Between burns, a missing hand, and skinless zombie dog wounds that got infected, I have had a hell of a time missing my nanites. You can’t go out and play vigilante without incurring some injuries and they’re pretty much the only thing that’s kept me going at my nonstop pace. Without them, I’m stuck healing in a hospital. They better not expect me to pay. Worst bedpan service I’ve ever had, and I’ve hung out with some classy scatophiles.
After some convalescing, it seems popular opinion won over Blackstone enough to visit and do what he could to help. Well, some pushing in the hero community, and by hero community, I mean Forcelight carried him into my room. “I don’t care if you hate her, she got hurt helping us out and I know you know how to do something about it!”
I had been downloading music, movies, news articles, and podcasts that differed between this timeline and the next. I’m not sure how well they’d stick once everything’s fixed, but you never know what handy information might be dug up in one and secret in the other. I have some good dirt on a bunch of people. I stopped looking through things and blinked, bringing myself back to meatspace. “Your company doesn’t have anything better? Regenerative nanomachines, perhaps?”
“Long Life looked into it, but we don’t have the capability,” she said. She glared at Blackstone, then, who at least shaved again in the days I’d been laid up. “Reverse time and get rid of her injuries or something.”
“You will regret this! She’s not to be trusted!” He held a finger up toward Forcelight.
“You didn’t notice any of that out there?” Forcelight asked.
Blackstone glared at her, at me, back at her, then glared at the “Get Well Soon!” flowers I received that sat near the get well nudes I didn’t ask for. Finally, he pulled out Los Cincos Soles Dorados. “You do not simply play with temporal magic,” he growled.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, aren’t we well aware. I’m pretty sure that thing we need to do, the whole reason we were even in this city to begin with, would work better if I wasn’t the queen of the blisters.” I paused, then looked to Forcelight, “I’m an Empress, by the way.”
“Cool. What planet are you from?” she asked.
“Strana Mechty,” I answered. Blackstone gave me a confused look, but I didn’t want to explain the whole situation. I didn’t fucking know the situation. My adventures with Mobian uncovered that me coming to Earth is necessary, at least on my world. It caused a big chain of events where aliens Justice Rangers arrive on Earth and I leave their crashed ship and equipment on my planet to be discovered and form the basis of the Justice Rangers I knew from there.
Big load of bullshit if you ask me, but there’s some sort of paradox going on and I’m confused. Time travel has some sort of rules, but I can’t fucking follow them.
My pain was noticed. Even though I had my eyes closed, I heard Forcelight drag Blackstone over. He said, “Fine.” I opened my eyes to see him standing there with the book open. He fished around and pulled out a pocketwatch on a chain with his other hand and held it up.
“Purple haze, all in my eyes,” I said, careful not to sing. Bleeding ears would likely affect the healing process.
“Jimmi Hendrix you are not,” he said. The light bloom moving over me combined the tell-tale purple of Blackstone’s power with the gold that appeared related to his interactions with the book. “The easiest way to deal with this is to be kind, rewind.”
I shouldn’t have to explain what being hurt is like, but I can’t explain what having it reverse is actually like. My skin did things I’m still trying to forget about, but I remember the itchiness, the cold, and the burning which then rapidly reversed to room temperature. I got to see my hand rematerialize from ashes. I winced and gritted my teeth as the nerves appeared and everything went through the same process of shifting temperatures and pain.
He stopped and put up his pocketwatch, now tarnished and cracked. “How do you feel?”
“Worst bedside service ever,” I said, tossing the covers aside and standing up. “I couldn’t even get anyone to check my temperature the fun way. Where are my clothes?”
“They’re not healed, but they should be easy to replace,” Forcelight says. Yeah, they were a bit stinky by this point. I had spares from the road trip… in Blackstone’s car. I don’t know if they came through the sewer tunnel with us, but I don’t think I want to get them from there at this point. So I headed into the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, Blackstone was on the phone with someone.
When he saw me, he finished it quickly by telling the person on the other end, “Yes, dear. I’ll be there. Trust me I will be. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
I squinted and opened a connection, curious. The contact read “Marivel” in the phone. There were texts, but he hung up before I could get into them. “Who’s that?” I asked.
“Could you give us some privacy, Forcelight?” Blackstone asked of her. I dove into those texts when he said that. Fhe looked to me and I nodded, even as I worked through texts about missing Blackstone and wondering if he’d pick up milk on his way back. Forcelight shrugged and walked out the door. As she passed through the door frame, she disappeared from the frame and the hallway with a hint of the sound of an objection forming in the air and disappearing as she was transported somewhere far away.
“What’s up?” I asked him warily. Forcelight’s annoying like this, sure, but not worth teleporting to Timbuktu or wherever.
“This world, how do I say this, it’s not all bad for both of us,” he began.
“I don’t like where this is going already. Who was on the phone, Douglas?” Ooh, a nude selfie.
“You have no enemies here. They think you’re a hero. The ghosts saw it in you-” he stopped when my fist did right in front of his nose. The magical vow stayed my hand no matter how much he deserved it. “You used to want that. You liked it.”
I put my hand down. “Stop pretending you care about me. I thought you said you didn’t have a family?”
“You killed my family, yeah. My sister, my mom, and my dad. I spent my life trying to avenge you. I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”
He started to pace, looking out the window. I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know the woman. You’re just the stranger who took what she thought was her husband’s place. You might as well wear a mask and fuck someone else’s wife. She doesn’t know you.”
“You’re too close-minded!” he said, turning back to me. He held tightly to his little magic book, too, squeezing it in his hand. “That’s why you didn’t notice. You do things to electronics but couldn’t see my cell? Right? You didn’t even look. Watching TV in the motel when you can access the internet from your head? I was scared, but I texted back and we talked. It’s like I’ve known her my whole life. This is the life I was meant to have.”
I reached for the book. Light flared up in my vision when my fingers made contact with it. My eyes could have compensated for it if it was real but my HUD classified the light as a magical anomaly. I flailed around with my arms, but Blackstone and his magical book of getting me the hell out of here were gone. I recovered my sight after a few seconds and checked around. Blackstone stood in the hallway, looking at me.
“Careful. You’ll shoot your eye out.” Jaw tight, he glared at me. “You can’t hurt me. We made a vow. The ritual isn’t complete. You want to send someone after me, you’ll have to figure out how to get back on your own. I think I’m beginning to understand. The best revenge is living well. I have a new family and yours is gone like mine was. Your army and your riches are gone. I’ve beaten you at the peak of your power, while I’m only beginning to tap into mine.” He held up his book. That damn book I helped him get.
I dove for it, determined to grab onto it no matter how blinded I got. I knew it was a long shot. I wasn’t so surprised when I fell out of a doorway into Reykjavik and saw Forcelight standing around looking at her phone. I took a moment on the ground to process things. It must have turned into more than a moment from how the hero came over and helped me up.
“Are you alright?” She bent down to get a look at my face when I didn’t answer. “What happened? Did he hurt you?” She glanced back behind me at the doorway.
“I’m trapped here. I don’t have anything. I don’t have my armor or my nanites or my daughter.” What a terrible day for rain. Forcelight, a hero I actually murdered, hugged me. She’s really that damn clueless. I should kill her again. I should kill all of them again. Destroy as much of this worthless world as possible until Blackstone caves.
No, it wouldn’t work. “They’re all gone because of him. I’m not from another planet, exactly. I’m from another Earth. He was supposed to get me back to my family. I have a little girl, and a wife, and friends. People depend on me.”
“Bastard,” she said, holding me. “We’ll get him.”
“Yeah. We will. But we’ll need help.” I looked up at her, the rain having wet my face horribly. She wiped the drops away.
“I have friends. If you want, I can introduce you to them. I was going to meet them at a party, at a place called Master Academy. They can help you get back on your feet if you’d like,” she said.
I threw back my head and laughed. “That would be perfect.” Embraced by a hero I killed, being led to the Master Academy and all their superheroes to be taken in while I figure out a plan to reverse my predicament. The laughter turned bitter when I remembered Qiang. I’d made deals with devils and built a new criminal underworld all to protect her from those I wronged and their revenge against me.
“Hey, you know I’m Forcelight, right?” she asked. I nodded. “So what’s your name? Or even your hero name?”
Hero name? Fucktaneous spazballs, she thinks I’m a superhero. It actually caused me to pause while I thought of something. The one moment the ability to pull a name out of my ass comes in handy, “Uhhh, how about you just call me Gecko for now?”