T H E ‘ E M B A S S Y ‘
Four Months Ago | Manhattan, New York
"So wait-- explain this all to me again..." Ted asked the most recent applicant, rocking closer forward in his chair and pinching his goggles slightly off of the bridge of his nose.
"Am I going crazy, Beetle? Is that what's happening right now?" Booster looked slightly panicked as he addressed his friend.
The bespectacled man sighed in his tan trenchcoat. "We've been over all of this, my name is--"
"Uuuuupp-ahp-ahp-ahp-ahp-ahp..." Booster tried to stop the interviewee, holding a hand out.
"--Ssssssssssssssssssssss..." Both Booster and Ted winced simultaneously at the revelation of his real name.
"We-- we don't do that here." The Blue Beetle tried to gently explain, gesturing between Booster and himself.
"I'm an occult detective. An ardent disprover of the paranormal."
"Yes. Yes, we got that much. Tell me again what you just said your powers are."
"Beetle, I don't--" "Shhhh!" The Blue Beetle leant further in still, waiting for the response.
"I just told you... I don't have any power. Aside from maybe being more resistant to magic than most."
"Nnng!" Booster took this poorly and started to rock back and forth in his seat.
"Yeah, that's what I thought you said--" Ted rocked back in his seat, sucking his molars and feeling secure in the knowledge that he wasn't mistaken.
"I HAVE gone crazy, haven't I BB? You can tell me. I can take it." Booster pleaded.
"No. No, on this one you're spot on. I just wanted to see if I could give him the chance to see it for himself."
"So, you're looking to join a SUPERHERO team, with the only power that you can claim being that you 'Might be a little more immune to magic than most', and the reason you're providing for that to be the case is because you 'don't believe in it'." Ted assertively fired off air quotes.
"Oh thank God, it's not just me..." Booster looked relieved.
"And you don't see the problem with that?" The Blue Beetle cocked a single eyebrow whilst leaning in once again.
"What's wrong with that?"
"Well, the value you're assigning yourself is contingent entirely on your premise that the situation that would require said value... doesn't exist."
Booster pointed wildly at Ted in agreement, then considered the words his friend had actually said with a furrowed brow and seemed further confused still.
"I'm afraid I don't quite follow you."
"Actually, I'm starting to be more unsure of myself all the time even as you explain things..." Booster scratched the back of his head.
"It's a paradox."
Ted sighed. "One of those things you're REEEEEEEEEALLY not supposed to do to the timestream."
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!" Booster raised a singular finger, having finally understood.
"And there's another discrepancy here as well, when you first introduced yourself, you did it as--"
"Doctor Thirteen, yes?"
"--yes, and yet, when I look through your resume here under qualifications you've neither been IN medicine, nor hold a doctorate in... well, anything."
"Hey, if that huckster hoax Doctor Strange can call himself 'Doctor', then so can I!"
"I know Doctor Strange. I've actually been present whilst he's supervised over urgent field surgery that had to be performed by steadier hands... he IS a medical doctor. That's not some magical title. He's even kept up with the journals and work for the qualifications to still hold."
"Well-- well Doctor Doom..!"
"--Holds numerous doctorates in various fields. The man's a bona fide genius."
"In fact, if I had to try and convince Hank Pym to refer to you as 'Doctor', I'd never hear the end of it."
"Well... he could call me 'Terry'..?"
Booster Gold and the Blue Beetle both stared blankly at the man in the trenchcoat after his response.
"...I'll just see myself out."
R A V E N ' S P E R C H
2002 | Ugh... New Jersey
The Blue Beetle walked down suburban Main Street with Skeetz floating close behind, all eyes were on the pair.
"Sir, we seem to be attracting a lot of attention."
"Hmm? Oh, I see. Give me a second. I think I've got something for this." The hero said, reaching into his belt and pulling out a length of cord for his grapple line and attaching one end to Skeetz.
"I fail to see how this is any better--"
"Shh..! Someone's coming." As a local police officer approached, making his patrol round. Ted quickly stepped away from his job tying the knot and leaned non-chalantly against a wall.
The cop opened his mouth to say something, before the Blue Beetle pre-empted his question. "Fancy dress party. So I get left holding my daughter's balloon whilst her mother takes her to the bathroom." He said, pointing to the line and floating robot.
"Ah." He confirmed, seeming happy with the answer and walking on by.
"A children's balloon. Why was I built with the ability to feel shame?" Skeetz moaned as the cop walked out of earshot.
"My best guess? Because if humans have to deal with humiliation on a daily basis then why should you get off easy?" Ted answered.
"Let's get off the street, anyway. I need time to sit down and think." Ted walked into a large diner named 'The Jukebox' - if the overbearingly large sign on the windows and giant fibreglass '70s jukebox on the roof, seemingly designed to illustrate the fact for any who lacked the ability to read - were anything to go by.
Ted took a booth for himself and ordered coffee when the waitress made her first round.
"Now let's figure this out." He said to Skeetz once the cup was left in front of him. "Raven's Perch... Where have I heard of that place before?" He said to himself.
"It wasn't an article, or I'd remem-- Ah! I've got it!" He put the cup to his lips, treating the caffeine as if it were a reward for his recollection, before wincing at the burnt roast selection that passed for coffee in this diner.
"Magneto, Skeetz. Check your old archived news. Years earlier Erik Lehnsherr... or maybe he's in your files as Max Eisenhardt, committed one of the greatest acts of domestic terrorism ever on American soil. He attempted to set off a mutagenic bomb with the intention of deviating the evolutionary course of humanity along the Eastern seabord. Ironically, his plan was itself foiled by a group of five mutants. Eventually those went on to become known as the first X-Men, but that's not important right now. The point is, Magneto failed, but a very small amount of material leaked into the local reservoir, creating a marked increase in mutant appearances over the years in surrounding cities and townships like... Ravens Perch." Ted tapped on the table to emphasise the town where they now were, before realising how big a scene he might be making and leaned in closer to Skeetz to whisper. "So we may not be as out of luck as first appears... There may be someone here whose help we can recruit. We just have to keep our eyes open."
The next booth over, three kids were sitting down talking to a middle aged man.
Skeetz responded, lights flickering, indicating towards their booth. "Sir, we might not have to wait long..."
"We didn't say 'No', yet..." The young man with the goatee answered.
"Just a second..." Ted got up, and stood over their table. "I've got a job for you all, right now. I'll pay you all--" The Blue Beetle hesitated, thinking of a price. "--five thousand dollars a piece. But my one term is that you cut that shyster loose right now."
"Hey, do you mind! We're talking business here!" The middle aged man protested.
The young lady held her hand out at the man sitting opposite, before replying to the Blue Beetle. "Five thousand dollars? For each of us?"
"That's what I said."
"And you've got this money?" Asked the other teen.
"Well, I'll be able to GET the money. After the job's done. I mean... TECHNICALLY I have the money, but I wouldn't be able to pay you until after it's done." Ted replied.
The three kids looked amongst themselves dubiously.
Ted scowled at the middle aged con man. "I don't walk around with fifteen grand on me, if that's what you're asking."
"So what's the job?" The girl asked.
"I'm a superhero from a few decades in the future, I'm trying to figure out how to get back to my time. Once I get there I can pay you all your money."
"HA HA HA HA HA! Hang on! I've gotta write this one down!" He laughed and pulled out a notepad and pen from his top pocket whilst Ted winced at the middle aged man's caustic laughter at his story. It did sound pretty suspect, now that Ted heard himself talk about it out loud.
He almost expected himself to be laughed out of the room along with the other man, until...
The three teens seemed to disappear into space, only to reappear a brief time later.
"Alright. We discussed this amongst ourselves. We're sticking with him." They pointed to Ted.
"Well, as far as we're concerned you BOTH sound like a couple of con-men, but given a choice I'll go with the one with a face like his who actually sprung for a superhero costume and a-- robot?"
Ted rubbed his chin. "'A face like his'? You mean honest?"
"Goofy." She clarified. "You don't look clever or conniving enough to come up with some kind of scam like that."
The kids got up from their booth, and the four left the diner together.
"So I take it you don't have to put up with con-men where you're from?"
Ted stopped and thought a few seconds about Max Lord before responding. "Ours wears nicer suits.
"I'm Laura, but you can call me 'Fateball'. That's Jesse Metuchen, AKA Jughandle, and that's--"
"--Mize. Or Stuart Welles."
"The Mize." He corrected flatly.
"But he prefers 'The Mize'." Jughandle explained.
"The Miiiiiiiize." He repeated, trying to put a "cool" tone to it.
"Hmm... He REALLY prefers the Mize." Ted noted.
"So what do we call you?" Jesse asked.
"This is Skeetz, but as for me, we'll just keep it to 'Blue Beetle'. One of the first things you realize in this superhero gig is 'The Less People Who Know Your Other Identity, The Better'." Ted explained. "Life can be messy otherwise."
"So what exactly are we working with here?" Fateball asked.
"What do you mean? He asked.
"Well, Jughandle can open pocket dimensions outside of the timestream, where he's basically oblivious to harm and time can slow down for anyone in there. That's what we did in the diner--"
"'Oblivious'?" Mize asked.
"--Me, I have photokinetic reflexes. I can duplicate different actions I see."
"I don't think you mean oblivious. Imperious? Is that the word? No... Impervious? Impervious to harm?" The Mize continued talking to himself.
"So far I've used it to learn about four or five different fighting styles."
"Muay thai?" Ted asked.
"What's that?" Fateball asked.
"It's a fighting style. Uses elbows and kness as well. There's a movie out next year, Ong Bak has this guy Tony Jaa who's really good. If your powers work how you say, you'll probably find it helpful. That said... I don't see how that connects with your name 'Fateball'."
"Oh! Yeah, I have photokinetic reflexes, PLUS of course I have my fateball." She produced a Magic 8 ball swinging by her side in a bowling ball bag. "I ask it any question, it's answers always turn out. ALWAYS."
Ted arched an eyebrow in curiosity.
"Here, I'll show you. Blue Beetle here wants to get back to his time. 'Will We Get Blue Beet--"
"Whoa! No! Wait!" Ted stopped her, yelling out.
The three kids stopped, turned and stared at him.
"Let's... Not ask that question. At the moment there's still a degree of quantum uncertainty. Wiggle room we can use to get me back to where I want to be. If your fateball works how you say, if that answer comes back bad, then I'm stuck. Right now, I'm Schrödinger's Cat."
"What--? Mize spoke up, apparently for all of them.
"Didn't any of you kids take physics? Schrödinger's Cat? The thought experiment Edwin Schrödinger used to explain the problems with Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics to Albert Einstein?"
The three kids looked at him blankly.
"Okay, in order to describe the nature of quantum superposition... there's a cat in a box--"
"--along with a flask of poison - or Schrödinger said hydrocyanic acid, a radioactive device and an internal monitor - some kind of geiger counter, for example - that can detect radioactivity to the point of the decay of a single atom decaying, and flick a switch which destroys the flask."
"You could have just said 'Smart science guy' when I asked what you do..." Fateball complained.
"I don't like where this is going for the kitty..." Jughandle said to Mize.
"Well, the Copenhagen interpretation states after a while that the cat is both simultaneously alive AND dead. The quantum superposition. Yet if someone were to look in the box, they would see that the cat was EITHER alive OR dead."
The three stared at him in horror.
"People in your time are SICK, man!"
"This wasn't MY time! This was back in 1935!"
They still looked disgusted.
"Anyway... my point was, that like the cat I'm in the quantum superposition. Simultaneously able to get back to my time AND stranded here... entirely contingent on the decaying of a single atom. But if you ask the fateball that question, then that's like opening the box. No matter the answer, it's a fixed point from then. Unchangable. Quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one of the two possibilities."
"Ohhhhhhhhh! You don't want me to ask the fateball about whether you make it back, because if the answer's bad then you're stuck here?"
"Yes!" An exasperated Ted answered. "...like the cat. Fate gone from being contingent on the decay of a single atom to being unalterably set in stone."
"Ah OK. I gotcha."
The four continued walking down the street before Ted realized there was still one unanswered question.
"And what about the Mize? What does he do?"
"Oh, he decays atoms..."
* Panels pulled from 'The Craptacular B-Sides #1, Published 2002