Firestorm

Alexina McGregor

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.

Volpsidia Raske

I don’t know what Alexina’s problem is. We used to be friends. And I don’t just mean we would smile at each other in the hallway in high school. We were really close, even before we got trapped in the Purple Rose Lane pocket dimension together. She acts like she grew up, and grew out of our old ways, but every single one of us was a precocious child. The way we are is the way we are because of what we can do, and she can hide from that side of her all she wants, but eventually she’s gonna realize that it takes up the majority of who she is, and she won’t be able to hide anymore. Whatever. It’s not going to do me any good right now. I need to get the hell out of this prison, and now I know what to do. My first pawn was far too strong for me, but her replacement will do quite nice. I just need to get him to trust me.
“Aren’t we already talking?” Ace asks.
“We are,” I say, “but we need to talk where guards can’t hear us, and if we go into our pocket dimensions, we can. They can’t spy on us in there. We are afforded a modicum of privacy.”
“Did they not just hear you say that, though?”
“Temporarily, no.” I’ve been able to get myself into one of the guard’s heads. It’s not enough to compel him to break me out of here—partially because he isn’t in a position to accomplish it anyway—but he does manipulate some of the surveillance to keep me out of trouble. He gets suspicious when I’m controlling his mind too much, though. I need my cell neighbor in a certain spot so I can break my connection with the guard on my own terms.
“How can we talk from the pockets? The weird magical phones they give us in there surely are indeed monitored.”
“They are, which is why we’re not going to use them.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“You have a bookcase.” It’s not a question.
“Yes,” he answers. “What about it?”
“I need you to lift one side of it, and swing it outwards to a ninety degree angle.”
“Is there a secret phone behind it, or something?”
“Do you want the instructions, or not? If you do this for me, you’ll be able to see your family.”
“Okay, go on.”
“Swing the bookcase out,” I continue. “Tear the carpet from the floor. It might be kind of hard, so you’ll have to use a fork, or something. Or use a knife, because you’re gonna need it anyway. Once you have enough of the carpet out of the way, carve my name into the wood underneath. V-O-L-P-S-I-D-I-A-P-H-I-L-L-I-P-R-A-S-K-E.”
“Phillip with two Ls, you said?” he asks.
“Yes.” He’s buying it; it’s working.
“What next?”
“After you’re finished carving, go to bed. Repeat my name over and over again in a low whisper. Keep doing it until you fall asleep. What you’re doing is sending a message to the universe that not even the dimensional barriers in your prison cell can ignore.”
“Is any of this real, or are you just hazing the new guy?”
Okay, maybe he’s not buying it. Let the line out a little, then slowly start reeling him back in, Volpsidia. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve done this before.”
“Okay, fine. Tear up the carpet, carve your name, chant your name. I can do that.”
All I can do now is wait and hope. He never comes back out to give me a progress report, so he’s either actually trying it, or he’s figured out that I’m lying, and isn’t doing anything. The guy in the cell on the other side of me has his own slight psychic abilities, so if I’m going to break myself out, this idiot is my only hope.
That night, I start to feel him, and now I know he did what I asked. As the minutes go by, the stronger I can feel his mind. I’m a genius.
No, you’re not.
Who’s that? I ask. There’s someone in my head, and it’s not Ace. Who the hell is that? It’s a female voice, so I know it’s not my neighbor either.
You’re right, the voice in my head agrees. I’m not your neighbor. I am nowhere near Beaver Haven. You see, I haven’t broken any of McAllister’s rules, which is why I’m still free.
Who are you?
The name’s Erlendr Preston, he says. I can hear the smile in his thoughts.
I’ve heard of you. You’re a man.
I sense a shrug. I can be whatever I want to be. Feel free to authenticate my psychic signature.
Holy crap, he’s telling the truth. I cannot piss him off. I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I should probably be ready to plead for my life.
Tell me, what are you doing with Horace Reaver? Why did you make him chant your name like a frickin’ psycho? I can hear him all the way from the 20th century.
It’s a psychic prompt, I reply. Erlendr Preston is not a good guy. If he wants to stop me, he can. If he doesn’t, then it’s fine for me to be honest. In fact, it’s probably best, because I imagine he can tell when people are lying, and I don’t wanna know what he does to those people. I can read his mind, just like I can read anyone else, but I can’t control him unless he lets me in. Most people don’t realize that psychic powers are real, which means their minds are closed to pushing. If I want to hack in, I have to make him want me to. I have to make him think that we’re friends, and that I can help him.
Horace Reaver is very important to my plans. What are your plans? Do they interfere with mine?
I have no idea. What are you trying to do?
Nevermind that, Erlendr says. You explain your goals, and I’ll decide if I’m going to let you reach them or not.
I sigh. I’m just trying to get out of Beaver Haven.
How is being psychically linked to another inmate going to get you this?
This body is just a vessel. If I can get out of here mentally, I can find myself a new one. Ace’s body would just be temporary until I can find someone I like better.
Will Mr. Reaver survive both your possession, and your leaving him mind later?
Absolutely. If all goes according to plan, he won’t even know I’m still there. I’ll be dormant until I find the right host.
Erlendr doesn’t send another telepathic message for a while. Is it true what you told him? Can you let him see his family while he’s locked up? Do you have remote viewing capabilities?
Uhh... It’s hard to explain. I can...show him what he expects to see his family doing.
What happens when he gets out, and realizes what you showed him was an illusion?
He won’t. When he gets out, and tries to compare his visions with reality by talking to his people, everything they tell him will rewrite his memories of those visions. He’ll start remembering what they experienced when he wasn’t there just by them telling him about it.
That’s impressive. I’ve never met a choosing one with such...delicate power.
I laugh. I’m not a choosing one. I’m a Springfield Nine.
I know. He laughs too. I’ll be sure to make your life comfortable when I create my parallel reality.
I’m not sure what he means by that, but it’s best I express my gratitude. Thank you. I’m sure my alternate self will appreciate it.
You have a week, Erlendr says to me. Horace has to do something for me, and I need his mind free and clear for that. Find another vessel by then, and I’ll let you have this one for now.
Well, this version of me appreciates that deeply.
Just remember that next year when we meet each other again.
Oh, that doesn’t sound good, but I still need to be humble. Okay.
That was a psychic conversation, which is innocuous, and I have them with people all the time. Even though most don’t have powers, their minds instinctively know how to block out intrusion, so if they want, they can always drop the conversation as if hanging up a phone. But now I am fully inside Ace’s brain, so I can make it look like we’re occupying the same physical space. He’ll be able to see me; I’ll be able to see him, and we can interact with each other on a more intuitive level. The manifestation of a door appears on the wall in each of our respective pocket dimensions, like two adjoined hotel rooms. There is only one step left. In order to maintain a permanent presence in him, I need to open my door, and he needs to open his. We do so at the same time.
“Are we really here?” he asks.
“No, now we’re connected psychically.”
“What was all that with the bookcase, and saying your name out loud?”
“I’m sorry I had to make you do that. When I said you were reaching out to the universe, I really meant you were just reaching out to me. I’m the one who can show you how your family is doing, but I can only do that if you’re open.”
He looks around at our two pockets, which were contrived from our memories. “I look pretty open now.”
I nod and smile. I almost feel bad about using him. He seems like a good man. Which is probably why he’s going to get out of here one day. That has only ever happened once, as far as I know. I wasn’t able to get all the way into Slipstream’s mind, and I tried for a whole year, so this is my only chance to be free. “Yep. You did everything perfectly. Now I can show you what’s going on in the real world. I don’t have to ask you to concentrate on their faces, or anything. You’re the kind of guy who’s just doing that all the time.” I wave my hand at the double threshold, tearing it apart in the center. A new opening forms in its wake, opening enough to let us pass.
We walk into what looks like a magic show. Waiters and waitresses are walking around with drinks and fries. The place is pretty full. It’s informal, so people aren’t paying the man on stage their undivided attention, but they are being respectful. They’re whispering things to each other when they need to. We spot Ace’s family and friends. Serkan, Paige, Slipstream, and Alexina are sitting in a booth in the middle of the audience, right up against a retaining wall. They’re watching the performer, but differently than everyone else. They’re studying him.
“Now, folks!” the magician cries. “I know you didn’t come here for cold readings and trick rings! You wanna see me make something disappear!” He opens his palm, letting a dove suddenly appear on top of it. “Maybe this bird?” He pops his hand up, prompting the dove to fly up into the rafters. This is a weird vision. I can’t actually see what’s really happening in the rest of the world. I can read minds, and control people, but I have no connection to anyone here, except for Alexina, whose mind I agreed to never violate. This is only meant to be what Ace thinks is happening out here, and when he meets them again, his memory of this moment should change so he doesn’t realize it’s fake. Why would he think his family is at a magic show when they’re supposed to be on mission? “Today, I have a very special treat for you! I have been working on a new trick, and I need a volunteer! It takes a lot of energy, so I would prefer someone with less mass!”
“I’ll do it!” Young Paige volunteers.
Serkan tries to stop her quietly.
“It’s fine,” she whispers to him as she’s standing up. “I understand what he’s doing. He can’t hurt me.” She walks up towards the stage, bowing graciously at the cheering crowd. We follow, but of course, no one can see us since they’re not real.
“You look familiar,” the magician says to her, “what is your name?”
She leans in to the microphone. “I’ve been at your show before. My name is Paige Turner Reaver-Demir.”
“Well, folks, now you know she’s not a plant! I could never come up with such an interesting name!”
The audience laughs, except for Ace’s family.
The magician goes on, “Paige, have you ever teleported before?”
Paige leans in again, and very seriously—and without hesitation—answers, “yes.”
This surprises him for a moment, then he wises up. He covers the mic with his hand. “Are you a choosing one?” he whispers.
“I’m not,” she replies. “I’m spawn.” Oh, man, those are rare. I didn’t know that about her. “But don’t worry, I’m just here to have a good time. Go ahead and do your trick, it’s fine.”
After a little more performance to build up the suspense, the magician asks Paige to stand on the right side of him. Then he uses whatever chooser power he has to teleport her right over to his left side. The crowd is shocked. They start cheering again. Everyone is giving him a standing ovation. They’re eating it up. It’s not very impressive when you’ve seen what I have, but humans are ignorant wee babies. The magician seems proud of himself at first, but then his nose begins to bleed. He looks like he’s about to faint.
Paige notices this too. She takes her phone out of her pocket with one hand while trying to hold him up with the other. “It looks like that took a lot out of him, folks! I’m going to have to take him to the hospital.” She pulls up a picture of what I assume is a hospital, looks right at it, and they both disappear. Now the crowd freaks out.

Delmar Dupont

I struggle to open my eyes. I can see a silhouette watching me from the corner, but I can’t gather enough strength to figure out who it is. I keep working at it, though, and I’m eventually able to confirm that it’s human. Then I can tell it’s a woman, and then I can see her blurry features, and finally, I would be able to recognize her, if we had met before.
“Delmar Dupont, my name is Dr. Mallory Hammer. I’m a choosing one who—”
I sigh. “I know who you are.”
“Do you remember what happened?” she asks.
“I know what happened, but I don’t know why.”
Now she sighs. “Lemme guess, you practiced your latest trick with a comparable-mass dummy?”
“No, that girl couldn’t have been more than forty-five kilograms. I practiced with a dummy that weighed twice that much. It should have been easy.”
She started shaking her head. “It doesn’t matter; it was still a dummy. A living organism—especially a human—is infinitely more complex. Miss Turner has blood in her veins, and electricity in her brain. You’re lucky she’s spawn, or I would have demanded Beaver Haven lock you up.”
“What’s Beaver Haven?”
“It’s a prison for people like us.”
“What’s a spawn?”
“It’s when a salmon or chosen one somehow converts a human into someone who can experience nonlinear time with no further aid.”
I wait a moment. “What the hell is a chosen one?” I can see that she’s not used to having to explain quite this much about our world. I have a time power—well, it’s more like a space power—but I haven’t met a lot of people like me. My abilities are extremely limited, so others don’t have much use for me. I kind of stay in my own world. My knowledge of what’s going on out there doesn’t go beyond knowing that the others exist.
“As I was saying, Miss Turner is strong. What happened to you—if you had chosen a human as your volunteer—would have happened to them, but about ten times worse. They probably would have died.”
A man walks into the room.
“Mr. Demir, I understand you’re upset about your daughter, but this man deserves as much privacy, and time to rest, as anyone else would.”
“I’m not mad,” this Demir guy says. “I heard you through the door, though. Why isn’t he going to Beaver Haven anyway? Why hasn’t The Warden already arrested him?”
“Wardens don’t arrest people,” I point out.
“This one does,” he replies. Yeah, maybe I should recognize that I don’t know what I’m talking about. “He exposed us to the humans just by having a magic show in the first place. Isn’t that enough?”
“No,” Dr. Hammer says. “By disguising his powers in a magic show, he’s actually helping his case. No one in his audience thinks it’s real, even now that he’s done his grandest trick yet. One or two might believe, but not enough to raise concerns on a larger scale. Plenty of people believe in aliens among us, but that barely impacts social practices.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” I say. “I’m just not powerful enough for anyone to worry about what I’m doing.”
Mr. Demir squints his eyes, and stares at Hammer for a moment. “Are there aliens among us?”
She smiles, not expecting such a light question. “Not that I know of; not in this time period. Now, as I was saying, Mr. Dupont requires rest. I would thank you to leave and let him be for now. You can ask him your questions later.”
Now he may be getting a little upset. “The longer he sleeps, the longer my husband is sitting in Beaver Haven. I want him out, so give this man whatever it is you need for him to magically recover, and let us get on with it.”
He starts to leave, but I urge him to wait as I’m finding the remote. I see that I’m in a hospital bed, but this just looks like a bedroom. Once I’m sitting up, I catch my breath. I have to help these people however I can. I guess I owe them that much. “What do you wanna know?”
Demir steps closer. “We need information on someone we’ve heard you met. His name is Austin Miller. No, Agent Austin Miller.”
“Agent Miller, yeah. He came to a lot of my shows, for months. I thought it was weird, because no one else does that. Well, I do have one groupie, but she’s there for a different reason. I’m not that good. I only chose the profession because of what I can do, but I’m lacking a lot of showmanship. I would much rather just be selling insurance, or something. Anyway, this guy seemed like he was studying me, like he knew that my tricks were more than just tricks. I was about to pack up, and move on before I got caught, but then he finally approached me. He said he thought he was one of us, but wasn’t sure. He could remember things happening that no one else can. He can see alternate realities, or something? I dunno. You could probably better explain it.”
“What did he want from you?” Demir asked.
“He could see that I wasn’t anybody important, but he hoped I knew someone who was.”
“Who did you lead him to, Dupont?”
“Ya know, when I was just trying to get my magic show off the ground, this guy who called himself The Delegator showed up. He warned me that there would be consequences if I got too big. He and his people would allow me to proceed, as long as I didn’t try to go viral, or something. I had to keep my act moving, and not making any waves. He told me there were others like us, and offered to put me in touch with your little network. I declined, because I didn’t really care. I still don’t. I’m all right with my life, and I have no interest in getting mixed up in all the craziness I’m sure you people go through on the regular.” I nod over to the doctor. “He gave me your card, in case I ever needed medical attention, but other than that, I don’t know anybody. He didn’t even say you had powers yourself. He just said you treat our kind. Well, I didn’t give her up to the agent, and I didn’t give up the Delegator either. That was only because he didn’t give me the means to contact him again anyway.”
“Who did you lead him to, Dupont?” Demir asks again.
“Oh, don’t be so concerned. I’m just giving you background; not building suspense. You see, the agent wasn’t the first person to come to my show, looking for answers. There was another dude. Wore a button-up white shirt, and a skinny black tie. He looked like a mormon, and he was very interested in basically giving me anything I wanted. He was treating me like a god, and it freaked me out. I almost moved because of that time too, but then he left me alone, so I let it go.”
Dr. Hammer looked confused. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“He introduced himself as Orson Olsen,” I explain. “He doesn’t have powers. If he did, he would be worshiping himself.”
“He worships people with powers?” Demir questions.
“He sounds like a cult leader,” Hammer points out.
“That was the impression that I got,” I agree. “I think he sensed how uncomfortable I was, and also realized I wouldn’t be able to help him, so I never saw him again. I didn’t feel bad about giving the agent his name, though. I don’t know what he did with it.”
“When was this?” Demir asks. “When did you last see Agent Miller?”
“A couple weeks ago,” I answer honestly.
“Where can we find this Orson guy?”
“I don’t know,” I say, also honestly. “I have a picture of him, though. I took it on the sly when he was in my audience.” I grab my phone from the bedside table, and swipe through the camera roll until I find what I’m looking for.
Demir studies it a moment, then shows it to Dr. Hammer, who shakes her head, indicating that she doesn’t know who he is. He takes out his own phone, and double bumps it with mine, to transfer the photo to himself. “Thank you. I think that will be all from me. Don’t leave town, though.” He starts to walk out again.
“I think I have to,” I remind him. “What your daughter did on stage; that was probably too much. I have to move my act to the next location.”
He looks over at the doctor. “Can you keep him in one of your basement environments until we’re sure we’re done with him?”
Dr. Hammer frowns. “That’s not really what those rooms were designed for.”
He lets out an apathetic wince. “You forget, I’m a time traveler. I’ve been here in the past. This is Fletcher House. Those rooms weren’t designed for what you’re using them for either.”
She stands up for dramatic effect. “Yes, they were. The architect knew where history was headed.”
“Please? For Paige?”
It’s obvious the doctor is about to give in. “You’re lucky she’s one of my favorites. You’ll have to clear it with Carmen, though.”
“Who’s that?” Demir asks.
Demir and Paige—who looks far too old to be his real daughter—help me down two flights of stairs, to the most insane basement I’ve ever seen. At the bottom of the steps is a giant bank vault. When they open it for me, I see it’s not a real vault, but the door must have been stolen right from a bank. He called this Fletcher House, which is a name that sounds familiar, but I can’t place it. The first room beyond the vault door contains two angled desks facing each other, but there’s nothing on them. I see four more doors, all of which are closed. This place is real creepy, and I don’t understand who these people are.
A woman is standing to the side, wearing a toothless smile, with her hands holding each other in the front. “My name is Carmen Felt. I’ve been told you need a room. You have three options.” She points to three of the doors. “1987 to 1997, 1998 to 2008, or 2020 to present. The other one is being used for 2013 Saskatchewan.”
I casually walk towards two of the doors. “These lead to other points in time?”
Carmen laughs. “No. Ashlock sends our operative through time by switching bodies with someone who lives there. That individual then waits here, in one of these rooms. We dress it up to look familiar to them, so they’re more comfortable. And when I say we, I mean mostly me. I’m the interior designer.”
I point to the door on the opposite wall to the vault door. “Where does that one lead to?”
She turns to take a quick look at it, even though she knows what I’m talking about. “You don’t need to know that. You’ll be in one of these three rooms. Or, if you would prefer, I can have you placed in one of the holding cells.”
“The twenty-twenty room will be fine, thank you.”
“Perfect.”
“Is she always so scary nice?” I ask Paige after Carmen leaves.
“I have no idea,” she answers. “I met her when you did.”
“So, you don’t know if she’s single?” That’s an inappropriate thing to ask a teenager I don’t know.
“No. But I’m sure Morse will kick you out as soon as you’re well enough to leave, so it doesn’t really matter. This is a special place, for a special team. Outsiders like us can visit, but not stay.”
“That’s all right. I need to start thinking about where I’m gonna go next.”
She nods. “Well, while you do that, I’m going upstairs to help plan the mission.”
“Wait, you’re going to confront that mormon?”
“That mormon is my responsibility,” she explains. “I’m the one who told him to start a church to worship us. I was a child at the time, but it was still stupid.”
“He’s dangerous.”
“So am I,” she says.
“Wait.” I sigh again. “I lied upstairs. The Delegator wasn’t the only time traveler I met. There’s another one, but I promise I haven’t told anyone else about him. I think I can trust you guys, though, and I know he’ll be able to help, because he used to be a cop.”
“Who?”
“His name is Bran...Kallias Bran.”

Kallias Bran

I’m not in hiding, but I have been laying low for a while. Back in the year 1990, I started investigating a child’s disappearance. It was my first case as a detective, and the weirdest thing I had ever seen up until that point. Things like it would eventually become commonplace for me, but back then, I couldn’t explain it. Escher Bradley was missing according to his supposed father, but according to the mother, he never existed. I spent years trying to figure what the hell was going on. More children disappeared over the next decade, and I was the one assigned to them all. Other strange things happened in Springfield, Kansas until it all just ended when the entire town itself disappeared. I continued to investigate, though. I traveled to other planets, other points in time, and even other universes. My life was non-stop adventure, so when I was given the opportunity to go back to where it all began, and lead a more normal life, I took it. Sort of.
The first moment I experienced nonlinear time was, as I said, way back in 1990. But since then, I’ve seen all kinds of technological advancements. Living in a time before I could look up literally anything in an online encyclopedia, or navigate to a new location on a little computer phone, was something I didn’t think I could do. I hitched a ride back to the future—the 2020s, to be exact—and I’ve been generally avoiding other time travelers ever since. There are some good people in this underworld, though, and I should have left myself available to them if they ever needed me. I don’t know how he did it, but one of them did finally manage to find me, and he apparently needs my help.
“Where’s your family, Ace?” I ask him.
“They’re still looking for you,” he says. “We got separated, and I found you first.”
“Can’t you call them?”
He pats his pants. “I don’t have a phone.”
“How did you know where I was, but they didn’t? Why were you separated?”
“I was in prison,” he explains. “Don’t worry, I didn’t belong there, and The Warden let me go. I came into possession of some intel while I was on the inside, which led me to you. If you don’t help us with our mission, you’ll still need to bug out. Not everyone who knows your location is on your side.”
“Am I, like, wanted?”
“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “My cell neighbor seemed particularly interested in you, though. You could better understand what it is that makes you special. I just consider you a friend.”
“Okay, I appreciate the warning. And I’ll definitely help with whatever mission you’re talking about. I’m sorry I haven’t reached out lately. I’ve been kind of staying out of the game, but I think I’m ready to be involved again.”
“We appreciate that. Come on. We’re based out of your safehouse.”
The condo I bought a long time ago has been used for many different things by many different people. I probably lived there for the shortest amount of time, but I still technically own it. I’m glad it’s been there to help so many people. It is a joy.

Serkan Demir runs over and tackles his boyfriend when we arrive at the condo. “How did you get out? Did we win? I don’t remember winning.”
“It had nothing to do with this,” Ace explains as he was peeling Serkan off so he could hug their adopted daughter too. “A friend I won’t have until the future broke me out.”
“They broke you out?” Slipstream asks. I’ve never met her, but she’s famous in all of Kansas City, and beyond. It’s an honor just to be in her presence. “So they’re coming for you.”
“Well,” Ace begins, “when I say he broke me out, I mean he literally broke the bars on my cell. I don’t understand who he is, or what our relationship will be in the future, but the Warden basically said he can do whatever the hell he wants, and she has no right to go against him. I’m in the clear.”
“So, is that it?” Paige asks. “Do we not have to do what it is the Warden charged us to do?”
“I still need to,” Alexina McGregor says. She’s one of the Springfield Nine, like me. She got her time powers from another dimension, and while most of them are amoral, at best, she’s recently tried to redeem herself. I hope she makes it. “I still have to get the rabbit dog from the FBI. I can’t ask you to continue if you don’t have to.”
“Of course we will,” Ace assures her. “Now we have some real firepower to back us.”
Is he referring to me? “Are you referring to me?”
“Slipstream has some clout,” Serkan says. “She’s still a civilian, though. We could use a real law enforcement officer on our side. Ace, how did you find him?”
Ace looks like he doesn’t want to explain how it is he found me. He told me it had something to do with other people in the prison, but maybe it’s a lot more complicated than that, or it’s something bad. There’s a phrase I’ve heard before, which serves as what I guess you could call the time traveler’s way of saying shut up. To avoid paradoxes, and other timeline problems, all you have to do is say, “eh. Time, right?”
Serkan still wants answers, but he’s letting it go for now. “Right.”
“What exactly do you need from the FBI?” I ask them.
And so they go about telling me what they’re hunting for. There’s some kind of psychic hybrid creature, and a temporal object that’s so powerful, no one seems to know what it does. They’re both being protected by a federal agent who probably has special time powers, and he may be in possession of other things they don’t know about. What his motivation is, or what his ultimate plan is, they don’t know, but they know they have to get these things back, because he can’t be trusted.
“And what do you need me for?” I go on. “I’m not a detective in this timeline. I don’t have a badge, or even a gun.”
“We can make you a detective again,” Paige says. “We need it to be you, because you know what questions to ask; how to get into people’s heads.”
“Are you planning on taking me to The Forger to get my badge back?”
“That was the idea, yes,” Paige acknowledges. “Do you not think that’s gonna work?”
I sigh. “It probably will, as long as we give his bouncer a thousand dollars. I’m willing to do just about whatever it takes to help you, but I don’t know if I want to go back to that life. I gave up the force a long time ago.”
Paige comes over, and takes my arm in her hand. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. We weren’t going to contact you, but Dupont dropped your name, and it made us realize we could do with a little more help.”
Delmar Dupont? The magician guy? Hm. Weird.” I sigh again, and watch them watching me, wondering what I’m going to do. “Okay. Let’s go make me a cop again.” I start heading towards the other side of the condo, while everyone else heads for the exit. “Where are you going?”
“Where are you going?” I ask them. The Forger is this way.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ace questions. “He’s downtown.”
I study them a moment, to see if they’re joking. “You’ve been living here the whole time, and you didn’t realize he and The Communicators moved here last year?”
Slipstream and Serkan tilt their lizard brains.
“Yeah,” I go on, “they’re in the closet. Come on.”
I lead them to the closet, which gives us access to another dimension. We step through it to find ourselves in a much nicer facility than the one these people were working out of before. It’s cleaner, brighter, and modern. I was in here once recently, since I’m the one who gave them the money to upgrade, but I haven’t been here since they finished fixing it all up.
“This used to be a clothing warehouse,” Paige notes.
“Yeah, they moved that to The Hub,” I explain, but it’s clear they don’t know what that is yet. That’s okay, I’m sure they’ll see it later in the timeline.
The same bouncer is standing at the entrance. He seems to recognize everyone, except for Alexina. “She’s cool,” I tell him.
The bouncer nods his head towards Ace. “He owes me a thousand dollars.”
I pull two thousand bucks from my back pocket. “I got it covered.” Ace doesn’t look happy, but I shake my head. “I’m rich, and I didn’t even work for it. I don’t want you to bother paying me back. Money isn’t gonna matter much in the future.”
We keep walking down the great hall. A wide-smiling Ennis waves to us through the glass of his new post office. Susan’s office is darkened, with a red light above the door, which indicates that she’s currently napping. Allen and Richard’s restaurant is open to the public on the other side of the kitchen, and it sounds like a lot of people are dining right now. The time traveler side, however, is almost empty. Only one young woman is eating right now, and she looks a little worried about this group of people walking by her. The Salmonday Club isn’t open at all right now, but we see somebody cleaning the entrance. Finally we’re at the Forger’s new den. I open the door, which knocks into a little bell hanging from the ceiling.
The man himself, Duane Blackwood, comes in from the back, and lifts his arms in a welcoming fashion. “All of you together in one place. My heart is warmed. Mr. Reaver, I heard about your jailbreak. How do you know Mateo Matic?”
“I don’t yet,” Ace answers.
“Ain’t that how it always goes?” Duane asks rhetorically. “How can I help you fine folk? I’ve expanded my business. I can now offer direct transport to another time and place, and discount prices on certain living places. I would just generate the cash myself, but that can screw with the local economy too much, so you’ll still need to pay a little yourself. We even house a Nexus replica on the premises, so if you need to get to Tribulation Island, that can be arranged.”
“That’ll be all right,” I say to him. “I just need...I need you to make me a detective again.”
Duane frowns, but not too sadly. “I thought you were done with all that.”
“My friends evidently require access to the FBI building,” I say. “I’m the only one they know with enough experience to help them.”
“You need access to the fed building, then you need to become a fed, not a detective,” Duane suggests.
“You can do that?” Paige asks.
“Hell yeah, I can,” Duane says. “With my new digs, I can make authentic badges, and appropriate firearms, as well as necessary identification papers.”
“I don’t know much about what it takes to be FBI,” I say honestly. “They’re very different professions.”
“You just need to get through security, right?” Duane asks. “That’ll be easy. I do...umm...ask for payment these days? Not money, of course. Like I was saying, I have my own bottomless ATM, but I do need a favor.”
I was worried something like this would happen, but I’m not gonna freak out until I hear what it is he wants from us.
“There’s a guy at the front door,” Duane begins. “He comes every single day. He knows there’s something here. I’m not a hundred percent sure what he wants, but he’s just human. The Salmonday Club has had to let people in the side entrance, so he doesn’t notice them.”
“What’s the Salmonday Club?” Paige asks.
“You know how there are only seven days a week?” I pose to her.
“Yeah.”
“There are eight, as long as you enter the club thirty seconds to midnight at the very end of the week.”
“Everyone rushes in all at once,” Duane continues for me. “This place is a madhouse on Saturday nights. This dude saw the clubgoers coming into this building one time, and I guess he’s been obsessed with us ever since. The power/pattern detector filtered him out, and just showed him a regular abandoned building, but he knows something’s up. Security can’t get him to leave.”
“Is he there right now?” I ask him.
“Yeah.” Duane walks up to the counter, and reaches over to swing the computer monitor around. It’s showing security camera footage from the main entrance of this building. A guy in a button-up shirt and skinny tie is leaning up against a pillar, hastily writing in a journal, or something.
“Oh my God,” Paige says with a bit of disgust. “That’s him. That’s Orson Olsen, the mormon I accidentally inspired to start a religion.”
I sigh one last time. “You make me FBI credentials, and I’ll get him out of here.”

Orson Olsen

Two years ago, I witnessed a miracle. Well, there were actually three miracles in one day. I watched a girl appear out of nowhere, standing on a stump in my yard. Her arms were stretched wide, and a halo shined from above her head. Hours later, I ran into that girl again, though she did not seem to know who I was. I watched her disappear again, and realized she was a time traveler, who needed my help to save her friends. I saw my angel a third time later that day, and before she disappeared one last time, she gave me a mandate. I am to worship time. That is the one true God, and I’m embarrassed I didn’t realize it before. I used to follow an imaginary flying spaghetti monster, because I was indoctrinated into it from birth. But now I see the truth. Time is real; it’s abstract, and impossible to hold in your hand, which makes it magnificent, but it undeniably exists. If that’s not God, then God cannot exist.
I realized I had to spread the word. Most of my brothers and sisters in the church would not be swayed. They did not witness the Trinity Miracle, like I did. There were others, however, that I knew I would be able to convince. My mother was always worried people would leave the church, and she taught me to spot these people, so I could help bring them back from the brink of damnation. No matter what I did, though, they retained their doubts; they just learned to hide it better. Fortunately, my memory is totally fine, so I had this excellent list of people who would be willing to hear the true word. I started out slowly—very slowly. I knew that my best friend would believe me without question. It was he who discovered a magician in the area who might be what we were looking for. He was right. This guy had real powers to move things from one hand to the other. They weren’t very impressive, but they were enough to convince my church’s doubters. I brought them to the shows one by one, never giving away that we knew each other. They saw for themselves that time travel was real, and our movement grew. This was not the magician’s only purpose. I knew he would know others like him, so we watched him for weeks, like secret agents. He ate at the same restaurant almost every single day, and every time he showed up, he was surprised, as if the restaurant was attracting him against his will.
My friend and I realized the restaurant was more special than the man, so we switched gears, and started to investigate them instead. Through a complex series of timing the employees, and watching certain customers being led through the kitchen, we determined there was a whole world in the back we couldn’t see from here. We started watching the whole building, and could tell that there were some strange goingson that people like us weren’t allowed to see. We have to see the miracles, though. My people deserve the truth, and I am the only one who can show it to them. I’ve been coming here ever since, waiting for someone in there to notice, and here he comes. My plan has worked. I’m about to be read in.
“Detective Bran,” the man says, showing me his badge. It’s not the first FBI agent I’ve met, but that’s a different story. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, have I been loitering?”
“What are you writing in there, your manifesto?” he asks me.
My notebook. “Oh, heavens no. This is the good book.”
“You’re rewriting the bible?”
“I’m writing the real bible.”
“Hmm,” is all he can say.
“What are your abilities?” I’m pretty good at playing it cool, but I can tell there’s something different about this guy. Security has been coming by nearly every day to get me to leave, but they’re just regular people. I can smell the power coming off of him. Perhaps I’m one of them. Perhaps my ability is to sense other abilities.
“Well, I’m a good marksman, and a halfway decent investigator. My true strength lies in getting people to leave.”
“Please. You don’t have to lie to me. I don’t know exactly what you are, but I know that you’re special. I’m not going to hurt you. Just...read me in. Show me the light. I am..open.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Agent Bran says. “This is private property, and it is time for you to leave.”
“I’ll leave, if you let me in...just once. Let me see what’s really in there—no illusions—and I’ll never bother you again.”
“Sir, this is a secure facility. I cannot let you in.”
“You think I’m going to believe that this is nothing more than a CIA blacksite? I’m not stupid. I saw through the windows. Dozens of people ran into that unit, right there.” I point to some kind of club. I never got a good look at the sign, so that’s the only word I could make out. “A minute later, they all came out. They looked different. I have a really good memory, and an eye for faces. People were wearing different clothes, and none of them looked like they had just ran inside, and came back out. Something happened in there, and I demand to know what it was.”
“It’s all right, Agent.” She’s come. She’s come to show me the light again.
“Paige, get back inside,” Agent Bran orders. “Who is he to talk to an angel like that?”
“Angel Paige,” I utter. “You’ve returned.”
“I have,” she says to me. “You wanna see the light. Then let’s go take a look. Let’s go back to the beginning, or near it, anyway.” She takes out her phone. “You ever been to New York?”
“Paige, don’t do this,” Bran pleads.
“The cat’s out of the bag,” she explains to him. “We can’t put it back, but we can domesticate it.” She shows me a picture of a house on a hill. It’s black and white and yellow, but I think the yellow is probably just because it’s really old. The edges are damaged, as if melted, but again, that’s probably due to the ravages of time. This is a very old photograph. “How about New York 1848?”
“Paige, no!” cries another voice, but I never get a chance to see who it is.
She takes me by the arm, and whisks me away. In seconds, we’re standing at the bottom of the hill in the photograph. For a second, a part of me wonders why it’s not still in black and white, but of course, that would be stupid. We’ve just traveled into the past. The angel has given me such an amazing gift. “Let’s take a walk.”
We walk along the fence for a few minutes as I patiently wait for her to say something else. I am in the presence of divinity, but I know she will be turned off if I act too enthusiastic about it. I just keep thinking about how incredible it is to be here, and how much she must trust me to show me this.
“Orson—can I call you Orson?”
“You can call me whatever you want, Angel Paige.”
“I’ll call you Orson, and you can just call me Paige, because I’m not an angel, and I think you know that.”
“Anything you want...Paige.”
“When we met, I was young, and still getting a handle on my abilities. I was desperate to help my friends, and that made me reckless. I showed you something that you were never meant to see. There are people in this world, and other worlds, with time powers. It’s not illegal for us to tell one or two people what we can do. We have to be able to trust our families, and our closest friends. It is a problem, however, if word spreads. So my question to you is, who the fuck do you think you are?”
“I’m sorry?”
“Do you need me to repeat myself? You’re just some random mormon who got a peek at something that wasn’t for him. What gives you the right to run around, showing a bunch of people magic tricks, and telling them what to worship? Do you think we want that? Do you think we want you exposing us? Do you think, maybe, there are consequences to this sort of thing? Do you think it’s possible that somebody built a prison, stuffed my best friend in it, and left her there to rot for a year? You can’t just go upending everything we’ve done to protect ourselves from the general public. Because you don’t matter, and it isn’t fair for you to assume all this responsibility.”
“I’m sorry, I meant no disrespect. You told me to worship time.”
“That was an off-handed comment. It wasn’t a real command. Jesus Christ.”
I don’t know what to say.
She takes a deep breath before continuing. “This prison isn’t designed for criminals. It’s only there to house those who risk outting us to the world. If you don’t stop what you’re doing, we’ll all go there, including you. You’re human, which affords you some special consideration, but that will only take you so far. If your cult gets any bigger, they’re gonna step in. I’m surprised they let it get this big.”
“I don’t know how to do that,” I say to her honestly. “It’s grown beyond my control. People saw the truth. They saw that magician.”
“People see magicians all the time, they don’t start worshiping them.”
“We don’t worship Delmar Dupont. He’s a lesser god, at best.”
“You need to explain to your flock that you were wrong. You need to get them to believe that...they shouldn’t believe.”
“That sounds impossible. I mean, I already pulled them from a church. Now you want me to tell them to go back? They would see right through that.”
“You’re the only one who saw what I could do, right?”
“Yes.”
“You’re the only one who saw people run into Salmonday Club too.”
“Is that what it’s called? Yes, I was the only one there at the time. Like I was saying, though, the magician was enough. They watched carefully, and they listen to me.”
“They listen to you?”
“That’s not really what I mean,” I start to clarify. “They listened in the beginning, because they saw proof, and they needed an excuse to leave the church. That’s not gonna work a second time. I can reinforce what I’ve already told them, and they’ll still listen, but I can’t contradict myself.”
We keep walking as she thinks this over. “Why do they listen to you? Why did they agree to go to the magic show?”
“Magic doesn’t go against the church, because most of it is just sleight of hand and misdirection. They only started believing after what they saw, and because I told them it was real. We can’t undo that.”
“That’s the key, though. You told them it was real. They could have just as easily happened upon the venue, watched it on their own, and assumed it was an illusion, just like most people do.”
“Yeah, I guess.” I’m not sure where she’s going with this.
“If they stop believing in you, then they’ll stop believing in him, and if they don’t believe in him, then they don’t believe in time magic at all.”
“How would they stop believing in me?” I question.
“We have to discredit you.”
“What are you gonna do, like, doctor photos of me in bed with a man, or something? It’s 2027, they won’t like that, but it’s not enough anymore. I mean, it would be one thing if I preached sexual purity, but I don’t even mention that in my sermons. Their hang-ups would all be carryovers from their old lives.”
“No, I wouldn’t wanna do that anyway.”
Now I’m scared. I wouldn’t love that idea, but I would do it for her, even though I’m not gay. I’m afraid she’s about to suggest something really bad. “So...”
“It’s really bad, you’re not gonna like it.”
I suck it up in my own head, and say, “I’ll do anything for you.”
“That’s the problem, it can’t be you. At least, I don’t think it can. How long were you a member of that church in Independence?”
“I was part of Independence Temple my whole life, until you. Why?”
“That’s what I was worried about. I need the name of the newest member of your church who is also now a member of your...cult?”
“We don’t like that word, but...”
“But who?”
“But there’s no one. There’s no one like that.”
“Damn. If we had someone like that, we could discredit them instead. Bran could barge into your worshiphouse, and arrest him for fraud in three states, or something like that. Then we could convince them that he was the one in control of everything.”
“That’s terrible, Paige.” I guess she really isn’t an angel.
“I know. It was just my first idea.”
I sigh. “Well, you’re a time traveler, right?”
“Yes.”
“Then let’s undo it. Take me back to 2025. Change the past. That’s possible, isn’t it?”
“I’ve seen it done, yes.”
“Okay. I’m ready.”

Indvo

I have been awakened, and am called to a moment in downtown Independence, Missouri. Time cannot be stopped, but I can slow it down to a fraction of a snail’s pace. Now it is just the four of us. For the most part, when someone becomes in need of my services, I only speak with the replicates, but there’s a chaperone in this case, and that’s fine. I can still do my job, which is good, because I am the only one.
“Who are you?” the young woman asks.
“Paige Turner—”
“No, that’s me,” she cuts me off.
“Please do not interrupt.”
“Sorry.”
“Paige Turner Reaver-Demir, my name is Indvo.”
“Is that spelled how it sounds? E-E-N-T-F—?”
“No,” I reply, “and I am still not finished. There are two versions of the same person in this timeline, who have crossed paths. My recommendation is quantum assimilation. Normally, I would only counsel the subjects, but since you are the traveler, I believe it is best that you remain inside this temporal bubble. I reserve the right to remove you at any time, however.”
She says nothing.
“Now I am done,” I continue. “I can see that you have questions.”
“Who are you?” Paige asks. “And I don’t mean your name. What is this bubble for? You’re a counselor of sorts?”
“I am the quantum assimilator. I step in when the two should be merged into one.”
“What exactly does that mean?” Older!Orsen questions.
I prepare to lay it all out for them. “You are two people with two bodies. Most of your memories are identical, but one of you has some memories that the other does not. And now that you have met, you have undeniably become two separate people, on two unique paths. This is dangerous for the timeline, especially since neither of you are time travelers, and cannot necessarily be trusted with our secrets. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. Quantum assimilation is not a requirement, except in the most catastrophic of circumstances. Like I’ve said, however, I do recommend it in this situation, and I will not pop this bubble until I’ve done my due diligence when it comes to attempting to convince you to agree.”
“So, you’re going to make these two people one person?” Paige believes.
“Indeed,” I say.
“Why do we have to do that?” Older!Orson asks. Younger!Orson is still too shocked and frightened to utter a word. “Why can’t I just go back to the future?”
“As I’ve explained,” I begin again, “you are now two different people.” I point to Older!Orson. “When you first lived through this moment, none of this happened. You met Younger!Paige, she impacted your life, and you moved on with it in a certain way.”
“In a good way?” Now Younger!Orson speaks.
“I make no moral or qualitative judgments,” I tell him. “I only protect individuality. The point is that you have returned, and generated a new branch in time...a new timeline. If there are two of you now, when you jump back to 2027, there will still be two of you.” I point to Younger!Orson. “He will move on with his life in a certain way, impacted by what’s happening here and now, and will remain unless he’s, you know, killed, or something.”
Younger!Orson, who has only just now learned that time travel is real, whimpers. “Am I going to be killed?”
“Death is one way to remove the problem of alternate selves. It’s very nasty, and I don’t do it. I am only the quantum assimilator, so if death is the choice you make, you will have to take care of it yourselves.”
“We are not killing anybody,” Paige declared. “Just explain the process, and give us all of our options.”
I take a deep breath. “It is a simple process to explain, but a complex one to carry out. I will remove the consciousnesses of both individuals, and merge them into one. Then I will place this new consciousness into one of the bodies.”
“Which body?” Older!Orson asks.
“That is up to you. People have different reasons for which body they choose. I assimilated a woman who went back in time to stop herself from getting radiation poisoning. When I merged their minds, we obviously chose to put the new consciousness into the unirradiated body. Another, however, happened to live long enough to find a cure for their disease, so we chose the older body. Most of the time, however, it is not that dramatic. The most common choice is the younger body, simply because it gives them more time to live.”
The two Orsons look at each other uncomfortably.
“What happens to the other body?” Paige asks with predictably less fear.
“It is dispatched to oblivion. Every atomic bond is broken, and each atom is carefully placed somewhere separately in spacetime.”
“That sounds horrific,” Older!Orson says, concerned.
“There is no consciousness inside the body that is destroyed,” I contradict. “Even if there were, the process is instantaneous, and would be one hundred percent painless.”
Older!Orson is now getting a little upset, and seems to feel very protective of his younger counterpart. “What are the other options? You said we had a choice. What else can we do?”
“One of you can commit suicide, which we went over. One of you can go live off in a very far removed time period, with a brand new identity. You can also move to a different planet. Both of these run the risk of you encountering each other at some point, as does another option, which is to simply live in different cities, or something. That is, of course, the most dangerous, but it has been done, and I’ve allowed it.”
“Are there more?” Paige prompts.
“I spoke with someone who would regularly return to the past to alter recent historical events he deemed unjust. Every time he did that, he would step into another dimension, so his other self could live on without the hassle. Last I checked, there were hundreds of alternates, all just kind of hanging out together in their bizarre little city that’s totally cut off from the world. That sort of thing is why I’m here, because if he wasn’t capable of accessing this pocket dimension, those hundreds of alternates would all be on this plane of existence. The human population would be negatively impacted by that, and you would have heard about it.”
“That makes sense,” Paige says. “So, to recap, exile, suicide, or assimilation are our only options?”
“It all boils down to that, I suppose.”
“Serkan never did any of that,” she argues. “He and his other self live in the same city.”
“Your father wanted to do that, because he felt he would be reasonably capable of avoiding his alternate selves, one of which is totally oblivious to time travel. I allowed it, because Mr. Demir lives a very underground life, and I recognized that he would be mature enough to shed his old life, and let Younger!Serkan lead it in his stead. That was his secret gift to his self. Not everyone has the willpower to avoid checking in on their family and friends.”
“He didn’t tell me any of this,” Paige points out. “He’s never mentioned you, and he tells us everything.”
I smile. “I’m certain he would have told you if he remembered. He has no recollection of our conversation. No one ever does. Once our business here is complete, you will not remember this either.”
“Wouldn’t that defeat the whole purpose?” Older!Orson believes. “The whole reason I came back here was to convince my younger self not to start a time religion.”
I smile again. “You will remember everything that led to the creation of our bubble meeting. You will also be aware that a quantum assimilation occurred. You just won’t remember how it happened. You just won’t remember me.”
“Does anyone ever remember you?” This was genuine concern from Ms. Paige.
“I’ve not maintained a relationship since I was seven years old,” I tell them. “Whatever I was doing when I first sensed someone in the timeline needed me to help them, was the last time I did anything as a normal person. I don’t even remember what it was. I do remember returning home after my first job, and finding that my family didn’t know who I was. My entire existence; past and future was erased, and it could not be undone.”
She takes me by the hand, again so genuinely. No one has ever done anything like that to me before. I don’t remember the last time I felt human touch. I never need to make physical contact with my subjects. “I’m sorry that happened to you. Is there anything that can be done? Is it possible for you to force people to remember you after you leave?”
“I’ve met the most powerful time travelers of all,” I begin, “and none of them has exhibited the ability to know me. But this is not about me anyway. This is about the Orsons. It is time to decide. I will not force you, but my recommendation stands.”
“What if we disagree with each other?” Older!Orson asks.
I always hate this part. “The older version of someone is more knowledgeable, if not wiser. It doesn’t have to be unanimous. I will do whatever you decide. Younger!Orson does not have to be involved. It is easier this way.”
This saddens the older one, and frightens the younger one even more than he already was. “Still. Can we have a moment to speak in private?”
I nod. “I can create a bubble inside the time bubble. Ms. Paige and I will not be able to hear you, but our time will be synced. I urge haste. I have other things to do with my time.”
The two Orsons step over to the other side of a barrier that I create for their privacy. Paige and I watch them talk. It’s neutral; not heated.
“What do you think they’re gonna choose?” she asks me.
“I’ve done this literally millions of times,” I start to say.
“Really?”
“Really. I always know what they’re going to choose, even before they do.”
“Well...” she provokes. “What is it?”
I take a moment before I answer. “The older one is going to kill himself.”
I can smell the dismay seeping out of her pores. I can also see her reaction out of the corner of my eye.
“I can erase your own memories of it happening,” I assure her. “And his. The younger Orson will know he was told to do whatever it is you wanted him to do. Whether he complies with your request is up to him—that’s not my department, so I have no control over that—but neither of you have to realize what happened to the other Orson.”
“So you can control what people remember?”
“There’s a bit of leeway when it comes to what they forget, but I cannot make them remember anything extra.”
“So, I’ll go back to the future, and what will it look like? We’ll never meet Orson outside the Salmon Civic Center, but we’ll still need some way of continuing the investigation, as if Orson’s name had been attached to The Juggler and Agent Hello Doctor. Oh my God, we didn’t think this through enough. If he kills himself...”
“Again, that’s not my department. You probably won’t want to go back to that future, though.” I hate this part too. Sometimes the people I meet don’t even realize what’s happened to them. They don’t know what they are. It is the burden I bear to deliver so much bad news like this.
“Why’s that?” She’s confused, but she’s about to be scared. It’s about to get real.
“Older!Orson is not the only time traveler here. You are the one who created the new timeline. There are now two Paige Turner Reaver-Demirs in the same timeline. You’re going to have to make a decision too.”
I can see the hurt in her eyes. I’ve seen it many times. “Oh, no.”

Hello Doctor

“My name is Agent Austin Miller, and I discovered something last year that’s going to change everything. And when I say it’s going to change everything, I don’t just mean my own life, or even the FBI field office where I work. It’s going to change everything about the whole world. Your children’s children will never know a world with war, or gun violence, or—”
“Hey, Hello!”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Sure thing, Agent Doctor.”
“What do you want!”
“There is a group of people in the lobby. They need to discuss The Ninth, and you are the agent in charge of that investigation.” He walks away.
“The Ninth. It’s shorthand for The Ninth Annual Frenzy City Event. While I’m the only one who remembers all the weird crap that happened, others noticed some inconsis—”
“Agent Hello, are you talking to yourself again?”
“No. I mean—I don’t talk to myself at all!”
“Okay, cool. Could you go ahead and collect your visitors? This isn’t a real doctor’s office. We really want you to be on time.”
“I’m not a doctor!”
“Yeah, we know, that’s the point.”
“Dick,” I mutter under my breath.
“Just go downstairs,” he begins, “Agent Miller.”
I secure my closet door, and head to the lobby, where three strangers are standing around. One of them steps forward as the apparent leader. “Agent Miller. I’m Agent Bran, St. Louis field office. These are my associates.”
Actually what I said earlier about them being strangers isn’t the whole truth. I do recognize one of these people. That’s Bozhena Horvatinčić, a.k.a. Armbreaker, a.k.a. Slipstream. She fancies herself a cop in this town, and the police here let her do whatever she wants. I don’t imagine I’ll be as accommodating to her. For now, though, I’ll hear them out.
“Could we speak in your office?” Agent Bran asks.
“What is this about?” I question.
“It’s about the Frenzy,” Slipstream says, “about what you remember, and what no one else does?”
Could this be true? Are there finally others who recall all the changes to reality that happened at that race? Someone erased everyone’s memories, but somehow missed me. I decided the law of probability demanded I wasn’t the only one who fell through the cracks, so I spent months trying to find like-minded individuals online, but they never revealed themselves.
“Sir?” the other guy says. “Are you still with us?”
“Yes, sorry,” I tell them. “We can talk in my office. You have your visitor badges, right?”
“I don’t have a badge,” the guy who doesn’t look FBI says. “It’s a laminate.” That sounds like a reference. Anyway, I lead them through the building, and into my office. It is only once the door is closed when they look like they’ve just dropped some kind of facade. Are they even connected to the FBI at all?
Slipstream stands in the corner like a patient bodyguard. Bran looks right at me, and the other guy sits in one of my chairs. “Way we understand it, you found something at the Frenzy?” Bran starts out like it’s an interrogation.
If anyone is interrogating anybody here, though, it’s me. “What do you know about The Ninth?”
“The Ninth,” the sitting guy asks, “or The Nine?”
That’s an interesting question. I decide to play it cool. “Both.”
Bran isn’t fazed. “You took something from that race. We need it back.”
“You are also in possession of other things you can’t explain,” the other guy says. “We need that stuff too.”
“Look—what’s your name?”
“Serkan.”
“Dammit,” Bran says in a breathy voice.
“Ugh.” Serkan palms his face. “I wasn’t supposed to use my real name.” He stands up, and almost looks threatening. “You can’t tell anyone I was here. If you ever see me again, you can’t say anything to me either. I won’t know what you’re talking about.” Maybe he is affected by memory wiping, just differently. “Look, Serkan, you people are obviously not really FBI. So tell me who the hell you are, or we’re gonna have a problem.”
Bran studies my face for a few moments. He then turns his head towards Serkan, but keeps his eyes on me. “I can just take a picture of anything?”
“Yeah, that couch would be perfect,” Serkan answers him, pointing.
“What the hell are you talking about? You can’t take pictures in here.” I lift up my desk phone, and search through the directory for the line to the St. Louis office. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”
Bran takes the photo anyway. Seconds later, three more people appear out of nowhere. I’ve seen this kind of thing before, but it was on stage at a magic show. This is no trick. This is real power.
I drop the phone back into its cradle. “I knew it! I knew I wasn’t the only one!”
“Yes,” the new woman says to me. “You’re not alone. My name Alexina McGregor. You may have heard of Gregorios Bank. That’s me. These are my friends, Ace Reaver, and his daughter with Serkan, Paige Turner.”
Paige curtsies, making Serkan laugh.
“You can all...” I hesitate, “do things?”
“Slip’s normal,” Alexina begins to answer. “Bran is...no one really knows what Bran is, but he’s pretty normal too.”
“Oh my God.” I’ve been looking for answers for so long. Even before I found the artifact at the race, I’ve been trying to figure out who I am, and why I’ve always felt different. Now I’ve been vindicated, but I know what they’re going to tell me. They’re going to say I have to keep all of this to myself. It makes sense. It’s like most modern stories about vampires, or aliens among us. If people were allowed to know that teleportation was real, then they would already know it. I’m not sure if I can do that, though. I’ve seen the truth now, and I can see how to make the world so much better than it is. I can’t just let that go.
“We don’t know what you are,” Alexina continues, “or what you can do. We can help you understand it, but there are rules.”
I sit down in my chair. “I can’t tell anyone about it.”
“No,” Alexina says. “You can tell your significant other, or your parents, or even your kids. You just can’t tell the whole world. You have to be able to trust the people who keep your secrets, because it’s not only about you. Everyone you tell puts all of us at risk.”
“We won’t be the ones to stop you,” Ace says. “We don’t have that kind of pull. There is a prison, though. She and I have been in it.” He gestures towards Slipstream. It’s true that she hasn’t been seen in public for the last year, and though her gang never reported her missing, she has had a lot of fans worried.
“This prison is run by people from an old timeline,” Alexina adds. “They saw what it looks like when regular humans find out about us, and it doesn’t go well.”
“Their methods are becoming...shall we say, less respectful?” Serkan puts forth. “Less gentle. You don’t wanna piss them off. For the most part, they don’t care what you do with your powers. If you’ve gotten on their radar, it means they think you’re on the verge of exposing us. They sent us in to stop you, and while we will try to be gentle, we won’t be able to protect you if we fail in that. The team they send to fix whatever we do wrong...just don’t let it get to that point.”
I’ve always been really good at telling when people are lying, and I’m a hundred percent certain that these people are not lying. “This is bigger than me, though. Operation Firestorm is too important.”
“Oh no, he’s named it,” Paige laments casually.
“What is Operation Firestorm?” Agent Bran asks me, if he even is an agent.
“You want me to be secretive, then I will.”
“Paige was right about the closet,” Alexina says to her friends. “There’s something in there. I think it may be bigger on the inside.”
How does she know about that? I back myself up against the door, and stretch my arms out like a hockey goalie. “You’re not getting in here. I’m pretty smart. If you could teleport just anywhere, you would do it. You need a picture, which is why so-called Agent Bran took one of my couch.”
Bran places his hand on his service weapon, but doesn’t remove it from its holster. “We don’t need powers to get into that room, Hello Doctor.”
“His name is Agent Miller,” Serkan says like a mediator. No one has ever defended me like that. Everyone I’ve ever met has been totally down with making fun of my name history. “We can all be civil. Agent, we’re doing this to help you. I don’t know what Operation Firestorm is, but it’s not worth your life. We won’t hurt you, but like I said, they will.”
“This is worth my life,” I argue. “Firestorm is everything.”
Ace steps around my desk, and reaches for the doorknob. “I’m going to open this door, whether I use this knob here, or my own.”
I don’t know what that means, but I can tell they’re not going to stop. I’m outnumbered, and if I don’t let them into my world, they’re going to force their way through, and I can’t let anyone get hurt. If for no other reason, then it would reflect poorly on me if my colleagues find a dead body in my office, or something. Besides, perhaps them opening this door is the best thing that could happen to me right now. I step to the side and let Ace pass.
He turns the knob, and opens it up to see what I have there. “It’s here. I don’t see the rabbit dog, though.”
Oh, is that what it’s called? I just keep that as a pet in my house. It has nothing to do with this.
“What is it doing?” Serkan asks, peering into the closet.
I smirk. “It’s maintaining the connection.” I start to step back. This room is far too small for me to get myself clear of the blast radius, but I don’t plan on exiting through the door either.
“The connection between what?” Ace questions. “Do you know this is? It’s called the Omega Gyroscope, and we’re told it’s dangerous, but we don’t know what it is.”
“It’s a whole world,” I explain cryptically. “You’ll see soon enough.” I pull out my gun, and hold it to the girl, Paige’s head. I don’t want anyone hurt, but I don’t have the resources I need to escape that gyroscope, so if I don’t leave right now, none of us ever will. So, you see, it’s for the best that I do this.
“What do you want?” Serkan asks. His calm demeanor is gone. He’s gone into full father mode.
“I don’t want anything from you,” I say.
“Guys?” Slipstream interjects. “Is that thing spinning faster now?”
“The light inside of it is growing brighter too,” Ace agrees. “What is it doing?”
I have to hold back a laugh. “It’s powering up, because you let in the light.”
Ace immediately slams the closet door shut.
“It’s too late. It’s gonna go critical.” I cock the gun. “Now, Miss Turner, kindly do that thing you did when you got here.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” she says. She doesn’t seem scared of the gun, but she does still respect the threat it poses. “I need a picture.”
“I know. You can take out your phone. Slowly.”
“Where do you want to go?”
“Anywhere but here,” I answer.
Paige carefully removes the phone from her pocket, and lifts it up. Then, without warning, she jams it into my face. It’s not enough to do any permanent damage, but it distracts me long enough for Slipstream to attack, and free Paige from my grasp. No, this was my last chance. We’re seconds away from being sucked into that thing.
Suddenly, a woman appears in the middle of the room.
“Daria!” Serkan cries.
“Who needs to get out of here?” this Daria woman asks.
“All of us,” Agent Bran replies.
“I can only take two at a time,” Daria explains. She takes Slipstream in one arm, and Alexina the other, I suppose because they're closest to her. They disappear.
What’s apparently called the Omega Gyroscope reaches critical mass, and drags us into the other world. I wouldn’t be so afraid, except it’s like I said, this was an unplanned trip, and I don’t have a way to get back. We’ll be trapped forever.

Aeolia Sarai

The year is 2027. I’m minding my own business, trying to take a nice stroll in the park, maybe shed a few pounds while I’m at it, when I suddenly find myself on my ass. Oh my God, this is it, I think. The terrorists have come for my town, and I’m collateral damage. Or I’m a target, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m in an immense amount of pain, and I’m not alone. Other people are strewn about the ground around me. They weren’t there before, though, I know that. I would have remembered if I had been in a crowd. I feel like I’m hurt more than most of them, yet they help each other up, and don’t so much as acknowledge me. Until one sees me.
He lifts me up. “Are you okay?”
“Not really,” I say, but I’m overpowered by someone else’s response.
“I’m fine,” says some guy who happens to be standing next to me. He’s brushing that dirt off his shoulder.
“I was talking to her,” the kind man tells him.
The rude man looks around. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“I’m talking about this stranger who’ve we just hurt! Correction, who you just hurt by keeping a weapon like whatever the hell that thing is in your closet.”
“Hey, you guys wanted to open the door; I told you not to.” The jerk looks around again. “I still don’t know who you’re talking about. I’m the only stranger to you people. You came into my office..unannounced.”
“Can someone please tell me what’s happening?” I ask, about as politely as I think I can muster.
“What’s your name?”
“Austin Miller, and I swear to God, if you try to call me—”
“I wasn’t talking to you! Just always assume I’m not talking to you! Go over there! Now!”
“Kallias, what’s happening?” one of the other guys questions.
He sighs. “Raise your hand if you can see this woman right here.” Kallias points to me.
No one raises their hand.
“I think you hit your head,” another guy suggests.
“Don’t assume that,” a teenage girl contradicts him. “Maybe she’s invisible.”
“Why would I be able to see an invisible person,” Kallias asks her, “but no one else can?”
“Why would anyone be invisible? That’s not a time power.”
“We don’t know what that explosion did,” the teenager reasons. “We don’t know what the gyroscope does.” She takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry I can’t see you. My name is Paige Turner. These are my fathers, Serkan Demir, and Ace Reaver. This is an asshole named Hello Doctor.” Hello Doctor doesn’t seem pleased by this designation, and I don’t know what it means, but if he doesn’t like it, then I’m gonna use it. The girl gestures towards Kallias, and adds, “I guess he can introduce himself.”
Kallias shakes my hand. “Detective Kallias Bran.”
“I thought you were an agent,” Hello Doctor spits.
“I am. I was a police detective before that, so it’s just a habit. Relax.” He turns back to him. “I know you said you weren’t okay, but...do you need medical attention?”
“I would just like to sit down,” I say to him.
He helps me over to a bench.
“She’s invisible, and we can’t hear her,” Serkan points out. “That’s weird. I feel like I just lost a few seconds of time too. I mean...I saw you standing right there, and now you’re by that bench, and I don’t know how you got there. I imagine you walked, but I didn’t see it happen.”
“Did this woman somehow make him invisible too?” Ace offers. “Temporarily?”
“No, that doesn’t make much sense either,” Paige says. “We didn’t see him disappear. It’s more like we forgot that it happened.”
“We forgot a few seconds ago?” Hello Doctor asks.
“Shut up,” a couple of them say in unison.
Paige tries to think about it more, and everyone seems to automatically understand that she needs silence. “Uncle Bran, do you have your wallet, or your badge, or something?”
“Yeah,” Kallias answers her. “They’re one and the same.”
“Hand it to your new friend, and ask her to throw it at one of us. Don’t tell us which one. Just pick one of us at random, and give it your best shot.”
“Gladly,” I say, taking the wallet from Kallias. I actually have a really good arm; I played baseball in college. I send it hurtling towards Hello Doctor.
He dodges it, then goes right back to how he was standing before I threw it. He blinks, confused. “What just happened?” He finds the wallet on the ground. “How did this get her? Is this yours?”
“Holy shit,” Ace says, dumbfounded. “Did she do it? Did she throw that?”
Paige kind of snorts. “She’s not invisible. She just...erases our memories so quickly that we can’t even recall that we’re looking at her right now.”
“How is that even possible?” Serkan asks.
“How do I time travel through photographs?” Paige counters. “We don’t really understand how any of this works, and as I said, we really don’t understand the Omega Gyroscope.”
Kallias approaches Hello Doctor threateningly. “What is it? What does it do? Where are we?”
“We’re in another world,” Hello Doctor replies with a shrug. “As far as I can tell, it’s only different from ours by its history. They had different presidents, different TV shows, different people altogether. It’s otherwise just like our Earth, though. Same geography, same animals, same relative technology. I was just starting to compare climate history when you guys showed up.”
“It’s an alternate reality,” Paige clarifies.
“What are you doing with it?” Serkan asks Hello Doctor.
“Nothing,” Hello Doctor defends. “I’ve no interest in this place. It’s just the world the gyroscope sends me. I’ve been trying to figure out how to control it, so I can take it anywhere. I’m hoping for a world that doesn’t have any people at all.”
“For what purpose?” Ace asks.
“To exploit its resources without hurting anybody. I’m not a bad person! Again, you barged into my office!”
“Never mind that,” Serkan dismisses. “We just need to figure out how to get back. First, though, we should find somewhere to go before someone in this world sees us. This grass is all dead. We don’t want to have to explain it to one of the natives.”
“You can come to my house,” I tell them. “I’m Aeolia Sarai, by the way.”
“There’s someone here who will let us into her house,” Paige says for some reason.
“Yeah, me. I just said that. Wait, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Serkan agrees, “but who?”
Kallias is less confused than I am. He’s almost getting used to this. “Which direction should we go?” he asks me quietly.
“That way,” I point down the street.
“Say it louder than me,” he prompts.
“My house is that way,” I say in my outside voice.
“Let’s go this way,” Serkan says, like it was his idea.
“What the hell?” I lament as they’re all walking in the right direction.
“They can forget you,” Kallias begins as we hang back from the group a little, “but they can’t forget what you taught them. You told us where to go, and they respect that, even though they have no idea where they got the information.”
“Hey, man, is this yours?” Hello Doctor is presenting Kallias with the badge I threw at him. “Why am I holding this?”
“I dropped it,” Kallias lies. He speaks up to address the group, “the invisible woman’s name is Aeolia Sarai.”
“Who’s invisible?” Paige questions.
“Jesus Christ.” I’ve never felt so disregarded.
“We need to find out how powerful you are,” Kallias puts forth.
“Well, we need to find out why it is you can remember me when no one else can.”
“Oh, it’s kind of my thing,” he explains. “There are lots of things I remember that no one else does. I’ve never met anyone like you before, but I’m not that surprised. If you can conceive of a way of manipulating time or memories, someone probably exists who can do it.”
I look at him like a sad puppy.
He smiles, and lowers his voice. “Tell him to do something that he wouldn’t do on his own.”
“Take off your shoes,” I order Hello Doctor.
The guy actually does what I say, and removes his shoes. He doesn’t know why.
“Agent Miller, could you keep up, please?” I’m not sure why Serkan is using the guy’s normal name. “What are you doing?”
“I have no idea,” Hello Doctor says truthfully. “Why are my shoes off?”
“Ace, clap your hands three times above your head,” I order.
“Honey?” Serkan asks after Ace does exactly as I’ve instructed. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. We just need to get to this person’s house.”
“Take a left.” Now I’m just the satnav voice.
Everybody turns left. This is becoming awfully frustrating. People are listening to me, but they don't know it. I don’t need credit, but this can’t just be my life now. Kallias can’t be the only person I ever talk to again. That isn’t fair to him. He deserves freedom...from me.
“Wow,” Kallias says. “You need to not, like, abuse that power.”
“Absolute power corrupts absolutely. How can I communicate with people, though?”
This saddens him. “I don’t know. Maybe you can control it. Maybe you could voice your opinion without forcing others to share it. Maybe you just need time to learn.”
“Take your gun out of its holster.”
He doesn’t budge.
“Maybe I just need you. You’re the only one who’s immune to me.”
“I shouldn’t be, though.”
“Take the next right,” I direct the group. “What do you mean?” I ask Kallias.
“Serkan is special. He can suppress other people’s powers. There only seem to be a few exceptions. His daughter is immune to him, and apparently so am I, but that doesn’t explain why you are. He should be able to see you, if not also make other people be able to see you.”
“I’ve not had this—I wouldn’t call it a power...”
“The term we use in your case is time affliction.”
“Yeah, that describes it well,” I agree. “I’ve not had this time affliction before. It probably happened because of this gyroscope you keep talking about. How do other people get their powers? Is it from that, or something else?”
“Different ways,” Kallias begins. “Ace was born with a special pattern. His soul lives through every day twice. His memories don’t go with it, so he can’t remember what’s going to happen in the future, but he has really good instincts when his boyfriend isn’t blocking this power. Somebody gave Serkan his power, but we don’t know why, and he in turn, gave Paige hers. That was an accident, though. I got mine because I spent some time in another dimension. We think Agent Miller was born with his power, as most people are, but we don’t even know what it is yet. We just know he can do something because he too remembers things other people don’t.”
“He doesn’t remember me, though. This is it right here.” I walk towards my front door, and find the keys in my purse. “Follow me, everyone.”
They all come inside. “Whose house is this?” Paige asks.
“I don’t know, but we’re safe here,” Ace responds. I guess that’s nice to hear, even if it’s not directed towards me specifically.
“Can we speak privately?” Kallias asks me. “I’m still not sure I understand when they can hear me talking to you, and when they forget.
“My bedroom’s this way.”
Once we’re alone,” he continues. “I know I just said that I don’t want you to abuse your power, but we may need it.”
“You wanna control someone,” I imagine.
“I just want answers. “We’ve been investigating this rogue FBI agent. I haven’t been part of the group that long, but...well, you’ve met him. He’s being difficult. He found this very powerful device.”
“The Omega Gyroscope.”
“That’s right. He said we can’t get back to our reality. He said he didn’t have time to prepare, which there may be a little truth to that.”
“You don’t think it’s the whole truth.”
“He’s too relaxed. He should be freaking out that he can’t ever, ever go back home. He has some way, though, and I need to know how. There must be some reason he’s not telling us.”
“I can ask him, it’s fine.” I start to get up to go do that.
He stops me, “the problem is, when we go back...you’ll be alone. If you can’t talk to me, I’m not sure you can talk to anyone.”
“Oh, I’m going with you.”
“You are?”
“The guy said this world is kind of superficially different. You don’t have sharks with lasers on their heads, or damn dirty apes enslaving humans, right?”
“Not that I know of.”
“There’s nothing left for me here. I don’t have any family, and even if I did, they wouldn’t know me anymore. That is...if you’ll have me.”
“I would love for you to come. You just have to be certain about this. When we go back, we’re taking that gyroscope, and securing it. We can’t let Miller hold onto it, and we probably can’t use it ourselves either. It’s just too dangerous.”
“I understand. I’m ready. And I can pay my way,” I say with a grin. “Look, I have all these gold coins my late uncle left behind. He was a survivalist. I just came from the bank, where they told me they wouldn’t take them.”
“Hmm,” he says, holding up one of the coins. “Heads you don’t have to pay with the coins. Tails you also don’t have to pay.” He flips it. Heads.
“Whew,” I joke. “That was a close one.”
“I feel different.” He runs his hand through his hair. “Like I’ve had a headache my whole life, and now it’s gone. Whatever. Let’s go ask the man some questions.”
We return to the living room, where everyone is sitting on my furniture, presumably trying to decide what to do next. “Okay, I know none of you remembers our new friend, Aeolia, but she might be able to help us get out of here.”
No one reacts.
“Guys?”
Still no one reacts.
“Guys!” Kallias shouts louder. “Hello?”
Nothing.
“Umm,” he says tentatively. “Everyone, stand up.”
They stand up, confused. Oh, shit.

Alexi Lanka

My name is Alexi Lanka. I’m a runner, I have anger issues, and today is the day that everything about my life changes. I’ve always known that my mother keeps secrets, but she runs a bank, so I figured she was an embezzler, or whatever. The reality of her insane life never occurred to me, because how could it? Who could have known she would turn out to be a time traveler? Or that I would be too?
“So.” My father smiles at the two of us as we’re sitting at the table, eating what I hoped would be a casual meal. He speaks in a surprisingly poor Russian accent. He grew up around North Americans, so he spent most of his life without it. Even his parents apparently worked hard to shed their original accents, which makes it strange that he would try to adopt it in honor of them after they died two years ago.
“So, what?” He’s gonna say something embarrassing for me.
“So, are you two officially an item?” he goes on.
“Yes, sir.” Cambria Buchanan, a.k.a. Agent Nanny Cam and I have been friends for years now. She was a racer at one point as well, but now she’s a streaming drone operator. The woman actually paid a neurosurgeon to drill into her head and upgrade her brain with technology so she could be better at her job. I guess I’ve always loved her, even before we were together.
“You don’t have to call me that,” my father says to her. “We’re all friends here.”
“We are, aren’t we?” she asks rhetorically, with her own smile. It’s powerful enough to get me out of even the worst of my fits of rage. I better not do anything to screw this up. She’s gonna save me a lot of money in therapy expenses. “Then, can I call you dad?”
Mine is one of those cool fathers who never treats Gen Z-ers like us with disdain. He goes with the flow, and tries to understand people. I’ve never seen him angry my whole life. I don’t think he knows how. We couldn’t be more different. This comment from Cambria throws him off, which is unusual. “If you want. Are you getting married?”
“We’re thinking about it,” she answers. That’s misleading, though. She’s thinking about it, and I’m thinking about it, but we’re not thinking about it together, and we’re definitely not talking about it. I don’t know how long you have to wait before you propose, but I imagine the waiting period has to be measured in years, rather than months. That’s the kind of thing a real mother would be able to explain.
Dad smiles again, but my brain suddenly shifts. I’m thinking about something else, or trying to, at least. I can’t figure out what it is, but something is wrong. “Something is about to happen.”
“I’m sorry?” dad asks.
Cambria massages my arm. “What are you talking about?”
I can’t help but ignore them, even though I did register their responses. I stand up, and point into the living room. “There.”
They look over in plenty of time to witness three people magically appear on the other side of the sectional. One of them is my mother, and another is Slipstream of Tracer gang fame. I don’t know who the one in the middle is. My father stands up and takes one step forward. “Alexina,” he says. That may actually be anger. I know the two of them don’t get along, but he’s always been just as cool as ever when she’s around. He’s never uttered her name with such contempt.
“Rodion. This is your home,” mother says to him.
“Yes. And you promised never to do that in our son’s presence.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she says sincerely. It was an emergency. She got us out of a deadly situation, and I guess her...let’s them bosses decided she would bring us here.” She now turns to the third woman. “You need to go back for the others.”
“I can’t,” the woman replies. “If they don’t send me there, I can’t go.”
“It’s too late,” Slipstream chimes in. “Whatever that thing does, it did it to them. If we go back now, there’s no telling what we’ll find.”
“That agent had that thing just floating around in his closet,” mom began. “There’s no way it killed them. It would have killed him too, and he would have fought a hell of a lot harder to stop it.”
“What are we talking about?” Cambria, ever the curious one. She wasn’t going to let a little thing like the sudden realization that magic is real slow her down.
“It doesn’t matter,” dad says with his new tone that I’m not comfortable with. “You promised you would never do anything like this. You need to go.”
“Wait,” I argue. “The cat’s out of the bag. Now I know she’s a super...hmm. I feel like I can’t say hero, but does that mean you’re a villain?”
My mom looks at me with sadness. “There are no superheroes, or supervillains. That’s not what we use our powers for.”
“Speak for yourself,” Slipstream contends. She gestures towards the woman who was apparently responsible for bringing them here. “She’s a superhero. They literally call her the Savior of Earth.”
A savior,” the woman corrects. “It’s just a title.”
“Dad,” I say in the calming voice my therapist taught me to use on myself whenever I start getting upset. “I don’t know what kind of arrangement you and my mother had with each other, but it was broken, and it can’t be undone, so we just have to move forward from here. I can understand you believing it best to keep this stuff from me when I was younger, but whatever the whole truth is, I’m an adult now. You can’t really argue that anymore.”
“I must be going,” the Savior says, smacking her lips. “I don’t think they’re sending me back to that office, though. I’m goin’ somewhere else.”
“Thank you, Daria,” my mom says to her. “Stay safe.”
Daria disappears, and there’s a moment of tense silence.
“All right,” my father breaks the ice. “He was right about that cat. You might as well tell him the truth. You need to tell him everything, though. If you only go over the good parts, he’s gonna start thinking I was wrong to shut you out of our lives. I need him to know that you’re just as bad of a person as you always have been...except it’s for reasons he didn’t know until now.”
“Okay, Rodion,” she says dismissively. Again, they’ve definitely never been friendly since I can remember, but they’ve never talked to each other like this before.
And so my mother starts to tell me about what she is. She allows Cambria to listen in. Evidently, it’s against their internal policies to reveal themselves to the world, but not to individuals, so this is all okay. She tells us about choosing ones and salmon, and the powers that be, and this special quasi-omnipotent family called the Prestons. She says that she’s also in her own special class called the Springfield Nine, which were turned into people with time powers as kids, rather than being born this way. I asked if I could do what she does, but she doubts it. If I haven’t discovered my ability by now, I probably don’t have one. It would be like going through puberty in your forties. She also tells me the bad things, as she promised. My dad doesn’t hate her because of what she is, and didn’t shield me from her because of it. She used her power for her own gain, and that of her friends. She screwed people over, and ruined their lives. She took power where it didn’t belong to her, and she never once helped an innocent person.
She’s not a teleporter, like the woman who brought her and Slipstream here. She’s clairvoyant, which means she knows things about the past, present, and future. She doesn’t actually see what’s going to happen, but the feelings she gets can guide her to the right choices. Well, not necessarily the right choices, but the choices she wants. In the past, she has used her gifts for financial gain, and to maintain all that power. She’s reportedly trying to become a better person, but of course, it’s really easy for her to say that now that I know more about her life. In the end, I hug her, because my father was wrong. Getting to know my mother was all I ever wanted, and I have to assume she does truly want to change, because if no one believes in her—if I don’t believe in her—she’ll quickly lose faith in herself, and that will just prove everyone right about her. I know what it’s like to see almost everyone give up on you. I’m certainly not going to let anyone else feel like that if I can help it.
My father makes the gracious decision to let her stay the night with us. She says there are some dangerous people out there, and she wants to protect us. Cambria stays over too. After Slipstream goes out to look for their friends, she returns, and stays as well. Nothing against my mother, but Slip is the true protector here, and she doesn’t even need superpowers to do it.
I awaken to loud arguing in the morning, and rush downstairs to find out what’s going on.
“I know you have the Omega Gyroscope now, because I tracked it here!” a man is screaming at my mother. “Don’t make me go back and create a new timeline! I still got Ophir on speed dial. How’s your relationship with him these days?”
“What’s going on here!” I scream at him, defending my mother. “Who the hell are you?” I step in between the two of them.
The man who’s barged into our house regards me with such shock. “This..is...uh. Um. It’s a private conver—” His eyes start to droop, and his head gets real heavy. He tries desperately to remain in control.
“Get away from him, Alexi,” mom instructs.
“What’s happening to him?” I question.
“It’s a failsafe, in case you two ever met,” she answers cryptically.
“Who is he?” the man demands to know, indicating me. “I feel something here. He looks so familiar. Let me go so I can—I can figure this out.”
“No. I’ll die before I let you know one thing about him.”
“Why wouldn’t you want me to know him? Why do you care?” He’s about to keel over, but he protects himself by getting down on one knee.
“Volpsidia is one of the worst of us,” my mom begins, “but even she understands how dangerous you are. Your only hope now is to stop thinking about it. You understand? Psi put a bomb in your memory. If you don’t get the hell away from us right now, you’re literally gonna go insane. It’s the only way to stop you...unless you stop yourself. Get out now, and find someone who can erase your memory of today.”
“We have a pact,” the man argues. He slowly puts himself on the floor. “We can’t move against each other.”
“That pact was broken when Rothko showed back up,” she says to him. “Jesi broke it, and I’m glad she did, because her heroics have opened my eyes. I realized that I’m not much better than him...or you. The difference is I’m trying here. You can try as well, but you have to leave.”
Now on his back, he pulls his phone out of his pocket, and struggles to lift it up to his ear. He sounds like he’s approaching his last breath. “Ophir. Emergency exit. Get me to Tertius Valerius. Right now.” He disappears.
“Who was that?” I ask my mom.
She looks over to the kitchen, where Cambria and my father are. He’s somehow angrier than he was yesterday. Is this going to become a habit? “Don’t. When I said you needed to tell him everything, I didn’t mean that. We agreed to never talk about that.”
“Alexi’s in danger now. I stopped him this time, but if Jesi and I are the only ones who turned over a new leaf, that means he still has plenty of friends to help him. Alexi has to know what he’s up against.”
“What is it?” I ask. “Tell me.”
“I am your father!” my dad cries, as if I don’t already know that.
“He’s right,” mother says, turning to face me. She takes a deep breath. “He’s your real father. But he’s not your biological father.” I think I know what she’s gonna say, but then she adds a whole new level to this madness. “And I am not your biological mother. That man is named Jupiter Fury. He’s actually a Preston, but very few people know that. He and an...entity known as Effigy are your birth parents. I lied to you before. The chances of you not having some kind of temporal power...are negligible.”

Bhulan Cargill

Image cropped and filtered, but credit due to Tormod Sandtorv / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)
My life’s story can be told in four chapters. I was born in a timeline that I didn’t like. People were dead who deserved to survive, and two worlds were destined to destroy each other. I needed to fix things, so I went back to key moments in time for chapter two, and altered history to realize better outcomes. The third chapter was the shortest, and was only there to serve as transition to my fourth and final chapter. You don’t need to understand the first few chapters to really get who I am, so I’ll start my story on the cusp of the transition. This is the day I attempt to sacrifice myself for the greater good. Things did not go as planned.
I can travel through time at will, but that’s not all I can do. My brain works differently than most people’s, which is probably why sacrificing myself for the greater good doesn’t feel like suicide to me. I don’t just move through time, but I see how it moves. I understand causality on a level experienced by few others. It may take me a long time to study history, and I usually still have to gather the data somehow, but I’m an expert at processing it, so I can make the right changes at the right moments. If I surrender to this power, however, and more let time take control of me, it often takes me exactly when and where I need to go. This allows me to bypass all that research, and take a leap of faith. I’m kind of a control freak, so I don’t do this feature very often, but it does save time, and it’s seemed to work for me here. A man I admire named Mateo Matic has asked me to find Horace Reaver in 2027, so that’s where I’m trying to go.
I find myself standing in what I immediately recognize to be the Bran safehouse. I’m not sure why they call it that, though. Four people are evidently living here at the moment: Slipstream, Alexina, Alexina’s son, Alexi, and Agent Nanny Cam. That last one is presently petting some kind of weird creature that looks like a cross between a hare and a dog. Hare of the dog. Hm.
Alexina is the only one I’ve met personally. “Yay, Bhulan!” she exclaims, both jokingly, and unironically.
“McGregor. I’ve come for Horace Reaver.”
“No, it’s okay,” Slipstream says. “Ace is good in this reality.”
“No, I don’t mean I’m gonna hurt him,” I clarify. “I’ve been told we can help each other.”
“We don’t know where he is,” Slipstream explains to me. “We’ve come here to regroup, and try to figure that out.”
Suddenly, the front door opens. “Well, wonder no more!” Horace Reaver announces.
“How did you hear that?” Alexina questions. “The door and walls of this safehouse are literally soundproof.”
“Hear what?” Ace asks.
“Where were you?” Slipstream asks. She slides over to give Paige a hug, followed by Serkan.
“We were in another timeline,” Paige answers. “It took us some time to find our way back.”
“Where’s the agent?” I’m not sure who Alexina is referring to here.
“Huh?” Agent Nanny Cam asks.
“Not you,” Alexina says. “The other agent.”
“Hello Doctor is still in there,” Serkan answers. “He nobly sacrificed himself, so we could return.” Yeah, I don’t know who Hello Doctor is.
“Be honest,” Ace scolds. “We sacrificed him. He didn’t wanna do it.”
“He’ll be fine,” Serkan dismisses. “He wanted to be there anyway. That’s why he opened the portal to it in the first place.”
“That’s misleading,” Ace tells him.
The door opens again. Jupiter Fury walks in. “Well, wonder no more!”
Everyone just looks at him.
“Oh, was that someone else’s line?” he jokes. “Shit.”
Alexina sighs. “You’ll always find us. Goddammit.” She holds her watch up, turns a dial, and presses the button. I see immediately that she’s just reset time a few seconds.
“Be honest,” Ace repeats, just as he did before. “We sacrificed him. He didn’t wanna do it.”
No one else is aware of the time reset.
“Go home, son,” Alexina instructs.
“What?” Alexia asks. “I thought you wanted me here.”
“It’s too dangerous. Go. Now.”
Alexina takes his future wife, Agent Nanny Cam by the hand, then presses a button on his belt. They teleport away.
“What just happened?” Paige asks.
Jupiter barges into the condo, just as he did before. “Well, wonder no more!”
“Jupiter?” Ace asks. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here for the Omega Gyroscope! I know you’ve brought it here. I can track it anywhere, so there’s no point in trying to hide it from me.”
“Oh, this?” Slipstream reaches into her bag, and pulls the gyroscope out. Word is, it can do nearly anything. It can rewrite reality with a single thought. I considered seeking it out for my purposes in chapter two, but decided it wasn’t the route I wanted to go.
“Give it to me,” Jupiter orders. “I need it.” And then, in the blink of an eye, he’s on the floor. He was badly hurt, as if having just finished a fistfight. “What the shit was that!” He tries to stand back up, but something forces him back down. It isn’t like there’s some invisible person stopping him. It’s more like falling back down happened, but then someone erased all of our memories of it.
I turn to Alexina. “Someone is altering time. They’re making us forget. You can push through that.”
“You want me to get myself out of a memory block?” Alexina asks.
“Yes.”
“I’ll try.” She closes her eyes, and breathes out deliberately and slowly. “There’s a man, and a woman. He beats Jupiter up, and we just watch. We’re confused, but we just watch, like we trust him.”
“Why don’t they want us to remember?” Paige asks.
“Remember what?” Alexina asks back. She’s lost her memory again.
I look around. Everyone has lost their memories again. I’m the only one strong enough to recall the moment that Alexina described, though I still can’t actually recall the moment itself. I sigh, frustrated. I ask her to do it again, this time trying to get a name of these mysterious memory-wiping individuals. She gets more than that. Kallias Bran and Aeolia Sarai are not wiping memories on purpose. They’re stuck like this, unable to truly communicate with anyone. They can impact reality however they please, but no one will ever remember them. Apparently this happened because of a coin. When it’s done, Alexina feels taxed, though of course, she has no idea why. I’m still the only one who has any clue what’s going on. I also feel a lump in my pocket. When I take a peek, I see this whole purse of coins. If these can remove anyone from the global consciousness, I have to keep them safe, and away from others.
I look back over to Jupiter. He looks worse than before, suggesting he’s suffered further beating. “Whatever you do, I’ll always find that gyroscope. Sooner or later, it will be in my possession, so you might as well hand it over now.”
“I don’t understand,” Serkan says. He kneels down to get on Jupiter’s level. “We’re friends. Why are you acting like this?”
“We’re not friends.” Jupiter spits some blood on Serkan’s shoes.
Serkan’s not fazed by the blood. “Yes, we are.”
“You’re thinking of Jupiter Rosa. I’m Fury. He’s my alternate. I’m the real one.”
“He’s right,” Alexina confirms. “This isn’t the man you know. It’s just like you’re not the same Serkan who still lives with his mother and little brother.”
Serkan frowns.
“You’re gonna have to kill me,” Jupiter says. “It’s that important to me.” In another blink, he’s lying unconscious on the floor. Kallias must have knocked him out for us.
“We have to get rid of it,” Slipstream decides. “Can it be destroyed?”
“No,” Alexina replies. “Not something this powerful.”
“Yes, it can,” I disagree. I step towards Ace. “The hundemarke can do it”
“No,” Ace says, shaking his head. “I know the only way to destroy the hundemarke, and I’m not letting it happen.”
“What way are we talking about?” Paige asks.
“Someone would have to kill themselves,” Ace is disgusted at the prospect.
“No one’s ever been willing to do that,” Alexina adds. “I don’t know anyone who would.”
This was always meant to be the last chapter of my life. I tried to start a new life once my mission was complete, but I’m finding myself very unhappy. This is my chance to end it on my terms, in a way that cannot be changed. “I would,” I say plainly.
“No,” Ace decides.
“You don’t know me,” I say to him, “but this is what I want. I’ve been thinking about it for a very, very long time.”
He just keeps shaking his head.
“Please.”
“I can’t be responsible for someone’s death. It’s not fair for you to ask me to do that.”
Suddenly, the hundemarke is hanging around my neck.
“Holy crap,” Alexina says, stunned. “How did you do that?”
“Thanks, Kallias,” I say with a smile.
“Who’s Kallias?” Paige doesn’t like not being in the know, and based on what I know of her future, she’ll dedicate her life to the pursuit of knowledge, so she never feels ignorant again.
“Okay, great,” I say with an air of finality. “Now the gyroscope.”
“No!” Ace cries. He runs over, and takes it from Slipstream’s hand. Then he steps back defensively. “I’m not letting you kill yourself! Violence is never the answer. I’m putting my foot down. We’re gonna find another way to stop Jupiter from getting his hands on it...to stop anyone from getting their hands on it, or the hundemarke.
Paige walks over to him. “Dad. Let’s talk about this.”
“No,” he says. “There’s nothing to talk about.”
Suddenly, there’s another unexpected appearance. A portal opens up, though most of us aren’t at the right angle to see where it leads. It looks like there are stairs though. Something in it catches Ace’s eye. “Protect this thing!” he yells. Then he reaches back, and hurls the Omega Gyroscope into the portal. It snaps shut.
“Where did you just send that?” Serkan asks him, stepping forward himself. “Who were you talking to.”
“Mateo Matic; A trusted future friend.”
I nod. “That’s about as good as you’re gonna do. I still need to use the hundemarke, and I could do with your help.”
“I’ve already helped you,” Ace spits.
“Mr. Demir,” I go on. “I would like you to come with me. The hundemarke should prevent anyone from stopping me from doing this, but it can’t hurt to have a little extra help in the way of some power suppression.
“I can do that,” Serkan agrees, “if this is what you really want. And I don’t have to say, there’s no going back.”
“I’m ready. And Ace, if you could protect me from physical threats? What I’m doing will save lives.”
It looks like he’s finally resigned. “All right.”
“I’m going too,” Paige declares. If this messes with reality, I need to be in the same place as my dads.
Her fathers want to argue, but they see the logic.
We all four hold hands, and I transport them to the Darvaza gas crater in Derweze, Turkmenistan. It’s not the only place where it can be destroyed, but it’s a good one. To the average human, the fires burning here are like any other, but the flames are of special temporal significance. They can actually kill a time traveler better than they would anyone else. It’s reportedly instantaneous. It’s not been studied much, so we don’t know why, but they’re just particularly more dangerous to our kind.
“Do you need a minute?” Serkan asks reverently.
I smile. “No time like the present.”
Arcadia Preston suddenly appears a few meters away. Both Serkan and Ace fall into defensive positions. “It’s okay,” Arcadia says in a sincere voice. “I hope you appreciate what I went through to get this. She hands me a parchment of paper.
I take a quick look at it. “The LIR Map?”
“I decided life isn’t fun when you have all the answers. Just...get rid of it.”
“Okay,” I respond.
As soon as Arcadia disappears, she reappears, but she’s dressed in different clothes, suggesting she’s from a different point in time. “I have one more thing for ya,” Future!Arcadia says. Then she hands me the Insulator of Life.
“Is someone in here?” I ask her.
“Would you believe...no?”
I reject her with my eyes.
Arcadia gives in, “it’s my father. He’s incredibly dangerous. I need you to do this, not for me, but for everyone.”
“Is he the one using the hundemarke to assassinate people all over time?” I ask.
“Yes,” Arcadia says.
I’m not a murderer, but...okay. “Okay.”
A third—or second?—person wants in on this action. At first all we see is the business end of a knife, appearing out of nowhere. It slides down, like it’s cutting through the fabric of spacetime. It opens enough for the feminine figure of what looks like a futuristic astronaut to slip through. She stands there a moment, sizing us all up. Then she smashes a button on the back of her neck, which acts to retract her helmet. “My name is Zoey. I’ve been all over the bulkverse, looking for this. I finally found it in omegaverse.” She removes the Omega Gyroscope from the hardback backpack on her back. “If I had known that’s what they called it, I probably would have started there.”
“Um. Thank you?”
“I need someone to get a message to Lucius and Curtis,” Zoey requests.
“I just saw them,” Ace says. “In prison.”
“It’s important that you find them again,” Zoey continues. “They said, if there was one thing they regretted, it was how they treated Yatchiko. Just tell them to be nice to her.”
“We can do that,” Serkan agrees. “Should we tell them the message comes from you.”
Zoey shakes her head. “They won’t know me yet. Say it’s from their future selves.” She takes her knife back from its magsheath, and jams it into a new portal. She tears it apart, and slips herself back through.
I wait for a moment. This is not what I expected. I look around. “Does anyone else wanna give me somethin’ to destroy?” I call out to the aether.
Nothin’.
“All right, good! Then I’m gonna do this,” I go on with my outside voice. “Here I go!” I continue waiting, and still nothing. I take one last look at the Reaver-Demirs. “Something profound and poetic.” With that, I throw myself into the fire pit.
Before I reach the flames, gravity shifts, and pulls my feet down to a floor.
“Oh, hi,” a woman behind me says. “Are you my first guest.”
I turn around to find none other than Danica Matic, Concierge to The Constant. “Something went wrong.”
“All right. Well,” Danica begins. “Let’s figure it out together.”
This was how chapter four of my life began.

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