Laura stood out back of the burning ruins of the DIY Barn, knocking the few remaining Barnling minions about. It was unrewarding work. She didn't quite understand Vicilancers bylaws, but she was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to use her superpowers on basic thugs. Her isotopic skin meant that none of the Barnlings could hurt her, but taking them down one by one with basic judo was time consuming. She half hoped that the Barn would set a ninja or a war robot on her, but so far no joy.
At least her future self seemed to have vanished. Honestly, this didn't bother her. The woman's deliberate mysteriousness had bothered her from the start. Laura didn't even know why she was still hanging around in the present. She'd given her warning of the future. For all the good it had done.
A black-gloved hand waved her over from near the burning Barn. Was it a ninja? No such luck! It was just the Phantasm. Through the smoke, Laura saw that Nalda and Fanaka were supporting the injured Professor Devistato, while Christian seemed to be leaning quite heavily on the Phantasm, even though he seemed fine.
"Angela?" Laura said. She'd already witnessed the death of Angela with her electro-vision, but she understood the importance of setting up the emotional reveal.
The Phantasm shook her head. "She's gone. So's Sadie."
Laura considered crossing herself. As an agnostic, she decided that this might be a step too far, even in the service of drama.
"Well, that's the Barn blown up," Devistato said through gritted teeth. "One day you really must tell me why we destroyed it. Right now, though, you need to get me back to my own time."
Nalda sneered at him, and looked like she was about to drop him to the ground, but she calmed down when Fanaka piped up. "We'll need the glass skull for that."
"That wasn't your skull," Christian muttered.
"Yes, well," Fanaka muttered. "Such is life. Anyway, the skull is currently wired into a super-weapon of my own devising. I don't suppose we'll need the weapon now, so we'll just unclip the skull and… hm… speed of light… Earth's gravity… Moon in Capricorn… Carry the one… Yes, I think I can get our villainous friend here back to the past."
"Who has the weapon now, Fanaka?" Laura said, having apparently been the only one present to catch the part about unattended superweapons.
"Oh, it was too dangerous for anyone to use if they didn't have an advanced degree in hyperbolic topography," Fanaka said, adjusting the brass gears on his circlet.
"So you gave left it with someone who understands science?" Laura said
"No, no," Fanaka said with a condescending look. "Someone with a scientific background might – wrongly – feel competent to use it. So I left the keys in the hand of the least scientifically qualified person in the Pavilion -- Marlon."
There was a moment's uncomfortable silence.
"Who thought he was going to say Belinda?" Christian asked.
Four hands went up.
"Who almost shit themselves because he was going to say Belinda?" Christian asked.
"So we can trust this Marlon?" Devistato said, rolling his eyes.
"He ist reliable," Nalda said.
"Good," Devistato said. "Because—"
Devistato never finished his sentence. A bullet hole appeared in his forehead, smack between his eyes. Before anyone could react several more holes appeared in his face and neck. His body suddenly a dead weight, Fanaka and Nalda dropped him.
He should have slid right to the floor, but instead his body fell -- slowly, slowly, barely moving. Everything was barely moving. The people. The smoke from the Barn. Laura looked in horror as he whole world slowed to a halt.
Her future self flashed into being, floating in the air above Devistato's body. "The futures! They're here! They're coming! You have to stop the Brownie!"
The sky above Laura distorted, writhed, split. To the east, the skies were black with smoke, as of a million factories running at once. To the west, the clouds were like blood and filled like men with the wings of bats. Through the middle ran a crack, and there was nothing on the other side but endless void and an eye the size of a continent.
The skull. It had to be the skull. An item of vast, unimaginable power. What else could be causing this? Laura's superheroic reflexes leapt into action. The skull had to be shut down. Nothing else mattered.
She tried to fly, but there was something weird about the gravity, so she ran instead. Sprinting across the tarmac, she dodged burning pallets and unconscious Barnlings. The air was thick and warm as soup. Then somehow, somehow, she was in a shell crater, and it wasn't just the Barn that was burning but all of South Hertling. The sky was whole at least, though full of poison smoke. Everywhere were humanoid robots, like waking nightmares in chrome.
"Great. Now come the killer robots," she muttered.
What was happening? The futures, her future self had said. Was the timeline splitting? What was going on?
The robots were tough, but they were not expecting a superhuman. Laura knocked them about like tin soldiers with her isotopic ray-hands. But there were so many of them. How long before they overwhelmed her?
It turned out to be a moot point. In a blink of an eye, the robots were gone. The sky above was no longer foul with smoke. It was blue -- from what Laura could see of it between the skyscrapers. Cars like wheelless 1950's Cadillacs hovered up and down Wellington Road and people in one-piece jumpsuits strolled about in the morning air. Laura barely had time to take this in before the skyscrapers changed shape and the road was filled with huge armoured vehicles, hammering each other with massive machine guns while pedestrians watched with polite interest.
"All the futures," Laura said. The monster cars were gone, the buildings were small and grimy. A 1970s Mazda passed slowly down the street, drawn by a donkey. Future Laura had shown lies to her. The terrible fate that she'd demonstrated had only been one possible future. Why had she lied?
It didn't matter. What mattered was finding the Fanaka's superweapon and shutting it down. It couldn't be far. She remembered Fanaka saying that the skull couldn't be taken from the Super Centre. That's where she had to go.
She had to block it all out. Block it out and run… No. That wouldn't work. What she needed to do was wait. Wait for a gap… she watched zombie apocalypses and reborn forests and alien invasions and there! The ultimate goal of Australian life -- a future that wasn't all that different to the present.
Laura didn’t know how long this reality would last, but she raced across Wellington Road, dodging traffic. It was an ordinary day in this future, with no huge hardware battle going on. As Laura smashed down the fence of the Super Centre and there by the Centre water mains was the superweapon, looking a lot like a bathroom and a bunch of PVC piping. It was being operated by a little man in a black waistcoat, knickerbockers and pointy shoes. Laura knocked him away from the contraption, and he fell beneath a planter full of agapanthus.
Deactivate the device… No time. Just smash the bloody thing! Laura summoned all her isotopic strength and drove her fist into the machine. Frankly, this was overkill. The flimsy contraption folded like a card house, spilling the skull onto the ground.
Panting, Laura looked up. The world was as it had been. Police sirens were approaching, the DIY Barn still burned and blood was running in Wellington road. But at least the world was as it had been, and whatever future was coming was the one that people made. Unconsciously, Laura struck a heroic pose. The world was safe again!
The ground began to rumble. The DIY Barn seemed to rise, distort, fall apart. Something was rising from the ground beneath it. Something white and smooth. It gleamed like polished marble. Laura watched in horror as it rose. The burning remains of the Barn spilled down its smooth sides, but left no trace of behind of dust or ash. Other buildings within the Mega Centre tilted, wobbled, collapsed as the thing rose.
The fighting in the street stopped. Every eye was turned towards the massive white pyramid that stood where the Barn had been. At its top was a vast golden capstone, decorated with the image of a closed eye. Laura's heart ran cold as the eye opened.
Laura felt a presence, of someone standing close to her. She looked, and there was Stavros from the kebab shop, munching on a yeeros. He gestured at the pyramid with his free hand.
"Good, ay?" he said.