Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chapter 18 - 20 of A World without Heroes!

Folks, it has been a while.  No other way to put it - I've just have been swamped with work on both personal and professional basis these past few months.  However, things are going to kick back into gear as we approach the release of my new book, The Armageddon Films FAQ in October 2013!

But for now ... for those who have been waiting ....


            Paul and Eric were on the stage, studying the work being done on what appeared to be a tank.  As they discussed how the stage would be set up, Gene arrived.
            “Well,” Gene said as he reached Paul and Eric.  “It’s official.  I just got an answer from Vinnie and he’s all set to replace Ace on the tour.”
            Both Paul and Eric shook their heads in acknowledgment.
            “I hope this is for the best,” Paul said.
            Eric spoke up.  “He’s a good musician.  He knows the material.  He’ll be fine.”
            “I’m not so much worried about the tour, Eric, as to what could happen with the Talismans.”
            “It’s the only thing to do.  Best to leave him in the dark about it for the moment.”  Gene moved a little closer to the others.
            “After what you told me about Peter calling and saying that stuff about Ace and the old guy . . ..”  Eric nervously laughed.
            Gene felt a twinge of sympathy toward Eric’s reaction.
            “The less Vinnie knows, the less chance he will run into trouble.  Besides, we’ve got to give Blackwell the appearance that everything is fine with the group.  If he believes that Ace has disappeared and we do not have Ace’s Talisman, he will know that we’re vulnerable for attack.  This way, it looks like we just traded the power to someone else, like what we did with you and Peter.  It’s one of the reasons we’re going ahead with the tour even without Ace.”
            Although Paul agreed with Gene’s plan, he still felt as Eric did.  “And when Blackwell attacks next?  What will we do about Vinnie?  He doesn’t have anything to protect him.  No Talisman.  Nothing.”
            “We’ll just have to hope that Ace shows up by then.”
            There was a pause.
            “And if he doesn’t?”  Paul asked.
            “He will,” Gene hoped that he sounded more confident than he felt.  “He will.”
            Without another word, Gene turned around and walked away.

*      *      *
            The final show had gone over well.  Perhaps the tour itself had not been the success that everyone had hoped for, but playing in front of such large crowds in Brazil had made it the best way to end the CREATURES tour.  It had almost been enough to make the band forget about Blackwell and the troubles they would have to face someday.  That is, except Paul.
            During the tour he had been awoken in his sleep by dreams of a battle yet to come with Blackwell.  They were violent dreams that only fleetingly featured Gene and Eric, and always ended in the same way -- with Blackwell smiling at him.  Even more disturbing to Paul was the fact that he never saw a conclusion to the battle, only Blackwell approaching him.  He never knew if that was the end of the battle as the dream would end there and fade.  Fade, not into another dream or into consciousness, just into darkness.
            Perhaps that troubled Paul the most. 
            He was reflecting on the dreams as he sat next to the hotel’s pool, burning himself in the midday sun.
            “Hey, Paul.”  A voice called from behind, startling Paul.
            “Who --?”  Paul turned in his chair to see Gene walking up to him.  Gene wore black pants and shirt, with the sleeve rolled up on the shirt to expose his forearms in the heat.  He also wore reflective sunglasses.
            “Oh.  Hi, Gene.”
            Gene pulled up a chair and turned it towards Paul as he sat down in it.  He made a fast search of the area to make sure that no one was within listening distance, as Paul leaned back in his chair and tilted his head back towards the sun’s rays.
            “I just got off the phone with Vinnie,” Gene said.
            “Yeah.  So?”  Paul did not lift his head.
            “He wants us to go off to that mansion he’s been talking about for the past few days.”
            Paul knew what Gene meant.  After the last show, Vinnie had decided to visit some of the countryside and came back talking about this “great mansion” he had found about ten miles from the hotel.  It was all he could talk about during the past two days as they tried to relax in the hotel in celebration of the grueling tour.  Or perhaps “talk” was too soft of a word.  More like ranting.  After all, they had all seen mansions before, even lived in them at times.  Why this one was so different seemed very odd to everyone else, Paul included.
            Gene continued.  “He wants us to come down and see the place for ourselves.  Said he had a chance to talk to the owner and he had invited us to come over tonight.”
            Paul sighed.  “I don’t know.  Doesn’t sound like a hot idea to me.”
            “Ah,” Gene raised a finger.  “That’s what I want to talk to you about.  I think something is wrong about the idea myself.”
            It was enough to draw Paul’s interest.  He raised his head and looked at Gene in puzzlement.  “What do you mean?”
            “Don’t you think it’s rather strange for Vinnie to suddenly invite us to a place that he does not even really know anything about?”
            “I think it’s stranger that he invited us anywhere,” Paul quipped.  “He seems to want to keep to himself most of the time.  Why invite us at all?”
            “Exactly.”  Gene moved in a little closer.  “I mean, he’s not the type to suddenly want to have a get-together for no good reason.  And why invite us to someone else’s place?”
            “So, what are you getting at?”
            “I just have a feeling about it.  Do you think that Vinnie has been acting sort of peculiar the past few days, like he’s different in any way?”
            Paul thought for a moment.  “Actually, come to think of it, I did notice that he was acting sort of weird.  Well, nothing too weird, just different than what he’s normally like.  So you think that this trip of his --”
            “--Is a trap?  Yes.  Possibly Blackwell’s doing.  Using Vinnie as the bait for us.”
            Paul leaned forward in his chair.  “So what do you think we should do?”
            “Well, I’ve given it some thought.”
            The pause was too long for Paul.
            “Yes?  And?”
            “We go tonight and spring the trap.”  Gene almost smiled at the flippant way he had spoken the words.
            Paul laughed in surprised.  “Are you nuts?  If it’s a trap, we could end up seriously dead!”
            Gene scanned the area again for on-lookers.  When he saw none, he turned back to Paul.
            “Look.  If it isn’t a trap, then we get to see this mansion of Vinnie’s and have a good time.  That’s all.  If it is a trap, not only do we need to find out about Blackwell’s whereabouts, but also make sure that Vinnie’s mind is not affected by what they may have done to him.  We might also be able to find out where Ace might be.  Either way, we’ve got to go.”
            “But, Blackwell might be there.  Right now.  And he’s not just some ‘happy, go-lucky’ practical joker.  Gene, he’s a killer!  He murdered Morpheus.  Maybe even Ace --”
            “Not Ace.”
            Gene said it with such force that Paul realized it was the end of that particular argument.  “Okay, okay . . .” Paul raised his hands in defeat.  “But he is bloody dangerous.  If we go in there, and it’s a trap, there’s a good chance that we won’t come back out of there.”
            Paul shook with rage.  “You are nuts!  What’s wrong with you?  What happened to your idea of just holding out so that the Elders take back these stupid things and leave us alone?  Now you want to just waltz right into Blackwell’s trap and say, ‘Here we are, the superheroes, put the bullet in my face!’  You just want to play hero again no matter what the consequences.”
            Paul could see the anger in Gene’s eyes behind the sunglasses.
            “That’s not the reason.”
            “Then what is?  Huh?”  Paul almost shouted.
            Gene removed his glasses and closed his eyes for a moment.  Leaning back in his chair, sadness took over his anger.
            “I’m tired of it,” Gene whispered.  “I’m through playing.  I’m fed up with the lies, the half-truths and the screwing around that Blackwell and the Elders have been giving us for the past several years.  We’ve been caught in the middle all this time and I want it to end.  Nothing has been right about having these powers from the start.  We have messed up, lost our way and lost Ace because of it.  All I care about is stopping Blackwell because of what he did to Ace.  I’m sick of it, and it’s either going to end with us defeating Blackwell once and for all, or Blackwell defeating us.  Either way, it’s going to end tonight.  One way or another.  It’s going to end.”
            Paul suddenly felt cold under the melting sun.  He pulled his knees up to his chin and sat for several minutes, rocking.
            “You’re right,” Paul said finally.  “I hate to say it, but you’re right.  I just as sick of it as you are.  Maybe sicker.  I’ve tried to forget about it so many times, but it just keeps coming back up.  I keep waiting for something to happen and it never does.  I even dream about it.  I guess cold turkey is the way to go.”
            “Then you’ll come along?”  Gene asked.
            “Does Eric know?  That this is a trap?”
            Gene shook his head.  “Not yet.  But he will probably find out soon enough.  No reason to get him nervous as well.”
            “Okay.  I’ll go.”
            They both got out of their chairs and started walking back towards the hotel.
            “I’ll tell you one thing,” Paul said as they walked, “this better work.”
            Gene laughed out loud.

*      *      *

            They reached the mansion a few hours later, the cab dropping off the four and driving off into the fading sunlight.  The sunset behind the mansion almost molded into the earth, with the shadows and red glow rising the structure out of its foundation, posting it against the deep blue, cooling skies.  The building itself was not in good shape, time and weather having eaten away at the stones.  Yet, that fact only helped in making it look more natural, as if it had somehow grown there so long ago.  More so, that it would be there until Earth itself crumbled into dust.
            Lights were already on in the mansion as the group came close to it.  Vinnie was in the lead, a flashlight in his hand to help them against the darkening shadows of the night.  He had a huge grin on his face, like an anxious child showing off his toys.  Keeping the others busy by having them try to keep pace with him, Vinnie continued his lecture about the mansion, which he had started in the cab on the way over.
            Eric was behind him, literally.  Trying to follow exactly behind Vinnie, hoping to confuse the poor soul in front of him.  Anything to pass the time, he thought to himself.  He had only decided to come at the last minute, as for some reason Paul and Gene were very reluctant to leave him at the hotel.  Besides, the girl he had been following around at the hotel for the past few days had introduced Eric to her husband.  After that, he had decided that a trip away from the hotel would do him a world of good, but was rethinking the idea as Vinnie continued with his lecture.
            Paul and Gene were staying in the background, although each attempted to appear as if nothing was on their minds.  Gene kept his hands at his side, shifting his head from left to right, waiting to find something unusual in the surroundings.  Paul had his hands in his jacket pockets, his left hand clutching his Talisman.  He held his head high in order to concentrate on what he remembered of his telepathic powers.  In doing so, he did feel a slight surge of danger running through his mind as they approached the house, but knew it could have been nothing more than just his own overactive imagination.  He was wishing that he had spent more time working with his powers, as they probably would have developed more over time if he had done so.  Instead, he was literally at the same stage he was nearly eight years before when he first used them.  He had also wished that he could read into Vinnie’s mind, but doing so would have no doubt alerted “Vinnie” to their knowledge and may have caused more problems than helped.  Besides, he was sure he could only do so if the person was willing, as he had done with Ace so long ago.
            Instead, Paul could only glance at Gene as they came to the doors of the mansion.  Neither spoke as Vinnie pulled out a large key and unlocked one of the doors.
            “I talked to the owner earlier and he said that he was going to be a bit late.  Keeps the place to himself so there’s no one here to open the door.  Gave me a key so we could help ourselves to the place.  And the bar.”  Vinnie laughed at his own joke as he swung the door open.  “You’re going to love this place.  You’ll want to remember it forever.”
            “Yeah.  Right.”  Eric said as they entered into the huge hallway of the castle.  Vinnie flipped a switch on one wall and light flooded the hallway.  The other three were adjusting to the light as Vinnie closed the door to the outside world.
            “Nice place, Vinnie.”  Gene said slowly.  “Better than what I thought it would look like from the outside.”  He moved over to one of the walls and started examining one of the many paintings there.
            “Yeah, I thought you would like it, Gene.”  Vinnie moved closer.  “It’s owned by this ‘aristocrat’ who keeps the place in beautiful shape when he is here.  But wait ‘till you see the main hall.  Follow me.”
            Vinnie moved down the hallway into the darkness of the next room.  Eric shift his weight on one leg and bent down, distorting his face as he dragged one leg behind him, moving in the same direction as Vinnie.
            “Yes, Master . . ..”
            Gene chuckled lightly to himself and followed.  Paul was the last to move, his hands beginning to perspire as anticipation enveloped him.  Things were starting to look all too familiar to him.
            They entered the main hall, with their eyes pinpointed at the huge fire roaring in the fireplace on the opposite wall a good 20 yards away.  A servant was poking at the fire, making sure that the flames were connecting with the logs.  The room itself was large, with several huge paintings encompassing the walls.  Yet, with the couch, small table and several overstuffed chairs centered towards the fire, the room almost became too vast in scope.  At least, from what could be seen from the light projected from the fire.  Otherwise, there were no other lights on in the room.
            The servant stood up as the group began towards him.  He saw the group and smiled, although the group could not see his face due to his body being silhouette against the roaring fire.  The servant moved away from the fire and into the darkness.  While the others moved towards the fire, Paul stayed near the entrance, not sure of what to expect.
            “Oh, I see someone is here.  And if the servant’s here, then the master of the house must be here as well.” 
            As the reached the chairs, a figure rose form one of the seats and stood before them.
            “By the way,” Vinnie continued.  “He’s someone I thought you might be interested in meeting.  I think you’ve met him before . . ..”
            Vinnie’s voice changed as he talked, the voice now carrying a slight British accent and deepening.  Gene thought he recognized the voice.
            “You might know him best as Mr. Blackwell.”
            Gene grabbed Eric by the right shoulder and pulled him back a few feet away from the figure.  He then pushed Eric part from him as if to keep Blackwell from having just one target.
            Blackwell chuckled as he moved to the fire in order that the three band members could see his face.  “Oh, please, Mr. Simmons.  Is that the way to meet an adversary?  Backing away in terror?”  He warmed his hands on the fire, turning his back on the three.
            Gene ignored the attempted to incite him.  “Okay, Blackwell, we’re here.  What do you want and what have you done with Vinnie?”
            Blackwell turned back around.  “Ah.  You figured that out.  Yes, yes, I thought you would.  Alright, Keith, you can drop the little sideshow attraction.”
            The man who had played the role of Vinnie over the past few days began a transformation in front of the group, his features melting, twisting until it resumed that of the man the others had met the day of Eric’s initiation.
            “How did he do that?”  Eric said to Gene.
            “A simple technique, Mr. Carr.”  Blackwell, said, moving towards the man he called Keith.  “A talent that must be developed at a very early age, though it does require some help from,” he laughed, “a superior technology.”
            “Yours, I presume.”  Gene said, his hands at his side.
            Blackwell studied Gene’s face.  “You could say that.”
            “You were going to tell us what you wanted --”
            “Yes.”  Blackwell pointed to the couch.  “Would you care to sit down?”
            No one moved.
            “No, I guess not.”  Blackwell settled himself into one of the chairs and looked at the three.  The servant moved over to the door where Paul was standing and locked the doors leading to the main hallway.  “Thank you, Mr. Parker.  I’m sure that you remember Mr. Parker, gentlemen?”
            “What do you want?”  Gene asked in anger.  As he spoke, Eric scanned the room, trying to search out exits in case they were needed.  He spotted three doors leading into other rooms off in the distance. 
            Paul, meanwhile, kept his eyes on Parker, who had moved from the doorway and back to Blackwell.  Paul starred as Parker pulled out a gun from his jacket and pointed it at the group.  Blackwell continued.
            “The Talismans, of course.  What I have requested all along from you.  And I really must insist this time that you give them to me.”
            “And if we don't?”  Erica said in confidence.
            Blackwell smiled at Eric.  “Then I will have to use my trump card, although I admit it’s not as good as an ‘Ace,’ if you excuse my pun.  Keith, bring in our other guest.”
            Without so much of a nod of acknowledgment, Keith opened one of the adjoining doors and momentarily came back with the bruised and unconscious Vinnie over his shoulders.  He easily carried the body over to the fire and tossed Vinnie without much care on to the couch.
            Seeing Vinnie, Gene ran over to the couch to check Vinnie’s pulse.
            “Is he . . .?”  Eric was afraid to ask.
            “I assure you that he is alive.”  Blackwell motioned Keith over the body.  Keith pulled a small revolver from the back of his trouser, bringing it up to Vinnie’s head.  “Though maybe not for long.”
            Gene moved back to Eric.  “What’s your offer, Blackwell?”
            Blackwell laughed.  “I’m through making offers, Simmons.  Just give me the Talismans or I will have Keith blow your friend’s brains out, than I will take the Talismans anyway.  I get what I want, one way or another.  It is just that one way leaves stains on the couch and I do so much want to avoid that.”
            “Why do you need them so bad?”  Eric said, trying to delay an answer from the group.  “You seem to be doing pretty well on your own.”
            Blackwell seemed almost flattered by Eric’s remark.  “I ‘need’ them in order to put right what has gone wrong with the council.  Thanks to the Ancient Ones, our leaders have determined that we have become stagnant as a race and can go do further.  I don’t believe that.  And, in an odd way, with the help of the Ancient Ones, I will prove that I am right.
            “The Ancient Ones began chipping away at our defenses by not facing us directly, but by channeling their battle through you pathetic insects here on Earth.  In order to combat them, we had to drop to their level by giving up some of our power to your race.  We had to drag ourselves down in order to defeat them.
            “Kyshtym should have ended the battle once and for all.  It was a battle that not even you could understand, but the final battle between their agents and our servants at Kyshtym should have destroyed their threat forever.  Instead, you humans merely locked the Ancient Ones away, and then had the gall to insist that the Talismans remain on Earth in order to keep guard of humanity in case anything should happen after that.  The gall!
            “Yet, I do believe you can be of use to me.  With the power of the Talismans being funneled through you humans, I will be able to bring the battle of the Ancient Ones right to the Elders.   Prove to them what a disaster it was to involve such children into an adult world.”
            “But why should the Ancient Ones help you?  Didn’t you help to defeat them in the first place?”  Gene asked, trying to take in the new information.
            “Because I can help them get out of their dimensional prison they have so long been locked up in.  You see, Mr. Simmons, it’s all going according to plans.  When the portal to their prison is opened, the battle will begin.  If the Elders win, then I will be their hero as I will lead the fight against the Ancient Ones and defeat them once and for all.  If the Ancient Ones win, I will be their hero because I released them from their prison.  Either way, I will show them that humans have no place to toy with such powers, and once again I will be part of a race that is progressing towards the future.”
            The others listen closely, yet Paul focused his attention upon Parker.  Parker took no notice of Paul, however, as he was suddenly feeling the affects of the fire.  The sweat on his brows was dripping on to the floor.  He wiped his face, as the room became increasingly uncomfortable.
            Blackwell’s stern look became softer once again.  “Ah.  But enough of the future.  What say we talk about the present?  Your answer?”
            “What will become of us?”
            “Oh, I assure you that I have no intention of hurting you.  After all, I’m after bigger game than you.  And once I have Mr. Frehley’s Talisman, then I will be set to go about my business.”
            Gene seemed almost surprised by Blackwell’s comment.  “So you don’t have Ace’s Talisman?”
            Blackwell’s lips twitched noticeably, but only for a split-second.  “No.  As you suspect, Mr. Simmons, I had deduced long ago that Mr. Vincent here did not carry the fourth Talisman.  Still, it led to a great opportunity to draw the three of you in.  After all, you three are what matter right now.”
            So, there is a chance that Ace is still out there, Gene thought.  There is a chance that they could still win against Blackwell.
            Thoughts were going through Parker’s mind as well, only they revolved solely around the fire that was driving him mad with the heat.  Parker began to search the room for something to drive the heat away.
            “Okay, Blackwell.  I guess you win.”  Gene pulled his Talisman out of his jacket pocket and held it up in his hand.  Blackwell’s eyes seemed to light up when Gene displayed the ornament.  Gene turned to Keith who was still holding the pistol at Vinnie’s head.
            “Here.”  Gene tossed the Talisman at the surprised Keith.
            Keith reacted with his right had to grab the Talisman, turning his left hand with the revolver away from Vinnie.  As he did so, Gene jumped spread-eagle over the couch at Keith, forcing the man down as Gene’s weight fell upon him.  The gun discharged into a far wall as they fell.
            Taking the action as a cue, Eric raced towards Blackwell and tossed himself at the sitting man, hoping to knock the chair backwards and Blackwell over.  As he began his dissent, he noticed the look of unconcern on Blackwell’s face.
            “Uh-oh,” was the only thing Eric could say.  With a slap of a hand, Blackwell sent Eric flying across the room.  Eric fell on his right shoulder, sliding on the polished wooden floor. 
            Gene was still wrestling with Keith on the floor, trying to get the gun out of his hands.  Gene had just gotten hold of the weapon as a hand grabbed him by the neck and flung him in the same direction of Eric.  In doing so, the gun left Keith’s hand and went flying into the air and into the darkness of the room.
            Eric had just raised his head off the floor, then hunched back down in order to avoid the flying figure of Gene.  Noticing that Keith was frantically looking for his gun, Eric got to his feet and ran up to Paul who had stood motionless throughout the events that had just occurred.
            “You know,” Eric said breathlessly, “you can help out any time, Paul.”
            “I’m doing just that.”  Paul whispered, as Parker could no longer stand the heat of the fire.  Spotting a large pail of sand by the fireplace, Parker raced over to it and dumped the pail’s content on to the fire.
            The room was filled with darkness.
            “Parker,” Blackwell screamed.  “Turn on the light!”
            A dazed Parker ran across the room, tripped on something, picked himself up and finally reached a small board on the wall.  Pressing several buttons at once, the room was instantly filled with light.  Looking around the room, Blackwell saw that all three doors leading out of the room were open and that Paul, Eric and Gene were gone.  As was the body of Vinnie as well.
            “After them!”  Blackwell yelled to the two other men still in the room.  “Each of you take an exit.  Take them anyway you can.  Even if you have to kill them, I want them!”
            With that, Blackwell ran to one of the doors on the left, with Parker taking the other door, leaving Keith with the door on the right.

            I hate this, I hate this, I hate this, Paul kept saying to himself as he found himself in the darkness of a large kitchen.  The small windows near the ceiling let in little light from the cloudless night sky outside, making the room visible yet convenient to hide in with the amount of shadows created.  Paul moved through the room silently, trying to use his powers to scan the area for others.  He could tell that someone was coming towards the kitchen, and tried another door in the back of the kitchen only to discover it was locked.  Looking to his left, he saw the large walk-in freezer and attempted to open the door.  Looking inside, Paul saw the freezer had no exit, as he figured would be the case.  There was also no door handle inside, so if he went in, he would not be able to get back out.
            So much for that, Paul thought to himself.  Hearing the main door to the kitchen begin to open, Paul hid behind a counter in the far side of the room.
            Hoping to catch the figure off-guard, Paul kneeled down behind the counter and let his powers increase in his mind.  When the figure was about ten feet away, Paul jerked his head up and suddenly released a golden bolt of power from his eye towards the figure.  The bolt missed the figure, who turned and fired a gun in Paul’s direction.
            Paul ducked.  Oops, Paul thought, maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea after all.

            With the others out of the room, the main hall was silent.  Then, a scuffling sound emerged from underneath the couch as a small person crawled out from under it.  Eric chuckled to himself as he dusted himself off.
            “Yeah,” Eric said quietly to himself.  “A sly fox always knows where to hide from the hunters.”
            He looked down at the couch and tried to wake Vinnie.
            “Hey, c’mon, Vinnie.”  Eric said in a whisper.  “If I can get you out of here, we should be safe.”
            Vinnie’s eyes popped open as his left hand rose to display to Eric the pistol that Keith had held earlier.  A smile appeared as Vinnie’s features returned to those of Keith.
            “In here, Blackwell.”  Keith said the words as he raised himself up to a sitting position.  Eric began backing away, only to bump into someone behind him.  He turned to see Blackwell, a weapon in his hands that did not look like a gun, but did not look like a toy either.
            “True, Mr. Carr, a sly fox does know where to hide from the hunters.  That is why they use the hounds.”  Blackwell walked towards Eric and raised the weapon to Eric’s head.
            Eric backed away a bit, now in the opposite direction.  “I guess we couldn’t talk about this . . .?”
            Blackwell shook his head.  “No.  It’s way too late for that.  But don’t worry, the pain will only effect you for a brief time.”
            Blackwell fired the weapon and Eric felt a coldness in his head, as if his brain had turned to ice.

            Gene stumbled through one of the darken studies of the mansion, carrying the body of Vinnie in one arm.  For a moment he stopped, thinking he had heard a scream; then he moved on.  The frustration was building inside of him as he moved to one of the windows and opened it to the outside world.  Delicately, he picked up Vinnie’s body and shoved it through the window, dropping him to the ground below.  Although it was only five feet from the window to the ground outside, Gene grimaced as he heard Vinnie’s body hit the ground with a soft thud.
            Okay, Gene thought as he closed the window, now that Vinnie is safe outside, I can . . ..
            He had no plan in mind.
            Looking around the room in desperation, he had wished that he had thought the whole thing through more.  Talked to Paul and Eric more about tonight.  About the Talismans.  Even if it meant explaining exactly how the Talisman forced him to do things he did not want to do.  But Blackwell was always forcing them, Gene thought.  Always forcing them to show their hand before they were ready. 
            Gene could hear footsteps approaching the study and he felt like punching the wall in bitterness.  He felt trapped.  With nothing to help him.
            He stopped, and a smile appeared on his face.
            “Oh course,” he whispered.

            Paul had managed to move to another part of the kitchen without the man noticing.  Seeing the figure nervously moving the gun in several directions, Paul concluded that the person had to be Parker.  Knowing so may work to his advantage.
            But how, Paul asked himself.  Well, Parker had a gun and he fired once already, Paul debated with himself.  So if he has a revolver, he only has five shots left.  Unless he has more bullets.  Or another gun.  Or it isn’t a revolver.  Or a revolver could fire more than six shots.
            Yeah.  So much for that idea.
            Paul moved a couple of inches up to see where Parker stood.  In doing so, Paul knocked a butcher knife off the counter, which clattered on the floor.  Paul looked up to see Parker swing around and fire at him.  In Parker’s alarm, he overcompensated and missed Paul by several feet.
            Paul raised his head and shot another beam from his eye at the moving Parker.  The beam missed Parker’s head and reflected off the metal siding of a saucepan hanging on the wall.  The beam then ricocheted out the window as Paul tumbled across the floor and against the huge sink connected to the wall.  He looked into the darkness and could not see Parker.
            Paul knew that there was not enough time to use his hypnotic powers on Parker.  Parker could very well squeeze off a shot into his stomach before the hypnosis would take effect.  Plus, the beam had to hit Parker in the head and at the rate Paul was going, he would miss by a mile.  The only way he was going to get Parker was to draw him out in the open where he could see him. 
            Paul turned his head and saw a figure behind him.  He jumped slightly in reflect before realizing that he was looking at his own reflection in the gleaming metal of the cabinets below the sink.  In that instance Paul noticed for the first time everything in the room was dressed in stainless steel.  Shining wherever the moonlight outside hit them.  The floor, the walls, even the sinks and counter in the center of the room.
            An idea formed in Paul’s mind as he jumped up and showed himself in the moonlight.
            “Hey, stupid, over here,” Paul shouted, waving his arms over his head.
            A shot came from one corner as Paul flipped through the air and landed in an adjacent corner.  Paul shot a beam from his eye and it ricocheted off the wall near Parker.
            “Over here!”
            Parker jumped in surprise at the voice coming so close to him.  He ran to the middle of the room and fired the gun into Paul’s corner.  By this time, however, Paul had positioned himself in the darkness, as he watched the trembling Parker standing in the middle of the gleaming kitchen.
            Paul raised his head and shot a beam from his eye.  Then another.  Another.  One more.  And again.
            At first, Parker almost laughed as the beams missed him by miles and went behind him.  He then saw a beam reflect back.  He turned around, but no one was there.  As it continued, the room became a maze of golden light that illuminated the room as they traveled back and forth, up, down, and sideways around the room.  Parker stood in the middle of the maze, not knowing where to turn or what to do.  He seemed to whimper as the beams came closer to him.
            “ . . . Now . . ..”  Paul murmured.
            There was a faint cry as the points of light collided together into the center of the room, causing Paul to shielded his eyes.
            As the darkness returned, Paul moved to the center of the kitchen and looked down at the unconscious figure of Parker.  Paul shook his head.
            Moving to the door, he looked in all directions and then precariously walked out of the room.

            Keith slithered through the hall outside the study, stopping every few steps to check for movement.  He held the gun gingerly in his hands, ready.  Approaching the door and listening, he thought he heard a sound of scrapping wood, but was unsure.  Pressing on the door, which gave way and opened inward to the darken room, Keith tightened his grip on the gun and saw an open window on the opposite wall.  He ran over to it and looked out into the field, only to see the crumpled form of Vinnie below.  Keith laughed briefly when looking at Vinnie.
            “Well,” Keith said to himself.  “Looks like he was too scared to fight.  Poor baby.  Had to run and hide.”
            Keith began walked back to the door when he felt some dust fall on his face.  He looked around the room, but could not see an excuse for the dust.
            “Unless it came from --” He stared up to the ceiling.
            Above Keith was Gene, holding his body between two wooden supports in the ceiling.  He glared wildly at the startled Keith, a hideous smile on his face.  With the makeup now appearing on Gene’s face, the stare and grin sent a chill down Keith’s spine. 
            “Boo,” Gene said, as he let his feet go, while still holding the other support with his hands.  The next thing Keith saw was Gene’s boots heading directly towards his face.

            Paul entered the main hall again, staying close to the walls.  The lights had been dimmed, but he could still make out the shape of a body on the floor near the extinct fire.  Carefully checking the rest of the room for others, he crept up to the body, kneeling down beside it.
            “Vinnie?”  Paul whispered as he turned the body over, revealing an unconscious Eric.  Paul’s eyes grew wide as he felt the stiffness in Eric’s posture, his hands clutching at the air.
            “Aw, no . . . no . . ..”  Paul starting searching Eric for his Talisman.  His movements began to become frantic as the Talisman landed on the floor next to him.
            Paul shot his head up to see Blackwell sitting on the couch, the weapon in his hand.
            “Goodbye, Mr. Stanley.”  Blackwell pointed the weapon at Paul.
            “Go to H --”
            It was all Paul could say before screaming.

            Keith moved quickly, but not enough to entirely avoid the blow of Gene’s boots.  The attack threw Keith off-balance and the gun left his hand.
            Gene landed on his feet, but was upset that he had not made good contact with Keith’s head.  Gene turned to face Keith and growled.
            “How did you move so fast?”  Gene said in amazement.
            Keith’s voice raised in anticipation of the fight to come.  “You should be asking why you are so slow, you fool.  You are losing control of your powers!”
            Gene growled again, and for a moment Keith thought for sure he saw Gene’s eyes glow a deep, violent red.  Gene leaped at Keith, who smoothly moved to one side as Gene fell on his face.  The action made Keith laugh.
            “Without the others, the power grows weak.”  Keith continued, positioning himself opposite Gene, who was rising from the floor.  “Without the powers, you’re nothing!”
            Gene’s frustration tore him across the room to Keith’s throat.  The speed of Gene’s moment not only surprised Keith, but Gene as well.  The two figures moved backwards until they slammed into the wall next to the window, Gene’s hands still around Keith’s neck.
            Gene could see the panic in Keith’s eyes.  The fear that suddenly appeared.  He did not care.
            With his left hand firmly around Keith’s throat, Gene began to speak.
            “Not saying much, are you, Keith?”
            Keith tried to respond, only to have Gene tighten his grip so that all that came out was a gurgle.
            “By the way, this is for Ace.”
            Gene threw back his right hand into a fist and drove it deep into Keith’s side.  Gene could feel the cracking of ribs as his fist reached his destination.  He then raised Keith high in the air with his left hand and threw him across the room.
            Keith landed with on top of a table, which gave way under him.  His right foot became twisted under the table as it fell.  With the weight on the table, the bone snapped causing a greater wave of pain to Keith.  Gene slowly moved towards Keith, then stopped as he saw the bone glistening in the moonlight and blood dampening the thick rug.  Gene looked at the bone in fascination for a moment and sniffed at the rich metallic smell of the blood.  He then moved up to Keith’s head.  Keith was in too much pain to say anything.
            “How are you feeling, Keith?  Still feel like I’ve lost my power.”
            Gene laughed at his own joke.  It was a haunting, bitter laugh.
            “Oh, but you’re the big, bad guy, aren’t you, Keith?  Maybe I should make this game a little more evenly-matched.”
            With that, Gene pulled up Keith’s left arm, raised it over his knee and thrust it downward, splitting the bone as if it was nothing but a twig. 
            It was at that point that Keith blacked-out.
            Gene let go of the arm and looked at Keith’s face for a reaction.  Seeing that Keith was no longer aware only angered Gene even further.  He bent down and began slapping at Keith’s face.
            “Wake up!  I’m not done with you let.  I want you to be awake when I kill --”
            “Yes, Mr. Simmons.”  A dark voice called from behind him.
            “What?”  Gene turned to see Blackwell leaning against the archway of the door.
            “Kill him, Simmons.  Prove that you will stop at nothing to do what is right.  That your cause is just.”
            Gene turned back to Keith.  He closed his eyes, wishing for it to all go away.  He had let the powers take him.  Completely and wholly.
            “He stands in your way, Simmons.  Threaten your friends.  Made your life Hell.”
            “Shut up,” Gene said, his eyes still closed.
            “After him, all that is left is me.  Prove to me that you can use the powers to fight at any cost.”
            “Shut up.”
            Blackwell moved into the room and stood next to Gene.
            “I can still use you.  The Elders did this to you.  Now you can get back at them for what they have done to you.  You have abilities I can use in the fight so that we could both win.”
            “Shut up.”
            “You have the need to kill.  I can use that.”
            “Shut up!”  Gene rose from where he was and leaped at Blackwell.  Stepping aside, Blackwell watched as Gene did not turn, but merely ran from the room.
            “A pity,” Blackwell said with a touch of remorse.  “A great pity.”
            Gene ran back out to the main hall.  Once reaching the room, he saw Eric lying still on the ground.  As Gene approached him, he heard moans coming from behind the couch.  He slowly walked up to the couch, knowing and fearing what he would see.
            He looked down and saw Paul rolling on the floor in agony, clutching his head.  Gene stood over Paul and lowered himself down next to him.
            “Paul?”  He nervously asked.
            “Gene . . .?”  Paul finally answered, staring off into the distance, not seeing Gene at all.
            “Yes, Paul.  I’m here.”  He put a hand on Paul’s shoulder and Paul relaxed a bit. 
            “ . . . Oh, man . . .Gene . . . it’s so . . . cold . . . in my mind.  Like, like, like . . . ice . . .melting away . . . my thoughts.  My . . . memories.  Oh, Gene . . . man . . ..”
            Gene tried not to look at the tears coming from Paul’s eyes.  “Paul, I’m sorry.  You were right.  We never should had come here tonight.”
            Paul tried to laugh, but nothing came out.  “Hey . . . we had too . . .right?  It had to end one way . . . or another . . ..”
            Gene was now cradling Paul’s head in his lap.  He could hear the echo of footsteps coming from the study towards them.  He did not move.
            “It could have ended differently,” Gene said.
            “No . . . no . . . but, hey, Gene?”
            “Yes?”  Gene heard the footsteps stop near them.  A shadow fell over the two of them.
            “We . . . we were heroes, r-right?”  Paul voice started to fade.  “We . . . almost won . . . didn’t we?   We . . . almost . . ..”
            Paul closed his eyes.
            “Yes, Paul . . .”
            Gene looked up to see Blackwell standing over them, the weapon pointed directly at Gene’s head.
            “We almost won.”
            And the coldness bit into his mind.

*      *      *

            Peter had not heard from the guys since the tour ended.  Which was not that unusual.  After all, he was no longer a member of the band and it was not like they had to tell him everything that was going on in their lives. 
            Still, Peter had hopes that the band would have kept in closer contact after what had happened to Ace.  Especially after what had happened to Ace.  Instead, Gene had called a couple of times during the tour, but there really were no new developments to speak of so they had little to say to each other.
            Now it had been four or five months since the end of the tour and Peter still had not heard anything from the guys.  Even when he left messages at Gene’s number or through their new management, he never heard anything.  It was frustrating.
            So frustrating that after being blown off again by somebody’s secretary at the label for the umpteenth time, Peter decided to resolve the issue in person.  Knowing that the band was in New York to begin promotional work on their next album, Peter knew he would have a good chance to see at least Gene and find out what was going on with the Talismans.  Within an hour  he had arranged the plane-trip for Debra and himself and called a couple of old friends to make it look like it was just going to be a short vacation to New York to visit.
            Peter thought it would be easy from there.  After all, he still knew plenty of people at the record label.  Yet, that was the most frustrating part of the whole plan once he got to New York and had dropped Debra off at his folks.  When he got to the New York offices of the label, it had changed drastically in less than a year’s time and he knew no one there.  Even worse, they had no idea who he was either.  It was clear from the surroundings that the label had been taken over by another company sometime in the past six months, but Peter was surprised how much had changed in such a short time.
            Fortunately, with a little searching Peter did finally track down a couple old-timers that had hung on.  It was then that he found out that the band was preparing to do a photo-shoot for their new album cover in a photographer’s studio that day just a few blocks away.  It was enough information for Peter, and he left soon after to make his way to the studio.
            It was in the lobby of the studio where Peter found himself less than a half-hour later.  Knowing he was early, he took off his jacket, sat down and waited for the others to arrive.
            As his luck went, Gene was the first one to walk in the door.  Gene wore a black leather overcoat and carried his ever-present briefcase, a sight that relieved Peter and made himself smile.  At least Gene looked like he always did, Peter thought.
            Gene moved directly to the receptionist in the lobby without looking around.  Peter at first thought it would be best to wait for Gene to turn around, but after only a moment of mounting anxieties he got up and walked quickly to Gene.
            Gene turned around slowly, not instantly recognizing the voice.  When he saw that it was Peter, he smiled.  “Peter?  What are you doing here?  I thought you were out in Connecticut or something now.”
            Gene raised his right hand to shake and Peter accepted it warmly.  “Well, I hadn’t heard from you guys in awhile and I wanted to see what was up.”
            Gene shook his head in acknowledgement, although puzzlement crept over his face as well.  “Well, Peter, there’s not much to report besides us getting ready to put out another album.  We’re going to be doing the photos for the cover today, as a matter of fact.”
            Peter nodded.  “I know, that’s how I found out you were going to be here.  But, y’know, I’m curious if you’ve found out anything about Ace lately.”
            Gene slightly frowned.  “Ace?  What’s there to find out about Ace?  He’s in Connecticut doing God knows what.  Why should I know what he’s doing?”
             Peter jerked his head back as if he had just been slapped.  “What are you talking about, Gene?  You know that Ace isn’t there.”
            Gene sighed.  “Oh, no.  What kind of trouble is Ace in now?  Another car-wreck?  In jail somewhere for speeding or something?  What?”
            Peter could hear Gene’s questions, but had trouble comprehending what he meant by them.  His eyes wandered a bit to collect his thoughts, only to stop upon the receptionist that was only a couple of feet away.  Peter rolled his eyes, as he suddenly understood Gene’s response.
            “Oh, I get it,” Peter said, looking up at Gene.  He tugged on Gene’s jacket and led Gene to a corner of the lobby.  “Okay, Gene, you can talk to me now.  No one can hear us here.”
            Gene’s puzzlement was quickly turning to anger.  He lightly jerked his arm away and looked down at Peter.  “Why does anyone not have to hear us?  I told you I thought Ace was in Connecticut.  Did he do something so bad that you don’t want the receptionist to hear it?  What happened?”
            Peter was reaching the end of his pleasant streak as well.  “What do you mean, Gene?  You know that Ace has disappeared.  He’s been gone for months!  I told you that before you guys even finished the album before this one.”
            Gene became a bit more subdued when he heard Peter’s statement.  “Ace is missing?  I don’t remember you telling me that.  What happened to him?”
            Hearing the sincerity in Gene’s voice made Peter drop his voice down a notch as well.  “Don’t you remember?  Ace disappeared when Morpheus died.  I told you guys all about it and I was hoping you might have found out something about Ace since then.  You even called me a couple of times just to keep me updated.  But I haven't heard from you guys in months.  That’s why I got concern and came up to see you.”
            “Morpheus?”  Gene rolled the name around for a moment as if it had struck a nerve, but the thought soon disappeared.  Gene blinked a couple of times as if he was trying to keep from dozing off.  “You mean like in the ELDER album?  I didn’t even know you heard that album.”  A smile came upon Gene’s face.  “C’mon, Pete, what’s the gag?  You pulling something with Ace to get back at us for what happened with him on that album?  Man, you had me worried there for a second.”
            Peter was confused again.  “No, I’m not joking.  It really happened.  Don’t you remember?  Anything?  The Talismans— “
            Peter stopped when he saw a wave or recognition come over Gene’s face.  “The . . . Talismans?”  Gene whispered; his eyes looking through a haze only he could see.
            “Yeah, the Talismans, Gene.  And Morpheus, and the Elders.  Man, they must have gotten to you if you can’t remember.  Try to remember, Gene.”
            “Mr. Simmons?”  A voice called out from the hallway leading away from the lobby.
            It was only two words, but it was enough to snap Gene out of his trance.  He turned towards the man in the hall.  “Hmm?  Oh, I’ll be there in a minute.”
            Gene turned back to Peter, as if nothing had been said between the two of them.  “Well, Pete, I’ve got to get going.  Good to see you again though.  Listen, if you want to get together again later, just give me a call, okay?”
            Peter felt the moment slipping away and grimaced.  Yet, just a quickly he realized that he could meet up with Gene later and try to convince him in a better time and place.  Waiting it out could work, certainly in light of the fact that Gene seemed on the edge of remembering some of it already.  “Sure, Gene.  I’ll give you a call while we’re still in town.  I know it’ll probably take you awhile to get into costume and everything for the photo-shoot.”
            Gene smiled again.  “Oh!  Haven’t you heard?  We’ve decided to get rid of the costumes and the makeup for this next album.”
            “What?”  Peter said in surprise.
            “Yep,” Gene pulled up his briefcase to waist-level and opened it up, holding the bottom of it steady on one bent leg.  “Paul’s been griping about the makeup for awhile and it may just be the shot in the arm that we need.  I got some sketches in here for what we’re planning on doing with the stage-set as well.”
            “But, Gene,” Peter said in concern.  “What about the superpowers and all of that?”
            Gene stopped going through his briefcase.  “Superpowers?  The characters, you mean?  Yeah, I’m not thrilled about losing the Demon, but Paul’s right.  You need to take a break from that once in awhile or it just gets old.  They gave us a good run, though.  I won’t complain about it, that’s for sure.  But, you know, you have to keep moving in this business to stay fresh.  Ah, here we are.”
            Gene pulled out a cassette-tape and handed it to Peter.  Peter rolled it over in his hands.
            “What’s this?”
            “It’s a copy of the new album.  Thought you may want to hear it.”  Gene closed the case and lowered it to his side.
            “Mr. Simmons?”  The voice called out again from the hall, only it was louder as the person who spoke walked towards the two.  “We really need to get starting on this.”
            Gene blocked Peter’s view of the man who was coming towards them as Gene turned to talk to him.  “Right, right.  Time is money.  I know.  I was just talking to someone.  Oh, Peter, met our new rep for the label.”
            Gene put his hand on the man’s shoulder and pulled him around, motioning to Peter with his briefcase.  “Peter, this is Mr. Parker.  Mr. Parker, Peter Criss.”
            The man seemed shocked momentarily by seeing Peter there.  He fumbled somewhat with his right hand as he raised it to shake Peter’s hand.
            Peter was even more awkward with his hand and finally raised it only slightly before retreating from the greeting.  Parker put his hand down as well.
            If Gene noticed, he made no mention.  “Or, is that Mr. Criss, Peter Parker?”  Gene chuckled slightly at his own joke, but the other two men just stared at each other.
            “I believe I know of Mr. Criss, Mr. Simmons.”  Parker said coldly.  He wetted his lips and looked at Gene.  “But we, we, uh, we really do need to get going back here.”
            Gene sighed.  “Okay, okay.”  Gene turned back to Peter.  “Well, like I said, give me a call and we’ll work out something while you’re in town.”
            Parker turned back to Peter and spoke quickly.  “Oh, you’re in town, Mr. Criss?  Well, I’ll tell you what, why don’t you just leave a number with the receptionist here and I’ll make sure that you’re taken care of.”
            Peter said nothing.
            “Well, got to go, Peter.  I’ll see you around later.”
            With that, Gene and Parker began their journey down the hall and disappeared from sight.
            Peter remained standing in the same spot for several seconds before remembering to breathe again.  He fumbled with his jacket as he put it on, then began walking cautiously to the front door.
            “Excuse me, Mr. Criss?”  The receptionist called from behind the desk.
            Peter turned and saw the receptionist holding out a pad and a pen.
            “Do you want to leave a phone number where we can reach you for Mr. Simmons and Mr. Parker?”
            Peter saw the pleasant, but vacant, smile on the receptionist’s face.
            He was out the door not a second later.


            It had been two years now since the incident at the photographer’s studio, Peter thought.  Two years and nothing has happened.  No Ace.  No Talismans.  No superpowers.  No memories of their times together coming back to Gene, Paul or Eric.  Nothing.  Only the recurring illusion that he was insane for remembering something that no one else did.  Even trying to bring back the memories to Gene at the Frisch’s the night before had accomplished nothing except probably convince the guys that he really was nuts.
            The thoughts went through Peter’s mind as he watched the band perform on.  He had made it to another show, although it seemed of little use anymore.  Besides, watching the band brought up a lot of mixed-emotions for Peter anyway.  After all, it was his own band at one point, and now he was the outsider.  In more ways than one.
            It was more than that, however.  It was knowing with each concert it was another day away from what they once were.  What they once had a chance to stand for.  With each day the memories were dying and going deeper and deeper away from their minds.  Even Peter felt it.
            There had been attempts early on.  With a bit of snooping, Peter had found out about the band disappearing for a few hours when they were down in Brazil.  It was then that Peter decided he had to take the chance to try and convince the others that they had been brainwashed by Blackwell.  Maybe convince them in time so that when Ace reappeared, they could finally get the better of Blackwell.  To do so, he had to convince Blackwell to leave him alone, which is when he tried to make it appear to Blackwell that he had gone crazy.  Unfortunately, he did the job too well and now everyone thought he was nuts.  “Just crazy old Peter,” he was sure they were saying.
            Even worse, Ace never did show up.  Never.  Nowhere to be found either.  Certainly not in Connecticut, that’s for sure, Peter thought.
            It seemed like nobody cared anymore.
            The show Peter watched finally came to an end and he stood outside the backstage area after the show.  It was so late that the fans had left, leaving only himself, the roadies and the band members inside.  It was then that Peter thought he would give it one more try.  Just one more chance to prove that the Talismans were real.
            As he stood outside the backstage area, he caught a glimpse of Gene talking to Paul and Bruce backstage.  None of them had noticed Peter, and after a moment they were all laughing at something Gene had said. 
            Peter could feel the easiness the others were experiencing with each other.  The three began to move away, past the curtains that cut Peter off from their world.  Peter stood and watched as they passed by without seeing him.  As the three left, Peter turned away from the entrance and shoved a cigarette into his mouth from a pack he had in his jeans’ pocket.  As he lit the cigarette with a match, he heard a recognizable voice ahead of him.
            “Couldn’t convince them, huh?”
            Peter burned his fingers with the match and nearly dropped the cigarette from his mouth.
            “Who?”  He stopped when he saw the man who had spoken.  It was a man he had not seen in several years.  A little older perhaps, but still recognizable.
            “John?  John Harte?  What are you doing here?”  Peter shuffled over to the big man and shook hands with him.  “Are you working for the band again?”
            “Naw,” John said in a draw of breath, “I just had a free night and thought I would come down and see the band play.”
            “Yeah, yeah.  Me too.”
            “Couldn’t convince them about the Talismans, huh, Peter?”
            Peter was a bit taken aback.  “You knew?”
            “Since when?”
            “Since the first night you guys got them.  When that gang roughed up Paul and me that night, I woke up in time to see Paul take a couple of them out using his powers.  After that, I tried to keep an eye on you guys when I could.  Besides, what kind of security guy would I be if I didn’t know about the people I was protecting?”
            “Why didn’t you ever say anything?  Why not say something to them now?”
            “I didn’t think it was necessary.  Besides, if I said something now, they wouldn’t believe me.  They didn’t believe you, why believe me?”
            “Yeah, you’re right.”  Peter stared at the empty seats of the arena.  “Seems like such a waste.”
            “Everything has to change, Peter.  That’s the way life is.”
            “Maybe.  Maybe.”  Peter ran a hand through his hair.  “But it seems that when you change things they always end up getting worse.”
            They stood there silently for a few minutes, avoiding each other’s glances.  Finally, John smiled.
            “Peter?  Want to go for a beer?  Talk about old times?”
            Peter thought for a moment.  What this what it came down to, he asked himself.  To just let it go and move on?  Who knew?  They had tried their best, and even that could not stop Blackwell.  Nothing now could be changed by anything Peter did.  It was true, and Peter had to face the fact: the war was over.
            Peter sighed.  “Sure.  Okay.”
            With that, the two men walked towards the exit, the clutter from the show blowing around the empty seats.

*      *      *

            There he stood on his tiny piece of rock.
            He was standing, slightly bowed, holding a small rock in his right hand.  He studied the land into the distance as he rolled the smooth rock around with his palm.  Straightening up, he turned his head to the right, then to the left.  He spit out of the corner of his mouth as a look of concern crossed his face.  Moving back to face the direction he was standing, he leaned back, bringing the red rock up to his shoulder.  He was back far enough that he left leg moved off the ground and towards his torso.
            Suddenly, he threw the rock into distance; his full weight behind it as it was released from his palm.
            Raising his hand into a hitchhiker’s pose, Ace Frehley disappeared from where he stood.  He reappeared in the exact position that he had been spying on when holding the rock just moments ago.  He kneeled down and placed his hands in front of himself as he eyed the rock coming towards him.  With a bit of a grunt, he caught the rock and laughed.
            Ace got up and threw the rock back in the direction it had come.
            “That’s the ol’ pepper.  The ol’ bean-ball!  He missed that one by a mile!  One more strike on this guy and the series is ours!”  Ace threw the ball back lightly and caught it as he reappeared back where he had been.
            “Thank you, thank you.”  He tipped an imaginary cap to the rocks and valleys around him.  “And the crowd goes wild.  Rah, rah, rah!  Yah, Ace!”
            He repeated the process of throwing the rock, catching it once again.
            Getting up, Ace leaped around, waving his arms over his head.  “We won, we won!  Yah!  Where’s the champagne?”
            He stopped suddenly, tossing the rock down on the ground.  He moved over to a boulder and sat down on it.  Putting his head in his hands, he sighed.
            “God, I’m bored,” Ace said to no one.  He looked at the two peaks that stood around him on the small asteroid and instantly recognized them.  It had been the same location he had found himself when he first arrived.  Whenever that was.  Over time, he had traveled around the asteroid a lot, but he had always ended up back at the same location.  As if something was calling him back every night.
            “But what?”  He asked out loud in frustration.  Not only because he had no reason to be there, but also because he had to reason to be where he was at all.  He felt that there was something more important he should have been doing than sitting on a rock in the middle of nowhere . . . or somewhere.  He felt like someone or some thing depended on him to save them.  It was driving him insane.
            Getting up off the rock he looked up at the starry sky.  “What is it I’m supposed to do?  Tell me and I’ll do it!”
            Looking back down he began walking and kicked a few rocks across the ground.  Doing so, he upset his balance and landed on his posterior with a thud.
            As he positioned himself to rise, he noticed a flickering light coming from the shadow of some rocks just a few feet away.  Crawling on his hands and knees, Ace approached the shadow and saw that the light was not a trick on his eyes but was real.  Reaching into the darkness with his left hand, he grabbed at the light to see what it was. 
            When his hand grasped the blinking object, a rush of images flew through his head.  He saw some objects that had some sort of power.  He saw some friends with him using the power.  He saw an old man being knifed by a bearded man in a dark suit.
            Ace jerked his hand out of the shadow and looked at his palm.  He knew who these people and things were.  At least, he thought he did.  Did it have something to do with the light, he asked himself.  Is the answer in there?
            Pulling himself into a kneeling position, Ace reached into the darkness with both hands.  Groping for the object, he drew a long breath and clutched the object tightly in both his hands.  The moment he did so, images once again flashed through his mind and a slow, deep voice spoke out to him.
            “Only you.”
            He was on a bus and a weird man gave him a gift.  A Talisman.
            “Only you.”
            The others.  Peter?  Gene?  Paul?  Yes.  They had a Talisman too.  The gifts gave them powers to use.  He could teleport.  There was a fight among themselves and he saw space and time flash before him with a twist of a hand.
            “Only you.”
            They met a powerful man who wanted to control them.  It was a mistake to even see him.  A robot.  Tried to kill Peter.  Deveraux gone. 
            “Only you.”
            Robinson.  No powers.  Death?  Can’t be sure.  Morpheus.  His voice?
            “Only you.”
            The Ancient Ones.  The Elders.  The Talismans as our only hope to stop Blackwell.  Blackwell?
            “Only you.”
            Peter gone, but Eric joins.  Proves he can be a hero.  Hero?  Us?  No one wants to be a -- Blackwell again.
            “Only you.”
            Dreams, Nightmares.  Morpheus and the knife.  Blackwell!  Where was Peter?  Got to tell the others.
            Darkness . . ..
            “Only you.”
            “Vinnie?  Who’s that?  Mansion.  Weapon.  Blackwell.  Eric gone.
            “Only you.”
            “Paul?  Not there.  Gene?  Gone.  No one left.
            “Only you.”
            The power.  Morpheus.  Parker.  The weapon.  Blackwell.  The three Talismans.  His.  Gene?  Paul?  Peter?  Eric?  No one left.  Talisman.  War.  Fight.  Over.  Blackwell.  Piano.  Elders.  Death.  Neez.  World.  Destroyed?  Not.  Yet.  Fight.  Only you.  Must fight.  Only you.  Blackwell must not win.  Only you.  Only you.  Only you.  you.  you.  You.  YOU!
            Ace woke up moaning.  Opening his eyes he saw the stars above him.  He turned his head and saw the silver lightning-bolt Talisman lying by his head.
            Reaching out to the Talisman, Ace pulled it to his chest and held it there as he looked at the sky.  He knew.  He finally remembered.  The wait was over.
            After a few minutes of reflection, Ace picked himself up and dusted himself off.  He tried to calm himself, but the anger channeled through ever fiber of his body.  Looking once again at the stars, he raised a fist up in the air.
            “You think you’ve won, Blackwell.”  He said.  “But you haven’t seen nothing yet.  You may have thought that I wasn’t worth worrying about, but I’m going to make sure that you go down for what you did.  You may have won the battle, but the war’s not over yet!”
            He glazed at his surround one last time.  Then, with a stern look upon his face, he raised his hand and disappeared from the face of the asteroid.  He immediately found himself in the oasis of the time/space stream he called limbo, racing towards his destination of Earth.
            Alright, Blackwell, Ace thought as he traveled, we’ve fought on your terms and lost . . .
            . . . now let’s see how you do on mine.


      . . . WE’VE MET ALONG THE WAY.


            The leaves rustled in the tree on the sunny day and the breeze was much welcomed by two young boys who sat underneath the tree’s shade to protect themselves from the humid heat.  Neither of them talked as they sat there, with the older boy looking off to his left at the road just twenty feet from the tree.  The other boy, younger by a couple of years, picked at the grass, taking little notice of his brother.
            Finally the older boy motioned his head ever so slightly at a sound he thought he heard.  Listening intently, he stood up in an attempt to view of the road from beyond the pinnacle of the hill several yards to the left of him.
            A few seconds later and the second boy also heard the sound and stood up, brushing the grass away from his hands.  Looking up at the taller boy, the boy tugged at the jacket of his older brother to get his attention.  The older boy looked down and, knowing exactly what his brother was going to ask, shook his head in affirmation and grabbed at their books and pails they had carried with them that day to their studies.
            When he stood up again, holding all of their provisions delicately, the older boy could clearly hear the clopping of the horse on the road and the banging of the buggy’s wheels.  The buggy came to a halt as it reached the boys, and they both looked up to see an older man at the rein. 
            Seeing the boys, the man smiled and motioned for them to get into the buggy without a single word.  Quickly getting inside, the older boy put their books and pails on the seat and helped his younger brother up into the buggy. 
            As they settled into their seats, the man watched them.  With a final glance to make sure they were ready, the man turned back around and shook the rein, causing a ripple to appear in the leather that reached from his hand down to the head of the horse.  It was all that was needed to alert the horse and they began to move slowly away.
            The leaves moved again in the breeze, but now there was no one there to see the sight.  As if the wind knew there was no need to show off, it soon departed and there was stillness in the hot, sunny day.
            An hour passed before the tree began to move again, only this time in a wind that was quite stronger than that which had come before.  At first, it would have been hardly noticeable to anyone who was around to see it.  Then the leaves began to move, back and forth in a whisper of motion; increasing with every stroke of the wind.  As the wind grew, the limbs of the tree began to bend in increasing torture under the pressure, with leaves finally giving up the struggle and flying away in the distant. 
            The sky turned gray quickly and a distant lumbering thunder came toward the road and the tree limbs whipped around in all directions.  The thunder continued, never stopping for a second until finally a crash of lightning fell from the sky and struck the tree, spitting out bark and fire in all directions.
            As the smoke and light cleared, the tree was no more.  Instead stood a man.
            “Blackwell!”  Ace screamed into the disturbed air around him.
            His eyes raced over the land, expecting to see something quite different.  Instead, he saw only the road.  And the fields.  And more fields.  And the road once again.
            “What the --” Ace said, but knew the answer to his question before he even asked himself.  He knew the area was wrong.  He was attempting to go back to the building where he had last saw Blackwell and had left Morpheus to die.  He wanted to just for a moment take that smile off of Blackwell’s face -- a smile that he could see all to vividly in his head at that very moment.
            For a moment, he was for sure he had seen the building clearly in his eyes.  Could see Blackwell holding the weapon in his hands and himself wincing in pain, then disappearing.  Yet, when he tried to enter the world from limbo, he found himself here instead.
            No matter, Ace thought to himself, I’ll just try again.  With a flick of the wrist, Ace vanished.
            Again the lights of limbo surround him, and he could feel his form flashing through time and space to his prearranged destination. The images from the past and future flashed before him more quickly than the human eye could follow, but his senses deduced what each image was.   Finally, he arrived at the bubble of time that displayed the building and the fall of Morpheus.
            Steering himself towards the doorway of the bubble, he could see Blackwell walking away from Morpheus’ body and heading down the stairs to the floor of the building below.  He was now too late to stop Blackwell from killing Morpheus, but he could still stop Blackwell at this point in time.
            With a reach of a hand, Ace prepared himself to enter the realm of the past.
            Instantly, he arrived in the ruins of the tree he had been just moments before.
            “What?”  With no hesitation, Ace again plunged himself into limbo, and once again towards the bubble of time.
            Time in the bubble had continued from the last moment Ace had seen.  This time, he saw Blackwell leave the doorway of the building and, with Parker in tow, walk towards a car parked on a side street.  As he approached, he saw Blackwell halt in his tracks as if Blackwell sensed the arrival of Ace.  Turning around, Blackwell stared up into the sky with concern on his face.
            For a moment, Ace thought Blackwell could see him, even though the haze of limbo as Ace once again tried to enter into the realm of the past.  In that moment, Ace saw Blackwell smile and raise a finger in a “tut-tut” motion towards Ace.
            In a flash, Ace was back at the tree.
            Ace was about to attempt the journey through limbo again and then put his hand down.
            “No,” Ace said out loud, as he had become used to doing while away for so long.  “I have to think about this.”  It was not until Blackwell made it obvious to him that it was intentional that Ace realized something was up.  Blackwell had done something to make it impossible to simply go back in time to that moment of Morpheus’ death.  As if any attempt to arrive at that moment would automatically send him to this time and place instead.  Deciding to take another look in Limbo, Ace drew up his hand and disappeared once again.
            This time, however, Ace did not go directly to the bubble of time.  Instead, he held back and began to study the thread of time over the succession of doorways that stood before him.  With a greater concentration than he had used when he could only think of getting his hands around Blackwell’s neck, he began to see a shimmering glow around a number of bubbles in time.  Holding himself back from entering any of the threads of time, he studied the barrier presented around them.
            It was true, Ace thought.  Blackwell had erected some type of barrier around a portion of time and space.  Probably had his friend who can enter Limbo do it for him.  The barrier represented a shield against him entering those periods of the past in order to upset Blackwell’s plans. 
            At first, anger took Ace quickly; but with effort he calmed himself down.  No, Ace thought, it was an effective way of keeping me from ruining his plans via Limbo.  He knew that I would think of this and he found a way of keeping me from warning the others. 
            Looking at the barrier for a time, he deduced only two paths open from the thread, one for the present and the location he had been in before, the other for a period in the past that came from before the band had even received their powers.  The present was obviously some type of trap, Ace believed.  So there was only one path to follow.
            A path that clicked into his head and made him smile as he thought about it.
            A twist of the thumb later, Ace was gone.
June 1975.  10:35 a.m.


            “ . . .It’s great to be touring America, but how much longer can we last on Bill’s American Express card?”
            “I know,” Gene raid a hand in absent-minded defense.  The three men were quiet for a moment, then Peter brightened and look at the others.
            “Hey!  We’re here to rehearse.  Let’s cut the gloom and get on with it.”
            “Right,” Gene said with more enthusiasm than he actually felt at that point.
            With an affirmative shake of Paul’s head, the three began walking towards the arena’s entrance.
            When they were far enough away, Ace moved towards the tour bus.  A determined look appeared in his eyes as he came to the tour bus door and raised his right hand to pull himself up into the bus.
            “Don’t do it, Mr. Frehley.”
            Ace spun around to see Morpheus standing behind him.
            “Morpheus!”  Ace smiled.  “You’re alive!”
            Morpheus was slightly taken aback, but quickly recovered.  “Of course I am, Mr. Frehley, or did you forget? This is 1975.”
            “It’s just that --” Ace shook his head.  “No.   That doesn’t matter now.  What matters is what I have to tell you and me.”
            “No.”  Morpheus voice was stern and deadly in tone.
            “What?  What do you mean, ‘no?’  I’ve got to tell myself what’s going to happen or else we’re going to wind up failing you and the Elders and everything.”  Ace starting reaching towards the bus again.  Morpheus’ hand came out of nowhere and grabbed Ace’s wrist so hard that Ace felt it quickly going numb.
            “What are you doing, Morpheus?”  Ace pulled his hand back as Morpheus released his grip.
            “The better question is what are you doing, Mr. Frehley?  Do you realize the complications you may cause by coming back here?  Do you realize that this is exactly the type of thing Blackwell expects from you?”
            “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Morph.”  Ace turned again towards the bus, but Morpheus quickly moved in front of him.
            “Think, Ace, think.  Whatever has happened in the future has directed you to come here in the past.  Blackwell expects you to give news to yourself and the others that may help you in the future.  But will it?  Will you explaining the hardships that will come with being part of the Talismans really be of benefit to you and the others?”
            “Sure it will, Morpheus.  If they know, they can avoid a whole lot of problems in the future.  We’ll be able to beat Blackwell before he even knows it.”
            “Defeat him, Mr. Frehley?”  Morpheus spoke calmly.  “Or defeat yourselves?  I had reason to believe that of the four of you, you would be the most ready to understand the purpose behind the Talismans.  Perhaps it is not to be.”
            “STOP talking in riddles, old man.  I’m sick of it!  I’ve got to save you and the others and this is the best way to do it.”  Ace attempted to shove past Morpheus to get on the bus, but Morpheus refused to get completely out of the way.
            “If you do this, you destroy the only chance you have.  Blackwell wants you to do this.  He wants you to convince the others of the dangers here now.  And if you do, they will refuse to become part of the Talismans and Blackwell will be able to gain the powers in a much simpler fashion.”
            “How do you know?”  Ace spit out the words in frustration.
            “Because I know Blackwell.  And I know you.  Besides, Mr. Frehley, do you really believe that you will be able to convince yourself at this point in your past that what will happen will come to past?  Do you expect yourself to even believe that you are who you say you are?”
            Ace thought for a moment and then laughed for the first time in a long time.  The image of his younger self running into him now struck him as funny for some reason.
            “No.  No.  You’re right, Morpheus.  He wouldn’t believe me for a second anyway.  But else can I do?  Blackwell has structured a barrier over my past with only this point and the future that I can enter.  How can I try attempt to get him there after everything has fallen apart?”
            “Ah, but that’s just it, Mr. Frehley.”  Morpheus touched him lightly on the shoulder.  “You can only see yourself as the solution, which only makes it part of the problem.”
            Ace looked at Morpheus quizitively.
            “Go, Mr. Frehley.  I have little time left to past on the Talismans before the others arrive back at the bus.”
            “But how will I track down Blackwell?”  Ace asked.
            “I gave the four of you a container that could house the four Talismans at one time.  It is the only way that the four Talismans can be held together in one place at one time by any being, be it human or one of the Elders.  The box can also be used as a tracking device.  If Blackwell has been successful at getting any of the Talismans in the future, you should be able to pinpoint his location using it in combination with your powers into Limbo.”
            “Why didn’t you tell us that before?”
            Morpheus was surprised by the question.  “When would you have needed to know about it before now?”
            Ace looked at Morpheus for a second, then shook his head.
            “Mr. Frehley?”
            “Good luck.  The world and the Elders will depend upon what will happen next.”
            Ace smiled quickly and raised his hand up to disappear into Limbo.
            As the image of Morpheus faded from his sight, Ace suddenly remembered that he never even said goodbye to the man.
            He shook the thought from his head.  It would have to wait for another time.

            Peter stood over the grill and took a whiff of the smoke coming from the sizzling steak in front of him.
            “Ah,” Peter said, smacking his lips in anticipation.
            He knew he really should not have been cooking the steak.  His wife had been trying to get him to cut back on the beef and eat more vegetarian meals.  He had tried to stick by it.  However, with Debra out of the house for a few days to visit her folks with their daughter, Peter just could not resist the temptation any longer.
            Getting the grill out of storage in the first place was a hassle, and he nearly cracked his head open when a box of old tools fell from a shelf when reaching for the light switch.  It also meant cleaning the grill out and buying supplies that were no longer lying around.  Plus, he knew that he would have to clean the grill afterwards and get it back into storage so that Debra would never suspect, but it was the price to pay to have a steak the way he wanted to have it.
            It was also a great excuse for buying the biggest steak he could find.
            From the look of the steak, it was just about ready to be taken off the grill and Peter dabbed a bit more sauce on the steak with a brush after he flipped it over for a final pass over the flames.  After doing so, he ran back into the house and into the kitchen to get a plate for the meal.
            Once inside, he started pulling at the dishes to find a plate big enough for the size of the steak.  As he searched, he heard the pounding of footsteps down the hallway.
            Peter stopped in his tracks.  Hoping he had been mistaken, he listened with interest to any sounds.  Hearing the soft thud of shoes on the thick carpet in the hall, Peter felt the hair on the back of his neck rise.
            Oh God, Peter thought, It’s Debra.
            Running towards the door to get to the grill, Peter realized that trying to hide his misdeed was pretty much useless.  He turned around and went back to the kitchen, ready to tell his wife that it was his house and if he felt like having a steak once in a while, he would.
            He was all prepared for Debra.
            He was not prepared for what he saw when he arrived.
            There stood Ace, wearing the same costume and makeup that Peter remembered from the last time he had seen him.  Ace had pulled a glass out of the cupboard and had turned on a faucet to get a drink of water, taking little notice of Peter behind him.  He turned back around and put the glass to his lips, looking at Peter as he drank.
            “A-Ace?”  Peter finally said.
            “Hi, Curly.”  Ace said, as he put down the glass on the table.  “Is that a steak you’re cooking?”