Wednesday, August 11, 2010

12 Seconds



They call me the Mulligan.

"Bloody shame, mate," the twit with the boomerangs tells me. He's some sort of nutter dressed up like Steve Irwin, except with a ridiculous hat. And, yeah. Boomerangs.

Fucking boomerangs.

"What's that?" I ask, readying my bat.

"Havin' t'scrag the lot of you, I mean. Seem like fine blokes," he says.

I give a quick lookaround the train station, rewinding time. Woot's handling the crowd--Skull's on the ground, nursing her wounds. Brick's got the golem locked in punching match, and Paladin's up against Scourge.

Paladin's not doing so good.

"Bloody shame, mate," the twit with the boomerangs says again.


"Havin' t'scrag the lot of you, I mean. Seem like fine--"

I rewind time again.

"Bloody shame, mate," he says.

"About me sleeping with your mom? Yeah, I know," I tell him, and then I draw out my bat for the second time. "I'll get over it."

He narrows his eyes. Both boomerangs flash as they're sent airborn--both rocketing past my shoulders. I charge in, bat swinging over my head--

--right before the two boomerangs return, their tips burying themselves in my back and severing my spine.

"Bloody shame, mate."

I charge, again, drawing the bat as I go. This time, he uses the boomerangs like blades--catches my bat in the curve of one and brings the other one down for my skull.

"Bloody shame, mate."

It takes seven tries before I manage to get it right. Wait for him to throw the boomerangs; knock one out of the air with the bat as it flies by, kick him in the stomach, spin around and catch the second with the bat as it arrives.

But as soon as I get it, I hear the scream.

Paladin's armor has been pierced. The Scourge has him by the throat, black lightning ripping through his skin, his body--emerging from his mouth. His eyes are wide and boiling.

My heart flies into my throat.

"Bloody shame, mate."


12 seconds. That's as far back as I can go.

12 seconds isn't a lot. Enough to take a piss. Wash your hands. Brush your teeth, if you're quick. Enjoy a particularly long kiss.

But sometimes, 12 seconds can feel like a lot.

Sometimes, it can feel like all the time in the world.


"Bloody shame, mate."

Trial #36.

Tried running from him and going straight for Paladin--he gets me with the damn boomerangs every time. I usually go down right as Scourge gets ahold of him; the last thing I see before the lights go dark and time rewinds is Paladin screaming as black lightning pours out his throat and mouth.

This time, I wait until he throws--deflect one boomerang--and run straight for Paladin.

He throws another boomerang--one of his big ones. It unfolds in mid-air, spinning like a steel buzzsaw; the last thing I feel is my lower half being cleanly separated from my upper.

"Bloody shame, mate."


When I first decided to tell Paladin, I realized that I had to do it right. It would have been so easy to do it wrong--to tell him, see his response, and rewind.

But I wanted something real. I wanted something with risks. I wanted something with consequences. I wanted it to be worth something.

I wrote it all down--what my power was. Why I acted the way I did. How I felt about him.

Then I found him, touched him on the shoulder, and handed him the letter.

And told him to wait 13 seconds.


"Bloody shame, mate."

Trial #85.

I've only hit triple digits on three occasions. Hoping to avoid it--after a while, I start getting headaches--migraines that travel back in time with me. Then comes the nausea, then the nose bleeds. I've never pushed it past 200.

But if I have to, I will.

I've been making mental notes with each rewind. It finally occurred to me that the Boomerang Kid catches his boomerangs a certain way. Which means it's possible to catch them without chopping off your fingers.

This time, when he throws the boomerangs, I deflect one--and reach for the other.

First try. My hand comes clean off.

"Bloody shame, mate."


I didn't even know Paladin's real name when I gave him the letter. But we'd known each other for months; we'd worked together, fought together, bled together. I'd seen him face down death on four separate occasions--and each time, I traveled back to pull him from the brink.

That's another consequence of my power. You end up learning a lot about people around you.

On the 13th second, he opened my letter and read it. When he was finished, we talked.

For the first time that I could remember, I didn't use my power in a conversation. He asked me not to--asked me not to take anything back. If we were going to make this work, it was the only thing he'd ever ask.

I broke my promise for the first and only time that night. But I don't think he'd mind--I didn't do anything different the second time around, after all.

I just wanted a chance to relive my first kiss.


"Bloody shame, mate."

Trial #105.

Headaches have started. Concentration lagging. Angry as hell.

The anguish of having my hand being lopped off God knows how many times is starting to filter back. I know, rationally, that there is no pain--that when I travel back in time, I travel back to my previous, unharmed body. But like some phantom limb, I still feel the throb.

Except this time, when he throws it, I twist my hand in just the right way--squeeze my fingers at precisely the right moment. I feel steel bite into my palm, feel blood fill my hand--but I also realize I'm holding it.

One boomerang deflected. One boomerang caught.

The look in Steve Irwin's face when my bat comes down for his head is fucking priceless.

I charge for Scourge and Paladin, just as the latter is about to tip over--and then I leap. Boomerang in one hand, bat in the other. I bring the former down for his shoulder, the latter for his claw.

There is a clash of sparks, a yelp of surprise--and then the Skull has slammed into Scourge, sending them both toppling downstairs.

I grab ahold of Paladin, pulling him back. He blinks, staring up at me, seeing something in my eyes--the pain, maybe, or maybe the rage.

"How many times?" he asks.

"Just a dozen," I lie, and instantly wish I hadn't. I'll tell him the truth later. I always do. Just don't want him worrying. Not right now.

And that's when we hear someone shouting behind us.

"Goddamn lucky bugger!" the Boomerang Kid roars, two fresh weapons in his hands.

I ready my bat, standing side-by-side with Paladin. Wordlessly, we charge.




  1. Wait, so Paladin and Mulligan?

  2. Based on the name, I'd wondered if his power was to "take a Mulligan," but I wasn't sure.

    Amusingly, I'd been thinking of introducing a character with a similar (but not the same) power into my own serial. Fortunately, it's in the distant future at this point.

  3. Hey, feel free to just outright steal the character's power wholesale if the mood strikes you, too. I honestly don't mind--as long as the end result is interesting, it's cool.

  4. interesting power, and interesting relationship...

  5. Interesting post. Quite original in how you took the POV of mulligan and took us on a ride through his personal and emotional makeup as well as powerset.
    The powerset reminds me of a movie Nicholas Cage starred in..cant remember the name....but he would get these acurate precognitive flashes of the future.
    Anyhow next to Skull I think Mulligan's is now my next favorite character.

  6. 'Next', probably--which I've never seen, but when describing how Mulligan's power works, one or two people have pointed to it. The actual inspiration for Mulligan came from, in part, the Midnighter (from the Authority--he can 'simulate' battles in his brain a million times over until he finds the result he wants) and the idea of save states in game emulators. Thanks, by the way--Mulligan is probably my favorite character too. My only regret is that I can't write a series that focuses on him as a main character because his power makes him such an incredibly unwieldy narrative device.

  7. So he can step back 12 seconds, yes it came be quite useful in a fight. No wonder the guy hardly ever gets hit, he can keep trying till he gets it right.

  8. Saw both of those coming. Mulligan's power and Paladin's orientation. Still cool get a little taste from another person's POV.

  9. Hah, 105 tries. Not easy to save someone from one psycho without being killed by the one you're supposed to be dealing with.

    Nice interlude, good bits of character development.