It was 3:11.
Harper got up off the ground and looked around. They had emerged from the maelstrom between time to find the Waffle House in pristine condition. The windows were unbroken. All the silverware and menus were on the tables. The homeless man/Blackout Agent was feigning sleep in the corner like he was before.
The smoke seeped out from the walls and moved toward Joe's immobile body, still where it was on the ground. It went inside through the open orifices and pores. When the last wisp disappeared into the open mouth, Joe opened his eyes and groaned.
"That suuuuucked..." He said as he stiffly pushed himself off the ground.
"What did you do?" Harper asked.
"As soon as the nuke went off, I just hauled ass backward as fast as I could. When are we?"
Harper checked his watch. "It's about 3:12." The numbers changed. "3:13. So we went back about...three and a half hours?"
"Give or take three centuries."
"If we went back in time, are we gonna run into ourselves or somethin?"
"No, we moved backward along the same timeline. That means-"
"Stop!" Harper held out his hand. "Are we in trouble?"
"Then don't say nothin' else about it." Harper paused. "Wait, if we're on the same timeline, can we change the future?"
Joe thought for a moment. "I think so. We've already seen the future, so we know exactly how to prevent it. It'll create a new timeline, but if we can fix what messed up in the first place, it wouldn't be a problem anymore."
"Great." Harper said. "What happened at 3:13?"
At that instant the door banged open. Joe and Harper turned to see two men walk inside. Strangely, they both looked exactly the same, from their identical clothes and black glasses down to the unshaven stubble on their faces. They were talking animatedly back and forth, both using excited hand motions in addition to speaking so quickly that Harper couldn't understand a word they said. While still talking, they both moved to sit down in a booth across from one another.
"HOLD IT!" Harper screamed. He reached under the counter, but couldn't find the android's arm. He turned around to find it under Jason, who was shakily standing. It had fallen next to him during the time warp and had gotten caught in the neutral-bubble that Joe had created around him and Harper.
Harper snatched up the gun and vaulted over the counter and pointed it at the two duplicates.
"Which one of you is from the future!?" He screamed.
"How do you-" One of them began.
"Which one of you is from the future!?"
The man on the right raised his hand. "I am."
Harper walked over and hit this man across the jaw with the gun, knocking him unconscious.
"My God!" The man on the left shouted. "Why-"
"Shut up!" Harper screamed. He looked at Joe and pointed at the man on the floor. "Can you send him back to his own time? Or wherever the hell he came from?"
"I think so." Joe said.
"Do it." Harper lowered the arm and went behind the counter as Joe's smoky body burst from his human one. It surrounded the man on the floor and began to shimmer. Suddenly, the body blinked from existence as the smoke went back into Joe's body.
All this time, the man who was still standing cowered next to the door, watching in horror as Joe stood up and stretched.
"Okay. Do you want something to eat!?" Harper shouted at him.
"Get out!" Harper and Joe shouted in unison, pointing at the door. The man twitched once, then scrambled for the door. He dived in his car and drove off as fast as he could.
"What's goin' on?" Jason asked.
"We're changing the future. C'mon." Harper said. He walked around the counter and kicked the door open with his foot, followed by Jason and Joe.
He stopped in front of the silver capsule that jutted from the ground. It was glowing and pulsating with an eerie light.
"Can you open it?" He asked Joe.
"I think so."
Joe walked over to the front of the mechanical womb and shoved his hand into the liquid metal. It protested, but Joe pointed his fingers and pierced the membrane, opening up a sizable hole.
"You wanna do the honors?" Harper asked Jason, holding the arm out.
"Shit. Yes." Jason said, grabbing the gun and walking forward.
"Cock the wrist, then squeeze it to fire."
Jason cocked it and the laser primed. "Got it." Joe moved out of the way, giving him a big enough target to aim into. As raised the gun, a human shape emerged from it. Its features were those of Jason's, but were horribly undeveloped. As it raised its arm to get its own gun out, Jason fired two shots into its head. He cocked it and and fired two shots again, one in the chest and one between the eyes again. The abomination screamed in pain as it fell from its silver apparatus and fell writhing to the ground. Jason cocked the arm one more time and fired two final shots into the android's chest, 'killing' it.
Suddenly, the second android was activated. Though without a face, it came lunging out of the hole. Joe let go of it and it closed seamlessly around the android's torso, leaving it clawing at the air in fury, its right fingers shrinking into its hand.
As Jason cocked his gun, Harper knelt beside the body of the first android and brought out its gun. They both peppered the android with bright balls of plasma until it hung limp and burned from the machine.
"And that's that." Jason said, fishing for a cigarette.
"Hold on." Harper said. "What's in the left arm?" He pressed the dead android's left arm in the same place he pressed on the right to bring out the gun. The skin on the forearm peeled away to reveal three small, blue balls stored in a holder. "Bingo."
Harper stood, holding the three balls. "Joe! I need an opening!" Joe plunged his hands into the machine and made another hole beside the dead android. Harper pushed the buttons on all the grenades. They all began to glow blue and chime. He tossed them into the opening and ran back to the Waffle House with Joe and Jason not far behind him. A muffled explosion came from inside the machine. The heat blew off the top of the capsule in a blue mushroom cloud and sent it clattering to the ground.
"Well, alright." Harper said, turning and walking through the front door. He held out his hand. "Jason. Gun." Jason handed him the arm. "Joe. Backup." Joe nodded and followed Harper, who stepped up into the booth in the corner and put his left foot on the homeless man's neck. The man began to cough and choke, pretending to wake up. He turned as best he could and got a eye-full of arm-barrel and angry Harper.
"Hey, man!" He said, coughing. "Hey, man! Hey! What is this, man!? I havn't done nothin'!"
Harper cocked the gun, sending the plasma battery clattering to the table. Joe stood on the table next to it and gazed down at the man, arms folded. He looked from Harper to Joe to the gun to back to Joe. He stopped pretending to be afraid and glowered at Joe.
"How did you know?" The Nexite said, through gritted teeth.
"The future's a pretty enlightening place." Harper said.
"Doesn't that linear cognition get bothersome?" Joe asked mockingly.
"You bastard..." the Nexite growled.
"Yeah. That sounds about right." Joe said, grinning.
"Leave." Harper commanded.
"Y'know that little pocket void where you send matter-criminals?" Joe said. "I know how to get there too."
"You were a-" The Nexite asked, wide-eyed.
"Ten rotations. I got Top Agent once upon a time."
"Lea-eave." Harper said again in a sing-song tone.
"That's what they call me."
The Nexite glanced angrily between them. Then, with no choice, he faded out of the third dimension, back to whatever nexus he crawled out of.
"Phew." Joe said, wiping his forehead.
"You were a Blackout Agent?" Harper asked.
"Nah. But that doesn't mean I don't know where the Suffering Plains are." Joe smiled.
"Alright." Harper said, dropping the arm. "One last thing." He went over to the phone and dialed a number. After five rings, a groggy and irritated voice answered.
"I don't know who this is, but do you have any idea what fucking time it is!?"
"Hey, Sandy!" Harper said, cheerily. "This is Harper. Listen, I'm just callin' to tell ya' that me and Jason quit. No hard feelings, but you're an icy bitch."
"Me too!" Joe called, laughing.
"Oh, and Joe quits too."
"What!?" Sandy screamed into the receiver. "That's the entire night staff!"
"That's a 24-hour restaurant! What'll it do with no staff!?"
"I don't know, Sandy. I guess...you'll have to come down here and stop pawning off all your weekends on us."
"You can't do this! You can't leave the Waffle House unattended."
"Uhh...Well, Sandy, it's not my problem over here seein' as I don't work here anymore! You better get down here quick. You know how appetizing an unattended cash register is to some people."
"Screw you, Harper! You over-confident bastard!"
"Yes I am!" Harper shouted and slammed the phone. He turned and smiled at his ex-coworkers. "Let's go to my house and watch a movie." He said. He pulled his car keys out from under the counter and jingled them. "Jason, I'm takin' you home."
"Thank you, JESUS!" Jason shouted, walking out to Harper's car. "If I spend another minute with you motherfuckers, I swear to God I'm gonna kill myself."
"Where you stayin', Joe?" Harper asked.
"Uh...Well, I was gonna just store my body in the freezer and sleep in the air conditioning system in during the day." Joe said, scratching his head.
"Fuck that. I've got a guest room. You'll stay with me."
"Thanks!" Joe said, the two of them walking to the car together. They got in and drove off down the road, rolling all the windows down to feel the cool of the night air.
Harper glanced in his rear-view mirror and slammed on brakes.
"Shit!" Jason shouted, slamming into the dashboard. "What the fuck!?"
Harper set his car in park and got out without turning it off. He walked toward the short little man in the bowler hat that was sitting on the park bench in the middle of the road. The man watched him approach pleasantly.
"FUCK YOU!" Harper shouted, pointing at the man, who jumped at the sound. "My father was a bastard and I'll love my mother till the day I die! I've got good friends and I've set my life on the right track. So FUCK YOU if you think you have anything I want!"
"You're making a-"
"SHUT UP!" Harper screamed a final time. He turned around and walked back to his car. "You're not worth my fuckin' time."
He jumped in the driver's seat and slammed the door as loudly as he could. He put the car into drive and floored it until the roaring of his engine drowned out the music on the radio. Harper sped off down the highway, going 80-mph and North, leaving nothing but dust in his wake.