So here’s how it laid out. Lacastra was behind the plot to kill her brother, using Mickledorn who had a laundress poison him. Micledorn was then killed by her Security Chief. He was framed in part thanks to Grurn, who murdered the Butler for her. And now all this was revealed. It would be time to slap the cuffs on her in a police procedural, but she had her poofy-sleeved house guards who outnumbered us. Also, Grurn got his sword back, revealed he was working with her, and was also part of the people opposing us who were armed.
On the other side of things, there was the Mobian, his companion Lily, Sir Reginald the fighting fish, all the other guests who haven’t already been murdered, my girlfriend Holly, and myself. If not for the fact I need to worry about other people surviving, this is just a fun time with some future dead bodies.
“We don’t need to turn this into a bloodbath,” the Mobian offered.
“It would be difficult for the staff to clean up, but that’s what they’re there for,” Lacastra said.
“Except for the bit where you kill them freely in all this,” I said.
“They’re good for that, too,” Grurn said. I noticed some of the guards looking at each other. The beat-up Security Chief had crawled to the rest of his guys. He’d admitted to killing Mickledorne for Lacastra, and had not been treated well in return. The beating was my part, though. He decided to eliminate me for my suspicions. One helped him up and he whispered to him. The guards backed away from Lacastra and Grurn, then turned their polearm-rifles on Lacastra and Grurn.
“What is this?” Lacastra asked, outraged. “I demand you turn your weapons on them!”
Grurn slowly sidled over toward a side door of the garage. One of the estate’s maids closed and locked it before he could.
“Are you going to come easily, Grurn?” Sir Reginald asked from his fish tank on treads.
Grurn raised his Tarn blade, a local design to this water/swamp world. “Prepare to be sushi, Reginald.”
“No, he’s ours!” said a bunch of squeaky voices all at once. Guinea pig-like creatures swarmed out of the group of guests, headed toward Grurn. He swung and missed with this sword as they climbed onto him, nibbling enough to make him drop his blade, but carrying him to the ground, gnawing away.
Holly leaned in close. “I’m glad I didn’t eat one as an hor d’oeuvre.”
“So they were guests then?” I asked.
She furrowed her brow. “With the staff turning on them… I still don’t know.”
Regardless, the guinea pig things left us with the sight of an alien skeleton picked clean of meat and ligaments and fat everywhere that wasn’t covered by clothing. Grurn had become the prey of a vicious pack of appetizers. Or maybe some sort of hive minded rodent party guests.
“I think I’m going to barf,” Lily said, covering her mouth and looking away.
The Mobian edged toward Lacastra, who looked as shocked at the consumption of Grurn as almost everyone else. “You should come along peaceably.”
“Per my inheritance of my brother’s stake in the planet, I am the law here,” she said.
Sir Reginald blubbed. The front base of his water tank unfolded to reveal the barrel of some sort of projectile weapon. “I shall extradite you to my liege lords landholdings for trial immediately, followed by similar trials for the crime committed against the other gentry present.”
Lacastra made one last attempt at avoiding responsibility. She turned to the Security Chief. “Do something!”
“What’s my name?” asked the Security Chief.
“What?” the owner of the planet asked. “Why? It’s… Bob?”
“Stand down, men. Let them take her,” the Chief said.
“Letting someone live actually helped a situation,” I whispered to Holly. I noticed Mobian gesture toward Lily. They left the aristocrats to deal with their issue, and started heading down a side corridor. Holly and I followed. “Wait up!”
“Oh, you two,” Mobian said. “That worked out rather nicely if I do say so myself. And I do.” He smiled at his own joke. “You were both astonishingly useful, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
“If you’re ever on Earth, you’ll have to look us up,” Holly suggested. I gave her elbow an elbow.
“Oh, you’re from Earth?” Lily asked.
“Yeah, you’re from Earth?” Mobian wondered. “Bit early for that,” he pointed to my eyes.
“Well, we’re on a bit of a trip outside our usual time and place,” Holly admitted. “A friend said we simply had to attend this party.”
“Your friend has a weird sense of humor,” Lily said.
“I appreciate your help regardless,” The Mobian said. “Perhaps I will see you again.”
I nodded. “Yeah, you definitely will.” I held my hand out for a shake. He took it. I squeezed. He pulled back, but I puled him toward me, onto a nanite blade that pierced one of his hearts, then broke off and went after the other one. “Sorry about this, but you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.” After all, it was another incarnation of Mobian who made a deal to help me out in exchange for this attack.
“NOOOO!” Lily screamed. I let Mobian dropped and let her cradle him as he died. Except he didn’t just die. His skin began to glow. He looked like he was aging rapidly.
“Gecko, I left the watch in the room,” Holly said. She waved me on with her, then started running. I ran after. I think we’d both decided it’d be better to get out fairly soon after the assassination. I’m not sure if it’s really an assassination if it’s part of the plan for the target to come back to life, but that’s close enough for the Dark Brotherhood.
It didn’t seem all that necessary. When Holly and I barged into the room, her winded and me not so much, I checked the hallway behind us. “I don’t think anyone’s coming.”
“Fine, then I’m taking some of this stuff, too,” Holly said. She grabbed some of the shinier metal objects around the room. I shrugged and grabbed the fur rug from in front of the fireplace, as well as a painting I liked of a warped penguin with a beaklike-mouth on top of its head.
“I wish we’d planned this so we could have robbed everyone else,” I said.
“You’re the one who went and killed him right then,” Holly said. She sat on the bed. “Ugh, wish we could take this bed with us.” She sat up suddenly and lunged for the nightstand. She held up the pocket watch The Torian gave us to call him for our escape. “I got it!”
I rushed over with the rug and painting, then hopped onto her lap. She pressed the button on the watch.
We both dropped into time vessel. Amber colored walls and floors swirled with yellow energy all around us. We looked around toward the platform where Mobian and Torian control the vessel from. Torian looked a lot worse than I remembered. He staggered down the steps, coughing, the sat down on the steps. “Did you have to cut it so close stealing everything?”
I shrugged. “Not like Morigoth or Lacastra are going to notice it gone.”
He shook his head. “Not what I mean. That adventure took place quite some time ago to me. At the time, I didn’t understand. I held a grudge against you. This far along, I understand why you did it, and why you said that to me.”
“It was a shame to do it. That’s the nicest you’ve ever been to me,” I said. I stood up and helped Holly up as well.
The Torian, the villainous incarnation of the Mobian, laughed. “That was our first encounter.” The laughter turned into coughing. “And this will be our last, sort of.” He smiled at that. His skin began to glow. “The good die young, but I didn’t last forever.”
So we ended up getting a view of of the reincarnation process after all. When the glowing stopped, the old man who sat before us turned out to be a gawky, middle-aged man. Same clothes, but his coat was all the wrong size. “Hello, ooh,” he felt his teeth. “New teeth.”
“Hey, which one are you?” Holly asked enthusiastically.
The time traveling alien looked himself over. As he talked, I noticed his accent had changed quite a bit. Maybe a bit of Welsh in there? Space Wales, maybe? “So stuffy. I’m back to my old self, I think. Or my new self. But don’t worry, I don’t hold a grudge. It really had to be done, because it’s how it happened. You killed me, and then I incarnated as him.”
“So the Torian sent us to make sure he would be born, in a way,” I said.
“That’s right,” the newest Mobian said, smiling with some big front teeth of his. “It really hurt, you know. I should hit you for that, but, you know.” He gestured to the belly I carried.
“This explains something of the heretofore-unexplained tension between us, “ I said.
“Mm,” the Mobian said. He walked up the steps. “I better get you home then.”
“No offense, but I hope we don’t have our timelines so closely entangled going forward. Hope in one hand…”
“Actually, Mobian, I have an idea for a stop before you get us home!” Holly said, holding up her hand.
Cue the trip back to Vermont, years ago. The Mobian exited his time craft with us. “Vermont, home of the whitest of bread.”
Holly pulled me along. “I’m trying to remember… there we go.”
“Where are we going?” I asked.
She kept pulling me along, though she had to stop. She’d already strained herself running around the Morigoth Estate, and we hadn’t gotten even a full night’s rest there. It bugged me that there was nothing for me to connect to, putting this firmly pre-wifi and bluetooth. We ended up stopping off near some park where a teenage Holly was arguing with a teenage boy.
“If you stopped being such a stuck-up bitch and just went with it, maybe you’d have some fun with your privileged life!” the boy yelled at her. He grabbed the younger Holly. She was crying and swaying.
The older Holly called out. “Hey! Let her go!” The boy panicked and let go of young Holly’s wrist, then booked it. We came running up.
“If Mobian were here, he’d say some weird stuff about timelines and interference with yourself probably,” I said.
“Just come on!” Holly called back. Her younger self had fallen to her knees and was crying to herself. The older one knelt down and hugged her. “It’s alright.” She looked up at me and said, “She’s high as fuck right now.”
“Who are you?” young Holly asked. She brushed her hair out of her face. “This can’t be real.”
“I’m you from the future, and I want you to know it gets better. You get out of here and you meet people who care about you.”
“And who’s that?” asked young Holly, pointing at me.
“That’s your girlfriend.”
I waved at young Holly, who gawked. “I’m a lesbian?!”
“More bisexual, maybe demisexual,” Holly answered. “But she’s a hot kickass cyborg assassin and she loves going down on you.”
“Can we phrase that in a way that doesn’t make me sound like I molest teenagers?” I asked my girlfriend.
“Come on, let’s get home,” Holly said. “The future’s going to be amazing.”
Everything looked like Mickledorn the centaur had something to do with the murders. It’s even possible he did have something to do with the murders, except he himself was murdered. And while I know for a fact there’s more than one murderer around the Morigoth Estate, I know that I didn’t kill him. I considered it, because it would have taken suspicion off the Mobian, but I was considering killing a lot of people. Maybe not Sir Reginald, just because flushing him down the toilet would have left little to no evidence of a murder. Also, I think he’s funny.
The Mobian, his companion Lily, and I were investigating Mickledorn’s room, where we found proof of the poison used to kill Morigoth. We hadn’t found the sword he supposedly used to slay the laundress, though. I don’t think that was high priority for Lacastra, Morigoth’s sister. She already ordered the guards, who had been at this room when we arrived, to look for that sword. It was supposed to be a local type of blade, so I’m sure they’d find something. If Mickledorn came in his own transport, I have a feeling that’s where it’ll conveniently pop up.
I told Holly to keep an eye out for anything about Lacastra specifically. So, naturally, she snooped while I pretended to snoop. Or half-heartedly snooped. I was still curious about the sword, even if I doubted I’d find it. It wasn’t up the chimney, under the bed, or beneath the pillow. I was working on the rack of parasols when Holly got back to me.
“They moved the body before I could get a close look, but I saw him fall. Lacastra was in the middle of the room with the guards keeping anyone away. She had a few people escorted to her, but the lighs blinked off when Mickledorn was on his way back. You could see him start to fall in the dark. The captain of the guard, you can tell because he has a scarf on, ran up to check on him first, then pulled out the bloody quill.”
“That seems odd,” I said. “You said you saw him fall in the dark?”
“Yeah, he glowed a little, so he must have had that poison on him,” she answered. “I didn’t see a quill anywhere until after the head guard got there.”
“Yeah, shit stinks,” I acknowledged.
“I should examine his vehicle myself,” The Mobian suggested.
“I’ll go with you,” Lily said.
My first instinct was to separate myself and see who I could pick off or who would pick me off. I fought back the urge and decided to stick with Lily and Mobian. “Me too. I don’t feel safe separating.”
The security chief stuck his nose in it. “I think we had better escort you to your Mistress to check in.”
Mobian looked at me. “Go ahead. We’ll be fine until you get back. It’s not your fight, after all.”
I wonder if he knew what was going to happen when he said that. Regardless, he went his way and the Security Chief insisted on escorting me personally to meet Lady Snyders of Hanover, Holly’s alias. Funny thing was, we weren’t headed back to the ballroom where they’d isolated all the guests to be a witness to Mickledorn’s murder. Nope, and we didn’t even head back over to the room Holly and I were sharing. If they had any hidden surveillance devices, they probably realized Lady Snyders was fooling around with her servant. Not a foreign concept to this bunch, I’m guessing. Instead, we started heading up to the veranda, as the Butler called it. It was a large balcony, great for dining outside, with large windows to take in a planet that was all either water, swamp, or technologically-reclaimed land like the Morigoth Estate sat on. It could even be retracted.
I hadn’t realized it was storming. Water slammed into the window, drowning out all but the brightest bioluminescent lights of sea creatures in the water. Mysterious underwater moving lights, interspersed with the pounding of a light monsoon. The house is soundly build, with lots of sound dampening between it and the exterior. “Why would she come here?” I asked the Security Chief as I stepped out further onto the Veranda, standing next to one of the solid metal tables. It looked and felt like cast iron. I ran a hand along engravings that looked like waving aquatic flora. Everything was aquatic with this fucking planet, but then it’s not like they’re going to have orchids and deer. Seacows, maybe, but not deer.
I turned to catch a glimpse of the Security Chief leaving. The door clicked and the windows started to retract. I grabbed the table and hurled it into the door. It left a dent, but not a break. Damn them and their foresight for a broken window caused by a storm! That said, it’s not like storms regularly pack their own lasers like the ones in my eyes.
I threw the door off its melted hinges and stepped into the hallway. The Security Chief was there, meeting with more of his men. He looked surprised to see me. Fun. “Miss me, boys?”
I turned and hit the button on the inside that reversed the windows, moving them back into place, and meant I didn’t have to worry about catching a flounder to the backside while fighting. They lowered their polearm-rifles too slow. I got inside the range of the barrels. I grabbed one by the rifle and slammed him into the wall, pushing the gun’s frame through his chest. The other tried to aim at me. I pulled the rifle out and tossed it. It embedded in the second guard’s head. That left me and the chief.
The Chief was running away. Ok, that left me chasing the chief. I checked around for anything else to throw and found something small and metal. I grabbed it, threw it. A metal fish in the shape of a boomerang banged into the Chief’s back and knocked him down. By the time he got back to his feet, I was on him, grabbing him by the back of his poofy-sleeved shirt and smacking him into the wall a few times. “Let’s have a talk, shall we?”
He pulled a knife.
“What are you going to do, C-section me?” I asked.
“I’m going to clean you like a fish!” he threatened. I melted the knife out of his hands with eye lasers. He gasped and grabbed his hand, but I grabbed his neck and pushed him up against the wall behind him. He kicked, so I threw him to the other side of the hall, through a much weaker door than the one to the veranda. I found him crawling along in a room with a heavy table, as well as sticks and balls set up. I grabbed for a ball and threw it at his hand while he tried to get a stick. The next ball thumped him on the head. He stopped moving.
“Shit,” I said, moving to check his vitals. He was alive. His lungs breathed and his heart pumped. “Great, now I have to wait for you to wake up!” I took a moment to check in with Holly. “Hey babe, their Chief of Security just tried to kill me. How’s things there?”
“I was just curious who made those uniforms. The sleeves are such a stand-out fashion decision., all big like that. Say, give me one moment, let me get something from my purse…” Ah, she couldn’t respond just to me because of guards around.
Bam! Bam! Bam, bam, bam! Well, no more guards around anymore. “Sorry Gex, they were trying to escort me to the boss lady. I got suspicious.”
“That’s a pretty safe assumption. Where are you?” I asked. I prodded the chief with my foot.
“Corridor outside the ballroom. I don’t know where they were taking me, but this isn’t near the study or the rooms. Let’s meet up.”
“Last I saw of the guards, they were posted around Mickledorn’s room. May not be there anymore with everyone splitting up. Oh, that’s a lot of guards.”
“I’m on my way,” I said. I grabbed the Chief and threw him over my shoulder before hauling my ass out of there and heading toward the twin markers of the ballroom and Holly. I slipped one into her purse next to her Mauser. If she had the gun, she had the marker.
It ended up being pretty stereotypical. I turned a corner and saw her, then ran into her arms for a hug and a kiss. We even spun around a little, the security chief’s head and my girlfriend’s pistol swinging around with us.
I went in for the tongue, but Holly, giggling, pulled away. “Stop. Who’s that?”
I gestured to the Chief. “Head of security. He’s pretending to still be knocked out.”
“Right. Nice to meet you, Chiefster. What about Mobian and Lily?”
“Screw them,” I said, biting her lower lip. She gently pushed me, so I backed away. “Fine. Last I saw, they were going to the garage.”
That’s the name on the marker. The Butler, who I hadn’t seen in a minute, had a longer name for it, but he winked and said, “The garage for short.”
So, still carrying the Chief, we headed toward the garage. We picked up a tail. Some of the guests had left the ballroom by now and figured out something was happening. As we got close, we could make out Lacastra standing with her back to us, a line of guards to her front. All their backs were to us, as well. We had to sneak up on them to hear her declare, “Yes, it was needlessly convoluted; Mickledorn bribed the Laundress, then killed her when she’d finished. The Butler administered the same poison to Mickledown, but every step of separation protected me more, at least until someone decided to kill Mickledorn like that. Your friend the bulging pregnant primate must be some sort of infiltrator.”
“Hold up, I did all that for you and you’re not even grateful?” The Chief asked from my shoulder.
Lacastra turned toward us, as did the faces of the guards. The Mobian and Lily were in front of that group as well, Mobian holding his gadget. At his feet was the body of the Butler, impaled on a sword. I turned so the battered Chief could speak more easily. “You… I did it for you. I murdered that ass Mickledorn when he tried to extort you for more money. I got beat up by this land whale for you!”
“Hey, I can still break whatever your species has for a jaw,” I said.”I’m pregnant and not even that big for being pregnant.” I dropped the Security Chief. “Carry your own beat-up self.”
“Wait, so Lacastra did all this?” Sir Reginald said, rolling up behind us.
“I’ll take my sword back, thank you!” Grurn said. The aristocratic big game hunter started for the body of the Butler. The guards in the way raised their weapons.
“It seems we’re going to make quite a dent in the local gentry,” Lacastra said. “My brother always knew how to throw a party.”
Grurn kept walking. The guards kept their rifles up… but pointed at the rest of us. Grurn grabbed his sword out of the Butler. “I’ll thank you not to dispose of me before the uprising’s over at least, Lacastra?”
“Of course, partner,” she said with a smile, her guards aiming for the rest of us.
Lily and I crept along the hallway. By now, she was deeply suspicious I wasn’t a regular servant girl. We’d taken an innocuous side door to get out of the ballroom where guests and servants were all being gathered. It was locked, but I finessed it by using my skilled fingers to break the lock with brute strength.
“So, that back there… you’re some sort of cybernetic robo-nanny, is that it? Part maid and part bodyguard?” she asked.
Sure, let’s go with that. “Yeah. Lot more to me than meets the eye. You’re perceptive.”
“Are you from Earth, too?” She stopped, checking behind her.
“Hey!” Someone called out.
Lily started to run, but I grabbed my belly and groaned. I leaned against the wall. She stopped, panicking. “What’s wrong?”
“The baby’s coming! My water broke!” I called out. The pair of guards who approached weren’t human, just humanoid. They had the same general shape, but one was the same sort with skin like a mosaic and another had big teeth and a fuzzy, tapered tail. They slowed as they got close.
“What do we do?” the rodent-like one asked.
The other shook his head. “I don’t know, get a doctor.”
“Down here,” I said, pointing below my legs. “Get a doctor.”
One of them leaned down. I captured his head between my thighs and squeezed, then grabbed the head of the other, the rodent. Him I threw lifted over head and smacked into the hardwood wall behind me. He crumpled to the ground. I then strangled the one between my legs until he passed out.
“Did you kill them?” Lily asked.
“Probably not,” I answered. I looked around and spotted a door that could have been to a closet. Opening it, I found it was a storage closet for taxidermied animals. A couple tied-up guards fit right in with the collection.
“That lot was heavy. I thought they had us there,” Lily said. “You’re pretty good at using that for sympathy.”
I shrugged. “Might as well. None of these guys know what human pregnancy and birth looks like anyway.”
I took the lead, taking us toward the basement. There were some guards posted. I looked around for anything I could use and a covered dish. I lowered it down to my skirt and let ‘er rip in it. “Just follow my lead.”
I turned a corner toward the guards. “Evenin’ gents. Here with dinner.”
The guards looked at each other and barred the door with their polearm-rifles. “Why did they send you two and not the regular staff?”
I acted surprised. “You hadn’t heard? One of the cooks was in on it. Gossipy lady, knows a nurse and something. They don’t trust the domestics, so Lady Snyders of Hanover offered our services.”
“I’ll check that,” one of the guards said. He lifted the cover, then got a waft of the trapped fart. He started coughing. “That smells horrible! Go on through.” He withdrew his polearm-rifle as much to have something to lean on as to give us entry. The other guard followed suit and we made our way downstairs.
“That was something. I don’t know what, but it was something,” Lily commented.
“It got us in. Getting us out won’t be hard.” We headed downstairs up until one gave way underneath me. I pitched forward, grabbed the handrail, and turned it into an uneasy flip, turning around so that when my forward motion followed through, it was my back hitting the wall and not my belly. Lily clung to the stairs further up while the Mobian came out from behind the stairs.
“Oh my, are you alright? I thought I would get a guard, not you. What are you doing here?” he asked.
“Saving you, you pain in the ass,” I backed away from the wall where an old nail had indeed poked out just enough to give me a sharp pain to my butt cheek.
“She’s a bodyguard or something. I couldn’t have got here without her,” Lily said.
The door at the top of the stairs opened. “What’s going on in there?”
“Damn stairs!” I called out. I nodded for Mobian to get into hiding and moved over toward the stairs with, pretending to be laying on my front down in front of the gap. “Owww…”
“Move, get out of the way,” the guard called out. They both came in, pushing Lily aside so they could get to me. One stepped over the gap, then put his polearm-rifle aside to bend over and try helping me up. The other stood on a step just above the one that collapsed. As the one helped me up, I saw Mobian using some device on the underside of the step that the other was on.
“Oh shit!” I called out as I “accidentally” pushed the guard back down the stairs. The one behind me reached out, but the step gave way and he fell through, collapsing onto the hard stone floor of the wine cellar. The one I’d pushed tumbled down, very nearly bonking his head on the nail that got my butt. Instead, he was knocked out on the wall. I begrudgingly checked him over, pressing my fingers to his neck as if to check for a pulse while a native colony of nanomachines transferred over to check his vitals. He had a little bit of an aneurysm they repaired real quick so he’d survive. Meanwhile, the Mobian and Lily struggled with the other guard until Lily knocked him out with a wine bottle to the back of the head that then bounced loose.
“Ok, brilliant job,” I said sarcastically. I stood up and brushed off my dress.
“Is he dead?” Lily asked. “Did I kill him?”
“No,” Mobian and I said at almost the same time. Then he looked to both of us. “Where is everyone?”
“Ballroom,” I said. “Rounding everyone up to be addressed by Morigoth’s sister, something like that.”
“We need to get back there,” Mobian insisted. “If she picks someone as a scapegoat, this could get nasty fast.”
“Fasty, some might say,” I added.
“What do we do? Do we know who did it?” Lily asked.
Mobian shook his head. “I’m not certain. Not yet. But whoever is murdering people, they want someone to think it’s connected to the locals. I saw the luminescence when Morigoth died, indicative of one of the local natural poisons derived from sea plants.”
“The person who was killed, the laundress, they got her with a distinctive local blade,” I said. “That one centaur guy, Mickledorn, he seemed surprised to find out she made it upstairs.”
“No way she did that,” Lily said, shaking her head.
“You think someone posed her there?” Mobian said. “But why?”
I answered that one. “So I could see if anyone was surprised she’d made it up there. Anyone else would just know she crawled up there. The killer, or a witness like Lily who saw it happen, would know that’s impossible. I figured it’d rattle them, give a reaction.”
“And?” Mobian asked.
I shrugged. “Mickledorn’s the only one I’ve seen with that reaction, but they don’t let me into the hobnobber groups here. Kept the staff and guests separate in the ballroom.”
“Let’s get up there. We won’t learn anything sitting around in a wine cellar,” Mobian said. “We should check Mickledorn’s room,” Mobian suggested. It was awkward getting back upstairs with so many of them out of commission, but we didn’t have to figure out a way past the guards anymore. We opened the door and got out of there, heading toward the rooms. I’d left a marker by Mickledorn’s. It sounded like there was enough excitement elsewhere to hide our approach.
“Gecko, where are you?” called Holly through our communicators. “Something’s wrong. Someone’s dead.”
“What?” I held my finger to my ear. “Did they execute someone, or…?”
We turned a corner toward Mickledorn’s room and ran into a rather large crowd of poofy-sleeved security guards with their polearm-rifles.
“I got this. They don’t know humans, right?” Lily said. She stepped in front of us and growled. “Out of our way, or I’ll burn you with my fire breath!”
Some of the guards raised the polearms, stocks and barrels withdrawing to make usable rifles, but immediately one of them with a sash draped over his shoulders pushed the barrels down. “Mobian, Lady Lacastra asks for your aid.”
Mobian brushed off his cuffs and stepped in front of us. “That’s good to hear. What changed your mind?”
The guard nodded toward the door to Mickledorn’s room. “Shortly after he finished speaking with the Lady in the ballroom, Mickledorn was killed. The lights went off briefly, and when they came back up, he was bleeding out all over the ballroom floor.” He looked to Lily and me as well. “These two were with you?”
“Yes, they were coming to get me. So that makes us three the only guests who couldn’t have done it. Other than the guards, of course.”
That rankled the guard, I could tell. “We do our duty to House Morigoth.”
“Oh do you?” Mobian asked. “So we have three dead people because you were doing your duty?”
The lead guard had to hold those rifle barrels down. Then he looked past us. “Lady.”
We turned to see a well-dressed gray-skinned alien with black hair approaching in a pale blue gown. She looked us over. “I am Lacastra.”
The Mobian once again pushed to the forefront. “I’m the Mobian, but you know that because we met briefly. My companion Lily,” he gestured to Lily. “And, uh,” he was at a loss for me.
“Delilah, servant of Lady Snyders of Hanover,” I answered.
Lacastra’s eyes flicked down to my belly briefly. “Right now, you are the only ones I can trust.” I could hear the rankling. “Come with me, let’s look into Mickledorn’s room. Perhaps you can tell me why my late cousin was killed.”
“How he was killed would also be useful,” I said as we moved past the guards into the bedroom of the dead centaur.
“He was killed with an enameled quill,” Lacastra said. “There is a type of fish that lives in the coral shallows, adorned with hardened quills from the coral they eat. The quills are used in various local weapons, including blow guns and concealed daggers.”
The room was messy, but well-carpeted. What confused me was the horse-guy-alien had so many spare sets of hooves. “What’s with these?” They looked just like his hooves, but more of them.
“Spares,” Lacastra answered as if that was enough. I bent down to see inside, then reached a hand in. They had a place to hold.
“He had hands in these things?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mobian confirmed. “His species don’t like to walk on their hands, though. It’s dirty, so when they walk on fours, they keep those spare shoes around. It’s hard to go around on two legs on a planet like this, but they can do it. They keep a pair of their front hands when situations require them to walk on those as well.”
“There!” Lily pointed toward a blanket hanging off the bed. “That’s the cloak worn by the person with the sword who killed the laundress!”
“So he hid under a blanket, walking on two legs to hide it, in case anyone saw him,” Mobian said. “But where’s the sword he used?”
“This didn’t take long to wrap up,” Lacastra said, even though we still had a weapon to search for. “I’ll have the guards start looking.”
I called Lily and Mobian together. “You know this is convenient, right?”
“There’s usually nothing especially complex about murder,” Mobian said. “Especially over long-lost love.”
“Yeah, but then who killed Mickledorn?” Lily asked.
Mobian broke the huddle to walk over toward a shady corner of the room, a sitting area with a small bookshelf all its own. Some of the books were on there unevenly and he pulled them loose. “Look at this…”
It was a pouch of some sea grass, a pale white one with beads of red fluid on it. “That could be our poison.”
“I feel like this is wrapping up. I’m almost embarrassed I had to call on your help now,” Lacastra said. She glanced at the door where her guards stood watch.
“Holly,” I didn’t vocalize the message where I was in case they heard, but it came through clearly in Holly’s ear. “I think this is a big setup, and it’s getting clearer to me who’s pulling the strings. Keep an eye out in there. Watch the guards, especially, but if you saw anyone else close to Lacastra especially.”
Later that evening, in our nice room, Holly and I cuddled in bed. “You have a good time?” I asked.
She smiled and laughed. “This is all so cool. I say that a lot, but I mean it.”
“Still cool after all that time with Max?” I asked.
She kissed my cheek “Jealous? He was fun. Sam’s fun. You’re fun.” She ran her hand over my belly, rubbing it.
“So when are you going to take me home to meet your parents?” I teased, turning my head to see as much of her face as I could out of my peripheral vision.
She cringed. “My parents had me kidnapped to become less of a problem a long time ago. They might have a heart attack if they found out my girlfriend’s a pregnant trans woman supervillain who murders people. God, and if they thought the baby was their grandkid…” she traced a finger over my belly. I heard the smile in those words at the end.
“I remember something about your parents not approving of your lifestyle choices,” I said.
“Mostly they focused on the drugs. I picked up a habit living up to their high standards, no pun intended. I wanted something to take me away from them and everything. You know, my mom actually told me in high school that being Homecoming Queen was like being royalty, and that I needed to set a higher standard? That’s such bullshit!” She laughed.
“Huh… in the alternate reality Venus made, she had me be the alpha bitch, but lose out on being Homecoming Queen because of our rivalry.” I shook my head. “I mean, I guess it’s interesting when you’re in it, but…”
“Yeah,” she agreed. She sat up. “Did you hear that?”
We both swam for the edge of the bed. I nearly fell on my face getting out, but I turned into a flip and landed on my feet. Holly hit the floor hard on the other side. “I meant to do that!” I made my way toward the door, grabbing some knicknack off of a table next to the sofa. I hefted a small metal statue of a fish shaped like a boomerang.
I put my ear to the door. Someone was moving around outside. I stepped back out of the way and pulled it open. I expected someone to jump, but instead a blonde woman fell in. The human companion traveling with the Mobian. The Mobian joined her, stepping over her and helping her up. “Brilliant, thank you,” he said to me. “Oh, you’re…”
I glanced down. Right, naked. I closed the door and glanced out. “What’s going on?”
“Right-” Mobian started
The woman started. “Someone’s out there with a huge sword! They killed someone! Oh dear, you are naked.”
I closed the door. Holly walked over, pulling her robe around herself and handing a gown over to me. I slipped it on. “Thanks.”
“Are you going out there?” she asked.
“I don’t know that I should. We’ve got guests now. We should probably grab some refreshments for them. They seem quite shocked.”
Holly started for the mini fridge in the room but I silently waved her off while heading over for it. “We only have whatever came with the room. It looks like water, algae soda, peeper juice, and Scla. Doesn’t even say a flavor, just Scla.”
“I think water would be best,” Mobian said. He walked over to the door to listen out. I noticed him glancing at myself and the boomerang statue, then over at Holly. “You guests for the celebration?”
“Yes, I don’t believe we met,” Holly said, putting on her accent again. “I’m Holly Snyders, of the Snyders of Hanover. And this is my servant, Delilah.”
The human woman laughed just once when I handed her a water. I set the statue down as well. “Snyders of Hanover?”
“Shh,” the Mobian said. He was listening out. “I think they’ve gone.”
“What was it you saw?” Holly asked. “A murder?”
“I saw it. Someone in a big hooded robe, like a member of a cult. He, or I guess she, was talking with someone and then pulled out a huge sword and slashed the other person with it. I started to leave and then I ran into the Mobian.”
“I was looking for her. I thought she might be in trouble. And you two? Late to be attending your mistress, innit?”
“It is my custom to be available to her in the middle of the night,” I responded.
“Riiiight,” Mobian said. He looked to the side, toward the fireplace. We had a little bit of a fire going, not so much for the heat as the ambiance. Our nightly activities began on the carpet in front of it. There wasn’t anything left to see over there, but hopefully the fire helped with some of the other smell in the place. “We shouldn’t bother you long. We’ll just be going. You have a lovely time at the party. Come on, Lily. We don’t want to interrupt them any more than we need to.”
“Pish posh,” Holly said. “She’s obviously upset. Feel free to stay and calm down a bit.” She leaned down to pat Lily on the shoulder. “You’ll be alright here.” She stood back up. “Delilah, be a dear and check the hallway for the Butler?”
“I’m not sure you should, “ Mobian said, moving in front of the door. “You’re pregnant!”
I slapped him across the face. “Oi! The cheek. A woman puts on a little weight…” I muttered, before pushing him aside and opening the door. I smiled when he couldn’t see me anymore. That was hilarious.
“I’m sorry,” I heard behind me.
Holly laughed. “She is pregnant. That was her idea of a laugh.”
Lily joined in. With the laughter, that is, not the slapping. I shut the door and stepped out, becoming silent on the floor. I looked down the hallway. It ended not far to my left, and across the way was a section of wall between two other doors. To my right was a longer section that I traveled down until I came to a side corridor to my right. I didn’t see anyone, around, but I could smell some blood. I made a note about the blood smelling similar to a human’s, and the possibility of whatever bleeding having a similar composition due to the similar atmospheric conditions. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the air here and at home. A few ratios slightly off, like having more oxygen and less nitrogen, but not enough to kill. So it couldn’t have been the air accounting for the body I saw having crawled part of the way up some stairs. Whatever it was trying to get to was upstairs, not downstairs with all the guest rooms.
I knew that per my role, I should scream. That’s how the story goes, but I decided to do something cheeky, to use old timey servant language. I grabbed a clean portion of the victim’s outfit and gave it a bit of a drag. I put him right at the top of the stairs, then headed back downstairs to scream at the sigh to of a trail of blood having been dragged along the floor.
Of course, that made me the person to keep getting questioned by everyone. Morigoth did it, the Mobian did it, even the Butler did it. I was whisked away to this study, a large, grand room full of books and various recording media with an impressive desk before me made of a rich, dark hardwood. I didn’t tell the story about Mobian and his companion, just that I heard something and my lady told me to go out and check for the Butler. These were true statements, even if there were gaps in between. Mobian’s questioning was the shortest, and really seemed like a way to end my interrogation. Morigoth shook his grey head toward the Butler. “Get the dear some refreshment to help her nerves. The poor thing’s pregnant, after all.”
Mobian winced at that, but I did nothing. Coincidentally, we both took a look around the spacious study.
“My, but you’ve got a lot of stuff,” Mobian noted.
I was curious about the shelves around us. The wall behind the desk and across from that one were both clear of shelves. Behind the desk was a large window and a short liquor cabinet; on the opposite side of the room were paintings and a door we came through. The other two sides were floor to ceiling shelves for the books and so on, with one side even having them angle to create a pair of half-hexagonal nooks with tables and padded chairs.
That part with the nooks seemed like the most obvious section to have something behind it, which meant the better place to hide it was in the other side. Even better would be if the window was fake and a hidden section was back there. And probably the least-suspected place would be the wall we passed through using a door to get into the room. I’d be impressed if he pulled that one off. He deserved to keep a secret if he managed that.
“I own everything on the planet. It’s all mine,” Morigoth said. Groaning, he reached into the desk and pulled out something like a cigar. He took a couple of tries to tear a tab on the end that caused the cigar to light itself.
“It made you some enemies,” Mobian said. “That woman at the party, chief among them.”
Morigoth snorted, blowing a puff of smoke out over his cigar. “Everyone here probly’ has something against me. ‘Cepting yourself, this woman, and that Hanover woman.” He gestured to me in reference to the second in the list. “That woman was Eribelle Dawn. She’s been rallying the other natives of the planet to outbid me after the default on the planet’s debt. Sir Reginald owes me some serious clams from gambling debts. And then there’s the Burgess of Meredith.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not dead. Who was the actual murder victim?” I asked.
Morigoth eyed me. “You can go now, miss.”
Mobian helped me up and ushered me toward the door, whispering, “She was a household servant. Ah, here you are!”
The Butler returned then, with a tray. He looked to Morigoth, then to me, then nodded. “Wait outside, dear, I’ll show you back to your room.”
I indeed did wait, making sure to pick a good spot for the marker before the Butler came back, tray-less. “You’ve upset Master Morigoth,” he said.
“He talked about a threat to his life. All I wanted to know was who actually died,” I pointed out.
“She was one of the servants. The personal laundress of the master. She knows… she knew much of the happenings here.”
We’d gotten a short ways down the hallway when the door slammed open. “Help, hurry!” Mobian called. We came rushing back, with the Butler pulling out a device and pressing a button. We ran back to find Morigoth in his chair, foaming at the mouth and twitching. The Butler attended to him, trying to see what was wrong. He grabbed the device and pressed something else before calling out. “Send a doctor!”
Meanwhile, the cigar rolled lazily away. The Mobian stopped it and picked it up, giving it a sniff. We both turned at the sound of rushing boots. In ran a doctor and a pair of guards, pink-skinned like the Butler who pointed now at Mobian. “What did you do?!”
“I think it was the cigar that did it. Who had access?” The guards pulled swords and surrounded the Mobian, who looked around wide-eyed and lowered the cigar. “I don’t suppose they believe in Due Process on this planet, do they?”
“Put him in the cells!” the Butler ordered. Cheeky bastard, doing the ordering. He calmed down somewhat, brushing a hand over his bald head. “Until the new Mistress determines what to do next, of course.”
The guards led the Mobian off. As for me, I wondered about the popcorn. With everyone preoccupied, I had to show myself out to get back to Holly and Lily. I informed them of the situation and Lily went running off.
“You want to follow her?” Holly asked. “We’re supposed to stick close.”
“Eh, you can if you want. I’m going to work on some alternative ways to get him loose, if need be. Not sure it was the cigar like Mobian things, but its’ not really our business solving this. Still, wish I knew who all’s here an what grudges they had against that guy. He even had something he was holding over the head of the fish, and I don’t mean food.”
Holly had like a sixth sense for when I was ready. She met me down in the basement while I was just finishing my fitting into a bohemian number: loose, frilled tank top, sandals, and a boho skirt with whirling patterns and dots and shit. I looked like a hippie cyborg. Hmm, that’d make a good movie. “Killer Cyborg Hippies!” Sounds very grindhouse. Added bonus, it describes a lot of Republicans who’ve had pacemakers put in. At least, they used to be hippies. They dropped that shit long ago.
“Someone looks like she hangs up signs saying ‘life, laugh, love,’” Holly said. She stepped down in an old flapper dress. Not a bad choice, actually.
“I wanted something with a loose skirt. All the better to air out my ladybits,” I said,
“Yeah, you like airing those. You really surprised the doctor when he saw a pregnant lady packing dong.” She walked downstairs and over to the table with the pocket watch on it. One click and it’ll call Torian for our adventure into the past. “I’m coming with you.” She held up a small piece of luggage.
“Is that why you didn’t mention anything to the rest of the family?” I wondered. I hadn’t said anything about it and neither did she. I grabbed my own bag, which was actually bigger than hers but more of a giant handbag. I needed enough clothes to cover up one or two helpful implements I’d packed.
“You didn’t tell anyone either,” Holly pointed out. “You want to go and do this too, don’t you?”
“Well duh,” I said, pointing to the dress. I’m not running around uncomfortable while killing someone at the sight of some sort of space party in the past. I had some robots finish off a second braid on the right side of my head. “So, our little secret?”
She winked and checked that her Mauser was in her purse. “Our secret. Let’s go to the party then, my dear.” She picked up the pocket watch. I stepped close to her and put one arm around her so that one hand rested on her lower back. I wrapped the other around her hand and, staring into her eyes, clicked the top of the watch.
We were surrounded by a grinding noise and flashing lights, before resting in an amber orb with a raised dais upon which stood The Torian. “Would it be cliché to say it’s about time?”
I shrugged. “Time travel tends to be about time.” Holly and I separated from our embrace, but we held onto each other’s hands.
“We’re ready to go on an adventure!” Holly said, bouncing just a little in her slips.
“Morigoth House, Planet Eidos Alt 9. It’s a celebration,” I recapped.
“Yes, the Morigoth family purchased the last freehold on the planet. They’re celebrating ownership of the whole planet. I can provide you cover as some minor starfaring nobility. Your clothes will do; it shouldn’t be any stranger than any other attire or customs.”
“Oh, we can be sisters!” Holly said. She stopped and thought about it a minute. “…in-laws?”
“Perhaps you should be the noblewoman, and I’ll be your maid,” I said. “A put-upon, pregnant servant can get a lot of sympathy and leeway when she isn’t absolutely invisible.”
“And I get to boss you around?” Holly asked with a grin.
“So much so that you insist I sleep in the room with you, if we’re there that long.” I turned to Torian. “Is this going to somehow take a month?”
“A few days would be pushing it. It’s been so long, I don’t remember how long it took. Remember, you’re not there to solve the murder mystery. That’s going to be solved by the Mobian. You just have to fatally wound him at the end of it.”
“Any tips you can give us?” I asked. “Poisoned food to avoid or anything? Somewhere to avoid getting knifed for being a witness?”
“No, I think you’ll manage just fine without spoilers. Stay close to Mobian and you should be fine. No matter our difference in perception, he’ll move planets to keep the innocent safe. It’s why he’ll never see you coming.”
“I’d rather hope not. That’s the point of the us sharing a room,” I said.
“Are we ready for the party?” Mobian asked.
I looked to Holly. She looked at me and nodded, so I turned back and answered, “Take us to the ball, fair godmother.”
“Ha!” Mobian scoffed at me. He threw a switch on a console and the grinding started up again. When it finished, a white door opened in the side of the sphere we’d traveled in. “There. Keep the pocket watch on you. And remember, it’s a thousand years before you left Earth. Here.”
He hobbled down toward us and held out a card written in alien script that I could read. I took it off him. “Ah, we are formally invited. Will do, Mobian. See you before you know it.”
Mobian looked after us but didn’t say a thing.
We stepped out onto a swanky place, gilded and fancy polished stone with interesting natural patterns. I couldn’t call it marble. “It looks lovely and old! Look at these columns!” Holly said, walking along and running her hands along them. There was music playing, ethereal and broken up with a saxophone-like instrument on occasion. Maybe some other form of horn. I never learned the whole orchestra.
We emerged out of a side corridor. When I turned to look back, Mobian’s temporal vessel was gone. In place of it was a heavy, dark wooden door and frame. When I turned to look back where I was going, Holly had stopped and was looking to me as a bipedal, humanoid alien approached. It was bald, with bright pink skin. It wore a crisp black suit. “Pardon me, I didn’t hear you enter. May I see your invitation?”
“Yes,” Holly answered, “My servant girl has it. Here, Delilah.”
“Coming, my lady,” I said. It wasn’t hard to sound put-upon. I held the invite out. While I did so, Holly winked at me and put her luggage into my grip.
The alien butler looked it over, then put it away into his pocket. “Thank you.” I noticed he was only addressing Holly. “I can arrange separate quarters for your girl.”
“That won’t be necessary. I like to have her attend me when I sleep,” Holly said. She’d slipped into an old-timey accent and sounded like what you’d expect from a movie with a flapper in it.
“That is of course your choice, but the privacy of your affairs may become necessary. Please, let me know if that is the case,” the Butler said. He stepped to the side and beckoned us onward with a little bow. “Please, this way.”
I followed after Holly but when she brought Holly to a larger room with green wallpaper with golden leaf on it and various other well-to-do folks, he stopped me from following. “I’ll show you to your lady’s quarters so you may ready it for her.”
“Thank you, sir,” I said.
“You are quite with child,” he observed as we left the room.
“Yes. Another full-time job,” I said. “But it’s important for me to be near my lady.” And here I’d adopted an attempt at an Irish accent. It wouldn’t matter. They’ve never heard of Ireland on this planet. Hell, at this point in time, mine was the first Irish accent attempted in Modern English. The Irish would be doing bad imitations of me.
We started up some stairs, but the Butler lagged behind. “Please, allow me to take your bag.”
I was surprised, but let him hold onto my giant handbag as we ascended the stairs. Down the hallway, the doors all looked a bit different. Each one had a colored theme and different sorts of alien fauna around it. The Butler stopped at one with a predominantly dark green look to it, as well as a carved animals on it that looked like manatees with gas masks on. “Let me know if your lady shall require additional amenities.”
It was certainly a full room. Thick carpets laid over the floor, a huge fireplace carved to resemble plants climbing up to the ceiling, and a bed big and soft enough to drown in. I took back my bag from him and went over to the nearest table, an intricately-carved small one between two chairs instead of the larger one with a painting. It was from the perspective of someone peeking out of a forest of kelp down a drop-off to a plateau covered in red grass, with the surface of the ocean higher above.
“I’ll let you know when I’m done unpacking so that I can become acquainted with the facilities I will need to make her feel at home,” I said to the Butler. He nodded his head, with just the barest hint of a smile.
He left me to put away the clothes, at which point I snuck some little guide strips onto my person. They would pair with my augmented reality program and create markers that only I would see. In a pinch, they could also boost radio and cell signals, but they were incapable of listening out or providing holograms. They weren’t bugs. To anyone else, they would look almost like strips of gum.
After that, I headed downstairs. I didn’t see the Butler or notice a way to ring him, in case he asked, so I headed over toward the big hall where Holly had been deposited. Along the way, I left a couple markers in case I needed to find my way.
Holly was having a good time, chatting with a large red fish in a closed-off aquarium mounted on treads. The top of the tank came up to her midsection. She actually laughed at their conversation before excusing herself and heading over to meet me. “This is so freaky and cool!”
“Is that a fish in a tank?” I asked. “I mean, treads and so on?”
“Yeah, that’s Sir Reginald. He’s some kind of war hero,” Holly squealed with delight. “I get to say I talked with a fish in a tank. Well, you know, not in a tank tank, but a tank tank!”
I understood what she meant, even if everyone else would look at her funny. “I got our room all packed away. What do I call you as far as all these people are concerned?”
Holly cleared her throat and pressed her hand to her clavicle. “I am Lady Holly Snyders of Hanover, owner of Deep Space Nine.”
I nodded. “Solid, there’s no way they’ll get the reference. Plus, Gene Roddenberry and that pretzel company owe us royalties now.”
“Eh, eh?” Holly pointed at me. “Pretty smart, right?”
I nodded. A waiter passed by carrying guinea pigs in little square, clear containers. We both stared at it as it went before I asked, “Is that food or a guest?”
“I’ve been too afraid to ask,” Holly confessed. “Anyway, is it alright if I keep schmoozing?”
I nodded. “Yeah, for sure. Let me know if you spot the Mobian anywhere. I’m going to get a tour from Jeeves for later.”
“Yeah, I bet he’ll show you around the estate,” Holly said.
“What’s that about?”
“He was looking at you,” Holly said.
“I might could use that, but I’m not going to use that, ya know,” I said. “What about you, anyone trying to marry into the family?”
I followed Holly’s gaze to a centaur-like alien with a bony plate that curved backward and could have been mistaken for a cartoonish hairstyle. “That does it for you?”
“Eh, I could see it. He reminds me of a guy I used to date in high school before shit went belly-up,” she told me. She reached over for my hand and held it briefly. She jerked her hand away when we heard someone yelling at someone else in the room.
“It was a crooked deal and you know it! You have no right to this land!” a being with slick, see-through green skin declared. She was speaking to gray-skinned man with a buzz cut of white hair. “My people do not belong to you.”
“If you insist on that then I will have to ask them to leave my land,” the gray alien said. A pair of guards the same pink skin as the butler began to move up behind the woman, who didn’t notice.
“No need for all that, thank you!” said a third person. He looked human, spoke in some sort of British Isles accent, and was dressed in a brown coat with a rainbow scarf. “I’m the Mobian, so nice to meet you Mr. Morigoth.” He held his hand out for the gray alien. Meanwhile, a blonde human woman came up behind him and quietly ushered her away from the guards, who looked to Morigoth. He waved them away dismissively while having his introduction with the Mobian.
A cough came from behind me.
“I’ll keep an eye out for that, my lady,” I said, looking like I’d been doing my job before turning around toward the Butler. “Ah, there you are. I couldn’t find you, so I thought I would check on my lady here.” Holly had gone back to the party.
“This way, ma’am. Let’s get you acquainted with the relevant portions of the estate.”
I smiled. “Yes, I think I’d quite enjoy seeing the sights with you.”
The pink alien’s cheeks turned a little blueish-purple. A blush. Holly was right. Just hope she doesn’t Captain Kirk a centaur in bed with me.
The two Mobians from different periods of time, one going by the name Torian, were not amused at what I’d done.
Mobian took issue with Torian’s indignation to point out, “You were going to change the future, too!”
“Only in subtle ways that slip past because nobody knows anything! There would have been a Reagan, just a brainwashed Reagan,” Torian answered.
Ignored by both, I commented, “It was a .22 or I’d have cleaned his brains out for sure.”
“Brains…” Mobian said.
“Yes, having them is why I killed the shithead,” I pointed out. Plus, that George Bush guy is shit in elections.
Mobian held up a finger, focusing on Torian. “If his brain is untouched, he can be brought back in a reasonable facsimile of life.”
“We need a mad scientist,” Torian said.
I raised my hand. Both of the time travelers glanced my way, then looked back to each other. “Or a necromancer,” Mobian suggested.
Well, that’s insulting. Don’t they know how much impossible knowledge I’ve shoved into this head so I could break the fundamental laws of physics? They’d rather put their trust in some magic man who waves a wand around and goes “Is this your zombie?”
Torian scratched at his head. “Do you know a necromancer at this time?”
“You have all of time and space at your fingertips and can’t find someone who can bring people back to life?” I figured I’d mock them a bit. There had to be aliens who could do this shit. There’s not a single one of those super advanced species that can handle that problem?
“Traveling to a different time risks allowing the timeline to settle,” Torian explained, “The longer we spend attempting to undo this, the harder it becomes. Most aliens wouldn’t help us.”
“Aren’t you two aliens who look human?” I asked.
Torian pointed at me and laughed. Mobian threw his hands up, then answered, “Such limited senses.”
I rolled my eyes. “I mean, sure, keep insulting me, not like I know where to find aliens with advanced technology and magic on Earth, or necromancers.”
I’d already figured out a possible lead. Some years back, a long-lived superhero named Captain Lightning caused a stir when he accidentally murdered a necromancer around Washington D.C. That’s one potential person, but that’s counting on a lot of variables that could be off. I never looked up the guy’s age or when he came to be living in the District of Columbia.
“If you think on it, she’s the one who has to stay here,” Mobian said.
“Yes,” Torian said, turning and grinning at me.
An invisible force threw me out of the timeship and onto the street. I landed next to some guy who looked down at me, then back at the ship, which was still disguised as a mailbox. “Holy cow,” he said. “I just sent for the mail order bride.”
“You don’t want me,” I said, rolling to my feet and brushing myself off. The guy was so fixated on me, he didn’t notice the mailbox lift off into the sky and disappear in a flash.
I had no idea where they went, but it occurred to me that I knew where they had to go. And soon. I guess they had some hang-up about going back and changing the past they’d already been present for, but Reagan’s body was still here. I turned to the guy who thought I was his mail order bride. “I need your car.”
“I don’t have a car,” he said.
I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. “How did you get here?”
He pointed over to where people were getting onto a bus.
Minutes later, I sped down the road in the hijacked bus, one of the passengers calling out, “Holy shit!”
Spotting traffic up ahead, I decided to go around it in the lanes going the other direction. I swerved past a car heading my way. It honked at us. I honked back and called out, “Learn to drive, asshole!” They just don’t teach troubleshooting anymore. Or maybe they never did. I never actually took a driving course over here, so I don’t know what people have to learn to get a driver’s license. Oh well, I got us around traffic ok. When someone tried to shout that I missed their bus stop, I called back, “I got somewhere else more important to get to!”
“I think I’m having a heart attack!” someone else yelled from the passenger seats.
“Anyone know how to get to George Washington University Hospital?!” I asked.
That made it much easier to find my way. Unfortunately, we picked up first one police cruiser, then a second, third, and so on. There was a street ahead where they tried deploying road spikes, but we had to make a turn, leading to a tense “Whoaaaaa!” from the passengers as we all leaned to our rights to keep the bus from tipping from the turn. We made it through ok, and the GWU was in front of us, along with a small cordon of Secret Service agents and the Presidential Limousine. In the sky, a shooting star, likely Mobian and Torian, descended toward the hospital.
I smiled. “Reminder, passengers, that you should always buckle up for safety.” I clicked my own belt into place, briefly wondering if this thing even had seatbelts for passengers. The agents saw the speeding bus coming for them and ran out of the way, then opened fire. The windshield shattered into a spiderweb of cracks and a couple bullets bounced off my skin. However, the pain was yet to come. The bus plowed into the limo and jerked to a surprising and sudden stop. I stood up, a little shakey after the crash, and bowed to my passengers. “I’ve been your captain, thank you for riding, and don’t forget to tip your wait staff.”
The door didn’t want to open, so I kicked it off its hinges and hopped down to the ground, still recovering my balance a little. I started walking back to the limo, because the bus had stopped about halfway through its front section. Shots still rung out, and at least one agent ran right up to me to try giving me a headache with his Uzi. I smacked it out of his hands and kicked his knee into bending the opposite direction. Another one ran at me with a baton. I grabbed his arm and held it up, gave his armpit a tickle, then twisted his arm until the baton was stuck up his chocolate highway. Is that an accepted term for the butt? Either way, y’all know what I mean. I kicked him where it hurt to dispose of him, meaning the butt-on, and turned to pull open the door to the Presidential Limo. It was empty. Shit.
Reagan couldn’t have gone far. He was dead, after all. He had to still be in the hospital. They’d have him either in the Emergency Room or Operating Room, depending on how soon they checked his vitals. The day suddenly grew dark. Clouds were gathering in the sky, swirling into place above the hospital. Something unnatural was going on here.
I ran in and found myself facing a hunchback and a wolfman immediately. I picked up a nearby rubber plant and smashed it on the hunchback’s head. The wolfman ran toward us, but I gave it a body throw into the wall, where he slid down until his head rested in the worn green upholstery of the seat.
“What are you doing?!” screamed another guy, running toward the hunchback. He just looked normal.
“You must be the mad doctor himself. I’m here to stop you raising the dead!” I pointed at him accusingly.
He brushed aside hair to look at the bleeding scalp of the hunchback. “You dick. I’m here with my friends. They’re getting elective surgery to fix their kyphosis and hypertrichosis!”
“Ooooh… whoops… my bad. Just, this is the emergency room, so y’all are here in the wrong place.”
“Not anymore we aren’t!” the guy yelled up at me. Fair enough. I ran further in.
My instincts were to look for the greatest flurry of activity, but there was a lot of that. Some asshole just tried to ram a bus into the hospital, and that got people moving. I grabbed someone in a wheelchair and dumped him out in case I needed a weapon. I brought it with me as I checked the rooms. Even clocked a nurse who jumped left one room too fast for my liking, but that didn’t have Reagan in it. Hearing thunder shake the building, I decided to stop fucking around and rush the operating theatre. Which I then had to find through a few twists and turns.
I knew I had the right place when I saw more Secret Service agents. I rounded the corner and one of them opened up on me with his Uzi. I ran up and based him to the side using the wheelchair. The other one stuck the barrel of his handgun into my ear. FUCK. My ears didn’t adjust quickly enough to prevent some momentary tinnitus, and the force from the bullet jerked my head hard to the side. I growled and smashed my head sideways into that guys. I dropped the wheelchair and flipped him into it upside down, then kicked it down the hallway.
I kicked open the door to the operating room and ran in. I was back in the timeship. I turned and tried to dive back out, but crumped up painfully against the unseen barrier trapping me on the vessel.
A voice echoed out behind me. “Isolate and quarantine.” Mobian was at his work station, Torian standing behind him. Before I could head toward them, I felt the barrier press in on me, like I was in a small closet. It pulled me to the side, out of the way.
I screamed at them. “He kills millions!”
“It’s necessary!” Mobian answered back. Fucking “heroes”.
“I shall be off until we meet again, Mobian,” Torian said. He turned to walk down the stairs of the dais. Mobian let him get as far as the door, where the “evil” time traveler found out he wasn’t allowed to leave either.
“I’m sorry, but you are too dangerous to go free as well,” Mobian said. “Quarantine and isolate.”
Torian’s arms pressed to his sides, but then he said, “Backdoor Torian 19810330.” Then he pulled his arms away from his sides and adjusted his coat. I felt the pressure release from me as well. Torian turned to me, “I installed a backdoor to release me if Mobian tried to betray me as he did you. Would you kindly deal with him for me?”
I cracked my knuckles… then waved my hands. “Nah. You deal with him.”
Mobian set to work on his console, messing around with it. I felt us move, as much as I could.
Torian snorted in frustration. He twisted the head of his walking cane and pulled out a sword, then started running up the stairs surprisingly fast. The vessel tilted and threw me against the ill-defined, swirly rounded walls of the timeship. Torian flew off the stairs and out the door before everything straightened up.
Mobian, breathing heavily, straightened his hair. “We’re no longer in 1981, so there is nothing else you can change there. Are you going to behave if I take you home?”
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared daggers at him. “I originally worked it out with Torian that he’d return me to when we left, but there was an angry mob outside my place of business. And you agreed to let me kill Hitler and steal Spanish treasure.”
“That was before you broke our agreement and killed Ronald.” Mobian made a big show of pushing one button in particular.
I appeared in my store again. It was a couple of weeks after I’d left. There wasn’t anyone around. I walked to the door, cautiously, and wandered out. There was so much more internet activity, everywhere. The streets seemed even more deserted than usual. The news said something about a mysterious disease spreading around the world, a pandemic. Authorities urged everyone to stay inside and stay away from each other.
Something those time travelers did must have messed with the timeline. Only explanation. They brought Reagan from the dead and it caused a future global pandemic.
It won’t be said that the 1970s is capable of breaking me. My first thought was I could just wait things out until Mobian shows up in 1981 for Reagan’s assassination and meet him there. The problem there is I was working off the assumption he betrayed and abandoned me. I knew something was off about him, and my trust issues automatically decided he had decided I was expendable. It’s just weird that he didn’t have much to tell me.
But I didn’t like the thought of being without my family for so long. I know, it’s kind of lame, but I love them. I could be having fun in the 1970s, rigging things in my favor for the future, but instead I hate the idea of not seeing my daughter for six years. I didn’t even work out anything with my girlfriend Medusa to sleep around if I got stranded in this kind of situation. Meryl Streep’s 26 in 1975, and I could be getting a piece of that!
If I’d been anyone else, I’d have had no choice but to spend years learning how to properly sing and making my living as a time-displace lounge singer who gets rich off my extensive collection of future music until the day I can reclaim my life. But I knew I had better options. After a few days spent disco dancing and thinking up a plan, I came to the conclusion I needed to hitch a ride with a time traveler. And the way to do that was to disrupt the timeline. I needed to kill Richard Nixon.
The thought settled into my head and I started planning it out when I heard a ruckus from outside the bathroom stall I was sitting in. Bathrooms are still a place that provide me with inspiration and reflection. Also, a few phone numbers to call if I want a good time. I was even scratching one or two in there with a pocketknife I’d taken off a would-be mugger. I kept it ready while I tugged my panties up, prepared for a fight.
“Come out!” said a British man’s voice.
I kicked the door open and declared, “I’m a lesbian!”
Mobian, the younger version, stood there, looking at me. “What are you doing here, Psycho Gecko?”
“I should ask you the same question. This is the women’s room,” I gestured around to the lack of urinals. Seeing him notice the knife, I closed it up and slipped it into my back pocket.
“It’s 1975!” The younger-looking time traveler said.
“You brought me here,” I told him.
In the stall next to me, someone farted.
Mobian’s face wrinkled up. “Excuse you.”
A voice from the stall called out, “Excuse yourself, titfucker. This is the girls’ room. You piece of shit, you better get out of here before I flush you down the pipes.” Another fart.
I waved Mobian to the door. “Out. I’ll be out in a second.”
“You better not think of escaping,” Mobian said.
I held up my hands. “I’m thinking about washing, you nasty fucker.” Gross, running out without washing my hands. What kind of person does he think I am?
He waited right outside the door for me, with questions. “How did you get here?”
“I told you, you brought me. But an older you.” The club was dark, so I turned to a wall and used my eyes to project an image of the older Mobian onto it like a slideshow.
“Torian,” muttered Mobian like a curse.
“He’s… not me,” the time traveler said.
“He had your timeship,” I said, switching to the interior of the timeship I’d been brought in.
Mobian grumbled to himself before telling me, “He is me, but he isn’t me. He’s… there’s a reason I look different sometimes. It’s not just my physical presence. Each reset changes me, brings different aspects of my personality to the forefront. This man, Torian, is the result of the process going wrong. He is me, but his memories and personality aren’t right. They’re jumbled and twisted around. He opposes everything I stand for, and I hate him for it.”
“And because you’re his past, he can’t kill you or something,” I suggested.
Mobian ran a hand through his hair. “We don’t know. Neither of us knows which is the past self of the other. I don’t remember being the Torian, but he doesn’t seem to remember what I’ve done, who I’ve met. Trades on my name though, bloody annoyance.” He looked at the image, shaking his head, then turned to refocus on me. “You said he brought you here. Why?”
“We were going to disappear Jimmy Hoffa. Something about him having an artifact giving him telepathic powers. Turns out, it’s implanted in his head, and it’s strong enough to make me stop. Then these pair of guys show up with business suits and gas masks on. Hoffa made me sleep, and they were all gone when I woke up.”
“He planned to meet with them?” Mobian asked.
“I don’t think so. He didn’t like telling me what we were doing on all the stops, but it seemed to catch him by surprise, too,” I said.
“All the stops,” Young Mobian repeated. “Tell me about the rest.”
We had to move outside to tell the story, but I knew a place that was open all night where we could find some donuts and coffee. After I finished, Mobian sat back and sipped on his coffee. After calmly setting it down, he leaned forward and said, “And you just went along with it without questions?!”
I shrugged. “Contract killing, you know? Normally, I like to be well-informed, but the nature of the business is you take money and you kill someone.” I leaned forward and set my hand on his. “Hey, it’s not about their life story… just their death story.”
That didn’t reassure young Mobian. “Right, well we better go find what Torian is up to and when. I have an idea when to look.” He stood up and pulled his hand away from mine. “Please don’t touch me.”
“I was trying to be reassuring.”
I told him all about Torian’s concern with Reagan’s assassination, so I didn’t expect a surprise. We showed up in 1981, with Mobian declaring, “Something’s wrong. Out of place.”
“Torian said John Hinckley Jr. had been convinced not to shoot Reagan,” I volunteered. “I’ll gladly shoot him instead. Wouldn’t put much stock in his surviving.”
“No,” Mobian said. “You cannot do that to time.”
“Bullshit, time guy. I let you talk me into sacrificing my sanity to your status quo. I’ve regretted it ever since, and I’m still not the monster who sacrificed so many people to a slow, painful death by disease the way that blob of flesh and senility is going to. Reagan killed millions by his neglect.”
Mobian locked eyes with me. “I’m sorry, I truly am.”
I shrugged and sat down on the shiny floor of his timeship. “Have fun stopping Torian without me.”
“How much do you want?” he asked. “You’re for sale. What’s your price? A run through the cabins of the Titanic? The holds of the lost Spanish treasure galleons? A rifle through the salvage piles of 2277? You’re a heartless killer for sale. How much?”
I considered rushing him and putting him on his ass, but his vessel had ways to keep me locked inside. It would make no sense for him to trust me and bring me along to help stop whatever was going on if I did that. I smiled at him. “I’ll take the Spanish treasure galleons for pay, sure, but throw in killing Hitler and we have a deal.”
He eyed me for a moment, then nodded. “Fine, in the bunker. A little early won’t hurt. I mean it won’t hurt the timestream. He will hurt plenty, won’t he?” Mobian smiled at his joke. Just keep smiling. We’re all fine now.
With that agreement rather tenuously made, we headed out. Once he left the confines, the glowing orb we had traveled in became a mailbox. I hopped onto a rooftop which revealed we were either in Washington D.C. Or close enough to see some of the famous buildings of that city.
I still had my lone holodisc, useful for a disguise. Just the one projector can create problems if anything gets in the way. I popped it on as best as I could, knowing this was going to be scrutinized a lot more than the Cooper heist. There would be a lot more people around, and my ass wouldn’t spend so much time in a seat.
“It is the day of,” Mobian said. “Hinckley is in the hotel around the corner. Reagan will be here later today.”
“Why’s Hinckley even here if he was talked out of it?” I asked.
Mobian shrugged. “The an aberration is present, the easier it is to detect and the more time you have to stop it.”
“Then why’d he give me so long to hunt the Zodiac?” I asked, hopping down beside the time traveler.
Mobian smiled. “Simple. He didn’t know who Zodiac was.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Because I don’t know who Zodiac was,” he answered, setting off down the street. It took a moment, but it was actually a good answer considering the weird time shenanigans going on here. And then we turned a corner and there was a damn limousine out front.
“This is cutting it kinda close, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Reagan’s inside for a meeting. We have plenty of time for our own,” Mobian answered.
Despite the security measures, we had enough leeway to make our way up to the rooms. It’s a good thing Mobian knew the way with his freakish memory, because we were still a ways off from any internet I could use. We made our way up to the room. Mobian pressed up against the wall and whispered to me, “How do you want to do this?”
I raised a finger to my lips and quietly answered, “I have an idea.” I knocked on the door. “Hey, Mobian, you son of a bitch! Open up!”
After a minute, a voice that wasn’t Torian’s called out, “I think you have the wrong room.”
“I know that wrinkly old asshole’s in there. I’ve waited six years to see him again!”
The door opened quickly, and Torian looked out at me. “What are you doing? Keep it down!”
I pushed my way in and pulled the door closed behind me. “That’s all you have to say after abandoning me?”
“You seem to have gotten by just fine. How did you know I would be here?” he asked. I looked around the crowded hotel room. Jimmy Hoffa sat on the bed near John, the assassin. I noted the absence of the two men with the gas masks. “What happened to your friends with the masks?”
Hoffa smiled. “The old guy made me a better offer.”
“Indeed,” Torian said.
I put my hands on my hips. “Well, it looks like you’ve figured out the situation with Hinckley here, so I guess the only thing left is to take me home, right?”
Torian smiled and nodded. “Yes, I’ll show you out.”
I let him lead the way and reached behind me. He exited and I quickly shut the door behind them, turning and throwing the knife. Hoffa’s head had started to gleam with purple light, but that faded when his hands came to his chest and he felt the pocketknife’s handle protruding.
“Don’t do that,” I said, but he went ahead and pulled it out, causing blood to gush. He fell forward, painting the bed blood red.
Hinckley stared down at him, then up at me. He jumped over and reached for the nightstand next to the bed. I was there in a moment to grab the gun from his hands and pistol whip him upside the head. When I opened the door, I had a fully-loaded .22 LR revolver in my hand and a would-be assassin thrown over my shoulder. Mobian looked up at me from where he leaned on the wall, then pointed down the hallway to where old man Torian was running away faster than I’d have thought he could.
“He,” Mobian gasped. “Sucker. Punched. Cane.”
I pointed back into the room with a thumb. “Well, I took care of Hoffa. And this guy.”
Mobian reached out and leaned on my arm. “Right. Downstairs.”
That’s how we got to be in a crowd that nobody in the Secret Service checked as ol’ Ronnie Reagan walked out of the hotel to get into Chair Force One or whatever they call the primary Presidential ass-mover. The holodisc presented the illusion of an awake Hinckley taking aim and firing. Mobian and I fled with some of the others in the crowd when he got dogpiled by a couple of people. The shots went off, Reagan was rushed away in the limo, and I went with Mobian to where he parked his timeship.
“We still need to pick up Hoffa,” he told me, then stopped dead when Torian stepped out from behind the mailbox. He asked his amnesiac past or future self, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here because there has been a change in the timestream beyond what we both planned. I would have replaced him, but there would still have been a President Reagan in history,” Torian said. “Can’t you feel it?”
Mobian stood there a moment, then turned and glanced at me. “What did you do?”
I smiled. “You didn’t have a problem when it was millions of people dead from AIDS or that Brady guy getting his brains blown out. But one slight adjustment in aim to the side, and suddenly you’re outraged.”
Mobian put his hands to his head. He turned to look at Torian, then back at me. Torian approached and raised his cane to point at me. “Have you any idea what you’ve done?”
I folded my arms across my chest. “I killed Ronald Reagan. Now, which one of you’s giving me a lift to the new future?”
July 30th, 1975. A day that will live in “Meh”famy. That’s when Mobian dropped me off. The where was some place called Bloomfield.
“You should do the talking,” he said as we walked. “My accent won’t meet their expectations.”
“Who? About what?” I asked. We were walking along a city street. “You need to give me adequate information here. Isn’t this stuff really time sensitive?”
Mobian’s cane clicked along the sidewalk beside him as we walked. We’d parked the timeship by a dumpster. I insisted it should be disguised as a phone booth that no longer functions. Mobian didn’t get it, but it seemed innocuous enough of a disguise that he went with it, and something way more plausible to exist over here. I guess he could have left it invisible, but then how would we find it again?
The time traveler looked into the sky, taking in the warm weather. “We are going to meet a couple of men named Anthony Provenzano and Anthony Giacalone.”
“Must have been a sale on first names,” I commented.
“They are members of the predominant organized crime outfit of this time. They are meeting today with James Riddle Hoffa.”
“Wow, Hoffa? You should have just said the name. I’d have had a little better idea what we’re doing. Need me to whack these guys? Put them on ice? Give ’em a pair of concrete shoes? Not sure that’s how things were supposed to go. What do you think, how are we gonna fuck this pig?”
“Fuck this pig?” he asked.
“Stomp this puppy. Pop this pimple. Pitter patter, let’s get at ‘er. How you want them dead?”
“No, they don’t die. That is outside the scope of our operation. James Hoffa finds himself in possession of an artifact he is not supposed to have. The group we are working against gave it to him for some reason I have not yet determined. It spreads a subtle psionic suggestibility field. I believe it takes practice to wield effectively, but a master can convince even the most obstinate to change their mind. You need to convince Mr. Provenzano and Mr. Giacalone that Mr. Hoffa is not coming. Then, steal this artifact from Mr. Hoffa, kill him, and leave we shall leave his body somewhere it won’t be found.”
“I have an idea or two there that makes use of your timeship, if that’s acceptable,” I told him. I was thinking we might dump his body off far enough back that he ends up in a museum. Someone thinks they’re putting an early cave human on display, turns out they’ve got Jimmy Hoffa’s body right there where anyone can view it. I don’t know if I’d call it the perfect crime, but I find it hilarious.
Unfortunately, having not downloaded the entire internet of this Earth into my brain, my ability to look up anymore about Jimmy Hoffa’s life and disappearance put me at a disadvantage. That’s something I made a note about, because Mobian’s compartmentalization and odd behavior have stuck out to me. Even made sure to eat separately, to keep myself from being poisoned. It’s the 70s, though. Could be all kinds of stuff in the food around here. I was going to make a joke about mercury or lead, but some of the pumps I saw the other day a year ago went out of their way to show off if they had unleaded gasoline. Just think, someday the kids I saw walking along those streets might grow up to complain about a First Lady telling them to eat their veggies instead of a block of heavy metal.
Anyway, that’s why I had to ask where we were even meeting the Anthonies.
“The Red Fox,” Mobian said. He stopped in front of a building and pointed to a sign on the wall.
Ah, we were there. The Red Fox. I looked over at Mobian. “Any preferences how I get rid of them?”
“Try to keep the timeline as intact as possible. No deaths, no major industries.” He nodded and held the door open for me.
I thought about it, and headed in to see- holy fucking shit, it was like turning on an episode of that Sopranos show. I swear, one of those guys just played himself on it. Neither was young or all that fun to look at, so I set the whole “Seduce and KO,” tactic on the backburner. I’m not ruling it out. If they’re connected, they now a pretty young thing like myself isn’t above playing around to get access to money.
“Hello, sirs,” I said, walking over.
“Look at the flower child here, Tony,” said the skinny one.
“This ain’t Woodstock, sweetheart,” the fat one said.
“Yeah, I know.” Look at that, knocking them the fuck out moved on up the queue fast there. Practically zoomed to the front of the line. I leaned forward to put my hands on their able, coincidentally giving them both a view of the ladies. “Mr. Hoffa sent me. He wants me to make sure you understand his commitment to this project. Flower child, eh? Who wants to plant a few poseys?”
I’d say they were gentlemen after that, but they weren’t. They drove me over to some little motel, all the while talking about the things they wanted to do to me. The Fat Tony was like, “I wanna pick you up and just use you to jerk myself off inside you.”
Skinny Tony had different preferences. “I hear you hippie broads do fun new stuff. Every had a backdoor man?”
They walked me into the room together. I walked out a lone a couple of minutes later. Skinny Tony had shards of a broken lamp in his hair and was pinned under the bulk of Fat Tony, whose nose was about as sideways as I could make it. In light of Mobian’s wishes, they were both alive and would still recover. They wouldn’t like it. And if these mob boss types were anything to go by, they’d be none too eager to tell their guys about the time a lil lady like myself kicked their asses hard enough to make them taste hemorrhoids. I’m getting real good at tying people up with bedsheets these days.
Mobian was waiting for me back at the restaurant when I pulled up in the car I decided to borrow from the Tonys. “Everything go well?” he said, smiling.
I raised my eyebrows. “Nothing permanently debilitating. When’s Hoffa get here?”
Mobian looked to the clock on the wall. “Soon.” We sat around waiting, having a drink while we were at it. I still had some petty cash on me from the hunt for the Zodiac. I knew Hoffa walked in from how Mobian held his hand over my wrist, but didn’t touch it. He looked to me and whispered, “Not yet.”
I leaned in close. “Say the word.”
“He has to make a call first. Look and see if you spot anything strange on him,” Mobian suggested.
“Strange how?” I asked. “I’m new to the 70s.”
“Look for something emitting bright lights or shiny with gold. These things are often flashy. There may be gems.”
Hoffa checked around the restaurant, then sat down at a table to wait. He gave it about 10 minutes, then got up and walked to use the phone in the back of the place. Mobian nodded. “The word.”
I got up and walked over to Hoffa. “Hey there. I got a message for you from the Tonys.”
“Stop,” he said. His forehead glowed subtly, like it had a square Z made of cubes out of Tetris, but purple. My mind burned. I winced, growling. “Stop!” he said again, another pulse of violet bursting from Jimmy’s forehead and the strange thing inside. My feet planted firmly in the ground.
“Where are they?” he asked. The question gave me a migraine, like a spike driven into my brain. Which is inaccurate, come to think of it. Having had knives and such stabbed into my skull before, I can confirm that you don’t actually feel pain in the grey matter. The brain organ lacks pain receptors on it. The skin, muscle, and skull can feel plenty of pain, but not the thinking shroom itself.
“Tied up in a motel room,” I told him for whatever reason.
“The artifact is inside you,” Mobian said, stepping up behind me. “Truly impressive.”
Being a homo machina comes with awesome natural defenses. Being such a prominent killer means if I run into a telepath, it’s usually someone really powerful.
Jimmy Hoffa sized up Mobian. “You’re that British Friend of Dorothy they told me about.”
I looked over at Mobian, who frowned and asked. “Who are they?”
I felt them approach before I could see them. I turned to look as a couple of businessmen walked in wearing gas masks. Didn’t have a clue who they were, but I figured I’d wait until everyone got close. Based on context clues, I figure I’d been told to stop walking, not to stop punching. I’m eager to get started.
“No violence,” Hoffa’s voice said, with a feeling like things were bursting in my skull. “Go ahead on and sleep,” he said.
That was, without a doubt, the most angry I’ve ever fallen to sleep. I was so damn mad, I woke up swinging. Punched a poor waitress right between the legs and doubled her over. Lucky I didn’t lose a hand in there.
“Stupid drunk bitch!” she said. “Get out of here, fucking loser peacenik druggie!”
I believe the 70s and its people have gotten entirely the wrong impression of me, but I wasn’t inclined to explain at the time. I jumped up from where I’d been stowed in the women’s bathroom. “Those guys earlier, with the gas masks, and the other guy, where did they go?”
“What gas masks?” she said. The woman was holding a mop and raised it up as if she would hit me with it.
“What about the old British dude with the cane?”
“That weirdo. He and the other guy left hours ago.”
I cocked my head to the side and rushed outside. It was night now. So… yeah. My stolen car was still there, so I hopped and tore off for where we’d left the timeship. I stopped and ran around to the back of that store, but the phonebooth was gone. I felt around the space hoping it was invisible instead. When that didn’t work, I opened the dumpster and called out, “Mobian! You in there?”
I got no response. Not from him, at least. I came up with my own when I realized I seemed to have been stranded in 1975 with no clue what happened to Mobian. I wish I could say it was creative, but the jist of it is a lot of “Fucks” and throwing the dumpster over the building.
Even though I’d immediately become fascinated by the old fashion of the 70s, I have to admit I don’t know why people thought women needed jeans to stop halfway up our bellies. I can get the bell bottom part. I like flare-leg jeans, so I get it. But whoever had the idea that pants should be part corset up top must have hated us. It’s ugly as fuck.
I used some of the money from the heist to pay for the fashion, and a few other things I know that will age well. I’m trying to do something with the rest through a bank, a law firm, and a set of instructions on how to invest. They are still looking for D.B. Cooper, but, come on, it’s not like these guys can check all the money everywhere. California’s closer to Washington, but this is in the age before internet and wireless connections. I’m surprised the cops manage to catch anyone at all. No DNA analysis, no satellites that can pick people up from space.
Well, that also makes it a bit tougher for me to pull off my next trick. I’ve been here a little bit and it’s difficult fishing for a serial killer. Fishing, yeah. I stopped by Mobian’s little hideaway in a vacant house he’s decided to borrow in San Francisco. It looks like it’s all cheery and clean, but opening the door either puts you in a land of dust and emptiness, or in his spaceship. It depends on if he wants to let you in at the moment.
He let me in for me to give him an update. I crossed the portal into his weird, giant room room that doesn’t seem to have a place to pee. “Why can’t you just drop me off at this guy’s house and let me stab him in the ass until he dies from catastrophic butt failure?”
“I have traveled far and wide across the cosmos and time itself, and I have never seen anyone die from catastrophic butt failure,” Mobian said. He sighed, and repeated his excuse from when we first landed a few days ago. “I cannot bring you directly to him because I do not know who he is.”
“But you know someone saved him from dying at the appropriate time, somehow,” I said.
“I am connected to the stream of time through my vessel, but it is one of instinct, not intellect,” he told me.
“Well, no go last night either. This would be a lot easier if you let me hire teams of people to be potential victims.”
He shook his head. “I trust you to deal with the Zodiac. No one else need die.”
I rolled my eyes, but there wasn’t much else to do. I had to make these trips in person because he doesn’t give me his timeship’s number or have a cell phone himself. Wouldn’t do any good here and now anyway if he did. No wonder Nixon figures he can get away with lying to people. Geez, Nixon. He seems so quaint compared to what’s coming in the future. I wonder if I can sneak off to New York City and plant a certain real estate con artist in the ground while I’m here. Nothing of value to the rest of the world would be lost, after all.
But no, I’m here in San Francisco. Didn’t even wear a flower in my hair like the hippies. If I thought people were terrible before, they’re way worse at this time. No wonder some asshat with a gun who can’t spell managed to become a terror to people. Yeah, I said it. Not like Zodiac’s reading this anyway.
I had the day to sleep, which I did at Mobian’s abandoned house. I have a comfy padded coffin in one of the rooms because I felt like stealing it and sleeping in it. I stay in there, breathing comfortable thanks to all the air holes, and pop out of it when my alarm goes off to signal night. Zodiac likes killing at night. There’s water and power, too, because just try and keep me out. So I got up, got ready, and headed out and started walking, looking for another isolated lover’s lane.
Zodiac is an egotistical guy. Thinks himself superior to the cops, and they didn’t dispel that by catching him. He might not have changed his MO that much because of it. Or maybe he’s just smart enough to change it some. Either way, there’s not many serial killers who can resist a lone woman hitchhiker. They don’t even realize at this point about the Highway Serial Killings. It’s a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not likely to be the same person. I may have even contributed to it some. But by the time 2009 rolls around, the FBI will be tracking 500 murders, some serial killings, all along highways in the United States, mostly women.
I feel it’s a pretty safe assumption that Zodiac will try and murder a lone woman hitchhiker traveling at night. Unfortunately, the assumption has been safe in the sense that he hasn’t gone after me yet.
This night, I decided to bring a bit of futuristic fashion to the past. Cutoff short-shorts. Bam. Showing off these legs might do the trick. Doused myself in plenty of bug spray to keep the mosquitoes off while I hiked out into the middle of nowhere. “Sure hope nobody stops and tries to kill me,” I said to myself.
I walked for a good long while, then turned around and started back. I was still well outside the range of any street lights when a pair of the headlights passing by stopped in front of me. I couldn’t see anything of the person when they stepped out. “Are you meeting someone out here, miss?” asked the person.
I shook my head. “No. It’s just me by myself.”
He shot me five times in the chest. Darn headlights. I stumbled a little, but didn’t go down. That didn’t stop him from hopping back in the car and gunning it right for me. He only ended up winging me when I threw myself to the side, but it let me see why he didn’t stop to confirm the kill. There was another car behind him, and this one stopped.
“Hot damn, girl, are you alright?” asked the man.
I jumped up, groaning a little at the pain, but mostly unharmed. The bastard who shot me had ruined my shirt with bullet holes, but I was fine. “I need your car.”
“Sure, let me help you to the passenger seat, I’ll take you to the hospital,” he said as I walked over and pulled him away from the driver’s side. I slid into the seat and sped off after my shooter. I saw him up there, speeding away. He saw me, too. He ended up skidding to a halt at the top of a hill and jumping out. I didn’t stop, instead embedding the one I was driving into his such that he wasn’t getting away soon. He opened fire before I even got out, giving me a sharp headache as one of the bullets rang my bell.
“What. The. Fuck?!” He fired desperately, missing a lot. Maybe it was the way my eyes glowed red. It could have been the way I held up a hand in front of me and closed the palm after he shot at my center of mass. When I opened it, a bullet fell out onto the road. The gun clicked empty soon afterward.
“Oh please tell me you’re who I think you are,” I said.
Without any better ideas, he ejected the mag and slid another in. The slide of his gun came forward just in time for him to instead try to smash me on the head with the bottom of the grip. I caught his arm. I didn’t overwhelm him all at once, preferring to keep him close. “What are you?” he asked.
“I’m the one who sends the souls of the dead on to the afterlife. Are you the one who meant to make slaves of them?”
I tossed him over to where the messed-up headlights could show him off. A curly-haired guy about the right age, but the lack of a definite photo complicated stuff. I asked again. “Are you Zodiac?”
He nodded, then raised the gun and shot me between the eyes. I growled as the bullet ricocheted into the air. “Why won’t you die?!” he practically begged. I added a rough squealing noise, like an alarm siren, coming from my body just to help freak him out more. I walked over, taking my time. Zodiac’s aim wobbled, but then he stuck the gun under his own chin and closed his eyes. It couldn’t have been a pleasant surprise when I tilted the gun and all he did was blow off his lower jaw and lip.
I took the gun from him and lifted him into the air with one hand, watching him gurgle and squirm. “You shot me too many times to get away with a one-bullet suicide there, Zodiac. Tell me, are you a swinger?”
I grabbed him by the back of his underwear and proceeded to do a wedgie version of that astronaut test where they spin you around to see how long before you pass out.
The forensics will look a bit off, but there’s no denying he shot himself with his own hand. They probably won’t know what to do about his remaining eye being so wide and scared, like maybe he snuck up on himself. I didn’t have more time to make it as painful for him as it should have been. The guy I carjacked was probably running this way, and I’d left it in too poor of a shape to drive myself out of there. Same with Zodiac’s car. So I was walking again, this time knowing I’d be leaving San Francisco soon.
I didn’t give Mobian the update right away. I showered and hopped into my coffin for a good day’s rest, then hopped out and decided to enjoy myself the next night, followed by a bit of light graffiti. Hopefully, people in The Castro will remember those weird messages about “Condoms keep you off the GRID,” in another decade.
I’d barely finished the last of those when a bright light appeared overhead and I found myself in Mobian’s timeship again. He looked down at me, maybe disappointed. I crossed my arms and looked him in the eye defiantly. He didn’t say anything about the graffiti. Instead, he gave his cane a tap on the floor. “Your hunt went well the previous evening. My timeship felt the disturbance settle.”
“Dead as disco’s gonna be,” I said.
“Quite. Are you well rested?” he asked. Upon my nod, he continued, “Good. Let us continue our excellent journey.”
“Party on, dude,” I told him, to his continued confusion.
I have an official costume for the alter egos of Trouble and Strife, in case I need a more real way to play dress-up. Strife was easy to make, but Trouble’s shows skin, so it’s missing some of the protections of my other armors. That’s the price of vanity, I guess. At least I’m not zipping around in some spandex-looking costume that covers so little it couldn’t possibly function as armor. I had to let Qiang’s armor out, too. She’s growing like the weed I have growing back in the greenhouse. It’s for medicinal purposes. I need it for my seething hatred of mankind.
I got my store all repaired. Again. I was even in the middle of putting some gizmos on the shelves when some weird old guy walked in in some sort of brown suit and cane. I’ve gotten better at recognizing folks around here, but he didn’t ring any bells except the one attached to the door. “Hello there!” I called out. “What can I do for you?” I stepped over to a section with auto parts and picked up a belt. “Car trouble?” I hopped over to another with handcuffs and ballgags. “Trying to coral some rambunctious grandkids?” I stopped by another shelf and picked up one of my cybernetics off it. “Need a new spine?”
He chuckled and spoke with a British accent. “My spine is fine, thank you. I came to meet with you. It has been a long time, Gecko.”
“Oh?” I put the spine down and leaned on one of my countertops, skeptical and wondering how this bozo got my name. Apologies to the clown. “So long I don’t remember who you’re supposed to be, or why you know to call me that.”
“Time travel makes for unusual acquaintances, but I am the same Mobian who commands the power to travel time and space.” He held his arms out to show off. Yeah, dude looks pretty old. One good shove might break his hip. But of all the folks on the heroic side of the aisle, he’s one of the few I don’t have a lot of enmity with. We don’t get along, but he doesn’t seem to take it personal and neither do I. I guess part of that is because even that time I had the option to keep my young self from being tortured, he did a good job of convincing me it would be for the worst to stop it. Man, I really should hate this guy. Might better check my head, make sure he didn’t mess with my brain, too.
“Wow,” I said, looking him over. “You aged like fine milk.”
He smiled. “You’re going to be a pain in my ass. I think I’ll enjoy this. I need your help.”
“Really, o master of time and space? You need my help for something. What’s got you coming to…” I flicked a hand back at the same time I activated some systems I’d painstakingly installed in the store. A large monitor came down, with balloons and confetti falling down nearby. The monitor came on, revealing a video of myself in my armor declaring. “The Great and Devious Psychopomp Gecko, Empress of Earth!”
“Use that a lot as a businesswoman?” he said, checking out the banners that also unrolled on the walls.
“I’m figuring anyone like you finds me here ought to get the full megalomaniacal treatment. A reputation like mine is a lot to live up to. People come here expecting to get Gecko, I’m gonna give ’em some Gecko.”
“Is that what they call it here?” Mobian asked.
“Hush, this isn’t about you. Anyway, why are you here?” Another signal caused the banners and monitor to retreat back into their hidden positions. The balloons and confetti fell behind the counter, so they’ll be easy to clean up.
“I’m here because we can help each other. I have a need for your abilities. First, we need to stop by 1971. A man has been killed before his time. He was going to hijack an airplane and escape by parachute. The airline would go out of business eventually and the industry would put safety measures into place that would prevent worse for a time.”
I searched those details enough to figure out what he was referring to. “D.B. Cooper?”
Mobian nodded. “That is what he would have been called. If you aid me, you may keep the money. I do not have need of it.”
“Weird thing to ask me to do for airline safety,” I said.
The Mobian waved that off. “Sometimes a shepherd needs to smack his flock to keep them in line. This hijacking must happen for the good of future events.”
“You sound a lot different from the Mobian I know,” I said. “Exactly how long ago was it you and I last met?”
He didn’t answer the question. “After that, I need you to visit someone a few years later, in 1974. A man is supposed to die, suddenly. If he hadn’t, he would have claimed more victims. It’s as simple as that. He had a funny name like you; he called himself Zodiac.”
Holy shit. Mobian wants me to kill the Zodiac Killer? That’s fucking awesome.
The aged time traveler continued, “We don’t have far to go after that. A year later, a crooked labor union leader went to meet with members of this nation-state’s mafia to discuss a power bid. He was meant to disappear from history, but someone changed it. I need you to change it back.”
I held up a hand like a student asking a question. “Yo, how can someone be changing the timeline. You made it seem like that’s really tough to do. And what exactly are we keeping on track?”
“These events don’t affect your past, but they are important and connected. It’s for the best I don’t tell you why. For my final task, I need you in 1981. Someone kidnapped a disturbed individual. I need you to rescue him and make sure he accomplishes what he is meant to do: attempt to assassinate the President of the United States.”
That one was easy enough to trace back. “You want me to make sure that someone shoots Ronald Reagan.”
Mobian nodded just once.
I thought about it. “Just to make sure whatever you’re planning works right, I should probably go ahead and make sure the assassination sticks this time, right?”
“No,” Mobian answered.
“You say that, but, like, Reagan could always use a few extra holes in him.”
“I think I heard he falls down at one point. He might get accidentally kicked a bunch of times in all the commotion,” I suggested.
“That is not what I need,” Mobian insisted.
I pouted and crossed my arms over my chest. “Fine! But one of these days, you’ll be sorry I didn’t kill Ronald Reagan when we had the chance.”
“Don’t get angry with me, you enjoyed Zombie Reagan,” Mobian said.
“Zombie Reagan?” I asked.
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with. Yet. Now, do I have your cooperation? I believe you are uniquely talented and uniquely interested.”
I shrugged and walked around behind my counter finally. “I dunno, not even going to let me shoot Ronnie… besides, this doesn’t seem like it makes sense. I thought time couldn’t be changed for real? Or something? I swear, you come up with different rules about time travel each time I deal with you.”
“The rules of the time stream are rarely consistent. The closest analogy would be like traveling down the Mississippi in a steam ship.” When he saw me raise my hand again, he added, “I knew a steamboat pilot.” I dropped the hand, my thirst for knowledge of British time traveling experts in the Mississippi river now quenched like a person falling into the Mississippi.
I leaned on the counter as I thought it. The job was the reward here. Taking a shot at Reagan, pulling off D.B. Cooper’s heist, killing the Zodiac Killer, whatever important person the other guy was… this is some pretty cool stuff to do and add to my reputation. Mobian’s acting a little weird, though. I’ll have to keep an eye on him if I do this.
“If we do this, are you going to drop me off pretty soon after we leave?” I asked. “I have someone I need to look after.” Qiang’s gotten real good at ordering food for herself. She’s either a great student without me having to push her, or she’s awesome at hiding notes from teachers. Either way, I hate neglecting her. I can’t very well take her along on my many dangerous adventures, though.
“That’s agreeable to me, yes.”
Another thought popped into my head. “Also, we need to make sure we don’t stop off during any nights with a full moon.”
Mobian frowned. “Should not be a problem, but may I ask why?”
I rolled my eyes. “I just have a condition. It won’t be a problem, just no full moons.” Reindeer, the weredeer who comes out on the full moon to save people from danger, would throw a wrench into all of this somehow. If IQ was actually a thing, I’d suspect people lose a good fifteen IQ points the moment they turn hero. It’s sad to see myself turn into such a mindless creature once a month. On the other hand, I wish I had her thighs and ass, and that’s something my girlfriend agrees with.
Before I could formally agree, I caught sight of someone peering in. It looked like one of the folks I’d seen around town. Before long, I saw Principal Thorne outside as well. Then, like I’d punted a Cape Buffalo calf, a whole crowd of people gathered around my store from the outside. I locked the door, unsure what they wanted, but distrustful of crowds of people who haven’t given a shit about my well-being up to this point.
The Mobian turned and looked at them. “We have attracted a mob.” He quickly turned to me. “I can call my vessel into your store. Will you be joining me on it?”
Now, I didn’t know what convinced these assholes to gather around, or why someone slipped on a domino mask and tried to bust one of my windows with a tonfa, but I knew enough not to trust these folks. Maybe my time in Radium was simply up. They must have tired of me after the mob guys didn’t do me in here recently.
“Well, it slightly alters our plans for when and where we return, but you look like the more attractive option at the moment,” I told Mobian. I grinned at him. “Let’s go make history.”
A bright light filled the store, emanating from an orb that appeared in the air. I didn’t even have time to ask how Mobian shrunk his ship down before the light flashed and pulled me into the vessel for another adventure through time.