Past and Present Collide
He wakes with a sense of alarm racing through his body. For the fifth time this month, Dennis James Sullivan hears unseen callers in his head, but today is far different from any other.
At seventeen, he is taller than most boys his age. His dark red hair falls over his deep blue eyes. He shoves the hair back and leans his elbows against his knees. His whole body feels as if it belongs to someone else, what with his knees and elbows all knobby, and the way he constantly springs up another inch overnight. Not that that wasn’t normal, but then the voices began speaking to him, and he can’t make sense of it.
James, as he is called to keep others from confusing him with his father, shakes his head and stands. A glance around his bedroom, shrouded in shadows broken up by the oil lamp on a table beside his bed putting off a yellowish light, brings no clue as to what awakened him.
It’s April 18. Nothing important about today, except Father promised that I could start my apprenticeship on the fire trucks.
Yet, this date brings tremors of fear. Of what, he has no idea.
“It’s time to speak to Father and Mother about these voices,” he says to himself, “and perhaps about the strange feelings I’m having. This isn’t normal.”
Yet, he stands in the middle of his room, paralyzed by the thought that the voices in his head are far from normal—so far that some might consider him insane. He has seen crazed men and women wandering San Francisco’s cobblestone streets before a horse drawn closed carriage carts them off to the asylum far to the south of the City by the Bay. He wonders if he is doomed to the same fate, and for that reason he hesitates.
You must leave now!
This voice is far more commanding than the others have been. It’s almost human sounding.
“I’m scared,” James responds softly, drawing on a pair of well-worn pants and buttoning his shirt.
He yanks suspenders over his shoulders. Then he slides his feet into thick woolen socks and a pair of sturdy boots.
An unsettled squawk outside his window startles him. James pulls the heavy drapes aside and gasps in astonishment. No matter where he looks, birds flap their wings in a fury, crossing the bay as fast as possible.
He shoves aside his concerns about the birds and races down the stairs to see if there is a massive fire or some other kind of disaster ready to threaten the residents of San Francisco. As the only child of Fire Chief Dennis T. Sullivan, James is more than ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.
At the bottom of the stairs, to his left, an opening blocks the kitchen door. Vibrant reds, blues, and yellows swirl in a maddening pattern. The whole thing reminds him of a Gateway to a castle, like paintings of the English and Irish countryside.
Enter. A voice booms in his head. There is little time to prevent a tragedy. Apologies, The First. This gift we will bestow upon you isn’t supposed to occur until August, but necessity forces us to do it now. Enter the Gateway. We will transport you to safety.
“Oh no!” James sidles toward the front door. “I’ve read Alice in Wonderland. You won’t get me in that hole!”
He races out onto the stoop as an eerily familiar rumble races toward the city from the north.
“Earthquake!” he cries.
His shout attracts no attention. There is no time to warn people of the danger facing them. He hangs onto the thick metal railing and tries to avoid stumbling to the stairs below him. The ground shakes and sways, up and down, and then back and forth. This is the worst earthquake he has ever experienced.
James’ gaze locks onto the dome of the California Hotel and Theater, next to his home. That dome sways from side to side, each dip bringing it closer to their roof.
“Mother!” James shouts. “Father! Get outside!”
One of the biggest rules that he has been taught from the time he could understand the danger inherent in San Francisco’s many earthquakes is to remain inside until the trembling ground calms. In this case, inside isn’t safe. He knows this much by the increasing intensity of the earthquake and the dome of the building beside him moving closer and closer to their roof.
A massive crack splits through the other noises. The dome crashes onto the roof. Screams of terror rip through the house. James comes close to releasing his hold on the railing and going back inside.
Not that he is afraid. The very moment he forces his nerveless fingers open to release the railing, a bright white light eclipses him. The debris from the dome bounces off this light, and he fights to get through it, to save his parents.
A thud, followed by a second thud releases James from his paralysis.
The door warps in its frame. He kicks the splintered, fractured wood until it inches open. A peek around the corner shocks him more than he is.
“Mother?” he whispers. “Father? Dear Lord, someone help us.”
* * * *
None of the people running away from the devastation wrought less than twelve hours earlier notice a muted thunderclap, nor does the sight of a Gateway of flashing colors arching open over the street stop their mad flight. Deep within the Tenderloin District, a woman steps away from the swirling mass. Her gray dress covers her from neck to toe. The wide-open Gateway closes as she brushes tattered lace away from her fingertips.
Her appearance is nothing like people normally see her. Seventeen-year-old Elisa Sullivan hangs onto a talent she calls Chameleon with every ounce of her being, while shocked horror trickles through her body.
“What now?” she whispers.
None of her studies has prepared her for this gift. All she knows is how to make herself look like someone or something else. A side effect is that no one can guess it’s her instead of the person or thing she’s imitating.
“Okay.” Elisa glances right and left. “I have to think about the person shrouding me to make Chameleon work.” She grins. “Then I have to believe I’m that person for this to stay in place.”
She closes her eyes and draws on everything she knows about the headmistress, believing she is the older woman. The essence of Elisa curls into a ball in the corner of her mind.
“Hmmph!” Ms. Francesca Ziegler looks around the area in disgust. “This won’t do at all.”
With long, sure strides, she walks along a street with uneven cobblestones and debris blocking the rescue of those trapped inside the collapsed buildings. The date has historical significance, but few understand that yet. All those around her are interested in is making it to safety before another earthquake does more destruction.
Who is that? What are…? The person intrudes on her thought. The obstinate young woman knows him very well.
Elisa panics and almost loses Chameleon. She can’t let her remaining brother find her in this place. He’ll get up in her face and rip away her disguise.
A few moments of concentration puts everything back in place. If she’s right, DJ will no longer sense the sister that he ordered elsewhere after their argument earlier.
Sure hope I’m right.
She cocks her head and listens to what no one else can hear. “I can’t ever let DJ know he’s the reason behind this war.” A smile crosses the face of Francesca Ziegler, one initiated by Elisa Sullivan.
Despite the danger and destruction all around her, Elisa is enjoying the freedom she’s found.
“Then again, he probably already knows that someone has arrived. Let him think it’s Ms. Ziegler.” Forcing herself back into character, Elisa retreats to her hiding place within the persona she’s assumed. “DJ is more powerful and all-knowing than he realizes.”
That’ll throw him off. The compressed Elisa essence feels joy. He’ll never believe I said that.
So much depends on The First attaining his powers at this moment rather than four months from now, as history has recorded. This will violate the most important law Travelers live by, but it is necessary. Until Toby Sullivan decided to wrest control of the True Neutral’s powers, she’d been content to leave things alone. The Sullivan legacy can never be in Toby’s control.
“Let me find James quickly.” Ms. Ziegler passes intersections clogged with wrecked wagons and screaming horses. “There’s almost no time to take The First away from here.”
Her only mission this day is to prevent Toby from controlling Dennis James Sullivan, otherwise known as The First—the legendary beginning of Travelers, although others came before him. His coming marks changes for Travelers.
The boy will have enough grief this day. She won’t let him suffer even more by having Toby’s Rogues corrupting him and altering Travelers into a future already fraught with brother fighting against brother.
She left her time, far beyond the future where she now resides, in order to ensure that the suffering in her time never occurs. Those she took under her wing now face an even bigger dilemma, and she has come here to prevent a tragedy.
Yet, Ms. Ziegler doesn’t regret doing this.
For so long, she’s awaited the signals of a legendary Savior’s coming. With all the future endures, the young man capable of accepting this responsibility will come into his Talents early, and she can’t let anything sway The First from the path he must take.
This is so cool. I never knew Ms. Ziegler was… Oh! She’s from a future none of us will see. How did none of us suspect this?
This new aspect of Chameleon doesn’t throw Elisa. She’s gained so many Talents during the turbulence affecting her time that nothing throws her off—well, not much. A little amazement runs through her at knowing something about their mysterious headmistress that no one else does.
Elisa keeps her presence muted but also concentrates on the information she just gathered. This will help so much in their battle against Rogues. They will be able to stop Toby now, and then no one else will have to die.
Keep going. Find The First. Stop Toby before he can take over the world.
Her steely, blue-eyed gaze focuses forward as she steps over debris of bricks and boards once part of the fine buildings San Franciscans bragged about to people from other parts of the country. Smoke from the still raging fires casts a pall over the whole area. Screams of grief and moans of pain fail to slow her journey.
For her, the only thing that exists is a beacon. It comes from one of The First’s ancestors, a young man as strong or stronger than James, and capable of noticing things are as they should be. This beacon sent a summons two hundred years into the future, as her world spun out of control after the birth of triplets. She senses her quarry but also feels danger that won’t end for another two centuries.
“Where are you?” Ms. Ziegler pauses as darkness from the smoke cloaks San Francisco. “Speak to me.”
The clues about this young man are few; the threat to him comes from Rogues. She suspects that Rogues have more to fear from a young man teaching himself to take control of the problems already unwinding in the future. TES, those charged with ensuring Travelers obey their laws, have had no luck tracking down Toby and his misguided followers, and have suffered horrendous losses in the last few months. Ms. Ziegler has done her best to let the future follow the path she originally set into place, but lately she has seen things spin too far into Toby’s camp. Her rare Talent, Foreknowledge, warns her now, as it did seventeen years ago. The Time Travelers she guides face a quandary, and it may rip them even further apart.
“I certainly don’t need a natural disaster mucking up things now.” Ms. Ziegler sniffs and stops to get her bearings. “That child could be anywhere.”
The earthquakes devastating the City by the Bay sends more tremors through the ground. Each aftershock causes survivors to scream in fear and seek shelter in those buildings still standing, but they are in danger of succumbing to the ravaging fires. Ms. Ziegler blinks against the sunlight penetrating the smoke and casts about with Empathy, to locate a young man who will both unite and divide Travelers.
“Have we read the prophecy wrong? Have I come here to violate our laws for no reason?”
The musings threaten to disturb Ms. Ziegler at a very deep level. Dennis James Sullivan, The First, is so different. She believes that she has gathered the cream of those able to manipulate Gateways, but she now doubts her mission to protect the powers of the True Neutral, a most uncomfortable feeling.
“Where are you, boy?” She searches the rubble and then remembers recorded history. “Oh, the firehouse. Yes, he will still be there.”
The darkness she sees has nothing to do with the time of day or the fires consuming the ravaged city. According to her best people, and a group of students due to graduate in a couple of months, if this day goes right, Rogues, a group dedicated to their own pleasures, have sent an emissary to corrupt The First. The rift within Travelers drives Ms. Ziegler to take this chance. She must overcome this power struggle.
“You won’t have The First, Toby.” Ms. Ziegler moves forward again; her focus on a bright beacon alerting her to the young man foretold as the beginning of a new age. “Dennis James Sullivan will not bend to your will.”
As she climbs over scattered bricks from the elephantine and now useless City Hall, the bright beacon vanishes. Ms. Ziegler smiles. DJ is on his way back to the future, his personal mission accomplished. Although she should scold him for putting family before the good of all, she knows that he would have come here anyway, risked anything, to save his father, the legendary Dennis James Sullivan X.
Her path takes another direction. DJ would have never left unless he was certain his ancestor was safe. Another bright beacon, this one almost as bright as DJ’s presence, blazes. Ms. Ziegler follows her instincts and moves onto Nob Hill. Despite her age, she climbs over the jumbled cobblestones with ease.
Ms. Ziegler enters a park where people lie on the grass or makeshift litters. Doctors and surgeons from 1906 attempt to repair damaged bodies, but their knowledge is too little for the injuries sustained on most of their patients. She has the power to save everyone but never slows her pace as she approaches a young man standing alone amid the families keening out their losses.
I only hope that I’m not too late.
Elisa allows her presence to expand, risks discovery in order to ensure that she has an escape route. What she senses sends her scurrying back into the oblivion where she has hidden.