The Burning of Effigy

Chapter One
For the last few weeks, I’ve been taking care of the alien that crashed on this world. She never speaks, but when I speak to her, she seems quite receptive to it, and I’ve been assuming she’s trying to encourage me to speak more. When I first pick her up, there’s nothing around, except for a few dead trees I can see in the distance. We’re obviously still not on Earth, so I realize that this is the best I’m gonna get. I tear them apart and set up a lean-to shelter, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As terribly barren as this place is, there also doesn’t seem to be any weather. Still, as soon as you get too comfortable with something, it’s taken away from you, so just always be prepared. The shelter isn’t necessary for long either way, though. When the alien first wakes up, a tent suddenly appears several yards away. A couple days later, she’s a lot more lucid, and a log cabin appears to replace the tent. Over time, as her strength increases, we upgrade our lodgings. She has some power over this place, and I think perhaps maybe, she’ll eventually be able to get us out of it.
One day I’m reading a book to her, that she apparently uncontrollably summoned, called God’s End of Paradise. One of the lines reads, “My name is Xanthia,” she said. “This is my son, Blaine.”
As if in response to this, the alien suddenly says, “my name is Ezqava.”
“What? You speak English?”
“I do now,” she says. She holds her hand out. “Ezqava Eodurus”
I timidly shake her hand. “As I’ve said, Kallias Bran. Did you learn just by listening to me?”
“Yes,” she replies. “It took me much longer that I thought it would.”
“You never tried to teach me your language.”
“I’m sure humans would not be able to produce all the sounds we use.”
That’s fair. “Now that we can communicate with each other, I can finally ask you.”
“Where did I come from?”
“No, can we leave this place?”
“I’ve tried many times. Everytime I grab your arm, you’ve interpreted it as mere affection, but I’m really just trying to teleport us to your world. I seem to have a lot of power here, but I cannot do that.”
“Would you not want to return to your own world?” I ask her.
“No one would want to go there.”
“Why not? Tell me about it.”
She sighs. “You live in a magnificent universe. There’s no telling how big it is, or even if it’s not infinite. My universe was not like this.”
“You’re from a different universe?” I ask, intrigued.
“I am, and for a time, it was fine. We lived in peace, and advanced at a decent rate. We built giant structures, and studied health, and learned from our mistakes. But then we wanted to travel to the stars. There must be something else out there, we would say. There must be someone we can meet, and learn from. And we must find other places to live, for we are running out of room. But this was impossible.”
“You encountered an evil alien race?” I guess.
“If only,” she says. “We could have fought against that, but not against the truth. The truth was...difficult to reconcile. We designed a ship powerful enough to travel beyond the confines of our solar system, hoping to reach interstellar space, like the ships in those books you read me. What we found...was that they did not exist.”
“The stars weren’t real. They were...illusions...or maybe reflections of other universes. We don’t really know, but the ship crashed into the wall of the universe itself. We tried to retrieve our friends, but they were gone. Their remains were still floating in space, but they did not answer us. Kallias, they were dead. From what I can tell from your stories, your people experience death all the time. We had never heard of it.”
“You’re immortal?”
“We did not have a word for mortality, so no. We were just...alive. You’re born, you live, and then you live, and then you keep on living. This was how it was thousands of years. We had to built megastructures and get creative with our produce, just to provide for everyone, but we did it. The first time anyone died was when they reached the end of the cosmos. And it was then that we knew there was nowhere else to go. We were stuck.”
“What did you do?”
“For decades, we lived in war and strife. As it turns out, there are many other ways to die, if you work hard enough. The world was no longer safe. Enemies and the elderly were regularly sent off in other ships to the universe wall, for that was still the only thing no one could survive. We had to maintain the population at its number, if not lower it, or we would all be in danger. Some brilliant scientists, however, never gave up on finding new worlds. They realized that if there was an impenetrable wall just outside our solar system, then there must be something on the other side of it. If not in those stars, then maybe in other dimensions, or somewhere. They built a giant machine that they called—as translated to your language—The Crossover, for it was meant to cross us over to other universes. As you can see by my being here with you now, it worked, but it wasn’t all great. The bulkverse is dangerous. We found on the other side only more war.”
“In our universe?” I ask, ashamed.
“No, not here,” she clarifies, to my relief. “There are an infinite number of possibilities. But we did not realize this at the time. All we saw was pain and hate. We did not evolve these traits ourselves, for until we discovered our world to be finite, it was paradise. We didn’t know what true war was until we met the Ochivari.”
“Who are the Ochivari?”
“They are unimportant, for again, this was just one universe. We went to many others, searching for a home, so that our internal conflict could finally end. I do think we found it, but then I was jettisoned to wherever it is we are now, so I do not know what came of my people.”
I nod and walk into the kitchen for a glass of water. We’re now living in a house far nicer than anything I’ve ever been in. It’s only missing two things: basic entertainment, like television and radio, and a way to leave. “Are you thirsty?” I ask.
“Yes, thank you. Probably not more than you, though. This is a lot to swallow, I’m sure.”
I walk back over with her glass. “I’ve seen a lot in my life. Nothing can surprise me anymore. But now that I know where you’re from, I’m questioning why I’m here.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Well, I came here accidentally as well. I was traveling with someone who could show me the past, but we weren’t meant to interact with it. Sure, those rules were broken a time or two, but it’s different here. I am physically in this dimension, just as you are. This leads me to believe that someone wants me here.”
“You wanna know who and why?”
“Yeah, that would be nice. I’d love to help you, Ezqava, but I have no clue how. You’re the one with the powers. What good am I to you?”
She shook her head and smiled. “You weren’t brought here to get me out. You were just brought here to take care of me, which is what you’ve done.”
“You know this?” I ask, not sure how.
“It’s become clear to me that my powers always act to my benefit, whether I’m consciously aware of what I need or not. I didn’t create or summon this building by choice. It came to me simply because I wanted it. Likewise, you came to me, because I needed you. I needed someone, that is; why the gods of circumstance chose you is not a question I can answer. Which means that’s not really the question we should be asking.”
“Then what is?” I ask her.
“The what are we gonna do now?”
I shake my head, at a loss.
She continues, “and also. Who is that behind you?”

Chapter Two
Before even looking, I jump out of my seat and reach for my sidearm at my hip, which isn’t there, because I left it in Kansas City. I don’t recognize the woman that’s standing at the back entrance, but she’s smiling in a familiar way. “Effigy?” I guess.
“Why should I believe you?” I ask. Realizing I need to protect Ezqava from this threat, I move between the two of them.
“Well, I certainly wouldn’t ever hurt her,” she tells me.
“What do you want?”
“To thank you,” Effigy says. “An alien literally lands at you feet, and you nurse her back to health without hesitation. That’s very big of you, and if we were living in a stable time loop, I would be personally grateful to you.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I remain tense and alert. I’ve not actually seen her do anyone harm, but I obviously can’t trust her. She’s powerful and has admitted to having ill intentions for the future.
“You haven’t figured it out. How long have you been doin’ this Kally?” Effigy asks rhetorically. “She’s me. You’ve been helping me.”
I entertain the possibility that this is true, and suddenly jump away from Ezqava as well. Then I worry there’s a third one elsewhere in the house, and start jerking my head around like a paranoid chicken.
“Fear not,” Effigy says. “I do not sense this version of me turning out like I did. She has you. You’ve changed my history.”
“Then why are you still here?” I pose. “If meeting me created a non-evil version of you, why does evil you still exist?”
She doesn’t act like this is a problem. “Eh, I survived your meddling with the timeline. I suspect somebody sent you back here to fix the future. They’ll have to do better than that.”
I’m still wary of Ezqava, who has been characteristically quiet this whole time. I want to know what she thinks about all this, whether this will make things worse for her—if there’s no stopping the devil inside her—or if she’s still the injured, vulnerable, yet strong, and independent alien woman I met weeks ago. Either way, I have to keep a cool head. “Look at her.”
“What?” Effigy asks, not sure where I’m going with this.
“Look at this other version of yourself.”
“I am,” she says, still lost.
“No, really look at her,” I argue. “What’s the difference between you and her?”
“I just told you,” Effigy replies. “It’s you.”
“Okay,” I say, allowing that to be a fair proposition. “How do I make her better?”
“Well, you’ve been nice to her.”
“But you never had that.”
She’s losing her patience. “No, I didn’t. What’s this about?”
“Bear with me,” I assure her. I start walking around, and talking with my hands, like I’m presenting the introduction for an electronics corporation’s hottest new device. “So you’ve accepted the fact that Ezqava is better than you?”
“Well, I guess you have to stipulate what you mean by better.”
“People want to be around her,” I pose.
Effigy breathes in deep, not happy with admitting the truth. “Yeah. That.”
“Would you...want people to do the same for you? Do you want people to like you? Would you say this life Ezqava is on the brink of having is...preferable to the one you’ve lived so far?”
“I understand what you mean now,” Effigy says. “You’re suggesting that because I see a version of myself who people would call a good person, then I should strive to be more like her?”
“Your words, not mine.” By letting her come to the conclusion of my argument herself, she has no choice but to consider its validity. If she thought of it before I explained it, maybe it’s actually right. If I say too much, though, it may feel like a trick. I can’t have that.
“See? This is my problem,” she begins.
“You just have one?” I ask playfully.
She cracks a smile, but moves on, “people keep trying to fix me. They constantly appeal to my better angels. Pun intended.”
I don’t get the joke. I’m sure it’s a reference to something I don’t know about.
“And I’m not saying I don’t have a good side of me, I would never. I just find it bizarre that everyone I encounter seems to try to use this tactic on me. I expect so much pushback...anger...violence. All I get is love. It’s...”
“Reminiscent of home?” Ezqava finally says. “Of how home once was, that is. When all we knew was love?”
“You see, that’s the thing,” Effigy responds. “I am thinking of home. We left people behind. They’re trapped in hell, and I’m not talking about the crew members who were thrown into a universe where they’re looked upon as demons. I’m talkin’ about our home world. The problem has not been solved. Shuhana—” Just saying the name of this Shuhana person almost makes her throw a fit. “That bitch travels the bulkverse with the Crossover, but not once—not once!—has she gone back! She could save everybody! Why doesn’t she?” She gets up in my face. “You wanna know why I’m bad? You wanna know why I’m pissed off? It’s because I’m trying to save our people, and everyone is livid about that!”
“They may be under the impression that, if you bring your people here, they may not be quite as pleasant as you are,” I offer.
“That’s exactly right,” Ezqava says. “She opens a portal, the first to come through will be the warriors; the ones that have lost all hope, and any sense of decency. Whether she wants that or not, they’ll push their way to the front.”
Effigy is shaking her head. “It’s not that simple.”
“You know this to be true, and you don’t care.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Effigy starts talking with her hands too. “Our universe is the size of a solar system. They come here, we’ll have all the space we ever needed. This world is cut off, lightyears away from the nearest civilization. I’ll get them all here, and once they see that everything is gonna be okay, only then will I let them leave.”
Ezqava stands up and gently places her hand on her other self’s cheek. “You and I. We are not leaders.”
“Well neither is—”
“Neither is Shuhana,” Ezqava finishes Effigy’s complaint. “This isn’t about her. We’ll deal with her later. This is about you, and your misguided plans.” She composes herself. “This man has told me the things you’ve done. It sounds like you destroyed a whole town.”
Effigy’s anger seethes. “Everyone blames me for that. Correlation does not equal causality. We were thrown to this world, because it is the universe’s cesspool. Springfield and I are two separate victims of the same thing. This world took the city from its place. I had nothing to do with that.
“Effigy,” I begin.
“I’m sorry for what you’ve been through. Just so you know, I never blamed you for Springfield. When I was investigating it, I never considered the possibility that an individual did it on purpose. I’m sorry that others have.”
“Now you’re being nice to me, like you are to her.”
“Is it working?” I ask.
“A little,” Effigy confesses. She’s calm down by now, and is able to speak with Ezqava with respect. “Eqoz, I need your help. Maybe my plans weren’t all the way thought out, but I did have good intentions. I...I got a portal open. But it’s, umm...”
“What is it?” Ezqava asks. “You can tell me.”
“It’s incomplete? Our people keep crossing over, but they aren’t right. The humans call them monsters, but they’re just temporal anomalies. They’re just fragments of memory and attitude, with no cohesion, no identity. I guess they are monsters. Whatever it was that brought Springfield here, I ended up doing the same thing.”
“Then close the portal,” I suggest.
“I can’t. I’m not powerful enough.” She directs her attention to Ezqava. “But maybe together we are.”
Ezqava thinks this over. “Okay, I’ll help you, but only to close the portal; not to fix it, and let them all through.”
Effigy wasn’t particularly pleased by this, but does give in to it. “I can deal with that. I just want to end their suffering.”

Chapter Three
I take one last look at all the places I’ve lived recently. The upgrades that Ezqava willed into existence are still there, clustered in one area. There’s the tent, the cabin, the cottage, the mobile home, the tiny home, the small home, the farmhouse, and the really nice house. Her mind had already started construction on a tower, on top of which would be a penthouse, where we would live. The three of us were about to transport decades, possibly centuries to the future, and I don’t know if this will still be standing when we get back. It’s not like I spent a whole hell of a lot of time here, but I still feel close to them. Hell, she even built a treehouse, probably birthed by a stray thought she had one day about the possibility of raising children—and I’m just now realizing it must be the same treehouse Hokusai Gimura sought refuge in sometime in the future. Of course.
Effigy appears next to me as I’m reflecting. “I keep forgetting how slow and inefficient humans are.”
“And I need to remember how impatient and irritating your species can be,” I reply.
“We are the Maramon,” Effigy says. “She’s not told you much about us, has she?”
“No. She’s just learned to speak.”
“Faster than I did it. In the original timeline, I had to do it alone.”
“How is that possible, without any humans?”
“I get glimpses of Earth.”
“I see.”
“Are you ready to go?”
“Yes. Where’s Ezqava?”
“Right in here,” Effigy says, pointing to her own chest.
“The hell you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“We merged.”
She exudes a hippy disposition. “We are one.”
“So she’s dead?”
“No, man, aren’t you listening? We’re now just one person. I absorbed her memories, and she mine, and now we’re just one person.”
“Why would you do that?”
“It was the right thing to do. You shouldn’t have two versions of yourself running around the same time period, it’s irresponsible.”
“Don’t you get it? She is dead. She had an identity that was independent of you, and you stole that from her.”
“It was consensual, asshole. My body, my choice.”
“Oh, don’t you throw that it my face, there’s no comparison.”
“Well it’s done. I am no longer just Effigy. I am Ezqava Eodurus, a.k.a. Effigy.”
“I can’t trust you, though. She wanted to help people, to make things better. Now she’s been you.”
“Ah, but you’re forgetting that it goes both ways. I hold properties of her. I’m now a far nicer person, because of her.”
“I want to believe that,” I say.
“Do you?”
This was getting me nowhere, so I just have to let it go. I don’t bother asking her if it can be reversed, because even if it can, she won’t do it. I have to remember that I only knew Ezqava for a short while, so we weren’t incredibly close. I have to focus on the mission, which is to close this portal, any way I can. I suppose the main trouble is that I was counting on Ezqava to back me up so that Effigy doesn’t betray us. Now I’m just alone. Effigy, or whatever it is I’m supposed to call her now, places her hand on my shoulder, and we transport away.
We’re in some little house. A woman is hovering over a crib, letting a baby squeeze her finger.
“Can she not see us?” I ask Effigy.
“No, it’s just like when that Screener woman was tossing you around time,” she replies.
“I can feel you there,” the woman with the baby says. She takes her hand from the baby, who is okay with that. She starts sort of miming in the space between us, like she’s worried about touching an electrified invisible box. “You’re somewhere around here. Sanela? Is that you?”
“We should be going,” I say. “The portal won’t fix itself, I don’t imagine.”
“I just need to recharge first,” Effigy says vaguely.
“What do you mean?”
“The portal’s not here. In fact, it would be closed by now. We’ve jumped further in the future than I wanted.”
“Why did you do that?”
“I can’t control it,” Effigy explains. “My power is sort of trial and error, which is why I try not to do it too much. You’ve seen that, otherwise Ezqava would have just created a condo or mansion as soon as she got to this world.”
“So we’re invading this woman’s privacy on accident.”
“Exactly,” Effigy says. “But it’s okay, Saga deals with this stuff all the time. She’s fine.”
“You can go now,” Saga says, going back to playing with the baby. “I’m not going to kill myself, if that’s what you’re worried about. √Čtude means too much to me.” She smiles at the child, but in a sad way.
“What happened?” I ask Effigy.
“Before you get upset, I didn’t do anything. Her heartache is her own. It’s...a pretty bad situation. Fortunately, I’m ready to make another jump.” She takes my shoulder, and we leave.
I find myself once again in the presence of Smith, the one who was pursuing Hogarth and her friends. Though that was sometime in the future, and I know this, because Smith still has his face intact.
A henchman I don’t know if I’ve seen before approaches Smith. “Sir, the kids are crying in harmony. We believe there to be a time anomaly somewhere around here.”
“Not monsters, though?” Smith questioned.
“No, it’s in a major key.”
“Interesting. Is Hogarth’s machine operational yet?”
“No, sir, our spies indicate that they are still months away, at best.”
“Perhaps she has returned to us earlier than predicted. This is good for us. Get me a glitchhound. We’ll search the area.”
“It’s already on the way.”
“Excellent,” Smith says so villainously that it isn’t even ironic. It’s like he read a listicle of every good antagonist, and is trying to emulate their worst common qualities with absolute sincerity.
An approximation of a dog tears into view, sniffing all around. It’s deformed and ethereal. It warps and shudders and gleams and melts, and sometimes looks more like a cat. It’s like a computer program with more bugs than good code.
“Don’t. Move,” Effigy orders out of the corner of her mouth.
“I can see why the call it a glitchhound,” I say out of the corner of mine.
“That’s not why they call it that,” Effigy says, displaying real levels of fear, which is something I didn’t think she could feel. Maybe she really has become more like the Ezqava I knew. “It seeks glitches.”
“Bran, we’re the glitches.”
“Oh. Oh. Are you recharged yet?”
“Then we should go.”
“If we move, it will sense us faster. Right now, our temporal anomaly is localized to one place, which can be a problem for them, but they’re also common. Tears in the spacetime continuum open and close all the time, most of them aren’t created by people. If we move, though, it’ll show that the glitch isn’t natural.”
“What will it do if it finds us?”
“It will lick my face and try to get me to play with it.”
“Yeah, but seriously,” I request.
“No, really,” she explains. “Glitchhounds were once just regular hounds. On my world, we called them tekachorl, which roughly translates to cheerful wolf. When they crossed the portal barrier, they became this.”
“You brought animals too?”
“I opened the portal. I didn’t decide who came through. Had it not been for...” she trails off.
“What?” I press.
“They weren’t meant to come corrupted like this. I never wanted any of this.”
“We don’t have time to talk about it. How do we get the glitchhound to leave us alone?”
“We can run a retroprep.”
“Which is...?”
“Which is when a future version of yourself comes back in time and saves you, so that you can live on, and one day go back in time and save yourself.”
“That sounds complicated.”
Suddenly the man who once escorted Sanela to meet me in Vearden’s safehouse appears through his own glitch in the continuum. He’s completely prepared for this, leaning down and patting his knees. “Come here,” he says in a sing-songy voice. “Come here, boy. That’s a good boy.”
The excited glitchhound gets in herding position, and strafes side to side, trying to confuse his playmate. Then he breaks free of his captor’s leash, and runs towards—Juan is his name, I remember now. Once the corrupted animal tackles Juan, they both fall back through the temporal anomaly and disappear.
“Was that you?” I ask. “Do you send him back sometime later?”
“I don’t even know who that is,” Effigy answers. “I can’t imagine I do that, but it’s possible, I can’t rule it out.”
“Who the hell was that!” Smith shouts to his frightened subjects.
“Looks like we’re safe,” Effigy says to me. “I’m charged up now, so we can go.”
“Go where? To the next mistake?”
“You have a better idea? How accurate is your time traveling?”
“Sanela spoke of this. You have to find a grasp of the timeline. You have to understand time first, or it will always dictate when and where you are.”
“That’s...actually not bad, Kally. You’re smarter than you look.”
“Just, try it. Do it differently than you normally do.”
Before we can leave, I feel something on my hip. I look down to see a small child reaching his little hand into my pocket. He pulls out the HG Goggles, and starts dancing around with them. I try to steal them back, but my hand just passes right through him.
“How did he do that?” I cry.
“Wadya have there, young Madoc?” Smith asks, graciously taking the goggles for himself. It’s the first sign of kindness I’ve seen from the man; now I at least know he has it in him.
“I could probably get those back for you,” Effigy offers.
“No,” I say with a smile, watching Smith look them over. “He gets what’s coming to him,” I tell her, remembering the future when a past version of me shines the Rothko Torch in his eyes, and literally burns the goggles into his face. “We can go now.”
We leave.

Chapter Four
We’re in a hallway in what appears to be a high school. I look around and let my eyes adjust to the change in light. Yes, it’s not just a high school, but the high school. Are we back in Springfield? I find the nearest window, hoping to see a landmark I recognize, but the terrain is that of the weird planet, so we are still stuck here. We can hear voices down the way, so we follow them. “Our calculations were off,” a woman is saying. “We’re speeding toward Earth much faster than we thought. Well, we were supposed to have more time, but Hokusai’s arrival has given it some kind of boost. If we want to stop the world before it collides with Earth, we must act now.” Hokusai, she’s here too?
I round the corner and step into the room to watch. Everybody stops and looks at me.
“Uncle Kal?” the woman who was talking before asks.
“Kallias, you’ve come,” Hokusai says. “How fortunate.”
“You can see me?” I question.
“I told you that I don’t have control of it,” Effigy says. “They’re not meant to see us, it was an accident.”
“No, it’s fine,” the woman who called me Uncle Kal says. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Effigy, is that you?” yet another woman asks.
“It is, Miss Kovac.”
“I’m so lost,” I say. “What the hell is happening here?”
“It’s me, Hogarth. I’m...quite a bit older, I know. You must have thought I was dead.”
“No, I didn’t,” I half-interrupt her. “I saw you a long time ago. You were running from that Smith asshole with Hilde and Paul Harken.”
This she clearly did not know. “His eyes. You did that.”
“Okay,” Miss Kovac, as Effigy would call her, says. “We don’t time for this. Hokusai, you have to get your work done. Mister Bran, we could really use your help.”
“With what?”
“I’ve lost most of my powers,” Kovac begins to explain, “and there’s a horde of angry men on their way who don’t realize we’re trying to save their lives.”
“Well, I don’t have powers.”
“She does.” Kovac gestures to Effigy. “And you have a penis. The army out there will only respond to someone born with such a gift.”
“I don’t know what that means,” I say honestly.
“They’re chauvinists, and they won’t listen to us.”
“What about those guys?” I point to two old men.
Kovac nearly rolls her eyes. “Escher and Rothko have business in here.”
“Escher? Rothko?”
“Yes, yes, yes, they’re alive and older. Very exciting and surprising.”
“Escher, Rothko,” I repeat. “Hogarth, Hokusai.”
“Could we be quite quick?” Kovac pushes.
“I have been looking for everyone in this room, some for decades, so you’re going to give me a second to a second to wrap my head around it.”
“However long it’s been for you,” Kovac begins, “it’s been longer for most of them. “You didn’t find them, you stumbled upon them. Right now, though, they all need you. They need you to go out there and stall for time. If you don’t, this planet is going to hit Earth. I mean that literally.”
I say nothing.
“If you help me with this now, I promise to help you and Effigy get to where you need to be. Do this one thing now. Do one more thing after that, and you can go home. You can put all of this behind you. Escher, Rothko, Hogarth, Hokusai. They all belong here. You’ve done your job. You solved the You solved the cases.”
I take a good look at all these missing people. They’ve clearly each been through a lot, and if this is what they turn out to be, I can’t go back in time and change that. Who knows what I could screw up in the timeline? She’s right; it’s time to move forward. “Come on, Eff.”
“Eff you,” Effigy says, but just as a joke. We both walk out of the room, out of the high school, and towards an oncoming army.
The army is disorganized and untrained, but the soldiers look antsy and hungry for blood. “Is there any way for you to protect them? I ask of Effigy.”
“Go on and do your thing,” she tells me, staying back and looking like she’s preparing to cast a spell over the school. I approach the no man’s land between us and the men. One of them pushes his way out of the crowd to meet me halfway, a second man at his flank. Behind me, Effigy is creating a barrier of fire to stop anyone from nearing the school, or—is that a ship? It’s sitting several meters away.
“I am Common Purcell,” the man says with the air of formality. The other one, his personal security guard, says nothing.
“Your name is Common?” I ask.
“No, it’s my title, dumbass. Common. You’ve never heard of a military Common?”
“You mean Commander?” I offer.
“No, it’s...ugh.”
Then I get an idea. “General. You mean General.”
“Yeah, that’s an archaic term,” Common Purcell says. “I don’t know why it changed.”
“It’s because you people are stupid, and didn’t understand that general isn’t a synonym for common in this context.”
“Are we having parlor, or not?”
“Do you mean parley. Jesus, what have you done with my language?”
“Where are you from?”
“The past,” I answer.
“That explains your...insolence. You protect the Earthan visitor?”
“I am an Earthan visitor. And yes. Whatever you want with those people, you can’t have it.”
“They threaten our way of life.”
“Your way of life sucks balls.”
Purcell and the other man look to each other for answers. It’s probably best they don’t fully understand the derogatoration.
“My friend back there is trying to do better. I suggest you don’t piss her off.”
“Yes, we can see that she’s a mage remnant.”
This time, I don’t recognize the term. “I don’t believe so. She’s the real thing.”
He slowly stands up straighter, surprised, but still hardened. “She’s a full mage.”
“One of the most powerful. Possible the. She can take out your whole regiment with nothing more than a thought.”
“What are your demands?”
“Leave them alone. Apparently this world is on a collision course with Earth. As you can imagine, this is not something I’m interested in seeing happen either. We all want the same thing.”
“It is women like her who did this to us in the first place.” He’s not referring to Effigy this time. He’s talking about Hokusai.
“Does that really matter? If she can fix it, you need to let her do it.”
He tenses up at the sight of something behind me. I look back to see the group leave the high school, and head for the ship. I also hear the army of men collectively drawing their weapons. Purcell holds one arm out, indicating to the army that they should stay back. “Hold!”
“Have you ever had faith, Mister...” I close my eyes at the mere thought of having to use this ridiculous term, but I do anyway, “Common?”
“You want me to have a woman?”
“Many men before you have done just that,” I reason.
“And how did that work out for them?” Purcell asks smugly.
“Perfectly,” I say with all honestly. “You’ve been living a nightmare, brother.”
He tilts his head at this. “What did you say?”
“This is a nightmare. The whole world...Earth isn’t like this. We have a sun.”
“The Nightmare Brother,” he says in shock. “You’re the Nightmare Brother.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Purcell turns to his men. “He is the Nightmare Brother!”
After a few moments of silence, theoretically waiting for Purcell to admit it to be a joke or something, everyone in the army bends their knee, and bows their head.
“ going on?” I’m so confused.
Purcell is now smiling widely. “You are the prophesied arrival in the words of Orabela, The Teller. You have come to save us from The Falling Planets.”
“What planets? No planets are falling.”
Purcell looks up at the sky. “Yes, they are.”
I look up as well and see that he’s telling the truth. Massive planetary bodies are falling down like rain in the distance. But that can’t be what’s happening. I recognize the distinct coloring of Jupiter right away. The others must have been Neptune Uranus, and Saturn. What’s happening is the planet we’re on is heading towards Earth at an incredibly, impossibly, insanely fast rate. The fire Effigy had created has died down now, and I can hear Hokusai’s ship powering up. Rothko Torchlight shines from it, extending upwards through my home solar system. Earth is still a distance away, but it’s coming down fast.
“How is this possible!” I scream to Effigy. The rumbling from the ship echoes across all dimensions. The ground itself vibrates with immense power. 
“Time, right!?” she calls back. “You’re lucky to see this!”
I crouch down to lower my center of gravity. The planets keep falling, but we appear to be rotating. Somehow, Hokusai is turning the whole of the planet we’re on. In no time, Mars begins falling up, up, and away from us. The power surging through everything around me intensifies, and threatens to tear my whole body apart. The Rothko Torch, now facing the right direction to act as a rudder, adjusts the planet’s path. It does so just in time, it would seem. Earth comes inconceivably close to us, I can almost see people waving as we pass by. We continue past Venus and Mercury. Once we’re clear of the sun, the Rothko Torch flickers off, the vibrations abate, and it feels like we’re slowing down.
The rest of the crowd stands up with me, still staring up at the sky, watching the solar system drift away from us. “Did we just avoid hitting Earth?” I ask, knowing the answer.
Effigy smiles and puts her hand on my shoulder. “Just barely. This is good for us. The power that Hokusai just unleashed; I can feed off of it. I can get us back to the 21st century, exactly when and where we’ll need to be to close the portal once and for all. If we don’t do that, Gimura will never be able to save the world.”
We make one more jump.

Chapter Five
When Effigy and I arrive at our new time period, the first thing we see is a young woman using special powers to destroy our homes from long ago, and each time she does, it’s simply replaced by one of the others. It’s a cabin, but then it’s the cottage, and then it’s the farmhouse, and then the mobile home, and then the cottage once more, and then the tiny home. Effigy places her hand gently on the girl’s shoulder. “That’s enough, Jayde.”
Jayde tries to push her away without even touching her, theoretically by some telekinetic power she has, but Effigy is blocking her from using it. “Effigy,” she says with disgust. “I am here to close your damn portal, once and for all.
“And we are here to help you with that,” Effigy responds, presenting me like a prize on a daytime game show. “But you can’t keep taking power from the other mages. They won’t survive.”
“Hi, my name is Kallias...Kallias Bran,” I tell her. “We’ve already met in the future.”
“What do you think you’re going to be able to do?” Jayde asks of him.
“Oh, me? Very little.” I point to Effigy. “But she kind of has a soft spot for me, so I’m here to make sure she does what she promised, which was to finish this. Here and now. You need power? She’s got it. You don’t need to steal from anyone.”
“I don’t think you have enough, Eff,” Jayde claims.
“This is the problem with people who can steal time powers. They get so caught up in it that they forget they have their own abilities. With our energy combined, we can do this. We just have to work together..”
“Oh, I’ve not forgotten I have my own powers. I have powers that no one else does. I can move things with my mind, which is completely unheard of on Durus.”
Effigy smiles. “That’s not real telekinesis. You’re mimicking it, in a way that’s very destructive.”
“How so?”
“What you’re doing is teleporting objects at an extremely fast rate. You do it so fast that the object doesn’t have time to disappear from one location before it appears in another. And that second location is so close to the first—measured in micrometers—that it looks like it’s moving. Now, with practice, you could harness the gravity that’s constantly tugging on the object to impart forward momentum on it, but you’re a long ways away from that.”
“Still. It’s something I can do that no one else can. I don’t need you.”
“You’re not the only one, JK. You’re just the only one on this world. Now stop being stubborn and proud, and let me help.”
“I can’t trust you!” Jayde screams. “I can trust no one!”
“Jayde Ramsey Resnik, you will let me help you close the portal, and you will not complain about it! I’ve had about enough of your insolence.”
“Oh, you wanna help?” Jayde begins the questioning.
“You have the power to close the portal?”
“With you, definitely.”
“And I can steal powers from other people?”
“And if you’re just a people, then I can steal from you too?”
“I didn’t say that.”
Jayde aggressively takes Effigy’s arm.
“I did,” Jayde says, hungry for more. A faint glow appears where their bodies meet. They both start vibrating, a does the ground beneath them. There’s so much energy between them that it’s starting to form an earthquake—I mean, a durusquake. The farmhouse that was left after Jayde was finished playing around with the...uh, quantum superposition of their homes, or whatever, crumbles. Left in its place is nothing.
“Help me!” Effigy begs, in an agony only felt my her. Jayde seems to be feeling better and stronger with each passing second.
“I’m not sure what you think I’ll be able to do,” I say. “Besides, it looks like this is what has to happen.”
Effigy continues to scream as the glow begins to shine, and crawl up her skin. The heat intensifies until a spark lights a fire, which overtakes Effigy’s entire body, and she is consumed by it until there is nothing left; not even a pile of ash.
Standing there now is Jayde Kovac, literally pulsating with power. She turns forty-five degrees to face me. “It is too much to keep in. I can close the portal, but you can’t be here when I do. Run, Kallias, run.” She cradles her head. “RUN!”
I run. I move faster than I think I ever have before. Behind me I can hear Jayde’s cries as she’s desperately trying to hold her energy in before what I assume must be some kind of explosion. In front of me I see a sort of blackish haze, floating a couple meters off the ground. I look to my left, and then my right, to find that it appears to be a ring. The farmhouse sits at the center, but this is the portal itself. I have to get all the way past this ring before I’m clear of the blast radius, and even that might not be far enough. I never really get the chance to find out, though. I hear the crack of thunder behind me. A wave of energy comes up and reaches for the ring portal. Once it’s taken hold, it begins to snap back, pulling me with it. I’m hopelessly flying through the air, back to the center. It probably would have been safer if I had just stayed in place. It definitely would have been better for my knees. I can see the rest of the ring closing in on the eye of the portalcane. That’s the last thing I do before I die...make up a word. How lovely.
I’m apparently knocked unconscious, because I wake up on the ground, instinctively trying to massage an ache from my head. I can’t move the rest of my body. I’m actually not in all that much pain, but the ordeal exhausted nearly every ounce of energy from me. I’m not sleepy, but I’m too tired to do anything but turn my head and try to get my bearings. It feels like I’m on asphalt, or something very similar to it, because it almost gives off its own light. A crowd of people are standing around. No, they’re crouching. Most of them are, anyway. They look to be pretty worn out as well. I blink my eyes a few times, trying to get a better view as a few of them have rested enough to walk over to me. Once they’re near enough, I can see what they truly are. They’re not human, but Ezqava’s species. What did Effigy call them? The Maramon. I must be on the Maramon homeworld—more to the point, their home universe.
One of them bends down and lifts me up by the shoulders. He speaks a sort of garbled orcish at me, trying to get me to understand. He studies my eyes, then looks up at the others to tell them something. They nod their heads in agreement, or understanding. They could be talking about finding a way to teach me their tongue, or for all I know, they’re discussing what spices to put in the pot with me. Ezqava never gave me the impression that she would want to eat me—nor did Effigy, for that matter—but I don’t know who these people are. They did say the worst of the worst would be the ones chosen for the portal; not the peaceful, pleasant people.
The one who was investigating me leans forward and sniffs my neck. “Ezqava.” He stands back up and addresses the crowd. What I hear is him saying something like, “Jila tega ken Ezqava Eodurus!”
“Ezqava!” I say eagerly. “Yes. I knew Ezqava Eodurus.” Let’s see, who was that other one they mentioned. “Shoe....shua. Shuhana.”
“Shuhana?” he asks me. He addresses the crowd again, “Jila ufe henti Shuhana Shenare!” He looks back down at me. “Boros ji henti Shuhana?”
I just shake my head, realizing now that that’s an international gesture for no, or uncertainty, but that may not translate well to aliens. I know nothing of these people. Effigy always acted rather human, and Ezqava barely said anything to me before she was absorbed into Effigy’s body.
He lifts me all the way up and gets me to my feet, letting one of his people keep me from collapsing. “Dwesben ke Ansutah,” he declares proudly.
“Ansutah?” I ask.
He sweeps his arm away from him, like he’s trying to indicate the whole world. “Ansutah,” he repeats, apparently happy to welcome me to their world. He begins to laugh.
Everyone else laughs along with him, including the one who’s holding onto me, who’s also adjusting his position.
The leader continues to laugh. “Jika paol vin ji paom ken ke fo huarza!” He reaches back, and the last thing I see is his fist, heading for my face.

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