(First Story: )
Where no one has gone before…no one living at least! ‘DEAD!’ shouts the assassin known as Wyre as he attacks Michael Twoyoungmen a.k.a. Shaman. ‘You killed us all!’ Wyre exclaims as his wires dig into the founding member of Alpha Flight, remarking that it seems only fair he shows the same consideration. Former member of Alpha Flight Lillian Crawley-Jeffries a.k.a. Diamond Lil who was dragged along for the battle tries to pull Wyre off of Shaman, while Nemesis tends to the injured Box, Lil’s husband.
Lil points out to Wyre that he can’t kill Shaman, as much as she would like to let him, because he is their only chance, for he got them here, so maybe he can get them back to the real world. ‘To what?’ asks Wyre angrily, pointing out that they are dead, Shaman told them so, for to journey to his ancestors’ land of the dead, he had to kill their physical forms. Nemesis tells Wyre to release Shaman, for there is more at stake here than they know, reminding him that if Shaman is to be believed, then the fate of all reality rests on their actions.
Angrily, Wyre leers at Shaman, pointing out that they trusted him and he used them, asking him what was wrong with the plain and simple truth. Shaman replies that he couldn’t risk them saying no, before revealing that their bodies are preserved, awaiting the return of their spirits. He is about to explain something else when Nemesis does it for him. She motions to where the being known as Carcass is standing and tells everyone that since Carcass now controls this realm, the only way they are going to get back is by defeating him first.
Wyre releases his hold on Shaman, muttering that it all seems a bit unlikely. He points out that they were all doing fine, until Shaman fell apart, ‘When she showed up,’ he remarks, motioning to the reanimated body of Shaman’s long dead wife Kathryn Twoyoungmen.
Carcass declares that it was an amusing distraction, but boasts that the heroes’ efforts were always destined to fail. He exclaims that the unmaking, the final dissolution of reality into the chaos from which it came has begun. He adds that with Shaman’s medicine pouch gone, all hope of stopping it is now gone too.
Wyre leaps at Carcass, boasting that they don’t need Twoyoungmen’s bag of tricks, all they need is - he doesn’t say what they need, for as he lashes out at Carcass, his hand is cut off. Carcass offers up his own hand to Wyre - which covers the assassin’s mouth, his strange pink body covering all of Wyre’s, before Diamond Lil attacks him as he laughs. ‘Laugh this off!’ she exclaims as she smacks him from behind.
Carcass turns to Lil, proclaiming that he knows she has tough skin and cannot be hurt, but casting some power upon her, Lil suddenly vomits all of her insides. Carcass declares that he will leave the skin alone, and Lil’s skin falls down beside the pile of bones and organs.
Carcass turns his attention back to Wyre as Shaman notices Jeffries ready to attack Carcass. Shaman tells him not to, that he cannot fight Carcass here because he is a Khaotic Mystic, master of reality. Jeffries tells at Shaman, telling him to shut up as he leaps at Carcass, reminding Shaman that Diamond Lil is his wife, he declares that Shaman may have given up fighting, but the rest of them haven’t.
Jeffries exclaims that even without his Box armor he will still be able to - he doesn’t get to say it, because Carcass grabs him, declaring that he knows Jeffries’ likes his shiny metal coat and wishes he would never have to come out of it. Jeffries is suddenly covered in liquid metal, screaming as it envelops his whole body, with Carcass exclaiming that he has given him his hearts desire.
Turning to Nemesis, Carcass asks her what game she would like to play with him. But the weakened Shaman calls to Carcass, telling him to leave Nemesis. ‘Torture me if you must, but leave the others alone!’ he pleads. ‘Torture you? Look at you!’ Carcass exclaims. As he turns to Shaman, the others all return to normal - Wyre’s hand is back, Lil and Jeffries’ bodies are both in tact and Nemesis has her sword once more.
The reanimated corpse of Kathryn Twoyoungmen stands beside Shaman as Carcass exclaims that his life force is all but spent keeping five vessels alive, reminds him that his medicine pouch is destroyed, and these sacred lands are defiled. Carcass tells Shaman that he must have known all along that among the dead souls, playthings he commands, was that of his dear wife. Kathryn’s body suddenly looks whole once more, and she smiles wickedly beside her husband.
Carcass declares that he has enjoyed playing with her. Kathryn’s body returns to its dead form as she smacks her husband across the face, telling him to watch as the unmaking spreads from the lands of the dead through all the known spirit worlds and into his own dimension. ‘And all order becomes glorious chaos!’ Carcass declares.
Carcass exclaims that the Goddess chose her champion badly, adding that she too can watch as her dream of universal order is destroyed. Suddenly, Carcass screams, as Shaman blasts him with some elemental fire. Twoyoungmen appears back to his normal self, gritting his teeth he stands ready for battle, asking Carcass if it hurt, adding that he intends to enjoy the next few minutes. Carcass exclaims that it is impossible, that Shaman cannot conjure without his medicine pouch.
Shaman reaches inside himself, revealing that he absorbed the pouch an instant before Kathryn struck him, for he knew it would be the only way to get close enough…’To do this!’ he shouts as he unleashes more power on Carcass. Carcass just laughs at Twoyoungmen, before using his own powers to send him backwards across the landscape. Once more, Shaman reaches inside of himself, and firing more power at Carcass, he tells him to burn.
Carcass tells Shaman that he seems to forget that the clay from which he sculpts is reality…’And Carcass is its master!’ Carcass begins to stretch Shaman’s body - an illusion, which Shaman has to keep reminding himself of, no matter how powerful it is. Though it causes some pain, Shaman manages to master the illusion, though the cold, hard claws of reanimated dead souls, including those of his wife, are waiting to claim him - and begin tearing at his body.
Carcass stands over Shaman’s weak body, declaring that it is over, when suddenly, Wyre creeps up from behind, and shoves his wires through Carcass’s body, holding him in place, enabling Lil to leap into action, ‘This time, Carcass…you’re all ours!’ she exclaims, kicking him forcefully with her diamond-hard body. Shoving her sword into Carcass’s body, Nemesis tells him that they understand this realm now, that he makes his own reality by force of will. Withdrawing her sword, she asks him if that felt real enough.
Jeffries rushes towards Carcass, declaring that if he wants his armor bad enough, he can have it - and so it appears. Drawing his metal hand into a fist and pulling it back, Box sends it forward, telling Carcass that he can have it. Carcass asks the group why they would help Shaman after all he did to them. Jeffries tells him that they may not like the way he did things, but that they all understand loss, and Carcass himself showed them Shaman’s pain, showed them why he did what he did. Jeffries remarks that it is funny, because Shaman picked the four of them for this mission for exactly the opposite reason, but in the end, it is because they do care, that they will stand or fall beside him.
Shaman gets to his feet, announcing that he finally sees, all the time he stooped to deception and trickery, he trod a path of damnation, and very nearly took them all with him. A battle begins, between Shaman and his associates and the reanimated souls of Shaman’s fellows, including his wife. Shaman asks Kathryn to forgive him. He tells her that he will never stop loving her, never forget her, but it is time he buried his dead. With that, Kathryn Twoyoungmen’s reanimated corpse is shattered.
Shaman turns to Carcass, telling him that he made him doubt himself, doubt his faith and power, but that in the end, that was his only real weapon, because the rest was just an illusion. Shaman creates a crystalline structure of pure order to hold Carcass. As it envelops Carcass, Shaman tells him that it is over, finished. But Carcass declares that it is never over, and tries to break the structure. Shaman urges him not to fight it, for the mix of chaos and order will - there is a loud sound and the crystalline structure shatters, taking Carcass’ body with it.
Suddenly, everything is gone, the heroes, or anti-heroes if you like, return to normal, and in an instant, they all return to Earth. Box tells Shaman that it was a heck of a trip, and that next time he needs help he should just ask. Shaman tells Box, Lil, Wyre and Nemesis that he owes them more than he can possibly repay. He admits that he was trapped, running from his grief, unable to share his pain with anyone - even Elizabeth, his own daughter. Shaman almost smiles as he tells them that thanks to them he will change, and can start living again.
Department H, in the Combat Central training facility, the young man dressed in a standard blue and red Department H uniform declares that his life as Albert Louis is over, and his new one begins here! He stands ready for action as four robot crab-like creatures rise from the sand. He reveals his new codename as he tells them to be prepared to taste the bio-electric wrath of Feedback!
The creatures race towards him and he is forced to jump out of the way. ‘Well that certainly impressed them!’ he thinks to himself. Standing to face them once more, he exclaims that he will just have to show them by example, and unleashes his mutant power upon them, destroying one of them - but another one comes up behind him. Albert realizes that he was so bust patting himself on the back that he wasn’t watching his back.
He is experiencing a lot of pain as the creature begins to crush him. He thinks hard about what to do, and begins to channel his power down into the arm of the creature - his plan works and the creature drops him, before being blown up. Feedback blocks the blast of another creature, glad he can extend his bio-electric aura just an inch or two above skin level to use it as a shield. He then uses a complete energy form of himself to finish the job, and his bio-electric self smashes the metal crab. Forgetting there is still one creature on the loose, Albert is busy gloating over the remains of the one he just destroyed, when the fourth comes up behind him and blasts him in the back.
Feedback calls himself useless, when Dr. Whitman Knapp a.k.a. Manikin of Beta Flight enters and asks him what is with all the self-recrimination. Whit tells Albert that in the past few weeks he has come on incredibly, adding that he is certainly faster than he was when he was in the Gamma Flight program. Albert asks Whit to run the program again, he wants to keep at it until he gets it right.
Whit urges Feedback to slow it down, explaining that he needs to examine the telemetry they got from this run first. Whit assures Feedback that they are slowly but surely building a picture of his body’s bio-electric generating abilities, but what is clear already is that his powers have limits, pointing out that he didn’t have anything left to deal with that last attack.
Manikin tells Albert that they need to find out what it is his body converts to energy, where to get it from and how quickly his system recharges it. Albert just grumbles something and kicks the floor. Whit realizes that there is so much anger in Albert, he knows that he didn’t want this life, but it was thrust upon him by the Hardliners, so he is reacting by pushing himself too hard, wanting it all at once. Albert kicks one of the metal crabs, and Whit just hopes that he hasn’t set his hopes too high, for in his experience, it is just further to fall.
Kara “Persuasion” Kilgrave calls to Whit and Feedback, informing them that what they want to watch is on the television. The trio enter a room where two more members of Beta Flight, the Dean twins, Laura a.k.a. Pathway and Goblyn are already watching. The newsreader announces that the Hardliners took it upon themselves to pre-empt the government’s Super Powers Act by becoming freelance paranormal hunters, no doubt anticipating a lucrative government contract in the offing.
The newsreader informs viewers that what the Hardliners got was time in court, facing criminal charges resulting from a battle with Canada’s super team, Alpha Flight, that laid waste to much of Toronto. The newsreader announces that the Hardliner’s intended target, Albert Louis, had this to say: ‘I’d just like to appeal to all unregistered paranormals - even those like me, whose only wish was to be left alone. Come forward voluntarily and register with Alpha Flight! Before what happened to me…happens to you!’
Albert watches himself on the television and exclaims that he was nothing to them, they tore his life apart for a P.R. stunt. He exclaims that this way, he made sure it is one that works in our favor. Suspiciously, Whit pays close attention to Feedback, wondering what he means by “our” favor, and if he was warning others, or getting even.
The newsreader informs viewers that there is some breaking news just in - the Hardliners are free! Outside the courthouse, a live feed is running, and the reporter Carol Brunnet announces that due to legal, technical difficulties and an offer from a mystery benefactor, to pay for all damages done to the city, the charges against the Hardliners have been dropped. Reginald Tork, the Hardliners had this to say: ‘This is a victory for all the decent normal people out there…who like us, want nothing more than to be protected against these dangerous rogue elements in society!’
Beta Flight and in particular Albert Louis are all in shock, and the sharp taste of victory turns to ashes in his mouth.
Elsewhere, the industrialist known as Joshua Lord is a manipulator of affairs both national and international, he is also a millionaire and much, much more. He too had been watching the events of the Hardliners unfold and mutters that Tork’s disobedience and incompetence has set his plans back considerably, though he has managed to limit its impact, as Albert Louis’ speech has damaged the Hardliner’s considerably. However, the act is in place, and the stage set for his grand designs - after all…’What is time to one such as I?…with that cryptic comment, Joshua Lord smiles.