Shimmer #24 – Crossover (Part 4)
Hours ago (relatively speaking):
In every world it was exactly the same.
“You’re not going to believe this,” I told them, and for the most part I was right. My word was considered dubious in the Commonwealth States of America, the vast imperial homeland of the New Monarchy, just like it was in the Soviet guarded No Man’s Land, aka what remained of New England in a world where the Cold War turned red hot. The people of a Milestone City plagued with zombie superheroes were too distracted to hear me out, and though the residents of Regent who mistook me for a goddess were eager to listen they were too primitive to help with my tech problem.
The Gadgeteer, I mean Ari, or at least some vague, distant version of him turned his focus away from the bracelet and pondered me in the same way he would a… I don’t know, quantum flux generator, or whatever it was fabulous geeks like him were into. “Try me,” he offered, prodding me to continue my harrowing tale.
I sighed, ready to tell the story for what seemed to be the millionth time: about the day Jason showed up and how we’d switched bodies, about how he’d tricked me into thinking his world wasn’t some sort of messed up machine ruled death field, about how a mysterious second evil dimensional twin showed up and tried to kill me, and everything that followed. I told him about the weeks of running, bouncing from dimension to dimension with the rules changing each time, not knowing whether I was getting closer or moving further from my home.
That was usually when it got emotional. “I’m never going to see them again,” I moped. There would have been tears at this part of the story, but I’d used them all up in the countless tellings. The violent struggles had left me perpetually guarded, even in a place as seemingly peaceful as this.
Ari turned away in typical Ari fashion, needing to keep his mind on the technical over the personal. Still, he gave enough of a damn to ask vacantly, “why did you make the switch?”
It was a laughable question, or at least it should have been. Who didn’t want to switch out of their skin from time to time? Then you had people like me, the ones caught in the crossfire between a mismatching sex and gender, and it felt like enduring anything would be worth it to have peace in mind and body. Except it wasn’t worth it, and somehow that made me guilty.
“Does this world have a Glimmer Girl?” I asked.
“You knew her, right?”
“We fought together,” he mused, “back when I was still the Gadgeteer, before the Event.” By ‘the Event’, of course, he was talking about the day millions of humans from the thirty-first century appeared in the present to escape Armageddon, after which they shared their technology and helped form a blissful utopia… but you already knew that, right?
“Don’t you think she would have done the same thing in my shoes?”
“Not sure,” he replied manually. “My understanding is that she was extremely satisfied with a traditional medical transition: although your testimony indicates that our medical science is far more advanced than yours, so that may be the reason why.”
Good for her, I silently chided. I hadn’t expected him to understand. Nobody who hadn’t lived through it could really understand, even the ones who reached out and really tried.
A sudden shiver had me rubbing my arms. Strange how even in the ‘correct’ body I still felt out of place, like being alien was so embedded into my personality that no matter how many times I switched I’d still be carrying it with me. It was a grim thought, and one that had me pining for home and the handful of things that made sense: things that had nothing to do with robots, wizards or, uh… bleeding. (Actually that last part was what freaked me out the most.)
Ari smirked then pulled away from the bracelet. “There. I think I found it.”
“Huh? Found what?”
“My Earth!?” As if repeating it made it any less stunning. My brain had to backtrack to see if I’d heard him right. “How? I was told going back was impossible!”
“Jason lied, again,” he said. “It’s true that dimensions pull closer and drift apart rhythmically, but at most it affects the relative flow of time.”
“I think I understood about half of that.”
“You could always go home, Kaira. In fact you’ll have only been gone for a couple of days even though here in the outer worlds it’s seemed like weeks.”
“You’re $#&%%ing me.”
“I $#&% you not,” he beamed. “Would you like to see?” As if that were a question.
A click of a button was all it took to open a window back to my world and to my version of Milestone City! Except that it didn’t look like my Milestone City, what with the screaming and the panicking and so much sky falling that Chicken Little would have had a heart attack by now.
* * * *
There’s one thing you need to know about superheroes, and that’s that saving the world is our job. Okay, when we say ‘saving the world’ we don’t always mean stopping the universe from blowing up: usually it’s just hyperbole and you save the human race a little bit at a time. You take baby steps, and that’s okay, because after a while you’ll look back and see that the miles you’ve walked really have made a difference.
This was not one of those times. On the day the sky cracked open and the Technocracy came flooding through the human race were going to need one giant leap to survive the next few hours… or a Glimmer Girl with some tech that was literally from out of this world.
The beam bore down like fire from Olympus, attracting the insects at the bottom to it. If I’d understood what Ari had told me the beam was a solid broadcast of the Technocracy’s central intelligence, all part of a last ditch effort to transfer its knowledge into a new brain before the old one was kaput. All I had to do was stop the crossover, which was simple enough, right?
Like hell. Fighting my way to the base of the rift was like navigating the heart of a twister. Good piece of advice for people who don’t have superpowers: don’t ride tornadoes. They’ll land you in a morgue before they get you to Oz.
For miles I rocketed skyward, high beyond the stratosphere. With each second the rift seemed to grow wider, but that wasn’t it: it was just me seeing it up close for the first time. The sheer size of it and knowing that the fate of the whole planet was at stake did nothing to ease the tension. It was all down to me and whether or not I could do exactly what Ari had told me to.
Why me? I was nobody, just some kid who wanted to escape himself… herself. Next thing I know I’m a hero, switching bodies, and juggling the fates of planets. It was just too big!
Focus, Kaira, the little voice of reason barked. You’ve got this, because face it, there’s no other choice. Yeah, that was real comforting, brain.
The force of a reality flowing outward like an ocean torrent slowed my approach. Just a little bit further and it could be sealed: all I had to do was hit the button and launch the ball in my hand, letting it solidify a portion of space-time and halting the Technocracy before they reached full power. Imagine, a locked patch of the entire universe fixed in stone with nothing able to get in or out. Sounds perfect, right?
Every ounce of strength I had pushed to hold on. Just a little closer, and then… release. From up close it was like watching water spiraling down a sinkhole. When a moment before I’d been struggling to fight my way in I was suddenly struggling to get away from its black hole pull.
In the battle of myself against the universe I barely came out in one piece. I couldn’t believe it: I had literally saved the world. Well, for a moment anyway. There was no time for self-congratulation, especially if what the other world’s Ari had shown me was anything to go by.
Plunging through empty blue skies I shot down in the direction of home. Milestone City was calling for Glimmer Girl.
* * * *
Things weren’t going so well for Starbolt. The sky had somehow closed and the robotic flood of Technocracy drones had mysteriously ended, but that was the least of his problems.
It was supposed to be his big break: get the hell out of Dodge and settle on a new Earth, but disaster wasn’t letting him go that easy. Following him across the dimensional barriers came not one, but two forms of Armageddon, both of which dwarfed him absolutely.
He didn’t scream when the Vanquisher’s psi-blades cut through him: the Technocracy had inflicted far worse, but the assault was enough to keep him off his feet. There was nothing he could do against the two sadistic villains constantly beating him to the ground, but he fought back anyway as best he could. It wasn’t over until the cities started burning, and thank the gods that hadn’t started yet.
Laser Lass lingered nearby, content to let her boy-toy do all of the hard work. “I don’t know how you can live with yourself,” she mused. “If it were me and I’d condemned two worlds to death I’d have killed myself a long time ago. Well, assuming I cared at all.”
She didn’t care, but Starbolt did. None of this was supposed to happen. Nobody was supposed to be hurt. Except for Kaira, he thought, and that was only because he didn’t think himself strong as her.
“This is my planet,” Starbolt roared, “you can’t have it!” It didn’t matter that he was chronically being pinned like a worm on a dissection table, he still had a duty to fulfill and the strength to do it: if only he could reach a little deeper…
“So what you’re saying,” Laser Lass teased, “is that this planet is under the watch of a child with the powers of a flailing retard. Watch me shake in my boots.”
Starbolt fought but to no avail. He wasn’t going to save the world today, try as he might. Fortunately he wasn’t alone.
The look on Laser Lass’s face as her body collided through a thirtieth story window was priceless. When she came back she was going to be pissed, but it was her fault they had their guard down. Those monsters didn’t even see me coming.
Vanquisher’s assault ended almost immediately, but if anyone were more surprised than him it was Starbolt laid flat on the ground. “Glimmer Girl!?” the other hero gasped. You could tell from his panic he didn’t know if his day was getting better or worse.
“Good to see you again, JC.”
The remaining villain made a swift and guarded withdrawal. The tables had turned on him, but he was still at advantage while the bomb was in play. Funny, he was supposed to be a darker version of Noble, but whatever set them apart made the Vanquisher unrecognizable. There wasn’t a hope in hell of finding my fellow Young Sentinel in him, or myself in his companion.
“What in the name of the Anti-Christ was… you!?” Laser Lass was fuming. Even after I’d changed costumes she probably recognized me as the one to take her out on Jason’s world. Oh, what a complicated drama this was turning into.
Starbolt shivered and pulled himself together. Not a word had been exchanged but we knew: We’d been forced to team up again by dire circumstance. Everything we held valuable depended on it.
“They’ve got a bomb,” the boy croaked.
“Why aren’t we beating the @#$% out of them?” Laser Lass scoffed. She was ready to charge but was halted by her partner. “Vanquisher, get your damn hands off me or I swear to Satan…”
“She’s holding something back,” he replied flatly.
“You mean like she was the bitch who locked me up in robo-dungeon and not tranny boy here? Yeah, tell me something I don’t-“
“She’s done something!” he asserted more viciously. Just like Noble he was a human lie detector, sniffing the undercurrents of the motives of others. It was a painful ability on most days, but great when you really needed somebody’s attention.
Both Starbolt and Laser Lass were stunned. “What did you do?”
It would have been the perfect time to hit them with some cool one liner, but even I wasn’t sure what was going on. “I closed the dimensional gate,” I told them, “stopped the Technocracy signal mid-upload and… something else. Something about space-time being a viscous and creating a hard spot in the universe… or something. It sounded better when the Gadgeteer was explaining it. Either way you have to stop the bomb!”
“We don’t have to do anything,” my dark self spat.
Vanquisher sneered and touched his earpiece. “Yeah, we do. Claw, stop the countdown.”
“What are you doing!?”
“Saving our asses,” he explained. “Don’t you get what she’s saying? The road between universes is locked shut. We can’t go home for a while. If we set off the neutrino detonator now it’ll take us out with them.”
Laser Lass shot a fowl glare in my direction. Gods, it’s good to make the right enemies. “She’s lying,” she pouted, but Vanquisher knew better.
“She’s not. I’d know if she was.”
“We can still kick their asses,” she seethed.
“Yeah, and waste even more time while the world you’re stuck on is being taken over!” Starbolt growled, shooting up and rejoining the party. Apparently he’d decided he was happy I’d come, figured that I’d come along to help – at least that’s what his pleading gazes said. I didn’t know what I was going to do with him when this was all over, but that was a bridge we could all wait to cross.
“So here’s the deal,” I told them. “You help us, we let you leave. No more planets get blown up, everybody lives.”
No matter how many times I said it the thought was too big to comprehend. The four of us were arguing about an entire planet! One hundred and fifty something countries, even more languages, hundreds of thousands of years of history, six billion human beings, all of them holding on perilously in an argument between four freakin’ teenagers. Could you get any more surreal?
Vanquisher and Laser Lass didn’t care. How could two people hold so much apathy? They only cared about their own skin, which was okay – that was more than enough to hold against them. “Fine,” the villainess conceded. “We help with your robot problem, then we walk. Not to say that we won’t be back, however…”
She just had to, didn’t she? “Talk smack later. We’ve got work to do.”
“Lead the way, little girl.”
Starbolt nodded and shot toward the city, my male self beckoning my evil twin and I to the epicenter of destruction.
Worst. Team-up. Ever.
* * * *
There are times in the life of every hero and villain that you’ve got to put aside your difference and work toward a greater goal. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you feel dirty – so dirty that even knowing you and everyone else would be doomed without them can’t cleanse you, but you live with it. All for the greater good, right? I probably should have been thankful that Laser Lass was so easy to convince thanks in no small part to Vanquisher’s in-built lie detector. Teaming up with Starbolt didn’t sit too easy with me, either.
We charged the city in pyramid formation. Laser Lass insisted on leading, all the while berating Starbolt and I and calling us ‘twisted clones.’ As if! She was the one with an Earth-B vibe, but I suppose everybody says that when they meet their extra-universal doubles.
“I shouldn’t even need your help,” Laser Lass scoffed, her nose upturned. “On my world it takes but a simple touch to destroy a machine.”
“Except these guys are insulated against our powers,” Starbolt remarked grimly.
Can’t say I didn’t feel their frustration. Usually it was the case that any sort of technology didn’t last long against a surge of raw primatter. “Then I guess we give them a triple charge!”
With hardened resolved we linked hands and let the eruption of power hurl our hard light bodies over the skyline. Like a three-headed comet we, the two Glimmer Girls and Glimmer Boy, shredded the Technocracy like tissue paper, leaving the hollowed bodies of metal bugs strewn throughout the streets. Soon they would only be a threat to the city’s cleaning budget.
It took everything I had to hold on. The sheer amount of energy put out was exhausting. The empty chasm at the end of my will grew wider beneath, tempting me to let go and fall. I couldn’t, not just for the sake of the world, but because Laser Lass’ fowl expression warned me of what would happen if I did.
“We need to find the central processing core,” Starbolt seethed. It wasn’t just enough to bowl them down, especially at the rate they were replicating, and we hadn’t much energy left to waste.
A sharp jerk from Laser Lass pointed us into the thick, teeming heart of the mass where we cut through a mountain of cockroaches. Gods, it was like there was a spring in the middle, vomiting insects and blackening the sky. They just kept coming and coming, slowing our progress, but we wouldn’t be halted – we just had to hold on for one… more… second…
Every ounce of strength went into pushing against the machine, but it pushed back just as hard. Starbolt, Laser Lass and I went flying back into the pavement, bodies smacking the ground, rolling and scraping. I might have even bruised a rib. Crap…
“I can’t believe you guys would do that to me!” a synthesized voice cried out. From the swarm a frowny face emoticon took shape and pointed meaningfully in our direction. “How could you, Jason? I thought you were cool.” Ugh, not this guy again.
Jason pried himself from the ground. He was shaking, not with pain but fury. “We can’t let up,” he hissed. “It has to be taken down now!”
Emoticon Sam pouted deeper, at least as much as you can pout with a string of closed parentheses climbing to the sky. “’It’? Jason, I’m hurt,” the machine said. “I’m Sam, remember? Your friend, your only companion for all these years!” Not to mention his jailor.
Laser Lass scoffed and clasped hands again. “Enough talk. Can we finish this already?” It was probably the only time she and I would agree on something.
In a blaze of light we rocketed forth, our goal very nearly in sight. Our powers combined burned as bright as the sun, but the three of us were riding on an empty tank. We screamed, digging painfully deep for whatever scraps were left – we had to make it through! We were so close… and all the while Emoticon Sam continued his taunts:
“It’s a stupid plan, you know. Trying to short-circuit us with a triple charge? Please. All you’re doing is giving us an extra couple of batteries. Why fight? Oh, right. It’s because you’re heroes, and that’s what you do… except for you, Laser Lass. You’re kind of a bitch. But seriously, why are you doing this? You mess up my processor and I start making faulty robots, and those faulty robots make other faulty robots. That’s the same as giving me cancer, you know. Is that really what you want to do? Give me robot cancer? Not that you’ll succeed or anything. Some friends you are!”
I could feel it in their fingertips, the hate and desperation. It was all that kept them going while I was spiked with fear – my friends, my family, everyone I ever knew, the survival of the world hinged on this moment, on me, a small city hero who just wanted to pull kittens out of trees. Still, who else was going to do it?
Next thing I knew I was face down, choking on the blood pouring from my nose and groaning from the pain searing everywhere else. My head was swimming, the only solid thought was on whether or not I could get up – I couldn’t. But somewhere in the back was something else – a panicked and terrified thought that I barely managed to spit out.
“Did we get it…?”
As the smoke cleared and my arm slid from view I could make out two human shapes, both garbed in gold and tainted with red. Jason at the very least was able to lift himself again, and reached down to pull my battered form from the street.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Are you going to help me?” Laser Lass grunted.
“No,” we retorted in unison. Not that we didn’t appreciate the help or anything, but she was one of the gang who tried to blow up our planet. Kind of hard to forget something like that.
Then as if on cue we heard the voice. “I-I-I-I… I…” It was Sam. “C-ca-can’t belie- you di- t to me!” Looking back to the wreckage we couldn’t make out any emotes – only a black spire planted in the ground that had been slightly bent out of shape. Great, it had taken three of us everything we had and all we’d done was dent it.
“It’s over, Sam,” I told the program. “Stop playing Skynet now and we might leave you enough brain power to work as a cash register someplace.” Hero school 101 – always talk big, even when you’re wetting your pants in the face of doom.
Sam, however, was less than convinced. Even after being stupefied and beaten up he still had the will to send a gang of mangled machines to bear down on our bruised remains. Why oh why could not have some programmer have given his creation the intelligence to be intimidated?
They lumbered closer from every horizontal angle, limbs like knives reaching out clumsily to claim us. Just one more ounce of strength and I could have cleared a path, but nothing.
“Come on, you pair of pussies!” Laser Lass taunted from where she lay. “You going to just stand there and let them disembowel us?” Yeah, like she was one to talk.
“You got anything?” Starbolt pushed.
“Yeah, I’m spent too.”
I collapsed to my knees, the pain of standing up simply being too much. If there was one thing I could be thankful for it was that at least the hurting would stop after this… no, I couldn’t give up, right? Superheroes don’t quit – but what else could I do?
Just then I caught something in Jason’s eye. Fear, regret – he’d never intended for this to happen, but somehow it had all gone horribly wrong. And suddenly I recognized it, what agony he’d had to endure for years, the loneliness, the isolation, the hopelessness. Of all the times to be able to connect it happened then and I finally understood – he was just like me.
“Jason,” I said, snatching his attention as though I had some brilliant last second plan. No, just some final words. Hopefully they meant something. “I forgive you.”
What a time to laugh. Starbolt chuckled, probably realizing the futility of holding onto such hard feelings, even towards himself right at the bitter end. He looked to me with soft green eyes and smiled. “Thank you.”
Oh well. Even then I was able to do some good. That’s something, right?
Then, from out of the dense, black skyline a bolt of fire rained down, then another, and another. With exact precision they struck at the mangled bots and cut them down, as did the thousands of others that materialized on the other side of the clouds. In moments it became clear enough to see that we were not alone – TASK aerial assault vessels covered the scenery to finish the work we’d started.
Thank the gods, the cavalry had arrived.
* * * *
What followed was a blur. Somewhere in the middle of TASK’s heavy duty clean up the three of us were plucked away by a medical carrier – or at least that would be my best guess. I don’t exactly remember a lot of what happened at the end.
Jason lay to one side, bruised, battered, but despite it all immensely relieved. Can you even imagine what must have been going through his head? Here was a guy who’d been at the mercy of those machines for years, watched them murder a whole world, and now he was free. Yeah, he did try to screw me over by swapping me into his prison, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to blame him. If I were trapped as long as he was I can’t say I wouldn’t have done anything to get out either.
Meanwhile there was the matter of Laser Lass strapped to the bed on the other side of the makeshift infirmary. She’d helped us, but in the end she was just as bad as the Technocracy. What were we supposed to do, just let her go? Either way I was in no condition to go after her teammates, the ‘Young Scoundrels’ or whatever it was they were called. (Seriously, who gives their team a name like that?)
Whatever. I wasn’t going to stress about it. Honestly, I was more worried about Jason. After all, he was as close to a twin brother as I was ever going to have. Over and again I tried to snag his attention with a gentle smile – he reciprocated, but then he’d turn away. He was ashamed of crying, as if even the strongest individual wouldn’t be reduced to tears after all he’d been through.
Figuring it was better to leave him alone I reached for a crutch and limped outside. The skies were clear and it was fast approaching dusk – how long had I been out? Then it occurred to me, were my Mom and Dad okay? A part of me wanted to fly home and hoped to see them there at the table, but they’d probably evacuated just like everyone else. Gods, they would have been worried stupid. Then again… were they even my Mom and Dad anymore?
I looked down at my hands. They were always smaller than the ones I was expecting, but then they weren’t really my hands. Well, they were my hands now… Gods, it was all so complicated! Okay, I had the body of my dreams and it was just like any other girls, but the cost was still the same – I still had to give up so, so much just to be me, because my family, friends, school, just wouldn’t understand. Some people might have been more than glad to wipe that old life away for ultimate sense of self, but me? Not so much.
This is so much weirder than just being regular trans, I sighed.
Just then as I needed it a guardian angel appeared, though garbed in mortal flesh and with his mask pulled down around his neck. Jorge placed a comforting hand on my shoulder and smiled out to the sunset hoping to dull my discomfort, which he did ever so slightly. “I hear you’ve been having a hard couple of days,” he said.
“Couple of days for you guys. More like… six weeks on my end? I don’t know. Parallel realities are #%&$ed up.”
“Ouch. Want to talk about it?”
I laughed. “Where do I start? With the trans-boy version of me asking for a body swap, the prison world he trapped me on, the evil dominatrix twin wanting to defenestrate me, or the triple-team that had us giving a super-computer brain damage?”
Jorge looked me over, a hint of casual approval in his gaze. “Is it worth it, though? To have a girl-born-girl body, I mean.” He was careful as always to avoid terms like ‘real girl’ or ‘natural girl’, just like Tanya would, which I appreciated really, even though I’d decided not to take it personally if he did.
The answer should have been obvious. YES. It was what everyone like me really wanted, right? To have a ‘legitimate’ body that wouldn’t be questioned, that wasn’t a ‘lie’ – but I still felt like an alien. Ugh, I was so over the drama of it all.
As if right on cue the moment was interrupted by the sound of a crash from inside the tent. I steeled myself, but was still too exhausted to fight when Laser Lass tore through the tarp and looked down on me with bright, hate-filled eyes.
“If I’m going down you’re coming with me,” she spat, and pointed her finger with the ruthlessness of a practiced killer.
Inside of a split second Go! had moved me to safety, but even that was too late. Something burned inside my chest and I began to choke. It felt like drowning. Then the shock set in, and I noticed the crimson pool being absorbed into the costume. She got me – that evil jerk really got me.
Jorge was frantic, as were the other TASK personnel around. “Kaira? Kaira, stay with us. Come on, fight the shock. Kaira!”
But it was no use. I was tired of holding on. All I wanted was to sleep at last.
* * * *
TO BE CONTINUED…