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.