Bullets may seem passe a world of lasers, force fields, vortex blasters, time travel, and super-speedsters … but force is (broadly speaking) force, and a steel-jacketed package of kinetic energy in the face can usually work wonders as a distraction, if not a deterrent.
I’m happy to let Doctor Infinity and Mercury duke it out in a blur, and happy to be a “distraction” by shooting Infinity many, many times in the face as they do so. And, to be fair, those bullets are having an effect – dents, dings, and, yeah, a fierce scowl as …
… she gestures forcefully to the ground …
… and things …
… get …
s l o w . . .
Not all slowness is created equal. Whatever Infinity is doing with time, despite the keynome-powered time-space trap that Leo and Jason built, it’s not affecting quantum-level activity. I’m thinking just as fast (I think), but my body is responding even more slowly than usual.
I mean, I usually think a hell of a lot faster than I can actually move. That’s endlessly frustrating, but it just means I have to be much more efficient in my actions. Predict where everyone and everything will be in the next few seconds of a battle so that I can send a slow boat to my muscles to get my body to where I need to be in order to act appropriately.
It’s like running a global criminal enterprise, except you can’t shoot people in the head who don’t respond quickly enough.
This state, though, is a million times worse. I feel like the captain on the bridge, shouting orders to crew when the communication lines to the engine rooms and turrets have been cut. I know where I need to be, what I need to do … and I can’t possibly get my body there in time. Infinity sees where I’m aiming well before I can actually pull the trigger, simply moves her head or body aside, and literally dodges the bullet.
(Fortunately there’s an artificial lagoon on the far side of her, so my misses don’t go plowing into tourists.)
I’m helpless here. Useless. Even more so than usual. I’m outclassed. I can’t even be a distraction .
I hear my father, damn him. “I’m sure, if you think that’s what’s going to happen, you will succeed in being insufficient.”
Dammit. I will not let that happen. I have two cards in the whole. One I can’t use yet. The other …
I throw down my left pistol (send the order, watch it slowly crawl down my arm, scratch its head, consider it, then finally comply), then touch the toggle I rigged on my belt to cause that annoying blast of keynomic feedback I greeted Infinity with – and crank it up to 12.
I hear-feel Summer scream, as I realize too late that one of her is still plugged into the device, and the feedback is spanning both of them. (Or was it too late? Would I have done any differently had I realized it? Did I panic, or did I simply ignore the consequences in feeling the need to strike out against Infinity, to be doing something?)
I feel a deep pang of guilt, and that’s strange… After all in battle, the most effective tactic should be employed, regardless of –
That’s Father talking again. Dammit.
I hope she’s okay.
(I feel her eyes on me, from both of them – how could I do that to her? Dammit, regret later, fight now !)
Then things get weird …
… presumably from the interaction of keynome energy, Infinity’s efforts, and the Leo/Jason gadget. Light seems to flare around me, and I see myself, doubled, tripled –
– but not just images of myself. There I am, dressed in worn and stained fatigues, a long scar down one side of my face, a modified AK-47 in my arms …
Another me, slumped in a floating wheelchair, head lolling, life-support cables plugged into its body and mine, chain guns deployed from either side of the chassis …
I stand there as well in a long gown of black and green silk in a dragon motif, hair elaborately coiffed, face palely made up into a mask of hauteur and disdain, a glowing jade rod in each long-nailed hand …
Yet another Alycia, black nanobots swarming about her in the form of blades and spiked tentacles and taloned claws …
I’m wrapped in Link’s power armor, or a good facsimile of it, but this peppered with beam weapons ports and rockets …
An Alycia, late-term pregnant, a saber in one hand and vortex blaster in the other …
Alycia as spider-bot, dead face below a control interface embedded in the skull which is in turn mounted into the robot body, its forward claws clacking …
We all look at each other.
I’m more fascinated than terrified – I’ve charted in hyper-genius detail all the usually-terrible ways my life might have gone, might still go. Ruthless fighter of a guerilla war against the establishment. Crippled warrior, still using technology to force my way to victory, regardless of the cost. Heiress to my father, far more ruthless and powerful than even he would let himself be. Pursuing Jason’s nano-technology (or perhaps taking it from him) for my own purposes. Ditto with Leo’s tech. Perhaps a ghastly tool of my still-living father …
(Okay, no idea about the pregnant version of myself. I’ve been protected against that since menses, and vortex blaster radiation is dangerous to … focus, dammit!)
Around the other members of the Menagerie I can see shadows of similar images. Some of the others are reacting with less sang-froid than me. Around Infinity, too, are similar echoes – variations on the theme, some more robotic, some looking more like the starfish, some looking like …
Infinity’s gaze snaps over to Summer, her face in a glower. I’m struck again by the way they move, something about their face. I have a thought on that, a thought I am oddly reluctant to face, if only because I know what I’m going to have to do if I get the chance, and I hate what it will mean if I’m correct …
Harry – who has been slowed down to mere human speed, but has been vibrating with some sort of power build-up – suddenly flashes forward at full speed, slamming directly into Infinity like a comet, even as Summer clenches her fists and stares at Infinity, even as ghostly tendrils of energy seem to float from the device to snatch at Infinity’s feet, even as the keynomic feedback I created continues to lash at her, even as Adam’s concordance energy lights everything up like Saint Elmo’s Fire …
The shockwave of Harry’s strike is a thunderclap. Infinity actually stumbles back, going down to one knee, cracks showing in some of her plate armor.
Harry – the quiet, callow, legacy hero, who’d rather offer chips than say a mean word to anyone – staggers himself, then draws up, shakes his head, and looks down at Infinity defiantly. "That’s what happens when you mess with my friends."
Infinity snarls back, bitter vitriol in their voice: “And this is what happens when you think you’re going to win?”
And they start to make a Wound in the World, bigger, deeper, more lethal than any yet. All of the illusory images of Infinity start to do the same, with expressions of anger, or despair, or terror, or emotions unreadable. Everything around us begins to grow blurry, insubstantial, and my gut wrenches in pain at reality being twisted to the tearing point.
Charlotte grabs the still-prone Magus Everard’s hand and blinks away. Are they going elsewhere to try and fix this? Or simply fleeing? Both sound like understandable ideas, but I suspect that whatever Wound that Infinity is creating will far exceed any place on Earth’s ability to be safe. I don’t know what drives them – drives her, let’s be honest – but the effort to destroy this world (or more) seems to be all that matters to her any more, even if she’s at Ground Zero for the effect.
Just as I am. And my friends.
“No!” Summer shouts. She still isn’t moving, isn’t attacking, but her eyes are locked on Infinity, and there are tears in them –
As Infinity suddenly lurches, staggers back … and her force field begins to crackle and peel away like an onion, and her armor starts to crack, or flip open, or shed, skin plates rippling like in a breeze – an effect (though far deeper, more profound) I’ve seen before – on Aria … on Summer …
Infinity is convulsing, as the wrenching apart of this dimension pauses, not stopping, but not intensifying.
Every motion Infinity makes, Summer mirrors. She’s in agony, down on her knees, and I hear her whisper, “I … can’t …”
And I know that this is the time for my other hole card, the one I could only prep for without any idea if it would work, if I would ever get the opportunity.
I can’t do it. Not to her.
I have to.
I put a hand on Summer’s shoulder, feel her shudder beneath it. “I’ve got this,” I say, softly. “I’m sorry.”
Then I move.
I spent the last two years of my life – prior to joining the Menagerie – developing a theoretical background for multidimensional reality. But not just a framework for the sake of writing a paper or achieving academic fame.
I was out to rescue my father.
I knew it could be done. The vortex that had swallowed him and Quill (and, I learned not long after, had actually trapped him in another dimension) proved that such meta-reality existed, and that it could be crossed and controlled. I was hampered by only two things: lack of proper technical resources, and lack of knowledge about keynomes. The latter was the worst – there was a keynome-shaped hole in all of my calculations, and I couldn’t see it, couldn’t understand why some things would work and others wouldn’t.
I still managed – monomania and hypergenius always find a way. Hell, I even managed it far more elegantly than Jason ever did (though I did eventually make use of his nanobots to make it possible).
Learning afterward about keynomes, and their place in the multiverse, was like the proverbial apple dropping on Newton’s head. Suddenly, I had the theory to understand what I’d been observing. I understood the why that underlay the what.
And then Leo (with Jason’s assistance) built this time-space trap for Everard and Infinity, powered by Adam’s keynome. And, I’m not too proud to say that seeing that device, what it did, how it did it – was a similar eye-opener, an instantiation in reality and technology of both my own fumbling tech advances and the new theoretical framework I’d built.
Which meant it was easy to steal. After a fashion. Not just to take over enough control to turn it into a sound cannon against Infinity, but to actually take what’s there and use it, to a terrible end.
I stride toward Infinity, knowing I have moments until either she breaks out of whatever attack Summer has launched, or Summer is forced to withdraw (or suffer irreparable damage herself). The time distortion Infinity had created has dropped. The effects of the dimensional collapse she’s engineering have pause enough that I can actually walk a straight line without going mad.
As I do, my power gloves start to glow, as I drain as much keynomic energy from the device, from the keynome itself, as I can.
Wow, Leo, this is impressive. Can you show me how it works? Will he ever forgive me?
It’s ironic that the first pebble in this chain was my using these very gloves (about fifty upgrades ago), coupled with Harry’s super-speed, to inadvertently, temporarily, push him across the dimensional barriers to the so-called Sepiaverse. In some ways, this will be the final avalanche from that initial nudge.
Machinery is reliable. Science works. Facts are real, by definition.
The human mind, this weird combination of chemicals and thoughts and emotions – that’s where unreliability comes in.
As the keynome energy is drawn into my control, my mind can’t help but think, What could I do with this?
What couldn’t I?
Adam – poor, sweet Adam – altered memories, and so consensual reality all about him.
What could a disciplined mind do?
I can fix things. I can fix people.
I can remove the pain from my own past. The loneliness. The hatred. The betrayal. The sins I have done, and the sins done against me. Wash the blood from my hands, make it all clean again.
That’s Adam-level thinking. Think greater .
I can fulfill the Great Mission in a way that Father could never have contemplated. I can expand natural resources to meet all possible needs (tinker with birth rates to avoid the Malthusian results, of course) and …
I can change hearts and minds. Make people better. Make people happy .
Make people happy. I can be happy. I can use this power to …
… change people …
… control people …
… make the world over into what I want – because I know that vision is for the greater good, for the best for all.
I only have to twist natural laws. I only have to twist how people feel, what they think. For the greater good.
I’ll have to do it to strangers across the globe … to world leaders …
… to Harry, and Charlotte, and Adam, and Leo, and Adam
… to Daph …
… to Summer …
… to Jason …
I see my father smile. I feel the keynome, I feel the power taking me up to the mountaintop, showing me the kingdoms of the world, mine for the taking … if I just bow to that power …
I feel the abyss opening up beneath my feet.
I slam my hands down on Doctor Infinity’s shoulders.
And I give up the power.
Rather, thrust it from me, and drive it down into her .
I don’t want to do it. This is Summer. Or Aria. Or one of the Newmans, past or future. The tie there is too obvious, both in how Summer is reacting and in what I can observe about her. This is going to hurt Summer, both immediately and in what it will do.
I’m not altogether certain of the effect. There are too many variables. With what will I can summon, my desire for ordering and reordering the universe, coupled with the reality-focused power of the keynome, comes down to locking Infinity into the Here and Now, with that energy creating a self-sustaining, self-regulating action against what technology she might use to fight it.
At the very least, I hope that it will make the time-space trap permanent, internalized, cripple her in that very important way. Infinity is ghastly powerful, but if I can keep her from escaping, from moving through time and space, perhaps she’s manageable. And maybe that will keep her from opening more Wounds, or making this one greater, from destroying reality.
Will she have control over that keynomic energy? I hope not. If not destroying reality, she could potentially shape it herself. But anything is better than the current set of dangers. That’s what I tell myself, even as I think of what else might happen.
That’s a least-effect scenario. Most-effect … it might destroy her. Kill her.
Jason wouldn’t do it. Summer can’t do it. Heroes don’t kill.
My father couldn’t do it. Villains don’t give up power.
I do both.
I can sense Infinity, struggling up from what Summer has done to her, for a few brief moments. Then the power drives into her.
Solidifies into her.
Locks down her quantum state. Permanently. Her, and all her else-dimensional duplicates, fused through to collapse of potential into one figure.
And an abstract blue-metal statue, that might just be of a woman, tormented and reaching upward, stands in front of the Happiest Place on Earth. Above us, the frozen starfishbots turn to sparkling dust, that drifts down upon the pavement about us.
I think I just saved the world. But I may have done something terrible to do it.