Delia adjusted the zipper on Alfred’s futuristic costume and stepped back to examine her handiwork. Honestly, the metallic material of the jumpsuit didn’t suit him, and it’s tight cut made him seem even shorter and chubbier than usual. Even so, she liked the look of him – Alfred, man of action at last.
“That future spacesuity thing really suits you, Delia,” Alfred said. Delia flattened the metallic material of her own jumpsuit. Honestly, he was right. She’d had the sense to have her sci-fi costume made in a cut more suitable to the stout and middle aged. But it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that finally
“You all ready?” Susan Hertling said. She’d eschewed the shiny jumpsuit look, retaining her usual mid-Victorian gown.
“Yes, we’re ready,” Alfred said, almost shaking with excitement.
“Ready for what?” Delia said.
“Oh, yeah, good question,” Alfred said. “I got so excited about capturing the Evil Bubble and getting into our future hero costumes. Why did you tell us to wear future hero costumes?”
“To keep you busy while I warmed up the engines,” Sarah said. “Delia could have helped, perhaps, but you’re a little too annoying, Alfred. Miss U gave me a hand, but.”
“We’re going somewhere, then?” Delia said.
“You’re going home,” Sarah said. “Once we get the signal.”
Alfred beamed from ear-to-ear. Delia looked out of the chintz-curtained spaceship window at the Suburb below. North Herting. Sarah smiled. “I think you have the plan. Return North Hertling to our dimension, reconnecting it with South Hertling and sealing the rift that makes the place such a cosmic disaster area. But that’s the long term plan. First we have to get you two and the Bubble back to South Hertling, before the war is lost. Once you’ve defeated the Pyramid, then maybe…”
“I’m sorry,” Alfred said. “Can I stop you there? Delia, we’re running into a battle that will probably be stupid but will certainly be dangerous. Either of us could die. So I have to ask: what’s your backstory?”
“My what?” Delia said.
“I guess that’s just a nerdy way of asking you about your past. Through the Watch, I may have untold power over Past and Future, but it’s the impersonal, sci-fi sort of Past and Future, and I’d like to know about your past in a more…”
“Is now really the best time for this?” Sarah asked.
“No, but it’s not the worst time either,” Alfred said.
Delia thought hard about her answer. No one ever asked about her past. People treated her more like a force of nature than a human being. Truth told, she rather liked it that way. But it was Alfred who was asking, so…
But then again, was now a good time to bring up Captain Pete?
“I’ll tell you later, Alfred,” she said.
Alfred nodded thoughtfully.
“You both finished?” Sarah snapped. “Okay, this room you’re in is the escape pod.”
“Really?” Alfred said, examining the oak paneling. “It’s very nice for…”
“The. Escape. Pod. As soon as we see the signal from our dimension, I’ll fire the pod through it.”
Delia raised an eyebrow. “Why can’t we take your entire spaceship through?”
“The gap will be too small. This time. The Bubble is in the emergency locker. Be careful. Your trip through the dimensional rift may break the time-lock you put on it. Good luck to both of you.”
With that, the young woman known as ‘U’ opened the room/escape pod door. “Are you coming Sarah?” she said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Sarah said. “Keep your pants on. For now.”
“Oh, sauce!” U winked and left, followed closely by Sarah.
“Well that was unexpected,” Alfred said.
“All the signs were there,” Delia lied.
They stood next to one another and looked out the window. Alfred put his arm around Delia’s waist. It slid off the sheer fabric over her hip, but the intention was there.
“When we get back—” Alfred began.
“Don’t,” Delia said. “You just asked for my past, and now you’re going to ask for my future. All I can say to both questions is, let’s fight this battle first.”
Alfred sighed. “I’m not really a fighter.”
“You’re not really a lover, either,” Delia said, “but you haven’t let that stop you.”
Through the window, beyond North Hertling Beach but before the uncomfortably non-existent horizon, Delia saw a flash of light. Moments later, a rocket came hurtling through a hole in nothing at all that Delia assumed was the dimensional rift. Near as she could tell, the projectile was the height of a man, and trailed what looked like insulated wire.
She took Alfred’s hand in her own. A mere moment later, they were accelerating towards the rift. Some internal science-fictional malarkey was keeping them from being squashed. It was actually rather exciting.
And then they were passing the rocket, and the next Delia knew they were travelling up a glowey space corridor deally, which was pretty damned trippy. And then they were back in normal space, in a slowly descending arc over the Earth. All the spaceship alarm things were sounding cacophonously as the ground rose up to meet them.
Whatever force had saved them from crushing earlier seemed to fail, and Delia was hurled across the pod. She must have blacked out for a moment, but when she awoke she saw that she’d been thrown clear of the burning wreck.
She staggered to her feet. The blazing pod had totalled a delivery truck. Looking back, she could see that it had bounced several time before coming to a stop, taking out two carpet shops and a minivan.
A hand grasped her arm. She turned, expecting to see Alfred. Instead, it was Gwen Harper. Gwen’s lips were moving, but Delia couldn’t hear a thing. It took a moment to realised that her ears were ringing too loudly.
“Where’s Alfred?” she said, knowing full well she’d couldn’t hear the answer.
Gwen pointed to the burning pod.