(In 202X, a stash of VHS Tapes by the dozens had been discovered in an underground bunker hidden in the Appalachian mountains, which had been found by the townspeople of [REDACTED] after an incident involving strange paramilitary forces invading the town in search of something. It is assumed the bunker is what they were after.)
The video showed the same concrete room that you’ve surely seen before, if you’re doing the rational thing and watching these tapes in order. Who watches video tapes out of order? Don’t do that; you’ll end up confused before long.
There was the flash of light, followed by the rumbling of thunder, allowing this woman – Natalie Christina Charlie Summers, AKA Nat Dayspring, AKA Cable – to step through her alleged bridge between space and time to… collapse on the concrete floor and not move. For several hours of this tape rolling, she was stationary, a small puddle of blood pooling on the floor underneath her, as she was clearly injured.
But at the 9 hour mark, she slowly rolled over, groaning, the first sound she’d made other than ragged breathing the whole time. After a time, she managed to right herself, lean up against a wall… and look at the camera.
“I screwed up. It happens. Most people, when they make mistakes, they are small. But, when you become a person of importance, willingly or otherwise, your mistakes increase in size and scope, and you have to… you have to face the consequences of that.” I glad to be alive, of course; in my mind, I didn’t really think I’d die. I’m too hardy for that kind of release, unfortunately. Too strong, too important to die before my time.
“And what I did… was careless.” She held up a finger. “First of all… I did the first tape, and realized that it was just me on a tirade against the failing of this era. I didn’t explain fully what is at stake… And that has to change now.”
The camera suddenly flies across the room, into this woman’s outstretched metal hand. For a moment, static floods the screen, and the last you’ll see of this room disappears as her eyes glow and pulsate with light…
Now, there was rock everywhere. Stone benches carved out of rock, in a room that had been created in a cave; the stalactites dangling overhead had lights inserted into them to illuminate the chamber somewhat, but the rest of it was candlelight. The room was not empty; people in white hoods stood around a small rock on which… the person whose eyes you seem to be looking out of stands.
“I am not a leader of a cult. I am, however, considered something of a messiah, though I’d prefer this wasn’t the case. Maybe it has something to do with my abilities, like how I’m showing this to you now, on video, or maybe just the circumstances of why I’m here… but I’m held to a high standard.”
“We remember those who fought before us, for us. We remember those who we fight for, who are not here yet. And we fight today for our right to fight tomorrow. We remember the Askani Father, not as a god… but as a father, a mentor, who started us on our journeys here, to the battlefield.” It IS the voice of this woman speaking, as she stood in front of all these people.
“And so I say to you…”
“G’journey!” That was the reply from these hooded figures, who got up and immediately left. Though they dressed like monks, as they filed out, there was a militaristic quality to how they left. But, just as others left, more came in. A woman, tall, lean, with thick waves of brown hair on her head, and green eyes that seemed to stand out even in the dark. A soft smile was on her face, a face dirtied and hardened by conflict and battle and yet still seemed to have a quality of innate maternalism.
“Natalie? Um… they’re here.”
“This woman, right here? She’s… quite simply, the love of my life, Aliya. We met a long time ago, barely more than children, certainly not adults. At first? She might’ve hated me. Me? I was smitten at the start.”
Behind this Aliya woman were two people – one, a tall blonde, well-muscled. The other? He could’ve been a burn victim, or some kind of monster, but his general disposition showed that he was neither in pain or vicious.
“Wanda Wilson… A mercenary, from my relative past. Experimented on by scientists looking to create superhuman soldiers. The man? Her boyfriend, a man who calls himself John Hancock, from a dystopian future timeline that wildly diverges from my own. He took some kind of… radioactive drug, I believe, which explains his gruesome appearance. Neither of them are what I would personally call ‘morally good’ people, in the sense that they are far from sainthood. But, all the same, Wilson isn’t as awful as she’s been led to believe, and Hancock is certainly a good man, underneath a few layers of necessary savagery.”
“Neither of them… neither of them should’ve been there.” I pause for a moment, thinking it over. It makes no sense to beat myself up over this, but as I said, mistakes are bigger when you are in charge.
“A-yup. Right on time. Hello, Hancock, Wilson. Sorry about all of this.”
“Right on time? You were expecting us?” Hancock raised a brow, glancing around. He was clearly confused.
“I can’t fault Hancock here for being confused… From my perspective, this makes sense, but from his, it wouldn’t make any at all. What happened was… I offered Wilson a special tool of mine; a belt that allows one to traverse space and time easily. For the most part, it is a lower-tier set of equipment than what I use, but I allowed the functionality for it to move between different parallel worlds, seeing as how this couple came from different realities.”
Here came the guilt.
“But… Wilson is irresponsible, and it became damaged, did a hard reset, and took them to the belt’s place of origin, which is my time. They ended up in the middle of a raid. A battle that could’ve killed either of them. Something I’d never be able to forgive myself for. Wilson is important, and Hancock means the world to her, while also being useful in his own right due to his unique cache of weaponry and resourcefulness. I mean to make use of them in my goals, and I almost got them killed. I almost got them killed.”
“I was.” Nat hopped down off her rock, and pulled her robe off over her head, tossing it away. Underneath, she was all suited up, ready for a fight, with guns, knives, grenades, the works. “You’re going to have to tell me about this when you get home. I’m in the past right now… but your belt malfunction has taken you to… just a week into my personal future. Come here, Wilson.” Nat grabbed Wilson by the belt and popped it off of her, shaking her head as she looked it over. “I’ll get you a new one. A better one, with no timesliding feature, so this won’t happen again. But… we still have to get you home. Which is going to be a bit of a task. But, I had a whole week to come up with a plan.”
“The plan? The plan is why I’m injured telling this story.”
“We’ll have Tetherblood outfit you. And… as a courtesy, you can keep what you take back with you.” Nat motioned for them all to follow her. “I would’ve met you on the field myself, Hancock, honestly, but I had to lead service. It was Aliya’s week for field duty.” Speaking of Aliya, she caught up to Nat and grabbed her hand. “Really, though, Hancock, I’m sorry about this incident. Wilson isn’t really adept at DODGING bullets, even though she can, and I told her not to let the belt get damaged.” Wilson’s mouth opened in feigned shock. “You should’ve given me an instruction manual!”
“Wilson wouldn’t have read an instruction manual.”
“The belt was fine until it started overheating.” Hancock pointed out, clearly in defense of Wilson. “And there were no bullets when that happened.” “It overheated because of damage.” Nat held up the belt, her metal thumb tapping on what was clearly a ding on a thicker part of the belt in the back. “Ruptured battery pack. Thankfully the arc reactor cells inside didn’t actually go critical, but they did overheat. As a safety precaution, it reset.” As they walked, they came out into a big, open area; the mouth of a cave that had been converted into a kind of hangar. Nat tossed the thing in a bin. It was trash now.
Ahead of them, stood another woman. She was dark-skinned, with long dreadlocks of salt and pepper color, clearly wearied by long conflict, though by the look of her face, even with lines and scars, it was hard to tell how old she was. “Tetherblood, these are guests of mine. They’ll be coming with us on the bodyslide. Please, take Aliya and these two to the armory.” Nat quickly pressed a kiss to Aliya’s head, before nodding at Wilson and Hancock “I’ll rejoin you after I see to some things,” were her final words before running off.
“Tetherblood… one of my oldest friends. We came together at a dark time in my youth, when I was lost, angry, bitter. Her cold, rational mind, coupled with a genuine drive to help me AND my cause? It makes her a great person to have around. Still, I knew she didn’t approve of these two; Tetherblood disagrees with my missions into the past, thinking it a waste of time even when I waste no time at all… And she believes Wilson to be unstable and useless.”
“She’s only right about one of those things.”
Natalie busies herself gathering supplies; extra weapons, ammunition. A small wrist computer opens up a display, which shows a map, timers, and a sea of markings, each one representing a single soldier, a single fighter in their cause.
“We were making a big move that day, which is why this was so… inconvenient. A bodyslide, teleporting our entire force, was taxing on resources, but necessary for survival and our plans. But having Wilson and Hancock in the middle of it? It was… going to force me to prioritize one thing over another. I wasn’t happy about it, but it was my fault, so of course I wasn’t going to be… But there was someone else who was angrier.”
“What do you think you’re doing, Dayspring…” Tetherblood’s heavy footfalls came up behind Nat, forcing her to turn around. “You let that murdering sow have some our resources? For what? So she can murder people for the root of all evil? Why do you even let her live? She’s an abomination; not a mutant like you and Aliya; she’s ARTIFICIAL. And dangerous. I don’t need to be a damn psychic to see she’s insane. And that boyfriend of her’s? He acts like an ignorant fool!” Nat was grabbed by the arm, forcibly, and it dragged her away to a large tank-like vehicle, pushing her against it.
“I know what your Askani people preached to you, and I understand how important it is to you… but it isn’t what’s important to everybody. If you let people die today, or any day, just because you never learned to look away from the past, a past you can’t change…” Tetherblood left that statement unfinished, lingering.
“You don’t understand, you really don’t; she’s CRITICAL to my mission, Tee, back THERE, not HERE. I’m fighting on TWO fronts, not just one!”
“But ultimately, she was right… I was going to have to let people die here, today, for a woman that had died a long time ago and a man who didn’t even exist to us…”
“And it is costing us here. Don’t blame me when Aliya turns up dead because you weren’t–” Tetherblood was the one to stop talking first, as Aliya, Wilson, and Hancock neared, and passed them to go into the tank. Without further hesitation, Nat grabbed Tetherblood by the hair, and pulled her away. Much stronger than she looked, Nat threw the woman to the ground and stood over her.
“We’ve fought before about things like this, and we’ll fight over it all over again as many times as we need to… but we both know we need each other, don’t we?” A foot was planted on Tetherblood’s chest. “DON’T we?” But, in a flash, Tetherblood grabbed Nat by the ankle and pushed her off, got up, and just… seethed at her, hissing and growling. “Don’t we, Tee?”
Tetherblood stood there a moment longer… before punching Nat in the gut.
“It didn’t hurt. Not as much as she wishes it did.”
“We do. Go. Send your pet projects home. And then I want your head in the game when you get back.”