by Doc Quantum
Delilah awoke the next morning in a room with bright morning sunlight beaming through the windows. She closed her eyes again and tried to go back to sleep, only to open them wide again when she realized where she was.
This was her own house — the house she’d grown up in!
Had the shipwreck been just a dream? Had the nightmare of her parents’ deaths been just that? It didn’t make sense, and yet it felt so real.
Jumping out of bed, she ran outside her room, still in her bedclothes, and rushed into the living room. There stood a decorated Christmas tree in all its glory, and beneath it several colorful boxes full of presents. But none of that mattered to her, only that her parents were still alive, and she could see them and touch them at this very moment.
She ran into her parents’ bedroom, and, sure enough, there they slept soundly and peacefully. Her heart leaped upon seeing them like that, but she couldn’t bring herself to wake them, despite her excitement. Still, she didn’t know what to do with herself. She ran through the house, almost prancing with happiness at having her parents back again. Things were going to be different, now; she would be happy again.
But reality, as it often would, had a way of crashing down upon someone. What in the world had happened? Had the past few months been nothing more than a dream? None of this made any sense.
The sound of her name voiced aloud in the house startled her, particularly because it was so out of place there.
“T-Tor?” she said, and tears began to well up in her eyes. She said, in a voice croaking with emotion. “How can–? How can you be here?”
“What is wrong, my child? I thought you’d be happy.”
“What have you done, Tor?” she said, openly sobbing now. “What have you done? You can’t be here! It’s impossible! No… no, no, no, no…”
He made himself visible, then, as he stepped out of a higher dimension into this one. He rushed forward to embrace the girl, comfort her, but she recoiled and began beating on his chest, crying, “What have you done, Tor? What have you done?!”
It was evident that he’d made a miscalculation somewhere. Before her parents in this timeline could awaken, he took Delilah in his arms and vanished.
The young couple rushed into the room moments later. “Lyla?” called the man. “Lyla?!”
“She’s not here, honey,” said the woman. “She’s… she’s gone.”
“But I was so sure, baby,” he replied through his tears. “I was so sure I heard her voice again.”
“It’s OK, honey,” said his wife, who was doing her best to hold herself together. “It’s OK. I… I hear her voice sometimes, too.”
Back on the ship, Delilah ran back to her room, crying. She didn’t come out of that room until a few hours later.
He was in his monitoring station when she came to see him. He turned to see not the little girl who had brought such joy and happiness into his life, but a little girl with a very stern look on her face that belied her age.
“You can’t do that again, you know,” said Delilah in a firm tone. “You must not ever do that again.”
He nodded solemnly.
“Why, Tor? Why did you do that?”
He looked away from her hard gaze for a moment to collect his thoughts. Finally, he said, “I couldn’t stand seeing you as sad as you were. I thought that, if you were reunited with your parents, I could make you happy again.”
“But you can’t do that,” said Delilah. “Those weren’t my parents. My parents died. Right before my eyes. I can’t bring them back. You can’t bring them back.”
“They are your parents, Delilah,” he replied. “Only, in their timeline, their daughter — your counterpart — died instead of them.”
“Stop it!” she cried. “It’s not right, Tor! You can’t make something right with two wrongs. Don’t ever do that again.”
“I understand,” he said, although in truth he did not and could not fully understand the ways of a little girl’s heart. But he knew enough not to argue the point any longer.
“All right, then,” said the girl. She looked into the monitor screens, where scenes from a hundred different Earths played out before their eyes, before she added, “Why do you think I’m not happy?”
“You seemed so… so miserable,” he replied. “And I finally realized that it was nearly Christmas Day, which I understand is a very special time of year for your people. Did I make an error in judgment?”
“Yes, you did,” said Delilah. “But not about why I felt sad, just in what you did about it. Yeah, I’m sad, because it’s Christmas, and I miss my parents. But I know I can’t bring them back, and despite all the amazing things you can do, traveling through time and space like some kind of… of time lord, you can’t bring them back, either!”
“I… I know,” he said, though he hated to admit how powerless he truly was in the face of inevitability. “But I had to try.”
The girl sighed and said, “I know you meant well, Tor. But the past is gone. We can’t bring it back. And besides, just ’cause I’ve been sad about it being Christmas, and my parents aren’t around, doesn’t mean I’m not happy. I like being here with you, Tor. You’re my best friend. You’re my family.”
“Thank you, Delilah,” he said, genuinely touched.
“So why don’t we just have our own Christmas?” said the girl. “You were all alone before I came along, so you might not know it, but people like to celebrate Christmas together with the people they love. That’s you and me, isn’t it?”
“Well?” she said, folding her arms. “Why don’t we try putting up a Christmas tree or something?”
“Yeah, and I can get us a couple of stockings to put stuff in, and we can give each other presents! It’ll be our own Christmas tradition. How’s that sound?”
“That sounds delightful,” he replied, even as he inwardly marveled at the girl’s ability to move from emotion to emotion in such a short amount of time. He would never cease to be amazed by her, not for the rest of his life.
Twenty-two years later:
As Lyla celebrated Christmas with a family of her own, she couldn’t help but to reminisce about her strange upbringing on the satellite. They were quite a pair, weren’t they? He, an immortal alien pledged to save as many universes as possible from his eternal enemy, the Anti-Monitor, and she, a little human girl plucked from certain death to eventually become his emissary, his Harbinger.
That first Christmas was a sad one, true, but it was also joyous, because those two lonely souls now had each other. She would never have another Christmas quite like that one, either. Instead of celebrating quietly together as they did that first Christmas, they started a new Christmas tradition the very next year by celebrating the season in time and space. In those days before Tor, as she called him, had no time left for anything besides his mission, they had many adventures as they traveled together, he a lord of time and space, and she his companion.
Later, she would grow up and stop calling him by the nickname Tor, while insisting that he begin calling her Lyla, since it sounded more grown up to her teenaged ears. And she would join the Monitor’s mission for real as Harbinger, being sent out on numerous missions as a multitude of alternate timeline replicants of herself. Things became more critical as the Crisis on Infinite Earths approached, and they watched Earth after Earth, universe after universe, be consumed by the Enemy. She often felt like a virtual slave to the Monitor’s mission, and she often wished she could return to her carefree days as a little girl named Delilah, having adventures in various times and places. But that was just a child’s illusion meant to protect her, she knew. The real threat of the Anti-Monitor was still out there and had always been out there, and in the end he very nearly succeeded in completely wiping out all life everywhere.
She even became a pawn when the Anti-Monitor corrupted one of her replicants prior to rejoining with them, ultimately causing her to kill the Monitor. And with his death, she lost the only family she’d known for the past twenty years. But even that horrible act of treachery been part of the old man’s plan. He was often clueless when it came to human emotions, but he could truly foresee what would happen.
Feeling her swollen belly, she wondered for a second time whether the Monitor had foreseen this, her happy, small-town life with her husband and their own little girl, with a second child on the way — not to mention the secret closet with the computer equipment she used as the Oracle, information-broker to the super-heroes.
Lyla walked to her small crafts room and opened the closet door, revealing her secret communications console. It was hidden in a tesseract — bigger on the outside than on the inside, just like the Monitor’s outwardly small satellite ship — and would appear as nothing more than an ordinary closet to anyone but her. Seeing that there were no major alerts this early Christmas Day, she closed her closet and went back into the crafts room.
There, amidst a half-knit sweater for her daughter Delilah, was a small, round, golden-metallic object with a small golden loop of string coming out of the top. She picked it up and walked back into the living room, humming a Christmas carol to herself as she often did as a young girl. She placed the object on the tree and smiled as it glimmered, merrily casting reflected light around the room as it dangled in place. It was a perfect replica of the home that had been hers for twenty years — the Monitor’s satellite.