Commodore Britain soared over London, his face showing his confusion and distress. He had been baffled by the evils, both personal and environmental, wrought by the inhabitants of the surface world ever since he had departed Subterranea at Merlin's request. Since then he had, as much as possible, adjusted to his new life, even when confronted with horrific individuals that the media had dubbed 'super villains.' But none of those encounters had prepared him for what he saw this day.
The two men who occupied the air over the city were tall, elegant, with physiques like ballet dancers. Their features were almost inhumanly beautiful. One was blond, with close-cropped curly hair; the other concealed his hair with a hood which left his face free. Each wore a red bodyshirt, the blond one emblazoned with an arrow in his chest which pointed upwards, the hooded one's torso marked with an ornamented disc which seemed to represent a sun.
Their faces were bloodied, and contorted with unreasoning rage. As they struck at each other, the impacts threw sparks, making the site of battle iridesce like lightning. And like gods, their private war devastated the city around them, cars and buildings destroyed as they, in their seemingly equal battle, created shockwaves or knocked each other into, or through, the surrounding cityscape.
His heightened perceptions sought out his allies, the other members of the Challengers; but Jakman, Freewheeler, Zarga, Double Dynamite, and even the enigmatic Nightcomer lay wounded or unconscious on the city streets. He alone remained to defend the land.
Something about the blond one's appearance and uniform gave the Commodore a troubling sensation of déjà vu, and he sought to approach him first. "Hail and well met," he said, raising his hands pacifically.
"Lies and illusions! More lies!" the man shouted, and his hand swung out in the Commodore's direction. He felt the impact bruising his ribs even through his force shield, and the impact sent him crashing to the ground. Looking up, he saw the hooded man attack the other once more.
He reflected that he had never felt a blow with that degree of sheer strength. Perhaps leading the Challengers, along with Android Andy and Tarnaz the Untamed, they might have been able to divide and defeat the pair of them, but he knew he would not be capable of it alone. He would have to defeat them by other means.
He placed his fingertips to his temples, drawing on the lingering psionic abilities he still possessed after his merger with the cobalt 'Flame of Life' in El Dorado, and sought to telepathically contact the hooded man, hoping to learn of his identity and control his mind if possible.
The man's mind was jumbled, confused. Despite his mature appearance he seemed to have the emotional maturity of a young teen. There was a sense of loss … he was an orphan? … and then a wish-fulfillment fantasy casting him as a superhuman in what seemed like a cartoonish parody of reality. Then the fantasy began to break down due to its own internal stresses, and he awoke to madness and encountered the blond man, whom he saw as a twisted parody of himself.
The hooded man glanced down, and the Commodore felt a mental blow as powerful as the blond man's physical one. In his youth, the Commodore had worshipped the gods of Olympus, and now for the first time he encountered beings who seemed like those gods.
He dared not attempt to scan the blond man, yet he suspected he had no choice. He ached to be able to at least limit their damage, aid the wounded left in their wake, but he knew that eventually the effort would exhaust him while the two gods would battle on. He needed to understand them if he was going to put an end to their path of destruction.
Bracing himself, he extended his mind once more, towards the blond man. As he suspected, the man's mind was almost a mirror image of the other's, with only details changed. Yet this time the scope of his enquiry was limited, seeking to retrace the physical path since his 'awakening.'
There … an underground bunker … the city of Larkhill … narrowly retrieved before he was rejected from this boy/man's mind, too. He knew that he would never be able to scan either of them again.
Aching in mind and body, as well as his heart as he was forced to abandon the cries of the wounded and helpless who suffered from the aftershocks of the duel, he entered the air once more and flew to the north.
Once he reached the city, the physical trail of destruction was obvious, and it was no difficulty to find their starting point. He bypassed the security team surrounding the bunker, ignoring their shouts and miniscule firepower, and descended onto the steps which took him down.
The laboratory was the most advanced he had seen outside of Subterranea. He wondered briefly whether it reflected alien construction, yet the materials and construction procedures seemed familiarly contemporary and Terran.
The corpses of two men lay sprawled on the floor, clearly showing the signs of having dispatched by superhuman hands. On what appeared to be an examination table lay a skeleton, which was clearly not human. He walked over to examine it more carefully.
It appeared to be a set of conjoined twins, joined at the spine. The twin on the right appeared to be vaguely reptilian although it had clearly humanoid proportions. The twin on the left, however, was disproportionately larger and would have passed for a small dinosaur were it not for the enlarged brain cavity. How could such an unbalanced set of creatures even functioned, he thought? Nevertheless, it confirmed his original intuition that there was some alien influence in the present technology.
He scanned the rest of the room, and walked over to a section which seemed set aside from the rest. It contained another pair of examination tables, each paired off with a set of wires which appeared to be cerebral attachments. He looked over the one on the left, and saw appended to it a rack of computer disks. He pulled one out in at random. On it, scrawled in pen, was the legend: "1/8 JC/MM Invaders from the Future."
A short search revealed an undamaged laptop. He inserted the disk, and watched in fascination the tale, told in cartoonish animation, of the young teenager Johnny Chapman, who spoke the word 'Sundisc' to become the superheroic adult Miracle Man, and who, accompanied by his kid sidekick Supercoat, battled time-traveling 25th century soldiers.
The Commodore pondered for a moment, and then headed over to the second table. A quick search revealed what he suspected would be there: "1/8 JD/CM Invaders from the Future." He fast-forwarded though a nigh-identical tale involving Johnny Dee, who spoke the words 'El Karim' to become Captain Miracle, and who fought alongside the younger Miracle Jnr.
A further investigation revealed that the cerebral attachments were connected to what appeared to be para-reality programming devices, each with disks still in place. He inserted them one by one into the laptop, attempting to scan them, but they were both hopelessly corrupted.
He feared for the safety of those he had left behind, but he knew his only way of discovering a means of ending the threat of these insane godlike children, was to uncover the secrets left behind on the laptop and these disks. And in order to accomplish that, he had to return to Subterranea.
It was a hidden underground tunnel located near ancient ruins in Darkmoor, which he used to access the land of men. Traveling through a network of caves and tunnels miles beneath the Earth's surface, he eventually arrived at the place he had called home for so long, along with the race of orange-skinned semi-humanoids which had been his only companions during that time.
"Well met Protus, well met Faftal," he said as he entered the scientific section, addressing the chief scientists with whom he had spent innumerable hours exploring their advanced technology.
"Romulus!" Protus bared his teeth in the mannerism the Commodore knew was equivalent to a smile. "What brings you back home?"
"A mystery and an unknown evil," he replied. He explained what he had found. "My fellow humans are being slaughtered, but these … men of miracles ... are too powerful for me to defeat any other way. I need to know if there is anything stored here which will allow me to defeat them."
"We'll do our best," Faftal said, his expression almost greedy as he received the disks. "I know time is of the essence."
As they worked, the Commodore used his own skills to decode the encryption on the laptop. He read the story of the now evidently deceased Dr. Emil Gargunza, how the scientist had discovered a fallen alien starship and a corpse which seemed to have two bodies, and how from it he had learned to create superhuman clones. He read on with revulsion as the British government authorised the kidnapping of a pair of orphans, and how their minds had been linked to the clones which were then placed in an extradimensional infraspace, to be summoned on the use of a change word. To contain the subjects, and to explain their superhuman powers, he subjected them to a series of hypnotically induced adventures, casting them as superheroes. But something went wrong.
It was much later when Faftal approached him. "I think we have the answer," he said. He handed a new disk to the Commodore, who inserted it into the computer. A pair of windows appeared, playing nearly identical simulacrums.
"You see," Faftal said, pointing, "they are encountering a new opponent, named 'Hypnos, Deacon of Delirium.' Your Dr. Gargunza appeared to have been miscalculated in creating such a character."
"As you discovered, it was not just the cloned bodies' physical abilities which had been enhanced … their mental facilities had been, as well. Subconsciously, they must have known what was happening to them. Confronted with an opponent who dealt explicitly with false realities, their minds somehow … connected with one another. That's what caused the corruption to the files, they began over-writing each others' programs. It must have created a massive feedback loop of psychic energy which short-circuited the devices which kept them inert. But it also drove them both insane."
"So they must have woken up, and immediately killed Gargunza and his lab assistant." The Commodore paused, "and I believe that, thanks to the scientist who created them, I know how to defeat them, as well."
The Subterraneans' sensors guided him to his opponents. Mercifully, whether by accident or whether due to some lingering conscience from their time as 'superheroes', the battle had ascended to the stratosphere, sparing further destruction at the ground level. And yet, they seemed to have been evolving abilities which disrupted the existing weather patterns; a stormcloud had formed around them, and the air crackled with electricity. The Commodore shuddered to think what apocalyptic damage the pair might wreak if left to their own indefinitely.
Normally he depended on his own heightened speed in altercations with foes, but he knew from their files and from rough experience that each of these men could outpace him easily. He needed to time his actions with precision … but they needed to be within earshot simultaneously. He would not be a party to aiding one of them to destroy the other.
One of the abilities he retained from the 'Flame of Life' was to drain the life force of others. He rarely used it, considering it too dangerous and beneath the status he wishes to maintain of being a public hero and champion of the good. But in this situation, it may be just the weapon he needed … if he could use it judiciously enough to not drive himself mad with an overcharge of power.
He flew up behind Captain Miracle, and with the most fleeting of touches, drained off enough power to catch the man's attention. Even that was enough to make him feel as if every muscle in his body was close to exploding, and lights danced before his eyes as his own natural force field became augmented. He spat an insult at the man, and did his best to burn off his overcharged metabolism in a zipline towards Miracle Man, his first infuriated victim on his heels.
He knew he would not be able to keep this pace indefinitely, and noticed with a sort of grim satisfaction the infuriated look on his second opponent's face as he saw himself evidently being attacked by a pair of blond superhumans.
All he needed was a touch, and he gained another burst of energy. His ears began to ring and he did not doubt why these poor children had been driven insane by their capabilities. The present environment, the heart of a stormcloud, would not be conducive for the operation of his plan. His speed briefly matching theirs, he soared off in order to allow them to give chase,
He headed south, and once he was sure they were following, began to descend. When they were in the clear, he slowed his pace, and when the pair began to close in he whirled around, striking each of them with a punch which bruised his knuckles. That would have been hopefully enough to convince them that he was a peer, and maybe they would retain their present position to take in this fact … he only needed a second.
The two men of miracles hovered briefly, trying to interpret this new information, he could sense they may have been wondering whether they ought to unite against this newcomer which had attacked them both, when he approached them again, halting just within audible distance, whereupon he spoke a single word: "Abraxas."
The response was a twinned explosion of lightning. Gargunza had known the dangers of losing control of his superhuman progeny, and installed what he had called a 'safe word,' which would force a transformation back to their child selves. Only their incredible speed had prevented him from using the strategy to defend himself.
He watched as a pair of boys in their early teens began to plummet earthwards. He briefly considered the safest solution to the problem they posed, of allowing them to die this way, but he knew it was not in his nature. He swept downwards, catching hold of their wrists, and slowly lowered them to the ground.
Both of the boys' expression verged on panic. "El Karim! El Karim!" Johnny Dee shouted repeatedly, unaware that the safeword had temporarily deactivated the change sequence. "My sundisc … where is it?" Johnny Chapman searched his pocket and clothes frantically, unaware that the power lay inherent within him.
His reached out, and a flick against each boy's jaw crumpled them into unconsciousness. Looking at the pathetic children at his feet, he sighed. He would take them back to Subterranea. Perhaps the surgeons there would be able to remove the small devices implanted in their brains which connected them to their cloned bodies in infraspace. Perhaps they could be re-educated to become champions like himself, though he suspected it was too late for them, for that.
He leaned down, to scoop up their bodies and carry them, one over each shoulder. This case was not over yet. Once the children were secured, he would lend his hand to the relief efforts, saving what lives and property had been damaged by the battle. And then, the Challengers would return once more to Larkhill, and re-examine the disks he had retrieved from Gargunza's computer. Someone in the British government authorised this abomination. Someone was going to pay.
The character is based on a heroic version of the Marvel Comics character Tyrannus/Romulus Augustulus (who also has a Merlin connection). I had considered making him an underground version of Marvel Boy/Martin Grayson (hence the reference to Android Andy and Tarnaz the Untamed) as well as referencing a lot of Atlas-era villains, but felt the list of names of the Challengers was enough drivel to subject the reader to. More information on the original version of Commodore Britain(before his promotion) and the Challengers can be found at Dez Skinn's website.
Captain Miracle and Miracle Man copyright and trademark Mick Anglo.