So our first team-up didn’t go to plan. Blitz Boy… Kevin, took it hard. ‘Rookie mistakes,’ he said, like beating himself up would change things. I might have done the same in his shoes, but watching a version of myself from the outside came with new perspective.
And there were more important things. Even with Jumping Jack on the loose there was still the matter of my displacement. How did I come to an alternate Milestone City, and why? More pressing still was the question of getting home.
For answers we turned to one of the constants in both realities; InfiniTech, and its director, Dr. Storm – Stephen Storm, not Stefanie.
We descended onto the helipad atop an industrial building and there he was, waiting to greet us. He was taller than his counterpart, but remained squat and chubby. His jaw fell wide, parting at the purple streaks in his beard. Ever the fanboy.
“Twins!” he gasped.
Blitz Boy cringed. “Yeah. About that…”
Dr. Storm pushed past him – which was typical, I suppose – and paused before reaching to examine me. “May I touch you?” he asked, only remembering that it was a person in front of him and not a sample in a petris dish. I hesitated, but agreed. He poked and prodded, never in a predatory way, but enough that the attention made me squirm.
“Fascinating,” he said. “Similar skin tone, hair texture and consistency; facial features indicate a familial connection, but with varying adolescent development. Are you a clone?”
I turned to Blitz Boy and shared the grin of a child in on a prank.
“She’s me,” Blitz Boy said.
“A near genetic duplicate, I’d imagine.” Dr. Storm giggled and took my hands. “I’d love to get you under a microscope. Sorry, that sounded strange! I’d love to extract your blood and put it under a microscope.” He winced. “That sounded even weirder!”
“What Blitz Boy means is that we’re the same person, but from different universes,” I said.
Those were the magic words. Dr. Storm stumbled back on his squat little legs with shock. One day parallel realities were theory, and next bore living proof that we were not alone in the multiverse. To say I understood the feeling was an understatement and a half.
“Theodora Fellows was right…”
“Don’t say that name,” Blitz Boy spat. “Are you trying to jinx us?”
The reality should have been obvious, but left me reeling. “You have a Dr. Vortex, and she’s a woman?”
“Deranged zealot that she is, yeah,” said the other hero.
Dr. Storm nodded matter of factly. “She may be involved somehow, or maybe not. Regardless, the two of you should come inside so I can conduct a more thorough examination.”
Great. More tests.
The interior of the building was a lot like the InfiniTech of my home with a spiral path turning down its entire length. No stairs, elevators zooming like rockets, ultimate accessibility. A garden lining the path filled the air with an organic presence, and brustled under the light from the mirrored dome above. Some of the plants were marked as experiments in their own right. The laboratories themselves were, for the most part, visible through hard panes and filled every square inch. It was transparency taken to its logical conclusion, a voyeur’s dream. All around was science at its most potent; the future made manifest.
Dr. Storm bounced. “As you can see, we don’t do corners here.” It wasn’t the first time he’d used that line.
It wasn’t until we entered the underground, and an awesome chamber stretching beneath the street, that the examination began proper. Doctors drew vials of blood, took oral swabs and snipped a hair sample. Then Blitz Boy and I stood in identical capsules, large metal domes. There they bombarded us with photons, electromagnetic waves, neutrinos, tachyons and more.
The ordeal was more exciting for the brains that it was for us. Kevin and I caught glimpses of each other and nodded through the slivers that passed for windows. Necessity kept us still, but failed to leave us at ease.
After an hour, maybe more, we were released into the wider underground. Dr. Storm stared at the readouts as he spoke, barely aware of the company around him.
“So far the results are consistent with a vibrational shift in reality,” he said. “At least that’s what I think it says. Nobody’s seen it happen before.”
“Okay, so how do we make it un-happen?” I said.
“I…” The doctor turned to say something but thought better of it. “It will take some time to analyze the data we’ve compiled. Only then can we determine a viable course of action.” In other words he had no idea.
A knot turned in my stomach. I had friends, a life! What if I was lost to them? Sure, I had the power to fly – could zoom across continents if I wanted – but no physical distance would deliver me home. My Mom, my Dad, Tanya, wouldn’t know if I were dead or alive.
Blitz Boy placed a glove on my shoulder. “We’ll get you home. Don’t worry.”
Dr. Storm hesitated. “There certainly are options we’ve yet to explore.”
That was some comfort at least.
We said our goodbyes and left. Blitz Boy and I took to the air, projected by unseen photon energy. Strange as it was for someone to fly at my side it was a welcome sight. At least I wasn’t alone in this place; at least one person could understand.
“Does your world have Colossal Burger?” he asked.
I smiled. “Tropical chicken sandwich and a cherry soda. That’s my go-to.”
“Fries or onion rings?”
“Onion rings,” I said. “Unless they bring back waffle fries, then I’m all in.”
Blitz Boy smirked. “Same, except I have the double cheeseburger. Chicken’s loaded with growth hormone.”
“It’s an urban myth,” I said, awkwardly gesturing to my chest. “Trust me.”
Those little differences meant everything. Despite being the same person we weren’t carbon copies. It was the little things that set us apart. Music? I was retro, he was hip-hop. We both ran track in high school, and avoided swim team like the plague. I liked women’s basketball while Kevin was a football fanatic. Men’s football, he explained. In a matriarchal world male athletes were looked down upon – all brute strength, no speed or agility. Only a woman could unlock the true mastery of a sport.
I breathed the air of a familiar city – familiar, but far removed. “Do you remember that water park by the north shore?”
“The one with the Rainbow Twister?” Kevin beamed. “I haven’t been there since I was a kid.”
“Me either,” I said. “Mom insisted I should go without a swim shirt, but it always felt weird.”
Why, he said, like it was a real question.
The answer made me squirm. “Because… girls don’t go topless in public pools…”
I paused. “What do you mean?”
“Female breasts are natural,” he said. “It’s guys who have to cover up because male nipples are for sex.”
Like I said, the little differences.
We talked for hours on a high ledge, sat among the pigeons in one of the few spots they’d yet to mess. The sameness of the skyline was no less eerie the longer I stared at it, right down to the gothic tower with two points on the high office. Kevin knew it as the ‘Batwoman building’, because of course he did.
A distant rumble and a chorus of alarms called us to attention. Without a word Blitz Boy and I were in the air, cruising between blocks, searching out the commotion. We found it by a construction site among the frame of the first ten floors. On the street was an upturned van, door ripped clean off, marked ‘Milestone Gas and Electrical’. A small audience gasped in shock at our arrival.
“He went inside,” one of them said.
Blitz Boy tensed. “Who?”
“Some jerk with a pogo stick!”
Jumping Jack had returned, but why there?
Blitz Boy readied to jump. “You take the ground floor, I take the top. Meet you in the middle.” With no time for argument he was up and circling the girders. It was a sound plan, so I followed.
The workers, all women, scampered from the concrete shell of the ground floor, leaving tools and machines haphazardly laying in the hall. It was like some anti-feminist nightmare in which the world of men was replaced; where women could have it all, including ‘their’ jobs. There was a lot to analyze, but it wasn’t the time.
I searched around every corner, but stopped when I heard whistling. Sure enough, strolling through the dirt was a painted clown in a baggy suit, carrying large wooden spools on each shoulder. He sauntered into my line of sight, and didn’t so much as gasp.
“Oh, hello again!”
My arm stretched out, ready to blast. “Give it up, Jack!”
“Why should I? I’m not hurting anyone,” he said. “Besides, there’s all this copper wire and pipe laying around. Do you know how much it costs? I’ve got far better use for it, and it’s insured! No harm, no foul.”
I scoffed. “So it’s simple robbery.”
“Simple until you showed up,” the clown said. “What’s say we wreck the place? Keep these ladies in a job for another six months.”
With deft movement he threw the spool in the air, caught it with a foot and twirled the pogo stick from his back. With a whoop and a jump he launched through the roof, annihilating the concrete slab overhead. Pushing through the dust I followed, and directly into the path of Blitz Boy.
The other hero let loose with a laser array while I strafed the air with cover fire. We had him pinned; Jumping Jack was ours.
“Don’t count me out yet, goldilocks!”
He vaulted from the stick with the grace of an acrobat, and removed a small object from his pocket. A yo-yo flew through the air, flashing in every color of the rainbow, and took steep turns as its rope hooked the girders. It went on and on, never losing momentum, until forming a kind of web.
Jumping Jack perched on a steel beam. “Sure you don’t want to let me go?” he said. “You’ll be saving a lot of people a lot of trouble.”
He knew the answer just as we did. The moment we launched Jack pulled at the string – in actuality a wire so sharp as to slice the girders like butter. Beams fell like dominoes with chunks of steel hurting to the street. With the force of our blasts we knocked them from the path of spectators. Meanwhile, Jumping Jack was making his escape.
I could hear him calling out, “better luck next time!” Gods, that pissed me off.
Whether by fluke or design I blasted one of the freefalling chunks toward the clown. I didn’t see it fly past his feet, trip him in mid-air, and send him careening into the hook of the crane. When I turned it was to see the half-conscious villain, baggy pants snagged on the sharp point, trying to make sense of himself. His bounty fell from his hold and to the street below.
Blitz Boy’s jaw hung open. “Damn!”
“I guess we do make a good pair.”
Fists pounded. Sparks flew from the combined power. Team-up take two was a huge success.
Tanya Truman frowned. There was something familiar about her situation. It wasn’t the trees or the beaten dirt road; she’d never been down this path before, nor had she imagined that anybody would know to search for it. The fence and the compound it surrounded seemed ubiquitous enough from afar.
This was the part she was born to play, whether she wanted to or not – sidekick, tag-along, co-conspirator. First it was to Glimmer Girl, and then to her would be they-friend who, as it turned out, was from the future and chronicling the misaligned events of the present.
Every so often Tanya shook her head. “This is ridiculous.”
Time and again Trix explained the gravity of the situation, and all that hinged on setting things right. Most of it flew over the girl’s head. The only weight she felt was the dashed romantic tension being dragged through this unexpected mission. But Tanya pushed on, because she had to.
She sat on a hill by the side of the road and kept watch. If anyone asked she was there to study trees and birds, and even brought a couple of basic guides to corroborate her story. Even if they learned the truth it was too weird to believe. After all, who’d expect her to be with someone who owned a Z-Gi – a device that had yet to exist for hundreds of years – just to break into an unmarked warehouse?
Trix’s voice beamed into Tanya’s head via subdermal implant. Inserting it was painless, but only physically. “See anything?”
She turned through a book. “Yeah, a ‘northern cardinal’. I think that’s what they’re called.”
The sound was smooth. No gasps, no reverberation. Every syllable enunciated clearly with no ambiguity. Tanya shook her head. The clarity was too refined for her twenty-first century senses.
She was about to answer when summoned by the crunching of leaves. A squat woman with purple hair set up the wet mound toward her. She wore a white coat covered in badges, and a brow twisted in consternation. The stranger didn’t appear to be a threat, but that didn’t stop Tanya’s heart from climbing the back of her throat.
“What are you doing here?” the woman asked without curiosity.
Tanya fumbled and dropped one of the books. She smiled sheepishly and picked it up, then brushed off the cover. “Um, birds,” she said.
The stranger nodded. She did not smile or break her gaze. “There are some nice birds out here,” she agreed flatly, “but you shouldn’t be.”
Tanya nodded. That was the truth.
“Go home,” she said. “Now.”
Tanya balled her fists. “Did I do something wrong?”
The woman shook her head. A wealth of experience was evident from the creases around her eyes. She started toward the building. “If you’re lucky they’ll pass you off as some idiot kid,” she said. “You don’t want any part of what’s here.”
And then Tanya was alone again, looking down from above. What just happened? A barrage of worst case scenarios flooded through her mind, all involving men in black bursting down her door. Interrogations, cells, and worse. In the face of it she really did feel like some kid.
That was when she noticed the leaves blowing from the road. In front of them was an array of black vans, moving in single file like ants toward a feast.
“Everything okay?” Trix asked.
Tanya held her breath. “We’re definitely not alone.”
The Z-Gi, for those who knew how to use it, was a tool of endless ingenuity. Not only did it allow an individual to step backward and forward through the waves of time, but also to plot a course in four dimensions as they did. Small details once lost to history slivered across an artificial line to a database in the future; though Trix preferred a ‘hands on, first person’ analysis.
How many times had she stepped out of sync with the world just to wander, invisible, in the homes of strangers? Not just any strangers, mind; but lives otherwise forgotten, and a mundaneness different to the one she’d grown up with. In that sense she was an anthropologist, not a voyeur, though proximity blurred the distinction.
At any other time the altering of events, no matter how small, was forbidden. However, something had happened to set time askew more than typical chronal fluidity would allow. With this and the urging of her supervisors Trix was compelled to act.
“There’s a dozen black SUVs closing on the gate,” Tanya said; agents of a government thirsty for power. Some truths superseded history.
They scaled the length of the elevator shaft, jumping from point to point in slow motion. Matter turned viscous when stepping out of phase, and solid matter a mere suggestion. A gentle push was all they needed to pass through reinforced brick and into the vast underground confines of the building.
What they saw gave them pause, for instead of the mad science they expected, men and women in white coats scrambled to disconnect panels and cables. Some used wire cutters, others used chainsaws, all were bent on taking apart the brutal machine. Time, relative as it was, grew short.
Trix moved past the central control and to the heart of the machine. History told of Dr. Vortex’s invention; a dimensional gateway that drew on Glimmer Girl for power. More than parallel realities and branches of time the whirling machine discovered something else; a source of power, which in the wrong hands spelled disaster.
The doors flew upon, and from them spewed men in suits to restrain the scientists in the room. From them emerged a square-headed figure with fury bubbling behind a stone expression.
“Who ordered this?” he bellowed, and espoused in great detail that destruction of classified US Government property was akin to treason. Habeas corpus, he explained, did not apply to traitors, and those who did not comply would land in a hole on a black site with no name or number.
Ghastly as it was he made for the perfect distraction.
Punching symbols into Z-Gi one device synced to another and the ancient machine hummed to life. The rings turned, slowly at first, and struggled for power with the reserves cut. Failing that Trix could divert from their own source, but at what cost?
The agent stormed toward the central platform. “Who ordered that machine to be activated?”
Sparks tickled the air, and dimensional energies vibrated in the chests of everyone around. Still the machine remained sluggish. Trix cursed the thing, but their words were meaningless. Swallowing the dread in their gut they made some final adjustments on Z-Gi, and stepped from their refuge.
No sooner had they appeared than the agent snagged their wrist and roared in their face. But his words were lost to the ascending hum of Dr. Vortex’s creation. Drawing from the future tool the machine reached fever pitch.
A shockwave rolled from the eye of the gateway, knocking Trix and their captor off his feet. In the face of blinding, shimmering light they swore to seeing a person – more than that, a girl.
Fresh from our victory, Blitz Boy insisted we celebrate. It seemed celebrating meant ordering fast food under the watch of wide-eyed spectators. I stood with hands on hips, waved at the children, and waited for the onion rings to cook.
There were questions, of course. ‘You got a sister now?’ ‘Girlfriend?’ ‘Blitz Boy got a sex change?’ We laughed, except not really.
From there it was back to InfiniTech, still slurping sodas when we set down. The two large women working security did a double take then showed us inside. They’d heard the rumors only to learn that yes, two of the same hero were flying around town. Truth was I liked the novelty, and the attention wasn’t so bad with Kevin as a human shield.
Dr. Storm stood waiting in a secluded room with a dozen trays overturned on the table. Each was filled with tools, gadgets and wires of unknown purpose, save the one or two pieces I recognized from my own Dr. Vortex’s lab. Just the sight of it made my heart seize, as though the man himself would materialize and drag me to places unknown.
The doctor drew a deep breath. “Save for a larger machine seized by Homeland Security, this is all we have from Theodora.”
“May she rot in hell,” Blitz Boy said. No love lost, clearly.
Something drew my hand to the gauntlet. I was hypnotized, horrified, bound by that piece of polished silver, just like the one to affect my life. It was fitted for a smaller arm, but its significance rang true. I shuddered. Why did it come back to haunt me?
“What happened to her?” I said. “Theodora, I mean.”
“After I ripped that thing off her she fell into the ocean,” Kevin said.
Without thinking I shared the story in monotone – about my own villain baiting me with threats, and being pulled into the cosmos. I didn’t walk away with a souvenir, but still prayed I’d seen the last of him.
Dr. Storm winced as he spoke. “With some adjustment this might get you home.”
Blitz Boy smirked and broke the mood. “Turns out Theodora was good for something after all. Her toys aren’t deranged, even though she was.”
My nightmares jumped to life with the spark of purple energy surging from the gauntlet. It rattled like it was possessed, and radiated a strange power across the room. The device reached into my chest, agitating my body to the atomic level. I didn’t know where I was until Kevin grabbed my arm.
Then we were on the street. Kevin was by my side, just as confused. The air was thick with smog and stained the skyscrapers reaching for a muted sun. A layer of soot covered all that the eye could see, and was set with grime.
“Another dimension?” he asked.
Cars ground to a halt in front of where we stood, and irate drivers cursed from their windows. It was only then that we realized that we were standing on the road; not any road we knew.
We took to the air hoping to make sense from above. What we saw was a bleak landscape, an overdeveloped expanse doused in muck, a climate scientists vision of Hell. Was this a version of my home?
Blitz Boy pointed to the far edge of town and the dozen helicopters circling toward us. Their matte black finish and tinted windows appeared anything but friendly.
If she was smart she would run. It was one thing to acknowledge danger, and another to react to it. Despite that Tanya Truman held her ground, squatted on top of a hill and peered down to the featureless complex in the woods. All was quiet after the men in black stormed the doors, but that was all surface. Somewhere below a conflict raged.
No word from Trix. Tanya could only assume the worst. That, or embrace the cold reality of not knowing. What if the g-men found them? Thirty-first century tech wasn’t perfect, impressive as it was. Cavemen with sticks still posed a threat.
“I should run,” Tanya told herself. She remained in squatting position and frowned. “I should definitely run.” But her feet didn’t listen, nor did the sense in the back of her thoughts that to run would make her a coward. Practical solutions be damned.
Then something happened. The roof exploded. Even hundreds of yards away Tanya had to shield her face from the immense heat. She almost missed the golden shape rising from the debris, but once she saw it she knew.
The glimmering girl turned her attention toward the line of SUVs. One by one she took aim and blasted the vehicles, shattering their windows, melting their insides, and exploding their fuel tanks. Alarms screamed into the wilderness, and as they burned fizzled into silence.
It was only as her eyes adjusted that Tanya could make out the figure bathed in light. Her hair was shorter than Kaira’s, and curled. Black gloves and boots along with a black mask adored her costume, paired with a set of fishnet stockings uncharacteristic of the heroine she knew.
With a coy smirk the pretender shot into the sky with nary a thought for the carnage she’d spent.
Tanya fell onto the leaves and blinked. Surely that wasn’t Kaira, but how was it possible that someone shared her powers? Maybe it was mind control, or a clone, or… she didn’t know what. Only that her senses betrayed her.
Alone with the fiery wreckage Tanya found the will to flee. She had to do something, anything, but what?
To be continued…