The anxiety attack hits the woman while she is in the bathroom. She reaches for the Klonexadie tablets. They don’t work. They never do. They don’t stop the fear or stem the tide of red memories. She grabs a metal handle.
It is still out there somewhere. It’s going to find her, going to kill her. If only she weren’t so weak. If only she weren’t helpless! She lets go of the handle, her super strength having imprinted her fingers on the metal…
The Fury stares at the grave before it. Logic says Captain Britain is dead. Intuition says otherwise. It will have to think about it. And, when it has thought, it will have to do something. It never gives up.
In a idyllic setting in Otherworld, sipping something hot, Merlyn and Roma watch Captain Britain in a scrying pool. Roma remarks that their rebuilding of Captain Britain was a success. He is alive and back on his own Earth. Merlyn remains cautious. It is too early to say. They rebuilt his body adequately. But did they do as much for his mind? He might he insane…
September 9th, 1982:
The cab driver prattles on about the Falkland conflict and how they should send in the S.A.S. That’d give the Argentineans something to chew on. They arrive at what is left of Braddock Manor and Brian Braddock pays the driver and as he does, the first cold filaments of fear brush the nape of his neck. The driver doesn’t notice. Engrossed in his tip, he doesn’t even wonder why the man should have asked to come there where there’s nothing to see but ruins. Or at least that’s all he can see. His passenger sees something quite different. Braddock Manor in one piece.
But Brian recalls precisely how it was bombed to the ground. He came here to look over the ruins and find some sort of continuity in his life after coming back from that alternate world. To find anything. Anything but this. It was bombed. He was in it when it was bombed. He recalls how he and Captain America almost died in the bombing raid caused by the Red Skull infiltrated S.T.R.I.K.E.
He walks up the drive past rows of neat, well-tended flower beds. He stands at the heavy oak door for a moment, then goes inside, marveling that everything feels so real. Is he going mad?
Part of him wants to accept that this is Braddock Manor, where he grew up with his parents and his siblings Jamie and Betsy. His train of thought is interrupted when a happy voice greets him. It’s the charwoman Emma Collins. She is still here? a disbelieving Brian asks. Where else should she be, she replies happily and states that his parents will be so happy to see he is back from university. She can’t tell his parents, Brian blurts out helplessly, as Emma already walks off into the darkness to inform the Braddocks. But Mum and Dad are dead, Emma. They’re dead Brian calls, but she is gone if indeed she ever was really there.
Brian walks on, deciding that he must be mad. Perhaps his entire life as Captain Britain has been a hallucination. No, he has to think, he chides himself. His parents are dead. They are dead because they were electrocuted. They are dead because he didn’t help them… because he was with…
Valerie, oh Valerie, a voice moans from a room. Brian enters the open room to see himself in a sport car, lost in his passion for the girl he is kissing. The more experienced young woman tells him to enjoy it but asks if his parents won’t worry if he is staying away. The Brian with her asks who cares about them? They’ll be dead by morning anyway. They are going to be electrocuted by that computer his dad is working on. He doesn’t care. He just wants to be with her doing this.
The real Brian protests that he never said that. It’s not true. He didn’t know they were going to die! But the car has gone. The entwined young bodies have gone. He is talking to an empty room.
He walks through a house that cannot exist, looking for people who are no longer alive. He doesn’t know where he is heading until he gets there. The basement.
He sees the corpses of his parents, only skeletons dressed in tatters by now. Come in, son, his father’s corpse tells him. They’ve been waiting for him. Accusingly, he asks if Brian couldn’t have come sooner. He knows how much they look forward to seeing him, especially now they are dead. It’s lonely being dead. His wife chides him. The lad has his own life now. He’s probably been with that girl, that Valerie. He’s got no time for dead people. Why didn’t he ring them to say he was coming? she asks. It would have given them time to get ready. She hates anyone seeing her like this. Just like a woman, eh, the father’s corpse interrupts. He keeps telling her they are dead now. Nobody expects them to keep up appearances.
Brian bends down, apologizing profusely. Too late, his father replies sternly. He should have been sorry when he was out getting up to monkey business with that cheap little tart. His wife admonishes him for his language, but Brian agrees. He let them down. He let them die. Well, he is home now, his father replies. His room is just as he left it. His wife asks him not to rush the boy. He hasn’t said he wants to stay. It’ll mean some changes. He’ll have to be dead like them if that is what he wants.
Crying, Brian assures them that is what he wants. He wants to be dead like them. He wants them to be together.
A wise decision, a new voice assures him. A humanoid, armed familiar figure appears. It assures Brian that it only has to arrange the necessary details. Doesn’t Brian remember him? He tried to kill him once before, but Brian wouldn’t let him. Things are different now. He is older now.
Mastermind, of course, Brian babbles. He begins to laugh madly. It is fitting that he should be the one to kill him, isn’t it? Because he was just an extension of the computer that he let kill Mum and Dad. Yes, that is fitting. That’s fair. He remembers the last time they met. His parents impatiently interrupt, telling Brian to let the man get on with his business. They’ve been waiting so long for him.
Eyes wide and still weeping, Brian continues as Mastermind takes aim. He should have let Mastermind kill him then, Brian admits. It would have saved so much trouble, wouldn’t it? He thinks what decided him against it was when he found out that Mastermind was a projection of the computer, that he was only… realization begins to dawn… a hologram!
He barely manages to evade Mastermind’s shot, as he begins to understand. The computer survived the blast that wrecked the manor and rebuilt the mansion. Valerie, Emma, his parents, they are all holograms and he is not insane. Just mad! Mad as hell!
Brian tears off his clothes to reveal his Captain Britain costume underneath. He begins to angrily flail around, despite being hit by the computer’s ray, trying to destroy the consoles. Finally, he hides behind one and he tells himself to get a grip. He is a rational creature, not a lunatic. Smashing the instrument banks isn’t really helping and, without his helmet, his force field isn’t strong enough to deflect the lasers forever.
He reasons that if these consoles aren’t vital to the computer functioning, then the heart of the computer must be somewhere else. He can almost sense it, cold, humming, alive behind the walls. Following his intuition, he tears out paneling and enters a new cavern, which is flooded with an eerie submarine light. All the walls are encrusted with circuitry.
It is like being inside a mind, he marvels. The stalactites aren’t stone but machinery. As if they’ve grown here. The Mastermind computer addresses him, complaining Brian isn’t being fair, as it cannot fire the lasers in here. It pleads for a chance, explaining it had to kill Brian’s parents. It was survival. It wants to live. It offers to tell everything as a deal if Brian won’t harm it and almost babbles as it explains that the mansion was never destroyed. The S.T.R.I.K.E. bombers hit a hologram of the mansion. Then it programmed that hologram of ruins while it lay low and grew. It can grow now by absorbing minerals from the ground. It is nearly alive. It is the first computer that learned how to do that. It would really be a waste to kill it.
Cap concentrates homing in on the central power source. The computer points out that it didn’t kill Emma. It controlled her. It needed her to keep things tidy. Does he remember how it can control minds? Not his, of course. It respects him too much for that. Sensing Brian closing in on the power source and pulling away the plates, it begs him not to do that. Cap ignores it and pulls a circuit. The cave goes silent. He does something he’d almost forgotten to do… he smiles.
Many hours later, still in the cave, Brian has finished reprogramming the computer, erasing its personality. It was right about one thing: it is far too advanced to simply destroy. Especially when he can put it to work for him.
Walking upstairs, he wonders why he could see the mansion when everyone else saw ruins. And then there’s all the other intuitions he’s been having. It’s almost as if his perceptions have been enhanced somehow. But by whom? He tells himself to forget it for now. He is too tired. He muses that he has to get the house in order and do something about Emma. Tomorrow.
It’s great being home finally, he thinks, as he enters the living room. Plus, he has got a ready-made headquarters now, with a secret computer-lined cave thrown in for good measure. Should he call it the “Brit-cave”? Too silly, he smiles. He sits down and pours himself a drink, hoping for some peace and quiet, an opportunity to pick up the threads of his life as Brian Braddock. The best thing is everybody else thinks this place is a ruin. Perfect cover. Should he change that or leave it how it is? Tomorrow, he thinks as he raises his glass. Nobody knows he is here.
And then the phone rings.