The Old Man talks

“You’re a fool, Tyme” he said.
“It’s been said before,” I replied.
“What do you expect to acheive by this?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. You. I thought you knew the future.”
“There’s a lot of future, old man. No one can think of it all at once.”
“Don’t crack wise with me. You know what I meant.”
“I do. But honestly, I don’t know. I’m operating on intuition here.” He gave me a long, speculative look.

“Intuition,” he said at last. “Careful boy. You wouldn’t want to stray into mad scientist territory there.” I shrugged.
“It’s just something I feel that I have to do, and I’ve learned not to ignore these feelings.”
“Oh, tell me you’re not prolonging my suffering for the greater good,” he said, sneering on the last three words.
“‘Fraid so,” I told him. “You’re going to do something worthwhile with what’s left of your life if it kills us both.”
“You hope,” he muttered, but I could see he was worried. Despite his scoffing, he knew as well as I did how good my intuitions usually were.

Greatest Hit

To my mind, the most impressive crime that the old man ever pulled off is impressive mostly for how terrifyingly excessive it was. Although perhaps I’m biased, as it was partially my fault.

One time when I was going up against the Doctor – this would have been maybe ’38 or ’39, I think. It was in Vienna, after the Aunschluss. Anyway, the Doctor was attempting to kidnap some physicist – something about using quantum indeterminacy as a vector for his disease, and I intervened. No particular merit in that – like the physicist, I was in town for a conference on physics.

In the course of our struggle, my technology interacted badly with that of the physicist in question, and I accidentally dumped the Doctor in the late 14th century. From here, still in Vienna, he concocted a plague I still don’t quite understand, and basically wiped out almost every human being (and numerous other primates) in Europe, Asia and Africa before I found him, ten years up time from where I’d lost him.

It didn’t rewrite our timeline (the uncertainty principle also applies to whether a change a history rewrites the future or merely splits off another timeline, although it can be rigged a bit. Also, the people in the alternate timeline who died would probably object to me saying merely back there.), but it did open a massive can of temporal worms for me, and I spent a year and a half of experienced time trying to fix it. The Doctor I left in prison, but he escaped without too much difficulty.

The reason I call this excessive – and yes, genocide is always excessive, but this is particularly so – is that the Doctor’s motive for doing this was to get even with a nobleman whose carriage splashed him with mud in passing.

It’s memories like these that make it hard to feel too sorry for Doctor Armageddon. He wasn’t kidding with that name.

The Gas Lord died today

And when I say died, I mean, died horribly in the course of his duties.

It’s a little known fact that the Gas Lord does not wear his suit, with its built in gas mask and complete environmental separation from the world, in order to be safe from his own gasses. He wears it to protect everyone else from them.

The Gas Lord has never told me his origin, but I’ll bet that he’s the result of yet another laboratory accident. A normal man turned into a chaotically gaseous state by the vagaries of chance and science, and deciding to do some good with his newfound abilities. For a man with a heart you could blow away with your merest exhalation, he sure had a lot of it.

It’s unclear to me exactly how he died, but witnesses say that he appeared to more or less drown inside his suit. Someone tried to open it, to help him out, but they were prevented by the science villain he’d been fighting, Hazard the Living Danger, who apparently knew the secret of the Gas Lord’s physical state. In fact, it apppears that Hazard may have been trying to save the Gas Lord, as unlikely as that seems. Certainly that’s his story. The fact that he surrendered to the police, whom he could easily have evaded – and to whom he has never before surrendered – lends a little weight to his claims.

I’ve arranged to speak to Hazard before his trial. I still can’t believe it – I thought that the Gas Lord was indestructible. Last time he visited me, he seemed as eternally young as he always has, an Apollo made of vapours…

At last!

The old man finally spoke to me today.

Well, to me might not be quite right. At me might be a more accurate description of his peremptoriness.

I didn’t really mind the fact that he was trying to give me orders, because I’d made damned sure that he would.

After parading at least three dozen different nurses before him in an attempt to select the right one – and having three of them run away when I told them who he was (plus the one who tried to kill him) – I finally realised that the decision wasn’t really up to me.

So I got a number of the better candidates, plus the very worst one I’d found, and lined them all up in front of him. Then I asked them questions. The questions didn’t matter at all – it was Armageddon’s reactions that I was really watching.

So I waited and waited and asked question after question, and finally, when he started to get so bored he was restless, announced that I’d made my decision. And picked the one I’d planned to all along – the worst of them.

Doctor Armageddon sat bolt upright in his bed, and pointed his withered hand at a different nurse. And with a voice I remembered only too well from back in the day, commanded “No, that one!”.

“Thanks, Doc,” I told him. I winked at him, and he glared back, and I knew things would be easier from now on.

But I didn’t hire the one he wanted, either. I hired one who wasn’t even invited that day, but who had a rep for getting even the most recalcitrant of patients to talk to her.

Hopefully, that’s not what he anticipated I’d do.

The First Tyme

I’m not actually the first of my name, although the story is kind of complicated, the way that time travel stuff so often is.

My father, Cornelius Tyme, was born several years uptime from today, in the third decade of the 21st century. He himself was (or will be – time travel and grammar do not mix) the grandson of a science villain named Professor Pariedolia, who operated out of New York City in the Seventies. The Prof I don’t know much about, but I do know that my dad perfected some of the retired villain’s devices, notably his time machine.

Somewhere out there in Brooklyn, or maybe down in the Village or maybe even across the river in Jersey, the boy who will one day be Professor Pariedolia is about three years old right now. I’ll never meet him – I have a destiny uptime after Doctor Armageddon dies later this year – but it’s weird to think of him out there.

My dad travelled back to the late Nineteenth century, which is where he met and married my mom, and where he became a science hero. He was always careful to avoid upsetting the continum too much. In fact, I think originally he hadn’t planned to use his knowledge of the past in any way, but then there was an alien invasion that needed repelling, and the technology of the era wasn’t up to it. He did what he had to, and he found that he enjoyed being a science hero. Not for the fame, I think, so much as the simple pleasure of doing good and helping others. He teamed up a lot with a duo called Needle and Thread, who were crimefighting tailors or somesuch.

He never fought Doctor Destruction, although they were active at around the same time, and he eventually died in World War One, fatally wounded while evacuating wounded men under fire. I suspect he would have wanted it that way. Mom gave me all his gear when I was old enough, but I haven’t used much of it – a side effect of my Dad’s exposure to chronal radiations gave me innate powers of time manipulation, and I’ve rarely needed more than those, my wits and my fists.

Mom died not long after Pearl Harbour – she lived to see the Christmas, but not the new year – and the last thing she ever said to me was that she loved me and my father would have been proud of me. I’ve tried to live up to the example of the man I never knew in my own adulthood. From reading his journals, I think he’d approve of my life and what I’ve done with it, but I won’t know this side of the grave. It makes me wonder how Doctor Armageddon feels about his parents.

Absolutely Now

It’s hard to know where you are in time. And sometimes, harder still to know where you are in time, in time.

Each individual moves through time at more or less the same rate. There are minor variations, but they’re exceedingly minor – we’re talking fractions of the margins of error for the kind of time measurements physicists make for sub-atomic particles. The kind of minor variation that, over the course of the average three score and ten, will add up to less than a second. You’ll never notice it, and even to someone with senses like mine, it’s exceedingly difficult to pinpoint.

Time travellers like me move at different speeds through time, most of them much, much faster – the comparison here is a candle to a star. But like non-time travellers, we still move through experienced time at the same speed (i.e. one second per second). We each experience events from the perspective of our absolute now, which is not just where we are in space and time expressed as a coordinate, but rather, as a point on a vector. Absolute now is where and when you are, but also takes into account all the wheres – and more particularly, the whens – that you came through.

I could travel back in time and in observe some event – say, the coronation of Queen Victoria, for example – as many times as I want. (Well, in terms of the temporal physics of it – obviously, there are certain geographical and social limitations, but you get the idea, I hope.) But each of the various ‘me’s there would have a different absolute now.

Absolute now is an important idea, and if you’re going to travel in time, you must never forget it, because it stops you from treating time as simply another form of space, which is a conceptual problem that the human mind is particularly prone to. That thing people like to say about the past being another country? Not helpful.

Because time is mutable. Arguably, space is too, but they are mutable in very, very different ways to each other. With space, nothing propagates infinitely, because space has friction and entropy. With time, things can and do propagate infinitely forward from the point in time at which they occur. Each event has that potential – although obviously, some points have more leverage than others when it comes to making it last.

This means that time travellers have to be very, very careful not to accidentally propogate themselves out of existence.

Which is why it was necessary to imprison the guy who wanted to convince Hero of Alexandria to commercialise his invention. It steam engines when it comes steam engine time, but that’s whatever time someone decides to make it. Don’t get me started about Vinland.

Finding a Nurse, part one

It took me a while to realise that I couldn’t look after the old man myself. Even with the ability to time travel oit, grab a nap (or whatever), and come back an attosecond later, I couldn’t do it. For one thing, the old man may not be healthy, but he’s still sharp. He can tell when I jump out and in again, and I find myself losing sleep worrying about what opportunity these tiny windows might give him.

Also, frankly, I lack the requisite medical knowledge. I’m not sure that anyone does have the right medical knowledge to help the Doctor, frankly – a good part of his condition seems to be a result of being one of his own lab monkeys. I pulled in Jonas Salk once, but even he couldn’t diagnose half of the things the Doctor had. (He was able to assure me that polio wasn’t one of them, though.)

So I decided to get a nurse.

Someone whose job it would be to look after him and make sure he took his pills on time, and so on.

Someone, hopefully, who could get him to talk, because the six weeks of obstinate silence I’ve endured since I started looking after him have been punctuated only by snoring and farting.

Timothy Crowley the First

I first met Tim Crowley at a mixer organised by the Phantom of the Moon. The Phantom of the Moon was crazy, but not a bad guy for all that, so his parties were usually well attended. This would have been in the mid-thirties or so. I’d like to be more specific about the date, but we were attacked by Gregorian Chronoklepts, and lost several weeks of real time, so I can’t be exactly sure.

Anyway, Tim Crowley was one of the top guys in science hero circles at the time. From his otherdimensional base that co-existed with Central Park, he fought demonic incursions and criminal conspiracies with equal aplomb. The man had style, and half the guys in the room that night wanted to be him.

I was in the half that didn’t, mostly because of what my mother had told me about Crowley’s horrifying disfigurements and curses. The people who envied him did so from sheerest ignorance – the greater part of his glamour was just precisely that. And his arch-enemy was the deadliest man alive.

Because Crowley had been disfigured in a clash with Doctor Armageddon – or Doctor Destruction as he’d been then. Crowley had eventually triumphed, but not before the Doctor managed to infect him with some hideous concoction of his own that mixed all the least attractive symptoms of smallpox, leprosy and a few diseases the Doctor had invented himself. For the rest of his life, a portion of Crowley’s magical might would be used to halt the progress of the disease, although it would eventually claim his life.

Crowley had wanted to meet me, too, which was flattering. He hadn’t yet encountered the Doctor under his new nom du crime, and he wanted to be ready for their inevitable re-match. We started talking about that, but ended up covering pretty much everything under the sun before the night was through (much to the chagrin of several science heroines who had set their respective caps for Crowley that night), and begun a friendship that would last another thirty years. In fact, I was the only person present when Crowley died.

Both the first thing and the last thing that he said to me were about the Doctor. The arch-enemy thing is weird like that.

I’ll try to explain

No one ever understands, but I’ll try to explain.

My powers aren’t what people think. I can’t just will myself to travel through time – I do have innate abilities that are related to time, but that isn’t one of them. I can do it, but not like that. It took me years to build that technology.

What I can do, what I’ve always been able to do, is sense time. Not like everyone can, although naturally, I can do that too.

I can sense things moving through time. I can feel it as they get closer and closer to my current now (i.e. wherever I am in the timeline). Coupled with judicious time travelling myself, I can usually use this to triangulate the source of the time travelling person, object or whatever.

I can’t see the future, although many people believe that I can, and I used to let the rumour spread because it made it easier to cow criminals. They may actually not be a cowardly and superstitious lot, but one thing criminals as a group are bad at is statistical analysis, or that little ruse of mine would have gotten exposed much sooner. (Of course, my defeat of Calculex back in ’39 helped that reputation along, because once a logical calculating robot with no imagination or ability to deceive says a thing is true, people tend to believe it.)

I can sense the points in time where a divergent timeline branches. There are fewer of these than you might think. I mean, on one level, it’s like Heisenberg and Schrodinger and the rest say, and tiny timelines break off every femto-second at a sub-bosonic level, but very few of them matter, and most collapse back into the main timeline almost as soon as they are formed. The missing variable, so far as I can tell, is consciousness. And even I am still not sure how it works, let alone how anyone could use it to their own advantage (although I did once meet an alternate universe version of myself who claimed to have solved that riddle. Since he was trying to kill me at the time, we didn’t really get to discuss much in the way of theoretical or applied physics.)

My technology allows me to travel through time, and without that, I would never have discovered the final thing I can sense, which is when time shifts – which happens more often than you might think, but don’t worry, you’ll probably never notice. (You didn’t notice when the leader of the Third Reich changed from Strasser to Hitler, did you?) When that happens, I can remember both the events of the new and old histories. In fact, as time goes on, I can remember more and more such histories, although memory fades naturally on those, just like with the actual current history. This has, on occasion, helped me out in crime fighting, and contribute to my reputation for seeing the future. But mostly, if I want to see the future, I have to go there, just like you do.

I get there a little quicker and I can come back again from it, is all.

Never when you expect it

I don’t think that anyone was anticipating the Doctor’s heart attack. Armageddon had seemed to be above such things for so long.

And when he abruptly clutched his chest and fell to the ground mid-combat, well, I can’t really fault the Gas Lord or Juliette of the Night for not wanting to approach him. Feigning injury or weakness isn’t unheard of, especially when a science villain is losing a fight. Assuming that they’re fighting someone inexperienced enough to fall for it or soft-hearted enough to risk it being a trick, it can be just the right play for them – it’s usually used to gather their strength before fleeing.

It took over an hour for the paramedics to do anything to help the old man, although that is partially due to having to use weapons confiscated from the Incandescent Man to cut through the Doctor’s armour.

It was another two hours before he was moved to a hospital, and not until the following morning that I was contacted. I went straight away, of course.

What else was I going to do? Sure, I had plenty of reasons to hate the guy – we have been arch-enemies ever since the retirement of Timothy Crowley, Armageddon’s former arch-enemy – but that wasn’t why I went. I went because, well, I’d had a weird idea recently. And I wanted to see if it would work.

No villain is a villain to himself

I intercepted some time-zeebs from the 23rd century today. They’d come back in time with the intention of cloning Doctor Armageddon and getting the clone to rule them. Said that they were doing it because it’s always been that way, etc, etc – the usual time traveller ends justify the means justify the ends crap.

I took a brief hike uptime and discovered that they were right, but letting them just attack the old man with the robot they had seemed a little excessive, given my plans for the good Doctor, so I offered to get the genetic sample for them.

They were really picky about it, too – not before the Doctor’s third clash with the Ghost Chemist, when he got mutated accidentally when chemicals splashed on him the Ghost’s lab; not after he was sent to the electric chair in Sing Sing and briefly developed lightning powers.

It took some doing, but I managed to get a blood sample from a shard of glass left from a broken window he was thrown through by Cosmos the Starkiller in a dispute over who had the right to destroy the Earth. Doctor Armageddon won that round, which worked out well for the Earth, but on the other hand, Cosmos later reformed (ethically as well as physically, I mean), and these days calls itself Cosmos the Starsaver, so it’s hard to say who had the moral victory.

The time-zeebs were happy enough with the blood, and promised that I’d never hear from them again. I didn’t have the heart to tell them about the USS Philedelphia, currently heading through the timestream and due to collide with them about thirty relative years uptime from them.

The First Time

When the Doctor and I first met, it was as enemies, but it was nothing personal on either side. We were simply two professionals at cross-purposes.

It was the Doctor’s first outing as Armageddon – up til then, he’d been Doctor Destruction. But he was chuffed by the relative success of an epidemic he’d started the year before – relative in that he was apprehended and forced to provide the antidote, but not before millions of people died all around the world.

The new name would prove to be no mere affectation, and we all took note of it and wondered what he’d don next time. He’d been a science villain for over a decade by that time, and he’d made a reasonably intimidating rep for himself.

I myself was still quite new at the science hero game back then. The Doctor was only the third science villain I ever faced, and the first one outside of New York. I’d already clashed with Mad Runyon and the Wred Wraith (don’t blame me for that name – that’s how he insisted we spell it on the arrest paperwork) by then, but Doctor Armageddon was a class or two above them. He was way out of my league, truth be told, and I think that was one reason why my defeat of him that time always rankled: on paper, he should have won, and we both knew that only luck had allowed me to win.

His scheme that day involved an attempt to poison the waters at Niagara Falls, which would have wound up killing a lot of people had it succeeded. It was just dumb luck that I was there that day – a friend had decided to have not just the honeymoon, but the wedding too at the Falls.

When I got wind of the plan, I tracked down the Doctor and his men. He and I exchanged inconclusive blows, and then he hid behind his minions. None of them – not one – could fight worth a damn, but their sheer numbers made them a danger to me. It was only after wading through their ranks that I realised that this was just a feint. Like I said, I was inexperienced then. Naive, even.

I managed to find a pilot who was willing to fly me in pursuit of the Doctor, and I remember wondering if we’d catch him in time. The plane was an ex-Canadian Air Force biplane, a two-seater with no canopy, so we couldn’t talk much during the flight. Fortunately, the Doctor was easy to follow: he was heading almost due north, where his plan was to seed the Arctic ice cap with poison that would be slowly introduced into the oceans as the ice moved and melted.

My pilot, a gal named Whime Dickson (I later learned that her first name was actually Whilhemina), shot down the Doctor’s zeppelin somewhere above Baffin Island. We followed him down, and I fought him again, this time beating him soundly. The Doctor never was much for fisticuffs.

But we both knew that if I hadn’t found Whime when I did, there would have been no one to stop him, and my meeting with her was the endpoint of a string of unlikely coincidences for each of us, although it did turn out well. Or well, for a time, at any rate. He killed her on the day before our tenth wedding anniversary.

I like to think she’d understand why I’m taking care of him the way I am now, but sometimes, in the wolf hours after midnight, the sound of the wind outside is just like how it sounded in her plane that day, and it gnaws at me that maybe she wouldn’t.