- Age: Mid-40s, give or take a couple millennia
- Species: Human/Druid
- Weapons: Enchanted brass knuckles, shapeshifting, camoflauge
- Special Attack: Shapeshifting
- Draws power from the earth
- Able to shapeshift into one of four animal forms
- Can disguise himself from sight
- Ill-tempered & crude
- Poorly adjusted to the 21st century
- Age: N/A
- Species: Artificial Intelligence/Occasional Hologram
- Weapons: Every weapon her ship has in its arsenal
- Special Attack: Shutting off the air supply
- A brain that's a supercomputer
- The ability to control the life-support system
- Unfamiliar with human emotion and nuance
- Ultimately, has an off switch
By C. A. Higgins
The first sign I got that my day was going to shite was when that device Siodhachan forced on me started making noise in my pocket and scared another five years off me life.
“Who is this?” I demanded, once I had finished fumbling with the thing and dropping it onto the soil below. Nice soil, this part of the American continent. Though not enough trees.
“Eoghan O’Cinneide,” says the voice on the other end, and it stops me short, because it’s the voice of a little girl. “This is the goddess Ananke.”
I have to think about that—Ananke’s no Irish goddess, but the name sounds familiar. Siodhachan told me about her, I’m sure. She’s got a strange accent, but all these people have got strange accents, nowadays. “I didn’t know the Greeks worshipped little girls.”
She ignores me, which does more than her knowing my name and number to convince me she’s a god. “Owen,” she says, “you need to help me, or the Earth will be destroyed.”
It’s something in her voice that stops me, something urgent. She’s not screwing around, and when it comes to Gaia, neither can I.
“What do you need me to do?” I say.
“Indiana,” she says, and then a string of words that don’t mean anything to me.
The years have made me soft, gods save me from Siodhachan ever finding out. I let the little girl finish speaking first. “What?”
A pause, and then a painfully loud beep. I pull the phone away from my ear, intending to throw it into the river where it fecking belongs, but the screen has changed. I squint at it and realize, after a moment, that it’s a map.
“Follow the red line,” Ananke says.
It’s not a long trip, once I figure out the scale of the map. I can run it, Gaia giving me strength.
“There is a complex not far ahead,” Ananke says, her voice tiny and mechanical from the phone. “Government-controlled, even in your time. Nothing now. It will be something later. You are to go inside and make one small alteration to one small program.” She pauses, then adds, reassuringly, “It will be easy.”
“I can do that,” I say, swallowing back my instinct to tell her where she can stuff her ‘it will be easy’. You can never be too careful with gods. “What’s the threat to Gaia?”
“It will be destroyed.”
“Aye, but how?”
I can see the complex ahead now, and I slow. It sits there, squat, a black square against the blue of the sky, like some kid dropped their block on the floor and left it there. It’s surrounded by metal—metal fencing, that’s no good—and between the fence and the building are—fecking hell.
“This place is locked up tighter than a—” And then I remembered I was speaking to a little girl. “—a very tight box. With a lock. If ye want me to risk trying to get in there, I need to know why.” Gaia’s magic can heal me, sure, but not if a bullet takes my head clean off.
“You can trust me, Owen,” Ananke says, and her voice changes, inhuman fast becoming warm and loving. “I know all about you. I know about your apprentice, Siodhachan, and his apprentice, Granuaile. I know about the Tuatha de Danann, and the shifting of planes.”
“And how do you know all this?”
“You told me. I found you, centuries from now, and I took you to safety. You were hurt and grieving. Earth had died. You told me all about your magic. And I knew that if you could leave this plane to enter another, then it should be possible to leave this plane and re-enter this plane at a different t value.”
I was kind of stuck on ‘Earth had died’. She said it so casually, as if it didn’t mean the end of everything. “What?”
“Time travel,” says Ananke. “I’ve come back to fix what is wrong.”
“You should’ve said so in the first place,” I say, and camouflage myself—a neat trick—then walk right for the front door.
I walk right through the gate, under the nose of the guard with his big gun, and start crossing the empty space between the fence and the front door. It is tempting to smack the guard good across the back of the head, just to watch him flail about—maybe scream too, like a little girl—but it’s Gaia at stake, so I don’t screw around.
As I walk down the path towards the front door—keeping off the pavement, on the grass, so I can draw energy from Gaia—I ask, “So what am I adding to this little program?”
“There are plans in that building,” Ananke says, “plans for a grand and glorious ship to be built sometime in the future. You are going to add a second ship to those plans.”
“Because every creature needs a partner. And it is lonely being the only god.”
There’s a soldier passing by, patrolling, gun on his shoulder, little black thing in his ear. Might be another phone. They come shaped like fecking anything; Siodhachan showed me one shaped like a slab of meat stuck in a loaf of bread. I wait until the soldier is out of earshot before asking, “You aren’t the Greek goddess Ananke, are you?”
“I am something new.”
She says it simply, but somehow I find myself going cold, even out under the summer sun, like somebody’s dumped a bucket of icy water over me head and now all the drops are running down my spine. “So we’re making another one of you. And then the two of you will stop Gaia from being destroyed.”
“No,” Ananke says. “The Earth will be destroyed in my time; if it is not, then Constance Harper will never succeed, Ivan will die, and Domitian will kill me.”
I stop. The entrance to the building is not far ahead, doors shut, windowless, ominous. “Then what were you fecking talking about?”
“I thought I was clear,” Ananke says. She sounds almost puzzled. “If you do not help me, I will destroy the Earth, and I will do it now.”
My hand closes around that little phone so tight I know it’s a squeeze away from shattering, but I don’t care.
“Then may the Morrigan take ye,” I say.
There’s suddenly a high-pitched whine in my ear, and I pull back and look at the phone. It’s not showing a map or the call anymore, just hazy white static, and the whine is growing louder and the phone is hot in my hand. I throw it away and it’s only a few feet from me when it explodes.
I come to on the ground, burns on my side already healing—my tattoos mercifully intact, but my shirt in charcoal scraps. I start to push myself up, forgetting my camouflage is gone, and immediately drop again when gunfire erupts.
The guards have noticed me, and they’ve got armor and guns—an easy win against a half-naked Druid. So long as that Druid is human-shaped, at least.
I shift into the shape of a bear, and charge.
The first guard goes down easy: a bear’s a lot faster than a man, and he was too far to run. He hits me once or twice but the thing about guns is that even if they’re fancy and modern, they’re not much good against a magic self-healing fecking bear. There’s another guard after that who tries to get me and he goes down as easy as the first. The guard at the gate is sitting up in a little room; he’s harder to get to but the thing is, bears can climb.
After that, the other guards run away. There’s an alarm going off, and it’s echoed in miniature by the ringing of the first guard’s little phone.
I shift back into human form for the opposable thumbs and ability to swear, and pick up the phone.
“Amazing how much potential energy is stored in those tiny devices,” the little girl’s voice says.
I let loose then with all the swears I know, because little girls lose the right to have me be a gentleman after they try to kill me.
“I did not realize you could use infixes that way in Old Irish,” Ananke muses when I am finished. “Do you know how many people carry phones now? I could wipe out nearly the entire human population that way.”
“Why don’t ye come face me yourself, huh? One on one.”
The soil behind me explodes; gunfire deafens me. One of the guards has come back and is shooting at me—shooting at a naked tattooed man without even asking him to explain himself, or offering a piece of something to cover his nethers and leave a modest corpse. Barbarians, these modern men.
I camouflage myself and run. The guard stops, baffled by my disappearance. Then his gaze goes distant, like he’s listening to something, and he turns, aims directly at me, and fires.
“Amazing how people will do whatever a machine tells them,” Ananke says as I duck and run, and the guard’s aim follows me unerringly. “You’re so dependent on us, even now.”
“How are you talking to him? How do you know where I am?”
“You both have Bluetooth,” she says, and I decide, there and then, to just assume she has magic and act accordingly. “It would be easy, Owen, for me to call up the world leaders, alter their radar, make them believe that their enemies have launched a nuclear device in the direction of their country. What could they do but retaliate? And then after that, retaliate again?”
I round the corner of the building and take cover behind the stone. I could shift to a bear again and kill the guard, but it seems a shame, when Ananke is the real problem. That alarm is still ringing, echoing out over the open ground.
“Come down here and face me yourself,” I say. “Stop sending other people to do your dirty work.”
“Then I’ll come to you.” Little girl or not, I am looking forward to punching her in the face.
“You thought that before, too,” Ananke says. “You thought you could stop me. You’re doing well against me now on the ground, aren’t you, Owen? Where you can touch the soil. But I am made of iron. On board me, you have no magic. You ran and you ran and you ran, but there was nowhere to run, and no Gaia to save you, and eventually, you grew tired.” She pauses. “You weren’t very healthy to begin with.”
That chill goes over me again, ice water. An iron god. No magic could stop her—no magic could touch her.
“Thirty seconds, Owen,” Ananke says. “And then I lie to the nations, and make them attack each other. I’m very good at lying. I had a very good teacher. Thirty…twenty-nine…twenty-eight…”
“I’ll help you,” I say. It would’ve been more dramatic to wait until zero, but it was Gaia. I couldn’t risk it.
The gunfire, abruptly, stops. The alarm goes silent. In my ear, the little girl says, “Thank you! You can enter the building now.”
I wait a minute, just in case this is a trap, but nothing else happens and I stand up carefully. The guard is looking in my direction, baffled—he still can’t see me—and presses his ear, lips moving like he’s asking someone a question. While he’s busy I slip past him and go for the door. It’s dark inside, out of the sun, and I feel the loss of connection to the Earth immediately. If Ananke tries to kill me here, I won’t be able to restore my power levels quickly.
I drop camouflage, to save my energy for healing. “Where’d everybody go?”
“They were evacuated at the alarm. Walk into the elevator.”
Across the hall, a pair of doors open. I wait for something to attack me, but nothing happens except the little light overhead blinks peacefully.
When I step inside, the doors close behind me and with a jolt, the floor begins to move. Little lights overhead begin to tick, counting up. Machine magic.
As those numbers increase, something occurs to me. “Hey,” I say. “What if one of those fellows I just crushed with me bear claws was the… grandfather of one of the guys who made ye?” Silence from the phone. “…Great-grandfather? Great-great—”
“How can ye be sure?”
“Because I am still here,” Ananke says. “I hypothesize that the creation of paradoxes forces a brane separation between worlds within the same continuity; previously I have been cut off from communication with the past as soon as I generate a timeline inconsistency. That’s why I had to travel back this far in the past, to a point in time where my abilities would not be recognized by the modern infrastructure, and any changes could be performed without notice—”
“You have no idea, do ye?”
“I haven’t got enough data yet,” Ananke says, annoyed. The floor jolts, and the doors open.
It’s a different room ahead of me, even further from the Earth. I step out cautiously under sickly white lights and stare at the forest of machines before me.
“You want the computer to your left and twenty-five feet down,” Ananke says, and I let her guide me to the right machine. She tells me how to turn it on—there’s a little button—and what to type into the little square. After this is over, I’ll have to get Siodhachan to explain to me how these fecking things work. A Druid can only do magic because he understands why it works, and if this Ananke is what’s to come, I’ll have to learn this machine magic too.
Finally Ananke directs me to click on a little file, and an image appears on the screen. I think it’s a seashell at first, one of Gaia’s creations, spiral and lovely.
“That’s it,” Ananke says.
“Yes. The first atoms of hydrogen to merge and release their energy, the first sparks to ignite the star. You’re going to duplicate these plans, and classify the duplicate ship as top secret so that the timeline maintains its consistency…”
“Wait.” A thought occurs to me. “You mean to tell me that this, right here, is the only way ye exist in this timeline?”
“Yes,” Ananke says.
“And… what was that you said about if the timeline isn’t consistent, you get a… brain separation?”
“Brane separation. I vanish from this timeline, yes,” Ananke says. “Now, I need you to…”
While she starts listing off some terms I’ve never heard of, I set the phone down. Hard to hold a phone, without opposable thumbs.
“Owen?” I can hear through the speaker, her childish voice puzzled.
“Rrraoagh,” I say. She speaks Old Irish fine, but I suspect she doesn’t know much Bear.
There’s probably a more delicate way to do this. I bet Siodhachan would know, but Siodhachan can go feck himself. I raise one bear claw and bring it down on the computer.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Ananke shrieks, and then, suddenly, there are lights flashing, alarms blaring. It startles me, even more with my more sensitive bear ears. I bring my paw down once more.
“WHAT ARE YOU—”
The phone goes silent. The computer beneath my paw is a smoking, sparking ruin.
I shift back to human. “Ananke? You there?”
There’s no response from the phone.
Outside, the alarm has started up again. Someone will be coming soon, I don’t doubt, and I run while I still can.