Flurry

Click here for the first series (Frenzy).

Crossroads

About nine months after Serkan Demir, Horace Reaver, and Paige Turner came back to the so-called modern day, the city was experiencing one of the hottest summers on record. The mid-2020s were what some experts referred to as the Global Temperature Crossroads. This was the moment when everything we had done as a human race would come to a head. There were four major temperature scenarios. Some believed the temperature would plateau and hold steady all the way through the rest of the century. Others believed it would soon skyrocket, and propel us to a future of desolation, with no turning back. The other two scenarios each fell somewhere in the middle. And it is the Crossroads that marks the period of a few years that will determine which scenario will take its rightful place in reality. The future comes down to now.
Scientists had been working on this problem for decades, but have always been met with roadblocks. Of course, one major factor that prevents any sort of technological advancement is money, but there are other, dynamically related, factors. Politics and power. Those in power will always try to maintain that power, and the worst of the worst in politics will go out of their way to hurt others if it means helping their own personal bottom line, and sometimes the bottom line of their associates. King Dumpster and his administration in the United States government, for instance, likely forced the western world backwards by years in terms of environmental change. Through policies and extremely illegal business dealings, he and his comrades moved money away from scientific research, and transplanted it into anything that benefitted their portfolios. These people did not truly deny climate change, but they did so publicly, because there’s simply not a lot of money in fixing the climate. Most of them were rich old white men, so whatever came of the state of the world in the back nine of the 21st century wasn’t really relevant to them. However, they were not the only players in the game, and some of their opposition would stop at nothing to achieve their own agendas. Serkan, Ace, and Paige were about to encounter these other players.
Serkan was trying to sleep at the moment. He worked as a night guard for this company called Snowglobe Collective, which meant that Ace had to take care of the day-to-day raising of their ward, Paige. They had what was almost a joint-custody arrangement, except not. Serkan would take care of Paige alone on the weekends, so that Ace could stay in a separate apartment and bet on sports competitions. He had the ability to relive each day of his life, and though he did not technically remember the first time around, this provided him with gut feelings. He figured out how to exploit these feelings to earn them a little extra cash. The keyword there was little. They couldn’t make any bets that would draw attention to themselves. They had other tricks to prevent anyone from noticing how successful Ace was. He would bet on different games on different weekends, using different bookies. He would watch the games from different tables, at different bars, wearing different clothes. He wouldn’t talk to people, but he wouldn’t be noticeably rude, and he wouldn’t flash his money around. He even purposely lost every once in awhile, so he didn’t look like a wizard.
He had to do all this away from Serkan, because Serkan had the ability to suppress the powers of other people who could manipulate time. Whenever he was around, Ace’s powers were useless. The only reason Serkan kept the job as a security guard was for tax purposes. Yes, there was a way to report their winnings on their tax forms, but it would look too suspicious if the only income they had was from gambling. And that was a level of scrutiny they weren’t prepared to entertain. Ace had gone missing for over a year, Serkan was supposed to be a fifteen-year-old kid living with his family, and Paige was a child who grew up in the 1960s. Ace had had to hire a lawyer to take care of explaining his extended absence to the authorities, and Serkan and Paige’s identities were completely fabricated. They had to be extremely careful, and a shitty job in a warehouse was one of their best cover stories.
Serkan was awakened by the sound of the front door being shut, along with Ace’s voice echoing through their sparsely furnished house. They were minimalists. “Honey!” he called out. “Have you seen the window?”
Serkan just groaned, not nearly loud enough for anyone to hear.
“Serkan!”
“What!”
“Paige is home!”
“She’s supposed to be at summer school!” Having been a girl out of her time, Paige had to take extra classes just to understand how things in this time period even worked. That was another fun conversation they had to have with her teachers. Why didn’t she have any idea how personal computers worked, and did she grow up in an abusive home? Well, yes, but they had no evidence of that since it happened more than fifty years ago.
Ace finally came in the room, Paige in tow. “The district officially ruled it a snow day.”
Serkan still hadn’t fully opened his eyes. “The hell you talkin’ about? It’s the middle of July.”
He exhaled heavily. “Look outside.”
Serkan struggled with the covers to roll over and face the window. They were more than two feet away, so there was no way he would be able to open the blackout curtains himself. “Little help?”
Ace giggled, but not in a good way; more like in an annoyed husband sort of way. They weren’t married, but they might as well have been. In fact, their main obstacle for marriage was their forged papers. “Here.” He opened the curtains, revealing a winter wonderland.
This made Serkan sit up and press his face against the glass. Not only was it presently snowing, but it had already piled on the ground several inches. “What is this?”
“We have no idea.”
“I’ve seen this before.”
“You have?”
“In the future,” Serkan said. “The ninth City Frenzy is partially cancelled because of inexplicable weather phenomena. Anyone under the age of sixteen was disqualified because it was just too unpredictable. No, it wasn’t snowing, but it was wonky. Or it will be wonky.”
“This must be happening for the same reason.”
“But it makes no sense,” Serkan said, shaking his head. “I’ve already lived through twenty-twenty-four. This didn’t happen. I don’t remember the exact weather on this date, but I sure as shit know it wasn’t blood snowing.”
Little Paige finally spoke up. “Are you saying that you’re the one who did this? By coming here, you’ve altered the weather?”
“Well, I’ve possibly altered the timeline, but I couldn’t alter the weather. No one can.”
“Unless they can,” Ace said.
“With science?” Serkan asked. “I did get the feeling the expert on the Frenzy council suspected it was man-made. If so, these mystery scientists are probably trying to learn how to control the weather, and are instead met with chaos.”
“Well, what are we gonna do about it?” Paige asked.
“We?”
“Okay, fine, you.” She kind of starts mumbling, “I mean, I think I should have some say since, at sixty-five, I’m the oldest one here.”
“You’re not sixty-five,” Ace scolded her. “Stop trying to use that card. We all here understand basic time travel. Anyway, we’re not going to be doing anything either. This is not a our job.”
“Don’t you see?” Paige asked. “You’re the only two who actually can do something about it. You’re temporal manipulators, you know things about the future, you’re intimately familiar with a major player in this game, and you can do a lot of good.”
“What player do we know?”
“Duke Andrews,” Paige said, thinking it was obvious.
“My younger self, the one who lives in this time,” Serkan began, “barely knows Mister Andrews. He won’t even be selected Frenzy Council Leader until next year. But he does know me well enough to know that I am supposed to just be some carefree runner. I would never come to him with this problem, and even if I did, what if he tries to ask me about it later? My younger self would never understand.”
“I’m just brainstorming,” Paige defended. “Madam Gillian says you can’t be wrong in a brainstorm.”
“I’m not taking cues from your sixth grade social studies teacher, Paige,” he argued back.
Ace added, “and we’re not putting ourselves, or you, in danger to try to solve this. It’s not going to happen.”
She stormed out of the room. “If not us, then who?”
“Who the hell got her hooked on Ronald Reagan quotes?” Ace asked, not really wanting the answer.
“She probably heard that one when Obama said it,” Serkan suggested hopefully.
Ace took a moment to stare out the window some more. “She has a point.”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Yes, she does. No one else knows what we know.”
“Andrews and his team know enough. We can’t help them.”
“We should try anyway.”
“And while we off trying to save the world, who will take care of Paige? Who can we trust?”
Ace just gave him a look.
“What? Who?”
He held his look. “I think you know who.”
Serkan had to think for a moment. “Oh, no. Not him. He’s weird.”
Ace shrugged. “He recognized Paige. He’s already in this.”
“Yeah, maybe he’s the bad guy.”
“His reputation would say otherwise. He was investigating weird time shit since before we were born. He was at Stonehenge that day.”
“Allegedly,” Serkan corrected.
“Serkan, I think you and I both know we need to do this. We may not have to, but we’re time travelers, and I think we should do something with that. He can keep her safe. Where he lives, no one can get to her.”
A few months ago, the three of them were walking down the street with ice cream. This old man suddenly stopped them and claimed that he recognized Paige from when they were children. They both happened to have been visiting Stonehenge on that fateful day that led Paige to being accidentally swept up with them when Serkan and Ace walked through an archway and returned to their time period. This young boy had witnessed this disappearance, which he cited as his first experience with time travel. Ever since, he essentially dedicated his life to understanding it, eventually becoming a law enforcement officer, and investigating a number of anomalies over the years, primarily in Kansas and Missouri. He gave them a strange gift, and told them they could call upon him for help anytime they needed it. Apparently, this was one of those times.
“Where is it?” Ace asked.
Serkan was still hesitant.
“Come on, we need him. Where did you put it?”
Serkan sighed and retrieved a doorknob from a shoebox in their closet. “Do you even think this is gonna work?”
“Even if it doesn’t,” Ace said, “the worst that happens is we place this doorknob on the wall and look stupid for a few seconds.”
Giving in, Serkan followed the instructions and held the knob in front of the wall. Soon enough, the wall attracted it like a magnet, which caused it to transform into a door, which they were able to open to what was supposedly another dimension.
The mysterious man was sitting at a desk, looking at some papers. “Ahh, I was just about to call you. Strange weather we’re having here, eh?”
“Hi, Bran. We need you to babysit.”

The Butterfly Effect

Kallias Bran rearranged the documents on his desk for a minute and stood up, placing his reading glasses in his front pocket. “You going after the people making the snow?”
“Well, we were going to look for help from someone else,” Ace said. “We don’t know who is causing the snow.”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“You know who’s doing this?” Serkan asked, surprised.
He smiled. “I’m gonna give you a minute to think it over, Serkan. You possess a connection to these people, one that Ace and I do not...except through you.” He had to keep going when Serkan wasn’t getting it, “who do you know might have the money and resources to alter the weather...and is possibly named something, uh, related to the weather?”
“Oh!” Serkan finally got it, of course. “Of course! Snowglobe!”
“That’s right,” Bran confirmed. “I’ve been investigating Snowglobe Collective for years, but I’ve not been able to get very close.”
“Well, what do you know about them?”
“I know that the top leadership is comprised of temporal manipulators, like you three. I don’t know who they are, and I don’t know what they’re trying to do.”
“It looks like they’re trying to control the weather,” Ace said.
“Yes, but to what end? Are they trying to help, or is control the keyword here?”
“What about this doorknob?” asked Serkan, holding it up in front of him. “Could we use this to sneak into the Snowglobe headquarters and get some answers?”
Bran smiled again. “I’ve tried that before. Like I said, they’re powerful time manipulators. They have, like, wards against that. In the future, weather control will be ubiquitous, and worrying what tomorrow brings will be a thing of the past. I believe these people jumped to that future, stole the technology, and are currently attempting to reverse engineer it for their own gain. They’re not taking any chances. It will be their most guarded possession.”
“But we can stop them,” Ace proposed. He placed an affectionate hand on Serkan’s shoulder. “Rather, Serkie here can stop them. If they have temporal wards, then he can get through them.”
“Ehh, not necessarily,” Bran argued. “He has the ability to stop people from using their powers, but he doesn’t block all temporal manipulation. Afterall, this all started when he fell into The Gravedigger’s open grave, and ended up in the past. Why just now he used The Doorknob to access this dimension. He obviously has the ability to experience temporal manipulation when it comes to objects.”
“Oh, that’s true,” Ace realized.
He separated a few pieces of paper from one of the messy stacks on his desk, one of which was a crude blueprint of the Snowglobe headquarters. “I actually think the entire building is designed to protect their power from outside influence. They may not know about you specifically, but they know they’re not the only time travelers out there. They’re not interested in letting anyone through who isn’t one of them.”
Ace placed his other hand on Serkan’s other shoulder. “Then we’ll have to find a way to make Serkie become one of them.”
“Ace,” Serkan said lovingly. “I’m not going to be promoted from security to executive management overnight.”
“Maybe it’s time you bite the bullet and go have a conversation with Lincoln Rutherford,” Bran suggested. “From what I gather, he understands what it’s like to pretend to be a business magnate’s security guard.”
“We need to talk to Andrews first, though,” Ace told them. “We still need someone on our side who might actually have a chance of fixing this.”
“Unless he’s part of this,” Serkan posited. “Like I said, I barely know him, and you don’t know him at all.”
“I know him,” Bran said. “Well enough, at least. You wouldn’t be the first of his kind that he’s met. You should go. I promise to take care of Paige.”
Paige finally revealed herself from the bathroom. “I can go with you. I can help. I can take pictures.”
“No.” Ace knelt down to be closer to Paige’s level. “One day you’ll be able to help with things like this in profound ways. Ways that we can’t even begin to predict. You’re going to become a lovely young lady, and an important woman in history. Right now, you’re vulnerable. You’re young, physically small...and untrained. You just don’t have the experience we need for this, and we can’t be worrying about what might happen to you. One day, you’ll get your shot. It is not today.”
Paige always appreciated them talking to her like she was an adult. Her birth parents had been absolutely awful to her, treating her more like a rabid animal than a person. Their trip to Stonehenge together was just a front, for they treated her just fine in public, preventing anyone from knowing what was really going on. Harry Potter couldn’t come close to understanding what Paige went through back in the 20th century. What she needed was to feel like she mattered, like she could contribute. She also needed discipline, and boundaries. She wasn’t allowed to help with the Snowglobe problem, and she needed to be told this straight up, and also be told that they won’t be sheltering her forever. Because it was true, they always knew that she would grow up to be a strong, independent woman. For now, she needed to stay alive long enough to realize those days. Bran could give her that. “Okay.” She went back to her bedroom and started packing.
“Thank you for this, Kallias,” Serkan said.
“In my younger days, I would have jumped at the chance to go with you. That’s just not me in anymore.” He placed his reading glasses back on his face, but purposely askew so that he looked silly. “This is me now.”
They could afford to take a second to laugh about how he looked. But then it was time they went into their bedroom, and packed as well. Serkan still needed to get dressed.
“Paige, make sure you pack your heavy coat! We don’t quite know how the weather will affect the pocket dimension!”
“Okay!” she called back.
“That goes for you too, Serkan,” he said.
“Yes...dad.” That was weird. He wasn’t going to call him that again, for any reason.
After everybody had said their goodbyes, Paige and Bran were safely back in the secret pocket dimension, and Serkan and Ace were on their way to DNA Research Labs, Inc. Yes, a company called DNA was confusing, but it was a pun, and Duke Norbert Andrews was sticking to it. It took a while to get all the way up to the top floor. Of course, Andrews was already hard at work with his team, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He didn’t have time for visitors, but once Serkan claimed to the front desk security that he had some insight into the mysterious weather phenomena, he was ushered in.
“Mister Demir?” Andrews asked, closing the door between them and the frantic meteorologists in the conference room. “You look...older?”
“I can’t explain why that is, Mr. Andrews, but please, let us keep our conversations quiet. If you ever see me again, I may not...uh...quite remember that we spoke of today.”
He lifted his head inquisitively. “You’re not Serkan.”
“Not exactly.”
“What do you know?”
“Snowglobe Collective is doing this. We don’t know how, but we know they’re involved.”
He casually walked around his desk and sat down. “Of course they are. I worked that out on the slow drive over here. With a company name like that, you’re just asking for people to make a connection between you and Christmas in July.”
“Do you know how they might be doing this?” Ace asked.
Andrews just looked at him.
He introduced himself, “Horace Reaver, sir.”
Andrews noticeably twitched at the sound of Ace’s full name. “I have no idea, but it is not without precedent.”
“It’s happened before?”
“1816,” Andrews began. “It’s also known as the Year Without Summer. Frost killed off a great deal of agriculture, leading to food shortages in North America and Western Europe.” He tapped a few keys on his keyboard and the flipped his monitor around to show the Wikipedia page on the subject. “But that was after a massive volcano eruption. Nothing like that happened here. The snow has merely materialized.” He tapped a few more keys and switched it to a series of maps and diagrams that Serkan was not educated enough to comprehend. “And it won’t end here. These weather patterns make absolutely no sense, but we can still do minimal forecasting for the area. It’s going to get worse...unless someone finds a way to stop it.”
“Do you have any ideas?” Serkan asked.
“Besides storming Snowglobe’s castle and shutting down whatever it is they have that can alter the weather? No. Nothing can reverse this, because that technology simply does not exist. Global climate control is something my lead futurologist predicts won’t happen until next century, at best. We’re not even working on it right now. This world requires too many microsolutions before we can even begin exploring it. It would seem that Snowglobe has skipped ahead on us.”
“But it’s out of control,” Serkan added. “I mean, that is unless they actually wanted a winter wonderland in what’s supposed to be the summer.”
“No,” Andrews agreed. “I imagine they stumbled onto something they don’t understand, and it’s backfiring on them.”
“Can your team do anything?” Ace asked.
“Honestly, I have them all working on different avenues, but no. No one, as far as I know, is equipped to handle this sort of thing. Like I said, the tech doesn’t exist. If Snowglobe doesn’t stop it, no one can.”
“We might be able to.”
“What do you know? Be honest? Whatever your secret, I can handle it.”
Serkan was worried about altering the timeline, but that ship has appeared to have sailed by now. The original 2024 didn’t involve mysterious freak weather, so he might as well go full force and just read Andrews in. If he couldn’t be trusted, then all hope was lost anyway. “I’m from the future. From what I remember of this year, this never happens. Somehow I changed something. I had some butterfly effect on Snowglobe, maybe just by being one of their security guards.”
This gave Andrews pause. “You work there? At Snowglobe?” He didn’t seem shocked by the revelation that Serkan was a time traveler, though.
“Just as a guard at one of their warehouses,” Serkan explained. “Nothing big. Nothing that can help us.”
“Don’t be so sure about that. It could be our way in.”
“I don’t even have access to headquarters.”
“Not yet, you don’t.” Lincoln Rutherford, Esquire had come into the room.
“Mr. Rutherford, thank you for coming. What are you thinking?”
Rutherford was on the City Frenzy council, both now, and in the future. Serkan and Ace encountered him a few times, and he proved to know a lot more about time travel than anyone else. He and Serkan made each other uncomfortable, though, so when they came back from 1971 Stonehenge, they decided to stay away from him completely.
“I’ve been keeping my eye on you, Future!Serkan. I’m glad you found some nice kind of life since last we spoke.”
“We’ve done our best,” Ace responded. “Would you be able to help us? This time?”
“The problem at hand,” Rutherford said, “is that you can’t get into the building. I think I may have a way for you to do just that, and to get the executives to trust you. But you’re gonna have to trust me first.”
Oh, no. “What?”
“It’ll require some deception...and a hint of violence.”

Time After Time

“You are not serious,” Serkan said after Lincoln Rutherford filled them in on the plan. Dr. Andrews had to leave the room for a meeting.
“We are not doing that,” Ace agreed.
“It’s the only way,” Rutherford claimed.
“That isn’t even in the same league as the truth,” Serkan argued. “Your plan is so convoluted and random that it doesn’t make any sense. What, were you a Bond villain in another life?”
“No, I was a security guard,” Rutherford answered seriously. I’ve been through this before. When I did it, it took me years to gain the guy’s trust, but we don’t have that kind of time here, so you’ll have to get the executives to trust you in one fell swoop.”
They didn’t say anything.
“Yeah, my friend, Brian would say that I have complexity addiction, but trust me. I see the connections, I know this will work, but only you can do it.”
“So many things can go wrong,” Serkan said.
“And I don’t love what role I’m meant to play,” Ace complained.
“Ah, you’ll be fine,” Rutherford said, literally brushing away Ace’s fears with his fingers. “And so will you, Serkan.”
“How do you know?”
“Remember how I told you that I see time from a third-person perspective, like I’m just watching it on a screen?”
“Yeah, but your time power doesn’t work when I’m around, so you can’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”
“No, I can’t, but I’ve gotten good at predicting things just the same. I’ve planned this whole thing out, and I’ve accounted for every detail.”
“When did you do this?” Ace asked like a cop in an interrogation room. “You just walked in here.”
“I’ve been planning for you to do this for awhile, it’s just more pressing now. Why do you think I got you that job as a security guard?”
“I...but...wha?”
“One of your superiors had a criminal record that I took care of once when he applied for the job, so he owed me a favor. I made sure you were hired,” Rutherford explained.
“I can’t believe you did that to me. I’m just a chess piece for you, aren’t I? You can’t move me around like everyone else with your crazy movie-time perspective, but you can manipulate me in other ways.”
“That is sooo not true.” Rutherford seemed rather offended. “I’m here to help.”
“You’re here to help by having my boyfriend attack one of the executives, while I fend him off and save the executive’s life?” When Serkan put it like that, it sounded even dumber.
“He’ll be wearing a mask,” Rutherford said unconfidently.
Serkan wasn’t buying it. “Does this kind of thing ever work?”
“No, it doesn’t,” Ace said. “We’re not even going to try. We’ll find another way.”
Duke Andrews came back into the room. “Did you guys figure it out?”
“Yes,” Ace said, stone-faced. “We were just leaving.”
“Well, let me know if you need anything,” Andrews said to them sincerely as they were walking through the door.
Lincoln made no attempt to stop them.
“I’m glad we’re on the same page with this,” Ace said to Serkan when they were in the elevator.
“Of course,” Serkan said back. “Rutherford’s plan was stupid, but it wasn’t without its merits. It did give me an idea of how we can actually get into the building, but we can’t do it alone.”
“Who do we need?”
“About a year from now, I’m going on a very light jog when I see a struggle on the street ahead of me. Two men are fighting over something very small, and one of them finally takes it away from the other. He runs off as the other guy yells that he was just robbed. So, naturally, I use my speed to catch up with the thief and take the flashdrive from him, returning it to its owner.”
“Okay...” Ace replied, waiting for more.
“Turns out the victim was a member of the grammer gang, one of the best.”
“Serkie, I don’t want you getting involved with those gangs. They’re dangerous.”
“They’re not that kind of gang.”
“I know, but they’re still built on an us vs. them mentality. They don’t do anything for free, and if we ask them for help, they’ll want something in return.”
“That’s just capitalism, Ace. Nobody at all does anything thing for free.”
“Correct, but what people like this ask for is usually something you don’t wanna give, and/or can’t afford.”
“We’re kind of out of options here. We need in that building, and my warehouse security badge just won’t cut it. I need J-Cuken to upgrade it for me.”
“But you said yourself that you helped him in the future. He’ll have no idea who you are.”
“No. But I know who he is, and I know if we just talk to him, he’ll agree to help. Yeah, he’ll want something from us, but it’s gotta be worth it.”
Ace sighed and conceded, “okay. I’ll trust you.”
The grammer gang is different than other gangs. By their very nature, programmers don’t need to be in the room together to get their work done. They’re perfectly content communicating with each other remotely. This gives them an advantage over other gangs, which is especially good since their work is generally more illegal than others. They only ever convene IRL during new member initiation rituals, but even then, most watch it through video chat, or just don’t participate at all. If the authorities ever compile enough evidence on one of the hackers, they’ll only be able to get that one hacker, at best. And once they do move in on a target, all other members are alerted. They immediately trash their equipment, scrub whatever room they’ve been working in, and relocate to somewhere else. The only permanent bases they maintain are virtual, and fortunately, Serkan knew how to access their network.
Ace returned home with Serkan to watch as he got on their computer and logged onto the grammer chat system. Serkan sent nothing more than a ping to J-Cuken. After a few seconds, J-Cuken sent back a message with GPS coordinates to an abandoned mall.
“Serkan, I don’t like this,” Ace said. “What if he has a gun?”
“He won’t be here,” Serkan explained. “This is not where we meet, it’s just so that he can keep an eye on me while we discuss business using what he already knows to be a secure connection.”
“This is not true,” J-Cuken said, appearing from around the corner. He spoke in a Russian accent that was much thicker than Serkan remembered. It was probably just part of his mystique, and something that he ends up getting over sometime in the future.
“Whoa,” Serkan said, surprised. “I thought you didn’t like meeting IRL.”
“I do not, but you have sparked my curiosity. Once you contacted me on you’re completely vulnerable machine, I hacked into your webcam and ran facial recognition software. What I discovered was that you are literally in two places at once.” J-Cuken handed Serkan a tablet, revealing a feed from one of Agent Nanny Cam’s drones that were watching the younger Serkan training at Frenzy Headquarters.
“I can explain that.”
“You are time traveler,” J-Cuken suggested.
“Why is no one shocked by that!”
J-Cuken shrugged his shoulders. “I have seen stranger things.”
“Like what?”
“Like every season?”
“What?”
Ace took control of the conversation. “We need to get into the Snowglobe Headquarters. Would you be able to help us with that?” He reached into Serkan’s pocket and took out Serkan’s employee badge. “Could you modify this so that it gets us to every room in every building?”
J-Cuken took the badge and looked it over a bit. “You still use badges?” He rudely squeezed the badge until it broke in half. He then threw it onto a stack of lumber that had been left on the dirty floor. “We don’t need no stinking badges. What do they pay you in, goats?”
“What the hell!”
“I will help you. The leaders of that company pissed me off many years ago, and I have been looking for a way to get them back. But tell me, what do you have against them?”
“They’re responsible for all this snow.”
J-Cuken stood on his tippy toes and looked down the hallway at a sliver of light coming from a boarded up window. “Does nature not do that on its own?”
Serkan laughed, “well, yes, but not in summer.”
“What is...summer?”
Serkan quickly directed J-Cuken’s tablet to Google Translate, pushing the little speaker icon so that it read aloud the Russian equivalent of summer.
J-Cuken was still confused. “What is...leto?”
Now Serkan was confused. “Something’s wrong here. You don’t act all that much like J-Cuken.”
“Oh...you got me.” J-Cuken placed both hands on his face and slowly started pulling it down. As his hands lowered, so did his eyes and ears, and then his nose, and also his mouth. He moved his features all around his head, revealing a hideous creature of some kind.
“Oh my God!” Serkan yelled.
But his boyfriend wasn’t all that scared. “What are you?” Ace just had to ask.
“My name is Effigy,” it answered...warping its face to look exactly like Ace.
“Oh my God!” Serkan was forced to yell again.
“Time after time,” the creature said, still in J-Cuken’s voice, “people have come and seen me. They all react the same way. With horror. Am I really that disgusting?”
“Well, you’re not exactly Melissa Benoist, I’ll tell ya that much,” Ace said to...it.
“This is fair,” Effigy said.
“I guess that explains how you knew Serkan was a time traveler.”
“It takes one to know one.”
“Could you...” Serkan tried to speak, but was faltering. “Could you...make yourself look like something else?
The creature blinked and transformed into Serkan.
“Something...else?” Ace requested.
“Like what?” Still with that heavy Russian accent. “A taco that shits ice cream? I do not do this for you. I prefer to remain in a form you are most uncomfortable with. And so, I will show you your worst nightmare.” It transformed into a man they didn’t recognize, which was nothing scary.
“Who is that?” Ace asked.
“I’m Mateo.”
They just shrugged.
“Mateo Matic?”
Still nothing.
“Oh, wrong timeline. Okay, whatever.” Still in Mateo’s form, he took the tablet back from Serkan and set it on the table. He then waved his hands around like a Vegas magician, using real magic to produce an extremely thin transparent plastic rectangle that looked like a cell phone. “Anyway, this will get you into any building, at any time, on any planet. It’s a more advanced version of the Escher Knob.”
“You’re still helping us?” Serkan asked, surprised that this monster would have any interest in helping them with anything.
“Snowglobe still pissed me off long ago. But honestly, if you’re upset about the weather, they’re not the ones you should be going after.”
“Who then?” Ace asked.
“One of their daughter companies is the one that would most likely actually be responsible for it. But don’t worry, I’m pissed off at them too.”
“Daughter company?”
“It’s called Snowglobe Collective. Their whole thing is owning subsidiaries. D’uh. Snowglobe itself doesn’t really do anything.”
“Then who does?”
“High Castle Corporation.”

Looper
Serkan and Ace had a new mission. Though Snowglobe was clearly guilty of something, if not indirectly the weather, they were not the present concern. The crystal rectangle that Effigy had given Ace could also be used as a holographic smartphone, giving them access to the internet. They navigated to the High Castle Corporation website while they were wandering through the abandoned mall. The company was first conceived in 1965, as the result of an address President Lyndon B. Johnson made to the nation wherein he warns the public of the threat of human-driven climate change. Keanu ‘Ōpūnui was so moved by the president’s words that he felt compelled to do something about it, and four years later, he found himself in a position to do just that. He founded High Castle Corporation in 1969 with the ultimate purpose of researching climate change, and finding ways to stop or reverse it. Today, the organization boasts several global locations, and the world’s top scientists, with their research being funded by selling weather-related products like raincoats and weather stripping. And then it goes on to talk about how it was acquired by Snowglobe Collective a few years ago as part of their vision to consolidate the world’s leading visionaries.
“We need blueprints for their building,” Serkan pointed out.
“Oh, that’s right,” Ace agreed. “Let me just click on the link on their website that says here’s what you need if you’re trying to break into one of our facilities.”
“Very funny,” Serkan said. “Doesn’t that thing give us access to things people normally can’t see?”
“I don’t know why it would.”
“Give it here.” Serkan took the device from Ace and started fiddling with it. “This is a skeleton key given to us by a hacker.”
“No, that thing was impersonating a hacker.”
“Either way, he said it was a modern version of the Escher Knob, which means it has to break into virtual environments too.”
“I don’t think that’s what that means.”
“Got it.” Serkan was no hacker himself, but he knew his way around an organization’s private intranet. From there, he accessed the deepest parts of their network, and found what they were looking for. A hologram sprouted from the screen, revealing an interactive map of the High Castle headquarters, which did look like a castle. Though constructed using modern materials, there were parapets, towers, and even a drawbridge over a moat. Why had they not heard of this before? It looked like an amusement park.
Ace took the device back and headed for an ottoman that had been left next to a dead plant. “I need some time to study this.”
“Okay,” Serkan said. “I need some time to get a good run in.”
“Just, be careful, honey. Don’t go too far.”
“You too.”
Serkan started to jog all over the building, dodging broken chairs and other debris strewn all over the floor. Everytime he saw something destroyed that was once whole, he frowned. Even though he didn’t personally care about the mall industry, he didn’t like seeing it fall apart either. It was unsettling to be in a place so hopeless that was once so vibrant. As he reflected on it...it reflected back. At first he thought he was just having some particularly vivid flashback, but the more the world refocused, the more he realized that this was all real. He was somehow going back in time to before the mall was abandoned, back to when there were shops, back to when there were patrons. He hadn’t fallen into an open grave this time, but there was just as little chance of him returning home. Someone upstairs didn’t want him finding happiness.
After resolving himself to make the most of his new situation, he calmly walked over to the cash register in a small shop and looked at the wall behind it where he found a paper calendar. August of 2013; about two years before the mall’s closing. He was four years old at the time, and his brother, Alim had just been born. This much was confirmed when their mother passed by the shop with her two children. He first tried to cover his face so she wouldn’t see him, but then realized that she wouldn’t recognize him anyway. His face had actually changed quite a bit since he was a child; more so, as he was told, than most people. Future!Serkan started following his younger self and family down the large hallway, towards the shoe store. He remembered this day. Though Serkan didn’t always know he would become a professional runner, he did run around a lot, exhausting his mother. He wore shoes out like they were made out of tissue, forcing her to buy new pairs regularly. She never complained or scolded him, but he didn’t understand until he was older what she was sacrificing for him.
As he was watching her now trying to maintain a hold of baby Alim while Serkan was insisting on a particular pair, a sales representative stepped in view. “Can I help you with anything?” she asked. “What kind of shoe are you looking for.”
It barely registered that she was talking. “Thanks, I’m just browsing,” Future!Serkan answered, trying to get back to watching himself.
“Well, if you need anything, I’m Cecelia.”
“Uhuh,” Serkan said out of instinct. “And what if I don’t need anything? Who are you?”
“Demetri Martin reference, I love it.”
He probably shouldn’t have said that. Now she thought that he was trying to flirt. He just froze and kept quiet, hoping that eventually she would get bored, and walk away. She did, and he was able to return to stalking his own family.
His mother was looking back and forth between her son who was ecstatic about the amazing pair of running shoes he had discovered, and her near-empty wallet. Future!Serkan took out his own wallet and removed a couple twenty-dollar bills. He gained some courage, and approached her. “Excuse me, ma’am, I believe you dropped these.”
She inspected the bills and laughed. “Nope. I don’t keep fake money in my wallet. Nice try, though.”
“What?”
“That’s Harriet Tubman, I recognize her iconic picture.”
“Yeah?”
“Andrew Jackson is on the twenty-dollar bill, smartass. What is this? Am I on a prank show?” She looked around for a video camera.
Oh, shit. He didn’t know all that much about history, but he still should have remembered that Harriet Tubman wouldn’t be put on currency for a long, long time. That was stupid of him. “I’m sorry, he said with a stammer. “I’m just...practicing my improv.”
“Oh, you don’t need any practice,” she said, but then added, “you should just give up on your dream right now.”
“Actually,” Future!Serkan responded, “I’m a runner. Those are some really good shoes.” He pointed towards Past!Serkan’s feet.
“Well, he certainly seems to like them,” his mother said.
“But they’re not necessary,” Future!Serkan tried to explain. He looked around a little and grabbed a much cheaper pair. “Cheap shoes do okay if you use them right. Invest in a shoehorn, and make him use it every single time...and also make him untie them instead of slipping them off. Every time he stretches out a shoe just to put it on, or take it off, he’s wearing it down. Put newspaper in them when he’s at home to soak up moisture. Buy a tube of something called shoe goo. It’s not that hard to use, and you don’t have to wait until they wear out. Stick some on the seams right away, and it’ll reinforce them for you.”
“That’s some...interesting advice. Do you work here?” she asked.
“Nah, I’m just experienced.”
“Got anything else?”
“It takes one to know one, and I can tell that your son is destined to be a runner. When he starts getting serious about it, buy a separate pair for him to use for training and races. Don’t let him wear them when he’s just sitting in class, or something. It takes a little extra cash, but both pairs will last longer than they would if you bought them one at a time.”
“I’ll consider that,” she said with a nod, taking the cheaper shoes from his hand and throwing them down at younger Serkan. “Try these instead,” she told him.
Past!Serkan pulled the expensive shoes off and started working on the other ones. One benefit of him only being four years old was that he didn’t have any cognizance of the price. He could be easily tricked into thinking that these were better.
Her back turned from Future!Serkan allowed him to look right at baby Alim. Of course he knew his little brother at this point, but he was just a child himself. He couldn’t appreciate the how precious life was, and how nice it was to see him like this again. This time travel was a terrible thing, yes, but could also be a gift. It partially counteracted the first time he traveled, which had taken him away from his family completely. At least he was now able to see them again, if only for a moment. As he was staring into baby Alim’s eyes, Alim stared back. Time seemed to slow down, and he started questioning the meaning of life itself, and whether there was any real danger to time paradoxes. But then his existential journey was cut short when baby Alim suddenly spit up his breakfast all over Future!Serkan’s shirt.
Their mother turned around. “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. I should never have let that happen.”
“It’s fine.”
She struggled through her baby bag with her free hand, obviously trying to find something to clean him up.
“Really, it’s okay. I have a baby sister,” Future!Serkan lied. “She does this all the time. It hasn’t bothered me since the first time it happened.”
“Well...at least let me pay for whatever you’re buying today.”
“Thanks, but I already have everything I need.”
“Serkan! Serkan!” Ace yelled from the front of the store.
“Your name is Serkan?” his mother asked. Its popularity had been waning in Turkey for the last decade, and he had never met anyone stateside who shared his name. The chances that both he and this child shared it were next to zero.
Thinking quickly, Serkan clarified, “he said Burkhart. It’s my last name.” He called back to Ace who was on his way down the aisle, “what did I say about calling me by my last name, honey? Ever since we got married up in Canada, we’re both Burkharts now.” Not his best lie.
“Oh, right.” He shook Serkan’s mother’s hand. “Hi, I’m Horace.”
“Sila,” she said back. “Sila Demir. This is Serkan, and Alim.”
“Well, we best be heading for the exit,” Ace said impatiently. “I found our keys.”
Future!Serkan understood. “Okay, good. It was nice meeting you,” he said to his own mother.
They smiled at each other, then parted ways.
“Did you send us back here?” Ace asked once they were out of earshot.
“I have no idea. I didn’t even know you came with me.”
“Well, the outside looks different than it should. There aren’t any cars in the parking lot...and it’s snowing...in August. I think all we have to do is walk out of here, and it’ll loop us back to our time.”
“All right, good. Did you study enough of the blueprints?”
“Yes, I know where we need to go.”

Déjà Vu
Serkan and Ace casually walked towards the exit. Ace had been right in that it was snowing outside, but it also wasn’t. It was like there were two different outsides outside; that of the present, and that of the future. They had to focus on one in order to block out the other, but they could always see that other in faded background view. It struck Serkan only then how strange their lives were. They were currently attempting to simply walk back into the future they came from in order to stop evil corporate executives from trying to control the weather. This was after some unseen force threw them back through time in the first place, which was something that apparently happened to them on the regular. This was their life now, and it didn’t feel weird, which was the weirdest part. This shouldn’t feel so normal.
Dismissing his brief existential dilemma, Serkan followed his boyfriend through the door...ending up still in 2013. “What happened?”
Ace stopped and jerked his head around like a pecking chicken. “We must have walked through the wrong one, like in Stonehenge.”
“Or we walked through it the wrong way, or at the wrong moment.”
“Let’s try it again.”
They went back into the mall. Through the glass doors, they could still see the dual time view. They agreed to concentrate all their focus on the winter dangerland, and try again. No, they were still in the past. They continued trying this several times, going through all of the doors methodically, and doing so at deliberately variable intervals. Pretty quickly, they drew a crowd of innocent bystanders who didn’t know what to make of it. One guy asked if they were here all week, and whether they needed a hat so that people could drop money into it for them. The crowd laughed and applauded playfully.
Ace bowed humbly.
“Thanks,” Serkan said to them with almost a curtsy.
“Did you just curtsy?” Ace asked after they finally left the mall to a world that was so 2013, determined to continue their mission in any way they could.
Serkan ignored his comment, and sighed. “What are we gonna do now?”
“We go to High Castle.”
“We can’t do that. The weather won’t be a problem for a full decade.”
“Well, maybe we could go there now and talk them out of ever doing it at all.”
Serkan shook his head. “No, see, what if that conversation is what ends up giving them the idea to manipulate the weather in ten years?”
“If that’s true, then we’re fated to go there anyway, and we don’t have any choice either way.”
“If that’s true then we don’t have to go there, because we’ll end up there anyway. Huh? Huh?” Feeling affectionate, he started pulling at Ace’s muscular arm, and smiling at him with dopey eyes. He was about to say huh one more time when Ace suddenly stopped and looked around. “What? What’s wrong.”
“I thought I heard something,” Ace replied. “And I thought I saw someone out of the corner of my eye.”
“We’re not at home, Ace. There are people around...as there should be.”
“People like us could do with a little paranoia, I would say.”
“I...suppose you’re not wrong.” Serkan looked around as well. “I don’t see anyone, though. Nobody walks anymore.”
“Just the same, we better duck into that service entrance, or whatever it is, so we can look at the map again. Hologram technology isn’t even as advanced as this in 2024.”
As they turned the corner, Serkan did think he saw movement out of the corner of his own eye, but when he took a longer look, again nothing was there. Okay, healthy paranoia. That’s fine. But as they were examining the hologram to determine the best route to High Castle Headquarters—coming to terms with the fact that that was their only logical course of action—they both heard a noise. It was the sound of a galvanized trash can being kicked, and was followed by the sound of something pseudo-whispering dammit.
“Who’s there?” Serkan called out authoritatively while Ace switched the magic phone off and stuffed it into his pocket. “Come out!” he ordered.
A teenager reluctantly appeared from behind a dumpster, hands up as if someone were pointing a gun at him. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m just some kid. Don’t worry ‘bout me.”
“What were you doing following us?”
“I was just...oh, is that Melissa Benoist?” He pointed behind them.
They didn’t look, because no, it wasn’t Melissa Benoist.
“Why? Are? You? Following us?” Ace pressed, inching forward understatedly threateningly.
“Okay, look,” the guy said. “I’m not here to hurt you, I was just curious.”
They both frowned. “Not allowed to be gay where you come from?” Serkan called back.
“Well...in my small town in Oklahoma...no, not really. But that’s not what I mean. I was curious about...time travel.”
Crap.
“I think the convention center is a ways away. You’ll find your science fiction friends there the next time they hold a comic-con, or whatever.”
“Don’t be coy,” he said. “I saw you try to walk through those doors, and it gave me the strangest feeling of déjà vu.” He clarified himself when he saw their reactions, “I mean stranger than déjà vu normally is. And that holophone sure ain’t 2013 tech. Anyway, I...think I’m a time traveler too. Or that I’m supposed to be. I was drawn to Kansas City. Skipped out on summer camp for it. I think I was supposed to meet you two.”
Serkan and Ace gave each other this look, like the eldest child in their village was trying to convince them to let him follow them into battle against the evil overlord who had destroyed their crops, but he can do better for their people if he stays behind and protects the women and children, because that’s an important job too.
“Listen, kid,” Ace started.
“Vearden.”
“Okay, Vearde—Vear...Vearden, really?”
“Yeah...?”
“Interesting name,” Serkan said. “Common in Oklahoma?”
“No...?”
“Look, Vearden,” Ace said bravely. “Yes, we’re time travelers. Mind blown, I’m sure. But we also have a job to do. So we kind of just need to get back to it. I’m sure you have a lot of questions, but we just won’t be able to help you.”
Serkan wanted to try a gentler approach. “We barely understand what’s happening either. Someone else is doing this to us. We’re really just along for the ride.”
“Speaking of rides, do you need one? Nobody walks anymore, and I have car.”
Yes, they could do with a car.
Vearden continued, “if I take you to wherever you’re going, all I ask is that you tell me as much as you can about how this stuff works. I just know that I’m supposed to be part of this. I can feel it. I heard your bizarre conversation, but it was you walking through those doors that really got to me. I assume you thought they were portals.” He started mainly talking to himself, “door portals. That feels so right. Please, ya gotta give me something.”
Serkan looked to Ace, knowing that he would know that he was fully prepared to agree to Vearden’s plea. So it was really up to Ace at point.
Ace looked back and forth between them. Serkan could tell that he had already made his decision, but needed to make it look like he needed more time to consider it, so that they would understand how serious the situation was. “Okay. You give us a ride, and we’ll give you the name of the only person we know who might—might be able to help you. He’s kind of cagey, though.”
“Thanks, you won’t regret this,” Vearden said. He clapped once at his own accomplishment. “Okay, wait here, I’m not parked too far away.”
“Are we sure about this?” Ace asked once Vearden was gone.
“Maybe he’s right. Maybe he was meant to find us.” He looked over to his love. “Maybe we’re literally here for a reason.”
“Maybe,” Ace nodded, on the fence with whether this was a legitimate possibility.
Vearden returned with his vehicle and asked for the address, inputting it into his GPS. He drove it with his hands and feet, like an animal. Serkan couldn’t understand how anyone could stomach living in a world where cars didn’t just freaking drive themselves. It seemed stupid from his perspective.
“Ooooookay, we’re here,” Vearden said as he put his car in park with hand.
“What is this?” Serkan asked.
“This is where my GPS took us. Lenexa, Kansas.”
“Well, your shit 2013 GPS obviously sucks.”
“I didn’t build it, I just bought it.”
Ace calmly took Vearden’s phone and pinched the map to zoom out. He then compared it to the map on Effigy’s skeleton key. “Yeah, this is the right place.”
“Horace, this is a field,” Serkan argued. “We saw High Castle; it’s a giant building. There’s no way this is right.”
“What’s High Castle?” Vearden asked naïvely.
“It’s a company,” Serkan answered impatiently. “Surely you’re heard of it.”
He shook his head. “Nah, sorry. Maybe it’s not founded until the future?”
“That doesn’t make any sense. The company was founded in 1969.”
“Oh, maybe I have heard of that,” Vearden said. “It was a miniseries...on the BBC?”
“No.”
“Or was it SyFy?” Vearden asked himself.
“No, that’s not it.”
“I don’t think they made it,” Vearden continued thinking out loud. “It was based on a book, though. Men in a High Castle. Or no. The Man in the High Castle, there was just one man. It was about time travel.”
Serkan had nearly tuned him out while watching Ace trying to figure out what was going on. “What?”
“The book. It’s about, like, an alternate Nazi world, or something. I never read it.”
“Oh my God,” Serkan said. “Oh my God,” he repeated. “The company wasn’t founded in 1969. Vearden was right.”
“I am?”
“He is?” Ace asked.
“It isn’t founded until the future, but somehow, since they’re time travelers, they find a way to make everyone think they’ve existed for decades. Hell, maybe they opened their doors on the day the winter snow began.”
“It snows in winter?” Vearden asked. “Wow, I guess global warming really is fake.”
“We think High Castle created the snow to stop global warming, actually,” Ace explained.
Serkan jumped back in, “this is why we’re here, not for Vearden. The Gravedigger. He can move people in time. He was first traveler I met.”
“Is that the guy I can talk to about my case?” Vearden asked.
Serkan went on, “we can’t get into the Headquarters, so he sent us back in time to sneak into the building before it’s even built!” He pointed towards the middle of the field in front of them. “I bet if we walk over there, we’ll be thrown back to the future, and on the other side of security.”
“But we have the skeleton key anyway,” Ace pointed out.
“That must not be good enough,” Serkan suggested. It’s best if we’re not seen walking to the building at all. I doubt other employees get in this way, they probably just have regular badges.”
“We don’t need no stinking badges!” Vearden interjected a little too loudly.
Serkan ignored him. “Or Effigy was screwing with us, and that thing isn’t a skeleton key at all.”
“Or he’s screwing with us right now,” Ace suggested.
“Who’s Effigy?”
“I say we try it,” Serkan said definitively. “The worst that happens is we stand in the middle of a field and look stupid for a few minutes.”
“Touché.”
They got out the car. Vearden insisted he follow them, claiming that he never liked 2013 anyway. Apparently ABC cancelled some really good show called The Neighbors. Serkan turned out to be right about what was going to happen. The outline of a building started fading into view, like the dual view in the mall doors.
Unfortunately for Vearden, he wasn’t able to see it, which meant that he would have to stay behind. “Wait! You owe me a name!”
Serkan smiled at him as a wall began to form between them. “Lincoln Rutherford, Esquire! You can find him at Kyle K. Stanley & Associates!” The wall finished forming, followed quickly by all the other walls. They were finally back in 2024, evidently hiding in some kind of closet. Gay joke. Funny.

13 Going on 30
Ace cracked the door open to get a tiny look around. People were walking back and forth. They weren’t paying attention to anything but themselves, but would still notice two guys coming out of a literal closet with no apparent authority to be there. “We didn’t really think this through.”
“We didn’t have all the facts,” Serkan said.
“We should have brought a ladder.”
“You mean like this one?” Serkan stepped back so he could see a step ladder hanging on the wall.”
“I mean one so that we could have climbed to the top of. That way, we would magically appear on the second floor, even deeper beyond security.”
“Again, we couldn’t have known that we would need that.”
“Well...we knew that we were going to an office building. We should have dressed as contractors, or in business suits.”
“You mean like these ones?” Serkan removed two business suits hanging on the wall behind the supply shelves. One was labelled with a big letter S, and the other, an H.”
“Why the hell are those even here? This is for cleaning supplies.”
“It’s like they were left here for us.”
“This doesn’t feel right,” Ace said, worried.
The doorknob started jiggling as someone was trying to open it.  They could hear someone talking from the other side. “Yeah, have a good night, Chip!” it said before starting to mutter under its breath, “you stupid corporate hack.” The door opened, and the voice asked them “why aren’t you two dressed yet?”
“Vearden?” He was much older, say about eleven years.
“Put your suits on. You look ridiculous.”
“How did you find us? How did you know when we would be here?”
He sighed impatiently and tried to close the door behind him. Some random guy asked him what he was doing. “Just having a secret meeting with a couple of time travelers!” he yelled back with a laugh. He then went back to Serkan and Ace. “It didn’t take me that long to figure out where you would end up, based on its distance from the road. Google Maps is a wonderful thing. I also knew you were destined for the summer of 2024, so I positioned myself to be stationed at this building for as long as I needed. Then I just keep an eye on this room.” He pointed to the back corner where they were being watched by a security camera. “Don’t worry, it’s a closed system. It can only be accessed from my account.”
“You work for High Castle?”
“Snowglobe, actually,” Vearden answered. “I figured we could use an inside man with some range. High Castle is not our only threat from this conglomerate.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time?” Ace asked.
Vearden smiled nostalgically, but also with sadness. “It’s been a long journey in this...City of Fountains. You got your math wrong, though. Lincoln Rutherford was far too young to be a lawyer in 2013. I did find Kyle K. Stanley, though. He didn’t own his own practice at the time, but he did give me my first job opportunity.”
“Oh,” Serkan said. “You’re right, I didn’t realize. I’m so sorry, we should have been more careful with you.”
“It’s okay,” Vearden said truthfully. “But you really do need to change your clothes. This place has a strict dress code. Business casual gets you fired, even for the mail guys.”
Serkan and Ace started getting dressed.
“I had to guess on your sizes.”
“Can you get us to the top floor?”
Vearden smiled knowingly. “You don’t want to go to the top floor. You want to go beyond that. And yes, I can get you there. Just be glad this isn’t 2023. It’s taken me forever to learn how to navigate the vator maze.”
“The vator maze. That...sounds...ominous,” Ace said, as he was tying his new shoes.
“It is. This place is confusing as hell. If you’re looking for a particular floor, you better make sure you’re in the right tower, or you won’t make it to the right room.”
Serkan adjusted his tie in a little mirror. “I assume there are secret passageways, like all the best castles had.”
“Boy, are there ever. Come on. This building is most vulnerable during the one o’clock shift change.”
Once he had determined that the coast was clear, Vearden led them across the lobby and into one of the elevators. It had to specifically be the freight elevator, though, or they wouldn’t be able to go where they needed to. As they were moving upwards, he hovered over the buttons and watched the numbers on the screen change, careful to press another one at the precise time required. For instance, when they were passing the second floor, he pressed 8, and when they were passing the third, he pressed 6. Not only was there a code, but you had to enter them at the exact right time. Finally, they stopped midway between twelve and fourteen, the buttons indicating that there was technically no thirteenth floor, presumably due to superstition. But apparently there was, just not one accessible to the general population. Vearden placed his index finger against his lips, then pointed towards the doors, which were not opening. He then reached over and took hold of the safety railing with both hands, using what appeared to be a not insignificant amount of strength to wrench it from its place, taking a section of the wall with it.
Removing that part of the wall showed there to be a second set of elevator doors. Vearden took a quarter out of Ace’s coat pocket and slipped it between the doors. They could hear it drop down. “Dammit,” he whispered. He now took the quarter he had left in Serkan’s pocket and dropped it into the crack more carefully. It fell it its slot, and opened the doors for them. Once they were through to the other side, Vearden pulled the false wall back in place, and pushed a button to close the secret doors. “Every Snowglobe subsidiary’s headquarters has a secret thirteenth floor,” he said, still in a low voice. “Many people know this, and even work there. Not even they know that there’s a secret section of the secret floor only accessible to an even more elite few.”
“You’re one of those few?” Ace asked.
“No. Infiltration is a complex process. We are still not anywhere close to knowing everything there is to know.”
“Who’s we?”
“We need to get going,” Vearden said, ignoring the question.
“Is this where the leader guy works?” Serkan asked.
“Not quite. It just gets us there. We still have a ways to go.”
Vearden continued to lead them through a series of doors, elevators, and passageways in a secret section of the building. At one point, they had to duck into this weird hobbit hole closet. They did not encounter a single other person on their way, or really any evidence that anyone else had ever been there. Except that it was always so clean. When they asked him about it, Vearden just said that The Custodian has been doing his job right. They traveled up, down, and around. One elevator even moved in several different directions, according to the right combination of buttons. Like, it’s one thing to make it hard for people to get into your secret building, but this would make it hard for you too. Even with muscle memory letting you enter all these codes, and navigate this maze, it would still take at least fifteen minutes to get through the whole thing. Was it worth not just, ya know, investing in better locks, or something? Or just build your evil lair in a volcano so that people won’t try to get there anyway.
He kept walking with a purpose, never having to stop and make sure that he was going the right way. If he hadn’t been here before, then he was certainly confident in whatever was telling him where to go. But then something happened that gave him pause. They turned a corner to find a set of double doors, which didn’t seem all that weird to Serkan and Ace based on everything else that was happening, but Vearden was concerned. “This...this is not supposed to be here.”
“Are you sure?”
He removed a paper tablet that had been stuffed into the back of his pants and started examining it, pinching and swiping through a set of blueprints and instructions. “No, it’s definitely not on the map.”
“Well, maybe it’s not on the map because it isn’t important,” Serkan suggested. “We go down the hallway regardless, right?”
“Right, but...” Vearden agreed, still confused.
Just then, the doors that didn’t belong swung open, revealing two women standing at the entrance to a lush botanical garden. “Vearden,” one of them exclaimed in excitement. “You’re alive.”
“Gretchen,” the other said. “This is 2024. It’s an alternative version of him; the one from this timeline. He doesn’t know you.”
Should I know you?” Vearden asked.
“We’re married,” Gretchen said.
“Gretchen, stop!” the other ordered.
“Shut up, Danuta!” Gretchen yelled back.
“It’s not him!”
“It is him!” Gretchen argued. “We can contact The Warrior, or even Nerakali. One of them can bring my Vearden back. I can’t believe I never thought of this before.”
“He’s clearly busy,” Danuta argued back. “Plus, look how confused he is. He has no idea what brain blending is. It goes against our code to involve him in our affairs.”
“Screw the code!”
“Uh, hi,” Vearden finally jumped in. “You know an alternate version of me? And he died?” He took a few beats. “And you and I are married?”
“Not just that.” Gretchen took a half step forward, but was trying to be careful. “But we’re also in love. I can restore your memories. Well...I personally can’t, but I know someone who can. He or she will blend your mind with that of the alternate version, and you’ll remember all the lives you’ve lived.”
“Gretchen,” Danuta pleaded. “We can’t do this.”
“I’m standing at the cusp of a shadow dimension,” Vearden told her. “I’m informed enough to make that decision on my own.”
“See?” Gretchen asked Danuta rhetorically. “Still my beautiful Vearden Haywood. I told you we would see each other again, doorwalker.”
He looked back at Serkan and Ace, weighing his options. He then presented the paper tab with the map on it. “This is important,” he said of it. Then he looked back to the garden, and the mysterious Gretchen. But this is important to me.” He handed the map to Ace. “You’ll figure it out. I have to do this.”
“We understand,” Ace said.
Serkan wasn’t feeling so generous, but kept his mouth shut.
Vearden ceremoniously stepped across the threshold and into the impossible garden. He turned back and smiled at them. “Oh, and one more thing. The next time you see Slipstream, remind her that she owes me a favor, and let her know that I’ve transferred that favor to you.”
How does he know Slipstream?
Danuta reluctantly closed the doors, which promptly disappeared.

The Man in the High Castle
It wasn’t that much farther through the secret castle maze, though Serkan and Ace did get turned around a few times. The map wasn’t so much a map as it was a vague set of instructions. Imagine directions for the assembly of a piece of furniture that are in English, but with the words out of order. That’s kind of what it was like to read the map, but they eventually found their destination, though they still weren’t quite sure exactly what it was that had found.
A thirtysomething man was sitting at his desk in the middle of a field outside, his assistant off to the side, busy with her own work. They were halfway outside, but also not. The space above them would listlessly drift between a ceiling and the open sky, like something out of a Harry Potter movie. The man was casually talking on the phone, and did not appear to be at all surprised to see two strangers just waltz into his magical field office. He waved them towards him with his fingers as he was finishing up his conversation. “Yeah, don’t worry about. I’m sure ol’ Rothy boy is okay. All right, well give me a call when you find it. Thanks, Moomoo.” He cradled the phone and smiled at the two intruders. “You finally made it. I would love to say you made it record time, but the truth is you’re on the wrong side of the spectrum.” He glanced at his watch. “Most people find this place faster. That map there was stunting your intuition.”
“What is this place?”
“My home. Welcome to prehistoric Kansas City.”
“We went back in time?” Serkan asked.
“It’s more that we brought the past up to us, and merged it with the present.”
“Were you expecting us?” Ace asked of him.
“I knew that someone would notice the bad weather we’re havin’. I figured Kolby, or someone else from Beaver Haven, would show up, though.”
“What’s Beaver Haven?”
“A prison.”
Ace tried to get them back on track. “You’re the one creating the snow?”
The man looked at him like he was being just so rude, but then extended his hand. “Hello, I’m Keanu ‘Ōpūnui. Nice to meet you...you who would break into my home and toss around accusations.”
“You’re too young to be the founder of this company.”
Keanu shrugged. “My friend, Moomoo keeps me young, and also I think you already know that I didn’t really found this company in the 60s. I wasn’t even born yet!”
“Does that even matter?” Serkan asked.
“No, in our line of business, I guess not.”
“You treat time travel as a business,” Ace said, again accusatorily, and not in the form of a question.
“What else would the point of it be?”
“Does there have to be a point?”
“Good point.” He smiled at his own joke. “Look, that company website didn’t lie entirely, just about the details. I really do want to fix climate change.”
“Do you imagine that it’s working?”
“Well, this is just the testing ground,” Keanu said. “I’ll take care of the whole planet after we gather enough data.”
“This can’t possibly work,” Ace said. “You can’t just turn on the world’s air conditioning and expect to fix the climate. The underlying problems are still there. We’ll still have pollution, poor regulations, and other concerns. All you’re doing is covering it up. Will your weather machine last forever?”
“What weather machine? Do you think I’m just doing this with technology?”
“You’re not?” Serkan couldn’t think of any alternatives.
“We’re time travelers, of course it’s not just tech. You think my teleporting friend, Conchita ever drives electric cars?”

“Well, I can’t speak for Conchita,” Ace said. “But we assumed you stole the machine from the future, which is something a normal person couldn’t do.”
“Ah, I guess that makes a sort of sense,” Keanu admitted, “but no. That’s not necessary; not when you can mesh instead.”
“What’s meshing?” Serkan was feeling dumb with all these questions.
“Meshes are like time windows,” Keanu said, excited to have the opportunity to explain this. “But instead of the proverbial glass, the window is opened. You can’t get through, like with a time door, but the environment can cross the barrier.”
“The window screen,” Ace said in understanding.
Keanu pointed to him like he’d won a gold star sticker. “Exactly. I open time windows, but leave the mesh in place. So I didn’t actually create the weather. We’re just sharing it with a different time and place; 1740s Arctic, to be exact.”
That was kind of cool, Serkan had to admit, but only to himself.
Keanu went on, “it’s a good thing I’m limited to this, otherwise I’d probably be like Kayetan, and not try to save the planet.”
“How many time manipulators do you know?”
“All of them,” Keanu answered ominously, but then he winked, as if to say, not really.
“You’ve still not explained how your time power can fix climate change. If you’re doing this yourself, rather than by a machine, then it’s even worse. You will one day die.”
Keanu opened his top drawer and removed an object from it, setting it on top of his desk. “Do you know what that is?”
Serkan peered at it, but it didn’t look familiar. Ace, on the other hand, thought he recognized it. “Well, it looks like the old Analion building. The one that shut down after a bunch of people died from their products, and the building itself.”
“That’s right. I actually once worked there, as one of its many vice presidents. But the building itself is what’s important. It houses what we in the business call an echo chamber.” He turned it over, like a professor at a technical institute, explaining the intricacies of a particular part. “A cone inside of a cylinder. Seems simple enough, but that’s just its basic shape.” He used his pinkie finger to point to various details. “Every line matters, though. Every corner, every room’s dimension; it all helps us focus our energy.” He tossed it at Serkan who had to think fast enough to catch it. “Here ya go, you can keep that one, I have loads. It might come in handy one day.”
Serkan looked it over himself. It seemed innocuous enough. “What does it do again?”
“I’ve told you that I’m a time mesher. That’s all I can do, but my friend can cross dimensional boundaries.” He removed another replica of the Analion building; one that was much nicer and sturdier. “We trapped his power in this thing so I can show you how people are reacting outside.” He smiled smugly and pointed his toy to the side like it was a remote control, but nothing happened. “I said, this is how people are reacting outside!” He inspected it to make sure it was working. Apparently what he didn’t know was that Serkan had the ability to prevent other people from using their own time powers.
“Having trouble performing?”
Keanu’s assistant stopped what she was doing, calmly stood up, and took a hammer from her desk. She began to walk around like she was in some kind of uncontrollable stupor.
“Wait, wait! Don’t do this!” he ordered her, but it was pointless. He directed his attention back to Serkan. “What did you do?”
“Oh, did you not know what I was?” Serkan asked him haughtily, smirking in a way that was a bit out of his character.
He went back to trying to stop his assistant, “nope! Don’t! I’ll get my powers back, and you’ll regret this.”
“We can’t let her hurt him, no matter her reasons,” Ace said to Serkan. He tried to approach the woman, but she effortlessly pushed him to the ground.
She lifted the hammer in the air, and Serkan squinted as he was helping his boyfriend back up, not wanting to see this happen, but also conflicted by how he was supposed to feel about it. His worry was unwarranted, however, for when her arm dropped, it was nowhere near Keanu. Instead, it landed on what was presumably the handle to one of his other desk drawers. Still in a sort of autopilot, she sifted through its contents, and retrieved what she was presumably looking for.
“Put! That! Down!” Keanu yelled to her like a disappointed father.
It was just a piece of paper, so Serkan wasn’t sure what danger it could pose, though to be fair, they couldn’t see what was on the front. The other two seemed to feel that it was important. She looked at him with a seething rage, and Serkan wondered if she was considering going ahead and using the hammer against him physically, even though she had theoretically gotten what she came from. She ended up deciding against it, but did feel the need to slowly raise her arm and show him her middle finger. To him she said, “you have already regretted this.” To Serkan and Ace she said, “it was nice to see you again as little babies. Adorbs.” She then switched her gaze to the paper, and literally disappeared.
As soon as she was gone, Keanu began to scream. He lifted his right arm, which was already bubbling in the midst of a strange temporal disturbance. The tips of his fingers disappeared, and then the rest of his fingers. The hand went afterwards before the effect continued up his arm, accelerating by every second. Time was somehow gobbling up his body, or at least part of it. The bubbling did stop once it reached his shoulder. The pain seemed to go away fairly soon thereafter, but his panic was not yet over. He kept screaming from having lost that arm. “Bitch paradoxed me!”
Serkan and Ace didn’t know what to think, but a part of them couldn’t help but be pleased.
“What are you so happy about? You’re about to die. Newsflash: this building never existed! It’s been paradoxed out of the timestream!”
“You mean...” Ace began.
Keanu nodded emphatically. “Yeah. You’re evidently immune to time powers, so I guess you’re stuck with the temporal corruption.”
“What is exactly is going to happen?”
No sooner that Ace uttered the words did the sky around them began to warp and collapse. The grass and trees before them shriveled up and disappeared. This destruction followed them from the distance, like a horde of oncoming langoliers. Once it had caught up to them, Keanu disappeared along with everything else, leaving them stranded in the middle of the sky, thirty stories up from the ground. They began falling towards the roof of the High Castle building, but it too disappeared before they could reach it. One by one, the floors and ceilings of every floor bent, shuttered, and blinked away so they could continue to fall towards their inevitable death.

A Sound of Thunder
If this were an unrealistic action film—one that, for some reason, featured a gay couple—Serkan and Ace would have taken the time to hold hands and look into each other’s eyes one last time. And this time would last a lot longer than it would actually take to fall from x amount of height. The picture would probably smash to black just before the characters hit the ground, spending a few seconds of suspenseful silence before starting the music score and credits, letting the audience know that this truly is the end. But what’s happening here isn’t an unrealistic action film. It’s an unrealistic slipstream fiction story, and in this story, there exists a series of walking deus ex machinas known as Saviors. In recent times, there has only been one Savior alive at once. It is their job to teleport all over the world, and save people’s lives, before zipping away to save somebody else. Of course, this was not Serkan and Ace’s end. Having been from the future, Serkan didn’t think it was either, because Ace should still be alive come two years, but it was also possible that he changed things by time traveling. There was just no telling what would happen, because he didn’t have all the information. One important bit of information he was missing was that the two of them were in the best position to take care of something for a powerful group of people. These people needed the two of them to remain alive, at least for now. So they sent their Savior to rescue them.
Just before Serkan hit the ground, he felt something around his waist, and then found himself standing safely in a sparsely wooded area. The snow was gone. Ace was standing next to him, just as confused as he was. A woman was resting her hands on her knees and panting. “I hate the falling ones,” she said in between breaths. “I wish I could apport people. That would make my job a lot easier.”
“Thank you for saving us,” Ace said to her, even without knowing her motives.
“Don’t mention it.” She reached to her back, but came up with nothing. She touched her shoulders, and then started looking around. “Where the hell’s my bag?”
“Maybe you dropped it at the castle,” Serkan suggested.
“What castle?”
“Do you know how far we are from where you caught us?” Ace asked her.
“Are we even in the same time period?” Serkan added.
“I’m not a time traveler,” the woman explained. “And no. They don’t tell me where I’m going. But yeah, I must have dropped it wherever that was.”
Ace introduced himself, which prompted Serkan to do the same.
“Daria Matic,” she said. “Salmon Savior.” She looked around again, but it was more like she was taking in her environment. “I don’t know why I’m still here, though. They should be sending me off.”
“Perhaps they wanted you to stay long enough for me to cook a thank-you meal,” Ace said.
She pointed to his stomach. “Are you the guy with the quiche?”
This surprised them both. True, that was his go-to move for getting people to like him, but he wasn’t famous, or anything. “Uhh...I believe I am.”
She nodded and took a deep breath to finally get back to equilibrium. “Sounds good. Where are we, by the way? They wouldn’t have had me teleport us very far from where you’re supposed to be.”
“Kansas City,” Serkan said, pulling up the Escher Card to find their exact location. “Ever been?”
Daria looked longingly to the distance. “My home.”
They made their way back to the city through a ride-sourcing service. All the while, Daria stared out the window, admiring the sites. “City of Fountains,” she whispered to herself. “Hey, who runs this town now?”
Serkan wasn’t sure what kind of answer she was looking for, or how long she had been gone, so he just did his best. “The Tracers.”
She nodded. “Slipstream alive?”
“Uh, she should be?” he answered.
“What about Fairware?”
“What’s that?”
“Never mind.” She smashed her face against the glass. “Mendoza Park?”
“Yeah, it was named after—”
Daria interrupted him, “he died?” She looked down at the floor and thought for a few moments. “I’ll need to see his grave.”
“We can do that. I just have to find out where it is,” Serkan explained.
“I don’t know how long I have.”
“We’re here,” the driver announced.
“Take me to Slipstream,” Daria demanded.
“I don’t know who that is, lady,” the driver retorted. “If you don’t request the destination, I can’t take ya there.”
“Here’s fine,” Ace said as he was stepping out. “Now we have our own car.”
Once they were out, Serkan said to their new friend, “I can’t let Slipstream see me. I’m from a couple years in the future. She’ll never understand.”
“That shows how much you know about Slippy. But if you won’t take me to her, then I suppose Kyle Stanley will do.”
“Kyle Stanley?” he asked. “The lawyer?”
“Yeah, don’t tell me seeing him will interrupt your timeline too.”
“I don’t...think so,” he replied. “I never met him. I only ever worked with Rutherford, and he’s never been much help.”
“I just wanna find my friend’s grave. Stanley will know.”
Before either of them could assure her that they would help, the snow returned. It didn’t just start falling. At first, it would blink back into existence, and then blink out. It did this a few times, like the interface of a cracked phone struggling to keep the screen on after having been in the toilet. The three of them could see that something was wrong, but people in the street seemed to be part of it. They too would spontaneously switch between summer clothes and winter clothes, without having any clue that anything was changing.
“What’s...going on here?” Daria asked.
“We don’t really know. I guess I thought someone went back in time and stopped the snow from ever happening, but maybe Keanu found a way around it.”
This scared her. “Keanu? You’re dealing with a Snowglober?”
“Yeah, so it would seem.”
“Oh my God,” she said, more frightened than ever, “I have to get away from you two.” Just as she turned to put distance between them, the weather stopped oscillating, and remained in its wintery state.
Former founder of High Castle Corporation, Keanu ‘Ōpūnui appeared suddenly to block her way. He was still missing one arm. “You must be the Savior.”
She slowly back away. Ace and Serkan shielded her about as well as was possible when dealing with someone who could manipulate time.
Keanu continued, “don’t worry, I cannot hurt her. The powers that be would be all over me about that. You, on the hand, are fair game.”
“We didn’t do this to you. It was that woman you were keeping as some sort of slave.”
“Yes. I didn’t actually come for you.” He nodded to their house. “I hear she lives here. I was hoping to pay her a visit and return a favor she did for me.” He presented his shoulder stub.
We live here,” Ace told him.
“Exactly.”
“What?”
“Ugh,” he sighed. “You two will never understand time travel.” He started heading for the front steps. “Anyway, I have to go kill your daughter.”
With zero hesitation, Ace planted his leg in front of Keanu’s, and then slammed his face right onto the pavement. The snow was painted red...and could probably go for a cool mil if seen by the right obnoxiously rich white people. Keanu calmly picked himself up, wiped his mouth, and dialed his phone. “Twenty seconds oughta do it.—Thanks Jesi.”
Time suddenly started rewinding. They could perceive their own actions in reverse, but could do nothing to alter them...not until time restarted at its normal pace, and in the proper direction.
“Let’s try this again,” Keanu proposed. Again, he started walking towards their house, and again, Ace forced him to the ground.
“I don’t care how many time friends you have!” Ace yelled at him. “I’ll never stop droppin’ you down!”
Keanu stood up, but did not wipe the blood from his face this time. Instead, he aggressively placed it right in front of Ace’s. “You think you have any power? You think you’re safe? You think your daughter’s safe in that pocket world? I got a friend who can cross dimensions, bitch! You can’t stop us!”
Ace moved his feet in closer. “That’s the second time you’ve used that term. The third will come with consequences.”
Keanu lowered his voice and looked at Ace with crazy eyes. I said biiiiiiiiiiiiiii...”
Ace reached up and struck Keanu in his throat, which caused him to stumble backwards and try to protect himself. Ace wasn’t done, though. He punched Keanu in the face with a nice right hook. Keanu’s arm broke his fall, but Ace took this opportunity to kick him right in the stomach. He then proceeded to whale on Keanu’s face over and over again, each blow as chilling as thunder. Serkan tried to pull him away, but wasn’t strong enough. “Think you can talk on the phone now? Who ya gonna call? Huh? HUH!? You killed her. You killed Leona, you piece of shit!”
“STOP!” Serkan ordered.
Ace looked up to see a few bystanders on the sidewalk, a couple of them holding their phones down at the scene.
“Who the hell is Leona?” Serkan asked after someone he thought he knew stood back up and hunted for his breath.
“I don’t know,” he answered before starting to walk away. “I don’t know,” he repeated, mostly to himself.

Timeline
This was a side to Horace Reaver that Serkan had never seen, and hoped he never would. From what little Lincoln said on the matter, Ace was not a great person in some alternate timeline. Exactly how the timeline they lived in was created was not something they knew, but they had decided to leave it alone. Trying to learn more about this other version of Ace could do them absolutely no good. Their best bet was always to distance themselves from it as much as possible, and continue on with their lives as if they had never heard anything about it. Unfortunately, it was starting to look like that wasn’t going to be possible. Upon contacting some other friend, Keanu disappeared, leaving Serkan, Ace, and their new friend, Daria literally out in the cold. So the three of them went into the house to figure things out. For now, Daria was waiting in the other room so the two of them could discuss some personal issues.
“She’s our daughter,” Ace said in his own defense before Serkan had had a chance to say anything.
“I know that.”
Ace was still operating in fight or flight mode, with enough adrenaline pumping through his body to power a city. He paced back and forth, which Serkan wanted to stop, but it was actually probably gradually dissipating his frustration. “I’m not going to let that man hurt her. Whatever she does in the future, she’s just a little kid right now. I have to protect her.”
“I’m not saying we don’t, but you have to remember that we’re dealing with people who can manipulate the spacetime continuum. Keanu even said that he knows someone who can enter other dimensions, which is where Paige is right now.”
“Exactly! So I couldn’t just let it go.”
“Beating him into the snow wasn’t going to help anybody. We have no idea what kind of power these people have. Petty human tactics don’t work anymore. We have to be smart.”
“Oh yeah, and how do you suppose we defeat them? You say they have powers, right? Well, if that’s true, and we can’t even begin to comprehend, then I guess all we have in our arsenal are our bare hands. Savages fighting a nuclear bomb with rocks and sticks might sound foolish, but they can’t disarm it with their rocket scientists, because they don’t have any! I have fists, I don’t have powers, so that was my only choice.”
“Words are a choice.”
“Words mean nothing. People talk all the time, nothing gets done. All change has been executed with action. Sometimes that action is violence.”
“I’m not going to believe that,” Serkan said.
Ace had calmed down somewhat, or maybe he was just crashing. “Well, that’s where you and I differ.”
“That’s what I’m worried about.”
“I’m sorry you had to see that,” Ace said after gathering his thoughts. “But maybe it’s best it happens now, rather than later. That’s always been in me. When Rutherford said I did bad things in the other timeline, I wasn’t surprised. And I was glad when The Delegator sent Ulinthra to wherever he did, because I could see in her eyes that she’s even more dangerous...because she doesn’t have you.”
“Then use me,” Serkan pleaded. “Whatever it is that I provide for you that stops you from becoming whatever it is you think you are, hold onto it. Whenever the anger starts building inside, picture me. Give my avatar that anger...and I’ll take care of it.”
He took a deep breath. “I could try that. We still need to do something about Paige. She isn’t safe here. This much is true”
Serkan nodded, because he certainly agreed with it. It Keanu really could get into Bran’s secret dimension—and all evidence pointed to this being the ase—then she would probably be in even more danger than if she were just with them in the real world.
“Give her to me.” Daria had come into the room, as if she had been listening to them the entire time.
“What do you mean?”
“This mission has taken too long,” she told them. “Most last minutes...seconds even. I get in, save a life, and get out. I don’t stick around. When the powers that be leave me in one place for an extended period of it, it’s usually because there’s some kind of perpetual threat that can’t be fixed with just one quick jump.”
“Where can you take her?”
“I can’t go anywhere off Earth, but I can run. And I can hide. The powers won’t let this chooser group catch us. I’m sure of it. Bring her back from wherever she is, and I’ll take her away from this.”
Ace and Serkan looked to each other to see if either of them had any objections, but they didn’t. Maybe it was the wrong choice, but they were already trusting Kallias Bran with her, who they barely knew. That didn’t mean they could just pass her out to anyone they came across, but they had to believe that there were genuinely good people out there. Keanu and his friends could be playing the long con by sending Daria with lies, but that wasn’t any more or less plausible than someone who could open dimensional portals.
“Okay,” Ace said.
As Ace ushered Daria to stand around the corner, Serkan took out the Escher Card and hovered it over the wall where they had first used the original Escher Knob. This was as good a time as any to test this new time object, and it proved functional. The portal opened, revealing Paige and Kallias sitting on the couch, watching cartoons.
“Is it over?” Bran asked.
“Can I come back home?” Paige asked.
Serkan just shook his head. “It’s just no longer safe here.”
Bran stood up. “Where can she go?”
Now Ace shook his head. “You can’t know that.”
Bran completely understood. “Okay.”
Paige gave her babysitter a hug, grabbed her backpack, and headed for the portal. “Remember. You owe me that camera.”
“I’ll find one,” Bran told her with a kind smile. “Somewhere. Some time.”
Once Serkan closed the portal, it was safe to let Daria come back around. They needed to keep Bran from seeing her to compartmentalize the plan. The less he knew, the better. Daria knelt down to Paige’s level and reached out her hand in greeting. “Hi, my name is—” But before she could finish her sentence, they both disappeared. As soon as her fingers touched Paige’s, they were connected.
By then, Ace had calmed down so much that was seemed stoic and detached. “I sure hope we’re right about her.”
“We know Paige grows up to be—what was she, twentysomething? Maybe thirties?”
“Yes,” Ace agreed in monotone, “but we do not know what happens to her along the way. Obviously she makes enemies on her own.”
“Let’s hope for the best, and plan for the worst,” Serkan mused. “What we need to do right now is figure out how we’re gonna deal with our Keanu problem. Clearly he never needed his company to alter the weather. And now we see how serious he is about keeping to whatever his grand plan will turn out to be.”
“We need...an edge,” Ace continued the conversation. “An advantage. We need to find some way to surprise him. Even if he’s powerful enough to handle it, maybe it’ll be enough to stop him just because he doesn’t see it coming.”
“You mean something other than the Escher Card?”
A young man they had never seen before came up from the stairs, looking like a house-sitting nephew of a work friend who didn’t realize they had already returned from vacation. “Maybe it’s not something you need, but someone.” Were people just gonna waltz into their lives as if scripted? Maybe their lives really were being controlled by these powers that be people were always going on about.
Ace put himself into fighting stance, ready to get that adrenaline flowing again. Serkan did the same. “Who are you, and how did you get in here?”
“Whoa,” the teenager said, “it’s cool. We’re cool. I got the key you taped to the underside of your neighbor’s doghouse. Very clever of you; keeping it close enough to walk to, but far enough that random intruders wouldn’t be likely to find it, but also secure in a spot that doesn’t generally move.”
“You can’t be all three impressed, smart enough to have found it, and confident enough to have used it,” Serkan pointed out.
“Fair assessment. She told me where it was.” He just nodded to the wall, as if someone were standing next to him. “I know you can’t see her, but she’s there.”
Serkan actually believed it. A ghost certainly wouldn’t be the craziest thing he had encountered over the last year. Still, he had some snark to spill. “And are the voices telling you to hurt people, or yourself?”
“It’s nothing like that. We help people. I’m from the future,” he claimed. Further than you are. And I’ve come back to bootstrap my life.”
“You what?” Ace probably didn’t believe him at all.
“The time we’re in right now is a temporal crossroads. From here, many possible timeline branches can form. I’m here to make sure that the branch I come from is the one that’s ultimately chosen. If I don’t...” he nodded to the wall again, “...she’s never born, and my life never has purpose.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” Ace asked impatiently
“I travel backwards in time, changing history for the better. It’s what I do. It’s my...gift. But I wasn’t the first. If you don’t act...if I can’t get you to help us, my predecessor will die before she has a chance to start her own mission.”
“You change history for the better?” Ace asked.
“Yes.”
“You could even say that you...put right what once went wrong?”
“See, that’s funny,” the stranger said. “My predecessor loves movies and TV. She would appreciate that reference so hard.”
“What exactly are you expecting us to do?” Serkan asked of him.
“You have to save her life.”
“Whose life?”
“Quivira. Quivira Boyce. Also known as The Renegade.”

The Lake House
“Quivira? Was she named after the street?” Serkan asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” Ace said, taking charge. “We’re kind of in the middle of our own crisis. We don’t have time for anything else. I’m sorry, but you’re just gonna have to find some other way.”
“The way is clear. I know the way. You are the way.”
“We don’t even know your name.”
“I go by many names.”
“Well, great, Bob. I’ma call you Bob. Or no, Not Bob. You’re Not Bob.” Sassy Ace was about the same as regular Ace.
“Look,” Not Bob, said, “I know this might be difficult for you to understand, but there are bigger things at play than just a little snow. By measure, Keanu’s thing isn’t all that big of a deal. His friends are far worse, and they have no intention of stopping. We need you. Quivira is important.”
“Right now, I don’t care about the snow either. I’m just trying to protect my daughter.”
“Well, then, if you’re not going to listen to me, perhaps you’ll listen to a voice your trust.” He started taking something out of his bag.
“We don’t trust many people,” Serkan said.
“This person you do.” He removed a polaroid camera, and carelessly took a picture of whatever was in view at the time as he was swinging it around. By the time he had the chance to put the photo away, the woman they now knew to be an older Paige teleported herself in.
Ace lunged to hug her, but resisted. He didn’t know what she’d been through, or how she felt about them anymore. “Paige.”
“Hi, dad. I can’t stay long, but you need to follow this guy. Keanu is just the tip of the snowflake.” It would seem that photographs were some sort of transportation technique for her, which was fitting since she was holding a camera when they first met her. She took out a phone and started sifting through an album.
Serkan could kind of see over her shoulder. “Are those pictures of us?”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve seen you,” Future!Paige said. “But we’ve had a lot of good years together. It won’t always be this bad. I can’t tell you much about what happens, of course, but know that the three of us always have each other’s backs.” She had presumably found the picture she was looking for. “I’ll see you later, and you’ll see me soon.” She disappeared.
“Well,” Ace said to Not Bob, “it looks like you have your wish.”
Not Bob nodded. “I have a car waiting for us outside.” He lifted his arm to let them pass first.
As Serkan was heading down the steps, he could hear Ace confront Not Bob, probably under the impression that Serkan was out of earshot. “We’ll help you now, but if you ever use my family against me again, make no mistake, I will kill you. In another life, I was a pro.”
Not Bob was scared shitless.
Wanting to avoid another fight, Serkan kept quiet, and just left the house. A couple years back, some now-defunct company produced this weird clamshell car with no navigation controls, and a door that locked from the outside only. It was designed to transfer prisoners, but it never took off. The few hundred models that had already made it through production were being kept in a warehouse somewhere in Tennessee, but it wasn’t well protected. A group of criminals, who were never caught, made their way in, and managed to steal almost every single one of the models. They had been floating around the country, and some internationally, ever since. It was illegal to send one on the road, but not to just have one sitting in front of your house, which was why the one Serkan was standing next to now was being left alone.
“We can’t get in this thing,” Serkan said.
“It’s perfectly safe,” Not Bob tried to assure him.
“This feels like a trick,” Serkan responded.
“You heard Future!Paige.”
“This feels like a trick!” Ace repeated.
“This is the only way to get to Quivira. We don’t have time to fly to Wisconsin.”
“Oh, but a car gets us there faster?”
“It’s a magic car,” Not Bob said with a smile. “The Chauffeur built it himself, with help from The Weaver, of course.”
“Oh, of course,” Ace said sarcastically.
Not Bob stepped in first to show them that he was not trying to lock them up. They were in there for only a few seconds before it evidently teleported them all to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, right next to a lake. They removed all their winter clothing, and left. They walked about a mile before coming upon a house. Nice, well-maintained, secluded, but clearly not built a hundred years ago. There were a few too many windows for Serkan’s taste, but the area did look like a great place to run.
Then they saw it. Through the windows, they spotted a woman place a chair into position right under a noose. Serkan froze. As much of a runner as he was, springing into action wasn’t one of his strengths. He was no scaredy cat, but he hadn’t found himself in any emergency situation before. Still, he wished he had been stronger. Fortunately, Ace was fast enough for the both of them. He ran down the hill to the front door, which was locked, so he kicked it in like a federal agent. Finally, Serkan broke out of his fugue state, and followed him in. Ace was already slowly walking around the woman, trying to give her a berth, but ready to take action, if necessary.
“Who the hell are you?” she asked from the chair; the only piece of furniture in the room.
“We’re here to help,” Ace answered gently.
“You can’t help me,” she replied.
“If you tell us the problem, maybe there’s something we can try.”
“There’s nothing you can do.”
“Maybe there is. You don’t know what we’re capable of.”
“Can you go back in time and stop me from making the biggest mistake of my life?”
That was an interesting question. He looked to Serkan, and gave off a slight shrug. “We may be able to accommodate that, yes.”
“Don’t be an asshole,” she said before starting to place the noose around her neck.
“Wait!” Ace pleaded. “It’s not a joke. We are time travelers. We weren’t just walking along the lake. We were sent here to help...by another time traveler.”
“And who would want to save me?”
“Well...” Ace looked around. “Where the hell did he go?” he whispered to Serkan.
“I thought he was here.” He looked out the windows, but Not Bob was gone. “Maybe he had fulfilled his purpose by getting us here.” Or maybe he was just worried Ace would kill him.
“That’s right,” Ace said, turning that news into an opportunity. “His job was to bring us here, and my job is to bring you down from there.”
“Then what’s his job?” the woman asked, indicating Serkan. That was a good question too. He would be useless in this situation. He had no idea how to help this woman, either as a time traveler, or an empathetic human. He had empathy, but no training or predisposition to use it effectively for something like this. He had turned eighteen, but in the end, he was still just a kid.
“He’s here to save me,” Ace said quietly.
This gave her a reason to stop what she was doing.
“Now, your name is Quivira, right? Quivira Boyce?”
“It is, yes.” She didn’t seem too bothered that he knew her name.
“I feel like a knew a Boyce once. “Gavin...or Gideon, maybe?”
“My parents were gonna name me Gilbert if I had been born a boy.”
“Hmm.”
They stood in silence for a moment.
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Ace probed.
“If you can go back in time—if you really can, then I would want nothing more. Otherwise, we have nothing to talk about.”
“If we do find a way back, we’ll need to know what we’re doing. So start there, and we’ll see what happens. Deal?”
“Okay.” She stepped off of the chair, and sat in it. Then she waited until she could figure out what to say. “I’m not a good person. My parents were civil servants, working their whole lives to serve a country that never gave a fuck about them. When it came time for me to become an adult, I couldn’t, because I didn’t have very many options. I could shovel shit at a zoo, or I could take what I wanted. I chose the one with less cleanup. It started out small, as you might expect. Most people don’t break into Fort Knox on their first day. A little shoplifting here, a few car stereos there. Then I went on to credit card scams, and ATM skimming. Eventually, though, I started actually putting people in danger. I cased houses so I could rob them when they were on vacation, but there were a few miscalculations. The worst one was three weeks ago. I got away with something I shouldn’t have, and it’s been eating me up the whole time.
“It’s worse than you think. Yes, I killed someone, but it’s who I killed that matters in this story. At first, I just saw him. He must have realized what was going on in his house before I knew he was there, because he already had his gun. I didn’t carry weapons, so all I could do was hope he didn’t do anything stupid while we waited for the cops to arrive. He was angry, though. He kept screaming at me, trying to find out where my partner was. I didn’t have a partner, but he didn’t believe me. It was a huge mansion, so he just figured I was working with a team. I guess he had seen Home Alone a few too many times. He was waving the gun around, and growing more and more agitated by the second. I don’t think he knew how to use that thing; he just bought it for protection. I just could not convince him that I was alone, and that I wasn’t dangerous. I wanted his stuff, but I didn’t want anyone to get hurt.” She kind of got lost in her own thoughts. “I just wanted his stuff...”
They waited patiently until she was ready to get back into it. “The floorboards creaked behind him, and I assume he thought it was one of my people. But the hallway was dark, and he was flustered, and he couldn’t think straight, and he wasn’t trained to only point a gun at something he wanted to shoot...and to be sure what he was shooting deserved to be shot. He just swung around and fired. It was his son. Maybe seven or eight. He had come up to help his father stop the bad man. At least...that’s the story I made up in my head, because the kid didn’t make it. Way it looked, he died pretty quickly. I tried to console the father, but of course, I was the last person who could do any good in that situation. He decided that he wasn’t going to live in a world without his son, so after spending some time sobbing over the body, he lifted the gun to his temple, and left this world.
“It was like he completely forgot about me. In fact, he had never gotten the chance to call the police. Upon realizing this, I put everything back, wiped my prints, and walked away. There was no evidence that I was there, or at least as far as I knew. I had completely resigned myself to the fact that a SWAT team would soon break down my door. But they never did. I was fine. Two people were dead; one a child, and I was free to do it again. I’ve tried moving on with my life, but can’t.”
“I remember this,” Serkan said, possibly insensitively. “It was on the news. They say a father accidentally shot his son, so he killed himself.”
“Yes, it was national news. But they didn’t say anything about a robbery, because I was just that good.” She stared into space for a good long time. “I have to kill myself. I can’t live while they’re dead. That is...unless you can kill me before I even step foot in that house.”
Ace smiled warmly. “We don’t have to do that. Now that you’ve told me the truth, I can tell you mine. I’m saying this now, and just hoping it makes sense in the future...before it’s too late. Forgive me if I fail. I didn’t know your name because that teenager told me. I knew it because you and I have already met. You have a bright future ahead of you,” Ace said to her believably. “You go on to do great things...save a lot of lives. You even save me once. You can’t die here today, Quivira Boyce. If you do...I do.”
Her eyes widened. “Really?”
“Would this face lie?”
This made her smile narrowly, but it didn’t last long. Everything changed. She disappeared, furniture appeared all around them, and they were even wearing different clothes.
“I thought we were changing the future,” Serkan said, confused.
“We changed her future, which is part of our past, and thus our present. All this is the result of those alterations.”
“What made you think to lie to her about having met already?” Serkan asked.
“I didn’t lie,” he explained solemnly. “It happened.”

Lost in Space
As Serkan was waiting to listen to Ace’s story about meeting Quivira a long time ago, something took him by the arms. In literally the blink of an eye, he was transported to a different place entirely. He was suddenly standing in a jungle. Or a forest. Or whatever you call it, it definitely wasn’t Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Standing before him was a man. “Who are you?”
“My name is Mario. Mario Matic.”
“What do you want with me?”
“We need your help.”
“I just got done helping someone, which was a tangent from trying to help someone else, which was already a tangent from trying to help an entire city.”
Mario stared at him with his mouth half-open. “I don’t know what that means. I’m salmon. I was sent to retrieve you so you can help my friend. That you were in the middle of something important was completely out of my control.”
Serkan took in a deep breath and prepared to officially accept the mission. He had never planned on traveling through time, but once he did, he at least hoped that the once would be it. This was getting to be a little inconvenient.
“If they let me take you back to the exact moment you left,” Mario continued, “I will. We really do need you, though. You’re the only one who can do it.”
Serkan exhaled. “Very well. What am I meant to do?”
Mario was hesitant to explain. “First, you should know that we’re in the future. I’ve not been authorized to reveal the exact date, but I am allowed to reveal that we are on a different planet as well.”
“What?!”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Some people can jump through time, others teleport, and some can even go to other planets. It’s this whole thing. I just don’t want you freaking out if you see a strange animal you’ve never heard of, or something.”
“I guess I’ll...thanks for warning me.” He was this close to just giving up on everything. It was so overwhelming. “Who’s your friend?”
“That’s the most complicated part.”
“There’s something more complicated?”
“You’ve met this person already.”
“All right. Who?”
“He will be happy to see you. We’re hoping you can sort of talk him off the ledge. He’s become...lost.”
“Why aren’t you telling me his name?”
“It’s Reaver. Horace Reaver. A future Horace Reaver.”
“Oh.” He couldn’t come up with a better response. This wouldn’t be the first time he met a future version of Ace, but it would be the first time he realized it.
“He’s been dealing with a lot. I mean, we all have, but he and I have had it the worst here. At least, out of everyone left. I don’t have a good enough memory.” Mario went on after a pause, “Of course, the Horace you meet will have knowledge of what happens in your personal future, but he’s been doing this long enough to know that he shouldn’t tell you too much about what happens to you. We ask that you respect that, and reciprocate it. The events on this island, in this time period, are very sensitive. You can’t go ‘round altering them, which means when you return to your own time, you can’t say anything to your boyfriend...or to anyone else, for that matter.”
“I understand. Just one question.”
“Where’s the future Serkan?” He guessed.
“Yeah. That’s...that’s what I was gonna ask.”
“I can’t tell you that,” he answered matter-of-factly.
“All right,” Serkan said. He didn’t know what we was going to find. He was just learning about a new side of his Ace in 2024. Having to speak with someone who had been through God knows how much more bullshit in this world...and apparently the next, was going to be difficult, at best. Future Horace Reaver. How much time had it been since their lives in mid-early 21st century, and how much had Ace changed? More importantly, how was Serkan going to be able to help? Perhaps even more importantly, though, how would he react to seeing his old boyfriend? Yes, by nothing more than Mario’s few words, and his tone of voice, Serkan suspected that sometime in the future, he would die before Ace. That was the only logical explanation for why he was brought in, rather than that version of himself. However, he had agreed to avoid learning too much about his future, and he was going to do his best to honor that commitment to temporal integrity. “Take me to him.”
Mario took him through the jungle and onto the beach. They were soon at some sort of encampment. In the distance, he could see a woman presumably fishing in the ocean. A guy he didn’t know was tending to a fire with Lincoln Rutherford, who seemed both completely out of place, and at home, at the same time. A second woman wasn’t technically in their way in this wide open space, but it was clear that they needed to speak with her first before they could go see Horace.
“He understands the rules?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am.”
“I’m doing this as a favor. The psychological consequences of these experiences are meant to be part of those experiences. I shouldn’t be interfering with the process, but Mateo has...rubbed off on me.” She sort of trailed off in what looked like a private existential crisis. “And so has Horace. So I am allowing him to be here, but I can order you to take him away at any time, and I will exercise that power at my will.”
“I understand,” Mario responded. “And he does understand what he can and cannot know.”
“Okay.” With that, she disappeared.
“Come on,” Mario said. “He should be in the new privacy hut. Be gentle, he doesn’t know you’re coming.”
They walked up to this sorry excuse for a hut. Mario stayed behind while Serkan entered alone. Horace was sitting on a surprisingly well-made bench, carving a piece of wood with a pocket knife. He looked up and stared into Serkan’s eyes for a moment, all but confirming Serkan’s suspicions that the Serkan he knew was dead. Then he just chuckled once. “They send you here to get me back on track?”
“Are you off track?” Serkan asked, trying to channel every fictional therapist he had ever seen.
“I’m more myself now.”
“What happened?”
He stopped whittling. “I don’t believe I’m allowed to tell you that.”
Serkan said nothing.
“Eh, whatever.” He sported an exaggerated shrug, and broke eye contact so he could focus on the wall. He continued to slice into the piece of wood, but no longer had any drive to mold it into any particular shape. “Keanu is dead. I killed him, Mal. Killed him with a sword. How weird is that?” Yeah, he was not doing well.
“Why did you have to do that?”
To anyone else, that could sound like an accusation, but Horace would know that it was a legitimate question. “He had our daughter. He was gonna kill her this time, Serkan. He really was, he was gonna do it. If, by some miracle, he had failed, he would have found another way at another time. I had to end it.”
“But could one of his powerful friends not just go back in time and stop it from happening?”
He shook his head many more times than necessary. “Not this time. I was...not the way I did it.”
“I believe,” Serkan began, trying to find his words. “I believe they brought me up here expecting me to try and bring you back; to tell you that killing is wrong, and that there’s always another way.”
He finally looked back at him. “But you’re not gonna do that?”
“I also believe they underestimate our love for Paige.”
He nodded. “They always do.”
“I can’t imagine how you feel about her now, after all this time. For me it’s only been a year since we met her, but you’ve built a life around her. Honestly, for as bad as I expect it to get, I can’t wait.”
He smiled through the tears. “It’ll get pretty bad. If I can give you one piece of advice, though, it’s to not underestimate her. To say she’s precocious would be an understatement.”
“Understood.”
Serkan pulled up a chair so they could sit in silence together for a little while. Serkan continued once he had thought of something useful. “Horace, I’m not here to make sure you’re okay. I know you’re not. I’m here to make sure that you’ll be okay.”
“I can’t promise that.”
“If you killed Keanu to protect Paige, then she must be somewhere around here, right?”
He glanced towards the door. “If you didn’t see her on your way here, they’re probably purposely keeping her hidden.”
“Then hold onto her. Use her as a rock. I don’t know exactly what went down that made you take up the sword—or even where you got your hands on a sword—but I do truly hope you had no other choice.”
“I didn’t.”
“Just...don’t use that as an excuse to go back to how Lincoln Rutherford thinks you once were.”
He laughed knowingly.
“Let her be there for you. She’s family. Whenever you’re worried about your...dark passenger, for lack of a better term, picture her face.”
“That’s what I used to do with you.”
“I know.”
“Do you know why I don’t, why I can’t, anymore?”
“I have a pretty good idea.”
“What if that’s not enough?”
Serkan slid down to his knees, hobbled over to Horace, and took hold of his hands. “If you end up doing something like this again, they’re gonna pull me out of time so I can drag your ass back out of the darkness. That may sound like a gift, but it’s gonna get us into some paradoxical trouble. Plus, it’s going to take precious time from me that I could be spending with a Horace I still know for a fact still listens to me.” It might have been harsh, but it was exactly what Horace needed to hear, and Serkan honestly believed it.
“Okay,” Horace replied.
“Good,” Serkan said, standing up. “I can’t be your crutch forever, so I’m gonna go home now.”
“That’s fair.” He stood up to take Serkan in what was obviously a much-needed embrace. Neither one of them really wanted to let go, and eventually, Horace started nuzzling Serkan’s neck.
“I should go,” Serkan said.
“What?” Horace asked, nuzzling deeper.
“I should be getting back to my boyfriend.”
I’m your boyfriend.”
“Not yet.” They both laughed. It was then that they knew that it wasn’t going to end like this. Serkan hadn’t gotten any in days, and he didn’t even want to hazard a guess as to how long it had been for Horace. So they took the opportunity to sleep together on an uncomfortable wooden hut floor.

Fringe
Serkan was allowed to stay the night with Future!Ace before he was pushed back to his own time period where Present!Ace was waiting for him. Or rather he wasn’t waiting at all. He was still in the middle of his story about his first encounter with Quivira Boyce as they were leaving the lake house. There was only a slight skip, like a restarted DVR recording that doesn’t start exactly where you last left off. But Ace had no idea that anything had happened. Unfortunately, Serkan wasn’t quite prepared for the jump. He let out a mild grunt, which alarmed Ace, but Serkan was able to play it down. He thought about telling Ace about his sojourn in the future, but chose not to. There was no telling what would happen by revealing such information, especially the part about Serkan’s most likely fate to die. It just seemed like the best course of action was to keep quiet about it, just like he had done when he first went back in time and first met Ace for the second time. He had a hard time listening to Ace’s story about Quivira, instead being distracted by his own thoughts on the fact that somebody should make a list of rules for time travel that they could all live by.
The teleporter car was gone when they stepped outside of the house, so they just kept walking, hoping to find civilization. They needed something to eat before they needed to get home. They had walked a few miles through the woods, having long lost any sense of where the nearest road might be, when they could see something familiar.
A Stonehenge doorway of three stones appeared down the path. They walked through the stones and teleported to Stonehenge. The Delegator was pointing to another opening that served as a portal to a park. “You’re welcome,” was all he said.
Serkan and Ace continued talking to each other without saying a word to The Delegator. This was just sometimes how they traveled now. They found themselves right in the middle of Mendoza Park, suddenly under an onslaught of snow, with very little protection. Things had gotten so much worse since they had left, probably to the point of being categorized as a blizzard. Not a soul was around, hopefully holed up in their respective homes, with enough food to last them three days. “We have to get back to Duke,” Ace suggested.
“It’s time to end this.”
They stole an abandoned city bus buried in the snow. It took them awhile to get it uncovered, but that was at least the hard part. Neither one of them had any clue as to how to hotwire a vehicle, let alone a bus, but they didn’t need to. The Escher Card was fully capable of magically starting it for them. In fact, though it was the kind of vehicle still designed to be driven by a human, the Esher Card automatically maneuvered and navigated it. This gave them the time to huddle together near a heater vent and warm back up. It took them at least three times as it normally would to get to DNA Labs, only realizing then that everybody might have left for the day, and they were just wasting their time.
The lobby appeared to confirm this for them. The place was completely dead. The propaganda televisions continued to try to play the company’s selling points, but the power was going in an out. There were a few options here. They could try to find help elsewhere, go upstairs to check if the special weather task force was still working the problem, or leave Kansas City. Perhaps that’s what everyone else had done. Maybe the whole city had turned into a ghost town. How they were all able to get out so quickly was not obvious. They should have seen at least one person; be it a straggler, homeless person with no transportation, or a looter. But there was no one. They decided it couldn’t hurt to go upstairs and see if they couldn’t find someone who had stayed behind. It actually did end up hurting, because they knew the elevators weren’t reliable, and were forced to walk up the steps to the top floor of the tallest skyscraper in the city.
Still no one. At least they had a great view.
They looked in Andrews’ office, the attached situation room where his team had been furiously trying to understand the weather, and even the maintenance closets. Nobody was going to help them, so they tried to help themselves. They looked over the data still left in the situation room, and studied the maps on the table computer. It was pointless. Neither one of them had any hope of deciphering this information, let alone doing something about it. But then Ace completely unintentionally pulled up a different map. It was still the Kansas City Metro, but there were new layers. Colors as one might find on a local news weather report showed the temperature differentials across the area. Downtown, which was where they were, was purple, indicating it to be the coldest. The surrounding suburbs were orange and red, though, suggesting that they were still in summer temperatures. Ace and Serkan hadn’t really thought about where Keanu’s borders might have been. They hadn’t even thought of driving towards one direction to see where it ended. Looking back, that seemed foolish to them; a rookie mistake.
“Wait, look, what’s what?”
“Well, it’s just black,” Serkan replied. Beyond the suburbs lied some farmland, and beyond that, on the fringes, was nothing but blackness.
“Why?”
“It’s obviously not part of the temperature scale. This here is just how far the map goes.”
“That’s not how it works. Either the map shows the temperature in other areas, even if it’s not relevant to the viewers, or it’s just a smaller map. But I’m not seeing Nebraska, or the rest of Missouri on here. It’s all black. What would be the point? You’re just wasting all this screen space when you could make it bigger.”
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know how this stuff works. I’m not a meteorologist, and neither are you.”
“No, but it’s just...it’s just weird.”
“I agree, but I don’t think it’s all that significant.”
“Oh, it’s all the significance. Every significant.” Some guy had walked into the room, dressed in a cool leather jacket.
“Who are you?” Serkan asked. His tone wasn’t threatening, threatened, or accusatory. He had learned by now that when some random person showed up, claiming to have information they needed, that it was best to just go with the flow. That could be another rule for time travel. Treat people kindly, because you never know when they’ll return to your life, or what they’ll want when that happens.
“My name is Jupiter Rosa.”
“I’ve heard of you,” Ace said. “You run that weapons plant.”
Jupiter was noticeably offended by this. “Not anymore,” he said defiantly. “Now I help people; currently you.”
“How can you help?”
“Slipstream sent me,” Jupiter answered. “I’m here to get you out of this wretched world.”
“You know Slipstream?” Serkan asked. She was the founder and leader of the Tracer gang. She was instrumental to the creation of the New Gangs of Kansas City. She was a legend...a hero...a goddess. And as far as Serkan knew, she didn’t have anything to do with time travel.
“What do you mean by wretched world?” Ace asked.
Jupiter decided to ignore Serkan’s question—which was sort of par for the course for Serkan—and instead address only Ace’s. “You’ve been living in a nightmare, brother. This world you’re in isn’t real. It is a reaction; a punishment...and a test.”
“I don’t understand.”
He gathered his thoughts. “It’s a pocket reality, consisting only of the residents of Kansas City. Well...copies of the residents.”
“No one here is real? Or was real?”
“They’re...copies. They’re real. And they’re still here.” He pointed to the map on the table screen. “They’ve all moved to the red areas. You were in Wisconsin for longer than you realized. It took about a week to evacuate everyone from the coldest parts of the city. Pretty impressive from my side, but not all that surprising. This may not be the real Kansas City, but it’s still Kansas City. We’re strong ‘an hell.”
“I don’t get what’s going on,” Ace argued. “Who’s being punished?”
“You are,” Jupiter said, with a near-laugh. “My friends are pissed off at you.”
“What did we do?” Serkan questioned.
“We’re dealing with time travelers here. You’ve done nothing to them yet, but you will, and they’re trying to get to you before that.”
Serkan looked around. “Seems like a whole lot of trouble. Couldn’t they have just killed us? Teleport behind each of us, and stab us. Then leave.”
Jupiter shook his head. “These people are fucking stupid. Pardon my language. They like screwing with others more than they like getting what they need. They have no sense of efficiency, or rationality. They get their panties in a bunch about a few people who choose to defy them, and they can’t just let it go. Now I’m no time traveler myself, but my theory is that all they’re doing to you in these moments is what causes you to go against them later. I tried to warn them, but they won’t listen to me. From their perspective, I’m not any more real than this little bubble.”
The two of them didn’t have any context for what was happening between Jupiter and this mysterious group of people that included Keanu. So they just continued the conversation from there. “How do we get out?” Serkan asked.
“Oh, that’s easy,” Jupiter answered. He popped his collar. “You just need one of these jackets.”
“They let you travel between dimensions?” Serkan pressed.
“Very good, yes,” Jupiter said with a teacher’s smile.
“Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on,” Ace stopped them. “What happens to this place when we leave? Where’s Paige and Daria? Where’s Bran? Where are Keanu and his friends? We’re meant to be stopping them, not just escaping.”
“They are all in the real world. Paige, Daria, and Bran were not copied, so you’ll only have one of each of them to get back to. Keanu is laughing his ass off in his real office, while simultaneously trying to locate Paige. You’ll still need to stop him from doing that, but you can’t do it from here.”
“What about all these people? The copies? What happens to them?”
Jupiter shrugged. “They’ll stay here. When you stop Keanu, the weather will go back to normal, and Kansas City II will just go on. It was designed to be self-reinforcing, whether you kill the people who created it, or not.”
“Completely cut off from the rest of the world?”
“Yeah, they only built a replica of the metro. That’s the entirety of the universe.”
“Which means they’ll have to survive without import resources.”
“Yeah, I guess. They should be fine, though. They’ve already realized something weird is up, and they’ll adapt. Like I said...they’re Kansas Citians.”
Ace didn’t like this. “They’ll need help. Someone should help them.”
“Maybe,” Jupiter said. “But you got other stuff to deal with. They’ll still be here, but you have to finish this Keanu thing.”
“He’s right,” Serkan said to Ace. “For Paige. For the real world.”
He was hesitant, but conceded. “Fine. But we’re coming back.”
“Hey, you can have this jacket if you want, along with this reality’s copy of it—which we need to find, by the way. I don’t need either one of them.” Jupiter turned and left the room. “Come along, dears.”

The Jacket
“Do we need both jackets?” Serkan asked after catching up to Jupiter. He was used to walking slowly to accommodate normal people, so it was a nice literal change of pace to be around someone just as fast.
“We do. The jackets need time to recharge, which we’ll only be able to do in the real world. They can take no more than two passengers at once, so without the copy, the other two in our group would have to stay behind.”
“The other two? There are three of us.” Ace noted. “Who’s the fourth?”
“I came here to rescue you, yes,” Jupiter began, “but only as a favor. My true mission is to retrieve someone important to me personally. I promised to protect him, always. I can’t break that promise.”
“If he’s here, then he was copied, right?” Serkan asked.
This made Jupiter stopped dead in his tracks. “Does that mean he doesn’t matter; that I shouldn’t save him?”
He misunderstood. “No, I was just wondering about what happens when you take him back. Will he live with his duplicate, start a new life somewhere else, or what?”
Jupiter turned back around and pushed the door to the stairwell, ready to begin the long journey back down. “I’ll raise them both.”
If at all possible, the weather outside was even worse than when they sought shelter in the skyscraper. Serkan and Ace had stolen a few extra layers of clothing that had been left lying around the cafeteria, and still felt like they were about to turn into icicles. Jupiter seemed perfectly fine...warm even. When asked about it, he said, “oh this jacket runs real hot. It’s not really meant to be worn while you’re not using it. The Weaver built it to be stylish, but she never did figure out the overheating problem.”
“Do you know where the copy of it is?” Serkan asked as he was restarting the bus with the Escher Card.
“I know where it should be. Whether it was stolen in the meantime, I couldn’t tell you. I don’t believe my old friends know about it, but I can’t be sure. They’re tricksy hobbitses.”
Serkan handed Jupiter the Escher Card so he could input in the coordinates. “Tell me about this group of friends of yours. Did you have a falling out?”
Jupiter shook his head in disappointment. “Technically yes, technically no. Jupiter Rosa is still very much friends with all them, and works with them happily.”
“I thought you said that you were Jupiter Rosa.”
“That’s the technically part.”
“You’re a copy,” Ace realized.
“I am. The first. Since then, the quote-unquote real one has figured out how to assimilate and destroy his copies as needed, but he could never bring himself to destroy me. That’s our sentimental side, I guess. Still, we avoid each other; stay out of each other’s way. But now he threatens someone I love, and that I cannot abide.”
“Is it your son?” Serkan asked. “You said you would raise them both; him and his copy.”
“He’s not mine, no. But I suppose...he is.”
This reminded both Serkan and Ace of Paige. “We’ll get him back,” Ace said, trying to comfort him. “We can relate to raising someone else’s child.”
“We also have experience with multiple versions of that child,” Serkan added.
Jupiter cracked a smile and nodded. “Oh yeah, that’s right.”
“What happened to the birth parents?”
“The closest the mother could find a decent job was in Ottawa, so she drives down there and back every day. She happened to be there when the metro was duplicated, which means there’s only one of her. She’s presently looking after that reality’s version of her son. Meanwhile, this world’s copy is with daycare.”
“Do you know where he is now, I mean, since the city was evacuated?
“Olathe’s weather is okay right now. They should still be there, waiting for the last of the parents to return. It’s possible that they’ve gone somewhere else, but with no communications, I can’t be certain unless I check there, and the apartment.”
Ace was looking out the window, and up. The weather was less tumultuous the farther from the center they drove, but it still wasn’t great here on the edge of the county. The bus was slowing down. “Why are we stopping here, then?”
“I know this place,” Serkan said. It was the tagger homebase, located at the confluence of the three of the five central metro counties. This was where he sought sanctuary with the taggers, and learned more about Crispin, the rabbit dog. “In the future.”
“The other jacket is here,” Jupiter explained. “This won’t be tagger territory until next year.”
They got out of the car and entered the building. Jupiter led them up the stairs, down the hall, and up to one of the units. When he noticed the door ajar, he reached to his hip...exhaling in frustration upon realizing he didn’t have a gun. It looked like instinct to reach for his sidearm, though, so maybe he had law enforcement experience, or military. Armed or not, he could come in handy whenever they ran into Keanu again. Which was happening right now.
Keanu ‘Ōpūnui was standing on the other side of the foyer, holding a baby with two arms. “Yes, do everyone please come in. But not any further than that. You’ll track slush on the floor.”
Jupiter tried approaching him anyway.
“Uh-uh-uh.”
“You wouldn’t hurt a child,” Jupiter hoped. “An infant.”
Keanu shrugged. “It’s a fake baby. Like the one from that Bradley Cooper movie. See, I could just toss it...” he lifted it up in the air, as if he were about to throw it across the room, but didn’t. The baby started crying.
“Jesus..Christ, man! What the hell happened to you!”
“I had everything,” Keanu began to explain. “Then you people show up and screw me over.”
“Looks like you got your arm back,” Ace pointed out.
Keanu held up what was once a missing arm. “This..is a shitty prosthetic.” It looked just as real as any other.
Jupiter’s anger was rising from his feet to his face. He was breathing heavily, and on the verge of doing something he was going to regret.
“That’s right, Jupi. Let it all out. Come back to us. None of this pansy hippy BS. You are a gunrunner. Act like one!”
The baby cried louder as Jupiter yelled louder. “You wanna see my gunrunning side again! You wanna see my rage!”
“Yes! Yes!”
Jupiter let out a battle cry and punched the wall, which delighted Keanu to no end. This turned out to have been a ruse, though. After he quickly pulled his arm back out from the drywall, they could all see that he was now holding a gun. His rage was completely gone, and was probably never really there in the first place. He calmly said to Keanu, “give Luken to me, and you will be spared.”
“You think you’ve won? You still did what I wanted. You’ll have to go back to your office and reset that sign of yours. How many days has it been since you held a weapon in your hand?” He chucked. “Well...zero, I guess. It feels good, doesn’t it? Like a jolt of electricity to your balls.”
“Have you ever noticed that you never stop talking, but you also never say anything?” Jupiter asserted.
“You can’t shoot me. I’m holding Mendoza’s son. You shoot, I drop him.”
“If I shoot you in the head,” Jupiter replied, “your body will seize up. You’ll fall straight to your back. Luken will go down with you, but your body will break his fall, with your arm cushioning his head and neck.”
“That sounds like it might not work, dude.”
“It’s like you said. He’s just a copy anyway. I can always go back to the one in the other world.”
“That world may be different than you last left it. And you’ll need two jackets, won’t you?” He bared all of his death in this creepy clown grin.
“What did you do?”
Still grinning uncomfortably, Keanu lifted his phone. “The wonderful internet of things. Ya know, you can connect anything these days, even if it makes no practical sense.” He pushed a button, set Luken down, and ran through a portal behind him.
The microwave in the kitchen started sparking. “Run!” Jupiter screamed before dashing over to shield the baby.
Serkan tried to protect Ace, but it was too late. The microwave exploded.
Slowly, Serkan started working on opening his eyes. At first, they were sealed shut, but then he got them to flutter. Eventually, with enough practice, he was able to open them all the way, and keep them open. Before him was a wall with tiny little holes in them. No, that wasn’t a wall, but a ceiling. He was on his back. His whole body ached, and he couldn’t move. He struggled to look to his sides, and was able to see just enough to know that he was in a hospital room. A television attached the wall was barely hanging onto its brace. The walls were dirty and oily, and the lights were barely on. So, not a very good hospital.
A silver fox walked into the room wearing scrubs. “Mister Demir, do you know where you are?”
“A hospital, I don’t know which one.”
“You were in an explosion. You’re at the Kansas University Medical Center.”
“How long has it been?”
“Mister Demir, you have to understand that you suffered terrible injuries from the explosion. It caused irreparable damage to your body.”
He stopped the nurse from continuing his speech, “I need to know the time first.”
“It’s been nineteen days.” He looked at his watch. “Almost exactly since they found you. You were placed in a medically induced coma so that your brain could recover, as best as possible.”
“As best as possible,” Serkan repeated. “So not really.”
“The doctors did all they could,” he answered. “But we’re in a new world, and resources are scarce.”
“What’s wrong with me? Be honest. I couldn’t care less about bedside manner. I need to know what I can do next.”
“You were paralyzed from the waist down. You will not likely ever walk again.”
His brain injuries must have been extensive, because he was having trouble with rational and logical thought. There were pressing questions. “I was with people. My friends. One was a baby.”
“The other three were fine. You were evidently closest to the blast. I don’t know where they went.”
“Am I still in the other Kansas City?”
“The other Kansas City?” the nurse questioned. “We found out about that while you were asleep. How do you know about it?”
Serkan shifted his body as much as he could to get comfortable, but of course, his legs were stuck. He winced in pain. “I’m friends with a scientist,” he explained, referring to Duke Andrews, sort of. “He figured it out sooner than anyone else.” Obviously telling this guy he was a time traveler could put his life in danger. If people were trying to figure out how to escape this dimension, Serkan could be of use to them.
“Does he know how we can get back to Earth?” See?
“He told me not long before the explosion. I know nothing. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do now.”
“There are a few options. I don’t know if we’ll be able to accomplish them here, though. We’re completely cut off from the world, living in a bottle. There’s only so much we can do to help.”
“I have no money.”
He laughed, but it wasn’t funny-haha, more like funny-oh God. “Your money is literally no good here. There is no use for it. We’re gonna have to figure something else out, but for now, all available resources will be allocated to anyone who needs it. The leaders of this hospital have decided that, and the tracer gang has been called in to provided added security.” He paused to pull up a chair. “We have access to a phenomenal new procedure that could make your legs good as new. You have to know that it does not come without sacrifice, is not—strictly speaking—legal, and is still extremely experimental.”
“What would it entail?”
“Amputating your legs and giving you new ones. We probably wouldn’t even suggest it if we weren’t now in another dimension.”
It had been tough to wake up, and to think clearly, but things were really coming into focus. He was a runner, and needed his legs. They were the most important part of him besides his soul. He had to do everything he could to get better, even if it was dangerous. “Do it.”
They performed the procedure that night, apparently having already been in the process of 3D printing his new legs. A few days into his second wave of recovery, Ace walked into room, wearing the special leather jacket. Not bothering to say anything other than “finally,” he scooped Serkan up in his arms, and transported him to a different version of the same room. It was much cleaner and nicer, as if someone had actually had time to maintain it. The sun was shining. It was April of 2025.

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