In seconds, Agent 957’s armor fell to the ground, expelling a cloud. Some of the grey particles floated in the air, others fell out of the bottom of his helmet, creating a small pile. It made me grateful that the Rocket suit filtered the air. It wouldn’t do me harm, but I didn’t like the idea of breathing him in.
The four-handers ran away, deeper into the tunnels, unwilling to take the chance that we wouldn’t kill them. Given that there were more than 20 bodies on the ground, most of them killed by me, I couldn’t blame them.
I turned to check on Marcus. He looked worse than I’d realized.
He lay with his back to the wall, enclosed in the time bubble. I hadn’t noticed, but the shot had burnt through his costume. The grey, rocky skin, tough as it was, must have done some good, but not enough. He wasn’t moving at all.
I became aware of my breathing and the movement of my heart in my chest as the thought struck me that he might be dead.
Except then I noticed one more thing. Lines distorted the shape of Tikki’s time bubble, pulsing outward with her at the center. Around him, lines pulsed outward with him at the center. She had a second time bubble inside the first. She might be keeping him in stasis, something that was well within her abilities as I understood them, but I’d never seen a second bubble inside the larger one.
I turned to look at Tikki, but as I did, I felt something. It reminded me of the feeling I’d had when we’d passed the remains of the battle that Lee had fought while leading the Destroy faction. In memory, that one had felt full of menace.
This felt hopeful, but also afraid at the same time. I’d wondered even as the fight began if she might somehow be one of Lee’s people. We’d met Kee Oataki, and Kee, just like Tikki, had given me new ideas to consider about technology. In Kee’s case, that had been FTL equipment. In Tikki’s, she’d given me new ideas about the bots.
It fit. Kee had disappeared after we walked out the door of her shop. When we walked back in, she wasn’t there. The shop contained people we’d never seen and they didn’t know where she was. It was exactly like one of those disappearing magic shops you read about in stories. After that, we’d been told about Tikki. If Kee’s abilities were anything like Lee’s, she’d had plenty of time to get a new identity.
My grandfather’s theory was that Lee manipulated reality every time he took a new form, altering history so that it was as if that new form has always existed from the moment he took form for as long as it lasted.
It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it fit my experience. Somehow Kee had changed reality such that Tikki had always been, including a history that left her parents conveniently dead, and no ties strong enough among the resistance to prevent her from joining up with us.
That would have been exactly what she wanted. Kee said that I glowed. I denied any knowledge of why, but following us would have given her every opportunity to find out who we were connected with.
The only thing that didn’t fit was that Lee had said that I’d probably sense the presence of another one of his people, but Tikki hadn’t ever tripped my ability to sense beings of blasphemous, eldritch horror (or whatever she was).
On the other hand, neither had Kee. I only become aware of what she must be after she’d brought the topic up herself and then completely disappeared.
If Kee was, as she appeared to be, the Live faction’s tech genius, it didn’t seem impossible that she might be able to hide her nature better than any of the others.
We met each other’s eyes and she said, “I know you know. Please don’t tell Marcus.”
I felt my jaw drop. “How can I not tell Marcus? Friends tell their friends when they’re dating uh… whatever you guys are.”
She shook her head. “I need to tell him. She… I… Tikki… She really did, really does love him.”
I said the first thing that came into my head. “What?”
She took two breaths. “I went too deep. I created Tikki and I forgot myself. She’s so like I was when I was young. I’d forgotten how deeply you feel emotions, how much everything hurts whether inside or outside. She wouldn’t let me do anything halfway.”
“So, Marcus is definitely alive, right?”
“Yes!” She shouted back at me, her upper lip quivering. “I’m going to save him, and then after that, when it’s over, I’m going to tell him what I really am.”