...and her eyes snapped open, filled with a terrible purpose. Slowly, she rose from the ground where her younger self's body had fallen.

The raw color of the world came as a shock to her, after so long; the green trees reaching up for that blue, blue, sky. It shook in her vision from the sheer, naked shock to her eyes. The smell hit her next, the gentle scent of grass. Even the ugly smell of cars on the wind - there were cars here, there were people, not slime monsters or aliens or even those poor plant-things that had helped her but just ordinary human people, her own kind.

She was surrounded by houses. Blurring now in her vision as the unstoppable tears began to pour out. Looking down at her hands, she could hardly see them, she had to bring them up close to her face to see them, but her hands were small and soft and unscarred and my god it had worked.

It had worked.

She was back.

She hadn't thought it would work, to be honest. She'd fought so hard to find the Box again but there was only one man in the world who'd truly commanded the Box and he was dead. She'd wired up circuitry to its sides, the most advanced remnants of Earth's technology and all the stolen technology she could get her hands on, trying to call forth the power of the Box. She'd engineered and analyzed and probed and tested and finally, in desperation or insanity, she'd written "Temporal Memory Transmitter" on the side - for luck, for old times' sake, because it just might work - and then she'd stuck her head in and pressed the button and my god it had worked.

She stared at her hands. (Every now and then she would remember to breathe.) Her left arm... she had her left arm back, the real thing, in the flesh. It would be hard to get used to that. Not being able to crush steel in her left fist. Not being able to send lightning through her enemies with a punch.

On the other hand...

"Elai elai alueai, era ala sandak!" she whispered, putting only a tiny amount of force into it, and her left hand was briefly surrounded by a green aura.

You couldn't do that with prosthetics.

It was a relief to know that her magic still worked - though she could feel her body protesting even at that brief spell, unused to rituals. Some part of her had insisted, against all logic and for all common sense, that if she went back to a "normal" time she would only be able to do normal things. But no. She was here, she had her knowledge, she had her magic. She knew how to make certain things and where to find certain things.

She could try to stop it, this time, the end of the world. Ends of the world, rather. There'd been more than one. Humanity was too strong to be wiped out by just one apocalypse.

Her mind flashed back to walking down this street in some other Time, seeing the ruined houses with roofs staved in and walls broken out to expose the soft centers, scattered bricks and debris across the cracked slabs of pavement. Black and grey the ruined sky, ash in the atmosphere creating a merciful absence of color. The charnel smell of the rotting dead, and, much worse, the aroma of the burned dead, roasted human flesh smelled like barbecue and that was a hideous thing to endure when you were starving.

The decision not to allow that felt like a bar of steel in the center of her brain. A moral system has room for only one absolute commandment; if two unbreakable rules collide, one has to give way. That one decision was a constant, therefore, all other things were variables.

A coldness came over her, as she considered her strategy this time around. If anyone had seen her face, then, her terribly young face uncreased by anything but smiles, they would have taken a step back and maybe even screamed.

She'd been a heroine, last time around, a fighter for truth and justice and Right, a protector of the innocent who wouldn't leave anyone behind, a giver of second chances.

She had held to that ideal even in the face of Armageddon, believing that, if she did the right thing, if she did the best she could, then somehow, surely, destiny would smile on her and it would all work out in the end.

And she had watched her people, the human species, die.

And that had burned it out of her.

No. This time around...

She had to figure out which of her old criminal friends would already be plugged into the sublegal underground, this far back in time. (Rosalyn, maybe? Had she already been bent, this early in her life?) She had to find assassins who wouldn't balk at questionable orders. She had to get them to take her orders without their ever seeing her face. And then people had to die. Future traitors, future politicians, future scientists, most of whom hadn't done anything wrong now, some of whom were just children now, but she'd tried things the righteous way last time, and it hadn't worked. She'd already murdered her own past self and stolen that child's body - in effect, that was what she had done - so it wasn't like she was planning to do anything to others that she wouldn't want done to herself. Still, it wouldn't be easy to find killers who'd hunt children.

First she needed money. Robbing a bank would be simple, but it would be even simpler to find someone wealthy to mind-read and blackmail.

Well... first she needed...

With a shiver that ran through her whole body, she realized that she had been on the way to get on the school bus.

There were schools now. She was a schoolgirl. She was going to school. The same school with...

He was alive.

His parents were alive. Her parents were alive. The Guardian Beast was alive -

He was alive.

No, she told herself sternly. He was dead. He'd died a hero, but he'd died just the same. The young untried boy of this time was not the man she remembered. The young boy of this time was not in love with her. The young boy of this time had never killed, never been hurt, and if she protected him - she had to protect him - then he would never become the man she remembered. More like that man's identical twin in a very different environment. Or maybe more like that man's grand-nephew, considering the difference she had created in their true ages. She was old before her Time, and there was no possible way it could work out between them.

This boy was not her husband. Her husband was dead.

She began to walk to the school bus stop, her footsteps coming down hard on the pavement. It would hurt, but she could do this.

She reached the corner of the block, and turned.

She saw the red black-striped shirt.

And just like that she was flying forward, feet pushing her body forward like she was made of air, racing to him like a strong magnet unleashed to seek its opposite pole, and she was clutching him in her arms and sobbing.

Calvin, Calvin, my sweet Calvin -