Tuesday, 02 January 2024 01:00

The Dark Legacy

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Morpheus’s Legacy Universe – Part 10

The Dark Legacy




I frowned nervously as I climbed out of the limousine and stared at the mansion which was spread out before me. Then with a quick glance back at the chauffeur, who made no move to leave the car, I slowly started walking towards the main entrance.

Coming home was never a pleasant experience, though this mansion could hardly be considered a home. Very little of my childhood was actually spent in this house as I had usually been away in various expensive boarding schools. No, this mansion was not a home but was merely the place where my mother lived. I frowned at the thought of my mother, feeling even more nervous as I did so.

My name is William Alexander Darque, named for both William the Conqueror and Alexander the Great. With a name like that, certain things were expected of me, though I showed little sign of meeting those expectations. I had just turned 21 last week and was still working on my college education at an expensive ivy league school.

I had been doing quite well at school until I received a letter from my mother, immediately summoning me home. I had dropped everything and hurried to the airport as fast as I could, knowing that it was not a good idea to keep my mother waiting. Of course, I was extremely curious as to why she would summon me like this, but I was certain that it had something to do with my father.

A surge of conflicted emotions filled me as I thought of my father. He had been a rich and powerful man, but not the sort you can brag to your friends about. In fact, I never spoke of him to anyone, and for very good reason. My father was what is commonly called a 'super villain'. He called himself Lord Dark and was a brilliant scientist who used advanced technology to try gaining power and even take over the world. But six years ago, during one of his most ambitious schemes at world conquest, several super hero teams, including the Protectorate stopped him, causing one of his machines to backfire...killing him in the process.

When my father had been alive, he had been a dangerous man. He might not have had any actual developed powers, but he more than made up for that with his technology and keen mind. In fact, I had once watched an episode of the TV show Developments, where they did a list of the top ten most dangerous super villains. Lord Dark had been number seven on the list.

I frowned as I thought of my father, never having really known the man. When I was growing up, he was always either off on one of his long 'business' trips or I was away at boarding school, so we never spent any time together and he was never very interested in me when we did. In fact, I didn't learn about his 'occupation' until just after he was killed.

Taking a deep breath, I turned my attention back to the front door and the reason I was there. I adjusted my suit, making sure that I looked presentable, then pushed the doorbell. It was unnecessary as my mother already knew I was there, but she could be quite particular about following through on formalities at times. I was not looking forward to seeing her. She was a bit...eccentric. But I guess you had to be if you were going to be marry a super villain.

When I opened the door, the butler greeted me with, "Welcome home Master William. Do come in..."

I didn't say a word as I went inside, my thoughts lingering on my parents and the question of what this trip was for. There was little doubt that this did not bode well for me. I was very worried, though I did my best not to show it.

Then my mother stepped into view and I had to gulp to keep from shaking. Intellectually, I knew that she had to be in her fifties at least, though she certainly didn't look it. Instead, my mother looked to be in her thirties, and with a body that any 20-year-old girl would kill for. It was tight and firm, with C cup breasts that showed no trace of sagging, just as her beautiful face showed no sign of wrinkles or aging. Even her raven black hair, which went down to her shoulder blades held no trace of gray.

Of course, my mother's youthful appearance was not natural, though neither was it the result of botox and plastic surgeries. It was the result of a special process that my father had developed. Those who go through the process are given perfect physical health and conditioning, along with a body that remains this way. Part of this means that they have extremely fit bodies, without ever having to exercise, immunity to just about every disease, and their aging process is drastically slowed. Tragically, all of the materials and notes for this process were lost when a group of super heroes destroyed one of my father's secret bases. I considered this especially tragic as it meant I would never be able to use the process myself.

My mother was currently dressed in her customary, near all black, in an outfit which was simultaneously sexy yet sophisticated. She even stood there in a pair of stiletto heeled boots and was smoking a cigarette from a long cigarette holder. With one look at my mother, I could easily imagine her as the head of a powerful company, or as a dominatrix, though I would never admit either to her.

"William Alexander," my mother greeted me, her voice filled with it's usual arrogance. There was little affection in her voice, but she did look pleased to see me in her own fashion. She watched me for a moment with a calculating look in her eyes before nodding ever so slightly.

"You asked me to come," I responded with a gentle smile, not showing how annoyed I was at being ordered to drop everything and come home.

She nodded slightly, "You may take your things to your room and rest until dinner. Afterwards, I have something to discuss with you."

I frowned at that, knowing that this was just my mother's way of telling me to stay out of her way until dinner. Of course, I didn't like being dismissed like I was one of the servants, but I knew better than to say anything at the moment. So I just smiled, responded, "As you wish mother," and then went upstairs.

"Some things never change," I muttered to myself bitterly, wishing that I would have the courage to stand up to my mother. Unfortunately, she was not the type of person that you do that to if you knew what was good for you.

At the top of the grand stairwell was a large a large portrait of a man. He was handsome in an arrogant sort of way, with jet black hair and a beard. I stopped in front of the painting and stared at the image of my father for a moment, frowning slightly as I did so. He was a man that I barely knew, yet even six years after his death, his shadow still dominated my life. Every day, I was filled with the fear that someone at school would discover the truth about my father and that my shame would be made public.

I shook my head and quickly walked down the hallway, passing a large, ornate mirror. I paused to stare into it, unable to help but notice the similarities between my own features and that of my father. Of course, I lacked the beard or the look of arrogance, though I did have the same jet black hair and dark eyes. I had seriously considered bleaching my hair so as to make my the resemblance less noticeable, though the one time I had suggested doing something that to my mother when I was a teenager, her verbal lashing about the 'dishonoring' of my father nearly left my ears blistered.

A minute later, I arrived at my bedroom, though it hardly felt like MY room. During what time I had spent here while growing up, I had never been allowed any say in how it was decorated. I had never even been allowed to put up the posters that most kids did. My mother never knocked before coming in, nor even hesitated about looking through what should have been my personal items. In fact, knowing my mother, I would not have been the least surprised to discover that she had placed a wiretap or other surveillance devices in there. After all, I had discovered them in my dorm rooms more than once over the years.

I silently looked around the room, which was well decorated and reminded me a good deal of an expensive hotel room. There was a feeling that it was there more for show than for actual use, which was the way it always had been. But as I looked it over, I mentally noted all of the places that might currently be bugged. It was a habit that I'd gotten into a long time ago, once I'd realized that my mother might be watching my every move.

"At least my bags have been brought up already," I noted as I saw them by the bed. One of the servants must have carried them up from the limousine during the short time I was talking with my mother.

Since it seemed I was expected to wait and stay out of the way, I sat back and pulled out a book to read. Horror novels from the likes of Steven King and Dean Koontz were one of my vices. They were like the junk food of literature, and though my mother disapproved of such things, I enjoyed reading them. I suspected that one of the reasons I did enjoy them so much was just because my mother did disapprove.

Eventually, it was time for dinner and I went to the large dining room. My mother and I were the only ones eating there, while the servants delivered dishes that had been prepared by her personal chef. At first, we didn't talk much, then she finally brought up the subject of school.

"I am less than impressed with your grades," she said simply, her tone indicating that she expected MUCH better.

I frowned at that comment, wanting to point out that I had a 3.9 grade point average, though I knew that it would do little good. My mother expected perfection and would not be satisfied with anything less. "I will do better," I told her instead.

The dinner was excellent, though the dinner conversation was less than pleasant. Most of my mother's polite conversation was similar to the comment about my grades, pointing out things that I could have done better and showing her general disapproval.

"Your father would be ashamed," she told me with a scowl after we had finished eating, "You must always remember his legacy."

"Yes mother," I responded.

She held out her hand and snapped her fingers and one of the maids came rushing over, handing her a cigarette holder with a cigarette already in it. The maid lit the cigarette for my mother and hurried away, while my mother took a draw on it and sat there, looking almost like some sort of old style movie star.

"The reason I summoned you home," she said, finally getting to the point, "is your father's Legacy."

"Father's legacy?" I asked, having suspected that it was something about my father, though not feeling very pleased at having it confirmed.

"Come," she ordered, setting her cigarette holder down and walking away. Of course, I immediately followed with a nervous curiosity.

Mother led me halfway across the house and to the large library, pausing only to place her hand against a glass plate on the wall. A moment later, a large section of the wall moved aside, revealing a hidden elevator. I was not at all surprised by this as I knew about the secret elevator, as well as the connected lab that my father had build under the house. However, it was very unusual for my mother to take me down there.

As soon as we had gone down the elevator into the lab, I slowly looked around. It had been several years since I had last been down there, though nothing seemed to have changed. Of course, I wasn't really expecting it to have since mother kept everything as it was as a sort of memorial to my father.

The lab wasn't a single room, but actually a series of connected rooms, each seemingly dedicated to a different purpose. One was obviously a workshop, another a storage room for various inventions and devices, while a third seemed to be some sort of planning or control, with walls that were covered with video screens. There were several smaller rooms as well, though I hardly think that bathrooms and closets were unique to super villain lairs.

"This is nothing compared to Lord Dark's other lairs," mother commented as she gestured around me.

I just nodded at that, not being at all surprised since I knew that at least one of his secret bases which had been destroyed by the Protectorate had been a small island. Another of his lairs had been inside of a mountain. This lab was small, but it was close and convenient when he was home. I guess that even super villains sometimes bring their work home with them.

Mother quickly walked across the lab with a sense of purpose, barely even looking at the things which surrounded us. She stopped in front of a large display case which held my father's spare costume. It was a suit of black armor with a red skull symbol on the belt. There were two broaches at the shoulders, each one a metallic red skull, which held the cloak to his costume. This was the infamous uniform of Lord Dark.

"The time has come," mother stated. "The time has come for you to take up your father's mantle and continue his work."

"What?" I gasped in surprise, sure that I had misheard her.

But she stared at me with an intense look that brooked no arguments. "You are finally of the age to take up your father's legacy and become the new Lord Dark. It had been too long since those people murdered him, and the world must be made to remember his greatness. They will bow before Lord Dark..."

I stared at my mother, more than half sure that she was insane. She had that look of obsession in her eyes, the same one that she had whenever she talked about my father and his great legacy. It was a look which shared me shitless and always had.

"But mother," I protested, trying to quickly think of a way to change her mind, which was a nearly impossible task at the best of times. "I am not father... I am not worthy of being Lord Dark..."

"You are your father's only son," she stated firmly. "His blood runs through your veins. His greatness is hidden within you. You WILL follow in his footsteps. You WILL honor your father's memory, and you WILL remind the world of the greatness that is Lord Dark."

"Oh God," I whispered, wondering what in the world I was going to do. I'd never had any intentions of following in my father's footsteps and trying to take over the world that way. But my mother was obviously expecting just that. "I still have to finish school first," I said, trying to a different tactic.

However, my mother did not seem concerned with that little detail. "The world has waited too long for you to come of age as it is," she said dismissively, "I will not allow it to forget your father for a moment longer. Lord Dark will be remembered forever, and we will both assure it."

I had no idea how, but a short while later, I found myself doing exactly what my mother wanted. She was used to always getting her way, and to my shame, I was used to doing what she wanted. So I began getting dressed in my father's armor while my mother explained all that it was capable of.

My father's armor was filled with advanced technology which made it a very dangerous weapon. One of his favorite discoveries was a form of force field that absorbed parts of visible light, creating a sort of black glow. He used this extensively, especially in his armor. It was capable of creating a force field bubble around the wearer, which could not only protect him but give him a form of flight. It could also fire beams of this energy as a form of black energy blast. There were of course other tricks as well, though those were the most noticeable.

As I got dressed and listened to my mother's lecture, I couldn't help thinking of my father. He was a firm believer in the saying that any technology that is sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic. Since technology was reason and logic, it could be understood and dealt with. But magic was something that people didn't understand, and people feared what they did not understand. This was why he frequently disguised his technology as magic, masquerading as a sorcerer rather than a scientist. It was a psychological edge which he used to mislead his enemies and make them fear him..

Though I had not actually known of my father's secret while he was still alive, I learned quite a bit about him after his death. After my mother had revealed his identity as Lord Dark, I had spent a great deal of time studying him, as well as all of his enemies. This left me with a clear understanding of my father's tactics, as well as those of most super heroes. I had originally learned all this as a morbid curiosity, never considering that it might actually become relevant to my own life.

"You are nearly ready," my mother stated proudly, holding up the cloak that went with the costume. It was black on the outside and red on the inside. With a dark gleam in her eyes, she draped the cloak over me and connected it to the skull broaches. "You look much like your father."

"Thank you," I responded, not sure what else I could say. However, this was not something that I had ever really been proud of. If Hitler had any children, would they have been proud of him? Would they be pleased to look like one of the most notorious monsters of all time? Somehow, I doubted it. Not unless they were as twisted as he was. I doubted that my mother would approve of any comparisons between my father and that other villain, though, so I kept those thoughts to myself, as I always did.

I took a deep breath, feeling extremely awkward in the armor. I didn't like wearing something like that at all, especially knowing that if any law enforcement or super heroes saw me in it, they would assume the worst and treat me as a criminal. Of course, my mother's plans were for me to become that very criminal which didn't make me feel any better at all.

Then I activated the shadow mask. This was a trick of the armor which generated one of those dark force fields around my head, making my face look all black and lost in shadow, even without the cloak, and giving the additional benefit of acting as a helmet to protect me. My mother seemed quite satisfied at this point and admitted that I now looked nearly identical to my father while he was in armor.

"The world will not know what hit them," she laughed cruelly. "They will shudder at Lord Dark's return and quake in fear. By the time we are done, they will think of him whenever they look at the sky,"

I had little idea of what my mother had in mind and less interest in helping her. But as always, I was to scared...too much of a coward to do anything but what she told me. I was beginning to hate myself for going along with whatever scheme she had in mind, though I couldn't seem to help myself.

"I have been working on one of your father's plans for years," mother said. "It will drive fear into the heart of the world, punish them for what they did to him and ensure that he is never forgotten again... It is time for us to bring this plan to fruition."

"What plan?" I asked hesitantly, "What's going on?"

"You will find out the details soon enough," she responded. "First, though, you must make your presence known. You will retrieve an item that we require...and alert the world that Lord Dark has returned. You will do this and honor your father's legacy..."

An hour later, and after a little practice with my father's armor, I was ready to leave for my mission. I activated the force bubbled around me and floated off the ground, and then in the direction I needed to go. Unfortunately, I hated the fact that I was up in the air so high, and without anything underneath me, but there was little I could do about it.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," I muttered in bitter self disgust. I'd always let my mother push me around and tell me what to do, and this time it was leading to certain trouble. Yet I still went along anyway. "It's for my father's legacy," I told myself, trying to convince myself that it was a good idea and what I needed to do, though it did little good.

Flying...or at least standing up in the force field bubble while it carried me through the air, didn't get much better with time. I rode in it for probably close to an hour, trying my best not to look down. It was damn freaky to look down and see the ground way below my feet, with nothing holding me up and I didn't think I'd ever get used to it. Fortunately, I finally arrived at my destination.

I hovered in the air above a large building, staring down at it and grimacing. From what my mother told me, what I was looking for was stored inside. It was a law enforcement storage facility for non-dangerous evidence of super villain crimes. Apparently, one of my father's devices which had been confiscated by the Protectorate had somehow ended up there after his death. It was my mission to get it back.

"I just wish I knew what the damn thing does," I muttered, thinking that it was only fair that I know what I was risking my neck for. Unfortunately, my mother had decided to keep that to herself so that she could explain it later in some dramatic revelation of her grand plan. "Whatever it is," I told myself, "It can't be dangerous or they'd never store it here..." Unless of course, I reminded myself, they didn't know it was dangerous. I decided not to think about that possibility.

After taking a deep breath and preparing for what came next, I started to descend. But before my feet even touched the ground, a bunch of armed guards with automatic weapons came rushing out of the building. I was surrounded in mere moments and ordered to surrender myself immediately.

For a second, I just stood there motionless, tempted to throw my hands in the air and surrender. But I knew that this wasn't an option for me at the moment so I took a deep breath and continued to step towards the building. The guards opened fire, spraying me with a hail of bullets, though none of them were able to get past my armor. Intellectually, I'd known that my armor would protect me, but I was still terrified of being killed. I nearly even filled my pants and was thankful when I didn't.

"It's official," I groaned in disgust, "I'm a super villain now..."

I grimaced in determination, then continued with my mission. I held my hands out and fired energy blasts from my hands, blowing a large hole in the side of the building. However, I was careful not to hurt any of the guards as I did so. Then I entered through the hole, looking for my goal.

"Where is it?" I muttered, using a sensor in my armor to lead me to a large room, and then to a box on a shelf. "This seems to be it..."

I tore open the box, dying to find out just what it was that I had gone through all of this for. But the moment I saw the contents, I was filled with even more questions. The only thing in the box was a black metallic sphere that was just a little larger than a basketball. It had a few strange indentations in it, and a few small red crystals set into it. Now that I had it, I was still just as much in the dark as I had been before.

Since I had what I had come for, it was time to leave. I had to get past the guards again, which wasn't really much of a problem. The most difficult part was doing so without injuring them, but I was determined to do this without anyone getting hurt.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," I grimaced, wishing that I were anywhere else.

I already felt guilty for breaking into that building and taking the sphere, and it was getting worse by the moment. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't really stealing since the sphere really belonged to my father, but that didn't do much good. I never would have imagined that loyalty to my family would lead me to do something like this. It wasn't much of a family, but it was the only one I had.

Once I had gone back through the hole in the building, I let out a sigh of relief, knowing that all I had to do now was make the trip home. But that hope was immediately dashed when a woman dropped from the sky and hovered in the air in front of me, glaring at me with a determined expression.

The woman was tall, at least 6 feet with a very athletic but sexy looking body. She had short black hair, cut in a feminine fashion and a red and white spandex costume that covered everything below the neck. It included a red cape and a red metal belt with some sort of gold buckle and red gem in the center.

I stared at the woman in surprise, taking a moment to remember who she was. Thanks to all of the time I had spent online, learning about all the various developed heroes and villains, I was able to recognize her as a hero called Praxis.

"Oh shit," I muttered to myself.

The good news, for me at least, was that she wasn't known to be associated with any team, so I would likely be facing only her. The bad news, though, was that she was supposedly pretty powerful.

"I don't think that belongs to you," Praxis exclaimed with a threatening glare.

"Actually," I responded, "It does..." My father owned it, and since he was dead, that meant that it rightfully belonged to me and my mother. Or at least that was my reasoning at the moment. It was either think that way or think of myself as a thief.

Praxis wasn't interested in talking about ownership of the strange sphere, or anything else though. She charged me, flying straight at me and hitting me with a powerful punch. I went flying back, smashing into the wall of the building I had just left. Praxis immediately came at me again, hitting me hard enough to shatter the stone behind me and blast another hole in the wall. If it wasn't for my armor, I would have been nothing more than a smear.

I finally reacted by punching Praxis back, feeling guilty for hitting a girl but being desperate to avoid the beating that she was determined to give me. She grunted and went backwards. I followed up by firing one of the armor's black energy blasts at her, though she went intangible so it passed right through her. I was actually relived at that since I didn't want to hurt her or anyone else.

"I've got to get out of here," I muttered to myself, quickly looking around for the best way to escape.

Then it dawned on me. The way I flew in... But before I could activate my flight bubble, Praxis blasted me with some sort of red energy blast, which hurt like hell, even though my armor. I was knocked back, dropping the black sphere as I hit the ground. I quickly scrambled to my feet, only to be blasted and sent flying backwards again.

"No," I grimaced, firing an energy blast at her while I got back to my feet.

"Surrender now," Praxis told me, "and I might not break every bone in your body..."

I gulped, suddenly quite afraid. This wasn't what I wanted... This wasn't what I'd ever intended my life to turn into. I was NOT some super villain, in spite of what my mother was trying to turn me into. But there I was, breaking into some sort of law enforcement facility and fighting a super hero... It had to stop. I couldn't do this kind of thing.

"It looks like I'm going to shell you like a lobster," Praxis exclaimed.

Suddenly, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to get out of there. As much as I didn't want to admit it, I was afraid of Praxis and the whole mess that my mother had gotten me into. And in an act of desperation, I activated another trick in my father's armor, a blackout wave. It sent a burst of pure darkness all around me, giving me a chance to escape.

Praxis screamed, "I can't see...."

I didn't waste time attacking Praxis, only throwing the dark force field bubble around me and shooting up into the sky. My heart raced in terror and all I could think of doing was getting away from there...

"That's it," I exclaimed as I flew home as fast as I could, "I'm through with this whole super villain thing. I don't care if it is my father's legacy..."

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"How could you?" my mother screamed at me the moment I returned home. She was furious, more so than I'd ever seen her in my entire life. Normally, she was calm and in complete control, though that control had broken at the news of my failure. "How could you return home as a failure?"

I winced under my mother's verbal barrage, wondering what I had ever done to deserve such a family. She called me weak, cowardly and a disgrace to my father's legacy, among other things. I had experienced her anger before, though never to such a degree.

While my mother was continuing her rant, I just struggled to get out of the armor as fast as I could. Over the last few hours, I had really come to hate it. The armor, along with my mother, reminded me of what a complete and total failure I had been as a super villain. In my first time out, I not only ran into a super hero and ran away, but was so terrified that I completely forgot what I had gone there for in the first place. If my encounter with Praxis had taught me anything, it was that I was not meant to follow in my father's footsteps.

Once I had finished taking off the armor, I let out a sigh of relief, along with a groan of pain. The armor had protected me during my fight with Praxis, though not quite as well as I would have hoped. I had several bruises from the shear force of her attack.

"Just look at you," my mother sneered, "A coward and a failure. Your father would be ashamed. You ran away from a woman...just ONE woman, and you didn't even retrieve the Refractor Core..." She glared at me with a look of disgust, "I need that if I am going to complete your father's plan..."

"I'm sorry mother," I quietly told her.

"You certainly are," she snapped as she suddenly slapped me, hitting me so hard that I stumbled back. My whole jaw felt bruised. "Your father would never have failed in such a critical mission."

"I'm not my father," I grimaced.

"You are not even close," my mother responded with a look of disdain.

For a moment, I just stood there and glared at her with a growing anger. For my whole life, I had been intimidated by my mother. I had been so afraid of what she might do that I had meekly done whatever she told me, without ever giving any voice to my own opinions. I was still intimidated by her, but I was also angry. I was angry with the way she always treated me, and with the way she had just sent me off into a dangerous situation without any care about my welfare. All that mattered to her was my father and his legacy. I realized now that this was all that had ever mattered to her.

"You will go back out tonight," mother told me with a look of grim determination. "And this time you will not return without the Refractor Core."

"No," I told her grimly, surprising both her and myself. Normally, I would have just gone along with whatever she told me, but I was too angry for that this time. I'd finally had enough. Then I pointed to my father's armor, "I'm never putting that on again..."

My mother's eyes seemed to flash with fury and she started, "Your father..."

"Is dead," I interrupted her, earning an even darker glare. That was the warning that I should stop and deeply apologize for my impertinence, but my long delayed rebellion was building momentum. "He died doing this world conquest thing." I shook my head, then looked at my mom, silently pleading for her to try understanding my point of view for once. "I'm tired of living in his shadow, and I'm not going to get killed repeating his mistakes."

"I see," mother responded after a moment of silence. She gave me a look that was as hard and cold as an arctic glacier, then calmly stated, "You do not deserve the honor of being his heir..." And with that, she abruptly turned and walked out of the room, leaving me there alone.

Once my mother was gone, I let out a sigh of relief, feeling shaken by the realization that I had finally stood up to my mother. After so many years, I knew that it was about time and I was excited to have finally done it. Of course, I knew that there would doubtlessly be consequences for my defiance, but for once, I was willing to take them. It had been well worth it to be my own man for once.

I savored my small victory for a minute before rubbing at my sore jaw and thinking about how hard my mom had hit me. I would definitely have a bruise there, added to the ones I received during my fight with Praxis. If I'd only thought to activate the armor's force field, I could have prevented those earlier ones. Fortunately, I did know how to heal the bruises much faster than normal.

A minute later, I was standing in a small room that was just off to the side of my father's lab. Beside me was what looked like a large Jacuzzi, filled with a bubbling yellow liquid. This was the Phoenix Chamber, one of my father's earlier discoveries, and quite possibly a direct predecessor to the special process he used to improve his and my mother's bodies. Soaking in it for several hours could heal minor injuries and generally improve your health. Unfortunately, it was also mildly addictive or I would have bathed in it every chance I could.

"Here we are again," I said as I undressed and slipped into the liquid for what was only the second time in my life. The first time had been several years ago, after I'd broken my arm. Thanks to the Phoenix Chamber, my arm was healed in a matter of days rather than weeks. "Oh yeah, that feels good..."

I let out a long sigh and closed my eyes as I soaked in the warm liquid, feeling extremely comfortable. The bruises seemed to be fading away as I sat there and I could almost feel the improved health taking hold. Sadly, any health benefits that the chamber gave would fade in just a short time, but since any injuries it healed would remain healed, it still served it's purpose.

It was about half an hour later when I finally climbed out of the Phoenix Chamber and cleaned the yellow liquid off me. My bruises had all been healed and I felt fantastic. Of course, the health high would fade soon enough so I was determined to enjoy it while I could.

Thanks to the Phoenix Chamber and my finally having the courage to defy my mother, I was in a pretty good mood as I left my father's lab. I was even able to put the super villain incident which led to those things out of my mind for the moment. But that good mood fled the moment I saw my mother standing there, smoking a cigarette from one of her cigarette holders and glaring at me with a dark expression.

"You've disgraced your family and your father's legacy," my mother stated grimly, giving me an icy glare. "You've proven that you are unworthy of your father's legacy and that you do not deserve to be his heir..." Then to my surprise, she reached behind her back and pulled out a strange looking gun, which she pointed straight at me.

"Mother," I gasped, staring at the gun in shock. I couldn't believe that my own mother had just pulled a gun on me. But before I could say anything more or plead for her to stop this, she pulled the trigger. There was a flash of green light and my body suddenly went completely numb. I collapsed to the floor, unable to move and barely even aware of what was going on around me.

My mother stood over me with the gun still pointed at my chest. "It is time for someone worthy to become Lord Dark's heir...," she announced. "You said that you do not wish to live in his shadow, but you will... The whole world will..." With that, she fired the gun again and this time I lost consciousness.

I had no idea how long I floated in the dark sea of unconsciousness, only that I occasionally bobbed back towards the surface, catching the faintest bits of awareness from the waking world before I was pulled back down. The only thing that I could remember from these brief periods of near consciousness were lights, confusing sounds and even stranger sensations.

When I finally regained consciousness, I slowly opened my eyes, only to wince at the brightness of the lights and groan at the horrible throbbing in my head. I tried to ignore the migraine and the feeling that I had just woken up with a bad hangover. Instead, I tried to make sense of what was going on, though it was hard to think clearly with my head feeling as though it were about to explode.

I took a deep breath and looked around, taking a few seconds to realize that I was in my father's lab again. I was also leaning back in some sort of reclining chair. I remained where I was, just taking in the observations and trying to put the pieces together.

"She shot me," I whispered to myself, my throat feeling a little dry. I couldn't believe it, but my own mother had just shot me. And considering that I was in my father's lab, I had no idea what else she might have done to me as well. This terrified me and I wasn't sure that I was ready to face whatever it was that my mother was up to this time.

After a few minutes of remaining motionless and letting my headache recede, I slowly began to sit up, only to discover that I had something attached to my head. I removed some sort of headband with wires coming out of it and dropped it to the side. Only then did I notice my hand...

"What the?" I gasped in surprise, staring at my hand, which was NOT my hand. It was a woman's hand, with feminine fingers and perfectly manicured nails. They even came to points, just like my mother's.

I stared at my hands for a moment, then scrambled to get out of the chair, noticing that my hands weren't the only thing that was wrong with my body. As soon as I was on my feet, I stared down at myself, seeing two noticeable and feminine bulges on my chest. Even my clothes weren't my own. They were nearly all black and looked like the same outfit that my mother had been wearing. I was even wearing the same high heeled boots, nearly losing my balance and falling over as a result.

"Oh shit," I whispered, still confused but beginning to get an idea as to what was going on.

I turned my attention to the chair I had just climbed out of, seeing another identical, but empty chair just a few feet away, and that both of them were attached to a strange looking machine. I'd seen this device in my father's lab before, but had no idea what it was designed for. At least until now.

"It's a body switcher," I gasped in realization. The fact that I seemed to have somehow turned into my mother gave proof to this idea. "She stole my body..." But when I looked around, I saw no sign of my own body or of my mother.

Taking a deep breath, I reached between my legs and felt the empty spot, then I ran my hand over my firm, flat stomach and the rest of my body. A quick look was all it took to reveal that my entire body did seem to be that of my mother, though I couldn't be completely certain without undressing.

"MOTHER!" I called out, both scared and angry at the same time. I wanted to know what she was up to, and why in the world she would take my body. However, there was no answer, which made me even more nervous.

After a minute, I decided to go look for my mother, planning to demand an explanation for this. But as soon as I took my first step, I discovered that it was not very easy walking with my entire balance completely thrown off. And the fact that I was wearing my mother's high heeled boots certainly didn't help me either. Still, in spite of nearly falling flat on my face, I made my way through the rooms of my father's labs, using the walls and various pieces of equipment for support.

When I finished looking through my father's lab, I was a little startled to realize just how quickly my sense of balance had returned. I was no longer having to use anything for support as I walked, even with the high heels. In fact, it seemed to be easier to walk in them with each passing minute.

"Strange," I scowled, then called out, "Where are you mother?" But of course, there was no answer.

I had already verified that my mother was not in the labs, but I decided to look through them again anyways, this time looking for clues as to what she had planned. It didn't take me long though to get a very bad feeling about things. If my missing body and mother weren't frightening enough, I quickly noticed that my father's armor was missing as well, along with a number of his inventions.

"This is NOT a good sign," I grimaced, going to the elevator so that I could check out the rest of the house.

The house was too large to search through the entire thing quickly, though a look through the main rooms showed no sign of my mother. I asked one of the maids, "Have you see my m...my son?" Somehow, I didn't think that she'd tell any of the servants about what was going on.

"No ma'am," the maid answered quickly, giving me a look of complete subservience. "Not since dinner ma'am..."

After I excused the maid to return to work, I shook my head, hardly able to believe the way she'd reacted towards me. The servants had always been completely obedient to my mother, and my father when he had been alive. But as for me, they would do what I told them without question, yet only because they had been told to do so by my mother. Otherwise, they normally seemed to almost ignore me.

I scowled and looked out the window at the darkened night sky, muttering, "Where is she?"

Then I suddenly had an idea. I hurried to the security station and pulled up the surveillance tapes from the last three hours. Since I had been unconscious for about three hours, that was all I really needed to check. My hunch was proven correct as one of the surveillance cameras caught the image of Lord Dark flying away from the house with a number of devices from my father's lab trailing behind him in another black force field bubble.

I watched the video for a moment, wondering where my mother could have gone. Then I suddenly remembered that she was planning on sending me out for the black sphere, what she called the Refractor Core again once it was dark. Since I had refused to cooperate, she must have decided to take care of that herself.

"Damn her," I grimaced, "And damn me for going along with it in the first place..."

I just stood there for several minutes, feeling angry and frustrated, as well as more than a little scared. Being in my mother's body was strange and completely unnatural. I felt...uncomfortable to say the least with that situation and desperately wanted to get back to my own body.

Since there didn't seem to be anything I could do until my mother returned home, I decided to get a better look at that body switching machine in the lab. If nothing else, that might kill some time and distract me until my mother returned. But when I went returned to the elevator, I was annoyed to find that it had closed and locked itself up again after I'd left.

"Just perfect," I muttered sarcastically, frustrated at my mother's paranoid security within her own house. She was the only one who could open the elevator, so I was completely locked out of the lab until her return. Then I paused, slowly raising my hand and staring at it in realization. "I have the key..."

I held my breath for a moment before pressing my hand to the glass plate beside the door, worried about what my mother might think of my entering the lab without her permission. Then I shook it off, bitterly reminding myself that she was the one who'd stolen my body and left me with hers. If that left me with the master key to everything in the house, she should have thought of that beforehand.

The moment I was in the lab, I went straight for the corner with the body switching machine. I stared at it for a moment before noticing that something was wrong. There was a panel in the front that seemed to be missing and a hole in it's place. I could see a few wires and connections dangling inside.

"Mother," I whispered, realizing that she must have removed a part of the machine. But why? Knowing my mother, it could only mean that it was a vital piece and that she didn't want the machine used without her permission. Was this because she didn't want to risk a chance that I would take my own body back? Or perhaps it was so I wouldn't use the machine to trade bodies with someone else... This way she could control exactly who was in her body...and keep track of me. Any of these reasons seemed paranoid, but they were all consistent with my mother's need for control.

I stared at the hole in the machine with a cold chill running down my spine. I scowled, knowing that this was NOT a good thing. Not in the least. If my mother had gone through the trouble of disabling the machine, it could only mean that she had no intention of switching back with me when she returned home. She was up to something... She was up to something big and had told me as much herself. The only problem was, I still had no idea what that something was, only that it was based off of one of my father's plans. That alone was a very bad sign.

"I have a feeling," I whispered to myself, "that she won't be switching back until she's done with whatever it is." But remembering her words about 'someone worthy' becoming Lord Dark's heir, I felt a horrible weight settle into my gut. "Or maybe longer..."

I was NOT in a very good mood when I left the lab a few minutes later. But there didn't seem to be anything that I could do about my situation at the moment, other than wait for my mother to return and then try convincing her to change her mind. My chances of doing that were not good, so I was trapped in my mother's body and feeling helpless about the situation. This only served to frustrate me even more.

When I went back up to the main house, I was relieved to find that I had it almost entirely to myself. The servants had all gone to bed, except for a maid who stayed up every night until mother went to bed. She didn't get in my way, and was nearly invisible, though I was still aware of her presence in the next room.

"I can't believe mother would do this to me," I scowled. But the truth was, I could believe almost anything of my mother.

After a few minutes, I sat down in my mother's chair, a comfortable leather one where she always relaxed at the end of the day. At the moment, I thought that this was the perfect place for me since I definitely needed to relax. Perhaps calming down might let me thing my situation through a little better. And if nothing else, it might make me feel like strangling someone just a little less.

Almost as soon as I was comfortable in the chair, the maid suddenly appeared beside me. Without a word, she offered me a tray which held a glass of red wine and my mother's cigarette holder, cigarette already in place. It took me a moment to realize that the maid was just following the normal routine that my mother went through nearly every night. I hesitated for a moment, then decided if I was going to be stuck as my mother, I might as well BE my mother.

I took the glass of wine from the tray, then picked up the cigarette holder. I brought it to my mouth, just as I'd seen my mother do countless times before. And as I expected, the maid reached forward with a lighter. I took a slow drag, wincing slightly from the rough smoke hitting my lungs.

"You're excused for the night," I told the maid, deciding that I wanted some privacy.

"Yes ma'am," she responded with a slight bow before hurrying off.

I took a long drag from the cigarette, holding the smoke in my lungs for a moment before blowing it out overhead. I felt sophisticated for smoking this way, yet somewhat ridiculous as well, as though I were a child playing at being grown-up. With a frown, I drowned the taste with the rich flavored wine.

A moment later, I was finally overcome by my curiosity. I left the chair and went to the large, ornate mirror which decorated one wall, staring at my reflection. It was definitely my mother standing there, looking quite familiar with the glass of red wine in one hand and the cigarette holder in the other. However, it was immediately obvious that no matter how much I looked like my mother, I was not her. I didn't stand in quite the same manner, nor did I radiate the same aura of arrogance and control.

"Still," I mused, "It is a remarkable resemblance..." Someone who didn't know my mother quite well would never have been able to tell that I wasn't really her.

I stood there and smoked, trying to look as much like my mother as possible while I did so. The image was quite impressive, making me look more confident and sophisticated. However, it was not an activity that I particularly enjoyed, so I put the cigarette out and finished off the glass of wine.

"An interesting habit," I mused as I thought about the way it felt to be smoking, "though not one I think I'll ever pick up."

Still, it was easy to see why my mother enjoyed smoking. The nicotine certainly provided a pleasant feeling, though I knew that for my mother it was more the image it presented. And I knew that it was not as though my mother actually had to worry about the health effects of smoking. The special process that my father had put her through made her immune from cancer and nearly every other disease, as well as ensured that no matter what she did to her body, she would always remain in perfect health.

In fact, as I considered the healthiness of my mother's body, I became aware of just how good I felt. In fact, I felt absolutely incredible. I somehow felt energetic and more alive than ever before. Before this, my migraine and the strangeness of the situation had distracted me from noticing it. But now that I was calmed down and thinking about how my body actually felt, I couldn't escape the sensations.

"Amazing," I whispered as I looked down at myself with a whole new perspective. I was now inside of a body that had gone through my father's process, and I could feel the different. "I feel unbelievable..."

I stared down at my feet, at the stiletto heeled boots that I was currently wearing. When I had first awoken in this body, I had been so out of balance that I could barely even stand, much less walk in these things. But I'd gotten used to them fast...impossibly fast. I had been walking around in them with such ease that I had scarcely even noticed that I was still wearing them. My mother had an incredible sense of balance, and it was obvious that I had inherited this along with her body.

"Interesting," I mused, "Very interesting..."

For a moment, I just stood there, silently thinking about the fact that I now had a body that had gone through father's improvement process. It was something that I had been dreaming about for years, ever since I had learned of it. However, the truth was that I had always dreamed of my own body going through the process, not of being thrust into my mother's.

Then on a sudden impulse, I bent over and put my hands on the floor, then lifted my lower body up until I was doing a hand stand. My balance was shaky for just a moment, but that passed and I was able to remain there in a perfect hand stand with no effort. I lowered my feet back to the ground, then went and performed a cartwheel across the living room.

"In high heels at that," I marveled at myself.

Intellectually, I had known, or at least strongly suspected that my mother was capable of something like this. I had heard enough about the process and what it could do to a human body. But I had never before seen it in action. My mother had never shown off or given any demonstration of her physical abilities. In fact, she had always avoided doing anything physical, thinking that it was beneath her.

"Now I really wish that father hadn't lost the process," I sighed, shaking my head.

My body...my mother's body had been amplified to the peak of her human ability and her full physical potential had been unleashed. It was impressive as hell. Technically, I did not think that my mother would be considered a developed since her abilities were still within the human range, though she was certainly close.

"Why couldn't you ever create backups and duplicates of your work?" I scowled, thinking of just how many discoveries my father had made and then lost because of this. This had to be one of his most frustrating traits.

However, the thought of my father and his various brilliant discoveries only brought me back to thinking of my mother, and the question of what it was that she had planned. I scowled, shaking my head and knowing that I wouldn't get any answers until she returned, whenever that was.

Since I had nothing to do but wait until my mother returned, I settled down to distract myself again by reading. However, I soon found that the book was a little less interesting now that my own life had turned into a Steven King story. Still, I was stubborn enough to keep at it for at least an hour.

When I finally grew tired of attempting to distract myself with a book, I set it down, deciding that it might be a better idea to just go to bed. After all, it was rather late and it had been a busy day. And maybe, I held out a slim bit of hope, when I woke up in the morning I would discover that this had all been a dream, perhaps caused by accidental exposure to a hallucinogen in my father's lab.

I went to the bathroom and frowned, feeling uncertain about whatever nightly routine I should follow. I didn't feel comfortable using my own toothbrush in another body, yet the idea of using my mother's seemed rather disgusting, regardless of the fact that I was in her body. So instead, I decided to skip that and just take care of the more important business.

"Oh joy," I groaned faintly as I stared at the toilet.

After a minute of just standing there and feeling unsettled, I grimaced and undressed enough to relieve myself. I reminded myself to sit down as I went about my business, finding the sensations somewhat familiar yet different at the same time. Thankfully, the relief was the same as always.

I frowned as I made my way to my bedroom, then paused, suddenly wondering what the servants would think. There was no doubt that it would seem quite strange for my mother to be sleeping in my own room. And since I had no intention of letting anyone else learn about this embarrassing switch, including the servants, sleeping in my mother's room became the obvious option. She might not be pleased about that when she returned, but she could hardly blame me since she was the one who had put me in her body.

As soon as I was within her bedroom, I closed the ornate wooden doors behind me and looked around. The room was impeccably decorated, of course, with a large and luxurious bed. All of the sheets where silk and there was no doubt that it would be extremely comfortable to sleep in. My mother always demanded the absolute best of everything, and it definitely showed.

I ignored the mirror as I removed my mother's clothes, dropping them unceremoniously to the floor. I tried ignoring my body and treating it all matter of fact, though it was not easy. In the end, I couldn't resist the curios urge to turn and look at the large mirror which hung from the wall. There stood my mother, in all her naked glory. It was a very uncomfortable moment before I quickly turned around and climbed into bed.

At first, I didn't think that I would be able to get to sleep. I feared that I would remain there for half the night, too aware of my new body and too busy thinking of the events of the day. But surprisingly, I drifted away into slumber much more easily than I would have imagined.

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I awoke in the morning, less than pleased to find that I was still in my mother's body. After a moment, I sat up, pulling the sheets to the side and staring myself with a deepening scowl. But I forced myself to remain calm, knowing that it would do me little good to get mad. At least not yet.

"It seems that it was no dream," I muttered, reaching over and pulling the chain beside the bed, then quickly covering myself up again.

"Yes ma'am," a maid came in, answering the summons.

"Is...is my son back yet?" I asked, wondering if my mother had returned during the night.

"Not that I am aware of ma'am," the maid responded. "Shall I check his bedroom for you?"

After I'd told her to go check, she hurried to the room that I had been staying at, then talked to the other servants before returning to me with a report that there was no sign of my real body. It seemed that mother had not returned home, which I did not take as good news. But while I was thinking about this, I had the maid fetch my breakfast.

Once the maid had left, I slipped on one of my mother's black silk robes which hung in her private bathroom, then I sat back to eat my breakfast. I picked up the morning paper that the maid had brought me as well, frowning as I saw what was on the front page. It was a picture of Lord Dark, or at least of me in my father's armor.

"Damn," I muttered, reading through the article.

I had only read through several paragraphs of the article when I gasped in surprise. The article started off by telling about how I had gone to the building and been chased off by Praxis, who recovered the item that I had been trying to steal. But then the article went on to say that Lord Dark returned last night and nearly blew the building up.

"Mother," I gasped.

I just stared at the newspaper for a moment before I continued reading. It went on to say that Praxis had been waiting in case Lord Dark returned, and when he did, the two of them had a big fight. Praxis was injured during the fight, though the witnesses said she recovered enough to fly away a short time afterwards. However, the article also made it very clear that Lord Dark severely injured several guards and got away with whatever it was he had come for.

"Damn," I angrily threw the paper to the side, furious not only with my mother but with myself as well.

I sat there, feeling sick to my stomach. It was my fault. I could have prevented this... I could have kept those people from getting hurt if I hadn't dropped the sphere and left it behind, or if I hadn't refused to go back. I knew that this was foolishness, that I couldn't really blame myself for my mother's actions. But I couldn't help feeling this way.

"I can't believe that mother would do this," I whispered. But the truth was, I could. I did. I had known what she was capable of all along. I knew that she wanted that Refractor Core, and I knew that she would do anything to get it. I felt another surge of guilt at that.

I had no idea of just how long I remained sitting there in stunned silence, wallowing in my guilt and self pity. My thoughts kept running around the ideas that people were hurt because of me, and that perhaps having my body stolen like this was some form of karmic punishment. Then I finally shook it off, accepting how foolish it all was. It wasn't my fault that my mother had injured those people any more than it was that she had stolen my body.

"Lay the fault where it belongs," I reminded myself, as though doing so aloud would make it easier for me to fully accept. "Mother..."

After a few more minutes, I decided to accept a piece of advice that my mother had frequently repeated, and that was to be practical and do what needed to be done. I was quite aware of the irony in that as I went to her walk in closet. It was as large as a whole room, and nearly everything in it was black.

"Such variety," I muttered sarcastically as I looked for something to wear. "And doesn't mother have any shoes which aren't high heels?" However, I knew that the answer was no. She was quite fond of the extra height advantage they gave her, especially since she always seized any advantage she could get.

It didn't take me too long to find an outfit. It consisted of a black long-sleeved shirt, white pants, and knee high black leather boots with stiletto heels. I'd seen my mother wearing the very outfit before, and knew that it was quite sexy, though not really any more so than what I had been wearing the day before.

As soon as I had finished dressing, I ran a brush through my hair a few times and decided to leave well enough alone. I didn't know how to apply makeup and little interest in doing so even if I did. And it certainly wasn't as though my mother's face actually needed any.

A minute later, I began a search of the house for any sign that my mother had returned without the servants knowing. It wasn't as though I didn't trust the servants, but for something this important, I felt getting personally involved was more importantly. However, as I more than half expected, I found no sign that mother had returned, nor any clues as to what she was currently up to.

"I only have one clue," I muttered, "The black sphere... The Refractor Core..." Unfortunately, I still had absolutely no idea what it was for. If I knew that, I might understand why mother was so intent on retrieving it...and what her other intentions were.

Then I froze, suddenly knowing where I might find some of the answers I was looking for. I immediately returned to the lab, already having looked there during my search, though this time I had a much better idea of just where to look. I went to the control center, a room with monitors covering nearly every wall. And in the very center, there was the main control console, the access for my father's computer system.

"There should be something in here," I said as I slid into the chair behind the console.

The monitors all remained blank, a black background with a red skull in the middle. It was my father's logo. I touched the keyboard in front of me, but this screen saver didn't clear. I looked for a power button, then realized that the power was already on or the logo wouldn't be flashing at me.

"How the hell do I get in?" I scowled, looking around. Then I saw it, a small glass pad on the side of the console, almost identical to the one on the lab door upstairs. "I hope this works..."

The moment I put my hand on the scanner, the logo vanished and the computer system opened up to me. I let out a sigh of relief, then hoped that it would actually have something about the Refractor Core in it, and that this wasn't yet another of my father's inventions where all notes had been lost.

I entered a search for the Refractor Core, and to my relief, it appeared. Images of the black sphere appeared on various monitors around the room, along with a large variety of technical data which made no sense to me. But there was more than that There were also links to other devices, plans and notes. I silently started to read through the information, feeling a chill run down my spine as I went deeper and deeper into it. With every passing minute, I became more and more horrified.

"She couldn't," I gasped.

Mother had told me she was going to complete one of father's old plans, and I had just found nearly every detail. But the end results of that plan would be so extreme that even father had abandoned it as going too far. If mother was willing to continue that project, even after my father had abandoned it as being too dangerous, than that said something very frightening about her mindset. I didn't want to believe she was capable of such a thing, but I was beginning to know better. I had seen the obsessed look on her face. She might very well be capable of anything now.

I sat there for a minute, feeling confused and even scared. I was not a particularly brave man, nor had I ever really claimed to be. My mother terrified me, now more than ever before. But I knew that I couldn't just let it go. If she was going through with this, and I was nearly certain she was, than I had to do what I could to stop her. For once in my life, I would not only have to say 'no' to my mother...but would actually have to actively oppose her.

"I can't let her do this," I said grimly, trying to build up my courage. If I felt bad about what she'd done to those guards while retrieving the Refraction Core, than I would feel infinitely worse if I did nothing this time. "I have to stop her..."

Of course, stopping my mother was much easier said than done. She was obsessive, determined to ensure my father's legacy...no matter what the cost. Talking to her would be completely useless, and force was out of the question. Not only was she in my body, but she had father's armor as well. But after thinking about it for awhile, came to a solution.

"I don't have to fight her," I mused as I stared at one of the monitors on the wall. I smiled faintly, knowing that my mother's plan required at least one more component which I didn't think she possessed. "All I have to do is keep her from getting it..."

According to my father's notes, the last component had been confiscated by the Protectorate during a raid on one of his bases and had been taken back to their headquarters for safekeeping. I activated the tracking device which father included in most of his inventions, verifying that it was still there.

"Mother doesn't have it yet," I let out a long sigh of relief, "Thank goodness for these tracking devices..." Unfortunately, those very same tracking devices were what had led us to the Refractor Core. Without that, mother might not have found where it was and this whole situation might not exist.

At first, I was quite satisfied with the knowledge that the component was in Protectorate custody where my mother could not easily get it. That meant I wouldn't have to do anything. But then, I suddenly remembered something which changed the entire situation. About a year after my father's death, the Protectorate had moved to a newer and larger headquarters. But the tracking signal was coming from the ORIGINAL headquarters.

"Oh shit," I gasped, suddenly going pale.

I had no idea why the Protectorate would have left the critical component behind when they moved. Perhaps they accidentally forgot it. Perhaps they simply didn't consider it important enough to bother with. What I did know was that the component was unguarded and easy game for my mother.

I scowled at the monitor in front of me, a deep determination slowly building. There was no choice... I was going to have to get that component before mother. It was a race to see which of us could get to it first, but since she'd already had a large head start in knowing about it, I couldn't afford to waste any time.

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I slowly climbed out of my rental car and looked at the rest area alongside the road. It was small, grungy place which was utterly deserted beside myself. Fortunately, that made it perfect for my purposes since I didn't want any witnesses at the moment.

"And it even has a rest room," I observed with a faint smile.

After I had made the decision to do something, I had immediately made all the necessary travel arrangements for my trip, then searched my father's lab for anything which might be of help. So now, a mere six hours after making that decision, and following an uncomfortable plane flight, I was on the final stage of my journey. I only hoped that I was fast enough.

Without a word, I pulled a black case from the car. It was just a little bigger than a normal briefcase, but was far from anything which would be considered normal, in spite of it's bland and unassuming appearance. It was something I'd found in my father's lab, made of extremely tough material, and locked so that it could only be opened with my mother's thumb print...which I happened to have. Most importantly, it also had special cloaking technology built within, so when it passed through an X Ray machine, such as at airport security, it would only show some completely innocent items, regardless of what was really inside.

I paused for a moment, annoyed at the amount of time I had wasted at the airport, especially since there was a way I could have avoided it all and arrived at my destination MUCH faster. I knew that my father had a private plane somewhere, and that my mother had been using it. Unfortunately, I had no idea where she kept the plane, so it did me little good.

"No time to worry about that," I muttered, grabbing the black case and going straight for the small building with the rest rooms.

I nearly walked straight into the men's rest room without thinking, though caught myself just in time. I grimaced, remembering just how embarrassing it had been to do that early in the airport. Of course, I was the only person in the rest area at the moment, so it wouldn't really have mattered much if I did use that one, but there is a certain principal to the thing.

Once I was in the women's rest room, I set the black case down on the sink and opened it up. I silently removed the first item, what looked like a black spandex bodysuit which covered everything from the neck down, except for feet and hands. I'd learned that it was made with a form of super kevlar, which made it a very effective form of armor. It was also an absolutely perfect fit for my mother's body, though I'd never imagined she owned anything of the like until I found it next to where my father's armor had been stored.

A few minutes later, I had removed my clothes and then slipped on the new outfit. Of course, it was a perfect fit and quite comfortable, though this was no surprise since I'd tried it on before leaving the house. I took a moment to admire just how well it hugged my mother's curves before putting on the thigh length high heeled boots which came along with it.

"High heels and body armor," I shook my head. "Only mother would combine the two."

With a sigh, I reached into the case and pulled out a black gun holster and belt with my father's red skull logo on the buckle. I removed the logo, deciding that it was inappropriate considering my mission and snapped the rest into place around my waste. Like the outfit, it fit perfectly, making me more curious as to why my mother had such things.

Then I carefully pulled out the gun and stared at it. I was not unfamiliar with firearms, having learned to shoot at the age of twelve. My parents had insisted on my being familiar with a variety of such weapons while growing up. I hadn't known of my father's occupation at the time, though now it made more sense. However, I didn't recognize the model of this particular gun and had never seen anything like it. It seemed to have a built in silencer, yet was as powerful as a 357 magnum, without any of the recoil. I'd tested the weapon before leaving the house and had been quite impressed.

I scowled at the gun for a moment while checking the safety and putting it in the holster. I had no intention of actually using that weapon on my mother, and not just because she was in my body or in a suit of armor that it could never pierce. But, considering the stakes, I didn't know if there might be something else I might need it for and wanted to be prepared...just in case.

The last thing I pulled from the black case was the very same stun gun that my mother had shot me with. THIS was something I would have absolutely no problem shooting her with. Unfortunately, it was too big to fit in the holster or I would have merely replaced the other gun with it. As it was, I found a way to clip it to my belt so that I could still carry it with me.

I paused to look at myself in the bathroom mirror, admitting that the outfit created quite an interesting image. However, I felt rather ridiculous in it, especially since it made me look so sexy. Then again, everything mother wore was sexy.

"Spandex body armor," I shook my head with a scowl, "I look like some kind of developed super hero..." Then I gulped, glancing to the red skull logo that I'd removed from the belt. "Or a super villain..."

Once I was satisfied that I was ready, I grabbed the empty case and returned to my rental car. My destination wasn't going to be much further, and now that I was dressed to face whatever I might have to, I was eager to get it done and over with. Time was still a critical factor.

But as I got back on the road, I couldn't help getting my hopes up. Perhaps, after there was no way mother could complete this scheme, she might just give me back my body. If not, I was more than ready to use the stunner on her, then find the missing part from the body switching machine so I could just take my body back.

It didn't take me long to get reach the city that was my destination, though I pulled off the main road before entering it and followed a smaller road off to the side. I soon found myself entering what could only be called the slums, if that. It was an area filled with old abandoned and condemned buildings. Many of them looked as though bombs could have gone off in them and none of them looked very livable. But none of those buildings was my true destination.

Then I saw the building that I was looking for, though it wasn't easy to miss since it stood out like a sore thumb among these other buildings. It was three stories tall and in MUCH better shape than any of the ruins around it. In fact, it was obviously much newer as well.

"Protectorate headquarters," I said as I saw it. Technically, it was only their former headquarters, but that was a minor detail. I'd read a lot about it in my father's files before coming and was curious to see the inside.

I climbed out of my car and went straight for the large double doors in the front, not even giving any consideration to possible security. After all, why should there be security when the people who owned the building had completely abandoned it? Unfortunately, I quickly learned just how mistaken I was.

Before I came a dozen yards from the main entrance, five people stepped out of the doors and stood there in my path. All of them were dressed in spandex costumes and all of them were glaring at me with expressions that suddenly made me think that I'd made a big mistake. Then, I realized who they were. This was the Guard.

The Guard is a group of developed heroes, a branch-off of the Protectorate that's mostly composed of former members and alternates who united under a new group name. I'd read about them, but had never considered that I might possibly encounter them.

The first was Radiant, a tall statuesque woman about 6 feet tall and looking like a fitness model. She had shoulder length brown hair and a white and blue costume with a blue cape. She was also wearing a blue domino mask, which confused me a little since I knew that in the past she'd gone about in the same costume without any mask at all. It made no sense to go without a mask to suddenly wearing one. But I also knew that she was one of the most experienced of the group, and a member of the Protectorate at the time they'd fought my father. She was extremely strong, invulnerable, could fly and shoot energy blasts from her eyes.

Next was Interface, a Hispanic man in his mid twenties, with dark hair and a red and gray costume that had metal shoulder pads and arm bracers. I didn't know anything about where he'd come from or where he got his powers, though I remembered him because his powers were so unique. From what I'd read, he was a tactile telepath and a tactile technopath, able to read minds and computers with the same ease.

Standing beside Interface was a blond woman wearing a flowing white costume that almost resembled a dress. She wore an expensive looking diamond necklace and had a belt around her waist which looked as though it were made of diamonds too. The woman was named Diamond, and had the power to actually create diamonds, which she usually created in the shapes of throwing blades and threw at her opponents.

Warchild looked like a 10-year-old boy, dressed in a black and white costume. However, he was far older than he appeared. From what I'd read, he had once been a soldier in Vietnam but had been severely injured and left quadriplegic. He'd been paralyzed from the neck down for several decades until he volunteered for a regeneration experiment, which had the unexpected results of regenerating him back to childhood and giving him the powers to fly and generate massive amounts of energy at the same time. I stared at him for a moment, realizing that this apparent child was actually an experienced combat soldier and quite possibly the most dangerous of the group.

The last member of the Guard to be standing there was one that I'd never heard of before she'd joined the group. I knew little about her besides than her name and apparent powers. She was called Mannequin, and was dressed in a green spandex costume that covered her entire body, except for her long blond hair. Her powers seemed to be enhanced strength and toughness, though I couldn't be entirely certain as she was something of a mystery.

All of the Guard were glaring at me but it was Radiant who demanded, "What are you doing here Madame Dark?"

"Madame Dark?" I blinked in confusion, then looked down at myself and gasped in understanding. The reason that mother had the black body armor with father's red skull logo... Mother was not just the widow of a super villain, but a super villain herself. "I'm not..."

But before I could explain myself or even fully grasp what was going on, the Guard were in motion. Each scattered in different directions, though Warchild flew up into the air, his hand covered with a reddish orange glow, just before he fired energy blasts from them, aiming straight at me. I was able to jump to the side and avoid being hit, though only because of my mother's enhanced body and reflexes. From the melted hole in the ground, it was a very good thing that I was able to avoid those blasts or I would have doubtlessly been killed.

"What the hell are you doing?" I screamed out as I jumped to the side to avoid diamond throwing knife that Diamond had aimed straight at me.

Unfortunately, when I avoided Diamond's attack, I accidentally ran straight into Mannequin, who immediately wrapped her arms around me and held me tight. I struggled to get loose, though it did little good as her grip was as hard as iron.

"We've got you," Diamond announced with an arrogant tone as she walked up to me. She calmly put a hand on my arm and suddenly a bunch of diamond crystals began to form from that point and spread out around my body until my arms were pinned to my side with a large ring of diamond.

"Who is she?" Mannequin asked Radiant, "You seem to know her..."

"She calls herself Madame Dark," Radiant answered her teammate, "Over the last few years, she's been behind various thefts of advanced technologies, mostly relating to a former villain called Lord Dark. But this isn't her normal style. She usually stays behind the scenes and has hired help do the dirty work."

"She's a rip-off of Lord Dark," Interface stated, "She showed up after his death and seems obsessed with him for some reason..."

"She's not a rip-off," I grimaced, wondering for a moment if I should just remain silent since I was learning more about my mother than I'd ever guessed, just by listening to them. "She's his wife..."

"What?" Radiant stared at me with a look of surprise.

"I'm not her!" I spat out angrily, "I'm not Madame Dark..."

"Yeah, right," Warchild snorted.

"I'm NOT," I protested, wondering how I could possibly convince them. Then I looked to Interface and exclaimed, "He can read my mind and see that I'm telling the truth..."

Interface scowled, then told Radiant, "It couldn't hurt..."

"Don't waste time with this bitch," Warchild spat out, "I've got better things to do than listen to her lies."

"Do it," Radiant told Interface, pausing to glare at me suspiciously.

Interface stared at me, his eyes suddenly turning a solid glowing green. Then he held up his hand, which had green lines forming all over it, almost like some sort of circuitry just under his skin. He didn't say a word as he placed that hand on my arm, causing the same glowing green circuit patterns to spread out along my arm. And just then, I felt a presence in my head...

"Oh God," I gasped, feeling extremely uncomfortable with the realization that a stranger was actually in my mind, looking at my thoughts. It was the worst invasion of privacy that I could imagine, not made any better by the fact that I'd actually given him permission.

A few seconds later, the presence vanished from my mind. Interface pulled his hand away from me and his eyes reverted to a much more normal appearance. He blinked for a moment, then announced, "He's telling the truth..."

"He?" Mannequin demanded, staring at me, though I couldn't read her expression due to the green spandex mask which covered her entire face.

"You can let him go," Interface told Diamond, "He means no harm..."

Diamond gave Interface a skeptical look before nodding faintly and touching the diamond ring which held me prisoner. A moment later, it crumbled to dust, leaving me free to move my arms again.

"Who are you?" Radiant demanded suspiciously, "What's going on?"

I took a deep breath, suddenly feeling extremely worried. "My name," I said slowly, "is William Darque..." I stared at the ground, feeling ashamed as I admitted, "Lord Dark was my father and the woman you called Madame Dark is my mother."

There were gasps of shock and snorts of disbelief at that. But all of them were staring at me with hostile and suspicious looks, except for Interface who had a neutral expression.

"My mother," I said, looking up and meeting their eyes, "She wanted me to continue my father's legacy, to become the new Lord Dark and complete one of his plans. When I refused, she stole my body and used it to become the new Lord Dark herself. She's obsessed with my father and completing his work...regardless of the consequences..." I had to stop at that, shaking a little as I thought about what those consequences would be.

"Why did you come to our headquarters?" Diamond demanded.

"I didn't know it was your headquarters," I admitted. As far as I knew, the location of the Guard's headquarters was not public information. "I thought the old Protectorate headquarters would be empty..."

"And why did you come here?" Radiant asked, her tone more curious than demanding.

I hesitated for just a moment, looking around and realizing that this could very well work in my favor. In fact, I was certain that having the Guard operating out of this building was the best thing that could have happened. They could guard the last component from my mother, which seemed almost destined considering their team name.

"When my father was still alive," I scowled, slowly looking around, "he invented a device to coerce the world leaders into surrendering to him. It was, in his opinion, the ultimate weapon for psychological warfare."

"Some kind of mind control?" Diamond asked with a thoughtful look.

I shook my head at that, "No...not directly. But it was intended to create fear and panic... It's a...darkness generator, based in part on the technology he used in his armor. It's intended to convert the planet's ionosphere into a massive darkness field that absorbs all light. All light that comes from the stars, moon and Sun will all be blocked out. The whole world would be thrown into darkness."

"It sounds annoying," Warchild scowled, "But not too menacing..."

"You don't understand," I glared at him, about to explain when I was interrupted.

"People are afraid of the dark," Mannequin pointed out. "And there are a lot of superstitious people... Imagine what they'd think when the sun suddenly gets blotted out..."

"There will be chaos, panic and riots all over the world," Diamond gasped, looking horrified.

"Worse," Interface scowled, looking worried.

"Much worse," Radiant grimaced. "Remember, it was a heavy layer of dust in the atmosphere which blocked out the light and killed the dinosaurs off. If all sunlight around the world is cut off..."

"Temperatures will drop," Mannequin whispered, "Most plant life will starve...and the rest of the food chain will follow."

"If it lasts long enough," Radiant grimaced, "it could lead to the end of most life on Earth."

"Let me guess," Warchild said sarcastically, "This Lord Dark was going to keep this darkness going until everyone surrendered to him..."

"Originally," I responded quietly, feeling quite uncomfortable with the way they were all staring at me. "But he realized that it had a serious flaw in time and dismantled the device."

Radiant stared at me for a moment before asking, "And just which flaw is this."

"Once activated," I answered grimly, "It can't be turned off..." There were gasps at that and I quickly continued, "The ionosphere dark field would become self-contained, no longer needing the machine. The light and energy it absorbs would be enough to keep it powered indefinitely. My father knew of no way to deactivate the field once it was created, so he abandoned the project. His goal was to conquer the planet, not destroy it."

"Very interesting," Diamond commented, "But what does this have to do with why you're here?"

"I assume that your story is leading to something specific," Radiant said with a deep scowl.

"Madame Dark means to use that machine, doesn't she?" Mannequin asked me. "You said she was trying to complete one of Lord Dark's plans..." There were several gasps at that, followed by looks of grim determination. I just nodded sadly, feeling guilty for my part in trying to help her.

Warchild stared up at me and demanded, "Doesn't the bitch know what that will do?"

"She knows," I answered quietly, knowing that she had access to the same notes that I did as well as the time to read them more thoroughly. "She just doesn't care." I took a deep breath, then explained, "Mother is completely and totally obsessed with ensuring my father's legacy, no matter the cost. And unfortunately, she's decided that covering the world in everlasting darkness is the perfect way to do this."

There was a long moment of silence as the Guard absorbed this information. Then Radiant looked at me with a deep scowl and quietly repeated the question I had been asked several times already. "And the reason you're here...?"

"I'm here to stop her," I answered grimly. "As far as I know, mother is only missing a single component of the darkness generator, and I'm trying to prevent her from getting it."

"And where is this last piece?" Warchild asked, his expression just as dark as my own.

I stared at each member of the Guard in turn. Then without a word, I slowly turned and pointed straight at the building they had come out of.

linebreak shadow

The Guard's control room was quite similar to my father's, with computers, electronic devices and monitors all around the walls. But not only was the Guard's version larger, where my father had a central control console in the center, they had a large conference table. It wasn't the round table inspired from King Arthur that one might expect of a super hero group, but shaped more like a horse shoe so that no one sitting there would have their back to the primary monitor screen.

I slowly looked around the room, frowning as I did so. All of the monitor screens were filled with pictures of my father or mother. After I had told the Guard what was going on, and had given them nearly all the information I possessed, we went into their headquarters and Radiant pulled up some files on my parents to let the other members know who they would be dealing with. I was somewhat stunned as some of it, especially the information about my mother's activities was new to me.

At the moment, they were replaying video footage that had been taken from the storage building when my mother had returned for the Refractor Core. The image looked exactly like that of Lord Dark since the shadow mask hid her face. There was nothing physical to reveal that it was my body in my father's armor...or my mother in my body in my father's armor. All the cameras showed was Lord Dark, miraculously returned from the dead and viciously attacking Praxis.

"If I didn't know better," Radiant commented, scowling at the screen, "I would swear that this was the real Lord Dark."

"A big difference between the first time he fought Praxis and the second," Warchild commented thoughtfully.

Interface gave me a knowing look, reminding me that he had been in my head and knew who was really at the first fight. I gulped nervously, feeling extremely uncomfortable at being in a room full of super heroes who might take me down because of my brief attempt at being a villain. But to my surprise, Interface said, "Perhaps the difference is due to gaining more experience with the weapons as well as being prepared for a fight."

"Makes sense," Warchild nodded.

Just then, a girl's voice exclaimed, "I can't believe he'd beat up Praxis that way... She's my friend..."

I quickly turned to see a newcomer entering the room. She was a girl of about 11-years-old, with reddish brown hair that was done up in pig tails. She wore a pair of coveralls, a pair of goggles on her forehead and a tool belt around her waist. I stared at her in surprise, wondering why a little girl was in the Guard's headquarters, and why she seemed somewhat familiar. Then it came to me. This was Genius, a former member of the Protectorate who was forced to leave the team due to legal reasons involving her being underage.

"It's a good thing that Praxis healed right up," Genius exclaimed, glaring at the video of 'Lord Dark' on the main monitor, "Or I'd REALLY be mad at that jerk."

A man stepped through the door right behind Genius. He was in his late thirties and dressed in a black outfit with a white square at his neck. On top of all this, he wore a blue cloak with the hood pulled back. I recognized him as Father Time, a Catholic priest with some sort of time manipulation powers. He'd briefly been a member of the Protectorate but left at the same time Genius was forced off the team. I was definitely surprised to see both him and Genius there since I'd never heard of either of them being associated with the Guard. Of course, I'd never heard anything about the Guard being in the Protectorate's original headquarters either.

"Maybe you can help us with this one dear," Diamond told Genius, "Advanced technology is your specialty after all..."

"Sure," Genius grinned proudly.

I explained what I knew of my father's darkness generator, feeling silly to be telling this to an 11 year old girl, even if she was some sort of super genius. Genius listened intently, nodding a little before asking if I had the blueprints and schematics for the device.

"It would really help me design a counter for it if I knew how it works," she told me with a thoughtful expression.

"No," I shook my head, "Nothing like that. I found some notes on the device and how to reassemble the modules, but no schematics. All those details were apparently lost when his island headquarters was destroyed. My father had a bad habit of never backing up any of his data, so if he lost it, he had to start over from scratch."

"That would explain it," Radiant muttered, more to herself than to anyone else. "I always wondered why Lord Dark never rebuilt that antimatter cannon..."

"If there are no blueprints," Genius smirked, "then if we destroy this last piece, there's no chance of reassembling the darkness generator and activating it..."

"That's what I was thinking," I told her with a weak smile.

"So what exactly is this part?" Genius asked, "The Protectorate left a lotta stuff they'd confiscated here in storage, so it would be easier if I knew what we were looking for."

I blinked in surprise at that, feeling rather foolish. I'd never really considered that they might have too many confiscated items to easily locate the particular component I was looking for. I had sort of assumed that just mentioning it was something they'd taken from Lord Dark would be enough for them to know what I was talking about.

"My father's notes just referred to it as the Helix," I explained. "It's a cylinder, about four inches across and three feet long."

"It doesn't sound familiar," Genius mused, "But this Lord Dark guy got killed when I was still in diapers so I've never run into him or any of his tech..."

"When I was here with the Protectorate," Radiant mused, "we had a database of everything we put into safekeeping."

"About that," Genius responded, looking down at the floor with an expression of embarrassment, "You see, before you guys moved in here, there was kind of an accident with an electromagnetic weapon that wiped out all computer data in a one block radius..."

"Then it appears that we will have to look for this Helix the hard way," Diamond announced with a look of annoyance.

"I can't believe the Protectorate let a little girl use this place as her own private lab," Warchild shook his head in disgust.

"Hey," Genius protested, "I'm the same age you are... In fact, I believe I'm a little older..."

Warchild scowled, which made him look like a pouty child. But instead of arguing with Genius and reminding her that he was a lot older than he looked, he just turned and walked out of the room. Genius snickered and followed behind him, calling out taunts about 'little boys' needing to mind their elders.

"Is it always like that around here?" I asked with a frown.

"Pretty much," Mannequin nodded. I couldn't tell for sure because of the mask, though I was almost certain that she was grinning. "Genius doesn't get along with most kids her own age because of her intelligence so she's latched onto Warchild. They both get treated like kids when they're really a lot more. In fact, I suspect she even has a crush on him..."

"Enough gossip," Diamond said, "I believe we have something to find..."

A few minutes later, we were standing in front of a large metal door with a both a computer keypad and a hand plate, similar to the one on my father's lab door. After Radiant entered a code and let her hand be scanned, the door opened and we stepped into a large room which could only be described as a warehouse. There were lots of shelves and racks all through the room, each filled with a variety of boxes and strange objects. In fact, there were a LOT of boxes.

"Good luck finding it in here," Mannequin said.

"It's bound to be in here somewhere," Radiant sighed, "We just need to look for it."

Just then, Warchild and Genius came into the room as well. Warchild had a grin on his face and looked just like any other kid, though his expression turned grim and serious a moment later. Genius laughed and handed him a Gummy Worm from a bag she was holding. He accepted it with a smile.

"What do you think, little boy?" Genius teased Warchild. "Where should we start looking?"

"I'm old enough to be your grandpa," Warchild reminded her with a scowl, though he seemed to be holding back a smile.

"Well I don't have a grandpa," Genius shrugged, "Or any other family. I'm a genetically engineered orphan, unless you want to count the company Globotech. But since the courts ruled they don't own me and I am a person, I don't think they have much claim either."

"Yes," Interface smiled, "But that same court ruling also meant that you were legally an underage human child and forced you off the Protectorate."

Genius didn't look happy to be reminded of that. She shrugged, slurped up a couple of Gummy Worms, then started to wander down one of the rows of shelves, looking for the Helix. I and all of the others joined her in the search.

We searched for about ten minutes before Interface snapped, "There are too many boxes... This is going to take forever..."

"Hey," Genius protested, "Don't blame me... It's not my fault the database got wiped out..." However, she did have a somewhat guilty expression on her face.

"I don't believe we've used this particular computer since moving in," Interface mused as he walked to a computer console in the corner of the room. "It might be possible for me to recover the database..."

Interface stared at the computer and his eyes turned the same glowing green that they had been when he'd used his powers on me. The glowing green circuit patterns appeared on his hands again, and as soon as he touched the side of the computer, it spread all over it as well. His eyes suddenly began having faint ones and zeroes flashing across them at high speed, making the whole thing all the more eerie.

"The files were extremely corrupted," Interface said in a strange voice, "But I am able to salvage some of what we need."

Just then, a green light projected from Interface's eyes, creating an image in the air in front of him. It was a floating hologram of the Helix, though the image was definitely incomplete. It was blurry and small parts of it were missing, though it was still recognizable as the same component I saw in my father's files.

"That's it," I exclaimed unnecessarily.

Interface was accurate when he said that the file was corrupted. Sections of it were scrambled or missing entirely. But enough of it was still understandable to let us know which row of shelves the Helix had been stored on. After that, it was fairly easy to locate it.

"It doesn't look all that impressive," Warchild commented as Radiant lifted the black metal cylinder.

"I'll take a closer look at it," Genius said, her expression turning to one of pure business.

Genius immediately took the Helix to her lab, which had a lot of similarities to my father's. However, I couldn't imagine my father ever having pink ceilings or posters of boy bands and unicorns on the wall, which she did. But in spite of the childish decorations, Genius was all business.

Radiant and I were the only ones to stay and watch Genius go about her work. She put the Helix through several tests, using machines which I'd never seen before and had no clue as to their function. But there was no doubt that she knew what she was doing, easily making me forget that she was only a child.

"I don't think it's going to be as easy to destroy as we'd assumed," Genius finally commented with a scowl, setting the Helix down on a table in front of us.

"Why not?" I asked, "It's the only way to be certain that my mother doesn't get her hands on it."

Genius didn't say a word as she reached to the base of the cylinder and pushed. The whole metal case slid up, revealing that it was just a shell for that which was inside. There was a long glass cylinder, filled with a thick looking green liquid. And in the middle of that was a spiraling metal helix which resembled a the famous double helix of DNA.

"The core contains some highly unstable and dangerous materials," Genius commented, looking first to Radiant and then to me. "If it gets in contact with the air, it could easily detonate."

"Detonate?" Radiant asked with a look of alarm.

"It's equivalent to a small nuclear warhead," Genius shrugged. "There's no detonator or anything to indicate that it was intended as a bomb. Quite the opposite in fact. It seems to be quite safe and stable as long as it's sealed up like this. Unfortunately, I don't have the necessary materials to safely dismantle the thing here."

"Just great," Radiant grimaced, not looking any more pleased about this revelation than I was. "You mean we had a nuclear bomb in our headquarters and we didn't even know about it..."

"Not exactly nuclear," Genius shrugged, "But the effects are close enough."

"Why didn't anyone in the Protectorate notice this?" Radiant demanded, though I wasn't sure if she was really aiming that at Genius.

"The outer shell," Genius pointed out, carefully closing the cylinder back up again. "But scanning techniques are a LOT better than way back then..."

Once we had gathered the rest of the Guard and told them what was going on, they were less than pleased. Diamond and Warchild kept glancing at me, giving me suspicious looks that seemed to say that they thought the whole situation was my fault.

"What are we going to do about this new Lord Dark?" Diamond asked Radiant, "How are we going to find him?"

"I don't think we need to," Radiant responded thoughtfully. She gestured to me, "From what she said, the new Lord Dark needs this Helix and will probably come here for it."

"So you think we should just wait around in case he shows up?" Warchild snorted.

"We won't have to wait long," I told announced. "My mother is not very patient when it comes to getting something she really wants, and she will desperately want this last component. I guarantee that she will be coming here for it very soon."

"I've deactivated tracking device you told me about," Genius said, "Maybe she won't be able to locate it."

"She already knows it's here," I frowned, knowing that mother had probably been tracking the Helix for some time. In fact, I suspected that the only reason she hadn't come for it already was that she knew the Guard were present. But now that she had father's armor... "She'll be coming for it before you get the chance to move it very far."

"Well this is our concern now," Radiant told me, "We'll take care of things from here."

I stared at her in surprise for a moment, hardly able to believe that she'd just dismiss me like that. Of course, I reminded myself, they were all developed and super heroes, while I was just a college student who was trapped in his mother's body. I didn't have the training or the skills necessary to fight 'evil doers' and the like. As far as they were concerned, I would just get in the way...or worse.

"I'm not going anywhere," I grimaced, telling myself this just as much as them.

"You most certainly are," Diamond glared at me.

I took a deep breath, feeling nervous and gathering my courage. But after having finally stood up to my mother, doing it to these people was relatively easy. "I said I'm not going anywhere."

"It would be safer for you if you did," Interface pointed out.

"First," I held up a finger, "I'm already involved in this up to my neck...and beyond. In fact, I'm involved in this much more than any of you, and none of you would have the least idea of what was going on if I hadn't told you. Second," I held up another finger, glaring around the room at every member of the Guard, "This is my mother that you're planning to deal with, and I know her and what she has intended much better than any of you. That very knowledge and experience may be crucial to stopping this mad plan..."

Radiant frowned, "But..."

I glared at Radiant and held up my third finger, "And finally, my mother is currently occupying MY body. I'm going to get it back and make damn sure it's in one piece when I do." I continued to glare at her, letting her know just how serious I was about this.

"Very well," Radiant sighed, "You obviously have every reason to stay."

Since it was decided that I would stay and help deal with my mother, the other's didn't argue it and started to relax. Diamond and Warchild still didn't seem completely pleased by my presence, but neither said a word as they left the room. And as everyone else began to disperse, Mannequin offered to give me a quick tour of the headquarters.

"We haven't been using this place very long," Mannequin told me, "But it is still in good shape. Genius and Father Time have been taking care of it for awhile."

I just nodded as she took me through the building, showing me the training rooms and living quarters, while bypassing both the labs and storage sections since I'd already been to those. The tour was fairly quick, revealing that the headquarters was a little smaller than I would have expected, though I was still fairly impressed.

"If the Protectorate left this place to go to a bigger one," I shook my head, "I can only imagine what that must be like."

"I wouldn't mind seeing it myself," Mannequin chuckled, then explained, "I haven't been in the hero business for very long and haven't met many others outside of the Guard. Sometimes, I still have a hard time believing that I'm running around in spandex like this. It's certainly not a job that I ever really intended. Unfortunately, I have a...situation which prevents me from doing any normal work, so it was either become a hero, become a villain, or be broke and homeless."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I asked, "Have you worked with the Protectorate yet?"

"Not really," Mannequin shook her head. She paused for a moment before carefully explaining, "I've met Force and Omni Woman, but only after they'd left the Protectorate. It wasn't exactly a pleasant encounter either."

"I'd imagine not," I frowned, thinking of Force, the world famous hero who had gone insane. "I heard that they sent him to Mount Prometheus...that prison for developed criminals."

"A prison full of super villains," Mannequin shook her head, "Being there would have to be tough for anyone, but for someone like him..."

"Yeah," I nodded my understanding. Since Force had been a hero and put a number of the other prisoners in there, they would undoubtedly tear him to pieces of given a chance.

A short while after this, Mannequin had to excuse herself so that she could take care of monitor duty. Apparently, she and Interface were tasked with keeping watch so that the rest of the Guard could relax until they were needed.

I soon found myself wandering to a common area where there 'relaxing' members of the Guard were mostly hanging out. It was something like a living room, with two couches, a number of chairs and even a few small tables. There was even a large TV pressed up against a wall, though it was being monopolized by Genius who'd claimed it for some video games.

Sitting at a small table was Radiant, who was sitting back and flipping through some papers with a slight frown. It took me a moment to realize that her domino mask was gone, only to be replaced by a pair of wire frame glasses. It was a somewhat unusual sight as they made this muscular 6 foot 2 woman almost resemble a librarian.

Radiant noticed my staring at her and adjusted her glasses with a slightly self-conscious smile. "One of my powers," she explained, "is being able to fire energy beams from my eyes, but that puts a great deal of stress on my eyes. Unfortunately, I eventually discovered that it was damaging my vision. I used to be able to read a newspaper at twenty yards, but now I need corrective lenses to see clearly."

"Your mask has glasses built in," I exclaimed in realization.

Radiant nodded at that and touched her glasses, "But I feel more comfortable reading with these."

A moment later, Radiant turned back to whatever it was she was working on. I looked around at the others, my eyes locking on Diamond, who was polishing a very sparkly diamond about the size of a baseball. Mother had some large diamonds, but this was undoubtedly the largest diamond that I'd ever seen.

"Very impressive," I told Diamond. "With those powers, you must be quite wealthy."

Diamond gave me a cool look, as if trying to decide whether I was worth talking to or if she should just dismiss me. Then she gave me a somewhat smug look, "I do well enough, though probably not as well as you imagine."

"Oh," I responded, unable to take my eyes from the massive diamond in her hand.

"This," she said casually, handing me the baseball sized diamond, "is composed of a lower quality diamond that will disintegrate into base carbon in a matter of minutes. Most of the diamonds I create dissolve quite rapidly."

"That's too bad," I told her sympathetically.

But Diamond just waved that off dismissively, "It's largely intentional and part of a deal I made with the government. If I don't flood the market and drive down diamond prices, I am allowed to create and sell a limited amount of high quality diamonds every year."

"That's understandable," I responded, realizing just how easily her powers could wipe out the diamond industry if she didn't hold them back. I started to hand the large diamond back to her but it suddenly crumbled into a fine black dust, getting it all over my hand. "Ugh..."

I stared at Diamond for a moment, admiring the diamonds that were part of her costume before turning and finding a comfortable place to sit. I leaned back, silently watching the others for a minute, well aware of the fact that they might be polite and even friendly to me, but that I was still the outsider...and the offspring of two super villains. It was amazing that they weren't a lot more hostile towards me for that alone.

Then after a few minutes, Warchild turned to me and asked the question I had been expecting for awhile. "So, why are you so determined to stop all this? I mean, you are Lord Dark's kid, so why aren't you going along with the rest of your family?"

"You mean, why don't I have more family loyalty?" I scowled.

Warchild nodded, "Pretty much..."

I sighed, trying to think of how to best phrase it. "The truth is," I explained, "I barely knew my father. I didn't even know that he was Lord Dark until after his death. My mother never truly cared about me, only my father and his legacy. Once I made it clear to her that I wasn't going to follow in my father's footsteps and become the clone of him that she wanted, she lost all interest in me other than the fact that I still had his blood in my veins. And you can see how she took that," I gestured down at myself, scowling as I did so.

"So you want revenge on your mom for stealing your body," Warchild smirked.

"A bit," I admitted with a little embarrassment, "But I want my own body back even more. Of course, I also have little interest in conquering the world and even less in seeing it destroyed."

"I must say," Radiant commented, looking at me with a speculative look, "If that really is your mother's body, it certainly is younger looking than I would expect..."

"One of father's experiments slowed down her aging process," I explained. Then, just because I was feeling a little intimidated by all of them having developed powers, I decided to show off a little. I flipped over and did a hand stand with just one hand, adding, "It had a few other benefits too..."

That brief demonstration seemed to catch their interest and lightened the mood a bit further. Within a few minutes, we were all talking and showing off what we could do. And for a little while, I was almost able to forget the dark legacy which loomed over my head.

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When I awoke in the morning, I was a little startled to find myself immediately wide awake and fully charged, even if it was my second morning in that body. It was quite a bit different from my normal morning grogginess, and an advantage of my current body that I could easily get used to.

I sat up in bed and looked down at my naked body, feeling a bit uncomfortable at the sight but not looking away. "It's like switching from driving a Volkswagen Bug to driving a pink Porsche. You might not like the color, but you can't help but love the performance."

A moment later, I stood up and stretched, marveling yet again at just how incredible my mother's body felt. It was so strong, limber and energetic that it was easy to forget how much I was supposed to hate being trapped in it. Once again, I desperately wished that my father hadn't lost his notes on that process, or I'd be able to enjoy the same level of health and fitness in my own body.

"After I get my own body back," I mused, "I'm definitely going to start working out at the gym." Unfortunately, I knew that it would take a lot of work to get anywhere near the level my mother enjoyed without any effort at all.

With that, I slowly looked around the tiny bedroom that I had spent the night in. It was even smaller than most of the dorm rooms that I had seen at college. Still, I knew I was fortunate that the Guard had put me up for the night in one of their rooms. And to it's credit, the room shared a bathroom with the next room over rather than requiring the use of a communal bathroom and shower.

"At least now I know why the Protectorate moved to a bigger headquarters," I chuckled.

I sighed and bent down to stretch a little more, putting my hands flat on the floor without bending my knees. Then I shook my head as I straightened up and walked to the bathroom, hardly able to believe how different this body was.

"I suppose I should take a shower," I mused as I looked at the shower stall. I had avoided taking a shower yesterday, so was not only overdue for one now but in desperate need. Fortunately, I wasn't feeling as squeamish about my current body as I was then.

As soon as I was in the stall and under the stream of hot water, I let out a sigh, amazed at just how good it felt. Obviously, my skin was much more sensitive than before. I just stood there for several minutes, savoring the sensations before I shook myself out of this distracted state and remembered that I was in the shower to wash up, not to play around. But I was pretty tempted to do the latter as well.

"I shouldn't goof off too much," I grimaced, "Mother could arrive at any time and I want to be ready for her." Since she didn't come during the night, there was no telling when she might decide to make her move. Of course, whoever was on watch would warn me and everyone else if mother did arrive, but I still wanted to be prepared.

When I got out of the shower stall, I took my time drying off, slowly looking over my body. It was the first time that I'd really examined the body that I was currently wearing. It was so strange, and difficult to believe that this was actually my mother's body. I was tempted to examine it further, but I shook it off and forced myself to get back to business.

I wrapped a large towel around myself, being careful to have it around my chest as a woman would rather than just around my waist as was normal for me. I was so lost in thought as I walked out of the bathroom that It took me a moment to realize that I'd walked through the wrong door and into the room I shared the bathroom with.

"Sorry," I started to say automatically as I noticed Mannequin's costume spread out over the bed. But I didn't see her, only a plastic mannequin that was in her chair.

Then to my surprise, the mannequin spoke, "It's all right. I should have locked the door."

I stared at the human sized plastic doll in the chair, my eyes going wide in realization. "That's why you're called Mannequin..."

Mannequin stood up, her naked body looking exactly like that of a mannequin or a human sized Barbie doll. Her skin looked like flesh colored plastic and it had all sorts of seams and splits in it, mostly around the joints. She frowned and reached for her costume to cover herself, though she didn't seem to be in too big of a hurry.

"It's why I wear the full body spandex," Mannequin explained as she began to put her costume on.

I continued staring at her, unable to escape the feeling of familiarity. At first, I thought that it was just because she looked like Barbie, but then it dawned on me. "You're the robot that fought the Elite..." She'd even hinted as much to me previously when talking about her unpleasant meeting with Force and Omni Woman. They had been members of the Elite, a short lived super hero team that had broken apart after fighting a robotic woman that looked like a mannequin.

"The other reason I wear the costume," she grumbled. "And don't believe what you heard about that incident on the news. There's more to the story than they'll tell."

"I...I never would have guessed you were an android," I told her in surprise. She had acted so human that if I hadn't seen her outside of her costume, I never would have guessed.

"I'm a synthoid," she responded with a forced smile, "Or at least this body is. I used to be human but got into a bad accident. They transplanted my mind into this body to keep me alive."

"So I'm not the only one in the wrong body," I forced a smile.

"Nope," Mannequin shrugged. "And I used to be a guy too, so we also have that in common."

"REALLY?" I gasped.

Mannequin nodded, "It's a long story. Maybe I'll it to you later."

"I'd like to hear it," I told her sincerely, deciding that it was nice to know someone else was in the same boat as me, or at least in one close enough to have a little understanding. Still, I didn't think that Mannequin or anyone else would understand what it was like having an infamous villain like Lord Dark as a father and an obsessed woman as their mother.

I quickly returned to my own room and got dressed in the spandex body armor again. It felt strange to be wearing it for so long, though the fact that everyone else around me wore costumes made me feel a lot less ridiculous. The real problem was my hair, which took a lot longer to dry than I would have expected.

"I should just cut it all off," I grumbled to myself, thinking of my mother's reaction when she got her body back bald. "That would teach her to steal my body."

Once I was finally dressed and ready, I left my room and joined the others who were already up and about. Radiant and Warchild were just coming off of watch while Diamond and Father Time took over. Everyone seemed relieved that nothing had happened during the night, but over the next few hours, there was a growing frustration and impatience as well.

"She is going to come here," I insisted more than once, knowing that my mother wasn't about to just give up on the Helix. I was just as certain as ever that she would make a move for it soon.

Warchild was starting to ask if I was certain about my mother's plans, for what had to be the tenth time that day, when suddenly an alarm started to sound. Every member of the Guard immediately rushed towards the command center and I followed close behind, my heart racing with fear and excitement.

"Is Lord Dark attacking?" Radiant demanded the moment we entered the room.

"No," Diamond scowled, gesturing to the monitor screens around the room, "We have another problem."

I stared at the monitors, seeing images of a man in armor floating in the air and firing beams of red energy out of his hands as he attacked what looked like some kind of aircraft manufacturing plant. I let out a faint sigh of relief when I saw that it wasn't my father's familiar armor. This man's armor was blue and white and in a style that was obviously inspired by ancient Roman centurion armor. It even had a helmet with the trademark mohawk in blue. Then I noticed several strange details, such as his chest had what looked like a dove with olive branch on it and his blue cape was pinned with a broach in the shape of a peace symbol.

"Peacemonger," Warchild spit out bitterly.

"Who?" I blinked in surprise. I'd read quite a bit about various developed heroes, especially the groups, though there were so many costumed villains that I'd only studied the major ones. The man in the monitor was one that I didn't recognize.

"Peacemonger," Radiant answered with a scowl. "He's a militant pacifist."

"Isn't that an oxymoron?" I asked with a faint smile.

"Perhaps," Radiant told me, "But he is very dangerous."

"He used to be an extreme antiwar activist," Diamond explained calmly. "He somehow bypassed the security of an experimental weapons facility to destroy everything they were working on. But he suffered some accident there instead which gave him his powers."

"But a villain with a peace theme?" I shook my head, wondering what the world was coming to.

While Radiant was typing away at their computer, apparently gathering information on Peacemonger, Interface explained, "He believes that war is inherently evil and therefore, anyone and anything which supports war is evil and must be destroyed. He's obsessed with stopping war at all costs. He'll avoid harming civilians most of the time, but he hates anything related to the military."

"He started off attacking military bases and destroying their weapons," Diamond picked up the explanation, "Then about a year ago, he became involved in an attempt to use a nuclear weapon on the Pentagon. Shortly after this, he acquired a nerve gas that was supposed to permanently pacify all aggression in those exposed. We stopped his plan of flooding the world with it, starting with Washington DC."

"Neutralizing aggression doesn't sound too bad," I frowned thoughtfully.

But Diamond shook her head, "He tested it on the residents of a small town first. It not only removed aggression, but all creativity, initiative and willpower, effectively lobotomizing them. Now the government has to take care of over a hundred of these human sheep for the rest of their lives since they don't even have the initiative to eat when hungry on their own."

"My God," I whispered, staring at Peacemonger's image in horror.

"Peace at all costs," Warchild spat out, "That bastard reminds me of some of the assholes I ran into when I came back from Nam. He's just like that prick who told me I deserve to be a helpless cripple for the rest of my life because I served my country."

I just stared at Warchild, once again reminded of the fact that he was a lot older than he looked. There was a grim and hardened look in his eyes at that moment which no real 10-year-old boy could ever have. This was the look of a hardened combat vet, and I realized that in his view, Peacemonger was the embodiment of all the worst traits from the more extreme antiwar protesters who'd spat on him and called him a baby killer after the war. His dislike of Peacemonger was personal.

"His ultimate goal of world peace may be admirable," Diamond scowled, "But his chosen means are just as bad as what he claims to be fighting against."

"A villain with a peace motif," I repeated in disbelief, "Who ever would have thought it."

"At the moment," Radiant grimaced, "He's attacking a plant that makes planes for the Air Force."

"Well let's go kick his ass," Mannequin exclaimed.

But Radiant shook her head, "We can't leave the Helix unguarded. We have to be prepared for when Lord Dark comes for it."

"If he comes for it," Warchild muttered to himself.

"SHE will come for it," I told him grimly.

"Enough," Radiant glared at Warchild, then looked around the rest of the Guard members.

"Warchild and I will go deal with Peacemonger while the rest of you remain here."

Just a minute after this decision, I watched as Radiant and Warchild took off in the team's ship, a small VTOL capable vehicle which looked almost as though it could have come from outer space. Genius just looked smug when I commented on how cool the ship looked as it took off, giving me a good idea who created it.

Once they were gone, I returned to the control room to keep an eye on what was going on with this Peacemonger character. The truth was, I was not only curious as to how the situation turned out, but wanted to see the fight when Radiant and Warchild arrived.

"I can't wait to watch them kick his ass," Mannequin exclaimed, "I just wish I was there..."

"It is quite fortunate that television news crews arrive on the scene so quickly," Diamond commented with a faint smirk, "And that they have so little sense as to get close to such danger. Otherwise we might not get to watch these types of events."

"I don't know," Interface mused, "I've heard about one news cameraman who's a developed and has his own personal force field."

"So why didn't he put on spandex and fight crime?" I grinned at Interface.

"I don't know," Interface grinned back, "Perhaps because he weighs three hundred pounds, and it's not muscle."

We laughed at that, then turned back to the monitors. Peacemonger had already leveled the entire factory to the ground and was currently in the middle of smashing the smaller pieces of the planes he'd destroyed, when Radiant and Warchild arrived. They immediately went straight at him, slamming him with everything they had.

"It's a wonder he didn't get away before they arrived," Diamond snorted. "We really must work on our speed."

"Maybe I can work on a teleporter," Genius mused thoughtfully. "It would be so much faster..."

"You'd think the Iron Avenger would have gotten to him first," Genius commented. "I mean, that is close to where he usually operates and all."

Just then, there was a thunderous booming sound and the building began to shake. That was almost immediately followed by the deafening sound of alarms from all around me. The monitors on the walls all began to switch to pictures of the headquarters from various angles.

"It's Lord Dark," Mannequin yelled before running from the room with Diamond, Interface, and Father Time close behind her.

"Mother," I grimaced, realizing that she must have been watching and waiting until the Guard was no longer at full strength.

I suddenly felt extremely nervous...even afraid. The idea of confronting my mother in such a way was much easier to accept before it was so close at hand. But I grimaced, took a deep breath and ran after the others. I had already made up my mind to keep her away from the Helix and I wasn't going to back out now.

I rushed through the facility until I nearly ran into Interface who'd stopped right in front of me. There was a massive hole blown through the wall of the headquarters, and just inside of it was a figure in very familiar armor, hovering mere inches off of the floor. My father's old armor looked quite imposing, especially since the hood was pulled up and the shadow mask was turned on.

For a moment, I just stood frozen, staring at my mother in silent horror. I had never realized just how intimidating that armor could be until just that moment. The fact that my mother's face...my face was covered in darkness only made it even more so. And when she turned to look at me, a cold chill ran down my spine.

"You," my mother growled, the voice modulator in the armor making her voice sound eerie. "You traitor... You betrayed your family!"

"No," I gulped, gathering my courage and spitting back, "You betrayed me when you stole my body!"

"You don't deserve to have the blood of Lord Dark flowing through your veins," she snarled at me.

Then to my surprise, mother threw up one of her hands and fired a blast of dark energy at me. I jumped to the side, managing to avoid the attack, thanks to the reflexes and agility that I'd inherited with her body. But even then, it was close. I don't know if mother's attack was truly meant to kill me or just to prove some point, but that was all the Guard needed to attack.

"Get him," Mannequin shouted, suddenly firing red energy blasts at my mother from the palms of her hands. However, the blasts just bounced off without doing any apparent damage.

Interface and Father Time stood back while Diamond and Mannequin attacked my mother with just about everything they had. However, Diamond's thrown diamond blades had even less effect than Mannequin's energy blasts. And when Mannequin charged forward to punch my mother, a single blast of dark energy sent her flying back and through a wall.

"Mannequin!" Interface called out, running to her.

"I'm all right," Mannequin called back as she climbed out of the wall, her costume burned though she seemed unharmed.

"Thank the lord," Father Time exclaimed.

Mother laughed cruelly at that, "Yes, you can thank me for that. And you can thank me again once I destroy her..."

"Damn," Mannequin grimaced, "We could really use Radiant and Warchild's power right now."

"Not to mention Radiant's experience fighting the real Lord Dark," Diamond exclaimed, creating a diamond shield which she used to block one of mother's dark blasts. The force was still enough to knock her to the floor, though the shield did save her life.

Father Time slowly stepped forward, "If I can get close enough, I can freeze him in time..."

"STOP THIS!" I yelled at mother, "This is insane..."

"Silence," she yelled, firing another blast of dark energy at me. "I will not be spoken to that way."

I avoided mother's attack and finally reached for the stun gun on my belt. My hand shook as I took aim, hardly able to believe that I was doing this. And with a wince, I pulled the trigger, firing at my mother. But the stun gun had no more effect than throwing a wadded up sheet of paper at her.


Suddenly she lashed out, firing one dark blast at me and another straight at Father Time. Diamond jumped in the way, using her diamond shield to block the attack on her teammate while I jumped to the side, growing even more grateful for my increased agility. If it wasn't for my mother's body, I never would have been able to survive her attacks. The irony of the situation wasn't lost on me.

"I don't have time for this nonsense," mother exclaimed impatiently, "I have a mission to complete."

A moment later, the world exploded into darkness as mother unleashed a blackout wave. I staggered, unable to see a thing through the pitch black cloud which covered everything, even my hand in front of my face. That was followed by the sounds of dark blasts and explosions.

"He's blasted a hole through the inside wall," Mannequin exclaimed, "He's trying to get away."

There were more sounds of energy blasts and explosions, followed by mother demanding, "How can you still see?"

"That's for me to know and you to find out," Mannequin taunted.

A minute later, the darkness cleared and I was able to see clearly again. However, there was a large hole in one of the inside walls and no sign of either Mannequin or mother. Or at least I thought there was no sign until I heard some more explosions from somewhere further inside the building.

"Come on," Diamond exclaimed, "We have to stop him..."

"Damn," I grimaced, wincing at the sound of yet another explosion.

After hesitating for just a few seconds, I ran through the hole with the others, following the path of destruction left by my mother. It soon became obvious that she wasn't just wandering aimlessly through the building, but that she was going straight towards the lab, where the Helix had been left.

"She must have paid attention to where the signal was coming from right before Genius cut the tracking device," I muttered. "We should have moved it somewhere else..."

I arrived in the lab a minute later and stared at the wreckage around me. Mother and Mannequin were fighting in the middle of the lab, firing blasts of energy at each other. Mannequin held out her arm, which split open in the back, and fired some sort of marble sized grenade which hit mother and exploded, destroying her cloak but nothing else. Then I noticed the Helix clutched in mother's hand. She'd found it.

"Enough of this," mother snarled, "I have what I came for."

"Lord give me strength," Father Time exclaimed as he rushed forward, "I will stop you..."

But mother lashed out before he had a chance to use his powers, hitting the priest and sending him flying back until he hit the wall with a loud thud. She turned to look at me for a moment, glaring at me from her dark visage, not saying a word. But I could feel the anger which was directed at me. And without a word, reached behind her and pulled out a black metallic sphere the size of a soft ball, then dropped it on the ground.

"Oh no you don't," Diamond exclaimed, throwing a handful of diamond blades at mother but doing no good.

"It is almost over," mother exclaimed, sounding more as though she were talking to herself than anyone else, "His legacy will be written across the very sky..."

Then mother held up her free hand and unleashed several dark blasts, causing everyone to jump out of the way. With the path cleared, she went right out the hold she'd blown into the lab, firing several more blasts behind her to keep us from following.

I stared in horror at my mother as she vanished from view, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop her. With my father's armor, she was nearly invincible. Then I quickly looked at the black sphere she'd dropped and gasped. There were glowing red numbers on the side, counting down. It went from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 and then...

"I've got it," Father Time exclaimed, gesturing to the sphere which suddenly started to glow blue. The numbers stopped counting down and remained frozen at 1 second, suspended at that moment of time.

"Damn," Mannequin growled, "That fucker got away..."

"With the Helix," Diamond grimaced.

Interface scowled, "I wish my powers were more offensive..." He looked at Father Time and said, "Are you all right. It looked like he hit you pretty hard."

"I think my arm is broken," Father Time winced, clutching one arm while keeping a careful eye on the bomb that mother had left behind.

"It seems," Diamond commented, glancing from the bomb to me, "That your mother truly doesn't care much for your well being...or even that of her own body."

"She's obsessed," I gulped, shaking as I said it. "Completely and totally obsessed."

"And he has the last component he needs for that darkness generator," Diamond grimaced. "This is not good. Not good at all."

By the time Radiant and Warchild returned from their mission an hour later, Genius had already disposed of the bomb and the rest of us were there waiting in the command center, except for Genius who was cleaning up her lab. Needless to say, Radiant was not pleased about our failure to stop my mother.

"It was like he was waiting for you to leave," Mannequin spat out bitterly.

"Damn," Radiant scowled, leaning back in her chair. She removed her domino mask and replaced it with her wire frame glasses, thoughtfully rubbing her temples as she did so. "It fits with something that Peacemonger told us while he was being hauled away in shackles."

"What's that?" Interface asked intently.

Radiant sighed, "He said that someone had sent him information that a new Top Secret bomber was being built there for the Air Force."

"Peacemonger was a stinking decoy," Warchild grimaced. "Lord Dark sent him to cause trouble, knowing that we had a history with him and wouldn't be able to resist taking him down."

"Leaving the Helix here unguarded," Interface frowned, then looked at me. "It would have drawn all of us away from here if it hadn't been for her warning."

"Not like it did much good," Mannequin growled, "That bastard still went through us like we were barely there."

Father Time looked down at the temporary cast that Genius had fixed him up with, then observed, "He was quite effective."

"It seems that we've been underestimating this new Lord Dark," Diamond stated.

"He's just a dangerous as the old one," Radiant nodded her agreement. "Perhaps even more so since this one is more obsessed."

"Since he has the Helix," Interface pointed out, "we have a serious problem. I don't know how long it will take him to assemble this machine, but I doubt it will take too long. We are on a serious time limit."

I just sat back and silently listened in on this conversation, still feeling shaken up by the encounter with my mother. I knew that she was dangerous, even insane...but I had never thought that she would actually try to kill me. In spite of the fact that she had and that she was trying to destroy the world, she was still my mother.

"What about you?" Warchild suddenly asked, staring straight at me. "The whole reason that you're here is that you said you all about this new Lord Dark and could help us. So, where the hell is he hiding out at?"

"I don't know," I admitted quietly, slowly looking around the table at all of the members of the Guard. Then I took a deep breath and announced, "But I know how to find out."

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The Guard's unique aircraft was roomier on the inside than I would have guessed, though still a little cramped since it was full. At the moment, every member of the team was crammed inside, except for Father Time and Genius who remained at the headquarters.

"Are we there yet?" Warchild asked with a smirk, trying to be funny though no one laughed.

"Almost," Radiant commented from the controls.

"Just down there," I pointed to the ground a few minutes later.

Radiant nodded and slowly settled the craft down onto the vast front lawn of my family's mansion. The moment that it was stopped and the hatch opened, I climbed out and paused to take a deep breath and look at my home.

"This is where Lord Dark lived?" Warchild asked with a look of surprise. "I would have expected him to live in some dark and spooky castle in Transylvania or something."

"I hope you're right about this," Radiant scowled. "We don't have time to waste on false leads..."

"Do you have any other leads?" I asked, not bothering to look at her as I started walking towards the front door.

I walked into my living room with the Guard following close behind. The servants might have been surprised to see a group of super heroes standing there, though they didn't look it and none of them asked any questions. Of course, none of the servants would dare question my mother and since they thought I was her...

"You should all wait here," I announced as I went to the hidden elevator, "My father might have set some traps in case anyone who isn't authorized enters his lab."

"I would prefer if one of us came with you," Radiant said with a frown. Then she added, "I'll come... If there are any traps, I'm pretty hard to hurt."

I hesitated a moment before nodding, "Okay... I'm not even sure there are any traps."

When the elevator doors opened up and we stepped within, I held my breath, half afraid that some death ray would activate and shoot Radiant. Perhaps I was being a little paranoid, but knowing my family, I didn't think that it would hurt to be prepared. Fortunately, nothing happened either in the elevator or when we stepped out of it.

"So this is where Lord Dark worked from home," Radiant mused as she looked around. "I suppose that it's hard to imagine that even villains have a home life and sometimes bring their work home with them."

"The Cleaver's we weren't," I told her, going straight for the control room and putting my hand onto the plate that would unlock the main console.

A minute later, I was typing away while Radiant just stood back without saying a word. Since we had deactivated the homing device in the Helix, there was no way I could track that the same way that I had before. Fortunately, I remembered that mother had taken the Refractor Core with her and it had a tracking device installed as well.

"It seems that mother forgot to deactivate it," I smiled as the computer pinpointed a location.

I stared at the computer for a moment, seeing that the location it had identified was in the middle of nowhere. I frowned for a moment, then asked it to provide all information it had on that location. What it revealed a minute later left me a little startled.

"You've found him?" Radiant asked with an urgent tone in her voice.

"Yes," I nodded, not taking my eyes from the monitor. I pushed a few buttons and suddenly every monitor in the room was filled with the information in front of me.

"It seems that before my father had died, he was in the middle of constructing a new base of operations," I told Radiant. "Ironically, it was almost right across from a previous one in the side of a mountain that you and the Protectorate destroyed."

"I remember that headquarters," Radiant gasped, "That's where we destroyed his antimatter cannon. But why build a new one so close?"

"Maybe he thought it would be the last place you'd think to look for him," I shrugged, "Whatever the reason, it was only halfway build when he died. It looks like my mother decided to finish the construction about a year ago."

Radiant stared at the monitor for a moment, her hands clenched tight. I watched her in fascination, well aware that she was a veteran hero and former member of the Protectorate who had fought side by side with Vigil and most of the other major heroes in the world.

"Just out of curiosity," I asked, feeling a little embarrassed as I did so, "But why did you leave the Protectorate?"

Radiant was slightly startled by the question and slowly responded, "It was because of a romance that went bad. It was...awkward to stay after I caught Force cheating on me. That bastard always did have an enormous ego, and it only got worse over the years. I shouldn't have been so surprised when I found out what happened to him."

"Oh," I responded, feeling a little surprised and even a little honored that she'd tell me something so personal.

But Radiant immediately turned her attention back to the monitors and said, "We don't have time for gossip though. We have a job to do."

"Sorry," I quickly told her, feeling guilty at the way I'd momentarily forgot the importance of what was going on. "Then let's go."

"You should probably stay behind where it's safe," she told me.

I shook my head at that, "Not a chance. Besides, my mother is the one who finished this headquarters, so I have the key to the front door right here." I held up my hand, knowing her habit of using her own DNA and biometrics in locks.

Radiant reluctantly nodded her agreement and a few minutes later, we were back in the Guard's aircraft and on our way. We at the mountain range fairly quickly but flew low through the valleys to keep any radar from spotting us. Then we found a spot where we could safely land.

"Why hasn't that bastard activated that damn machine yet?" Mannequin demanded, "Not like I'm complaining or anything..."

"Because it should take about six hours to charge." I told him. "And assuming that mother came straight here and installed the Helix, it's very likely that the time is close to up. The machine could be activated at any time."

"So we don't have time to waste chatting," Warchild growled. "I'll fly ahead and take point." With that, Warchild nodded to Radiant then flew straight towards the main entrance of the headquarters.

"He's right," Diamond said, "We don't have any time to waste."

We all rushed after Warchild, and though Radiant could have easily flown ahead, she remained with the rest of us for both support and power. Diamond was braced with a diamond shield on her arm and her other hand ready to create diamond throwing blades. Mannequin was off to the side a little, ready to fire those energy blasts from her hands. And I was in the middle of the group, with Interface following up behind with some sort of plasma rifle clutched in his hands.

"Why couldn't I have gotten one of those?" I muttered, jealously glancing at Interface's weapon. Of course, I was armed with a stun gun and the other firearm I'd found with my mother's body armor, and I knew that I'd never use something like that on my mother, but the idea of having that powerful a weapon was nice.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose just ahead of us. There explosions and flashes of light, and I saw Warchild up in the air, firing blasts of orange energy blasts at the ground. Then I noticed a missile flying straight towards him, but he casually blasted it out of the sky before turning his attention back to the ground.

"Come on," Radiant flew ahead, with everyone else running towards the fight.

But by the time I got there, the fight was over. I saw the remains of a dozen robots, all melted and scattered about. There were even a few antiaircraft batteries destroyed as well. It was obvious that Warchild really didn't need out help dealing with that situation.

"I missed the fun again," Interface complained, "And I lugged this thing up here for no reason."

"It's just starting," Radiant told him with a scowl, "There'll be enough for all of us to do."

Then, as if on que, two dozen men in armor came rushing towards us. Each of them was armed with an energy rifle of some sort, and all of them were pointing towards us.

"Lackey's," Diamond spat with disdain, "Why do bad guys always rely on lackeys..."

"I wonder where they all come from?" Interface grinned, "With as many lackeys as we keep running into, you'd almost think there's some sort distribution warehouse that sells them in bulk."

"Take them down," Radiant ordered, "But don't hurt them."

I didn't think that it was going to be as easily done as said, especially when the attackers all started shooting. We were outnumbered by two to one, but the Guard didn't seem bothered by this at all. Each scattered, doing their own thing.

Mannequin charged straight towards a group of them, grabbing one guy and picking him up with one arm then casually tossing him straight into one of the others. Warchild just flew up into the air and started firing energy blasts at them, seeming to aim at the ground in front of those guys instead of directly at them.

"Lousy bastards," Interface grimaced, firing his own energy rifle back at them, "I hate having to use this thing. Damn, I wish my powers could be more useful..."

Radiant just stood there and took a direct shot from one of the lackey's energy rifles without any problem, then flew straight at him, casually tossing him to the side. She smiled, grabbed a small boulder from the ground and tossed it towards a few more.

I stared at this whole thing for just a minute, feeling amazed to watch the Guard in action. Then I realized that these guys were really shooting at me and that I could end up dead if they hit me. So with a grimace of determination, I pulled out my stun gun and started firing back, hitting two of them with my first three shots.

It only took a few minutes to take out all of the lackeys but it seemed like a lot longer. It was the scariest thing that I'd ever dealt with in my entire life, other than my mother. But for the Guard, it seemed like nothing. They were acting like they went through small armies of heavily armed guys every day, and perhaps they did.

"Now come on," Radiant, gestured to the large metal door in the side of a cliff, "We've still got a job to do."

A minute later, we were standing in front of the heavy steel doors which blocked our way to my mother. I stared at them for a moment, then smiled as I saw the hand plate off to the side. Several seconds after placing my hand against the plate, the doors began to groan and slide open.

"At least you're useful," Diamond commented.

"Well," I smiled pleasantly at her, "I warned you guys about my mother's plans. I found where she was hiding and I opened the doors. What have you done so far?"

But before Diamond could respond to that, there was a strange roaring sound from up above us. I looked up and gasped in horror at the sight of three large metal robots, flying in the air. Each of them was at least twelve feet tall and had gattling guns in place of their hands.

"You guys go ahead," Warchild said with a scowl, his eyes locking on the robots with a deadly seriousness, "I'll take care of these things."

"Good luck," Radiant said, gesturing for us to go inside while Warchild flew up into the air and straight at the robots.

"You're just going to leave him?" I gasped in disbelief.

"Warchild can take care of himself," Mannequin assured me.

"Damn," I muttered to myself, feeling exceedingly nervous. "I feel like I've just walked into the lions den." That was pretty strange considering that the lion in question was my own mother.

We had barely gone inside of the complex when we were attacked by three more of those armored lackeys. This time, my stun gun was already in hand and I took them all out with ease. I was becoming quite thankful that I'd brought it with me.

"Where the hell did mother get these people?" I muttered to myself with a shake of my head. I never would have guessed that she'd gotten so far into the villain thing that she'd already have a bunch of hired thugs working for her. Of course, I never would have imagined that she was secretly running around in spandex body armor and calling herself Madame Dark either.

"So where the hell is Lord Dark and that machine?" Mannequin demanded.

"Let me find out," Interface responded with a look of determination, walking to one of the unconscious soldiers that I'd taken out with my stun gun. His eyes suddenly turned green and he placed his hand on the man's chest. The green circuit lines which appeared every time Interface used his power returned and spread. A few seconds later, he stepped away from the man, announcing, "He's down this way..."

Just a short distance down the hall, we came to another heavy metal door, somewhat smaller in scope to the main one to the base. But this time, it didn't open when I placed my hand against the scanner plate.

"It looks like someone changed the locks on you," Diamond smirked.

"I'll take care of this," Interface said, his eyes turning green as he reached for the wall. A moment later, the door slid open. "If the key doesn't work, use a lock pick..."

"You do have your uses," Diamond commented with a faint smile.

I just nodded and went through the doorway, pausing to stare at the massive room and gasp in surprise. The room itself had to be at least 50 yards across, with the very center of the room being occupied by a large tower machine that was strange looking but frighteningly familiar. This was the darkness generator that we were here to stop. I even saw the Refractor Core attached to it towards the top.

Just then, the menacing figure of Lord Dark stepped out from behind the machine. Mother was still wearing father's armor with the shadow mask activated, hiding her face in darkness. She had even replaced the cloak which had been damaged during her raid on the Guard's headquarters. While the other's immediately rushed into action, I just stood there, staring at her with a cold fear.

The Guard all opened fire on my mother, though none of them could pierce my father's armor. She stood there for a moment, taking the attack without a word, then suddenly going on the offensive herself. She fired dark blasts at Radiant and Diamond, the first flying out of the way while the second blocked it with a large diamond shield.

"This thing isn't doing much good," Interface glared at the energy rifle in his hands.

"Damn it mother," I snapped, firing the stun gun at her, "Stop this insanity!" I knew that the stun gun couldn't get through the armor, though shooting it at her made me feel much better. I kept firing it at her until suddenly it went dead in my hands, having run out of whatever powered it.

"How dare you interfere," mother snarled, glaring at me with a look that sent cold chills down my spine. "How dare you stand in the way of your father's dream. How dare you turn your back on his legacy..."

"Father never wanted this," I yelled back at her, "He never used this machine for a reason..."

But mother was obviously not in a mood to listen to reason, not that she ever was. She immediately fired several dark blasts, one of them right at me, though I was easily able to jump out of the way. Radiant wasn't quite fast enough and took a direct hit which slammed her straight through a heavy wall. A moment later, she climbed back to her feet, looking a little dazed but otherwise unharmed.

"Damn," Interface snarled from beside me, firing several more shots at mother with his energy rifle, "This isn't doing any good. We have to take care of that machine before it can be activated. If I can touch it, I can override it's computer and shut it down..."

"Then you shall never touch it," mother yelled, somehow having overheard him, perhaps due to some trick of the armor.

She fired a dark blast straight at Interface, though I threw myself into him and knocked him out of the way, just barely in time. But that wasn't enough as mother fired several more blasts, these ones intercepted by Radiant and Diamond.

"Come," mother yelled at me, "Come back to me. Take your rightful place by my side."

"You're fucking insane," I screamed at her, "You'll destroy the planet..."

Mother just stood there for a moment before announcing, "Very well. You have betrayed me for the last time." And with that, a glowing red ball of energy formed in her hands. She held it for just a second before firing it straight at me.

I immediately ran to the side, but to my shock, the glowing red ball actually changed course in midair and continued coming straight at me with increasing speed. My heart jumped at the realization that this was some sort of targeting blast that was locked on me. I jumped to the side again, running as fast as I could to get out of the way though it only came after me even faster.

"I've got you," Mannequin cried out, suddenly jumping right in front of the red sphere. It didn't have time to change course and go around her so hit her straight in the chest. What followed was an awful scream and the most horrible sight I had ever seen. Mannequin's whole body burst into flames, searing straight through her costume and right into her skin beneath. Her skin immediately blackened, melting and crumbling. Within a mere second, there was no sign of her costume, her hair or even her Barbie doll skin. The only thing left was a charred, blackened ruin in the general shape of a woman, which fell to the ground motionless.

"Mannequin!" I cried out in horror, realizing that she had just sacrificed herself to save my life. She had saved me from my own mother. "NOOOO!"

"You bastard," Interface screamed, opening fire on my mother, who just laughed it off as the blasts bounced from her armor.

"Look," Diamond cried.

I looked back at Mannequin, tears running from my eyes as I did so. To my surprise, what was left of Mannequin was moving again. The charred mass which looked like the monster from some horror movie was getting back to it's feet and looking as though it were ready to keep fighting.

"Mannequin," I cried out again, this time in relief that she was still alive.

My relief was short lived though as mother immediately fired a double dark blast at Mannequin, hitting her straight on and sending her flying back to slam into the wall. Mannequin collapsed to the floor again, this time not getting back up.

I glared at my mother, getting more and more furious by the moment. I hadn't known Mannequin for very long but I had considered her a friend. But that was just like mother. She NEVER wanted me to have any friends or anyone outside of the family. This was just like her to take away anything and anyone who meant anything to me.

Radiant screamed in rage and flew straight at my mother, punching her with every bit of her enhanced strength and sending my mother flying back and threw a wall. Mother climbed back out, apparently unharmed. She fired several dark blasts at Radiant, then one of those glowing red balls that had hit Mannequin a few minutes earlier.

"Now," Diamond called out to Interface, "Now that Lord Dark is distracted."

Interface stared the rifle in his hand and I could see the urge to just keep shooting at my mother with it. I understood that urge all too well as I'd used up the full charge of the stun gun on what I'd known was a useless attack. But a moment later, Interface dropped the weapon to the ground and started running straight for the darkness generator.

"No you don't," mother called out as she saw him. But before mother could attack Interface, Radiant punched her again.

"Got it," Interface laughed as he began to reach for the side of the large machine.

But just then, a strange humming sound started to come from above us. I looked up to see six metallic spheres the size of basketballs floating towards us, each of them black with the ghostly image of a red skull within. I gulped, suddenly having a very bad feeling about these things.

"What the hell are those?" Interface demanded.

Suddenly, a long black tentacle shot from the ghostly skull mouth of the sphere that was closest to Interface and wrapped around him, yanking him back from the machine before he could use his powers to access it. Then the sphere pulled Interface even closer to it, wrapping him up even tighter.

"It's got me," Interface yelled out unnecessarily as he struggled to get loose.

A moment later, the ghostly skull image vanished, leaving a smooth metallic black sphere with a tentacle sprouting from the middle of it. But that only lasted a second as the sphere pulled Interface even closer then started to melt all over him, looking like some sort of thick metallic black tar that was intent on consuming him.

"HELP!" Interface screamed, frantically struggling as his whole body was being covered, without any success. "I can't get loose..."

Interface was almost entirely smothered with the black material which covered every inch of his body except for his head. And just when it looked as though that would be next, it stopped spreading. It solidified, leaving Interface trapped within, unable to move.

"Get me out of here," Interface screamed.

"I'm trying," Diamond yelled, rushing towards him but then being snatched in a tentacle from another of the spheres.

"I've got my hands full here," Radiant called out, being thrown back as mother hit her with a dark blast.

"Damn," I exclaimed as one of the spheres flew towards me. "Father and his twisted inventions..."

I grimaced and pulled the second gun from my holster, immediately firing several shots into the floating sphere with no effect. The shots went right into it's surface, the holes sealing up almost instantly. But that didn't stop me from firing several more shots. Suddenly, the sphere not only stopped coming towards me but dropped to the ground, hitting with a splat as it melted all over the place.

"What the hell?" I gasped in surprise. Then it dawned on me. There must be something inside the spheres, some sort of chip or something which controlled the liquid metal. And if you happen to take that out...

"How'd you do that?" Diamond yelled to me as she tried fighting off a tentacle with a diamond shield and ax.

"It's got some sort of control system inside it," I yelled back, turning my attention to a second sphere heading towards me. "If you can hit it, the whole thing collapses."

I didn't have time to explain any further as I had another sphere to deal with myself. I fired three shots into the sphere's mass before I took it down this time, and by the time I looked over to Diamond, I saw that it was too late for her. The sphere she'd been fighting off had gotten past her defenses and had just finished sealing her up the same way the other one had Interface.

"We could really use Warchild about now," Interface exclaimed.

I just nodded and looked around, relieved that there were no more spheres coming towards me. Unfortunately, this was because the final two spheres were going after Radiant. Both of them were melting over her at the same time, while she struggled to get free from them. She was strong enough to keep them fully freezing her in place, but not strong enough to break free from them entirely.

"God, it's like I'm glued to the floor," Radiant cried out as she tried to fly up, only to get a foot away from the floor before the black mass pulled her back into place.

Mother just stood back and watched Radiant for a moment, then burst out laughing. She slowly looked over the room, her eyes locking on me for a little longer than they did on anyone else. The fact that I was still free of the sphere's didn't seem to bother her at all she didn't consider me any kind of a threat. And I knew that I wasn't. My gun, the only weapon in my possession, was completely and totally useless against that armor.

"I shall let you all live long enough to see the final triumph of Lord Dark," mother exclaimed, gesturing to the darkness generator. "You shall see the final proof of his brilliance and power..." Then she glared straight at Radiant, "And then you shall all pay for what you did to him."

"You can't do this," Radiant cried out frantically, "You'll destroy the world."

Mother didn't respond to that, other than to flip a switch which caused a large section of the ceiling above the machine to open up, revealing the sky above. She stood there for a moment, staring silently at the machine, looking quite pleased with herself.

"Mother!" I cried out, "You've got to stop this. You'll throw the world into darkness and everything will."

"The world deserves it," Mother suddenly snapped, glaring at me. "The world ignored the greatest man who ever lived. They denied him and then destroyed him. But when the world is plunged into darkness...they will all know that it was due to Lord Dark. For the rest of their lives, they will know that this never would have happened if they had accepted the gift of leadership that he had offered them..."

"YOU'RE INSANE!" I screamed.

But mother just turned away from me, as if I was no longer of any consequence or importance. And I could see that in her twisted mind, I wasn't. The only thing that mattered to her know was completing her insane mission. A moment later, she pressed a button on the machine and it began to hum. A ball of pure blackness formed right above it, building stronger and more powerful with every passing moment.

"NO!" all of us cried out at once.

Radiant doubled her struggled to get loose from the black mass which held her, though it it had little effect. She grimaced, then managed to pull one hand just free enough to tear the domino mask from her face. An instant later, twin blasts of blue energy burst out of her eyes and blasted into the side of the machine.

"STOP!" Mother cried out in horror as something in the side of the machine exploded.

Diamond looked relieved and then horrified, "If you shatter the Helix, we'll all die..."

"Better us than the world!" Radiant yelled, using her eye blasts on the darkness generator again and again.

Each of Radiant's blasts caused small explosions and parts of the machine went flying. The shattered ruin of what had been the Refractor Core landed just feet away from me, the side torn in half enough for me to see countless mirrors and crystals spilling out.

Mother tried to block Radiant's attack, but it was too late. The darkness generator was already too badly damaged. The mass of black energy which had been forming above it began to contract...then suddenly exploded, sending me flying to the floor. But since mother was standing right beside the machine, she took the largest brunt of the explosion.

I remained curled up on the floor for a minute, terrified that the Helix was shattered and that we would suffer the nuclear explosion that Genius had warned of. But to my relief, there were no further explosions. I slowly sat up and looked at the destroyed ruins of what had been the darkness generator, letting out a sigh of relief.

"God DAMN it!" Radiant growled and I turned to see that while she had been busy using her eye blasts to destroy the darkness generator, she hadn't paid any attention to the black mass that she had been struggling with. As a result, it had finished spreading and solidified, locking her in place just as completely as it had Interface and Diamond. "I can't get any leverage to break free..."

I looked at Diamond, Interface and Radiant, all of whom seemed unharmed from the explosions, perhaps being shielded by the very material which held them in place. I briefly wondered how I would free them, then I turned my attention to my mother, who was on the ground after taking the blast head on.

"Mother...?" I whispered, suddenly feeling extremely worried. But whether I was worried about my mother being dead, about her possibly still being a danger, or just about the fact that it was my body on the floor...I didn't know.

But then mother began to move, slowly getting back to her feet. The armor had taken a lot of damage and there were several cracks and gashes right across the front. The shadow mask had dropped so her face...my old face was open and exposed. From the stubble on her cheeks, it was obvious that she hadn't shaved since taking my body, perhaps with the intent of growing a beard to look even more like my father.

"Damn you all," mother grimaced, glaring at me with a look of pure hatred.

"It's over," I told her quietly. "Let's go home... We can switch bodies back and maybe get some family counseling..." There was no doubt in my mind that my mother needed a lot more than just counseling, but it was the only place I could think to start.

"I will kill you all for this," mother spat bitterly, a glowing red ball of energy forming in her hand. "I will see each and every one of you dead..." The look that she gave me made it very clear that I was included in this statement. She wanted me dead as well.

For a moment, she stood there with a few small sparks coming from one of the gashes in the armor. The armor wasn't fully functional or she would have kept the shadow mask up. However, it was still powerful armor and from the glowing red ball of energy in her hand, obvious that it was still dangerous. Then she turned and looked at Diamond, who was the closest person to her. She gave a cruel smirk, then walked over to the imprisoned hero.

"No," I cried out, but mother only stopped when she was standing right beside Diamond.

"You will be the first to pay for this," mother hissed at Diamond. Diamond blinked, then glared at mother without saying a word. It was as though she were silently daring mother to do it.

"Stop it," I yelled at mother, "Leave her alone..."

My mother made no move to stop or back away, nor did she show any sign that she had heard me. Instead, she raised her arm, obviously intending to just slam the glowing red ball into Diamond's face. And after seeing what it had done to Mannequin, I had no doubt that it would prove extremely lethal.

For a moment, I just stared at my mother in horror, knowing that I couldn't let this happen. I couldn't let her murder another person, especially not using my body. So with a deep breath, I raised the gun and pointed it straight at her. My hands shook, but I managed to take aim.

"Do you really think that you can shoot me?" mother sneered, finally looking at me again. "Do you really think that I would fall for such a bluff? If you shot me, you would lose any hope of ever getting this body back. You would never do that." And with that, she turned and shoved the glowing red ball straight at Diamond's face.

Diamond screamed but I was barely aware of it as I pulled the trigger. There was a loud gunshot, and an instant later, my mother's head exploded in a spray of blood. She collapsed to the floor, half her head missing. The glowing red ball faded from existence before her body even hit the floor.

I dropped the gun and collapsed to my knees, completely shocked by what I had just done. I had just killed my own mother...and my own body at the same time. The full realization of what this immediately hit me with full force. There was nothing in the world that could compare to the horrible weight which settled into me at that moment.

A minute later, the black material which held Interface in place suddenly melted away, leaving him standing there in a puddle of good. He looked a bit shaken but ran straight to Diamond, holding up a silver device the size of a marble, "I finally found the control mechanism and overrode it," he explained, giving me a deeply apologetic look, "I really wish I could have done it sooner..."

As soon as Interface had found the control mechanism in the material that held Diamond, he deactivated it and freed her as well. He immediately rushed to free Radiant, while Diamond slowly came towards me.

"You...you saved my life," Diamond whispered, staring at me in disbelief. "Thank you." She gave me a sympathetic look and told me, "I know this means you'll never get your own body back. I'm sorry..."

I just grunted, not in any mood to really be consoled. I knew what my actions would mean before I pulled the trigger and that hadn't stopped me from doing so. But that didn't mean that I had to be happy with what I did.

Once Radiant was free, she held her mask back to her face, scowling, "Damn, now I'll need a stronger prescription."

"Better blind than dead," Interface reminded her.

"Will you be all right?" Radiant asked as she came over a few seconds later. She held out her hand and helped me back to my feet, "You did what was necessary..."

Suddenly, Warchild's voice called out, "Is it over already?" I looked up to see him flying into the room from the opening in the ceiling. From the tears in his costume and the beginnings of a bruise which covered half his face, it was obvious that he'd had a hard time of it. "Sorry it took so long," he grimaced, "There were more of those robots than we'd seen..."

"It's over," Radiant nodded, gesturing towards mother's body, "Lord Dark is dead. Again."

"But so's Mannequin," Interface winced, looking pained to admit it.

"Shit," Warchild spat, looking towards the blackened ruin that was Mannequin, "I didn't think robots could die..."

Radiant just nodded sadly, then said, "Let's finish cleaning up here so we can go home..."

linebreak shadow

It had been an extremely long and hard week for me since my mother's death, and one which I thought would never end. A life shattering even such as what I had experienced was not something that could be just shaken off. You couldn't just shrug off such a thing and immediately move on, though I knew that I would have no choice but to at least try.

Every day, I would wake up and look at myself in the mirror, knowing that the face I saw was now mine, that my mother's face and body would be mine for the rest of my life. But as strange as that was and as hard as it would be to fully accept, it was far from the hardest thing I'd had to face.

I never would have imagined that some day I would be forced to arrange and attend my own funeral, but as hard as it was, I had little choice. Standing there above the coffin, staring down at my own face was like a nightmare, sending a cold chill through my very being. My mood wasn't made any better by the lack of mourners. The only people who had even come to see 'me' off were a couple of students of my school whom I'd barely even known. It was quite depressing.

Then there was the guilt. I know that my mother was insane, that she was about to murder someone and that I had little choice but to do what I did. If I had just stood back, I would have been just as guilty of murdering Diamond. But she was my mother. She might have been an obsessive, sociopathic, body thief who was out to destroy the world...but she was my mother. I couldn't help but feeling horrible about her death, especially when I was reminded of it each and every time I looked into a mirror.

My only consolation was that the Guard had kept what really happened to my mother a secret. No one outside of us knew anything about her having stolen my body or having any connection to Lord Dark. As far as everyone else was concerned, William Alexander Darque had been the victim of a vicious mugging. No one would know the horrible truth.

I sighed and shook myself out of my thoughts, looking around the Guard's aircraft which I was currently riding in. I glanced out the window at the ground which was fast approaching and then to Diamond who was at the controls.

Radiant had contacted me and said that she'd like me to show up at their headquarters for a 'debriefing.' But since we had already talked about the mission, I had a feeling that this might just be a way to check up on me and make sure that I wasn't going off the deep end.

"We're here," Diamond said just before we landed.

Entering the Guard headquarters was quite a bit different from the first time. Not only did I arrive in their own aircraft, but I was welcomed with open arms rather than greeted with suspicion. Instead of wearing the spandex body armor, I was dressed in casual clothes, a sexy black outfit I'd found in my mother's closet and a pair of stiletto heeled boots. I knew that I no longer needed to dress so sexily, but I had to admit a certain feeling of pride and vanity when I considered just how good they all made me look.

"I'm glad you could make it," Interface greeted me as I went into the building. "We're not ready for the meeting quite yet, so if you'll be patient for a few minutes."

As I went into the common room, I saw Warchild sitting back and talking on the phone. He hung up a minute later, then told me, "It was my daughter... She's been worried about me since she saw this..." He pointed to the bruise which covered half his face, received during his fight with the robots.

"Daughter?" I blinked, surprised yet again by the reminder of his true age, though I knew I shouldn't be.

Warchild nodded, "I've been staying with her and her kids when I'm not here. It's pretty weird because everyone always assumes that I'm one of her kids when we're together. But, it's not like it's easy to get a job or a place of my own when I look like a kid."

"I'd imagine not," I responded.

"Being a kid again might have a few problems," Warchild grinned up at me, "But it's a hell of a lot better than being a cripple."

"I was wondering," Interface mused, giving me a speculative look. "I can't call you by your original name and it would be too weird calling you Madame Dark... So what name are you using now?"

I hesitated for a moment, then slowly responded, "Elsbeth. It was my mother's name. But I think I'd prefer it if you just called me Beth."

"Well...Beth," Diamond gave me a slight smile, "I have something for you..."

With that, she held out her hand, opening her palm to reveal a diamond necklace. The diamond which hung from it was huge, the size of a silver dollar and shaped unlike any diamond that I'd ever seen before. it was fairly flat, almost like a disk, but with intricate patterns running through it. There was no doubt in my mind that this had to be a one of a kind, unlike any other diamond in the world.

"It is a thank you for saving my life," Diamond told me with a sad expression, knowing what it had cost me to save her. "I know that you have probably not been a woman long enough to fully appreciate beautiful jewelry, but I suspect that it is only a matter of time."

"Thank you," I responded quietly, stunned by such a gorgeous gift. If it had come from anyone else, I would have suspected that it cost them millions of dollars to create. But since it had come from someone who actually had the power to create diamonds... I smiled at Diamond and slipped it around my neck, "It's gorgeous..." That seemed to please her a great deal.

I remained in the common room, talking with Diamond, Warchild, Interface and Father Time for several minutes before Radiant came in. She adjusted the glasses, which I noticed were a different pair than she'd been wearing the last time I'd seen her. "I'm glad you were able to make it. I know how busy you must be right now."

"Well, you did send a limo for me," I gestured to Diamond with a faint smile, "so how could I refuse?"

A few minutes later, we were all seated at their horse shoe shaped conference table. Genius and Mannequin were conspicuously absent. I stared at Mannequin's empty seat, unable to help but feeling a surge of guilt. After all, it had not only been my mother who'd killed her, but she had done so in my body. That made me feel like I was somehow an accomplice to that act.

Just as we were beginning to get started, the door opened and Genius stepped in with a smug look on her face. "Sorry I'm late," she grinned, "But I was finishing up an important project."

"Come on in," Radiant said, gesturing to a chair.

Genius just stood there and gave a mock pout, "Aren't you even gonna ask what my project is?"

"Okay," Radiant rolled her eyes, sighing in exasperation, "What is your project?"

Radiant beamed at that and proudly announced, "I was working on Mannequin." There were gasps from around the room but Genius quickly continued, "She wasn't damaged quite as badly as we thought. Her external systems were wiped out and her motion control was broken, but all her core components were intact. So I fixed her." Then Genius looked especially proud as she casually added, "And I made a few improvements."

With that, Mannequin stepped through the doorway, wearing nothing but a green bikini. However, it wasn't the same Mannequin that I knew. Gone was her shiny, plastic looking skin and all of the seams which made her look like a human sized Barbie doll or mannequin. Instead, the Mannequin who now stood in front of me looked just like a sexy, blonde, HUMAN woman. There was no sign that she was anything other than a normal woman.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Mannequin grinned holding her hand up and staring at it. "I can't believe that I look human again..."

Everyone suddenly jumped out of their seats and excitedly ran over to her. The words, you're back, you're alive, and congratulations seemed to burst from nearly everyone's lips at the same time.

"I'm glad you're still alive," I told her once things had calmed down. I stared at her for a moment, feeling an intense relief. "So Mannequin, how does it feel to come back from the dead?"

"Again?" Mannequin grinned, "I've been dead before. It's not a fun experience. And call me Shannon. It's my real name. Now that I look human again, I think I should start using a human name when I'm not in costume."

"Shannon," I tested the name, then asked, "How can that be your real name? You said that you used to be a man..."

But instead of being upset at having been caught in this contradiction, Mannequin...Shannon shrugged, "My real name is Cole Shannon. Now I think Shannon Cole is a little more appropriate..." She gestured down at herself and her very feminine looking body.

"It sure is," Warchild nodded enthusiastically. "If I was only ten years older..."

"Well you're not," Genius glared at him possessively.

Once things eventually calmed down, we got back to business and the meeting began in earnest. For the most part, it was just updating us all on how all the loose ends from my mother's operation had been tied up. Mother's hired thugs had all gone to jail, the equipment in her base had been destroyed or confiscated and there wasn't enough left of the darkness generator to ever put it back together. For that, I was extremely grateful.

"Then it looks like we won't have to worry about Lord Dark again," Interface smiled as we finished up, "Either of them."

"God, I hope not," I shook my head, "Trying to conquer the world like that is stupid and foolish." That seemed to be just of answer that they were all hoping to hear from me.

I stayed at the Guard headquarters for another hour or so after the debriefing before finally deciding that I had to get home. Mannequin gave me a ride in their aircraft, dropping me off on my front lawn and promising me that we'd talk again. I waved good-bye as she flew back off, then turned and went inside.

"I'll be having stuffed lobster for dinner," I told one of the servants as I walked past.

"Yes ma'am," he answered before promptly heading to the kitchen to inform my chef.

I went straight to the library and the elevator to my father's lab. I paused to glance at my father's armor, which had been taken off my mother and returned to the case it had rested in for so long. The spandex body armor I had worn while fighting her was in the case beside it. I hoped that I never needed to wear that armor again, but was smart enough to keep it close just in case I did.

A few seconds later, I was staring at the body switching machine, which was once again whole and functioning thanks to my finding the missing components in my mother's base after her death. However, the machine would do me little good now that my own body was gone. Of course, I could use it to switch bodies with another man in order to become male again, but I was more than a little hesitant to do so. For one, I didn't like the idea of giving up my only family connection and handing my mother's body over to some stranger. Another reason which I kept to myself was that I was truly coming to love the new energy, health and vitality of my current body. That was something that I was becoming more and more reluctant to give up, even if it meant remaining a woman for the rest of my life.

"Still," I smiled at the body switching machine, "You just might come in useful some day..."

Then I turned and went to the command center, quietly slipping behind the console and activating the computer. I stared at the monitor for a moment, thinking that it had been quite enjoyable to spend time with my new friends in the Guard, but that it was time to get back to work.

After my mother's death, I had gone through all of her financial records, trying to discover everything that I now owned. That led me to searching through her private records and then my father's. I had been going through all of his files, becoming surprised as I realized that not all of the notes and designs for his inventions were lost. Some of them remained, such as the ones for the Phoenix Chamber.

One device which I found notes on caught me by surprise. Apparently, father had used some sort of mind control device on our servants to ensure their absolute loyalty and obedience to him and mother. This certainly explained their complete subservience to my mother over the years and now to me. But what truly stunned me were the hints that my father made about having used the device on my mother to ensure her loyalty. If this was true, then her obsession with ensuring my father's legacy might not have been her fault. She might very well have been one of his victims, never even knowing it herself. Unfortunately, it was too late to ever find out for certain.

"Father was an idiot," I muttered to myself, wondering how he could have wasted so much time and effort with those theatrics and world conquest attempts. "He was a brilliant idiot, but an idiot nonetheless..." Sadly, my mother was no better, even if that was due to father's influence.

My father had been a brilliant inventor, but if he'd had any business sense at all, he would have realized that he already had the means to conquer the world, right at his finger tips. And he could even have done it legally with one of the worlds most powerful tools...money. If he'd patented his inventions, he could have created untold wealth for himself. The vitality process he'd used on himself on my mother alone would have been worth countless billions. Influential people and world leaders would have done ANYTHING for the perfect health and drastically extended life span that it offered. But he'd thrown such financial opportunities away in exchange for the melodramatic ones.

Unlike my parents, I had no interest in conquering the world. Like I had told the Guard, even attempting to do so was foolish and stupid, not to mention very messy and dangerous. With as many crazed villains who'd tried it so far, none of them had really succeeded and more than a few had ended up dead or worse for their efforts. But as a business major, I couldn't ignore certain opportunities which my parents had completely overlooked.

I leaned back and smirked as I considered the plan that had been forming since I'd found the Phoenix Chamber notes a few days ago. This was something that my parents never would have considered but which seemed obvious and simple to me.

"The Phoenix Spa...," I mused aloud.

My plan was to create a spa for the wealthy, using a watered down version of the Phoenix Chamber so that they wouldn't guess the direct source of their increased physical well being. I would be improving people's health and making money at the same time. With the boost in health being only temporary and with the Phoenix Chamber being somewhat addictive, I knew that I could also count on a large number of return customers.

Just then, a thought passed through my mind. I couldn't help wondering what would happen if I let some people use the full strength version of the Phoenix Chamber. People could easily become so addicted that they would do nearly anything for another bath in the regenerative liquid. There was something about that idea which tickled the back of my thoughts and seemed to linger, though I pushed it off to the side.

"The Phoenix Spa," I smiled, wondering what other discoveries that my father might have left around that I could use. There were definitely some interesting possibilities, though it would take quite a bit of time and consideration to figure it all out. Still, I could be patient.

After awhile, my thoughts shifted back to everything that had happened to me and everything that I had lost. I felt a surge of guilt and depression as I mentally made a list of them all. Everything that had happened was a direct result of my father and my mother's obsession with his legacy. I grimaced, suddenly feeling tired and disgusted with it all. I was sick and tired of feeling bad because of their actions.

"No," I grimaced with determination, promising myself, "No more."

I took a deep breath, becoming more and more determined to stop focusing on the past and what I lost. I wasn't going to whine and pout about it anymore. I was going to stop pouring over the negatives of my situation and start looking at the positive.

With that, I stood up and looked down at my new body, knowing that it wouldn't be easy to completely accept it as my own, but determined to try. In fact, thanks to all the health and vitality benefits of my body, I was already well on my way.

"The positives," I mused, mentally listing them all and feeling more confident and pleased with each passing moment.

I was now a sexy and extremely healthy woman with vast wealth, a guaranteed business plan and incredible scientific resources. With all of those things, there was suddenly no doubt in my mind that I could accomplish anything that I put my mind to. I could even conquer the world if that was my inanition, though it most certainly was not.

After considering this for an hour, I was no longer feeling at all depressed. Instead, I was feeling utterly fantastic, excitedly considering all of the possibilities which were now open to me. There were so many that they seemed limitless. With that, I calmly turned and walked out of the control room, a new confidence in each sexy step that I took. The time for worrying about my father and his legacy was done and over with. From now on, I was going to focus on creating my own legacy.


The End

Read 2527 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 January 2024 00:53
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