Finest Hour, Part Sixteen: Final Moments

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(December 27th)


“I can't believe you did that.” Handyman muttered, arm-deep in cables. He pulled out a length of duct tape, quickly wrapping two cables together. “Synch ratio?”

“7.4.” Doctor Ecchs tapped out a quick series of keys, and then paused to look over at his enemy, raising an eyebrow. “And you can't? Really?”

“It sort of worries me, personally. I mean, you aren't confidant enough that we're going to live to keep your girlfriend around?” Lucky asked. He was sitting next to Timebender, looking faintly worried. “We're losing the entire sub-magical array, incidentally.”

“Damn it.” Ecchs quickly shifted direction. “I am so glad you're still connected to the narrative array. How are we holding up, Timebender?”

“Not… well…” Timebender grunted, her arms splayed out in front of the narrative engine's core as she focused her powers on slowing time around it to a crawl. A spiderweb of cracks was slowly etching its way through the device's surface. A spray of green energy expanded out, and she sidestepped as it cracked past her screen and exploded into a flash of light. “It's pretty much… gone critical. You've got until I pass out.”

“Awesome. Handyman, how are the inhibitor cables?” Ecchs said.

“Scorched, but… give me a moment… yep, they can handle a reroute.”

“Good.” Ecchs began transfering power, and looked over to Lucky. “Keep Ada around? For what? Take a look around, count my minions still in play.”

Lucky looked over to where Nightshade and Phil were sitting, the two somewhere between leaning on each other for support and watching each other for signs of trouble. “I see your point.” He allowed.

“Even if we don't all die in a minute or two, any of my people who are still alive are heading straight for life imprisonment – and that's if we don't get executed.” Ecchs shrugged. “Ada's safer where she is.”

“And where is that?” Hazard asked. He'd wired his suit through the rear capacitors, and was now sitting immobile as energy crackled across its surface.

“None of your damned business, that's where.” Ecchs said bluntly.

In the back, Phil sighed heavily, wincing as he shifted his tendrils. “Thorry for poithoning you.” He muttered to Nightshade.

“You made a call.” Nightshade said. “I understand.”

“No hard feelingth?” Phil asked. “I feel jutht awful about all of thith.”

“Losing?” Nightshade asked.

“Well… yeth. But altho not being on your thide. It'th been a weird year.”

“Tell me about it.” Nightshade sighed. “How are we doing, Doc?”

Ecchs smiled faintly. “We're getting there. I'm running a bypass through the arc reactor now. Once I've redefined the 'clash of titans' sublaws, I should be able to…”

“Don't!” Lucky sat bolt upright. “Those laws are in use right now. They're tied into the Final Race.” He looked over at Ecchs, pale. “Narrative energy is helping Timebender hold this thing together. If you reverse it, the feedback will knock her out.”

Ecchs, his finger a half-inch from a button, held very still. “Right.” He said, wiping his brow. “Thank you. Very good to know. Jesus.” He looked down at the board in front of him, biting his lip. “That's a problem.”

“A problem you can solve?” Timebender asked, glancing over her shoulder.

“Sure, why not.” Ecchs muttered. “Alright, I'm going to try rerouting through the psychic interaction fields. It's a little trickier, but maybe we can do it. Handyman, I need all of Beta Sector cleared. Hazard, is your armour secured?”

“Yes…”

“Get out of it.” Ecchs crackled his knuckles. “And here we go…”

Hazard scrambled clear of his suit as green energy poured through it. Handyman threw tape liberally, using his laser to seal it as green light threatened to snap through a series of wires. “This is not working!” He yelled, sprinting over to the cables leading into Hazard's suit and taping the helmet tightly to the body. “This whole section is going to feed back in a minute!”

“Damn!” Ecchs shook his head. “The whole thing is shaking loose. We need a miracle.” He looked up abruptly, starting to grin. “Wait. I have it. One miracle, coming up. Lucky, get over here.”

“What?” Lucky ran over to Ecchs. “What do you want me to do?”

“Hit buttons.” Ecchs waved his hand at the board.

Lucky stared at him. “Which buttons?”

“Whatever.” Ecchs shrugged, dashing from the platform. “I'm going to reinforce the power couplings. Handyman, stay on that sector!”

“I don't know what these buttons do!” Lucky yelled. Behind him, the machine began to hum, its pitch rising. Timebender grunted as more beams of green began to spill around her field.

“Doesn't matter!” Ecchs looked back, grinning like a maniac, as he began liberally applying solder to his machine. “The whole narrative field is still linked to you, and the machine's going haywire. If the universe ends, buddy, so will you, and your powers won't let that happen!”

“My powers are gone!” Lucky yelled back.

Ecchs laughed. “No, they were just in use elsewhere! Trust me!”

Lucky winced, biting his lip. “If we ever needed a lucky break, it's now.” He said softly. Closing his eyes, he started hitting buttons.

Timebender shouted. “I can't keep it closed down anymore! The reaction's speeding up too fast for my powers to slow it…”

The world dissolved into green and white

collapsing and flowing, stories crashing and ending

“There are always more stories.”

and reformed.

“I didn't quite catch that, Lucky.” Amber said faintly, lying on her back and staring up at the sky.

“There are always more stories.” Lucky said, levering himself to a sitting position. The top half of Malefico was gone. Above them, clouds floated over a blue sky.

“I'm not sure I follow.” Jhim pushed himself to his feet, sliding out from under the concrete rubble.

“The narrative engine was trying to end everything, because stories end. But Ecchs was right – I was still connected to it. So I reminded it of the most important thing about stories. When one ends, another one starts.” Lucky smiled crookedly. “We're good.”

“Oh, that's nice.” Amber looked around. After a moment, she found Doctor Ecchs lying under the ruins of his machine. “You're under arrest, now.”

“Yeah, I know.” Ecchs sighed, looking at his machine. “It doesn't matter. I did it. I built the first device capable of actually destroying the universe.” He smiled sadly. “One for the history books.”

“…Timebender! Respond! Timebender!” Blastwave's frantic voice filtered over their comms. “Are you there?!”

“We're here, Wave.” Timebender said with a smile. She turned, looking at her team as they picked their way out of the rubble, Nightshade and Hazard holding Phil, Lucky and Handyman searching Ecchs for any more surprise devices. “We did it.”

She looked out over the city. “World saved.”


Epilogue

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