"A body-switch?" came the voice.
Enigma, Legionnaire and Red Dragon stood before their commander. Enigma spoke first.
"We think so. It wasn't easy, but we got the information."
"It could be a trap," the commander suggested.
"Nope," Legionnaire said.
"And how do you know?" the commander asked.
Legionnaire grinned and shifted his weight from one foot to the other before answering, "Just a hunch?"
The commander laughed. "I appreciate your enthusiasm, Legionnaire, but please remember what we're up against here. The Ruler is no fool. Your father made sure that we could not be detected by any of the Ruler's myriad ways. Enigma has cost the Ruler more than fifty of his best Guardsman."
"Fifty-two," Enigma said matter-of-factly.
The commander inclined his head to indicate his agreement. "Fifty-two. Not to be immodest, but I have rallied the ineffective resistance into a formidable fighting force. Plus, Alex is the ultimate betrayal. He was meant to be the Ruler's second in command, and yet he turned on him when we arrived. He joined the resistance."
Enigma spoke up. "It isn't a trap. I can feel it."
"Oh, not you too!" the commander exclaimed. "I thought you were the rational one, my advisor!"
"It's just..." Enigma's thought went unfinished. A burst of golden light filled the room and Platinum stumbled in. He faltered, falling over the commander's desk and into his arms. The commander rose to his full eight foot height, catching Platinum in his arms. He gazed down at Platinum.
"Alex?" he said softly.
Platinum raised his eyes up to look at the man who was holding him. His voice was full of reverence and disbelief.
"Dad?" he whispered.
* * * * *
Vincent's grunted with exertion as he finished off one of the Krieg Komandos. He was immune to the rigors of age, disease and most physical harm, but not to fatigue. Cindy was in even worse shape, having worn out from using her psionic powers. The two of them had managed to back themselves into a corner, or in their case, an enclosed room in the center of the Nazi compound.
Cindy stood at the back of the room, using her ego blasts as best she could. She was just now getting enough energy to strike again.
Two Krieg Komandos lay slashed open just inside the doorway, but Vincent could hear at least ten more in the corridor outside. He gave quiet thanks that the door was too small to accomodate more than one at a time. It was all that was preventing them from being mobbed.
There was a shimmering in the room. It flickered, but grew stronger by the second, until Cindy and Vincent felt the familiar tug of dimensional travel. After a burst of near blinding light, Shockwave was standing next to them. He looked surprised and angry.
"Vincent?" he yelled.
Vincent, being used to dimensional travel even more than the others, recovered quickly. He had another teammate, and it was time to use him. "Shockwave, blast me a path out of here!"
Shockwave, too stunned to do anything but react, fired a burst of vibratory energy at the unlucky Komando blocking the door. The Komando flew back against the wall and crashed through into another room. Vincent leaped out into the hallway and began slashing at the wall of Komandos approaching them from the other direction. Cindy wearily stood and stumbled towards the door.
One of the Komandos fired a burst of energy which struck Vincent in the chest. The burst expanded, catching Shockwave but narrowly missing Cindy. Vincent wobbled and fell. The Komandos swarmed over him like ants on a piece of meat. Shockwave tried firing again, but could only dislodge one of them from the pile. Cindy couldn't even gather the strength to remain standing, and she slid to the floor helplessly.
The blinding flash came once more. When it faded, Indigo was left in its place, looking surprised. Shockwave pointed and cried out, "Vincent's on the bottom of that pile!"
Indigo grabbed two of the Krieg Komandos and banged their helmeted heads together. Then she flung them down the hall. The remaining Komandos in the pile looked up, wondering where the new opponent had come from.
While they were pondering that, Vincent slashed his way out of the pile, rolling down the hallway and coming to a standing position with his sword held in front of him. Blood was streaming from dozens of cuts inflicted by the Komandos. He felt the tug of a sense he hadn't known existed and called out, "Brace yourselves, team! Another warp is coming!"
Sure enough, when space warped again, Mary Ochiro appeared next to the pile of angry Komandos. They were beginning to get to their feet, and more of them were coming in from outside.
"Come on!" Vincent yelled, heading off the other direction. "Indigo, grab Cindy! She's too weak to stand! We'll let Platinum catch up with us whenever he arrives!"
More of the Komandos opened fire on the team as they bolted down the hallway. Two shots struck Shockwave's force field, propelling him past Vincent and stunning him briefly. The explosion which resulted caught everyone, including the badly protected Cindy, who collapsed to the ground. Vincent didn't miss a beat, he just grabbed her by the shirt and dragged her along. Another burst hit Indigo's back, blowing a hole clear through her chest. The beam continued through the hole, hitting the far wall and harmlessly exploding. Indigo's chest began to condense and coagulate, turning from burnt black to her natural blue.
The team ran as fast as they could, but the Komandos were gaining on them. Vincent looked around for a way out, then called out to Shockwave, "Fire directly above you! Bring down the ceiling behind us!"
Shockwave fired three bursts, shattering the ceiling and bringing a large chunk of the second floor crashing down in front of the Krieg Komandos. Vincent didn't stop running, but he looked back and nodded with satisfaction.
They found an elevator which had been shut down. Shockwave lifted Indigo up long enough to punch an alcove in the wall. After that, he lifted them one by one to the alcove. Vincent and Indigo knocked a hole through the roof into the open sky.
Shockwave looked up at the sky and then back at the team.
"We can't all get out of here. At most, I can carry two of you," he said.
"I'll stay," Vincent said. "What are they gonna do, kill me?"
"No, Vincent," Cindy said, trying to stand. She failed and collapsed with a whimper. "From what you've told me, they've done that already. They won't be that sloppy again. I'm staying if you do."
The air above them warped again and they prepared for the arrival of Platinum. But this warp was different, not a dimensional rift but a cloaking device being deactivated. The Vagabond floated above them. Five ropes dropped from the open hatch into the elevator shaft. From above, they heard General Dave Hunter yell, "Vincent, you and your friends better get in now! Those Mecha will shoot us down if we're not cloaked again fast!"
As if to emphasize his point, two shells burst just off the side of the Vagabond.
Vincent grabbed one of the ropes and started climbing, as did Indigo. Shockwave hooked his arm around Cindy's waist and flew the two of them up into the ship. Once Vincent and Indigo were inside, the hatch closed and the Vagabond started flying again.
Dave called back from the pilot's seat, "Okay, now what?"
Vincent rushed to the front of the plane and sat in the copilot's seat. "The Nazis have seventy Mecha. We've got your team and all but one member of mine. He could show up at any time, but it won't make much of a difference."
"We need to take control of those Mecha," Dave said. "You could pilot one, right?"
Vincent nodded and Cindy spoke up as well. "I have piloted one."
Dave looked back at Cindy and his eyes widened. "Cindy?"
Cindy grinned and Dave's jaw dropped. The facial expression was an exact match for his. He knew that in another world, this was how his daughter had aged and grown. Something the Nazis had taken away from him. A tear ran down his face. "You grew up good, sweetheart."
"Thanks, Dad," Cindy said. "But we don't have time for a reunion. Listen, if you can get us pilots, I can teach them all how to drive these things. I'm a telepath."
The Vagabond accelerated, jolting everyone into the nearest seat. "Hang on," Dave said, recovering from his reverie. "I've got friends at the Kennedy Military-Industrial Complex. We'll have your pilots inside of a couple hours."
Once they landed at the Complex, Dave talked to a few of his friends and got volunteers for the mission. One hundred men talked to Cindy individually, receiving telepathic lessons on the finger points of Mecha driving. Meanwhile, Dave and the rest of both teams met in the war room to discuss strategy. After taking eight hours for everyone to get some sleep, they piled into transport craft and headed back down to Brazil.
"We'll meet up with you at the rendezvous point," Dave said into the comm of the Vagabond. "We're just going to put our special teams in place."
On board the Vagabond was the assembled Wildside and Wildside 2020. Shockwave was monitoring Indigo's condition with a portable medscanner.
"Are you sure you're up to this?" Shockwave asked. "When you do this, it takes a lot out of you. We don't even know if it will work."
"It has to," Indigo replied.
Cindy and Vincent studied hastily drawn plans of the Victory and its systems. When Cindy had told Vincent about the dimensional stabilizer on board, he had insisted that the two of them capture that Mecha.
The members of Wildside talked amongst themselves, chatting briefly with the members of Wildside 2020. Even though they were allies, it was clear that the normal humans held some fear of the metahumans they had lived so long without.
The Vagabond landed, cloaked, on the outskirts of the Nazi's security net. Hollings chirped out, "We're all set, sir. Motion detectors isolated and on-line. The rest of their security is still out."
Hollings handed out a small device about the size of a note tablet. On it was a screen depicting the local area, with outlines showing where the motion detectors were. He gave a device to each member of Wildside 2020. The members of his own team were already equipped.
Dave put the base on-line. They could see the Mecha, spread out around the compound in four groups of about 17 each. The Victory and one other Mecha stood guard at the compound itself, in the center of the other groups. Wildside sat back and waited for their backup to arrive.
Six hours later, they got the Morse code signal that the teams were in position. Dave nodded, and the plan was underway.
Shockwave was first out. He followed the guide of his motion sensors until he was right at the edge of the field. Patiently, he waited for the signal that the other teams were in position. Then he concentrated, sending waves of vibration through the entire net.
As predicted, the Mecha went berserk. Their tight groups spread out, forming a complete fence around the perimeter. Each Mecha was separated by about a hundred feet. Shockwave cut off his vibrations. "Go, Indigo. Good luck."
Indigo, on the other side of the jungle with her commando back-up, concentrated. Her body made a squishing sound as it started to expand. She felt a throbbing in her temples and light pinpricks throughout her entire body, but she persevered. As her back-up watched, she grew until she was as tall as the Mecha around her. Five of the nearest Mecha converged on her position, firing madly. She took three brutal shots before her body collapsed back into its normal shape.
At the same time, Boris Cherzenko fired the massive cannon on his suit, shelling one of the Mecha on another side of the compound. It rocked and exploded where it stood. Five Mecha tracked his signal and began moving in on him.
Under the cover of all the chaos, Suzi Takozi climbed the side of one of the Mecha that was still near the rest of its brothers. She got to the hatch that Cindy had described and sliced it open with an electronic lockpick. The two Nazis inside stared blankly for a second. In that time, she shot both of them with her blaster. She smiled grimly as she climbed inside the Mecha's cockpit.
The two Mecha next to her never knew what hit them. Guns on Takozi's Mecha activated and blew both their heads off before they could react, sending their massive metallic bodies crashing to the ground. Takozi set the Mecha running away from its two victims and towards the compound itself. Six Mecha disengaged from their ring to follow her.
The battle truly began then. After the initial surprise wore off, the part of the Mecha squads that hadn't split closed in again. Now instead of facing four groups, the Council soldiers were facing seven smaller ones. The Victory and its escort didn't move. But from the compound behind them, waves of Jagers and Krieg Komandos took to the sky.
Shockwave went about his role, blasting open access hatches and dropping Council soldiers into them to take control of the Mecha. After losing only two men to the fights inside the cockpit, they were in control of five Mecha. They started fighting the nearest Nazi squadrons with the Mecha weaponry.
Takozi bailed out of her Mecha after setting it for a collision course with the compound. The six Mecha following it needed all of their firepower to bring it down in a fiery heap before it could smash through the compound.
Indigo, for her part, threw Council soldiers to the access points, letting them use demolition charges to blast their way into the cockpits. Once inside, they also turned their guns on the Nazis. The airborne Nazi support, unable to discern immediately which Mecha were still theirs, concentrated on the now visible commando teams on the ground, using both lethal and non-lethal weaponry.
As the battle raged on, a hole opened in the ground next to the Victory. Vincent climbed out of the dirt and pulled Cindy free, checking to make sure that the tunnel dug by Hollings' machine was stable. The troops still crawling through behind them gave him a thumbs up. Cindy stared up at the Victory and shuddered, remembering Karl. Vincent handed her a pair of climbing claws and looked at her strangely.
"You all right?"
She nodded and put on the claws. Vincent put his on as well, not totally convinced she was all right.
The two of them started their climb up the side of the Victory. They had reached the chest area, seventy feet above the ground, before they were noticed. The escort Mecha reached up, trying to pick them off, but found them too agile to remove without damaging the Victory. The Victory used its arms to try and smash them against the chest, a tactic which stood a far better chance of success. Still, they managed to dodge and climb their way to the access panel. Vincent was about to slice it open when a Krieg Komando came swooping in, strafing them with its guns.
Vincent took three hits, swaying and then dropping over the side of the Mecha. Cindy reached out with her telekinesis and cried out in pain as she felt his full weight slam against her mental grab. She yanked him back up to the shoulder just in time for the Komando to make another pass.
The Komando swooped in, his guns tracking the two of them. One of his gunports blazed with green energy. Before the energy was released, the Vagabond shimmered into view in front of him. It was on an impact trajectory with the Komando, and all he could do was scream before the Vagabond's wing sliced him in two. The Vagabond cloaked again before it could be fired on. Cindy's comm beeped and she heard Dave Hunter's voice.
"You're all clear, kid! Now let's blow this thing so we can all go home!"
Vincent slashed his sword through the access panel, destroying it. Inside the control room were three Krieg Komandos and a pilot. Cindy jumped in, followed shortly after by Vincent.
Cindy concentrated, focusing her considerable psionic potential into a telepathic grenade. Her mind wandered briefly, and she felt her power flicker, but she gritted her teeth and released the power before it could desert her. The power left her, along with all of her strength. The four Nazis dropped to the floor, and Cindy fainted with them.
Vincent caught her with one arm. "Are you okay?"
She raised her head up until her face was inches from his. They remained frozen in that state, staring into each other's eyes, for a second. Vincent was the first to turn his head awkwardly.
"We don't have time for this right now," he said.
Cindy regained her footing and disentangled herself from Vincent. She sat down in the pilot's chair. Vincent removed the helmet of each Komando and administered a quick punch to make sure they remained unconscious. As he finished, the Victory roared to life.
The escort Mecha next to it turned, realizing that something had gone wrong. Its pilot had time enough to eject or fire one of his weapons. His last act before the Victory's massive autocannon destroyed his vehicle was to fire an ineffectual laser burst at his robotic foe.
The capture of the Victory signaled the end for the Nazi forces. Although the Council forces suffered casualties and lost some of their Mecha, they were able to destroy or capture half of the Nazi's forces. Finally, the Victory, surrounded by the twenty-five Mecha which had survived the firestorm, stood around the Nazi compound as General Dave Hunter personally arrested their commander. When he slapped the cuffs on, he raised his fist in a gesture of victory. A cheer went up from the assembled forces.
After many years, the war had finally been won.
* * * * *
When Alexander Ochiro woke up, he was staring into the face of someone he thought had been lost forever; his father. He was older, and dressed in a black military uniform with gold piping instead of his traditional costume, but there was no mistaking it. This commander, the man they had all been speaking to while he was half awake, was Golden Dragon.
A hand touched Alex's forehead. The hand belonged to a woman in red and black body armor. The eye slits of her helmet glowed red with power, and her ungloved hand shared the glow. After a few seconds, she looked up at Dragon. "It's him. He's from Main Line."
Alex was picked up and hugged so hard he felt his ribs squeeze together. When his father put him down, he was crying.
"I thought you were dead," he said. "I thought it was all gone."
Finally able to put thoughts together, Alex managed, "How...How are you alive?"
Legionnaire nudged Red Dragon, standing with him in a corner. "Have you ever seen Dragon cry?"
Red Dragon shook his head. He felt a certain amount of sadness. In a way, he had thought of Dragon as his father. Seeing his counterpart made him realize it wasn't true.
"We went to Antarctica to stop Mechanon," Dragon said. "When we got there, we were too late. Actually, we were right on time. He wanted us destroyed, that was his sole reason for bringing us there. He transferred his consciousness out and set off the lithium bomb."
"It was too fast," Dragon continued. "In a flash of light and noise, we lost the war. I thought we were dead, but Enigma's powers supercharged and brought us here."
"Where is here?" Alex asked softly.
"It's a place we call Destroyer's World. We visited here a long time ago, almost thirty years now. GENOCIDE had taken over the planet, and Destroyer was the only metahuman still free. So we helped him take over. We figured it was better him than GENOCIDE."
"Anything is better than GENOCIDE," Enigma offered. Dragon made a moderating gesture to her.
"We stormed Stronghold, rushing to free the imprisoned metahumans. One of them was badly emaciated, nearly dead. He was being electrocuted and tortured in various ways. He was this dimension's Alexander Ochiro."
"The next thing I remember, I was holding the President hostage against his gigantic Minuteman robot. My rage was gone, and I was in a bad situation. Destroyer showed up and made it worse. He destroyed the Minuteman and took the President. He gave no illusions about what he intended to do with him. That was when I realized we'd made a mistake."
"My rage was replaced by grief by the time we reached Destroyer's base. I asked him to take Alex and save him. By whatever means necessary. I gave Alex the gem, thinking he might use it in the future to overthrow Destroyer. What Destroyer did to him was worse than anything I could imagine."
Red Dragon walked out of the room, unable to hear the painful details of his origin. Golden Dragon looked up and realized what he had done. He cleared his throat and continued.
"When we first arrived here, after the Lithium Bomb hit, we didn't know where we were. Then two Guardsman showed up, demanding to see our identification. They were dressed almost exactly like Destroyer. We didn't know what they were talking about, and they attacked us. It was an easy enough fight, taking the first two out. Then reinforcements came, along with Destroyer's captured Minuteman robots, he calls them Overseers."
"On the fly, the Armorer built us temporary cloaking screens to hide us from the Overseer's scans. We got under cover long enough for him to build us some more permanent ones. Then we hooked up with the resistance. A group of people, with no metahuman powers or high technology. And no hope of gaining either, since the Ruler, that's what Destroyer calls himself now, destroyed all of the former and controls the latter. Once they told us the history of the world, I realized that we were responsible for it. We thought our world was dead, so there was no reason to go back. We joined the fight against Destroyer. That was nearly fifteen years ago. In that time, the Armorer has had a son..."
Dragon indicated Legionnaire, who took a mock bow. "We've recovered your counterpart from Destroyer's clutches, and Enigma and I have risen to command of this little revolution."
Dragon paused and took in a deep breath. "Now it's your turn. What happened to the world? What happened to you, and Mary, and Kim?" "And Dave?" Enigma added.
"Captain Hunter is well," Alex said. Enigma visibly relaxed. "From his account, he flew out just beyond the rim of the Lithium Bomb's explosion. It cost him the Vagabond and a severe wound to his leg, but he survived."
"The bomb didn't destroy everything?" Dragon asked.
"No," Platinum said. "You must understand, dad, I was in the Dragon Cult Temple at this time. But news came even to us that the Golden Dragon was no more. I thought it only a rumor until I entered the outside world again, nearly fifteen years later, and found it to be the truth. Samsara has told me that the bomb only eradicated Antarctica."
"She is alive and well. She has been living in seclusion with Mary since your death. She will be very glad to find you still alive."
A thought suddenly occurred to Dragon, a sense of deja vu. "I've met you in this incarnation before, haven't I?"
"Yes," Alex said. "When we returned to collect Vincent, Samsara allowed us to come along. He wanted you to see how we turned out, since even his senses weren't enough to recognize that you still lived. He thought that would be your only chance to see your children grown. He'll be glad to know that this once, he was wrong."
Alex fumbled for words and finally asked, "Is this all that remains of Wildside?"
"No," Enigma answered.
Dragon expanded on that answer when it became clear that she wasn't going to say anymore. "We lost two members in the war, one upon arrival and one during our first and only frontal attack on Destroyer. And the Armorer left a few years ago. He said he was tired of all the fighting, and there were some things he still wanted to see before he died. I wonder now if he didn't find his way home."
Alex stiffened and looked off at the far wall. "Something's wrong," he said.
Enigma glowed red and enveloped everyone present, including the wayward Red Dragon, in a burst of energy. In the next second, they were in the street. They watched in the distance as a group of fifteen Overseer robots leveled the hidden base. The robots turned to the group and began flying towards them.
"He's not shielded!" Legionnaire yelled, pointing to Alex. "And we don't have the tech to build a new cloaking device!"
A module in Legionnaire's chest sprang to life. With a ping, a silver ball ejected from it and rolled on the street. All of the group stared as it rose from the ground and projected a beam of light. At the end of the beam was a translucent figure, a man in full silver armor.
"The Armorer," Dragon said.
"It's coming to pass," the Armorer said. His eyes seemed to sweep over the group, fixing on Dragon. It was unsettling until Dragon realized it was probably a facial recognition program. "Before I left, I met someone who claimed to be a wandering spirit. He gave me a prophecy and instructions. He told me that the war against the Ruler would be won, with the help of allies from our home dimension. He told me where and when they would be. My instructions were to prepare the equipment for this arrival and staging the final battle. Then I was allowed to go home, to search for those I left behind. I am sorry I cannot be with you in the flesh, but I am with you in spirit. And I bring you others..."
The hologram erupted into a multicolored burst of light, blinding everyone for a second. When their vision cleared, they could see a swirling mass of colors growing ever larger, accompanied by a tearing sound.
In Nazi World, Vincent saw the dimensional indicator light go on in the Victory. He pushed the sequence to activate the dimensional stabilizer. "This is it. This is what I saw in my vision. Indigo, Shockwave, Cindy, Mary, get in the Mecha. Everyone else, stand clear. Goodbye, General Hunter."
Vincent slaved the other Mecha to the Victory so that they would all follow his lead. Once everyone in Wildside 2020 was on board, they plunged into the forming dimensional nexus.
The Overseers were closing in, preparing to destroy the rebels standing around the lightshow. They were surprised when another robot, roughly their size but even more warlike in appearance, plunged out of the tempest. It was then followed by two more, and then four more, until there were twenty-six in all.
"Fire!" Vincent yelled. All of the guns targeted the Overseers and fired, striking their force fields. Three of them were destroyed immediately, but the others managed to return fire, eradicating two of the Mecha.
Dragon took a chance and tapped his comm. "Whoever's in charge, if you can here me, alternate between energy and physical attacks! That will give you a much better chance to destroy them!"
Vincent obeyed, programming the fire controls on the fly to hit in certain sequences. As an afterthought, he said into his comm, "Dragon?"
With the weapons alternating, the Overseers were quickly destroyed. Mass production had weakened them, Dragon thought.
Dragon tapped his comm again. "Vincent, we can't destroy all of them. Do you have cloaking onboard those things?"
Vincent answered no, but it didn't matter, because everyone on the ground was watching Legionnaire. His suit was flowing off him and reconfiguring itself. In seconds, it had become a mini-tower of complex design. It began to hum and the hologram of the Armorer appeared again.
"You are inside a stasis web. Only one second will pass in real time, but you have 24 hours to plan your final attack. Then it's time to end this. I'll see you when you get home."
The Armorer's light form disappeared. Dragon was the first to break the awed silence. "Vincent, why don't you and your allies come down here so we can plan."
Vincent and the rest of Wildside 2020 disembarked from their Mecha. Dragon walked over to Mary and embraced her. He greeted each member of Wildside 2020 with a handshake and an introduction to his team.
Cindy Hunter walked over to Enigma. She reached out telepathically, but found a solid wall in her mind. Nevertheless, she pressed forward. "You're my mother, aren't you?"
Enigma turned slowly and looked at Cindy Hunter, red fire blazing in her eyes.
"I'm Enigma," she said coldly. "Who I was has no bearing on who I am. Dragon, can we get started?"
"Of course," Dragon said. "If you'll all grab a seat?"
Everyone sat down on the ground and got comfortable, with the exception of Dragon and Vincent. Dragon looked over at him. The look in Vincent's eyes and the set of his shoulders told him what this was about.
"I'm the leader of this team, Dragon," Vincent said. "They are my responsibility."
"Vincent, there can only be one leader," Dragon said calmly.
"Fine," Vincent agreed. He didn't move to sit down.
"That leader is me," Dragon said, a bit more insistently.
"I'm not convinced you've earned it," Vincent said. "Last time I worked with you, even you agreed that I was more suited for the job. I'd like to know why you're any more suited now."
"Vincent, when we first struggled over leadership, you were right," Dragon began. "I saw that, and I stepped out."
He paused for a second. "Things have changed. This time, this fight, this place, I am the one to lead this team. I'm not the man you knew. I have the wisdom, the experience, and the ability to win. You don't."
There was a long moment of silence as the two men stared at one another. Vincent gave consideration to Dragon's words, and to his emotional state. The Dragon he had known would have blustered and argued, not given a rational, calm speech. Beyond that, he knew that against Destroyer, they needed a united front. Vincent took a seat.
Dragon nodded to Vincent with thanks. Then he began outlining what they knew and what the goals were.
The planning sessions were broken up, with everyone getting a chance to sleep. Vincent and Dragon didn't rest, using all of their time to coordinate the planning, deciding which members of which team would be in which squadron.
When Dragon finally took a break, after being repeatedly reminded by Enigma, he caught up with Platinum.
"Mother will be glad to see you," Alex said.
"Perhaps," Dragon answered. He coughed and shifted nervously, then turned to his son. "Alex, is your mother okay?"
"She is fine," Alex said. He looked at Dragon with concern. Dragon looked away, staring up into the sky. When his words came, they were forced, almost choked out.
"Then she doesn't need me...as much as this world does?"
"She misses you," Alex asserted.
"I know," Dragon said, turning to face his son. "I miss her too. But I have a responsibility to this world. They have lived for thirty years under the iron-fisted rule of a madman because my team and I made a decision we had no right to make. We thought...no, I thought that he was the lesser of two evils."
"We can stop that evil now," Alex began. Dragon cut him off with a wave of his hand.
"But even if we win, there will be more to do. A new government to establish, mopping up of the Ruler's troops, a thousand small details. Someone will have to oversee all of that."
"Others can handle that!" Alex yelled, finally losing the control he had earned in his years with the Dragon Cult. "My mother needs her husband. Mary and I need our father! The Dragon Cult sorely needs its champion again! What of those responsibilities?"
"I don't know, son," Dragon answered sadly. He looked in his boy's eyes and put his hands on his shoulders. "I just...wanted you to know that I might not be going home with you."
Alex stormed off, infuriated. Dragon sighed and looked over to watch a similar scene unfolding with Enigma and Cindy Hunter.
"Look, if you are my mother, you have a hell of a lot to answer for," Cindy said.
"As I said, child, I am not who I used to be. Now leave me alone."
"The hell with that! I didn't even find out until recently who my mother was! I met someone who looked exactly like her but came from another world! Don't act like I'm stupid! If Golden Dragon is here, you have to be my mother! Now give me some god-damned answers!"
Enigma turned her head. "Or what?"
Cindy didn't respond. She just hauled back and took a swing at Enigma. Enigma smoothly blocked her arm and placed her other palm on Cindy's forehead. There was a burst of red energy and Cindy dropped to the ground.
When Enigma turned, Vincent's sword was at her throat. "I'd like an explanation," he said. He slid the blade just slightly into the neck brace of her armor, causing sparks to shoot out. "Fast."
Enigma glowed brightly for a second and disappeared, appearing again next to Dragon. She cast a glance back at Vincent and walked away. Dragon intercepted Vincent as he was going after her.
"Don't. She's not comfortable with you, and I'm afraid of what she might do."
"Nobody does that to one of my team," Vincent threatened.
"I'll talk to her. Just let it go, for all of our sakes."
"Golden Dragon would have understood my anger," Vincent growled. "Maybe you're not him."
"I can't turn into a dragon and prove myself to you this time, Vincent," Dragon said. "What would you like me to do?"
"Tell me who Enigma is," Vincent said.
"That's not my secret to share. She's someone who has been hurt all her life, and for right now, isn't willing to let anyone else hurt her. When she says she isn't who she used to be, she means it. And I do understand your anger, Vincent. I understand that you want to protect your team. I want to protect mine, including Enigma."
"I can't follow you into battle if I don't trust you," Vincent argued.
"Then this world has lost its last hope," Dragon responded. He walked away and found a place to lie down.
Vincent stared after him for a long time. Finally, after making sure Cindy was resting comfortably, he returned to the planning center of their camp.
Everyone had their chance to sleep, although most could only manage a few hours. Plans were made and tactical teams were divided up. The final changes in the plan were being made when the device that had been projecting the stasis web began to dissolve.
It turned into a ball of molten metal and flowed onto Legionnaire like a dog coming home to its master.
Dragon and Vincent walked over to Enigma, who was glowing bright red, from head to toe. Vincent gave her a threatening glance which she pretended not to notice. She reached out and touched each of their hands, suffusing them with the same glow for a brief moment.
"That's it?" Vincent asked.
Enigma nodded and walked off to join her team. Vincent looked up at Dragon. Dragon returned the stare. The two of them looked at each other for a long time, until Vincent finally reached his hand out to Dragon.
"Good luck," he said. He shook Dragon's hand.
"We'll need it," Dragon answered.