This week’s Friday Flash Fiction was delayed an account of internet outage, but we have internet again, so here we are. This follows up last week’s Greater Good beginning, but jumps back to the past, to the other side of the coin: when Jeff first met Colin (though, by virtue of time-travel, this isn’t the first time Colin meets Jeff, of course). This story tells the other side of “Lesser Evil,” which was was my first superhero story—or, rather, super-villain—and focused on a telepath named Tristan Edwards, who could not only read minds but could force people to do (and even believe) whatever he wanted them to do. He was, for a while, with a superhero group, but he gave in to temptation when he developed feelings for another member of the team, feelings that weren’t reciprocated, and he did the unthinkable. That story is found in Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy, and I’ve written other flash pieces about those characters before. “Greater Good” partners with “Lesser Evil” in that it takes Jeff McKenna’s point of view—the Canuck superhero known as Cinder—who was the man Tristan fall for and telepathically manipulated and forced him to return the feelings. “Greater Good” takes place after the events in “Lesser Evil,” but only a little while after. This story is going to take quite a few parts to tell, and I’m not sure it’ll be every week (though right now it seems to be the only thing I want to write, so…) but I hope you enjoy the ride. It began here, with part one.
Greater Good (Part Two)
The view from the Department of National Defense tower was nice this time of year. The Canal. Parliament. The War Memorial. Really, Jeff had one of the best views in town. It didn’t feel real, even after the last three years. Not that he ended up spending a lot of time in his office.
Maybe he should have taken CSIS up on the offer to move him to Toronto. More happened there relevant to his division’s sphere of influence in Toronto, just by virtue of population density, but…
Ottawa was home.
And it didn’t take him more than an hour to fly to Toronto, and whenever the higher-ups did question his choice, he pointed out he was within sight of Parliament, and given some of the things happening south of the 49th, that usually shut them up.
His intercom buzzed.
Speaking of south of the 49th…
Jeff turned away from the view and hit the button.
“Ms. Hart is here.”
Jeff smiled in spite of himself. “Send her in.”
When Jasmine Hart entered the room, she was poise incarnate. She was tall, and beautiful, and had been well on her way to being a model before her metagene had surfaced. Her dark hair wasn’t done up in one of her characteristic styles, today, though. She had it tied back in a simple twist, and her rich brown eyes were hidden behind sunglasses, though she pulled them off as Jeff closed the door.
“Can I get you anything?”
“I don’t suppose you have decent coffee nearby?”
Jeff smiled, and pulled a travel coffee cup from behind his monitor. “Dark roast, one cream.”
Jasmine tilted her head back and smiled. “You’re my favourite Canadian. Did I ever tell you that?”
“Have a seat.” Jeff sat at his desk, and Jasmine sank into the opposite chair with an exhalation. He gave her a few seconds to have a sip. “How was crossing the border?”
“I took the NAMDA jet,” she said. “It’s nice. Have you seen it yet?”
“No,” Jeff shook his head. “Do I get to borrow it? From the memo I read, it’s supposed to stay in the US, isn’t it?”
“We did pay for it,” Jasmine smiled.
“How are you,” Jeff said. “Really?”
She took a long, deep breath. “I’m… alive.”
Jeff leaned forward. “As are a half-dozen other people, from what I read. Thanks to you.”
“Did you see the video?”
He shook his head.
She pulled out a thumb-drive from her small bag, handing it to him. She didn’t move to come to his side of the desk when he plugged it in, so he didn’t turn the monitor. She’d been there. He didn’t need to make her watch it again.
He clicked the file and waited. There was no audio, and it looked like the camera had shot the action from across the street. He didn’t recognize the building specifically, it could have been any building, really, though it was clean and had a tidy front lawn. But he did recognize the people gathered in front, or at least, their signs.
“They’re anti-abortion, right?”
Jasmine nodded. “Assholes.”
Jeff watched, waiting. It didn’t take long. At first, he wasn’t sure where to look, and leaned forward when the small crowd almost surrounded two women approaching the building, but then two other figures came walked up to the protestors—and they both had their faces covered with scarves and hoods.
“Man and a woman,” Jeff said.
“Yes. Big man, smaller woman.” Jasmine took another swallow. “Eyes on her first.”
Jeff eyed the smaller figure. The angle wasn’t great, but it was enough that he saw her gesture a moment before the first of the sign-wielding people—the one closest to the two women—fell down.
She hadn’t touched him, but he fell anyway.
She repeated the gesture twice more. Two more fell. The two women made it into the building while the others turned to their own, a few kneeling beside the prone figures.
But two of them had also finally noticed the man and the woman in hoods. One of them was pointing at them and obviously yelling something right up until the moment he keeled over.
Something seemed to snap with the rest of the crowd, and they physically approached the two en masse.
“Not very bright, are they?”
The big man turned his head, and the camera was momentarily overwhelmed something bright. An wall of overbright fire surrounded them, cutting them off from the man and woman.
“Oh fuck,” Jeff said. “Aleph?”
“Aleph.” Jasmine stared straight ahead.
The protestors inside the flame who weren’t already prone were now cowering back, and the ring of flames were closing in on them.
And then, from out of the field of view of the camera, a tight white beam of light hit Aleph in the back.
Jeff smiled at Jasmine. “Nice shot.”
“It didn’t hurt him. Which means the armor theory is out.”
Jeff nodded, still watching. Aleph had normally only been seen in a kind of armor he wore. They’d wondered if the armor was how he seemed immune to most of what they could throw at him. But now, even though smoke was rising from his shoulder blade from Jasmine’s laser, he didn’t seem even slightly pained.
The woman turned, and faced off-camera. She sliced her hand through the air.
“She’s aiming at you, I take it?”
“She is. I nearly passed out.” She had another long sip of coffee.
The large man, Aleph, was gesturing, too. He raised one hand and it filled with the blazing white-hot plasma the man could create seemingly at will.
Then he threw it at the crowd he had trapped in the ring.
Jeff saw Jasmine’s forcefield start to cover the group, but at least half of them were gone in an eyeblink.
The video ended a moment later, when a stray burst of Aleph’s plasma struck the camera.
Jeff looked back at Jasmine. “Do we know what this mystery woman can do, exactly?”
“My forcefield protected two of the ones she’d hit before I got there, and according to the doctors, they were in deep REM sleep. She knocks people out, apparently.” Jasmine raised her coffee. “I still feel tired, and it’s been half a day. Best guess is she’s got limited range, and I was a bit far to get her full whammy.”
“And she’s working with Aleph,” Jeff said. “Which is… a terrible combination. Any idea why they decided to attack those people? I mean, beyond the obvious?”
“They weren’t in costumes. Aleph wasn’t, and we know he does have one. She might not, but my guess is this was something they was passing by and just… decided to get involved in.” Jasmine sighed. “Sort of like me. I was shopping.”
She raised a hand. “Swear to God.”
“That was lucky.”
“Yeah, I saved some horrible men. And the damn clinic burned down anyway.”
Jeff winced. “I’m sorry. No one else hurt?”
“Other than the ones Aleph incinerated?” Jasmine laughed, though there was no humour to it. “No. The lucky thing was his sidekick, actually. I don’t know how he does it, but he can pull apart my lightfields when he’s close enough.”
Jeff nodded. Aleph seemed immune to his fire and heat, too—though at least that was reciprocated. Things didn’t tend to burn Jeff, either. Even fires as hot as Aleph could create.
“So you hit her?” Jeff said.
“And how.” Jasmine made and fired a finger-gun with her free hand. “He grabbed her and flew off with her.”
“So he cares about her?”
“I don’t know if I’d go that far, actually, he—”
A flash of light lit the office.
They both turned to the window.
“Was that lightning?” Jasmine said.
Jeff rose. “I don’t think so.”
They walked to the window, looking over the view. The sky was overcast, but nothing looked like storm clouds. Jasmine craned her head.
There was another flash. It was bluer than lightning should be. That couldn’t be good.
“Is Cirrus here?” Jasmine said.
“No, she’s in Mexico with Jay,” Jeff said.
His intercom sounded. He reached back and hit the button.
“Sir? Something’s happening outside.” His aide sounded startled. She never sounded startled.
They left at a run.
“Those are not normal clouds,” Jasmine said. She glowed with a faint aura now, her personal forcefield in place.
“I am so glad you are visiting,” Jeff said, looking up. He’d grabbed his visor.
“Personally, I’m kind of considering this a truly shit day,” Jasmine said.
Above them, a ring of clouds were circling. They were strange clouds, though, yellow-orange and growing all the lighter moment by moment. And the blue-white pulses of light were speeding up.
Jeff tapped his comm. “This is Cinder. Lustre and I are on the ground near the Byward Market. The… disturbance is above us, and there are a lot of people here.”
The clouds pulsed brightly, in a rapid series of brilliant flashes, and then there was a single roll of thunder. By the time Jeff blinked away the after-effects, the cloud was gone.
He turned. Jasmine was pointing.
A broad-shouldered black man was leaning against one of the light posts. He wore a dark jacket that looked like it had seen better times, and jeans, and a visor that looked very much like the one Jeff wore himself.
“He wasn’t there a second ago,” Jasmine said.
They walked over to him together. Jasmine’s aura brightened a little. She was protecting herself, strengthening her forcefield, just in case.
“Hi,” Jeff said, keeping his tone amiable. “That light show up there, was that you?”
The man looked at him, and for just a second, Jeff could have sworn he was about to smile, but he stifled it. He was very attractive up close, though he had a recent cut across one of his eyebrows, and maybe needed a shave.
“You’re NAMDA, right?” The man said. “Cinder and Lustre?”
“That’s right,” Jasmine said. “And you are?”
“You can call me Quantum. And I’ve got a lot to explain, and you’re in real danger,” the man said. He pushed off from the lamp post, straightening with effort. “And I’m going to ask you for a pretty big leap of faith, right off.”
“That cloud above the city?” Jeff said.
“It wasn’t just a cloud. It was the side effect of a quantum incursion,” the man said. “Something very much like time travel, though there’s more to it than that.”
“Time travel,” Jeff said. He shared a glance with Jasmine. She shook her head.
“We should go somewhere safe to talk. Also, we’re going to need a telepath.”
Jasmine blew out a breath. “Really?”
The man—Quantum—was looking around. “I need to get off the street. If they see me, they’ll know I followed.”
“They?” Jeff said. “Who are they?”
“Please,” Quantum said. “I know this is a lot to ask. And a lot to believe. And I’m going to help you, I promise. But we need somewhere private, and we need a telepath.”
Jeff exchanged a long glance with Jasmine, then nodded.
Jeff knocked, then used his key to open the door. The apartment was part of NAMDA, and as luck would have it, not too far from the Market. He led the other two inside, past the small kitchen, and into the larger living area.
Along the furthest wall, a lean young man lay propped up in the windowsill, looking out over the city. He turned as they approached. He looked younger than his years—and he was only twenty-three.
“This is the telepath?” Quantum said.
“Jeff?” The man in the window frowned.
“This is Recon. We’re ready for that story now,” Jeff said.
Quantum took a breath. “Okay.” He paused. “Your city was just invaded by people from another timeline who took over their equivalent bodies from this timeline.”
“I’m going to need more coffee if we’re going full-on body snatchers,” Jasmine said.
“Recon,” Jeff said. “Is he telling the truth?”
“Y-Yes. Jesus. Yes. He’s… he’s from the future.”
Quantum—Colin—smiled, and offered his hand. “I am indeed. Colin Reichert.”
Jeff blew out a breath, and took his hand. “I’m Jeff McKenna. You can call me Cinder. This is Jasmine Hart, Lustre.”
“And I’m Tristan Edwards. Recon,” Tristan said. “And yes. To your question, earlier. I’m the telepath.”
“Well, Tristan, we’ve got work to do,” Colin said. “Let’s get started.”