Dr. Andonuts had never prayed before, but today he prayed – for the world, for Ness and his friends, and, most importantly, for his son, Jeff. Though he hadn't realized it at the time, the prospect of fatherhood had terrified him, and he had run away from his responsibility to his wife and their child. He had retreated even deeper into his work, into a world where his only responsibility was to himself. He understood science, not people; how could he bring a new life into the world and teach it everything it needed to know about life, when he himself knew so little? And so he had poured all his time and energy into his inventions, distancing himself from his family and doing everything he could to forget he even had a son.
Only in the final hour had he realized what he had missed, had forsaken. Working with Jeff, now almost an adult in his own right, had helped him fully realize the unconscious reasons for abandoning him, reasons he hadn't been ready to face before. How it had agonized him to put his son's mind in that robot body, knowing he might never see him again! He prayed that it wasn't too late, that he could make up for the mistakes of the past, for another chance to be a father to his son.
And his prayers were answered.
He, like everyone else present in Saturn Valley, exploded with joy and relief when the four youths awakened and relayed the news: Giygas was gone forever, and the war was over. His heart swelled with pain and pride when Jeff corrected himself and called him Dad, not Dr. Andonuts, for the first time in his memory...and for the first time he could remember, he was happy, not afraid, to be called that. Not all was right with the world, but it could be. It would be.
After Ness and the others left, he put his arm around Jeff's shoulder and hugged the boy tight. "Jeff," he said, his voice full of regret, "I, I've never been a good father – any kind of father, really – but I want that to change. We've lost so much time, but now we have time, and I—" He stopped, fumbling for words, then shook his head. "I'm sorry, I'm no good at...this."
The blond teen gave his father a shy smile. "It's okay...Dad. Neither am I, but I know what you mean." He looked up at the perfect blue sky, shading his eyes with one hand. "On a day like today, it feels like we have all the time in the world, doesn't it?"
Dr. Andonuts chuckled. "Strictly speaking, that's not true, but I can appreciate the sentiment. I just..." He let out a deep sigh. "I just don't like not knowing what to do."
"It will be difficult, certainly," Jeff stated calmly, adjusting his glasses, "but I'm confident that we'll figure it out. We're intelligent people, after all."
"Yes, that we are," the elderly scientist murmured thoughtfully. "I'm proud of you, son. It's a great thing that you've done today."
"That we've done," the young man corrected with a small smile.
Dr. Andonuts adjusted his glasses as well, unconsciously mirroring Jeff. "Well, I didn't do much—" he began modestly.
Jeff's smile faltered slightly. "Er...I meant my friends and I. But you helped, too, of course."
"Oh, right," the inventor replied, embarrassed. "I wasn't thinking."
The pair stood there for a short while, enduring the awkward silence and staring at the cloudless sky, before Dr. Andonuts lifted his arm from Jeff's shoulders. "I'm, uh, going to see if the Mr. Saturns have any donuts. Want me to get anything for you? You must be famished."
Jeff shook his head. "Thanks, but I'm okay. The robot body you designed did all the fighting, not my real one." He hesitated, searching for the right way to say what he needed to say. "I could stand to, um, use the facilities, though."
"What? Oh yes, you should do that, by all means," Dr. Andonuts responded as he stepped away, knowing that he was rambling and not liking it one bit. "I'll be right back with some donuts, or something. Right here. When I get back."
Laughing, the young scientist waved his father away. "Go on, I'll meet you back here." The older man started to wander off, but Jeff called out to him before he got too far. "Hey, Dad?"
Dr. Andonuts looked back over his shoulder. "Yes, son?"
Jeff shuffled his feet for a moment, then finally spoke up. "Will you...tell me about Mom later?" he asked, somewhat nervously.
The physicist gave his son a warm smile. "Of course."
Dr. Andonuts searched his memory for the location of the local food supplier. When he had been working on the Phase Distorter, the Mr. Saturns had usually brought food to him, and the layout of Saturn Valley was both unfamiliar and more than a little confusing. The strange folk had never made donuts before he had arrived, but their latest attempts were
The world rippled.
Stunned by the phenomenon, he froze in his tracks and watched helplessly as the ripples wobbled and wavered in unnatural, strobing patterns. All shading bled out as if washed off by paint thinner, and the world stretched and tore itself apart to reveal chaotic swarms of nauseating colors. He tried to flee, to cry for help, to let someone know what was happening, but his body refused to obey his commands. The earth beneath him disappeared, and he was falling into an ocean of mindless sounds and lights, falling, falling forever...
And then he was on solid ground again. He collapsed on the grimy, grey stone floor, dizzy and unable to stand. The urge to vomit was overwhelming, though he managed to hold it back with some difficulty. He stayed on his hands and knees on the floor for several long moments, confused, disoriented and out of breath.
"Welcome to my playhouse, Dr. Donuts!" an unknown voice proclaimed. It sounded mechanical, artificial, yet there was clearly self-satisfied amusement present in its tone.
"It's Ando—" the scientist started to say as he raised his head to identify his abductor, but the words died in his throat at the sight that welcomed him. A titanic window looked out on impossibly tall, dark, craggy mountain peaks almost constantly barraged by intimidatingly near bolts of lightning. Flanked by two hulking guards wearing bizarre, pig-inspired uniforms was a mechanical monstrosity that appeared to be a mobile life support system equipped with eight fearsome-looking spider legs and a sinister face. The beeps, hissing and humming of the device were audible between roars of thunder.
Resting in the bed of the machine, propped up so that he could see forward, was a figure he almost failed to recognize. He had only seen the boy once, when he had stolen the Phase Distorter prototype and kidnapped one of the Mr. Saturns, though he had heard about him from Ness and the others. He remembered him being a blond, rotund delinquent around Jeff's age, but nothing could have prepared him for the youth's grotesque appearance. He seemed, unbelievably, to be an ancient child: corpulent, with pale, blue-tinged, shriveled skin and age-bleached hair and clothes. The stench of decay poorly masked by baby powder hung over him like a cloud. He couldn't even begin to fathom a guess as to how old he was. "Pokey?" the inventor whispered, shocked into disbelief.
"Porky, you nitwitted genius – Master Porky to you!" the villainous rascal screeched. The only movement Dr. Andonuts could see was his labored, open-mouthed breathing and faint lip motions as he spoke, augmented by the tinny speaking aid. He chortled at his own insult until a wave of great, racking coughs forced him to stop.
Dr. Andonuts was so flabbergasted that he could barely form words. "How...what, what happened—?"
"I've gone through time and space so many times I haven't aged like a normal person. Who knows, I might be a thousand years old, or even ten thousand years old. But despite that, I'm still the same kid at heart!" Porky's lips curled up into a smile that sent a chill down the elderly man's spine. "And I want to play."
"Wh-where are we?" stammered the physicist as he shakily rose to his feet. The room still refused to remain steady, but there was nothing he could lean on to help him regain his equilibrium.
"At the end of everything. They call it 'the Nowhere Islands.' Even for me, there's nowhere else to go...though I can bring anything and anyone I want here." Porky broke off as another fit of coughing hit him. "My own personal sandbox at the end of the world!" he crowed, wheezing.
"Why me?" Dr. Andonuts asked, afraid to know the answer.
"Why, I'm your biggest fan, doc!" the troublemaker answered enthusiastically. A panel on the wall slid aside to uncover an enormous monitor, which switched on to display a camera feed of Dungeon Man. "I picked him for my collection awhile back, and he's really something! Doesn't talk much these days, though." Porky laughed nastily at that.
The scientist stared at him, baffled. "Collection? What collection?"
"None of your business! It's mine!" Porky shrieked in possessive rage. He let loose with several more dry, hacking coughs, then took a deep, shuddering breath. "You made one, so you can make more...and I have lots of ideas." The image changed to show a number of crude concept sketches of hideous hybrid creatures, all of which roiled Dr. Andonuts's stomach. "I call them chimeras."
Dr. Andonuts backed away from Porky and the images, disgusted and horrified. "Never! I'll do no such thing!"
The time-traveler merely chuckled unpleasantly. "You don't get it, do you? These islands are the only places left in the world, and they're my islands. Here, lemme show you something – I think you'll want to see this."
The world in the center of the room rippled, and a tear in space-time opened up in the floor, coating everything in alien colors. The elderly inventor crept forward with great trepidation and peered into the portal, only to be stupefied by the sight of his own weathered tombstone.
"Jeff finally put it up some time after you disappeared," Porky explained, obviously entertained by the man's dismay. "They never found your body, of course. And guess what?" Time sped up, and within seconds the smooth stone had eroded into pitted rocks and dust. "In a couple hundred years, no one remembered that there ever had been a Dr. Andonuts! It's like you never existed at all!"
The picture in the gate changed again, this time showing a despondent Jeff in his laboratory in Winters, a few years older than before. Without hesitation, Dr. Andonuts tried to hurl himself into the portal, only to have an unseen force buffet him back and throw him to the floor. Biting back a cry of pain, he leapt to his feet and rushed at the gateway again, struggling against what was repelling him. "Jeff!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "I'm here, son! Porky has me!" When the young man failed to react, his father's calls became more desperate. "Can't you see me, son?! Can't you hear me?!"
The hoary bully, guffawing so hard he started another violent coughing fit, had to get himself under control before he could respond. "I don't think you were paying attention, doc," he stated with a malicious grin. "It's a one-way trip – there to here! Once you're here, there's no going back."
Time advanced once more; the lab quickly grew cluttered and filthy, and Jeff grew ashen and gaunt. Soundlessly, Ness attempted to comfort him, but the younger scientist rebuffed his efforts, dismissing him in favor of his work. Finally, Ness departed in a huff, unnoticed by the man he had once called his friend.
"They never saw each other again after that," Porky elaborated. "Jeff spent years looking for you, but he could never escape the lingering doubt that you couldn't handle being a dad and ran away again. It was always gnawing at the back of his mind, even after he gave up on his search. Did you know he had abandonment issues?" He cackled malevolently. "Can't imagine why!"
Dr. Andonuts's legs turned to jelly, and he sank to the ground. He could only watch, almost numb from the pain, as the image shifted to an elderly, decrepit Jeff, bedridden in a rundown, mildew-stained nursing home. A doctor and nurse were his sole visitors, observing him with detached impatience.
"Eventually, he abandoned everyone he ever cared about, too," the bloated mischief-maker continued gleefully, "and he died alone and unmourned. I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!" He laughed uproariously as, on the other side of the gate, Jeff took his last breaths and the heart monitor went flat. The doctor and nurse recorded the time of death, then moved on without a backwards glance. Noticing that the physicist was unresponsive, he eyed his captive speculatively. "If you want, I could show you his suicide attempt in his mid-40's..."
"No more, Porky," Dr. Andonuts whispered, his voice hollow, "no more. You win."
"Of course!" Porky declared with smug satisfaction as he closed the portal. "I always win." His expression turned dark and bitter. "I always win in the end, Ness." A fresh round of agonizing coughs overwhelmed him, and it was some time before he recovered. "Take the doctor to the Chimera Laboratory and make sure he has everything he needs," he rasped.
The burly henchmen roughly pulled the inventor to a standing position and marched him out the door. Just before leaving the chamber, he heard Porky call out from behind him. "If you're good, I might let you see some of Jeff's happier moments. You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Not waiting for an answer, the bruisers hustled him out, leaving the immortal to lapse into a contemplative silence.
Shuffling along listlessly, he fought to push through the grief – he couldn't let Porky crush his spirit. He had to find hope wherever he could. He would lose himself in his work, no matter how abominable it might be, and do everything in his power to undermine the infantile overlord. Deep in his heart, he prayed that he would see his son again, that he could undo the bleak future he had witnessed.
But his prayers were never answered.