.

Chapter Nineteen

Honor before Reason

#

The afterlife, like Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Bigfoot, didn't exist. Of course, people would have said the same thing about Atlanteans, telepaths, hypercogs, speedsters and time travelers if they didn't make the evening news three nights a week. Donald's skepticism was quite arbitrary in that light.

Donald opened his eyes and looked up at a ceiling painted to look like a clear blue sky. Donald looked down at the countless tubes and sensor pads attached to his body. His mind flashed back to the point where his brother Michael had shot him in the chest at point-blank range. He should be dead.

For a moment, Donald had the reasonable thought that he might actually be and he was in some cosmic waiting room on the other side. Why God choose a room he never seen before in his entire life was beyond Donald.

Then, a terrible thought crossed his mind. What if he had died but he hadn't crossed over? What if a crazy villain like Voodoo West had raised him? Judging by his lack of rotting flesh and pale skin, Donald had not been reanimated.

Donald Ellis breathed a sigh of relief. He couldn't have dealt with that. He'd sooner blow his heads out than live like that. Donald could heard other minds in the room. Donald clenched his teeth as he turned his head to look.

The first face he saw didn't have a mind he could read. In fact, he knew his face all too well. "Dalia." The woman stepped back as if Donald had spoken the exact hour of her death. "That's impossible. Michael said he killed you."

A shorter woman dressed in purple spandex turned to a woman in the green flowing gown. "What's wrong, Minerva?" The purple-clad lady approached the green gown woman. "You look like you've seen a ghost. Who's Dalia?"

Minerva paused as if searching for the right words. "Dalia was my mother. And I have not heard her name in eons." A tear fell down Minerva's cheek. "She died when I was young. She was a scientist and she was killed by one of her experiments."

Donald now recognized Minerva for who she was. Minerva was the Emerald Priestess. She had arrived in modern times by way of suspended animation. Minerva was the last surviving member of Atlantean royal blood.

One of the perks of Atlantean royal blood was the ability to heal almost any wound. Donald was still impressed that he had lived long enough to get to Minerva in time. Donald Ellis could have sworn the bullet pierced his heart.

The world had thrown everything at him. He had endured heroes, villains and vigilantes and yet somehow he was still standing. A gruff voice spoke to Donald. "God must really like you, kid. I've never seen anything like this."

Roger Stevens, the All-American, showed him the X-ray. "Bullet hit the heart in such a way that it passed right on through without any serious tissue damage." He shook his head in disbelief. "Lucky that your friend brought you here before you bled out. It'd been a waste of a miracle if you ask me."

Donald didn't need to look over to know Guy was in the room. Michael Ellis called Mack Madden his guardian angel. Guy was his. That misshapen monkey freak what's-it had pulled his fanny out of the fire in record numbers.

Donald caught a glimpse of Hellhound. He had extended his retractable ramonite knuckle spikes. "I do not trust this freak. He does not smell right." Hellhound flared his nostrils. "I know a thing or two about smells."

Los Correcaminos patted Hellhound on the back. "That one's so easy I'm going let it go." The Roadrunner must be the mind in the room stuck in fast-forward. "But I'm with Dog on this. The dude's a villain. Simple as that."

The woman in purple smirked. "Is it now? Because if it was that simple, I don't think you guys would have ever taken me. So give it a rest, Carlos." She lowered her crossbow. "When we want your opinion, we'll ask for it. Or, better yet, we'll give it to you."

That must be the Purple Archer. Originally a B-list villain, Courtney Rook had turned face eight year ago. For a woman in her thirties, Courtney could have passed for a teenage girl. "Damn, chica. That time of the month, huh?"

The Purple Archer shook her head in defeat and walked away. Whether he could believe it or not, these heroes worked together like a well-oiled machine and faced off against the worst threats to humanity on a daily basis.

The fact that they squabbled like children on a playground didn't seem to make them any less effective at the perpetual job of saving the day. These were the heroes other heroes looked up to. This was the Champions Circle.

#

The Purple Archer, now having second thoughts about backing down, shouted at El Correcaminos for being a chauvinist pig. El Correcaminos implied she was a dyke. Minerva watched helplessly as the fight unfolded.

The All-American brought the bickering under control. "Donald Ellis, I believe we have met before but allow me to introduce myself. I am Roger Stevens. It is my honor to welcome you aboard the Citadel. If your friend is to be believed, you may have insights into our common enemy."

Guy must have told them about Michael. It was the only way he could have gotten them on-board. Guy had taken a great risk. Last time a Champion caught up with them, Donald went to jail and Guy got tortured by a psycho on the government's dime.

Donald's mind flashed to the moment he could have ended all this. The moment he had a gun trained on the exact spot of the power source to Michael's pineal gland implant. One pull of the trigger and roll credits. Done. Instead, Don had chickened out and Mickey nearly killed him for it.

Donald reached into his pocket and felt something inside. He pulled it out and remember what it was. It was the action figure of the All-American that Michael had returned to him after fifteen years. Donald held it in his hand.

Michael Ellis had gone out and bought it for Donald. Dad got so mad that he snuck out that he telepathically tortured for six straight hours. Donald couldn't believe how much of his father's sins he had excused over the years. Mickey saw him as the monster he was and told him so to his face.

Now, that Mickey had died and what traipsed around in his meat-suit couldn't be any further from that older brother who risked his very soul simply to give his little brother the gift he really wanted for Christmas. Donald wanted to cry but if he started, he didn't know if he would ever stop.

Roger Stevens continued talking without acknowledging this emotional moment. "While you are technically under arrest, I see no harm in letting you out of this room." That comment caused a stir of arguments back and forth. "It is my prerogative. If you don't agree, tough. My team, my rules."

The All-American came from an age when regard for the chain of command flowed in the hearts and minds of every able-bodied citizen. To see himself surrounded by people who constantly questioned his leadership without any respect for authority pissed him off to no end. He tried not to let that show.

Roger Stevens continued. "I think it's only fair to warn you. The Citadel has a reputation for punishing curiosity." Roger patted him on the shoulder. "If you stick your nose in the wrong place, you might not get it back."

A man from a simpler age, the All-American didn't mean for that to sound ominous. In fact, he had nothing but faith in him.

The consensus of the other Champions was hardly unified on the matter. Hellhound had actually tried to suffocate him in his sleep, a move that would have gotten him expelled from the Champions Circle if the All-American had reported him. The Purple Archer knew that not all villains were bad. Then again, she also knew that the ones were bad could trade on their naivete and compassion.

Donald was a question mark.

#

Donald had read everything he could about the Citadel of Champions. He used to think he'd one day raid this place as a villain. Now, he was its guest or rather its technical prisoner. Of all the prisons he had perused, this was the nicest. The place had a warm, life-affirming and majestic aesthetic to it all.

Donald had wandered the grounds for an hour now. He didn't care that he had bypassed all the major locales like the Training Room and the Viewing Chamber. The Citadel of Champions was amazing without all those places.

Donald felt four sharpened points pressed up against his neck. Donald turned around to face Hellhound. "I don't like you. You're not a hero, boy, and you never will be. So stay out of the way and let the real heroes work."

Donald had been warned by his father that Jacob "Dog" Howell AKA Hellhound was a bit of a dick. He had been suspended many times for infractions against their strict no-kill policy. He loved the violence more than even the hardcore villains did. He was the best at what he did and what he did was awful. He was Exhibit A in his case against less-than-heroic heroes.

Of the hundreds of people who had received a pineal gland implant, Jacob was one of only two (now three) people who had survived the risky procedure. Combined with his ramonite skeletal structure and vast knowledge of various modes of combat, Hellhound was nigh-invincible on the battlefield.

Donald Ellis wished that he could perceive Hellhound's innermost thoughts but with his pineal gland implant, that would only happen if he let Donald Ellis into his mind. And it would be a cold enough day in Hell to make snow angels before Hellhound gave Donald Ellis the keys to his tortured psyche.

Hellhound growled at Donald and walked away. Donald only guess that he was not worth enduring another suspension. Whatever the case for sparing his life, Donald just shrugged and went on his way. He had been the villain for a spell. Donald should have gotten used to reactions like his by now.

#

Donald Ellis had read about this place. He never thought he would actually get to go inside of it. The article in Time magazine described the Champions' Training Room as a training facility rivaling those found on military bases. The Training Room allowed a Champion to push himself under less- than-lethal conditions and prepare for the most arduous missions.

It also had the best weapons in the world stored there. That included the Cranium battle-suit that Donald Ellis had stolen from the (currently-disbanded) Quantum Quartet and had taken from him by the All-American with the consent of the Strategic Command Advanced Research Acquisitions Bureau (SCARAB). He stared at his father's battle-suit in the display case.

Donald looked over at the Machine, currently punching a kinetic gauge. Donald couldn't suppress the urge to gloat. "It must be weird to have something on display you can't use." The genetic lock on the battle-suit made it impossible for anyone besides Wade Ellis (or his clones) to use it.

"I assume you are referring to the genetic lock on the battle-suit." Donald nodded. "I will admit it that I had trouble disarming it but I did manage to. I first removed its automated defense maneuver to make it a no-kill weapon."

Donald couldn't believe what he had heard. He knew the android hero had a vast technical expertise. But hacking his dad's tech ranked somewhere between dividing by zero and punching out God in terms of impossibility.

The Machine gestured to it. "You have my permission to don the battle-suit. Your biorhythms suggest only an eight percent chance of you using the battle-suit to attempt an escape from the Citadel. By my estimates, that makes you somewhat trustworthy." Donald didn't know what to say to that.

Donald walked into the battle-suit. It came to live and began wrapping itself around him. In seconds, Donald Ellis had his battle-suit again. "Mind if we spar." The Machine nodded and fell into a defensive stance. Donald rushed him. He must have improved the servos. The suit moved faster than before.

Donald stopped in mid-punch as he looked as the mechanical extension of his right fist. Donald looked over at bottles of spray paint in the corner of the Training Room. He didn't like the colors red and black. Too damn Nazi.

Donald sent to work altering the color scheme to fit his taste. He grabbed the green and purple bottles and started spraying. As he painted the battle-suit, Donald felt like talking about a topic lingering on his mind as of late. "Machine." The android nodded. "Have you ever had to kill anyone?"

The Machine looked away. "Yes." Donald asked him how it made him feel. "It didn't make me feel anything." Donald knew what he meant. Android or not, killing someone killed a small piece of his robotic soul. "It may surprise you, Donald, but every hero here has taken a life at one point or another."

Donald pointed out that the Champions Circle had a strict no-kill policy. "That policy exists for a reason but sometimes we have no choice. We try to cover it up whenever we break that rule. Some abide by it better than others." The Machine turned to face Donald. "But no one here can claim full innocence."

Donald shook his head. "I didn't mean to sound so harsh. I've just never seen the point of it. It never solved anything for me. It usually made things worse. I killed Mack Madden in self-defense and his death allowed my brother Michael the freedom to plot the end of the world." Donald sighed.

The Machine tilted his head. "You have a noble spirit, Donald. I find it difficult to understand why someone as smart as you ever saw yourself as a villain." Donald finished the final touches on his redecorated battle-suit.

A red light bathed the Training Room and a shrieking noise sliced across it. The Machine walked off the mat. "I would invite you on this mission but your status as our prisoner here would make that an exercise in hypocrisy."

Donald watched as the Machine ran off to join his fellow Champions. He couldn't help but wonder if, through implication, the Machine had urged him to commit fratricide in the name of the greater good. He'd never know.

#

The Viewing Chamber also belonged to that category of places Donald knew about through research. The Citadel of Champions floated several thousand feet above the ground. The on-board computer gently weaved in and out of the path of numerous commercial jetliners to avoid collisions.

From the Viewing Chamber, one could see the magnificent view of the world below. Donald hoped the view would distract Guy long enough to just listen to want he had to say. "I have made one my mind." Guy sat on the ledge. "I won't kill him." Guy twitched upon hearing that. "I don't care what he has done or will end up doing. I must find another way to stop Michael."

Donald decided to put his foot down. All his life, he found reasons to bury his sense of honor. He did it to make his father happy. He did it to make a quick buck. He did it to save his own skin or the skin of someone he cared about. Donald had had enough. For once, he would put honor before reason.

Guy shook his head in frustration. "I guess I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?" Donald shook his head. "Well, then, Donnie, I hope you enjoy the end of the world because that's what will happen if you cannot bring yourself to kill him. Mickey's too dangerous. He needs to die."

Before Guy could expound on the hundred and one valid reasons for killing his brother Michael, a video feed cut in across the Citadel's breath-taking view of the Grand Canyon. "Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the apocalypse." On the screen stood Michael in his gold-and-white costume.

Donald stared at his brother on the screen. "For thousands of years, philosophers, theologians and now scientists have speculated as to the exact circumstances leading to doomsday. I'll bet none of them knew about me."

Michael shrugged. "Who I am?" Mickey smirked. "I'm Cranium. I'm not the one you bastards killed. I'm the one that's going to kill you." Michael pushed off the desk and his swivel chair hit up against a monitor. "Now, I know what you're thinking. I might just be a villain who talks a big game."

Mickey clicked his tongue. "Ye of little faith." Michael spun around in his chair. "There have been rumors that I am planning to destroy the city of Los Angeles." Mickey sighed. "I would like to put those ugly rumors to rest." Mickey chuckled. "I actually destroyed that damn city 37 minutes ago."

Donald felt a chill run down his spine. "Don't believe me. Don't take my word for it. Try calling that friend or relative you know who lives in Los Angeles. Go online and Google the phrase 'destruction of Los Angeles.' As sure as the atomic weight of cobalt is 58.9, the city of angels is no more."

Mickey had an ear-to-ear grin plastered on his face. "Rest assured, this Cranium is no one hit wonder. I have already signed on for an encore performance in the Big Apple this coming Friday. As for my fans in Bigg City, take comfort in the fact that your city will be the last one I visit." Mickey smirked. "I wanna give those Champions a chance to watch the world burn."

Mickey pressed a button on his desk and the screen vanished. "Still think you should let that bastard live?" Guy asked as he walked to a wastebasket to heave his guts. Michael had killed millions of people and he acted like he had just won the lottery. Costumed villainy had its sickos but Mickey took the taco.

#

Donald Ellis and Guy didn't have to wait long for the Champions Circle to return from the Battle of Los Angeles. The greatest heroes on Earth poured into the Viewing Chamber in varying degrees of exhaustion and damage. Minerva, the team healer, busied herself with the needs of the injured.

El Correcaminos replayed the message from Michael Ellis. The others watched in disgust. El Correcaminos slammed the button to stop the playback. Carlos dropped a load of Spanish curses before hitting top speed.

On the subject of angry heroes, Donald didn't see Hellhound among the ranks of pissed-off Champions. The Purple Archer looked over at him. "Hellhound isn't here, Einstein. And neither is the Machine. They're dead." Courtney glared at the frozen image of Michael Ellis. "Bastard killed them."

Wade Ellis, for all his inhumanity, harbored the utmost respect for detectives. Donald needed to apply the basics of deductive reasoning to this. Donald needed to spot a flaw in Mickey's plan if such a thing even existed.

To do that, he'd need some raw intel on the Battle of Los Angeles. With their walking talking tape recorder on the trash heap, Donald would have to get his news from the source, the mind of their leader, the All-American.

Donald grabbed Roger Stevens by the shoulders. He nodded, knowing exactly what Donald had in mind. Donald positioned his hands on Roger's temples. He focused on returning to that battlefield that Roger had just left.

#

Possessed by an active and fertile imagination, Donald always admired how easily diving in came for him. His own brother always felt uncomfortable touching another mind. Donald felt relaxed within someone else's psyche.

Nonetheless, the ease of diving in would not hamper the blow waiting for him on the other side. Donald felt himself inside Roger Steven's flesh as he piloted the Iron Carrier to the location of the disturbance in downtown LA.

The city of Los Angeles had already taken a beating by the time of the Champion Signal had sounded. Collapsed buildings and carbonized remains of God-Knows-What dotted the landscape with a nauseating omnipresence.

In the center of the destruction stood columns and rows of myrmidons staring in the direction of the oncoming heroes. The Iron Carrier provided cover fire as the seven heroes descended into the fiery God-forsaken fracas.

The Nordic Hammer broke through the ranks of the myrmidons with the punishing blows from his signature weapon. The pride of the Norwegian government, the Nordic Hammer flexed his seventy-million-kroner muscles.

The Emerald Priestess, more than just as the token healer, unleashed a hellish burst of green fire that scrapped a dozen myrmidons. The Machine and Hellhound polished off another dozen on their own. The All-American, the Purple Archer and El Correcaminos polished off the rest of the myrmidons.

Donald knew his brother Michael well enough to know what happened next. The other half of the myrmidons, having watched from a distance, proved to be quick learners. An electro-blast peeled the flesh from Hellhound's bones.

Hellhound got the luxury of dying instantly. The Machine fought on as the second wave surrounded him and pulled him apart limb from limb. The Machine could barely move when the last myrmidon reached into his chest and pulled out his cybernetic heart. The lights in his eyes went out and he finally fell.

Roger Stevens, seeing the tide of battle had turned against them, ordered a full retreat. The Emerald Priestess engulfed all the survivors in a green force field as the Iron Carrier's repulsor beam floated them into the cargo bay.

Roger gripped the edges of his shield for dear life as a blinding white light emanated from the direction of the city and filled the cargo bay. The villain had not just taken Los Angeles. He had bombed it back to the Stone Age.

#

Donald Ellis exited the All-American's mind in a hurry of neural activity. His telepathic super-intelligent avatar raced to find the door to leave this awful place behind him. Donald twitched and moaned as he reentered to the real objective world after leaving the world of Roger Stevens' memories.

No longer able to hold back, tears poured down from Donald's eyes. His hands trembled as he rubbed his eyes. Donald tried to hide his face as the sobs came in agonizing heaves and starts. Michael Ellis had killed almost four million people and he wasn't even there to witness his own handiwork.

Donald felt Minerva's hand on his head, patting his hair and trying her best to calm his aching heart. Everyone else stood at a distance with varying looks of disgust on their face. He couldn't blame them. He had the best chance of any of them now of stopping Mickey and was paralyzed with fear.

Donald tensed his hands to bring the trembling under control. Donald paced his breathing to stop the crying. Donald needed to put on his thinking cap. Millions more lives depended on Donald getting his act together in a hurry.

Donald remembered what the eyes of the myrmidons looked like to Roger Stevens. Black and beady like the eyes of an insect. These myrmidons didn't have the Evil Eye just yet. And, judging by the way the first wave fell, none of the myrmidons had the additional shielding of their 2020 counterparts.

Going into battle without his finest weapons didn't seem like something Michael Ellis would do unless boxed into a corner. Donald Ellis' return from the future had thrown off Michael's time table. Desperation had rushed the Battle of Los Angeles into production before he had his army retooled.

Michael Ellis couldn't rely on the usual robberies and clandestine lairs to build this army of super-myrmidons. He would need vast resources to collect and assemble the components to build Evil Eyes and electro-shields.

To know what components Michael needed, Donald would have to write up tentative patents for each one of them from scratch. Recreating decades of engineering lab work. A great labor even for the world's finest hypercog.

#

Donald emerged from his room half-mad from the hours of hypercognitive R&D compounded by the hours of follow-up investigations. A number of discreet orders for the components of Evil Eyes and electro-shields had been placed. The only thing these orders all had in common was the abandoned Ellis Industries factory south of Frankton, three miles outside of Bigg City.

Donald knew this place quite well. Back when a simple black domino mask hid his identity from the world, Wade Ellis had often visited the factory with his sons. Despite his other life, Wade treated the factory workers with the utmost respect and loved to personally guide tours through the factory floor. Mickey's sentimentality for the place had bred a glaring tactical weakness.

"You can't go without me," Donald matter-of-factually as the Champions Circle gathered around the table in the Viewing Chamber. "Look, I know I'm your prisoner but Michael has only one weakness." Donald jerked his thumb at his face. "And that's me. Leaving without me would be suicide."

Instead of belaboring the argument any further, the other Champions turned to the All-American for the deciding vote. With a solemn head nod, Roger Stevens consented to Donald's involvement in the mission. "One more thing." He drew a deep breath. "When this is all over, I wanna be able to walk away."

That drew a lot of comments from the Champions present. The All-American raised his head to silence them so Donald could speak. "It doesn't take a super-genius to know I've done some bad things but I'm trying to make it right. Addervault nearly killed me. I am not going back there ever again."

Donald rose from his seat. "So whatever happens, I want me and my pet to have the chance to disappear. I don't deserve that but it's the only way you won't have my death on your conscience." With that, he returned to his seat.

With another solemn head nod, Donald was a free man again. A free man who might have less than a hour to live but a free man nonetheless. Donald excused himself from the table. El Correcaminos returned from the Training Room with his battle-suit loaded onto a repulsor jack. Donald climbed inside of it.

#

Donald had skipped on goodbyes with Guy. He hated goodbyes. Goodbyes in his life were often downers. If this thing didn't pan out, never having traded goodbyes with his best friend Guy would be the least of his troubles.

The Iron Carrier delivered Guy to as close to the drop-off point as he was comfortable with the Champions Circle knowing about. If Donald survived all this, he would meet up with Guy at the drop-off point and go from there.

The Ellis Industries factory on the outskirts of town brought back memories for Donald. He remembered his father once told him about the day all this would be his. Donald had looked forward to that one day with bated breath.

This factory didn't make sense. Mickey had a time table to get these prototypes off the ground and yet the whole factory stood still. Nothing moved inside. The factory seemed abandoned for real. "What is going on?"

As if to answer his question, the "unbuilt" myrmidons rose to their feet, their red eyes fixed on the intruders. Michael Ellis had set a trap for his brother and Donald walked into it like a grade-A chump. Minerva yelled as the Purple Archer shot the All-American in the back with a ramonite arrow.

Courtney Rook's mouth frothed with blood as she bit off the tip of her tongue, the Evil Eye in full force. The Emerald Priestess rushed to heal them as the two fell over. The Nordic Hammer trembled as his mind fought off the Evil Eye's effect. He smashed his hammer through the first myrmidon.

The myrmidons to its left and right replied by blasting him with two continuous streams of electrical energy. The Nordic Hammer, tough even by invulnerable standards, fell to his knees, unable to flex even a single muscle.

El Correcaminos did a perimeter in a nanosecond. "The place is rigged with explosives. We tripped the motion sensors when we walked in here," El Correcaminos spun around in circles. The Emerald Priestess wrapped a green force field around them as a sonic boom incapacitated the myrmidons.

Mickey was just screwing with them at this point. Those myrmidons, while not completely invincible, could have killed them seventeen times by now. Plus, he had manipulated Donald into coming. Michael would have a front row seat to his ultimate end. More sentimentality leading to tactical weakness.

"I know you're here!" Donald screamed as he punched his metal fist through one of the downed myrmidons. "Show yourself!" As far as long shots went, this one could have reached the East Coast with miles to spare.

All the Champions turned to face Donald as he called a time-out during pitched combat. To everyone's surprise, Michael allowed it. Just then, Mickey in gold-and-white Cranium regalia, joined them on the factory floor.

Mickey pointed the myrmidons' electro-blasters at them. Even with the Emerald Priestess protecting them with her force field, all the electro-blast firing full blast for a whole minute or so would probably breach the barrier.

Donald Ellis cut in before Mickey could resort to a monologue. He needed to show dominance in this precarious situation or what he had brewing in his head wouldn't work. "I challenge you to a psychic duel. Do you accept?"

Mickey shook his head and chuckled. "I guess you're not as predictable as I thought, little brother. Here, let me spare you the humiliation of psychic defeat and simply decline your stupid challenge." Donald grinned at that.

"I wasn't talking to you, Mickey." That got Michael's attention. "I'm talking to our father, Wade Ellis. You say you got his memories. I think you got a lot more than that. You got his personality too and he'd never refuse a duel."

Michael Ellis clenched his teeth as Donald grabbed the sides of his head. Just as he had expected, "Wade Ellis" had let him through the back door of Michael's psyche. Basically, "Wade Ellis" helped him fight his own brother.

#

Donald arrived inside of one of the memories Wade Ellis had embedded in Mickey's mind during one of his many torture sessions. Donald stood at the steps of a New York orphanage. Inside, he saw an eight-year-old boy screaming in pain as he fiddle about with an equation scribbled on the walls.

Donald recognized this equation. This was the formula for neural coolant. Or, at least, it would be after some major modifications. Wade Ellis had been forced to invent the neural coolant using the very power that necessitates the need for neural coolant in the first place. Wade yelled again.

Donald looked at that screaming boy as the other children and caretakers tried to comfort him. At long last, he finally saw his father for who he really was. Not a poor tormented soul in a hostile yet indifferent world but a self-hating self-absorbed neurotic who never allowed anyone close enough to help ease his suffering. A suffering he would eventually blame the world for.

"That memory gets funnier and funnier each time I see it," Michael noted as he appeared in front of Donald. "Boo!" Michael grew to the size of a skyscraper. "You picked the wrong damn mind to break into, little brother."

The orphanage transformed into a collection of galaxies and stars. "In here, I make the rules. In here, I'm God." Michael's eyes glowed bright red as a dozen of crows chased after him. Donald formed his battle-suit around him and opened all its gun-ports. A rain of bullets turned the crows into bloodied heaps of feathers.

"Well done, little brother. Dad would have been proud." Donald could care less how his father felt about him. Wade Ellis was a conqueror. Michael was a destroyer. And Donald wasn't like either of them. He was his own thing altogether. Michael had retreated.

This gave Donald a moment to think. His thoughts were far from optimistic. Mickey had an ace up his sleeve. Donald didn't know what it was or what he would do with it.

#

Michael Ellis snapped his fingers for a change of scenario. Besides his bravado, Donald turned out to be quite the psychic combatant. He needed to end this quickly. When he said, "You might actually win this," he meant it.

Michael appeared to his little brother Donald. He had exited his Godzilla mode and had returned to normal size.

"Sadly, I have the winning card." Michael extended his hand, revealing a recreation of the Addervault solitary confinement ward. "Surrender now or I will put you in there and throw away the key." Michael showed the key in his hand. "Limited time offer."

The gears turned in Donald's head as Michael watched. The rational mind knew that surrender would not benefit him or the world he sought to save. The deeper mind, the one of primal fears, couldn't face that room again. Michael spotted the exact moment when the deeper mind took over Donald.

The psychic form of Michael Ellis rushed out of Donald's psyche as he returned to the real world. Donald, now a drooling zombie devoid of objective reality, stood motionless as the myrmidons killed off all his new friends. His eyes glowed as he mercifully made Donald blow his brains outs.

Never in all his years of planning did Michael Ellis ever believe, for one moment, it would end this well. Michael had defeated the only variable in this timeline that could stop him. The world was his. He might destroy New York City a whole day ahead of schedule.

#

Michael Ellis had stared blankly at Donald after he had made the switch. If Mickey had been clever about it, he could have exploited a more subtle weakness. Instead, he chose his fear of returning to Addervault, particularly to solitary confinement. It was an obvious choice and one he was prepared for.

Donald had waved his hand in front of Michael Ellis. It had been to prove a point. Mickey was long gone. Donald Ellis had done a lot more than research how to build Evil Eyes and electro-shields during those hours of hypercognition.

Donald had laid the groundwork for an entire world. One his older brother Michael could spend the rest of his life in. Like a video game, Mickey could unleash his destructive impulses without harming a single innocent. Where they would do with his comatose yet immortal body was a choice he left to the Champions Circle.

Guy stood next to Donald. The passing thought of killing his best friend crossed Donald's mind. In his hours of planning and forethought, he didn't stop to consider how much of Michael's personality would get grafted onto his own. Donald shook off the fleeting homicidal urge and continued their trek.

Donald tripped in the mud as Guy cleared a path. In the puddle of rainwater, Donald Ellis caught a glimpse of his older brother. He looked over his shoulder. There was nothing behind him except more jungle. Despite the rigors of the journey, Donald need to know how it all played out. He needed to know that he had set things right.

Donald reached into his pocket for his All-American action figure. As long as he remembered this thing as a Christmas present and not something he got tortured over, Donald would always know he was still himself and not his older brother Michael. Donald took a deep breath and moved forward.

#

The End