“Would you call this a tribunal?” I asked Medusa.
“Maybe. I guess. If we had to call it something,” she said. We’d all gathered in the rear of my veterinary clinic, where the mobile slime molds had removed the truth serum and brought us a bunch of tables and chairs. I gave one some cash and sent it on a fast food run, making sure it knew to touch the bags but not the food itself. I think it understood. It nodded like it did.
Spinetingler had turned into a much more normal shape, this time a floating black mass inside a cloak dark enough to look like a hole in reality. Mindgame looked much healthier than when I first captured her for Spinetingler. The non-aggression pact between myself and the other major villain had been forged when I agreed to help reunite them. My homo machina physiology, that I now lack, is highly resistant to mind control. That was important, because Mindgame, as she goes by now, essentially blanks people’s minds and controls their bodies like her own puppets. When I found her, she had control over a whole apartment building. Neither it, nor her, were in the best shape physically.
She caught me looking and winked. “Nice to see they’re feeding you,” I said. “Last time we met in-person, you had missed a few meals.”
“You’re that girl who kidnapped me.” She tapped her temple. “But something’s wrong. You can’t keep me out anymore.”
Spinetingler leaned forward to block her view of me. I nodded appreciatively to him. He nodded back, then whispered something to her.
“Can we get on with this?” Venus asked. “We need to figure out what comes next. No one seems to like my world.”
“If your world is permanent, my life doesn’t go right,” the white and blue-clad speedster said.
“Who are you, again?” Medusa asked.
“Uh, I’m the Cobalt Racer, from the future. I’m Qiang’s husband, so you’re my mother-in-law. Uh, you and Venus both are,” he pointed between the pair of them. “And I guess you too,” he pointed to me. “I came back because of temporal reverberations that were erasing things in my future. When I came back, the past wasn’t right.
Mix N’Max, my old frined, was with us, as was the goddess and Max’s snu-snu buddy, Pestilentia.
Joining the familiar faces were two others, including the representative of the alien machines. It was a flying, coffin-shaped device with a mechanical humanoid torso hanging from it. I hadn’t had time to catch up on where the machines were in this reality, but I’d helped arrange for them to set up a homeland on the inhospitable outer planets of the solar system in the real one. This one had been sent to fight Venus, but I don’t think they trusted sending one of their negotiators. Being less connected now, I can’t just spy and see if Venus left them alone in the solar system or if she fucked around with them.
Torian was the other extra person, and the time traveling old man looked extra cranky. “I need to stop all of this right now. I already heard how this meeting goes. It takes too long, with too many arguments, so I came back to do this right.” He started pointing around, first to Pestilentia and Max, “You two don’t give a shit. In fact, you’re high,” he directed that to Max.
Max chuckled. “I can tell you I’m high, too. Doesn’t take a time machine to know that.”
“I was never sure if he could get high,” Medusa whispered.
I shrugged. “He can if he wants to.”
“That aside, she wants someone hurt,” Torian pointed a finger at Mindgame. At Spinetingler, he explained, “You want someone punished for controlling you like you control others.” Next was Medusa and Venus, “They don’t want their parents to be dead again and that’s a sticking point.” He pointed to me. “You want to go back to the way things were and you’re willing to give up the power and make some changes, but you don’t like that you had sex with your twin sister.” He was right, but she wasn’t my twin when I had sex with her. Now there’s something not everyone gets a chance to say.
That got me some looks from everyone. Torian moved onto the speedster, “You want reality to go back to normal because you hit the jackpot marrying Qiang and you don’t want anything to endanger that future.”
He brushed off his suit jacket and sat down again, then cocked a thumb toward the machine representative. “The two of us don’t want any humans to have that sort of power. That sort of thing is why folks don’t like gods existing, the meddlers.”
“This doesn’t sound like that big of an impasse,” I said.
“I think you should fight each other to figure out who gets to decide how the power gets used,” Torian said.
“That idea is shitty,” Max answered. He pointed toward Venus with a blunt he hadn’t been hiding or anything. “She still has the power.”
Torian had been removing the crystal ball from an inner pocket on his coat that it shouldn’t have fit into. “This will remove and contain the power.” Oh yeah, sure. That’s all it’ll do. “That way it won’t be an unfair fight.”
“Even I can detect that falsehood,” the alien machine said. It examined the device closely, then raised its arms. “I believe I have a solution.” With only that warning, it zapped Venus.
I dove on instinct. Cobalt Racer and Venus were faster, probably fast enough that they could actually see the purple blur pulled out of Venus by the alien machine. I landed hard, feeling the power race through me. I felt incredible, again. For one thing, gravity was once again a suggestion instead of a rule. I stood up, taking in a frozen scene. A trail of light showed Cobalt Racer had pushed the alien machine away and then got tackled by Spinetingler. Torian reached toward the middle of our gathering in vain. Venus dusted herself off, not frozen. I looked to her, cocking my head. “Wait, I got the power.”
“So did I,” my wife said. “I can feel it.”
She was right. I pulled up my omniscience and gave it a go, replaying the scene. I dove before anyone and happened to get in the way. Venus had enough chance to speed up and try to intercept what was going to be pulled out of her body. We both touched it, with Venus diving overhead and me hitting the ground. And we both contained it, becoming roughly equal in power.
“So what’s this mean?” she asked.
“Hon,” I approached, hands raised. Just in case, I sought out the knowledge needed created a copy of the device the machine had used. The clever thing had done an astoundingly quick visual analysis of Torian’s device and quickly recreated it using its own transformable internal structure. No wonder the thing was meant to deal with reality warpers. “I really think it’s time for our honeymoon to be over. That’s all this was, right? I told you one change. You changed the world. It’s time to go home.”
“You sure you don’t want to fight?” Venus asked. “We get up to some fun stuff if we fight.”
“Oh yeah?” I snapped my fingers and we appeared in a dark void. I didn’t unmake reality or anything, I just took us away from everything.
“How’d you do that?” she asked. “I don’t think I can affect you that way.”
“I’ve picked up a few tricks. You’re saying you want to fight?” I had to wonder a bit about that.
She snapped her fingers and part of the darkness opened up like a monitor. One showed me dressed in a black leather costume that had to be terrible to sweat in, catching Venus on a rooftop with a giant stolen diamond in hand. One tussle later and the clothes were off. Another monitor appeared, with me in my armor getting beaten by Venus, who handcuffed me and proceeded to feel me up. More were out there, different versions of ourselves all created when we try to change reality to give each other an edge.
I walked up and wrapped my arms around her. “Feels like you can do anything, so why shouldn’t you? It’s a little tough for me to be the one arguing against it, except maybe people need to save themselves rather than having it saved for them.”
Venus scoffed. “Are you saying you’re more responsible with this power than I am?”
I shook my head. “I’m saying that superheroes aren’t going to save them. As long as people are people, there’ll be a Klan or Nazis or a bunch of creepy British guys thinking trans people are bad. Heroes can fight them and villains can kill them, but people have to change to stop them from being a thing in the first place.” I paused to see if I was getting through to her. The way her eyes teared up, I figured I was getting close. “I’ve been thinking I should find some way to get rid of it.”
Venus stepped in close, shutting down the monitors. “How? You can’t trust the Torian.”
“Of course not. But I want to get the world sorted out real quick. And by that I mean go back to our version of things… mostly. I did say I’d let you change one thing, right?” I held my hand out and created an image of her parents.
Venus nodded, and turned into an intangible, ghostly form that flowed into me. I felt the power, all of it, once again. I also briefly felt the temptation to go back on what I said. Instead, I snapped my fingers and the dark void fell away.
We were back at the shop. My electronics shop, not veterinary clinic. The rest of this whole bunch were all frozen still, but I pushed them all back into their seats and restarted time. They had a moment to finish shouts or try to lunge before their memories updated. “You did it,” Cobalt Racer said, smiling. He had such a nice, genuine smile. He better not hurt Qiang.
I nodded, then let Venus step out of me.
“What about punishment?” Mindgame asked. I waved. She and Spinetingler went back to their abandoned theme park home.
Torian stood up, holding his crystal ball. “You have to give it up!” I whisked him away to his timecraft and sent him off to Betelgeuse a million years ago. While Cobalt Racer was watching all this, I sent him back to the future.
I looked to the machine that had come. It was strong. No much for even half my power. “I’ll give it up. Your people know me.”
“Really?” Max asked “That’s a lot of power to give up. You sure you don’t want me to hold onto it for safekeeping?”
“I’m sure.” I was also sure I had gotten my body to my liking, like being just thick enough in the right places, with hair a mixture of a beautiful red that becomes blond. It made me happy to no longer be a twin of Dame. I also kind of phased out the relationship she had with an alternate body I controlled. The experience in the other reality soured me on that stuff. It didn’t put me off being able to change forms, so of course I took advantage of things in a way I didn’t tell anyone. Of course I left myself a few advantages like flight.
“There we go… a few nice changes… everyone’s got themselves a weird dream to remember the other reality by,” I muttered aloud.
Venus… Isabella, walked a few steps to get her feet under her again. Maia, aka Medusa, walked up and hugged her. Their parents appeared in the yard from the other reality without any gift-wrapped memories of this version. I added, “Some people get a little more to remember things by.”
Medusa and Venus both looked to the resurrected mom and dad and walked over. I raised my fingers for one last snap. “Just one thing left to deal with, I guess.” Two if you count the copies of Torian’s power-extraction machine that appeared in my basement lair.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed.
“I thank you,” the machine said. It shot off into space.
That left my family, and Pestilentia, to head on over to the house for a big reunion with the real Sam and Holly. It took a long time before everyone got to sleep. I couldn’t help smirking to myself as I hugged my pillow.
It was the perfect pillow. It stayed cold when it needed to, would stay worm when it needed to. It couldn’t get dirty or mashed out of place. I might even say it’s a god among pillows.
There, back to normal.
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