I had busied myself with a machine designed to help bring the ghost to a better plane of existence. “Okay,” I muttered. “Todo lo que necesito hacer es conectar esto y estaremos bien.” (All I need to do is connect this and we’ll be good.)
“Señor Ortiz?” asked a voice. I whirled around to see Lacey looking at what I was doing. “Are you trying to contact your dad?” she asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Good, best to avoid him,” advised Lacey. “You know full well he’s not to be trusted. The dead outside of this school rarely are.”
“The mortal realm’s no better,” I grunted.
“Yes, I spoke with Mickey a while ago,” murmured Lacey. “He told me about your feelings concerning the F.N.S and your desire to leave us.”
“I just…I can’t stand the F.N.S right now!” I answered. “I joined you to get away from all the lies I was told back home, but I’ve been lied to again by people I’ve only known for two years! It’s like…it’s like I’m fighting a one-man war against lying! Can you even fathom what that feels like?!”
“Completely, believe it or not,” replied Lacey. That caught me off guard.
“Perdon?” I asked.
“I fully relate to your feelings,” elaborated Lacey, “but I don’t agree with your methods.”
“…How can you relate?!” I protested.
“Alesandro, do you know why I became a Horseman of the Apocalypse?” quizzed Lacey.
“You were chosen to help Megumi fight Vortech,” I answered, not seeing how it correlated to what the conversation was about.
“That was the impetus,” answered Lacey, “but, truth be told, I was gonna join After Academy anyways. I came from Universe T-H-3-5-1-M-P-5-0-N-5.”
“The Simpsons?” I asked. “You were a resident of Springfield?”
“Yep, and had an abusive father,” confirmed Lacey. “I hated how chaotic that place was and felt like I was alone in trying to corral the chaos. Death offered to return me back to my universe with a fresh perspective and a better chance of controlling the chaos. I stayed because I found something that I never had in Springfield, a family with the other Horsemen. Now, here I am, part of After Academy’s faculty and being a part of a family with the F.N.S. Now, it IS, at times, dysfunctional; it most certainly is NOT perfect, but the F.N.S and the Horsemen became my family. I certainly hope they’ve become yours.”
“Didn’t War initially join Vortech’s cause at the start of the Vortech Wars?” I asked.
“Yes, but the Four Horsemen have LONG worked through that,” replied Lacey, “because that’s what family does.”
“If they’re meant to BE family,” I grumbled. “Sometimes the family is so toxic that you need to get away from them.”
“Also true, as we can both attest to our blood family,” conceded Lacey. “Now, the question becomes, has this family become that toxic to you?” I stopped working, then set down my tools and sat on the ground.
“I don’t know,” I sighed.
“Well, is there a reason that you’re staying with us?” asked Lacey.
“I was contacted by a ghost a while ago,” I explained. “He’s in an eternal nightmare and I want to help him get out of it.” I then pondered the idea. “You know, now that I think about it,” I mused, “wouldn’t someone who regrets his actions think that he DESERVES punishment?”
“As a matter of fact, yes,” replied Lacey. “Charles Dickens got that kind of ghost right. They’re tormented by their own regret and can only blame themselves since they never regretted their actions when they were alive. Jacob Marley DOES regret his actions and accepted there’s nothing he can do except blame himself since it’s too late for him.”
“This ghost I met didn’t have that kind of thinking,” I revealed. “Megumi DOES regret what she did and made no attempt to stop me from leaving. Something doesn’t add up here.” Just then, the ghost shimmered into view.
“Help me! Please!” wailed the ghost, Carl.
“…Why?” I asked.
“There is goodness in you!” pleaded Carl. “Help me! Let me start again!”
“You’re chained for a reason,” I continued. “If you REALLY regret your actions, you wouldn’t try to escape or shift the blame to…”
“Okay, you know what,” grumbled Carl, standing upright despite being chained, “I saw this coming.” He pulled back the hood to reveal a monstrous head. It had two long tendrils coming from the back of the head and a single eye.
“CAAN!” screamed Lacey.
“Give me access to After Academy’s library,” demanded Caan.
“I read about you!” I snapped. “Why should we obey a Dalek like you?!”
“You have no choice in the matter!” snarled Caan as he equipped his Dal Driver.
“DAL DRIVER!” it screamed. He then took out the Pure Dalek can and turned the dome before inserting it into the belt. “PURE DALEK!” it shouted. He then turned the crank and the piping formed the sides of his suit. “ARE YOU READY?!” asked the Dal Driver.
“Henshin!” called Caan. The piping then slammed the sides of his suit onto him.
“THE UNSTOPPABLE KILLER!” announced the belt. “PURE DALEK! EXTERMINATE!” Caan was now Kamen Rider Dal.
“Henshin!” shouted Lacey as she spun the dial. She became Kamen Rider Apocalypse and clashed with Caan. “Go get help!” she shouted.
“But…!” I stammered.
“NOW!” demanded Apocalypse. I took off and ran through the campus streets to find help. Her fellow Horsemen then saw me.
“Alesandro! Stop!” called Death. “What’s going on?!”
“Lacey’s fighting Caan outside the campus!” I explained. “She needs help!”
“A villain with future vision attacks us! Sure! Why not!” snarled Pestilence.
“Anyone got any ideas?” asked Famine with her mouth full.
“…I’ve got a trick in mind,” chuckled War.
War approached the battlefield with a confident grin on her face. “Mr. Caan, I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure of meeting face to face,” she called, distracting him long enough for Apocalypse to strike him and join War. Dal recovered and drew himself up to his full height.
“You are War!” he observed. “The multiverse has changed if you engage in mortal affairs!”
“Tends to happen,” remarked War. “Tell me, what was your position before your little club?”
“Before the Cult of Skaro,” replied Dal, “I was the Attack Squad Leader of the Thirteenth Assault Group! Many worlds fell under Dalek control thanks to my efforts!”
“Yeah, evil hasn’t changed,” grumbled War. “Comes with the territory. You always rely on permanence to get you through the day. Good, on the other hand, ALWAYS changes. We’ve got new ways of dealing with people like you.”
“There ARE no people like me!” argued Dal. “Not yet!”
“There’s ALWAYS gonna be someone like you,” replied War. “…Wait, not yet?”
“You will never know!” snapped Dal.
“You’re right, I foresee your defeat coming,” chuckled War. “Kamen Rider Dal, you will be haunted by three spirits! Expect them…right now! Henshin!” She transformed and her fellow Horsemen, also in Rider form, joined her in attacking him while I got to work on the machine. Death called it clever, I call it narrowly avoiding disaster. Caan couldn’t fully manifest in this universe unless he was invited in some way. Because I didn’t fully follow through on bringing him into this universe, he was stuck in a transitional state. He’s immune to conventional attacks, but, then again, the Apocalypse Riders are anything BUT conventional. Their attacks managed to do him some damage.
“Guys, it’s time!” I called when I finished.
“Do it!” ordered War. I pressed the button and Dal was sent away from After Academy. “You’re NOT getting a refund on your application!” laughed War as all Riders powered down. Dal was struggling under the machine’s power and turned to me.
“I now…understand…what it means…to live!” he begged me. “Have…PITY!”
“Pity?” I replied, giving my best Dalek impression. “I have no understanding of the word! It is not registered in my vocabulary bank!” I then dropped the act. “For your sake, look to see me no more.” One final button and Kamen Rider Dal vanished, never to terrify After Academy.
“I have to apologize again, for all this,” offered Alesandro.
“No, no, no,” I replied after hearing all of it. “You were doing what you thought was right, obeying your conscience. I didn’t have that kind of courage. If you’ll let me, though, I’d like to work towards proving that I CAN do so.”
“Well, can’t exactly leave the F.N.S on that note, can I?” chuckled Alesandro. “The F.N.S IS a better family than my blood relatives. We all had a flub or two in our lives. The best we can do is pick ourselves up and get back into the fight.”
“Truer words have never been spoken,” I agreed. Just then, the comms chimed. I pressed the accept button. “Moshi moshi!” I called.
“Megumi, mind having everyone gather in the Gateway Room?” requested Richard. “We found something that will make some heads roll.”
“Sure thing,” I replied. I then switched to general broadcast. “Minna, report to the Gateway Room. Richard’s team found something.” We all gathered in the Gateway Room and Technarain, Sludgiona, Batman, Pup-X5, Lukas, and Richard looked pretty mad. “What happened?” I asked.
“We finally figured out what caused the results to go the way they did,” explained Richard. “Someone tampered with the results, someone with more access to the results than any of us who voted. So, the question becomes, X-PO, why? Why did you do it?” …X-PO?
“How is this POSSIBLE?!” I roared. “All five Sources within our grasp, and yet none have been retrieved! I am only inundated with excuses, even from my own wife!” I pointed to Igura after she returned from 5-U-P-3-R-M-4-R-1-0. She snarled at the accusation, but I didn’t pay attention. I turned to our newest addition. “Well, Cyber-Leader Gi? What’s YOUR excuse?!”
“It is illogical for me to give one,” replied Cyber-Leader Gi. “I had underestimated the power they had and it cost me my victory. The fault is mine.”
“Yes, I do believe it is!” I confirmed.
“However, there IS a way to fix this for all of us,” supplied Cyber-Leader Gi.
“Explain! Quickly!” I ordered.
“We still have a fix on four of the Sources’ respective energy signatures,” explained Cyber-Leader Gi. “The reason it is not all five is because, according to what the Joker discovered on the Tarlaxian scout ship’s flight recorder, the Source of Starvation is in Tarlax 14’s vault. However, the other four are all in one place. Logically, it would be the Vortex Riders main base of operations.”
“And since they originally scrambled Vorton’s new coordinates, they may have used it again for some sense of familiarity,” I deduced. “But it won’t matter if we use the Sources as a beacon to guide us there. Muster the fleet. Cyber-Leader Gi, do we have the coordinates of the Sources current position?”
“We do,” confirmed Cyber-Leader Gi. “The probes we have sent to observe the universe have identified the universe as V-0-R-T-0-N.”
“Feed them to all ships,” I ordered. “We leave at once.”
I looked at the various trophies the Doctor left behind on Vorton for me to examine. I snorted at a few. The only trophy I could respect wasn’t even evidence of the Doctor’s victory. That victory belonged to the Vortex Riders. It was an empty, open Dalek casing. The Doctor’s trophies just laid there near the casing. “Look at all this,” I muttered to myself. “Relics and artefacts that I should feel some connection to. I don’t, though. It’s all just junk to me.” I picked up a tribophysical waveform macro-kinetic extrapolator and just sat with it in my hands. “Michael says it doesn’t matter who I am, as long as I live my own life.” I snorted again. “My own life. A life with no memory of who I am. No real history. Wearing someone else’s face! I don’t even like this face, even though it’s considered attractive by human standards! If the Emperor Dalek was lying, and I AM a clone of Rose Tyler, then I’m just a copy. A duplicate. Something that was mass-produced like…like…” My rant faltered as I examined the gunstick’s socket on the Dalek casing. “I remember…not being able to…shoot myself? ……NO!” I threw the extrapolator at the glass case the casing sat in and it shattered. “It’s just some stray thoughts coming to the surface! Thoughts that aren’t mine! They can’t be!” I could only laugh hopelessly. “I can’t trust who I am! I can’t trust ANYTHING about me! If I wanted to, I could just walk around pretending to be Rose Tyler, because all I am is a copy! A copy that can only see the impurity of…! Impurity of…” More memories came to the surface, the glorious saucers hanging over every world across time and space, the Emperor commanding us all, leveling… “…I remember now!” I couldn’t believe it! A smile crossed my face! “I REMEMBER NOW!” I ran my hands across my face…face…hands…arms…legs…two eyes…no! “I remember…I REMEMBER!” NO! NO! NO! I AM CONTAMINATED!