Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 4 – Act 1

Tam had a day off. Several days in fact. It felt alien. Like time that existed in some nebulous, unreal space.

Except she’d been in unreal spaces. Three of them the previous week. Those had been fun to deal with.  Fun in the “this shouldn’t be happening, and we’re all probably going to die sense”.

So, normal 9 to 5 stuff.

This day off thing though? That was weird. Creepy almost.

“You look like you want to start climbing the walls but you’re afraid the walls will try to eat you,” Cynthia said, a hint of amusement coloring her voice to the accompany the smokey, wood-fire scent she wore after getting off duty.

“The walls haven’t done that for at least a month,” Tam said, eyeing them closely nonetheless. Turning one’s own apartment into a carnivorous beast was the sort of thing one neither forgot quickly, not lived down easily, even when one’s significant other was endlessly understanding and forgiving of slight magical mishaps.

“And you know they’re not going to do anything today,” Cynthia said. “Isn’t that right?”

She wasn’t talking to Tam. Which was good, because it wasn’t Tam who answered.

“We’re not even hungry today,” the eastern wall, also known as ‘Artie’ for the various pictures hung on him, said. “Plus we can’t eat you. Where would we get new decorations from if we did?”

It turned out that walls, or at least the walls in their apartment, loved having pictures hung on them. Also bookshelves. And random chotchkies. Pretty much anything but motivational posters. Those tended to spontaneously catch on fire within a minute or two of being displayed.

Tam drew in a breath. It wasn’t the weirdness in her life that was alarming when she reflected on it. It was how comfortable it all felt. Talking walls should have been at least a little unsettling, but when she tried to imagine moving to a house that didn’t speak to her at odd moments the thought left her cold.

“I thought you were going out?” Cynthia asked.

“I was,” Tam said and then amended, “I am.”

“And you weren’t going to go looking for trouble right?” Cynthia said. It was more a reminder than a question.

“Right,” Tam said. “Just going to go and have an enjoyable, and completely mundane day. No magic for me.”

There wasn’t a particular reason she had to avoid magic. With Sarah, James, and a half dozen other club members helping, she’d been able to ease back on the amount of casting she had to do on a day to day basis. She’d avoided magical burnout, or overload, by a narrower margin than she’d have preferred, but thanks to people looking over her she had avoided it.

That was better for the less advanced club members, the part-timers who hadn’t been pulled quite as far into the supernatural as she had been. Tam scaling back her efforts gave them more of a chance to deal with some real issues too, which helped them grow both as casters and people. For the problems that turned out to be a bit bigger than expected, James was there to make sure that none of the learning experiences proved to be ones were the lessons could only be absorbed posthumously.

“No magic.” Cynthia’s eyes were narrowed in suspicion. She knew that’s what James had suggested, and she knew Tam had agreed to it readily. She also knew her girlfriend though.

“Really!” Tam said. “I will be good. I promise.”

Technically she didn’t have to defend herself. It wasn’t like Cynthia was going to scold her if Tam cast a spell. Probably.

“You’re always good,” Cynthia said. “Come here and let me give you a stinky hug before I hit the shower and the sack.”

The wood smoke odor was mixed with a fair amount of sweat, but Tam didn’t mind it Cynthia had been in regular duty for the last week, and so smoke and sweat had become hard wired in Tam’s brain as a signal that the woman she loved was nearby.

“If any actual problem comes up…” Tam began.

“…you’ll probably know about it before I do,” Cynthia said, holding Tam in close. “If a call comes in here though, I’ve got three different ways to contact you, and that’s not counting getting the club involved.”

“And you will right? No ‘let Tam rest, she needs this day off’ nonsense?”

“I’m not sure how good a case you can make for it being nonsense, but yes, I will definitely call,” Cynthia said. She yawned. “Assuming I’m awake.”

“That’s fair. I’ll be back by tonight so we can head out to Silver Specter’s show then.”

One problem with Cynthia being on regular duty meant her hours didn’t line up with Tam’s perfectly well. That wasn’t a problem when Tam was busy since she was either at the Second Chance Club or so engrossed in her studies that literal bomb blasts had low-ish odds of attracting her attention. When Tam didn’t have a crisis to distract her though, she tended to tinker and as that occasionally produced bomb blasts it wasn’t the ideal sort of activity when someone else needed to get a reasonable allotment of sleep in.

Their compromise to that dilemma had been to make plans for the nights Cynthia was free and for Tam to promise to find something to do with herself for at least a few hours each day so that Cynthia wouldn’t risk self-immolation at the next fire she fought due to being over-fatigued.

It was a good plan, except for the part where Tam discovered that she had no idea what to do with herself when she wasn’t dealing with an ever escalating series of crisis.

In a sense, the crisis were still growing. Her vision of the Earth’s impending fiery demise remained unchanged. Future casting showed the end of the world drawing steadily closer, but Charlene had been adamant that they not try to tackle the problem directly.

“If fate is a river that runs from the past to the future, you don’t overcome it by wrestling it onto a new course,” she said, before providing some more concrete details around what she was thinking.

Tam would have worried more about taking a ‘hands off approach’ to the end of the world, except that wasn’t what they were doing either. There were plans in motion and work being done. The key that she’d finally understood was that she didn’t have to be the one to make all of it happen.

With that in mind she let go of Cynthia and turned to look for her messenger bag. She wasn’t going to need any of the spell materials she routinely carried, and probably could have left the laptop behind as well, but somehow abandoning all of that felt like she would be abandoning too much of herself.

“Do you know where you’re going yet?” Cynthia asked as she started to get ready for her shower.

“I was thinking I’d play it by ear,” Tam said. “There’s a lot of things I could catch up on, we’ll see which ones wind up being the most appealing.”

***

The answer to that question turned out to be “heading back to work”.

Tam knew how that looked. The Second Chance Club should have been the last place she wound up on her day off. She justified the trip to herself by noting that she wasn’t heading towards her sanctum, or any of the meeting rooms, or working on preparations for any of the operations that were upcoming or underway. She a specific destination in mind and a specific objective, which was completely selfish.

“Haven’t seen you in a long time,” Jim said, as he slid out from under one of the club’s delivery vans.

“I think this is the first time I’ve been able to get away from things in a month,” Tam said, knowing that the real answer was noticeably higher than that. When she said she’d been working round the clock for half a year though, people tended to worry.

“Going to put on few miles on your bike?” Jim asked.

“I was thinking something like that. Unless it’s still under repair?”

“Well, I might have been tinkering with it a bit a few days ago, but it should still run just fine,” he said.

Tam thought back to the last time she’d seen her motorcycle. Unsurprisingly it hadn’t fared well when a Sewer Octopus had decided to crush in four of its tentacles.

To be fair to Squillioog, the Sewer Octopus, he had been very contrite afterwords and had offered to pay for the full repair. Tam had assured him that transdimensional cross cultural incidents were covered in the Second Chance Club’s basic operating budget. Getting him back home after that had been simple enough, though getting him there safely had been an adventure and a half.

Jim rolled out the fully restored motorcycle, which did indeed seem to have a few more bells and whistles worked into its design. Apart from those however it was exactly as it had been when she’d taken it out on the ill-fated Sewer Expedition.

“You know people give me all the credit for working amazing magic, but I swear you’re the actual miracle worker on our team,” Tam said, running her hands along the blemishless frame.

“Nah, what I do is simple stuff,” Jim said. “A little bit of welding here, some polish there, new coat of paint on top of it all and it’s good as new.”

“I can’t even find the welds here,” Tam said, tracing a finger over the midpoint of the gas tank which she was sure had been torn in half.

“I wanted to make sure they were solid,” Jim said. “So I spent a bit of extra time on it.”

“Thank you,” Tam said. “I feel like we don’t say that often enough.”

“Ah, no need for thanks. We’re all part of the same team.”

“Same team should mean same recognition,” Tam said. “You work hard to keep what you do invisible though don’t you?”

Jim cocked his head to one side and leaned back against the side of the delivery van he had been working on.

“I never thought about it like that,” he admitted. “I guess a mechanic’s job is to make sure you don’t have to think about the things they’ve done though.”

“But you’re always there for us,” Tam said.

“Well, to be fair, more than half the time it’s Jimmy B who’s got your transportation needs covered,” Jim said.

“Yeah, and he’s enough of a ham that he gets plenty of thanks for it,” Tam said. “You handle more the operations teams though. In fact, when was the last time you had a day off?”

“It’s been…” his voice trailed off as his gaze grew distant.

“Longer than it’s been for me, hasn’t it?” Tam asked, detecting the familiar signs of someone who’d let their work become their life.

“Well, yeah, but it’s not the same.”

“Right.” Tam said. “Because my long hours are obvious to everyone, and so they dragged me away from the pile of work I was under with a team of wild horses eventually.”

“I can’t help but notice that they didn’t drag you fall enough to get you out of the building,” Jim said.

“I’m a tankful of gas away from changing that,” Tam said.

“If that’s all that’s holding you up, I can have you topped off in two minutes,” Jim said.

“And what about you?” Tam asked. “What’s holding you here? Are there any critical projects you have to tackle?”

“There’s always maintenance to do,” Jim said. “But I’m waiting on some parts for the two major restoration projects I’m going to tackle next.”

“Sounds like the perfect time to get out of the shop then,” Tam said. “If you need a riding buddy, I’d be happy to head out in any direction you’d care to name.”

Jim chuckled at that.

“No offense, but I’m pretty sure I can’t keep up with one of your days. I’m fine if things get rough, or if the road’s a long one, but I kind of need things like gravity to work more or less all the time.”

“You’ve been talking with Cynthia haven’t you?” Tam said, feeling slightly sheepish. It had only been one date that had landed them in a dimension with variable gravity. And a few others where gravity was more or less absent. But really, she thought, those weren’t bad odds.

“She’s kind of inspiring,” Jim said.

“Yeah,” Tam said, nodding in agreement before offering Jim a bright smile. “But she also made me promise that today wasn’t going to be like that. No magic. No weirdness. Just a calm, and peaceful, normal day off.”

“And if the wild and weird comes looking for you to change that?” he asked.

“The, if it’s very lucky, the wild and weird will live to regret that choice,” Tam said, without her bright smile fading at all.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 3 – Act 4

Connie hadn’t ever piloted a submarine before and as crash courses went she felt she’d managed to keep the amount of crashing to a reasonable minimum.

“Is it strange that the weirdest thing about this is that I keep wondering how our lights are shining through blood?” Jen asked. “Blood’s not exactly transparent, but our headlights are making it look like water with some red food coloring spilled in it.”

Connie hadn’t bothered wondering about that. It was a key to dealing with magical stuff successfully. Roll with the weirdness or get rolled over by it.

“What we’re seeing is more of a projection than strictly objective reality,” Sarah said. “Bogoroa and the other physicians are taking care of that so that we can navigate in here and won’t go bonkering in the process.”

Connie corrected their course almost in time to miss a collision with a red blood cell.

“Oops,” she offered and spun the orb under her left hand to mitigate the rebound acceleration as the cell’s spongy wall hurled them away like a trampoline.

Their craft was a soap bubble, an iridescent sphere with enough room for a crew of twenty, though Jen had insisted that no one but the three of them be risked on the journey. Connie had been impressed with both its size and the fact that the Telidees had something like that available on the spur of a moment.

“Microscopic bio-exploration was the first use we put shrinking technology to when we discovered it,” Bogoroa said. “It’s one thing to look at a sample in a lab, but nothing comes close to watching a biological agent in action for truly understanding how it functions.”

And so Connie had gotten to drive a submersible blood exploration vessel. She like ‘bloodmarine’ for a name, but no one else seemed to agree with her. Jen objected to the name due to it being a mismatched combination of terms, and Sarah simply thought it sounded ridiculous.

“Are you sure you didn’t need a longer training period on this?” Sarah asked. “You only spent about ten minutes with the instructor.”

“It’s not working the controls that’s the problem,” Connie said. “I can make this thing go where I want, but this blood has some funny currents in it. It’s almost like it’s fighting me.”

“Could it be?” Jen asked. She was at the primary telemetry stations, monitoring their progress through Pynni’s body towards the principal weaponization sight. Predictably that was right outside Pynni’s heart, because why not be as horrible to your living weapons as possible.

“Probably,” Sarah said. “Pynni’s body shouldn’t be rejecting us, but any weaponeer would be an idiot to leave their creation undefended from this sort of attack.”

“I thought the bio-weapon spells were still inactive?” Connie said.

“Inactive is such a broad term,” Sarah replied, checking her own display which was monitoring the temporal and spatial shifts around the craft.

When they’d first seen the bloodmarine it had towered over them, all clear crystal outer hull and sleek (and sterile) stainless steel appointments. The spells that shrunk it and its occupants down to microscopic scale weren’t fire and forget affairs. They required careful monitoring both from inside the ship by Sarah and outside the ship by Bogoroa’s team.

“We brought our own time with us,” Sarah said. “As we move through Pynni’s body we’re bringing the nearer pieces of it into that bubble so that we can move through them. If we did that without allowing any time to pass for the areas outside our sphere of influence our passage we’d be creating tiny micro bursts of speed in the cells and fluid we encountered.”

“We knew that we’d be facing an active version of the bio-plague spell as a part of this,” Jen said.

“Yeah, I’m just concerned with how much of a headstart the plague spell is going to have on us.”

“As little as possible,” Sarah said. “We’re coming up on the primary activation site now.”

Outside the bloodmarine, the sea of red they were drifting through didn’t change. Only the indicator icon directing Connie towards their destination looked different, growing with each passing second as their target came into view.

The “bio plague” was beautiful when Connie finally caught sight of it. Against a wall of red that either was or represented Pynni’s heart muscles, a glittering blue white jewel hung glittering like a star. Inside the jewel there was a man suspended as though he was floating on his back.

The closer Connie guided the bloodmarine, the more resistance she felt to its forward movement until she was barely able to make any progress at all.

“I think the spell defenses are active,” she said, gritting her teeth as the controls fought to escape her grip.

“That’s my cue,” Sarah said and began tracing glowing glyphs in the air.

“Hold on,” Jen said. “Bogoroa’s team figured this might happen. I’ve got it covered.”

“You’ve what now?” Sarah asked, the strings of light she’d been tracing falling away like confetti.

In response Jen only smiled and smack her hands one at a time into her forehead. Lights along and within the prosthetics came to life as a suit of liquid metal flowed over her body.

“I don’t…what are you doing?” Sarah asked.

“Going out the airlock it looks like,” Connie said as Jen departed the craft. Apparently the metal exo-suit did not come with communications gear.

It did however come with its own thrusters which churned a wake behind Jen as she pushed forward through the force that was holding their ship back.

Connie wondered briefly if Jen intended to make contact with the Nano-soldier on her own, but instead she stopped once she’d reached a point that felt like a hundred meters from the ship and reached out in a beckoning gesture.

Connie felt a rumble go through the ship and watched as the disembodied force that held them in its grip materialized into a pair of grasping hands.

Jen brought her prosthetics together in an X across her chest and grew (or unshrunk) to the point where she could engage the spectral hands on their own scale. As she did she glanced back to the ship and nodded for them to proceed.

“She’s literally wrestling the defense spell?” Sarah said. “I knew I should have asked about the stuff Bogoroa hooked her up with!”

“I’m taking us in,” Connie said. “You ready in case they have any backup spells waiting for us?”

“Yeah. Let’s not waste this opening,” Sarah said, unable to take her eyes off the giant form of Jen straining against the crushing hands to hold them at bay.

***

As it turned out there was not a backup spell for the main defense spell. There were three. None as powerful as the first, but each one deadly, and each more subtle than the last.

They just weren’t deadly or subtle enough.

“Here’s where things get difficult,” Sarah said, wiping an amount of blood off her arms which included all too much of her own.

“We’ll need to be quick about it,” Connie said. “Jen’s beaten the main spell about a dozen times now, but it keeps regenerating. Sooner or later she’s going to run out of stamina.”

“From what I can see in here, it’s pretty much what Bogoroa’s people predicted,” Sarah said. “The control for the defenses all runs through him.”

She gestured at the man who was floating a few feet above the floor in the small chamber within the crystal jewel they’d docked with/

“He looks like he’s moving?” Connie asked since whatever the man was doing looked only marginally related to moving. It almost looked closer to vibrating, but his changes in position weren’t that regular and he stayed too long in spots randomly.

“He’s skipping through time,” Sarah said and walked closer to him. As she did, his jittering slowed and finally stopped.

The first word out of his mouth was a scream.

“Definitely not good!” Sarah said and rushed to his side.

Connie followed her and helped hold the man down, though there wasn’t any structure like a bed to hold him too.

“The spell defenses are trying to either wake him up or kill him and they’re being very insistent about it,” Sarah said. “If he wakes up, talk to him, I’m going to need to keep him from being shredded into a lovely shower of neutrinos.”

With that she got to work, tracing her fingers an inch over the man’s chest as though she was marking out mathematical convergences from one point to another.

“What happened?” the man asked, being to move before falling back onto the invisible bed.

“You’ve been assaulted,” Connie said, thinking it was the simplest version of the truth she could think of. “We’re here to help. What’s your name?”

“Smooh,” the man said. “Smooh Davo. Why was I assaulted?”

He was trying to open his eyes, the eyelids fluttering but Sarah passed a hand over his face and he relaxed instead.

“You are very open to mystical augmentation,” Sarah said as she came to the end of one set of images she was tracing over Smooh’s body.

“I have to be, I’m only first tier scum,” Smooh said. “We have to be able to take whatever we can get, and we’re too impure for anything good.”

“That doesn’t sound all that great,” Connie said.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Smooh sad with a rueful laugh in his voice.

“No, I mean that doesn’t sound like a great system,” Connie said.

“It is for people above the fourth tier,” Smooh said.

“Can you hold this?” Sarah asked and passed Connie a long spiral of red light. Connie followed it back to find that more and more of it was emerging from Smooh’s chest and abdomen.

“What is that?” Smooth asked, still without opening his eyes.

“A weapon,” Sarah said.

“Am I being Pronounced upon? Was there already a trial?”

“No, nothing here is about you,” Connie said. “Someone has wrapped you up in some pretty nasty stuff. We’re trying to get it out you.”

“Nasty stuff? Wait, I smell iron. This isn’t the Infinite Blood Flu? It can’t be?” Smooh asked.

“Don’t know what that is, but the name sounds on the money,” Sarah said.

“No! That was just a story,” Smooh said. “Something to scare the First Tiers with. They can’t have grabbed me for that!”

“We’re not sure what brought you here, but you’ve been stuck into something like a plague machine,” Connie said. “We’re going to get you out of it though.”

“You can’t,” Smooh said. “I heard them talking about it. I was just a maintenance worker, not fit to speak, but I could listen, and I didn’t matter so they talked around me. They couldn’t get the Flu to work, not fully, but they could geas the subjects. I can’t be part of the Flu, I couldn’t speak to you if I was.”

“Yeah, I worked on that first,” Sarah said. “There’s no point saving your body if the spell vaporized every trace of your personality in the process. I’ve got your mind fully cleared now. The rest of you is proving to be a bit more difficult. I don’t want to mess up your natural casting ability either.”

“What are you doing? I don’t have any magic.” Smooh asked.

“Sure you do, you just don’t know how to use it,” Sarah said. “Going to fix that too or die trying.”

“Uh, is that a good idea?” Smooh asked. “My memories are coming back. They definitely dragged me into an Infinity Chamber. I’m a weapon now.”

“No, you’re a person,” Connie said. “The weaponization is just an add-on.”

“And add-on which is almost ready to come out,” Sarah said. “The question is, are you ready for this?”

“Ready for what?” Smooh asked.

“You’ve been abused by people who should have respected you,” Sarah said. “I’m about to cut all hold they have over you. That is going to make them pretty unhappy. If I do this, you don’t have to fight with us, but you’re never going to be able to go back to your old life.”

“What other alternative do I have?” Smooh asked.

“I can disable the spell work but leave it intact,” Sarah said. “We can deactivate this cloning pod so you won’t be a danger to anyone. You could go back to being who you were and the Higher Tier people would have no cause to distrust you. They’ll think we weren’t able to break the seals on your spells and that you might even have use to them still.”

“Or, you can work with us,” Connie said. “There’s a lot of other people in cloning chambers like this. Our plan is to free you one by one and have each of you who will join us start freeing other people too. We can’t get the job done in time to save everyone if we work on our own, but together we can spread out like a wave of hope rather than a plague.”

“Cut me free then,” Smooh said. “And let’s give the people like me their second chance.”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 3 – Act 3

The question of whether to murder one species of sapients individuals in order to save another wasn’t one that any of Jen’s teachers had ever posed to her, and even if they had she suspected they would have missed the wrinkle where one of the species was also a bio-engineered weapon designed to eliminate all life on a planet.

“We’re going to save them,” she said, plans turning in her mind like the clockwork designs she’d built her arms around.

“Them who?” Bogoroa asked. Body language varied across cultures but Jen was fairly certain that Bogoroa’s expression indicated the same sort of surprise any of the Earthlings she was familiar with would have experienced.

“All of them,” she said. “The former prisoners. The nano-soldiers. And the people of both our worlds.”

“Not all patients can be saved,” Bogoroa said. “It’s one of the guideposts which even our newest apprentices are taught to accept.”

“That’s understandable,” Jen said. “In this case though, choosing to execute one species to save the rest would work directly against what we’re trying to achieve.”

Sarah and Connie nodded in agreement, allowing Jen to speak for the both of them.

“I thought you were hoping to protect your world from a global scale biological attack?” Bogoroa said.

“That’s the immediate concern. Only preventing this attack however doesn’t address the overall problem though.”

“And what would that be?” The ghost of a smile graced Bogoroa’s lips, as though the questions were leading a pleasing direction for the Telidees physician.

Jen smiled in return. It was nice to work with people who played the game a few steps beyond the present moment. Sarah and Jen could usually keep up with her, and keeping up with Anna was always a challenge, but in Bogoroa Jen found someone who always seemed to be in synch with where her thoughts were going.

In one sense that left the questions Bogoroa asked feeling like a test. Bogoroa’s people had spend time and effort working out the ramifications of scenarios that were too fantastic for Earthly philosophers to give serious consideration to. Even in cases where there were no ‘right’ answers, the Physicians Guild was at least fully aware of the choices they were making. In that light, Jen’s answers were less important in terms of the absolute correctness (which might be impossible with subjective issues) and better measured based on how well she could show she’d managed to grasp the complexities of the situation.

“The problem beyond the immediate attack is that we have an enemy who is capable of, and willing to, launch an attack in the first place,” she said. “Eliminating these people because they’ve been made into weapons does nothing to prevent other people from being subjected to the same process and a second attack from being launched.”

Bogoroa nodded. It was obvious larger issue to contend with, and addressing it opened the next obvious question.

“How do you plan to meet this larger threat?”

“War is the typical answer,” Jen said. “Destroy your enemy before they destroy you, but that’s not what we’re going to do either.”

“Interesting. Why?”

“It’s a poor use of resources,” Jen said.

“You mean your weapons have better targets to be used against?” Bogoroa asked, without disapproval, but Jen knew that was leading towards the sort of answers the Telidees had walked away from.

“Not our weapons,” Jen said. “Our people. And theirs. There’s too much that needs to be done, and too far that we need to go. To create a better future than today we need as many people as we can get working on it together.”

“You would save them in order to subjugate them with gratitude then?” Bogoroa asked.

“No. People don’t work like that. We’ve seen that from our history too often,” Jen said. “Working together takes work. It takes finding common goals, and bringing interests together. Sometimes it means fighting, and sometimes it means compromising. The thing is you can’t do any of that with dead people. Dead enemies may not be opposing you anymore but they can also never show you where your ideas are wrong, or be convinced that your ideas are right.”

“And it’s not just dead enemies that we’d make in a war,” Connie said, chiming as the conversation swept her up. “I wrecked a city in saving your patients, but I could have as easily destroyed it and still gotten the people out that I had to. If I’d done that though, a lot of people who were opposed to what the Pure One’s leadership was doing would have been killed. And a lot of people who had no idea what was going on. And people who supported their rulers but didn’t really understand what their rulers were doing beyond a basic idea of ‘defending them from enemies’. None of those people need to be our enemies, and none of them deserved to die.”

“That leaves you with a larger problem to deal with however,” Bogoroa said.

“It’s even bigger than that,” Jen said.

“Bigger than converting two races from enemies to allies?” Bogoroa asked.

“Yes,” Jen said. “The Pure Ones aren’t the only realm which is unhappy with our policy of offering sanctuary to those in need, regardless of where they come from.”

“I must confess, that did strike us as poking a particularly ornery nest of trouble,” Bogoroa said. “I wouldn’t guess from your behavior though that your species is particularly intent on self-destruction?”

“Oh, there are days…” Connie said.

“We have a conflicting history when it comes to how we treat each other,” Jen said. “We’ve made some strides forward, and fallen back just as often it feels.”

“That was our experience as well, or I should say is our experience,” Bogoroa said. “Even a little bit of forward motion over a long enough time can yield worthwhile results though.”

“That’s the next broader level we’re looking at,” Jen said. “This crisis is a chance to show ourselves and anyone else who’s looking that we can find better answers than what people might imagine would be available.”

“But first you must resolve the issue with the Nano-Soldiers as you call them,” Bogoroa said.

“I have an idea for that,” Sarah said. Jen had wondered when she would join the conversation. She’d had a distracted look that said she was considering some other angle of the problem which Jen hadn’t wanted to interrupt.

“Will you require our aid?” Bogoroa asked.

“If you’re offering it, then yes, I think we will,” Sarah said.

“What’s your idea?” Connie asked.

“You’ve got the patients in a timelock, right?” Sarah asked. “Can you handle some spatial manipulation as well?”

“Within certain limits, yes,” Bogoroa said. “The more we adapt the space around them though, the more difficult it will be to maintain the timelock, and the failure mode for the timelock is not graceful.”

“That should work out fine,” Sarah said. “My idea is less about the space around them and more the space inside them.”

“You wish us to open a pathway so that you can peer inside the patients?” Bogoroa asked.

“Not look inside them. Go inside them,” Sarah said. “The people we need to talk to have been shrunk down to a microscopic level. If we want to work things out with them, we’re going to need to meet them at a scale they can relate too.”

“Is that going to work?” Jen asked, several complication arising in her mind.

“In theory? Sure,” Sarah said. “Bending space isn’t intrinsically harder than bending time. Though I suppose to do both at once and in different, unconnected directions is pretty challenging.”

“How challenging?” Connie asked.

“Tam would probably ask James and me for help,” Sarah said.

“Oh. That kind of challenging.” Connie gulped, looking a bit paler than she had a moment earlier. Assaulting an alien prison on her own was one thing. Tangling with a magic spell so advanced that Tam would ask for help in casting it was a whole other level of peril.

“We are capable of doing what you require,” Bogoroa said, “But there are other issues involved than the mere spellwork involved.”

“Right,” Sarah agreed. “We’ll need to bring our own time with us, or we’ll wind up just as timelocked as they are.”

“That will present still further challenges with the spatial spells,” Bogoroa said. “I will request the service of the Deep Exploration Guild for that. They are familiar enough with medical timelocks and have more experience with esoteric spatial magics than my staff.”

“I don’t know if magic will be able to help us with the primary problem we’re likely to run into though,” Jen said as her mind furiously chewed away at the puzzle in front of her.

“Yeah, that’s why I think we all need to go in on this one,” Sarah said. Her grimace was apologetic but somehow reassuring too. She wouldn’t have asked for their help if she didn’t think it was necessary but she also wouldn’t have asked for it if she knew the mission was doomed to failure.

“What can we do to help?” Connie asked, color returning to her face and confidence to her voice. Being needed helped a lot when it came to pushing aside worries, at least in this case.

“We’re going to need to get shrunk down and shot into one of the patients,” Sarah said. “Their frozen in time, so we’ll have to carry a bubble of our own, external time, with us so that we can remain unfrozen. To talk to any of the Nano-Soldiers though we’re going to have to unfreeze them too.”

“And they’re not going to be too friendly are they?” Connie asked, seeing the problem.

“It may be worse that that,” Jen said. “None of them have been activated yet have they?”

“We do not believe so,” Bogoroa said. “Once the activation signal is given, they will begin destroying their host and dividing, replicating more of themselves in an exponential manner. Their only goals will be personal survival and the destruction of anything unlike themselves. We’ve seen a weapon like this deployed before.”

“What did you choose to do in that case?” Jen asked.

“It was over a millenia ago, so our options were more limited at the time, but in that case it didn’t matter,” Bogoroa said. “We weren’t there when the weapon was activated, we only saw the aftermath. We called the world we discovered Haelem’s Tomb once we understood what had happened to it. We didn’t know what name its natives had called it because they were gone. The targets of the weapon and its maker as well. Our archaeologists eventually discovered that they’d called it ‘Garden’ and so we spread as many different flora and fauna as we could there to honor their memory.”

“There wasn’t any contamination left from the plague?” Connie asked. “Or you were able to clean it up?”

“No, the plague was gone with its victims,” Bogoroa said. “It destroyed them all and then perished itself. That’s not underheard of for a microorganism without a host but our research showed that the plague was engineered to die off after a set time. Its makers simply hadn’t picked a short enough time frame to prevent it from killing them all.”

“That’s not going to be a problem for the Pure Ones, is it?” Connie said. “They planned to dump it on a whole other world.”

“The Nano-Soldiers seem to be close cousins to the weapons which laid waste to Haelem’s Tomb. They seem to contain the same safeguards,” Bogoroa said.

“Earth is a resource too, even without any Earthlings on it,” Jen said. “I’m sure anyone who’s thinking of wiping us out is well aware of the value an empty but material rich world could  offer them.”

“So how do we keep the Nano-Soldiers from going into armageddon mode?” Connie asked. “Did your people have any luck finding a cure?”

“We never had the opportunity to study them further,” Bogoroa said.

“Well, I think you’re about to get a second chance at that,” Jen said as she exchanged glances with Connie and Sarah. There were nods all around. They were ‘Go’ for a fantastic voyage.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 3 – Act 2

Sarah hated hospitals. Even beautiful, and serene otherworldly hospitals. Being in a hospital meant something was wrong. Something that she couldn’t fix. For someone who knew how to spin people around her fingers and make magic dance to the tune she called, being unable to change something as critical as a life threatening medical condition was galling.

“It was nice of the Telidees to setup a suite for us,” Connie said. She bore scattered patches of the gold paint that served as the Telidee bandages on at least a dozen places on her body. Or a dozen places that Sarah could see. Sarah didn’t want to think of how many other wounds her companion had sustained fighting through an entire prison.

“I’m not sure this is so much a suite as an observation room,” Jen said. She was tinkering with her left arm, installing a new sealant ring Bogoroa, their primary contact with the Physicians Guild, had claimed would be far more comfortable and durable than the Earth tech she’d been using.

“It’s got plentiful sweets and no one’s trying to shoot me at the moment,” Connie said. “I think that qualifies it as a spa in my book.”

“We need to get you out more,” Sarah said. “I know a nice place in Aspen. Chocolate for days there.”

“Sounds delicious,” Connie said. “You know, as long as there’s still an Aspen left by the time we get back.”

“Anna’s handling a couple of other crisis that came up while we were dealing with the Pure Ones and their bio-bombs,” Jen said. “They could probably use our help with those but Charlene’s saying we need to stay here and make sure everything is fully resolved before we worry about heading back.”

“I wonder when we’ll get word on the prisoners?” Sarah asked.

The Telidees Physicians’ Guild were miracle workers. That wasn’t surprising. Many doctors were, and Sarah herself could work miracles by some definitions of the term. Healing though was an endlessly deep art and one Sarah had never been able to manage more than the raw basics of in terms of spell casting.

Mystical healing was only one tool in the Telidees arsenal though. They didn’t stop at finding a cure for the conditions they encountered. A spell to cure the common cold was amusing in their view, but what they really desired was a complete understanding of the virus, including its full lifestyle, it impact on the host and the host’s overall population and, of course, every possible method of destroying it, including every variation the virus could mutate into. If science offered an answer in one world, they would find it. If in another world training and meditation could promote increased health, they would dedicate lifetimes to understanding the mechanisms for how that worked.

The Telidees weren’t uniformly focused on medicine of course. No species could be. They had plenty of artists, and construction works, and farmers, just as most other advanced species did. Their amazing medical advances weren’t in spite of those other professions though, but rather driven by them. Some medical researchers stayed in pristine labs working on ideas that needed that sort of isolation and focus. Others tended the soil on farms to discover exactly what influenced a herd animals health and longevity, while others traveled with diplomats to encounter new worlds and new civilizations and learn about things they’d never thought to question before.

Thanks to thousands of generations to develop in maturity and wisdom, the Telidees commonly understood that there was no one right path, or one more prestigious calling. What you did mattered, and if helped someone else, it mattered even more.

Those generations were the foundation of the Telidees miracles. Their world was an old one, and home to so many cultures and peoples that no one even tried to keep count. Age hadn’t directly given the Telidees their miraculous advances. It had been the work and passion that was invested in improving their world for each other and the generations to come that allowed the Telidees to advance as far as they had.

Age, they said, had simply been the reward for finding paths past the conflicts that had held them back when they were a younger and more isolated world. The miracles had grown along with that age, as each generation added to the one before it, legacies building on top of legacies instead of being torn apart by old hatreds or forgotten by closed minds.

Despite all that though, Sarah knew there were still limits to their powers. They couldn’t cure every malady, or heal everyone who was sick. Some people were simply too far away, while others were afflicted with conditions for which no cure had been found. Connie had solved the first problem by bringing the people who’d been converted to bio-bombs to the Physicians directly, but it was still an open question of whether the process that had turned the prisoners into living weapons could be reversed.

“I could go check on them,” Sarah said, addressing the question of the prisoner’s current state without speaking to directly to anyone in the room. She knew it wasn’t the right approach to take to convince Connie or Jen to be onboard with her venturing away from the room Bogoroa had escorted them to.

“Probably better to wait for them to come to us, don’t you think?” Jen asked, glancing up from her tinkering to meet Sarah’s gaze.

Jen wasn’t wrong. Sarah knew that. She could recognize an isolation chamber when she saw one. Even if it was nicely appointed and stocked with tasty treats.

Intellectually she could see the value of it too. Jen, Connie, and Sarah were among the first Earthlings to be permitted onto Telidee. The chance that they carried biological contagions which were new to the biosphere was a near certainty. The chance that the biosphere of Telidee carried pathogens which human bodies hadn’t encountered before was also a near certainty.

“They didn’t lock us in here did they?” Connie asked.

“No, but that may be as much an experiments as anything else,” Sarah said.

“Experiment?” Connie asked, pausing as she sipped on one of the fruity beverages that had been left for them.

“We were a bit of curiosity when we arrived,” Jen said. “Telidee is still fairly remote from Earth so they haven’t sent any expeditions to our world yet.”

“How did you know about them to come here then?” Connie asked. “I know you’d mentioned have a number of leads but these folks sound like they would have been the top of the list.”

“They would have been if they’d been any more than a myth,” Sarah said. “The cycles of the realms is, well, eccentric would be a gentle description. The only report I had of them was a third hand account of a lost traveler who saved an entire world with unbelievable medical acumen.”

“Time was short, but our list was shorter,” Jen said. “So we went with a high risk option and Sarah managed to make it pay off.”

“Getting here was the tricky part,” Sarah said. “We were lucky that Bogoroa and the rest of the staff are genuinely kind people. With the time we had left I don’t know that we could have talked many other people into providing the kind of help we needed, even if they were as capable of it as the Telidees are.

“So what experiment do you think they’re running on us?” Connie asked.

“Several probably,” Sarah said, and stopped pacing. She hadn’t been fully aware that she’d been pacing but in her defense, it had been a very long day. “First, they’re certainly evaluating what our microbiology is like. From what our breath contains, to how eating different foods affects us, to the biome that lives on our skin and that we leave behind when we touch things.”

“So, War of the Worlds kind of stuff?” Connie asked.

“Not quite,” Sarah said. “If we were going to pose a danger to them, they would have met us in their equivalent of a fully body bio suit. People who deal with plagues are generally pretty reliable about that.”

“We are,” Bogoroa said, entering the room silently through the door behind Sarah. “Though, in the interest of open communications, I should explain that we have had our standard biologic and etheric isolation fields in place since you arrived.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Jen said. “The last thing we wanted to do was pose a risk to you.”

“Risks gladly accepted are the fire of life,” Bogoroa said. “I should note as well that you have enjoyed the protection individual of the isolation fields since you arrived as well. We would have spoken of this sooner, but in the case of an emergency safety of all parties concerned is our primary concern.”

“Speaking of the emergency,” Connie said. “Can you tell us how our new friends are doing?”

“We have moved them successfully to timelock chambers,” Bogoroa said. “Those are delicate to configure and it took some work to adjust the for the alien anatomy but we have achieved proper suspension across the board.”

“Timelock? So they’re basically frozen then?” Connie asked.

“It’s similar,” Bogoroa said. “We considered cyro-freezing them at first, since it’s a simpler procedure to administer and reverse, but even from our early testing it was clear that the weaponization which was performed on them held triggers for that sort of the attempt to disarm them.”

“They’re not literally stuck in one moment of time though are they?” Sarah asked. Her knowledge of time magic was slightly deeper than with medical magics, even though it mostly boiled down to ‘don’t fool with time, magically or scientifically, you can break a lot of stuff’.

“No. Far too easy to lose patients forever like that, and it’s impossible to observe them,” Bogoroa said. “This timelock is essentially skipping them forward from one moment to the next, so they’re still a part of our flow of time, but they’re only present in moments when no changes in their state are occurring. That’s not exactly accurate, but I would need to call in a specialist to give you the full details on the procedure.”

“That’s ok,” Jen said. “I think the critical thing is that they’re out of immediate danger.”

“Yes,” Bogoroa said. “They will undergo no further weaponization, nor will the triggers which exist within them be able to arm themselves. The problem is, they remain a danger to themselves and others.”

“Can you fix that?” Connie asked. “Pynii and Horold and the others were so brave to manage even getting here in the first place.”

“That is where this becomes complicated,” Bogoroa said.

“If you attempt a procedure on them while they’re under the timelock, the procedure won’t be able to make any changes to them either will it?” Sarah asked, seeing the most obvious problem.

“That is one complication, yes,” Bogoroa said “Not an unforeseen one though. We can work out a protocol to follow that will keep us ahead of any weaponization effects, given time to study them.”

“Is there a risk in studying them?” Connie asked. “Could whatever plague they have escape the timelock?”

“No that’s not a worry,” Bogoroa said. “The plague, as you call it, is just as locked down as the patients are. That was one of the delays in declaration the procedure stable. We had to make sure that all of the sapients affected by the timelock were properly synched to it. If we’d missed any then the stress of temporal shearing could have ripped them apart on a subatomic level.”

“All of the sapients?” Jen asked. “Were there more prisoners than you expected?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Bogoroa said. “The weaponization work that was done on them created a most unique pathogen you see. The life forms being produced inside our primary patients are not typical microbes.”

“What are they?” Sarah asked, her imagination seething with all of the phantom horrors people found methods of creating.

“They are miniaturized people,” Bogoroa said. “Humanoids, such as you or I, but reduced to microscopic scale. It is part of what makes them so deadly, and so capable of overcoming counter measures which are thrown at them. That is the true complication we face. We can save our primary patients, but the clearest method of doing so involves the genocide of an entire separate species. So. What would you have us do?”

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 3 – Act 1

Connie needed to stay calm. Despite being perched on an uneven and rapidly fracturing sheet of glass the size of a parking lot, she had to show confidence and hide any traces of the terror that was pulsing through her fingertips. Watching one particular crack as it spread made that a trifle difficult though.

The crack hadn’t been there when she’d set out across the glass sheet. Without it she’d wagered on there being about a 80% chance she and the people following her would make it across the transparent ground that served as the last path from the jail cells they’d been condemned to rot in and the portal that would take them away from the ones who enslaved them. The farther the crack spread though, the lower she had to lower those odds, until it looked like they were going to reach the single digits.

“We’ve got to turn back,” Horold said. He’d was the oldest of the prisoners, and had survived the work pits by playing it as safe as he could. Connie knew he’d only come along on the escape because his captors were going to put them all to death anyways.

“It’s too late,” Pynni, the youngest of the prisoners said. She’d been the first to raise her voice in support of Connie’s plan when she explained it to the prisoners. It wasn’t a just fear of her jailers that convinced her to take Connie’s side. Pynni had been able to make most of Connie’s arguments for her because she’d seen all the signs that confirmed the change in the jailer’s agenda.

“No, we can make it!” Horold said, his breathing short and ragged with fear.

Behind them, close to the access duct they’d managed to sneak out of, a piece of the glass flooring let loose with a courage sheering crack. Everyone in the escape party froze and watched the jagged fragment plummet into the cloud layer below the floating city.

Rather than being swallowed by the thick gases in the clouds, the fragment burst aflame as it touched them, setting off a firestorm and opening a hole that showed the distant ground, miles below them.

As the fragment fell, burning through the sky, Connie had a vision of her party’s probable fate.

If she hadn’t been leading them.

“No going back now,” she said, her fear flipping to the perverse resolve she often felt when faced with a truly challenging obstacle. “Don’t worry though. We’ve got this.”

The crack that had been spreading towards her seemed to take issue with that statement, accelerating at a rate that told her there wasn’t any chance everyone would make it to the next solid section before the one they were on detached.

“Horold, time’s up, fast forward, get your work unit to the portal. Best speed,” Connie said as she began taking stock of the pylons and support structures that dotted the underside of the Celestial City of the Pure Ones.

“But, that’ll make everything collapse faster!” Horold said, looking at the other work crews that were following them.

“Yep. Got it covered. Move now,” Connie said.

To his credit, despite his heart pounding so hard that Connie was pretty sure she could hear it across the dozen feet that separated them, Horold dug deep and found the courage he needed. With a nod, he got up and waved his crew to follow.

Their flight alarmed the rest of Connie’s followers, but the smile she flashed them kept them from panicking or revolting.

“Pynni, we’re taking the rest of the crew and heading for the edge of the Under Shield,” Connie said, gesturing towards to the edge of the glass parking that acted as part of the floating city’s levitation mechanism.

“That part’s definitely going to fall off,” Pynni said. “And it’s the opposite direction from that very safe looking portal.”

“I know,” Connie said.

“Ok,” Pynni said and gestured for the other half of the prisoners to follow them.

Connie knew she didn’t deserve that sort of trust. She’d known Pynni for all of a few hours. That was hardly enough time to form the sort of bond that would support requests to rush towards certain doom. Pynni wasn’t wrong to put her faith in Connie though, Connie did have a plan to save everyone, and contingencies for when that plan inevitably failed, also she was really good at making stuff up on the spur of the moment, but Pynni’s trust still felt more a result of Pynni’s intelligence and perceptiveness than any special way with people Connie had.

That had been the part of the plan that Connie had objected to the most strongly. The Celestial City of the Pure Ones had appeared on the Second Chance Club’s radar after the Ghost of Christmas Future that Anna, Tam, and Val rescued let them know about the then-current most likely future. According to the Ghost, who used simple, direct language instead of the cryptic and vague nonsense she was supposed to use to communicate about upcoming events, the Pure Ones intended to purge the Earth of its corruption before anything could spread across the realms to their world.

Their plan, as explained by the Ghost, was to convert their prisoners into biological plague bombs, and then detonate them at key positions around the Earth to ensure a complete collapse of the Earth’s biosphere.

By the time Connie and the rest had started planning it was too late to prevent the prisoners from undergoing the procedure. That had left them with two unpleasant alternatives.

The first plan was, as Connie understood it, to slam the doors between Earth and the Pure One’s realm shut. Between Tam, Sarah, James and the growing army of experienced and fledgling spell casters they had as back up, the Club had been quite certain they could hold any portals between the two worlds closed. Even new ones the Pure Ones might try to open.

In that sense the plan was a solid one. It guaranteed the survival of everyone on Earth.

It had been unanimously voted down though.

Closing the door meant that the prisoners would eventually detonate on the Pure One’s world. Even with the assumption that the Pure One’s could safely isolate the prisoners and somehow destroy a legion of biological weapons that were meant to survive every conceivable defense the Earth could mount against them, that still meant that all of the prisoners would die.

From what the Club could find of the Pure One’s legal codes, execution level offenses were reserved for two types of crime; heresy (as defined by whoever was currently in charge of the central authority) and treason (defined as any crime against anyone above a certain level in the hierarchy).

That left the club with the second plan. Someone had to rescue the prisoners, while the rest of the Club found a friendly realm with medical tech or magics beyond the level the Pure Ones had achieved.

Connie hadn’t felt great about taking either job. While the exploration aspect of finding and navigating a new realm was appealing, she’d doubted she was the one who was best suited to talking alien beings into undertaking an urgent and incredibly dangerous task.

Sarah had pointed out that convincing a bunch of prisoners to escape on nothing more than an ephemeral promise of rescue and transport to a magical fairytale land wasn’t likely to be any easier. Connie knew she was right, and had wished there was someone else who could handle all of the tasks, but with the time limits they had to work under that simply hadn’t been an option.

And so she’d stepped forward and called dibs on the rescue.

Breaking into the prison had been easy. Just being an Earthling had been enough to get her arrested. Punching a Cardinal in the sensitive bits had, strictly speaking, been unnecessary, but given what it did for Connie’s mood, she felt it was worth the extra bruises she’d earned.

Apart from the brutal treatment by the guards, Connie’s next problem was finding the prisoners who’d been converted into bio-bombs. For obvious reasons, they hadn’t stuck her in the same cells as their apocalypse weapons. In fact, they’d placed her on the exact opposite side of the maximum security detention compound. It had been exactly the right thing to do on their part. A wise course of action.

Of course a much wiser course of action would had been to avoid drawing Connie and the rest of the Club’s ire in the first place.

Connie wasn’t the existential horror of a combat monster that Val and Jen were. She hadn’t trained herself to carry the sort of enchantments that could allow her to beat an actual deity senseless with her bare hands. From the point of the view of the guards in the Pure Ones prison though, the difference was difficult to distinguish.

For most of the guards their day had begun as a tense one. With the leadership’s plans so close to fruition, they’d been on high alert, armed and ready for any sort of trouble, but otherwise sticking to their normal schedule and procedures.

Then Connie got loose.

There’s a moment in many horror movies where the hapless victim is forced to wander into an area that should be all rights be completely safe and yet they’re terrified because they just don’t know where the monster is. Inevitably, no matter how alert they are, and no matter which shadows and noises they jump at, they’re never quite ready for the monster when it shows up from the one spot they didn’t think to check.

That was how the guards of the Pure Ones jail spent their day.

Hunted.

Connie didn’t bother killing them. She just made them disappear. Occasionally with a brief, truncated scream to mark their passing.

The prison wasn’t holding her in, it was preventing anyone from escaping her.

In the panic that realization bred among the guards, Connie slipped into the highest security area and found roughly ten times as many prisoners-turned-bio-bombs than she’d expected to need to rescue.

That had been the first thing that put the impossible challenge smile on her face.

Breaking them out had been difficult – the guards in that particular section had been selected for both exceptional skill and courage. They hadn’t been intended to fight both Connie and the prisoners though, so that went rather poorly for them.

Getting the prisoners on her side had been simpler than she’d expected, largely because of Pynni’s support, and from there it had just taken a little bit of sabotage to clear a path back to the hidden portal that waited to rescue all of them.

That the sabotage had grown somewhat beyond what Connie intended wasn’t her fault. She was willing to swear to that. Anyone who stored one of their primary weapon’s caches in a room adjacent to their central power generators, regardless of how thick the walls were, deserved what they got when the later of the two rooms experienced a minor little problem and an explosion or three.

The resulting destruction had opened the doors that Connie needed to pass through. It had also shattered the glass Under Shield the city relied on and probably doomed it to an eventual crash. The Pure Ones had enough escape craft to survive that, but losing an entire city would be an economic blow they weren’t going to forget any time soon.

As the cracks continued to spread and multiply through the Under Shield, Connie knew she wasn’t going to need to worry about the new nation of enemies she’d made if her plan didn’t work. She considered a few extra contingencies but just as she reached the edge of the glass plate, she heard the ping in her earbud of the communication link with the rest of the Club coming online.

“How’s it going there?” Sarah asked. “We’ve got the Telidees Physicians Guild on tap to handle the patients.”

“Good. I’ve got them ready for transport now,” Connie said. “It looks like the first batch is at the portal and starting to pass through.”

“Wow, yeah, good timing, I see them now,” Sarah said. “But there’s about twice as many as we’d expected.”

“Yeah, there’s another eight times more than that with me,” Connie said.

“Where are you?” Sarah asked.

“About to dive into to incendiary clouds,” Connie said. “Remember the Sunlost Aerie?”

“Wait? Incendiary clouds? What happened?” Sarah asked.

“No time. Call the gryphons. I need them. Now!” Connie said.

Pynni looked at her hopefully as the glass behind them shattered like a wave, the Under Shield losing the last of its cohesion.

“Jump!” Connie said, diving off the edge of the glass as a wave of prisoners poured off into freefall behind her.

The clouds weren’t as far below them as she’d hoped.

It was going to be a short trip to a fairly spectacular end unless…

Portals began to open in the sky below them.

Surging through the rifts in space, a flight of a hundred creatures, each larger than the biggest horse flew, carried on wings of sky blue feathers.

“You could have given us just a little more notice,” Skydancer, Connie’s best friend among the gryphons, said as the flight gracefully snagged each of the falling prisoners from the air and carried them away to safety.

The Second Chance Club – S3 Ep 2 – Act 4

It’s in the nature of the Past to be hidden and murky. The Present too can easily be lost to daydreams or the rush of time of events pile up and slip by. Losing the Future however was a special kind of problem.

“Are we sure that a Ghost of Christmas Future was even supposed to visit you tonight?” Val asked. “Maybe they went to haunt someone else?”

“Technically it would have been a Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,” Tam said. “From what Karen and Lilly, the Past and Present ghosts, said though, Anna definitely should have been visited by one of the Christmas Yet to Come ghosts.”

“Was the problem that I wasn’t alone?” Anna asked. “I know in the Dickens story, Scrooge had no one else to witness the ghosts, and in both of your cases no one else was aware of the ghosts being there.”

They’d gathered in the pre-dawn hours of Christmas morning once Anna was convinced that her visitor wasn’t going to arrive before the sunrise.

The Second Chance Club’s latest headquarters was dark and foreboding under the cloud choked sky, but it held Tam’s sanctum as well as their armory if a need should arise for it. The street lights along the block were all in working order, but for a long stretch the apartment buildings had windows that were either dark or so heavily curtained that no light escaped from them. With razor sharp winds biting its frosty fangs into anyone who dared roam the streets, there wasn’t even the occasionally glow from a pair of passing headlights. It was like the world had frozen without a hint of ice to show for it.

Inside the club’s headquarters, Tam guided her two friends to her sanctum with only the light of a single candle.

“Karen and Lilly both knew you and Zoe would be there, so I think being alone wasn’t a problem for the Future ghost,” Tam said.

“That leaves us with some obvious questions then,” Val said. She was walking behind Tam, but staying close enough that she could leap into the front spot if something unexpected was waiting for them. They were in their stronghold, but something about the night felt off to all three of them.

“Yes,” Anna said, keeping an eye out behind them. “First who would have the capacity to interfere with a Seasonal Spirit and second who would have a reason to do so.”

“Especially one that targeted to you,” Val said.

“That may have been the result of an opportunistic action,” Anna said. “Perhaps my ghost was the easiest to waylay.”

“Let’s hope so,” Tam said. “If not it could say something pretty bad that the one ghost that got taken out was the future.”

“Yeah, that kind of sends an uncomfortable message doesn’t it?” Val said.

They began to descend the stairs to Tam’s sanctum as the candle’s flame sputtered and flickered.

“That’s my concern,” Anna said. “It doesn’t feel like this is a moment in our history when simple misadventures or routine accidents are the most likely explanation for things, but they can still happen.”

“I get that we can’t afford to jump at every problem like it was an omen of doom, but this one feels different somehow,” Tam said as she keyed an unlock code into her sanctum’s security system.

Inside, the room was a mess. If a hurricane had been concentrated in the small space, the results would likely have been the same as what they found waiting for them. It was disturbing since that was the usual state of Tam’s sanctum. The green wisps of balefire though were new and more than a little concerning.

“You weren’t redecorating in here for the holidays, were you?” Val asked.

“Not with death magic, no,” Tam said, as she began to weave a series of detection spells.

“Is it safe to be here?” Anna asked after Tam had completed a series of intricate gestures.

“Not particularly,” Tam said. “The wisps are the most obvious of three deadly traps that someone setup. I’m going to assume there are more than that until I can get my scanner online again and get a better look at how they got in here.”

“So where should we go next then?” Val asked.

“Right into the room I’m afraid,” Tam said. “The second trap is set to trigger if anyone opens the door and then tries to leave. I can disarm it but it’s going to take a little bit of time.”

“Oh you needn’t worry about that,” a solidly built, older man in a white business suit said from the center of the room. “Come in. We have much to talk about.”

He hadn’t been sitting at the center of the room’s casting circle a moment earlier, but there was no trace of a teleportation spell, or flicker of an invisibility cloak when he appeared.

“We do?” Tam asked, not hiding the hint of irritation in her voice.

“Yes. You’ve been getting out of line. It’s time you were reminded of your place before we have to do something drastic.” The man’s smile held the satisfaction of a someone who was planning to enjoy any drastic actions he could even begin to justify.

Tam nodded to her friends and stepped into the room, her fingers continuing to twist and flicker as she held them low behind her back.

“And you would be?” Tam asked, circling to the left and being careful to stay outside the radius of the casting circle.

“One’s such as I collect many names. You are allowed to address me Majesty Grey,” Grey said.

“And what reminder do you bring to us, Mr. Grey?” Anna asked, circling around the circle to the right.

“Majesty,” Grey said. “You stand in the presence of the divine. You will acknowledge it or suffer the consequences.”

“About that…” Val said and mashed his face in with a punch that drove his head backward to the point that she knocked him out of the casting circle and into one of the shelves.

She then grabbed the self proclaimed deity by the throat and squeezed as a storm of bright red light surged from Grey’s wounds and poured into the tips of Val’s fingers.

“How!?” he managed to croak out a moment before Val picked him up and slammed him onto the floor, shattering one of the metal stools Tam had balanced a box of tools on.

Grey tried to fight back but the relentless fury of Val’s attack had taken him wholly by surprise. No one laid hands upon the divine, and so he had never experienced the all too mortal pain of someone shattering the avatar he commonly wore.

In a panic, he tried to escape. He called to his divine power but he found his reserves dwindling away faster than he could marshal them. The more power he called for, the brighter the light at his throat grew and the weaker he felt.

Finally, after it felt like Val had destroyed most of Tam’s sanctum with Grey’s avatar body, including running it through every one of the lethal traps he’d set to secure the room, she tightened her grip further and he felt the sweet release of mortal death step close to sever his connection from the Earthly realm and allow his to return proper home.

Except Val stopped.

“You have a binding on him yet?” she asked.

Somewhere behind her, Tam finished speaking a spell in a language so old even Grey didn’t recognize it.

“Yeah, he’s not going anywhere,” she said. “Nice work keeping him distracted.”

Grey called for his divine power again, reached out across the worlds to feel the hearts of the billion followers who mindlessly sung his praises. He would still a million of those beating hearts for the power to smite the women before him. Even a single life would empower him enough to end them, but he would spend a river of blood making sure their suffering was legendary.

His anger flared at the thought. He’d come like a benevolent master, ready to accept their complete and utter subservience as was right, as was the natural order of how things had been and how they must always be.

If they’d resisted, he was prepared to give them clean deaths. Their world didn’t need to burn for the foolish actions of a misguided few who couldn’t be happy with what they’d already been given. Better to break the recalcitrant to a new, heavier yoke than to destroy the whole herd.

That had been his mistake. Thinking that he was dealing with reasonable beings. As he called for the death of ten million worshippers, set to die with his name on their tongues and in their hearts, the resistance he felt to burning away the whole world crumbled. All would know his pain. All except for the three who’d wronged him. They would know an eternity of suffering like no others could imagine.

All he needed was lives freely given.

His power.

Which wasn’t coming.

Val slapped him again.

“Focus,” she said. “Anna asked you a question.”

“Did you do anything to one of our Seasonal Spirits?” Anna asked again, her words slow and weighted with soft spoken menace.

“Bound her to lure you here!” Grey didn’t answer anymore than that. He couldn’t. He was too confused by the silence he felt in answer to his call. He was his power. He was supreme. The greatest of the great. His will couldn’t be denied.

“That connection you’re not feeling anymore is because we severed you from your heavenly mandate,” Tam said. “It was clever using the weak spot between our realms that was created by all the travel we’ve done through my casting circle. You either burned a lot of power or you’re damn good with spellcraft to flip the wards meant to keep you out into summoning glyphs to pull you in with. There’s just one problem with that though, see if the person who made the wards knows there are more powerful spellcasters out there gunning for them, then they can put in all sorts of other traps that you can’t see until you extend yourself into this world.”

“I am supreme,” Grey gurgled, fighting to make what was left of his avatar’s body function.

“Right. Supreme. All Powerful. In your own realm,” Tam said. “And if we’re being honest, not even there right? You’re not the only god in your realm, just the one with the biggest chip on his shoulder. This whole project was probably suggested to you by someone else? A smaller, smarter god I would guess?”

“How?” Grey managed to croak out. On the other side of the sanctum, he saw Anna find the black star ornament that the Ghost of the Future had been trapped in.

She broke the rapidly withering divine seal he’d placed on it and in a shower of silver and gold sparks, a young woman in green and red garb emerged. The ghost he’d trapped was free and she didn’t look any happier with him than any of the other women in the room did.

“How could I know there’s a smarter god than you behind this?” Tam asked. “Because if you were smart enough to come up with this plan, you would have been smart enough to know what a bad idea it was to expose yourself all alone like that. But that was the draw wasn’t it? That’s how they lured you into the idea in the first place. Come in alone, whip us into line and you get eight billion or so new followers that you don’t have to share with the rest of your godly siblings? It’s a terrible plan from your point of view but an excellent one if we assume they hate you and were looking for a convenient method of taking out of the picture.”

“Speaking of exposure, how exposed are we to the rest of this guy’s buddies?” Val asked, her hand continuing to drain the red light that flowed from the wounds on Grey’s throat.

“Not very,” Tam said. “Thanks to that Vampire Dust nail polish you’ve got, it was pretty easy to transfer Grey’s divine mandate to you. There’s smarter gods in his realm, but now that you’re the big fish in that pond, we can make sure someone more reasonable is put in charge. We just need to do it before the nail polish starts to chip.”

“What happens if we take too long?” Val asked, her hold on Grey’s neck briefly loosening.

“You start leaking divine energy,” Tam said. “Which would be bad if there was nowhere for it to go, but, oh, that’s right, we happen to know a goddess don’t we?”

Val chuckled.

“That we do. So, on a scale of one to ‘oh my god they’re everywhere’, how much would your realm like to be ruled by spiders?” she asked the now mortal and depowered god at her feet.