Tam felt the universe swirling in the palm of her hand. Stars brighter than galaxies filled her eyes and all around her a cosmic wind played the primal anthem of creation. As commutes to work went it rated about a 7 out of 10 in her book.
“We’re going to arrive in time, right?” Jen asked, gazing out through the iridescent skin of the bubble of real space that surrounded them.
“Should be just-in-time from what I can tell,” Tam said. “This is tricky to calibrate though with our worlds having different time streams.”
“Are there any changes you make at this point?”
“Nope. We’re basically baggage until we land. If I poke the spell now it’ll unravel faster than I can recast it and we’ll wind up in a whole bunch of places. As in one atom over there, another one a light year or two away and the rest dispersed a little bit farther off than that.”
“I wish Charlene had given us more to go on for this one,” Jen said, looking at the picture that represented half of their intel on the mission at hand.
“Yeah, she usually is a little more forthcoming than a homing crystal, a picture, and ‘rescue him’,” Tam said. “Think it’s a sign of her being under a lot of stress too?”
Around their bubble, a trail of glowing smoke curled and then whipped past. It was only as it faded away that Tam finished processing what she’d seen. Each mote of light in the gas had been a galaxy, with a countless number of them strung together in fuzzy line whose reach was longer the boundaries of the knowable universe.
“I don’t know,” Jen said. “I can’t imagine her not being under a tremendous amount of pressure, but the few times I’ve seen her she’s looked, almost relaxed?”
“I kind of got that sense too,” Tam said. “Which should be worrisome but somehow isn’t? I don’t know if I can explain it.”
“I’ve sat in a lot of meetings with her and Anna recently, so I get what your saying. If she was anyone else, I’d chalk up the calm she’s been showing as really effective repression, like she was trying exceptionally hard to be the rock for the rest of us to lean on.”
“But it’s not that is it? I mean that was my first thought too, but the energy she’s fired up with, it seems too genuine doesn’t it?”
“As near as I can tell? Yeah, it does,” Jen said. “I don’t think she’s putting on a brave front for us, or is deluding herself or us about the crisis that’s coming. She knows it’s the end of the world, and she’s ready for it.”
“Well, almost ready I guess,” Tam said. “I don’t recall this mission being on the roadmap.”
“We had some contingencies in place for things like this,” Jen said. “It’s probably why I got nominated as your backup – it was my idea to be ready to deal with last minute requests for asylum.”
“I’m glad you thought of it,” Tam said. “I’d hate to be scrambling to get this done any later. It feels like we’re cutting it pretty close as it is with only a week left in the future vision.”
“We weren’t sure if we’d see any new refugees given how close the end is,” Jen said. “I know the people from the High One’s world have gone into hiding there for the time being. Same with Duinella’s people who are still being hunted by the Preservers.”
“I can’t really blame them,” Tam said, tracing her finger along the skin of their travel bubble. Despite its appearance, there was nothing fragile about a sphere capable of traveling through the sort of space that made galaxies into points of light. While it hadn’t been her spell that created it – she’d borrowed the effect from Charlene – Tam felt a measure of pride about that. She could think of something else that wasn’t as fragile as it appeared. Hopefully.
“From what Anna’s said, the opinion on our world as a viable refuge or ally seems to be split along the lines we’d expected,” Jen said. “A few of the worlds we’ve contacted, like Telidees and Castorvell are firm in their support of us, but most of the rest have only been willing to enter into ‘negotiations of intent’ rather than forming specific alliances.”
“I can’t blame them either,” Tam said. “I’m amazed you’ve been able to talk as many into taking our side as you have.”
“Oh that hasn’t been me so much,” Jen said. “Anna’s done most of the heavy lifting there.”
“In a move that will surprise noone, she’s said the same thing about you,” Tam said.
“She’s being kind,” Jen said. “My role has been selecting viable candidates to approach, she’s the one who’s handled interfacing with the leaders we’ve been able to contact. Well, her and JB.”
“We’re lucky to have both of them,” Tam said. “JB’s basically a genius when it come to connecting with anyone, from dump truck drivers to heads of state, I have literally never seen them at a loss for how to handle themselves.”
“Have they always been like that?” Jen asked. “I mean I kind of can’t imagine them as a toddler. The only picture that comes to mind is basically a short version of the JB.”
“From what their Mom said, that’s more or less exactly right,” Tam said. “I mean, I think they have gotten more adept with age, but little JB apparently had poise for days, and basically glided through school with their classmates and teachers dancing to whatever tune they played. Makes me kind of jealous to be honest. Happy for them too, but, seriously, I could have used even a drop of that when I was a kid.”
“I’d be happy if we could bottle a drop of it now,” Jen said with a laugh. “I don’t have any problem with backing you up on this, but we’re going to be alone on this world, and I’m guessing that kicking butts until we fix things isn’t going to be an option, even if I can come up with a fantastic plan for how to do it well.”
“You have a lot more to offer than that,” Tam said, resting a hand on Jen’s shoulder.
“I spent a whole lot of time learning to kick butts though,” Jen said. “It’s kind of my comfort zone at this point.”
“Right, because you looked totally lost after a four hour tactical session with Anna and Jimmy B. Oh no, wait, that was all of the rest of us.”
“Well four hours wasn’t really enough. The situation with the Mirror Walkers was a complex one.”
“Yeah, but you were smiling at the four hour mark. Val was literally asleep and Sara was astral projecting herself onto a beach in the south of France.”
“Planning tactics is just kicking butt with your brain. Still sort of the same comfort zone,” Jen said, shaking her head as she watched a sun flare into a supernova and collapse into a black hole within the space of a single breath.
“There was no fighting on the Mirror Walker mission,” Tam said. “I don’t recall that we even had any plans for fighting there. We spent all our time working out how to get our reflections aligned so that the reflections would show the proper side of us and represent our desires without flipping them around.”
“Yeah, but that was like combat,” Jen said. “I mean we couldn’t punch the mirrors but it was still a puzzle.”
“Ok so you’re a kick butt problem solver. That’s a pretty broad comfort zone,” Tam said.
“Maybe. It still would have been nice to have JB here though.”
“I agree. But they’re needed for the negotiation with the Parliament of Worlds. Unless we can convince those guys to stay neutral in all this, it’s not going to matter what kind of allies we have standing with us against the High One and his fellow tyrants.”
“I haven’t heard much about that. It’s been Anna’s domain mostly. She’s had me working on ground level stuff more,” Jen said.
“From what Charlene’s said they’re a group that’s been setup to prevent conflicts from arising between worlds. Sort of a cosmic supreme court where problems that arise between two worlds can be taken to be resolved.”
Jen furrowed her brow in thought for a moment.
“That we’re acknowledging their existence means that the Parliament has the power to back up the authority it claims to have. So they could save us, but we’re having Anna and JB argue for their neutrality instead?”
“Yeah. Charlene was specific about that.”
Jen thought for a moment longer.
“She’d probably only do that if they were inclined to be biased against us in the first place. But why would they…oh, of course. We upset the balance between the worlds when we opened our borders.”
“It’s more than that. I gather Charlene more or less declared war on people like the High One.” Tam said.
In front of the bubble an image formed of a creature that looked like a centipede but at the end of each of its legs there was an unblinking eye.
“We’ve almost got him,” a man’s voice said as the centipede-like creature wriggled towards the bubble and vanished in a puff of smoke.
The stream of distant galaxies was gone, replaced by swirling stars and dazzling moons that winked and blinked out of existence as the bubble sped closer to its destination.
“How long till we get there?” Jen asked.
“I can’t say for certain, this spell’s way beyond me, I think we’re close though.”
“Interesting that Charlene set us on this course so firmly. She must have some hidden aces that she doesn’t want the Parliament interfering with.”
“I wonder if this is one of them?” Tam asked. A world had appeared before them, bright and green and blue. The land masses were wrong for it to be Earth but even from the great distance they were from it the two could see it contained life.
“Don’t let the Burrower dig on its own,” another man’s voice said as a second image of the centipede appeared. It was gnashing at the ground with a maw of bloody teeth. With each bite sparks flew from the contact points, each accompanied by a terrible tearing sound.
“I got a spike in it,” the first man said. “It’s not going anywhere at this point.”
The image of the Burrower floated along with the bubble as it passed the orbit of the world’s outermost moon, slowing more and more with each passing second.
The Burrower, either hearing their voices, or in frustration at its lack of progress in digging at the floor, turned and flared upwards, its volume expanding by a factor of four as it’s eyes shot beams of different colors in all directions.
“Looks like we’re not going to coming in to a particularly calm situation,” Jen said.
“So we’ll be in your comfort zone?” Tam asked with a smile.
“Probably. Which under the circumstances isn’t great,” Jen said.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to resolve this one quickly,” Tam said. “From what I can see our magic is compatible with the ley lines here.”
“I’m not concerned about winning this battle,” Jen said. “I’m more worried about what it’s going to do to our war overall.”
“I’m not sure we’ll be able to rescue all that many of the people here who need asylum,” Tam said. “We can see about spreading the message and having them hold up somewhere safe for a week until we can come get them though.”
“That’s more or less the problem,” Jen said. “Think about what’s going to happen when we show up, strange visitors from another planet, fighting for Truth, Justice, and Our Own Way and bring news to the people here that there’s a safe haven for them, outside the control of those who are oppressing them.”
“The people who are in charge here aren’t going to be any happier than the High One or the Preservers, or any of the others. Given the time pressure they might even join up with the High One’s cause. Yeah, I can see how that’s going to be a problem, but do we have a choice?”
“We could wait and sneak our target to safety once noone is watching. I don’t like it though. Part of all of these missions was to do more than save a few people. They’re supposed to show people that there is hope out there. It’s what we’re supposed to stand for.”
“Looks like we’ve got some good news then,” Tam said as a new image flickered to life. “I don’t think stealth is going to be an option we have time for.”
The Burrower was shrunken and collapsed. He bled from multiple wounds and at least a quarter of his eyes were gone.
“There, I told you he wasn’t going to get away,” a man with an absurdly oversized rifle said.
“I bet he regrets telling all those others about how they should revolt,” the second man said. “Spent so long convincing them that they were special. That he could save them. And now look at him.”
The Burrower’s body heaved with painful breaths as the bubble punched into the planet’s atmosphere.
The first man leveled his rifle and aimed at the Burrowers midsection, where its two largest eyes were.
“You’re nothing maggot. Nobody cares about you, nobody’s here to save you, and nobody ever will be!”
The bubble shattered on impact with the ground and from the flames and smoke, Jen and Tam rose to their feet, glittering in the light of the magics each carried.
“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Jen said and rolled her shoulders as Tam began to chant in ancient Latin.