Month: October 2016

Chapter 112: Broken World

This world was breaking. If he looked around he could see the way it stretched and thinned to the point where it would split at the slightest touch. It wouldn’t hold together much longer, even with an anchor. But of course, no one here could see it. If he let himself breathe through his nose long enough to smell anything, the air would smell like burnt pie crust and melting rubber. Footsteps and voices echoed awkwardly through the room, and there was a faint crackling dancing through the air.

The tour group started moving and Will kept close to its center. There was no reason the anchor would be here; technically it could be anywhere, but past experiences had colored Will’s instincts, and this was as good a place to start as any.

The tour stopped at the newest display, and Will stared at it. Slipstream’s suit had become the focal point of the entire room, held in a silver case with golden ornamentation. He would have hated it. Will spent a moment staring into the broken eyepiece where Frankenstein killed him.

In this world, the fight had lasted another 30 seconds. The difference was minor, compared to some, the course of the world would hardly change from it, but if it weren’t, Will wouldn’t have been sent here.

His ear buzzed. “If you’re done sightseeing, we need to find the anchor before this…wound starts to fester.”

Will slipped out the door before he answered. “This world’s sliders have only just started to die off. They aren’t going to figure out why for another few weeks. This Council will do everything they can to get the anchor out of here. “

“Maybe, but you only have another 14 hours before we need to pull you out. Otherwise-”

“The decay will start to increase exponentially, and we’ll get to watch this world collapse until it becomes a bite-sized morsel. I am acutely aware of my job here, suit.”

Will’s eyes scanned the air around him. The stretching was starting to focus in, but it wasn’t quite enough yet.

“He’s to the north. Nothing more specific yet.”

Will flipped off the comm. His father’s goon could stew for a few minutes.

The people around him moved through like it was just another day. Even after all he’d seen, a part of him still wanted to try to help these people. Their entire time stream was going to vanish the moment he retrieved the anchor, and none of them would survive, no matter where they were.

The movement of the crowd changed; someone was standing still, and Will’s eyes quickly found his other’s. Meeting yourself is always strange, and very dangerous; he’d been lucky not to lose his arm the last time it had happened. But if his father’s man had done his work half as well as he claimed then he was the only one of him feeling that way.

Will kept his eyes moving, as if meeting his other’s gaze was a coincidence. He started to move, walking unhurriedly down the steps of the headquarters and he forced himself to breathe through his nose. His other watched him for half of the trip down the stairs, but eventually his eyes drifted away. Will didn’t change his gait though; his other could keep track of him easily enough without his eyes.

He joined the crowd moving down the street. His other was careful about following, but Will knew he would without checking. He needed to move north, but he couldn’t risk running into the anchor with his other following him.

There was a crease in the air in front of him, much larger than any of the anomalies he had seen before. A man walked through it and, for a moment, he saw his entire head disappear. This world was degrading even faster than he thought. He regretted switching off the communicator, but his other was too close for him to risk turning it on now. His eyes trailed along the crease until he found its edge. It was on the other side of the street. Walking around it or ducking under it would be too obvious, but walking into it would be idiotic. He enjoyed having his head on his body.

He’d have to risk being a bit conspicuous. Will darted across the street. A car passed closely enough behind him to ruffle his coat, but he made it across unscathed. Will didn’t bother looking, he knew his other had abandoned any pretense of going into the building and would be on his side of the street in seconds.

He should be heading straight north, but that would mean leaving the crowd, and his other could catch up to him more easily.

His father’s man was probably getting worried now. Will needed to lose his other before the suit decided it was safer to call in an air strike than wait for Will to handle the situation. Unfortunately, his options were limited. His other would be able to sense anything he tried to do with his powers long before it could reach him.

There was no offshoot of the crowd heading north; this time of day they’d all be heading to or from lunch and the big offices were all straight ahead.

There was a street ahead, it wasn’t busy but it was public. He wouldn’t risk confronting someone there just because they looked a little strange, his other wouldn’t either. His eyes sought out more creases along the road; it was slow, but they were growing stronger.

A glance in the mirrored windows across the street showed his other was still following him, just far enough back that most people wouldn’t pay him any attention. Will needed to disappear.

There was another crease down the alley ahead, even larger than the one before. He’d only have a few seconds where he couldn’t be seen, but that would have to be enough.

The alley was only a few feet ahead now. Will wanted to run for it, but then his other would know something was wrong. He walked into the alley like its where he was going all along. His other picked up the pace, but he wouldn’t reach the alley in time. Will took a deep breath and launched himself into the crease.

There are bonuses to hiding out in a place that’s one step removed from existing outside of the multiverse. For instance, no one can hear you scream. Fire dug beneath his fingernails and started to crawl around beneath his skin.  Every breath felt like he was drowning in acid, and he had already lost feeling in his toes.

He’d only be able to last a few minutes, five if he was lucky. By then his other should give up and search for him somewhere else, if he didn’t quit entirely.

Will forced his fist to unclench long enough to turn his earpiece back on. It was useless inside of the crease, but his father’s suits might get enough of a bleep to know he turned it back on.

He didn’t know how long he’d been in the crease; what felt like hours of pan could be seconds or days I here. He knew he could stay in one for a full hour before he started to lose it, but he had no desire to try to break his record.

With a combination of strength and willpower, Will grasped the edges of the chair and pulled himself out.

His other was gone.

His father’s man started yapping his ear off the second he was out, but Will stopped listening. The world looked even worse than it had before. A few thin spots had grown disgustingly close to tearing. The world was degrading quickly, too quickly. He should have had all the time in the world, but he wasn’t sure if this place would have made it through the next day. But even so, there was only one reason it would be this bad.

“The anchor’s near.”

The suit shut up almost immediately. Will started running. His eyes followed every thin spot and crease, using them to map his way across streets and over cars, until he found it.

An ambulance sat in the middle of the road. The EMT driving it was singing along to the music, completely deaf to the world.

Will reached up and tore open the back doors. The EMT stared at him in shock, but Will’s eyes were drawn to the patient on the gurney. He was completely covered in creases and thin spots. They were wrapped around him, mummifying him in spacetime.

The EMT had an IV going into the anchor’s arm, but Will couldn’t see half the tube.

“I found the anchor. He’s completely covered in near tears, I’m gonna have to wheel him out of here, and I won’t be able to take him far. We’ll need to get out of this timeline ASAP.”

Will grabbed the gurney. The EMT tried to stop him, but Will tapped him on the forehead and he dropped.

The suit was already outside the ambulance. Will didn’t ask how. He watched the world through the doorway once the anchor was brought out.

The world turned grey almost immediately. He couldn’t see much through the window, but  he managed to catch  a glimpse of the way a passing truck’s running lights slowly shift purple before it froze, leaving streaks running through the air around it.

And then the doorway began to crack; spiderwebs of broken reality travelled along its surface until the entire door, and the whole world behind it were covered. And then, it shattered.

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Chapter 111: Persist

He had never hated himself more than he did at this moment. He had accepted his fall, but he never expected to resort to such petty thievery. But if he was to recover, he had no choice.

He opened another can of ravioli and downed the contents. It was cold and sloppy and it tasted disgusting, but he forced himself to swallow it nonetheless. Just like the cans before it, the food seemed to vanish almost the instant it hit his stomach, absorbed by his body almost faster than he could eat. He could feel his muscles growing strong again, his skin stretch to accommodate his former girth.

He devoured can after can or food, growing stronger with each bite. His hair grew out and fell away, only for new, fuller hair to take its place. His heart sped up until it felt like it was going to rip itself free. And then it froze. Despite that, he kept eating, until it started again. He died over and over again, each life lasting just a few minutes longer.

Finally, his heart steadied out. He tossed the last can over his shoulder and ripped open a pack of towels to wipe his mouth. He made a fist and all the cans surrounding him lifted into the air before slamming down. Many of them were instantly crushed, but most remained at least mostly whole.

“Still weak.” Even his voice hadn’t fully returned. It had lost its presence and it rubbed his throat raw. He was going to need all three days after all.

A siren sounded outside the door and he scoffed. He didn’t need to run. He could destroy every man this backwater town threw at him without opening his eyes. But he still needed time to recover before the heroes found him. He could let the fools live.

The cops ran into the store, but all they saw were empty shelves and a piles of discarded scraps.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Three days after the attack, Rose went back to work.

When she’d shown up in crutches, no one had looked twice, except for Barry. He’d been calling her constantly since the attack but she’d left her phone in the office and hadn’t been able to retrieve it. The entire first day, she saw him glancing at her through the office window, and as the day dragged on, he kept shifting around in his seat.

She’d made him drive her home before she told him the story.

As always, he was the best audience she could hope for. He knew when to gasp and when to stay quiet. She never had to repeat herself.

And then the story was over, and she collapsed back into her chair. It was as if she had had to relive the entire fight.

Barry had helped her to her bed, and she got the best rest that she’d had in days.

A week later, and she was finally free of the crutches. Will had been missing for two days. Today, they were supposed to meet up and decide what to do about it.

But first, she had to go to the hospital. Tina had called her there two days ago, and introduced her to Red Racer…Mitch’s sister.

Rachel looked up from her makeshift cot on the chair next to the hospital bed. It was obvious that she hadn’t left since Rose had seen her there two days ago. Her hair was frizzed and clumped in strange places from the awkward bed and there were dark circles under her eyes.

“Are you sure this is okay?” Rachel asked. “I don’t want you to get in trouble at work.”

“Half the city’s in the hospital. Most of my office can only work half the week because of it. Now go home before I call Tina.”

She nodded and shut the door behind her when she left.

Mitch lay on the bed in the same position he always seemed to be in. He stomach twisted a little when she saw him.

There was a spare chair near the door that she dragged over. Rachel had had the TV on the news. It was another report of the damage, and Rose quickly changed the channel.

She thought she saw movement from the corner of her eye, but when she turned to look, Mitch was as still as ever.

She waited for a commercial and muted the TV.

For a short time, she let the silence fill the room.  But she couldn’t look at him.

“I’m sorry.” He didn’t react to her voice, but she kept going. “We never should have left you in that store. One of us should have stayed with you.”

Tears rolled down her face, leaving wet trails that felt frozen in the cold room.

“We never should have made you fight with us. You’re not supposed to be worrying about villains and heroes. You’re not supposed to have to see the kinds of things that happened. We should have sent you home during Asclepios’ attack. We shouldn’t have taken you to the cave to find Burnout. We should have sent you home.”

Finally, she looked at him. He was as still as ever, eyes glued to the TV.

“Please. I know it’s a lot to ask, but please get better. This isn’t how it’s supposed to end.”

There was a restroom connected to his room. She ducked in to clean her face off, but it took her a few minutes to stop crying.

Voices filtered through the door and she froze. She opened the door a crack, but didn’t see anyone.

The TV was unmuted. She had left the remote sitting on Mitch’s bed.

He looked the same as ever.

“Mitch?”

She sat back in the chair, keeping one eye on Mitchell, but he didn’t move again.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

She watched Allspades leap over from the next roof. He was the last one to arrive. His arm was still in a sling, but he’d managed to get his costume on despite it.

She looked around, Red Racer and Mach were still missing, but despite that, this was the first time their group had met since the attack.

Everyone moved a little slower than they had beforehand, and a twitch in her leg reminded her why.

Allspades joined them, and one by one she watched them turn towards her.

“I went to see Red today,” she said. She felt test building behind her eyes again, but this time she held them back. “He’s still not responding. I don’t know how to help him, and I don’t know if he’ll ever get better. What I do know, is that we lost one member of the group already, and I don’t want to lose another. I don’t want to lost Red, and I don’t want to lose Will.

“There are others looking for him. They have more experience than us, and they’ve known Will longer. But I don’t want to sit around and do nothing, and I know none of you do either. So we’re going to look to, we’re not going to lose anyone else.”

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