A bit of fiddling, that’s all it was.
Well, that’s all it was supposed to be.
A device that plays with space-time and the very weave of whatever it was that spanned the gap between dimensions?
How could anyone just let something like that gather dust in an archive?
It functioned how it was meant to, it was only that what it was meant to do was cause harm… If they just tweaked it a bit, just a little, gave it an anchor point and limited the scale of possibilities… If they yanked down the juice that kept it powered to a more moderated level…
It could save lives.
Just a bit, here and there and on weekends when there wasn’t anything big going on.
The stupid thing wasn’t even turned on most of the time.
It was inert and dead as fricken paperweight (which honestly is what the fiddler in question had mostly been using it for)…
And then… it wasn’t.
One button, a loose screw, the slip of a paperclip…
A big flash of blinding light.
Silence, like the absolute nothing right before the tidal wave hits.
And in that silence, a tiny, over-caffeinated little voice:
_ _ _
Chapter 1: An Uncommon Awakening...
Tim Drake comes back into himself rather abruptly.
He finds that he is standing on an unfamiliar street corner in a way that cannot really be compared to suddenly waking up.
When Tim typically wakes up, it’s a drawn out process that happens in a slow drip of consciousness that requires copious amounts of coffee to kick start.
He remembers that much.
He doesn’t remember much else.
Like what he was doing before he wound up where he is.
Or what could possibly have prompted him to make his way to this street corner he doesn’t recognize in a ‘city’ with a skyline that doesn’t appear to reach higher than 10 stories.
There’s a Wal-Mart to his right that he should probably investigate, because as he stands in the brisk air of a northern-latitude, small-town afternoon, Tim realizes that he’s not wearing any shoes. He’s got socks on, though, which he doesn’t think he tends to do while at home…
So maybe his shoes were stolen.
Maybe he was mugged…
But that doesn’t make any sense.
Because Tim Drake does not get mugged.
The very notion is insulting.
Besides, there are pockets in the sweats he’s wearing (way more pockets than sweats you could just pick up at Wal-Mart), all those pockets have a bit of money in them. Which means that if he was mugged for his shoes, the mugger was a brand new kind of utterly idiotic.
Because the cash in Tim’s pockets is not typical pocket change.
The first three pockets he searches each come up with 5 hundred dollar bills, 1 just floating in the main pocket space and the rest tucked into subtle sub-pockets access via small gaps in the lining. He doesn’t bother searching the rest of the pockets.
$1,500 USD is probably enough to keep him busy and aptly comfortable for the next few hours… Which will hopefully be long enough to figure out where he is, what he’s doing, and how on earth he should be able to get back to where he came from.
‘Cause this place isn’t even close to home.
Tim can’t remember where home is, exactly, but this place feels far too unutterably foreign to have mistaken that he could ever belong here, not even for half a second.
So, he needs to find home.
And then figure out how to get there.
So, the Wal-Mart to his right draws his attention again.
Wal-Mart’s might not be the best place to buy reliable tech… or even a place to buy any sort of decently functional tech… but they DO sell tablets and phones and decent power banks.
Which means Tim ventures into Wal-Mart with only the slightest bubble of unease in his gut. It’s not enough to make him rethink his course, but it is enough to make him keep his head down as he walks through the store— keeping his pace perfectly casual as he takes a carefully non-specific course towards the tech counter while remaining out of any direct sightline from the security cameras.
He’s pretty good at that part.
Dodging cameras is so second nature to him that he barely manages to clock that he’s doing it before he makes it to the counter in question.
He buys the best tablet they have in stock, refuses the protection plan, and pays in cash.
Then he bolts.
But he buts in a way that wouldn’t look like he’s fleeing to anyone outside his Family.
He gets so distracted by the pang of deeply anchored emotion yanking at something dense and spikey in his chest that flares up at the thought of Family that he forgets to pick up a pair of shoes to cover his feet.
When he realizes that, he pulls off his socks and shoves them into his hoodie’s front pocket. There’s no reason to let socks get ruined when they won’t really protect his feet anyway.
He’s got calluses enough (and a pain / discomfort tolerance enough) to make walking around barefoot something he can bear without half a thought.
The next thing he does is look around for somewhere he could get a cup of coffee.
At this point, his headache is becoming so acute that he’s not picky.
Spotting a McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts would be more than enough, hell, even a Starbucks would be halfway reasonable.
He’s in America, so his odds should be pretty solid for finding something within a few blocks of where he’s started, but he comes up blank.
The first place he finds that sells coffee in any way is some ridiculous looking ‘Family style’ restaurant chain called ‘Biggersons’.
Tim thinks he’d rather stab himself in the liver than eat any of the food served there.
But he thinks he’d rather nose dive into a polluted river from a 30 story building before he keeps wandering aimlessly without coffee… and as puke-worthy as the cloying smells of greasy, nasty, unspiced Americana chow might be, underneath is the actually pretty tempting scent of an unexpectedly non-awful brew.
He steps inside, carefully arranging the hems of his sweats to cover his feet from the hostess (fortunately, these sweats don’t have cuffs that cling to his slim calves, which he thinks is usually what he prefers to wear), and nabs a table to himself in the center of the floor.
Tim hates where they’ve sat him.
It’s the least tactically advantageous spot in the entire restaurant.
He’s not sure why he knows that or why he seems to care so much, but he doesn’t like being sat where he is.
But the itchiness that prickles on his skin from that observation evaporate when a cup of coffee is placed in front of him.
It’s not a craft creation in any way.
It’s probably the result of horrible human trafficking and slave labor in Madagascar or something equally heinous for a US low-rent chain restaurant to be able to serve, but it is honestly a pretty damn good drink…
Tim downs his first cup in two gulps.
He down’s his second just as quick.
He tips the waitress 100 bucks in cash and asks her to keep the coffee coming all night.
Because Biggersons is open 24/7.
And a sign in the window boasts that it’s the ‘only place in Granville’ with all night service and free high speed wifi.
‘High Speed’ is definitely a marketing deception, but it’s still Internet.
And as the hours creep onward and one waitress’s shift turns over into another, with no hint of Tim’s being ushered out the door, he thinks he can survive working with shitty wifi and bare decent coffee if he can work uninterrupted.
His resignation stems mainly from the building awareness that there’s no where on earth with the kind of wifi that he’s used to having access to, because he built him home network up from scratch and it would be honestly cruel to ever expect some civil servant engineer to be held to the standards of Tim’s own genius.
So he makes due.
He can’t find anything that makes him remember who he is exactly, or what he was doing, or how he got here…
Tim can find that ‘here’ is Granville, Ohio.
Tim’s not sure of much from his life before a few hours ago, but he’s pretty damn sure that he’s lived in apartment buildings with higher counts of residency than this whole town has.
It’s a depressing thought for some reason.
For many reasons.
He’s in a fricken’ backwater.
And he belongs in a world where space stations support the populations of entire cross-cosmos alien cultures…
He can’t even tell if this universe has even found the Martians yet… Which makes him both sad that he might never see his green-skinned friends again, and doubly sad at the prospect that maybe he just jumped so far back in time that the massacre of the Martian homeworld hasn’t happened yet— but that Tim still can’t do anything to stop it…
It takes a long moment to shake himself free of that spiral of tragic thoughts.
But it gives him an idea to start looing for answers.
If he did jump back in time, there’s got to be a record of it in the unnatural fluctuations of the power grid… Ripping through reality like that always leaves a trace.
Which Tim knows, because he’s done it before.
And because he’s traced others who’ve done it before…
Which is a thought that opens a brand new can of worms, but Tim doesn’t let him get distracted by it— choosing instead to focus on stress testing the power grid.
With a junkie tablet that couldn’t support his normal email intake, let alone be enough to hack NASA with only the juice of Grainville’s public WiFi behind it…
Tim ends up using public feeds from the national weather service in combo with what he can glean from a trickle drip he’s popped into NASA’s global monitoring feeds… But it’s not enough to get a clear picture.
He gets a few hints, though.
Clearly, something big happened in Granville recently, but that’s almost certainly his arrival there. It’s not big enough to have been what caused his arrival.
There’s a blip further west though…
A dark spot on the official power grid, but a bright spot on NASA’s radiation maps…
It’s in Lebanon, Kansas, Tim discovers as he cross checks the result with local reporting feeds from the city’s tiny power grid.
There’s a spot there, slightly off-center of being north of town, that doesn’t have any drain on the local power, but every so often produces a HUGE push of generated power that flows into the grid. Like interdimensional travel levels of generated power.
And Tim thinks he vaguely remembers a place in Lebanon… a safe place… a hideout.
His next move is attempting to figure out how to get there.
Or at least get closer so he can investigate it better…
He takes a mental break as he imbibes yet another cup of coffee, letting his thoughts wander over all the details he’s managed to collect thus far in hopes of finagling a picture out of it that makes a smidge of sense to him.
It doesn’t really work.
But it does give him the chance to observe the other late-night patron in the Biggersons.
He’d been half-watching all the other people who’d come and gone from the place, and he’d found nothing of interest about any of them, save for the red head young woman who’d waltzed right in and openly asked to be given the corner by the window on the west side.
Tactically, that’s the best seat in the house.
And her request had drawn Tim’s immediate attention.
He’d mostly dismissed her, though, because while the tablet in her hands was obviously not any kind of standard issue tech, it wasn’t punch-a-hole-in-the-universe tech.
And she’s not a threat in terms of his ability to fight her off.
Tim can tell, almost down to the calluses on her heels, that the most rigorous training she’s ever had in martial arts is an aerobic kickboxing class or two.
He’s pretty sure she’s been involved in some pretty gnarly fights, but combat is not her regular schtick… But it is his, so he’s confident he could beat her off if it came to that.
He honestly wouldn’t care about her during his little mental break here, but as his thoughts drift, Tim notices that she’s calling for backup.
Regarding retrieving him.
He can see her screen in the reflection of the window (she may have the best seat in the house, but she is not adept at using the position to her genuine advantage) and he can tell that she’s mirrored his screen. She’s VERY interested in the fact that he’s trying to get to Lebanon.
And the people she’s calling about this retrieval are currently located in Lebanon.
(GPS spoofing on pay-as-you-go burner phones is pitiful, no matter how good the techie behind hiding it is at redirection).
So, Tim’s willing to let this play out a while.
Test the waters, so to speak.
Eventually, the girl notices that Tim’s been staring at her.
She stiffens like an absolute amateur and then relaxes as she seems to come up with an explanation for his staring that her brain can accept as non-threatening.
He adjusts his stare to focus more directly on her.
When he blinks and sees her wave, he tips his head to indicate a receptiveness to whatever advances she seems keen on trying to make.
She plasters on a stiff smile that wouldn’t fool a drunk and horny frat boy and then says with even more stiffly affected levity, “Hey. You wanna refill?”
Tim blinks down at his empty coffee cup, weighing the odds of a blistering number of contingency plans but settles again on allowing this moment to play itself out.
The apparent relief that floods through the girl when he nods makes him distinctly wary again, but she really seems to be nothing more sinister than a terrible actress.
She sidles over to his table instead of inviting him to hers.
It’s painfully amateurish, giving up the high ground, displaying a lack of ease in evacuation, and exposing exactly what stuff she has on hand… Tim almost feels bad for her.
“So, kid, what’s your name?”
“Shouldn’t you tell me yours first?”
The girl shrugs, stumbling her way through an obvious stall in saying, “Well, generally yeah, that is the convention. But I like being unconventional, I guess.”
She has to be the worst spy Tim has ever been threatened by.
Or she could be so good that she’s simply managed to get in under his radar…
But that would be a kind of skill Tim’s never seen before.
She has absolutely no tells beyond her obvious, bumbling ones… Tim still isn’t quite ready to write her off as entirely innocent, but she’s almost certainly not a hardcore ninja in the bizarre guise of a socially hapless twenty something with mad tech skills.
Eventually, she realizes that Tim won’t give her his name until he gets one from her.
She gives up without putting up as much fight as a blade of grass and says, “I’m Charlie, Charlie Bradbury. Geek extraordinaire.”
Tim nods, internalizing the information.
It’s clearly not her real name… not the one on her official records or on her birth certificate or anything… But it’s her real identity… Mostly. It’s clearly real enough to matter to her in a way a truly fake name wouldn’t.
It’s a name that likely suits her better than her ‘real’ one.
Tim does not volunteer a name of his own.
Openly discomfited by that fact, Charlie barrels on to say, “I see that tablet of yours is gone a bit wonky. You looking for something in Kansas? I might be able to fix your tech or find what you’re looking for with mine.”
Tim glances down at the hunk of plastic and wonky circuits that’s barely smart enough to call a screen and admits, “My tablet… is insufficient.”
Charlie gives a laugh that makes her eyes crinkle like she can even tell how it sounds rather pitifully fake, and says, “Understatement, buddy. You’re grand at it.”
Tim frowns at that, unsure what angle she’s attempting to work.
“So,” she says, drum-rolling her fingers on the plastic tabletop as she leans in— presumably to start on the leading questions of an actual interrogation. “Tell me what’s your name and what you’re looking for in Kansas and we’ll see if I can work my magic, huh?”
Tim looks down again, helping him focus while his brain feels sluggish and out of sync.
He can’t find any tells of danger in this ‘Charlie Bradbury’.
Honestly, she seems pretty sweet.
And genuinely kind.
Well-meaning, at the very least.
Decided, Tim accepts the idea of trying to trust her. To an extent, at least.
“My name’s Alvin,” he tells her, exhibiting the non-trusting side of his olive branch. He goes on to add, “Alvin Draper. And honestly? I’m looking for a hole in the universe.”
That much is the naked truth.
And Charlie is only barely able to contain her burst of laughter at it.
The fact that she does contain it is actually more unnerving than if she’d laughed. He can’t resist the glower that pulls at his expression as he tries to work through what could make her want to avoid thinking of his words as a joke.
“Well, Alvin, that’s the fakest fake-name I’ve ever heard, but I think I can help with the ‘hole in the universe’ thing,” she tells him.
She looks scared, to be frank about it.
Tim trusts that she actually knows what she’s talking about when she says she can help, but he can’t quite peg why knowing how to help makes her so anxious.
He’s still puzzling through that when Charlie speaks again.
“One problem, though,” she lays out. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific about which hole in the universe or tear in the fabric of reality your talking about.”
She looks utterly dismayed at saying that.
Tim huffs, “Is it a commonplace occurrence to have your universe ripped open, then?”
“Well, not exactly. It’s more like our universe is the knit-scarf version of a life-raft,” Charlie explains, wheezing a bit. “Things here aren’t… Well, uh, how many apocalypses have you fended off this week?”
Whatever Charlie Bradbury is mixed up in, she’s at the very limits of her ability to handle all of it. And she is being absolutely honest when she’s asking about literal apocalypses.
“You’re really just gonna roll with the implicit declaration that I’m from another universe and you’re not going to question my sanity?”
There’s a difference between bumbling innocent and problematically crazy, but they have frighteningly similar tells in a person who truly means well.
Charlie notes his sudden edge of suspicion and turns duly sheepish.
Probably not crazy, then, if she can be embarrassed about sounding crazy instead of jumping into indignation about having her beliefs interpreted as something crazy.
“Whelp, I’m not a Time Lord or anything,” she confesses, “but I’ve had enough contact with the Supernatural to know how to spot someone who’s brushed up against something ugly in the dark and is kinda freaking out about it. You fit the bill, Alvin.”
It’s not an elegant move, pushing back against his suspicions by reminding him that he’s pretty dang suspicious seeming himself, but Tim lets it go.
“Fine, yes. ‘Alvin’ is not my real name,” he admits.
Then he casts a wicked smile her way that he means to make conspiratorial and snipes right back, “But you know, I’m pretty damn sure that ‘Charlie’ isn’t yours.”
“Yeah? Well, darn. Ya got me,” she breathes, suddenly terrified for an unfathomable, visceral reason. It’s a PTSD reaction if Tim has ever seen one.
They’re on a razor’s edge here between effectively calming her down and accidentally kicking her into a full-blown panic attack.
Immediately, Tim softens with an overblown motion that makes the change overtly visible. He waits until Charlie looks back at him to ask, “Hey, what happened. You okay?”
Charlie shrugs. “You wouldn’t happen to be allergic to a certain 19th century boron-containing sodium compound, would ya?”
“Sodium borate? Like Borax? Can’t say I am,” Tim assures her. “Any particular reason?”
“Uh, the word ‘Leviathan’ mean anything to you? Like specific, human-livestock-eating, double-tongued with lots of teeth lizard-men people-imitators specific? ‘Cause you just really reminded me of one there. And like I had a friend go Darkside… well, a lotta my friends have actually gone Darkside, but there was one and he… he’s missing still and well, bad things happen to my friends when they go missing.”
There it is again, that blatantly literal honesty.
She means what she says and truly believes it.
“Really? Literal apocalypses? How exactly literal?”
“Um, pick a holy book at random? We’ve probably hit most of them by now,” Charlie admits with a discomfited shrug. She obviously never expected to end up on the wrong side of the metaphorical interrogation table. “I think the first one was the Judeo-Christian one, they took things pretty literal. Michael-Lucifer prize fight and all…”
“Okay…” Tim says, totally lost, “but you stopped that one?”
He can tell that Charlie means every word of it, though, to the point that the fight against whatever gods and angels rained down hell gave her legitimate combat trauma.
“Yeah,” she tells him.
“So where are you now?”
“Somewhere between God’s little sister throwing a world-ending temper tantrum and you know a Luci-spawn antichrist accidentally poof-ing up new laws of physics?”
“Sounds plausible,” Tim tells her.
Actually, it sounds totally bonkers, but she believes it in such a way that makes Tim willing to go out on a limb to just accept it.
Whether her interpretation is wonky or whether she’s speaking purely literal truth, the events she’s discussing on the level of the world saving struggles definitely happened. That much Tim can read in her body language alone.
“No, it really doesn’t,” Charlie sighs, openly admitting that they both know he wouldn’t be able to take her seriously if these were normal circumstances.
But these are not normal circumstances, not in any way, and she pushes that point by saying, “Doesn’t change the fact it’s true. But enough about me and my world-ending escapades. How about your hole in the universe?”
“That’s the thing… See, I don’t remember.”
Now it’s Tim’s turn to be a sheepish little wreck of overcaffeinated embarrassment.
“I don’t remember how I got here, I just remember that I don’t belong,” Tim confesses, allowing himself to sound a lot more genuinely like he’s being honest. “I’m not supposed to be here, but I can’t explain what might be able to bring me back.”
“So, Lebanon, Kansas?”
“Has a safehouse I remember, or I think I do,” he lays out. “And it has a power source I think I need. And…”
Charlie’s searching his expression intently, looking for a hint of something very specific about his response.
But Tim doesn’t know what she’s looking for or how he ought to present it to her.
So, he shrugs.
“I dunno,” he tells her in a sigh. “I just have to be there.”
It’s quite apparently not what she was hoping for.
But her disappointment is tempered somehow, pushed out of her main focus by something that seems suspiciously like hope.
It makes Tim’s shoulders prickle with an anxious sense of expectations being foisted onto him without his being given any obvious instruction.
Charlie accepts his flimsy answer with an exhausted sort of seamless aplomb.
They fall into a pattern of casual chatting.
Charlie keeps poking at his story to test if it’s a cover she can catch him slipping up under, but she’s not a skilled interrogator.
It’s enough to help Tim start piecing together his actual history though, connecting the lose threads of memory he has into something almost rational.
Neither of them manage to stumble onto any potent Truths, however.
And Tim gets no closer to really understanding the specifics of his past or of the exact circumstances around his current predicament.
He does glean that Charlie, and her friends Sam and Dean, are looking for someone.
Someone who suits his description eerily well, apparently.
Tim is about 87% sure that he is definitely not the missing person they’re looking for, but he’s 100% certain that they’re his best bet for getting back home.
He’s even about 60% sure that he is their best chance for finding their friend for real.
That last one is a guess, though, just a supposition because he’s not the kind of person that interacts well with things that seem like pure coincidence.
He’s toed off with one too many evil masterminds to spot such an uncanny coincidence and just accept it as a twist of Fate.
So, careful and cautious, Tim bides his time.
And keeps his eyes wide open as he looks for answers…
_ _ _