Through the near infinite reaches of space-time, a single shaft of power pierces multiple realms, connecting them so close to instantaneously that the difference cannot be measured by anything less than a god. And when something this powerful punches a hole through a group of realities, something is bound to get pulled into its wake.
Or someone, as the case may be ...
Featuring a familiar cast of characters (if you've ever read my work *grin*)
Copyright© 2011 Randalynn. All Rights Reserved.
“Oh, a sleeping drunkard up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter in the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist, and a British queen--
They all fit together in the same machine.
Nice, nice, very nice; Nice, nice, very nice;
So many people in the same device.”
– The Fifty-Third Calypso, The Books of Bokonon
The Multiverse is vast. Some would say infinite, but that’s only because they can’t step back far enough to see the edges. Humans (being as self-centered as they are) automatically assume that if they can’t see the edges, it’s because they aren’t there to see. And the fact that there are so many parallel universes out there just makes it harder for someone who lives in one of those universes to try and understand all that is, and was, and will be.
Through the near infinite reaches of space-time, a single shaft of power pierces multiple realms, connecting them so close to instantaneously that the difference cannot be measured by anything less than a god. And when something this powerful punches a hole through a group of realities, something is bound to get pulled into its wake.
Or someone, as the case may be ...
Tommy Browder looked at the nothingness all around him and sighed.
A few minutes ago, he’d been waiting in the Atrium at the Mall for Jennifer and Josie to finish shopping. He was sipping a Coke, leaning against a wall and doing the best he could to avoid listening to an orchestral version of Rammstein’s Du Hast on the mall’s Musak system. Then he closed his eyes, just for a second ...
... and opened them here. Wherever here was.
“If there even is a here.” Tommy felt himself grin, just a little. Even if his voice just sort of fell into the empty, at least it was something to cling to. He was a little afraid, but being afraid didn’t buy him anything but fear, and that was pretty darned useless if you couldn’t run and there wasn’t anything to fight. So he put it aside for the moment.
“No, there’s got to be a here here, or I wouldn’t be able to BE here, right?” He took a step, then another. “There is a floor, even if I can’t see it. So I got a place to stand. Sweet.” Tommy took a deep breath. “And there’s air to breathe, so I’m not dying any time soon. Okay.”
“I guess I am somewhere, after all. I just don’t know where. Or how I got here.” He felt a little silly, talking to himself. “Or even why.”
“Does there have to be a why?”
A deep voice spoke behind him, in what sounded like French-accented English. Tommy turned to find himself face to chest with a very large, dark-haired man, dressed in black. There was a leather harness around his chest with a variety of tools and gadgets hanging from it. The man’s eyes held nothing but curiosity, and the smile on his face almost made Tommy feel a little less scared.
“Well, yeah,” the boy replied slowly, taking a small step back. “Thinking that being here is just something random, like an accident? That doesn’t really give me anything to work with. So if I go with that, I just have to sit around and wait for someone else to fix it ... or worry that maybe it can’t be fixed. But if I act like there’s a reason it happened, maybe I can figure out what the reason was. And if I do, maybe I can work out a way to get home.” He shrugged and smiled, just a little. “A guy’s gotta have options, after all. If he can’t find ‘em to start with, he’s got to make his own.”
The Frenchman nodded once. “I like how you think, monsieur.”
Tommy grinned. “Blame my dad.”
“I am Bateau.” He offered his hand, and the boy took it.
“Tommy Browder,” he replied. Bateau’s handshake was firm but controlled, as if he didn’t have to prove a thing.
‘I guess when you’re as big as he is, maybe you don’t,’ Tommy thought. He gave Mr. Bateau the same firm handshake in return.
A small redheaded man wearing a headset poked his head around Bateau’s side.
“So we’re trapped inside what looks like a marshmallow the size of Belfast, and you just had t’ play meet and greet with the locals,” he said, his voice betraying both his irritation and his Irish heritage.
“Hardly a local, my friend,” Bateau replied with a small smile. “I am thinking he is as much a visitor as we are.”
“That’s as may be,” the man muttered, “but if you’ll be meeting him, I will be, too.”
“Of course,” Bateau said, his eyes catching Tommy’s for just a second, letting the boy catch the smile in them. “Tommy, this is Michael Finn. Finn, meet Tommy Browder.”
“Damn glad t’ meet ya, boy.” Finn stuck out his hand and grabbed Tommy’s, giving it a powerful shake. “Course, in a place this empty, it’s good to meet anybody, yeah?”
“Sure beats talking to yourself,” Tommy replied, doing his best to keep the smile off of his face. “Where did you two come from?”
“Three, actually.” The most beautiful woman Tommy had ever seen walked out from Bateau’s shadow, staring down at what appeared to be some kind of rangefinder. Her hair was golden blonde and captured in a high ponytail, and she was wearing a form-fitting black skinsuit with belts and harnesses similar to those Bateau wore. She looked up and flashed him a grin.
“Nice to see an unfamiliar face,” she said, her voice as sweet as she was pretty. “We’ve been wandering around here for the best part of an hour, trying to figure out where here actually is.”
“I’ve only been here a few minutes, but I was working on the same thing.” Tommy swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry, and the woman smiled and looked down at her rangefinder. “Looks like you’ve got better equipment, though.”
Finn snorted, Bateau looked surprised, and the woman raised her head and looked at Tommy again, a little anger in her eyes. He raised his hands.
“Hey! I was talking about the rangefinder ... and the rest of the gear hanging off you and Mister Bateau.” Tommy watched her shoulders relax, just a little. “We haven’t even met yet, miss, but I’m not a jerk, usually, and I’m sure not going to say something as stupid as what you thought I said – well, not until after we’ve known each other a while, and even then, just as a joke.”
He stuck out his hand. “Tommy Browder.”
She reached out and took his hand, delivering a handshake that felt more like it came from a man. “Bishop. My friends call me Maggie.” She looked up and caught his eye, and smiled a little. “If we’re here long enough, you might wind up one of them. Friends, I mean. If you behave yourself.”
Bishop let go of his hand and turned to Bateau. “Sorry, Bateau. Rangefinder gives me nothing. Apparently, there’s nothing out there for the laser to bounce off of in order to get a reading.”
Bateau nodded, and reached up to touch the goggles on his head. “Infrared is useless, too, mon ami. There is nothing out there within range with a heat signature. No openings, no other humans. Nothing to help.”
“No satellite signals for the GPS to grab onto, either,” Finn grumbled, dropping to the invisible floor and opening his laptop. “No wireless Internet access. No cell towers anywhere in range. No EM signatures at all. Hell, we don’t even have two cups and a ball of string to use in place of comms.”
He hit a few keys, taking his frustration out on the keyboard. “On the plus side, the temperature is a balmy 70 degrees, with clear skies in the forecast.”
Bishop cocked her head to one side. “Clear skies?”
“Do you see any skies, Your Eminence?” When Bishop gave her head a little shake, Finn smiled. “Well, invisible is about as clear as they come, yeah?”
Bateau put his hand on Bishop’s shoulder. “Mister Browder was trying to work out why we are here when I arrived.”
“Any luck with that?” She threw Tommy a smile. He smiled back and shrugged.
“Not a whole lot. I couldn’t think of any reason why someone would want to yank me out of a shopping mall and drop me here. I’m not important enough to go to the trouble.” The boy started to smile but then stopped. His eyes narrowed. “But maybe how they did it means more than why, especially when it comes to getting us home. We’re talking serious sci fi stuff here. Transporters, wormholes, stuff like that. Heck, I don’t know anybody who could do this, do you?”
Bateau paused and thought for a moment. “We ... might.”
The woman looked up at the Frenchman. “What are you thinking?”
“We do know there’s magic in the world, cher,” he replied. “Can you think of any other way to pull all three of us out of an Italian art museum instantly ... and put us here? A place that is clearly impossible?”
“Don’t get everybody excited, Bateau,” Finn growled from the floor. “We’ve only bumped into magic once, ‘member? And it sure wasn’t anything that could put us here.”
“But the fact that it exists means it might have something to do with this.” Bishop folded her arms under her breasts and took a few steps away from the group. “You know more about technology than any of us, Finn. Is there anything out in the world right now that could have brought us here like this?”
There was a long silence, and then the Irishman sighed. “No, Your Grace. The boy is right. Science isn’t even close to doing what got done to us.” He closed the laptop. “Guess it’s magic.”
“So you know somebody who does magic?” Tommy asked. “Somebody who might have used it against you?”
Bateau shook his head. “No, Tommy. The one person we know who used magic ... tried to use it against us. And he is dead.”
“Did ... did you kill him?” The giant looked over at Tommy, hesitated a moment, then smiled.
“No, my friend,” he said, in such a way that Tommy knew he spoke the truth. “Killing is not my way.”
Bishop turned to look at them both. “None of us believe in killing, Tommy. Most of the time, if the only way to get out of a bad situation is to kill somebody, you haven’t thought hard enough.” A smile touched her lips. “In a way, you could say he killed himself. Or the magic killed him. Either way, he can’t be responsible for this.”
“What about revenge?” Tommy found himself saying. “I mean, you didn’t kill him, but other people might have thought you did. Did he ... have any friends?”
“Khaleel?” Finn snorted. “Slime don’t make friends, boyo. He had toadies to do things for him, but I don’t think they liked him much, either. I’m sure they were just as happy to see the last of him as we were.”
“That sounds very much like someone we know.”
The voice was sweet, lilting and melodic. It was almost an English accent this time, but the rhythm seemed slightly different. Tommy turned to find two women, both dressed like they just walked out of a storybook. One was a blonde, in a long, bright blue dress that hugged her curves and showed enough chest to make Tommy want to both look and look away at the same time. The other had reddish-brown hair, and her clothes were rougher and more likely suited to someone working in a castle instead of just living in one.
“Hello,” Bishop said, stepping towards the pair. “Welcome! My name is Bishop, and these are my friends Bateau and Finn. And this is Tommy Browder.”
“Regina,” The blonde dropped a perfect curtsey. “And Melinde.” The other woman mirrored her exactly.
“You seem to have fallen into the same trap we have. Or been caught.”
Regina grimaced. “I’m afraid being caught seems to have become a habit for me of late. But since Mel and I were both prisoners before we found ourselves here, I am not sure whether to call this a trap or a rather unusual way to escape.”
Mel looked around and sighed. “Although I hate to admit it, I think trap may be a better description, dearest. After all, it isn’t much of an escape if all one does is jump from one prison cell to another, and no matter how different these surroundings might be, I see no easy path to freedom.”
“I don’t think there is one. Ever.”
They all turned to see another woman, another tall blonde wearing jeans and an oversized blue sweatshirt. She stood just a few feet away, her hands resting on her hips.
“I’m pretty sure the path to freedom is never easy,” she continued, her tone more amused than angry. “Trust me. I had to travel a long way and go through all manner of hurt before I managed to shake loose from my own particular hell. And only because I had a lot of help from friends.”
The woman turned slowly, taking in the emptiness with a frown that grew the more she saw. When she faced the group once more, she sighed. “Looks like I found my way into somebody else’s hell somehow. Just like you ... Regina, is it?”
The woman in the blue gown nodded and smiled, just a little. Her more modern counterpart smiled back.
“I guess now, the only friends we’ve got to count on are the ones right here. Maybe we’d better get to know each other.”
Tommy was closest to the newcomer, so he stepped forward and thrust out a hand.
“I’m Tommy Browder, ma’am. I’m sorry you got sucked into all this.”
“Hi, Tommy.” Her face broke into a smile, and she took his hand in hers. “Jo Stark. Just call me Jo. I’m pleased to meet you, although I’m not sure what ‘all this’ is.”
“I don’t think any of us is, Ms. Stark,” Bateau said. “None of us knows exactly how we came here, although the current thought is that some form of magic was involved.”
“And you are?”
“Bateau, Mademoiselle,” he replied. “And these are my friends Finn and Bishop. Regina and Melinde arrived shortly before you did.”
“So we’re all coming in staggered?”
Bishop spoke up. “Yes. I think we might have been here first. Bateau, Finn, and I had been here for almost an hour before we ran into Tommy.”
“And I wasn’t here more than a few minutes before I bumped into them,” Tommy said. “And I think Regina and Melinde got here only a minute before you showed.”
Melinde nodded. “That’s correct. We arrived just in time to hear ... Finn describe someone named Khaleel.”
Finn shuffled his feet, not looking at the newcomer. “Khaleel used magic on one of us a little while back, and we were trying to figure out if what’s happenin’ to us now is magic, science, or just really bad luck.”
“He used .... magic?” Jo looked at the three of them. “You all look none the worse for wear.”
There was a long silence, then Bishop spoke. “I used to be a man. It’s ... well, complicated. And yes, I know, a little hard to believe.”
Jo smiled slowly. “Not really. Actually, I know a man who was changed into a three-year-old girl, so accepting magic comes a little easier for me.” She paused, and looked Bishop in the eyes. “And I appreciate what you must be going through. I used to be Joseph Stark.”
“Someone used magic on you, too?” Tommy said, surprised. Jo shook her head.
“Some women kidnapped me off a street corner and used surgery and mind control to turn me into their toy. I broke free of the mental conditioning a little while ago, but I’m stuck looking like this. I think ... I think I’m okay with it, though. Or getting there. This is my body now, after all, and I’ve sort of gotten used to it being me. I’m ... moving on.”
“I’m still working on that ‘moving on’ thing, ” Bishop said with a smile. “You and I should meet for coffee, I think. Once we’ve found someplace here that actually sells coffee.”
Regina spoke up. “Something like that happened to me, in a way. A warlord conquered my kingdom and used medicines and healers from the Orient to change me, to try to turn me into his pet. But I fought him to a standstill, with help from Melinde.” The other woman moved close to her and put an arm around her. “My name ... my name was Reginald.”
“Hmmmmm.” Bateau took a step back. “A curious commonality. Except Finn and I and ... Melinde?” She nods. “We three have never been changed. Tommy?”
He shook his head. “Nope. Have been and still am, just me. I know someone who’s working on being the girl she is inside, though. She grew up a boy ... but she’s not here now.”
Bishop nodded. “A more tenuous connection, but there just the same. Bateau and Finn are connected to me, and you’re connected to . . . ?”
“But why isn’t she here?” Finn said suddenly. “I mean, I’m thinkin’ the reason Bateau and I got snatched is because of what happened to Bishop. Same with Melinde and ... and Regina. And Jo there is alone. So why are you here and not Josie? Or why isn’t she here with you?”
Tommy shrugged. “Don’t know. Maybe taking me was a mistake. Or maybe whatever did this had a good reason, but the reason only makes sense to something big enough to grab a bunch of strangers and throw them together in the only place in the universe that doesn’t have a Starbucks.” The boy grinned. “Since whatever grabbed us all doesn’t seem like it wants to talk, we can’t ask.”
“You were here first.”
Everyone turned to look at Jo, and she was pointing at Bishop. Bateau nodded.
“Yes, Ms. Stark, we were, as far as we know.”
“What were you doing before you came here?” Maggie’s eyes narrowed. Jo grinned and folded her arms. “It’s not hard to figure out, really. I recognize the traditional black catsuit and leather harness, Ms. Bishop. And the ropes, electronic equipment ... Either you and your friends were in the middle of some serious bondage games that somehow involved computers and night vision equipment, or you were in the process of taking something that didn’t really belong to you. Am I right?”
Maggie sighed and nodded.
“To be fair, it didn’t exactly belong to the museum either. We were on our way to ... recover a Rembrandt that had been stolen from a convent in South Africa and sold to the museum’s curator on the black market. The painting had been a gift from a wealthy patron, and the sisters were planning to sell it to pay for needed repairs to the roof and heating system, as well as food and school supplies for the orphanage next to the convent.”
“Also to be fair,” Finn put in, “we were plannin’ to liberate a few more items from the curator’s private collection, to punish the curator for his sins ... and keep ourselves in the manner to which we’ve become accustomed.”
“As long as we were there,” Bateau said with a grin, “it would be a shame to let the opportunity pass us by, don’t you think?”
“Oh, absolutely.” Jo smiled back. “I understand completely. But the reason I asked is that ... the man I knew who was changed into a little girl ... his change was caused by some kind of amulet ... a medallion, actually. So if you were sneaking through a museum full of antiquities, and you accidentally ... touched something, or knocked something over ...”
“... we might have set something off that ripped a hole through reality, or even multiple realities, and dumped us all here ... wherever the Hell here is.” Finn stopped and looked over at Stark. “I hate to say it, Your Eminence, but she may actually have something there. We got into the museum through the Peruvian artifacts room, and I think I downloaded an inventory ...”
He dropped down to the floor, yanking his laptop out of his backpack and opening it on the fly. Bishop looked at Jo.
“How did you –?”
“Process of elimination,” the former reporter replied. “I was in a kitchen in Switzerland, eating a pizza ... from DiPasquale’s, actually. Best pizza in Baltimore. Although I’m the first to admit that isn’t saying much, it was flown in as a gift, and it’s better than any pizza in Geneva, that’s for damned sure. Since I was the one who showed up here last, and I’m pretty sure even the tastiest slice of pepperoni doesn’t have the ability to tear reality apart, it’s pretty clear I didn’t cause this.”
“I was drinking a Coke in the mall.” Tommy piped up. “Nothing magical there.”
Jo turned to the storybook duo and raised an eyebrow.
“Sitting on the bed in our chamber in the castle,” Melinde spoke first. “Doing pretty much nothing at all, I’m afraid.”
Bishop looked back at the former reporter, and Jo shrugged.
“Not that I knew any of that beforehand,” she said. “But the fact that you were dressed for ... recovery meant you might have been, well, in a museum, maybe? Surrounded by antiquities and artifacts? And since you also seemed to have arrived first ...” She shrugged. “I’m thinking something in that museum was responsible.”
“I found something, but ... I don’t know.”
Everyone turns to look at Finn, and he points at the screen, his voice sounding oddly tentative. “Viracocha’s Tinya. God’s drum. Supposedly magic, made for women to use in time of danger.”
Maggie looked closer. “What’s it do?”
Finn let out a nervous laugh. “It says here that it’s supposed to summon ... heroes.”
“Well, that let’s us out.” Bishop grinned. “Maybe there’s something else?”
“I’m not sure, Your Holiness,” the hacker said uneasily. “The drum transports the heroes it finds to wherever they’re needed. Wherever the user desires.”
Jo leaned forward. “And if it’s accidentally activated?”
Finn shrugged. “Maybe it sends them ... nowhere?”
Tommy smiled, just a little. “Well, this place certainly qualifies,” he said, “but me, a hero? As if!”
Melinde held up a hand. “The heroes I have known seldom think of themselves as one.”
“I know what you are thinking, beloved.” Regina shakes her head. “And I am no hero.”
The smaller woman leaned over and kissed the princess.
“See, Tommy,” she replies. “The perfect case in point.”
“I do not think any of us see ourselves as heroes, Miss Melinde.” Bateau looked over at Finn. The hacker looked back and shrugged.
“That might not matter,” he said. “The drum might have other ideas. From the write-up on the website, whatever heroes the drum called came from the same tribe as the one who used it to make the call.”
“And we’re all connected,” Jo continued for him, “by this male-to-female gender change … either forced, like Regina and me, or magicked, like Bishop, or connected to someone who changed … or is changing …”
“… because I stepped up and stood up for Josie?” Tommy shook his head. “I don’t know Jo. That sounds pretty thin.”
“I bet Melinde was there for Regina.” she countered. Melinde looked down, and Regina nodded. Stark continued. “And Bateau and Finn were there for Bishop when what happened to her … happened. Josie didn’t come with you because you were separated, and the drum was looking for heroes. If you put yourself on the line for somebody else, Tommy, I’m afraid that includes you.”
He stared back at her, doubt in his eyes, and Jo shrugged. “Hey! If you’ve got something better, now’s the time to put it on the table.”
He didn’t reply, but his eyes unfocused slightly as he tried to think of something that made more sense. Finally, he shook his head.
“Okay, I can’t do better.” The boy stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered a little, still thinking. “But what about you? What brings you here?"
"I had my life turned inside out, just like Maggie and Regina," Jo replied. "Now I use the money left behind from the people who did this to me to help others like myself -- forced to be something they're not. I don't know if that makes me a hero, but then again, I'm not a Peruvian musical instrument with attitude."
Maggie nodded. "That gives us the how and the why. But it still doesn’t give us a way out of this.”
“I guess … that would be me.”
Something winked into existence floating above and behind Bishop and her friends. Tommy’s eyes widened, and everyone turned to look at the newcomer.
It was a teenaged girl, surrounded by a glowing aura of power. She was a pretty redhead with bright green eyes, and an easy smile that made you want to smile back. In fact, she looked a lot like a human-sized pixie, if not for the fact that she lacked wings, and that she wore a dark green scoop neck tee shirt, blue jeans, and white socks with lace trim underneath a pair of sneakers.
Regina stepped forward. “And you are?”
“The Advocate,” the new girl replied. “Well, my name is Becca. The Advocate … that’s really my title … and my job, actually. I am charged by the Omnipresence to protect all those who are harmed by magic, and punish those who would wield magic to harm others.”
Finn snorted. “Oh, that’s all right then. Just another ‘hero!’” He closed his laptop and rose to his feet. “Were you pulled here by the drum, too?”
“In a way.” The Advocate lowered herself to the ground and walked over to the group, the glow fading. “Its power tugged at me as it passed through my Universe. I could have ignored it, but I noticed a bunch of souls in its wake and chose to follow it … here.”
“So you can …?” Melinde looked at the girl, unsure of whether or not to believe her. Becca nodded.
“Oh, yes. I can certainly send you back where you came from.” She looked around and smiled. “It’s a safe bet you don’t belong here. I‘m not sure anything does.”
Tommy grinned. “You got that right.”
Becca looked up into his eyes. “And you are …?”
She stuck out her hand. “Pleased to meet you.” He shook it, gently but firmly, and she smiled. “My boyfriend’s name is Tommy, too.”
“From that smile, I guess he’s a good one.”
It was her turn to grin. “The best. Are you ready to go home now?”
Tommy cocked his head and nodded. “I will be. Just let me say my goodbyes first.”
He stepped over to Bateau and held out his hand. “A pleasure meeting you, sir.”
“And you as well, Mister Browder.” The giant took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “You seem like a good man … someone who could be counted on in a tight spot. I hope our paths cross again one day, even if only for a quiet drink and some conversation.”
“I’d like that.” He stepped over to the hacker, who fidgeted slightly and stuck out his hand.
“Nice meetin’ you, Tommy,” Finn said, giving his hand a shake and letting go. “If you’re interested in an interestin’ life, we just might look you up one day. In case you haven’t noticed, the world could use more folks like us playin’ Robin Hood, stealing from the rich … and spankin’ ‘em hard just for fun.” His voice sank down to a whisper. “Besides, you might find hanging around with Her Eminence here can be habit-formin’.”
“I’ll keep it in mind, Mister Finn.”
Tommy turned just as Bishop stepped up to him. She put out her hand and he shook it solemnly.
“I hope you find a way to ‘move on,’ ma’am,” he said softly. “From my friend Josie, I know that not being able to be who you really can be hard to handle.”
“I’ll get there,” Maggie replied. She tilted her head towards her companions. “After all, I’ve got help, too. Just like Josie.”
The boy smiled and turned to Regina and Melinde. After a few seconds of thought, he bowed to each in turn.
“I hope everything works out well for you, Your Highness, and for you, Miss Melinde.”
“Thank you, Tommy.” Melinde leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “We will do our best, we promise.”
“Safe travels home,” Regina said with a smile.
Jo stepped forward.
“Do a web search for The Stark Initiative when you get back, ‘kay?” she said, taking his hand. “Who knows? If we’re in the same universe, maybe we can keep in touch.”
Tommy looked her in the eye. “You believe in this whole multiverse thing?”
Jo shrugged and grinned. “Think about it a second. It’s either that, or those two ladies over there take their Renaissance Fairs way too seriously. Oh, and the person who decorated this place? Really likes negative space.”
“Okay, I give. You win. If we’re in the same dimensional area code, I’ll call.” Tommy grinned, let go of her hand, and turned to face Becca. “Ready when you are.”
Becca closed her eyes. The glow she had around her when she arrived reappeared, then reached out to surround the boy. Suddenly, he was gone.
The Advocate turned to the others. She looked deep into each person’s soul, and as her eyes swept over Jo, she felt like Becca was seeing everything there was to see about her. Oddly enough, it didn’t feel invasive at all. It felt … welcome. Warm, almost as if she could understand Jo better than Jo did.
‘Maybe she can,’ Stark thought.
“This is going to be hard for you all, and I’m sorry,” she said softly. “But I cannot use my abilities to restore any of you to what you once were.”
Stark blinked. “Hell, I didn’t even know that was an option.”
“According to the girl, it isn’t.” Finn scratched his head. “Don't know why she even brought it up.”
Bateau steps up behind Maggie and puts his hand on her shoulder. “Because she knows one of us would realize if she can send Tommy home that easily, she could easily restore anyone here to his former self.”
The Advocate nodded.
“So you cannot … or will not?” Bishop said evenly, one eyebrow raised.
“Both.” Becca looked back at her, and at each woman in turn.
“Why?” Regina asked, as Melinde came up and put her arm around the princess. Becca sighed.
“Because the drum was right,” she replied. “Because you’re all heroes. Heroes aren’t born, they’re made. And you’re all too valuable to waste.”
They all stared at her a second, and the Advocate sighed. “Look, the Multiverse is a vast machine, dedicated to a purpose the Creator of all things says we’re not quite ready to hear or understand. But in all of this, the countless worlds and multiple histories, and the endless decisions from trillions of individuals in more universes than anyone can count … in all of this, you’ve been through experiences that would have crushed countless others and come out the other side. And you didn’t just survive them. You came through even stronger than you were before —enough to use what you know and what you’ve learned to help others.”
“In each of the universes you inhabit, you are there as you are for a reason. Chance and history conspired to put you where you are, and make you the women you became. I don’t know why the Omnipresence wants you there, but she does. And just by knowing you, I can see why your journeys must continue.”
She turned to Stark. “You’ve finally climbed out of the pit those women pushed you into, conquered the programming, and let go of the hate that drove you and kept you safe. Now you need to rediscover your mission and figure out what to do with the life you’ve earned. Just as important, you need to find out who you are … the you that you’ve become. The you that Jeff loves … and the you that loves Jeff.”
Jo thought for a moment, then nodded.
“And we, my wife, are in the middle of a plan,” Regina said, putting her arm around Melinde and giving her a squeeze. Melinde looked into her eyes and hugged her in return. “A plan that has brought our entire kingdom together, outraged because of what was done to me. We are well on our way to taking back what was ours and unseating Drax – hopefully without losing too many of our people in the end. At this point, we cannot go back. Only forward.” She looked at Becca. “I understand.”
The young girl nodded. “I thought you might.”
“And me?” Maggie stared at Becca, and Becca stared back. Then she closed her eyes, there was a bright flash, and everyone else disappeared.
Except for the Advocate … and the thief.
Maggie turned around, and turned back to face Becca. “Why am I still here?”
“We need to talk. About you.” The Advocate sighed. “And the others didn’t need to be here for that. Come to think of it, neither do we.”
She closed her eyes again, the world shimmered and reformed around them as a Starbucks. Maggie jumped, just a little, and spun around. But the rest of the customers didn’t seem to notice at all.
The younger girl sat down at a table, where a frappuchino and a tall latte waited.
“I took the liberty of ordering for you,” Becca said, motioning to the other chair. “I hope you don’t mind. I know you prefer being in control.”
Bishop lowered herself into the chair and leaned forward. “Why didn’t anyone notice our arrival?”
Becca shrugged. “I created something called an avoidance field. It basically makes anyone in the coffee shop choose not to look at this particular spot, or even notice us until I allow them to. Their eyes just pass right over us and move on.”
Maggie took a sip and smiled cautiously. “A handy bit of magic for a thief.”
The younger girl nodded. “Or for a magic user who occasionally needs to avoid letting others see her use magic.”
“Are Bateau and Finn wondering where I am? They worry enough about me as it is.”
“No, I made sure to slow their transit time back to the museum so we could talk without them even knowing you’re not with them.”
“Why?” Maggie looked over at Becca. “Is there something they shouldn’t know?”
“I don’t know. That’s sort of up to you.”
Bishop took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, fine. It’s your meeting. It’s just us girls. Back in my world, I’m doing the same things I did as Maggie that I used to do as Mark. So the hero argument doesn’t quite work for me.”
The Advocate took a pull on her straw and sighed. “True.”
“So why are we here?” Becca looked at her for a moment, and Maggie looked back, then shook her head. “What aren’t you telling me? What’s wrong, exactly?”
Maggie’s frustration level kicked up a notch. “Then why can’t you fix me?”
The younger girl took a breath and let it out slowly. “Because you’re not broken.”
“In case you haven’t noticed,” Bishop hissed, looking over her shoulder before leaning forward, “I’m a woman!”
“That doesn’t make you broken.”
“No?” Maggie’s anger put an edge in her voice. “I’m not supposed to be a woman!”
“Says me! This is wrong! I wasn’t born this way.”
“Neither was I,” Becca replied. Bishop looked up, surprised, and the younger girl shrugged. “A funny thing happened on the way to the supermarket one morning. Long story.”
Maggie felt her fists clench. “Why can’t you change me back?”
Becca closed her eyes and reached out, and suddenly all the anger and frustration seemed to drain away, leaving the thief sad and a little confused.
“Why?” Maggie said again, her tone becoming a plea for understanding. “It’s not a hard question, Becca. If I can still be a ‘hero’ as the man I was, why can’t I go back to being Mark?”
“Because for you, this part isn’t necessarily about being a hero.” Becca’s voice was gentle. She reached out and touched Bishop’s shoulder. “You’d wind up doing good no matter what, because that’s the kind of person you’ve always been, woman or man. It's about being you. The truth is that you’re in the middle of a journey, Maggie. It’s a personal journey, and if I change you back, I’m going to take away the chance for you to learn, and grow, and become more than Mark could ever have been if he'd never run into Khaleel.”
“Also, you have to remember that you’re not in this alone. A lot of people travel with you, and they’re affected by the decisions you make. Bateau and Finn, for example. They're learning too. And Moira, in her way, is still with you as well.”
“Moira? She’s not …?”
“Gone? Not really … not completely. You share her body, and a bit of her soul. You know part of her lives on in you. In the grand scheme of things, her life wasn’t taken so much as it was shared with you.”
Becca looks into Maggie’s eyes. “But if I change you back, she loses. Everything. If Mark returns, all that she was would be lost. Do you really want to take what little she has left?” The thief shook her head, just a little. Becca nodded.
“And then, of course, there’s Amy.”
Bishop’s eyes grew wide, and she froze. The Advocate continued.
“She’s been hurt in the past, and it has colored her life for way too long. She’s been betrayed and battered, and has loved and lost before. She put up walls she was afraid to take down. Until she met you, when you needed her most.”
“Your encounter with her was as much to make her take those walls down as it was to make you realize that being Maggie might be easier than you had thought. But if you become Mark again, then the woman you are now will be gone. And Amy will once again lose someone she’s already lost her heart to, even though she hasn’t realized it fully yet. She’ll lose the woman a hidden part of her hopes she might spend the rest of her life with – because of what you want.”
“Do you love her, Maggie?” The thief looked at Becca, then looked away, her lips pressed together.
The Advocate reached out and touched her arm. “Do you really want to hurt her?”
“NO!” The word burst out of Maggie, too strong for her to hold it back.
There was silence, for a moment, then Becca spoke softly.
“Then why would you ever want to go back to being Mark?”
“Because it’s … it’s who I was,” Bishop replied slowly, almost hesitating to say the words.
Becca smiles. “Exactly. It’s who you were. Like I said, you’re on a journey. And the thing about a journey is, we’re never quite the same people we were at the beginning, by the time we reach the end.”
She stood up, then reached out a hand and helped Maggie to her feet.
“Just think about what I’ve said,” she said with a smile. “Remember, sometimes part of being a hero is putting aside what you want because something … or someone … else matters more. And if you need to talk, just say my name. I’ll be listening.”
“Right now, its time to send you home.” The Advocate began to glow. “Good luck recovering that Rembrandt … along with anything else you can find in the curator’s closet.”
Still a little unsure, Maggie raised her hand in a wave as a glow of magic surrounded her, and then she was gone.
‘Time for me to go as well,’ Becca thought, and her mind wandered back to the ones the drum had gathered … herself included.
“I’m no hero,” she said aloud, and then laughed. “But I have to admit, sometimes I have my moments.”
She picked up her frappachino and turned to leave. When she reached the door, she stopped and closed her eyes.
“Safe travels, all of you,” she whispered to each of them, across the Multiverse, so they all could hear. “May all your journeys end well.”
‘Because even for heroes,’ she thought as the door swung shut behind her, ‘there’s no guarantee of a happy ending when the journey is through.’
For those of you who are new to my work (and by now totally confused), everyone in the story
above is actually a character in one of a group of series of stories I've written and posted over
the years. Some of these series are still growing (albeit slowly). *grin*
If you like my people and you'd like to see more of them, the previous adventures of each of
these characters can be found below (in order of their appearance in this story):
Tommy Browder's stories can be found here.
The adventures of Bishop and her friends are found here.
The story of Regina, Melinde, and their fight to take back their kingdom is here.
Jo Stark's fight for her own freedom begins here.
The Advocate's (also known as Becca Barnes) origin story and her first adventure starts here.
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