Victor mentally kicked himself as he tracked Tatiana’s scent through the back alley. Just once he thought he would try and play the hero rather than the grumbling loner, and look where it got him. Tatiana had stayed on foot rather than transform again, likely for fear of alerting more Shades, but it was severely slowing her down. He had no doubt he could find her, just as long as the Shades didn’t get her first.
“Any word from Heather on the girl’s location?” asked Blink for what felt like the tenth time.
“No, she’s gone quiet, and I don’t like it,” he didn’t mention that they didn’t need Heather to find her, he was more than capable, but he bit his tongue. Blink was just looking at all the options, like a good leader, and he was proud of her for it.
He lead group at a jog down multiple back alleys, often doubling back each other; the kid was good, he’d give her that. It wouldn’t help her in the end, her scent was growing stronger and stronger; they were closing in. Unfortunately, this world’s inherent problems interfered.
A massive Shade with limbs like tree trunks melted from the shadows and towered over the Exiles. It seemed to lack a head though, with a dome like structure instead. On earth 170983, someone or something had abducted all the world’s heroes and villains and replaced them with shadowy replicates, this one was clearly Juggernaut.
A second Shade appeared behind the team, this one of average height and shape, but with long tendrils extending from each hand. Victor didn’t recognise it. Like before, neither made a sound, which added to their eerie nature.
The Juggernaut Shade charged forward like an angry bull and Morph reacted by stretching himself across the alleyway at knee height in an attempt to trip it. He succeeded, only to end up tangled around the creature as it went tumbling forward. Everybody leapt aside, save Power Princess who caught the tangled pair and used their motion to hurl them into the air and onto the second Shade.
Blink attempted to teleport the creatures away but was once again unsuccessful. Instead she opted to have Spider-Man web the two beasts down, once Morph had extracted himself from the mess. Miguel used as much web as he could without draining his organic webshooters, but none were confident it would be enough to hold Juggernaut down, even an evil shadow version.
Thinking outside the box, Blink teleported the ground away beneath the two shadow creatures and sent them plummeting into the sewer below. “That should slow them down long enough for us to find the girl,” she stated.
“Come on,” grunted Creed, who took off down the alley before the other could even collect themselves. He was anxious and felt responsible for putting the girl in this situation. He had made a rookie mistake, coming on too strong to the kid like that and scaring her away. He wasn’t about to let that mistake cost Tatiana her life.
Tatiana had ran until her sides ached and her legs cramped up. She had no choice but to stop and let her breath catch up to her.
You really need to exercise more in human form, she berated herself.
Suddenly, heavy footsteps nearby caught her attention; those freaks from the butcher shop were catching up to her. For a second she hesitated, they did save her life after all, but then dismissed the thought from her mind and continued running. It was a death sentence to have any contact with a superhuman, especially ones who dressed in costumes and used their powers so openly.
The alley opened up onto a wide, exposed street, so she doubled back and turned down another alley behind a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, after a few minutes of running she reached a dead end; the back of another building. In desperation she tried a nearby door, but of course it was locked. There were fire escapes above her of course but from ground level she couldn’t reach them.
Running footsteps could be heard from up the alley; she was trapped now. Something deep within her, something primal, was urging her to stand and fight, like in the butcher shop, but she forced it away and used her intellect instead.
Although she gagged at the thought of what had to be done next, she swallowed her pride and kicked over a nearby garbage can. The racket would definitely draw her pursuers but it needed to be done. Half a dozen roaches skittered out of the trash and ran for safety; all escaped save one, which she crushed beneath her bare foot. She grimaced as the insects guts smooshed between her toes and it DNA was absorbed through her skin.
Only once had she transformed using insect blood; when she had swatted a fly without thinking. Because of that horrifying experience she knew it would work, only deep down she wished it wouldn’t. Quickly, her skin began to harden, as hundreds or sharp black hairs erupted all over. It was difficult to keep from vomiting as her internal organs rearranged themselves into some ungodly hybrid of human and insect. Two whip like antennae burst from her scalp as her eyes split into a thousand facetted lenses.
The world took on a whole new, terrifying perspective through those eyes, but at least she could see from every angle at once. When at last it felt as if the transformation was complete she ran for the nearest wall, only to trip over her bizarre new legs. Nearly crying with frustration, she scurried along the ground on all six legs (a second set of arms had grown from her ribs, further ruining her shirt). Surprisingly she moved fairly fast and reached the wall in no time.
Razor sharp, hook like talons on each hand and foot allowed her to easily scale the brick wall, although it would take some getting used to. Unfortunately she didn’t have time, as the six superhumans from the butcher shop had managed to track her down.
“Please don’t run away, we’re here to help you?” shouted the pink lady below.
“Jusssh go away!” she cried through her mutated mouth and continued climbing.
“Look out!” one of them cried.
She had been too distracted and hadn’t noticed the Shade melting out of the shadows below a nearby windowsill. One long tendril from the beast’s back ensnared her as she tried to scurry away, whilst another three held it to the wall. She cried in terror but there was nothing her roach form could do.
The feral, blonde man leapt upon the shade and began pummelling it. Instead of fighting back though, the creature ensnared him with two more tendrils, before pulling the three of them into the shadow it had come through.
The Crystal Palace
“Victor no!” Heather watched the screen in horror as the Shade drew Sabertooth and Tatiana through a shadow portal to god-knows-where. She instinctively leapt for her control station to teleport him back but immediately felt something sharp against her jugular.
“Don’t…” hissed Axel in her ear.
“Look Axel, we’re you’re friends. We’re here to help,” she tried to remain as calm as possible but it was difficult with a six inch piece of razor sharp crystal against your neck. Axel slowly pulled her away from the controls; on screen she could clearly see Blink’s desperate eyes as she frantically tried to work out what to do.
“You can’t bring them back here…it wants that,” he let her go, but there was no way she could reach the console with out getting stabbed.
“What wants that? What’s going on Axel?” This was driving her crazy; she couldn’t get any straight answers out of the man in this state. He needed psychiatric treatment.
Asher’s eyes glazed over once again, and he seemed to be looking beyond the room, to some far distant point. “You’re not who you think you are anymore, I’m sorry.”
“What…do you mean?”
“I changed you, all of you,” he gestured towards the exiles on screen, “It hurt me, it wanted to use me, and it did. I left untold destruction in my wake that I couldn’t prevent…and…and I spit your timelines…” he began frantically hitting himself in the head, tears welling in his eyes, “stupid, so stupid!”
Heather searched his mind for what the reality hopper meant. Did he mean the timelines of the realities he damaged? Somehow she didn’t think that was it.
Asher calmed himself down after a moment and stepped up to the console. Heather made a move to stop him but he extended his hand in warning. There were fates worse than getting stabbed, as he though as she remembered to poor Timebreaker.
He pressed various buttons at the controls for a few minutes before placing his hand on the screen and closing his eyes in concentration. A second later the scene changed from the Exiles to a cabin on a scenic tropical beach. What was he showing her?
A heavily pregnant woman stepped out onto the balcony and took in the view, a look of sheer contentedness on her features. Heather’s blood ran cold; it was her. To be clear it was an alternate version of her. But why would Asher show her this. A handsome, black haired man joined the other Heather and put his arms around her, stroking her pregnant belly. The man was James Hudson, Guardian of Alpha Flight, her husband.
Quickly her blood began to run cold; never before had she seen an alternate world where she was married to James. It always made her feel like her marriage was extra special. Slowly her eyes drifted down to the universe’s code number…her heart stopped. Earth #3470!
“That’s my world!” she screamed, “Some other Heather is on my world stealing my husband!”
What the hell was going on? This had to be a trick, some sort of fabrication by Asher to win her over. That or she was a Skrull, it’s always Skrulls. Axel seemed to read her mind, because he did something else to the controls, something Heather had never seen before. The image vanished, to be replaced by a three dimensional image of the multiverse. It zoomed in on earth #3470, particularly Heather Hudson, and revealed a glowing golden thread running from her. The thread seemed to weave and not everywhere throughout the house and along the beach before stretching out into the vastness of space between the universes.
“This is Heather’s timeline,” explained Asher, his face twitching. Heather had already figured it out, and tears were welling in her eyes.
The pregnant Heather’s timeline ran all the way back to the Crystal Palace where another timeline split off from it; hers. She clutched her throat in despair, trying to hold back the sobs. The day Axel Asher had crashed into the Crystal Palace it had split all the Exiles timelines. In one timeline, he never struck the Palace, the Exiles went on with their mission and apparently she had retired and gone home. In the other timeline, Axel stuck the palace, alerting the Exiles to the massive damage caused to the multiverse.
Timelines split all the time. Normally they’re no problem at all, as an entire new universe is born, but when you’re outside your own universe things get bad. The terrible implications were only just starting to sink in; she could never go home. Although she hated the thought, that other Heather had just as much right to be with her husband as she did. It wasn’t fair! She wanted to kill Asher at that moment for taking her life away from her.
If Asher saw the despair and the rage in her yes he didn’t show it, “It used me…the Monolith will use us all,”
Finally they were getting somewhere! The name was enough to momentarily distract her from the crushing news she had just received.
“Axel, what’s the Monolith?”
“It wants to destroy everything…it whispers to me all the time,” he covered his ears and cried, “shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!” He dropped to his knees and sobbed, “You can’t bring them back here. Every time you do it draws it closer to us.”
“Axel, please, we can’t leave my friends on that world…”
“I said no!” The man jumped to his feet, his eyes red with tears and his face an unrecognisable mask of terror and madness. Heather unconsciously took a step back but it was too late, she had pushed Asher too far. Energy tingled throughout her body in a strangely familiar sensation. Oh God, he was teleporting her! But where?
She disappeared in a flash of light.