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[Guilty Gear fic] Garden of Eden

The story so far: Back in April last year, I made a misguided attempt to rid myself of on of the more gratuitously clichéd fic ideas that had been nagging at me one and off by writing it up as a drabble in Normal Continuity Will Be Restored Shortly. I say misguided, because the plan backfired spectacularly when everyone (mostly velithya) easily spotted that it was really a fragment of a much longer idea just looking for an excuse to be written, and a couple of people (again, mostly velithya, but she has it down to an art these days) asking for it was excuse enough.

Finishing chapter one has taken far longer than I counted on, though this is largely because of me getting stuck on one particular scene then getting distracted by other projects for a few months, which is mostly my way of saying I am still really hoping that chapter two is a bit easier.


Title: Garden of Eden
Pairing: Frederick/Ky
Summary: Ky is not at all prepared to find himself running into a suspiciously familiar face in the early 21st century - to say nothing of finding himself in the 21st century to begin with.
Rating: PG (eventually NC-17)
Chapter: 1/?
Word Count: 8660



The one thing that didn't change in the transition was the sky – sullen and overcast, grey cloud padded thickly from horizon to horizon as though to keep humid stickiness of early summer from escaping. Flat on his back with a head full of fuzz, it took up all of Ky's view, and was one of the reasons it took him so long to realise anything had changed at all.

On his first attempt to sit up and orient himself, the vertigo hit immediately. His head swam; his eyes insisted there were two of everything and he was seeing it through fog. He grimaced and levered himself up to lean forward over his knees, fighting the nausea that joined his other symptoms right on cue. He'd lived through enough concussions to know what this meant.

Gingerly, he ran his fingers over his scalp, trying to assess the damage, but apart from a persistent throbbing at his temples nothing hurt – no bumps, no bruises – nothing to suggest he was the victim of the least of head injuries. What had happened then, was he ill? Under the influence of a disorientation spell? He cast his mind back, trying to remember what he'd been doing.

There'd been a tip-off about a smuggling ring that morning – tech so black even Zepp wouldn't touch it – and they'd responded without delay. The bust hadn't gone as smoothly as they'd have liked (though no worse than they'd realistically expected) – the smugglers had no qualms about opening fire on a unit of IPF officers. Somewhere in the confusion... Ky frowned as the memory trickled back – somewhere in the confusion, Axl Low had turned up, out of the blue, with a whole troop of smugglers in pursuit. There'd been no opportunity to wonder how he'd gotten himself involved; there hadn't even been time for Ky to get as far as expressing his surprise before Axl had all but run straight into him... and then there'd been a horribly dreamlike sensation of falling... and that was as far as his short-term memory went.

If Axl had knocked him down (and after the lifetime he'd led that thought was mortifying enough), that could explain a lot of his symptoms, though not why everyone had left him lying flat where he fell until he came back to himself. Or why he could no longer hear anything that suggested the battle that ought to be going on around him – no gunshots, no yelling, nothing at all beyond a vague background rumble. Or, now that he noticed it, the fact that he was lying on what appeared to be well-cut grass.

Feeling not much illuminated by the results of his mental inventory, Ky looked up and made a second attempt to get his bearings. The dizziness was already clearing up, fast enough to cast even more doubt on the concussion, his eyes finally consenting to focus. It took some minutes for him to admit this, to stop blinking and squinting at his surroundings like a man trying to find the young girl in the black and white shapes that looked like an old woman, because it took him that long to convince himself he wasn't seeing things.

Ky had woken to find himself in a small park – a rectangle of grass maybe half the size of a respectable block, crammed between two streets, a wall covered with colourful graffiti and another mostly obscured by the branches of three struggling trees, competing for space up against the masonry. Two park benches, faded blue paint beginning to peel, sat either side of a rubbish bin past due to be emptied. High rise buildings, reaching upwards dozens of stories of grey brick and glass, blocked the view more than a few dozen metres away in most directions, and provided an explanation for a number of darker blurs surrounding the edges of his vision of the sky when he'd first found himself lying here.

Gone was the smugglers' hideout, masked in the decrepit ruin of what hadn't been a real city since the invasion of 2079. Gone was any sign of the smugglers, his own men, or even Axl Low. Gone was anything remotely familiar, or that gave Ky the slightest useful clue about his whereabouts. The architecture and the presence of a few medium-sized wheeled vehicles parked on the far side of the road put him in mind of some of the poorer areas of Zepp he'd seen through the windows of flying transport on the occasional visits, but he shelved the theory again just as quickly. There were few places anywhere on Zepp where you couldn't hear the distinctive hum of the vast engines that kept the island afloat, and the altitude alone assured it was never this warm there. Besides, how on earth could he have gotten there from so far away, let alone without anything more than a rapidly retreating headache to explain why he had no recollection of being moved at all?

He had to be missing something that would allow him to make sense of all this. But what? He'd never heard of magic that could achieve an effect like this. The only wildcards in play before his recollections ended were the cache of mysterious Blacktech the smugglers had been transporting, and the sudden appearance Axl Low. Could there be a Blacktech device capable of transporting a man long distances in an instant? He'd never heard of one, and the smugglers had wielded nothing more remarkable than ordinary handguns – the kind Ky was used to seeing carried by Zepp soldiers. That in itself was puzzling; the information they'd received suggested they'd obtained tech far more advanced than what he'd seen. Why just the handguns then, was the rest of the shipment too valuable to be risked? Unsuitable for short-range combat? Were even the smugglers themselves not sure how to use it? If they had gotten their hands on some kind of teleportation device, and if one of them had activated in the confusion without knowing how to use it correctly, that could explain Ky's predicament very neatly...

It still hinged on the existence of a kind of technology he'd never even heard of. And it was no help in explaining where he was, or how there could be any well-populated city left in the world he was at such a loss to identify.

If the smugglers did have tech they didn't know how to use, that might well explain what Axl Low had been doing there. Ky's brief glimpse of him suggested he'd come from inside the building, and he'd been missing the kusarigama he usually carried – enough to infer him to be a prisoner escaping in the confusion. It would explain a lot if the smugglers had heard of him, and determined him to be just who they needed to teach them how to get their hoard to work. Formidable as Axl was in combat, it was embarrassingly easy to imagine him being abducted while drugged or intoxicated – in which state the man was also known to forget the risks he took by reminiscing long and loudly about Blacktech creations that were no more than conventional technology in his youth. Ky had never been quite sure how far to believe his wild claims of spontaneous and involuntary timeslipping, but he only invited trouble by spreading the story so widely.

Ky froze, the Blacktech theory all but forgotten in an instant.

Timeslipping. Axl, who'd been just about to run straight into him right before Ky had blacked out and woken to find himself in a city like none he'd ever seen before.

For the first time since finding himself here, Ky began to panic.

If he really was back in time – if Axl really had timeslipped right in the moment they'd collided, and Ky had been dragged back with him...

When Ky made his first dash out onto the street, it wasn't to find Axl or even to prove his theory right, but out of horrible need to find anything that would prove such a mad idea wrong. The park sat on the corner of a T-junction – three directions providing too many new sights and sounds to process in twice the time and half the rush. Everything was wrong – the architecture, the layout of the streets, the vehicles – cars, models even Zepp consigned to museums as artefacts of another age – everything down to the colours and the smell of the air. Ky picked a direction mostly at random and ran, jostling past one annoyed pedestrian in fashions from vanished centuries after another.

He found what he was seeking only a lucky dozen paces from the corner park, in the form of a newspaper stand on the side of the street. Cover after cover, identical no matter what publication he looked at, placed the date in August, 2016. More than a hundred and fifty years in the past.

Seconds turned into minutes as Ky stared blankly at the date, still trying with all his imagination to find any other way to interpret what he'd seen.

“Don't get yer hopes up. Same shit they run every slow news week,” said a voice. “Those cheap bastards used that same headline the week before last, but then they had, 'replacing gasoline' where they got 'cancer' now – and I'd bet five bucks that's as much as they did to the rest of the it.”

Ky looked up into the face of the man running the newspaper stall – which was middle aged and weatherworn but not unfriendly – and realised that his wide-eyed surprise had been mistaken for interest in the cover story of the paper he'd been staring at. The headline read, ' “MAGIC” MAY BE WITHIN MONTHS OF CURING CANCER, SCIENTISTS SAY'. He blinked, struck with a second kind of culture shock in as many minutes.

“Ah,” he said indistinctly, at a loss for anything more articulate. 2016 was a mere six years after the discovery of magic, more than fifty years before the Holy War began, still nearly twenty before advances in magical technology would make possible the Bolstaff Scandal and the uprisings that would turn old technology into taboo Blacktech overnight. These were days when the idea that this new source of free, unlimited energy really could solve all the world's ills would have been very believable. Ky shook his head, not knowing what to think. It was like reciting events from legend – like a story from the bible. Before the war. A hundred and fifty years might as well be a hundred thousand.

The stall owner grinned at him. “Yeah, never thought I'd miss celebrity scandals until I saw 'magic' in scare quotes the third month running. Next it'll be 'solve world hunger' or 'make sick kids fart rainbows'. So you buying that or what?”

“I, ah, I'm sorry, I don't have any money on me,” Ky admitted, feeling awkward about wasting the man's time – despite his downright bizarre sales manner. Ky wasn't technically penniless, but even though he couldn't, right at that moment, recall which year the World Dollar had been accepted as the world's first international currency, he was sure that 2016 was vastly too early.

The man's friendliness dried up very quickly. “What is it with you gawking tourists today?” he complained. “That's two in five minutes.”

Ky looked up sharply. “Two...?”

“Second guy to pull up, stare at a paper like it's revolutionised his life and run off without buying it,” the man grumbled. “Friend of yours, was he?”

“What did he look like?” Ky asked quickly. “The other man – please, it could be important.”

The stall owner shrugged. “Dunno. Long hair. Shirt with some kinda flag on it. One of those European ones. British?”

“Which way did he go?” Ky asked urgently.

Startled by Ky's sudden interest, the man raised a thumb in the direction leading away from the park. Ky thanked him hurriedly and ran off down the street as fast as the rest of the pedestrian traffic would allow, scanning the crowds for the first sign of a red bandanna over blond hair.

Axl Low was here! And he could well be Ky's only hope of getting back.

Half a block brought him to the nearest crossing street, by luck just as the traffic stopped to allow a waiting crowd to cross. Ky caught himself on the brink of demanding the way be cleared in the name of official IPF business (the IPF wouldn't exist for the best part of two centuries). Instead, he had to settle for pushing his way through their midst, apologising hastily as he went. What seemed like more cars than should still exist in every museum on the planet zoomed by him in the next lane over, only a few feet away (the history books hadn't mentioned how much noise they made, or the smell).

Five minutes, the man had said – give or take everything that confused a witness's sense of time, and it matched his own estimate of how long he'd taken to get his bearings before leaving the park. If Axl kept to the direction he'd been pointed in – if he wasn't moving fast or if he found reason to stop – then Ky had a good chance of catching up. If he took any side-streets, or if he vanished into any of the buildings... well, there was no help in worrying about might-be's, he had to move.

The crossing street behind him marked the start of a busy commercial area; shop fronts lined the ground floors of every building on both sides of the road, all decked out in attention-grabbing colours. A cluster of eye-catching banners overhead were decorated with human silhouettes against nearly fluorescent backgrounds, and could just as well have been artwork or advertising for all the sense he could make of them. Of all possible places to lose a man who was most easily recognised by the patriotic colours of his favourite jacket, this might've been the last one Ky would have chosen. He willed himself to focus and pushed on.

His first glimpse of what might have been Axl, vanishing into a shoe shop a few lengths ahead, turned out to be a woman in a red hat. Ignoring the confused looks of half a dozen other customers, Ky turned on his heel and rushed back out.

There was a man in a Union Jack T-shirt on the far side of the road, but he was overweight and mostly bald. Down a side street opposite, a store calling itself 'Stars and Stripes' appeared to sell nothing but combinations of the same colours. Ky dragged his attention back to the front just in time to do a double take as a gaggle of Asian tourists began admonishing the strange man who'd run right in front of their camera in loud, fluent Japanese.

That was the last thing that registered properly for most of the next block; even crossing another road registered only with the echo of a dozen horns blaring at him, until out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of Axl Low vanishing around a corner on the far side of the road, a few dozen metres ahead.

The street between was packed with cars, and the next proper crossing point was far too far away. Ky vaulted clean over a parked car, dodged through two lanes of traffic and ran, knowing only that if he didn't catch up now he never would. He went tearing around the corner, missed running headlong into a pedestrian coming around it the other way by a fraction of a second, scanned the street as he ran – there!

There was Axl, only a dozen paces away... casually unlocking the door of his car and loading shopping bags into the back seat. He gave Ky a thoroughly un-Axl-like look before apparently opting to ignore him, then climbed into his car and began manoeuvring it jerkily out of his parking spot.

At this distance, he didn't have more than a passing resemblance to the real Axl.

By the time Ky made it back to the main street, what little hope he'd ever had of finding Axl was fading fast. He had to keep going, had to keep running in the only direction he had any reason to think that Axl might still be going, because it didn't matter that no rational IPF officer would bother following a suspect so far like this, there was no back-up plan. No-one to radio for assistance, no headquarters to go back to, no means to report the suspect's face and know that thousands of officers in a dozen places around the world would know it by the morning. Not even a single local contact or the option of picking up the trail back at one of Axl's known residences or haunts, because here he had none, and Ky had nothing, not even the first idea how to guess at where a seasoned time traveller hailing from a time at least twenty years ago and a country thousands of miles away would go when he found himself here and now.

That was a problem, because finding Axl was all he had to keep himself moving and focused, from having to think about where he was, how far he was from anything he knew...

It was not, ultimately, desperation that stopped him.

Even knowing he was about ready to start seeing Axl in shop mannequins – if not cloud formations – he almost cursed aloud as a bus pulled up at a signal light next to him, completely blocking his view of yet another 'Axl' that he'd barely glimpsed on the far side of the street. In his frustration, Ky was already two steps into making his way around the obstruction before it even registered what he'd seen printed on the near-side of the vehicle, large enough to take up the entire side of the bus.

It was an advertisement for a ferry company, the text emblazoned beside two giant photographs of the Statue of Liberty, one a long shot, the other a close up on the head, both taken in what must have been perfect weather. A third image showed a small group of people, leaning over the side of a boat to point with smiling faces. 'Ferries leaving daily – a great day out for all the family!' promised the text.

When the bus finally moved away, revealing the 'Axl' as another woman in a red and yellow scarf and a tie-dyed T-shirt, inspecting a rack of jewellery, Ky was still standing there.

Papers that talked about magic as if it were something strange and new, roads choked with enough cars to poison the atmosphere for generations, Japanese citizens wandering casually around a foreign country in broad daylight, to say nothing of a single business district with more wealth than would one day be found anywhere in what was left of the war-ravaged world. And now A-Country's greatest landmark – to his day one of the enduring symbols of the first wave of destruction – whole and undamaged. A tourist attraction rather than a memorial.

There was nothing to sit on but the pavement beneath his feet when he let his legs give way, and laugh hopelessly at himself until tears ran down his face.

He couldn't be here. Of all the eras in human history – ten years ago, a thousand years ago, ten thousand even – there could be none that had self-destructed so spectacularly as this one; ground from time and memory itself under the advancing feet of a thousand thousand Gears. To suggest such a time could ever be accessible again, even by magic – the peak of humanity's wealth and decadence, everything that had been stripped away as penance for the sin of playing God – why, Ky had never heard anything so ridiculous. The century between his time and this might as well have been an epoch or longer.

And all he could think about was getting home.

***

It was a while before Ky got to his feet. He wiped his face as best he could, wondered if he was really so far from the war – juggling the work of three men, and with the lives of ten thousand soldiers resting on every sleep-deprived decision he made – that merely being lost and alone in unfamiliar territory was enough to make him lose it.

He supposed his next best option would be to retrace his steps back to the park where he'd arrived, on the off-chance that Axl might return there looking for him, but it would be a long shot at best. It was hard to believe Axl would have abandoned him here deliberately, but there was a real possibility he'd not realised that anyone else had been dragged back with him in the first place. Axl had clearly recovered from the trip faster than he; if they'd landed even a few metres apart, it was entirely believable that he could have missed the sight of Ky lying in the park altogether. If that was the case, then he wouldn't have much reason to go back there.

What would a seasoned time traveller like Axl do when he found himself here and now?

Sensory overload alone was giving him another headache. He came to a halt outside a small cafe and tried, in between the roar of passing traffic, to think.

He suddenly wished he'd paid a bit more attention to Axl's stories about his timeslipping adventures when he'd had the chance. Axl was personable enough to be the sort who got to know everyone who stayed in his general vicinity very long, more or less without effort, but having encountered him on only a handful of brief occasions since they'd first met at the tournament of 2181, Ky simply didn't know him well enough to predict where he'd go or what he'd do in a situation like this. What he did know was that the timeslipping was involuntary, that Axl himself had no control over when it might happen, or where (not to mention when) he might be sent. Sooner or later, he was always dragged inexorably back to late twenty-second century, but even Axl himself seemed to have little or no idea how it worked. Ky had no idea if anyone else had ever timeslipped with him before. Even if he did find Axl, he didn't have more than the vaguest idea what it would take to make sure they were transported back together, short handcuffing the two of them together for however long it took.

For all he knew, Axl could have timeslipped back already.

It was with a sinking feeling that Ky let himself admit to what had been lurking at the back of his mind like the proverbial elephant in the room ever since he left the newspaper stand – that he might well have no way back at all. Of all the risks he willingly took every day in his chosen line of work, all the ways he'd ever imagined he might end his career, this was one that had never occurred to him.

It was a depressingly line of thought – he wasn't dead yet – though he always had believed in being prepared for the worst. Even through all those days of the war, when he'd often been kept going by little more than the rocksure conviction that he couldn't die because he didn't have the time for it. But they'd won, and Ky had lived to see it, and the IPF had been the next logical step in his quest to protect the peace he'd worked so hard for. Much as it grated against his nature to miss a single day's work when he had such responsibility to his name, he supposed that if he never made it back... well, the world would have had to find a way to manage without him some day.

One way or another, he had always expected to go out in the line of duty. But he'd certainly never imagined it might be like this, sent to live out what time he had left in the forgotten end of history, not with a bang but with a whimper. It would be somewhat ironic if this was it, to live through the war, to live through so much that had transpired since, only, he thought gloomily, to reach the end of his days just in time to see it begin anew.

What would people back home do if he never came back, he wondered? Probably erect some sort of horrible statue of him as a memorial, he thought, with a shudder. Within a few years, it might well be getting advertised as 'a great day out for all the family' too.

He'd never before had cause to doubt that God had a plan for him (even if it was a plan that forced him to spend so many years in the company of Sol Badguy), but how this fit into it, he couldn't begin to imagine.

Ky shook himself. Being prepared for the worst was all well and healthy, but he really ought to focus on more immediate concerns. He had no reliable way to find Axl. Nor did he have any money, anywhere to stay, anyone he could go to for help, or any way of explaining his predicament that wouldn't make him sound like a madman.

A lack of options at least kept the matter simple. He could go on wandering these streets for another hour, hoping against hope that he'd run into Axl by pure luck, or he could make an effort to get his bearings, to find out where he was and what, realistically, he could do with himself. Considering that Axl had every reason to be just as disoriented as he, Ky had at least as much chance of tracing his steps that way as any other.

An inquiry about where he could find the nearest map of the city, addressed to some passing shoppers who took him as a foreign tourist, got him directions to what he gathered was the city's nearest noteworthy landmark. One block's worth of walking brought him to an open park, many times larger than the one where he'd woken up. There was a tall, freestanding arch made of white stone marking the exit onto the street on the far side, and a pond and fountain in the centre, only the very top of the spray immediately visible over the heads of an even larger crowd. Ky paid both features only passing attention; according to his directions, there should have been a signboard showing a city map somewhere around the edge of the square. It took a few minutes of making only miserably slow progress through the mob of people before it dawned on Ky that this couldn't be typical for the area – monuments as permanent as these didn't attract this much attention in any century. Giving up on making any more progress for the moment, Ky scanned the square, seeking any kind of explanation.

He found his answer standing on a raised stage, just in front of the towering arch on the other side of the square, a feature he'd looked right over at first, unable to tell whether it was more likely to be modern sculpture or construction equipment in the visual overload of a place where everything was so new. On top, a nest of scaffolding surrounded a mechanical engine, covered in chrome plates and tubing, and, somewhat incongruously, wired to an array of old-fashioned light globes that hung from the front of the stage. In front of it, a line of men and women in white coats moved around with the terse body language of professionals under pressure, stepping carefully over and around a network of thick cables connecting everything to everything else. The middle of the engine was obscured behind a grid of dark, rectangular objects (screens, perhaps?), stacked to form a tall square that towered a good metre over the scientists' heads, but there was no question of their being any intent to hide the machine behind it – huge and polished until the sun glinted off every pipe, it dominated the stage.

It looked to Ky something like an airship engine, but built by someone with no more to go on than a vague memory of having once seen a picture of one, and no real idea about the proper scale of the thing. On the base of the stage, almost obscured by a sea of heads, a banner declared today the day for a demonstration of the world's first magical generator – though in the context of the rest of the scene, it could have been upside down and in Swahili and he would still have gotten the idea.

The cover story of the newspaper blinked in colourful afterimage behind Ky's eyes. 2016. What a period of history he'd found himself in. Six years after the discovery of magic, and something so ordinary as a magical engine was still cutting edge technology. Who would have thought?

Time to frame that question was time for it to dawn on Ky that the answer very probably included every engineer or scientist he'd ever had the honour of working with; most of whom it was painfully easy to picture laughing at him, should he ever have expressed something so naïve in their presence.

Now that he gave it any real thought he supposed it had been foolish of him to assume the leap could have been so obvious or easy, but engines like this were such an ubiquitous piece of technology in his own time – one of few assets that could genuinely be taken for granted through most of the war years, and such a fundamental part of what magic was. The thought of there being more involved in their creation than a few elementary modifications to the 20th century non-magical equivalent had simply never crossed his mind.

Not for the first time that day, Ky found himself wishing the whirlwind years of his education had afforded more opportunity to study those facets of history without military or tactical significance. Instead, here he was, head full of details about tactical turning posts from wars two hundred years old, lost without comment on what might be one of the defining moments of the century. There were probably dozens of distinguished historians from his own time who would have killed to trade places with him right now.

On stage, a man in a casual suit ensemble stepped up to a microphone on a stand, and, following a routine with such a long and distinguished tradition that even Ky recognised it, proceeded to try to speak into it, found it switched off, fiddled with the buttons on the side, and succeeded in activating it to a squeal from the speakers that reverberated around the square. The noise from the crowd rose slightly, then dropped in anticipation.

When his speech began, the sound system rendered it in a manner so garbled that Ky could only make out one work in five, but the crowd cheered – or in a few cases booed, making such a racket that he wondered if they'd even be able to hear it when the engine was finally switched on. The announcer's main job seemed to be to draw everyone's attention to a connecting junction in the cables draped prominently over the stage to link mains power to the sound system (why went somewhere over Ky's head, perhaps it made more sense in context), and yell things like 'are we EXCITED?' at the watching crowd. It looked for a while like this was going to be one of those endlessly drawn out occasions where the main event required such a small fraction of the full time scheduled that the audience would be made to wait through an hour or more of posturing and suspense-building before anyone got to see what they'd come for. Instead, it was only about ten minutes of introduction before the speaker finished to general applause.

The dark grid in the middle of the engine woke suddenly to life, revealing itself to be a stack of narrow-edged television screens, each working to display a portion of the overall picture. The sound quality was only a little better than before, but among the images were more than a few that were eerily familiar. With musical backing and rather more showy visual effects than could be necessary, the video presented the audience with a five-minute outline of the history of the discovery of magic – the laboratory breakthroughs (generic scenes of scientists in lab-coats doing something technical in a white, sterile, environment, observing as a woman concentrated on lighting and extinguishing a candle), the disbelief from the scientific community (newspaper headlines and stacks of scientific journals, images of serious looking men arguing with each other via a split screen), the rising estimates of what proportion of the population had natural magical capability (more individuals summoning gusts of wind or turning water to ice, a news report on the first known magically assisted bank heist). The narrative moved on to name the scientists responsible for the recognising that this new power source could mean free and unlimited energy (more scientists, more newspapers) – a revelation that had taken place within a whirlwind of ongoing controversy from the scientific community, the religious community, the fossil fuels industries, the scattered groups of environmentalists who'd convinced themselves there had to be a catch, all rushing by in a flicker of warring headlines...

The sheer depth and breadth of wonder and feeling conveyed between those few minutes of video, magnified in the reactions of the crowd around him, were a little dizzying. A hundred and fifty years from now, every child would learn the first part of the video – magic was discovered, the world would never be the same again – but who would have thought that the discovery of something so wonderful would have made so many different people so angry?

The video wound up on a high note, revealing all that had come before as no more than prelude for the real excitement of the day. The music reached its crescendo as one of the scientists stepped up and made a show of yanking down a big lever just to the left of the screens, and the machine behind hummed to life. For a few seconds, nothing much happened apart from a gradual increase in volume, then finally the first of the light-globes in the array flickered to life, then the second, then the third... Ky spent a few moments bemused by how slow the world's 'first magical generator' was proving to be before it dawned on him that, like the rest of the performance, it was all for show. If more proof were needed, the lighting of the very last globe was accompanied by a line of smaller globes strung around the edge of the array like Christmas lights that began flashing in a running pattern. The crowd cheered; up on stage, someone looked to be about to sever the connection to the main cable altogether and switch the whole sideshow to run solely off the new generator. Ky had just time to note the beginnings of a faint staticy sensation rising against his skin – like the air before a thunderstorm – time to notice that the humming was still increasing steadily in volume, when it all went horribly wrong.

Something on the top of the engine gave an ear-splitting bang and let off a shower of sparks; through the smoke, Ky could just make out that one of the pipes had blown itself free, slamming into the side of the scaffolding hard enough that a whole layer crumpled into the one below. There was barely time to note that the noise from the machine was still rising before every lightbulb in the array blew out at once, setting the banner beneath on fire. The scientists on stage fell about, covered their heads, ran to and from the side of the machine and began to yell and argue with each other. Two tried to move the giant lever back up; at first it wouldn't budge, and when a third came to help, their success was rewarded by a second explosion that shook the whole stage. The whine from the machine was approaching ear-splitting pitch. The ripple of confusion that had been running through the crowd became panic, then erupted into chaos as everyone tried to get away from the overloading machine at once.

If Ky had had a minute to think, it might have occurred to him that getting involved might be the last thing he should be doing. Whatever happened here was history – a hundred and fifty years gone, history he had no part in, no right to interfere with. Anything he did could irrevocably change the future, and how could someone as uneducated as he have any idea what the consequences might be, whether what he did to change it would be for the better?

But he didn't have a minute to think, he didn't even give himself a second. All he had was the knowledge that an engine of that size overloading in a populated area would be catastrophic, and that he might well be the only man present who could stop it. His only doubt was the horrible possibility that, caught in the press of a panicking mob determined to carry him the other way, he wouldn't get there in time.

The square had never been designed for mob control, but it had this in its favour: the fence which separated the edge of the garden from the street was well below waist height for the majority of the audience and low enough for them to scramble over with ease. That mattered; it allowed the crowd to disperse in all directions at once and reduced the pressure on the few main exits. Even so, to get back to the centre stage went against the flow from any direction. The only route open was straight through the centre of the pond – even at only a foot or so deep it presented enough of an obstacle to deter all but a few of the fleeing people who splashed past Ky as he ran. On the far side Ky made straight for the stage, and by a second stroke of luck found it starting to clear, the one line through the whole square which everyone was trying to get away from at right-angles. Ky shoved and elbowed his through what remained of the crowd and vaulted on to the stage.

The air around the engine had gone icy cold, what had looked from a distance like steam was more like tendrils of mist, the surface of the metal plating already covered in frost. Cold blue lightning crackled between the pipes above like the output from a Tesla coil. The charge building up within made his skin prickle until it stung, every step he took closer sent another jolt of static leaping between his boots and the floor. When he was close enough to touch it Ky turned and scanned the buildings nearby; he needed one with a lightning conductor, not too tall, not too close, not too far away... there, that one would have to do, he hadn't the time to be picky. With his gaze fixed on his target and one arm outstretched towards it, Ky gave himself just a second for a quick prayer that this wouldn't hurt as much as last time, and pressed his other hand on to the side of the machine.

For an endless moment his whole body burned, white hot – or freezing cold, too sudden for his nerves to tell one way or the other. The least he should have been allowed was close his eyes, but he had to stay focused on his target as long as he could, and stay focused he did until his vision whited out; until everything whited out, every sense, every sensation...

He didn't know which way was up when he came back to himself, couldn't see; wasn't even sure whether his eyes were open or closed (and feeling well and truly past his quota for moments of disorientation for the day). Awareness of his body trickled back to him with the inevitability of discovering that everything hurt. That was good news, he thought dimly – at least he could still feel everything.

It was a surprise to find he seemed to be (mostly) upright, as best he was in any state to tell, but he was leaning against... something. Not the side of the machine either... oh, was that someone holding him up? His first reaction was to think how terribly nice that was, when he didn't even know anyone here, though he wasn't entirely sure he'd wouldn't have preferred to be lying down.

Ky groaned and tried to remember how his eyelids worked, but as the difference between 'open' and 'closed' was the difference between a black blur filled with white dots and a white blur filled with black ones, he couldn't be entirely sure he'd gotten it right. Hearing should have been a better bet, but it still took him some time to make out that someone was talking to him.

The first words he made sense of might have been, “You with me?”

“...who?” he managed.

“Your new biggest fan,” said the someone, probably male, almost, but not quite, familiar, then “...the fuck d'you do to yourself?”

It was probably meant to be hypothetical, but Ky did his best. “Channel the charge... ground it safely...”

“Whatever you did, it worked,” said the man, and relief drained more than a little of Ky's will to keep himself standing. The man made an 'oof' noise as he found himself supporting even more weight. “You're heavier than you look. I'd call you an ambulance, but there's bound to be a dozen on their way already.”

Ky was just lucid enough by then to remember that scrutiny from those sort of officials might not be in his best interests. “I'll be alright,” he insisted, “just need a minute.”

“Like hell you do,” said the man, who, thanks to Ky's recovering eyesight, had now resolved all the way to a man-shaped blur.

Ky supposed he didn't have any way to argue that wouldn't make him sound irrational, but he was suddenly very aware of how exposed they were up on stage. “We should get down from here,” he suggested.

The other man made some passing protests about whether it would be a good idea for him to be moving that far, but helped him across the stage and down the stairs. The area directly around the stage had mostly cleared; the danger might be past, but the fleeing crowd would have had no way to know that the lightning bolt that had just leapt right out of the engine would be the end of it. The last of the white-coated scientists paused long enough to curse at them loudly in German before hurrying off after his companions.

Ky actually found himself feeling a little better to be moving, and was almost ready to support his own weight by the time they got to the bottom of the stairs. Nevertheless, he was all too happy to sit down in the shade of the great arch once they reached it, and let his eyes recover without the glare of full sunlight to contend with.

“Any better?” asked the man, after a bit. Ky was still not entirely sure where he'd come from; he didn't seem to be with the officials. In the back of his mind was the idea that he'd caught a glimpse of someone else climbing on to the stage ahead of him, but it already seemed a long time ago.

“Much,” he replied. At least one of his prayers had been answered this day – the whole experience had been much less painful than the last time he'd been faced with an overloading engine and few other options (even if that did have more to do with this being a very primitive, low-powered engine than divine intervention on his behalf). His body ached, but only a little worse than the norm after a hard day's work, and his eyes had already recovered enough that he could focus on his hands without more than a few spots crowding around the edges. Testing them, he took what should have been his first clear look up at the man who'd helped him down off the stage.

...and now apparently he was hallucinating. How lovely. Maybe he was in worse shape than he thought – even if it was, on reflection, a little too easy to imagine what it meant that he was imagining Sol's face after yet another ill-advised act of senseless heroism.

Fortunately, the man himself didn't immediately recognise how stupidly Ky was staring at him. “Lightning magic, huh? Never seen it used like that before.”

Ky rubbed his eyes and went back to staring down at his hands – it was probably safer. “It's not exactly something I do every day.”

“Ha. Wouldn't make a habit of it either if I were you.”

“What were you doing up there?” Ky asked idly, then realising this sounded more accusatory than he'd meant, added, “You weren't with the officials before, were you?”

“Nah, same as you – thought maybe I could help. I'm in magical research myself – different area, but I read all the New Mechanics articles their lot keep churning out. Call me Frederick.”

Ky risked another glance up as he reached to shake the proffered hand. “I'm Ky.” On a second look, Frederick's hair was much shorter than Sol's, even when the latter's was tied back, and the plain shirt and jeans he was wearing didn't look like anything he could picture coming from Sol's wardrobe. He had startlingly blue eyes – which was not to say that there was anything remotely unusual about the colour, except that it seemed completely out of place in what otherwise still looked to Ky far too much like Sol's face for comfort. The thought occurred to him that perhaps he wasn't hallucinating, that Frederick might have looked just the same even had Ky met him while not temporarily flash-blind, and he didn't know what to make of that. His voice wasn't as deep as Sol's, and his accent was stronger, but the inflections on the odd word here and there were a little too close for comfort.

“Thank you,” Ky added, suddenly feeling the previous had been rather inadequate, “for all your help...”

Frederick shrugged it off. “You did all the real work, I just caught you on the way down. Ky, huh?” The way he said the name suggested him trying it out and deciding he liked it. “We'll be seeing that all through the papers and probably on the back of a medal before long. You probably saved a lot of lives today. Not to mention a metric crapload of property damage.”

Ky groaned aloud. If there was anything he could afford less than the attention of a batch of well-meaning medics... he'd only been in 2016 an hour or so, and already he'd broken history. “I'd really rather avoid all the attention,” he said, by way of explanation for what must have seemed a very odd reaction. “I never... I mean, of course I wanted to help, but I... I don't know what I'd do with it all.”

This was so close to the sort of rhetoric he used all the time at home when yet another official function showed up on his calendar, it didn't occur to him there would be anything suspicious about it, but Frederick had taken on an un-Sol-like look that suggested cogs turning at speed.

“You here with the German team?” he asked. “You've got a bit of an accent.”

“I'm French,” Ky corrected him quickly.

“Same part of Europe, more or less.” Before Ky could take offence at that, Frederick added, “Look, anyone could tell the Germans are going to be up to their balls in it the moment the cops get here. I wouldn't want to admit I knew them from Adam either. But no-one learns to do what you just did by practising in their backyard, and at last check the best magical research agency in France was hardly off the ground.”

Ky was becoming very worried about where Frederick might be going with this. He could ill afford to contradict any of it when he hadn't the faintest idea what the state magical research had been in France in this period.

“Look, don't tell me,” said Frederick, spotting his discomfort, “let me guess. Germany's right over the border from France, and if the Mannheim team knew what you could do they'd snap you up so fast you'd leave your ass behind. So maybe someone's assistant comes along and says, we've got vouchers for twenty airline tickets for this thing in the States and only nineteen on the main team – why don't we offer our star subject a free holiday? No-one's ever going to look at the bills that closely, who's going to know he's not meant to be here? It probably sounded like a better idea to our subject before he realised the whole team were going to be spending the rest of their trip answering questions from men in black suits.” Frederick raised his eyebrows, waiting for Ky's reaction to all his clever detective work.

It was clever – almost too good to be true. If Ky-the-research-subject had only been hired recently and any members of the team who did know him would have good reason to deny any knowledge of who he was or what he was doing on their business trip, it might even work. “That's... really quite an astute guess,” he said carefully, not quite ready to commit any further.

Frederick grinned, pleased with himself. “Might be a good time for our guy to think about dropping out of sight for a bit and making his own way home when things have calmed down. Assuming no-one's going to miss him and come looking.”

“I don't think my name would be on any of the official retinue lists,” said Ky, with very nearly perfect honesty. “But I don't really have anywhere else to go. I haven't even any money on me.”

Frederick squatted down in front of him so he could make eye contact on the same level, his grin taking on a subtly different nature and giving Ky the slightly uncomfortable feeling that he'd managed to tell Frederick exactly what he'd been hoping to hear.

“Maybe I can help you out,” he offered.

It occurred to Ky, under the automatic wave of gratitude, that whatever Frederick suggested next was unlikely to be strictly legal, that he himself was already lying by omission, and the more he associated with anyone here, the more he'd have to lie, or risk changing the past, or both.

It didn't occur to him to say 'no'. After everything he'd already done today, it seemed a little late to worry about what more damage to history he could possibly do.

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
velithya
Jul. 29th, 2010 03:07 pm (UTC)
I REGRET NOTHING
rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 12:14 am (UTC)
YOU NEVER DO

<3
velithya
Jul. 30th, 2010 12:56 pm (UTC)
♥♥♥♥
celadonite
Jul. 29th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
Holy crap, you just gave birth to a monster. I can't stop staring at this.
rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
if so, velithya is so the Dad After the number of months and amount of effort it's taken to get this thing out the door, the 'giving birth' metaphor may be a little too appropriate. >.> And now I'm not sure whether I want to speculate about what that means for the rest of the writing process still to go. It's a good king of staring, right? Not just an 'in horror' kind of thing? ^^;
velithya
Jul. 30th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
HEY!
rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
:P SEE TAGS.
celadonite
Jul. 30th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
When's the baby shower? Really though, it's nice to see your drabble expanded; the premise is too interesting to ignore imo. Is Ky going to try to prevent the Gear Project from happening? Like a moth to a lightbulb XD
rallamajoop
Jul. 31st, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Is Ky going to try to prevent the Gear Project from happening?

That would be telling. =P But I will say that Ky is labouring under the belief that the Gear Project didn't even get off the ground until around 2060-something, and that's going to matter. =D
verstehen
Jul. 29th, 2010 10:31 pm (UTC)
You may call it ridiculously cliched, but when I read the summary I went 'AWESOME.'

...and now to actually read the story.
verstehen
Jul. 29th, 2010 10:50 pm (UTC)
And as predicted, AWESOME. I love his... timelag and the disorientation especially.
rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 03:18 am (UTC)
I have this thing with cliche-fic where my dirty secret is that I love them just as much as the rest of fandom, I just get terribly embarrassed about writing my own. ^^; (See also: the Gratiutous Vampire AU, the Ky birthday-ficlet, and the Cable&Deadpool High School AU). Fortunately, this one seems to be developing enough surrounding plot-crust to mask the cliches at the chewy caremel-filled centre.

Anyway, I am pleased to hear you found it as awesome as the summary promised. Ky's disorientation was the main part I got stuck on for so long, so it's really gratifying that you liked the final result. =D
verstehen
Jul. 30th, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
...wait have you posted parts of the C&D high school AU and I missed it? (Because that actually sounds like something they'd do in canon!)

Anyway, looking forward to reading more, as always, even if I don't comment enough. :D
rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)
Well I posted a part of a high school AU, plus some bonus backstory notes earlier this year. Might post another scene or two from it at some point, but it's not really a multi-parter.

that actually sounds like something they'd do in canon!

Only because Cable & Deadpool was just that awesome. It could totally have been one of the worlds Wade went through when he was out dimension hopping!

Anyway, looking forward to reading more, as always, even if I don't comment enough. :D

Don't want to make any promises there, given how long it took to get part 1 finished, but I am still holding on to the hope that part 2 will behave a bit better. ^^; Thanks for taking the time to comment, either way - a little outside enthusiasm for the story never hurts. *g*
supplanter
Jul. 30th, 2010 05:05 am (UTC)

♥♥♥♥

That little drabble was just so lonely.... :3

rallamajoop
Jul. 30th, 2010 06:58 am (UTC)
Heh, well now it has 8560 other words to keep it company. ;) And more to come!

I'm still kinda fond of the drabble as it is, but I rest assured that no-one will mind me expanding on it. *g*
(Anonymous)
Jul. 31st, 2010 12:35 am (UTC)
I'm not really in this fandom and yet I love it because you write fic for it and this is so cool.

Especially love that Frederick is so smart ( or just full of himself ) that he immediately assumes he knows exactly what happened, and Ky is just going along with it. I'm itching to know what he'll make of all the other little discrepancies he finds with Ky.



"Even knowing he was about ready to start seeing Axl in shop mannequins – if not cloud formations - "

Love that Ky is aware of how completely messed up he is, but it doesn't help orient him in the slightest because he's just that lost. And the way it takes him a while to recognize cars, and just how alien everything seems through his eyes.

Just wanted to say this was awesome.
[/delurk]
rallamajoop
Jul. 31st, 2010 05:07 am (UTC)
I'm not really in this fandom and yet I love it because you write fic for it and this is so cool.

=D Wow, thanks that's seriously one huge compliment. :3

Especially love that Frederick is so smart ( or just full of himself ) that he immediately assumes he knows exactly what happened, and Ky is just going along with it.

One of the most awkward parts of writing this story was always going to be finding Ky an explanation for why he has no ID, no address, and doesn't know a single person in the city (or the world). I'm still mentally working out some of the kinks, but I am quite pleased that the explanation I have fell together as well as it did. So Frederick notices that this guy happens to have a European accent and doesn't seem to want to talk to the police for some reason, and being in research himself I'm sure Frederick has a lot of strong opinions about the haphazard way funding gets thrown around on some projects. And of course he just can't resist flexing his brain in front of an audience.

I'm itching to know what he'll make of all the other little discrepancies he finds with Ky.

He will probably blame a lot of them on Ky being French, or being Not A Scientist (a class of people Frederick has limited respect for), or, failing all else, on having some genuine reason to want to avoid the police, which Frederick isn't going to care about much as long as he has his hands on the most amazing new research subject he's ever seen.

Love that Ky is aware of how completely messed up he is, but it doesn't help orient him in the slightest because he's just that lost. And the way it takes him a while to recognize cars, and just how alien everything seems through his eyes.

As that's part of that tricky section that had to be scrapped and completely rewritten, it really is gratifying that people liked the final version.

Just wanted to say this was awesome.

And again, thank you very much for delurking long enough to say so.
shiranui_kai
Dec. 21st, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
Late comment! I should've bookmarked this community before and now I'm falling behind.
Anyway, I freakingly love you for making Frederick to appear rather than Sol here. Clichè to you - but this fic is drop dead AWESOME.
I'm pretty bad at understanding English but I managed to survive reading this - 3 times. I am so FAILED.
rallamajoop
Jan. 5th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
Sorry for the similarly slow response, but thanks for commenting all the same! I've been neglecting this fic horribly ever since I got this chapter up, and it really doesn't hurt to have a reminder about it once in a while. ^^;
kitsoru
Aug. 13th, 2011 10:30 am (UTC)
This is so incredibly late as I haven't gone fic hunting in the better part of 2 years BUT I just have to say that this is amazing, and I really hope someday you find the time/interest/words/what have you to continue it!
rallamajoop
Aug. 15th, 2011 08:52 am (UTC)
Well, given how long this fic's been languishing without an update, it doesn't seem so late. ^^; As for continuing it, I really hope I find time someday too. Still meaning to, I've just had so many other WIPs/other distractions on my plate as well to keep me busy. Glad you liked it though - the odd reminder never hurts the odds of me getting back to an old WIP.
kitsoru
Aug. 15th, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
I hear ya on the endless WIP's XD (except for me it's picture ideas and cosplays, haha).
kitsoru
Aug. 18th, 2011 01:29 am (UTC)
Also ffs I hope you don't find it too weird that I came back just to say this, but shortly after reading this the mental image popped into my mind of Ky finding Freddie's copy of Sheer Heartbreak in his house and thinking this looks awfully familiar XDD;
rallamajoop
Aug. 18th, 2011 09:55 am (UTC)
Not weird at all, especially since there is a scene very much like that in my head for later in this fic. It would be more of case of him a hearing Frederick playing that album than finding it lying around, but it would be exactly the headtrip you would expect. *g*
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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