[ASH] The Reverse Engineers #1 - The Kid's All Right

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Tue Mar 18 12:20:37 PDT 2008

Author: Andy Burton

     The cover shows a graying Doctor Developer hunched over his workbench,
examining some piece of technology.  To his right, a dark-haired little girl
seems to be on the verge of tears as he ignores her.  To his left, a ghostly
image of Lady Lawful wears a sad expression, but because of her mask it's
impossible to tell if she's looking at Doctor Developer or at the little

 .|, COHERENT COMICS PRESENTS             An ASH Universe Story
 '|`   THE REVERSE | ESREVER EHT          #1 - The Kid's All Right
        ENGINEERS  |  SREENIGNE           copyright 2008 by Andy Burton

[August 4, 2016 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]

     Moira Zimmerman knew she was smart.  She'd graduated from her college
with honors, and she knew Object Pascal inside-and-out.  Given a decent
computer, enough coffee, and a reasonable deadline, she could program any
kind of application you could ask her to write.  Back, before the Crash,
she'd been the lead engineer an several projects, designing software to run
atop numerous platforms, some that obeyed the lays of physics and some that
     However, when Cameron McKay, the semi-reformed villain Doctor Developer,
someone she thought of as being as close as family, cut loose, she knew the
most she could offer to the conversation was her attention.  For the first
few years after the Crash, it wasn't as bad.  It had taken a while for him to
grieve for Jennifer, his wife, so for a while he didn't cut loose at all.
Sometime around the third year, though, he began explaining his projects.
For a few years, that meant nodding, Mm-hm'ing, and asking questions.  Then
something both unexpected and remarkable happened: *Sam* began asking
     Samuel Patrick Zimmerman, or Spaz as she liked to call him, would ask a
question, and Cameron would answer without missing a beat.  Moira was never
sure how much Spaz really understood during those first times, but over the
years she realized her son had some how slipped into the role of Apprentice
Mad Scientist.  His and Cameron's discussion would often lead to them
disappearing into the workshop for hours, only to come out with some new
invention that they'd put together.
     With society still rebuilding, it wasn't like Spaz was missing school
when he and Cameron worked together.  In fact, Moira couldn't really imagine
a better curriculum for a child conceived before the Crash but born into the
middle of it.  Mad Science, as it were, taught Spaz fundamentals like
reading, writing, and math.  It often branched off into history lessons, with
Cameron explaining who people like Isaac Newton and Nikolai Tesla were, as
well as political lessons, with Cameron explaining how to manipulate city
governments with doomsday weapons...something that Moira made a point to
counter at the end of the day.
     By the time 2014 rolled around, and Cameron brought Rachel, Ralph, and
Scarlet back from the ruins of California [T.R.E. #0 - Ed.], he'd done such a
good job mentoring Spaz that the apprentice, in many ways, became a master in
his own right.  Both Ralph and Scarlet were young enough, bright enough, or
some combination of the two, that when Spaz would demonstrate one of his own
creations, their questions would lead down a familiar path, sometimes even
luring Cameron in to it.  At that point all four would engage a bit of
impromptu Recent Historical Reenactment, and they disappear into their own
     Moira couldn't help but enjoy watching the majority of her adhoc family
during their collective fugue states.  Partly she felt a bit at peace
knowing, despite the loss of Will, her husband and Spaz's father, that her
son did have a figure who was everything a father should be helping him grow.
She also enjoyed watching Spaz in those moments, because he reminded her of
both Will and herself.  As a mage Will had had his own language as well as
his own projects that he worked on when inspiration struck, just like she had
her work.  Knowing that the apple didn't fall from the tree always gave Moira
a feeling of contentment.
     Seeing Ralph and Scarlet assimilating did her good as well.  She had
worried, when they first arrived, that being orphaned and displaced might
negatively affect them.  However, between Cameron's unorthodox ways of
parenting, Spaz readily accepting them as his siblings and students, and
(Moira liked to think) her own stabilizing ability to deal with children (and
adults) who were as happy making real robots as most kids were playing with
toy robots.  The only one she really worried about was Rachel.
     Rachel Torres, the oldest of hers and Cameron's three foster children,
didn't have a knack for the super-sciences, although not for lack of trying.
She had the Magene that let her operate super-technology, but she lacked
either the true interest or the mad spark that her other three "siblings"
seemed to have.  Most of the time it didn't bother her.  Rachel seemed
content either playing on her own or keeping Moira company.  Other times,
though, Moira could see how much Rachel wanted to be part of the group.
     It was made worse by the fact that Rachel seemed to think of herself as
something of a sidekick to Cameron.  Sometimes when Cameron was working
alone, Moira would catch Rachel slipping into his lab.  Once there, she would
sit quietly until Cameron asked for a tool, at which point Rachel assumed the
role of nurse to Cameron's doctor.  Unfortunately this dynamic only seemed to
work when the other three were otherwise involved in their own projects.  As
soon as one of the other kids entered the lab, the same scenario would play
out...a scenario that made Moira want to kick Cameron in the head, if she
thought he were capable to understanding her message.
     When presented with the choice of working with one of his prodigies or
with Rachel, Cameron always seemed to forget Rachel was even around, and in
the end Rachel would storm out either furious or in tears.  On one of the
occasions Rachel left in tears, Moira followed after her.  She had half a
mind to yell at Cameron along the way, but seeing him with the others, who
were showing off some new gadget, she decided to wait.  At some point, if
Cameron's head stayed as thick as it was, it would be up to the others to
include Rachel, but she wanted to try and make Cameron be the adult first.
     When Moira caught up to Rachel, she was already curled up on her bed,
sniffling.  As Moira stepped into Rachel's room, the girl said matter-of-
factly, "Doctor McKay doesn't like me."  It caught Moira off guard, but
before she could reply, Rachel continued, "I'm not smart enough for him to
like me."
     At first Moira didn't reply.  Instead, she sat on the edge of Rachel's
bed and stroked the girl's dark hair.  She wasn't sure exactly what to say.
Until she could confront Cameron about it, she wasn't sure what she should
say.  Ultimately, though, she knew she had to say something.
    "Did you know that Cameron...Doctor McKay...used to be a bad guy?"  Moira
     That caught Rachel's attention.  "Really?"
     Moira nodded.  "He used to rob banks and build traps, all kinds of nasty
     "Why doesn't he do it any more?" Rachel asked.  She slowly sat up, which
gave Moira enough room to slide back onto the bed.
     "He met a really nice lady, and she convinced him to be a good guy."
     "Was it you?" Rachel asked.
     "Oh, no, not me," Moira replied, "I was married to Spaz's father,
William."  Rachel nodded, remembering the stories Moira had shared as a way
to keep William's memory alive for Spaz.  "Cameron's wife's name was
Jennifer, she was the one who got him to be a good guy and who asked him to
watch out for me and Spaz."
     "I bet he let her help him when he was working on something," Rachel
said dejectedly.
     "You'd think that," Moira replied, shaking her head, "but he didn't.
They got into a big fight once.  He used one of his traps on her, trying to
run her out of the lab."  At this Rachel's eyes grew wide.  "But they
eventually made up.  Just because Cameron is kind of a jerk when he's
working, it doesn't mean he doesn't like you."

               *              *              *              *

     "I don't like her, Moira," Cameron whispered.
     It was after the kids had all gone to sleep that Cameron had come out of
his lab and sat down with Moira.  Ever since Spaz was little, they'd fallen
into the habit of grabbing some "adult time" after the boy was in bed.  It
was usually only a few minutes.  They would share a pot of coffee, discuss
the events of the day, and for a short period of time, both act like adults:
no children, no mad science, and no end of the world.
     Whether Cameron had been eavesdropping or was finally fed up with
Rachel, he picked that evening to get his feelings off his chest.  His
admission stung worse than Moira ever imagined it would.
     "You can't mean that, Cameron," she countered.  "You get along great
with Spaz and the others, I refuse to accept that."
     "You can refuse it all you want," Cameron replied, "but that doesn't
change how I feel."  He stared at his mug silently for a minute.  "I think it
might be best for everyone here if I talked to some of my contacts and looked
into getting her transferred into the Academy.  Her Tesla ratings are high
enough that I'm sure..."
     "Cameron Dante McKay, look at me!" Moira snapped.  Cameron's head jerked
up for a moment, just long enough to make eye contact with Moira, and then he
turned away.  "Any other time, I'd put up with your Mad Scientist, Hurt Wolf
routine, but not now.  Not when we're talking about a child's life.  If you
want to send her away, you best have a damn good explanation."
     For a moment, Moira expected Cameron to walk away.  The few times she'd
raised her voice to him in the past, that's what he'd done.  Walked away,
spent a week playing hermit, but eventually he would come back and they'd
reach some compromise.  It was a surprise when she heard him quietly say:
     "She reminds me of Jennifer."  He was quiet for a minute before
continuing.  "Her Tesla Index profile is almost an exact copy of Jennifer's.
She's always hanging around me in the lab, like Jennifer.  I can't..."
     He broke off.  "I can't be around her."
     For a minute Moira was silent.  She knew what she needed to say, for
both Rachel and Cameron's sake.  However, it didn't make saying it any
easier.  Moira steeled herself as she spoke, "Do you think Jennifer would
want you to send her away?"
     Once again Cameron's eyes jerked up so that he was looking into Moira's
own.  This time he didn't immediately look away, which gave Moira time to fix
him with a knowing stare.  Cameron eventually broke away, drained his coffee
cup, and stormed away.
     Moira sighed as she watched him vanish into the shadows of the ex-lair
they now called home.  She hated invoking Jennifer's name in such a way, if
for no other reason than out of respect for the departed, but sometimes her
appropriated "WWJenD" framework was the only thing that could penetrate
Cameron's combination of grief, stubbornness, and maladjusted social skills.
She just hoped it would work this time.

               *              *              *              *

[August 5, 2016 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]

     Moira made a point of keeping close to Rachel the next morning.  Cameron
wasn't sure if that was because of what he did...or maybe failed to do...to
Rachel the day before or what he said the Moira the night before.  Whatever
it was, whenever he tried to talk to Rachel, somehow Moira was always around
to hustle her away.  Cameron grudgingly admitted it was a fair reaction,
maybe Moira thought with enough time his mind would change.  Whatever her
plan was, he needed to talk to Rachel, and if that meant talking with Moira
as well...so be it.
     Cameron shuffled toward the kitchen, in no real hurry to actually
arrive.  Just as he reached what he and Moira had designated years ago as the
kitchen area, which was really just the area where he'd installed several
kitchen appliances and counters back after their move from Chicago, Moira
greeted him.
     "Hello, Cameron.  Out for a stroll?"  Her voice wasn't precisely warm
and welcoming, but it wasn't angry.  Rachel on the other hand didn't even
speak, she refused to look up from the table at him.  If Moira hadn't already
been sitting next to Rachel at the table, he was pretty sure she would have
sat down next to the girl at that moment to emphasize her protective stance.
Since she *was* already sitting, Moira simply reached out and squeezed
Rachel's shoulder.
     "Uh, actually, yes...and no," Cameron replied.  "I actually wanted to
talk to Rachel...if that's okay."  He looked at Rachel, who in turn looked at
     "It's up to you, Rachel," Moira told the girl.  She looked up at
Cameron, who tried to smile reassuringly.  "I don't think it could hurt,
though."  After a moment, Rachel slowly looked up at Cameron.
     "Rachel, I...."  He stopped and pulled out an empty chair from the
table, so he was sitting next to Rachel and across from Moira.  "Rachel, I
need to apologize to you.  I...have been kind of rude to you lately, and
there's no excuse for it."  He paused for a minute, heaved a sigh, and
continued, "You remind me of someone I used to...that I still care about,
Rachel, and it's hard thinking about her now that she's gone."
     "You mean Jennifer?" Rachel asked.
     Cameron nodded.  "But Moira told me something last night that made me
realize that however you may remind me of Jennifer, you're not her...and if
she caught me being rude to you because of that, she'd be mad at me."
     He looked over at Moira, who seemed to be paying attention, but kept a
neutral expression.  "So, I'm sorry if I've been rude to you."
     For a moment, the three fell into silence, which was only broken when
Moira nudged Rachel's shoulder.  "And what do you say to someone who
apologizes, Rachel?"
     Rachel thought for a minute before answering, "It's okay."  Rachel
looked up at Cameron for a minute before adding, "I'm sorry you miss
Jennifer.  I miss my parents too."  Cameron thought he saw tears welling up
in Rachel's eyes, but she wiped them away before they managed to leak out.
     "When I was thinking about Jennifer last night," Cameron continued,
pausing to figure how best to say what he needed to say next, "I got to
thinking about you, and how if Jennifer were still around, I think...I know
she'd like you, Rachel.  She always thought it'd be nice to have a daughter."
Something about the suggestion seemed to catch Rachel's attention, and she
looked raptly at Cameron.
     "I was thinking," he continued, "you're not ever going to replace
Jennifer for me, and I'm never going to replace your parents for you, but
what if we worked on figuring out something new.  I can kind of be like your
dad, and you can kind of be like the daughter Jennifer wanted us to have.  Do
you think we could make that work?"
     Rachel nodded slowly.  "Yes."
     Moira chimed in, smiling at Cameron, "That sounds rather nice, Cameron."
     "Thanks," he said just a bit too quickly, "but that's not quite all I
wanted to ask Rachel."  Cameron reached into his coat, fishing around one of
the deep, inside pockets.  "If Jennifer had a daughter," he said, "she would
have wanted her to have something of hers, and since you're going to kind of
be like that, I wanted you to have it."
     Cameron pulled the golden Enhancement Belt out of his coat, and offered
it to Rachel.  Rachel extended her hand, accepting the belt from him.  As
Cameron released it, the belt slowly shimmered in Rachel's hands.  "I think
it likes you," he said.  Rachel smiled at the belt, almost giving off her own
     Without any prompting, Rachel hopped out of her chair and wrapped the
belt around her waist.  The belt was several sizes too large for Rachel's
frame, but she managed to angle it so it wouldn't fall down as she admired
how it looked on her.  "Does this mean I get to be...?" she trailed off, not
knowing Jennifer's heroic name.
     "Lady Lawful," Moira told her.
     "Lady Lawful, the third, actually," Cameron interjected. "Jennifer's
mother was the first Lady Lawful.  Jennifer was Lady Lawful, the second."
     "Lady Lawful, the third," Rachel said to herself, rolling the name off
her tongue.  "Would it be okay if I left off that last part?  It's easier to
say that way."
     "I think that'll be okay, Rachel," Moira said.  "Jennifer didn't use
'the second' very often either."  Rachel turned around, trying to watch the
belt spin as she did.  "You know, Cameron, you may want to adjust that belt a
little, before 'Lady Lawful' here trips over herself.
     "That's probably a good idea," Cameron agreed.  "Want to go to my lab
and fix it, Rachel?"  He stood up from his chair.  "And when we're done, if
you want to hang around, we can work on some of those upgrades to Prototype
you were helping me with yesterday."
     Rachel stood at attention and threw a salute to Cameron.  After he waved
her at ease, the two of them headed for his lab.  Rachel lead the way,
keeping at least one hand on her belt at all times.  As they walked away,
Cameron looked back at Moira and caught her beaming at him, smiling from
     He knew she was right making him ask how Jennifer would have handled
Rachel, and while he wasn't absolutely sure this was what Jennifer would have
done in his place, as he watched Rachel grin up at him, he decided it was
what she would have wanted him to do.

               *              *              *              *

[May 10, 2026 - Detroit, Michigan Sector]

     "Rachel," Spaz said both tenderly and firmly, "He needs time alone.
Talk to him later, but right now...the last thing he needs is to see another
Lady Lawful."
     Rachel shook her head.  "You're wrong, Spaz," she said.  Without waiting
for any approval, she grabbed the handle and let herself into the small
observation room.  Even before she saw Doctor McKay's shaking form, she heard
him crying.  He was still sitting in one of the first row chairs, right next
to the window, but if he curled any far forward, Rachel worried he might
pitch himself onto the floor.
     Rachel had played the roles both of Lady Lawful and of Doctor McKay's
sidekick for almost five years.  In that time she'd known Doctor McKay to
mourn for Jennifer, and every once in a while he would shed a tear for her.
She had never seen him bawling like he was now, shaking and snorting as if he
were in physical pain.  It was a sight that stunned her into stillness.
After a moment, when she'd collected herself, it became a sight that drove
her to walk across the room and lay a hand on his back.
     Doctor McKay looked up at Rachel when she made contact.  "Rachel," he
managed to say between snuffles, "I just need to be alone.  I knew she went
forward, but she never told us what she saw...I never...I didn't think I'd
lose her ag...again."  That was all he managed to say before breaking down in
tears.  Rachel didn't wait for any prompting before she hopped over the back
of the seats and sat down next to Doctor McKay, wrapping an arm around him.
     She wasn't sure what she should say.  She didn't want to offer any false
platitudes like "It will all be okay."  She knew as well as Doctor McKay that
he was sending Jennifer back to a certain death.  That was the hardest part,
and she knew it.  From the moment they detected Jennifer and her belt in
Chicago [LL&DD #4 - Ed.], she knew Doctor McKay was trying to work some
angle, any angle, to save her.  Rachel's offer to go back in her place had
been the only plan he dismissed without even considering.
     After hours of the most intense thinking she'd ever witnessed, Rachel
had been present when Doctor McKay gave up hope.  He hadn't broken down, like
his current state, but she saw the look of hopelessness in his eyes when it
came down to a choice between a few minutes with Jennifer and no time at all.
Somehow he'd managed to get through their reunion, but whatever strength had
fueled him during that meeting was now gone.
     When nothing came to Rachel after several minutes of trying to think of
some comforting words, she leaned into Doctor McKay and squeezed him as tight
as she safely could.  "I know I can't replace Jennifer, Doctor McKay, but..."
she stopped, trying to decide how to finish her statement, "but I wish I
     That much was true.  She didn't know how to say in a way that didn't
feel like an empty gesture...because she knew it was an empty gesture...but
she knew that given the option of exchanging Jennifer's life with her
own...it would only begin to repay Doctor McKay for everything he'd done for
her and Ralph and Scarlet.
     Slowly, Doctor McKay's crying slowed.  He sat back up, moving his arm
closest to Rachel so that her hand ended up between his.  Once he was up, she
could see that despite his red eyes and tear-stained cheeks, he was smiling.
"You know, even if we had let you take her place, she would have refused it."
Doctor McKay sniffled.  "She'd have said something like she had to go back,
and you needed to stay here...probably to make sure I stayed out of trouble.
     "I know you meant it Rachel.  It's hard losing Jennifer twice, but...I
had my time with her."  Doctor McKay took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
He squeezed Rachel's hand, and she squeezed back.  "Now it's time for
something different.  We can't replace the one's we lost..."
     "But we can be something new," Rachel finished.  Rachel leaned over and
rested her head on Doctor McKay's shoulder.  For a while the two sat quietly.
After a time, when Doctor McKay finished sniffling and she felt him squeeze
her hand again, Rachel asked, "What was Jennifer like?  I mean...I'd love to
hear about her, the two of you."
     Doctor McKay nodded.  "From the beginning?" he asked.
     "The first time I met Jennifer, I was still working here in Detroit.
She'd followed me to an abandoned warehouse, where I'd laid a trap for


Next Issue: 

     Okay, so now you've seen Moira, Rachel and the older Doctor Developer
growing up and growing old, but what about the other half of this little
post-nuclear family?  In The Reverse Engineers #2, "Forbidden Foo," it's time
for Spaz, Scarlet and Ralph to get some of the limelight!


Author's Note:

     Augh.  Too much angst!  Sorry 'bout that folks.  This piece is kind of a
bridge, pulling together the Doctor Developer that was and the Doctor
Developer that needed to be.  Now that it's done, hopefully T.R.E. can begin
its way down the road toward hedonistic techophoria as we see what became of
Detroit under the guiding hand of Doctor Developer.


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