Everything was mostly hunky-dory after all that. Where I’d been zipped off to was the House of Shadows and Spires, to my lab. There, my body was dunked in a tank of nanomachines to heal while my armor was standing in the foyer, looking around at all the sawdust on the floor and the way parts of the wall had been taped together.
“You’ll be back to normal in no time,” Dr. Ohms said, rubbing his hand along a portion of the wood floor patched up with wood that didn’t match the rest of it.
Alexander and Qiang finished nailing up a painting at the top of the stairs when Qiang turned and noticed the new suit of armor in the foyer. “Mom’s here!”
I waved and spoke through the armor. “Torian just dumped my body in the nanites. I’ll be fine.” Still, we all hugged as I kept explaining. “Remove the poison, fix the effects, patch the hole from the spear; I’ll be fine.”
“Doesn’t make us worry any less, mom,” Qiang said.
“Yeah, that was a trip,” Alexander said. “You ever seen someone stand back up like that? You were like one of those old slasher movie killers.”
“How long have you been waiting?” I asked.
“Eleven, no, twelve hours,” Qiang answered. “We were pretty exhausted when we got back, so we slept awhile and now we’re picking the house back up. It won’t be as capable at time travel, but we’ll make it work.”
I nodded. “What were y’all thinking of doing now this whole mess is over with?”
Alexander let me go. “We might go back home, eventually, but we thought we’d help out here. Torian’s out there again, and the timelines are in trouble.”
I sighed from thinking about what the fuck was even up with time that would require people traveling around to fix divergent timelines from spewing out more divergences. Figured I’d just go with it. If that’s what my kids want to do, let ’em do it.
“Well, I guess don’t be strangers? But I hope you don’t need my help too much. Find a happy medium, I guess. But I’m going home. Right back to where y’all left me, if you please.”
Alexander smiled. “We’ll visit when we can. Right now, it looks like we need to clean up something from the time crash that caused superpowers in the dinotaceous period.”
“Triassic,” Qiang corrected.
“That’s what I said,” Alexander teased her with a grin. To me, he added, “Intelligent dinosaurs with superpowers. Could be a problem. We need to do something to separate the timeline before it’s permanent. But first, let’s get you healed up and home.”
It took a lot of protein and healing to get my body back in shape. The poison did some nasty shit to the proteins in my body, melted a lot of stuff. Some bits, I decided not to bother with the meat and just go for metal. On the surface, I looked like a curly, chubby woman. I was back on my feet just time for one final meal with the kids before they dropped me off as the first stop. I gave a Qiang and Alexander one last hug and bid the rest of the group a fond farewell. “Feel free to use the lab and the machines. Might come in handy,” I told them.
Dr. Ohms flexed his healed arm and said, “Real handy.”
To Mobian Jr., I added, “Keep an eye out. Your dad’ll be back at some point, I’m sure. And if not, I’ve been known to help him out on occasion, things need to get messy. There’s a reason he hated me, though.”
And then it was time to step out the front door of the House of Shadows and Spires. It was a bright and shiny day in early June, according to my HUD clock. I noticed as I headed down the porch stairs that they looked a bit decrepit. Looking back from the lawn, the whole house looked like a haunted house now. Or more like a fixer-upper. And I noticed the letter that drifted out of the closed door addressed to me. It was from Qiang. It had some parting info for me
Checking back, it was the day after I’d left. Along with the brief note in that envelope, things felt weird.
I don’t know how long I was gone, but it felt like awhile. Qiang, the younger version, was home. I walked in just in time to startle her and make her cut off a chunk of hair. She was happy to see me, of course, but way less happy then I was because it had been less time for her. I’ve heard that given as the real reason people try not to go back to exactly the time they left. Maybe it is, but it’s also a bit cruel and unnecessary. Every day I was gone was a day my kid might think I’d been poisoned and stabbed through the torso with a giant robot’s spear.
It took a little bit before I got some urgent alerts over VillaiNet. Something about weird freaky temporal readings, and swearing they lost time. No one could agree on how much time was lost, though. And then my time was interrupted by Medusa calling me up. “Hey, Gecko, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I heard there was an incident at your place. Did you do anything big in the past day or so?”
“I got involved in the middle of a temporal war between a genocidal AI that wanted to destroy all superpowers and remake the world in what he thought was perfection based on its own flawed programming, ultimately ending shortly after the computer tried to smash all of time together to make a sort of Big Bang event happen for the multiverse,” I explained.
“Right, so time is fucked up. That could explain it. I’ve gotten weird reports of some sort of intense disturbance in South Dakota, with reports from local Johnny Laws that a team of superheroes suddenly appeared, including me.”
Oh. You know, there’s some things I didn’t quite explain as far as this invitation I made. I explained Jaguar Slayer’s recruiting efforts to try and kill me and how I managed to remind them all to be heroes again. It must have been a lot to process. I thought she hung up on me because of how silent everything was. After a full minute of no talking, I hung up, then had to answer a callback from her. “Oh my god, I’m so proud of you!”
“This is why I don’t tell you stuff,” I said.
“And also why did you invite a past version of me here?!” That’s a reasonable freakout. Like I said, didn’t entirely think it all out. I was pretty close to death at the time.
“Um, just think of her like a little sister? A little sister who might be dating your formerly dead boyfriend I killed that time.”
She took awhile to think, then reminded me, “Don’t hang up yet. I’m just… pondering.”
“Trying to figure out how to explain to people you’re very close to, including a version of you from before you rescued me, that we used to play with each other’s fun stuff?” I asked.
She laughed. Such an annoying laugh. I miss it. I almost said a thing. Almost said it twice, unsure of myself because relationships and emotions are tough. Instead, I settled on, “Are they still there? I’d like to go meet them, maybe bring something for Forcelight. Or Darklight. I actually really prefer the name Darklight, it was so much better.”
“So much better,” Medusa agreed. “You’re the closest asset the Exemplars have to what’s going on, if you want to head over there. The Superhuman Resources people are going to be scrambling, but they don’t have people out in flyover country yet. They can lay low in Radium until we get their lives figured out.”
Yay, a trip in my personal Flyer. Perfect for considering that I’m canonically supposed to have a kid soon and what that knowledge means for me going forward and figuring out relationships. You know, whether things are just because of how I feel, or because I feel obligated to Alexander. It was on my mind because Future Qiang’s little note was to warn me I’m supposed to get pregnant. Because this one, I’m the birth mother too. Not lying, adopting, and messing around with their DNA like with Qiang. Yeah, there’s a nice revelation to have. Yep, Psychopomp Gecko’s gonna lay an egg.
I tried to play a game instead, but my copy of Legend of Mana suddenly stopped working since I’d returned to a time before the remaster was released. Damn time travel!
I tried to look all official when I landed, which meant I used a set of my Lady Guardian armor. That way, when I landed in front of the police station where the Homicide Squad was hanging out. Medusa had forwarded over some transcripts. Darklight and the others weren’t under arrest. Venus being with them convinced the officers not to do that. After all, she was a hero.
Cops and capes alike perked up when I landed in the parking lot and stepped through the door. “Lady Guardian on behalf of the Exemplars,” I announced myself. To the heroes sitting around the lobby area specifically, I added, “The Exemplars are a group that formed in the time you’ve all been… inactive. We have a place a couple of hours from here. We’ll put you up until you get on your feet, help you get adjusted, and can help you obtain travel accommodations out if you’d prefer to hit the ground running.”
“About time,” Lone Gunman said, crumpling an empty bag of chips and tossing them expertly into a trash can on the opposite side of the room. “Can we stop for dinner on the way?”
“My Flyer has a selection of food,” I told him. Including some of those marshmallows with the cookies and cream center. Those are going to blow their fucking minds.
“I think we’re all pretty eager to go,” Venus said.
Darklight had her black costume on, but nodded. I ushered them all out, but stopped her. “I was told to give this to you. To help make amends.” I handed her a small tube of nanomachines designed to restore her to her unburnt appearance.
“Are these from Psycho Gecko?” she asked.
“You’ve all been gone for so long, you wouldn’t know. Psycho Gecko is dead. It happened some time ago,” I told them.
Venus smirked. Darklight looked to her, then took the tube with her. “Let’s go.” On the way to the Flyer, she began to talk to any of them who were listening. It didn’t escape my notice that the Human Sloth in his cybernetic body was bringing up the rear. “It’s not an illusion, everyone.”
“It looks familiar,” Miss Tycism said.
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re all talking about,” I said, smiling underneath the armor.
“Still not an illusion,” Darklight said.
“I am Lady Guardian,” I announced. “I will be your pilot today. Please board. I advise you sit down and strap up for takeoff, and I’ll let you know when it’s safe to stand up.”
“This is the kind of fucking around Gecko would do,” Venus said.
“We can take her,” said Human Sloth, who is pretty much the last person who should be making that statement.
I waited until they were all inside to start laughing. “Well, couldn’t exactly let news of my living get out. But I am working with Medusa,” I told them all. I pointed to Venus. “You’d know her better as who Venus is now after she set out on her own from the Master Academy. Come on, let’s get y’all to Radium. And while we’re on the way, anyone got any dietary requests for a cookout? Might as well have y’all over to the place. I’ll call up Marianne and Adrian, see if they want to help welcome y’all.”
“This future is fucked,” Lone Gunman said.
Miss Tycism had gotten to the marshmallows and was sitting down, chewing on one with wide yes. “Oh. My. God. These are blowing my fucking mind right now.”