224 - Ohmageddon

Charlotte Palmer is waiting when Adam arrives.

“Thank you for coming, Adam,” says the young/old Magus, and gestures at the iron-pitted factory before the two of them. “I hoped you could shed light on this.”

To mortal eyes, there’s nothing unusual about the structure. Rook’s God Factory once made its home in the earth, deep below the surface. But to Adam’s Shard-enhanced awareness, the other hidden aspect makes itself known: a powerful barrier against thought and feeling, forming a ring around the entire factory.

“Tau, external mode,” he orders, and Tau materializes for Ghost Girl’s benefit.

“Is this a Concordance or a Void Shadow construct?” he asks.

“Analyzing.” A beam of energy connects Tau to the barrier, making it visible as well just for a moment. “Affirmative.”

“Well which is it?”

“I am unable to distinguish between the two. However, the barrier has an interface device. Would you like to attach to it?”

Adam glances at Charlotte, and nods. “Yes, please attach.”

Conduit maintenance intelligence LASI-9292. Identify your purpose.

“That is what we hoped to ask you,” murmurs Charlotte with a wry smile.

“We’re here to investigate you on behalf of the Universal Concordance,” Adam answers.

Authorization acknowledged. The purpose of this conduit is to collect and funnel emotional energy between dimensional barriers anchored upon this planet.

“What kind of emotional energy has passed through the conduit?” Charlotte asks.

The ancient intelligence voices a formula, and Tau translates. “Humans would refer to these as negative emotions. Examples include greed, disappointment, anger, frustration, and sadness.”

“Why is this happening?” Adam asks.

Universal Concordance GS-343 doctrine is to dispose of unwanted emotional energy in available reservoirs. The first priority is to avoid leakage from the reservoir.

Charlotte taps her jaw with a finger. “Ghostheart said something about people taking their worst feelings to their graves, and beyond. They saw it as a sort of pollution, like a pool of stagnant water that might sicken someone who drank from it. I wonder if this is what they were referring to.”

Adam speaks. “How long has this been going on?”

LASI-9292 has been in operation for 18,461 local solar cycles.

“That’s a long time to be flooding the afterlife with the detritus of the universe’s worst feelings,” Charlotte frowns.

Adam nods. “Is the conduit still in operation?”

This reservoir approached peak capacity 61 local solar cycles ago. Since then, use has been discontinued.

“Okay. Tau, can you have LASI-9292 notify you if the conduit is used?”


The young Agent turns to Ghost Girl. “I was already going to space, so this is just one more thing I want to look into. What are you going to do?”

“Rosa Rook and Rook Industries attempted to turn me into a ‘corporate god’ with the aid of some very sophisticated machinery.”

Adam blinks in shocked surprise at the casual way Charlotte relays this fact, but keeps listening.

“Along the way I picked up some ‘passengers’ - souls that Ghostheart had captured on their behalf. I think it’s time to take this, and them, to our resident technical experts, Mr. Snow and Mr. Quill. Rook Industries built quite a device at the bottom of this emotional landfill, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’d like to understand better just what happened.”

Adam nods. “I’d like to as well. I’ll be leaving the planet soon, but I’ll arrange a way to keep in touch. Tell me what you find, okay?”

“I will. Thank you, Adam.”

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Inspector Lee Yan is on the call as HCPD interview the local superhero, “Kid Kelvin”. The meeting was arranged at her request, and she’s grateful they complied.

She sips from her mug and stares at the screen, watching the young hero proudly boast about his exploits in shutting down various ne’er-do-wells. And she scrolls through the police reports on another monitor.

Finally she breaks in on the conversation. “Kid Kelvin, how long have you been working with the supervillain Hot Mess?”

There’s silence on the call. The HCPD detective turns to look in confusion at the camera. Kid Kelvin’s face is trying to frame a denial, but is struggling to achieve any kind of believable expression.

She elaborates. “You have a string of achievements in bringing corporate malfeasance and conspiracy to light. And I note that in most of these cases, the action happened seemingly by accident, while you were in a battle with this girl. Your success is commendable, but I find it unlikely that you’d have a track record like this by accident. Hot Mess, aka Emma Agney, the protégé of Mr. Big, is perfectly positioned to know about such plots. Your positive relationship with law enforcement grants you the credibility to expose them. It’s obvious that you’re working together.”

Kid Kelvin takes a long time to answer.

“She’s not a bad person. She’s just… she’s got a lot of problems. I’m trying to–”

Lee Yan holds her hands up. “I don’t want to arrest her. I just want to find her.”

“I don’t know where she is. She disappeared awhile back.”

Inspector Yan nods. “I don’t want to say ‘known accomplices’. How about, is there anyone you know, who might know about where she went?”

She can see Kid Kelvin evaluating the calculus of betrayal, and softens her voice. “She might be in danger, you see.”

Kid Kelvin looks fearful, for just a second, and slumps backward in his chair at HCPD headquarters. Even through the video link, Yan can see his feeling of helplessness.

“She has… uh, I guess a girlfriend. Nono Rodriguez.”

Yan nods in understanding. “Thank you. I promise you, I’ll do whatever I can to keep them safe. I’ll be in touch.”

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Ji-a Lee does not sit in the Emperor’s presence. Nobody enjoys that level of trust, except for his handpicked guards. Rather, she sits in a place where his voice can be heard, and where she can be seen. Translators, all carefully vetted Blood, await the pleasure of the Emperor in concealed nooks. Should something be unclear, they will assist.

Ji-a is fluent in Atlantean speech, even if her vocal cords aren’t well equipped to speak it. As a marine biologist, she’s thrilled at the idea of communicating with underwater species. As a captive of Atlantis, with a renewed reason to wish to return to the surface, she’s motivated. And as someone to whom Fate has given a unique opportunity, she’s determined.

Today the Emperor of Atlantis wishes to learn about cars.

“Well, I drove a Daewoo Rezzo, called a Tacuma elsewhere. It’s a compact multi-purpose vehicle, meaning you can adjust the arrangement of the seats for different purposes, like transporting people versus carrying cargo.” Ji-a uses a wax tablet and stylus to illustrate the basic shape of the thing, and hands it off to a guard for exhibition to the Emperor. “It got 31 miles per gallon on the highway, which was where I did most of my driving. I’d transport equipment to and from the institute and the harbor.”

Many of your people use cars for transportation?

“Yes. But many people don’t own a car, and so use public transportation. Buses, trains, light rail, even boats in some parts of the world.”

Your light rail is like our transportation capsule system.

“That’s right.”

Why cars?

Ji-a smiles. She’s not sure she’s equipped to answer that question, but does her best. “Before we created cars, we created other types of vehicles, like the steam locomotive or the bicycle. Before that, many centuries before, we domesticated animals such as horses, yaks, or camels, and rode on their backs. The surface world has no water and no ocean currents, so gravity is a greater hindrance to movement. We’ve always needed the ability to move elsewhere faster than we could walk.”

Do you operate cars in packs?

This is the kind of question Ji-a is adept at handling - the one that betrays the vast gulf of experiences between the coleoids of Atlantis and the evolved apes of the surface world. It is her mission to bridge that gulf.

“We do, but not intentionally. Most of the surface world isn’t suitable for most cars. We create roads by smoothing the natural terrain, and by applying materials like asphalt, we make it easier for cars to travel. So cars are found together because of the limited range of surfaces they can use.”

I imagine cars give you great freedom. Do your people enjoy them for that reason?

“Yes. When I wasn’t working, I’d drive along the coastal highway. Route 7 of the Donghae Coastal Road was beautiful at every time of the year. I could leave Busan and just see the ocean from my car, listening to music with the window down.”

Do you miss your freedom, Ji-a Lee?

Ji-a pauses. Her relationship with the Emperor has always been careful. One must be cautious around the old and powerful in any society, from Korea’s to Atlantis’s. But she has always found a way to honesty as well.

“I think any human being wants to feel free. I am no different. But at the same time, I used my freedom on the surface to do the same things I do here. To learn, to share, and to educate. I would like to return to the surface. But if I had my choice, I’d be able to live in both worlds, your people and mine.”

You cannot use cars in Atlantis.

Ji-a Lee laughs. She’s long since learned to discern the Emperor’s understated humor, and this is his idea of a joke.

“There are supposedly amphibious cars. Don’t underestimate our ingenuity, Your Majesty.”

We will not. My people have come to rely on it.

That line, more than anything else, fills Ji-a Lee with hope. Cooperation is possible. Peace is not yet achieved, but it’s possible.

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Charlotte has little trouble finding Leo Snow, in spite of his current hiding spot. He’s got his old whiteboard setup, and on hearing her question he starts erasing space to work up a presentation.

“What is the nature of the multiverse? Okay…”

Charlotte holds up a hand. “I know you’re tempted to speak mathematically. I’m intelligent, but that doesn’t mean I’m educated in this century’s natural philosophy.”

Leo nods. “Got it. Okay, uh…”

“The universe is a tapestry of phenomena - space, time, and matter. Consciousness traverses this tapestry and turns it into experience. This experience forms our memories, our thoughts, everything that happens in our minds. And in turn, these experiences change the trajectory of our consciousness as we travel that tapestry.”

He draws three divergent lines. “Say that you’re confronted with a choice that has three outcomes. You might go in one of those three directions. We can describe those as lines, or paths, where your consciousness might follow.”

He draws another line starting elsewhere, and joins one of the three choices to it in a circle, with a single line leading away. “Sometimes, there’s multiple paths into an experience, and they converge into fewer paths out. Imagine meeting someone who’ll become your best friend. Whether you met them at a café, at school, or wherever, your path after that intertwines with theirs.”

“Because the large scale structure of the tapestry is fixed, the future can also affect the past, from our perspective. You might say the Revolutionary War is a historical fact - something that must have come to pass - and so if you went back in time to kill George Washington, the War would still happen but in some different way. If you interfered enough, you’d experience a brand new trajectory of events. Things cohere, in spite of small differences, until they can’t any more. Then they diverge wildly. Which is how minds work, which is very very interesting to someone like me.”

He draws a line with a loop in it. “Speaking of time travel, sometimes our experiences cross over themselves. Deja vu, prophecy, time travel, whatever. Either way, the experience generated is new, so it’s not like you re-experience time over and over. There’s always a way out of the loop.”

Charlotte nods. “I understand so far.”

“Okay. So really these lines should be pointing down, because what gives us the arrow of time is really more like a force of gravity, like we’re falling through time rather than moving forward. There’s a lot of parallels in physics between time and gravity, and consciousness, experience, and light. But whatever, left to right is how we’re wired.”

“Complicating this is what we call the psychic fields. A little physics because this is important. A field is just a formula where you plug in an input, like a location, and get a value. Temperature is a field where you say ‘how hot is it over here?’ and get an answer, for example. There’s electromagnetic fields, quantum fields, all kinds of fields.”

“These fields permeate all reality. You can ask questions like ‘what is the temperature’ anywhere in spacetime and it’s always a meaningful question. You can ask questions like ‘what is the density of conscious experience’ and get questions about that from the psychic field too.”

Charlotte holds up a hand. “The Concordance wields emotional energy. How does that fit into this scheme?”

Leo draws more. “Alright. So not every path into the future is made equal. Some choices demand more energy than others. And some choices just can’t be made. Most people can’t will themselves to fly, or turn invisible, or whatever. But, sometimes a seemingly reasonable choice can’t be made because the universe itself won’t accommodate it.”

“For example, imagine that someone damaged space-time itself, in a certain spot. It wouldn’t be possible to walk through it. Going back to fields, you can’t ask questions like ‘what is the density of matter in this spot’. And this is a real thing. For example, as far as I can tell, the Sepiaverse was created by removing the strands of spacetime where positive outcomes were possible. The keynomes served as uh, spacetime looms, weaving new potential futures for people in their vicinity, but outside of that, it was just literally not possible to say ‘I am gonna do a good thing today because that is awesome.’ The spacetime that would represent that outcome was simply gone.”

“So to your question. It takes some kind of energy to surmount the obstacle of making some kind of choices. And a strong enough phenomenon could convert all of the space-time tapestry into experience, I guess. Like we used to burn wood to make fire, then we upgraded to steam power, atomic fission, fusion, Alta Mira-style electron extraction, the Casimir fractal, and other increasingly effective ways to turn matter into energy. There’s effects that can do the same thing - turn electromagnetism into psychic force, or vice versa.”

“I haven’t really studied Concord’s power, but from my understanding, they’re able to do this at scale. Exchange matter for psychic energy, store it, then transform it back into other kinds of forces.”

Charlotte nods. “And why might they distinguish between different kinds of emotions? Love and joy, versus hate and sadness?”

Leo thinks. “Uh, I’m not sure? So this is a guess. We go back to how experiences shift the trajectory of consciousness. I think when you wield those kinds of energies, the same thing is going to happen. No conversion process is 100% effective. Imagine a bomb going off in Halcyon that made everyone totally sad. Like, everyone. Imagine how awful life would be for months, or years. Now imagine that bomb being 90% physical - blowing up the city’s structure, peoples’ bodies, whatever - and the remaining 10% being psychic. Still tragic, in different ways. Now imagine using that same energy to stop a bomb. Sure, you saved the houses and bodies, but the city took a big psychic hit.”

Charlotte absorbs all this. “I see. So an organization dedicated to virtue would prefer to use what we think of as virtuous emotions. But can’t these negatives be turned into positives somehow?”

Leo shakes his head. “All forms of energy we’re aware of obey conservation laws. You can’t cool something without heating something else up. You can’t just destroy energy, only send it somewhere else or shape it into a new configuration, and that takes energy too. Everything in reality holds the potential for transformation, but only so much. So I’d expect it’s equally difficult to turn psychic energies into their opposites.”

Charlotte thinks. “Their enemies would not be so scrupulous, would they.”

Leo laughs. “Oh, yeah, Sablestar. I remember her. Otto and I tangled with her once. You mean her.”

“That’s right.”

“Yeah, I can imagine them using this kind of energy.”

Charlotte hmms. “So if the Concordance stored this negative energy somewhere, and Sablestar and her ilk tapped into it, we could say the Concordance is empowering their enemies.”

“Yeah, probably.”

“A new line of questions.” Charlotte composes herself. Her experience with Crowninshield and Rook is still fresh in her mind. “You compared these moments in time to minds, earlier. What is the difference between a mind and reality?”

Leo chuckles. “You know, I’ve started to think there isn’t one.”

He pulls out a water bottle, carefully squeezes a drop of water onto his fingertip, and holds it up for inspection. “You could say this drop is a mind. It’s distinct from its source - the bottle - and it’s held together by surface tension. You could fill it with stuff - experiences, thoughts, whatever. And like any kind of water, it’s got some kind of power to change things. And drops like this fall during a rainstorm. They coalesce into puddles when they land, and started as undifferentiated water vapor in the clouds, but during the rainfall they’re unique.”

Charlotte gestures at the bottle. “And a larger source like this? Could that be thought of as a superhero, or a god, or something else powerful?”

“Yeah. A potent source of psychic energy, if it’s got something holding it together.”

Charlotte nods. “I see. I think you’ve answered my questions.”

She tells him about the experience with Rook and Crowninshield. To his credit, Leo listens without breaking anything.

All he asks at the end is, “that motherfucker is definitely gone, yeah?”

“I believe so. But I wanted to understand. I have more, but let’s take a break and get some coffee.”

Leo nods. “Sounds good. There’s no parallel universe where I can’t use a break from thinking about Rook Industries.”

Leo had coffee, then left to get back to work. And abruptly, Charlotte finds herself in the café, sitting across from a man wearing a full-coverage suit and mask, with a curious symbol on his chest.

She recognizes him after just a moment. “Resister. The mysterious hero.”

“Ms. Palmer. It is time we spoke more frankly with each other. Will you accompany me to my base?”

Charlotte pauses, to evaluate her instinctive response to the enigmatic man’s invitation. But curiosity wins out.

“Provided I can take my coffee to go.”

Resister leads the way to an out-of-the-way corner of Halcyon’s Skyharbor neighborhood. He unlocks the door of a basement apartment, beckons for Charlotte to enter, then closes and locks it behind him. An indicator light above the door switches from red to green.

“Lest I alarm you, let me explain my precautions,” Resister says. “This room is a sort of Faraday Cage. Please don’t open any doors or windows, or otherwise break the seal of the room. This is the only place where it’s safe to unmask and relax.”

He pulls off the mask, and Charlotte immediately sees the family resemblance.

“I am the son of the Dread Queen of Vyortovia,” says Resister.

Charlotte, already curious, has been probing the mysteries of the room, and now with the suit unsealed can feel the truth. “The veil. The warding magic that kept everyone from remembering Vyortovia. You’ve trapped that magic, somehow, using your electrical technology. You’re using it to conceal yourself, to make people forget about you too.”

Resister nods. “Not even my own mother remembers my existence, now. Which is how I’ve been able to work effectively all this time.”

Charlotte looks at the room with new eyes. Surveillance photos of Alycia Chin on the wall, from around the time she first met and attacked Harry. The book of Vyortovian fairy tales that Taz lent to the team when the Yule Cat invaded. He must have been the source for that book, reflects Charlotte.

“How long have you been following my team?” she asks.

“I was shadowing Dr. Chin’s daughter,” Resister explains. “After the Hidden Family attacked Byron Quill and Dr. Chin on their way into the Sunken World, she came to my attention, because she wished to follow them. I expected the Hidden Family to pick up her trail, but somehow they never did. Your team became interested in it, but after your defeat of Hannibal Lectric - one of the Hidden Family - I believe they began to work against you behind the scenes.”

“The Sunken World? Oh, is that what we call the Sepiaverse?”

“I believe so.”

Charlotte hums. “And their opposition to us? Through Rook Industries? Devon Crowninshield?”

Resister sighs and nods. “He was my most promising lead to the remaining members of the Hidden Family.”

Charlotte’s lips curl in wry amusement. “I regret cutting off your investigation, but circumstances were such that I needed to ah, sever our connection rather abruptly.”

The young man smiles. “Oh, of course, I understand. I’ve hoped that ever since Jason Quill expressed an interest in rescuing people from the ahh, the ‘Sepiaverse’, that the Hidden Family would take a renewed interest in your activities, and I could trace them from there.”

“What is your interest in them? Or does your royal heritage explain it?” asks Charlotte.

“My heritage, and what I believe are their objectives,” Resister says.

He walks to a bookshelf, relieves a groaning shelf of the weight of an old tome, and hauls it to a wooden table for exhibition. Charlotte follows, and inspects the text.

The mystery hero explains, flipping pages from time to time in order to find an appropriate picture or stretch of text. “I believe that the Hidden Family has been resurrecting the spirits of our ancient monarchs and sages. Here, portraits… A quarter of our people died during the Mist Hardships. It was a great loss. Here, an illustration of the eruption. I believe that loss motivated them to seek out a way to secure our people from the reach of death itself.”

Resister flips further through the tome. “Here. Spells of resurrection, revival, and communication. Necromantic rituals. From what I understand about your interactions with Crowninshield, they have updated their methods, but not their aims.”

Charlotte processes all this. It makes sense, given Crowninshield’s plan. “They’d have an eternal council of the wisest rulers of your nation.” The implication dawns on her. “And what role would your mother have in this arrangement?”

“She’d become a figurehead - or worse, a medium for these ghosts, without freedom or will of her own. That is a personal reason for me to oppose the Hidden Family.”

There’s an important unasked question here. Charlotte suddenly hears it, and gives it voice. “Why did the Hidden Family want to stop Byron Quill and Dr. Chin from going to the Sepiaverse?”

Resister hesitates. “I don’t know. But I can speculate.”

“Please do.”

“I can find two possible reasons. The first is that ghosts are not bound to the reality from which they emerge, a fact I need not tell you about. But once you’ve begun to build an empire on shackled specters, you begin to crave larger and larger sources of them. Perhaps they feared two super-scientists would interfere with their activities there.”

Charlotte remembers all too well her part in using this source of power to achieve her goals, and shudders. She, too, is related to the Hidden Family. Will their ambition haunt her, even when she consciously opposes their aims?

“The more likely reason is that those two men were the instrument for the Sunken World’s final end. Their presence there could only cause more destruction - if not from the living, then from the vengeful dead. This, too, would deplete the resources the Hidden Family wished to tap, but for other reasons. And perhaps the Hidden Family’s members themselves had a revenge motive. I cannot know. But in their place, I would.”

Charlotte nods slowly. “Why is the Sunken World the way it is?”

“Nobody knows for sure. But the older ones called it the second eruption of Laki, another Mist that fell over our land. Like a miasma of sadness.”

“How long ago?”

“Decades, perhaps.”

Thoughts coalesce into Charlotte’s mind. “In other worlds, your world was flooded with negative emotions?”

She’s been watching the young man’s face throughout the conversation. He closely guards his feelings, but she can see the thoughtfulness behind his passive expression.

“Yes, I think you could say that.”

She remembers Leo’s explanation of the multiverse, and Concord’s interactions with the emotional barrier’s intelligence, and wonders.

Could the Concordance have created the Sepiaverse?

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Charlotte remembers Magus Everard’s public reputation. A casual traveler of realities, a hedonist and sybarite and worse who took his pleasures from other times and places.

Her personal distaste for Everard has, she realizes, limited her from undertaking investigations using his methods. This once, she’s decided, she’s going to do it. The Hidden Family seems to pose a threat to Vyortovia - and by connection, to the new and fragile peace between it and Halcyon. Beyond that, they’ve already attacked her, and she’s not inclined to turn the other cheek. And finally, it’s a mystery that demands a solution. Who are these people?

She sits alone, in a ritually cleared space, with Resister’s borrowed tome at her feet. He claimed it was retrieved from Devon Crowninshield’s possessions, and currently it’s Charlotte’s best lead.

The book is open to a page illustrating one of the rituals supposedly used by the Hidden Family. Inked by an expert hand, it includes both diagrams and text meant to thoroughly explain the working of the ritual to a newcomer. With the aid of her staff, Charlotte weaves a ritual of her own.

Ink rises from the page, coiling upward like smoke. It leaves a pitch-dark trail, connecting the page to some far-off and unguessable destination. Rather than physically damaging the tome, she’s conjured an extra-dimensional path to follow, by turning the history of the ink into a spatial dimension.

She projects an astral self along the trail, following the ink through the long centuries.

She’s cognizant that the magicians of the Hidden Family will be wary of intruders in their sanctum, and stops well short of the book’s origin point.

She finds herself outside her family home, marked by damage absent during her time there. The scars of the War Between the States, perhaps? She sees no signs that the property is being used, and only one window glows with the flicker of candle light.

Charlotte peeks in, and discovers that a young woman sits at a table in an otherwise-empty room. With ink and quill, she’s furiously taking notes and asking questions of another party.

She takes a chance and glances around the frame of the window. There is an older man, standing rigidly near one wall. His eyes are unfocused, and the cadence of his voice suggests a trance or hypnotic state. She extends her senses slightly and senses the signs of ghostly possession upon him. Normally, a possession might be difficult to detect, if the ghost wishes to remain hidden. This man is acting as a medium, and many ghosts are upon him.

An early version of the Hidden Family’s technique of binding ghosts? Charlotte listens, and uses more magic to translate what she hears.

“The inner world under Snæfellsjökull is accessible via rope… Follow the marks in the rock… The signs of five directions… There is an inner ocean… There are beasts unseen on the surface who still live there… King Frederick V of Denmark sent the first expedition…”

A hollow Earth? They are extracting the secrets of the dead.

“Ayporos, the Prince of Hell, may be conjured with the aid of the stone in the throne… the binding is renewed by the priests of the third circle…”

And consorting with Goetic demons? Charlotte has heard enough for the moment. She must find a way into the secrets of this group, and it will not be found here.

She turns to return to the future, and finds herself facing a demon of her own.

“I am Illirikim,” the creature rasps. Its body looks like a black flame bound by chains, and its flabby hands grasp a spear of black metal. It lets out a blood-curdling scream and lunges at Charlotte.

She can’t simply retreat along the time-tunnel - somehow, the creature is occupying the same space, blocking her from the path. Instead, she brings to bear the astral replica of the Agate Staff, and wields it like a spear.

Black metal clashes with enchanted wood.

“Your soul will serve my masters’ plan,” the infernal creature hisses, and howls again.

“I’m afraid I must decline,” Charlotte replies with a sweet smile. She blocks another spear-thrust, taking the measure of her opponent in the process.

Illirikim will overwhelm her before long. She is not a trained physical fighter, especially not against a demonic knight. She can’t conjure most of her power as an astral projection. She can’t retreat to the future.

Another option presents itself. She can keep going, into the past, and find another path home.

She knocks away Illirikim’s savage spear-thrust, then leaps into the time-stream again, leaving the demon behind, howling with inhuman frustration.

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Charlotte finds herself in a mystical binding circle.

Astral bodies like the one she’s using are bound by the magic of the circle. Ordinarily, this would be embarrassing at best and personally dangerous at worst. But these are extraordinary circumstances.

Beyond the circle is a damp cavern, lit by torches mounted in brass sconces bolted to the stone of the cave walls. The light flickers over robed figures, gathered around a crude wooden desk. The focus of the group’s interest is on stacks of paper. A pair of scribes sit opposite each other at the desk, each working feverishly to move pages from the empty supply to the finished stacks.

That’s not the most extraordinary part. Here in the cavern, the living are outnumbered by the dead. Looking beyond the purely physical confines of the mystical circle, Charlotte discerns dozens of bound ghosts. To her surprise, not all of them are human. Some resemble primitive squids, or octopi.

What is going on here?

Perhaps magic has taken her as far as it’s going to. It’s time to try another approach: conversation.

Charlotte draws the attention of a nearby ghost. “What is going on here?” she whispers.

The ghost, seemingly dressed in clothes centuries before Charlotte’s own time, takes stock of her. “Ye don’t know?”

“I was um, summoned late, you see.”

“Ah ra. Well them ocean folk are making a pact with them folk like us.”

“Ocean folk?”

The ghost gestures. Charlotte watches, and realizes something important. Some of the robed figures aren’t just leaning over the inkwells out of random interest. They are filling the inkwells with fresh ink. From where?

Charlotte realizes the truth. From themselves.

Looking more closely, she discerns the hint of tentacles under the hoods. The light doesn’t make it easy to tell, but there it is. She looks again at the ghostly cephalopods within the circle, and wonders.

Approaching one, she squats down and tries again. “Hello.”

Hello, surface dweller.

“I’m new here. Do you mind telling me who you are, and what you’re doing here?”

The squid looks at her with its inhuman eyes. Charlotte is baffled as to what it’s thinking, but is surprised enough that it can talk to accept lesser difficulties like body language.

Your people and some of the Blood are making a pact. Both sides are exchanging knowledge.

“Who are the Blood?”

Spawn of your people and mine. Made with our science. Workers, helpers. Ambassadors to the surface.

“I see. Do you mind telling me what the agreement is about?”

I don’t know. I was a scholar and a poet. The creature renders a stream of gurgles which Charlotte takes to be its name. I do know that this is not done with the Emperor’s sanction.

“How do you know that?”

The squid gestures with a tentacle, indicating the cavern. This place. This cavern is above the sacred sea. The Emperor has declared it off limits to all.

“I understand. If it’s a taboo topic, I apologize for asking, but what is its significance?”

It is where my people emerged from the deeper depths. Where we first learned of your surface world. I made quite a study of it in my lifetime.

“I see.” Charlotte pauses to think. She remembers the Hidden Family’s modus operandi. Perhaps these people, too, are binding ghosts with the intent to learn from them. And perhaps that’s why this individual is here - their knowledge of this ancient history.

“Did they ask you about that?”

No. But I saw another of my people here, earlier. She was released from the circle and questioned, then released into the stillness of the ocean beyond the current.

Charlotte rises and smiles. “Thank you so much for your information. May your poetry be read and remembered for all time.”

You are kind, surface dweller.

Time passes. Charlotte gets a sense of the rhythm. A ghost is asked out of the circle by a ritualist. They are questioned and made to answer. The two scribes take notes, using ink provided by the Blood. Each faction - human and hybrid - receives a copy of the notes.

This doesn’t seem to be the spectral empire the Hidden Family seem to desire - rule of the living by the long-dead. But it’s where the groundwork was laid. Human and cephalopod ghosts alike share secrets of science, history, and art with their necromantic masters.

It won’t be long before the possession of knowledge becomes the lust for power.

Abruptly, the demon knight Illirikim emerges from the time-stream and into the circle.

Charlotte can’t escape the circle on her own. But there’s a way out.

“Excuse me!” she calls, doing her best to attract the ritualists’ attention. “Excuse me! There’s something important you must know.”

Two of the hooded figures hear her, and look at each other. They shrug, one gestures, and the barrier parts for Charlotte.

She passes through. Behind her, the demon knight catches sight of her, and strides to catch up, but bounces off the barrier. It screeches, alarming the ghosts around it, but that is all it can do.

Charlotte is now confronted by a pair of ritualists. One is human. The other, sure enough, is some kind of human-squid hybrid - the “Blood”.

“Speak,” the human commands.

“Ah. Well.” Charlotte was bluffing to get out of the circle. But surely there’s something she knows that’s worth her freedom from these people?



Just what year is this? Best to be vague.

“Many thousands of years ago, another people from a far-off place began filling the world with negative emotions. Hatred, fear, apathy, sadness, greed, envy, and more.”

The Blood ritualist tilts its head. “How do you know this?”

“I witnessed one of the sites where this happened.”

“Describe it.”

Charlotte does her best to describe North Carolina without saying the name.

“Ah! The land at the western point of the lesser northern circulation,” says the Blood ritualist.

Charlotte has no idea. “Yes, that’s correct.”

“Fascinating. Tell us more.”

Charlotte does so.

I’m telling the authors of a tome, held by Devon Crowninshield, about a place of power. He built his god-making machine at this very place. Am I creating my own history?

A question she must ask Leo, once she returns. And fortunately she’s been specific enough to satisfy the ritualists. “Go in peace, spirit,” says one, and waves her away.

She vaults back into the time-stream, traveling forward once again. Behind her, Illirikim howls in defeat a second time.

The Emperor has discussed religion in the past. But Ji-a Lee doesn’t remember questions this specific.

Do your people have a sacred place of origin? Somewhere that is held off limits due to its importance?

“My people have many beliefs. If you mean my heritage, the people of Korea, they were Buddhist in older times, and some are Christian now. The Christians have a holy garden called Eden, where the first people offended God and were cast out. I don’t know anything about Buddhist ideas of the origin of life, only that they’re more concerned with how to live in the moment.”

Where do you believe your people originated, then?

Ji-a laughs. “I’m an atheist and a biologist. I follow the science. The last time I read anything on the topic, we traced our evolution as homo sapiens back hundreds of thousands of years. As a species, we are four times as old as Your Majesty. In terms of behavior as humans, we’re about as old as you.”

Where is Africa?

“It’s the landmass to the east of the the lesser northern and southern currents, west of the lesser southern current, southwest of the Great Unclaimed.”

Do your people consider Africa sacred?

Ji-a sighs. “Sadly, we do not. I wish we did. Quite the opposite. The European political powers ravaged the continent. And it is a continent - as rich, diverse, and spectacular to us as your whole ocean is to you.”

A sadness.

“It is sad, and shameful,” Ji-a agrees.

The Emperor’s next words make her very cautious.

It was also shameful when some on the surface took our memories of our sacred sea from us.

This is new.

“Your Majesty must forgive my ignorance. My I ask that it be corrected?”

A mysterious psychic effect stole the memory, a short time ago.

Ji-a realizes this could have been anywhere from minutes to years. It’s difficult, sometimes, dealing with immortal beings who don’t use clocks.

It was restored, but not through our actions.

“Then by the actions of whoever enacted the effect? Or someone else?”

The intelligence service revealed its origin. A cabal of empowered surface dwellers called the Halcyon Heroes League.

“I see. I didn’t know. Thank you for explaining, Your Majesty.”

How would you feel if your sacred home was taken from you, Ji-a Lee?

Ji-a considers. Perhaps the planned attack on the surface is not quite so unprovoked as she thought. “I would be afraid, and angry, and embarrassed. I would feel dishonored.”

There’s a way to make this work to my advantage.

“But most of all, Your Majesty, I am a scientist. I want to learn, to understand. I would seek to know the reason. I would wonder if others on the surface were affected. I would have many questions, and my judgement of those responsible would depend on the answers.”

Your dedication to science is admirable. Alas, a ruler does not always have the luxury to wait, and question.

“Of course not, Your Majesty.”

She thinks about what her son revealed about her husband, and how he changed.

“When something important is taken from you, you feel something strong, as strong as the thing was important. That feeling demands action.”

Yes. You understand.

There’s still a way.

“Surface dwellers understand that very well. Your Majesty, if I may ask, if those on the surface were tampered with as well, what did they do in retaliation against these heroes?”

You are clever, Ji-a.

She lets out a long-held breath.

“Thank you, your Majesty.”

I will find out. Perhaps you will help me understand this mystery.

“It would be my pleasure.”

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Kid Kelvin is there when the refrigerated truck pulls up at the apartment.

AEGIS told him, in no uncertain terms, that his dad was to be moved to another facility - outside of Halcyon City.


“We’ve received credible intelligence that he will be targeted,” is all they said.

He went to his team. Stingray came back with a reply, said he and Leo Snow had been to Atlantis, they were preparing for war, Ninjess had reported that Halcyon City might be the Atlanteans’ target, his dad might be a specific target (due to shit from twenty years back), blah blah.

Atlantis? Really?

Whatever. The truck is here.

The movers are all wearing insulated suits. Probably AEGIS interns or something. They get the stuff in the kitchen, pack it into crates, haul it down the stairs. They move the couch over the second floor railing, lower it down via some kind of rope deal, and get it in the truck.

Kid Kelvin is responsible for helping his dad out, and keeping him chilled enough on the trip down the stairs. His dad’s legs are thin and weak, and he wobbles. Kid Kelvin can’t help but worry every time he holds onto the old man. He feels frail, like he’ll break if grabbed too hard.

“Gonna be okay, dad. Gonna be alright. Three more steps… come on… you’re almost there… there we go. Okay, we’re going up the ramp. They got the couch in there, you’ll be fine…”

His old man mumbles incoherently but unhappily.

“It’s not the recliner, I know dad, they gotta bring that down now that you’re out of it. Come on. It’ll just be for a minute.”

He glances up at the movers. “Hey, can you guys get that BarcaLounger next?”

The movers groan and wave him away. But they do it.

“Come on, dad, just like I said, they brought it down.”

He gets his father settled into the recliner and puts the television remote control in his hand. There’s no television here yet, and no way to power it in the moving truck if it was, but it keeps the old man happy.

“I’m scared, son,” his father whispers.

Kid Kelvin blinks. He leans in close, and slides an arm around his father’s shoulders.

“It’s okay, dad. I’m here. I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. We’re just going somewhere new for awhile, okay?”

More wordless mumbling follows.

“They’ve taken care of you all these years, dad. I’ll be here in the truck the whole way. We’re gonna be fine.”

Kid Kelvin watches ice crystals form around his father’s tear ducts. He wipes them gently away.

"My shows… "

“Dad, you have Netflix. It’s gonna be the same shows wherever we move to.”

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Adam usually looks after Jordan when the Amaris leave the house. When he’s busy - or “out”, as they euphemistically now call his excursions away from Earth - Jordan has expressed a definite preference for alternatives.

Summer doesn’t own a car, but the Amaris don’t think twice about her pulling up in one. “Hello!” she calls brightly.

“Summer, thank you so much for coming on such short notice.”

The girl’s cheerful smile doesn’t flicker a whit. “I always have time.”

They depart, and Summer heads in. But instead of settling down for a fun evening of entertainment, Summer hunkers down in front of Jordan. “Hey there.”

Jordan feels something she hasn’t felt before. Maybe it’s having Anty. Maybe it’s all the practice she’s had with her princessin’ powers. “It feels like there’s two of ya,” she finally says.

“Well there kind of are, Jordan. That’s what I want your help with.”

“Whatcha need?”

Summer leans in, conspiratorially. “You know how there’s princesses that are reincarnations of someone else?”


“Well, I’m one of those.”

Jordan’s eyes widen. “Ohhhhh!”

Summer’s smile widens. “That’s right! Unfortunately, my reincarnation thingie is trapped. I need your help to free her from being turned to stone. Will you help me?”

This is high-level, grade A, no fooling, top tier, senior class Princess Stuff. Of course Jordan is gonna help. And she says so.

Summer has some kind of big device in the back of her car. It looks kind of like a big spikey metal basketball, with lots of wires running around it.

“What is that?” Jordan asks.

“This is a dimensional anchor. It was built by someone named Leo Snow. Do you know him?”

Jordan think think thinks. “Ohhhh, Adam went to school with him! An’ he’s on the team with Concord!”

Summer nods. “That’s right. Well, Leo built this device awhile back to help out. I’ve made some adjustments to it, that are going to let us rescue Queen Infinity.”

Jordan knows this! “It’s uh, an art… artichoke.”

“Do you mean artifact?”

Oops. That’s the word.

Summer hefts it out of the back. She beckons to Jordan to hop up in one arm while she holds onto the anchor with the other. And they take off, flying at an incredible pace.

“Whooaaaaaaaaaa!” Jordan clings to Summer for dear life.

The first few minutes are the scariest. There’s a huge booming noise, and Jordan can see the air distort and deform around them.

As Jordan gets used to the feeling of flying at such dizzying speeds, though, she relaxes, and even starts asking questions.

“Hey, um, don’t you have to put your wings out?”

Summer shakes her head. “I need to conserve energy. Keeping you safe in a barrier and maintaining supersonic thrust are my priorities right now.”

“What’s super sammich?”

“Sonic is a word that means sound. Sound travels through air at about 760 mph. So things moving faster than that speed are said to be traveling super-sonic.”

760 is a big number, but Jordan’s been to space. She can handle it. “Where are we goin’?”

Disney World.”

The park is closed, but that’s okay, they are flying.

Summer lands near a statue. Jordan can immediately see that the story about reincarnation checks out, because the statue looks like a fancier version of Summer.

While Summer makes some adjustments to the dimensional anger thingie, Jordan walks around the statue, wondering and examining.

“What happened?” she asks at last.

Summer doesn’t look up, but does talk.

“Long long ago, in a far away place, there was a girl who lost the boy who was more important to her than anyone in the world.”

Jordan feels herself overwhelmed with a sudden wave of emotion, all coming from Summer. Sorrow, and loss, and anger, and lots of other things she doesn’t really understand.

“But there was a way to get that boy back. To do it, she had to fill the universe with light.”

Summer makes more adjustments to the anchor, as Jordan struggles to cope with the feelings. “She did some things she wasn’t proud of, and some things she was, and she saved many many lives along the way. There was a man who tried to stop her, but he did some pretty awful things, so she fought against him.”

Jordan feels tears running down her eyes, and tries to stop the flow with her hands.

Summer stands up from the machine, and turns to look at her. “If she’d fought that man this time, bad things would have happened to lots of her friends. They’d have become statues instead of her.”

Jordan is in awe of the story. It sounds so much like the stuff she watches and reads, but it all feels true, because Summer’s feeling it too.

“Why would they be statues?” she whispers.

“Reflected spacetime disjunction,” Summer explains.

If Jordan was expecting an answer, it wasn’t this one. “Oh.”

The robot girl goes on. “So instead, she got turned into a statue, by a special friend of mine. But that’s okay, because it was done for the sake of love, and what we do in the name of love is always okay.”

Jordan likes that phrase. She’s gonna remember it. What we do in the name of love is always okay. That sounds like a serious princess thing.

“But now, it’s time to reverse the process.” Summer beckons, and Jordan approaches. “I need to be over here praying for the safe return of Queen Infinity. This won’t work if you don’t press the button here, though.” She indicates the one she means.

Jordan is still confused. Something is telling her to pull on the Adam thread in her heart, but all of Summer’s big feelings are drowning it out.

“Why me?”

“You possess a personal time loop, Jordan. Somehow, I can sense that ten years of your history have been attached to you in the here and now. The machine needs that time loop to work.”

Jordan thinks hard about this. “Oh, when I turn into Peri, I grow up. An’ I had a dream where I was a grown-up, an’ that’s when I got the Continuum Sword and Anty! Is that whatcha mean?”

Summer beams. “That’s right, sweetie.”

A fear creeps into Jordan’s heart. “Will anything bad happen to Anty? 'Cause I got Anty 'causa the loop thingie?”

Jordan can feel Summer’s uncertainty and eventual conviction. “No, it shouldn’t have any negative impact on Anty. That’s the Concordance Shard attached to you right now, isn’t it?”


“It should be okay then. As an extradimensional entity penetrating into the local Lorentzian manifold rather than being contained by it, the Shard is immune to things like chronotropic collapse.”

“You use a lotta big words, Summer.”

Summer smiles, but it’s the saddest smile Jordan has ever seen. “Sorry, sweetie. I can explain soon, if you want. Push the button.”

Jordan steps forward, and hesitates. There’s something telling her to call Adam. But, at the same time, she can so powerfully feel Summer’s regret, and sorrow, and hope.

Being a princess is about helping people feel better.

She’s trying to help Queen Infinity.

This is the right thing to do.

Jordan presses the button.

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What connection could a time traveling Ghost Girl, Kid Kelvin, and Doctor Infinity share? Find out next time!

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