This story previously appeared in Issues, 100, 101, 102 and 103 of The Power Star fanzine, and is posted here without the authorization of the authors, with due acknowledgement – C.B.
A Multi-Universe Story By
D. Lynn Bivens, Kimberly Murphy and Gerald James Seward
"Diane... I have no idea what time it is. Nor where I am."
F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper sat up in bed and looked around a darkened room, his expression confused. He dictated into his microcassette recorder as a sort of sanity check as he tried to adjust to his surroundings. "I've awakened in a strange bed in a strange room. My hair is matted with what could be hours of perspiration. Funny thing, though--it isn't at all hot in here. On the contrary, Diane, it is actually quite chilly. I suspect the culprit is an air conditioning system functioning all too well.
"My only conclusion is that this is all a dream or vision, like the kind I've had dozens of times before. Strange, though. My visions are almost never this sensory-intense. And usually by now, The Giant or some other being from the realm beyond has appeared.
"Until they decide to show up, I'll try my best to recall the events of the previous evening which led up to my turning in for the night. I remember spending most of the evening looking over reports and folders full of raw data in connection with a rather puzzling double-homicide involving an ex-athlete who had a summer home in Twin Peaks. I recorded some last minute memos for you and Harry, then disrobed and crawled into bed, being careful not to disturb Audrey's slumber. Seconds later, I was sound asleep.
"Then, I found myself here. Very strange...usually somebody has shown up by now. There must be something else I am meant to investigate."
Cooper tossed off the covers and climbed out of bed. "I've tossed off the tangled covers and am starting to make my way around this strange bedroom, hoping to find some clue as to why my visions have taken me here." He paused. "Until now, I hadn't noticed I was wearing a tie and suit. I am almost certainly meant to find something here. Perhaps a clue to the murder..."
The Special Agent began making a slow, deliberate sweep of the room with his eyes. "I'm taking note of the room's somewhat antiquated decor...sort of an early American look. Also, there's a wide variety of knick-knacks placed about this immaculately-kept room. I almost have the sense I'm in the guest bedroom of someone's grandmother, or perhaps spinster aunt. If only I could make the connection they have to a multi-millionaire ex-athlete accused of a grisly double-murder."
He stopped talking as his eyes focused on something. He moved toward it. "Diane, one of the old-fashioned knick-knacks has caught my eye. I'm walking over to the dresser. It's a snow globe." He picked it up. "Could this have some significance in the case I've been working on these past few months? I have no way of knowing. I've picked up the globe, Diane, and am now doing what anyone who owned such a tradition piece of kitsch would do--I'm shaking it. And as I watch the simulated snow pepper the tiny house and the plastic landscape and the old-style picket fence, I am marvelling at how real all this feels. I've had many dreams and visions, as you know, Diane, and none have had the degree of solidity to the touch, the degree of realism I'm now experiencing." He smiled oddly. "I can only conclude that perhaps I'm not having a vision at all. Perhaps I really am here--wherever this `here' happens to be."
Once more, he took in his surroundings. "Diane, just now, from some unseen speaker system beyond the closed bedroom door, I can hear what can only be referred to as some really outdated Muzak. I am now proceeding to open the door to whatever room exists on the other side. Will I be greeted by The Giant or The Man From Another Place?"
Carefully, he opened the door and sighed. "It's not a complete surprise that I was not. Nor is it a complete surprise that the living room is as antiquatedly decorated as the bedroom behind me. The almost whining Muzak is much louder and its source obviously lies on the far side of this room, which is filled with antique chairs, a well-worn sofa, end tables, and a coffee table, along with more knick-knacks, some of them chipped and worn."
He took slow, deliberate steps forward. "I'm moving slowly into this room. I believe I've found the source of this horrible elevator music. I see a single speaker sitting conspicuously atop a wall shelf between the front down and the curtained bay windows."
"Good morning, Number 3, and welcome to our happy little community," a tinny voice pronounced over the music, which had faded to soft background accompaniment.
Cooper stopped in his tracks. "Number 3?" he whispered, then became conscious of the running tape recorder still in his hands. "Diane, someone has just spoken from the speaker box. They called me `Number 3'. Why would they refer to me by a number instead of a name--and why not by something like my badge number or social security number? Surely, someone capable of abducting an F.B.I. agent from his own bed and transporting him here would know his name."
"If you will open the drapes in front of you, Number 3," the male voice continued calmly, "I believe you may come to understand precisely where you are...up to a point, that is. Until later, have a wonderful day."
The voice ended, and the music's volume rose once more.
Cooper now looked confused. "The voice is gone, Diane, and the music has resumed and is getting louder. He told me to look out the window." Cooper stepped toward the window. "I'm opening the curtains now."
With a jerk, Cooper threw the drapes open. Sunlight suddenly filled the room. "It must be mid-morning, Diane, because the sudden bombardment of sunshine is making me squint and obscuring my view of what lies outside my windows." He shielded his eyes and blinked, then slowly lowered his hand and moved toward the window panes. "My eyes are adjusting now...I can see a resort-like town stretching out into the horizon. A town with cobblestone streets and tiny shops with red-and-white awnings. A town whose inhabitants are either walking or riding in what appear to be modified golf carts--some with five or six passenger seating. Everyone is similarly dressed in white pants, striped shirts, and dark blazers with large round badges bearing single or double-digit numbers on them. It's all so odd--yet also so familiar. Just like that voice.
"Where have I seen this quaint-yet-curious setting before? Where have I seen similarly-dressed citizens with placid expressions suggestive of extreme tranquilizer usage before? And where have I heard this voice over the mounted speaker box before? I'm beginning to wish you were here, Diane. Your empathic gifts are far stronger than mine; together, our heightened insights might provide a faster answer to this strange sense of deja vu."
Cooper reached to adjust his tie...and his hand stopped in mid-motion. "Diane, I'm now looking at my clothes. Somehow, between the time I awakened and right now, I've changed clothes. I'm wearing the same dark-colored blazer the rest of the town residents are, but paired with a dark turtleneck sweater instead of a striped shirt. Crisply-pressed white trousers...white canvas deck shoes... a round badge with the number `3' on it...Diane, I remember this place! I know that voice!"
He gave his surroundings one more good look to make certain he was not insane, then spoke confidently into his tape recorder. "Diane, this is The Village! The same Village that was the setting for the 60's TV show THE PRISONER. I can remember watching it, watching Patrick McGoohan try to make sense of his nonsensical surroundings, listening to that oh-so-annoying uppercrust English accent of the mysterious Number Two. Diane, that was the voice I heard. But how is this possible? THE PRISONER was just a TV series; The Village does not really exist." He frowned as he looked around the room. "But if it does not really exist, why does it feel so real? And why am I here?"
Something caught his eye across the room. "There's a telephone sitting on a nearby end table, plain and black with no rotary wheel for dialing or touch-tone buttons for punching. No means of choosing someone you might wish to speak with...which, if I recall my PRISONER lore correctly, means I merely have to pick up the receiver and someone will answer."
Snapping off the tape recorder, Cooper picked up the phone and put the receiver to his ear.
--click--whirrrr--bong--"To whom do you wish to speak, Number 3?" the female voice on the other end of the line asked. "What is the nature of your call?"
"I..." Who do I want to call? "I wish to speak to my sister. The nature of this call is personal. The number is..."
"I am terribly sorry, Number 3, but no non-Village calls are permitted. However, if you will state the number of another resident..."
"I don't know anyone else here," Cooper snapped, "and my name is Special Agent Dale Cooper, not Number 3! Now, I want to speakto my sister..."
"Hello?" Cooper called into the receiver.
"Hello?" Cooper shouted over the dial tone.
Cooper slammed the phone down hard. Damn, Diane, I wish you were here.
Remember... the Force will be with you always.
The black-clad Jedi Knight jolted awake suddenly at the echo of his mentor's voice in his mind. "Huh? What?"
Only silence answered him. Luke Skywalker looked around at his surroundings.
He was in an oddly-decorated bedroom, filled with many objets d'art of a type he'd never seen in all his travels. Not even the marketplaces in Mos Eisley had such strange bric-a-brac. And he'd never seen a sleeping pallet like this one.
Leaping out of the bed as if he were afraid it would devour him, he began a thorough exploration of the cluttered bedroom into which he'd somehow been teleported. The last thing he could remember, he and Han Solo were onboard the Millenium Falcon en route to the Brehin system to deal with a fractious element of the emerging new Republic and he'd crawled into one of Solo's cramped bunks to catch a quick nap, to clear his mind and allow himself to focus on the energies of the system they approached so his powers would be fresh...
...and now, he was here. But where was "here"?
Snatches of memory--impressions from a dream? Lingering imprints of the Force?--filled his mind. There were faceless men,dressed in odd black clothing--straight-legged trousers, buttoned jackets with strange collars, white blouses, ribbons or ropes around their necks--who seemed to hover over him. He could almost taste the aftertaste of a strange gas and remembered seeing a cloud of it coming from one of the men toward him in his dreams. He could still feel the overwhelming blackness that still had him in a kind of mental fog as he slowly made his way around the strange sleeping quarters.
"This has to be some of the Emperor's dark magic," he said aloud finally, mostly to use the sound of his own voice to reassure himself that he was indeed awake. "I knew there was no way to destroy his centuries-old power utterly."
Instinctively, he reached for his light saber which always hung from his belt at his right hand.
It was gone.
"What the...? Those men--they took it!" He looked around the room, trying to clear the mental fog and draw on the energies around him. "If they think they can subdue a Jedi Knight just by taking his weapon, they're about to learn differently..."
His chest felt odd. Luke reached for the sensation.
Something round and slick to the touch met his fingers. Helooked down at it.
A round badge pinned to his uniform read "4".
"...going on here?"
Ralph Hinkley ran a hand through his curly blond hair and stood up, tossing the bedcovers aside. He stopped to take notice of the fact that he was wearing his red jumpsuit that gave him remarkable alien super-powers, gave silent thanks for that fact, then studied the room.
This was too weird. Just a few hours ago, he and his wife Pam had left Bill Maxwell at a restaurant, where Bill had once again tried to talk him into taking on some cockamamie mission, and returned to their home, where they'd gone to bed just like any other married couple.
But now he was alone. Pam was nowhere to be seen. And this was definitely not his bedroom.
Ralph looked out the window at a completely unfamiliar seaside town that seemed to be populated by people wearing ugly country club uniforms. Nothing looked familiar, nothing at all. "Why do I get the feeling I'm not in Kansas any more?" he quipped aloud.
"I dare say, Number 5, that Kansas is most definitely not where you are," the British-accented voice replied from a speaker in the living room. "Nor are you in any other American state."
Ralph was over at the speaker almost before the words finished. "What the...who are you?" he demanded. "Why have you brought me here to this...this..."
"Just call it The Village, Number 5."
"Why do you keep calling me that? Surely you know who I am..."
"We know everything about you, Number 5. But alas, once you come to our Village, you no longer have a name."
"Who are you?"
"I am Number Two. You are Number 5."
Something seemed to be pulling on the fabric of his uniform. He looked down.
Somehow, a round button had been fastened to his chest. It bore the number "5" on it.
Now Ralph was angry. "All right, I've had enough of this nonsense. I'm getting out of here. If you'll excuse me..." He stormed to the door, intending to make full use of his suit's strange powers. He'd start by ripping open the door...
The bolt of static electricity knocked Ralph backward onto the floor several feet away. Were it not for his suit, he most likely would have suffered a much more painful lesson. As it was, the blast sent agonizing waves through him. "Yiaah!"
"I should warn you, Number 5," the voice continued smoothly, "that there is a force field of sorts in effect around The Village to prevent you from using your suit's powers to access any place or anything we do not wish you to. You will find your powers quite useless here."
As the last words finished, the door opened by itself, as if it were one of those electric-eye-triggered automatic doors at the grocery store. Ralph stared in shock. "You may now leave and enjoy the rest of this beautiful day along with the rest of the citizens," the voice concluded. "Have a wonderful day."
Ralph got to his feet and dusted himself off. "Why does everything having to do with this suit have to be hard?" he groused.
Steeling himself, he stepped out into the light of day.
"This must be The Gathering!"
It was the only conclusion Duncan MacLeod had been able to reach since finding himself in this odd bedroom. While he could not actually sense the presence of any other Immortals, there was definitely something going on here, some reason he had mysteriously lost consciousness the night before and ended up here in this little hamlet. In his centuries of life, Duncan had never encountered anything like The Village...or its smiling people.
"Greetings, Number 7," an English-accented male voice greeted from the speaker on the living room shelf.
Duncan whirled toward the sound, his hand grasping the ivory handle of his katana and whipping it out of its sheath.
"Do not be alarmed," the voice continued. "This is not exactly what you think it is. It is indeed a gathering...but not The Gathering."
Duncan held his weapon at the ready, stepping slowly toward the speakers. "I'm not in the mood for mind games."
With that, he swung the katana as if preparing to behead an Immortal enemy...
...and dismantled the speaker system into so much scrap as he put the blade through it.
With a jerk, Duncan removed the katana from the wall and sheathed it once more. "That should silence you," he said smartly.
Duncan nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound.
--ring--ring-- Cautiously, calculatedly, he stepped toward the table where the L-shaped phone rested.
Slowly, he lifted the phone off its base. "Yes?"
"We're so terribly sorry your speaker system is not working to your satisfaction, Number 7," an irritatingly pleasant female voice replied through the receiver. "We'll dispatch someone to repair it momentarily. In the meantime, you might like to take a stroll around The Village and take in the sights and sounds of this place. Have a beautiful day, Number 7."
"Why do you keep calling me..."
It took everything Duncan had not to give the phone the same treatment he gave the speaker. Instead, he restrained himself honorably, stood up tall, checked his katana, then pulled his coat over it.
It was then he noticed the button pinned to the coat. It was a round badge with the number "7" printed on it.
The door creaked as it swung open automatically.
Duncan frowned. There was a very real possibility that this was a trap. There was also the very real possibility the voice in the speaker had been lying to him--that this really was The Gathering. And Immortals did not fear The Gathering--in fact, they welcomed it. The Gathering was his destiny. He had to face whatever was out there.
One more check of his weapon, and Duncan stepped out to face The Village.
"Welcome, Number 8, to The Village."
The oh-so-smooth English voice greeted another new resident from the living room speaker in that annoyingly pleasant tone. "Please forgive the unusual manner by which we've affixed your badge to your outfit. The fabric in your clothing proved too strong for our pins. But we believe the superglue--please pardon the pun--that we used will do the job in a satisfactory manner."
Superman looked down at the round badge with the number "8" on it that was affixed to his chest as he stood in the doorway of this odd little house he'd found himself in. The door had swung open as he approached it, almost daring him to step outside. "How," he asked finally, "did I get here?" His eyes scanned the skies as he braced himself in the doorway to propel himself upward.
"Do not try to fly, Number 8," the speaker warned. "We have already taken precautions to dampen that part of your Kryptonian abilities."
"Who are you?" Superman called into the air. "And who is the `we' you keep referring to?"
"I am Number 2," the voice replied. "As to the `we' references...you will discover that in good time. Have a satisfying day."
Almost rudely, the voice fell silent and the obnoxiously irritating mood music returned. Superman returned to scanning the skies as he stepped out onto the street for the first time. Around him, the smiling villagers went on about their daily business, not even giving his odd garb a second glance.
Superman shook his head and a self-assured smirk crossed his face. "So you've taken precautions, eh?" he said. "Well, we'll see about that."
He leapt into the air, fully prepared to fly his way out of this place and get back to Metropolis--that is, if he could get his bearings...
Exactly three-and-a-half feet above the cobblestone streets, an invisible force seized the Man Of Steel like a giant hand. That hand began to exert tremendous pressure on Superman's body, holding him off the ground like a rag doll.
No matter how hard he tried, no matter which way he twisted and turned, Superman could not break free from the bonds that held him.
With that, the unseen hand tossed him to the ground in a crumpled heap.
For a very long moment, Superman just lay there, weakness overwhelming him. He looked like a beaten man as his cape lay strewn across the street. Then, he took several labored breaths and worked himself up to one knee. "It's...as if...I was just exposed to Kryptonite...but there's none around here..."
A wrinkled hand reached down and squeezed his shoulder in a supportive gesture. "You all right, laddie?" an aged Irish-accented voice asked.
Superman raised his head, fighting what felt like several tons of concrete encasing it, to meet the concerned gaze of the elderly man who genuinely seemed interested in his well-being. "I...I fell," he explained sheepishly. "I just needed to rest for a minute." He tried to get to his feet.
The old man tried to steady him as he did so. "You gonna be all right, Number 8?"
For a moment, Superman tried to figure out the answer to that question himself. He certainly didn't feel all right; his legs were as wobbly as a toddler's, and every fiber in his body ached. But he had to go on. He had to find out what was going on here. "I'll be fine, uh...number 47," he said, his eyes finding the man's lapel button. "Thanks a lot."
Grinning broadly, the man made a circle with the index and thumb of his right hand and placed it against his eye as he gave a bizarre salute. "Be seein' yer, lad."
Superman watched the old man walk away as if nothing unusual had happened, as if every day a man in blue tights and a red cape suddenly got thrown to the ground by some invisible energy barrier. Be seeing you, he mentally repeated. Seeing...all right, Mom and Dad always said seeing is believing. If I can't fly my way out of here, maybe I'd better take a good look around. At least it'll give me a chance to get my bearings.
Slowly at first, then more confidently, Superman began a casual stroll around town, letting his super vision guide him.
"Number nine...number nine...number nine..."
Dr. Jonathan Chase groaned as he rolled over in bed. My least favorite Beatles song, he mentally complained as he reached for the nightstand.
His hand tumbled off the edge instead of onto his clock radio. Chase jolted awake.
This is not my bedroom. That much became obvious instantly as he looked around the room. But what is it? Where am I?
Chase tossed off the covers and stood up, suddenly noticing his state of dress--the elegant black tuxedo he'd worn when he took Brooke McKenzie to the opera the night before. The only difference was the round badge with "9" imprinted on it. "Did I fall asleep in my clothes?" he asked aloud. "Obviously, Number 9."
Chase's sensitive ears pricked up. The repeating "number nine" he'd heard must have come from the same place as that last sentence--the living room. He could hear the hum of a loudspeaker in there...
Slowly, Chase opened the bedroom door and looked cautiously into the living room. Every one of his heightened senses was on alert. For a moment, he contemplated transforming into some sort of much stronger creature to protect himself, then thought better of it. You're being watched, he reminded himself. No sense in putting on a show.
"Good morning, Number 9," the too-chipper British voice greeted from the bookcase's speaker system. "Welcome to The Village."
The Village? No...don't tell me...I knew I shouldn't have let Ty talk me into buying that Prisoner box set. "Who are you?"
"The new Number 2."
"Who is Number 1?"
"You are Number 9."
Chase smirked. "I suppose the next response is `I am not a number; I am a free man'."
"Whatever you wish, Number 9."
For a moment, Chase was taken aback. "All right...I believe I've had quite enough of this dream. Time to wake myself up." He took a deep breath and focused his mind on one of the many animal forms whose biological makeup he had long since memorized.
"You will find your metamorphic abilities quite useless here, Number 9," the voice noted.
That got Chase's attention. He stopped his preparations and turned his full attention toward the speaker. "What...how..."
"We know all about your talents, Number 9. They are what brought you to our attention. They are, indeed, why you are here. But you will find them useless as a means of escape. Special precautions have been taken to prevent such."
The door to his bungalow swung open as if to punctuate the statement and emphasize their control of his surroundings.
"But enough idle conversation," the voice continued in its smooth manner. "If you'll step outside, you'll find it's another beautiful day in The Village. Have a wonderful day."
With that, the voice silenced and the music resumed. Chase slowly moved toward the doorway.
The day was gloriously sunny--almost artificially so. The streets were filled with shiny happy people walking around as if thorazine were a part of the drinking water supply. No one even gave Chase a second glance as he stepped out into The Village.
Chase studied the sky. No wind, hardly a cloud. Let's find out what the precautions they've taken are.
He took a deep breath to clear his mind, then focused on the anatomical details of a young hawk. Letting his energies flow, Chase increased his respiration and remolded his cells to conform to that shape.
Seconds later, the hawk took flight and headed toward the heavens.
A hard downdraft slapped him out of the sky.
It took every ounce of the strength in the hawk's wings for Chase not to crash back to Earth. He fought to stay aloft, then regained his balance in the air and alighted in a small tree. Aha. Artificially manipulated weather conditions, or something very much like it.
A dove perched atop an awning seemed to taunt him with its cooing.
The hawk cried out in protest. Everyone's a critic, Chase thought. All right...obviously flying away is out of the question. But what about flying around?
Gathering his strength, the hawk took off again, this time setting his sights a bit lower. He aimed for the tops of the awnings.
Nothing. Not even a breeze. The hawk increased his altitude to the edges of the gutters.
So far, so good. Another increase, this time just above the top of the roofs.
Still no reaction. The hawk rose to the chimney tops.
The downdraft slapped at him again, depositing him unceremoniously onto one of the roofs.
Well, Chase mentally sighed as he ruffled his feathers and shook off the fall, now I know the limits. Obviously I'm not meant to see too much. But the view from this height isn't too bad.
He took off again, following the pattern of the streets, opening his hypersensitive ears to the sounds below.
The coo of a dove reached his ears. He looked around.
The same dove that had been taunting him from the awning was now following him, shadowing his every move. Another precaution? Chase mused. Or something more? He swerved.
The dove followed.
The hawk dipped.
The dove descended as well.
All right...it's obvious I'm not going to shake you. So let's see if you're friend or foe. He increased his altitude back to the rooftops and returned to scanning the streets and listening for anything unusual.
More of that obnoxious mood music mingled with the sounds of waves from a seashore, footsteps on cobblestones, and hums from small motorized carts. Chase tried to filter out each sound, focusing on voices instead.
"This way, Major." The voice sounded gruff and anxious. Chase looked around.
"What is it, Constable?" This voice was female, equally anxious. Chase tried to focus on the sound--a hard task with the many stone buildings and stone streets reflecting every audio wave generated.
Then he saw them, just ahead in front of a darker auditorium-sized building. A woman in severe need of a nose job and a man with oddly smooth facial features that almost resembled a mask were looking at a side door as if they were trying to decide whether to chance entering the building. The hawk alighted atop a nearby rooftop and watched the pair carefully.
The dove joined him. Chase gave the bird a suspicious glance, then returned his gaze to the pair below.
"This is where that man in the red vest and cap went," the man continued.
"And he looked like he was following someone, too," the woman agreed. "Maybe our answers are in here." She started for the door.
The man held her back. "Let me go first." With that, he dissolved into a column of gelatin-like material and flowed under the door.
Chase was so stunned he nearly fell off his perch. This was a kind of metamorphosis he could never have imagined. This whole situation was getting stranger and stranger by the minute.
The automatic door swung open, and the man had returned to a human shape. He cocked his head to the side as if in a gesture of deference to a senior officer.
The woman nodded in reply, then entered the building. The door swung closed.
Chase had seen enough. He dropped off the rooftop, and by the time he was on the ground he was fully human again.
The dove followed him to the ground. As it touched down, it turned into a shimmering column of light.
Chase watched in awe as the energy column solidified into the shape of a beautiful young woman with an upswept ponytail of flaming red hair and a pair of ridged eyebrows. She was dressed in a grey paramilitary uniform with contrasting sleeves, and her makeup--or perhaps natural coloration? Chase mused--accented dramatic eyes and high, regal-looking cheekbones.
For a long moment, the two metamorphs studied each other, each measuring the other with gazes of intrigue and respect. Both looked as if they wanted to ask the other so many questions...but both also realized questions could wait.
Chase gestured with his head toward the door. The woman nodded.
Together, they approached the door and entered the building.
Superman had to blink to make certain he wasn't seeing things. He could swear he saw a hawk and a dove flying side-by-side--and then turn into a man and woman. But they'd definitely entered that town hall-like building. That might be the next place worth looking at. He concentrated his x-ray vision at the building's structure.
There were people in it--many people who looked as out of place as he did. They were making their way through corridors, looking behind doors, almost following a trail that led to the other side of the building, one facing a reflection pool...a courtyard area where others like them were already standing.
We've been led here, he realized. Time to find out why. He headed for the same building and went in the same door the two shapeshifters had entered.
The room was dark and disorienting. Superman focused his super vision to find the fastest way to that courtyard.
Seconds later, his eyes had drawn him a map of the building. He whizzed through it with super-speed, ending up in the courtyard.
All eyes turned his way. "Talk about a dramatic entrance," a beautiful long-haired black woman said, smiling admirably.
Chase and the female metamorph stepped out into the courtyard following Superman. "I thought I felt a breeze back there," the woman quipped.
"I believe we're late for the meeting," Chase replied, looking around.
The man with the odd facial features Chase had seen harrumphed. "There may be more coming."
"I don't think so," Superman said. "I gave this village a pretty thorough once-over and didn't see anyone else who looked as out of place as we do."
"And I suppose you can see through walls," the woman with the wrinkled nose challenged.
Superman smiled. "As a matter of fact, I can."
"Sometimes I can, too," Ralph added. "And I agree with..." He looked at Superman up and down, as if he couldn't believe he was actually seeing what his eyes told him he was. "...SUPERMAN here. We're the only ones who are different here."
A grey-haired gentleman with a brush mustache wearing a red military uniform looked at the collection of people around him, puzzled. "Then how did we all end up here?" he asked in a thick Scottish brogue.
"I think you were all following me," the black woman replied, stepping forward. "When that `Number 2' clown told me to take a walk, I decided to do just that. This is the only building I've encountered so far that isn't populated by smiling zombies. Next thing I know, he--" she pointed at Cooper "--showed up. Then him--" a gesture at Luke "--and him--" a gesture at Duncan "--and more and more of you until we got where we are now."
A grey-haired gentleman wearing a Naval Admiral's uniform looked thoughtful. "Obviously, somebody wanted us all to meet," he remarked. "Maybe it's time we introduced ourselves and speculated on why we think we were brought here. I'll start. I'm Admiral Harriman Nelson, retired U.S. Navy and designer of the SEAVIEW, the world's finest submarine. I've been involved with many a voyage to the bottom of the sea, which may be why I'm here."
Silence. Everyone eyed each other suspiciously, as if none wanted to be the next to confess his or her identity.
Finally, the black woman spoke up. "Well, since you were all following me, I'd probably better introduce myself. The name's Veronica Gaines. I'm a private investigator. There's very little that fazes me--mostly because I've twice battled an alien killer wanted on many a world. I'd explain that to you, but it's such a twisted web of illogical happenings that sometimes even I'm not sure I believe I did it." She gestured with her head at Cooper. "All right, handsome, you were tailing me--you're next."
Cooper nodded and pulled his badge off his belt, flipping it open for the group. "Special Agent Dale Cooper...F.B.I."
Veronica looked impressed. "No wonder you were so good. I tried every trick I knew to shake you. I thought you were one of them. You're sure dressed like them."
Cooper looked over his clothes. "Well, this is not what I was wearing when I got here. But then, I've experienced stranger things than this in dreams and visions."
"Dreams and visions," Luke noted.
"Yes," Cooper replied. "I suppose that's why I'm here--I seem to have inherited my mother's gift for reaching to the realm beyond."
"The Force." The Jedi Knight looked into Cooper's intense blue eyes.
Cooper looked back with equal intensity. He could feel something touching his mind...something strong...something filled with a goodness that he had seldom experienced in the psychic realm
For a long moment, the tension in the courtyard was almost palpable. Finally, Luke broke the gaze. "The Force is strong within you," he whispered. "Very strong."
"What are you talking about?" the wrinkled-nosed woman scoffed.
Luke looked around somewhat sheepishly. "Sorry. Forgot what we were doing. The Force is the energy of life--it fills us, flows through us, and binds the galaxy together. Some people have more control over it than others...like me. I'm Luke Skywalker of the New Republic and first of a new generation of Jedi Knights--masters of manipulating The Force. That, I'd bet, is why I'm here."
"The `New Republic'." Wrinkle-nose shook her head. "It's been my experience that any body that has to include `republic' in its name is nothing more than a disguised empire."
Luke looked at her. "Spoken like a freedom fighter."
Suddenly the woman looked uncomfortable. "That's right," she said. "What'd you do--probe my mind, too? Why don't you just tell us everything we need to know--obviously you know everything already!"
Luke drew back. "Hey, hey, hey--calm down. Just making an observation. I know a freedom fighter when I see one--I used to be one myself."
She gave him a suspicious look. "Really?"
Luke nodded. "That's probably why you're here. You look pretty tough. I know I wouldn't want to have to go against you."
She offered a wry smile. "Thanks--I think."
"You're welcome. What's your name?"
She took a deep breath. "Might as well confess it before you decide to pull it out of me. I'm Major Kira Nerys of Bajor. I was one of the leaders of the Bajoran resistance against the Cardassian occupation of our planet. Now I'm the First Officer on the Federation outpost Deep Space Nine." She nodded to the protective-looking man next to her. "This is Constable Odo, my security chief. I imagine he's here because--"
"--he's a shapeshifter," the red-haired woman standing next to Chase finished.
Odo turned to look at her. "For lack of a better term, yes," he replied. "How did you know?"
"I--I mean, we--" she gestured with her head at Chase "--saw you slip under the door. It would seem we have something in common." She looked to the group. "I am Maya, daughter of Mentor, from Psychon...or, at least, I used to be. When my planet was destroyed, I was rescued by a band of earthlings stranded on a moonbase that was blasted out into space in your year 1999. My father taught me the art of molecular transformation--which I presume caught the interest of whoever brought us here."
"Your father taught you?" Chase asked.
"Mine did as well." He looked to the others. "I'm Dr. Jonathan Chase, a physician and professor of criminology at New York University. My father for years studied the secrets of using life energies to manipulate matter--and because of his studies, I learned how to manipulate my own physiology and transform myself from man to animal. And you may be right about that ability intriguing our captors--Number 2 admitted as much to me."
"Manipulating matter with life energies," the man in the red suede military vest and black turtleneck with circular rainbow "S" patches on his sleeves commented. "I know something of that." He looked out at the others. "I'm Captain Scarlet of Spectrum, a planetary defense force founded by the World Government in the year 2067...but I'm quite certain that is not why I have been brought here. In my world, Earth is at war with an unseen enemy from Mars we know as the Mysterons. The Mysterons have the capability of recreating an exact likeness of an object or person--but they have to destroy it first. And that is what happened to me in the spring of 2068--my partner and I were in a car crash, and I blacked out as the heat of the flames surrounded me. When I awoke from my coma, I was told that my original body was dead and that for six hours my clone--the copy of me the Mysterons had created--had been doing the Mysterons' bidding, kidnapping the World President, and attempting to escape before falling to certain death from an 800-foot-high perch. We later realized that whatever the Mysterons had done, it was clear they had made two crucial mistakes: They had not made certain I was dead before they recreated my body, instead transferring all my life energies to their clone and leaving my former personality intact and dormant; and they had released their control over the clone too soon as it fell, allowing my former personality to awaken and reassert control. I am quite certain that the reason I am here is that my body has some of the same matter-manipulating capability that created it in the first place--it can recreate its cellular structure continuously, making even normally fatal wounds completely curable. I am, in a word, indestructible."
"You are an Immortal," Duncan whispered, awestruck.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that," Scarlet replied. "I've been told there are ways to kill me. But it would take something extraordinary."
"Like a beheading."
Scarlet tried not to look taken aback by the trenchcoat-clad man's gruesome speculation. "I suppose so."
"I thought as much. Now I know why I am here." He straightened his back and looked Scarlet in the eye. "I am Duncan MacLeod. I am an Immortal. For centuries, I have fought and beheaded others of my kind to claim their quickenings--their life energies--for myself, for legend dictates that there can be only one. And I am determined that I shall be the one still standing at the end. I have been brought here to meet my destiny."
Scarlet smiled slightly.
"You dare mock me?" Duncan challenged.
"No," Scarlet reassured. "Just a very bad pun that would only make sense to anyone who knew the code names of our female pilots, one of whom is named Destiny. I was thinking to myself that if you've been brought here to meet Destiny, you're quite out of luck. She's probably back on Cloudbase in my time."
Duncan scowled at Scarlet.
Superman stepped forward. "I don't think anyone's been brought here to meet any kind of destiny," he reassured. "Besides, if you're looking for an `immortal', you're going to find there's more than one here...like me, for instance. They call me Superman. My real name is Kal-El from the planet Krypton. My parents sent me here when I was just a baby to protect me from our planet's impending destruction. I'm kind of like Captain Scarlet--the alien physiology of my body makes me pretty much indestructible. Krypton had a higher gravitational pull and a heavier atmosphere, and the light waves were a lot different, so my cellular structure's a lot stronger than most Earthlings' are. I can move really fast and even fly because the gravity's much lighter and the atmosphere's less dense--which also allows me to hear really well because my ears can pick up so many more waves in this light air. And because the light waves are different, my vision is pretty incredible. I can see a long way and sometimes even through solid objects. I don't even have to guess why I was brought here--this sort of thing happens to me a lot."
Ralph shook his head. "I wish I handled my powers from outer space as easily as you do," he commented. "I'm Ralph Hinkley. I was just a schoolteacher until a few years ago, when I had an encounter with a spaceship of some kind in the middle of the desert. They gave me this suit--" he gestured over himself "--and told me it would give me powers I could use to help others. Only problem is, I lost the instruction book, so I've been kind of flying blind--that is, when I can fly at all. As long as I have the suit on, I have these pretty incredible powers. If I had the instruction book, I could be Superman. As it is, I'm not even the greatest American hero they wanted me to be."
"So you ran into a spaceship, laddie?" the mustached Scotsman remarked.
"That's right," Ralph replied somewhat defensively. "You think I'm making it up?"
"Not at all. I know a lot about space vehicles. I've been told I'm the best starship engineer in all of Starfleet." He looked to the others. "Commander Montgomery Scott," he introduced himself. "Everyone calls me Scotty. I was the chief engineer and second mate aboard the U.S.S. ENTERPRISE, the flagship of Starfleet--uh, that's the military and exploration arm of the United Federation of Planets in the 23rd century. But unless they're looking for engineers in this village, I can't imagine why I was brought here."
"You're an engineer, too?" the last man who had not spoken questioned.
"Aye," Scotty replied. "And you?"
"Yeah," the young man replied. "The name's Angus MacGyver--but nobody calls me Angus, just MacGyver or plain Mac. I'm a jack of all trades with the Phoenix Foundation. We do a lot of...well, let's just say we do a lot of things for the intelligence community people really wouldn't want to know the U.S. government was involved with. I've seen my share of oddball things over the years, but this village takes the cake. And meeting all of you pushes all this into the surreal."
The introductions were complete, and all stood silent once more, as if trying to make some sense out of the stories they had just heard.
Scotty was the first to speak afterward. "So, now that we're all here," he commented, "what's to stop us from just walking out of this village?"
"And go where?" Admiral Nelson replied. "Unless I miss my guess, this is some sort of island. I can smell sea air all around me."
"Admiral Nelson's right," Superman added. "From what I saw as I scanned this place, this is an island with a mountainous interior. We're trapped here."
"I thought you said you could fly," Odo challenged.
"I can," Superman answered. "But I found out the hard way that flying's out of the question. Something kind of grabbed me in mid-air and threw me back to the ground."
"Same thing happened to me," Ralph added.
"And to us," Chase noted. "Both Maya and I took on bird forms and tried to fly out of here, only to be batted down as we reached rooftop level."
"There's definitely an energy barrier of some sort around this place," Luke stated. "I can feel it when I reach out. And there's a strong evil that permeates the air. Someone definitely wants to control our movements."
Cooper stepped forward. "I think it's pretty safe to assume that anything that had the kind of power to capture all of us with our different abilities and bring us here through space and time has the kind of power to keep us here as long as they wish. I don't believe we're going anywhere."
Kira looked agitated. "So we're just supposed to wait for whoever brought us here to decide when they're through with us--and, while we're at it, let them do whatever they feel like with us?"
Ralph shrugged. "Kind of looks that way, doesn't it?"
Kira couldn't believe her ears. "Well, I'm not just going to stand around and do nothing!"
"Nor am I, Major," Odo agreed. "There has to be a way out of here. Some sort of gap in the force field that maybe a small rodent-like creature could get through..."
"Only to be devoured by some cat-like creature," Chase cautioned. "Number 2 warned us that they had taken all our abilities into account when they designed the protective measures."
"And you believe him," Odo scoffed.
"I have no reason not to."
"Well, I don't."
"And you might be right in your mistrust," Scarlet interjected. "In my time, the Mysterons have the capability of impersonating anyone or anything, and they often disguised their intents with riddles and word twists. We could be surrounded by the instruments of whatever brought us here, and following their directions could be exactly what they want."
"That alien I told you about fighting did that kind of thing that too," Veronica added. "All those smiling people out there could be super-demons, ready to pounce on us at any moment."
"I doubt that," Cooper said. "We may be pawns in a surrealistic chess game, but I doubt the opening moves have been made. I think the board is just now being set up."
"So we're here to play a game," Kira said in a sassy tone.
"I believe so, yes."
Kira didn't like Cooper's attitude. He seemed so smug, so self-assured, so in control. And she hated self-appointed experts, even when they carried badges of authority. "And I suppose you've played this sort of game before."
"That's right, I have." Cooper stepped toward her, his blue eyes filled with an icy fire. "I've been a pawn in a sick, twisted chess game before. A game played by forces stronger than anything you can imagine--a game literally between good and evil, white and black, love and fear, where the top prize was my soul. And the darkness almost won. But through the strength and love of my twin sister, I found the strength to look my own dark side in the eye and banish it forever." He stood almost on top of her now, his eyes boring a hole through hers. "So yes, Major, I've played this kind of game before. And I've won. I have no intention of just standing around here and doing nothing. But in order to win, we have to know what we're playing...and why. Without that knowledge, we can't fight--and if we can't fight, they've won before the game even starts."
Kira could feel herself shaking. Luke had said this "force" thing was strong within Cooper--and as he stood near her, she could almost feel power radiating from him. She swallowed hard. "All right, then," she said, gathering as much strength in her voice as she could, "how do we get this knowledge?"
"That, I believe," Luke interjected, trying to break the heavy tension between Kira and Cooper and get everyone back on track again, "is part of the game. We have to search for the answers we seek. There is something very strong and very dark here, but something that is eager for a challenge. I can feel it."
"Is this The Gathering?" Duncan asked aloud.
Luke had no idea what the Immortal was implying. A quick probe of the man's mind revealed nothing except chaotic images of battles and bloody beheadings. "No," he finally said. "I don't feel death and destruction. I feel instead a sense of mischief. It's very strong, and very omnipresent."
"Maybe Scarlet's right, then," Nelson noted. "Maybe these people in this village are part of the plan. It would make sense to have a bunch of drones acting like guards in this sort of prison without walls."
"And they do seem to be just ignoring us," Maya indicated. "Think about it: Wouldn't a gathering of such odd-looking sorts as us attract the attention of normal residents? But they haven't even given us a second glance, even when we've exhibited our powers in front of them. It's as if they're used to such things happening around them, as if they expect to see these sorts of things."
"Or they're illusions," Odo countered. "Holograms, projections, anything to give this place the appropriate `window dressing' so it looks like a real village. Maybe this whole place is just a gigantic holosuite."
"Whatever they are or whatever this is," MacGyver said, "we won't find out just by standing around. We need to start making plans and preparations."
"Preparations for what?" Scarlet asked.
"Escape. You've all said that Number 2 kept saying precautions had been taken to counter those of you with super powers. Maybe it's time we took a good look around at what's available to us, what common things we can throw together in order to create defensive and offensive devices they may not have taken into consideration. I've found that just about anything can be made useful when push comes to shove."
"You could be right," Superman agreed. "It could be our ingenuity that's being tested here."
"And our courage," Kira added.
"Possibly. I'd almost bet this game involves testing how we move our pieces on the board when we don't have the full rulebook in front of us."
"I know something about improvising," Ralph noted with a sardonic smile. "And in order to improvise, we need to start doing something. I kind of doubt the answers we're looking for are in this courtyard."
"Now you're talking," Odo agreed. "Where to next?"
Everyone looked puzzled, as if which direction to start had not even occurred to them. Veronica looked thoughtful. "Well, a good private detective always tries to start following a trail at its beginning."
"Which means?" Odo challenged.
"Which means," Luke realized, "that we return to where it began for each of us this morning--our cottages."
"What?" Kira replied, outraged. "You're telling us we should go back to those little...prisons they threw us into earlier and wait for them to come back for us?"
"Not necessarily," Cooper said, seeing where Luke and Veronica's logic was going. "We go back to the beginning, try to gather as many clues--and whatever else we think we might be able to use--as we can from there, then bring what we learn to our next meeting."
"Next meeting?" Kira was livid. "Look, I don't know about you, but I have no desire to just sit around and wait for whatever this power is that brought us here to do with us what they will while we waste time waiting for another meeting! That's ridiculous!"
"I agree with you, Major," Odo seethed. "This is getting us nowhere. I am not one to just sit around and wait."
"And by the way, Agent Cooper...just why are you dressed like the rest of them?" Kira questioned, suspicion in her voice. "You said yourself these are not the clothes you were wearing when you got here--who gave you these clothes? Why are you wearing them? Are you one of them?"
All eyes turned to Cooper. Low murmurs indicated Kira had hit a nerve in the group. Even Superman was looking at Cooper with questioning eyes and an uncertain scowl.
"Listen to me!" Luke said, coming to Cooper's side. "This man is not our enemy. In fact, his goodness and decency are among the strongest I've ever felt. Yes, he looks different--but I believe it's for a reason. I believe it was because he was meant to lead us. He was meant to be able to blend in with the people around us, to guide us in this game that he himself has told you he is a master of." Luke looked Cooper in the eye. "And I intend to follow his guidance. We all will have to. Together, our Force is strong--apart, we will surely be overcome."
Cooper could feel a calmness and serenity emanating from Luke's being. He watched in awe of the Jedi's command of the energies of life as the others began to relax their vigilant postures. Whatever power Luke had, it was stronger than anything he had ever encountered before. And he was very glad that power was aligned with him instead of against him.
Scarlet sighed. "One of the Mysterons' greatest weapons is our own paranoia," he indicated. "Luke is right. We have to work together--combine our efforts. We can't let ourselves be drawn into a circle of mistrust or it will consume us."
Superman nodded his agreement. "It could be that we just had our first test--whether or not we can trust each other enough to work together as a team."
"I hope they grade on a curve," Ralph said. "Otherwise, I don't think we did very well."
"Then maybe we need to study more," Scotty agreed. "And I think the library's back at the bungalows."
"This could be an all-nighter," Chase indicated. "In fact, it would be much better to move under the cover of darkness when next we meet."
"But where?" Maya asked.
"There's a beach to the southwest of here," Nelson said. "I caught glimpses of it from my window. It's beyond the buildings, well away from everyone. No prying eyes to watch us--and lots of ocean noise to keep our conversations away from eager listeners."
"Good idea," Superman said. "We'll meet there after sundown."
"It's my belief we may not have to wait too long to find out our purpose in being here," Luke warned. "Our captor does not seem to be long on patience, if what I'm feeling is any indication. We may even have new direction from Number 2 by that time."
"All the better," Veronica said. "The more clues we have, the easier it'll be to win this game."
"Then it's settled," Cooper finished. "We'll head back to our bungalows, do some snooping around, and wait for sundown. Then we'll reconvene on the beach and pool our resources. Remember, we must hang together--or we most assuredly will hang separately."
With that, everyone departed...save Kira and Odo, who stood for a long moment watching the others leave. "I don't know about you, Odo," Kira whispered, "but I don't trust any of this."
"Nor do I, Major," Odo reassured. "I've seen enough holosuite illusions to doubt we're even in a village, much less surrounded by superbeings from other realms."
"But for now, we'll have to play along," she cautioned. "It's the only way to find out what the real objective is. But the minute this game's underway..."
"...it's going to be us against everything. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
A black-cloaked villain paced about the interior of the bungalow that he'd attempted to destroy on a rampaging rage just moments ago. Machine-assisted breathing had replaced the annoying music and the taunts of this so-called "Number 2". Now Darth Vader was concentrating his energies, reaching out to sense the life force around him. "I can feel him," he said aloud. "I can feel the disturbance in the Force only he can cause. I can feel my son. The Emperor wants him--I must have him."
This was not the Darth Vader Luke had seen die aboard the reconstruction of the Death Star, the one who had overcome his dark side and rescued him from certain death at the Emperor's hands. This was the Darth Vader from Luke's nightmares, the dark Sith Lord who could kill with only a gesture. And he had been brought here, wherever "here" was, for some purpose the Dark Lord did not understand.
Vader lashed out again with a gloved fist smashing in yet another priceless artifact.
"Seems a shame to damage such antiquity."
Vader whirled around at the sound of the voice behind him to come face-to-face with another armor-clad man with a face encased in an iron mask.
"Still, though," the man taunted, "you do it with such style. I like that kind of destructive behavior in a person."
Vader immediately reached out with his mind. "You are a dark one, masked man. The evil within you is as strong as I have ever felt. It is refreshing." A pause. "You are called `Doctor Doom' in your world."
"Correct. And who might you be?"
"I am Darth Vader...last of the Sith Lords. We control the Dark Side of the Force."
"Darkness...I like that." One could almost swear Doom smiled. "You and I were brought here for a purpose...to dominate others." He looked around. "It's not as primitive as my Latveria, but it is as good a place to start as any."
"I sense we have been brought here to play some sort of game," Vader replied. "And we are not alone. Even now, others are being brought into our realm...other dark forces to aid us."
With that, a beautiful woman with black hair and evil eyes materialized next to them.
"Diana," Vader said aloud. "Leader of a race of beings who were called `visitors' on Earth...visitors who sought to vanquish it and its people."
The woman smiled evilly. She had no idea who these men were, but somehow she knew she had found allies in this strange realm.
A column of liquid metal materialized next to Doom, then solidified into a humanoid shape of a man with beady eyes and cold expressions. Next to him, a tall robot with a dome-like head and a midget-sized robot came into being.
"The model T-1000 Terminator," Vader stated. "The finest assassin in a world dominated by robots. And two primitive robot models--one with no name, and one called Twiki--to aid him in dealing with these primitive creatures we will be facing."
A man with a full beard wearing an updated version of Scotty's Starfleet uniform was next. He looked puzzled and angry as his eyes scanned the room.
"Commander William Riker, from Starfleet," Vader pronounced. "But not from the Starfleet I sense others around here being from. No, this Starfleet is far from benevolent and peaceful. It is an angry, cruel, enslaving empire, almost a mirror universe of evil."
"And those are its good points," Riker quipped, his smile cold.
Vader reached out his mind to the ones surrounding him. It was energizing to be surrounded by such strong dark aspects of the Force. As he touched their minds, he drew them into his own thoughts, letting them see what he was sensing. Soon the others were smiling, ready to join in this quest.
"There is a game to be played," Vader pronounced. "And I sense a great prize to be won. We have all been brought together to challenge the strongest forces of good in each of our universes. And when we win, we shall return to our worlds--and rule them triumphantly forever!"
END OF PART ONE
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