Wheeler kicked the wall of ice furiously. “Look what you’ve done now!” he cried, turning around to glare at Doctor Blight.
“Me?” she asked incredulously. “If you idiots hadn’t come rampaging in here with that big blue buffoon, none of this would ever have happened.”
“Well that big blue buffoon is going to come smashing through that wall of ice any moment now,” Wheeler snapped. “And when he does, you’ll –”
“I don’t think so,” MAL said in a sing-song voice. “It would appear that some of Doctor Blight’s toxic energy sources are leaking through into that ice...”
“Shit,” Wheeler muttered, running his hand through his hair. He stepped back to regard the wall. It was huge, and totally solid. There was no way he’d be able to get through it without Captain Planet’s help. As if on cue, his ring glowed softly, indicating that Captain Planet had returned the Planeteers’ powers. The toxic energy from Blight’s technology had made the ice even less penetrable than before.
“Well, looks like we’re stuck,” Blight said carelessly, slinging herself into a chair. “Got anything to eat?”
Wheeler glared at her. “You think it’s funny?”
“Who’s laughing?” she asked in surprise. “But those Planeteers will get through to you somehow. The statistics of your successes are annoyingly high.”
“Let’s just hope they get through in time,” MAL said, sounding annoyingly smug. “Your CO2 levels are rising.”
Blight suddenly looked alarmed, and that worried Wheeler more than anything.
Wheeler was feeling sleepy. He didn’t think that was a good sign, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about it. MAL was giving annoyingly-regular updates on the CO2 levels in the small space they were trapped in.
“There’s a way out, you know,” Blight said eventually. She had been quiet, and Wheeler had noticed her head was lolling tiredly towards her chest.
He gave her a sharp look. “There is?”
She pointed to the humming pool that sat between them. “We go back in time.”
He scoffed and leaned back against the wall.
“I mean it,” Blight said. “You go back and you can fix this.”
“Me?” he asked. “You’re the one that got us into this mess in the first place!”
She sighed impatiently. “Look, we can sit here and die, or we can reverse everything.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that won’t have any negative effects.”
“And dying will?” she asked, smirking at him.
He hunched his shoulders and drew his knees up to his chest. “Forget it,” he muttered.
Blight got to her feet and headed for the pool. “I’m going,” she declared. “None of this would have happened if it weren’t for you stupid Planeteers.”
“Yeah, God knows what sort of fix the world would be in if it weren’t for us,” he snapped.
She smirked at him. “What’s it gonna be, Sparky? Time over? Or death?”
Wheeler glowered at her. “Blight, we can’t...”
She grinned at him and flicked a switch on the machine in the middle of the room. The water sloshed and started to whirl, light pulsing across its surface.
“Make up your mind,” she sang at him. She turned to MAL. “I’ll come back for you, MAL baby.”
He smiled at her.
Wheeler rolled his eyes and staggered to his feet. It didn’t look like he had a choice.
Blight had somehow managed to land on her feet. Wheeler had not – he looked up at her, his shoulder aching from striking the pavement. “Where are we?” he asked with a groan.
“Where are you?” Blight asked, looking around frantically. “We have to get to you before that ring does.”
Wheeler scrambled to his feet. Suddenly, everything looked familiar. “This is the night I got my fire ring!” he said accusingly. “What are you doing?”
“We have to stop that ring getting to you so we don’t end up in that cavern,” Blight said frantically. “Where were you, exactly, this time one year ago? I traced you back to the time of Gaia’s first contact, but sometimes the machine doesn’t always land me right where I want to go. You’re supposed to be getting your ring at any moment now.”
“Why couldn’t you just send us back twelve hours?” Wheeler asked angrily. “I don’t want to stop being a Planeteer!”
Voices echoed at them down the alley and Blight took off, her boots clicking loudly on the pavement. Wheeler hurried after her, and skidded to a halt.
He stood there, grinning after a pair of fleeing gang members. Any moment now, his ring was going to flare out of a trash can on a ribbon of flame.
He saw it – the flame roared high and his past-self took a step back in alarm, reaching out automatically for the tiny object souring towards him through the air.
“No!” Blight screamed.
He looked up in alarm and she punched him in the face. The ring clattered to the ground and Wheeler fell like a sack of potatoes.
“Ouch, Jesus!” Wheeler cried, touching his nose as though it should be tender. “What did you do that for?”
Blight pocketed the ring. “Come on!” she snapped impatiently. “Before you wake up. I don’t want you changing your mind.”
“This is weird,” Wheeler muttered, rubbing the back of his head. “And I don’t think you should have that ring.”
“If I give it to you, you’ll be transported to the present and we’ll go right back to the same mess we were in five minutes ago,” she said impatiently, marching down the alley.
He glanced down at – himself. He looked okay. Wheeler sighed and followed Bight wearily, wondering just what sort of scale this mistake would be measured on.
“Come on!” Blight shouted back at him. “We need to find me so I can help myself out of this mess.”
“Yeah,” Wheeler sighed. “This was definitely not a good idea.”
“It’s been hours,” Wheeler moaned, trudging after Blight. “Couldn’t you organise yourself to pick us up or something?”
“I’m pretty sure I was holed away working on something that had to do with DNA... or something,” Blight said, wrinkling her forehead. “Just consider yourself lucky I wasn’t hidden away in another country or something.”
“Yeah I’m incredibly lucky that your whacko experiments are currently sitting smack-bang in the middle of New York City,” Wheeler said sarcastically.
She glared at him. “You know, you don’t have to follow me,” she said irritably. “You can run home to mommy and daddy and just forget about everything.”
“That’s not the idea!” Wheeler fumed. “All we needed was to get out of the cavern. I’m still a Planeteer, Blight. I just need to find Gaia and figure out how to get things back on track again.”
Blight scoffed and peered down another alley. They were all starting to look the same to Wheeler.
“I think this is it,” she said. “You stand back.”
“Why, are you in a bad mood today?” he asked, leaning against the wall tiredly.
Blight ignored him and hammered on the door. After a few moments there was an unmistakable voice from the other side.
“It’s me!” Blight called. “Open the door. There’s been a – a mistake.” She glanced to Wheeler with a wry grin and he rolled his eyes.
The door flew open and Blight stood facing Blight, a look of astonishment on her face. “What the hell?” she asked softly.
“Hey!” Dr. Blight said brightly. “Can we come in?”
Wheeler took the chance to look around Blight’s lab as the doubles were talking. They both seemed overly-excited by the idea, though past-Blight was, to his surprise, much mellower than the Blight he was familiar with. She listened curiously as her future self ranted and raved about what she’d been through over the previous 24 hours and how she’d ended up a year into her own past.
“Stupid Planeteers,” she ranted, coming to the end of her story.
“Hey, don’t blame us!” Wheeler snapped. “If you hadn’t been messing around with this stuff in the first place, everything would be okay.”
“Who the hell are you?” the other Blight asked, speaking to Wheeler for the first time.
“He’s one of those eco-brats,” Blight dismissed, waving her hand.
Other Blight blinked. “Who?”
“The Planeteers don’t exist here, remember?” Wheeler asked, turning to the Blight he knew. “She doesn’t know who we are.”
“Oh, right,” she said carelessly.
“Is he yours?” Other Blight asked curiously.
“Do whatever you want with him,” Blight answered, eagerly running her eyes over the giant contraption near the wall. “Is that the DNA super-coiling technology I was working on?”
“Uh, yeah,” Other Blight said. “Does it work?”
Blight scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Of course it does. But you know if you really wanted to get ahead, you should focus on the force-field ray you were working on a while ago. And this time, make sure there aren’t any issues with it, because when you go to use it for the first time, there’s this weakness that –”
“Excuse me?” Other Blight asked, raising her eyebrow. “If you’re coming back here to tell me I’m not –”
“I could save you so much time!” Blight interrupted excitedly. “If we put our heads together we could do anything!”
“I think I’ve been doing quite well by myself, thank you,” Other Blight said icily.
“Could you two stop bickering and help me figure out what we’re supposed to do now?” Wheeler asked, feeling frustrated and lost.
Blight glanced at him and smirked. “What are you talking about? We got out of the cavern, didn’t we?”
“You want to stay like this?” he asked incredulously. “We can’t do that, Blight.”
“Well what do you propose then?” she snapped.
“I need to get in touch with Gaia,” he said after a moment. “That seems like the –”
“Hey, you know what?” Blight asked, turning to Other Blight. “You can probably lock him up. Or kick him out of here.”
“Why?” Other Blight asked. “Is he insane or something?”
“Yes,” Blight said very seriously. “He stands for everything we oppose.”
“Why should I believe you?” Other Blight asked curiously.
“Because I’m you!” Blight replied impatiently. “You can trust me. You. Us.”
Other Blight chewed her lip for a moment. “Hm,” she said after a moment. “What do you think, MAL?”
For the first time since they’d arrived, MAL’s green face appeared, smirking at them from the monitor. “You look the same to me, Doctor. If it’s a disguise, it’s a very good one.”
“Looks aren’t everything,” Other Blight breathed, though she took a careful moment to tilt her hips and thrust her chest out.
“I’m outta here,” Wheeler muttered. “Later.”
“No!” Blight shrieked, pointing at him as he turned his back. “Stop him, or he’ll ruin everything!”
He was stopped, all right. Wheeler hit the floor hard, twitching slightly, his eyes wide.
“What is that – the stun gun?” Blight asked. “I thought I got rid of that.”
Other Blight smirked and tossed the device aside. “Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics.”
Blight narrowed her eyes slightly. “You’re an idiot.”
Wheeler murmured something indistinct, blinking up at the ceiling. Other Blight grabbed his hand and dragged him slowly across the floor, grunting with the effort.
Wheeler’s head lolled back and he looked up at her. “What are you doing?” he asked, slurring his words slightly.
“Just relax,” Other Blight said, grinning down at him. “It’ll wear off.”
Wheeler squinted up at her as she pulled him along the floor. “I don’t think I like you, Past Blight,” he muttered. “I think I like you better in the timeline I’m familiar with. I know what you’re thinking, then. I know it’s always something crazy. You scare me more when you act normal.”
She frowned down at him, but didn’t say anything.
“Where are we going?” he asked, trying to resist her slightly. His muscles tingled and ached, providing no help whatsoever.
“Just here,” she breathed, dragging him into what appeared to be a storage closet. “You’re heavy.”
“I’m a growing boy,” he muttered, flopping back onto the floor as she dropped him.
She stood over him. “So you stand for everything I oppose?” she asked.
“Pretty much,” he agreed tiredly.
“Why are you with her then? Me, I mean. Why are you with me?”
“It was a choice of Blight or Death,” Wheeler muttered. “I took Blight.”
“So what now?” she asked.
“I gotta figure that out,” he admitted. “I think I reversed something I wasn’t supposed to.”
“Should’ve chosen death, huh?” she asked, bending closer to him.
He blinked up at her nervously. “You weren’t exactly going to sit there and accept death either, you know,” he said.
“What did I do wrong?” she asked, frowning slightly. “What backfired?”
“There was a collapse in an ice-cavern,” he muttered. “That part wasn’t your fault.”
Blight glanced back towards the door and then dropped to her knees, straddling him.
“Oh my God,” he moaned. “Don’t. This is already too weird.”
“She’s different to me,” Other Blight said, tilting her head in the direction of the main room.
“Please get off me,” he said desperately. “This is already a bad dream. I don’t want it to turn into a nightmare.”
“Why does she hate you so much?” Other Blight asked, touching the Planeteer emblem on his jacket curiously.
“Why are you acting so weird?” Wheeler asked worriedly. “You’re usually so angry and short-tempered.”
“I am?” she asked. She laughed and put her hands on his shoulders, looking down at him.
“You don’t have to prove how nice you are,” he blurted. “I believe you. But I’d rather you treat me like shit, honestly...”
She smirked and bent over him, landing a kiss hard on his mouth. He gave a groan of disgust and wriggled under her, trying to pull away.
She broke away and got to her feet, another breathless laugh making it into the air. “I don’t know why she hates you so much,” she breathed, running her hands through her hair. “If I’d met you first, you’d be treated a lot better.”
“You did meet me!” he roared after her as she closed the door behind her. “And you hated me too!”
“Are you awake?”
Wheeler blinked and looked up. “Oh, man,” he sighed. “Am I glad to see you.”
Gaia looked less than impressed. “What have you done?”
“What choice did I have?” he asked miserably, sitting up and leaning against the shelves of the storage closet.
“You thought your friends were just going to give up on you?” Gaia asked.
“Of course not!” he said in alarm. “I just didn’t think they’d get there in time.”
Gaia sighed and shook her head. “Wheeler, you have to get your ring back. You have to get it off Blight or all those Planeteer missions will have been useless.”
“I don’t know how easy that’s gonna be,” he admitted. “I’ve got two Blights to deal with, now.”
Gaia shook her head and smiled. “Still just the one. Wheeler, the Blight you’re familiar with is very different to the Blight you met tonight. She’s by no means sane, or sensible, but she’s less...” She paused and gave a sigh. “Unreasonable.”
“Why?” Wheeler asked suspiciously.
Gaia looked a little reluctant to speak any further, but she continued. “The Planeteers are mainly to blame,” she admitted. “Every failure you’ve forced upon Blight and her friends made her more determined to succeed the next time. She gets more and more twisted every time you meet. But if you play your cards right, you can get the early Blight to help you out of here.”
“Will it change the future?” he asked hopefully.
“I don’t think so,” Gaia admitted. “She’ll still try out her experiments and she’ll still meet the Planeteers at some stage. She’s too careless and reckless to change her ways completely.”
Wheeler looked up at Gaia meekly. “Sorry,” he said. “I just didn’t want to die alone in an ice cave with Blight’s face in front of me.”
Gaia smiled and shook her head. “That’s never going to happen. Now get your ring back, okay? Or dying alone in an ice cave with Blight will look like a better alternative to the one you’re facing now.”
“I’ll get it back,” he promised. “I’ll fix everything.”
“Good,” she agreed. “I’ll be waiting for you. And so will the others.”
Wheeler felt slightly sick when the door opened and he saw Blight standing there. He took a breath and got to his feet.
“You’re not my Blight, right?” he asked, feeling hopeful.
She grinned. “How can you tell?”
“Uh, you look younger,” he said.
She beamed at him. “She said not to let you out. But she doesn’t want you to starve and stink up our closet, so here...” She tossed a grease-stained paper bag at him. He glanced inside, noted the hamburger, and his stomach growled.
“Oh, thanks,” he said in relief. After a moment he realised he was supposed to be escaping. He glanced up at her, setting the burger down on one of the nearby shelves. “Can you do me a favour?” he asked.
She sauntered towards him playfully, and his stomach stopped growling and started heaving instead. He backed against the wall.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“Seriously, Dr. Blight, you don’t like me,” he said desperately. “The future you is telling the truth. You don’t have to be so friendly...”
She smirked at him. “She was telling me some of the things you’ve supposedly done. Why are you so intent on stopping me?”
“Because you’re crazy,” he snapped. He blinked. “But uh, please help me get out of here. I need to go and meet someone.”
“Who?” she asked, pouting slightly.
“A friend,” he said vaguely. “But Dr. Blight took something of mine and I really need it back.”
“I dunno,” she said, sounding suspicious. “If you really do manage to stop all my future plans, it’s probably a good idea to keep you locked up here.”
“It’s really not,” he said. “It’s true that I stop a lot of your plans. But you can’t deny that the Blight out there is smarter than you are right now. She’s quick and she’s clever and she’s ruthless.”
Other Blight looked annoyed. “She did point out a few mistakes I’ve made,” she muttered.
“Right,” Wheeler said, nodding. “See, I did that. The Planeteers did that. We help you out, really. Though I know it may not seem that way to you. We force you to take bigger risks. We force you to get better and better...” He gave her a helpless grin. “And you do,” he said. “Get better, I mean. The only way I could beat you this time was to travel back in time and reverse everything.”
She tilted her head at him curiously. “I create a time portal?” she asked. “I’ve looked into that. It’s not possible.”
“Clearly, it is,” he said irritably, nodding his head in the direction of the main lab. “She’s you twelve months from now.”
She chewed her lip, frowning slightly. “What about MAL?” she asked. “I don’t leave him behind, do I?”
“MAL is definitely still around,” Wheeler promised. “In fact, he was helping us out before by reading out the CO2 levels.”
She grinned. “I bet he loved that.”
“Yeah.” Wheeler scratched the back of his neck. “So, do you think you could help me get my ring back from Dr. Blight?” he asked hopefully.
“What do I get in return?” she asked, stepping closer to him.
He flattened himself up against the wall. “A career full of amazing technology and adventure,” he stammered. “Determination. Better technology. Less mistakes.”
“Sounds lonely,” she said softly, stepping right up close to him.
“You never worry about that,” he blurted frantically. “Seriously, being alone doesn’t worry you. You have MAL. You have the other eco-villains.”
“Eco what?” She tilted her head back and laughed. “You must really twist me around, huh.”
He gazed at her, filled with what could only be described as pity. “I guess we do,” he whispered. “I guess we’re to blame.” He felt uncomfortable and guilty. “Sorry,” he whispered.
She stared back at him, looking a little afraid. “Am I happy?” she asked softly.
“I dunno,” he admitted. “Go ask her.”
She shook her head slightly. “She’ll lie. I’ll lie. No matter what the answer is.”
“But it’s you,” he said. “Would you really lie to yourself?”
She rolled her eyes. “I might get worse,” she said, “but I’m not a total saint now, either, you know. I lie all the time. I can’t trust myself to tell me the truth.”
“This is all giving me a major headache,” he said. “Can you please just go and get my ring so we can put all this right? There are so many things that will go wrong if we don’t reverse this stupid decision.”
Blight put her arms around his neck and he willed himself to stay still.
“Let me get this straight,” she said softly. “I can help you out, and become lonely and bitter – but a brilliant scientist. Or I can leave you here, trapped, and the Planeteers won’t exist. I’ll be an okay scientist, but it won’t bother me, not succeeding all the time. I’ll have other things to turn to.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Tough choice, huh?”
“Not really,” she answered. “Science always came before people, for me. I’ll get your ring back.”
“You will?” He gave a grateful sigh. “Thanks.”
“But that means I’m choosing the lonely life,” she said. “I think you owe me something, first.”
He realised he had underestimated her just slightly. She may not have been as manipulative, cruel, quick or furious as the Blight he was familiar with, but Other Blight still knew how to get what she wanted.
When she kissed him this time, he let her. His stomach still trembled with displeasure, but he didn’t pull away. For the first time he realised the full impact of the Planeteers on Blight’s personality, and he had to admit he didn’t like it.
He wondered what her life would have been like if they hadn’t prevented her first experiment, or forced so many failures upon her.
It’s not our fault, he thought furiously. She was testing on animals. She was destroying the environment. She may not have been as crazy as she is now, but she was still wrong.
Her gloved fingertips ran over the back of his neck and he pulled away frantically.
“Enjoying it a little too much?” she asked, smirking at him.
“Just get my ring,” he pleaded desperately. “I’m begging you.”
She took a step back, dropping her arms, and looked at him rather sadly. “I’m gonna win eventually, right?” she asked. “You’re not setting me up for a lonely life as a brilliant scientist that’s always doomed to fail?”
He blinked and drew a deep breath. “You haven’t won yet,” he admitted. “But it’s getting close, Blight. The technology you have...” He trailed off and shook his head. “I can’t explain it. If you used it for good purposes...”
She gave a soft laugh. “I’m not that different to her,” she said, nodding her head back towards the main lab, where Wheeler assumed Dr. Blight still stood.
“But you are!” he said in surprise. “You’re a totally different person.”
She smirked. “No. There are people I need to get even with. If you train me up and force me to use more sophisticated techniques and advances, then so be it.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “I guess I owe you a thank you,” she said smoothly. “Make sure I say thanks when you get back to that ice cave or whatever, okay?”
She pulled the door closed and Wheeler rested his back against the wall, his emotions in turmoil.
When the door flew open half an hour later, he didn’t know which Blight was facing him.
“I got it,” she declared.
“Thanks,” he breathed, holding his hand out.
Other Blight withdrew slightly. “Wait.”
“Please,” he begged, “I have to get back. This all has to be reversed.”
“I thought you wanted to reverse the situation you were stuck in before?” she asked.
He shook his head. “Not like this. I didn’t know you were going to bring me so far back. I didn’t know she was going to put an end to the Planeteers.”
Other Blight frowned down at the ring in her hand. “She must really want you guys gone,” she said softly. “I mean – I must. I must really want you guys gone.”
He swallowed carefully. “You do,” he said. “But in the end, you’re better off with us in your life, Blight. Remember what I said before? You’re brilliant now. But in the future...” He shook his head. “You’re terrifying.”
She laughed, and leaned against the wall. “Sounds pretty good,” she admitted.
“Look, you know this can’t last,” he said softly. “You’re too different to your future self. She’s gonna come back here and ruin everything for you. And I can’t stay here. There’s another me running around out there somewhere and without the Planeteers... I don’t think I’m gonna do too good.”
She sighed and held the ring out. “Don’t make me regret it,” she warned him softly.
“You’ll be okay,” he promised grimly. “In twelve months, you’ll forget what all of this is like. You won’t care about being lonely. And you’re dangerously close to running the entire world.”
“Hard to imagine why you’re so keen to go back then,” she said, raising her eyebrow.
“Because I care about being lonely,” he said. “And twelve months from now, four people are trying to get me out of an ice cave. I need to be there when they dig through.”
He took his ring from her palm and the world swept and changed in front of him.
Wheeler ducked as Blight hurled a chunk of ice at him.
“Now we’re going to die!” she screeched at him. “You didn’t tell me that side of the story, did you?” She slapped herself on the forehead. “Why did I have to fall asleep? I stole that ring right out of my own pocket without thinking of the consequences for myself!”
Wheeler sagged tiredly against the wall of the ice cavern, feeling exhausted. “Face it, Blight,” he said, “You’re better off with us. You were a nobody in an empty warehouse in New York before we came along.”
“My successes are not dependant on you!” she snarled. “Besides, there were two of me! We would have been just fine! Why did I listen to you instead of myself? Who the hell do I think I am? All of a sudden I’m a wimp who can be turned around by one kiss?”
“There were two kisses,” Wheeler answered coldly. “And please don’t make me remember them.”
She sank to the floor. “We’re going to die,” she moaned. “All because of you stupid Planeteers.”
“Actually, it’s entirely thanks to you we’re back here,” he said, giving her a weary grin. “You weren’t so bad before you met us, you know.”
She glared at him. “Stop trying to take all the credit for my brilliance,” she snapped. “Why didn’t you tell me you were sending me straight back to my death?”
“Because I wasn’t,” he explained patiently. “The Planeteers will help us. Trust me.”
“Trust you?” she scoffed, folding her arms across her chest. “Sure.”
He tilted his head suddenly and grinned. “Yeah, trust me. Listen...”
She glared at him, but soon became aware of the faint chipping noises as well.
The Planeteers were digging through the wall.
Linka threw her arms around Wheeler, hugging him tightly. He hugged her back, but his eyes slid over to Blight. She was staring back at him, two pasts merged into one. She and Other Blight were the same, now, and both she and Wheeler were fully aware of what her choice had meant for both of them.
She had given up the chance to turn away from science and find something else. But the Planeteers had arrived and had sparked such fury inside of her, she’d dedicated her life to besting them. Wheeler wasn’t sure what that would mean for them, now. He wasn’t sure how he could see her in the same light after realising just how hopeful she had been before the anger had swept in to dominate everything.
For a moment, he realised she missed the Blight that had chosen to kiss him in the storage closet. She missed the simple thrill of new creations and pleasant, basic emotions. It had all since been overtaken by intense rage and the need for destruction.
Linka kissed his cheek and he broke eye contact with Dr. Blight and gave the Wind Planeteer a shaky smile.
“Are you all right?” Linka asked worriedly.
“Yeah,” he answered automatically. He flicked his eyes towards Blight and she looked away, apparently waiting for the inevitable arrest that always occurred after dealing with the Planeteers.
They hadn’t forced this upon her, Wheeler realised. Her choices were still her own. But for the first time he understood that his actions as a Planeteer didn’t always result in a happy ending.
Sometimes, it was the reverse.