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.It was my first underground lab, and it showed.It was still too hot because of the reactor, and it looked like shit.I hemmed and hawed and started up a little dimensional viewer I had been tinkering with.The Gateway flickered into life, and through the cloudy window we could see dimly the great misshapen head of one of those alien leviathans trawling the ether like a whale in the depths.They looked bored.The black guy, Something-tron, gave me a speech about meddling in things I didn’t understand; it was obvious they were peeved they weren’t getting a fight.When they left, they had me tagged as just another backyard inventor, but I’d made my mistake—I was in the system.They’d seen my retinas.Wearing a cape doesn’t do much for your social life.There’s a standing, unspoken, and utterly unreliable truce among enhanced criminals, the robot-army, hood-and-mask, good-evening-Mister-Bond set.My peer group is largely a collection of psychotics, aliens, and would-be emperors.The result is I meet people like Lily.Lily was born in the thirty-fifth century.She’s what your sort of person might call a supervillain, although she might quarrel with the definition.When you first meet her, you look twice—everyone does.She’s not quite invisible, merely transparent, a woman of Lucite or water.When you get to know her face, she has that long-jawed look people start getting a couple centuries from now, a hollowness around the eyes.You recognize it when you’ve been up and down the timestream a few times, and seen a few of the far-future possibilities—the Machine Kings, or the Nomad Planet, or the Steady State, or the Telephony.When we met she looked right past me, just another monkey-man, but I have more in common with her than I do with most of the people I meet.Lily was born in New Jersey at a time when the Earth was dying.Only 200,000 humans were left, wandering among the empty cities and grasslands that were once the civilized world.She grew up with a thousand square miles of grassland and forest and highways for her backyard.She could drive for days without seeing anyone, up and down the old I-95, now cracked and overgrown in places.Later, she told me about the decaying bridges over the East River to the lost city of Brooklyn, where the towers of Manhattan loomed in the distance.She would find a stone embankment and eat lunch, down where the warm wind stirred the stagnant ocean that was slowly rising, year after year.Her time line was simply a dead end.She told me about the spreading blight, the dimming, dying sun that she could look straight into without blinking.The only aliens who came left without saying good-bye.In her future, the new ruler of the Earth was going to be a particularly successful strain of algae that had spread in a supercolony up and down the northwest American seaboard, choking rivers and canals and blooming for miles out into the sea.Lily was trained to be a hero, humanity’s long-shot solution, rigorously screened and genetically engineered.A team of desperate scientists worked for decades, racing against humanity’s decay to put her in place to save them.She was the best of them, and they trusted her.A crowd of tense, brave faces was the last thing she saw on the day she left.Brave Dr.Mendelson, strong-jawed and gray-haired, shook her hand once and then gave the countdown, and the world faded from view.The machine that brought her back in time could only work once.The logic was obvious: She had a list of targets, a suite of weapons layered into a smartmesh leotard, and a mission to save the world.Nearly invisible and devastatingly strong, she succeeded easily.Years later, when she managed to rebuild her machine and return to her own time, it was all different.The Earth she had known, and everyone on it, was gone, and in its place was a world of happy strangers—the blight had never happened.And she realized she missed the quiet, and the gentle, mournful quality of her thirty-fifth century.So she came back to our time, and after a few months she started hitting high-tech and infrastructural targets.She’s still at large, still sabotaging the world in search of the chain of events that started the blight in her version of history, the invisible thread leading back to the vanished ruins of her home.My other best friend is the Pharaoh, a supervillain, and he’s an idiot.Today was the official last day of fall.There was an early frost last night, and the chill seeps into the stone here.Most inmates don’t go out in the yard anymore—no one but me and a few die-hard smokers, idly kicking the dirt, huddled together against the cold I haven’t felt since 1976.The wind kicks up dust in the yard, blows leaves through the barbed wire.Our uniforms flap in the breeze.The trees past the fence are bare now except for the oaks.I can see beams from the security net bouncing around in the infrared and ultraviolet, and the KLNJ antenna is pulsing out low-frequency stuff over the hill.Somewhere out there, the snow is falling on Lily’s base.I can’t say where it is, but this late in the year it’s pretty well covered.I used to tune in to the perimeter cameras just to scan around the woods.It’s buried deep now—a layer of snow, pine needles, frozen dirt, then crushed gravel, concrete, water tanks, and then titanium.I last saw her six years ago, in a bar.She was smoking.I remember how the match flared and glistened liquidly on her glassy skin, still scored slightly where a chain gun once caught her.She set the cigarette to her lips and drew smoke delicately into her throat, to curl in her lungs like a genie in a smoked-glass bottle.She would only meet me in a public place.I guess we had trust issues.I went to a lot of trouble to set up that meeting.I tried to think of a way to tell her to come back.I’ve never been that good at this kind of thing, even before I went into hiding.I tried to think of a reason she would have, a really good argument.But even supervillainesses would rather date a hero.Sometimes I wonder if there really are just two kinds of people in the world.To be a supervillain, you need to have certain things.Don’t bother with a secret identity, that’s a hero thing.Not that it wouldn’t be convenient to take off the mask and disappear into the crowds, the houses, the working world.Perhaps too convenient—why become the most audacious criminal mind on Earth (or at least in the top four), only to slink off in the other direction when things get difficult? It wouldn’t mean as much if you could just walk away.When I’m arrested, they read the litany of my crimes at the trial, longer and gaudier each time [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]