Teresa tilted her head, confused by Theo’s introduction.
“Come on, don’t be rude.” Nova rolled her eyes at him. “His name is Theo, and I’m Nova Eldridge. Nice to meet you.”
“You are way too lax with letting people know us on a first-name basis.” Theo’s expression soured. “Do you know how easily that could backfire?”
“Well, not to an exact degree, but-”
“H-hang on, did you just call yourself ‘Tech’?” Teresa asked.
“I know, I know, it’s not the best alias in the world, but honestly, as long as it works-”
“N-no, that’s not what I mean.” Teresa shook her head. “I-I’m a ‘Tech’ too. I know at least two other people who are.”
“Wait, seriously?” Theo looked at her, tilting his head in kind. “Who?”
“A-and you...” Teresa turned her attention back to Nova.
“Okay, fuck me, I guess.” Theo grumbled.
“You said your last name was Eldridge?” Teresa said. “D-do you know anyone named ‘Napoleon Eldridge’?”
“Well, yeah, my dad.” Nova looked at her quizzically. “How do you know him?”
“Your dad?” Teresa looked even more confused. “But...how would that..”
“Well, they just came through a time anomaly, and the version of Crow- however he’s alive- that they were chasing looked noticeably older.” The CrossTrix beeped. “I’d say they’re from the future.”
“The future?” Theo raised an eyebrow. “What year is it right now?”
“2020.” Teresa answered.
“Wow, okay, yeah, we are definitely in the past.” Nova whistled. “The two of us aren’t even born until 2022.”
“What year are you from?” The CrossTrix asked.
“2040.” Theo sighed. “Fantastic, we showed up a whole two decades in the past.”
Right as he finished saying that, the temporal anomaly behind them flickered and disappeared, sealing the rift in time.
“Well, that’s not promising.” Theo grunted. “Not that we can head back without Crow anyway, I guess.”
“A-about that...” Teresa said. “H-how do you know Malincious Crow?”
“We work for the Plumbers in our time.” Theo explained. “Crow is a serial killer with alien powers. We ended up meeting, naturally. How do you know him?”
“I...I’d rather not get into that.” Teresa looked away for a moment. “Th-the thing is, in this time...he’s already dead.”
“Well, that’s not too strange.” Theo mused. “All things considered, I doubt we’re from the same timeline.”
“You are, actually.” The CrossTrix beeped. “Anomalies like the one you just came through don’t bleed over into other timelines.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.” Nova said. “If we’re from the same timeline, how could Crow be dead in your time and alive in ours?”
“It’s definitely odd, but I suppose anything’s possible.” Theo scratched his chin. “I can’t make any confident guesses about it given how little information we have here.”
“Eh, fair enough.” Nova shrugged. “We can worry about the details later. Right now we should worry about apprehending him.”
“I-I have an alien good for scouting from the air.” Teresa held up the CrossTrix. “I could help with finding him.”
“If you’re offering, sure.” Theo said. “The sooner he’s off the streets, the better. After that, we just need to worry about how to get home.”
“Th-there are some other Omnitrix users I know.” Teresa noted. “W-we could try asking them for help.”
“Good plan.” Theo nodded. “Just one question.”
“Who is that?”
Teresa turned around to look where Theo was pointing. A chill ran down her spine as she realized who was approaching them.
“How convenient.” Messias mused. “I came down here looking for a temporal anomaly, and while that seems to have vanished already, it appears that the trip wasn’t for nothing.”
Teresa pulled up the CrossTrix, hand hovering over the dial.
“Put down that gauntlet of yours, I’m not here to fight.” Messias tsked. “I have people for that.”
“Th-then what are you-”
“I’m looking to draw out Annabelle and take back the lock that she stole from me.” Messias interrupted her. “I have a point I need to make.”
“Anne isn’t around.” The CrossTrix stated. “What makes you think she’d be here?”
“You misunderstand me.”
Messias lunged forward and grabbed Teresa by the throat, just barely avoiding crushing her windpipe.
“I need bait, and for whatever reason, she seems to care a great deal about your well-being.” Messias explained as casually as if he were talking about the weather. “And you...well, you seem to be rather useless without someone around to motivate you. I’ll leave enough context clues for her to figure out what’s happened to you, and while we wait...”
Messias stroked a few fingers through her hair.
“I know exactly how I’m going to pass the time.”
“Fixing your arm, right?” Theo interjected.
All of a sudden, the arm Messias was using to strangle Teresa began to deform and malfunction, forcing him to release her and allowing her to catch her breath. Water began pouring out of the cybernetic arm as its chassis was pushed at from the inside out, eventually exploding with a burst of water that reformed into an amorphous alien a few feet away.
“What on Earth-” Messias turned on his heels to face the alien. “Who are you?!”
“He’s with me.” Theo pushed forward the lever on his Omnitrix, causing Over The Rainbow to dissipate. “So to speak.”
“Alright then, I’ll have you answer that question instead.” Messias growled, shifting his remaining arm into an energy cannon and placing it directly in front of Theo’s face.
“Call me...well, she has ‘Tech’ covered here, so I guess I’ll just use my real name.” Theo sighed. “Theo. Call me Theo.”
Messias was abruptly knocked aside by a rocket kick from Nova, using metal boots constructed with miniature thrusters inside. The air pressure generated by the attack kicked up a short gust of wind that knocked Theo’s cap crooked on his head.
“And that’s Nova.” Theo readjusted his cap. “Further questions?”
“Do you have any idea who I am?!” Messias demanded from the ground.
“Are you okay?” Nova asked Teresa, who was currently rubbing her neck where Messias had gripped it. In spite of an obvious nasty bruise starting to form, Teresa gave her a weak thumbs-up.
“Let me guess; you two are also a part of this insipid little friend group of hers.” Messias spat as he rose to his feet.
“We just met, actually.” Theo corrected.
“Then why assault me, you snot-nosed brats?!”
“Well, we’re not evil and we’re not stupid, so there’re two good reasons right there for ya.” Nova said.
“For another thing, we’re law enforcement.” Theo reached into his pocket and pulled out a compact, futuristic-looking Plumber’s badge. “I have some doubts about whether or not what happens here is strictly within our jurisdiction, but I’m pretty sure assault and battery is a crime regardless.”
“Law enforcement?” Messias laughed. “I wasn’t aware the police had started hiring children.”
“I’m 18; she’s 19.” Theo gestured between himself and Nova.
“Ah, yes, of course, that makes your story so much more believable now.” Messias replied in a deadpan tone. “You children truly are pathetic.”
Messias reached into his internal coat pocket and pulled out a small keycard, holding it out in front of his left eye. The cybernetics in the eye sprang to life, wirelessly analyzing the data from the card and confirming it as usable. A small slot sprang open on the back of Messias’s left hand, which he proceeded to insert the card into and close.
“Until a recent...incident involving that girl you’re trying to protect, I hadn’t felt the need to install my cybernetic bodies with any unique combat protocol. An expensive mistake.”
Messias raised his remaining arm at a 90-degree angle, keeping his palm facing outwards as he did so.
“This motion has been sustained.”
Messias’s left arm immediately began generating armor around itself, forming a large green module that ended in a two-pronged mechanical claw.
“As such, I began work on module systems designed to counter alien abilities without having to sully my body by transforming into one myself.” Messias finished explaining himself. “Now, you will either stand aside and allow me to claim what I want, or you will perish like dogs. Are we clear?”
“Oh, clear this, you son of a-” Nova snarled, forming claw-like brass knuckle constructs on her fists.
“D-don’t!” Teresa stepped out in front of her. “J-just let him take me! I don’t want anyone else getting hurt because of me!”
“Sorry, but that isn’t happening.” Theo tsked, pulling up the StarTrix and starting to turn the dial. “He’s already gone and pissed me off.”
“Ditto here.” Nova cracked her neck. “I don’t have much patience for sleazy old guys.”
“You should show more respect for your elders, brat.” Messias growled. “Honestly, today’s youth are so horrid.”
“We’re not exactly today’s youth.” Theo noted pointedly.
Theo slammed down on the StarTrix dial, transforming into a tall, yellow humanoid alien with three horns and pointed legs that hovered a bit off the ground.
All-Star rose into the air and began gathering sunlight to power up. Messias wasted no time in lunging forward with his module, but a circular shield construct from Nova blocked the attack. She punched into the center of the shield, shaping it out into a cone that quickly reconstructed itself into a drill wrapped around her forearm.
“Hate to break it to you, but you don’t exactly have a monopoly on mecha-arms.” Nova taunted.
“For legal purposes, I’m not going to dispute that.”
Nova launched a drill punch at a Messias, only for him to casually swat the blow aside with his arm module.
“This is a taydenite-infused infinitum alloy.” Messias knocked on the module’s hull. “The material cost alone could have bought this entire valley five times over. Whatever metal your constructs are made of, it’s not going to be strong enough to get through this material.”
“Oh, please, Swarm 2’s metal is-” Nova paused as she looked at the drill on her arm. “...I actually have no idea what metal it is.”
“If you’re that ignorant of your own equipment, what makes you think you stand a chance against me?”
“Didn’t Teresa literally chop you apart within a span of fifteen seconds?” The CrossTrix beeped.
“That’s why I built this.” Messias hissed, gesturing to his arm module. “I made a mistake. I have corrected that mistake. She’s more than welcome to try doing that again.”
The claws on the arm module clamped together a few times, creating sparks as they ground against each other.
“We’ll see how it goes.”
A sudden blast of concentrated light shot towards Messias from above, forcing him to block it with the arm module. All-Star landed a few inches off the ground behind him, his body glowing with solar energy.
“Took you long enough.” Nova commented. “The heck were you doing up there?”
“There’s a lot more pollution in the air here than there is in our time.” All-Star replied. “It’s more difficult for sunlight to get through.”
“Well ya didn’t have to pick the solar-powered alien, ya dingus.” Nova knocked on her own head.
“You have your thing, I have mine.” All-Star turned to Messias. “Everything else aside, I have to ask if you really want to start a scene like this in public.”
“In public?” Messias chuckled. “Is that where you think we are?”
“Uh...” Nova looked around, seeing people trying to approach the scene of the anomaly and being held back by police. “Yes?”
“Well, I suppose there’s no advantage here in correcting you.” Messias shrugged nonchalantly. “Suffice it to say that nobody is going to intervene.”
“You say that like it’s a good thing for you.” Nova cracked her knuckles.
Messias swung around and tried to grab All-Star with the module, but the alien moved too quickly, flying out of the way with solar-enhanced speed. Nova took a few swings at Messias with her clawed brass knuckles, forcing him to dodge and placing him on shaky footing. A swift kick to his back from All-Star knocked him forward, but he used his arm module as a pivot to swing back around and deliver a kick of his own to All-Star’s chest in return.
Messias quickly balanced himself as the claw protruding from his arm module retracted and a hole in the center of its ‘palm’ began glowing. All-Star put two and two together and fired a preemptive beam of light from his right hand, only for it to be immediately countered by a beam of sickly green energy from Messias’s arm module. The two beams hit their respective targets, throwing Messias back a few meters and kicking All-Star out of his transformation, reverting him to Theo.
“Woah!” Nova rushed over to check on Theo. “You okay, dude? How hard of a hit was that?!”
“It felt about the same as a light jab.” Theo replied, narrowing his eyes. “All-Star should have been fine. There’s something else going on here.”
“Astute observation there.” Messias tsked condescendingly. “In a world where transformation matrices are becoming increasingly common, wouldn’t it make sense to carry around a shutdown switch of some kind?”
“Sure, but unfortunately for you, Swarm 2 isn’t a normal matrix.” Nova dissipated her brass knuckles and summoned twin arm cannons.
Nova fired dual spheres of flaming purple energy at Messias, which he casually swatted aside with his arm module.
“Ah, yes, and such fearsome firepower it has.” Messias drawled.
Teresa, whose presence had evidently slipped Messias’s mind, slowly reached for the CrossTrix, hoping to transform without him noticing. Before she could activated it, he suddenly whipped around and used the claws on his arm module to grab her left arm by the wrist, creating dents in the CrossTrix as the claws bit into its metallic chassis.
“I know all about what Crow did to you, brat.” Messias hissed. “I’d reconsider trying to be a hero before you lose this arm again.”
“Shit!” Nova clenched her fists and turned towards Theo. “Theo, let’s fuse so we can take this asshole one-on-one!”
“Well, our usual methods aren’t working.” Theo sighed. “Might as well use the thing that always works.”
Swarm 2 began buzzing and humming, spreading a thin white light across Nova’s body as she extended a hand towards him.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing, but I won’t allow it!” Messias hissed, whirling around and throwing Teresa at them using the arm module’s launching strength.
Theo managed to dodge the living projectile, but Teresa hit Nova head-on. The white aura around Nova exploded into a massive flash of light, forcing Messias and Theo to look away. When they looked back, they found an unfamiliar, very confused-looking woman standing where Teresa and Nova had just been.
“Hm.” Theo adjusted his cap. “Would you look at that? You ended up accomplishing the exact opposite of what you wanted.”
“What just happened?!” Messias demanded. “Who is that?!”
“Well, when Nova and I fuse, we just call them ‘Technova’.” Theo mused. “But since this is a different Tech entirely, let’s go ahead and call them...” Theo glanced at the cross shape on the CrossTrix’s dial. “Technova X.”
“When you fuse?” Messias wrinkled his nose. “You can’t be serious.”
“People are running around turning into aliens and you’re skeptical about the concept of fusion?” Theo raised an eyebrow.
“Not ‘skeptical’, disgusted.” Messias spat. “This is completely unnatural.”
“Unless you were born an android, I don’t think you have much room to talk.” Theo turned to Technova X, noticing a blank look on their face. “You doing alright in there?”
“Ye-yeah, I just...wow.” Technova X blinked. “Wow. There is...so much to unpack in here.”
“Unless you’d like me to unpack your organs, I’d suggest you end this abomination at once.” Messias hissed.
“Oh yeah, you.” Technova X looked over at him and blinked a few times. “You, uh... you...”
She took a moment to think before snapping her fingers as she remembered his name.
“Right, you’re Joshua Messias.” She thunked a fist on her open palm. “You’re the guy who-”
She paused as the details caught up with her.
“...Welp, I’m gonna kill you.”
“Excuse me?” Messias snarled. “Is that a threat?”
“Nah, a threat usually just contains the possibility that it’s gonna be followed up on.” Technova X pulled up the CrossTrix and started turning the dial. “That was a statement.”
“Where did this come from?” Theo raised an eyebrow. “That’s definitely not the type of personality I was expecting.”
“I get ya, but it makes sense in context.” Technova X rapped on her head a few times. “This guy needs to go down and stay down.”
“Well, I’d trust you more than I’d trust him, so I’ll take your word on it.” Theo shrugged. “What’s the plan?”
“Calling it a ‘plan’ might be a bit much.” Technova X slammed down on the CrossTrix dial, transforming into Ferrarachnid. “Just a ‘beatdown’ would suffice.”
“As if you could execute either.” Messias snorted, firing another shot from his arm module.
The energy from the module was blocked by a plate of gold armor that suddenly formed in front of the giant arachnid. The armor attached itself to her chest as other pieces of it started to form, creating an armor construct around Ferrarachnid that blocked off any possible shots Messias could take.
“Well.” Messias commented as the armored spider loomed over him. “That’s unfortunate.”
Messias’s arm module rolled to a halt in Liberty Park as the gold-covered Ferrarachnid rolled up nearby and stood back up. The rest of Messias’s body had been ground to small chunks of metal littering the road.
“Feel better now?” Theo casually strolled into the park behind them.
“A bit.” Ferrarachnid replied. “But there’s no way that was his main body.”
“Well, that’s an issue for another day.” Theo glanced at the nearby arm module as it vanished in a flash of light. “Right now, let’s get our bearings before doing anything else.”
Theo and Ferrarachnid turned to find Anne running towards them. She paused a meter or two away to catch her breath.
“Oh, thank God.” Anne panted. “I’ve been trying to call you for days, I was worried something might have happened to y-”
She paused as she noticed Theo.
“Name’s ‘Theo’.” Theo introduced himself. “I’m here with a friend named Nova. She’s not technically around at the moment, but you’ll meet her eventually. We’re from about twenty years into the future.”
Anne looked at him with a blank stare.
“You’re Anne, right?” Ferrarachnid said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Meet me?” Anne looked up at her, confused. “Teresa, are you feeling alright?”
“Yeah, but I’m not really Teresa...” Ferrarachnid replied. “Well, I mean, I guess I am, technically, but also not really, but also, you know, kind of, but...actually, let me just detransform real quick, it’ll make more sense.”
Ferrarachnid tapped on the CrossTrix dial, reverting to Technova X.
“Um...ta-da?” Technova X said hesitantly.
“...I have no idea what I’m looking at.” Anne looked even more confused.
“Technova, see what you can do about getting unfused.” Theo said before turning to Anne. “Let’s step aside for a second. I’ll explain what’s going on.”
Theo and Anne stood aside a tree a good few meters away, leaving Technova X alone with herself for the moment.
“I-I don’t get it.” Anne stammered in bewilderment. “What the heck is going on?!”
“Well, remember that friend I mentioned, Nova? She and Teresa basically...” Theo clapped his hands together, interlocking his fingers. “You know.”
“They what?!” Anne squeaked, her pupils shrinking into dots.
“Yeah, they fused.” Theo said. “The fusion can use both of their powers at once. It’s a pretty useful technique.”
“...O-oh.” Anne settled down for the most part, still looking a bit shaken as she talked. “I, uh...y-yeah, fused, of course. Should’ve figured that out.”
“Why?” Theo raised an eyebrow. “What were you thinking?”
“Oh, I, uh...nothing!” Anne waved her hands around, starting to sweat. “N-nothing at all! I-I mean, I guess I was technically still thinking, generally speaking, but-”
“I’m screwing with you.” Theo interrupted her. “I set you up for that.”
“You-... don’t do that!” Anne snapped. “What is wrong with you?!”
“Nothing.” Theo brushed her off. “I just needed to assess your profile. You’re clear.”
“’ Clear’? Clear of what?” Anne threw her hands up as she spoke. “What could you have possibly gained from that interaction?!”
“Simple.” Theo raised his index finger. “When you present someone with a vague but potentially shocking statement, their immediate reaction to it can give you an insight as to how they process information, and by extension, how their brain works.”
“That is...” Anne squinted at him. “Really weird, dude.”
“Hey, as long as it works.” Theo shrugged.
“I really don’t think it does.” Anne squinted at him. “Whatever, either way, I want to know what your deal is. You said you came from the future, so do you want to elaborate on that?”
“Nova and I came to your time through a temporal anomaly that occurred downtown.” Theo explained. “Teresa happened to be there, likely trying to investigate what was going on.”
“And this?” Anne pointed over at Technova X.
“We were attacked by a man she called ‘Joshua Messias’.” Theo sighed. “Nova and I attempted to fuse, but his attempt to intervene ended up putting Teresa into the fusion aura instead.”
“Messias?!” Anne’s eyes widened. “What did he do to her?!”
“Tried abducting her. Said he wanted to use her as bait for someone called ‘Annabelle’.” Theo said. “Given context clues, I’m assuming that’s you.”
“He attacked her...trying to get to me?” Anne placed a hand against the tree to steady herself. “I...oh God. I-I put her in danger. No wonder she hasn’t tried to contact me.”
“She seemed just as surprised about it as you, so I doubt that’s what’s been going on.” Theo noted. “At any rate, Technova X just used one of Teresa’s alien to grind him into metal dust, so I think she’s capable of defending herself if the need arises.”
“She won’t have to if I have anything to say about it.” Anne grit her teeth. “This is my fault. I’ll take the responsibility for it.”
“I’d be more careful about blaming yourself for things like this.” Theo tsked. “It’s self-destructive.”
“What would you know?” Anne growled. “You literally just met me.”
“It’s just general advice.” Theo shrugged her off. “Follow it if you want to.”
Anne stared at him in silence for a few moments before glancing back to Technova X.
“So...how long is this gonna take?”
“For them to unfuse?” Theo said. “Depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“A lot of things.”
“A fusion is the most direct form of connection you can make with another person.” Theo explained. “All of your deepest thoughts, feelings, and memories are laid bare and merged with those of the other person. If two people fuse and end up being too compatible, the resulting fusion may not want to split apart again.”
“Wait, so you’re saying Teresa’s stuck in there?!” Anne asked worriedly.
“I’m saying it’s a possibility.” Theo clarified. “Fusions are rare, so most of this is speculation on my part. That said, since I’ve been part of one, it’s not like I’m just pulling all this out of my ass.”
A few tense moments passed. Suddenly, Technova X defused, splitting back apart into Nova and Teresa. The two of them were holding hands and silently gazing into each other’s eyes.
“Uh...” Anne spoke up, an inexplicable pit growing in her stomach. “What are they doing?”
“Well, this was another thing that could happen, I guess.” Theo sighed. “Like I said, a fusion lets you learn everything you could possibly need to know about someone in an instant. Your memories combine, and you become so intimately familiar with the other person that-”
Theo paused as Nova and Teresa leaned in towards each other and shared a passionate kiss.
“...I think you get the idea.”
“Y-yeah.” Anne stammered out, pale as a sheet. “...I...I need to go lay down for a moment.”
Theo adjusted his cap with a sigh as Anne clumsily wandered off. Teresa and Nova stopped kissing and transitioned into a tight embrace, with Nova expressing a gentle, loving smile and Teresa crying from what Theo could only guess was either joy or very conveniently-timed allergies.
“Fantastic...” Theo muttered. “You just had to go and make this harder on yourself, didn’t you?”
Some time later, Teresa had used the Cross Bullet to bring Theo and Nova down to southern Utah, where Isaac’s shop was located. After a brief introduction, the three of them went with Isaac and Aquadilus into the store’s back room to talk.
“I’m not entirely sure how you managed to meet Jotaro Kujo of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure in the streets, but I am interested in knowing.” Isaac said, squinting at Theo.
“Call me that again and I’ll break your legs.” Theo scowled.
“That’s fair.” Isaac shrugged. “I’m pretty sure I met you guys once already, actually, but you were wearing different clothes.”
“Yeah, Theo had to fish you out of a river.” Nova snickered. “But yeah, for us it’s been a few years since then. Of course we’re wearing different clothing.”
“I’ve kept this one outfit going since I was fifteen and I’m proud of it, goddammit.” Isaac huffed.
“Easy enough to do when you consider it’s just a gray hoodie and generic blue jeans.” Aquadilus commented.
“I mean, yeah, sure, but still.”
“Wait, you guys have met?” Teresa asked. “How is that possible?”
“It involved some space-time shenanigans for me back in 2015.” Isaac explained. “Got stuck outside of time, stopped disco from coming back, went to the future, it was a whole thing.”
“Did you say ‘disco’?”
“Now I remember from when we met before that you’re Napoleon’s daughter.” Isaac brushed off the question, turning his attention to Nova. “What I wanna know is who this other guy is.”
“Excuse me?” Theo raised an eyebrow.
“Like, you’re obviously Napoleon’s kid.” Isaac pointed at Nova before moving his attention to Theo. “But you...I can’t place.”
“You can’t be serious.” Aquadilus moved down the newspaper he was reading. “The kid looks like what would happen if you and Moranna fused.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense.” Isaac leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs and laying his head on his hands where the chair didn’t reach. “Moranna and I are completely socially inept. Why would we think it’d be a good decision to have a kid?”
“I ask myself that question every day.” Theo remarked dryly.
“...Welp, that just made this conversation about ten times more awkward.” Isaac coughed. “Anyway, what are you doing back in the past in the first place?”
“Got stuck here chasing a fugitive through a temporal anomaly.” Theo sighed. “Don’t have my time manipulation alien on me, so there’s really no way back.”
“Moranna and I could use TyMR and SPAse to send you back.” Isaac suggested.
“You mean those aliens you can only use under circumstances you don’t even understand yet?” Aquadilus raised an eyebrow.
“You are correct but shut the fuck up.” Isaac grumbled.
“You’re a lot more lively now than you are in the future, I’ll say that much.” Theo commented. “I wish future you was that upfront.”
“Oh crap, do I turn into a loser?” Isaac groaned.
“I don’t want to say ‘yes’, but...”
“Not sure how you can turn into something you already are.” Aquadilus interjected.
“Listen here you scaly bitch, you wanna be a handbag or you wanna cut it with the commentary?” Isaac snapped.
“Oh, don’t think I can’t do both.”
“That aside...” Isaac cleared his throat, shooting Aquadilus one last quick glare. “So, TyMR and SPAse might be a bust, but Igneoux might have something up his sleeves that could help. I’ll see if I can contact him.”
“Igneoux?” Theo asked.
“Alternate version of me with an even more ridiculous set of aliens.” Isaac said. “Probably smarter than me, but I can never really tell what’s going through his head. He’s reliable enough, though.”
“If he’s an alternate version of you, how are you gonna get in contact with him?” Nova questioned.
“He’s in this timeline at the moment.” Isaac explained, pulling out his phone. “Won’t say why, but I’m not gonna sock a gift horse in the mouth.”
“That’s not the phrase.” Aquadilus rolled his eyes.
“The phrase is whatever I god damn want it to be.”
“Woah, this is different.” Igneoux said as he walked through the door frame into the backroom, glancing at Theo and Nova. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many Techs in the same room.”
“And that means...?” Theo raised an eyebrow.
“Uh...nothing, I guess.” Igneoux shrugged. “Just thought I’d mention it.”
“So, you two are from the future, right?” Igneoux clapped his hands together. “I can get you back to your regular time with one of my aliens.”
“That’s a relief, at the very least.” Theo sighed, adjusting his cap. “There is one complication, though.”
“A crook we were chasing came through the time anomaly with us.” Nova elaborated. “We need to apprehend him before we can go back.”
“Well, I’ll be staying in this timeline for a while yet-”
“Tell me why.” Isaac interrupted him, eyes narrowed.
“No.” Igneoux replied bluntly. “Anyways, just call me when you catch the guy. No rush.”
As Igneoux finished talking, Theo noticed Teresa nervously rubbing the underside of her left wrist.
“Is something wrong with your arm?”
“Oh, no, it’s just...force of habit.” Teresa took notice of her behavior and stopped. “I used to have a scar there, but...”
"You think I'm gonna be dumb enough to let you transform?" Blitzkrieg hissed, grabbing Teresa's left arm. "Let's make sure you don't try that again."
Blitzkrieg moved his foot to pin down Teresa's left shoulder and began to pull. In one smooth motion, he ripped off her arm and threw it off to the side, with the metal of the CrossTrix creating a clanking sound as it hit the concrete floor, cracking its dial. Teresa screamed in pain as blood gushed from the wound, splattering across the ground in an uneven pattern.
Teresa noticeably winced at the abrupt return of the memory. Nova gently took her hand and squeezed it, motioning at Theo not to pry about it.
“Alright then, there’s just one thing I’m wondering about here.” Theo turned his attention back to Igneoux. “Why are there so many Techs here?”
“It’s just one of the quirks of this universe.” Igneoux shrugged. “There’s always at least one ‘Tech’ to a timeline.”
“I see.” Theo said. “Do you at least know anything about the origin of the phenomenon?”
“Well, I, uh...” Igneoux scratched the back of his head nervously. “Not really, no, it’s uh, just, you know, one of those things.”
“One of those ‘things’?” Theo repeated questioningly.
“Yeah, you know, those- those things.” Igneoux cleared his throat. “Like how gravity pulls you down instead of up, or how some websites continually insist on making their UI worse instead of better. Just one of those universal laws.”
“Well, congratulations Isaac, you are somehow no longer the most socially inept person in the room.” Aquadilus spoke up. “Granted, he is an alternate version of you, so I’m debating on whether or not it still counts.”
“Anyways, if that’s everything, I’m just gonna go ahead and leave.” Igneoux hastily excused himself from the room. “Call me when ya need me, bye!”
“That was...weird.” Isaac grunted as he watched Igneoux leave the store. “Not like him to bail out in the middle of something. That’s more my thing.”
“At least we’ve confirmed we have a way home.” Theo sighed. “Now we just have to catch the guy we’re looking for and we’ll be good to go.”
“You can stay at the shop if you end up needing a place to crash.” Isaac said. “Don’t really have any guest rooms, but I’ve passed out here enough times to confirm that the floor is in fact very comfortable.”
“The idiot doesn’t know when to stop working.” Aquadilus said. “You ever seen a man with an Omnitrix working on two hours of sleep over a period of four days? It ain’t pretty.”
“I object to that.” Isaac huffed. “I’m always pretty.”
“I’d make a ‘yeah, pretty dumb’ joke in response to that, but I think we both have better things to do.”
“You two can stay at my house.” Teresa suggested. “It’s got three bedrooms, and my mom’s still out of town for a while.”
“I guess that makes the most sense since you actually live in the valley at the moment.” Theo scratched his chin. “Nova, thoughts?”
“No objections here.” Nova gave Teresa a quick smile, making her blush. “I’d love to spend more time with her.”
“Hey, Teresa, say something real quick.” Isaac interjected.
“Like what?” Teresa tilted her head in confusion.
“Just anything.” Isaac said. “Something’s different about how you’re talking, but I can’t pin down what.”
“Um...okay, I guess.” Teresa blinked. “I mean, do you want me to do something like a tongue twister, or...?”
“Wait, nope, I got it.” Isaac snapped his fingers. “You’re not stuttering right now.”
“I’m not?” Teresa paused. “Oh, wow, I’m not. This feels...kind of weird.”
“Did something happen with your speech patterns recently?” Isaac asked.
“No, I just...” Teresa looked up at Nova and then towards Isaac again. “I guess right now I just feel...calm.”
“Oh, okay, I think I get it.” Isaac nodded, staying silent for a moment before continuing. “...You got some of that good kush, right?”
Aquadilus slammed his own head into the wall.
“What was that all about?” Alvono asked. “You never fold like that!”
Igneoux stood outside around the back of the shop, taking a moment to catch his breath.
“You try getting questioned by that guy and keeping your nerves.” Igneoux said. “It’s like he was staring into my soul and wanted to eat it.”
“I can and will dump you in a lake.”
“I tend to have that effect on people.” Theo noted, seeming to have suddenly appeared leaning on the wall next to him.
His abrupt interjection startled Igneoux, who jumped a bit before realizing it was him.
“Jeez, how long have you been standing there?” Igneoux breathed a sigh of relief. “Just about gave me a heart attack.”
“Let’s cut the shit.” Theo glared at him. “I know there’s something you’re not telling us.”
“You...don’t trust people easy, huh?” Igneoux scratched the back of his head.
“Neither do you, apparently.” Theo said. “You’re in the back room of an empty shop surrounded by people who are ostensibly your allies, and you still decide to lie.”
“And what exactly do you think I lied about?” Igneoux crossed his arms.
“You know exactly why the ‘Techs’ exist.” Theo accused. “You just don’t want to tell anyone.”
“How do you figure that?” Igneoux raised an eyebrow.
“Call it a hunch, or a gut feeling.” Theo tsked. “Of course, it’s entirely possible that you somehow know about Techs populating our universe without knowing why they do, and that the spectacularly awkward performance you gave was just your social anxiety flaring up in the middle of the conversation for exactly thirteen seconds, but...I’m sure you can guess I’m not inclined to believe that.”
“If I was lying, would it really matter?” Igneoux did his best to hold a flat expression as he talked. “What would knowing the ‘origin story’ do for you?”
“Personally? Not much.” Theo adjusted his cap. “I’m the kind of guy who worries more about what’s right in front of him. That said, since this directly involves each one of us for obvious reasons, I think we have a right to know what we’re doing here.”
“Alright, look, just because the info might not have much of an impact on you, it doesn’t mean other people are going to take it very well.” Igneoux leaned in and spoke to Theo with a quiet hiss. “Isaac? He might just get pissed at me, and I could deal with that, but the new one- Teresa- she’s barely hanging in as it is. I do not need this kind of information getting to her.”
“If this was just about Teresa, you could have easily at least told Isaac before now.” Theo muttered back. “There’s something specific you don’t want us to find out.”
Igneoux pulled back and heaved a deep sigh.
“You know what? Yeah, fine, I admit it. There’s some stuff I’m not ready to tell anyone yet.” Igneoux conceded. “If I was gonna do the moral thing here, I’d spill my guts and tell all of you the truth about it-”
“-But you’re not going to do that.” Theo concluded the sentence. “If you were, you would’ve done it already.”
“...Yeah.” Igneoux looked up at the sky. “I probably would’ve.”
Theo watched as Igneoux walked away, following the canal flowing next to the shop. After a few moments, he sighed and looked up at the pathway leading down into the gorge where the shop was located.
“Nova and Teresa are probably waiting for me at the top already.” He mumbled to nobody in particular. “Guess I should get going.”
Several days later, Dr. Krauze sat at her work desk sorting through files. Her phone was next to her on the desk, currently on speakerphone so she could use both of her hands as she talked.
“Find anything related to the anomaly that showed up last weekend?” Christine asked on the other end of the line.
“Nope.” Emilia replied. “I double, triple, and quadruple-checked. Doesn’t look like any Evolvyrns were involved.”
“Well, at least that rules something out.” Christine sighed.
“I’m telling you, it had all the signs of a natural anomaly.” Emilia said. “A really big one, sure, but still.”
“I believe you, but the higher-ups are on my ass about not being able to find out what caused it.” Christine grumbled. “Keep saying one that big forming on its own is too unlikely.”
“I wish I could be on your ass right now.” Emilia muttered into the phone flirtatiously.
“Oh, god damn it, Emilia.” Christine snorted, trying to keep a straight face on her end.
Emilia moved to say something else, but paused as she heard her doorbell ring.
“Dang it, sounds like someone’s here.” Emilia said. “Talk to you later, okay?”
“My break time’s just about up anyway.” Christine replied. “I’ll try to drop by when I get a chance.”
“The sooner, the better.” Emilia grinned. “Love you, Christine.”
“Love you too.”
Emilia ended the call and headed upstairs to answer the door. When she opened it, she was caught a bit off-guard by who was standing on the other side.
“Anne?” Emilia blinked.
“Um...hi.” Anne scratched the back of her neck nervously. “...Can we talk?”