Chapter 6: Mirror, Mirror
“CINDY!” gasped Libby. “It’s…YOU!”
Cindy stood motionless before a mirror image of herself. Her reflection gazed down at her, and a crafty smile twisted her lips.
“Surprised to see me?”
Cindy raised a trembling finger to point at her. “You’re…you’re ME.”
“No way...” breathed Jimmy. “Cindy? Cindy, is that really you?”
The woman tapped her lower lip thoughtfully. “Wow, I haven’t been called by that name in a while. But yes, it’s me. Only my name isn’t Cindy anymore. It’s Aurora.”
“Aurora…” repeated Cindy, still dazed. “That’s my middle name…”
“No kidding. Where'd you think I got it from?”
Sheen prodded Jimmy in the ribs. “Did you get a load of this chick? I mean...dang!” Jimmy glared, and Sheen turned to Cindy with a grin and a finger-wiggle. “Hey Cindy, I had no idea you’d turn into a space hottie. Wanna hang out some time?”
“Can you try to not be a loser for like, five seconds?” Cindy swatted his hand away, before dropping her gaze uneasily. “Besides, she’s not really me…”
“Au contraire,” returned the other, brushing aside a strand of hair carelessly. “I AM you…well, in a manner of speaking. I’m ten years older and apparently also from a different universe. Speaking of which, I’m terribly curious as to how you all got here. Let me guess - did another one of Neutron's experiments go awry?”
She fixed her eyes on him and gave a dangerous smile. His mouth dropped open a bit, and for a moment he seemed utterly exposed, stripped of all defenses as her venom green eyes bored into his.
“Hah. I figured as much.”
Her smile deepened, and from the look on her face, it looked like she was getting ready to eat him alive. Fortunately for Jimmy, something else drew Aurora's attention before she could stare him into a stupor – Carl's knees buckled, and he collapsed into a ball on the desert ground.
“Aurora,” gasped April, “this is awful! These kids are dehydrated and probably half dead from heat stroke and here we are, standing around in the middle of the desert when we have a temperature-regulated ship right over there.”
“Let’s get a move on, then,” she said, turning heel and starting out toward the ship. “I told you I wanted to get off this rock hours ago.”
April secured her weapon in a holster around her waist, then stooped down, grabbed Carl, and effortlessly slung him over her shoulder. Jimmy, Sheen, Cindy, and Libby followed close behind the two women as they proceeded toward the ship.
“Girl,” Libby whispered, “the future you is amazin’! Did you check out her duds? Talk about space age!”
“Tell me about it. And did you see the way she stared Neutron down like that? I’ve never seen him so petrified in his life.” They snickered quietly, then Cindy continued. “I can’t help wondering, though. I mean, how on earth did she wind up here, with April the Gorlock of all people? And what the heck were they talking about earlier? It sounded pretty heavy. I mean, if there is a war or something going on, I would think that we’d be the last people who’d be able to help.”
Libby paused. “Well, not us, maybe. But Jimmy could probably help.”
“Then why'd they get so riled up when they saw him? I mean, didn’t you see the way April practically flipped out when he touched her?”
“Ya, that was pretty weird.”
“Besides,” said Cindy, “if they really wanted Jimmy’s help, why didn’t they just ask the Jimmy in this universe?”
The girls’ conversation was cut short when they arrived at the ship. Aurora walked up the rampway and waited impatiently by the door. A computerized voice spoke.
“It’s me, you stupid piece of machinery!”
“Identity confirmed. Welcome back, Aurora.”
The doors slid open, and she breezed past them. April followed her, and the kids cautiously toddled in behind. They entered a dark corridor, and there was a jolt as the ship presumably lifted off the ground and flew upward.
Aurora snapped her fingers. “Lights!”
Like dominoes, a chain of orange lights tumbled down the corridor and illuminated a shining blue door. April rested a still unconscious Carl on the floor, and then she and Aurora walked together to the door and placed their hands on the two panels on either side of it. Sheen crammed his way between them.
“Wow, now that's my kind of paint job!”
“Don't touch, stupid!” snapped Aurora. “If you do...”
With an enormous grin plastered on his face, Sheen laid a single finger on the surface. There was a crackle of electricity and a flash of light, and Sheen was sent rocketing backwards. He slammed into Libby, and they both flew backward and rolled across the floor until they came to a stop at the end of the corridor. Libby coughed, trying to force air back into her lungs, before frantically turning to Sheen. All the while, Goddard was barking like crazy.
“Sheen! Sheen!” she said, shaking him. “Are you OK? Speak to me!”
He sat up, eyes wide, still crackling with energy. “Man that was cool! Let's do it again!”
Libby threw up her hands. “Ugh! You idiot!”
“Do you have a death wish?” came Aurora’s voice from across the corridor. “That shock could have killed you!”
Libby helped him to his feet, and they wobbled back toward the others.
“Aurora warned you not to touch the door,” said April sternly as the boy shook the last remnants of electricity from his hair. “You should have listened.”
“Oh please,” huffed Cindy. “It's not his fault…for once. When you have a booby-trapped door on your ship, someone's bound to get zapped sooner or later.”
April shrugged. “That is the idea. We cannot have just anyone coming in and out of here. Security is our number one concern.”
“Why?” asked Jimmy.
Aurora whirled around. “To keep out people like YOU, Ok!?” Her voice cracked, and for a moment her eyes flickered with an emotion he could not identify. As rapidly as the outburst had begun, Aurora composed herself, and her expression relaxed. She took a deep breath. “Now let's get on with this. April? Ready?”
“On your signal.”
The women placed their hands on the panels again, then spoke in unison: “Open”.
There was a hiss of air, and the doors slid apart.
“That's it? I was at least expecting an 'open sesame' or something. I mean, come on! Anyone can say "open". Some high-tech security system.”
“Think before you speak, Sheen,” said April with a growl. “The door is voice sensitive...it opens to the combined sound of our voices.”
Aurora looked over her shoulder at him. “You really know how to rub people the wrong way, don't you? I suggest you keep your mouth shut, because April and I aren't exactly the most patient people you'll ever meet. Now zip it and follow me.”
April re-shouldered Carl, and the women entered into a dark, narrow passageway beyond the door. Jimmy, Cindy, Libby, and Sheen trailed close behind, rendered mute by the strangeness of the whole situation and the commanding presence of these two unpredictable women. Ahead, the passage branched into two separate hallways, the one on the left seemingly identical to the one on the right.
Aurora gestured airily. “April, take fatty to the sick bay while I show the rest to the cockpit.”
“Don't you think it would be wiser to show the children to the kitchen? They look dangerously dehydrated, and they are probably half starved.”
“Fine, April. I'll show them to the cockpit, THEN to the kitchen. Now go!”
April turned to the kids. “Jimmy, would it be all right if Goddard came with Carl and me? I think your friend would be less frightened if he woke up to a familiar face.”
April headed off to the right with Goddard and Carl, and Aurora motioned for the others to follow her down the left passage. After a short walk, they came to another door, and this one automatically slid open as they approached.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Desperado…” she motioned for them to go ahead.
One by one they entered. What awaited them inside was more like a luxury apartment than a cockpit. Two padded chairs rested behind the largest set of control consoles, which glittered with an assortment of multicolor buttons. Past the consoles, a window-like portal arched up from the floor and tapered to a bend at the summit of the room. Beyond its glassy curves lay the star-studded carpet of space.
Sheen smiled broadly as he took in his surroundings. “I gotta say, this really tops the ratings. In fact, this might just be the third coolest thing I've ever seen, right after that 47-hour-long Ultralord marathon I watched, and the time I spied on Libby in the bathroom!”
“You did WHAT??? So help me, Sheen, if you're bein' serious, I'm gonna – ”
“I was kidding! I was kidding!”
“Nuh-uh, you're not gettin' off the hook that easy. Ah...come on...don't cower! Get over here!”
Cindy, Jimmy, and Aurora, determined to ignore their antics, began talking quietly by the entrance.
“So...we’re in space already?”
“Yes,” said Aurora. “We're currently in orbit around the planet below. Hopefully we'll leave soon…that is, assuming April gets her butt in gear. I wanted to leave two hours ago ago, but she insisted that she needed to adjust the sights on her new weapon, blah blah blah.”
“It's a good thing she insisted,” began Jimmy, “or you never would've found us.”
Cindy gazed up at the ceiling thoughtfully. “It's so weird to think about...in this whole vast universe, we were on the exact same planet at the exact same time. It seems almost impossible.”
“It IS impossible,” said Aurora.
Jimmy nodded. “She's right. Statistically, the chances of our meeting were so unlikely that it doesn't even make any sense.”
Libby stopped berating Sheen long enough to speak. “Maybe it's fate?”
“Fate?” scowled Aurora. “Puh-leeze. There's no such thing. A cosmic joke, maybe, but not fate.”
Jimmy cut in. “Or quantum entanglement...it can happen, you know. According to the multiverse theory, there are an infinite number of universes stemming from each choice a person makes in his or her lifetime. Our universes are exactly the same…but somewhere along the line, ONE of us made a choice that changed things forever. If we can figure out what that choice was, what that one crucial event was, then we'll be one step closer to understanding all of this.”
“I already know what that choice was, Neutron.” Jimmy met her gaze and caught a flash of regret in Aurora's expression.
“You know?” said Libby. “Then what was it?”
When Aurora failed to reply, Cindy snapped her fingers at her future self. “Hello, she asked you a question! Aren't you going to answer?”
“Hey, who's hungry? What do you say we head to the kitchen and get some food, huh?”
Cindy scowled. “Don't change the subject!”
“Listen,” said Jimmy, “before we go any further with this, you need to give us some answers. If you just ignore our questions, we're not going to help you with whatever it is that you need help with. Now, what are you two involved in? What's all this talk about war and calamities?”
“And how did you end up sharing a ship with April?” added Cindy. “Last time I checked, she and I weren't exactly buddy-buddy. And more importantly, why are you out testing weapons on some desert planet? Shouldn't you, like...be in college or something?”
“Where are the rest of our alternate future selves?”
Libby jumped in. “And why did April freak out at Jimmy earlier?”
“And do you have any mongo space guns? I really wanna blast some asteroids!” added Sheen for good measure.
“All right! All right!” said Aurora, raising her palms to pacify them. “Back off, people! I know you guys must be practically dying from confusion, but you'll just have to hold on a little longer. I promise, I'll answer all of your questions very soon. I want to wait for Carl and April to get back from the sick bay before I start my explanations. Now, in the meantime, what do you say we get you something to eat and drink? I don't want anyone else fainting, thank you very much.”
Cindy tapped her foot impatiently. “Whatever we do, can we speed things up a bit? I'm gonna go nuts if I don't get some questions answered pretty soon.”
“Deal with it,” said Aurora coldly. “The greatest questions in my life have never been answered, but somehow, I've managed to keep going.”
Libby threw Cindy a look, and Jimmy scrutinized Aurora's expression, trying to get a read on her.
Aurora turned heel and walked to the door. “Let's go.”
-> Chapter 7
^ Muchas gracias to Krista for the cute chibi April collab!