Blood sprays from Nova’s mouth as his head lurches forward. It dribbles down in rivulets through his beard, dyeing his grays and dripping from the end strands as his eyes travel downward slowly in horror to rest on the knife protruding from his belly.
His eyes roll back into the darkness and his legs give out.
The Novaverse – Somewhere in Time
Cape Nova (The Slums)
Novaδ opens his eyes slowly, yawning as he stretches his gloved hands towards the high ceiling.
“Oh, look who’s awake.”
Next to him in bed, Novaε stares down his reading glasses and offers a wry smirk as he sets his tablet to one side. “Catching up on your beauty rest?”
“Mmmm,” Novaδ sighs contentedly, “I was having the best dream.”
“Yeah?” Novaε arches an eyebrow, “what about?”
Novaδ’s eyes dart around the room, touching on the small toaster oven resting atop a plastic crate, the lone window facing an immediate concrete structure that blocks out any natural light…their shot-to-hell mattress that rests on the wiry carpeted floor.
“I dreamed that we didn’t have to be here…,” Novaδ replies, leaning over to his right to grab a pack of cigarettes off the floor.
His eyes catch on a pile of bills gathered in a basket next to the door. “…that things weren’t so hard…”
He lights a cigarette and takes a drag, his gaze shifting to a tattered poster tacked on the wall opposite them.
“…that we were free, like him.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Novaε responds, swiping on his tablet with a gloved finger.
“You’re not even listening to me,” Novaδ rolls his eyes and ashes his cigarette.
“No, I am,” Novaε says, turning his head to make eye contact, “sorry, it’s just I’ve been reading this article about the portal they just found, one of the gateways between universes. It’s fascinating stuff.”
“Oh, I heard about that,” Novaδ replies, taking another drag. “I dunno…dreams are one thing, it’s another altogether to talk about actually traveling between the realms.”
“Couldn’t agree more, babe,” Novaε says with a nod, setting his reading glasses aside before rolling over and draping an arm across Novaδ’s chest. “Why worry with what’s out there when we have everything we need right here?”
Novaδ stares ahead before releasing a long sigh. “Do we?”
He turns to Novaε. “Do we have everything we need?”
Novaε lowers his eyes. “We’ll find work. They can’t even try to kick us out before the fifteenth of next month. They know it’s hard out there for everyone right now.”
Novaδ shakes his head, taking another drag of his cigarette before snuffing it out.
“I don’t know what they know,” he says, his eyes landing again on the poster on the far wall. He stares for a moment. “Where did they say they located that portal, again?”
“Just across town near the abandoned commercial buildings,” Novaε replies absently before looking up into Novaδ’s eyes, “why?”
“Just curious,” Novaδ says, his eyes refocusing from the poster to his partner. “Hey, are we gonna go to RSL tonight?”
“Babe, I dunno,” Novaε says in a concerned tone, “we really don’t have money to spare right now…”
“I know,” Novaδ sighs, “but we have to be able to blow off steam somehow, right? Forget about all the stress for a little while?”
Novaε looks away, and Novaδ wraps him in a hug.
“C’moooooooon,” he prods, “c’mooooooon, you love RSL! I’m sure they’ll have drink specials!”
Novaε shoves him away playfully. “Okay, okay, but just for one or two, alright? Seriously.”
Novaδ cheers, pumping a fist before clearing his throat and adopting a somber, serious tone. “Of course. Just one or two.”
The Risen Star Lounge
Later that evening
Warm yellow light and the sounds of laughter and music flow out of the entrance to the Risen Star Lounge as Novaδ and Novaε approach on foot. The bouncers in the doorway check Novaδ’s knee and elbow pads first as well as his boots and the edge of the waistband of his lightning bolt-laden tights. Then the same for Novaε.
“Is it just me or have they beefed up security around here?” Novaδ asks, looking back as the bouncers finish their check on Novaε.
“It’s everywhere,” Novaε replies, nodding to security as he moves through. “Just a sign of the times.”
They walk over to the bar and pull up their stools. The bartender turns around and rests his arms on the countertop. “Gentlemen! The usual?”
“Hey Novaξ,” Novaδ nods, “two doubles, please.”
“Um, I’m fine with a single,” Novaε says, eyeing his partner.
“One double, one single,” the bartender replies.
Novaδ lights a cigarette, hands the lighter and a cigarette to Novaε, and stares down the end of the bar at a cloaked figure huddled over a tall glass.
“Hey,” Novaδ says to the bartender, “is that…NovaΦ?”
“Huh? Yeah,” the bartender responds as he pours up their drinks. “Been here for hours.”
“He looks rough,” Novaε grimaces, “isn’t he, like, middle management at NovaCorp?”
“He was,” the bartender nods, “wife, kids, house over in Nova Grove, the whole deal. With the economy in the shitter, they just announced another round of layoffs.”
They all stare down the bar at NovaΦ, who takes a long sip from his glass and stares blankly ahead.
“His number got called,” the bartender says with a sympathetic shrug.
“Hard out there for everyone,” Novaε says softly.
“Hard out there for everyone,” the bartender agrees.
NovaΦ shakes his head. “The fuck are we gonna do, huh? Another double, Novaξ, will ya?”
“Hey!” NovaΦ holds up his empty glass, “when you get a chance, ‘kay?”
“I think maybe we’ve had enough, huh?” Novaε says in a low tone, “we were gonna have one or two, right?”
NovaΦ shrugs, his eyes listlessly turning to the television screen behind the bar. On the screen, two figures move around each other in a wrestling ring.
“There he is!” NovaΦ announces, “stop traffic, the big guy is play-fighting on the television!”
On TV, Nova takes a shot to his leg from FLAMBERGE. He clutches at his leg in pain and a moment later FLAMBERGE lands a roundhouse kick across his face that sends him sprawling to the mat.
“Ohhh!” NovaΦ recoils in mock horror before lifting a gloved hand to count with the ref, “ONE! TWO!! THREE!!”
He mimes ringing a bell. “DING DING DING!! And your winner…WHOEVER THE FUCK THAT GUY IS!”
“We should go,” Novaε whispers.
“No, no, this is great,” NovaΦ says, looking around, “this fuckin’ guy…our entire universe apparently revolves around this guy, who can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, and nothing ever even matters!”
“We’ll settle up,” Novaε says to the bartender.
“Seriously!” NovaΦ continues, “this guy, this anchor of our existence, he wants to be a wrestler? Fine. He can win…” (gestures to the TV) “…he can lose…none of it matters! Meanwhile, we’re all down here pushing piles of shit around, worried about where we’re gonna sleep, how we’re gonna work, how we’re gonna live…”
He slides his glass away and points a finger at the TV. “I’m just saying, that portal they found? We know where it goes. And no one’s watching that thing, it’s like an archaeological dig over there and the police are stretched too thin to watch it.”
“Will you cut it out, please?” Novaε pleads.
“And somebody, if they really wanted to,” NovaΦ goes on, “somebody angry enough, they could step on through to the other side and let that fucking guy know how much pain we’re all in down here.”
“Anything happens to him, what do you think happens to us?” the bartender asks as he washes glasses.
Everyone jumps at the sound of a fist slamming down on the bar. They turn their heads to see the cloaked figure stand up, knock his barstool over, and stumble out through security into the night.
“Well that’s fucking great,” Novaε snaps, standing up and darting a glare at his partner. “I’m out of here. You can figure out what to do next.”
Under the glow of lamplight, NovaΦ walks alone, thinking back to the scene in the bar. He stops in his tracks, and nods, before breaking into a sprint towards home.
The door to the apartment flies open and he rushes inside. “Novaε! I know how to fix this! I can go after him!”
He looks around the empty room. He sees a note on the counter and stuffs it into his pocket.
“Okay,” he says to himself, “I’ll fix this, then I’ll be back, then I can fix us too. But I gotta go.”
He rushes out of the apartment.
At the Portal Site…
NovaΦ sprints past hollowed out the steel girders and concrete pylons of buildings that have fallen into ruin, guided by moonlight as he finds his way to a large clearing and a makeshift platform. Atop the platform sits a large metallic crescent shape that curls around from its wide base to reach a curved point approximately ten feet in the air. The end of the point emits a deep green glow.
NovaΦ’s eyes follow a set of footprints in the dust that lead up to the platform.
“I knew it,” he says.
He approaches the platform and takes a deep breath.
“Here we go.”
He steps onto the platform, pauses for a moment, and steps under the glowing needlepoint.
The platform is bathed in green light. There’s a burning smell.
Friday, March 3, 2023
Outside the Silver Lining Gym
NovaΦ opens his eyes and shields them from the streetlight that illuminates the sign to the Silver Linings Gym.
“Nova must be inside there,” he says aloud, “that’s where NovaΦ’s going.”
He pulls a knife from his pocket and clicks it open, looking around in a panic. It’s dark everywhere around the vicinity of the building. Suddenly a figure emerges from the shadows, moving quickly towards him.
“Hey, stop!” he manages but sees a glint in the figure’s hand. “No!”
He lunges forward with a stabbing motion. The figure shudders and slumps against him, the object at its side falling to the pavement with a clanking sound. NovaΦ stumbles backwards, drawing the figure into the light.
Blood sprays from Novaε’s mouth as his head lurches forward. It dribbles down in rivulets through his beard, dyeing his grays and dripping from the end strands as his eyes travel downward slowly in horror to rest on the knife protruding from his belly.
His eyes roll back into the darkness and his legs give out, and NovaΦ guides him to the ground, his mouth hung agape in shock.
“No, no, no-no-no,” NovaΦ stammers, staring down at the rapidly-expanding bloodstain soaking Novaε’s shirt around the knife.
Novaε gurgles as blood bubbles out of his mouth, and one shaking hand reaches for NovaΦ’s side, clutching onto his pocket. His eyes roll back in his head and as his hand falls away from NovaΦ’s side, the note falls out of the latter’s pocket.
With bloody, trembling hands, NovaΦ picks up the note and unfolds it.
You’re always the brave one. I’ll handle this. See you when I get home.
“No, please, no,” NovaΦ begs to no one, leaning over his partner to cradle his head.
At that precise moment, Sonny Silver steps over both of them on his way to unlock the gym’s main entrance. He looks back and shakes his head in disgust.
“I know I’ve said it before, but the homeless situation around here is getting out of control.”
A short time later, inside the gym…
The interior doors open to the main training room, and Nova steps inside, looking around. He sees Sonny standing in front of an empty wrestling ring illuminated by overhead lights.
“Hey, do you know why there’s an ambulance outside?” Nova asks, pointing behind him.
“This town is going straight to hell,” Silver responds with a dismissive wave.
Silver looks around the room. “This is about the only place left that makes any sense.”
Nova follows Sonny’s eyes, nodding slowly. “Cool. Cool, cool. Why did you ask me to come here, Sonny?”
“You,” Silver points a finger at him, “need to go back to basics. You…”
Another jab of the finger. “…got careless with FLAMBERGE. A slip of the mask, a boot to the face, 1, 2, 3, he travels up the rankings and you…continue to cultivate the most balanced win-loss record in PRIME.”
Nova rolls his eyes. “I don’t give a fuck about…”
“Shut up,” Silver cuts him off, “shut up and miss me with that shit. You’ve always cared, everyone knows that about you. Even when your hippie dope-smoking shtick was at its thickest everyone knew how much you cared about winning. But you’re not keeping your knives sharp enough, Nov.”
Silver walks around to the side of the ring. “Who is it this week?”
“Anna Daniels,” Nova replies.
“Anna Daniels,” Sonny repeats, “homie’s stacking more silver medals than you are. BUT…but, they’re hungry and you’re not. They’re’ grinding week after week for opportunities and matching up against the best, and you’re busy trying to get your hands on Paxton Ray.”
Silver reaches up and checks one of the ring ropes’ connections to a turnbuckle before turning back to Nova.
“You need to keep your knives sharp, Nov,” he repeats, “and fortunately, I have just the whetstone for you.”
Doors at the rear of the room open, letting in light from the hallway on the other side.
“Somebody happened to owe me a favor,” Silver says with a mischievous grin, “so I called it in.”
Coral Avalon steps through the doors in full wrestling gear, wasting no time as he slides under the bottom rope of the training ring and climbs to his feet.
Nova stares up at Avalon with a grin and offers him a nod. “Crownless King.”
“Risen Star,” Avalon responds with a grin of his own, holding out his arms.
“It’s time to put in some work,” Silver says, nodding his head.
Nova shrugs and reaches down into his bag, removing his mask and sliding it over his face. He looks over to Silver.
“You,” he says, pointing a finger at Sonny, “you’re good, you.”
Silver holds out his arms innocently and takes a step backwards. Nova slides under the bottom rope and stands up in the ring across from Avalon.
They circle each other twice, broad grins spread over both their faces, and then lock up.
Later that evening…
Nova sits alone in the center of the ring, soaked in sweat, his facemask resting on the mat next to him.
The gym is quiet and dark, save for one light suspended above the ring.
“It’s our turn to dance, Anna.”
He lights a cigarette and takes a drag.
“Y’know, I saw an old promotional poster from the PRIME 2022 reopen not long ago, a group photo of everyone who agreed to sign on when Troy and her group decided to give this place another shot. I saw all the faces, some still here, some gone, and it reminded me of how much has happened since we all came together with the announcement of the Almasy Invitational.”
He takes another drag, ashing his cigarette into a little cup sitting next to him.
“SO much has happened.”
Nova grins. “And through it all, there’s you hawking merch and doing weird Realm-y shit, and me trying to figure out how to be a functioning human, and leaning harder on this place to help me do that than I probably should.”
Another drag. “But you remind me…the more things change, the more they stay the same. And you have to put in the work, and you have to focus on what’s in front of you.” (Nodding) “So thank you for that. I appreciate you for that. It’s not about Paxton Ray, or Culture Shock, or the next one. The only thing that matters is a wrestling ring in Houston, Texas, and our date inside of it.”
“And your t-shirts. I will purchase one of your t-shirts, I actually hear they’re pretty soft and while I’m not really a ‘sleep-shirt’ kind of guy, sometimes it does get cold enough that you do appreciate an extra lay-you know what, I can stop. I know where to find you about the merch.”