Tales of the Timeless #4
Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Tales of the Timeless
Part Two: "Reaching for Tomorrow - Zarrko's Gambit"
Note: Please read Issue #3 of Tales of the Timeless if you haven't already.
Century's features warped with fearful surprise as he saw his body beginning too discorporate, torn away from the time bubble.
"Century!" Nathaniel shouted as he vainly tried to seal the fissure that had suddenly manifested itself within the chronal sphere. But to no avail, the scientist could do anything save watch as his new comrade disappeared from sight and instrumentation; undetectable by the sophisticated armor he wore.
Richards' thoughts were instantly transmitted to the myriad devices spread throughout the cuirass he wore, and so too instantaneously did the Timeless' travel through the time-stream cease. The lines of events and individuals blurred to a stop, now vaguely visible as if through a rainbow waterfall. Still, they were far too distorted to be made intelligible by the eyes of the individuals who stood within the halted orb; such a feat would take the abilities of one Born to live within the fluid environment of time.
Ripjak seemed by far the most perplexed by the situation, for of the lot of them he was only individual not accounted with the mechanics of time travel, "What, what's happened? How . . . could he just disappear like that?"
"It was obviously not a natural occurrence." Peace said gravely, but simply, "Someone, or something, took him out of the chronal displacement field."
"Agreed." Nathaniel said, checking countless read-outs, which popped up across his sight as he replied.
"To create a rupture in a field of this size and complex construction would require both a high level of technology and an individual practiced in the art of time travel." Doom added, using his own devices to check the orb for further signs of weakness, or intrusion.
The Latverian turned to Richards, and asked impatiently, "Have you determined what breached the field yet?"
Nathan's eyes were distant, his mind elsewhere, "Not yet . . . I'm going over the flight history now. An answer will be forthcoming within minutes."
Doom seemed unsatisfied with his erstwhile commander's response, obviously thinking that had he been in control, the entire event itself would have been prevented. But he had not been in control, and quickly resolved himself to that fact, instead questioning the bounty hunter, "Did your sensors detect anything out of the ordinary before Century's abduction?"
Death's Head made a negative motion, "This body is made for fighting, not observation; its scanning capabilities are very limited as such. Perhaps you should ask Peace; he did work for the TVA and is well-versed in the intricacies of time travel, yes?"
Despite his obvious capacity to overhear the short conversation, which had sprung up between the dictator and cyborg, Peace did not make any move to quiet Doom's concerns. The mercenary merely stared off into the clouded river of time distantly, until the Latverian had no choice but to inquire.
"Did your scanners detect any abnormalities before Century's disappearance, bounty hunter?"
Peace did not favor Doom with eye contact as he responded, further irritating the conqueror, "My armor is of TVA manufacture, and very sensitive regarding anything time-related. One point two seconds, relatively speaking, before Century's abduction my sensors picked up a powerful static disruption pulse emanating anywhere within a decade up - time from our current position."
The Latverian nodded his understanding as best he could; though he momentarily could not remember exactly what a static disruption pulse was. Blaming this shortcoming instantly on his own fragmented memories, Doom began to turn away, to share this new knowledge with the still-musing Nathaniel.
Unexpectedly, Peace continued his monotone speech, though his naturally dour expression did not change a hint. "The technology required to create a machine capable of producing a static disruption pulse of the potency capable of breaching a time field such as this one is impressive; such technology is available to only a few individuals and institutions throughout time."
"And those individuals and institutions would be?"
"I am sure you possess the intellect to build such a device, Doctor, along with your contemporary Reed Richards and his father; but the likelihood of any of you being responsible for Century's abduction is unlikely. The chances of a trans-physical entity such as Galactus, the Stranger, or Thanos seizing Century are greater, yet only slightly so, for each should be more than capable of constructing a being possessing Century's abilities."
Doom's patience began to swiftly fade as Peace's methodical pace of speaking continued onward.
"This leads us to more probable culprits. Immortus most certainly wishes to retrieve his pilfered property, but would use his own innate powers rather than machinery to accomplish his goal. The TVA might possibly wish to seize Century for study, as might the Congress of Realities, assuming both know of his existence."
"An impossibility." Doom interjected quickly, more than tired of listening to the mercenary's monotone voice, "Both Richards and I agreed that Century's component Limbo energy would make it nearly impossible for him to be tracked unless his pursuer possessed some incredible level of technology . . . or had another advantage."
Peace nodded slowly, apparently unimpressed with his teammate's own portion of deductive reasoning, "That eliminates both the TVA and Congress of Realities, leaving only two more probable subjects: Kang the Conqueror and Zarrko the Tomorrow Man. Kang as yet remains unaware of Century's existence, as he has no inside information regarding his creation. That leaves Zarrko."
The Latverian nearly scoffed at this, "How would the Tomorrow Man know of Century's being, either?"
The bounty hunter smiled now, coldly and for the first time, "My last assignment before being drafted into this group was to hunt down and eliminate Zarrko on behalf of House Kang. I had nearly succeeded before being ripped away by Epoch's powers. The fat man had affixed a monitoring device to my armor the very moment I entered his Time Cube, and did not see fit to remove it until recently."
Doom's eyes narrowed behind his crimson lenses, "Why?"
Peace's frigid expression did not change, "My task was never completed, and I always finish my assignments. Kang had already paid my asking price and despite the fact that my price was slight genetic re-engineering, to allow me to function as a bounty hunter, my sense of honor has not changed. I gambled that Zarrko would see the power inherent in Century and abduct him; my instincts were correct."
The Latverian was torn between wishing to disembowel the mercenary immediately for so endangering himself and the group entire, and having a grudging understanding for his choice. Did not Doom too have honor, a code that had to be satisfied? Much as he disliked the sensation, the Doctor now had a slight modicum of respect for Peace. It was a sense of a respect he hoped would not grow in the near future.
"Astounding!" Zarrko announced as he looked at the scanner readings on his recent abductee, Servitor peering down over the Tomorrow Man's shoulder, "His memories tell us he is a creation of Immortus himself! And specifically designed to permanently destroy renegade divergences!"
"Such as Kang the Conqueror." The large machine said bluntly, he himself incapable of the excitement that washed through his master and friend.
Zarrko's smile widened exponentially, "Exactly. What we have stumbled upon this day is a weapon meant to destroy my age-old foe!
The hulking robot's eyes went distant for a moment, as he received new information from the Time Cube, "Master, there is a small energy disturbance on level three, section alpha."
The Tomorrow Man was unfazed, "Most likely a side-effect of the static disruption; automated systems will handle it." Instantly Zarrko returned to his conniving, "With a small amount of mental conditioning he will be my complete and utter thrall, willing to do whatever I bid!"
Servitor reluctantly pointed out an oversight on his lord's part, "Master, the construct possesses no experience in combat, nor any training. Powerful as he may be, if this being engages a Kang in battle without proper preparation he will be destroyed or captured."
The Tomorrow Man stroked his weak chin for a few moments, eyes grown to slits in thought. Finally a smirk grew on his face again, and he turned to peer at Servitor, "Your observation is unfortunately true, my friend, but it can be remedied easily enough. The Time Cube possesses extensive historical records of Earth's heroic population, does it not?"
Zarrko's grin widened, "Then we shall encode in Century's brain the various fighting styles of some of Earth's greatest champions. In time he will be capable of using their skills as well as the originals, and then the House of Kang will finally fall."
Already moving away to the appropriate console, Servitor replied, "It shall take a great deal of time for the data to be fully assimilated, and even longer for Century to learn how to use his newfound combat abilities properly."
"There will always be time, my friend."
The machine did not share his master's enthusiasm, and inquired as to what Zarrko's wishes were when he had reached the control panel, "Which hero's fighting styles to you wish me to begin encoding?"
Again the Tomorrow Man fell silent for a span of moments, duly considering his options, "Most definitely Thor . . . and Captain America. Also code in the abilities of Hercules and Adam Warlock. Perhaps add Terrax, Morg, and Gladiator as well. And "
"Master," Servitor said as his thick fingers flew across the various keys, "I believe it would be prudent to include no more than three heroes' during this first session. If too many styles are encoded into his mind at once, he may become too confused during combat and be unable to function at all."
Zarrko nodded, stunted arms crossed over his chest, "Yes, yes, of course . . . Thor, Adam Warlock, and Captain America will suffice -- for now."
"Understood, Lord Zarrko. The procedure is already underway. Copying and transferring all relevant files pertaining to subjects Thor, Adam Warlock, and Captain America into the receptor areas of Century's brain."
The Tomorrow Man could not help but smile again, the expression clawing its way out of his gullet as he looked on the comatose form of Immortus' stolen creation. Already he saw himself on a throne of gold; its gem-studded legs set upon still-steaming corpses of innumerable Kangs.
Patient anger was plainly written on Nathaniel Richards' careworn features, despite the tremendous lead he had been given.
"It seems you will require a period of adjustment to realize you are operating in cooperation with your teammates, Peace. You should have shared your information regarding Zarrko with me immediately, and most certainly should not have made it so easy for him to track us. You've endangered Century's very life with your inaction!"
The bounty hunter seemed unperturbed by his appointed leader's placid diatribe, "It was a matter of honor, Nathaniel; sure you can understand that. Once my debt to Kang has been repaid I fully intend to devote my full energies to this group, rather than my solo career. After all, I go where the profit is, and apparently that's here, at least for the time being."
Reluctantly Richards nodded, and then ran his steady gaze over the other remaining members of the Timeless, Doom, Ripjak, and Death's Head, "I believe this can serve as a lesson to us that we all need to adapt to functioning in a team environment. None of us have been part of a group such as this before, and naturally that requires some adjustment. But this has been a costly lesson to learn, and I hope it never has to be repeated."
Both Death's Head and Ripjak nodded their agreement, while Doom and Peace remained stoic as armored statues.
Again Nathaniel addressed the human mercenary, "When this impromptu mission is accomplished and Century retrieved, I also intend to inspect your armor, Peace. It seems the TVA provided you with systems far in advance of my own."
"We should all receive the benefit of Peace's TVA technology, Nathaniel." Doom said, "None on this team should possess any unfair advantage over the other, insofar as technology is concerned."
Of the other four Timeless, none called the Latverian for his insulting innuendo; either they did not grasp Doom's jape, or simply chose to ignore it.
"Agreed, Victor." Richards responded, before turning to Peace, "You believe Zarrko's Time Cube lies in the time-stream no more than a decade in the future from our current chronal position?"
The mercenary nodded solemnly, "That was where my armor tracked the static pulse; however, he could have since moved on. There's no telling where Zarrko could be now. All of time is his hiding place."
"Perhaps the very energy which makes it difficult to track him can be used for that very same purpose." Death's Head interjected.
Richards' brow furrowed slightly, his near-limitless intellect already seizing on the cyborg's idea, "What do you mean?"
"Century is composed partially of Limbo energy, yes? Makes him difficult to track throughout the currents of time? Could we not track the absence of his presence?"
Nathaniel shook his head grimly, "No, the Limbo energy serves to make him 'bled in' to the time-stream itself; it would be like looking for a needle in a pile of needles." He fell silent, stroking his Beard absently, searching for another solution.
Doom's own mind rushed ahead of its own accord, desperately examining myriad possibilities in hope of reaching a resolution to their difficulties. He would not allow the father of his greatest enemy to reach that same conclusion before him.
And then the answer came, like the proverbial light bulb suddenly flashing to life in the Latverian's cavernous mind.
"Peace, do you still possess Zarrko's tracking device?"
The former TVA enforcer reached into his armor and soon produced a small device, no larger than a child's fingernail, "This is the cohesive form Zarrko's nanites took after attaching to my armor."
Eagerly Doom took the miniscule mechanism in his gauntleted hand, internal scanners already analyzing its minute shape, "Does it still function?"
"I disabled it, but it should be easily repairable. A small infusion of energy would restore its power."
From the Doctor there came no response, as he willed his armor to transfer an infinitesimal portion of its power into the tiny device. Instantly the transfusion was completed, and the mechanism sprang to life, small running lights flickering on.
Doom handed the tracking device back to the mercenary, "Can you trace the signal?"
Peace nodded, taking the device firmly in his grip. For a moment he was silent, his armor doing its work.
"Zarrko is currently heading for the year 3089, his destination and also the location of a small outpost belonging to House Kang. Doubtlessly he intends to use Century against his enemy's forces there."
"We will go now, but cautiously." Nathaniel Richards announced, his mental signals already powering up the chronal displacement generator, "We know where Zarrko is, but he also knows we're coming for him."
"The five of us should be more than a match for the Tomorrow Man and Century." Ripjak said, "Century is powerful, but has no combat training or experience to speak of. Apparently he was taken from Limbo before Immortus finished that portion of his programming."
Death's Head seemed to have had his fill of talk, his molybdenum arm already flowing into the shape of a menacing cannon, "Should stop wasting time and begin our travels. Zarrko is waiting for us, yes?"
Nathaniel gave the cyborg the barest of nods before his thoughts triggered the chronal bubble back into flight, and soon the Timeless were once again speeding down the corridors of time itself.Continued in Tales of the Timeless #5
Check out the continuation of this story from Cosmic Powers Unlimited #5. And be sure to visit the Cosmic Unionverse Page for details about the Cosmic Union continuity and the other stories taking place in it, as it begins to shape into a whole new cosmic universe of Marvel characters! Now be sure to leave us some comments and suggestions!