The Last Love of the Infinity Age
by Peter Darbyshire
I come back to life when the sleeper nuke Doc Apocalypse hid in the subway system goes off and destroys the city. Except I’m not really dead before that. I’m stuck in the Frozen Zone of the city with a few thousand other popsicles who got caught in the crossfire back when the Union of Soviet Super Comrades brought the Cold War home to us.
One minute I was standing there in the flower shop, a bouquet of flowers in my hand for Penny. Then there was the sudden white light as the Comrades’ flash freeze hit. And for the next twenty years I was a block of ice in the flower shop, a bouquet of flowers frozen in my hand for Penny.
Then there’s another flash of light, this one from Doc Apocalypse’s nuke, and the next minute the ice melts away and I’m shaking uncontrollably as I thaw out in the ruins of the flower shop. I’m ankle deep in water. The roof of the shop has collapsed, and the clerk who’d sold me the flowers is scattered around the room in frozen chunks. He doesn’t know how lucky he is.
The flowers have shattered in my hand and are just ice shards melting away in the water now. I leave them and crawl out through a narrow passageway left amid the fallen beams and ceiling tiles. I follow the light.
Outside, the city is melting. Waterfalls pour down the sides of buildings that are still standing. Other buildings have crumpled into themselves under the weight of the ice, or parts of them have broken off from the shock wave of the nuke and fallen into the street. The entire side of an office tower a few buildings away has come off completely, crushing all the cars and pedestrians frozen underneath it. People still sit in the offices inside, some of them blocks of dripping ice at their desks and conference tables. Others have been freed from their prisons like me and are stumbling around the skating rinks of their floors.
I watch a man in a suit and tie break his way out of a frozen cubicle a few levels up. He steps forward, into the air, because the rest of the office has fallen away. I don’t bother yelling a warning to him. He never listens. He falls, screaming, out of sight behind the jumble of rubble in the street. He hits something metal on the other side and the screaming stops. No heroes come to save him. They’re too busy trying to save us all.
Trinity flies overhead just then, ripping a white line through the burning sky. His suit is torn and scorched from the nuke, but he doesn’t waver. Nothing can hurt Trinity. The people he loves, though, they’re a different story.
Cries go up across the city at the sight of him. He doesn’t look down at us. It’s a day like any other.
I don’t waste time watching him disappear into the clouds still mushrooming up from ground zero. I run down the street, out of the Frozen Zone.
The first time I thawed, I thought maybe the USSC had won the Cold War. Before I was frozen, it was always cities in some other country being turned into snow globes. Never here. When I stumbled out into the ruins of my city that first time, I thought they had detonated the nuke to finish us off. And when I saw Trinity fly across the sky, I thought he had come to save us.
Now I know better, of course. And I wish our fate was something as simple as being oppressed by a bunch of communist supers. You never know how bad things can get until things get that bad.
I hit the border of the Frozen Zone and keep running. I stumble a little, as I always do, when I leave the ice and set foot on the buckled asphalt of the street outside the Frozen Zone. Torn up by the nuke’s shock waves. The air is a swirling fog of dust and shards of paper. Most of the buildings have collapsed, but a few stand here and there, skeletal grave markers looming over the remains of the city. Fires burn everywhere and no one comes to put them out. They’re all trying to catch up to Trinity.
Everyone but me. I’m just trying to get home to Penny.
There are people on the streets with me. Ashen from the dust cloud, like ghosts. I don’t bother talking to any of them. I’ve learned all I can from them already, in the other times I’ve thawed. They are the ones who told me I haven’t woken up into the Cold War. It’s been over for nearly a decade, ever since Trinity found the USSC’s secret space station and warped it back in time, flying one of the patterns only he understands around it until it winked out of existence. We found its remains later, when a water probe deep inside the moon drilled into the station. Trinity had sent the station back to a time where the moon had occupied the same point in space. The USSC were just more dust now.
The people on the street are the ones who explained to me that I’ve woken up into the Infinity Age, a time when everyone has a super power. Well, almost everyone. All those who got a shot of the super serum as children. There are still a few old-timers like me around, whose only power is lack of a power.
I run past them all, and they wave a greeting. They don’t bother trying to talk to me anymore. They understand I’m in a race against time.
Cars and buses are scattered around the streets, some on their sides or flipped over, others crushed by pieces of metal debris I can’t even recognize. There are a few that are still right side up, still in working order, but I ignore them. I know from past experience they’re useless, their electronics knocked out by the nuke.
I run even though I’m out of breath. I’m not in good condition after being frozen for twenty years. And I still feel a little frosty. But I have to run. Such little time.
I met a woman once, one of those ghosts, who was going through all the cars looking for a working phone. She said she just wanted to message her lover in Paris. He was too far away to ever reach again, she said, but if she could only see his face, or even read his words, all this would be bearable. I don’t know that she’s right, but I don’t know that she’s wrong either.
And she told me that some people had chosen to be frozen in their homes when the Cold War started, to wait for their partners trapped in the Frozen Zone. I don’t know what Penny chose to do. Maybe she’s in our house now, frozen in a cryogenic chamber in our bedroom, waiting for me. I have to get home to find out what happened to her.
I’ve never seen that woman again. I wonder if she ever found a phone that worked.
I reach the parking garage in record time. Trinity makes his second pass overhead as I hurry inside, trying to keep those extra few seconds. He rips the sky open in a line that intersects with the other one. He’s too far away to see his face. I wonder, as I always do, what he thinks when he looks down at us.
The top floors of the garage have collapsed and are a jumble of wreckage, but the entrance and exit are still relatively clear of debris. There are only a few hubcaps and a single side mirror that catches my reflection. I ignore what I see there. I pick up the mirror and go down to the lower levels, passing the cars I know I can’t use. I find the one that still works two floors down. I use the side mirror to shatter the driver’s side window and then toss it aside. The car’s alarm goes off. I get in the car and hit the start button. I don’t bother with the seat belt. I take the levels of the parking garage as fast as I can and drive out into the ruined street above. I want to make as much ground as I can before Cyborg stops me.
I smash through the debris on the street and knock the dead cars out of the way. I ignore the airbag that goes off and punches me in the face. I get maybe a block more than any other time before Cyborg leaps from the remains of a building that’s been torn in two and lands on the street in front of me. His feet dig up more asphalt at the impact.
“Stop and produce identification for the vehicle emitting the alarm,” he says.
Cyborg was one of the first supers, back before I was frozen. A self-made hero, not serum-made. He’d once been part man, part machine. Now he is part machine, part corpse. The metal parts of him are rusty where they’re fused with his flesh, but most of that flesh is gone. He’s half metal, half bone rattling around inside the metal. A skull is all that’s left of his head, the implants from the power suit holding it in place atop the lifeless but still operating body. A metal chip dangling from his spine by some wires talks for the dead hero.
“Produce identification or I will be forced to make a citizen’s arrest,” he says.
I stop the car and get out. Trinity crosses the sky overhead once more, adding a new line. The light that shines forth cuts through the smoke and haze, but not in any way anyone wants to see.
Cyborg ignores him. “The car alarm indicates a crime in progress,” he says. He lifts an arm with a gun mounted on it. The gun is the kind you normally see mounted on attack helicopters. But the end of it is splintered away, like something has exploded in the barrel. “Are you a criminal?” he asks, those empty eye sockets staring at nothing at all.
The hero is dead, but his cyborg circuitry survives. It’s trying to follow its logic routines as best it can. There’s no reasoning with it. I’ve tried too many times.
“I left my ID in my office,” I say. “I’ll just go get it.”
And I run past Cyborg and continue down the street. He keeps the gun pointed at the car, which continues to sound its alarm. In the air above me, a scattering of men and women, some in colorful suits, others sporting wings, chase after Trinity. Too late. Always too late.
I climb over a scorched refrigerator that’s fallen into the street from somewhere, then dodge around a burning office chair. I jump over a tricycle with melted wheels, kick aside a mess of photo frames all fused together. I remember shopping with Penny in a department store for things for the house. My heart pounds in my chest so hard I think I may have a heart attack. Not for the first time, I wish I had joined the lineups for the super serum shots all those years ago.
But we weren’t sure what it would do back then. The researchers who developed it said it was just a shot to help our bodies fight the new generation of superbugs. It was supposed to accelerate our defenses, to help them adapt and evolve quicker than the bugs evolved. But even the scientists admitted they didn’t know what the side effects would be. I don’t think anyone could have predicted the mutations it caused in youth when they hit puberty, mutations that we came to call super powers.
Maybe if I’d been injected with the super serum too I wouldn’t be staggering with exhaustion as I run home. Maybe I wouldn’t be worrying about dropping dead in the street from a heart attack. Maybe I’d be leaping what was left of the buildings in a single bound. But it’s too late for all that now.
The next time Trinity crosses the sky, the air around him explodes with blasts of all different sizes and colors as heroes and villains alike open fire on him with their weapons and powers. Trinity just absorbs them as usual. He’s the most powerful hero of all, the recipient of a secret government variation of the super serum. So powerful he destroyed the lab and the scientists and the formula itself after he evolved, for fear it would fall into the hands of a villain. If he’d only known he would become the greatest villain the world had ever known, maybe he would have destroyed himself as well. Maybe.
I hit the intersection a few seconds before the bus. I pause and use the time to catch my breath as it drives up the street to me. The Human Cannon and Pulsar are on the roof, blazing away at Trinity overhead. The other heroes watch from their seats inside, unable to do anything from this distance.
The bus doesn’t slow but I’ve learned to grab on to the side and pull myself in the open passenger door. Rally is behind the wheel as always, and he nods at me.
“You’re early,” he says, steering the bus around a couple of crashed taxis without losing any speed.
“I’ve been working on my route,” I gasp.
It doesn’t save me any time to reach the intersection a few seconds early, because I have to wait for the bus anyway. But hopefully the few seconds of rest will give me more energy when I need it later.
The inside of the bus is full of the heroes who can’t fly or hover, who can’t leap into the air, who can’t join the fight against Trinity. Not unless someone can get a lucky shot in somewhere and bring him down for a few seconds. Then this batch and all the other buses and trucks and cars full of heroes and villains chasing Trinity across the city can pile on. Maybe they can stop him from rising up into the air again through the force of sheer numbers. Maybe they can finally stop him from ending the world again.
I sit in the front seat closest to the door, beside Siren, as always. She smiles at me, as always, and says, “Maybe this time.”
I nod at her but don’t say anything, just like usual. I work on taking as many deep breaths as I can. I’m trying to supercharge all my cells with oxygen.
Siren was the one who’d first explained to me that Doc Apocalypse had set off the nuke to try to kill Trinity, not wreck the city. She said Doc Apocalypse had sworn to destroy all the major supers before one of them destroyed the world. Everyone had once thought him a typical mad genius, but now we all saw he’d been right about the future. For all the good it did us.
The nuke hadn’t killed Trinity. It had done something far worse, Siren explained to me on one of our many bus rides. It had killed tens of thousands of people, among them Trinity’s secret lover. Secret because a hero like Trinity couldn’t reveal too many details of his personal life. It would make everyone he knew a target for villains. But there were rumors. Siren said she’d heard it was Electron Girl. The Leprechaun, who sat in a different spot in the bus each time, said he had it on good authority it was Shiva, but he wouldn’t tell us what that authority was. Legion swore one of his ghosts had seen Trinity kissing the Manhattan Effect up in the sky one night.
It didn’t matter. Doc Apocalypse had killed her with his bomb, whoever she was, and Trinity was going to bring her back to life. He always brought her back to life. And he always ended our lives in the process.
We drive for a few minutes in silence, except for the artillery sounds The Human Cannon makes and the sizzling in the air from Pulsar’s blasts. Rally’s humming to himself as he steers around wreckage in the street. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done this with them, and I’ve never once seen him brake for anything in the road.
The next time I look at Siren, she’s turned into Penny. She smiles at me, and I can’t help but smile back, even though I know Penny’s not really there. She takes my hand and puts it on her belly, and I feel the baby kick against my palm. So strong.
“Thank you,” I say. Siren’s version of Penny just nods and puts her hand on the back of my head. We rest out foreheads against each other for a moment.
Then there’s the bang of displaced air as Masterminds teleports in overhead in the quantum sailer, just behind Trinity. Masterminds is getting closer and quicker each time. Maybe someday he’ll figure out how to get here from his secret dimension before Trinity rises into the sky and starts his pattern, perhaps even before Doc Apocalypse sets off the nuke that’s condemned us all. And maybe he can stop this all from happening.
But not this time.
The Masterminds clones all open fire at once with the guns mounted on the sailer. Purple beams lance out and strike Trinity, shells burst all around him with green flashes, a net that seems to be the opposite of color hurtles through the air and wraps itself around him. The net is a new one. Masterminds is always experimenting.
And Trinity shrugs them all off. As he always does. He continues to fly along, ripping the sky open behind him and letting more of that white light through. He stares straight ahead, like he can’t see any of us. Or won’t.
Rally shakes his head and eases off the gas a little. “Checkered flag time,” he tells me. Penny gives my hand a squeeze and then lets me go, and now she’s Siren again.
“You’ll make it one of these times,” she says. “Maybe even this one.”
I can see in their eyes that they all hope I can find Penny. Their loved ones are too far away for them to reach. The only way they have to see them again is to stop Trinity. But I have a chance at seeing Penny again, even as the war rages on. Maybe this will be the time.
The Masterminds clone flying the quantum sailer turns it in the air and accelerates after Trinity. The other clones all begin shouting instructions through loudspeakers.
“All flying heroes set up a screen between the Frozen Zone and 32nd Street,” one of them says, fluid leaking from the helmet protecting his massive brain. Teleportation is hard on the Masterminds. “Those of you with projectile or plasma powers, concentrate them into a force wall. The others form a human wall behind them. Swarm him like a bee and try to bring him down to ground level. In the Trinity Museum Park if you can.”
“Flying villains form a high-altitude blanket between the Trinity Museum Park and the point of our last teleportation,” another of the Masterminds says, sparks flying from his helmet. “Force him down with everything you have. Ground-based units spread out throughout the same area. Grab him and hang on.”
They’re not orders for this time. It’s too late. We’ve already lost again. We can’t stop Trinity. They’re orders for the next time. Trinity can hear them, of course, but there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
Then Masterminds crashes the sailer into Trinity, and there’s a purple flare from the new force field, but it doesn’t matter. The sailer spins down into a residential neighborhood a few blocks away. Trinity weaves in the air a little, shaking his head, and then continues ripping the sky open.
Rally slams the button that opens the door and takes his foot off the gas completely. This bus full of heroes isn’t going to make a difference in the fight now.
“Don’t slow down until you’re over the line,” he says, and the others shout encouragement as I jump out the door and hit the street rolling. I know they want to come with me as I race back into the past, back to my wife and home in the suburbs and an era where there were no supers like Trinity. But it’s too late for all of that now. It’s too late for them.
I’m up and away instantly. I’ve done this so many times I know how to roll perfectly and come up running. I cross the street as the bus continues on past me. The Human Cannon and Pulsar keep on firing at Trinity, even though there’s no point now. I guess that’s what makes them heroes.
The sky is on fire from everyone trying to stop Trinity. It’s actually burning in places. The flames suck away the oxygen, and I have to take deeper and deeper breaths as I run, but it seems like I’m filling my lungs with nothing at all.
I sprint down a couple of alleys that I’ve learned shave off a few seconds from my travel time, and I emerge in a neighborhood of houses. The doors hang open, the windows are shattered. No one has lived in these places for a long time. I don’t know what’s happened here while I’ve been frozen, and I’ve never taken the time to learn. Not when I’m this close.
Trinity rips overhead in a different direction as I turn at the next corner. A howling sound I’ve never been able to identify follows in his wake. I think sometimes that it’s the sound of his grief, but I don’t know.
Then there’s the quantum sailer lying wrecked in the ruins of a couple more houses, flickering in and out of existence. Some of the Masterminds clones lie in the street, their helmets shattered from the impact. Purple fluid is everywhere.
One of the gunners is still hanging off his gun, waiting. He sees me coming and fires the gun at the burned-out minivan in my path. The minivan vanishes with a whoosh of air sucking into the space where it had been. I run through the area without breaking stride. The Masterminds clone waves at me and then slumps behind the gun.
I don’t stop to talk to him. I’ve already done that. He’s the one who explained to me that Trinity can’t do everything. Trinity can’t raise the dead. Trinity can’t stop time. But Trinity can turn time back. So every time Doc Apocalypse sets off the nuke that kills his love, Trinity rips open the heaven and resets the clock, taking us all back to the months before the nuke. Back to the time when his love was still alive. None of us knows what he does with her. Does he tell her what’s going to happen? Do they look for a way to escape? Or do they just live each day like it’s their last?
Then the nuke goes off, and Trinity throws himself up into the sky to rewind it all again. To rewind us again.
We’re all trapped in his dream.
I can’t blame him, really. I understand. I hope to hell all the heroes and villains manage to stop him someday. But I understand.
I turn again at the next intersection, where four cars have somehow managed to crash into each other, and there it is. My home. The house I shared with Penny before I was entombed in the Frozen Zone. I run across the neighbors’ lawns to get at it, jumping over the fences and hedges. A house is burning now because of the debris that’s fallen from the sky. Smoke alarms are going off inside all the other houses, and people stagger out of their homes. Neighbors I don’t recognize. More ghosts. They point up and scream as Trinity passes overhead one final time.
I hit our lawn and cross it in a couple of steps. I have no air left in my lungs at all now. I won’t be able to speak if I find Penny inside. But I still might be able to hold her. It’s been my best time yet. I’ve never made it past the burning house before.
I touch the door handle with my fingertips —
— and then there’s a flash of white light, and the whole world screams.
Peter Darbyshire is the author of the novels The Warhol Gang and Please, which won Canada’s national ReLit Award for Best Alternative Novel. He has also published stories in a wide range of journals and anthologies, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Tesseracts Eleven, On Spec and the Innsmouth Free Press. He currently lives in Langley, British Columbia, where he is patiently waiting for the world to end. See peterdarbyshire.com or the usual social sites for more information.