ENDGAME

1

He was dreaming, and he knew it, but the dream was a good one, so Gordon stayed there, quite content to revisit the past. It was silvery-grey morning, the sun barely high enough to clear the fog or kindle the dew drops, and he was quite young, eight years old, or so. He was in bed, but feeling much better, having shaken off the last burning traces of influenza.

His mum, who'd been up most of the night, had finally drifted off beside him, perched precariously on her left side, at the edge of the bed. She didn't care for the local hospital, and rarely took him there, fearing the sharp-faced officials with their paper work, computer ID scans, and endless questions. Anyhow, they'd probably be moving again, soon; driven by Kathy's eternal, restless worry. Gordon was none the worse for it, especially with the latest physical education instructor encouraging him to try out for the local swim team.

Now, though, he was awake and hungry. Rolling over, the boy nudged his sleeping mother, lying disheveled and pale in the rising light, still in her drab work clothes.

"Mummy?"

"Hmmmm...?" Her breathing changed, and her eyes opened, just a bit.

"Mummy, it's morning. May we have breakfast, please? I'll make it."

That threat woke her immediately. Pushing the copper hair out of her face with a thin hand, Kathleen Tracy sat up.

"Yes, to breakfast, Love, and no to any further experiments in the kitchen. You've done quite enough fumigating, already." But she smiled as she said it, stroking the auburn hair back from his forehead.

"Feelin' better, I take it?" His mother asked, as she rose and stretched to work out the sullen aches of a long, worried night.

"Yes, Mum. Much." It was so good to see her again.

"Well, then, I suppose y'll be wanting a seven course banquet, complete with finger bowls n' entertainment?"

He giggled... a silly, childish gurgle... and sat up.

"Just eggs! And some milk, please, Mum."

Smiling, the slender young woman leaned over and gave her baby a brief back rub, then kissed the top of his head.

"One sick-bed special, comin' right up!" she quipped lightly, green eyes warm. A moment later, she'd left his tiny room, heading first to the bathroom, then the kitchen. The sounds of running water, the familiar sharp clatter of metal pans and thudding cabinet doors, filled the thin-walled little flat. He listened as she switched on the television and began humming along with the opening theme of her favorite show. (He'd been sick long enough that she had quite a recorded back log to watch, the boy recalled.)

Afraid to break the spell, Gordon sat for awhile with his chin on his up-drawn knees, arms wrapped about his legs. Then, he threw off the bedclothes and got to his feet. Still a bit weak and wobbly, he had to hold to the wall for support, but made it to the kitchen at last, where his mother shook her head at his tousled appearance.

"What 're you doin' up?" She demanded, entirely failing to sound severe.

"Um... Just... came out t' see what you're making, Mummy."

She snorted, standing before the stove with a bowl in one hand, the kitchen's ugly fluorescent lighting making her seem limp and over-laundered.

"Scrambled eggs. Not one of th' great mysteries of the universe, Love. Now, sit down before you fall down, and get ready t' eat."

He obeyed, watching silently as she mixed up and scrambled the powdered eggs, then toasted a slice of bread, onto which was scraped a bit of margarine and a dab of orange marmalade. Next, milk powder was stirred into hot water, along with two spoons of chocolate, and one of coffee. The frothy mixture was poured into a mug and placed onto the table before him, along with a plate of hot food, and a spoon.

"There you are. Eat quickly, before it cools."

He waited, though, while his young mother wiped her hands on a dish towel and dropped into the folding chair across the table. As always, she took a few sips from his milk cup, but made nothing for herself. She never seemed to have much appetite, which hadn't worried him then. Now, though... Well, dreams were different. In dreams, you could change things.

Gordon broke the toasted bread in half and gave her part, watching while his mother took a few small bites. She was working too hard, he realized suddenly, and eating far too little. So very frail she seemed, wrapped up entirely in caring for her only child. And he understood for the first time (seeing through older, wiser eyes), that had he not been there to hold her, she'd have melted away like window frost.

"Mum...?" he ventured.

She looked up at him, smiling quizzically.

"...I miss you."

And then he woke up; no longer eight, but still sick, and very alone in a vast, expensively furnished bedroom.

Gordon sat up slowly, putting away the dream like a treasured old newspaper clipping. It was still dark, he noted, a glance at the clock revealing that the morning had advanced no further than 2 AM. Looking around, he saw no sign of TinTin, who'd promised she'd stay while he slept off the anti-radiation drugs. All that remained of the girl was an empty chair and a discarded green notebook, cast aside on the carpeted floor. Where had she gone, he wondered? It wasn't like TinTin to abandon a friend, no matter how much she might feign boredom or disinterest. Something felt terribly wrong.

Worried, Gordon forced himself out of bed and over to the bathroom. He leaned over the sink awhile with the water running, trying to dredge up a spark or two of energy. He hurt all over, and moving turned his stomach... but TinTin's mysterious absence made it impossible to rest. Stiff and slow, Gordon washed up, dressed himself, then left the room to seek her out.

Elsewhere:

The presence weighed on her mind like the slimy coils of something bitterly venomous and utterly malign. It jabbed at her thoughts, forcing the girl to fetch a gun from the weapon cabinet, then creep back to the infirmary, one slow, trembling step at a time. Crying silently, body shaking from the awful strain of trying to resist, TinTin fought to block the Hood's taunting voice.

'This time, Little One, there shall be no escape, and none to distract me. My enemy will fall, at your hand, leaving the rest to be harvested at my leisure. They will die, one at a time, because you have made such a sweet and willing tool.' Then, musingly, 'This one must be swift, but the next... one of the young boys, I think... we shall have fun with, you and I. A gift for you, Little Niece; a choice. Which of your young friends, 'Gordon' or 'Alan', do we torment to death on the morrow?'

TinTin whimpered, as a flood of horrible images filled her mind. Silently praying for help, she concentrated desperately on not moving, not taking the next step. She was so very close now; the infirmary where John and the others lay defenseless and ill, just a few rooms away...

'There is no help, Little One,' the presence gloated caressingly, secure in the belief that his power would keep the others from waking, 'only we two, and death.'

He was wrong, though. There was another.