“Um … Alycia?”
I roll my eyes. Between the lack of comms discipline and protocol (probably not necessary, but also not something to just ignore – and bearing in mind that this was a future with more sophisticated decryption tools and we all knew that Jason Quill had one of these earbuds, once – hell, did he develop them?), and the fact I’m really, really trying to keep it together and do something useful after that shambolic encounter with Leo –
Guh. I just want an hour of time to focus on these screens, learn a bit more future tech, and break something, somewhere, in some room, and so get my shit together.
I could just take out my earbud – but I’m also not an ass. This is still a mission. “Go, Mercury.”
“Are there any reports in the city of something … um … speedstery?”
“Something – hold on.”
Something speedstery. Right. Nothing on the news crawl at any of the local media sites. No button on this worn-out (but still amazingly sophisticated) tech that says “Speedstery Detector.”
So, if I were going to track a speedster with this equipment, how would – “Vector?”
Turns out that, back in the day, Harry and Bot had come up with something – tasking a decommissioned satellite, tying into some comm grids, back-channeling into – anyway, it’s pretty clever, even the way Vector describes it. It was to keep track of both the Harry of this world and Vector. It hasn’t been used in quite a while, but, of a miracle, it’s still mostly operable.
A heatmap of “speedsteriness” (not labeled that, thank all that’s holy) comes up over a map of the city. Vector explains that generally just the areas of activity are shown, unless it’s someone –
Oh, like that white pip on the map. Heading … yup … straight for us.
I tap the comm. “We have an incoming speedster,” I tell Harry, and everyone else.
Harry replies, “I’m on my way.”
* * *
For a crew of amateurs, the team is assembled and on the bounce pretty quickly. I get out from behind the consoles and hug the wall between a couple of pieces of equipment. Least obvious target. Batons out – shooting at a speedster is a mook’s game.
I’m still angry at myself. And afraid at how easily Leo manipulated me. I try to push those aside; going into combat distracted like that is a great way to take a dirt nap. Take some long, cleansing breaths. Consider what I know about anti-speedster tactics.
(Yes, here I am, bringing sticks to a meta fight. Huzzah for plucky humanity! I’ll just have to think faster than whomever it is. That’s my super-power.)
Leo starts suiting up, as does Aria, who’s much faster at it, the parts being all internal to her. I’m going to try not to think about it. She and Otto take up a position between the door and the still-armoring Link. Of course they do.
If I’m trying to be least obvious, Concord is trying to be most, a freaking neon sign in the middle of the room. If he can take a punch or twelve, that will let the rest of us move in.
Ghost Girl stands close enough to the JC woman to, presumably, defend her or get her into the shadows, as called for.
And we’re ready. I’ve flipped the monitors to give us a show. Cameras pick up a whitish streak approaching. Proximity alarms go off (I make a note of where). The speedster starts to slow, his outfit and prodigious white beard plainly visible when he runs into the room. As is the look of confusion on his face.
Harry. Or Future Harry. Call him Future Timeline Mercury (FTM). The Mercury suit is in bad shape, as is he.
His eyes widen as he takes in Concord, and a determined, combative look crosses his eyes, until he sees Otto and Aria (confusion), and then Charlotte.
The sight of Ghost Girl seems to grip him with panic. His eyes widen, his mouth drop opens, and he comes to a full-on, practically-lying-on-the-floor skid to a stop, and even begins to backscramble, .
“It’s okay,” Charlotte starts to say, even as Leo steps in-between them. “She’s not who you think,” he tells FTM.
“You’ve got to get away!” the figure says, hoarsely. “It’s going to eat everything! You don’t know! You don’t know what she is!”
“We’re from the past,” Leo says (to his trusting credit, without even a glance at Charlotte, who’s fading into the shadows. Out of fear? Or just trying to deescalate the situation?
I’m taking mental notes. And considering if FTM’s distracted enough for me to step up behind and give him a rap on the back of the head with a baton. I decide the others wouldn’t appreciate it, at least not at this point.
Concord drifts down to where Charlotte is fading away. “No, look, everything’s good, nothing to worry about. The future is weird, but we’re from the past, where everything’s normal.”
FTM has stopped scrabbling backwards in terror, giving us a chance at a better look. It’s a different outfit than our Harry has, but the same motifs are there. His body is thin, though, even emaciated. His hair is long, his beard also long and whispy. “That’s still her,” he said, “still it. You don’t know what I’ve seen, we can’t --”
“Time travel!” Harry interrupts. “Stop!”
“But I gotta tell you … but, if you’re going back, I shouldn’t --”
Ugh. If there’s one thing more annoying than time travelers, it’s time travelers who are tiptoeing around to avoid stepping on a butterfly. Damn Ray Bradbury, anyway.
* * *
It’s a jumble of conversation for a while. FTM has no idea what’s going on – he just went running to his family’s house a few hours ago, subjective, to get his father’s gun (that shakes up our Harry quite a bit, but FTM won’t explain why). He, in turn, is shocked to discover it’s been ten years since he went missing.
He gets introduced to me. His distant memory recalls the lightning glove and his brief sojourn to the Sepiaverse. I offer casual apologies.
Ghost Girl and JC are gone for a time, while FTM gets himself pulled together. Charlotte later fills us in on the history that JC gave her: the deaths of Armiger and Animal in the maw of the Yule Cat; the decimated HHL on Vyortovia Island; the explosion the Vyortovians used in the cemetery that ripped wide the Wound in the Worlds.
And, apparently, Charlotte never came back from exploring the Sepiaverse, the way she did in our time. And Concord left the Menagerie (and Earth, as far as anyone knows) after the Yule Cat fight. And Link had already left after the trauma to Pneuma.
And that just left Harry and Jason to be the Menagerie, and they were never that close. Jason never handed the team off to Leo …
The rest of us are chatting with FTM, who’s decided that since we’re from an alternate timeline, he can spill at least some of the beans (and if our Harry is reluctant to prod him to do so, I’m enthusiastic about finding out more; intel equals survival, in any battle).
After the Yule Cat debacle, Rook had recruited her own team of metas, black hats and gray hats, and rolled them out in the second battle, when the Vyortovia had come back for the Keynomes. Troll, Facet, some guy with a tech copy of Iconoclast’s sonics, Stingray, Pietro the Plasma Prince, Super-Chica, Sablestar, Farlander, and tons of Rossumbots. They weren’t able to stop the Keynomes from being taken, but they kept the damage to a minimum, and gave the populace a huge sense of security.
Rooks’ team didn’t stay intact long – Farlander took off after the Keynomes were gone, Super-Chica had a big falling out with Rosa and headed back to the Dominican Republic. Stingray similarly bumped heads with Rook a year or two later, and ended up with not much of his suit left.
Harry had vanished for a while, then sought out Bot, then (as we saw) vanished again.
FTM had a dire tale of the status quo. Rook has been solidifying power and influence. She and Jason basically run Halcyon. Their products are shipped everywhere, and maybe only a tenth of the population of the city don’t actually work for them in some way or another. Quill is the brains, Rook the business genius.
It’s also assumed that Jason was behind the trap that trapped FTM for a decade.
* * *
It’s concluded that we need to close the Wound in the World, and Charlotte and JC are called back in, even over FTM’s reluctance.
GG makes it clear she can do it, but it will take massive amounts of energy. She partially did the once before, drawing on (and destroying) the ghosts of the cemetery, with the assistance of Lucius wielding (as JC does now) a shard of Excalibur.
Yeah, those are conversations I’m in now.
Charlotte suggests that it might be easier to seal the wound from the Sepiaverse side of things, given the probability wonkiness, but that leaves unanswered the question of energy. On the other hand, it had also been in that alternate dimension where Ghost Girl had felt the most powerful, when she raised the ghost army. She even remembered the words she had used: “Aggrieved dead … your living kin are in danger … strike them down, and vengeance will be yours.”
Could she redirect that, seek vengeance against the changes in probability and what they were doing in this universe and, presumably, the Sepiaverse as well?
Could Charlotte harness the spirits of the living to help right this wrong? And at what cost to them?
Ghost Girl pulls our Harry aside for a short conversation, and when they return, he’s the one who asks questions. Just as well, as FTM keeps showing tells of fear whenver the Sepiaverse is mentioned, many of them with glances at Charlotte herself.
“Is there anything we should know about the Sepiaverse?” Harry asks his older counterpart.
FTM shakes his head, too fast – more in defiance than denial. “There is already no way that you can go back to where you were and not have what you’ve seen here change about how things go forward. Going over there is going to make your timeline different.”
Our timeline becomes different with every breath, I want to shout at him. I don’t particularly want to talk about the Sepiaverse, either, for a variety of reasons, but if it’s the only way to fix this world …
“If what … Charlotte,” FTM continues, stumbling over the name, “says is right, and she can use ghosts to attack this thing from the other side … well, she won’t lack for power over there. It’s … all ghosts. And she’s right in the middle of them.” He shudders. “It’s not something you ever get to just close your eyes and not see. I went to see if she could help, and I couldn’t even ask. I couldn’t bring myself to get close to her. I don’t think she intended me any harm, it wasn’t like that, but … you don’t run into a tornado.”
If Charlotte is dismayed to discover her future self is “alive” and well and living in a nightmare ghost realm, she gives no sign of it. Instead, she turns to me. “Charade,” she says (and it’s interesting that her and Parker are the only ones who really use my nom de guerre), “you managed to pass over to the Sepiaverse without worsening the hole between the worlds. How did you do it?”
By necessity, is the obvious answer, but I don’t give it. Through my genius also goes unspoken.
Instead, I explain I’d actually gotten a clue when my lightning glove and Mercury interacted to send him across. Vibrations, at practically the quantum level. That had given me the first clue, but I was still missing something when Jason gifted me with a jar of nanobots. The devices had, themselves, been a useful way to provide computational power for control of the effect, but Jason had also stored in them all the information he had gathered about the Sepiaverse and how to get there.
Of course, Jason’s method had lacked a certain … finesse. Typical boy. Drain a city grid of its power and punch a hole through the dimensions. Grunt.
I had realized that quantum vibrations were the key, and Jason’s notes gave me the ability to spot where the keyhole was, there at the graveyard. Rather than punching through the wall, I found the flap I could open and slip through.
How did I do it? I had to be smart about it. Instead of … Jason.
* * *
I’m trying not to think about him. I need time, someplace I can move, contemplate, figure this out.
Instead, I find myself being swayed to recreate the experimental equipment. I still remember the equations – most of them, and the rest I can suss out. And I also have with me a small vial of inert nanobots (do not ask how I re-obtained them, assuming they were ever taken from me in the first place) which I can use for that component; I can’t revive them, but their information is scannable, at leasdt.
It’s … not easy. The gear here isn’t right, the collection of eyes on me (or pointedly looking away to be “helpful”) is daunting, the timeframe is irrational.
It gets worse when Leo offers to help. Holy shit, do I actually need his help? Hell no! (I hope.)
In the end, I succeed. Barely. I have a stable gear setup to pass over to the Sepiaverse when I choose, in a way that doesn’t require knocking out the power grid or ripping up the dimensional barrier. It’s a tour de force – but how closely I came to not being able to make it happen leaves me shaky and insecure.
Then I realize what I’ve done. And what I’ve implicitly agreed to.
We’re going to the Sepiaverse. I’m going to the Sepiaverse.
* * *
Granted, Father is probably dead. Old age. The ravages of that world. The Vyortovians. Hell, Future!Charlotte and her hurricane of ghosts.
But what if he’s not?
It’s not so much fear – Charlotte’s confidence in me has made me realize that I have the team backing me up. It’s more not being sure how I’m going to react. I left him there, in our Sepiaverse, broken and imprisoned, the least he deserved. In this world I never went –
-- Or did I?
Oh, this just gets better and better.
* * *
Since it’s my gadget, I have to go.
Charlotte is, of course, going. I guess that’s net-net comforting, if we’re to be faced with ghosts on the other side.
JC, she of the giant sword, is joining us.
Harry is coming as well, keeping it from being all-girls – another good meta and a source of power, too, if we need it. (FTM, his counter-part, is part of the team staying here, since obviously he’s in no mood to go back. That should be a warning flag for us, right?)
In this dimension, the rest of the team seems to be Leo & Family, along with Concord. They make noises about punching in Jason’s base. Or perhaps his face.
* * *
I don’t know how I feel about that. I don’t know how I feel about not knowing how I feel about it.
This world’s Jason Quill seems to be a monster. He’s assaulted his friends. He’s hooked up with plutocrat. He’s co-owner of a nation. Everything about this feels wrong. I don’t want Leo going and punching his face – I want to go punch his face. Or line up a shot from across the street and –
(Would I ever be able to kill him? After what happened? What would be the greater sin – killing a hypergenius tyrant, or no doing so? Am I too comfortable running away to another dimension and letting the others staying here deal with that decision?)
They think I have it all together. Mean, cool, lethal Alycia Chin. They all have confidence in me.
It’s not well-placed confidence. If I let them down, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.