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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Back Burner (Part XI)

“Wow, that was a trip,” Gretchen said after they left their last universe, and stepped into the hotel suite.
“How do you feel about it?” Vearden asked. “Be honest.”
“I feel great,” she replied. “We did a lot of good there, I think.”
“Okay...” he said hesitantly. “I don’t love that you seem to be so earnest about all this. It is a dangerous life.”
She scoffed. “Every life is dangerous. I could get hit by a bus on my way to Magnate. I could have an aneurysm for no reason at all. But this right here, what we’re doing? This is living. I’ve never been so excited to wake up in the morning, and I won’t apologize for that.”
“Well,” The Shepherd began after teleporting in, “you will have to wait for a few more mornings. I won’t be sending you off until then.”
“Is this the last one?” Vearden asked, hopeful.
“Technically yes. If you succeed in this one, you’ll be sent to Base Reality. I have no idea what will happen to you there, it’s the most dangerous one. I mean, I guess this next one won’t be pretty either. It has real monsters that make themselves look like people.”
“We can handle it,” Gretchen said with confidence, worrying Vearden even more. “All of it. Both of them.”
“Meta, please,” he begged. “Try to exercise a little caution. Last time, we were dealing with superheroes, and supervillains. Somehow we got lucky, and it wasn’t all that risky, but it could have been so much worse. I never know what I’m getting myself into. Never underestimate your enemy.”
Gretchen took a sufficient amount of time to absorb what he was saying, enough to make him feel better. “I will. I will concede to your expertise, and experience. For now, I follow your lead.”
Suddenly they could hear muffled voices on the other side of the door that usually led to a void. The Shepherd was noticeably shocked by this, so much so that she didn’t know what to do. The voices drew nearer, and they could make out what they were saying.
“It’s here, this is it.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, this is it.”
“It just looks like a door.”
“It’s probably on the other side of the door, jackass.”
The doorknob jiggled. Vearden placed himself in front of Gretchen. The Shepherd stepped into a defensive stance.
“Lanzo, you didn’t happen to bring your lock pick kit, did you?”
“From the future? No, I didn’t. You were the one that wanted me to stop doing that kind of thing.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” came the voice of a woman. The doors burst open, and four strangers were looking into the suite. They were fascinated by this, which was understandable since it didn’t quite fit with the barn scenery they were currently standing in.
Three out of the four immediately drew firearms and pointed them at Vearden, Gretchen, and the Shepherd. “Kansas City Police Department!”
The three travelers held up their hands. “We’ve done nothing wrong,” Vearden argued.
“How are you doing this?” one of the male police officers asked.
“Uh...” Gretchen pointed towards the Shepherd. “She’s doing it.”
Apparently, the Shepherd had quickly grown tired of pretending to be harmless. She dropped her arms and took a step towards the intruders. “I am indeed. Can I help you?”
“Where did you come from?”
“Another universe. Well...” she looked to the other two. “They’re from another universe. I’m from all of them.”
“Is it you? Did you do this to us?”
“Did I do what?” She honestly didn’t look like she knew what they were talking about.
“The Back Burn,” the other male officer questioned. “Did you do it?”
“I have no idea what that is,” the Shepherd responded.
“So it’s just a coincidence that you’re here?” the female officer asked skeptically. “The whole world is sent back in time all at once, and you expect us to believe that three people from another universe just happen to show up later.”
“The whole world?” the Shepherd asked, taking another step, and ignoring them when they tensed up because of it. “How have I not heard of you. That’s brilliant. Do you want me to, like, reverse it, or something?”
Now the police relaxed a little bit. “Would you really be able to do that?” the woman who wasn’t holding up a gun asked.
The Shepherd shrugged. “I can do just about anything to reality.”
“Well, no,” the first male officer said. “What’s done is done.” He took a deep breath, and decided to put his gun back in its holster. “And Tadala is alive.” He lovingly looked over to the female officer, Tadala, who put her gun away as well.
“Lanzo,” Tadala said, “it’s cool.”
The third officer wasn’t sure it was safe yet, but he too put his gun away. “You better be right about them, Delvidian.”
“This suite exists within a void,” the Shepherd began to explain. “It’s constantly zipping through parallel universes.”
“Like the building?” Lanzo asked.
“The building. From...The Building? You must not have that series where you’re from.”
“Guess not.”
The Shepherd looked at Vearden, and went back to what she was saying, “I don’t have complete control over its location, which is why a challenge sometimes happens quickly after another, but others have a longer waiting period.”
“So, you’re, like, explorers?” Delvidian, who seemed to be the leader, asked.
“No,” the Shepherd said to him. “Just visitors. We did not mean to come here.”
“I’m afraid I might have had something to do with that,” the other woman said. “Hi, Danuta here, big fan of travelers, interested in joining you, actually. We’ve been looking for answers to the Back Burn, and my instruments either picked up on your...hotel...or it summoned you. I’m still not sure what I did.” She started fiddling with her device.
Delvidian stepped forward and nervously presented his hand for a shake. “If you truly had nothing to do with the Back Burn, then we could use some help understanding it.”
The Shepherd thought about this for a second while she was shaking Delvidian’s hand, then she looked over to the presumed scientist. “You expressed some interest in joining us?” She turned around to look the suite over, her way of presenting it. Her face stopped at the door to the closet.
“Yes,” Danuta said enthusiastically. “That would be amazing.”
“Górski,” Tadala said. “You can’t go. This universe needs you.”
“Let her go if she wants to,” Lanzo said. “We have this chick now.”
“I can help,” the Shepherd confirmed. “Górski can have the suite. Vearden won’t be needing it anymore.”
“What does that mean?” Vearden asked.
“You’re done,” the Shepherd told him. “Time to come out of the closet.” She nodded upwards at the closet door. A bright light was shining underneath.
“Base Reality?”
She shook her head to mean yes. “The only one they say matters.” She stepped to the side so that she could see everybody. “I’ll stay in this universe for now.” She handed a keycard to Danuta. “This will take you anywhere you want to go. I’ll let you figure out how it works. It doesn’t have to be a hotel suite. It can be a library annex...or a police box...or a diner...or an office building. Vearden, Gretchen, step through the closet, and you’ll get your instructions.”
“I wanna go with her,” Gretchen said. The words scared herself, like she hadn’t known she would say them until she already had.
“Who?” Vearden interrogated. “The Shepherd?”
“No,” Gretchen answered. “Danuta. I’m not done yet. You showed me literally endless possibilities. I can’t pass up this opportunity.”
“Well, what about us?”
Gretchen looked towards the Shepherd, and then the closet. “I’m sure we’ll see each other again one day.” She gestured towards Danuta. “This obvious genius will learn how to navigate.”
Vearden looked to the Shepherd, who would offer no help, and seemed to be rather neutral on the matter. He put on an apathetic face, hoping this would make Gretchen uncomfortable, and force her to change her mind. “I can’t stop you.” It didn’t work, she was firm in her decision to travel across all of time and space and reality.
“All right, let’s do this.” The Shepherd followed Delvidian, Lanzo, and Tadala out to the new universe.
Danuta and Gretchen moved to stand next to each other by the bed.
Vearden placed his hand on the closet doorknob, but kept his eyes on his wife. “You can’t promise we’ll find each other again.”
“We will,” Gretchen disagreed. “I have you, doorwalker.”
The door closed behind the Shepherd, and the cops. Gretchen and Danuta started examining the magical hotel keycard. Vearden opened the closet door. A thirtysomething man was waiting for him on the other side with an ugly smile. “Hello, Mister Haywood. Welcome to Base Reality. I am The Superintendent.”

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