New Rourke Unmasked
What Invoked the Wrath of the Writer
Tempora Mutantur Robots | Tempus Fugit Sideways | Time Enough For Bullets
”Haven’t you done this before?” she asked, rather annoyed.
He grunted in reply. ”Usually by myself.”
”You are terrible.”
”Hey, I’m still pretty drunk.”
”At least straighten out.”
”It’s not easy doing this with a bag over my head.”
”Can’t you go any faster?”
”Lady, this is as fast as you get.”
Michael Bunkloff was standing on the railing of a skyscraper balcony, about to jump to his death. He was thirty-seven, suffered daily from bouts of depression, two days ago his wife left him when he announced that he was gay, he had just found out that he had lost one of the biggest contracts in his firm’s history, and any minute now his boss would fire him. He stood on the ledge, feeling the wind swirl around his body, pondering the sensation of letting the air claim him.
Things looked bleak.
When he heard voices, he looked up to see a Caucasian man in a hockey jersey with a brown paper bag over his head, floating between buildings, carrying what appeared to be an eighteen-year-old Japanese girl in a bathrobe bickering at one another.
Michael didn’t know that the girl was actually an eighty-one year old Jewish Chinese woman, but he spent the next forty minutes curled up on the balcony laughing himself silly.
Later he would go on to be a successful stand-up comedian, discussing the absurdities of life with a biting dark wit. And, with the help of his boyfriend/agent, star in a sitcom for six years before retiring in Hawaii with a syndicated advice column.
Not even superheroes can see the full impact they have on other people’s lives.
”This is stupid.” Darrel Humphreys, aka Grey Vigil, said through the mouth hole torn in the bag. “I can barely see, let alone look for where some stupid robot went. It could be anywhere!”
Akiva frowned and squinted against the wind. “It was huge. Even in a city like this, a forty foot robot with a gun for a left arm shouldn’t be that hard to spot.”
”Seriously? This city?”
For most of its history, New Rourke stood out among the cities of the world. Founded in 1814 as a copper mining colony on the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, original estimates of local mineral deposits proved to be vastly underestimated. The community grew extremely wealthy; expansion and development occurred at an extraordinary rate throughout the century. The city became a colossal monument to the power of engineering, steam, and architectural madness. New York, Paris, London, Kyoto these were centers of culture, governance, and crucibles of humanity. New Rourke was a testament to man’s hubris. Massive structures of grandeur and strength ate up the sky and rooted far below the ground. When the great war happened, the city nearly starved to death from lack of resources; the focus shifted from building bigger to building better. Today, no new spire grew, but the old titans thrummed and shifted beneath their metal and stone skin, crackling with the blood of the computer age.
”We just need to cover more ground.” Akiva grumbled. “Go faster.”
”I already told you I can’t go faster.”
She peered at him quizzically. “Really? You just float around?”
”Hey, it’s a quick running speed. Besides, if I went faster, I might break a bone if I ran into something.”
Akiva frowned. ”Well, I don’t have all day.”
The wind died down. The scenery began to move almost three times as fast.
”What the hell‽” Darrel shouted.
”Relax, I’ve got you.”
”You’ve got me‽ I’ve got you!” Darrel stopped midair. “I told you I don’t want to go faster. How did you do that?”
”Oy vey! You big baby, you weren’t going faster. You were going the same speed, I just bent time around us.”
Akiva rolled her eyes. “Didn’t you ever watch Star Trek? It’s like a warp drive. We exist as we normally would inside a small bubble but with minimal drag due to a distortion of spacetime. It’s not really an Alcubierre field, but there are—“
Darrel shook his head. “You are just a giant nerd, you know that.”
”No, I’ve just spent time trying to understand how it is possible that I can do the things I do. Don’t you want to know how your powers work?”
”I can fly and see ghosts. I don’t want to be able to do half of that.”
”Okay, just think of time as a river going north and south.” she said waving her hand around to illustrate. “Normally we would sit in the middle of the stream as time flowed by. But this way, we are skipping along east to west. Now, can we please keep searching?”
”Fine.” Darrel grimaced and began flying again. A few minutes later his brow furrowed, and he said, “That analogy makes no goddamn sense!”
* * *
Even with Akiva’s time distortion allowing them to search the city’s skyscape faster, they still spent hours looking at rooftops. Around dusk, they came across the old brewery on the island in Schlatter Lake. The brown and green fortress of twisting copper pipes, overgrown scaffolding, and derelict holding tanks sat on the lake like a Gigeresque spaceship intent on stealing Earth’s water supply. In the defunct parking lot behind the gate, two large scorch marks were visible. Upon closer inspection, what looked like huge footprints lead to a warehouse.
Akiva pointed them out and Darrel nodded. “We should land on the roof of that building and check it out.” he said.
Darrel touched down and let go of Akiva so that she could stomp some life back into her legs and stretch her back.
”You good?” he asked.
”Yes. Thank you.”
”Alright, seeya.” Darrel said and lifted off again.
”Wait! Where are you going?”
”You’re just leaving me here‽”
Darrel flipped her off with both hands and flew away.
”Asshole! Mamzer!” Akiva yelled ineffectually, along with several other derogatory comments muttered to herself.
The roof of the warehouse had several skylights, all of which where too grime covered to adequately see through, but the roof hatch was thankfully unlocked. The hatch led down to an old squeaky gantry running the length of the roof. Inside, the building was one large room filled with crates and machinery draped in shadows, illuminated faintly by light from the skylights and a few windows high on the walls.
Akiva jumped from the gantry to the warehouse floor, slowing her descent so that she touched down with no more force than a child leaping off a bunk bed. She did this without the customary theatrics of a three point landing; head tucked down, one arm in the air, then the sudden look up, ready to dash into action. Akiva instead adjusted the belt of her bathrobe then idly kicked a dust bunny.
She spent several minutes roaming the murky warehouse trying to make heads or tails of what was around her. Most of the old equipment looked to be of little value beyond scrap salvage. Decayed wooden crates had collapsed revealing their mangled contents. Rats scampered in and out of large bags of…stuff.
A man’s voice rang out tinny over an old P.A.system. “What ho, Tempora! Coming here was a fool’s errand.”
”Who are you?” Akiva answered back.
”Oh, you will know soon enough, my dear. But first, you must be aware that you will be severely punished for your crimes.”
Akiva paused. “What crimes?”
”Crimes against art! Crimes against righteousness!”
”Is this the part where I decry your madness?” Akiva mocked.
”Your mocking tone will not avail you here, Tempora! For you see, this place will be your tomb!”
To her left, Akiva heard a whir of engines and a clanking of pistons. She sprinted away behind some crates as the mech that obliterated her house fired upon the spot where she had been standing with an ominous, loud, BLAP! noise. So far, she hadn't encountered anything that could harm her, but she knew better than to take her chances against a mad scientist's directed energy weapon.
”Here you face the mechanical genius of…The Anachronist!” the speaker screeched, nearly manifesting punctuation.
The mech arose from the detritus of bygone industry; its head scraped across a low hanging portion of the rafters. It swung its cannon arm and fired again. An old forklift disappeared in a puff of pink smoke. The mech stomped around smashing everything underfoot. It was using smaller blasts this time with a shorter charge phase. If it had employed its full power the blasts could have destroyed large sections of the warehouse, causing it to collapse, or allowing Akiva to escape.
She had no intention of fleeing.
”Why did you do it?” Akiva yelled. “Why did you blow up my house?”
”Oy gevalt.” Akiva muttered, as she vaulted to another hiding place.
”You may have gotten away last time we fought. But now you face your DOOM!”
”We didn’t fight last time. You blew up my house and left!”
”And what a poor showing this is. You didn’t even bother to don that smashing costume of yours.”
”I haven’t worn that in years, and YOU BLEW IT UP!”
"Tut tut, little girl." The Anachronist said while the mech destroyed a pile of old piping. "You will be with all your pretty things again very soon."
"To hell with this." Akiva said, climbing atop a crate.
"Hey! Over here!" she shouted, waving her arms.
When the mech turned to face her, she halted time for its left foot. Then she dove away, narrowly avoiding another blast from the gun. It smelled of burning cinnamon.
The lumbering hulk stepped forward with its right foot to make chase, but when it attempted to raise its left, the foot stayed firmly in place. However the rest of the mech's walking mechanism continued unabated. What should have been a motion that would raise the left leg resulted in the mech bending precariously forward over its center of gravity. Akiva released the foot, as the mech toppled over onto its head. Few things that big were designed to support their weight from the other end. The head immediately withdrew into the body, forcing the internal workings to bulge out against the already strained torso plating. Tearing and twisting metal burst out in all directions to a chorus of bangs and metallic squeals.
"Shall we retire to the conservatory?" The Anachronist said.
From across the warehouse, Akiva heard the sound of running feet followed by a door slamming. She chased after the sound, passing by what had once been the mech's control system; an array of thick buttons and heavy levers surrounding three old-style cathode-ray tube TVs which now displayed static, wires leading to a transmitter array, charmingly set into a wood and brass framework.
The door was a large, riveted, sheet of iron. There was no visible latch to open it, so Akiva did the only thing that came to mind. She put bubbles of accelerated time around the hinges, and within minutes the already old hinges gained decades of rust and decay. With a well-placed kick, Akiva knocked the door over; the heavy thud echoed down the long corridor beyond.
The corridor was long and dark with only one exit at the far end. Akiva moved along it at a bisque, yet frustrated, pace. About a third of the way, she stepped on a pressure plate. There was a torrential noise of building pressure around her, then the walls pistoned inward. She grimaced and shoved her hands out to her sides. The walls stopped on contact with her palms, but the backpressure in the machinery caused something to rupture, and the corridor was flooded with steam.
Akiva huffed at the thickening air but sallied forth. A little further along, the floor split down the center revealing a ten-foot pitfall lined with spikes. Akiva fell about three inches, then grumbled, steadied herself, and walked across the open air to the far side.
Before the end of the corridor a wall of fire burst forth from vents in the floor and ceiling.
”You have got to be kidding me!” Akiva yelled.
She backed up a few steps then took a running leap through the fire. On the other side, she rolled on the floor and stamped out the flames on the bottom of her bathrobe.
Finally she stood in front of the door, hair frizzy and clothes singed, contemplating all the things she could do to The Anachronist. The door turned out to be unlocked, so she swung it open and at last stood face to face with her tormentor.
The Anachronist was a tall gangly Caucasian in a triple-breasted, bespoke, lavender suit with bright yellow pinstripes. He wore a large, black, top hat with a brass Ⓐ emblem on the front, and the biggest mustache Akiva had ever seen. Additionally his left arm was some sort of clockwork and tubing monstrosity. Where he had gotten it, Akiva had no idea, but the crazed look in his eye hinted at an origin.
The “fingers” on his clockwork arm folded back, and from a barrel concealed beneath his wrist, The Anachronist unleashed a hail of machinegun fire at Akiva. She just stood there with an annoyed expression as each bullet stopped suddenly when they made contact with her chest, making little divots in the fabric of her nightshirt.
She looked down at the bullets then back up at The Anachronist, and said in a low voice, ”Did you just shoot me?”
The Anachronist’s eyes darted around the room, as Akiva grabbed a handful of the stationary bullets, shook her hand, and then she restored the bullets to the natural flow of time. They flew wildly around the room. The Anachronist ducked and cowered behind a mahogany desk. She was on him in an instant with one temporally restrained bullet held between thumb and forefinger, pointed at his head.
”Why?” was all she said.
The Anachronist’s face contorted, as he wallowed in a giggling fit. Akiva shook him roughly by the collar and asked the question again.
“Silly girl,” The Anachronist sneered, “you can’t see the evidence of your crimes staring you in the face!”
Akiva squinted and shoved The Anachronist against the floor. She stood up to look at the room. She saw the antique furniture, the gas lamps, the cluttered work bench…the book shelf…the autographed poster.
”Oh.” she said.