Wildside 2020: Come Together

Chapter Three: Back World
by R.W. Lander

The young boy who was Professor Preserver stared into the dimensional vortex he had created. He appeared no older than 8 years old, but his eyes held intelligence beyond what most would believe. He watched the hole grow smaller and smaller, and hoped that Wildside would triumph against his counterpart. He turned away to make sure the machinery was powering down properly.

From behind him, Preserver heard a thump. He turned and saw a young man, dressed in a red tunic that revealed a golden dragon tattoo on his chest, dusting himself off. The man looked up, swinging his long black ponytail over his back and adjusting his black shades to fit better on his nose. Next to him, a hooded young woman in green clothes and a green cloak was doing her best to blend in with the background.

The man's head turned slowly to take in the room. When he saw Preserver, he stopped and asked, "What year is it? Who are you?"

"I'm Professor Preserver, and it is 1994," the boy answered, in his high-pitched voice.

The man nodded to himself and looked at his companion. He made a gesture as if he was flipping an invisible hood back, and his companion did so. Her face was serpentine, covered with green scales, and devoid of hair. She looked confused, as if she didn't quite comprehend everything. Her slitted yellow eyes focused on the young man's face. She seemed to be entering some sort of trance.

Suddenly, the man in red started, his gaze going to the steel door on the far wall. He ran over and stood to the side of it, conjuring a silver staff from thin air. Seconds later, the door burst open, stopping just inches from his body.

"Professor! We think PRIMUS is on its way!" Jaguar was yelling, half-growling, in his beast-form, "We have to get out of here!"

Jaguar's nostrils flared and he turned, but he didn't register the threat. The silver staff connected with his mid-section, knocking the wind out of him and sending him to the floor. He got up and extended his claws, growling at the red man.

"That one was free, but now I'll kill you."

"Do your worst, traitor!" the man answered, assuming a fighting stance. Jaguar leaped at the man, but moments before his claws struck, he rolled out of the way. Jaguar landed behind him and swung again, but the man was still moving, dodging at blinding speeds.

Jaguar turned and faced the man. "Quit dancing, pendejo, and let's fight like men."

The woman flung herself at Jaguar, hissing loudly. He slapped her head absentmindedly as she went by, and she landed in a heap on the floor. She shook her head and hissed again.

"Traitor!" the man called, and flung himself at Jaguar. Jaguar was ready, and he slashed his claws across the man's chest. But the man stopped in mid-air, inches away from the swipe. A second later, he fell to the floor, unconscious. The woman rose, but quickly dropped again, seemingly hit with some invisible punch.

Jaguar turned angrily towards the door. "There was no need for that, Menton! I could easily have defeated these striplings!"

"Yes," said the new arrival, a dazzlingly handsome man with curly blond hair and blue eyes, dressed in lush purple robes, "and killed them in the bargain. I scanned their minds and determined that this was not necessary. In fact, they may even serve our purposes."

"Why?" Preserver asked, suddenly curious, "who are they?"

"I'm sorry, Professor," Menton said, "but we really must be going. I'll tell you on the way."

With that, Menton used his telekinesis to pick up all the people in the room, as well as miscellaneous machinery, and fly out of the hidden base.

A few minutes later, the man in red awoke to the sensation of flying. He looked down and saw nothing but water, rushing by at incredible speeds. Looking around, he saw Preserver, Jaguar, his serpentine companion, and Menton. Other than his companion, who was still unconscious, they didn't seem disturbed by the unusual mode of flight.

A voice spoke in his head. "Good morning, Platinum. I've decided to let you wake up, but don't make any trouble. You're in no danger."

"How do you know my name?" Platinum asked out loud.

"I am a telepath, Platinum," the voice in his head replied, "and I know all about your sister, Mary, your father, Golden Dragon, and your mission here, assigned by someone called Samsara. As soon as we're all safe, I'll fill you in on where you are and what you'll need to do."

"So we're here," Platinum said, "in Back-World?"

"Back-World?" The voice laughed, tickling Platinum's brain and making him shake his head. "Sorry, but if any of us come from 'Back-World,' it's you and your family. Other than the government, things here are much better off."

Platinum was obviously not pleased, but he resolved not to continue that line of discussion. "And my sister? Why do you not wake her?"

"I'm afraid this mode of transport would scare her to death. She's very animalistic, you know. Very primal. I suppose the COIL gene does that to people. It certainly affected...ah, but that would be telling."

Platinum was visibly angry, but he clenched his fists and began breathing slowly, focusing on his anger and trying to dissipate it. The Dragon Cult had been nervous about his anger, as it had very nearly destroyed his father. They had tried to control it, but the best they could do was teach him to deal with it.

After what seemed like eternity to Platinum, the group arrived in the frozen wasteland of Antarctica. They landed near a cave opening.

Platinum stared about him in wonder as his feet touched ground. "So this is what it looks like."

"Oh yes," Menton said, "you've never seen Antarctica this clear before, have you? Mechanon's little bomb decimated it fairly heavily."

Platinum gritted his teeth. Jaguar looked puzzled and asked Menton in his head, "Mechanon?"

"Yes," Menton replied mentally, "in their world, Mechanon finally decimated himself and Wildside in the early 2000s with a Lithium Bomb. Of course it didn't fully go off, but it did destroy most of Antarctica. Imagine all of this...black."

Jaguar shrugged and walked into the cave. They heard clicking sounds from within the darkened entry, and a few seconds later, "I've overridden the security" in a much more human-sounding voice.

The darkness was dispelled by a bright light, and they could all see that the cave was actually a concealed entryway to a high-tech fortress. Inside there were molded steel chairs and tables, as well as several monitor screens, all of which were dark. There were fluorescent lights hung above the ceiling, illuminating the entire area. It seemed to be made up of a single room, but there was a metallic door on the far end of the room.

Menton lifted them all inside, but left the equipment outside. When they got out of range of the equipment, and just before they entered the room, Platinum felt a burst of freezing temperature that numbed his entire body, even in just a second of exposure.

Platinum walked over to his sister, who was regaining consciousness, and took of his shades so he could look into her eyes. She was shivering.

"Mary," he thought to her, "are you all right?"

"Cold," she thought back, "can't think. Don't like it, Alex. Scared."

Platinum squeezed her am and walked over to Menton. "Telepath, my sister needs warmth, and quickly. Can you provide it?"

A mechanical voice from the far side of the room answered the question. "I'm sorry, I'm not used to human company."

Mechanon stepped out from the closet-sized space that the doorway had been concealing and touched a control on the wall. The heat went up several degrees. "Is that better?"

Platinum was staring with hatred at the robot. His silver staff appeared once more in his hands. "Mechanon. I'll kill you." He charged the robot, screaming at the top of his lungs.

Mechanon tilted his head in mild curiosity, but made no move to get out of his way. Platinum was stopped in mid-charge by Menton's telekinesis.

"Really, child, you are more destructive than your father. Now calm yourself."

Visibly relieved by the temperature increase, Mary stood and approached Menton. She tapped him lightly on the shoulder and waited for him to contact her mentally. Menton nodded slowly after conversing with her and then Platinum fell to the ground unconscious.

Mary hissed and black claws slid from the ends of her golden gloves. Menton looked at her and said, "Relax, little one. I have simply switched off his conscious mind for the moment. It seemed the easiest way to deal with things."

Mechanon approached Menton, looking curiously at the unconscious form of Platinum. "Why does he hate me so?"

"The boy is from a time line where you destroyed his father, Mechanon. His sister informs me that he goes into a berserker rage at the sight of robots."

Mechanon asked, "Who is their father?"

"Their father is Golden Dragon. They come from the same time line as the Wildside who so recently destroyed the resistance."

"Menton," Mechanon replied, "Wildside was only trying to help. They did not mean to cause as much chaos as they did."

"Unlike their counterparts here, I suppose," Menton agreed. "Have you repaired all the damage you suffered at their hands in Washington?"

"I am fully functional."

A loud beeping sound filled the metallic chamber and one of the monitor screens lit up, filling with a visual of Black Dragon's helmet. A small graphic below indicated that this was CNN. Above the picture, a line read, "Computer Daemon activated...reference to Black Dragon...Live." Sound came on a second later.

"...rebels from another dimension have killed Dark Rose. As of this moment, I am in control of Wildside. We will not stop until the rebels are completely destroyed... wherever or whoever they might be."

The screen blanked out and Jaguar looked up from his chair. "Wherever or whoever they might be? What does that mean?"

"Maybe they intend to find and destroy the rest of the resistance," Preserver offered.

"Professor," Mechanon replied, "we are the rest of the resistance. Even Black Dragon wouldn't be so foolish as to attack this group alone. He means something else."

"Kaufman," Preserver said softly, "he means Kaufman. Think about it. When Wildside was here, they often posed as their counterparts. Black Dragon knows that. He means to tell the public that Kaufman is an impostor, and then when he kills him, he'll be a public hero! He'll have all the power he craves."

"We must stop him," Mechanon said, "as I have once already."

"That can be up to these two," Menton said, gesturing to Platinum and Mary, "they are here to take Black Dragon away. I do not think it too much to ask that they take the rest of Wildside with them."

Mary shook her head and thought to Menton her answer. His smile faded.

"You intend to preserve Wildside? Bring them back? This much had been unclear to me. I find that odd. I cannot allow that. If this Azathoth means to destroy Wildside, so be it. They need to be destroyed."

Mary hissed and charged at Menton. He tried to stop her with his telekinesis, but it wouldn't come. She clawed his chest, a yellow poison spreading across the wound. Menton gasped and grabbed at the wound.

"She injured me. That shouldn't be possible. My telekinesis...it's gone."

Jaguar was up and across the room, and he knocked Mary unconscious before she could react to him. He closed on her and was about to gut her with his claws when Mechanon fired, hitting him with a wide angle cone of energy that sapped his strength.

"I will not allow harm to come to anyone here. Jaguar, Menton, you must distribute the antidote to the Cyberline virus. We will take care of Professor Preserver."

"As you took care of the resistance, Mechanon?" Menton snapped, "Will you let PRIMUS kill your other final hope as well?"

"Please go, Menton," Mechanon said, "I do not wish to fight you."

"That is good, robot. Because you would lose. But, in deference to the help your Professor has given to us, we will go. Next time we meet, it will not be as allies. We fight a common foe, but that does not make us friends." Menton gathered Jaguar up telekinetically and flew the two of them out of the complex, letting in a rush of cold air. Platinum began to stir as the cold air rushed past him.

"He is coming around, Mechanon. Why don't you continue recharging until we can get matters cleared up?" Preserver suggested.

Menton walked back into the closet and the door slid closed. Platinum stood and called his staff to his hand once more. He looked left and right quickly and then directed his gaze at Mary. "Where is he, sister?" he thought to her.

"He is gone, Alex," she thought back, "It's too cold for me here. Let's leave."

Alex cocked his head at his sister. He could sense that she was not being entirely truthful with him. She had never learned human habits like lying well enough to fool anyone. Still, she was not lying about being cold.

"Preserver," Platinum said, "we must leave this place immediately. We need to find Black Dragon and prevent his destruction."

"I agree, young one. There are planes in the hangar. We'll just take one."

Preserver put his palm on one of the blank walls and a six-foot by six-foot block of metal suddenly disappeared, revealing a corridor. Preserver walked in, and Platinum followed, holding Mary's hand. He looked around him at the corridor, then nodded to himself when he saw the hidden gears that manipulated the secret door.

"Palm-print technology?" Platinum asked, and Preserver nodded.

They entered another small room, this one also apparently sealed with but one exit. Inside were two planes, each looking like a long cylinder with wings attached. Preserver slid the glass hatch back on one of them and stepped inside. The plane hummed to life.

Platinum helped Mary in and then sat down behind her. It was very cramped inside the plane, but he leaned his seat back into the seat behind him and felt a little more comfortable. He could barely see Preserver's head beyond his sister's seat. He heard the boyish voice, however.

"All set?" The canopy slid shut and the plane rocketed forward, hitting the near wall and passing through it like it wasn't even there. Platinum was impressed that this dimension had apparently mastered holography earlier than his.

After a claustrophobic minute in a long metal corridor almost form-fitting the plane, they emerged into the clear blue air of Antarctica once more. The plane turned and headed back towards North America.

Preserver called back to Platinum, "I have no way of locating Black Dragon. If we wait until he attacks the President, it will be too late to protect them. PRIMUS, or Menton, or both, will slaughter them."

"Get us to Washington," Platinum replied, "My sister can find him."

Preserver shrugged and plotted a course for the East Coast. The flight was fairly quiet. Preserver tried to converse with Platinum a few times, but it became apparent that Alex held something against him. And it also became apparent that Mary couldn't speak, except to her brother by telepathy.

As they were approaching the north coast of Canada, Preserver finally asked, "Why do you hate me, Platinum?"

Platinum let out a sigh. "Forgive me, I know you didn't do it, but in my world, your counterpart caused great destruction to those I loved. He was responsible for the deaths of many in the Dragon Cult, and also for certain members of Wildside. Although I didn't know all of them very well, I felt my father's pain whenever he spoke of it."

"I was responsible? What do you mean, if you can talk about it."

"When Wildside destroyed Doctor Destroyer's dimensional device, it created a dimensional feedback. Almost all dimensional travelers were sent back to their home dimensions. This included Okage, the Dragon and protector of my cult. Most of the Great Snakes died that day, and the Wyrm cult launched an immediate attack on our cult. In that moment of weakness, we fended them off, but at a great cost. I only learned later of the true cost."

Preserver was lost, but didn't want to take Alex's grief lightly, so he simply said he was sorry and went back to flying the plane. Within hours, they were in sight of the American coast. Preserver dove the craft into the ocean and slowed, activating the sonar cloak. They glided through the water, all engine power cut. Platinum called out, "Why are we underwater?"

"Within sight of the original American coast, PRIMUS activity is much higher. This way, if their sonar picks us up, it won't think we're anything more than a school of fish. On surface, our cloak isn't effective. It will take a little longer, but we'll get there safely. Be patient."

Platinum grunted and began his meditations. Patience was not his strong suit.

It took seven hours before they reached a small cove and surfaced. The hatch slid open and Preserver got out, the water coming to his shoulders. Platinum got out to help him beach the craft. Mary climbed out as well, sniffing the salty air.

"How do we conceal it?" Platinum asked.

Preserver smiled and touched a sequence of buttons on the outer hull. The wings seemed to disappear, and then the cylinder folded in upon itself until it was the size of a can of soda.

"We put it in our pocket," Preserver said, grinning, "Miniaturized. It's a little trick I picked up from Red Fury."

Mary was wandering further up the beach, looking at the wooden docks in the distance. She could tell that the city in the distance was not Washington, D.C. She looked back at Platinum and thought to him, "Where are we?"

Platinum shrugged and looked back at Preserver, sparing a moment's glance at the small forest to their immediate north. Preserver was looking at him curiously when he met his eyes.

"Sorry, I thought I heard something in the trees. Where are we?"

"We're in Maryland," Preserver answered, looking at the trees carefully, "it's as close as I dared get us. Washington D.C. has amazing security, and even I can't defeat it. Because I built it."

Mary suddenly charged from the beach, diving into the forest. Platinum summoned his staff and ran after her, and Preserver followed. Platinum was yelling out her name, obviously worried.

After crashing through a couple layers of trees, they came upon a clearing. Mary was locked in an embrace with a huge serpentine creature twice her size and obviously male. There was a black jeep with the passenger door open on the nearby road.

Platinum growled, but Preserver put a steadying hand on his shoulder. Mary turned and looked her brother in the eye, communicating, and his jaw dropped.

Platinum turned to Preserver. "Mary says...but that's impossible!"

"No, indeed, young man," Preserver said, the sentiment sounding odd from his current body, "that creature is your counterpart."

The two men walked down to greet the new arrival. Mary finally let go of the other Alex and took his hand, leading him up to meet the two of them. Preserver gave the creature a hug, which was firmly returned, and Platinum just stared. The creature returned his stare, and both of them suddenly knew who they were looking at. Platinum's face cracked into a smile, as did his counterparts, revealing sharp teeth.

"How did you find us, boy?" Preserver asked, looking over at the jeep.

A figure stepped out of the driver's side and said, in a sweet Irish brogue, "The rebels' equipment tracked yuir vehicle. We knew it had to be friendly, as stealing such a craft from Mechanon's stronghold would nae be possible, even if Kaufman could find it."

The woman who spoke was a stunningly beautiful red-head with green eyes. She wore a black trench coat over a white jumpsuit. On the left breast of the suit was a broken black cross. "I picked up Alex after the attack on the rebels. I knew he would lead me right to ye."

Platinum stared at the woman. Her beauty put him ill at ease. "And who are you, woman?" he demanded.

She smiled sweetly at him. "Me name's Amanda O'Keefe," she replied, as black energy formed around her fists, "but Azathoth calls me Sinner."

The energy flew from her fists, still clenched at her sides, and struck Platinum in the head. He screamed and fell, black energy sparking all over his body. He grabbed his head with both hands.

The serpentine Alex reacted with surprise, but Mary leaped at Sinner, slashing at her with a clawed hand. The claws slashed through Sinner's costume at the waist, cutting it but not the skin beneath. The yellow venom from the claws seeped into the exposed skin, and Sinner cried out in pain.

She smiled sensuously. "Mmmmm, sweet pain. I like ye, Mary. I think I'll keep ye."

She fired again, this time the bolts striking Mary. The bolts had no visible effect, and the sparks flickered and died around her.

The serpent Alex recovered and ran towards Sinner. He leaped, but she caught him in mid-air with a black energy spike formed off of her right fist. The spike went into his chest and plunged out of his back, but Alex grabbed his head in agony. He fell to the ground behind her and laid there, sparks dancing around his body as well.

Sinner's bolts struck again, hitting Preserver, who was searching the jeep for some kind of gadget to help him. He braced himself for pain, but felt only a mild buzzing in his temples that he quickly shrugged off. It was not unlike Menton's mind touches. Mary spun and readied herself for another strike at Sinner.

"Well, fun's fun, but I must be going," Sinner said. Her entire form turned black and dissipated, leaving only a broken cross impression, which quickly faded and disappeared.

Seconds later, the black sparks fizzled around both Alexes. They stood up weakly. Mary thought to both, "Are you alright?"

Both nodded, simultaneously, and rubbed their temples. Platinum then looked at Preserver, eyes full of determination.

"The enemy is here," he said, "we must find Black Dragon."

Preserver got into the driver's seat and turned on the car, looking at the fuel gauge. "How did that woman know how to activate our tracking equipment? It was very heavily secure to avoid PRIMUS using it? Alex?"

Alex shook his massive head and shrugged. He looked at Mary, who relayed his thoughts to Platinum, who said, "He says he doesn't remember. All he knows is that he woke up moments before he felt Mary's mind touch his, which happened right after we arrived."

Preserver furrowed his brow and drove the car onto the road, heading up to Washington D.C. He said to Platinum, who was in the front passenger seat, "Have them check the gas supply."

Platinum turned to see his sister engrossed in a mental conversation with his counterpart. He grinned and sat up himself to look in the rear of the truck. He saw two cans marked "15 gallons gasoline" in the back.

"The supply is adequate," he said. Preserver half-smiled and kept driving.

Back at the clearing, the cross impression once again became visible and Sinner again appeared. She looked at the car's disappearing taillights and smiled. A flash of black energy passed from her left to right eye.

"Alex," she said, "gotcha."

Platinum looked at Preserver and coughed. Preserver looked at him curiously, and then noticed Platinum staring at the speedometer, which was registering 55 miles per hour.

"Can we not go faster?" he asked.

"Trust me, son, we don't want to. If we exceed the speed limit by so much as one-mile per-hour, we'll get pulled over. And the four of us aren't exactly inconspicuous."

Platinum nodded and leaned his head back against the chair. "Understood. We will stay out of sight."

He turned to communicate this information to Mary and Alex, who ducked down in the rear seat.

"Glad you approve," Preserver muttered.

After about an hour, Preserver said, "We're running low on gas, I'll pull over at the next rest stop so we can refuel."

Fifteen minutes later, the group pulled off the road, guided by a sign that said "Keep America Beautiful - PRIMUS-Patrolled Rest Area Ahead."

They pulled the jeep into the parking lot, and were glad to see that the other ten spaces were empty. A brick building was the only standing facility, and it was marked as Men's and Women's rest rooms. Plastic picnic tables and metal grills dotted the rest of the clearing, which was surrounded by woods. Even the access road was blocked from sight of the highway by trees.

"This is perfect," Platinum said, "we are covered from prying eyes. I will practice, and we can all shower in the rest areas."

"Just be careful," Preserver warned as Mary and Alex stepped from the car, "PRIMUS patrols these areas pretty well. I'll set up passive sensor scans for other vehicles. If anybody shows, we've got to stash the jeep and the four of us in those trees."

Platinum finished a couple of martial katas and stepped to the back of the jeep to get gas. Mary and Alex sat down at a nearby table and locked eyes, engaging in a telepathic conversation.

Platinum lifted the gas can easily. Too easily. He looked and saw that there was two-inch hole punched in the side of the can. A quick visual check confirmed that the other can was also damaged and just as empty. He called out to Preserver, "We have been sabotaged."

Preserver looked at the empty cans and swore. Platinum thought for a second and then said, "We shall wait for a PRIMUS patrol and steal the gasoline from their vehicle."

"They are not fools, Platinum! They will notice you stealing their gasoline!"

"Then I shall subdue them first."

"No! No violence! We'll simply have to walk from here. Maybe the resistance can find us somehow."

Platinum shook his head vehemently and then brightened, saying, "I think I can steal the gasoline without being noticed."

Preserver was about to ask how when Platinum vanished. Preserver looked surprised, but quickly figured it out. "Invisibility?"

Platinum reappeared and nodded. "You three hide in the woods along with the jeep. Do you have any ideas as to how to hide the vehicle?"

"Oh, I have one. Alex!" Preserver yelled, and Alex stood up from the bench and walked over to Preserver, looking at him curiously.

"We need to hide this car in the woods." Preserver said to him.

Alex shrugged and lifted the car, taking it over to the trees. He climbed one of the larger trees, balancing the car over his head. Before long he was in a nest of the top branches, holding the car. From the ground, he was practically invisible.

"No one, not even PRIMUS, is likely to look up there for a jeep," Preserver remarked.

Mary walked over to the tree and climbed up, sitting next to Alex and resuming their psychic discussion. Preserver walked over and began to climb the tree awkwardly until he was aided by Mary. From the trees, he called to Platinum.

"Good luck."

Platinum sat down at the closest picnic bench and watched the access road. After about a half hour, he saw a car approaching and turned himself invisible. As the car became visible, it was clear that it was a PRIMUS vehicle. It was marked with black and white colors, had a siren, and the PRIMUS insignia on the hood. Inside were two uniformed officers, a man and a woman.

The car stopped and the two of them got out. They exchanged some pleasantries and walked off in separate directions to check the area. The man disappeared into the woods, and the woman went into the concrete building. Platinum became visible and approached the car. He got inside the vehicle, which was still running, and pulled the lever to release the trunk. Inside, he found two cans of gasoline, the same size as those they had in the jeep. He pulled them out, closed the trunk, and ran over to the woods.

"Drop the punctured tanks to me!" he whispered, concealing the cans he had stolen in the dirt. The two punctured cans dropped to the ground quietly, but one of them rolled into a rock, setting off a resounding clang. Platinum held his breath, but neither of the officers seemed to notice it. He picked up the punctured cans and placed them back in the PRIMUS car's trunk.

Just as he was closing the trunk, he heard the door to the building open and turned invisible again. The woman came out, holding her pistol. She was speaking into a mini-microphone on her collar.

"Yes, I heard it. Sounded like it came from those trees. You go back to the car, I'll check it out."

The woman walked over to the trees where the others were hidden, and the man walked out of the woods and opened the car door. He was reaching for the radio when Platinum appeared right in front of him.

"What the hell?" he yelled, but then Platinum struck him with his staff, hitting him in the arm. The man dropped his pistol and Platinum followed with a quick strike to the head, using the staff almost like a pool cue. The man dropped, unconscious.

Platinum whirled to see if his partner had noticed, but she was staring up at the tree. The comm-link on the man's collar buzzed and her voice came over, "I think there's something up in this tree."

Platinum made his staff vanish and said into the comm-link, "No, I don't think so."

The woman whirled and fired her pistol, but Platinum was behind the car, and it ricocheted harmlessly off the far door. He stood up and red energy formed along his right arm, eventually shooting out in a bolt that hit the woman in the head. She cried out and stumbled a little, lowering her gun.

Platinum took advantage of her momentary confusion by leaping over the car and running towards her at full speed. She recovered and fired three shots, all of which he dodged, before he got to her. When he was there, it only took two quick staff hits to knock her unconscious.

Alex dropped out of the tree, jeep in one hand, Preserver in the other. Preserver was visibly angry.

"Idiot! She hadn't seen us yet! Now all of PRIMUS is going to come down on our heads!"

Platinum yelled back at him, "I was trained as a warrior, not some skulking coward! I restrained myself for as long as I could, but I would not endanger my sister or my mission by my cowardice! They are unconscious, they did not radio for help, and we have our gasoline. Let's go!"

Preserver shook his head. "You don't get it. When these two don't report an all-clear on this rest stop, PRIMUS will come looking for them. And they'll find us. We don't have much time."

Alex put down the jeep and they all got in. Preserver started the car and drove it back onto the highway, but they could see a PRIMUS car, its lights blaring, approaching in the distance. When it saw them pull out of the rest stop, it accelerated and headed straight for them.

Preserver looked in the rear-view mirror. "We'll never make it now. You've killed us, Platinum."

Platinum looked behind them at the car. Mary and Alex looked up at him, both obviously worried. Platinum tried to reassure his sister and counterpart.

"We will survive if the Dragon wills it."

Both of them glared at him. Clearly, they didn't find that reassuring. Platinum shrugged and turned back to Preserver.

Preserver pressed the folded transport into Platinum's hand. "PRIMUS knows we're here, so we may as well use a better means of transport."

Platinum nodded and rolled down his window, sticking his right arm out and aiming behind them. "Once the car goes off the road, stop and I will unfold the vehicle."

Seconds later, Platinum released another burst of energy, striking the driver through the windshield and sending the car careening off the road. They hit a tree and both PRIMUS agents were thrown clear of the wreckage.

Preserver slammed on the brakes, sliding the jeep to a halt. He got out and activated the plane, watching it unfold again to its full size. He then hurried Alex, Platinum, and Mary into it. It seemed rather cramped with the four of them in it.

The plane lifted from the ground as the PRIMUS agents fired shots at it, but the range was too great for them to be effective. Preserver turned the vehicle away from the highway and over the sporadic forests. Then he looked behind him at Platinum.

"We've bought, at most, a minute or two. They'll send copters next."

Mary hissed excitedly and pointed out the window. They turned and saw a red blur heading towards them from the north.

"Or worse," Preserver said, "the Champions of Evil might be in the area."

Outside the window, they could see the red blur getting closer. When it was very close, they saw the red, black, and yellow armor of Red Fury, the evil counterpart of Defender. He was carrying a massive gun and aiming it at Preserver's head.

Preserver pushed the stick and the plane dipped below the energy blast. Red Fury dove to follow the plane, closing in even more.

"We'll have to land," Preserver shouted, "we can't fight him in this. Thankfully, he seems to be without the rest of his team for now."

Preserver brought the plane down and Red Fury landed about twenty feet from them, taking careful aim with his blaster. When the canopy slid open, Alex dove in front of Preserver, landing on top of him in time to catch the blast that was meant for Preserver. The blast blackened and blistered his serpentine skin and he lay very still on top of Preserver.

"Platinum," he shouted, "you and your sister must defeat him quickly! I'm stuck!"

Platinum was halfway to Preserver, his staff in hand. Mary was slower, but she was out of the plane and on the ground, moving towards Red Fury from cover. Red Fury fired at each of them, destroying Mary's cover but missing the agile Platinum.

Platinum reached Red Fury and swung his staff like a baseball bat, striking Red Fury in the head. A metallic clang filled the air, followed by the sound of electricity arcing into a target. Sparks flew from Red Fury's armor and went through Platinum's body. He collapsed, convulsing, on the ground.

"Stupid boy," Red Fury said, "Now you die." He took careful aim and lowered the blaster at Platinum's head.

Mary finally reached Red Fury while he was distracted, but her claws skittered harmlessly off of his armor, and her venom did nothing more than leave a slight stain on the chest plate. Red Fury looked up at her.

"Pathetic, really pathetic. The rebellion must be getting desperate."

Red Fury pulled the trigger and the gun fired. The bolt struck empty ground. Platinum stood beside Red Fury, smiling.

"I needn't touch you to harm you, evil one. Surrender." Platinum focused his ki into his confidence, and his body glowed with a golden aura. It took on the shape of a dragon, wavering behind him. He projected an aura of supreme confidence and power.

Red Fury scoffed. "Nice trick, boy. But I'm not easily impressed." Red Fury raised the rifle and fired, but Platinum was in motion again, long gone by the time the bolt hit.

Mary, obviously frustrated, knocked the blaster from Red Fury's hands. He backhanded her across the face, his electrical charge going off again but not doing any real damage to Mary's scaled hide. The blow surprised her, however, and she was knocked back a few feet.

As Red Fury was observing his handiwork with Mary, Platinum fired his energy bolts and struck the armored villain. He grasped his head and looked at his on-line computer, which indicated that it was a focused mental attack. He began cycling through his most accurate attacks before Platinum could fire again.

Red Fury's computer selected penetration spikes and targeted Platinum. He released the spikes, and two of them flew towards Platinum.

Platinum nimbly dodged one and his hand shot out to catch the other. Faster than Red Fury's sensors could even register, he reversed the direction of the spike and sent it hurling back into Red Fury's chest plate. There was a burst of electricity and smoke began to curl out of the hole in the suit.

Surprised, Red Fury stumbled backwards into Mary's grasp. She grabbed him and began to squeeze. The electricity from the outer shell arced all around her, but she ignored it and continued squeezing. The armor creaked slightly, and the electrical discharge ended, its power drained for the moment.

Platinum moved in and swung his staff, hitting Red Fury in the head twice. He went limp, and Mary released him, sending him to the ground in a heap. Platinum stood over him and tried to remove his helmet.

"Mary, get Preserver out of the plane," he said. His sister hurried to obey.

Mary pulled Alex off of Preserver and watched him start to inspect the boy. Her eyes revealed anxiety, and Preserver turned to her.

"He'll live, but he may be out for a while." Preserver looked over at Platinum, who was using his staff as a crowbar, trying to remove Red Fury's helmet. "Platinum, bring him over here."

Platinum shrugged and carried the armored man to Preserver, dropping him at his feet. "It won't do any good, he has some sort of security on his armor. I can't get it off of him."

Preserver looked over the armor for a minute and then tapped it in several places rapidly. The armor fell open, revealing the unconscious form of James Harmond IV. Preserver smiled up at Platinum.

"Fairly simple security. Nothing I couldn't easily defeat." Preserver got into Red Fury's armor and sealed it. His voice came out of it, mechanically distorted.

"I hate armor, but at least it will protect me."

The group got into the plane again when they heard sirens coming their direction. They took off, but in seconds they could see PRIMUS attack helicopters approaching.

Preserver pushed the plane to full speed and they darted past the copter in front of them before it could react. It was soon following, along with the other, both firing their chain guns at them. A couple of rockets were fired, but barely missed the craft.

"We can outdistance them..." Preserver began.

"Then we have escaped," Platinum said.

"...but not the Slingshot," Preserver finished, "and Red Fury has already alerted them. When the Champions get here, they'll destroy us."

"Unless someone else beats them to it," Platinum said, pointing out the window.

Preserver looked and saw the Vagabond closing on them from behind. He was surprised to see it fire its cannon at both PRIMUS copters, destroying them easily. It then increased speed and closed on them.

Platinum closed his eyes, hoping that someone else would complete the mission if they failed. Then his comm crackled to life.

"Hey, Samsara said you guys needed help, so he sent me," said the female voice. There was a pause, and then she said, "Have you guys seen my dad in this world? He didn't even deserve to fly this plane."

"Cindy," Platinum breathed, "thank the Dragon. Beam us aboard."

Platinum and Mary disappeared, reappearing in the Vagabond's teleportation chamber. They beamed two more comms to get Preserver and Alex on board, and then flew off.

Once everyone was on board, Platinum rushed to the cockpit. Cindy Hunter, dressed in a leather jacket and baseball cap, was sitting at the controls. "Samsara says you're in control on this one, pajama-boy. So where to?"

Before Platinum could answer, Preserver spoke up."I've programmed the plane to head East at top speed. Hopefully, that will keep them off our tail for a while."

Platinum nodded and then said, "Washington D.C. And this is a warrior's garb, I earned it in battle."

Cindy looked back at him and snorted. A couple of minutes later, she said, "Okay, we're here. Now what?"

Preserver looked visibly shocked. "I've heard of what it can do, but to actually ride in it...impressive. I might have to build one."

"Platinum," Cindy said, "should I uncloak the ship or what?"

Platinum ignored Cindy and walked back to Mary, who was sitting at Alex's side. He looked in her eyes and waited for her to establish her mind link.

"Sister, we are in D.C. Try to scan for Black Dragon. His mind pattern should be close to our father's, and hopefully to mine."

Mary nodded and closed her eyes. Platinum felt his mental contact with her break as she focused her psionic energies around her. Preserver came back and stood beside them.

"What's she doing?" he asked.

"She had the ability to telepathically find any member of our family if they are within a certain range. Once she has located him, we need simply to find him and Samsara will take care of the rest."

"How?" Preserver asked, "what can he do? Who exactly is he? Your leader?"

Platinum winced. "No, that honor falls to Vincent. Samsara is the being who brought us all together as Wildside. He is very wise and very mysterious. And, barring a few bad decisions of late, he seems to have the best interests of Wildside at heart."

"Bad decisions like not putting you in charge?" Cindy called from the cockpit.

Platinum whirled and was about to respond when Mary's eyes snapped open. She grabbed at her brother's sleeve, frantically trying to make eye contact. When he looked into her eyes, he saw panic.

"Alex, I've found him!" she thought, "He knows we're here, and he's very angry! He wants to kill us! You, me, Cindy, Preserver, Alex, all of us! We've got to get away! That's not our father!"

Platinum took Mary's hand and squeezed it. "No harm will come to you from the Black Dragon, sister. I'll see him dead first, no matter what Samsara says."

"No," Cindy said, getting out of her seat and walking towards Platinum, "we are here to rescue Black Dragon from destruction, and that is exactly what we are going to do."

She accented each syllable of her last few words with a step in Platinum's direction, until she was standing right in front of him, face to face.

"We've got Dark Rose from Prohibition-World, we've got Centurion from Invasion World," she said calmly, "and all we need is Dragon. More than your stupid honor is at stake here, Platinum."

Everyone in the plane tensed. Platinum stared back at Cindy. After what seemed like hours, he looked away and said quietly, "I will do what I must."

The door to the Vagabond smashed inward and the Black Dragon floated inside, carrying Swift. "Come then, and do what you must."

Preserver and Cindy both dove for the front of the plane, getting past the two Wildside members. Mary stood and turned her back on the wounded Alex, and Platinum dove straight at Black Dragon, striking him with his staff.

Black Dragon didn't even flinch. He simply grabbed Platinum by the neck and began to squeeze.

Swift ran towards Cindy, leaving Dragon unprotected. Neither he nor anyone else saw the serpentine Alex rise from the ground, a blackness in his eyes, and walk stiffly behind Dragon. He focused his attention for a second and then struck, plunging his fist into Dragon's back. A wet snap came from inside the man, and he screamed and dropped Platinum.

Platinum fell back to the rest of the team, except for Mary, and they all saw Alex turn to them, his eyes completely filled with black energy. And then, from his previously mute form, a hideous, high-pitched laugh began. He convulsed and the darkness poured out of his eyes and mouth, pooling on the floor and slowly piling up to form a human shape. Finally, the form took on color and definite shape as Sinner.

"Whew," she said, shaking her head, "thanks for the ride. Now, be a dear and kill Platinum. Platinum, why don't you go ahead and kill Alex."

The team was horrified to see that Platinum's eyes had also turned black. He launched himself at his counterpart, swinging his staff with all of his might, and his counterpart swung his fist at Platinum. Both connected with a sharp crack and they each dropped, stunned.

Sinner laughed and watched the two of them. Cindy reacted by firing a mental blast at Sinner, who smiled and said, "Mmm, do it again."

Swift, who had now gotten his bearings, ran past Preserver and rained fists at high velocity on the armor. They struck him and had no visible effect. He changed tactics and carried Preserver over to the hatch, throwing him off the plane.

Sinner fired another blast of darkness, this time at the shaken Black Dragon. He shuddered and fell, black sparks arcing through him. She yelled out, "Now, Big D, I want you to stand very still."

Black Dragon stood up like a statue, putting his hands to his sides. Mary leaped at Sinner but was knocked away by Swift, who followed through with a couple of high speed punches.

Cindy yelled at him, "Hey, idiot, she's going to kill your leader!"

"Yes, I know," Swift said, "death fascinates me."

Platinum and Alex, both recovered, were ordered by Sinner again. "Come and strike your father as hard as you can. And take your time."

The two of them walked over and took aim. As Platinum swung his staff back, Canare's astral form came through the floor and fired a mental bolt at him, dropping him to the ground, unconscious. Alex's fist hit Dragon in the back and plunged through, his bloody hand emerging from Dragon's chest.

Dragon dropped to the floor, his blood pooling around him. Sinner smiled and then cried out as Cindy fired another mental bolt at her. Swift reversed direction and began running in a circle around Sinner, landing a flurry of blows to her body. None of them seemed to have any effect.

Sinner smiled at him. "Why so happy?" he asked, "You can't hit me either."

Cindy yelled for Swift to look out, but it was too late. Before he saw anything, Alex moved in behind him and struck him. With his force field lowered, he couldn't take much force, and he dropped to the ground, moaning.

Sinner looked up at Cindy and Mary, the only two left standing except for Canare, who was desperately casting failed healing spells on Dragon.

"I'm winning," she said gleefully. Then Preserver appeared at the door and floated back in. He deactivated his boot jets and said, "I don't want to hurt you, but I will if I have to."

"Kill him, Alex," Sinner said, "then your sister, then Cindy, and then yourself."

When she said your sister, Alex grabbed his hands and fell to the floor. He began to shake wildly and the darkness in his eyes began to flicker and go out.

"Uh-oh," she said, "I overstepped my bounds, didn't I?" She looked over at the unmoving form of Black Dragon, still leaking blood onto the Vagabond floor.

"Well, I think I've done what I came to do. Azathoth can hardly blame me for bugging out." With that, she turned once again into black mist and disappeared. Alex collapsed, exhausted, and began hissing loudly.

Platinum regained consciousness, but found himself unable to stand up. "Cindy!" he called out, "check on Black Dragon!"

"What do you think I'm doing?" she yelled back, standing over Dragon. Preserver had placed his head against Black Dragon's chest and was listening intently. He looked up and his shoulders slumped. He shook his head sadly.

Cindy said softly, "We've failed, Platinum. Black Dragon is dead."

Cindy, Mary, and Platinum turned bright white and faded.

And in his citadel, Azathoth began to laugh.

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