Tag Archives: The Mobian

Temporal Difficulties 6



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.



Temporal Difficulties 5



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?”



Temporal Difficulties 4



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.



Temporal Difficulties 3



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.



Temporal Difficulties 1



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.”

“Absolutely not.”

“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.



New World War 6



“I’ve been looking over this book and it’s quite the magical artifact itself. Both science and magic seek understanding of the nature of the universe and manipulation of its forces, and eventually to overcoming the limits of the universe. I found the ritual he used and it’s powerful, like a trebuchet or blockbuster bombs. But crude, imprecise, and flawed.”

Mobian led me up the steps of his ship to the platform with the control panel. “Didn’t these steps curve differently before?” I asked.

“I change the interior sometimes. I have control over spacetime in this ship.” He pulled a lever. An image appeared over everyone, showing Earth, then a bunch of copies of Earth, then moved all of them over to the right and showed lines trailing from them to the left. He also showed a little orb next to one Earth. “Time travel is normally about moving along the time stream, the past or the inevitable futures.”

“The future’s not supposed to be set in stone,” Marivel said from below us.

“It can’t be,” Blackstone said.

“Chaos theory’s a bitch,” I called down to them.

“Quite,” Mobian said. “It’s possible to travel to the past and alter it, but that causes problems.”

“The Universe Divide is a rough barrier to pass through,” I noted.

Mobian continued. One Earth then slid on top of another, covering it and its timeline. “Yes. And that will create problems.”

“It hasn’t yet,” Blackstone said. He pointed to Marivel. “Things are better than ever.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you why this is so wrong,” Mobian said as Marivel stepped away from Blackstone.

“Yeah,” she said. “Who are you really?”

“I’m Doug, for real. Just a Doug from a worst Earth. Things went wrong there,” he answered

I pointed to Mobian. “The Claw, dead. Ricca no longer on the warpath and all the brainwashed supers free. Empyreal City not ruled by Spinetingler. Mot dead instead of eating people. The Fluidics, all gone. Did I miss anything?”

Images appeared of all of them as I called them out. “Some would see your assassination of the Presidents of the United States and the Russian Federation as preferable,” Mobian added.

“They’ve killed millions,” Marivel said, looking at Blackstone. “Why did you cause that?”

“I didn’t cause it,” he said. “She did!” he pointed to me. “She killed my mom and dad.”

“We’re getting too much into statistics here,” I said. “Most people here aren’t better off, and you’re not her husband. Just a lookalike from another dimension trying to live his life.”

“It’s the way my life was meant to be,” Blackstone said. I cringed to myself.

Marivel squared up with him. “I’m not an accessory to my husband’s life. My Dougie loves me!”

“Ever meet Kant?” I asked Mobian. He shook his head no. “He’d be perfectly fine with a discussion like this taking forever… feels like we’ve been here for days already… but that’s not what I’m here for.”

I hopped down to the lower floor and walked over to Marivel. She’s such a skinny little thing. She can’t be healthy. One good fall, or twist, and her poor little head might snap off. And if that happened, what reason would Blackstone have to stay? He might try to just take the ritual back to now, but I like my odds of taking him if he tries that. Then we just try with a different mage.

“If I may interject with a compromise,” Mobian said. “The Earth you rightly belong to is not destroyed. It is temporally displaced, but this can’t last forever. There will be temporal bleed. There are already signs of it. Gecko’s presence is one effect. Others are more difficult to detect unless you are as intimately familiar with the workings of time as I am. They will get worse. People will have memories of both timelines as they merge. That could get rather ugly if it doesn’t go smoothly. You ever seen two people mashed together by temporal displacement? You would throw up your stomach.”

“What’re you thinking?” I asked.

Mobian showed moved one Earth off the other on his hologram. “It’s simple. Knowing this is an alternate universe imposed on our own, we should be able to use the ritual to reverse the two. My craft can guide the ritual so that we don’t displace a third universe. The timeline will be a mess for the period the two were one and the same, but you or I could bring Blackstone back to it as himself.”

“What about my Doug?” Marivel asked.

Mobian gestured with a roll of his hand. “You would still have your husband as himself, and then this one would show up as a separate entity.”

“But then she wouldn’t be mine,” Blackstone said.

I rolled my eyes. “She was never yours. This situations’s fucked up. You don’t always get what you want. Welcome to life.”

“Is there one of me on your world?” Marivel asked.

“Probably,” Mobian and I said at the same time.

Marivel looked to Blackstone, who still had that look in his eye like someone who didn’t give a crap as long as they got what they wanted. My poker record is nothing to carve into the moon with a giant laser, but I can still recognize that one well enough. It’s like one of those guys who raises before they’ve even looked at their cards.

But Marivel, who at this point seemed to be the only voice Blackstone might listen to, stepped toward him and cowboy’ed up. “I don’t love you, but it’s possible that the me on your world might. I love another Doug Blackstone, and he loves me. If you stay, you’re hurting your other self and me. If you love me, leave.”

I saw Blackstone bunching up like he was going to argue or pounce. In the end, he did neither. He took a breath, let it go, and unclenched. I stepped up behind Marivel and patted her on the shoulder. “Good going. We’ll have this mess sorted out before the worldwide disasters start for once.”

Blackstone glared. “Get your hands off her.”

“I’ll put my hands wherever I want, but if you really want me to leave her alone, you know how to make it happen,” I said.

At that, Mobian pressed a button. Part of the floor opened up and a pedestal arose with Los Cincos Soles Dorados, the transcribed rituals of Nahuatal time mages, open upon it.

“I have configured this altar to redirect the energies of the book, to focus them on separating the two,” the time traveler said.

Marivel raised her hand to about head height. “Do you need me to do anything?”

Mobian smiled at her, “No, my dear, you’ve done fantastic already.” He gave me a look. Have I clarified before that there’s a difference between looking at someone and giving them a look? One’s a form of perception, the other’s communication. There’s meaning behind a look. This one was something like relief and a warning. I think he realized how close Marivel came to being sacrificed for our cause.

She stepped off to the side while Blackstone approached the book. He looked at me. “The sympathetic magics involved should be more easily accessed, but I need you here with me.” He held out a hand and I took it, standing close. The book really didn’t like me looking at it, but he read from it just fine.

Mobian rushed up the staircase to his control center and oversaw the creation of many bops and beeps.

“I need you to be honest with me, Gecko. What do you want more than anything else in the world?” Blackstone asked in a pause between chants.

I closed my eyes and recalled video of Qiang. “I want to see my daughter. And family. And friends.”

“You aren’t sad to leave an entire new world of victims behind?” he asked.

It was my turn to give him a look, one of incredulity. “I want to go home.”

He nodded and began chanting. I had a bit of trouble with the language, my database not having a lot of Pre-Colombian New World Languages to go off of, especially not in the areas colonized by the Spanish. But I could feel the power in the words. The light rose around us. I looked around and saw markings in the air the same color I’d gotten use to from the book.

“Whoa nelly!” Mobian called from his control dais. The lights expanded and then contracted within the timecraft. A spotlight from the ceiling shone down in a circle around us and the lights began to form a line in that lit area.

I heard Marivel gasping as she watched the whole thing, but I stayed focused on Blackstone and the book. And home. And Qiang.

With a sudden thunderclap, it all gave out and sparks flew from the ceiling. Blackstone braced himself on the pedestal. I caught myself on it as well. Marivel just collapsed. The timecraft jerked all over the place, which put me on my ass. After about a minute of tilt-a-whirl, Mobian got control of his ship.

“Captain’s log, Stardate 01-14-2019,” I said, standing back up on shaky knees. My HUD’s clock blinked 12:00 instead of giving the proper date, so I was going off of when we were before all the magical hijinks. “Something went down. We were… shot through a wormhole… in the… asspull nebula. Mr. Chekov, where are we?” I looked up to Mobian.

“I’m the captain of this vessel,” he responded. “We’re in the correct place, with the correct timeline.”

He brought up an image of the Earth. After a moment, he zoomed in, showing what looked like my city, but paused. “Now we watch as time reasserts itself.”

Eyebrow raised, I kept an eye on it while palming the ceramic knife I kept under my bed. I began to wonder if swiping it behind me without knowing for sure Blackstone’s there would take him out, then I realized with a smile that little deal was no longer in play. I wouldn’t have to throw a knife in the dark at a random intruder or set up bear traps. I could just end it right there.

I turned and swiped for his throat. Before I connected, I was yanked out of the timecraft. It was like being thrown out an airlock, but I was the only one being tossed out the now-open door of Mobian’s timecraft. Suddenly, my clock reset back to December, and the day the world changed. The fall was unusual as well. I didn’t feel the normal wind of skydiving, and I accelerated faster than terminal velocity before slowing and settling on the couch where I’d been when Blackstone’s ritual first took off and separated the world.

I sat there, watching as everybody sped up from moving slowly to normal to rushing in superspeed. Nobody touched the presents and the tree began to dry and drop needles everywhere. And I just sat there, unable to move while the clock on my HUD went crazy, finally settling on January 14th, 2019.

Lights out… and then I woke up to find myself dogpiled by Qiang, Citra, Mix N’Max, and even Silver Shark. I knew she still liked me. “What’s up, guys?” I asked, keeping a firm hold of Qiang.

“You went missing!” My daughter said through teary eyes and snot bubbles.

“Something freaky happened,” Max said. “Nobody believes me.”

“Max was really high. He was talking about another life where he’d never met you,” said Sam, who went for a punk green and red mohawk with isolated bangs.

I hugged Qiang. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, mama,” she said.

I kissed the top of her head a bunch. “You didn’t open your presents.”

“The Little Empress was waiting on you,” Citra said. I kissed her.

“Well, if we’re finally ready for the mother of all belated Christmases,” I said, looking around. “I’ve got a hell of a story for everyone…



New World War 3



“And that’s why Scott Pilgrim, not Ready Player One, is the best video game movie in existence,” I said, finishing a long explanation. I’d launched into it after bringing Mobian up to speed. The entire timeline shift had taken a toll on him.

He shook off the daze long enough to add, “No one could argue with that.” He reached over for a sip from his cold sweet and salty caramel cappuccino that had gone cold forty-five minutes before. “I just can’t help myself. I feel like I’ve gone out of my bloody head.”

I nodded along, resisting a song lyric that popped into head at that. “I take it you have some sort of sense related to temporal… thingies. Like a timey-wimey-.” As a person with extra arms, I felt a sudden urge to work on stretching and yoga poses. Not the worst way to spend my time. Between my appetite and lack of nanites to help sculpt this masterpiece of a body I have, I’m worried the holiday food might add a shitload of pounds around my midsection.

He huffed loudly, cutting me off. “I’m not Dr. Who. I think they modeled the Doctor on me, but I’ve no reason to seek royalties. No, there are rules when dealing with time.” He stood up and walked over to where a panel on his timeship hung half off. He reached in and started messing around.

I threw up my hands. “That’s what you told me. Now we’re in this timeline and I’m back to square one figuring out this time shit.”

“You said it was a magic ritual from a specific book. Do you think you can get the book away?” he asked.

“More than likely, yes, but I’d rather motivate the person who spent years learning time magic and researching the ritual to do something exacting. Pretty sure it requires precision anyway. You willing to bet the timeline on any old children’s party entertainer reshaping one of the fundamental components of the universe?”

He shrugged. “I have stories. Surely you could cast it?”

I shook my head. “I can’t, and don’t call me Shirley. Casting magic disagrees with my physiology. It’s a shame. Mom didn’t smoke enough when she was pregnant with me.”

Mobian finished with the wiring and grabbed the panel to fix it back. “One of your new ‘friends’ ought to be good for magic. Didn’t Shieldwall have a mage of sorts?” Mobian asked.

“Yeah. Hey, if she asks you what her life’s like over there as one last wish before she changes things, what are you going to tell her?” I stared him down. Near as I can tell, the supergroup known as Shieldwall never formed in this timeline. They had a mage of some sort, whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. I killed her. Can’t remember if she’s one of those someone managed to bring back from the dead once or not. I made my reputation murdering supers and suddenly a whole swath of them decided to return to life. Their desire to keep living shows me disrespect.

Mobian looked up from punching buttons on the panel. A holographic display appeared with a lot of weird shapes blinking. “She has a right to know, but the timeline comes first. No.”

“What about the rest of them in the meantime?” I pointed to the sealed exit to the timeship, which had scorch marks around it.

“They are good people. You are a danger to them,” he answered. “Are you working against them?”

I shook my head. “Like I said, they know me as a hero. Even put me on a team. It shouldn’t matter though. They’re giving me a place to stay and protection while I get on my feet and get this taken care of. If that means I have to slam a few faces into the pavement for them, it seems to work out.”

“A taste of what could have been, perhaps,” Mobian said. When I raised an eyebrow toward him, he raised his hands.

I lowered the eyebrow. “It’s certainly an interesting experience. Not a bad spot to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Think you can just take me back to when he got the book? Or maybe soon after he teleported me out of the hospital?”

“I’d rather not distort the timeline anymore than it already is,” he said. “Imagine if it was merged with the other. An Earth with doppelgangers of the heroes and villains who all know who you are and that you killed some of them.” Now it was his turn to cock an eyebrow. “Is that what you want?”

“Nah, I think I like how tight my ass is now without the world sticking its collective fist up there. But if time travel’s out, that really limits a lot of your capabilities.”

“Time travel is not out, but changing the past may create that scenario. Let’s not.”

“Fine, you crazy limey bastard,” I said.

He just looked at me. “I’m quite tired of so many things crises revolving around you.”

I flipped my hair all to one shoulder and said, “It’s hard being this beautiful. Everyone wants a piece.”

“I hope you have a plan to go with all that narcissistic talk,” Mobian said.

I clued him on that as well. He wasn’t impressed, but it gave him something to listen to while he finished making things no longer blink. “You want to ruin his life until he gives you what you want.”

“No. I’m ruining his idyllic life so he’s forced to either go back to one marginally better, or tries to kill me. Can’t do me in until he completes the ritual. Making people too homicidal toward me for their best interests is a great strategy.”

“I will attempt to abscond with the book while you do that. Come,” he said, heading for the door of his ship.

I stood up and followed. “You can’t just command a woman to come. Not from outside her.”

Instead of a campus in California, my GPS pinged us in Connecticut. We stood in the backyard of a one-story suburban house with a wood fence. Mobian was petting a vicious guard puppy, apparently a half-Chihuahua, half-Pomeranian hybrid. He held it up to stare at me side by side with the dog’s bug-eyed face, then nodded past myself and the timeship. “According to the public records of this time, that is the backyard of the Blackstone household. It would be to our benefit to steal the book. Anything else you do in there is your business.”

I vaulted over the wood fence first. “Huh. Modest for someone with the last name Blackstone. You hear that kind of name, you expect a manor.” Of course, I wasn’t all that surprised. I’d been cyber-stalking the guy ever since Forcelight took me in like a broken baby bird, cradling me against her body and bringing me back to a nest to be fed and cared for. It was yet another brick veneer suburban house that shares a floor plan with another dozen houses in the subdivision.

“A hand?” I heard from behind me. I turned to see Mobian’s fingertips waving up over the wall.

“The one person on Earth a wall could stop,” I muttered. I looked around for something to use. A lawnmower someone left out, a metal bench, a grill, a stone planter…

Louder, I told him, “Stand back!”

The grill splintered the wood when I swung it down on the fence panels. Mobian looked up at me, but appeared unhurt. “I thought burglars were stealthy,” he said.

“This is the suburbs, not Fort Knox, and your ship can travel through time and space. I think we’ll get away with it.”

“Not if he’s inside with the book,” he said.

I helped Mobian over the trashed wood planks on the ground that used to be a fence. “He’s got college classes right now. Probably failing, too.”

I could tell something was wrong upon closer inspection. I could see spilled, drying orange juice laying on the floor. The kitchen wall opposite the backdoor had a a hole in the drywall and a broken picture frame sat on the floor beneath that. “I don’t think we have to worry about alarms today,” I said. I slid the unlocked backdoor open and we came in to observe the scene of a struggle. An ornate knife with a handle shaped like a long claw stuck out of the table, pinning a note to it.

“Dear Douglas Blackstone, you wife is now a guest of His Imperial Magnificence, The Claw. You brought this upon yourself by your arrogance and insolence in attacking the glorious nation of Ricca. We will contact you about making amends and consider the return of your wife, in time.”

“Hmm,” is all I said before I set about gathering up a few items. “No garlic or onions? They live like animals.”

“This is your doing,” Mobian said.

“Part of the pressure, but I’m not in Claw’s chain of command these days. Don’t you have a book to look for?” I asked.

Mobian looked at the note again, shook his head, and went to go hunt down the magic tome of time magic, Los Cincos Soles Dorados.

I had to settle on dumping vinegar and hot Tabasco sauce into a sauce pan and setting it on a stove burner to boil. I let it get going and waft around before carrying it through the living room, down the hallway, and into what tended to be the master bedroom in this house. Mobian put some gadget of his away as a lock popped open on a small wooden box on a bookshelf. “This looks like it,” he said.

I nodded. “Yup.” Then I tossed the boiled vinegar and hot sauce onto the bedding.

Mobian waved his hand in front of his nose and hurried past me, mumbling about me being petty. I headed back to the kitchen where Mobian held a piece of paper and searched around for a pen. I grabbed the knife out of the note and carved a post script into the wood of the table. “PS., I, your old friend PG, didn’t do this. I just stole your book. Maybe you should look me up sometime before doing something stupid again. Never know when a powerful book might come in handy during a rampage of revenge. PPS, he who smelt it dealt it.”

He’d probably get that last point soon after entering the house. Nothing like the smell of boiled vinegar and hot sauce to clear out the sinuses. I stabbed the knife through the note to keep it pinned in there.

I turned to see Mobian standing out on the back patio, petting the little poof dog that followed us from next door. The humanoid had a concerned look on his face; the pupper whimpered and looked upset. I pointed back to the note. “Ricca kidnapped his wife. We stole his book. I don’t think he’ll bother taking them on without it. Either he comes after me to get it back, or he tries to negotiate with me. It’ll probably be safe on your ship, right?”

“Nobody gets in without my permission,” he said. He looked down at the book. The sunlight caught it, momentarily blinding me with an inexplicable flash of golden light. “I will analyze it. I may have a compromise we can all live with.”



New World War 2



I found a supply cache to help me out. I may soon have nanite capability again because of it. My time keeping a close eye on the Riccan Intelligence Service paid off. They had a supply cache in the area. Several safehouses, too. I might see to them later. This time, I paid a visit to the supply cache.

They’d hidden it under a burger place called The Grease Trap. You wouldn’t think that’d be a real name. They specialize in big, fat, greasy, unhealthy burgers. A look through the window showed someone chowing down on a burger that looked to be about fifty-percent burnt, crunchy bacon and dripping red grease. I got a pain in my left arms just looking at it, and I’m pretty sure the guy working the register was a Riccan agent.

I went around back, to the dumpsters. A homeless person sat back there, lap covered in a blanket and upper body nestled in a giant sweatshirt. I’ve been around a shitload of dumpsters, and these were something special, with a fragrant bouquet that would scare off most people. But, to the experienced nose, it only added to the suspicion. There was one smell missing that no dumpster is without. I’ve dumpster dived for parts. I’ve hidden from cops in trash. I’ve even scanned in shredded documents. There’s one smell every single dumpster on Earth shares: sour beer. If I ran across a dumpster at the biggest Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, there would still be beer in there.

The Riccans were sloppy without me in charge. They were practically begging to be broken into. Just look at what the building’s wearing. I checked around the dumpsters and found an outlined section like a panel. It opened up after I pressed on it and lifted up to show a keypad. A fucking keypad. What is this, a cell for 80 year olds?

The key was having a powder of some sort. Luckily, I’d beaten up a drug dealer earlier. It was purely for selfish reasons and had nothing to do with the team being asked to assist the cops and Advocate directing me to work the drug unit specifically. So I beat the crap out of some dealers and confiscated the coke. I didn’t want it to tempt any of the cops. They might snort it or sell it. It would defeat the purpose to let them have it. Plus, I need the money more than they do.

It came in handy here. I opened the Ziploc and tossed a handful at the keypad. There were four numbers the powder stuck to. Ah, human oil. If only we could harness it the same way we do the oil of other critters. It gets everywhere. Disgusting creatures, humans.

I didn’t get the right combination of numbers my first go. As soon as I inputted it, I heard a whirring noise from behind me and threw myself to the side, narrowly dodging a gout of flame. Having stopped codebreaking and dropped, I rolled to avoid more and looked up to see what had come after me. The homeless person’s sweater had burnt away when the automated flamethrower turret inside activated. Disarming that was as easy as cutting the fuel line with my laser eye, which set fire to the machine as well. With no other defenses, I was free to take my time on the scorched keypad until I found the combo. The dumpster clicked and released from the wall. The thing was easy to move, and underneath was the supply cache.

It was a treasure trove of things anyone needs to run a spy operation in a major city: guns, body armor, computers, burner phones, more drugs, and a shitload of reusable gift cards. The cards would have to be enough. The video cameras recording me would be a nice bonus. Unlike the Institute of Science, these were sending data via broadband to the upstairs. I plugged myself in and made an adjustment. Woops, there goes the camera data, except for a few fragments I inserted showing a man matching Douglas Blackstone’s description. He’s the one who broke in, Claw! Feel free to find him and question why all you like. Ha!

Just one of the ways I keep implicating Blackstone while doing my duty as a superhero. It’s kinda growing on me, knowing that I can do whatever I want to him and no one will believe him. Just eternal torment at my hands, no one believing him that I’m evil. The worst hells are those of our own making, or so a demon or two has told me. I don’t know if they were flirting or monologuing before a torture. I’m not sure there’s a big difference, but I enjoyed it either way.

So, after using those gift cards to splurge on some usable materials, I decided to spy on my new nemesis’s wife. A nice easy way to occupy my mind while my body put some things together. See what she’s up to. She’s a tiny little thing. Short and skinny. Can’t imagine her ever being pregnant. Hmm, now there’s an idea for getting back at him. But not without my nanites.

My mind flew from California to Connecticut as fast as the lag would let me. Marivel was typing away at her work computer, messing around with a spreadsheet. She had an instant messenger related to her job, so that was my way in. I showed up as anonymous to her.

“Hello, Marivel Blackstone.”

“Yes? Is this Mr. Drangly?”

“No, this is… someone else. Someone who knows something is wrong.”

“What do you mean? Is it about the Fergson account?”

“Nope. That’s Greek to me.”

“It was in Greek.”

“Hence the cliché phrase. No, I have something more personal to discuss with you. Tell me, haven’t you noticed something off about your husband lately?”

“Management monitors this account.”

Yes, they do, when their computers are on and the messenger’s logs aren’t wiped. “That has been taken care of.”

“?What did u? do? Who are u?”

“I am a super from another dimension, sort of. It’s complicated. I was brought here by Douglas Blackstone. I believe you know the name.”

“What does my husband have to do with superheroes?”

“Nothing, until the Blackstone from my dimension came here and took the place of the Douglas Blackstone of this world.”

There was a long pause before she answered. “that’s crazy.”

“Sure it is. Now that you know it, things make more sense. Gaps in knowledge? Some difference in how he looks? A new interest in the occult?”

“I’m not saying your right but there are other explanations”

“Do any of them account for his extracurricular activities?” An image flashed across her screen. She got a glimpse of copied images I kept of her husband’s new Federal file. Then came the sound file that opened and played on her end: “I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”

I thought we were done, but after a few minutes of me building away in the Master Academy workshop, she typed again. “why tell me this?”

“So you’d know the truth. You deserve to know the man sharing your bed isn’t the same one you knew and fell in love with.”

“I need to think about this”

Fair enough. I figured I’d give her even more time by putting their car into the local police’s system over there. Caress a few ones and zeroes, and suddenly it was spotted speeding away from the scene of a bank robbery. Arranging for a bag of unmarked bills to appear at their house will be a little tougher, but I hear people like delivering things by drone in this timeline, too. It’s only a matter of time before drone piracy becomes a thing. I imagine Captain Flamebeard will laugh his ass off from his flying pirate ship.

All in all, not a bad way to set things up for the New Year. But, still, I decided not to wear a mask on this New Year’s Eve. I sat away from the festivities, sipping on wine and Irish cream liqueor. Not together, no. Ew. Just one after the other. It was a side room at the Master Academy, one of the little recreation areas with a TV, sofa, and room for the younger students to play with toys.

I sat there, blinking through channels, when I heard a knock. I looked up to see Advocate there. “There’s plenty of room at the party,” he suggested.

I shook my head. “Nah. I’m ok. Kind of a bad time, considering what’s happened.”

“I didn’t get the whole story on that,” he said.

“An asshole mage didn’t like me, blamed me for all his problems, and went all ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to stick he and I in a world where I didn’t exist. He hated it too, and we were going to work together to get back to our world, but then he realized the version of him in this world had a wife and he decided to stay.” I mean, I probably did kill Blackstone’s parents. I’ve killed a lot of people. It’s still correct to point out he blames me for killing them. I sighed. “I miss my daughter.”

“Oh. No wonder you hate him,” Advocate said. “If you need more things to get drunk with, you know where to find us all. Just don’t mess up all the school computers or something, alright?”

I waved him off. “Fine, fine.”

I still went out to see the fireworks. Just like on my Earth, the state of California basically spent the entire year on fire somewhere or other, but some of the supers set up a more controlled way of making exploding lights in the sky using their powers. Some would zap things up, or carry stuff with telekinesis. It was quite a show, especially when the entire sky lit up and a glowing orb appeared in the air.

Mobian’s timeship jerked from side to side, then plummeted. It halted its crash about ten feet off the ground and landed slowly. When the door opened, Mobian himself stumbled out. He looked different. Darker skin, longer hair, and burns on some of his clothes. He looked around at some of the supers who surrounded him, including a couple with healing abilities who stepped forward to check him over.

“I need help,” he said. “Something’s gone wrong with the timeline. Things aren’t supposed to be this way.”

“Tell me about it,” I muttered.

He looked right at me in a crowd of supers who liked to beat me up, and said something I didn’t expect to hear, “Gecko?”

I nodded. “We’re in deep shit again, aren’t we, Mobian?”



Facing Mot-ality 4



“Before we go, Gecko, I want you to know something,” Mobian said after we’d finished all our farewells at the Hinge. That had mostly involved Mobian gladhanding folks, and I was going to stop him, but the guy took the gifts showered on him by some folks and dropped them off in less well-maintained parts of the station that didn’t look meant for habitation.

They didn’t know much what to make of me. I noticed that, despite all the advanced technology, nobody who wore any sort of armor went with something quite so extensive and different from their usual appearance. Perhaps they thought I was also a machine.

But finally the time came to come, and I’ll note the people throwing themselves romantically at anyone were aiming at Mobian or Cheretha, and Mobian closed the door, pushed a button on the control panel of his ship, and said that earlier sentence of his to me. I looked up from checking on the bomb. Despite the 360 display, it makes people feel they’re being listened to and it helps me focus.

Mobian stepped down from his dais to look at me, putting his hands behind his back. “I believe this trip touched a nerve with you.” He waited for a moment. When I didn’t say anything, he added, “You felt I was using you.”

“Yep,” I said. “Also, it felt like most of that was really stupid. We could have taken that thing from her at any time.”

“It wasn’t that difficult a task…” He started.

“And if something had happened to us on some pointless side errand, that’s it. Earth gets eaten until some hostile alien species shows up and blows the fuck out of it,” I checked over the cables housing wiring. Nothing lose, nothing chewed through in any way. “The security forces were handling the machines, who were mainly there looking for a kidnapped machine that was allowed to be legally treated like a slave on that station. In all likelihood, the machines would have gotten in there and broken it out anyway. All we did was save a few lives on the way to the same thing being accomplished.”

“I thought you might enjoy saving lives. Being a hero,” he said. He looked at his shoes. “You clearly view me as naive, but I know what it’s like to fight and kill. To be valued not by your worth as a person, but by your ability to end lives.” He looked up. “Do you think back there, they know you as an evil person?”

I shrugged. “They seemed scared enough.”

He smiled. “Yes, but you can be scared of a lot of things and recognize they’re not evil. Back there, now, with no other knowledge about you… you’re a hero.”

I made a mock gagging noise as I finished up and closed the D-Bomb up and stood. “Well, they’re mistaken.”

He tapped his nose with one finger. “I’m trying to make you feel good about yourself. I know you think I’m naive, but I understand you. I know I stopped here long enough to help save lives and help you. What about the breach in their security? What about the anti-AI laws? What about the income inequality? I could go back and I could destroy civilization as they know it to fix it. I would be a tyrant to them. A well-meaning tyrant, yes, but a tyrant. And if I failed!” He kissed his fingers. “An unsuccessful revolution for people’s benefit looks very much like a successful defeat of an autocrat. You know why. You know why it’s so hard to do more for people than fix all but the most immediate problems.”

“Because people are assholes,” I answered.

“Right! No. Because people are people. Short-sighted, biased, and easy to fool. Even the ones who claim to be perfectly rational, especially if you claim they’re superior for being so ‘rational’.” He made air quotes. “Tell anyone doing well about the broken system they live in and they’ll think you’re attacking them because the system works well for them. I save the day because it’s easier. And I let them think they’re moving themselves in the right direction because they’re arseholes. I could have gone to any time and place to intercept that message. Why then and there? Why with you?”

“Because you knew I’m at least not on board with that sort of treatment of people just because they’re artificial,” I said. “Kinda makes you wonder how the machines got there in the first place.”

“I am sure that is a fascinating tale, but Cheretha will have to find that one out. The Machine Collective, though, they make for interesting reading if you could see what they’ll do,” he smiled at me. “You helped. Just one incident out of many that helps the universe become a little brighter.”

I hefted the D-Bomb by its straps. “Why are you trying to be so nice to me? You think I’m an asshole, too.”

“I thought you’d like to hear it. This is an important fight you’re going into, and I thought I’d distract you from knowing you can die now,” he said, turning to walk back over to his control panel.

“Wait, what do you mean by that?” I asked. “I could die lots of times before this!”

He turned to wince at me. “You had to live in order to go back in time and make things happened. You even had to warn me not to destroy the message as I’d have been tempted to do when I found out about it from heroes of Earth. The universe wouldn’t have let you died before that.”

“I died originally,” I pointed out.

He cocked his head to the side. “Yeah, but only after the loop had happened. Right after it, in fact. Venus killed you.”

“Can we stop saying Venus killed me?” I asked. “It didn’t happen to me. Doesn’t seem like it would have happened at all.”

“Oh, she did. It was brutal. Hurt her to do it, but she got harder trying to deal with Mot. The damning thing is she couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been involved and she couldn’t have changed it if I hadn’t been involved. You tried to kill her even though she’d fatally wounded you.”

“Why don’t you describe in vivid detail how I shat myself upon dying?” I asked.

“That would be gross. She put her faith in you, and you caused everything to happen again. I think I was always going to stop that message in this iteration of the timeline and risk Earth, but you prevented that. Not it’s all solved, and you can die. Sorry I was the first to tell you, but at least now you know everything in your life was part of some plan involving universal laws of time. I hope that makes you feel less guilty.” He shrugged and shot me a wry grin.

“Bullshit,” I said. “I get you’re suggesting I can’t really be guilty because I was living up to that plan, but you’re also saying I had no choice. That every awesome thing I did, every glorious kill, every prison break, that none of those mattered just because I did one or two things that supposedly had to happen.Uh uh. I could have been a good person and done those things. I could have been the most depraved maniac on Earth. I could have killed Qiang or raped Venus. There were so many choices in my life that didn’t have to go the way they went where I could have done the same things. That ‘plan’ business is no excuse for the bad, and deserves none of the credit for how great I’ve been.”

I pointed at myself with four thumbs. “Get me back to Earth and I’ll show you how much the universe, or multiverse or time or whatver-fucking-thing, was piggybacking on me, not the other way around.”

His smile looked sad at that. “Alright. Back to Earth we go. I hope you survive longer than you did the last time you did all you needed to do for this sequence of events to occur.”

He pressed a button and an entire side of his ship went clear, showing us go from whizzing through a blue and black tunnel to the atmosphere of Earth, pushing through swirling winds to close in on a city. Below me, I saw people fighting among themselves. In front of me, I saw buildings being leveled and flattened, leaving behind a lone man standing at the end of a trail of dirt, as if the city simply had never been developed where he walked. Up in the sky, I saw a flash as a glowing orb vanished into a hole filled with blue and black.

“I hate time travel,” I muttered.

“I hope you never experience it again!” called Mobian down cheerfully. “Hold on, what’s this?”

The rear of the timecraft cleared up to show drones and a cloud of haze floating through the air toward us.

I projected a holographic wink at Mobian. “You see, Mobian, Mot isn’t dealing with the average human warrior here.”

“Didn’t Barkiel beat you up?” he asked.

“Let’s see Barkiel stop me when I bring everything to the table. But if you’d rather they not all follow your ship like they were ordered, you better let me out soon.”

The craft jerked to the side as a lightning bolt ran down the outside of a nearby skyscraper. “Good idea. We make a bright target. Can you get to him?” Mobian asked.

I nodded to him and made sure I had the D-Bomb strapped on. The door to the timecraft slid open and I ran for it. And bounced off. “That’s for being a dick!” Mobian called while I stood up.

“Go fuck yourself!” I yelled back to him before jumping out the door.

Thunder cracked and rolled. Mobian got out of there. The skyscrapers crumbled, but were good enough rods to keep me from riding the lightning. I fell until I ignited the rockets and caught onto drones flying in behind me. I’d been able to take control of them as soon as I left Mobian’s ship, which looked to be dodging and weaving between lightning blasts. Cars exploded and rioting crowds fell still. Most of the drones smacked into buildings or each other and rained down. The winds weren’t kind to them. There were simply too many nanites to be rid of them, however. The ones carrying my added weight, with the aid of my rockets, did well enough.

When I landed in the middle of the maelstrom, it was with a vast cape of nanites stretching into the sky. Mot, long-haired and bearded, but in cleaner clothes, unhinged his jaw and flesh-colored flies flew out at me. Nanites flew to intercept as a wave that captured and broke down the flesh while I made a call. “Hey, we got that unified line thing going on again?”

“What’s she mean again?” asked someone. The nanites move to the side as the flesh flies stopped.

“Good,” I said. “Mobian, can you do that translator thingy again? I want to speak to Mot.”

“I think the time for words has passed,” he said. “I’ll try to recalibrate here. I could use a lot of words you wouldn’t understand, or I could just do this!”

A beam from outside the eye of the storm shot through the sky, then bounced off a satellite dish and reflected down to split into two that hit my head and Mot’s. I looked to the supposedly insane superhuman that everyone’s spent a lot of time telling me just needs to die and waved. “Hello?”

He didn’t say anything, just began to shake. His skin turned into stone, then was pierced by bones that jutted out as spikes.

I continued on, making sure I had everything close at hand. Lasers and firearms alike were trained on Mot. The nanites were ready to close in and block any of those annoying tentacles or flies or whatever else. “For a long time, I was the one they feared. Too dangerous to trust. Governments wanted me dead, and I even got the heroes in on the act. First they wanted to kill, then I got them to kill. Now here we are. You just got out of what I’m guessing is a thousand or more years of solitary confinement. You’re probably a bit fucked up. So I’m offering you a choice here. You can stand down and I’ll take you to my land, under my protection.You can have clothes, regular food, even one of those newfangled baths those people in the boot peninsula keep saying are awesome. We’ll even give you some medicine to make the nightmares stop. How’s that sound?”

He roared and ran at me, rocky body glowing orange. I instinctively sprinted right back at him. When we closed, he swung knuckles with a solid knuckle duster bone blade on them. I dropped to my knees and skidded when I saw him going for a punch. Instead, all he got was a face full of nanites that started trying to take his eyes apart piece by piece.

I popped a pair of molecule-thin whips from my upper forearms and watched them glow red along most of their lengths. I swung them to try and capture Mot’s arms. He turned and yanked me closer by them, which is when the nasty surprises, those small chainsaw blades, shot out from under my bottom forearms and I closed them on his neck.

They weren’t very effective. Threw up a lot of sparks, but didn’t cut into his now-rocky skin. He pulled me close and growled, mouth open wide and dripping spittle. The three false eyes on my helmet lit up and unleashed a triple grouping of lasers down his throat. Mot roared in pain and pulled the whips forward to throw me into that maw.

Tsk, tsk, those darn whips and their engineering. All I had to do was give a command and they detached. Same nifty trick I have for my cape, as a matter of fact. Mot got a mouthful of razor whip instead of razor wit, and I kicked off him to land after backflipping. I opened up on his ass, literally, with the few drones who had gotten through to try and shove grenades and .50 caliber rounds up his poop chute.

“Look-!” someone yelled over the line. The sky grew bright, and suddenly I was about a mile away, hugged in the big, blue arms of Titan. Together, we laid in a combination crater and skid mark within the winds of Mot’s localized hurricane. I’d lost my sight and hearing temporarily. From the smell, it’s possible I lost all my body hair. He didn’t hit me head on, either thanks to Titan or so many taller metal things being around. Even if you’re just winged by lightning, you still know it hit you.

I tried to speak but got nothing but a cough from it. Titan stood up then and roared. He picked up someone’s empty car and threw it back the way we came. After a moment of every muscle in my body being soar, icewater hit my veins. I pulled the bomb around to check it. The fake-detonator was blinking 12:00. I popped it open to check the thing over, making sure nothing was damaged. I found cables burned through. “Guys, I’m going to need a minute to fix the D-Bomb.”

“No shit, Sherlock!” yelled someone. “I thought you were supposed to be a killer.”

“Leave him alone,” Mobian said, but not enthusiastically.

“Hey, your trip, your fucking aesops,” I stood up and stumbled over to a nearby abandoned car. I pulled the door off and set to work smashing in the dash to get some replacement wires. A second later, a brick hit me. Not such a big deal, except for the mob surrounding me that had a lot more bricks. And pipes. And, yes, someone brought tomatoes. It’s not a proper angry mob unless someone has tomatoes.

Before that crowd could run for me, they were cut down by a pair of warriors. One was a large Chinese man with a lush beard and a spear with a blade curved like a scimitar. The formal name for that one is a Guan Dao, said to have first been used by the legendary warrior Guan Yu who would be worshiped as a war god after his death.

Rumors of Guan Yu’s death weren’t true.

The other warrior cutting down those who would distract me was an African man with metal plates pierced into his body and a machete of dark iron that cut through people in such a way as to make Jason Voorhees envious.

I tried to reach out to my nanites and pull them close, but I couldn’t reach them. Whatever had hit me, maybe the mother of all lightning strikes from the way I swear I smelled burnt flesh, shorted them out. The drones too. There’s a reason talking is something best done after someone’s dead, at least according to the Evil Overlord list. This is why I shouldn’t try to be good. You give one guy a chance and he puts your tits in a bug zapper.

It felt like it took forever to swap out the damaged components with a good enough match, huddled low against the car to avoid the winds. I just had to deal with the rain. The nanites could have patched it on the go. It was ready for a test, until the car disappeared under Titan’s ass as he created another crater like he had with me. Mot ran forward, the wall of the hurricane pushing toward me. I stood my ground, something lighter people would have found difficult.

“Come on, you son of a bitch. If you think you can blow me away, then you don’t know how fat this suit makes my ass look,” I growled.

He ran at me with an incoherent yowl of rage. I dropped the D-Bomb and started running the opposite direction, waving my hands for everyone to leave. Guan Yu and the other Hare were way ahead of me. I think they started running the moment Titan pancaked an Audi. Titan was slow getting up, too. I tried giving him a hand. He started to run back toward Mot, but managed to get the incredibly subtle signal I sent by pointing past him and yelling, “Get the fuck out of here!”

I just had to hope-

I was sucked backwards into a hole in reality that closed behind me. The journey was shorter this time, taking both myself and the bellowing Mot behind me to one Earth linked to the one we came from. Even more unusual, I was pulled away in a series of blue rings and found myself crashing into a clear cube.

Alarms wailed. Automated guns like nothing on Earth swiveled around to point directly at me. Some woman spilled a coffee cup sitting up. She pressed a finger to a patch on her neck, but I didn’t pay attention. I was waiting on the second detonation. I felt nothing like it. I turned to the woman. “There’s a monster on the loose, and it’s very important you let me out of this, because that bomb’s totally not sending him anywhere either of us wants to go.”

She looked at me like I’d suggested shitting on her mother’s chest, but in a bad way. Her eyes shot down then. When she spoke, I realized I’d forgotten to speak to her in my original language. Wherever I was, I was on my home Earth, where they didn’t speak English. I still heard her as she said, “He’s still here. The trap worked.”

Then she stood up and walked around a lazy U of a desk to spit on the clear container that held me. “I would sooner scalp the hair from your body than leave you alive. Even trapped, your bomb destroyed Fort Memorial.”

“Please,” I said in my tongue, putting my hands together in pleading. “I must know: did a Dimension Bomb detonate here?”

She pounded what I’d taken for glass with her fist and stumbled back. “Yes, you bastard, at Fort Memorial! I’ll see you burn forever for what you’ve done to my love!”

I relaxed and breathed in. It sounded like they had reports of the second one going off, and Mot’s not very subtle. They’d have spotted him, which meant he was now working on quite a tan. I don’t care how strong a super is, good luck walking on the sun.

I broke out into laughter again. The weight was just gone. And it made a good excuse for experimentally banging on the container I was in. After the EMP hit, I was in less of a good mood. I turned away from the woman as if examining the container, my lower right arm charging energy. If any defense knew what I was trying, they didn’t let on. Except when I unleashed what should have been a punch that could spank a tank, the EMP again went off as I bounced off the walls. Those same transparent walls lit up briefly before the glow moved down below the cube where I couldn’t see.

“Don’t try that again,” said a man’s voice. He wore our equivalent to a General’s rank. “After all these years, you’re back in our hands. You should have stayed dead. We will bury you all the same.” He smirked past his salt and pepper mustache at me.

“I doubt that,” I told him. I flipped myself around so I was sitting, not laying in a mess on the floor. “I’ve become much more resourceful since I left.”

“I doubt that,” he said. He stepped up to the sentry’s desk and reached for a button on it.

“Mhm,” I said, just as he pushed it. The cube began to darken. Before it did completely, just in case it messed with sound, I called out, “You’ll never figure it out on your own!”

I hope they heard that. Because as happy as I am that I probably killed Mot after dumping him in the sun, what I really have as a resource right now are a bunch of people who should be grateful. Some of them might even be friends. And I do so hope these folks share the good news of my capture with them.

And at the same time, I wonder if I failed. If the bomb was too messed up, if the coordinates were reset somehow, if he actually survived being sent to the core of a damn star.

So that’s where I waited, imprisoned, over more than a week since the confrontation took place in most people’s view. Schroedinger’s Gecko. They ended up gassing me, checking to make sure I was actually out, and then cutting my helmet off to allow me to sleep. They disabled the energy sheathes as well. But at least it allowed me to eat.

Eating so I can survive.

Surviving so I can wait.

Waiting to see if my adoptive home gives a shit. And pretty sure Mot’s ass is eating hot thermonuclear fusion on a level way beyond a mere nuclear weapon. This universe isn’t big enough for TWO gods of death.

…that would have been much more badass if I wasn’t the one now imprisoned.



Facing Mot-ality 3



What the Machine Collective loses in toughness, they make up for in numbers. Though, for most folks on this station, they’re plenty tough enough. And it just got monotonous killing the endless robots. They all looked the same, which might be racist if they weren’t all literally the same few models ad infinitum.

I had to break it up somehow, which lead to stunts like Mobian yelling at a group of them and letting them chase him into an art gallery. He ran in and ducked behind an exhibit. When they came in looking, I waited until they got close to the sculpture. It was a marble sculpture of one of those heart-shaped aliens, but with a dignified, serene face and either an enormous wang or a stand to rest on. I picked it up and started wailing on them, smashing them to pieces.

“That was subtle,” Mobian said, stepping out from behind the display he’d hid behind.

I set the statue down. “Subtle enough to take them out.” I had to stop as my stomach rumbled.

“Yegads, I heard that from here. When’s the last time you ate?” Mobian asked.

I waved it off. “Before I put on the armor. This is a permanent seal, but someone decided we were having an adventure in space, where they don’t exactly make hamburgers.”

“I didn’t know that,” he said, patting my shoulder. “How about we go kill all of them in the food court and I’ll find something that can fit into your armor” he said, walking along with me as I headed out of the gallery. “Can you swallow pills? It won’t help your stomach, but it’ll give you nutrients. Maybe the vapor bar, as long as you stick with the bar food vapors and none of the alcohol.”

Just before we got to the door, the statue collapsed behind us. Mobian turned and looked back at it, then turned to me. “Duct tape will do ‘er. Best we run and get that food now.”

Despite swarms of killer robots, we made good time to the nearest food area. Unfortunately, after so long without food, the smell got to me. Mobian turned to help me up, “Just a little further now…” He looked past me. “Or a little backward if you’ve got more fight in you.”

I saw ’em coming, those damn tripods and squidlegs and everything else. I closed my eyes to concentrate. I heard grunting and parking from ahead of us thanks to a crowd. Mobian ran to the side to get out of the way, leaving me standing between the giraffe alien with a force of dwarfs, and the advancing machines. I was distracted, but I didn’t need too long…

Chaos broke out among the mob of machines. They teetered around, startled and panicked, then turned and opened fire on one another. They did most of the work themselves with the aliens barely having to mop up the place. Mobian ran up to get between myself and the dwarfs, who turned toward me with disk-guns in hand once they’d dispatched of the robo-remnants. “It’s fine! She’s on our side. Gecko, that was brilliant, how long have you been able to do that?”

“Not long. Had to study their OS. Hey, who’s a lady have to butcher to get some food around here?”

“I need food for my companion here, the one who made the Machine Collective shoot itself. Food, yes please? Vapor bar, she needs it.” he asked of the giraffe and her dwarf contingent.The giraffe yipped and a dwarf came over to lead me further into the food court area. That was my best basis for comparison, as it seemed to be a sizable communal eating area with various bars and food kiosks scattered around it. They’d fortified it, though, and beings of all shapes, color, and size huddled around. Amazingly, the place STILL had a Sbarro.

They led me to one kiosk in particular that still had a couple of employees hard at work. Without a basis for comparison, I had no way to tell if they were dirty, but they did seem a bit slow and tired. I pointed to something that resembled chicken.

It should be noted that this could have meant pretty much anything in the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someday discovered the universe’s first conquerors had been intelligent chickens who fell into ruin and mindless servitude to the new races that came about. Only flaw, is what do I do about the dinosaurs? That’s not a problem you just drop a meteor on and hope it goes away.

They handed me a cup with a top on it and gave me two middle fingers. I was too hungry to object though, so I just took it and looked it over; a mouthless alien with a smile in its eyes gave me the bird with each hand, so I guess the gesture has different contexts far enough out in space. I popped the lid off and took a puff of gas to the face. The filters detected a full complement of vitamins, so I let it on through. The taste was incredible. Unexpected. Fruitier than I thought it’d be. And it thickened with my saliva, so I was able to just swallow the stuff instead of clogging my lungs. A bit dry, but I’d manage.

It was enough to keep me going. “Gecko! You’ve eaten. How did it find you?” Mobian asked hurriedly on his way over with the giraffe person. It yapped at me, stopped, then looked between myself and Mobian. He smiled back, then gestured to me, then went “Oh!” He pulled out a small cube and held it between us. It shot out a light at both of our heads.

“Mobian, if I find out you’re putting anything weird in my head, I’ll shove yours up your ass,” I said to him.

“My, what a crude one is this,” said the giraffe in a feminine voice. “I am Commandrix Cheretha.” She gestured like she was running her hand up the air over her face.

“Empress Psychopomp Gecko,” I said, giving a sort of salute with closed fist over open palm that I’ve used before.

“We normally keep the Collective from attacking through a signal to our transmitter that confuses any machines who get too close. It failed to function correctly, so how can you?” she asked.

I looked between her and Mobian. “My biology is capable of integrating with computers and I make sure to have a way to connect wirelessly. I’ve had no interference like that since I got here.”

“It isn’t directed inside the station,” she said.

Mobian chimed in. “As long as they have a way to travel that bypasses the signal, there’s no easy way to stop them on the Hinge. Until now.”

Cheretha put a hand on his shoulder and turned to address him. “Silence yourself. We will remove the cause once we have disposed of the symptom.” She turned back to me to say, “We are winning, but slowly. The bulk of the Collective is in the Science district. I do not know what they are after. However, we should endeavor to keep it from them.”

“Ok, lady, I get what you want from us,” I told her. “What I’m confused about is why should I care? I’m here for one reason, and it’s really not to fight this war for you. Mobian’s excited to help, great for him, but if you examine the smallest piece of the smallest part of any particle that makes up an atom, you still won’t find me giving a fuck.”

“I have access to the message you were here for. It’s yours for whatever purpose you hold if you help. If you refuse, I will bury it deeper than your desire to mate,” she responded.

I looked to Mobian. “We could…”

He shook his head and held out his hands. “No! I believe we are here for a purpose and that includes helping out the Hinge. Besides, it should be benefit everyone to have friends far and wide.” He smiled at me.

“Right, so this was all a way to inconvenience me in some sort of minor revenge scheme,” I grumbled.

“I would never revenge myself on someone so integral to events on Earth. Disrupting the timeline is a delicate process.”

“Not that delicate or else we wouldn’t be here now,” I reminded him.

He rolled his eyes. “You should try doing anything to remove yourself from existence and see what happens.”

Cheretha stepped between us both and looked to me. “You, help.” She turned to Mobian. “And you, be quiet and take us to your ship.”

Now that I’ve cracked the Collective’s code, the return to Mobian’s timecraft took no time at all. Before too long, the machines realized to leave us be. All the better, since Cheretha’s guards didn’t come with us. “They will take the enemy from the rear.”

“The rear, my favorite place to take an enemy,” I said.

“You have no chance with her,” Mobian said as he led us into the craft and rushed up the dais. He pushed a few buttons, spun a wheel, and looked up. “We’re here.”

“Anticlimactic as usual,” Cheretha said.

I laughed as I launched myself out the door, fists raised. “Ok you metal assholes, I’m gonna tear you apart like I do the English language!”

I found more aliens huddling around in, this time in tight, white-colored clothes. I couldn’t make out what they said, but I heard someone around, singing. Cheretha stepped past me. “We are here to defend the lab. What do you have that will help, and what do you have that the Collective wants?”

One scientist said something, but another in a cleaner and fancier white jumpsuit yelled at it. It had fur over a round face with four eyes, and metal arm reached out the side of its head, rotating from holding a pair of glasses to a tablet. An argument soon broke out, but I just couldn’t concentrate on it for the singing. I walked over to a door it emanated from.

“Gecko?” asked Mobian.

“Shh, I’m trying to listen to the song,” I said. I put my hand on the door and a portion of it turned clear.

I heard Mobian say, “Nobody’s singing. Is anybody here singing? What is she hearing?”

It was a quadrupedal. At first, I imagined it had light grey skin from how smooth and organic it looked. The joints could have been mistaken for folds like you’d see in skin. It stood with hands clasped together, supporting itself on two legs like ours and a pair of thin legs curving down from its shoulders into tapered points. It had no face, which was a little different, and no sex characteristics, which made complete sense.

Cheretha stepped up next to me. “It is one of the Collective. This lab belongs to the Dark Horse Combine.”

The fancy-suited scientist, or whatever it was, blooped furiously at us. It tried to push past me, but I picked it up by the throat with one arm. “Why?”

Mobian walked up and looked in as well. “There is no consistent galactic law regarding civil rights. Many societies don’t classify them as people.”

“That is the Combine’s property by our law,” Cheretha said. “You have destroyed them as freely as the rest of us. More.”

“I’m a homicidal maniac, of course I had no problem killing stuff. Are you saying this is a slave?” I turned my face toward Cheretha.

“The Machine Collective is entirely comprised of escaped servile automatons,” Mobian informed me.

The scientist bleeped out something. Cheretha looked up at him, “He says this one is different. No known civilization has registered a machine of its design before.”

“The Dark Horse Combine,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose. “Say, they manufacture arms and war automatons, right?”

The scientist blubbered some more and reached for Cheretha. She moved out of his reach. “One of those.” She turned to Mobian. “You tell her what he said.”

“He said it is inevitable that artificial intelligences will inevitably turn on the biological ones. The only way to prevent this is to destroy them first.” Mobian sighed and turned to Cheretha. “You’re going to make us complicit in this.”

Cheretha raised her muzzle and looked away. “The duty of the Commandrix to the laws of her station is clear. I will not trample the law for an emergency. It is unfortunate we were too late to prevent the Collective’s progress to the laboratory.”

The furry-faced head scientist, or at least the nicest-dressed one who put up the most resistence, kicked at me and tried to beat on my arm. Cheretha turned to glare at it. “We arrived too late to save everyone among the science team.”

I turned the scientist sideways, grabbed each leg with an arm, and pulled it in half. Pea soup, or something with that color, went everywhere. I threw his upper body on the floor. His little skull-mounted helper arm tried to pull him away. I swung his lower half at the upper half, beating his head in with his own ass until he was so much mush and pea soup on the floor.

Cheretha looked down, then over to the remaining team. “Open the door.” The one who had spoken up stumbled over, holding a hand over its mouth, and tapped a bracer on its wrist. The door in front of me swung open. I stepped in as the singing stopped, looking at the siren that called me.

It wasn’t so much a language that came over the connection. It was more like feelings.

I heard it? I wasn’t machine? Yup, true.

I walked over.

I didn’t think they had a right to take it just because it was a machine. It was an amazing being as well, in design. It found my armor interesting. I was there to release it so that it and its Collective would leave in peace.

I know what y’all are thinking, dear reader. “And then they all fucked!”

No, I took its hand and lead it out, over the dead body and out to where the Machine Collective were crawling over everything. It got a bit overwhelming, there in the inner ring of the station. Looking into the sky, I saw the ground instead. Like, instead of ground and cities being stretched on the outside of a sphere, imagine if it was run along the inside of a cylinder. If I kept walking to one side, I could end up on that same part of the city I looked up at and it would still feel like I was standing on the ground. It’s a concept I’d been educated about as far as space stations went. To actually experience it was disorienting.

I looked to the siren as I let it go and tried to express that if it was ever around Earth, to look up Empress Psycho Gecko of Ricca, where I don’t enslave people just because of their race or how they look or the fact that they’re artificially-created.

I mean, sure, I kidnapped some people for lab tests, but that was just because of dumb luck and them passing through.

I think I got a maybe. The siren raised its tapered arms. I saw a room appear above the walkway. It was like everything behind it had been a wall and someone ripped it open to show the place hidden behind it. It grew taller and wider as the Collective crawled, trundled, and otherwise maneuvered around to jump through it. They were all leaving.

I walked back in to find Cheretha touching her datapad. “The Collective are leaving in peace so the attack is called off. Here is your message.” She held it out for Mobian.

“Let’s just delete this,” Mobian said, winking at her. He pressed something and my legs gave out. I couldn’t move my arms, head, anything. I crashed to the floor while Mobian asked, “Gecko? What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know. Surprised I can speak. Can’t move anything.” I felt aching and a burning feeling spread from my gut. “Was there something in that gas they gave me?”

Mobian bent down and grabbed one of my hands. He dropped it, watching it flop. “Can you feel that?”

“I can feel it, just can’t move it. It’s like I went all wobbly, and my stomach’s blowing up. Ah! Fuck, felt like someone just gave me a lobotomy,” I said. I tried to grit my teeth, but I couldn’t feel them anymore. “I don’t know if I have teeth.”

Mobian frowned, then looked down to his waist as it made a beeping sound. He held it up and pressed a button, watching streams of numbers rolling past each other. He looked down at me, then at the datapad. He began tapping on it some more. “It’s a good thing there is a temporary deletion function that can restore a file before final deletion. How do you feel… now?”

I groaned and pulled myself up into a sitting position. “What the frell was that?”

“You know what I said about removing yourself from existence?” He asked. “This message has to go through for some reason or you don’t exist.”

“What? How does my existence rely on aliens trying to kill me?” I asked.

“Is it possible you interacted with them in the past?” Mobian asked.

“If you count the time of the dinosaurs, yeah,” I said. “Other than that, the only other time was pretty well after I started existing in this universe.”

“Let’s follow this along then. They come back. They have access to time travel, so they somehow do something that helps you exist? No, that’s not right. That is what they would do if they got this message. We know that because in the other timeline, they sent me to lead you into a trap in the past, as you said. Then they fail to kill you.” He put a finger over his lips, puzzled.

“Yeah, and I took their ship, chased you and Future Venus, and you went back in time through the dimensional breach to go back in time in my universe.” I didn’t like where this was going, because it was dawning on me.

Mobian pointed the finger at his lips toward me now. “You said the aliens sent to kill you looked like rangers. What do you mean?”

“Like the Phenomenal Fighting Justice Rangers. They weren’t exactly the same design, but the uniforms were similar, with each one wearing different colors. That’s the city where they first appeared, a little more than ten years later.”

He and I looked at each other. I sighed and looked down. “And if the Rangers didn’t exist, it’s entirely possible my life would have gone in a significantly different direction and I’d never have found my way to this universe. Was that time’s way of saying I wouldn’t even be alive today if that happened?”

He glanced at the numbers on his pager-thing, then put it back on his belt. “And Earth’s history would change. Good for you. You created the Justice Rangers.” I shuddered. He smiled at that. “And without them, you would be dead and never have found your new home.”

“Fuck me in the Alps, no wonder I had a bad mood. Time itself is going out of its way to stick it to me.” I looked up to find Cheretha and the science team standing there, eating small snacks out of bowls.

“What are you going to do about the message?” she asked.

I looked to Mobian. “I think we need to put it on hold for about thirty years. Any idea what that translates to here?” I asked, nodding her way.

“I know what to do,” he said, tapping away on the datapad. I stood up, amazed at the memory of pain that made me want to groan and the lack of any now. It was more abrupt even than healing.

“There,” Mobian said, handing the pad back to Cheretha. “Thank you.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Before I go, I just want to tell you, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And d’you know what?” He turned to look at me. “You were too.”

I waved him off. “Yeah, I get it. I’m great at killing. I would kill them on a sphere, I would kill them over here. I would kill Mot here or there, I would kill even a Hare. I would kill green eggs and ham. I’d rip the head off Sam I am. See you on the damn timeship so we can get to the important stuff.”