“To second chances,” Dr. Clark raised her glass of champagne.
“To second chances,” the gathered scientists raised their own glasses to the toast.
“I hope we get one,” Dr. Clark added quietly to herself before she emptied the glass in one chug. Then, she put on a smile and nodded at the group. The brightest minds on Earth gathered in a cave seven miles below the surface. The most powerful weapons they could create, two solar cannons, were pointed at the center of the cave.
Their target was a bald, broad-shouldered pale man that sat on a stone throne. His eyes were open but he hadn’t moved or even breathed in the past month. A message carved into the side of the throne informed them of the exact time the figure would wake up, 12:00p.m. It also included some helpful advice. Most notably: “Don’t be on Earth when he wakes up.” The message also told the scientists that the hairless figure was a powerful creature of the night. With nothing else to work with, Dr. Clark decided he was a vampire based solely on the tattoo atop its head. It was a large bat skull with fangs and a blood-red number 42.
His discovery raised impossible questions. Where did he get such a professional tattoo a million years ago? How did they count to 42? Who sealed him for a million years? How did they know what calendar would be in use, to predict the exact date and time? But, Dr. Clark needed to prioritize survival above all else. She only had a month and called in every favor and contact she had.
Once the group was formed they tried everything from priests to garlic to end the threat. Nothing affected the figure. They couldn’t penetrate his skin with silver bullets, much less wood. Desperation forced the scientists to conceive a way to store and fire concentrated sunlight. Unfortunately, they only managed to complete them on the day of awakening. The cannons were untested and Dr. Clark decided not risk them misfiring and destroying themselves. She hoped she could somehow reason with the figure, using the cannons for intimidation.
“Lights on,” Dr. Clark said. Immediately the dozen industrial UV lights surrounding the cave flickered on. She hoped they weakened the figure, even if they couldn’t tell. She was also banking on him being weak after a million-year hibernation. “Close the doors,” she said.
“Why are you staying?,” her assistant, Mike, said. He tilted his head towards the exit where the rest of the scientists were filing out. “Why not try talking to him from the control room?” Dr. Clark shook her head with a faint, sad smile.
“I’m in charge, I get to be selfish,” she said. “I’m not convinced those doors will slow him down, much less stop him from getting to the control room. If I can’t reason with him…,” she shrugged. “…I won’t have to deal with even a second of guilt for failing you.” Dr. Clark gave Mike a gentle shove towards the half-closed doors. “Hurry up, they’re waiting for you,” she said. Mike gave her a hug, then dashed out the door.
Dr. Clark sighed to herself and sat on a chair between the solar cannons. 10 feet in front of the seated figure. She stared at her watch for two minutes while counting down. With ten seconds left she focused on him.
Despite feeling ready for anything, Dr. Clark jumped in her seat when the cave filled with the sudden sound of the figure inhaling deeply. He exhaled with force, then loudly filled his lungs again, then, he laughed.
“I’ll tell ya, doc,” he said. His eyes focused on Dr. Clark; his chest was heaving with deep breaths. “I didn’t need to breathe… but I missed the hell out of it,” he chuckled. He leaned back on his stone throne and smiled at her while still enjoying heavy use of his lungs.
Dr. Clark was shocked he spoke English, and seemed to know who she was.
“Who are you?” she asked. She practiced a series of questions in several languages; but, English made things easier.
“Name’s Ruin,” he said with a slight forward tilt of his head. “Pleased to meet you, Doc Clark.”
“How’d you know my name?” Dr. Clark was thankful for English; that wasn’t a question she prepared.
“I didn’t need to breathe because my body was time-locked,” Ruin said. “But, my eyes, ears, and mind still worked; she made sure I could reflect on my actions. You finding me was the first light I saw in a million years. And it’s been fun watching you all scurry around trying to kill me,” he chuckled.
“Who froze you in time? Why?”
“Vanilla,” a new voice startled Dr. Clark again. She suddenly realized a young man stood next to her. She glanced at the doors but they were still closed. The new stranger wore a white suit with an orange tie. He stared down at Dr. Clark through rounded spectacles. “Her name was Vanilla,” he said, then faced Ruin.
“Do I know you?” Ruin asked the man. He shook his head.
“I’m here in Vanilla’s place; and, I’m impressed she’s…,” the suited stranger gestured at Dr. Clark. “…still alive. You’ve been free for a whole minute.” Ruin shrugged.
“You’ll have to thank Vanilla for me. I really appreciate getting the time to think.” The stranger nodded.
“That’s enough for probation at least. Though, I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Where to?” he asked. Ruin stood from his throne and walked towards them. Dr. Clark tensed, but she tried to keep her wits about her. It sounded like he had plenty of time to kill her already if he wanted to.
“I want a nice vacation. In the woods, I miss nature,” he said. The stranger raised his hand and a pitch-black portal appeared between Ruin and Dr. Clark.
“Good luck, doc,” Ruin said. He nodded at her, then disappeared into the portal. The darkness swallowed him, then disappeared.
“Who are you?” Dr. Clark asked. “Where’d he go?”
“I’m Billy,” he added a curt bow to his introduction. “He went to another Earth.” Billy smiled, then another black portal opened next to him.
“Wait!” Dr. Clark jumped to her feet. “What’s going on? Who’s Vanilla?” Billy gave her a smile.
“She was the best,” he said. Then, Dr. Clark blinked. When she opened her eyes she was alone in the cave.
“Whoa! Where’d he go? Did we fail?” Mike’s voice over the speakers startled Dr. Clark. Once she got her bearings she started walking towards the exit hoping it would be open soon.
“I don’t know, we’ll have to check the video frame by frame.”
“What video?” Mike asked as she heard movement on the other side of the doors.
“OH MY GOD!” she shouted. “DON’T TELL ME YOU DIDN’T RECORD THAT!?
“Record what?” Mike asked. “He disappeared at 12 instead of waking up.”
“What?” Dr. Clark glanced at her watch. 12:00:31 p.m.