I’ve taken to using the word “aeon” to indicate a lifeglow, as differing from an aura.
“Doctor Rollins, chemistry,” the woman said, holding out her hand.
Bryan frowned at it. “You never realize how many people want to shake hands until you don’t want to do it yourself.”
She held up the hand. “Say no more.”
“Fuck. I mean sorry. That was rude.”
“You’re not the first Possessed I’ve held a conversation with.” She crossed her arms. “Is Agent Hussein running late?”
“Hussein was killed last night by a type of Possessed that can travel through the gates with the demons.”
Rollins’s hand went to her throat. “God. I’m so sorry.”
“The Office directors were also killed. Which is why I’m afraid you’ll have to deal with me. My name is Ivers.”
“I had no idea. Then…we’re not just here to study the gates, are we?”
“We need a way to close the gates before more of these Eternally Possesseds come through. We are on a time schedule.”
Rollins’s eyes were wide. “What sort of time schedule?”
“A tight one.” Bryan changed the subject before she could inquire further. “What’s your familiarity with what’s going on here?”
“Well…Agent Hussein sent some of the dust found in this area to my department. It is as he said – dead. Trace amounts of bacteria and mites found in far greater amounts in more lively samples taken from other spots in the building, so it may be overlap. Typical components for dust anywhere in the world – silicon, oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, so on. But very finely powdered. We should have found skin cells, pollen hairs, textile fibers. But there are none of any of those. It’s as if it was manufactured in a sterile lab. The same dust was found in various abandoned religious buildings in demonically active cities the world over, where the gates appear.” She turned to look at the platform. “As for the gates, I’ll have no clue until I observe one.”
“They’re made of demons, so they say.” A young man stepped in beside them, whipping his glasses from his face. “Dr. Maclin, astrophysics.” He stuck out his hand. He looked too young to be a doctor of anything.
“Agent Ivers is not fond of handshaking,” Rollins explained. “Or so he so painstakingly explained to me.”
“Well.” Maclin withdrew his hand with a wrinkled nose. “Quite the welcome wagon here. First someone shouts at me for ‘making a racket’ setting up, and now – ”
“Brad, drop it,” Rollins warned him.
“I’m just saying, they invited us.”
“I’m sorry,” Bryan said meekly, not knowing what else to do. Rollins looked at him in surprise, and Bryan couldn’t tell if it was mocked or not.
Maclin watched him as if waiting for him to say more, and when he didn’t Maclin cleared his throat and spoke as if no argument had happened. “Has the Office gathered any data on the demons as they form the gate? If these gates are wormholes, as we wonder they might be, the demons could be able to create their own electromagnetic field. Or possibly we could gain some insight into the formation of wormholes themselves. Or this could be something else entirely.”
“We haven’t had time to study the gates,” Bryan said, his voice weak as if still apologizing. “We’ve just been trying to contain them.”
“Hm. That’s very pertinacious of you.”
“Honestly,” Rollins broke in, “you’re every bit as disagreeable as an Office agent.”
“Well, we’ve been asked to work with no background information.”
“I know,” Bryan said. “We don’t have much information ourselves. We’ve just been moving day to day. Or night to night. We just need to find a way to close the gates, with your help.”
“Assuming we have the technology for such an endeavor,” Maclin said.
“We have to find a way.”
“Something is going to happen,” Rollins said, “isn’t it?”
“Yes, and that’s all I can say. Please do your best.” Bryan left them before they could comment further. As he joined Harper at the back with the trainees, Ward was starting his talk with them.
“I’m sure you’ve all heard the news by now,” he started. “And you know that many of our colleagues have already resigned. It’s why you’ve been bumped up to containment duty.”
There were eleven trainees left, and likely to be less tomorrow when word fully got around and the reality of it sank in. Bryan looked them over and did a double-take when he saw Sonia. He hadn’t even thought of her, and thinking of her now he wouldn’t have expected her to be here. But she was here, giving him a nervous smile, and he shifted his gaze, hoping he hadn’t stared.
Ward continued. “This is the real deal. If you have any doubts, if you want to go home instead and spend these days with your family, we can’t hold you here.”
They looked around at each other, as if daring any of them to leave. But despite the fear in their eyes no one did.
Well, they might change their minds after tonight, thought Bryan.
Ward walked them through the containment, as he probably already had five times before. His words echoed in the space as the sun set, and the first group possessed. Then all was quiet as the Possessed focused on the gate platform and the Spotters focused on the road outside. Bryan watched the doors, searching for any sign of a crimson aeon beyond them.
Hours passed. Four hours, too long to be on constant alert. Bryan was becoming increasingly aware that he should be mingling, giving pep talks, keeping spirits up. That’s what Hussein would have done. So he tried, but his words came out forced and tinged with anger, as if everyone there had done something wrong, so that Andrade had to take over. He went to the side and moped, aware that he was moping and not knowing how to do anything else. And two more hours passed.
It was one AM when the gate opened, and Bryan didn’t notice. He was staring blankly at the synagogue doors, staring past the doors, mind empty. He didn’t know how long he had been that way, or if he would have noticed any Eternal that wandered into his field of vision. By the time Harper elbowed him the gate had closed. He looked to the platform to see the demons had successfully been contained and Connors speaking the words to open it back up to nowhere.
Bryan looked back around. No sign of an Eternal, and the Spotters were watching out for one. Still, Bryan looked again, hard, and searched out that inner voice or instinct that had told him before when Eternals had been around. It was silent.
He turned back. There was no gate. Connors was talking nervously with Ward.
Bryan went down the aisle to join them. As he approached, Connors shuffled to him.
“It’s not working,” he wheezed.
Bryan thought as he walked. Around him the Possesseds were already flagging under the exertion of containing so many demons. A couple of them were on their knees.
“We need everyone to speak the words,” Bryan said.
Connors nodded flittingly. “Yes, of course. I should have thought of that.” He raced back to the front and raised his voice, telling the Possesseds to join him in the words.
They did, though many of the voices were strained, and several of the trainees couldn’t multitask and had to concentrate on containment only. The words filled and reverberated in the space, heavy as if they carried volume, but empty and chilling. Something was missing. As one minute passed, and then another, voice after voice went out like a candle.
The gate didn’t open. And the containment was faltering. They had counted on a second gate closure to disperse the demons over the city. Instead they were going to fill the synagogue when the containment failed.
And they didn’t have enough Possesseds to catch them all.
Bryan looked to the Spotters, dutifully watching the doors, and to the bank of equipment and laptops, with a dozen civilians behind them.
“They’ll die,” Harper said from beside him.
That was just fine with Bryan. It would even help him. It was the worst feeling he had had up to that point: not caring about fifty or so people all around him. Not caring about anyone at all. Total willingness to watch them die or be driven mad. It would all be the same in the end.