Tales of the Timeless: "The Hourglass Ascendant" #2

Written by Warren "Azmodi" Entros, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Published by the Cosmic Powers Fan Fiction Group in
THE COSMIC POWERS UNLIMITED FANZINE ISSUE #2

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"The Hourglass Ascendant"

Note: Please read Issue #1 of Tales of the Timeless if you haven't already.


Part Three: "Shadows and Truth"

"Death's Head?" Tuck shouted as the lumbering monster that was her partner strode toward her, his eyes blank, "C'mon DH, snap out of it!"

Again she tried to free herself from the steel shackles that bound her tightly to the dungeon wall, but to no avail, for she was still a prisoner. Again she looked up with growing horror as Death's Head approached, his molybdium arm beginning to form itself into a long spire of glinting metal.

"Fight him, Death's Head!" she shrieked now, "Fight him! You have to win, you have to regain control!"

A maniacal cackle sounded from the distant stone steps that led out of the medieval dungeon. "You cannot stop him, Tuck. I have totally subverted Death's Head's personality; he's mine now, a weapon for me to use as I please."

The diminutive woman sneered at the strangely shaped scientist, "I don't think so, Zola. Even you can't possibly control technology that comes from so far in the future. DH is going to make you pay for this with your life."

The Nazi geneticist would have surely shaken his head, had it not been secreted away within his torso. "I think not, woman. Minion, kill her."

The hulking mercenary, now the thrall of Arnim Zola, gave no sign that he had heard his new master's command, save that his pace began to increase, his spire of an arm rising up to strike. His eyes were dead, expressionless, and his feature blank.

Tuck gulped as she saw Minion's arm raise high into the air as he came to a halt no more than a foot from her, towering above. Again she tried to struggle, but simply could not break free from her bonds. Tuck's eyes widened to horrified saucers as she screamed for a final time, "Death's Head!"

With a flash of cobalt metal, Minion's deadly appendage came slicing down, shearing through his former partner's neck with such grace that the cut made not a sound. Not so was it for her disembodied skull, which landed upon the damp floor with a wet crunch, bounced a single time, before beginning a sickening roll to the opposite end of the chamber.

Zola smiled widely, an expression only exaggerated by his distorted, nearly inhuman visage. "Excellent, Minion! My re-programming has been a complete success! I have totally buried the dominant Death's Head personality, along with all the others, and replaced it with my personally constructed consciousness!"

He beckoned the massive cyborg to approach. "Come, Minion, there is still much more I have to accomplish with you. Now that you have proven your susceptibility to my gene programming, I can begin the task of transferring my own mind into your body. What a perfect synergy that shall be . . . yours, the perfect physical specimen, and mine, the ultimate intellect, fused together into one being. No one will be able to stand in my way once my task is completed!"

Minion shared not in his master's joy, however, as he approached. Instead, there was only a roiling storm within the vaults of his mind, ethereal spirits all biting and clawing at one another, all seeking dominance.

Yet above them there still lingered a single, overpowering mechanism, one that held them all at bay. Utterly artificial, its mental form stamped proudly with a bloody Swastika, Arnim Zola's implanted personality held its tenuous grip upon Death's Head's body, but felt its grasp slowly beginning to weaken. The attacks of one particular consciousness, its form all shining steel and twin horns, had grown particularly brutal, raking away at the false identity's dominion.

His steps heavy, Minion slowly lumbered towards his recently crowned lord and master. Zola was enamored with a small control panel, punching away at various buttons, each response eliciting from him another twinge of deranged joy. He was having such fun with his new toy that he never bothered to check the sanctity of his implanted program.

Up the case of stairs the former mercenary now trod, his features still blank, but the war in his mind reaching a fevered pitch. Behind the horned one all had now gathered, and he led them with courage and without fear. His attacks were concentrated, calculated, and Arnim Zola's device could not hope to survive the horned leader's assaults much longer. As its shields were pierced, a siren screamed out from its dying consciousness, ejected directly into the very receiver the Nazi geneticist wore within his carapace.

The warning alarm sounded within Zola's brain, and he exclaimed in surprise, "What?" So shocked was he by the news even now scrolling past his mind's eye that he took no notice of how close Minion had approached. The A.I.M. creation now towered over the cruel scientist, his eyes looking down with crimson hatred.

"How? How could my personality have been overcome, and so quickly? It was designed to . . . "

Slowly Arnim Zola became aware of Death's Head's proximity, his eyes rising to meet his former thrall's. There he stood like a frozen animal, or at least pretending to be one, even as he sought to trigger the paltry weapons systems he kept within his armor.

"Time to pay the piper, yes?" the mercenary said, his eyes narrowing to dangerous slits.

Artificial adrenaline surged in Zola's body as he raised his hand to fire a repulsor blast into his foe's twisted features, but his reflexes were far too slow. Death's Head's razor-arm was up in a flash, slicing Arnim's own limb off below the elbow.

Lime-colored fluid gushed from the wound in a vile spray, washing the chamber. The Nazi screeched, for it had been so long since he felt true pain. The cyborg's huge fist flew forward, smashing Zola's faceplate, his knuckles crushing shards of broken glass into the creature's distorted features.

Before the scientist could topple from the stunted stairs, Death's Head's reached out and took firm hold of him, with such a grip that Zola's carapace began to warp with the exertion of pressure. The molybdium spire came to a halt one centimeter from the Nazi's eye, and held steady there, glinting ominously in the dim light.

"Going to make your death far more painful than Tuck's, guarantee you that. Think losing both eyes hurts more than being decapitated? Let's find out."

Zola steeled himself for the sensation of cold metal ramming itself into his eye socket, but that horrid feeling never came. Instead, with abject disbelief, he watched as Death's Head's massive body began to fade from view, the mercenary uttering a surprised, "What?" before he vanished.

His breath coming out in a long wheeze, Arnim Zola fell to his knees, his mind rocked by the fact that his genius had come so close to being ended.


Part Four: "Childhood's End"

Nothing can live in the depths of the Valles Marineris, nothing natural. Yet the organisms that dwell there now are not native inhabitants; perhaps they cannot be considered natural at all. At the bottom of that great canyon running across the pocked and broken surface of Mars, there sat an installation of shining silver and dull gray. But it was not the exterior that was of import, but the interior.

Within that place there lived creatures strange and fascinating, new and old, yet all the work of a single man; he lay dying, propped up against a control panel spattered with his own blood. Ugly wounds festooned his chest armor, and his facemask was torn to ribbons, revealing the appalling state of his features within. Grey hair, coated in scarlet, barely served to conceal the gray mass oozing from the top of his skull. His hand held tightly over the gushing gash across his stomach, the geneticist breathed slow rasps, and waited.

He did his best to ignore the stench of the charred corpses piled about him, those who had fallen before he had succumbed to their numbers.

For minutes he sat as that, merely waiting to die. Finally, sound came to his ears, the din of combat, echoing down the hallway. Laser fire, the sound of plasma blasting, and harried shouts, dying screams. Shadows soon danced upon the wall, only to flee before the onslaught of sizzling energy beams. Yet one refused to stop its growth, refused to stop its advance, and the scientist knew that shadow could belong to but one individual.

Clad in ornate armor of gold, silver, and crimson, marred as it was by laser burns, the warrior rushed into the room. His fists still steamed from the effort of firing at his intruders, yet they were now far, far from his mind. He rushed to his maker's side, and behind his mask the warrior felt tears come to his eyes.

"Father . . . " he managed as he surveyed the ruins of the High Evolutionary's once proud form, "I am . . . "

"You are too late, my son." Doctor Wyndham choked, his voice surprisingly strong for his condition. Nevertheless, blood dripped from his lips with every word, "I . . . will die, Ripjak. Nothing can stop that now."

"No!" the Martian exclaimed, far louder than he intended, "Father, surely you can transfer your consciousness, build a new body . . . "

The High Evolutionary smiled weakly, "I have lived too long, child; one hundred years is more than enough. It is time . . . time that I finally let go of this mortal coil."

Now those tears welled in Ripjak's eyes, and he felt them run hot down his cheeks. He tried to speak, sought for words to express the anguish burning in his heart, but could not find them.

"Do not mourn for me, my son; I have already studied all I can in this life. Now I can explore the realms of Death . . . "

Somehow, that thought managed to comfort the genetically engineered warrior. "Yes, Father."

The High Evolutionary's voice grew hard, and for a few moments he sounded as if no wounds had been scraped across his body, "But do not flag with my going, Ripjak. The Martian hordes must be stopped, they can never be allowed to reach Earth, my Earth. You are born of those foes you fight, and the very genes of Ikaris, greatest of the Eternals. You can defeat them, my child. That . . . that is all that I ask."

Ripjak's hand took Wyndham's in his own, squeezing tightly, his vision blurring, "I, I will father; I will. I promise you."

A small smile came upon the ruin of the High Evolutionary's face as he looked at his greatest scion, and then slowly his eyes closed and his head slumped against the wall. The geneticist's fingers uncurled from his child's, and from him all life raced into Mistress Death's frigid embrace.

Carefully, Ripjak laid his creator's hand down and slowly stood. The tears upon his cheeks dried at his will, and sadness fell before fury. Tears ran anew, but they were hot with hatred for the High Evolutionary's murderers. Ripjak's fists clenched as he raced out of the tomb, his fingers tingling with energy.

Swiftly he spied a group of Martians, their yellow faces making them look half-decayed. He bellowed a curdling war cry and fell upon them with swinging blades and searing energy lances. His teeth clenched, his muscles taut, Ripjak rent his foes to bloody entrails and torn limbs.

Soon the hybrid warrior stood knee-deep in the shredded bodies of his enemies, his armor covered in the sticky ichor of the dead. Heavily he breathed, the smell of death and rotting flesh pouring into his nostrils. The pungent scent dizzied him, and he felt as though the odor of putrescence was laying a black curtain across his eyes. Ripjak felt as though his body was fading, and he did not fight the sensation.


Part Five: "Strolling Amongst the Ruins"

He rolled under the energy fire, and the streaks missed him barely, exploding into the consoles behind him. Sparks spewed across the chamber angrily, some falling upon his armor, but he took no notice. The freelance peacekeeping agent was already on his feet, weapon trained squarely upon the metallic form standing before him.

The machine's crimson face contorted at the small pistol being aimed at him, and said mockingly, "You believe that will hurt me, Justice Peace?"

Beneath his helmet, the bounty hunter sneered, "It's just Peace now."

He pulled the trigger, releasing one quick burst of concentrated energy. It flashed out in a burning shaft, and burned into the large robot's chest. The construct's head bowed down suddenly, to survey the damage done to its innards. It felt its circuitry crisping with his own carapace, and awareness fleeing from his mechanical optics.

The mechanism staggered, his motor control failing, and called out in a surprisingly human voice, "Master? Master, I..." And then he could stand no more, crashing to the deck with a loud clang. His fingers feebly scraped at the plates of the floor, trying to reach out to his creator, but finally grew still, all struggles ceasing.

From his elevated perch across the wondrous room, the creator's face was grim. The burden of years of failure seemed to weigh heavily upon him now as his tormentor turned to face him, while the machine's corpse still smoked.

At last he found the will to spoke, and his voice was harsh as he addressed Peace. "You have killed more than my servant today, Justice Peace; you have also killed . . . my friend."

The mercenary favored his prey with a cruel smile, for he could feel no true humor, "I thought tyrants had no friends, Zarrko." He leveled his weapon at the short man's chest.

Zarrko gazed down at the barrel of the weapon, licking his lips. In those moments he mused if it would truly be better to be dead, rather than be running from the likes of Kang and the Scarlet Centurion.

"No, Justice Peace, some of us do have friends . . . Do you have any friends, bounty hunter?"

"I have no emotions to toy with, Zarrko. You will not delay the inevitable."

The Tomorrow Man gave a bitter laugh, even as his gauntlets surged with power, "I pity you, Justice Peace."

Zarrko's hand jerked up, a spear of energy launching from it in a glowing cloud. A dart of power had already escaped Peace's weapon, and the would-be conqueror twisted to avoid it, the chronal fields of his Time Cube bending around him, allowing him to move with great swiftness.

The Tomorrow Man grimaced as the shaft of searing light burrowed into his shoulder, leaving charred skin and steaming cloth behind. Yet the pain became a distant afterthought as he looked down at his foe's predicament, and saw Peace lying prone upon the Time Cube's floor. Smoke curled up from the festering wound apparent upon the chest of his armor, and quickly Zarrko hobbled over to inspect his enemy's condition.

The bounty's hunter's body rose and fell still with breath, albeit shallow intakes. Energy crackled around Zarrko's fist once again, and he trained his gauntlet squarely upon Peace's head.

With inhuman speed the former TVA agent's own hand darted up, its fingers clamping around the Tomorrow Man's thick neck. Armored digits dug into Zarrko's jugular, as Peace's eyes slowly opened, and fixed his victim with a cold, dispassionate gaze.

His own desire to end Peace's life suddenly forgotten, along with his ability to manipulate the Cube's chronal fields, the time conqueror's hands hastily grabbed for the bounty hunter's wrist, trying to pry away his deadly grip. He felt the oxygen flow to his brain slackening, saw hazy spots popping up across his field of view. It seemed as if his very eyes would explode out of their sockets as he began to die, and Zarrko's struggles began to gradually lessen.

Peace's hard expression was washed into sudden surprise as he felt his body beginning to fade from the confines of the Time Cube. He tightened his grip, tried to choke off the remainder of the Tomorrow Man's life before his own ended, but to no avail; his fingers closed around air. His sight grew dim, and the bounty hunter was gone from Zarrko's small vessel.

The time-traveler collapsed upon the cold deck of the Time Cube, gasping for breath, feeling life slowly flow back into his limbs. His head turned and his eyes fell upon the deceased shape of his Servitor, and again he thought that perhaps it would have been better if Peace had ended his life, rather than letting him live through the shambles of what had become of it.


Part Six: "The Gathering"

The gaseous atmosphere and rending winds of Jupiter howled outside the transparent field, but did not touch the plain metal platform held within.

"I have reached through the veil of time and space, selected those you and I agreed upon." the massive, tree-like creature said, her body hovering meters above the steel platform, "Their arrival is imminent."

The older man nodded in approval. His eyes, not dulled by age but bolstered by it, scanned the paltry space, searching for signs of his chosen's advent. For crawling moments that seemed like hours, his patience at last beginning to fray, the honored scientist saw nothing.

"Epoch?" he questioned, but without his own impatience creeping into his voice.

The scion of Eon remained quiescent, her unfathomable thoughts turning inward. "They are still en route, Nathaniel. There remains turbulence in the timestream, residual energy from the Union; it dulls the capacity of my abilities."

The elder Richards nodded his understanding, turning back to continue his silent vigil. It dragged on for another handful of monotonous minutes, the weight of time pressing heavily upon his shoulders. Yet he kept his facade of quiet fortitude strong, and gave no impression of the gnawing energy he felt in his stomach.

He felt a slight disturbance in the rather cramped space, seconds before his eyes glimpsed a flash of light. In a second of blindness, Richards heard a body fall to the floor with a metallic clang, and instantly knew the identity of the first arrival.

A small smile crossed the older man's features as his sight returned and he witnessed a shape clad in obsidian armor rising off the plating, eminent as ever despite his situation.

"Victor Von Doom, welcome to our gathering. You are the first to arrive."

The Latverian's voice was stern, filled with suspicion. Energy crackled along his fingertips, "You have made a grave error in transporting me here; Doom is not to be trifled with."

"Of that I am well aware, Victor, but these circumstances are somewhat different. Your skills are in more dire need here than in your war-ravaged America."

The suspicion in Doom's voice increased exponentially, and it was as if he had not even heard his host's words, "Your cadence . . . your voice; even your face. Richards?"

Nathaniel's smile deepened, "A Richards, Doctor Doom. I am Nathaniel Richards, Reed's father."

The dictator's voice was dangerous, "What purpose is there for bringing me here, Nath-"

Doom's words were cleaved by the coming of a second arrival, this one a towering cyborg. He landed hard on the steel, but was on his feet again in moments. His molybdium arm flowed and soon was replaced by a menacingly large cannon, trained on the placid form of Nathaniel Richards.

"Where am I?" Death's Head questioned, his tone making it clear he was not in the mood to be toyed with. As he spoke his eyes grew unfocused, as his concentration turned inward, trying to stymie the conflict of personalities which had started again in his mind.

"All will be explained in time, Death's Head. For now-"

"r(硬幣不能!" the cyborg screeched the mechanical obscenity in a voice not his own, even while a tremendous burst of energy flared from his weapon. Surprise dawned on Nathaniel Richards' normally calm features as time began to slow, and he watched the boiling sphere of power race toward his body.

His primal urge for self-preservation not realizing the futility of the act, Richards' hands went up to block the orb of energy, as it neared his torso. With a flash and fizzle the burst of might exploded, spraying streamers of light across the small arena, all of which quickly smoldered to smoke.

Time snapped back into normalcy and Nathaniel looked down at his body with disbelief; he bore no wounds from the sudden attack that had been perpetrated upon him. Naturally he looked up at Epoch with questioning eyes, curiosity already overtaking fear.

The cosmic being fixed him with a calming but serious gaze. "You are too important to be injured, Nathaniel, particularly by those you have selected. I have placed both Doom and Death's Head in containment fields, where they shall remain unconscious until the others I arrive. So shall it be for all the remaining participants until the assemblage is complete."

Richards nodded his agreement, turning back to gaze at the two beings that had appeared not long ago. Doom was not the individual he had expected; his ordeals in the year 2099 had changed him, Nathaniel hoped, for the better.

For Death's Head he felt not hatred or anger, but only concerned curiosity. Obviously the creature that had struck out at him had not been Death's Head himself, but another personality held within the body of the Minion construct. Before he could be released, the scientist knew, all other identities within that form would have to be subdued, and Death's Head permanently installed as the controlling facet.

His musings were halted by the appearance of the Martian/Eternal hybrid known simply as Ripjak. Immediately this creation of the High Evolutionary was suspended in space, his mind shut down, awaiting the time when he could be released. Nathaniel doubted this being would truly have been a threat, but agreed it was better to err on the side of caution.

Peace came next, followed by Century. Both were instantly imprisoned by Epoch's powers.

Nathaniel turned to the cosmic entity, "It is time, Epoch. Release their minds from your hold, but not their bodies. I have no wish to deal with interruptions while I speak."

There was no pause between action and words, "It is done, Nathaniel. Their minds are free, though their tongues are held."

Richards nodded, facing the gathering of the time-lost now, "Victor Von Doom. Century. Ripjak. Death's Head. Peace. Epoch and I have selected you, torn you through time to be here. None of you are heroes, nor do we expect to be so. Nevertheless, all of you possess talents which shall be invaluable in the days ahead."

Nathaniel began to pace now, as he spoke, strolling about the platform, making eye contact with each unwilling recruit in turn, "Recently, a trio of teams have been formed to safeguard the universe from threats that are too large for the Avengers or the Fantastic Four to combat. The Infinity Watch, the Cosmic Powers, and the Star Masters: all now serve willingly under the guidance of Epoch and those he represents. You five, along with myself, shall form the fourth squadron, The Timeless.

"It is our responsibility to seek out chronal anomalies and deal with them, and safeguard the sanctity of time itself. Our task shall not be an easy one, but it remains necessary. Without our intervention, the universe itself could be stopped in its infancy, or destroyed at critical junctures in history. Of all the four teams, our mission is the most difficult, yet also the most important.

"At this point you all must be surely questioning why you should accept this burden, to protect the myriad timestreams. But think back now, and consider what it is you abandon." Richards's stare bored into Peace's eyes, "What is it that you leave behind, Peace? A life of killing for money, an occupation unassured. With us you at least have the guarantee of purpose, and reason to end the lives of others."

His gaze fell upon Death's Head, "So it also is for you, Death's Head. Your mind even now roils with conflicting personalities, and even if you free yourself from the mire, your partner is dead. We can help you to regain dominion over your body, Death's Head, let you be the being you once were, before Minion assimilated you."

"And Ripjak, what is there now in your life? The High Evolutionary is dead, killed by your twisted half-brothers. Would you prefer to live only for spilling the blood of your enemies, or for the benefit of all the universe? Surely your father would see the wisdom of joining us, rather than continuing your crusade against the Martian hordes."

"Century . . . you remain an infant, one who must be taught the best way to live your life. Learn with us, and your desire to eliminate Kang divergences can still be fulfilled."

Immortus' creation did not respond immediately, his eyes searching about, avoiding the steady gaze of Nathaniel. Finally, gaze still averted, he managed, "I . . . I wish to learn. I will join you."

Richards nodded and smiled warmly, before moving on.

Nathaniel stopped before the frozen form of the Latverian monarch, "And finally, Doom . . . Of them all, you have something to return to. Herod is dead, and America is in need of reconstruction. Yet, what if in our time travels we could somehow prevent the murder of your beloved Latveria, prevent the Necrotoxification of its inhabitants? Think on that well, Doom..."

Richards strode away from the field of stoic bodies, and then turned to face them all, "I shall now ask each of you your decision, one by one. Peace?"

The mercenary suddenly found he could speak once again, and his answer was a flat, single word, "Yes."

"Ripjak?"

The Martian considered for a moment, "With our time travels . . . Can the War of the Worlds be prevented? Can the High Evolutionary's death be stopped?"

Nathaniel smiled, "Yes, Ripjak, perhaps."

"Then that too is my answer; yes."

"Death's Head?"

"z可千萬不要不菻H!因陘w經有很多因 . . . You can . . . 分別裝 . . . help me regain control?"

Richards nodded, "Of course."

"蛫穈上 . . . Yes."

"And Doom?"

The image of his Latverian subjects reduced to protein-rich sludge seared Victor's eyes as he remembered it, and he blinked the memory away. "You have my aid for now, Richards. But once my Latveria is restored, you have no promises from me."

"I would expect none, Doctor." Richards replied calmly, "The deed is done, the membership completed. Epoch shall free you now, and we shall prepare for . . . the future."


Continued in "Reaching for Tomorrow: Zarrko's Gambit."  Be sure to also check out this week's issue of The Cosmic Union, which takes place in the same continuity universe as The Tales of the Timeless.  And if you haven't already, check out Azmodi's Twilight War saga.  Please also take the time now to leave your comments and suggestions to the writers of this story below.


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