Warning: Politics, more bigly nasty stuff about the current American president. No tiny hands jokes though.
The astral cop frowned at his monitor and turned to his partner. The dimensional law enforcer pointed out the result on the scanner.
“It’s a Class J universe….” He said.
“Ignore that. We have multiple timeline fractures, a dimensional degrading, multiple universe collisions, a 231 and a 122! And reality splinters! That universe is a T-class menace.”
“Chose a random dimensional anomaly and site it,” his partner said. “We have a brachiating quasar, a splintered nebula and a 634 to deal with, and that’s before lunch.”
“Roger that,” the cop said.
“So what do we do now?”
“Find a dimension travelling schmuck in that dimension and give him the usual fine.”
“But what if they can’t pay?”
The cop chuckled, sipping ion dimensional coffee and chomping down on a glazed reality donut, because of course that’s what all cops do. “Not my problem,” he said, consulting the scanner. "Let's see. Here's a guy who's stirred up a lot of dimensional shit. Stupid name, though. Thundrax..."
A crypto-currency exchange. The most 21st Century of crimes, stealing something that doesn’t exist, but is worth billions, at least if handled right. Oh, you clever scamps!
Unfortunately, for reasons that will become clear, they’ve drawn my attention. And my life’s work is to do my damndest to make sure that that’s a Bad Thing, if only for the right people. And this gang, they’re the right people.
“Hurry up an hack that server, Zig.” A short, bare-chested kid who looks like he eats steroids like potato chips says.
“Give me a break, Al! Who knew there were this many servers to hijack!” “Zig” says, (Zig being short for Zigurrat, his code-name). "They should rename this stuff ProcessorCoin!"
“Well, hurry up anyways.” A woman says. “Probability fields just went off the charts. Something big is coming, and it’s not in our favor. We’re close to a mission abort.”
Something big. Me. “Actually, I'd say you're well past "abort" time and into "give up now" time,” I say, appearing in a flash and a boom of thunder.
“Shit, it’s Thundrax!” a speedster blurts.
“Holy fuck! Holy fuck!” a flaming, smoldering figure panicks. I guess my rep is good for something.
“I’m outta here,“ the speedster snaps, and he leaves at near Mach speed. You gotta love it when the villains defeat themselves.
“Why couldn’t it have been one of the easy Protectors?” the flaming man says. “Like Jinn?”
I burst into laughter. You think Jinn is easy? Seriously? He’s the last Protector I’d want to face! Be glad he’s not here, chump!
“Regroup!” the young brickhouse snarls. “I got first dibs!” He’s visibly psyching himself up to fight me. “You may be a legend, Thundrax, but Major Muscle is putting you down!”
I almost laugh again. Legend? Really? I always laugh at that one. Legends don't lose as many fights as I have. And “Major Muscle”? The kid needs to learn the Golden Rule of Superhero names: never name yourself after a body part. Maybe “Eye” is okay. But everything else, just no. Especially Muscles, it makes you sound like a damn fool. Major Muscle here isn’t even the worst offender: there’s the Physique, one of my most ridiculous enemies, now tanning himself on a bed in Stronghold; and there’s some guy over in New York who unironically calls himself “Prince Pectoral”. That guy deserves to be mocked by Dark Prowler until he crawls under his bed in shame.
The" major's" dialogue is pretty Silver Age, but I can forgive that. When you’re psyching yourself up, the words are always really basic. We clash, a test of strength. I throw him off as if he were a small child, and he lands on his spectacularly sculpted glutes. He roars, and charges at me again. But the kid’s running on adrenaline; he hasn’t a clue how to fight. There’s muscleheads for you, thinking with their balls. I catch him flush in the face, shattering his nose; he howls, and I slam a fist in his solar plexus. A jawbreaker of a punch finishes the fight.
The next few seconds are a clusterfuck, a lot of screams and incoherent shouts. The fire powers guy burns me, striking my back with a white hot touch. I respond by electrifying myself, and he falls onto the ground, going into spasms. Hope he’s okay, I’ll check on him as soon as the fight’s over, presuming I win, of course. Three of the bad guys are clustered together too tightly together, and I take advantage of the error, hitting them with a low yield bolt of lightning. They fall.
And now the hard part. Now for Rosalyn.
I land next to the woman, I look her in the eye. She's a legacy villain, the daughter of an old foe. A teenager who hasn't quite realized the extent of her mutant abilities to, well basically, perform low level manipulations of reality. Turn lumps of coal into diamonds, that sorta thing. She, like her mom, never needed to become a villain, except for kicks.
And for some reason, I think these old leftovers from the Brotherhood are my responsibility. It's personal.
“I hate you, Thundrax!” Rosalyn snarls at me, fists balled, barking expletives like a junkyard dog. “I wish Spectre had killed you when he had the chance! Now you’re everywhere! Like a disease!”
“I know.” I say.
“Why don’t you just die?!”
“I will, one day. Maybe soon.” I reply. “Rosalyn, your mom’s worried. She’s worried enough that she actually sought me out, and you know how much she despises me. You’ve gone down a bad path…”
“... you had a good life and threw it out. What happened?”
“It was boring!” Rosalyn snapped. “It was… I wanted to live!”
"This wasn't the way. You're all kids, you don't need to throw your lives away." Looking at her, I recall the old battles with her mom's team at the start of my career.They had been the worst, hellishly brutal. Caroline had been frighteningly powerful before her old leader MasterMind psychically neutered her. Though he never intended to be kind, that may be the one good thing that diseased monster ever did. Those powers were consuming her.
And now I'm facing her daughter. Not quite as powerful, but dangerous.
“I will fight you!” the teen hisses. “I will hurt you, Thundrax.”
“Look, Rosalyn,” I say, feeling like dirt. This is a fight I don't want.“Just come quietly." I plead. "No more hurt, no more pain. I’ll pay for whatever we need to do to reform you.”
“Reform?” she blurts, and she laughs. “Black Spectre is coming back, Thundrax,” she smiles. “Try reforming him! You can’t run. You can’t hide. Black Spectre is returning, and he’s going to make Canada his footstool!”
I shake my head. “Spectre died a long time ago.” I say. To be honest, no one on my side of the superhero aisle actually knows what happened to Spectre. He’s been gone thirty years, and that’s good enough for me. He was a maniac, and I don’t miss him. That he had been a hero in the 70s, before the Soviets overloaded his brain forcing him to absorb radiation in Chernobyl; well, that's tragic but irrelevant – I was a kid then, with no powers. I never knew him then. All I knew was his later self, a carcinogenic monster who tried to kill me on numerous occasions, who gave cancer to more than a few of my friends. The name carries weight, even three decades later.
“You’ll see!” Rosalyn shouts; she’s completely come unglued. She just wants to hurt me now. “He’ll be back! He’s coming for you, Thundrax! Your future is death, death by radiation, at his hand. You’re a dead man!”
What was it they always said on the Foxbat TV series in the 60s? Poor deluded girl? Still, death by radiation? She’s not wrong on that one.
“You have been served,” a man’s voice says, and a slip of paper appears in my hand.
SUBPOENA TO A WITNESS – Form 16 ASSIGNATION À UN TÉMOIN – Formulaire 16
COURT FILE NUMBER NUMÉRO DE DOSSIER DE LA COUR POLICE CASE NUMBER NUMÉRO DE PROCÈS-VERBAL DIMENSIONAL CLUSTER, CLUSTER DIMENSIONNEL
“I’ve been fined for dimensional crimes?” I blurt, reading the document. “Twenty-eight units of Gizel? What the Hell is a Gizel?” I keep reading. Failure to pay by the designated dimensional date will result in the planet being designated a dimensional hazard by…” Who the Hell are these people? “And will have to be removed?!”
The bureaucrats’ euphemism for planetary destruction.
“Craig,” Major Alcmena says. The Star*Guard commander, to his credit, took my complaint seriously. I’d informed Sparrowhawk, and she had mobilized the Protectors. As we were not directly facing an enemy, we were all investigating the situation on our own. I got to talk with the Star*Guard. “What I’m about to tell you is way beyond human science. I’m violating quite a few laws in doing this but I know your word can be trusted and the earth is… unique. I do have your word, right?”
“You do.” I reply.
“Let’s talk about the Beginning of the Universe. What you humans have called “The Big Bang”, That’s really a rough understanding of the process, but it works for us mere organics. Now the first second of the universe is not science. It’s not anything humans understand. The Odrugarans call it felmo. Very roughly, “everything”. Very roughly, “chaos”. Very roughly, “philosophy. Very roughly, “potential of being”, an intersect of ideas and reality.”
“So the universe exists in a state like the higher most plane of existence? What we call the Atziluth?”
“Bingo!” the major says. “I keep forgetting how well-travelled you are.”
“I have cool sneakers,” I grin.
“Anyway, the gizel exists for a decosecond at the start of the universe. They’re the elemental pieces of the philosophy of a universe, a quark of imagination. Not even a Galaxar could exist in the first second of time, because there’s no reality for it to exist in, not yet. Not even the Old Form.”
“Boy, do I have some theological questions right now.” I add. What the Hell is an Old Form?
“You’ve been asked to perform what is literally the most impossible task in the universe. There is no way you were asked to do this in good faith.”
“Deep magic from before the dawn of time,” I say, noting the Major’s eyebrow raise. “C.S. Lewis reference, sorry. I’ll download you a copy of Narnia.”
“Read it. Just forgot it,” the Major says. “The Star*Guard will back you against these dimensional wardens if you need.”
“Thanks,” I answer. “I owe you.”
“The next time Dessicus or Valak shows up, we’ll need you!” Alcmena says, and the screen blanks.
I sigh. That wasn’t very helpful, not as much as I’d hoped. They want a particle that can only exist when it’s physically impossible for me to exist. Now there’s a quandary!
So I begin a long quest, the quest of the gizel! I need help, help that a hero can’t get alone, even one given to sulking and solitude.
So I consulted the greatest and deepest minds I could find, in science, religion, and philosophy. Certainly not politicians. I visit the ocean depths. The greybeards of Atlantis. We dive for pearls together, and trade riddles. I swap stories with Eagle and Raven in the hidden city of Nikwaan. I trade tricks and feats of strength for poetry, with the women slam poets of Albequeque. I feast with an African chieftain at a nicely built townhall erected to the first African superheroes. The Silver Colossus dwarfs me. I fly to the heights of tall peaks in distant lands. What do the mountain vistas say, what speaks the solitude to the thunder? I speak with gods and kings and peasants. Myths tell me their views on life, after I wrestle a storm giant for three days on a peak in Greenland. It’s always a hard fight with those giants. But I’m like Thor without the killing, I get the job done.
I speak with criminals, and the profane. They relate a dozen drug-addled dreams, captive thoughts taking flight. Naturally, I follow it up with a rock concert. Is there a philosopher’s version o death metal? Think metal? Compassion metal? No one’s views are ignored, no one’s insight is belittled. It’s quite a journey in and of itself, one I should have made years ago. On a mountain in Japan – no, not Fuji, Japan does have other mountains, you know! Honshu to you too! – I find a philosopher who has often advised the Japanese hero Tesuronin. He calls himself Nazo. He’s not aged and wizened, but middle-aged and vigorous, with a shock of messy brown hair, a disheveled Einsteinian crown.
“So this gizel is the spark of the universe?” the philosopher asks, after hearing me explain the problem. He was bending over a large copper pot, cooking noodles. Not ramen, something thicker. He ladled them with a huge wooden spoon.
“Yes,” I say.
“So, what is the spark of you?” the philosopher asks.
“Pardon?” I wonder. He says nothing, but keeps stirring his pot. “Helping people, I guess.” I finally say. “Making tomorrows better.” I added, my personal motto.
“Ah!” the philosopher exclaimed as he stirred his noodles. It was a nice thick broth. “But what if you have to make tomorrow worse, for the day after tomorrow to be better? What if that is the only way?”
“I will not accept that.” I say, sniffing the air. My appetite was whetted.
”How much are you willing to break today for your tomorrow to better?” Nazo asks in a silken voice, smiling at me. The philosophical n00b. “What parts of society need to be removed? Do you like Donald Trump? Is he a hindrance to your future?”
“No, I don’t like him, and yes, I consider him a hindrance.” I say. “He advocates a society of cruelty and intolerance that I will not accept. He builds dams where it is to the common good that streams flow unhindered. And he breaks dams where it is to the common good that the water should be channeled.”
“How far will you go to remove him?” the man asks, reveling in the natural discomfort that comes when one is forced to talk politics when you’d rather talk about anything else.
“That’s not my task,” I argue. “That’s the decision of the American people. Offered in honest elections. I’ll try to persuade, but I will not force the issue.” I will not become a Borealis, a villain.
“Ah,” the philosopher says. “And what if the electorate continues to embrace him instead of doing what you want? What if his course perverts justice, endangers the people for whom you fight? Will you not then impose your will, out of necessity?”
“I’d rather not think about that,” I say. A Donald Trump future is too terrible to contemplate.
“Ah!” the philosopher laughs again. “If you reject your potential for imposing your will, you will never understand the potential of the universe. All potentials must be considered. For the potential of the universe is not necessarily aligned to good, but must be guided. Nor is your soul. Justice does not happen on its own, it requires a hand. And the eyes of others! Justice is not solitary, it is a collaborative effort between those of good will. The rejection of darkness is a partnership, and requires community.”
I have to admit he’s hit a huge nerve. Maybe the hugest. “Justice, when the hand is forced too strongly, becomes tyranny and cruelty.” I say. “I will not go there. My hand remains temperate, a nudge, not a shove.”
“Have you never needed to shove a thing?” Nazo asks.
“All the time,” I say, and that ends the conversation.
I return to my apartment, faced with a literally impossible task. I try to get hold of Incubus. That’s right, I’m so desperate that I’m willing to beg that damn little cosmic imp for help. Give him the ultimate satisfaction, making Thundrax beg. When the Fate of the world’s at stake, I don’t give a shit, I’ll beg. But he doesn’t show.
Alex hasn’t had any better luck on her end. And I think Sebastian hasn’t slept since we told him what the Star*Guard said. Does he even sleep?
So I’m in my apartment, having worked myself into a state of panic over the stakes. It’s a dark day in Millennium, as if to underscore the threat it’s facing. The threat the world is facing. Dimensional police? Under whose authority? And if they have the power to destroy the world, or exile it to another dimension, or whatever? How can I stop them?
“Craig Alexander Carson,” a voice says as the sky opens up. “Time’s up.”
Shit! I’m immediately on the commlink to Sparrowhawk. These bad cops could use a dash of their own medicine. She’s assembling the Protectors and on her way, ASAP. It’s up to me to stall them.
“I think I’m entitled to know the execution of my sentence,” I say, lawyering myself. I may not have a law degree, but I wasn’t NDP Justice Affairs critic for nothing. “Please explain the method you intend to deploy for the destruction of my world.”
“Uh, no.” the cop says, immediately dashing my hope.
“I’d like to file an appeal.” I say.
“Uh, denied,” the cop says. I sigh.
“That doesn’t exactly sound fair,” I say. “There has to be some path to arbitration. Some way to challenge this sentence.”
“Afraid not,” the cop says. “We don’t make the rules, we just enforce the rules.”
“And, as a thirty-five year law officer myself,” I say. “I have to call bullshit. We all know that the laws you decide to enforce are a choice, and particularly for a world with which you’ve had no contact, leniency is advisable.”
“Your world is a menace,” the officer answers, visibly annoyed at me. “And we see the evidence of a dozen dimensional incursions all over your chronoform.”
“So, basically, you’re calling me a dimensional…” I answer, adding the N-word. This may be the only time in my life where I’ve ever used it – it’s a word I despise and one I refuse to put into writing. Yeah, I’m pissed, too pissed for diplomacy. “And I don’t got no rights. What’s next, the beatdown?”
“Just cooperate, and the sentence will be carried out with a minimum of trouble,” the dimensional cop.
“I want to see a dimensional lawyer,” I snap.
“For the last fricking time, denied!” the cop says.
“So dimensional law is less advanced and representative than earth law of a hundred and fifty years ago? Really?”
“We don’t coddle the guilty,” the cop says.
“We do our job.” His partner adds.
“Fine,” I say, taking a piece of paper from the desk. I finger my pockets, flustered. “I couldn’t bother either of you gentlemen for a pen, could I?”
“Sure.” The cop says, handing me a pen. I smile, and in plain, bold text I write:
“TO CAPTAIN CHRONOS! HELP! DIMENSIONAL TROUBLE! PEOPLE FROM OTHER DIMENSION WANT TO WRECK *YOUR* TIMELINE! – Signed. Craig Carson, Thundrax.”
I dated it, and set it on the desk, in an envelope that could survive the destruction of worlds. The things you pick up in this business.
“Okay Craig, I read this fifty-seven years afar and chrono-dated it, what have you---” Chronos said, appearing in my apartment.
“Oh shit,” a cop said.
“You just had to lend him the pen!” one of the cops snapped.
Craig handed Chronos the sub-poena and the time traveler immediately turned on the cops. “Gizel? Really? Your organization was banned from operating in all J-class universes because of this crap. You’ve been warned!”
“By whom?” I ask, ignorant of dimensional authorities. The cops have a “shit, this is gonna cost us our badges, right?” look on their faces.
“You do realize this is going to subject you to a fine, don’t you?” Chronos said. “Three hundred units of quantite, payable to Mr. Carson?”
“We’ll just be on our way….”
“No,” I say, “I want to hear more about this quantite.”
“I think we’ll let you off with a warning,” the other cop says. “Don’t let this happen again.”
“Yeah, warning. Now let’s get out of here…”
And the dimensional cops vanished. Cowards. I wanted to see the bad cops squirm. There's nothing worse than an employee of the public trust who betrays his profession. Bad cops are the antithesis of the job, like bad heroes.
“Well, thanks, Captain,” I sigh. He was actually useful for a change!
“Really! Those posers give all of us a bad name!” Chronos said.
“You know Captain,” I say. “Maybe it would be nice to know a bit more about you. Who are you, what’s that mysterious connection to Mechanon you once hinted at in Ren center…”
“Oh, look at the time!” Chronos said. “It’s almost 2019! Craig, I’m really sorry about… well, no sense in letting imminent destruction out of the bag. Watch out for Tyrannon and Dark Witchcraft! Bye!”
“Tyrannon?” I ask. “Wait, who’s that…” But no, the Captain’s gone, leaving mystery and chaos in his wake. I sigh, and turn my heart to more mundane matters. After you deal with things on a cosmic level, the mundane becomes therapy. Especially when the mundane's rich and gooey and smells really, really good. Alex and the Protectors will be here any minute, I'd better have something ready for them! I shove a load of pastries for the Protectors in the oven: Carson's chocolatey scones, my best recipe. And I bake some doggie treats.
After all, Cap and Ajax have big appetites (not to mention Jinn!) and averting the end of the world deserves a celebration.