Saturday, September 28, 2013

Chapters 21 - 23 of A World Without Heroes!


            Peter had cut the finished steak into two and served it on plates for both of them.  He had also made a small salad -- his attempt to make up for his guilt at eating so much red meat -- but it sat on the dining room table untouched.  The steaks were going partially uneaten as well.  Ace chewed at the meat cautiously, as if eating had become foreign to him, while Peter also picked at his meal.  He ate little not only because of Ace’s sudden arrival, but because Ace remained in full costume and makeup as they talked and ate.
            “So that was the last time you saw any of the others?”  Ace asked after successfully swallowing a piece of food.
            “Yeah,” Peter put down his bottle of beer.  “After that, I decided to come on home and get on with my life.  It’s been a real trial, but Debbie and I were able to work it out pretty well.”
            “They never were convinced for even a moment that the Talismans were real?”
            “Nope.  When I thought about it some more I finally realized that they had no reason to believe in it.  The closest I ever came was that time at the photo-shoot for the LICK IT UP album.  After that, I could never get Gene to remember even that much.  Blackwell had wiped their memories clean of the Talismans and had all the proof.  Except you, of course.”
            The clicking of silverware on the plates became the only sound in the room for several minutes.
            Ace gulped down a sliver of meat and sighed.  “Well, okay.  Maybe that’s for the best.  If I’m going to stop Blackwell, it might be better with no one getting in the way.”
            Peter nearly dropped the bottle he had up to his lips. 
            Ace took no notice of Peter’s question and began cutting at the meat in front of him.
            “Ace,” Peter said, lowering the beer down to the table.  “Y’know my hearing must be getting pretty bad.  I thought I just heard you say that you were planning on stopping Blackwell.”
            Ace picked up a piece of meat with his fork and looked up at Peter.  He shook his head in affirmation.
            “Alone!”  Peter said in a stern voice.
            Ace shook his head again and put the piece of meat in his mouth.
            “Why would you want to do such a stupid thing?”
            Ace swallowed and reached for the glass of water in front of him.  “Because I have to, Peter.  I could have stopped Blackwell a long time ago but I kept thinking everyone had to be involved.  I kept trying to push everyone into place so that we could defeat him together.  That never worked out.  I should have done something before Blackwell got to the guys.  Before he killed . . ..”
            Ace’s voice trailed off and he quickly gulped down half of the water in the glass.
            “But you can’t do it on your own, Ace.”  Peter pushed his plate away and turned his chair a bit so that he was facing Ace directly.  “Maybe that was the problem all along.  You kept holding back information from the others, just hoping that they would grow into the powers.  That didn’t happen.  Instead, you tried to fight the battles yourself and look where it got you.”
            Ace considered the words for a moment as he looked at Peter.  After a moment he shrugged his shoulders and began working of his steak again.
            “Ace,” Peter slapped his right hand hard on the table.  “You’ve got to think this through.  You need the others.  If you have Gene, Paul and Eric helping you against Blackwell you would probably have a better chance than just you alone.”
            Ace sighed.  “If I spend the time getting Gene and Paul involved, it’s going to slow up the chances of surprising Blackwell.  Besides, you couldn’t convince them, how am I supposed to?”
            “Because you have your Talisman.  You have the proof.  You can show them the truth.  Once you do that, the others would be sure to try to stop Blackwell.”
            “The others?  What about you?”  Even before Ace was finished, Peter was shaking his head and waving his arms in a “no good” movement.
            “No.  It’s not my job, remember?  I got out of the Talisman business a long time ago.  In fact, that’s why I was on the run for so long.  I thought Blackwell was sure to come after me when he was done with the others.  Since he didn’t, I figured me and my family was safe and I came home.  Besides, Eric gained the powers fair and square, he should be the one to do this, not me.”      
            Ace was about to come back at Peter with a remark, but decided that he did not want to argue the issue any longer.  “I think getting the guys involved now is a bad idea.”
            “You’ve got to do it, Ace.  You can’t balance the outcome of two worlds on your shoulders.  You need help.”
            Ace put his silverware down and picked up his glass.  He finished off the water and moved his chair back.  Rising from his seat, he grabbed the plate with his other hand and walked to the kitchen.  Peter quickly followed him with his plate and beer-bottle even though he was not yet finished with his meal. 
            Ace was already scrapping off the rest of the meat into the garbage and put the glass and plate in the sink immediately after.  He stood at the counter for a moment with his back to Peter and looked out the window over the sink.  Peter watched from the entranceway, unable to move until he got some type of response from Ace.
            Ace then turned around.
            “You’re right.  Gene and Paul have to be told, but I’ll only do it if you come with me.”
            It sounded like good news and bad news to Peter.
            “Oh . . . er . . . um . . ..”  Peter shot a look of surprise and then anger at Ace.  He then chuckled.
            “Okay, Ace, okay.  I’ll go with you, but only if you tell Gene and Paul about this.  After that, I’m out of the picture for good.  Understand?”
            “Great!”  Ace laughed a bit in response. 
            “There’s just one thing we need to do, however, before we do anything.”  Peter walked over to Ace and dragged him by the shoulders over to a mirror on the wall.
            “What?”  Ace looked at Peter’s hands on his shoulders as they moved.
            “You’ve got to get rid of this stuff,” Peter pointed to Ace’s reflection in the mirror.
            Ace looked in the mirror to see himself in all of his costume and makeup glory.  He laughed out loud.
            “I was wearing this stuff the whole time?”  Ace managed to say between guffaws.
            “Yep.”  Peter smiled.
            “No wonder you were looking at me through the meal like I had just come from the nut-farm.  I thought you were just glad to see me!”
            “Well, it might be better if we didn’t spook Gene and Paul with that stuff when we see them.  Get rid of it and then we can go.”
            “No problem.”  As quickly as Ace said the words, the white, silver, black and blue on his face disappeared and his clothes reverted back to the very clothes he wore the day Peter had last seen him.  “Well?  How do I look?”
            “I think you look better with the makeup on,” Peter said as casually as possible, although he was surprised at how quickly Ace had changed.
            “Well, it looks like I didn’t miss much in the joke department while I was gone,” Ace spoke in quick response.  “There’s something else we have to do before we contact the others anyway.”
            “What’s that?”
            Ace walked away from the mirror and began moving out of the kitchen and back to the dining room.  “Remember when we got the Talismans back in Detroit several years ago?”
            “Like I can forget.”  Peter followed Ace as they talked.
            “Everyone got a Talisman, but Gene told us that he got his in a red metal box.  Morpheus told me --” Ace began, then wet his lips and started again.  “The last time I saw Morpheus he explained that the box was not only a storage-unit for the Talismans, but that I should be able to use it to track down the other Talismans.  If I’m right, wherever the Talismans are, so is Blackwell.”
            Peter puzzled over the statement as he sat down at the table.  “I don’t remember Morpheus telling you that back at the building.”
            “He told me later several years before that.”  Ace sat himself down and looked at an even more perplexed Peter.
            “Never mind.  The main thing is, do you think that Gene would still have the metal box?”
            Peter leaned back in his chair and smiled.  “Oh, I know for sure he doesn’t have it.”
            “He doesn’t?”
            “And you’re happy about this because . . .?”  Ace was now the one puzzled.
            “Because I have it.”
            “YOU do?”  Ace stood up without thinking.
            “Yep.  Keep it in the garage.  I started putting some fishing tackle in it awhile back, but it’s still out there.”
            Ace was a bit insulted about the current use of such an item that belonged to the Elders, but he realized it was no time to discuss it.  “How did you end up with it?”
            “It’s a long story, but after I left the group Gene and I discussed the . . . um . . . situation a bit.  I believed he finally understood where I was coming from about leaving and all, and we went our own ways.  Then about a week after I left the band for good, Gene sent me the box.  Kinda like a memento, maybe.  I kinda think he was hoping to change my mind by sending it to me, but I never fell for that type of trick.  I probably should have thrown it out, but never really had the heart to do it.”
            “Man,” Ace said, “that’s luck!  I thought for sure I would have to either do without or sneak into Gene’s place and find it myself.”
            “Well, you don’t have to sneak around anywhere now,” Peter corrected.  “We’ve got the box and once we know the location we can get Gene, Paul and Eric involved.”

            The two soon made their way to the garage and after dumping all of the fishhooks and lures out of the box, Ace held the box between his hands.  He flipped the box over, then opened the box to look inside.
            “What are you looking for, Ace?”  Peter asked.
            “I don’t know.  I was hoping there might have been a triggering mechanism to help me out with this, but I don’t see anything.”  Ace continued to inspect the box as he spoke.
            “I didn’t even know this box was important.  Glad I didn’t throw it out.”
            “According to Morpheus it’s not just a display-case, it’s a way to transport the Talismans around together at one time.”
            “Why would you need that?”
            “Because each Talisman has a certain amount of power that is absorbed by the holder.  If you try to hold more than one of the Talismans, you get too much power.  If you had all four in your hands . . . boom . . ..”  Ace spoke casually as if his words were common knowledge.
            “So that explains what happened with Robinson when we fought her a few years ago?”  Peter brightened as a piece of the past fell into place and made sense.  “I thought she was just losing it.”
            “Right.  Even the Elders can’t hold on to the Talismans for any length of time without it killing them.  It would be like holding an exploding atomic bomb.  That’s why the battle in the USSR when there were 12 Talismans together laid to waste an entire city.  Blackwell must have had a heck of a time transporting the other Talismans somewhere without this box.  Probably never realized that Gene had given the box to you or else he probably would have come after it.”
            Peter tensed at the thought of Blackwell and his goons coming into his home and ransacking the place in search of the box.  Especially as he had been gone for so many months while trying to convince the others about the Elders.  It meant that his family could have been defenseless.  “Let’s get it out of here and get going then.”
            “I need to figure out how to use it first,” Ace snapped without thinking.  “I wish I had Paul’s mental powers, that would probably do it.  I need to get a link into the box somehow but I can’t see how.”
            Peter stood quiet for a moment, then spoke up.  “What if you put your Talisman in the box?  Maybe that would create a link.”
            Ace smiled.  “Good thinking.  I hadn’t thought of that, but that may do it.”
            Placing the box on a workbench, Ace pulled his Talisman off from around his neck where he had it on a chain and lift the lid of the box.  He tossed a look at Peter, as he was about to fit the Talisman into its compartment in the box.
            “Well, here goes.”
            There was no hesitation from the box as Ace fit the Talisman into place.   The box immediately began to glow a hideous red color that pulsated and grew brighter with every second.
            Peter backed away a bit.  “Okay.  It seems to be doing something.”
            Ace was drawn towards the box and moved closer just as Peter was moving away.  “Yep.  Now I just need to see if I can concentrate and get an answer to our question.”
            Ace closed his eyes and put his hands on the side of the box.  As he did so, the glow reached out towards him and within seconds had engulfed him completely.  Peter backed away even further and into the garage door, allowing him no other room to go.  He watched fascinated at the light-show in front of him.
            Ace’s eyes opened suddenly and he withdrew his hands from the box.  The glow faded from his body as the box resumed its pulsating.  He turned to Peter with a look of surprise on his face.
            “Of course!  It makes sense.  I know exactly were the Talismans are!”
            Peter moved forward to Ace.  “Where?”
            “Remember when we met Blackwell about the recording contract?  He had his offices in Manhattan.”
            “Yeah, I kinda remember.”
            “That’s where the Talismans are.  In that building.”
            “Wait a minute, Ace.  Blackwell got rid of his business there several years ago.  I remember hearing about it.”
            “Okay, maybe he did when he thought that you and the others may try to make life tough for him.  But after all the stuff he did to us, he probably saw no reason to not go back to familiar territory.  What did he have to worry about then?”
            “But why do that?”
            “I don’t know.  Maybe the rent was cheap.”
            Peter did not really see the logic of Ace’s argument, but saw no point in continuing it.  “Okay, so we know where the Talismans are.  Now let’s call Gene and Paul and see if we can meet them --”
            “No need for that, Curly.”  Ace took his Talisman out of the box and slammed the lid shut.  Picking up the box, Ace moved towards Peter.
            Peter once again backed away.  “What do you mean?”
            “C’mon, take my hand and we’ll use Limbo Airways.”  Ace held out his right hand while holding the box in his left.
            “Ah, gee, Ace.  I dunno.  I think I left the oven on.”  Peter starting moving towards the door of the garage.
            “Ah, c’mon, Peter.  There’s nothing to it.  We’ll go there, tell Gene and Paul and have you back in a flash.”  Ace shook his hand slightly towards Peter.
            “Let me just call --”
            “Come on, Peter, take my hand.”  Ace smiled and starting singing in a bad baritone voice.  “Take my hand and we’re almost there, take my hand and --”
            “Okay, okay.”  Peter walked over to Ace and grabbed Ace roughly by the hand.  “Just promise me that you won’t sing anything else from WEST SIDE STORY.”
            Ace crackled with laughter.
            “‘Course you know, Pete, this means we’re engaged now.”
            “Ace?  Shut up.”
            Ace laughed again, gave Peter the box and then with the slightest twitch of his thumb they were gone.

            Eric left the restaurant rubbing his stomach with both hands.  He arched his back and stuck out his belly so that it appeared bigger than it normally would.  The Boy Scout shirt he wore unbuttoned over a loose Led Zepplin T-shirt hung back by his hips and only aided in his performance
            “Ooohhhhhh.  I ate too much.”  Eric groaned as he walked in a waddle to make himself appear even more grotesque.
            “Uh-huh.”  The tall man walking along side him said without even looking at Eric.   The man who had dined with Eric wore a simply button-down shirt and blue jeans and if not for the long, dark curly hair on his head it would never occur to anyone that he was a rock musician.
            Eric noticed that the man with him seemed to be preoccupied.  “Hey, Bruce.  I’m just trying to cheer you up.  You’ve been moody the whole night and I even paid for dinner this time.  What’s up?”
            Bruce Kulick looked at Eric and saw real concern in Eric’s eyes.  Bruce put his hands into his back pockets and blew out some air into the darkening night air.  “Oh, I don’t know, Eric.  I think it’s this whole thing about Gene and Paul wanting to move out to Los Angeles.  I mean, I grew up here in New York --”
            Eric jumped in.  “So did I.”
            Bruce continued.  “--And I just hate the idea of living in California and being away from everyone I know here.”
            Eric looked at the skyline that stood out so vividly against the setting sun and thought of laughing.  If such a sight could have been turned into a postcard at that moment, Eric thought, it would have looked so faked but it was now so real.  It just seemed like such a visual cliché.  “Yeah, I’ve been in the band for a few years now and even though we’ve toured a lot in the past couple of years and seen a lot of great things all over the world, I still miss this city when I’m away.”
            “I mean, I don’t want to sound like I have sour grapes about being in the band.  I love it.”  Bruce kept talking while Eric looked at the skyline.  “It’s been great to be in the band.  I just wish that Gene and Paul had more time to discuss this stuff with us first before it is decided for us.”
            “Well, look, Bruce, it’s not going to be forever.  We’ll still have our places here and after an album or tour is done, we can always come back for a few weeks or even months at a time.”
            “True, but that means having to pay for places on both coasts.  That’s a lot of money in rent there.”
            Eric stopped and motioned for Bruce to stop as well.  As Bruce turned towards him, Eric spoke.  “Bruce, it’s still a few weeks off.  Don’t get so worked up about it.  Tell you what, I heard of a great new club in town.  We’ll go there, have some drinks, see who is playing, pick up some girls, have a party and end up in a ditch the next morning with our wallets gone and tattoos on our shoulders that says, ‘died, fried and laid to the side.’  What do you say?”
            Bruce smirked at Eric.
            “Okay, just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.  Still, how’s about it?”
            Bruce rolled his eyes.  “Okay, okay.  If nothing else, just to make sure someone keeps an eye on you.”
            “Great!”  Eric pounded Bruce on the back with his right hand.  “Now we’ll just need to get us a cab.”
            Bruce laughed.  “A cab?  On a Saturday night?  Oh, I want to see this.”
            “Nah, it’s easy, Bruce.  You just need a bit of panache, that’s all.  Here I’ll show you.”
            Eric moved between a couple of parked cars and looked for a cab coming his way.  At the light up the street he spotted a cab with it’s service-light off and Eric felt a bit of frustration.  As the light turned green, the cab came forward. 
            Eric decided to hail the cab anyway and just as he was about to raise arm, the service-light on the cab lit up.  The cab pulled over to Eric and came to a halt.
            Eric turned to Bruce with a startled grin.  “See?  Nothing to it.”
            Eric held the back door open as Bruce got into the cab and Eric climbed in after him.  As Eric slammed the door shut, the cab took off at a fast rate of speed, throwing both Eric and Bruce against the hard vinyl seats.
            “Uh, Eric?”  Bruce said quietly.  “Did you already tell the cabbie where we were going?”
            “No, I haven’t had a chance yet.  I thought you might have told him.”  Eric suddenly felt a bit nervous.
            “Eric, I don’t know where this place is.”  Bruce was also getting a bit concern and started looking around the enclosed space they were in.  Eric soon joined him in studying the area.
            “Funny,” Eric said without laughing, “never seen a cab with no door handles in the back before.”
            “Never seen one with a bullet-proof shield in-between the cabbie and the fare before either.”  Bruce pointed ahead of him.
            “Well, that might be possible . . ..”  Eric’s voice trailed off when he looked at the partition between them and the cabbie.  It was a clear, but solid, sheet that encompassed the entire back of the front seating area from the roof of the cab down to the floor.  There were no pockets for conversations with the cabbie and no way for even air to escape.
            “Uh, Bruce, I think this is looking bad.”  Eric moved over to the door nearest him and started throwing his weight against it.  It did not budge.
            Bruce knocked on the glass to try and get the cabbie’s attention.  “Hey!  Hey!  Can you help us out here?”
            The cabbie did not turn around.  Instead, the man in the front seat reached down below his seat and flipped a switch. 
            Gas started pouring into the back of the cab, making both of the men gag and cough.
            “What the hell?”  Bruce tried to cover his mouth, but the effect of the gas was already making him want to drop his arms to his side in exhaustion.
            Eric continued to pound on the door.  “Dammit,” he muttered in-between each attempt, “I’ve seen this kind of thing in movies, it doesn’t happen in real life.”
            Eric turned to Bruce to say something but he was slumped back in the seat, his eyes closed and motionless.  It was the last thing Eric saw before he blacked out.

            With a brief flash of light, Ace and Peter arrived in an alleyway.  Besides the scurrying away of rodents, there was no sound.  A single streetlamp stood off in the distance, giving the only light available to Peter and Ace.
            “Where are we?”  Peter said as he looked around.
            “Manhattan,” Ace responded.  “We’re about three blocks away from where Paul lives.”
            “What time is it?”
            “Probably about Eight.  It was around Five when we left your place.  Three hours difference, remember?”  Ace said it with no emotion.
            “That’s fine, Ace, but why out here in the dark?  Why didn’t you just transport us right to Paul’s apartment.”  Peter started getting angry.
            “Because I promised you that Gene and Paul would be told about this.  Well, here we are.  And by the time you get to Paul’s apartment and try to explain all of this, I’ll already be on my way to see Blackwell.”  Ace began moving his arm into his famous hitchhike position.
            Peter shoved Ace’s arm down, dropping the box in the process.  “What do you mean?  You lied to me!”  Peter shoved Ace again, only this time against both shoulders.
            “Doesn’t matter, Peter.  I’m only thinking of you guys.  You might get hurt but I still have the power of the Talisman.  I can take care of it.” 
            “Don’t do this, Ace.”  Peter snapped, knowing it was futile.
            “Don’t worry, I’ll be alright.”
            “Ace --” Peter began.
            It was too late.  Ace was already gone.
            “ACE!”  Peter shouted.  With no response he kicked violently at a garbage can next to him and sent it tumbling down the alleyway.
            After the noise stopped, Peter stood with his fists clenched.  Breathing slowly, he released the tightness in his hands.  He looked to his right, then his left.  He then looked at his watch, although he realized as soon as he did so that it was an action that made no sense.  He glanced at the streetlamp, then at the alleyway again. 
            A few feet from him he caught the sight of the red metal box.  Reaching for it, he picked it up with one hand and looked it over.  In his mind a plan was forming.  It was a dim hope, but it might be enough proof to convince Paul.
            Brushing dirt off of the box, Peter began walking quickly out of the alleyway.  As he reached the entrance, he looked at a street sign nearby to situate himself.  With grim determination, he took off to his right and ran.


            Was it the right thing to do?
            Ace asked himself the question over and over as he slipped through the corridors of the time-space continuum he had always called Limbo.  The trip from one destination to another was normally instantaneous, and if he just wanted to move an inch it was almost like he had not been gone at all.  Traveling just a few miles without a shift in time, however, was more difficult and required more concentration.  It also took longer and having his mind wander back to the look on Peter’s face as he left him in the alleyway did nothing to help his journey.
            Should they have gone to Gene and Paul together and gotten their help first?  Was it a big mistake to go alone?  No, he assured himself, this was the right thing.  He had to do it alone and he would do it alone.  He had been alone all this time and he did not need anyone else’s help in order to accomplish what should be done.  The others would just slow him down and time was of the essence.
            Still, Ace saw Peter’s face and felt the betrayal, but only for a moment.  When Ace signified his departure, Peter’s face -- no, Ace thought, his presence -- slowly dwindled from view.  Like a car on a haunted-house ride at a carnival, Ace saw the alleyway for a moment pulling away from him, then the view lurched to a halt, a swirl of sights, then the streets of New York expressed past his vision.  Perhaps slowly at first, but then with a swiftness that to anyone unfamiliar with the fabrics of Limbo would have been impossible to comprehend.
            A turn down this street, once down that one, and another.  Ace could see the building ahead already in his mind and knew that he would be there within a fraction of a second.  Moving ahead, he saw the floors, the doors, and the people inside.  For a moment he thought he saw a person he knew, but it was not who he wanted to see so it mattered little.  The only thing that he wanted to see was the Talismans.
            Or Blackwell.
            Ace traveled through the corridors of time and space that filtered throughout the building in search of his prey.  He saw the building being built forty years in the past; the first occupants; the lives that had lived and worked there through the many decades.  He saw a fire that had destroyed part of one floor in the late 1960s.  A birth that actually occurred sometime back in the 1970s in the building.  There was more.  So much more.  All threads of time, intersecting with each other in a maze that never truly touched.  All there in just one occupied space.
            For a moment he thought he saw Blackwell, but realized that it was an obsolete thread from an earlier time.  It displayed Blackwell in his office with some construction workers, explaining what he wanted to see in the building at a later date.  For a moment Blackwell stopped in his conversation and turned to the approaching Ace.  Ace thought he saw Blackwell smile.
            No, that was wrong, Ace grimaced.  He would only be able to emerge in the present or else he would wind up back at that damn tree again.  It was the only explanation for Blackwell’s reaction.  Ace had moved on.
            He finally reached the top floor of the building, which was interesting, as it was no longer quite there.  Instead it appeared that Blackwell had converted the next-to-last floor and the one above it into a giant single layer of the building.  The roof had become sheer glass and the bright night sky came in from above.  On the floor stood equipment that Ace knew was not of Earth -- vast machines reaching from the floor to the ceiling high above, lining part of the walls and interconnected by thin rods, which crisscrossed in every direction possible.  It looked too jumbled, almost incomprehensible from the angle Ace viewed it at.  More importantly, Ace wondered, why was so much space was not being used against the walls?  Why was everything crammed into the middle of the room with the massive machines making an almost impenetrable circle there?  Unless . . ..
            Ace next found himself floating in space above the building, looking down.  From there he saw what he knew he would see.  From inside and off to one side, the rods made no sense, nor did the circle of machines; from above and a distance away it became clear.  It was a circle alright, with the rods becoming lines that connected together and joined the circle to make a symbol not unlike the one that Ace and Paul had found underneath the safe holding the Talismans back at Robinson’s apartment.  It could only mean one thing.
            It was a link to the Ancient Ones.
            Yet, it was the machinery in the center of the circle that caught Ace’s attention the most.              His eyes widening, he willed himself to reenter the thread of time and space within the building and exit Limbo, right next to the object he had been viewing.
            “No.  Oh, no.”  Ace whispered.  He had seen the machinery before.  A long time ago.  In a vision that he had hoped was only a nightmare.
            It had been up in the sky that day.  Up far above the world of the Elders.  Four tubes connected by a common base in the center.  A member of KISS inside each tube.
            “Mr. Frehley, good to see you.  I’ve been expecting you, but was unsure as to where you would turn up.”  A voice called out from the far end of the room, cutting Ace’s thoughts away from him.  Ace did not turn, as he knew who it was.  He closed his eyes for a moment.
            “Excuse Me, Mr. Frehley.  I am talking to you.  Please turn around.”
            Ace did not move.
            For a split-second Ace thought he saw a flash of reddish light, then a sharp icicle of pain drove into his skull.  It was only there fleetingly, but it was enough to drive Ace to his knees in pain.  He held his head tightly with both hands, managing not to scream.
            “I expect to be obeyed, Mr. Frehley,” Blackwell lightly lowered the weapon he held as if it was a toy.  “And if you need to be punished like a disobedient child, so be it.  Now turn around, Mr. Frehley.”
            Ace lowered his hands to the floor and ever so slowly raised himself from the floor.  As he reached his full height, his clothes metamorphosed into the costume he had wore for so long.  He straightened the gauntlets, raised his chin and turned to face Blackwell with grace; his face covered in the mask of his makeup and the mask of his hatred.
            Blackwell moved into the circle, yet stayed several yards away from Ace.  “Dramatic.  Very good.  Nothing wrong with a bit of flair now and then, eh, Mr. Frehley?”
            Ace stayed silent.
            “Quiet as well.  My, my.  This is a change of pace for you, Mr. Frehley.  I expected some type of clever repartee from you.  Where is your humor, Mr. Frehley?  Or is your mind just a clean blank after what Mr. Parker did to you?  He can be a bit rash at times.  What could you possibly be thinking in that primate little brain of yours?”  Blackwell chuckled.
            “All I’m thinking about right now,” Ace said in a low, even voice, “is what kind of pain I’m going to make you suffer through before I’m through with you.”
            Blackwell was unmoved.  “Well, that was unfortunately predictable.  Just as your plans to get to me.  Do you really think I would allow you to come back and assault me anytime in the past or future?  No, Mr. Frehley, I need what you possess right now and you will give it to me without hesitation.”
            “On second thought,” Ace spit out the words quickly.  “I think I’ll just send your head into the sun and your body into the ocean.  Let’s see how predictable your surviving that will be.”
            “Yes, yes.  That is true.  Even someone of my race would be killed by such an action.  Good idea.”  Blackwell nodded and turned to his left to reach a bank of monitors along one of the machines in the circle.  “Ah, before you do so, Mr. Frehley, there’s a couple of thing you may want to see.”
            Blackwell flipped a couple of switches and two monitors lit up, showing images from elsewhere in the building.  “You see, I knew you would come back to get me for my action of the past.  The only problem I had was I just never knew where you were or even if you remembered anything after the blundering Mr. Parker got hold of you with this weapon.”  Blackwell held up the weapon quickly, then dropped it again to his side.
            “I had to make sure you arrived when I needed you.  Thus, as you have guessed, I created a barrier over the past and the future so that any misdirection you would take would always lead you to this time-frame.  There were risks involved with that, of course.  It only led so back in either directions and you could have possibly gone back and changed history in some way, but I knew Morpheus would probably never allow you to do so in the past.  As to the future?  Well, we never will know, now will we?
            “I also needed you to find me, since you never would know where I was by the time you got back.  This, rightly so, lead you to the box Morpheus gave your fellow band member.  Using it lead you to me.  I knew such when the Talismans began to glow as a type of homing-device once you activated the box earlier today.”
            Blackwell pointed to the first monitor, which displayed an image of the three Talismans that had belonged to Eric, Paul and Gene sitting on a table.  “You see, Mr. Frehley, you are predictable.  Just as I knew that you would attempt to get to me on your own instead of enlisting the help of your friends.  After all, what have they ever done for you, right?”
            It was the first thing Blackwell had said that really stunned at all to Ace.  Why, he had no idea.
            “So, the only remaining problem was not when really, but where.  I needed to make sure I could get to you wherever you went in the building once you found my location.  So I gave you three options.  Here,” Blackwell said, indicating the monitor he was point at, “is a room with the three Talismans in it.  Oh, but before you go there in a hurry now, let me back up the camera and show you something else.”
            With just the utterance of the words from Blackwell, the camera pulled back to show the table where the three Talismans laid.  The camera pulled back even further to show the floor and the huge painted symbol there.
            “Do you recognize that symbol, Mr. Frehley?”  Blackwell asked.
            With only the slightest of acknowledgment from Ace, Blackwell continued.  “You may recall seeing something like it at Ms. Robinson’s place.  The one she used was different than this, but that explains part of the problems she had with using your powers then as well.  This one is a holding spell used by the Elders when the Talismans are at rest.  In order to make sure the powers are not activated involuntarily, the symbol is used as, you could say, a shut-off device.  It has to be activated, mind you, but once it is, the Talismans are powerless.  And so would that of the ones who hold their power.”
            Blackwell looked at the monitor for a moment.  “Robinson had the two of you dead to right.  If she had used this spell instead, the four of you never would have beaten her.  Unfortunately she let it go to her head.  Literally.”
            Blackwell chuckled and turned back to Ace.  “If you decided to look in on the Talismans when you arrived, the enchantment would have been enacted and you would have been my prisoner; thus, going to the Talismans immediately would not have saved you.  But this second monitor shows something else that you might be interested in.”
            Blackwell took a few steps and pointed at the other monitor.  “Recognize these gentlemen, Mr. Frehley?”
            Ace moved a bit closer to see a barren room in the building.  The walls were dirty and displayed the scars of equipment being ripped from them at some earlier date.  In the center of the room were two steel hardback chairs and two men tied to them, back to back, with heavy nylon rope.  One of the two men had his head slumped down as if in sleep, while the other had his head raised and was talking rapidly to a third man in the room.  The third man stood against a wall and held a pistol, which was pointed directly at the man who continued to talk.
            Ace could not hear the words being said, but he recognized the face of the man strapped to the chair.  “Eric?”
            “Yes, Mr. Frehley.  The man sitting on the other side of him is another musician we picked up at the same time as Mr. Carr.  Really wanted only one hostage, but there you go.  You may remember him, if you remember much at all, as Bruce Kulick.”
            Ace did have to think for a moment, but the name finally clicked into his head.  He had seen Bruce with his brother Bob on occasion over the years.  “Yeah, I remember him.”
            “As you can also see, Mr. Parker is keeping an eye on the two.  I had thought this diversion would pay off if you tried searched the building for me and had settled upon rescuing them instead.  At that time, Mr. Parker could have taken care of you.”
            Blackwell moved in front of the monitors, blocking them from Ace’s view.  “The third option was that you would reach this portion of the building and locate the true goal, which was me.  I would take care of you from here.  So don’t feel bad about being caught so swiftly.  It was bound to happen, wouldn’t you say?”  Blackwell turned away from Ace and began shutting down the monitors again.
            With trembling hands, Ace reached up and outward with his arms.  Bright powers of blue light grew within the palm of each hand until they overwhelmed and looked as if two small moons were cradled there.  Ace looked at his hands.  He had done it without thinking, without reason.  It had never occurred to him before that he could do so, but the powers of Limbo were in the palm of his hands at that very moment.  Shooting a glance at Blackwell, who continued to work with the monitors unknowing of the danger behind him, Ace released both balls of power with all his might at his target.
            The power of each bolt reached Blackwell at the same moment -- one covering his head and the other his back.  With not hesitation, the balls grew larger and soon covered Blackwell’s entire body in a hard blue light that shimmered so intensely that Ace had to squint his eyes to keep Blackwell in view.
            Almost as quickly, the light faded away, revealing Blackwell still standing in the same spot.  He was motionless.
            Ace held his breath.  What had occurred was completely unexpected.  So much had been unexpected.  His breath gave out when he saw Blackwell began to move.  When Blackwell faced Ace again, the smile he had learned to hate for years was once again within his sight.
            “Now, Mr. Frehley, I understand you wanting to get rid of me in as most fashionable of method as possible, but do you really believe I would leave myself open for an attack from you with the use of the Talismans?  After all this time and preparation, do you really believe I would not think of you attempting such a thing?”
            Ace said nothing.  He wondered if he would ever breathe again.
            “This is sad, Mr. Frehley.  And a situation that must have a proper punishment take place for you to learn from.  Let’s see . . ..”  Blackwell thought for a moment then snapped his fingers suddenly.  “Of course.”
            Turning slightly to the still-lit monitor of Eric, Bruce and Parker, Blackwell flipped a switch and spoke into an intercom device located next to the monitor.  “Mr. Parker,” Blackwell said in a calm even tone, never taking his eyes completely off of Ace, “please kill Mr. Carr for me.  Thank you.”
            Blackwell flipped the same switch again and turned the monitor off.  He rose up and faced Ace.
            “No!”  Ace said as he drove his hand into a hitchhiker’s position and disappeared from the spot he had stood.
            Blackwell shook his head slightly.  He turned back to the monitor and flipped a switch so he could view the room once again.
            “Typical,” Blackwell murmured.  “Tragically typical.”

            A few minutes before, Eric had woken up with his head down and his body leaning forward.  He felt nauseate and there was an extreme pounding in his head, but he was unable to bring his hands to his temples in order to help soothe the pain away or even to wipe the perspiration from his forehead.  In fact, for a moment he couldn’t even feel his hands and were unsure if they were even still connected to his body.
            Eric blinked his eyes several times in an attempt to see where he was and why he was having trouble moving.  After a minute, he was able to focus his vision so he could make out the object ahead of him only to see that he had been looking at his knees.  He could barely make out the rope that bind his legs to the chair and realized that his arms were behind his back, wrapped around the back of the chair and his hands tied together there.  He tried moving his shoulders forward, only to discover that the rope extended from his hands through the bottom of the chair and to his feet which were tied together as well.  By trying to move he nearly pitched the whole chair forward and managed to balance himself once again before another wave of nausea hit him.
            After sitting still for a few deep breaths of air, Eric attempted to raise his head.  It was a slow process, as he found pain with every moment due to the stiffness in his shoulders and his neck.  Shifting his arms and legs in a steady movement, he managed to shift his body so that his back was firmly against the chair and he could prop his head up again the top of the chair to help him concentrate.
            In front of him stood a person.  It was a man that seemed somewhat familiar to Eric, but he had a hard time focusing completely on the face.  He had no problem focusing on the gun in the man’s hand, however.
            “Who --” Eric began to speak and choked due to the soreness in his throat.  “Who are you?”
            The man did not respond.
            “Where am I?” 
            The man fidgeted a bit and tightened his grip on the gun.
            “Where’s my friend?”
            No response.
            Eric tried to smile.  “Hey.  This was cute, but how’s about letting me go?”
            “How’s about telling me what’s going on?”
            “How’s about saying anything?”
            “How about those Mets?”
            The man’s grip became even tighter.
            “How’s about I just shut up?”
            “Mr. Parker,” A voice rang out into the room.  Eric craned his head upward to see that the voice was coming from a speaker system in the wall above the man’s head.  To the right and in the high corner of the room was a video-camera, which probably viewed the whole room, Eric thought.  The voice continued, “Please kill Mr. Carr for me.  Thank you.”
            The man turned slightly at the speaker’s voice and looked once again at Eric in front of him, bound and helpless.  With a brief hint of a smile, Parker raised the gun to Eric’s head.
            “God,” Eric spoke quietly, “you look so familiar.”
            It was then that Ace popped into the room.
            With the sudden appearance, Parker whipped the gun around and fired directly at Ace, who was only five feet away from him.  With a wave of his hand, so fast that neither Parker nor Eric were sure they had actually seen Ace perform the feat, Ace created a shield of blue light in front of his body.  The bullets hit the shield, but instead of going through the light or bouncing off, they just sat there in mid-air for a moment before being absorbed into the light and disappearing from view.  The light faded, leaving Ace in plain view and advancing upon Parker.
            Parker backed away in panic, his eyes widening in fear.  Bumping into the wall, he tried to raise the gun up again, but his hands shook so badly that he could only manage to point the gun halfway up and sideways. 
            “Er . . . ah . . . er . . ..”  The only sounds Parker could say.
            Ace stopped just two feet from Parker and with a swat of his right hand, knocked the gun across the room.  With a flash of a blue fireball from Ace, Parker was immense in the power of Limbo.  Fading from view, Ace saw the terror on his face and almost laughed in seeing it.
            Probably thinks I’m sending him to the moon or something, Ace thought to himself.  Wish I did, but at least where he is going he’ll be out of my hair for awhile.  Hope he can speak Chinese, though. 
            Ace had little time to think about Parker’s new dilemma.  Instead he ran back to Eric and began untying him. 
            “Ace . . .?”  Eric said, not sure if he was seeing things or actually just saw a former member of the band materialize into the middle of the room and made a guy disappear with a zap of his hands.  And doing so in full makeup and costume.
            “Come on, Eric, we’ve got to get you and Bruce out of here.”
            Eric recognized the voice.  Upon feeling the tension being released between his hands and his feet, Eric tried to stand up and instantly fell over on the ground.  He moaned and saw that Ace was already at work on the ropes that held the still-unconscious Bruce in place.  Bruce had been behind me the whole time and I had no way of knowing, Eric thought as he struggled to get the ropes that held his legs to the chair.
            “Ace,” Eric spoke as he tried to decipher the knot in the rope, “what is going on?”
            “I need to get the two of you out of here and then I can take care of Blackwell.”  Ace said as he began untying the ropes on Bruce.
            “What are you talking about?”  Eric managed to find a loop that was loose in the knot and began pulling at the rope.
            “It doesn’t matter right now, Eric.  Once I get you out of here, things will be okay.”  Ace pulled the last of the rope off of Bruce and attempted to swing one of Bruce arms around his shoulder to drag him out.
            As Ace reached for Bruce’s hand, the lights went out in the room.  At once, a red laser shined from a center spot in the ceiling and strobed on to the floor.  Eric looked up to see the light, then down on the floor to see where the light was shining.  A voice came out over the speaker that was strong and powerful and spoke in a language that Eric could not understand.
            The laser-light was everywhere, but it had focus.  More so, it projected a symbol upon the floor that was a circle with some curved lines in connected to the circle.  Eric had no idea what it meant and at that point, did not really care.  All he wanted was to get through the door and get out of there.  He turned to Ace to see how he was doing with Bruce and saw Bruce on the floor and Ace on his knees, leaning up against the chair.
            Eric turned to the knot in the ropes at his feet but could not see it well enough in the light to untie them properly.  Kicking at his shoes, he pulled them off and struggled free of the rope without having to untie the knot.
            Eric raced over to Ace and saw that Ace had gotten some type of necklace with a lightning-bolt emblem wrapped around one of the metal supports on the chair.  It left Ace hanging and was the only reason Ace had not hit the floor in the same manner as Bruce.
            “Ace?  Ace?”  Eric shook Ace, which managed to bring some life to him.
            “Ah, Mr. Frehley,” a voice came out over the speaker once the strange incantation had stopped.  “I forgot to mention one final thing.  Once reaching the room with your friends, I would activate the symbol to shut down your Talisman from here.  Sorry about that.  But now your powers are gone and I can take what is rightfully mine.”
            Ace tried to look at the speaker as if to see the face of the voice, but had trouble holding his head up.  Eric shook Ace again, while looking at the speaker.
            “By the way, Mr. Carr, thank you for your assistance in this situation.”
            With that, Eric stood up, scooped up the other metal chair and swung it with determination over his head and at the speaker.  With a metal thud, the speaker ripped from the wall and fell crashing to the floor.  In the spirit of the moment, Eric next took out the video camera, then threw the chair aside without a thought as he moved back to Ace.
            Several floors above, Blackwell glared at the darken monitor.  Picking up the weapon he had put to the side, he walked crisply to the stairway.
            “C’mon, Ace,” Eric said as he tried to put both hands around Ace’s shoulders and drag him out of the room.  When he did so, the sudden movement broke the necklace away from Ace and the Talismans bounced twice before coming to rest a few feet away.  “We’re going.”
            “No,” Ace said weakly.  “I can’t leave without my Talisman.  You’ve got to destroy the symbol first.”
            “Ah, c’mon Ace, we need to get you out of here!”
            “No, Eric.  Do it or else we might all end up dead.”
            Eric saw the truth of Ace’s words and remembered that only moments before he was sentenced to die by the voice on the speaker.  Letting Ace go, Eric glanced around the room and saw the metal chair off in the far corner.  With three large steps, he was across the room and had picked it up.  He raced back to the other chair and moved it directly under the laser.
            Eric climbed the chair quickly and held the other chair up in his hands.  It was hard to see, but Eric felt that he could throw the chair up and if he hit the laser well, it could be damaged.  Beyond that hope, there really was not anything else to try. 
            Pulling the chair back behind him, Eric threw the chair with all of his might at the laser in the ceiling.  The motion of the throw was enough to send him to the floor, and sparks showered the room as the chair met its target.
            After the fireworks stopped, Eric opened his eyes to see that the laser was no longer working.  The lights had not come on either and Eric stumbled to the door and grasped at the doorknob.  It was unlocked and Eric pulled it open so fast that he thought the door was actually going to fly away from its hinges.
            The light from the hallway broke into the room and Eric saw that both Ace and Bruce were on the floor.   Eric dragged Ace out of the room, who offered neither help nor resistance to Eric’s actions.  As they reached the hallway, Ace coughed once, then twice and blinked his eyes open.
            “Did you get it Eric?”  Ace asked.
            “Yes, I got the light.”
            Ace somehow picked himself up so he was able to lean on one shoulder with Eric’s help.  “Okay.  Eric, listen to me.  You’ve got to get Bruce out of here.  After that, I can take care of Blackwell for good.”
            “But what’s going on, Ace?”  Eric asked in desperation.
            “No time to explain.  Just get him and go.”  Ace’s eyes closed again and Eric lowered him to the floor.  Standing up, Eric ran back into the room for Bruce.
            As Eric entered the room, Blackwell stepped out from the stairway and into the hall.  Lightly moving against the wall from the opposite directly of where Ace laid, Blackwell reached the room in a matter of moments.  Looking down at Ace and seeing that Ace’s eyes were closed, Blackwell reached inside the room for the doorknob.  He could see Eric trying to get one of Bruce’s arms around his shoulder and lift him.  Slamming the door shut, Blackwell produced a key and locked the door.
            He could hear Eric’s footsteps coming to the door and pounding from inside.  Blackwell smiled to himself and was just about to face Ace again when he felt his legs go out from under him.
            With a crash, Blackwell ended up on his back and his weapon went flying up in the air due to the surprise of impact.  The weapon bounced off a light-fixture in the ceiling and fell back to earth, smashing into several pieces. 
            Blackwell watched the action in fascination.  Twisting back around on the ground, he looked up to see Ace standing over him.
            “Okay, Blackwell, I guess I can’t use my powers to take you down.  Let’s see how you do against my fists.”  With that, Ace leaned down and grabbed Blackwell by the lapels of his jacket.  Putting a boot in Blackwell’s stomach, Ace pushed all of his weight backwards and rolled back, never letting go of Blackwell.
            As Blackwell rolled over him, Ace let go and with a push of his foot sent Blackwell flying through the air upside-down and down the hall.  Blackwell hit the wall, but managed to avoid hitting the stairway and a long trip down.  Instead his right foot hit a fire extinguisher on the wall, knocking it loose.  It landed on the ground just inches from Blackwell’s head as he came to rest against the wall.
            Eric heard the crash and started pounding on the door again.  Looking back at Bruce, Eric remembered the chair he had used earlier.  In the darkness, he began picking through the metal, glass and wires in order to get to the chair to use it against the door.
            Blackwell untangled himself and was in a kneeling position as Ace’s boot connected with Blackwell’s face.  Blackwell went a few feet off to the left and Ace followed.
            As Eric picked through the material, he came across Ace’s necklace.  Picking it up to move it out of the way, Eric grabbed the lightning-bolt Talisman firmly in his right hand.
            An explosion of sights and sounds entered Eric’s mind as the Talisman began to glow in his hand.
            In the hall, Ace was advancing upon Blackwell again when he staggered.  He felt light-headed and put his hand up against the wall in order to steady himself.
            In the room, Eric saw a history of his past that he knew was once true.  He suddenly knew who Parker was.  Knew Blackwell.  Remembered the Talismans.  Remembered what was done to him.
            Ace saw the images in his mind as well.  He tried to place both hands on the wall and filter out the thoughts, but they were too strong.  And he felt himself getting weaker.  Weaker, as the images became stronger. 
            Ace tried to reach for his Talisman around his neck and discovered it was gone.  He then saw the person at the center of the images and realized it was Eric.
            “Oh, God,” Ace said, as he attempted to move back down the hallway.  Back to the room.  “Eric, you’re siphoning off my powers.  Let go of the Talisman!”
            Ace fell on his face before he went three steps.  “I can’t win without it . . ..” Ace whispered.
            Eric fell at the same exact time and the Talisman clattered to the ground away from him.
            There was silence for a moment and four bodies were at rest on the floor of the building.  Finally, one of them moved.  The man picked himself off the floor and held his jaw in pain.  Awkwardly moving through the hall, the man came across Ace who was too powerless to move.
            Blackwell kneeled down to Ace and rolled him over so that they could face each other.  “You’re finished, Mr. Frehley,” Blackwell said with no smile, no emotion.
            Before everything went black, Ace saw Blackwell’s blank look and thought it was much more frightening than his smile.

            Paul stood in the room, looking out of the picture window at the moon above.  He took a sip from his drink and frown as the ice in the drink had turned to water.  He started moving towards the kitchen when there was a knock on the door.  He placed the drink on an end table and walked to the door.
            Outside in the hallway was Gene.  He was wearing an old black jacket, jeans and a black T-shirt.  His face was worn and unshaven.  He waved slightly as he entered the apartment.
            “Hello, Paul.”
            “Hi.  Glad you could come over.”  Paul motioned for Gene to take a seat on the couch and then closed the door behind him.
            “So,” Gene said as he pulled off his jacket.  “What’s seems to be the trouble.”
            “Oh,” Paul moved over to his drink and walked to the kitchen, shouting to Gene, as he did so, “not much.  I just wanted to get together before the move and talk about a few things.”
            “What’s to discuss?”  Gene leaned back on the couch and put his feet up on a table.  “I already told you that the main reason of moving to California is to get closer to some movie work --”
            Paul stepped back into the room, cutting Gene off.  “That’s not the real reason.  You see . . . oh, this is going to sound stupid.”
            Gene was puzzled.  “What is it?”
            Paul sat in a chair across from Gene.  He stirred his drink absentmindedly.  “I -- I have been having this dream lately.”
            Gene smiled.  “Yes.  Well, lie down on the couch, Mr. Stanley, and tell me all about it.”:
            “No.  I’m serious.  I’ve been having this really strange dream lately, and it seems to be happening almost every night now.”
            “Well,” Gene said in a sympathetic voice when he realized that Paul was serious.  “What is the dream about?”
            “Don’t think I’m nuts, but it has something to do with the Talis --”
            A rapid knock came at the door.  Paul shot out of his seat, relieved for the delay in explaining his dream.  He moved to the door as Gene tried to figure out what was going on.
            “Talis?  Talis?  Vitalis?  You had a dream about hair products?  No?  Callous?  You had a dream about foot hygiene?  No --”
            Paul attempted to distance himself from Gene’s voice as he opened the door.  He leaped back at what he saw.
            A grubby, worn-out Peter fell into the room, clutching the red Talisman box in his left hand.  He collapsed on the floor.
            “Peter?”  Gene and Paul said in unison.
            Paul closed the door as Gene got up from the couch and helped Peter to the chair.
            “Peter,” Gene said.  “What’s going on?  What are you doing here?”
            “Oh, man.”  Peter’s voice croaked.  “I had to get here.  Never thought I would make it, but I had to get here.”
            “Why?”  Paul asked as he handed Peter his drink.
            “Oh, man,” Peter took a sip of the drink and tried to catch his breath, “when Ace dropped me off I had to pretty much run clear across town.”
            “Ace?”  Gene sat back down on the couch and leaned forward.  “You’ve seen Ace?”
            “Yeah, about,” Peter looked at his watch, “forty-five minutes ago.”
            “But I thought you were in California now, Peter?  You didn’t tell us you were coming into town.”  Paul went over to the couch and sat down next to Gene.
            “I know, I know.  I wasn’t planning on being here either until about an hour ago.”  Peter said the words without even thinking about them.
            “Wait a minute,” Gene held up a hand.  “Are you saying that you were in California just an hour ago?”
            “Yep.  Until Ace showed up looking for the Talismans.  He --”
            Peter stopped as he realized that he might have jumped the gun with his two former band mates.  Gene and Paul were looking at each other as if they knew that Peter was spouting gibberish.  “Look, forget about that.  I’ve got something here that you gave me several years ago, Gene.  It’s something you gave me at the time that I decided to leave the band.”
            Peter reached out to the table and placed the red metal box there for Gene and Paul to look at.
            “Do you remember this, Gene?”
            Gene looked at the box casually.  “Nope.”
            To Paul, however, it seemed to strike at something within his mind and within his dream from the past several nights.  Something about the object was familiar, but he could not figure out what it was.  He moved his right hand towards it, stopping short of actually touching it.  It seemed to radiate heat as he moved closer.  Paul felt his heart racing inside.
            “C’mon, Gene!  You’ve got to remember this!” 
            Peter’s shouting cleared Paul’s mind.  Paul pulled his hand away, turning his head to a darken corner of the room.  The others had not noticed it.
            “Don’t shout at me, Peter.”  Gene’s tone was low and even.
            “Okay, okay.”  Peter backed down a bit.  “Sorry about that.  It’s been a long jog over here and I’m tired.  Let me refresh your memory.  When I decided to leave the band, I left because I didn’t like what was happening to us under the powers of the Talismans.”
            Gene found it difficult not to roll his eyes.  “Oh, boy, here it comes again.”
            Peter ignored the comment.  “About a week or so after I left, you sent me this case.  It’s the case that holds the Talismans.  Look.”  Peter reached over and opened up the case to show the slots where the Talismans could be placed.  “See.  This is where the Talismans could be kept.  Morpheus gave this to you for us.”
            “Peter, this better be some kind of practical joke --”
            “I’m not joking.  I really mean this.  You remember giving this to me, don’t you?”
            “No.  I don’t.  Look, Peter --”
            “Wait,” Paul turned back to the others.  “This is like in my dream.  I hate to admit it, but I had a dream about those props that we had for the movie.  They looked a bit different, but they had given us powers.  I--I can’t explain.  One minute we didn’t have them, and the next we did.”
            “Exactly!”  Peter felt a rush of adrenaline as he saw how close he was to breaking through.
            “Hey, Paul, you don’t have to play along with Peter’s little joke.  I don’t know what he’s up to, but --”
            “No, listen to me,” Paul snapped.  “This is all like something in my dream.  There was something wrong with the way things were.  With the way things are.  But I still can’t put my finger on what.”
            “Yeah, Paul, try to remember.  We did have superpowers.  We were heroes.”
            “That’s it,” Gene said, getting up from the couch and looking down at Peter.  “This is getting stupid.  I’ve got things to do.  Important things.  I really do not have time for some joke about a stupid damn prop we used back in the old days.”  Gene bent over and picked up the box as if to throw it at Peter.
            As he stood up with the box in his hands, he stopped.  Upon contact with the box, a reddish glow began to throb from the box and then to Gene’s hands. 
            “What’s happening, Peter?  What did you do to him?”  Paul said, edging his way off the couch.
            Peter stood up as well.  “I don’t know.  I just thought bringing the box back would help him remember.  I have no idea what this is.”
            Both Peter and Paul had problems seeing through the bright reddish light that finally enveloped over Gene.  All they could see was that Gene seemed to be looking into the distance at images only he could see.
            Images that had been in his mind all along.  Every moment that he had thought and were locked away came flooding out again into the light.  Finally, the light began to dim and Gene turned to Peter and Paul.  He was about to speak when he collapsed and would have hit the table in front of the couch and Peter had not moved to steady Gene.  The box fell on the floor and bounced a few feet away.
            Peter and Paul stretched Gene out on the couch and were looking at him for a moment when Gene’s eyes opened.
            “Yes.”  Gene tried to shake up the pain he felt in his head.  “I remember now.  The power we had.  The power of the Elders.  You were right all along, Peter.  You were right.”
            “Great, Gene.  I’m glad to see that I could convince you.  Although I didn’t know that the box would hurt you.  I just wanted to remind you.”
            “No, no.”  Gene moved up and into a sitting position.  “It’s for the best.  I would rather remember what happened then not feel the pain and remember nothing.”
            As Gene and Peter spoke, Paul began to back away.  It was so much like in his dream.  More so, he remembered what happened next in the dream.  The pain they would suffer, the betrayal that lied ahead.  If suddenly it was coming true, it was no longer a dream.  It was a nightmare.
            “You have to go after Ace, Gene.”  Peter said.
            “Why?  Where’s Ace?”
            “He decided to take on Blackwell on his own.  When we got into town, Ace took off to Blackwell’s office and left me about five miles from here.  He thinks he can do it and I’m sure he’s in more trouble right now than he’s ever been before.”
            “Why would he do such a thing?”  Gene felt a flash of anger.
            “Because he thinks the whole thing is his fault and he has to be the one to fix it.  You know Ace, he only thinks of himself.”
            “Okay, let’s get going.”  Gene tried getting up, but had a bit of difficulty after the effects of the box.
            “Fine, but you better give Eric a call and see if he can help as well.”  Peter said, helping Gene on to his feet.
            “Eric?  What about you?”  Gene said.
            “I’m not part of the Talismans anymore.  Eric is.  He’s the one that can help you, not me.  I’ll just be in the way.”
            “But you were part of the Talismans as well, Peter.  We need your help.”
            They continued to argue the point, as Paul tried to block it from his mind.  It was all too much.  Too real.  The fantasy of his nightmare was there in front of him and it was too much to take.  Paul took one further step back and tripped over the box that was on the floor.
            As he looked up, he saw the box near his head and was transfixed.  He wanted to scream.  If only he touched the box, he would know everything that was going on.  He could help.   But why, he asked himself, did he feel so afraid?
            The box began to glow in front of Paul. 
            “C’mon, Peter.  We need your help besides just telling us were the place is.”
            “Okay, okay, okay.  I’ll go with you.  I’m not happy with it, but I’ll go.”
            “Good.”  Gene looked around the room.  “Hey, where’s Paul?”
            Instantly, a flash of reddish light came from the corner of the room where Paul was.  Then it was gone.  When Peter and Gene looked again, they saw Paul walking towards them with the box in his hands.
            He stopped as he reached the others and looked at them coldly.  He then opened the door to the apartment and walked out.
            “Come on,” Paul said.  “Let’s get this damn thing over with.”



            He knew.  He knew.  What was the point?

            After calling for a cab, Gene had used the phone in the lobby to call Eric’s place.  It was only after he had tried the number three times and hung up that he remembered Eric talking earlier that day about taking Bruce out to dinner and that they were probably not back yet.
            At first, Gene thought about slamming the phone down.  Instead, after a brief thought crossed his mind he put the phone down gently in it’s cradle and went outside to Peter, who had bummed a cigarette from a security guard in the lobby and was enjoying his first puff in several months.
            “Eric’s not home.  I completely forgot about him saying he was going out tonight.”  Gene reached Peter just as he was coughing a bit from the smoke.  “So I guess that means we will need you more than you thought.”
            Hearing Gene, Peter waved away some of the smoke and tried to clear his throat.  “You’re not lying to me, are you man?  You’re not trying to set me up with this Talisman thing again, are you?”
            Gene smiled at first, then stopped when he saw the anxiety in Peter’s face.  “No.  But we do need all the help we can get.  You’ve also had more experience with the powers of the Talismans than Eric has.  You’ve seen what they can do.”
            Peter laughed and coughed again.  “Oh, yeah, man.  I’ve seen what they can do.  That’s why I want to be about ten million miles away from them.”
            Gene said nothing.
            “Man,” Peter began, “you probably don’t understand what I’m trying to say at all.  I know what the powers did to us.  We got superstrength and Paul got brainpowers or whatever, and Ace could zap around.  That’s cool.  But they were also changing us.  Turning us into things that we didn’t understand.  When you had that chick and were strangling her, I thought . . . I thought . . ..”
            “You felt good about it.”  Gene completed the sentence.
            “NO!  You did, though.  Man, you were killing her and when I saw that you seemed to be enjoying it --”
            Gene snapped.  “I was there, remember?  I know what happened.”
            “But don’t you know what that means?  You never would have thought of doing such a thing before we had those powers.  It changed us, Gene.  Don’t you understand?  And if they could do that to you, what could they do to me?  It was too much.  I didn’t want to risk it, Gene.  I still don’t.  Now it seems that I’m being dragged kicking and screaming towards this craziness again.”
            Peter put the cigarette up to his lips and took a drag that lasted much longer than he anticipated.  This time he did not cough as the smoke came out his nose and mouth.  He laughed at the warmth he felt from the smoke.
            “Heh.  Y’know.  I gave these things up six months ago.  Debbie asked me too and I wanted to prove to her that I could do it.  Six months.  Gone, man.  Gone.  Nothing ever changes.  Nothing ever should.”
            He took another puff and spit out more smoke, turning to Gene at the same time.
            “The thing is, I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to say.”
            Gene looked straight at Peter in stern concentration.  The second his memory had returned he had continuously replayed the actions he took against Keith back in Brazil.  The excitement of the fight, the smell of the blood, the joy of overpowering his foe.  The chance to make a kill.  The Talisman had made him do it.  Had spewed out sensations in him that he had never thought were in his psyche.  Had played with him in ways that Peter never had to experience.
            “You’re wrong.  I understand what you mean.  In fact, I probably understand it more than you ever will.”
            At the moment the taxi arrived in front of the building.  Before Peter could speak, Gene was moving to the front of the cab and telling the driver something.  He then went back to Peter.
            “We’re ready.  Let’s get Paul and go.”
            They moved back into the lobby of the building to find Paul sitting in a stuffed chair with his arms folded.  The red box sat on his lap.  He stared at the wall across the room.  Gene and Peter walked over to him, yet Paul ignored their presence.
            “Paul?”  Gene said quietly.  “The taxi is here.  Let’s go.”
            Paul looked at Gene, then at the box.  Sighing, he stood up from the chair and moved to the exit without another word to the others.  Gene tossed a glance at Peter, who simply shrugged.

            He knew.  He knew.  The thought was always in his mind.
            It was excruciating ride to their destination.  There was no talking between the three and the trip took about twenty minutes before they arrived at the place where Ace had told Peter Blackwell was stationed.  As the cab came to a halt, the three climbed out.  Paul and Peter looked at the building as Gene paid the cabbie and watched the taxi take off into the night.
            Gene walked over to Peter and Paul.  “Well, here we are.  From what I understand, Blackwell may be in there and possibly Ace as well.  If nothing else, there’s a strong chance that the Talismans are inside.  I think the best thing to do is to try to avoid Blackwell if we can.  Instead, let’s see if we can find Ace and get those Talismans out of there.”
            “Wish Eric was here,” Paul said, still looking up at the building.  “I think he probably felt the most comfortable with the Talismans.”
            Peter shook his head.  “We don’t have the time.  If Ace screwed up, he’s in big trouble now.”
            “And if Blackwell was tipped off by Ace, he may move the Talismans from here and we’ll have trouble locating them again.”  Gene moved a little closer to the entrance of the building.  
            “Well, okay, Captain Kirk,” Paul slightly sneered, “what’s your plan?”
            Gene let the insult go by and instead turned back to the two.  “They probably have a security guard or something on the first floor and it’s late enough that I don’t think we’ll just be able to waltz in without getting by the guard.  Do you guys remember that Blackwell’s offices used to be on the twelfth floor?”
            Peter could not quite remember, but he shook his head in affirmation when Paul did so.
            “Okay, I’ll talk to the security guard and keep him busy.  You two will have to get around me and try to make it up the stairs --”
            “Twelve flights of stairs?”  Peter loudly spoke.  “Then do what?  Have a heart-attack?”
            Again, Gene ignored the comments thrown at him.  “When you get there, you’ll probably need to split up.”
            Gene pointed at Peter.  “Pete, see if you can track down Ace.  If Blackwell has already gotten to him then he may be locked up somewhere.”
            The alternative for Ace was something none of the three were willing to bring up.  Gene then pointed at Paul but dropped his hand when he saw that Paul was not paying attention.  “Paul?”
            Paul dropped his gaze from the building and looked at Gene.  “I know you don’t have your powers anymore, Paul, but you may still be able to create some kind of link with the Talismans.  If you find them, get them in the box and get out of here as fast as you can.  Don’t worry about us.  It’s more important that the Talismans are safe and away from Blackwell.  Remember that you have to get them in the box, because if what Pete says is true, it’s the only way to get them out safely together.”
            “Gene,” Paul began.  “I don’t know if this is a good idea.  Maybe you should have Peter go after the Talismans and I look for Ace.”
            Knowing Peter’s feelings about the Talismans, Gene instantly knew that the suggestion would not be a good one.  “No, Paul, I really think you’re the one to do this.”
            “What about you, Gene?  Besides taking the risk of talking to a guard, I don’t see much of you in this scenario.”  Peter folded his arms.
            “Don’t worry, I’ll get up there to help you guys as soon as I can.  If worse comes to worse, the guard will throw me out, but at least the two of you will be up there.  That’s what matters.”
            “Sounds like a really crummy plan.”  Peter mumbled.
            “You got a better one, Pete?”
            The three stared at each other for a moment then began walking towards the building.  Gene looked in through the glass on the entrance and turned back to the others.  “Okay, this may work out better than I thought.  There’s a staircase right inside the door.  You should be able to get up there pretty easier as long as you don’t make a lot of noise.”
            With no response from Peter or Paul, Gene went into the building.  Going past the staircase, he walked directly to an older man with gray hair who sat on a stool in front of the two elevators on the far left-hand side of the lobby.  The man was dressed in a security guard uniform and was reading a magazine that was folded over so he could read with one hand.  His right hand rested on his hip as he read.
            As Gene walked towards the guard, he took a quick glance at the listing of offices posted on the wall.  Noting an office on the tenth floor for the Shindling Company, Gene walked up to the man and coughed to get the guard’s attention.  “Excuse me, sir?”
            The man looked up from his magazine.  For a moment there looked to be an ounce of anger on the man’s face, but it was gone quickly.  “Yes?  What can I do for you, son?”
            Gene hoped that he was closed enough to the man to block the view of the entrance and the stairway.  “Is this 1414?  I’m trying to locate the Shindling office on the tenth floor.”
            “Well,” the man said, standing up and putting his magazine down on the stool.  “You got the right place.  But the offices are closed.  Anything I can do for you?”
            Gene tried to stay in character by slapping his forehead in mock-frustration, while at the same time attempting to position himself so that the man would not have a clear view of the entrance to the building.  “Great.  My, uh, my wife left her purse in the office up there and she called me from work to see if I could get it for her.”
            “Well, it’s all locked up up there.”  The guard placed both hands on his hips.  “It should be safe.  Just tell her not to worry about it.”
            “Are you kidding?  Tell my wife that her purse is going to be okay all alone in Manhattan?  Are you trying to get me killed?  C’mon, it’ll only take me a minute.”
            The guard chewed on Gene’s thought for a moment then got up from his chair.  “Okay, son.  I understand.  I got a wife of my own.  But I’ll have to go with you.”
            Gene’s eyes widen for just a flash.  He had not thought out the plan quite as well as he believed.  He wanted to get upstairs, but he now put himself in a position where the guard would be following him around.  He would also have to prove that he really did have a purse waiting for him on the tenth floor.  To back out now or try to change the guard’s mind would look even more suspicious.
            Gene gulped.  “Thanks.”
            The guard took a string of keys from his belt and placed one into a slot underneath the up-down button by the elevators.  Turning it once, he punched the Up button and the light above the elevator immediately blinked on.  The doors opened and Gene and the guard went inside.  With a touch of a button by the guard, the doors closed and the elevator lurched into action.
            With the sudden shake of the elevator, the guard seemed to blur for a split-second, as if he had remained on the first floor just a moment longer than the elevator.  The guard’s image immediately snapped back into place and Gene for a moment wondered if it was just his eyes playing a trick on him.
            As they traveled up the floors, the wheels in Gene’s mind began to turn.  Without warning he pushed past the guard and pulled the “Stop” lever.
            The elevator car stopped so quickly that both Gene and the guard were thrown a bit into the air.  Although it was a violent action, Gene never took his eyes off of the guard.  The guard’s image blurred once more, this time moving slightly away from the person underneath the image.  Gene could make out the face through the guard’s image and it was instantly recognizable to him.
            The person was the guard once again, but it mattered little now.  The older man looked up at Gene with a frown on his face and steadied himself against the wall of the elevator. 
            “Very clever, Mr. Simmons.”  Keith reached into his shirt and from his actions seemed to be turning something.  Immediately his image changed back to one that Gene had seen several times before -- Keith in his transformation-suit.  The only thing that remained of the security uniform was the holster and belt around Keith’s waist.
            “One of the problems with technology is that it sometimes doesn’t measure up to minor physical changes.  Oh, well.  I wanted to wait until I had a little more room to deal with you in an appropriate manner, Gene,” Keith said, pulling out the guard’s gun that unfortunately for Gene was still very real.  “Yet, one can’t always have what they want.”

            He knew.  It was pointless to bother. 

            Paul and Peter reached the landing of the ninth floor and were gasping for breath.
            “Maybe . . . I,” Peter attempted to spit out the words between breaths, “shouldn’t . . . have . . . had that . . . cigarette after . . . all.”
            “What a minute.”  Paul said as he held on tightly to the box with both hands.
            “What is it?”  Peter said, trying hard to keep the breathing through his nose so he would not look quite as worn-out as he felt.
            “I don’t know.  I just get a sense of something here.”
            “Could it be the Talismans?”
            “Maybe.”  Paul was unsure in his answer.  He looked back at Peter who had gotten to the point of standing upright and breathing evenly again.   “Go on ahead to the twelfth floor and see if you can start from there to find Ace.  I gotta check this out.”
            “Oh, joy.”  Peter said as he turned back towards the staircase.  “More stairs.”
            With Peter gone, Paul began walking down the hallway of the floor, holding the box in front of him as if it was a type of metal detector.

            Gene and Keith stood on opposites of the elevator for what seemed to be a very long time.  Finally Gene had had enough.
            “Well?  Are you going to shoot me or just pose for the rest of the night?”
            “Patience, Gene,” Keith said.  “I’m just trying to think of the best way to do this after what you did to me.  Something a bit painful so that you will remember what I went through properly.  I also need to warn Blackwell that you probably didn’t come alone.  No point in letting your little friends run around loose.”
            Keith turned back to the board and pushed the “Stop” lever back into place.  The elevator was hesitant momentarily, but suddenly sprung back into action with another lurch. 
            It was all Gene needed as a diversion.  Throwing himself across the elevator, he managed to latch on to Keith’s wrist with both hands.  They fell together against the wall and Keith crashed hard into a handrail.  The shock was enough to loosen his grip on the gun and it fell to the floor.  Gene fell hard on top of the gun soon after and felt the bruise already forming on his leg from the hard object.
            With his other hand, Keith pushed against Gene’s chin, driving Gene’s head up and away from Keith.  Because of Keith’s longer reach, the strain on Gene’s neck became unbearable and Gene let go of Keith’s other wrist only to find himself falling backwards and into the opposite elevator wall.  His head hit the bottom of the wall and he saw stars as he tried to concentrate on Keith.
            Seeing Keith reach for the gun on the floor, Gene raised his right foot and brought it down hard on Keith’s hand.  Keith howled in pain and instinctively reeled back, holding his hand with the other and letting go of the gun once again.
            “I’m going to kill you!”  Keith hissed.  “I’m going to kill you!”
            The light above the elevator door moved from Nine to Ten and the elevator slowed to a complete stop.  It mattered little to either of the men inside.  Keith rose up and dove at Gene who tried to move away from the falling man.
            It was of no use.  Gene was still on the floor and too close to the corner to get far enough away for any advantage.  Keith latched both hands around Gene’s neck and began to squeeze.  Gene tried to break off the grip, but there was too much force in Keith’s body and too much madness in his eyes.
            In desperation, Gene formed a fist with his right hand and smashed Keith in the face.  It did not register.
            The doors opened to the tenth floor and began to close again.  The men’s actions left Gene’s leg up against the door and when it opened his foot stuck out through the sliding doors. 
            Gene hit Keith again.  This time Keith blinked.
            The doors swung closed, closing on Gene’s foot.
            Gene cried out in pain as the doors opened again.
            Gene looked at Keith with renewed anger and hit Keith again.  And again.  And again.
            And again.
            And again.
            When Gene attempted to make contact with Keith’s once more, Keith flew with the punch backwards.  Gene moved as fast as he could to get on top of Keith.  It was then that he saw the doors closing again, with Keith’s head lying there between the closing doors.  Keith attempted to get up just as the doors closed on him.
            With a rattle, Keith was still.  The doors opened again and began to close one more time.
            Gene got up and managed to put himself bodily between the doors.  Looking down at Keith, he saw that the man was still breathing.
            He’s alive, Gene thought.  Just let the doors go and they’ll keep hitting him in the face until his face is nothing but mush.
            Gene almost smiled at the thought, but shook it from his head.  No, that was whatever was left of the Talisman talking to him.  He was not going to go that route.
            Stepping outside of the elevator, Gene pushed Keith back inside.  In maneuvering Keith, Gene saw a pair of handcuffs situated on the back of Keith’s belt.  Gene pulled them out and handcuffed Keith’s wrists together.  Standing up, Gene then reached in to the board, punching the first floor button.  Pulling himself back out of the elevator, Gene watched as the doors closed and the light about the elevator door began reading its descent.
            Well, the plan worked, Gene thought.  He may feel like garbage and probably looked it, but he got the others inside and he was up there himself now. 
            Gene looked at the stairway at the end of the hall and with a slight limp made his way towards it.

            Why bother?  He knew.

            Paul continued his way down the hall, trying desperately to image what he would feel in his head if he knew the Talismans were near.  He had already tried a couple of the doors on the floor, but had found nothing and was starting to wonder if he was just imagining things all together when he reached the last door at the end of the hall.
            Opening the door, he walked inside to see that the room was pitch-black.  He reached over to the wall by the door, finding a light-switch.  The lights came on with a flick of the switch and Paul saw a table in the middle of the room with all four Talismans lying there.  Under the table was a similar painted sign that he had seen at Robinson’s place several years before.  Not sure of what to make of it, Paul cautiously moved into the room and looked at the Talismans there. 
            There was no glow, or mystery about the Talismans.  They just sat there just like perfectly ordinary pieces of jewelry. 
            “All this trouble,” Paul said to no one.  “All this pain and suffering over these things.  All the chances we took for nothing.  For some hunks of junk.”
            Placing the box on the table, Paul lifted the lid and began placing the Talismans in their designated slots in the box.

            It mattered very little.  He knew.

            Gene reached the twelfth floor quickly and saw the same sight that had made Ace halt in wonder earlier that night.  Gene wanted to rest after the attack with Keith, but knew it was far too dangerous to stop now.  It was hard to see in the dimly lit room, but the moon above gave the area enough light for Gene to see a figure moving in the foreground.
            Moving into the shadows, Gene crouched.  The figure moved towards him at a fast rate of speed and did not seem to notice Gene at all.  Just as the person came towards the moonlit passage in the room, Gene leaped forward with all his might and drove the person to the ground.
            The person Gene leapt on managed to roll his body backwards so that Gene’s body took the blunt of the impact.  Air escaped Gene body as he continued to roll over to try to soften the impact he himself had created.  When he got himself back on his feet he looked up at the figure.
            “Stop it, Gene.  It’s me!  Peter!”  Peter came back into the light to show his face.
            At first Gene thought it might have been Keith once again, but after a second look realized that it really was Peter.  “Sorry, Peter.  I thought it might have been Blackwell or that Parker character.”
            “I haven’t run into any of them yet, but we’ve got to do something about Ace.  I was heading down to get Paul when you knocked me down.”
            “Ace?”  Gene moved towards Peter.  “You found Ace?”
            Peter shook his head and grabbed Gene strongly by the arm, pulling towards the center of the lab.  “Look.”
            Gene took his eyes off of Peter to look in front of him.  There before him stood a massive array of equipment, with a center podium connected to four clear tubes by cables and rods.  Each tube was large enough to hold a person and three of the tubes were empty.
            When he saw the fourth one, he started backing away.
            “What do you think it means, Gene?  What’s going on?”  Peter asked, vocalizing the very same questions going through Gene’s mind.
            “I don’t know.  Some type of experiment.”
            “Actually, Mr. Simmons,” a voice called from the corner of the room.  “It is the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had for far too many years.”
            Gene and Peter turned to see Blackwell walk towards them.  His face was a bit battered from the earlier fight with Ace, but in all he seemed to be in good spirit.  He held a gun in his hand, and fidgeted in embarrassment when Peter and Gene noticed it.
            “Please forgive me on the weapon.  At the moment, however, it is the only option available to me.  Now, if you would, please move away from the accelerator and back towards the stairway and the lights.”
            Peter moved slightly forward, only to have Blackwell cock the gun quickly.  Instead, Gene and Peter moved towards the staircase. 
            “Stop.”  Blackwell said, as they reached the lights there.  Gene and Peter complied with his wishes.
            “What are you going to do to Ace?”  Peter said.
            “You’ll soon find out.  All we’re waiting on now is the final ingredient to the mixture.”
            “This will never work, you know, Blackwell.”  Gene said, trying to control his voice.  “Such plans always have a flaw.”
            Blackwell laughed.  “On the contrary, Mr. Simmons, things have been going perfectly.  The timing has worked out and the components are all here together.”
            “I’ve taken care of Keith.  He won’t be able to help you.”  Gene said with a hint of a smile.
            Blackwell’s jaw grind noticeably in the light.  After some thought, he spoke.  “Well, there you go.  You lose a piece but you gain another.  I had originally thought I would need both he and Parker for what lies ahead, but now you have all brought me more resources that I could ever need.”
            Footsteps could be heard coming up the stairs as Blackwell spoke.  From the angle Gene was at, he could see a shadow moving up the stairs as well and suddenly felt another smile play upon his face.
            “You forgot one thing, Blackwell.”
            Blackwell sighed.  “And what is that, Mr. Simmons?”
            “The Talismans.  You don’t have them any more.”
            With those words, Paul appeared at the top of the stairs with the box.  From the way Paul was holding the box, Gene was certain that Paul had found the Talismans and had stored them away.
            Peter turned to see Paul.  “Paul!  You got them?  You found them?”
            Paul shook his head slightly.
            Gene turned back to Blackwell.  “Okay, Blackwell.  Let’s see you get anywhere without them!”
            Gene twisted back around to Paul.  “Run, Paul!  Run!”  Gene shouted.
            “No.”  Paul said with anger coming through sharply on just one word.
            Gene was stunned.  “What?”
            “This isn’t a game, Gene,” Paul said.  “This is some seriously twisted-up garbage.  We’ve been kicked around.  I’ve had my mind wiped.  I’ve been beaten up and I’ve been frighten for far too long.”
            Paul walked towards the group.  He went past Peter.  He went past Gene.
            He knew.  It didn’t matter.  He knew.
            “You want this so badly, Blackwell?  You need this so badly?  Then take them.  Take them and get them out of my damn sight forever.”
            Paul marched up to Blackwell and held the box up to him.
            “Paul!”  Gene’s eyes were wide.
            Blackwell nimbly took the box from Paul as he held the gun steady at Gene and Peter.  Cradling the box in his left arm, he lifted the lid to find all four Talismans shining brightly in the box.
            “Paul,” Peter spoke, “you can’t do this!  You can’t let him win like this!”
            Paul snapped his head back and shot a dagger of ridicule at Peter.  “It’s not my fight!  If these aliens or whatever want to kill each other, then let them.  Let him have the Talismans.  Let him blow up his world.  I don’t care.  I just WANT OUT!”
            “Paul?”  Gene spoke in quiet defeat.  “He’s not going to let us go.”
            Paul laughed.  “Why not?  He got what he wanted.”
            Blackwell spoke.  “I’m afraid Mr. Simmons is right, Mr. Stanley.  I can’t let you go.”
            “What do you mean?  You got what you wanted.  You don’t need us.”
            “But I do, Mr. Stanley.  I do.”  Blackwell directed Paul’s line of vision to the center of the room.
            Paul stepped forward to get a closer view of what was there.  He did not want to believe what he saw, but the closer he got the fear that grabbed him became more real.
            Beyond the podium were the four tubes.  Big enough to hold a person inside.
            There was Ace in the fourth tube, strapped down and unconscious.
            “You see, Mr. Stanley.  You were right about one thing.  I DO need the Talismans.  They have an energy source that will allow me to open the portal between the Ancient Ones and the Council.  But having these and not the vessel for which the power can flow through would be like having gun-powder and the gun, but no bullets.”
            Paul fell down to his knees at the edge of the tube holding Ace.  He placed his hands on the tube and it flexed slightly under his touch, but nothing more.  He stared up at Ace and shuddered.
            “You four will be my weapon, Mr. Stanley.  The power that will flow through you all will be intense.  You will burn up and die in doing so, but it will be for the greater glory of the Elders.  And, ultimately, you will get your wish.  You will finally be free.”  Blackwell motioned for Gene and Peter to move towards the tubes.
            “How did you know that I would give you the Talismans, Blackwell?”  Paul said in so soft a voice that it could barely be heard.
            “Oh that was easy, Mr. Stanley.  From the very beginning you’ve hated the powers.  You wanted nothing to do with them.  I knew you would want out as quickly as possible when you had the chance to actually break away with them.  You were afraid of what would happen.  You didn’t believe you could win.  I knew you would be the first to fall.”
            Paul looked up to see Blackwell standing over him.  It reminded him so much of another time and place. 
            “You see, Mr. Stanley.”  Blackwell said with no emotion.  “I knew.  I always knew.”
            Laughter escaped from Paul’s throat.
            “He knew.”  Paul said softly at first, then louder.  “He knew.”
            Paul tried to wipe the tears away from his eyes.
            “He always knew.”