Missy’s Mission

Simba Baby

Melissa Calluna Atterberry was born on April 7, 2018 not far from her parents’ home in Surrey, British Columbia, which was located just meters from the U.S. border. Her family wanted her to possess dual citizenship between both countries. As soon as they found out her mother was pregnant, they began to make inquiries about special permission for a border birth. As it turned out, their daughter would have dual citizenship, regardless of which side she was born on, because her father was Usonian. Still, the idea of giving birth right on the line fascinated them, so they continued to press the issue. They were ultimately granted authorization for this, but only for the good publicity. Representatives from each country wanted to acknowledge, solidify, and demonstrate the good relationship between them, in a very public setting. Though, of course, the media was not allowed in the trailer they retrofitted as a cleanroom, they were called in when the time came, and reported from outside.
Two separate audiences gathered in either half of Peace Arch Park. Missy’s future uncles sold snacks and memorabilia. Her aunts put on a singing performance, along with a local band. Since the moment couldn’t be planned too far in advance, the people who showed up were just the ones who could drop what they were doing at a moment’s notice. Once Missy had come into the world, and passed the initial health test, her grandfather carried her out of the trailer, and presented her to millions of people watching the feed on the internet. The people called her Simba Baby, a nickname she outgrew when she found out she was a choosing one, and her unorthodox birth was no longer the most interesting part about her.
She was ten years old when she her parents took her on a vacation by Brooks Lake, in Wyoming. With them came a family of friends, including a boy named Harvey, who she had been friends with since forever. He was four years older, and taught her a lot of things about life, all of which she later had to question. When they were alone on a walk in the woods, he decided it was time to attack her. He had put a lot of work into their relationship, and he was cashing in on what he deserved from her. She said no, but it didn’t matter. He didn’t take no for an answer. She tried to push him away, but he pushed back. She tried to run away, but he ran after her. She had power, though, and he was no match for it. She could create temporal bubbles that slowed down, or sped up, time for anyone and anything inside of it. Just before he could catch up to her, she created one of these out of instinctual desperation. He was practically stuck in time, moving in slow motion. She stopped and watched, knowing that she had done this, but not knowing how. Worried she wouldn’t be able to hold the bubble for an extended period of time, she tried to run away again, but nearly collided with another man.
“Very good job,” the man said. He was much, much older. “You couldn’t have picked a better time to figure out what you could do.”
“Who are you?” she asked, still more frightened than she had ever been.
“Not a friend,” he replied coldly. “But no one deserves this.” He started walking over towards the boy, who was still struggling to get back to realtime. “No one deserves what he was about to do to you, so I’ll take care of him for you.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means you should go,” he said.
“What does that mean?” she repeated.
He casually brushed his fingers against the wall of her time bubble. “I can do what you can do. Let me show you a trick. Instead of slowing them down, you should speed them up.” He grabbed onto the wall, and gritted his teeth. The boy inside of it started bashing himself against the edges, at incredible speed, trying to get out of it. Eventually, though, he had to give up. He quickly starved to death, and his body decayed, right before Missy’s eyes. “I hope you appreciate my sacrifice,” the man said. “I don’t usually kill children, which is why I’m letting you go...for now. In fact, I’ll protect you your whole life. That is, until your time comes. Enjoy your powers,” he said as he was walking away. “Because whether you use them or not, I’ll eventually kill you for having them.”
He hadn’t lied about that. Missy’s life was in danger far more often than the average for any one person. She tried asking her parents about her powers, but they had no clue what she was talking about. They freaked out when they saw what she could do, and they didn’t want anything to do with them. She could stay with them, if she wanted, but she wasn’t allowed to make time bubbles, and she wasn’t allowed to talk about them. She agreed to their conditions, but literally the day she turned eighteen, she left the house, and never returned. She went looking for other people like her, eventually discovering there to be this huge network of choosers, as she learned they were called. Her life continued to be threatened, as some people she met with powers were dangerous, and others were simply reckless. The man from before did as he promised, appearing whenever his services were needed. Despite how much time had lapsed, he was never any older, and never any nicer. The older she got, the closer he seemed to be to doing what he said he would, and killing her. She didn’t know exactly what he was waiting for, but she did not feel the need to find out.
She met some good people along the way too, many of whom helped her try to escape her fate. They took her all across time and space, sometimes even to other planets. At some point, she learned of a special prison called Beaver Haven. Technically, it was for any choosing one who had committed some crime that an arbitrary group of people with time powers decided was too far over the line. They were known, however, to also allow law-abiding time travelers in, who needed protection from others. Yet the evil man found her there as well, and easily broke her out of it. Still, he didn’t kill her, and she was starting to think that stalking her was more important than the violence he was planning to inflict on her.
She sought refuge on a place called Tribulation Island, which was located on millions of lightyears from Earth, on a planet owned by a woman named Leona Matic, called Dardius. Leona had been involved with the murder of the evil man who had been stalking Missy all this time. Unfortunately, time travel being what it was, a younger version of that man was still free to torment her, for he had not yet gone back in time, and died. But because of the nature of his death, he could do no harm to Leona, which meant she was the safest person to be around in the whole spacetime continuum. So Missy began to follow her around, with a group of girls on a mission to find The Last Savior of Earth. They ended up on yet another planet, this one called Durus. Having been long ago ejected from its solar system, it was somehow linked with Earth, and carried with it unusual temporal properties of its own. There were rumors that somewhere, somehow, Durus was capable of removing someone’s powers. Though she loved what she could do, these powers were too dangerous to keep, so if there was any chance of ridding herself of them, she had to go for it. A friend of hers from the group, Dar’cy Matigaris even agreed to stay with her, as a personal security guard. If anyone in history could stop The Cleanser from hurting Missy, Dar’cy was it.
At the moment, the two of them were seeing their friends off in the ship that had brought them there, The Warren. Missy didn’t know if staying behind was the right call, but it was the best one she could come up with at the time. Even though she might never be able to get back home, and see people she loved ever again, this was perhaps the only path to take. She would at least be alive, assuming any of this worked. They still had no idea where on Durus they were meant to go, what they were meant to do, or whether the whole thing was just one big lie.
They were standing next to a paramount—which was just this world’s word for chooser—who could instantly transport massive objects from one place, to another. She did her trick with the ship, sending it straight into orbit, and it was done. Now there was no turning back. “Well, what do we do now?” Dar’cy asked.
“Right now, we go back to the house that Andromeda built for her wife and child,” Missy declared. “We get something to eat, we get some sleep, and we start looking for answers in the morning.”
“Where might we find those answers?”
“I suppose we should start at the library, where all good research originates.”
When they arrived at the house, a man was there, waving his hands at it, creating ripples in the air.
“What the hell are you doing?” Dar’cy demanded to know, stepping between him and Missy.
“Oh, I was asked to create wards here,” he responded, stopping his work.
“Create what?”
“Wards. People can’t use powers in or around the building. And they can’t step foot in here without your permission.”
“Who asked you to do that?” Dar’cy questioned.
“I did,” he said. “I received a time message from my future self, asking me to help you. I can show it to you. I put it through an authenticator, it definitely came from me.”
“That may be so,” Dar’cy began, “but we don’t know if we can trust your future self any more than we can trust you.”
“You can call the paramount division of the police if you’d like,” he said. “They’ll verify these are true wards. I have no reason to hurt you.”
“Dar’cy,” Missy said, “not all men are bad.”
“I know that,” she replied before turning her attention back to him. “I want your telemagnet code. If you’re going to make these for us, then I want to be able to hold you accountable at any moment.”
He smiled. “I can do that. Can I finish first, though?”
She nodded.
“Thank you,” Missy said to him. She nodded as well, but to herself. “We might actually survive this.”

Secret Knowledge

The next morning, Missy and Dar’cy stopped for some coffee, then went on to the library. It was the one of the oldest buildings on the planet. Not only had it survived the original Deathfall back in 2016, but was also a relic from Springfield’s history. It had been updated a few times since it was first built, but not much, and had remained exactly the same since it came here. People didn’t really use the library anymore. Like on Earth, knowledge had become ubiquitous and completely accessible to all residents of the planet. If you needed to know something, you looked it up on your computer. And if it wasn’t somewhere on the network, then it wouldn’t be in the library either. Neither of them grew up with any experience with libraries. They were still around in their more traditional form when Missy was growing up, but they were already on their way to becoming obsolete, and she never personally found use in them.
The librarian was surprised to see them when they walked in, like she hadn’t seen another person in ages. “Hello, welcome to the original branch. How may I help you?”
Missy looked around in paranoia, to check if anyone could hear them, while Dar’cy stepped off and scanned the area more deliberately. “Yes, this might sound strange, but we were hoping to find information on how to...” It was an awkward request.”
“How to...have sex as two women?”
“No,” Missy answered with her own surprise. “I think we could probably figure that out. No, I’m...I’m a paramount, but I don’t want to be.”
“Ooh, I’m sorry,” the librarian said sadly. “There’s no cure.”
“But isn’t there? I came to this planet upon rumors there was some way to get rid of time powers. There’s some...ancient quest, or something?”
“Oh,” she said, suddenly becoming quite serious. “That.”
“So you know what I’m talking about?
“We don’t keep information on that. It’s dangerous, and there’s no real evidence that it has ever worked.”
“Still, I’d at least like to know what to do.”
“You disappear.”
“What?”
“If you try this, you disappear. Everyone has. In all of history, everyone who’s figured out how to start this...quest has gone off, never to be seen again. Are you Earthan?”
“We are,” Dar’cy said, ever ready for a glorious battle.
“You came on that ship. You’re not paramounts. You’re choosing ones.”
“That’s what we call ourselves, yeah. We’ve adapted our language to make others more comfortable.”
“Oh, never do that,” the librarian said, still with that seriousness. “Never apologize for who you are, or hide away, or change for people’s benefit.” She paused in thought. “I cannot, in good conscience, supply any Durune with the tools they would need to try the quest. I also cannot exercise any control over an Earthan. I don’t know how to start the quest, but I know who will.”
“Who’s that?” Dar’cy asked.
“The Librarian,” the librarian answered.
“That’s not you?”
“I am a librarian. I’m talking about The Librarian, of the Secret Library.”
“There’s a secret library? Why is it secret?”
“It’s been here longer than we have. This is the original branch, but the new branch was swallowed up even before the Deathfall.”
Missy was confused. “We were told no one, and no thing, survived those earlier portals. Only a small section survived during that last fall.”
“For the most part, that’s true. But there were exceptions; Purple Rose Lane, the High School, and the Library.”
“And people on this world don’t know about it?”
“A few do. Fewer know how to get there. Even fewer do actually go.”
The Librarian,” Missy repeated. “That sounds like—”
“A chooser nickname?” the librarian interrupted. “It sure does, doesn’t it?”
“I’m assuming this place is located in some other spatial dimension,” Dar’cy guessed.
The lowercase librarian drew a frown on her face. “Temporal-spatial,” she corrected. “That’s one of the reasons so few people go, and it’s the first reason to not even try the quest. For every hour you spend in the Secret Library, a year passes for everyone outside of it.”
Missy and Dar’cy looked at each other, which was the best way to send telepathic messages. Missy shrugged. “Time ain’t nothin’ but a thang. We don’t belong here anyway. Year outside, hour inside won’t be a problem for us.” The world could change quite a bit in such a short time, from their perspective, but their lives were defined by change.
“All right, then,” the lowercase librarian began as she was turning around and walking away, “follow me.”
She lead them to the card catalogs, which she told them had all been emptied before the Deathfall pulled the town to this world. She opened one of the drawers, took a bobby pin from her hair, and reached deep into it, then she pulled her arm back out. “Yeah, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you get through this. Not with my arthritis. I don’t suppose either one of you knows how to pick a lock.”
Dar’cy kind of smirked, but in a sad way, but with feigned sadness. “My father taught me, much to my mother’s disapproval. Sometimes an object I need to thread is on the other side of a locked door.” She accepted the pin from the lowercase librarian, and stuck her own arm in the drawer. “Yeah, there’s a hidden lock in here.” Within but a few seconds, she was clearly successful.
The lowercase librarian had casually stepped back away from the catalogs, leaving them to transport to the ceiling of a dark cave alone. Once Dar’cy removed her arm from the drawer, they both fell to floor, slowly and safely.
“Hello?” Missy asked the aether.
“Hello,” someone answered from a nook in the rock.
Dar’cy held her arm out to prevent Missy from getting too close, and cautiously walked towards the voice herself. “Who’s there?”
“My name is Porter. The Constructor, The Weaver, and I collaborated on this place as a refuge for the needy. It is a prototype, however...a proof of concept, as it were. Congratulations, you have been chosen as a beta tester for the program. Here you will find anything you need. If you would like something, within reason, simply request it out loud. We’re not mind readers, you know,” she added with a smirk. “If the program is successful, we will be creating more—more advanced—places like this. Go ahead and try it out. Ask for anything.”
“I would like the cure for time powers,” Missy requested.
“I’m sorry, that item is not in my inventory.”
“I would like to speak with the real Porter,” Dar’cy said.
“I’m afraid that’s not possible.”
Dar’cy stood there for a few seconds, working something out in her head. This was clearly some kind of magical recording, programmed into an avatar. Missy didn’t know anything about it, but Dar’cy seemed to. “I would like a paradox.”
“What?” the Porter’s avatar asked.
“Give me a paradox.”
That seemed to stump her, but why would it? She could easily just give them some canned response about that not being possible, or not in her inventory, which she already had. The question itself seemed to be putting her into some kind of does not compute error mode, like she was having an existential crisis. Her eyes and head were twitching as she was trying to figure this all out. Then she stopped and relaxed. “I am the real Porter.” She stepped out of her nook.
“My mother told me about you.”
“I met her only in a corrupted reality,” Porter said. “How does she remember that?”
“What do you think meditation’s for?”
“What are you doing here?” Porter asked.
“We’re on a quest.” Dar’cy gestured towards Missy. “She’s looking to get rid of her powers.”
“Why?”
“The Cleanser is after her.”
Porter stood up straighter. “You think he won’t kill you if you’re not a chooser anymore?”
“That’s what he said.”
“If you go back in time, to when dictionaries existed, and had pictures, and looked up the word liar, you wouldn’t see a picture of him, because that would be ridiculously specific, but he is a liar. I’m sure you misinterpreted his meaning anyway. Choosers never choose to strip themselves of powers, and the rumor that it’s possible on this world is just that, a rumor. It’s never been verified beyond anecdotal evidence. He’s not planning on letting you live, powers or no. I suggest you turn around.”
“I’m not giving up,” Missy said firmly. “We only came here because we were told it’s the way to the Secret Springfield Library.”
“It can be,” Porter said. “I can provide you with a door, if that’s what you want.”
“That’s what we want,” Dar’cy confirmed.
“Uhhhh, where the hell am I?” Saga’s  voice echoed through the small cave.
Porter smiled, and lightly ushered them towards Saga. “As you wished.” She stepped back into her nook and returned to her blank avatar state.
“Thank you,” Missy said.
The two of them went over to Saga.
“Oh, it’s you two,” Saga said with relief. “How have you been. Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Not yet,” Missy replied. “I think it’s there.” She nodded towards the door that had appeared out of nowhere.
“Right, I’m just you’re ride.”
“What year is it for you?” Dar’cy asked.
“Careful. Spoilers.”
She graciously opened the door to the Secret Library, and closed it behind them.

Short Story Long

Nothing in this new library was moving. A few dozen people were frozen in place; in the middle of walking down the aisles, opening books, or looking through catalogs. Upon careful inspection, they realized the library patrons weren’t completely frozen, but were moving incredibly slowly. Missy was feeling sick to her stomach, like a roller coaster was trying to pull her forwards, but her shirt was caught on a nail. Gradually, the people around them began to accelerate. Missy postulated that they needed time to catch up to Missy and Dar’cy’s speed, but then she realized the two of them were in their house now. It was actually they who needed to slow down to everyone else’s speed. After a few moments, they had reached their goal, and the world around them started looking a lot more normal. A few people noticed they were there right away, while others took notice as they walked by. Some smiled, others waved, but most people just moderately acknowledged their presence.
Before they could find the information desk, or The Librarian, they heard a crackle from speakers on the ceiling. Somebody cleared their throat. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have two new arrivals. Please join us for storytime in Collaboration Room C.
“Oh my God, not again. I’m busy,” said someone in the middle of what looked like important research.
“You have to go,” someone near him said.
“It’s not mandatory.”
“It could help with your research.”
He sighed. “Very well.” He did give Missy and Dar’cy a glare, though.
“What’s going on?” Missy asked as everyone began heading in the same general direction, to the other side of the library.
“I think the story is meant to be coming from us,” Dar’cy guessed.
“That might be difficult.”
“Yes.”
A woman was walking in the opposite direction as everyone else. She approached the newcomers. “Come on, you’re the guests of honor.”
“Uh...we’re not from Durus,” Dar’cy tried to explain.
“We’re Earthans,” Missy added.
“Great!” the woman said to them. “Then you’ll be able to give us news of Earth. No one ever comes from there! Oo, this is gonna be a real treat. Follow me!”
“We’re just looking for information,” Missy stopped her. “We’re not really here to tell any stories.”
The woman stopped and turned around ominously. “Everyone who comes here contributes. We’re stuck in a different time dimension, so there’s no way to communicate with the outside universe. If you want information on how to get rid of your chooser powers, you will give us what we need. And you’ll do it first.”
That was intense. How did she know why they were there?
“As I said, follow me,” she repeated.
It was an exhausting ordeal. Some of the people in the audience were fascinated with them, and wanted to learn every little detail of their lives. Others couldn’t care less, or at least wanted to play it cool. Missy and Dar’cy updated them as best they could of the goingson of Durus, but the last storyteller was from fourteen years ago. Though Saga and their new friends filled them in on a little bit of what happened before The Warren arrived, there was still a lot they couldn’t explain. As that woman had said, they were fairly interested in Earth. Most people in the library had never been there before, and a couple of them even thought it to be a myth told to children to encourage imagination and hope. By the time they were done telling their stories, and fielding everyone’s questions, over an hour had passed. It was now probably roundabouts September of 2174.
The woman who had forced them to do this, who they now realized must have been The Librarian smiled and allowed everyone to go back to what they were doing before storytime. Once everyone had left, she faced Missy and Dar’cy with a sad face, but no frown. “Thank you for that. It’s been awhile, but you’ve given many people something to look forward to. They left that world when it was in shambles. I’ve already heard whispers about going back, now that they might be able to actually build a life there. Unfortunately, I lied to you earlier. I will not be able to help you remove your powers. I’ve done that before, and it has not turned out well. I’m afraid I cannot bring myself to do it again.”
“You don’t need to help personally,” Missy said. “Just point us in the right direction. Tell us where we can find a book, or maybe someone here right now who knows something.”
She shook her head. “No, I can’t do anything. If you’re not here to do other research, I recommend returning to realtime before too much of it passes. Please request whomever told you to come here to no longer send people my way who need what you’re asking for. I will not be able to help them either.”
“Do you like it here?” Dar’cy asked before the Librarian could turn away.
“Pardon?” she asked.
“This dimension,” Dar’cy clarified. “Do you like that time moves slowly here? Did you do that on purpose, or are you just living with it?”
She was taken aback, apparently never having been asked such a question. “Well, Durus is a very strange place. People have powers, like you, but the planet itself alters physical laws, almost like it’s a person too. So no, we don’t really want it to be like this, but it’s what we have. We would rather be protected and missing out, than in a regular dimension, and exposed.”
Missy jumped in, “but this is a repository of knowledge. Knowledge should be shared. Why are you hoarding it?”
“I suppose you’re right,” the librarian conceded, “but like I said, this is life.”
“How did you know we had powers?” Dar’cy questioned.
“Some things I know, some things I don’t,” the Librarian gave a nonanswer.
“Do you know what our powers are?”
“No, but it doesn’t matter. I have made a vow to myself to never help someone be rid of their powers again. And I thank you to stop trying to change my mind.”
“We can get you out of this dimension,” Dar’cy claimed.
“Darce,” Missy warned, worried about where this might lead.
“You could do that?” the Librarian asked, with a glimmer of optimism for the prospect.
“Well, she could,” Dar’cy admitted.
“We don’t know that,” Missy said. She could create localized temporal bubbles that operated under different speeds of time, but she had never tried changing the speed of a dimension she had nothing to do with in the first place.
“You could at least try,” Dar’cy said to Missy, then directed her attention back to the Librarian. “If she does, you will promise—with no lying this time—that you’ll give us whatever we need to complete this mission.”
The Librarian thought over this proposal for about six real days. “I don’t know if that would be wise. This temporal dimension is a headache, but it’s the only protection we have.”
“You heard the stories,” Dar’cy argued. “The world has changed. You don’t need protection anymore. There’s a real government, and when you go back, you’ll be given certain rights. What Missy said is true, you shouldn’t keep knowledge from others. You’ve been here for what, a few months?”
“A week.”
“Jesus Christ,” Dar’cy couldn’t help but say. “Well, it’s been two centuries for everyone else. It’s time to go home.”
“All right,” the Librarian said. “If you can put us back on realtime, I’ll give you anything you ask for. But if this is some kind of trick, and it’s not really as great out there as you said, you get nothing.”
“We can live with that,” Dar’cy agreed.
Missy pulled her friend over to the side. “By the time I get this done, it’ll be two years since we left. You’ve seen how quickly things shift. We don’t know what 2175 looks like.”
Dar’cy put her hands on Missy’s shoulders. “Nothing will ever get better if we don’t think it can.”
Missy had no response to this. She turned to the Librarian. “Take me to the center of the library.”
The Librarian led them out of the room, to a grouping of study tables. She stood over one of the tables, and looked up to the skylight, which was showing nothing but darkness. “This is it, right here. Unless it has to be the exact center, in which case I’ll need to find the blueprints.”
Missy spun around for perspective. “No, this should be close enough.” She climbed onto the table, and sat cross-legged on it. She interlaced six of her fingers, but kept the other two pointed outwards, in the vague shape of a handgun. She closed her eyes and began a breathing exercise that Dar’cy had taught her, imagining that her teacher was smiling at the sight. Once she felt like she too was centered, she outstretched her arms to search for the energies permeating this dimension, and the building within it. She concentrated on harmonizing her body’s vibrations with those of her environment, and its occupants.
She maintained this position, gathering all the vibes from the dimension, bundling all of them together with her mind, then seeking out the world beyond. What she needed to do was destroy everything holding this place together, and force it to revert back to the rules that governed the universe as a whole. As she predicted, even though this was the first time she had tried this, it was nearly an hour before she was successful. All barriers were removed. She could feel herself, and everyone around her, speeding back up. Before this connection was broken, she could also feel everybody in the building throw up. It was a jarring experience.
Once she opened her eyes, she found the Librarian on her hands and knees, trying to catch her breath. Others were doing the same, hovered over piles and puddles of their bile. Only Dar’cy remained standing, perfectly fine, likely because her mother taught her how to adapt to new situations at the drop of a hat. Or because she was an object threader, and often instantly found herself in new places.
The Librarian stood back up and started coughing. “I hope your new government employs some good janitors.”
Grossed out, Missy timidly peeked over to see the floor better. “I think you’ll just want a good carpet installer.”
“Welcome to 2175,” Dar’cy said. “I think, at least. I’m not the best at math, I grew up on an island.”
“Now we know how Leona and Serif feel.”
A group of people suddenly barged into the library from the outside, holding their badges up, like they were raiding a strip club known for laundering money. “This is the Intercity Police Department, Temporal Anomaly Division!” the leader called out.
“TAD?” Dar’cy giggled.
“We are here because of an unscheduled dimensional reestablishment!” the cop continued. “You have interfered with the stability of realspace, and caused severe structural damage! We are still investigating casualties! Please congregate in one place, so we can take your statements! Resistance is not recommended!”
“Shit,” Dar’cy said.
They both looked at the Librarian, who looked back with a poker face. “I can’t give you what you want until this is resolved, if it ever is. If you killed someone,” she said to Missy, “even just one person, the deal’s off.”
“Shit,” Missy echoed.

Remorse

Somebody did die as a result of what the TAD officer called dimensional reestablishment. It was just the one person, but that was enough to make Missy feel absolutely awful about what she had done, and enough to prevent The Librarian from agreeing to help them. Missy and Dar’cy were not concerned about her decision, though, as the death weighed heavily on their hearts. People in their world teleported and time traveled frequently, and you just don’t hear about situations where they hurt someone in their landing. Though they can’t technically see where they’ll end up, it’s like the proverbial time gods compensate for any interference. If an amateur accidentally aims for the middle of a wall, or miscalculates the z-axis, time will usually pick the next closest safest spot to have them appear. This doesn’t always happen, but issues are rare. Generally speaking, you have to be pretty ready to die if you want your power to allow you to teleport into a volcano, or something.
Dar’cy might have been able to go back in time and prevent them from ever walking into the library, but that would have created an alternate timeline, leaving her with a duplicate of herself. “Object threading,” her father would always say, “is about exploration, experience, and adventure. It is not to be used to alter past mistakes. It would be irresponsible to have hundreds, dozens, or even just a few different versions of you running around the timeline.” Unlike other travelers, threaders were not capable of quantum assimilation, which was when two versions of the same individual merged into one, body and mind. Left unchecked, their numbers could grow disproportionately to the timeline’s historical population levels.
The Librarian and the library’s researchers were ruled innocent in the wrongful death of an elderly man named Oskari Belker. Missy and Dar’cy, however, as instigators of the incident, were convicted of a temporal crime, and sentenced to the number of years in prison equivalent to those their victim missed out on. If this punishment were legal on Earth, these years would have to be estimated, but here, there were people who knew exactly how long Oskari would have lived, if not for the two of them. Eleven years. They wouldn’t get out for another eleven years. Missy was ashamed to be grateful she hadn’t killed a child, and not for the same reason an emotionally righteous person would have. She felt like a sociopath.
Out of mercy, the court agreed to allow Missy and Dar’cy to serve their time together. Many wanted them to be separated, but the judge recognized their crime as unintentional, and she took that into consideration. Three years in, a young woman that Dar’cy recognized walked into their cell, holding a briefcase. Evidently, Kivi Bristol was a walking temporal anomaly. Sometimes she exists, and sometimes she doesn’t. She returns randomly, with different memories, from a completely different history. These aren’t just memory glitches, though. Every new version of her actually experienced the things she claims to have. A magical force reaches back in time and alters reality to account for every new version. About the only things that remains constant about her is her face, and her name. She isn’t even always aware of what she is. This one appeared to be fully cognizant.
“Good evening, I am the version of Kivi Bristol who was born on Durus.”
“It’s morning,” Missy pointed out.
Kivi looked at the sun shining through the window. Then she looked at her watch, then back to the sun. She sighed, and held her watch up to the window, deliberately pushing one of the tiny buttons, and twisting the face. Suddenly, the sun turned off, and was replaced with a night sky.
“What was that?” Dar’cy asked.
Kivi shook her head. “It’s an old trick, used to keep inmates submissive, and reliant on the guards. You eat when they say, and any hunger you feel is just in your imagination, because your mind isn’t remembering your past correctly.” This appalled her.
“I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind that,” Missy started saying.
“You’ve been in here for two years.”
“That’s not right,” Dar’cy argued. “It’s been three.” She stepped aside to show Kivi the wall behind her. “See? We even etch away the days in stone, like a movie character who’s slowly going insane.”
Kivi pressed a button on her watch, and let the backlight shine brightly on the wall. As she passed over the etchings, about a third of them would disappear, leaving only roughly seven hundred that were truly there. “Your temporal perception has been decalibrated.”
“What would have happened when we thought we were at eleven years, but really weren’t yet?”
“You probably would have started screaming at the guards, and literally tearing out your hair.” She toppled her briefcase on the desk so she could open it. It looked like she pressed another button inside of it, and let out a bubble of distorted space. She adjusted the bubble so that it would grow, until it was large enough to accommodate all three of them. “Berg bubble,” she said vaguely. “A gift from another universe. No one can hear us outside the quote-unquote cone of silence.”
“Are you also a lawyer,” Dar’cy asked, presumably referring to another version of Kivi.
“Yes. I am, in fact, your lawyer, and I’m here to get you—” Before Kivi could finish her sentence, they could hear this extremely loud and sharp cry. It was coming from everywhere, and nowhere, all at once, echoing off the walls of the so-called berg bubble. She just waited there patiently, as the cry grew fainter, then finally faded entirely. “—out of prison,” she finished, as if having paused for nothing more than a sneeze.
“What in the actual ass was that?” Missy asked in shock.
“I heard that before, when I was stuck in a different timeline,” Dar’cy recalled.
“It’s the Time Shriek,” Kivi explained dismissively. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You were saying something about getting us out?”
“Indeed,” Kivi said. “New evidence has come to light regarding sentencing procedures. It seems the deathwatcher who predicted Mister Belker’s true moment of death was a friend of a friend of an acquaintance, who was related to the victim. An unbiased deathwatcher has come forward with the truth that Oskari would have actually died six years after the unfortunate incident, not eleven.”
“Oh,” Missy said sadly. “So we still won’t get out for another three years. Oh no, I forgot, four years.”
Kivi smirked. “This was a major violation of ethics, and a breach of this world’s judicial system. I will be appealing for early release. This revelation, coupled with the unauthorized time torture you’ve been experiencing, is enough to get you out within a week.”
“We’re getting off on a technicality?” Dar’cy questioned.
“I always hate when that happens,” Missy noted. “Usually to rich, privileged white people.”
“You’re not getting off,” Kivi told them. “Your parole would have been up in six years, which is over half your original sentence. Though you have only been here the two years, you perceived a full three. It’s their own damn fault for doing that to you, and now it works to your advantage. I never make guarantees, but we have a very strong case.”
“I don’t know about this,” Missy said with worry. “I’ll want to continue with my mission when I get out, and who knows who will be in a position to help us? Even if the system lets us go, we still have to contend with public opinion.”
“She’s right,” Dar’cy surprisingly agreed. “We need the Durune on our side. We should go through the whole six years.”
Kivi wasn’t happy about this, but she was outwomanned, and it wasn’t really her call. Still, she wasn’t going to back down so easily. “Four years,” she negotiated.
“Five and a half.”
“Five.”
“Five and a quarter.”
Kivi took a beat, then repeated, “five.”
Missy didn’t want to back down either, but Dar’cy was done. “Deal.”
“I need verbal confirmation from both of you,” Kivi said, calling her berg bubble back into the briefcase, and closing it up.
“Deal.”
Eight days later, Missy and Dar’cy found themselves once again standing in the courtroom, their no nonsense lawyer at their side. The proceedings were being broadcast on LoaTV. Their old friend, Loa had the ability to create little spatial windows all over the planet, and let others witness events at one location unfold remotely. Before she left on The Warren with everybody else, her power was adapted to technology, because people were too used to it to lose it.
Kivi began her argument, “your honor, these two have been model citizens in prison for the time they were in there. They don’t cause trouble, and they work to contribute positively to society by manufacturing emergency teleporters, and temporal anomaly detectors. Frankly, this court has failed them by allowing this terrifying oversight to force them into a sentence they don’t deserve. Furthermore, I have uncovered evidence that the facility has been using time tort—”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the judge interrupted. “I don’t need you going over this again, Miss Bristol. What’s your first name, again? Kiwi?”
“It’s Kivi. It has, like, a quicker v-b sound, uh...never mind. Sorry, go on.”
The judge went on, “Look, I know all about what went down with the deathwatcher, and I’ve been apprised of the conditions at Silversmith Penitentiary. So get on with what you want.”
Kivi looked to the defendants one last time, hoping they would change their minds. “We are requesting my clients to serve a total of five years, carried out at Westland Rehabilitation Center. We no longer trust the leadership at Silversmith, and they deserve better conditions.”
The judge widened her eyes. “Their feelings on the facility are fair, but I’m curious, why are you not asking for them to be released immediately?”
Kivi looked to her clients once more. “My clients feel a deep sense of sadness and regret at the loss of Oskari Belker. They feel it is in this planet’s best interest, and their own, that they honor his legacy by completing the majority of his sacrifice. We’re only asking for the one year to be removed because of the unlawful hardship they went through.”
The judge was impressed, but not entirely convinced. Kivi continued to explain their reasoning behind making them remain behind bars for three more years. The judge actually managed to talk them down to two. Due to pressure from public protests, they were out in one.

The Future is Written

There was a dichotomy for Missy and Dar’cy as they stepped out of Westland Rehabilitation Center, after having spent one year in decent prison conditions. On one side were the cheers and smiles from their fans, accompanied by a group of protesters using this whole incident as a vehicle to open discussion on legal reform as a whole. On the other side were angry protesters, adamantly opposed to their release at all, or their move to a more lax facility. A few believed they should be put to death, or at least that their deaths should moved up on the schedule, like their victim’s was. But after the scandal that landed them a greater sentence than they supposedly earned by Durune law, no deathwatcher in their right mind would risk their own freedom by being involved with the two of them, in any capacity. Others harbored less violent thoughts against them, believing they deserved nothing short of life in prison, perhaps even back in the considerably less hospitable Silversmith Pen. Most of the protesters just thought they owed the full original sentence of eleven years, possibly with parole.
They stood in between these two groups, wondering exactly how far their house was, and how they were going to get there. A car pulled up from the side, and stopped right in front of them. A man stepped out of the driver’s side, and opened the backseat door for them. “Please come with me.”
“Who are you?”
“I work for The Librarian,” he answered. Maybe now that they had faced the consequences of their actions, she had decided to help them with their quest for the cure for chooserism.
They crawled inside, but before they could put their seatbelts on, the driver was opening the door on the other side of the car. “We’re here.”
Missy stopped and looked around. The prison, and all the people around it, were gone. They were parked right next to the main library branch. “This is a teleporting car,” she noted.
“Yes,” the driver answered.
“Why would you need a car at all, if you can teleport?” Dar’cy questioned.
The driver took her hand, and helped her out cordially. “I cannot teleport,” he explained. “The car can.”
A woman they didn’t know stepped out of the building and greeted them. “My name is Keuhla Derricks. I am The Sublibrarian.”
“Oh, so you’re on duty when the Librarian is busy?” Missy guessed.
“Or dead, as is the case now, yes. My family has been passing the torch for decades, waiting for the need to take responsibility.”
“The Librarian is dead?”
“Yes,” Keuhla said. “They all are. Come inside, we will discuss it.”
Such a good day suddenly turned terrible. Once they were inside, they found the place to be deserted. Apparently, few people saw the use for it now that it was back in the right dimension. Or perhaps they were just scared.
“When you pulled the building out of its temporal dimension, time started catching up with it. I told you that everyone was dead, but that is not entirely accurate. A few had entered the dimension at a young enough age to still be alive today.”
“They aged rapidly?” Missy asked, knowing the answer.
“Indeed. But do not feel guilty about this. You could not have known this would happen, nor would there have been any way to bring the library back without this side effect.”
“But all those people,” Dar’cy disagreed. “They’re gone now.”
“True, but I hold no sympathy for them. They came in here to escape. They didn’t escape the horrible abuses of a loved one, or the tyranny of a harsh ruler. They came to escape reality. They came to stick their noses in books, so they wouldn’t have to deal with the little inconveniences of life in the real world.”
“But they were doing research,” Missy cried, feeling again that guilt she was told she didn’t need. “They were learning. What is more noble than learning?”
Keuhla looked at them over her glasses, which always made Missy uncomfortable and agitated when people did that. “What is learning but a precursor to application? The people here contributed nothing to society. They were selfish and closed off. They would have died here having accomplished nothing beyond their own enrichment.”
“And the Librarian? Was she just as bad?”
“It was her job to protect the library. As you’ve expressed, the purpose of knowledge is to share it, and what you did was in service to the spirit to the exchange of ideas. She died proud of you for doing something she had forgotten she should have been working towards figuring out. Do not mourn our loss of her, for she was much older than she looked. The only thing that matters is the library, which is now my responsibility.” She started ruffling through some papers in a bag that was leaning against her chair. “As praxis demands, I will honor her deal with you, by providing the necessary tools for you to find what you’re looking for.” She placed a book on the table between them. There was nothing drawn or written on the cover. Nor was there anything written on the inside.
“It’s blank,” Dar’cy pointed out.
“Do we need lemon juice, or something?”
“It’s a time book.”
Was that supposed to mean something to them?
“It hasn’t been written yet,” she added. “You’re going to have to find someone invoke the text from the future.”
“You wouldn’t happen to kno—” Dar’cy began to ask.
“No,” Keuhla interrupted. “Last I heard of someone like that, who could do something like that, they lived seventy years ago.” She stood up with finality. “I’m just the one who gives you the book.”
Dar’cy looked like she was about to fight her on the imprecision of her help, but Missy stopped her. “Thank you very much. I’m never going to stop being sorry about your boss, or all those people.”
“I know someone who can remove those memories from your brain,” Keuhla said as the other two were turning away.
“But can they remove the scar on my soul?”

The driver ferried them to the house that Andromeda built. He took them the long way around, without using the teleportation feature, so they could get used to being on the outside again. In an odd role reversal, he gave them a silver coin, instead of the other way around. They tried to refuse it, but he said it was important that they take it. When they walked in, they found the place to be immaculate. They hadn’t needed to cover any furniture with blankets, or anything. The appliances switched on without issue, and the faucets worked perfectly. Either someone had come in occasionally to affect maintenance, or the wards that one guy placed on their home had preserved it. Even the food they had left there was still good.
That evening, they stood the book up on end, and placed it at the head of the table while they ate dinner, almost like it was their guest of honor, who just wasn’t hungry right now. They both stared at it, independently trying to decide how they might go about finding someone to make the thing legible. The obvious option was to petition for access to the paramount database, but their relationship with the government was rather awkward at the moment, so that didn’t seem like the absolute best idea.
“Why don’t we just find someone to take us to the future, and read a copy of the book after it’s written?” Dar’cy suggested.
“Time travel trips are expensive ‘an hell. We ain’t got no money. Besides, she never said when it was written. Could be a year, could be a millennium.”
The silence returned for a few more moments.
“We could hold it up to a time mirror,” Missy offered. “Not the easiest way to read text, but not impossible.”
“Do you know anyone who owns a time mirror?” Dar’cy asked. “Besides Leona?”
“Wait, why don’t you just thread it to the future?”
“I thought you didn’t want me to use my powers.”
“Why would you think that?”
“Solidarity.”
“This mission is to find a way to get rid of my powers, not yours. Go ahead and give it a shot.”
Dar’cy took the book in her hands, and concentrated on threading to some future point in time, not really worried about exactly when in the timeline. Missy watched Dar’cy’s body shudder around a little, but it never disappeared completely. She stopped and tried a few more times, but never went anywhere. “My God, it’s like this thing doesn’t exist in the future, or even the past. It’s perpetually stuck in the present.”
Missy shook her head. “This was all worth a try, but there’s a reason the Sublibrarian gave this to us, and why she told us how we can read it. We have to do it that way, or not at all.”
“If we can’t talk to the government, I don’t know how we’ll find someone with the right powers,” she said, like a defeatist.
“They’re not the only people on this planet. There’s also a reason we pushed for voluntarily staying in jail for all that time. We have friends now.”
“We don’t have friends,” Dar’cy clarified. “We have fans.”
“Even better. They tend to be more loyal. Let’s reach out, and see what people know. If they don’t know anyone, they probably know someone who does. We’ll talk to as many people as it takes to get to the bottom of this.”
“Okay,” Dar’cy said, nodding. “I’m down.”

They did as they said they would, and they did it for weeks. They traveled all over the globe, finding people willing to help them any way they could. Many had never heard of anybody who could do anything like that, and couldn’t even lead them to someone who might. Instead, they helped by providing them some good home cooked meals, and places to stay, when they were too far away from home. Of course there were those who denied them from the start, because of Oskari Belker’s death. What would they say if they knew quite how many people Missy had killed? More importantly, how was the Sublibrarian keeping that all under wraps.
They started out with enthusiasm, and twinkling eyes, but as time went on, the tedium wore on them. They became depressed and hopeless. But like a prime minister searching for the love of his life on the longest street in the world, just before they were ready to give up, a pretty brunette answered the door, and knew who they were asking about. The man with said power evidently lived right next door.
He opened up, not with disgust at seeing them, but not with any level of joy either. By all accounts, he was an extremely apathetic person, with an unfathomable poker face.
“Do you know who we are?” Dar’cy asked him.
He shook his head lightly, and shrugged.
“No matter,” Missy said. “We have this book.”
“What’s it about?” he asked.
“We don’t really know.” She presented it to him, and showed some of the pages. “It’s supposed to help us, but the words haven’t been written yet.”
He put on some reading glasses, and peered at the book. Then he took it from her, and examined it closer. “How did you know how to find me?”
“We’ve been at this for over a month,” Dar’cy replied. “Your neighbor seems to think you can do something about this.”
“That woman’s an idiot. As is whomever told you this was a time book.” He swung his arm, and tossed it right into the flames squirming in his fireplace. “It’s just a journal with blank cover.”
“What?”
“I imagine you were conned. How much did they make you pay for it?”
“Nothing. She just gave it to us. It was...it was a present.”
“Hm. It was a bad present. Maybe she’s the one who overpaid for it. I guarantee it’s not a time book.”
“How do you know for sure?”
He ushered them into his house, and set them down on the couch while he went in the back. Dar’cy grabbed a rice bag from the coffee table, as well as Missy’s hand. “Just in case he comes back with a shotgun, and I have to thread us the hell out of here,” she whispered.
He returned quickly, holding a book of his own. “I know the burning journal isn’t a time book, because this is the time book; the only one of its kind. And I know this...because I created it.”

Hotspot

“It’s not possible for there to be more than one time book?” Dar’cy asked skeptically.
“There is nothing written in the time book. It is simply capable of absorbing and displaying any book within its own pages. In order to do this, it has to have a deep quantum connection to every single thing that has ever been written and published. And I mean every book, at all points in time, in all realities, and all universes, which would include other time books, if they existed. It’s like the internet, but better.”
“What makes it better? No videos?”
“That’s not the point, Dar’cy,” Missy said. “All we’re asking is for help finding the words to one book in particular, Mister...”
“Lorenz. But my first name is Ildemire.”
“Ildemire,” Missy continued, “is there any way for your time book to...intuit which book we’re looking for?”
“You would have to use the index.”
“Great, let’s try that.”
“In order to do that, you’ll need to start with the narrowest concept first. If you’re trying to find a certain book about horses, you wouldn’t search for animals, or living creatures. That would take too long. So how specific can you be? You said you don’t know which book, but what do you know about it?”
They thought about this, and the obvious answer was, “cure for time powers”.
“Too long,” he said. “And too broad. Like I said, you’ll be pulling books from multiple universes.”
“Cure for chooserism,” Missy offered.
“How about just chooserism, then we can narrow to cure for?”
“You’re the expert.”
He opened the book to the first page, and took out a pen. “Now, remember that I created this out of nothing. I couldn’t just wave my hand, and the book would magically appear. It took me years to program, so it’s not the most efficient. I am planning a newer version, though.”
“Okay,” they both said.
Ildemire wrote the word Index at the top of the page, underlined it, and waited for the following pages to fill up with almost nothing but blackness.
“What is that?” Dar’cy asked.
“It’s the entire index,” he started to answer, “written in text so small, that it’s completely illegible. That’s why we have to narrow it.” Right under his first word, he wrote the letter C, which caused the text to jiggle around a little, but it still appeared to be about as small as before. He wrote the h, then the o, and so on until he had completed the whole word. The text was still incredibly tiny, but they were starting to discern space in between the lines. He wrote cure for, and now they could make out actual words. The index seemed to be operating more on sounds, than on letters. They could see options for the cure for charisma, the cure for nazism, and the cure for terrorism. And evidently someone had, or will have later written books on solving the problem of tourism. “Here it is,” Ildemire said. “Cure for chooserism. There’s only one book about that. Let’s see, it’s called Missy’s Mission.”
“Oh, click on that,” Dar’cy said.
“No,” Missy warned. “That’s my book. We cannot read that.”
“It’ll clearly have the answers,” Dar’cy argued.
“It won’t if we read it,” Missy returned.
“Huh?”
“It’ll create an ontological paradox,” Missy explained. “If we only know how to get rid of my time powers because we read about a future where we get rid of my time powers, then where did the concept originate? Did I figure out how to cure myself, or did the book just tell me? The answer can’t just come out of nowhere.”
“But it’s already written. Future, past; what does it matter?”
“If we select this, and it’s written, all we will learn is of our failure. It cannot tell us something we don’t already know.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Ildemire said. “And what you said earlier given me an idea. You don’t need a cure, because your condition is not a disease. You just need to remove the powers.” He scratched out cure for on the input page, and replaced it with removal of.”
Removal of chooserism makes little sense,” Dar’cy pointed out.
“It’s worked, though. One book came back as well, and it’s not your own. It’s not even from the future. Hotspots: A Look into Places of Great Power on Earth, and Beyond. Ever heard of it?”
They shook their heads.
“Well, let’s take a look.” There was no way to click on the item, which Ildemire hoped to be able to do in his second creation. Under everything else he had written, he penned the name of the book they were looking for. The rest of the pages transformed, leaving them with fairly large font. “Sorry, there’s no way to adjust that. It’s always goes from the first page to the last. It can’t remove pages, or just leave them blank. As I’ve mentioned, this was my first try.”
“This will be fine,” Missy said graciously. Thank you so much for your help.”
“Yes, thank you,” Dar’cy said. We’ll call if we need any further assistance.”
He laughed. “Oh, no. I don’t leave this book out of my sight.”
“Well, that’s gonna be a problem,” Dar’cy said.
“No, it won’t,” Missy corrected. “We completely understand.”
“We need privacy.”
“No, really, it doesn’t matter. He can always read the book himself after we leave.”
And so the three of them started doing research, trading the book around as certain concepts intrigued them. They ended up skipping all the information about Earthan locations, like Stull, Kansas and Mount Roraima, and went straight to the section on Durus. Words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs in this section were completely blank. There was clearly meant to be text, but it had been erased, likely by time itself. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ildemire said in horror. “My time book reads every book. It’s not supposed to have any gaps.”
“Maybe the original edition of Hotspots is also special,” Missy suggested compassionately, “and they interfere with each other, like how the only thing that can cut a diamond is another diamond.”
“Or a laser,” Dar’cy added.
He sighed and dropped the book in Missy’s lap, so he could concentrate on palming his face. “Well, I hope whatever you’re looking for is in there somewhere. I don’t understand why it didn’t pull the whole text. That’s never happened before.”
“I have faith that what’s here will be enough.” She let him wallow while she lifted the book and started reading. “Few have ventured to this dark world, searching for a way to remove their time powers. Choosers, for the most part, like what they can do, but there are those who consider it to be a curse. There is no evidence that anyone has ever succeeded—where have I heard that before?—but if the answer lies anywhere, it’s in a terrible region derivatively known to the natives as The Abyss.
Ildemire let out a chirpy laugh. “I’m sorry, it’s just funny. Of course the one place you’re not allowed to go is the one place you need to go. Fate would not have it any other way.”
“The Abyss sounds bad, what is it?” Dar’cy asked.
“Long ago, this world was overrun by monsters. My ancestors created the Mage Protectorate to secure our borders, and keep them at bay. But all they really did was stall, while the enemy enhanced their forces. A full-on war broke out, and humans were almost completely obliterated. But then one young woman with immense power turned the tide, and won it for us in less than an hour, at the end of which she closed the massive portal that was drawing those monsters from another universe. Still, the Abyss remains active, to this day. No apparent monster can come through to our side, but we have every reason to believe we can now travel to their side. Everyone who has tried to study what’s going on in the haze has disappeared for good.”
Missy and Dar’cy gave each other a look, remembering words of warning that all choosers who attempted to do what they were trying now had indeed gone missing. “Dar’cy, this is one of those moments where I remind you that you have no obligation to help me. I can move forward on my own, but if you try to go with me, you may never come back.”
Dar’cy picked up a little figurine on Ildemire’s desk. “Does this have sentimental or monetary value?”
“Not really,” he replied. “Why?”
She showed it to Missy. “We’ll take this with us. If we experience issues, we can always come back here yesterday.”
“Dar’cy I’m serious. Just because you have a way out doesn’t mean you should come along in the first place. Besides, we don’t even know whether this will take us to another universe, let alone if you can thread across them.”
“I know. But I am coming with you. We’re a team.” Dar’cy redirected her attention to Ildemire. “Can you take us to the Abyss?”
“I can show you how to get there, but I won’t take one step towards that place.”
After Ildemire gave them directions, Missy and Dar’cy went home to rest up for the week. While they were waiting to work up their courage, they decided to sell the house, which gave them enough money to afford a bag of holding, plus a year’s worth of food and supplies to take with them. Once they were ready, they started making the long trip out to the mysterious area where no one goes. Everyone they asked refused to teleport or drive them anywhere near it, so they were forced to walk, stopping to camp at the end of each day. Weeks later, they were at the edge of a slow and quiet storm. Smokey masses billowed in front of them, threatening to remove all sense of direction. An automated message from another one of those solid holograms, this one of a security guard, warned them to turn back. They ignored it, and pressed on.
They tied themselves together with a rope that was a few meters long, but they still tried to stay within sight of each other, which was difficult with visibility at maybe one meter. It seemed like a good idea at the time to give each other some breathing room, but it proved to not be good enough. At some point, the rope broke, either by being worn out, or perhaps because a mischievous monster left behind from the days of old cut it on purpose. However it happened, it separated them for what Missy believed to be several minutes. She just kept wandering around, eventually finding herself in a clearing of the haze.
Dar’cy came out of a farmhouse that was sitting in the middle of the open area, and walked out to greet her. “You’re finally here.”
“How long has it been?” Missy asked, afraid to know the answer.
“Two years.”

Hazytown

“How did this happen?” Missy questioned. She wasn’t shocked that it had been two years since they had stepped into the haze. After living in the world of salmon and choosers, nothing could really surprise her. She just literally wanted to know what had happened, so she could prevent it from happening again. “Did the haze alter time?”
“I don’t think that’s what happened,” Dar’cy said. “I think you did it.”
“Me?”
“I think you were in your own temporal bubble.”
“Oh. What makes you think that?”
“I think the haze causes your time powers to go haywire. I wasn’t always in there. I spent at least a day uncontrollably jumping through time and space before I made it out to this clearing.”
“But that’s not your power. You can’t just jump anywhere. You have to thread an object.”
“I think I was threading myself. Which makes sense, because...” She faltered.
“Because what?”
“Because I’ve known what I was going to look like as an adult since I was a child. I’ve been sliding across my own timeline, revisiting past events in my life. Greatest hits.”
Missy was silent for a moment. “You never told me that. Do your parents know?”
“I told no one. Ever.”
“Why?”
“It’s kind of a combination of all, or most, of Leona’s time traveling rules. Obviously I’m meant to avoid alternate versions of myself, but I also needed to never be surprised, but never assume I already had the whole story. It just seemed prudent to keep it to myself, and trust Future!Me would understand. She only ever showed up when I was alone. She never hurt me, and never said a word, so whenever she appeared, I just made like Elsa, and let it go.”
“Well, now that you’ve closed your loop—”
“I can die?” Dar’cy interrupted. It was true, now that everything she knew about her future had become the past, death was now back on the table.
“That’s not what I was going to say. Now that you’ve closed your loop, you understand why it happened, and it isn’t likely to happen again.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure of that.”
“Why? Did you accidentally thread into the future too?”
“Once, right at the end. Four, three, two...”
A different version of Dar’cy suddenly appeared next to Present!Dar’cy. Past!Dar’cy looked at Missy with relief. “Thank God you make it eventually,” she declared. Then she disappeared.
Present!Dar’cy smiled. “See? I always knew you’d find your way out of there.”
Missy nodded. “Not to sound ungrateful...” she hesitated.
“Why didn’t I go look for you? Once I made it out of the haze, I tried going back. It’s like walking through tar. If you try to escape, it’ll just tug on you until you get too tired to resist.” She looked up at the dome of haze above them. “I’ve not been able to go anywhere beyond the eye, as I’m calling it. I can’t even thread an object to my past again.”
“Does that mean this is it? This is the cure?”
“I dunno, man. I think it’s just a power dampener. If we found a way out, our powers would probably come back. Besides, if getting here is all it takes, we would see evidence of other people; other residents, or even bodies. But I’ve been alone the whole time. It hardly looks like anyone has ever lived here.”
“I’m so sorry. It must have been dreadfully boring.”
She shrugged. “Not as bad as you’d think. We packed enough food for a year, thank God. Since I had already seen myself with you in the future, I could reasonably believe you would return before my rations ran out. Knowing a sort of maximum ETA made it easier. It’s a good thing you came when you did, though. The food I had left would have lasted me another week. Then it’s another three weeks of slowly starving to death. As far as boredom went, there’s a decent library of books in there. I only had to reread two and a half books before today. I admit I did, uh...act out a few key scenes, to pass even more time.”
“Oh my God, I can’t apologize enough. Whatever you say, it is my fault. My powers slew me down, and you’re only here to help me.”
“I don’t wanna hear any further complaining or self-pity about it. I made my choices, and I don’t regret them. Being on The Warren wasn’t all that fun before, and I doubt it’s any more interesting now. At least here I’m on an adventure.”
“I don’t suppose you know what the next step might be. Is there a secret portal, or a special knock to summon one of the powers that be?”
“Oh, I know what the next step is. I found it my first week here. I couldn’t go through, because I didn’t know if I would be able to get back out. We can go together. You might wanna shower first, though. There’s running water.”
Missy took her up on that offer to clean herself up. She couldn’t even be bothered to get dressed afterwards. The relaxing water had reminded her how terribly tired she was, so she sent her face right towards the bed. She was unconscious before hitting the pillow.
Dar’cy was sleeping next to her when she woke up hours later, so she snuck out of the bed, and tiptoed downstairs. Feeling the need to contribute positively to this endeavor, she lifted the bag of holding, and began to empty it out in the living room, so she could take inventory. They had a few days of food between the two of them, and as much water as they had before, since Dar’cy was able to drink from the indoor plumbing. Their tent was still in good condition, as were their sleeping bags. Fire kit, extra clothes, duct tape, med kit, some random objects Dar’cy could thread to her past in an emergency, and everything else you would find in a doomsday prepper’s go-bag. She even packed two—
“What are you doing?” Dar’cy asked, having come downstairs unheard.
“What are these things?” Missy asked her.
“Tactical uniforms.”
“For, like, war?”
“If it comes to that. The pockets are microdimensions.”
“I though that’s what the bag was.”
“That’s a minidimension. But I’m glad you found those. We should put them on. Could come in handy.”
Missy just sat there.
“I’m not asking you to carry a gun, just put on a uniform. It’s rocketproof too, in a way that means anyone who tries to shoot you will only find the projectile being reflected back at them. We should have been wearing them the whole time.”
“How much did these cost?”
“Let’s just say I bought them on credit.”
“Dar’cy,” she scolded.
“Missy,” she exaggeratedly mimicked. “That’s what you sound like.”
“Fine, I’ll do it. But only because you look sexy when you wear your shirt backwards.”
“Oh, shit. I thought it felt tight around the neck.”
They changed their clothes, and stepped outside.
“The portal’s out here?” Missy asked.
“It’s not really a portal.” She walked over to the side of the house, and lifted up one of the vinyl panels. Inside was a flashlight.
“Is that the flashlight that Hokusai used to stop Durus from colliding into Earth?”
“No. That one was destroyed. This is a second Rothko Torch. We only have a few minutes before it snaps back in place. But that should be long enough to complete the show.”
“The what?”
Dar’cy gathered her bearings, and found the spot she was looking for several meters in front of the house. Then she flipped on the flashlight, and shone it in front of her. Three people appeared, like translucent ghosts, fading in and out as Dar’cy moved the light around. They paid the two of them no mind, so Missy didn’t think they had been transported to the past. This was like watching a three-dimensional movie. One woman was aggressively holding onto the other, while the man watched them, unrelenting to the victim, who seemed to be begging for him to help. Since the flashlight did not come with any sound, Missy had to guess what they were saying. The attacking woman overcame her victim with a powerful energy, that eventually consumed her entirely, until she was gone. Now apparently equipped with more power than she could handle, the surviving woman grasped her head, and started yelling at the man to run away, which he agreed.
“We’re reaching the point of no return,” Dar’cy explained. “I always stop watching after this, because I can feel it happening.”
“Yeah, I feel it too.”
The energy was too much for the woman from the past. She exploded, sending that energy in a wave in all directions, thereby creating the haze that Missy had been trapped in for two years. Once it had reached some limit, the wave started pulling itself back in towards the center. The flashlight disappeared from Dar’cy’s hand, presumably having been called back to its home in the wall, but the images remained. The two of them braced themselves against each other as the portalcane came rushing back towards them, bringing with it what looked like the man, who had not run fast or far enough. Light filled Missy’s eyes, forcing them closed.
When she was able to open them again, they were standing in the middle of a crowd of white monsters. The man was now being held up by one of the monsters, while another spoke to him. “Dwesben ke Ansutah,” it said.
“Ansutah?” the man asked.
“Ansutah,” it repeated as it presented the world to him. Then it laughed—as did everyone else—before punching him in the face, and knocking him unconscious.
As its friend was carrying the man away, someone in the crowd pointed to Missy and Dar’cy, who had been assuming they were still invisible. “Ondi dwesben foa laidi bim!” it cried to the leader.
“Universal translator,” Dar’cy advised under her breath. “Left breast pocket.”
Missy took out what looked like a very involved surgical mask, and placed it over her mouth and ears as the monster leader was walking towards them with a grin. Only then did Missy realize that there were other humans, scattered around the open area. They were still teleporting in randomly. These must be the ones who were seeking an end to their powers. The portal must have taken everybody to the same moment in time, no matter when they left.
“Do those things help you understand my language?” the monster leader asked in what sounded like English. His mouth still moved as if speaking his native language, though, which fictional stories about automatic translators never seemed to account for. Remember, subs, not dubs.
“They do,” Dar’cy answered through her own translator mask.
A guardsman came up, and reached for Missy, which forced Dar’cy into fight mode. She made quick work of him, getting him to the ground in a matter of seconds. The leader was surprised and impressed. A second guardsman came up to take the first one’s place, but the leader stopped him with a mere gesture. “Lock the others up!” he ordered his people. “I’ll speak with these two first! Please come with me,” he requested of them.
“Only if you don’t hurt the other humans.”
“Humans?” he asked with another laugh. “You mean the gods?”

Ghosts and Creatures

The leader monster walked off, leaving Missy and Dar’cy to be escorted to the nearest alien building by a fairly large group of extremely cautious guardsmen. They placed them in what appeared to be their version of an interrogation room, and one came in to ask questions, first getting the basics out of the way, like their names, ages, and time of departure.
“Have you ever been to our world?”
“No.”
“Have you ever known anyone to come to our world?”
“We’ve never heard of this place.”
“Do you have more of those translator masks?”
“No.”
“Will you share with the other humans, so we can communicate with them as well? We would rather not have to request interpreters from West Borakon.”
“We will share,” Missy answered.
“You already have people who speak English?” Dar’cy asked.
He ignored her, and just moved on. “What is your business here?”
“Ours, and none of yours.”
He appeared to smile, but their faces were so strange that they couldn’t tell exactly. He asked them a few questions about who they were, which they generally felt comfortable revealing. Secrets weren’t really all that useful for them. They were in foreign land, and totally beholden to these...things. Once he was finished, he told them he would relay this information to the covfefe, who would meet with them shortly.
Missy couldn’t help but crack a smile. “The what?”
“Covfefe Junyj. You met him.”
“Is that where...?” Missy began to joke.
“Her translator must be malfunctioning,” Dar’cy interrupted. “I’ll take a look at it. Thank you.”
“Dar’cy,” Missy said, once their interviewer was gone. “Covfefe was—”
“I know,” she interrupted again. “Just let it go.”
Missy wanted to laugh again a few minutes later after guardsmen escorted them deeper through the building, and into an obnoxiously overdecorated office. The leader was waiting for them there, holding a glass of alcohol, presumably. He introduced himself as “Covfefe Junyj, Lion of the Lords, Savior and Deliverer.”
Before the conversation would continue, another monster slipped into the room and informed the covfefe, “he’s awake.”
“Bring him in. I suspect he’s connected to these other two.”
The servant left and returned with the man Missy and Dar’cy witnessed being sucked into the portal in the past, and later punched by the covfefe.
“Thank you all for coming,” Junyj said, but something was strange about the way he said it.
“We didn’t have a choice,” the man corrected.
“Quite,” Junyj agreed. That was it. His mouth was moving in sync with the words he was saying. He was actually speaking English, which would explain why this other human understood him. “You don’t need those things anymore,” he explained, confirming this.
As Missy and Dar’cy were removing their translators, Junyj offered them drinks, which all three refused.
“Do you all know each other?”
“We don’t know him,” Dar’cy replied.
He barely registered her response, and looked at her like he was trying to figure her out in a more general sense, and the words she uttered were less important than the way she said them. He regarded her position as partially in front of Missy. “You are her protector,” he guessed.
Dar’cy tensed up. “I am. You don’t wanna find out everything that entails.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I like a strong woman. You would make a fine seventieth wife,” he said, raising his drink. “If my form does not displease you, that is.”
“Your form is irrelevant,” she replied. “I am uninterested.”
“I understand that you’re from a planet called Earth, but you arrived here from a place called...” he looked back at his notes, “Durus? Is that true for you, sir?”
The man said nothing.
“Look, human, I’m not a bad guy. I’m just trying to do what’s best for my people. It’s my job to decide whether the humans who invaded us are significant threats. I just ask for a little cooperation.”
“Bullshit!” the human man cried. “You’re the invader. Durus was overrun with your...temporal mistakes!”
He looked back over to the women. “They said nothing of that.”
“The monsters are gone in our time,” Missy said to the man.
“Good.” He directed his attention back to Junyj. “So we defeat you. That does not mean you did not invade us.”
“That world was meant to be unpopulated. We chose it for that reason.”
“You chose it as a staging ground, knowing it would get you to Earth. I spoke with Effigy. She told me everything.”
“Effigy?” Junyj didn’t know who that was.
“Uhh...” he stammered, “Ezqava.”
Junyj laughed. “I doubt she told you everything. She barely knows anything. Now, if you spoke with Shuhana, that is a different story. We are very interested in knowing what happened to her.”
“I don’t know. She was mentioned, I never met her.”
Junyj was notably disappointed. “From what I gather, Mister...”
“Bran,” the human said. “Detective Bran.”
“Detective Bran, you’re here by accident, no?”
“This is true.”
“But you two came here on purpose?”
“We...went out looking for something,” Missy began. “We didn’t know our mission would end up taking us here.”
“What are you looking for?”
They hesitated.
“I might be able to help you, but I need to know what you need.”
“We have time powers,” Dar’cy said bravely. “She’s trying to get rid of hers.”
“Oh,” Junyj said, scratching the back of his neck. “Well, you’re late.”
“How late?”
“Few thousand years,” he responded, almost doing a good job of pretending to feel bad for them. “Historians tell us of something that could do that, but it doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t even know what it was.”
“In that case,” Dar’cy said, “I need you to show me an object from that period of time. Do you have artifacts from your history, in a museum, or something?”
“Why would you need that?” He was suspicious.
“It might have trace amounts of the substance that removes time powers,” Dar’cy lied. Well, she wasn’t lying so much as coming up with a plausible story that might even be true. For all they knew, that was exactly what they needed to end this once and for all.
“That’s not going to happen,” Junyj said frankly.
Before Dar’cy could protest, the servant from before barged into the room. “We have to get you out of here, Covfefe! They’re attacking.”
“Who’s attacking?” Junyj asked, and received his answer right away.
A hole appeared in the servant’s chest, yellowish blood dripping out of the wound. Dar’cy pulls Missy out of her chair, and backs her up against the wall. A man was fast-walking into the room with his game face on. Without looking, he swiped the air in front of him, sending the servant’s head across the room in a million little pieces. “We are.”
“Lucius, stop!” came the voice of a man behind the killer. “I wanna speak with him first.”
“Curtis?” Missy asked. In her previous life of jumping around time, meeting other people like her, she came across a teleporter named Curtis. He could only jump as far as he could see, and compared to all the interesting people she had met over the years, he was fairly underwhelming. The gorgeous behemoth working with him, on the other hand, Lucius, was a god. He was tall, wide, muscular, and commanding. If he didn’t have superpowers, he would still be able to kill everyone in this room with one move, and without even looking.
“I thought I saw you in the ring,” Curtis said. “You’re here to get rid of your powers?”
“Yeah, aren’t you?”
He shook his head. “We’re here to kill him.” He gestured towards Junyj.
“Why?”
“If you’ve already met him, you know the answer to that question.”
They could hear the march of enemy soldiers behind them. Eyes fixed on Junyj, Lucius reached his fist behind his shoulder, then opened his fingers. They could hear the screams of monsters as they were being torn apart, and no more footsteps.
“Mister Covfefe,” Curtis said to Junyj. “You are a joke on my planet. Literally. I’m killing you here for the satisfaction, but have no fear, I’m going back in time to stop you from existing in the first place. Your whole universe will be destroyed before it begins, and Durus will be a safe zone.”
“Curtis, that’s a major alteration of the timeline,” Missy warned.
“That’s what we do.”
Junyj sported that same sinister smile. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t go back and stop my universe from being created. As soon as it broke free from your universe, it became fundamentally independent. At that point, you can create as many contradicting timelines as you want, we already exist.”
Somehow, Curtis grew even angrier. “That’s not what we were told.”
“You were told wrong,” Junyj said simply. “Or it’s hard to hear through that dark skin of yours.”
Lucius, the one with the darkest skin of them all, waved his hands in venn circles, separating Junyj into his tiniest bits, which then faded away like sparks from a reciprocating saw, cutting through bolts. “Racist mother fucker,” he said in a deep Michael Clarke Duncan voice.
“I wasn’t done with him,” Curtis complained.
“I don’t care,” Lucius said.
“Do you have a plan to get out of here?” Dar’cy asked Curtis.
Curtis sighed. “That wasn’t part of the deal. We’re here to destroy the universe, whether it be now, or a thousand years ago. Our survival is not required.”
“Required by who?”
“By whom.” Curtis corrected.
“Required by who?” Missy repeated.
“We don’t know.”
“Well, before you destroy the universe,” Dar’cy began, “could you let us get to a museum?”
“Dar’cy, we can’t let them destroy this place. It’s unethical,” Missy whined.
“It’s also not our problem. What we came for is in the past. I can get us there, but I need something that existed back then.”
“I know just the thing,” came the voice of someone in the doorway. It was one of the monsters of this world. She held her hands up defensively when Lucius offensively held up his own. “I just want to help. This is a diverse world. We are not all like him,” she said, suggestive of Junyj.
Everybody hesitated.
The woman continued, “look, you can clearly kill me with the snap of your fingers, so if you don’t like where I take you, you can always just do that. I wanna help.”
“Why do so many of you speak English?”
“Don’t worry about it,” the woman said, walking away, hoping they would follow, or at least not kill her.
She led them across the city, which was eerily vacant of the monsters. “We’re now in a transitional period,” the woman explained. “Half the population exists a third of the day. The other half exists for another third. In between, nobody exists, except for a select constant, many of which you just killed.”
“Why is it like that?” Dar’cy questioned.
“Our population is too great,” she went on. “We don’t have enough room for everyone, so we take turns. The empty third is...so the universe can breathe. It’s part of our religion.”
“Why are you helping us,” Curtis demanded to know.
“You’re the gods,” she said matter-of-factly. “You think we can temporarily remove half our people from time all at once? We learned that from you.”
“We’ve not been treated as gods,” Dar’cy pointed out.
“How would you treat your gods if you met them, and found them to just be regular people?” She opened a door. “Everyone’s an asshole, even to people they like.” What a cynical view.
She walked them through a maze of historical artifacts, until finding the one she was looking for. She admired it reverently. “The Wrench of Creation,” she said in a breathy voice.
“That’s Étude’s,” Missy realized. The ship that brought them to Durus in the first place did so in order to retrieve The Last Savior of Earth, an important teleporter that the powers that be used to save people’s lives. It was pretty much the only decent thing the PTB did impulsively and voluntarily. Étude’s womb mother, Andromeda died months before she was born, leaving the fetus to develop in an artificial uterus. She left her daughter a plastic wrench toy that symbolized her paramount power to build structures at will, which she did to create nearly all the major buildings on the planet. On its own, the wrench could do nothing. It was just sentimental.
“How did that get here?” Dar’cy asked.
“It’s always been here,” the woman said, as if the answer could be nothing but.
“If it’s really been on this world since whatever can remove time powers existed,” Dar’cy said, “then it’ll work.”
“Oh, you can’t touch it,” the woman warned. “It’s a holy relic.” Her body was torn apart into its constituent atoms.
“God..dammit, Lucius!” Missy screamed. “Will you stop just killing people!”
He made this face like it was the first time anyone thought to suggest such a thing. He answered genuinely with, “I shall consider it.”
“What’s done is done,” Dar’cy said as she took off her shirt, and used it to break the glass between them and the wrench. “It’s time to end this.”
“We can’t go yet.”
“Why not?”
“There are two dozen other people here looking for the same thing. We have to take them with us.”
“I’m not that strong,” Dar’cy reminded her.
“We have to find a way,” Missy said plainly.

A Place Beyond Time

“No,” Curtis said. “We are here to destroy this universe. Helping these people is not part of the deal.”
“What was the deal?” Missy questioned.
“None of your bloody business.”
“Hey!” Dar’cy shouted. “You work for some mysterious entity who’s asked you to destroy Ansutah, right?”
“Indeed,” Lucius answered. That one word, in his voice, gave Missy chills.
“Well, you need my power to go back in time, and I work for Missy, so whatever Missy says, goes. We go nowhere without everyone else.”
Curtis sighed. “Then I suppose we should go get them first. We broke out of the our cell, but didn’t bother opening all the others.”
“Lead the way,” Missy said. “Please and thank you.”
Curtis tried to lead them back to the jail, but was too disoriented. Now that none of the natives were around, it looked a lot different apparently. Lucius still knew where to go, so he took over as guide. There were twice as many humans as Missy had thought there were before. While Lucius evidently used his time power primarily to kill, he could do it with anything. He could ripple space, separating individual atoms from each other by teleporting each one to a slightly different location. He destroyed the bars and doors from the cells with ease, letting everyone out so they could congregate in a common area of what must have been some kind of police station.
“Missy?” one of them asked while Missy was helping usher people down the hallway? Another one she knew from before. She turned her head to find herself face to face with none other than Leona Matic. They had last seen her years ago when she boarded The Warren with the rest of the ship’s crew, along with over a hundred other passengers.
“What the hell are you doing here?”
“Umm...I came to get Serif back,” Leona said.
“What happened to her?”
“She was stuck in Ansutah when it separated from the Warren.”
“Saywhatnow?”
“In here,” Leona said, ushering Missy into one of the now open cells, along with some woman she didn’t recognize. “You remember how Annora created those pocket dimensions on the ship, so we could fit all those passengers?”
“Yes,” Missy recalled.
“Well, a child was born in one of them that could make it bigger and bigger. And by could, I mean that just by being alive, her power made the pocket’s size increase exponentially. There was another who could create these monsters you’ve already seen; one monster with every breath he took.”
“My God. Are you telling me it’s only been a few years since this universe was created?”
“No, it’s been thousands. My guess is the monster-maker eventually died, leaving them to propagate the species on their own. The universe expander, on the other hand....” she looked over at the other woman, “was removed from the pocket at the last second. Her power started putting the ship at risk, so Dubravka here took her out of the timestream. Besides retrieving Serif, we came to let the girl out, so she can go back to making this world bigger.”
“She doesn’t seem happy about that,” Missy pointed out.
Dubravka looked like she was sucking a lemon. “I never wanted to come back here.”
This confused Leona. “What? You were never in pocket four.”
She was irritated, and wouldn’t make eye contact with either of them. “I grew up here. When we were told that we we would get Serif back if we did this, I didn’t think it meant eight years after I was born! I thought we were going to stop it before it happened.”
Missy still didn’t understand, nor did Leona. “Eight years, you’re—holy shit.” Leona seemed to have figured something out.
“What?” Missy asked.
“Are you...?” Leona began to ask.
“My daughter?” came a voice from around the corner. Serif appeared, holding the hand of a young girl. “Yes. Adult!Dubra, meet Young!Dubra. Young!Dubra, this is what you grow up to be.”
“I suppose I could do worse,” a sassy Young!Dubra said.
“Mom, I thought we were going to change the past,” Adult!Dubra said to Serif. “But it’s all happening exactly like it did before!”
“I don’t want you to change the past,” Serif said. She was many years older than before, having aged across thousands of real-time years since either Leona or Missy would have seen her.
“I do!” Adult!Dubra cried.
“This is your home,” Serif argued.
“My home sucks,” both versions of Dubravka screamed simultaneously.
Missy leaned towards Leona. “If these two get too close to each other, is this building gonna blow up, and turn the leaves red?”
“What? No.”
It was a fair question.
Serif let go of Young!Dubra’s hand, and gave it to Leona. “You need to go with Mother Leona now. She’ll take you to our universe.”
“Miss Atterberry, you need to get out there to the meeting with all the other people who want their powers to be removed. Dubravka, go with her,” she said to her adult daughter.
“Why would I do that?” Adult!Dubra asked.
“Stick with her, and you’ll end up exactly where you’re meant to be. I promise you won’t spend much more time in this universe. Don’t get separated from Missy and Dar’cy, though. Remember to pull Adamina back into the timestream before you leave.”
Presumably after having not seen her mother in many years of her personal timeline, Adult!Dubravka took Serif into a bear hug, and deposited about a gallon of tears on her shoulder.
As Missy was leaving with Adult!Dubra, she caught a bit of Leona’s conversation with Serif. “Is Mateo the father?”
“Yeah,” Serif answered. “Same for yours?”
Who the hell was Mateo?
When Missy and Adult!Dubravka arrived at the crowd, they were in the middle of clapping. Dar’cy was on a raised floor acting as a stage. She too was clapping, at a young woman from the audience who was blushing. Curtis was standing in the corner with his arms folded, still not really in favor of figuring out how to save everyone. Lucius stood at the women’s flank, arms folded too, but scanning the crowd like a nightclub bouncer.
Missy waved at Dar’cy to get her attention, then held up the international gesture for huh?. Dar’cy thanked the girl on stage, then stepped down.
“What’s goin’ on?” Missy asked. “Did someone just get an award?”
“That girl up there. She’s a supercharger.”
“Like an air compressor?”
“No, like she can enhance my powers. I can get everyone out of here.”
“Correction,” Dubravka said. “You can get everyone to the past, but still in this shithole.”
Dar’cy frowned. “And who is this lovely woman?”
“Dar’cy, Dubravka. Dubra, Dar’cy.”
“Well Dubra...vodka, you’re right, but this is what everyone here wants.” She gestured to the mob in general. “Are you in, or out?”
Dubra scoffed. “My powers are fine. I don’t need them to live whatever kind of life I want. But I don’t need them gone either. I was told I had to come with you to survive, so I’m in, but as soon as that stops being the case, I’m out.”
“She’s positively charming,” Dar’cy noted.
“Leona brought her,” Missy said.
“What?”
“She’s Serif’s daughter.”
“What?”
“Dar’cy!” the apparent supercharger called down. “It’s time to go!”
“You two stand next to me and the Wrench of Creation,” Dar’cy said to Missy and Dubra. “If this doesn’t work, at least you’ll make it through.”
As the three of them snaked their way to the stage, the crowd started clapping again. Dar’cy was already a hero, and she hadn’t even done anything yet. The four women stood on stage together. The supercharger and Dar’cy held onto either end of the plastic wrench toy. Missy held Dar’cy’s other hand, while Dubravka held hers. An energy pulsed between them, like that middle school science experiment where students stand in a circle and use their own bodies to close a circuit. They held up the wrench, letting a bubble not unlike the kind Missy could create emanate from it. It eventually encompassed the entire crowd, which had huddled together.
Dubravka’s watch beeped. “We have to go now!” she cried. “The maramon are coming back into the time stream!” She held up her free hand, and aimed it to the outside of the bubble. She released her own energy pulse, which revealed a young girl, standing there, confused.
The bubble started becoming more and more opaque as a bright light formed from everywhere at once. When the light receded, and the bubble collapsed, they found themselves in the middle of a desert. A younger Serif was now suddenly standing in like with them, holding Dubravka’s hand. “Uhh...what’s happening here?”
At first they thought it worked, but a brief glance at the crowd showed that half of them had not come through with them.

Metas, Worlds, and Pieces

Both Dar’cy and the supercharger looked around in a panic. “Are you sure?” Dar’cy asked. “We didn’t do a headcount, maybe it just looks like there are fewer people here because we have more space.”
“Cassius!” a woman began to cry out, along with several other people, looking for their respective loved ones.
“Pretty sure,” Missy said.
“Oh my God,” Dar’cy said, dropping her head.
“What have we done?” the supercharger asked rhetorically.
“We have to go back,” Dar’cy declared.
Suddenly a teenager teleported in between the main players, and the crowd. He was wearing a funny hat, and darting his head back and forth. “Who are you people? What are you doi—” He stopped when his eyes met with that of supercharger’s. “Umm...it’s not safe here,” he stammered. “For, uh, humans.”
“Where is it safe?” Missy asked him.
He scoffed. “Eden Island.”
“Great. Take us there.”
“It’s on the other side of the planet,” he clarified.
“You can teleport.”
He flicked the bill of his cap. “This is what lets me teleport. I can’t take everyone with me.”
Supercharger took hat guy’s hand in hers, reminding Missy that she needed to be better at learning people’s names. “Together, we can.” The energy pulsated between the two of them, causing a new temporal bubble to form around the crowd. Before the people who were missing family members could protest, they had made the jump to a beach.
Curtis stepped forward, doing his best as a leader. “Okay, everyone who’s missing someone, come with me. Everyone who’s fine with staying here...go collect firewood, or something.”
Dar’cy felt responsible, so she went with them, but that all had nothing to do with Missy, so she stuck around. The hormonal teens were still holding onto each other’s hands, even though it was no longer necessary.
Missy cleared her throat. “Did The Weaver make that for you?” she asked the boy, referring to a chooser on Earth with the power to imbue objects with metatemporal properties.
“Oh this?” The boy pulled off the hat, and tossed it over to her. He couldn’t take his eyes off the girl. “It’s made from a teleporter’s hair, as a gift to the primary gods, so they could always escape danger. I stole it, because I need it more than Esen does.”
“This is human hair?” Missy was generally pretty open-minded, but there was a line, and body parts were on the other side of it. She let it fall to the ground.
The boy ignored her. “I’m Avidan. My mom called me Avi. My mama called me Dan.”
The girl was as enthralled with him as he with her. “Sage. Just...Sage.” She giggled.
They still had not let go. “I feel something when we touch,” Avidan said.
“Me too,” she agreed.
“I bet,” Missy sassed.
“No, it’s not that. I mean, it’s definitely still that. You are...” he stopped talking, but his face was saying wow. “I can diagnose people’s time powers, but when I touch you, I don’t just see you. I see what we can do together. What we will do. There’s a future for us.”
“I can’t see that, Sage admitted, to his sadness. “But I...I can see it. In the figurative sense. What does our future look like?”
Avidan broke his gaze for the first time in a million years. “Why are these people here?”
“We all want to get rid of our time powers, and our journeys have led us here,” Missy answered. “Well, I guess not all of us. My friend just came with me to help.”
“I’m not here for that either,” Sage explained. “I accidentally tore open a microscopic tear in spacetime, and ended up here.”
“Wait, you didn’t walk through the haze on Durus?” Missy questioned.
She was still watching Avidan. “What’s a Durus?”
It had been a long time since Missy had encountered anyone who didn’t know what Durus was. “What year do you think it is?”
“Uh, we estimated it was, like, 2004? There was no sun on Blightworld.”
“I think you were on Durus,” Missy postulated. “I think you were there before it had a name.”
“Oh,” she said, unperturbed. “Okay.”
They were silent for a beat before Missy broke it again, “Avidan, what do you see in the future?”
“I can’t literally see the future. I can feel love. Between the two us. And I can...” he trailed off.
“Go on,” Sage encouraged.
“I can feel the product of that love,” he went on.
“You mean, like, a child?” Sage asked. She was intrigued when she should have been creeped out.
Avidan took Missy’s arm in his free hand. “And I feel the end of your quest.”
“A supercharger and a diagnostician,” Missy started to work out in her head. Both of you are metachoosers.”
“What’s a metachooser?”
“It’s someone whose power has something to do with other people’s powers. If the rest of us didn’t exist, your powers wouldn’t either.” She started mostly talking to herself. “For the most part, time powers aren’t hereditary. They’re not even always genetic. But it has been known to happen. Daria Matic was a Savior, and her brother The Kingmaker. They both jump in and save people’s lives; they just do it at different times, and in different ways.”
“What does this have to do with us?” Avidan asked.
“What if this is it? What if we’re all here because your child can take away people’s powers? Everything has been leading us to this.”
“We just met,” Sage pointed out.
“And I’m not ready for that,” Avidan said, embarrassed, though he needn’t be.
“We all ended up right here, right now. That doesn’t mean we get what we’re looking for immediately. Sage, you came here with us, so we were always going to have to wait for time to catch up with us. There is no pressure to speed up this relationship, if there even will be one. I have zero intention of telling anyone what we’re thinking, not even my partner.”
Speaking of Missy’s partner, Dar’cy suddenly screamed, “no!” from the meeting. It was accompanied by an uproar from everyone else.
As Missy and the lovebirds were rushing up to see what was the matter, they could see Lucius stepping away from the angry mob. “Back up! Stay back! he demanded. “I can do the same to you—all of you, all at once—and I don’t even need Sage’s help!”
Missy slid onto her knees in front of Dar’cy, who was hovering over a pile of what looked like ash. “Oh my God, who was that?”
Dar’cy shook her head, and sniffled. “It was no one. It was the wrench.” She looked up at Lucius, clingy tears trembling on her eye sockets. “He destroyed it.”
Missy stood up and confronted Lucius straight on, unmoved by his stature. “Why would you do that?”
“No one’s going back to the future. I won’t allow it,” he replied.
“Don’t you understand that you just created a new timeline? Everyone standing here potentially has a duplicate of themselves, running around the timeline.”
“Exactly,” Lucius agreed. “They’re alive.”
“What? You did that on purpose?”
“If the wrench no longer exists in the future, Dar’cy and Sage can’t thread it back to this moment. If they don’t do that, everyone there survives. They are not the duplicates...we are.”
“And what happens to this new timeline’s versions of us? They’ll still come to this world, but they’ll have no escape.”
“I gave them a fighting chance,” Lucius argued, “if that ends up happening, which I’m not sure it does. I suspect we all heard of this magical place that can take away time powers because we ended up going back in time, and started spreading the news. Now that won’t happen.”
“You can be sure of nothing,” Missy reminded him.
“Can anyone ever?” With that, he turned and disappeared past the treeline.
Dar’cy reached down and tried to gather the pieces of the wrench, which had gotten all mixed up with the sand.
“What are you doing, love?”
She wiped the snot from her face. “Maybe someone can put it back together. Maybe someone has the opposite power that Lucius does. Or did, rather, since I’m gonna kill him for this.”
Missy knelt back down. “Darce. This is not your fault.”
“It’s mine,” Dubravka confessed.
“How’s that?”
“I broke through the bubble to put Adamina back into the timestream,” Dubra said. “The half that didn’t come through were standing on that side of the room.”
Missy stood back up yet again. “We don’t know that you had anything to do with anything.” She stepped back, and raised her voice to address the crowd. “Take note of that, everybody! We don’t know anything! Time is a mysterious bitch, and I think we’ve all figured that out, or we wouldn’t be here, trying to get our powers removed. No one is to blame for this, not even Lucius! We don’t know if your loved ones are even still in the future. Maybe they went further into the future, or to a different moment in the past, or another planet, or even another universe! Hell, they could have landed five months ago, and we just haven’t found them yet!”
“Uh, that’s not possible,” Avidan piped up. “I showed up because I sensed your arrival. I would have sensed them too.”
“Shut up, Danny,” Missy spat. “Does everyone understand, or are you trying to figure out how to build torches and pitchforks from scratch?”
No one answered, but they didn’t act ready to riot.
Missy took a breath for the first time since they got here. “Now, the end of our quests might still be here, because again, we don’t know the nature of the thing! I suggest we start helping the others make camp!” She looked over to Sage and Avidan while she said one final thing, “remember...patience is a virtue!”
Everyone spread out, evidently taking her advice to heart. There was no shortage of food to eat here on what may very well have been the inspiration for the fictional representation of Eden in Abrahamistic proof texts. A few people came up to her and thanked her for her words. It was comforting to realize that, though they all had amazing temporal powers, they were still just as clueless as everyone else. There were just some things that were impossible to understand, and life went a lot easier if you assumed the best. Optimists lived longer. But there was one man who was not working. Instead he just stared at Missy eerily from a distance.
She slowly approached the man, who remained steadfast. “Can I help you?”
“The wrench will be fine,” he said, almost as if he was trying to reassure her.
“You can see the future?” she asked, not surprised to be meeting a seer. It might have been the most common time power.
“I see everything. For now...”
“What do you mean, everything?”
“I see all of time and space. Everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen, across the entire universe.”
“I’ve never heard of that.”
“I’m one of a kind,” he explained.
“And you’re trying to get rid of your powers because all that information hurts?”
He looked over her shoulder, right at the happy new couple.
“Do you know what happens to them?” she asked.
“Yes, very sad.”
“What’s your name?”
He shook her hand. “Lincoln Isaac Rutherford.”
She laughed. “I know Lincoln Rutherford. Though I don’t think anyone told me his power. And I know you’re not him. I mean, ya...kinda look like him. But I would recognize him.”
The man who claimed to be Lincoln pulled at an invisible mask on his face. It wouldn’t come off entirely, but stretched away from his skin, like a smudge of ink from a marker not given enough time to dry. The mask shuddered, like a dying lightbulb. A second face peeked out from underneath the top layer in this unbelievably disquieting sight. She still couldn’t recognize Lincoln, but the face she was seeing was definitely not the real one.
“What in the actual ass is that?” she asked. “And why do I keep saying that?”
“It’s a motif, don’t worry about it,” he said as he was returning his face to normal. I’m kind of, uhh...famous in this universe.”
“Famous how?”
He tilted his head back and forth. “Famous in the way that a red guy with horns and a pitchfork is famous in our universe.”
“They think you’re the devil?”
“A little bit?”
“Why would they think that?”
“I might have gotten drunk one time, and predicted a bunch of bad things that did happen. Anyway, The Superintendent sent me to a guy who could give me an illusory face, but I cannot get it off. So I’m stuck looking like this until I get my powers stripped, and they let me go back home.”
“They?”
“They! Them!” he yelled, but was acting like it was but a joke. “Anyway, I was just trying to tell you that I know how this ends. The wrench is not dead. You were right about those two kids, and the part about us needing to be patient.”
“If you end up losing your powers, how can you see anything beyond you losing your powers?” she prodded.
“Because I have my powers now. I don’t see the future. They’re memories, and those memories won’t go away until they’re deleted, and when they are, I don’t know what I’m gonna be left with.”
“It sounds like you don’t wanna do this.”
He sighed. “I don’t. I was forced here.”
“By who?”
“An actual god.” He paused for a moment. “I better go help. You’re a good leader, Melissa Atterberry,” he said as he was walking away backwards. “Maybe you should explore that.”

The Newt Normal

Missy did end up exploring her leadership skills, which she had not up until then considered part of her repertoire. She had spent a lot of time of her personal timeline running from The Cleanser, and traveling to other points in time and space. She met a lot of people along the way, but not large groups of people in need of guidance. Dar’cy would have been good at this, but she never really got over her feelings of guilt over the people she lost while jumping back to this time period. It was just one more in a series of terrible events that she felt responsible for, including the Secret Library debacle. Curtis and Lucius were no longer in any position to garner trust from these people, so the job fell squarely on Missy’s shoulders. She never denied her role, but she did make sure everyone was okay with it, and that no one else qualified was interested in it.
She kept the fate of Sage and Avidan, and what they had to do with everyone on Eden Island, to herself. While the two of them seemed to have no interest in subverting their own destiny together, it was best to let their relationship develop organically. And develop it did. They started dating immediately, or insofar as it’s possible to date on a remote oceanic island on an alien planet where you’re the only two teenagers in the whole universe. Within months, they were ready to get married and start sleeping with each other, the latter of which they were wanting to wait for until they had completed the former, and had also reached the common Earthan age of majority. They decided to hold the wedding ceremony on Avidan’s birthday in 2184, or at least what passed for that date in this universe. No one had the technology to measure the duration of a year on this world, though it was suspected to be similar to that of Earth’s, and rumored to be exactly the same. Nor were there any choosers or salmon here with an innate sense of the passage of time, which was a not uncommon power elsewhere, but also not one that lended itself to the user having a desire to be rid of it.
The ceremony went off without a hitch, except for the one moment in the middle of Avidan’s vow of committment when the Time Shriek rang out from the aether. Even that wasn’t much of a problem either, because everyone but the concordants showed signs of having heard it before. Seeing no one else bothered by it, they quickly relaxed, and returned to the situation at hand. There was dancing, and there was food, and there was joy. And according to the happy couple the next morning, there was also sex. Missy and Dar’cy had taken them in as their wards, though they were now fully moved into their new home. Everybody lived in huts erected at the entrances of various caves, some of which connected to each other by passageways. They were all quite clean, and clustered together in a community, giving rise to the theory that it was done by intelligent design. Normally, Missy would shoot down this possibility, but the universe had expanded by the semiconscious time power of a formidable choosing one, so that was a fairly reasonable explanation.
Less than a week later, the newlyweds were back in Missy and Dar’cy’s place for brunch, which was something they once did every day, but was set to diminish due to the need for some young adult independence. Avidan was sitting in front of his fruit, having eaten little of it, waiting impatiently with a wide grin.
“Do you have something to tell us?” Dar’cy asked him. Her mood had improved quite a bit recently, especially since the wedding, which had acted to lift everyone’s spirits. The conditions on the island were perfect; with gentle rain, instead of harsh storms, and no apparent disease. Still, the anxiety from not knowing when they would succeed in their mission weighed on the people, and the boredom of life with no struggle wasn’t always a blessing.
Somehow, Avidan’s grin grew even wider. He looked between the three of them, excited to finally speak his piece. His eyes finally settled on his wife. “Sage! You’re pregnewt!”
“I am?” Sage asked. “How do you know?”
“I sense it. I first felt the presence last night, but I wanted to wait until we were all together.”
“Sage, Avidan, congratulations,” Missy shouted, and not just because the news signaled what one might treat as the penultimate leg to their extremely long journey.
“Yes,” Dar’cy agreed. “I’m so happy for you two. You will make excellent parents.”
“Should we tell everybody else?” Sage asked.
Missy and Dar’cy looked at each other.
She wanted to approach this delicately, Missy she spoke slowly. “People tend to wait on the big announcement until the first trimester is over, which is about fourteen weeks.”
Avidan didn’t understand. “Why is that?”
Dar’cy continued the explanation, “a lot can happen during a pregnancy. A lot can go wrong, but the risk drops around that time.”
“So, they don’t want to jinx it?” Sage asked.
“No,” Missy explained, “but people will ask you about the baby, and if you’ve lost it already, you won’t want to talk about it. It’s best to wait.”
“You seem pretty sure we’re gonna lose it,” Avidan argued.
“It’s not personal to you, it’s convention,” Dar’cy clarified. “No one wants to talk about things like this, but the conversations are necessary, because it does happen. We don’t have access to vitamins, or ultrasound equipment. We’ll have to do this the ol’ fashioned way, and that doesn’t always go well. If you’re going to do this—if you’re going to raise a child—you have to understand the dangers. Life isn’t perfect. I know you know this, we’re not telling you because we think you don’t get—we’re aware of what you’ve both been through. We have a maxim on Earth: hope for the best, plan for the worst. It means to be ready for the bad things to happen, while remaining optimistic that they won’t.”
Avidan and Sage both had difficult childhoods. Sage’s home life when she was young was not the best, which made it almost a blessing when she accidentally helped create a portal to ancient Durus. She spent a great deal of time alone there before a friend came through, and even longer before their third friend showed up. Avidan was orphaned at too young of an age for him to remember his parents. He begged to be placed on The Warren, so he could find a better life on Earth. He almost didn’t make it, as he was only seven years old, but they let him on at the last second. They knew how important family was, and that they were always sitting on a precipice. They listened to Dar’cy and Missy’s words with respect, and took the advice to heart. When the hard conversation was over, though, they were able to celebrate with some shokalia root. It was the only rare food on the island, and on its own, tasted bitter and sour. When mixed with literally anything else, though, it would turn sweet and euphoric. Generally inedible leaves could be turned into a flavorful and nutritious salad base, just with a little shokalia water. Since there was so little of it available, it was carefully rationed, so that everyone could have some, some of the time.
A few weeks later, Missy volunteered to go back to the mainland to retrieve Serif, who was set to return to the timestream sometime in the next week or so, according to their best guess. She didn’t love wearing the teleporter hair hat, but somebody had to do it, and she was hoping to gather some intelligence on what the Maramon were up to. That was, after all, why Serif was back there when she jumped to the future last year. Dar’cy insisted on going with her, still feeling the need to proctect her partner.
Once they were gone, Lincoln Rutherford came up to Sage and Avidan. “Your mothers have left already?”
“To get Serif, yes,” Avidan said. “Why?”
Lincoln sighed. “It’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“To close the loop,” Lincoln replied cryptically. He led them down the path, and into Curtis and Lucius’ hut.
“What are we doing here?” Sage asked.
Lincoln ignored her. “Curtis? You have it?”
“I do,” Curtis said, seemingly conflicted about whatever it was they were going to do.
“You have what?” Lucius asked, sitting up from the table.
Curtis opened a dresser drawer, and took out a jar of sand.
Lucius was apprehensive. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It’s Serif’s day, so it’s time for you to fix this. We won’t get another chance.”
“I’m not letting this happen,” Lucius protested. “I won’t do it.”
“This has to happen,” Lincoln urged. “You have to do it.”
Lucius held firm. “No.”
“I can see the future, Lou. Why don’t you trust me with that?”
“I don’t know you,” Lucius said to him. “That you know something does not mean you are being honest about it.”
“What if I promise that everything turns out okay?”
“I wouldn’t believe you.”
“What is going on?” Sage demanded to know.
“We have to fix the Wrench of Creation. Only you two can do it.” Lincoln indicated Sage and Lucius.
“He can rebuild the things he’s destroyed?” Avidan inquired.
“With her help, yes,” Lincoln answered before directing his attention back to Lucius. “If you don’t do this, we’re all dead. You’re going to lose your powers in less than a year, whether you want that or not. If we don’t get this done, the Maramon will become a threat to the entire bulkverse.”
“Aren’t they already?” Lucius point out.
“Not like this. Stop being an asshole, Lucius, and do as I say! For once in your life in this timeline, do the right goddamn thing! Every single time we switch to a new reality, you do one good thing! Make this that one thing!”
Lucius looked like he was finally about to agree to what was being asked of him, but then they heard Missy’s voice shouting from what they were calling Town Square; the common space in the center of all the dwellings. “Everybody out! Serif’s back, but she doesn’t have much time! She has something to say!”
They all stepped out of the hut, as did everyone else in the community. Serif was standing in the middle, watching to make sure everyone was there. Once they were, she began, “everything seemed fine when I did recon last year, but I’ve been back in the timestream the whole day, and things have changed. They know you’re on Eden Island, and they’re coming. This place is no longer safe.”
“Where will we go?” someone in the audience asked.
“I can’t decide that,” Serif said, looking at her watch. “I’ve only got a minute left.”
The time is now,” Lincoln said to Lucius. “Curtis, please do the honors.”
Curtis threw the jar on the ground, spilling the sand, and remnants of the Wrench of Creation. Sage placed her hand on Lucius’ muscular arm, while he raised his other one, and sent a beam of energy towards the mess. Tiny flashes of light burst from the pile, mirrored by teleportational exits that flashed several centimeters above. Pieces of the wrench coalesced, slowly at first, but ever faster. Before too long, the object began to take shape, until it was all finished, and a fully formed plastic wrench toy fell back to the ground. Lincoln reached down, cutting himself on the glass. He tossed it to Serif, who caught it on instinct, but still didn’t know why she needed it. Before she could ask what she was meant to do with it, her salmon power kicked in, and she disappeared.

Part XII

Coming soon...

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