I rolled one of the balls on the pool table towards a pocket. “Elegy, I’m confused.”It stopped just short of going in.
“I really hate the conversations we have that begin this way,”said Elegy Flynn, the goddess of Fate I traveled through time with. She was lying on the couch in the time-traveling bar we lived in. “Let’s play pool instead. I could explain until I’m blue in the face, and you still wouldn’t get it. You never do.”
I rolled another ball into the first one. “That’s only because you suck at explaining things. I’m not stupid.”
“Most people use the cue sticks to hit the balls,”said Elegy.
I left the pool table and sat down next to her on the couch. “It’s about Tesla.”
“Seriously, Catherine, let it go,”said Elegy.
I wasn’t about to let it go. In between saving the world from time paradoxes, this bar could get pretty dull, and I had nothing to do but think. “You changed time, Elegy. You made it so that Tesla stayed alive when he was supposed to die.”
“Yes, I did,”said Elegy. “But it didn’t really make that much difference anyway.”
“It must have made some difference. And that’s why I’m confused. Because when those different things happened, they should have caused a time paradox.”
Elegy looked at me as if I were particularly stupid. “No. It happened in the bar, out of time. So there was no paradox.”
I sighed. “I don’t mean the initial change. I mean afterwards, when he was back in his life. All the little things that changed. Why didn’t they cause a paradox?”
“The little things?”
“Yeah,”I said. “Like the next morning when Tesla woke up, he would have gone and bought coffee or talked to someone that he couldn’t have talked to if he was dead. And that would have been different. Not the way things were supposed to be. So why wasn’t there a paradox then?”
Elegy got up off the couch. She headed over to the bar. “I’m going to have a drink. Do you want one?”
I followed her. “Are you going to answer my question or not?”
She settled behind the bar. “Rum runner?”
“It’s a perfectly good question. It makes sense. Why can’t you just–?”
“Going once, going twice,”said Elegy, holding a glass in front of my face.
“Fine,”I said. “I’ll have a drink.”
Elegy filled up my glass with ice. “A paradox only happens right after something changes. If one change causes multiple changes, then there’s still only one paradox. And if the change occurs out of the time stream, then there’s no paradox at all.”
I gaped at her. “Why can’t you give explanations that clear all the time?”
Elegy looked up from pouring liquor into my glass. “I do.”
“No you don’t. Usually, what you say doesn’t make sense, so I keep asking questions until you get pissed at me and tell me I’ll never be able to understand.”
“Usually, it is a lot for your puny, human mind to take in.”She set my rum runner in front of me.
I took a drink and glared at her over the glass. “Right. Because lest I ever forget, you’re a goddess, and I’m not.”
“You’re catching on.”Elegy grinned at me.
Sometimes, I wanted to strangle Elegy. I really did.
Elegy poured herself some wine. “Speaking of paradoxes, one just happened.”
“Ooh,”I said. “Does that mean we get to pick up a volur?”
“You know it does,”said Elegy.
“Can it be Brody?”Brody was my boyfriend, even though we were on different timelines and we were experiencing our relationship out of order.
“I think not,”said Elegy, who was apparently still jealous of Brody picking me and not her. “How about Gabe?”
Before I could answer, the door to the bar opened, and Gabriel Cyrus came inside. “Boy, am I glad to see you guys. The other Fates are completely strange.”
Elegy winked at him. “Good to see you too, Gabe. Want a drink?”
I rolled my eyes. Apparently, I was going to have to watch Elegy flirt with Gabe. Yuck.
“I’d love a beer,”said Gabe, settling down on a bar stool. “I’ve been stuck in a dry town in the 1930s for two weeks now.”
“Coming right up,”said Elegy. She grabbed a pint glass and began to fill it from the beer tap.
“So,”said Gabe, “please tell me this isn’t another job in a time period with no alcohol.”
“Actually, this is an easy one,”said Elegy. “Standard vendetta job.”She set a beer in front of Gabe. “Guy in the twenty-third century’s gone back four years and killed someone. We actually see this kind of thing quite a bit. Someone decides it would be better if they’d never met someone, so they kill them in the past.”
I wrinkled up my nose. “That’s horrible.”
“Well it’s easy enough to stop.”She turned to Gabe. “You’re going to want to find Alissa Merrs and get her someplace safe. Guy can’t find her, he can’t kill her. Easy as pie.”
“Got it.”Gabe drained his beer glass. “Where can I find Alissa?”
“I’m going to drop you off right as she gets out of a cab. All you need to do is keep her talking. Do not let her go into the nearby alley. That’s where the killer’s waiting.”
Gabe nodded. “Sounds simple enough. I’ll do my best.”
Elegy smiled at him. “Oh, I know you will.”Her voice was throaty and seductive. Eew.
Gabe caught Elegy’s eye and blushed. Oh, gross. Now I was going to have to listen to Elegy having sex later. I thought she moaned loudly just to piss me off.
Gabe left the bar, grinning from ear to ear.
As the door shut after him, I took a long swig of my drink. “If you’re going to fuck him later, can you please keep it down?”
“Don’t be silly,”said Elegy.””Gabe and I are still in the courtship phase. I want to take things slow.”
I raised my eyebrows. “You? Slow? Since when?”
“Since always. You’re never seen me in the courtship phase before.”Elegy sipped her wine primly.
“Courtship? I thought you had orgasms, not relationships.”
Elegy sniffed. “You don’t understand anything, Catherine.”
Clearly I didn’t. That was fine with me. I turned my attention back to my rum runner.
But when I saw it, I dropped the glass in shock. It had turned a strange shade of green. And instead of falling to the ground and shattering into a million pieces, the glass went floating into the air. It turned upside down, but the liquid didn’t fall out. “Elegy?”I whispered, staring at it.
The jukebox came on, and it started playing “Helter Skelter”by the Beatles. Around us, bar stools started floating into the air.
“Shit,”said Elegy. “Shit, shit, shit!”
“Elegy,”I screamed. “What is going on?”
“Shit!”Elegy scrambled out from behind the bar and ran to the front door. She hurled it open. “Gabe, get back in here!”
I peered up at the various floating things in the bar. “Elegy,”I said in a tiny voice. “This looks like a paradox…”
“No shit. Really?”
She was being sarcastic? The bar was falling apart, and she was being sarcastic.
Elegy yanked Gabe back inside and slammed the door after him. Gabe’s eyes were wild and terrified.
“What happened? Everything went nuts out there.”Gabe surveyed the interior of the bar. “And in here too, apparently.”
“He killed a different girl,”said Elegy. “I’ve got to move the bar before the paradox spreads.”She squeezed her eyes shut and clenched her fists. Then her eyes popped open. “It’s not working. We’re stuck.”
“Why does it matter if he killed a different girl?”I was clutching the bar, but it was starting to float too.
“I don’t have time to explain things to you right now.”Elegy glanced around at the chaos in the bar her face full of fear. “We can’t get stuck in the paradox. We’ll never get out.”
Gabe staggered forward. “But I stopped the paradox. I kept her out of the alley. That’s what you asked me to do.”
“Shit,”said Elegy. “We’ve got to call in the big guns. Catherine, get inside the beer cooler.”
“Get inside the what?”
But Elegy was propelling me behind the bar. She opened the door to the refrigerator that contained the beer. “Everything in this bar is an illusion except the alcohol. I’m calling in Fate Central. To save the bar, they’ll have to scan everything in it. That means you. If they find you, they’ll kill you. If you’re in here with the beer, they won’t be able to tell the difference.”
Well, that sort of made sense. Sort of. “But it’s cold in there.”
“Catherine, do you want to be cold or do you want to be dead?”
Elegy growled and shoved me into the cooler. She closed me inside. It was dark. It was cold. I shivered and tried to hear what was going on outside.
I couldn’t make out much. I heard muffled crashes and clatters. Something that sounded like an explosion. Elegy screaming. A throaty yell from Gabe.
Then everything got quiet. I could hear voices, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. It felt like I was in the beer cooler for several eternities. My teeth chattered. I strained to make out something ““ anything ““ of what was going on outside. But between the noise of my teeth clattering against each other and the muffling effect of the beer cooler itself, I couldn’t hear a thing. I hugged myself, rubbed my hands together, and did my best to stay warm until they let me out.
Which wasn’t for a while. When Elegy did open the door, I tumbled out, frozen and shivering. Nothing was floating in the bar anymore. Everything was back to normal.
“You okay?”said Elegy.
She thrust a shot of whiskey into my hand. “That’ll warm you up.”
Actually, I’d read somewhere that alcohol didn’t actually warm you up, even though it felt like it did. In reality, however, it made you colder. But I took the shot anyway, and it did feel like liquid warmth was burning its way into my stomach. “What the hell, Elegy?”
“Yeah,”said Gabe. “I’m wondering the same thing. And can I have a shot too?”
Elegy poured him one, and also one for herself as well. “That was a double paradox. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never experienced one.”
Gabe took the shot. “Did I do something wrong? I did exactly what you asked me to do. At least I tried to.”
“No, it wasn’t you. It was my fault.”Elegy sighed. “We’re lucky I was able to get help. The Fates put up a barrier to stop the spread of the paradox and got us out, but it won’t last forever. We’ve got to fix this.”
“Yeah, about that,”I said. “Why did I have to get in the beer cooler again?”
“I told you. They could detect you in the bar, and I didn’t want them to find you.”
“But they’ve talked to you when I was in the bar before. There was that one time, when they came over the TV. All I had to do that time was hide behind the bar.”
“This was different,”said Elegy. “We were falling into the paradox, and the Fates needed to be able to yank the whole bar out. That meant they had to scan everything that was inside it, including you.”
“Why was there a paradox in the bar anyway?”I asked.
“I was wrong,”said Elegy. “I said it was a vendetta. It wasn’t. When the time traveler couldn’t kill Alissa, he killed someone else. It was the killing that was important, not the girl.”
“So I didn’t stop anything,”said Gabe.
“You stopped him from killing Alissa,”said Elegy. “Which kind of caused the problem. But it’s not your fault. You had no way of knowing.”
“Caused the problem?”Gabe looked as confused as I felt.
Elegy nodded. “You see, we created another paradox. The time traveler was going to kill Alissa–”
“But we interfered,”I said.
“We changed time again,”said Gabe. “To something else it wasn’t supposed to be.”
“A double paradox,”said Elegy.
“And that’s why the bar got all weird.”It was making more sense to me now.
“But you said we had to fix it,”said Gabe. “How can we do that?”
Elegy put the whiskey bottle back on the shelf. “There are two points of entry for any paradox. One in the spot in time where time changes, and one–”
“Where the time traveler enters the portal,”I said.
“That’s right,”said Elegy. “And that’s where I’ve just moved the bar to, so saddle up, Gabe.”
Gabe squared his shoulders. “So I’ve got to stop this guy from going into the portal.”He took a deep breath. “Wait a second. Let’s go back for a minute. You said it was the killing that was important, not the girl, didn’t you?”
“That’s what I said,”said Elegy.
Gabe grimaced. “What kind of guy is this?”
“Well,”said Elegy, “I think we can assume he likes to kill people.”
“Uh huh,”said Gabe. “I’m guessing he probably isn’t going to listen to reason, is he?”
“No,”said Elegy. “Your best bet is probably going to be to knock him out.”
Gabe nodded. “Do I get a weapon?”
Within ten minutes, Gabe hauled Timothy James Fuller into the bar. (Elegy said that was his name.) Fuller was draped over Gabe’s shoulder. Grunting, Gabe brought him over to the couch and dropped him there. The three of us gathered around him, gazing down at his sleeping form. Fuller was not too tall and not too short. He had very short dark hair. He wasn’t particularly muscular. He was thin and trim, however. In short, he looked very normal. It was kind of a let down. As the first crazed killer I’d ever met, he should have looked scarier, like Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees. Okay, well I guess both of those guys wore masks. I contented myself by imagining that Fuller had a creepy mask somewhere.
“Did you have any trouble?”asked Elegy.
“Hardest part was finding something to hit him with.”Gabe rotated his shoulders, stretching them. “I had to steal a metal baseball bat from his next door neighbor. Don’t worry. I put it back where I got it. Didn’t want to make another paradox. But after that, it was easy. He didn’t see me coming.”
“What do we do with him now?”Were we going to simply relinquish him back on the world?
“We wait for him to wake up, obviously,”said Elegy.
“Should we tie him up or something?”
Elegy looked at me like I was an enormous idiot. “Why would we do that?”
“Because he’s a psycho killer.”
“Oh, please. He’s not going to try to hurt any of us. That’s not how guys like this operate. He’d want an area where he could control everything. And I don’t think he’d want three victims to deal with at a time.”
Maybe Elegy was right. But she didn’t have to be so rude about it. Seriously.
Gabe spoke up. “But after he wakes up, then what? I mean, he’s not going to listen to us if he’s psycho, is he?”
But Elegy didn’t get the chance to answer, because Fuller sputtered and sat up on the couch. “Who you calling a psycho?”
I was pleased that his voice had a gravelly quality, like Tom Waits or something. It was appropriately creepy.
Elegy pulled up a chair from a nearby table. Honestly, I didn’t even know why those tables were there. There had never been enough people in the bar to use them, except the one time we’d gone to the seventies and picked up all those Studio 54 rejects. “Hello, Fuller.”
Fuller was gazing around at his surroundings in confusion. “Where the hell am I? This some kind of bar? How about a drink?”
Elegy eyed him like he was a disgusting insect. “For you? I don’t think so.”
And Elegy was usually so free with the liquor.
“You don’t even know me.”Fuller sounded bewildered and wounded. “What you got against me?”
“Oh, I know you,”said Elegy. “I know all about you.”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life.”Fuller still sounded confused, like this was all a big misunderstanding. Despite myself, I began to feel sorry for him.
Elegy chuckled. “You’re good. You’re really very good. But I do know you, Timmy. I know about the little animals you used to torture when you were younger. I know about the girls in the club. And I know about the fact you were planning to use a portal to go back in time to kill again. I know it all.”
Fuller didn’t even look ruffled. Instead, he seemed even more confused. “You got me mixed up with someone else, lady. I got no idea what you’re talking about.”
I almost believed him. I wanted to believe him. Maybe Gabe had accidentally got the wrong guy. Maybe this guy was completely innocent. He seemed so sincere.
Elegy threw her head back and laughed. “Drop the act, Fuller. It’s not necessary. Now I think you’re scum. If it were up to me, people like you wouldn’t even exist. But the only thing I’ve got the power to stop you from doing is messing with time.”She gestured at Gabe, me, and herself. “We’re the time police, see? And you can’t go back in time and change things. You just can’t.”
Fuller was quiet for a few minutes. He gazed into his lap, thinking. When he raised his head, his expression was empty. Finally, he had creepy face to go with his creepy voice. “That’s ridiculous. There’s no need for anyone to police time. I’ve followed the news and the experiments since these portals have been in use. I’ve studied the history. And there’s one constant. It doesn’t matter what you do in the past. It doesn’t change history, and it doesn’t affect the present. So if I did want to kill someone– and I’m by no means saying I would– in the past, it wouldn’t matter.”
Elegy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You are a complete idiot, aren’t you? When I tell you we’re the time police, don’t you realize why it is that no one can affect the past?”
Fuller bared his teeth. “No one calls me an idiot. You sound like an idiot to me. What kind of nutbag goes around claiming to be the time police?”
Elegy stood up, and she did that thing she did sometimes where she became tall and terrible and intimidating. Glaring down at Fuller, she said, “A goddess of Fate, that’s who.”
Creepy Elegy usually scared people. Shakespeare, for instance, had been pretty freaked out. Fuller, on the other hand, didn’t seem the least bit affected. “You get crazier and crazier the more you yap.”He smiled, but his smile was more like a sneer.
Elegy went for the full effect then. A strong wind suddenly kicked up, blowing her long hair back from her face. Her eyes glow orange. I staggered from the force of it. It knocked Gabe down. He grabbed the edge of the couch to steady himself. I took several steps backward, but the wind stopped before I lost my balance completely.
Fuller stretched his arms out over the back of the couch. He looked over his shoulder. “You got a big fan in here or something?”
Elegy clenched her teeth, and I braced myself for something even worse. But then Elegy sighed, seeming to decide it wasn’t worth it. She sank back down into her chair. “Think what you want. But I’m telling you that if you try to go back in time and kill any more girls, then you’ll just end up back in this bar. And we can go through that over and over and over again, until you get the message.”
“Any more girls? You’re talking like I already did it. Maybe I thought about it, but I’ve never even gotten in a time portal.”
“No you haven’t.”Elegy pointed at Gabe. “But that’s only because he stopped you.”
Gabe, who had righted himself, folded his arms over his chest and fixed Fuller with a steely glare.
Fuller was starting to look uneasy. “How did you know about that? I didn’t tell nobody. Unless I let it slip when I was drinking the other night. Someone’s playing a joke on me.”
“Not a joke,”said Elegy. “What happened is that you did it. And when you change time, it causes a time paradox.”
Fuller raised his eyebrows.
“I got this,”I said. “See, if in the future you go back to the past to try to change something, then it’s changed. And so you can’t want to go back to change it. It’s a nonsensical loop.”
Fuller made a face. “I didn’t want to change nothing. I just wanted to kill somebody without there being any consequences.”
Elegy glared at me. “Catherine, how many times have I told you not to try to explain time paradoxes?”
“What? I thought I did a good job that time. It was very concise.”
Elegy’s nostrils flared as she breathed out a slow breath. She turned back to Fuller. “It’s more like this. Time is set. Any deviation from the prescribed path makes the universe wonky. You killed a girl who wasn’t supposed to die. It messed everything up. I can’t let you do that. You won’t do that.”
“So you’re saying you got a time machine or something and went right to the point before I got into portal and stopped me from doing it?”said Fuller.
Elegy gestured around at the bar. “This is my time machine. And if you ever try it again, I’ll do the same thing. You cannot go back in time to kill someone who isn’t supposed to die.”
“Because fate’s already written. Is that it?”
“That’s right,”said Gabe.
“Huh.”Fuller looked thoughtful.
He moved quickly. None of us were expecting it, least of all me. When he leaped at me, I didn’t have a chance to move. He pulled me to my feet. His arms went around me, like a bear hug, but he was pinning my arms down so that I couldn’t move.
I gasped. I want to struggle, but Fuller was a lot stronger than he looked.
Before I quite knew what happened, Fuller was behind me. One arm wrapped around my body, pulling me tight against him. In the other hand, he had a small, sharp knife. And he was holding it to my throat.
“Let her go,”roared Elegy.
Fuller only laughed. “So she’s not supposed to die, is she? If I killed her, will that cause a paradox?”
Elegy looked livid. “Do you have any idea the things that I could do to you, Fuller?”
“But can you do it before I stick this knife into her neck?”I could tell by the sound of his voice that he was grinning. “This isn’t supposed to happen, is it? This isn’t the prescribed path of time. Am I causing a paradox now?”He laughed.
“Let Catherine go,”said Elegy.
“Why isn’t this causing a paradox?”Fuller pushed the knife tighter against my throat.
“Because we are out of time. This place isn’t in the regular time stream.”Elegy stretched out her hand, her fingers splayed. A bright beam of light emanating from her palm and hit Fuller square in the forehead.
Fuller dropped me. I tumbled to the floor and scrambled away from him as best I could.
Fuller was on his knees, his hand clutching his forehead. He was trembling. “Wha–?”
Elegy towered over him. Her eyes were glowing again, and she glared down at him with an awful look on her face. She reached down and took him by the throat. She lifted him as if he weighed nothing. Fuller clawed at Elegy’s hand, a look of terror on his face. His feet dangled, unable to touch the ground. Fuller seemed very tiny compared to Elegy, who seemed enormous.
“You’re worthless,”hissed Elegy. “I can’t think of a good reason to keep you alive. More than anything, I want to squeeze your neck, crush it until you can’t breathe.”Elegy’s hand tightened.
Fuller sputtered. He tried to speak, but Elegy was squeezing him too tightly.
“It would be so easy. And what do you matter? What do you bring to the earth besides suffering?”
Gabe was behind me, helping me to my feet. His voice was a whisper. “Do you think she’ll do it?”
I shook my head, eyes wide. I didn’t know. I’d long ago given up trying to predict what Elegy would do next.
“Should we stop her? I mean, this guy isn’t supposed to die.”
Elegy had heard us. She turned away from Fuller for a second to look at us. Her eyes stopped glowing. Then she went back to Fuller. She flung him away.
Fuller soared through the air and collided with a table, which broke on impact with his hurtling form. He howled in pain.
Elegy went to him, yanked him up by his collar, and dragged him to the door of the bar. “Get out of my sight.”Elegy opened door and threw Fuller outside.
But I had noticed that one of Fuller’s arms had been dangling at an unnatural angle. It was almost certainly broken, probably in more than one place.
“Elegy!”boomed out an amplified voice.
We all looked around for the source of the voice, confused. It was coming from one of the televisions in the bar. Fate Central!
Elegy glared at me, and I hit the floor, rolling behind one of the couches and out of sight.
I heard Elegy’s voice. “Come to congratulate me on how well I fixed that paradox?”
The booming voice from the television responded. “You damaged him. He was put back into the world with multiple bone fractures, bruises, and contusions. This is unacceptable, and you know that.”
“Unacceptable? The man is a psychotic killer. Whatever I did was too good for him.”
“Your job is to preserve the thread of time, not to change it. You know this.”
“I stopped that paradox, okay? I did my job.”
“You’re a loose cannon, Elegy. You need to reign yourself in.”
I could hear Elegy sigh. “All right sure. You’re right. I see the error of my ways. It will never happen again.”Elegy sounded a little bit sarcastic.
“It had better not.”
“My word is my bond. Is that all then?”
“Not quite,”said Fate Central. “We noticed something strange when we were extracting your praxidikai from the paradox. It seems to be quite a bit larger than it used to be. Any idea why that might be?”
“Nope. It shouldn’t be any bigger.”
“Are you aware that both Meurtia and her praxidikai have gone missing?”
Shit. My boyfriend Brody had killed Meurtia. And Elegy had absorbed her praxidikai to hide that fact. Fate Central must be onto us. What would this mean for Elegy? What would this mean for me?
Elegy was talking. “I didn’t think it was even possible for a Fate to go missing. Where could she be?”
“We were hoping you might know.”
“How would I know? I’m stuck in this time traveling prison. I don’t get to see other Fates. I haven’t seen Meurtia since you locked me in this thing.”
A knowing chuckle from the television. “You’ve always been good at sounding innocent, Elegy. But we know you. We know what you’re capable of. And we’re watching you. Keep that in mind, will you?”
Elegy snorted. “Watch away. Nothing to see here.”
“If we find you’ve been lying to us…”
“Is there anything else?”
“Until next time, Elegy.”
“Yeah. See ya.”
I heard the television switched off. It was quiet for several minutes. When I heard Gabe say, “What was that all about?”I decided it was safe to come out.
Elegy was behind the bar, angrily slamming down glasses to mix drinks. She wasn’t answering Gabe’s question, so he turned to me.
I shrugged. “Trust me. You don’t want to know.”I settled down at the bar stool. I felt like I should say something reassuring to Elegy. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Whatever,”said Elegy. “You want a drink?”
“Look,”I said, “we should just calm down. Everything worked out this time, anyway. And if they knew anything–”
“Let’s have a drink.”Elegy was insistent. “A drink makes everything better. Everything.”
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