Tales of the Timeless #7
Written by Warren "Azmodi"
Entros, Edited by E.A. Morrissey
Tales of the Timeless
Part One of: "The Cold Dominion of the Masked Specter"
Note: Please read Issue #6 of Tales of the Timeless if you haven't already.
"Are you sure we have time for this Nathaniel?" Ripjak queried as he circled Century, his body tensed for combat. The artificial time traveler looked back at him intensely, his muscles too ready for war, Parallax held out menacingly before him.
Richards shook his head, though his eyes never left the disembodied skull of the Servitor as he continued grafting the robot's head into the Time Cube's circuitry, "Yes, Ripjak. Before we engage our next opponent it is imperative that we determine Century is once again in good health."
The Martian hybrid nodded reluctantly, and then fixed his gaze back on his mock opponent. Century circled once more, before lunging forward, his staff whipping out in an attempt to decapitate his foe with a single stroke. Amazed at his comrade's speed, Ripjak ducked barely in time, his leg nearest Century automatically shooting out to catch him in the midsection.
It was like kicking molded to flesh, but still did Immortus' creation grunt with pain in surprise, his attack dying moments after it had begun. Ripjak stepped closer, two jabs knocking Century's head back before he shook the daze from his eyes and deflected a second barrage.
The High Evolutionary's prize creation danced backward, narrowly avoiding a downward sweep of Century's edged staff. He was powerful, Ripjak saw now, easily the mightiest member of the group. But Century's power was also unfocused; his base skills were now formidable due to Zarrko's mental conditioning, yet it would take time for him to master the intricate fighting styles of those such as Thor and Adam Warlock.
As the hybrid re-grouped, formulating a new strategy as he renewed his circling, he realized Nathaniel wanted to know far more than Century's mere physical condition; the scientist wanted to see how well Immortus' creation had progressed in the arts of war.
A quick glance in Richards's direction all but confirmed Ripjak's suspicions; he was no longer paying the slightest attention to the Servitor, his eyes now keenly focused on the play-battle unfolding aboard the Time Cube. The Martian knew he was training this would-be warrior, and as such vowed inwardly to become the best teacher he could be.
The next flurry of blows was more harried than the first, legs and arms churning about like lightning. With loud claps Ripjak struck his enemy three times, solidly. Again the Martian escaped without being injured or even so much as touched, though Century had come far closer this time than the previous foray.
The third and final engagement lasted for longer than those preceding it did; as Ripjak felt the hard metal of Parallax slam into his stomach, he knew that Century was learning far faster than he ever had. As the hybrid wheeled back, pain throbbing from his midsection, Ripjak knew that his comrade would be a warrior of finest caliber in months and weeks, not years and decades.
He prepared to re-enter the fray, adrenaline pumping through his body now, but Nathaniel's powerful, yet gentle voice ended the mock battle, "Enough. I have seen what I required. It is obvious that Century has healed from his injuries and is in more than suitable condition to accompany us on our next mission."
"Thank you, Nathaniel." The Grey-skinned being replied, "But had it not been for you're healing abilities, surely would I not only be unable to aid you, I would also be under Zarrko's dominion."
Richards smiled warmly, saying nothing in response to Century. Instead he spoke to both his comrades; "It is time we were off, then." He turned and began to manipulate controls, which had been alien to him, only days before as surely as the Tomorrow Man himself had.
"Shouldn't we inform the others?" the Martian asked.
"They are well-aware that our second mission was soon to be embarked upon. There is no reason to roust them from their quarters only to watch me pull a switch."
On cue, Nathaniel did indeed pull that switch, and immediately the Time Cube leapt backward through the time-stream, beginning a journey to a destination that only the Timeless' leader knew.
Victor Von Doom glanced at the chronometer for what seemed the hundredth time. It would be more than four relative hours before reaching their destination. Zarrko's Time Cube was apparently not the wonder of technology the Tomorrow Man had at times made it out to be. Doom himself had designed time devices, which traveled with more relative speed than this vessel.
"I would have your attention, Victor." Nathaniel said sternly, seeing that the Latverian was not giving him what he desired.
"I am more than capable of hearing your words without constantly looking at you." Doom replied bitingly, though he did do as he was asked.
"It is time that we came to an understanding, Victor. In order for the Timeless to function properly, there can be no inner conflicts. Our first mission did not go nearly as smoothly as I had hoped. An opponent who is not known for his successes took Century from us. And you led an assault on the Time Cube without my authorization."
"Need I remind you that you were unconscious at the time, Richards? You were incapable of giving me your 'authorization.' I analyzed the situation and reacted accordingly. We were victorious, were we not?"
"Only due to the intervention of a mercenary sent by Kang the Conqueror. Had he not appeared, I surmise you and most of the others would either be Zarrko's prisoners or dead."
"That would not have occurred, Richards. I am as capable a tactician as you are, if not more so. Though I have been sequestered in this group nearly against my will, I shall not allow them to die easily. Latveria is dead, until in our travels I chance upon a way to repair it; until then I consider these men Allies, and Doom does not betray those he Allies himself with."
Nathaniel smiled slightly, "You truly have been changed by your ordeals in 2099, Doom. In the time of my son you betrayed any and all to obtain your goals, yet now I sense truth in your words."
"Your . . . son... " Doom said absently.
"But I see your hatred for Reed is undiminished, despite your change of heart. It is time you realized that I am not Reed, Doom. In many ways we are alike, in many ways different. The Timeless will function far more efficiently if you understand that hating me and hating Reed is not the same."
"Different . . . How are you different, Richards?" Doom spat.
Nathaniel's gaze was intense, his eyes boring into the Latverian's sockets. The dictator awakened to the fact that Reed had never looked at him with such intensity before.
"I too have ruled, Doom, ruler others as you have. A decimated Earth - I rebuilt it, and cared for its people as if they were my own. I left that place, my home, to serve as the leader of this group, and I will do what is necessary to accomplish our objectives, Doom."
The Latverian was silent, and was glad of the mask he wore over his features.
"We are more alike than you dare admit, Doom. Your talents are great, and I require someone capable to function as a surrogate leader, should I ever be separated from the group, as I was during the battle against Zarrko. I would give this post to you freely, Doom, but you must cease your blind hatred, and begin to trust me as I shall trust you." He paused, "What is your decision?"
Von Doom's answer was slow in coming, reluctantly drawn out from his vice of a mind, "I . . . see the wisdom in your words, Nathaniel. I accept."
Richards smiled, "Good, very good. Things will surely function far better now that we have come to this understanding. It was a necessity that we quickly ended this issue, Doom. Zarrko was but a small sign of the foes we shall be facing in the future. Already Kang is aware of us, and we must be ready to deal with his threat when it comes."
"A threat you yourself are responsible for creating." Doom said, though his tone was missing a great deal of the harshness it had carried only minutes ago, "Though I suppose it would take little effort to eliminate him forever by simply altering the timeline . . ."
Nathaniel shook his head, "No, such methods cannot be employed. Retroactive destruction places too much danger on the sanctity of the time-stream. We must engage our foes and battle them on their own terms, unfortunately."
The conqueror's eyes narrowed behind his mask, "You said that a way could be found to prevent Latveria's necro-toxification before it was initiated."
Richards's steps carried him towards the doorway leading to the twisting corridors of the Time Cube, "Did I? My meaning was that a cure for the necrotoxins could be found somewhere in our travels. I apologize, but I must take my leave now. I will return before our destination is reached."
The doors hissed shut behind the scientist's crimson cape, leaving Doom alone, and feeling the newfound confidence in Richards already being threatened.
The mechanical doors slid shut behind Nathaniel as he entered the space anomaly occupied by his quarters in the Time Cube, ending any sign of the outside world. He strode out into the either as surely as if there was a visible floor beneath his feet. All about him ethereal winds howled and supernatural fog hung, almost appearing to shape itself into screaming figures, which quickly fled.
Raw cold cut at the scientist's skin, but he soldiered on, finally coming to the place where he had been assigned to wait. It appeared no different than any area of the roiling tumult, yet instinct and memory told him he had chosen the correct position.
Had time been measurable in that solemn, gloomy realm, minutes would have passed before a trio of robed entities floated forth from the shadows and addressed Nathaniel, "Your progress, Nathaniel Richards?"
Still did the scientist feel awe when in the presence of the Time Keepers, "We have defeated Zarrko and commandeered his Time Cube for our own purposes. However, Zarrko himself was captured by a minion of Kang's."
"It matters little. Zarrko is no longer a threat to our time-stream and you will deal with the Conqueror in due course."
"Yes . . . yes. That will be some time from now, Keepers. The group is bonding together, but slowly. I have surmounted the obstacle that Doom posed; though it will take time for him to completely trust me. The Timeless are not yet ready to deal with as formidable opponent as the House of Kang."
The timekeepers expressed no reactions to Nathaniel's replies; they only kept asking question after question, like little more than automatons, "The status of Century?"
"He is developing more quickly than I anticipated. Currently I am putting emphasis on developing his physical skills; his abilities as a time traveler will come later."
"We suggest you speed his development, Nathaniel Richards. The time will come for you to face the threat we assembled you for, and it is unknown when that will be."
"I have discovered no clues as to the identity of this unknown threat, nor any manner which can be used to break the barrier encapsulating the 81st century. When I do come across any pertinent information, I will share it with you immediately. Have you eliminated all evidence of our tampering in the specified time eras?"
"Our machinations have been sufficiently cloaked; your teammates will be unable to detect any manipulations, should they return to their native times."
Nathaniel nodded his approval, though he was well aware that it was nothing to the timekeepers, "Good. I suspect that one of the members may be returning to his own time sooner than any of us suspected."
"Who is this individual, Nathaniel Richards?"
"Death's Head, Keepers. He has performed more than admirably so far, but I believe that, given duration, he will prove incompatible with the Timeless. He is not naturally given to working in concert with and under the direction of others. But more importantly, of the entire group he is the only one who possessed a distinctive identity before joining the Timeless. Doom is still relatively new to his reborn existence. Century is but an infant, Ripjak an adolescent just coming into adulthood. Peace is a hardened mercenary already, yet he remains still unsure of himself since undergoing personality alteration. Only Death's Head has a concrete identity stemming from previous experience, and as such he cannot be molded."
"We give you control of the situation Nathaniel; deal with it when you see fit."
"I shall, Keepers, before the others grow too attached to him and comfortable in his presence. He will be dealt with in a non-lethal manner, so as not to arouse the suspicions of the others."
The trio of incalculably mighty beings began to slowly fade from few, even as the wind-torn, ethereal surroundings slowly twisted into Spartan quarters aboard the Time Cube. Their last words lingered in the air like a supernatural pall, "We leave it to your discretion, Nathaniel Richards."
The curtains of time parted swiftly as the Time Cube's chronal drive slowly relaxed its hold on the vessel, which it had guided through the time-stream to its current destination. Swinging out of the currents of time, the Cube shimmered into existence over Earth orbit, as its inhabitants stood quietly on the bridge, awaiting word of the era they had arrived in.
Standing tall, clad in the same armor he had worn as the Benefactor while helping Kang's world out of nuclear oblivion, Nathaniel Richards perused the numerous devices adorning the console before him, and finally read off the date, "October eleventh, eighteen ninety-eight."
"Where is our landing point on Earth?" Doom inquired, even as he looked at the pristine globe and felt a slight rush of exhilaration. It was the world as he had remembered it, not the ruined gem of his reign in 2099.
"The chronal disturbance is localized in . . ." Richards paused and true surprise washed across his features as he saw their destination, "Latveria."
"What?" Doom spat, moving closer to Nathaniel and the controls he brooded over. His eyes quickly observed the data which had been gathered, and he proclaimed with assurance, "That chronal signature is identical to the one emitted by a time-traveling device of my own manufacture."
"Someone has obviously stolen it and traveled back in time to revenge himself upon Latveria before you have even been born." Peace said frankly, "Who would have the motive and means to accomplish such a feat? The Doctor Doom I heard tale of did not brook the interference of thieves, especially not in his own castle."
"No," Doom said coldly, "he did not. This armored suit I constructed in the waning years of the 20th century, it was a true achievement. Few individuals possess the intelligence, motive, and knowledge of Castle Doom to enact this plan of revenge."
The Latverian considered for a few moments, his broken memories aiding him where they could, "At times Kristoff grew unbalanced from the mental conditioning I put him upon, but I do not believe him to be capable of such an act. A renegade Doombot would also have the knowledge necessary to commandeer and operate the machine." His eyes narrowed behind the frozen mask, "Zorba . . . He would enjoy nothing more than usurping my position as Latveria's leader, and during his time in Castle Doom he surely familiarized himself with the devices secreted within."
"Zorba?" Death's Head questioned, "Never heard of him. Sounds like a bad comic book character, yes?"
"He was a fool, heir to the original gypsy dynasty which ruled Latveria. With the help of the Fantastic Four he wrested control of my homeland from me for a short time, long enough to make the populace suffer. Upon returning to Latveria I smashed his troops, and when I finally fell upon him he was nearly mad with hatred. The energy-monocle he had grafted to his features was as nothing before my anger. I beat him to the brink of death, and then hurled him into the river, and so he could suffer as the water poured into the wounds I had inflicted upon him. I presumed him to be dead, but it seems that is not the case."
"You're convinced it's him?" Richards asked as he steered the Time Cube down through the high clouds capping Earth's atmosphere.
"He is the only one capable of such a feat." Doom said, anger smoldering in his voice, "But Zorba is also a fool. He will be no match for the six of us; his limited resourcefulness will carry him only so far."
On the viewscreen affixed to the nearest wall, the Grey clouds parted to reveal the familiar shape of Europe, their trajectory obviously carrying them strongly towards the Eastern half, and the small nation nestled within the Balkans. Night held sway over the land, bathing it in inky blackness.
Ripjak flexed his hand, "What will our strategy be?"
"That cannot be decided until we land, and discover what type of defenses Zorba has assembled. I imagine they are not overly formidable, but we must still be cautious, and avoid all un-due damage to the timeline."
Only Ripjak nodded in reply, the others all more than aware of the dangers inherent when intruding upon the past. Their eyes focused upon the tiny country growing larger before them, and mentally prepared for battle.
Latveria's ruler heard the man's whisperings in his ear, even as his shielded orbs looked up at the massive monitor adorning his throne room. The single servant in his presence, dressed in the traditional garb of the time, only looked up at the device with wondrous amazement, never before had he seen such a sight.
The figure leaned away, and the dictator stared up at him, "At least I will be afforded the luxury of personally killing a Victor Von Doom, then. The war drones you brought with you have been keyed to my authorization codes?"
The stranger nodded.
He smiled slightly, though it was difficult with the damnable mask bonded to his features, "Good. I will await contact from Victor Timely and eliminate these 'Timeless' before they even pose a threat. You have my thanks for your aid."
The man nodded and seconds later he was gone from the throne room, though he had not taken a single step from his position. Latveria's monarch again focused on the screen, and as he watched the box-shaped vehicle slowly descending through the sky, again he smiled, this time far, far wider than he had before.
Continued in Tales of the Timeless #8. In the mean time, check out 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!
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