Beware the Overmind (Part 4)

 

Chapter 18 [10,000 years in the future桲andor, New Krypton]

[Author's Note: This is an AU version of this season of Andromeda where Molly actually accepts Dylan's offer to join the crew. Spoilers: All eppies thus far.]

As always, the Andromeda Ascendant bustled with activity just before a diplomatic meeting of any kind. In this case, Ror-El, New Krypton's Chief Minister, had invited Dylan Hunt and his crew for a shore leave. Having been through a gauntlet of late, the captain accepted. Besides, he wanted to introduce his two newest crew mates to New Kryptonian hospitality.

"We're almost there, Dylan," Beka Valentine, the slender blonde first mate, advised.

"You'll need to exit slipstream in thirty seconds, Beka," Rommie instructed.

"We heard so much about this place in the Academy," Molly Nagouchi, the newly minted weapons officer, noted. "Is it really as great as everyone says?"

"The Nietzscheans say so," Telemachus Rahde, the dark haired Nietzschean officer, mentioned.

"And you'll find out in 5𦴗𦌽." Beka pulled back on the sticks, slowing them down and exiting slipstream. After the blurring effect of light had passed, they all looked out the main view screen to see New Krypton in front of them.

Dylan folded his arms across his chest and smiled. "There, Molly, is New Krypton."

"Dylan, we're being hailed from the surface. Chief Minister El wishes to speak to us," Rommie told him.

"On screen," the captain requested. When the minister's face appeared, he greeted, "Ror-El, thank you for inviting us."

"Good day to you, Dylan, and it is our pleasure, especially given what you've done for our people and the Founders," Ror-El replied hospitably, "head straight on. The honor guard's waiting for you. Lara and I will meet you at the space port."

"Thank you, my friend," Dylan accepted.

"The ships are on my monitor, Dylan," Telemachus told the captain.

"Very good. Steady as she goes," the captain noted. Speaking into the intercom, he announced, "Attention, all hands, this is the captain. We will be docking at Kandor's space port in a few minutes. Trance and Harper, please report to Command. Thank you and enjoy your ship leave."

****

[Herbarium]

In the dimly-lit area, Trance Gemini meditated on things past, present and future. For the entire trip from Machus-4, she had seen visions. Not now. Once again, her mind blurred.

****

[Trance's Vision]

Once again, she witnessed the rampage of a giant humanoid clad in silver armor. Around him, her friends from ancient Earth lay unconscious or worse.

Then she heard the scream, making her pulse stop for a second. He's changed again.

The scene shifted. Now she saw them in a dark chamber lit only by torches. A large stone throne sat against the far wall and a giant brazier occupied its center.

"Now you die," the giant sneered.

"Big words, Ugly," the Child countered angrily. Holding his hands up, he soaked in dark energy from the chamber. As he did so, he radiated the energy, turning dark as he had against the Spirit of the Abyss. "Time fer yer whuppin'!"

From the giant's forehead, an energy beam coursed toward him.

From the Dark One, a pyre of dark fire shot forth to meet it.

As the two energies met, they caused a big explosion. When the light faded, there was nothing left.

David! She gasped. "Where is he?"

He will have to sacrifice himself to stop this threat.

Once again, the scene shifted. Now she stood in the midst of a fog bank such as the ones Deirdre or Cybelle would use. "Who?"

In front of her, the Faerie Empress appeared. "Trance Gemini, do you remember me?"

She nodded. "You are the Faerie Empress. What is this?"

"You have seen the future, my Dear," the elf-queen proclaimed. "Know that the Child seeks you all even now."

"Who is the silver giant?"

The Empress frowned, "He is from an ancient race called the Eternans. They hate Krypton and all things to do with it. The giant is their champion and the repository of their race's hatred. He is called the Overmind."

"You said the Child seeks us? You mean David?"

"No, the Overmind did something to him. The best that I can tell is that David is in a psychic coma, leaving the Child to run things. I will warn you, Trance, he is a darker mood, craving vengeance for the attack." Looking around, she added, "It's time for you to return to your Command area. Soon, the Child will find you all. Then you can say something."

With that, the vision faded.

****

[Andromeda]

The medical officer shook herself back to reality. "Time to go," she told herself. She rushed out of the herbarium, heading for Command. Five minutes later, she hustled through the doorway to find the others waiting for her.

"Trance, where have you been? I called for you twenty minutes ago," Dylan wondered.

"Sorry, Dylan, I saw something," Trance explained.

Molly glanced at her. "Are you all right, Trance?"

"I'm fine but we'll need to talk after our meeting with Ror-El," the golden-skinned alien explained.

"All right," Dylan agreed, curious at what had done this to her.

"Yeah!" Seamus Harper, the scrawny ship's engineer exclaimed, rushing out of the area, heading for the exit.

"Come on, Trance," Beka urged, guiding her friend out.

"Is she always like that?" Telemachus asked.

"Sometimes," Dylan replied, quirking his brow. And it's usually right before we hit trouble. "Come on." He led Molly and Telemachus outside.

There they found Ror-El, Lara and their daughter, Chlana, waiting for them. "Ror-El," he greeted.

"Dylan, on behalf of Kandor and New Krypton, welcome to our world. Please follow me. Dinner awaits," the host declared, motioning them toward the Government Tower in the city's center.

****

[Dinner chamber梐n hour later]

As expected, a full banquet had awaited the crew in the dining area. Between courses of Tegartian Reef salad, Fraloian quail and glasses of the finest Kandorian wine to wash it down, the diners were all satisfied.

Trance tried to keep herself composed, not wanting to ruin the meal for the others. The vision and the warning kept echoing in her mind.

"Trance, is something the matter?" Lara inquired, picking up on her hidden discomfort.

"I'm sorry to trouble you. The food is very good. I厀ell匢 had a question about Kryptonian history," she replied hesitantly, looking at Dylan nervously.

Damn it. I knew this was too good to be true. "What is it, Trance? What did you see onboard?" the captain inquired.

"I匢 had a vision," the medical officer revealed. "A threat from Eternus stalks our friends in the past."

Ror-El dropped his fork. "Impossible! Eternus was destroyed thirty years before the Founders met. How could that be?"

"Maybe it's the wine," Telemachus supposed.

Beka shook her head. "When she sees things like this, they usually come true. What else did you see?"

"Remember that elf lady who hosted Clark and Lana's wedding? She appeared to warn me. I saw the Child fighting a giant." Trance reported.

Ror-El gasped. "Giant? Describe it, Trance."

"He stood about seven feet tall with silver armor and seemed more like a house than anything else. He could shoot mind beams of some kind. According to the Faerie Empress, he is the repository of Eternus' hate for Krypton. He's called the Overmind."

The administrator hustled over to the computer console. "By the Founders, we had hoped this threat had vanished along with that damned planet."

"Dearest, what is it?" Lara inquired.

"A threat we should never have had to face," Ror-El retorted, bringing up an image on screen of the giant. "We thought the giant destroyed in a meteor storm. He's after the Founders."

"Not to mention Earth," Harper groused.

"But he needs to deal with the Child," Dylan supposed.

"Who is this Child?" Molly asked, feeling confused.

"What you mean," Ror-El stated.

"Ror-El, he saved our world from the Magog," his wife reminded him.

"He did," the chief minister admitted, feeling ashamed.

Before any further discussion on the point could be had, a banging could be heard outside followed by force lance fire.

"What now?" Molly wondered, drawing her lance and powering it up.

"Ror-El and Lara, stay down!" Dylan ordered, pointing his force lance at the door. "Everyone, ready weapons!"

At that moment, the doors exploded inward and the three guards flew into the room.

From the hall, the banshee scream could be heard. "Dumb asses! Ah just wanna talk with 慹m! Ya're screwin' things up!"

"It's okay," Dylan told the others while advancing on the door. "We'll listen if you come in peacefully."

"Tha's cool," the Child concurred, appearing in their midst. "Sorry 慴out the mess."

Recalling the 憁ess' on the Magog world ship, Trance nodded. "It's okay. Are Clark and Lana all right?"

"Yeah, Xena an' Ah got rid a' Big Ugly fer now," the Dark One rasped. "Big Bro's hurt though."

Molly and Telemachus looked incredulously at each other and then at their counterparts. "Big Bro?"

"He's referring to his alter ego," Rommie indicated. "You fought him already, then?"

"Yeah. He busted Picture Place an' hurt us!" the Child ranted, shooting them a dirty look. "Look, Ah can't whup 慽m 憀one. Ah.need yer help," he admitted reluctantly. "Xena an' Ah kicked his ass but we're still hurtin'."

Somehow Dylan kept his jaw from dropping. He's actually asking for help. Unbelievable.

"And where's David?" the android wondered.

"Ah can't feel 慽m," the Dark One pointed out.

"Let me try," Lara offered, suppressing a shudder. Concentrating, she probed the construct's consciousness. As she did, she was horrified with the pain and anger she encountered there. However, unlike before, she could detect nothing of the adult psyche. "It's卙orrible. I匢'm sorry. So much pain."

"Lemme alone!" the Child rasped, shooting her a dirty look. "Ah shoulda known ya'd be like this!"

"Pardon us if we're startled by all of this," Dylan cut in. "You're not known for asking for favors before breaking heads."

"Yeah. Ah guess. Ah jus' don't want anythin' to happen to them kids," the Child growled. "Can ya help?"

Rommie interfaced with the computer bank and her AI's memory. "Ror-El, I have accessed the battle if you and Dylan wish to see it." After both men nodded, she activated the link, "coming on screen."

For the next few minutes, the series of events following the Overmind's entrance in the Talon played on the viewer.

For the Andromeda Ascendant's crew, they couldn't believe how easily the alien hunter blew through the students, Spider-Man and Mutant X given the latter's abilities. He even took Clark's best shots. Only with the Child, Xena and Ferali's combined efforts did the defenders drive the alien off.

"Where is he?" Ror-El demanded. "Where did the Overmind go?"

"He ran w' Painty Face. He'll be back. Ya'll saw how tough that twit is. Ah can burn 慽m but ya'll could be great helpin' us," the Child indicated.

"You want me to go with him, Dylan?" Harper asked, wanting another opportunity to visit ancient Earth.

"Not alone, Harper. We all go," Dylan countermanded the request. "Excuse us, Ror-El."

"Of course. In fact, I have something for you," the administrator offered. Running down the hall to his lab, he came back with a cart containing a long staff-like tube, a keypad and a LCD display. "This is a time regulator. It will allow you to go back in time as well as navigate the slipstream. You use the keypad to set the date you want."

"And it ties into our slipstream drive? Has this been tested yet?" Beka asked hesitantly.

"The one cruiser we tested it on came back safely. Normally, I wouldn't want to risk you all or the Andromeda, but this is an emergency," Ror-El explained.

Dylan weighed the options for a minute before agreeing, "Send your best engineers with Mr. Harper to make sure it's installed correctly. I want to be out of here in three hours."

"We can have this installed in one hour," the administrator promised. "Come, Seamus."

"We're on it, Boss," Harper concurred, hurrying off after Ror-El.

The starship captain took a deep breath, considering the risk they would be taking. "I want you all to know that it's okay if you want to stay here and not try this procedure."

"I'm flying so I'm in," Beka accepted.

"I need to find out what's going on," Trance concurred.

"I'm not letting you go off without me. We're a team," Molly insisted, rubbing his arm.

"And I'm in as well," Telemachus noted.

"Very good," Dylan said, keeping his manner upbeat. "Trance, I want you, Rommie and Molly to go back to Earth through Ror-El's time machine."

"Hey," the Child spoke up. "Thank ya'll fer helpin'. We'll be waitin'." With that, he disappeared, heading back to Earth.

"You all know what to do. Ladies, see you in a few hours," the captain concluded before leaving for the Andromeda to oversee the upgrade.

"Follow me," Lara urged, leading the trio to his lab. Once there, she asked Rommie, "Did you get the dates from the download?"

"Yes indeed," the android agreed, punching them into the computer. "All set."

"We're really going back to 21st century Earth?" Molly wondered.

"Yes. We are and we've done this before," Rommie assured her friend. Watching the gateway hum to life, she added, "Let's go. Tucson should be on the other side of the portal."

Molly watched as the others stepped through and then she followed tentatively.

Good luck, my friends. May you preserve the peace for us all. Lara said a silent prayer as she stared into the portal.

****

[Command Deck, Andromeda, An hour later]

Harper finished the retrofitting of Ror-El's device in record time and even managed a few safety checks to insure it would run with the slipstream engines. After doing so, he sent Ror-El and the engineers back to the city and headed for Command. Seamus, you're either crazy or a genius. Well maybe both in this case. We could be lost in time. But this is Earth we're talking about here.

As soon as he got to his post, Dylan asked, "Are we set, Mr. Harper?"

"Everything's runnin' smoother than a fixed game of Vedren wrist, Boss," the engineer replied.

"Andromeda, what do you think?" the captain asked.

The AI appeared in her image form in front of him. "My diagnostic of the slipstream core concurs with Harper's assessment, Dylan. We're ready."

"Take us out, then. As soon as we're clear of New Krypton, Beka, go to slipstream," Dylan directed.

The Andromeda Ascendant lifted off from the space port, streaking for deep space. Once clear of the planet's gravity, it headed for the nearest slip point.

"Beka," Dylan called.

She lowered the slipstream control apparatus into place and began pushing buttons. "Let's hope this device works, Seamus. Here goes!" Yanking back on the sticks, the blurring of light ran through the deck as the ship entered the vortex of interstellar strands known as the slipstream.

"Andromeda, do we have an idea of where we are in relation to Earth at this point?" Telemachus wondered.

"It would take us approximately a week at this rate to get there. Hopefully, the minister's device can carry us across distances too," the image reported.

"One way to find out. Mr. Harper, now," Dylan commanded.

"Here goes," the engineer told them, programming in the dates given to him by Ror-El's people and hitting the blue button. A flash of cobalt light enveloped the ship.

When the light faded, they were still in slipstream.

"Andromeda, report," Dylan requested.

"We are definitely still on the same path however, the slipstream has changed. The threads aren't as developed. I'd say we've made it through time but not space as of yet," Andromeda noted.

"It'll still take a week to get there. Terrific," the captain groused. "Experimental science really sucks."

"Sorry, Boss, at least we made it through time and are still streaming in one piece," Harper pointed out.

"Absolutely, Mr. Harper, you did great with that. I just wish we could get there faster," Dylan hoped.

"The funny thing about wishes, Dylan Hunt, is that they do come true sometimes," a strange voice replied. As the crew turned toward the source, they saw Grimwilkin appear in the deck's center. "Ah yes, this is a most impressive craft."

"Grimwilkin, what are you doing here?" Dylan inquired.

"I was sent by the Faerie Empress to speed up your journey," the elderly wizard explained, raising his staff and uttering some words in an unknown tongue.

In front of the Andromeda, a wall of mist appeared.

"They can do it even in slipstream," Beka gathered, staring at the unique event unfolding in front of them. "Amazing."

"Steer for it, Captain Valentine, and pass on through," the guide stated.

She nodded and did as he asked.

On the other side, they found themselves back in normal space. They passed Mars and left it behind.

"How did you do that?" Telemachus inquired.

"There are some things, my friend, which science alone cannot fathom. Sometimes, magic needs to give it a push. I just transported us across space, saving you all a week's travel," the wizard detailed.

"We are back in the Sol System, Dylan," Andromeda pointed out. "Earth is but fifteen minutes away now."

"Thank you, Grimwilkin, for the lift," Dylan expressed.

"For friends such as you, it's my pleasure," Grimwilkin told them before disappearing.

As they reached the Moon's dark side, Beka gathered, "You want to take the Maru down?"

"Yes. Telemachus will stay with the ship. The rest of us will go down there and see what's going on. Let's go," Dylan commanded, leading the crew toward the hangar deck.

 

Chapter 19 [Dubois Condo]

Angie bit her lip nervously and guzzled her third cup of coffee. Why won't he wake up? She had tried everything from CPR to psionic urging in order to get his attention. "He can't be dead."

Then she heard a knock at the door. Walking over, she sensed it was Nick. "It's open. Thank you for coming."

The archaeologist stepped into the room and swept the area with his senses. "Where is he?"

"In the bedroom," she replied anxiously, leading him in there. "He won't respond to anything."

He listened for a minute to the air around him. "He's not dead. Somehow, he's in a very deep trance."

At that moment, the Child shook himself awake. "Wha now? Hey, Nickie-Boy, what are ya'll doin' here?"

She put her hands on her hips and chided, "You scared me half to death, you know! What happened just now?"

"Whine, whine, whine," the Dark One hissed, throwing on his sweats. "Ah go an' git help an' ya'll jus' keep gittin' in mah face. Chill out!"

"Help?" she wondered anxiously. "What do you mean?" Then she felt something happening in the front room. "Who now?" Rushing out into the front room, she saw Rommie, Trance, and Molly appear. "Andromeda? Trance?"

"That's something else," Molly commented, looking around anxiously. "I take it this is our destination?"

"It is," Rommie replied. Turning to Angie, she greeted, "Hello, Angela. Sorry to startle you."

"No problem considering everything else that's happened this week," the oncologist replied, giving the Child a knowing look. "At least he did bring back help. I trust you're the help he was referring to?"

"We are," Trance agreed. "Dylan and the others should be here soon. Angela, we're sorry to hear about what happened in Smallville."

"We all are," Nick concurred, stepping into the room. "Andromeda, it's good to see you. Who are your two companions?"

"Hello, Nicholas," the medical officer greeted. "It's still me, Trance. I梬ell梕volved."

The Elder studied Molly for a minute, confused by the face. As with Beka Valentine and Tracy Brown, the resemblance between this crew member and Urs stunned him to say the least. Good thing Vachon isn't here.

"Is something the matter?" Molly inquired.

"You remind me of someone I knew," Nick told her. "Sorry, I'm Nick Miles and you are?"

"Molly Naguochi. Given what I just saw with the Child, I guess weird is the norm for you."

"You can say that," Angie concurred. "Can I get you all something? Coffee? Tea?"

"Can you make that drink we had at the Talon?" Rommie wondered.

"Certainly although mine won't be as good as Lana's," the oncologist agreed, stepping into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Hearing another knock at the door, she requested, "Can one of you get that?"

"Yeah, Ah'll do it," the Child agreed. Sensing the crew on the other side of the door, he telekinetically opened it for them. "Howdy. Ah see Rorey's thing worked."

"It did," Dylan concurred. "Angela, Nicholas, good to see you again. I wish the circumstances were different."

"And so do we," Nick agreed, as they all sat down. "I trust the Child filled you in."

"We've seen the record as well," Rommie told him.

"Figures that something like this would have to hit right before Christmas," Harper remarked ruefully. Seeing the others' looks, he added defensively, "We still celebrated it when I was a kid. It was kind of a break from the Nietzschean nightmare, ya know?"

"That's okay, Harper," Angie assured him, pouring out mugs of coffee for everyone. "We're bummed out too." She gave one to each crew member and told them, "Milk and sugar are in here if you want."

"That's okay," Dylan assured her, sipping on the warm fluid. "It's good as is. Now about the Kents and Luthors, are they all right?"

"They're fine for now. If that giant creep shows up though, who knows?" the oncologist asked. "Excuse me for a minute." She walked into the twins' room, checked on them and shut the door as she came back into the living room.

"Did Xena tell you anything?" Rommie asked.

"Only that her chakram cut him and that he's faster than he looks," Angie replied, before taking another sip of her coffee. "His fire and Ferali's ax wounded it too."

"Don't matter. We'll whup 慽m anyhow," the Child interjected tersely.

"We brought some stuff for just that reason. It's the latest in Kandorian genius with input from yours truly of course," Harper indicated, pointing to the box behind him. "We just need to put it together."

"Do you think Dr. Kane would let us use his lab?" Trance queried.

"I don't think there will be any problem with that," Nick supposed, taking out his cell phone. "If you will all excuse me, I'll give him a call." With that, he walked into Dave's study and shut the door.

"Meantime, Ror-El wanted us to check on the kids if that's okay," Beka indicated.

"Absolutely," Angie concurred. Seeing Nick walk out of the study, she asked, "That was quick. Everything okay?"

"He's amenable. The students are at Sanctuary. We can meet them up there. It'll take us about six hours to get there by car so we better get going," Nick agreed.

"We have the Maru if you need a lift," Beka offered. "It's faster and since we can cloak ourselves, nobody will bother us. Sounds good?"

"That it is," Angie agreed. "I'll get the twins ready. Give us fifteen minutes."

"Ah'll help," the Child offered, following her into the bedroom.

"Did he just offer to help her?" Beka asked in disbelief.

"Both sides love those kids," Nick pointed out. "Let's get ready to leave."

 

Chapter20 [Smallville, Arighatto Residence]

Hansei Arighatto stepped back into the house and closed the door quickly. From his walk around town, he could see that the townspeople were starting their rebuilding efforts. It doesn't take much for these people to get started again. Pity that one day I will have to kill them all.

"Did you find what you were looking for?" the Overmind growled impatiently.

"The sheep reconstruct their pens, my friend. No one suspects that you're still here," the samurai assured him.

Just then, the phone rang.

"That thing again?" the alien roared.

"Calm down, my friend," Arighatto soothed, picking up the phone. "Yes?"

"Arighatto, it's Eckhart," Eckhart announced.

"Yes. How are things on your end?"

The fledgling reported, "Dubois' students and Miles met tonight at the El Gato Tavern to prepare for you and our friend. Knowing Dubois, he has something in the works as well. I would advise you to move. I have arranged for two tickets for you on a flight tonight."

"Patience, my friend. We will leave tonight. Soon the time will come. I'll be in touch, Mason. Thank you for the call and for making the arrangements," Arighatto concluded, hanging up.

"So?"

"Your patience has been rewarded," the host told his guest. "Come. It's time to go and hunt our prey. I hope you don't mind flying."

"If it gets me down there faster, fine!" the Overmind asserted, disguising himself again. "This will cloak me from all notice human and electronic."

"Excellent," Arighatto praised. "Follow me." With that, they headed for the car and the airport beyond.

 

Chapter 21 [New Sanctuary桽everal hours later]

Adam, Harper and Rommie worked feverishly on the Kandorian devices. After following Ror-El's instructions, they discovered that the parts fit into a helmet and two tiaras.

"What will these do?" the geneticist asked.

"According to Ror-El, they will provide shielding against the Overmind's abilities. The bigger one is for the Child. Only he will be able to wear it," Rommie pointed out.

"And why him?" Harper inquired. "Do we want him to have any more stuff than he has now?"

The avatar shook her head. "Think, Harper, the crown channels energy but it also has a recoil of sorts on the wearer. The Child will be able to handle that pain and deal with our adversary. There is one problem though梙e'll need an energy source to match his own dark matter."

"Great," the engineer sighed, "so much for this project."

Adam considered all of the possibilities. "Maybe not." He spoke into his comlink. "Shalimar?"

"Yeah, Adam?" the feral asked.

"Is Miranda there? Can you bring her and Angela to the lab at once, please?"

"I'm on it," she concluded.

"What do you have in mind, Dr. Kane?" Rommie asked him.

"There is one place we can try. I've never been there but it may be a possibility," the geneticist told them. Just then, Shalimar led Angie and Miri into the lab.

"Are those going to help us against that overgrown bully?" Miri wondered.

"They should. Your uncle will need to wear the big one," Rommie noted. "It will require charging though."

"What do you mean?" Angie asked, looking for clarification.

"The device needs a background charge to match the Child's own energy. According to the records, Eve cleansed Rowenshire when you all fought the witch there recently. There's only one place left," the android informed them.

Miri gaped. "You can't be serious! We have to go back there? Nope. Uh uh! Absolutely not! Auntie Angie, you tell them."

"You're talking about the Pit, aren't you?" the Oncologist asked, allowing the disbelief to be evident on her face. "Rommie, no offense, but you need a new hard drive if you think I'm going to let His Darkness anywhere near there. That'll really drive him over the edge."

"It's the only way to defeat the Overmind, Angela," Rommie reiterated.

Angie shook her head. "No. I'm with Miri on this one. There's got to be another way." She stalked across the lab angrily.

"Angie," Adam started.

"No! You've never been there! Miri, Karen and I were almost been killed in that hole! Dave was stabbed down there! That place feeds his darkness every time we're there!" Angie bellowed. "Every time, he comes back from there more unstable, meaner and deadlier than before. Ask Garth, Eve, or Nick!"

"And it's that very thing that gives the Child a chance," Rommie argued. "Angela, the Overmind has the psychic energy of an entire planet inside of him. The only reason the Child got to him was because of his connection to the Talon. The greater good, Angela. Think of the greater good."

"Even if it costs me my husband? Costs our girls their father?" Angie sobbed. "That'll be small comfort to us! Even though he'd do it to protect the students, you know Clark and Lana would never forgive themselves if he dies. Those kids don't need that right now."

"I've had enough of this mess. Auntie, I'll be with the others," Miri told her before leaving the area. "I've lost my parents, Dr. Kane. I don't want to lose my uncle too!"

"I need some air too, Kiddo," Angie concurred, staring at the trio in the lab. "Find another way." With that, she followed her niece, leaving the others to consider what other options梚f any梩hey had.

****

[Dojo]

Lex, Chloe, Clark and Lana sat on the stairs below the platform, staring off toward the lab where the others worked. After the trip from the El Gato, they had secluded themselves from their classmates, trying to make sense of the situation.

"Figures that some alien bounty hunter would come looking for me," Clark groused.

Lana hugged him. "We'll get through this, Clark. You'll see. And he's looking for us."

"All of us, Clark. We're the four Founders, remember?" Lex added.

"Yeah, Farm Boy, it's all for one and one for all," Chloe indicated.

"As if that's supposed to make me feel any better? Now I'm endangering you as well as my folks," he worried.

"We knew what we were getting into when we signed on, Clark," Lex told him, smirking at him. "You know we'll stand by you no matter what."

"As if I would let anyone take a whack at you without giving them a serious flash fry," the reporter added seriously. "Clark, they're working on something right now up in the lab. Chances are that Dr. Kane will cook up some gadget to deal with that overgrown windbag."

"I wish I felt as confident as you do," the Kryptonian expressed, feeling more miserable by the second.

Lana saw Miri walking toward them with Dr. Dubois, Ferali and Martin. The exasperated looks on their faces spoke volumes. Now what? "Miri? What is it?"

Miri sobbed, sputtering angrily, "They want to sacrifice Uncle Dave to kill that creep. Of all the stupid things!"

Lex stared at her. "You're kidding! Angie, what is she saying?"

Angie shook her head. "They're working on some gizmo up there but it'll take the Child to power it. Worse, they say he needs to use it in the Pit."

"Isn't that the place from your nightmares?" Lana inquired of Miri.

"Y厃eah. I never want to go back there again. Now we may not have a choice," Miri replied sadly, wiping her face off.

"Pit?" Chloe asked.

"The place of darkness梠f the wizard, Lousain," the shaman explained earnestly. "In there, the Child's pain is magnified and shaped."

"I thought that happened because of the witch. What does that place have to do with anything?" Clark queried.

"It is a stinking festering place," the gnome added, clearly disgusted with the whole notion. "The Dark Lands' evil is centered there. I have accompanied him there three times and each time, it is as Miranda says. David is worse off for each trip. He is now a king and cannot sacrifice himself like that anymore. He has a responsibility to his people梑oth you and Ruthwen."

"We may not have a choice though," Angie sighed.

"Auntie! What are you saying?" Miri protested.

"We have to stop the Overmind and the Child is the only one who can do it," the doctor explained. "Still, he won't go there alone. Xena will be there with him."

"As will I," Ferali vowed. "I hope that the Warrior Princess would appreciate an extra companion."

The oncologist smiled. "She's looking forward to fighting at your side once more, Ferali, especially given your experience and your axe."

"I think we need to know more about this," Martin stated. "I'm going to get the others. Can you find the Child?"

"He's with Nick and Trance at the moment," Angie informed him. "Miri, I need to find him."

"Okay. I hate having to potentially choose between my friends and my uncle," Miri replied tersely.

"You don't know that," Lana told her friend.

"Look at my record, Lana, and then tell me that!" Miri snapped before breaking down.

"Have faith," her aunt told her before heading back toward the fountain.

After they were alone, Miri apologized, "Guys, I'm sorry.I didn't mean that you weren't special to me. It's just."

"It's okay," Clark soothed, rubbing her shoulders. "Given what happened with your family, we understand."

Lana nodded, recalling the horror of the fire from over a year earlier. "You shouldn't have to be in that situation."

After that, they said no more. Rather, they embraced each other, looking for hope in each other's embrace.

****

[Fountain area]

The Child stewed, glaring into the fountain. Ah thought we were done w' this crap. He rubbed his shoulder, feeling the familiar ache and burning from it.

"Love requires sacrifice," Trance told him.

"Sacrifice? Lemme tell ya 慴out damn sac-ri-fice! Ah got this damn thing cuz a' Miri-Ma an' the Little Woman! Ah've fought more fights ta save mah friends! Ah jus' wanna be left alone!" the Dark One snarled, pointing at his left shoulder.

"But you have your protector role. You can't step aside and let the kids fight this one, can you?" Nick asked.

"Jus' like ya'll can't stop bein' a vampie. As Big Bro says, we're cursed w' this!"

Nick frowned, seeing the Child's dark logic. He's right. I wish it didn't hurt so much to remain like this. Thinking back across his centuries-long existence, he considered the words. How many times have I asked the same thing? "It'll be over soon."

"Yeah. Ah don wanna deal with Lous-pain 慻ain. That hole sucks," the Child added. "Ya've been there, Nickie-Boy. Ya'll should know that."

"I do," the Elder concurred. Even as he said that, he recalled his admonition from that expedition: You have to let someone else take the lead at some point, Dave.

And he heard the other's response: What? And miss all the fun?

He sighed. He's torn between wanting peace and the job he was born doing. This experience is affecting him. He knows he's not invulnerable and that he needs Dave. "We're all here for you," he pointed out.

"Ah know. The job sucks but Ah gotta do it," the Dark One replied, getting up and looking around. Seeing Angie walking up, he asked, "Wha's up?"

"I'm hanging in there. Anything on Dave?" she asked hopefully.

"Nothin'. Hey, Ah want 慽m back as bad as ya'll do," the Child told her.

"I know. Just don't do anything stupid, all right?" she requested. "Think of the twins and me."

"Ah do," he told her. "Ah wanna pr'tect ya'll. An' Ah owe Big Ugly a whuppin' fer this!"

"Just don't get 憌hupped' yourself," Nick advised.

"Ah'm the Master of the Whuppin'," the Child countered. "Don't worry 慴out us."

Trance shook her head, seeing the vision in her head once again. We should worry.

At that moment, Adam's voice came over the newly-installed intercom system. "Everyone, please meet in the living room area. Thank you."

"Ah guess this is it," the Child supposed. "'Mon. Walk w' me."

"O卭kay," Angie agreed, following his lead. Since he's trying, I might as well go along with it.

The psionic looked uncomfortably at Nick and Trance. "I have to warn you, guys. This isn't going to be a pleasant discussion."

"I know," he concurred, looking at both women as they walked off.

 

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