Future Libby emptied her teacup, then poured herself some more. Her expression grew sad as she stared down at her reflection in the liquid.
“I remember like it was yesterday…I remember sitting in my backyard lookin’ up at the sky, and wondering how somethin’ so awful could've happened. It was such a beautiful day, except there was nobody left to see it. It was like some kind of nightmare; Jimmy and those crazy nanobots of his had deleted everyone. The whole world was gone…except the four of us. You, me, Sheen, and Carl.” She shared her look of sorrow with Aurora. “Barely a day has gone by when I haven't thought about that last afternoon in Retroville, when I found you standin' at the end of our street. Just standin’ there while the wind blew your hair everywhere. You didn’t say anything. Didn’t cry. Didn’t get angry. Just stood there, with no reaction at all. I can’t tell you how awful it was. I remembered somethin' Jimmy had said to you before the nanobots had destroyed everything. I remember…he pulled you close, and he told you that he was going to make you suffer. Suffer so much that you wished you had never been born. And that was exactly what was happenin’. I thought my heart would break...”
Aurora tightened her grip around her teacup.
Future Libby continued. “On that last day, before the end, he walked up to you where you were standin’, among the ruins of what used to be our city. And he stared at you. Just stared. He didn’t say anything, and neither did you. Somehow, the way he looked at you was more terrifyin’ than if he had reached out and hit you. I’ve never seen anythin’ like it. His eyes were holes in his skull. And afterward, Jimmy came after us. He took out a ray gun of some kind and told me that he’d delete us too if I didn’t get in his rocket…I’m so sorry Aurora. I never wanted to leave you there all alone!”
“It wasn’t your fault,” said Aurora softly.
“The last thing I saw was my house shrinkin’ into the distance…then the town…and finally it all slipped behind the clouds and I couldn’t see anything anymore. Next thing I knew, Earth itself was gone, and then we were all alone out in space, a little speck in a sea of stars…”
She gave a heavy sigh and tucked a stray braid behind her ear. Jimmy leaned forward, his eyebrows knitted together.
“I know it’s no consolation, but I’d like to apologize for the actions of my alternate self. I’m so sorry that this had to happen to all of you.”
Future Libby smiled slightly. “Thanks. Our Jimmy isn’t like you anymore though – he’s got no remorse. It was so scary livin’ ‘round him. For the next couple of months after we left Earth, he spent all his time putting together a war ship. He made me an’ Sheen an’ Carl help him…it was like livin’ under a knife. I was always so afraid that if anythin' went wrong, he would do somethin’ terrible to me. We were all scared to death. I don’t think I would have been able to take it if it weren’t for Sheen. He felt like my only friend in a world where everythin’ could fall apart in a second.”
Libby fiddled with her napkin as her future self continued.
“I spent a lot of my time worrying about you, Cind…I mean, Aurora. When I wasn’t fitting bolts to weaponry or scrubbin’ metal floors, I thought about you. I thought for sure that you were all alone back on Earth, frightened or sick or even starving to death. I decided that I needed to go back and help you, no matter what. I told Sheen my idea, and he agreed to help me.”
She closed both eyes, then opened one with a smile as she looked over at Sheen.
“Y’know,” she said, “for such a nerdy hyperactive guy, you really helped me get through some tough stuff. If it weren’t for you, I don’t think I’d even be alive right now. I know you’re not the same Sheen, but I never got the chance to thank him.”
“How exactly did he help you get away?” asked Libby.
“Well, back when we were first buildin’ the ship, Jimmy taught us how to use the teleporter in the main control room so we could send bombs aboard enemy ships. I figured that the machine could teleport people too, and that it might be able to send me back to Retroville if we could just get our hands on it. We planned for days, then waited until Jimmy was in his lab to sneak inside the control room. While I got myself strapped into the tele-pod, Sheen tried to figure out how to get the dang thing to send me back home. He was really somethin’ that day…he risked his neck to help me.” Future Libby covered her face with her hands, her breathing suddenly strained. “But before we could finish, everythin’ went wrong. Jimmy walked in to find Sheen at the control panel. He looked him square in the eye and said, 'if you push that button, I’ll make sure you live to regret every day of your long, painful, nightmare of a life. Send her, and I’ll make you suffer so much that the whole galaxy will have to cover its ears to shut out the sound of your screams.' I was absolutely petrified. I ain’t ever seen anything half as scary as Jimmy when he said that. Sheen was shakin’ like a leaf, looking’ back and forth between me an’ Jim. Finally, he just shrugged and said 'Bye, Libs. Don't die. Live for me, 'K?' Then he pushed the button, and that was the last I ever saw of him.”
Everyone was quiet as Future Libby wiped her eyes.
“Wow,” Libby breathed the words. “Sheen really did that for you? He…traded his life for yours?”
Future Libby shook her head. “Oh…no. I don’t think Jimmy killed him. He’s not a murderer so much as he is a sadist. He likes people to go on livin’ so they can continue to suffer. I’m just worried Jimmy marooned him on a desert planet somewhere or somethin’…it hurts me to think about it. I’ll never be able to forgive myself for puttin’ him in danger, but…but it wasn’t like I had much choice. I had to save YOU, Aurora.”
“And to think…I wasn’t even on Earth anymore.”
“Funny, isn’t it? Fate can be so cruel.”
“Fate? Give me a break. Life is merciless. That’s all.”
“But Miss Older Libby,” frowned Carl, “I’m still confused…how did you get here?”
“Ya…” said Cindy, “if Sheen teleported you to Retroville, how did you end up in Shangri Llama?”
“By accident, actually. Sheen…being, well, Sheen…sent me to the wrong place. He entered incorrect coordinates, and so I got sent halfway ‘round the world. Instead of poppin' out in Retroville, the next thing I knew I was smack dab in the middle of the Asian highlands. Ironically, his mistake saved me. Two days later, the monks found me wanderin’ in the fields outside the monastery. They took me in…I owe a lot to them, you know. At first I lived in a little room in the back of the temple, but that changed soon enough. A couple of weeks after I got there, the monks started actin’ all weird and watching me constantly, like they were waitin’ for something to happen. It seriously freaked me out until they gave me the low down.”
“What'd they tell you?” asked Aurora.
“Chen-Yu – the fat bald monk who likes bowing all the time – he said I was part of this crazy prophecy of theirs. Accordin’ to the legend, the woman destined to be the Chosen One's bride would be found alone in the fields and come to live with the monks. I told them it was just a coincidence, but they seemed real stuck on the idea. They gave me all sorts of nice stuff, like this house, and told me to await the return of the Chosen One so he and I could get married and usher in a new era of peace. I didn’t wanna tell them that Sheen probably wouldn’t be comin’ back, because I was afraid they’d kick me out if they knew. Plus, they gave me such nice jewelry…”
Jimmy raised an eyebrow. “I see…”
“So,” shrugged Future Libby, “to make a long story short, I’ve been stuck here for ten years hung up and doted on like some kind of idol, with nothin’ to do but try on wedding dresses and listen to the monks tell me about my future. Not exactly what I had planned for my life."
Aurora leaned forward. “Then come with us. Come away on my ship…you can get out of here! Make a real life for yourself!”
“Well, it’s not like it’s all bad,” explained Future Libby. “Actually, I like livin’ here. It’s just…I don’t want to sit around in pretty clothes anymore. I wanna take action, to actually do somethin’ to shape my future and to help the people I care about.”
Aurora slammed her teacup down. “Then it’s settled! When we leave tonight, you’re coming with us!”
“All right, I’ll go with you, Aurora, but not tonight. Tomorrow mornin’, OK? I want to catch up with you first…and I’ll need some time to explain things to the monks. They’ll be pretty worried when I go.”
“Who cares? They’re just a bunch of…”
“Please, Aurora? It'd really put my mind at ease.”
Aurora blinked, then nodded. All was silent for a moment except the clink of bowls against chopsticks. Future Libby set down her cup, then broke into a smile and pushed away from the table.
“All right!” she beamed. “Well, I dunno ‘bout you, but I bet now would be a great time to take a walk in the gardens. It’s almost sunset. Come on!” She grabbed Aurora by the hand and practically dragged her out the door.
Cindy set down her bowl. “Well, I suppose we might as well take the grand tour too.”
“I’m down with that!” said Libby. “I wanna see all the stuff older me designed!”
Carl bent over, his stomach gurgling. “Guys…I think I need to use the bathroom.”
“Aha!” shouted Sheen. “I knew that yellow mushy stuff you ate would be back to seek revenge!”
Cindy wrinkled her nose. “You know Carl, you don’t have to announce every time you experience a bodily function. Jeez.”
A woman monk dashed in from nowhere, panting heavily. “Young redheaded one, was the food not to your liking?” cried the woman. “I am infinitely sorry to have offended the Chosen One’s friend! My name is Sun-hi…come, I will make you some tea and escort you to the bathhouse to remedy this egregious act!”
“Um…OK, a bath would be nice. But my mom usually sings to me when I have a bath…will you sing me a song?”
Sun-hi bowed. “If it is your wish! I would do anything for a friend of our beloved Chosen One!”
Carl clapped his hands in a ridiculous display of immaturity and then followed the monk into an adjoining room. April threw her head back and burst out laughing, fangs glinting like sharpened knives.
“You humans are ridiculous! You are more entertaining than a Gorlockan munkull in heat! HAHAHAHAHA!” She continued to laugh as she rose from the table and stomped through the doorway.
Sheen jumped up and thrust his index finger into the air. “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s go check out the view!”
“Mm-hmm,” agreed Libby, “I feel like it's been an eternity since I've seen a sunset.”
Sheen drew an hourglass shape in the air. “That's not the view I had in mind…”
“Ugh, SHEEN! Will you cut it out already?”
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Hey, not that this conversation isn’t both stimulating and enriching, but aren’t we forgetting the main point?”
Sheen motioned for him to clarify. “Which is…”
“To go for a walk, moron!” said Cindy irritably.
It was Cindy's turn to roll her eyes as they rose from the table and exited the building. Goddard jumped out from a cluster of bushes, knocking chrysanthemum petals into the air.
“There you are, boy,” said Jimmy, stooping down to pet him. “I was wondering where you went.”
Sheen snatched a petal from midair. “Hey, check it out! It’s just like that song…you know, ‘It’s raining flowers’?”
“Uh, Sheen, the song is ‘It’s rainin' men’.”
Sheen waggled his eyebrows. “That can be arranged…”
“Jeez,” grumbled Cindy, “does this guy come with an off switch?”
Libby shook her head. “ ‘fraid not.”
Jimmy pointed at two figures rapidly disappearing into the distance. “Hey, there they go! We should try to catch up. It’s getting dark. Goddard, stay here boy.”
-> Chapter 19