I was old, and feeling dreadfully weak and sluggish. I saw a much younger version of Steel running around a corner, then I heard a gunshot that made my heart skip a beat. I ran to turn the same corner, and while I was running I was feeling younger and younger, but I had a terrible foreboding, so I tried to run faster, but the corner seemed to get farther and farther. When I finally managed to turn it, what I saw froze my blood: Steel was sprawled in a pool of blood on the pavement. I ran to his side and gathered him in my arms, mindless of the blood staining my clothes. I called him, but he didn't answer. He didn't even open his eyes, and he was totally limp. I knew he was dead, without any need to feel for a pulse. I just knew it. I hugged him tighter and started to cry with big, uncontrolled sobs, calling his name.
I woke up with a start, tears running down my cheeks. It took me a while to realize it was just a dream, but with realization also came relief.
Dear God, I just saw Steel die. It was such an upsetting dream, I knew I could not go back to sleep, so I got up.
When I moved to the sitting room, I cached a glimpse of someone sitting on my sofa in the darkened room. I turned the lights on, and I saw Sapphire. She wasn't smiling, as she always did; when I looked at her, I saw tears glittering in her blue eyes.
I screamed: "NO! Please, Sapphire, don't tell me it wasn't a dream!"
She kept looking at me and weeping silently. My legs didn't support me anymore and I sagged on the floor, emptied. "No, no, no."
I felt a sharp pain to my side, where my still healing wound was, and when I tried to reach for it, I realized I was on the floor beside my bed. I fumbled in search of the lamp switch and turned the light on. I was alone in my bedroom, and I just fell from the bed while trying to run from the horrible double dream I just had. My cheeks were still wet with real tears, and I probably screamed out loud, because my cat Numa was at my side, looking pretty scared and sniffing me suspiciously.
I was too upset to move, so I just sat there on the floor, bracing my knees, until dawn sneaked in through my curtains. Only then I dared stand up and walk to the sitting room, which of course was empty.
I moved to the bathroom and took a long, hot shower, trying to wash away the anguish I was still feeling. The shower helped a little, but not completely. While I was trying to gulp down some coffee, I couldn't help thinking about the nightmare. Seeing Steel die was distressing enough, but thinking that it was just a dream only to see Sapphire deny it was even worse.
I wondered what got into me: I rarely have nightmares, and they are never this vivid. Could it be some sort of premonition? Maybe my association with the elementals triggered some latent ability. Yeah, right; and maybe I was just letting my imagination run wild. It was just a dream, albeit vivid, and it was foolish to let it upset me so deeply.
Less than half an hour later, my doorbell rang, and I saw Mercury standing at my door. He looked somber, but not distraught, so I waited for him to speak before making assumptions.
"I was sent by the authority because they sensed your distress. What happened? It must have been something really upsetting for them to send me here to check on you."
I drew a sigh of relief, then explained what happened.
"I had an incredibly vivid dream: I saw Steel die."
He frowned. "It must have been really distressing. How did he die?"
"He was shot. Which of course is impossible, isn't it?"
"Afraid not. Steel can withstand any type of steel weapons, but not lead bullets. We're powerful, but not all-resistant, you know."
"Oh. What if it's a premonitory dream? Where's Steel right now?"
"He's currently on assignment with Sapphire."
"Oh, no. Mercury, he might be in danger!"
"What makes you think this dream has a premonitory quality?"
"It was too vivid, and it was a double dream: when I thought I had woken up, I was still dreaming, and the end result was the same: Steel was dead. Oh, please, Mercury, you must warn him."
"I can't. When the operators are on assignment, they cannot be contacted."
"Then tell me where they are operating. I'll just join them. Are they on Earth?"
"Yes, but this is not allowed. The authority won't let you go."
I raised my voice. "I don't give a damn about your authority! Just tell me where they are and I'll handle it."
I could tell Mercury was torn, but not very inclined to indulge me. I had to convince him.
I took his hand and looked at him with my best pleading eyes. It often works with men, and I was fervently hoping it worked with elementals, too.
"Please, Mercury, you can't refuse to help me. What if Steel really dies during his assignment? How do you think you would feel, knowing that you had a chance to save him? How do you think I would feel?"
Well, it seems to be a universal trick, because after a while I saw his eyes grow soft. He took both my hands in his and said, in a warning tone: "All right. I'll tell you where they are, but you must promise you will never tell anyone that I disclosed such sensitive information. Although it's not difficult to surmise it was me, I guess."
He scribbled the address on a piece of paper and handed it to me.
I was so happy, I kissed him right on his nicely shaped lips. "Thanks, Mercury, you're terrific!"
He turned a darker shade of red and said: "Just make sure to thank me again when all this will be over."
"It's a deal!"
He walked out of the door, smiling, and disappeared as soon as he stepped outside.
I had a job to do, and I had to do if fast. I grabbed all my standard equipment: bullet-proof vest, gun, spare ammunitions, handcuffs and pepper spray, and ran out. I drove to the airport, identified myself as a police officer to make sure I could carry my weapons on the plane, and took the first flight to San Francisco, where I now knew the two agents were operating.
I rented a car and headed toward the Golden Gate Park. I knew it was a hopeless search, because the park is huge, but I had to give it a try. My police badge allowed me to enter the park by car, so I could speed up my search of the two agents. It was almost dusk, so I had less chances of running over some unsuspecting stroller, although I also had less chances of finding Sapphire and Steel. All I knew was that they were searching for a time anomaly that presumably took place near a large meadow, but I had no idea what they were supposed to do or what threat they were sent to fight. I am no expert, but as far as I know time anomalies don't go around shooting people, but I could not exclude the possibility of someone else interfering.
I was feeling a sense of urgency that wasn't helping me concentrate. I decided to try and contact my friends mentally. I had been connected with Steel before, so I might still be able to communicate with him.
'Steel, can you hear me? Please, answer me. Steel? STEEL!'
The force of my mental shout made my head hurt, but to no avail: either Steel didn't hear me, or he was too busy to care. I didn't fancy considering a third, more pessimistic alternative, so I just kept driving around the park.
As soon as I drove into a nice tree-lined alley, I saw strange lights coming from a very specific area right in front of me. I speeded toward it, but I was forced to pump on the brakes after a few feet, to avoid running over a jogger who was clearly not just jogging, but running as fast as he could.
He skidded to a halt in front of my window and said, in a frightened voice: "You'd better not go that way, madam. Looks like a war zone, over there."
I showed him my badge and tried to calm him down: "Police. I'll take care of that, don't worry. Just stand clear of this area for a few hours, OK?"
He resumed running, not even bothering to answer.
I neared the area, still lit by strange alien lights. When I thought I was close enough, I jumped off the car, wore my bullet-proof vest and started running, holding my gun.
I decided to move stealthily, but it wasn't easy, because the area was a vast meadow with no trees or bushes to cover me. I could only run and try to stay as low as possible.
The jogger was right: it really looked like a war zone. Flashes and lightning were erupting from one single spot, where I could also glimpse the silhouettes of two fair-haired people trying to approach the source of the lights. One of them was wearing a blue outfit, so it had to be Sapphire.
When I got closer, I noticed that every time a lightning flashed, a figure rose, walking unsteadily. It was some sort of creature, clearly not human, but I was too far to distinguish their features.
There were already at least ten such creatures roaming about. They were trying to organize themselves, and rapidly succeeding. They started to surround my two friends, approaching threateningly.
Steel reacted: he hit one of them, and the creature doubled over, but it clearly was not seriously hurt, because after a few seconds it stood again and resumed its attack. Steel kept hitting as many as he could, but they all quickly recovered and carried on their assault. I knew Steel's strength to be much greater than that, so I wondered why he was holding back and why he didn't drop his temperature to freeze his opponents. Maybe he just couldn't.
I could see that Sapphire's powers were not working, either: although I could feel in my bones the typical throb caused by her taking time back, nothing happened.
I was now close enough to be spotted, but nobody noticed me in all the commotion. Despite Steel's resolve, Sapphire's eyes showed only despair. They were clearly in serious trouble, so I felt entitled to lend a hand. I aimed at one of the creatures with my gun and fired. I hit it right in the forehead – or what I believed was its forehead – and it fell like a puppet. I wondered whether it would rise again in a few seconds, but it stayed on the ground. That looked too easy, but I didn't waste valuable time questioning my luck: I started shooting all the creatures surrounding the two agents, never missing the mark. When all the creatures were lying on the ground, my charger wasn't even empty yet.
When Steel realized he wasn't surrounded anymore, he didn't waste time asking me questions: he just approached me with a very intimidating look in his grey eyes, grabbed my gun and dashed to the spot where the lights originated from.
I ran after him, tailed by Sapphire, but he was much faster than both of us.
I rapidly made a mental association: Steel was going to be killed by my own gun!
While I was running, I told Sapphire, with what little breath I had left: "We must not allow him to use that weapon. I know he's going to be killed by that gun."
She answered, panting: "How can we stop him? That entity is inhibiting our powers."
I just sprinted forward, but it was too late: Steel was standing in front of a very indistinct bright figure, which didn't even resemble a human shape, and was aiming my gun at it.
He didn't have a chance to shoot: the gun was yanked from his hand by some invisible force, and aimed at his heart.
I moved faster than I ever did in my whole life: I skidded to a stop, grabbed my pepper spray bottle and threw it with all my might, aiming at Steel's head. It hit him hard on his left temple, and he collapsed, right when the gun fired. After the shot, the weapon fell to the floor, an inanimate object once again.
I didn't know whether Steel got hit, but I couldn't afford the luxury to check: the entity was now turning its attention to Sapphire and me. I bent at Steel's side, grabbed the gun laying at a short distance from his limp form, and fired twice at the being, which was now shining brighter than ever. The bullets had no effect, though: it clearly was much more resilient than its minions.
I soon followed Steel's fate: the gun was snatched from my hand by the same invisible force, and aimed at my head, which of course was not protected by the vest.
The entity seemed to know what it was doing, but it was no tactical expert: it didn't count the bullets, as I am trained to do, therefore it didn't know that the charger was now empty.
While I heard the click of the hammer ineffectively hitting the barrel, I grabbed my spare pack of ammunitions and threw it at the entity's feet, where bright flashes were still sparking, fervently hoping that one of them would detonate the gunpowder.
I shouted: "Need a recharge?", than ducked over Steel's body to protect him from the blast I was hoping was about to go off.
The explosion was strong enough to fling lead fragments all over the place. My bullet-proof jacket protected both me and Steel, and luckily Sapphire was out of range, although she fell to the ground.
When the place returned silent again, I lifted my head and looked for the entity, but it was nowhere to be found. Either the blast destroyed it, or it scared the hell out of it and made it flee.
I was finally free to check on Steel. I turned him around, and the first thing I saw was a nasty bruise forming on his temple, where my pepper spray bottle hit. He would definitely not be happy about it. Only then I noticed a red stain on his left shoulder. The bullet hit him, after all, but the fact that he was collapsing for the blow to the head at least shifted the impact point above his heart. He was alive, albeit wounded.
Sapphire reached me and kneeled beside her partner, a worried expression on her fine features.
"Is he seriously hurt?"
"I don't think so. This type of wound isn't typically life-threatening."
I gently lifted his torso, and noticed an exit hole. "The bullet went right through his shoulder, which means that it didn't hit the bone. It's a rather clean wound, we just need to stop the bleeding."
I tore his shirt's fabric to expose the wound, then I took a clean handkerchief and applied enough pressure to stop the blood slowly oozing out of the neat hole.
A moan escaped Steel's lips, and his eyes fluttered open. When they focused on my face, I smiled and said: "Welcome back. You've been shot by my own gun, so please stay still and let me stop the bleeding. I know it hurts, but you must hold on."
His gaze moved to Sapphire's face, and I heard them exchanging a mental message:
'Are you all right, Sapphire?'
'Yes, Steel, don't worry about me. Are you in pain?'
'I can stand it.'
Then he looked back at me.
"What happened, detective? That entity is not jamming our powers anymore. Has it been destroyed?"
"I don't know. But it disappeared when my ammunitions exploded at its feet, or whatever it uses as lower appendages."
"That seems too easy. It looked like a very powerful entity. How could a simple blast have destroyed it?"
"I agree, but it's nowhere to be found."
He was silent for a while, then looked at me with a questioning look: "By the way, what are you doing here?"
Uh oh, I got some explaining to do.
"Well, to make a long story short, I had this premonitory dream where you were shot to death, so I thought to come and look for you to prevent that from happening. It turned out that the gun that was going to kill you was my own. It's still kind of hard to understand, though."
"It's called a time paradox. How did you prevent the gun from killing me?"
Ouch, that was the hardest part to explain.
"Well, I... ehm, I knocked you down with my pepper spray bottle."
I heard Sapphire chuckle, thus earning Steel's warning look. When he looked back at me, cautiously touching his temple with his left hand, I said: "I'm sorry, but there really was no other way. I just had to take a very quick decision and I couldn't think about anything else."
He sighed. "Well, at least it worked. I wonder how you persuaded the authority to send you here."
The more explanations I gave, the more in trouble I was.
"Well, it didn't exactly send me here. It was more my own doing."
Steel was astounded: "You mean you defied it?"
"Technically, no. I just sort of sneaked in your assignment without its knowing it."
Now both my elemental friends were grinning, and trying to hide it.
"You are more resourceful than I thought."
Whew, that meant that I was not in serious trouble, at least not until the authority discovered what I did.
Suddenly Steel looked behind me and asked: "Who's that?"
I turned, surprised, and saw the same jogger I met before coming toward us. He had a strange, wicked look in his eyes and was holding a club.
I raised my voice, and asked him: "What are you doing here? I told you to keep clear. And what do you think you're doing with that club?"
The man kept approaching us quietly.
"Put it down. That's an order!"
Instead of putting it down, he raised it over his head and turned toward Sapphire. Steel reacted instinctively: he got up, mindless of his wound, and confronted the man. Before I could intervene, they started struggling. Steel clinched him to avoid being hit by the club, but the man started punching him madly, and a few blows reached his injured shoulder. He grimaced in pain, but didn't let go.
I could tell his powers were ineffective again, because I knew that if he could use them, he would pulverize the man. That probably meant the poor guy was possessed by the time entity. Maybe he came back to have a closer look and was now being used by the entity as a weapon.
I had no means of helping Steel: the gun was empty and I had no more ammunition, and the pepper spray's nozzle broke in the impact with Steel's head. The only tool I had left were my handcuffs, but I had no way of using them on a wildly fighting man. I also suspected he was given an inhuman strength, because he was easily disposing of poor Steel, who I knew was a strong man, even without his elemental powers. The wounded shoulder didn't help, either, and he was rapidly succumbing. I could tell he was on the verge of unconsciousness, and he hadn't collapsed just yet only because he was stubbornly clinging to the man.
What I didn't expect was Sapphire's reaction: she ran to the point where the entity originally appeared, took the pepper-spray bottle and cut the inside of her hand with the broken nozzle, which was now rather sharpened. She managed to slash the skin enough to bleed quite a few drops to the ground. As soon as they touched the soil, Steel's assailant stopped, made a ravenous face and an inhuman growl and turned around, now heading toward Sapphire. Steel fell on his knees and could only helplessly watch as he slowly surrendered to unconsciousness, while the threat was moving toward his partner.
I didn't know what Sapphire had in mind, but I rapidly realized it when I saw her picking up the club the man had let go during his struggle with Steel, and firmly standing her ground while she waited for him to reach her. I had never seen such a resolute and intimidating expression on her usually serene face, and it was really scary. I was sure she was going to kill the man by smashing the club on his head, but she came to her senses at the last moment; she lowered the club and aimed a terrible sweeping blow to his knees. As soon as the man fell, yelling at the impact, I ran to him, grabbing my handcuffs. While he was lying on the ground clenching his injured knees, I managed to handcuff him behind his back pretty easily. He was now finally harmless.
The entity realized it and left the poor man's battered body. I saw a faint brilliance going from his head right to the spot on the ground where Sapphire let her blood drop, I heard a sickening sucking sound and then an alien voice speaking directly in my mind, uttering the words "Back. Soon."
Then everything was silent again. It was over, the entity had left. For the time being, at least.
"What happened?" I asked, astonished.
I was relieved to see that Sapphire's face had lost that uncharacteristically threatening expression and was back to normal.
"I noticed that every time the man touched Steel's blood, he got stronger and stood Steel's blows easier. So I presumed that the entity feeds on blood and attracted him to my own."
"Very clever, although risky."
"I couldn't let him kill Steel."
"Remind me to never threaten your partner's life while you're around!"
She smiled and then went to Steel's side. He was still unconscious, and his wound was bleeding again.
Sapphire said: "Our assignment is complete. At least for now; I heard the entity's warning, too. I have to go now, Steel needs healing and rest. Help me wake him up, he must be conscious to teleport."
Together, we lifted him to a sitting position, and Sapphire gave him gentle slaps on his cheeks, calling his name. When he came to, blinking, Sapphire stroked his hair and beamed the sweetest smile at him.
His look went from Sapphire to me, and then back. We were both holding him. He closed his eyes for a moment, smiling weakly, then said, in a horse voice: "I wish Silver and Mercury could see me now."
I smiled, and found myself holding empty air. The two agents had gone.
END OF LOG ONE (Next log is coming soon.)