Eve saw the events from the past several days flash forward in her mind. This was the life review that came just before death that she'd heard about so many times, but the only part of her life she was seeing was the dark part, the time when all the lights went out forever.
Terror she had never known before, even when being beaten and held prisoner by Ali's minions, filled her heart. Jared was gone. Hope was gone. The man standing just feet away from her was going to put a bullet in her little girl’s head, and there was nothing she could do about it.
A half-baked plan with no good ending flew through her head. She was out of options and out of time, and she was definitely no hero; but doing something was better than just giving up without a fight.
“Fine. You want the key? Take the key!” Eve reached down to the floorboard of the SUV, intending to grab it and throw it out the window into the weeds, but her fingers refused to close around the heavy metal object.
“Stop stalling,” Ali said, sighing.
“I’m not. I can’t grab it.” Eve frowned, unable to figure out why her fingers weren’t cooperating. Yes, the plan sucked, but it was a plan. It could buy them a few precious seconds, maybe even a minute. And just one more minute with her baby was worth trying for.
“Mom, just give her the key. It’s over.”
“I know it’s over, Cassie, I’m trying.” The harder Eve stretched, the more it seemed the key moved just out of her reach.
“Moommm!” Cassie called. It wasn’t a whine, or a complaint. It was as if she were far away and not there in the SUV next to Eve anymore.
Eve looked up to tell her daughter that it would all be over soon, to try and capture the look in her baby's eye and hold it, to one last time see the girl who she loved more than life itself … but she couldn’t. Because suddenly Cassie wasn’t there.
“Cassie!” she shouted, straining her eyes to try and see through the dust-covered windshield. “Cassie! Where are you?!”
Eve forgot about the key and Ali. She forgot about the ogre with the gun trained in her direction. All she could think about was getting to her daughter. She fought the seatbelt that held her in place, that was keeping her from saving Cassie’s life.
“Eve! Eve! Jesus, would you calm down?”
Eve ceased her struggles. The dark night and dusty windshield faded out to be replaced by light. Burning light, so bright she had to close her eyes to it.
It was coming from a lamp.
“Jared?” she finally said, not sure she could trust her own eyes or ears.
“Of course it’s Jared. Who else would it be?” He sighed. "Could you stop thrashing around, sweetie? You're going to wake Cassie up and she just got to the half-sleep stage after tossing and turning all night. She's already called out for you once."
Tears rolled out of Eve’s eyes and filled her ears
,as the reality of where she was slowly came to
her. The salty flow slid through her hair and landed on the pillow next to her
Eve opened her eyes and saw the familiar ceiling fan that had hung over her head for years, turning softly, sending a slight breeze down to cool her tear-stained face. She blinked several times, praying silently that she wasn't sleeping.
“Man, that was one hell of a dream you were having.” Jared was sitting up in bed next to her, a book open and his reading glasses on. Eve had always said he looked sexy wearing those things, but today, he looked like an angel sent straight from heaven.
“You’re alive,” she said, staring at him with wonder, her voice barely registering as a croak.
Jared closed his book and pushed the glasses to top of his head. “Babe, what’s going on?”
Eve pushed her hands under her and sat up, trying to put everything together in her mind. Her chest felt like it was ready to explode with pent-up energy. Resting her back against the headboard, she let her mind wander to the place it had just been. Slowly the tension eased a bit, enough to make it possible to speak again.
“I think I had some sort of out-of-body experience.” Eve's throat was dry. It felt like she hadn't had anything to drink in days. Had she? She wasn't even sure what day it was.
Jared leaned over and kissed her neck. “Feel like having another one?”
Eve elbowed him in the ribs, turning her head to share her fearful expression with her husband. “I’m not kidding. I seriously experienced something big. Something …” She shook her head. “I don’t know. Like, a premonition.”
She couldn’t sit still any longer. Jumping out of bed, she began pacing back and forth.
“I can see the alarm clock is working now,” she said, gesturing to the small black box on Jared’s bedside table. She almost cackled with happiness, but stopped herself. She didn't want to sound as crazy as she felt.
Jared followed the direction of her pointing finger and nodded slowly. “Any reason why it shouldn’t be?”
Eve ran her fingers through her hair. “Secrets. Secrets are the problem here.” She stopped pacing and stared pointedly at Jared. “I have a lot of secrets.”
Jared put his book on his side table and stood next to the bed. “We all have secrets. Some secrets we can share and some we can’t. I get that. I knew that was the deal when we got married.”
“Yeah, but I think it’s a mistake now. A mistake.” She started pacing again. Then she stopped all of a sudden as pain sliced through her heart. “Cassie?”
Jared threw his arms up and let them drop. “She’s in bed! Asleep! It’s six in the morning, Eve. And you know she has a fever. She finally fell asleep after moaning all night." He switched to pleading. "Please don't wake her."
Jared came around the other side of the bed and took Eve’s hands in his. “Is that what this is about? Did you have a bad dream about Cassie?” He looked over his shoulder. “Did it have something to do with the alarm clock?”
“No. Not the alarm clock. Or maybe the alarm clock, I don’t know.” Eve was too agitated to think straight. Could it all have been a dream? But it felt so real!
Jared’s finger came up under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. “Eve, I want you to close your eyes and take a deep breath … and then tell me about this dream you had.”
Eve did as he asked, mainly because she couldn’t think of anything else to do, but also because she wanted to tell him. No more secrets. She wanted to not be the only one in the room experiencing this horror. She knew that was selfish, but something inside her told her it was okay this time. It was okay to burden Jared with her truth.
The deep breathing helped clear her mind a bit and made it easier for her to decide what needed to be done.
“Okay,” Eve said, stepping back from her husband. “I'm ready to talk. But I need you to sit down.”
“Sit down," Jared said in a joking tone. "Whoa, this must be good."
“It’s not good. It’s horrifically awful. And the worst part is, I think it’s really about to happen.”
“Do I want to hear this?” Jared said, slowly lowering himself to the mattress. He wasn't joking around anymore.
“No. But I’m going to tell you anyway. And I’m going to tell you all my secrets while I'm at it.”
“Your secrets? Like what you’re doing at the institute?”
“Babe, I …”
Eve held up a hand to stop him. “Don’t try to talk me out of it. It’s too important. Just hear me out.”
“Do you have everything you need?” Jared asked Eve for the tenth time.
“Yes, I’m all set. I’ll be fine.” She wasn't sure she was being completely honest, but it didn't matter. She had to do what she had to do; there would be no second-guessing or chickening out. The future of the world and mankind were at stake.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Jared rubbed her back, a sure sign he was in panic mode. “Maybe I should come with you.”
“No, you stay here with Cassie.”
Cassie. Their daughter, their beautiful angel, not the freakish science experiment that rose up in Eve's nightmares to haunt her forever. “You promised you’d take her to the doctor as soon as his office opens.”
Jared pulled Eve into a hug. “Yes, I know I promised, okay? I’m sure it’s nothing; you know these kid germs are all over the place. But I’ll take her, I swear it. We’ll be leaving right after you.” He pushed Eve away from him a little so he could look into her eyes. “I don’t like this at all. I want to go on record saying that.”
“I know you don’t. But do you like the alternative better? Me doing nothing and hoping my nightmare was just too many beans in my burrito last night?”
"Babe, you're preaching to the choir, alright? I've been predicting something like this is going to happen for years. The fact that you could be involved in bringing the end of light in our world is a little more than freaky, I'll give you that, but hey … I'm a believer. You had me at Friar's Lantern."
Eve nodded, tempted to smile at her husband's charm but way too stressed about her mission to give in to the impulse. "I'll meet you at the airport after I leave for lunch. I have to hang around and act like it's just any other day. If they suspect something's up, I could have big problems."
"And if you don't show up at lunchtime, I'm going to ride in there with the cavalry behind me. I'm not kidding." Jared stroked her cheek.
"I know you're not. And that's why I love you so much."
Eve and Jared shared a passionate kiss, Eve lingering just a little longer than normal because she was so glad to be awake and alive. The fact that Jared had not died in a gun battle trying to save their daughter's life felt like a miracle, like the universe had handed her a second chance that she could not mess up, no matter what.
"I won't screw this up," she whispered.
Jared kissed her nose. "I know you won't."
"How do you know?" she asked, needing to hear his words of comfort.
"Because. You're my wife, and I don't marry slackers." He pinched her butt and turned her around by the shoulders. "Hop to it, soldier. I have work to do here. Sick kid and all that."
Eve left the house for the institute, her heart a bit lighter but the entire rest of her body on edge.
Getting through security was a no-brainer. She did the same thing this morning that she did every other morning when she came to work, only this time she did it sweating bullets and wondering if she were going to die of a heart attack before she even got to her workstation.
"Hi, Eve!" said a bright and cheery voice off to her right.
Eve was going to walk right past, but then realized on a normal day, she'd never be rude like that. She turned to respond to her greeter but stopped short, sheer terror freezing her expression solid.
The young girl's face fell. "You don't remember me, do you?"
The soul of darkness herself, standing before Eve.
The young girl's hair was washed and carefully styled, she wore makeup that included sparkles on her lids, and her lab coat said that she worked somewhere nearby. But still … she was just standing there saying hello like it was no big deal that she was Darkness personified.
Eve cleared her throat and schooled her features to morph them into something much less horrified. "Nooo, I'm sorry I don't remember you."
"I'm Ali. The intern? Working in Lab Eight just next door to you? I started last week and I introduced myself, but you were super busy." She shrugged and kind of smiled. "I should have known you weren't really paying attention. Scientists and engineers are always in their own worlds."
"Actually, I'm pretty sure some part of my brain was paying attention." Eve tried to laugh off the massive understatement. "Where do you work again?"
"Lab Eight. I inject the rats, clean their cages, dispose of the bodies." Ali did a fake shiver. "They call my area the cremation station. Rude, right?" She rolled her eyes, making her seem much younger than her nineteen or so years.
"Depressing," Eve said, trying to commiserate in a way that seemed natural.
Ali shrugged. "Oh well. It's dark business, but someone's got to do it, right?" She winked at Eve and walked off.
Eve waited until the shiver worked its way through her entire body before she moved on. Just two more corridors and she'd be with the lantern and finishing up the mission she'd created with Jared. No more thinking about college interns named Ali who came to her in dreams as failed science experiements.
Dark business, indeed. Eve shuddered again, goosepbumps rising up all over her body.
"Eve! Wait up!" said a male voice behind her.
"Emerson. Hello." Eve tried to act like it wasn't completely awful to be standing near the man who played the devil incarnate in her dream last night.
"Hey, listen, I wanted to talk to you about the … project we're working on. I was thinking that we should do away with the key, make … the thing … less dependent on a single device to operate. What do you think?" He rubbed his hands together, making him seem way too much like a maniacal megalomaniac.
"I'll get right on that," Eve said, thinking how ironic it was that this was exactly what she'd planned to do. Not exactly as he was, imagining but … "Today, in fact."
"Good, so you agree." He patted her on the shoulder, letting his hand rest there a little too long, or so it felt to Eve. "So great to have you on board, Eve. The future's so bright, we're going to have to wear shades." His thousand-watt, heavily-veneered smile made her cringe.
Eve's responsive laugh was the polite kind. The awkward you-are-freaking-me-out-because-I-can't-tell-what's-real-anymore kind.
"You have plans for lunch?" he asked, oblivious to her discomfort as he split off towards a new corridor that had opened up on their left. "Rourke and I were going to grab a bite at Harvey's." He walked backwards, waiting for her answer.
"I have a date with Jared. Actually, I was thinking of making it a long lunch."
"Fine, I'll catch you next time. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" he turned away chuckling, leaving her standing at the end of the hallway that housed her workstation.
"No promises," she muttered under her breath, using her keycard to start the process of unlocking her door.
Eve made quick work of destroying the lantern's key and making it appear as if she'd made modifications to its former ignition. While she was in there, she also made adjustments to the local magnetic field strength. Now any pulse emitted by the lantern would be just strong enough to be detectable by the new device Eve had already started designing in her head - the one she was bringing to the Pentagon as soon as she left on her "long lunch" with Jared.
She ignored the doubts creeping into her mind, the ones saying that she was sacrificing her entire life's work, all because of a crazy dream.
Eve was almost out of the building when Ali stopped her by putting a hand on her shoulder from behind at the front door. When Eve turned around, she was facing not only Ali but Rourke, his face an angry mask.
"Not so fast," Ali said.
"What's up?" Eve asked, fumbling around in her purse, pretending to tuck her ID badge away when really she was just looking for a way to hide her trembling fingers.
"Do you have a moment?" Rourke asked. "We noticed something a little unusual on the surveillance tapes."
Eve frowned, looking up and hoping she appeared to be concerned but not out of guilt. "Surveillance tapes? What surveillance tapes?"
"The ones aimed at your workstation," Ali said, smiling smugly.
Visions of Ali with a dirtied face and knotted, greasy hair came to mind, making Eve's heart stop for a few precious seconds.
Relax, Eve! She's not a failed science experiment! She’s just a teenager for God's sake! A teenager with a bug up her butt to get some kind of messed up brownie points with the boss.
All the common sense in the world was not making Eve feel any better. She had to get out of there before she lost her mind and started yelling about Ali being the leader of the dark forces taking over the world.
"You know what, I'd love to, but Jared's waiting for me. How about after lunch?" Eve smiled broadly, giving everything she had to her performance. It was make or break time; she was going to walk out a wanted woman with her conscience free or get stuck there explaining how she just destroyed a ten-million-dollar piece of equipment she was now almost one hundred percent sure was meant to destroy the world as she knew it.
"I was told you'd planned a long one."
Eve waved Rourke's concerns away with a careless gesture. "Oh, it's no big deal. I can cut it short if you need me to." She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. "Come over for dinner this weekend?"
She tried not to cringe at the smell of his cologne. It used to smell woodsy to her. Now it only reminded her of her desperate run to the light, to hope, through the trees and into the arms of Ali the queen of darkness. Eve refused to even look at the girl, certain her distrust would show.
"We'll chat. When you get back." Rourke turned to Ali and gestured for her to precede him. "After you, young lady."
"But … I saw her …"
Eve didn't stick around to hear the rest. She walked as fast as she dared to her car and sped out of the lot going ten miles over the speed limit.
"Are you absolutely sure you want to do this?" Jared asked, walking with Eve behind two armed guards in United States Marines uniforms. He leaned in closer. "All because of a dream?"
Eve stared straight ahead as she answered in a whisper. "It wasn't just a regular dream. Like I said, I was picking up on subliminal things, things my subconscious had been seeing all along. Maybe some of it was a little fantastical, but not all of it. A lot of it was totally real. Totally possible."
"I'm just glad my buddies' contacts still existed at the Pentagon and we could get a flight over here so quickly."
Eve shuddered, thinking of all the things that could have gone wrong, keeping her from giving this presentation. Thank goodness her name had some weight behind it too, or for sure her audience would have been some lackey on the bottom of the totem pole and not the assistant to the Deputy Director of Homeland Security.
The Marines in front of them stopped at a set of double doors, each taking up a post on either side.
"She's supposed to just go in?" Jared asked, placing a hand on Eve's lower back.
Eve stood as straight as she could, mimicking the bearing of the men wearing battle dress uniforms and carrying machine guns.
"Knock first," one of them said, staring straight ahead.
"Well …," Eve said, looking up at her husband, "here goes nothing."
"Knock 'em dead, babe." Jared kissed the top of her head before rapping on the door twice firmly for her. "I believe in you. You're the smartest woman I've ever known, and I trust your instincts."
"Thanks, babe. Wait out here for me?"
"You bet. I wouldn't be anywhere else."
Eve pushed the door open and stepped inside, her briefcase carrying the presentation detailing the work she'd done at the institute, the ramifications of that work, and the design she came up with for The Beacon of Light.
Eve stood at the end of a conference table filled with people, some in uniform and some in suits that looked like they cost as much money as she made in a month. Maybe someone more sophisticated or used to talking to people like this would know the proper way to start a conversation about weaponized science, but Eve wasn't that person.
She took a deep breath and let it out in a huff, just before she began to speak.
"Mr. Richmond, ladies and gentlemen, I'm Dr. Eve Mansfield, and as I said in my email, I'm the engineer who built what's called the Friar's Lantern, the electromagnetic pulse weapon that could destroy our world. I'm here today to not only describe to you how I've disabled this weapon but also to share the design I've come up with that will one day identify and locate that machine or one like it, should it ever be used against us."