Enigma slipped inside the building like a ghost. It was a four-story building, made of glass and steel and covered on the outside with propaganda posters. At one time, it had been the center for the Ruler's Crime Control in this area of Miami, what was now known as Sector Five. That was before all the criminals had been eliminated two years ago. Now it was just another empty building; or at least, that's what the Ruler thought.
Enigma walked in and used a telepathic command to turn off the holographic screens that the Armorer had developed. The broken furniture and dusty interior fizzled away to be replaced by shiny metal and soft cushions, a hideaway for the rebellion. Enigma sat down in one of the stuffed chairs and set the broken chip-reader on the marble table.
She had to wait about two minutes before she heard the distinctive hum of hoverjets outside. Ever the cautious spy, she pulled out two shuriken and held them ready to throw at the door.
The door slid open and revealed a shiny red and blue armored figure with a black cape. Enigma relaxed and put her shuriken away.
"Hey, Nigs!" came the boyish voice. It was echoed by a softer, more mechanical voice saying, "Greetings, Enigma. A mechanical problem?"
Stepping inside, Legionnaire came fully into the light. He was about six feet tall, with short black hair sticking out from the top of his open-topped helmet. His helmet exposed his lower jaw, allowing Enigma to see the wide grin he had. He always wore that expression, he had all the confidence and optimism of a sixteen year old, even though he had grown up in this forsaken dimension.
Enigma didn't answer, just pointed at the broken chip-reader. Legionnaire sauntered over and looked at it. "Major downgrade," he said. He extended his metallic right arm over the broken device. His gauntlets shifted like water and covered the chip reader.
Legionnaire was very still, except for his head, which was turning all around to look over the safehouse. He started to snap the fingers on his other hand until Enigma reached out her hand and stopped him.
"Oh, sorry," he said. "Was I bothering you? I just get bored while Al does her thing. We got anything yet, Al?"
"Yes," the mechanical voice returned, from within the Legionnaire armor. "Unfortunately, the chip reader is irrevocably damaged. The chip, however, is intact. It is coded, and I could not break the code. We will need someone familiar with the Ruler's code protocols."
"Red Dragon," Enigma said. She plucked the chip from the broken reader and slipped it into a pouch underneath her cloak. Then she turned to Legionnaire.
"Take us back to Base One."
Legionnaire put his arm around her waist and lifted off, flipping the holographic images inside the safehouse back on as they flew out the door and into the bright Miami sunshine.
* * * * *
The first sensation Shockwave had upon awakening was cold metal against his cheek. Then he could tell that someone was shaking him, trying to wake him up. No, he thought, at least two people were shaking him; there were three arms.
He pushed the arms away and looked up. He tried to speak, but couldn't, when he realized that all three arms belonged to one being.
The being in question was a purplish color, about four feet tall, standing on tripodal legs with three arms mounted equidistant around its pole-shaped body. It's one eye, mounted centrally on the body, blinked in what Shockwave assumed was either fear or concern. It made clicking sounds with its three mouths.
Shockwave tried to stand and felt pain rip through his body. He looked and saw that his arms and legs were exposed, and covered with blisters. Azathoth's lightning had hit him hard, he remembered. Then the world had gone dark.
But where was he now? This couldn't still be Azathoth's base. Shockwave carefully turned his head and looked around him. He could see windows that were showing starry skies, and in one he saw the Earth. The windows were mounted above a control center of electronics, and beings like the one who had awakened him were scrambling around in a panic.
A partly-translucent human face appeared in the center of the area and began to yell. "You have violated our near-orbital territory against our warnings! You will find us prepared for your kind!"
The head faded and the ship rocked, cutting all lights on board the ship. The clicking sounds began again, in different pitches and speeds, from every one of the beings. A few seconds later, reddish lights came on. Two of the beings came over and lifted Shockwave up, taking him to the center where the image had appeared. They moved him onto a glass disk and waved their arms at him.
"What, what do you want?" he yelled.
In response, the human image returned and said, "Who are you?"
"I'm Shockwave," he said, still unsure what was going on. He added uncertainly, "Of Earth."
There was a pause as the image faded again. It took three minutes before the image returned, and full lights returned with it. This time the image was familiar. It was the face of Vincent Pillar.
"Shockwave," he said. "It is you. What are you doing on board the aliens' ship?"
"Vincent," Shockwave returned, "I haven't the foggiest idea where I am or why I'm here."
"You're in the dimension where you helped fight off alien invaders. Remember Research Island?"
"Of course I remember! It was only a few days ago!"
"Not in our time, Shockwave. It's been nearly thirty years here."
One of the aliens walked up to Shockwave and handed him a metal ring. Shockwave put it on his finger and the clicks transformed into broken English.
"Hologram...inform no harm...wish diplomatic exchange."
"Vincent," Shockwave said, "these aliens have informed me that they wish a diplomatic exchange, not harm."
"That might be a little difficult, Shockwave. The World Council is balanced precariously on a vote on whether or not to try and wipe out all alien life before it can get to us. Aliens aren't real welcome down here."
"Can the resistance help us?" Shockwave asked.
"No, the resistance forms the core of the World Council."
"Well, do we know anyone in this World Council?"
Vincent grinned. "I do happen to be Minister of Affairs for North America."
"Then you can grant us authority to land," Shockwave insisted.
"Not if I want to keep my job," Vincent replied. His holographic image froze for a few minutes, and when it regained its animation he said, "Okay, I've made a deal. You and one alien emissary can come down. No one else. Their ship is to remain in orbit, with shields powered down. Do they have a shuttle, or should we send one?"
Shockwave turned and the alien nearest him responded, "No...small craft...this only vehicle."
"I think you should send one," Shockwave said.
"Okay, I'll meet you on Earth in a few hours."
The holographic image disappeared. Shockwave turned to the aliens and saw them part to allow one of their kind to walk up to him. He raised all three of his arms in a gesture of greeting and said, "I are Antioch. I are the ambassador."
Shockwave just smiled uneasily. He went to the viewport and watched anxiously for the Earth shuttle.
The shuttle came into view two hours later. It was streamlined, painted a dark black so that it blended with the inky blackness of space and disappeared unless one concentrated hard on seeing it. Once Shockwave focused his eyes on it, he could see that it was loaded with jury-rigged weapons. It landed atop the aliens' craft and seconds later the holographic image of a stern-looking older man appeared.
"Shockwave and one alien, prepare to beam aboard."
Shockwave felt a familiar sensation and seconds later, he appeared on the transporter pad of the shuttle. Ten armed guards in full armor walked up and patted him and Antioch down. They scowled suspiciously when they found no weapons and backed off, keeping their rifles aimed in the general direction of Antioch. The stern-looking commander stepped into the area and looked them both over.
"I'm Commander Treyan, North American Forces. We've been instructed to land you in Japan, where Japan Delegate Kim Ochiro will take you both in. I must stress that this mission is completely illegal, and if you are caught, it will mean the end of the careers of both Minister Pillar and Delegate Ochiro. If that happens, I'll kill both of you."
The commander turned and walked out of the area, and a few seconds later, the shuttle was in motion. Shockwave found himself wishing he'd stayed on the alien ship.
On the way down, Shockwave tried to converse with Antioch, but it became clear that their thought processes were too different for idle chat, and Shockwave wasn't ready to make diplomatic agreements. He tried to speak to a few of the soldiers, but none of them would even glance in his direction. The closest he came to communication was when one spit on his shoe and muttered, "Stinking xenophile."
Shockwave was glad to see the space around him turn into blue skies as they entered the atmosphere. He watched the islands of Japan grow larger in his window. As they got closer, something seemed wrong to him.
"What happened to Japan? It looks like some of the islands are gone."
One of the soldiers responded, while still staring directly forward. "Xenos, like your friend there, wiped a couple of them out with anti-matter bombs. They tried to destroy them all, but Golden Dragon stopped them."
They began to circle a large complex, made up of pagodas and other ornate looking Japanese structures. Finally they landed inside a courtyard in the center of four buildings. Shockwave climbed out of the shuttle and whistled The entire compound was exquisite, filled with cherry blossoms and Shogun-Era Japanese architecture. Statues lined all four corners of the yard.
Shockwave walked up to two of the statues that looked familiar. He saw that the plaque set in the stone beneath them said, "Dedicated to those who fell in the war." He was shocked to find that one of them was a statue of him!
"I guess I'll have to have that one removed."
Shockwave turned towards the sound of the voice and saw a beautiful American woman walking towards him. She was in her mid-sixties, but still managed to look stunning and graceful. Her black hair hung down to the edge of her blue silk kimono's neck line. The silk robe stopped just inches from her bare feet. She wore a small red crystal on a chain around her neck.
"I'm Kimberly Ochiro. We met before, although it was a long time ago." She paused for a second and considered, then said, "You haven't changed a bit."
"It's only been a few days for me," Shockwave explained. "I guess a lot has happened."
"Yes," Kim said. She waved to the commander. "You and your men can return to base now, Commander. Vincent and I will take care of Shockwave and his friend."
"Oh, this is Antioch," Shockwave said awkwardly. Hearing his name mentioned by Shockwave, Antioch turned from the cherry blossom he had been actively sniffing and raised his three arms to Kim. He then walked cautiously over to her. When he got there, he just sat and stared into her face. Kim simply gazed back until he finished.
"Let's go inside and wait for Vincent. It's clear that we have a lot to decide."
Inside, the house was extremely modern. Its walls were made of steel, not paper, and holographic art adorned the corridors and rooms. It had a very roomy feel to it, and Shockwave noticed that there were no doors.
"Not very secure for an ambassador," he noted.
"Ambassador?" she said curiously. Then she had a flash of recognition and said, "Oh, no, I'm not an ambassador. I am effectively the political leader of Japan."
"But...you're an American!"
"True," she said, reaching for an intricate tea set and motioning for him to sit. "And if it weren't for my husband, I wouldn't be here. But when he died stopping the lithium bombing of the main island, he became a legend. I became his legacy, and the people loved me for it."
Shockwave took a cup of tea that Kim poured and offered it to Antioch. Antioch twisted his entire body to one side, making him look like an upside down L. Shockwave realized that this was his way of saying no. He took the cup for himself.
A young woman in her twenties walked into the room. "Mother, I...oh, I'm sorry, you have visitors."
"That's all right, Mary," Kim said. Mary smiled and walked out of the room.
"Mary?" Shockwave said, amazed.
"Yes," Kim said wistfully. "She was born a few months after Dan died. They never met."
"What exactly happened?" Shockwave asked. "The last thing I know, we were making a raid on Research Island and I was knocked unconscious."
Kim sat back in her chair and took a sip of tea. "Well, during the raid, Wildside showed up. There was a big fight, and we eventually got Rose and Black Dragon off the island, although in the course of the fight Argent turned traitor and was killed, and half the team was badly wounded. You were right about Argent, by the way."
"We were on the Slingshot when all of a sudden Vincent sits bolt upright like he's just had a cosmic revelation. He grabs comm badges and starts pinning them on anyone he can. Then you, Indigo, and our Centurion faded away. Seconds later, Vincent activated the teleporter and we were all beamed behind the aliens' stronghold on the island, just in time to see the Slingshot go up in a huge explosion."
"Vincent starts having delusions of grandeur and leads us in a charge on the aliens. Before the Prince even knew what hit him, we'd finished him off. From there, we mopped up the forces on Research Island and took it as our base. Centurion reappeared a few days later and helped us reprogram the Minuteman we had defeated before its own memory could come on-line."
"The war lasted for a while. Even though the Prince was gone, the alien forces were still around. Then, a year later, Robert Kaufman shows up at our door. He gives us plans, military tactics, and equipment specs on everything he ever knew about the aliens. Seems he realized that he had been on the wrong side the whole time. On Vincent's OK, he joined us. After a while, he and Dragon became close friends and shared the second-in-command job."
"We lost people to the war. Dan died in 1999, stopping the aliens from using a lithium bomb on mainland Japan. Swift died in the attack on Research Island. Alec Xavier died at the close of the war when he tried to sell weapons to the alien in an effort to keep the war going."
"We finally kicked the aliens entirely off the planet in 2004. From there, the World Council was set up. It was bad at first, worse tyranny than the aliens. Bresler went nuts and killed the first President of the World Council, who had been the only moderating influence. We locked him up, but in the time it took to find him, the new President took control and declared us outlaws. From there, we had to fight another war against our own people."
"In 2010, Vincent was named Minister of Affairs for North America. Shortly after that, I took this position. That's about it."
Shockwave took a deep breath. "Just a few days ago, I helped free this world from aliens. It's a lot to take in."
"Try finding out your entire life has been a lie in the blink of a second," came a male voice from the entry way. "And then having to lead a badly wounded resistance against the tyrant responsible for their near-destruction."
Shockwave turned and saw Vincent standing in the entry. "What exactly does that mean?"
"It means that the whole Xavier-clone story I told you was bullshit. I was planted here by Samsara, same as your Vincent was. It was all part of his grand plan, but I wasn't allowed to know that until the time was right. And when the knowledge hit, I didn't have the luxury of time. I had to get everyone off the Slingshot before it blew. So when next you see your manipulative master, tell him this incarnation of his son Vincent thinks he's a twisted piece of work!"
Shockwave stared at Vincent, unsure of what to say. He watched the angry man walk to a nearby chair and sit down. Vincent looked different in this incarnation. His hair was short, almost military. He carried himself with the same pride, but it was obvious that in this time line, heavier responsibilities had shaped his life.
"I'm sorry," Shockwave started to say, but Vincent held up a hand to stop him.
"We don't have time for our problems," Vincent said. "Did Kim tell you about the World Council?"
"Kim is in the room," Kim replied. "And no, I hadn't gotten to the World Council yet, other than to tell him our parts in it."
"The World Council has grown increasingly xenophobic," Vincent began. "In fact, there's a growing segment that want to implement Project: Erase, which would send starships out into our galaxy to wipe out any alien presence before they can invade again."
"The current President is against this action, but the Vice President isn't. There's a lot of pressure on everyone to join up with the xenophobes. Your friends picked the wrong time to show up."
"They're not my friends," Shockwave said, "a mission went bad in 2020 and I woke up in this dimension. Just a coincidence."
Vincent snorted derisively. "When you're working for Samsara, nothing's a coincidence. Oh no, you're here on purpose, have no doubt about that. And I think I've got just the purpose for you."
Vincent leaned back in his chair and stared directly at Shockwave.
"If you'll remember, Centurion was a psycho even when he was working for us. He got worse when the war started closing. Without aliens to fear, he got even more out of control and violent. When we started forming rules and laws, he split. Started his own gun-running operation with Xavier. When Xavier was killed, Centurion took over. When Xavier Enterprises dissolved officially in 2016, Centurion took all of its assets and started the gun-running operation full time."
"Now he's got a large shipment of weapons going to an alien contingent in South America. These are the last aliens on Earth, and if they get hold of Xavier weapons, they could do a lot of damage to World Council citizens before we could take them out."
"We know when the exchange is taking place, but if I send in my men, Centurion and the aliens will get spooked. You, on the other hand, they don't know. I want you to go down to South America and stop the weapons transfer. You do that and we'll collect the remaining alien terrorists on planet and stop Centurion at the same time. If that's successful, I'm sure I can talk the World Council into talking with your xeno-friend."
Shockwave considered his options and said, "Okay, I'll do it. But your science people have to try and send me to my own dimension when I'm done."
"Deal," Vincent said. "My transport is waiting out back. You can take that down to South America immediately."
Shockwave walked out of the house. A few minutes later, Kim and Vincent heard the sound of a shuttle taking off. Kim walked over and looked at Vincent.
"Congratulations," she said. "You've gotten as good at lying and manipulation as both of your supposed fathers."
"I'm only doing what I have to," Vincent replied.
Shockwave found Vincent's shuttle remarkably easy to fly. It was voice-controlled and computer operated, and probably a "gift" from the departed aliens.
The flight down to South America was brief and easy, with Vincent's security overrides passing Shockwave through every World Council checkpoint without a whisper from their security teams. When he got to the right area, he landed the shuttle and flew under his own power.
It took about three minutes before he got noticed. An energy blast from the jungle below bounced off his shields. Shockwave landed and prepared himself to fight. His opponents were two rock-skinned people, but emaciated, covered only in tattered remnants of once proud military uniforms. One of them held his smoking blaster weakly in Shockwave's direction.
"Don't move, human," he said, trying to sound menacing. His young voice just made Shockwave pity him even more.
Shockwave pulled out his identification, hoping it would work in this world. "Dr. Thomas Elsen, from Xavier General Hospital. I'm here on Centurion's behalf."
The aliens took the ID and looked carefully at it. Shockwave crossed his fingers, hoping that Xavier General existed in this world as it did in his. After all, in this world, Wildside probably never destroyed the hospital that would become Xav Gen in the first place.
"All right," the armed one said. "We need your help. One false move and we'll kill you."
The aliens lead Shockwave to a makeshift camp. Tents of silvery material were stretched out among the trees, and smokeless fires burned in every corner. Members of four different alien races huddled in the tents. Shockwave was lead to one that was surrounded by four armed guards, much bigger and stronger looking than his escorts.
"This is a doctor from Xavier."
Shockwave was let in to the tent. Inside, aliens were lying on the ground and on cots, nearly stacked one on top of the other. He got to work treating them, but found that many wounds were badly infected, and the supplies they had were not great enough to help them.
"Can't you get Xavier to bring you medical supplies instead of weapons?" he snapped at the guard.
"Medical supplies will not bring back our honor," the guard replied. "And there is no use healing those too weak to fight."
The earth shook once, violently. Shockwave stood up, thinking it was an earthquake. After a few seconds went by without another tremor, he figured it had passed and went back to work. Then, another tremor shook the Earth. Shockwave ran out from the tent and looked out.
"Hey, I can't work in here with these earthquakes! What's going on?"
Shockwave was standing at the feet of two Minutemen. They both looked down and said in unison, "Mutant detected. Prepare to destroy."
He wasted no time. His force field was activated and he was flying at top speed for the open air before the Minutemen could power up their weapons systems. Unfortunately for him, they rerouted power to their boot jets and took off after him, and they were fast enough to catch up.
Shockwave twisted in mid-air and dove between the two Minutemen, but he knew it was only a matter of time before one of them got a clear shot. Sure enough, one of them let loose with a burst of sonic energy and he screamed as the high-intensity sound tore at his skin. He managed to retain consciousness and stay flying, and the other's beam missed him.
Shockwave looked down and saw Centurion watching the battle. Centurion's face was a mixture of surprise and pleasure. He was making mock conducting motions with his arms while watching the battle. Then his expression turned to fear.
Shockwave saw a ripple in the air, and suddenly a massive floating plane appeared. It was the size of a transport plane, and it mounted energy cannons on at least five different turrets. The energy cannons turned and fired, different kinds of energy, and machine guns opened up from hidden ports. All of the attacks hit the Minutemen, and although Shockwave couldn't tell it, the nanosecond intervals between bullet and beam disrupted any extra protection the monstrous robots' force fields might have offered.
The first robot went up in a crimson flash, torn apart by the ship's guns. When the smoke cleared away from the guns, Shockwave saw the spray-painted name on the side; "Slingshot II."
More forms shimmered into existence, but these were human forms. One of them was a metallic humanoid, and he was holding on to a woman using mechanical wings. The two of them banked downward towards the aliens, who were now desperately fleeing in all directions. Centurion flew up and over the jungle with his boot jets, but was stopped when a man dressed in much sleeker battle armor appeared in front of him. The two both pulled energy swords out of thin air and began to duel in mid-flight.
Shockwave turned and fired his vibratory beams at the remaining Minuteman. The Slingshot II joined its guns and the Minutemen was disintegrated.
Shockwave watched as Centurion was cut down by the newcomer. His jets sputtered and he dropped towards the jungle below. Centurion's conqueror flew down and caught him. He flew up towards the plane with the unconscious gun-runner in his arms. The cargo hatch on back of the plane opened wide enough to accommodate a human and the armored man flew in. He beckoned Shockwave in with him.
Shockwave followed and landed inside the plane. The chamber he landed in was a circular room, with a table in the center and ten chairs surrounding it. At the head of the table sat Vincent and a man dressed in a gold and white uniform. He stood up and introduced himself.
"Hello, Shockwave. I'm the Golden Avenger. The young man over there is Legionnaire."
Dumbfounded, Shockwave shook his hand. "But," he finally began when his voice came back, "shouldn't you be a lot older?"
Golden Avenger laughed, a deep booming laugh that Shockwave would have expected from such a man. "No, I'm not the original. My father was Robert Kaufman. I'm Daniel Kaufman."
The other two of his rescuers flew in. The girl was wearing clothes very similar to the Golden Avenger, and she walked over and put her arm around him. The metallic man concentrated until only his arms were metallic.
"This is American Eagle and that's Vanguard. We're all descendants of heroes from different teams before the war. We call ourselves The Legacy."
Shockwave turned on Vincent. "How could you send me in there without warning me about the Minutemen?"
"I'm sorry," Vincent said, although his tone didn't carry any apology. "We had to know if you were actually a mutant, and this was the best way. You didn't make it easy for us. When you ditched the shuttle, I got together with The Legacy and launched. We had no way of tracking you without that shuttle. You're lucky we found you."
Shockwave started to reply, but stopped himself. He was furious, but there was no need to argue when he was in such a good position to ask for a favor. "What will happen to the aliens?"
"They'll be tried for their war crimes," Golden Avenger responded. "And most likely put to death by the World Council."
"No!" Shockwave cried. "Vincent, let them live. You have the power to do that, don't you?"
"If they live in North America," Vincent agreed. "But I have no desire to let them live."
"They aren't soldiers anymore," Shockwave said. "I could see how tired and weak they were. They just want the war to be over for good. Send them home, but don't just execute them!"
"Shockwave, I've talked to the World Council about your xeno-friends, and we're going to try and communicate with them instead of wiping them out. I think you've used up whatever favors you're owed."
Shockwave looked around the room for any sign of support. He didn't see any. Golden Avenger and American Eagle, who had looked so bright and happy, were watching him with suspicion. Vanguard had formed one of his arms into a sharp blade.
"I can't let you do that," Shockwave said. He fired his vibratory blasts into the floor of the ship and dropped out. Once outside, he activated his force field again and fired two more blasts at the ship.
There was a humming as the ship's cannons powered up. The external speakers carried Vincent's voice.
"These alien scum aren't worth dying for, Shockwave. It's not your fight. Do you really want to die here over some lousy xenos?"
Shockwave's answer was another bolt of vibratory energy. The Slingshot II's formidable firepower targeted Shockwave and fired.
There was a horrific scream and an explosion of light and fire, and when the smoke cleared, Shockwave was gone.