“Hey,” I said.
She held up her left arm, looking down at the League communicator on her wrist. It looked just like the ones Nick made for us when we were in costume.
She tapped on the screen, waited, and then said, “It’s her. Thank God.”
Then she pulled a roll of duct tape out of her utility belt, floated down, and taped Julie’s mouth shut.
I laughed. “Duct tape? Did Nick put that in there?”
She froze. “No. I… Wait a second.”
She pulled up the communicator again, and this time she pointed it at me. After tapping the screen she said, “OK, this is going to be weird, but we split off early last summer—your time.”
She shook her head. “That’s the weird part. Sometimes when universes split the timestream speeds up or slows down. Whichever it was, I’m three years older than you.”
I took that in. “Was it a good three years?”
She didn’t answer quickly, and by the time she did, I almost didn’t need the answer.
She looked me in the eye, and said, “Nick’s dead in my world.”
She hesitated for a second, and then started talking. “I don’t know all the details. Early in his second semester, he discovered something was going to go wrong in St. Louis. He tried to get a hold of Isaac Lim and local heroes, but he couldn’t get the response he wanted, so he went down himself. He died in an explosion there. No one quite knows what happened, but along with Daniel, and Haley, he saved most of the city.”
“Daniel and Haley?” I asked.
“They died too. It was supposed to be worse,” she said. “They still don’t know who put it in, but they found technology like the kind in St. Louis in major cities all over the world.”
“Hold it,” I said, “does this have something to do with the alternates that fought the League last summer?”
She tilted her head a little. “I don’t know anything about that.”
“You said we split early summer? My mistake. This was mid-summer. Part of the League ran into a crazy version of Nick called War. His whole world had died.”
She frowned. “I don’t know if what we found could have killed everybody, but when Dr. Nation analyzed it he did say they might have killed millions.”
I wanted to ask her more, but it didn’t sound like she knew anything. I don’t know that I had high hopes for what might happen if I ever met myself, but it would have been nice if she knew a little more about something that major. Anyway, even if I’d had a question to ask, I didn’t get the chance.
Grandpa walked around the corner, relaxed in his armor, smiling. I’d never seen him looking that young. He’d been in his seventies in my earliest memories. He even seemed to have a little bit of a swagger.
Well, he did until he saw me. He hesitated so briefly I wondered if I’d imagined it, and then he said, “You look… remarkably like my late wife. She had blond hair, not brown, but except for that you look like she did when we met.” He looked over at Ghostgirl. “She’s from your end of things?”
“Almost exactly,” Ghostgirl said.
Grandpa nodded. “Good. Good.” He looked past me toward Travis, Rod, Samita, and Tara. “They’ll be fine?”
Ghostgirl said, “I’m sure Julie just ordered them to stand still. It’ll wear off.”
He nodded, and looked like he was just about to step back out of the alley. He didn’t though, because that’s the moment Red Lightning choose to walk around the corner.
He smiled widely at everyone. “Great work, all of you,” he said, and then he turned to me. “Did Joe mention just how much you look like his late wife? I’m sure both of you do, but I don’t recall ever seeing you,” he smiled at Ghostgirl, “without a mask. Nonetheless, she was a brave woman. I hope you both got to know her.”
“We did,” I said.
“Wonderful,” he said. “If she’d just lived a few years more, we might have saved her, but alas.”
Grandpa cleared his throat. “Giles, I’d like some help checking on the captives.”
Giles smiled, “Of course.”
They began to turn, but I said, “Rocket, who designed that armor? It looks exactly like something my brother imagined once.”
Grandpa smiled, but it was a very thin and a very, very fake smile, and said, “My grandson. He died recently. The alien invasion.”
While that rolled around in my head, I found a few words, and tried to deliver them smoothly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
He said, “There’s no reason you could. It’s no problem,” He kept the smile on his face as he turned, but I only saw the back of his head as he walked away.
“He’s had a hard year,” Red Lightning glanced after him. “Give us a moment, and we’ll help you get the slaver back to your home universe.”
Ghostgirl nodded. “Take all the time you need.”
He smiled at her, but not a happy smile. “You can’t afford to wait that long,” he said.