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"Tales of the Twilight Menshevik"

Stories in this series:

Sisters under Their Skins
Midnight Sun
A Year in the Life
October 6: A Night 2 Remember
A Day's Work
Late Summer Interlude
The Time the Twain Shall Meet
Message to a Grandchild
Ergo Bibamus 1: Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Lights in the Dark
Between the Woods and Frozen Lake
Ergo Bibamus 2: There's a Tavern Near the Town
Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Someone Blue
Valentine Allsorts
The Ballad of Trish and Henry
Rogue's Fairy Tale
Magneto, My First Love
To My Dark-Haired Lady
The Raven and the Oriole
Trish -- A Rapture

Val and Ray at the Movies
March 2002
July 2002

Tales of Future Twilight
Ergo Bibamus 3: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes
They Will Always Be Penny and Max to Me
Getting to Know You
Fourth Thursday in November
The Iceman's Tale
Pictures at an Exhibition
The Survivor Has a Different Kind of Scar

Twilight Yet to Come
Hang on to Your Ego
Strange Headfellows
Sonnet for Magnus
Between the Winds

Ideally, you should read "A Year in the Life" and "A Day's Work" before embarking on this, but hopefully it can be understood on its own.
DISCLAIMER: The following story is an unauthorized work of fiction using characters belonging to Marvel Comics, DC Comics and Chris Claremont. No profit is being made on it. This work is copyright of Tilman Stieve ( Please do not archive the story on your website without informing me first. You can download this and copy it for your entertainment, but don't sell it for profit, or Marvel and Time-Warner will set their lawyers on you.

The Time the Twain Shall Meet


The morning sun lit up the off-white curtains of the eastern window and through it the room. Filtered rays fell on the naked couple lying asleep in bed, their bodies and limbs entwined. Drowsily the silver-haired man stirred and unglued his eyes. For a moment he felt lost, then he refamiliarized himself with the sparse, but feminine furnishings of the room.

Beside him, Rogue was breathing regularly. Magneto still was a bit dazed at the course of events that had reinstated him as a resident at Xavier Mansion, and brought him and the young mutant together. Both for Rogue and for him the growing strength of their love had come as a wonderful revelation. He himself had for a long time tended towards pessimism in romantic matters -- his marriages and relationships had either ended in tragedy or broken up -- while Rogue had given up hope of ever experiencing happiness with another person. But now for the first time in years things looked brighter: circumstances no longer prevented them from facing up to and exploring their feelings for each other, and thanks to an unhoped-for discovery, this journey of exploration was taking them on routes of which they had barely dared dream. Previously he had always avoided direct skin contact with her for fear of what she might discover when she absorbed his memories, but at their meeting outside Hamburg he had not even thought about it, only to discover accidentally that through his mutant control of electromagnetism he could negate her absorption power.

That night, caresses and kisses had seemed enough, but at their later meetings they had become more daring and finally had taken the plunge. Now making love seemed almost normal. Almost, but not quite. Sometimes, when he reached an especially high plane of ecstasy, he occasionally still lost control of his powers for split-seconds. Sometimes metal objects in the room would suddenly take wing, or he would become vulnerable to her power again and she would find her mind flooded with a mix of his desire and his memories. At least his mental state in these moments was such that the images that flashed before her mind's eye did not originate from the dark recesses of his memory, the slaughter of his family, Auschwitz, Anya burning to death ... There had been one embarrassing moment when she suddenly realized he had been thinking of Lee Forrester while making love to her. But thankfully Rogue had been forgiving. He wondered if his old friend Charles Xavier or his two telepathic students ever got into similar hot water with their lovers. Was the gift of reading minds an asset or a dampener whenever you were intimate with the women you loved, Charles? The problem with Rogue's draining of minds was that it was a one-way street: even if she wanted to, she could not directly transfer her thoughts and feelings to his mind. Maybe there was a measure of poetic justice to it, he mused, forcing him to stay honest with her and somehow repay her for the trust and kindness she had so willingly advanced. But even without reading her mind, he was sure of one thing: for her the sex was not as important in many respects as the intimacy Magneto's usually iron control over his magnetic powers made possible. To be able to touch, to talk in each other's embrace until both fell asleep, to luxuriate in the touch of their skins from their faces and necks all the way down to their feet, to wake up without having to worry about accidental transfers of powers and memory, that really was the greatest miracle. She loved lying snuggled up to him the whole night through, basking in their mutual warmth and pretending for a few hours that her hope of living a normal life had come true.

It really was vexing: There were a few people who could have direct skin contact with her, but she still seemed no nearer to exert voluntary control over her native mutant power. Perhaps not surprising from what she had divulged to him of her life so far -- Mystique had finally despaired of her attempts at a training regime, and after Rogue had joined Xavier's little band, she usually had been with combat training and the X-Men's endless missions, while Xavier usually was too busy with so many matters that the question of how Rogue might gain control of her obstinate power seemed to end up with a very low priority. But then Charles hardly had a 100 percent record with his students' mutant powers: Cyclops still could go nowhere without his ruby quartz lenses, and Iceman had never fully explored the possibilities of his powers until the White Queen had rubbed his nose in them when she had temporarily taken refuge in his body. The old Magneto, the man who was always ready to see the worst in every person, would have loved this, would have accused Charles of subconsciously trying to prevent his surrogate children from realizing their full potential, so they would feel inadequate just like their crippled mentor and would continue to depend on him. But that was unfair and, considering how he had done with the people in his care, the Brotherhood, the New Mutants, even the Acolytes, he was clearly in no position to criticize. Charles worked hard for his dream and for his students, harder than most, and most of the X-Men had grown too old to have 'Father Xavier' wipe their noses, metaphorically speaking. Some problems they would have to solve themselves, and some maybe could not be solved.

Gently stroking the curves of her body, he looked around the room. A handful of mementos were scattered here and there. Over the bed was an old poster of a Mississippi paddle-wheel steamer, rain-damaged and singed in one corner (presumably the result of some attack on the mansion). Beside it, a framed photograph of the team around the time when Scott had tried to set up house with Madelyne Pryor. Among the costumed men and women smiling (or, in Wolverine's case, grimacing) into the camera, he recognized Rachel Summers, Kurt Wagner, Piotr Rasputin and Kitty Pryde, now all living in Britain. It had been in those far-off days that Rogue and he had first met; he had tried to give up his old ways and went to live with Xavier and his students. A lot of the problems that followed probably stemmed from things simply moving too fast. Charles's injuries had deteriorated quickly and before he knew it, he had thrust his responsibilities upon his old friend and former enemy, to the shock not only of Magneto himself, but perhaps even more to that of the X-Men and New Mutants. Events soon drove them apart; after the X-Men left for the West Coast and he abysmally failed as the New Mutants' new teacher, he threw in the towel, resolving that he had been a fool to try to be another Charles Xavier and withdrew from the world.

His eyes fell on the pastel sketch of a landscape in the Savage Land, drawn by the most artistic of the X-Men past and present, Colossus. Magneto had met Rogue there about a year after he left Xavier's School. He was investigating the machinations of Zaladane, who was trying to harness the power of the Earth's magnetic field and set herself up as the ruler of first Antarctica and then the world from her Pangean lair. At that moment Rogue suddenly appeared from some extradimensional exile, alone and locked into mortal combat with the physical manifestation of the personality of Ms. Marvel she had once absorbed. He had to rescue her because she could not bring herself to kill the revenant. There had been the first signs of a personal attraction then, but nothing could come of it, partly because he still felt beholden to Lee Forrester. At the end of a protracted battle against Zaladane and her forces that also involved Ka-Zar, Shanna and a Russo-American force led by Nick Fury, all of Rogue's impassioned entreaties could achieve was to get him to spare the Savage Land Mutates' lives. He was too sure that Zaladane was too dangerous to be given a chance to escape from imprisonment (and, given the trouble even an 'ordinary' man like Saddam Hussein could cause long after defeat, part of him still felt he was right) and after living through the Holocaust he no longer wanted to see mass-murderers go unpunished. He had a feeling that Nick Fury probably might have understood him, but knowing how much Rogue had embraced Charles's vision, he did not even want to try to see things his way.

The two years after their parting had been a slow descent into despair. His decision to go back to relying only on himself proved the last nail in the coffin in his fragile relationship with Aleytis Forrester. At least they parted more or less on friendly terms. His withdrawal from the conflicts between mutant and non-mutant and between mutant and mutant was not to last, however. Suddenly he was thrust into the role of Mutant Messiah by a group who even called themselves his Acolytes and suddenly he was at their head in another battle against a multitude of national armed forces and Charles's X-Men. In that confrontation, Charles Xavier had cut loose: Seeing him rip the Adamantium implants from Wolverine's body was too much and he let loose on Magneto with all he had. A full force blast from the most powerful telepath on Earth was like having one's mind fried and strained through a sieve at the same time. For weeks Magneto had been reduced to drooling idiocy, the remaining Acolytes who had remained having to spoon-feed him. It had taken him months to regain his faculties, the fine control of his powers, and most importantly, his memories. Who knows how he would have coped if Amelia Voght, Charles' former lover, hadn't nursed him back to health? But then she had slipped away again. Ever the woman of mystery was Amelia, showing up when you least expected her and then disappearing without warning.

The Acolytes had dispersed soon after that. Some of the hotheads had struck out on their own, Exodus, who had worshipped him almost like a god until his last defeat, fell into a deep depression, and the others dispersed in all directions, trying to find an unpopulated region to lie low. He himself withdrew to Avalon, his asteroid base circling Earth, where he honed his powers and kept a vaguely interested eye on affairs on his planet of origin.

Much against his expectations and fears, the outlook for mutants and comparable persons did not continue to be bleak in all respects. No thanks to the Clinton Administration, which shied away from an issue that -- at least until 1994 or '95 -- appeared to be even more likely to cause trouble to someone taking a stand against prejudice than gay rights. One little expected contributing factors had been the greater awareness of Earth no longer being an island in space. Looking back it seemed strange that humanity had kept going along on its business as if nothing had happened with the evidence of other races and civilizations continually before their eyes -- one just had to think of the countless headlines generated by exiles like the Kree Captain Mar-Vell and Galactus' former herald, the Silver Surfer. A greater awareness of the world around them had only really begun when the Human Torch's Skrull wife, Lyja Storm, had begun to make use of some of her time off from the Fantastic Four to write articles on her native civilization, edit English translations of Skrull books and to appear on the talk show circuit. Reed Richards' computer software had enabled her to produce workable translations of many classics of Skrull literature (and, interspersed, a few carefully chosen works for the mass market) in quite a short time and helped initiate ESU's new Department of Xenophilology, the first academic center devoted to the study and teaching of extraterrestrial languages and literatures. Lyja Storm's cultural ambassadorship had made others follow her example, for instance at Bard College, where Charles Xavier's Shi'ar connections proved essential in setting up a new research center for intergalactic cultures. Even now the reclusive Silver Surfer was rumored to be working on a selection of religious and philosophical tracts from Zenn-La and other planets which was eagerly awaited by the esoteric and New Age audience.

All this had inclined many to look on some Alien races and 'funny-looking' Earthlings with more interest than apprehension, while some of those more inclined to a paranoid view of the world for the first time began to think that superpowered humans and mutants might actually be useful to have on their side in case those inscrutable extraterrestrials got funny ideas. The sometimes publicized exploits of mutants in government-sanctioned teams like the Avengers, Great Britain's Excalibur and Washington's X-Factor helped to counteract the bad press generated by the likes of Mr. Sinister, the Mutant Liberation Front, the mysterious new Brotherhood of Mutants, and, until not that long ago, by himself. At the recent general elections in the UK there had even been two Mutant candidates, one of whom got elected on a Labour ticket in a safe constituency. The reverse of that medal was that one grouping of survivalist militias who were trying to find a group of superpowered free-lancers "to help protect them from the federal spandex-clad hired thugs."

The photograph on the bedside table, a family portrait taken at the christening of Rogue's foster sister Irene, reminded Magneto of the 'scandal' that had exploded in late 1995 after the relationship between X-Factor's government liaison Valerie Cooper and Mystique had become public knowledge. For a time it had looked as if Dr. Cooper was going to lose her job. There was an almighty racket (which however had resulted in a number of gay rights and other special interest groups becoming interested in mutant rights), but then it had blown over surprisingly quickly, with a part of the public actually becoming fascinated with the concept of a woman fathering a child, while others were sidetracked into debating its theological implications. Magneto suspected that either a deal of some kind had been struck, or maybe X-Factor had better connections in the government hierarchy than he had suspected. Another factor must have been the bitter infighting among the mutiphobe groups after it was revealed on the Internet that Graydon Creed, leader of the Friends of Humanity, was the son of Mystique and Sabretooth. From being seen a credible potential third-party candidate in the 1996 presidential elections, he rapidly descended into temporary obscurity. Within his movement a faction arose that accused him of being a mutant himself, engaged in a conspiracy that would deliver 'humanity's protectors' to their enemies, while from outside he was charged with trying to take out his personal family problems on the wider world. Others began to rethink the matter of how far 'genejokes' and 'flatscans' were apart if not only 'normal' humans could bear mutant children, but also vice versa (Magneto's own granddaughter was another case in point). It seemed quite obvious to Magneto that Mystique had taken care that the news of Creed's embarrassing family background broke in the summer of 1996 when they would do his political ambitions the greatest damage, even though with the consummate skill of an experienced freelance secret agent and infiltrator, she had made sure that it would not be directly traced back to her. You just had to admire the way she handled herself when she was interviewed on talk shows and morning news programs about the matter.

But was it enough to rethink his course of action once more, Magneto had wondered. He did not want to talk his hopes and doubts within Charles, certainly not within such a short time after their last battle. Which made it seem all the more logical to contact Rogue in secret. After some long-range correspondence (his electromagnetic powers made contacts via computer possible in ways undreamed-of by Bill Gates) they arranged for a clandestine meeting in Germany -- of all countries! -- when Xavier went to the NATO Conference on Metapowered Operatives. What they had not expected was that their old attraction would be rekindled and indeed reinvigorated once they faced each other again eye to eye. Although they were a little tentative when she came into his hotel room, but a little surprisingly they found themselves more comfortable than in the Savage Land. They weren't in the shadow of an impending battle, he had in the meantime worked out the end of his romantic loose ends with Aleytis, and she had grown more self-confident after withdrawing for a time after her short-lived romance with Gambit had turned sour. Their love burst through their protective shells, and suddenly the future seemed clearer, more hopeful. The unexpectedly discovery that their powers were compatible, that for them intimacy was possible, seemed like an indication of better things to come.

From then one, it seemed almost easy. At first they continued to meet from time to time without letting the other X-Men or Rogue's family know. One subterfuge Rogue used a few time was to sneak in an evening (and, after a while, a night) with him by making little detours on her way between New York and Washington, when she visited Mystique, Valerie and her baby stepsister in Georgetown. Then came the time when she had finally persuaded him to mend his fences with Charles and his X-Men.

Magneto smiled thoughtfully.

"What are you grinnin' at, sugah?" Rogue had woken up.

"Oh, I was just thinking of Charles's face when you brought back here for the first time."

It had been an occasion to remember. Charles was in the midst of a lively discussion with Scott, Jean, Ororo, Sean Cassidy and Emma Frost on how the X-Men and the Xavier Institute should act with respect to the general public, when Rogue just brought him into his study, simply saying: 'Ah think you two need t'talk.' Charles's jaw had dropped with good reason, for hadn't there been three telepaths in the room, and yet his entrance had come as a surprise? But then by natural gift and frequent exercise he had long had strong psychic defenses, and the half-dozen in the study had after all been deeply engrossed in their dispute.

Rogue, who had been running her fingers along his stubbly jaw, finally roused herself. She rose, unselfconsciously stretching her lithe body, apparently not even noticing how the raising of her arms lifted her firm, pink-tipped breasts or with what attention his eyes were fixed on them. (The distraction caused by his once-more raging hormones was a minor drawback of his rejuvenated body). Muscles rippled under smooth, elastic skin as she walked off to the bathroom. The toilet flushed and the shower could be heard. Magneto continued to reminisce. It had not been easy, at first, to become part of the X-Men team again. After all, Charles had fried his brain in their previous battle in the belief that it was impossible that he would ever reform, and now Magneto was coming back of his own accord, ready to abandon his old ways? It simply had seemed too good to be true. Rogue's eloquence and his own readiness to submit to limited psi-scans helped, but it really was a mystery to himself why he felt as if a shadow of darkness was no longer cast over his soul.

They soon found out the answer. When Charles had 'wiped clean' Magneto's mind during their battle over Wolverine's prostrate form, his darkest inner demons, the unacknowledged part of him that especially in the days of the first Brotherhood had taken pleasure in the suffering and humiliation of his enemies and lackeys, had slipped in under Charles's psychic defenses. In the subconscious of the great psi it hid and festered, joining forces and finally merging with his own dark side. He had heard stories of the time when that had first appeared in the world years before as the malignant Entity, when all the X-Men could not defeat it unaided. But it turned out that that had only been a foretaste of the horrors brought about by the new psychic being that called 'himself' Onslaught. A creature of almost pure psychic energy and an almost unlimited capacity for power, he had been a most intimidating threat. Because he fed on the strength of mutants, the X-teams could not defeat him by themselves but had to depend on the help of other metapowered heroes and super-teams.

Fortunately, some months earlier the high tide of anti-mutant hysteria had brought the policy-makers of the better-known super-teams together behind the scenes at the NATO metapowers conference to thrash out the misunderstandings that had bedeviled e.g. the relations between the mutant teams and the Avengers for so many years. Good thing that there was so much common history to ease the way to a more cooperative relationship, in particular the personal link between X-Factor and the Avengers embodied by his son Quicksilver, that between the Avengers and the X-Men through Hank McCoy (who also had been a teammate of the current Avengers chairwoman on the short-lived Champions of Los Angeles, along with Iceman and the Angel, as he then was), and the traditional close friendships between the Avengers and the Fantastic Four and between the X-Men and their European 'off-shoot', Excalibur. It also helped that Captain America was on good terms with Nick Fury, who in turn had helped Val Cooper and Forge to overcome the inertia and control urges of factions of the bureaucracy of the Pentagon and other Washington departments. Who knows what might have happened otherwise if they had had to waste a lot of time on explanations and fights? Good thing too that Nightcrawler had been on hand to prevent Onslaught from laying his hands on Franklin Richards. Onslaught had tried to complete his personal evolution by fusing with some extremely powerful mutants, and the son of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman with his potentially reality-bending powers was his prime candidate. In teleportation jumps spanning longer and longer distances that took him all over the North American continent, the German ex-X-Man had barely managed to stay ahead of the pursuing Onslaught, enabling the heroes to marshal their forces and set up the decisive confrontation in an almost uninhabited forest a little distance from Warren, Pennsylvania. There Onslaught had finally been defeated and dispersed, but the final jump took so much out of Kurt Wagner that he lay in a coma for three weeks. Fortunately few of the others involved in that fight sustained injuries that serious.

Rogue re-entered the room, toweling her hair. "Up and at 'em, sleepyhead," she exhorted him, "remember my folks expect us b'fore noon!"

Magneto groaned theatrically. In his previous relationships he never had met his partners' families. Magda, like himself, no longer had one when they met as two Displaced Persons in 1945, and later he had usually been in circumstances that barely permitted a semblance of a love-life, but not contact with his lovers relatives. Now it was different: As Rogue's had been trying to improve her family life, it was only to be expected she would be rather insistent about her wish to take him to see her strange family: Mystique, the shape-changing mutant ex-terrorist who had raised Rogue as her foster daughter, and her unlikely new 'wife', Dr. Valerie Cooper of the National Security Council, one of the most important officials in Washington's mutant-related bureaucracy. Not that he bore them ill will, even though years ago, when Mystique had just started X-Factor's predecessor group, Freedom Force, they had captured him in a skirmish with the X-Men, an effort that led to his abortive international trial in Paris. For all he knew, they were now on the same side, but still he did not relish the prospect of becoming involved in the schemes of such arch-manipulators.

"Cheer up, handsome, it could be worse. Val promised me Graydon's not gonna show up."

Oh yes, just the thing to make my day, Magneto mused, another reminder that by getting involved with Rogue he was now almost family to one of the best known spokesmen for genetic bigotry. At least it was easier to get along with Rogue's other stepbrother, Kurt Wagner. After finally patching up things with his biological mother Mystique, Nightcrawler was now visiting her and Valerie at every possible occasion to play with his baby half-sister. With a quiet sigh of resignation, Magneto got up, automatically assembling his costume from its molecule-sized metal components on his body.

"Oops! Sorry dear." Rogue normally didn't like it when he showed off, but now she only grinned indulgently. He left her quarters to cross over into his own, to wash, shave and finish his packing. In the corridor he saw Iceman on his way to the stairs. They exchanged stiff nods -- Robert Drake had become a close friend of Rogue's in the interim since Pangea, and though he wasn't interested in her romantically, he had a tendency to think her boyfriends weren't good enough for her. Which exacerbated the 'normal' unease in Magneto's relations to many of the X-Men. He had trouble deciding with whom it had been more difficult -- the members of the original team, most of whom never had cooperated with him before Onslaught, or those who had been his teammates before, but who also had cause to think he had betrayed them then.

Rogue's relations with her teammates also had changed after she announced who her new boyfriend was. Storm and Wolverine, who had been accustomed to cast a vaguely parental eye on Rogue ever since her rookie days, cautiously signaled that they felt happy for her. Others shook their heads over her choice of lover. Saddest of all for Rogue was that her relationship with Gambit was destroyed -- they had been close before, even before they had embarked on their ill-fated romance. Of that closeness almost nothing remained, except in some flashes in fights, when they functioned as a team without words. But in the mansion, Rémy now tended to avoid her and her attempts to become friends with him again. But something loomed over them as a dark shadow -- some secret she had accidentally learned through her power in their only kiss. She never told him or any of her teammates what it was, but sometimes she managed to catch Gambit alone, and knowing her he suspected that she tried to convince him to come out with whatever skeleton he had in his closet.

For Magneto himself, the most awkward relationship was going to be that with his two children, and with Quicksilver's irregular visits to X-Mansion and the X-Factor compound, and, more significantly, with the upcoming exchange program, by which the Beast and the Scarlet Witch would switch their positions on the rosters of the X-Men and the Avengers, there was going to be a lot of scope to revive painful memories of the days of the first Brotherhood. Also, although he chronologically was seventy years old, due to certain events in his personal history, he physically had more youth than his children. Although they both were in a good shape that belied the fact that they had passed their fortieth birthday a few years ago, physiologically he was now younger than they, having the body of a man in his twenties. Considering what he had done in his past, and in particular to Wanda and Pietro, he would not be surprised if they felt that he was undeservedly fortunate. Meanwhile, Rogue was disgustingly optimistic about patching up things with the X-Men, his son and daughter, and maybe at some point even a significant part of the public at large.

Ah, the confidence of youth! He once had it too, back in the 1930s in a Zionist youth group in Lithuania. Soviet occupation, German invasion and genocide, the murder of his family and finally Anya's death thoroughly knocked it from his personal make-up. There had been dark periods when he had even yearned to have stayed with his parents and his sister in the mass-grave in a Belorussian forest clearing. Even two years ago there had been times of almost unrelieved gloom, but to his surprise there he now found Rogue's optimistic outlook on life more infectious than he had ever thought possible.

Four years ago,
in a universe far, far away...

It was a sweltering summer evening in Washington DC. Police captain Brian Arsala, dressed in an extremely colorful Hawaiian shirt as usual, had just returned to his Georgetown home. The old building was shared by two households: the Arsala-Grangers lived in the second floor, and the Halls at ground level. But what few people in the national capital knew: this house was also home to the city's metahuman team, Hawk and Dove.

"Hello, honey, I'm home!" he shouted as he unlocked the door and entered the lilac vestibule. Dawn answered from the nursery:

"Brian! You're just in time for changing Una's nappies!"

Brian bowed to the inevitable and joined his wife after depositing his shoulder-holster along with the two action figures he had bought on his way home in his study-cum-lair. But he wouldn't let her Briticism pass without comment: "Enjoyed the reception at the embassy, did you, luv?"

"Of course I did, ducky!" She grinned, the dimple on her right cheek deepening.

"A duck married to a dove?" He picked up the baby girl, kissing her on the top of her head, which was sparsely covered in fine, dark hair. As he set about changing her diapers, Dawn lovingly started mopping up the perspiration from his forehead and shoulder-length hair. He felt happy. His professional life was progressing as smoothly as could be expected in a surprise-filled field as that of the head of the District's Special Crimes Unit. Granted, his superiors had yet again postponed the acquisition of a helicopter to replace the one trashed more than a year ago, but apart from that his team operated smoothly. Wolfson, Kirby, Trinh and the others were showing a marked talent for improvisation, and if worst came to worst, he always knew how to contact Dove quickly. And her kind of air support was better than none (and in fact a lot more versatile than a copter could provide). So with his more limited resources he still made the Washington S.C.U. a force to be reckoned with, even if it might always have to live in the shadow of the more lavishly provided team in Metropolis. Not that he begrudged Maggie Sawyer her bigger funding. For some reason Metropolis seemed to be much more attractive to metapowered villains than Washington, which meant that in spite of Superman's well-known connections to the city, the Metropolis S.C.U. always had their hands full.

Dawn, ever the model student, had not let her pregnancy slow her down for long and now was back on course to follow in her mother's footsteps into a career at the State Department. Guess that's why they call her a superheroine if she can balance her studies and motherhood and continue to moonlight as a costumed vigilante. Who was partnered with an impulsive (Wolfson usually was less diplomatic: "a psycho!") meta called Hawk who at times could be a tad testing for the police to work with.

But for all that, he was glad that Hawk and Dove were on hand, such as a couple of months ago, when a group of wacked-out super-patriots called the Sons of Liberty had tried to throw their weight about with operatives in high-powered battle-suits. He also was grateful that he got along with them so well in private and that his family life worked out so well. Brian and Dawn were intensely in love with each other, and both loved her daughter. He could hardly wait for her to grow up enough to appreciate his Samurai Saurians collection. And to need to have her diapers changed no longer!

Upstairs, Renata was busy at the computer in her study; the desk and large parts of the floor were covered with notepaper, pens, pencils, CDs, picture postcards, mugs and other clutter. She was working on a term paper. Once she entered the last months of her pregnancy she was spending a lot more time at home, since her protruding belly was a bit awkward to seriously continue her freelance news photography. So today, as on a few other days during the past fortnight, she had been baby-sitting for Dawn. And tonight she and Hank were invited for dinner with Dawn and Brian. The two families liked to get together at least once a week to talk things over. This was in part because it seemed unnatural to avoid close contact when they were actually sharing a house, in part to overcome the negative side-effects of living with two double identities. Dawn also felt it would be easier to defuse potentially stressful situations that might derive from their odd quadrilateral relationship (she and Hank partnered as Hawk and Dove, but married to Ren and Sal) at an early stage.

Ren saved her files, switched of the PC and walked over to the next room where Hank Hall was working out with weights. He was a little behind schedule because of the appointment with his parole officer earlier in the afternoon and, not untypically, he had decided to put off his academic homework to do his physical exercises first.

"Aren't you cutting it a bit fine with your paper?" Ren asked, "remember you promised we'd go to Lamaze class together tomorrow."

The look of sudden, sinking realization on her husband's face told her all she needed to know. She just had to lean forward to kiss him on the temple and run her fingers through his hair.

"Maybe you'd better give exercising a little rest, eh, big guy? Get some of your homework done?" He pulled a long face, but put down his dumb-bells.

"And you didn't even get a chance to work up a decent sweat," she quipped in a funny voice. That did the trick, he lightened up and put his arm across her shoulders.

"Guess I'd best make the most of the free time that's still left to me, eh?" he said as his left hand found its way to touch her swelling belly. "But I really need to work out more at home. Sometimes it feels like all I have when I'm out is the wrestling team."

Of late Hank did not see as much Hawk action as he would have wanted. Of all the conditions imposed on him when he was put on probation, the most irksome to him was not doing any crime-fighting unless he was officially requested to. At least Sal had seen to it that he got a beeper from the S.C.U. But sometimes it was extremely frustrating to see a 'minor' violent crime in the street and not being allowed to intervene (at least when there was a chance of being observed).

They sat around the table, Una sitting on Dawn's lap. Brian's paella supper had gone down well, and the two families were now relaxedly chatting over ice cream. Hank and Brian were earnestly discussing the merits and drawbacks of a new sonic gun the S.C.U. was considering to add to its arsenal, and Ren and Dawn were talking about the difference between their spouses' attitudes to birthing classes. Then suddenly the outside wall started to glow with an eldritch green light.

Everyone fell silent, except Una, who started to cry. The grownups apprehensively rose. The hairs at the back of Hank's neck bristled. Brian Arsala edged towards the cupboard where he kept his firearms. Hank and Dawn shouted out:



The change happened silently, but in a flash. It was much more noticeable with Hank: He about doubled his body weight as his muscles expanded beyond the size normally acceptable in human beings. At the same time his jeans and sweatshirt were superseded by a skintight leotard in a jagged red and white design with a matching mask and spiky cloak. Dawn too transferred into a costume -- it sky blue set off with white, feather-like decorations -- but for her the most noticeable physical change was that her hair faded to almost white and suddenly was longer than before. At that moment, the glowing wall crumbled and silently exploded into the room.

Silhouetted against the dust and smoke was a quartet of menacing figures, two huge, one minuscule. The one up front stepped forward, a menacing sneer etched on his features. His outlines were blurred at first, then reassembled into a shape resembling those of Hawk and of his late enemy, Kestrel, but in an only-too-familiar sickly green, purple and dark blue-gray color scheme.

"M'shulla!" Dove exclaimed. Hawk stepped forward, between the intruders and Renata, who had picked up the baby. He probably was not even aware of the low growl that issued from his larynx.

"Hey, M'shul, no fair!" shouted M'shulla's companion, "I smash the wall, and you hog the attention!" Child, whose looks -- reddish-blond hair down to his shoulders, chubby cheeks -- were very much in keeping with his name, wore a suit quartered jester-fashion in green and purple, both in different shades from M'shulla's.

"Oh, pipe down, you little oik," retorted the leader of the group, "of course the most powerful Lord of Chaos in the room is the one the spawn of that pervert T'charr and his paragon have to worry about most."

"Is not!" was Child's petulant reply. "Not after I regenerated Flaw. Sic' em, Flaw!" He gesticulated to the crystal warrior behind him, indicating the group of the house's inhabitants. The servant, who literally had twice Child's height, lumbered forward, lifting his arms menacingly. "Go get them!" Child shrieked, "They smashed you to pieces the last time, now's the time we get our own back!"

"You fool!" hissed the smallest of the four, who was just alighting from M'shulla's right shoulder, "Even if they're hopelessly outmatched, you don't attack them piecemeal!"

Phew, thought Hawk, and I thought M'shulla was an eyesore with his color-sense! The little creature, a kind of compound-eyed bat with a bulldog's snout, had fur and leather wings in clashing shades of magenta, vermilion and crimson that just made eyes water. But Hawk registered only a glimpse of him, and then Flaw was on him and knocked him down against the table. But his wrestling training had not been for nothing: soon Hawk was on his feet again and had not only tripped Flaw, but grabbed him by his ankles and bodily lifted him up. He hurled the crystalline golem around in a circle, reflecting and refracting M'shulla's beams of hazardous colored light off Flaw's facets. Where the reflected rays hit the floor, walls and ceiling, they cut smoking holes. But the majority of the reflections were in the general direction of the three Lords of Chaos. They could not hurt M'shulla, but they did cause his small sidekick and Child to dive for cover.

Dove quickly sized up the opposition. M'shulla, the shape-changing Lord of Chaos obviously was the ringleader. Child and his servant Flaw had already been his footpads at their last clash, in Druspa Tau. She did not recognize the little bat-like thing hovering around the group, but he/she/it also seemed to take his/her/its cue from M'shulla. As T'charr and Terataya's most persistent enemy, M'shulla probably was out to kill their earthly 'incarnations' or to prevent the completion of the Unity. In any case the first priority should be to get Una, Brian and Ren out of the line of fire. Better act quick though. M'shulla has stopped his futile light-show and from the way he is now gesturing, it seems he is systematically and unhurriedly summoning up some major spell.

Dove flew towards Child, goading him to grandstand: "Hey boy, are you going to let that green and purple pain outshine you?" Child reacted by hastily summoning a spell of his own, but thanks to her raised perceptions and analytical faculties, she could judge her flypath well, to avoid. Following her, Child did not notice that he was swiveling towards his partner. When Dove sensed he was about to unleash his spell in her direction, she suddenly banked to the left and up, barely avoiding the ball of blinding orange light Child had launched at her. But as she had planned, it now was flying towards M'shulla. Who at that moment was holding his own mighty spell, physically manifested as a bright, burning green cloud, suspended in the air between his hands. Momentarily dazzled by the two sources of intense light, he could not react in time by either moving aside or summoning up a defensive shield. At the last moment he tries to vanish from Child's fireball's path, but in that instant it and M'shulla's firecloud collide and fuse with spectacular results. Everything is bathed in a blinding sulfurous light, and there is a huge roar as if a Jumbo Jet was taking off seven feet overhead.

Dazed, the three Lords of Chaos pick themselves up. To their astonishment, they are in a hole in the ground. The place, where the cellar used to be. The house, and its five inhabitants, have vanished without trace. It is suddenly silent. Silent except for the sound of water spurting from a broken main in a lazy arc, spraying off the prone figure of Flaw.

Time Capsule

My own Una,
if you read this, it may be that three of the four men and women in on your secret -- myself, Brian and Hank -- will no longer be left alive or in a position to tell you this personally. Not that I expect any of us to die soon, but I'm supposed to be the practical, orderly one who plans ahead even for the worst contingency. I hope that at least Renata and your grandparents will have survived to help you explain this, the story of your origin and to decide what to do about your heritage. Of course my dream scenario is that you will get this as a kind of souvenir after I told you the relevant facts in person and that all of us will be very much alive.

To get it over in brief, my child, the man known to the world (and official records) as your father isn't. Your biological father is Hank Hall. It all began with two groups of very powerful cosmic entities, the Lords of Order and the Lords of Chaos, who are continuously busy fighting each other for the control of the universe. At one point, however, the Lord of Chaos T'charr and the Lord of Order Terataya met and fell in love with each other. They decided that for the good of the world the simple dichotomy between Order and Chaos had to be transcended -- a world in total chaos would sooner or later deteriorate into self-destruction, while total order would result in stasis, a state unfit for living beings because it stifles freedom. (I rather hope you'll say: "But that's obvious.") They wanted to promote their ideas about the cooperation between Order and Chaos in the cause of betterment and progress. And the way they decided to do this was to give your father and his late brother, Don Hall, metahuman powers so they would work together as a duo of costumed crime-fighters. T'charr imbued Hank with superhuman strength and Terataya gave Don agility and sharper analytical thinking. Both would access their powers by calling out the names of their secret identities -- Hank became Hawk, and Don Dove. Together they did their bit for Truth and Justice (and, Hank more than Don, the American Way) until one day, in the midst of a major crisis involving almost everybody who wore a costume, Don was killed by a collapsing wall while saving some children.

The hour he died, T'charr and Terataya transferred his powers to me. I needed them too, because some terrorists had taken over the US Embassy in London and mom was inside. At first I thought I was just one of many Doves. But then I heard of the death of the original Dove and from then on I set myself the task of tracking down his partner, Hawk. Thankfully Hank did not make it too difficult, because without the balancing influence of his brother and partner, his irrational tendencies went unchecked. But I wasn't the only one pursuing him, T'charr's rival Lord of Chaos, M'Shulla, had sent a supernatural mass-murderer called Kestrel after him. It was fighting him that Hank and I first met and became partners -- it was also then that Renata first fell in love with Hank and found out about our double lives. Some time later -- after I had first met Brian and we had become interested in each other -- we found ourselves in an other-dimensional world called Druspa Tau. There we finally met T'charr and Terataya (they had transformed themselves into a dragon wearing an amulet) only to see them perish in a cataclysmic fight against M'shulla and his minions. But before they died, they merged their essences with ours, and ever since Druspa Tau T'charr is part of Hank, and Terataya part of me. The rub was that T'charr and Terataya were lovers, and they had really intended to complete their "project" by conceiving a child together. So suddenly there was this sexual tension between Hawk and Dove, even though at the time Hank and Ren were already more or less committed to each other and although I had not yet made as much progress with my romance with Brian, I knew I was far more attracted to him than I was ever going to be to Hank. For months, we felt secure -- the feelings our supernatural "guests" had for each other seemingly bottled up in our subconscious. Life moved on, Hank was duped by the ghost of a dead criminal called the Top (don't ask) and wound up in prison for a while, Brian discovered our secret, Ren & Hank and Brian & I got engaged. And then suddenly T'charr and Terataya's 'mating urge' manifested itself with a totally unexpected force. Believe me, we thought long and hard over this, both among ourselves and with our partners. What we had to reckon with was perhaps not so much an affair of the heart (although that element was present) as a desperate wish to incarnate the Unity between Order and Chaos in one living person -- you. Eventually we decided to give in to what may have been inevitable in any case, but which did not come easy because of that, hoping that once we had conceived you, we could get on with our lives without T'charr and Terataya interfering. And shortly after we had "done the deed", both of us got married to our respective spouses, who thankfully supported us in all this.

If you read this letter, this most likely means that you are the last chance for the realization of T'charr and Terataya's dream of a Union of Order and Chaos to promote good in this world.

Remember the Unity.
Your loving Mother.


Renata and Una screamed in terror as the house around them shuddered and trembled. The vibrations ended in a mighty crash that left no windowpane unsmashed. It suddenly was dark again -- the electric lights were out, and what light there was came from outside, an unfamiliar reddish glow through the windows. As Renata's eyes adjusted to it, she noticed that the attackers had disappeared. Hawk went to the nearest window and looked out.

"Where the hell are we?" he wondered aloud. Instead of the familiar Washington street scene, the view was of some kind of huge cave: walls of a strange purplish red rock were dimly lighted by a lava flow at some distance and splotches of sickly green luminescent fungus growth on the walls. No form of animal life was immediately visible, but his instincts screamed that there was something or someone out there, and it was turning its attention on the strange house that had suddenly intruded in this tunnel.

"Hell seems to be the operative word here," said Sal, who had crawled up beside Hank. There even was a hint of sulfur in the hazy air.

Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, Dove picked herself up. She had been nearest to the 'explosion'. Once she noticed they were in no immediate danger from the Chaotic attackers, she turned to Ren: "Is Una all right?"

"She's physically okay, I'd say" But not unsurprisingly given her ordeal, the baby was crying. Renata gently rocked her and stroked her hair. When Una had calmed down a little, Ren turned to the others: "What happened, guys?"

Brian looked over the house with a worried expression. Plaster had fallen from the ceiling in shards of all kinds of sizes. And the way the formerly straight lines of the walls, floors and ceilings were now curved and bent, it was clear that the damage to the structure of the building must have been quite serious: "Uh, shouldn't we maybe better get out of here before the building collapses?" The muffled sounds from beneath the floor added to his discomfort.

Quickly, the five staggered outside. Hawk and Dove moved up to Renata, Dove to relieve her of Una, and Hank to support her. "Are you okay, babe?" asked Ren's worried spouse.

"Ohmigosh, the baby" blurted Dove, "you're not...???"

"I think we're okay. At least for the moment..." Ren reassured everybody around. She was perspiring a little, but that was probably as much due to the raised temperature as to the exertions of the past quarter of an hour.

They assembled before the splintered remnants of the front door. They tried to assess the situation. Hawk muttered: "Man, what kind of spell did that cosmic sleazeball use...??"

Dove scratched her chin: "Well, I doubt that it was M'shulla's intention to bring us here..."

"Wherever here is." interjected Brian glancing at the infernal surroundings.

"... because then he'd surely have brought himself and his henchmen with us. I'd say he had something more destructive in mind and added a fail-safe that excluded him and the other three from the spell's effect. But somehow it must have gestalted with Child's magicks, landing us here with no one intending to."

"You mean at the moment even those scumbags don't know where we are?" Hawk asked in exasperation.

"I guess you could say that's a good thing," said Brian, "but this place gives me the willies." Of the four grown-ups, he had the least first-hand experience of the supernatural and not surprisingly he felt the most apprehensive about what he heard and saw. Like those luminous eyes that had appeared for a moment in a dark side-tunnel. It must have been easier even for Ren, who wasn't a trained police officer, but had been to the magic real of Druspa Tau and had made the acquaintance of more than a few magic entities more close up than she cared. Which made her worried tone all the more ominous:

"Uh guys, was that glowing circle here all the time?" They looked around and saw that they were standing in the middle of a circle of light about 20 yards across -- not in its exact center, but all inside. Inside its circumference everything lightened up, became bathed in a dull red glow that became yellow and then a bright phosphorescent green.

"Shit, here we go again!" shouted Hawk, as they all disappeared in a blinding flash of sulfurous white light.

Time Capsule (2)

Dear Una,

Just a few lines from me in case the worst comes to the worst. One reason why we decided to write this down is that we wanted to avoid any Greek-Tragedy-type situations in case your father, my lovable Hankster and I decide to have children. Because if we do, they would then be your half-brothers and -sisters.

At the time I made light of it, putting it down as a "last fling" before the wedding, on par with a booze-induced lapse that might happen at a wild stag or hen night. But it really was not that easy to come to accept what had happened, neither for me, nor for Brian. I have to admit, the temptation to exploit my friend's and husband's feelings of guilt over having had it away with each other was at times hard to resist. But I am glad that in spite of the stress our friendship survived. Ultimately this was because we knew that it wasn't Hank and Dawn making you, but the Lords of Order and Chaos who haunt them.

Although the decision to kind of get our (Brian's and mine) permission before they went ahead with it caused a lot of friction (like they weren't twisting our arms with the fate of the universe in the balance blah blah blah), it was the honest thing to do. And it probably was unavoidable, 'cause it would have been a teensy bit difficult to do on the sly as I had been in Druspa Tau and knew of Terataya's and T'charr's intentions. Still, there were times when it felt like we weren't two couples joined by friendship and your little secret, but as if we were a six-person commune (with the dead, yet ever-present T & T).

Your godmother,
Renata Takamori-Hall

Back in the D.C. Groove

Hawk, Dove, Ren, Sal and Una reappeared in a familiar setting: the Virginia bank of the Potomac, near Theodore Roosevelt Island. Only the light was all wrong. A few moments ago they had just finished dinner, now they already saw the dawn coloring the sky behind the Washington Monument and the dome of the Capitol in the distance. "Great," groaned Hank, "now they screwed up our time too!"

"Hmm, I wonder if this is before or after our attack?" mused Dove.

"Who cares?" was Hawk's querulous reply, "we'll smash 'em up good either way."

"That's mah mayunn!" beamed Renata, the young Texan, "still, don't you think it might be a good idea to call in some help, sport?" His expression hinted that did not much like the idea that they actually might need some kind of assistance. "I mean, are you sure we can even find them otherwise? Who knows where they're off to now?" she added soothingly.

"Guess you're right, Ren," said Hank, "And we'll be needing a safe place for you and Una in the meantime."

"I'll ring up Wolfson," said Sal. "If we traveled a few hours into the future, the police should have noticed that our house has gone missing by now and he should be on the case." Unfortunately he must have lost his cellular phone in the house, so he had to leg it to the nearest public telephone. Punching in Wolfson's office connection, he came in for a rude surprise:

"Vice squad, Sgt. Klotzkowski," came an unfamiliar voice.

"Excuse me, Sergeant, I must have gotten a wrong connection. Could you please put me through to the S.C.U?"

"S.C.U.? What's that stand for? South Carolina University? Boy, have you got a wrong connection..."

"No, the Special Crimes Unit! This is Captain Arsala speaking."

"Captain .... who? Oh, I get it. You're a real riot, Donovan." The man on the other end of the line hung up.

"What the hell...?" Sal tried again, then called the police information desk. There too his inquiries after Wolfson and the Special Crimes Unit were met only with blank incomprehension. Had their mystic jump landed them in a time before or after the S.C.U.'s existence? He quickly checked in the battered directory: No entries for Brian Arsala, Dawn Granger, Dawn's parents or Renata Takamori, and some idiot had torn out the page with the 'Hall' listings.

Dawn came up beside him, no longer in costume, so at least they no longer were in any immediate danger: "What's the problem?"

"None of us is listed in the phone-book. Neither are S.T.A.R. Labs. And at HQ they've never heard of the S.C.U."

"So it's a pretty safe bet this is not the Washington that we left. We'd better find out quickly where or when we really are!"

Luckily, the nearby newspaper and magazine was open. As they entered, Ren noticed an unfamiliar sight among the picture postcards: Among the selection of views of the White House, there were, as usual, some pictures of the Presidential family. But instead of George and Barbara Bush, there was an entirely different couple. "Uh-oh..." Come to think of it, they looked vaguely familiar, but not in that surrounding. She quickly snatched it up from the rack and flipped it around: "William Jefferson Clinton, 42nd President of the United States of America, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the First Lady," she read out to the others.

They rushed to the newspaper section. Hank got there first and picked up the Post: "July nineteen, nineteen ninety-seven..." he read with a sinking voice.

They quickly checked the other papers and magazines. Dawn was a little surprised not to find the Metropolis Daily Planet, which usually was carried by most Washington area newsagents, but that surprise was nothing to finding something called the Daily Bugle among the out-of-town papers. The main headline mentioned someone called Spider-Man whom she had never heard of, but then many new superheroes could have appeared in the past four years. A more worrying factor was that according to the masthead the Bugle had been published in New York since before World War 2, but she couldn't remember ever seeing it on any of her visits to the Big Apple.

Hank went through a sports papers. What happened to the baseball leagues? He'd have thought it inconceivable that someone would be able to take the Metropolis and Gotham franchises and move them to Florida and ... Colorado???

The four looked at each other apprehensively: something was seriously, definitely wrong.

"Hey, this isn't a public library," the saleslady said. Feeling a little embarrassed, Ren bought a couple of papers and the by now somewhat crumpled postcard. Hank, acting on a horrible suspicion, asked the saleslady for a larger-scale map that would take him from Washington to New York. After paying for it, he took the others outside and examined it. Their hearts sank when they could found nothing where Metropolis should be and only a minuscule town on the site of Gotham City.

"Did-dee did-dee, did-dee did-dee!" Renata tried to lighten the impact by humming the theme from The Twilight Zone, but the smiles she got were clearly strained.

"So what do we do now?" asked Brian.

"How the hell should I know?" Hank flared up. "The way I see it, everybody we could ask for advice has disappeared from the friggin' surface of the Earth."

"Well, even if S.T.A.R. don't have a Washington branch, surely there must be somebody who does research into interdimensional travel." Renata said, grasping for hope.

"Question is, do we want to approach them. This world gives me the creeps." Hank replied.

"In any case," said Dawn, "we'll have to find someone first, then we can find out if they're trustworthy. Another thing: We got her because of a magical attack. Maybe we can find someone who could take us home by magic means?"

"Well, there's Barter," mused Ren, "he definitely has no trouble traveling between dimensions. He took us to Druspa Tau, remember?"

"No, after what he did the last time we met, I don't want anything to do with that scumbag ever again!" Hank was most emphatic. But then Barter had come close to irrevocably ruining his life by aiding the Top to trick him into helping him to return to the living and steal Senator Thomas O'Neill's body and career. This was done by having the Top pretend to be the ghost of Don Hall and setting him up so that it looked as if Hank had attempted to assassinate Tommy O'Neill. Which did not hurt the Top's new political career and also enabled Barter to pay Hank back for having knocked him out while they were in Druspa Tau.

Until they could think of something better to do, the five strangers in a strange universe walked northward, gravitating towards Georgetown and where their home should be in a kind of irrational homing instinct. Not the most auspicious idea, as it turned out. Just as they stepped onto Francis Scott Key Bridge, a quartet of costumed figures appeared out of thin air in the middle of road beside them.

In the center of the group stood an imposing man, all encased in glittering chrome from head to toe. His armor only left the lower half of his face free; the helmet and shoulders were a forest of spikes and what looked like cooling vanes. His arrogant pose indicated that he was the leader of the other three -- a half-naked, four-armed giant, a mustard-colored creature were-cat-girl, and a woman encased in a skin-tight orange suit and cowl, a rather impractical white horsetail hanging from the back of her head almost down to the ground. A big truck swerved to avoid the three and jackknifed across the width of the northbound lanes. The traffic ground to a halt, but the three were in no particular hurry to leave the road. Their attention rather was caught by an approaching dark blue aircraft accompanied by a flying green-haired woman in a blue and yellow suit. The crew must have taken notice of the disturbance on the bridge, as the aircraft immediately did a half-roll and descended to put down at the edge of Georgetown University campus. The doors sprang open and a group of men and women, most of them dressed blue and yellow, leaped into the open.

"Oh no, the feds! Just what we need!" shouted the horsetail woman. "As if being caught with our pants down by Cable's thugs wasn't bad enough!"

The four-armed strongman replied: "Well, what do you expect, Locus, if the boss-man thinks it's a clever idea to hide out practically on the same block as X-Factor central? 'They'll never think of looking for us here', you said." he added, turning to the leader.

"Silence, Forearm!" thundered the chrome-clad one. "Locus, take us out of here. There's not enough time for a counter-strike anymore."

"What, and leave the others behind?" The giant and the cat-person clearly were annoyed. "NO WAY!" shouted Forearm, "we can hold X-Factor, Stryfe, 'specially if we get some hostages. Like those gawkers over there!" He started running towards Hank, Dawn and their companions. Unlike the early-morning joggers and bikers on the bridge, they had not immediately taken flight as soon as they saw the fearsome foursome, because they had taken until now to get their bearing on them and figure out that they were not superheroes, but rather villains.

"Boy, have you picked the wrong hostages," growled Hank before shouting "Hawk!" -- a second or two after Dawn had shouted "Dove!" The two immediately jumped forward to shield their families.

Forearm hesitated when he saw the transformation: "What, more freaks? Washington is getting as bad as New York!" But it was too late to change course: Having lost his concentration, he ran straight into Hawk's massive punch. He staggered back. The werecat who had moved to follow him now thought better of it. They were clearly outnumbered and about to be engaged on two fronts (the blue and yellow guys were approaching rapidly over the bridge), so rather sensibly she decided to make a strategic retreat and called out to her teammate to do the same.

The woman in orange had meanwhile conjured up some sort of shimmering light effects that just had to be a dimensional portal of some sort and anxiously motioned for her teammates to hurry up and go through. As the big silver guy stepped forward to counter-attack to throw back Hawk, the one with the four arms regained his footing, rabitted and jumped through the portal. Dove was fighting the cat-girl, only to be swiped aside from behind by Stryfe, who had just hurled Hawk against the railing. Then Stryfe and his group quickly went through the portal. Hawk quickly got to his feet, but he would not be able to cover the ground between himself and the dimensional portal in time to catch up with his opponents. His fist slammed into the pavement, scooping up a lump of concrete which he threw at Locus just as she went through her portal as the last of her quartet. As the dimensional pathway collapsed, Dove and the others could just make out that Hawk's aim had been true -- the rock grazed her skull and her body slumped to the ground. But where that ground was, was another matter.

The fight was over almost before it had started. Ren ran towards her man and hugged him. "My hero!" she breathed, half-hiding her true feelings under the cliché phrase and an intonation from which outsiders would have deduced she was poking fun at him.

"Hey, nobody gets to threaten you when I'm around." Characteristically, his fighting fury was replaced by loving tenderness as soon as the danger was over.

At that moment the green-haired woman landed beside them, soon followed on foot by the suits from the aircraft caught up with them: a huge muscle-man who made even Forearm look puny, a blond feral man with long claws at his fingertips, an indigo-skinned redhead, a man with a prosthetic leg clutching a huge firearm in a metallic hand, and a tall blond man who was loudly cursing over the escape of the supervillains.

The man with the prosthetic limbs walked up: "Thanks for trying to help to stop Stryfe and his thugs. I'm Forge, this," he indicated the tall blond one, "is Havok. And who are you?"

At that moment the blue aircraft had taken off again to make the short hop to the roundabout at the southern end of the bridge. The pilot obviously was in a hurry to pick up the blue suits and take them to another crisis spot. Dove shouted over the din of the jets: "We're Hawk and Dove. Are you really feds?"

"Yes ma'am, Federal Special Strike Force X-Factor" shouted Havok as he motioned to the others to hurry to the plane. "Can't say I ever heard of you. You new in town?"

Hawk and Dove kept up with the rapid pace of the unfamiliar team as they quickly walked off the bridge. Hawk was not too happy about the peremptory manner of the two leaders and blurted out: "No, we've been fighting crime here for more'n three years now!"

Havok stared at him in confident disbelief, while Forge raised both eyebrows in astonishment. Dove, noticing out of the corner of her eye that Brian and Ren were slowly following at a distance apparently unnoticed by the others, decided that she was going to take a risk and at least trust these X-Factor fellows with part of the truth: "But that was five years ago, and, by the look of things, in a different universe."

The two X-Factor bigwigs stopped in their tracks. The one called Forge spoke first. "Terrific. And the day had started so simple. 'Break up a fight between X-Force and the MLF' they said. And now we run into interdimensional travelers. Will you be staying in our reality long, I hesitate to ask?"

Before Dove could stop him, Hawk had given the answer: "How the hell would I know. That we're here at all seems to be some magical accident, an' none of us is a flaming sorcerer!" Dove gave him a chiding look. Leave the talking to me, Hank, dammit!

Havok, on the other hand, visibly relaxed. "I guess we maybe can find someone who can help you." The look he gave his teammate Forge was rather odd. Could it be that one of them dabbled in magic?

In the meantime, the mixed group had reached the aircraft. The pilot, a woman, was leaning out of the cockpit, holding a map. She was waving to Forge and Havok. When they arrived at her side, she pointed to a location near to where they were at the moment: "They're all over this block right now, they just told me on the radio. I think you'd best go there under your own power -- there isn't really a good place to land any nearer than this!"

"You could still drop me off from the air, Val." came the cheerful suggestion from the giant who suddenly loomed over the others.

"Me too!" added the blue-skinned woman.

Havok quickly thought it over. "Okay, Guido, Mystique and Polaris come in from the south, I'll go in on the ground from here with Forge and Wildchild. Give us five minutes start."

"Waitaminit," said Hawk, "are you gunning for the same creeps we just fought?"

"Their teammates, at any rate," said Forge, ignoring the pilot's efforts to catch his attention, "they've just been ambushed by another outlaw group called X-Force. But it's not unlikely that Stryfe and his pals will return to try and pull them out. You've seen what their phase-shifter can do."

At that moment, another radio message came in on the pilot's earphones. "People, we'd better hurry," she said, "the Rosslyn cops are talking lots of civilian casualties!"

"That does it," shouted Havok, "I've had it up to here with Cable playing the loose cannon all the time. He really oughta have left operations in residential areas to us. Just because he says we're in the middle of a war...!"

In the meantime, Hawk and Dove had exchanged a look. Then Dove asked: "Can you use some help?"

In the News

New York, July 21, 1997
Rosslyn Battle Between Mutant Outlaws Causes Massive Damage
Federal strike force and mysterious metahumans intervene

By Ben Urich. Rosslyn, Va., residents saw their town turned into a battleground as two outlaw mutant groups clashed near the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Saturday. According to a police statement, the vigilante team X-Force tracked down the terrorist 'Mutant Liberation Front' after the latter had raided the Federal detainment facility The Vault on July 12, liberating three of their accomplices (as reported in Monday's Daily Bugle). In the ensuing metapowered confrontation the private residence used as a hideout by the MLF was almost totally destroyed, with many of the buildings in the neighborhood suffering massive structural damage. Thanks to the rapid intervention of Federal superpowered strikeforce X-Factor, it was possible to contain the fight, while Rosslyn firefighters and rescue services extracted civilians trapped in the damaged buildings and aid the injured. According to the latest count, seventeen people -- mostly inhabitants of the damaged buildings -- were injured, three of them seriously. Six X-Force and MLF operatives are currently in police custody at an undisclosed location, while the others managed to escape. The pursuit is currently being conducted by the Federal agencies concerned.

An eyewitness interviewed by The Daily Bugle states that X-Force operatives attacked the MLF hideout near Lee Highway from several directions at once in the early hours of July 19th. This eyewitness also claims that two hitherto unknown 'superheroes' were involved in the fracas. The source who wishes to remain anonymous states:

"The guy looked like a body-builder who OD'ed on steroids, only he actually could use his muscles. He was dressed in a red and white costume in a kind of spiky design with a funny little beak above his nose. He must be calling himself Bird of Prey or some such name, although I didn't see him fly. The girl had the same type of costume, only in white and sky blue with more wavy borders. Reminded me a bit of a pigeon, she did."

Speculation is rife about the freelance participants in the Rosslyn incident. X-Factor liaison official and Mutant Affairs administrator Dr. Valerie Cooper declined to comment on them at the Sunday press conference in Washington. She identified those captured in Rosslyn as three members each of X-Force and the MLF but did not give names.

According to sources well-informed about the illegal mutant scene, X-Force and the MLF have been engaged in an internecine feud that dates back at least to the time the two groups came to public attention. There is still a great degree of controversy about the supposed aims of the outlaw X-Force, with some parts of the official law-enforcement agencies, media and political spokesmen openly divided on whether they should be seen primarily as terrorists, a militant expression of mutant paranoia, or a criminal vigilante group. The 'Mutant Liberation Front' and its leader Stryfe, on the other hand, have always openly pursued an agenda of terrorism against non-mutants and rival mutant groups.

Washington Daily Dispatch
Tuesday, July 22, 1997
Mystery Surrounds 'New Superheroes' in Rosslyn Fracas

By the staff of the Dispatch. Although the media circus has left town, normality has not quite returned to Rosslyn's city center. A large part of the devastation wrought by Saturday's three-cornered superpowered battle is at this moment still being restored. Said a spokesperson for specialist contractors Damage Control: "We expect to be finished and out of here by Wednesday."

Arlington area citizens and journalists covering 'superheroes and -villains' are still discussing the two previously unknown metapowered persons who participated in the later stages of the fight. Prominent superperson guru Peter S. Andersson, phoned for a comment, had this to say: "At the moment I'd say they must be a couple of new members of the X-Men [an East Coast-based outlaw mutant group]. They always seem to have new members, and sometimes co-operate with X-Factor. But everything could look totally different once we get more sightings. I'm not sure about the slight similarity between the costumes of the two. Could be they're related or married or something. One thing's sure: wearing a bird motif is a bit silly if you can't fly."

Meanwhile, some men and women in the streets of the Arlington area expressed hopes that the two newcomers were 'homegrown talent'. And Stephanie Laschett (17), a visiting high-school student from Arlington's German twin town half-enviously said: "Things like this never happen at home in Aachen." A local radio station staged a listeners' poll to think up a name for the duo based on the look of their costumes. The most popular suggestions were (in ascending order) 'Red and Sky', 'Peregrine and Pigeon' and 'Cardinal and Blue Jay'. Said WFZP talk radio host Jack Holzapfel: "Listeners really had a ball with this. Some of the names they thought up were really cool. And then of course you got really lame ones. I mean, Hawk and Dove? Wasn't that an Al Jaffee series in MAD Magazine?"

Washington, D.C.

X-Factor's town offices and quarters were quite near to where home should have been (actually, the space of the Arsala-Hall residence was occupied by the Latverian travel bureau, Latveria being a Balkan nation that existed in this universe, but not the one that was home to Hawk and Dove). Most present were now in the kitchen/dining area, preparing a quick snack after they had gone through the debriefing about the Rosslyn fight.

As Hank put a slice of pizza into the microwave and took stock of their hosts. Guido, X-Factor's Strong Guy was sitting in a massive easy chair, stirring his mug of hot cocoa. His head and left arm were bandaged. Beside him, Polaris was spreading some mayonnaise onto the stack of salad, meats and vegetables on her Dagwood sandwich. Wildchild was sitting on the back of his chair and digging into a light salad, while across the room Havok and Forge were talking with Dawn and Brian. The microwave beeped, Hank pulled out his meal and walked back to the others. He sat down next to Ren who was rocking little Una on her knee. Next to her was X-Factor's government liaison, Valerie Cooper, also with a child on her lap. It seemed to be about the same age as Una, only its skin was light blue. Ren, in her usual forthright fashion, phrased the question about that that Hank was too tongue-tied to ask.

"Oh, Irene gets that from Raven." Dr. Cooper replied brightly.

"But didn't they just say she was your...?"

"It's a long story," put in Mystique, the indigo-skinned shape-changer, who just arrived bearing a tray of food for her and Valerie. Oops, thought Hank, hope Ren didn't inadvertently hit on an embarrassing point. He secretly dreaded the moment when someone would bring up the matter of Una's parentage in an unexpected situation, so he naturally wondered about comparable situations involving others, especially when superpowers or extremely unusual physical features were concerned (and where he came from, blue skin was extremely rare, at least among Earth-dwellers). Luckily it turned out something that the women actually seemed to enjoy talking about (he had a nasty suspicion that Raven Darkhölme rather enjoyed his discomfort), but indeed it was a very strange story. It turned out that Cooper and Mystique were a couple and Irene actually was their biological child. As Dr. Cooper explained, "Raven's fully functional both as a woman and a man."

Nearby, Havok, Forge and Dawn were discussing the skirmishes of the morning, especially about where the leaders of X-Force and the Mutant Liberation Front could have gone. Havok, X-Factor's field leader, still was puzzled by some details: "I still don't understand why Stryfe took off so early. Sure, he knew his side had been hit hard by Cable's lot and was seriously outnumbered once we arrived."

"To say nothing of your unexpected intervention," Forge courteously added. Dove half-bowed with an amused smile.
"But still," Alex Summers continued, "shouldn't he have at least tried to pull out more of his underlings. I mean, getting caught with his pants down like he was this morning is not likely to enhance his prestige. But isn't he really going to lose face if so many wind up in the clink. And you'd think he'd get more use out of a phase-shifter like Locus than just to high-tail it out of here."

"Maybe they couldn't do more than they did," Dove suggested. "It's possible that Hawk knocked Locus out. Didn't you hit her head with that rock?" She turned to Hank.

"I think I did," he replied. "It only was a glancing hit, though, far as I could make out."

"Still, with your kind of strength, that could be enough to knock someone unconscious," Forge mused, stroking his mustache. "And I maybe there's even a longer-term effect. Maybe a concussion would prevent Locus from properly using her power even after she came to..."

The door opened and two more costumed persons stepped into the room: A man in a red-and-purple suit, young of body but white of hair, and a woman in green and black. Her auburn hair had a white streak shot through the middle. Hank noticed that a number of the X-Factorites tensed at the new arrivals, and when the woman rushed forward to hug Mystique, his instinct told him that her companion was the main cause of the change in the atmosphere.

Mystique did the introductions: "This is my foster daughter, Rogue, and Magnus. And these are Hawk, Dove, Brian, Renata and little Una. They're from another reality."

The last remark would have been a conversation-stopper in most cases, but the new arrivals registered the news without batting an eyelash. "Oh?" said Rogue, "Anywheah ah know?"

"That depends," said Dove with a half-smile, "have you ever been to an Earth where two of America's major cities are called Metropolis and Gotham?"

"Can't say ah've been to either of 'em," the young woman (could she be around twenty?) admitted. "Though ah wouldn't be surprised if Wolverine has. He seems to do most of the dimension-hopping among us. Almost as if he had a special clause in his contract."

"Rogue and Magnus are with another team, the X-Men," Valerie Cooper explained. "They're not affiliated with the government, so you should get along wonderfully." She aimed an mock-conspiratorial wink at Hank. "As far as Uncle Sam is concerned, we're not even sure if Magnus really is here."

"Actually, this was supposed to be a family visit," added Mystique.

"Yes," said Magnus with a half-smile, "to give Valerie and Raven here a chance to -- how do you call it? -- scope me out." His English was grammatically correct, but his accent clearly indicated that it was not his mother tongue.

"Okay, okay," interjected Valerie Cooper, "before this turns into a discussion of our family life and of mutant politics, perhaps we should return to the subject of our friends' predicament? I guess they're more interested in finding their way home than in talking shop with us."

Actually Hawk, Dove and the others were rather curious about some aspects of this -- the mutant aspect for instance was rather strange, because in their world those metahumans who owed their powers to an accident of genetics were not really perceived as a group apart from other metahumans. But maybe it was best to concentrate on their own problems first. It would probably take long enough to find a way to return to their own universe for them to explore this one in greater detail. In the course of the subsequent conversation it emerged that the X-Men and others of the costumed heroes of their universe had encountered some of the other natives of Hawk and Dove's reality. Rogue for instance inquired about "a man dressed up as a bat and the teenage boy he's got runnin' around as a walkin' target". Apparently, less than a year ago there had been some kind of interface between the two universes, during which two of her friends had met Robin and Wonder Woman, respectively. Only at that interface there had not been a five-year discrepancy between the two realities (that Clinton guy was president in both universes at the time). So if they really wanted to return home, it looked as if they would also have to travel back in time. And from what Forge knew of technological time travel, that opened a whole can of worms, paradoxes and splitting-off of alternate timelines. But Forge was rather reluctant to discuss the non-technological alternatives, even though he did not find it hard to accept that they had been 'shipwrecked' by magic spells gone wrong. At least the interface in 1996 seemed to indicate that M'shulla and his cohorts had not caused to great a damage in the five year interim. But what the hell had he been up to all this time?


The normal rules of time do not apply in this daemonic realm, so it is impossible to affix a temporal measurement to the appearance of the Lords of Chaos. A small group of little demons scurried for cover.

M'shulla happened to change his shape in a way that somehow seem/will seem appropriate to his new surroundings, sprouting three curved horns (one between his eyes), a snake-like, pointed tail, and black serrated talons.

His eyes had fallen/fall on a badly damaged house. With its elegant 19th-century decor it looked/s very much out of place in its hellish surroundings. It also looks/will look as if it had been dropped from some height. A cursory search of the ruin is about to reveal/has revealed no trace of its former inhabitants.

"Curse them! Where have those troublemakers gone off to?" he hissed/will have hissed, a green tongue forked into five prongs oscillating left to right along his puffy purple upper lip.

His sometimes ally, Child, was/is too distracted to answer, momentarily engrossed in exploring the debris for new toys to play with. His servant Flaw had/will have fallen into immobility without his master's attention. Meanwhile, M'shulla's right-talon ghoul, Gorum, is/will be amusing himself by incinerating the front door.

"Bah! I'll find out soon enough myself." M'shulla set/s about making a scrying pool of a puddle of some noxious Limbo liquid that will/happened to be nearby. Gradually, bit by bit, an image appeared, which showed his quarry in a place within a few miles of their home -- but in an entirely different universe. He called/s out to Child, but the immature little imp at first didn't react. It took/will take a magically summoned lightning to bring him over. Gorum, who had been hovering behind M'shulla's right shoulder, panted with the thrill of the chase.

What none of the powerful beings (will) have noticed was that their use of a scrying pool did not go unnoticed. Around the corner, in a side passage, a luminous circle appeared, and standing in it, a girl in her early teens. Her round head was covered in straw-blond hair which was cut in severe bangs in front and hung down behind in long straight tresses that reached down past her shoulder-blades. She was dressed in black and yellow with a red belt closed by a circular buckle decorated with a large black saltire. Suddenly, something caused/s her to slink back into her passage.

The teetering building suddenly collapses/d into a disorderly hill of rubble. Which never got/gets a chance to settle as suddenly a huge purple horned demon in a torn vest emerges/will emerge from the house's former cellar. He slowly got/gets to his feet, smoldering with rage and maybe something else. At any rate fine jets of smoke issue from his scowling face and shoulders, and it is a guess as good as any that this demonic denizen of Limbo heats up according to his moods. He fixes/ed a bloodshot eye on the 'visitors.'

Observe as Child, always unable to restrain his mindless impulses, once again will say/said the wrong thing that caused/s S'ym to let loose a bellow of rage, quickly followed/preceded by two flaming beams of orange fire from his palms. By a trick of Limbo's unpredictable timestreams, the building collapsed/will collapse again, and S'ym once more crawls/-ed up from beneath its rubble, pausing to scratch his head to see himself attacking the intruders.

See M'shulla as he is/will be about to counter-attack with a spell of his own, only to find his way blocked by himself saying "Bah! I'll find out soon enough myself." The other M'shulla set/s about making a scrying pool from a puddle of a noxious Limbo liquid that will/happened to be nearby. Gradually, bit by bit, an image appeared, which showed his quarry in a place within a few miles of their home -- but in an entirely different universe. He called/s out to Child, but the immature little imp is/was/will be rocking with his annoyingly giggly laughter. S'ym backhands/has backhanded him into a nearby wall. One M'shulla gapes at the 'second' one as he looks into the scrying pool as the image disappears bit by bit and then disassembles the scrying pool in alienated movements -- there must be some kind of reflection of events that turns their sequence backwards.

He concentrated/s again on the scrying pool, trying to ignore the distraction of the developing fight between S'ym, Child and Flaw and the irritating temporal fluctuations of his current surroundings. M'shulla gets/got flashes of his prey all over the world, but found/will find it almost impossible to lock onto one of them. Finally/penultimately, just before/after Flaw stumbled/s into him and falls/fell into the pool and shatters/will shatter it, he spies Hawk and Dove traveling from near their last location along the adjoining series of large cities towards the sound north of the long island off the east coast of the continent. In his excitement, his body metamorphoses/d to a giant squid. Meanwhile/just before/after that, the other M'shulla at last succeeded/s in conjuring up a tempest that hurls /will hurl S'ym along the length of the tunnel.

"Time to finish this tomfoolery," he said/ says through his gritted beak, "let's go and eradicate Hawk and Dove and their spawn." His tentacles perform/ed a series of sorcerous gestures and a purple sphere began to form around him and his allies.

"Whatsamatter, M'shool," quipped Child, "is the timestream in this place too chaotic for you?" But his fellow Lord of Chaos did not deign that worthy of a response.

The light of the sphere grew in intensity, casting harsh shadows around it. Then it began to fade from this reality. At the last moment, a luminous circle appeared beside it. The mysterious girl was using this opportunity to hitch a ride out.

The Village

The stepping-disk appeared in a side-alley, unnoticed by most of the passers-by. As Magik looked around, she nearly stumbled across a sleeping homeless man. She smiled with quiet satisfaction. She was pretty sure that the intruders had not noticed her 'stowing away' on their traveling-sphere and then getting off soon after it had entered the air-space above New York. At last her second long exile in Limbo was over. But first things first. She slipped behind a dumpster and hastily drew a pentagram in the dirt within a circle with the tip of her right boot. She raised her arms in an age-old gesture and murmured an incantation under her breath. After waiting a couple of minutes, a bright silver sword appeared in her left hand. It cast an eldritch radiance. A split second after her hand had closed around the grip, her entire left arm was covered in shiny metal, an armor which immediately spread over her shoulder and the entire left half of her torso.

Illyana Nikolaevna Rasputina sighed with relief, grateful at being reunited with her Soulsword. She waved her hands again to assume her mundane aspect: The sword and the armor encasing one arm and part of her body disappeared, leaving her clothed only in a well-worn (to put it mildly) old New Mutants uniform. At least, she thought, in this neighborhood she could wear it without attracting too much attention. And she hadn't lost her touch: When she left the alley, she was in Bleecker Street and could already see the house she sought in the distance, the circular window in the roof with its mystic design clearly discernible. How long was it since she had last been there? She went to the nearest newspaper-box to check the date. July 1997. Well, she landed in a year more fitting to her biological age, although she still was a bit 'too old' in comparison with what her age would be if she had never gone to Limbo. But enough self-contemplation, this job was too big for her alone, it's time to fetch the cavalry. And with a supernatural threat of this magnitude it clearly was best to get the biggest guns you could lay your hands on.

The door was opened by Doctor Strange's manservant Wong. Nice to see that some things haven't changed since her last stay on Earth, Magik thought. He had a great memory too, and no trouble remembering her from her previous (and only) visit to the Doctor's Sanctum Sanctorum, years before, when the amulet of a sorcerer dead for thousands of years had caused so much trouble.

Doctor Strange's mansion, back in those days had many things in common with a museum, including its somewhat inhospitable air. Since then, the living quarters had assumed a more lived-in look, even if they still were spotlessly clean and filled with an almost unlimited plethora of curios and mystical artifacts.

Wong took her through the entrance-hall, up the carpeted staircase and through a long corridor. It seemed straight, but while the sun fell in through the first door on the right, it shone in head-on through the door at the far end. Wong showed her into a study. A computer stood on an 18th-century desk, beneath an old-fashioned, ornate ceiling lamp. The Bloom County screen saver was oddly out of place in the surroundings. Wong introduced Illyana to an unfamiliar woman in her late thirties, Morgana Blessing. Who was she? Strange's social secretary? Actually, looking closer at the brunette, Illyana felt she might have seen her before, perhaps on Oprah or something? Oh yes, now she remembered, Ms. Blessing was a novelist and sometimes factoid journalist who wrote on supernatural themes. How in the world had she wind up in Dr. Strange's household.

"Stephen and Clea will be here shortly," Morgana explained. "They're engaged with the ritual of Thash-Kente at the moment, and I'd rather we not disturb them. It's at a very delicate stage. But they should be finished within the hour." Wong left and soon returned bearing a tray with tea and small cakes. Five minutes later Doctor Strange and his silver-haired disciple entered the sitting-room where Morgana had taken the former New Mutant. They had sensed her arrival and cut short their activities.

"By Oshtur," said Stephen Strange, "this is an unexpected visit. We thought you were dead, died of the Legacy virus. In fact, they invited us to your funeral two years ago."

"Uhmm, far as I can tell I've been stuck in Limbo for the past four years. Maybe another version of myself entered this dimension from a different timeline?"

"In any case, you seem little changed," said Strange. And so she did. With the vagaries of the time fluctuations she had been through it was hard to be certain, but Illyana did not look as if she had aged more than a year since their last meeting. Like a girl of fifteen, or at the most seventeen years. She gave a quick summary of her last enforced stay in Limbo and of the intruders with whom she had 'stowed away' to return to terra firma.

"Those guys looked like major trouble, Doc. I mean, S'ym can be a pretty tough proposition, but he could do little more than annoy them..."

"But are you sure they were evil?" asked Morgana, "Maybe they just were acting in self-defense?"

"Even if so," interjected Clea, "beings that powerful definitely bear watching."

"Well, I got some major bad vibes from this M'shool person," said Illyana. "The others acted as if they were underlings or maybe not that interested. One of 'em behaved like a child, but like one that enjoys pulling legs out of flies. And what about the ones M'shool wants to rub out, this Hawk and Dove?"

"I don't think I ever heard these names as the actual names of persons," said Clea.

"Nor have I," said Strange, "and as Sorcerer Supreme I really should be aware of most users of magic on this planet who would be powerful enough to attract that kind of opposition. But I also don't think I ever encountered your 'guests' either."

"So you think they're not from Earth?" Morgana asked.

"I'd be surprised if they're from your universe," interrupted Clea. "Have you any idea, where they're heading, Illyana?"

The Siberian mutant was a little unsure: "When I slipped away from them over New York, they were traveling in a northeasterly direction, so my first guess would be somewhere in New England."

Doctor Strange scratched his chin: "Hmm, a lot of places of mystic significance and sources of arcane magic in New England. Just think of Rutland, Vermont, where Dormammu once tried to invade. Mages from any universe might be attracted there."

"This would probably mean assuming that these Hawk and Dove persons were in fact sorcerers of some description." said Clea, suddenly somewhat doubtful.

"Yeah, with names like that they could also be costumed heroes or villains," interjected Illyana. "They sometimes go in for animal code names."

"Hey, I have an idea," said Morgana excitedly. "Maybe Hawk and Dove are those two mystery superheroes who took part in the fight near Washington? That policeman said they were dressed in bird-motifs."

Clea mused on that: "That was to the south of here, but of course they could easily have gone to New England or even out of the country since then..."

Doctor Strange had thoughtfully followed the last exchanges and rose, saying: "Well, it's definitely time to consult the Orb of Aggamoto. And since this M'shool may be powerful enough to hide his aura, maybe I'd better also look for those superheroes." And with that he motioned the others to follow him into the meditation chamber next door, where the Orb was stored. Stephen, Clea and Illyana seated themselves around the Orb's casing, while Morgana observed the proceedings from near the door.

Near the Nation's Capital

Everyday life with X-Factor is not the most exciting or glamorous thing in the world. Normally, only one or two members of the team are in readiness in their base just over the Maryland state line during the day (or sleeping over in the duty quarters next to the communications room at night). The others usually just had stay within easy reach, i.e. within the Washington area and carrying a communicator, which, following Guido's lead, they simply called a 'beeper'. In the early days of the team, some of Val Cooper's had played a bigger part in communications, but since then Forge had rebuilt and automated most of the equipment. The civilian staff then was reduced to a small number of trusted aides.

On most days, X-Factor's off-duty members went about their normal lives as far as they could if they stayed within easy reach of the base. Alex and Lorna, for instance, no longer could work on long archaeological digs, but as a partial compensation they occasionally worked at the Smithsonian. Forge split his time between his laboratory and his office, and Valerie Cooper usually was busy in her administrative functions and lobbying various parts of the government and intelligence bureaucracies, although of course of late she and Raven were devoting quite a bit of their time to their child. (Mystique's uncanny control over her metabolism enabled little Irene to become perhaps the first child to be breast-fed by both parents.) Once Irene started taking solid food, Mystique had shouldered a larger share of the parental responsibilities, reasoning that Val would be able to do more for 'the cause' than she, a notorious ex-terrorist.

Of course, things were different today. After the Rosslyn battle, Havok had a hunch that Stryfe would have to try to strike soon to limit the damage to his credibility as a potential leader of discontented mutants. Possibly by posing a serious threat, e.g. taking hostage something like a nuclear power station in order to force the authorities to free his captured operatives. So the team was gathered in the base, just in case it had to take off in a hurry in one of its various aircraft to deal with the expected crisis.

And then there were the unexpected guests. Hank, Ren, Dawn, Brian and Una were accommodated in the spare bedrooms. Forge and Valerie had tried to contact Reed Richards, the leading authority on time and interdimensional travel, but unfortunately, if not totally unexpectedly, he was out on a mission with the Fantastic Four. Wolverine too was nowhere to be found, but they all were secretly sure that he would have little to add to what Storm had mentioned at her short visit yesterday. Forge was still putting off consulting experts into the supernatural.

At the moment, Dawn, Brian, Mystique and Rogue were playing with the children in the gardens next to the living quarters. Forge was in the communications center with Havok, monitoring the incoming news items. Most of the others were sitting around the table on the terrace in the back of the building, comparing notes and trying to relax. Guido, who really wanted the extradimensional visitors to feel at home, had started knitting a pair of booties for Ren's unborn child. He and Hank had already discussed the differences between the Washington Redskins of their home dimensions. Magneto was looking through the papers. After Renata had digested the news that Northern Exposure had been canceled, she and Lorna were talking about life with their respective partners. Ren's direct questions about their avoidance of a proper commitment, even an informal one, made Lorna feel a little uncomfortable about the way her relationship with Alex had developed these past years. Before X-Factor, before Malice, there had been a time when they had lived together almost like a married couple, but now it was more difficult. The question was how much of this was due to the stress of working in X-Factor and having to deal with the politics that entailed, and how much was due to a real gradual change in their feelings for each other. The proximity to Magneto added to her discomfort. Zaladane had not been much of a sister to her -- she had in fact only learned that they were sisters at their last meeting, at which Zala had almost killed her -- but still it gave her a cold chill to sit at the same table with the man who had killed her.

Valerie Cooper's car turned into the driveway and drove into the garage. She had just returned from her monthly conference on Capitol Hill with Senator Kelly and some others to discuss current mutant and metahuman affairs. One of the main subjects on the agenda was of course Rosslyn. X-Factor had acquitted itself quite well in the fight, but still the fact that the MLF had hidden out right on the doorstep of the nation's capital did not reflect to well on them or indeed any of the security services. It had been a grueling session, even if Robert Kelly now had a more realistic and less paranoid view of 'mutant questions' and could be shown what could and what could not be achieved with the resources at hand. And now she was glad to be home, or at any rate with her friends and family.

After quickly briefing giving Forge and Alex about the talks on the Hill to, she walked out onto the lawn to join her family. After exchanging kisses on the cheek with Raven, she hugged Irene and lifted her high in the air, which made her daughter giggle with joy. Then, sitting down with Irene on her lap, she turned her attention to the others present: "So, Rogue, you and ... Magnus still enjoying your stay in spite of everything? Where is he, by the way?"

"He's with the others on the terrace. Said he wanted to have a man-to-man talk with Hawk 'bout a world with no mutant troubles. Also, ah think he enjoys the way Guido can extract a joke from most everything."

"In the meantime, we had a lovely time," said Mystique. "Little Una's feeling quite at home here."

"And you?" Valerie asked Dawn and Brian, "all to your satisfaction in your rooms?"

They had no complaints about their accommodation, but they did want to know about what Valerie had said about Hawk and Dove's involvement in the Rosslyn fight.

"Actually," said Valerie, "they did not seem very interested in you beyond the fact that you weren't new X-Factor recruit which we hadn't okayed with our bureaucratic watchdogs. As far as they know, you simply are another couple of unfamiliar superheroes, and I didn't volunteer anything they did not want to know about. In any case, some of them seemed to believe news stories that you were former members of the Defenders or the Great Lake Avengers in new costumes. So apart from the people we've consulted about the matter we haven't spread around that you're not from this dimension."

Although she made light of it, Dawn's relief was palpable in her voice when she asked about the progress of the efforts to find a way for them to return home. But there still was no news from Mr. Fantastic.

Mystique wondered aloud: "Have you considered what you'd do if we can't find a way to return you to your proper place in time or your proper timeline?"

Brian and Dawn did not immediately answer that question, which touched on some of their most acute fears since they had arrived in X-Factor's world in 1997. Finally Dawn spoke: "I can't say this hasn't worried us for quite a while now. It is not the first time we've traveled between dimensions, but it does seem to be the first time we've taken a wrong turning. Hawk maybe would have a reason to stay here," she exchanged a significant glance with her husband, "but even he wouldn't want his parents to have to go through life believing that both their sons were dead. We all have family back home. And there's unfinished business with M'shulla and his lackeys."

Suddenly, there was a signal on Raven's and Val's communicators. Something had come up and the X-Factorites were called into the building.

Everybody was assembling around the conference table. Forge was standing next to a holographic map of the northeastern United States. Typical, thought Hawk, once these high-tech wizards get started, they can't do anything simple anymore. I've seen it happen before, in the Teen Titans.

Forge announced the news: "We've received a message from the FBI. It seems Stryfe and his followers have been spotted near Mystic, Connecticut." He pointed to the small town on the New England coast. "That is pretty near to the submarine base at New London, which may be a very likely target for an attack. At least that's what Alex and I think. But assuming the sighting is correct, that leaves the question why so far the MLF have not actually done anything. One explanation would be that New London isn't their objective or that they are still staking it out. But another thing we could consider is that Locus is still under concussion thanks to Hawk here and that they are still waiting for her to recuperate so she can take them in and out of the base."

Valerie Cooper had a question: "How and where exactly were the MLF people sighted? And how many of them?"

Forge consulted the printout in his hand: "Well, according to the report, a couple of bird-watchers saw them materialize on a road through a forest to the north of Mystic (I'll skip the details for the moment). And they said they saw all four of them and believe they themselves were not seen on account of them lying low so as not to scare away the birds."

"Any leads on where they might be hiding out?" asked Lorna.

"The local cops are working on them. The FBI is also sending in a team." Havok replied. "But of course they hope we can be a little more effective with Forge's special gadgets."

"So we'll leave in ten minutes," Forge added, "everybody be in the hangar then."

Mystique looked at Rogue questioningly, and the X-Man nodded. She'd definitely tag along. Rogue immediately turned to Magneto and started to whisper to him.

"Can we come too?" Hank suddenly put in.

"What???" Dawn was as surprised as the others by this request to get involved in another universe's troubles, especially with a government outfit. Compared to that, the fact that he hadn't asked her before he included her in his request was almost to be expected.

"I still have to pay back Stryfe." Of course, he was taking it personally.

"Okay, I can relate to that," Dawn replied with a vaguely amused smile. "So folks, do you want us?"

Valerie Cooper found the smile infectious: "Sure, the more, the merrier. Umm, Brian and Renata, you wouldn't mind staying here and help look after the kids?"


"What do you think is more likely: that they're holed up in town or outside?" The Deputy who had been attached to X-Factor as liaison to the Sheriff's Department was unfolding his map on one of the tables of the picnic-ground.

"You'd think ol' Trouble 'n' Stryfe'd be sick of suburban housing after Rosslyn," surmised Strong Guy. "Unless he already had something prepared."

"Well, Hawk only hit Locus after the others had already passed through the portal," said Dawn. "So it's reasonable to assume they still appeared where they wanted to. Which may mean that they have a hideout not too far away from there."

They all clustered around the map to study the surroundings of the place where the MLF had been sighted. Forge concluded the session: "Okay, you've all been briefed on the four MLF members who escaped from the Francis Scott Key Bridge, as well of those who weren't captured in Rosslyn, either because they weren't there or because they managed to escape somehow. Just to be on the safe side."

"And your detection gadgets are all in fine working order?" Lorna was checking. Forge nodded.

"Okay then, let's roll!" said Alex slapping his hands together.

Valerie Cooper let go of the red balloon she had been holding throughout the briefing and watched as it rose above the tree-tops.

"They're off," said Rogue to Magneto and put down her binoculars. The young X-Man and her companion were the hidden reserve of the operation. They left the rented Blazer and walked up to the top of the hill from which they could observe the area the others were now going to search.

"I really ought to have my head examined," muttered Magneto. "Co-operating with the U.S. government! You definitely have a bad influence on me, my sweet." He was making light of it, but though it remained unspoken, Rogue knew he was thinking of the last time he had linked up with a US government agency, one of the intelligence services during the Cold War. He had angered his employers by bringing a Nazi war criminal hiding out in South America to stand trial in Israel. What he hadn't known at the time was that the man had been working for the same intelligence service as himself. His controller told him, but only after he had Magneto's Brazilian lover murdered. That had been one of the seminal events that had set him on his course to becoming the infamous mutant supremacist terrorist.

Rogue gently caressed his cheek, sympathy for his pain welling up inside her. "You're doing the right thing, trust me. Val's a good woman, and they all know what they're doing."

The mixed task force was slowly and carefully advancing through the woods toward the isolated farm which either itself was the hideout or was near to where it was situated. Hank, near the center of the chain, was a increasingly tense. He did not feel too comfortable about Forge's machines. Not that he distrusted his expertise, it was basically a question of never having seen how they worked in action. He felt much surer of his and Dawn's own mystic trigger, the one that made their transformation to Hawk and Dove possible only when they were in the presence of danger. So he kept muttering 'Hawk' under his breath from time to time.

Out on the right flank, Havok's main responsibility was checking the outside quadrants, but since he was the field leader, he of course intermittently looked along the group to see how they were progressing. So he happened to be looking at Hank as he transformed to his massive alter ego. Dawn, who was walking quite near her partner, followed suit within a second or two. But what neither of them noticed until Havok bellowed a warning, was that the immediate danger was not before, but behind them. He saw the air above and behind him turn into a shimmering mass of liquid purple fire that coalesced into four shapes: M'shulla, Gorum, Child and Flaw.

"Aw no!" shouted Hawk in disgust, "those jerks would have to show up now!"

In the News

New York, July 22, 1997
Conn. incident adds postscript to Rosslyn battle

By Ben Urich. An isolated Connecticut forest area near became the scene of a sequel to the 'battle' in Rosslyn, Va., this 19th. According to the official release, six members of the terrorist 'Mutant Liberation Front' were tracked to a farm building near Mystic after their escape from the Saturday skirmish. The Federal superpowered strikeforce X-Factor succeeded in capturing five of them. They have been named as Feral, Forearm, Locus, Reaper, and Wildfire. MLF leader Stryfe is still believed to be on the run. X-Factor members suffered "relatively minor injuries."

Anti-mutant spokesman Graydon Creed was quick to express doubts "if the official statement actually told even half the true story. This all seems to have worked much too easy. It would not surprise me if X-Factor and the Mutant Liberation Front weren't in cahoots."

Speculation also has arisen about a series of mysterious incidents in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island and their possible connection to the metahuman confrontation.

When phoned by the Bugle for a comment, X-Factor's Havok said: "Mr. Creed's statement is of course the kind of paranoid deluded talk we've grown accustomed to hearing from people of his stripe." He would however not speculate on the New England incidents or elaborate on the official account of events.

Valerie Cooper's Diary

Murphy's Law hit us with a vengeance at the beginning of the battle. We were just about to "go in", when H & D's enemies (1. M'shulla, a 'Lord of Chaos' who changes his shape whenever he feels like it, 2. Gorum, another of the above, a mean little s.o.b., 3. Child, yet another L.o.C., brat w/ way too much supernatural power (Caligula must have been like him), 4. Flaw, Child's crystal golem) made their appearance. Their attack of course roused the MLF (the 4 we knew about + Moonstar, Reaper & Wildfire) in the farm & so we almost immediately found ourselves between 2 fires. At 1st we were in a pretty fix, even if Rogue & Magneto took some of the pressure off us by taking the MLF from the side. Fighting supernatural enemies is not our cup of tea, and Forge really is the only one of us who is an 'expert' in that kind of thing. But we were in luck thanks to the timely intervention of Dr. Strange and friends (these including Illyana Rasputin, somehow returned from the dead). Also luckily for us, there was no real cooperation between the 2 groups we were up against. So even though Guido was out of the fight almost from the start, we slowly got the upper hand. Once Forge had overcome his reluctance to be the shaman, he, Strange &c. fully occupied the gruesome magic foursome. I was busy on the other front, but it was rather scary having to dodge ricochetting magic bolts or avoid the effects of sorcerous energy gradually building up of all over the place. I myself was paralyzed by Reaper's scythe in mid-battle, but thankfully Rogue took him out almost immediately, ripping off his bionic metal hands. So of course I did not actually see too much of the rest of the battle and leave that part of the account to someone else.

Especially because the official report is a little incomplete, since Dr. Strange did not want to have his part mentioned and we all felt better not publicizing the involvement of Hawk + Dove and their enemies (talking in terms of strange visitors from other dimensions, not to mention their demonic foes, does tend to cause incredulity in the public at large). Be that as it may, in spite of the unfamiliar powers of some of the MLF types, we had more heavyweights on our side. We were already winning when Cable (who had been tipped off by Moonstar, who, it emerged, was their mole in the MLF (I like it!)) showed up. With him were Shatterstar and Cannonball, what was left (in a shape to fight) of X-Force after Rosslyn. Stryfe and Cable soon were at each other's throats, and almost everyone with more physical powers was involved in fighting the MLF. Moonstar let herself be taken out by Cannonball, but it wasn't so easy with the others. Hawk, poor thing, hadn't been paying attention at the briefing about the MLF members he hadn't encountered before and rushed into a fix when he came up against Wildside. Still, the fight looked do-able then, if there hadn't been the problem of dealing with all that mystic (if you'll excuse a pun, Val dear) and time+dimension-hopping stuff. To be more specific, the side-effects of the fight between the 'Lords of Chaos' and Doc Strange and his cohorts.

Thank you, Raven. We got a barebones account from Dr. S. & Forge afterwards. Apart from the stray zaps and hexes you could best compare the overall effect of to the building up of a static electrical charge. You then get certain points where the magic energy is discharged in foreseeable or unexpected ways. In this case you had special problems because M'shulla & co. (just arrived) were not properly aligned to this universe and so some of their spells were out of whack. And all that spelled trouble for those present who came from other realities & futures. And the condensation points where all this supernal 'mist' were Cable & Stryfe -- not just from the future, but also clones. A magenta halo manifested around them, turned purple, and then deep blue. But, judging by the way the two went for each other, they probably had too much of a red haze in their eyes to notice. When Cable landed a punch on Stryfe's chin (virtually the only part of his body that was not covered in metal), there was a sudden discharge. I lay groggy with my face to the wall, but even I could not miss that flash of eldritch light.

Quite blinding it was. In situations like this people tend to turn towards the source of the distraction, but luckily I'm enough of an old (no funny remarks, Val!) hand at this that I can stifle that impulse. So I was able to take Feral out when her attention was diverted, and then I checked what the hell was going on. What I saw was the tail-end of a pretty horrible process, in which Cable and his alter ego Stryfe were somehow fused into one being. I don't know if it was because of the heat or something, but the metal armor/prosthetics turned from chrome to blue, first like a motorcycle exhaust, then coalescing and deepening into purple and dark blue sections. The fusion of the different sets of metalware resulted in an extra-heavy suit of armor. The face was hidden behind a featureless mask (just a couple of slits for the eyes), and Stryfe's heat-vane things melted into a new backpack. The oddest change was below the golden belt, where the fused creature sported a metal 'loincloth' plus armored bell-bottoms. Hawk + Dove apparently knew him, they just stood there gaping: "Monarch!" Which of course got me thinking (damn all this time & space travel!) and almost cost me when Feral got to her feet again. At least it mostly evened out as both MLF & X-Force members were dismayed over the fate of their resp. leaders and the magical crowd were more or less distracted equally. After staggering around a little, the fusion-oid straightened himself up. He clearly was pissed off (sorry Vee!) against the magic blokes, especially the 'Lords of Chaos', and immediately goes into this big rant about the necessity to impose order on the world and advances on them. Doc Strange and Magik recover first and combine to cast a spell that hurls them back to their home multiverse. But everybody was shocked to see the blue metal guy rush after them as the spell takes effect, taking the composite man with them. By that the odds shifted in our favor that it was comparatively easy to 'mop up' the remnants of the MLF.

After the fighting was over, Hawk & Dove told us about this 'Monarch': He was a supervillain from the future who turned up in H&D's native universe in 1991; it then took most of the superheroes of their Earth to deal with the threat he posed. He apparently was the tyrannical ruler of some future timeline (maybe the Cable/Stryfe amalgam was drawn back to the year from which they had originally traveled to our time), who was pursuing a time-traveling rebel into the past. The rebel wanted to prevent Monarch from coming into existence (in the mistaken belief that the Monarch was actually a native of the same dimension), while Monarch wanted to prevent the rebel from gaining allies who would fight him. I guess that is why M. planted the disinformation about him being one of H&D's universe's heroes turned bad, because that's how he must have got his foe to waste a lot of time trying to find out which superhero was the 'future Monarch'. Dr. Strange was all for pursuing M. and trying to find a way to reverse the amalgamation process, but that may prove a big, big task. H & D told us that the space/time continuum of their home dimensions has been torn to shreds and patched up again at least one more time since the events above due to the activities of Monarch and another person set on re-drawing reality, called Parallax. But at the moment we have some terrible news for Cyclops, Cable's father. Rogue offered to be the one to tell him, but it's better if Forge and I do it (w/ Rogue and maybe some of the other participants in attendance). Unfortunately Cyclops wasn't at home when we tried to reach him by phone. Dr.S. promised to contact us re. possible help in returning H & D to their original dimension, although he said it could be difficult-to-impossible to return them to the point in time when they left. It might be easier to find a way to their universe in '97, but that would be problematic because H & D & family would lose the intervening years and (as Dr.S. told us from his experience with a book Morgana Blessing wrote) when 'men (& women) of mystery' go 'missing-believed-killed' for such a long time, there's always the possibility that a confidante hits on the idea that the best way to honor his/her memory is by publishing a big biography that spills all kinds of secrets. So ideally one should scout ahead before attempting to bring them home. (As if that was possible!)

After that little discussion of interdimensional and time travel, we had to do a bit of mundane intradimensional travel -- transporting the dangerous prisoners to safe confinement, and sending small task forces all over New England to deal with crises caused by the backwash of the supernatural battle. The excess magic apparently gathers in places of mystical significance (your basic ancient Indian burial grounds) or imbued with magic in some other way. Dr.S. was a bit worried that the magic energy might power up gateways between realities. In that case, it would become possible to travel from one universe to another. "Fortunately," Strange said, "the person in question would have to know where he's going and would want to go there. And that's pretty unlikely for most people."

Epilogue I

Trade was brisk in the little cappuccino bar. The girls' basketball team of the local high school had just thoroughly thrashed the team from a private school from neighboring Vermont, and a gaggle of players and hangers-on crowded around the bar to celebrate. In the hubbub of their carousing, the teenage Asian-American girl sitting at a corner table went unnoticed, certainly by the overworked busboy, the older of the two women behind the counter noticed. She had seen her here before, something you almost could not fail to do as she nearly always wore a bright yellow coat, sunglasses -- pushed up over her forehead this evening -- and earrings in the shape of London Transport signs. As on many of the previous occasions when she had been here, the girl had met with the short, but loud-mouthed Canadian in the cowboy-type hat who often came to Crossroads hiking through the woods of New York state. But he had left half an hour ago, and there the girl still sat at her table, staring into space and Conal still hadn't gone to ask her if there was anything more she needed. There, at last the boy went over and took the girl's order. The bar's co-proprietor could again turn her attention to the customers nearer at hand.

Jubilation Lee was not feeling too happy. Her 'date' with Logan had failed to lift her spirits and, as so often before, she was feeling a bit sorry for herself, immaturity be damned. In her melancholia she even had let the busboy talk her into ordering the soup of the day, which turned out to be lentils. Major boredom. She decided to split and leave for home.

As she came to the doorway, she became aware of an odd tingling sensation. She stopped dead in her tracks, puzzled by what she saw. Didn't anyone else notice it? The way whenever she directly looked at someone, they seemed to change suddenly. That overburdened fat man with the receding hairline getting out of a pickup -- didn't he have a mustache when she first noticed him in the corner of her eye? The truck's paint also wavered between a well-polished poppy-red and a mud-splattered orange. There was a group of chatting nearby, but as she focused her gaze on them, some of them suddenly seemed to change their sex or vanish completely whenever she blinked.

But this double-vision stopped once she stepped into the open. Still, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Something felt, not necessarily wrong, but different. Wait a moment, what was that? There, at the top of the Greyhound timetable: "COACHES TO NEW YORK -- PHILADELPHIA -- GOTHAM"???

She had passed that display a dozen times, but she was sure she'd have noticed that name before. Something was très screwy here. And the only big city called Gotham she had ever heard of before...

...was in another universe.

It had been a few months earlier. Dozens of strange men and women had appeared from another universe. Most of the others had forgotten about it, but Jubilee had kept a diary. Not something she did regularly, but there was this boy who had suddenly appeared out of thin air and into her room in the Academy in Snow Valley. Landing on her bed, in fact.

Robin had said he came from a big city called Gotham, where he was the junior partner of a costumed vigilante, the Batman, also known as the Dark Bat or something. Jubilee had not paid much attention to that, having only eyes and ears for the masked young man who by a freakish coincidence wore a costume not that different from one she herself used to wear. In zero seconds flat she had realized that this was the guy for her, and not much long after he had felt the same way about her.

Of course it had been too good to last. It had turned out that their two native universes had started to merge, and suddenly the two star-crossed heroes had found themselves in a lame-o contest about which universe was going to survive. They even had been set up in a duel. Robin had defeated her with embarrassing ease, even managing to do it without hurting her -- both humiliating and sweet of the boy. It had ended with her lying bound on the ground and with him sitting on top...

Once she 'cried uncle', it had seemed such a natural thing. After all, as far as they knew the world was going to end any time for one of them, they'd never have a another chance. But like, maximum out of this world... then, thankfully and contrary to expectations both universes had been saved and Jubilee and Robin had been forced to go their separate ways.

But this sign at the bus stop, did it mean that by leaving the bar she had entered a strange, but not unfamiliar universe? Yeah, right. There must be some way to verify the journey... Maybe that old newspaper in the bus-station's wastepaper bin. Ugh, someone must have used that to wipe off their boots or something. Still, it was legible. Finally, on one of the inner pages she found a small item, SUPERMAN FOILS SIMULTANEOUS HEISTS IN METROPOLIS. Bingo.

Maybe it would be a good idea to check out the bar again. She went back in. Hmm, nothing unusual inside. Pretty much as she remembered it, and certainly no double-images. Her eyes swept around the room, finally returning to the open door. Looking out, she again had the slightly scary experience of a landscape and people in it which apparently could not make up its mind between two different scenarios. Wish Wolvie was still here, he has more experience with this dimension-traveling stuff...

Suddenly, the view shifted into one of the competing versions, the one with the dirty orange pickup. In this world, there was no wastepaper basket at the bus shelter. Guess that means if I go out now, I'll probably be in the universe I came from.
She suddenly realized that prospect tore her up. Seeing the name Gotham had created an undercurrent of excitement, no, make that a sense of joyful expectation in her. Admit it Jubester, you're still hung up on the boy...

She gasped. The moment these thoughts had entered her mind, the view had changed again. The pickup was clean and red, and the paper bin was back in its place. Hmm, going out on a limb she'd say that this door operated as a portal between dimensions that is controlled, at least in part, by the desires of the person passing through. Jubilee wondered if the effect was permanent or only temporary. She rather feared the latter, because she certainly did not remember that tingling from her previous visits to this place. So maybe if she wanted to really go, she'd have to make up her mind at once.

Oh hell, nothing ventured, nothing gained, she thought. Gotham City, here I come!

But only after leaving a message in the machine with Wolvie and at the Academy.

Epilogue II

The home of Valerie Cooper, Mystique and their daughter was the kind of brownstone townhouse one expects to see in Georgetown. Situated next to X-Factor's town offices, it offered its inhabitants a quick retreat from their political and emergency service duties.

Valerie Cooper sat at the antique desk in her study, watched by framed photographs of various members of her family (including one of Edmond Atkinson, her ex-husband). She was in the process of finishing her memo on the recruiting Moonstar and Warpath into X-Factor's ranks. The other members of X-Force had made a quick, quiet exit. Valerie wondered if Domino would hold the group together -- from what she heard, Boomer and Sunspot were interested in hooking up with Charles Xavier's program after the disappearance of their erstwhile leader.

Beneath the window, Raven and Rogue were playing with little Irene on the sunny back terrace. Rogue had returned to Washington to help assess the aftermath of the events of the preceding weeks and to co-ordinate the policies of the X-Men and X-Factor. And of course she took advantage of this to visit her foster sister and her parents.

There still was a lot to find out about the dimension-hopping that had gone on so frequently these past two weeks. Rogue had just mentioned confidentially that one of students in Xavier's freshman team, Generation X, had gone AWOL into Hawk and Dove's native universe. They still were trying to work out how she had done that. If they did, maybe they could find a way not only to follow her and bring her back, but also to return the two families currently in residence at the X-Factor compound to their home, if probably not to their original time.

They would be discussing this tomorrow in their next get-together with their guests. Then they would also talk about what the two couples were going to do until they did find a way to bring them home. Valerie had contacted Nick Fury about getting the necessary documentation etc. to become 'naturalized' in this universe. He still owed X-Factor a few favors. There still remained the possibility that the five (relatively soon to become six) would find no way to return or that they would decide to stay here until a way was found to bring them back at the same time they left. In that case they might have to prepare for a longer stay.

Valerie finished her paperwork as laughter drifted up through the window. Irene was again doing her best to charm her foster sister and succeeding admirably. Valerie decided to join them, locked away her memo, thereby leaving the top of the desk tidy and indeed almost bare, and walked down the wood-paneled staircase. When she came out onto the terrace, the others greeted her. Her child turned towards her, got up and, still somewhat clumsily started to walk towards her. Val quickly scooped her up and hugged her, placing a warm kiss on her Irene's sky blue brow.

"Li'l Irene's been keepin' us busy, Val," said Rogue. "She's had us do bird impressions for the past half-hour."

With Val there to take care of Irene and the visiting Rogue, Raven could disappear into the kitchen to prepare a little meal. Rogue sensed that her foster-mother's partner wanted to use the opportunity for a short confidential talk: "Well, 'dad', seein' we've been too busy with other things until now, ah guess this is the part where ya grill me 'bout mah new boyfriend, right?"

Valerie Cooper briefly chuckled: "No, I think I know how you feel about him. As a matter of fact, on the moral level there are similarities to the beginning of my 'marriage', aren't there? What Raven calls 'the Skywalker syndrome'."

Rogue had listened thoughtfully before asking: "What's that supposed t'mean?"

Valerie explained with a conspiratorial smile: "Well, that's what she said last week. 'Both of you are desperately willing your partner to turn to the bright side of the Force, just like Leia with Han Solo and Luke with Darth Vader.'"

Rogue snorted with laughter: "Yeah, that sounds like her. Now ya mention it, ah think she said somethin' similar t'me yesterday, if not with the same imagery."

The older woman's expression became serious: "Look, Rogue, we may like to crack jokes about me being your new daddy, but I really have come to care for you as a member of my family." There was a somewhat awkward pause. "So on one hand I'm really happy for you that you finally got your chance of a life with a ... um, 'significant other' and seized it. As for your choice of partner..." she shrugged her shoulders, "I guess in my position I'm more inclined to support you morally than many other people..."

The young one grimaced: "Momma don't seem to be too happy 'bout me'n Magneto..."

"Well, Raven frets over me a lot." Valerie sat down Irene who wanted to play with her toy cars. "She rather blames herself -- or at least the fact that our relationship became public knowledge -- for me not getting a cabinet post. So she's a bit worried about the effect the news might have that my foster-daughter-by-marriage is intimately involved with Magneto."

"Now we ain't exactly in a hurry to announce that t'the public!"

"Well, at least you two seem to be quite chipper at the moment. I really wish you well and hope that Magneto doesn't go on to..." Her voice trailed off. It was an uncomfortable thought, and one that was perhaps too close to her own, not totally allayed fear that someday some unforeseen event might cause Raven to revert to her old ways. (Although now she wasn't sure that would necessarily mean a break-up. The exposure of that cyborg who had tried to infiltrate the government hierarchy not so long ago had given her a fright. If someone set on the elimination of mutants actually succeeded in gaining the position Nimrod had aimed for...)

Rogue sensed Val's embarrassment and reacted accordingly: "Ah've been followin' that case in Hawaii. The way it's lookin' at the moment, ah expect you two are thinkin' of makin' honest women of each other over there any time soon?"

"Well, it is a thought. I expect we'd enjoy a Hawaiian honeymoon," Valerie wistfully remarked. "But the way Raven's two husbands ended up, maybe I shouldn't be too eager to get married. to her!" she teasingly added because she heard Mystique approaching.

Raven gave her a half-withering, half-amused look: "Don't mind Val, Rogue dear," she dead-panned, "she's just annoyed at me because I'm not as keen as she is on marriage. Honestly, now that so many hets are living together without a certificate, I don't really see why now gays'n'lesbians should rush to the justice of the peace in such a hurry."

She mischievously gave Rogue a sly wink. But as Valerie refused to be drawn, Raven just added that dinner was ready. There was a slight hold-up for deciding who got to carry Irene -- that privilege finally went to the visitor, Rogue -- and then the three women walked into the house, Mystique hugging Val to her.



This story first appeared in Menshevik Annual #6 in the June 1997 mailing of MZS-APA. It is part of a continuing storyline.
Magneto is not called Erik Lehnsherr here. The origin Fabian Nicieza foisted on him in X-MEN UNLIMITED #2 violates over a decade's worth of stories which, while never openly stating it, always clearly inferred that Magneto's background was Jewish. Nicieza also demonstrated a much smaller concern for historical facts than Chris Claremont. For a thorough treatise on the matter, please check out Rivka Jacobs' Magneto is Jewish FAQ at By a process of deduction and weighing probabilities too lengthy to expound here, I found it plausible to make Lithuania the country of his origin. After ditching the XMU #2 origin, it was only logical to also discard the new name (no one had called him Erik before, so why did everyone start afterwards?), especially since "Lehnsherr" is a technical legal and historical term for which I see no way that it could have become a family name (people who were a Lehnsherr, i.e. a feudal lord, already had family names, and people who were dependent on one would have used a concrete term - e.g. Koenig (king) or Graf (count) -- instead of the legal abstraction).
Hawk and Dove appear here pretty much as they were in the fondly-remembered series written by Karl and Barbara Kesel. For instance the extramarital parentage of Dove's daughter is from H&D Annual #2. However, for the purposes of this story, Armageddon 2001 #2 and the subsequent appearances of Hawk as Monarch did not happen.
Also, since my timeline diverges from Marvel's over two years before this story, a number of recent Marvel storylines either happened differently (e.g. Magneto regained his memories before he came back to Earth, he was not de-aged a second time, and Onslaught did not result in the apparent deaths of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four) or not at all (e.g. Operation Zero Tolerance, because Bastion was never allowed to get the position needed to launch it).

Copyright Notes:
Acolytes, Adamantium, Angel/Archangel, Edmond Atkinson, Avalon, Avengers, Banshee, Bastion, Beast, Black Widow, Morgana Blessing, Boomer, Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants, Cable, Cannonball, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell), Champions (of Los Angeles), Clea, Colosssus, Valerie Cooper, Graydon Creed, Cyclops, Daily Bugle, Damage Control, Defenders, Dr. Strange, Domino, Empire State University, Dormammu, Excalibur, Exodus, Fantastic Four, Feral, Forge, Aleytis Forrester, Freedom Force, Forearm, Friends of Humanity, Nick Fury, Galactus, Gambit, Generation X, Great Lake Avengers, Jean Grey, Havok, Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Iceman, Invisible Woman, Jubilee, Ka-Zar, Senator Robert Kelly, Kree, Latveria, Legacy Virus, (Daemonic) Limbo, Locus, Magda, Magik, Magneto, Malice, Massachusetts Academy, Luna Maximoff, Mr. Fantastic, Mr. Sinister, Moonstar, Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers), Mutant Liberation Front, Mystique, New Mutants, Nightcrawler, Nimrod, Onslaught, Orb of Aggamoto, Oshtur, Pangea, Phoenix (Rachel Summers), Polaris, Professor X, Madelyne Pryor, Quicksilver, Reaper, Franklin Richards, Rogue, Sabretooth, Savage Land, Savage Land Mutates, Scarlet Witch, Shadowcat, Shanna the She-Devil, Shi'ar, Silver Surfer, Skrull, Lyja Storm, Strong Guy, Stryfe, Storm (Ororo Munroe), Sunspot, S'ym, Ben Urich, The Vault, Amelia Voght, Warpath, White Queen (Emma Frost), Wild Child, Wildfire, Wolverine, Wong, Xavier Institute of Higher Learning, Xavier Mansion, X-Factor, X-Force, X-Men, Zaladane & Zenn-La are TM & (C) Marvel Entertainment Group.
The Force, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo & Darth Vader are TM & (C) Lucasfilm Ltd.
Captain Brian Arsala, Barter, Batman, Child, Daily Planet, Dove (Dawn Marie Granger), Dove (Donald Hall), Druspa Tau, Flaw, Gorum, Gotham City, Maire Granger, Russ Granger, Irwin Hall, Rae Penfield Hall, Hawk (Henry Hall), Kestrel, Kirby, Lords of Chaos, Lords of Order, Metropolis, Monarch, M'shulla, Senator Thomas O'Neill, Parallax, Robin (Tim Drake), Samurai Saurians, Captain Maggie Sawyer, Sons of Liberty, Special Crimes Unit?, S.T.A.R. Labs, Superman, Renata Takamori-Hall, T'Charr, Teen Titans, Terataya, Top, Teresa Bua Trinh, Unity (although I made up her given name), Waverider, Sgt. Wolfson & Wonder Woman are TM & (C) DC Comics.
Crossroads & Conal Savoy are TM & (C) Chris Claremont.
Violet Jones & Pansy Smith are TM & (C) Emma Bull & Lorraine Garland.
Irene Cooper and other supporting characters are mine (for all the good that does me).


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