Raif Collins knew he only had fifteen more seconds before the strings of the universe came to rip him apart but, ‘wow look at that view’. As he removed his eye patch, time slowed all around him and he took these precious seconds to enjoy the beautiful scenery. He cushioned his head with his hands as he took a mental snapshot of the sun setting behind the ridge. It was that time of day where the sun, moon, and stars could all be seen together in a landscape of Heavenly art.
‘Ah, this is the life’, Raif thought as his body phased in and out like a 4K glitch. He glanced at his watch, twelve seconds had gone by but it felt like an hour to Raif. He was grateful for the break but it was time to get back to business. Long tapeworm-like tentacles pierced Raif’s current reality as if they were a pencil punching through paper. It was clear to Raif that these tentacles did not belong but the luminous glow, believe it or not, was not the tell-tale sign of their unwanted presence but the fact that the tentacles were moving in normal time, right towards Raif’s throat.
He snapped his magnetic eyepatch over his right eye and in a simultaneous symphony of chaos the tentacles sucked back into their hole, the outside dining table floating sideways had hit the ground, and the frozen bullets snapped past and found their homes in the building behind him.
“Whoa!” Raif shouted. He tried a kip up but just looked like a fish out of water and decided to not try that again. He wrestled to his feet, “Why are you people shooting at me? You know there are people…”, Raif waved his hand behind him at the horrified faces, “here...Right? I don’t think it’s beneficial–”
“Put your hands on your head, NOW!” an agent shouts through a megaphone.
Raif winced, “Woooooow! Why are you...I’m literally 20 feet from you. Is there a need for the megaphone? Or is it like in the PROPER handbook… ‘All law enforcement that has made it to the tie and black shades level gets a new megaphone!’” Raif had a knack for making people dislike him, especially in stressful situations.
“Hands behind your head and knees to the ground!”
“Okay, okay, geeze, what is wrong with you people…I was going to pay for my ice cream, I promise. However comma”, Raif looks at his half finished cone and melted mint chocolate chip ice cream on the pavement beside him, “I definitely ain’t paying for it now. Hey waiter”, Raif shouted as he looked around for his pistol , “give my check to Megaphone Shades, he will settle up.”
The Agent had no time for games and switched his weapon from slow to stun. “I won’t tell you again–”
Raif spotted his pistol in between a potted plant and a knocked over table and broke into a sprint, Megaphone Shades fired his weapon in consecutive short bursts and chased after him. Raif had the idea of sliding over the table like The Dukes of Hazzard but got clipped by the stun gun and tripped over his stunned leg, smashed into the table, and belly flopped on the ground an arms length away from his weapon. “Aww man, that would have been so cool”, he groaned.
Raif low-crawled as fast as he could the extra 3 feet to his gun, grabbed it, and flipped to his back, eyes and gun locked on where megaphone shades would likely show up. He needed more time. Between worlds only provided him 30 seconds at the most but that may have been enough for him to come up with a plan, an idea, a thought…something.
Raif removed his eye patch, heard the familiar low hum which he figured to be him “stepping” outside of space-time, and stood up to look around. Megaphone Shades was right on the other side of the sideways table and would be on top of Raif in a matter of seconds when everything was back to normal. He didn’t have many options. He could switch the eye patch to cover his left eye instead of his right, which would cause him to step into an alternate reality but that one could have put him in a much worse situation than the one he was in now. He couldn’t escape while in slow time because, no matter how many Hollywood movies have a speedster doing cool things in the “in-between”, moving from point A to point B while having stepped out of the natural laws of the planet would cause severe damage. First, there would be this very weird explosion that would cause an even weirder rewind back to point A, then everything in between A and B that was inanimate would then be sucked into a space-time fracture. Raif learned all of this the hard way…multiple times. Raif thought about the time when he tried to use the “in-between” to escape from a blind date his mother set him up on. Not only did it not work but it also sucked up his favorite pizzeria along with the On Mars pinball machine into the fracture. Raif loved that pinball machine.
He glanced down at his watch and realized he spent all his time reminiscing of the long nights spent making sweet pinball babies, having 6 or 7 balls all going at once. Those were the good ole’ days. Raif laid back down in his spot determined to, at some point, find that pizzeria but with zero plans on how to help his current situation. He guessed he would just turn himself in for the time being. Once things had calmed down, he could always move his eye patch to his other eye.
Raif connected his eye patch with the metal bearings over his right eye and time came rushing back and within 2 seconds Megaphone Shades is on him.
“Freeze dirt bag!” The agent had his gun trained on Raif’s man parts.
“Whoa whoa whooaaaaah. Calm down Mr. Shades. We’re all friends here.” Raif dropped his pistol and raised his hands in the air, back still on the ground, “ Oh and by the way…the 80’s called and they want their slogan back…”
Of course the ride to wherever they were was a long one. They blindfolded him, put headphones on him, and he’s almost positive they just drove around randomly so he wouldn’t remember the turns…he remembered them anyway.
“Mr. Collins,” the agent reached across the table and removed the blindfold.
“Is that…” Raif’s eyes took a moment to adjust. “...Megaphone Shades? Oh goodie this is going to be so so fun!” Raif says.
“Nah, I’m foldin’, all I got is the Brunson–”
The agent interrupts, “No you idiot, you can call me Agent Holden”
Raif gawks “Well that is absolutely no fun. Megaphone Shades was starting to grow on me and I know you liked it!”
The agent ignores Raif and flips open a manila folder, “So…365 jumps in 7 months, 4 fractural anomalies including the disappearance of 1 Trevi Fountain in Rome Italy, 2 vehicles, 1 Pizzeria, 1 ‘On Mars’ pinball machine.”
“Listen Agent Shades–”
Agent Holden slams his hand on the desk, “I am NOT done! And last, sectioned seats 125-128 at the Kentucky Derby. Gone! Your carelessness has caused 4 deaths and you still can’t seem to stop.”
The agent stopped abruptly and stared at Raif causing an awkwardness that was palpable. Raif had never been good with awkwardness. “Is…is it, uh, my turn now?” Raif looked at the agent who was still staring then looked to his left...his right…down at his feet, back at the agent, then to a tiny camera in the top corner of the wall, “Hey I think your Baymax ran out of batteries…”
“YES, Mr. Collins, speak.”
Raif almost jumped out of his skin “Wow you can’t be doing that. This isn’t iRobot. Don’t be freezing like that.” Raif shakes off the fright. “First, I don’t even know who you people are?”
“We are the Protectorate of Parallel and Emerging Realities.” Agent Holden said proudly.
“Okay and what are you protecting the realities from?”
“From people like you, Mr. Collins.”
“What do you mean, ‘people like me’?” Raif taken aback
“People who jump without the proper authorization and even more so, people who have learned how to stop in between jumps.” The agent said.
“I am so confused right now…Are you telling me other people move between different realities?” Raif always assumed it was possible but he never knew for sure.
“Yes, hundreds of thousands every week. Now tell me…how are you jumping without a personal jump drive”? Agent Holden reached over and clicked on the recording device.
Raif could have clammed up and not spoken again but he was more intrigued about other jumpers at that moment than of getting in trouble…other jumpers like him. “A personal jump drive? What in Baymax’s name is that?”
“Every person who had filled out the paperwork, paid their fees, dues, and bought their travel packages would have been given a personalized jump drive. Our organization installed authorized jump stations all over this planet for anyone who jumps. You have never registered, you have never jumped from an authorized jump station and you definitely don’t have a jump drive. So I’ll ask you one…more…time…how are you jumping?”
Raif was in a predicament. He didn’t know if these were good guys or bad guys. All he knew was they interrupted his ice cream day, they had a nice little shootout, and he was at that very moment sitting in some sort of secure underground facility. He felt a dampener or neural blocker when he arrived but hadn’t had the chance to try to jump on the account his hands were zip-tied behind his back. These people knew he was jumping but apparently nobody jumped the way he did. Maybe they could tell him things that he did not know. Maybe it was worth telling the truth. Or maybe they would study him like a lab rat. Only one way to find out. “I…well, I have always been able to jump.”
“That’s not possible.” Agent Holden’s face sours
“Look, I don’t know why but my father could do it and my father’s father could do it. Probably Maw-Maws cookin’.” Raif saw the agent was irritated and wanted to press, “she made these homemade buttermilk biscuits…mhhhmmm. See, the trick is allowing the dough to become room temperature–”
“Mr. Collins”, the agent was clearly angry, “if you think this is some kind of joke…that we can’t get the information out of you by other means, then you are terribly mistaken. We can–”
“It’s my eyes.” Raif interrupted.
“Yes…each eye is a…umm…gateway of sorts. That is why I have to cover one up. If both my eyes are able to see, I step into the ‘in-between’...like I am existing in neither reality. It’s where time slows for me but I can’t stay there long, 30 seconds max, or something tries to rip me apart..” Raif looked up, this was the first time he saw the evidence of emotions on the agent which resembled…excitement…maybe? Raif continued, “if I want to switch realities I just move my eye patch to cover the other eye and I am instantly in the other reality. But whichever reality my eyes bring me to it is almost exactly like the last. I have only noticed small changes. I have never been able to jump to a drastically different reality…what are you doing?”
Agent Holden had already started to pull out an oblong device from his inside blazer pocket, “We found him.” Holden said to nobody in particular that Raif saw. The Agent quickly moved into what Raif liked to call, ‘god-mode’ where every action was conducted with speed and accuracy as if the battle just started.
Two more agents rushed into the room, weapons drawn but not pointed at Raif. They were positioned in the low-ready. “We have to move quickly Mr. Collins, if we know, they now know.” Agent Holden reached to the table and pushed a button on the oblong device. The walls in this small room folded in on itself, objects flickered and rippled, and broke into thousands of tiny pieces before fading into nothing. Hundreds of buildings rose in the background along all sides of this platform they stood on. Even the agents began to disintegrate, or at least their outer shell, which left behind a much slimmer humanoid that Raif had never seen before.
“WHAT in the Captain Kirk, Star Trek, hell's bells, crap-on-a-stick, is going ON!”, Raif screams. The platform rose up quickly, the background had taken shape. They were in Egypt, Raif knew because he saw the pyramids.
“Let’s move”, Agent Holden commanded.
The two agents headed towards a door, opened it and then pulled rear guard as Holden went in first, pistol at the high ready, followed by Raif and the two agents. Raif thought he saw something chasing after them but they were moving too fast to have known for sure.
“What is going on?” Raif shouted as they bounded down flights of stairs.
“I’ll explain later but right now you need to just trust me.” Holden stated
“Trust you? You shot at me, handcuffed me, blindfolded me…all on the first date, I don’t know who you think I am but it's going to take a lot more time and effort before you–”
Holden pushed the button on that device and opened the stairwell door that led to a subway station. They headed to the train but stopped abruptly when four women phased into this reality. One rolled a metal sphere that, after a few seconds, burst out some sort of wave that froze everything in place.
“Raif Collins?” hollered one of the women. All four were wearing matching tactical outfits.
“Yes”, Raif hollered back. There was about 30 meters between the two groups.
“You do NOT want to be with those monsters. Come with us and we will show you the way.”
“Yeah…okay! But you didn’t call to tell me to wear my matching tactical outfit…how can I be sure I’m supposed to follow you if we can’t all match. It would be silly…the four of you matching perfectly and me”, Raif looks down at his clothes in disgust, “ all gross and dingy.”
“Stand back Mr. Collins”, Holden said, “this could get messy”. Each agent withdrew a pen that turned into a mighty sword.
‘Mental note, get a cool pen sword thingy.’ Raif thought
The agents and tactical girl band charged, and weapons clashed against one another. Raif ducked behind a concrete column and peeked at the fight. These groups were highly trained. One thing Raif knew beyond all certainty was that he wanted his hands free. He sat on the ground and wiggled and squirmed until he was able to bring his arms up and around his legs. He was still zip tied but at least he could now use his ability, which he does. He covered his left eye, which finally gave his right eye some much needed attention, and phased into an alternate reality but not much changed. The two groups were still fighting, but 1 agent and two members of the girl band were down which evened the numbers.
“Psst” a voice whispered uncomfortably close to Raif’s ear. Raif squealed, spun, and tried to judo chop whatever was so close to him with his zip tied hands but that failed and he just ended up hitting his knee. “Hi!”. It was a young woman in her mid twenties. Dark brown hair and blue eyes. She was wearing a pizzeria t-shirt and sat on a bicycle. Her smile seemed authentic and kind. Everything about her beckoned Raif.
“Uhh, hiiighh?” Raif enunciated the greeting as if asking, ‘who in the world are you?’
“ I am Sevyn, please come with me.” She laid out her hand and wiggled her fingers. Raif was hesitant but felt safe around her. He reached out his hand and grabbed ahold.
Raif was with Sevyn for no more than 1 minute before Agent Holden appeared out of nowhere and stuck his sword in the bicycle wheel, throwing them off the bike and into the wall.
Raif climbed to his feet. He was sick of this day and wanted it over. “I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know who any of you are. And I am tired. I want to go home and have Maw-Maw’s biscuits.”
“You can’t…the universe depends on it.” Sevyn said as she climbed to her feet and charged toward Agent Holden.
That moment gunfire rang out painting the wall behind them, apparently from some new group that decided to make an appearance. Raif decided right then and there he was done. He stood and screamed and had no cares about bullets or swords or people or the universe. He wanted Maw Maw’s BISCUITS.
As he screamed energy built up inside of him and seeped from him like sap from a tree. He snatched his eye patch off and the energy burst forth from every orifice in his body and unleashed massive pulse waves. Just about the time he thought he was going to explode, he phased, vwooosh, gone.
Everyone and everything was gone. Agent Holden, Sevyn…gone. Subway station…gone. Buildings, vehicles, All gone. This reality was vastly different. The Earth looked young and untouched…clean even. He climbed a peak to get a lay of the land and let out a long, very drawn out sigh. As he turned in a circle one thing became very clear to him...
Dinosaurs ruled this reality.
“Great”, Raif sighed, “Now I’ll never get a biscuit…”