More than anything else, Beth wished her new friends were still by her side. When Biers had blasted her out of the cyber-future setting she’d last seen them in, Beth had lost not only highly resourceful allies, but an emotional support she hadn’t been aware she was leaning on.
With someone like Lagressa or Starshine watching her back, it was a lot easier to feel brave. In part their skill and power made her feel safe, and in part their presence reminded her that what she was dealing with was fantastical, too unreal to be taken entirely seriously, despite how real it felt at times.
Kevin Biers didn’t seem fantastical at all though. He was much too real. When he spoke of blood and pain and loss, he wasn’t referring to imaginary people doing imaginary things to each other.
That was why she couldn’t let him get anywhere near her family.
Except there was only one place she could turn next.
“We have to go back to our world,” Beth. “To my house.”
“And why would we do that?” Biers asked. For a moment the battlefield around them quieted, either because Biers had instructed it to or because the Unread was listening for the answer as well.
“You want me to lead us to Avalon right?” Beth asked. “I need one of my books to get us there.”
“That doesn’t require a return to your world,” Biers said. “We can select a copy from any world that parallels our present day Earth.”
“Can you take us to one that has a North American bookstore?” Beth asked, more interested in Biers capabilities than the question of whether such a world existed.
“There are many places on our Earth where wars have raged,” Biers said. He was frowning, and Beth could see she’d boxed him into a corner. He didn’t want to return to the real world. Or maybe he couldn’t?
“How many of the stories you can travel to have English language bookstores in them? Ones that we can get to without running afoul of the narrative?” she asked.
“Few,” Biers said. “And locating your book would take time which we don’t necessarily have.”
“Then we have to go to my house,” Beth said. She had a hunch he would find a reason not to follow her, and he didn’t disappoint her on that score.
“I have other tasks to manage,” Biers said. “You can return at any time, so leave this place and retrieve the book you wish to use. Remember though, if the thought of double crossing me grows tempting, I will march on Avalon if time becomes short. I will put everyone and everything there to the sword. If you flee there, there will be nowhere else to run when I catch you and the relative immunity we enjoy in these realms will be lost. That will be the closest thing to a real world which is left by then and I will end both it and you.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Beth said. “Where am I supposed to meet you after I get the book?”
“We could meet back in the world where you originally found me, but I suspect your friends there would present a distraction,” Biers said.
Beth wondered what the chances were that Lagressa and Starshine were still in Gamma City? Without her presence to hold them there would the two otherworldly women have drifted back to their original worlds? Or would they have just faded away?
Beth decided not to think about that too long. Her nerves were already frayed, she didn’t need to imagine any more tragedies than the ones she was working to prevent.
“What about War of the Worlds?” Beth asked. It seemed old enough that it would cross into the historical area that Biers was slanted towards, and it had enough science fiction in it that Beth had read it and been entertained. She wasn’t absolutely certain she could travel into its pages but she suspected Biers wouldn’t agree to anything closer to her wheelhouse since she’d have the upper hand there.
“An acceptable choice,” Biers said. “Be quick though. Worlds stand on the brink even now.”
“I’ll see you there soon then,” Beth said and turned away her enemy.
Letting go of the Unread was both harder and easier than she’d imagined it would be. On the one hand it was as simple as closing a book. On the other it was as agonizing as closing a book when she desperately wanted to know what happened next.
With a deep breath and a blink of her eyes though, the battlefield in Belgium faded away and the familiar sights and scents of her living room came back into crystal clear focus.
She was home but she wasn’t safe.
In her living room, three bald white men in black suits waited for her.
Beth cast her gaze around the room, listening for the sound of her mother, her father or anyone else in the house with them.
“Your mother has departed,” the tallest Burner said.
“What did you do to her!” She wasn’t holding a book, but plenty of stories flew into her mind. She’d read about some really hellish worlds and if anyone had harmed her mother, she was going to find the worst corner of the least pleasant place she’d ever heard of and bury them in it.
“She is with your father,” the youngest looking Burner said.
“We are here for you,” the last Burner said.
“What do you want?” Beth asked.
“You have made contact with a Remnant,” the tallest Burner said.
“He’s dangerous,” the youngest Burner said.
“We are going to stop him,” the last Burner said.
“For this we require assistance,” the tallest Burner said.
“Why would I help you?” Beth asked. “You tried to kill me!”
“We do not kill,” the tallest Burner said. “We sought to contain you.”
“We couldn’t let you grow into a Remnant like the one who threatens this world,” the youngest said.
“We know of your father, and we have never harmed either your mother or him,” the last said.
“What do you need me for?” Beth asked. “I thought you just destroyed anything you didn’t like.”
“Our destruction is never without purpose,” the tallent Burner said.
“We destroy only to preserve,” the youngest said.
“Will you help us destroy this Remnant? The one who calls himself Kevin Biers?” the last asked.
“No,” Beth said. “I don’t need your help. I’m going to do it myself.”