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by Matthew Rossi

What is chaos, my love?
It is not freedom.
A disarray of falling stars coming to nought.
D.H. Lawrence, Both Sides of the Medal

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought
Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 3 scene 1

The Pacific Ocean covers nearly half the world. Under that azure skin, things lurk that have never seen the light of day, and also that are waiting to return.

<<Your mistress calls.>>

A stirring at the base of the sea, thirty miles southwest of McMurdo Sound. The silt ripples, and pours off of the huge back. Something the size of ten whales rises.

Once, this thing and its kin were a familiar, if horrifying, sight to the skies of the world. Now, the last of its kind rises from water so deep that the light of the sun never reaches it, and smiles a death-born smile.

The water squeals as the crimson beast tears from its embrace, awakened by a call it had never thought to hear again. It clacks its pointed head open and shut, huge teeth grinding together. Six massive red wings, leathery with glowing scales, beat at the air in a manner that combines the flight of bees and bats. A shriek- roar splits the air as it heads west.

To heed the call.

To say that this had been unexpected would be like saying that a bullet in the head is unpleasant. While true, it seems insufficent.

Danny looked up at what sure as hell LOOKED like his little brother. There were differences, though...for one thing, he had much shorter hair, a cap of spiky punk-styled spines, swept up as if he'd been applying current to it. Also, he looked older. Not physically, but there was a difference in his expression. Also, a slight greenish tinge to his skin (If you REALLY looked for it.)

[Hi, Danny.]

<{Eric? Is that you?}>

[Yup. Turning up as proverbially as the bad penny that I just might be. Hold on a second.] He turned to face the floating obscenity that called itself Baba Yaga.

<<Who dares?>>

[Who dares? That's the best you can do? Who writes your dialogue, Walt Disney? Lady, this ain't a GAME. You're playing with people's LIVES here, and it so happens that some of them are my friends.]

Threll was standing next to Danny, and like the other Colonists, was staring up at the spectacle of a horribly deformed little old lady and a man/boy with a Trent Reznor haircut floating in mid-air. "Uh, Danny...I know I didn't know Eric very well, but that IS him, right?"

"It looks like him. The mind-voice sounds like his...but there wasn't a trace of him, Threll. Not a trace."

"I don't think it matters." Lao was doing his level best to keep his voice still as he regarded the odds. "The town's been halted by his appearance, and she's not blocking Telepathy right now...I think you, Agony and I had better try and get through to them."

"Good point, James." Danny concentrated, and the link between he, Lao and Jen/Agony (Who was still shocked and nearly-insensate) clicked on. Instantly, he translated them to the astral plane. There was a lot of debris from Baba Yaga's actions strewn about, black pulsating tendrils that roped out and lashed around the survivors of Vlaztinskoya.

<What should we do?> Agony was a silvered image in the mindscape, a chrome representation of what she tried to be out in the real world.

<We must sever these tendrils.> Lao, for his part, was much the same, except for the irridescence of the scales that had replaced his skin. His eyes were slitted pupils, the legacy of a heritage he fought against. <She cannot be allowed to maintain her hold.>

Danny was looking at the nexus of the zone, where the astral effects of Baba Yaga and Eric where floating. His was a blinding emerald light, barely contained in humanoid form, and it helped convince Danny that he was Eric. But hers was not the shape of an old woman...there was something wrong.

He had to find out what.

<{Lao, you and Agony try and free the village. I'm going to see if I can make some sense out of all this.}>

St. Petrograd. Center of the CIS bureau for Omega Interdiction. Over the past weeks, the understaffed organization had been desperately trying to keep an interdiction-observation zone over Vlaztinskoya. That, they'd done, until today.

#Report. And hurry about it!# Joab Mordiswerg's bull-like face was pasty in the glow from the various screens in the hastily cobbled together war room. A retired Red Army general, he'd been given control over the OI for one reason: His Omega powers. Everyone who worked for him knew of the reputation of the man, who lifted tanks HIMSELF during WWII. Who fought on, even when it seemed hopeless. Russia's most powerful Omega, an aging lion with strength and power slowly ebbing but still quite sufficent to kill a man with his bare hands. When you added his other gift, the ability to add the strength of those under his command to his own, you had an impressive force. And despite his age, he had not lost that charisma. Of course, IT was part of his Omega as well.

#Until three hours ago, the town was contained. Then a group of five Omega's entered, and some kind of a conflict began.# Jerevahd Stokanaow, the Steel General's right hand, was the only one who dared speak. The cybernetic implants he had submitted to on his face and in his brain had made him the Russian equivalent of Wes Hickman...and they'd only cost him his heart. In the glow of the screens, he looked dead already, with long white hair and sallow skin made worse. #Then, a manifestation of indeterminate nature began. Our scanners read a class 15 Omega. That was when the second breach of containment occured.#

#The Tempest.#

#Exactly. He and the class 15 have been hovering there for at least five minutes. Meanwhile, something HUGE is approaching the town. It will be there in three minutes.#

#What class is the Tempest?# It was more than an idle question. Joab had contacts who would pay dearly for that information.

#Beyond our ability to measure him. The scale ends at class 20...he is far and away above that. As you know, the scale has a logarithmic progression.#

#I do not like this, Jerev. Have you General Tokaredh on line?#

#He is waiting for your instructions.#

#Tell him to launch the missle. Make the appropriate excuses to the interested parties. And get Owen on the line, would you? I think its time we talked.#

#As you say.#

Eric hated Mexican Standoffs.

But that was what he had in front of him...the thing that called itself Baba Yaga had begun a series of telepathic attacks that he'd been forced to deal with, and so he'd had no time to do anything else. While he had power on his side, she was all over the place. Parry one attack, and three more came out of nowhere. Over and over again they'd feint and probe, his shields an opaque wall, hers a hive full of bees. He was getting nowhere, but if he broke it off to attack her physically she'd have the advantage.

That was when he heard the roaring.

He looked aside, and felt Baba Yaga drop away. She'd just been keeping him busy for...that. A flying cross between an insect, a dinosaur and a whale, red scales shining in the cold sunlight. It filled the sky above them.

"Son of a bitch."

It exhaled a cataclysm of flames, swallowing his body in fire. The clothes he'd made in Chicago were eaten away in seconds, and he floated there naked in an airborne river of heat.

<<Kill him, my Z'Neia! Rend his flesh!>>

Eric flew up, faster than the massive neck could track him, until he was above the thing. He'd never seen a living thing that massive in his life. On the ground, Threll and Thomas-Peter were having a similar reaction.

"This is not what I'd call a happy turn of events, Thomas. What do we do?"

"1. We guard the other's bodies until they come out of the Astral Plane. 2. We hope that the villagers don't come out of that trance anytime soon. 3. We pray. We pray a lot."

"Sounds like a plan to me."

With a thought, Eric conjured up another pair of pants, Levi's button fly 501's. Of course, this time he made them as durable as possible by wearing steel and diamond into them. If he knew how to make kevlar, he'd have used that too. The thing snapped its jaws, barely missing his right arm, and Eric had no desire to test his own durability against it.

[If we stay here, Ghidra here will probably kill everybody else in an attempt to do me. If we leave...the score in the town is still 70 villagers and 1 Baba Yaga vs. 5 Colonists....What do I do?]

The beast flapped its six wings, and the sky seemed to crack.

[I guess we have to go.]

Fifty miles away, at the Dempsteroika Missle base.

General Ancheyi Tokaredh was leaning over a console, tracking the massive radar blip as it began to move deeper into Russia. This was not something he was pleased about.


#What is it, Lieutenant Alpenikov?#

#Orders from General Mordiswerg!# Despite the fact that the old man had retired and started an agency to harras people for an accident of birth that he himself had profited from, Ancheyi knew he could not disobey the order that he was about to recieve. He looked down at the sliding green blip, out at the snow clinging to his cabin, and back at the eager young Lieutenant.

#And those orders are...?#

#We are to fire the missle.#

#What were his specific orders?#

#The exact orders I recieved were "Fire the missle," sir.#

Ancheyi smiled as he tracked the blip. #Excellent. Prepare a radar lock on this contact.#


#He said to fire the missle...he did not tell me exactly where to aim it, did he?#

Danny crept up on the manifestation that was what should have been an old, corrupt thing...but was not. Instead, the thing that was menacing them all in the real world was a tiny ball of white light winking in and out of existence. Why would a malevolent bitch like Baba Yaga not be dark here? This place manifests your truest essence...could she be good? How is that possible?

<<STAY AWAY!>> A burst of hostile thought ripped into Danny, lashing into the core of his mind, but he deflected it easily enough. She had a lot of skill, and a lot of power, but her HEART wasn't in that one...

Suddenly the bloated shape of Baba Yaga appeared between Danny and the white ball. <<I'll eat your eyes for this, Dreamwalker!>>

<{Sure you will.}> Danny formed the weapons of astral combat...the mechanized armor of his favorite cartoon character, Steel Man. Sure, everybody said the Amazing Thill Hour starring Steel Man and the Quintessential Quartet sucked, but Danny liked the concept of being able to wear a suit to protect you from the world. He was even thinking of asking Jimmy to make him a copy. He just didn't want people to know that he ever did ANYTHING childish, or he'd probably have already asked.

<<You think that can save you from me?>> She waved her hands, and red-yellow snakes with fire erupting from their heads wrapped around his legs. He looked down at them, then pointed his fists at their wriggling, fang-mawed heads.

<{Engage Rejection Rays!}> Yellow beams fired from iris-holes in the back of his hands and blasted the snakes apart. Danny turned and faced the crone. <{Omni-Beam engage!}> Out of the diamond on his chest came a laser-like blast of light, but Baba Yaga simply pointed and the ground ripped up to form a shield.

<<This place feeds me! I cannot be beaten here!>>

<{Pull the other one, sister. I don't believe you.}>

While this was happening, Lao and Jen/Agony were busy severing the tendrils that held the village to Baba Yaga's sway. They both noticed it at the same time.

<These aren't very hard to cut, are they?>

<No.> Lao used his dragon-fist to blast another black rope into nothingness. <Not at all. Why would she use such weak control if she's this great and powerful demon? Why hasn't she smeared us all over the Astral Plane yet? Shiva would have.>

<She's not Shiva, Lao.>

<No, but even taking personal style into account...she's not very effective, is she?>

<I guess not.> Jen/Agony blasted a tendril apart. <How many left?>

<Twenty or so, I think.>

As they spiraled up, higher and higher into the atmosphere, Eric gave up the hope that the Z'Neia needed air. It was following him as well as it had in the lower atmosphere.

[Okay, you've got great lungs. Let's see how you handle this.]

He concentrated, and gave it the equivalent to a swat in the nose with a telekinetic newspaper. Of course, that swat could have crushed a building, but it simply stunned the Z'Neia for a second. Then the red jaws swung open and the glow began to dance around inside its mouth.

[Again with the fire? Shheeesh!]

The blast of heat rent the thinning air, consuming almost all the oxygen in a five mile radius, but Eric was no longer in the path of the fire. Instead, while the elder wyrm was venting its rage on the open sky, he was behind it, grabbing it by the end of its tail.

[I saw this in an OVERMAN comic once. Let's see if it works in real life.]

He yanked, HARD, and then as if he was cracking a whip sent the reptile-insect-whale snapping down the length of its ribbon- like body (If anything that big can be said to be ribbon-like) and back up again. A gout of cerulean blood came as it bit through its tongue and began to shriek. Eric then simply spun, once, and tossed the beast down into the atmosphere like a hammer-throw at a decathalon. The sight of the enormous bulk of the Z'Neia twirling like a bola nearly brought Eric to a stop. He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of it all. He'd just turned a monster out of legend into a kids toy.

[That's all I am, isn't it? A kid. Playing around with power that could change the world.]

He floated there a second longer.

[Ahh, screw the self-pity. I got a giant red lizard to beat up.]

With a thought, he plunged after it.

A bunker beneath the basalt layer of earth's crust. Holographic representations of men, cloaked so that secrecy can be maintained, meet around a table. A computer-generated graphic of a teenaged boy with long black hair is rotating in a 3-D hologram in the center of the table.

"This is what the scanners in my safehouse managed to get on the target." Speaks one bristly, electronic voice. The safeguards are not in place to protect them from each other.

"Who do we have on the list as prototypes?"

"There's Slade...we're trying to erase his memory now."

"Anyone else?"

"The Benson girl should be taken off the list. She's proved too intractable."


"From the Seekers project...Don Riley."

"Our agent in Cinncinatti has identified an Alexander Cox as a possible, but I'm still waiting for her field report."

"There's Christopher Talbot, the boy from Manchester."

"I have a report on the speed drugs efficacity, but the project is hitting some snags...Crystal City is rapidly becoming hard to manage."

"Deal with it."

"I already have."

"Okay. Obviously, we need to get more possibles, and get to work. Everybody here should begin cultivating someone."

"If there are no objections...?"


"Meeting adjourned."

The holographic representatives vanished. The room hummed.

#Launch time-T minus 1:00.#

#Is the lock established?# Ancheyi was standing now. He'd removed his jacket, and his shirt sleeves were rolled up, but the sweat was still flowing, plastering his hair to his head. #We only get one shot at this.#

#The lock is established. The contact has maintained a position in the Arctic Circle for the past few minutes. It must be at least a half kilometer in length.#

#Fire when you see the whites of their eyes.#

#Beg pardon, General?#

#A joke. Fire the missle.#

A hand stabbed several switches in rapid succession. #The missle is engaged. T-minus 57 seconds.#

#Too late to pull out now.# Ancheyi sat down and ran both hands through his wet, thinning hair.

Danny and the crone were evenly balanced. She had power to spare, and a degree of skill that comes naturally to some, but she wasn't anywhere's near all powerful. She was a lie wrapped in a lie, and in the Astral Plane Danny had four years of experience. Plus, Lao and Jen/Agony had freed the village, cutting her off from a major source of her power.

An argent streak blasted the ground, but Danny leapt up and over it, the mechanical suit becoming that of another cartoon he liked...Batwing. Batwing: TAS was one of his favorite series. He slammed a black booted foot into the crone, bowling her over.

<{It's all over, Heckler!}>

<<What?>> The crone had no idea what Danny was talking about, and he took that distraction for all it was worth, grabbing the flickering whiteness out of the air. <<NO! DON'T TOUCH THAT!>>

<{Too late.}> Underneath the black cowl, Danny smiled as the crone shredded. He knew that the vestigal avatar in his fingers was the key to what was happening. Allowing the aspect to slide off of himself, he became Danny Anderson again. <{You can come out.}>


<{I know. But I can help you. I'll do my best.}>

Jen/Agony and Lao were done severing the tendrils when they saw the eruption of light.

<What the fuck!?>

<I don't know...but I hope Danny knows what he's doing.>

Eric saw the red draconic mountain of flesh impact the ground, sending the tundra shuddering, and landed next to its unconscious body. He probed its mind, which unfolded easil before him. Almost no thoughts, a tabula rasa to any commands that know to call for it. Anyone could have awakened it.

Eric looked around. What now? Do I kill it? It isn't IT'S fault that it has the willpower of a slug. But something this powerful shouldn't just be at the whim of any telepath on the planet...sheesh, the same argument could be modified to justify killing ME. What do I do?

Occupied in such thoughts, Eric didn't sense the missle until it was only a mile away. He looked up at it.

An old style ICBM.

A Thermoneuclear Warhead.

65 Megaton Yield.

Before he could react, it closed the mile gap and, as programmed, it melded hydrogen atoms to make helium. It was the same process that drives the sun, which in a way drives all life on Earth. And the result was detonation. The fundemental power of the atom unleashed in a supreme moment of apocalypse blooming.

For a thousand yards, the fury danced in full bloom. Three seconds of uncontrolled reaction. The Z'Neia was consumed. The tundra blasted into a crater, the permafrost melted. The full heat of Atomic Fusion. Everyone's greatest fear of the end come into terms that the mind can almost grasp.

But the reaction stopped at a thousand yards. Slowly, in terms of primordial heat and chaos (To a human eye it took seconds) the wall of flame stopped. The cloud did not form, the radiation did not breach the walls of the crater, as logic and experience said that it must. Instead, what had begun as an atomic explosion became reversed, began to roll back.

Into the naked human form hanging in the center. The fury of the most powerful explosion harnassed by man was pulled into him. And then he floated alone over the half-mile crater, the blasted scar wound in the belly of the earth, where the apocalyptic explosion should have completed itself. He looked out over the results. He felt thoughts and feelings out over half the planet, could taste the brandy on lovers mouths in Paris, the rice in a farmer's cup in Beijing. A flood, a chorus, a cacophony, a euphony of thoughts blazing inside his skull. Three billion brains all open to him...and more, if he just reached. But he didn't reach: He pulled it in, closed it off, sealed it up. Fear, and wonder, and a kind of wistful pain deep inside his blank expression left him no option. He tried to come to grips with what had happened as he closed off the outside thoughts from his own, became just himself again.

His second nuke. The first one he let happen to him. He felt all the power he'd eaten inside him rushing through his blood, making him dazed with it, drunk on it. With a thought, he was clothed again, this time in a manner from his favorite film set after the bomb: THE ROAD WARRIOR.

[Whoa. That...was something new.] He drifted above the world and tried to get control of himself. He was shaking in fear, not of what had been attempted, but that it had failed.

Somewhere, buried deep in his mind, a packet of alien thought began to unravel...thoughts of a heritage he didn't truly know. Of a world he'd never seen that gave him birth. Of the answer to his endless question.

[What am I now?]

#Report.# Joab Modriswerg was standing in a room full of silence. He'd seen what had happened on the sattelite feed, but he still desired confirmation. As always, only the pragmatic, emotionless Jerevahd felt free to answer.

#It appears that Thermonuclear Weapons are ineffective against the Tempest...although the warhead DID destroy the monster.# Jerevahd looked down at another screen, processing the data faster and better than any normal human. #No radiation, no thermal cloud, no's as if we used a conventional explosive. Impressive.#

Joab faced the screen. For the first time in thirty plus years, he'd begun to sweat. He looked at the image of a crater blasted into the ground, realized that it should have been much larger, that nothing should have that power, and that something did.


Read PULSE #13 for the conclusion of the KULAK storyline!
In TEMPEST #7, Eric meets the Leviathan...
gives an interview to TIME Magazine...
and makes a date.

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