Episode One—Fixing The Tangents

I only ever kill the wrong people… Uh… that might be a little bit confusing. Let me try to clarify that: I’m trying to save the universes, and sometimes that means killing the people whose existence—regardless of how they lived, played with, and got along with others—poses a threat to the continuation of their universe and the infinite other universes that exist in time and existence with theirs. These people, in their unknowing way, are creating tangent universes which will accelerate the decay of their universe—along with numerous others—and bring damnation upon their friends and neighbors… as well as just about everybody else. That’s why I have to kill you now. In another three weeks or so, you will be possessed by a demonic entity and will turn into a kill crazy bitch—creating a tangent universe and killing everyone you hadn’t killed already. It’s nothing against you personally; your death means all those universes exists for a bit longer. You grok?”

Suzy Portman—about age eight and a half—only stared at him as her jaw dropped. The little girl in the pink polka-dot with blond pigtails dress had no understanding whatsoever of what the tall man with the shaggy black hair was saying to her. All the talk about universes was going right over her head. She guessed he was important because he wore a nice, button-up shirt. He put the gun to her forehead and pulled the trigger.

Bang!

The Agent holstered the gun and made his way back to his ship. The gray capsule hummed gently as he approached. Mrs. Portman barely saw the slender figure in the long, gray coat disappear into the fog as she found her child on the ground.

As the gray door to the ship opened, he sighed at the familiar confines waiting for him. He could hear a wail of agony coming from behind as he stepped in. His mind turned inward to tune it out. A thin layer of stubble on his angular face, the dark-haired, exceptionally pale man never really felt the sterile metal confines of the ship gave him much feeling at all. He went to the small lounge in the back of the ship. Despite a limited ability to alter time and space within the ship, the area still was relatively cramped and offered few comforts to him. The Recreation area in the ship was fairly sparse beyond a basic entertainment system and a small library of books, music CDs, and movies. The small sofa situated against the rounded wall in the back of the ship gave slightly as he sat down. There was a set of shelves built into the wall above him, with a variety of books there.

That should have saved a few thousand universes,” he whispered to himself. He reached up to the counter above the sofa and grabbed the hand-held data listing with the list. The list on the touch screen clicked in his hand as it removed Suzy’s name and threat description from the list. He hung his head while the list connected and informed him of the next assignment. “She would be the embodiment of evil and had to die.” He repeated it to himself several times, trying to convince himself that he had done the right thing.

Stop with the bullshit, he told himself. You know what you just did. You just shot a nine year-old girl in the head. Put a hole right between her eyes to save the universe. There’s no changing that fact. It doesn’t really matter how many universes you save. You just shot a nine year-old girl. You know that feeling eating away in your gut right now? Do what you always do. Go with it. It means you’re still feeling something have something close to humanity—not a monster in the shape of a man. Now get yourself together. Yak if you have to. Then ask yourself the real question on your mind: What’s worse? Shooting the nine year-old girl, or actually trying to justify and explain yourself to her before hand?

He sighed as the list clicked and updated itself. He lifted his head and looked at the console. “Who’s next?”

The next name flashed at the top of the console in his hand—the order already received from High Command. A holographic text display appeared in the air before him and he read it:

CORRINA BEATRICE MARVIN. TWENTY-TWO YEARS-OLD, RESIDING IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK ON THE EARTH OF UNIVERSE DESIGNATE 77-18927. YEAR: 2020 OF THE LATE RELIGIOUS ERA (S.T.E.). HER DEATH WILL GUARANTEE THE ASSASSINATION OF THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND PROVIDE HIS SUCCESSOR WITH THE NECESSARY AND VITAL OPPORTUNITY TO REALIGN THE GOVERNMENT FOR OPTIMAL ABILITY TO PREVENT WORLD WAR III FROM BEGINNING AS A RESULT OF FAILED DIPLOMACY. THESE EVENTS WILL ONLY BE ASSURED—AND THIS PARTICULAR SECTOR OF THE MULTIVERSE WILL BE SAVED—BY THE REMOVAL OF MISS MARVIN. CURRENT ADDRESS…

I’m getting tired of killing people, he thought. Not a good sign.

Donald,” he said. The familiar click and hum sounded as the ship’s computer became active from standby. One of the most advanced artificial intelligence programs in existence, Donald maintained the ship with the dedicated care and precision that it would have normally gotten from a full crew—if it had one. Their system worked well—the Agent carried out their work while Donald kept the ship from falling apart on them. He stood and started to the cockpit, speaking to the computer as he went. “I’ll get the ship on the Foam. You’ll navigate the ship to the time, place and universe of our next assignment. Notify me when we have finished crossing the Foam and I’ll bring us in. I’ll be taking a nap in the meantime.”

Very good sir,” the computer answered in its monotone. “An excellent course of action. I have noticed that your sleep patterns are extremely sporadic and quite inconsistent of late, and it would be wise to make an effort to resolve that.”

The Agent ignored Donald as he sat down in the large cockpit, looking out the rounded windows as he took the controls. With a press of button, he shifted the ship’s frequency and they began the process of leaving that universe. The shielding slid down over the windows and the craft jolted for a moment. Reality experienced a brief seizure as the ship entered the Quantum Foam. Probabilities went crazy after that seizure occurred, and a two-headed baby was born in Bangladesh. A lengthy investigation followed to confirm the nature of this freak occurrence. A crackle! and pop! sounded as the ship shimmered out of frequency with the universe. The Agent was a Knight of the Quantum—Universal Fix-it Man from locations beyond knowing—returned to the recreation area and slumped on the sofa a bit more as and closed his eyes.

This one could get interesting, he thought. I have encountered the Corrina Marvins of several other universes while on missions. Of the people I’ve met in each of those cases, she’s usually been the helpful one. Also fairly attractive and interesting to talk to—as I recall. But that’s irrelevant to the matter at hand. She’s never been a source of tangent. Not one to cause problems—always the one to solve them. Usually she’sa calming factor—staving off the tangents and destruction. Two facts that usually imply her to be a good thing for the universe’s survival. Now I’m supposed to kill her. This could be a fun trip.

He listened to the buzz of the ship going across the Quantum Foam, making its way to the correct universe. It would be as long or as short of a journey as he wanted it to be—the relative nature of time and space in regards to his existence was something he had no problem taking advantage of. He would have plenty of time to refocus himself for the next mission.

uuu

Fifty-five… fifty-six… fifty-seven…”

Corrina Marvin counted off the repetitions, glaring with steely and focused determination on her left knee while performing the leg presses. The fiery haired gymnast tuned out the noise of the gym and the music as she worked out—sweat streaming down her body in the effort. The extending and contracting of the tendons sent jolts up from the joint—triggering winces and gasps.

This is the most weight I’ve put on since I started rehab, she thought. It feels… good. Almost got it back up to full strength. The reconstructed tendons are holding up well… the artificial parts and the actual bone are taking the stress well… still hurts like a bitch though. Can’t believe how happy I am about that. Seems kind of pathetic when you really think about it…

Johnny, her trainer, watched closely as she worked out. His eyes watched the motion of her knee, looking for specific flaws that would spell trouble.

How’s the knee?” he asked.

Sixty… it feels like… it’s inflaming,” she said. She spun on the seat and quickly pulled up at the leg of her gym pants.

I hope I didn’t push it too hard, she thought. Please be alright… fucking up a knee that was just completely rebuilt is not a good thing. Never thought I would be hoping for inflammation and bruising…

Johnny took a look at her knee, studying the scar covered surface closely—touching it to check for breaks and bruises. She winced, gritting her teeth at his touch. He held her leg and bent it gently. It was bright red under his touch, every time he rubbed it causing small spikes of pain.

Looks like some swelling,” he said. “Decent amount, but nothing serious. More of a good thing at this point. Proves there’s good blood flow into the area. It doesn’t look like it’s clotting. Probably just needs a soak and a run. I’ll give it a rub right now, you go soak it, take a run, and we’ll rub it again.”

Sounds groovy.”

Corrina limped off to the back room with all the tubs and got one set up. She stripped down and sank into the water, immersing her whole body in the water. She began rubbing her knee beneath the water.

There is something wrong with the world, she thought. She began to slide under the water. There has to be. Two years of rehabbing from a freak injury and I’m only just coming back to having a fully functional knee. Strength is just about back, but there’s no endurance. Olympics were out from the start—missed the qualifying contests. I’m too impatient to coach, and I’m not a media whore who does the ads or does media coverage of the various teams… Why am I doing this? Am I anything more than just another burned out athlete who refuses to give up? What have I really got left for me here? Parents aren’t talking to me, I’m living off of the savings from old endorsement deals I had while still doing the Olympics. College was fun, but didn’t really get men anywhere. What does that leave me? The answer: nothing. They said the accident never should have happened. Beams don’t just fall apart like that. Proof the world is out to get me, I guess. Maybe I should just slip below the water and let everybody forget about me…

Corrina?”

She looked over the edge of the tube at her trainer. Pulling herself up, she draped an arm over the side of the tub.”

What’s up?” she asked.

Just making sure the knee’s good,” Johnny said. “We don’t want any setbacks. Especially now.”

It’s fine. Feels good, probably just went a bit heavy on the weights today.”

Okay. Just let me know when you’re ready to finish up.”

She slumped back in the water, dropping beneath the surface as he left the room. She stared up at the ceiling as the water distorted her vision, air bubbles floating up in front of her. She held her breath for a long moment as she thought in the muffled silence of the water. Some funky looking lights played in front of her eyes.

Who the fuck am I kidding? she wondered. I’m better than that. I always have been. So what if I have no opportunities or potential jobs on the horizon? So what if I’ve burned out with the few friends I ever had and haven’t felt more alone in years? I’m still breathing. Still alive. Now I need to take what I got and do something with it. I can still move and talk and use my head. Maybe I should get the fuck out of New York. Never did like this city all that much. Don’t worry about being anything else and I’ll do fine. Now let’s get out of the water before I kill too many brain cells.

uuu

New York—early April of the year 2020. The Agent had not been to a city like this in awhile, working in more rural areas of late. The sight of it depressed him thoroughly and quickly. Once the ship camouflaged itself at their landing point in a junkyard, he proceeded into the city. He nodded and smiled at the old man standing at the gate, giving a joking salute. The owner of the junkyard eyed the strange intruder suspiciously as he walked by—proceeding to investigate where this stranger had come from and what his intentions were. His search was in vain—he found nothing to indicate who the man was or where he had come from.

It was raining as he entered Manhattan—walking across one of the bridges, beginning to weave through the labyrinth maze of streets. His coat was completely drenched and slick with water—his hair soaked and matted down against his head—as he reached Corrina Marvin’s apartment building. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small metal device, a cylinder that was about the length of his hand. He pointed the tip of the device to the lock of the door, pressing down on the red button. A faint green light came from the end of the device. His Sesame Key undid the lock and he proceeded inside.

The floor was heavily carpeted, soaking up the water that dripped from him as he moved to the elevator. Every step squeaked and squished more water from his shoes—he made a mental note to wear waterproof shoes more often. He entered the lift and stood quietly next to an old lady, the door closing behind him. She looked up at him and smiled. The speaker above them put out a standard tune as they rode up—nothing he knew or cared to know. The old lady saw that he was wearing a blue button-up shirt and black pants beneath his coat, and a cheap but nice pair of shoes—a sign that he was not what she considered a hooligan. She liked the look of him. He smiled back.

Crazy old lady? he wondered. She doesn’t look crazy, but you never know. The innocent looking ones are usually the craziest of the bunch. Probably overdue and deserve one at this point anyway.

Lousy weather we’re having today, ain’t it?” she said.

Yes I noticed,” he said. “It always raining here?”

More often than it should, you betcha,” she said. “I moved out of Seattle to get away from the rain, don’t ya know? And to get away from the hippies—but mostly the rain. Didn’t know it would follow me across the country. Then again, this is New York. It wouldn’t be the same if we weren’t miserable all the time. We’ve got the tail end of a hurricane to thank for this particular storm. Weather Channel says we’re going to get this stuff coming down on us for a few days more, oh you betcha.”

What accent is that? he wondered.

At least it’s not hitting you head on,” he offered. “Plus, you’re up far enough along the coast that it isn’t nearly as bad as they get in the south. And you’re above sea level. Two things you got going for you.”

Tell that to my neighbor. She’s always sitting out there on the balcony every time it rains, listening to that hippie rock music… if she hadn’t been in the Olympics, I’d swear she does drugs and badmouths our country with every breath. She’s going to catch her death out there, mark my words. I swear she’d wish for more rain, don’t ya know? Wish she would wise up and get out of the rain.”

If I see her, I’ll be sure to mention it.”

Would you? That’s good of you to do so. She’s such a sweet girl—but she seems very mixed up most of the time. She could always use some help and good advice. And you look like a good, sound young man. I can tell these things, don’t ya know? Corrina’s a good girl, though—I think she just needs a good, sound, young man such as yourself.”

Your neighbor’s Corrina? Corrina Marvin?” She nodded her confirmation. “Funny, I’m actually going up to visit her. I’ll be sure to mention your concern.”

Be careful, she’s got a bit of a temper. Steroids. I heard from a former resident of this building she used to use them.”

Well, I’ve always been told I’m much too attractive and charming for anyone to stay mad at for too long. Regardless of chemical and hormonal imbalances—natural or otherwise—I think I can handle myself. Don’t you worry about me one bit.”

He smiled a classic Hollywood actor type smile at her as the elevator stopped on the twelfth floor—trying his best to look like the proverbial gentleman. The old woman got out first—after he bowed away to her—and went down the hall to her door. Staying a short distance behind, the Agent followed her until he reached Corrina’s door. As the old lady opened her door, he adjusted his jacket and hair in an apparent attempt to look more presentable—ruffling them from their flat and soaked state—sending water all over the hall and evoking as smile from the old woman as she vanished into her home.

Once she was out of sight, he used the Sesame Key again to open the door to Corrina’s apartment. The lock came undone with a loud click and he turned the knob.

The interior of the apartment seemed sterile—almost as though no one lived there. Sitting by the bar of the kitchen were two packed suitcases with tiny white identification tags on them. The walls were a light bluish gray—with only a small number of pictures on the wall. The sofa and chairs were white, surrounded by a clear glass shelf that gave the room a cold and spacey look in the gray light of the rainy day. A glance into the bedroom to his left showed a perfectly made bed with white linens and blankets. He slowly moved forward into the apartment—

Smack!

The frying pan struck him across the side of the face and he fell backwards, bouncing off the wall as he went down. He reoriented himself a second later, looking up to see the red-headed woman who had hit him. Her cheeks were bright pink as she glared at him with gray eyes. She raising the pan to hit him again. He grabbed her wrists as the pan came down and managed to kick her back away from him before she could land a second blow. He recognized her from his encounters with her doppelgangers. This one kept herself in better shape than the others, and he vaguely remembered the old lady saying something about the Olympics. She had more of a muscular build to her, but was still fairly attractive though—her athletic frame was accentuated by feminine features and curves. The braid of her hair hung over her left shoulder as she stood ready. The clothes she wore indicated she was just back from a trip to the gym—red gym pants and a drenched black tank-top clinging to her upper body, her face still glowing from her workout. He stood and looked down at her.

Should’ve been paying attention when I came in, he thought. My own stupid fault that I got hit. She got some decent power behind that though. My head’s still ringing. Some work on her form and technique—actually knowing where and how to find the right places to strike—she could do some serious damage.

Was that really necessary?” he asked.

You just broke into my house,” she hissed. She got up, planting her feet and raising the frying pan in a defensive position. “You want me to hit you again or are you going to get the fuck out of here?”

Yeah, he thought. I was right. Horrible form and positioning. Regardless, I think she’d be good in a fight. Give me a couple of months to train her and she’d be a damn good Agent.

You raise a legitimate point and a valid ultimatum,” he replied. The gun was in his hand almost instantly, drawn in smooth motion from beneath his jacket. He pointed it at her. “But I unfortunately can’t do that. Put the pan down on the counter and take a step back.” She set the cookware on the counter and stepped back, watching gun follow as she moved. “Now sit down on the couch. I’ll tell you what’s going on and why I’m here.”

She frowned and reluctantly sat down on the couch as instructed. Her eyes stayed focused as he moved into the living room area. He stood across from her, rubbing the side of his face.

Do you usually hit people in the face with frying pans?” he asked.

Only when they’re breaking into my home,” she pointed out again.

You’ve got a pretty good point there,” he said. He shook his head a bit to get the ringing to calm down a bit. “I apologize for my method of entry. Sadly, that was my only option. I’ll explain why I’m here, if you don’t mind.”

Please,” Corrina said. He could tell she was sizing him up—trying to make a determination about if she could overtake him or not.

Don’t try it kid, he thought. I’m not in the mood for games like that today. You might be built—really built actually—but if I really wanted to I could kill you fifteen different ways before you even touched me. Without even using the gun.

My job is to repair and save universes from collapse,” he said. “I travel from universe to universe preventing mass destruction on an epic and universal scale. That’s what I do. I am part of an organization that searches for any and all potential factors that could damage the fragile balance of existence and keep it from causing a disaster the likes of which few people have ever had to even try to comprehend. If a tangent universe occurs or is about to occur when it isn’t supposed to—or something is just going wrong in general with universe—I go to the point in that universe and try to prevent the tangent or the bad thing from happening. Thus is how I spend my days saving trillions and trillions of lives. You following me so far?”

What exactly is a tangent universe?” she asked.

That is a really good question,” he said. “You’re full of those. I like that. Again, I’m sorry. I keep forgetting people really aren’t very familiar with these ideas, so try to bear with me as I explain. There are infinite number of universes, more being created every second by every choice we ever make and action we perform. Basically everything everyone does creates more and more universes. Most of these universe are insignificant and get folded back in with the universe they spawned from originally. That’s where you get déjà vu from—if you were ever wondering. It’s a side effect of the universes settling back together. Not really important to the matters at hand, but a fun little fact. A tangent universe is created when artifacts or people from one universe appear in another universe—usually through quantum events and the usually rare sabotage—often times it will create a high level of instability in the functioning of things. The tangent universe is highly volatile and collapses within a short time, usually about a month, usually less. This also destroys the primary universes it is directly linked to, as well as a number of the nearby universes vibrating on similar and similar frequencies. My job is to remove the offending artifacts or people before they can create the rift resulting in the destruction of the universe.”

You gotta be kidding me,” she said.

Sadly I am not,” he said grimly. “As much as I wish I was, I am not. I think it would make a bad joke. And, unfortunately for you, a rift is about to occur in this universe. Very soon—and you are the cause of it. The only way I can prevent it and save this universe is to kill you.”

What did I do to bring you here?” she asked.

Where the fuck did this crazy fucker come from? she wondered. This has got to be a really bad joke. I had a feeling today was going to be a bad day, but this is going way too far. Did I stay under the water for too long and now I’m seeing things?

It is the result of a complex and numerous set of possible choices, actions, and consequences influenced by a great many factors,” he said. “The President of the United States—after this upcoming election, of course—will be responsible for starting World War III through a variety of outdated and ineffective policies which he implements and enforces. But that’s only if he lives beyond a certain date and time. A friend of yours is going to kill him on that certain date. The Vice President—who steps up and succeeds him—will be able to prevent the war and global catastrophe by putting the right people where they belong and shaping the world political landscape for decades to come. But, as long as you are here, your friend will not be there on that certain day to shoot the President. Sadly, you prevent your friend from doing this act. By and by, that leads to war and a tangent universe. To prevent this from happening, I ask you to allow me to end your life without a struggle—sacrificing yourself for trillions upon trillions to live.”

Corrina sat silently for a second, running through the choice he presented for her.

You may find me selfish for not believing one word that you just said to me,” she said. “You might just find it unbelievable that I’m not going along with this. But I’m okay with that. I really am. If that’s what happens because I do what I think is right, so be it. Wars happen. They always have, and they always will. It’s human nature. We kill each other all the time. I would love to prevent it, but I want to live and not that interesting in prolonging the inevitable. Plus, I think you’re full of shit.”

Well, I was trying to appeal to a sense of nobility and self-sacrifice in you,” he said. “It makes it easier if the subject is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Didn’t work, eh?”

No. Not at all. I think you’re as crazy as fuck.”

Too bad. You ready?”

I need to be more convincing and trustworthy, he thought. She’s probably right about the way I came across though. I am coming across as kind of crazy lately. Need to work on that. I need to be more like Walter Cronkite. Become the image of trust. Get focused again and not let myself get distracted by my own head. Not that I really like this type of mission anyway. Never the kind of thing I wanted to be good at. There should be a better way. There has to be. Not this. We shouldn’t be murderers. We should be better than this. I should be better than this.

Looking around the room, she tried to find a way out. He stared at her intently.

Can we do it on the balcony?” she asked. “I would like to do this in the rain, if you don’t mind. Plus, I’m sure blood in the actual apartment would cause some problems after. For the greater good, right?”

He glanced out the sliding glass door and shrugged.

Whatever floats your boat,” he said.

She got up and went to the balcony. Walking calmly, he checked the gun to make sure it was all set. She sat on the ledge and smiled.

Sure you have to kill me?” she asked.

I’m afraid so,” he said. “For what’s worth, you seem like good people and I hate that I have to kill you. Every universe needs its good people, and you’re definitely one of them.”

Says the psycho pointing the gun at me,” she replied. She smiled. “Later then.”

She flung herself over the ledge. Looking over the edge, he saw hands release an outcropping on the base and disappear onto the balcony below.

Fuck,” he said. As he was about to leave, he saw the trophies and medals on the bookshelf. His glance focused on the shining metals there, draped over framed newspaper clippings of Corrina in a leotard in gymnastic competitions. “Fuck. 2010 Junior Olympics… silver medal. 2012 London Olympics… gold Medal, 2016 Baghdad Olympics. Fuck. Didn’t realize I was chasing Mary Lou Retton. Fuck.”

Alright, he thought to himself. You’re annoyed. And somewhat impressed with her abilities—but annoyed nonetheless. But that’s probably mostly your bruised face taking. Calm down and finish the job. Get your head clear and in the game.

The elevator would be too slow for her to get away or for him to catch up. He went for the stairs. Hearing the footsteps beneath him, he broke into an all out run. The footsteps below accelerated in time with his own. He smiled with the exhilaration he felt at the chase. It was good to be running, it reminded him he was alive. He followed the sounds of steps all the way down to the basement.

Once inside, he saw nothing but boxes stacked around the room, alleyways formed between them for walking. The stacks were tall, most about level with his eyes. He began to focus and try to locate her with his well-honed tracking skills. As he moved in the basement, his phone rang.

What the hell? he wondered. Answering it, Donald’s monotone voice greeted him.

Excuse me sir,” it said. “I apologize for interrupting, but there has been a revision on the order in regards to Corrina Marvin. It is sent directly from the High Council at the Pantheon. You are to remove her from the universe instead of exterminate.”

Wait, what?” he asked. He moved back towards the door. “Extraction? You mean take her with me? On the Raider?

Correct, sir,” Donald confirmed. “I have already taken the liberty of making the necessary adjustments and recalibration in the Raider’s systems to accommodate another person living in the space. All is ready here.”

That’s well and good but we still have a few minor issues on this end,” the Agent pointed out. “ A few problems. I was still trying to kill her up until now. She hit me in the face with a frying pan. My head is still ringing from that—in case you were wondering. I was just chasing her down the stairs to the basement. She thinks I’m a crazed psychopath—or something like that—and I’m still just a bit annoyed from getting hit by a frying pan. We’re not exactly on friendly terms at the moment. What do we do about that?”

Those are human issues for humans such as yourself and Miss Marvin to deal with, sir. My abilities to mediate such matters are basic at best and I am ill-informed to comment on or offer potential solutions. Perhaps Master Newton will have the technology ready to be installed when we return to the Pantheon at a later date. Until then, I have done all I can in this matter. I have the utmost confidence in your ability to resolve the matter in the most effective manner possible. Best of luck, sir.”

Donald severed the connection before the Agent responded with a long string of profanity.

Goddamn computer, he thought. No middle ground. Either he’s completely useless or unbelievably annoying.

After the profuse profanity had ended, he looked around the room.

Corrina,” he called. “You can come out now. I know you’re in here—I’m blocking the only way out. Game’s over, it’s alright. I no longer have to kill you. As I said, I never truly had any desire to do so. In fact, I’m supposed to show you what I do and ask you if you want to come along.” He put his gun away in his jacket. “I know you still don’t believe a word I’m telling you about all of this, but give me one chance to prove it to you. To prove what I’m saying is true and I’m not the crazy psycho I came off as. That’s all I’m asking for: an open mind and one chance to believe in all the things beyond the world you have known your entire life. You were once an Olympic athlete—among the best in the world at it. I saw the medals in your apartment. You know there are great rewards for those willing to take the risks for greatness. It’s kind of like that. What I ask of you now is really of no great unknown risk to you—but you could have the most amazing of rewards you make it. You can see realities and universes that you never knew were there. I’m not asking that you agree to anything now, just let me try to give you a glimpse of the myriad wonders you might see if you do choose to come with me.”

Take me where?” she asked. Against her better judgment, she was beginning to believe what the man was saying about. He did not know for certain, but he was beginning to believe she would give him the chance. Her voice called from behind one of the stacks of boxes. From the sound her voice he determined exactly where she was and faced that set of boxes as he sat on a low sitting box.

At least I’ll get out of the basement and be in a position to rethink my plan, she thought.

Everywhere and anywhere,” he said. “To the various places that I need to go to. Universes in need of saving, people in need of help, and all the places in between. Tell you what: you come along with me to my ship. If you’re still convinced I’m crazy then, we’ll try to work something out, all right?”

Technically my interaction here probably changes what will happen in the course of events in this universe anyway, he thought. She’s aware now, so that will actually make the history progress differently then we originally thought. I think we can work something out here… Problem is, there’s other factors at work here now. The High Council’s gotten involved and they probably have a set plan in place for her. Never a good thing when the higher ups starts getting involved with the grunt work down here. If she still refuses to cooperate, I’ll have Donald run the numbers and see what we can put together before kidnapping. Maybe she won’t have to die after all.

…Okay.”

Stepping around from the boxes, she led him to the elevator and back up to her apartment. The old lady from the Agent’s first elevator trip greeted them as they came down the hallway, having forgotten to buy cat food when she went out before. She stopped and complimented the Agent about what a nice young man he was. Corrina merely smiled and nodded along as the Agent made a brief run of sweet-talking before she opened the door.

Huh, Corrina thought. Missus White likes him. She usually hates everybody. Including me. Maybe there is something to this guy.

Once inside, she packed quickly as he waited in the living room—putting most of her remaining clothes and a few other keepsakes in a large duffel bag. The Agent moved her suitcases to the balcony—just out of the rain—before sitting down on the sofa with a pair of fingernail clippers.

Where do we go?” she asked. “I mean, where do we meet your ship?” He finished clipping his fingernails as she entered the living room, her face twisted into rage as she saw him—he had happened upon one of her pet peeves. “Do you mind? That’s… that’s just rude!”

Not like you’re going to be living here much longer,” he said absently. He set the clippers on the light stand and stood. “But first I have a question. Steroids?”

Did Missus White say something to you? For fuck’s sake! I get a mislabeled bottle from my doctor once, break an already broken ice machine, and everybody thinks you’re going to go into ‘roid rage all the time! Yeah, I did use steroids. Once. And they were prescribed. They were for rehabbing a serious injury after I finished up in the Olympics—standard stuff. Nothing too strong or dangerous—just something to speed up healing process a bit. I had some bad injuries in the past and they were standard parts of the rehab. All legal, all doctor approved. Beyond that one mix up, there were no issues at all. Only was on for six months, and I’ve been off them for the last two years.”

Okay. Just wondering. Now if you don’t mind, we’ve got a schedule to keep.”

He grabbed the two suitcases and led her out to the balcony. The rain hit their faces as they stood there.

What are we doing out here?” she asked. “I thought you were taking me to your ship.”

It’s on the way,” he said.

She looked out and saw nothing visible or approaching.

You realize we’re on the twelfth floor?” she asked.

Ah there’s Donald now,” he said. “I think he’s trying to be careful with the cityscape. He doesn’t navigate through buildings too often.”

The ship came to them and pulled up to the balcony—a door just in front of them—a streamline, silver ship about the size of a naval battleship. Corrina could see it curved in and out to form a smooth figure eight, both circles about the same size and thickness. It hovered about level with the balcony, the heavy gray door in the rear section opening in front of them when it finished stopping. A ladder extended downward to them.

Okay, Corrina thought. She stared at the ship as the Agent tossed her bags through the door, her eyes wide. I think I believe him now. A spaceship flying through New York City is pretty damn convincing.

What is that?” she asked nervously.

That is my ship,” he said. “It’s called the Seraphim Raider. It is an Alpha-Class Quantum Foam Surfer—fully upgradeable, self-aware, and capable of space and interuniversal travel, topping out at about the speed of thought when we really need to push it to the limit. Quantum Foam is the stuff that keeps the universes separated, and this ship is what allows us to travel on it.”

You’re serious, aren’t you?”

Only about serious matters. It’s a fun job though. You still think I’m crazy?”

I have no idea anymore. I really don’t.”

As good of an answer as one could hope for. Well then, Come along and I’ll try to explain the rest of this as best I can.”

Helping her up the steps into the Seraphim Raider, the Agent put her luggage in the living area and quickly showed her around the ship. From the entry bay he led her up the short stairwell to the living area, where they deposited her bags.

Pretty simple layout here,” he said. “Beds and living area in back, cockpit and command center are in front. Medical center is below us. Fairly comfortable, plenty of space to stretch, do yoga, cardio, whatever you usually do. We got this thing that alters the time space relationship inside the ship so that we have more space than it would seem right to have. Not too bad of a place to live, just takes a bit of getting used to.”

I have taken the liberty of setting our course, sir,” Donald said. “Come up to the cockpit when you are ready. Welcome aboard Miss Marvin. I hope you enjoy your stay with us.”

Corrina jumped when he heard him speak. The Agent laughed.

Don’t worry,” the Agent said. “Donald is usually so quiet you won’t even know he’s there. Just an on-board computer, that’s all. He makes sure the ship doesn’t fall apart and does a lot of important things of that nature. Worse thing he’ll do is say you aren’t flossing enough. And he will. A lot. Come on, let’s get you settled.”

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