Tree Top Knows Best

Well, I've had my fun back in the Otherverse. Finding that errant doorway certainly helped. But the threads of time opened to my mind once more, and I have returned to a conflict that was never mine.

So hello granddaughter. I see you've been busy. And you have some friends with you.

Care to come with me back to land of boogiemen?

A frigid breeze howled across the South Dakota prairie.

Alise stood in ankle deep snow, picking through the battle zone. The area had a seventy-five kilometer cordoned off perimeter. There weren't more than a handful of people this far out in the middle of nowhere to notice the 'keep out' signs. There were less than that who knew about this place, and none of them had much interest in it for the time being.

Kicking past spent shell casings and broken armor, Alise scanned the vacant scenery for trouble. She probed and plied at the spacetime threads, but they offered her no visions here. Part of that was Annemarie's fault; the fabric of the cosmos here were unknotting after her effect during the war. The other side of the issue was that there was nothing out here for Alise to see.

She crouched down at the base of an old tank tread. The rest of the dead machine got carted out during the initial clean sweep. For whatever reason, the three meter long caterpillar track and its housing were left behind. There were other similar pieces of rubble from the battle here. The fighting had only lasted a couple of hours before congregating near Casper, Wyoming. That was still a mess; plenty of active sentries and specialists making sense of the aftermath. It would have been Alise's first choice to investigate there, but the anonymity out here couldn't be beat.

Alise ran a hand over the snow crusted tank tread. The metal was cold to her touch, leaving no impressions. Maybe it was nothing after all. A ghost in her imagination playing tricks with her.

She checked the Time Remote Arianna leant her for this brief jaunt. Local time put the scene a little under a year after the battle. The Arc-Gates hadn't shown any signs of rematerializing since then. Arianna claimed they never caught any echoes of it by her present in nineteen years. Not that there would be. If Kyle's sacrifice was complete, then nothing of that fold world could have survived. Alise unquestionably made certain Salem wouldn't survive in this one.

She exhaled, spinning around once to let her gaze wander over the frigid winter scene. Arianna teased her for wanting to come back. The girl had too much personality for Alise's taste. It was something she was getting used to every damn day. But Alise had to admit she was right—there was nothing out here.

No echoes from the Arc-Gate; no survival of Salem's forces waiting to rise from non-existence. The punk had lasted too long after the First Time War. But he wouldn't outlast the Second.

She reached for the recall on the Remote when a new thread whipped into her mind.

Alise dropped the Remote in the snow, leaping back in surprise. The image burned into her consciousness, fading almost so fast she nearly forgot what she saw. But the memory of those grinning eyes—that face. A face she had seen before. A face that bore so much in common with hers.

Five meters ahead of her, a ripple of neon violet light pulsed once in the air. Then twice. Then rhythmically, spreading apart like a flower in bloom. As the curtains of reality pulled apart, light broke forth, scattering blindingly on the white snow. Alise winced, shielding her face as a figure stepped through the doorway, silhouetted in the light beyond recognition.

She heard his boots crunch in the snow. The blossom of light and energy collapsed inward, winking out with a single blip that swirled the snow in the air.

Alise blinked, rubbing her eyes; trying to see past the stars. The figure before her was taller than she expected. He was older than any of the pictures she saw, but perhaps no more than his late twenties. The years had treated him well, filling out his toned muscles and giving him more to his stature beyond youth. The face wore the years, but it was impossible to ignore the familiarity.

None of that made it any easier for Alise to understand the man standing in front of her.

He grinned, extended two welcoming arms. "'Ello! I see you got my message!"

Alise took a step back. "This is not possible."

"Says the girl with two friends who hop between time and worlds. Aren't you going to give granddaddy a hug?"

He took another step toward her and Alise brought her wakizashi up to bear. He laughed. "I dare you to take a whack at me; see how much good that does for you."

Alise bore her teeth, keeping the blade ready. "Jonathan Tree Top is dead. He died a happy old fart thirty years before I was born. You are an imposter."

He exhaled dramatically, rolling his eyes. "Okay, first off, I was only fifty when you were born. Just because you decided to start living thirty years after I quote unquote died doesn't mean squat. And second off, hasn't your smartass computer friend taught you anything? Time is a sum of possible realities. I so happen to be one of those possibilities."

Alise lowered her sword a hair. "A possible reality where my grandfather abandoned his family and retained his chronometrics?"

He cocked his head. "Chronometrics…? Oh! You mean my quantum abilities! A rose by any other name I suppose."

"You're dodging my question."

"And you're being a smart mouth. Didn't you ever learn respect for your elders? Listen up, child; that man and I are still the same person. We're not clones or quantum copies or whatever the hell you want to call it. He still lived out his life, raised his family, and died an old fart as you so eloquently put it. And I am the man that brought him into existence. I am the one who shaped his reality. I am the one who created him before it all."

Alise didn't like it. She lowered her blade, though, willing to play his games for the moment. "A paradox."

"Only if you can't stretch your imagination that far."

"I suppose to any sane person that would sound like gibberish, but time is…relative."

He winked, clicking his tongue. "Now you're getting the hang of it!"

Alise sheathed her wakizashi, folding her arms. There was the possibility the man before her was an imposter. It wouldn't be hard to create the illusion. But for an illusion, he certainly knew a lot of things beyond convenience. And more than that, the way the spacetime threads undulated around him; there was too much familiarity.

He was a servant of the Eternal Streams as much as she was.

"Grandfather," she began, "why are you here?"

"To play the part of destiny. You should gather up those two lady friends of yours. We have some bold new opportunities ahead of us."

Alise exhaled, reaching down in the snow for her dropped Remote. She had humored him this long; might as well play this out. If this was her grandfather—Jon Tree Top of the First Generation—then she had to honor his request. She could do nothing less.

"You caught us at a good time," she grunted, stepping toward him. "We were just deciding where to go next."

Jon's eyes lingered on the Remote. He drank it in like a long lost vice. She thought she saw him lick his lips. Finally, though, he glanced back up to meet her gaze.

"Perfect. If you've gotten bored with this universe, I happen to have a Door that can take us to another one."

"The Otherverse?" said Alise.

He nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yes. The birthplace of so many of our adventures. I think it's high time we returned."