[Scene: A forested hillside on a line between the ancient ruins of Osoyoos and Republic. We've been here before, about forty feet below where a road once cut a zig-zag across the face of the steep slope, and another forty feet above, where the road comes back, still climbing. It's hard to tell just where, however. A thousand years of growth and burns have changed the place, and the road has shrunk down to a narrow footpath. And it is early in the season, and the forest floor is carpeted with green bunchgrass. Even the open slope to the left, so brown and sere in that long-past, still-to-come August, is vivid and verdant where grass and shrubs take root.
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "'We awesome-sauce Champions 3000! We slice and dice! You losers go low and stay out of the way!''" [May is not happy. She does not like kicking cute doggies until their snouts come out their butts, even if they are werewolves and it doesn't hurt them (much) and she is, in fact, a whirlwind of seventeen-year-old puppy kicking in the middle of an even bigger cloud of wolves and things don't look like they're going to end well.]
Gun Girl [Jamie Neilsen]: [As she fires five times in rapid succession, and silvery bullets cut through the wolf pack, dropping the monsters]: "'Awesome-sauce?' I'm telling Mr. Piccolo! Also: dragons."
Black Cat [Miss Miriam Crudup]: "Oh, hush, girls. The Champions know what they're doing. They probably will be through with whatever is going on up there before we've shaken all these mooks."
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "Not necessarily. I know that it's hard to tell through the trees, Xenovores, Warg Riders, and werewolves, but the bosses are probably only a hundred feet upslope."
May: "They're set up in the graveyard? Da---The Old Man is so going to kill them. And them kill them some more."
Miriam: "We worry about that when the time comes. Right now, we worry about getting my moonstone ring back. Naomi gave it to me, and I'm quite attached to it."
Jamie: "Don't worry: I told you I could do a boomerang shot. It's still in five pieces, though."
Miriam: "That I can deal with. We needed silver from somewhere --heads up, more aliens!"
Brad: "Suck life, yuck-faces!" [Green light licks up slope, shimmering almost like the aura of the grass between the trees that only burns the Xenovores.]
Jamie: "You're so weird, bro." [But she fires, too, as the fighters move up in skirmish line to take the stinger-waving aliens. Squat alien slugthrowers bark, not hard enough to get through Brad's defence screen. Yet. And before their endurance can be tested, May and Miriam are through them and back. The Xenovores seem to be losing their enthusiasm.]
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: [Hopping back down an open scree slope to the left faster than seemed safe.] "Shiny robots on the upslope flank. There's no easy way in from above the bench, either. Are Tridel and 3D Girl back yet?"
Earthnet: "Still not back in this dimension. The Champions will be a while beating the dragons, too. And those robots are apparently Mandaarian soldier-bots. If they don't come after you, I would recommend steering clear of them."
Henry: "And what? Wait for a miracle?"
Earthnet: "Wait for the bosses to fall out. The Solar early warning screen just watched one of the Xenovore transports hyperjump outbound. Maraud was on board, so that's one defector. I fail to see Sovereign going for a plan that involves changing history back in the 21st Century, so we can hope he'll be next."
Miriam: "And how do you know that's the plan here?"
Earthnet: "One of the plans. Sovereign's obviously got another. As for how I know, I don't. But I am very, very smart. And time travel only really works if the timelike causality loops are closed. We have a straight eventual loop open to the 21st Century, and at least two lifelines open to the Wong family. If events don't close those, than this will, um, never would have come to be having happened."
Henry: "Wah, wah, wah, we might not have to fight the shiny robots?"
Earthnet: "That's the gist of it."
Henry: "Good." [In a clatter of rocks, Vijay comes rolling down the scree slope, apparently headed for the river below, via the cliff not too far downslope. Henry Wong grabs him casually as he goes by, pivoting on the tree trunk he holds in his other hand as Vijay abruptly reverses direction and slams up against a particularly large boulder.] "Stop fooling around, boy."
Vijay: "I'm just lucky I'm nearly invulnerable. This new outfit, too. So how did you keep your feet coming down, old dude?"
Henry: "Practice. Catch a moment, people. It looks like the werewolves are bringing friends. Those would be, what, wyverns? Black Cat, if you'd like to join me on a quick scout around?"
Vijay: "I haven't seen so much over the top CGI since I last went to the movies in Delhi. Except this is real."
Brad: "Welcome to the life, dude."
May: "Any more of those cool drugs, Earthnet? My Mom never lets me..."
Brad: "Kinda the responsible kid here, May."
May: "J/k, Magilla."
Earthnet: "You can have two more doses of Sleepaway before I have to switch over to the military stuff, which I'd rather not. You're not getting any speed."
May: "Earthnet and my Mom, sitting in a tree/First comes..."
Earthnet: "Hilarious. Though I do think Ma Tian was helluva hot."
Brad: "Wait. You know that Mr. Wong ends up marrying Ma Tian? Because we were trying to keep that super-duper secret."
Earthnet: "From me? Be serious. Besides, I've been meddling in Wong Hengli's lovelife since he got here. One of the ways this op could succeed is to stop the marriage. They're the cutest couple, but he's so repressed that she could practically wear a T-shirt with the slogan "Ask Me For A Date" on it and he'd still be be paralysed. Not unlike some other male members of this party."
Vijay: "Not me. We still on for next Wednesday, May?"
May: "If Mom buys my story. Brad."
Brad: "I still have no idea where you got the idea that your Mom would listen to me. As opposed to cutting me into tiny pieces when she finds out. Which she will. Also, Earthnet? I see what you did there. Butt out."
Jamie: "At least you can say that much about her now. Only a year-and-a-half time travelling and you're almost a grown-up."
Brad: [Fuming silence.]
Jamie: "I hope we have time to stop at the 31st Century gift shop. We need to get Jenny a T-shirt."
Brad: [Practicing "If looks could kill." Doing well.]
Earthnet: "Eh. Signals don't have to be blatant. It's usually a reception issue, and you just need the right smoothing or amplification."
Vijay: "Honestly, who programmed the ruling AI of Sol System to give relationship advice?"
Earthnet: "No-one. I'm a vastly intelligent AI with enough resources to have a personal relationship with every human in the entire system. How could I not? It's fun for me, and good for them."
Vijay: "The Computer is your friend."
Earthnet: "Go on, let your nerd flag fly. I..Uh. Shit! Brad, this is going seriously south. I need someone up..."
Brad: "Okay, gang. It's time to go over the top."
Henry: "Remind me to tell Brad that it's hard to be subtle and sneaky and hang bits of monsters in the tree-tops at the same time."
Miriam: "Do I smell skunk?"
Henry: "Yeah. Brad was thinking that it might keep the weres off. It's a trick he does with his biochemical manipulation powers."
Miriam: "Neat. I'll have to remember that one. So who are the guys in the clearing?"
Henry: "It's not a clearing. The guy in the open tending the glowing machinery is, per my briefing, the Mandaarian supervillain, Sovereign. The guy on the throne beside the pond is obviously a lich, but he also looks familiar. Which, considering how many of my relatives are buried on this bench...If the guy next to him in black is the necromancer responsible, I will be presently feeding him his magic wand."
Miriam: "Wait. This is your family homestead?"
Henry: "Uhm, yes?"
Miriam: "But you're Chinese."
Miriam: "I... [Standing up], "I hear and obey, Lord Sovereign."
Sovereign [Real name forgotten by all who love the good]: "That's a good and valiant mind. I will condescend to let your friend with the mindshield remain down, for it will matter not at all, and I respect his courage, too. Truly, the best amongst you humans deserves cultivation of that feckless robot master of yours. But that can change, and once we have rolled history back 400 years and Stefan II sits on the Imperial Throne, it will.
Earthnet: "You bastard! Stefan was a maniac, and any other clones from that stem will be the same!"
Sovereign: "Ah, Earthnet. Do you know why my worm allows you to instance here and now? I'm about to close the loop of your life. Stefan was no maniac. He was a good gardener, who knew when to prune and weed. And you will shortly be his tool again, and a rather better one than you were last time."
Earthnet: "Umh, no. No, it's not, you Galactic blowhard. Don't you learn anything? Trusting the terrorists last time, and now these creatures?"
[Before Sovereign can even speak, the glowing machine blasts him directly in the back. In spite of his powerful defences and shining armour, the Mandaarian goes down on his knees. The shadowy man in black steps forward. He is a Chinese man in late middle age. The family resemblance to Henry Wong is obvious in his face. He is wearing a black, zip-up sweater with a high collar. He takes Sovereign by his beautiful, golden Mandaarian hair, and strikes down with his black, horse-headed staff. The knowledgeable eye sees the signs of the Eight Spirit Dragon technique in the blow that cracks Sovereign's skull. Reaching down with that hand and lofting the alien with the staff still held in his hand, the man throws Sovereign into the glowing machine, where he vanishes like some cheap time-lapse film stunt. Henry stares as what he suddenly realises is the worst thing that could ever happen to him comes to pass. Why, girl? he wants to ask, and the arrival of Avenging Daughter and the others behind him only makes it worse. He wants to attack right now, but he can't leave the kids.]
Brad: "Wow. Now that's what I call a doublecross."
May: "Is that ...your Uncle Guangli?"
Earthnet: "Exactly as I briefed you guys. Heads up, by the way. Wong Guangli seems to have control of Sovereign's bots. The Champions should be here in a minute, but it's on you to survive until then."
May: "Old man? Furious Fist? Go for him now."
[This girl is a foolish thing, he thinks, and a reminder that he cannot have what he wants most. His uncle is dangerous in his own right; has magic weapons and this mysterious device, and his undead ally. He would die. And he is not sure that that is not what he wants to do right now, and an Eight Spirit Dragon Master denies his desires, his urges. He waits, in a measured way, for when the times are right, because that is the way of self-discipline.
He waits, and he thinks, until the moment is long over. Well not now! He will act on what might be! Wong Hengli, The Furious Fist, calls up the every bit of the chi'i in him and focusses it on one single power, and steps over the edge of the slope of the bench where his ancestors are buried, headed towards the man who killed too many of them.]
Brad: "Are you crazy, girl?"
Wong Guangli: "Ah. My pertinacious nephew. So fortunate that we were able to arrange for your presence in this timeline. Well, enjoy it, because shortly we will have edited the past. You will never have been, and the first great treason of my life will be as deliciously complete as any I've carried off since. Do you like my sweater?"
Henry: "Yes, I do quite like it. I've told Ma Tian that." [Henry steps forward cautiously, in a fighting crouch.]
Wong Guangli: "My staff is a gift from that same girl, and I think that I will show her my staff after I'm done showing you hers.." [He moves to swing at Henry, and stops, his eyes bulging out, as the horsehead on the staff twists around and bites him. Great drops of blood sweat through the weave of the sweater as the evil old man's eyes bulge and then explode. His corpse barely makes a sound as it strikes the ground. In the distance, a stallion's call booms out. The lich and the machine blast Henry, but the Eight Dragon Shield that he has boosted holds, barely, as he vaults back under cover.]
May: "Wow. Now I see where Jenny gets that two-faced bitch side from."
May: "Nothing. Forget I said it."
Brad: "Not going to happen."
May: "Think the Lion Stallion is going to show up?"
Jamie: "I hope so! I got sugar cubes from Earthnet!"
Brad: "So, about who Jenny might be manipulating...."
Henry [Leaping down from the bench onto the slope where the rest of the party is still standing]: "Down, down! Take cover! The robots are coming! And that lich is pretty mad, too."
Earthnet: "Who is the lich, exactly?"
Henry: "My Uncle Guangli, believe it or not."
Earthnet: "Well, it makes more sense now that he's dead. You'd think he'd have known what was coming, though."
Henry: "So not only do you know how time travel works, you've got raising the undead figured out now, too?"
Earthnet: "Burned. Black Cat?"
Miriam: "I hate mind control. I'm going to have to look into a mind shield when I get back to 1951. As for the question: look, it's time travel. The lich couldn't know what was going to happen, because it hadn't happened yet. Yes, that means that its memories of its own death were lost in the resurrection process. But if you can't cope with backwards causation, you really aren't ready for time travel yet."
Jamie: "Here comes the robots; and the Champions are still making explosions over the other side of the valley. This would be a great time for your time machine to start working again, ma'am."
Miriam: "No such luck. Though I can probably put up a comlink with the other node of this loop if anyone needs to make one last random crank phonecall before they die. Prince Albert in a can, anyone?"
Brad: "Probably not random, actually. Can I call someone?"
May: "Go for it, Brad!"
Jamie: "About time, bro!"
Brad: "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God."
Vijay: "There's no need to make such a big deal of asking a girl out, Brad. Just ask her if she wants to have a chai sometime."
Henry: "Go for it, kid! She'd be crazy to say no. Although I can't help thinking that I'm missing something here."
Miriam: "Never you mind, Henry Wong. Now let's move along and see if we can delay those robots on the upper trail. They'll be a lot more dangerous when they link up with the lich."
To be continued.