intelligence, Parks.” He chuckled, “You honestly think that after I created Hudway, that I wasn't expecting you to come to me? You threatened my life, of course I was going to be wary. Your late nights, raised my suspicions, to be sure, but it wasn't until last night with you and Gary that I knew for sure.”
My eyes went wide, as I realized my folly. “Gary reported the missing key, didn't he?
“My employees, with a few notable exceptions, tend to be fairly loyal to our organization, Mr. Parks.” He shook his head slowly, and let out a cold, mirthless laugh. “You know, seeing you there, tt's hard to imagine that you are the girl that was practically throwing herself at me.”
He arched an eyebrow, and leaned on his desk.“ Tell me, Mr. Parks, were you genuinely attracted to me back then? Are you still attracted to me? How does that even work?”
I glared at him with the rage that had simmered inside me all these years. With a growl of anger, I reached under the desk and pulled the bomb out, clutching it to my chest. “If you know all about me, and what I've been doing, you have to realize that all I have to do is flip a switch, and both of us are vaporized. I'm pretty sure only one of us will get to enjoy the memory.”
“Mr. Parks...”He paused, a thoughtful expression on his face. “You know, I think we know each other well enough. Can I just call you Jack?”
He turned his back on me, and headed toward a bar. “Jack, do you really believe I would let you just walk in here with a bomb that actually works? I mean, that is honestly rather hurtful to think you would think so lowly of me. As soon as products started going missing, we started tracking it our inventory even more closely. It took only a matter of days to pinpoint your device. I had the chemical component traded out months ago.”
I stared down at the device in my hands. Nothing looked like it had been tampered with, but I don't know if I could be sure. “You're bluffing, Hudson.”
He shook his head as he poured himself a tumbler full of scotch, “You seem to take great joy in underestimating me? You're very lucky that you amuse me.” He turned and proffered the glass, already reaching for another glass for himself. “Now, I seem to recall you had a bit of a love for the drink. It's no champagne, but this is a damn fine bottle of scotch. I had it imported from Scotland for a special occasion. I'd say that this qualifies, wouldn't you? Sit down, drink with me, and we can talk this out like adults.”
When I made no move to grab the glass, he shrugged, and took a long slow sip. He smiled and let out a small sigh. “Well, since we can't be adults about this, here's what is going to happen. You're going to put down your worthless “incendiary' device. Then, we're taking you back down to the labs again. Results from last time were inconclusive. Fortunately, you are here again for us to study.”
I glared at him. Hatred filled my mind, and on a whim, I flipped the switch to activate the bomb with a short timer. I have to admit, I absolutely dreaded the feeling of being blown up, but to know that I have found retribution for what he did to me, I was willing to bear it. Being able to sleep soundly in the next life will be all the reward I need. The seconds ticked away, and he just stood there, idly sipping at his scotch, taking time to savor the flavor, as imminent destruction approached.
I braced myself for an explosion, but it never came. Thirty seconds passed and the only indication that the timer had worked at all was a light hiss. Suddenly, a thick gray cloud puffed out around the bomb, surrounding me. I coughed a bit as I inhaled whatever it was that came out, and promptly recoiled from the bitter stench. I fell backwards over his large leather chair, coughing more in an attempt to get that acrid scent to go away. It lingered, I felt coated in whatever it was.
“You know, this binary system you created is actually rather ingenious, Jack.” He stepped around the desk, and loomed over me. “As it turns out, not only is it a great way to make an explosive device, it is also a outstanding way to aerosolize a new experimental sedative agent. It should prove to be a great surgical anesthetic, should this test work. I warned you I had traded out the explosive compounds, didn't I Jack? You really should have listened. Now... If the boys down in the lab are right, you should be losing consciousness...”
He was right. My eyelids seemed to have been weighted down with lead.
I struggled to get to my feet, but my legs suddenly felt like jelly.
I glared up at him, as light started to fade away. The colors of the world drained away into a horrible muted monochrome.
Blackness descended upon me, gripping me in what I assumed would be the temporary embrace of death. I knew as consciousness faded, that I had failed.
I was shocked to wake up, and not be in a new body. I found myself in a cold room, my back hurt from being pressed against what felt like a metal slab. I tried to sit up, only to feel the cold metal wrapped tightly around me, holding me fast to a cold slab. Taking a moment to try and assess the situation, I could feel 12 different metal straps holding me down, leaving me almost completely immobile. My mind flashed back to a time during the early 16th century, when I was placed on the rack. Despite the knowledge of my imminent rebirth, I felt the onset of panic. I struggled against the restraints frantically, knowing deep within that this struggle was futile.
Charles stepped into view, dressed like some demented coroner. Gone were was the suit and tie, replaced with a rubber apron, and some sort of sterile body suit. “I see you've finally woken up. I was beginning to think I might have to start the fun while you were still out cold. That sedative packs quite a wallop, wouldn't you say? Hudway is going to make millions off this one.”
“Please just go ahead and kill me. Death is far more pleasant than listening to you blather on.” I spoke through gritted teeth. “You know as well as I do, it doesn't end here.”
“Indeed, and I look forward to killing you next time.” He paused and rolled something closer to the table, the sound of metal casters rolling against a tile floor. He picked up a scalpel and waved it in front of my face. “And if things go well, perhaps even a time after that. Before I leave this mortal coil, perhaps you will help me find a way to escape it. Imagine my brilliance, untethered by the constraints of time.”
I groaned, and stared up at the surgical lights above my head. The harsh brightness was blinding, but I welcomed the distraction. “You don't want this curse. If I could give it up, I would do so in a heartbeat. But I will be damned if I ever let you live on like this.”
He obviously was not listening, his mind already wondering to some other subject. “I wonder. What exactly is the mechanism of your rebirth? If you die 2 minutes later, will a different body be given to you? Is there a grace period? Is there some kind of genetic marker that makes each of these bodies specifically suited to house your mind? Is there some preordained progression of bodies? So many questions.”
I clamped my jaw shut, and let my mind roam, listening only vaguely to his mad rambling. I practiced the breathing exercises I had helped to perfect in a previous life. I tried to divorce my mind from my body, to leave the realm of physical sensation behind and just will my body to die before whatever insanity he had planned came to fruition.
That came to a violent end, when the scalpel came slicing across my chest. Searing pain erupted, as flush was split by surgical steel. Despite my best efforts, I let out a scream.
“You do not get to ignore me, Jack. Do you understand? I'm trying to unlock the secrets of the universe here. I need you to pay attention.” There was a cruel gleam in his eyes, as if he took some sort of sadistic glee from my pain. “Now, if you'd just give up your secrets, we can be done with all of this, and I can just let you die quickly.”
“I don't know how this works.” I spoke through teeth gritted against the pain. “I told you everything I know the last time you decided to torture me. Hell, I told you everything I knew the last time we just talked. Do you think that I learned some monumental bit of information in this lifetime? For the love of the gods, man! I can't even remember my original name, what makes you think I know how any of this works?”
He placed his face inches from my own, pressing the blade of the scalpel to my cheek. “Well then, it looks like we'll just have to do this the hard way.” He moved away, leaving a small trail of blood running down my cheek. “You'd notice, if you could turn your head that is, that you are currently hooked up to some of the most advanced medical diagnostic machines available. Several advances that you helped to pioneer, in fact. As I kill you, I will be getting readings from your brain and your heart. Similarly, while you are dying, I'll be withdrawing samples of your blood, time stamping them and sending them off to be tested. If there is a neurological or chemical reason for your powers, we'll find it this time.”
I felt the scalpel press against my chest again, and braced myself for the pain I knew was coming. “Now. Shall we begin the vivisection?”
My screams echoed against the walls of the surgical suite, as he began his psychotic surgery. Then came the blessed darkness.