“Put the spooky gun down, Dr. Specter,” Sophie said. “Nobody else needs to be turned into a ghost.”
“Call me,” Dr. Spector lurched around to face Sophie, “Doctor Spector.”
“Isn't that what I said?”
“You spelled it wrong.”
“Is it still homicide if the victim turns directly into a ghost?” Hunter accidentally said aloud.
“Well, I mean, they're still dead, right?” Sophie replied.
“I imagine it would be prosecuted like one,” Ian added.
“Would there be extra charges for causing a public haunting?” Hunter asked.
“I don’t think the justice system is prepared for this,” Sophie said in a mock lament, shaking her head.
“Hey, what did I miss?” Cheryl called running toward them. “I just got your message. Who’s this asshole?” she said into her coffee.
“Dr. Spector,” said Sophie.
“Doctor Specter,” he shouted.
“That's what I said.”
“Doctor Specter?” Cheryl looked askance.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Doctor Specter called to Cheryl.
“What's his thing?”
“He's got a gun that turns people into ghosts,” Sophie reported.
“So he has a gun?” Cheryl looked at Sophie, nonplussed. “Hunter can do maniac-with-a-gun in his pajamas. He does all the time. I was having a really nice chat. Her name was Maggie.”
“No, like no-shit ghosts,” Hunter said pointing to the withered, translucent wraiths that roamed the strip mall parking lot that.
“Dammit,” Cheryl sighed. “Brand new Starbucks and it's already haunted.”
Cheryl trotted to one of the ghosts, waving her hands in its face. “Are they dangerous?”
Cheryl tapped the end of its nose and passed through. It emitted a piercing howl.
“No, but that will get annoying.”
Several auto collisions were heard coming from nearby intersections. A howling, yelping buzz echoed down the corridors of the city street. The panicked ostinato was accompanied by the percussion of energy tearing through the air in bursts and cymbal crash explosions. Streams of citizens fled past the intersection down the sidewalk, breaking around those who were plodding along in summer footwear. As the crowd swelled, people began running atop the cars. Several energy bolts flew in and struck as many fleeing citizenry. A force of armored lizard people, armed with energy rifles and polearms, plowed into the crowd.
“Now, what’s this Conan shit?” Cheryl groaned.
“David Icke was fucking right,” Hunter gasped.
“Yeah, he was. Reverse Egon,” she called to Spector. “Be useful. Shoot some of those guys.
Spector turned around in a daze and spotted the lizards. His trance shattered and he ran.
“Great time to forget you have a ghost gun, Specter,” Cheryl yelled as he ran past.
The company of lizard people turned down their street and marched toward them. They turned to run, but the opposite intersection began to fill with reptilians as well. A company from this wave peeled off and began pinching them against the first. Sophie fired off a volley of arrows knocking down some in front. The other soldiers marched over them. Hunter dove forward and pierced the abdomen of a lizard as it raised its halbard. He sliced his sword free through its loins and it fell, hissing. On the up stroke he jabbed his sword over his shoulder and his blade into the cranium of a lizard approaching behind him and slashed another’s throat on the down beat.
“That was very fluid,” Cheryl said to Sophie.
“Graceful even,” Sophie replied.
“You look competent,” Cheryl called to Hunter. “Have you been taking lessons?”
“Yes,” he replied, gripping a cigarette in his teeth and hacking at more aliens.
“Is that why you went milk carton over the weekend?” Sophie asked, letting streaming arrows of light fly three at a time, striking three lizards between the eyes and passing through to take the one’s behind them. Hunter looked at Sophie impressed. She turn up her cuff revealing a Girl Scouts archery badge stitched to the inside.
“By the way, I don't blame you,” Cheryl added and stabbed a Draconian in the throat with her taser, sending him twitching to the ground. “I spent the weekend envying you.”
“It’s great story to tell while being surrounded by a angry reptile zoo.” Hunter skewered a few more. He deflected an energy pulse and it returned to its owner, scorching him. A fire caught in its hollowed out neck.
“I wish I was in Tijuana,” Sophie sang.
“Eating barbequed iguana,” Cheryl joined.
“I’d take requests on the telephone,” Hunter droned, backing away from the advancing front of the lizard army.
“I’m on a wavelength faraway,” Ian mumbled, shattering the mandibles of two attacking troops.
“Who says we can’t work as a team?” Sophie said.
“I will take requests though,” Hunter stammered. “I hope you learned something at the leadership retreat that would come in handy.”
“Nothing useful,” Ian replied.
“I wonder if this will work?” Sophie said, turning the handle of the mirror between her hands, the reflective surface spinning back and forth. “Duck.”
They all ducked and shards of light sprayed from the mirror, shredding the exposed scales and eyes of the soldiers. They were beaten aside by troops stomping into replace them. As the fresh wave trained their weapons on the gang, they were staggered by a sudden gust of wind that blew the litter and debris from the street in little eddies. With a dull pop, the lizards found themselves illuminated by powerful spotlights.
After the wind died down, Sophie lifted her head and saw Cheryl looking straight up, mesmerized and slack jawed. In her line of vision was the flat underside of a large vehicle hovering above them. Cheryl stood with her mouth agape, hands hanging limply by her sides.
“Soph. Fire in the Sky, Soph,” Cheryl wheezed. “This is some Whitney Schreiber shit, Soph.”
“I’m not sure they’re aliens,” she squinted at some lettering. “All the safety restrictions are in English.”
Cheryl grabbed Sophie by the shoulders, wildeyed. “Of course they speak our language. They’ve been monitoring Earth’s radio sphere for more than a century. It’s all been true. It’s all been true.”
The sound of steam escaping hissed from overhead and a seam formed in the smooth underside of the ship. A hatch opened, exposing the interior’s multicolored mood lighting.
“Is that a blacklight poster?” Sophie asked.
“Of Mingus,” Ian marveled.
A sleek, black leather clad version of a plague doctor appeared accompanied by a motocross pro in an helmet that looked like an owl's head, in black to match. They stepped to edge of the hatch and jumped down. The plague doctor landed by Cheryl and he handed her his empty can of beer. Cheryl’s enchantment was broken.
“You got stones, Dark Carnival of Venice,” Cheryl dropped the can.
The space ninjas walked out from under the ship and stood in front of the lizard men.
“I’d like to start the violence by saying,” the plague doctor said through a modulated voice. He unlatched the mask of his helmet and smoke billowed out. “The people who are about to cut you in little pieces,” he coughed, “Are high as balls. We underestimated this local shit.”
He flicked the still red joint and struck a lizardman between the eyes.
“The roach of that is gonna be good,” the owl woman said, voice also modulated.
The lizard soldiers opened fire on them. They each ignited crackling blades on both their wrists and entered the enclosing frey. The lizardmen on the other side began approaching Cheryl, Sophie, Hunter and Ian. They made efforts to appear ready for a fight.
“You want some of what they’re getting?” Cheryl’s voice cracked.
“Step aside, ridiculous monkey,” the lead lizard hissed. “Vendettas take precedent.”
Cheryl watched the lizards pass in silence.
“Good lord, I think Ellers is speechless,” Ian said.
“He just called you a ‘ridiculous monkey’, Cher,” Sophie chuckled and poked her on in the arm.
Cheryl spun around and looked at everyone, on the verge of tears, “I think I almost died.”
“I think we’re all there,” Ian gave an understanding nod.
“Miss Ellers?” a girl’s voice came from overhead.
Cheryl looked up and a young woman in something that might have been a lab coat and head gear spiked with apparatus that looked like it could be brought down over her eyes.
“Could you clear the area under the vessel, please? I’m setting it down.”
Cheryl took a deep breath, nodded and waved everybody back.
As the ship was settling, the black clad warriors were strolling back toward the others, leaving piles of bleeding lizard soldiers. The plague doctor stepped on the ship’s wing as it descended and rode it down. He walked toward Cheryl, dropped his head and looked at the can on the ground, then back to Cheryl.
“You don’t recycle in 2017?” his modulated voice said.
“Who the fuck are you?” Cheryl barked, charging toward him.
The ship settled and hissed. A seam formed on the side and another hatch opened. The girl emerged followed by Carl, filling the hatchway.
“Carl?” Cheryl asked, “How did you end up with S&M Jetsons and Mengele Barbie who looks like she’s about to cure cancer or perform a human vivisection? That’s a nice outfit, though. Fascist chic,” Cheryl looked the girl up and down.
The girl looked at what she was wearing and gasped. She brought up a series of holographic files on her tablet and rapidly scanned them. She stopped holding her breath and made a pained smile, “So glad you like it.”
“You’ll let me play with that, right?” Cheryl pointed to the tablet.
“Probably not a good idea, Miss Ellers,” she caught herself. “Sorry, Miss Alexander,” Holly leaned into Cheryl and whispered, “Code names in the field.”
“Did you tell these weirdos who we were?” she said to Carl.
“Nah, Cher,” Carl replied. “They just know somehow.”
“How do you know who I am?” Cheryl grabbed the beak of Wolf’s faceplate.
Wolf unfastened the side of the mask and swung it open. “Quit jerking my head around, Fanny, we’re on your side.”
Cheryl looked at Sophie who was resting her chin in her hand and had the other arm folded across her chest. Her eyes occupied a space of zen curiosity. They made eye contact and Sophie shrugged.
“This isn’t freaking you out?” Cheryl said to Sophie.
“They jumped out of a spaceship and kung fu fought like a hundred lizard people with buzzy, glowing knives that came out their sleeves. I’m just gonna roll with this.”
“High Priestess?” Holly said approaching Sophie, looking sheepish. “I’m Holly Jones. This is so weird. I’ve heard so many stories about you. I wanted to grow up to be just like you.”
“Oh,” Sophie chirped and gave Holly a confused grin. “Kay.”
“You’re also the only other family I’ve met besides my parents.”
Sophie rifled through a myriad of emotional states and expressions, finally settling on sudden endogenous DMT trip.
“HA,” Cheryl cackled and pointed at Sophie. “I knew this shit would get weird for you, eventually.”
“What Holly means to say, Grandma Sophie,” Wolf interjected.
“Pfft,” Cheryl snickered, “Grandma.”
Ian and Hunter giggled.
Sophie snapped her head to them, “E tu?”
“This,” Wolf waved his hands around his frame, “Is what your DNA eventually becomes in several generations. Then it gets fucked with by mad government scientists and combined with the DNA of someone who was also fucked with by the aforementioned scientists- my partner, Luna. And that put together makes Holly. You’re biggest fan. You’re how ever many fucking greats granddaughter. Speaking of biggest fans," Wolf spotted Ian and beelined for him. He grabbed his hand and shook heartily. “Piper, your record, 'Swingin’ at Bob and Barbara’s’, easily my top five. Have it in every format. Hunted that shit down on vinyl. Cost me the equivalent of three bounties. Luna was sooo pissed. Worth it.”
Ian looked at him askance, but nodded. “Thank...you.”
Wolf moved to Hunter and pointed, “You’re who I always wanted to be.”
“Dad, dial it back,” Holly said looking at her tablet.
“Right,” Wolf called over his shoulder, “I’m bootstrapping the shit out this, aren’t I?”
“Yup,” Luna replied.
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ian stepped toward Wolf. “As in the Bootstrap Paradox?”
“One and the same,” Holly replied.
Ian looked at Holly with his mouth hanging open.
“Yeah,” Holly said, “From the future. 2342.”
Bit by bit, Ian formed a dopey grin.
“Holy shit, you guys,” Cheryl said. “Roland is smiling.”
Holly looked at her device and made a sad face. “I guess I can live without that show. I’m forgetting it already.”
“I have to sit down,” Ian said dropping to his rear.
“Yeah, I bet smiling took a lot out of you,” Cheryl patted him on the head.
“Okay, old people,” Wolf bellowed. “Everybody in the The Starcrossed.”
“We’re not getting in there,” Cheryl protested. “We have to go back to our...secret...hide...out.”
“Yeah, whatever you’re calling a secret hideout,” Wolf said, “It’s shit.”
“You haven’t even seen it,” Cheryl murmured.
“I don’t even have to look at it. It’s dogshit. Probably full of vintage 21st century shit you can buy at a Spencer’s where I come from.”
Cheryl looked forlorn and mumbled, “Smells like shit too.”
“Okay, then. Let’s go for a ride,” Wolf slapped his hands together and clasped them.
“You expect us to get on board a strange space ship just because you jumped out and...and.”
“Saved your ass from a Draconian raiding party? You have trust issues, Fanny.”
“It’s called being careful.”
“Fair,” Luna interjected. “But we’re on the same side. Or if you’re not ready make that leap then... we at the least have a common enemy.”
“Yaldabaoth, The Demiurge.”
“I fucking knew it,” Sophie blurted.
“Knew what?” Cheryl asked Sophie. “Who the fuck is Yaldabaoth the Demiurge?”
“Short answer, a shit weasel,” Wolf said.
“He was a small time crook who took a hack idea and turned himself into the most dangerous person in the galaxy. He would visit pre-civilized worlds posing as a deity. Breeding his own legions of beings that would do anything for him. Even kill and die. Whole societies built for him.” Luna explained. “But for a long time he was just using that power to do the same stupid shit he was doing before, just on a grander scale, a galactic Don Corleone. Galactic Intelligence made his life difficult, but never really shut him down.”
“He’s also the puppet master behind Simon Vyx,” Wolf added.
“I knew that would get you interested. If Simon Vyx gets command of the most powerful army in the world so does Yalda. Then he’s got Earth in his hand and the Galactic Administration maybe never forms. That leaves the entire galaxy as his buffet.”
“It would be a crime ridden hell with him as the king,” Luna added.
“What happens, in 2016, in your timeline?” Ian asked.
“Bootstraps,” Wolf said. “Remember bootstraps.”
“Unacceptable,” Ian snapped. “If you’re going to ask us to go with you to deal with this Yaldabaoth, we deserve to know how this turned out in your time.”
“Vyx doesn’t win, Yalda doesn’t get his claws on the controls,” Wolf said. “That’s all we’re giving you.”
“I’m not going,” Ian stated.
“Hate to say this, but I’m with Roland,” Cheryl said.
“You defeat Simon Vyx,” Holly piped up, “You defeat Yaldabaoth. The Seraphim of Parthus come to take him into custody. Earth and Parthus begin a friendship that leads to the formation of the Galactic Administration. I don’t think I screwed too much up.”
They stood quiet, exchanging glances.
“They could have come up with something more impressive than ‘Galactic Administration’,” Cheryl mumbled. “If I come, I get to name it.”
“Would you get in the goddamn ship,” Wolf said.
“Wait,” Sophie yelped.
Wolf looked at her hard.
“Dr. Spector’s victims, we can't just leave them as ghosts.”
“Oh, they're just out of phase,” Holly set a box on the ground and turned it on.
One Led Zeppelin laser light show later, the ghosts returned to human form.
“People of Earth,” Holly began. “You were briefly out of phase with space. While unpleasant, it will leave no lasting harm. You may again roam freely in your accustomed dimensions.”
The former ghosts exchanged uncomfortable glances, surrounded by waist high piles of slaughtered Draconians and their sundry bits.
“Do you not have homes to go to?” Wolf said.
The restored citizens leaped into a trot and fled.
“Why does it play ‘Immigrant’s Song?” Ian asked Wolf.
“I had some design input.”
They began filing into the side hatch of The Starcrossed. They pierced through a curtain of beads and into a lounge area. Ian leafed through Wolf’s vinyl collection.
“Country Preacher,” Ian cried.
“Put it on,” Wolf clicked a button and a record turntable emerged from the wall.
Hunter crashed on a couch and Sophie sat beside him.
“Psamurai,” Wolf called across the lounge, lighting a joint, “Wanna try some space shit?”
“Fuck, man. I thought you’d never ask.”
Carl squashed himself into a corner, trying not to take up a fifth of the room.
As Cheryl passed through the curtain, Luna leaned into her, “It is pretty cool to meet you guys. Wolf always told Holly stories about the adventures of The High Priestess.”
Cheryl drew tight, but then softened into a smile, nodding, “That’s really great.”
“Look, just because we’re not telling you anything, doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to tell,” she put her hand on Cheryl’s shoulder. “Only thing I can tell you is, you and I are not related,” she grinned, waved and entered the cockpit.
“Are you flirting with people from the past?” Wolf asked, entering the cockpit, Adderley's ‘Humming’ flooding in behind him.
“Maybe,” Luna replied.
“I’m no expert on space-time or anything, but that screams ‘the line.’”
Luna laughed, “I’ll run it by Holly first.”
“You’ll traumatize the girl.”
Several hours later, Luna emerged from the cockpit to Carl lying prone counting the myriad Steal Your Face stickers on the ceiling, laughing. Hunter and Sophie were in hysterics listening to Cheryl and Ian discuss the possibility of engineering a device to pass the joint for them using only what was available on the table in front of them.
“Are we there yet?” Sophie shrieked through a wailing guffaw.
“It only takes a couple minutes to get there,” Luna replied, sitting. “We just thought you could use this.”
“Why did we ever go to a fucking teamwork retreat?” Cheryl exploded in laughter. “I was almost killed by a massage therapist. I’ve been doing that a lot lately,” she said through the sighing coda of her fit.
“A massage therapist?" Hunter snickered.
“You tell me your story Psammy, I’ll tell you mine.”
“Yeah, I wanna hear this,” Sophie resituated herself facing Hunter, “You’ve been different since then.”
“Yeah, like a little closer to lucid than normal,” Cheryl said.
“And competent,” Sophie added.
“Bart isolated the active ingredients and distilled a tincture.” He shook a vial of blue liquid which hung from a piece of twine around his neck. "It’s much clearer, now. As for the competence, after getting our asses handed to us for who knows how many times? By fish people....” Hunter began.
“Icthians?” Luna snapped forward and yelped.
“No. It’s this idiotic fish themed gang.”
“I’m doing my best to suppress the impulse to ask ‘how do you know,’ constantly,” Cheryl said.
“They’re on Vyx payroll. I don’t think I’ll anger Holly’s algorithm by telling you that. You’ll figure it out in a week or two anyway.”
“Kind of kills the sense of achievement,” Ian lamented.
“Son of a fuck,” Cheryl drew out the words. “The human tinkertoy is going down.”
“He was banking on you chasing a gang of exotic villains, because you need something to do, since Vyx seemed to be suddenly off the table. You would end up getting humiliated due to lack of experience, the public would start to turn on you and ultimately you’d just give up. Beat yourself silly against a brick wall he built for you. But, Yaldabaoth calls the shots. The Go Fish Gang only exist because Yalda wants it to. He’s stringing you along.”
“What’s he want with us?”
“He’s keeping you occupied so you don’t interfere with Vyx during the campaign. He threw a bone he thought you would chase.”
“And I did,” Cheryl sighed. “Sorry guys.”
“Nobody twisted my arm,” Ian said.
“She twisted mine once, but it was over something else,” Hunter said.
“Sorry, Hunter,” Cheryl said. “Sorry for a lot of stuff, guys.”
“She made me cry at the La Quinta,” Sophie said in mocking seriousness.
“Somebody ends up crying at a La Quinta, sooner or later,” Luna said with a faraway look.
“Why doesn’t he just kill us?” Ian asked.
“He’s got a fucked up code. Punishment fits how bad you pissed him off. And at this point in history you haven’t pissed him off that bad yet. We’re pretty sure there’s a reason he picked this turning point in time. Putting all the people who pissed him off the worst in one place. Just missing one. And I’m sure he’s on his way.”
“Raphael?” Sophie perked up out of her stoned slouch. “My ancestors wrote a lot about a guy named Raphael.”
“I guess he kept his distance. He probably doesn’t want to draw attention to you, but you can bet he’s looking out for you. Abigayle Rosenkreuz and her grandfather meant a lot to him. They helped him defeat Yalda in the 1400s. Which puts you on Yalda’s shit list. Sins of father and all. Or in this case, distant grandmother.”
“Who is Raphael?”
“He’s a seraph of Parthus. That’s a planet. And the seraphim are the dominant species. In my time he’s Director of Intelligence. I have no idea what his function is now.”
“How old is this guy?” Cheryl asked.
“Seraphim live so long they don’t bother counting age.”
“I have a guardian angel,” Sophie laughed.
“I guess, in a manner of speaking, but nix on ‘angel’. It’s kind of racist. Now, you all get some sleep. We have work to do. Anyone need a blanket?”