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a multidimensional sidestep

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i.

 

Todd groans as he wakes up. He blinks and then immediately shuts his eyes, overwhelmed by the bright light flooding in.

“Fuck.” His head is throbbing in agony. He knew he shouldn’t have agreed to that drinking match with Farah—she doesn’t drink, not casually, and that made him underestimate her.

“Bad move,” he whispers, moreso to test how much the vibrations will hurt his head than for anything to say. No piercing pain. Okay, not entirely stupid after all, Todd Brotzman.

“What was?”

“Holy shit,” yells Todd, flicking his eyes wide open and bolting upright in his bed. Except it’s not his bed, and it’s not his room—everything is white and stark, no sign of his Green Day posters, or his clothes, or his guitar, just…a bed. And a boy sitting at the edge of the bed, looking at him.

“Hello,” says the boy. “Did they send you here? Is this another test? What am I supposed to do with you? I’m warning you ahead of time, I probably won’t be able to meet your expectations.”

“Um,” says Todd, trying to wrangle his head around the rapid string of words. “Who are you? Who is they? Tests?” Oh, god. His head was pounding in time with the beat of his heart.

“Me? I don’t know who I am. I know what they call me, but I’m not sure I want to be that person. As for they, aren’t you part of they? And yes, tests. Many tests, trying to get me to predict this or that. I’m not very good at it all, though.” He picks at the hem of his shirt as he says this.

Todd stares at the boy. He’s dressed in plain clothing, a long shirt and pants. Both white, to match everything else in this room. His hair is cut neatly, close-shaven but not quite bald. His blue eyes open wide as he stares back at Todd. There’s something familiar about this boy—the way he looks, maybe, or the way he talks, or the way there’s something intense behind his gaze–

“Oh my god,” says Todd. “Dirk?”

“Dirk?” says the boy. “What’s a Dirk?”

Not Dirk, then? But no, the mannerisms match exactly. It can’t just be a coincidence–if there’s anything Todd’s learned from Dirk, it’s that there are no such thing as mere coincidences.

“That’s your name! Or…” says Todd, thinking furiously. “Svlad?”

“Correct, that is what they call me! They’ve never called me Dirk, but that name has quite a nice ring to it—” Young Dirk gets up and starts pacing around the white room, chattering endlessly. Todd can’t pay attention. If that boy is Dirk, then they must be Blackwing–how did he get here? Is this this another time machine malfunction? He throws the covers back and darts out, searching the walls and underneath the bed. But the room is empty of anything that wasn’t stark, metal, or white. It reminds Todd of a prison—and it probably is a prison, he amends, for his inhabitants.

If it’s not a time machine, then he has to be here for a reason. Everything is connected.

Young Dirk is still talking, complete with flailing hand gestures—something about the temperature of the water in the shower rooms.

“Listen to me,” says Todd. Young Dirk cuts off mid-sentence and turns to look at him eagerly.

“Dirk, I need your help. There must be something you need from me or…..something you feel is wrong, and that you need to fix, or…or….just…something you feel!”

How is he supposed how Dirk works to Dirk?

“Still not Dirk,” says young Dirk. He purses his lips and cocks his head as he thinks—he looks so much like the Dirk Todd knows that he wants to grin.

“Aha!” Young Dirk’s eyes light up. “As a matter of fact, I do! They keep offering me chicken in the pot pies, but I do so hate the taste of minced chicken. I had beef once, and that was fantastic! It’s an utter tragedy that they keep serving me chicken instead, surely that’s not right—”

Todd groans under his breath. This Dirk is must not have escaped Blackwing yet, must not know how to use his abilities.

“How old are you? How long have you been in here?”

“I…don’t know…” says Dirk, startled. “I’ve been in here ever since I can remember.”

For the first time, he looks confused and unsure of himself, almost impossibly young. Todd feels his heart ache, and then his chest tightens with anger, at the thought of this young boy who’s never known anything outside of this white-walled prison, who’s never had a single friend before he met Todd and was just so unbearably alone–

 

ii.

“What. The. Fuck.” says Todd.

“Well, excuse me,” replies the barista, looking offended.

Todd gapes at her. “You’re not Dirk.”

“No,” she replies. “My name is Katie. What would you like?” She glances pointedly behind him and Todd realizes he’s holding up a line of alternately bored and disgruntled customers.

“Oh, sorry. Sorry! I mean, uh, one small latte, please.” Todd digs around, inordinately grateful that he has enough change left in his pockets to be able to pay. For an extremely overpriced coffee, apparently.

“Here you go.” The barista hands him his order.

“Thanks,” Todd says. “Uh, Katie.” He gives her what he hopes is an apologetic smile, but the glare he receives in exchange says it probably fell flat.

He looks around. He‘s in a coffee shop now, but he can’t remember how he got here. It’s rather busy, the smell of pastries wafting through the air as harassed looking people type furiously on laptops. His head hurts–hopefully the coffee will help.

Blech. He nearly spits out the mouthful of burnt water and sugar. Never mind that.

He has no idea what’s going on, but surely sitting down will help–at least with his head, if nothing else. The sky is light blue, with a hint of indigo crawling over the horizon. It must be close to evening. He doesn’t have a clue as to what day or what year it is, let alone where he is, but maybe there’s a newspaper or something lying around.

He bypasses the men in business suits jabbing impatiently at their phones, making his way to a corner of the shop with his disgusting concoction. He feels lost, a little adrift, with no goal in mind and no one he knows–

“Holy shit,” gasps Todd. “Dirk??”

There’s a man sitting in the booth at the very back, staring intently at an array of pictures spread out before him. They appear look like polaroids of a crime scene. He’s frowning and muttering to himself, scribbling down notes on a nearby notepad. He looks up when Todd speaks.

“Can I help you? He asks. Todd doesn’t answer, because something’s wrong with this Dirk. There’s something off. He has the same coiffed hairstyle, the same intense blue eyes, but…

“If you don’t need anything, then please be off. I’m rather busy with important work.” He barely gives Todd another cursory glance before turning back to his photos.

It hits him then. This Dirk hadn’t once smiled at him.

“I-I’m Todd,” he tries. “I’m your partner. Or your assistant, whatever.”

Dirk looks up at this. “Excuse me? That’s impossible. I only work alone. Not to mention I’ve never seen you before in my life, so I don’t know what game you’re attempting to play here.”

His eyes are cold and dismissive. Todd doesn’t have anything to say. He’s never met a Dirk that held so little emotion behind his eyes, that cared so little about him. Even when Dirk–his Dirk was angry at him, his face would show. His Dirk was an open book. He didn’t know what happened to this one, but it must have been bad.

“I–” he says, but Dirk isn’t even listening.

Then Todd looks down and sees his hands are on fire. The flames lick up his palms, up his jacket sleeves, spread over his neck and his face. He’s falling to the floor, screaming as his flesh burns and his body disintegrates, and still Dirk isn’t even looking up, isn’t even paying attention–

 

iii.

“–according to the last coordinates he sent me. I think heading South should be our best bet for now, and if we’re not, well, we’ll be dead and we won’t have anything to worry about anymore.” Farah laughs shortly. There’s no trace of humour in her voice.

“W-what…” moans Todd. His head is hurting worse than ever. He can barely think through the pain.

“Todd? Are you okay? Is it another pararibulitis attack?” Farah glances at him quickly. She’s driving, on the left side of the car. It’s night time, and he can’t quite make out her expression. The only light coming through the windows are from the passing street lamps, so it takes a while before Todd realizes, with a shock, that there’s a long, ugly scar spanning the right side of Farah’s face, cutting across her eye.

“What’s going on?” Todd croaks out. His throat is parched. “Where’s Dirk?”

“Dirk?” says Farah, giving him an odd look. Under the yellow glare flashing by her eyes look almost feral. “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t the time to be joking around.”

“I-I’m not joking,” says Todd, a growing sense of foreboding welling up within. “Where’s Dirk? Where’s Amanda?”

Farah pauses and doesn’t say anything for a while.

“Todd…your sister’s dead. So is Dirk. They died two years ago, and now we’re on the run before we die too. Does that jog your memory a little?” Her voice is flat, with no trace of emotion.

Todd doesn’t know how to read this Farah, but it doesn’t matter. All he can hear is a rushing noise in his ears, as Farah’s word reverberate around his skull in time with the throbbing pain. Dead? Dead? His baby sister? Dirk? Amanda? Dead?

Dead–

 

iv.

Todd groans. He pre-emptively lifts a hand to his forehead, but his migraine is magically gone.

“Oh, thank fuck,” says a voice. Todd opens his eyes.

“Farah?” And Farah it is, looking at him with a worried glance and no massive, although hot, scar running down her face.

“Todd! You’re awake! Oh thank heavens, I was afraid that you would be lost to the vagaries of the universe, but you’ve managed to outwit the fates–”

“Dirk!” It’s the real Dirk—his Dirk, talking a mile a minute and emanating feelings out of his pores.

“Oh my god, guys,” says Todd. He’s overwhelmed by a rush of emotion, and he grabs the two of them in a tight hug.

“What happened?” asks Todd.

Farah and Dirk exchange a glance.

“It’s a long story–” she begins.

“Our running theory is that it has to do with Blackwing—well, everything has to do with Blackwing, but this seems to be something more direct. It appears to be some sort of energy dispersion that only impacts people who are—well—anomalous, in some sense—Farah tells me I was out for about 5 hours. The impact led me to, I believe, project my consciousness out of my physical body, such that I managed to leap through several alternate universes in the meanwhile. You’ve been out for 3 days, however, and that must mean….something.”

Todd lets this information wash over him.

“So, new case?”

“New case,” says Dirk, a smile lighting up his face.

Farah rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning too. “Always up for discovering how much more reality can be screwed up.”

“Great,” says Todd. “I’m in.”

It’s good to be home.