“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”
Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.
“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”
“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.
“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.
“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.
“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”
“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.
Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”
“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”
“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.
“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”
“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered
I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”
Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.
“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”
“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”
“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”
“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.
Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”
“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”
I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.
“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”
“What’re you thinking?” I asked.
Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”
“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.
Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”
“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.
I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”
“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.
“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.
Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.
But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”
I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”
Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”
“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.
At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.
“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.
Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”
Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.
She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.
Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.
“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.
I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”
“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.
It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”
He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.
“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.
I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.
With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.
“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.
“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”
He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”
Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.
I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.
I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.
Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.
“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.
“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”
“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.
I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”
“I missed you too, mama,” she said.
I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”
“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.
“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…
Update: it didn’t mean what I thought it meant.
I know, I said awhile back I was going to cut down on sleeping round. I won’t deny sex is fun, but it’s not the driving thing in my life and it can be used to delegitimize my rule. Just imagine if someone pops up pretending to be my kid and taking the throne from my daughter? Can’t have that.
But, ya know, it’s a timeline that’s going to be erased without affecting mine. Y’all think I’d be a running around as a superhero if I thought any of this would survive outside my own writing?
Anyway, I dropped some roses off for Rabbit. She came running up to me later, waving them around. It was hard to make out her meaning since the only word she said was, again, “Rabbit!” I turned my hand over and showed her where the rabbit drawing had been and she threw the flowers in my face. Puzzled, I turned and saw some teenagers watching me, one of them nodding and smiling before seeing all his friends shaking their heads and changing his reaction to match.
“Can everybody understand her but me?” I asked, pointing after Rabbit with one hand.
The guy who’d been smiling slid over beside me, running his hand through is hair. “I’d be more ‘n happy to give you oral lessons if you’d like.”
“You mean vocal?” I asked, adding one of my hands to the one moving through his head-based human fur.
“Right, my B. Slip of the tongue,” he said, winking, then wincing.
My other three hands motioned to the teen as he struggled. “Behold, the mighty hair follicle. Watch as even a handful are capable of holding the weight of a human body. Now, one caveat, this hurts like hell for the person being held this way. Side effects may include early male-pattern baldness, irritability, nausea, upset stomach and,” I dropped him. “erectile dysfunction.”
I took a bow when the clapping started.
Anyway, no big deal on not getting anywhere with Rabbit.
The next morning, when it should have been too early to count it as a new day, I was awoken by a strange man jumping out of my closet and setting off my closet bear trap. I sat up and immediately threw a ceramic knife I’d hidden in my pillow at the person. Douglas Blackstone looked up from his trapped leg to the knife sticking out of the other one. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked around the spurting blood.
I shrugged. “It stopped you from barging into my room in the middle of the night, didn’t it?” I asked. It occurred to me this was a neat way to get around the magical prohibition on hurting him. I scooted off the bed. “Here to give in and request my help?”
“Yes! Now get me out of this!”
I sent a signal off to Mobian and proceeded to help free the bear trap from having to chow down on Blackstone. “Darn human. Why’s it so hard to keep your fluids inside you?” I tied off the wounds on his legs and sat him down.
“Blood is everywhere,” he said, looking around.
“Eh, you get used to it, even the coppery taste. You ever wonder why we call it a coppery taste instead of saying copper tastes like blood?”
“What’s the plan? Who is Mobian? Do we have to wait a long time for him?”
“I’m holding off on the plan until Mobian gets here, but it shouldn’t take long.” A light flooded the window outside my room. I stepped over and opened it.
Mobian poked his head through. “Hello. Oh, you’re not dressed yet.”
I shrugged and grabbed a bag I’d sat beside the window. “I got my bug-out bag here. Has everything I need to go rogue.” I turned and looked at Blackstone. “Blackstone, this is Mobian. Mobian, this is the shit stain that messed up time. Let’s see about solving this little problem, eh?”
The trip didn’t take long. Mobian’s timeship walks all over spacetime like a dominatrix over a submissive’s chest. More than enough time to change into an outfit more befitting a prison break. “Ok, here’s the plan. For all its ability to project power beyond conventional means using superhumans and higher technology than most bother with, Ricca doesn’t have as much infrastructure as you’d expect. Much more limited space than, say, North Korea, so they find ways around it. Can you bring up a satellite view of them?”
Mobian pressed a few buttons and a top-down vision of Ricca filled the air in front of us. I pointed to a few buildings. “Much like Argentina, they frequently use detention centers hidden under regular buildings. Under the hospital, under a well-known mechanics’ shop, those sorts of places. It adds a degree of paranoia. People know some of the buildings around them are doing this. They don’t know if they’ll be grabbed. Don’t know if the place they get their favorite foods from has someone in the basement. It’s either care and become exhausted, or become numb to the whole mess. Other than that, the main dedicated prison’s on the military base.”
Mobian raised a question. “What about North Korea? They control it in this timeline as well.”
I shrugged. “They had an arrangement with North Korea, paying the Democratic People’s Republic to hold excess political prisoners. What they sent was a mixed force of special forces and superhumans mixed with a bunch of people unhappy with the Kim regime. The camps were demolished. Still are.”
“How do you know that?” Blackstone asked.
I pointed to my head. “This world is woefully behind on network security. Plus, I already know full-well how their encryption works and how the key cycles. Riccan Internal Security forces lodged a complaint five days ago when the Foreign Service handed over a load of prisoners under Nontreatment Orders. Fancy way of saying they shouldn’t torture these guys. They’re here,” I pointed to a garage. “Someone working for the Claw drives in to get their car services, leave with fewer passengers. Loud noises are good cover. Plus, lots of car batteries and jumper cables for fun.”
“Bastards!” Blackstone said. He stood up and clutched at his legs. “Fuck!”
“Sit down. You wouldn’t be part of this even if you weren’t hurt,” I said. To Mobian, I said, “This thing got a stealth setting or are we putting on Christmas lights?”
I heard a whiz and a few bloops as he pushed buttons. “We’re dark, and now we’re just above the shop. Will the roof suit your needs?”
I nodded and finished pulling on the repaired Riccan outfit I fled with, which would blend in better than all black during the day. I dropped out the door and rolled upon landing. I looked back up and saw nothing but clear skies.
I dropped off the side of the building and headed around for the bay.
“Hey!” called someone in clean coveralls and immaculately clean hands.
I nodded to him. “I”m here from Foreign Service. I’m here for one of our prisoners.”
He looked to one of the other mechanics, a bigger guy holding a large crescent wrench. “Tell me who you’re looking for and I’ll get them for you.”
I sneered. “I’m not waiting on you and your boyfriend. This needs to be done now, not in an hour.” I walked up to him, then pushed past to go into the office. He tried to grab my shoulder, so I turned around, grabbed his elbow, and threw him to the ground. I turned and glared at the one with the wrench. “I’ll be retrieving my prisoner now.”
It wasn’t that well-hidden. The trap door was in the office. One flight of stairs down, I was in a corridor lit by a fluorescent light fixture. It was claustrophobic down there; there wasn’t room to move two at a time. Not a bad way to build a place if you’re worried a group of tired prisoners might revolt. I came to a room with a couple of men in dirtier coveralls. One stared at a bank of computer monitors, while the other washed his hands at a cheap sink against the wall.
“Who are you?” asked the one at the sink. He grabbed a knife and turned to me.
“Foreign Service. I’m here for one of my prisoners and I’m tired of explaining this.”
The two men shared a look. “Fucking foreign service,” he said. “Tell us your ID number at least, so we have something to put down on the form.”
I rattled off an active number for a woman in the service. Even in this timeline, it wouldn’t be unusual for the Claw to have an agent given plastic surgery.
The one at the monitor looked me over, “You don’t recognize me?”
The one at the sink swung for my neck. I caught his wrist and threw him onto the table. An elbow to the throat crushed his windpipe. “Ho ho ho, now I have a knife,” I said to the guy at the monitors. He reached for a big red button on the wall. As a general rule, big red buttons are not a good thing. I threw the knife and got him through the back of the hand. He pulled it back. I came around the table on the same side as the button. He reached for it with his other hand, and I caught it. Cocking my head to the side, I asked, “Just curious, but what about that gave me away? Tell me and you’ll survive.”
“That was my ex’s ID,” he said. Ah, the human element.
I nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.” I smashed his head into the monitor bank and let him sit there in a wriggling, seizing mess. Guess I’m breaking all kinds of oaths and vows these days.
The downside is it turned out they had a couple different cell areas, one on each side. The first one was a dead end, full of Deep Ones. One stood up and rushed to the bars. “You! You saved me before!”
Hmm. “They got you after all, eh?” I looked him over. Burns, lash marks, puckers of flesh missing. I checked the cells. The door had a wire running out of the top and across the ceiling of this little area outside of it. I followed it back to the guard area and to a panel, one for each side. One button had a lightning bolt on it. The other had a door halfway open. I checked the other detention cell just in case and saw her there. “There you are, Marivel.”
She looked up from huddling in a group of women on one side of the cell. “Who are you?”
I smiled. “The name’s Gecko. I believe we talked.”
“You’re one of these monsters?” she asked.
I shook my head. “This time, and I can’t believe it, I’m the hero. I’m here with your so-called husband. Well, he’s outside. I’m here to rescue you.”
She jumped up and walked over to the door. “Dougie’s here?”
I pointed up to the roof and whispered, “Stealthy craft we have parked on the roof. Don’t worry. Just don’t say anything about it. When I open these doors, they are going to rush out of here. Stay at the front and run like hell to stay ahead of the pack. Otherwise, we might get stuck in the escape. Can you do this?”
She looked down at her legs. I saw they’d taken some skin off down there. Then she looked up at me. “I can do it.”
In the guard room, I took a moment to stretch, then pressed the button to release her cell. After a second and seeing her coming down the corridor, I hit the button for the other cell as well. I took Marivel’s hand as we raced ahead of the pack. I wanted us in front so we didn’t get trapped if the guards outside managed to pen them in, but tripping at this point was just as dangerous. I tugged her up the stairs and into the office area where the two guards I’d already seen waited, one with a phone to his ear. I put a hand through his chest. The other one raised the wrench and I tore his throat out with my fangs. Then we were out the door and into the street, prisoners spilling out after us. I pulled her around to the side of the building, pulled her into my arms, and jumped for the roof.
A doorway appeared in the middle of a bunch of floating air, with Blackstone pressed against it, beating his hand against an invisible barrier. I tossed Marivel up into it, and into his arms, then jumped once they’d cleared it.
“Whew!” I said, walking over to Mobian and leaving husband and wife to a very confused reunion. “Nice to be back to some proper villainy.”
I had a heck of a day, readers. Any day you take part in a high speed chase through the desert is a good one. The team of superheroes I deign to work with were called out on a tip about illegally-imported goods. That meant flying over the desert, tailing a couple of 18 wheelers. Drillbit had some sort of bottom-facing visual camo activated.
“We could stop them before now,” Advocate explained, “But then we wouldn’t know who the buyer is.”
“Rabbit,” said Rabbit.
Advocate nodded to her. “We think they’re carrying arms. We’ll swoop in and catch both parties in the act.”
In an arms deal, one side is guaranteed to be bringing weapons and the other side is guaranteed to have something valuable and an interest in acquiring weapons. This usually amounts to both sides being armed and cautious because they’re worried about being fucked over. That’s one reason why a trustworthy arms dealer is so valuable to most criminals. Added trust is also a point in the dealer’s favor worthy of raising prices over. It’s either that, or trust a guy’s selling you something worth so little they aren’t concerned it’ll be stolen.
“There’ll be plenty of them there, that’s for sure,” I said, then commenced to coughing. School full of kids and somehow it’s me, the woman without medical nanites to assist my immune system, whose head became a hacking snot pinata. I took a napkin offered by Rabbit and blew my nose, growling when my ear decided to creak. My ears are sophisticated technology and they’re creaking. They don’t have things with which to creak!
Once I’d properly disposed of the napkin in the increasingly-full trashbag I’d brought with me, I thanked Rabbit, who responded in her usual manner.
“Eminence?” Advocate asked.
I waved off his concern. “I told you, I’m good to go. Me on my death bed would be better than Mike Tyson at his prime. When the Boogieman goes to bed, he checks under-,” and that’s when my cough interrupted my completely accurate portrayal of my abilities. Advocate just nodded while Rabbit patted me on the shoulder.
“Rest on the way there,” Advocate advised.
I leaned back in my seat and let myself be talked to sleep by an ASMR person on Youtube who likes Reiki and jellybeans. Despite that, my mind kept wanting to wander to a song that felt appropriate. Between both of those, I was pretty much knocked out when I heard Drilbit yell back,” We’re here!”
I unbuckled and stood, in an odd frame of mind. Advocate and Drillbit were up at the cockpit. Rabbit stood next to the door, which was still closed. I closed one eye and checked through spy satellites. Normally, the United States is way more focused on foreign targets. They had a shitload aimed at their own land instead, and it’s like they weren’t even bothering with encryption in this timeline. Anyone could get in there. I actually had to wipe out a Chinese worm in there to take full control before zooming in.
The semis were stopped at an abandoned shopping center just off the highway. I hummed, hands swaying to the music. Had to divert one to cover a cough as I looked over eight guys standing by the semis and group of four vans with nine guys deployed around there. “Eight guys with the big trucks, nine with the vans. All armed. You know, a cherry bomb would fix this entire problem for us.”
“We’re not here to kill them. We’re here to bring them to justice,” Advocate said. “Drillbit, bring it down, block off escape routes. Everyone else, disable the vehicles first, then move on to the people.” He opened the door, showing we still weren’t all that close to the ground. He turned and held out his hand for Rabbit and myself.
“I don’t seem to have packed a chute,” I said.
“I’ll take care of that,” Advocate said. Rabbit had already taken his hand.
I took the other, “Don’t make me regret this, or I’ll make you regret this.”
He smiled. “Last one down buys drinks!” Then he jumped, taking Rabbit and myself with him.
I heard Drillbit yell, “No fair!” before we began our skydiving without a parachute. I couldn’t help but feel a thrill, even as the Earth rose rapidly for its deadly smooch. Advocate actually let go of me at one point. When I looked over, he’d also released Rabbit, but my attention was soon drawn to a white-yellow aura surrounding her and I. I looked down to see I was coming right at the front hood of a van and-
Even though I slammed into the engine block of a van at something close to terminal velocity, the velocity didn’t prove terminal. It didn’t even hurt. I didn’t feel anything as I embedded in the hood. After a second’s contemplation, that faded and I could feel the metal wrapped around me. Pushing my way out was harder to do, and necessitated a bit of wiggling. By the time I pulled myself out, the others were already busy being shot at.
Rabbit jumped one guy in a shirt and suspenders, smashing the back of his head with an axehandle blow, landing with a dropkick on another fellow. She disappeared from the ground in a cloud of smoke as one of the other guards ran over to shoot where she’d have been. He turned around and spotted me, but clenched his teeth in surprise. Rabbit’s hands appeared from behind him, stretching a band reading “Tommy Hilfiger” over his eyes. He turned around to swipe at Rabbit, showing off his boxers stretched from crack to brow. Rabbit dove between his legs and kicked his knees out from under him.
Advocate tanked being shot like it didn’t even matter. He pulled out a toy gun, the sort that shoots plastic balls, and shot the nearest soldier. The ball lit up with the white-yellow aura as well, and smacked the guy around like a good punch. Another pulled a knife and lunged for Advocate’s throat. It refused to dig in and clattered out of the man’s grasp. Advocate’s shield aura appeared around his own head when he headbutted the man.
By now, I’d gotten free enough that I could see we’d all taken out a van upon landing, but the one to my left was still around. A trio of guys ran for that one. I hopped on top of the hood and looked straight down, hitting the laser eye before backflipping off it. Steam whistled out of the radiator and the guys pulling on the car doors ended up pinned under the sides as they fell out from the middle thanks to their pulling.
I heard a semi’s engine roar to life and ran for that one. The driver ran right over the leg of someone in a suit. The second one turned over and started to follow it, both of them heading for the lanes not blocked off by a hovering shuttle.
Rabbit was running as well, so swerved to grab her and throw her in an arc to toward the top of the first semi. She landed ok. Then I took aim and cut out the rear wheels of the one closer to me. The trailer dropped and skidded along the road. I jumped on and managed not to go through the top. I started climbing to try and get to the cab.
By the time I reached it, one of the suited arms dealers was hanging from the open passenger door, trying to aim a rifle at Rabbit, who was fighting someone on the roof of the next semi. I pulled him up to the roof and slammed him into it, sending the rifle falling safely behind us. Hand tangled in his shirt, I kept smashing him onto the top of the cab until it gave way and we dropped in. A pistol clattered to the floorboard under us and the driver reached for his rear waistband. I grabbed his arm and diverted the gun’s barrel to his head. “Don’t do it! You have so much to live for!”
He stomped the brakes, sending me flying against the windshield. Unfortunately for him, I hadn’t let go of his hand and his wrist had a lot more give than my muscles. I held onto that gun with two hands, grabbed his head with the other two, and rammed him into the horn.
Honk! Whoosh! The air bag deployed, pinning him against the seat. I disarmed him and used the passenger seatbelt to hog tie his compatriot, who didn’t take it too well. Then I went to check on the other semi, which I saw had also stopped before getting too far. One of the doors popped off with an arms dealer against it. Rabbit leaned out and gave me a thumbs up. “Rabbit!”
“Gecko!” I said, waving back at her. Looking back, I saw Advocate jogging toward us. He found me, palms together, bobbing back and forth on the hood of the semi like a hula ornament.
“Everything good?” He asked me.
I nodded, “Yeah. Rabbit says ‘Rabbit’ by the way, so I’m assuming that’s what that means. You get the others?”
He pointed back the way he came. “Drillbit’s got them in a hole. State troopers are on their way. FBI and ATF time is hard to come by right now, with our government shut down.”
It was a decent enough wrap-up, and we did indeed go for drinks after we got back. Out of costume, but at a bar with more than a signs about superheroes and people in superhero t-shirts. We did a pretty poor job hiding identities. Drillbit had spiral markings over his arms that matched the ones from his costume, and Rabbit, while looking nothing more than a pretty Native American woman, didn’t widen her vocabulary outside of costume. I could only hide my extra arms so well.
A funny thing happened on the way out of the bathroom, though. I went to push the door open and noticed it didn’t open into the same hallway as before. I stepped back as Blackstone stepped through. The time mage went back to the unshaven look, and smelled like he’d actually slept in the bed I covered with boiled vinegar and hot sauce.
“You’re late,” I said.
“My wife better not be,” he responded.
I rolled my eyes, “Like I said, wasn’t me.”
“I know,” he said, just as accusingly as if I said it was. “I was able to see it. I saw you and your friend steal the book. Who was that?”
“Mobian, the heroic time traveler. You really screwed things up with your little trick. You didn’t think you could fuck with such an important part of the universe and not pay a cost, did you?” I asked, hands on my hips.
“What do you want for the book?” he asked.
“You know what I want,” I said, raising a hand to examine my nails. “Nasty situation you’re in, isn’t it? You can’t beat Claw. You don’t even know enough to sneak in there and steal away your Marivel. If only you knew someone with access to a craft that can infiltrate the island easily, or a sneaky person who knows the island like the back of her sexy, sexy hand.” I flipped my hand around so he could see the back, which had a little rabbit sketch on it I’m still pondering the meaning of. I know what I hope it means, just not what it means. I looked away for a minute and she’d drawn a little rabbit.
“I’m not giving her up,” he said.
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…” I said, then started humming again, a song I hadn’t much associated with my shenanigans since that time I tried to steal the Wishing Stick in Paradise City. My last word to him on the matter was from it. “Doesn’t matter where you go or what you do… ’cause if I burn, so will you.” I giggled, looking at him. I pulled out some lipstick and wrote my number down on paper towel for him. I walked over and stuck it in his coat pocket.
He glared at me and stepped back into the doorway, which swirled with purple light. After a second, the door slammed shut. I opened it and saw the correct hallway outside, where a sign urged me to drink Bud Light instead of beer. I grabbed another paper towel, balled it up, and tossed it out. I followed it when it didn’t disappear.
I think he’ll come around. At the very least, Blackstone will figure out why so many have to turn to murder to try and stop me permanently. Time will tell.
“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.”
I found a supply cache to help me out. I may soon have nanite capability again because of it. My time keeping a close eye on the Riccan Intelligence Service paid off. They had a supply cache in the area. Several safehouses, too. I might see to them later. This time, I paid a visit to the supply cache.
They’d hidden it under a burger place called The Grease Trap. You wouldn’t think that’d be a real name. They specialize in big, fat, greasy, unhealthy burgers. A look through the window showed someone chowing down on a burger that looked to be about fifty-percent burnt, crunchy bacon and dripping red grease. I got a pain in my left arms just looking at it, and I’m pretty sure the guy working the register was a Riccan agent.
I went around back, to the dumpsters. A homeless person sat back there, lap covered in a blanket and upper body nestled in a giant sweatshirt. I’ve been around a shitload of dumpsters, and these were something special, with a fragrant bouquet that would scare off most people. But, to the experienced nose, it only added to the suspicion. There was one smell missing that no dumpster is without. I’ve dumpster dived for parts. I’ve hidden from cops in trash. I’ve even scanned in shredded documents. There’s one smell every single dumpster on Earth shares: sour beer. If I ran across a dumpster at the biggest Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, there would still be beer in there.
The Riccans were sloppy without me in charge. They were practically begging to be broken into. Just look at what the building’s wearing. I checked around the dumpsters and found an outlined section like a panel. It opened up after I pressed on it and lifted up to show a keypad. A fucking keypad. What is this, a cell for 80 year olds?
The key was having a powder of some sort. Luckily, I’d beaten up a drug dealer earlier. It was purely for selfish reasons and had nothing to do with the team being asked to assist the cops and Advocate directing me to work the drug unit specifically. So I beat the crap out of some dealers and confiscated the coke. I didn’t want it to tempt any of the cops. They might snort it or sell it. It would defeat the purpose to let them have it. Plus, I need the money more than they do.
It came in handy here. I opened the Ziploc and tossed a handful at the keypad. There were four numbers the powder stuck to. Ah, human oil. If only we could harness it the same way we do the oil of other critters. It gets everywhere. Disgusting creatures, humans.
I didn’t get the right combination of numbers my first go. As soon as I inputted it, I heard a whirring noise from behind me and threw myself to the side, narrowly dodging a gout of flame. Having stopped codebreaking and dropped, I rolled to avoid more and looked up to see what had come after me. The homeless person’s sweater had burnt away when the automated flamethrower turret inside activated. Disarming that was as easy as cutting the fuel line with my laser eye, which set fire to the machine as well. With no other defenses, I was free to take my time on the scorched keypad until I found the combo. The dumpster clicked and released from the wall. The thing was easy to move, and underneath was the supply cache.
It was a treasure trove of things anyone needs to run a spy operation in a major city: guns, body armor, computers, burner phones, more drugs, and a shitload of reusable gift cards. The cards would have to be enough. The video cameras recording me would be a nice bonus. Unlike the Institute of Science, these were sending data via broadband to the upstairs. I plugged myself in and made an adjustment. Woops, there goes the camera data, except for a few fragments I inserted showing a man matching Douglas Blackstone’s description. He’s the one who broke in, Claw! Feel free to find him and question why all you like. Ha!
Just one of the ways I keep implicating Blackstone while doing my duty as a superhero. It’s kinda growing on me, knowing that I can do whatever I want to him and no one will believe him. Just eternal torment at my hands, no one believing him that I’m evil. The worst hells are those of our own making, or so a demon or two has told me. I don’t know if they were flirting or monologuing before a torture. I’m not sure there’s a big difference, but I enjoyed it either way.
So, after using those gift cards to splurge on some usable materials, I decided to spy on my new nemesis’s wife. A nice easy way to occupy my mind while my body put some things together. See what she’s up to. She’s a tiny little thing. Short and skinny. Can’t imagine her ever being pregnant. Hmm, now there’s an idea for getting back at him. But not without my nanites.
My mind flew from California to Connecticut as fast as the lag would let me. Marivel was typing away at her work computer, messing around with a spreadsheet. She had an instant messenger related to her job, so that was my way in. I showed up as anonymous to her.
“Hello, Marivel Blackstone.”
“Yes? Is this Mr. Drangly?”
“No, this is… someone else. Someone who knows something is wrong.”
“What do you mean? Is it about the Fergson account?”
“Nope. That’s Greek to me.”
“It was in Greek.”
“Hence the cliché phrase. No, I have something more personal to discuss with you. Tell me, haven’t you noticed something off about your husband lately?”
“Management monitors this account.”
Yes, they do, when their computers are on and the messenger’s logs aren’t wiped. “That has been taken care of.”
“?What did u? do? Who are u?”
“I am a super from another dimension, sort of. It’s complicated. I was brought here by Douglas Blackstone. I believe you know the name.”
“What does my husband have to do with superheroes?”
“Nothing, until the Blackstone from my dimension came here and took the place of the Douglas Blackstone of this world.”
There was a long pause before she answered. “that’s crazy.”
“Sure it is. Now that you know it, things make more sense. Gaps in knowledge? Some difference in how he looks? A new interest in the occult?”
“I’m not saying your right but there are other explanations”
“Do any of them account for his extracurricular activities?” An image flashed across her screen. She got a glimpse of copied images I kept of her husband’s new Federal file. Then came the sound file that opened and played on her end: “I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”
I thought we were done, but after a few minutes of me building away in the Master Academy workshop, she typed again. “why tell me this?”
“So you’d know the truth. You deserve to know the man sharing your bed isn’t the same one you knew and fell in love with.”
“I need to think about this”
Fair enough. I figured I’d give her even more time by putting their car into the local police’s system over there. Caress a few ones and zeroes, and suddenly it was spotted speeding away from the scene of a bank robbery. Arranging for a bag of unmarked bills to appear at their house will be a little tougher, but I hear people like delivering things by drone in this timeline, too. It’s only a matter of time before drone piracy becomes a thing. I imagine Captain Flamebeard will laugh his ass off from his flying pirate ship.
All in all, not a bad way to set things up for the New Year. But, still, I decided not to wear a mask on this New Year’s Eve. I sat away from the festivities, sipping on wine and Irish cream liqueor. Not together, no. Ew. Just one after the other. It was a side room at the Master Academy, one of the little recreation areas with a TV, sofa, and room for the younger students to play with toys.
I sat there, blinking through channels, when I heard a knock. I looked up to see Advocate there. “There’s plenty of room at the party,” he suggested.
I shook my head. “Nah. I’m ok. Kind of a bad time, considering what’s happened.”
“I didn’t get the whole story on that,” he said.
“An asshole mage didn’t like me, blamed me for all his problems, and went all ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to stick he and I in a world where I didn’t exist. He hated it too, and we were going to work together to get back to our world, but then he realized the version of him in this world had a wife and he decided to stay.” I mean, I probably did kill Blackstone’s parents. I’ve killed a lot of people. It’s still correct to point out he blames me for killing them. I sighed. “I miss my daughter.”
“Oh. No wonder you hate him,” Advocate said. “If you need more things to get drunk with, you know where to find us all. Just don’t mess up all the school computers or something, alright?”
I waved him off. “Fine, fine.”
I still went out to see the fireworks. Just like on my Earth, the state of California basically spent the entire year on fire somewhere or other, but some of the supers set up a more controlled way of making exploding lights in the sky using their powers. Some would zap things up, or carry stuff with telekinesis. It was quite a show, especially when the entire sky lit up and a glowing orb appeared in the air.
Mobian’s timeship jerked from side to side, then plummeted. It halted its crash about ten feet off the ground and landed slowly. When the door opened, Mobian himself stumbled out. He looked different. Darker skin, longer hair, and burns on some of his clothes. He looked around at some of the supers who surrounded him, including a couple with healing abilities who stepped forward to check him over.
“I need help,” he said. “Something’s gone wrong with the timeline. Things aren’t supposed to be this way.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered.
He looked right at me in a crowd of supers who liked to beat me up, and said something I didn’t expect to hear, “Gecko?”
I nodded. “We’re in deep shit again, aren’t we, Mobian?”
“What do you think?”
I stood in front of a mirror in a dressing room booth, looking upon the horror that was myself.
“We tried to go with something regal,” said one of the tailors, a young woman in the costuming program at Master Academy.
Regal in this case meant Tyrian purple, aka Imperial or Royal Purple. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a horrible color, but I’d have preferred electric purple. Something to assault the eyes while I’m assaulting the ass.
So Tyrian purple with those swirly, twirly silver-colored marks at the elbows, knee pads, and skirt. It wasn’t skintight. Leggings, a skirt, and a top that didn’t show anything off under the vest. They agreed to give me something like a vest with extra armor after I pointed out I’d been shot recently, and that had an E in calligraphy on it, black and silver. I’d slipped on the silver boots and the flared silver gloves, which I folded back down so they’d look slightly less stupid.
They gave me a cape that fell to mid-back, probably because I mentioned having had a cape before. A mask covered my face fairly well, but I could at least break that up with a visor that used to belong to a Ronin-Go ninja. He’s not even dead, just in jail. I didn’t have to fish the visor from a colon before I began messing with it.
“Please say something,” said the teen boy from outside the dressing room. I believe he was in the costume program as well. I had him to blame. And myself. Instead of robbing a bunch of places for money, laundering the money, establishing a digital identity, and slowly making the stuff I need to make the stuff I need, I’m taking a shortcut. I’m letting the heroes think I’m…
No, I can’t.
It’s too horrible.
I’m letting them think I’m a… ok, stopped myself throwing up. They think I’m a superhero. What happens in Timeline 2 stays in Timeline 2!
I’ve played hero before, even while staying at a Master Academy. But it was obviously temporary then. I was going to get away, even if they had measures in place to try and keep me around. Now, I can walk away whenever I want. Maybe go get myself eaten by Mot or stomped by the Claw. No, the plan involves staying here.
Between Forcelight and myself, I’ve got Blackstone on track to be treated like a supervillain. I can find him if I really try, but that’s just part of the battle. I have some groundwork to lay with his wife. If I can convince her he’s not really her husband, that’d be good. I’m also open to painting her beloved as a supervillain to force her away from him. Anything to ruin the main thing keeping him here.
Now, when I went through that doorway portal that dropped me elsewhere with Facelight, I lost my connection to his phone. Magic’s a bitch. Unfortunately for him, magic didn’t erase Marivel Blackstone’s phone number from my memory.
Back in meatspace, I sighed and forced on a smile to play nice with fucking superheroes. “Sorry, I was just so overwhelmed. It’s really different from my costume in my world.”
“We hope it’s not a bad difference,” the woman said.
“Oh no. Just different. There’s a lot messing with my head lately. A whole new world. The outfit reminds me of that.” At least I get to lie to them still. I took a deep breath, whirled, and walked out of that dressing room like I owned the place.
“Your Eminence,” said the teen boy, bowing low.
“That’s what the letter on the chest is for,” I said. Eminence. Can’t use some of my other identities without the equipment. No rockets to be Missile Patriot, no armor and motorcycle to be the Hussar, and no drones to be the Free Radical. Note to self: hall with mannequins wearing all my various alternate identity costumes.
An alert beeped on their phones simultaneously, saving me from commenting on the odd turn of events here while I inspected the woman’s pink dreadlocks. She and the teen looked up at the me at the same time, drawing my attention away from the inspection. “We got you ready just in time,” she said.
I cracked my knuckles. “Time to get Eminent on some asses.”
“That doesn’t really work,” the teenager said.
“Don’t step on my lines,” I said, snapping my fingers once with a flourish. “This is my house now. Eminent Domain.” I left them to mourn the English language and headed for Victor Mender’s office.
The headmaster of the Master Academy himself was no less wheelchair-bound, but he was less patient with me. I didn’t know the layout of this admin building so well and got there late and was kept out by the crowd of emerging heroes.
“Too slow!” said a guy in a domino mask with a dark brown costume and a yellow spiral going down it, the arms of his costume yellow arms and legs. He grabbed one of my hands and tried to pull me back with them. I didn’t budge and instead raised an eyebrow. “You’re heavy,” he said, then stopped. “Sorry, about your weight. We have to go now. You’ll be briefed on the way.”
We ran off to where the grounds were opening up. I expected a giant jet, but a bunch of heroes were running back and forth to smooth alien shuttles, the type the Fluidic aliens use. I don’t know what their formal name is; I call them Fluidics because their bodies are composed of thick black fluid controlled by a central crystal core. The ones who had come to Earth were the losing side of a civil war who tried to infect and mind control people to serve as soldiers in a second effort. I wiped them out with a well-placed Dimension Bomb. More of them made it in this timeline, with fights still ongoing.
“Fluidic shuttles. Nifty way to get where you need to go,” I said.
Spiral guy led me to one in particular where a woman in a pale blue robe and white rabbit mask stood by the door. “Can you get on our radio channel?” the spiral guy asked. He turned and showed off the earpiece built into his domino mask. I sorted through the myriad other channels of the scrambling heroes and found it.
“Got it,” I said.
“Good,” he said and headed into the shuttle, leaving me with the rabbit woman.
“I’m Eminence,” I said.
She pointed to her chest. “Rabbit.”
I nodded back toward the spiral guy, “And that guy?”
“Rabbit,” she said again.
“Rabbit is a woman of few words,” said another guy who stepped into view inside the shuttle. “Hop in, I’ll get you sorted.”
I stepped in and let Rabbit close the door behind us. Spiral guy sat up front in some chairs of human design that had been added to it. The other three of us strapped ourselves into seats. “Drillbit’s our pilot.”
“Yo!” Drillbit called out from up front. We lifted off.
“And I’m Advocate. I can shield people and take a hit from a train if I need to,” he said. “I block for people. Rabbit’s agile, good at sneaking, good at illusions. God gave Drillbit a gift. He digs holes.”
Drillbit gave a strained fake laugh. “Ha ha!”
“Everyone, this is Eminence. Technopath, four arms, laser eye, really good fighter.”
“Why do they call you Eminence?” Drillbit asked.
“Because I fucking rule,” I answered. “What’s the big deal? Where’s everyone going?”
Advocate shook his head. “Everyone’s going different places. It’s like the entire supervillain community went active at once. Ricca’s probing to the South. The alien traditionalists took over a pair of towns in the Midwest. There’s also been a werewolf sighting in London, Ohio. There’s a lot more going on, but we’re focused on a detention center in the city where members of the Reich are being held. We received a tip that members of Oligarch’s Army of Evil are going to release them.”
Look at that. Another guy I killed is back. I raised a hand. “Who are The Reich?”
“Super Neo-Nazis. They started as a militia of vigilantes until it turned out their leader was a clone of Hitler. We caught these guys when they attacked a protest earlier this year.”
“Lovely,” I said.
“The garden’s overrun with dickweeds!” Drillbit called back. “We’re here. Looks like we’re early.”
I reached out to get a sense of the situation. Lots of automated traffic. Robo-cars. The way of the future. The jail opened up to me because nobody gave a damn about their network security over here. I didn’t have the cameras. Oddly enough, I couldn’t get the alarm system, which is usually connected to phone lines.
“Eminence, can you call in, let them know we’re coming?” Advocate asked.
I scrunched my brow. “No, I can’t. Phone lines are disconnected. I don’t think we’re early.”
“Rabbit,” Rabbit said in a low voice.
Advocate nodded toward her. Drillbit called back as we set down. “We have guards out here to greet us. They don’t look happy.”
Advocate shrugged. “We parked an alien spaceship in their parking lot. Keep an eye out. The guards could be replacements. We might be just in time. Stay alert everyone. Rabbit, you’re up front with me. Eminence, let me do the talking. You’re our newbie. Drillbit, take the rear and keep your eye out for the blindside.”
We walked out to meet the guards, who were packing SMGs. Seems a bit excessive for guards standing out front at a jail. Seems I don’t often remember guards out front at a jail. Most of the security is focused inward rather than outward. When I saw they had earphones, I went ahead and started checking for chatter. “Stop right there,” said one of the guards. “What’s going on?”
Advocate held up his hands. “Master Academy sent us. We’re checking in on your security with the Reich villains in there.”
“Security’s fine,” said the guard who took the lead. His compatriot turned away.
Instead of grabbing at the clunky radio on his hip, he pressed a button on the earphone. “It’s Master Academy wanting to check security. Can anyone fit inside the warden’s suit?”
I spoke without opening my mouth. “They’re henchmen. Listen.” I played the recording of what the one guy had just said.
Rabbit, who had her head cocked to the side, straightened up.
“We’d really like to see for ourselves. We’re all on the same side here. It’s not like we’re going to call the company you work for,” Advocate said.
“Fat fuck got blood everywhere when we shot him. Keep them outside. Don’t let them see anything.”
“Hey, look!” the door opened and a trio of guards stepped out in uniform, still holding their guns. “Superheros! Hey, bunny lady, my daughter loves you. Can I get a picture?”
As far as stall tactics went, it was pretty. They kept us in the parking lot while more and more “guards” noticed or were told and came for the meet and greet. All told, I think we had a good twenty out there to greet us.
“Who are you?” asked one of them, looking me over. “You new?”
I nodded. “I’m Eminence.”
“Eminence, eh? What do you do?” asked another.
I winked at him. “I rule.”
At a nod from Advocate, Drillbit spoke loudly to get everyone’s attention. “Hey, before we go in there, does anyone want to surrender?”
All the smiles and laughter stopped. Fake guards on either side of me pushed the safeties into unsafe.
I raised a hand as I reached out mentally, connecting to a nice weapon. “Just curious, what is it rabbits do really well?”
A self-driving car skidded through the parking lot and drifted to the side right at the crowd. Rabbit and I jumped. Drillbit’s arms spun and he disappeared into a person-sized hole in the ground. Advocate, like a bunch of the guards, was hit by the car. I’d say that probably took out a good dozen. Rabbit landed with her boots on the upper back of another. Drillbit pulled a couple underground. And I landed in between two guards, to raised their guns to my midsection. One split later, they fell with bloody crotches courtesy of some unfriendly friendly fire.
Rabbit was kicking the crap out of some when I saw another guard standing off to the side, aiming at her. I zoomed in with my non-laser eye and fired the laser. The man’s trigger finger and trigger both fell to the pavement moments before Advocate ran up and clocked him across the jaw.
The front of the jail blew off in flames. Drillbit ducked underground. Rabbit jumped for cover, and Advocate tanked the blast.
“I am the master of the elements, Elemaster!” said a woman who stepped out of the flames. Men and women in red, blue, white, and brown uniforms backed her up, wielding SMGs. Dirt rose up to form a short wall to provide cover for them. Pulling up the rear were a foursome of men in prison outfits.
Drillbit poked his head out of a hole. “Oh crap.”
I looked down at him, then back up at Elemaster and announced, “Surrender now and you’ll receive decent treatment. Snuggling may be involved.” Elemaster gets real huggy when she’s drunk. I thought it was just a crush on me, but I’ve seen her latch onto some real slimeballs. Like, people with some amphibian in ’em.
She laughed. “Who’s going to make me?”
“I am Eminence, and you may address me a such!”
“I’ve never heard of you, Eminence,” she said my latest codename mockingly. “What can you do?”
I smiled and said, “I rule.” I sent the paralysis signal through their earphones. I’d once been imprisoned in an incredibly secure super prison called The Cube where the guards used a specific sound to control me. It’s capable of paralyzing the human body. When I managed to escape, I made sure to take a full analysis of it with me to throw it right back at people while modifying my ears to block it out. I didn’t even have to worry about that part now that I sent it along their personal channel while not even listening to it.
All the minions fell to the ground. Elemaster looked back at them. “What the hell?” When she turned back around, she found a car zooming at her. She raised her hands and threw a fireball, which meant she got hit by a flaming self-driving car instead of a non-flaming one.
“Eminence!” called Advocate, running over to her.
“Relax, it probably wasn’t a lethal speed,” I said. “The others are just paralyzed. It’s something I did to their comms.”
Drillbit and Rabbit, meanwhile, approached the escaped prisoners. They all raised their hands, one of them saying, “Please don’t hit me with a car.”
All in all, I’d say a fairly successful mission. I even had time, when we alerted the police, to sneak over and get hands-on with one cruiser’s cop computer. Just adding some state crime warrants to go along with some federal ones I hacked in and created for Douglas Blackstone, just in case he ever visits.
I’m going to make a villain of him. He can complain about me all he wants, but now everyone thinks I’m a superhero. I wonder what his dear, new wife will think. Who is she likely to trust, a hero who knows her husband’s not acting right, or a husband who’s wanted for all sorts of nasty business?
The main question on my mind is if I should kill her, or make sure she breaks his heart first.
There’s something very odd being treated like some sort of broken, delicate thing. Moreso when the ones doing the treating are people I’ve spent years fighting, sometimes killing. In a timeline where I’d never come to this world, the hero population hadn’t been properly culled. Kids ran and flew around outside, holding a snowball fight. I watched as a couple boys tossed snowballs at a girl, chasing her into an igloo. The igloo’s entrance closed. A block opened to reveal a barrel. Tank treads popped out of the sides of the igloo and it began to roll. With a fwoom, it fired a snowball that knocked one of the boys on his ass.
“Awful lot of snow for Cali,” I said to Forcelight. She pointed to a pole that poked out of the ground and reached up over all the buildings. A large disk on top generated snow. “Weather control seems like it’d be useful for more than just playing around at school.”
“I asked them about that. My friend, Venus, told me it only makes snow. Nowhere else wants it other than Hollywood. Everyone thinks snow is too much trouble.”
It was a festive place. Lights adorned the outside of the buildings. Even the statue of Oscar Romero in the courtyard had a red and white hat on it. We moved past a foyer and front hall with rugs and its own smaller Christmas trees decorated about, and to the noisy part of the main buildings. Formerly dead and hostile faces welcomed me when Forcelight ushered me through the door of the Master Academy’s California campus cafeteria, where children, teens, and a lot of adults milled about around a two-story Christmas tree.
Venus came bounding up, out of costume, to hug Forcelight. “You made it! Everything wrapped up in Washington?”
Forcelight nodded. “Yeah. Once the big domino was destroyed, the others fell like a house of cards. Checkmate.” Venus smiled at the joke and turned to me. Forcelight turned to introduce me. “This is Gecko. She was a huge help. She’s some sort of technopath, so she turned the big one off. Gecko, this is Venus.”
“That’s amazing. Nice to meet you,” my nemesis said as she shook my hand. I wonder if I could hit that in this continuity… I mean, is still cheating if it’s in a different timeline? The only example I can think of involved another universe, and I still don’t think I’m in one. I’m in the same one that’s been altered significantly.
“Charmed, dear Venus,” I said. “It’s quite the place you have here. The food smells delicious. I can’t wait to have something other than highway snacks and hospital food.”
“She was injured while saving Washington,” Forcelight volunteered. “She had someone who helped her with that. He fought alongside us. Put a pin it that for later. For now, go eat Gecko. Go on!”
Thus commenced an evening of feasting with my foes. I ate too much, I was flirted with, and I even got asked to dance by Sixgun. I killed him, too. Not tonight. I’m talking about in the old continuity. Tonight, he just tried to get in my new dress. There was no killing to worry about… until it got later.
My history with Christmas being what it is, I kept my guard up even as others drank and cavorted. That’s why I was paying attention when wine in a glass started rippling. Someone else, a man with pointy ears, looked up. “Something’s coming,” he said in a soft voice
He ran to go warn someone. I ran out to the yard to see what was the matter. It had become deserted as the night went on and the children were forced into beds to have nightmares about sugarplum fairies.
A giant robot with pincers for hands came to a halt outside. We’re talking a good thirty, maybe thirty-five feet tall. Very similar old-style Nazi design aesthetic, but with a visor for a windshield on the head and a pair of gun barrels poking out from underneath it like a nose. It didn’t come alone. I spotted others near its feet.
On the one hand, the upcoming fight would be none of my business and nothing’s going to be permanent over here once I give it a good editing. On the other, I wanted to punch something.
“Master Academy, come out and face your doom at the hands of Dr. Creeper and his Ho-Ho-Horrors!”
Huh. So that’s what he got up to over here. I zoomed in for a closer look at the Ho-Ho-Horrors themselves. The one that stood out the most was the gargantuan of a man covered in scars and medical staples. He had a pair of metal bolts from each neck, shot fire from a flamethrower with 8 openings. Another looked like a regular guy until he concentrated and grew into a white-furred ape-thing. Next to him stood a man in a pilgrim outfit with a face covered in a black mask with white eye holes. On the opposite side of the flamethrower-wielding Frankenstein’s monster rolled up a cylindrical robot with a facsimile for a metal head planted on top of the cylinder, which held several arms. One of the arms lit up with an electrical arc between two ends of it, while the others were an assortment of claws, drills, and at least one plunger.
Then the ninjas dropped down between us the Ho-Ho-Horrors and the school. They had the cloth head coverings like you’d expect, but with goggles and metal lower face guards. The rest of their costume was less “black pajamas” as the stereotype goes and more like winter camo with body armor and sheaths for swords and other weapons. “Also, I’ve hired the services of the Ronin-Go. They aren’t my usual minions, but these are the only ones I could find willing to work Christmas Eve.”
Yet another reason why most people don’t bother attacking on Christmas Eve: better shit to do than get into a fight with supervillains. Like getting into a fight with family.
By now, I wasn’t the only one looking at the group. I rushed to the front hall and grabbed some ornaments off the trees. Most of them were those stupid plastic non-breakable ones, but a few were the classic glass. I broke several of those up and laid them out on the floor, then waited by the welcome rug.
The door burst in and ninjas came through it, yelling and waving swords. I waited until I got a good sized group and pulled the rug out from under them. A half dozen of them found their legs no longer underneath them and a short drop to a granite floor welcoming instead. I tossed the rug back over them before they could get up and ran over the top of them to the next wave. A good four of them tried to swing at me at once from the same direction and ended up getting in each other’s way. “Should have come at me one at a time,” I said with a laugh and grabbed away their swords in each hand.
They looked to me, then two bent and fired grappling lines on either side, forming a little corridor of rope at about knee level. One of the others jumped over me, knocking down one of his lumpy friends under the rug, and whipped out a pair of sai. The other who hand’t so far done anything squeezed his hands. Long metal claws popped out of winter digital-camo colored gauntlets. “Hi-ya!” the ones on either side of me yelled. Because when you hire ninjas, you want the classic ninja experience.
“Hiya,” I said, then hocked a loogie onto the clawed-ones visor. I turned around to the one behind me. I planted all four swords I held in the floor rug, and in someone I was standing on, and used them to lever myself into a flip over that one. He turned quickly and barely managed to catch two of the blades with his sais. I grinned and winked at him as the other two swords cut his pants so they fell down his legs. “Ever been circumcised before?”
The ninjas on either side of this little rope corridor they hoped to restrict my movements with came at me but soon found themselves crunching over broken orbs and stars and such. The one in front of me turned to run and tripped through a combination of his pants being around his ankles and the fact that we were still on top of a welcome mat covering six of his now-irritated and potentially wounded friends. The one I’d spat in the face of flipped over him and landed on the pommel of one sword I held up when I figured out where he was coming down at. He fell to the floor moaning and cradling a nut that’d need to be popped out later.
A shot caught me in the chest and knocked me back until I fell off the rug. There in the doorway was the smoking old-time flintlock. And behind it stood the guy in the pilgrim costume and mask.
I coughed and felt for my wound. My hand came back bloody and holding a round metal ball that had flattened where it ran into the bulletproof subdermis of my body. Still hurt like I’d been hung by my figgin. Before I could stand, one of the ropes was cut by Sixgun and his Bowie knife. He twirled it into a sheath and looked to me. “You alright, ma’am?”
I coughed and nodded. He nodded back, then turned and squared up with the Pilgrim, throwing his coat back. “Howdy Pilgrim. That’s no way to treat a lady. Mayhap you have a shot with me instead?” The Pilgrim tossed aside his spent pistol and shifted another couple around to the front of his belt.
One of the ninjas that had hurt his feet on broken decorations fell over on one of the little Christmas trees out there, knocking off a big red bow that rolled lazily between the two gunfighters. After a moment, the Pilgrim drew. Sixgun was faster. He shot the pistol out of the Pilgrim’s hand, then popped him in the shoulder, spinning him around into the cold, dark night.
By now, fighting had erupted all over. Once I managed to get to my fight, I spotted the Were-Yeti tangling with a huge, half-man, half-sloth that I knew as the Human Sloth from my own experience. Forcelight, meanwhile, had destroyed the flamethrower of the Frankenstein and was trying to put him down before he could overpower her. I spotted cylindrical robot with the treads circle around behind her.
I jumped it and stuck my fingers to its head. “What are you doing?” it asked. “I am Qwanzaar! Release me at once. No, do not stick that in there. That is not where fingers goOO!” It voiced surprise as my nervous system joined with its computerized brain and stopped it.
“Okily Qwanzaar, you’re mine now,” I said. I looked up at the giant robot, which traded blows with a woman in a pink and black costume with butterfly wings on it. It managed to catch the Pink Pixie by a wing and tore it off, sending the heroine spinning. And I couldn’t do anything about it from the ground. Dr. Creeper’s robots were based on old analog Nazi designs meant to be worked with levers and buttons and no computer elements at all. Nothing about this big one suggested he’d upgraded that part of it.
Instead, I looked to its knees, then at a cluster of downed ninjas. It was easy to appropriate their grappling hooks and ropes, then hop back on top of Qwanzaar. Firing and latching on with a grappling hook didn’t take a lot of work either.
No, by far the worst part was waiting for Qwanzaar to slowly circle through the snow for longer than it would have taken to watch the entire opening of Empire Strikes Back’s Hoth scenes. Pink Pixie, then Forcelight, managed to keep the big guy distracted long enough, especially once they saw what I was doing. Creeper didn’t noticed I’d tied up his robot’s knees until he went to step back and it caught. “What is this?!” his voice boomed from the speaker just before the robot began to fall.
The robot knocked off the disk that made the snow as it fell onto it, then the chest began to poke upward where the pole underneath had stabbed into it and the fall damaged the chest plate from the inside. A piece of metal fell off the top of the robot’s head and a rotor popped out. The head pulled off and began to fly away.
Instead of going after it, Pink Pixie, Forcelight, and the other heroes worked on rounding up the remaining Ho-Ho-Horrors and Ronin-Go. They might have thought they had longer, but the escape pod head’s sides opened up to reveal wings and jet engines. The rotors fell off as it shot away with a sonic boom.
All in all, not a bad party.
Merry Christmas, a belated Happy Hannukah, Io Saturnalia, and an early Joyous Kwanzaa, dear readers. Remember, so long as you’re still alive, doesn’t matter if they trap you in another world, you’ve still got a chance.
Between burns, a missing hand, and skinless zombie dog wounds that got infected, I have had a hell of a time missing my nanites. You can’t go out and play vigilante without incurring some injuries and they’re pretty much the only thing that’s kept me going at my nonstop pace. Without them, I’m stuck healing in a hospital. They better not expect me to pay. Worst bedpan service I’ve ever had, and I’ve hung out with some classy scatophiles.
After some convalescing, it seems popular opinion won over Blackstone enough to visit and do what he could to help. Well, some pushing in the hero community, and by hero community, I mean Forcelight carried him into my room. “I don’t care if you hate her, she got hurt helping us out and I know you know how to do something about it!”
I had been downloading music, movies, news articles, and podcasts that differed between this timeline and the next. I’m not sure how well they’d stick once everything’s fixed, but you never know what handy information might be dug up in one and secret in the other. I have some good dirt on a bunch of people. I stopped looking through things and blinked, bringing myself back to meatspace. “Your company doesn’t have anything better? Regenerative nanomachines, perhaps?”
“Long Life looked into it, but we don’t have the capability,” she said. She glared at Blackstone, then, who at least shaved again in the days I’d been laid up. “Reverse time and get rid of her injuries or something.”
“You will regret this! She’s not to be trusted!” He held a finger up toward Forcelight.
“You didn’t notice any of that out there?” Forcelight asked.
Blackstone glared at her, at me, back at her, then glared at the “Get Well Soon!” flowers I received that sat near the get well nudes I didn’t ask for. Finally, he pulled out Los Cincos Soles Dorados. “You do not simply play with temporal magic,” he growled.
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, aren’t we well aware. I’m pretty sure that thing we need to do, the whole reason we were even in this city to begin with, would work better if I wasn’t the queen of the blisters.” I paused, then looked to Forcelight, “I’m an Empress, by the way.”
“Cool. What planet are you from?” she asked.
“Strana Mechty,” I answered. Blackstone gave me a confused look, but I didn’t want to explain the whole situation. I didn’t fucking know the situation. My adventures with Mobian uncovered that me coming to Earth is necessary, at least on my world. It caused a big chain of events where aliens Justice Rangers arrive on Earth and I leave their crashed ship and equipment on my planet to be discovered and form the basis of the Justice Rangers I knew from there.
Big load of bullshit if you ask me, but there’s some sort of paradox going on and I’m confused. Time travel has some sort of rules, but I can’t fucking follow them.
My pain was noticed. Even though I had my eyes closed, I heard Forcelight drag Blackstone over. He said, “Fine.” I opened my eyes to see him standing there with the book open. He fished around and pulled out a pocketwatch on a chain with his other hand and held it up.
“Purple haze, all in my eyes,” I said, careful not to sing. Bleeding ears would likely affect the healing process.
“Jimmi Hendrix you are not,” he said. The light bloom moving over me combined the tell-tale purple of Blackstone’s power with the gold that appeared related to his interactions with the book. “The easiest way to deal with this is to be kind, rewind.”
I shouldn’t have to explain what being hurt is like, but I can’t explain what having it reverse is actually like. My skin did things I’m still trying to forget about, but I remember the itchiness, the cold, and the burning which then rapidly reversed to room temperature. I got to see my hand rematerialize from ashes. I winced and gritted my teeth as the nerves appeared and everything went through the same process of shifting temperatures and pain.
He stopped and put up his pocketwatch, now tarnished and cracked. “How do you feel?”
“Worst bedside service ever,” I said, tossing the covers aside and standing up. “I couldn’t even get anyone to check my temperature the fun way. Where are my clothes?”
“They’re not healed, but they should be easy to replace,” Forcelight says. Yeah, they were a bit stinky by this point. I had spares from the road trip… in Blackstone’s car. I don’t know if they came through the sewer tunnel with us, but I don’t think I want to get them from there at this point. So I headed into the bathroom to get dressed. When I came out, Blackstone was on the phone with someone.
When he saw me, he finished it quickly by telling the person on the other end, “Yes, dear. I’ll be there. Trust me I will be. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”
I squinted and opened a connection, curious. The contact read “Marivel” in the phone. There were texts, but he hung up before I could get into them. “Who’s that?” I asked.
“Could you give us some privacy, Forcelight?” Blackstone asked of her. I dove into those texts when he said that. Fhe looked to me and I nodded, even as I worked through texts about missing Blackstone and wondering if he’d pick up milk on his way back. Forcelight shrugged and walked out the door. As she passed through the door frame, she disappeared from the frame and the hallway with a hint of the sound of an objection forming in the air and disappearing as she was transported somewhere far away.
“What’s up?” I asked him warily. Forcelight’s annoying like this, sure, but not worth teleporting to Timbuktu or wherever.
“This world, how do I say this, it’s not all bad for both of us,” he began.
“I don’t like where this is going already. Who was on the phone, Douglas?” Ooh, a nude selfie.
“You have no enemies here. They think you’re a hero. The ghosts saw it in you-” he stopped when my fist did right in front of his nose. The magical vow stayed my hand no matter how much he deserved it. “You used to want that. You liked it.”
I put my hand down. “Stop pretending you care about me. I thought you said you didn’t have a family?”
“You killed my family, yeah. My sister, my mom, and my dad. I spent my life trying to avenge you. I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”
He started to pace, looking out the window. I rolled my eyes. “You don’t even know the woman. You’re just the stranger who took what she thought was her husband’s place. You might as well wear a mask and fuck someone else’s wife. She doesn’t know you.”
“You’re too close-minded!” he said, turning back to me. He held tightly to his little magic book, too, squeezing it in his hand. “That’s why you didn’t notice. You do things to electronics but couldn’t see my cell? Right? You didn’t even look. Watching TV in the motel when you can access the internet from your head? I was scared, but I texted back and we talked. It’s like I’ve known her my whole life. This is the life I was meant to have.”
I reached for the book. Light flared up in my vision when my fingers made contact with it. My eyes could have compensated for it if it was real but my HUD classified the light as a magical anomaly. I flailed around with my arms, but Blackstone and his magical book of getting me the hell out of here were gone. I recovered my sight after a few seconds and checked around. Blackstone stood in the hallway, looking at me.
“Careful. You’ll shoot your eye out.” Jaw tight, he glared at me. “You can’t hurt me. We made a vow. The ritual isn’t complete. You want to send someone after me, you’ll have to figure out how to get back on your own. I think I’m beginning to understand. The best revenge is living well. I have a new family and yours is gone like mine was. Your army and your riches are gone. I’ve beaten you at the peak of your power, while I’m only beginning to tap into mine.” He held up his book. That damn book I helped him get.
I dove for it, determined to grab onto it no matter how blinded I got. I knew it was a long shot. I wasn’t so surprised when I fell out of a doorway into Reykjavik and saw Forcelight standing around looking at her phone. I took a moment on the ground to process things. It must have turned into more than a moment from how the hero came over and helped me up.
“Are you alright?” She bent down to get a look at my face when I didn’t answer. “What happened? Did he hurt you?” She glanced back behind me at the doorway.
“I’m trapped here. I don’t have anything. I don’t have my armor or my nanites or my daughter.” What a terrible day for rain. Forcelight, a hero I actually murdered, hugged me. She’s really that damn clueless. I should kill her again. I should kill all of them again. Destroy as much of this worthless world as possible until Blackstone caves.
No, it wouldn’t work. “They’re all gone because of him. I’m not from another planet, exactly. I’m from another Earth. He was supposed to get me back to my family. I have a little girl, and a wife, and friends. People depend on me.”
“Bastard,” she said, holding me. “We’ll get him.”
“Yeah. We will. But we’ll need help.” I looked up at her, the rain having wet my face horribly. She wiped the drops away.
“I have friends. If you want, I can introduce you to them. I was going to meet them at a party, at a place called Master Academy. They can help you get back on your feet if you’d like,” she said.
I threw back my head and laughed. “That would be perfect.” Embraced by a hero I killed, being led to the Master Academy and all their superheroes to be taken in while I figure out a plan to reverse my predicament. The laughter turned bitter when I remembered Qiang. I’d made deals with devils and built a new criminal underworld all to protect her from those I wronged and their revenge against me.
“Hey, you know I’m Forcelight, right?” she asked. I nodded. “So what’s your name? Or even your hero name?”
Hero name? Fucktaneous spazballs, she thinks I’m a superhero. It actually caused me to pause while I thought of something. The one moment the ability to pull a name out of my ass comes in handy, “Uhhh, how about you just call me Gecko for now?”
“I specialized in magic that bends time and space in order to finally defeat you. There are other benefits,” Blackstone told me. “It appears the car is not one of them.”
Blackstone tried to adapt the spell where people travel through door frames, only using a tunnel. The result spit us out of a drainage pipe on the outskirts of D.C. in a shower of car parts. It wasn’t wrecked so much as taken apart.
“You didn’t, per chance, invoke some sort of gremlin, did you?” I asked. “I ask because I have a lot of metal parts inside me, and I’d rather not lose my brain or my splanch because you were fucking around. I’m pretty sure you need me for some reason, too.”
“I do, yeah,” he stood up from the seat he was in and tossed aside the steering wheel in his hands.”Where’s my phone?”
I raised up and fished the cup holder out from under my ass to get his phone out and tossed it to him. “At least the smaller stuff seems to be in one piece. Even my glubok.” I stood up and dusted myself off as well.
Blackstone eyed me. “What’s a glubok?”
I chuckled. “If you have to ask, kiddo, then you can’t afford it. Where is this wizard lair we’re looking for?” I climbed up the side of the grassy embankment to get a look around. Blackstone followed, slipping down once while distracted with his phone. “And worry about your Facebook later. That addiction’ll kill you.”
“It’s important. Wait, how is Facebook a drug?” he asked. He reached the top and looked at me briefly before checking around. We were next to a highway. The city looked to be in worse shape than I expected. I heard sonic booms and saw smoke rising up in a couple of columns. It drew Blackstone’s attention away from his phone. “Never mind.”
“I don’t know how heroic you’re feeling, but sometimes it’s good to remember what is your problem and what’s someone else’s problem,” I advised. “We accomplish what we’re looking to accomplish and all this reverts, I hope.”
He held up a hand and did the wibbly-wobbly gesture, tilting it side to side.
“Either way, no need to go ruin our ticket back to save a pretty face,” I told him.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve been around trouble,” he said. “After everything so far, I shouldn’t have to continue to justify my skills to you.”
“No need to get shrill just because your delicate boy parts make you super-emotional,” I told him.
“I hate you,” he reiterated.
I gave him the middle finger. “You took my daughter away from me. Back at ya, fuckwit.”
“We still need a car, dickweed. How are we getting a car?”
I walked over to the road and took a stance, moving my coat back to better project confidence and my boobage. A minivan screeched to a stop. A lady in her 40s rolled down the window. “Hey baby, looking for a ride?”
I blew her a kiss. “Honey, I want to get there and I want it fast.”
She nodded toward Blackstone. “What about your friend?”
“He can fit in the trunk,” I answered as I approached, putting more of a sway in my hips. I leaned down to the driver’s open window as Blackstone jogged around to the passenger side. I winked at the woman, then I turned my head toward the road ahead of us. “Holy crap, Elvis?” She turned to look and I grabbed her with my lower arms. I pulled her out and dropped her to the ground. Blackstone slid into the passenger seat as she came out and hopped the center console.
“Get in,” he called. The woman stood and ran for the driver’s side window, punching at Blackstone. I yanked open the driver’s side rear door as Blackstone started to drive. I hopped in and held the door open to knock the minivan’s former owner to the ground.
When I closed it, I glared at Blackstone from the rear seat. “I had that.”
“She lived, didn’t she?”
Most people think of all the monuments and memorials when the District of Columbia comes to mind. It’s a city. A lawless, ungoverned city. Probably because it’s not a state, so it’s directly governed by Congress. In my timeline, that’s basically worse than being governed by your average PTA Council because the PTA Council generally has less gridlock and the ones in power at least pretend to care about school children.
But enough about PTAs and minivans. The reason I brought up the popular view of Washington is because we were headed into the less popular view. We had to head east, over the Anacostia River. We ran into a little bit of a problem when a couple of androids landed in front of us. They were fairly bare-bones, with a little armor on their torso but plenty of gaps between the moving parts on the limbs. The heads were little more than a single giant camera lens on a rotating mount. Blackstone wanted to take a detour, but I reached up and jammed his leg down. They cracked the windshield and dented the hood to hell, but they didn’t get back up and pursue us either.
The place we were looking for appeared to be nothing but a former Chinese takeout restaurant. “Pretty good front, actually,” I said.
“The food wasn’t bad either,” Blackstone added. I let him lead the way on this one. All the better to avoid lingering traps. Around the counter, into the miniscule kitchen, and into a storage room that smelled like a skunk had choked on the nasty air and died. Times like this really make me miss my armor’s environmental seals. Down the trapdoor was a dank but untouched basement area with walls of stone and mortar.
“Nice setup.” I took it all in. The altar with crystals and an athame sat feet away from a heavy iron slab with a few bones laying on it. A crystal ball sat on a small table in front of a beanbag chair. There were a pair of bookshelves packed with all sorts of tomes of ancient evil, including a third edition De Vermis Mysteriis and a first edition Ann Coulter. Blackstone headed over there. “That’s it, right? Once you have that, we’re good to go?”
“Not scared, are you?” He took a break from looking through the bookshelf to smile at me. “It’s all just hocus pocus, right?”
I rolled my eyes. “I’ve dealt with magic stuff before. One of the more complicated aspects of the superhuman world. I’m just ready to leave. This planet’s like a collection of a bunch of really powerful people who all had grudges against me, except I’m broke and I don’t have power armor.” I winced as a muscle in my calf spasmed just the wrong way. “Nanites would be nice, too. Filthy dogs. Who knows what they’ve had in their mouth?”
“Relax, the nastiest thing they’ve sunk their teeth into was you.” He found what he was looking for, a surprisingly small grimoire with an Aztec-style pattern on the front cover. “I had to use the ghosts to establish sympathetic bonds with your past, present, and future to enact the ritual in hiding. It’s easier with your cooperation.”
The ceiling shook once, twice. “I think the smooth sailing’s over, Dougie boy.” I sighed and opened my connectivity. I’d been avoiding it. I didn’t like this version of Earth. Not really a different dimension anyway. I know what crossing the Universe Divide is like. “We got robots. And worse.”
“What’s worse?” he asked. He tucked the book away. A pair of robots of the same minimalist construction fell through the ceiling, almost hitting me. Blackstone’s purple tendrils tore the head off the one closest to him. The one near me pointed an arm with a barrel on the end at Blackstone. I tore the arm off and shoved it through it’s chest under the armor plates. We both turned as something else fell through the ceiling. She was a pale woman with hair that glowed white. It didn’t contrast much with her white uniform, which featured a yellow aurora around a red cross on her midsection. At least her gloves and boots were black, but it was a terrible costume. As terrible as her name, because I recognized her as Forcelight. In the correct timeline, she’s dead.
“Heroes,” I said as I watched Forcelight stand herself up. It grew lighter as the entire ceiling just disappeared. Looking up, I faced a firing squad of the cheap robots all pointing arm cannons at us. “You got a shield or something, Blackstone?”
“I have something better,” he said. He glowed purple, with just a hint of gold that seemed to come from the open Los Cincos Soles Dorados in his hand.
The bots opened fire, but all of their red energy balls stopped a few feet above our heads and stayed there. “Now’s your chance to hack them,” Blackstone said.
I shook my head. “I’m trying, but they don’t seem to have remote connections, and these things can’t have much of a brain.”
Forcelight looked between us. “We don’t know how they communicate, but we’d better destroy them before they merge.” She lit up as she launched rays of light from her hands that sent the little robots flying. I swept my laser eye across a couple, but she got most of them. Once most of them were gone, she turned to Blackstone. “Are you two going to stand here with your thumbs up your asses, or are you going to help?”
“I will,” Blackstone said despite a glare from me. He waved his hands and the energy balls left in the air fizzled away. Forcelight took to the air, only for Blackstone to call out, “Hey! I can’t fly.” Smirking playfully, she hovered down and helped him out. I jumped out after them and caught a glimpse of a larger mess of metal parts that stood on two legs. Its entire chest was a barrel and the blast it fired at Forcelight sent her flying and Blackstone dropping.
I hit some fight music, Ultimate Battle by Akira Kushida, and ran right for the twelve-foot metal monstrosity. It set its feet and tracked me, but I was fast and slid into the home stretch. There’s only so far down something with a torso like that can track. I crawled underneath it and got to my feet, looking for something to do a bit of wrecking with. I found a motorcycle, which was better than nothing. I grabbed it and slammed it into the back of the robot’s knee. The cycle broke, but the robot knelt to regain its balance.
I hopped onto its back. It struggled to stand. I started tearing pieces off its back, working my hand inside. “Brains. Brains!” I called out, laughing as my special homo machina nerves reached out. I ran into a conglomeration of computer cores, all working together.
It was tracking back up toward Blackstone, and I was still working on figuring out this new programming language, so instead I just intercepted the signals. No more sight, sound, and shooting, but especially no balance and lower motor functions. And since it was in the middle of standing back up, that meant falling forward. I couldn’t figure out everything about it, but with a bunch of the smaller ones approaching, I used what I knew to cut into some of its power cores. It had redundancies there, as well. I couldn’t get them all, but I got enough to slow it down while I hopped off to avoid getting red on me.
Blackstone waved his hand toward a crowd on his end, ageing them to rust. Being a lady, I serviced them one, two, or three at a time. I ducked between them, tearing heads off, grabbing one to use as a club on others. One of them, I grabbed and threw into the windshield of a car parked on the street. I jumped high and landed with all my weight to knock it the rest of the way through, then slid inside. They started to pepper the car with superheated blasts of something crimson when I dove out the passenger window, rolled, and came up with my nails digging into delicate wiring of one unfortunate robot. I threw its body into another of the crowd of robots while keeping hold of what had probably been important wires.
It was tiring, keeping moving like that. I was dodging to stay alive and sometimes taking them out. Ok, ok, I shouldn’t be too humble. I was working my way through plenty with my eye, hands, and enhanced strength. And I had some weapons. I pulled a car door open and kicked a robot inside so I could smash it up by slamming the door. I tore the car door off and threw it into a robot, knocking it down with a door embedded in it.
But there were a lot, and in the middle of the fighting, and things fit back into place. I don’t know when I started laughing or when I lost that hand. I’d gotten tired and it all became a blur, but I knew I couldn’t stop even if my lungs exploded and my muscles turned to jelly because moving was the only thing keeping me ahead of death’s snapping jaws.
I was so disappointed when I realized I lost the hand. I liked that hand, dammit, and because if it were bleeding I could use that to blind some of them. Instead, I had to pick up just three of them and swing them through the crowd.
I turned at one point and brought one down on a familiar hero I’d faced before. Forcelight sent it flying with one of her light beams and slapped me across the face. I growled, dropping my fangs and preparing to strike. Then I recognized her and what was going on. I blinked and turned to see what was going on, but the street was a mess of twisted metal and destruction, with a few rusty and others cut into pieces. I turned and raised the stump to the sky. “And stay out!”
Up there is where I noticed a tower of the robots, all climbing each other and melding into one big orb with a huge opening pointed down. “That’s no moon,” I said.
Forcelight looked up at it. “It’s huge,” she said. “It’s going to wipe out the entire state.” The tower retracted up to it as the body filled out and began to float higher.
“Actually,” I started, because we weren’t in a state, but Blackstone joined us.
“I don’t think I can stop that,” he said. He looked me over. “They got you.”
I waved off my injuries with my stump hand. “It’s ok. Only hurts when I exist.”
Forcelight swallowed. “That might be too big for me,” she said.
I shrugged. “Throw me at it and I can at least stop the thing. Just like…” I turned back to the giant thing I’d toppled earlier. Its legs had been severed, leaving it stuck facedown on the ground. When I turned back to them, I looked to Forcelight specifically. “Throw me at ’em.”
“Really?” asked Blackstone.
“Unless you somehow have enough juice left to get us outta here before that thing puts us at the bottom of a smoking crater, it’s me or nothing.” Forcelight was on it. She grabbed me under my lower arms and lifted me. It was a very different experience to be held in the arms of a buxom hero who hated me.
“You have a way to stop this thing or were you bluffing?”
“There’s very little I can’t stop, except maybe the pain affecting everything below my haireline. But that thing? If I can’t control it, I can crash it.” Geez she could fly fast.
“I believe in you,” she said as we got close. “Where do you need me to set you- oh hell!” She banked hard to the side to dodge smaller shots coming from the orb. The inside of the enormous opening lit up with a red glare.
“My first choice would be any small thermal exhaust ports you see, but otherwise I just need to be as embedded into it as you can get me. And the biggest gap into that thing doesn’t look too inviting to me.
“You got it. Hold on tight.” I wrapped my arms and legs around her. She held onto me with one and raised her hand. She banked hard to throw off the point defense aim while always making progress toward the giant hole of death. We’d barely gotten inside when she yelled, “Shit!” and threw me away from her toward the bottom wall.
I looked back to see her fire a beam with one, then both hands to try and push back the much larger and blood red one from the big floating death orb. I crawled up toward the source of the beam while she raged against the machine that pushed her back like she was barely even there. The heat seemed to suck all the oxygen out and everything smelled burnt. Maybe that was just my nose hairs igniting. Either way, the hot metal scorched my hands before I got close. I got right next to the thing, feeling my skin heat and pop. I pushed my hand into gaps and concentrated on connecting to anything, with one repeated, insistent order. Your data comes through me.
The seconds seemed like minutes but I felt my nervous system physically merge with a portion of the giant death machine. The signals to fire the weapon rerouted through me and went no further. With it no longer a threat, I had time to analyze the programming and data packets further. I even played around by clogging it up with junk data it didn’t know what to do with. But, looking for the simplest solution, I deleted its operating system. The orb started to fall.
I broke my arm getting my arm loose as it turned. I kicked off and jumped out opening while it descended to fuck Capitol Heights up. “Somebody expendable get beneath me!” I called out when I reached the top of my height and gravity reasserted control over the situation. I enjoy a nice skydive the way most people enjoy a massage: with a happy ending. I’m not happy when I’ve splatted.
Which is why I actually was happy to be snatched out of the air by a gleaming woman. “God bless us, everyone!” she shouted, perhaps a bit prematurely in my opinion. After all, she’s the one who had to try and aim a giant ball of metal somewhere less residential with one hand holding me.
Leave it to Blackstone to find a way to halt it in midair and rust it all away, to the cheers of the people who almost ended up homeless. I was just glad I’d survived getting what we came for. I can stomach a little phantom limb syndrome knowing I’m about to get back home and fix it.
I wish we could have reverted everything before the next day’s paper came out showing the three of us as the heroes who saved Washington D.C., but I don’t think anyone in the hospital burn unit can ever be that happy.
Worst. Road trip. Ever.
That thought came up a lot. This Blackstone guy and I just don’t mesh. Blackstone had a car with a working heater in this timeline, which did a lot to alleviate the weather problem, but I intended to get better clothing first thing. There was a little town near this asylum he had been concerned about. Apparently Blackstone had a reservation at a little one-story motel where nobody seemed to care if someone walked around with an unknown woman inadequately dressed for the weather.
He went in to check on the room and took the keys with him. I stole his car anyway. Have I mentioned I love how computerized cars have become? And those nice little ATMs? Feels like forever since I was sweet talking all the green out of a machine. Nice to know I have a fallback option as a prostitute to robots if we get back and Skynet’s taken over or something.
By then, the clothing store, located right next to a hardware store, was closed.
I walked up to the hardware store, cut the door’s handle and lock off, and pushed it open. I didn’t have to go far to find anything usable or to set the alarm off. I tossed a pickaxe through the display window and stepped out after it, glad I wore shoes with a decent sole on them back when I was tree decorating. It seemed smart with all those pointy, easily-broken decorations laying around on the floor.
Whistling a tune I’d had stuck in my head (Blue Monday, if anyone’s interested), I picked up the pickaxe and walked over to the door of the clothing store. What do you do when a store’s closed and won’t take your money? Open it and don’t leave money, that’s what. Plus, since I busted the windows to get in and out, I didn’t have fingerprints. It’s like the perfect crime.
You know, until the cops showed up to figure out what was happening with the alarms and broken glass. A couple cruisers showed up. Nice to see they’re getting modern cars out here in the boonies. I wonder if the police out here have nice life insurance policies. So the question is, do I meet my dates outside, or do I let them come in and make ’em late?
The answer would elude me a little while longer. When I checked through a window, the cops who got out were standing around with their eyes closed. I walked out, spinning the pick axe around in my upper arms. The lower arms were hidden from view inside my long coat. Still humming to myself, I walked right up to the one who had his gun out. “I just can’t get this beat out of my head. I wonder if I can get the beat out of yours?” I practically spit the second “beat” as I raised the pickaxe’s pointy end over my head. It didn’t come budge when I tried to bring it down. I looked up. The head glowed faint purple. I looked around. Blackstone stood over by his car, hand raised and glowing the same faint blue as the pickaxe head.
I sighed and took my hands off it. “Fine, I won’t kill them.”
The pickaxe flew into his hand. “Haven’t you killed enough?”
“Nope,” I said, walking over. “Gotta do something, though. I can erase the footage, but erasing their brain’s a different matter entirely.”
Blackstone gritted his teeth and turned to the car. He recited something low enough I couldn’t hear it while I helped myself to some free money I found laying around unclaimed in the cops’ wallets. When I turned back to the rented car, it had gone from silver to red. “Festive, yet subtle. We better hope they didn’t see the license plate.”
He turned and a bolt of purple came right at me.
I woke up in bed the next morning, fully dressed, no Blackstone in sight, at the inhuman hour of 6 AM, unless the clock radio on the nightstand was a broken as it was old. A knock came at the door as soon as the clock turned to 6:01.
“Go to hell!” I shouted, and rolled over. The door opened, so I turned back to see Blackstone there holding coffee.
“Wake up! The day’s wasting,” he said, far too cheerfully for someone awake, showered, and dressed at 6 AM.
“Go masturbate with a hacksaw,” I said.
“You should be ready go to after that sleeping spell,” he said.
I sat up and threw a pillow at him. He dodged it. “Don’t ever cast some spell to knock me out like that ever again.”
He sighed and raised his hand. I woke up in the car this time. I shook my head and turned to Blackstone. He raised his hand. I reached up to pull down the sun visor above the seat and played like I was checking myself over in the mirror. “I’m hungry and I need to pee.”
“Are we going to have any more problems?” he asked.
“Also, I need a shower. You didn’t let me shower. You didn’t, right?” I asked, looking down at myself for wet spots.
“No, I didn’t,” he said. Just when he seemed ready to relax, I pulled the visor off the ceiling of the car and held the mirror in front of me. Blackstone resorted to his trick again, and the spell bounced off the mirror. He slumped back in his seat while we went down the interstate at 60 miles an hour. Being a considerably better person than Jesus, I grabbed the wheel.
I ended up with plenty of time to stop and tend to my own needs while he was under. Just a little highway exit place where you’re pretty sure every inch of the room has had cum sprayed on it some time or another. I took the time to use the facilities, shower, get a bite to eat, and get caught up on the news. A new Chief of Staff had just been appointed, for instance. This timeline’s version of events didn’t include the White House being tossed in another dimension, so they got this guy my facial recognition system pinged as a former target I’d once killed. Dye the hair a different color, add some facial hair, lose the glasses, and it looks like that clone of Hitler made something of himself after all.
Blackstone let himself in after a couple hours of napping, hand glowing. I raised an eyebrow. “Instead of constantly casting spells, you could treat me like a person and do this the easy way,” I suggested.
“You’re a monster. I know what you do,” He said.
I pointed to the TV. “Looks like I’m a useful one.”
He waved to it as well. “There was something in it for you, every time.”
“Yeah. Earth was my home too. I’d like to get back to that version of events. So how are we doing that? I assume you were driving us somewhere for a reason?”
He glanced outside, then stepped in and closed the door. He sat himself down on the lone chair left in the place. “We need a book.” When he saw me reaching for the nightstand drawer, he added, “A specific book on magic. Los Cinco Soles Dorados. It’s a translation off the walls of a lost Nahua temple discovered by a conquistador and his men separated from the rest of their party. It’s said he bound the book in the skin of the native translators he brought who refused to discuss the wall’s writings with him. That’s horseshit. I had the book in the other world. It’s fine parchment.”
“You don’t remember enough to figure things out without it?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t have an eidetic memory. I took photos, but they would never turn out right.” He pulled out his phone and frowned, then began to mess around with it. “It’s out there. I took it from the home of a wizard who died a few years back. He fought Captain Lightning in D.C. And it went bad for him. Here, see?” He held up the screen of his phone for me to see, showing off photos of what might have been a book behind an intense reflective shine.”
“You couldn’t turn the flash off?”
“That was with the flash off,” he said. “Anyway, I thought we could try D.C.”
Sploosh. That big white house is just ripe for a break-in while he’s hunting down the book. But with time of the essence, I felt the need to ask, “We’re already going to take long enough on this road trip. Can’t you look into a crystal ball and scry or something?”
He looked down and adjusted his coat. “I don’t seem to be capable of finding it that way.”
“Then do some sort of remote viewing of the wizard’s lair you said you’ve been to before,” I suggested.
He coughed. “I can’t. I think it’s warded.”
A wolf howled outside. He looked up, curious, and checked the door’s peephole. “What in the world… is that a zombie dog?”
I went to go check the window next to the door. Outside was some sort of skinned, eyeless dog padding around in a fog bank that had drifted in. It left a confused mess of bloody paw prints in the snow, and I started hearing this fuzzy crumbling sound like cosmic background radiation. It’s just the one at least. Kinda spooky-looking, but just a dog.”
Blackstone joined me at the window. “That’s not the one I was looking at.” Another walked over to join the dog I’d seen.
“You hear that?” I asked. “Like from an old TV? The snow?” It kept getting stronger and stronger.
“What are you talking about?” Blackstone asked a moment before a dog scrabbled up from next to the window and threw itself at the glass. The cheap window gave in one jump and the blood canine tried to crawl in. I put my shoe on its back and drove its body down into the sharp glass and pushed it to the side. Sanguine muscle tore open and blood dribbled down. The dog twitched and tried to get up, but it stopped once I finished stomping its head in.
The sound got less intense until the others got closer. “Huh… something related to those thingies. Magical interference.” I looked to Blackstone, who stared back out the window. “It happens.”
“It’s about to happen even more.” He said, raising his hand hands and gesturing to leave runes of purple light hanging in the air. I looked outside at the four dogs the pack had grown to. A purple coil wrapped around one of them and threw it high into the air. The other three came at me, bro.
I moved past Blackstone to open the door for them. The one in the lead obliged and got it closed on his neck. I stomped its head straight down. That didn’t stop the second from jumping and pushing the door open. I backed up and raised an arm to catch the bite of its strong jaw. I swung my arm, lifting it off the ground. The dog smacked into the wall and the low ceiling. I held it up and punched it where its nuts hung. It yelped, and yelped again when I grabbed them. It let go of my forearm, but I grabbed onto it.
I was missing a dog though. I heard ripping from the last of the dogs tearing Blackstone’s coat sleeve. He kicked the dog toward me. It took the hint and launched itself at me. I shoved its packmate toward it and watched as it bit down on the other blood hound’s nuts. Forget yelping, that dog fucking sang. The biter let go and went after my leg instead.
I reached around for anything to put it out of my misery with and settled on a lamp. I brought it down, smashing it off the floor. It bounced, then burst when I pushed the lamp down hard onto its chest.
Purple enveloped the dog on my leg and pulled it off me. Blackstone lifted it up to chest level. “Something is very wrong on this Earth,” he said.
I flipped the lamp around, took a stance, and batted the dog into the TV. The TV sparked and the dog convulsed, but neither were working anytime soon. “All the better to GTFO as soon as possible. The faster the better.”
Blackstone smiled. “I know a shortcut. It’s one where we can take the car. The world sucks, but I like the car.”