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The Woman in White Marble

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Matt WoollardMatt was born in England but currently lives in Greece with his wife, two sons and his imaginatively named cat, Kitty. He holds a PhD from Royal Holloway, University of London, in the field of structural geology. He worked in a variety of fields before co-founding an online business consultancy company with his wife, which he helps run while writing. His debut novel ‘Abaddonian Dream’ is available through most online ebook retailers.

To find out about forthcoming book releases and receive sneak peeks, join my Reader List at www.mkwoollard.com. You’ll be automatically sent a FREE novelette entitled ‘The First Days of Providence’ right to your inbox. Set in the same dystopian universe as ‘Abaddonian Dream’, ‘The First Days of Providence’ follows Interpol Agents Hammell and Toskan on an earlier case shortly after policing was taken over by a network of androids, satellites and cameras.

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Tuesday
Dec062016

Sleeper

One:

I don’t know why I did it. She was nothing but nice to me. Somehow that made me want to do it more.

We were both at University when we met. She was three years younger than me, but she was already doing a PhD while I was just starting as an undergrad. Maybe that had something to do with it - that she was smarter than I was. Hell, she was smarter than everyone. She told me once that she thought she was close to a Theory of Everything before she’d even got to University - that she’d worked most of it out just in her head. I nodded and shrugged like I didn’t care and then went and looked up what the Theory of Everything was.

I guess that was it. She made me feel like an idiot. She made her professors look like idiots until they moved her directly from the undergrad degree to study for her doctorate, locking her away in a lab deep in the basement where they thought she could cause no trouble. But she had no problem being alone, away from people. She was always alone inside her head, I think. She would often sit staring at a wall, just thinking - which would bug the hell out of me. I’d play music or turn up the volume on the show I was watching to try and break her focus, but it never really worked. She lived only partly on the outside. Almost all of her life was lived inside her skull.

And she had plans. She had found like-minded people - one in particular; a University Professor named Dawson who was ancient with experience but was happy to play second fiddle to such a bright young thing. He had funding - from defence sources, I later found out. The armed forces have never been dumb - if they think a researcher might produce something that could be a gamechanger, they throw money at them. Dawson was the key. Without him, she would never have found the funds to do what she did.

I realize that I’m coming off badly here - and I should. But maybe now you’re wondering why she was even with me. Well, believe it or not, I was the catch. Not the attractive genius-level girl, oh no; the future Mr Average. I was sporty and handsome in a clean-cut sort of way, though appearances can be deceiving. I’m not bragging, but girls were almost literally falling at my feet. I was a striker in the football team - the star striker and undisputed best player, though I never got scouted as one of the other guys did. It took me a long time to get over that.

So I was the popular one. And maybe that’s why I felt I could do what I did… I didn’t care. There were plenty more fish. I had the power. I could do as I pleased. Except, as it turned out, I didn’t want any of the others.

After she vanished, I was quizzed by the police, of course. One of them in particular was certain I’d done something to her. I can understand why. But I hadn’t - not how he thought. I’d never hurt her - not really hurt her. I was just…

No, I don’t want to go that way. Not now. I didn’t kill her, that’s the point. I don’t think it helped when the police asked me what I thought happened and I explained that she was working on a new theory about time and was building a giant machine under the university. The policemen looked at one another, smirking. I can still hear the tone of voice when one of them said, “a time machine?” I can remember me flipping out as well, snapping, “yes, a fucking time machine!”

If I’d have been in my right mind, I wouldn’t have said anything about it. I’d have let them find out on their own. I’d have directed them towards her family and let that fucked up bunch take some of the flak. But I was worried and frightened and when I get like that I tend to lash out. I didn’t tell the police what had happened the night before she disappeared. In hindsight, that was a mistake. That caused me a lot of problems for a lot of years.

I hung around her department for days after she disappeared - weeks, in fact - slowly spiralling into the realization of what I’d done and what I’d driven her to and what I’d lost. The military guys were there too, crawling all over the blocked-off lab. Even though they were all in plainclothes, it was easy to spot that they were military from the way they carried themselves and the way they looked at you. There was no fear, no concern, no emotion. They looked at me the same way they might look at something stuck to the bottom of a boot.

That was what made me sign up, I’m sure now. They looked like robots, automatons, and living without feeling seemed like a good thing to me in that moment. What else was I going to do anyway? I’d stopped going to classes, so I was certain to flunk out. I had nothing else to do with my life, or to look forward to, but for a long investigation by the police which would leave me ostracized by pretty much everyone who knew me.

She was the reason I signed up. She was the reason I entered the experimental program years later too. I’d heard rumours of what it was and it seemed right up her street. If she was really stuck out there, it might just be a way of seeing her again. It was the longest of long shots, but what else did I have? And I might, just might, seem like a hero come to rescue her. 

If I could go back… But that’s just fantasy - except maybe for her.

 

Two:

They can stick to the walls. That was something I wasn’t expecting. I’ve gone back through the maths and I’m sure now that it’s not even technology. Something about how they’re not of this time keeps them apart from the rules here - the laws. Gravity doesn’t affect them how it should. Even light. I wonder how they avoid falling through the ground… Have any of them been lost, trapped as they fall towards the centre of the Earth? How long would they live down there? What a terrible end...

I know it’s deliberate. They’re too agile without gravity for it to be unplanned - they knew about it and were trained before being sent. And they can be seen or unseen and can seemingly switch it on and off at will. So they’re here, but they’re not here. They’re not here, but they can be here just enough to kill. How can I protect myself against something like that? I wonder what life must be like for them, being neither here nor there, stuck in between worlds…

I know why they’re coming now. Dawson got a message through to me; a covert one, hidden in an innocuous looking symbol pinned on the uniform on one of the assassins. So I know they come from us - from our work. The money to build the machine came from the military - from the paymasters of these people. But it’s been expanded far beyond us now. To be able to do the things they can do…

I wonder how they found me. I’m as unobtrusive as I can be. I’m off the grid as far as I can be. I found John, the sweetest man, who interacts with the system so that I don’t have to. I don’t suppose it wouldn’t help to tell them that I won’t affect anything. That I plan to just live a quiet life out here. That I won’t make ripples. That I plan to move to the Moon eventually, when I find a way to get there without ID, and just sit up there among the stars away from everyone.

Of course, that may not matter to them. Even the smallest stone dropped into water will cause ripples - and who knows what the effects will be? They’ll have a zero tolerance policy - I can understand that… But they have to understand too that I can’t go back. Not just that I won’t - I can’t. Maybe fairness isn’t a concern for them. In fact, I know it isn’t. But they also have to understand that sending their assassins is causing far more ripples than I am.

It’s not going to be easy to stay this way. John, he’ll never understand why I won’t have children. He’ll never understand why I’ll soon have to leave him. He’s a ripple - a big one - and he needs to live his life as he would have if I hadn’t shown up. As far as is possible.

I’ve been watching the corner and I’m fairly sure there’s one here now. I can’t see it, but I can sense it somehow. It’s high up in the corner of the room, hovering above the bed. I call it an ‘it’ because how can it be human when it is lost in time, even more than I am?

I’ve signalled John. I can hear him already racing up to me. He may be sweet, but he’s also very protective of me, and the army taught him well. I just have to stay still and hope it doesn’t make its move until John arrives… What is it waiting for? I can feel it moving towards me....

 

Three:

It’s her! It’s her! It’s her!

My brain is practically frying. I haven’t felt anything much at all over the past… years? Decades? How to measure time when you’re constantly being moved through it by an unseen hand? But now I’m awakening, as if from the longest slumber, only now becoming aware of just how robotic I’ve become.

Which was what I wanted. At least back then.

The realization dawns on me now that I’ve been sent to kill her. What do I do? I’m here but I’m not here. I can’t speak, I can’t touch, I can’t really be here. I can…. manifest just long enough to pull a trigger, but that’s about all. I slink from the ceiling, creeping down the wall towards her. I decide I’ll touch her hair.

She can sense me. Suddenly I’m sure of it. But why then isn’t she reacting? Does she think I’m some kind of ghost? In a way, I am. Does she somehow know it’s me? Does she… miss me?

I reach out a hand and can see her trembling. I begin to hope. But then, the door flies open and I turn my head to see a man standing there. I look at him, shocked. He looks a lot like me - a younger, better version of me, with a kinder face. Then he steps into the light and the illusion is broken - he is not me. She has just picked someone new who looks similar.

A better version of me.

It hits me like a punch in the gut. She isn’t pining for me. She didn’t feel for me what I felt for her. She found someone else - someone better. And why wouldn’t she? Why would I deserve her after everything? Why could I expect anything else?

I steel myself, determined to at least manifest long enough to say sorry before I go - but the stranger knows I’m there too, and he’s on me fast. I haven’t fully manifested, but he swings a knife through the air where I’m half-standing and suddenly my stomach feels like it’s on fire. I tear open my uniform, expecting to see my entrails hanging out, but there’s just a line of reddening skin across my stomach. I’m not quite here enough for him to cut me, but he’s managed to move my particles with his knife. He swings again and I jump back instinctively, raising my gun. I barely even think - the robot in me takes over - and I manifest and fire.

She screams and I realize what I’ve done.

“No, no, no,” she says. “You can’t do this. You CAN’T DO THIS! You’re making things worse!

She’s right. I’m sent to prevent ripples, not make new ones. I panic, not knowing what to do. I leap for the window, scaling down the outside of the building like a lizard, leaving her cradling her dying boyfriend. I know I should clean it up. I can’t leave the bullet there - a bullet from another time. I shouldn’t even leave the body. But I’m in no fit state to do anything.

I know I’ll never be able to face her now - not after this as well. So I just… run.

 

Four:

I know it’s there, watching me, maddening me. Is that its plan? Why, though?

Others have come for me, I’m sure of it. I’ve seen things. I’ve heard them. I know they’ve fought. My watcher has fought them off. It stands over me, observing everything I do. I can sense it all the time now, whenever it comes… or maybe I’m imagining it sometimes. Either way, it will drive me insane eventually if I can’t learn to live with it.

But I also know it is my guardian angel. It is the reason I am still living. So how can I hate it?

I just wish it would talk to me. Surely it can find a way. If it can send a bullet, why can’t it send a message? Did it come from Dawson? Did it kill John, or did it kill John’s killer? What does it want? It’s been here long enough now that I’m certain I will never know. At least it will help me stay alone.

My ticket to the Moon has come through. John is gone, but I’m sure now that I won’t be going alone. I suppose I should find some comfort in that.

Copyright © 2016 Matt Woollard