Jason’s roommate Jonathan nudged him awake. Looking around, Jason saw that he had fallen asleep on the couch holding a video game controller, again. He looked at his phone and saw it was 5 pm. “Great. I lost almost another full day of job searching.”
“Which reminds me, the rent’s due, and I can’t afford another month of not getting your half.”
Jason rubbed his head. “I should’ve stayed in grad school. Could’ve gotten a little job at the college… sublet that apartment with Isabelle… She wouldn’t let me sleep my life away.”
While Jason was bemoaning his choices, Isabelle was in a history museum running between the exhibits. “Madre, check out these Mardi Gras queen’s trains. This one’s from the 1800s. Vaya! Can you imagine how strong the stitching must be to hold all those diamonds in place for this long?”
Celia put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It looks muy pesado to me. Do you think being a queen is worth wearing that, Niña?”
“I think they only wear the trains for the parade, and then they drape them over the float, so it’s less like wearing one and more just pretending to wear one.”
“Well in that case I hope I get to see you pretend to wear one some day.”
Isabelle instantly started imagining a royal blue cape with a big golden eagle broach at the top and ribbons flowing all the way to the bottom over an embroidered map of the world, with gears and a clock face in the middle. She was pulled from her fantasy when her eyes turned to the next exhibit. “Madre! Madre! Madre! There’s an exhibit on the Titanic!” She started to run towards the cutout of the ship, but after a few steps she and Jason both ceased to exist as their real selves broke from their fantasies.
Nesrin rode a giant dog made of fire, leading her army into the apartment complex. Waves of hidden ones led by Ceylan flew overhead while the human ranks marched beneath them with guns loaded. The snipers and ninjas had gone ahead of them on the rooftops, and tanks were left in the streets waiting. Mithal the Failure Caliph was chained to Nesrin’s dog, carrying the Bottle of Samira.
Nesrin smiled at the lack of resistance. “My day has finally dawned. Soon she will learn that no one opposes Nesrin the Half Fire, not even her alternate self.” At last earth’s moon and Venus appeared in the sunlit sky. Now she was ready. She teleported into the apartment with Ceylan by her side.
Ceylan scoffed at their surroundings. “Forgive me, Khanum, but I fail to see how even a hypothetical version of you could live here.”
“This version was weak.” Her eyes glowed black and a dagger of black water appeared in her hand. “History broke her, but she is only a wraith of a might-have-been.”
They found the other Nesrin in her bedroom writing in her journal about impersonating her mother and her new reconnaissance task. The experience had revived suppressed, panicked memories of a human war she’d been involved in. The tortured fantasies it provoked gave the darker Nesrin strength as she lifted the dagger.
The other Nesrin slammed the journal shut and closed her eyes. “No.”
The Khanum dropped her dagger and stumbled.
The other Nesrin clenched her fists on her desk. “Let the thoughts go. Just hand them over.”
The Khanum and her sister faded like smoke in the wind, sending out ripples that erased their army like a tsunami. Once they were gone, the real Nesrin collapsed into her chair, able to relax a little.