Finest Hour, Part Fifteen: Lost Dreams

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(December 10th)

“Timebender, do you have Ecchs? We need you down here now.” Hazard's voice came over the comm. “Lucy self-destructed and hit the narrative engine. Eclipse and Mayhem are out of commission. I'm trying to slow down the collapse, but I don't really know what I'm doing…”

Timebender wheeled towards Ecchs, who had taken two steps backwards and was biting his lip. “Crap, I thought I had more time…” He muttered. He looked over to the flinty gazes of the Patchwork Champions, and smiled weakly. “My bad?”

Ada shook her head. “You knew she was unstable?” She said softly.

“Little bit.” Ecchs shrugged. “It was sort of a last-ditch plan to force them to let us go if everything fell apart, actually. Triggered a little early, but probably just as well” He looked over to the Champions, and tapped his wrist, letting his . “So, uh… let's get moving, and we can discuss terms on the way.”

Timebender raised an eyebrow. “Terms?” She said. “If you don't fix this now, you and Ada are going to die along with us. So there's your terms. I don't kill you for everything you've done, and you fix this right away.” She looked to Nightshade. “I'm going ahead to slow the machine down. Don't let him leave.”

“Alright, fine. Let's get moving.” Ecchs looked over to Ada as the group started into motion, Timebender blurring away as Handyman and Lucky fell in on either side of the two supervillains. “Looks like we're out of cards. I'm sorry, Ada.” He said with a sigh.

“We almost made it.” Ada reassured him. “Can you stop this?”

“I don't… exactly know.” Ecchs admitted. Behind him, Handyman made a choking sound, and he sighed. “As if that's a surprise!” He snapped. “Where the hell is Phil?”

“Unconscious.” Nightshade muttered quietly, staggering behind the group. “Just you two left.”

“Damn.” Ecchs shook his head, turning down a side corridor and taking the stairs two at a time. “Looks like we're seriously outnumbered. Maybe Lucy didn't miss her mark after all.” He sighed. “I'm going to miss that girl.”

“You're completely insane, you know that?” Handyman said.

“I've heard rumours.” Walking through the door, Ecchs triggered his comm. “Hello the lab. What exactly is the damage?”

“Cascade failure across Sectors Delta, Phi, and Gamma.” Hazard replied tersely. “Timebender's straining to hold the entire thing steady in time, but we've got about two minutes left on the clock.”

“Phi.” Ecchs bit his lip.

“You've actually done it, haven't you?” Lucky said quietly. “Everything that you had, and you've gone ahead and destroyed the universe.”

“Um…” Ecchs considered. “It's a possibility. We're lucky, though. Between you, Hazard, and Timebender, I might still be able to put this thing back together. Biggest stakes yet.”

“You don't seem very gleeful.” Handyman said. Ecchs glanced sideways at Ada, who was watching him with a worried expression.

“This may surprise you, but I didn't actually intend to go down with the ship.” Ecchs said back.

“I'll try not to cry for you.” Jhim said, stone-faced. Ecchs glanced away.

“Here we are.” He said shortly, breaking into a jog as they reached the quiet lab holding the damaged narrative engine. The room was dark and smoke-filled, lit by the glow of slowly arcing bursts of green energy. He rushed over to Hazard. “Status?”

“One minute, forty seconds.” Hazard said. He looked over to Timebender, who was in a frozen tableau at the engine. “Then it all goes wrong.”

“Alright, we might be able to fix this.” Ecchs was studying the damaged circuitry closely. “If I can track the changes made to the machine, and install the proper workarounds, the narrative loop the machine is running will become self-sufficient, and it won't need the engine anymore. We'll have to basically revise the entire narrative loop into supporting natural laws instead of causing narrative ones, neutralizing it completely.”

“That doesn't sound so bad.” Lucky said. “What's the catch?”

“The catch is, we won't know if it works until the machine blows up.” Ecchs looked strained. “And it's really kind of fifty-fifty.” He looked back at the group, to find them glaring at him. “And I don't like those odds.” He added.

“You don't have much of a choice.” Nightshade said grimly, still barely on her feet from Phil's toxins. “We all die here if we screw up.”

“Not quite.” Ecchs smiled sadly, tapping his wrist. His forcefield exploded to life around him, and he looked around the group. “When I said I was out of cards… that was a lie.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out a small grey device. “This is the dimensional traveller that Phil used to get here. I never managed to fix the navigator, but I didn't need to. With this, one person could simply… leave reality. Find another world, set up shop there.”

“Ecchs, you bastard.” Lucky said. “How could you?” Beside him, Handyman pulled out his lasers, studying Ecchs' forcefield with bleak concern.

“Like I said, these are not good odds.” Ecchs shrugged. “And truth be told, I don't like having stakes in the fight. It takes all of the fun out of it when something you care about is on the line.” He raised the traveller, and looked over to Ada with a haunted expression. “I'm sorry, Ada.” He said softly. “It only works for one person.”

Ada swallowed. “I understand, Spencer.” She whispered. “I love you.”

“I love you too. Goodbye.” Spencer lowered the device, and pressed the button. There was a flash of blinding white light.

“ECCHS!” Handyman roared, starting forwards against the light. He winced, covering his face, and his eyes widened as the light faded.

Ecchs was standing exactly where he had been. For a moment, the others stared at him in confusion, and the Lucky spun to look at the spot where Ada had been standing. The spot that was now empty.

Ecchs dropped the traveller to the ground. “There.” He said bluntly, turning to the machine. “No more stakes. Let's fix this planet.”

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