The watchtower recognized her before the transmitter in her head sent the signal to the computers to open the slender door at one end of the gate. The gate was more of a wall nearly twenty meters tall, built to separate the ruined part of the city from the area where the rest of civilization existed.
She hadn’t seen any other signs of activity as she headed for the exit. If headquarters caught any more shadows, they would send another Troller in, knowing she had been called back for another purpose.
Dwan scoured her memory and tried to remember if she knew of another Troller who had been jerked away in mid-duty. She came up blank, but it didn’t bother her. Maybe it was more common than she thought. The fact that she’d never heard of such a thing didn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Before slipping through the gate, she took a cautious look over her shoulder. It was habit, but unnecessary at this point. If Gate Central got wind of a demon in hiding and waiting for the moment when a Troller or other human would pass through before it tried to escape, the door would remain sealed until its presence was no longer detected. Still, glancing back at the road behind her was an ingrained habit, and one that had saved her ass on more than one occasion.
The inner shields hissed loudly as she passed through the barrier. Only when she was safely on the other side of the wall did she finally holster her weapon. Rexx ran up to meet her.
“Dirrin sent me to fetch you,” the young man informed her breathlessly. Apparently he had run all the way from HQ. His eyes widened at the sight of the yellow smears on the front of her shirt, knowing she had been inside the wall less than an hour.
Dwan frowned. “Yeah. Is he the one who pulled me off duty?”
Rexx jerked his gaze away from the stains and looked up at her. “Yeah.” He took off without looking to see if she was tailing him.
She broke into a trot to keep pace with the messenger, all the way to the single-story building three blocks over. Along the way, she caught the eye of people going about their daily business. Most of them gave her a smile and a wave, which she ignored. Trollers were lauded as heroes in this day and age, placed above the police, the fire fighters, and even the military. The status was not something she enjoyed, but the accolades were unavoidable. Where the police and fire fighters risked their lives every day to keep the human community safe, and the military did their stint to protect the populace from demon attacks, the Trollers actually battled the demons which had overrun the Lambruchet corporation. Trollers didn’t just risk their own lives, they risked losing their souls, as well as their sanity.
The area was pretty busy, considering only authorized personnel were allowed to roam and work this close to the wall. The main part of the city where the rest of civilization lived and worked was another wall away. Dwan walked through another barrier before entering headquarters. Her suspicions proved correct when she followed the messenger straight to the director’s office. What she didn’t expect was the number of high-ranking people, scientists included, also standing around outside the office.
Dirrin nodded as she entered. “You made good time. Thanks, Dwan.”
“I’d just gone on duty. I wasn’t too far from the wall when you called me in.” She glanced around the room. “What’s going on?”
A woman she didn’t know ripped open a sterile packet and handed her the cloth. Dwan knew what it was for without having to be told. She quickly wiped the demon blood from the front of her jumpsuit, ignoring the stain that would permanently mark it. Dwan tossed the rag into the container marked with the little nuclear waste symbol.
“Would you like something to drink?” a man asked. She knew him, but his name eluded her at the moment.
“Yeah. Please. Thanks.”
“Take a seat, Dwan,” Dirrin ordered her. Not asked, ordered. She knew that serious tone all to well, although she had been lucky in the past not to have been on the receiving end of it. Looked like her luck had run out. She took the one deliberately left unoccupied chair in the room.
The man quickly got to the heart of the matter. “Dwan, what do you know of the BENT project?”
“Just the name. I don’t know what it means, or what it entails.”
The man who had inquired about something to drink stepped forward to hand her a pouch. Dwan thanked him and drank. It was real spring water, fresh and sweet. Not the re-filtered stuff. They waited for her to finish before continuing. When they did, it was the water man who took the lead.
“It’s the acronym for Biological Entity Neuron Transmitter.”
His name popped up in her head. Nickkels. Still, it didn’t mean anything to her. The scientists kept to themselves within their own little enclave at the far end of the second circle. She gave him a blank stare.
“Think time travel,” Nickkels added.
“All right. I’m thinking time travel. Which way? Forwards or backwards?”
There were eight people in the room. With a wave of the director’s arm, that number filed down to four: her, Nickkels, Dirrin, and the woman scientist who had handed her the sterile wipe.
“This is Phoebe,” Nickkels introduced.
“Assistant?” Dwan asked.
The woman smiled. “Co-creator.” Although the smile had been genuine, Dwan caught a trace of bitterness behind it. Apparently a lot of people must take her for Nickkels’ assistant.
Crossing her legs, Dwan rested her arms on the arms of the chair and tried to look relaxed. “Forwards or backwards?” she repeated.
Phoebe replied. “Back.”
“If we can manage, forty-seven years ago,” Dirrin answered.
“And you’re telling me this because...” She already had a lump of ice freezing the inside of her stomach. It was beginning to chill her blood, numbing her senses as it deadened her nerve endings. They had called her in to tell her about this project that few had heard of, and which practically no one ever spoke of, because it was supposed to be all hush-hush. Which told her BENT was marked in the upper echelons as Top Top Secret. Or higher. Was there such a thing as Top Top Top Secret?
Regardless, Dwan knew what was coming. In a way, the wait was almost worse than stalking demons.
“We’ve come to the point where we either go ahead with the project, or shut it down,” Nickkels admitted. “BENT was created to send a human back through time.”
“Back forty-seven years?” She looked over at the woman scientist. “Forty-seven years ago was when Lambruchet imploded and its demons took over the planet.”
Phoebe nodded. “We know. That’s why we want to send someone back to try and warn the corporation before that happens.”
“Warn it? Or stop it?”
Phoebe’s face hardened. “Either. Whatever you can manage.”
“Me?” Stunned, Dwan looked around, but the same determined look was on everyone’s face. At the last possible second, she had realized the truth. But hearing the words come from their mouths still surprised her. “You...you want me to change the past so that this future doesn’t happen? Is that what you’re saying you want me to do? Is it even possible?”
“We’re hoping it is,” Dirrin said.
Dwan sat up straighter. The coldness had seeped into her face, making her skin feel like an immobile mask reflecting her rising fear. “And I’m the lucky person who got tapped to go back?”“Yeah,” Nickkels responded with a half-hearted smile. “Tag, you’re it. Congratulations.”