On the edge of the dome, he saw the security gate that led to the scaffolding; it was open. He paced himself as he climbed. He would need his strength if he were going to save both of them. Each turn popped into his memory as he approached. A web crisscrossed the entire colonial dome. Clear polymer compounds a few inches thick were all that stood between him and the dense acidic atmosphere of the planet, clear polymers that were now cracking where his bullet struck.
Finally, he reached the spot where Jill stood, a worker kneeling before her with a knife to his throat. Matt approached slowly. His heart leaped to see her alive.
“Hello, Jill.” His voice cracked with emotion as he spoke.
A loud alarm went off, warning the population to make for the nearest bunker. He could see the large crack above starting to leak droplets of acid a few feet behind Jill. “I missed you.” She said.
“Don’t kill him. You don’t have to kill him.”
“I’m sorry, Matt. I wish there were another way. The dome is cracking.” She said. “I can’t have his life-changing things, it’s too important to risk.”
“There is always a choice.”
“No,” she said sadly, “Only fate, I know what I have to do, I have always known. I have to save you. I have to save my students and their families.”
“I know, from where I shot it.”
“Then let me stop it.”
“We will. We’ll stop it together.”
“I didn’t want to kill them, Matt. I never wanted to kill anyone, but time is a chain. You can’t change one thing without changing what follows. You’ll understand. Become, Matt. Evolve.”
“I have. It’s okay, I understand. I finally understand.”
“From the time I arrived eight years ago, I knew how it all had to happen. If I let anything change, I would never get you. I wouldn’t be here to take this man’s chip and use his tools to fix the breach. If I didn’t kill them, thousands would die. I saw it all coming, everything. I couldn’t change anything.”
“There is another way; you don’t have to kill him.” He tried to console her, but couldn’t shake the fear that she was correct, that things couldn’t change. If he could remember every moment of the next seven years, and the Mind Rip victims of the Trust were going to tell him everything, then what free will did any of them have? Was he just standing there with Jill, saying their lines in some cosmic farce? Could gods be that cruel? No, he couldn’t allow himself to believe that knowing what came next wasn’t a -straight-jacket, but an opportunity. Maybe if he changed what was going to happen, his memories of the future would change too.
“I remember how to fix it exactly; I’m not an engineer, if I deviate from what I remember doing, it might change, then I won’t know what I’m doing. I won’t be able to help.”
“That’s how you knew how to kill those people without getting caught; you remembered doing it?”
“Fate is a bitch, but she gave me detailed memories of what to do. If I don’t do this, it will all be for nothing, all those people, and their dead faces. I would rather die than live with that.”
“I can’t let you kill him.” Matt pulled out his gun.
“It’s destiny, everything is happening as it is supposed to. You can’t stop me.”
Matt aimed and pulled the trigger, shooting the knife from her hand.
“What have you done?”
“I have saved you. I saw how this ended too; I won’t kill you, Jill, I choose not to.”
“How?” She collapses onto the hard metal of the catwalk. “No, that wasn’t supposed to happen. How?”
“Choice, Jill. We still have free will,” he said. “It’ll be all right.”
“No, it won’t.” She started to cry. “I knew everything; I saw everything. I know how I die, how I was supposed to die. I’ve always known I had to kill, even as a little girl I saw their faces.”
“Why kill them?”
“Gods a bastard, that’s why. How the hell should I know? I couldn’t change things. I never got to know why you were the only why I got.”
The alarm grew louder.
“It’s about to break,” Jill pointed to a growing crack in the glass. “I’m sorry, Matt, I failed. We’re all going to die now.”
Matt retrieved one of Kramer’s tangler grenades and activated it. “One, Two, Three, Four, head down!” He threw it toward the cracking material. The grenade exploded, sending its liquid adhesive flying against the glass, and the sound diminished. He pulled out another and repeated the procedure than another. By then, the cracking had stopped. He had one grenade left, so he used it also.
Matt sat down next to Jill and put his arm around her. “It’s over,” he said.
“No,” she moaned. “You changed fate. No one changes fate. Nothing has ever changed it. Fate is Fate! No!” She struggled to her feet and ran up the scaffolding.
“People make their own choices. Please relax, we’ll get through this.” He stood as well.
“I love you, I have always loved you. You’ll never know how hard it was to wait for you to love me knowing how it will end. Everything I did, I did for you, for them.” She burst into hysterical laughter. “I didn’t have to kill. I had a choice. When was I ever given a choice? You changed everything. I could have…”
While Matt had been trying to calm down the murderer he loved, he didn’t notice the security officer approached from the other side of the scaffolding.
“Don’t move.” The officer called out.
“Free will. Don’t look at me; I’m a killer.” She stepped toward the worker she was about to kill. “I would have killed him.”
“I said, don’t move.” the guard pulled the trigger. The dome resounded with an echoing noise, and the projectile struck Jill dead in the chest. The force of the impact staggered her backward. She lost her balance and tumbled from the catwalk. Matt dove to try to catch her, but as he reached out for her, she pulled her arms away. As she fell, he swore that he could see serenity cross her face while she plunged to the ground. Matt closed his eyes and tried to shut out the horrible thud she made when she struck the cement.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?” Matt stood; pain and hatred filling his soul.
“You’re Matt Dales,” the man stammered. “You are under arrest.”
“Oh, Mike, you are so wrong.” Every syllable was dipped in venom while Matt told the officer every dirty little secret the man hid from the world. As the guard stood there, stunned by the revelation, Matt put a gun to the guy’s head. He staggered down the catwalk, marking where the officer’s body struck the ground next to Jill’s.
Jill had spoken with conviction and truth when she said the corruption of the Trust had to end. In her memory, he would guarantee that no innocent ever suffered the way she had. He reached the end of the catwalk and sauntered into the crowd.
The Trust was waiting, and he would not disappoint them. Vanderhaar would be there, but that mattered little. He was unimportant now. In the grand scheme of things, the chief was a small, pathetic man. When Matt was finished, his old partner would fade into obscurity.
He straightened up, wiped the dust and blood from his clothing, and started walking toward the hidden chamber under the dome that housed the Trust.
As he walked, Matt remembered the voices as they explained to him why Jill chose to die.
“For half her life,” they’d say. “She’d seen each moment before it happened. She knew every word, everyone who spoke to her would say before it was uttered. It was her trap. The shattering vastness of eternity should have crushed her, reducing her mind to jelly, but she embraced it, her entire past, present, and horrific future. Therefore, nothing could ever surprise her, except perhaps for the depths in which she could despair her fate. Every step of her life was laid out; every right turn anticipated years in advance. It had simply never occurred to her that she could have turned left.”
Now it was Matt’s turn to go on. For the rest of his life, he would understand how it felt to really miss someone. All he would have of her were memories, and he would stretch them to fill a lifetime. He knew that he would feel her absence every second of the years ahead. She truly was the only person in the universe who could ever fully understand him. He remembered each morning he would wake up without her, every dinner he would suffer alone. Something within him died when she fell.
Jill was beyond saving, but it wasn’t her fault. She was the victim. The true evil was those who profited from her suffering, those who allowed the entire system to continue. Matt knew his next move. He would secure some information, and then he had a meeting to attend, one that would change the colony forever. The members of the Trust were waiting, although they didn’t know it yet. It would be the most important meeting of their lives, and he had no plans to disappoint them.