by Dan Swanson
Paca was very pessimistic about saving this particular mission. “There is no known cure in this time period, and we can’t use uptime technology. We are going to have to withdraw and let the home office come up with some other alternative.”
Aki Amazing was stubborn. “Paca, I’m not willing to accept that. I’m going to find a way to overcome this, and you are going to help — not give up!”
“Yes, Mistress Aki! Your every whim is my command!”
“Damn right, you smart-ass machine!”
Real time was passing, so Aki moved again into zero time. Long stays in the very strange environment of zero time became first uncomfortable and then quickly unbearable, but it would be perhaps forty subjective hours before she started noticing the effects. During those subjective hours in zero time, no time would pass in the real-time world of Todd Drake and Tomas Thomas. So, if she came up with a good idea, she could implement it without delay.
She started off with some detective work. Floating back to the lab where the shooting had happened, Aki examined the entire scene again. This time, she realized that, in her simulations, only the outside appearance of the gamma-ray generator had been simulated. Nobody figured the functionality would be important.
Well, when she got back, she was going to have a pointed discussion with the director of the research department. This wasn’t the first time she had experienced mission problems due at least in part to poor pre-mission intel. She was the only time-traveling agent the organization had — you would think that they would realize her value and do a better job of preparing her, especially after what had happened to Leleila, her predecessor.
It didn’t improve her temper any that Aki insisted on blaming this one on herself. The organization’s regulations didn’t actually require it, but she should have remained here for another few minutes to verify her results. She had been careless. Of course, she had been on this assignment longer than any previous assignment, but that was no excuse.
Thus she was determined to fix this one herself, but she was equally determined to make sure that this kind of mess never happened again.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t just hop back in time and try again. Her powers prevented her from ever being in the same exact time twice. So she had to work with the current situation.
She reviewed her mission goals. The primary goal was to cement the probability that Todd and Tomas would work together as a super-hero team, having a career together that would span seventeen years. After Tomas’ death in 1970, Todd would retire. Along the way, Todd would marry and have a couple of kids. It was extremely unlikely that he would ever meet his future wife if he didn’t become a super-hero, and equally unlikely that he would become a super-hero if Tomas died now.
Aki could only see two options. She could either figure out a way to save Tomas’ life right now, or admit defeat and jump back to her own time and let the home office figure it out. After some reflection, she decided that she really only had one option.
She couldn’t go back and prevent the accident. It was also already too late to shield Tomas from the gamma rays. The only alternative seemed to be to find some way to cure him, some way that would be within the home office rules.
No future medicine, with its medical nanites, was available. Was there anything else she could use from this era? The only thing she could think of that even had a chance was the anti-crime drug invented by Jim Barr, alias Bulletman.
Aki asked Paca for a complete report on everything that was known about the drug. Maybe, just maybe, it could save Tomas’ life. Paca did have some interesting information, but not exactly what she wanted to hear.
“Nope, struck out again, darling! Barr only made three doses, and we’ve never been able to duplicate it. Leleila got us a sample, but the molecules in the sample are scientifically impossible. The home office scientists think there must have been some magical intervention, or that Barr had some sort of unsuspected psychic powers. Anyway, those scientifically impossible molecules had a half-life of about fourteen months. So the anti-crime drug in Todd’s possession is worthless.”
“Paca, do you enjoy giving me bad news? No, never mind — you’ll only deny having any emotions.” She could sense a wisp of a plan floating in the back of her mind, but she needed some more information. “Does Todd still have his vial? Does he know it’s no longer effective?”
“I can only make assumptions based on the history we were trying to ensure. In that timeline, when Todd and Tomas decided that they wanted to be super-heroes, they tried to analyze Todd’s potion, and discovered that it was no longer active. So they built powers into their costumes instead. Given this information, my assumptions are yes, Todd still has his vial, and no, he doesn’t know that the drug is now inert.”
“Paca, that’s great news! We’ll just go back to 1944 and use zero time to switch the active drug with some placebo, then switch it back here in 1953!” Aki was very enthusiastic. And, she thought to herself, since there is no record of Jim Barr ever making another batch of the stuff, I can add a few drops of my own time’s Panacea Potion to make sure it cures Tomas, and no one will ever know.
“How do you know that Todd will think of using the anti-crime drug in time?” Paca asked her. Although it had lots of information, and could think really fast, it had no imagination.
“That’s not a real problem, is it? From what you told me, he’s already contacted Bulletman and Bulletgirl for help catching the bad guys. That has to remind him of the drug, right? And if it doesn’t, I’ll think of some way, myself! After all, I’m not the organization’s top field agent for nothing!”
Maybe she was imagining the sarcasm in Paca’s voice. “I should remind you that you are the only field agent in the organization, but I predict you will only ignore it, anyway. So instead I’ll warn you to exercise all possible caution — this mission is starting to resemble Leleila’s last mission, and you know how that turned out.”
Aki shuddered as she remembered it. Before Leleila’s last mission, history showed that the Hindenburg had remained in service until it was shot down by the Allies during the fall of Berlin in 1945.
“But she was trying to send a message to her earlier self. I’ll be particularly careful not to leave any traces! And it’s not like I haven’t lived in that era already. In fact, the timing is practically perfect. So that’s the plan, Paca! Instead of trying to scare me, start figuring out how to help make it run smoothly.”
“At your service, my dear!”
Together they worked out as safe a plan as possible. Aki Amazing had already spent two years in the World War II era, where she had been the school science teacher at Abraham Lincoln Memorial Elementary School who had fostered Tod Drake’s interest in magnetism, and the same teacher who had invited Jim Barr to be a judge at the school science fair.
She sometimes spent some vacation and relaxation time in the past eras after an assignment was completed, but she had not done so in 1944. The primitive attitudes toward anyone who was different, and the way women were treated (even though she sensed changes occurring), along with the civilian hardships due to wartime rationing and the knowledge that brave men and women were dying every day, combined to make this a particularly unattractive era to her.
Aki also had not liked having to use Holographic Image Disguise Equipment (HIDE) for the whole two years she had been there, disguised as a typical WASP, or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. She was paranoid that it would fail while she was teaching her class, or somebody would surprise her when she temporarily turned it off for rest or maintenance — and a Japanese woman, who had been using a disguise to teach in the New York City public school system, would probably not get a fair trial in 1944.
So she had left in June, 1944, which was as soon as possible after the 1943-1944 school year was over, pretending she had a better job offer on the West Coast. This meant that there was no reason she couldn’t jump back to late 1944. She didn’t know the exact date Bulletman gave Todd the vial of anti-crime drug, but she knew it was sometime in winter near the end of the year. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Whiz: Times Past, 1953: The New Adventures of Bulletboy, Chapter 1: Young Bulletman]
Paca had a set of mobile sensors called a Mobile Observation and Notification System, or MONS. Each of the sensors resembled a baseball card. Paca could direct them to fly, and they could adhere to any flat surface, and then automatically hide by using their own HIDE system to emulate the nearby background.
So the final plan was simple: jump back to August, 1944, use the HIDE to reactivate her earlier identity so she could draw upon the bank accounts she had set up in that name, and use Paca’s MONS to spy on Todd. Once Jim Barr gave him the vial containing the anti-crime drug, she would use zero time to swap the drug for a placebo.
Aki Amazing had to stay in 1944 until mid-December, but there were no hitches. She retrieved the active anti-crime drug as planned, then jumped back to 1953, returning a split instant after she had left. She had Paca redeploy the MONS, and while it was engaged in the task of directing them to the selected locations and making sure they were properly camouflaged, she secretly sprinkled a few drops of Panacea Potion into the anti-crime drug. Instants after Todd recovered his vial of what he thought was the anti-crime drug, she had replaced his vial of placebo with the vial of active drug, and history took its course from there. She so loved it when a plan came together.
She stuck around for a few more days this time, and when she was sure that Tomas would live, she jumped back to own time. Her intuition told her that she had nudged this new timeline into a path that was acceptable to the home office (especially after their foul-up), but they were really going to have to collect new information and run some new sims.
Aki Amazing’s mind skipped forward among her memories of her personal past. She had been assigned other missions while the researchers were collecting more information about the altered timeline, and about three home time years later (and about seven subjective years for Aki), she had been reassigned to the Todd and Tomas case.
Her first task was to learn the new history of the Todd and Tomas timeline. Compared with the one she had been attempting to promote, there were some interesting changes.
In the newly existing timeline, Tomas Thomas’ near-death experience had convinced him that he didn’t really want to be a super-hero. He had completed his studies at the University of Chicago over the summer semester and joined a detective agency named Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe as a trainee private investigator.
And Todd Drake had already decided he didn’t want to be a super-hero any longer. He would go on to receive his Ph.D. in chemistry and then return to the University of Chicago as an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Tomas would consult with Todd on several of his cases. Finally, the two would eventually decide to form their own detective agency, which they would name TnT Investigations. Todd would eventually get married and have kids, but he wouldn’t meet the right woman, and his many-times-removed descendant wasn’t quite right for the historical role that Aki was trying to preserve. Tomas would marry, but never have children, and when his wife would die of old age while he was still young, he would end up joining a monastery.
The home office’s new sims predicted that Aki Amazing could easily nudge this reality into a slightly different path, in which Todd would again meet the right woman and have the correct descendants. Easy for them to say! she had thought at the time. They aren’t the ones who have to live in a primitive era!
Back in her own present, Aki Amazing considered the situation.
Keeping Red Rocket from blowing things up was easy. In zero time, Aki used a small daub of a quickly evaporating putty to block the hydrogen nozzle of Red Rocket’s wrist plasma-thrower. During the dangerous early stage, when the hot spot was out of the mixing chamber but still close to Rocket’s wrist, the nozzle was completely blocked, and by the time Rocket tried to ignite the hot spot, the putty had completely evaporated.
Except for a few loose ends, this was the successful completion of Aki’s mission. Red Rocket and Tom Atomic could handle it without further help.
Aki flew back to the beach in zero time, and she soon welcomed home Red Rocket and Tom Atomic with a hot dinner. Tomas Thomas wanted to repair her house, but Aki told him that she had decided weeks ago to move on; an art museum out on the West Coast had accepted her application as an associate curator of sculptures. She had an airline ticket in hand, and she had already packed before the giant waves struck. She also had no furniture, as the cottage had come furnished. There was also no reason to try to save anything, as the owner might could easily collect insurance. All she really needed, she told them, was a ride to the airport tomorrow, and Todd Drake was glad to drop her off on his way back to school.
Just before she went to sleep, she smiled. Aki was pleased with this new timeline, even though it had been so difficult getting it started. The world still got a new heroic team, even stronger than in the other timelines, and she liked Tomas’ heroic name in this timeline best. In the other timelines, he had chosen H-Bomb or Atom Smasher. Yuck.
Not only that, she had also inexplicably saved Tomas’ life seventeen years in the future. In the other timelines, he had died in 1970 during a rescue mission. In this timeline, he would be severely injured during that mission, but the super-powers granted him by the anti-crime drug would ultimately save his life. (*) Although it would take more than fifteen years before he would be fully healthy again, he would return as a solo hero in mid-1987. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Rocket & Tom Atomic: Times Past, 1970: Disaster in the Meadowlands and DC Universe: Crisis Over Earth-S.]
And, most importantly of all, Todd Drake would marry the right woman and have the right descendant.