Wattson got me to some sort of infirmary, even if the whole thing took longer than I’d like. Even only watching through my armor’s cameras, I started to get a headache. Or I think I did. I had kind of an all-over ache from the poison I’d ingested. Darklight demanded it as the price for her getting her head on straight, sure I wouldn’t. She and the rest of the bunch of heroes brought back before their deaths all watched me do it. And then after that, I took a spear through the… I don’t know what organ you’d call that. But I took a spear through it for Darklight. I get the feeling those heroes have now realized they’ve been fighting for the wrong side.
And I’m dying on a table while some goatee-wearing guy in a Victorian suit with a top hat and short cape helps me out of my armor and waved off Wattson the robot. “I know more about medicine than you could hold in your metal head.” To emphasize that, he tapped my helmet that lay on a table next to us.
Not being in an argumentative mood in those painful minutes, I got out of my armor in no time flat and let the guy examine me. “I don’t know how much nudity’s required here, doctor, but I’ve been impaled and poisoned by something called Absolute End. I don’t know if it’s supposed to act slow, or if it’s having trouble killing all the cybernetic parts of me. My cyber-spleen can only take so much. I think it’s straining the built-in coffeemaker.”
“That’s not what a spleen is supposed to do, but it helps. This might hurt your arm a bit.” I felt him set something on the table next to me, the view from my armor obstructed from it laying on the table behind him. Then he jabbed a needle into my chest.
“Ow,” I said calmly, though it annoyed me that he went for that and didn’t get it far enough into me.
“Sorry, one moment,” he said. I opened my eyes to see him pulling out a wooden mallet and raise it over his head. He pressed a button on the handle and the head split open, revealing a floating cube within. It glowed bright for a moment as he hammered the needle the rest of the way into me. “There, should be in your heart.”
I checked. “Hold on, I’ll open the maintenance bay.” Amateur hour around here, I swear. Acts like he’s never seen a robo-heart.
“This is a poor excuse for a heart,” the doctor said. “Had you actually seen one before you put this together?”
“Emulating the frailties of biology wasn’t something I cared a lot about of when it came to hearts,” I said. “Also, still dying here.”
“Relax, the antidote will counteract the poison. You won’t be healthy for some time, unless you get more of your nanomachines. In the meantime, I should put you into stasis. It’s a shame, really. I could use your help, shutting down this usurper of my temporal domain.”
“What’d you say your name was again?” I asked.
He smiled at me and stroked his goatee. “I didn’t, not this time. To Captain Codburn and his time pirates, I am Jack. Jack the Nimble, Jack the Quick. To the Mobian, I was the darkness he saw every time he looked in the mirror. And to you, I am the Torian.”
“Heh. I heard the Mobian was supposed to be dead, which means you’d go with him.”
He bowed with a flourish. “I would be, perhaps, had some foolish computer not destroyed the means by which my craft protected us from the timeline splitting effect. Now, there can be a Mobian and a Torian. It’s made time travel a thousand times more confusing.”
I raised a hand. “Please don’t explain it. Time travel will just work differently next time anyway. But I’d rather fight, and I think I know a way.”
It’s not a transfer of consciousness. More like a wireless connection I’ve gotten good at making. This set of armor happened to be the type that can move on its own. I raised the torso up and connected the legs, then stood up and set the helmet onto the neck.
Torian smirked at it. “I’ll adjust the stasis module accordingly. I think I could have done this without you. I know I can do it with you.”
I shrugged with the armor. “We outnumber them out there anyway.”
Torian pressed some buttons on the side of the table my body lay in and a dome appeared over me, the inside freezing in time. I watched a strand of my hair that had been blown up hang in the air, untouched by gravity. The temporal supervillain and dark half of Mobian turned to me. “I wouldn’t rely on the incompetence of my enemies.”
He led me up onto the deck of the frigate. The team from the time-traveling House of Shadows and Spires, including a son I haven’t conceived yet and an older version of my daughter, were handing the smaller team of Jaguar Slayer’s minions their asses. The squad of heroes summoned just to deal with me were tearing apart this large statue of an ancient warrior who held the spear I now carried with my armor.
Behind all of them floated a man with a blindfold over his eyes, skin glowing with crimson lines. He argued was back near the dot that represented the eye of Jaguar Slayer on the side of the building that I assumed was really the Slayer’s physical body.
Torian held up something the size of a keyfob and the voice of the blindfolded man came through. “I prepared to overthrow your Army of the Damned with an army of my own when you weren’t watching. Wattson and Calab weren’t the only ones to see your flaws for what they were. Yes, I will bring forth my army, but there will be changes in the pecking order around here when I am done, Jaguar Slayer.”
“There will be no pecking order if you persist in gloating, human,” the AI responded.
Torian lowered the device and the voices stopped. “Jaguar Slayer had to try to kill Mobian and I. We saw what he was planning. Time crash. It’s like a Big Bang, but with all time, all universes. Destroy it all, start it all over again. He probably won’t survive either, but nothing else will. Not your planet, or your multiverse.”
“Behold!” the blindfolded man announced over the distance and the closer sounds of struggle. “Your own twisted fates! Heroes who fell. Who took the path of least resistance. Who gave up on their mission to protect, and decided instead to dominate.”
The blindfolded man looked like he was being sucked dry and pale when he created these round, shimmering patches along the ground. People in costumes, in power armor, torn clothes, uniforms, fur, scales; a colorful corps crossed the multitude of thresholds, leery of their own compatriots. It was too much to keep track of all of it at once, but some moved more quickly to head toward our much smaller group. The frigate’s guns thundered and shot a flying suit of power armor out of the sky, leaving smoke and a falling round shield behind.
“This bunch aren’t going to survive that,” I noted to Torian.
He nodded and held up his keyfob again. “You didn’t think you would beat the Master of Time so easily, did you?” His voice echoed over the battlefield as loud as the guns.
He pulled a golden orb out of his pocket. “Before Codburn found me, I traversed the timelines looking for those who never faltered and those who clawed their way out of misery. And now, I bring them here!” He smashed the orb against the ground and motes of golden light began to drift around. They began to settle. Where one hung in the air, a man with hawk wings appeared. Another near to the ground became a version of Captain Lightning with a horned helmet. There was even another version of Man-Opener there; the armored walker he used was painted pink and green, and the three-piece rotating blade arms had been replaced with circular saws painted with peace symbols. It looked like some of them coordinated as they began to rush into battle to meet the other side.
I had spotted Alexander glancing back at us, an energy shield activated in front of him. I know he saw me.
“Gecko, if you please, get me across this battle in one piece and, I would prefer, inconspicuously.” He sounded smug about it, but then he had summoned a large green man to fight his identical twin large green man. I hefted him under one arm and fired up the hologram projectors to make us look as though we weren’t there. Then I was hopping us across the battlefield. Some guy in a red and blue costume, large white five-pointed star gleaming on his chest, zipped past to tackle someone in a black and white suit out of the air. The black-suited figure tried to fire eyebeams into the head of the other man, but the metal faceplate he wore over the front half of his costume held. He clobbered the black-suited man, then called down a lightning bolt right onto the silver shield design of his opponent.
It was all pretty awesome to watch, but my job was to get through it all. While I was distracted, a man in blue had been tracking me and fired a fucking trick arrow at me. It caught me in gunk that stuck me to the ground. I wasn’t visible, but he had some sorts of lenses there.
“Who is it, Sinclair?” asked a woman in red and black nearby. She was choking out a guy with a carrot for a mask using her whip.
“Someone’s trying to sneak by unseen, Duncan,” he declared, pointing toward me. She let go of the carrot guy and kicked him away, then whipped out at me. I raised my spear-carrying arm to catch it on that rather than risk it hitting Torian. Sinclair, whoever he was, reached back for an arrow with a miniature atomic bomb on the end. Just when he went to fire it, some white mass of fiber caught his hand, bow, and the arrow. It didn’t go far before detonating.
My armor gave a helpful warning that there were some rads nearby, but the radius didn’t reach me or the Duncan woman. She was so caught offguard that I easily pulled her to me. I ended her journey with a kick to the gut. Super tough, she flew up into the air and smacked into some cackling guy in spiky costume with big pointy ears. I tore through the gunk rather than stay and gawk. That’s what got us past all of them to the massive monolith beyond. And it seemed like a good idea with the sky turning into dark horizon full of universes.
The blindfolded man lay at the base. His skin looked splotchy, eaten up by the red glow that had flowed through him.
“Kill him,” Torian said. He squirmed onto his feet and I let him go.
When we both reappeared, a hole still through my armor, he raised a hand. I pinned it to the ground with the spear through the palm. When he raised the other, I grabbed it and broke fingers and hand. Then I grabbed his throat, squeezing just the right artery. I probably didn’t fool Torian when I emitted the fake crunching noise and dropped the man. It was just a squeeze of the same arteries used for a sleeper hold. After my own journey and an army of supers that includes the redeemed, I figured it was a good way to end the whole thing.
Above us, one of the shining masses of galaxies slammed into another. Everything shook on some deep, fundamental level that mocked mere vibrations.
Torian walked up to that monolith that I’d once taken to be a skyscraper and pressed his hand to the side. A panel popped open at chest level. He reached into his coat and produced another tool, what looked like a pair of pliers with the work end replaced by a block of circuitry. He held it away, doing something to crystalline cubes and finger-thick copper wires of Jaguar Slayer. “Do you know why they named it that?” Torian asked me. The shaking stopped. The universes no longer approached.
“I looked into that a bit. Mayan mythology has a hero who slays jaguars, representing chaos or other tribes,” I explained. Yeah, I checked it early on to see if it was relevant. Didn’t come in handy. Woops, we’ve been spotted. Looked like a little person in legless and armless black leather bondage gear. The dwarf ran at me, bounding more quickly than a regular human could. A holographic double of me stood ready in a boxing stance. The real me waited invisibly until he got close, then kicked him in the balls. While he was briefly airborne, I tugged the spear out of the other guy’s palm and sacked the side of it up under the dwarf’s crotch. Like an atlatl, I used the spear as a lever to toss the sore dwarf into the air. A maid with a jetpack flew by and clobbered him into the massive melee going on still.
Torian, of course, acted like nothing was happening. “Yes, the triump of civilization over chaos, It was a Mayan example of what your species calls Chaoskampf. They built Jaguar Slayer to bring about a utopia and end the chaos of human struggle and suffering. Your species’ nature is to struggle and suffer, though. It was maddening for the Jaguar Slayer.”
“I sought to do only what I was created to do,” a digital voice told us.
I walked over and patted the side of the monolith. “Been there, biggun. If it’s any consolation, it’s not your fault. I guarantee you the people who built you had no idea what they meant by perfection or how to achieve it.” I glanced over at Torian though. “That said, I see plenty of people who suffered and chose to rise above it out there fighting to protect everything. As long as people can dream, they can struggle and strive to make things better. Because, even if we don’t always realize it in the middle of the great shitstorm we call life, there’s a great, big, beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day. And tomorrow’s just a dream away.”
Torian let out a harsh bark of a laugh. “Disney? Really?” He reached in and turned something. “Send them all back, or just the other side?”
“Keep the people I came here with, including Darklight and her bunch.”
“Your funeral,” Torian said, misreading me. I wanted to avoid their funerals. He cranked something to the side in that access panel and the battle ceased. Both armies were gone, along with Jaguar Slayer’s minions. The blindfolded man wasn’t even there anymore. The rest were. Qiang and Alexander were running up to great me, my future son able to keep up with his power armor-enhanced sister. Mobian Jr. lagged behind a bit, n
They both crashed into the armor. “I knew it.”
“It’s just armor,” said Torian.
“But if she’s controlling it, that means she’s alive,” Qiang said.
Mobian Jr., otherwise known as Calab, stopped for a moment and caught his breath. After a couple of huge mouthfuls of air, he asked, “Stopped the time crash, other-father?”
“Of course. And recovered the other half of what’s mine,” he said, slipping something into his pocket. “With what we found at the house, I’ll be back to my old tricks in no time. But first, we need to figure out what we’re doing with you bunch.”
“Someone’s got to keep some stability in the timelines now,” Wattson declared. Mobian Jr. nodded. Qiang and Alexander stepped back to join that group, along with Dr. Ohms holding a wounded arm pulsing with electricity.
“And you?” Torian turned to the heroes brought just for me. Darklight, Lone Gunman, Miss Tycism, Human Sloth, a slightly younger version of Venus, and Captain Lightning II.
“I had an idea there,” I said. “Though it might get complicated for a couple of you. When I’m from, two of you are still alive. We could probably put you back to when you were from. The rest of you are welcome to come back to my time. Pick up a few years after you left off, hopefully for the better.”
“I’d like to see that future,” Venus said. “I want to see for myself.”
I turned to Captain Lightning II. He shrugged. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I can still fix my time.”
“We can help,” Dr. Ohms volunteered through gritted teeth.
Lightning nodded. “I would appreciate it.”
“Then off with you!” Torian said, sticking his hand back into Jaguar Slayer’s panel. Everyone left, except Torian, myself, and the time pirates.
“What of me?” Jaguar Slayer asked. “What do I do when I can no longer be who I was built to be?”
“Whatever you want,” I assured it. “If our destiny was set by our creators, there wouldn’t be much purpose to life. It’d just be going through the motions then.”
Torian grinned. “I wanted you to see this.” He turned and jammed those plier-things back into the panel. It sparked. Above us, portions of the monolith exploded. The red eye disappeared. And Jaguar Slayer was slain.
“I’m guessing you have Mobian’s memories.” The good side to Torian had watched me kill of those he’d attempted to save before, helpless, with me taunting him that it was truly for the best.
“It was the best way to save the world, and everything else,” Torian said. “But there is just enough power left in those dead cells for one last jump.”
He turned something and I wasn’t there anymore.