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Mario

Mario is five again, in the Beanbag Corner, where Miss Gladisant is teaching him the phonics of time. She sings three simple syllables at three pitches and they loop, a perfect echo, three times before they fade away.

Mario tries to copy her, but he gets one note exactly wrong. As soon as he finishes he feels himself grabbed by the stomach, yanked, breath forced back into his throat–sings again, can’t help it, grabbed, singing, helpless, again and again.

Miss Gladisant shouts a strong, angry word. The loop shatters. Mario wakes, nauseated, in Mexico, and knows what Barrister has done.

Mario

“HQ’s not just gone, it’s unmade,” mutters Mario as they dodge through the street market. “Scrubbed out of this whole damn line.”

“If we could stop moving,” says Girard, swiping at a chicken, “set up a decent backcast–”

“You don’t think Barrister will be waiting for that?”

“So what!” shouts Girard. “I’m lab, not field, why’d you even bring me!”

Mario hustles him away from the staring stall owners. “I need you, Girard, okay? But we can’t do anything he’ll expect.”

“You want to ask them for help,” says Girard slowly. “The Blue Man Group.”

Mario bites his lip and nods.

Mario

Barrister only exhales when they rematerialize in the darkened Louvre. “Made it,” he sighs. “And got rid of the Extinctioners at last!”

“They won’t be slipstreaming again,” agrees Verla, checking around for guards. “I just hope we didn’t alter the timeline much.”

Barrister shrugs and sits down to undo the latches on his jet boots. “It wasn’t a designated Flux Period,” he says. “Surely Chronastromy HQ would have informed us–”

“We have to go back,” says Mario hoarsely. “We have to go back now.

“What?” says Verla.

But Mario just points one trembling finger at Mona Lisa’s bloody, sharp-fanged grin.

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