by Doc Quantum, Starsky Hutch 76 and Vendikarr DeWuff
The Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.:
A single desk lamp shone in the dark room cramped with artifacts of all kinds and books — thousands of them — stacked on floors and in boxes and on shelves, waiting to be sorted out. Three stacks of books almost entirely enclosed a man sitting at the desk upon which the lamp shone. His name was Miles Ambrose, and he was a historian.
“Holy crap,” Miles said suddenly, taking a quick breath as he focused a magnifying glass on the detail of an old photograph. Ever since that government man — what was his name? Hanley? Hoover? Henshaw? No, Heywood — had come to him a few months back, discreetly enquiring as to the history of the Illuminati and any other secret societies throughout the centuries, Miles had himself picked up a closer interest in the subject as he sent all the research information he found over to Heywood.
He had found more than he had bargained for, however, when Heywood had asked him to look for evidence of the existence of a man who was immortal — Vandal Savage. He remembered news reports about Vandal Savage trying to take over the country back in the 1940s, but he was only one of a dozen of super-villains who had tried to do so back then, not the least of whom was Adolf Hitler himself. Those were crazy times. Like most other people, Miles figured that Vandal Savage had died or retired since then; but the truth was that few, if anyone, ever thought about him at all any more. It was true that there had been a seeming distinct lack of interest on the part of reporters, historians, or documentary filmmakers on that particular figure in American history. It was almost as if they were content to let him disappear completely from memory. The way Heywood talked about him, though, it seemed that he believed that Savage was immortal. He had laughed out loud at the comment, thinking it was a joke, but quickly realized that he was deadly serious. After doing some research of his own, however, he discovered for himself that this government man was on to something, after all.
Here before his eyes was an old photograph worn at the edges of a group of men, one of whom looked exactly like Vandal Savage, but who was wearing the uniform of a member of the Prussian aristocracy of the nineteenth century. If that were all it was, he could have passed it off as a mistake. The man he was standing next to, though, was Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor of the German empire. Bismarck had died in 1898.
He looked up from his desk to see a young assistant of his at the door of the cramped room. He was holding a package. “Yes, Peter?”
“This package was dropped off at the front desk. It’s for you.”
Miles adjusted his spectacles and took the package. “Any idea where it’s from?”
“Not really, Mr. Ambrose. It arrived via FedEx just now. Guy said it came from back west. Arizona or something.”
“Hmm. Strange…” Miles grabbed an X-Acto knife from his shirt pocket and carefully cut the wrappings off the package. Inside was a note. “Ah, it’s from my old professor, Dr. Jones.” He looked up at Peter, who was staring at him expectantly. “Uh… that’ll be all, Pete.”
“Oh… OK,” Peter replied and left the room.
“Curious as a cat, that kid is,” Miles mumbled to himself. “Now what do you have for me today, Doc?”
He opened up the brief note and read it carefully:
Thought you might know where this came from. A man in Phoenix was carrying this on him when he was hit by a car. The police thought it may be a valuable gem, but I disagreed. It does look ancient, though. Thought you boys at the Smithsonian could take a look at it. Let me know what you find out.
— Prof. H. Jones, Jr.
His hands slightly trembling, Miles put the package on his desk and looked inside. He pulled out a small object the size of a stone that was wrapped in gauze, and he carefully unwrapped it. It was a gemstone of some sort, but one that seemed to be lit dimly from within. As a test, Miles flicked the desk lamp off and looked at the stone in the dark. True enough, a soft glow emanated from it. Was it radioactive? It did look familiar, though, as if he had seen it before.
Miles Ambrose suddenly rose from his desk and hurried over to a table where several binders full of photographs lay. He began flipping through first one, then another, and another, until finally he found what he was looking for. It was a photograph of a group of British soldiers during World War I huddling in the trenches. It was unremarkable in and of itself, but there was one small detail that had caught his eye the first time around and did so again now. One of the soldiers wore a gem like this one around his neck — a gem that glowed. Upon closer inspection, however, it was apparent that this was not the same stone.
He sighed in disappointment and clicked off the light to go home, unconsciously pocketing the small gemstone in his jacket pocket.
An underground complex, somewhere in the deserts of Arizona:
“I’m sorry, sir, but–” The lab-coated scientist cringed as a spew of loud cursing emanated from the telephone. He held it away from his ears for a moment and waited until the cursing stopped. Then he brought it back to his mouth and said, “We’re doing everything we can here, sir. All we know is that Anderson must have chipped off a piece of the artifact and brought it with him to Phoenix on the way to meet his wife, where he was hit by a car. After this, it fell into the hands of the police. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to reach the commissioner before it was passed on to an archaeology professor by the name of Jones.” He paused and listened for a moment. “Yes, that Jones. I saw to it that the police sergeant who gave it to him was promptly fired, but Jones apparently sent it to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Our agents are tracking it down even as we speak.”
Two armed guards standing in front of a locked chamber looked at each other and shivered. They did not want to be there when the wrath of Vandal Savage finally hit home.
The year 2227 in the twenty-third century:
The man known to the world as Joh Fredersen pondered his current circumstances as he gazed idly at a favorite memento of past times. In his hand he held an amber square. Within it floated a pyramid adorned with a waking eye: the symbol of the Illuminati. Behind the pyramid, the small figure of Jimmy Hoffa with his arms raised and his face contorted in an expression of abject terror for all eternity.
They had thought they could destroy him, the fools. How many had tried to destroy him over the centuries and failed? Too many to possibly count. They were simply another set of enemies no different than any others — misguided do-gooders smug in their righteousness. More often than not, he’d been able to teach their kind the error of their ways. This time had ended in calamity.
Rotwang had made his android — known originally as Futura — much too powerful with the use of the Illuminati secrets Fredersen had shared with him, and thus too hard to control. Now his beautiful city of Metropolis was in shambles.
It was true that the love of his son Freder had made the ancient man soft. It was also true that — for a short time, at least — he had lost his way, allowing Rotwang and his android to destroy his city so that his beloved son could rebuild a new city in its ashes, upon the bones of all the people who had died during the destruction of the machines. It was all the girl’s fault. The virginal Maria had ensnared his son’s heart, turning him against his own father. And not even a smear campaign by Rotwang’s robot, posing as her to incite the working masses into a destructive frenzy, could tear down that bond. Savage had been forced to relent in his war against the girl and all she represented, lest he also lose his son in the process. The fear of losing his son — his only son in centuries, and the last thing left he had of his wife, Helena — had even caused his hair to become snow-white. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Metropolis, by Thea von Harbou.]
Had Vandal Savage’s appropriation of Joh Fredersen’s identity been so complete that he had also taken on the man’s weakness and sentimentality? Savage had even gone so far as to attempt to play the role of son to Fredersen’s mother, a role only made possible by the woman’s declining health and the fact that she and her real son were already estranged. But although he hated to admit it to himself, especially since he was many thousands of years older than her or anyone else alive, Savage had a true bond with the old woman akin to that of a son with his mother, albeit a strained one. He wondered what she would have thought had he told her that he had slain her son, who so naturally resembled an unbearded Vandal Savage himself that very little modification of his appearance had been necessary to complete the impersonation.
And now Freder was on his way to marrying that damnable Maria, the peaceful leader of the workmen whom he’d kept underground for so many years and whom he had attempted to destroy so he could replace them with a legion of machine-men invented by Rotwang. It had all gone wrong, and his plans had fallen apart. Maria and Freder had saved the children of the workmen from being drowned, pacifying them instead of sending them into a self-destructive despair that would have finished off many of them for good. And Rotwang and his genius was dead, and along with him, the plans for the machine-men. He had only had two options left to him: one, rebuild a Metropolis in which his absolute control over the populace was vastly weakened, forcing him to make huge concessions to the workmen, or two, use Rotwang’s android to change history itself. He had chosen the second option and had sent the bonfire-damaged Futura back into the past of 1942 — where she would be renamed Mekanique by Robotman — to prevent Maria from ever being born, followed by several other missions designed to consolidate Vandal Savage’s power in the twentieth century and beyond. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “I Sing the Body Robotic,” All-Star Squadron #58 (June, 1986) “Out of the Ashes, Mekanique,” All-Star Squadron #59 (July, 1986) “The End of the Beginning,” All-Star Squadron #60 (August, 1986).]
With luck, the android’s emergency initiative was functioning, and she would put an end to the heroic age before it even began and return with the lost wonders of the high priests of the ancient Atlantean Illuminati, ensuring his power for all time. If not, he was on his own once more. But he had been there before, and he was anything but impatient. He had all the time in the world to wait for the tides to change in his favor.
Vandal Savage stroked his chin in amusement. Since he had gone into seclusion, he had neglected such mundane tasks as shaving. His beard was growing back.
Chuck Grayson was setting up equipment in the room provided him at Belle Reve when Commander Steel walked in. He turned to the larger man and said, “Can I help you, Commander?”
“Yes. We can end this subterfuge.”
“I beg your pardon?” Chuck said innocently.
“Show yourself, Dr. Magnus,” Commander Steel said in a voice that matched his name.
Suddenly, one of the large computer banks began to change into what looked like a highly sophisticated android. “What gave me away?” asked Will Magnus, the new Robotman.
“I’ve been anticipating your arrival,” Commander Steel said. “Our sensors detected you and have monitored you since the moment you first walked through the front gate.”
“Really?” Magnus said, impressed.
“Really,” Commander Steel said. “And with the mission now so close, we can save valuable time and make better use of your talents without having to go through the charade of pretending you’re a piece of computer equipment. See Agent Liberty for debriefing.” With that, he turned and left the room.
“I guess I’d better do as he says,” Magnus said.
“I guess so,” Chuck said with a half-smile.
“My first big super-hero mission,” the new Robotman said. (*) “This should be fun.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Red Robin: Auld Lang Syne.]
After Will Magnus left to see Agent Liberty, Chuck Grayson went back to working with his equipment. He heard footsteps behind him as someone entered the room, and he turned to find himself in the company of a different, more dangerous android: Mekanique.
“We need to talk,” she said earnestly.
“Yes, I think we do,” Chuck sighed, sitting on the couch.
She took a seat next to him. “You can’t imagine my shock at discovering you were now human.”
“I have some mixed feelings about how it happened, but I’m glad to be a man once more,” he chuckled uneasily.
“Tell me, what happened to that magnificent robotic form you once wore?” she asked, snaking an arm around his shoulders.
“No, Mekanique,” he said, looking back at her arm as he tried to shrug it off. “There’s too much history between us to go back to what we nearly had.”
“The Robotman body!” she said fiercely, grabbing his head with both hands. “Where is it?!” His head was suddenly enveloped in energy, and an image from his thoughts formed in her mind.
“Consider yourself very lucky you no longer wear it,” she told the unconscious Chuck Grayson. “Now I won’t have to dispose of your brain.” With that, she stood and teleported from the room.
Mekanique reappeared elsewhere in an old, dusty, darkened warehouse. It was filled with all manner of scientific devices belonging to the man now known as Chuck Grayson. It was one such relic in particular she was looking for.
Her gaze spanned the length of the warehouse and finally settled on one spot. She walked forward to the cold robotic form covered in dust and cobwebs. It sat in an old, heavy wooden chair reinforced with cement blocks. Its head was slumped forward, as if the empty shell of the former Robotman were merely taking a nap.
Mekanique placed one hand beneath its chin and lifted its head upward. The other hand caressed its cold metallic cheek. “Soon, my love,” she cooed. “Soon.”
Hank Heywood entered his office, swinging the open door closed. He took two steps toward his desk and swung around quickly.
“Good to see the reflexes are still good. A little slow, but good.”
“You! You’re the last person I expected to find in here,” said Steel.
“You wanted me here, I’m here,” said Matches Malone. Taking one step toward Steel, he scratched a match against his uniform. “You know what I want.”
Steel moved around his desk and took a seat. “Malone, we’ve been over this time and again. It’s in the past. Just let it go.”
“Let it go? That monster did this to me,” he said, as he lit his flame. “And I am one of the lucky ones. You know how many countless people he butchered. And that was with the approval of the government. Imagine how many he messed up once he was on his own.”
“Don’t you think I know? I was there.”
“Yeah, did your time with the Operation when you weren’t hopping between Earths. I just want to know — is Mazursky still alive?”
“Just answer it, and I’ll behave on this mission. You need me, otherwise Arn would never have sent for me,” pleaded the former gangster.
Leaning back in his chair, Steel said, “Yes, he’s alive. Does that make you feel better or worse?”
“Both, I guess. It at least means I get to hunt him down and kill him myself,” said Malone.
“Not possible. When I helped him get away in ’66, I brought him to Earth-One. He’s far out of your reach.”
“You bastard. He working for the government there?”
“Are you kidding? He had no credentials there. I was under orders to get him to safety. After that, he was on his own.”
Malone stared at Heywood in shock. “You let a monster run free? I don’t believe you did that!” Malone moved toward Heywood menacingly and said, “You will get me to Earth-One so I can finish the job we started in ’66. You got me?”
“Travel between worlds is impossible right now. It can’t happen. Now, remember, I have your word you’d behave.”
“You really think I meant it?” asked Malone.
“Not really, but I did enjoy seeing your face just now. Get out of my office, and get ready to ship out,” commanded Steel.
“This isn’t over, Heywood. Once I take care of Mazursky, I will deal with you.”
Sadly, Commander Steel responded, “I know.”
Malone threw a flame bolt at the door, incinerating it, then willed his flame out. He then walked out of the office, muttering curses at Hank Heywood.
Heywood watched him go, feeling the regret of a man who followed orders instead of his heart and lost a friend forever.
Miles Ambrose was a warrior.
He ran, almost flying, through a crowd of axe-wielding Saxons and slew them left and right with his sword. He had to protect the High-King of the Britons from the invaders, who seemed to be renewed in strength with the help of another Germanic people, the Vandals. It was a sad but true fact that, within a generation, the Britons would become a conquered people. Even his formidable abilities could not stem the tide of destiny.
“Behind me, Arthur!” Miles shouted, waking himself up. He blinked in the dark room, unable to see a thing. His pillow and sheets were slick with sweat.
Miles turned on his bedside table lamp and put on his thin-rimmed spectacles. What a dream. It had all seemed so real to him — the sights, sounds, and particularly the smells. But why was he dreaming of such things now? He had never been particularly interested in that period of British history before, yet it seemed to him that his dream depicted a fairly accurate battle. Miles shook his head, grinned, and thought, I’ve seen too many movies.
He walked into his small bachelor apartment kitchen and absentmindedly opened the refrigerator door without really looking for anything to eat. He only saw the briefest reflection of moonlight shining out of the corner of his eye when the kitchen window shattered, and he suddenly felt a pain in his chest.
Not a heart attack; he was too healthy. Miles felt the side of his chest, just under his arm, and brought his hand up to his eyes. He could see by the dim refrigerator light that his palm was slick with blood. That was the last sight Miles Ambrose ever saw.