Disclaimer: This is yet another alternate-timeline fanfic based on Marvel Comics, and no claim on their property is intended. No material profit is involved.
Double Helix: Twin Destinies
by Andrea and Persephone
//Time can twist in the strangest fashions.
It isn't often thought of as a major nexus point, that time just after a thirteen-year-old Nathan Dayspring defeated his first Apocalypse, after Slym and Redd were divided soul from body, sent in spirit back home to the twentieth century and in body dissipated into the air, when a boy stunned from having his family ripped away even in the flush of triumph stood proud all the same and told the dead immortal's Prelate he could care for himself.
Perhaps it should be. Perhaps those who keep track of such things are too combat-oriented.
It is certain that significant differences have sprung from those few minutes.
The timelines we are accustomed to, with Cable and Stryfe bitter-locked in conflicts that even death never seems to end, share the stream with those where Nate took the unconscious prince along with him and the two lived and died and shared a fate, or fought and killed each other, or lost each other -- and a few very dark ones where Ch'Vayre killed young Dayspring for trying.
And then there is one in which the room where they stood came under attack, and Ch'Vayre thrust both boys toward an old teleport matrix he uncovered, told Nate hastily how to work it, and stood as a defiant barrier to the dog soldiers who charged belatedly to the High Lord's aid.//
"Here, boy. Take Stryfe and get out. Just pick a destination; they're all pre-set and none are used anymore. Nothing to run into, shouldn't be anyone there."
Nate let his unconscious almost-double slump against his shoulder as he silently urged the matrix to hurry UP and warm up and be ready to use. No, not having been used for decades or longer was no excuse; why, why couldn't Apocalypse have bothered with regular maintenance?
But there were no apparent stalls; perhaps it had always been this slow -- and in truth there were not so very many seconds to wait, but each of them seemed to stretch agonizingly with the sounds of battle and his own whirling thoughts. Had to get away. He could fight -- no, not now, not this many. He wanted Slym and Redd back; why did they have to leave? Where had they gone?
And thrumming underneath all the rest, as sweat crawled across his back and rolled down his forehead and nose and cheeks, the urge to hurry... hurry...
[TRANSPORT MATRIX ACTIVATED]
He shoved dead weight nearly equal to his own through and jumped after him, ears ringing from the roar as an explosion that couldn't damage the sturdy equipment directly nevertheless -- in the instants between Nate's letting go of Stryfe and his own leap -- jostled the controls into the settings for a different preprogrammed destination.
A young Askani novice brought word to Sanctity that a boy -- she spoke the word with all the disdain with which a preteen girl raised among proud women could invest it -- had tumbled from nowhere and now lay unconscious very near. Sanctity stirred herself to go and look at him.
"Well done, Aliya," she told the girl, "in that you found him and let me know. It could have been ill done indeed, though, to leave him at the mercy of the wilds of Ebonshire. This may well be our prophesied Chosen One. You will aid in our care of him now."
Aliya, highly disciplined even at that young age and devoted to Sanctity, kept the temptation to whine her distaste for her assignment quietly behind her own shields and teeth, and simply hoped he would wake soon. There were tasks more boring than to sit waiting for a boy whose face, even unconscious, looked irritatingly arrogant to wake up, but not very many.
Nate tumbled hard to the floor, taking the full brunt of the fall on his left shoulder. Metal wasn't likely to bruise and it always hurt anyway, so what was the harm? Nothing hit him, and no one approached, and he heard no sound but his own breath. That was loud enough, between exertion and adrenaline and the coughs he tried to choke back as dusty fibers from a thin blue carpet tickled his nose and throat.
He stilled the noise he was making, holding his breath; his heart still pounded, pulse beating a throbbing rhythm in chest and throat, ears and wrists. He stood, venturing to fill his lungs again as his head cleared the small cloud of particles his landing had raised. Nothing happened. But for his own heartbeat and breath and the tiniest of sounds he made as he moved, he had found a place utterly silent.
The place was lit, brightly but not painfully, though one less accustomed to the desert sun might have found the brilliance excessive. The temperature of the air was perfectly neutral on his skin. He was indoors, that was for certain, and surrounding him in neat patterns were... books. Though to call some of the items books would, it is true, have been to perpetrate a misnomer.
There were books, indeed, of every shape and form ever termed such, and most that had been termed something in another language that might be so translated. There were bound books, manuscripts, and scrolls; there were clay tablets here and there, and an entire shelf of the memory-crystals that had come into favor centuries ago, in the peace before Apocalypse's conquest.
He moved slowly, stepping carefully in case of traps and fearing at first even to disturb the too-fine layer of dust that coated everything. He made no sound to disturb the hush; the carpet, thin as it was, swallowed even the faintest sound of his own feet.
Stryfe was missing. As Nate had still less idea where the young prince was than he had of his own location, however, it seemed unlikely that it was a situation he could remedy.
A massively oversized, thronelike chair gave a hint as to the owner of the installation -- as if anyone but Apocalypse were likely, in these times, to have retained this sort of luxury! Nathan had stumbled all unknowing into the High Lord's old favorite library, a repository of Celestial technology and the accumulated reference sources he'd culled from the millennia he'd lived.
Luckily, Apocalypse had elected to employ servants to supplement the automatic cleaning systems and to keep things in order, and had also elected to make provision for their sustenance. Whole generations had in fact been born, lived, and died in this building, and been discreetly removed. The last set, however, had been dismissed from service a few decades ago, and the library closed off until Apocalypse should find time to revisit it.
Obviously, he hadn't. Nate determined these facts eventually by examining the administrative records after he found the servants' wing and coaxed the dispenser to emit food and drink.
Once he decided that he wasn't in identifiable danger of either immediate or protracted death, whether by discovery or defense systems or want, the young Dayspring decided that a forgotten library was as perfect a sanctuary as he was like to find -- it had even been left locked from inside -- and surrendered to the curiosity that urged him to examine the books.
Slym and Redd -- he still felt, at the thought, as if there were a hole torn out inside him with only pain to fill it -- had taught him to read and write the most common standard languages, as well as the ancient tongue that called itself "English," and these together gave him an excellent start.
And he soon discovered that the pain of loss and loneliness receded as he lost himself as well in the fascination of the reading, and so he took refuge in that way.
It came presently to his attention that while he could indeed learn a great deal from almost anything he might pick up, this haphazard method was perhaps not ideal. Deciphering the master index to the library gave him ideas for a systematic plan of self-education, upon which he promptly and fiercely embarked, beginning intelligently enough with the mastery of languages, so that he could read any of the material he chose.
And time passed, as it does, weeks piling up in orderly fashion into months and months into years. The Askani, under Sanctity's supervision, aided Stryfe's recovery from the abortive "inheritance" of Apocalypse and trained him thoroughly in their doctrine and goals. There were, however, those who evinced some misgivings regarding his behavior and motivations.
"Madame Sanctity, I fear that he is not so devoted to our cause, to the life-mission we have shown him, as we could hope."
"How so? Does he not carry out the things we suggest must be done?"
"He does, but it seems... almost as if it is not the cause he cares for, but -- forgive me -- but only that we will... fuss over him if he fulfills what we expect."
Silence for a time, then the aged, dry voice. "It is of no account. Perhaps he will even be a more useful tool, if he can be induced to act because it is of our will rather than because it is in accordance with a cause he could, after all, come to misinterpret."
The well-concealed beginnings of doubt. "...Yes, Madame Sanctity."
Alone and in hiding, Nathan had in the same years found a mission of his own. His studies had eventually carried him back, and back, and back still further to find a dry account of Apocalypse's own experience with Ship, and of his conviction that humanity must be prepared, must be fit to meet the return of the Celestials, must become strong.
Apocalypse, so Nate decided, had had in part the right idea. If these impressions were accurate and such ultra-powerful beings were indeed going to return and evaluate humanity's development, it would certainly seem wise to be ready.
But he'd gotten the methods wrong. Despite the ability to manipulate it, using the technology he'd found, Apocalypse seemed to have had a relatively weak understanding of biology. It looked to Nate as if the Egyptian had gotten locked in early to an erroneous association between his personal philosophy and developing biological theories.
His selective breeding programs might have had a chance, for instance, to advance the expression of genetic potential -- but he'd gone about them from entirely the wrong approach, too focused on personal strength and tests in combat and nature, too little caring about overall development.
For one thing, fighting power wasn't necessarily the most useful type for survival OR the best choice to cultivate in the gene pool. For another, on top of destroying people so wantonly being abhorrent to Nate personally, killing off the viable base stock was stupid and wasteful.
Non-mutants had good traits too -- he knew -- and while you could predict what kind of offspring some bloodlines would produce, others were erratic enough that you never knew when a power would pop up unexpectedly and with no warning signs in the rest of the family. Sometimes those even bred true.
For yet a third and final thing, Apocalypse had seemingly abandoned the mission he'd taken on, and Nate could not help a twinge of scorn for that. It hadn't been out of any sense he could find that the methods or cause might be ineffective or unworthy -- Apocalypse had turned his attention to conquest and political power for its own sake, and to the concerns of perpetuating his own life beyond its natural end at the expense of his "hosts."
Apocalypse had cast aside the mantle, and Nathan Dayspring was about to take it up.
After all, Nate reflected as he pored over the records, he had wanted to rebuild dreams and hope, make the world a better place. Perhaps this was how. Perhaps if these Celestials Apocalypse had been expecting had taken this long already, instead of forgetting about them he might have time to salvage where Apocalypse had failed.
If he could only travel through time, Nate mused for the thirty-seventh time in the four days since the idea had first occurred to him, he would go back and correct some of what in retrospect -- hindsight was 20/20 after all -- appeared to be mistakes in the directions Apocalypse and his estranged servant Sinister (or possibly Essex, the records weren't clear on the preferred designation) had nudged mutant development.
One case of neglect was particularly irksome. If he had the opportunity and were trying to get a being from Earth-human stock that could match the Celestials' apparent level of development and power, he certainly wouldn't have overlooked the unparalleled opportunity that had existed in the twentieth century.
The ideal solution would have been to keep alive more of the reality-warping mutants that had existed in that era, and try to eliminate that pesky streak of insanity. If it were genetic, perhaps it could be bred or corrected out, and if it were a side-effect of the power, proper training and introduction to the idea might well counter the problem.
But that didn't seem to be an option. He'd found a promising lead in technologies that had appeared in that very century, though not all of them seemed to belong there, and another set somewhere around the thirtieth century. Unfortunately, both had petered out. He was going through the records a third time, just in case, when a previously-overlooked copy of a twentieth-century document caught his eye.
Or rather, one word in it did.
On second thought, it didn't so much catch his eye as hit him squarely between the eyes, with an extra and entirely unnecessary blow immediately below the breastbone. He picked it up to read, a little wistfully, breath catching in a way he'd kept it from doing for... years? At least months. Maybe years.
And his breath caught in another way entirely, and his eye gleamed, as he discovered what he should have realized at once when he read twentieth-century references to an organization founded in the 3600s: the Askani had time travel. At least, at some point they'd had time travel.
And an infant named Nathan, infected with a techno-organic virus and taken by a woman calling herself Askani? He looked down at his metal arm for a moment, then back at the paper, with renewed fury at Apocalypse surging in his breast -- and yet also with a new hope for his own goals spitting cheery sparks of warmth. The Askani should still have an interest in that child, shouldn't they?
He looked down at the metal arm again, and for the first time in his life smiled at the sight.
Nathan Dayspring knew perhaps more than any other single individual on the planet by the time he chose to emerge from the library. He had studied every branch of knowledge, theoretical and practical, that he could find archived there, and sought out more recent learning on still-operational computer systems.
He knew how to operate the Celestial technology perhaps better than Apocalypse had, though there were things he would never do with it, and he knew how to operate technologies he had never even seen. He could, with a little luck and correct preparation, have managed to blend in somewhere in almost any time period of human history.
He knew the locations of any number of caches of Apocalypse's more advanced equipment, what was supposed to be there, when they had last been checked up on, and -- since he'd found the monitoring devices -- which ones had been disturbed since, though whoever had done it took good enough precautions that they could not be identified from the security recordings.
He had kept himself in condition, and had not forgotten all his survival skills, and he had studied his powers -- and learned enough about the techno-organic virus from Apocalypse's files that he gained a grudging regard for some of its possible advantages. Granted, there was still the small matter of its trying to kill him every so often.
He had a plan, and several alternatives for contingencies, and was beginning to seek out the allies he would need to implement his plan.
He had his mission in life.
Stryfe had perhaps the best training available on the planet, a full academic and martial regimen attended to by Mother Sanctity and the rest of the Askani sisterhood. He had the full strength of his powers as a high-range alpha telepath and telekinetic, and the vigor of youth and health, and the benefit of years on end of other people's experience.
He had learned discipline, and that he was not the center of the universe (a hard lesson, harder still when taught years later than it should have been), and what it was to have more mothers and sisters -- who occasionally interchanged roles -- than he knew what to do with. He was still a tool, but a knowing one now (though in truth he knew not the extent), and the Askani appreciated him.
He had a place, and a role.
He was their Chosen One.
Neither was even remotely prepared to face the other, when the stranger whose approach Stryfe hailed and challenged -- even the Askani'Son took guard duty -- revealed himself to be Nathan Dayspring, come to introduce himself as that long-ago child and claim the aid and allegiance of the Sisterhood.
"Halt and identify yourself."