(This is only the second draft of the book Worthless. Expect typos, plot holes, odd subplots and the occassionally wrongly named character, especially minor characters. It is made public only to give people a rough idea of how the final story will look)
The damp streets of Nakskov glistened softly with those last bits of early autumn rain still clinging to the pavement. The hum of school children from the multiple schools that lay shoulder to shoulder near the town train station was a droning sound, mixing with the hush of low afternoon traffic.
At the edge of the sidewalk, barely noticing the cars occassionally passing in the street, sat a small figure, poorly dyed black hair covering its face, eyes fixed on fingers.
Farther away, a figure looking just like her was running as fast as possible.
I had at that point run for the better part of half an hour, feeling my legs pounding like I was sitting on the speakers at a rock concert. I had managed to hide along the way, but only briefly. Only to regain my strength. I was never the long distance runner in gym class, more the brief sprinter and then downsitter at the nearest bench. I didn't mind that phones were not allowed in gym, I was typically too preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself for any and all physical exhaustion.
They werent that hard to spot. Turning the corner, they came into sight very easily. The fact that I had run there was more perplexing, actually, and as I became aware of what I was doing, on a deeper time travel level, panic began to set in. Maybe I was attracted to familiar places, maybe I had just followed the road to its inevitable conclusion, I had no idea. But she, the robot copy of me, was not the one I knew. She would be later, once several things happened to pull her out of her current mindset. Right now, she was just a machine mimicking a girl. Not even alive, really. Easily repaired or replaced if she got damaged. Thoughts like those made me feel far less crappy as I raised the knuckle gun and fired off several shots. It was hard to see the finer details while running at full speed, not to even mention feeling ready to faint at a moments notice, but it did look pretty when she exploded into robot confetti from a precise hit!
Mischa, who had been talking to her while her head exploded into robot components, was less thrilled.
"RUN!" I screamed, approaching him with rapid steps. But he barely even noticed.
"Run, dammit, run!"
He finally snapped out of it, pulling his eyes away from the twitching piece of headless machinery beside him and looking down the street at me as I came closer.
"Ida?" he asked in disbelief. I noticed his gaze briefly pass over my left hand as I flicked the small weapon into my palm and pocketed it. Even I was surprised at the damage it had done to the fake body double. Misha, needless to say, was still even more surprised.
"Run. Now!" I yelled, now seconds from him. He pulled away from the sputtering machine and got to his feet, hitting running speed almost the instant I passed him. I still grabbed his hand, making sure he would keep pace. He did.
"What the... what was..."
"Not now," I interrupted, but I could feel the confusion slowing him down.
"You exploded!" he finally half-yelled, and I felt him starting to slow down badly.
"Not me," I hissed, sending his eyes a quick, intense glance. "A double."
"Why?" His speed picked up a bit at finally getting some answers, in spite of the new questions they clearly raised.
"They want to replace me," I snarled between quick breaths.
"Why?" he added again.
"I stole a time machine. Pissed them off a bit."
Misha slowed for a second, then picked up pace even more than before. I smiled as I continued to try to plot the best course in my head.
"You what a what?"
The inner streets of town were not that crowded at that time of day, as far as I could remember. With my legs burning, I forced him to speed across the crosswalk diagonally, then head towards some of the more windy streets that Nakskov had to offer. One came up pretty quickly, doubling a bit back on my current route, but it seemed troublesome enough to follow us down.
Mischa did nothing but keep up with me, his terrified chatter having quickly died down as his panic and challenged breath needed his attention. A vague, unclear sound stumbled its way out of his mouth here and there, but nothing of any consequence, or even sensible meaning. That ended when we took a very narrow path between two buildings and, contrary to every instinct in my body, stopped.
"Ida, what the hell is going on?!"
I wasn't answering him. The footsteps of about half a dozen of the time travelers from the house came through astoundingly clear between the many small streets. They sounded lost. Nakskov had that effect on a lot of people.
"Keep an open mind, okay?" I asked, waiting longer than I liked for his eventual, and inevitable, nod of acceptance.
"Time travelers are hiding out in Nakskov, because nobody really gets a bug up their ass about what weird people do down here. Oh, and they seem to believe that not a lot of people from around here will matter, like, historically. A bit insulting, if you ask me."
He just looked at me, eyes like a lost puppy, at first. Then he peeked into the street, pulling back quickly.
"Look, whoever you got mad, just tell me, we can fix it."
Feeling a bit insulted, I found myself taking a disheartened step back.
"I told you, dammit," I complained, making him only look more tired. "People from the future want to kidnap me and replace me with a copy."
It was a bit freaky to hear him spontaneously start laughing, honestly.
"So, time travelers want to replace you with lifelike copies? What the hell did you watch last nnnnnnn....."
His voice didn't exactly fade out as much as it shortcircuited rather abruptly.
"You're thinking about the me that blew up in your head, aren't you?"
"Okay, so clearly, some bizarre replica of you, I can live with that."
"Oh, it gets much weirder," I said, almost sounding like it was the second phase of a surprise party. Mischa seemed less confident in the whole situation.
"So were running from, what, time traveling robots?!" he said, his voice getting steadily louder and shriller.
"No, that's stupid. They just send humans. Some do weird stuff, but still human!" I tried to explain, seeing the pieces move around in his head when I looked at his eyes.
"But if they..."
"Metal conducts the energy used to time travel. Like tinfoil in a microwave. I think. And plastics melt. Living beings get some burns but they can heal."
He took one look up and down me, something I was not used to from him!
"Is that why you..."
"Yes, and I had to change, my clothes were basically glow in the dark. The bad kind."
It was quiet. There had been no signs of my pursuers for a while. Something relaxed inside of me, loosened up, and I took slow steps towards the mouth of the narrow path, where we had entered.
The streets were empty. A single car was parked on the curb, but nothing moved. No sounds.
"I think it's clear," I whispered. All of a sudden, I felt kind of silly.
"I think it's clear," I repeated, in a more regular voice. Mischa, apparently not entirely convinced, also peeked out.
"So you..." He seemed to honestly be looking for words to say. "You stole a... You stole a time machine. From evil time travelers."
"I, well. Not, not really. I think."
"Then explain it to m... run!"
He darted off without waiting, but at this point, running away had become a reflex. I was on his tail in seconds, not even looking back at what I was running from. He finally stopped a bit farther down the street.
"What the hell did you see?"
He had a weird look on his face, like a small child trying to explain an awkward experience.
"Not sure. I may have overreacted," he sheepishly grumbled. "Look, I'm not used to this shit after..." He looked at his wristwatch. "... after 14 minutes, okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I've been there," I managed to get out between deep breaths.
"So why did you come to me?"
I completely forgot about breathing deeper to replenish my oxygen, instead looking at him with my mouth still somewhat open.
"We're... I mean... we deal with, like, shit. Together. Right?"
"I guess," he sighed, also trying to regain full breath and stop looking like someone trying to actually eat the air around him.
"I mean, I had this plan, you know, and it was kinda... I mean, it was like #*@!ing beautiful. Clever and shit," I rambled, feeling my brain shut down unimportant parts to conserve energy. Like the parts that made me think about things before saying them.
"What plan? Was I part of it?" he asked, sounding like he would be horrified to know the answer.
"Sort of. Your future version was. This is all, like, improvised, right now."
Some part deep inside my brain screamed for me to just shut up, before it became too dumb, or worse yet, revealed too much!
"So what is it?"
"Contact the good time travelers, have them help me destroy the bad."
"Really? How?" he replied, suddenly standing up straight, seemingly ignoring any strained breathing.
"Doesn't matter. They're not as good as I thought."
"Oh great!" he burst out, loud enough that I tried discretely shushing him and looking nervously around the street. "Now we have bad time travelers, and not so good time travelers. Sounds like solid company you're stuck in, Ida."
Feeling the disappointment of my journey into the past wash over me, I sank down against the old house behind me, face in my hands, struggling not to cry.
"It's all #*@!ed, Misch. They told me I was special and everything, and I listened. Now it's just, it's just all #*@!ed."
He stood very quietly for a moment, looking for anyone threatening walking the streets.
"Do you need them for it. Like, for real?"
The question ran through my head, multiple times. Karen's explanation of how time travel worked, or at least some interesting basics. The fight with the woman in white out in the fields north of town. The old school buildings to the south. Something was hiding in there, an idea. And when it finally clicked, I felt a soothing sensation wash over me from the inside.
"No, we don't need them," I answered in an uncharicteristically confident manner.
Footsteps could be heard at that exact moment, almost as if my answer had called them into existence! We had been so deep in the conversation that neither of us had been watching our surroundings, and now that had snuck up on us! There was a loud crash, and even before I could turn and look, Mischa had glanced over my shoulder.
"Holy shit, are there other robot things out there?!" he said as he backed away. As he ran, so did I, never getting a full look at the source of the sound.
"Because I am pretty sure those guys are robots!"
"What? Who? Why?"
"Behind us. Just run! One of them smashed right through a set of storefront windows to get to us!"
"People might do that!"
"There was a #*@!ing open door right there! That's robot beha..."
He made a choking sound when something grabbed him from around a corner we passed, and I turned instinctively and fired the knuckle gun. Bits and parts exploded everywhere, and somehow, Mischa still managed to land on his feet. Clumsily, but on his feet.
"They're catching up!"
"Who is?!" he asked frantically as he gained speed and caught up with me.
"The #*@!ing robots. Or the time travelers. I don't #*@!ing know any more!"
"What? Are there werewolves and ghosts out there, too? What the hell is..."
"The harbor," I suddenly yelled, cutting him off. "We need to go there, they can't hang out there."
"Some wacky energies from a school down south. I'll explain later!"
Everything ached as we sprinted through town. Mischa still had his strength, but I was running on fumes and a spreading sense of pain free numbness. The shifting street pavement, going from asphalt to cobblestone to tiles in just seconds, was killing my feet, but I blocked out the pain as best as I could.
Finally, the harbor showed up ahead of us. I smiled, tired, at the smell of saltwater and light industry, the sight of light reflecting in water as we came near. And a strange sense in the pit of my stomach. Hope.
That sense was quickly drowned out by another, a sense of pain! I said nothing, just gritted my teethand sucked it up, hoping it would not get much worse. It did.
"What's wrong?" asked Mischa, slowing down as I grew slowly weaker.
"Nothing. A cramp. It's okay," I managed to say, clutching any part of me I could. "Here, take this!"
Struggling a bit to get it off my hand, I threw one of the two knuckle guns to him. He caught it, still while running, but just gave it a puzzled look.
"It's a gun. Kinda," I explained, poorly. "Put it on and use the thumb trigger."
He looked at me with horror in his eyes, glancing at the device a few times, still running at an okay speed.
"I'm not gonna kill people!" he proclaimed, sounding and looking gravely offended.
"Don't worry," I said calmly, "it only harms robots!"
Looking at the device with a slight amazement in his eyes, Mischa nearly ran into poles and whatnot standing in his path, but he evaded each one at the last second. Suddenly and without warning, he made a spin to a full stop, aiming the knuckle gun directly behind us. I came to a halt a bit farther away, but turned to watch him fire at the figures we could see in pursuit of us. One stumbled, his arm going slack, the other was slowed massively down. But Mischa kept firing. Until suddenly a car on the road sparked visibly, wavered a bit, and simply came to a dead stop. With a look of confused fright on his face, he looked back at me.
"Huh. I guess it's anti all machines or something," I answered to his unasked question, as if it was about nothing but a fancy remote control.
The pain felt like small creatures gnawing at my innards at this point. I kept telling myself silently to just endure it, but it was becoming more a steady drag on my energy than some form of injury. It was perfectly clear that Mischa saw this when looking at me, his eyes filled with impotent worry, knowing both that we could not stop, and that even if we could, I had my mind set on something, and he was not going to back out of anything.
"The green park thingie," I half gasped through what felt like the worst running stitch of my life at this point. Mischa did not skip a beat, and continued to follow the harbor, only sending a slight glance back from time to time to check on the pursuers.
The green park thingie was not quite a park, but it kind of had the ambitions to be one. A few cleared paths ran through a thinly wooded space between the roads, looking like you walked through a tranquil forest. If you ignored the constant sound of traffic right outside the treeline, that was.
The lights were on our side, more or less. Mischa got ahead of me, my legs feeling more like lead by the second! He timed it perfectly to cross at green along the one crossing point, while I was two steps out when it turned yellow, but with too much momentum to do much about it. I got across just as it turned red, noting that there were actually a few cars out and about at that time. Not many for most places, but a fair number for Nakskov. Reaching the green path, I turned to see a few of our pursuers stumble their way across to avoid cars, while others held impotently back. But more than that, I saw how several were grabbing their stomach, one his chest. The energy from the blown timemachine was affecting the ones amongst them that were time travelers and not robots. I was feeling it too, though, and keeping up with Mischa was becoming impossible.
"Misch, I need... we need to stop... for a moment..."
He stopped and turned, looking on edge, constantly glancing over my shoulder.
"I need to... tell you something," I panted, fighting for oxygen. I was about to continue when he bolted off to the right! Everything felt like I was being electricuted, or burned from the inside, as I followed suit. Energies ran rampant in me, not enough to really do anything but be felt. Unable to hold a pace with Mischa, I slowed a bit more and looked back. Five were in full pursuit, getting close. The rest were stumbling more and more, looking tormented as they tried to endure the same energies. For a brief moment, I hoped dearly that being only a few days in the past gave me some kind of advantage.
As we made our way into the open green field near the path, a splash of pure green hidden from the streets by only the thinnest of treelines, dizziness began setting in, making my vision blur and setting the world slowly spinning. When I felt the numbing jolt in the back of my leg, hitting like a thrown electric shock, I cried out, collapsing on the grass. Forcing myself to look ahead, I saw Mischa kneel and fire off a stream of faint bolts from the knuckle gun. Then, things got really quiet. Even the sounds of traffic seemed to fade away a little. I rolled over on my back, my leg feeling burned but looking only a bit red as I gazed down. Past the tips of my toes I could see the trees by the green path like a conga line of fuzzy green and brown. I could also see blurry figures either writhing or dancing manically, falling over and forcing themselves back up. A barely visible bolt went through the air, leaving a humming sound in its wake, like a crisp static. Even though it passed safely over me, I felt the strange hum in my body, like I had in my leg.
"Get up!" hissed Mischa not far away from me. I struggled, trying to make my legs work, but they kept failing me. "Get up, I got the robot ones, apparently. The others are..." He looked towards the treeline. "I dont know what the hell they're doing, really. But they're not coming for us!"
I saw the glee in his eyes, the rush of adrenaline that he would never, ever admit to. Then I tried to stand, but it felt like phone signals going through my head, noises like voices, a screaming from far away and right beside me at the same time! Clutching my ears, I fell to the ground again.
"What the hell is wrong with you," I heard him ask from behind the noise. Rolling onto my back again, Mischa kneeling over me with his knuckle gun pointed at the time travelers that would never feel it, I concentrated with all my might on that one moment. All my strength, focused on making that single moment work.
"You know the school building down south, right? The big one?"
The old school buildings were quiet. The bus disappeared down the long, empty road that continued onwards to some of the small coastal hamlets. It had been hell, traveling towards the source of the nausea and pain, but it made it seem worthwhile to know that any of the woman in white's stooges would suffer even more if they tried to follow. And I had Mischa. Unaffected and utterly confused, he never took his eyes off of me during the entire ride, even telling the bus driver that I had food poisoning, complete with a story about a made up food challenge at a made up friend's place, all without ever letting his eyes off me.
And when we got to the stop by the old school, he practically carried me out. Sweat ran from my brow like a broken water main, and I was shaking like a fever victim before the last breath. The driver had called back as we got closer and it got worse, asking if we should go to the clinic instead, but Mischa politely declined every time. I couldn't fit the notion in my head. Going there, being in places in my own past. A string of movies warning of dire consequences when meddling with the past ran in my head, all at the same time.
Around the school, things were different. The fields were quiet, and the one main street was devoid of people. Wanting to argue but failing at it, he supported, nearly dragged, me to the old bike sheds nearby. They looked horrible, rust already set in throughout the metal roof and its supports, weeds and vines fighting to grow over the low wall first. The racks themselves were old fashioned iron ones, and nearly all had been vandalised enough to now be bent out of shape. As he sat me down in their shade, I felt like I would soon become some bizarre new part of the living mass that was the bike racks.
"Seriously, Ida, what the #*@! are we doing here? You look like a three days old corpse, and there's #*@! all here but... Shit, I don't even know what's here. Windmills and existential despair?"
My arm flopped about a bit. I wanted it to point at the school buildings, but it had clearly checked out for the day and was not about to cooperate.
"In the... bliding..."
"In the building?" he less than confidently corrected me. I smiled and gave him a sloppy thumbs up.
"Is masine in basmin. Go in foo boken windo," was all I managed to rattle off. He nodded, but it was obvious to anyone that it was mostly out of courtesy.
"Peat," I demanded. "Peat wasad."
It took him a few seconds, then his eyes lit up like candles.
"Uhm, sounded like there is a mason in the basement, and you want me to go in through a broken window?"
"There's a machine in the basement?"
I nodded again, feeling like my head could drop of like a ripe pear at any moment.
"Go bind, poo aw dingie, tack carsash. Cartish. Fuuuu...."
It felt like the worst possible fever. My organs were clearly trying to kill me, either by cooking me or by swelling till I popped. Somehow, I thought that was funny as hell. Realizing that made me worry what the time energy radiation stuff might be doing to my brain!
"Go bind? Blind?"
I shook my head, feeling about to vomit from seasickness.
"Go behind? Oh, go behind the building? The machine? Go behind the machine, pull the... thingie? Okay, good. Pull that and take.... cash?"
I made a box with my hands and pretended to insert it into something. It looked fine in my head, but it came out like a spastic seizure.
I had never been so happy to hear a word.
"Broken window, machine in basement, go behind, pop out a cartridge and bring it to you, got it."
"Nooo.... out, put away."
"Put it away, got it. Where in the basement is it?"
"Art suppie. Hidden folo. Seckit button in door fame."
"Art supplies, hidden floor, secret button in door frame."
I gave him the best thumbs up my muscles could perform, and he stood up to walk, then walked away with strides full of fake confidence. I had seen him walk like that before, but it tended to be as a joke of some kind. Part of me was worried, but the rest of me was too tired to care. I watched him disappear around the back of the school, stretching my neck to look over the low bike rack wall.
It took a few minutes. There was no real warning, it just felt like the world suddenly switched on again. Light became the right brightness, edges were crisp and clear, sounds and smells made sense, and my thoughts became coherent. With some trepidation, I tried moving my limbs, finding each of them to be perfectly functional. It felt like being dealt a fresh new body, straight off the factory line!
Walking, or perhaps more strutting, across the parking lot, I marveled at the limberness of my legs, unable to take any of it for granted! Not stopping to worry whether everything was really back online, I skipped a small fence to get behind the school building from this opposite end of it. In no time flat, I was at the broken window, still flapping gently in the soft wind.
"Hi!" I said, loudly, seeing Mischa inside the room. He freaked completely, having a sudden fullbody flinch that looked more like a bad dance move.
"Jesus F. Christ, Ida, you scared the... Hey, you're walking!"
"Yeah, miracle cure, first come first served!"
"Okay, a bit too chipper, Hermoine" he said, walking to the window with a look of suspicion on his face. "What now? What's the master plan?"
The moment I opened the loose window, the nausea and pain came flooding back. It was a split second, just until my fingers lost control of the window and it smacked halfway shut again, but it was unmistable. I suddenly remembered to look at the floor.
"Shit. I cant go near that black stuff, or even breathe it," I muttered a bit out loud, and we exchanged glances for a bit.
"You're going to ask for a piggyback ride, aren't you?" growled Mischa, defeated look in his eyes. I slowly nodded.
Standing in the presence of the time machine again was a strange feeling, a strange thought to wrap one's head around. I would use that in the future. I would go into my recent past with it, and there, here, now, I would attempt to use it once more. I felt like either I would remain confused by that concept, or I would understand time travel and just go mad from it.
"This is... This is a time machine?" asked Mischa. I had half expected him to.
"Yes," I answered, rushing over to the crates full of cartridges. It took me no time to find the right one. Even with their simple shape, each had its own elaborate design, like abstract posters in a dorm room I had once seen.
"We could... We could do anything. Kill Hitler, stop 9-11, play the lottery...."
His voice dragged on the last idea. I already knew why. I already knew what his brain was about to think, before it even did.
"Paul..." he muttered in a low voice, right before I grabbed his face in my hands and stared him directly into his eyes.
"We will try to save your brother, but right now, we need to stop the people coming for us."
"But we ditched them already. Didn't we?"
I made a low growling sound as I walked over to the many screens and panels on the machine, made from tablets and phones and anything they could find when they built it. Whoever they were.
"Those were a small handful of goons she could spare. She should have sensed that the machine is fixed and the energy leak is gone." I breathed deep, the fight at the school building flashing before my eyes. "Theyll be here soon. Unless we mess it all up for them."
Without giving Mischa any kind of explanation or even warning, I whacked the cartridge I had pulled from a crate against the rough stone floor. To my dismay, nothing happened.
"What are you trying to do?" asked Mischa, sounding far too level-headed for someone who had just seen his first time machine.
"Trying to break a piece off," I answered, quickly regretting how angry my voice sounded. Without asking, he grabbed the cartridge from my hand, then put it on the ground. When he pulled the damaged cartridge from a spot in the corner, I instantly felt the unsecured energies reach out and grab my body. But before I could react, he smashed the broken cartridge on the one I had picked. With quite some pride, he held up the tiny bit that came off the corner.
"Same material, equal strength," he chirped, and I made a sarcastic grin right back at him.
Karen had explained more than she needed to when instructing me on fixing the time machine, far more. The empty cartridges were exactly where she had said they would be, and after sticking the broken piece in one, I inserted it into the slot that the broken cartridge had been in. It pulled the cartridge into the machine, and I could feel a pulse go through the entire place. When I looked at Mischa, he seemed completely oblivious.
"This piece is my path through time," I said in a pompous voice, pointing at the now shut cartridge slot. "The machine will track where it is in my destination time and have me arrive at its exact location."
"How exact?" asked Mischa, oddly casual about the whole thing.
"Perfectly exact," I replied, noting how excilerated I sounded! "I will arrive at its location, shattering it in the destination time. But really it's already shattered all up and down the timeline. It's a bit hard to understand," I ranted, going through options on the screens, all of them in pictograms that still required me to think carefully.
"Try me," said Mischa, and I turned to look at him.
"Its hard to understand, meaning I don't understand it, Misch."
"Ohhh..." he responded, giving me the old nod, click and a pointed finger. "Why do you.."
"Im going to break a cartridge all over the place," I answered before he could finish.
"So, uhm... Didn't you already break it?"
I suddenly stopped and looked at the damaged cartridge on the floor. I would be there in a few days, my original, un-time travel self, picking up the cartridge and putting it in my backpack before Alex drove me to the fight. What had I put in my bag? Had I just changed the future?
I never finished the train of thought. Mischa simply pickedup the damaged cartridge, polished it with his sleeve, and neither of us could even see that the corner was missing. The elaborate surface design was like an abstract painting with one color stroke missing. My future self would never know.
"Did we do this in the p..."
I grabbed the cartridge from him and looked him right in the eyes.
"Do not go down that rabbit hole. This is mind#*@! country," I sighed at him while putting the cartridge back. I then stepped over to the main screen, if one could call it that, and activated the machine. The devil's fingers sprang to life and exposed the platform. I didn't even hesitate before stepping onto it.
"The flashing red button on the screen," I told Mischa as I knelt down on the platform, turning my overall shape into a ball, feet and hands supporting me like a runner at starting base.
"Flashing red sounds bad," he said in a weird, slightly distant voice. Then our eyes met and he hurried over to push it. Within seconds, the large fingers were dissolving into their tiny components, and I felt the energies of past and future rush through me. Or just a damned lot of electricity!
Everything went blindingly bright.