“I specialized in magic that bends time and space in order to finally defeat you. There are other benefits,” Blackstone told me. “It appears the car is not one of them.”
Blackstone tried to adapt the spell where people travel through door frames, only using a tunnel. The result spit us out of a drainage pipe on the outskirts of D.C. in a shower of car parts. It wasn’t wrecked so much as taken apart.
“You didn’t, per chance, invoke some sort of gremlin, did you?” I asked. “I ask because I have a lot of metal parts inside me, and I’d rather not lose my brain or my splanch because you were fucking around. I’m pretty sure you need me for some reason, too.”
“I do, yeah,” he stood up from the seat he was in and tossed aside the steering wheel in his hands.”Where’s my phone?”
I raised up and fished the cup holder out from under my ass to get his phone out and tossed it to him. “At least the smaller stuff seems to be in one piece. Even my glubok.” I stood up and dusted myself off as well.
Blackstone eyed me. “What’s a glubok?”
I chuckled. “If you have to ask, kiddo, then you can’t afford it. Where is this wizard lair we’re looking for?” I climbed up the side of the grassy embankment to get a look around. Blackstone followed, slipping down once while distracted with his phone. “And worry about your Facebook later. That addiction’ll kill you.”
“It’s important. Wait, how is Facebook a drug?” he asked. He reached the top and looked at me briefly before checking around. We were next to a highway. The city looked to be in worse shape than I expected. I heard sonic booms and saw smoke rising up in a couple of columns. It drew Blackstone’s attention away from his phone. “Never mind.”
“I don’t know how heroic you’re feeling, but sometimes it’s good to remember what is your problem and what’s someone else’s problem,” I advised. “We accomplish what we’re looking to accomplish and all this reverts, I hope.”
He held up a hand and did the wibbly-wobbly gesture, tilting it side to side.
“Either way, no need to go ruin our ticket back to save a pretty face,” I told him.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been around trouble,” he said. “After everything so far, I shouldn’t have to continue to justify my skills to you.”
“No need to get shrill just because your delicate boy parts make you super-emotional,” I told him.
“I hate you,” he reiterated.
I gave him the middle finger. “You took my daughter away from me. Back at ya, fuckwit.”
“We still need a car, dickweed. How are we getting a car?”
I walked over to the road and took a stance, moving my coat back to better project confidence and my boobage. A minivan screeched to a stop. A lady in her 40s rolled down the window. “Hey baby, looking for a ride?”
I blew her a kiss. “Honey, I want to get there and I want it fast.”
She nodded toward Blackstone. “What about your friend?”
“He can fit in the trunk,” I answered as I approached, putting more of a sway in my hips. I leaned down to the driver’s open window as Blackstone jogged around to the passenger side. I winked at the woman, then I turned my head toward the road ahead of us. “Holy crap, Elvis?” She turned to look and I grabbed her with my lower arms. I pulled her out and dropped her to the ground. Blackstone slid into the passenger seat as she came out and hopped the center console.
“Get in,” he called. The woman stood and ran for the driver’s side window, punching at Blackstone. I yanked open the driver’s side rear door as Blackstone started to drive. I hopped in and held the door open to knock the minivan’s former owner to the ground.
When I closed it, I glared at Blackstone from the rear seat. “I had that.”
“She lived, didn’t she?”
Most people think of all the monuments and memorials when the District of Columbia comes to mind. It’s a city. A lawless, ungoverned city. Probably because it’s not a state, so it’s directly governed by Congress. In my timeline, that’s basically worse than being governed by your average PTA Council because the PTA Council generally has less gridlock and the ones in power at least pretend to care about school children.
But enough about PTAs and minivans. The reason I brought up the popular view of Washington is because we were headed into the less popular view. We had to head east, over the Anacostia River. We ran into a little bit of a problem when a couple of androids landed in front of us. They were fairly bare-bones, with a little armor on their torso but plenty of gaps between the moving parts on the limbs. The heads were little more than a single giant camera lens on a rotating mount. Blackstone wanted to take a detour, but I reached up and jammed his leg down. They cracked the windshield and dented the hood to hell, but they didn’t get back up and pursue us either.
The place we were looking for appeared to be nothing but a former Chinese takeout restaurant. “Pretty good front, actually,” I said.
“The food wasn’t bad either,” Blackstone added. I let him lead the way on this one. All the better to avoid lingering traps. Around the counter, into the miniscule kitchen, and into a storage room that smelled like a skunk had choked on the nasty air and died. Times like this really make me miss my armor’s environmental seals. Down the trapdoor was a dank but untouched basement area with walls of stone and mortar.
“Nice setup.” I took it all in. The altar with crystals and an athame sat feet away from a heavy iron slab with a few bones laying on it. A crystal ball sat on a small table in front of a beanbag chair. There were a pair of bookshelves packed with all sorts of tomes of ancient evil, including a third edition De Vermis Mysteriis and a first edition Ann Coulter. Blackstone headed over there. “That’s it, right? Once you have that, we’re good to go?”
“Not scared, are you?” He took a break from looking through the bookshelf to smile at me. “It’s all just hocus pocus, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve dealt with magic stuff before. One of the more complicated aspects of the superhuman world. I’m just ready to leave. This planet’s like a collection of a bunch of really powerful people who all had grudges against me, except I’m broke and I don’t have power armor.” I winced as a muscle in my calf spasmed just the wrong way. “Nanites would be nice, too. Filthy dogs. Who knows what they’ve had in their mouth?”
“Relax, the nastiest thing they’ve sunk their teeth into was you.” He found what he was looking for, a surprisingly small grimoire with an Aztec-style pattern on the front cover. “I had to use the ghosts to establish sympathetic bonds with your past, present, and future to enact the ritual in hiding. It’s easier with your cooperation.”
The ceiling shook once, twice. “I think the smooth sailing’s over, Dougie boy.” I sighed and opened my connectivity. I’d been avoiding it. I didn’t like this version of Earth. Not really a different dimension anyway. I know what crossing the Universe Divide is like. “We got robots. And worse.”
“What’s worse?” he asked. He tucked the book away. A pair of robots of the same minimalist construction fell through the ceiling, almost hitting me. Blackstone’s purple tendrils tore the head off the one closest to him. The one near me pointed an arm with a barrel on the end at Blackstone. I tore the arm off and shoved it through it’s chest under the armor plates. We both turned as something else fell through the ceiling. She was a pale woman with hair that glowed white. It didn’t contrast much with her white uniform, which featured a yellow aurora around a red cross on her midsection. At least her gloves and boots were black, but it was a terrible costume. As terrible as her name, because I recognized her as Forcelight. In the correct timeline, she’s dead.
“Heroes,” I said as I watched Forcelight stand herself up. It grew lighter as the entire ceiling just disappeared. Looking up, I faced a firing squad of the cheap robots all pointing arm cannons at us. “You got a shield or something, Blackstone?”
“I have something better,” he said. He glowed purple, with just a hint of gold that seemed to come from the open Los Cincos Soles Dorados in his hand.
The bots opened fire, but all of their red energy balls stopped a few feet above our heads and stayed there. “Now’s your chance to hack them,” Blackstone said.
I shook my head. “I’m trying, but they don’t seem to have remote connections, and these things can’t have much of a brain.”
Forcelight looked between us. “We don’t know how they communicate, but we’d better destroy them before they merge.” She lit up as she launched rays of light from her hands that sent the little robots flying. I swept my laser eye across a couple, but she got most of them. Once most of them were gone, she turned to Blackstone. “Are you two going to stand here with your thumbs up your asses, or are you going to help?”
“I will,” Blackstone said despite a glare from me. He waved his hands and the energy balls left in the air fizzled away. Forcelight took to the air, only for Blackstone to call out, “Hey! I can’t fly.” Smirking playfully, she hovered down and helped him out. I jumped out after them and caught a glimpse of a larger mess of metal parts that stood on two legs. Its entire chest was a barrel and the blast it fired at Forcelight sent her flying and Blackstone dropping.
I hit some fight music, Ultimate Battle by Akira Kushida, and ran right for the twelve-foot metal monstrosity. It set its feet and tracked me, but I was fast and slid into the home stretch. There’s only so far down something with a torso like that can track. I crawled underneath it and got to my feet, looking for something to do a bit of wrecking with. I found a motorcycle, which was better than nothing. I grabbed it and slammed it into the back of the robot’s knee. The cycle broke, but the robot knelt to regain its balance.
I hopped onto its back. It struggled to stand. I started tearing pieces off its back, working my hand inside. “Brains. Brains!” I called out, laughing as my special homo machina nerves reached out. I ran into a conglomeration of computer cores, all working together.
It was tracking back up toward Blackstone, and I was still working on figuring out this new programming language, so instead I just intercepted the signals. No more sight, sound, and shooting, but especially no balance and lower motor functions. And since it was in the middle of standing back up, that meant falling forward. I couldn’t figure out everything about it, but with a bunch of the smaller ones approaching, I used what I knew to cut into some of its power cores. It had redundancies there, as well. I couldn’t get them all, but I got enough to slow it down while I hopped off to avoid getting red on me.
Blackstone waved his hand toward a crowd on his end, ageing them to rust. Being a lady, I serviced them one, two, or three at a time. I ducked between them, tearing heads off, grabbing one to use as a club on others. One of them, I grabbed and threw into the windshield of a car parked on the street. I jumped high and landed with all my weight to knock it the rest of the way through, then slid inside. They started to pepper the car with superheated blasts of something crimson when I dove out the passenger window, rolled, and came up with my nails digging into delicate wiring of one unfortunate robot. I threw its body into another of the crowd of robots while keeping hold of what had probably been important wires.
It was tiring, keeping moving like that. I was dodging to stay alive and sometimes taking them out. Ok, ok, I shouldn’t be too humble. I was working my way through plenty with my eye, hands, and enhanced strength. And I had some weapons. I pulled a car door open and kicked a robot inside so I could smash it up by slamming the door. I tore the car door off and threw it into a robot, knocking it down with a door embedded in it.
But there were a lot, and in the middle of the fighting, and things fit back into place. I don’t know when I started laughing or when I lost that hand. I’d gotten tired and it all became a blur, but I knew I couldn’t stop even if my lungs exploded and my muscles turned to jelly because moving was the only thing keeping me ahead of death’s snapping jaws.
I was so disappointed when I realized I lost the hand. I liked that hand, dammit, and because if it were bleeding I could use that to blind some of them. Instead, I had to pick up just three of them and swing them through the crowd.
I turned at one point and brought one down on a familiar hero I’d faced before. Forcelight sent it flying with one of her light beams and slapped me across the face. I growled, dropping my fangs and preparing to strike. Then I recognized her and what was going on. I blinked and turned to see what was going on, but the street was a mess of twisted metal and destruction, with a few rusty and others cut into pieces. I turned and raised the stump to the sky. “And stay out!”
Up there is where I noticed a tower of the robots, all climbing each other and melding into one big orb with a huge opening pointed down. “That’s no moon,” I said.
Forcelight looked up at it. “It’s huge,” she said. “It’s going to wipe out the entire state.” The tower retracted up to it as the body filled out and began to float higher.
“Actually,” I started, because we weren’t in a state, but Blackstone joined us.
“I don’t think I can stop that,” he said. He looked me over. “They got you.”
I waved off my injuries with my stump hand. “It’s ok. Only hurts when I exist.”
Forcelight swallowed. “That might be too big for me,” she said.
I shrugged. “Throw me at it and I can at least stop the thing. Just like…” I turned back to the giant thing I’d toppled earlier. Its legs had been severed, leaving it stuck facedown on the ground. When I turned back to them, I looked to Forcelight specifically. “Throw me at ’em.”
“Really?” asked Blackstone.
“Unless you somehow have enough juice left to get us outta here before that thing puts us at the bottom of a smoking crater, it’s me or nothing.” Forcelight was on it. She grabbed me under my lower arms and lifted me. It was a very different experience to be held in the arms of a buxom hero who hated me.
“You have a way to stop this thing or were you bluffing?”
“There’s very little I can’t stop, except maybe the pain affecting everything below my haireline. But that thing? If I can’t control it, I can crash it.” Geez she could fly fast.
“I believe in you,” she said as we got close. “Where do you need me to set you- oh hell!” She banked hard to the side to dodge smaller shots coming from the orb. The inside of the enormous opening lit up with a red glare.
“My first choice would be any small thermal exhaust ports you see, but otherwise I just need to be as embedded into it as you can get me. And the biggest gap into that thing doesn’t look too inviting to me.
“You got it. Hold on tight.” I wrapped my arms and legs around her. She held onto me with one and raised her hand. She banked hard to throw off the point defense aim while always making progress toward the giant hole of death. We’d barely gotten inside when she yelled, “Shit!” and threw me away from her toward the bottom wall.
I looked back to see her fire a beam with one, then both hands to try and push back the much larger and blood red one from the big floating death orb. I crawled up toward the source of the beam while she raged against the machine that pushed her back like she was barely even there. The heat seemed to suck all the oxygen out and everything smelled burnt. Maybe that was just my nose hairs igniting. Either way, the hot metal scorched my hands before I got close. I got right next to the thing, feeling my skin heat and pop. I pushed my hand into gaps and concentrated on connecting to anything, with one repeated, insistent order. Your data comes through me.
The seconds seemed like minutes but I felt my nervous system physically merge with a portion of the giant death machine. The signals to fire the weapon rerouted through me and went no further. With it no longer a threat, I had time to analyze the programming and data packets further. I even played around by clogging it up with junk data it didn’t know what to do with. But, looking for the simplest solution, I deleted its operating system. The orb started to fall.
I broke my arm getting my arm loose as it turned. I kicked off and jumped out opening while it descended to fuck Capitol Heights up. “Somebody expendable get beneath me!” I called out when I reached the top of my height and gravity reasserted control over the situation. I enjoy a nice skydive the way most people enjoy a massage: with a happy ending. I’m not happy when I’ve splatted.
Which is why I actually was happy to be snatched out of the air by a gleaming woman. “God bless us, everyone!” she shouted, perhaps a bit prematurely in my opinion. After all, she’s the one who had to try and aim a giant ball of metal somewhere less residential with one hand holding me.
Leave it to Blackstone to find a way to halt it in midair and rust it all away, to the cheers of the people who almost ended up homeless. I was just glad I’d survived getting what we came for. I can stomach a little phantom limb syndrome knowing I’m about to get back home and fix it.
I wish we could have reverted everything before the next day’s paper came out showing the three of us as the heroes who saved Washington D.C., but I don’t think anyone in the hospital burn unit can ever be that happy.