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4:53 A.M., Sunday, June 20, 2010
The West Pavilion of the J. Paul Getty Museum exploded silently from within, obliterating the darkness, rendering the night instantly translucent like an overexposed negative. A millisecond later, the .ash receded, and everything looked as it had before. But it wasn’t.
Teresa Cruz, temporarily blinded, jumped up from the small desk in the lobby, and was blinking for her vision to come back when her walkie- talkie crackled.
“What’s happening over there?” said Peterson in the security room. “I lost all my monitors!”
She jerked her radio up from her belt. “I dunno.... Lightning, maybe?”
“Check it out, will you?”
If it had been lightning, it would have been lightning with no meteorological disturbances, lightning with clear skies. Lightning with no thunder. It wasn’t lightning. What was it, then? Teresa did a three- sixty, taking in the exhibition posters, the signs, the literature racks, the h. g. wells— a man before his time banner spanning the back wall of the lobby. She swallowed hard. The .ash had come from one of the galleries, from inside, yet even the night outside had lit up. She tried to convince herself that it had been an electrical short, but knew in her heart it wasn’t. There was no burning smell, no smoke, and the night-lights were still on. She straightened her blue blazer and charcoal- gray slacks, was aware of her heart pounding.
“I’m jonesin’ for a gun, Peterson,” she said into her walkie. “They ought to let us carry guns.”
“You need backup, sweetie?” he said sarcastically.
Angry, she snapped off her radio. Peterson had always been on her case, saying she was “too gutless” to be a security of.cer and that management had only hired her because she was a female Hispanic. I don’t need him or his abuse. Yet she paused, looked outside and was afraid. Her eyes lingered over the fountains and pools, the rectangular museum courtyard that stretched to the rotunda splashed yellow by recessed lights, then the other pavilions framing the courtyard, their travertine stone faces ghostly white under the soft moon. Then she frowned, shook off her fear, squared her diminutive shoulders and strode to the galleries: those large, tasteful rooms delineated by archways so that one gallery framed another as if they themselves were works of art. In the .rst room, she stepped around display cases of memorabilia, faded manuscripts and original editions of books, then moved past stark black- and- white photographs that documented the turbulent life of H. G. Wells. None of it registered, so drawn was she to a strange light emanating from the center gallery where they had installed his time machine.
Roped off, the time machine sat alone in the room. An intense bluish glow was fading from the engine compartment, leaving it silhouetted against the gray gallery walls. The tapered, steel- plated cabin rose eight feet above the engine and resembled a primitive space capsule. When she’d .rst seen the machine, Teresa had found it squat, ugly and askew, reminding her of those monolithic stone sculptures carved by her Mayan ancestors. Of course, The Utopia had never been known to work, the brochures all said. Regardless, she was frozen in the archway like a lower mammal caught in the headlights of an onrushing car, held spellbound by the time machine’s inexplicable glow of energy.
And then— behind its small windows oxidized from age— something moved. The cabin door opened. A .gure stepped out, ignored the ladder and sprang lightly to the gallery .oor, landing in a crouch and looking around warily, its chest heaving.
Disbelieving, Teresa shook her head slowly. She couldn’t stop staring, couldn’t deny what she was seeing. Not only had something alive emerged from the time machine, but in the darkness, that something glowed a toxic reddish green. Distracted, the .gure turned back, reached up on tiptoes and took a prism- shaped device from inside the cabin, shoved it into a slot beneath the door.
Suddenly, the .gure noticed itself and saw what Teresa had seen. Emitting shocked little cries, it held its arms away from its body and tried to back away from itself— its aura— then desperately tried to rub the colors off, but the glow came from within as if an X-ray.
Teresa had seen enough for a lifetime and backpedaled out of the gallery. The .gure spun around, saw her moving, came for her at a fast trot. Cowering in the archway, Teresa brought her radio up to her mouth. As she keyed it to call Peterson, the .gure ripped it from her hands and hurled it across the room. Teresa ducked instinctively. The walkie hit the wall and shattered. Astonished, frozen, she watched the .gure detour around her and disappear in the lobby, heard the door close behind it.
Suddenly angry— more with herself than with this creature— Teresa balled her .sts, reminded herself that she was a security of.cer, and a damned good one at that. She sprinted after the .gure, pushed against the glass doors of the entranceway, burst outside.
Running up the courtyard, little feet whisking on stone, the .gure saw that under the moonlight the toxic glow had faded from its skin— its normal .esh color returned. Perhaps the glow was merely a harmless fourth- dimensional residue, it thought. Then it realized that it was wearing rags and needed clothes or whatever the human condition cloaked itself with these days. Except that was the least of its problems. Something was wrong— terribly wrong. The .gure couldn’t run as fast as it remembered from the streets of London and then San Francisco. Its stride was shorter, its breath not as quick and easy, its hair too long and falling in its face. And these things kept slapping up and down— what were these things? Distressed, the .gure was about to stop and examine itself when it heard footfalls and turned. The security guard— that pathetic little bitch with teresa cruz on her nameplate— was in hot pursuit. Normally, it would confront this Teresa Cruz, but in this here-and- now nothing was normal, nothing at all. Fearing the worst, not knowing where or even what it was, the .gure ran faster, ran gasping for breath, .nally veered toward the rotunda. It went inside, looked around wildly, didn’t appreciate the graceful sweep of glass and stone. It gravitated to the darkness, where it huddled, a wounded beast, under the curved staircase. As it worked to catch its breath, it wondered if it had eluded the security guard or if others were on the way. Then, in the absence of light, it saw that glow creeping back in its skin. It recoiled, tried to brush the glow off again, but then Teresa Cruz was coming into the rotunda. The .gure bolted from under the stairs, not so much running from Teresa as from itself. It raced for an alcove, read men’s rest-room, rushed inside the well- lit space and went to the mirror.
The .gure shrieked with horror, had to hold on to the sink to remain upright. It wasn’t the glow it saw, for that had disappeared with the light— it was something else entirely. “Good God, no,” the .gure moaned. “Please, God, no!” The .gure shut its eyes tightly, willed itself to see a different re.ection— the familiar dark, forbidding countenance with thin lips, long nose and beady, hooded eyes that it loved and remembered— but when it looked again, the image was inevitably the same.
The .gure saw a dark- haired woman with wide- set almond eyes, full lips, cute upturned nose, and smooth ivory skin— a woman comfortable with a worldly, bemused smile no matter where or when— a woman in the shredded remains of a late- seventies leisure suit. Even with the agonized expression she was wearing at this moment, even in
rags, the woman was undeniably and classically beautiful.
Instinctively, she felt between her legs.
Nothing was there.
Sobbing, she covered her face, turned away from the mirror, sagged against the sink, numb with questions. She had been a man before, a formidable, dark shadow of a man. This is a joke, a cosmic mistake of some kind, this is unacceptable. I hate women, I unequivocally hate them, I— She straightened up and noticed her body re.ected in the brushed aluminum wall adjacent to the stalls. Like her image in the mirror, it was perfect— so perfect, in fact, that she was reminded of her sister, Penelope, teasing and posing before their .rst indelible moment of passion behind the caretaker’s house. Hyperventilating, the woman clutched the sink for support again, then turned back to the mirror, recalling that she had forgotten the special key— she had left the damned key in the time machine. She was about to scream at her exquisite re.ection that she had to get the key and go back to a time where she would recognize herself when Teresa Cruz banged into the restroom.
“What in the hell do you think—”
Growling, a blur of movement, the woman grabbed and propelled Teresa forward, slammed her head.rst into the mirror.
“Don’t you know who I am?!”
Stunned, Teresa staggered back, but the woman jerked her forward. Windmilling her arms and kicking, Teresa tried to free herself from the iron grip, but was no match for the woman’s strength.
“Don’t you know who I am?”
The woman slammed Teresa into the mirror again, then grabbed her by the hair, forced Teresa to look into her eyes.
“Don’t you recognize me?!”
Teresa tried to say something to save herself, but the woman rammed her into the glass twice more in quick succession, splitting her lip and breaking her nose. Blood sprayed on the mirror, the sink, the .oor.
“Don’t you know who I am?!”
Again, she slammed Teresa into the mirror, this time with such force the glass cracked. Teresa went limp.
“An eternity ago that bloody little fool your museum is celebrating sent me to the end of time!” the woman shouted. She pile- drove an unconscious Teresa into the mirror until it .nally shattered and shards of glass rained on the metal sinks and tile .oor. “For an eternity, yours truly has been— has been—”
Has been what? Where? Her chest heaving, she stopped, let go of Teresa, watched her crumple to the .oor. Her last conscious memory was of that fateful day in 1979 when H. G. Wells pulled the declinometer from the time machine and everything exploded into an oblivion echoing with one last agonized scream. Mine. She had no clue how many years had— or hadn’t— passed since then.
Has been what? Where?
She hadn’t known that on the event horizon of the black hole once called Earth were trillions of entities: other- universe forms that resembled protozoa in a variety of shapes, colors and designs. She hadn’t known that one in par tic u lar possessed the seed of her resurrection— at least in part— and that this one elongated entity was thin enough to move easily in the dense yet vast gravitational .eld. It looked like a scaled pennate diatom, was both unspeakably ugly and beautiful in its symmetry, and possessed X and Y chromosomes that spiraled within its frustules, those indicators some three billion years old in the universes. More important, the entity had instincts, and when the time machine materialized in the endless sea of forms, this thing slipped eel- like between the door and the cabin and festooned itself to the chair, at long last insulated from the silent, profound blackness that stank of burnt plastic.
Had it been three hours ago or four?
She hadn’t known that there was no time in that cesspool of nothingness, that residue of life squandered, so the question mattered not. Then the entity had sensed movement. Consciousness. Life. Even purpose.
Inexplicably, a mind had been reborn in the time machine’s chair, then
senses. Instinct had given way to reason and, alas, feelings.
Except she had been a “he” then.
And then the machine had tumbled end- over- end in an endless, colossal limbo. He had no clue that in this black hole once called Earth he and the machine had already been crushed by gravitational force to specks .oating in a molecule- sized solar system. He had no clue how that had changed him from an unspeakably ugly and beautiful entity— or if it had at all. That he and the machine remained whole at all was due to the indifference, the dark energy that ruled the universes.
The Current Year Indicator had read 2353. If that were the end of time, then in the year of our Lord 2353, the human race had .nally blown itself up. Moreover, the fact that the machine had traveled on its own to in.nity meant that somewhere in time Wells had made a grave error.
The “he” was aware of the chair in the cabin, the crumbling switches and cracked dials, was aware of his existence again and wondered what sublime Omnipotence was behind his rebirth. Then his form had brushed something. He had assumed it was one of those sludge- crabs Wells wrote about that supposedly existed at the end of time. If true, he was famished and would eat it, but no, instead of a crab it was the prism- shaped device sparkling from within— that nasty, elongated de-clinometer. Some fool had pulled it and not put it back in its proper place, so indeed, there it was, resting on something dark like a pillow. Had he smiled then? Of course. Instead of sustenance, the mistake had been his salvation, for if the declinometer had been in place, the time machine would not have traveled to in.nity.
Entities outside the craft had fallen away, dissolved, and the blackness became a temporal gray mist. His memory had come back, and he vaguely recalled the diagrams in Wells’s laboratory from that fateful night in 1893— that unless one overrode the Rotation Reversal Lock, the time machine automatically returned to its home hour after a ninety- second delay. But only if the declinometer was in place. Without that “rudder,” the machine could only travel to when it had come from, and the Time- Sphere Destination Indicator read: year, 2010; month, June; day, 20; time 12:01 a.m.
The machine gathered speed, spun into a sea of quantum foam, was vaporized and hurtled along the fourth dimension. Years later, as traveler and machine took on substance and form, as their mass expanded, the “he” had savored the ride, con.dent of a smooth transmogri.cation.
Trucido ergo sum had been his .rst coherent thought. He imagined Wells as a bloody, eviscerated corpse, and— though he was no devotee of Shakespeare— he mused: All’s well that ends badly.
Then something had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
She stole a glimpse of her lovely face in the mirror, turned her back on herself again, still numb with unanswered questions. She didn’t know about reformulation errors. She didn’t know that no one had ever come back from in.nity before, and that given the length of real time traveled, the quantum foam had altered his chromosomes. In ge ne tic terms, a pitifully weak Y chromosome from his foppish father had been mysteriously trampled by a full- blown X chromosome from an yet- to- be- identi.ed source. A classic Turner syndrome. No, she hadn’t known that on Sunday, June 20, 2010, shaped by the mysteries of dark energy and emerging from the temporal mist of the fourth dimension, Jack the Ripper would be reconstituted as a woman.
Teresa moaned. The woman who had attacked her stepped back and observed critically, as if taking in an un.nished canvas. Teresa moaned again. Moved by an instinct not lost in her metamorphosis, the woman straddled the little security guard and started strangling her. Teresa twisted, bucked. Surprised her victim still had the will to resist— angry her hands weren’t big and strong enough to end it quickly— the woman picked up a shard from the broken mirror and slashed Teresa’s throat.
Sighing, the woman straightened up, appreciating the blood pooling around Teresa like spilled paint. She closed her eyes, and in her mind’s eye saw a red rose opening in the sun. Then she frowned. This Teresa was no East End alley slut. Money had not changed hands, there had been no penetration, no thrusting, no sweet slime— where was the
plea sure in this? The woman smiled a pretty, disarming little- girl smile as the answer came. Necessity has always been the mother of invention, so as long as we .nd ourselves in this dubious year of 2010— as long as we must kill— why not take plea sure in the pure simplicity of the act not fouled by an ejaculatory release?
Somewhere a thermostat clicked, interrupting her thoughts, and a breeze wafted in through the restroom vents. Chilled, the woman hugged herself, reminded of her rags, her goose.esh, her nipples embarrassingly hard. She took Teresa’s keys and cautiously ventured out the door.
She hurried across the alcove, rode the elevator down to the ser vice .oor, pleased that pushing buttons had replaced the accordion gates and straps of nineteenth- century lifts. We must be in a new, modern art museum, not one of those decrepit salons or cathedrals of Eu rope. True, the place was featuring the dubious accomplishments of H. G. Wells, but surely they must have paintings by Goya, works like David’s “The Death of Marat.”
In the employee women’s lounge, the woman located Teresa Cruz’s locker, looked askance at her wardrobe. Where on God’s earth are we that people wear clothes like this? Having no choice, she dressed, then regarded herself in the mirror.
The faded blue jeans were tight, yet strangely comfortable, but what drew the woman’s eyes was her midriff showing, then her ample breasts, provocative in a gray T-shirt two sizes too small. She wondered if other women looked like this or if Teresa Cruz was a prostitute in her leisure hours. Preoccupied with her image, the woman didn’t focus on the yellow happy face on her T-shirt, and the inane “Have a nice day” printed below. Instead, she tucked her glossy black hair up inside Teresa’s cap, blue with a silly red heart on it, .guring that would give her a shred of respectability. She slipped her feet in Teresa’s sandals, then rode the elevator back up to the courtyard level intending to get the special key from the time machine. When she reached the men’s restroom, she hesitated, vaguely dissatis.ed.
Jack would’ve never left a woman murdered so anonymous, so mundane. We would’ve sung to the world that we’d been out and about, we’d have left something for the boys of Scotland Yard. After all, are we not in a museum? Do not artists sign their work?
In the restroom, she locked the door, then pulled Teresa’s corpse to the stalls and propped it up on one side. With a shard from the mirror, she meticulously cut away the little guard’s uniform shirt, then began a surgical procedure .rst learned in anatomy class and later practiced on Penny, her sister. The woman longed for the gold pocket watch with Penny’s likeness inside the lid, lost in 1979. She missed its music box playing an innocent French lullaby. Nevertheless, she hadn’t lost her touch, and with a few quick, practiced incisions, excised Teresa’s kidney. Smiling, she rinsed it off in the sink and put it in the pocket of her jeans, then washed her hands as if .nishing up in a surgery. Her smile grew larger when she saw that as before she had avoided getting bloodstains on her clothes. If nothing else, being a comely lass hadn’t affected her expertise. And all with a shard of glass, too.
She unlocked the door, looked both ways and headed across the rotunda toward the courtyard and West Pavilion, formulating a plan. She would stay in 2010 long enough to track down and cut up Wells. Then— with the special key— she’d have carte blanche to choose her victims regardless of history. Perchance she’d travel back to mid-nineteenth- century Turkey and, say, disembowel that do- gooder Florence Nightingale, who was tending to the .otsam and jetsam of the Crimean War. She smiled. Perhaps a trip into the past will make me a man again, and I can rape her as well.
Halfway across the rotunda, she heard footsteps and glanced up. A security guard was coming down the circular staircase. The woman tensed, ducked in the shadows, walked faster.
The woman spun around, started running back the way she had come.
Panicked, the woman looked for escape, .nally saw an emergency exit beyond the men’s restroom. Without breaking stride, she hit the bar on the door and burst out on an expanse of stone.
The alarms went off. Excerpted from Jaclyn The Ripper by Karl Alexander.
Copyright © 2009 by Karl Alexander.
Published in November 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.