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 world 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.
Steaming 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.

Part VII

Coming soon...

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