December 20th, 2016
Night grew upon the house.
A girl crouched outside the gate, stalking the shadow that moved nearby. It had arrived first, but for some reason, remained outside.
The girl didn’t like fighting someone from Invergence. Doing so required a completely backwards thought process in combat. When you would normally expect a retreat, they would attack. When you expect them to fight, they would find a way to trick you. The Invergence were masters of the unexpected, not because they planned it that way, but because they simply thought…backward. As she observed the shadow, it moved. Too big to be a human, she thought, but too calculating to be a large animal. She reconsidered confronting it; more information was needed before she could fight. Had Invergence found a demon to do their dirty work?
There was flickering light inside the house. Someone was there, multiple someones. The girl shifted her feet, barely taking her eyes off the lurking shadow for a…Where had it gone?
Cursing, the girl rose and ran quietly to the door. As she approached, sounds of laughter and conversation filtered through the windows. She cursed again; this was going to complicate things. The shadow must not have wanted to cause a scene, or it would have busted into the house and killed everyone inside. Doing something like that would cause too much risk to the timeline. Thank heaven Invergence respected that at least, she thought with some relief.
The girl arrived at the door and paused, not exactly sure what she had planned on doing there. But with the sounds of a social gathering inside, she did the most sensible thing: she knocked.
Smiling faces greeted her at the door, and the girl squinted at the light from within. She smiled, pretending to be just another friend, and they let her in like nothing was wrong. They all assumed that someone else knew the newcomer, and gave her no extra thought. The girl walked through the crowd, trying to find the couple she was looking for. Most of the friends were female, and many carried wrapped presents of various sizes. Some were unwrapped revealing gifts suited for a baby girl. She still had no idea what so many people were doing in the house, but she pretended to belong and no one suspected otherwise.
After a few moments looking around the room—she didn’t find them. So she moved to the kitchen area—and there they were. Katariina Rios, resting on the dining-room chair, while her husband Sergio retrieved some cookies from the oven. The girl took a moment to stare at the couple. It had been so long.
Katariina jumped slightly as she felt her little girl kick. She let out a slow breath and smiled at her belly. This was the week; her doctor said the baby was behaving wonderfully and, if all went well, wouldn’t require any special help in the delivery. It was a textbook pregnancy. Unfortunately, that also included the textbook side-effects. Her swollen ankles ached from moving around the house so much today. Honestly, she just wished everyone would leave.This whole party had been her husband’s idea, sort of like a second baby shower closer to her delivery date. She had gone along with it, but that was before she felt like popping.
She sat conversing with her neighbor, Jessica, while her husband took cookies out of the oven. After he transferred them to a plate she motioned him over to snatch one before he took them to the living room for their guests. As he left, she noticed a small, blonde-haired girl in her late teens observing her from the doorway. The girl had on a black leather jacket over a plain t-shirt and jeans. Katariina didn’t know the girl, and assumed she must have accompanied one of the others. But there was something familiar about her. Katariina couldn’t put her finger on it. When the girl caught her staring she blushed and looked away then stepped back into the living room. Katariina quickly refocused her attention on Jessica who was saying something about the first time a child says “mama.” After a little while she decided to move to a more comfortable location in the living room.
As she entered the well-lit room, she spotted the same girl, engaged in hesitant conversation with Mia, who seemed to be doing most of the talking. The girl looked over at her, but then seemed to become more engaged in the conversation. Katariina found a spot on the couch and sat. She put back her head and let every muscle relax.
She stayed there for the rest of the evening, making polite conversation here and there. Soon she became tired and it was time for people to start leaving, and yet they took their sweet time doing so. After another hour, only the blonde girl and a few others remained. Kat was about to cross the room to talk to the girl, when they heard a knock at the door.
The back door.
The knock came slowly and with a lot of force—bang—Bang—Bang! Kat frowned, who would be knocking so loud on the back door? Perhaps a guest had locked themselves out? Sergio got up to open the door, just as the knock came again, louder than before. Kat looked around the room to see who was missing. She then noticed the blonde girl standing up and eyeing the door suspiciously.
The knock came a third time. Sergio moved to open it, but the girl quickly moved to intercept.
“Don’t answer that,” she said in a raised voice. The knock came a fourth time. Then a fifth time—and a sixth. It was like the knocker was trying to imitate what people usually do when they knock on a door, with no real idea how to perform such a seemingly simple task. Kat felt a chill down her spine. Something told her it wasn’t a guest knocking.
“Everyone,” the girl spoke again, “the party is over, Kat and Sergio need you to leave. Please go.” Only two guests were left. The blonde girl quickly herded them towards the door. Both guests muttered indignantly but did as asked. Kat felt a stab of annoyance. Who did this girl think she was? And also, how did she know their names? Was she a friend of Sergio?
But her husband seemed just as clueless when he asked, “Excuse me, who are you?”
“You are both in danger,” she said as if she hadn’t heard him.
The knock continued, louder now.
“I need you to leave the room,” the girl said. As she spoke, she unearthed an object that looked like a large ring from a pouch on her belt.
“I’m sorry, we don’t even know who you are,” Kat said, “Sergio, answer the door.”
“No!” The girl raised her voice as Sergio approached the back door, “listen, I can’t explain now, but whatever is on the other side of that door is…”
BANG! The door burst inward.
Kat and Sergio recoiled as a massive form stepped into the room. It hunched over as its head brushed the ceiling. From a height of what must have been eight feet, its limbs hung disproportionate to its body, with massive hands that supported long, thin claws. Its face looked like it had once been human, but was now grotesque and shriveled like it had lied face-down in a dirty swamp for hours. Its whole body bore a sickly dark-orange color. For a moment, all they could do was stare at this monster as it ducked through the doorway. Then its eyes found Kat.
The massive form moved towards her with surprising agility. Kat screamed and fell backwards onto the couch in her attempt to escape. Sergio broke through his disbelief at seeing a monster in their house, and moved to help her. But the beast was already bearing down on Kat.
Suddenly it froze.
They had forgotten the blonde girl. She stood resolute between the monster and Kat, though how she had intercepted so quickly, Kat did not know. She no longer sported the clothes that she had worn into the house. Instead, she wore dazzling white with a flowing white cape. Emblazoned on her chest and the back of her cape was a golden symbol Kat had never seen before with the letters A and F combined together within a circle. For a moment, everyone stared, including the monstrous intruder. Then it snarled and lunged at the girl. She sidestepped so fast, it almost looked like she had materialized next to her original position. The monster’s fists tore a hole in the floor.
“Run!” the girl screamed.
They ran. Sergio did his best to help his wife as they stumbled past the front door and to their car. She couldn’t move very fast, and the exertion really took everything out of her. Loud bangs and flashes of light came from inside the house as they scrambled into the car. The girl was obviously holding off the creature somehow.
Sergio put the car in reverse and slammed the accelerator. Soon they were on the road, leaving the bangs and flashes behind. Both Kat and her husband were breathing heavily.
“What,” exclaimed Sergio, “was that?!”
“I have no idea,” answered Kat as they looked back the way they had come.
Her mind was racing with questions. They had just witnessed something impossible. Something out of a horror movie, or one of those tropey superhero films her husband loved so much. For the first time in her life, she wondered if she was dreaming. Her baby was restless, and Kat did her best to control her breathing and help calm the baby. She felt a small contraction, very similar to the fake contractions she’d had recently. Please, not now, she thought. This would be the absolute worst time to go into labor. It hadn’t been a large contraction though, so she put it out of her mind. Her husband concerned her more at the moment. He had his eyes fixed on the road, but otherwise looked like he was having a panic attack. Breaking all speed laws, they merged onto the highway towards Washington D.C.
“Where are you going?” Kat asked her husband.
“D.C.” he replied.
“Uh…I don’t know, it just seems safer there. National security and all.”
Kat changed the subject, “who was that girl; did she look familiar to you?”
Sergio thought for a moment, the adrenaline finally wearing off, “now that you mention it, she did look familiar. A bit like your sister.”
Kat’s younger sister, Ansa, still lived with her parents in Oregon. They hadn’t visited in a few years, but Kat realized that Sergio was right. The mysterious girl did look like her sister, though there were obvious differences.
She wondered for a moment if they would see the girl again, assuming that monster hadn’t torn her apart. Kat shuddered just thinking about it.
They sat in silence for a few minutes as they merged onto the beltway, then deeper into D.C. It was 9 PM and the traffic wasn’t too bad, but they were still forced to slow down. It wasn’t too long before Kat felt another contraction, similar to the first. She took a moment to breathe. She could get through this.
Eventually they stopped at a red light and a knock sounded on Kat’s window. They both yelled.
Standing outside of their car, was the blonde girl.
She motioned them to let her in. Sergio unlocked the doors and stared as the girl slid into the back seat. She was back in the jacket and jeans they had seen her in when she first arrived at the house.
“How…what? How did you get here?” he stammered.
“Really, that’s your question? You just saw a demon and can’t believe that I just ran 20 miles faster than your car?” She collapsed into the seat, visibly exhausted.
The girl chuckled through her exhaustion. “A little trick I picked up recently. Just—just give me a moment and I’ll explain.”
“Please tell us your name at least,” said Kat.
The girl looked thoughtful for a moment. “I can’t tell you my real name right now.” she said regretfully, “You’ll probably figure it out eventually. For now, call me Kira.”
Kat let the matter drop as they drove on for a few minutes. But more questions piled up in Kat’s mind, and it seemed Sergio felt the same because a few minutes later he asked, “Do you mind explaining what that monster was?”
“It was a demon from the planet Illadar,” responded Kira, “but it’s not the worst of our problems right now.”
“A what? A demon? As in hell? Are you kidding?” exclaimed Sergio, “what could be worse?” He broke off and looked about to hyperventilate, “HOW IS THIS ALL REAL?! Also, what’s this about a planet Illiad—”
“Illadar,” Kira corrected.
“Whatever,” said Sergio, “You’re saying there are more inhabited planets out there.”
“It’s not very important at the moment,” said Kira,
“ARE YOU KIDDING! We, you and us, finally have proof that there’s intelligent life outside of Earth, and you say that’s not a big deal?”
Kira smiled, “A teacher of mine once said, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
“Shakespeare said that,” countered Sergio.
“Yup,” responded Kira.
Kat let all of this wash over her. Unlike her husband, she seemed unusually calm. In truth, she was probably just in shock, not fully able to comprehend everything that she was learning. Perhaps, after she had a few days to process it all, she’d start freaking out. Sergio looked like he was giving up. There was simply too much. Instead he focused back on their current dilemma.
“So why isn’t the demon important?” he finally said.
“Oh it’s important, just not how you think. It doesn’t matter where it is from—but rather why it’s here. Demons like that never reach Earth on their own. Someone picked it up and sent it here.”
That caused Sergio to stop and think. Katariina, however, spoke up.
“Who would want to come after us? What have we done?”
“They’re not after you, they’re after your unborn baby girl.”
And with that, Kira began to explain everything.
“I am part of an organization called Argo Force. We’re time travellers. Our mission is to improve the timeline where we can, to help others, and bring healing wherever possible. You’ll find us in all eras of the world, anywhere on the timeline. Some of us resemble what you call superheroes, with extraordinary powers we get from one source or another. Like how I was able to run faster than your car. But that’s rather uncommon. Most members are just ordinary people trying to do their best to make the world a better place.”
Both Kat and Sergio were listening intently, eager for answers. Kat’s first impulse was to laugh at the ridiculous story. Superheros? Time travel? It was ridiculous. However, she would have said the same about large humanoid monsters just hours earlier, and now her mind seemed open to greater possibilities.
Kira continued, “Unfortunately, we’re not the only intelligent beings with the ability to time-travel. There’s another group we call Invergence, a sort of…reverse version of Argo Force. It was they who sent the demon to your home.”
“And why are they after our Alice?” Kat said her child’s name for the first time, placing a hand on her belly.
“Because of what she will become,” explained Kira, “because one day, your daughter will become a Founder of Argo Force.”
She seemed lost in thought for a moment, so Sergio interjected, “Wait, you’re saying our child will help found an organization that already exists?”
That’s right,” said Kira, “Time travel is weird that way. In fact, in my lifetime I still haven’t seen your Alice at the age where she becomes a Founder.”
“What do you mean?” Sergio asked, “She hasn’t even been born yet.”
But Kat thought she understood, “You’re saying you’ve met an older version of our daughter, after she’s born?”
The girl looked at her and nodded. “She has already become a member of Argo Force, but not yet a Founder. And she doesn’t really think of herself as a Founder. At least not when I know her. It’s especially weird because she’s destined to Found an organization that she’s already attending. Again, time travel. I advise you not to think about it too much. It can get very convoluted.”
Indeed Kat’s head was already starting to hurt. And that wasn’t the only thing. A third contraction had started. She tried not to let her pain show as Sergio continued to question the girl.
“So this Invergence,” he said, still staring out at the road as he drove, “They want to kill our daughter.”
Kira sighed, “I’m not sure if they want to kill her or raise her as their own. My guess is the former, given the fact that they sent a demon after you. But perhaps they would settle for either.”
They drove in silence for a time until Kat looked out the window to find they had already made it to downtown Washington D.C. near the National Mall. Kira also looked out and took a deep breath.
“Good,” she said, “Park near the capital. Invergence is just as careful about disrupting the timeline as we are. In a busy city, especially a capital city, they should keep a low profile.”
At nearly 10 PM, there were still plenty of people roaming the streets. Sergio found a place to park and shut down the engine. Kat quickly exited the car, grateful to stretch her legs, get some fresh air, and hopefully keep her body from going into labor. She slowly exhaled after closing the car door, all too conscious of the enormity of her belly. For a moment, she paused to take in everything Kira had told her. She rested a hand on her abdomen. Would her daughter actually be that important? Kat felt a sudden feeling of pride. Her daughter was going to be someone special. With that pride also came a stream of worries. After all, being a “superhero” meant her daughter would be in a lot of dangerous situations, right? Who would watch over her? Would she and her husband still be around when this happened?
She looked out towards the capital building, bright lights illuminating it from all sides, and her concern quickly increased. Katariina’s parents had sacrificed a lot so that she might live here: the land of opportunity. As an immigrant from Argentina, her husband had done the same. She knew now what that kind of sacrifice felt like. Right now, she would do anything for her daughter, and she would likely sacrifice much. After tonight, life would not be the same. Kira hadn’t said as much, but Kat realized that returning home was probably out of the question. With Invergence after them, they would have to keep moving. Sergio seemed to be thinking along the same lines.
“So where do we go from here,” he said, “we can’t go home.”
“No,” Kira confirmed, “Unfortunately it will not be an easy road. You will need new identities. You will need to stay in quiet places.”
“I thought a busy city was a good thing.” said Sergio.
“It is, but it also makes it easy for them to track you. Remember, these people travel through time. They have unlimited access to cameras, phone records, credit card transactions, you name it. They probably know exactly where you are right now.”
“Then why aren’t they doing anything about it?” asked Kat, “because it could affect the timeline?”
Kira nodded, “And because I’m here. But that won’t hold them for long.”
Suddenly Katariina felt a sharp pain in her lower back and abdomen. She had felt the contractions before during their drive, but this was a much more. She bent over and started breathing long, deep breaths. That was when her water broke. Kat almost sobbed, knowing what was about to happen.
“Honey,” Sergio looked concerned, “Are you okay?”
After a few minutes, the pain slowly subsided, and Kat leaned back against the car. “I, uh, I think—”
“We need to move,” said Kira staring off at the Mall. Kat followed her gaze and saw two, no three, men in suits approaching.
Sergio cursed and opened the door for Kat, who ducked inside as quickly as she could. Sergio sprang to the other side of the car, got inside, and started the ignition. Kira was already in the backseat. Then, another contraction caused Kat to grit her teeth in pain. There hadn’t been much time between contractions.
“Sergio,” she said, “We need to find a hospital.”
“Ah,” Sergio looked like he was about to panic, “Now is really not a good time.”
“Oh good, I’ll just stop having my baby then!” Kat said through gritted teeth.
“The George Washington University Hospital isn’t far from here,” instructed Kira, “Take a left.”
The men in suits chased after them. One mounted a motorcycle and gained on them. Kira began fishing in her pockets again.
“Stay on this road until you come parallel to the Lincoln memorial, then take a right and keep on that road until you reach the roundabout. The hospital is right there, you can’t miss it.” With that, she jumped out of the moving car, right into the path of the motorcycle.
There was a flash of light, and the man in the suit flew from the bike. Kat looked behind only to see Kira facing the men head-on.
“That girl really is something!” Sergio shouted, voicing Kat’s own thoughts. They soon reached the Lincoln memorial and took a right turn. After a few blocks, Sergio spotted the hospital entrance and quickly pulled in. He was just helping Kat out of the car when another contraction hit. This one was more painful. She was definitely in active labor.
Inside, Sergio called for help and a nurse quickly brought a wheelchair for Kat. Sergio was asked to fill out some paperwork, which he rushed to complete before joining his wife in the maternity ward. The doctors had already prepped Kat, who was red-faced but breathing steadily. He took her hand.
An hour passed. Two hours. Sergio looked out the door window and saw Kira motioning to him. He quickly stepped outside.
“You’re back,” he said, “What happened?”
“Well your wife went into labor.” replied Kira with a grin.
Sergio chuckled despite his stress. “And Invergence?”
“I held them off for now, but they’re coming back, a lot of them. I’ve sent for help.”
Sergio sighed, “Thank you,” he said, “we’d be dead if you hadn’t come along.”
Kira smiled, “Believe it or not, I owe you a lot more.” She paused, as though reaching for the right words. “Your daughter, Alice, she always speaks highly of you. You are what gives her strength.”
Sergio let that sink in, and nodded. “If you see her again, tell her we love her.”
“I will. But you can tell her yourself in a few more hours.”
“You know when she is born?” Sergio asked.
Kira nodded, “Just before dawn.”
Suddenly, Kira opened a pouch on her belt. “I have a few parting gifts.” She presented several small objects to Sergio. “Here are your new identities,” She said handing him a small metal box. Serio opened the box to find several papers, including passports for multiple countries and under multiple names.
She brought out a small plastic credit card.
“Oh, I couldn’t accept any money from you.”
“Unfortunately you have to,” she replied, “Invergence can track your card, and besides, this card has unlimited funds. A little perk of working for Argo Force; we have as much local currency as we need. Use it wisely; big expenses will draw unwanted eyes.”
Sergio accepted the card. That left one more item.
Kira held up a ring, with a circular symbol etched in it. Within the symbol was a stylish A.F. for Argo Force.
“Few people outside of Argo Force have ever possessed one of these,” she explained. “If you need us, you can call us with this ring. But only use it in extreme emergencies.”
Sergio took the ring. To the girl’s surprise, he flung both arms around her in a hug. She hugged him back. “Thank you,” Sergio repeated. They broke the hug and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. She wiped at them hurriedly.
“I have to get back outside. More agents will be arriving shortly, and I think they’re bringing more demons.”
“Will you be okay?” he said, brows furrowed.
“I’ll be fine.” she said and sniffed, “the others will have arrived by now and we’re building a perimeter. No one from Invergence will enter this hospital tonight.”
Sergio opened the door to go back to his wife. Kira took one last look inside at Katariina as she lay, red-faced, on the bed. She turned to leave.
“Will we see you again?” Sergio called after her.
She turned and smiled, “I guarantee it.”
That night, few were aware of the battle that raged outside of George Washington University Hospital. Most people who happened to be nearby, suddenly found themselves lost in thought or with a strong urge to be somewhere else. The very few who did remain saw wonders they would later explain away as a dream, or optical illusions. But most suffered from a strange forgetfulness that left them dazed. No one would remember what happened that night, except those who participated.
Dark figures advanced on a ring of people surrounding the hospital. People dressed in shimmering white, some with flowing white capes, and a golden AF emblazoned on their chests. For hours, the white heroes contended with the dark horde of men and demons. Observers heard loud bangs, and saw bright flashes of light. Most shrugged it off as merely thought it was a nasty, unexpected winter storm. Once again, a strange power kept them from truly seeing, truly hearing the night’s events.
Soon, after hours of conflict, only the figures in white remained. The bodies of their enemies, and some of their friends, lay strewn around them. But they had won. The first light of dawn began rising in the east. One of them, a blonde girl in white, turned towards the hospital, listening as if to hear the cry of a newborn child. Little Alice, the last Founder of Argo Force, had just taken her first breath. As quietly as the wind, the girl who called herself Kira was gone.
Hours later, a couple emerged with their newborn baby. They had no place to go, no one to guide them. The mother needed rest, but they could not return home. The father helped his wife climb into their car, cradling their newborn girl in her arms. Then they drove west, away from the city, and away from the life they had known. Fresh snow began to fall.