These time frames are subject to change.
The thing heaved as it sucked in an enormous gasping breath. A couple of Possesseds in the front row of the circle stepped back, and the containment wavered but held. The Eternal smacked its bloodied lips and its eyes blinked open. It continued to rasp breaths as its ribs knit back together, and it looked around as much as it could, frozen in containment as it was. Its eyes fell on Bryan last. Those eyes weren’t hateful or spiteful; they only regarded him coolly. More coolly than the other two times they had looked at him.
“How did you get in here?” Bryan demanded.
She breathed in to speak, and coughed blood out. Then she tried again, and her voice was thick and deep with an accent no one in this world had ever heard. “I broke a window on the eighth floor. Made handholds up the side of the building.”
Of course. He had been silly to blame the guys guarding the lobby. She could carve handholds out of the concrete with manifested energy. Probably with pinpoint accuracy.
“How long have you been in this world?” Bryan asked.
“It has been the blink of an eye,” she responded.
“That tells us nothing.”
She grinned. The blood that had covered her face was now gone, making her look almost human. But her eyes were all wrong. “Because you know nothing. You do not know how it is to live the eons.”
“That’s right. We know days and weeks. So answer the question in days and weeks.”
“A month, then.”
“It was a huge risk, crossing over. The gate isn’t stable yet. You could have waited one month.”
“I couldn’t. The hunger… There’s nothing back there.”
Bryan’s voice deepened. “Because you ate it all. You’ve only yourselves to blame.”
“Spare me your ethical concerns. You eat. So too do we. We eat and then we move on.”
“You destroy and then you abandon.”
“What does it matter? The worlds go on. More all the time. And we have to starve while the gates stabilize.”
“How long does it take for the gates to stabilize?”
“Two thousand years.”
“Two thousand? Why so exact all of a sudden? I thought a day was a week was a blink of an eye.”
She gazed at the ceiling as if drugged, as if she didn’t even feel the containment. “When it first began, all were thrust back in time, two thousand years and two thousand worlds back. The path has remained the same even if the vehicle changed.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Nothing. Nothing to you.” She turned her head slightly to look at the Possesseds in the circle.
“No,” he barked. “You look at me.”
She did. Her eyes burned through him.
“How many others came here so far?” he asked.
“Many. None. What does it matter?”
“It matters because we have to clean up you bastards.”
She laughed, a long rumbling laugh. “You can’t do anything to us. We are forever.”
“We’ll find a way.”
“Oh, plenty have tried.”
A shiver went through the circle around Bryan. It was true; what could they do? Perhaps others had done exactly what they were doing now, tried to get answers and got nowhere and died when the gates opened.
Bryan stressed each word as he spoke. “How many Eternals are here?”
“Ah, you want the statistics.” She bared teeth at him in a grin.
“Yeah, give me a fucking statistic.”
“Estimates are fifteen cross before stabilization.”
This time Bryan shivered, as he envisioned Eternals sitting at computers, tallying up numbers. Did they do things other than eat? He hadn’t considered it.
“Fifteen cross successfully?” he asked.
“How many aren’t successful?”
“Oh, fifty or sixty or so.” She looked up at the ceiling again.
“Fifty or sixty lost between worlds.”
“It is nothing,” she said bitterly. “We are too many as it stands.”
“Clearly. You demolish a planet in not even two centuries.”
“I say, we are too many.”
Bryan could have asked how many. Probably should have asked how many. But he didn’t want to know, and didn’t want everyone in the room to know. But there was something they had to know, regardless of who heard it.
He swallowed hard and asked. “When do the gates stabilize?”
“I don’t have to tell you.” She smiled at him almost sweetly, as if to a child who just didn’t understand. But the eyes were still wrong. “But it doesn’t matter. It won’t be stopped. So many have tried.”
“When?” He meant to demand this, but the word caught in his throat and he barely got it out.
“In this time zone, in this world, eight AM, November twenty-first.”
Bryan’s head swam. That couldn’t be right. “What year?” he pressed, trying to deny it.
“This year, you fool.”
It was four AM on November tenth.