Furor

Click here for the first series (Frenzy).
Click here for the second series (Flurry).
Click here for the third series (Fervor).

The Audacity of Politicians

And then Horace ‘Ace’ Reaver returned to his bedroom to gather supplies. He was about leave his adoptive daughter to search for the love of his life, Serkan Demir, in another dimension, and he didn’t know exactly what he would need. He took extra clothes, a blanket, water,  chocolate bars, and some MREs. Once he had everything he thought could help, he took one last peek downstairs, where Paige was getting to know her new friend, Slipstream. Then he whispered a last goodbye to her, and activated the special jacket that could transport him to a copy of Kansas City.
Everyone in the entire metropolitan area had been copied, along with everything else in its borders. Ace didn’t know what he would find when he arrived. Did its inhabitants know that they were copies of the original, or had they moved on with their lives, completely unaware? No, they would have had to know that something happened. It had been an entire year, and only the city was part of it. They wouldn’t have been able to take trips to Easter Island, or Stonehenge, or even Topeka. Nobody was in the alternate version of their house when Ace landed. A few people had been exempt from the duplication curse that a very powerful temporal manipulator had done on them—Ace’s family included—so the house was empty, and he didn’t have to worry about running into an alternate version of himself.
After checking the house for any sign of Serkan, Ace stepped outside to find an eerie silence. It was meant to be the middle of the day, so normally people would be moving about. They would be doing yard work, and walking their dogs, but there was nothing, because the sky was pitch black, and it felt like winter. Had the evil time manipulators not created a fake sun for them to enjoy, or had it just taken longer for him to get there than he realized? He was grateful for having thought to bring coats. He slipped his on, and started walking. The last time he had seen Serkan was in an apartment complex southwest of here, but again, that was a year ago. If he wasn’t at their house, there were only a few places he might have gone. He could have returned to his mother’s place, but a younger version of him would still likely be there with his mother and brother, so he would have wanted to stay away. He could have sought help from the tracer gang, or his friends at the City Frenzy headquarters. There were too many options, and none of them good. A lot could change in a year. If Serkan survived the explosion that screwed this all up, he could have died any number of ways since then.
It was several miles away, but as luck would have it, a copy of Ace’s car was still parked on the curb, waiting for him. He was grateful yet again, since he had brought all of his keys with him, and then once more when he discovered the car key worked. A few minutes into the drive, he finally saw signs of life. Another car was driving in the opposite direction. It suddenly pulled over to the wrong lane, and blocked Ace from continuing. “Shit. This can’t be good,” he said out loud. He tried to go in reverse, but another car came up and boxed him in.
“You have to pay a toll!” someone shouted to him through a megaphone.
With no other choice, he rolled his window down, and stuck his head outside. “A toll of what?”
“Whatever you got!”
Ace sighed, then threw a bunch of chocolate bars onto the pavement. A lackey stepped out of the car, and checked on the merchandise.
“We got plenty of candy here! You’ll have to do better than that!”
There was one other thing that Ace brought with him that he hoped he would never need. He hung his gun out the window, and shot out one of the tollbooth operator’s headlights. Of course, though, that only made things worse. They had their own guns, and they were all trained right at Ace’s head. Click, click, click. But then something happened. The lights were not good enough to show him what was happening, but he could hear screams, and a few other gunshots. Ace just ducked down in his car as best he could. Just as it ended, he found something grab him by his hips.
When he opened his eyes, he was somewhere else entirely, and his car was gone. It was just as dark as it had been outside. “Hello? You don’t have to hide from me. I know all about teleporters. Come on out.”
A light switched on above Ace’s head, blinding him for a second. Then a man appeared from the darkness. “I am not a teleporter. I’m a runner.”
“A speedster.” Ace remembered the stories Serkan would tell him about the mysterious tracer who could runner faster than the speed of light. He had always assumed that to be a metaphor, but maybe not. “You’re K-Boy.”
“No, I’m a man...named Kolby. And you are?”
“Horace Reaver. Hey, it’s been a year. Is Kansas City just a lawless hellworld now?”
“It hasn’t been a year. It’s been less than a month. Where are you from?”
“The real world. How has it not even been a month yet?”
Kolby ran away, and returned just as quickly with two chairs, and two beers. They sat down and enjoyed them for a moment. “Andrews was afraid of that. He told us we were in another dimension. He was worried there was a temporal component too, so that time passes differently in here. He had no proof of that, though, since we can’t escape.”
“You know Duke Andrews?”
He laughed. “Nah, man. He is our leader.”
“He is?”
“Well, he could be. The mayors are trying to hold onto power, but...” he trailed off and shook his head. “Tracers are doing their best to maintain order, but it’s Duke Andrews who gives us hope. Without him, we would have no clue what’s going on.”
“I’m looking for someone here.”
“Brother, if you have a way to get back to the real Kansas City, I suggest you cut your losses, and take it.”
“I’m in love with him. And if what you’re telling me is true, then he hasn’t been waiting for me as long as I thought. He hasn’t moved on yet. I have to find him. Our daughter needs him too.”
Kolby thought about it, and scratched at the back of his head. “Well, if you must find him, you should probably talk to the Grammers. There’s not really anyone to hack anymore, so I think they’ve started a new Census Bureau. It’s probably not quite finished, though.”
“Thank you. Do you know where they’re working?”
Kolby started downing his beer.
“Oh no,” Ace said. He wasn’t able to hold onto his own bottle when he felt himself being flung across town again. They were suddenly standing in the lobby of the tallest building in Kansas City.
“This has become Capitol of the whole world,” Kolby explained. “Duke and his people run the top floors. The grammers are reportedly on the thirty-third. It’s the middle of the night, but this place never sleeps. Not anymore.”
They were heading for the elevators when an alarm rang out behind them. It kind of sounded like the sound effect used for the six million dollar man, and it didn’t hurt their ears. They turned around to see a group of soldiers approach. One of them was holding a small device that was creating the noise. She spoke into her radio. “Sighting confirmed. We have a salmon in the building.”
“I’m not a salmon!” Kolby argued. “I’m just human. I don’t know why I can run so fast. I wasn’t born like this!”
“Not you,” the guard spat. “We already know about you. The tracers have ordered us to leave you alone. “Walk out of the building, and down the street. You’ll be out of range of the power blocker eventually, and can go on your merry way.”
“What about him?” Kolby asked, concerned for Ace.
“He’ll be fine. The boss just wants to talk.”
“I’m looking for my boyfriend,” Ace complained.
“That’s not my problem,” she replied.
They ushered him into the elevator, where they rode up to the top floor. They walked down the hall, and into an office. A man was working intently on a tablet. Other people were flying in and out, giving him bits of information. After a few moments, he took a breath. “Horace Reaver. I’m Senator Channing, and also a huge fan.”
“Channing? The Frenzy council member?”
Channing smiled. “That hasn’t happened to me yet. I’m still a senator. Well, I was..before..all this.” He gestured all around.
“Can you help me find my daughter’s father?”
The senator shrugged. “Probably. But that’s not why I brought you here.” He clapped his hands with each word he spoke. “I need to know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
“No idea.”  It was true, Ace had that power in another timeline, but not here.
“No, see I heard about you. Lincoln explained everything.” He stood up, started walking around the table, and pointed out him. “You’re The Rewinder. If this isn’t the second time you’re living through this day, then I need you to come back here, and give me the information once you do go back in time.”
“Sir, you have been severely misinformed. What Rutherford told you was about a different version of me, in a different reality. I have intuitions about the present, but I didn’t actually experience it. I may have some insights, but I can’t give you the advantage to take over this town.”
He burst out laughing. “I’m not trying to take over the town. Andrews and I are already the leaders. We’re just trying to create some semblance of civility. It’s been three weeks, and if we don’t reassert democracy, this new world is doomed. I’m trying to put down the violent gangs that are rising back to power. You can tell me their moves, before they make them.”
“Again, sir. I can’t.”
Channing sighed, and looked over to his guards. “Take him to the hock, give him a day. Or a negative day, as it were. Hopefully he’ll come back a few hours ago, and be ready to help.”
Ace rolled his eyes. The audacity of politicians; even the good ones. He believed the senator truly wanted to help New Kansas City, or whatever it was they were going to call it, but he was one of those people who didn’t like to hear what they didn’t want to hear. If it didn’t fit with their presumptions, it probably wasn’t true.
“And give me that funny jacket of his. I wanna know what it is.”
Ace sat in his cell for nearly two days before Kolby came back, and broke him out.

Exit Strategies

Ace didn’t know if he should be surprised that Kolby came back to help, because he didn’t know the guy very well, but he was certainly grateful for it. A security guard unlocked the door, and stepped aside. “Why is she helping us, though?” Ace asked.
“Professional courtesy,” Kolby answered.
“I won’t work for a tyrant,” the guard answered for herself. “Senator Channing’s response to my helping you escape will tell this new world just what kind of person he really is. If we like how he reacts, we’ll back him, but if we don’t...we’ll take care of him.”
Ace didn’t want to know the specifics for what that meant.
“Sorry I took so long,” Kolby whispered as they were sneaking away from the guard, and down the hall. “I was getting this first.” He reached into his bag, and pulled out the dimension-hopping jacket.
Ace widened his eyes, and took the jacket back. “I’m shocked they didn’t use it to go back to the real world.”
“I have a theory about that. I saw a lot of black SUVs and white technician trucks parked by that giant orange TV tower near the border of Union Hill. I was literally running around the city, looking for a hacker informant I once had, who does not work for the Census Bureau. Suddenly, I lost my speed. I think they built a power dampener on that thing, which ironically, means the jacket won’t work.”
“We have to destroy that tower.”
Yeah, we do. But they will just rebuild it, so I need you to do me a favor.”
“What?”
Kolby remained silent.
“Oh, you want out of here.”
“I take out that tower, you take me with you.”
“The jacket can only take two people at a time, and needs time to recharge.” Ace could have left that part out, and let Kolby just go on thinking that Ace would be able to help, but he didn’t want to make any enemies. “I don’t even know if this thing is ready to take another trip yet.”
“That’s okay,” Kolby said. “I may have a loophole to that. Worst case scenario, the two of you escape. I’ll survive.”
Ace thought about it for a minute as they were lightly gliding down the steps, thankful they were only a few stories up. He knew that a speedster named K-Boy—which was similar to Kolby—was destined to end up in the real world, and join the tracer gang. “You sure will. I promise you’ll get out of here. I know this to be true, don’t ask me how.”
He agreed to not ask how. Then they left the building, and headed South, towards the Union Hill neighborhood. It was just over two miles away, so it was going to take just under an hour. “Is it frustrating?” Ace asked on the way, “You must not be used to walking at such slow speeds.”
“I didn’t get my powers until the flurry,” Kolby explained, referring to the unseasonable winter storm that preceded the creation of this dimension. “So I’ve only had them for a few weeks. Running like that is what I’m not used to.”
“Do you like it?”
“I’ve never been much of a runner, but as a private security professional, I’ve always had to stay in pretty good shape, so it’s not like I lived a sedentary lifestyle before this. I have mixed feelings about my new gifts. I guess I won’t really be able to process any of it until I get back to Earth proper.”
They continued walking in relative silence, until arriving as close as they were willing to get to their destination until they had a good plan. At least, what was what Ace thought. As it turned out, Kolby had already been working on a way to destroy the tower, and he hadn’t done it alone. There was an entire team waiting for them in their secret headquarters. They were in what looked like a print center, complete with a giant printer, but also an ATM.
“Horace Reaver,” Kolby announced, “welcome to the Forger’s lair. We have Garen Ashlock, expert thief. Quivira Boyce, also an expert thief. Hm, do we need two? Maybe one of you should go.”
“Shut up, Morse,” Quivira said.
“You’re right,” Kolby conceded. “I guess Ashlock isn’t so much an expert as he is an amateur.”
Ace wasn’t paying too much attention, though. He found himself just staring at Quivira, whose life he had saved last year, and who had saved his life many years ago. She was smiling at him knowingly, but not saying anything.
Kolby went on, “Doctor Mallory Hammer, who can provide medical support.” He paused to gaze at the last woman, both affectionately, and with disdain. “And here we have Natasha Orlov, former mob princess, and possible lone Russian survivor of the 2023 Gang Wars. She has seen the light, but has not forgotten her past. She’s on demolitions. The Forger and  Micro are busy at the Census Bureau headquarters. The latter will be providing technical support remotely. She’ll make sure we don’t get caught. She’s not a salmon or choosing one—or spawn,” he added, looking back at Quivira, “but she’s a good ally. Keep your guard up around Orlov, though.”
“I’m doing my best here, Kolby,” Natasha alleged. “Not every Russian is bad. I never wanted the life my father set out for me. I was always trying to get out, even as a little girl.”
“Prove it tonight,” Kolby advised.
A buzz began to sound from down the dark hallway, and drew nearer. A minidrone appeared from around the corner, and hovered in front of Kolby, who was not nervous about it. A voice spoke from the speaker, “the time is quickly approaching. If you’re going to take out the tower, you better get going now.
“Thank you, Agent Nanny Cam,” Kolby said to the drone. “Please review the team’s exit strategies.”
“I’ll check to make sure the coast is clear outside the Forger’s den first.” The drone buzzed away.
“You people are so well-organized,” Ace noted. “Have you all been working together long?”
“Just since this happened,” Quivira replied.
“What am I meant to do?” Ace offered.
Kolby laughed. “We’ve only been planning this particular job for about a day. We can’t risk throwing another variable into the mix. I wanted you to know who was helping you here, but you’re not a part of this. You need to get to the hospital, and find your man.”
“But, I can do stuff. I have really good intuition. Like, a supernatural sense of intuition.”
“That doesn’t work here,” Kolby reminded him, “especially not while that tower is operational. We have contingencies. Everyone has a backup plan if something goes wrong. We are going to make this happen, but it’s possible that Channing and Andrews have built their own backup at the Entercom towers. If that kicks in, you may only have seconds before the jacket stops working again.”
“You can just run me there.”
“I have my own contingency.”
“How am I meant to take you back?”
“You don’t worry about. Put your family back together, Reaver. We’ll take care of everything else.”
Ace wanted to argue more, but Kolby ushered him out of the lair, and directed him to Serkan’s hospital, which hacker Micro had uncovered. Not knowing how long it would be before the people on the A-team turned time powers back on, he ran towards the hospital. He was there well before midnight, which he assumed was go time, but the hospital wouldn’t let him in. It was the middle of night, and the whole metropolitan area was in a state of emergency.
“Please!” he begged the nurse. “I have to find my boyfriend; the father of my child!”
“I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” the nurse argued.
A man with the air of authority walked up from the other side of the room. “Is there a problem here?” He didn’t look like a cop, or even a security guard. He did, however, look like a runner.
“You’re part of the tracer gang?”
“We protect this facility,” the tracer responded.
“I need to speak with Bozhena.”
“Who?”
“Slipstream,” Ace clarified.
“She doesn’t have time for you.”
“Tell her Jupiter sent me!”
“Like, the planet? Or the god?”
“Tell her Jupiter sent me!” Ace repeated.
The tracer lifted his chin, and eyed Ace with caution. Then he looked over at another tracer standing guard. He closed his eyes, and nodded.
“Is that a good nod, or a bad nod?”
“You better hope she knows who this...” he stopped in thought. “Jupiter Rosa? The gun manufacturer?”
“He doesn’t make guns anymore, but yes.”
“Interesting.”
“Can I help you?” came Slipstream’s voice from behind him.
He turned around. “The love of my life is in your hospital. I need to see him.”
“Why would I let you do that? I would need confirmation from Census, and they’re not working right now.”
He started walking forward, and looked around at the walls. “You know where we are right now?”
“We just established that it’s a hos—”
“I mean the world.”
“Andrews said it was a pocket dimension.”
“It’s a duplicate. The perpetrators didn’t tear Kansas City out of the ground. They just made a copy. Of it, and everyone in it. There’s another Slipstream out there, and right now, she’s having tea with my daughter, Paige. Well, I guess that was a couple days ago, but it happened. Serkan is a runner, like you, and a different version of him will one day join your gang. As far as I’m concerned, you’re part of the family. I need to get upstairs tonight.” He consulted his watch. “By midnight.”
“That’s fine,” came another voice. “We can all go; have a chat.” It was Senator Channing, and a posse of thugs, pointing guns at them.
Slipstream stepped over to one of her tracers. “Deep six,” she ordered cryptically. He ran off. She then got in between Ace and the men, to protect him. “I got rid of the firearms in this town once. I’ll do it again.”
“You did that slowly,” Channing laughed, “not in one fight.”
“Actually...” Slipstream began, “I once disarmed twice as many guys as you have, all in one go.”
“Alone?” Channing questioned in disbelief.
Slipstream smirked. “No.”
Tracers appeared out of nowhere—a couple from above—and took all the guns away at once, dropping their wielders to the floor if they had to.
Suddenly, Ace’s jacket began to hum as it powered up. “They did it.” It wasn’t quite midnight yet. Either this was always the plan, or they had to move up the timetable.
Channing looked at this phone. “The tower’s down, good for you. Fortunately, I have three extra. They should be coming online within a few minutes.”
“Shit,” Ace said. He nearly got down on his knees in front of Slipstream. “I need to get to Serkan now. Please.”
“Take him into custody,” Slipstream ordered her people. “We need to have a talk with the mayors tomorrow morning.
“Wait!” one of Channing’s men shouted. “Horace, this is Quivira! I’ve come from the future to fix this! You have to wait for Kolby. He’ll be there at midnight. Exactly at midnight.”
“The towers,” Ace argued.
“Will be taken care of,” Quivira said, using the voice of the man she was possessing. “That’s why I came back, but if you don’t take Kolby out of here, both of our worlds are screwed.”
Ace inhaled, and redirected his attention to Slipstream. “Take me to him right now. I don’t care about the worlds.”
“Bozhena, please!” Quivira pressed. “Wait until midnight. If that man finds his husband a minute too soon, we’re all dead. Remember what I said to you when you were young. Vous aurez un mouton...”
“...si vous avez la vrai nourriture,” Slipstream finished, astonished.
The jacket abruptly stopped buzzing. The towers were back online.
“I’ll take you to him,” Slipstream said to Ace, “at midnight.”
Twenty minutes later, the jacket turned back on yet again, but it still wasn’t midnight, so Ace had no choice but to wait.

A Difference Between Action and Inaction

Five minutes to midnight, Ace ran up to find Serkan in his hospital room. He lifted him out his bed, and let him hang off his shoulders. He watched his watch intently, as the seconds ticked by. Kolby Morse, a.k.a. the future K-Boy was expected within the minute, but if he was even one moment late, then that was his loss. Ace’s primary concern was the father of his child, and he couldn’t let anything stand in the way of that. As soon as the clock struck 0:01, he activated the dimension-hopping jacket. This time felt different. There was a more violent tug as they transported back to the real world. He found himself face down on the floor of his own home. Serkan was there too, as was Kolby. At first, he was pissed off. Kolby must have screwed it up for them. The jacket was never designed to take more than two people at once. But then Paige’s babysitter, Mireille started helping me up, as Paige did the same for Serkan. Apparently it had worked, and Kolby’s transportation of them all the way back here had had something to do with it.
“Father Serkan,” Paige exclaimed. “You’re finally back!”
“Yes, dear,” Serkan said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “It is so good to see you again. You too, Ace.”
“It must have been so lonely,” Paige guessed.
“It’s only been a month for him,” Ace explained. “Time moves differently in there.”
“Oh, so you’ve not been gone that long, have you?” Paige asked. “It’s been almost a month on this side.”
Serkan was having a lot of trouble staying standing. Mireille was doing everything she could to keep him upright. “He needs medicine,” Ace pointed out.
“I can go,” Serkan said. “You have a list, or prescriptions?”
“Yes, the nurse gave me this packet,” Ace said, pulling it out of his back pocket.
Kolby took it from him, and ran off.
Paige and Mireille were shocked, but not that shocked. “So...he’s fast.”
“I’ll explain later. We have to get your father up to bed.”
“Yeah, I need to nap too,” Paige agreed. “We can catch up in a few hours.”
Ace didn’t realize how little sleep he had gotten recently, so the three of them didn’t wake until well into the next day. They had a long conversation over breakfast, comparing war stories. They had gone through so much apart, and needed to reconnect. Quiche was good at supporting bonding experiences. Serkan evidently lost both of his legs from the explosion, but they were basically regrown using the miracle of science. That kind of technology was not quite up to par with federally regulated standards, but the hospital in the fake version of Kansas City didn’t have to worry about government agents breaking down their doors. Only time would tell if the limbs would cause Serkan problems. He could have them for years, and only then begin to experience rejection symptoms.
Paige had had her own fill of adventure since Ace left. Several new people fell into her life, and started wreaking havoc on it, in some cases on purpose. A woman named Jesimula Utkin commissioned her and a small group of other women, including Slipstream, to stop a version of herself from the past from destroying the world. Of course, since she had done something that could destroy the world in the first place, she wasn’t an entirely good person. She fulfilled her promise, but also forced Paige into becoming a carrier for a disease that did end up taking one life, which was a horror Paige would have to recall over the course of her entire life. Throughout the ordeal, she learned that she had the power to travel through time using photographic images. This was implied to have been caused by her having been holding a camera when her now-fathers accidentally brought her into the future the first time. Paige was still getting used to her new reality, and the other two would need time for that as well. They would have a year until things started to get crazy again.
July of 2026 was quickly approaching, which meant that Serkan was soon to catch up with his own timeline. The three of them weren’t sure what they were meant to do with that. When he first fell back in time, it appeared to be somewhat of an accident. Or if someone had done it according to a master plan, that plan was lost of its game pieces. They had spent this year getting to know each other again. Paige was going to school regularly, Serkan was working, and Ace was gambling. They hadn’t completely avoided the topic of time travel, but it also hadn’t consumed their lives. Now it was about to fold back in on them, whether they wanted it to, or not. There were a few decisions they would need to make.
“So, if there’s one thing I learned last April,” Paige began, “it’s that the timeline can be changed. Perhaps you are unaware of any alterations you made when you came back here, but you might have made them. Everything you describe about the weather, and everything else that’s meant to happen during the Frenzy race this year may have all been negated by your prior actions.”
“Or we made it worse,” Ace said.
“Or we are what ultimately causes it,” Serkan added.
“How?”
“Well, our first indication that something was wrong was the unpredictable weather events, as Paige just mentioned, right?” Serkan put forth.
“Right.”
Serkan continued, “then in 2024, we saw first hand how...out of hand weather can get when we’re dealing with people with powers. Keanu ‘Ōpūnui created a winter hellscape in the summer, which is why we started investigating his organization in the first place. We didn’t exactly put him in jail, which means he could still have plans for this city. We may have inspired him to those plans by working against him two years ago.”
“It could even be more complicated than that,” Paige said. She was sixteen years old at this point, and behaving a lot more like an adult than before. “The weather man does his thing by borrowing the conditions of other times and places. No one has answered what happens to those other times and places. Maybe he’s not using his powers at all this summer, but at some other time, and he’s borrowing it from July of 2026, which impacts the now. We have to find him again to know for sure.”
“No, we can’t do that,” Ace argued. “Serkan just said it, our actions could be causing the future events. Interfering with Keanu could be what causes our later problems.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Paige asked him. “Nothing?”
“Maybe.”
“If we’re living in a time loop, it doesn’t matter what we do, or what we don’t. Everything we try will be the quote-unquote right choice, because it all comes down to fate.”
“That’s true,” Serkan said, “but I still think that I came back for a reason. It may not be my reason, and it may not be a good one, but there is a difference between action, and inaction. The weather is the least of our worries during the race. Something was happening downtown while I was running around with Crispin. I never found out what.”
“Okay,” Paige said, but stopped to think. “We don’t know everything that happens in the future, but we know some things. What we need to do is consolidate all of that information. Amongst the three of us, there must be no secrets. Serkan, you’re going to have to draw us a map of the race. Not literally, I mean...we need every detail possible. From the color of the underwear that Future!Ace lets you borrow, to the model of the car you and Krakken steal to chase after that guy who stole the rabbit dog. Having all that information in one place might give us clues about what else happens that you don’t know about.”
Serkan was nodding. “Are we sure that’s a good idea? Maybe I should have told you nothing about it. What was that thing about boots your new friend told you?”
Paige understood. “Bootstrap paradox, yes. Knowing the future calls into question the source of originality. If Future!You tells you how to build a time machine, then after you build it, you go back in time and tell Past!You how to do it, who exactly first came up with the design for a time machine? That’s the thing about paradoxes, though, they’re impossible. If one is about to occur, it simply won’t. The universe won’t be destroyed, the forest won’t turn red, it just won’t work. And isn’t that all that really matters, the consequences? We could be facing our greatest threat since the other Kansas City. Whoever is responsible for the mayhem may already know the future too, because we know these people have friends. We need to arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible.”
Serkan sighed and nodded again. “Okay, I’ll type up everything I know, and send it to both of you.”
The doorbell rang.
“You get on that,” Paige said, acting like their leader. “I’ll answer the door.”
“I’ll answer it,” Ace challenged. “Don’t you have summer reading to get back to?”
“Finished all of them,” Paige claimed. “I also went back in time and spoke personally with the authors.”
In most households, that would have been a clear joke, but this was something Paige could have actually done. “Just to be clear...” Ace started to ask.
“I’m kidding,” she said. “J.D. Salinger refused to see some random sixteen year old girl.”
“Somehow I doubt that,” Serkan said as he was leaving.
Ace walked over and opened the door to find Slipstream on the other side. “Slip, what are you doing here?”
“I need your help.”
“Help with what?”
“Once you meet someone with time powers, you can’t really escape that world. You know what I’m talking about.”
This was worrying. He stepped onto the porch, and closed the door behind him. “I do, but...what are you trying to say?”
“I became obsessed with it. I started looking into Jesimula Utkin, the one who terrorized me and your daughter. She did tell you about that, yeah?”
“She did, yes.”
“When you can change the timeline, like Jesi and her friends can, it’s hard for people to really know who you are. That little cabal has taken great pains to keep themselves hidden. Fortunately, I know people too now. Kolby and I—”
“Wait, you’re working with Kolby?”
“Didn’t you send him to us?”
“I might have accidentally let it slip that he has a place in this world, and that I know something about his future.”
“Well yeah, we’ve been working together, away from the other tracers. They all still think he can’t speak. We met someone called The Archivist. He has the records for every person who can manipulate time, across ever alternate reality. He wasn’t really allowed to give us any information, but he’s a confused drunk, so we were able to convince him.”
“Where are you going with this, Slippy?”
“I have a list; a list of Jesi, and Keanu, and all of their friends. They all come from the same town. This town no longer exists, because it was ripped out of time.”
“I know,” Ace said. Kallias Bran was a friend of theirs, who explained to them everything about the city that never was. “Springfield, Kansas.”
“These people aren’t supposed to have powers. They weren’t born with them like you guys.”
“Okay...”
“They all got them from the same source. They’re called the Springfield Nine, and one of the most powerful of them just broke out of this prison called Beaver Haven?”
“Yeah, Keanu mentioned that place. Who broke out?”
“His name is Rothko Ladhiffe, and he’s apparently taken issue with the City Frenzy event. I need that intuition of yours.”

The Required Skills For It

Before Ace could leave with Slipstream, he needed to regroup with his family, and obtain Serkan’s knowledge and memories of what was going to happen in the next coming weeks. Once he had that, Serkan and Paige went back to their lives for the time being, while Ace went on a background mission about their new enemy. Slipstream wasn’t able to keep the files from The Archivist, but she was able to remember quite a bit about him. Rothko Ladhiffe was born on the second of February, 1984. He was born after the cutoff date, but he showed such promise as a young child that they let him into kindergarten early. He would go on to skip fifth grade, and be one to two years younger than most of his peers.
In the summer of 2000, just before the beginning of the school year, the incoming senior class got together for a lock-in at the high school. It was an unauthorized event, but a decades-long tradition that adults allowed to continue, as long as no one got hurt. Rothko was living on the edge of a breaking point. For the last ten years, the city of Springfield, Kansas was gradually disappearing. Entire blocks would spontaneously disappear, leaving all survivors completely oblivious to its former existence. Rothko’s family was suddenly living on the edge of town, where they were once somewhere in the middle of it. Rothko, however, happened to have strayed beyond the borders on the night of that block’s disappearance. Several of his friends in the senior class had done the same. Together, they worked to get back home, and after awhile, they succeeded. Rothko, however, would not return for another twenty-one years.
He became stranded on a rogue planet that would come to be called Durus, with a boy named Escher, and a girl named Savitri. They had fallen into their own portals on two separate occasions before, and were the only survivors until much later, when the last of the now-small town of Springfield was swallowed up. No one—not even the Archivist himself—seems to know what happened to Savitri, and there were some plot holes when it came to Escher’s fate, but Rothko was eventually saved. He was sent back to Earth via a machine of Hogarth Pudeyonavic’s design. It would be another few years before she was able to rebuild that machine, and return to Earth herself, where she fought Jesimula Utkin by Paige’s side.
It was a culture shock for Rothko, who was now basically alone on a second world he knew nothing about. Smartphones, cars that could drive themselves, and the corporate automation tax were just too much for him to bear. Beaver Haven Penitentiary keeps criminal records in a location far removed from the Archivist, who was responsible for everything but. Slipstream was unable to garner information about what Rothko did that led him to a prison cell, but it wasn’t likely something good. The prison was specially designed to handle people with time powers. These weren’t the worst of the worst, or the ones with the potential to do most damage. They were just the ones who risked exposing the underworld to the Earth at large. This can be as simple as teleporting a loudmouth human—with a lot of followers on social media, and a permanent body cam—out of a deadly fire, to predicting global events that are destined to come true on national television. An individual who spent the majority of their life in a hellworld, fighting literal monsters, probably wasn’t capable of making considerate and careful decisions. Rothko Ladhiffe was placed in custody at some point in 2022, and managed to escape just last week. He was the only one in this reality to ever do so. It was unclear what he was so upset about when it came to the City Frenzy, but it was becoming clear that whatever was going to cause the commotion Serkan recalled from the near-future, he had something to do with it.
“What’s his power then?” Ace asked.
“He can manipulate local reality,” Slipstream answered unelaboratively. They were headed towards The Forger’s den. They weren’t going there to see him, but a man named The Courier, who operated in the same building, and was the only person they knew who traveled regularly to the prison. They needed answers, and that was the best place to get them.
“What exactly does local mean?”
“Well, he has to be able to see something in order to change it. He can’t just create a world where all trees are blue, or buildings hang from the clouds.”
“That’s a nice little limitation. I can’t imagine dealing with someone who could do those things.”
“Oh, that person exists too. She’s one of the other Springfield Nine.”
“Is she evil?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is Kolby not coming with us to this place?”
“He’s doing this thing with his alternate self. I was asked to not ask too many questions about it.”
“Oh, okay.”
A man opened the door when they knocked on it. “Do you have a thousand dollars?” he immediately asked of them.
“What? We’re just here to speak with the Courier.”
“The last guy who came in without an appointment gave me a thousand dollars.”
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Slipstream said.
“Yeah, we do,” Ace said. He took a credit card out of his wallet. “The Forger has an ATM, doesn’t he?”
“You can give me the cash on your way out,” the freelance security guard said. He stepped to the side, and presented the dark rounded hallway to them. “Forger on the left, Courier on the right,” he called to them. “Don’t forget the money!”
They opened the door on the right to find another man sorting mail into slots, while a woman was sitting in the corner, in one of those giant covered chairs that hip startups have in their exposed-brick headquarters, which allow employees to take naps.
Ace tried to get into the Courier’s periphery. “Excuse me?”
“Speak softly,” he responded. Only then could they see that he had severe burns on part of his face. “She’s sleeping.”
“I didn’t know there were two of you,” Slipstream noted.
“Susan and I work in different departments. She’s The Switcher.”
“What does she switch?”
The Courier snuck past the sleeping pod, and into another room. It was full of stuff. They saw jenga blocks, and dark cloak hanging on a hook with a knife, and a penny sitting on a table that looked like it was there very much on purpose. “When you’re dealing with time travelers, you can’t exactly call each other on cell phones.” He picked up a device from the table. “Though, this is a Doctor Hammer pager.”
“Don’t touch that,” Susan mumbled from the other room.
“Sorry, love,” he said back. “Anyway, some choosers have special ways of contacting each other, usually with something that is symbolically relevant to their specialty. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the connection. He was about to lift the penny, but thought better of it. For instance, there’s a woman with the ability to project her consciousness across space. If you want her to come, you find an ordinary penny, and recite be the penny to it. If you watched a certain science fiction adaptation on a certain science fiction network, you’ll know why that makes sense, but not if you didn’t.”
Slipstream nodded. “I watched it.”
“Susan is sleeping because she has one of the strongest powers ever. She can see the river of time itself, and she uses it to manage communications for all of us. If you’re trying to reach across time, she’s the one who decides precisely when your contact gets your message. Sometimes she maintains an order, and sometimes she lets people meet back up with each other in the wrong order. We are no one to question her reasoning.”
“Would she be able to contact someone at Beaver Haven for us?” Ace asked him. “Or could you?”
“It’s a prison,” the Courier said, “which means they’re not generally allowed packages. I can propel regular mail through time without actually traveling to it, so I’ve never had a reason to go there myself. You’ll have to wait until Susan wakes up. If she has a contact there, and wants to help, she will.”
“I’m up,” Susan said, somehow both reluctantly and ardently.
“We’re sorry to wake you,” Slipstream said to her as she was coming into the room.
“It’s okay,” Susan said. “As Ennis was saying, it’s exhausting work, so I need to sleep about fourteen hours a day.”
“We absolutely must build that extension,” Ennis lamented, “so you have an entire sleeping room to yourself.”
“We would need an extra dimension for that,” Susan said, “because the other tenants in this building aren’t scheduled to leave for another nine years and four months.”
Ace thought about their predicament. “You help us get to Beaver Haven, and I’ll get those tenants out ahead of schedule.”
“You don’t understand. The timeline says—”
“No, I get it, but the future can be changed, right? If anyone can do that, it’s me.”
Slipstream backed him up with her facial expression.
“That would be lovely. Let’s assume you’re bound to succeed in that endeavor, why do you want to get to the prison in the first place?”
“We would like to interview someone there who knew a man named Rothko Ladhiffe.”
The name seemed to make both Susan and Ennis really uncomfortable.”
“He and the rest of the Springfield Nine are out of pretty much everyone’s jurisdiction,” Ennis explained. “The fact that Beaver Haven arrested him in the first place speaks volumes about their desperation to stop him, and his escape is probably their greatest shame.”
“So, what are you saying?” Slipstream pressed.
“They’re not going to want to talk to you,” Susan said. “They’re going to pretend it never happened. If word gets out that their facility is not inescapable, they’ll start having a lot more people on their hands who want to test the limits of time traveler exposure.”
“We can reason with them,” Ace said confidently. “Because we can get him back.”
Susan sighed deeply. “Well, you were instrumental in bringing in Keanu ‘Ōpūnui, and she was vital to bringing in Jesimula Utkin, so I guess you are indeed our best shot.”
“Wait, if they’re also Springfield Nine, how did the prison justify locking them up too?” Ace asked. “I didn’t realized they had gone there.”
“No, me neither,” Slipstream said.
Susan smirked. “You’re loopholes. Choosing ones are not allowed to go after outliers, like the Nine.” She faced Slipstream. “But you’re human.” She faced Ace. “And you’re a salmon, your husband is a chosen one, and your daughter is spawn. We also aren’t allowed to go after any of you, but it’s totally fine if you go after each other.”
“You’re saying that we’re the only ones who can do this?” Ace gathered.
“Essentially. I mean, you’re not the only ones, but you’re some of the few living in this time period who have the required skills for it.”
“And they’re not going to get in trouble for involving me?” Slipstream questioned. “They exposed time travel to a human.”
“No, Jesimula exposed time travel to a human. Paige and the others just garnered your help with stopping her. They’re perfectly innocent, and even if they weren’t, Beaver Haven doesn’t arrest everyone who gives up their secret. It has to put us all at risk, and you’re not a liability because you’re a badass mercenary who knows how to keep a secret.”
“So, you’ll help us?” Ace wanted to confirm.
Susan smiled again as she was walking over to a corner. Ennis helped her move some boxes out of the way, revealing a barred window without the actual window. She lifted a metal mug from the sill, and started swiping it back and forth along the bars, making a huge racket. “Guards!” she shouted.
A security guard stepped in from a door on the other side of the room. “Yes, Madam Glines?”
Susan gestured towards Ace and Slipstream. “These two will be asking some questions at your institution. Give them anything they desire. Anything,” she reiterated.
“Yes, sir,” he said with the utmost respect for her.

Dude Thinks He Invented It

The prison guard held the door open so Ace could call Serkan and Paige, and tell them where he was going to be. Slipstream needed to get her affairs in order with the tracer gang as well, though she wasn’t as honest with them about what she was doing. The reality was that neither of them really knew where it was they were going, though. They could be traveling to the other side of the world, to another world, to the future, or the past. Perhaps the prison existed in another dimension, or maybe somehow all of these possibilities all at once. Susan and Ennis seemed to think it was safe for them to travel there, but Ace didn’t exactly know them that well.
“No cameras,” the guard informed them at the doorway. He took their phones from them, and slipped them into his pocket. Then he started leading them down a passageway. “Who is it you need to speak with?”
“Anyone who can tell us about Rothko Ladhiffe,” Ace answered.
The guard flinched, almost imperceptibly. “He got out on my watch. I can tell you as much as anyone else here can, outside of his friends.”
Ace and Slipstream gave each other a look. “We should talk to his friends.”
“They are not allowed visitors,” the guard explained.
“We’re not here to visit.”
“Good point,” he admitted. He turned a corner that Ace didn’t even know was there. Some walls weren’t really walls. “Susan has instructed me to give you everything you ask for, but she is not my boss.”
“Who is?”
“The Warden, of course.” He ushered them into an office, where a woman was sitting at a desk, and just staring at the wood, like a powered-down robot.
Ace cleared his throat, but the warden lady didn’t react.
“Excuse me?” Slipstream piped up.
The Warden held up one finger, and didn’t drop it for a minute. Then she used it to point at what appeared to be some random point on the desk. “There. See it?” she asked the empty space right next to her chair.
“Yes,” came the voice of some invisible entity, right where the Warden was talking to.
“I want him moved to the other side.”
“I’m on it.” The side door opened and closed on its own.
The Warden finally looked up to the two of them. “What, you’ve never seen an invisible person before?”
“Well, no,” Ace said, “but that’s not it. We’re just not sure what you two were looking at on your desk.”
She smiled and reached under that desk. After a click, a holographic image appeared on the surface; apparent footage of the prison. “This is a live feed. We were looking at something that hasn’t happened yet, so you can’t see it unless you have a trained eye.”
Ace nodded. He didn’t fully understand what she had said, but he long ago learned when someone with more experience in the world of time manipulators said something is a thing that’s real, he was better of just accepting it and moving on.
“What can I do for you?” Who are you?”
“You just let us walk into your office without knowing us?” Ace questioned.
“Don’t you know the future?” Slip added.
“Not the whole future.”
“Well, I’m a salmon...sort of,” Ace began. “That’s what everyone calls me, but the powers that be have never asked me to do anything.”
“That you know of,” the Warden corrected.
“That I know of,” he agreed. “This is Slipstream. She’s, uhh...” Yeah, he still wasn’t clear how different people were going to react to a regular ol’ human.
“Bozhena Horvatinčić?” the Warden asked, with a proper fangirl squee. She stood up, and walked around the desk to shake her idol’s hand. “It is such an honor. What you did for Kansas City...”
“Was a group effort,” Slipstream said with flawless modesty.
“That’s my girl. We should do lunch. Are you hungry?”
“We’re...anxious,” Slipstream replied. “As I’m sure you know, our fair city is in danger.”
The Warden fell into seriousness. “Right, the ninth and last City Frenzy event.”
Ace and Slipstream gave each other another look. Neither of them knew anything about this being the last Frenzy.
“Whoopsie-doodles, I’ve said too much. I would hit the redo button, but I don’t wanna do that to you. You’re here looking for answers about Mister Ladhiffe. I can put you in a room with Keanu ‘Ōpūnui and Jesimula Utkin, but I’m not sure that’s safe.”
“You have ways of suppressing people’s powers, don’t you?”
“That’s not the problem,” the Warden said. “The Springfield Nine aren’t just dangerous because of their abilities. They’re also all insane. Well, Kallias isn’t, but that’s because he was immune to side effects of the...”
“What?”
“Well, I mean he’s not pristinely ungifted, like Brooke Prieto, but he can control how nonlinear time effects him, if at all.”
“Kallias Bran is one of the Springfield Nine?” Ace asked. “He babysat my child.”
“Yes, but like I said, he’s different.”
“Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. I read about those children,” Slipstream said. “I read about all nine. He wasn’t in there.”
The Warden nodded. “You’re probably thinking of Kayetan Glaston. No, he’s tight with them, but he’s just a regular choosing one. He was born that way. The Nine were made.”
“Are you gonna lock him up too?”
“Kayetan?”
“No. Kallias.”
“I don’t lock up anybody. I’m a warden, not a judge. But to make you feel better, I doubt it. Your child was safe with him.”
After a reverent pause, Slipstream continued, “what did we decide about the interview with Rothko’s friends?”
“Please.” She opened her hand, and pointed to their knees. “Have a seat.”
As soon as they sat down, they discovered themselves to be sitting in an entirely different room. Keanu was on the other side of a cold, metal table that was an awkward few meters long. At the far corner was a young woman Ace didn’t know, but guessed to be Jesimula Utkin. They were both chained to their respective corners. The prison guard from before was performing a beautiful impression of a statue in the corner.
“I don’t think she teleported us,” Ace said. “I think we lost time.”
“You’re getting smarter,” Keanu said to him with a grimace.
“It’s been so long,” Jesi said to Slipstream.
“Is that a joke, or has it been longer for you?”
“Just a year, but I do miss the time we spent together. What’s the deal with this table?”
“No touching,” the guard clarified.
Ace took a moment to pretend he was alone with Slipstream. “As a feminist, I grapple with this idea that hitting a woman is worse than hitting a man, but I know if I punch this guy in the face right now, everyone who heard the story would shrug it off. But if I did the same to—”
“I catch your drift,” Slipstream interrupted. She stood up, and punched Jesi in the face for terrorizing Ace’s daughter.
The prison guard immediately opened a cabinet on the wall, and pulled out a med kit. He removed a piece of cloth from a container, and placed it on Jesi’s face. “Sixty seconds,” he said to her before going right back to his corner, and freezing.
Jesi leaned her head back and sighed while she waited to heal.
“What is it with you people and hitting?” Keanu asked.
“What is it with you people and harming others on a grander scale?”
“Hey, I stand by my winter wonderland!” he shouted jovially.
“They let you stand in here?”
It was a silly retort, but offensive enough to the prisoner. “What is it you want?”
“Rothko.”
Keanu scowled. “That bastard promised to take us with him.”
“So, you’ll help us catch him?” Slipstream imagined.
“Hell no! Springfield code!”
“Oh God,” Jesi said as she was finally removing what was obviously a healing mask. “Enough with that bullshit! We owe him nothing.”
“We owe him everything,” Keanu argued. “He got us out of the pocket dimension.”
“Agree to disagree.”
“It’s a fact, Jesi. You can’t just ignore it because—” Keanu stopped short. “Oh, I see what you did there. Pitting us against each other, making us give you information about the pocket dimension. You’re a couple of sneaky snakes. I see you.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ace said honestly. “You started fighting all on your own. If you don’t want to tell us what we need to know, then you are free to go.”
“They’re not free to go,” the guard said.
“Oh, my bad,” Ace said. “Looks like you’ve been compelled to help us.”
Jesi pursed her lips and regarded them with exaggerated disdain, like a lady thug. “Yo, watchu wanna know?”
Slipstream took this one, stooping herself to a way of talking that Jesi was already pretending to have. “Yo, like...what does he want? What beef he got with the City Frenzy?”
“That ol’ thang?” Jesi went on. “That dude thinks he invented it.”
“He did,” Keanu argued.
“Puh-lease, ain’t nobody remember him talkin’ about it when we was kids.”
“Well, he did. To. The. Letter.”
Jesi sucked her teeth, and brushed that dirt off her shoulder. “Yeah, right. And I introduced the word fleek.”
“You did,” Keanu reminded her. “That wasn’t meant to be part of English vernacular until 2049.”
“Oh, for reals? Schway.”
Slipstream reached towards Jesi’s face. “No. No. Use whatever accent you want, but no one is uttering that word in my presence.”
“What, schway?”
Slipstream stood up so fast, her chair fell back. Ace picked it up for her while Jesi assured them she wouldn’t use it again.
“Getting serious, guys, Rothko is not all there.” Jesi gestured to Keanu as her voice got quieter. “These kids love him, but he is not okay. He had this thing with this girl, on this other planet. But then there was this other guy, and I don’t know what happened to him, but no one’s ever seen him again. He don’t talk about it, but I think Rothko killed him.”
“Allegedly,” Keanu interjected.
Ace decided it was time to get to the point. “What’s his weakness? How do we stop him.”
Jesi laughed. “How do you stop gravity?”
“Lift?” Slipstream offered.
Jesi thought that was a pretty good answer. “Tell ya what, you get me furlough, I’ll bring him in...dead or alive.”
“You’re not getting furlough,” the guard said abruptly.
Ace looked back at the guard, and then back to the prisoners. “Can you do it.”
“They’re not getting out of here,” the guard said, growing angrier.
“Yes,” Jesi answered.
Steam was coming out of the guard’s ears. “I won’t let two more people get past me.”
“Not two,” Jesi said. “Just me.”
“Traitor!” Keanu cried.
“I need backup,” the guard called into his radio.
“We have to go now,” Jesi urged. “You’re untouchable. They can’t hurt you. Either of you.”
“Okay,” Ace decided.
The guard tried to make a move, but Slipstream was too fast. She took him down without breaking a sweat. But then his jackbooted backup arrived. She pushed back on the door to keep them out, but they were too strong. Keanu jumped up and helped her. “You have a plan to get us out of here?” he questioned.
A pigeon suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and landed gracefully on the table. It started cooing, and looking around for food. The backup was now banging on the door harder, and it looked like someone was coming with a breaching bar to knock it down.
“Now would be nice,” Slipstream said.
“Read the note!” Keanu ordered.
Ace carefully removed the little note wrapped around the bird’s leg. “Take a picture,” he read. “I don’t have my phone with me.”
“They’re in his pocket,” Slipstream reminded him. She and Keanu were starting to lose the match against the guards.
Ace dove down and grabbed his phone. He flicked up the camera app, and snapped a photo of the floor. An older version of Paige wearing glasses suddenly appeared. She took Ace in one arm, and Jesi in the other.
“Wait. Slip!” Ace yelled.
“Everyone who wants a ride has to be touching me,” Glasses!Paige said.
The door was too far away from Jesi. “Go!” Keanu said to her. “I’ll hold them off, just go!”
“I won’t forget this,” Ace said to him.
As soon as Slipstream’s fingers were at Paige’s shoulders, the latter spirited the four of them away.

A Very Dangerous Period

Glasses!Paige separated herself from the group as soon as they arrived back home. Well, it wasn’t exactly home. They had left the real world to go to the prison in the summer, but this looked more like a snowy death world. “I’m sorry I brought you here,” she said. “But the summer of 2026 is a dangerous time period for time travelers. Because of what happens, things can turn out wonky. We’re in the first winter of 2019 right now, so Jesi can take you back to when you need to be.”
“When are you from?” Ace asked his daughter with a frown. “What happened to you? I thought you needed photographs to travel.”
Glasses!Paige pointed to the movie theatre that this parking lot was for. “Security camera, right there. These glasses contain millions of jump points for me to access, via historical records, and a few other sources. I’m not giving you any more information about myself.”
It was obvious that she was about to disappear. “I love you.”
“I miss you,” Glasses!Paige said, before jumping into some other picture.
Ace scowled, and looked back to Jesi. “Ground rules.”
“Lay ‘em on me,” Jesi said, though there was no telling how sincere she was being.
“You do everything I say, when I say it. You can question it, but only if you have a logical argument against my instructions. I do recognize that you are more versed in the world of time travelers, so if what I plan doesn’t make any sense, you have an obligation to tell me. Once I have all the facts, I may amend those instructions. Slipstream, Serkan, and absolutely any version of Paige has this same power over you.”
“I understand,” Jesi said.
“There’s still one little problem,” Slipstream jumped in.
“What?” Ace asked. “That she can disappear anytime she wishes, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop her?”
Slipstream nodded. “That’s the one.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” Since this all started several years ago, Ace had changed. He was still the same person he was brought up to be. He still liked savory egg-pastry dishes, he still used his intuitive skills to gamble, and he still loved the City of Fountains more than his hometown of Topeka. But there was also a darkness in him that only came out when his family was threatened, which hadn’t really been an issue until Serkan showed up. He was of a more violent nature than he ever knew, and this side of him frightened him far more than any time traveler he could meet. Yet it also held its advantages. He wasn’t the only one who noticed this aspect of his character, and if necessary, he would be more than willing to use this to protect his people. “One thing I’ve realized about this underworld is that y’all kinda know each other.”
“Right...” Jesimula was with him there.
Ace went on, “time travelers sort of pop in and out of your life, seemingly at random. When a regular human meets someone, say, at the grocery store, unless they make a point of staying in contact, there’s a good chance they’ll never see each again. But every time a time traveler meets another time traveler, it’s profoundly meaningful, which means the chances are high that they will see each other again.”
“I don’t know exactly where you’re going with this.”
“Yeah, me neither,” Slipstream agreed.
Ace prepared to finish up. “You could use your power to leave us whenever you want. But you’re a fool if you think we’ll never see each other again. It could be the next day, or decades from now, but I promise you that our paths will cross at least once more. You’ve agreed to help us with this Rothko guy, and if you break that promise, I assure you that the next time I see you, I won’t ask any questions. I’ll just fucking kill you.”
The transformation of Jesi’s face upon her hearing Ace’s last statement was not one he would ever forget. This was fear, from a woman who was every bit his superior, except in two arenas; he had people he loved, and he was physically stronger than her. Even Slipstream, who had made a career out of violence, as a vigilante law enforcement outlaw, was shaken by his words.
Jesi put her tail between her legs, and though she didn’t technically step back, she did shrink away. “I’ll help you. I’ll do anything I can, and I’ll only leave when you grant me safe passage.”
Ace breathed deeply through his nostrils. “One more thing. Don’t hurt anyone. Not anyone.”
“Not even—”
“Not even Rothko,” he interrupted.
“Yes, sir.” She could have said that sarcastically, but she didn’t. He was her commanding officer now, and maybe that was what she needed all along. Maybe all these so-called Springfield Nine had lacked strong role models who didn’t take their shit. He probably wasn’t the best candidate for it, but at least Slipstream was here.
“All right. I may think of more rules, and I’ll expect you to follow them as well.”
“Of course.”
“Then let’s get out of here.”
Before Jesi could take the other two in her hands, a man appeared out of nowhere, holding a pair of what could only be described as futuristic handcuffs.
If Jesi wasn’t scared before, she was scared now. “Oh my God.”
“Who are you?” Ace asked.
“Name’s Tracker. I’m one of those few people who don’t put the word the in front of their cutesy little nicknames.”
“Ace, we have to go now,” Jesi warned.
“You are all fugitives of Beaver Haven Penitentiary, and I have been sent to bring you in.”
“I thought we were all immune,” Ace said. “You only got Jesi the first time because my daughter went after her.”
“That’s true, but once that happened, she became fair game, ad infinitum. And once you broke her out, you became fair game too.”
“That sounds fishy,” Slipstream pointed out.
“Ace, let’s go. Now.” Jesi was backing away, but slow enough to show she wasn’t planning on leaving without them.
“It’s too late,” Tracker said. “In addition to being able to follow people through their spacetime rifts, I can suppress people’s powers once I find them.”
“He’s lying,” Jesi said. “I know all about him, and he can’t do that.”
“If you try to slide into the future,” Tracker began, “it could kill you.”
“I’m gonna risk it.”
“It could kill all of you,” Tracker clarified.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Slipstream noted. “If you can suppress powers, it shouldn’t matter how hard she tries. Unless you’re not suppressing powers at all. You’ve put her on a leash.”
Ace was watching her as she was talking. Now he turned back to Tracker with hope. “Leashes can be broken.”
“Sure, by me. What would someone like you be able to do?”
“He probably can’t do anything,” Slipstream said. “Can you hold onto a leash when you’re unconscious, though?” She stepped towards him.
“Now, wait. I know what you can do, and no, I won’t be able to hold onto her once you knock me out. But I’ll be able to find her when I wake up.”
“I dunno,” Slip said. “It’s pretty cold out here. You sure you’re gonna wake up?”
Now Tracker started to back away. “Didn’t you, like, swear an oath that you wouldn’t use your gifts for evil?”
Slipstream scoffed and laughed as she kept inching forward. “No. Did you?”
He stopped, and stood up straight. “Yes.” His eyes darted to his right.
“What?” she asked. “Do you see a temporal rift over there, or something?”
“That’s...” Tracker was surprised. “How did you know?”
“I’m pretty good at reading people.”
“I know where you’re going,” Tracker said. “You knock me out, I escape through that rift, your mangy dog over there literally bites through his buddy’s leash.” He gestured towards Ace. “It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you go. We know that you’re headed for downtown Kansas City, summer of 2026.”
Jesi nodded. “That’s true, but you don’t wanna go there, do you? That’s a very dangerous period of the timeline, or so we’ve heard.”
“I’ll find a safe way in.” Tracker sounded pretty confident.
“Great,” Ace said. “And when you do, you can arrest Rothko Ladhiffe.”
“I will, and I’ll take you all with him.”
Ace placed her hand on Jesi’s shoulder. She shuddered a bit, but quickly realized he meant her no harm. Slipstream stepped back over and did the same. “You can try.”
Tracker pouted at them. Then he literally jumped into the invisible tear in the spacetime continuum.
With the leash broken, Jesi created a time bubble around the three of them, and slid them toward the future. Ace watched as the seasons came, and the seasons went. Cars drove up, parked in the spot they were standing in, and drove away just as quickly. Finally, the flashforward stopped, hopefully leaving them sometime soon after they first left.
Ace pulled out his phone, and called Serkan. “Hey. How long have we been gone, from your perspective?” He listened to the response, then relayed it to the group, “less than an hour.” He listened more. “We’re in Leawood.—No, don’t worry about it. It looks like Slip is already calling us a ride.”
“Dave will be here in a grayish rogue in four minutes,” Slipstream announced.
“We’ll be home in thirty minutes. I love you too.” He hung up.
Two minutes later, a grayish rogue pulled up next to them. “Bozhena?” the driver asked.
“Thank you for coming.”
They climbed into the vehicle.
“No problemo,” he said as he was driving away. “I’m Dave, but you can call me The Chauffeur.” Ah, shit.

The Other Side of An Expanding Universe

Neither Slipstream nor Jesi seemed bothered by the fact that their driver just referred to himself as The Chauffeur. A few years ago, it would have been a funny anecdote to tell his friends, but everybody Ace met these days with a nickname was probably bad news.
“Sup, Davey,” Jesi said to him.
“Call me Dave, Miss Utkin,” the driver said.
“Sounds good, Davey.”
“How do you know him?” Slipstream asked.
Dave went on before Jesi could answer. “I hear you’re out looking for a Beaver Haven fugitive.”
“We are,” I admit, planning mine and Slipstreams’ escape.
“I also hear you’ve become fugitives yourself, because you recruited an unlikely ally.”
“I don’t think I’m that unlikely,” Jesi protested. “I’m very likable.”
“What are you going to do to us?” Ace asked him.
Do to you?” Dave echoed. “I’m not going to do anything to you. I’m here to provide you with resources.”
“You work for the prison?” Slipstream guessed.
Both Dave and Jesi laughed. “I work for The Sanctuary,” Dave answered.
Jesi clarified, “your daughter built a special place to protect humans when they’re in danger from time travelers.”
“Isn’t everyone’s life in danger from time travelers?” Slipstream pointed out.
“That’s a fair assessment,” Jesi said.
Ace was still hung up on the comment she made about this sanctuary having been built by his daughter. Again, a few years ago, that would have sounded completely crazy. But he understood that just because the Paige he was raising hadn’t done something yet, didn’t mean that it hadn’t already happened. Thinking on it, he was not really surprised she would grow up to help people in this capacity. It made him smile.
Jesi noticed it. “Oh, I’m not talking about Paige.”
Okay, that was stranger news, but not completely out of left field. He didn’t want to know too much about this daughter he hadn’t even met yet, though, so he continued to stay silent.
“Her name is Meli—”
“I don’t want to know too much about my future,” Ace stopped her.
Jesi laughed again. “Meliora is not in your future. She’s from an alternate reality. I think two major reality shifts ago, yeah?” she asked Dave.
“There’s no such thing as a major or minor reality shift, since time is fluid,” Dave contended, “but you could say that.”
“So, I had a child with someone, then that child grew up, went back in time, and changed so much that I never even had her in the first place?”
“Essentially, yes,” Jesi said. “It would have been worse if her actions hadn’t erased herself from history, though. Then there would have been two of them, battling for the timeline. Nobody wants that.”

“Oh my God, I forgot about her,” Paige apologized.
We were back at the house. Ace had left Jesi and Dave in his car, so he could have a private conversation with his family, and Slipstream first.
“Paige, you knew about this Meliora?” Serkan asked her.
“Yeah, I met her just before you two came back to the real world,” Paige said. “I mean literally just before. I got so caught up processing where you had been, and trying to take care of you, that it slipped my mind.”
“You met her too?” Ace was getting too worked up. Paige had done nothing wrong.
“She’s the one who undid Jesi’s aging thing,” Paige explained.
“Jesi did imply Meliora was a very powerful person,” Slipstream reminded Ace.
“If she’s anything like your current daughter,” Serkan began, “she genuinely wants to help with our Rothko problem.”
“That’s assuming the driver even works for her,” Slipstream cautioned.
“I think we should speak with her directly,” Ace decided. “Dave says he has resources to help us bring Rothko in. I’m inclined to take any advantage we can get, but you three and Kolby are the only people I know I can trust, and maybe not even Kolby.”
“You can,” Slipstream promised. She stepped out of the door, and waved the other two to come on in.
Dave and Jesi walked in, the latter with a coat draped over her arms, in front of her stomach.
“Little hot for that, isn’t it?” Paige pointed out.
Dave removed the coat from Jesi’s arms, to reveal them to be bound together via handcuffs. “Our first gift to you.” He handed Ace a small device. “The cuffs suppress powers, but they can keep her immobile in a more traditional sense. Press that button right there.”
Ace pressed the button. The cuffs separated from each other, but each half remained on Jesi’s wrists, respectively.
Dave went on, “her powers are still being suppressed. If you push that button right there, you can restore them, and easily turn them back off when you want. There’s also a recall function, in case she travels to a different time without your permission.”
Paige took the controller from Ace’s hand, and looked it over like a curious cat. “Will these cuffs work on anybody?”
“Anybody,” Dave said. “Even you. You’re immune to the ones Beaver Haven uses, but not these. They’re one of a kind, so be careful with them.”
Having gotten used to modern technology by now, Paige expertly pressed a new button. The cuffs fell off of Jesi’s wrists, and headed for the floor, but before they could reach it, they stopped in mid-air, and docked themselves to the end of the remote. They obviously belonged there when they weren’t in use.
“What are you doing?” Slipstream questioned.
“We’ll need these for Rothko,” Paige replied. She handed the full set back to Ace, and stepped closer to Jesi. She was the one who had been most slighted by the prisoner, so even though she wasn’t an adult, this was her prerogative. “Jesi isn’t going to screw us over, are you?”
Jesi frowned at the girl. “If I had a team like you guys to help me when I was trying to stop the pathogen that destroys organic humans in the future, I could have figured out how to do it without killing anybody, or violating your body’s age. I am sorry, and I legitimately want to help now. I didn’t start out evil; none of us did, not even Rothko. We got our powers from a pocket dimension that had terrible psychological consequences that we didn’t see until it was too late. I don’t know how Kallias Bran has survived so long.”
“Are you saying Rothko can be saved?” Serkan asked her.
Jesi stood up straighter to consider the notion. “No. He’s lived through more trauma than any of us could imagine. His happiness is on the other side of an expanding universe. He’ll never see it again.”
“I have more treats,” Dave said after a brief pause in the conversation.
“I want to meet my daughter,” Ace said.
Dave looked perturbed. “Jesi shouldn’t have told you that. Meliora is not your daughter. Everyone thinks there’s such thing as an alternate version of yourself, but that’s impossible. Why, you’re not even the same person as you were seven years ago.” He gestured towards Ace. “The fact that you’re not running around, killing people, is proof of that in a multidimensional sense. The other Horace Reaver is you in name only. He wasn’t a good father, and he wasn’t a good person, and he’s not you. You are no more related to my employer than I am.”
“Your employer,” Paige began to argue, “called herself my sister. She used the word.”
Dave was mildly surprised by this. “She did? She said that?”
“Indeed,” Paige confirmed.
Dave cleared his throat, and shook his arms for no known reason. He took a freaking flip phone from his pocket, and opened it up. He didn’t dial a number, though. “Request sent.—Request received.—Processing.—Pending response.—Acknowledged.” He closed the phone. “Accepted. But only you two.”
Ace looked over to Serkan, who smiled understandingly. “That’s okay. Slip and I will debrief Miss Utkin while you’re gone.”
“Very well,” Dave said. With no warning, he lifted his arm, and snapped.
The three travelers were suddenly standing on dusty stone floor. A man was smiling at them cordially. “Welcome to the Great Pyramid of Giza.”
“We’re just passing through, Stargazer,” Dave said.
“Headed back to Dardius?”
“We are.”
“Have a nice trip.”
Dave closed his eyes, and breathed deeply. He faced the window showing the night sky above them. “Hold onto my waist.”
Paige and Ace grabbed hold of the teleporter, and held on tight. Dave lifted one arm towards the window, then pulled them off the ground like some kind of Asgardian god. They couldn’t really see anything, but they could feel themselves rushing through time and space; outer space. Within minutes, they were standing in the lobby of a hotel.
“Good afternoon,” a bellhop said from the other side of the counter. “Checking in two guests?”
“They’re not staying,” Dodeka,” Dave said to her. “Where’s the boss?”
“Right here,” came a voice from behind them.
“Here they are,” Dave said. “Call me when they need a ride back to Earth. I’m going to check on our defenses.”
“You don’t need to do that every time you show up,” the woman who was apparently Ace’s Alt!Daughter, Meliora said. “You’re not breaking through them, you’re unlocking them.”
“Yeah, and I need to make sure they’re locking behind me. I hope you or Doty are doing the same when I leave.”
“Yes, sir,” the bellhop said.
“Thank you, Dave,” Meliora said, both warmly and dismissively.
“Thank you, Dave,” Paige said to him as well, but he was gone before she was finished her sentence.
“Mister Reaver, Miss Turner,” Meliora began. “I was not planning on us meeting until much later. You haven’t even had your brain blended yet.”
“What does that mean?” Paige asked. “It sounds painful.”
“The pain is temporary.” She paused for a moment. “Are you here on business, or did you just want to meet me?”
“Both,” Ace said honestly.
Meliora had a sad expression on her face, exposing her superior intelligence to them, like a mother trying to avoid teaching her child about death. “He’s explained that I’m not really your daughter, right?” She grimaced under emotional discomfort.
“That’s not what you indicated when you saved my other daughter’s life,” Ace volleyed. “You wanted to be sisters.”
“I feel a closeness to people that they can’t reciprocate. I built this place, because everyone feels like a sister or brother to me.”
“That’s bullshit,” Ace argued. “If a lab tests our blood, what are they gonna find? Are they gonna conclude that we’re genetically related?”
“Well, they would, but—”
“But that’s all I need to know. There are three kind of parents in the world: those who are related to their kids, but don’t raise them; those who raise their kids, but aren’t related to them; and those who are both. I don’t know you, but I love you, and nothing you say will stop me from feeling that.”
“I’m a distraction,” Meliora said to him. “You have work to do. Rothko is just the latest in a long line of challenges you and your family are going to have to face. I can’t have you trying to include me in that, because I have my own work to do.”
“If that’s true, why did you send Dave to us?” Paige asked. “Why did you reyoungify me? If you wanted to stay out of it, then you should have.”
“I should have,” Meliora agreed. “Merton could have handled that, and I could have simply given The Courier your gifts.”
“If that’s how you feel,” Paige said, “I guess we have nothing more to discuss.”
Meliora looked to the bellhop, Dodeka. “Please retrieve that little brownish lockbox from the back. They’ll be taking the downgraded package. I can see they don’t need as much help as I had originally instructed Dave to provide them with.”
“Sir,” Dodeka said obediently as she was leaving.
Meliora turned back to her fake family. “You can stay in the hotel as long as you would like. She can provide you with any amenities, and will be sending you of with everything you need to defeat Mister Ladhiffe. We’ll see each other again, under better circumstances, and with less...hostility.”
“We do appreciate the assist,” Ace said as Meliora was walking away.
Dodeka returned with a whitish lockbox. Meliora must have been mistaken about the color. It also didn’t look that little. The bellhop set it on the counter, then lifted a brochure from its holder, and opened it up to show them. We currently have three swimming pools—”
“We won’t be staying,” Ace said, taking the lockbox from the counter. “Please call the Chauffeur back for us.”
“Very well, sir.” She reached into her back pocket, and returned with a lighter. Dave appeared as soon as she ignited it, and wasn’t happy about being interrupted, but he agreed to take Ace and Paige back to Earth.

That is an Absolute Last Resort

Ace and Paige didn’t even open the lockbox until Dave had them back on Earth, and in their home. Once in the dining room, he set it on the table, and waited for someone else to do it for him. There was no telling what they would find in there.
Jesi wasn’t afraid, but Slipstream slapped her wrist away. “No, I’ll do it,” she conceded. Slip turned the key, and opened the box.
Ace half expected an orangey light to emanate from inside, but it was just a collection of what appeared to be junk. There was a dog tag, with the name Anatol Klugman etched on it, and an unremarkable watch. There was a little toy space gun, and a rock. The only thing that was remotely cool was this cute little baby gyroscope. He picked up the rock, and tossed it in the air a few times. “This is what we have to work with? What are these things?”
Jesi cleared her throat.
“Yes, Jes, you’re allowed to help, thank you,” Serkan said to her.
Jesi started pointing to the objects, and explaining them. “That’s a teleporter gun, that’s a paradox ticker, that’s the Hundemarke, that’s a baby gyroscope, and that...is a rock. Personally, I favor the Hundemarke, but that’s just me.”
“What does it do?” Paige asked.”
“The rock? I have no idea.”
“She means the Hundemarke,” Serkan corrected.
“It kills people,” Jesi answered. She lifted the dog tags from the box, and fidgeted with the chain.
They had no response.
“Well, it doesn’t kill people on its own, but if you kill someone while you’re wearing it, you’ll create a fixed point in time. That way, if a time traveler goes back in time, and tries to create an alternate reality, this will still happen, no matter what. Most people’s deaths can be undone, unless you got this thing.”
“Who’s Anatol Klugman?” Ace asked her.
“He’s the one who created it,” Jesi answered, “using the Sword of Assimilation.”
“And what is the Sword of Assimilation?”
“It steals people’s powers. Well, it doesn’t so much steal as it copies, but there’s a lot of stabbing involved, so the original user usually dies.”
“So, you favor using the Hundemarke,” Paige began. “You want to kill him. I thought you were turning  over a new leaf.”
“I don’t want to kill him,” Jesi argued. “I think we should kill him. There’s a difference between being good, and doing the right thing. Sometimes the right thing is a hard pill to swallow, but some people just need to be removed from the equation.”
Ace took the dangerous object from her, and threw it back in the lockbox. “That is an absolute last resort.”
“Understood,” Jesi agreed sincerely.
Serkan carefully lifted the apparent teleporter gun, and held it in the palm of his hands, as if it were a caterpillar. “This is all we need. We can send him directly to the prison, and be home in time for lunch.”
“I don’t like that idea,” Slipstream said. She reached into Ace’s bag, and retrieved the special handcuffs that Dave gave them. “I would rather escort the man there myself. Who knows where that gun is going to send him? It could make matters worse.”
Serkan shrugged. “We can find someone smart enough to reprogram it; make sure it sends Rothko where we need him to go. Paige, what about your engineer friend?”
“Hogarth? She and Hilde are living in what they call a dead zone. I think it’s unreachable by teleporters and time travelers.”
Jesi frowned. “I don’t think those exist. They probably built some kind of protective shield themselves.”
“Either way,” Paige said, “contacting them is this whole thing. I can do it, but I can’t promise they’ll be able to help by the time the City Frenzy begins.”
“Do what you can,” Ace instructed her. He tossed the stone another time. “I need to figure out what this thing is. Perhaps, it’s the best option we have, and we don’t realize it. If Jesi doesn’t even know what it is, it must be pretty special.”
“I may still be able to help,” Jesi said to him with a sigh. I don’t know what it is, but I may know someone who does.”
So Slipstream and Paige broke off to call Hogarth, while Serkan and Ace waited for Jesi to call her friend, Ophir. He wasn’t the best person in the world, but he could remotely teleport them anywhere in the world; something Jesi called apportation. This was necessary, because if someone attempted to teleport the three of them directly, their powers would have been hindered by Serkan’s. Before she could even hang up the phone, they were whisked away. They were now standing on the porch of a rustic cabin, overlooking a resplendent body of water. A woman was walking up from the shore with fishing gear, and fish. She was neither surprised by their sudden arrival, nor perturbed by the intrusion.
“Doctor Buhle?” Jesi asked.
“I am!” the woman replied with an exaggerated wave of her fish-filled arm.
“I thought you knew her,” Ace whispered.
“I know of her,” she clarified.
The woman approached, and dropped all her stuff on the porch. Then she reached out and gave each of them a hug. “There. Now that we’re friends, you can call me Ladonna.” She sported a thick British accent, or maybe it was South African? “All three of you are teeming with temporal energy. “Except for you, I guess.” She smiled sadly at Serkan. “You’re more like a black hole of linear time.”
“Doctor Buhle here is a diagnostician, specializing in temporal objects.”
“And spacetime anomalies,” Ladonna added.
“We were hoping you could help us identify this.” Ace showed her the mysterious rock they had found in the lockbox.
Ladonna closed her eyes, and shook her head. “I never work on an empty stomach. Fortunately, I caught four of these beautiful salmon. Something told me I would need three extra, but we should eat them quick, while they’re still fresh.”
“How did you catch salmon in that lake?” Jesi asked. “Aren’t we in Wyoming?”
“That’s Brooks Lake, yes,” Ladonna said, nodding. “I didn’t catch the fish there, though. There’s a rift that leads directly to the Beaufort Sea. It’s not a pleasant trip, but I don’t accept anything but the best. Come on inside, you can help. Any of you gutted before?”
And so they prepared a full dinner of fish, salad, and Nanaimo bars for desert. Then they sat down, said grace to a god of time Ace had never heard of, and ate together. Ladonna could sense the tension between the two of them and Jesi, so she ordered them to literally break bread together. It was merely a symbolic gesture, but Ace was actually feeling less hostile towards her, almost immediately afterwards.
Ladonna could also sense their anxiety over the stone, so once dinner was finished, she volunteered to take a look at it for them. She examined it carefully and methodically, turning it over in her hands, smelling it, and even touching it with the tip of her tongue. “Hmm. It’s a recall object.”
“Recalled to where?” Jesi asked her.
“To the beginning,” Ladonna said.
“Of time?” Serkan asked, amazed.
She laughed. “Where were you when you first traveled through time, if ever.”
“Where did I go, or where was I just before I traveled?” Serkan asked.
“The second one,” she answered.
“July 16, 2026.”
“Ah, not far from here. Well, the stone would take you back there, right to where you were when it happened. Well, maybe a few seconds after. If you’ve aged since then, which you always have, the stone will reverse it. Now, it’s not an undo button. Everything you did since that moment has still happened, but it might give you a chance to start your life over if you lost out on a lot by being gone. I don’t think it would be useful to you, Serkan, since your past is in the very near future, and you’re gonna get back there soon anyway, but I can think of one or two people who would cherish the opportunity.”
“Hm,” Jesi said. “You can give it to one of them. We have no use for that here.”
“Now, hold on,” Ace disagreed. “Are you sure?”
“Rothko is a superpowered maniac who’s about to expose the whole world to time travelers. If he goes back to when we were kids, nothing would change.”
“Sure it would. You said you got trapped in another dimension together, and he spent more time there than anybody. If he could avoid that before it happens, maybe—”
“It won’t matter,” Jesi said in a raised voice. “He’s already experienced it. You can make him as young as you want, and take him to whatever point in time you want, he’ll still be angry. If you’re not gonna Hundemarke him, then you should at least send him to prison, where he belongs.”
“The Hundemarke?” Ladonna questioned. “You have that wretched thing?”
“It was part of the white package we got from Meliora.”
Ladonna lost her bubbly attitude. “Give it to me.”
“Pardon?”
“Hand it over, right now.”
“It’s not with us,” Serkan said.
“Then go back and get it, so you can give it to me. I’m the only person in histories who both knows how to destroy it, and wants to.” She was not playing around.
“But what if—”
Ladonna interrupted, “that object was created during one of man’s worst mistakes: a war. It was created through blood and death. It is used for more blood, and more death. It has the potential to save us all, but the only thing anyone ever thinks to do with it is kill their enemies. No one can be trusted with it.”
“Well by that logic...” Jesi began.
Ladonna interrupted for a second time, which didn’t seem like something she would do. “I can’t be trusted either. I’m still just human, despite what choosers say about us being a different species.”
“What are you going to do?” Serkan legitimately wanted to know. “Throw it in Mount Doom?”
“No, not Mount Doom. Darvaza Crater. Lucky enough, there’s a rift over there that will get me to the Caspian Sea.”
“I thought it would go to Beaufort,” Ace recalled.
“Brooks Lake is a hub,” Ladonna explained. “It can take you to any other large enough body of water, and any large enough body of water can get you here, if you know what you’re looking for.”
Ace shook his head. “I want to find a way to do this peacefully, but we need a last resort. I don’t like violence any more than you do, but we need the Hundemarke, just in case nothing else works. We can give it to you after it’s done, but not before.”
Ladonna sighed loudly. She stood up fast enough to knock her chair over. Then she walked to her desk, and removed a small mirror from it. After setting the mirror on the table, she grabbed Serkan’s hand, and cut his finger with a knife that came out of nowhere. “What’s your daughter’s name?”
“Ouch, let the hell go of me!”
“What’s your daughter’s name!” Ladonna repeated.
“Paige! It’s Paige Tuner!”
Ladonna calmed down, and let a few drops of blood land on the mirror. It swirled around, then revealed a bird’s eye view of Paige. She was sitting at their own table with Hilde, and a woman Ace presumed to be Hogarth. They were working on the teleporter gun, and were paying the voyeurs no mind. Ladonna set the stone on the glass, and let it sink into it as if plasma. The mirror then turned back into a regular mirror.
“What did you just do?” Ace questioned her as he was making sure Serkan’s wound wasn’t too bad.
“You said you found her in 1971?”
“Yes why?”
“What a coincidence. The Darvaza Crater was created in 1971. You get me the Hundemarke, you get Paige back from 1971.”
“Your reputation does not suggest you would anything something like this,” Jesi pointed out.
“I’ve never been this close to getting the Hundemarke. And before you get any ideas,” Ladonna began. She removed the special cuffs from Ace’s bag, confident he wouldn’t make a move against her. She placed one cuff on Serkan, and the other on Jesi. “If you try to retrieve your daughter without doing what I asked, you’ll never get these off, and neither of them will be able to help you ever again. Serkan is simultaneously suppressing Jesi’s time sliding power while being unable to suppress anyone else’s.”
Ace stood up and scowled at her. “How am I meant to get back to Kansas City?”
Ladonna jerked her head towards the lake. “On the southeast corner of the lake is Brooks Lake Creek. Start swimming right where they meet, and you’ll end up in Brush Creek, which I believe is close to your house. You have one hour.”
Ace called upon the spirit of Serkan Demir, and ran as fast as he could to the creek portal. It was a little embarrassing climbing out of Brush Creek, since it cuts through the middle of town, but he was able to get back home fast enough to quickly brief Slipstream on the situation. She was then able to run much faster back to Wyoming. Ladonna honored their deal, and returned all of his people, along with the stone that could send people home. But having to go back to her birth parents, if only for a few seconds, was incredibly traumatizing to Paige. So what Ladonna didn’t realize was just how terrible of an enemy she had just made.

Five People With Different Ideas

Before they knew it, the City Frenzy was right upon them. There were a few things that needed to happen to prepare for the day of the race. Ace needed to separate himself from the group a little bit, so he could be ready to meet—supposedly for the first time—a very young and naïve Serkan Demir. This version of Serkan was living a normal life in Kansas City, oblivious to all things time travel, and trying to get ready for an athletic competition he had not trained for. Because of his current notoriety, the older and wiser version of Serkan had to be extra careful to stay out of sight, lest the camera collective notice a paradox of presence. Meanwhile, Slipstream was coordinating all the tracers, including those in the reserves, to clear the streets as much as possible. For a few years, they were the de facto police force in the metropolitan area, which had no official unifying force of its own. After they had helped remove gangs from power, and dramatically lower gun violence, they turned control back over to the real cops. Still, that wasn’t too long ago, and many civilians still recognized the tracers’ authority. Paige was responsible for protecting Serkan’s ignorant family. And Jesi was missing.
At the moment, Ace was tending to his future boyfriend. He had fallen on the ground the night before while training for the City Frenzy race, using unauthorized, and unethical, visual hindrance technology. He was only now waking up. “Where am I?”
“My apartment,” Ace said.
“Why am I not in the hospital?” Young!Serkan asked.
“Because they would have held you back, in case you had a concussion. You have a race to run.”
“How do you know about that?” Young!Serkan was getting nervous.
“You’re famous.” Ace directed his attention to his home automation system. “Thistle, turn on all screens.” The wall transformed from a blank, to a few different views. One screen was showing salmon spawning up river, while another a time lapse of clouds rolling overhead. A third had the news on mute.
“Could you unmute that?”
“Do what the man says, Thistle,” Ace said.
The news anchor was already in the middle of her story, “...like it’s going to be a lovely sunny and cool day for the ninth annual City Frenzy event. Hotels were booked up solid for weeks, as this will be the highest number of visitors ever recorded for this occasion. One of the biggest related stories is that three-time winner, Serkan Demir is returning for one final push before he ages out. He registered as a late-comer, here to fill in for his younger brother, who has reportedly fallen ill.
“Mute that,” Ace said, deep in thought. That wasn’t right. Old!Serkan recalled the news story with pretty high detail. The news reported on odd weather events, reminiscent of the 2024 debacle with Keanu ‘Ōpūnui. Young!Serkan was also supposed to have gotten himself in a pre-Frenzy obstacle course race with a professional rival, who was then supposed to have become injured. Something had changed. This proved that history could be rewritten. Perhaps whatever Rothko Ladhiffe was going to do wasn’t actually ever going to happen after all.
“Thanks,” Young!Serkan said. “I don’t really like hearing people talk about me, even if it’s all good things.”
Ace was having trouble listening. “Yeah.”
“Well...you obviously already know my name. Could I have yours?”
“Horace Reaver.” He generally just went by Ace, but he was still trying to figure out how they changed the future, and what that meant for their mission to send Rothko back to prison.
Serkan wanted to say something else, but was interrupted by Ace’s phone ringing.
It was Slipstream, but he couldn’t say that in front of Young!Serkan. “Bo. What is it?” Jesi was finally back. “You found her?” Yes. “I’ll be right there.” What was he going to do with Young!Serkan, though? “He is, yes. I’ll take care of it.” He needed to usher the kid out of here, so he could go deal with this. “He’ll be fine. I’ll explain later. Where are you?” Back at the house. “Okay.”
“I think you’ll be okay,” Ace said to Young!Serkan, shutting his phone. He quickly started shoving some of his world-famous into a baggie. “You need some energy if you wanna win. I’m afraid I have to go take care of some business. You better call a car to Frenzy headquarters, or you’ll be late.”
“I understand,” Young!Serkan said, getting out of bed, and massaging his head.

“Whose blood is that?” Ace once he was back at the house.
Jesi reached down the neck of her shirt, and pulled the dog tags from her cleavage. They were even bloodier than her face. “I think you know.”
“What did you do?”
“I took the revenge that you couldn’t. I know you can’t thank me for it, but my soul is already damned, so I took care of it for you. I consider it a gift. I get that you don’t, and I think we should leave Paige out of it.”
“Ladonna threatened my child,” Ace began, “but she was a human being, and we don’t kill those.”
Jesi breathed deeply. “I..do.”
“I suppose you were wearing that terrible thing at the time, and it can’t be undone.”
“Dead is dead is dead is dead,” Jesi said.
“Take it off right now,” Ace ordered her.
Jesi started taking off her shirt.
“Not that,” Ace stopped her. “Well yeah, you probably should wash up if you ever want to go out in public, but I mean the Hundemarke.”
“Why would I ever go back in public again? I broke the rules. I left the time period, I hurt someone. Aren’t you sending me back to Beaver Haven?”
Ace decided to just take the dog tags back for himself. “I can still use you.” He tossed the deadly object back into the lockbox. “And when we’re done with Rothko, you and I are taking a trip back to, uhh...that crater place, and destroying the Hundemarke before it hurts anyone else.”
Jesi did start stripping completely. “Fine with me, as long as we keep it with us long enough to stop Rothko, should it come to that. Do I have permission to use your shower?”
Ace just gestured towards the bathroom.
Slipstream hadn’t said a word this whole time.
“You think I’m letting her off easy?”
She chuckled. “I made a lot of deals, with a lot of devils, when I was working for the Gunbenders. I wasn’t always proud of who was in bed with, but it got the goddamn job done.” True, conventional wisdom dictated you didn’t want to be on her bad side.
Ace’s phone rang again. “Serkie, you’re on speaker.”
It’s already starting!” Old!Serkan shouted at them. “Things are getting weird downtown! Every door to every building north of eleventh street is missing!
Ace went over and banged on the door to the bathroom, where the shower was running. “Sorry, you gotta cut this short, Jesi. We’re leaving right now.”
“I’m here,” Jesi said, walking into the hallway from the kitchen, fully clothed, and clean.
“How did you...?”
“I’m still in the shower,” Jesi explained. “I’m from twenty minutes in the future.”
“Does that mean...”
“I don’t know what happens,” she interrupted. “I was relaxing the whole time. Let’s go.”
The Jesi that was still in the bathroom yelled back, “I’ll be out in twenty minutes!”
The ride to downtown was awkward and slow, as this was one of the worst days for traffic of the year. They had to park several blocks away, but Slipstream had a monthly pass to a garage from an apparent real job she had in Crown Center, and a designated parking space of her own. “Who are you?” Jesi asked of her as they were stepping out of the car.
“I don’t know how to put this,” Slipstream replied, “but...I’m kind of a big deal.”
“Do you guys feel that?” Ace asked the group. “The air feels thicker.”
Jesi sniffed and smacked her lips. “It’s a little vegetably too. Is vegetably a word?”
“That’s not vegetables,” Slipstream realized. “That’s weed. The air is laced with marijuana.”
“Shit. Is everyone getting high? Even children?”
“Weed makes me slow, guys,” Slip warned them.
“It’s makes everyone slow.”
“Yeah, but like, speed is kinda my thing. It’s going to take us forever to get downtown.”
“I can help with that.” It was Doctor Mallory Hammer, whom Ace had only met in a parallel dimension. She was holding a medical bag in one hand, and a little plastic case in the other. She removed three injectors from the case, and tapped her finger under her chin. “Place it right here, and push the button on the other side. It’ll counteract the effects of the drugs.”
“You had these ready?” Ace asked, taking the injector.
“Mister Ladhiffe has been contaminating the air everywhere he goes for days, so Baxter and I have been working on it.”
“He wants the people to be docile and compliant,” Jesi explained.
“Well, on the bright side,” Dr. Hammer said, “the traditional cover-up story that there was a massive gas leak is almost true this time ‘round. I gotta go deliver more of these to key people. Stay safe.” She walked away.
“Can you two run?” Slipstream asked them.
“Can you run slowerly than usual?” Jesi asked in return.
“Done it before.” She ran off, forcing the other two to catch up.
Twenty minutes later, they were in the heart of the city. Serkan’s description didn’t really do it justice, or maybe things had gotten much worse since they last spoke. A restaurant was melting like a stick of butter in a microwave. A group of children’s hair was spontaneously shifting colors. They weren’t particularly bothered by it, but there parents were. Most of the cars were sliding down the street upside down, totally out of control of their drivers. A few wild animals were chasing each other up the side of a skyscraper, and a cloud looked like it was literally falling towards them. Two Frenzy racers Ace recognized, but couldn’t name, were struggling to wade through the sidewalk, which still looked like concrete, but moved like quicksand.
Ace, Slipstream, and Jesi stopped running now. The further they went down Walnut, the worse things got, so this was no time to be hasty. Most people were trying to get away from the chaos, so when the man at the center noticed three people heading right for him, he smiled villainously.
“Jesimula Utkin,” Rothko said, “It has been so long. How are you, my beautiful girl?”
“Even more beautiful than when we were kids,” she answered.
“That is the truth. You’re no Savitri, but I wouldn’t mind—”
“You best not finish that sentence,” Ace advised.
Rothko didn’t like being interrupted.
Slipstream stepped slightly in front of Ace, to protect him, wielding the special power-dampening cuffs.
“I was gonna say I wouldn’t mind taking her on the Bamboozler,” Rothko managed to say. That was some kind of ride at the amusement park. “Why don’t we go right now?”
With but a thought, Rothko turned the entire intersection into a thrill ride. The ground beneath Ace’s feet start spinning him around in a random pattern. Slipstream was spinning on a different path, as was Jesi. The few humans who hadn’t found a way to escape were experiencing the same thing. Several people just sliding along the road, criss-crossing each other, and sometimes falling down. Serkan suddenly appeared from up the street to join the ride, but only along the perimeter. He was locked in a cage, and never got within fifty feet of Rothko. He was holding the teleporter gun, which Hogarth had supposedly programmed to send any target directly to the intake area of Beaver Haven Prison. Every time he tried to target Rothko, though, he would unwillingly spin around, and lose tracking. He finally just decided to take a shot, and he might have hit Rothko too, but the time bullet started weaving around, just the people were. There was just no stopping the man. At least not without a secret weapon.
Paige used her power to teleport to appear out of nowhere, right in Serkan’s cage. She held up the Paradox Ticker, which was evidently designed to alter reality. In this case, she was using it to put things back to how they were meant to be. The cage faded away, freeing Serkan to run right up to Rothko, and finally suppress his powers. Everything stopped, leaving everyone to return to their original location before the ride began. Ace saw the time bullet Serkan had shot from the gun shift direction as well, and head right for Rothko. Unfortunately, Rothko saw it coming too, and used Serkan as a human shield. The love of Ace’s life disappeared, but not before Slipstream had covertly run up to him, and placed the cuffs right on his wrists before he could start using his powers again.
“Good,” Jesi said. “Let’s end this.” She removed a secret gun from her waist band, and pointed it at Rothko’s head. She walked forward with purpose.
“Jesi, don’t do this,” Ace begged her. “It’s over. He’s going back.”
“That’s not good enough,” Jesi said. “He’ll get out again.”
“You don’t even have the Hundemarke. This can all be—”
Jesi pulled the dog tags out of her cleavage once more. “I broke the rules again. I really am sorry. Well, I’m sorry for betraying you, but not for doing this.”
“You need to learn to work with a team. Things aren’t always going to happen how you want them to.”
“We’re not a team,” Jesi argued. “We’re just five people with different ideas.” She was about to do it.
“Wait,” Ace said. “Take this first.”
“Take what?” Jesi asked, but she had the thing in her hand before she knew what it was.
Ace squeezed her fingers shut, which activated the home stone. But he was touching her at the moment, so he went back in time with her.

Five People in Different Places Right Now

And so Ace found himself trapped in the past, facing an enemy, turned friend, turned it’s complicated. Now, it was even more complicated. Ladonna had explained that the home stone would turn Jesi young again, but this was too young. He remembered her having said she was about to become a senior in high school when she and her classmates were stuck in another dimension, but this was no high schooler. She looked about eight.
“I’m ten,” Young!Jesi corrected earnestly. “What did you do?”
“I made you use the home stone.”
“I see that, now we’re in 1992, in the side yard of my old house. Fortunately, we’re not stuck here, because I can travel through time, idiot.”
“I thought this was meant to be 2000.”
“The first time I experienced nonlinear time wasn’t the year 2000. It was now. The dimension my classmates and I got trapped in swallowed us up because it wanted us back. We had all been there before, when we were children.”
“So, where are the others?”
“Different times when we were children,” she clarified. “We didn’t know it had happened to all of us until it happened again.”
“I see.”
“Since I’m a nice person,” she began with a lie, “I will take you back to 2026 with me, so we can end this together. But if you fight me on it, I’ll just leave you here.”
“Don’t,” I beg of her. “Don’t go back. Stay here, like this.”
“Why would I do that, Ace? That’s insane.”
“You’re young again. This is your second chance.”
“You’re not getting it. I’m a time traveler; and a very special one, at that. I can be any age I want. I’ll show you.”
“No, don’t,” I say again. “You may be able to manipulate your age, but I bet you never thought to come back to being ten.”
“Yeah, because it’s stupid. People underestimate children, and I’m not about that. I want people to know how strong I am.”
“I know it, and you do. That should be enough, for now. Stay in this time period, if only for a little while. Relive your life, and do it right. Build your reputation as an alternate version of yourself; someone who’s different than before.”
“You really want this for me, huh?”
“I really do,” Ace said with a nod. “I think you deserve this more than anyone.”
She breathed deeply through her nose, and thought about it. “Ya know, Ladonna was gonna die anyway.”
“How’s that?”
Young!Jesi took the dog tag from around her neck, and tossed it over to Ace. “You can’t just...throw these in a fire, no matter how powerful that fire is. It could be the next day, or a million years later, but word will spread of what you did. Someone will find out exactly when and where you destroyed the hundemarke, and they’ll go back in time and change history.”
“So, what can one do to prevent this? I want the hundemarke destroyed as well.”
She smirked. “You have to wear it, Horace. You have to sacrifice your own life, and use the power of the hundemarke against itself. You have to create a fixed moment in time. The hundemarke will die, you will die, and no one will be able to change it.”
Ace looked down at the hundemarke in his hand and frowned. “Oh.”
“I’ll do as you ask, until I get tired of it. But that means I can’t take you home. I won’t leave here, even for a side trip. That’s the deal. If you want to go back to 2026, or if you want to destroy that temporal object, you’re going to have to find a way on your own.”
He tightened his grip around the tag, and stuffed it in his pocket. Then he took the rock back from Jesi. “I have a way home. It won’t take me back to 2026, but it will get me closer.”
Jesi nodded understandingly. “I’m not extremely pleased with what you did to me, but I get where you’re coming from, and I appreciate the concern. I want you to know I’m gonna try.”
“Good, because I know that you can. I’ve seen you change already. This could be good for you.”
“Go before I change my mind.”
After one last smile, he squeezed the home stone, and returned to 2022.

The first time Ace traveled through time was September 25, 2022. He had just met Serkan the day before, who had already met him in 2026. To get answers about their mysterious time inconsistencies, they went to see Lincoln Rutherford, Esquire. Lincoln had recently started at a brand new law firm, and had always indicated that he had some knowledge of the world of salmon and choosers. This was where Ace was now, standing in Lincoln’s office, watching his past self fade away through a magical portal, to what he now knew was Stonehenge 1971. He caught a glimpse of Serkan too, as well as little Paige, and her evil parents.
Suddenly, some other version of Serkan barged into the office. “Oh shit, am I early?”
“Nope,” Lincoln said to him. He offered a seat to both of them. “You are right on time.”
“Why is he here?” Serkan asked. “I mean...” he wrapped his arms around Ace’s shoulders. “How did you get here? It’s 2022. What year are you from?”
“2026,” Ace answered. “Day of the Frenzy.”
“Me too!” Serkan said. “Well, not really. I mean that that’s the last time I saw you. I’ve been living here since March 16, 2019.”
“Why, what happened?”
“The teleporter gun,” Serkan began to explain. “Apparently, the bullets can also send you through time. Way I understand it, teleportation and time travel aren’t as different as they may seem; kind of like how electricity and magnetism are actually electromagnetism. Paiges engineer friend didnt quite get it right.”
“Oh. I thought you went to the prison. I came here with the home stone, and I was hoping Lincoln could get me back to you.”
Lincoln extended his arms in faux humility. “And ye, so it shall be, for I have done it, and you are reunited.”
“You knew the whole time this would happen,” Serkan posited. “You knew the portal would take us back to 1971, then send us to 2023 with Paige. You know about the 2024 weather problems, and the copy of Kansas City, and the 2025 pathogen, and of Rothko’s impending attack on the 2026 City Frenzy.”
Lincoln sat back in his chair, and regarded Serkan like a student who’s finally figured out that The Lion King is just Hamlet with animals. “I told you, I know everything. But I don’t know you. You’re a black hole of unknown unknowns. I see most of what happens in the future, but I don’t know how you’re involved.”
“Can you get us back there?” Ace asked him.
“Personally? No. I know someone who can, though.”
“I’m not really in the mood to meet anyone new. It feels like every time we do, somebody gets hurt.”
Lincoln stood up, and unlocked a cabinet behind him. He took out a Polaroid camera, and a mailbox. He set them both on the desk. “You’ve gotten lucky so far, but you have to remember to Bill and Ted your pictures. If Paige never comes across the picture, she can’t jump through it to rescue you, so always remember to get it to the right place in the future.” He lifted the camera back up, and snapped a photo of Ace and Serkan.
Ace turned his head to find his daughter standing behind him.
“I’ll get this to The Courier this time for you, but that’ll be your responsibility anytime you need a Future!Paige.” Lincoln shook it like a Polaroid picture, and tossed it into the mailbox. Then he lifted the little red flag to signal it was ready to be picked up. “Now, please return to your own time period,” he said dismissively. “I’ve just started at this new firm, and I have real work today. This discovery won’t discover itself.”
Paige sort of arched her back to make sure all three of them could see her phone, like she was about to take a selfie. They were looking at a photo of the fugitive seeker, Tracker, who was flipping off the camera. “Say Beaver Haven, class of 2027!”

They were sitting in a waiting room with Tracker. Ace put up his dukes, and jumped up to protect his family.
“Whoa, we’re cool, we’re cool.”
“He’s right,” Paige said, gently pulling Ace’s arm down. “He’s helping us get Slipstream back.”
“What happened to Slipstream?” Ace and Serkan asked simultaneously.
“She’s a prisoner here,” Tracker answered. “I brought her in, thinking we could use her to find you. The Warden decided to lock her up, claiming she was close enough. I’ve worked for them since the prison was founded, and we’ve never had a human inmate before. I don’t like it, so I’m getting her out for you. But you have to do everything I say, including wait here.”
Ace looked to Paige for guidance. Her face imparted the fact that they could trust him with this. “Very well.” He delicately sat back down. “We shall wait.”
Tracker nodded once, like a dutiful butler, then left the room.
“Has it been a year for you?” Serkan asked Paige. “Is this 2027?”
“Over a year, yes. I’m seventeen.”
“You’re seventeen,” Ace repeated. “That’s only five years younger than me.”
“Me too,” Serkan said.
“You’re twenty-two too?” Ace asked him.
“Yeah.”
“Hm. We’re finally the same age.”
“Well, technically, if you used the home stone, you were reyoungified to the age you would have been had you never traveled through time. So Serkan is actually older than you now.”
“And I’m only three years older than you.”
“That’s not quite how it works.” It was the Warden, having walked into the room. “You’ve experienced twenty-two years of life; you’re twenty-two.”
“How should I be reacting to running back into you?” Ace asked of her. “Should I be afraid, or angry, or—”
“Grateful,” the Warden answered. “You’ve returned Rothko Ladhiffe, somehow rehabilitated Jesimula Utkin, and undone all the reality changes that were made during the City Frenzy.”
Serkan and Ace looked over to Paige. “I used the paradox ticker,” she said, like it was NBD.
“So, you’ll be releasing Slipstream?” Serkan asked. “Everything you listed sounds like things that mean you should be grateful to us.”
“Oh, I’m quite grateful. Unfortunately, your husband’s actions cannot go unpunished. I will release Miss Horvatinčić, but Mister Reaver will have to take her place. He’s the one we wanted anyway.”
“You used her as bait,” Paige argued.
The Warden did not look upset about the accusation. “That’s exactly what I did. I’ll do whatever it takes to get my target. But that does not mean I am without mercy. Ace can be released as well.”
“If what?” Serkan asked, knowing it wouldn’t be so easy.
The Warden leaned back out the doorway, and waved her hand. “Come on in.”
Slipstream walked in, along with some other woman.
“Slip!” Ace hopped over, and gave her a big hug.
She was hardened; not unfeeling, but jaded. She struggled with her chains to hug him back. “Five people in different places right now,” she said hypnotically.
“Get her the hell out of those things!” Serkan shouted.
The Warden took a key from her pocket, and handed it to the other woman. “You can do it.”
The other woman took the keys, and started working on Slipstream’s locks.
The Warden continued, “you’ll get Ace back if you do a job.”
“Why would we do that?” Serkan questioned. “This is what happened the last time we did a job for you.” He gestured to Slipstream and Ace.
“I understand and appreciate your reluctance, but this is not for the prison. It’s for the good of all mankind.”
“What are you talking about?” Paige asked in disbelief.
The Warden presented the woman who was helping Slipstream. “This is Alexina McGregor. She’s one of the Springfield Nine. It seems one of her creations has been taken into custody by the human authorities.”
Alexina looked at Serkan. “I believe you call it...the rabbit dog?”
“You’ll be working with her,” the Warden went on, “but your objective is different. We need you to retrieve something you lost in the first place.”
“What would that be?” Ace asked.
“It was in the lockbox you used to take Rothko down. An FBI agent is one of us, but doesn’t quite realize it. He remembers what Rothko did at the Frenzy, while no one else does, so he confiscated the item, and took it back to the Kansas City field office.”
“What is it?”
“It’s called the Omega Gyroscope, and it may very well be the most dangerous temporal object in histories.”

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