Night was falling as Laura Cho arrived for night duty at the Handy Pavilion. A sad paper sign on the main door assured customers that the Pavilion was still open in spite of the damage. So sad was it, it almost brought a tear to Laura's eye. It had been a terrible day, Valentine's Day. The Pavilion had been dealt its greatest blow, and without the DIY Barn even making a move.
Laura had been away on the day of that the mushroom men had gone wild. She'd been visiting Karl Wintergreen and poor dear Carlos in the hospital. She'd hoped that Carlos would have noticed her decision to visit on Valentine's day, but he was still… not cold, perhaps. But distant. Very distant.
She'd had to come clean to him about her secret identity as the superhero Voyager. What had happened to Carlos made no sense otherwise, and it was not fair to leave him in ignorance. The simple fact was, he'd tried to save her by shoving her out of harm's way, and succeeded only in breaking a total of eight bones against her invulnerable body.
She'd had to explain this to him. Of course she had.And he'd been distant ever since. Perhaps he was still processing it. Then again, perhaps he felt threatened. Aquatic Woman had warned her that this could happen. It was hard to say yet what the deal was.
Now she stood in front of this sign, this sad little sign… It made her want to fly right to the Barn, punch her way through the wall and destroy everything in sight. But that would be wrong. A misuse of power…
(But what was the point? What was the point of being a super hero if you couldn't defeat evil people? Was it all foiling alien gorillas and comical secret identity mix ups? Was it never anything real?)
She shook her head. Bruce was parked nearby. He'd be waking up about now, what with the sun setting. Laura didn't know him well, but she needed someone to talk to so she wandered over and let herself in the cab. The door lock clicked open at her touch.
"Laura." Bruce's voice sounded tinny coming through the car speakers. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Bruce was a ghost. Well, he had been a ghost. Now he was possessing the body of a killer robot which he'd somehow transformed into a truck… What the Hell was up with this place?
"Oh, it's young Laura," Bruce said. "I thought youse was that older version of you from the future."
Seriously, what was up with the place? Her older doppelgänger seemed to know, but that enigmatic pain in the arse never seemed to want to say.
"Does she talk to you a lot?"
"Yeah, fair bit. No offense, but she said not to repeat anything to you that she said. She said 'time paradoxes' and I said 'what's time paradoxes' and she showed me that movie Predestination and it gave me a headache, so I reckon I won't…"
"You're on night watch every night," Laura butted in. "You see everything that goes on here in the carpark?"
"That's right. Those DIY Barn arseholes run surveillance every night. They don't come too close, but. I think they want to see how near they can get before we react."
Laura shook her head. "This is so stupid. Ms Shan's finally accepted there's a war on, but she's waiting for them to attack first."
"Ms Shan's a hardware shop manager, love," Bruce said. "But she's also someone I wouldn't cross on a bet. When she's ready to move, I wouldn't want to be the Barn for love nor money."
"They still have Christian captive. She should organise a rescue."
"How do you know she hasn't?"
It must be so easy for Bruce to be optimistic. After all, for him the worst had already happened. She checked her watch, and saw it was time to get a move on. "Karl Wintergreen says hi. Oh, and he also said some shit about the Masons. But mostly, hi."
She left the cab. It had been an unsatisfying conversation and an unsatisfying shift was ahead of her. Perhaps it was the waiting that was getting to her. All this circling, looking for an opening. If only the battle would begin, then at least—
Laura felt a presence behind her. She spun on the spot ready to break arm of whoever had been sneaking up on her. It was a good thing the newcomer was not attacking, because for a second Laura was too shocked even to punch him.
"Buck!" she said.
"Ma'am," Buck Dusty said, touching the brim of his Stetson hat. He no longer wore the false colours of his Handy Pavilion shirt, instead wearing an old fashioned black suit under a long grey duster.
"You betrayed us! Sold us out to the Barn. What did you do with Christian?"
"Christian ain't happy, but he's perfectly safe," Buck said. "Pro'lly safer where he is then in there with the fungus monsters and air raids and whatnot. 'Sides, I don't work for the DIY Barn. Not directly."
There was a whirring noise beside her as Bruce transformed into an robot. A robot that looked like it need a shave, but a killer robot nonetheless. Bruce pointed at an enormous ray gun attached to his back. "I know killing people is against the rules for your sort, Laura," he said his voice booming from massive speakers, "but I'm a killer robot. I can blow his head off before you can say 'crush-kill-destroy.'"
Buck hitched up his duster to reveal the six-shooter holstered at his him. "Reckon you're fast?"
"All right, cut it out you two," Laura shouted. "I don't have time for idiot posturing. Dusty, say your peace and get lost."
"Very well, ma'am," Dusty said, unhitching his coat. "What you need to understand is that the DIY Barn ain't 'zackly what it seems."
"No, it's run by Nazis," Laura said. "I already figured that out."
"It is controlled by members of an ee-lete Nazi science institution who fled to South America after the war. But there's more to it than that. The Barn is in some ways a suburban big-box hardware store. On another level, it's an intrusion into our dimension of one of the Three Barns. As I say, I don't serve the DIY Barn. I serve the Grey Barn."
"That's the most I ever heard you say at one time," Bruce said.
"So you're the Grey Barn," Laura said, ignoring Bruce. "That makes the other two the White and Black Barns, right?"
"You ain't thinking multidimensionally. Your vision is too narrow. Predictable. The world's bigger'n you imagine. Your petty imaginin's can't barely the majesty of the eternal cosmos.
"Fine! What are they called?"
"The DIY Barn is an aspect of… the Barn of Shadows."
Laura looked at Bruce. Bruce looked at Laura.
"But not the Black Barn?" Bruce said. "Because that's pretty similar to the Barn of Shadows, if you ask me."
"What's the other Barn called? The Barn of Light?" Laura said.
"Yeah, because if it was, you could just about call 'em the Black Barn and the White Barn."
Buck Dusty took a deep breath. "Well, as it happens, the other Barn is called the Barn 18n=cos*rabbit. So why don't you both sit quiet a spell and listen, and maybe you'll learn something?"