“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…
“And that’s why Scott Pilgrim, not Ready Player One, is the best video game movie in existence,” I said, finishing a long explanation. I’d launched into it after bringing Mobian up to speed. The entire timeline shift had taken a toll on him.
He shook off the daze long enough to add, “No one could argue with that.” He reached over for a sip from his cold sweet and salty caramel cappuccino that had gone cold forty-five minutes before. “I just can’t help myself. I feel like I’ve gone out of my bloody head.”
I nodded along, resisting a song lyric that popped into head at that. “I take it you have some sort of sense related to temporal… thingies. Like a timey-wimey-.” As a person with extra arms, I felt a sudden urge to work on stretching and yoga poses. Not the worst way to spend my time. Between my appetite and lack of nanites to help sculpt this masterpiece of a body I have, I’m worried the holiday food might add a shitload of pounds around my midsection.
He huffed loudly, cutting me off. “I’m not Dr. Who. I think they modeled the Doctor on me, but I’ve no reason to seek royalties. No, there are rules when dealing with time.” He stood up and walked over to where a panel on his timeship hung half off. He reached in and started messing around.
I threw up my hands. “That’s what you told me. Now we’re in this timeline and I’m back to square one figuring out this time shit.”
“You said it was a magic ritual from a specific book. Do you think you can get the book away?” he asked.
“More than likely, yes, but I’d rather motivate the person who spent years learning time magic and researching the ritual to do something exacting. Pretty sure it requires precision anyway. You willing to bet the timeline on any old children’s party entertainer reshaping one of the fundamental components of the universe?”
He shrugged. “I have stories. Surely you could cast it?”
I shook my head. “I can’t, and don’t call me Shirley. Casting magic disagrees with my physiology. It’s a shame. Mom didn’t smoke enough when she was pregnant with me.”
Mobian finished with the wiring and grabbed the panel to fix it back. “One of your new ‘friends’ ought to be good for magic. Didn’t Shieldwall have a mage of sorts?” Mobian asked.
“Yeah. Hey, if she asks you what her life’s like over there as one last wish before she changes things, what are you going to tell her?” I stared him down. Near as I can tell, the supergroup known as Shieldwall never formed in this timeline. They had a mage of some sort, whose name I can’t be bothered to remember. I killed her. Can’t remember if she’s one of those someone managed to bring back from the dead once or not. I made my reputation murdering supers and suddenly a whole swath of them decided to return to life. Their desire to keep living shows me disrespect.
Mobian looked up from punching buttons on the panel. A holographic display appeared with a lot of weird shapes blinking. “She has a right to know, but the timeline comes first. No.”
“What about the rest of them in the meantime?” I pointed to the sealed exit to the timeship, which had scorch marks around it.
“They are good people. You are a danger to them,” he answered. “Are you working against them?”
I shook my head. “Like I said, they know me as a hero. Even put me on a team. It shouldn’t matter though. They’re giving me a place to stay and protection while I get on my feet and get this taken care of. If that means I have to slam a few faces into the pavement for them, it seems to work out.”
“A taste of what could have been, perhaps,” Mobian said. When I raised an eyebrow toward him, he raised his hands.
I lowered the eyebrow. “It’s certainly an interesting experience. Not a bad spot to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Think you can just take me back to when he got the book? Or maybe soon after he teleported me out of the hospital?”
“I’d rather not distort the timeline anymore than it already is,” he said. “Imagine if it was merged with the other. An Earth with doppelgangers of the heroes and villains who all know who you are and that you killed some of them.” Now it was his turn to cock an eyebrow. “Is that what you want?”
“Nah, I think I like how tight my ass is now without the world sticking its collective fist up there. But if time travel’s out, that really limits a lot of your capabilities.”
“Time travel is not out, but changing the past may create that scenario. Let’s not.”
“Fine, you crazy limey bastard,” I said.
He just looked at me. “I’m quite tired of so many things crises revolving around you.”
I flipped my hair all to one shoulder and said, “It’s hard being this beautiful. Everyone wants a piece.”
“I hope you have a plan to go with all that narcissistic talk,” Mobian said.
I clued him on that as well. He wasn’t impressed, but it gave him something to listen to while he finished making things no longer blink. “You want to ruin his life until he gives you what you want.”
“No. I’m ruining his idyllic life so he’s forced to either go back to one marginally better, or tries to kill me. Can’t do me in until he completes the ritual. Making people too homicidal toward me for their best interests is a great strategy.”
“I will attempt to abscond with the book while you do that. Come,” he said, heading for the door of his ship.
I stood up and followed. “You can’t just command a woman to come. Not from outside her.”
Instead of a campus in California, my GPS pinged us in Connecticut. We stood in the backyard of a one-story suburban house with a wood fence. Mobian was petting a vicious guard puppy, apparently a half-Chihuahua, half-Pomeranian hybrid. He held it up to stare at me side by side with the dog’s bug-eyed face, then nodded past myself and the timeship. “According to the public records of this time, that is the backyard of the Blackstone household. It would be to our benefit to steal the book. Anything else you do in there is your business.”
I vaulted over the wood fence first. “Huh. Modest for someone with the last name Blackstone. You hear that kind of name, you expect a manor.” Of course, I wasn’t all that surprised. I’d been cyber-stalking the guy ever since Forcelight took me in like a broken baby bird, cradling me against her body and bringing me back to a nest to be fed and cared for. It was yet another brick veneer suburban house that shares a floor plan with another dozen houses in the subdivision.
“A hand?” I heard from behind me. I turned to see Mobian’s fingertips waving up over the wall.
“The one person on Earth a wall could stop,” I muttered. I looked around for something to use. A lawnmower someone left out, a metal bench, a grill, a stone planter…
Louder, I told him, “Stand back!”
The grill splintered the wood when I swung it down on the fence panels. Mobian looked up at me, but appeared unhurt. “I thought burglars were stealthy,” he said.
“This is the suburbs, not Fort Knox, and your ship can travel through time and space. I think we’ll get away with it.”
“Not if he’s inside with the book,” he said.
I helped Mobian over the trashed wood planks on the ground that used to be a fence. “He’s got college classes right now. Probably failing, too.”
I could tell something was wrong upon closer inspection. I could see spilled, drying orange juice laying on the floor. The kitchen wall opposite the backdoor had a a hole in the drywall and a broken picture frame sat on the floor beneath that. “I don’t think we have to worry about alarms today,” I said. I slid the unlocked backdoor open and we came in to observe the scene of a struggle. An ornate knife with a handle shaped like a long claw stuck out of the table, pinning a note to it.
“Dear Douglas Blackstone, you wife is now a guest of His Imperial Magnificence, The Claw. You brought this upon yourself by your arrogance and insolence in attacking the glorious nation of Ricca. We will contact you about making amends and consider the return of your wife, in time.”
“Hmm,” is all I said before I set about gathering up a few items. “No garlic or onions? They live like animals.”
“This is your doing,” Mobian said.
“Part of the pressure, but I’m not in Claw’s chain of command these days. Don’t you have a book to look for?” I asked.
Mobian looked at the note again, shook his head, and went to go hunt down the magic tome of time magic, Los Cincos Soles Dorados.
I had to settle on dumping vinegar and hot Tabasco sauce into a sauce pan and setting it on a stove burner to boil. I let it get going and waft around before carrying it through the living room, down the hallway, and into what tended to be the master bedroom in this house. Mobian put some gadget of his away as a lock popped open on a small wooden box on a bookshelf. “This looks like it,” he said.
I nodded. “Yup.” Then I tossed the boiled vinegar and hot sauce onto the bedding.
Mobian waved his hand in front of his nose and hurried past me, mumbling about me being petty. I headed back to the kitchen where Mobian held a piece of paper and searched around for a pen. I grabbed the knife out of the note and carved a post script into the wood of the table. “PS., I, your old friend PG, didn’t do this. I just stole your book. Maybe you should look me up sometime before doing something stupid again. Never know when a powerful book might come in handy during a rampage of revenge. PPS, he who smelt it dealt it.”
He’d probably get that last point soon after entering the house. Nothing like the smell of boiled vinegar and hot sauce to clear out the sinuses. I stabbed the knife through the note to keep it pinned in there.
I turned to see Mobian standing out on the back patio, petting the little poof dog that followed us from next door. The humanoid had a concerned look on his face; the pupper whimpered and looked upset. I pointed back to the note. “Ricca kidnapped his wife. We stole his book. I don’t think he’ll bother taking them on without it. Either he comes after me to get it back, or he tries to negotiate with me. It’ll probably be safe on your ship, right?”
“Nobody gets in without my permission,” he said. He looked down at the book. The sunlight caught it, momentarily blinding me with an inexplicable flash of golden light. “I will analyze it. I may have a compromise we can all live with.”
I found a supply cache to help me out. I may soon have nanite capability again because of it. My time keeping a close eye on the Riccan Intelligence Service paid off. They had a supply cache in the area. Several safehouses, too. I might see to them later. This time, I paid a visit to the supply cache.
They’d hidden it under a burger place called The Grease Trap. You wouldn’t think that’d be a real name. They specialize in big, fat, greasy, unhealthy burgers. A look through the window showed someone chowing down on a burger that looked to be about fifty-percent burnt, crunchy bacon and dripping red grease. I got a pain in my left arms just looking at it, and I’m pretty sure the guy working the register was a Riccan agent.
I went around back, to the dumpsters. A homeless person sat back there, lap covered in a blanket and upper body nestled in a giant sweatshirt. I’ve been around a shitload of dumpsters, and these were something special, with a fragrant bouquet that would scare off most people. But, to the experienced nose, it only added to the suspicion. There was one smell missing that no dumpster is without. I’ve dumpster dived for parts. I’ve hidden from cops in trash. I’ve even scanned in shredded documents. There’s one smell every single dumpster on Earth shares: sour beer. If I ran across a dumpster at the biggest Mormon temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, there would still be beer in there.
The Riccans were sloppy without me in charge. They were practically begging to be broken into. Just look at what the building’s wearing. I checked around the dumpsters and found an outlined section like a panel. It opened up after I pressed on it and lifted up to show a keypad. A fucking keypad. What is this, a cell for 80 year olds?
The key was having a powder of some sort. Luckily, I’d beaten up a drug dealer earlier. It was purely for selfish reasons and had nothing to do with the team being asked to assist the cops and Advocate directing me to work the drug unit specifically. So I beat the crap out of some dealers and confiscated the coke. I didn’t want it to tempt any of the cops. They might snort it or sell it. It would defeat the purpose to let them have it. Plus, I need the money more than they do.
It came in handy here. I opened the Ziploc and tossed a handful at the keypad. There were four numbers the powder stuck to. Ah, human oil. If only we could harness it the same way we do the oil of other critters. It gets everywhere. Disgusting creatures, humans.
I didn’t get the right combination of numbers my first go. As soon as I inputted it, I heard a whirring noise from behind me and threw myself to the side, narrowly dodging a gout of flame. Having stopped codebreaking and dropped, I rolled to avoid more and looked up to see what had come after me. The homeless person’s sweater had burnt away when the automated flamethrower turret inside activated. Disarming that was as easy as cutting the fuel line with my laser eye, which set fire to the machine as well. With no other defenses, I was free to take my time on the scorched keypad until I found the combo. The dumpster clicked and released from the wall. The thing was easy to move, and underneath was the supply cache.
It was a treasure trove of things anyone needs to run a spy operation in a major city: guns, body armor, computers, burner phones, more drugs, and a shitload of reusable gift cards. The cards would have to be enough. The video cameras recording me would be a nice bonus. Unlike the Institute of Science, these were sending data via broadband to the upstairs. I plugged myself in and made an adjustment. Woops, there goes the camera data, except for a few fragments I inserted showing a man matching Douglas Blackstone’s description. He’s the one who broke in, Claw! Feel free to find him and question why all you like. Ha!
Just one of the ways I keep implicating Blackstone while doing my duty as a superhero. It’s kinda growing on me, knowing that I can do whatever I want to him and no one will believe him. Just eternal torment at my hands, no one believing him that I’m evil. The worst hells are those of our own making, or so a demon or two has told me. I don’t know if they were flirting or monologuing before a torture. I’m not sure there’s a big difference, but I enjoyed it either way.
So, after using those gift cards to splurge on some usable materials, I decided to spy on my new nemesis’s wife. A nice easy way to occupy my mind while my body put some things together. See what she’s up to. She’s a tiny little thing. Short and skinny. Can’t imagine her ever being pregnant. Hmm, now there’s an idea for getting back at him. But not without my nanites.
My mind flew from California to Connecticut as fast as the lag would let me. Marivel was typing away at her work computer, messing around with a spreadsheet. She had an instant messenger related to her job, so that was my way in. I showed up as anonymous to her.
“Hello, Marivel Blackstone.”
“Yes? Is this Mr. Drangly?”
“No, this is… someone else. Someone who knows something is wrong.”
“What do you mean? Is it about the Fergson account?”
“Nope. That’s Greek to me.”
“It was in Greek.”
“Hence the cliché phrase. No, I have something more personal to discuss with you. Tell me, haven’t you noticed something off about your husband lately?”
“Management monitors this account.”
Yes, they do, when their computers are on and the messenger’s logs aren’t wiped. “That has been taken care of.”
“?What did u? do? Who are u?”
“I am a super from another dimension, sort of. It’s complicated. I was brought here by Douglas Blackstone. I believe you know the name.”
“What does my husband have to do with superheroes?”
“Nothing, until the Blackstone from my dimension came here and took the place of the Douglas Blackstone of this world.”
There was a long pause before she answered. “that’s crazy.”
“Sure it is. Now that you know it, things make more sense. Gaps in knowledge? Some difference in how he looks? A new interest in the occult?”
“I’m not saying your right but there are other explanations”
“Do any of them account for his extracurricular activities?” An image flashed across her screen. She got a glimpse of copied images I kept of her husband’s new Federal file. Then came the sound file that opened and played on her end: “I missed opportunities for happiness, like with a childhood friend. I didn’t miss her in this reality. I didn’t realize it until we were on the road.”
I thought we were done, but after a few minutes of me building away in the Master Academy workshop, she typed again. “why tell me this?”
“So you’d know the truth. You deserve to know the man sharing your bed isn’t the same one you knew and fell in love with.”
“I need to think about this”
Fair enough. I figured I’d give her even more time by putting their car into the local police’s system over there. Caress a few ones and zeroes, and suddenly it was spotted speeding away from the scene of a bank robbery. Arranging for a bag of unmarked bills to appear at their house will be a little tougher, but I hear people like delivering things by drone in this timeline, too. It’s only a matter of time before drone piracy becomes a thing. I imagine Captain Flamebeard will laugh his ass off from his flying pirate ship.
All in all, not a bad way to set things up for the New Year. But, still, I decided not to wear a mask on this New Year’s Eve. I sat away from the festivities, sipping on wine and Irish cream liqueor. Not together, no. Ew. Just one after the other. It was a side room at the Master Academy, one of the little recreation areas with a TV, sofa, and room for the younger students to play with toys.
I sat there, blinking through channels, when I heard a knock. I looked up to see Advocate there. “There’s plenty of room at the party,” he suggested.
I shook my head. “Nah. I’m ok. Kind of a bad time, considering what’s happened.”
“I didn’t get the whole story on that,” he said.
“An asshole mage didn’t like me, blamed me for all his problems, and went all ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ to stick he and I in a world where I didn’t exist. He hated it too, and we were going to work together to get back to our world, but then he realized the version of him in this world had a wife and he decided to stay.” I mean, I probably did kill Blackstone’s parents. I’ve killed a lot of people. It’s still correct to point out he blames me for killing them. I sighed. “I miss my daughter.”
“Oh. No wonder you hate him,” Advocate said. “If you need more things to get drunk with, you know where to find us all. Just don’t mess up all the school computers or something, alright?”
I waved him off. “Fine, fine.”
I still went out to see the fireworks. Just like on my Earth, the state of California basically spent the entire year on fire somewhere or other, but some of the supers set up a more controlled way of making exploding lights in the sky using their powers. Some would zap things up, or carry stuff with telekinesis. It was quite a show, especially when the entire sky lit up and a glowing orb appeared in the air.
Mobian’s timeship jerked from side to side, then plummeted. It halted its crash about ten feet off the ground and landed slowly. When the door opened, Mobian himself stumbled out. He looked different. Darker skin, longer hair, and burns on some of his clothes. He looked around at some of the supers who surrounded him, including a couple with healing abilities who stepped forward to check him over.
“I need help,” he said. “Something’s gone wrong with the timeline. Things aren’t supposed to be this way.”
“Tell me about it,” I muttered.
He looked right at me in a crowd of supers who liked to beat me up, and said something I didn’t expect to hear, “Gecko?”
I nodded. “We’re in deep shit again, aren’t we, Mobian?”
“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.
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.”
It’s been a frustrating game of cat and mouse. Or I suppose it’s cat and cat, but then that means one of us alleycats is gonna get screwed with a prickly dick. Part of me wasn’t exactly eager to face him. Really made me wish I hadn’t taken along some of Max’s beer when Mobian showed up to offer me a ride. Since Mobian’s little glowing orb craft was able to appear within it, it also made me hope Mot lacked any sort of temporal manipulation.
I lowered the island’s shield long enough to fly out of there instead of resort to time shenanigans, also allowing me and the Riccan military to bring drones and other equipment out. Some things don’t fit so easily through Cape Diem’s portal network. Dr. Creeper’s new Mecha Troopers, for instance. Hopefully they’ll help, but I’d rather have tanks of some sort for this encounter. Light infantry and drones are ok for raids, not so much open warfare.
Mobian managed to sync up people worldwide with a line of communication to help us coordinate. It gave the heroes and Titan’s people a chance to try and counter some of the emergencies happening: earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and a biopic of Dick Cheney. It was more than mankind could ever handle on its own. And then there was me, trying to fill Mobian in about the Three Hares and Barkiel.
“The alien, Barkiel, meant for Mot to draw those forces to the planet,” Mobian said, tapping the side of his nose in thought.
“Yeah, except they wanted me handed over to them,” I added. When Future Venus and Mobian claimed to need my help and then took me back to the time of dinosaurs, it was part of a deal they’d struck. The aliens who saved Earth from the rampaging Mot 30 years in the future wanted me as payment. “And the ones who came to collect me were the same ones from a world we raided.”
“What raid?” Mobian asked, looking up from the control panel on the raised dais.
“A team-building exercise among villains. When we finally cleared out the Institute of Science of experiments gone wrong and everything else that had been unleashed in the chaos from my disagreement with the guy, one room had a weird crystal that opened a doorway to an alien world. They had abducted some people I hired to help me and sent them back through the portal to attack us, so I returned the sentiment in kind and then closed the door. But before I left, I saw those same beings. To me, they resembled rangers.” I growled the last word. Couldn’t help it.
“Barkiel waited more than a thousand years, driven mad by hope. He implemented a plan to kill billions… when the way home was on that little island,” Mobian said. He shook his head. “The universe loves a tragedy.”
“Any chance we could just go back and take him?” I asked.
Mobian threw a switch. “Absolutely not. I wouldn’t kill me and try to fly the ship unless you want to die. It,” he flipped a toggle.” is,” another, “mine.” He spun a wheel around and turned to look at me. “History gets no rewrites on my watch.”
“Unless you want one, shouldn’t you get me to the battlefield already?” I asked.
“Trust me, you’re already there,” he said.
“I don’t feel there,” I said, looking around the ship.
Mobian pointed to the round wall of his ship. A view appeared of long rod in space that several l lights were zipping to and from. “That’s because you’re here now,” he said. “The Hinge of Shevara.”
“Any other day, I’d probably love to hear the story behind that, but shouldn’t we getting back?” I asked.
The Mobian snapped his fingers and the view rewound through a flash of light that showed us far above the eye of a hurricane in a city. Another glowing orb like the Mobian’s ship appeared then. The reversal reversed itself, showing us now quite close to the rod hinge of Che Guevara, or whatever. I noticed the line of communications to Earth had gone quiet too. “I’m here to stop that signal from getting through. You’re along for the ride.”
I threw up four hands. “Couldn’t you have done this AFTER dropping me off?”
“No!” he said. He turned and walked over to me, looking me over. “You are involved with this. You’re in the thick of it. I needed you to trace the signal.”
I holographically projected a raised eyebrow over one of the three false eyes of my helmet.
Mobian circled around me. “You don’t belong here. You’re supposed to be dead. Eliminated from the timeline. Ex-ter-” he stopped to cough. “Sorry, I’ve heard the phrase a touch too often but it came to mind.” He stopped in front of me, holding his pointers to his thumbs in my direction. “You are a direct cause of an event and not meant to be here, ergo my amazing ship was able to trace a causal-temporal link to find bring us here.”
I didn’t feel anything, but the Mobian smiled. “We’re here.”
“Nice as it is to know the universe partially revolves around me, whatever we’re here for, let’s do it quick.” I said, following him to the door. I dropped the bomb off inside the ship, hoping I wouldn’t have need to use it up before I got to its intended target. Besides, destroying space stations is much moe fun when I’m not on them. I half expected the ship to lock me inside again, but I passed through into a room with bright yellow wall panels.
“Relax, wherever you’re going, you’re already there. You don’t trust yourself?”
I didn’t hesitate a moment to answer, “No.”
“Fine. We just need to find the Communications Transit Depot. Simple enough,” he walked on into a crowd of aliens of all shapes and sizes. Hearts, stars, mushrooms, clovers and blue moons. Those aren’t lucky charms, those are just some of the body shapes I saw on display. They all steered clear of this one race that looked remarkably humanoid but for the intense orange skin, bald heads, and tiny hands.
“Oh don’t touch them. They’re belligerent,” said Mobian, catching me staring.
“They seem familiar, but I just can’t place them,” I said. “Hey, you said communications transit?”
“Right. Yes, well, the universe is a large place and no matter how good your communications network is, it can take awhile to get there and you risk signal degradation. The Hinge serves many purposes, but it also has a Communications Transit Depot where it stores incoming signals, cleans and enhances the signal, then boosts them to the appropriate destination.” He explained it all to me without breaking stride, even as a red creature floated by hanging from twin gas bladders that helped it resemble the cartoonish heart shape.
“You think we got here in time?” I hurried after, dodging a crowd of things green things with long, thin bodies and limbs. To me, the faces looked female, but they lacked boobage. Instead, they had four long, leafy protrusions extending from their necks, which is why I had nicknamed them Clovers. Given they might be plant-based, I’m going to ignore the hand gesture one gave me that the others responded to with noises like rapid creaks. I couldn’t help but the first music to come to mind.
“Is that from the Mos Eisley Cantina? Anyway, here we are,” Mobian said, leading me to a room with multiple consoles on glowing platforms. Each one had different sets of controls all in different marked-off areas of the console. He picked one empty of anyone else and headed over there. “These depots are amazing, but they tend to be backed up.” He turned to look around, then slipped something out of his jacket pocket. One weird whizzy sound later, a holographic monitor appeared and scrolled through to something in a language I couldn’t understand.
“Here it is. Yes, it just arrived yesterday. My, that’s impressive speed.” He nodded and turned to glance at me. I just shrugged. “If you knew how far away from Earth we were right now, you’d be impressed.”
“Yeah, while I’d normally love the prospect of tearing up an alien space station or getting a second chance to rampage through time, my mind’s on Mot,” I told him. Behind us, another party entered, heading toward us. It looked like a white giraffe with a smaller muzzle and eyes on the front, in armor like chunky rocks. There were twenty others, most of them short little things in chunky rock armor, all of them in helmets. There was one of the heart-shaped aliens, though. Just like the others, it had a big round disk, like a wheel, pointed at us. “Mobian,”
The giraffe said something and Mobian’s head whipped around. “Cheretha! I hadn’t thought I’d run into you here.”
The giraffe answered back. I couldn’t make out what she was saying. My translator programs’ good, but there’s several worlds of difference between figuring out the human languages and tongues of the extraterrestrials. Note to self: Tongues of the Extraterrestrials is also a good name for a band. And a porno. And a Scientology book.
“Mobian, do I need to give us some privacy?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No! No, that would be a bad idea for all of us. We’ll be more than happy to come with you, just let me finish my transaction.” Mobian turned and pointed back to the console. The giraffe barked and one of the rocky little dwarfs fired a transparent wave from the disk, blowing up the console and shorting out the hologram.
I ahemed. “You sure, Mobian?”
“Do not tempt me with watching you get your arse handed to you here and now, Gecko. Let’s go with the nice, friendly staff and get this cleared up.” Mobian smiled and raised his hands to walk out. I sighed and a hologram of me walked along with him, hands raised, leaving me behind unseen. It might’ve worked until the heart—alien swam over to me, honking and huffing. That one could see me, and brought the attention of some of the dwarfs. They pointed their disks all over, but at least a couple had them in the right direction.
“Fine, fine,” I said, appearing and raising my hands for real. I just had to take comfort in the fact that we do show back up at the battle, right?
They put us in alcoves off in a quiet corner and down a hallway. There was a circular desk that another dwarf sat at, still with its helmet on. Another led us into our little nooks and left alone. I tried stepping back out and was thrown against the padded wall as a result. “Huh, guess the padded room wasn’t meant specifically for me this time,” I said, sliding down to a seated position. In another alcove, this big rodent thing chittered away at my predicament. It had two front paws that looked more hands, while another four stretched down to the ground. Like a capybara centaur with a blue hair spiked out from left to right over its head. If the Planet of the Rats had a statue of liberty, that’s what its head would look like. And long, droopy sideburns, if you can say that about a thing with fur all over its body.
Mobian had gotten comfortable laying down on his bed, but waved a hand toward the capybara. “It’s her first time off planet. I swear, can’t take her anywhere.”
The capybara clucked at Mobian, who responded with, “Earth. I’m saving it again.”
If they were worried about the guard, they didn’t show it. It just sat there at its desk, watching something on a holographic monitor. I could almost make it out on my side, but not enough to be helpful in whatever language it was.
“No, you’re sitting in a cell,” I said. “How does being incarcerated help us, by the way?”
“I will work this out, I promise. Cheretha and I have to talk, that’s all. We left things in a bad place, and I’m not supposed to be back here if we’re being honest.”
“Wow, trespassing on your ex’s property. Now all we need’s the new boyfriend out here in a tank top,” I said.
The station shook. Mobian sat up and the capybara quieted down. “Does that normally happen?” I asked. The guard at the desk looked up at us, but twisted and pulled frantically at something on his desk, checking a holographic screen.
“Only when something’s gone terrible wrong,” he said. “A disaster like a redirected meteor that no one intercepted, or a rogue black hole, or even-” he stopped as a sound started up that even I could recognize as an alarm. “invasion.”
The guard stood up, pulled a disk out from under the desk, looked at us, then hightailed it out of there.
The capybara started chewing on the wall of its alcove then. We heard other sounds. Turns out in space, you CAN hear people scream. The odd shake didn’t help matters. I looked up and around, trying to see about hand holds or obvious weaknesses.
Meanwhile, the capybara chewed on something that sparked. It tested a paw and found the barrier gone and ran out of the cell before ducking under the desk. A mess of robotic parts stepped in on a nest of mechanical legs. It had a big round head with lenses all around, and a thin mechanical pincer with something held in it. At this point, I’m just assuming anyone or anything holding anything else is a weapon.
“Hello gents,” said Mobian. “I see you’re from the Collective. Don’t mind me. I’m just a prisoner.”
It checked the other two nooks in there before turning to Mobian. After a second, another joined it in the room, a round saucer on a tripod with a lens on a cable stalk. Just assuming whatever rotated around at the top of the saucer but on the outside of the eye stalk was a weapon too. The noises they made were like synthesizer music, but sounds without a tune. They stepped closer, losing track of the rest of the room from the way the capybara rushed out from under the desk and slapped the wall next to my nook.
The machine thingies turned to stare at the capybara. The one with all the extra eyes stalked closer on its tentacles. It blared noises, backing the capybara up against the wall of my cell. It made music like laughter.
Then I yanked it up to where I hid on the ceiling, tearing it apart and spraying the lower part of the cell with oil and parts. I dropped from my handholds in the ceiling, uncoiling more like, becoming visible one again. The tripod just looked at me as I raised my three-eyed helmet toward it and released a joyful “Haaaa!” from my fanged mask.
The tripod let out a loud, dissonant tone and fired at me, missing and hitting the walls with sparking ball lightning. I jumped and slammed it into Mobian’s nook’s barrier. It bounced off and onto my thrusting arm which went through it. I lifted it up as the machine shook and went still, then tossed it aside and hit the panel to free Mobian. “You know, I just wanted to kill a guy and get it done with, but you wanted to go sight-seeing.”
“Be that as it may, we need to fight through the Machine Collective’s invasion, gain access to that file, and stop it from getting to its destination. Otherwise, the same aliens that stopped Mot before will come to Earth and it won’t matter if you beat him or not. Are we on the same page?” he turned to me.
The capybara saluted with the boxy thing that the first of the machines had held in its pincer. I looked between the two of them. “Aw fuck. If you’re gonna mess with my schedule like this, it better at least be fun, star prince.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at me. “This is nothing serious. We’ve got time enough for an adventure, and I never thought I’d see the day I faced the Machine Collective with you on my side. Brilliant.”
He ran out of the room, leaving me to laugh as I realized. “A trip to the intergalactic mail depot where I get to go on a killing spree? Hey Mobian, does this mean we’re going postal?!”
Section 8 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
“When did you escape from this dimension?” Mobian asked.
I gave him the date of my D-Bomb detonation. “But you’ll need to be close. There was a force shield up around me to contain the blast.” He nodded once, thanking me, while I clung to my family. I hugged onto Qiang, probably harder than I should have. It felt like Mobian took forever to get out of there.
“Are you going to leave all your stuff in the ship?” Citra asked.
I nodded. “We need to go as soon as we can. The ship is wrecked, I think. I just need to go.”
“What’s wrong?” she asked, reaching out to stroke my hair. Qiang looked up at me, too.
“A lot of very bad shit happened to me when I was a kid. I could stop it if I wanted, but I would never have met any of you. It feels like I’m responsible for everything I went through back then now. So I want to run out there and save myself.” My HUD offered a helpful music selection from a band called Stabbing Westward that I had to decline.
“She destroyed your armor,” Citra pointed out.
I gave my armor a quick glance. I’d lost my helmet and one of my gauntlets, and the chest plating was wrecked. Fallen off, or barely clinging to the underlayer. Upon closer inspection, I could see all sorts of less obvious damage arising from the fight. The holodisc had taken a hit at some point. Venus’s armor had been able to go toe to toe with a charged up version of mine, which was impressive. It also meant some likely problems with the pseudomuscles and exoskeleton when we were punching each other’s hands. Her’s hadn’t been nearly so bulky, either. I need to steal me some of that.
And as for how I felt about finally getting her… I wish the fight went differently. At the end of the day, she’s still dead and I’m still alive, but it doesn’t sit so well with me for some reason. Though, it didn’t sit well with Venus to kill me and look where that got her. This is why a professional killer shouldn’t make it personal. I can’t help but wonder if my own obsession with her may mirror her obsession with saving me, and to similar ends…
A flash of light signaled that we’d jumped forward in time while I was distracted. The wall displayed down below us, where my old girlfriend knocked me the fuck out and left me laying next to a D-bomb. We must have been hidden from view, because nobody so much as blinked as the ship swooped down to hover close over my semi-conscious body when the force shield was activated. This time, I could see the mixed relief and worry; triumph and defeat. As much as my followers at this point had hated the way they’d been treated, I was the only one who felt as strongly about it as destroying the planet. It probably didn’t get any easier after that, but hopefully some humans were smart enough to recognize that homo machina are people too. But probably not.
When the D-Bomb went off and we were all thrown through the Universe Divide, those thoughts cleared away for a moment. It really was an amazing sight, seeing the multiverse laid out like that. Then we were hovering over the scene where the me from this point in time had arrived on the Earth where I almost sorta fit in better. Lots of things destroyed, and another me down there. As strongly as I tend to feel about there being no doppelgangers, I dunno, I’m not in a hurry to drop down and kill myself. Maybe it’s the time aspect. Maybe warnings about fucking with something that big do resonate with me. Hell, maybe I simply can’t. Something might come up to stop me just to prevent the paradox of me from the future killing the past me, which would then prevent future me from existing to kill past me.
From my perspective, the effects of messing with time travel have been ambiguous enough.
“I would have shown you the future, of the year 2033, but that period is in temporal flux at the moment,” Mobian said. He shot me a look. I scratched my eyebrow with my middle finger. “I have archives of the great war with Mot.”
“What is Mot?” asked Citra.
“A god of death,” Mobian answered.
“That story’s real?” I asked. “I guess it’d make sense for Venus’s actions, but I’d kinda been going on that just being made up to get me in the trap.”
“Mot is very real.” The walls changed around us, showing a being walking along a grassy plains. He looked like a man. Just an everyday guy. Beard, hair grown out and back in a ponytail, a slight beard. But every footstep stripped the plants and left perfect footprints of dirt. He had followers, for some reason. I guess if a guy might just kill everyone, he attracts the occasional person willing to serve them if it makes the threat stop. The surprise is that this supposed God of Death didn’t just kill them too. Suddenly, a glowing green man in a costume the colors of the American flag flew in. This one looked a lot like a guy I’d seen before, a super with a tank strapped to his back that nuked a militia base. I guess this time he decided tanks, but no tanks.
He held his hands out, then a mushroom cloud erupted, centered on the weird rippling guy. It didn’t even clear before the rippling man was flying at the nuclear man, who tried to outrun him. His target reached an arm out, and kept on reaching well past normal human limb length to grab the nuclear guy.
The nuker beat at the arm, and his skin even flared up in a brighter green, so I think he was tryting to do something. I have to assume that’s the case, because none of it made Mot stop. He pulled himself right up toward him, then collided and smacked over him like he was liquid. One moment there were two people there, then just one. Mot started to fall, then stopped. He looked at his hands, then toward an approaching group of tanks. He wiped them out with a nuclear explosion of his own, just like the guy who had disappeared into him. Then he looked back over to his followers, who were ensconced in a glowing dome of metal that retreated into the ground. None had been hurt by the blast, though that’s unlikely to be true for long unless he’s clearing away fallout.
“So he eats people and takes their powers?” I asked. “I dunno, I expected something weirder. Like, I dunno, tentacles? There are always tentacles involved. And that it’d be giant, with no real face. This just looks like a man.”
“I believe he was an early powerful superhuman treated as a god. I think his original, or most important, power is what he did there. He absorbs people and takes on their powers. He eats every superhuman he encounters,” Mobian pressed something else on his console.
The view shifted to Mot leading his followers into a small town. Locals stop and stare at him. He halts and raises his hands. The crowd of dark-eyed people moves past him, running for any people or animals around. They fight like their lives depend on it, beating the resistance out of folks. It was like a horde of pimps seeking cash from a couple dozen hookers. Someone did manage to shoot one of the followers, and that guy went down. The ground underneath the shooter shook and dirt flooded upward around the guy’s legs, trapping him and pulling him back under as it retreated. The prisoners were brought before Mot, who put his hands on their heads. He ate most of them. A very few were released to join his flock, though at least a couple of those hung their heads in shame. The more worrisome types were the ones to hold their heads up proudly and smile.
“Mind control?” I ask.
Mobian shook his head. “Not that anyone is aware of. It is discovered just before he is defeated that he has limited telepathy. The one who discovers this said that it was as though Mot peered into his mind and could tell that he was more afraid of Mot than of anyone or anything else.”
“He’s like some sort of extortionist cult leader,” Arsehole said. I still hadn’t bothered asking the name of Mobian’s companion, but, more importantly, I just didn’t care.
“How’d he die?” I asked “Might help me do so more quickly on this go-round.”
The scene changed yet again. Now, Mot stood in a city I didn’t recognize offhand. His followers swarmed like ants, many armed and firing back at soldiers. I noticed a pocket of them shooting uselessly at a tank until one of them closed her eyes and ran for the tank, arms wide. She exploded upon reaching it, cracking open its armor and leaving it a smoking heap.
Then I saw the monsters arrive. A killer clown with a ridiculously exaggerated head sprayed bottles of liquid on followers of Mot that left them smoking, acid-eaten wretches. A hulked-out man with a metal skull for a head ignored gunshots and swung a hook on a chain at followers. A long-haired woman clung to the side of a building and pulled people up toward her with a tongue that wrapped around their throats. Their heads disappeared under her long hair, which hung down to hide her head. They shuddered, then fell, headless.
Spinetingler appeared, his armor black metal and bone, to wield a scythe against Mot. Meanwhile, several of Mot’s followers clutched their heads, then turned on their fellows. Spinetingler’s daughter walked among them a flowing black dress, playing with a pet white rat in her hands.
Mot and Spinetingler fought, briefly. Spinetingler tried to cut the God of Death into pieces, but Mot’s limbs regrew like liquid spurting back out. Before Spinetingler could truly comprehend what was going on, Mot spread out like a human sheet that wrapped around the horror villain. Tingler struggled. Just imagine a human hand pressing out of a big, pliable sheet of human flesh. Nice images. More things to scare my daughter to sleep.
The squirming mass pulled itself back into just Mot. Then some of his followers began to warp and shift into monstrous forms of their own. The day suddenly became night, which seemed like just Spinetingler’s powers until the view shifted to show the sky blotted out by a massive ship. It fired Mot, catching the thing in a blue beam. Mot raised a hand to stare tiny parts of him disintegrated away, slowly enough for him to watch. He started to pull himself back together in spite of it, until the beam pulsed. The view shifted to outside the city, showing the pulse work its way down the beam until a it sweeps out as a wave, fading away before it reaches whatever is recording. The entire city just… blows away. Buildings, people, streets, plants. What’s left is a smooth, circular depression, deep into the Earth.
“The People’s Republic filed only token objections about the destruction of Beijing. After Islamabad and New Delhi, humanity knew the city was already dead.” Mobian said.
Qiang clung to me, hiding her face against my chest. I rubbed her head and kissed the top of it. “There, there, I can stop it.” I looked up to Mobian and nodded toward the space ship. “And the aliens?”
Mobian pressed a button and the walls of his ship whited out again. “That is for me to know and you to find out.”
“Fine… just know that once I take out Mot, I want the title,” I pointed at him with one hand as the others began rubbing my daughter’s back.
“The title?” he asked.
“That’s right, once I find and kill that bastard, I want to be called the God of Death.”
“You see that and you want to find it?” asked Arsehole. She threw her hands up in the air. “He’s a bloody madman!”
“You saw how well waiting for it worked out for everyone,” I explained. I looked down at Qiang. “Now let’s go see your momma.” I looked up at Mobian. “The little girl you just scared would like that, I believe.”
When we landed at that time, Qiang rushed out of the timeship first. Citra and I followed, but I bounced off the opening and she went on through. I tried again, pushing at seemingly empty air. Citra turned to look at me, then reached out for my hand. She tried pulling me through but it just didn’t work. “Go, make sure she’s safe,” I told Citra. I whirled on Mobian, but he and Arsehole ducked through the door quickly. I tried to reach through and grab them, but I was stopped again.
Mobian raised his hands. “I will not give you the opportunity to screw things up further. That is all. This isn’t a trick or trap; neither ambuscade nor set-up. I promise on my life I would never allow your child to come to harm.”
I pointed to the corpse of Future Venus. “I somehow doubt that. I told it to show you what is happening so you will not be unaware. I will release you should anything go wrong.”
And with that, he walked away. Because he could. Just left me banging on a door. Muttering angry sounds to myself, I turned and looked around at the walls, wondering when they were going to show me anything. “Well?” I asked, raising my hands up.
The walls unwhited again, changing to show me Qiang and Citra holding hands, Qiang finding her way through a small town to a house. Mobian and Arsehole ran to catch up as well, but Qiang wasn’t focused on anything but finding her mom.
Nothing seemed to be happening so, having so recently used her as an argument, I snuck on over to help myself to a teeny tiny sample of Future Venus’s future armor. A gal’s gotta stay up to date.
“Mommy!” Qiang said, launching herself at a woman who was rather plain looking, with a scar on one eyebrow that caused a slight break in the hair there. A shame, though. If only I had Qiang’s birthday, I could have gone back about nine months beforehand and made sure she was mine. There wasn’t a man around there anyway. Also, note to self: find out Qiang’s birthday and throw her a party.
Qiang’s mother humored the little girl, having a young baby of her own now, especially once Citra explained to her quietly, “She lost her mother when she was young and you look like her. Please humor her.”
The woman smiled and agreed. Mobian patted Citra’s back but she shot him a look. I’m liking Citra more and more after this trip. I just hope she’s not in love with me or thinking this is more than it is. The group had a pleasant time there, it seemed. They sat and talked. The Citra, Arsehole, and Mobian all fawned over a baby I assumed was Qiang, while my present Qiang told her mother all about me saving her and being her dad and crazy adventures we went on. Yeah, a child’s recitation of my real life doesn’t make for a believable story.
Finally, it was time to drag her away. I knew they’d have to. If that mother was saved somehow, Qiang probably wouldn’t be mine. But knowing that doesn’t count for much when you see your daughter broke out into tears and start struggling to get free of a couple adults.
I launched myself at the command console with a growl, pressing my cheek to it as if that’d make everything merge together faster. Just as the nerves reached out and began to link to what passed for circuitry on the ship, a shock threw me on my back. The walls whited up again, not that I could watch anyway. I was shocked again every time I felt ok to stand or even roll over. It hurt like a brick up the ass.
A few minutes later, Mobian’s voice rang out. “There, go to your daddy if she’s quite done touching things she shouldn’t.”
“I swear, all I did was lick absolutely every surface on that console,” I said, chuckling to myself. I felt Qiang run over and hug me where I lay and I pulled her tight with all but my lower left arm. That one rested uncomfortably under my back. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“I hate him. I hate stupid heroes,” she said through sniffles.
“I know. I hate them too,” I said, turning to shoot a hostile smile to Mobian.
He snorted and walked up to the platform on his ship. “What I do is necessary. For that matter, my life is if you want to go anywhere. I think it’s for the best if you have a lie down while I see to our travel arrangements.”
Without my helmet, I couldn’t keep as close an eye on everything. I had Citra and Qiang though. Citra to brush my hair and Qiang for me to brush her hair. And Mobian did finally let me up to leave.
I was happy to be rid of him, though. Happy to be back in Ricca, and only an hour after my last stop. Nothing really to clean up after all this, save for the bundle I had wrapped around my lower left arm. I kept it behind me and under my cape as I left Mobian’s ship, so he didn’t really notice. It really was amazing armor, what Future Venus wore. With one of my armor’s working holodiscs attached, Mobian may not even realize she’s missing it.
So I worked on it in the Institute of Science, keeping an eye on him as he began seeking out people with doctorates and more bills than morals to fill out our science team. They certainly would have loved studying what happened with my log. Time travel did odd things to its attempts to send off. I didn’t gain many new readers in the Cretaceous, but that’s for the best. As far as time travel trips go, mine was probably more of a bogus journey than an excellent adventure.
I lost so much I had to redo, too. I rebuilt the nanite mini-foundry, and the armor maintenance tube. And, finally, I finished my new armor. Gecko’s back from her little vacation. Well-rested. Re-armed. Ready to steal some shit and kill some people.
They say that in strange aeons, even death may die.
It’s time to bring the strange.
Dammit, I just realized I got roped into saving the world again. Because now Future Venus is dead, and I’m left alive to deal with a guy who eats supers or get eaten.
Venus is so damn annoying, she makes me want to kill her twice.
Archive Transmission Fragment 8 Complete
Section 7 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
Whatever damage had happened to the ship, at least it let me leave. I’d made sure Citra and our hostage were alright enough, then headed out to go see what the fuck was going on. I almost tripped over what I’d thought had been part of the wall. A column had fallen down and cracked open, spreading more of those colorful alien uniforms everywhere.
In contrast to the Cretaceous and my brief stopover in the Enlightenment, this place was full of digital noise. I’d gotten used to a lower level of signal traffic, and it was something of an adjustment for me to be here again. The ship had crashed onto a hilltop across the river and outside of a city with architecture you wouldn’t see on the Earth I’d become accustomed to. I knew this city. Home.
The city where I’d been born. It was even snowy, just like my earliest memories. The ones starting just before men with guns busted in the door. I realized a building whose unbuilt top floors I’d once used as a sniper’s nest didn’t even stand out on the skyline. That’s when I checked the date.
Oooooh. Oh no. No no no. How the FUCK did they know that date? Was there time to save myself? Should I?
That explains what was going through my head and why I wasn’t paying so close attention when Venus called out from behind me. “You seem distracted!”
I turned, throwing a wild punch, only to end up with her grabbing my arm and using my own momentum to toss me onto my back. I checked her out while slowly getting to my fight. The armor plating was flush, looking like puzzle pieces, but flexible. The boots were wider and thicker, probably for the sake of leverage. Same went for the fists. Light grey, save for a little remaining pink on the chest, it had seen better days. I found those pockmarks I’d seen on it before, along with scorch marks and thin surface cuts. The armor came up and guarded her neck where it met a helmet. That greying hair was hidden behind a helmet of armored V-shaped plates that swept from the back of her neck down to cover her eyes with one-way mirrored glass. The only skin I could see on her was her mouth.
“Done looking me over?” she asked.
I brushed my thighs off, biding some time, trying to stop the loud hammering of a tell-tale heart that gave away my thoughts on being back here and now. “How’d you know to come back now, to this time?”
She smiled. “I thought you wanted to kill me?”
“Oh, I do. You fucking used me! Just throwing my life away, taking my daughter and running. And now you bring me here. What the fuck?!” Ok, so I was bit on tilt. For the folks who don’t enjoy poker, that means I wasn’t thinking all that clearly.
“What day is it?” she asked.
“You brought me back to it, how can you not know?” I looked around, then up to where Mobian’s ship floated. “How do you know, you time-traveling limey piece of shit?!”
“I cannot tell you that,” his voice sounded from the floating orb.
As pumped full of adrenaline and emotions as I’d become, I wasn’t in a mood to hear that. I looked between that ship, then back to Venus. She took a fighting stance in anticipation of my attack. As far as she knew, I took one of my own. That’s what the hologram did while I stepped to the side. I moved around to her left before trying to catch her around the neck with a grab. The plan was to grab her and squeeze that pretty throat until her head popped or he neck crunched.
She was good, though. She didn’t react to my presence at all until I’d lunged for her. She spun out of the way and hit me in the back with a kick that sent me stumbling. Only then did I let myself become visible again.
“I don’t want to fight you,” she said.
“You picked a hell of a time and place to prove it,” I said, holding my arms straight up and activating my elbow rockets to rise to my feet.
“What’s the matter, something distracted you?” she said. She took another stance in anticipation of my attack.
And I so wanted to attack, but she was right. I was distracted. I want to just jump on her and scoop her ribs out with metallic hands. I also really wanted to go and see myself. I didn’t even remember their faces. And she brought me here, knowing, somehow, when and where, knowing I’d want to go there and do something. I clenched my teeth under my helmet. “Gonna chase me if I run?”
She shook her head. “No, but I think it’s a bad idea.”
“Yeah, you would. Out there’s a little kid whose parents are about to be gunned down. He’ll be kidnapped and tossed into a secret government program that’ll abuse him almost to death because the guy in charge has a hard-on for power. What does protecting the timeline even mean? Just protecting the devil you know for no other reason than you know it?” I put my top hands on my helmet, wishing I could run them through my hair or something. I’d started pacing around in a circle, but I jumped at her, throwing my upper right fist for a punch. What she probably missed was my lower arms shooting straight forward and pulling me along with their rockets.
Venus didn’t react in time and I caught her in the head. She grabbed that wrist with one hand, then went to smack me in the helmet with the flat of her palm. I deflected it with one of my lower arms, then grabbed her wrist with my left. I held my arms out to the side, my lower arms taking it to her belly one after the other. She jumped and wrapped her legs around my lower right, trying to drag me to the ground. She let go of my upper right as well, trying to put that one arm in an armbar. I grabbed hold of it with the lower left arm and used my upper right to pull her leg free. I swung her overhead and brought her down on the grass, tearing up clumps of it as I smashed her on the ground.
I got a few good smacks in that way before she a burst of fire shot out of her back and pulled her forward. She slipped out of my grasp that way, but not before dragging me toward her into the same torn up grass. I set my upper hands into the dirt and rolled until, with my body above me, I launched myself up and onto my feet. I landed right in front of where she was hunched over in the middle of standing. She turned and that giant right shot off her fist like a pneumatic jackhammer, knocking me flat on my cape in what was starting to become more dirt than grass. I slid a little, trying to recover my breath.
Meanwhile, the fist that had come off her about another forearm’s distance slid back along a pair of rails until it locked back on where it served as a gauntlet. But before I could even begin to get up, she’d lunged and planted her knee in my throat. She stood up over me and stepped to the side, careful of my arms.
“You are both freakishly fast. I should know, I hang around enough freaks,” said Mobian’s voice from above.
Venus ignored him. “You’d be abandoning your friends and family. You go and change time, guess what happens to every one of them whose lives you saved? No more Qiang, no more Max. Instead, Spinetingler would have Empyreal City and Ricca’s plot would have gone off without a hitch, maybe. It depends how the alien invasion would go, if they didn’t kill that henchman of yours or the statue. So I care and I know you do, too. Do you want to lose your daughter forever?”
That’s just a fucking low blow. And given my crotch situation, the only one she can pull off that actually hurts.
“You done yet?” I asked, then finished with a few coughs. I sat up. “You’re the hero. You’re supposed to be the one running around saving kids.”
“Cheap shot,” she said.
I scrambled to my feet, prompting her to back off just a little. “So, you want me to condemn myself to every fucked-up thing that’s ever happened to me for the greater good of your world.”
“And your family,” she added. “You want me to save someone even though you know it will hurt your loved ones and the world.”
One good thing about a pair of extra arms? I can flip someone the bird without compromising combat readiness. “Making some things right is just more important than your consequences. Like not being complicit in the torture and abuse of all of us in the Psychopomp Program. I’m not me yet, see. I’m some kid out there, enjoying the solstice holidays with my parents. I even have a real name!”
“You have a real daughter up there,” she raised her chin to indicate Mobian’s ship floating overhead.
“What the fuck do you want from me you turgid gurgler?!” I asked, flailing for words. I was just yelling at her at that point, fighting be damned.
“I don’t want to kill you, but I think I have to,” she said.
“You’re starting to sound like me before you decided to run off with my kid,” I said.
“I was taking her to the Master Academy!” she yelled. “You never let me explain, because you wanted to assume the worst. You disappeared in 2018 and somebody dropped Qiang off at the Academy.”
I pondered. “So this entire trip is when I supposedly died…”
Her stance tightened up again as she grew expectant of an attack. “Then you survived the ambush by the aliens and actually came after us. I knew what that meant. The timeline says you don’t go back.”
“You and that gorram timeline,” I said. “Here I thought you might still want to save me. Nope. Just kill me and abduct my daughter.”
I lunged. She moved back to put some distance between us. This time, I didn’t project invisibility. I projected a whole lot of visibility. I lit up with a bright flash of light that blinded her enough for me to sidestep and punch her in the throat. She stumbled and covered up her throat, leaving her with just one arm to counter more punches. She used her legs instead. She even jumped up, hitting her little jetpack, and staggered me by kicking with both legs. It put some distance between us and she flipped around to land on her feet. Then it was her turn to come for me.
I tried to block her punches, but that piston thing was stronger than I expected. I felt something crack in my lower left forearm. She swept my legs, but I managed to jump back and avoid it. She cocked something back on her right fist, shooting a canister out of the right knuckle. I went to swat it away but it stuck and electricity began to course throughout the armor. It didn’t do much to the armor, aside from help charge it, but it got through enough to leave me grinding my teeth, my muscles involuntarily spasming.
It only lasted a second, but was long enough to leave me open to a flying spinning kick from Venus that whirled me around. I turned around quickly and punched at what I was sure would be a follow-up with my upper left. The glowing gauntlet unloaded its energy on her right gauntlet. And that’s it. They hit, her gauntlet unleashed a couple streams of steam, and neither moved. I tried with my right lower arm, but she intercepted it with her left fist, no give, just steam. Same for my right upper, but I sent the wounded lower lefty flying for her face, only to be stopped by her grabbing my arm, raising it up, squeezing it, unloading on me with a big, pistoned left to the chest.
I lost my breath again, and lower left did pretty cracking, but she didn’t let go. I tried to fly away from the hit but she yanked me back in for another hit, this time to the head. It had me seeing stars. That strong of a hit, I thought I might even see Ziggy Stardust in a minute. Then my helmet was gone. How’d that happen? Of course, that question had to wait for me to keep getting the shit pounded out of me. It’s hard to think while doing me best impersonation of an asshole on getting a train run on it.
When Venus let me go, my chestplates had been trashed. I didn’t have a helmet. My lower left arm was broken in all kinds of places and the gauntlet was missing. Oh, and I spat up a bloody mess of what used to be most of my teeth. Venus knelt over me, looking down, even as my hands twitched around, my lower right one hunting for my belt. She raised her fist, and it looked big. You don’t know how big. So big, I musta had a concussion, that’s how big.
“I don’t want to kill you. That’s the kind of hero I was taught to be. When Master Academy was founded, it wasn’t about heroes. It was Oligarch who created it. He wanted kids with powers loyal to him. He just made it seem like we were heroes. He didn’t torture us, but he wanted to make us weapons like your general out there. We were taught that we were supposed to be better than everyone else, elitist jerk. Mender found out and confronted him. That’s how he ended up crippled, but he exposed Oligarch to the rest of us and we drove him off. Since then, Master Academy is about improving ourselves. And we can be better than we were.”
Her voice had gained a backbone then. She lowered her fist, then stood up. “You can still change.”
I tried to laugh but it came out as a cough. Instead, I settled for telling her “Fuck you.”
“You can still change the future,” she continued.
“What are you doing?” asked Mobian.
“He’s right. Some things are worth changing,” she called up. Then she looked back down to me, but still spoke up loud enough for him to hear. “I don’t want to become a murderer just to protect your status quo!”
It was almost inspiring, coming from a woman who led me into an ambush, beat the shit out of me, and kidnapped my daughter. Plus, whatever this was, this whole thing where she brought me back to before I was kidnapped to get an edge on me. These were the thoughts racing through my punch-drunk skull at the time. And I remembered something else that didn’t seem right, which mildly amused me to note. It was a bit arrogant, actually.
I raised my right hand. I think it was the upper one, because things were fuzzy at that moment. “Wait, wait, wait… one sec, hold on… before you go into any more preaching… you said just I disappeared, only me…”
A spear came flying out of the night right toward the side of Venus’s head. She turned and actually caught the thing, causing even Citra’s jaw to drop from where she threw it. Venus stood up. “I didn’t know about-” then she looked down to where a headless rubber chicken squirmed against her in my grip. I amped up the power on my suit’s leg pseudomuscles and kicked Future Venus through the chicken, causing Venus to drop the spear and sending them both flying. The chicken detonated in mid air and helped Venus carve out her own divot in the grass.
I grabbed for the spear and helped myself up, then jumped high, arcing down toward her. I don’t know where Citra got that spear, what it was made of, or what Venus’s armor was made of. All I know is that I came down on top of it with all my weight right into her mouth. It didn’t penetrate the armor on the other side of her head from her mouth. Instead, it slid and dropped me while the blade sliced upward through her skull. The rest of the stumbling I did dealing trying to catch my balance wasn’t any better for her head. I could barely even stand, barely even register what was going on as her body twitched its final twitches.
Instead, I held a hand over my face while searching through my belt for anything helpful like, ooh, a syringe! I had no shortage of places I could inject it with my armor beat to crap.
Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the glowing orb above us had started to rise.
“Come back down here!” called Citra, and I saw she now had Arsehole, Mobian’s companion, by the elbow. Arsehole was still tied up, but her leg restraints had been loosened enough to let her stand and move on her own.
“Yeah, get your ass down here, Mobian. I don’t think I’ll kill you,” I slurred, then vomited up a tooth.
“Hey, don’t leave me!” called Arsehole, and that really got him in a hurry to land. The glowing orb descended and the dark outline of a doorway appeared.
The older, British-accented time traveler stepped out into the doorway. “She changed the timeline.”
“Have that sit on a big purple dragon dildo. I changed the timeline,” I said. Citra came over to help me stand even as microscopic machines coursed through my body to mend tissue and organs. “We changed the timeline,” I said in response to my wife’s aid.
Qiang pushed past Mobian and raced toward me. Citra and I both bent down to hug my beautiful baby, despite the rather poor state I was in. The doubts I had about maybe going and saving myself washed away. They didn’t leave, not completely.
Mobian gave us wide berth as he stepped around to untie Arsehole. “I could still leave you.”
“You wanna try that again, Monty Python?” I asked, raising a lower left fist that felt stronger already. “I could still screw things up for you. Save myself, maybe build more D-Bombs, come back over early. Or, and hear me out here, we all just go back to 2018.”
He locked eyes on Venus’s corpse for a long second. “Let me bring her. She deserves a proper funeral for all I’ve known her.”
I nodded, then turned my attention to kissing all over Qiang’s face. “You smell like blood!” she said, giggling. Aren’t we a pair? Or perhaps more than a pair, the way Citra clung to us both.
“Come on, let’s get inside the ship before he changes his mind,” I said, leaving Mobian and Arsehole to drag the body of Future Venus inside by themselves.
Mobian did indeed bring her in, finding us three sitting down and cuddling, me all bloody and snotty in torn-up armor. It wasn’t exactly Christmas Card material.
“Before you go back to 2018, I have something I want to show you,” Mobian said. He glared at us, which just goes to show how he took all this too seriously. Who could glare at my little Qiang? “Something to make her sacrifice worthwhile.”
In spite of her presence, I glared right back at him. “Good, because there’s someone my daughter needs to see as well.” For emphasis, I jammed a big ol’ syringe into my neck and pushed the plunger, injecting myself with more nanites. He looked away first.
Archive Transmission Fragment 7 Complete
Archive Decompiling Resumes… … … …
Section 6 Complete
Archive Begin Transmission
“Tell me, creature, what are you and why do you interfere with the glory of France?” asked a rather pudgy fellow who spoke French with a bit of a different accent than most of his buddies. He sat facing me in a fine wooden chair he imported.
I rolled my eyes under my armor. Our audience was not quite private, but at the same time, the General had been informed of the efficacy of his weapons on me. He kept a pair of guards in there in case he needed to sacrifice their lives for his. I suspect those two young men hadn’t been told how useless their muskets were against me. I wasn’t about to take my armor off and give them a chance, especially as it would immediately destroy my credibility. Women’s chief role in warfare at this time involved sex, either as a camp follower or a victim. “Monsieur Bonaparte, I know your ambitions reach further than mere glory for France. A man such as you could rise to emperor, if you weren’t loyal to the Revolution, that is.”
That was about as close as I’d hint at it here. It may be going too far to outright say around guards that he plans to take over. That would technically be the sort of thing he could be guillotined for, though they were done with most of that by this point. Napoleon’s a man seeking only to elevate himself. That’s why, in the main timeline, he tucks tail and runs back to France when things get bad. With his fleet already sunk, that means leaving almost every other man of the expedition behind. Those who don’t die of the plague. In this siege camp at Acre, I am literally surrounded by dead men, and in an audience with one of the few men who matters.
“My loyalty remains with France. Long live the Revolution!” Napoleon said. A servant brought us a glass of wine each. I couldn’t tell if it was a good year, but I knew it was an old vintage. Couldn’t have been any more recent than 1799. Just a bit of time travel humor. Not many get it. You had to be there.
“Long live the Revolution,” I said, not downing the drink myself. Once again, the helmet was an important part of my cover. I watched as he partook, and continued on once his thirst had been sated. “And sure the best way to aid the Revolution, your men, and the glory of their general, would be to wrap up this siege as quickly as possible. Congratulations on defeating that relief force, but it still leaves you without the cannon you need to break the backs of the defenders.”
“Yes. The British confound us and the walls are strong enough that even the inferior peoples of this land may hold out against the superior cause and army,” Napoleon said, at least as much for the benefit of his soldiers.
I nodded along and projected a hologram of Acre’s defenses as the ship’s scans had presented it to me, focusing on blind spots and proposed timelines for penetration at the French army’s current strength. I could be more exact if I had the relevant info memorized, but I didn’t anticipate it being so important to my schemes before going off to fight a god of death. “Acre can and will hold out for long enough unless you accept my help.”
“You believe you can defeat walls that hold back France’s greatest army?” he asked.
I nodded. “I am more than capable of breaking through, but I believe my enemies, who originate where I come from, have a trap waiting for me. If I enter alone, I may be captured or killed, and your army never takes Acre. They won’t do anything with you and your men there with me. You get Acre. I get the renegades I’m looking for.”
“These are incredible tales you ask me to believe,” Napoleon said, leaning toward me.
I stood. “The difference between a psychopomp and a god is that belief is not necessary for men to die. Let’s go see shall we?”
I led Napoleon along as I trudged closer to the range of the enemy’s guns. He stayed back, of course, and called over a servant with his horse, a brown Arabian. “You’d look better on white,” I yelled back at him, remembering a painting not yet painted.
I started charging my gauntlets, then took off running across the battlefield toward Acre. Cannons boomed and balls bounced off the sand around me. For morale’s sake, I waited until one of them was coming right at me and gave it hell with four fists, which is normally something I reserve for an orgy. One-armed, that likely would have left me three-armed. With all four, I shattered the cannonball. A cheer went up from the French line behind me. I bowed toward Acre and turned with a sweep of my cape, walking back toward the French lines. The Ottoman forces inside kept firing, and actually got a lot closer, but I sidestepped the only one that would have gotten me. Then I jumped, showing off that my mobility was far beyond that of a normal human’s. I landed right in front of the future Emperor. “So, when’s the soonest you can attack?”
The attack commenced a couple hours later, after having given everyone time to get together. I led the charge. The Ottomans had upped their game. A shot almost hit me right near the beginning of my charge. It went right through and I disappeared, only for a half dozen more of me to appear. Grapeshot peppered some of the other mes around. Ah, holograms. The Ottomans could spend all day shooting at them instead of French soldiers. Some of the officers on the walls began to realize that as well, but by then I’d gotten rather close to the part of the wall the French had weakened the most.
On top of that, the defenders of Acre got to deal with an attack from the air, something none of them were used to. Drones hovered above them, picking out targets for potshots. People without an understanding of radiation or the speed of light got skewered by lasers. Bombs destroyed artillery emplacements that might have hit me. And I set to work on the wall, invisible to everyone. The French began to move forward while I put together a lovely bouquet of beautiful bombs to blow the wall. They could have charged up behind me, but I warned them they didn’t want to be too close when things went off. That’s why, once I was done, I jumped onto the wall and got hoppin’ to avoid being there when my work went kablooey.
It was more of a “Wawoom!” sound, truth be told. Rock rained down, the wall split open. Bodies fell and men screamed in pain while soldiers charged and cannons thundered.
“Now this is an occasion that requires some music,” I said to myself. The men around me, Ottomans with a few limey supporters, looked shocked as I became visible again. “Music, random,” I said as men pulled pistols and swords.
“Now Playing: Wow Wow,” my HUD read as I grabbed the arm of a British officer trying to tug his sword loose. Someone fired impotently at my back. I tugged on the officer’s arm, pulling his sword loose and into the belly of the man behind me. I broke it and tossed the sword’s wielder off outside the city.
A musket ball bounced off my helmet from the side. I grabbed the rifle from the man, broke it over my knee, and stabbed the jagged part of the front half through the unlucky shooter’s throat. One fellow who was just tugging a pistol free of his belt, got the stock of it in his nuts. He dropped the pistol and screamed. I shoved the stock into his mouth. “Bite down,” I said, then did a split and punched him in the nuts so hard he fell backwards from the fortifications into the city.
I was whirling, nut-crushing death incarnate, but that wasn’t my only goal here. After clearing myself some breathing space, I turned to look over the city and an entire secondary wall built further in. The French couldn’t take the city so long as it still stood. More important to that was a scene atop that wall. I saw Mobian’s timeship perched there, with Mobian and Future Venus standing there. Venus looked ready to beat some ass, but she wasn’t looking at me or the horde of rampaging Frenchmen. She was looking at man in a turban with much of his body covered, save for a hand gripping-
I jumped, having put too much power into the jump because I’d operated on instinct. I landed hard further down the wall past the man who held my daughter. She turned and yelled, “Baba!” as she stabbed at the man, but he didn’t seem to react. Problem was, it’s hard to stand on broken legs. I knelt there and tugged out a couple syringes of nanites. Then it was time to crawl.
Venus moved like a flash, a large metal fist encasing her hand just before she punched the living daylights out of the guy who had my daughter. He went stumbling back, falling over Qiang, who was then picked up by a Venus ensconced in dirty, pockmarked power armor of her own. Qiang’s knife bounced off Venus’s throat armor and fell off the secondary wall. I didn’t have as good of a few after that because turban guy’s turban fell off as his head grew into a flesh-colored spike. In fact, his whole body grew until it broke free, looking like a fleshy starfish.
Mobian yelled something at Venus, who grabbed the starfish thing and tossed it at me just as I was standing up. I threw it off to the side, getting amazing distance on it with some sort of Frisbee effect. Unfortunately, I saw it gliding toward the breach where the French were fighting their way into the city. Even more unfortunate, when I turned my attention back to Mobian’s glowing orb ship, I saw the outline of a door had closed. The ship itself began to rise.
“No, you fucking don’t,” I said. I pulled the drones away from the main battle to fire on Mobian’s ship. A light shot out, like lightning, and I lost connection with the drones. They froze in midair, then crumbled away into red dust.
“Get back here and die like a man!” I yelled and launched myself into the air. I grabbed more syringes in midair, making sure to keep myself full of healing nanites. My legs snapped with every landing, even in the sand outside the city. I reached out and let myself be shrunk and pulled into my timeship after an agonizingly long time, though hopefully not too late. Mobian’s ship never moved from its perch over the city.
I found him hailing me again as I reached the command center. “Gecko, whatever our conflict, we mustn’t disturb history. I believe it will go more or less as planned now, but we cannot continue this fight here.”
“I’ll do whatever I have to. You didn’t have to take her!” I yelled at him.
“Give us back our daughter!” yelled Citra over my shoulder.
“I understand you are perturbed at the moment, but you have a nasty habit of, er, murdering people. I want this resolved with as little loss of life as possible.”
“Yeah,” said Arsehole from where she sat on a little stool in the corner. “I’d like very much not to die, if you please.”
“So just land and hand her over now. Or you could have just left her for me, dammit,” I said. “You keep jerking my chain and someone’s gonna die!”
Future Venus spoke up on the line, “We’re afraid you’re already about to kill someone.”
And that’s when I gave up my fucks. Just whoosh, there goes the last one. I had the timeship rise and had it move to intercept his.
“We’ll all die, you can’t-” Mobian started, then my ship detected his exit from this point in time. The ship, acting according to its orders, jumped as well. The ship shuddered, sensors suddenly showing us having collided with Mobian’s ship. The top point penetrated into the side of Mobian’s orb. We appeared in space, briefly, the ship’s unusual way of telling time informing me we were in 2016. The year of the alien invasion, where I defeated the ship with a Dimension Bomb.
“I didn’t expect him to follow so closely,” said Mobian.
“It’s fine. Let’s end this,” I heard Venus say.
Over that, I heard my daughter’s voice cry out. “Baba!”
All around us, a fleet of alien vessels. “Now!” said Mobian. He tried to time jump, but my ship went with it, either due to physical attachment or the last orders given to it. At the same time, I felt the familiar pull as the Dimension Bomb blew a hole in spacetime and everything in the radius of the detonation went through.
It got really confusing then, as even the view of floating above many spreading Earths changed, the planets pulling back into one another until there were fewer.
When we came out, my ship wasn’t handling the stress that well. It fell to the ground and thumped end over end. The interior was protected, amazingly, but it didn’t look good for the timeship. And Mobian’s was still there, in the air, the side closing in where it had been damaged.
In the midst of diagnosing the damage to the ship, I discovered we’d headed back in time another couple of decades. Despite that, the signals and development of Earth definitely didn’t match up with the Nineties. Or at least, as I soon realized, not that Nineties.
“That did not exactly go as planned. Is everyone alright down there?” asked Mobian. Sparks shot out of the console for some damn reason as he began speaking and his voice sounded further away than normal.
“Yeah,” I said, before looking around. Citra was on hands and knees, throwing up. Arsehole had bumped her head against the wall, but seemed fine otherwise.
“Good here for now,” Arsehole said.
Venus almost sounded said when she spoke. “Good. I think it’s time we finally settle up.”
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Section 5 Complete
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“What would anyone want in 1799?” asked Citra.
I looked over the place, wishing I had my internet connection. “Well it’s the Middle East, 1799, blue uniforms… Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign. This alien map thing is telling me nothing, but at least I’ve got my own map in my head. We’re a little ways from Egypt, but Napoleon was all over this area. He just beat the pants off those Turks. Though…” I shook my head, getting my facts straight. “Yeah, they had pants by now. Hard to have fought in the Alps without them.”
“Where is our daughter?” asked Citra, shaking the spear she’d brought along at me.
I grabbed it and eased it away from me. “Easy there, Bard. That’s what I have to figure out. This thing’s pretty handy at following a trail it leaves behind. Particles or an energy signature or something. All I know is, it led us here, so now let’s follow it further. And, maybe if this is over quick, we can get in a little tomb raiding. This is when the French started nabbing all the good stuff, like the Rosetta Stone.”
“You know that but now why this time is important.”
“From a criminal standpoint, stealing gold and other valuables is the more important thing about this time and place.” Still, they weren’t important now. That’s why I really didn’t pay Napoleon’s army of 4,000 routing a force of 35k much mind. Killing ranked more highly for me than theft.
The computer came up with two different trails. They started as one near where we showed up before breaking off. It dipped low near the French soldiers below, where part of it broke off. The rest continued onward to the northwest, toward the water. I considered just taking us down into the soldiers and seeing how things shake out. I’m supposed to be concerned with timelines, right? Except I’m trying to think about how this goes and how killing a few people would change anything. That bunch of infantry down there don’t even have any cannons with them.
So after pondering it for a few seconds, I sent the pyramid ship into a dive toward the sands below. The French forces scattered. “Ok, I’m going to go out and negotiate for the transfer of whatever dropped off Mobian’s ship.”
“Would Qiang have survived that fall?” Citra asked.
“Not the question you should be asking,” I said, mainly because I wasn’t thinking about it. “We can’t do anything about it yet. Now, let’s go have a chat. And be us, I mean me.”
Citra looked at the viewscreen and saw all the French soldier surrounding us, readying rifles, bayonets, and swords for those lucky enough to have them. “Have fun, dear husband wife.”
I popped off my helmet and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for not insisting on coming out there.”
She grabbed my cheeks and held me. “Don’t misunderstand me. She is my daughter and I want to be your partner, but I am not stupid.”
I nodded and locked my helmet into place. Just in case, I also locked entrance and exit authorization to just myself. Then I went out, the deminiaturization process spitting me out into a crowd of Frenchmen. Fully aware of being a metal being in a flying ship with four arms, I raised a hand and gave them the Vulcan salute. “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I come in peace. Take me to your leader.”
A man rode up on a horse with a significantly fancier uniform. He took one look at me and the ship, then raised his sword. “Fire!” Things got really loud then as every damn soldier’s rifle balls bounced off my armor with a lot of clanging. Balls. Balls everywhere. The fire stopped suddenly because these are the sorts of guns that take a minute to reload after every shot.
I waved with all four arms and stepped closer to see the man on the horse. “Am I to understand you’d like me to for war instead?”
“What manner of creature is this?” asked the mounted officer, mouth agape.
I posed, crossing my top pair of hands over my chest while the bottom arms rested on my hips. I took a few deep breaths. “I am Darth Theodore Logan Vader, Dark Lord of Eternia, from the planet Minbar. I have come here to take back those who have wronged me. My vessel, the Enterprise, is a Firefly-class vessel with the power to destroy an entire planet using the awesome power of the Force.” Here I raised a clenched fist. “Have you had any strange visitors drop from the sky recently, aside from myself?”
“Bring forth the prisoner!” he ordered, raising a sword.
“Bring forth the prisoner!” the order echoed throughout the army until a new line came back like a receding wave. “Bringing forth the prisoner!” Along with it came a soldier with crappy boots leading the same blonde, middle-aged woman I’d seen on Mobian’s ship, her hands tied together. “The prisoner is brought forth,” said the soldier.
“Thanks, dude,” I told him. I stepped over and grabbed the rope leading to the wrists of Mobian’s companion. “For your efforts, know that I shall bless your leader Napoleon. Truly, his expedition here to Egypt will be remembered for generations, and not just for the Rosetta Stone.”
“What is this Rosetta Stone?” asked the officer on horseback.
I shook my head. “I can say no more, but know that you men will be a shining example of the sort of leader he is. Huzzah!”
That started a cheer I used to end this little chit-chat. I grabbed the blonde woman and pulled her close. We stepped over dented musket balls until I got within range of the boarding device. It detected me and sucked us both in thanks to her proximity to me. As soon as we were miniaturized and safely inside the entry area, Citra started whacking the companion over the head. “Child kidnapping son of a toad!”
I let her get a few good whacks in before grabbing the spear. Citra stopped easily enough and tossed the spear aside, over by a pile of ammo bandoliers. The companion didn’t seem all that hurt. “Are you bloody well done?!” she yelled. “I’m sorry, fine, no need to beat me.”
“Tsk, tsk. Look at you. Such a soft life if you think that was a beating. Citra was being nice, since we need to have a talk to you,” I said. Citra nodded along. “But first, I need a name.”
“How about arsehole?” she suggested.
“If that’s really what you want us to call you, Arsehole, we’ll be more than happy. Citra, let’s find this Arsehole a chair.” I pointed back behind us, to the wall that closed up behind us after entering the ship. “Or I suppose you could make a run for the safety of the French.”
She looked at me a second, then turned and ran, not stopping until she bounced off the wall and fell onto her back. I stepped over to check on her. “Aaaand she’s out.” Citra appeared at my side, a bundle of rope in hand. “Ah, perfect timing. Thank you, dear.” She smiled as she handed it over and I began to tie up our new guest. “Ship,” I called out as I tightened things. A tone and momentary shift in lighting indicated an answer from the alien vessel. “Take us up a mile and begin to follow the other trail we spotted.” The ship indicated a positive response and began carrying out my will.
It having only been about a minute, it was nice to see Arsehole wake up. It meant brain damage was unlikely. “Hey there sunshine,” I said as she groaned and tried to sit up. “Wakey wakey. You’re gonna be late for school.”
Citra brought over a stool someone had left. She hefted Arsehole up onto it, who then had to swing her body around to keep from falling off. “Ow. Thanks for tellin’ me to stop before I hit that wall.”
I shrugged. “You’re a grown adult. I expect you to know not to run headfirst into a wall. Once again, my confidence in humanity doesn’t pay off. Seeing as I’d rather have a daughter than you, we’re going to go find Mobian and trade you back. But what I’d really like to know first is why y’all kept her in the first place. Come on, kidnapping?”
“They didn’t want to bring her along,” Arsehole said. “Venus and Mobian needed you. They didn’t want the girl to come with you, but you weren’t coming and we needed you.”
“You needed to hand me over to aliens to be imprisoned or, more likely, killed.” I knelt there, looking her in her eyes. It was a more difficult discussion the other way, with her tied up and unable to pierce my fanged helmet with her gaze.
“That Mot, it almost destroyed the world until the aliens showed up. They saved us, then they found out about you. You committed some crime against them years back, they remembered, so they wanted you or they wouldn’t help save the world. Earth was dying. They knew Mobian could get you, and he knew Venus had to do it. It’s just, your daughter threw a fit when Venus came back without you. She stabbed Mobian while he flew the ship. We come out here, spinnin’ like a top, and I get thrown out the ship. We didn’t mean to take her.”
I shook my head. “I stopped back in 2018. You didn’t return her.”
“Maybe she was gonna-” Arsehole started, until I slapped her across the face. She tumbled over the back of her little stool.
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below. Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” I said, standing. Actions and intention. Good acts without good intention aren’t so bad, but good intentions without good actions are just so many worthless thoughts and prayers. I mean, this is all time travel stuff here. Mobian and Venus could have lost Qiang, looked for years, and returned her to me at that point in time. No need to wait. Whatever’s going on, Qiang wasn’t being dropped off at Ricca.
“Don’t come any closer!” came Mobian’s voice over the ship’s internal sound system.
I ran for the command center to find we’d been hailed. Mobian continued. “There is a bomb here set to detonate in your vicinity. Stay away!” I stopped us. It may be a bluff, but I’d have time enough to figure that out stopping. I still set the ship to scan for any projectiles or other sorts of attack.
“I thought you didn’t like bombs, Mobian,” I responded to the hail we’d gotten.
“It’s not mine. There are… creatures here. They have a device that does not belong in this time,” he answered. “I’m sorry, but when I examined it, it started tracking your vessel. I see you survived the ambush, Gecko.”
“No thanks to you.”
“I’m sorry, as I said, but they are trying again. This bomb will blow us all up and irrevocable change history if your ship approaches too close to the city.”
I checked our location. We were still about a mile southeast of a city, near a camp of more French soldiers. Checking on the map I brought to the future, I saw we were technically within Acre as of 2018. At this point in time, the city hadn’t grown out enough to encompass the area.
“Fine. Send Qiang out with Venus, I’ll hand over Arsehole, and we’ll settle this.”
“Arsehole?” he asked.
“I asked your lady friend for a name. That was the only response I got, so that’s what I called her. You’ve been a naughty boy, not returning my daughter.”
“I’d like to, but something came up. We cannot open these gates to return your daughter to you. Napoleon has besieged the city.”
“I see that. Open the gates, let the blue bastard in, and we’ll be on our way.” I checked over the siege. The camp didn’t look too good. Napoleon didn’t have a lot of manpower. Given what he’d just done at Mt. Tabor, that’s not too big a deal. The problem was the lack of cannon. The French didn’t have enough artillery to break in that quickly. That meant this was probably after the English destroyed the fleet the French sent along.
“The French lose this one. This is the turning point of the campaign. We must not interfere. You don’t know what changes it will make to the timeline!”
“There is always a way to sneak people out. You’re on the water,” I responded.
“Er, well, about that… Qiang ran away into the city and Venus is still searching for her, but the monsters around here are making it harder on all of us. Let me disable the bomb so you can fly in and settle this without any more bloodshed.”
“Oh dear, that means I’d have to head in there by myself, where all sorts of traps could be laid,” I played up sounding concerned. I’d walked into one ambush already. I had another idea how to handle what appeared to be another one. I thought it over, once again considering Mobian’s concerns about the timeline. “I wasn’t born on this Earth. Not a damn thing that happens here is going to prevent my birth. My daughter isn’t from around here, either. It seems like I could interfere quite a bit and not drastically alter much that would threaten the lives of anyone I find important. So I think what I’m going to do, is I’m going to get the future Emperor of France and head in there myself. All of us. Just the whole French army, unless you get me my daughter. Otherwise, I’m telling the timeline to go fuck itself.”
“You can’t do that!” he protested.
I took the ship down toward French lines, wary of getting much closer to the city. “I’m doing it. You know what is required to stop it.” I grinned as I noticed a big tent in particular.
I crashed my ship right through a part of it to reveal a command meeting. The men inside did not cower, though some might say they ran to get reinforcements. Others had pistols and swords at the ready to intercept me as I appeared suddenly. “Greetings,” I announced. “I have come to aid General Napoleon’s entrance to Acre. Where is he?”
The men looked to each other, confused by so much of this incredible sight, until one spoke up. “He has gone to aid General Kléber.” One of them pointed off in the direction… that I’d just come from. I miss the internet.
“Ah, yes, he’s succeeded at that,” I said, considering ordering someone to paint me a picture of a naked woman. Like I said, I missed the internet. “I shall await his return to camp. Please inform him I am waiting. Together, he and I are going to make history.”
Archive Transmission Fragment 5 Complete
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