by Dan Swanson
Mekanique appeared in the control room of her fortress in Limbo, smugly satisfied with what she had already achieved. She had collected the empty mechanical body of Robotman and the amber-encased human body of Gloria Giles Farley, battered and broken but still containing the engrams she required, and she had succeeded in changing history — again. She had one more task — perhaps the most important of all — to complete before she was assured of success, and only a limited time to complete it.
Changing your own past was always a difficult, dangerous task. The timeline strongly resisted such tampering, and you might encounter a fatal accident. Or, perhaps worse, you could make a change that erased you from history, and you would simply cease to exist. From this fortress in timeless Limbo, she had used her time-monitor to review the events leading up to the battle in the pyramid thousands of times. Many years of subjective time had gone into planning the myriad of small changes she had made. She waited with patience, and the time-destabilizing aftereffects of the Crisis on Infinite Earths had provided her with a perfect opportunity. Temporal inertia was temporarily lessened, and her careful planning and bold actions paid off in the paramount event — Commander Steel donning his old costume and joining his team of field operatives.
None of Commander Steel’s operatives — not even Odysseus nor Agent Liberty, the most powerful — had the combination of power, experience, and focus required to best Vandal Savage in hand-to-hand combat as Steel himself had. If Commander Steel had not joined his forces on this mission, the present-day Savage would have first completely destroyed the dry-land team and then the team in the pyramid. He would have gained increased power from the ritual that had summoned Cthulhu.
With the additional power stolen from Cthulhu, Savage would have easily regained absolute control of the Illuminati. Weakened by the loss of his forces, Steel’s ability to oppose Savage in the future would likewise be weakened, and by the time the other great world powers recognized the extent of the threat posed by Savage, the immortal caveman would be unstoppable. His growing, irresistible power would lead inexorably to world domination under his adopted identity of Joh Fredersen from his capital city of Metropolis — and Mekanique’s own creation as the robot called Futura by the great inventor Rotwang.
In the new timeline, Commander Steel’s agents almost all survived, and instead of being fatally weakened by losses in the battle in the pyramid, his organization was stronger than ever, and the leader was newly in touch with his own humanity. When Savage failed to soon return to the Illuminati, his powerful lieutenants would quickly become engaged in a desperate power struggle, and several of them would be wiped out and then replaced by less-effective leaders. When Savage finally escaped from Steel’s imprisonment and regained control of the Illuminati, the weakened group would be no match for Steel and his secret team, forcing Savage to find other, slower avenues to power. He would eventually regain some of the power he had lost — short of killing him, there was no way to prevent that — but he would never regain the advantage that had allowed him to rule the world from his capital city of Metropolis.
The changes she had just made had created a wave of change, starting in 1986 and rolling inexorably into the future, constantly growing, erasing the old present as it rolled in and leaving behind it a new present, with a new history. Here in Limbo she should be isolated and protected from the effects of that wave — but if she didn’t manage to get the engrams from Gloria’s human mind into her earlier robotic body before the tidal time-wave remade the twenty-third century, she didn’t know what might happen to her. And she didn’t want to find out.
Mekanique carefully adjusted the controls on her time-monitor, looking for a specific event in the summer of 2227. She remembered the exact day vividly. As Futura (or Parody, as Rotwang sometimes liked to call her), she had just been given the features and voice of the workmen’s social activist Maria (whom she had herself ensnared for Rotwang), and she was now a perfect duplicate of the girl. (*) She had been mixing with the population of Metropolis, testing her impersonation before her official debut some days later, and she had returned to Rotwang’s lab for a routine adjustment, but something totally unprecedented had happened. Rotwang had cut her power during the procedure, rendering her briefly unconscious (though, perhaps, for a robot, dead would be an equally apt description of that powerless state) and when he had restored power, she was Futura no more — instead she was now Gloria Giles.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Metropolis, Chapter 5: Maria.]
She still had Futura’s memories, but somehow Gloria’s human personality had completely supplanted the original Futura personality. This in turn enabled her to pull off a more convincing impersonation of Maria, leading the workmen of Metropolis to riot, all according to Joh Fredersen’s plan to destroy the workmen and replace them with machine-men like her. There was no sense of loss — the original Futura was little more than a robotic slave who was only barely capable of independent thought. With all the memories of the original and the human personality of Gloria Giles instead, the new Futura — or Mekanique, as Robotman named her in 1942 — was infinitely better than the old. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Out of the Ashes, Mekanique,” All-Star Squadron #59 (July, 1986).]
She hadn’t known, then, why she had changed — but she had instantly known she would never again pass another of Rotwang’s examinations. His diagnostic machines would detect the new personality instantly, and he would activate a self-destruct mechanism in her body. If she was going to continue to live, she would have to come up with a plan to escape from the domination of Fredersen and Rotwang. At this very moment, only nanoseconds after her rebirth, she had begun making plans to change the past.
Those were the very same plans that had come to fruition today. All that remained was to transfer Gloria’s consciousness into her past self, and then wait for the wave of change to wash the timeline clean of the stain and stench of Joh Fredersen’s Metropolis.
When she found the exact instant, she pressed a button, and motion in the monitor stopped. Rotwang was poised to throw the switch that would restore Futura’s power. Her machines would anchor her to this precise instant until her task was completed. The only thing that could interfere was the tidal time-wave itself. Her calculations suggested she had about an hour, relatively speaking, before it reached this far forward into the future.
Working with robotic speed and precision but no haste, she cut away the amber surrounding the top of Gloria’s head. She shaved all the hair, then fitted a bowl-shaped device to the exposed skull. A touch of a switch, and a faint humming began, as millions of molecular-sized surgical nanomachines did unspeakable things to Gloria’s head. Shortly, there was a web of incredibly fine platinum wires woven through Gloria’s brain. Mekanique’s sensitive devices measured Gloria’s brain, recording and analyzing every fine detail. All the electrical fields were recorded, all the interconnections mapped, and then all the data was transmitted to another machine.
Mekanique split open a hollow shiny metallic sphere, and another army of nanomachines started spraying a spongy metallic-hued material in careful patterns, building an exact positronic replica of Gloria’s human brain in the well-padded interior. The final act of the nanomachines was to seal the shiny globe firmly shut. Power was again applied to the network of platinum wires twined through Gloria’s human brain. Pulses of energy gently stimulated and strengthened the complex energy fields that comprised Gloria’s mind, then gently loosened the mind-field from the brain that had sustained it for more than sixty years.
The free-floating mind field was guided through the connecting wires and flowed into the new, more durable receptacle that had been prepared for it. The guiding energy was withdrawn, and the mind nestled snugly into the familiar structures in the new positronic brain. Finally, Mekanique broke the last connection and was pleased and a little relieved when her instruments showed mental activity in the new brain Gloria was dreaming now, a dream created by Mekanique to prepare her for her new existence. When she returned to consciousness, Rotwang must see nothing in Futura that made him suspicious.
As she turned away from the operating theater, the obsolete, no-longer-functioning human shell was automatically incinerated, and the ashes dispersed in Limbo by an automatic housekeeping machine. The original body held no interest for Mekanique.
This new brain was pin-compatible with the original brain Rotwang had created, though it was incredibly more advanced and complex than the original — and housed a human consciousness. She could unplug the old, and plug in the new, and the change would be complete.
Mekanique grabbed the silvery sphere and pulled down a large lever on the control panel. She typed a final command into a keyboard, which opened the armored door of her fortress. She stepped through the door into Rotwang’s laboratory. Nothing around her moved, and she was surrounded in the most complete silence she had ever experienced.
She moved slowly to the examination table. It required most of her robotic strength just to move in this strange environment. Even the air around her, suspended in a zero-time state, fought against her, but she prevailed.
She reached the table where Futura lay and gently tapped the pressure points that released her earlier self’s skull. She gently pried it open, then reached in and carefully disconnected the existing sphere and umbilical cable. Just as gently, she plugged in the new cable and nestled the new sphere into the skull cavity, and closed the skull. When Rotwang restored power, Mekanique would find herself a new being.
Once back inside her control room, she sealed the door, then typed in another command on the keyboard. The time anchor was switched off. On the monitor, Rotwang resumed his interrupted motion and restored power to Futura. She was watching her own birth.
She weighed the older globe with the original Futura’s brain. She could restore her earlier self to life easily by building another robotic shell in which to embody this brain. She might even install it into the Robotman body, but she had other plans for that one. Or she could discard it. She felt no kinship with the pre-Gloria Futura; she shared that one’s memories, but nothing of her mind. She might have use for a robotic slave someday. She closed the old brain in its display case, another trophy of her long existence, and turned her attention back to her monitor. Only a few minutes after she reentered her fortress, the tidal wave of time change reached Rotwang’s lab.
She watched as the time-wave erased Rotwang and his laboratory from existence. The colors on the screen faded toward pastels, almost imperceptibly at first, then continued fading to various shades of gray, until she was looking at a bad television program from the late 1950s of mad scientist in a bizarre laboratory; then reception started going bad, and the picture faded to snowy static. Then the process reversed — she could make out a picture, hidden by the static, which slowly cleared. She was watching an outdoor scene, a pond in a forest on a beautiful sunny day. In the distance she could see a city, and there were vehicles flying nearby.
Touching another button, she watched as the view switched again into Joh Fredersen’s office in the New Tower of Babel at the center of Metropolis some weeks later in 2227, by which time Futura had been sent back to 1942 to prevent Maria’s existence. The time-wave would reach this period very shortly. Vandal Savage was due to return to his identity of Fredersen from a trip to the past only seconds before the wave would erase his era and that particular incarnation of her former master. There was still a Savage in the new timeline, but that other incarnation would have no knowledge of her, and in particular, no knowledge of the secret failsafe devices built into her body, so cunningly included in her construction that they couldn’t be removed or disarmed without destroying her. She hoped Savage would recognize what was happening to him; she wanted to see the helpless look on his face when he finally understood his inevitable doom.