The vessel’s arm aches. Par for the course, really.
It aches but already the fine golden mist has started the healing process. It glows as it stitches everything back together again, starting with the deepest bond and casually moving up the line. Twenty minutes, if that. Until then, we’ll just have to deal with it. The Prime stands regal like a queen and eyeballs the attempt at injury. I, your humble writer, can tell that this isn’t a bother to her. Then again, not much is. Five-of-Four is equally unbothered for different reasons. She holds the belief that pain is part of the process and thus sees no point in making a giant fuss about the whole ordeal. Firebug trips back down memory lane to the time she was taught how to stitch herself up by a Hugh Jackman clone. And one of the shapeless whispers causes the vessel to yawn.
Our surroundings are sterilized with every wall a blazing white and every instrument shining. This control room used to be filled with so much crap, most of it being failed experiments and pictures of yesteryear. But it finally got the deep cleaning it sorely deserved. It even has that so-called “new car smell” that humans buy air fresheners for. Except our timeship is far from new. She even goes past the realm of antique but it’s nothing some elbow grease, knowhow, and trial and error can’t cure. We’ve long lost count of the portions of code we had to rewrite just to get her to not hover ten inches off the ground while landing.
Finally after basking in the natural light (or unnatural light depending on one’s view), the Prime commands the vessel to slowly and carefully take off the robe and the headdress. There’s a grimace sliding the robe off of the shoulder. That’s expected. Somewhat exhausted, we plop the entire thing on a chair and steadily walk towards the controls. It only takes the flipping of a few switches and the pulling of a lever for Precious to understand what she’s going to do.
Take us home. Please, just take us home.
She blinks the lights overhead in morse code confirming that yes, we are going home. The pillar begins to slowly push upward as more than a few of us sigh in relief.
We’re beginning to feel like the last samurai.
The gunslinger that’s always on alert for new contenders.
The lone student of a dying style of kung fu about to do battle with numerous enemies.
Maybe some of that’s our husband’s viewing habits seeping into our head. But it doesn’t make it less true. The last of our known faces is gone from the tournament, cannibalizing himself in a mist of teeth. And the only one that’s left (dare we say The ONLY Competition That Matters?) is us. Us and but a few slabs of fresh meat. After the wrestling robot and the angry teacher comes another. However, with each passing phase of the Invitational, they are beginning to notice. When we came into this part of the multiverse, we came in as an unknown factor. A name that masses did not know of and could not expect anything from. That has now begun to change.
All we can really say is “It’s about godsdamned time.” Holy shit, aren’t you all slow on the draw!
Slowly but surely, they are beginning to understand what other sections on the ‘verse know all too well. That the vessel known publicly as Anna Daniels and the Multitudes just beneath her surface are actually, wait for it, dangerous. Which means a little bit more focus on us. A smidgen of attention. The beginning of the build of pressure, not just for us. We’re a big girl. We can carry our weight. But the pressure is building for anybody who stands across the ring from us.
Now we know that some of the roster have been around for a bit and have probably felt a little bit of pressure. Yet have they felt it like a ton of cement bricks on their backs? Not from yesteryear ’cause time softens that blow. We’re talking about recently. We’d imagine not many. And because we are so dangerous, maybe a little bit of scouting out is necessary.
We feel the eyes trying to scan for something–anything–to hold us on. A moment to break us, some clue, some solace. And hey, we’re not stupid enough to say that we’re destined to be an undefeated juggernaut for a million years. We can be defeated. It’s just that 99% of the time, it’s our own damned fault. Most times, we’re tired or complacent or bored and our opponent is smart enough to take advantage.
Which isn’t very last samurai of us at all. But we never said it was a perfect analogy.
It’s interesting seeing the perception filter come off the farther away we are from PRIME’s part of the multiverse.
It’s only the second time we’ve been through this but we imagine it’ll never really stop being odd. It’s certainly not painful, at least not to us. Entering that version of Vegas, we turn into a newly formed candle slick and smooth. Then when we leave, the wax melts off. Unlike actual candles that melt to nothing, the drops give way to flesh and bone and the classical style that most know this vessel by. It’s like having an acid trip without having any acid.
Last time, we were absolutely horrified for about five minutes. Then Firebug started acting out that one scene from the Wizard of Oz. She actually does a good Wicked Witch. Then the Prime mentioned that we were beginning to look like an ooze monster from Scooby Doo. And somebody had to have the wild idea to actually taste the melting. Again, like having an acid trip. It tasted like nothing but then that turned into a debate as to whether the action was cannibalism. Never could settle that.
This time around, we reinstalled the decontamination room and got it ready. Several thousands of gallons of cleanser. The endless drying. It got most of it off. There’s still the thinnest layer of wax left. It rolls on and on and on. Which means we’ll have to take another shower when we get to Casa Daniels and rewash everything. And get a new chair to plop our robe on.
It’s all just a small price to pay for glory.
The point is even the Muse needs inspiration.
Because we’re not just a pretty face to chisel onto stone to be immortalized until a bomb obliterates the museum we stand in. We are an artists ourself with the canvas we use being a ring canvas more often than not. Sometimes, a belt is enough. In those moments, we can be considered a true prizefighter. We would be in it for nothing more than the symbology, the power, and (though we don’t really need it) the money. When there’s a chip on our shoulder and a point we feel we need to prove, we are an unrelenting beast. No matter how many times we fall, we would hunt the whole damn world down to get our pound of flesh and however many pounds of gold.
Our problem now is we can’t focus on the endgame in a tournament when we’re in the middle of it. The novelty of PRIME’s version of the multiverse is is beginning to get a bit dull. We need a little bit of an extra spark. A little bit of madness to make the next stage meaningful. Not so much for everybody else. Fuck everybody else. It needs to have a bit of spice for us. Otherwise, there’s no point in keeping our blades sharp, guns loaded, and skills kept.
Somewhere in the corner in a cage, a shadow figure goes quiet.
He-Who-Hates has a vacant stare. It goes a thousand yards deep. He senses something and we all feel it. The clawed fingers grasp the bars. He isn’t trying to pull at them. Just the vision is enough. The last match of the Almasy Invitational. He can hear the crowd and taste the disbelief and the lights around him glow a sharpened blast. None of this hurts him. None of this fazes him. Instead, he wipes his meaty feet across the hardest part of the ring just like he was taught and slides across the ropes. There’s a referee, but they don’t matter. The only thing that matters is…
A stick rattles across the bars. It causes him to blink. He isn’t quite out of his stupor. Part of him is still there. But it’s enough to get some of him to hear.
“You’re having one of those again, aren’t you?”
He’s waiting forever for the bell to ring, cracks his neck as he stares as his opponent. He goes to focus across the ring but a hand with snapping fingers got in the way. He moves his head like a boxer dodging blows while trying to get the big picture. But that hand is joined by its twin. They eventually grab him by the face and pull him downward. He sees himself. Except it’s not. The him that isn’t him speaks.
“You know I will never belittle your occasional drift into prophecy. You’re our fighting spirit for a reason. What we cannot do with our finesse, cunning, or skill, you pull through with your will and determination to destroy. But you know, because we all know, that there’s no point in looking at the last hurdle when there are others we still have to jump.”
He-Who-Hates does know this. He also doesn’t want to hear it. He wrenches his face from the not-him’s hands and tries again to focus in to his would-be opponent. But the not-him is wise. She has already climbed onto his bulging back and holds a picture in front of his sight.
He huffs and tries to shake her off but she hangs on and forces the sight closer to him.
“His name is Teddy Palmer. His ass is smart, his mouth is big and his shorts are loud. He is the hurdle in front of us. We have him and possibly another to go. If you want to see if the vision is true, you stay in the moment. You stay on him.”
And to his credit, He-Who-Hates looks at the picture. Really, honestly looks at it. He looks at the red hair a shade too light for Ronald McDonald, focuses on the squinty non-eyes 99% percent of the males on the roster seem to have. The stern face hides his playfulness and his playfulness hides his skill. A true onion boy. Many layers in that man. That and his nipples are the shade of pepperoni. Seriously, what is with that?
His eyes finally drift over to his opponent. No. This isn’t the last match of the Almasy. Not for us. For Teddy Palmer.
As He-Who-Hates recalibrates, the Prime slides through the bars and retakes the shape of the vessel.
Maybe we need to take a step back and consider who we’re battling. A bonafide scoundrel that can cover all the bases. He can either be champion of the world or a complete nobody. A history of stop and start and stop and start and stop and start. A man who, for whatever reason, is following us on twitter.
Yes. We see you, Ted. Could at least say hi.
He seems to be living on his whims now. No real pressure on his back. Not really. Does he even care about winning this tournament? Eh. He does in his own way, we suppose–
The vessel…feels the slap.
It isn’t as sharp as it would be if the blow was delivered by anybody outside of herself. In fact, the slap is pretty tame compared to the blows she’s taken over the years. But that’s okay. Because the slap wasn’t supposed to hurt her. It was supposed to hurt us. Or more specifically, me.
“Prime, what the fu–”, I start to say.
The Prime crosses her arms. “You’re doing the thing again.”
I, your faithful author, could build this up by playing dumb and asking “What thing?” Except I know the thing and I know what she’s going to do. Already, the vessel is in front of the mirror. I know that the Prime is going to say “That thing. Look at her face.” I see the vessel’s face. The face is frowning and there is a thin line where her mouth should be. Her eyes are blank. Goddamnit. I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?
“Of course you are.”, says the Prime. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be such a damned struggle to write. You are the one feeling the pressure of bricks on your back. You sense the expectations of the eyeballs around you. And you are turning us into stone by being too serious about this and overthinking it.”
But I don’t have any ideas and deadline is approaching.
“You call a melted wax body, our conversation with He-Who-Hates, and what we’re doing right now ‘no ideas’? Come on. Just because this isn’t our normal way of doing things doesn’t mean it’s bad! And we’re clearly making progress because every other time you’ve done this, you chose to struggle instead of listen. Yes, we get tired and complacent and bored. But those kind of losses we can bounce back from. The longer you do this!” Another display of the stone face. “The bigger a setback it is.”
And she’s right. The Prime is always right. But what about Teddy Palmer?
“fuck teddy palmer.” Firebug makes her entrance in the conversation, lighting up a cigarette. She inhales death and exhales life. “he isn’t worth a pot to piss in. who the fuck is he? some scrub lady troy used to screw? big deal.”
The Prime hurts and shakes her head, trying to hide the faintest amount of a smirk crawling on her face. “Now Bug. You know we can’t afford to underestimate the situation. And besides, I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to know about that latter part.”
Firebug leans against a wall. What number the wall is remains speculative. “better to underestimate it than to overestimate it like she is.” She’s pointing her sizzling cancer stick to me. “and you forget, prime. walls–”
Are meant to be broken. Noted. But now what do we do? How is anything we’re doing right now relevant to the match?
“You said his name, right?”
“and we mentioned we have a match against him.”
Firebug shrugs. “sounds match relevant to me.”
But what is our reason for wanting to beat him?!
It is at this moment that the Prime walks towards me and puts her hands on my shoulders. She’s looking me in the eye. It’s awkward. “She-Who-Writes.” Her voice is stern. “I understand you want everything to have a reason. Reasons are content. Reasons give us something to ruminate over. They make the world of nonsense around us make sense and give us a nice narrative. But sometimes, there is no deep reason. We are going to beat the piss out of Teddy Palmer for one reason. Just the one.”
She nods and I understand it immediately. We’re going to beat Ted simply because he’s there and because we can.
And right on cue, the pillar from the central console stops moving. Precious lands gentle as a feather. The door snaps open and Bucky does not hesitate in bolting through the doorway and towards us. He is happy to have us home, ignoring the faint waxyness from our skin. He just wants pets and hugs and food. It is about supper time for him, after all. The vessel’s face softens as we all take a turn running our hands through his fur. The Prime also notices the vessel’s stomach grumbling. They telepathically whisper to on another.
“Hey, Bucky. Wanna eat some cheesy garlic bread with us?”
He barks in the affirmative to the offer. And so it goes.