Today’s Friday Flash Fics continues the tale from the previous two, returning to the present of “Greater Good.” This ongoing 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 fell 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, and continued in part two. This is the third piece.
Greater Good (Part Three)
Jeff touched Solange’s shoulder. “Before you go in there, there’s something I need to make clear.”
Solange frowned, but waited for him to go on.
“He can’t know about what happened before. Any of it. From his point of view, none of what happened in Ottawa has happened yet. Including… Well. All of it.”
She took a breath. “I know.”
She opened the door, and went into the room where Colin waited for her.
Jeff rubbed his face. He’d been clenching his jaw for hours, and a headache was settling in. He reached down and tapped on his keyboard, bringing up the cameras in the conference room. Solange and Colin were sitting down, and he was explaining something to her. He always talked with his hands when he was explaining.
You love him.
Jeff closed his eyes. It didn’t matter. It couldn’t matter. Because there was more at stake than his damn feelings. He tapped the keyboard again, then followed Solange into the room.
He could do this.
“Hey,” Colin smiled at him. “I was just going over some of the basics with Solange here.” He paused, and eyed her. “Or would you prefer Mentaliste?”
She smiled. “Either is fine. I’ve honestly gotten used to answering to both of them.”
“It’s an odd life, no?” He winked, then turned to Jeff. “You have a team of four, here?”
“Four right now,” Jeff said. “Myself, Mentaliste, Deke, and Delphi. Deke and Delphi are reserve members—that means they don’t cross the border, and they work in the local area, not that they’re in any way unprepared. Although Delphi is maybe not up for it. She’s awake now, but the incursion gave her a seizure.”
Colin’s usual easy smile faded. “A seizure?”
“She’s pre- and postcognitive,” Solange said. “She said it was like she could suddenly see everything happening at once, everywhere.”
“Ah. I see.” Colin’s posture shifted. His shoulders relaxed a notch, and he leaned back in his seat.
Jeff wanted to ask him what had him on edge, but it seemed obvious enough. He also wanted to touch his shoulder and tell him to breathe. That they’d work on this together. That it wasn’t Colin’s fault or sole responsibility to make sure everything worked out okay.
His fingers twitched, but he stayed in his seat.
The door opened, and Deke came in. She sat down.
“Touchdown and Cirrus are on their way,” she said. “Lustre and Noire said they may be delayed. The president seems to want to show off with them.”
“The next four years are going to be something,” Solange said.
Jeff couldn’t disagree, but it was a moot point now.
“Walk us through it,” Colin said. More for Lydia and Solange’s sake than his own. He’d had many a discussion with Colin about timelines, quantum realities, and incursions. Not that Colin knew that. And he couldn’t know. For more than one reason.
“Okay,” Colin tapped on the thick bracelet he wore on his left wrist and a projection of a bright blue line appeared above it.
“Well,” Lydia said. “That’s nifty.”
Colin gave her a little smile. “Thanks. It’s more-or-less like an old smart phone, with a few extras. Okay. This line is my timeline.” He reached out and gestured in the air, turning the line around until it seemed to float over the centre of the table. “From your point of view, I’ll be born in about twenty years, if I’m going to be born in this timeline at all.” A little dot appeared on the line.
“This timeline?” Solange said. Jeff waited. Some things hadn’t been put in the files, even with sealing them.
Colin nodded. “There are two things going on here. Time travel, which is moving ahead or backwards on a timeline…” He gestured, and the little dot that was his birth moved forward, and then flashed, appearing much further back along the line. “And the incursion, which is more like side-to-side.” He tapped on his bracelet, and instead of one blue line, there were now hundreds of lines, in varying colours. He zoomed in until the only two visible lines were the blue one and a green one. “The green timeline is yours. Things have happened differently here than in mine.”
“How do you know that?” Lydia said. Colin looked at her. She shrugged. “You were unconscious when you got here and you’ve been indoors ever since.”
Jeff couldn’t help it. He smiled. Lydia Zhao’s quickness wasn’t limited to her powers.
“Oh. Well, for one, the flag is wrong.” Colin pointed out the window.
“The flag?” Lydia turned. “The Canada flag? The maple leaf?”
Colin nodded. “Where I’m from, my Canada? It’s three leaves in the middle, not one, and the fields are blue, not red.”
“The Pearson Pennant,” Jeff said.
Colin looked at him, surprised. “That’s right.”
“It was one of the final design choices here, too, but it didn’t win,” Jeff said.
“Hello Captain Trivia,” Lydia said.
“Well, it did win in my timeline. And while that’s just a minor cosmetic thing, it lets me know I’m in another Canada. And the past.” He tapped again, and among the two lines, a path was drawn. It started in the future of the blue line, looped to the past of the blue line, then leapt over onto the green. “The people I’m after went backwards first, in my timeline, then here, laterally, from a temporal point of view, if not the quantum one.”
“Why?” Solange said.
Colin tapped his bracelet, and the lines vanished. “Because my world basically went to hell, and they were powerful and influential enough to not care who they hurt trying to get to a better place for themselves.”
“Went to hell?” Lydia said.
“Do you have climate change here?” Colin said.
“Unfortunately,” Solange said. “I take it you do, too?”
“To put it mildly. I mean, I know the upside is us, but mostly it’s all downsides, right?”
Jeff blinked. “What? The upside is us?”
“Us. Metahumans.” Colin looked at him, then the women. He leaned forward. “How long ago did metahumans start popping up in your timeline?”
Solange met Jeff’s gaze, and he nodded. “Mid-nineties are the earliest confirmed. Nineteen-ninety-six,” she said.
“I was nineteen ninety-eight,” Jeff said. “I’m considered one of the first.”
Colin’s eyes widened. “You mean you haven’t had metahumans here for thirty years, even? How many of you are there, total?”
Jeff didn’t like how rattled Colin seemed. He hadn’t brought this up before. Then again, he’d already known this before, since Jeff was telling him now, so… He shook his head. Time travel was the worst. “You mean in Canada, or..?”
“We’re going to be so outnumbered by them,” Colin said. “That’s… that’s not good.”
“Outnumbered.” Solange aimed another glance Jeff’s way, and her frown made it clear she wasn’t liking what she was feeling from Colin. Not that it took a telepath to see how upset he was. “How many people took part in this incursion?”
Colin rubbed his face. “Probably thirty-ish. It can’t be more than forty, for sure. But they had to have counterparts here, which isn’t guaranteed, so the forty in the rig might not all have made it across.”
“I’m going to need you to back up and slow down,” Lydia said. “Rig? Counterparts?”
Colin blew out a breath. “Okay. The metahumans who jumped back in time used technology to do it, but they didn’t travel there physically. They went back in time by projecting themselves back into their own, younger bodies. It… overwrote them, I guess you could say. I only knew it had happened because things changed. History changed.”
“Wait, if history changed, how could you know?” Lydia said. “Wouldn’t you have changed, too?”
Colin shook his head. “Part of my powers. I can shift in and out of quantum phase, as well as dodging back and forth through dimensions. When a timeline changes, it sort of washes by me. I stay, even if I wouldn’t have been born in the new version of history. Which, let me tell you, is unpleasant to experience.”
“They erased you?” Solange said.
“They tried. They tried to wipe out any of us who had opposed them in the future. My NAMDA. It’s just it didn’t work with me. So I jumped back to try and fix it.”
“You had a rig, too?”
Colin paused. “I don’t need one. I can time travel without a rig. It’s just… difficult. And without something clear to aim for, I can miss my target. I don’t do it often. Fortunately, it was easy enough to look at when and where the changes happened from what I remembered of history the way it was supposed to be to aim. And even then I undershot a bit. Which gave them time to build the second rig.”
“The one that let them shift to our timeline,” Jeff said.
“I’m still not clear why they’d want to come here,” Solange said.
“Here was better,” Colin said. “Better enough they were willing to gamble on being one of the ones who made it through with a counterpart.” Colin tapped his bracelet again, and a picture of a crowd appeared. “In my timeline, let’s say these people are all going about their business. Just a regular day.” He tapped more, and the image blurred. The people were overlaid with slightly out-of-synch versions of themselves. Some looked left instead of right while they walked. Some stopped to talk to each other while their doubles still walked on. “In any different quantum timeline, they’ll do different things. Some people don’t meet in every timeline, so they don’t have children in every timeline. Or they have different children. Or any number of things that mean there’s a you here, but there isn’t a you there.”
“Overwrote,” Lydia said, and her voice shook. “You said overwrote.”
Jeff closed his eyes for a second. He already knew this part, from last time.
“Yes,” Colin said, dismissing the image. “I’m sorry. They’ve… taken the bodies of your timeline’s version of themselves. Those people are gone. And it’s why I asked you if you had a telepath.”
“So I can read the minds of people we suspect might be from your timeline,” Solange said.
Colin nodded. “I’m going to work with you, teach you want to feel for. You can practice on me. I don’t belong, and there are ways you can feel that. Once you’ve got it down, we can start looking for them. Hopefully before they get too far.”
“Couldn’t they be anywhere?” Lydia said. “I mean, if our histories are different?”
“The technology they used has a particular radius of effect. They’d only have transferred into people within a certain radius of the incursion event. Nowhere outside the city, for sure.”
“This is Toronto,” Jeff said. “It’s Canada’s largest city.”
“And they’ll be looking for each other, too. They’ll need each other, especially if you only started getting metas in the nineties.” He shook his head. “The nineties.”
“Why does that matter?” Lydia said.
“They’re used to having powers,” Colin said.
“You’re saying their counterparts won’t have powers,” Lydia said, and she leaned back in her seat. “Because not many people do in our timeline. Well that’s good news, at least.”
Colin waved a hand. “It’s only short term, though.”
“Well, given how you didn’t know climate change played a part in how you got your powers, I’m guessing you have no idea how a metagene is activated, right?”
Jeff clenched his jaw. “That’s right.”
Colin blew out a breath. “Well, where I come from, we know a little more than that. And so will they. One of the first things they’ll try and do is find each other. Then they’ll be looking to get their powers back.”
“How much time do we have?” Jeff said.
Colin shook his head. “There’s no way to know. But I can tell you what to look out for. There are certain substances, at least, that they’ll be trying to get a hold of to activate their metagenes. Keep an eye out for those going missing, and that’ll help. I also have the metagene registry from their timeline, from before they came here. It’s a lot of names, and I didn’t have time to figure out who was in the rig before I set the detonator, but—”
“You blew it up?” Lydia said.
Colin scowled, and raised his voice for the first time. “After they sent everyone with a counterpart here, the machine would have woken up the ones who didn’t go anywhere and been reset. The ones who didn’t have counterparts here? They would have been able to try again with another timeline. There’s only one of me, and the first group had already left… I needed to go after them before I lost the sense of which timeline I was shifting into. I never would have been able to find them again, if they’d gone somewhere else. They would have kept overwriting innocent people in new timelines until they all found somewhere better to be. Cheating their own aging, their own deaths…” He looked down at the tabletop. “The designer of the rig was in it. I have no idea if she made it across or not, but if she didn’t, I couldn’t have that technology out there. Not in my timeline. Not in any timeline. I lost everyone when they went back. They could do that over and over again, in every timeline.”
Lydia nodded slowly. “I’m sorry.”
“We should get started,” Solange said.
Colin looked at her. His eyes were wet. “Right.”
“Are you going to be okay for this?” Jeff said.
Solange touched her baby bump. “I’m the only telepath we have. We’ll make it work.”
“Do you have that list of names?” Lydia said.
Colin tapped his bracelet. This time the image that appeared above it looked pretty much like a typical desktop. Files and folders and icons. “I don’t know if the formats will be compatible with anything you have,” he admitted.
“How about you let me transcribe it, then,” came a voice.
They all turned.
Delphi stood in the doorway. She still looked pale, and her normal comportment was lacking as she leaned heavily against the door frame. But she managed a weak smile.
“Should you be up?” Jeff said.
Thea Callas laughed. “No. But if you give me that, I’ll go back to bed and transcribe it there. I’d like to feel useful.”
Jeff looked at Colin. “Is that okay?”
Colin nodded, pulling off the bracelet and rising. “I’ll show you how to use it.”
“Okay,” Jeff said. “Here’s the plan. We put a watch on everything Colin tells us they might use to unlock their metagenes. We run his list of names looking for counterparts. I’ll reach out to Lustre and Noire again, see if I can speed up their arrival, and I’ll call on the Ottawa and Montreal reserves, too. If we’re going to be outnumbered, we’ll need all the help we can get.”
“I’ll make sure someone’s there to pick up Cirrus and Touchdown and I’ll get them up to speed,” Lydia said, then she smiled at Solange. “But you get to tell Jay you’re working on this.”
Solange smiled. “He’s my husband. He’ll understand.”
Jeff and Lydia shared a dubious look.
“Okay, we’ll argue about it, but I’ll win.”
They broke off into groups. Jeff stood back, waiting, and sure enough, Solange joined him a moment later. They watched Colin explaining the functions of his smart device to Thea.
“How are you doing?” she said.
“I’ll be okay,” Jeff said.
Thea took the device and left the room on unsteady feet. Colin turned around.
“Ready?” he said to Solange.
She patted Jeff’s arm.
“Ready,” she said.
They left together.