CHAPTER 1 of Time Reavers
Or rather, everything stopped but her.
Nicole stared at the subway station in wide-eyed terror. The train rumbling into the stop had frozen in front of her. The people hurrying up along the platform stood like statues, some of them suspended in mid-stride. Some of them not touching the ground as they ran to catch the train.
Nicole looked around, heart pounding in her chest. She tried to find Mrs. Woytowich or someone from her class, but no one was there. She was alone.
A middle-aged man in a peaked cap caught her eye. He wore a black sweater over his white shirt and tie. The sweater had a crest on the sleeve that looked a lot like an American police shield. Maybe he was a policeman. It wasn’t her teacher or a classmate, but he was better than nothing.
Nicole weaved her way through the crowd of motionless Russians, trying her best not to touch any of them. When she did, they felt like solid rock. The sensation sent chills down her spine. All of this was so wrong!
Nicole ducked under an elderly man’s pointing arm, and walked over. The policeman was looking down and smiling at a little girl in an obnoxious pink dress. He wore a fake look of concern, as if humoring the girl and her equally pink mother.
But they weren’t moving. No one was moving!
“Excuse me, sir?” Nicole asked. Her voice echoed in the station, the only sound besides the squeaks of her shoes on the polished floor.
Nicole grabbed hold of the policeman and tried shaking him, but he wouldn’t budge. She backed away and brushed against the girl in pink. Her hair was a rigid as steel.
Nothing moved. Nothing made a sound.
No, wait …
Nicole stood perfectly still and listened. She heard something else, a distant but recognizable sound. It was a man’s voice. Someone else was here and he wasn’t frozen! She wasn’t alone!
Tentative relief welled up within Nicole. Someone else was down here with her! She listened hard, barely breathing. The man’s voice sounded close, but with an oddly hollow, almost metallic echo for the cavernous Saint Petersburg subway station. Slowly Nicole walked towards the source, slipping through unmoving pedestrians and rounding a tall column to the subway’s central thoroughfare.
Columns twice as tall as the trains rose up in two rows on either side, supporting a lavishly ornate marble ceiling. Huge wrought-iron chandeliers hung from the roof. It was easily the fanciest subway station she’d ever seen.
Except for this mess, she thought.
Nicole could hardly believe how quickly her mood had changed. She’d been so close to outright panic, but now she was filled with a giddy sense of relief. She wasn’t alone! No matter what kind of strange mess she was in, she didn’t have to face it alone!
Looking around, Nicole again tried to find Amy, her classmates, or Mrs. Woytowich. Amy had clearly said they weren’t leaving until everyone was out of the restrooms.
But now that she thought about it, no one else from class had been in the restroom with her. She hadn’t heard Mrs. Woytowich mention anything about waiting at this stop. It had all been Amy …
Nicole grimaced. She chewed on the inside of her lip.
Again. Amy had tricked her again. The one school trip to a foreign country this year, and Amy was playing her stupid games. Normally, Nicole would be furious, but she just shook her head and kept moving.
She walked down the thoroughfare and maneuvered through the frozen throngs of Russian pedestrians. The man’s voice became louder and more distinct. Whoever he was, he was mumbling under his breath, but most importantly, he was mumbling in English.
Nicole stepped around a column, squeezed sideways through the press of people, and finally caught sight of him.
The man looked a few years older than her, probably just starting college. He wore a beat-up black trench coat, thick oval glasses and had a crop of black, untidy hair. He stared intensely at his open notepad with a pencil stuck behind an ear.
The man grabbed the pencil, and jotted down a few notes.
“Hey!” Nicole shouted, smiling and waving her arms. She ran towards him. “Hey!”
The man looked up.
Nicole stopped in front of him with a huge smile. She couldn’t help it. She was so relieved to find someone else.
“Well, this is a pleasant surprise,” he said. “I was starting to get worried. There’s got to be at least one reaver in here with us. I certainly didn’t trigger the tau freeze. It’s probably a big one too. Maybe up to class six if my math is right. Umm, are you okay?”
Nicole stared blankly. He lowered the notepad and Nicole got a good look at it. His scribbles reminded her of algebra class, only a lot more complicated.
“Oh, I’m sorry!” He flipped his notepad closed and placed it in his trench coat. Nicole caught a glimpse of the coat’s interior. It was all pockets and pouches, some holding what looked like knives. She took a step back. Her chest tightened with renewed anxiety.
The man reached into another pocket and retrieved a small dog-eared paperback, its cover creased from storage in the coat. Dozens of pages had little colored sticky tabs attached with tiny notes scribbled in pencil. The title read: Basic Russian Phrases for Idiots.
The man flipped the book open to the front and cleared his throat.
“Izvinite. Menja zovut Daniel. Umm, let me see here … Kak vas zovut?”
He looked up expectantly.
Nicole shook her head. She wanted to say something, but the words caught in her throat.
“Huh … I’m pretty sure I’m pronouncing it right.” He flipped to the back of the book and cleared his throat again.
“Opasnost! Reaver blizko!”
He looked up.
“What the hell are you saying?” Nicole asked.
“Oh, you speak English!”
“Oh, wonderful!” he said, putting the phrase book away. “A fellow American by the sound of your accent.”
“I’m sorry about that,” the man said, extending a hand that Nicole shook limply. “I wasn’t expecting another tau guard, and certainly not another American. My name’s Daniel, by the way. Daniel Cadinsky.”
“Nice to meet you, Nicole,” Daniel said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting anyone else in this part of the city. None of Viktor’s tau guards are covering this area, and I just happened to be here when the freeze hit. Lousy luck, having to deal with a freeze in a foreign country. I’d rather be back in New York.”
“Umm, Daniel?” Nicole asked, tugging on his sleeve.
“Could you please tell me what’s going on?”
Daniel stared at her for a few seconds. He tilted his head to one side.
“You mean you don’t …”
She shook her head.
“You’ve never …”
She shook her head again.
“So this is the first time that you’ve …”
She nodded emphatically.
“Wow! You mean, you’ve never had any training and—”
“Umm, sure. Oh gee, where to start?” Daniel said, scratching the back of his head. “Well, we’re in the middle of a tau freeze.”
“Err … tau, you know? Tau being the symbol for time? It’s just a fancy way of saying time has stopped.”
“Yes, I noticed that part!”
“What we’re stuck in right now is called tau prime,” Daniel said. “It’s tau, but it’s got a little apostrophe next to it. Are you sure you’ve never had any training?”
“Never been to Chronopolis?”
“Not even once?”
“Or the Pandemonium College?”
“I don’t go to college yet, but I want to be a veterinarian someday.”
“Umm, that’s nice.”
“Can you please tell me how to get out of this?”
“Well, you can start by not shouting at me,” Daniel said.
“Oh … s-sorry …”
Nicole backed away from him, suddenly embarrassed.
“Look, just take a few deep breaths and calm down, okay?”
“Don’t mention it. Everyone gets freaked out their first time. I was personally hysterical for weeks afterwards. I couldn’t look at a clock without having a panic attack. Compared to me, you’re doing great.”
Daniel put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and for some reason, that made her feel a lot better. No matter what kind of mess she was in or how incomprehensible the situation was, she’d found someone who knew what he was doing.
“Hey, you hungry?” he asked.
“Freezes can last a while,” Daniel said, looking around. “It’s easy to lose track of how long, so eat whenever you’re hungry, you know? Ah! Here we are!”
Nicole followed Daniel through the unmoving crowd queuing for the next train.
“So, how long do freezes last?” she asked.
“Oh, it varies. I’m not really sure most of the time. I could never get my watch to work during a freeze, you know? Most sparkies can get simple stuff like a watch to work, but what’s the point when you have reavers to worry about?”
“Personally, the longest freeze I was stuck in lasted about five days, give or take a day. I spent the whole freeze over the Atlantic in a plane, and man, it was horrible! The reaver was actually hiding in one of the engines and I had to climb out onto the wing to get it! Second worst experience of my life.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Ah! Lunch!” Daniel said, stopping next to a fat, bald man with a greasy McDonald’s bag. Daniel struggled to peel the man’s finger’s back and open the bag. It took a lot of effort. His face reddened with exertion, and he triumphantly said: “Yes! A Big Mac.”
“You’re going to take this man’s food?”
“There’s a cherry pie in here too. You want it?”
“Your loss,” Daniel said. He reached in and pulled out the Big Mac. The bag snapped shut as soon as he let go, almost catching his fingers. He smiled, opened the carton, and took a hungry bite out of the Big Mac, which was weird because it wasn’t stone hard anymore.
“That’s theft,” Nicole said.
Daniel frowned at her as he chewed.
“You stole his Big Mac,” she said.
He swallowed. “Umm … it’s better if you think of it as a tax. For performing a public service.”
“Killing reavers, of course.”
“What’s a reaver?”
“Which reminds me,” Daniel said, pulling his notepad out and flipping it open one-handed. “Yeah, it’s a big one. Five point eight on the Novikov scale, you see?”
Nicole shook her head. The scribbles on the notepad were just so much gibberish. Even if she knew what the symbols meant, his handwriting was barely legible.
“At least, I think I figured it out right,” Daniel said. “Wish I could use a calculator during a tau freeze, but oh well. Say, do you have a watch?”
“Is it still working?”
Nicole pulled back her jacket sleeve. “Umm, no.”
“Hmm. You’re probably not a sparky then,” Daniel said. “Hey, here’s an idea.” He switched the Big Mac and pad to one hand, and held the burger carton up in the other.
“Try setting this on fire,” he said.
“But I don’t smoke,” Nicole said. For emphasis, she patted her pockets for the absent lighter. Amy would probably have one, trying to seem cooler than she really was.
“No, not like that,” Daniel said. “With your mind.”
“Are you serious?”
“And how am I supposed to do that?”
“Not sure really. I’m not a pyro. I think a lot of them can’t control it at first and end up setting themselves on fire. It can get messy.”
“Well, I haven’t set myself on fire yet.”
“Yeah, good point,” Daniel said, dropping the carton. It stopped a foot off the ground, shuddered in mid air, and launched itself across the train station like a guided missile.
“Did it just …?”
“Go back into the man’s carryout bag? Yeah. Temporal reset.”
“But isn’t he going to think it’s weird that his Big Mac isn’t there?”
“Nah. He’ll just think they botched his order.”
“If you say so.”
“So you’re not a sparky and you’re probably not a pyro,” Daniel said, walking down the station’s main thoroughfare.
Nicole spotted a young woman in black waiting on the platform. She had conspicuously dyed black hair, black makeup and numerous ear, eyebrow, and nose piercings.
“This freeze thing. It’s not dangerous, is it? My friends will be okay, right?”
“I was expecting our class to be waiting by the platform.”
Daniel spun so fast he blurred. His trench coat whipped around him. Nicole wondered if her eyes were playing tricks on her.
“They’re not there,” Nicole said. “I already looked.”
“What do they look like?”
“I don’t know. Like a mob of thirty teenagers following a woman around who dresses ten years younger than she is and tries really hard to be our friend.”
“Is she cute?”
“Your teacher. Is she cute?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. It might be important.”
“Well, I have no idea. Some of the boys in class seem to think so, but they’re a bunch of idiots.”
“Hmm. No, I can’t say I’ve seen her.”
Nicole pointed at the Russian goth. “What about her? My …” Nicole sighed. “Friend is dressed like this.”
Daniel walked over to the goth. He looked her up and down.
“This is what your friend looks like?”
Daniel did a double-take of the Russian goth and Nicole. “How did you end up friends with someone like this?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Nothing. I just thought … We are talking about the same person, right?”
In truth, she was used to the reaction given the contrast between Amy and her. Compared to Amy’s aggressively gothic styles, Nicole wore her black Mass Effect hoodie, a well-worn Aperture Science tank top, blue jeans, and her favorite pair of running shoes. She kept her brunette hair short, almost boyish, and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing make-up or jewelry.
“She’s not even my friend, really,” Nicole said. “She’s my sister. Sort of.”
“Oh, well that does make a little more sense,” Daniel said. “You can’t choose your family. What did you mean by ‘sort of’?”
“None of your business.”
Daniel shrugged. He looked like he didn’t care about the answer at all, which somehow annoyed Nicole more than if he’d pressed for an answer.
“So my classmates are okay, right?” Nicole asked. She hesitated before adding: “And my sister?”
“Oh, yeah. They’re fine. In fact they’re safer than us right now. You can slap them or punch them or hit them in the head with a crowbar and they won’t feel a thing.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“I don’t know. You did say they were your classmates.”
“Yes, I did say that. So let me ask you again, why the hell would I want to hit them with a crowbar? Just what kind of school did you attend?”
Daniel snapped his fingers. He turned around, smiling at her.
“What?” Nicole asked. “What’s wrong?”
“I bet you’re an acrobat!” he said, putting the half-eaten Big Mac and his notepad into separate coat pockets.
“It’s what I am,” Daniel said, puffing out his chest. “My strength and reflexes improve when I’m in a tau freeze. Here, watch.”
He leaped into the air, back-flipped, and landed on the Russian goth’s head, balancing easily on one leg.
“And that doesn’t hurt her?” Nicole asked.
“She can’t feel a thing,” Daniel said. He jumped from head to head, hands in his pockets, making it look so easy.
“So, why don’t you try it?” he asked.
Nicole followed him, forcing her way through the crowd like a normal pedestrian. She had no desire to start hopping up and down while making a fool of herself.
“You sure you don’t feel especially nimble today?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Why don’t you try jumping? Just see if you’ve got some extra lift today.”
“No, thank you.”
Nicole tried following Daniel, but got caught in between a throng of six elderly women with canes and had to back track.
Daniel danced from head to head around her.
“Come on. Give it a try.”
“Now listen here, mister!” she said. “Would you please stop that? All I want is out, okay? I don’t want to set things on fire or hunt reavers or jump around like an idiot! I just want out of this mess!”
Daniel landed in front of her. He looked like a whipped puppy.
“Err … I mean …” Nicole muttered.
“Mister?” Daniel said. He made it sound like a vile curse word. “I mean … yeah I’m a little older than you, but I’m not that old.”
“I didn’t mean …”
“Look, no premature grays, see?” Daniel ran fingers through his uncombed hair. “And in my line of work, that’s saying something. Plus it’s not like I have a gut or anything. I keep myself in good shape and exercise regularly.”
“I mean, ‘mister’? Really,” Daniel said. He turned and walked away. “I’ve barely started college and people are already calling me ‘mister’.”
“It’s like …”
Daniel turned to the platform. He cupped an ear.
“What is it?” Nicole asked.
Daniel held a single finger to his mouth. They were close to where Nicole had been when time stopped, next to the frozen subway train just emerging from the tunnel.
Nicole hardly breathed. She strained her ears. Every little sound they made was like thunder in the silence, but on the very edge of hearing …
It was a most peculiar sound. Like someone furiously typing on an old-fashioned typewriter: distant, but heavy and metallic. The sound grew louder and seemed to come from the closest train tunnel.
Nicole looked at Daniel, who was suddenly all business.
“Reaver,” he whispered.
“What’s a reaver?” she whispered.
“You’ll see. Don’t worry. I’m a professional.”
“For some reason, I’m still worried,” she whispered, following him closer to the subway car.
Daniel reached into his trench coat. There was a brief metallic whisper, and suddenly he had a long, elegantly-curved sword in his hand.
“How did you ever get on a plane?” she whispered.
“Oh, I have my ways,” Daniel said, watching the dark patch of tunnel just above the subway car.
The rapid metallic clicking grew louder. Daniel had to speak up so she’d hear him.
“Stand back,” he said, grasping his sword two-handed and lowering his stance. “No need to panic. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Nicole shuffled back from the subway car, but bumped into a frozen pedestrian and almost tripped.
The sound continued to crescendo.
“Is it supposed to be this loud?” she shouted.
“Must be a big one!” Daniel shouted back. Nicole thought she heard an uneasy waver in his voice.
The metallic chattering grew louder and louder as the reaver came closer.
“How big do they get?” Nicole shouted, putting hands over her ears.
But Daniel didn’t respond. He lowered his sword slightly and turned around. What Nicole saw then scared her more than anything so far. Deathly fear covered every inch of his face.
A sound pierced the air like a cross between a lion’s roar and a jet engine.
“What the hell is that?”
Daniel watched the dark tunnel, every muscle in his body tense, sword held high and ready. Its razor edge gleamed in the chandelier light.
The reaver emerged, clambering over the subway car and almost as large. Nicole’s first thought was it looked like a giant metal centipede. Her second was to scream.
Its body was flattened and long, disappearing into the depths of the subway tunnel. Its skin gleamed like polished silver and its hundreds of long spindly legs ended in bladed points. A horrible, many-eyed face turned towards them, its dozens of mandibles twittering hungrily. Eight glowing, ruby-like eyes swiveled independently, some locking onto Daniel, others onto Nicole.
The reaver flung its mandibles wide and roared, revealing a fathomless white-hot furnace within its metal body.
Intense heat washed over Nicole, scorching the exposed skin on her face and hands. She clenched her watering eyes.
“Run!” Daniel shouted, holding his ground.
The reaver reared up, surprisingly nimble for such a huge creature. With a sudden burst of speed, it stabbed down with its blade-tipped legs. Daniel rolled deftly out of the way. Three legs barely missed him.
A reaver leg pierced through the little girl in pink standing near the policeman. She exploded into gory shrapnel. Nicole screamed again. Daniel rose to his feet and sprinted towards Nicole.
“Don’t worry about them!” he shouted. “Run for it!”
As soon as the reaver removed its leg, the horrible fragments drifted inward like a crimson jigsaw puzzle. The pieces accelerated, and the little girl snapped together, whole once again.
“Head for the escalator!” Daniel shouted.
Nicole sprinted towards the escalator, but Daniel caught up quickly. He grabbed her wrist and urged her on.
The reaver climbed off the subway car and smashed through two stone columns. Nicole glanced over her shoulder, still running, and watched the reaver’s head turn towards them. Its long body twisted back into the subway tunnel, and its hundreds of legs pierced elaborate stonework and unmoving people with ease. The reaver charged after them, shattering the chandeliers into thousands of tinkling fragments.
“Come on!” Daniel shouted. “Move!”
They passed through an archway, turned right, and began racing up the escalator. The Saint Petersburg subway was so deep they couldn’t see the escalator’s top. They raced up steps with dozens of frozen people blocking their path. Daniel jumped onto the escalator’s railing and ran up it, but Nicole struggled through one human impediment after another.
Stonework exploded behind them. The reaver clambered through and turned, fiery eyes catching sight of its prey. It spread its mandibles and roared.
Terrible heat scorched the back of Nicole’s neck, even though she was two stories up the escalator.
“You need to move faster!” Daniel shouted.
Nicole squeezed desperately between a mother and two little girls.
“I’m trying!” she shouted.
Nicole heard dozens of stabbing clicks. She turned around, blood pounding in her ears. The reaver sank its legs into the escalator and rushed towards her, seconds away.
“Ah, damn it!” Daniel shouted. He leaped over her and charged down the escalator. The reaver turned all eight eyes to him. It rose up, dozens of sword-legs spread wide.
The reaver struck with speed that would make a cobra jealous, but Daniel dodged swiftly to his right. A single reaver leg caught the ratty edge of his trench coat, tearing it.
Daniel hit the ground, rolled, and came up with his sword ready. The reaver stabbed two legs towards him, but with quick strokes of his sword, he cut both of them off at the first joint. Thick yellow fluid burst out of them as if under pressure. The reaver growled angrily.
The yellow fluid and chunky bits of goo drained out of its injured legs. It was like something from a burst pustule. An eye-watering mixture of sewage stench and sulfurous fumes hit Nicole.
“Keep running!” Daniel shouted. He hopped from pedestrian head to railing to head, dodging constant reaver attacks.
Nicole ran as best she could, but she kept turning back, watching Daniel fight the reaver. He’d severed five of its legs, but the creature had hundreds, and could crush him with its body if it had to. There was no way he could win. It was insane for him to keep fighting!
Finally, after all his skillful dodges and rolls and leaps, Daniel made a mistake. The reaver feigned an attack to Daniel’s right, only to strike from his left when he dodged that way.
Daniel swung his sword in a silver arc. Two more bladed limbs went flying, but this was a small sacrifice for the reaver. It lunged at him with its head, dozens of mandibles reaching for his sword arm. Daniel pulled his arm away just in time, but the reaver bit down on the sword.
The reaver crushed the sword with its jaws, shattering it into metal splinters. Daniel was left holding a hilt and a few inches of jagged blade.
Undaunted, Daniel charged screaming at the reaver’s lowered head. He thrust the broken sword into one of its jewel-like eyes. The eye burst and darkened. The reaver reared back, bellowing—
Everything went dark.
Subscribe to the Holo Writing Newsletter to receive updates on our current and future books.