Everything happened too fast. Doubletake had figured out who the imposter was. He blinked all over Dr. Drake’s moonbase lab. Then he stopped cold before appearing over Ichaival. He drove one of his katanas through the legendary hero. Shocked, I gripped three my of selves and we fell together into one person holding in a scream with one set of arms. Sparks blew out of Ichaival’s wound. The Martian broke the sword off and ran Doubletake through with several of their tentacles. The thing hurled the hero to the ground.
That’s when Paladin charged. She ignited her afterburners. The heavy armor flew across the smooth metal floor. With a precise rocket fueled kick, she sent the robotic alien sailing through the closet observation window. She scooped up Doubletake and threw him over her shoulder while digging her fingers into the floor with her free hand. More sparks showered her as she came to a stop right before the glass gave way behind her. Air rushed out of the hole pulling everything towards itself.
As I began to assemble what had happened Dr. Drake finally broke. His skin flexed before ripping open. Like a molting lizard, he shook off his human form and became Mr. Dragon. I called to Paladin over the rushing wind but she was stuck. A single robotic tentacle held her in place. The beast roared and stumbled toward the open window. In a panic, I took hold of the closest guardrail around the swirling portal and multiplied myself. We formed an unbroken chain of copies of myself. Each held the waist of the me created before till we stretched to Paladin. Pulling as one, we heaved her forward. The imposter Ichaival pulled itself up level with the room. It grasped at the sides of the facility with its tendrils. Mr. Dragon pushed through the opening taking the robot with it. Steel shutters slammed down from the ceiling closing off the hole. The alarms cut out. Only the lights of the instrument panels and the waning portal gave off any light.
Ms. Hayday stood up from behind the portal controls and brushed the dust off her pantsuit. She said, “Is everyone okay?”
“What?” all me’s said in unison before collapsing back into one person.
Paladin stood and walked with Doubletake over her shoulder. Overhead, we heard Mr. Dragon clamoring across the top of the lab. Before we had a moment to think, Hayday rushed past us to the main doors. “Come on you two,” she said. “That robot was messing with the contamination procedures. With it outside, the facility will restart the security system. When it doesn’t detect Dr. Drake, it’ll drop the whole lab into the Faustini Crater.”
Paladin wedged herself between the door and the wall. She pushed them apart till Doubletake would fit through. Then Paladin forced Hayday through. I was still in shock. I was outside myself watching everything happen. The ceiling cracked and caved in under Mr. Dragon’s weight. Paladin slipped through the door and yelled at me to join. She was waving me on and my feet began to move on instinct. I reached for her hand and felt the tips of her armored hand with my fingers right as the alarms began ringing again. As they did, the whole lab jostled before detaching from the hallway back to the main facility altogether. I watched the security door slam shut as the room tilted back into the abyss below. As I fell, I watched the room shrink then disappear from view.
I fellen into the open portal.
Everything was still where it should be but I had stopped falling. I was stuck in a place where the portal had been. The other side was a pale purple reflection of the world. I could still see everyone as they were in the real world, but I couldn’t reach them. I watched Mr. Dragon run, jump, and cling to the bridge back to the facility. I saw Hayday and Paladin running for the other end of the bridge. It broke away from the cliffside. Paladin managed to fly the last few feet with Hayday over her other arm. The trio entered the other airlock as Mr. Dragon burrowed into a supply depot nearby.
“Wow, Paladin is just great. Don’t tell her I said that,” said Doubletake. A ghostly form of my partner was floating in the air next to me. I tried to jump in fright but couldn’t move.
I said, “What? Who? How?”
He laughed then said, “Hey, I don’t get it either. One minute I was leaping between timelines faster than I ever have and the next I was out there. I think it has to do with that portal.”
I nodded or rather concentrated on the concept of acknowledgment, and said, “That checks out. I fell into it but I didn’t see my body inside the lab. So, what now?”
He melted some in the air and reformed. He said, “The portal closed but maybe we can still help by…”
Flames shot out of the facility. Escape pods launched from the ground. Mr. Dragon caught them in his mouth. The massive beast crushed the science center before asphyxiating. As the compressed atmosphere escaped, it caught fire before extinguishing. The moon went silent.
Doubletake and I continued to float near the crater. Neither of us said anything. My form felt frozen in space. He reached out for my hand. As we touched, the world blurred. It was like two identical versions of reality curled over one another. One version, the moon is a smoldering scene of destruction. The other showed a pristine complex.
“How are you doing this?” I asked.
He said, “Split, this isn’t me. I thought this was you.” He tried to rub his eyes but we aren’t fully physical now.
I asked, “Have you tried using your powers?”
He nodded, “It’s usually like picking a thread to follow. A possibility. When I try to use it now, it’s like I’m standing on two skateboards going different directions but I can’t stay on either one. You?”
I answered, “It’s like I’m both skateboards at the same time but I can’t choose either.”
I willed my form back to the portal. It’s was still pulsating in the air above the facility. Dragging Doubletake with me, I tried using my power to multiply myself. We both quaked as thousands of realities played out overlaid over ours. No single reality had a positive outcome. In everyone, something went wrong.
In one, I was sneaking through the lab searching for something. I searched every corner of the darkened room with a flashlight. Something scuttled out of view. I made a run for a medical cooler but a steel tentacle stabbed me through and I fell to the ground. My self, my current self and not one I’m viewed, reached into that reality. I took hold of a vial from the fridge. My self, my other self-dying on the floor, watched me for a moment before dying.
In another, Paladin stood alone on the lunar surface. She was holding one of Doubletake’s swords. It was plunged through the cybernetic Ichaival. The body had finally stopped moving. Behind her, the facility was crushed under Mr. Dragon. Wires from her arm cannon were attached to the sword. Doubletake leaned into that reality and studied the improvements.
He started to slip and fall but I grabbed him by… his form… His spirit? I envisioned standing on the two skateboards and brought my feet back together. He snapped back to our in-between space
Paladin blinked. She said, “What the hell was that?”
We maneuvered through a river of time, dimensions, and possibilities. We choose a scenario where Paladin and Doubletake were standing in opposite starting positions. Doubletake, the Doubletake between time and space, placed his sword in Paladin’s hand and ran a few wires from her arm cannon to it. We placed a vial of Dr. Drake’s medicine in Hayday’s hand.
I whisper in Paladin’s ear, “Ichaival is the imposter.”
Time resumed. Hayday administers another shot to Dr. Drake. Doubletake’s blade, in Paladin’s hands, hummed with plasma. She ignited her engines and sailed at the robot. It tried to dodge but Doubletake held it in place. It started to stab him but several copies of me held it back. The katana sunk through the creature. It fell limply to the ground.
The survivors began congratulating each other. They high fived and cheered. Doubletake and I, however, didn’t join them. We tried to reach out to that thread. We envisioned the skateboards but we couldn’t move them. We saw other possibilities that once stretched out in front of us fold in on one another till only one remained. We saw the other layered realities dissolved to one single point. The world moved on leaving the two of us moored in timeless nothing. We felt the nothing chew at us. Slow at first. Faster after that. Like sand castles falling apart in the tide. We felt…
The imposter Ichaival crumbled on the ground. Dr. Drake wiped his brow. Paladin ran to the communication panel. She started calling in Aegis support. Hayday was powering down the portal equipment. Doubletake gave me a hug. He pulled me in tight like a celebration but he whispered in my ear, “Did you feel that?”
I pulled him in closer and replied, “Yes. What happened?”
He shook his head and took my hand. I said, “We… died. A lot? I never feel that when a clone dies. I see it but I never feel it.”
He tried to form other words but he stumbled over them a few times. He managed to say, “Usually it’s like a bad dream. I wake up before it happens. But that… We didn’t. We just kept…”
He got cut off by Dr. Drake who shook our hands. He kept thanking us. While tried to say it was all part of the job. The security doors flew open and several lunar security forces entered the room. They began taking our statements. I didn’t tell them anything about the fuzzy memories I had. I can’t remember them like a bad dream but they stuck with me in flashes. A pair of security officers started placing restraints on the robot Ichaival before placing the whole creature inside a containment cage.
I tried to speak to Doubletake again but the officers began drilling him about his side of the story. I walked away. Taking a seat at Hayday’s desk, I took my first deep breath before choking on it. Laying on the desk was an empty vial of Dr. Drake’s serum. I’d seen it before but I couldn’t remember where. Touching it, I remembered being afraid but not why. I picked it up but the memories kept fading.