“And that’s why Scott Pilgrim, not Ready Player One, is the best video game movie in existence,” I said, finishing a long explanation. I’d launched into it after bringing Mobian up to speed. The entire timeline shift had taken a toll on him.
He shook off the daze long enough to add, “No one could argue with that.” He reached over for a sip from his cold sweet and salty caramel cappuccino that had gone cold forty-five minutes before. “I just can’t help myself. I feel like I’ve gone out of my bloody head.”
I nodded along, resisting a song lyric that popped into head at that. “I take it you have some sort of sense related to temporal… thingies. Like a timey-wimey-.” As a person with extra arms, I felt a sudden urge to work on stretching and yoga poses. Not the worst way to spend my time. Between my appetite and lack of nanites to help sculpt this masterpiece of a body I have, I’m worried the holiday food might add a shitload of pounds around my midsection.
He huffed loudly, cutting me off. “I’m not Dr. Who. I think they modeled the Doctor on me, but I’ve no reason to seek royalties. No, there are rules when dealing with time.” He stood up and walked over to where a panel on his timeship hung half off. He reached in and started messing around.
I threw up my hands. “That’s what you told me. Now we’re in this timeline and I’m back to square one figuring out this time shit.”
“You said it was a magic ritual from a specific book. Do you think you can get the book away?” he asked.
“More than likely, yes, but I’d rather motivate the person who spent years learning time magic and researching the ritual to do something exacting. Pretty sure it requires precision anyway. You willing to bet the timeline on any old children’s party entertainer reshaping one of the fundamental components of the universe?”
He shrugged. “I have stories. Surely you could cast it?”
I shook my head. “I can’t, and don’t call me Shirley. Casting magic disagrees with my physiology. It’s a shame. Mom didn’t smoke enough when she was pregnant with me.”
Mobian finished with the wiring and grabbed the panel to fix it back. “One of your new ‘friends’ ought to be good for magic. Didn’t Shieldwall have a mage of sorts?” Mobian asked.
“Yeah. Hey, if she asks you what her life’s like over there as one last wish before she changes things, what are you going to tell her?” I stared him down. Near as I can tell, the supergroup known as Shieldwall never formed in this timeline. They had a mage of some sort, whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. I killed her. Can’t remember if she’s one of those someone managed to bring back from the dead once or not. I made my reputation murdering supers and suddenly a whole swath of them decided to return to life. Their desire to keep living shows me disrespect.
Mobian looked up from punching buttons on the panel. A holographic display appeared with a lot of weird shapes blinking. “She has a right to know, but the timeline comes first. No.”
“What about the rest of them in the meantime?” I pointed to the sealed exit to the timeship, which had scorch marks around it.
“They are good people. You are a danger to them,” he answered. “Are you working against them?”
I shook my head. “Like I said, they know me as a hero. Even put me on a team. It shouldn’t matter though. They’re giving me a place to stay and protection while I get on my feet and get this taken care of. If that means I have to slam a few faces into the pavement for them, it seems to work out.”
“A taste of what could have been, perhaps,” Mobian said. When I raised an eyebrow toward him, he raised his hands.
I lowered the eyebrow. “It’s certainly an interesting experience. Not a bad spot to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Think you can just take me back to when he got the book? Or maybe soon after he teleported me out of the hospital?”
“I’d rather not distort the timeline anymore than it already is,” he said. “Imagine if it was merged with the other. An Earth with doppelgangers of the heroes and villains who all know who you are and that you killed some of them.” Now it was his turn to cock an eyebrow. “Is that what you want?”
“Nah, I think I like how tight my ass is now without the world sticking its collective fist up there. But if time travel’s out, that really limits a lot of your capabilities.”
“Time travel is not out, but changing the past may create that scenario. Let’s not.”
“Fine, you crazy limey bastard,” I said.
He just looked at me. “I’m quite tired of so many things crises revolving around you.”
I flipped my hair all to one shoulder and said, “It’s hard being this beautiful. Everyone wants a piece.”
“I hope you have a plan to go with all that narcissistic talk,” Mobian said.
I clued him on that as well. He wasn’t impressed, but it gave him something to listen to while he finished making things no longer blink. “You want to ruin his life until he gives you what you want.”
“No. I’m ruining his idyllic life so he’s forced to either go back to one marginally better, or tries to kill me. Can’t do me in until he completes the ritual. Making people too homicidal toward me for their best interests is a great strategy.”
“I will attempt to abscond with the book while you do that. Come,” he said, heading for the door of his ship.
I stood up and followed. “You can’t just command a woman to come. Not from outside her.”
Instead of a campus in California, my GPS pinged us in Connecticut. We stood in the backyard of a one-story suburban house with a wood fence. Mobian was petting a vicious guard puppy, apparently a half-Chihuahua, half-Pomeranian hybrid. He held it up to stare at me side by side with the dog’s bug-eyed face, then nodded past myself and the timeship. “According to the public records of this time, that is the backyard of the Blackstone household. It would be to our benefit to steal the book. Anything else you do in there is your business.”
I vaulted over the wood fence first. “Huh. Modest for someone with the last name Blackstone. You hear that kind of name, you expect a manor.” Of course, I wasn’t all that surprised. I’d been cyber-stalking the guy ever since Forcelight took me in like a broken baby bird, cradling me against her body and bringing me back to a nest to be fed and cared for. It was yet another brick veneer suburban house that shares a floor plan with another dozen houses in the subdivision.
“A hand?” I heard from behind me. I turned to see Mobian’s fingertips waving up over the wall.
“The one person on Earth a wall could stop,” I muttered. I looked around for something to use. A lawnmower someone left out, a metal bench, a grill, a stone planter…
Louder, I told him, “Stand back!”
The grill splintered the wood when I swung it down on the fence panels. Mobian looked up at me, but appeared unhurt. “I thought burglars were stealthy,” he said.
“This is the suburbs, not Fort Knox, and your ship can travel through time and space. I think we’ll get away with it.”
“Not if he’s inside with the book,” he said.
I helped Mobian over the trashed wood planks on the ground that used to be a fence. “He’s got college classes right now. Probably failing, too.”
I could tell something was wrong upon closer inspection. I could see spilled, drying orange juice laying on the floor. The kitchen wall opposite the backdoor had a a hole in the drywall and a broken picture frame sat on the floor beneath that. “I don’t think we have to worry about alarms today,” I said. I slid the unlocked backdoor open and we came in to observe the scene of a struggle. An ornate knife with a handle shaped like a long claw stuck out of the table, pinning a note to it.
“Dear Douglas Blackstone, you wife is now a guest of His Imperial Magnificence, The Claw. You brought this upon yourself by your arrogance and insolence in attacking the glorious nation of Ricca. We will contact you about making amends and consider the return of your wife, in time.”
“Hmm,” is all I said before I set about gathering up a few items. “No garlic or onions? They live like animals.”
“This is your doing,” Mobian said.
“Part of the pressure, but I’m not in Claw’s chain of command these days. Don’t you have a book to look for?” I asked.
Mobian looked at the note again, shook his head, and went to go hunt down the magic tome of time magic, Los Cincos Soles Dorados.
I had to settle on dumping vinegar and hot Tabasco sauce into a sauce pan and setting it on a stove burner to boil. I let it get going and waft around before carrying it through the living room, down the hallway, and into what tended to be the master bedroom in this house. Mobian put some gadget of his away as a lock popped open on a small wooden box on a bookshelf. “This looks like it,” he said.
I nodded. “Yup.” Then I tossed the boiled vinegar and hot sauce onto the bedding.
Mobian waved his hand in front of his nose and hurried past me, mumbling about me being petty. I headed back to the kitchen where Mobian held a piece of paper and searched around for a pen. I grabbed the knife out of the note and carved a post script into the wood of the table. “PS., I, your old friend PG, didn’t do this. I just stole your book. Maybe you should look me up sometime before doing something stupid again. Never know when a powerful book might come in handy during a rampage of revenge. PPS, he who smelt it dealt it.”
He’d probably get that last point soon after entering the house. Nothing like the smell of boiled vinegar and hot sauce to clear out the sinuses. I stabbed the knife through the note to keep it pinned in there.
I turned to see Mobian standing out on the back patio, petting the little poof dog that followed us from next door. The humanoid had a concerned look on his face; the pupper whimpered and looked upset. I pointed back to the note. “Ricca kidnapped his wife. We stole his book. I don’t think he’ll bother taking them on without it. Either he comes after me to get it back, or he tries to negotiate with me. It’ll probably be safe on your ship, right?”
“Nobody gets in without my permission,” he said. He looked down at the book. The sunlight caught it, momentarily blinding me with an inexplicable flash of golden light. “I will analyze it. I may have a compromise we can all live with.”