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The Ghost of Christmas Past

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Blinding, burning, cleansing flame, sterilising the whole world. Then darkness. Pain. Hunger. Ravaging thirst. Sickness that turns bodies inside out. Then… Then nothing…

I am Rose Metcalfe, and this is the end of the world. I will be three hundred and one years old when it happens – when the last human on Earth dies. After all the advances that have been made within my lifetime; advances that have increased the human lifespan to well beyond a century, and have increased the quality of life on Earth, it will all come to an end. Unless I stop it from happening…

 

Chapter 1 - Confession

Upstate New York, December 2372

 

She turned up the collar of her thick uniform coat against the biting December wind as she gazed up at the church, elegantly moonlit on this dark, clear night. The place had been one of the few places she had been able to turn throughout her career, despite the fact that she had never been a God-fearing person. This place had been a sanctuary away from the pressures of home; somewhere she could escape from the rest of the world for a few hours, even back in the early days, when the world discovered the terrible truth about their extra-terrestrial enemies. Her secret had been passed down through the priests who had led the parish since that day, so that she never needed to fear meeting a new one and having to explain her situation over again whenever she felt the urge to leave her real life for a brief time, and speak to someone away from the military. Gravel that gleamed white in the moonlight crunched beneath her boots as she approached the sanctuary.

Father O'Connell looked up from his task of removing spent candles as he heard the doors open. A small figure in a heavy, dark military overcoat and matching boots entered and looked down the rows of pews for him.

"Welcome, Major," he greeted her, instantly recognising her unique eyes, glowing slightly in the darkened area at the back of the church. He abandoned his box of tea lights and moved to meet the woman in the aisle. As he drew closer, and she moved into the light, he could clearly see her young face flushed with the cold, but troubled and conflicted.

"Is there anything I can help you with tonight, my child?" he asked her automatically, cursing himself even as he uttered the word 'child'. He knew that the youthful countenance before him, framed by short jet-black hair flattened beneath a Spectrum officer's cap, was misleading – although she looked around twenty, this woman was much older.

"I apologise for the late hour, Father," she said, her voice betraying British roots, although she had spoken with a clear American accent when they had first met. O'Connell now knew that the accent had been affected, but he was not certain exactly what her native tongue was; although always interpreted by his Universal Translator, she had occasionally spoken in French, Russian and even the ancient Irish language that his mother had preferred to use, 'lest it die out completely'. All had seemed to have perfect intonation too; there was no trace of the mispronunciation that the UT somehow managed to convey in its translations.

"Will you hear my confession?" she continued, oblivious to the thoughts suddenly running though the priest's head.

O'Connell frowned for a moment. This was something that she had never asked to do before, although he knew that his predecessor had once heard her confess. Once.

"Certainly, Major," he replied, sweeping his hand towards the ancient confession box.

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," Indigo recited with her eyes closed, recalling the words that she had learned so many years ago. She was not a Catholic, but sometimes she liked to have the counsel of someone outside the organisation and the opportunity to get things off of her chest. Father O'Connell was a wonderful listener, one of her favourites in fact. Normally she spoke with him whilst they sat in a pew, but this, she felt, required the formality and secrecy of the confessional. "It has been… um… seventy-four years since my last confession.

Seventy-four years would take it back to the early days of Father Maguire's tenure – and before Father O'Connell's birth! I really must stop calling her 'child', he reminded himself sharply.

"Thirty-six years ago," Indigo continued, her voice shaking slightly, "I killed my father."