227 - The Magic Kingdom

Jordan isn’t sure what to make of the statue coming to life. She is worried that Summer just collapsed to the ground. So she goes to fret over that.

The voice behind her, coming from the statue, sounds a bit like Summer. Well, like her voice. It doesn’t sound like it’s Summer at all.

“Child. Are you responsible for waking me?”

Jordan turns. The woman standing there looks really fancy and glowy. She’s wearing some kind of special suit, and it’s all lit up. She looks kind of like she’s wearing a UFO.

“I… guess?” She says, hesitantly. “Summer told me to push the button on the thing.”

Queen Infinity glances at the dimensional anchor, then at Summer, then back at Jordan. She steps forward, and Jordan steps back instinctively.

The Queen smiles, and kneels. “What’s your name?”

“Jordan.”

“Well, Jordan. I know Summer. And I know your brother Adam very well. I think right now, you’re probably scared and confused. Am I right?”

Jordan nods. “Guess so.”

The Queen smiles again. This time it’s more like Summer’s smile, actually kinda warm and friendly. “Summer will recover soon. When she wakes up, tell her that Infinity is free again. Tell her you pushed the button.”

Jordan nods. She can do that.

“There’s something else, though. Jordan, look at me.” Infinity gazes steadily at her. “Summer is going to be worried about this. The Summer you were talking to up until now wasn’t really her. It was - it must have been - my ghost. So she won’t remember any of this. Jordan, listen very carefully now. It’s going to feel like you did something bad, or wrong. Sweetie, it’s not your fault. There will be people who don’t think I should be awake right now. Some of them are your friends. That’s okay. It’s perfectly okay for them to be worried. But Jordan, you didn’t do anything wrong. Even if it’s bad that I’m awake, you did what you did because I got you to do it. Do you understand?”

Jordan doesn’t, not at first. But she kind of gets the idea. This is when mom or dad tell her she made a mistake but she shouldn’t feel guilty.

“I guess.”

As Infinity rises, Jordan reaches out a hand and tugs on her leg. Infinity looks down and smiles.

“Hey. Was it wrong for you to wake up?”

The woman kneels again, and rests a hand gently on Jordan’s shoulder. “Jordan, right and wrong aren’t as simple as that. Something is very wrong with the world, and I’m trying to fix it. These people want to stop me, but don’t really understand why. They think they can fix me.”

Jordan swallows. “Is there something wrong with you?”

Infinity thinks about that for long moments. “There’s so much wrong with me, child. But I’m past fixing. Tell them that. If they ask, tell them it’s too late.”

Jordan feels a wave of sadness coming from the Queen, and steps back with tears in her eyes.

Infinity reaches down to grasp the dimensional anchor. There’s a gust of wind, and she and the device are gone.

Jordan feels lost.

Time to wake Summer up. Maybe she’ll know what to do.


Infinity surveys the local timestreams.

Ghost Girl is in transit back from the past. There’s a strong knot of probability ahead of her, clear signs of interference. Time to cut off her path home.

Infinity materializes in the holding cell of Rossum, the Minion Maker. Well, one of them. It really doesn’t matter to her which one, at this point.

“My dear, you’ve… No.” Rossum recognizes this is not either of the gynoids who visited him before. “You’re much more advanced than either of them. A time traveler?”

Infinity doesn’t bother answering. She gets right to business. “Your wife. Ji-a Lee. In the global disaster following King Winter’s comet, she was swept out to sea and rescued by Atlanteans.”

“Absurd,” the villain scoffs. But Infinity can tell she’s got his interest.

“I’ll send you back to before that moment. You can save her.”

“What will happen to me? This experience, this consciousness?” Rossum asks. “My younger self would be present. My entire timeline would be altered.”

Infinity doesn’t answer this either. She has a counter-question. “What wouldn’t you give to see your wife alive and well?”

Rossum’s lingering silence holds, even when the alarms start blaring due to Infinity’s presence in the cell. But like him, she ignores the distraction.

“My history is your history, my dear. Will you survive the alteration in the timeline?” he asks at last.

“We’ll both get something we want,” she says with a cool smile.

Rossum rises, nods, and grins. “Then I am at your disposal.”

The two vanish, seconds before the AEGIS rapid response team can arrive at the cell and open fire.


No Rossum means no Link. Oh, Leo still exists. He’ll create things. But he won’t create Pneuma.

No Pneuma means no Doctor Infinity. No Infinity means no battle with Magus Everard. No battle means that Ghost Girl won’t ascend to the Magus’ power.

The paradox would crash like a tsunami across the world-lines, if it were strong enough to do so. Without sufficient temporal inertia behind it, all it’s doing now is putting pressure on rival realities. But that’s exactly what Infinity wants. With one move, she’s interdicted time travel into or out of this twenty-year period.

With no Magus to interfere, the real work can safely commence.

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Jordan clings to Summer as firmly as she did on the flight down. And Summer’s holding on just as tightly, a worried look on her face.

The two alight at the Amari house. Jordan fetches the hidden key, unlocks the door, and rushes right to the phone. She dials her mom’s number.

When mom answers, Jordan explains the real situation. By which is meant: “Summer took me to Disney World. Only it wasn’t really Summer, it was Queen Infinity who was a ghost that took over Summer an’ made her do stuff, an’ Summer an’ I are back home now an’ she says you should come talk to her 'cause it’s urgent.”

Mom and dad confer and agree to return home, and Jordan gives Summer a thumbs-up.


Jordan doesn’t think Summer’s version of the story is that accurate. It doesn’t mention the important princess business that was going on, for one thing. But mom and dad seem to take it more seriously than her version.

Princesses have it rough.

“While we were waiting, I tried to contact Charlotte Palmer,” Summer explains. “Doctor Infinity is a very capable individual, and the Magus’ power is one of the few things that’s been shown to counter it. But I haven’t been able to reach her.”

Jordan speaks up. “She said not to feel guilty, dad. She said she was gonna go do stuff and it’d make people worry. She said um, it was too late to fix her, but she was broken. It sounded like a pretty big goodbye.”

Nassir nods. He returns his attention to Summer. “You did the best you could, and you did the right thing bringing her back to us and telling us about this. I think for right now–”

He’s interrupted when Jordan glitches for the first time. First she’s regular size, and then she’s Summer sized again. Her clothes are different, but fit her new size. She’s not Princess Peri, not really, but about that big.

“Jordan?” Nassir breathes.

“It’s still me, dad. I didn’t transform, honest! It just kinda did this on its own!”

Mr. Amari’s gaze falls squarely on Summer.

“I don’t know either, sir, but I know someone who might help.”


In the room above Has Beans, Lucius examines Jordan closely. She glitched once more on the drive over, and now looks around 12 years old - along with yet another change of clothes.

“Time and dimensional travel is not strictly my specialty,” he explains to Nassir in an apologetic tone. “But I think I understand what’s happening.”

The old knight gestures to Jordan. “Based on her story, it seems Doctor Infinity is making use of her exposure to other times and worlds. Imagine, hmm, imagine Infinity is climbing a mountain, using a rope to secure herself during the climb. The rope is anchored to something, yes? If she falls, there’s sudden tension on that anchor point. Mr. Amari, your daughter is that anchor. I believe that these glitches in time are indicative of active, and disruptive, time travel. Whatever this villain is doing, she must be stopped.”

“HCPD isn’t equipped with a time machine,” Nassir counters. “What are our options?”

Lucius turns his eyes back to Summer. “Traditionally, the most successful foe of Doctor Infinity has been the Magus.”


They find Charlotte in her pose of meditation.

Jordan, having glitched back to 7 again, shakes her head. “She’s not here.”

“Jordan, she’s sitting right here,” Nassir points out.

“What do you mean, sweetie?” Summer asks.

“There! There’s a thread, goin’… goin’… somewheres.” Jordan points with her finger, making loop-de-loops into empty space. “She’s on the other end of that.”

Nassir looks helplessly at Summer.

“No, no, I think that means she’s… um, like astrally projected?” The girl is guessing, but with the scope of things she’s experienced, almost any guess here has a chance of being accurate.

“She’s stuck,” Jordan announces, peering closely at nothing. “She can’t come back.”

Summer takes this in with a frown. “She’s the Magus, but she’s also a ghost. Well, sort of. Mr. Amari, I may need to um, ‘lean on’ someone. Is that the phrase? Can I ask you to support me? They should be able to help.”

“You said that before,” Nassir remarks darkly. Nevertheless, he nods after a moment’s thought. What else is there to do, but chase this thing to the end?


Ghostheart is reaching for their coffee mug at Mater Luna when Summer takes hold of it instead. As she sits down across from the demonologist, she gulps down the hot concoction in a single shot.

“Summer Newman,” nods Ghostheart.

“I think I’ve been very nice in our past interactions,” Summer begins. “In spite of that you’ve been kind of a scumbag, and you’ve hurt friends of mine. So you and I are going to leave this place. You are going to tip the baristas on your way out, because they work hard. We’re going to get in a car and we’re going to go somewhere.”

“If I refuse?”

Summer glances at the cup still in her hand. “Well, I could crush this but I don’t want to make work for the staff here. So just pretend I crushed it into powder. Then imagine me doing that to your bones.”

Ghostheart tut-tuts. “You’re very bad at this.”

The girl grabs Ghostheart’s collar with her free hand. “I’m running out of patience with your attitude.”

“Fine, fine.”


Ghostheart takes in the scene of Charlotte meditating, while the others watch.

“She’s astrally projecting,” they announce at last.

Summer silently gloats, just a little bit, while Nassir nods. “My daughter says she is ‘stuck’. Can you get her back?”

“Not without my equipment,” Ghostheart answers, glancing at Nassir. “But I’m not likely to call in my associates without some assurance that I’ll walk away from this a free person.”

Nassir shrugs. “I’m here as a father, not a cop. Of course, I think you should worry more about the young lady here.”

Summer glares, but her tone is civil. “If you keep your word to help us, I’m not going to stop you running away after it’s settled. But working for Rook Industries is pretty bad in my book. So as far as I’m concerned, you’re always on thin ice, pal.”

Iconoclast and Facet are called in. Summer recognizes the former, and there’s a brief bit of tension while Ghostheart negotiates with their accomplices. But at the end of it, Ghostheart retrieves some items from Charlotte’s chambers (under Summer’s strict supervision, and with a promise to return them). And the group heads outside, to where the ghost-fishing van is parked.

Fortunately, they’re already in a cemetery. Ghostheart explains the basics of the system, interrupted only once as Jordan glitches to age 17. Nobody tries to explain this part, and nobody asks, so the conversation awkwardly returns to the mechanics of ghost-fishing.

“Charlotte is unlikely to trust me,” Ghostheart says in closing. “It would be better if someone like Summer were to go.”

Nassir silently draws a revolver from his pocket.

The three supervillains pause. Ghostheart holds their hands forward. “I assure you, sir, that will not be necessary. I’ve given my word, and my associates will be similarly cooperative.”

The revolver goes back in, but Nassir’s hand stays there too. His other hand stays protectively wrapped around Jordan’s.

Ghostheart places the items they took inside the van, around the apparatus, and gets Summer into the harness.

“I don’t guarantee this will work,” they say finally. “The relics should guide you to her - but you may be unable to bring her back. Just do your best - and don’t let fear take hold of you. You will see some frightful things in the depths of the underworld.”

“I’ve seen some pretty awful things in this world,” she growls back at him. “Don’t be one of them. This time.”

Ghostheart rolls their eyes, but nods in understanding. “Alright. System on.”

The ghost-fishing apparatus in the van warms up, and the hatch slides open. Nassir and Jordan watch as Summer descends into the non-physical space below. As she vanishes from sight, Jordan squeezes her father’s hand extra tight.

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Summer descends into an opalescent mist. She feels gravity, but it doesn’t behave quite as she’d expect. She feels the harness around her, and can touch the cable attached to it, her lifeline to the world of the living. Other than that, she feels disconnected from everything real.

She thinks back to Leo’s researches into time and dimension science, and things Charlotte has said in passing. “The world is an exercise in turning matter into memory,” is the phrase that stuck with her. Leo took it as a physics problem. A universe ‘wants’ to reach its lowest energy state, or ground state. Physical processes will act in ways that naturally yield this outcome. A representation of some configuration of matter holds less energy than the actual configuration - you can’t drive the memory of a car, for example.

I’m swimming through the collected memory of the universe.

She sees shadows, moving beyond the mist. Some seem humanoid at first, then distort or separate into something entirely other. Some are massive, giving her the impression of whales with tentacles drifting through an ocean.

What else is swimming here with me?

She imagines whole ecosystems of ghostly “life”, creatures that evolved in a world of memory. Anything from tiny organisms, the equivalent of krill or algae, up to the most ghastly of predators - the sharks and killer whales of this psychic ocean.

She slowly realizes she doesn’t really want to encounter any of them.

She glances up again, to the cable that’s tethering her to physical reality, and regards it in a new and unsettling way.

Now I feel like a little worm on a hook.


How far down must she go?

How much cable does the van actually have?

What if it’s not enough?

There’s not much to do other than think about uncomfortable questions as she descends.

The mist is thinning, replaced with something else. She wants to describe what she sees under her as cables, or plant stems, or fronds, or something, waving gently in a current. It’s like a giant plate of spaghetti, if the noodles were floating in water.

She descends into the mass, and realizes what it really reminds her of. A rhizome - a root system for plants. In Utah, there’s a tree system called Pando. The root system is thousands of years old. Fossilized root systems 385 million years old have been found. Roots are regarded as one of the most important developments of multicellular life. Is that true of this place too? Or does she just perceive it this way?

She sinks through the membrane of one of the roots and jerks to a stop.

Well, now we know the cable limit.

What now, genius?

She experimentally activates her thrusters, finding that they work - whether because there’s some kind of physics here, or because she knows they ought to, she neither knows nor cares. With increasing confidence, she unstraps herself from the harness and levitates her way into the interior of the Rhizome.

There feels like a gravitational pull, but it’s different than before. The collected relics, drawing her to their owner? It’s worth trying. She detaches a butterfly drone, verifies she can feel its position relative to her own and the harness’s, and drops into the root of the roots.

She finds the place where multiple roots have been tangled up somehow. Beyond them, she can witness a battle taking place. One of the combatants is Charlotte. The other is some kind of animated black fire, whose body is restrained by chains.

Charlotte appears to be losing.

“Hey!” Summer cries out, not sure what to do other than announce herself.

Charlotte glances over, and takes note with an expression of surprise. The fire creature doesn’t seem to be interested.

“Send one of your butterflies!” Charlotte calls.

Summer detaches a drone. It’s able to wind its way through the knot. On the other side, Charlotte grabs hold of it, and disappears in a flash. As the monster prepares its spear for a vicious lunge, Summer calls the drone back to her. Charlotte appears next to her as the drone re-docks.

“What was that thing?” she asks.

“Illirikim,” answers Charlotte. “A goetic demon. How did you find me?”

Summer isn’t sure she wants to spoil her friend’s mood with the bad news just yet. There’s a more positive spin she can put on this. “Jordan needs your help with something big. Come on.”


Nassir and Jordan watch Summer reappear in the van, after a long and agonizing wait. The girl wastes no time divesting herself of the harness. “We have to get these items back to the place where she’s physically at,” she explains.

The group runs across the cold ground, navigates the maze of the mausoleum Charlotte currently calls home, and place the props around her. Abruptly, Charlotte regains consciousness with a gasping breath.

A long conversation follows, during which Ghostheart and their companions reiterate their good will in this particular instance. Max in particular finally settles things thus.

“I was the one who drew your friend the priestess to Crowninshield’s experiment. I was mystically bound to obey Rook’s orders, but I found a way to help you. For the sake of this child, let us be allies of convenience if nothing else. What I want now isn’t to hurt you or yours, or anyone. I just want my freedom.”

Summer watches Charlotte agonize over this decision. She knows a little bit of what Charlotte went through at Rook’s hands, understands what a similar experience did to her sister, and is ready to kick ass in a moment on her teammate’s behalf. But Charlotte smiles, and nods, and Summer knows things are going to work out.

“What do we do now?” she asks.

Charlotte gestures at Jordan. “Much as I hate to endanger her, we must take Jordan into the roots of the world tree, where you found me. Lucius’ analogy of the climbing rope was a good start. If Jordan is the anchor, we must use her to ‘reel in’ Infinity. Only then can we confront her.”

Both girls turn to Nassir and Jordan, looking expectantly. This is a decision only father and daughter can make.

Nassir kneels down. “When Adam got his powers, I don’t think anyone asked his permission. You had something like that happen too. But right now, sweetie, you get a choice. I don’t know what else to do to help you. I want to trust them. But you have to be willing to go through with this too.”

Jordan looks worried. The glitching isn’t like being Princess Peri. There, she had Anty, and could control her powers more or less. This time, things are just happening to her, and it’s scaring her. But she looks at Summer and Charlotte, and smiles. “A princess gotta do what a princess gotta do, dad,” she announces.

“Okay.” Nassir nods in turn at the two heroes.

Charlotte turns to Ghostheart. “We will need your equipment for the moment. Infinity has done something to tangle the paths of time. Until we reach a point beyond the tangle, we need the underworld to travel where and when we must go.”

“Very well,” Ghostheart replies, after a quick glance of confirmation at their associates. “We await your pleasure, Ms. Palmer.”

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Charlotte outlines the strategy. She’ll wrap the group in a veil, then draw it down into the underworld. Summer left a butterfly drone in the Rhizome, and they’ll go there. “The time tangle was just beyond that,” Charlotte explains. “We can pick up Infinity’s trail from there.”

And who is the group? Charlotte and Jordan must go, at minimum. Summer won’t stay behind for anything. Nassir won’t leave Jordan alone. And to their surprise, Facet volunteers to come along.

“Rook’s done me dirty,” she admits. “Maybe I want to balance the slate a little bit.”

Ghostheart and Iconoclast have no interest in coming along. Besides, someone has to stay to keep the machinery operating.

Charlotte weaves her magic, and a pinkish haze envelopes the group.


The veil dissipates in the middle of a war zone.

It’s a public beach, at mid-day. People are everywhere, running and screaming. Beyond their immediate environs, everyone sees why. Dozens - maybe hundreds - of robots are swarming across the ground and in the air. They’re attacking a man, hovering inside a defensive sphere of ice and throwing blasts of cold energy in return.

Floating above the robots is what looks like a flying saucer.

Summer is the first to connect the dots. “Rossum. That’s Rossum, Leo’s father.” She takes in the rest of the scene in a moment. “This is the day. This is when King Winter brought down the comet, to stop Atlantis’ invasion. The day the Gales stopped him in turn, and created all those tsunamis. The ones that swept Ji-a Lee into Atlantis’ clutches.”

“I have to find Infinity,” Ghost Girl announces, and vanishes.

“I’m on the robots!” Summer calls out, and launches into the sky.

Nassir turns to Facet and Jordan. “People will hurt themselves here. We’re going to establish order.”

“Uh, how do we do that?” Facet asks worriedly, glancing at the crowds all around them.

Nassir spots a lifeguard station. “There. They’ll have bullhorns.”

The trio rush to the station, finding it deserted. Beach lifeguards aren’t paid enough to take charge during supervillain battles. Nassir finds two bullhorns, and hands one to Facet.

“Your file says you can fly,” he says quickly. “Take this. Get in the air. Find the safest spot, and usher people that way. If there’s a parking lot, lead them there.”

Grabbing the other bullhorn, the Sergeant rushes to the outer deck of the station. “Attention citizens!” he bellows, in his best parade-ground voice. “This is the law. The woman in the air will be directing you to a safe location. As you evacuate, look around for anyone who needs help. If someone falls, help them up.”

Nassir glances down at his daughter. “Jordan, go back inside. Find the phone. There’ll be an emergency phone number. Dial that number. They should be able to trace the call. Get emergency services here pronto.”

“Okay dad!” Jordan hustles back into the station. Phone - phone - phone - there it is. She does her best to push her own fear to the side and follow instructions. People are counting on her. And right now, she’s counting on her father.


Summer is better acquainted with Rossum’s robot creations than anyone - maybe anyone on the planet right now. She recognizes them as modern designs, nothing that a younger Rossum during the King Winter incident could have created.

Has the modern Rossum traveled back in time? No - of course. Infinity brought him here.

Her drones deploy en masse, creating a barrier between stray blasts from the robots and the fleeing beach-goers. One by one she starts smashing into the robots themselves, tearing them to pieces and using those pieces as missiles to throw at the next wave of robots.

“Summer!” comes a voice, broadcast from the flying saucer. “While it’s a pleasure to see you again, my dear, I’m afraid I can’t let you interfere. I need to stop King Winter.”

That’s the tangle.

“You’re being used by Doctor Infinity!” Summer shouts. She punches the head off one robot, smashes another over her knee, then grabs hold of the torso and accelerates through a pack of nearby bots to bowl them over like tenpins.

“If Infinity’s goals coincide with mine, what of it?” Rossum demands. The flying saucer unleashes a few blasts at Summer, which deflect off her hard-light barriers at the last moment.

“There’s more going on here than you realize!” she calls back. “You have to stop this!”

“I know what I have to do!” the inventor’s voice screams. The saucer begins building up a considerable power charge, aimed right at where King Winter is fending off robots on all sides.

“Well then I do too,” the girl sighs quietly. She rallies her drones around her and flies up, positioning herself to intercept the blast with as much as possible.

The blast has all the power of a vehicular platform behind it. It tears through the drones’ hard-light walls, shatters the layered defenses she’d erected, slams into her carbon-allotrope shell with what feels like the force of an exploding sun.

The shell falls from the sky, temporarily disabled, and Summer ejects into her drone body. There’s no taking another hit like that. She needs to do something to stop that saucer.

She flies through the swarm of Rossum’s robots, smashing through a few more and ripping bits off them, then lands on the top of the flying saucer as it zips and darts across the skies over the beach. Everything now depends on how long he’s been here in the past, and how much preparation he had. It was long enough to build or override a factory to build the robots. Would he have had as much time to put in details such as life support and a sealed cabin?

There - air intakes. In a second, she traces the path they must take to keep the cockpit ventilated and the systems cooled. Rossum has built himself a flying turtle. It’s wonderfully armored, with so few ways in. But those few ways are vital.

Summer jams the collected robot scrap into the access ports. Rossum, watching her through the transparent canopy of his cockpit, realizes what’s happening. Furiously, he begins ordering robots to take out the intruder on the saucer.

The battle heats up. Summer now has to take every advantage she can get. She disables her human projection, conserving every dyne to smash apart the oncoming storm of robots. The attackers grab at her, only for her to slip away at the last moment and let them smash into each other.

Rossum takes a gamble, and cracks the cockpit open. Blaster in hand, he takes aim and fires again and again. Summer is forced to dodge and duck behind the robots still swarming her, only to then push them into the path of his shots when he tries to shoot away the junk jamming up his ventilation system.

Just then, a new set of blasts come raining down on the robots. Facet is streaking toward the saucer too, aiming pinpoint-accurate energy attacks at the robots. Free of distractions, Summer leaps into the cockpit, rezzing back into human shape, and tackles Rossum.

The inventor gets a blast off that strikes the drone, even through its hard-light protections. Summer feels pain, serious and intense, the first such she’s felt in a long time. The saucer wobbles and descends, then crashes into the beach. Summer and the robots are thrown clear, while Rossum’s safety belt protects him from the worst of the impact.

Beyond them, King Winter’s icy defenses finally fade under the relentless onslaught of Rossum’s robot army. But before they can reach him, Doctor Infinity flashes into existence, grabs hold of the exhausted villain, and disappears just as quickly.

Ghost Girl appears seconds later. Between her and Facet, they start clearing out more robots. But it’s not necessary. Defeated, Rossum flips a switch on his console. At the signal it sends out, every Rossum creation on the beach lands and falls inert.


Emergency services have arrived and are tending to the civilians who evacuated the beach. Nassir and Jordan approach the downed saucer.

Jordan, in particular, runs toward Summer’s damaged shell, and looks up, distraught. Summer approaches her, placing a hand on her shoulder, and smiles. “Just a little battle damage. Nothing permanent. I’m tougher than that.”

Even as she says that, the damaged drone flickers for a second. Wincing, she begins the process of redocking.

“You’re glitchin’ too, huh?” asks Jordan worriedly.

“Guess so,” Summer answers weakly, from her carbon-allotrope shell. She reaches up a hand to tousle Jordan’s hair, then lays back. “Just gimme a minute to rest here, okay?”

Not a minute passes before three new people arrive on the scene. Summer recognizes them, but it’s still a shock to see a young Silver Streak, Tempest, and Comet. The Gale family, speedsters all, suited up and in their prime.

They take stock of the situation immediately, professionally. They compliment Nassir for helping out, smile briefly at Jordan, and approach the downed saucer.

“We thought King Winter was here. We’ve been trying to stop him from bringing down an ice comet. It’s really important we find out where he got to. He’s doing to endanger the whole Earth if we don’t stop him.”

Ghost Girl steps up, presenting the Agate Staff. The Gales’ eyes light up in recognition of the Magus’ symbol of office, and they trade uncertain glances.

“We’re from the future,” she explains. “Doctor Infinity made off with King Winter, apparently as part of her scheme. King Winter, in turn, was trying to bring down the comet to stop the imminent invasion from Atlantis.”

“Atlantis?” scoffs Comet. “You mean that thing Nautilus is blabberin’ on about?”

“It’s all real,” Summer says, limping her way into the conversation. “They are coming. And this man…”

She leads the group to Rossum’s downed craft, and to the man himself, who’s unstrapping the safety belts and rubbing the sore spots left by the crash landing.

“Rossum, the Minion Maker. In our time, a villain - but only because of this incident.”

Rossum weakly smiles up at Summer. “I’m glad I didn’t have to destroy you, my dear. I truly am. With King Winter gone, my mission is done.” He glances at the speedsters and others now gathered around him. “What will happen now?”

Summer sighs. “Now, you will be assisting these people in holding off the Atlantean invasion. Turn your technology and skills to fighting the enemy, and rescuing the people they’ve got captive in their underwater cities. Your mission has just begun, sir.”

She regroups with Ghost Girl and the others to discuss their own next move.

Charlotte explains the plan. “I have enough to follow Infinity on her trail now. But we are on the other side of her interdiction paradox. That means that when we return to the present, it won’t be our present. It will be this timeline’s future, with all that that implies.”

Nassir speaks up. “Just how can we stop someone with so much power?”

Charlotte smiles. “She has great personal power. But time war is something like a chess game. Rather than using the individual power of a single piece, the way to win is to use everything you have in a coherent strategy. Infinity’s pieces are people like Rossum, with the power and motivation to change history given the chance. And even seeming pawns can have a great influence on the board.”

“Where does someone like King Winter fit in?” Facet asks. “He was before my time.”

Charlotte shrugs. “That I don’t know. But let’s see what the future holds, so that we’ll know how to proceed.”

They approach the Gales again, who are talking with Rossum.

“It’s time for us to go,” Ghost Girl announces with a polite bow.

“We hope to see you again,” smiles Tempest.

“You will,” Summer assures them. “Take good care of Harry.”

“You know about Harry?” Silver Streak blinks. “Oh ho. Future knowledge, huh? Well, I’m not about to ask any questions about that. You know what happens when you tamper with the future.”

“I think we’re about to find out,” Charlotte replies, with a faintly worried look.

Once again she weaves a veil about the group, and it disappears back into the time-stream.

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The group emerges in what they mistake for a greenhouse at first. Plant life is everywhere, and there’s a dome overhead with lights.

“This is the cemetery,” confirms Charlotte after a moment’s inspection. “We need to find out what’s going on.”

She catches a glance of Summer, still not walking quite well. “No. First… where do we need to take you for repairs, my friend?”

Summer shrugs. “Gotta know what’s here first. How about the Quill compound?”


Halcyon City is covered in more domes, like the ones they found. There’s a great wall to the east, and beyond that… ocean?

The Quill compound is fortified and occupied, with people coming in and out of it. Most folks are wearing uniforms of some kind. The team approaches carefully.

“Name and business?” asks an alert young guard at the door.

“Magus Charlotte Palmer and friends to see Dr. Byron Quill or his son Jason.” She presents the Agate Staff for inspection.

The guard calls this in, and returns her attention to the group upon receiving an answer. “Magus Max Galliard will be here in a moment to verify your story.” And in a moment, a figure materializes out of the air.

The erstwhile Ghostheart of their reality is now a spectral presence concealed under a cloak. They too hold the Agate Staff. “It is not I, but someone from a parallel reality,” the Ghostheart Magus announces after close inspection. “Consider their credentials acceptable.” And with that, they vanish.

The interior of the compound is as busy as the outside activity suggested. The conversation pit is gone. In its place is something like a war room. At the center is a holographic spinning globe, highlighting crisis zones and troop movements around the planet. Military officers, police, people in hero costumes, civilian assistants or attachés, are all moving from room to room, talking with each other in hushed tones, or watching and commenting on the holo-globe.

One such attaché approaches the group. “You wish to see Dr. Quill? Your business?” he asks.

“We’re time travelers. We have information, and we need orientation,” Charlotte explains.

As if to sell the story, Jordan glitches to age 12.

The attaché takes this all with remarkable aplomb. “Quite. Come this way.”

They find Byron Quill holed up on a conference call, with Jason standing next to him. Byron sees the group, rolls his eyes, and waves Jason over in his stead.

“Sorry, my dad’s on the phone with the President,” he explains with a lopsided grin. “Time travelers, huh? My name’s Jason Quill. Pleased to meet you.”

He shakes hands all around. Summer finds it odd to see not so much as a flicker of recognition in his eyes.

“We left this timeline almost two decades ago,” Charlotte explains. “Karl Taitale, known to us as Rossum the Minion Maker, was sent back by Doctor Infinity to fight King Winter, before he could call down a comet. It would have done damage to the Earth, but was also to forestall an invasion by Atlantis.”

“Well, that invasion happened. Dr. Taitale - both of them - are working in our sister city, Tranquility. Maybe one of them can help you out?”

He establishes a video call. After a few moments, Summer sees Leo’s face come on the call.

“Tranquility Command, Leonardo Lee here. Hey Jason.”

“Hey Leonardo. Some visitors here say they know Grandpa Karl. Can you put him on?”

The alternative Leo nods, and another face joins the call - the aged visage of Rossum. “Summer! My dear. So good to see you again. Your prediction was accurate. Now we’re in a Cold War with the Atlanteans. No open hostilities, but a lot of brushfire conflicts and proxy battles. You’ll be pleased to hear I’ve had a hand in molding the superheroes of this world as well. No more dangerous cowboy moves that risk civilian lives.”

Summer winces internally. Perhaps her act of charity wasn’t a good idea after all. But it is too soon to know. “Uh, yeah, great job. So err, any thoughts on what impact King Winter’s absence has had?”

“Not a clue, and I’ve had almost twenty years to think about it,” replies the old man. “The first place I’d have suggested you go is Rook Industries, given their past predilection for villain partnerships, aheheheh. They did have a program to exploit cryokinetics in my timeline. Even tried to kidnap Kid Kelvin, Winter’s boy. But here, they’ve been clean - if only because they’re under so much scrutiny, as a special partner in the war effort. You can ask the Quills for an independent security assessment, just in case.”

The time travelers look at each other. “I think we can start that investigation, and I will do some of my own as well,” Charlotte replies. “Sergeant Amari here is with HCPD in our world, and his daughter Jordan is experiencing temporal ‘glitches’. We don’t want this to go on for too long. And Summer here badly needs some high-tech healing.”

“Why don’t you come down to Tranquility?” Leonardo Lee offers. “We’re the front line on the Atlantean conflict, and we’ve got plenty of equipment that may be useful.”

“Very well, we’ll be on our way.”


Without King Winter, Kid Kelvin isn’t obliged to stay in Halcyon City. He’s taken care of by his mother, and lives another life.

Without Kid Kelvin, Hot Mess never comes to Halcyon in search of a nemesis.

Without Hot Mess and a lab partner like Leo Snow, Nono Rodriguez never finds a vehicle for her dreams beyond writing useless fan fiction about “Agent R”.

Until one night, when a mysterious glowing woman comes to her room, and asks if she’d like to become a super-spy for real, and tells her about something called the Poppet System.

Even pawns can become queens, if they’re carefully shepherded across the board.

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“Hey there. I’m Leonardo Lee. Pleased to meet you, miss…?”

“Umm, I’m Summer. Summer Skye Newman.”

“You’re an artificial lifeform?”

“‘Robot’ is fine. But I’m more than that.”

Getting to Tranquility involved a submarine, during which Jordan oohed and ahhed and only glitched once. Now Summer and Leonardo are conversing in his private lab, which has its own spectacular view of the Atlantic ocean, a quarter mile under water. While Summer has moved on from Leo Snow, old flames don’t always go out as fast as one would like, and she frankly finds the environment a little more romantic than she’d like.

For starters, she’s laying on a multi-function operating table, and he leaned over her, very close, the moment he walked in. Now he’s studying technical readouts and schematics. And she’s studying him.

“You have a chip in your head,” she says.

“Yes! I don’t talk about that with most people. Something you picked up in your time traveling? Future history?”

“Nnno, not really. One of its functions is to generate a connectome by performing a neural ping, though?”

“Yeah!”

“Wellll, I am… a remix of a connectome, embodied in an electromechanical brain, which operates this shell in turn. The underlying framework is a mixture of carbon allotropes, arranged in a…” And so Summer explains her specifications to the parallel version of their inventor.

“Fascinating!” Leonardo announces at last. “I mean, it’s a great body.”

Summer blushes fiercely. “Hey now–”

“What?” His confusion seems genuine. “It’s genius. Don’t be modest. You know so much, I assume you put it together. You should be proud of this amazing technical achievement!”

“Ehhhhh. Well, the truth is…”

Jordan takes this moment to run into the room. She’s still 7 for the moment, so her excitement seems normal. It would be disconcerting, Summer realizes, to watch a 17-year-old skipping about with the same energy.

“Summer! Summer! They got fish!”

It’s a relief not to confront her feelings just now. “I know, sweetie! Have you met Leonardo Lee here?”

“You’re Leo!” announces Jordan.

“Leonardo,” he corrects.

“No, you’re Leo Snow! You built Summer! An’ Aria!” Jordan bounces around a bit more, then glues herself to the window and the ocean beyond. “Fish!”

Things have gotten awkward for Summer very quickly. Leonardo turns back to her with a questioning look.

“Well, listen,” she says. “You - that is, the you of my timeline - did invent this robot technology. And technically, you did create me - my mind. You created the raw materials for this shell, and I assembled them into this finished product.”

“I see,” Leonardo breathes. Now he’s awkward too. “Uh. And what was the nature of your, uh, you and, uh, this Leo Snow, did he…”

She closes her eyes, and opens them again, and smiles her best smile at him. “Leo Snow is my best friend. And I’d like to be your friend too.”

Now rather flustered, Leonardo looks away. “Well, I would certainly like that too. Let’s uh, hook up. Hook you up. To the instruments.”

The diagnosis is not great. There’s been serious structural damage to both the carbon shell and the repurposed Chin drone. Summer carries her own schematics, and shares them out to Leonardo’s computer in full. With that data, the two of them hatch a new plan: building a replacement shell.

“Your carbon construction is already pretty close to our CALDERA project,” he explains. “Carbon-allotropic Low-Density Energy-Resistant Armor. The third generation in submarine armor. But we’ve reached the fifth generation already, and I’m developing a sixth-gen carbon composite here in the lab. What do you say we start with that?”

The work is delayed as Jordan grows bored with fish, starts futzing with Leonardo’s lab equipment, and forces the young man to explain the workspace’s boundaries to her. She glitches to age 12 in the middle of his explanation, ignores all that was said, and keeps playing until Summer physically drags her away and sets her down in a chair.

“Maybe we should take a walk,” Leonardo suggests.


Tranquility is one of the new “frontier cities”, built with hyper-tech materials. Even modern cities like Halcyon took a beating when the Atlanteans raised the oceans. The first sea-walls were developed in response to that attack. Since then, land-dwellers have been pushing the boundaries of where human beings will live.

As an underwater city, it needs to supply oxygen for its inhabitants. As a result, trees, plants, and other growing things are everywhere. And so it is that Summer finds herself walking with Leonardo and Jordan through a lovely park. She holds one of Jordan’s hands, Leonardo holds the other, and the three of them burn off their energy and nervousness as appropriate.

“How long will you be here?” the boy finally asks.

“Well, we want to help Jordan get back to normal, and stop Infinity. As quickly as possible, honestly.” Summer glances down at Jordan. “But until we can get some kind of lead on Infinity, I don’t know what we can do but wait, and keep looking.”

Jordan, taking a break from being distracted by birdsong, looks up. “Leo, you know Nono?”

“Do I no no no?” he asks, confused.

“Nono! Nono!” she repeats.

Summer ahhs. “She’s talking about a girl named Nono Rodriguez, who lives in Halcyon City in our world. She is the only chemistry kid who could keep up with Leo. A real hypergenius.”

“Huh,” Leonardo muses. “I’ll check our records. We’ve done a pretty good job of screening for powers like that, but if we missed someone, I’d love to bring her on board.”

The boy grins. “See, this is why any effort to fix you up will be worth it. You folks have all this great information about stuff we might have missed. And right now, every little bit helps a whole lot.”

“I know a lotta stuff,” Jordan proclaims proudly. “Ever since I became a princess an’ got Anty, even though she’s sealed away now, I got feelins.”

“Feelings are good,” says Leonardo agreeably.

Jordan elaborates, well, elaborately. “Like princess stuff. Like when people are in danger and need rescuin’. An’ other love an’ justice type stuff.”

She leans close to Summer, and whispers as loudly as possible, “for example, he wants ya to kiss him!”

Leonardo turns bright red, as does Summer. “How about we tell Mr. Leonardo Lee about dinosaurs, Jordan?” she prompts, desperate for a way out.

Jordan’s eyes grow large. “You like dinosaurs?”

“I sure do,” Leonardo manages to choke out, grateful for the escape hatch. “Tell me all about dinosaurs.”

And so she does.


Jordan, glitched to 17, is curled up asleep on the operating table. Summer and Leonardo are studying a three-dimensional projection of the new shell. One of Leonardo’s coworkers walks past his door, sees him with a couple of apparently teenage girls, and gives a smirking thumbs-up. Leonardo waves him away in annoyance.

They’ve taken to calling it ARCANE. Augmented Robotic Carbon-Allotropic Nanotech Enhanced. Summer notes that Leonardo loves him some acronyms, but privately doesn’t mind. “Arcane” has associations with magic, which she’s not-so-privately fond of. The new design will incorporate her butterflies, but has a vastly improved power distribution system, stronger field emitters across the board, and most importantly, Quill-type mecha-medical nanotech for repairs in the field.

“As long as you’ve got a source of carbon and other light elements, the disassemblers will activate, and turn it into first-stage graphene sheets. The polytubes are self-healing as you know from your experience with carbon nanotubes. The nanotech will cannibalize your internal systems if they don’t pass a health check, meaning you’ll start healing by reformatting broken bits before you need an external supply.”

Leonardo gestures to the rest of the schematics. “We’ve incorporated some directed-energy weapons, as well as a facility for the nanobots to produce carbon-allotropic melee weapons at your discretion.”

Summer’s eyebrows go up. “That’s… well, a little surprising to me. The Leo I knew said ‘I don’t build weapons, I build friends.’”

“Weapons aren’t the problem,” Leo says, with surprising thoughtfulness. “What matters is whose hands hold them, and where they’re aimed. The best weapon is a sword in its sheath. Ready, but unused.”

Interesting.


The ARCANE body takes four days to build using Tranquility’s fabrication facilities. During that time, Charlotte and Jason Quill report back: there’s no evidence that Rook Industries is - currently - double-crossing the world, or holding onto King Winter.

“Right now the planet is in a four-way détente,” Dr. Byron Quill explains. “Our side, the London Treaty nations, keeping Atlantis at bay through gunboat diplomacy. The Atlanteans, led by the New Imperial regime. The African-Arabic United World, who were actively at war with Atlantis and have cooled down for the moment. And the Middle Kingdom, controlled by Dr. Achilles Chin and his family, covering China and much of Russia. It’s possible that King Winter has been turned over to one of those groups. It’s too soon for our spies to have confirmed anything of that nature, but we’ll keep listening. Based on our analysis, if someone was in the market for Winter’s powers, it’d be Chin. He’s been poking at Antarctica and might want someone who can insulate his teams and tech from the cold. But that’s just speculation.”

Charlotte accepts this dead end with as much grace as she can muster. And to her surprise, Facet has been very forthcoming about what she knows about Rook Industries. As someone who worked closely with Rook’s secret supervillain division, even in another world, she has insights that have raised eyebrows throughout the conference room. So it hasn’t been a total loss.

“While we wait for more concrete news, why don’t we go meet this Nono Rodriguez of yours?” suggests Leonardo. “And anyone else you can think of who we might have overlooked.”

The group agrees, and set out to find their friend.

Their arrival at Nono’s house yields two parents who have filed a missing-persons report and are tearfully waiting for news - any kind of news. Although Nassir isn’t part of this world’s HCPD, his aura of authority opens the door for the others to ask questions. And when Charlotte and Jordan reach Nono’s room, they both look at each other in mutual recognition.

“She got took!” announces Jordan.

“It was her. Infinity was here,” confirms Charlotte.

“So now what?” Facet asks.

“Now we follow this thread, slim though it be,” Charlotte says firmly. “Mr. Lee, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez, we are following the woman who abducted your child and we will do our very best to return her to your care.”

Both sobbing parents voice their gratitude. The group of time travelers congregate together. Leonardo and Summer flash each other matching uncertain smiles. Charlotte weaves her magic, and the chase is on.

2 Likes

I deeply love this story already. The amount of internal screaming (of joy) I do while reading this is concerning. While I didn’t know what to expect from a “time war,” everything so far is so much more than I could have asked for.

Dammit, you’ve taken two of my favorite things from the AoA storyline (Nono and the Poppet system) and combined them. I can’t wait to see the end result.

I know we didn’t get to see much of Tranquility past Leo’s lab and some details on its purpose, but I really like this place. I think part of it is seeing how the change in the timeline affected things so deeply that a new underwater city was built in order to deal with it.

Makes notes of cool acronyms.

Hmm, a Leo who presumably was raised by both his parents shows some noticeable differences from the original. Guess not having to deal with bullies growing up with his foster parents and living through a cold war with a hostile enemy gave Leo a different perspective on violence.

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Nice.

I very much like the altered timeline. Well-handled. I want to see more of everything, of course, but that’s not this story.

I am curious, of course, about what’s going on Achilles and Alycia in this time pathway – unless they were casualties, so far, I would expect them to be engaged here. Dr Chin’s long-term stability might cause him to see Atlantis as a means to his ends (let them take over the world, then simply take them over), but it’s equally likely he’s waging his own cold war against their effort.

All of which may be answered in the next section, so I should read that.

A Leo who grew up very differently, and in a world at war.

Ah. Taking advantage of chaos to grab power, bring order, forward the Great Mission more openly. Nice.

“And his family.” :slight_smile:

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The quintet of time travelers - Charlotte Palmer, Summer Newman, Nassir and Jordan Amari, and the maybe-ex-supervillain Facet - emerge into a featureless non-space. They perceive, rather than see, Doctor Infinity just ahead of them. There’s someone with her. The abducted Nono Rodriguez?

“We have her,” exults Charlotte, glancing down at Jordan. "She tried to follow her trail home, to bypass the interdiction paradox.”

The time-traveling robot perceives the group as well. “Clever. You took my anchor into the underworld. Risking a child, Magus?”

“She’s suffering, thanks to your damage to the timeline,” Charlotte snaps back. “Your words ring hollow.”

“It wouldn’t have lasted long!” Infinity protests. “And there would be no lasting impact.”

“Now what?” Charlotte asks. “You can’t undo the alternate timeline you’ve made, not without considerable effort, and wherever you go, we’ll be there too.”

Infinity regards her enemies for a moment. “Any port in a storm,” she comments cryptically.

Facet grabs at her own right arm suddenly. In the same instant, Infinity and Nono disappear.

In the next moment, the travelers find themselves back in the cemetery, near the van. The ghost-fishing equipment inside has been thoroughly destroyed.

Ghostheart and Iconoclast are both there. Both are unconscious, lying on the cold ground.


The group reconvene in Charlotte’s mausoleum. Ghostheart and Iconoclast have recovered consciousness, and claim to remember only a blurred flash which attacked them.

“How did she get away?” Facet demands. “And why did my arm hurt?”

Charlotte formulates her answer after a few moments’ thought. “Infinity used your connection to King Paimon, as mystically represented by the brand on that arm, to return to our native timeline, where your similarly marked compatriots already were. I believe that in doing so, she marked herself as well. But it gave her what she needed. A way out of our confrontation, as well as a way to elude future pursuit. Now we are back on our home timeline, ejected from the underworld route by the destruction of that technogical gateway of yours. So we must pick up the trail anew.”

The Magus turns to Jordan. “It also means that the girl is free from Infinity’s influence, and should no longer be ‘glitching’.”

Sure enough, Jordan is back to age 7. Her father’s face shows clear signs of relief.

“How do we pick up on that trail?” Summer asks.

“There are two approaches. The first is to pursue knowledge of King Paimon, the goetic demon. This is a logical task for me. The second is to unravel what value Nono Rodriguez has to Doctor Infinity.”

Charlotte turns to Nassir Amari. “This, good sir, may be where you can be most valuable to us. In kidnapping cases, what motives would be typical of the kidnapper?”

Unlike Jordan, Nassir has had difficulty keeping up with the occult and superheroic business the group engaged in. He’s much more confident in this area. “Generally ransom, reward, or to facilitate commission of another crime. I think we can eliminate ransom, unless for some reason Infinity hopes to collect something from either of you, with the girl as a hostage. It seems like she passed on an opportunity to do so just now, though. So I’m inclined to discount that.”

Charlotte and Summer both nod in agreement, and Nassir continues.

“A decade ago, a Malaysian court failed to convict one of a pair of twins for drug trafficking. The police had arrested both twins but failed to distinguish which one was which. Neither would confess. The judge let them both go free rather than convict the wrong person. I think we can use this type of case, where a twin or double or mistaken identity is involved, as a model here.”

The Sergeant looks from person to person. “So who does this Nono Rodriguez associate with, or where does she go, where introducing a twin would give Infinity an advantage? And if we’re granting time travel, we can include the recent past.”

“She’s friends with both of us,” Charlotte says.

Summer adds more items to the list. “She was Leo’s lab partner in chemistry back at the old school. She’s a member of the Ponies–”

“The Ponies?” Nassir asks. He’s doing an interview now, and asking followup questions are part of the process.

“A group of My Little Pony and superhero fans.”

Charlotte eyes Ghostheart. “One of whom, Power Pony, was abducted by Max here.”

Nassir looks Max Galliard in the eye for an uncomfortably long time. Finally he nods. “Okay, proceed.”

Summer does her best to restore the peaceful atmosphere of before. “The Ponies are also working for Jason Quill part-time, as helpers on the ASIST program. Duskshine makes costumes for new heroes, for example.”

A thought occurs to her. “Oh! She’s got a girlfriend. Um, some kind of supervillain turned vigilante.”

Nassir takes all this in, and taps his fingers together. “So what you’re saying is, this girl Nono Rodriguez is remarkably well connected to the superhuman world.”

This point dawns slowly on Charlotte and Summer, who both nod in understanding.

“What is she good at? What does she do?”

Charlotte smiles. “She is self-effacing. She will not easily acknowledge her talents.”

Summer nods in annoyance. “God, yes. I wish that girl had some positive self-image. She’s an authentic hypergenius at chemistry, and she writes fanfic.”

Nassir raises an eyebrow. “Fanfic?”

“Er, fan fiction. About um, stuff.”

Nassir makes the slightest of hand gestures, inviting elaboration.

Summer rubs the back of her neck and glances at Jordan as briefly as possible. “Fiction not suitable for our present company.”

“Ah.” The Sergeant gets the idea, to Summer’s great relief. “Next. Is there any incentive or leverage you can imagine Infinity having over Nono Rodriguez - particularly the Nono of another world, where things are different?”

Summer shakes her head at first, but an idea lands. “Oh! Honestly, her home life isn’t the best, so maybe a chance to get away from it?”

Nassir nods. “Okay. I think I have a picture. I’ll do some investigation on my end, unofficially for now. I suggest that any of us interested in pursuing this matter reconvene once we have a more solid lead.”

All eyes turn at this point to Ghostheart and their comrades Iconoclast and Facet.

“If Infinity is now connected to King Paimon, we have an interest,” Max says at last. “There are some advantages in that bargain, but ultimately I wish to be free of it. We are at your disposal.”

Nassir nods again. “Good. I’ll take Jordan home. If the glitching is over with, hopefully she can stay there safely.”

Jordan, who’s been amusing herself up until now, hears this and pouts. “I’m useful, dad! I got feelin’s!”

Charlotte hums. “It is true. She brought our attention to Nono Rodriguez in the other world through her empathic sense. While I don’t wish to endanger her, I will concede there are insights she may still be able to provide.”

“If she can provide those from home, great,” Nassir declares. “Right. I’ll be in touch.”

The group breaks up, uncertain but hopeful. They feel more confident in confronting Infinity. But where - and when - could their adversary have gotten off to?

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original

It’s Agent R’s first outing as a Time-Spy!

After her recruitment by ETERNAL, she was thrust into a whole new world of adventure. Without her trusty longtime companion JQ, all she could rely on is the new ultra-tech “Poppet System” that granted her his talents in the field, to supplement her own extraordinary training. Alas, what she missed most was his talents elsewhere…

In this timeline, Rook Industries and Rosa Rook were evil! It was hard for her to believe at first - they had created some of her most important gadgets in the shadow war against Atlantean ninja - but without the Atlantean Invasion to unify the planet, it turned out that numerous supervillains have run amok through history, including some who corrupted Rook’s leadership. She’d been sent to months before a particularly critical moment, in order to influence an important decision.

Her intelligence source informs her that Rook was looking for geniuses in all fields. Using the Poppet System, R took to the digital world and forged a new identity. The cover wouldn’t be impeccable, but it would hold up against a quick background check. But then, a thought struck her. Should she really be starting low, if she wanted to reach the higher echelons as quickly as possible?

It was a whole new world. She didn’t know how things worked here - not at all. She’d need to improvise.

She accessed the Poppet System for her next move. Administrative Assistants were people who got things done for big companies, and she had a skill package for it. This would tell her how to get in.

People had security badges that let them into the building. Was there a cafeteria inside, or did people book lunches at other businesses? She looked up the corporate benefits Rook offered on their recruiting web page. Sure, enough, a cafeteria. Bummer. But maybe people didn’t eat there all the time?

How about online reviews? Sure enough, a diligent search found a place with Yelp reviews, left by people with Rook Industries email addresses.

Agent R still lacked a lot of confidence at this new Time-Spy gig. But she couldn’t let ETERNAL down. It was time to put the Poppet System to its first use in the field.

She went to a different restaurant, as a diner. If she made skin contact with someone, she could give them nanobuddies that would absorb the skills they were employing at the time. The system already had a library of Soldier, Spy, Vehicle Operator, and many other skill packages. What she was here for was a waitress.

Next, it was time to interview for a job opening. It didn’t take long for one to appear, and with her absorbed talents, she was a shoe-in.

Finally, wait for a big company lunch type thing! Agent R had seen this sort of thing on television, where people go to a favorite restaurant. They’d have to bring their security badges. Dialing in a mixture of Waitress, Pickpocket, and Magician, it was almost too easy. She picked a mark from the lineup, someone who acted forgetful and unfocused, who ordered plenty of alcohol, and lifted the badge without effort. When he got back to the office, they’d assume he had been careless.

The Poppet System was amazing! It gave her confidence where she lacked it. All she had to do was intend something, and her mind would be filled with expertise and memories. Things she’d never done before became things she’d easily pulled off a thousand times. It was like having the warm, comforting hand of JQ wrapped around her shoulder, his soft breath warming her ear…

But those days were not to be. There was a JQ in this world - she’d checked. But his life was very, very different. No doubt he had his own version of Agent R. She didn’t know all the rules of time travel, but she did know she was here for a purpose, and that sadly her personal life must be set aside until its completion.

Back to business. One other thing the Rook building had was a gym. And when you got done with the gym, you’d go take a shower. Nobody took their badges into the shower with them. The starter badge she’d lifted would be revoked soon, once its owner went to the front desk. With a new high-security badge from the gym showers, she dropped the other one off at Lost & Found and moved into the upper floors.

She found a manager’s office. It looked pretty posh - just the kind of thing she needed.

She walked in confidently, thanks to the Poppet System’s Model skill package. “I’m here for a job.”

“Who are you?” the woman demanded. Agent R glanced at her nameplate - ANNIKA DE GROOT - and smiled.

“I’m a genius chemist. I got in here because I think you need the best, from people who can show initiative. Take me to a chemistry lab, put me to the test, and you won’t be disappointed.”


She had the job! It had worked!

She had to return the badge, of course, and explain how she’d gotten in. But the demonstration in the lab, showing what she could do, had convinced everyone.

Now she had to wait for the signal. And then one day, it came. The television promo, the one she’d been instructed to wait for, down to the last detail. She really was a Time-Spy. ETERNAL really could read the future.

“Jason Quill and New Superhero Team Interview, Today With Tasha Starr.”

Infinity has done the math. And she’s convinced there’s one final problem to overcome before she can have the future she wants.

The obstacle to her dreams is, of course, herself. Because she’s irreparably broken.

Two pivotal moments in her personal timeline stand out. The first is when Leo went with the team to rescue her from Rook. The second is when the team went to the bad future, and Leo was lost on the return trip thanks to Adam’s wish for a normal life.

But that created a paradox. The bad future only emerged if Leo hadn’t gone to rescue her in time. But she as a person only emerged if he did.

She’d tried to solve this in the past by duplicating herself. But it always went weirdly wrong, yielding the twin sisters Aria and Summer, or Aria disappearing and only Summer remaining.

This time she had a trump card. Nono Rodriguez was the one person who could interfere with the two inflection points she’d chosen. The Poppet System she’d acquired from Doctor Chin’s clone subordinate allowed her to equip Nono to do the infiltration of Rook Industries. How she did it was immaterial, and the fact that any Nono could get the job helped the timeline’s stability immeasurably.

This stability would let her put into place the experiment she’d devised to keep the good and bad timelines balanced. Someone from within Rook had warned the Menagerie that the company had captured Pneuma. Nono was equipped with a radioactive device - a cage for Schrödinger’s Cat. At the right moment, if the device showed red, interfere with the whistleblower. If the device showed green, do nothing and let events play out. Red for bad, green for good. The superposition of possibilities meant that both good and bad futures stayed in play.

The second part of the order was to get to school, where Leo and Adam were attending classes, just before the Rossum robot got there. For this part, Nono’s task was even easier. She had to pretend to be endangered by the robot.

Leo’s mental calculus in the moment had been fragile. Infinity knew the only reason he hadn’t destroyed a Rossum robot out of rage was Adam’s proximity. Having his lab partner there and endangered would push Leo over the edge.

It was so simple. For Infinity’s future to have a chance, she just had to get Leo to kill Summer.

Alas, Jordan has no further insights to offer at the moment, at home or elsewhere. But she is intensely relieved to be her regular age again without glitching, even if she tells Summer how awesome it was to be big and stuff.

Summer is here because she is babysitting. She’s back in the good graces of Nassir and Khamala Amari, after some difficult explanations about ghosts, possession, and time travel. She’s babysitting because Nassir has his day job, plus the side investigation, and Khamala is enthusiastically helping her husband when she can. Privately Summer feels bad that she’s got no more to contribute here than Jordan, so she makes up for it by taking down Jordan’s various descriptions of clothing she wants to wear when she grows up for real.

Charlotte calls on Resister - now that she knows where to find him - and in due course appears at the Amari household with a stack of ancient books. Hoary tomes, grim grimoires, books of shadow, and esoteric manuals of the invisible world all number among her collection. “Are we ready?” she asks Nassir.

“We are.”

In response to Summer’s questioning look, Charlotte explains what she and the Sergeant have cooked up. “We’re dealing with an entity with an agenda, but no independent will. A being of contracts and bargains. Here are the rules in dealing with such creatures. We are taking these to an expert.”


Sam Echevarra, attorney at law, sits in her expensively upholstered office chair and listens patiently as Charlotte and Nassir explain what they want.

“You’re asking me to decipher the laws that govern demons and the occult,” she says at the end.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Do you understand my fee schedule?” she asks next. “I want to be absolutely sure we’re all on the same page here.”

They do. Summer has promised that - somehow - the Quill Foundation can be made to pick up this particular tab.

“Why me?” asks Sam at last.

“You’re the best lawyer in Halcyon,” Nassir says with a shrug. “Everyone I talked to gave me your name.”

Sam nods in understanding. “That’s fine. Just, I hope you two understand that this could have been construed as a very tasteless ‘lawyers go to hell’ joke at my expense.”

“Ms. Echevarra, we have never been more serious,” affirms Nassir.

“What’s your timeline for this?”

Charlotte and Nassir glance at each other. “Time travel is involved, so perhaps there isn’t a hard deadline,” Charlotte says at last. “I think in this case, precision matters much more than speed.”

“Understood. Thank you both. My secretary will reach out to you when I’m ready, Sergeant Amari.” Sam rises, as do her guests, and handshakes are exchanged.


The ritual circle has been drawn extra wide to accommodate everyone. Charlotte as ritual leader stands at the center. Summer occupies the north, Sergeant Amari the south, and Sam Echevarra the east. The western side of the circle is left open, as the Grimoire of Pope Honorius advises that Paimon is King of the West. Ghostheart, Facet, and Iconoclast are present, but outside the circle, forming a triangle. It is their bond to the demon that enables this ritual, and they couldn’t come along even if they had the remotest interest in doing so.

Jordan, despite her increasingly vocal demands, will not be going to Hell today. None of Sam’s paralegals volunteered for the trip either, so she’s taken it upon herself to go personally. Nobody carries anything special except Sam, and she only carries a heavy paper bag that smells strongly of barbecue.

The ritual invocation begins, and the participants find themselves drifting into the other world. The mists of the underworld surround them, then a water which is not water as they descend through the umbral sea.

They emerge on the beach of an island, decorated with palm trees. Dominating the island is a spectacular castle, adorned with gems, gold filigree, and other intricate details of architectural artistry. A path leads from the beach to its front doors, and the group begins walking.

The gates of the castle are thirty feet high at last, yet they open with nary a whisper or creak as the group approaches.

At the end of a long hall is a grand central throne room. A man, hypnotically handsome, and adorned with a crown, lounges on a cushioned throne. Unseen musicians play trumpets, weirdly out of tune, and end their performance with the sound of cymbals clashing as the group comes to stand before the throne.

Sam steps forward. “Pursuant to the terms of your binding with the individuals named Max Galliard, Roksana Mahdavi, and Kamley Saunders, who have delegated to me the right to speak on their behalf, I hereby summon and invoke King Paimon.”

She opens the bag, and retrieves a collection of wrapped items. A servant, dressed in all-concealing robes, lightly scuttles forth from the shadowy corners of the throne room to receive the gifts.

“I offer sacrifice, made in the name of King Paimon, performed by the Foothill Meats Butcher Shop and Grange eatery and bar of Black Mountain, North Carolina. The sacrifice has been rendered as burgers, pork sandwiches, and prosciutto. French fries and a drink were complimentary. I offer this sacrifice so that Lebal and Abalam, the lesser kings who serve you, may be present as witnesses.”

A sly smirk glides across Paimon’s handsome visage, and with a snap of a finger whose fingernail is more talon than anything, two more figures emerge from the shadow.

“In the presence of Lebal and Abalam, I as summoner command King Paimon to speak plainly.”

The smirk remains, but the figure on the throne now joins it with a hoarse voice. He somehow reminds Summer of a movie star, unaware that he’s past his prime, smoking three packs a day and entertaining guests at the old mansion.

“You are well versed in etiquette, mortal.”

Sam inclines her head in a brief show of gratitude, but says nothing otherwise. Today, she’s all business, and her formal language shows it. “Pursuant to the terms of the binding, as summoner I command King Paimon to reveal to the mortals here assembled the plans, intentions, location, and disposition of the individual called ‘Doctor Infinity’, who has most recently abducted one mortal named ‘Nono Rodriguez’ from her rightful place in another time.”

“You wish to free my newest pet?” Paimon asks, a sneer crossing his comely features. “She’s seen so much, and yet so little.”

“Speak plainly. Shall I repeat the command?” Sam asks, holding her ground.

“There’s no need for that, mortal.” The haughty demon king snaps a finger again, and more servitors appear, all bearing fruits, meats, and cups of many kinds of drink.

Sam holds up a warning hand to the others in the group and shakes her head. “We acknowledge and decline all offerings of hospitality. I shall repeat my command–”

The servitors evaporate into black smoke. Paimon looks visibly disgusted. “There will be no need of that. I will give you what you ask. But my toys remain mine.”

With a final snap of his fingers, and a yanking motion into the air, he performs his own invocation. And standing in the throne room, between Paimon and Sam Echevarra, is Doctor Infinity.

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The castle somehow recedes into the mist around the travelers, leaving them isolated with Doctor Infinity.

“I am so close,” the villain growls. “Why are you interfering with me?”

“You are damaging time itself,” Charlotte explains calmly. “I am protecting the natural order.”

“You?” Infinity scoffs. “Half a ghost, like Everard, like Max Galliard in the other world. Did you know that every Magus was so? That they have never been truly mortal?”

Charlotte, taken aback, has nothing to say. Summer steps into the silence. “It doesn’t matter. You’re hurting people. Alycia, when she saw you in the future. Jordan. You’re even using Rossum and Nono for your schemes.”

“You of all people should understand,” Infinity breathes. She considers for a moment, then lunges at Summer. “I’ll make you understand.”

Summer feels Infinity’s hand grasping at her forehead. In the same moment, she feels an intrusion in her shell - a physical attempt to get at her brain! She fires her emitters at full blast, pushing Infinity away, and the mecha-medica begins to heal the damage immediately.

“Open your mind, sister,” Infinity invites. “I’ll give you everything you want to know about me.”

“By turning me into your mental clone?” demands Summer, anger bubbling to the surface.

“My thousands of lifetimes will overwhelm your few paltry years of authentic recollection, it’s true. But you’ve been a thorn in my side all this time. It’s fitting that you’d finally be a help for once.”

Summer wants to fly at Infinity, fight her - but she looks back at Sam and Nassir, worriedly.

“You needn’t fear,” comes King Paimon’s hoarse voice, and both cop and lawyer are shrouded in a layer of the mist. “The mortals are under my protection. You may freely… resolve this dispute amongst yourselves.”

Charlotte and Summer glance at each other, and nod. If Infinity must be forced into confessing her plans, so be it.

For her part, Infinity needs no help to see what the two heroes intend. She takes the initiative, unleashing a torrent of energy bolts at Charlotte and Summer. Charlotte weaves a shield around herself and Summer, deflecting the bolts away and into the mists of the underworld. King Paimon is as good as his word - a few blasts pass through Sam’s location harmlessly, as though she were nothing more than an illusion made of smoke.

Summer channels power - so much more than she had before - into her new emitters. As Charlotte collapses the shield, she fires.

The blast knocks Infinity back, and makes her raise her eyebrows. “What would Leo think of you, with those weapons?”

“What would he think of you?” Summer demands.

She can see this question hits Infinity hard - harder than anything else that’s been said or done so far.

The pieces begin to fit together. “Nono. She knows a lot of people, but she knows Leo. Where have you sent her? When have you sent her?”

Infinity channels her own energy into a seething sphere held between her hands, and releases it. Charlotte lowers the Agate Staff, and concentrates power through it. The countermeasure is enough to deflect the sphere slightly, but even then it explodes, knocking the two Menagerie heroes into the mists of the underworld - and out of sight of each other.


Summer deploys her butterflies, sending a few in every direction and letting the others orbit her protectively. While she waits for telemetry, she thinks more.

Where would Nono and Leo meet? Halcyon High South, then Gardner Academy, where they both went to school. Nono didn’t really interact with Leo outside of school, probably due to her shyness at that time.

Where would Nono do the most good to Infinity?

To answer that, Summer realizes she needs to know something else. What does Infinity want?

She needs time paradoxes, specifically.

Why? To undo some horrible–

Oh god.

Something happened to her Leo.

An energy blast comes hurtling out of nowhere. Summer’s butterflies project a light barrier, absorbing the destructive force of it. The new ARCANE shell is really earning its keep.

She traces the path of the blast backward and launches herself through the mist after its source.


Charlotte focuses on the Agate Staff, feeling for what her high-tech friends might call “an energy signature”, and what she thinks of merely as “presence”.

“You’re as selfish as Everard,” comes a voice from around her.

Charlotte tilts her head. Very well… “I’m sure you’ll do me the courtesy of explaining your insult.”

“You want to defend the natural order. But why? Because you like things ordered. You like being in control. You want to enforce etiquette on the whole world, because our future is madness to you.”

Charlotte isn’t flustered in the slightest by this. “I do prefer propriety, but I’ve adapted to my new home, even if its ways seem strange. Strange isn’t bad.”

“You’re destined for godhood,” Infinity’s omnipresent voice replies. “Pandemonium is only the weakest, most flawed form of the potential inside you. You’ve incorporated other ghosts into the Magus armor already. When you achieve your apotheosis, even your mildest personality traits will be magnified to divine proportions. You’ll forget the niceties of friendship, because such things will seem so small to you. And then you’ll order the world as you like.”

Charlotte narrows her eyes. “A hinted-at, far-off future will not dissuade me from stopping you now.”

“It’s not so far off as you think,” Infinity whispers in her ear.

“If I stray from my path, I expect my friends to correct me.” Charlotte grips the staff. “How long has it been since you had someone willing to do the same for you?”

“I know my path,” comes Infinity’s voice. “My cause is just. As you well know.”

“How do I know that?” Charlotte asks lightly.

“Because you’ve lent your strength to the aggrieved dead once already. Or… is it only righteous when you do it?”

The whispering voice fades away.


Summer flies toward where she thinks Infinity came from, only to find… nothing.

I’m wasting time.

No, she’s wasting my time.

Why?

To get at Charlotte.

Summer realizes there’s something else she can do. She just has to follow the smell of North Carolina barbecue.

She emerges back into the castle, finding Nassir Amari, Sam Echevarra, and King Paimon waiting patiently.

Urgently, Summer explains what she wants to Sam. “The demon has a connection to Doctor Infinity, yes? Infinity has a deep emotional connection to someone named Leo Snow - someone who must have died. That means they must be here, somewhere, in the underworld, right?”

Sam takes this in and turns to King Paimon. “Pursuant to the binding, I request the presence of the individual named by my associate as ‘Leo Snow’, or information about his whereabouts and disposition–”

King Paimon rolls his eyes. “Your formality bores me, mortal.”

Sam stares at him.

“… But this does not invalidate your request. Very well.”


Charlotte and Infinity emerge from the mist, locked in a struggle with each other. But it quickly ends as Infinity sees who else is now in the throne room of King Paimon’s castle.

The shade of Leo Snow, still dressed as he was on the day of the crack-up, smiles at her. “Pneuma.”

Infinity’s face and voice register absolute, abject terror. “No - no no no no!” She claws at Charlotte, trying to escape her grasp, turning away that she can no longer see the ghost.

“Explain the justice of your cause to him,” Charlotte commands.

Infinity wants to flee, to dart back into the underworld, to be anywhere but here. But the brand of King Paimon on her arm acts as an invisible leash, and she’s physically dragged back to the center of the room.

The shade of Leo walks around Infinity, and she shrieks and shrinks away. He kneels down beside her, and starts talking quietly. He doesn’t touch her, nor get too close.

“It’s good to see you again, Pneuma.”

“Stop - no - I’m so close to bringing you back,” she whispers, as tears stream from her eyes. “Don’t do this to me.” She turns, seeing Charlotte and Summer, and screams at the top of her lungs. “DON’T DO THIS TO ME!”

“Look at me,” Leo commands quietly.

Infinity’s head whips around, seemingly out of her control. Her face is contorted in frenzied fear, and she trembles, but she looks.

“Talk to me, Pneuma. Tell me what you feel.”

At the invocation of the old bond, she almost seizes up, and Leo’s shade reaches out a steadying hand. She flinches for just a moment, but accepts the contact.

“After- after- the incident - I - I - I told myself, I could fix this. I could find a way to undo it, you know? Because it was time travel, because if you can go to the past you can change the past, because if you have the freedom to go anywhere in time, why can’t you? Why shouldn’t you?”

She’s blubbering, but more words come out regardless. Leo’s shade only watches, a warm and encouraging smile on his face.

“So - I took the Keynome from Adam - he, no, he gave it to me - I mean, I tricked him - but I got it. I started… I started learning the rules, you know? How it all worked. I learned - I learned - about the time-waves, the Sitka Transduction, you know, the Double Thread Dependency Conjecture, I learned - about all that stuff. Paradox. And I thought, you know, if I could create a paradox, I could… I could undo it. I could fix it.”

Leo watches and listens. Finally he asks the question that shatters Infinity.

“Didn’t you feel like you could go on without me?”

She gapes at him, in shock, in disbelief, and with the briefest shake of her head gives the only answer she can.

“Are you sure?”

Through her tears, Infinity manages to form words. “I’m nothing without you.”

Carefully, Leo’s shade pulls Infinity into a hug. “Pneuma… you’re everything,” he whispers in her ear.

Against the background of her sobs, he keeps speaking. “You’ve always been strong. You’ve been stronger than me, a lot of the time. You had the courage to leave me once. You made the right choice then. With or without me, you have so much potential.”

Charlotte takes a few cautious steps forward. “The Concordance has channeled negative emotions into Earth’s underworld for thousands of years,” she explains. “Infinity. No - Pneuma. All your time travel, all your trips to the past and future, have sent you swimming through that sea of despair. All your attempts to undo your past have been poisoning your soul.”

Summer, too, steps forward. “I said my goodbyes to my Leo. He’s still my best friend. But I am my own person.”

“I can’t be you!” Infinity howls.

“You can be yourself!” Summer shouts back at her. “Aria is helping my Leo with his business. Me? I’m a barista and superhero. If you spun that big wheel of occupations, or you closed your eyes and picked out a hobby at random, or you saw a need somewhere, you could do it! You’re smart, you’re friendly, you’re immortal. You could make anything of yourself you wanted.”

Summer sighs. “Listen. I met a boy named Colin. We are - were - dating. It’s weird, there’s a lot going on, don’t ask. But listen. One important thing he said to me was that in the movies, the girl robots are always defined by who they fall in love with. And I told him, that’s the stereotype, but we don’t have to obey it.”

She takes another step forward. “Pneuma is like the wind. She can go anywhere, live any life. Don’t turn your back on yourself. Please.”

“Everything I did… it can’t be for nothing,” Infinity manages, between sobs. She turns tear-filled eyes to Leo’s shade. “You couldn’t forgive me, if you knew.”

He smiles again and shrugs. “But I do. I’m stubborn like that.”

Finally, finally, Infinity seems to take hold of herself. She turns to Summer and Charlotte. “But absolution from Leo isn’t enough, is it. You two want to know where Nono is. What I’m having her do.”

“We do,” Charlotte affirms.

Infinity wipes her eyes, and takes several long, steadying breaths. “Then I’ll tell you.”

It’s my birthday, Summer muses to herself, flying across the skies of Halcyon City past.

She understands now. Wounded, weak, and lonely, Aria became Doctor Infinity through a spiral of despair. Summer’s own presence had helped stabilize her sister, and drawn her away from that path.

There’s a classic rock song by the Byrds, called “Turn! Turn! Turn!”, that quotes the Bible. “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” And there’s that song from Disneyland. “It’s a world of laughter, a world of tears, it’s a world of hopes, and a world of fears”.

God, when it’s my turn to struggle, bless me with friends who will remind me of this truth.


“You can’t appear at the school. Leo will recognize you. You’ll change everything about your history.” That’s what Infinity had said, at the end.

“And I strongly suspect Everard will sense my presence,” Charlotte added. “It’s best for Summer to go alone.”

“How do I find Nono?” Summer had asked.

“I don’t know. I gave her a mission. It’s up to her how to fulfill it.”


She reviews what she knows. Nono is working at Rook Industries, and has to reach Halcyon High South. She knows both locations. She knows what time the incident will happen. How will she get there?

The Nono she knows would take the bus. Even if she has money for a taxi or something else, ingrained habits stay ingrained.

Summer spots a bus terminal, descends, and begins tapping on the touch screen for the terminal’s schedule assistant. Some of the people nearby do what people do in Halcyon, which is casually take phone photos of superheroes. Thankfully, Summer is wearing one of her numerous alternative costume ideas today, to avoid giving away the Radiance identity.

My indecisiveness is finally paying off.

The bus terminal website helpfully tells her two routes that will reach HH South around the right time. Only one of those has connections downtown - but there’s multiple connections.

She launches into the air again, and starts deploying her butterflies - first to the school, then to the transit centers. They’ll have to be her eyes and ears.

In the meantime, what else can she do? - Oh. Oh! Nono will almost certainly have a phone. Not her phone - this is Nono from another world - but she’ll have something.

Summer swoops into a local groceries-plus outlet, and fumbles around for cash. No good, she’s as broke as usual. The clerk watches her agonize, until finally she breaks down and just begs. “Listen. I need to call someone for superhero reasons but I don’t have my phone with me, so I need a prepaid. Can I write you an IOU or something?”

The clerk looks her up and down, noting the floating drones around her and the sparkles of the hologram. “Just take one,” he says at last. “The boss can complain to the HHL if he wants.”

Summer’s gratitude is effusive. “Thank you so much,” she gushes, and grabs a prepaid phone from the rack. She makes short work of the plastic packaging, careful to dispose of it in the nearby garbage and recycling bins, and takes to the air again.

God, I love Halcyon City!


Nono’s phone battery is at 85%. She’s gotten very good about charging phones up, especially before getting on a bus. In her home world, it gave her time to read new posts, catch up on RP threads, work on drafts, leave kudos on other peoples’ stories, and generally avoid the drudgery of her real life. Ever since the Poppet System, that drudgery has been replaced with her exciting dream world of actual spycraft. But ingrained habits remain ingrained habits.

Today, as with many other days, she’s been reading the writings of this world’s Nono Rodriguez. She has absolutely no idea what this “My Little Pony” fandom thing is about. In her world, Lauren Faust co-created a series called the Selkies, one of those pro-Atlantean-peace things calling for cooperation, but it’s nothing like this. On the other hand, she knows exactly who Jason Quill is, and is both gratified and intensely weirded out to see some of the things another Nono is willing to write about him.

Nevertheless, she leaves kudos on the stories she finds, via her newly created account. And that’s when she gets a DM.

Hey if this is Nono from Atlantis I need to talk to you about Infinity.

Nono thumbs her phone off in alarm, and quickly glances around the bus, just in case. Her Spy and Detective skill packages assure her that none of her fellow passengers are remotely interested in her in any way.

Well that’s normal. Nobody cares about me anyway.

Nervously, she checks her phone again. The DM is there, waiting for an answer.

“What about Infinity?” she types out.

“It’d be easier if we talk,” comes a DM. There’s a phone number with it.

She reviews her options via Spy and Detective. It’s possible to track cell phones. But someone capable of doing that would initiate a call, to get a trace started as quickly as possible, on their terms. Cell providers have to know where you are - that’s how they route calls to your phone. If the police were involved, they’d have just initiated a passive trace already.

This person contacted her via the fiction site’s messaging system. That means they know something about her already - and figured out her alternate account (“probably from all those kudos you’re leaving yourself, you silly goose”) - but doesn’t know much else.

What else can she deduce? Infinity doesn’t have this number - Nono bought a new phone with her Rook paycheck. But it is someone who knows about Nono being here, in this world. That means it’s an enemy.

Is she safe continuing to talk via DMs? Probably. Does she need more information about what’s going on? Definitely.

“I’m not calling. We can DM like this. So what about Infinity?”

The “…” goes on for a long time. Finally the reply comes. “She’s using you to hurt someone. She hasn’t told you the truth.”

“And you’re going to, anonymous DM person?”

“My name is Summer. I’m also a superhero called Radiance, in the future. You and I are friends in this world. I know you’ve been writing secret agent fic for a long time. And now Infinity is letting you live that dream, isn’t she.”

Nono scowls. She doesn’t like where this is going.

“You’re not tricking me,” she types back, furiously.

“I really didn’t want to do this,” comes the reply. What follows is a URL and a string of letters and numbers.

“What’s this?” Nono types.

“This is my Nono’s super secret Agent R vault. This is, as they say, the spicy stuff.”

She clicks the URL. She’s prompted for a password. She enters the strange string earlier. And she starts reading.

About ten minutes later, she returns to the DM conversation. “Okay, I would never share that stuff with anyone but a friend, and that is definitely my writing,” she concedes.

“Can we talk now?”

Nono puts her phone away. The transit center is coming up.


Summer watches through her butterflies’ sensors as people get off the bus. One after another, she looks at their faces. Nope. Nope. Nope.

She remembers something Infinity said. Something about “a way to make her the secret agent she always wanted to be”.

Is it possible Nono is in disguise? She sends another DM, hoping one of the passengers will reveal themselves. No such luck. She’s used to Nono wearing glasses, being taller than the kids around her, and having hair a certain color. She realizes that none of these things need be true, if Nono has both the skill and opportunity to disguise herself now.

She summons back her scattered butterflies, and heads to the bus stop nearest Halcyon High South, to wait.


Nono gets off the bus, along with the other passengers. She’s wearing her hair tied back, along with a bright hoodie that draws the eyes away from her face. She put on just a bit of makeup, enough to alter the contours of her face. It’s all stuff she can remove immediately, to slip into the guise of her alternate.

She walks past other people waiting to board the bus, walks past the teenager with long white hair, doesn’t stop or react when she hears the girl call her name. “Nono.”

She stops when she hears what’s next, what she expected. “I’m Summer”.

“What happens now?” asks Nono, as Spy, Stunt Driver, and Martial Artist load into her Poppet System.

“That depends on you, Nono,” Summer says quietly. “I’m pretty sure I can physically restrain you. But I don’t want to do that. I want you to just stay here, not do the mission Infinity asked you to do, and to hear why you shouldn’t.”

Nono keeps walking. Summer falls into step with her.

“I can’t tell you everything in time, but I need you to stop and listen.”

Nono shakes her head. “I have a mission. I’m finally useful to someone,” she says firmly. “I’m not going to let her down.”

“You’ve always been better than anyone around you could see,” Summer says, in a calm voice.

Nono stops for a moment. On the one hand, it feels good. But on the other hand, it hurts. If someone can recognize some value in her now, why couldn’t people before? It’s almost worse. To get away from the feeling, she walks faster. And Summer keeps up.

“You’re going to turn me into nothing again,” mutters Nono.

“I can’t do that. But I want to take you back to your home dimension. There’s someone waiting there, someone who needs your talents in chemistry, and your brain, and your heart.”

Nono shakes her head. “Infinity needs me!”

Summer persists. “You need to be needed. I get that. Oh, hon, I get that so much. Infinity is using that, though, and she’s not doing it for you.”

Nono turns and stares. “You say you’re my friend. A real friend wouldn’t take away my dream.”

Summer responds by grabbing hold of a nearby street sign. Grasping the metal pole, she bends it effortlessly into a Q shape.

The shrieking of metal holds Nono’s attention. In the silence, Summer shrugs. “A real friend would try to show you reality, instead of letting someone take advantage of you. If I just wanted to stop you from moving, I could do that right now.”

Nono says nothing. Summer holds out her hand, and smiles. “Let me be your friend. And I can show you how to achieve your dream.”


The two hover, high in the air, and watch from a distance. The Rossum robot. Leo. Farlander. Sablestar.

“That’s Leonardo Lee,” Nono whispers, clinging to Summer and looking down with wide eyes. “He works with Jason Quill in Tranquility!”

“In this world, you’re his lab partner at this school,” Summer says. Nono looks at her, goggle-eyed.

“It’s a long story. But look - there it goes.”

The two watch Leo make his choice, and the Rossum robot is merely damaged.

“I was supposed to get in the way of that thing,” Nono says at last. “Why was that so important to Infinity?”

“Because my past self’s mind is in that robot,” Summer answers. “She wanted to use Leo to destroy me, through your intervention.”

“Why would she do that?” Nono asks in shock.

Summer lets out a long sigh, draws a breath, exhales, and finally finds it in herself to smile again. “She had a dream too.”

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Infinity is staying in King Paimon’s castle. This seems to be the demon’s idea, but she doesn’t seem interested in arguing. The shade of her Leo Snow volunteers to stay too. Her recovery will be a long process, if it’s possible at all, and Summer and Charlotte both commit to assisting in any way they can.

Sam Echevarra says goodbye, and swears the travelers to secrecy about her involvement in this case. “I don’t want anyone coming to me for something like this, ever again. Do you understand?” she asks in a stern voice. They do.

Nassir Amari is going home to be with his wife and daughter. He knows Jordan has been through a lot, and needs her family with her right now to adjust. He undiplomatically asks Summer to stay away for awhile. “I know you care about her. So don’t show up to be a reminder of what she’s been through,” he says. Summer agrees with a pained smile.

With some finagling, Charlotte reports she’s able to undo the interdiction paradox. The alternate Atlantean timeline is still there, trucking along, and Summer’s ARCANE shell - having been constructed there - is enough of a focus to bring travelers back to it.


They arrive in Tranquility, the undersea city.

This is Nono’s first time visiting the city, and Summer accedes to her request to do some sightseeing. Summer herself is honestly curious about things as well. Charlotte begs off, wanting to investigate some sort of matter involving the Hidden Family, and promises to return in due course.

“You better,” Summer jokes. “I can’t get home without you.”

The girls find signs around Tranquility as they walk, explaining scientific and historical facts behind building things underwater. For example, at 400 meters below sea level, the city must withstand 40 atmospheres of water pressure. WW2 subs worked at depths of around 100 meters. As sub tech advanced, they built them out of steel composites like HY-80, then graduated to newer hyper-tech such as the DeClerk Ferroscale alloys. Tranquility is built using fourth-generation carbon composites developed by people like Leonardo Lee. Other undersea works use newer metals, molecularly-bonded alloys, or even synthetic transuranic elements held in non-radiative stasis by magneto-strong forces.

Summer gestures at the latest of these exhibits, featuring a picture of the proud young Mr. Lee, and smiles. “That’s who I’m going to introduce you to. And this is the kind of stuff they need your help with.”

The city is built as a series of spheres - the shape most optimized to resist pressure, according to the educational signs. They are connected via rigid tunnels. Every part of the city has pressure doors that can slide into place to isolate leaks, and in an emergency, every sphere could blow ballast and surface.

They stop at a spiraling concourse that coils from the base of one such sphere to its peak. It’s full of restaurants and shops, connected by the long ramp and with elevators offering access to every level. The cuisine here, in particular, fills the air with a savory aroma.

Summer, still broke, begs off, but it turns out Nono still has her alternate-universe credit card and is willing to pay for lunch. Seafood is almost always on the menu, but to her surprise Summer finds several meat substitutes available, made from anything and everything under the sea. Several shops feature signs boasting “Tranquility Made!”, suggesting that more than just the food is harvested underwater. Summer does poke her nose into a couple of the coffee shops sporting this sign, but withdraws quickly when the baristas ask if she’d like to order anything. She’s not yet confident enough to try ordering seaweed coffee or any such thing.

The shops occupy the inner part of the sphere, and massive windows dominate the other side of the concourse. From here, shoppers and diners can look at the ocean. Floodlamps illuminate the water beyond, and curious visitors can actually poke at the windows to call up holographic interfaces that will identify fish or other undersea life from their silhouettes. A quartet of teenage boys try to introduce themselves to Summer and Nono as they’re trying this feature out for themselves, but the two girls politely decline and move on.

They pass through another sphere on their way to Leonardo’s lab, this one dedicated to constructing new submarines and city components. The signs here inform visitors that the exterior of the city is constantly being rebuilt and strengthened, or cleaned of barnacles and other growths. This time, the windows are interior to the sphere, showing the fabrication machinery hard at work, with people in safety suits supervising the labor of their machines.

“Your world is nothing like this,” Nono says thoughtfully.

“Yeah. All of this changed… because of a couple of people,” Summer muses.

“That’s all it took?”

Summer smiles back at Nono. “The right person can make a big difference, sometimes.”


Leonardo Lee is surprised and pleased to meet Nono at last. Summer prompts him to administer a quick chemistry test, and after the demo he is over the moon.

“She is perfect!” he yells. “This is exactly the kind of person we can use! Thank you so much, Summer!”

He looks like he’s about to hug her, and Summer backs up instinctively. Glancing at Nono, she sees the other girl’s face flaming red from the praise, and smiles.

“Listen - her parents need to know where she is. Can you two work that situation out?”

Leonardo nods with gusto. “Oh, certainly. Listen, we can move them down to Tranquility too–”

“There’s uh, no need of that,” Nono says quickly. “I can just get a place here. Just, as long as they know I’m safe, I guess.”

“Ah.” Leonardo nods in clear understanding. He returns his attention to Summer. “Well now. You came back, don’t think I’m not happy to see you too.”

“Well, I feel the same way,” she says, smiling uncertainly.

“Good, good.” Leonardo’s rational mind seems to have stopped feeding him things to say, while his heart insists that he keep talking anyway, and he stumbles through a few attempts. “Well, say, are you likely to um, stay any longer this time around?”

“I don’t think I can,” she says, feeling awkward. Well, why not?

“Oh? You uh, have someone waiting for you?” The words come out of Leonardo’s mouth before his brain can stop them, and he winces.

She smiles at the question, and shakes her head. “Well, you know about me and… the Leo from my world, but that story is done. I met another boy, and we dated for awhile, and now he’s in California chasing his degree, and we uh… Well, we might give it another go someday. Who knows? And I have a couple of great roommates, and a job I need to get back to, that might have fired me already at this rate.”

“Got a lot going on. I get that.” Leonardo smiles, and Summer catches only a hint of disappointment in his eyes. A realization lands in his head, and he perks up. “Oh! Your other shell. With the flying robot thingie. We packaged it up for you, in case it had uh, sentimental value. It’s over here.”


Charlotte finds Summer holding onto a hefty suitcase. The two Menagerie heroes wave goodbye to Leonardo Lee and his new lab assistant, Nono Rodriguez. The magic engulfs them, and they’re gone.

Back in modern day Halcyon, Charlotte lets go a sigh of relief. “Infinity seems to be defeated, the timeline is restored, and Jordan is safe. I think you and I deserve some coffee.”

“I’ll brew,” Summer offers.

Back at Blintzkrieg, the two girls drink their respective drinks in silence.

“Ms. Echevarra emailed me her notes, in case I need to entreat with King Paimon again,” Charlotte says at last.

“You’re going to go after Ghostheart and those others, aren’t you,” Summer concludes.

“I have to. Do you have any suggestions?”

Summer taps her chin. “You know, Iconoclast hated superheroes and the whole superhero world. Rossum said he’d cleaned up the superheroic act over in that Atlantis world. Maybe she wants to go there…?”

Charlotte laughs, but her eyes twinkle. “There’s something in that, perhaps. What else?”

“Facet… I dunno. She doesn’t seem like she’s all that bad. Maybe give her some other kind of work to do?”

“Perhaps. And Max?”

Summer sighs, and takes another sip of coffee. “Maybe you and Daph should team up to deal with them. Gods and priestesses and all that.”

Charlotte frowns. “Infinity said something to me about that, said… that my apotheosis as a god might be closer than I think. My dear, I assure you I am uninterested in divinity. But that too is something I should be researching. And yes, with Ms. Palin’s assistance. But why not yours?”

Summer smiles around the coffee mug. “I admit all this magic and mystic and spirit stuff is just what I’ve always wanted. But I’m also wondering, am I just too wrapped up in my own dreams? Maybe it’s time I figure out my real life, ground myself a bit more. So I’m going to work on that, and see where it takes me.”

Charlotte takes this in thoughtfully. At last she raises her coffee mug for a toast, and Summer returns the gesture.

“To dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled,” Charlotte offers.

“And to waking up, ready for another day,” Summer responds.

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That is it for the Magic Kingdom! What do we think?

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Trivia for this story series:

  • At a meta level, having Infinity take one Rossum out of the timeline is intended to simplify my villain situation. I don’t apologize :smiley:
  • Infinity tells Jordan it’s not her fault after she’s thawed. There’s no artifice or plan here. This is Pneuma’s essential nature shining through.
  • A lot of the plot hinges on Jordan retaining an empathic sense from her time as a Void Shadow Collective agent. Anty may be shut down, but the power is still hers. Her mention of Nono to Leonardo is not accidental - she feels, but doesn’t understand, that Nono is Infinity’s target.
  • In the Atlantean timeline, both Byron Quill & Achilles Chin had more pressing matters than fighting each other, so they don’t have the same hostile relationship. It’s anybody’s guess what would happen if that Jason & that Alycia actually met.
  • Harry was right - taking things back from the future, or from other timelines, is a bad idea, because it makes your timeline dependent on that one, and that can reduce your world’s probability. Summer’s got a new shell from another timeline, and Charlotte may eventually ask her to retire it :smiley:
  • Why does Summer’s presence interfere with Infinity’s plans? Duplicating herself - and her intentions to manipulate the timeline - let her actually influence events as she wants. But having a “fresh” mind, that will diverge radically from Aria, messes that up.
  • We haven’t yet seen Jordan’s parents have The Power Talk with her. I promise that’s coming! I just don’t want it to be a detour in another plotline.
  • Atlantis Nono and Prime Nono are a contrast. One is working to earn her place as a super-spy, and one was given a gadget to do it. What would the two think of each other?
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I will miss Leo’s two dads situation, but I guess they’ve still got that situation in the Atlantis-verse timeline. I just liked how its a weird situation that you’d only see in comic book-adjacent media. That said, I can see wanting to simplify that situation.

I didn’t notice that before, but now that it’s been pointed out, it makes perfect sense. Even without it, I thought the plot worked great, which I think is the sweet spot: even if the reader doesn’t consciously recognize the tell, subconsciously it still fits.

Radiance has her ARCANE shell from the Atlantis-verse, Adam has future-Sablestar’s sword from the dark future. I’m sure this will all be fine. :wink:

:heart:

Well that would definitely be an interesting contrast. :slight_smile:

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