â€œI can say without a doubt that there are an infinite number of universes. Some are just like our ownâ€¦ but for one or two significant events, exactly the same.â€ â€“ Lex Luthor
It always ends the same. Iâ€™m sick of this. He may get ahead at first, but I always win in the end.
The One-Armed Bandit robbed a bank with a shrink gun. By the time the Urban Soul Patrol arrived, he had thousands in shrunken dollar bills in his belt-pouch. He also had enough energy left in his gun to reduce the Urban Soul Patrol to the size of their own action figures.
He didnâ€™t shoot me. Thank God. I donâ€™t need to be any shorter.
Instead, he threw a bunch of little balls that exploded in thick purple gummy smoke at me. How does someone make smoke gummy? Whatâ€™s the point? Why would someone think of that?
Of course, it takes more than smoke to stop Amy Atom. A few atomic right-hooks tore right through that mess like it was silly string so fast I caught a glimpse of the One-Armed Bandit going around the corner.
I sprinted to the intersection. I didnâ€™t see him. I looked left, I looked right, I looked up, I looked down â€¦ I saw little green rectangles on the sidewalk. And thanks to my atomic vision, I saw the little Benjamin Franklin on each.
For a genius, the One-Armed Bandit can be pretty stupid. He had a hole in his pocket.
I followed the trail of miniaturized money like every other New Yorker goes after dollars. It led to an abandoned graffiti-covered diner on 357 West Street. One atomic punch turned the boards over the door into toothpicks.
There was nothing between me and the One-Armed Bandit. For some reason, his suit was blue and white instead of red and black, and he had a sheriffâ€™s badge instead of the dollar sign.
My eyes glowed as radioactive power surged into my fist. â€œBetter hope that new suit of yours will save you from the VIP â€“ very intensely painful â€“ ass-whoopinâ€™ Iâ€™m gonna dish out.â€
He raised the metal bulb on his stump. â€œI never run from you.â€
I swaggered in. â€œSucker, please. You made me chase you this far.â€
A familiar voice to my left said, â€œNo, that was me.â€
Before I could turn a force as big and hard as the A-train slammed into my side and threw me against the wall.
Through the stars in my eyes I saw the One-Armed Bandit in his usual red costume. â€œYou got a twin?â€
The One-Armed Bandit in blue pointed his stump at me. God damn if it didnâ€™t feel like my bones were bending without breaking. â€œYou wonâ€™t beat me up this time.â€
The One-Armed Bandit in red slammed me again. I couldnâ€™t move or roll. I took it full on the chin, and damn it hurt. My head was rolling. I donâ€™t know how I stayed on my feet.
He tapped some buttons on his wrist. His stump glowed bright yellow. â€œOne-Armed Bandit wins. Fatality.â€ His stump glowed yellow.
â€œHey!â€ shouted the One-Armed Bandit in blue. â€œSheâ€™s had enough. Letâ€™s call the police.â€
â€œSay what?â€ the One-Armed Bandit in red and I said at the same time in the same way.
â€œSheâ€™s a criminal,â€ said the One-Armed Bandit in blue. â€œThatâ€™s why we fight.â€
â€œMaybe in your universe,â€ said the One-Armed Bandit in red.
I shook the dizzy out of my head. â€œHold on. Whatâ€™s this about â€˜hisâ€™ universe, One-Armed Bandits?â€
The one in blueâ€™s eyebrows almost shot off his head. â€œIâ€™m not the One-Armed Bandit, Iâ€™m the Short-Armed Law.â€
â€œWe had a deal,â€ said the One-Armed Bandit. â€œWe work together to take out our enemies. Thatâ€™s why we made this diner temporarily exist in both of our universes with a temporal force-field.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t know you were a crook when we did that,â€ said the Short-Armed Law. â€œI thought Ivy Isotope was bad in this universe too.â€
I asked, â€œWhoâ€™s Ivy Isotope?â€
The boarded up door on the other side of the diner exploded into toothpicks. The girl who came in looked just like me except her suit was bright yellow and her eyes glowed blue and purple. And instead of my smile, the one boys say lights up my face like a pinball machine when you win the free game, she had a scowl sourer than rancid cream cheese.
She pounded her palm with her fist. â€œTwo Short-Armed Laws? I got twice the ass to kick.â€ She cocked her head at me. â€œWhatâ€™s with the ugly girl?â€
I cocked my head right back. â€œExcuse me?â€
The One-Armed Bandit shot the Short-Armed Law in the back with a concussion blast that threw him against the wall. â€œIvy, help me take out Amy Atom and together weâ€™ll conquer two universes.â€
Ivy Isotopeâ€™s eyes glowed a violent shade of violet. â€œAs long as we split it.â€
Now when I say I get out of tough situations, this isnâ€™t what Iâ€™m talking about. Fighting your nemesis and an alternate universe version of yourself after getting a super-powered smackdown – thatâ€™s not tough, thatâ€™s impossible.
But I run after bad buys, not away from them. I dug my heels into the ground and put up my dukes.
The One-Armed Bandit charged his stump.
Ivy Isotope put her glowing fists together.
They were going to hit me with their best shots. I diverted my energy into an atomic shield. It wouldnâ€™t absorb all of the punishment, but maybe thereâ€™d be enough left of me for my mama to recognize.
I shut my eyes.
I didnâ€™t see the Short-Armed Law blast Ivy Isotope as he slammed against the One-Armed Bandit. Both of their shots went wide enough to miss me.
Ivy Isotope charged another blast. Before she could fire I hit her with an atomic right-hook. She rolled with it and responded with an uppercut.
The One-Armed Bandit and the Short-Armed Law wrestled. The One-Armed Bandit got on top. He charged his stump and held it high. â€œYou wonâ€™t look like me anymore.â€
I couldnâ€™t let this happen. I didnâ€™t even think about Ivy Isotope pulling back for an overhand punch. I hit the One-Armed Banditâ€™s chest with a blast that threw him through the open door.
The Short-Armed Law leaned back and sent a blast of his own into Ivy Isotopeâ€™s shoulder. She stumbled and fell into the street.
Both the One-Armed Bandit and Ivy Isotope ran away, off to their own universes.
The Short-Armed Law smiled as I helped him up.
â€œIt always ends the same,â€ I said. â€œWe fight, I win, he runs away. Iâ€™m sick of it.â€
The Short-Armed Law said, â€œItâ€™s nice to win against Ivy Isotope for once.â€
â€œWhat. You donâ€™t always win?â€
â€œIvy Isotope runs me down and beats me up so often Iâ€™m so sick of it.â€
â€œBut youâ€™re the good guy!â€
â€œI fight so she wonâ€™t hurt anyone else. I assumed she â€“ you â€“ were the same everywhere. I didnâ€™t ask too many questions I reached across universes the same time the One-Armed Bandit did. I donâ€™t deserve this, my only victory.â€
â€œIf you always lose, why donâ€™t you give up?â€
â€œIf you always lost to the One-Armed Bandit, would you quit?â€
â€œI want to say no, but â€¦â€
The Short-Armed Law became more transparent. I could see through him like he was a ghost. â€œI donâ€™t think you would if it meant saving other people.â€
â€œWhy are you disappearing?â€
â€œThe temporal force-field is fading. Soon weâ€™ll be separated by universes. All we have left is this moment.â€
He crouched. We hugged. I felt him fade through my fingers.