Mechanical legs curled into the giant spider’s body. Its steel construction groaned under its own weight. I went through the motions of my old life. I smiled for the cameras. I swept armfuls of people out of the wreckage. I even acted shocked when the Junker sprang from their mechanical monster still alive. They waved a doomsday device around and monologued about the futility of heroism. He lectured the gathered crowds about the absurdity of hero worship. He wasn’t wrong.
Even with the light of my sun all around me, I felt cold. With hundreds gathered to watch, I felt alone. I was home but it felt alien. I felt alien.
“All will tremble and bow before the might and majesty that is the JUNKER! I am the most powerful force in the world–UPCYCLING your DOOM! It is by my hand that I will reshape this planet into a green oasis of beauty! Even you, Amy Dangerous, are no match for my wondrous intellect.”
Yawning, I flicked a wave of force at the Junker. It rippled through the air and broke his hand. I slipped through a gravity well to catch the device midfall. Each moment passed in slow motion. To the world watching from their homes, I was a flash of light and a smile. For me, it seemed like hours passed. Taking time, I walked around the crowd inspecting their still terrified faces frozen in a moment I was separate from. I was living in a future past their present but still stuck in their moment. It made me want to scream. How could they stand there staring? What is wrong with them that they can’t help themselves? Why are they so slow?
I took several deep breaths. Forcing myself to relax, I eased my consciousness back into their flow of time. It was like wading into an ice-cold stream. The slowness of their world was chilling but exhilarating. The atoms around me began humming again. Then the flood of thoughts and feelings washed over me. All at once I could hear the blood pumping in through Junker’s head. He was cursing me internally but externally he only gulped. I remembered to brace myself before the crowd began to cheer. They were deafening audibly and mentally.
Their cries felt hollow. If they were actually happy about Junker’s defeat it was because it meant they could put off shouldering the burdens that created his ideology. The gathered crowds could rest easy now that they didn’t have to face their own sins for another day. All my time away and I was still a bandage on a broken world.
“Amy. Amy! Hey, AMY!” The voice snapped me out of my haze. Paladin was shaking my shoulder. Her worried voice betrayed her formidable looking armor. I started to say something but she talked over me. “Yeah, yeah, you’re back. Awesome. Midas City is under attack. Wrath is finally making his move.”
I’ve apologized publicly since but I took off with enough force to throw most of the surrounding crowd off their feet and left an impact crater where I stood. The Earth became a blur of colors as I lifted back into the sky. The early morning sun wheeling backward into the early evening. My mind was racing but blank. My body was reacting on instinct. Why was I in such a hurry. I couldn’t answer, no, wouldn’t answer myself. I just flew.
When the golden city glistened on the horizon, I came to a stop. The force clapped in the sky like thunder rolling back the clouds. On the battlefield below me, Wrath’s army of cyber warriors created stripes of red shield walls stretching to the sea. Mechanical walkers, rolling fortresses, and a handful of kaiju pocked the green hills like evil acne. Hovering above the walls of the city were a thousand golden Centauri raptors. They looked like wingless angels in the setting sun.
Standing between the armies was a hero I’d never seen before. He wore a similarly golden uniform with an Aegis ‘A’ shield emblazoned on his cape. His blonde hair thrown over his shoulders in flowing waves. He was yelling to Wrath about ‘truth & justice’ in a dramatic voice. Every now and then he would flash a smile to a camera crew on the battlefield.
I drifted behind the battle lines. Cuphands was speaking through gritted teeth to Michon. “Why do you hesitate? We could destroy them. I could destroy them.”
Michon shook his head, “Please, using your power at that level could tear a hole in reality. This will work.”
Cuphands scoffed. He said, “I don’t need Goldstarr to broker a peace with an animal like Wrath. He only understands violence. I could give it to him.”
“Sir,” Michon said, “You may be right but a straightforward war would decimate my raptors. We wouldn’t be able to police the city. You couldn’t keep control without us.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Cuphands said.
Michon wasn’t listening to him. He was focused on Goldstarr. The Centauri said, “I don’t know where Aegis dug this guy up. It’s like he’s from a different world.” He laughed. “If Amy were here she’d… Amy?” He turned to face me with his jaw hanging slack. “When did you… how have you… I mean I thought you were… When?”
I used my forefinger to close his mouth. “Just like thirty minutes ago. I’ve been better. I’m really alive. I think your last question was a repeat.”
His lips pressed into a smile. Traces of tears wetting the corners of his eyes. He said, “We all thought you were dead or in a different dimension. I’m so glad to see you. I missed you.”
I gave him a wink. “I missed me too.” He smiled at that. I asked, “Who’s that stiff?”
“A negotiator,” said Cuphands jumping into the conversation. “Someone requested unnecessary help from Aegis to deal with this little diplomatic situation. Much like your help is unnecessary.”
Michon said, “That is Goldstarr. He’s some new hotshot at Aegis. I requested help in defending ourselves but he’s all they sent.”
The blonde hero threw his cape back in a flourish and shot his camera crew a smile. He was saying something about how cities are like big apples that you chew and crime is the worm that doesn’t taste good when you chew. Wrath was nodding along like he was following but his thousand-yard stare told a different story.
“Hey, horn head,” Goldstarr yelled. He thrust a hand into Wrath’s chest. “Are you listening to me?”
The bull demon’s eyes crossed. His nostrils flared. One of his hooves dug a rut in the ground.
Michon rubbed his eyes and pinched his nose. He said, “Amy, I can’t say how happy I am to have you back.”
This time I rolled my eyes. I said, “That’s a new tune. The last time we talked you sounded like you never wanted to see me again.”
He started to laugh but stopped. He took his golden eyes off the escalating diplomatic emergency. “What? The last time we talked was on that… “ He glanced at Cuphands and then back to me before continuing, “Recon mission.” He coughed. “I haven’t seen you since before the Artificial Insurrection.”
“Yeah, right. I think we are remembering that, er, recon differently, ” I said. “Theoretically, asking for friend, how long ago was that?”
Michon looked me over before answering. “That was three years ago. It’s 2018. Why? How long were you gone for?”
It’s only been three years here, I thought. “Wait, Artificial what?”
He started to say something but the familiar sound of a fist breaking a jaw snapped our attention forward. Wrath’s jaw hung slack. He roared and threw his own. The minotaur’s knuckles met Goldstarr’s nose breaking it immediately. Blood washed down his white and gold uniform. He reared back and head-butted the bull. The strength of the hit put Wrath on his knees for a moment. The bull demon stood up using his ax as a crutch and swung it wide. Goldstarr caught the blade with his forearms. The blade inched toward his face before he snapped it in half with a roll of his arms.
“Well, hot dang.” I said, “He might have things under control.”
Wrath pointed at the camera crew. One of the rolling fortresses at his back aimed their cannons at the huddled journalist. Before Michon had finished cursing I was plucking the shells out of the air. Blood thrummed in my ears as I soared back to the fortress. My heart pounded as I tossed the bombs back inside the artillery tubes. When I slowed back to normal speed, I watched the confusion on Wrath’s face turn to anger as he realized what I had done. I smirked and threw myself into a punch. The shockwave knocked his troops off their feet. A mechanical walker took a knee to steady itself. Smoke and fire billowed from the rolling fortress. I blew the bull demon a kiss and asked, “Did you miss me?”
Wrath roared. He drew a pair of jagged swords and advanced on me. War horns blew as his army stood. They began to run for the walls of Midas. The ground trembled as the rolling fortresses sped forward. A pair of the kaiju broke from their handlers tearing at the ground on all fours. The mechanical walkers took flight with searing jump jets. Rage Troopers echoed their leader’s roar and began running for the city. Lasers scattered across the field like the murderous rave.
I started to constrict the gravity as a wall in front of Midas to form a barrier but something or someone wrestled them from me. A wave of force threw me into the oncoming army behind a screaming Goldstarr. The power felt familiar and yet… Goldstarr’s fist connected with Wrath sending the bull demon hurdling into the air.
Shaking off my confusion, I joined the fight. The nearest kaiju threw its front claws on to the city wall. Taking it by the tail, I swung it in a circle. Throwing it into a wide arc, it knocked into a platoon of troopers.
Michon and his warriors flew into fray. The rest became a flurry of fighting. I can’t recall the specifics but the moon was high when the last Rage Troopers surrendered. They threw down their weapons. Their cracked armor crumbled off them in heavy chunks.
Michon put a hand on my shoulder. He was smiling . A team of Centauri warriors handcuffed the troopers and whisk them into the air while he said, “You were better than ever. I was so afraid if you made it back that you’d be… well… I thought maybe…”
“I’d be rusty?” I supplied.
“Yeah, but obviously I was wrong. You were incredible. Can I buy you a drink? The banquet hall will be serving late tonight. I’m sure the rest of the ‘Lost Boys’ would love to buy you a drink too.”
I stopped to watch the Centauri soldiers celebrating. Some were dancing in the light of the street lamps above the rooftops. The music of the clubs soaking past the denizens celebrating in the streets. Reaching out, I could feel their relief to live another day. Their joy was genuine. Maybe I was just a bandage for their world but they still needed me. Things would never be the way they were but I was back. I was home. Finally.
“Sorry, Michon. It’s just that… Well, you see. I need some space to sort myself out. I’ve missed a lot time and have to catch up. Also, we… well… I… Uh… I spoke to someone I thought was you before I left. I… We… It didn’t go the way I thought it would. Then there was this whole… I had to leave but I was mixed up about it and…”
He cut me off with a wave. “We can figure it out later. We have all the time in the world. You should get some rest. It sounds like you had a long trip.”
I smiled and nodded. He started to move his arms so I began the motions for a hug but he was just going to pat my shoulder. So I started to make for a side hug but he made for a handshake. He stepped back. Holding out a fist he winked. We bumped fists. Lifting off the streets of Midas, I turned toward the west and sailed into the sky.
The End for Now