Word Count: 1799
Warnings: Angst, death, timey-wimey stuff
Spoilers: Season 3 in general, but diverges before the very end.
Prompt: Helen is still desperately trying to correct the time lines and prevent the future she foresaw - though in a less thoroughly bonkers fashion than in the show. I'd love to see something quite intricate and timey-wimey. No objection to this being something of an AU where Helen does indeed manage to avert the oncoming catastrophe.
A/N: ACK! My utmost apologies to lesellersfic, the administrators of the community, et al! I was positive I had posted this, until I got an email today asking where it was! OTL My most humble apologies, so very, very sorry for the lateness of this. D:
Helen stared down at the map one last time, still trying to make sense of the lines that crossed and crisscrossed and leapt over one another, shimmering in the fading light of the nuclear dawn.
Her nails tapped, slowly, on the polished surface, her eyes roving the screen before her. Searching, always; looking for that one last avenue, the one path that would lead to salvation.
Not for the first time, she wished Nick were here; and not just some clone, either, but the real Nick, the Nick that used to hold her at night and read her papers with an eager hunger in his eyes, who used to love her and stand behind her. She still didn’t know what it was he would do; she couldn’t get a fix on it, throughout the timelines, of just where Nick Cutter went wrong. All that she cared about was that he had, and his mistakes would lead to this post-apocalyptic world, over-run with something straight out of Hell’s storybook. But right now, she wished she hadn’t had to kill him, so that he could be here, reading over the time map with her and pointing out, with that easy calm assuredness of his, where she should go next.
There were so many things at stake, here, so many variables that went into the corded rope of time. She had to sift through them, strand by strand, find the one that would fix it. Find the one that would save the world.
She didn’t feel like much of a superhero, with her dirty face and hands, her rough cropped hair and calloused feet and voice nearly gone from thirst. But she was the only one, now, who understood, the only one who would and could stop this.
The map swam before her eyes, and she rubbed at them. The lack of sleep was starting to catch up with her. With a heavy sigh, she zoomed in on one intersection, peering closely at the crossing lines. There. It was as good as any other, she decided, and it was one the same track as Nick’s had been. It would do. Her fingers pressed at the buttons on the remote, plugging in the coordinates, and she pointed it at the empty space next to her.
“Once more, over the brink,” she muttered to herself, hefting her bag on her shoulder and stepping through.
She always held her breath when she stepped through these anomalies, stepped fifty years into the future with absolutely no idea what she would find on the other side. Sometimes, things changed; the sun glowed a different sickly colour in the sky, or there was one less birdsong echoing through the thick, still air. Once, she had come through into a nuclear winter, ash falling all around, clogging her airways and making it hard to breathe. She’d almost lost fingers in that future. More often, though, nothing changed at all.
The first time, she’d been absolutely optimistic. She had the power, and the knowledge, and the ability—to fix it all, to set things right. It was her obligation and her duty to the Earth. She’d been so sure it would work, that first, simple trip. The disappointment as she had stepped through the anomaly had been crushing. And it had continued to be, every single time she went through. A hundred, a thousand hypothesis—she wasn’t even sure of how many, anymore—and every one had been a bust. So now all she could cling to wasn’t surety, or certainty, or even hope. Just a last ditch sense of desperation, and the whisper of a chance that This time, I will make things right.
She let out the breath in something that wasn’t really disappointment, merely resignation. Nothing around her had changed. The cars still sat abandoned on overgrown streets. The rattles of Predator echolocation still shattered, faintly, on the air. The sun was still too harsh, too bright, eternally setting over a horizon thick with fog and something that was wrong. Even this hadn’t been enough.
For the first time in a long time, a sense of frustration threatened to overtake her. She slammed her fist into the brick wall of what used to be a garage. So much time, so much energy, gone to waste. What was there left to try? She’d exhausted practically all avenues; it took ages to search through the database from the start, and now, it was like trying to find a single small needle in a haystack of multiple billions of years. Like picking out one red thread in a city-sized red tapestry. Her knuckles cracked, and bled, and she didn’t notice or care anymore. She just stared down at the map, wondering where they’d been wrong.
Her fingers swiped over the touch screen, leaving faint bloody smears—it didn’t matter, they’d be gone next time she came back. If there was a next time. She went backwards, farther and farther, until she pinpointed one small glowing dot, blinking up at her happily.
It would be so easy—and maybe this was the only way, she reasoned, hating herself for the thoughts going through her head. If humanity never were, the world would never be destroyed. The Earth was a perfect thing without us, she thought to herself, a cold humour gripping her heart. It would have lived forever. Just a poison, maybe—cyanide, rat poison, anything would do—into the drinking stream of a tribe of humanity’s ancestors. Wipe them out; erase the past. Humans would never be born. It would be so easy, so simple.
“So easy to commit genocide, Helen?” she asked herself aloud, her voice echoing too harshly in the dim room. She shook her head, Nick’s face flashing before her eyes. The familiar pang shocked its way through her heart. No. That was…that was a last resort. Humanity had destroyed the Earth, but they, too, were something of a perfect creation. Capable of wonders and majesty, just as they were of destruction.
She wondered when she’d stopped including herself in that description.
With a heavy sigh, she set to scrolling again, typing in random coordinates, no longer looking for the solution—just something that maybe, possibly, had a one in a million chance of working. The post-human tribe hovered at the edge of her thoughts, and she resolutely pushed it away.
One dot drew her eye. Small, insignificant, nothing special compared to the others; but there was something here. Something that—of course. She zoomed away, allowing the full map of time to draw itself in thin spidery lines over the display. The pattern was clear; how could she have missed it? It all made so much sense. She didn’t have to kill all of humanity. Just one. Just one more.
She wondered why the thought didn’t bother her more.
Nick was the key, she decided, as she trekked through the Forest of Dean. Her sack was gone, the weight of her handgun heavy in her belt. He wasn’t the one who had started it; he wasn’t even responsible, really. That honour belonged to someone else. It could all be traced back to that one, specific moment. That one specific person.
If that person had known what was good for them, had never gone through the anomalies in the first place, none of it would have followed. That one moment in time, blinking now so innocently from her remote—that was the catalyst for all of it. It was so easy to stop.
She stepped out of the trees, to see a figure standing before a million dancing shards of light. She pulled the gun from her belt, readying it. Safety off. Loaded. Why wasn’t she more upset?
She was the only one who could fix this.
“Stop right there!” she called. The figure jumped, startled out of its reverie. It turned, eyes widening as it took in the woman standing before it.
Helen stared back into her own bright, alert eyes. God, but she looked so young. So alive, so full of excitement and discovery. But this discovery should never have happened. She swung the gun upwards, levelling it at her own head, her past self’s head. The woman’s eyes went wide in shock.
“What--?” she gaped, hands rising to ear height, moving slowly. So unsure. So unafraid.
“This is the moment,” Helen told herself, speaking quietly. Her boots crunched on the fallen leaves below. Everything was so calm, so quiet. “This is the moment when everything goes wrong. We step through there, and it brings down an avalanche of things that should never have happened. Nick searches for us, and Connor finds out about the creatures, and Nick puts the pieces together. We start looking for time, looking for the openings. We jump around, discovering and exploring and not realizing what we’re doing. We open the floodgates, Helen. We set things in motion, and eventually—because we were just too damned curious—we cause the end of the Earth.” She smiled, slowly, allowing the remote to drop through her fingers. The magnetic field caught it, pulled it into the anomaly. There would be no evidence.
“You’re me,” the other Helen said, slowly, voice still full of wonder. Such a shame to end that. “From the future.”
She nodded. There was no point in lying. “I’ve seen horrible things, Helen,” she said quietly. “And we’re the only ones who can end them. I’ve been—we’ve been—throughout time itself, to the beginning and to the end. All to find a way to stop something truly terrible from happening.”
“And this is it.” Her voice was surprisingly resolute, resigned. Helen admired herself for that. “This is the way to stop things.”
“Yes.” She couldn’t quite stop the word from breaking once it passed her lips. Couldn’t quite help the tears that slid down her cheeks. This was death, after all, a form of suicide. Herself or not, this was murder, cutting down a young brilliant mind in the prime of her life. But there was no other way.
The other Helen was crying, too, stepping forward directly in the path of the gun. She had a faint smile on her face, though, a blissful expression that Helen remembered clearly. It had been too long since she’d worn it.
“I always knew I’d change the world,” her past self whispered. Helen’s fingers squeezed on the trigger, so gently; a spot of red blossomed on the other woman’s chest, seeping through the fabric, and she fell with a soft, feathery thump into the fallen leaves. Helen felt herself wisp away, non-existent, the paradox resolved.
We did, she thought to herself finally; then there was nothing in the glade but a dead woman with a smile on her face and a bright cheerful light that slowly blinked out of existence.