Short Story: Paradox Play

Part One – The Pitch

I walk through the devastated city streets. I pass by places that I loved, now tumbled into ruin. Across the street is a coffee shop where I used to read when I wasn’t trying to carve a place for myself in this world. Down the block is a movie theater where I used to spend way too much time and money for two hours of entertainment. What can I say? I was a sucker for popcorn and Milk Duds. I continue walking, searching for another living thing and failing, just like he did.

Today, my pilgrimage takes me to his statue. He stands over me, smiling confidently in the face of this destruction. They believed in him, the Guardian. They thought he could save them but when push came to shove and it was time to make the hard choice, he failed just like I knew he would. The fools built a monument to him. They even added a golden plaque that read: He was the best of us.

I let the rage take hold and feel the power build up, begging for release. I grant its wish. My fist slams into the statue like it did to Guardian all those years ago. The statue explodes with a violence that surprises me. It had been a long time since I last used my power for anything destructive. Shrapnel from the blast shred my already torn clothing but none of it damages me. The already ruined buildings and wrecked cars around me fare much worse.

“I hate you.”

No one can hear my words. This city and everything in it is dead. I’m wasting my time here. There are other cities to check for survivors. Maybe there’s someone else alive, someone I can help.

“You won’t find anyone but me.”

The whispered words are almost lost to the wind. It seems I was wrong about being alone. I never met the man confronting me but I know who he is. He floats inches off of the ground. His dark clothing, trench coat and hat add an air of mystery to him. His name is Whisper and like everything I’ve heard about him, he reminds me of someone who knows too many secrets yet he is unwilling or unable to share them. Only a few whispered words are ever heard but only if you listen carefully. Well, I’m in no mood for his brand of mystic mumbo jumbo. I want to destroy something. He’ll do.

My blow is hard enough to break bones. It doesn’t even knock Whisper’s hat off. He just floats there, not moving as if he has all the time in the world. I’m about to swing at him again when I realized the stupidity of this. I might be attacking the only other living soul on the planet. My anger drains away but not completely. It’s now focused where it belongs, at myself.

“What do you want?” I ask, turning my back on the mystic.

“I’m here to set things right.”

“How? Are you just going to wiggle your fingers and make sure this never happened?”

“If it were that easy, I wouldn’t need you.”

From his tome, I get the impression that he would be happier fighting me instead of talking. I really couldn’t blame him after all that I’ve done.

“Guardian was the key. If you hadn’t killed him, this would have all gone differently.”

“You don’t know that.”

And now he laughs. It is a cold hollow sound that mocks me. It’s as if he knows exactly how things would have gone if Guardian had lived. “I know more than I can share with you but all you need to know is that there is way to prevent all of this from happening.”

“How?”

“I can send you back in time so that you won’t repeat your mistake.”

It’s nonsense, a fool’s dream. I’m not going to get my hopes up. “You can’t change the past not without creating some kind of paradox.”

“True,” he said. “You would have to deal with the resulting difficulties that will arise from avoiding all of this.”

From the way he says it, he might have well added “unless you’re not man enough.” I resist the urge to attack him again. It might be a psychological ploy on his part. It doesn’t matter. I can’t pass this opportunity up. I have to do it.

“Me doing this won’t change anything. I’m not going to be the guy in the white hat saving the day.”

“That’s what I’m counting on,” he said. “Prepare yourself.”

Is that a joke? How do you prepare for the unknown? Without knowing what to expect, there isn’t anything to do except wait impatiently. Glowing symbols form in the air around me and for the first time in years, I feel pain. It rips through me, tearing me apart molecule by molecule and for a moment, I think this is a trick. It doesn’t matter. I deserve this and more for what I’ve done.

“Good luck,” Whisper said and then I was gone.

 ***

 I open my eyes wondering what the hell just happened. I am standing in my command center. The monitors are filled with news and information from around the world. A printer spits out an article that might interest me. I wonder if I dreamed the whole apocalyptic scenario then I look down at my clothes. They are still torn and barely hanging on me, reeking of desolation. This isn’t a dream. Further proof comes in the form of a wave of energy slamming into me.

It would have destroyed anyone else but the force is enough to punch me through several walls of my headquarters. I look at my attacker as he charges towards me. No, this is a nightmare. I’ve been sent back in time but I already exist here. The paradox I have to deal with is myself.

 

Part Two – The Catch

Time Travel. No wonder everyone I know speaks so highly of it. It sucks the big time. I’m barely on my feet again when my past self puts me back down again. So far I’ve managed to avoid his attempts at hand to hand combat. By keeping things at range, I thought it would be easier to reason with him. I was wrong.

After my fifth attempt to talk to him and the fifth power blast, I give up. All I’m doing is taking punishment. Even if he took the time to listen to me, he probably wouldn’t believe what I have to say. Why would he? I wouldn’t believe it in his place. How do you tell someone that you’ve traveled back in time to stop them from killing the man they hate most in the world. This is the kind of mind game one of my enemies might play, not the self-proclaimed heroes but other like minded individuals who see me as a competitor that needs to be eliminated.

I avoid his mad rush which takes out another room in my, our fortress. It’s time to move this fight elsewhere. If we continue to duke it out here, there won’t be a fortress left when we’re done. More importantly, I need to figure out what to do next and I can’t do that with someone trying to atomize me. I go on the offensive, hurling a piece of wreckage at him. It slams into him knocking him down. I’m not stupid enough to think it will stop him. It wouldn’t stop me but it will slow him down.

I fly through the bulkhead and into the sky. The mountain air is clean and crisp. It’s taste makes me want to go back. This worth fighting for. Instead, I put as much distance between me and him. I try to recall everything I’ve heard about time travel whether it was from a so-called expert or something I saw in a movie or read in a book. None of it helps. Almost all the data says this shouldn’t be possible. We shouldn’t be able to exist together. Actually, that’s not entirely true. We can’t be in the exact same place at the exact same time. That’s the other reason why I’ve avoided grappling with him. I don’t know what will happen.

What was that Whisper’s plan? Did he send me here to kill myself? If that was his plan, the guy has stones. I’ll give him that then I’ll ram my fist down his throat. I didn’t see how annihilating myself would resolve the paradox. It would just create a new one. I need a plan and fast.

All too soon, I hear the rush of wind behind me. My past has caught up with me in more ways than one. He’s brought some artillery with him. I usually don’t worry about guns. This is an exception to that rule. I dodge and weave, taking evasive action. A beam of darkness flashes past me, tearing apart everything in it’s way. I should have destroyed that thing instead of keeping it as a souvenir.

There was so much to learn from it. Whoever built it knew more about my powers and weaknesses than I did. The assassin wielding it didn’t have any answers when I questioned him. I was a little overzealous at the time. Pain and anger had blinded me. I just wanted him to suffer. I still don’t know who sent him or where he got the weapon from. It was thing to use against me. I would have done the same thing if I thought I was facing a clone of myself or someone who had the same powers and weaknesses as me.

I have to silence that gun before it silences me. I turn at the exact wrong moment. The beam cuts a jagged path through my stomach and out the other side. The pain and effort to hold my molecules together send me plummeting out of the sky. It looks like this is it.

I think of a cartoon I saw growing up when I dreamed of being something other than what I am today. Whenever the hero was in a dire predicament, the announcer would say “Tune in next time for another thrilling adventure.” The villain always met an untimely end the next episode. I’m not looking forward to that.

 

Author’s Commentary: This is the first two parts of a three part story that I had written as a pitch for a comic book featuring a supervillain who is sent back in time to avert an apocalypse he helped bring about. The comic would explore what might happen when a villain is given a second chances and what he chooses to do with it. Will he repeat the same mistakes he made the first time around or will he make new ones? Maybe the unexpected might happen and he will learn from his mistakes.

Let me know what you think about it and forgive any grammar / punctuation errors. I originally wrote this out panel by panel in comic book form for a proposal I never sent to Dark Horse comics. Unfortunately, the third part of this story is MIA. When my computed died in November, the last part of this story was a casualty. If I ever find it or rewrite it, I’ll be sure to post it. And yes, this does suck.

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