“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.