Apocalypse Regression: Chapter 1

A fine layer of dust drifted down from the ceiling as the room shuddered again from the explosions above, the lights flickering as the power was temporarily disrupted.

“How much longer till this thing is operational, Allen?” Nick yelled as he worked at a junction box, trying to be heard over the thunderous sound of yet another explosion, each one seemingly louder than the last.

“Darnit Nick, I’m an Artificer not an electrician! Keep that power supply steady, or we’re never going to get this working,” Professor Allen Hughes shouted over the din, his hands and the mechanical arms of his tool pack flying over a tangle of wires and components as he worked feverishly against time.

Nick grunted in reply, his concentration never wavering from the work. His hands moved deftly and expertly over the array of cables and junction points as he fine-tuned the connection that Professor Hughes had so hastily made. He pushed on despite his immense fatigue and the pain that wracked his body.

For Nick, this relentless pain had become something of a constant companion ever since he was exposed to a powerful neurotoxin at a young age: an incident that had stripped him of everything, his family, his class, and his chance to fight against the monsters that ravaged the world.

Still, he worked quickly, his thin fingers skillfully sliding wire through wire until finally the lights above grew from its dull amber shade to a bright white. Professor Hughes looked up from his work with a smile and nodded at Nick for his quick work in restoring power. Then his smile turned to a frown.

“You know this will kill us, right?” Professor Hughes asked. “I mean, another set of us will exist, but that’s the beginning and end of it. Who we are now, all our thoughts, feelings, the continuity of your existence—it’s going to go poof the moment she jumps into that portal.”

“We’re all dead anyway, Allen.” Nick couldn’t help but feel a little bit of irony at this. He never thought he would be around to see the end of the world, considering his doctors had said his wrecked nerves wouldn’t last past thirty. He tried to force a laugh, but it came out as more of a sad chuckle. He looked over at his best friend, Allen, who was still trying to look after him despite their doomed situation. “And even if we weren’t, what’d be left for us? A few more years in this god forsaken bunker praying it doesn’t collapse on us every night?”

Allen’s eyes darted to the poster on the wall of a black-haired woman with an infectious smile and the words “The hero that will save us all! You can live! You don’t have to die!” in bold letters beneath it.

Allen took a deep breath. “I hope you know what you’re doing. If you go through the portal instead of her . . .”

Nick paused his work for a moment as he looked at his friend. “Look, don’t get cold feet on me now, Allen. This ain’t some suicide pact. We might die, but she’s still our best shot at saving humanity. You said that the system could only handle one person going through. You’ve been prepping her with everything she’ll need to know to get a leg up on the enemy before the dungeon breaks even start.”

The professor sighed. “You know, twenty years ago, you’d have jumped at the chance to stay alive. Now you’re trying to play the hero? Tch. Didn’t I tell you that type of stuff will get you killed one day?”

Nick shrugged. “There are a lot of worse ways to go, and worse people to die with than you, Allen.”

“Not anymore. All those worse people to die with are already dead,” the professor replied with a curt chuckle. He kept tweaking and tampering with the machine, his tools moving so fast they were practically a blur.

Just as Nick was about to change the topic, tired of listening to his friend try to push him to take the portal instead, a loud screech came from the other end of the room, and the door squealed open. A dark-haired woman who didn’t look a day over twenty despite her actual age, hop-limped down the stairs towards them with the aid of a pair of aluminum crutches. Her right leg missing below the knee, she kept her remaining foot bare and silent against the concrete of the floor.

“The only thing that failed as far as I can see is the washing machine that cleaned that bra of yours,” Nick, ignoring her self-deprecating remarks, tried to cheer her up a little by making light of the situation as he turned away and went back to his work helping the professor.

“Yeah, well, couldn’t find a clean one, so I figured why not go without?” Maria said casually. Nick spun around, his eyebrows raised and head cocked to the side, hoping to see something, only to find Maria was already in full-on teasing mode, a mischievous smirk poking out through her normally stern expression.

“You two are as bad as you were in college,” the professor said with a chuckle. Then the room shook again as a loud explosion reminded all of them about the reason they were there.

“Let’s get this started, shall we? We don’t have much time left before those monsters break down the fortifications and . . . well . . . you know what happens,” she said as she looked over at Nick and the professor. “I’m really sorry you two won’t be able to go back with me. I won’t waste this opportunity though, I promise. I know exactly what I need to do this time around. I’ll save the world . . . I promise.”

“But not sorry enough to skip the bra?” Nick snickered.

“You know what? Fine, one last show for the true heroes,” Maria answered, bracing herself on her crutches as she reached down to lift up her shirt, but before her hand could even reach her midriff, the room shook again, small pieces of debris falling with the dust as a loud hum began to fill the room and lights started to flicker on and off again.

“No time for that,” the professor said as he pulled a lever and then gave the metal box he had been tinkering on for hours a firm kick, causing the machine to light up in an array of colors as it activated. Loud persistent beeping started to chirp out of the box as more components came online until finally the main drive boosted its energy output and began whirring loudly, the spinning wheels embedded into the wall starting to move faster and faster before settling into a steady rhythm. A bright light shone from within the contraption, and the professor stepped forward and pressed the big red button atop it, initiating the jump sequence that would send Maria back to an earlier point in her life so that she could fix their world.

The speakers in the corner of the wall came to life with an ear-piercing cry. “Warning, exterior defenses have been breached!”

“Frell! They’ve found us. We don’t have time! Just go through the dang machine!” Allen yelled as one of the most terrifying forms in the apocalypse, a portal that looked exactly like the dungeon gates that heralded their doom, began to form next to the device.

As Allen continued loading the program to finish the artificer’s greatest creation, Nick went back to double-checking things on his side of the machine, still annoyed that he’d die without ever having seen Maria’s glorious rack thanks to Allen reminding them both of the mission.

As the dust continued to fall, Nick could hear the buildup of loud screeches, squealing, and even human-sounding voices coming from above as the monsters continued their fourth assault on the bunker that day. He could feel his heart pound in his chest as he realized the shaking this time was far worse than normal. He had been stuck in the massive magically reinforced bunker that was the laboratory of Professor Allen “The Wrench” Hughes since the last guild fell and people fled the surface, and he had been through countless attacks on the place, but this was different. His worries proved true when, a moment later, the roof literally came crashing down on top of them, a large chunk of concrete knocking Nick to the floor and nearly causing him to pass out from the pain.

“Fie! She’s dead!” Professor Hughes exclaimed before Nick could regain his footing and stand back up.

The shattered rubble of reinforced concrete ceilings surrounded Nick and Maria, broken pieces of rebar, plaster and wood strewn across the floor. In the center, a nearly eight foot tall pile of debris was all that remained of Maria, her body rendered unrecognizable in the crushing impact. Before he could even process the tragedy, he heard a screeching from above and looked up to be greeted by the massive jaws of the monster that had just eaten through the heavy lead and concrete barrier above them.

“SCREW YOU, YOU BASTARDS!” Nick screamed, pulling out the artificer’s wand Allen had given him. He threw the wand’s energy bolts at the creature as quickly as he could, causing the monster to explode under the force of the attack.

“Nick! It’s too late for that! Go through the portal!” Professor Hughes shouted.

“What the hell are you talking about?! You go back, you basta—”

As Nick turned to urge Allen to go instead, he saw that a large steel rod with a piece of concrete still stuck to one end had impaled his friend through the abdomen.

“Just . . . go already,” the professor urged, his voice getting weaker by the second as Nick just stood, shell-shocked, in front of his dying friend. “It’s . . . you’re . . .”

“You bastard. You freaking bastards . . . I’m not supposed to be the one who lives . . .” Nick gulped down his emotions, trying to control himself enough to think straight as he looked up through the hole in the ceiling only to see even more creatures coming straight toward him, their sharp insect-like legs sticking into the tunnel walls as they quickly crawled straight at him.

“FREAKING HELL! COULDN’T YOU HAVE WAITED JUST ONE MORE MINUTE?!” Nick yelled at the top of his lungs as he tried to think of what to do. He didn’t want to go into the portal. If he had to die, he wanted to die with his best friend. If someone had to live, he wanted it to be one of them. But now he didn’t have a choice. He was alone. The only two options he had left were to either die with his friends and let humanity perish with them or activate the chronomancing contraption and travel back to somewhere back in his life, hopefully far enough back to actually stop the end of the world before it was too late.

“Screw it! I’ll make sure you all die for this!” he yelled out as he turned around and jumped into the portal. The moment he did, everything went black. He felt himself being pulled towards something. There was a rush of energy that seemed to be pushing him faster and faster, like he was free falling in a frictionless tube, but the direction of the ground was changing every minute. He felt a sense of terror crawl up his spine as he started to become horrified by the feeling of the entire world collapsing around him, but also still filled with hope. He was going somewhere, and even if he did not know where, he knew that when he got there, he could not fail.

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