Thousands of revelers filled the city square. High above the crowd, a crystal sphere was suspended. At the stroke of midnight, it would make its descent to the street below, bringing with it a promise of a new millennium.
Jocular and inebriated, the party-goers were on the brink of mayhem, saved only by their expectation of stupendous happenings as the prodigious bauble sparkled in the night sky.
Portents of the future hidden among the words of Verne, Poincaré, Wells, and Bellemy were expected to instantaneously materialize at the dawn of the next thousand-year epoch. The ball drop was to usher in prosperity and inspiration.
Hoarse, slurring voices belted out the chorus of Auld Lang Syne, cups of libation were raised in a rousing salute.
Cole, ensconced among the throng, his cup lifted and merely mouthed the words to the anthem. He was more interested in searching the sea of ruddy faces for a glimpse of Hector.
Obsessed with the prophecies of science and space, Hector walled himself away in his laboratory trying to create his future legacy. His contrivances dim shadows of the machines conceived by the literary greats.
Hector’s ill-conceived plan was to exploit this holiday gathering, to manipulate the unwitting supply of test subjects to further his experimentation.
In the preceding months, Hector’s attempts at time travel resulted in an abattoir of misshapen animal sacrifices that did not survive the transition home. Limbs attached at grotesque angles, eyes missing, mouths gaping in chests and backs. No semblance to their natural state, Hector simply threw them on the rubbish heap and went out to trap more.
Witness to Hector’s failed trials and the mutilated remains of his test animals, his assistant, Cole, tried to persuade him to abandon his plans only to be threatened with far worse suffering than any of the dead lab subjects.
Sewer rats were expendable, human subjects were not. How would the mass exodus of thousands of people from a public celebration be explained? What plague could be blamed for the horrors of their return should Hector’s experiment collapse once again?
Peering over the swell of people pushing forward to the front of the square, Cole spied his quarry. Hector, caught in a riptide of bodies, rode the wave smiling like a madman. His control apparatus held tight to his chest, Hector moved effortlessly into position at the apex of the gathering.
Hector’s intent was to ride the crystal sphere’s counterbalance to the top of its tower where he could cast his net over the greatest number. His intent was to launch the entire crowd into some nebulous future moment in time and bring them back unscathed.
Cole watched in horror as Hector, clinging to the great weight of the New Year sphere’s ballast, slowly rose into the air. Pushing against the rush of crowd, he inched his way toward Hector, trying to get into firing range. Pulling his revolver from his coat pocket, Cole took aim and fired. The report of his gun drowned out by the revelers’ song.
In that split second that Cole’s bullet left its barrel, Hector set his insane scheme into motion. A rippling wave of energy spread down from the tower, as the slug raced its way toward its target. Cole tried to back away, only to hit an impregnable wall of people.
Before the ripples could roll down over the crowd, Cole’s shot struck Hector between his eyes. Tumbling over the tower railing, Hector’s thumb on the time machine controls lifted. As he fell, the ripples dissipated, the crowd none the wiser of the danger they evaded.
Landing on top of the crystal sphere with a sickening, muffled thud, Hector’s death went unnoticed by the boisterous crowd. Only Cole watched the body plummet to its befitting end. Feeling a softening of the surging crowd, Cole made his escape, certain he had saved the city from disaster.
Later, when police discovered the crime, Cole had already thrown his weapon into the murky waters of the Beck Canal. No witnesses at the scene could offer any useful statements that pointed to a murder suspect. After the medical examiner cleared the body for removal, a rookie officer found Hector’s apparatus trapped beneath the lifeless body.
Curious about its function, he pushed the singular red button in the middle of the small, black rectangular box.
The ripple spread out with staggering speed, sweeping up the lingering crowd, transporting them in a rapturous blur. The hapless rookie, still holding the apparatus, was caught up in the wave, taking with him their only chance for a return.