All Gaseous Girl wanted was a quiet week. She couldn’t remember exactly why. The only thing of great importance that had happened recently was that Evan had turned up again. They were tentatively dating, nothing serious, low-key. Neither was quite sure where the other stood. They had not yet brought up the disastrous Christmas where Evan had cheated on her with Lizzie, which had ended their last relationship. Madeleine did not look forward to discussing that. On the other hand, Lizzie seemed to be entirely out of the picture now. This seemed a good sign.
Her patrols were quiet, no major crises or apocalypses. Her job as a police consultant/detective was sputtering along, as usual. It wasn’t nearly as eventful as television detective shows made it out to be. Still, Madeleine had felt oddly fatigued that whole week. It was as if she had gone on some great adventure, fighting off a massive hell-army and saving the universe, or something. She couldn’t remember doing that at all. Madeleine suspected that a time thing might have been involved. She just hated time things.
At any rate, it was a Wednesday night, and she was out on patrol. Madeleine had nothing else to do. Hiccup Holly, her nemesis, was in lock-up, though she would probably be escaping soon. Supervillains had an appallingly easy time escaping from jail or the asylum or wherever. Madeleine had once written an angry letter to the editor on that subject. Nothing had been done. Politics. She disliked politics almost as much as time things.
She made a turn onto Eleventh Street, which ran right by one of the city’s strip malls. It was past closing time, so there shouldn’t have been anyone around other than security people. Yet, as she walked past the knock-off outlets and small bookstores, she saw a dim white shade floating eerily towards the jewelry place. Madeleine sighed. The Baleful Burglar, again.
Madeleine powered up and flew towards him. “You there, stop,” she said, with something less than conviction. She still felt done in, for some reason. The ghost looked towards her and gave a prodigiously melancholy boo. She paused. It sounded different than the usual boos of the Baleful Burglar. “Do I know you?”
“Alas,” wailed the spirit, “No one alive knows me now. I am the most wretched of men, doomed to an eternity of obscurity…”
“Okay, so who were you then?” Madeleine said.
“I was Lord Weston Pembridge, tragically slain in a most lamentable boating accident. I was engaged to the loveliest of ladies, Emma Featherston-Cloud, but alas, I fear she died of a broken heart after my own demise..”
“You don’t know that,” Madeleine observed. “She probably married someone else. Life happens.”
The ghost looked at her frostily. “She died of a broken heart,” he insisted. “We were the most devoted of affianced couples.”
“Sure you were,” Madeleine said. “I thought the same thing. Then my boyfriend cheated on me at Christmas. Love’s fickle.”
“My Emma would never have dishonored our engagement in that manner!” Lord Weston said. “Especially not at Christmastime, the one time of the year when men and women open their shut-up hearts-”
“Okay, now you’re cribbing from Dickens,” Madeleine said. “Honestly, let’s get to the point, okay? What’re you doing here?”
The ghost of Lord Weston sighed. “Actually, I wished to engage your services. An associate of mine in this dread afterlife said that you were diligent in thwarting burglaries. I hoped that, if I attempted a burglary, you would appear.”
Madeleine’s stomach tightened. So much for her quiet week. “And you want me for….”
The ghost looked troubled. It moaned about for a long minute, before it finally spoke again. “I…would like to be sure that Lady Featherston-Cloud was, ah, faithful. I wish to know what happened to her. Alas, I can find no trace. If you could…that is…”
“Done,” Madeleine said. “I’ll look up what’s her face and get back to you. I do bill for expenses.” This last was a formality. She expected that it wouldn’t take much more than a few ancestry searches on the Internet. Still, a job was a job. At least, she thought, it wasn’t a time thing. Little did she know.
Meg Atomic had been searching for weeks, but there was no one left to save anymore. She had tried, digging through rubble piles, crawling into shattered buildings. She hadn’t seen anyone. Not for the last time, Meg wondered if she should just hang up her cape.
She walked down the broken street towards the distant river. The city was gone, but perhaps there were survivors in the suburbs. Capes like her had never worked the suburbs. The bad guys were in the cities; everyone knew that. The Malevolent Med-Student? City. Titanium Walrus? City. The Rogue Jaywalker? Definitely city. Meg had worked the city with her family, and stayed in the city when she set out on her own. She snipped that thought off as soon as it appeared. She couldn’t think about her family. Not now.
When Meg came in sight of the river, she realized she had a problem. The bridges were gone. The wreck of a giant robot sprawled amidst one. The other was just gone. It could’ve been the Disintegration Beam, or the Kaboominator. Either way, she couldn’t get across. Meg had never learned to swim, and she wasn’t nigh-invulnerable, like her father- snip. The river was out. So the suburbs were out. She kept moving.
She passed the alley where she had saved her first person. It had been a standard mugging. The guy had wandered into a dark alley hoping to find a shortcut to a theater. Then the usual: a group of punks had emerged and threatened violence. Meg could still remember her heart going at trip-hammer pace as she dropped in and told the robbers to back off. They didn’t. She blasted them, then left them for the police. Her parents had been so- snip. Meg left the alley. No one was there now. She kept on.
Meg had forgotten the city layout. It was a mess anyway; so many streets had been torn apart, ripped up, or flung sideways. But now, she turned a corner past a pile of shattered building and stopped cold. The park. The burnt shadows where – she tried to cut it off, to walk away. But the thoughts she had been suppressing all day came rushing back. Meg saw it again.
It had been a Wednesday. Wednesdays were never lucky for Meg. The bad guys had finally figured out that they could take over the city a lot easier if they teamed up, and despite their colossal egos and psychotic personalities they had actually made the team work. They staged attacks at different points across the city, forcing her family to split up. Then, having divided, they conquered. Meg’s father, the Captain, had died with the second bridge. Her siblings had followed, one by one. It had come down to her and her mother, right here. Then it was just her. In blind tear-stricken fury, Meg Atomic had dropped the mental restraints she had worked so hard to build and unleashed the most powerful blast she could. She had taken out the bad guys. The city had gone with them. So had most of the state. The rest of the world followed later, in the chaos of muddled intelligence and terrified world leaders. Then Meg had lost contact with everyone else.
Now it was just her, Meg Atomic, standing alone in the dead ash of a vaporized park, surrounded by the city she had sworn to protect. She swiped at her face reflexively, but she had cried out a long time ago. Then she turned away. If just one person had survived, maybe she could find them, and maybe she could apologize. There were a few areas of the city she hadn’t reached yet. Meg kept walking.
“Take only the Eye of Schamazel,” boomed the Face of Shmitazinkterum. “Nothing else!”
Note: this story takes place before Constance, a long-standing character around these parts, became the guardian angel we all know and love.
Evinrude was wafting through space as a disembodied consciousness. He wasn’t entirely sure how this had happened. He had been running for his life down a tunnel as a gurgling tentacled Thing charged at him, when quite suddenly he had tripped. Evinrude had expected to be eaten, or possibly driven mad. What actually happened was that the tunnel walls melted away, the Thing vanished, and Evinrude suddenly found himself floating in a dark and silent void.
He waited, for a while, and nothing changed. Evinrude wondered uneasily if this was the afterlife. Perhaps he had been sent there for his sins. The question was, what were his sins? He’d been the crown prince, not the actual king, so he’d never had a chance to influence his country’s policies. The only thing that came to mind was that he’d sent letters bordering on the romantic to Lady Eulalie, while he had been betrothed to Lady Amaryllis. All right, Evinrude admitted, that was pretty bad. True, on the few occasions when he had met with his intended, their conversation had never left the topic of the weather. But perhaps that was his fault. Perhaps he should have made more of an effort to understand her. His conversations had just been so much easier with Lady Eulalie. Still, he had responsibilities. If he could only get back to Maventry, he vowed, he would fix things.
At that moment, a light shone in the void. The figure resolved itself into a woman, who appeared somewhat stressed. “Oh, okay, you’re here. Great. So, who are you, and what do you want?”
“What?” said Evinrude.
“Sorry,” she said, pushing back her hair and consulting a flashcard. “I’m new at this. I used to be Death, you see, but that job got passed on. I’m working Time now. My name’s Winifred.”
“I thought Time was an old man with a beard.”
“Well, he was, but he retired, lives in New Florida now. I was between jobs…I hope I’m doing it right?” Winifred consulted her flashcard again. “I’m supposed to ask you the question, and then you answer, and then we review your life history, and then you answer again, and then I send you back. You’re supposed to get a moral out of this!” she added, helpfully.
“Well,” he began, “I’m Evinrude, and what I want is to get back to where I came from.”
“Er, that’s not quite how it works…” Winifred attempted to explain again, thinking that perhaps she had not been clear. “See, you’re supposed to reflect more deeply, consider your life choices-” She brightened. “Why don’t we do that, then? You need to replay your life history! Roll film!”
A blur of images shot past. Evinrude got a vague glimpse of fire. Then all was dark again. “The projector’s messed up!” Winifred exclaimed in dismay.
“I’m so sorry,” Evinrude said. “Can I go now?”
“But… but you’ve got to learn something. It’s not right if you don’t learn something, and I meant for you to, but then the projector broke, and…”
Evinrude sighed. “Fine. Is there a way you can repair the, ah, projector?”
“Maybe if I asked Milton? He’s War, so he knows a bit about tech…”
“Maybe you should.”
“Great!” Winifred said. “Back in a flash!” She disappeared, leaving Evinrude to waft in the void again. After some time, the images appeared again, much slower this time. Evinrude saw his life play out before him. Only Winifred, in an effort to be as helpful as possible, hadn’t just included the parts that he knew. She had included everything.
Evinrude saw Philip of House Shirley make the arrangement to have Eulalie flamed by a dragon. He saw Philip murder Amaryllis and use her death as pretext for a war. He saw himself asking Rowena for help, and Rowena sending him to his death to cover the truth about her father. He saw Philip becoming king of his country, and Rowena becoming Prime Minister. He saw Maxwell Valerian abandoning him to certain death in the cave. Then, when he had seen everything, Evinrude knew exactly what he wanted.
When the replay was done, Winifred reappeared. “Okay!” she said, producing her flashcards again. “It’s time to talk about what we learned today! So, who are you, and-”
Note: this is a continuation of Evinrude’s story arc, which you can find here.