All Of The Lights On Over Every Boy And Every Girl
came for her at night, after everyone in the house was asleep.
had had a hard day – she always had a hard day – and was dreaming
– the same dream that had recurred so many times over the past
three years or so. Dreams of her involved in an adventure like the
manga she loved so much, or the comic books she'd used to read, or
the superhero roleplaying games she'd used to play with some of her
friends, back in the days when she had friends. Before her stupid
sisters had come home early that one time, and caught her. And told
her dream – in this dream, anyway – there was nothing wrong with
her. She was perfect. Beautiful and powerful and she had nothing to
hide and nothing to be ashamed of. Her beauty was exotic, even
unearthly.... golden skin and silvery hair that shone like metal and
red, pupil-less eyes that glowed with an inner fire. She was strong
and almost indestructible and she could fly and within her burned the
energy of a star which she could release in blinding blasts of heat
and light and various other kinds of electromagnetic radiation. She
could make the very forces of gravity bend to her will, if she
were giant robots and evil elementals and awful aliens who wanted to
kill her, but she had friends... or, at least, companions... fighting
by her side. People who didn't care about her secret because she
didn't have a secret; she was exactly what she appeared to be and
didn't have to hide anything from anyone. The others who were there
looked at her admiringly... they thought she was beautiful. She WAS
beautiful. They were attracted to her, and who knew? One of them
might even love her, someday... if they survived...
was a woman with butterfly wings and a very macho man with a beard
and a hat, a purple girl in a skintight outfit and a green haired
muscle bound man with a Mohawk. A blonde woman who could fly nearly
as fast as her, dressed even sluttier than the purple girl. And all
of them had accepted her exactly as she was. Because she didn't have
any secrets, and she wasn't hiding anything.
this dream, she was truly herself.
came to her, two of the people – beings, anyway, one didn't look
very human – that she had dreamed about. They came to her in the
dead of night, when her parents and Rachel (the one sister that still
lived at home with them) were asleep. She'd been asleep too, of
course, and dreaming. But she woke up immediately when one of them
– the old man with the long white beard – touched her lightly on
the old man said, the round crystal at the end of his six foot staff
winking in the gloom of her bedroom, “it's time. Are you ready?”
felt tears come to her eyes. “Was it real? It wasn't a dream?”
was real,” the monster murmured, his voice a low hiss. “I
thought it was a dream, too... but it was real. It was all real.”
was sitting up in her bed. She blinked, and a tear ran down her
cheek. She touched it... felt the wetness. Not a dream about waking
up from a dream, then...
thought Webster would let me stay,” she whispered. “I thought
he'd need my powers and let me stay. And then, when we won, I'd...”
all right,” the old man said, calmly. “The Tarlians lied. They
lied about everything. They can't take away something once they've
given it... not really. The door they opened in you remains open,
Jamie. If you want it... you can be Nebula again.”
it? Jamie had never wanted anything more.... she'd never really
wanted anything else. Not since the first time she could remember
her mother and her sisters and the other women in the ladies' room
laughing at her, when she tried to follow them in. But they hadn't
laughed the next time. The next time her mother had slapped her, and
said “You're BAD, Jimmy... this room is for LADIES ONLY.”
had always been like that. Nobody could see Jamie as she really was.
Nobody wanted Jamie to be what she really was. So she'd learned to
hide what she really was, very early on. But it was hard, so hard.
She was different... she wasn't what they thought she was... what
they insisted she be. She was different, and why was that bad? Half
the human race was the same as she was... why couldn't she be what
she really was?
didn't know. She still didn't understand the why of it, why people
had to be so hateful and mean... but she'd understood that they were.
That was why she'd started sneaking into her sisters' bedroom when
she was the only one in the house, and dressing up in their dresses
and blouses and skirts. Jamie wasn't allowed to have dresses or
blouses or skirts, panties or pantyhose or high heels... Jamie had to
wear jeans and trousers and t-shirts and polos and oxfords and
sneakers and hateful flat shoes that did nothing for her legs...
only felt right... she only felt comfortable... she only felt good...
when she was looking at herself in her sisters' mirror, wearing her
sisters' clothes. Her hair was too short, though, and Jamie's mother
refused to let her grow it out, so Jamie had saved up her money and
ordered a wig from a magazine. She'd counted the days to when it
should arrive and left school early that whole week so she could get
home before anyone else and check the mail first. She'd gotten a
detention and nearly a suspension for that, but it had been worth it
when she'd gotten the wig and nobody else knew about it. She kept it
and the cosmetics that her sisters thought they'd lost under her
mattress, and when she got all dressed up, when she had the house to
herself and could get all dressed up in her sister's clothes with the
wig on and some make up, she looked in their mirror and...
didn't look pretty. But she looked right. She looked... the way she
then her sisters had come home early from that double date.
Something about the boys misbehaving... Jamie had no real idea. But
they'd slammed in the back door and Jamie hadn't been able to get
down the hall to her own room before they'd seen her. And then
they'd screamed and hit her and called their mom at work and mom had
come home and screamed and hit her and sent her to her room and...
sat down and cried...
Jamie's sisters had told everyone at school and Jamie had had to drop
out of school because it had just been ('hey fag faggety-fag-fag-fag
want to suck on this I just bet you do') unbearable.
the teachers (Mr. Hardy, that she'd always liked, dividing the social
studies class into two teams, girls on one side of the class and boys
on the other, and looking at her and saying 'Well, Jimmy, I guess
you'll have to sit this exercise out' and everybody laughing, just
laughing, like a shower of cold piss splashing all over her as she
sat there in the middle of the room flushing red and wishing she was
dead)... even the teachers had been mean to her.
it? Want to be... what she really was? Really, totally, in her real
body, with a pretty face and big, real boobs and no stupid penis or
scrotum or testicles but a real vagina? Jamie didn't care about the
shiny silvery hair or the golden skin or the blank out eyes or the
exotic beauty or the star powers.
for people to look at her and know what she was and it would be no
big deal? They wouldn't care? They wouldn't think she was
disgusting or sick or some kind of freak or awful?
wouldn't hit her or be mean to her or call her names (faggoty
fag-fag-faggot hey faggot) or tell her she would just have to sit
this one out...
sit down and cry because she was just so disgusting...
realized, with a start, that the old man and the monster must know
the truth about her. They were in her bedroom, they knew about
Nebula, they must know...
don't give a shit,” the monster whispered. “It's cool. I mean,
fuck it, look at me.”
was hard for Jamie to look beyond her own pain... there had always
been so much of it. For the last eight years, since her sisters had
come home early and caught her. She lived here, with her mother and
Rachel, and she never left the house. They let her sew, because she
was good at it, and it made them money, but the wouldn't let her wear
anything she wanted to wear, and they wouldn't talk to her, not
really. Just “Penny Olsen needs that dress by tomorrow” or “Make
sure you clean out the Crock Pot today while I'm at work” and like
didn't hit her and they didn't call her names but they hated her and
thought she was disgusting. If she'd had anywhere else to go...
it was hard for her to realize that other people had pain, too. But
she looked at the monster, seven foot of reptilian demon/alien thing
with scales and claws, and she wondered, what kind of pain would a
person have to be in, every second of every minute of every day, to
want to be something like that, instead of what they really were?
want it,” she said, keeping her voice low. She didn't want her
mother or Rachel to wake up. She didn't want to deal with their shit
one thing, Jamie,” the old man said. “If you want it, I can help
you re-transform yourself. The templates are all still there, in
your mind. I know how to do it. I did it for Mike. But... we'll
need your help.”
shook her head. She didn't care. Whatever they wanted, she'd do it.
“Whatever you want,” she said. “Just... please. If it was
real... please. Make me Nebula again.”
monster nodded. The old man leaned forward, and touched her on the
shoulder. There was a blinding flash of light and power, somewhere
deep inside her mind...
NEW BEGINNING COMES FROM SOME OTHER BEGINNING'S END
1. Way Down Deep At The Bottom Of A Hole
TauTona gold mine, in the Gauteng province of South Africa, is two
and a half miles deep and, until 2013, was the most efficiently
productive mining operation in human history. Its first shaft was
dug in 1956, and it remained in continuous operation, 24 hours a day,
7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, for 57 years... until 2013, when it
finally shut down because Curtis Converters essentially allowed any
material to be converted into any other material... making the
fabrication of artificial gold enormously cheap.
Sam Curtis heard that the deepest mine in the world had closed up
shop because of his converters, he felt an odd satisfaction. There
were some who might think that a world where gold was no longer a
precious metal was a bad thing. Sam knew otherwise. Humanity was
moving ahead, into a bright new future where barbarisms like precious
metals were no longer needed.
was leading them there.
they liked it or not.
mine is deep and dark and at its lowermost levels extremely warm.
There are over 800 kilometers of tunnels and no living person can
claim to know those tunnels well. They comprise a bewildering warren
no living human can claim to know well, and hide the bones of
hundreds of diggers killed by the mine's extremely hazardous working
since 2014, they have hidden one living human, as well.
the second thing Sam did, upon hearing that the mine had gone broke,
was buy it. Lock, stock, and barrel. Of course, that wasn't
anything unusual; by that point, the Curtis Consortium was buying up
nearly everything on Earth that had a FOR SALE sign on it. “Divide
and conquer” was not Sam Curtis' motto. “Purchase and
consolidate” came closer.
conquest was still very much the goal. Sam just preferred that bit
thoughts regarding the TauTona had occurred to Sam simultaneously.
One was that, if the virtual, electronic, fiat economy he was
carefully building across the surface of the Earth should fail in
some way, owning the most productive gold mine in human history might
not be a bad thing.
was that, when and if his old friend Webster ever did get back to
Earth, the deepest, darkest pit ever dug by human hands would be just
about the perfect place to hide his body.
course, things hadn't worked out quite that way.
had figured he'd have no trouble killing Webster, that his biggest
problem would be making sure his wife never found out about it...
and, secondarily, that no one else on Earth found out about it,
either. Sam Curtis was pretty much effectively above the law, but he
had a reputation to think of. Reputation was extremely important in
Sam's line of work. He had no desire to be regarded as a murderer,
or even as a killer. He wanted people to regard him as benevolent,
generous, and open handed.
that's what he was, of course. But life was a strange thing, and
sometimes, you had to do things you normally wouldn't. But people
wouldn't understand. They never did.
Sam had thought that the deepest mineshaft in the world would be the
perfect place to drop Webster's corpse.
then, as things turned out, it wasn't Webster's corpse, it was a
living, breathing, agreeably unconscious Webster that arrived back on
Earth, entirely due to Sam's machinations. And if the world had been
a just and lovely place, if there had been any kind of God in the
heavens, then Webster would have been grateful and said “Thank you
for bringing me home, Sam” and he and Sam could have gone their
separate ways in peace. Not friends, but, you know, not enemies,
Webster wasn't going to let that happen.
Sam had brought his one time friend to TauTona, because the perfect
place to dump a body was also the perfect place to hold someone you
didn't want out running around in the open air, screwing up all your
plans just out of spite. And when Sam had learned that the lower
most levels of the mine were actually extremely warm, he changed his
plans a little bit. He wanted a jail that was dark and dank and
cold, not so hot that the iron cage he'd had made just for Webster
would blister Webster's skin and probably, eventually, kill him.
wanted Webster to be profoundly uncomfortable for the rest of a
hopefully very long and miserable life, not in agony for a relatively
short while before death.
out, uh huh,” Sam sang to himself, half under his breath, as he
floated down one of TauTona's tunnels in the dark. “Blast, blast,
blast.” It was a song from his early adulthood that had been stuck
in his head lately, he didn't know why.
passed a spot where at one time, another tunnel had met this one at
right angles. Now there was just a pile of rocks where that opening
had been. And standing half in, half out of that pile of rocks Sam
could see the figures of several men... two very dark skinned, one a
Caucasian with a brush of grey mustache and a greying mop of hair...
staring at him sadly.
in the dark, with the radio on,” Sam sang, as he breezed on by
them. They weren't even ghosts, just psychic after images.
Harmless, and since he'd grown accustomed to seeing such things upon
reaching his current level of psychic development, not even
was a bewildering path Sam followed, through a bewildering labyrinth
of underground passages. It took nearly an hour for Sam to reach his
destination, and that was flying the whole time. Anyone else would
take much longer... if they'd been able to navigate through this
warren, which was very doubtful.
the time Sam reached the chamber he was heading for, he'd finished
with Peter Wolf, sung several Emmylou Harris songs, and was working
his way through “Thunder Road” – what he thought of as the
Melissa Etheridge version, because he'd never much liked Bruce
you're scared and you're thinkin that maybe we ain't that young any
more,” he sang, softly, as he floated into the large chamber. It
was a natural chamber that a mineshaft had accidentally encountered;
it had proven to hold nothing worth extracting, so the mine had gone
elsewhere. And now, it still held nothing worth extracting. Some
things never changed.
a little faith, there's magic in the night,” Sam sang... and then
stopped, hovering there in the darkness.
never brought a light with him. He didn't need one himself – he
was able to augment his own natural perceptions to see deep into both
infrared and ultraviolent frequencies, and these mines were well lit
was what let him see the contents of this particular chamber, in
varying hues of scarlet. In the middle of the cavern there was a
heavy metal cage, suspended in the air by chains running from its
four corners to four pitons pounded roughly into the native rock
surrounding it in a diamond shaped grid. The chains had enough slack
to let the cage sway back and forth a bit, but not really swing at
the cage, the very picture of abject defeat – Webster Madison.
He'd been in there nearly eight months now, and he was hairy and
filthy and nasty looking and probably smelled terrible too, although
Sam had never gotten close enough to get a whiff.
laughed. “Hello, Webster,” he said. “There's really no magic
in the night, you know.”
squatted on nothingness, folding his legs into the lotus position he
could hold effortlessly for hours or days at a time. “No more
superheroes left in the world, Webster. No one coming to rescue you.
All your friends are dead. I blew them all up in orbit eight months
ago. Nobody knows you're alive... and as long as I make certain you
never set foot on Earth, even your own Tarlian agent can't help you.
Well. I mean, he could if he wanted to, but he really doesn't like
you very much and he doesn't want to. If you could set foot on
Earth, he'd have to show up and grant you your wish, for completing
the mission, way back when... but as long as I make sure you don't,
well, he doesn't have to.”
had been a delicate bit of negotiation, there. Webster's Tarlian
agent really was quite exasperated with Webster – who could blame
him? Webster was, pretty much, a complete prick – but Webster had
still represented quite a significant investment of time and energy
on the agent's part. He hadn't been thrilled with the idea of Sam
just keeping Webster locked up in a cage for all time – if Sam
would just kill the bastard, then the agent would get all that energy
tied up in Webster's improved physique and intellect back.
they could all stop worrying about what Webster might wish for, if he
ever managed to set foot on Earth.
Sam hadn't wanted Webster dead. A dead Webster couldn't acknowledge
Sam's... not superiority, no, Sam had no desire for people to worship
him or anything... but Sam's... rightness. Yes. Webster needed to
acknowledge that Sam had been right all along. That's what he needed
to do. If he'd just do that, then Sam could snap his neck, drop his
body down the main mine shaft, and get on with his life.
Sam and Webster had first met, back in college, Sam had really liked
Webster. He had been a year younger than Sam and almost like a
puppy... he hadn't really known much of anything, but he'd had
extremely strong opinions. Most of them had been wrong opinions, and
what was great about Webster was, after he and Sam had spent hours
arguing back and forth on some subject... didn't matter what...
eventually, Webster would admit that Sam had been right the whole
was very satisfying, being able to teach someone else that way.
had enjoyed being Webster's mentor. But at some point, Webster had
drawn away from him, had become unappreciative of all the things Sam
had done for him. He'd been tedious about Amy, as well, and that had
just pushed both of them further away. But mostly, for Sam, it had
been Webster's lack of gratitude. Sam had taught him so much,
brought him so far... and then, Webster had turned away from him.
the Tarlians had never chosen them as candidates for the Great
Contest, Sam (and Amy) would doubtless never have spoken with Webster
again... and been just as happy to have it that way. Sam doubted
Amy had thought about Webster in years. He knew he hadn't. But all
three of them had been plucked up and given superhuman powers, all
three of them had had new destinies grafted on to their otherwise
very normal, mundane, humdrum existences.
Webster had... as always!... proved to be a huge pain in the ass.
now, thirty years later, he was no longer coming around to Sam's
point of view after a few hours of argument. Now he was much MUCH
someday... someday soon...
could have just taken Webster over telepathically, run him like a
robot, the way he had with Hedron Ithorcane... although, come to
think of it, that hadn't worked out particularly well in the end.
But, still, Sam could have done it with Webster.
Sam didn't want to do it. Sam wanted Webster to admit that he'd been
wrong all along, and Sam had been right, and he wanted Webster in his
right mind when he did it.
wasn't sure why he wanted that so much... why it was so important to
him. He didn't need it, by any means... he had a lot of very
important work to do. He hadn't chosen to be the one who saved
humanity from drowning in its own poisons or blowing itself to
kingdom come... that destiny had been thrust upon him.
must do the hard things? He who can.
Sam wanted to hear someone else tell him he was doing the right
thing... and who else could possibly understand? Who else on Earth
was superhuman, like Sam? There was Amy, but she loved Sam, and
anyway, Sam wanted her to be happy so he'd used his psychic powers to
adjust her emotions and attitude to ensure that she would be. Out of
love, of course... but if he asked her if he was doing the right
thing, she'd just nod and smile and say “Of course you are, Sam
course she would.
all of them, all the survivors of the Great Contest, only he and
Webster and Amy were still alive, and Webster was the only one who
could give Sam an honest opinion.
it was something he and Webster had talked about many times, when
they were younger, when Sam was just an up and coming writer for
Marvel and DC, still mentoring Webster. They'd talked a lot about
what they'd do if they had the power to reshape the world, the morals
of changing how everyone lived. Sam really wanted to have another
one of those conversations with Webster. He really wanted to lay out
exactly what he'd done so far, and hear what Webster thought of it.
if Webster would just listen, Sam was sure he'd approve. He was sure
but those had been the days, back then. Teaching Webster how to
break things down to their elements, how to think critically and
analytically, how to plot, how to script, how to write... giving him
invaluable, priceless experience co-plotting with Sam, sometimes even
letting Webster ghostwrite a few minor assignments Sam hadn't had
time for. Sam had always listened to Webster's input. Often he'd
even used Webster's suggestions for storylines and dialogue, to
encourage Webster and help him develop.
course, he hadn't given Webster any credit for those things, which
was understandable... it would just have confused the issue, had Sam
mentioned to his editors at that time 'oh by the way, I've got a
friend who helps me with the scripts sometimes, I even let him write
a couple of my entries for Marvel Universe because I was on
deadline'. Sam couldn't afford to have his editors doubt his own
abilities, not that early in his career. And later on, when Webster
had claimed on the Internet that he'd co-written a lot of Sam's
earliest scripts, that Sam had used Webster's original ideas and
concepts without giving him credit, well, of course Sam had denied
it. What else could anyone expect? Webster had long since burned
their friendship to ashes at that point.
Webster's voice came, across the dank darkness, out of the swaying,
creaking, rusting metal cage, “but still, Sam... you got paid for
those scripts. You got professional credit for them. They were the
first bricks in what became a very successful career writing for
comics. Clearly, my ideas and suggestions and concepts had tangible
value, tangible worth. And it wasn't like other pros hadn't given
credit to amateur collaborators... Roy Thomas gave credit to Charlie
Boatner for his suggestions on... was it CAPTAIN CARROT?”
snorted. “And Charlie Boatner had such a wonderful career, too.”
not the point,” Webster's voice said, sad but firm. “You know
it's not the point. I came up with the original idea for the CRIMSON
CYCLONE miniseries. I pretty much co plotted it with you. You know
rolled his eyes, although he knew Webster couldn't see him. “The
CRIMSON CYCLONE series was a monumental failure!” he said. “I
don't even list it on my resume! No one bought it, no one remembers
it, and if anyone does remember it, they laugh at it!”
you got paid for it,” Webster said. “You took the idea I came up
with, you typed it onto a piece of paper, you sent it to Mike Gold,
he accepted it, cut you a check, you cashed the check and paid the
light bill with it. My idea was worth something. You got paid for
it. I never did.”
knew we were brainstorming together,” Sam replied. “Like we
always had. You knew if I used an idea you came up with there
wouldn't be any credit or payment! How many of my ideas did you have
in your own characters and concepts? If you'd ever gotten SCORPIO
published, or THUNDERBOLT, or KNIGHT FORCE, you would never...”
fell silent at that. Because he knew he was lying... well, not
lying, he'd just gotten angry and let his voice run on ahead of him.
Because Webster wouldn't have done that. Webster would have given
him credit. Webster was exactly the kind of naïve sucker who would
have done something like that, beginning of his career or not...
that he'd every had a career, other than as a customer service rep in
various call centers.
you wouldn't help me,” Webster's voice accused him, out of the
didn't need any help!” Sam shot back. “I broke in all on my own!
That's how you have to do it, nobody helped me, why should anyone
we promised each other,” Webster said. “We all did. You, me,
Scott, Rob, Jeff... the ones that got in first would help the
not how it works,” Sam said. “Nobody helps anyone. You get in
on your own. Scott did. I did. You can't expect...”
got in because he's a brilliant artist,” Webster's voice came back.
“It's easier for artists to break into comics than writers...
especially artists who are good friends with Marvel's Direct Sales
not...” Sam started.
Webster went on. “For you, it was harder. Sure, knowing Marvel's
Direct Sales Manager helped... she was the one who told you that
Denny O'Neil needed a regular writer for POWER FIST in a big hurry,
right? Because Jim Shooter had told him he could only write and
edit one book, not two, and Denny didn't want to give up DAREDEVIL.
But even that tip wouldn't have done you any good... Steven Grant
would have had that assignment cold, what with his wife working as
Denny's assistant editor at the time. But your dad had agreed to pay
your way in New York City until you got your start. So you were
Johnny on the spot, weren't you? You rushed right over there with a
script, faster than Steve could get one in, and you got the
assignment, and you were off.”
voice laughed, a rusty croak. “No. You didn't need any help, did
you? Certainly I shouldn't have expected any help from my friends.
You didn't take any help from yours. And look at you. You're the
Great Man now, aren't you?”
didn't say anything. What was there to say?
little back up story,” Webster went on. “That's all it would
have taken. You could have dropped my name to Len Wein, Mike Gold,
Denny O'Neil... 'hey, guys, I know this guy who's a pretty decent
plotter, if you need a Tale of the Green Lantern Corps quick'. Or
you could have let me write an 8 page back up for some issue of ASTRO
CITY... maybe a Crimson Catamount story, since, you know, you stole
that character from my Red Tiger...”
up,” Sam said, his voice a low whisper.
not like you ever got to a point where it was too late and you
couldn't possibly have helped me, either,” Webster went on. “You
always had the power. One phone call. One email. 'Hey, Webster, I
mentioned your NEMESIS concept to an editor at Valiant and she thinks
it's awesome. Send her a precis.' You could have turned my whole
life around. You had the power. You always had it. But you
wouldn't do it, and sure, you're right, Sam, why should you? You
didn't need any help to break in. You didn't owe me anything. You
didn't take my ideas and suggestions and send them off to Marvel and
DC and get paid for them and give me no credit. You didn't deny to
everyone in the world that I'd ever been your friend, ever
collaborated with you, ever been anything but 'some guy you knew in
UP,” Sam said. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT!!!! UP!!!”
was screaming, now, hanging there in the darkness half a mile below
the surface of the Earth.
then, someone groaned, and a hoarse voice... a very nearly
non-existent voice, after months of disuse... came, from out of the
darkness: “Sam... s'sat... you? What'r you... yellin'....
Sam realized, with a shock, that he'd imagined the entire
was overwork, was what it was.
shouldn't have even come. He had cameras mounted in this chamber.
He could call up Webster's infrared image any time he wanted, in any
of dozens of offices or homes he had scattered around the world. Or
he could have simply projected his psychic form here. He couldn't
warp himself here; too much dense, heavy metal in the surrounding
rock made teleporting (at least, the Tarlian way) impossible. But
there really hadn't been any necessity to come here physically, in
still, he had.
come here four months ago... four months after he'd left Webster
here, locked up in his cage.
he'd probably come back in another four months... or five... or six.
somehow... it was better to be here, really here. To see that
Webster was still here... really here. Camera images could be
tampered with. Psychic perceptions could be more easily fooled than
the actual, physical senses.
made sure his voice was light and pleasant, when he responded.
checking in on you, old buddy,” he said. “Everything okay? You
getting your packages?”
week or so, an automated drone would make its way through these
corridors, carrying packages of food and a five gallon container of
water to just above the cage, where it would tip, letting them fall
downwards. Webster had quickly learned to listen for the soft purr
of the drone's engines, to get his hands out to grab the falling
food wasn't much... granola bars, usually, and some packages of trail
mix. But it kept body and soul together, as they said.
the cage, within a shaped sheathe of energy that radiated throughout
the spectrum of light both visible and invisible to human eyes, a
small, cylindrical device whirred. After a second, out of its tiny
speaker, a voice sounding much like that of a man who had been
imprisoned in an iron cage for four months, emerged: “'m fine, ol'
saving the world, Webster,” Sam said, as he always did. “I'm
uniting all of humanity under one banner. I'm creating a utopia out
there. Want to come help?”
was a hesitation, as the device transmitted the sound of Sam's voice
through half a mile of rock and earth and a several hundred miles of
atmosphere to a communications satellite high above, and from there,
to who knew where.
then the response came:
fuck yourself, Sam.”
smiled. Ah, well.
you around,” Sam said, turning in mid air to start the long flight
back up to the surface.
he added, over his shoulder, as he floated out of the cavern.
him, the device whirred.
its speaker spoke, to an empty cavern.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!
Marvel Super-Villain Team Up
was, perhaps, early evening in the desert... the recent sunset's
golds and reds yet lingered in a thin, tattered banner along
the western horizon, allowing the pyramids to be silhouetted sharp
and dark against its fading glory. The scentomizers were tuned
perfectly; the smells of arid, faintly spicy sand, fecund poppy
fields, silty Nile water gurgling through canals, the sweat of the
nearby camels, the dry, powdery aroma of the silk pavilion
canopies... all of these mingled with the delicious aroma wafting off
the haunch of goat crackling over a camel fewmet fire.
fire crackled convincingly; a dry desert breeze moved through the
oasis like an invisible river, rustling the pavilion silks
the oasis' central pool, thirty feet from the crackling fire, two men
soaked. Fresh from the rejuvenation baths, neither looked more
than perhaps forty Earth years of age, one of them, in fact, could
have been half that.
had the deeply bronzed skins of long time desert dwellers, although
it was for each an affectation; neither had felt actual sunlight on
their skins for longer than he could easily calculate. Both
were hawk nosed, clear eyed, dark haired, heavy browed; to an
ignorant observer, they would convey the appearance of father and
son, for one seemed to be at least two decades older than the other.
Appearances deceived, as they so often do... the two men
were not father and son. They were much, much closer... and
each was much, much more ancient than he seemed.
then, Pharaoh," the older man boomed, slapping the cool oasis
water with his palm just to hear the pleasant plashing noise it made.
"Is it not as I have said? Are not the diversions of
Limbo infinite and inexhaustible?"
one addressed as Pharaoh did not answer... at first. He was a
thoughtful man. Quick-witted when necessary, but now, no
emergency urged instant response. He pondered his elder's
words, and when his reply was fully formulated, only then did he
he agreed. "And yet... and yet..."
was a wistful sadness to his tone that was not lost on the older man.
"You dwell on the past too much," the Pharaoh's
elder observed. "Here in Limbo, there is no past, no
future... just an eternal now. And now is enough... is it not?"
have been the best of mentors, o Immortus," the Pharaoh Rama Tut
replied, choosing each syllable with care. "And Limbo...
Limbo does, indeed, offer an eternity of delights. Yet... as I
discovered in my own court, in the 40th Century... a life without
strife is a life without meaning."
Immortus snapped. "I need no telepathy to discern your
thoughts, my friend... and although there is no time here, the
circadian rhythms of your own flesh tell you that now is the time of
year when your beloved Ravonna was first cut down by that cur Baltag.
Do you think I do not feel it myself? Do you think I have
forgotten?" His hand tightened into a fist. "I
will never forget, my friend. Never."
he spread his fingers again, and waved airily. "But life
goes on, Rama... for us. Ravonna remains in her eternal sleep,
Baltag remains dead, Lords of Time rip his spirit to shreds
forever... yet for us, life goes on."
turned and gestured imperiously. His strange servant -- 'my
only subject, here in Limbo', as he often labeled the creature --
appeared a few feet away from him, seeming to condense out of the
very darkling air, standing on the damp sand, rubbing his
spider-fingered hands together. "Yessss, my master?"
the creature hissed.
the entertainment now," the older man commanded.
strange servitor nodded once, his oddly furrowed countenance blank
beneath his overlarge eyes and wild, tangled brows. To the
Pharaoh, those eyes had always suggested boiled owl's eggs.
servitor vanished, as quickly as he had come. "Does that
creature have a name?" the Pharaoh asked, making no attempt to
mask the irritation in his tone.
chuckled. "He is the only subject of Limbo," the
immortal time traveler said. "Why would he need a name?"
He paused. "Although as to that, he is really no
more a 'he' than the silicone in that sand... I built him to be the
ultimate shapeshifter, you know. A perfect agent."
you have said," Rama Tut responded, distaste still evident in
his tone. "But there is something..."
was a jangling... silvery, musical. And then, from one of the
pavilions, the six greatest beauties of mythical Earth's storied
history came across the sand, clad in silks and bells and perfumes.
The Pharaoh's protest died in his throat. Ravonna had been
beautiful, in her own provincial way. But these women...!
you like them?" Immortus chuckled. "There is
Cleopatra, of your own land, but a few thousand years past your time.
Her beauty... and her skills in the pillow arts... are still
legendary millenia after her death." A dusky skinned,
broad nosed beauty, full of hip and bust, nodded in response to
here is Princess Ranadys of the land of Esteros, which sank beneath
the vast world ocean aeons before Atlantis ever arose. She was
the last dragon queen..." Here a silver haired girl,
slender as a willow, with purple eyes that flashed an inner fire,
smiled coquettishly at him.
Immortus introduced all six of the women, and all of them were,
indeed, legendary beauties. But the Pharaoh only had eyes for
one... just one... a strong looking female, whose figure was somehow
voluptuous yet athletic at the same time, with clean, clear,
beautiful features and hair the color of spun gold. Eyes as
blue as weapon-steel stared back at his unblushingly, showing a will
as strong and as inexorable as gravity... even if that will was now
bent and somewhat blunted beneath the hypnotic influence of Immortus'
mind control beams.
this is Carol Danvers, of the late 20th Century," Immortus said.
"She has been recently exposed to a Kree device known as a
Psyche Magnitron which has had an interesting effect on her, both
psychically and physically. Her DNA is now an intriguing
mingling of Terran and Kree, and she has just embarked on a career
with the Avengers..."
noted the clear signs of infatuation on the face of the Pharaoh...
the dilated pupils, the flared nostrils, the deepening breath tones.
It was aggravating. He had hoped to provide his guest
and student with a distraction from futile, choleric thoughts
regarding Ravonna... but once he had seen the six women chosen by his
servitor, he had also thought to keep this one to his exclusive use.
Something about her aura... so ferocious. Of course, he
knew she had a significant destiny, one that stood out even among the
larger than life fates and dooms of the Earthling superhuman class he
had made an obsessive study of his whole life... yet, still. There
was something magnetic about the woman, here, in person...
will share her," Immortus snapped. "Come, Pharaoh."
two men waded up out of the pool side by side, and as one, put a hand
out to clasp either arm of the woman named Carol Danvers --
* * * *
man awoke, some time later, head aching. "Where..."
was lying in a cool pool of water, beneath a spreading... what was
that thing?... a date palm tree, that was it.
him was a... watering hole? No. The word was oasis.
There were silk canopies, rippling in a low, cool breeze.
The braying of a just wakened donkey, or... camel? And...
lying face down on the sand... a woman. A woman with golden
blonde hair... and smoke, rising from her forearms. Almost as
if her arms were energy weapons, and had fired some kind of
man splashed to her side without further thought. He did not
know who she was, but a great passion for her stirred within him...
so great that it had not yet occurred to him that he also did not
know who he, himself, was...
* * * * *
man awoke, some time later, head aching. Face down, in
something soft and scratchy, that rustled in the breeze...
knew that smell, that texture. Kentucky blue grass...! He
sat up, abruptly.
was in a field... or so it seemed. Several large, powerful
looking, oddly beautiful creatures stood on four legs each, cropping
the thick grass, ten or twelve arms lengths away from him.
it wasn't true. Somehow he knew, this field full of... hoses?
was an illusion. There was something about it... the feel of
the air wasn't quite right. The scentomizers were slightly off,
and not masking the metallic air conditioning smell fully....
scene shimmered, and vanished. The man was sitting on the floor
in a small, gloomy, roughly rectangular chamber, made of what seemed
to be a dull grey metal. The smell of the air conditioning was
more pronounced, now.
the empty air, a cool, pleasant voice spoke to him: "This
res-quart is designated as uninhabited. Who are you and how did
you come to access it?"
man thought for a moment. "I... I do not know," he
the pleasant voice responded. "Analysis of microscopic
cellular particles taken from your respiration indicate..."
There was a pause. "You have DNA strands aligned to
several prominent sociopolitical lines," it continued,
eventually. "But identification cannot be made
conclusively. You are... unknown."
last two syllables were spoken evenly, without inflection... but the
man would have sworn the voice was, nonetheless, appalled to have to
confess to such a thing.
is necessary," the voice continued. "I shall assign
you a random nomenclature and begin building identity files for you.
Basic remedial training in civil necessities will be made
available to you. This cubicle will be assigned to your
man got to his feet. "You are a computer," he said.
am a pseudosentience," the voice corrected him, somewhat primly.
"My specific role is social optimization. Do not
worry. A place will be found for you."
paused once more, and then continued. "Your DNA has some
strands taken from the prominent Richards family. I shall,
therefore, assign you the name Nathaniel Richards..."
* * * *
woman did not remember her name, any more than he did his. But
when she had first looked up at him with those laser bright blue eyes
and asked him who he was, a fragment of conversation had come back to
him. He had been speaking with an older man, who looked
somewhat like him... his father?... that seemed wrong, somehow, but
still, in his photographic recall of this fragmentary, isolated
scene, the resemblance was unmistakable.
man had been laughing, and saying "...no heir... none that
lived, anyway. But should I ever have a worthy son, I will name
he had told her. "My name is Marcus." It felt
right, on some level, and wrong, on another... but he also had a deep
conviction that he had lived a long, rich life, and over the course
of it, he had had many names. Marcus was as good as any...
are Carol," he told her, knowing as he said it that it was
she said, tasting the name. "And... we are alone here,
looked around. "Yes," he said. "I... "
He looked back at her, boldly. "From how I feel when
I look at you, Carol, I think... I think we are honeymooning."
met his gaze with hers... and then, when he bent his head forward,
she met his mouth with hers, as well...
* * * * *
newly minted Nathaniel Richards did well at his studies, and showed
an aptitude with the subatomic particle circuitry that 30th Century
technology was entirely built around. But he was restive.
The place and time he had come to was very civilized... almost
decadent. Any citizen could have anything he or she wanted,
merely by asking a socio-mech to simulate the sensation.
Somewhere in his mind, Nathaniel was reminded of a bit of
ancient folk wisdom... "Instant gratification takes too long..."
was no challenge here, nothing to strive for!
Nathaniel had a goal, one that burned within him. A set of
blazing blue eyes, looking into his.. his? Or some other man's?
He could not quite remember. Skin as soft as
velvet under his touch, stretched taut over muscles like corded
titanium... and a psychic aura that blazed like a supernova.
He could not recall her face, her form, any other details of her
appearance... but he would move mountains to find her. She was
his, and he was hers... even though he had a feeling that he had at
least one rival for her affection. It would not matter. He
knew, in his heart, that he was a conqueror, and he would always be
knew where to look for her. A half remembered snatch of
conversation... "the late 20th Century... just embarked on a
career with the Avengers..."
done global searches using those phrases. Something had
happened in that era... something important. The Celestial
Madonna, so called, had given birth to... someone... a child that had
risen to unite the entire galaxy, at least, for a time, under one
benevolent banner. A Golden Age, a time of unparalleled
prosperity, which had lasted a thousand years... which was still
going on, even today, here in the exasperatingly peaceful year of
the woman he sought this Madonna? Somehow, he was sure she must
be. She must be. His true love... somehow he knew, she
would not be sitting around waiting for him to claim her. He
would have to fight others for her... he would have to conquer! But
in the end, she would be his.
travel was known to be possible... supposedly, the technology had
originated in that very era. He could go there, and find her.
would. He would conquer the entire universe, all of time
itself, if that was what it took to win her to his side...!
* * * * *
could not have had the child here in Limbo," the servitor said,
his tones (as always) an unsettling mixture of sneer and sycophancy.
"There is no duration here. It would not have
know that," the man who no longer called himself Marcus snapped.
"But it might have done well on Earth, in Carol's native
time frame, if I had not seized on its form as a vehicle for my own
escape from this hellish place..."
the servitor responded, "you could have just opened a portal.
You know how to use the machines."
a portal into the late 20th Century is always difficult," the
man snapped. "Temporal turbulence makes such a transit
hazardous at best. I thought the other gambit might work
better. If those idiot heroes hadn't destroyed my machine, I
could have corrected that body's asynchronous genetic coordinates,
shoulda, woulda," the servitor said. "I do feel deep
admiration for the novel way in which you dumped her, though, after
she followed you back here. That illusion of you aging to
decrepitude and dying within a few moments... that was masterfully
done. She'll be some time getting over the psychological scars
of that little break up ploy... it may well drive her to drink."
strong," the man said. "She'll be fine." He
shrugged. "I truly thought I loved the wench."
infatuation," the servitor thought, waggling his disturbingly
unkempt eyebrows provocatively. "You know that Immortus
was infatuated with her as well, do you not? And wherever he
may have ended up, he will seek her out, as well?"
am Immortus now," the man said, regarding the regalia laid out
upon the sleeping platform in his chamber. "Although,"
he added, dubiously, "I'm not sure I want to dress like him..."
yes, master," the servitor fawn-sneered. "Because
that blue face mask was oh so stylish."
new Lord of Limbo scowled at the servitor. "Am I going to
have problems with you, creature? My predecessor may have
tolerated your insolence, but I am not he." The former
Pharaoh stopped at that, thoughtfully. "I mean... well..."
servitor bobbed and capered obsequiously. "I will give you no
problems, Master," it declared. "I have ever served the
Lord of Limbo, and ever shall. In that service, I shall tell you
that my artificially attuned chronal senses advise me that the
temporal turbulence you already know of in the late 20th and early
21st Centuries on Earth has increased by nearly an order of magnitude
since your paramour's return to her native time-point. I cannot be
sure, but I believe your predecessor in those robes is somehow
causing this disruption."
going after her," the former Pharaoh said, through gritted
teeth. "He's still besotted... he must not have her!"
servant raised his fantastical eyebrows in exaggerated puzzlement.
"But... master... if you do not want her..."
will not have her," the new Immortus growled. "He
will not lay a hand on her. Hmmm... I must come up with a scheme..."
He turned, and pointed at the servitor. "You will travel to her
timeframe. You will shadow her. You will protect her. You will be my
perfect agent in this. You will keep my other self from ever so much
as setting his damned dirty paws on her."
servant shrugged. "Your wish, my command, of course, my master,"
he replied. "May I suggest... perhaps I could replace that
obnoxious Anthony Stark in the Avengers roster? Then I could keep a
close watch on her. The two of them become quite companionable, I
are not to lay a hand on her," the Master of Time snarled.
no, master, of course not, I am not worthy," the servitor
whined. "I will simply look out for her... and ward her.
Perhaps... if your predecessor's attention could be turned to
another... perhaps some sort of scenario could be woven, to convince
him to ignore Ms. Danvers, and fixate on someone else..."
the Lord of Limbo agreed, musing. "That whole Celestial Madonna
thing will be going on right around that time period, and I remember
how obsessed I was with the Madonna... I can't recall why, now... I
mean, what was I going to do with Mantis, even if I'd managed to
obtain her? A skilled courtesan, I have no doubt, but...
Gleaming Galaxies! The woman married an undead corpus reanimated by a
sentient tree!" Immortus... the newest of his name...
shuddered. "By the Lords of Time, I really dodged a particle
will depart immediately, Master," the servitor responded. "May
I suggest that I enter the timestream some light years away from
Earth, to avoid the local turbulence? I can easily travel there at
faster than light speeds once I am within the timeframe. I
will establish my presence early on, at the very founding of the
team, or shortly thereafter. It will give me an excellent
vantage point to watch over Ms. Danvers, as the Heroic Age unfolds."
Immortus responded. "Do it. At once."
Master," the servitor said, rubbing his inhumanly long fingers
together in satisfaction...
* * * *
the servitor sped through the vacuum of space towards Earth, it
considered what it had already done, and what yet remained for it to
do. It went through each aspect of its plan meticulously,
testing each step in its own mind, re-examining each link.
female had been key -- this 'Carol Danvers'. When Immortus-A
had commanded it to go and seek out 'the six most beautiful
human women of all time', to distract Immortus-B from his melancholy
over yet another human female, the servitor had taken the opportunity
to initiate its own schemes. The scheme would spread from that
point, a veritable labyrinth worming its incomprehensibly complex
threads and branches through every level of space-time... but it was
with that command, given outside time by the man always had been and
always would be the greatest living master of time itself... that
command was the very first stone that had been dropped into the
pond, causing the very first ripple.
what was beauty? How could the servitor know? It was not
human. It had no permanent gender. It could take on any
seeming, certainly... but to it, all living beings were potential
partners in its eternal dance between the chronons. All living
beings were beautiful, in their own way. But one, and only one,
would be useful in fulfilling the servitor's desires.
it had taken her, Carol Danvers, from a point in the late 20th
Century, and brought her to Limbo, supposedly for the pleasure of its
master(s). But actually, the servitor was the only living being
in the universe who knew how carefully Carol Danvers had been
sculpted over the course of her life... shaped and molded, to be the
servitor's perfect tool.
it had slaved over her! Replacing both her father and mother at
different times, to ensure she was even conceived, at just the right
moment. Replacing various of those odious, oh so pompous Kree -- Mar
Vell far from least in those measurements! -- to ensure that the
young human female would not only be exposed to the nearly
immeasurable powers of the Psyche Magnitron, but that when she was,
the wish it would fulfill, hidden deep within the subconscious
recesses of her mind, would be that she would become a woman worthy
of Mar-vell himself... a woman warrior who was at least his equal, if
not his superior. And so she had. And so she was.
woman worthy, perhaps, to one day give birth to... The One!
there, the guidance had gone on. Replacing that awful plant smoking
human with the strangely flat head long enough to offer Danvers the
job that would move her to New York City... a necessary step, to
place her within the ranks of the Avengers, at just the correct
moment, so that she would take sanctuary at Avengers Mansion when she
returned from Limbo, all amnesiac and unknowing as to where the
strange pregnancy within her had originated.
had she not taken shelter with the Avengers, Immortus might well have
escaped Limbo into a permanent human form on Earth... a human form
immune to the servitor's powers.
that must never be.
that was the one immutable, unalterable command Immortus had woven
through every fiber of the servitor's artificial being during
creation... that the servitor could never, under any circumstances,
use his powers on Immortus. Or any temporal iteration of Immortus.
And that the servitor must always obey Immortus... any iteration of
Immortus, although the others would not know that... even at the
expense of the servitor's own desires.
Immortus, in the form of Marcus, managed to free himself and take
corporeal form on 20th Century Earth... already with strong alliances
forged to the Avengers... he would have been in position to shake the
very stars in their heavens. And the servitor could not have
displaced him, either. He might well have become... The One!...
fathering himself on himself, proving Carol Danvers to be the
Celestial Madonna indeed.
the servitor could not allow that. Because at the end of this
scheme, somehow, someway, the One would be born. And as long as the
One was not an iteration of Immortus, then it would be a valid target
for the servitor's powers.
One would assume its destiny, dominating the entire Galaxy, bringing
all of humanity under its loving, beneficent tyranny, creating an
interstellar utopia unprecedented in history.
then, the servitor would displace the One, and rule in its place...!
much remained to be done before then.
first steps were already taken. The servitor had subtly bent
Immortus' mind control beams not just upon the captured women, but
upon both iterations of Immortus, as well. The men had been naked,
relaxed, secure in their timeless sanctuary, certain that they could
not in any way be attacked... and indeed, all the servitor had done
was ensure that they would both become sexually fixated upon, even
obsessed with, Carol Danvers. Because, when their temporally
charged flesh touched Danvers' own substance, empowered so recently
by the Psyche Magnitron, there would be an energy discharge, and the
servitor could use that energy discharge to its own ends.
undetectable portal would be opened, to tumble the more entropically
advanced Immortus through, after a short range, high powered
hypnobeam had permanently addled his long range memories. He would
arrive millenia earlier in his own lifeline, and begin his eternal
cycle once again... his obsession with a mythical 'Celestial
Madonna', from somewhere in the 20th Century, already well rooted in
his younger counterpart, similarly stunned, would remain behind, to
become Immortus, thus continuing the eternal cycle... most
importantly, eventually, to create the servitor itself.
it was started... but there were decades of work ahead of it yet.
Centuries, perhaps. But what did that matter, to a being such as
would self program itself to believe it was a 'Space Phantom'... a
vanguard for a nonexistent race planning to invade Earth, come to
test the planet's mightiest heroes in battle. Should it somehow fail
in combat and be captured, that bit of self hypnosis would keep the
Earthly heroes from learning anything of the truth... and, more
important, keep its creator's various avatars from learning anything
of it, as well.
time, the programmed false knowledge would fade away, letting the
servitor recall its true mission... and its true intentions.
Avengers would defeat it, of course... the memory was clear in the
servitor's semiorganic data processors; non-linear, six dimensional
recall was an attribute nearly unique to it. That damned
pseudosentience inside the Norse Eternal's primitive bashing
weapon... how dare
it pass judgment on the servitor's worthiness to gain the Norse
Eternal's powers! It still galled the servitor to recall it. But
once it engaged its self programming, it would know nothing of it at
the level of surface consciousness. The non linear recollections
would be buried beneath its autohypnotic programming.
after the initial defeat, when the servitor was returned to Limbo, it
would make use of the master's technology to transport itself back to
Earth along with many of the master's machines. It would establish
itself in an unused subterranean warren it was aware of. Then it
would act as if it were 'seeking vengeance' on the odious Avengers
for its earlier defeat... a most illogical and nearly inexplicable
course of action, given the givens, but the servitor knew enough of
the behavior of a typical human 'super villain' to know that no
Earthling of that time and place would think twice about such a
would, briefly, establish dominance over a small sub faction of the
laughable Hydra. It would carefully calibrate all of the technology
at its disposal by running field tests against at least one of these
so called superheroes – perhaps the one called Captain America, he
seemed the most resourceful of the available test subjects. It would
establish a doomed alliance with the farcical Grim Reaper, to further
calibrate its machinery against a larger squadron of heroes... and
all the time that it did this, it would be establishing its primary
identity as 'The Space Phantom', an earthly supervillain of not
insignificant power and repute.
would, once more, allow the Avengers to believe they had defeated it
through a trick any just spawned ameoboid would see through.
then... then it would return to Earth once again, and begin its real
work. Protect Carol Danvers from his master's other avatars?
Certainly. It could replace any being it chose to, and in their
place, it could work its own will without fear of detection.
Replacing that oh so earnest and solemn Watcher just long enough to
place the artificial star in the sky above the domicile of the
Avengers... yes. That would focus Immortus' younger, more savage
avatar on the three women within the edifice at that time. I
the meantime, it would be well positioned. It would have established
an identity that would allow it to interact with the superhuman
community at will, and, of course, it could assume any other identity
it needed to.
would be setbacks, it was aware. At some point, some other agent –
it was, itself, unaware of just who – would either impersonate the
mutated human known as Rogue, or mind control her, into making a
devastating attack on the Danvers female. And then there was
Nightmare's agent Aarkus, slumbering within the body of the android
Avenger, forever striving to sire competing candidates to be 'The
of it would matter. It was adaptible. It was flexible. No other
being in the universe could do what it could. If its ongoing
campaign seemed to go off course, the servitor could replace any
other being it needed to and affect a course correction.
the end, it would rule over all.
AUGH where the hell is the rest of the post GIVE IT TO ME NOW!