Space Flight 555: Time for Sheebat

Rex stared hard at his opponent. They both knew how this would end.

His face was a mask, had to be. Grubner was partially telepathic and used facial signals to confirm what he called his “hunches”.

Why anyone played Sheebat with a telepath was a good question, but Grubner was not even aware he was telepathic, he just thought he was good at reading people. The stakes were high so Rex pushed on, trying not to give anything away by thinking distracting thoughts about Grubner’s mother.

Rex nodded to the Croupier who dealt 3 more cards and acknowledged Rex’s new bet with a nod in return.

Trying to keep his mind occupied, he sized up the dealer. He was exceptionally good at his job. Checking he name badge he reminded himself to tip this “Zom Bieplan” when this game was over.

If he survived.

Grubner by now had taken two more cards, raised the bet to 75blenths (Zom even raised an eye-stalk at such an enormous figure) and had begun rubbing his tummy, the traditional signal that Grubner was calling Sheebat on Rex’s hand.

Rex could either match the bet and reciprocate the gesture, hoping his hand could beat Grubner’s, or decline and forfeit what he’d already put down.

Grubner looked confident and Rex couldn’t afford to lose. He didn’t think he’d get another chance at the Ortrix if he missed his shot. He gathered his chips together but hesitated.

The opponents started at each other from across the table. Both faces were masks.

Then Rex felt it. A tiny prick of pain in the back of his skull. He tried hard to keep a smile off his face. The pain spread further forward.

Most people who knew Grubner was telepathic wouldn’t play Sheebat with him, but Rex had one more piece of intel. When Grubner was bluffing, he would unconsciously try to influence the other players by sending out telepathic suggestions that could, on occasion, cause minor brain aneurisms in his opponents.

It was one hell of a tell.

Rex pushed everything he had out onto the table. The pain intensified and Rex hoped he wouldn’t black out. Even poor Zom was obviously feeling some psionic splashback - his dorsal tentacles quivered and he steadied himself against the table. Rex smiled and rubbed his tummy, as he laid a Full Sheebat on the table.

Grubner growled and rose to his feet. With one hand he pushed the table over, knocking Rex sprawling onto the floor. With the other hand he revealed his hidden pistola, which had been concealed in his fake leg.

“I will not give you the Ortrix!” he screamed at Rex.

Grubner raised his hand and Rex registered gunfire. He looked down to see where he was hit. As he looked back up, Grubner crumpled to the floor.

Rex Havoc stood behind him, Corral Specials smoking in his hand.

“I’m here from the future,” he said to his stunned younger self.

“We’re in trouble, and I need your help!”

Space Flight 555, Chapter 0: The Past

I’m tracking a spacetime anomaly.

I’m tracking a spacetime anomaly.

\

“I’ve never seen anything like it!”

“I’ve seen something like this before…”

\

The Professor was excited, lit up like he usually was when exploring something unknown.

The Professor was agitated, like he usually got when he knew something was about to end badly.

\

Rex laughed at his old friend’s enthusiasm, “sounds like both of us have plans for the evening!”

Rex scowled at the view on his old friend’s screen, “Sounds like I need to cancel my plans for the evening.”

\

He turned and winked at the Princess, who rolled her eyes and turned her head. Rex could still make out the hint of a smile crinkle the corners of her eyes though and he smiled back, even though she wasn’t looking.

He turned to say something to the Princess and remembered again that she was gone. He still had no idea what had become of her, and The Professor hadn’t seen her either since that fateful night six months ago.

\

Rex switched off the holo-emersion field and gathered his Corral Specials and his credit chip. Heading out of the hotel, he hailed a hovercab. He handed the driver an address on a card and swiped his credit chip.

Rex gathered his Corral Specials and the special device The Professor had pushed into his palm. He listened while the Professor explained how it worked and what he would need to do.

\

“I need to go here,” he said.

“Where do I need to go?” he asked.

Space Flight 556: Stranger in Her Midst.

He was infuriating and insufferable.

She hated to admit, he had his charms and a certain dangerous allure, but most of the time he also held an air of entitlement that made her feel like an accessory. And the way he called her nothing but “Princess” all the time, like he hadn’t bothered to learn her name? Ugh.

She had not been remotely interested in him, but overnight he seemed to have developed some… manners.

He’d left for his Sheebat game three days earlier and neither she nor The Professor had heard from him until he turned up back at base (a lot further than three days travel from where he’d been) like nothing had happened.

She’d been about to make a flippant remark about calling them when he was going to stay out late, when he’d surprised her with a bear-hug.

“What’s this for?” she’d asked mid-hug, trying to decide how to return it.

“Just missed you is all,” he’d replied - she was shocked to realise - sincerely.

“Anrianna.”

She was dumbfounded. She suggested to The Professor in private that he run some scans on this man who was clearly an impostor. He laughed and informed her the base already did that to everyone on entry, and this was definately Rex Havoc.

She wasn’t convinced though, so that night over dinner she told him about growing up on Khenna, and instead of loudly changing the subject, he listened.

She knew then something was up, and she was damn sure going to get to the bottom of it.

Space Flight 555, Chapter 2: Den of Danger

Rex plunged through the vortex, falling like a paraglider into an unknown destination. Rex was right behind him.

When Rex and his younger self had confronted Mondex outside the casino, they had expected a fight. Instead, Mondex had tapped his belt and plunged into the time vortex that opened up behind him.

Past and future Rex had jumped in after him and were headed who-knows-where without a plan.

They grinned at each other.

“Nothing like a night of improvisation,” they both said together, and barked a laugh in unison.

“Get ready,” said future Rex, who’d taken point on their fall through time.

The shiny, inky walls of the vortex sworled away into nothing in front of them and both Rexes barrel rolled into ready crouches, guns drawn, sweeping the area for threats.

It was dark.

A glowing blue pane of glass barely illuminated two dark figures against the opposite wall. The heroes swung their guns on their surprise assailants.

A dolphin swam through the aquarium water behind them and their eyes adjusted to the dim light. A frightened elderly couple clutched each other and waited for the identical madmen to move.

“Evening folks,” they both said as they holstered their guns.

“You see another chap come through a blinding flash of light?” asked future Rex.

The couple pointed down a corridor.

“Thank you both,” said past Rex as they headed for the exit.

Space Flight 558, Chapter 3: The Future

The Professor was concerned.

The Professor was concerned.

\

When he’d first spied the spacetime anomaly, he knew it was the same one he’d seen six months ago from the other side. Reluctantly, he’d let Rex go, knowing he’d been waiting for this day and itching to get going.

When he first noticed the spacetime anomaly, he had no way of knowing what danger it could bring from the other side. Happily, he let Rex go, knowing Rex had been waiting for this day and itching to get going.

\

He was also curious himself. His memories got hazy after their first encounter with the anomaly, probably something to do with the effect of the tachions or some-such, and there were a lot of questions he couldn’t answer when Rex had come back.

He was curious about the anomaly, but any threat it posed was yet to be seen. But when Rex failed to check in after the Sheebat game, it raised a lot of questions.

\

Questions like, where had the Princess gone? Who had brought Rex back? Why had his lab exploded?

Questions like, where had Rex gone? How would he find him again? What was causing the spacetime anomaly to move?

\

So he’d let Rex go, knowing that if he didn’t, Rex’s past would be at the mercy of Mondex.

He wished he hadn’t let Rex go, but knew he would have gone anyway. The Ortrix was too grand a prize to pass up.

\

Sitting in his back-up lab, he was analysing data taken from the anomaly when Rex strode in with Anrianna by his side. He didn’t look like he’d been battling one of his greatest foes. In fact he looked… rested.

Maybe the anomaly would provide the answers. He’d just begun to analyse the latest data when Rex strode in with Anrianna by his side. He looked worn out, like he often did after battling a challenging foe.

\

And the Princess! How wonderful it was to see she was safe!

And the Princess, she looked puzzled, like something was bothering her, but she want sure what.

\

“Where have you been my girl?!” he cried as he embraced her.

“Where have you been my boy!?” he exclaimed as he took Rex’s hand.

\

She giggled and squeezed him back, “I’ve… been around.”

Rex smiled lazily, “I’ve been around.”

\

The glance she and Rex exchanged, and the unsubtle cheeky smiles they both failed to hide told The Professor it would be better not to ask too many questions.

The Princess turned her puzzled gaze on Rex, then back The Professor, who gave her a wry smile. They both knew it would be better not to ask too many questions.

\

But here they both were, happy and healthy and all was right with the world.

But Rex was back, tired but alive, and all was right with the world.

\

Obviously Mondex had posed no problem.

Obviously Grubner had posed no problem.

Space Flight 555, Chapter 3: Exit, Past

Rex waited for the universe to collapse.

When it didn’t, he wondered why.

They had cornered Mondex on an industrial planet three billion years in the past. The natives were towering giants that barely noticed the struggle for survival far below them. The Rexes had split up, thinking they could get the drop on their old foe, but Rex had mistaken a crack in the immense architecture to be an alley. By the time he had backtracked, the younger Rex had confronted Mondex alone.

Mondex was desperate and cornered and unleashed his deadly energy beam on Rex’s earlier self. Rounding a corner, older Rex saw the situation and ended the threat permanently, but it was too late. Young Rex took a shot to the chest that burned and corroded and eventually consumes his former self before his eyes.

Staggering, the remaining Rex tried to keep upright, but fell to his knees. The impact of seeing himself killed hit him like a punch to the stomach, and for a moment he wondered if it might be the beginning of the end that must inevitably come. His mind was numb at the loss, but a small part of him was not silent. It was pointing out that he wasn’t yet erased from time. Isn’t that what was supposed to happen?

He certainly hadn’t remembered being shot the first time around. Then again, his memory of the time was getting hazy. He thought he remembered meeting his future self, confronting Mondex, but then he couldn’t remember how it ended. Was this how it started, forgetting the original timeline? He figured he had six months, maybe less before past Rex would become future Rex. Would his memories of the first timeline be erased as he failed to have them, until he too was gone? Would returning to the future accelerate things?

Rex thought about his friends. The Professor, Jones - brilliant but aloof, and the Princess.

The sweet Anrianna. He wished he’d spent more time with her before she’d gone.

Maybe this was his chance! Perhaps he could spend some time with her now, perhaps even prevent whatever happened to her. Obviously the past could be changed. He could spend his last six months making sure she was safe, and meet his end knowing that at least she was back where she was meant to be.

Space Flight 556: News of Death

“You’re from the future!"

The Professor was amused and amazed.

“So where is our Rex?” he asked.

“Well, you can’t tell the Princess or Jones, but he’s dead. Blasted away by Mondex.”

The news struck The Professor like a bullet to the chest. He stumbled and grasped for the stool behind him. Sitting down he tried a few times to speak, and finally said, “but that’s impossible! You would cease to be! The paradox here could destabilize the universe.”

Rex rested a hand on his old friend’s shoulder.

“That’s why I’m here. I’ve already started forgetting what happened the first time ‘round, and I’m afraid if I return to the future, my death might catch up to me. If I stay here, maybe I can make myself useful, and at least save the Princess.”

“What happens to Anrianna?” The Professor could see the future unraveling before his eyes.

“I don’t know. Maybe my memory of that has been erased too, but now I can prevent it. Before I left for my Sheebat game you spotted an anomaly. That was Mondex, travelling back from the future to kill me in the past. In the future we were waiting for it because I left a message for myself about what Mondex was planning. I came through the vortex after him, but I don’t know what happened differently this time and he succeeded.”

“Rex I… don’t know what to say. I’m glad you’re alive for now. Maybe it will give me time to find a way to change what happened. At least I might figure out how to keep you alive. I’ll begin studying the anomaly at once.”

Rex dropped Mondex’s time-belt on The Professor’s work bench.

“Maybe this will help.”

Space Flight 556: Date with Death

Rex gripped the Eldoan Death Fish, only a hands-breadth from his face.

The smell of doom was in the air.

As the monster slipped towards his throat, a bolt from one of his Corral Specials ended it’s life and saved his.

Limp in his hands now, he dropped it to the floor and grinned at the Princess, poised with his gun still raised and smoking, nearby.

“Not the only thing smoking,” he thought to himself.

Tossing him his weapon, she rummaged in the pile of dead fish at her feet and retrieved her own gun. They’d both dropped theirs in the first chaotic moments after falling through the trapdoor into the elaborate fish-trap. They had disabled most of the deadly creatures with a vial of The Professor’s anti-fish gas.

They should have never accepted the invite to the Sultan’s Ball. Rex had feared a trap, and was certain this would be where the Princess would disappear, if he couldn’t prevent it somehow. He couldn’t convince her though, not without revealing that he was dead, and only alive due to some accident of time-travel. So he’d gone with her to the ball and despite the death-fish he was enjoying himself quite a bit.

Until the walls started to close in.

“I’m sorry I got us into this mess Rex,” said Anrianna. “You were right about the trap, but I can’t possibly see how you knew!”

As she talked she produced a bright lipstick from somewhere on her person, and peered at it.

“I actually have a confession to make about that,” began Rex.

Anrianna found the secret button she’d been searching for and the lipstick sprang open into a long metal pole.

“What’s that?” asked the Princess continuing the conversation casually.

“Where in space did you get a spring-loaded nesball cue?” asked Rex, momentarily forgetting what he was saying.

The Princess wedged the cue between the walls as they began to press in. The cue bowed slightly but held, and the walls groaned to a halt. Rex was sure he could hear gears slipping and grinding behind the walls.

“I love nesball, so The Professor made me my own cue, that also happens to be made of solidium. And now we should be able to shimmy up the walls to the trap door we came through.”

“I have jetboots if that’s easier,” suggested Rex.

Anrianna smiled conspiratorially and grabbed Rex in a full hug, stepping onto his feet. “Get us out of here!” she cried over the explosive punch of takeoff.

At the sound of the rockets, the two goons who had been set to watch guard over the trapdoor peered in.

Rex’s fist caught the first in a jet-powered uppercut as they exited the hole. The other had enough time to look up at the duo before Anrianna lashed out with a kick to the head that sent him spinning and stumbling into the death-trap. A “sproing” sound told the two the goon had dislodged the cue, seconds before his scream echoed around the hall followed by a sickening crunch.

The Princess grimmaced at Rex, “I was hoping I might get that cue back.”

Space Flight 556: The Long Honeymoon

“We’ve been locked in here for three weeks, how in space do you wake up cheerful every day? “

Rex had been whistling as usual, and despite herself, Anrianna felt buoyed by it, despite their incarceration.

“Well,” came Rex’s reassuring voice through the thick brick wall between their cells, “it has a little something to do with what I was about to share with you before we were captured.”

“How you knew about the trap, you mean?”

“Sort of. I’ve been reluctant to bring it up because we might have avoided all this if I’d told you sooner.

“I’m not the Rex you think I am. I came from the future to save myself, but instead I got myself killed.”

He explained what had happened and how past Rex had died.

“Oh Rex, that’s dreadful! I couldn’t bear it if you… were gone.”

The Princess hated, more than ever, the solid brick between them. She wanted to give him a hug.

“So how have you been so cheerful?” she finally asked.

“Because every day I’m here with you is another day I know you’re alive. In my future you’ve gone, disappeared without a trace, and we don’t know where to find you. Back in time I might be dead and locked in a tower, but at least I know where to find you.”

“The future sounds ghastly. Can we not go back in time and put it right?”

Anrianna was sure she felt a draft from the long sigh from the next cell.

“The Professor is working on it, but I can’t risk losing you again. If it comes to it, I’d rather have you safe.”

The Princess smiled. “I wouldn’t exactly call this safe,” she said.

There was silence for a few moments. Anrianna wondered what Rex was doing, as she’d expected a snappy reply. In the stillness and quiet she heard a scratching sound. It was familiar and she wondered if it was the same sound she’d heard each night in her fitful sleep.

The sound gave way to the louder sound of stone on stone. The wall bulged. No - not the whole wall, but a single large stone. She jumped back.

“Rex?” she started, “I said I wouldn’t exactly call this safe…”

The rock slid out of its place in the wall between their cells. In the gap stood Rex, shirtless, trickles of sweat cutting through the dirt on his arms and face. Rex, stronger than ever. He held out his hand to her.

“Well we’d better get you out of here,” he said.

She grabbed his hand and he turned and led her back into his cell. Leaning into a rock on the adjoining wall, he pushed with all his might and Anrianna leaned in to help. The rock juddered and jumped forward. Pushing harder, they forced the rock further out. Stepping back from it, Rex motioned for the Princess to back away, and gave the rock an almighty kick.

The rock broke free and tumbled down the castle wall and into the moat below. Wind rushed through the cell from the opening, bringing a chill freshness Anrianna had missed.

“If only I had my rocket boots or even my grappling line,” lamented Rex.

“Would the hang-glider The Professor built into my corset do?” asked the Princess with a smile?

Rex grinned and Anrianna grabbed him around the waist, and they leaped from the tower into the blue sky outside.

Space Flight 558, Chapter 0: Wiped

The Professor awoke to a hole where his lab should have been.

And no eyebrows.

For a few moments he sat dazed against the corridor wall where, if the pain in his head was anything to go by, he’d been tossed when his lab had been destroyed.

While he waited for the ringing in his ears to subside, he tried to figure out what had happened. Could it be sabotage? What else might explode?

He wondered if it had been something he’d been working on, but try as he might, he could not recall the last thing he’d been doing. In fact, he found he was having trouble recalling anything at all.

The last thing he could remember was… witnessing a spacetime anomaly with Rex, just before Rex’s big Sheebat game.

That was it. That was the last thing he could remember. Looking up his records of the anomaly he was shocked to discover three months had passed since then.

Had the anomaly done this then?

What in space was going on?

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