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A Plan B for Destiny

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The figures of Duck Newton and Leo Tarkesian fades, and Minerva can already tell she’s made a grave miscalculation in her judgement.

She continues to stare at the space where the two once stood; near but yet secluded, divided by a few inches of plaster and drywall. Her mind reels slightly from the sudden loss of connection with either of her students, the faintest whispers of entomology facts and ground beef prices blown instantly away from her thoughts. That, in a way, is something to mourn; though she knows she gave Leo and Duck most of their powers, they gave her something, too.

Thoughts not shrouded in guilt. Peaceful pictures of domesticity. Dreams of a life beyond the chaos and rubble she finds herself in.

But she cannot allow herself to wallow, nor mourn. She has no intention of being gone forever. She’s failed enough times already to let it happen again. It’s with this that she puts herself into motion, moving toward the window to see how much time she has.

Minerva gazes out onto the barren wasteland of her homeworld, then up towards the heavens to search for the accursed meteor. Though Duck foresaw its arrival, fear still settles hard and fast in her gut when she spots the blip in the sky growing ever-so-slightly bigger with each passing second. She forces herself to move again--away from the window--as she begins to formulate a plan.

As much as it pains her to think it, there aren’t that many options for her, at this point. There’s no one left to assist her, no place left for her to run to. It’s one-on-one. Minerva vs. Meteor. A doomed planet vs. a dooming ball of flaming rock.

She’s surely going to die.

No , she squeezes her eyes shut tight and banishes those panicked thoughts from her mind. I will survive! I have people depending on my survival! I will not let them down again!

But she’s nothing more than a sitting duck ( Ha , her brain unhelpfully supplies). There are means to which she can survive, but it does not guarantee the survival of the whole planet. She has to make a decision as to what’s more important: her life or the life of her barren homeland.

The light from the window turns a bloody maroon as the meteor eclipses the sun. Minerva makes her decision.

Her planet is a lost cause. But there are two more that still have a chance at being saved.

With one final, mournful look around her home, she begins to gather her things and heads for the Conservatory.

---

As the Head of the War Council, Minerva had never spent much of her time in the Conservatory. Though, as her planet became flung into the grips of war, she did become intimately familiar with the technologies and such that were produced. Now, she is familiar with both aspects of the Conservatory, for she travels frequently to it in search of answers. She understands the building inside and out, knows which halls lead to which sections of the laboratories and what doors conceal what scientific development. It has been Minerva’s saving grace many times before, providing some sort of answer in its contraptions and pages worth of research. So Minerva knows what she is after when she barges through the sturdy doors of the Conservatory, taking a sharp left to a set of elevators that are (surprisingly) still in-use.

Minerva goes to the highest floor in the building. Tension sets in her jaw as she waits for the elevator to complete its ascent, the fear of time looming over her. The doors slide open to reveal--well, a conservatory . The thing the very building was named for; with its domed ceiling, large telescope, and wall of screens mapping the cosmos beyond her world. This was the part of the Conservatory the public was allowed to see. This was their shining achievement--the ability to seek out and contact, through various means, the planets that they share space with. Of course, no one could have predicted how badly this would blow up in their faces, but the irony isn’t lost on Minerva.

A planet, trying desperately to contact other lifeforms, crushed by the very discoveries it made.

Minerva refuses to see that happen to another set of similarly-fated planets, which is why she makes her way over to the controls and punches a number of buttons. With the correct buttons lit up, she pulls a small lever and nearly falls over with the force of the tremors that suddenly wrack the room. Minerva can hear gears turning and can feel the ground beneath her feet vibrate as the floor beneath the telescope opens up and sends the telescope sinking underground. In its place is an orb-like vessel, with one blue glass panel along its face, done entirely in shiny, silver metallic. As the floor comes back together, the glass panel pops up, revealing a long, plushy seat in front of a panel of buttons and knobs. Minerva swallows the lump from her throat and approaches the vessel.

She places a hand on the smooth metal and admires it for a moment.

The Minister of the Sciences told Minerva about this years ago, when the war was starting to come to a head. They told her that it was the “final option” for whoever remained on the planet; to cram into this vessel and get as far away from here as possible. Minerva was naive, back then, and told them it would not be necessary. That Mira-Lavineax Orbital Body Five would be the victors in this battle, but the Minister insisted they keep it around. Just in case.

She wishes they were around to tell her they were right. They enjoyed doing that.

Minerva climbs into the vessel, the panel closing behind her as she settles into the seat. Without a button even being pressed, Minerva watches as the domed roof starts to split and open wide, exposing a blood-red sky. Grief grips her hard as she looks at the remnants of her once-prosperous planet; the buildings that lined the streets now rubble, and the luscious foliage reduced to ashen rock. She starts pressing buttons, bringing up a grid that she begins punching in the coordinates she’s had memorized for a long time.

After discovering her planet’s fate was not an out-of-the-blue experience, and that far more planets were tethered in this slow battle, she spent days on end in the Conservatory trying to find a place she could reach. She was plucking away at a prized instrument of hers as coordinates were put in, located, and dismissed in an automated scroll. Minerva had set the machine to stop once she found a planet that could ping with her resonance, but weeks have gone by with no such luck. Dread had already begun making a home in her stomach as she waited each day for the right coordinates to flash onto the screen.

Her fingers plucked the strings of her instrument in a mournful song, eyes shut in a moment of peace, when the screen suddenly flashed a bright green. Minerva jerked up, nearly dropping her instrument as she stared at the CONNECTION: FOUND that was flashing across the wall of screens. In a flash, she had the coordinates pulled up, detailing a planet near light-years away from her own. It had the faintest of connections with Orbital Body Five, but that was enough for Minerva to begin putting her plan into motion. Since that day, that tune has rattled around her brain, reminding her of the hope she so desperately clings to.

98.00379, 56.33432.

Earth.

Just as the winds began to kick up, sending dust and debris flying into the air, Minerva presses the launch button and hopes Duck isn’t too mad at her for what she’s about to do.

---

The past two weeks have...well, they’ve sucked for Duck Newton. His long-time mentor he’s sort of been ignoring for the past twenty years is off to save herself from a meteor strike and is probably dead; his talking-sword is now just as busted as he is; and he has asthma again. Not to mention all the other issues that have come with losing the powers Duck had no idea his body was relying on so heavily for over two decades. And , on top of all of that, he’s now gotta skateboard to work in a dumb fucking helmet because his dumb ass didn’t see a reason to buy a car fucking ever .

So...yeah. Pretty fuckin’ shitty for ol’ Duck “Suddenly Not Impervious To Death, And Will Probably Die At The Claws Of The Next Abomination” Newton.

Which is how Duck finds himself curled up on his couch at 4 A.M. on a Tuesday, nursing a spiked apple cider (that at this point could just be considered hot bourbon with a hint of apple) whilst dissociating to reruns of the Eric Andre Show. Social interactions have been scarce since Minerva’s abrupt departure, making Leo really the only person Duck’s talked to. He’s been taking off of work because of the foreign aches in his body and entirely avoiding the Lodge in fear of anyone noticing the change. Duck just needs this time to himself. He needs to adjust. He needs to cope. He needs to relax.

None of those things he’s actually doing, mind you. But at least he recognizes they need to be done.

He just can’t help thinking about the what-ifs. What his life would’ve been like had he answered the call to action years ago. Would he even be in Kepler right now? Or would he be off in some foreign land, fighting off eldritch monsters with his bare fists like some sort of gladiator. Would Kepler even be around for him to return to? Or would it have burned to ashes during a fight with a dragon or some scary shit like that. Would Duck even be alive, had he listened to Minerva the night she first appeared? Would she ?

Duck snaps out of his stupor with a shake of his head. No sense dwelling on possibility when everything’s already happened. Besides, Minerva could be alive right now.

Right?

“Aw, fuck ,” Duck mutters, tears springing to his eyes as another wave of grief (muddied and slurred by his drunken state) washes over him. He grips his glass with a force that would once shatter it, but now simply turns his knuckles white as he shoots back the rest of his drink. He fumbles for the remote and clicks it off, plunging the room into darkness. He sits there for a moment in that silence before letting out a small hiccup. Then, like a dam bursting, he breaks down into tears over his losses.

The loss of time while running away from his destiny. The loss of opportunity of making some sort of difference. The loss of his powers that gave him purpose. The loss of his friend who always returned to him, always forgave him, even when he pushed her so far away that she became a distant memory. He mourns her loss the most, drops his glass to the ground and curls inward on himself as he wallows in his sorrow. Leo’s talked so highly of her, in the few moments they’ve spent not training, and Duck can see it in his eyes that he misses her, too. If only Duck had given her a chance, maybe he too would know the witty, whimsical woman Leo’s mentioned in stories of his youth. But no, Duck will probably never get that chance now. Because a meteor is headed for her planet. A meteor that Duck saw in his visions. A meteor, he assumed, was meant for him. A meteor that he could have warned Minerva about sooner, but he didn’t. And now, because of his actions, a meteor that should have been headed for Earth is headed for her and she’s going to die she’s going to die because you didn’t warn her Duck this is all your fault you did this you did this you youyou youyou ---

Duck scrambles to his feet and makes a beeline for the kitchen sink. He heaves into the sink, nausea crashing into his gut with its fullest force. After a few moments, it passes, and Duck spits out the remaining bitterness in his mouth before turning on the faucet. He washes out the sink, fills a glass with water, chugs it, and then sets it down. Grief has subsided, leaving his body empty and hollow. He’s tired and his bones ache; all he wants to do is sleep for the next six years. But, he told Juno he’d come in tomorrow, so he opts to instead sleep for three hours.

He lifts his head up and turns to head to bed, but not before something catches his eye from the kitchen window. He leans over to get a better look at the sky above and notices a star, brighter than all its brethren, arcing slowly across the sky.

Huh, a shooting star. Duck hasn’t seen one in a grip.

With a long sigh, Duck shuts his eyes and presses a hand to the window. “Aight, now I haven’t done this since I was a kid, but I figure if Bigfoot is real then why the fuck ain’t any other superstition. So, uh, if you could hear me, Mr. Shootin’ Star, I’d just...Fuck, I dunno,” His hand curls into a fist against the glass. “Can’t y’just...gimme a sign? Lemme know Minerva’s okay? I’m real fuckin’ worried ‘bout her, lost powers aside, and I just wanna know I didn’t majorly beef this whole situation. Please?”

A minute lapses in this silence before Duck sighs again and opens his eyes. “Yeah, I figured that wouldn’t work,” he mutters, “Vampires’re real and the Mothman can predict the future, but wish-granting stars are still a fool’s dream, I guess.” He lifts his hand off the window to finally wrap it up for tonight, but then he spots...something.

It’s the shooting star, but it’s...bigger? No, maybe Duck’s seeing things. He rubs at his eyes and then looks--no, yep, that star is definitely bigger.

Not just bigger, it’s getting bigger . Which means it’s moving.

Just when Duck’s life couldn’t get any stranger, he watches in stunned panic as the star continues it’s arc across the sky. It dips beyond the horizon and then a huge plume of smoke erupts in that area. Though it looks far-off, Duck can feel the tremors of its impact from his kitchen. He stands there for what feels like forever; his gaze glued on the place where the star just fell.

Well, shit. That looks bad.

Someone should...do something about that, right? What if that landed in a residential area--or worse, on someone’s house . People could be injured, property could be damaged, somebody should really--

“Nope!” Duck blurts out, shaking his head as he backs away from the window. “I am not goin’ out there. I told Juno I’d be in for Freddie’s shift tomorrow, and I can’t do that if I die from whatever th’hell just dropped outta the sky like a goddamn fly ball! I’m keepin’ my head out of this freaky shit for once . Nope! Not doin’ it! There is no way in hell I am going to investigate that fallen star!”

---

“What the hell am I doin’ investigatin’ a fallen star?” Duck mutters to himself for the fiftieth time as his work-licensed truck speeds down the empty road. Unfortunately, Duck’s about an hour too late to back out on this life-risking hunch, so he continues to peel down the street. He’s been following the wisps of smoke for a while now, and it’s luckily led him to a secluded section of the Monongahela. Unluckily, it means that if some ET-type monstrosity attempts to eat his brains, there’s no one around to help him.

Twenty minutes and many more questionings of his decisions later, Duck pulls onto a dirt road and cautiously drives further into the treeline. Looking out of the window, Duck can tell he’s getting close by the amount of debris and disturbed land around him. A fallen tree on the road gets Duck to kill the ignition and continue this journey on-foot, flashlight in hand and Beacon curled in his sweatshirt pocket. The smell of burnt dirt and ozone fill the air as he follows the path of destruction to its source. By this point, the smoke has dissipated to a fine haze that obscures Duck’s vision and makes him trip over many a stray rock and branch.

The haze clears some as Duck approaches his destination; an abrupt break in the thick treeline that has fallen trees and upturned boulders scattered around its smoking center in a good ten-foot radius. Duck carefully makes his way towards the source of all the smoke and, through the ash, is able to make out a massive crater. It goes down a good fifteen-or-so feet into the Earth, but Duck can’t make out the cause of the crater from his vantage point.

So, it’s with a very deep sigh and quick prayer to whatever higher being still has Duck Newton’s line that he pockets his flashlight and begins scaling his way down the crater. The smoke nearly suffocates Duck and his eyes are tearing up from the ash, but none of that seems to affect him as he finally can make out what is at the bottom of this hole.

It looks to be an...orb? Not really the fallen chunk of flaming rock Duck was expecting from a shooting star, but something more alien-esque. As Duck shimmies his way down the side, he can start to make out more and more of the orb. It looks to be made of a brilliant, silver metal that’s suffered a fair number of dents from its descent to Earth. Duck can make out no significant etchings, carvings, or the like that would suggest an alien language.

One thing’s for sure: it sure as hell ain’t human.

Duck slowly draws Beacon from his sweatshirt pocket, making a shushing noise towards the sword the instant he begins to unfurl. Beacon, for his part, actually follows directions for once and keeps his metallic mouth shut as Duck approaches the orb. He’s only a few feet from it, now, and it is at this point that Duck can make out one more feature of this orb: a well-tinted blue glass panel that stretches the expanse of one section of the orb.

A panel that pops open the instant Duck spots it.

He stumbles back and falls right on his ass. Beacon somehow looks disappointed despite not having any eyes, but Duck is too petrified to care as he watches in frozen terror as a figure emerges from the orb.  

It was a spaceship. Of course it was a fucking spaceship, and now Duck is going to die because he couldn’t keep his curious-but-also-extremely-vulnerable-to-death ass away from the goddamn spaceship falling out of the sky .

His heart lodges somewhere between his esophagus and his uvula as the smoke clears, bringing this figure into full view. It’s a woman, towering at a good six and a half feet tall with broad shoulders and powerful looking arms. Duck can make out some sort of flowing tunic she’s wearing under pieces of armor, which somehow feels more familiar than it should. As the woman gets her bearings, Duck notices her dark skin painted with brilliant blue markings across most of her exposed skin, including her bald head.

Wait a minute. This all feels...familiar.  

But not too familiar.  

But not too not familiar.

Duck kicks himself for making a dumb song reference as the woman finally seems to take notice of his prone form. It’s also at this moment that many pieces click together all at once in Duck’s brain, and he’s unsure of whether he should be surprised or just plain tired.

Because Duck could recognize that figure in a heartbeat, despite the fact that he’s only seen it in silhouette for as long as he’s known her. Especially that smile, after a similar thought process passes through her own mind.

And finally, he would recognize that boisterous, bombastic laugh as Minerva smiles down at Duck and exclaims:

“Ah! It would appear that Fate has more for us to do together, Duck Newton! Let’s hope another meteor does not try to get in the way of that again, hm?”