[ASH] CSV Annual #2 - Coming Home Part 5: Revelation

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Mon Apr 7 18:35:08 PDT 2008

     The cover shows Triton and Aegis in clearly Roman surroundings, looking
at their reflections in a polished silver mirror.  On the other side of the
mirror, however, the reflections show an older, helmetless Derek Radner in
golden armor, and a younger reflection of Aegis wearing his old EUROPA


.                 Blackbird & Countinghouse Presents:             
   ( )                 CONCLAVE OF SUPER-VILLAINS               ( )
    I          An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic         I
    I              copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen            I
                     with Tony Pi and Andy Burton
                    Annual #2 - Coming Home Part 5


[June 12, 2026 - Terran News Network Newsbyte]

     Chancellor Derek Radner stood atop a dais of golden brick, wearing his
Strafe armor while carrying the horned helmet beneath his left arm.  The
armor had once again been repainted, but this time the color scheme was
gleaming gold against a grainy spectrum of multicolored sand, from bone white
to dark grit in tide-licked waves.  He seemed older, his face weather-worn.
Instead of the AstroSpear, he wielded living lightning in the shape of a
     Flanking him were the twins Cas and Pol Ierulli-Kiris, mirror images of
one another.  However, they were not wearing their old EUROPA costumes, nor
the Swiss Guard adaptation that Cas had worn as Aegis.  Instead, they wore
gleaming silver armors that were sleek imitations of the Strafe design,
helmless but with reflective round shields on opposite arms: Cas on the left,
Pol on the right.  A holographic image of a Medusa's head glowered in the
midst of Castor's shield, while a Tenniel-styled Jabberwock twisted upon
     "I am Chancellor Derek Radner of Khadam, Triton of the Conclave of
Super-Villains, and I have seen Death and lived," he said, looking right into
the camera.  "Furthermore, I have not returned alone."  A shadow fell over
his face for a moment, heralding the arrival of a winged stag-man alighting
before Derek and going down on one knee.  "Peryton.  Aegis.  Lookingglass.
Glimpse what we have wrought while the world thought us dead.  Welcome to El
Dorado, my hidden city of gold and wonders!"  He raised his trident high
while the twins raised their shields in unison.
     "Impossible, you say?  As Lewis Carroll's White Queen advocated, one
should believe in six impossible things before breakfast.  But there are
merely *five* impossible villains who have declared war on the Conclave of
Super-Villains, and I challenge them to face our paradox.  Beware,
Chiaroscuro, Anhydra, Talus, Matrioshka, and your oh-so-secretive leader
Never.  We are coming for you."


                              CHAPTER ONE

[August 23, 79 C.E. - Pompeii]

     The shining speck that was Solar Max finally vanished over the horizon,
and Jen Kleinvogel's shadowy form had been lost to sight minutes ago.  Derek
"Triton" Radner and Cas "Aegis" Ierulli-Kiris stood in wary silence on the
mountainside overlooking the highly doomed Roman city.  Derek wore the armor
he had "inherited" from TwenCen villain Strafe, decorated in the colors he
had chosen to represent his "ruling house" in Khadam.  Cas wore the badge of
the Helvetican Guard, having served the Vatican since his break with EUROPA.
     "Might I speak to you a moment?" Triton said in a soft voice to Aegis.
     "I have nothing to say to you, killer," Aegis replied.
     "Really?  Because I have an idea on how we can save your brother,"
Triton said.  Diplomatically, he didn't dispute the accusation.  Rebus had
been the hand that killed Pol, after all, but as leader of the mission, Derek
could be said to be responsible.
     "Save Pol?  You killed him in cold blood two years ago," Aegis snapped.
"I still intend to see you executed for your crime, Triton."
     "Think about it, Aegis," Triton countered.  "We are in the past.  I
didn't kill Pol two years ago, I *will* kill him nearly two *thousand* years
from now...but there are all sorts of things we can do to ensure that the
same tragedy doesn't happen in the future...provided we can get away from
these do-gooders and *lightly* tamper with the timeline."
     "What makes you think you can do it without destroying us all?"  Aegis
asked.  His expression told Triton that he could see the same possibility
Triton had, the gaps into which a hoax could be perpetrated.  But doubt
     "Because I'm me, and I layer contingency upon contingency," Triton
replied.  He opened a small compartment in his armor and showed Aegis what he
hid inside.  It was a tiny piece of plasm.
     "What is it?" Aegis asked.
     "A piece of Myriad, a seed with which we can grow a future and fool the
world," Triton said.  "Trust me.  I need not be your brother's killer, and we
could have Pollux back, along with Peryton.  Are you with me?  Because if you
are, we need to get away *now*."
     Anger and hope warred for ascendancy in Aegis's expression.  Vengeance
drove the young man harshly, but it only did so because of a terrible loss
that Triton now offered to undo.
     "All right.  What do we do?" Aegis said at last.
     "Sheath us in your invisibility, and we find a place where we can scheme
in peace," Triton said.  Even though Kleinvogel had departed, Aegis would
retain a copy of her power for a few minutes, long enough for Triton's
purposes.  "Don't worry.  I know enough tricks to keep them from finding us.
When our preparations are done, you and I can travel back to our proper
     "What about Solar Max and Kleinvogel?" Aegis asked.  "We can't strand
them here!"
     "If I know Zachary, he will turn the sun inside out to reunite with
Meteor," Triton said.  "They'll find their own way back."  And if they
didn't, Triton would shed no tears, of course.
     "Then let's go," said Aegis. 
     Triton smiled behind his faceplate.  He made for a great Mephistopheles.
"By the way, how's your Latin?" 

               *              *              *              *

[October 1, 80 C.E. - Ostia]

     The apartment was lit brilliantly by one last spark of electricity from
Derek's fingertips, and he leaned back to inspect his work.  It was
inelegant, and it had cost him a great deal of the functionality of his
Strafe armor, but the small metal cap represented the keystone in his plan to
return himself and Cas to the 21st Century.
     Just then, Cas entered.  "Another day, another drachma.  Or prutah, as
the case may be," he plunked a small bronze coin on the table.  The two of
them were careful to take on odd jobs suitable to foreigners so that they'd
blend in, but the true source of their income tended to involve judicious
theft from places where it wouldn't be missed, far from Rome.  But time spent
on honest jobs also helped them better learn to blend in with the rest of the
inhabitants, something that had come in quite handy the last time Solar Max
had come looking for them...and failed utterly, despite being within fifty
paces of Cas at one point.
     "You're just in time, I've completed the Engram Enhancer," Derek held up
the skullcap.  "It should let you call up the powers of anyone you've copied,
briefly, but only once.  After that, the pattern will be burned out.  Um,
sorry, no pun intended," Derek added.  Cas had unwittingly been the "burnout
killer" of Eurasia's equivalent of the Academy, his ability to copy and
enhance powers leading to numerous accidental deaths at ASIE.  The Academy's
bane had been a Khadamite shapeshifter, a more powerful version of the
Alpha-Rho series that had joined Derek's Conclave of Super-Villains as Myriad.
     "It's ready for a test, then?" Cas asked, apparently unfazed by the
reference.  Derek doubted the young man had really gotten over his accidental
killings...he was simply too driven now by the thought of getting Pollux back
to care.
     Derek nodded.  "Pick a fairly useless power this time, obviously."
     "Hm, there was a Vogue Ghoul I met at the Vatican a while back, she
could control and modify ceramics.  She specialized in making blades that
could sneak past metal detectors, came to try to get absolution after one of
her creations was involved in the murder of a child.  I could try making this
plate stronger," Cas suggested, picking up a simple clay platter.  Vogue
Ghouls were Eurasia's answer to the Paragangers of Manhattan...superhumans
ranging from fashionable poser to full-on psychotic, "organized" into gangs
that wasted their energies on internecine struggles and partying.
     "Ah, yes.  That would be good," Derek nodded.  "And I think I can even
find a use for a piece of advanced ceramics.  I've been looking for a way to
make sure someone gets a 'letter' from me in the TwenCen, and that would be
perfect.  Look, give me a few minutes to etch my message onto this plate, and
try to remember as much as you can about this Vogue Ghoul."  The plate in
question was a simple round dinner plate, made of bisque-fired clay.  Not
exactly the sort of thing people used in this day and place, but Derek had
made or commissioned a set of "uptime" place settings to help make the
apartment feel a little more homelike.
     Cas pulled a still-warm meat roll from a street vendor out of his bag
and chewed it thoughtfully as he wracked his brain for memories of that
girl.  What had her name been?  Oh, yes...Sofia.  At least, that's the name
she'd given.  Probably not her real one.  She had an annoying tic, too.  Kept
brushing hair out of her eyes, even though she kept it in a buzzcut so there
was none to fall in her face.
     Derek had opened up a scroll covered in unfamiliar symbols and was
copying its contents onto the simple clay plate using a metal scribing tool.
"Are you comfortable with my explanation of the timestream yet?" he asked as
he scratched away at the plate.  [For the explanation, see Derek Radner's
Private Journal #4 - Ed.]
     "More or less.  The more you teach me about quantum gravity, though, the
more sense your ideas make.  A sort of mix of Newtonian determinism and
Fischerian observer theory," Cas replied around a mouthful of food.  Fischer
had been best known for his accomplishments in industrial supertech in the
1990s, but shortly before the False Rapture had made some significant
advances in normaltech science by studying various pieces of Santari and
Pranir technology.  His accomplishments included a coherent theory of quantum
gravity that had just been starting to get accepted by scientists in the
2020s, if Derek was to be believed.  Of course, for all Cas knew, Derek was
feeding him just enough truth in with a bunch of plausible lies designed to
help him do whatever it was that needed doing.  Violation Physics tended to
work in the way you expected it to work, rather than the way the universe
would prefer, after all.
     "Good, good," Derek nodded.  "The observer effect isn't really that
strong, not for normal people, but it's my solid place to stand.  With that,
and the lever of our combined Magenes, we're going to move the world.  And
then you'll make us a nice little warp bubble to hide in for a few millennia,
and we'll wake up to a world where Pollux never really died...."

               *              *              *              *

[March 24, 81 C.E. - The ruins of Carthage]

     "Cartago delenda est," Derek smirked, looking about at ruins over a
century old.  "And this particular part of Carthage doesn't attract the
notice of archaeologists until 2025, so it should be a safe place to bury our
little time capsule," he told Cas as they carefully set the coffin down.
Inside of it was most of the Strafe armor, stripped of as many systems as
Derek could safely remove and turned into a long-term incubator.
     Cas nodded, then brushed a stray hair out of his eyes.  A non-existent
stray hair.  "Myriad's spore, or whatever it is, and the bags of nutrient
broth we packed into the armor...they'll keep for nineteen hundred or so
     "Or more, if needed," Derek beamed.  "The Strafe armor is a miracle of
preservative technology, designed to keep its wearer alive for years at a
time with no ill effects...it's why PsidF/X wanted it so badly that he made
the fatal mistake of betraying me.  [In CSV #11 - Ed.]  For a hardier life
form such as the Alpha Rho series, its power core will suffice for an
estimated *ten* millennia of minimal life support.  And once the timer ticks
over, it'll bring the spore out of stasis, feed it up to maturity and program
it with the lessons I provided.  Since she's purely an example of advanced
normaltech, Myriad should weather the TwenCen with ease.  The armor may blip
a few times, but it's not a living supernormal, so it'll be immune to the big
vanishing in 1998...and I made sure it had plenty of T!rir upgrades before I
started wearing it around Rebus," he chuckled.  Rebus may have been a
powerful Anchor, but the insectile T!rir race's advanced technology was
purely mundane, if impressive.
     "A pity we'll have to go the rest of the way on sail power," Cas sighed,
looking down at the coffin.  "But the Engram Enhancer's effects don't last
long enough for me to fly us, and the rockets couldn't be safely removed from
the suit."
     "True.  At least I took care of all my errands to other parts of the
world before converting the armor.  And it should still be intact when we get
home, so I can convert it *back*," Derek grinned.  "Let's get digging.  The
sooner we have this hidden, the sooner we can take our cruise to Ibiza!"

               *              *              *              *

[April 2, 81 C.E. - Ebesus]

     After the final Punic War, the Carthaginian trading outpost of Ibossim
had settled down and become the sleepy Roman backwater of Ebesus, more or
less isolated from the main Roman shipping routes and left to a sort of
benign neglect in the shadow of nearby Maiorica's thriving olive industry.
For the most part, this suited Derek's plan perfectly...the odds of one of
the era's few living mages being on the little island were negligible.  
     On the other hand, while fairly cosmopolitan as a result of its mixed
heritage, the island got relatively few new visitors, and neither Derek nor
Cas wanted to stand out.  Hence, they were now skulking through the small
port community during predawn hours rather than disembarking their ship like
normal passengers...this alone might be cause for remark, but fewer details
would be attached to it.
     "This feels like the right place," Derek called a whispered halt to the
pair's movements, then withdrew the Engram Enhancer from a chamois pouch at
his belt, handing it to Cas.  "Obviously, the landmarks changed some over the
centuries, but we only need to be within a few miles for the warp bubble to
be popped."  In January 2025, during a particularly raucous bachelor's party
for Derek on this resort island, an attempt at revenge on the supervillain
would lead to a rather significant gravitational disturbance.  [See CSV #24 -
Ed.]  Significant enough to disrupt what Derek planned to be a sort of
spacetime "embolism" that would hold him and Cas safely outside the ravages
of time for centuries.  He knew from the example of Q'Nos [in ASH #43 - Ed.]
that in addition to freezing his personal timeline, it would also protect him
from the big vanishing act of 1998.
     Cas nodded, putting the metal skullcap on his head and making sure the
Engram Enhancer's electrodes were making good contact.  He then extracted a
few devices from his own belt and strapped them to his forearms.  One he
ignited with a SNAP-hissss to display a sizzling energy trident.  "You sure
you want me to have this?  You're a lot better with trident weapons."
     "That's why I can't use it," Derek shook his head, motioning for Cas to
extinguish the weapon.  "I modified its look as much as I could without
hurting the functionality, but one of my once-and-future teammates is bound
to figure out who I am if I'm swinging a trident weapon around.  I have a few
other secondary systems I can use if there's nothing waiting for us there."
He pulled on a Secutor's all-concealing round gladiatorial helmet and sighed.
"I really hope my little time capsule works out so I'm not stuck using this
tin can.  With your beard and deeper tan, I doubt anyone will recognize you
if we happen to arrive right in front of people, but there's going to be
people there who know me far too well to be fooled by anything short of total
     "I can't say I'm all broken up at the possibility of having to fight
past your Conclave," Cas said, carefully not facing Derek so that his
expression remained hidden.  "I wish I could really cut loose, though."
     Derek shrugged.  "If we want the timeline to remain intact, it has to be
survivable for everyone.  And if you kill Angel, to hell with the timeline,
I'll throttle you myself, even if I have to team up with my past self to do
it.  Understood?"
     "Understood.  Are you ready?  I'm as prepared as I'm likely to get," Cas
     Secretly, Derek was far from worried that Cas would go on a vengeance
trip.  In fact, he was much more concerned about the opposite...that Cas
would try to arrest them all.  The Engram Enhancer had been demonstrating
certain personality-copying side effects, and given whose powers Cas would
now be imitating, that spelled all kinds of potential trouble.
     However, he said none of this.  "Let's go," was his only reply.
     Cas nodded, turned on the Engram Enhancer, and used the powers of JakZak
"Solar Max" Taylor to seal the two of them into a warp bubble where they
would pass the next one thousand, nine hundred and forty-four years, give or
take a few months....



[Late October, 1996 - Chicago, IL - Museum of Science and Industry]

     Jennifer Blair hummed tunelessly to herself as she examined the ceramic
plate in her hand.  She had no way of knowing how many hands had held this
plate before it wound up in hers, and that was only thinking of people in
contact with it after its discovery.  Before being uncovered in Italy a few
months before, there was no telling at all.  Only, she somehow suspected it
was fewer than most people would have guessed.
     As Jennifer began to flip the plate over in her fingers again, a knock
at her office door brought her out of her reverie.  Diane, one of Jennifer's
colleagues at the museum, was leaning inside the door, smiling.  "So, today's
the day, eh?" she asked.  "We finally get to meet the mysterious fiancee, and
it only took, what, one of the most baffling historical mysteries of our
time."  Jennifer shook her head, but Diane continued.  "If I'd known that's
what it took, I'd have buried some monkey bones for you to find."
     "Ha, ha, ha," Jennifer replied in a playfully sardonic tone.  "If I'd
known my love life was worth throwing scientific history into flux, I'd have
invited Cameron sooner to save the world from you."  Jennifer set the ceramic
plate down on her desk.  "Does that mean he's here?"
     Diane nodded.  "Downstairs just called to let us know we had a visitor."
     Jennifer got up from her desk and joined Diane outside her office.
"Don't be surprised...or offended, actually...by Cameron.  He's a teddy bear,
but sometimes...."  
     Diane clapped Jennifer on the shoulder.  "If you like him, that's all I
need to know," Diane said.  The moved down the corridors, toward the
     A moment after they arrived, the doors to the elevator slid open to
reveal Cameron McKay and his robot, Prototype.  Diane let out a small yelp of
surprise when Prototype stepped out of the elevator, extending its hand to
her.  After she realized it wanted her to shake, she looked at Jennifer and,
through a withering grin, said, "But you could have warned me about the
     Jennifer looked at Cameron.  "Yes, you could have warned me you were
bringing Prototype."  Diane shook Prototype's hand, which was more claw than
anything.  It seemed to please the robot, and he backed up toward Cameron.
Jennifer couldn't help but think of Prototype as "he" even though the robot's
own creator insisted on "it".  Prototype just seemed a little too...well, too
much like his creator for Jen to consider him an "it".
     "Did I forget to mention it?" Cameron asked.  "Sorry.  When you, ah,
said there was something you wanted me to look at, I, uh, just figured I
should bring Prototype's sensor package to see it as well."
     "Is it safe to assume you thoughtfully removed his weapon package?"
Jennifer asked.  As Cameron fumbled for an answer less blatantly deliberate
than, "No," Jennifer stepped forward gave him a quick peck on the check,
taking his right hand inside her left.  "In that case, let's get back to my
office before anyone says anything."

               *              *              *              *

     After introductions had been made between Cameron and Diane, Diane had
taken off for home.  It was already late in the afternoon when Cameron had
arrived, and the floor where Jennifer had her office was almost empty.
     "So, they just found this in a dig?" Cameron asked.  He was examining
the plate, feeling the etched symbols with his fingers.
     "Yeah, it was found at an Italian site, in Ostia.  The location really
doesn't tell us much, because most of the people there figure it had been
moved around area before it finally got buried, given that Ostia was Rome's
sea port," Jennifer explained.  "The date of the midden stratum was sometime
in the first century, which puts it almost a couple of millennia ahead of the
technology required to make a ceramic that hard.  And it was probably made
centuries before the layer in which it was found.  Plus, it's a style of
plate not really in common use until much later."
     Cameron nodded absently.  "Which is why you got it," he said.
     "Which is why we got it," Jennifer agreed.  "Some think it may be one of
the earliest surviving artifacts of people with a Magene, at least leaving
aside 'magic items' that have defied analysis."  Jennifer's tone caught
Cameron's ear, and he looked up at her.
     "Some?  But not you?"
     Jennifer winced slightly and nodded.  "It's the etchings," she
explained.  Cameron's fingers traced the etchings almost unconsciously.
"They're in Linear A, an ancient Minoan script that was dead centuries before
the archeological layer this was found in.  We wouldn't even be able to read
it now if not for the efforts of a time-viewing supernormal."
     "So, what does it say?" Cameron asked.
     Jennifer shrugged.  "There's only two characters: Do- and De-.  Which is
why I thought of you 'Do-ctor De-veloper,'" she replied.
     Cameron rubbed his chin.  It made sense...as much as anything made sense
when dealing with the paradoxically unknown.  "If it's a message for me,
though, why not just use my name?"
     "That's the thing.  I think the message may be for you, but I don't
think Do- and De- are the message," she explained, "That's probably just
there to get your attention.  And Linear A doesn't have the right syllables
to completely spell out 'Doctor Developer' anyway."
     "I suppose it worked in getting my attention," Cameron said.  When
Jennifer showed him which character corresponded to which sound, he began
trying to find a pattern in the spiraling characters.  The more he looked at
it, though, the less it made sense.  It was like trying to read off a
spinning tire.
     "Prototype," Cameron called.  His robot woke up from its hibernation
mode and stepped over from the corner.  "Scan this," he said, aiming the side
with the characters at Prototype's camera-eye.  With a quick double check, he
tapped his right pointer finger on the outer-most character.  "When you're
done, start here, and show me all the characters in a straight line."
Prototype beeped his acknowledgement.
     "He understood all that?" Jennifer asked.
     "I've been working on refining its voice recognition software and trying
to build up its dictionaries," Cameron explained.  "I may have to repeat that
command, but hopefully it got the idea."  Then, with a slightly bitter tone,
Cameron added, "I'm sure Doc Droid or Pragmatician would call it
     Before Jennifer could say anything, Prototype beeped.  He turned away
from the plate and faced one of the empty walls in Jennifer's office.  From
just below his camera-eye, Prototype projected an image of the plate.  After
the plate was projected, the characters on the plate began it glow, each one
in turn as Prototype mapped them out.  Every few seconds, the plate would
grow larger; allowing the two humans watching to see just how far down the
characters went.
     "There must be thousands of those," Jennifer gasped.  "How could someone
write so much with only two characters?  What kind of text it that?"
     "It's a program," Cameron exclaimed.  "Ones and zeroes, Do-'s and De-'s.
Someone wanted me to find that, because they knew I'd recognize the binary."
Jennifer was about to ask a question, but Cameron beat her to the answer.  "I
must have sent it to myself.  At some point, I must get sent back in time,
and this is some kind of message in a bottle.  I knew you'd see the plate,
because...you'd already seen it...from my perspective."
     "Maybe," Jennifer said, biting her lip as she thought back to her own,
recent time travel experience.  That binary message might be like one of Sam
Zimmerman's programmable spells, a message left somehow as a way to bring
Cameron back from the past.  Or not.  "What if it's a trap?" she asked.
     Cameron chuckled, "Why would I leave a trap for myself?"  Prototype
finished mapping the characters just as Cameron finished his question.  Once
the characters were displayed in properly formatted columns on the wall,
Cameron spoke to Prototype.  "Compile those characters into a binary file,
using the first character as 1 and the other as 0."  Moments later, Prototype
made a harsh beeping noise.  "Okay, use the first character as 0 and the
other as 1," Cameron replied.  Tense moments passed, and after a while,
Prototype seemed to go slack.  It didn't fall over; rather its arms and torso
simply went limp.  The display light shining on the wall winked out.
     "Is that normal?" Jennifer asked.
     "No," Cameron mumbled.  He stepped around to Prototype's front, trying
to get a better look at the robot.  Just as he knelt down, Prototype sprang
to life.  Its limp arms went rigid and slammed into Cameron, sending him
crashing into the wall.
     Jennifer hesitated for an instant, trying to decide whether she should
move Cameron or attack his robot.  Moving Cameron was the choice she decided
on, but before she could react, a blinding light shone in her eyes.  She
realized it was Prototype's projector, but it did her no good knowing it.  As
she moved to shield her eyes, she felt a solid burst of energy impact against
her stomach, which sent her reeling.  Another blast hit her squarely in the
chest, and almost instantly the blinding light in Jennifer's eyes was
replaced by darkness.

               *              *              *              *

     As consciousness slowly returned to Jennifer, she became aware that
something was trying to pull her apart by her arms.  It wasn't doing a very
good job, a fact she attributed to her naturally increased strength and
durability, but it was still kind of annoying.
     At first, Jennifer thought she was lying down with her arms splayed out,
and that whatever was pulling on her was doing so from the ground.  However,
as her eyes slowly opened, and she saw the marble floor of the museum below
her feet, she figured she was standing up.  When she saw the cords tied
around her ankles and waist, she decided, no, in fact, she wasn't so much
standing up as she was being held up.
     Once again she felt the tugging on her arms, only this time, she decided
to tug back.  Two quick yanks and not only did the tugging stop but she also
heard someone moaning, or grunting, at her.  That was the first time she
noticed who was also being held up across from her: Cameron.
     Upon seeing him, the pieces immediately fell into place.  Each was
thoroughly tied to their own support column in the museum, held in place at
the ankles, waist and chest...assuming her predicament mirrored Cameron's.
Their arms were pulled out to their sides, connected by some sort of cord
that had been wound through an adhoc pulley system.  Even if her strength was
enough to dislodge the rope, it would either rip Cameron's arm off or break
whatever museum pieces the rope was looped through.
     Cameron had been the one she felt "pulling her apart," and in hindsight
she realized that was likely the only way he had of getting her attention.
Whoever had restrained them...and her most likely suspect was Prototype...
had ensured they weren't going to be calling for help, by way of what looked
on Cameron and felt on her face like an entire roll of tape.  Each.
     She watched Cameron for a moment, trying to see if he was attempting to
pass on any information.  The only message she could decipher from his
hangdog expression was what she already suspected: they were in for a long

               *              *              *              *

     The robot known as Prototype made his way through the docks, using his
built-in radar and motion sensors to avoid detection.  Both of those systems
kept him safe and free from unwanted attention as he traveled across the
city, collecting several items he was programmed to gather as he made his way
to the docks.  The docks had not been programmed specifically, but they ended
up the most logical choice after reviewing several alternatives.
     Prototype was in no hurry to reach his destination.  The only priority
was to avoid detection.  That seemed best served by stowing away on a cargo
vessel, rather than trying to pass himself off as luggage on an international
     When he was sure it was safe to move, Prototype bolted toward one of the
anchored ships, keeping the sack of supplies slung over one shoulder in place
with his arms.  He would still need to get on the ship, but according to the
manifest he'd downloaded earlier, this was the ship that would take him,
eventually, to his final destination.
     This was the ship that would take him to Ibiza.


                                CHAPTER TWO

[January 23, 2025 - Ibiza, Eurasian Union]

     On one heartbeat, it had been a sunny spring early morning, nearly
silent and filled only with the faint smells of effluvium to be expected from
a small town in Roman times.  On the next, it was colder, darker...and much
     "Good, we're close enough to Klub Klastik to lose ourselves in the
chaos," Derek prompted, motioning for Cas to follow him as he pressed a
button on his wristband.
     "No, Triton."
     Derek froze.  "Oh crap.  You think you're him, don't you?"  While the
device rummaged around for the faint sense memories of old "borrowed" powers
in Cas's mind and enhanced them to the point where he could use those powers
one last time, the Engram Enhancer also seemed to overwrite Cas's personality
with his memories of how the power's original holder acted.  Normally, Derek
wouldn't mind that Cas shared his opinion that Taylor was a self-righteous
twit, but it looked like Cas was living that particular nightmare now.
     "You've evaded Justice for long enough, Triton," Cas reached out and
started to increase gravity around Derek, making it difficult to move.  And
difficult to not laugh, the way he practically pronounced the capitalization
of "Justice".  "It's time you were returned to your old cell, murderer."
     "No, it's time we got out of here before we damage the timeline," Derek
countered.  "Or have you forgotten that we're still in our own past, by a
little over a year?  You try putting me in a cell and there's going to be an
awfully confused version of me wondering why from the comfort of Skyhaven."
     Cas paused, conflicting personas momentarily at war.
     "Oh, for..." Derek sighed.  "Prototype, stun him," Derek ordered.
     "What?" Cas started to turn, only to see a crudely humanoid robot
holding a shimmering net in its claw-like hands.  Before Cas could do
anything more, though, Prototype beeped and threw the net over the confused
meta-mirror, stunning him into silence.
     "Come on, Prototype, we need to get out of sight.  The girls will be
here in short order, Nextasie isn't that far off, and I think they'll decide
that an exploding night club is good enough reason to violate the evening's
'treaty lines.'"

               *              *              *              *

     "Ugh," Cas grunted.  "What hit me?"
     "Directly, a stunner net, courtesy of one of the TwenCen's weirder
villains," Derek explained.  "I had to knock you out until the Engram
Enhancer's effects could fade a little, you'd decided you were some parody of
Solar Max and insisted on bringing me to justice."
     Cas shook his head.  "I...vaguely remember that.  And I can still feel
him rattling around the back of my brain, demanding I do the Right Thing and
damn the consequences."
     "Certainly sounds like the JZ I know," Derek smirked, then pulled on a
reproduction of the Minuteman's helmet.  "It looks like the dinner plate
message got through, at least, grab yourself some costuming pieces, we can
use plan B.  Take the stunner net, it'll complete your theme, Retiarius."
     Plan B was to pose as gladiator-themed Vogue Ghouls, Secutor and
Retiarius.  Plan A had been to pretend to be time-displaced actual Romans,
gabble in Latin exclusively, and then try to make it look like they'd gone
back to their own time as a cover for escaping...but given that Glyph was
around, it'd be a much harder sell.  Poser Vogue Ghouls, on the other hand,
were easy.  They infested Ibiza like so many superpowered pigeons, and tended
to change costumes and codenames faster than hemlines could rise and fall in
the mundane fashion world.
     "Interesting," Derek activated the short tube in his hand, and a bright
energy blade sprang out.  "A working replica of Brightsword's laser torch.
Or, more likely, an actual Santari artifact.  I guess Prototype got brought
to the Museum of Science and Industry rather than Lady Lawful bringing my
trap disk to Doctor Developer.  Is that right, Prototype?"
     The robot beeped affirmatively.
     "Good job finding us gear in their collections, then.  This helmet's a
lot better than the one I would have been stuck with otherwise.  Cas, you
     'Retiarius' had put on what Derek recognized as a copy of the first
Brightsword's mask and gloves to go with his otherwise Roman outfit.  "I'm
not stripping down to a loincloth for authenticity," he added.
     "That's fine," 'Secutor' nodded.  "Vogue Ghouls aren't exactly noted for
their careful research skills anyway.  Let's go...if we can make it to the
port before they seal it off, we might be able to get off Ibiza without a
fight scene.  Angel never did tell me what happened that night...this
night...but that doesn't mean we were involved."
     Like Murphy was going to let them off that easily.

               *              *              *              *

     "You two!" Sultry commanded imperiously, gesturing at Derek and Cas.
She apparently didn't consider Prototype worthy of her notice.  "What has
happened here?"
     "Klub Klastik hat geboominated, chere," Cas grunted in rough street
Eurolac.  The less words Derek had to say, the better his own disguise would
hold.  "Nada left, we like'n t'vamanos.  STRAFE gerumored."  With that, the
trio tried to keep heading for Ibiza Town's port before it got hopelessly
jammed with fleeing partiers.
     "Not so fast," TerraStar cocked a blonde eyebrow.  "The earth tells me
you're more than just witnesses to the event."
     Derek curled a lip in annoyance behind his helmet.  Polla, the
TerraStar, was still pretending to be merely a geomantic at this point, but
he'd found out a few weeks down this particular timeline that she was a full
mage, hiding the extent of her powers.  Her actual talents were still unclear
to him, given how events had unfolded in the wake of her attack during his
upcoming wedding.  That had made her a wildcard, and it looked like her
mystic senses were able to tell that he and Cas had been inside a warp
bubble, or were otherwise displaced in spacetime.  Zephirah was limited to
what she could prepare in advance, and he knew from having asked her about
this night's events in the future/past that she hadn't been able to "pack"
any relevant spells.
     However, he also knew that the ladies refused to give details about
exactly what happened that night [in CSV #24 - Ed.], implying that it had
been deeply embarrassing.  As embarrassing as being taken down by two punk
Vogue Ghouls and their tinkertoy, perhaps?
     Pressing a button on one of his wristbands, 'Secutor' hissed to
Prototype, "Execute genetic override, Lanista!"  Naming the robot their
"manager" had been a spur of the moment decision, and Prototype wouldn't
actually respond to the new name yet.  However, it didn't actually need to
execute any commands in this bit of misdirection, and there was a danger in
using *any* Third Age name carelessly.
     Myriad's human form dissolved into a mass of threshing tentacles as she
got his signal...for this wasn't the Myriad everyone expected.  Not anymore.
Or, not purely, at any rate.  Deep inside her was buried a one-shot override,
a piece of her future sister/daughter that would control the Khadamite
genetic experiment completely for the next few minutes before being used up
and absorbed harmlessly into Alpha Rho 14's body.  The Alpha Rho series used
genetic memory rather than a centralized brain, and Derek had equipped his
proxy with a "back door" of sorts, for her to infect her older sister with.
The "how" didn't really matter, as long as it got done...and it had.
     Zephirah and Spiral, unprepared for a surprise assualt from behind, were
knocked out instantly by a sudden onslaught of octopus-like tentacles
grabbing them around their necks and hurling them in opposite directions.
That left only Sultry and TerraStar to deal with.  And it also explained
Spiral's "hickey", Derek noted.
     "Timor' the Kraftbosculator of Retiarius!" Cas shouted, hurling the stun
net over TerraStar while claiming in nigh-impenetrable Eurolac that it was a
power scrambler.  Over two meters tall and full of muscular might, she
probably would only have been moderately annoyed by the net's built-in power,
but Cas used the distraction it provided to mirror-twist Polla's abilities
with his own power.  It was nowhere near what Caprice's power could have
done, but the unexpected amplification of talents she had been hiding for the
previous several months stunned and distracted her as mystic energies burst
out from her eyes and fingertips, searing the ground and blasting several
nearby buildings.
     Sultry, he had insisted on dealing with himself.  As much as it pained
him to have to assault his own once and future wife, Derek knew that Cas
might take a little too much pleasure in the job.  Fortunately, one of the
weapons he'd salvaged from the Strafe armor was a little device he'd come up
with to deal with his wife's occasional temper tantrums.  It had never been
used, although that one time in Monaco he'd been tempted...but he knew it
would work.  
     After all, he'd built it.
     Swinging deliberately wide with his hissing power sword, Derek then
shoved Sultry off her feet with the flat of his forcefield shield.  Before
she could recover her balance and lash out at him with a lightning bolt from
the rapidly darkening skies, Derek unleashed the alpha wave scrambler pulse
from his wristband.  It instantly sent her into a dreaming state while not
actually knocking her unconscious...but she still dropped like a puppet with
her strings cut.  In normal sleep, the body and brain disconnect so that
actions taken in dreams don't act out in the waking world, and Angeline had
never been prone to sleepwalking.  
     And just like that, with only a few seconds' worth of actions, the
distaff side of the Conclave of Supervillains had been neutralized.  True,
they would recover within minutes, if not seconds, but that was all the
opening Derek, Cas and Prototype needed in order to vanish into the
Mediterranean night.
     But first, Derek pulled off his helmet and gave the waking/dreaming
Sultry a deep, passionate kiss.  
     "Are you sure that's a good idea?" Cas asked.
     "Maybe not, but I couldn't resist," Derek grinned, pulling the helmet
back on.  "Let's go," he added, easing Sultry back to the ground and taking
off at a sprint.
     "Well, we know my proxy was born successfully," Derek said once they
were well out of range of the mystic light show Polla was involuntarily
providing.  "Manage to copy anything that will let us get off this island
     "I think I can cast a flight spell that should get us to Mallorca before
the mirroring fades," Cas nodded.  "TerraStar has a truly frightening amount
of power!"
     "Which is why I had to dump her in a warp bubble at my wedding reception
[in CSV #25 - Ed.]," Derek nodded.  "Well, let's go, then.  Hopefully the
rest of the plan went as smoothly as the Myriad sleeper cells did," he



[December 31, 2023 - Over the ruins of Haven]

     Pollux was drowning in the deeps.
     Not only had his link with Castor been severed by the Conclaver in the
"Labyrinthe" armor, but his faceplate had been torn away.  He couldn't hold
on to his remaining air, and he would never reach the surface in time to take
another breath.  Pol felt the seawater choking the life out of him, and
caught a last glimpse of his brother buoyed towards the surface by a sudden
mass of ice.  At least Ymir gave Cas a chance to live....
     To his surprise, translucent tentacles darted through the water from
behind him, binding his arms and legs, and dragged him down and away from the
undersea battle.  He struggled to no avail, helpless as the pseudopods pulled
him past a very familiar floating body...*was it his own*?  
     There was barely time for Pol to register what was happening, as the
tentacles sealed him inside a coffin-like contraption.  Water inside the
tight space quickly subsided as the interior was filled with air.  The
tendrils squeezed his chest and forced the seawater from his lungs, letting
him cough and breathe again.
     But still he could not sense Cas or the thing that had rescued him with
his mind.  Was Cas dead?  All he knew was that the creature was with him here
in the darkness.  Could it be a foul, leftover experiment from the Third Age
heyday of Haven, or another villain?
     "CONCLAVER!" Pol shouted and struggled, guessing at his foe's
allegiance.  "Release me!"
     "If I release you now, you drown as you originally did, Pollux," said a
raspy voice behind his ear.  "I did not become the snake that devours its own
tail only to let you die.  Now, if you will keep an open ear and listen to
what I have to say, all will become clear."
     Though he could not read the creature's intent, Pol grudgingly
acknowledged that were it not for this stranger's intervention, he would
indeed have drowned.  "Who are you?  What are you?  Why can't I sense Cas!"
     "Questions, questions, questions," the voice said.  "For the answers, I
am but a proxy, a friend sent by your brother Castor, or rather, your brother
in his future guise as Aegis, who was stranded in the past.  I know, the
temporal dynamics are confusing, but trust me when I say, I act in Cas's
stead to ensure that you never died in this timeline.  That body you saw will
convince the world, however, that you are dead.  My apologies for the
psi-jammer...it simply will not do if you alert the current version of Cas
that you are alive.  You might fracture the timeline further with myriads of
paradoxes."  The creature chuckled unnervingly at some private joke.
     The mere idea of time-travel was overwhelming, but the lessons in
temporal mechanics at the Institute made Pol quite aware that "Proxy" could
very well be telling the truth.  It made his head hurt, even more so without
his once-constant contact with Cas.  "Why should I believe you?"
     "For a start, I can quote you everything said at your eulogy, to be held
four days and nineteen hours from now," Proxy said.  "I will also tell you
about the truth behind the ASIE burnouts, and the tragedies that have shaped
your brother's life since your death.  He needs you, Pollux of the Dioscuri,
more than you know.  Save him from himself."

               *              *              *              *

[January 8, 2024 - A train passing into Switzerland]

     Pollux ignored the scenery flashing past the train window, knowing what
he would see in a few seconds.  He glanced at his watch again, a habit he
hadn't been able to break since January 5th, the day of his funeral.  It was
1642h, which meant the Vogue Ghouls would come in sixty seconds.  Proxy's
predictions hadn't been wrong yet.
     The shapeshifter sat in the seat next to him knitting a blue baby's
sock, engrossed in her role as his buxom and very pregnant wife.  However,
her belly did not truly hide a child, as one might expect...at least, not in
the strictest sense of the word.  Yes, there was a second brain gestating
within, a blank slate meant to host a copy of Peryton's mind.  It was the
only way to save the Conclaver, Proxy said.  Less than a year from now, Rebus
would betray the Conclave of Super-Villains and implement a scheme to become
a living god, and Peryton would be among the sacrifices powering the rite.
It was an execution that Triton sought to prevent, but even a shapeshifting
clone would not fool Rebus's genius.  The true Peryton must die, but it did
not mean that a copy of Viktor Von Wright's consciousness could not survive
the death of the original.  
     Pol could never perform an exact copying if he was working with a normal
brain, but Proxy's artificially-grown blank made a total transfer possible.
It wasn't the same as saving Peryton for real, but to do anything more
drastic would stress the timeline, perhaps even let Rebus succeed in his
ascension.  Pol shuddered. Rebus had almost killed him...*had* killed him.
He could not risk letting that bastard gain the unopposed powers of a god.
     As for why Cas was working with Triton, of all people, that was the one
thing that Pol had the most trouble understanding.  In a way, though, it was
all Pol's fault that his brother fell into darkness.  If he had been there
for Cas, Cas would not have inadvertently killed their fellow students at the
Institute, used Emp to grasp at power he lost, gone into service for Vatican
City, or risked an alliance with Triton in order to save him.
     ++It's odd,++ Pol communicated telepathically to Proxy.  ++When we were
growing up, my brother and I couldn't get away from the spectre of the
Dioscuri myth.  I was supposed to be Polydeuces, the immortal one, and he the
mortal.  Cas was always afraid his fate would mirror the brother in the myth,
and die before me. Whereas I, I always dreamed I would somehow save Cas from
death one day, and like in the myth, share my 'immortality'.  It's like we've
been through the lookingglass, and now his myth is mine and vice versa.++
     --How true.  Knit one, purl two.  'Lookingglass' might even fit you as a
new handle,-- Proxy thought back.  She continued to knit.
     Pol mulled it over.  ++Aegis and Lookingglass.  A polished shield and a
mirror.  Not bad.++
     --Focus on the task at hand, purl three,-- Proxy warned.  --You must be
ready to copy Peryton's mind at the exact moment of the derailment...casting
off...because that's when their Anchor will drop his guard.-- She put her
knitting down.  --There.  Done.--
     A man rushed past them in the aisle, cursing in "street" Eurolac.  Pol
recognized Hotspur even through the man's own disguise: they'd spent plenty
of time together at ASIE before Harry had gotten himself nearly tossed out on
his ear for brawling with Vogue Ghouls.  The hot streak of polyglot profanity
was as distinctive as a fingerprint.  Apparently the man had gotten his
temper sufficiently under control to be allowed back into the program.  Oni
was supposed to be on the train as well, likely manifesting as a magnetic
ghost already.  He had to be careful, especially with Oni - what if her
astral projection sensed him?  That could be disastrous.  Still, Proxy was
right.  There was a job to do.  Pol lowered his head and scratched at his
false beard as he opened his mind cautiously.
     He sensed the four Vogue Ghouls, and tapped into their trains of
thought.  Elektroschock, a living taser.  Doppelgang, the regenerating man
who could duplicate himself.  Irrlicht, human will-o'-wisp and future
Conclaver.  Strecken, the stretcher.  Pol couldn't help but notice the
similarities of Elektroshock's power to Triton's, and Doppelgang and
Strecken's powers to those of Proxy.  In any event, he watched through their
eyes as Elektroschock and Doppelgang took on Hotspur atop the prison car,
while Strecken and Irrlicht dealt with the EUROPA agents inside.
     As much as Pol wanted to stop Strecken from using his elongated limbs to
strangle Agent Sharma, once again Pol found the need to preserve the timeline
prevented him from acting.  He just wanted this pretense of death to be over
with, but that couldn't happen for nearly two and a half years.  And now, he
was about to put Peryton in the same straitjacket.
     Pol watched through Strecken's eyes as Agent Krieger, the Anchor, locked
himself in the polymer cube with Peryton.  There was no way to read Krieger's
mind while he pushed his Anchor field to cover the entire cube.  That field
also prevented Pol from reading Peryton's mind, but Hotspur would be an
unsuspecting accomplice in dampening that field.
     As 'scripted', Hotspur melted a ring beneath the feet of those on the
roof seconds before they entered a mountain tunnel, sending himself,
Elektroschock and the twinned Doppelgang into the prison car.  Strecken shot
his arm forward and began to strangle the newly-arrived Hotspur, while Pol
touched Hotspur's mind and shoved aside all other thoughts in the man's head
except de-linking and derailing the prison car.  Hotspur likely would have
come up with the thought himself, but Pol wanted to be 100% sure.
     Sure enough, Hotspur focused his powers and melted the connection
between the train and the last car, then melted the wheels on the prison car
and the rails beneath them into slag.  The train derailed, throwing Krieger
against a polymer wall, disrupting his concentration.
     Pol took that opportunity to reach into Peryton's mind and execute a
total download of the Conclaver's entire identity, executing the process as
quickly but as safely as he could.  When he was certain that the Peryton's
pattern had successfully been copied onto the blank brain, he gave it a nudge
into self-awareness.  Deprived of its sensory input, the new Peryton brain
panicked, of course.
     ++I know you can't sense anything right now, Viktor, but Triton says
this is the only way to rescue you from certain death,++ Pol communicated to
the copied mind.  ++Sleep now, and wait to be reborn.  Then all will be
explained to you.++


                             CHAPTER THREE

[February 22, 2025 - The Amazon Basin]

     "Okay.  I'm officially impressed," Derek said as he took in his
surroundings.  "I'd really only been hoping to help one of the tribes weather
the centuries and have some fond memories of me that I could leverage into a
ready labor force," he admitted.  "But this goes WAY beyond my expectations."
     "This" was an immense artificial cavern carved into the bedrock deep
under one of the many tributaries of the Amazon River.  A gleaming golden
city filled the space, and an artificial holographic sky made it seem like it
was up on the surface.  And, at the center of the brick-floored plaza in
which they stood, there was a gleaming golden statue of Triton with the
engraved motto, "Improve yourselves.  Hide away.  Wait for me, I will
     "I am pleased that you approve of our works," the city's Coordinator
bowed slightly.  Like all the people aside from Cas and Derek himself, the
Coordinator was of native Amazonian stock.  Even Proxy had taken on the look
of the locals.  But unlike the residents of the small village on the surface
that concealed the entrance to the city, he wore the latest in tasteful
business attire.
     "Approve?" Derek grinned.  "I'm ecstatic.  My very own hidden city of
gold?  It's like Christmas.  Well, okay, it's your city," he conceded, "and
you're a lot more tuned into the world political situation than I'd expected
you to be, but am I correct in assuming that you'd like to ally yourselves to
     The Coordinator nodded.  "A century ago, we might have welcomed you as a
living god," he admitted, "but despite our isolation we couldn't help but
start picking up telecommunications signals once the outside world reached
that level of technology.  And while we could hardly have been described as
backwards at that point, I do believe we were somewhat...naive.  Our first
contact with European explorers was almost disastrous, in fact, and we were
forced to relocate the entrance to our city and detonate a goodly section of
tunnels to ensure that we weren't found again.  But now that you have
returned as promised so many generations ago, we may now repay our debt.
Consider the city of El Dorado your steadfast allies."
     Cas blinked.  "El Dorado?  Isn't this the wrong part of the world for
that name?"  He was still a bit shellshocked at the whole experience, and
distracted by the promise that Pol would arrive soon.
     The Coordinator chuckled.  "It took us a long time to realize what it
meant.  The Wise One," he nodded to Derek, "included a number of myths and
legends along with his lessons on science and civics, including the legendary
city of gold.  It was the name we supplied to our first visitors, on the
grounds that it *was* a legend, and no one would believe him.  Or so we
thought.  It turned out that it was a legend people were willing to believe
if it meant getting their hands on gold," the Coordinator shrugged.  "Like I
said, we were naive.  Perhaps if the media player that had been gifted to our
tribe had lasted a few more centuries we would have had context for the
subtler lessons contained on it, but it took too long for us to reach that
level of technology, and the original records were lost forever."
     Derek nodded.  "Hey, like I said, you did a lot better for yourselves
than I'd thought possible."  He turned a slow circle, again taking in the
city around them.  "This is *so* 'Zeroth Age,'" he smiled.  "An entire
technologically advanced city under the heart of the Amazon, populated by
people who revere me, if not actually worship me.  So cool."
     "I'm glad you like it," the Coordinator replied, slightly wryly.  "And
Proxy has explained your situation, regarding time travel.  You're welcome to
our hospitality for as long as it takes to avoid 'doubling' yourself, and our
most prominent citizens have been eagerly awaiting the chance to talk to
you...scientists, philosophers, even artists.  But there's two people who
have the first right of meeting, even if they haven't been waiting quite as
long," the Coordinator touched his earlobe, apparently triggering a switch on
some communications implant.  "We're ready," he said to an unseen person,
then gestured to one of the buildings bordering the plaza.
     Derek and Cas turned to the opening door.
     "Viktor!" Derek exclaimed with delight as a handsome European man
stepped out first.  The body Proxy had grown for him did not have the full
shapeshifting range of Proxy's own, but it could still let the new Peryton
switch between his old monstrous form and a fully human body.
     Cas, for his part, said nothing aloud, and almost froze up.  But
telepathically, it was a torrent of greetings and regrets and reminiscences
and, finally, forgiveness as his mind reached out to Pol's.  By the time his
brother emerged onto the plaza, tears filled the eyes of both.
     "Definitely a good day all around," Derek grinned as he clasped Viktor's
hand in his.

               *              *              *              *

[August 27, 2025 - El Dorado, Amazon Bazin]

     "How's that?" Derek asked as he finished one last adjustment on the
robot once known as Prototype.
     "Satisfactory, sir," it replied.  "Internal diagnostics confirm that the
upgraded software is still compatible with my legacy hardware."
     "Good, good," Derek nodded, closing the access ports one by one.  "It's
been an interesting challenge, bringing you up to speed without using any
violation tech or alien hardware...fortunately, your original creator is
still around, and I was able to get my hands on some of his more recent
work.  Still, while most of the core pieces were his, you're not really
Prototype anymore, are you?  I think I'll call you Dr01d-2, how's that?"
     "Satisfactory, sir," came the response.
     Derek frowned.  It still needed something, some spark of personality.
     "If only people could be upgraded as easily," Pol said from the
doorway.  "And to save you asking it, no, my brother isn't really getting any
better.  Being reunited with me has at least stopped more damage from
happening, but..." he held up his hands in a helpless gesture.
     "The Engram Enhancer did that much damage?" Derek furrowed his brow,
Dr01d-2 forgotten for the moment.
     Pol paused, thoughtful.  "Yes and no.  I think it was more of an excuse
than anything else, though.  My 'death' was hard on him, and to find out so
soon after that he'd also killed so many of our classmates by accident, well,
it set him up for some serious mental disorders.  Between his drive for
revenge against you and what I can only guess was some heavy-duty counseling
at the Vatican, he managed to paper over the worst of it for a long time.
But once he agreed to your time-twisting plan, all sorts of unresolved things
started to come unraveled, which I think expressed itself as his..." Pol
paused, casting about for the right word, "it's not a dissociative disorder,
not exactly, but that's the closest thing I can think of from the psychology
courses I took at ASIE," he shrugged.  As a telepath, he'd gotten mandatory
training in that area, but as a field agent it hadn't been a priority once he
got past the basics.
     "You said it's not getting any worse, at least?" Derek said, hopefully.
"Will he be able to hold out until we can come out of hiding next year?  I
shudder to think what might happen if he goes out and meets himself while in
a psychological state not covered in the textbooks."
     "I honestly don't know," Pol admitted after an uncomfortable pause.
"Psychologically, I'm a field medic at best.  My telepathy gives me better
tools than most, but I'm really only trained to deal with damping immediate
shock and trauma, so people can get out of danger and to real help.  And your
sealed society here seems to have selectively bred out a lot of the worse
psychological problems...and no, I don't really want to think of how harshly
they must have dealt with issues like claustrophobia in the early years, even
given the safety valve of the fake village up top...so while they're pretty
advanced in most sciences, they're pretty lost when it comes to mental health
services.  Kind of like how you wouldn't have much use for dentistry if
everyone was bred to be immune to tooth decay."
     "Which they seem to have managed too," Derek noted.  "I think they found
a fungus that kills off the relevant bacteria, actually."
     "Whatever.  The point I'm dancing around is...I love my brother, but I
don't think I can do much more than keep him stable for now.  And as long as
he doesn't want to leave my side, he's got too much telepathic talent for
standard methods to help much, since he'll see all the intent in the
therapist's mind and get a sort of 'nocebo' effect.  I'm only talking freely
now because I know you keep your workshop psi-shielded, on top of that
portable jammer you built into your armor."
     "Yeah, that didn't win me a whole lot of points with Cas, but at the
same time I don't want either of you having free access to my brainmeats," he
tapped the side of his head.  "My secrets are some of my most potent weapons,
and a secret shared is a secret weakened.  Even one shared with a mirror."
     Pol blinked.  "Mirror?  Did Proxy tell you about the 'lookingglass'
comment I made on the train last year?" 
     Derek shook his head.  "Maybe I'll explain it in depth later, if I
decide you're someone I can trust in the role.  In short, though, every
villain needs someone to keep him grounded, a mirror into whom he can look
and see his own flaws.  I know you're only staying here because leaving too
early could derail the timeline, but maybe once you *can* leave, you'll
choose *not* to."
     "I'm not joining the Conclave of Super-Villains, Radner," Pol frowned.
"And neither is Cas."
     "Not asking you to," Derek smiled.  "The world needs more defenders, not
fewer.  And yes, for all my posturing, I consider the Conclave to be
defenders of the world as well...if only to preserve it for ourselves.  But
consider recent events!  A war between the Moslem Confederation and your own
Eurasian Union.  China fragmenting.  The return of the World Serpent and the
rise of an entirely new global power in the form of that minotaur.  Your
brother burned too many bridges...is burning them even now, outside these
walls, to return to EUROPA, and I doubt you'd go back without him.  So why
not pick a different side?  El Dorado has no supernormals, and thanks to the
exaggerated rationality they took from my 'helpful hints', they haven't had
any for generations.  Once we go public, they'll need defenders against
things that their technology can't stop.  And, frankly, the Conclave is
already big enough for what it needs to do.  Why not create your own team,
here in El Dorado?  Friendly to me, naturally.  But not under my command, any
more than the Conclave is anymore."
     "Your offer is tempting," Pol admitted, "as you no doubt spent quite
some time thinking of how to best present it to me.  Of course, I have at
least a half a year to think it over, so you'll understand if I don't give
you an answer now."
     "Naturally," Derek nodded.  "And consider suggesting it to Cas yourself.
I think he's really been looking for something to protect, if you'll excuse
my utterly amateur psychoanalysis.  Why else name himself Aegis?"

               *              *              *              *

[April 15, 2026 - El Dorado, Amazon Basin]

     Several of the feeds Derek was watching went dead, as all normal
communication from inside Monaco was cut off by the mysterious timeline
splitting that had interrupted the Prix Ultime [In ASH #77 - Ed.].  Soon, his
past self would walk semi-knowingly into the trap that had stranded him in
Roman times, healing the damage currently being done to spacetime...he hoped.
Once that happened, those feeds would theoretically come back up, giving him
more visual information.  Until then, the passive gravity sensors lining the
tunnels of El Dorado would have to be enough.
     Nor was he alone in the observation room.  Both Cas and Pol were
watching, each hoping for different reasons that everyone in the fractured
timeline would survive its reintegration.  Viktor was present as well...for
all his bluster on the subject, he had come to consider Conflicto his friend,
and the fact that Derek knew him to be dead in at least one of the four
strands of Monaco's timeline [See CSV #27 - Ed.] worried Viktor.
     "Okay, starting to get data on the time split," Derek announced, looking
at one of the many screens displaying abstracted scientific information.
"When I triggered this trap, the leading theories were that it was an
uncharacteristically not-horribly-killing-me plot by Rebus, or that TerraStar
was trying to free her body from the warp oubliette in Monaco and was just
being messy about it.  The years I've had to think about it haven't really
suggested any new suspects, but I'm more firmly convinced that Rebus isn't
behind it."
     "Especially since you're not dead here either," Pol noted.
     "Exactly," Derek nodded.  "If Rebus had managed to return to the mortal
plane, he would have known there were two of me, and couldn't resist doing
something nasty to at least one of us.  Even if he needed me alive for some
plan or other, he'd know there's a spare.  Viktor, what's your take on this?"
     The angularly handsome German furrowed his brow.  "Why are you asking
     "I want to get your uncluttered perspective on this," Derek replied.
     "Oh, so you want an idiot's opinion," Viktor sighed.
     Derek shook his head.  "You've got brains enough in your head, Vik, even
if you prefer to come across as either a vapid model or a mindless beast.
But what you don't have is the kind of twisty way of thinking that I come to
naturally, and that both Cas and Pol have picked up over time.  We'll tend to
miss the forest for the trees, because we're already thinking of how we can
finish the cabinet we'll make from the logs milled from the trees we've
decided to chop down.  So...what do you make of this forest?"
     Viktor thought for a moment, apparently mollified.  "I agree, Rebus
wouldn't have left you alone.  For that matter, he might have gone after me,
on the off chance that my being alive would somehow affect the ritual he cast
last year.  But I don't think it's TerraStar either.  There's loads of ways
to pop one of those..."
     "Oubliettes," Cas supplied.
     "Right, oubliettes," Viktor nodded.  "A lot of ways to pop them that
don't require this level of...overkill.  Either splitting Monaco has to be a
goal in itself, or whoever's behind this is playing for such high stakes that
this is a *small* side effect.  Okay, you can't completely discount the idea
that they're being stupidly flashy and risking the end of the world just to
show off how great they are, but TerraStar has always struck me as wanting to
keep her cards hidden.  And these people are showing off the ten, jack, king
and ace of spades, daring us to assume they don't also have the queen."
     Derek nodded.  "Good, I was thinking about the same thing.  I think we
have an entirely new player or set of players at the table in Monaco, to be
honest.  No one I know about who *could* do that," he gestured at the feeds
showing a mirrored dome where Monaco once stood, "*would* play things this
way.  If there's another copy of Doublecross around it might fit his style,
but he's never been strong on gravitics.  And, unfortunately, nothing in the
data so far is pointing at anyone else we know about.  That means we're not
going to be able to just pop up hale and hearty as soon as my past self goes
into the dome."
     "Why not?" Cas asked, stress fracturing his voice noticeably.
     "We need to use the time loop to our advantage," his brother replied.
"As long as we don't reveal ourselves, our unknown enemy thinks me and Viktor
dead, you and Triton stranded.  If we just jump out there now, we lose a
potentially vital advantage."
     "I know you're itching to get out there," Derek nodded to Cas, with the
unspoken addition, "to see if Arc is okay."  "I'm not eager to let my wife
think I'm dead, but we don't know what capabilities our foes have.  If they
have a telepath, for instance, they might be eavesdropping to see if any of
our comrades know if we survived."
     "We also need to know if the city should build additional defenses," Pol
added.  "If they're willing to split Monaco, they'd certainly have no qualms
about carpet-bombing the Amazon Basin if we decide to reveal the existence of
El Dorado...."
     Silently, everyone nodded agreement, and Derek went back to monitoring
the gravimetric data.

     A few hours later, no one was any happier with the situation, but they
shared a grim determination.
     "I'm done hacking the DSHA systems," Derek announced, "and the data I've
dug up confirms my suspicions.  Whoever these four are," he gestured to
freezeframe images of Anhydra, Talos, Chiaroscuro and Matrioshka, "they're
not from our time.  The splitting of Monaco has components that clearly match
readings taken from temporal incursions during the 1990s."
     "As if we needed that data," Pol pointed to a Terran News Network feed
showing a dinosaur rampaging through an Italian city.  "Time has definitely
been broken."
     "Yes, but the new information supports a hypothesis I've been mulling
over," Derek countered.  "These people are not from *our* future.  Not
anymore.  They're from a divergent timeline, and they were trying to connect
our timeline back up to theirs, for some reason.  They must believe in a more
linear flow of time than I do...and they could be right.  There may only be
room in reality for so many divergences, and if one falls below a certain
level of viability it simply ceases to exist.  So they were trying to keep
their own future alive at the expense of whatever was going to come of ours."
     "Does that make them heroes or villains?" Viktor asked, ignoring the
metaphysics and getting to the important question.
     "What it makes them," Derek grinned ferally, "is *competition*.  And we
can't reveal ourselves until we know more about them...."

               *              *              *              *

[June 12, 2026 - El Dorado, Amazon Basin]

     "...and I promise I'll tell you everything soon, Angeline," Derek said,
all alone in the communications room.  The others were all getting ready for
the big broadcast, but he hadn't wanted his loved ones finding out about his
survival from that.  They deserved to hear it from him directly first, if
only "first" by such a short time that it wouldn't compromise any operational
security.  "Assuming the Impossible Five don't respond to my return by
immediately nuking the entire Amazon Basin or something."
     "I'll hold you to that promise even if they do reduce half the continent
to slag," Sultry replied, the glimmer in her eyes portending an evening of
passion...both the good kind and the bad kind, as was often the case with his
literally tempestuous wife.
     "Make sure everyone gets and reads the files I sent.  Especially Eugene
and Yvan."
     "Why them?" Sultry asked.
     "Eugene because he's still enough of a little kid at heart to not want
to do his homework, and he needs to know about everything I've dug up on our
rivals from the future.  The Impossible Five have been spreading out while
you all were kept busy by the temporal fallout of the Monaco incident,
recruiting 'franchises' from the sort of people we'd really rather have on
our side than theirs."  Fortunately, one of the people *was* on Derek's side,
a mole in the Impossible Five franchise.  But that wasn't something he was
going to mention over anything but the most secure of channels, which this
wasn't.  "And Yvan because, well...I have a bad feeling about Chiaroscuro.
And I think it's going to be a personal matter for Yvan."
     "Very well.  Have fun boasting to the world, dear," Sultry smiled wryly,
as if she were sending her husband off for a night of bowling with his
buddies.  Then again, given their family, it wasn't a bad comparison.  Let
Joe Sixpack keggle...Derek's social circle was more about the game of global
politics.  And he was aiming to pick up one hell of a spare in a few minutes.
     "I'll see you soon," Derek promised again, then signed off.  Noticing a
stray lock of hair in his reflection on the now blank screen, he patted it
back into place before leaving the room.
     After all, he had to look his best for the cameras.
     Cas and Pol, in their new El Dorado-crafted armors, were already on the
"set" in the city's central plaza, newly built from gold-infused ceramic
bricks some distance from the statue of Triton.  Peryton waited out of camera
to dramatically swoop down when his cue came.
     Derek flexed his gauntlet, feeling its new circuitry almost as an
extension of his own hand, and sent current into it.  Waveguides based on
reverse-engineering the Santari power torch that had once been Brightsword's
weapon shaped the electricity into a roiling trident shape, and he nodded
approval.  The rest of the armor's reconditioning had been a simple
matter...even two millennia of sitting in the ground hadn't done irreparable
damage to the otherworldly artifact.  Nestling his helmet under one arm, he
took his mark and looked into the camera.
     "We are hooked into Terran News Network feeds," the El Doradan tech
confirmed.  "Live in three, two, one...."
     "I am Chancellor Derek Radner of Khadam, Triton of the Conclave of
Super-Villains, and I have seen Death and lived...."


     This story featured....

Derek Radner        Triton              Electrical generation, super-science
Cas Ierulli-Kiris   Aegis               Magene Mirror
Pol Ierulli-Kiris   Lookingglass        Telepathy
Alpha Rho 15        Proxy               Shapeshifting
Viktor Von Wright   Peryton             Monstrous strength, wings
Prototype           Dr01d-2             Non-supertech AI-driven Robot


Cameron McKay       Doctor Developer    "Normal" Inventive Genius
Jennifer Blair      Lady Lawful         Super-strength, speed, durability
Angeline Croft      Sultry              Weather Control
Alpha Rho 14        Myriad              Shapeshifting
Anna Kirova         Spiral              Telekinetic Torque
Polla               TerraStar           Geomancy
Zephirah Reuben     Glyph               Magical Sigils



     Andy Burton wrote the first Intermission.
     Tony Pi wrote the prologue, most of the first scene of Chapter One
(adapted from CSV #28), and the second Intermission.
     Dave Van Domelen wrote everything else.


Authors' Notes:


     Gracious thanks go to Dave and Tony for letting Lady Lawful and Doctor
Developer be a part of their story arc.  It's an honor and a privilege to
have a chance to be a part of something like ASH, CSV, etc.  It's also pretty
darn fun, too!


     As a writer, sometimes you leave plot points unresolved when you write
them, for a reason even you don't even know at the time.  That was the case
with the Bachelorette Night on Ibiza, when the women of CSV never revealed
what happened to them that night.  When Dave suggested one way for Triton to
return being a warp oubliette that needed to be popped, he originally planned
for it to happen at Angel Falls during Triton and Sultry's wedding.  However,
I realized that the Bachelorette Night provided a much better opportunity,
and we were able to finally explain what happened.  Cool synchronicity.
Revisiting past scenes was also fun in a 'Back to the Future' way.


     For those who don't recall it, "street Eurolac" is an aggressive blend
of various European languages adopted by youths of lower socioeconomic
classes as slang, largely seen in the dialogue of EUROPA member Hotspur.
There was a lot of forced relocation in the hard years following the
"Godmarket Crash", and kids often ended up in mixed national and ethnic
groups during their formative years.  Official Eurolac is a much more orderly
attempt at a single official language for the Eurasian Union, and the gutter
pidgin is mainly called Eurolac in mockery of the official language.  Eurolac
is also what happens when you have linguists in the authorial corps.  ;) Cas
himself was channelled into ASIE and its predecessor programs quite early,
though, and is not a "native" Eurolac speaker, picking up only a little from
Hotspur...fortunately, faking it is almost as good as really knowing street
Eurolac, given its nature.  However, this faking is why he uses "Kraft" for
(supernatural) power, rather than the more generally accepted "Feuer"
(literally, fire).  That, and I liked the sound of "Kraftbosculator" better

     El Dorado was originally going to be just a modest thing, a small
surviving tribe with legends of the "horned one" (the Strafe armor has horns)
who could be used to give Derek a "Castle Zemo" sort of lair in the Amazon.
But in mulling over how they might retain memories of him for 1900+ years and
also not get nailed by the Godmarket Crash, I considered that maybe they'd
become rational scientist types by 1998 thanks to some lessons left behind on
a media player in 81 C.E. by Derek...and it snowballed from there.
     Obviously, El Dorado has a very large target painted on it.  Either the
Impossible 5 don't know about it, and will try to eliminate it as an unknown
variable, or they DO know about it and will try to co-opt it as soon as
possible.  But there's a danger in having them act too quickly, as there's a
rather annoying cliche in a lot of SF/F stories: whenever the protagonists
get a useful new thing, it gets sacrificed or destroyed very quickly to avoid
upsetting the status quo.  Stargate Atlantis is particularly horrible in this
respect.  "We got a hive ship!  And, um, had to crash it into something.  We
got an Ancient warship!  And it blew up.  We found a spare ZPM!  And have to
devote it to some plot device right away, using it up entirely.  We have a
way to cure the Wraith!  But it's only temporary."  That sort of thing.  So
I'd rather not have El Dorado go boom too quickly, thanks.  ;)

     Finally, Tony doesn't want to toot his own horn, but in addition to
being a Writer of the Future winner, he has a story up for consideration in
Canada's "Prix Aurora" F/SF competition, called "Metamorphoses in Amber".  It
can be found at http://www.abyssandapex.com/200710-amber.html (it's no Prix
Ultime, but at least there's a much lower chance of getting split into four
distinct timelines).


     I'm not an author, although this is to a large extent MY story, so to
the extent that any of us can be considered the author of our own fate, I'm
an author on this tale.  
     I'd just like to thank those who voted for me in the 2007 RACCies and
helped me win "Favorite Villain/Antagonist".  And if you didn't?  Then you


     For all the back issues, plus additional background information, art,
and more, go to http://www.eyrie.org/~dvandom/ASH !

     To discuss this issue or any others, either just hit "followup" to this
post, or check out our Yahoo discussion group, which can be found at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ash_stories/ !

     There's also a LiveJournal interest group for ASH, check it out at


More information about the racc mailing list