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Since Tarrant's house was a literal floating castle and Fleur's house was only accessible by miles of walking or flower teleport, they wound up with Marcus in one of the small transient dorms. It was a simple log cabin style building, like most of the non-prefab structures in town, with several bedrooms, bathrooms and showers, and the sort of living room/kitchenette that would serve people who did most of their eating and socializing elsewhere. By the time Marcus was clean and the coffee was brewed, Stesha had rounded up a plate of sandwiches and a few of the basic history textbooks that they used to acclimatize new arrivals from very divergent timelines. While they waited for their guest, Stesha sipped a cup of herbal tea and paged through the book. She seemed to be ignoring the way that leafy little branches and puff-topped mushrooms were springing from the wall behind her. 

 

"I'm not sure what we do with him," she admitted to Tarrant. "We can't change his timeline; I don't think it's literally possible. Whatever happens to him, he'll either do exactly what he did before and make a closed loop, or do something different and start a new timeline. The world probably doesn't end in his lifetime, but what a thing to live with anyway. What do you do with yourself? How do you make a life, how do you have children?" She ran uneasy hands down her shirt, then turned more pages. "Do we offer him the chance to stay?" 

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Tarrant sighed, running a hand back through his hair. He'd taken the chance to clean up a bit himself, clean clothes and a pair of shoes that wouldn't track farm-and-garden dirt through the dorm house. "I think we pretty much have to," he said, turning his coffee cup in his hands. "What an awful position he's found himself in. I don't know what my choice would be, but then...well, it would be my choice."

 

He was quiet for a moment as he mulled that one over; as good a time as any to take a sip of coffee that probably should have burned him. "There's an argument for everything. He's already missing from his timeline, so staying is definitely safer, and probably a better opportunity for him if he doesn't have a lot of ties back home. If he does, he may want to go back to preserve those, even knowing it's all going to end. And if he wants to try to change things...well, I don't much like his odds, but even a new timeline would preserve a version of his past and its people, and I can at least see the appeal of that."

 

Tarrant shook his head, taking another sip. "Honestly," he said, somberly, "I think we treat him like any refugee. We give him the information he needs to make the choice he thinks is best, unless that choice is obviously destructive."

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When Marcus came out, he was dressed in the closest thing Tarrant had been able to find to a 19th century outfit; trousers, a button-down long-sleeved shirt, and red tie. With usually pomaded hair shaggy after the bath and mustache drooping, he would have fit in perfectly on Tarrant's home campus. "I left my adventuring outfit folded on the floor," he said, his smile full of nerves. "I hope that was the proper place; I wasn't sure what wonders I would find if I dug too deeply in there!" He took a seat opposite Tarrant and Stesha, and his coffee black. "I must admit," he said, speaking with what sounded like great care, "Once I came to accept the existence of mechanical bees, elephant-bees, bee-women, and bull-men, I have been surprised at how little has changed over the millennia. Coffee, the necessary, the bath - they were all different, but all very...recognizable." He raised his eyebrows and said, hazarding a question, "Is this an...embassy for travelers in time?" 

 

 

Super-Bee didn't quite bring the teens to the hives proper, but they were certainly amongst them when she made a perfectly controlled, almost straight-down landing. And what a sight they were; towering structures as big as skyscrapers back in Freedom City, their honeycomb shape clear despite their earth-and-rock construction. A sound of deep, distant vibration seemed to be coming from the air, the walls, the ground; the thrumming of countless vast wings. The actual grass hereabouts was sparse in the shadow of the great hives, but on the other side of the complex the young heroes could just make out what looked to be the highest, thickest forest they had ever seen until they looked closely and realized those vast, building-high trunks were actually sunflowers taller than some buildings, with faces wide enough to swallow a house. 

 

They were among several large storage tanks, towering as high as one of Claremont's buildings, looking to be made of wax rather than metal, and could tell the purpose of the tanks by what had spilled from the nearest, what had seemingly been a tidal wave of honey that had covered at least a half-acre of ground, leaving the short grass sticky beneath their feet. There was no immediate sign of the time machine, but it was easy to imagine how the tidal wave might have swept it away, and what kind of search might be needed to uncover it. 

 

"IT WAS A TYRANNOZAURUS REX WITH A BRAIN MADE OF RADIATION - BUT I WILL TELL YOU THAT ZTORY LATER," she assured Leon in a fashion surprisingly chummy for a creature so great as everyone hopped off. "YEZ IT IZ VERY EDUCATIONAL! I DID NOT EVEN KNOW HUMANZ ON ZANCTUARY COULD DO ZUCH THINGZ!" She had told them on the way over that there were only a few bees outside of the hives right now, everyone having gone into defensive mode when the traveler arrived, which meant there were only a dozen or so gigantic apians in the sky overhead, flitting from dark opening to dark opening wider than a subway tunnel, or scuttling along the sides of the hives to similar destinations.

 

One of them landed in front of Super-Bee, a big, chunky-looking bee who immediately boomed "HI BEE-I MEAN, ZUPER-BEE!" before doing what was distinctly a back-and-forth, side-to-side shuffling dance as if he hadn't quite found his footing when he landed. 

 

Super-Bee made a slightly affronted noise and said in a tone of someone speaking to a particularly daft friend, "ZPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE BROBEE! DID YOU ZEE ANYTHING?"

 

"YEZ! I ZAW THE INTRUDER, AND THEN I ZAW YOU..." he answered guilelessly, and Super-Bee made a deep, echoing sound by striking her foreleg against the ground. As the bees had what sounded like an unproductive conversation, the young heroes were free to explore the honey-collection complex. Meanwhile, Melissa spotted something that at first didn't seem to be related to their search at all; a crackling column of what appeared to be persistent lightning, hanging beneath the ruptured tank. 

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Horrorshow

 

Davyd leaped from Super-Bee's back as she set down among the honey tanks, clinging to one of the great wax containers. 

 

Hey, without that Marcus guy here -- or any other adults -- I can really cut loose!

 

He transformed in mid-air, going first to his true form of a vaguely humanoid form of muddy crimson flesh, then looser still, striking the side of the storage tank with a wet SPLUT.  His form oozed down slowly for a moment, then stopped and reversed, flowing up and moving around the tank in a clockwise manner.  Numerous pseudopods spread out, some clinging to the tank and pulling him along, others waving out in the air, sprouting eyes, cones, and other, less identifiable organs as he scoured the area for clues with senses no human ever had.

 

Okay, this is all stone and wax, so any scent of metal might be the Professor's machine.  And if some part of it's still active, it might be making sounds of a frequency outside normal human hearing. 

 

As he searched, his mind kept wandering to the processes by which bees make honey and wax, and how he might could replicate them.

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Leon chuckled and shook his head as Super-Bee gave him the elevator pitch for her time traveling adventure.

“Okay, I gotta hear that one later.”

The big bee’s cheerful attitude was surprisingly contagious.

 

Hopping off her back hebgave a whistle as he slowly looked around at the huge flowers. “Even after a week, this is still pretty cool to see.”

Walking forward some, he crouched down and reached out to touched the sticky substance. “Is anyone else imagining a world’s slowest tidal wave?” He chuckled and stood up again.

Leon focused his attention now, shifting too a more serious attitude. He headed towards the ruptured tank, conscious of the bees all around the area. His eyes shifted from here to there searching for details. 

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Corinne sits very still on the back of a giant bee like this is her normal thing, cross legged, and her arms folded across her chest. She watched, and she listened before they landed, her frown deepening, as she realized what would come next, or more accurately what was coming. 

Slowly she pushed herself to her feet, knowing she had to reach deeper, and would have to do the thing that she had been hoping not to, but well, she had no choice. "Well, crap." A sigh as the gleeful, ecstatic sensation burbled and started to rise, and she jumped off Super Bee, and before she hit the ground the change hit her. The energy crackling around her, before she landed in the air, and there was laugh that rose joyously out of her, as Corinne stopped being Corinne and was Zenith for now.

Her hair a multicolored crown that rose up into the air, as light poured from her eyes, and her median was surrounded by a crackling halo that stark white, living energy that trailed after her as she veritably danced on air down towards the honey. "Hm, well." She reached down with her power, pushing the honey away from her, before her now bare feet touched the short grass. "Not how I thought I would be spending my day."

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Stesha took another careful sip of her tea, organizing her thoughts. "No," she told Marcus, "this isn't an embassy, though it is a little bit old-fashioned compared to the way most people live now. It's a colony, where we're cleaning up debris and pollution to make a place that wasn't habitable safe for people again." She set down her cup and steepled her fingers. "Your machine functioned exactly the way you wanted it to," she told him frankly. "The year is 2021, and you are where Freedom City used to be. Sometime in your future, there will be a horrible disaster, and human life will be largely wiped out. I'm very sorry," she added, sympathy writ large on her face. "We don't believe it will be in your lifetime." She stifled the urge to go on, figuring he'd need a moment. 

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Marcus started slightly, his coffee wobbling in his hands. "What...what sort of disaster?" he asked uncertainly. "I...I have heard some worry about the coming of Dr. Halley's comet in thirty-nine years," he went on, looking from Tarrant to Stesha with the expression of a man who was desperately hoping to be told he was the victim of some great practical joke. "But surely in a solar system some millions of years old, we have passed through the tail of a comet before and not been undone." He blinked a few times, seeming to consider the possibilities. His eyes widened, something like suspicion on his face. "But how could...giant bees, and bull-men, and bee-girls evolve in that time? I am a Darwinist, good woman, I understand where life comes from and the Origin of Species, surely such things could not appear in two lifetimes together!" 

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"Oh wow, he just fully melted," Ryder observed from atop Super-Bee, watching Davyd's liquid descent. "Good for him!" He didn't know Corrine well enough even after spending time working together on Sanctuary to really know what was going on with her but he did make a couple mental notes about how her molecular structure seemed to be rearranging on the fly. "Man, that's neat stuff. Uprooting the conservation of mass and the second law of thermodynamics is like painting, y'know? Everybody's working with the same colours but it's always like, woah, what are they going to do with them? You know what I'm talking about!" he laughed, taking in Melissa and the great fuzzy being beneath him in a sweeping gesture.

 

Moving forward enough that he could get a good look at the other giant bee he waved to get his attention. "Hey man! Brobee, yeah? I'm Ryder, super cool to meet you." He cupped his hands around his mouth to make sure his voice carried and nudged a reticent Yellow out from behind him to buzz about his shoulder. She seemed deeply unsure about how to interact with the titanic insects. "And this is Yellow! She's a little shy, don't take is personally, ha! Sounds like you've had a wild time, bud. Think you could zero in on where you saw that other guy show up?"

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Bee

Melissa was a little disappointed that she didn’t get to see the Bee’s communication, she knew basic bee dance but she wanted to learned how they’d build a language for themselves. But she couldn’t stay disappointed with the amazing wonder of the hive, as often when she was observing something her voiced thoughts became a stream of consciousness.

 

Well thermodynamic laws work differently in an open multidimensional universe, crazy amazing things can happen with some regularity. Our best bet is the Daka crystals, in his time they’d be rare outside of Dakana so they’ll probably be flawed and being releasing an energy trace we might be able to track the craft down. Maybe we’ll be able to see some form of fluorescence?”

 

Finally her eye’s got her brains attention pointing out something that seemed off.

 

Do you see that over there?”she pointed towards the cracked pillar, maybe that was her fluorescence after all Let’s go take a look shall we?”

 

She zipped off towards the column not giving much though if the others would follow along, it’s generally what happened after all in her experience.

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"The kind of disaster that doesn't leave a lot of clues behind," said Tarrant, shaking his head. He'd never liked that. "We have a couple suspicions, but it doesn't look like it was an act of nature; the comet wouldn't have done it. The planet wasn't just destroyed or burnt away, it was...toxic. Is still toxic, in most places. What you see around you is a lot of years of hard work bringing life back to the land, air, and water."

 

He took a moment to sip his coffee, letting that thought hang in the air for a moment. "The rest is a little harder to explain. Science doesn't just progress, it accelerates - I'm sure you saw that in your own time, and I promise it only keeps picking up steam as long as there are good minds to explore it. The bees didn't evolve naturally, they were...made to be what they are. The, ah, bull-man -" - Tarrant was going to have to have a talk with that kid - "- and the bee-girl are probably more explaining than we want to get into right now, but they're unique. A lot of us are, one way or another, it's just harder to tell."

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Marcus fell silent at that, looking across the table at Stesha and Tarrant, then down into his reflection in his coffee. Slowly, carefully, he set it down as his hands began to tremble. "So we went too far. We made a world of fantastic beasts but poisoned it in the process." A thin, hard smile crossed his face. "Justice for the Red Indian, I suppose. To answer your question, Doctor McLeod, the progress I had seen came with a heavy price. I had hoped that if I went far enough, me and mine could have the sweet without the bitter. But now...ah, my sainted mother will be delighted to learn that I should have become a painter instead of a man of science." His voice trailed off as he reached into the pocket of his shirt, fishing out a slightly stained pocketwatch. He snapped it open and looked not at the face, but at whatever portrait was visible on the other side. Slowly, he raised his hand to his mouth, and looked as if he was about to weep. "Oh, dear God in Heaven..."

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It was an excellent idea, Davyd would be able to tell himself later, but the confusion of the recent honey tsunami rendered his plan largely impossible. Everything smelled of honey, wax, pollen, or some combination thereof, and it soon became clear that he was going to have some trouble removing the mess from his own frame once he came down. He certainly got the attention of Brobee, who before being distracted by Ryder had actually abandoned his conversation with Super-Bee to watch the slippery psuedo-Grue. "WOAH" the giant drone declared. "THATZ AMAZING. CAN THEY ALL DO THAT?" 

 

Ryder was able to puzzle a story out of Brobee (once he was no longer distracted by the fascinating wonder of first Horrorshow, and then Zenith) about he had seen something that looked like a "VERY TINY LIGHTNING" that had turned into "THE MAZHINE WITH THE INTRUDER!" The intruder had had a "GUN" which Brobee proudly announced that he had swallowed "AND NOT EVEN ANY PART OF HIM!" after seeing it in use. The lightning had cut open the honey storage tank and promptly doused the intruder, his machine, and "EVERYTHING ELZE!" in honey. 

 

Zenith found that the broken tank had been cleaved in twain along one almost perfectly, as if someone had driven a long, straight knife down the side of the tank from top to bottom, then everything else had been pushed to one side or another by the release of the internal pressure of honey.

 

It was Leon, followed shortly by one of Ryder's bugs, who found the machine, though Zenith's efforts to remove the honey at ground level certainly helped. It had been flipped over and carried some distance by the honey tsunami but it was seemingly intact. Though some of the daka crystals (Melissa and Ryder had been right to make the connection) embedded in its wheels looked burnt out and cracked, most of the others looked intact. They were rougher and less polished than the daka crystals they'd seen in demonstrations at school, and seemed to glow with an inner, barely-held radiance. The brass metal of the superstructure was bent and cracked in a few places, but overall the great mad work of the small craft was remarkably intact. Though it was hard to tell under all that honey. 

 

Following her own clue, Melissa found what looked to be a wavering column of miniature lightning underneath one of the tanks, one that rippled and wavered as it moved about. It seemed to be moving around blindly, trying to find a way out from under the gigantic wax honeypot, but stopped every time it reached a solid obstacle like part of the tank itself or an outcropping of rock. 

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Stesha reached out and put a hand on Marcus' arm, looking like she was about ready to cry herself. "It wasn't your fault," she promised him. "And it wasn't the fault of your science, or at least not entirely. We found evidence of alien influence in the wreckage, um, evil sentient creatures from other planets," she added, in case he didn't know 'aliens' in context. Whatever happened to your world, whoever should take the blame, the fact that they were around seems to have made the difference in why your world was destroyed. On our Earth, we're still fighting them off today..." She trailed off, realizing that she probably made things more confusing by trying to comfort him. 

 

After giving Tarrant one helpless glance, Stesha decided to try and fix her own mistakes. At least she'd had to explain this part before. "You're a time traveler, so I'm sure you've thought about the consequences of traveling through time, right? If you were to go back in time, you might change something, and the whole world could be different as a result. Some of our early time travel theorists worried that they could cause paradox that way, change the world so much that they never existed to build the machine that went back and made the change, and so you'd have a causality chain with no proper start or end. What we learned was that you can't cause a paradox and unmake yourself because changing things in a timeline doesn't change the timeline, it makes a new one. We live in a multiverse full of possible worlds, where every choice or change that is big enough has the potential to start a new timeline on its own and we'll likely never know about it. Most times, a timeline will fold itself back into its source, but some timelines become stable enough to continue on their own, sometimes in ways that are very different from the source.

 

"Tarrant and I and all the people here," Stesha went on, "we aren't from this timeline. When we found it, this world was mostly dead and abandoned, but we have been working to fix it up and save the people we could find. A long time ago, we were probably all part of one timeline, but at some point we diverged, and different things happened there and here. If you go back now to the time you came from, things might turn out the same, or you might create a new timeline of your own." 

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"Hmmm it was cut clean," she said absently in her inhuman voice.

 

Zenith reached down with her power to pull a bit of the honey clinging to inside the tank and drew it up to she could taste it, her left arm raising and holding about in front of her, as that arm disappeared into that distorting shimmer that twitched and glitched as a similarly appearing glow filled the tank, it looked like digitized white fire, starting from the bottom and rising up, reforming the area that was damaged. As it did the shape of the tank started to fill in, that was the easiest part, the tricky part... 


She looked to the bees, "Can the honey be salvaged or does it need replaced?"
 

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Leon spotted the machine as Zenith cleared away the honey. Crossing the honey stained ground he crouched by the overturned vehicle to examine it.

He didn’t recognize the weird crystals set into the hardware, but some of them appeared to be cracked and he was sure that wasn’t good.

Standing up he stretched a little then looked back towards where Super Bee and Ryder were talking to a... worker? Drone? The other bee.

He gave a high, sharp whistle at them, followed by. “Hey! S.B., think we found it.”

He waited for at least Super Bee to join him by the contraption. “Think you can carry it?” He asked and offered. “I can make a sling or straps if need’em.”

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