Saturday, March 25, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Stunt Double (Part X)

In preparation for his departure from this universe, Vearden revealed to his wife, Gretchen the truth about him. From the second she met him, she had suspected that there was something off about him. Over the following five years, her suspicions grew at about the same rate as her love for him. Eventually, she decided that it didn’t matter where he came from, and that she would accept whatever he ended up telling her. She even considered the possibility that he was an alien, a Buck Rogers, or a humanoid robot. She never imagined that he was not from this version of Earth. That information was a tough pill to swallow, but several days of deep discussions were enough for her to be okay. It was not easy, but she wasn’t going to throw him to the wolves because of what he was, or because he didn’t tell her earlier. They were married, and they were in love, and they would together get through whatever was coming. There were still some questions, though, and she knew he wouldn’t be able to answer them himself. “When you leave, what happens to me?”
“I don’t know, Meta” Gretchen’s real first name was Gretchen, but Vearden later learned that it could also be a shortened name for Margareta, and that another shortened name is Meta. It was a strange little pet name, but they both liked it...especially now that it symbolized some interesting existential implications.
“Will this Shepherd woman let me go with you?”
“Do you want to go with me?”
“Do you not want me to?”
“Well, it’s not exactly a safe life. I have to admit, this is the best universe I’ve ever been in. Things seem to be rather normal, even including all we’ve been through. I don’t know why you’d want to leave.”
“I don’t know why you would want to leave me.”
“I don’t, but I have to do this. I have to get Saga back.”
“I understand that, but...what did you think was going to happen when you said yes to my marriage proposal?”
“I guess I hoped the Shepherd would send Saga and me back here once this is all over.”
“You had to hope, because you don’t really know. You have no clue what’s going through her head. These...choosers, and powers that be don’t seem all that keen on giving people what they want.”
“That’s true, but this one’s different. She doesn’t see people as chess pieces. I don’t even know that she’s human.”
The Shepherd came in from the other room. “I’m not.”
“You heard the whole conversation?” Vearden asked, not sure he would have to repeat it for her.
“I did. I heard every conversation. All the conversations. I’ve been here the whole time.”
“I don’t love that,” Gretchen said.
The Shepherd drew nearer to Gretchen. “I’ve seen more than you could even conceive. I stopped judging others a few millions years ago.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
The Shepherd restarted the conversation, “I’ll make a deal with you.”
“Oh, no.”
“I will let you and Saga return to this universe. In fact, I’ll put you right in this very moment, so that no one you know here wonders where you’ve gone.”
“Okay...” Vearden said tentatively.
“But only if Gretchen completes the last three challenges with you.”
“No, no,” Vearden said without hesitation. Can’t do it. I’m not subjecting her to that. It’s waaaay too dangerous. Please, we can come to an agreement.”
“We can come to an agreement,” the Shepherd...agreed. “We can agree to what I’ve already proposed. It shouldn’t be too hard, one-third of us already has agreed.”
“Well, I’ve not. I will not. I cannot.”
“I will,” Gretchen said plainly.
“You’ve spent the last five years in my world, Vearden,” Gretchen told him. “The least I could do is spend a little time in yours.”
“It won’t be my world,” Vearden said back. “You would be going to worlds I’ve never even heard of before. There’s no telling what we’ll find on the other side. I don’t even wanna do it, I just have to.”
Gretchen smirked. “I have to as well. You’re going off to save your partner, why am I not allowed to do the same?”
That was some twisted logic, but it was also solid, and Vearden had no argument against it.
“Me me biiig girl,” Gretchen said jokingly. “I’m going, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help you both. Then we’ll all come back here and live in peace.” She faced the Shepherd. “We will, right? The powers that be can’t get to us here?”
“Only I have access to this universe, and I would never. You’ll be safe.”
Gretchen definitively nodded her head once. “Then it’s settled.”
Vearden shook his head. “Now, hold on. I didn—”
“It’s settled,” Gretchen interrupted. She gave him the look. He knew the look well. She wasn’t backing down from this. He would have to get on board.
The Shepherd took in a deep breath to signify the end of the conversation. “I’ve left your outfits for the next universe in your closet.”
“Outfits?” Gretchen asked.
“Costumes,” the Shepherd clarified. “I honestly thought you two would stop at the self-defense training, but you went all out with the martial arts classes. I never thought in a billion years I would send you to this next universe, but I guess you can handle it.”
“Shepherd,” Vearden began, “are we going to samurai-world?”
“L-O-L,” the Shepherd said. “No.” She left the room, and at some point, disappeared from this dimension.
“We better not keep her waiting,” Gretchen said once she had gone. She sounded a bit too excited than Vearden was comfortable with.
They were not dressed like samurai. They looked like superheroes, complete with form-fitting jumpsuits, and masks. They were already in the new universe. “Why do I have a big F on my chest?”
“Is that a lance?” Gretchen asked. “It looks like a small lance.”
Vearden looked down at the sharp weapon that had suddenly appeared in his hand. It was a much shorter version of its medieval cousin, and it looked like the business end could be removed. He looked back at the big letter F emblazoned on his chest, and closed his eyes. “I get it. I’m Freelancer. Very funny, Shepherd!” he quietly yelled to the aether. This was a reference to the salmon title The Delegator had given him and Saga since they were constantly being traded between powers that be and choosing ones.
Gretchen couldn’t help but giggle.
“Well, what are you supposed to be? Is that a megaphone?” It was about the size of a handgun, with several buttons on it.
“It’s my metaphone. My codename is obviously Director.”
“Like your job title at Magnate. That makes sense.”
They were just standing in a darkened alley with vines running up a fence, no idea where they were meant to go, or what they were meant to do. Usually, something just sort of presented itself to Vearden, and this universe was no different. They could hear rapid footsteps approaching them, occasionally splashing in puddles of water.
A mid-thirties man wearing a leather jacked appeared out of the darkness and approached them. “Help me, please! She’s crazy!”
Another figure came from the shadows, stopping short when she saw them. She was wearing an all black form-fitting costume, with a mask over her the top of her face.
“Who are you?” Vearden asked. “Daredevil? Daredevilette?”
She tilted her head. “I’m Stuntwoman.” She kind of sounded like a female Batman, altering her voice to protect her secret identity.
“Well, I’m Freelancer. This is Director.”
“I’ve never heard of you.”
“We’re new,” Gretchen explained.
“Are you part of Forager’s crew?” Stuntwoman asked.
“Uh...” Vearden didn’t know which answer she was looking for. “No?”
“I was not aware there was competition,” Stuntwoman said. She approached the scared man, stopping only to acknowledge Vearden and Gretchen’s clear intentions to protect him. She looked him in the eyes, of which she appeared to have none. “You must go,” she ordered him.
The man hesitated, still too frightened to even move.
“GO!” she yelled. She patiently waited for him to run off, and out of earshot, before returning to the conversation. “Are you good or bad?”
Again, Vearden didn’t know what answer would make her happy. He just had to make a choice. He didn’t want to be judgmental, but the leather-jacket guy didn’t exactly look like an upstanding citizen. Theoretically, Stuntwoman was a hero, rather than a villain.
“We’re good,” Gretchen told her with confidence.
“Does your organization have levels as well? What level are you? How did it begin? What information were you given at the beginning. Who hurt you?”
“Uhhh...” Neither Gretchen nor Vearden had any idea what she was talking about.
“We’re visitors. We don’t have levels, or an organization. We’re just...doing this on our own.” Vearden always knew Gretchen to be a good liar, but this was a side of her he hadn’t truly seen before.
She paused to size them up and think it over. “Imitators. I don’t have time for you.” She turned and started walking away. “I have to go find another target.”
Vearden took her by the arm to stop her from leaving.
“Do not touch me!” she shouted at him.
“I’m sorry,” Vearden said, pulling his hand away. He would have done it anyway. Her sleeve was incredibly hot, like a cooking pan that hadn’t quite reached full temperature. “We’re not just copycats. We know what we’re doing. We have extensive martial arts training.” This was actually true. Not too terribly long after Vearden arrived in Gretchen’s universe, a stalker attacked Gretchen in an attempt to reach the new Magnate company owners. This had inspired both of them to take self-defense classes, and it was this that brought them closer together. They didn’t stop there, quickly learning that they enjoyed what it was teaching them. They maybe weren’t good enough to be superheroes, but they were decent fighters in their own right.
“It doesn’t matter. I have to find someone to kill by midnight, or I’m out of the crew. And you have nothing to do with this.”
“Superheroes don’t kill people,” Gretchen said.
“I’m not here to be a hero. I’m here to be a villain. I don’t...I don’t want to be, but that’s what they want, so I’m doing what they ask.”
“You’re infiltrating them.”
“I have to go.” She turned away again.
Vearden stepped towards her, but did not touch. Still, as a defense mechanism, she somehow set her arms and back on fire. She wasn’t at all fazed by it. “I guess we know why they call you Stuntwoman. Plus, Ghost Rider was taken.”
“Who?” Stuntwoman asked.
“Never mind him,” Gretchen said. “We can help. That’s why we’re here. In order to move up the ranks in this organization, you have to prove yourself by killing someone, right?”
“Correct,” Stuntwoman confirmed, just as confused about why she was confiding in them as anyone else Vearden had met during these challenges.
“Believe it or not,” Gretchen told her, removing her mask, “we’ve done this before. We have faked someone’s death. We can do that for you too.”
Vearden removed his mask as well. “We don’t know” He stopped himself from saying something like universe or dimension. You’ll have to find someone willing to go along with this plan, though. Do you know anyone like that?”
Taking a risk, Stuntwoman removed her mask to follow suit, and dropped the fake voice. “I have someone in mind. I actually think the crew will appreciate my...cruelty.”
“Then let’s get started,” Gretchen said. “We only have until midnight, yeah?”

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