Now, now. It’s not a happy ending just yet. Other than the ones involving my wife. And sleeping. That whole adventure really screwed up my internal clock worse than normal. Max said if I keep sleeping until dark, he’s gonna by me a coffin to sleep in. Joke’s on him, some of them are really comfy. I told him I might need one anyway.
There was a loose end to tie up and stab to death. I just didn’t want to deal with it until after I spent time with my family.
It wasn’t the bounty hunters I hired to track down whoever was coming after me. In my absence, and the absence of Blackstone, the magical bounty hunters mostly went to ground. The fact that it was me left open the possibility of retaliation. Worse for them, it meant they wouldn’t be getting paid. I got the message out on VillainNet and other grapevines letting them know this is a no-grudges situation.
As for Baron Samedi and the deal with letting the Three Hares settle on my claimed continent of Mu, that’s going to be renegotiated.
I don’t need them to hunt down my enemy this time. Douglas Blackstone has an address and everything.
It was a small, two-story duplex in small town Connecticut. Well, they named it Smalton, but there’s no need to butter a soup. That’s one from the old dimension. It’s been so long. He’s had time to prepare! He still owes me for that bear trap at my closet door even if that’s his own damn fault. The closet bear trap is almost as important as the toilet gun.
I decided to check with the neighbor who shared the duplex. Knocked on the door and an older lady opened it wearing a mumu that perhaps she didn’t realize was thin enough to be seen through in the right light. It was, to my misfortune, the right light. “Ew. Hi, I’m wondering if you have a moment for me to share the good news with you.”
I pushed an arm in the way before she shut the door. “That was a lie, lady. You know many Mormons who wear power armor?”
“I try not to judge!” she said, opening the door. “Who are you and what do you want?”
“I’m a Mormon who wears power armor and I’m here to chat with your neighbor about religion. Do you know if he’s home?” I asked.
“Couldn’t you just knock on his door?” she asked. She looked me over and started to close the door again.
I grabbed the door to stop it from closing. “Allow me to rephrase. I’m here to kill someone. Knock on the door over there, or I’ll have to do so with my own two bloody hands.” She glanced at both raised fists and got the point.
“Let me get my slippers. My name’s Caroline, by the way,” she said. I held the door open for her and kept it open a little long for my backup to sneak in. I brought along a quartet of Dudebots to help out, and I needed one in there so I could put one on all four external walls.
“You may call me Gecko,” I told her. I hope I’m not as slow moving when I’m her age. Preferably, the nanites will have me looking as young as ever.
She stood in front of the door and raised her hand to knock. “Go on then, sweet Caroline,” I said.
She rapped on the door three times, with my giving an accompanying “Bwam!” noise every knock, followed by the three Dudebots on the other sides of the houses smashing through walls. They converged on the living room, just on the other side of the door, where a startled Blackstone sat in a robe. Bath robe, that is. The guy’s a magic user, but he also isn’t fully dressed for the day.
Target identified, I let the neighbor lady go about her business. “You may leave now, Caroline. You probably wouldn’t want to be a witness and have to be dissuaded from talking about what you see here,” I ordered.
I broke through the door and walked in. Mentally, I directed the Dudebots to grab Blackstone. Two held onto his arms while another kicked him in the balls and checked him for the magic book, Los Cincos Soles Dorados. The fact that he hadn’t already whipped out his magic and tried to smack me in the face with it suggested he didn’t have it. It already moved away from him when he plopped us both in the hellscape that is a world without me.
The nut shot was both because I am still petty, and because the reverberations of the orbs would likely distract him from using his magical abilities. That way, he spent his time groaning instead of chanting.
I didn’t find the book on him anywhere, so I stood for a moment, breaking a rule I’ve long held about killing first and talking later. “Blackstone. Looking terrible. At least you shaved. Goatee?” I bent down to look into his eyes at his level and noticed the tattoo on his chest and up onto his throat. “And a tattoo.”
He looked at me, scared. “Please, my name is Doug Blackstone and I don’t know what’s going on or who you are. Something happened and I woke up missing almost a month of time. Then this guy shows up who looks like me and zapped me. I’ve been here ever since not knowing who or what is going on. My wife doesn’t even know who I am and tried to call the cops on me!”
I glanced over at his left hand. Yep, ring on the left ring finger.
I stood back up all the way and looked down on the guy, contemplating. By all accounts, it looks like Blackstone solved his conundrum by swapping places with his analog on the other dimension. But something didn’t sit right. Like the tattoo thing. In the other timeline, Blackstone didn’t have one. So why didn’t his wife notice? All on the chest and throat like that, and the woman who knows him better than anyone only has doubts?
Or the ring. I didn’t notice if Blackstone had one on the other world, but that doesn’t matter here. My would-be assassin is not a stupid person beyond the profoundly bad decisions he’s made antagonizing me. I’ve never gotten the sense that using magic was compatible with being so unintelligent you wouldn’t steal your analog’s wedding band before trying to take his place.
I punched his head off. It shattered and left an exposed lower jaw hanging on. I reached down the throat and grabbed spine, then tugged it out. I thought it came out easily, but the little chink I held in my hand disappeared along with the body being held by my Dudebots. I checked around and all the blood had vanished as well.
There was a pop like someone just pulled a lollipop out of their mouth and another Blackstone appeared. This one didn’t bother with the goatee and tattoo. He made a gesture with his hands, which began to glow purple. And then another Blackstone popped out of the air on the other side of our little foursome. The nearest Dudebot to the first Blackstone ran and put a fist through his belly. The third Blackstone so far got his nuts kicked out of his head by another Dudebot. But, like a damn hydra, more took their places. Blackstones just kept appearing. I did my best to fend them off.
The whole group activated energy sheaths in time for one to deflect a whip of purple magic. I didn’t react fast enough with another Dudebot and it lost its feet. At the same time, another Dudebot popped out his Nasty Surprise underarm saw and gutted one of the Blackstones. Oddly, both he and the one next to him disappeared, despite that one not being hurt. I tossed a chicken grenade and smacked one of the now-dozen Blackstones in the face just before a thin purple line whipped through the air and… took off the head of the Dudebot I was inhabiting.
Hey, I said I had one on each side. I just didn’t mention I was sitting on the roof.
The one who did that got taken out when the footless one sprayed hot laser over that side of the room and took out a quarter of them all at once. The explosion from the chicken grenade got a lot more, but I couldn’t see so well because that’s when the roof started falling under me. I didn’t stop with it, instead falling through the shingles and wood to land in what used to be the attic area but which had now become the ground floor. And over there, on all fours, was Douglas Blackstone, magic book in hand.
I kipped up and lunged for him. Another Blackstone popped just in front of me. I knocked him down and stomped on his head as I passed over him. My next step flew upward as the attic began to rise again. Wood chunks zipped back into place.
I focused on the book, gripped tight in the hands of the real Blackstone, and fired a laser from my helmet. Laser eyes, not just for Dudebots anymore. Fingerless, Blackstone dropped the book. Gravity dropped the ceiling again, dropping us both back to the top of the ceiling that landed on a remaining Blackstone copy.
Blackstone used one of his magic whips like a grappling hook and pulled himself to his feet. He screamed, bloody, sweaty, covered in dust and splinters.
I advanced, laughing. He gestured toward me and my legs locked up, held by an indigo rope of light that wrapped around and between them and itself. He took a moment to try a longer incantation while I charged my lower arms’ energy sheaths.
He finished with a word that echoed and fingers of violet crystal grew from the damaged stumps on the hand that held the book. When I got enough of a charge, I reached down with the lower arms and grasped them, pulling a line apart. As with the whips, the sheaths affected them. That, or the ropes really weren’t that hard to break anyway and I wasted time. I wasted as little as I could freeing myself now that I had my hands on it.
Another grapple line shot out from Blackstone to the book near me. I lunged and smashed through it with my lower right forearm. The line broke and the energy sheath dissipated with it. Glowing purple lines reached from the air and ground to grab my arms and legs and hold them apart. I smashed the line with my lower left arm and grabbed an explosive knife from my utility belt, throwing it close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades. He summoned a floating crystalline shield that blocked it and sent the knife falling to the broken ceiling we now stood on. It exploded on the way down.
The magic whips went slack and disappeared. I followed the screaming through the smoke. Blackstone laid in one corner of the attic, cushioned on puffy pink insulation. His shredded legs weren’t going anywhere, and both his shield and magic fingers were gone. He rolled over and tried to crawl for the round hole that used to hold an attic vent.
I grabbed his ragged legs and ignored the screams. I jumped up through the roof with him in tow and tossed him into the air. I landed on the downed roof and leaped again, my arm bursting through Blackstone’s upper back and reaching up to grip his jaw. I pulled it down as we fell and tore his lower jaw and throat off while swinging him down under me so that I smashed his head through the shingles and wood.
“Time’s up,” I said, then made sure of it by pulling the head off a rubber chicken grenade and shoving it into the hole. I jumped clear before he blew up.
I checked and saw a Blackstone half-sticking out of the rubble disappeared. The remaining damaged Dudebots pushed through the wreck of a former house and checked with me. No more Blackstones.
It’s a wonderful life indeed, for one of us.