The House of Shadows and Spires is what this bunch call that old-fashioned house. The future version of my daughter pulled my future and unborn (that I know of), son off me when the robot, Wattson, issued some alert.
The guy with the future clothes held up a bag. “Here, more metal. I’ll take the void cannon now.” He tossed the money at me and took the gun. Had he not been an ally of my children, I might have had a more negative reaction. As it was, I let the Rhodium drop to the floor while I gave future Qiang and my future son a nice big hug.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Alexander,” he told me. “And I have to go save the future.”
I guess in the past I’d have made a big show of cringing over that. Instead, especially because I didn’t know what the fuck was up, I just kissed his and my daughter’s foreheads and told them, “Go. I’ll be here when you’re done.”
It’s a bit sappy, but sometimes we need sap in our life. Without it, how would we get delicious syrup, the only thing that makes waffles and pancakes edible? I daresay it’s downright patriotic, at least if you’re a Canadian, to believe in properly-applied sappiness.
They left me with many questions, including the standard paranoia-induced ones about if I might have been duped by someone who had gotten hold of my DNA and a picture of my daughter. The Rhodium was real, though, so they more than made up for it. Whatever future they come from, they know got enough heavy metal to shut Iron Maiden up.
I spent the night doing a heck of a lot of thinking, especially about Alexander. A bit classical of a name for myself and… well, let me have some secrets. Some confusing secrets I’m not sure about. It’s not everyday you meet a kid you’ve never had yet. Heck, the whole bunch had just disappeared as soon as they exited my door, taking their house with them.
The next day saw a different crowd come into my store. An Amazonian figure stepped in, dressed in all black from the bottom of her boots, straight up her lightly-padded pants and top, to the full face mask that hid even her eyes. With her was a short, hairy man with wiry black hair and a skunk stripe right through the middle of it. “Hey there, you seen anyone unusual come through here lately?”
A third person walked in, bald and wearing a simple robe, eyes blindfolded. He answered his companion’s question, “That is too broad a question given your entrance.”
The hairy guy gave the blindfolded man the finger. The blindfolded man grabbed it and twisted, eliciting a yelp from the hairy man. He addressed me next, never raising his voice. “My friends and I are looking for people who came through with some ill intentions. A band of shapeshifting temporal terrorists. We know from your past work with the Mobian you respect the sanctity of the timeline.”
I shrugged. “I think I’d like a redo on some mistakes I’ve made if it’s all the same to you.”
“Nevertheless, Miss Gecko, we know you saw them and we would very much prefer it if you came with us,” the guy said. No sight, but plenty of brass balls.
“Not my name,” I told them. “And if your only reason for coming in was to ask me questions you know the answers to before trying to arrest me, then you’ve made a serious error in judgment.”
“No, but our benefactor wished to give you another chance to aid us without turning to violence,” the blindfolded man let go of his hirsute companion’s finger. “The truth is that we do not care for the timeline either, and can facilitate the change in your circumstances. It would be beneficial to us as well.”
Mixed messages like that aren’t a good sign either. Someone who starts contradicting themselves to tell you what you seem to want to hear is someone you don’t trust without good reason.
“Jaguar Slayer is not your enemy,” the blindfolded man said. Yeah, sure, but the tall, muscled woman in black was circling around one way while the hairy guy subtly spread out in the other direction. My turret guns and traps were armed and ready to pop out, and I had some armor ready.
“The world’s wrecked. It’s hopeless,” the hairy man said. “It’s nothing but shit.”
“Jaguar Slayer was created to bring about a utopia, and it could, but there are anomalies, individuals who threaten to undo any attempt to perfect the world. They are deeply rooted, so Jaguar Slayer has decided that the timeline needs a change.”
“That’s not how time travel works,” I told them.
The blindfolded man smiled. “The imperfect timeline had a naive defender who feared all change, another such anomaly. When the changes become too great, the timeline breaks away. It can still threaten the new timeline because of the multiverse. Jaguar Slayer has found that the only way to make the world the best it can be for all would alter the timeline too much. And these other universes are a threat to that perfection.”
“And I’m one of those threats, I take it?” They couldn’t see my legs or feet behind the counter, where helper robots were already pulling part of my armor onto me.
“You are someone of immense utility and regret that Jaguar Slayer wants to give a chance to. You can erase your past, be the correct gender from birth, be a hero, and never worry about the blood on your hands.”
I shook my head. “That’s not how it works. The fact that I killed so many people wouldn’t be gone. It would have just happened to, what, another universe you want to wipe out as well?”
The woman in black made the first move. She was fast, flying over the ground with a punch aimed right at my heart. I pulled the armor up onto myself, getting at least the chest and arms secure enough to catch her punch. She was strong, but so am I now.
“Monster,” she said with a voice like she had a toad stuck in her throat.
My face disappeared behind my helmet, which projected a blinding flash of light right where here eyes would be behind that mask. I clocked her one in the gut that stumbled her back and let go to confront the hairy leaping guy whose fingers had become a set of bloody claws. I slapped him in the chest hard enough to drop him onto my display case, cracking the glass. Meanwhile, the turrets dropped from the ceiling to rain hot plasma onto his friends.
I pulled the winded man onto his feet. He clawed impotently at my throat, so I grabbed him by the chin and swept his head hard around with an “Ole!” His neck cracked, and a hard push sent the body tumbling back into the main floor of my store, where the blindfolded man was absorbing everything shot at him in a golden glowing ring of unknown characters and designs that hung in the air. The woman in black just tanked the shots, her melting uniform revealing burned skin.
She held a hand up, palm toward me. From it came a beam of what I have to call black light. Not the blue stuff that shows where you’ve been creaming; this was pure darkness in light form. I raised my gauntlets, which have the ability to absorb energy and repurpose it to strengthen my own blows. The black light overcharged the system, blowing the absorbers and capacitors without charging them. I took the hit and crashed through my own cement wall.
No matter how many cement walls you go through, they’re never as fun as your first time. I suspect that’s because of brain damage.
The hairy guy oughta know what I’m talking about. He came after me again, head back on straight and no worse for it. I rolled out of the way and let him land on top of the mine that fired a pair of taser darts into his taint and shocked him until his head exploded.
Back there in the shop, blindfolded man had sprouted a pair of iridescent butterfly wings that shattered into a bunch of small butterflies. The turrets shot some of them, poofing them into smoke, but most managed to swarm the automated defenses and blow themselves up, wrecking the weapons. Meanwhile, the woman in black had a lot half her mask shot off. The shots never did anything worse to her skin than burn it, though. The eyes glared at me. I got a good view of them when she flew through the wall and grabbed for my throat. I felt her thumbs pressing in, and not in the safe spaces you can choke a person for sex. She was out for blood, not any other bodily fluids.
My blow to her larynx weakened her grip. The strikes to the insides of her elbows as well. I meant to deploy my Nasty Surprise and whatever I’d taken to calling its whip-equivalent in the other arm, but that didn’t work out. Instead, I formed my nanomachine cape into a pair of tails that jammed into her chest and head. I heard her cry out in pain as the machines dug in, stabbing deeper despite some sort of protective aura and tougher bodily tissues than normal.
“Enough!” called the blindfolded man. He clapped his hands together once and columns of light encircled the woman in black and the guy who was regrowing his head. The columns threw my nanomachines out before I could secure the kill. Another clap and those two opponents disappeared into thin air, and a new column now surrounded the blindfolded man. “I am sorry for my companions. Perhaps soon you will be more willing to pursue redemption.”
“Redemption doesn’t mean annihilating everyone who knows you did something wrong,” I told him, as if I knew what the fuck I was talking about. Redemption is an impossibility for me. “A tip though… anyone willing to throw away that many lives isn’t really interested in making the world a better place.”
“Spoken like one who still has a world to go back to,” the blindfolded man smiled, then made a gesture. His column disappeared. Just then, the door flew open and the other crew from the future came running in. Qiang even had her own adult power armor! It was cool. And Alexander had a whole different look to him. A dark green breastplate, a Mix N’Max-style syringe gun, leg braces resembling Silver Shark’s cybernetic parts, and a backpack that looked like it belonged to Troubleshooter. I think I even spotted Ouroboros’s knives hanging off his belt. The guy had a stuff from all over the place, not just his other parent.
I dusted my hands off and stepped out of the backroom of my robots and nanomachines swarming over the damage to clean it up and fill things back in. “Sorry for the mess. Y’all need anything else?”
“Told ya,” Qiang nudged the future guy. Oh neat, he had these transparent forcefields around his limbs, head, and body. Looked like he had balloon powers, almost.
Wattson changed his hands from a gun and a set of blender blades back into actual hands and doffed his cap at me. “I’m terribly sorry for that, ma’am. We believed it was a possibility Jaguar Slayer would try to eliminate you for aiding us, but we took the risk and, as your daughter suggested, we believed you capable of defeating a direct attack.”
“Sorry, momma,” Qiang said. “But we don’t want to interfere with you more than we already had to. It’s just that the Slayer erased our tech girl, PK.”
Didn’t sound like anyone I was familiar with. “Well, they did. I got the feeling this one woman really didn’t like me, but it was the guy who couldn’t see that’s the real danger there.”
“He is,” Bubble guy nodded solemnly. “He’s the one who killed my father, the Mobian.”
I leaned onto my damaged counter, the glass seemingly flowing back into place on a wave of tiny machines. “Really? Because that sounds kinda completely unexpected. I didn’t like the guy much, but he always struck me as trickier than he looked.”
“He was,” Kid Mobian said. “We found his timesphere heavily damaged in the crevices of the Inner Circle of Fault.”
Ohms patted Kid Mobian on the shoulder. “Good thing Wattson and I were in the area. We joined it with the house, turning it into the House of Shadows and Spires. The mystery led us to Jaguar Slayer and his actions to wipe the multiverse clean. And while you beat the pants off two of the Slayer’s toughest, we managed a big raid. Your cannon worked perfectly.”
Wattson looked around at Qiang and Alexander. “I think perhaps we better ask you to come with us now, ma’am. The temporal annihilation war is dangerous. If you are not in the House, you may become erased as well. I don’t believe the Slayer would risk getting rid of you, but nonetheless….”
I held up a finger. “Will you return me here so I don’t lose any time as far as anyone’s concerned?” I glanced over at Qiang. She would know well how much time I spent away as a kid. And as for Alexander, I still have to conceive that guy.
Wattson nodded. “Indeed. A most agreeable term of service.”
The amazing thing was how they managed to, in a flash, transport my most valuable equipment and armor into the formerly-nonexistent basement of the House of Shadows and Spires. A tiny basement window showed me we had left the town of Radium, a nebula drifting by instead.
Good thing there’s almost no documentation on Qiang’s mom. And Alexander… I’m still wrapping my head around that one, let alone spouting off about who some future AI needs to kill to keep my son from ever being born.