The Armageddon Equation Chapter 4
By Stealth Noodle
"Where should I begin?" Steena mused, moving to stand opposite from where Serge sat on his bed. He watched her, noting the slight creasing of her forehead and pursing of her lips, and shifted into a more comfortable position. It looked like he was in for a long story.
At last her expression cleared, and she made eye contact with him again. "How much has Radius told you?"
"About Miguel and the Porre army," Serge replied. And Leena, he added silently, but he didn't want to think about that. Not now. "He also said I'm here because you think I'm the only one who can use the Chrono Cross."
Steena smiled faintly. "We're selfish, I know," she said, with more than a hint of sorrow in her voice. "This isn't your world..."
"It doesn't matter." Serge met her gaze with resolve. "Our worlds are connected." And maybe it's my fault that your Serge died. Shaking his head slightly, he added, "I feel... responsible, somehow."
Nodding, Steena crossed the room and sat beside him on the bed, the fabric of her priestess's clothing flowing with each step. "Thank you," she said softly, then bent her head to look at her hands. "As you may have gathered, I am perhaps the only person left alive in this world who can tap into the natural energy of the planet. Call it 'magic' if you wish; I have no name for it. I serve the memory of gods who seem to have vanished in the tide of steel and gunpowder." She paused, running her fingers absently over the designs of her ceremonial garb. "This world... We've lost touch with the forces of nature. I didn't believe that Serge-- our Serge-- would be able to activate the Chrono Cross. And I could feel your energy across the dimensions, pulsing with the rhythm of the planet's dream. This is why I brought you here."
Serge's hand moved to his belt, resting on an element. "There is still 'magic' on my world," he agreed, "but if the me on this world is-- was-- still me, then wouldn't--"
"We couldn't take that chance." Steena rose and crossed back to the other side of the room, her back to Serge. "If we found the Chrono Cross, and our Serge couldn't use it, then what? I had to make certain that our efforts weren't in vain. And I was hoping..." She turned to face him, her face drawn. "I was hoping you could tell us where to find the Chrono Cross. But Radius tells me you can't."
Serge shrugged apologetically. "It was in this cave on my world." Seeing Steena's eyes darken, he added, "But if you could find a way to let me go back to my own world..."
He trailed off as Steena shook her head. "What I did to bring you here won't work that way," she explained. "You would have to find another means of traveling back and forth."
"So how did you bring me here?" The question, which had been dancing on his tongue ever since he arrived, came out almost before Steena had finished speaking. He would have apologized for interrupting her if he hadn't been so impatient to find out.
She smiled a little at his eagerness. "The planet wanted you here," she said, "or my power alone wouldn't have been enough. As it was, I didn't bring you here so much as exchange you for a citizen of our world. Some sort of dimensional balance must be maintained, after all."
Something about her words made Serge uneasy, but he couldn't pin down what. "So who did you 'exchange' for me?"
Steena had just opened her mouth to answer when the curtain at the entrance to the room flew open.
Night never fell in Arni Base. With the ubiquitous electric lights and general absence of windows, the mind was tricked into believing in a perpetual day, one broken only by the flicking of switches. Leena liked to think of it as preparation for Project Chronopolis.
Tonight (for the outside world still believed in such things), she walked the metal corridors alone, marking her passage with the clicking of her steel-toed boots. Most of the soldiers were either on sleep-shift or assigned to search for the rebel base; the computerized security system required very few human components. She smiled at the steady, even hum of technology that filled the silence as she turned down a narrow hall. So close...
Reaching a steel door, she pressed her palm to the wall-mounted scanner. The system acknowledged her with a whir and slid open the door, sliding it back into place as she cleared the entrance.
In this room, buried deep in the heart of the complex, lay the dream she had inherited from her father. Project Chronopolis: the end of a fractured dream, the assassin of time...
Leena walked to the center of the room, where a gleaming white table was covered with an equally bright white cloth. Beneath it lay the final stage of activation; one more piece, and the project would be complete. Perfect Stasis--
"Madam General!" Norris's voice came over the PA system, starting Leena from her musings. "Madam General, please meet me in main command! I have important news!"
Smiling, Leena turned and exited the chamber, her mind racing with excitement. From Norris's tone, this would be excellent news indeed.
Her amulet glittered in the artificial light.
Security was a joke.
Clearly his counterpart had already begun to take over his life; what few of his comrades he encountered only greeted him with an air of mild surprise and asked him what he was still doing up, to which he had only to reply that he was taking a look around. No, this wouldn't take long at all, and then he could begin to set things back--
bitch watch me tear her fucking heart out
Serge stopped and leaned against one of the stone walls, breathing heavily. He removed his kerchief and used it to mop the sweat from his face and neck. First her, whispered his mind, then the imposter. The words looped through his mind like a mantra, playing harmony to the vital melody in him. He'd never felt so alive. Even the perspiration soaking his bandana seemed to have resulted from excess energy seeping out through his pores, and his thoughts were whirring at twice their normal speed. He retied the kerchief and resumed his walk, his hand hovering over his swallow.
traitor let her bleed out destiny
In the otherwise silent corridor, the sound of their voices carried clear as water. Or perhaps his senses were more attuned; his reflexes felt more fluid than ever, and he wasn't sure he could chalk it all up to a renewed appreciation for life after coming face-to-face with death. Slowing his pace to a sneak, he listened to the sounds drifting from his quarters, catching snatches of the conversation as he drew nearer.
"...forces of nature. I didn't believe that Serge-- our Serge-- would be able to activate the Chrono Cross. And I could feel..."
fucking whore lied betrayed me damn her goddamn her
Panting, scarcely able to control the rage that shot through him like a drug, Serge pressed himself against the wall and gritted his teeth. She'd thought he was expendable-- funny how clear it was when she explained it to someone else. Maybe he didn't have destiny coursing through him; he would crush destiny beneath his heel. And when he activated the Chrono Cross himself, when fate lay bleeding...
kill her break her make her feel what I felt
Was that all he was to them? A back-up plan in case they hadn't gotten a destiny-approved Chrono Trigger from another dimension? Had they ever even made their plans clear to him? They had told him everything... They had kept it all a secret... He knew and he didn't know, and in the same breath his fractured memories resolved themselves into a solid form.
betrayed me rip her apart make her bleed let her suffer what I suffered die bitch die
His molten wrath cooling into iron, Serge drew his swallow and crept to the area just outside his quarters. Almost giddy with energy, he leaned toward the curtain and caught more of the hushed conversation:
"So who did you 'exchange' for me?"
Serge smirked. It was high time for returns.
With a single motion he ripped aside the curtain.
He moved like a flickering shadow.
It was the only impression to register in Serge's mind as he watched, in a paralyzed second, his counterpart from this world dash into the room, weapon gleaming in the lamplight. He's... alive? In the time it took him to recover from the shock, he had the curious feeling that his thoughts were running at full speed while the world sank into slow motion; the hand he willed a thousand times to the elements on his belt moved as if it were submerged in tar. He's attacking us? Why?
In same instant, he saw the dark streak that was the other Serge rush headlong into Steena, knocking her sword away before she could draw it. Even the singing of the metal was distorted.
"Stop!" Serge cried, finally finding control of his voice and holding up the element he had managed to grab. "What the hell are you doing?!" And how the hell can he move like that? "Get away from her or I'll--"
Serge cut himself off when he saw that his counterpart had one end of his swallow pressed to Steena's throat.
A low chuckle came from deep in the other Serge's throat, and he met Serge's horrified gaze with a sneer. "Or you'll what?" he retorted. "Imposter. Traitor." His voice was rising, sending echoes of his hatred into the hall. "You sent me to die!"
Serge's fingers tightened around the element he held. If there were a way to hit him without catching Steena in the crossfire... But would the other Serge react too quickly? Would he shove her into the attack as a human shield?
"I didn't... send you to die." Steena's voice was a shaky whisper-- clearly the blade at her throat was making speech difficult. "Serge... you know I--" She gave a weak cry as the swallow drew a tickle of blood.
"Steena!" Serge clenched his fists helplessly, knowing he had no elements that would injure his enemy and spare his friend. And he's so damn fast...
Come on, guys-- I know you can hear us! Wake up!
"You lied to me!" the other Serge growled, the air around him crackling. "Bitch! You killed me!"
"Oi, Serge, what the bloody hell is goin' on in here?"
Relieved by the sound of his friend's voice, Serge whirled around to see Kid standing in the open entrance, her knife drawn. Shock registered on her face as she took in the scene. "Serge... What..."
A broken scream snapped his attention back to Steena. She lay limply in the other Serge's arms, blood pouring from her slashed throat. His counterpart looked up with a darkly satisfied smirk.
"It changes now," he declared. "This is what is become of your destiny." Opening his arms, he let Steena's body fall unceremoniously to the ground. Brandishing his swallow, he locked eyes with Serge. "You're next."
"Bastard!" Kid rushed to Serge's side, her eyes glowing with rage. "What the fuck--"
"Kid?" The other Serge's sneer vanished, replaced by a confused, almost lost expression. "Kid, you were supposed to save me..."
Gripping his chosen element as if he intended to hurl it through his counterpart's skull, Serge stepped forward and prepared to unleash an attack. "I'll make you pay!" he shouted, raising the orb.
The thunder of footsteps in the hall broke his concentration. Suddenly the other Serge rushed past him in a blur of blue; from the shouts of confusion outside, it appeared that his enemy had made it past his approaching friends, as well. Serge swore and jammed his drawn element back into his belt.
"Shit! Can't believe he just..." Kid sheathed her knife angrily and turned to face Serge, softening her voice as she did. "It's not yer fault, mate. Somethin' happened to him..."
Blinking back tears, Serge met Kid's gaze and saw that she was near tears, as well. They fell together in a clumsy, broken embrace, and everything after that dissolved into grief.
They buried her at dawn, in a spot hidden by the shadows of the mountains. Although everyone had warned him that the land was ravaged beyond hope, Serge had spent two determined, tear-blurred hours before sunrise combing the surround area for any sign of vegetation. Steena would have wanted to be interred beneath a living portion of the planet; he felt responsible for finding at least a patch of grass. But there was nothing, nothing but cracked, arid soil. Nothing but dust.
It was my fault. There must have been something... If I had just attacked them both, maybe she wouldn't have...
Kid had been the one to bring him back for their makeshift funeral. "It's not yer fault, mate," she whispered as Radius sprinkled a final handful of dirt over the gravesite. "Like black lightnin', he was... Damn lucky you're still alive."
I'm responsible for this.
It was a somber group that returned to the Divine Dragon Falls base to discuss the next step.
"Finding the Chrono Cross is now more important than ever," Radius began once they had gathered in a circle inside the meeting tent. Only Zoah and Orlha were absent, stationed near the base's entrance to keep watch. "It is clear that we have more than one enemy on our hands now."
Glenn nodded. "Is he... possessed by something? Some kind of evil spirit?"
"He has to be." Karsh's voice was only a few degrees removed from a growl. "Serge would never have--"
"Maybe a zombie or something?" Marcy suggested. "I mean, he was dead--"
The discussion escalated, spurred the by fresh pain and worry of the circle, but Serge found himself tuning out their words. Something buzzed in the back of his mind-- something the ghostly children in the Dead Sea had told him:
"The future destruction of our planet is going to become a reality in this world once again..."
Was there some reason a dark power would want his counterpart alive? Hadn't those children accused him of being the catalyst for something horrible?
"Everyone worked to save the planet's future for nothing... It's all because of you!"
What if I...?
In the background Radius's voice was a whispery hum: "...must acquire Leena's amulet. As Serge told us, it's our best bet for being able to reach his world..."
"It's all your fault that the world is going to end up like this! It's all your fault, Serge! Murderer!"
There was a reason for his importance-- something going back to the stormy night of his childhood and the instant that he touched the Frozen Flame. The conversation around him faded completely as his mind replayed the past.
"The one who connects with the Frozen Flame, in effect, links with Lavos itself. As the mediator between Lavos and living things, that one will gain extraordinary powers! By binding with the new seed of destruction... the 'Devourer of Time!'"
Serge caught his breath. If he... If he and I are the same, could he...?
"In the far-off future, when the fusion becomes complete, IT will awaken... Then, the Devourer of Time will begin to consume all space-time continua..."
"The vengeance of the future we killed is about to begin... With Serge serving as the trigger..."
Suddenly Serge felt everyone's eyes on him. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud; for a moment he could only stare at them. "It-- it's the other me," he stammered, trying to get control of his voice. "If he is the Chrono Trigger-- if I'm not the only one-- then we've got to stop him. Quickly."
Confusion registered on his friends' faces.
"Yeah," said Kid slowly, "of course we gotta stop him. He's a bloody murderer."
"Not just that." Serge got to his feet and began pacing in agitation. "In my world, there's... Damn, this is complicated..." Taking a deep breath, he stopped and looked at Kid. No. I can't tell her. Not like this. "There's-- there was this thing called the Time Devourer. It's in the darkness beyond time, which I don't really understand, but it was connected somehow to Lavos-- Lavos is complicated-- and it had taken a princess, Schala, and bound her to it. And it was absorbing her."
He looked around to see if he was making sense to everyone. So far they didn't look more bemused than he'd expected, so he took another long breath and continued, "In my world, we freed her before it was too late. To do that, we had to use the Chrono Cross."
"Your actions will determine whether in the future all time is devoured by Lavos, sending the world into everlasting death."
"But I think... This is insane, but I sometimes I got the feeling that Lavos drew me to the Frozen Flame so that I would end up bonded to it someday. If that had happened, the Time Devourer would have awakened in the distant future and destroyed all space and time."
Comprehension lit Radius's face. From across the circle, Glenn locked eyes with Serge and said, "So... If the princess was already lost on our world..."
Radius finished for him, " ...the Time Devourer might been the one who saved this world's Serge in order to bind with him."
Silence descended as everyone processed this bit of information.
"Great," Marcy muttered. "Everyone wants to wreck the world lately." Karsh glared at her.
"Despair and hatred... To return all things to nothingness... That is what IT desires."
Kid leapt to her feet, her arms akimbo. "Well, that settles it, then!" she said. "We gotta get that amulet outta Arni before the bastard starts devourin' time, right? So who's goin' in with me?"
Her proclamation met with a snort from Karsh. "And just how do you intend to infiltrate Arni Base? Their security computers could catch a gnat!"
Kid answered him with a smirk. Following her eyes, Serge saw that her gaze was resting on the elements at his belt. "Oh," she said tossing her head casually, "I think me mate here's got a little surprise for the system..."
The curtain over Serge's window flew open, letting in the morning sunshine. Leena leaned out over the sill and inhaled the fragrance of the sea breeze, letting the sunlight glitter from the amulet around her neck. Humming cheerfully, she turned away from the open window and walked over to the bed, where the occupant was just beginning to stir.
"Good morning," she greeted, smiling. "I found you on the beach when my boyfriend disappeared." The smile faded a bit into bemusement. "It was the strangest thing, too... He just vanished into the air, and then you fell down by my feet..." Leena hesitated, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.
Then, leaning closer, she asked with a soft timbre of hope in her voice, "Do you know where he is?"
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