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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Firestorm: Alexina McGregor (Part I)

It was a bit of an overstatement when Warden McAlister claimed that the rabbit dog was one of my creations. I’m the founder and president of Gregorios Bank, so I was responsible for bankrolling the research that eventually led to the rabbit dog, among other things. I didn’t have a hand in the research or experiments, but I suppose I can’t relinquish all blame either. I’m trying to become a better person, though, so I’m taking a page out of Jupiter!Two’s book, and dissociating myself from people who make bad decisions. That’s not all I’m doing, however. I’m also actively trying to make better decisions, and helping people when I can. I’m working with a new team now—a better team—and I can’t let them down. We are the only ones who can get an innocent man out of prison.
“What’s this?” Ace asks. He’s the prisoner.
“It’s about bunnies.”
He half-chuckles, and flips through the pages. “Yeah, my father read it to the family when I was a kid. I don’t remember anything about what happened, though. Thank you.”
“Look,” I say, “I know you have a lot of entertainment there in your pocket world, but I felt compelled to contribute.”
“Yeah, this isn’t in my library. I appreciate it. The Warden let you bring it in here?”
“I couldn’t figure out how to hide a time file in there to help you break free.”
“A time file?”
“Sorry, bad joke. There’s no such thing. There is no escaping Beaver Haven Rehabilitation Center.”
“Don’t be so sure of that,” a guard muses as she’s walking by, but she walks off before we can ask her to elaborate.
“Thank you for the book, Miss McGregor.”
“Please. Call me Alexina.”
“Okay.” He pauses a moment, presumably working up the nerve to say something that truly matters. “Can you take care of my family? Can you...?” he trails off.
“I can do the first thing,” I assure him, “but I can’t agree to the second thing until you vocalize it.”
He composes himself. “It sucks being in here.” He looks back behind him. The cell itself is about as small as any other, but the back wall leads to a pocket dimension, which is full of extra space, and amenities. Beaver Haven is a cruel facility. If you find yourself in here—present circumstances notwithstanding—you’re in for life. Every sentence is a life sentence, because every inmate is either capable of traveling through time, or can find someone who is. Whatever you did to get on their radar is bad enough, at least in their eyes, that you no longer deserve to ever be free. It is for this reason that they provide you with a lot more comfort than even the swankiest of white collar prisons has. “But it doesn’t exactly suck in here. It was really bad for Slipstream, because she’s a runner, and the treadmill they gave her doesn’t exactly scratch her itch. She runs to go places; not to move her legs. I’m not like that, though, so I’ll be fine. If at any point, the mission becomes too dangerous for Serkan or Paige, I need you to pull the plug. Now, they may hate you—”
“I understand,” I interrupt. “I run a bank; I know what it’s like to be the bad guy. I won’t let anything happen to them, even if it means you never get out of here.”
“Thank you,” he says graciously.
“I asked for a communication device, so you can be read into our plan as we’re formulating it, but the Warden didn’t allow that.”
“It’s okay. I’ll find out what happens when it’s over.” He shrugs, but only slightly.
“I better go. Your boyfriend and daughter will be wondering why I asked to speak with you alone for so long.”
“It’s cool. Don’t feel pressure to get this done quickly,” he calls out to me as I’m starting to walk away. “Do it right.”
I hear the voice of my former friend and business partner just before I walk out of earshot, but I can’t think about that right now. It was the Warden’s sick joke to put her in the cell next to his, and the best thing I can do for him now is get him the hell out of here so none of us has to see her ever again.

My new team and I return to our condo in the Ponce de Leon, which we’re using as our base of operations. Lots of temporal manipulators have lived here over the years. A man named Kallias Bran technically owns it, but he leaves it available for anyone who both needs it, and deserves it. We’re not sure where he goes when it’s not using it himself. Our mission is to find a way into the FBI building. An agent there has possession of two special temporal objects at least, and we suspect he has more. Though, I guess, calling the rabbit dog an object is a bit demeaning. It’s a living creature, genetically engineered by the woman who’s in the cell next to Ace. So this is a rescue mission as much as it’s about stopping a threat. We don’t know precisely what the agent knows about the world of time travelers. Hell, we don’t even understand what his own time power is, but our biggest concern is what he’s going to do with what he has. Though the rabbit dog would be a genetic marvel if word got out about it, its hybridness isn’t what will get us into trouble. It possesses electrokinetic abilities, which were adapted from a number of real life specimens, but it also has psychic powers, which it got from its creator, Volpsidia Raske. That could expose us all.
“I know what the rabbit dog is capable of,” Serkan says. “I took care of it for hours. What I don’t know is anything about this Omega Gyroscope. What does it do?”
“Anything,” I answer. I don’t know much about it myself. I’ve just heard rumors. “It can alter reality. Of course, certain people can do that, which you saw firsthand with your run-in with Rothko Ladhiffe. The reason the gyroscope is such a problem is because it’s an object; not a person. It doesn’t have any buttons or switches, and anyone in possession of it can use it. There’s no telling how bad things can get, because the user would have to know exactly what it is they’re asking for, and comprehend the side effects and consequences.”
“Few people are smart enough to do that,” Paige notes. “Maybe no one is.”
“Right,” I agree. “We can’t let anyone have it; not even ourselves.”
“Well, does he know what he has; this...what’s his name? I see references in these files to Austin Miller, but this part here just talks about Baby Boy. Can he alter his own age, or something?”
I laugh. “No. Okay, here’s the story, at least how Vidar told me. His parents wanted him to choose his own name when he was old enough. So the name they left on his birth certificate was just Baby Boy. That’s the placeholder they use until the parents come up with something else. Different states have different laws, but this country is one the least strict when it comes to what you’re allowed to name your child, and how long you have before you have to do it. So for four years, that was his name; Baby Boy. Then when he was four, his parents decided it was time for him to decide for himself. Unfortunately for him, like many children his age, he was obsessed with one animated film. You may be too young to have heard of it, but it’s called Aladdin.”
“I’ve seen it,” Slipstream says.
“I’ve heard of it, but haven’t seen it,” Serkan remarks.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Paige adds.
“Great,” I joke. “Now our survey is complete. Anyway, there was one phrase from the movie the kid couldn’t stop saying. It’s not a particularly interesting quote, nor something, if you heard it, would automatically make you think of the movie. But I guess he found it delightful, so he would just randomly blurt it out. When his parents asked him what name he wanted, naturally, that’s what he said. So they changed his birth certificate to Hello Doctor.”
“Hello Doctor?” Slipstream echoes.
“Hello Doctor,” I repeat. “I don’t even remember the context in the film, but that’s who he was. His parents made him go by Hello Doctor for twelve years before he was old enough to demand the court change it. He finally became Austin Miller on his seventeenth birthday, but even though he went to college halfway across the country, he can’t escape his first two names. I bet he gets really pissy if people call him either Hello Doctor or Baby Boy, so we should keep that bullet in the chamber. Good question, Serkan.”
Serkan nods. “I’m just going to call him Agent Miller for now. Does he know what he has? More importantly, does he know how to use it?”
I think about this for a moment. The Warden didn’t give any specifics in that regard, and the files don’t answer it. “I imagine the answer to both is no. If he knew how to use it, he probably would have created a reality where Austin Miller was always his name, and we wouldn’t have had a conversation about it just a few seconds ago. If he knew what it was, but didn’t know how to use it, we would probably see evidence of it, like a giant starfish crawling up the side of a skyscraper, or all the water turning purple.”
“So, he has this gyroscope,” Slipstream begins, “and this weird psychic creature. How sure are we that he’s keeping them in the FBI building? I mean, other people would have to be in on it for him to keep it under wraps, right? He can’t just occupy a secret space in there, and keep it all to himself.”
“Maybe he does have help,” Paige suggests. “Father is living in a pocket dimension at the moment, and Kallias has one of those too. Hell, there’s one over there.” She jerks her head over to the closet. “What if Hello Doctor’s office closet is bigger on the inside?”
“Are we really gonna call him that?” Serkan asked. Overruled.
“You’re right,” I say to Paige. “We need a lot more information if we’re going to do anything. We need to find someone who knows Hello Doctor.”
“I think I have a lead,” Slipstream announces unexpectedly.
We all look at her.
“People talk in Beaver Haven. We’re never allowed out of our cells, but we have our own phone network. Word got around about this FBI agent, and I think I know of someone who met him. It would be easier to ask a temporal manipulator for insight, instead of an oblivious human who won’t talk to us, because we’re strangers.”
“Oh, please,” I beg, “don’t make us go back to Beaver Haven.”
“It would give me an excuse to see him again,” Serkan points out, which is a reasonable position for him to have.
“Nah, it wasn’t anyone there,” Slipstream clarifies. “What did they call him? It was something...”
We wait patiently for her to recall what she learned.
“The Juggler. Yeah, he’s called the Juggler.”
“Oh, I know him,” Paige realizes. “I went to one of his shows while we were five people in different places.”
“His show?” Serkan questions.
“Yeah, he’s a magician. It looks like he’s a very limited apporter. He can transfer something from one hand to the other, but I don’t think he can go much farther than that. I can get us backstage. NBD.” And so it begins.

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