A Certain Time And Relative Dimension In Space

Nearly A Hundred Years Ago

"Once upon a time, there was a good wizard. He was nice and brave and kind and far, far too silly. He was never cruel and never cowardly, and he never gave up and never gave in.

"After saving every realm in the known world a minimum of 27 times, he decided to retire from air vents and gravel quarries, marry his companion, and settle down in domestic bliss.

"But his archenemy, an evil sorcerer, refused to cease his quest for deadly vengeance of deadly revenge. He allied himself with the biomechanoid trolls, the other archenemy of the wizard. The fiends prepared a fiendish plan.

"Together the unholy alliance trapped the wizard and his fiancée within the realm of an extinct people renowned for their peacefulness and patties. With their greatest enemy out of the way, the sorcerer and the trolls then prepared a grand spell of unimaginable power that would let them conquer the whole world.

"However, the wizard found out that the trolls meant to betray the sorcerer once he completed the spell for them. Out of the kindness of his hearts, the wizard warned his rival of the deception through a secret method of communication.

"But the trolls caught the wizard towards the end of his good Samaritan act. A brief battle ensued between the trolls and the sorcerer. During their battle, the grand spell was disrupted by accident. The massive energies escaped the sorcerer's control and threatened to destroy the entire world.

"Only the wizard could regain control of the runaway grand spell. But he had been struck down by accident during the battle and fatally wounded.

"And yet, with his fading strength and dying breath, the wizard brought the grand spell under his control. He subsumed the immense energies into a harmless state, saving the universe once more.

"After bidding goodbye to his beloved companion, the wizard finally expired. His sacrifice moved the sorcerer and the trolls so much that they renounced their evil ways and took up his cause of good.

"But the world was not ready to give up on the wizard. It broke its own laws and brought him back to life. And there was much rejoicing… The end," said a bearded man before he carefully closed the storybook.

Beside him, his son drowsily murmured, "That was a great story, Da."

"I know, my boy," said the man.

His mother tucked the boy tighter under the covers. "Now go to sleep," she coaxed him.

"I love good wizards in fairy tales, Mum," he mumbled. "They always turn out to be you."

His parents exchanged fond looks. "Always," his mother confirmed.

"Don't forget the evil sorcerer," added his amused father.

"I won't… I'll remember… until the end of time," promised the boy.

.

CSS Conqueror

Africa Orbitals, Earth, Sol System, Milky Way Galaxy

2007 AD

The fearsome bulk of the Pan-Eurasian Coalition Starship Conqueror held station over the African continent like a mile-long long sword of Damocles. The Monstrous class battle star and its attendant escort starships ruled a sphere of space hundreds of thousands of kilometers across. Any ship entering that kill zone would be met a second later by a withering wall of fire thrown up by hundreds of fire-linked gun batteries and missile tubes.

Aboard the Conqueror abided the Coalition commander, seventeen year old Jang Kyok-sik. Hailing from North Korea, the young general smugly observed his assault forces surge across a three-dimensional holographic recreation of the main theater of operations below his star fleet.

"Jang, sir!" hailed one of his men. "We're sending reports."

"Papers?" he drawled without sparing a glance at the messenger.

"Here, sir."

He skimmed through the sheaf of printouts. Jang was a believer in physical documentation. Papers could not be electronically hacked. "…Excellent," he summarized.

"Orders, sir?"

"We have the advantage. Keep up the pressure on the Alliance. Deploy my personal guard, the Sniper Brigades," Jang added.

"Yes, sir."

"By the end of the battle," Jang declared, "I'll see all who oppose me executed, and Lu will be on his knees before me."

Years ago, the United States of America suffered a suspiciously convenient crisis of leadership that sent it into a prolonged period of isolation. This nationwide fugue was later traced to the machinations of Laird James McCullen the XXIV, chairman of the multinational weapons corporation M.A.R.S. Industries and leader of the African mega nation Hegemony of McCullen.

The Soviet Union and China took full advantage of their rival's recession by aggressively acquiring certain territories they contested with their neighbors. Their expansionism received support from the Pan-Eurasian Coalition, the expanded successor of the Warsaw Pact which now spanned much of Eurasia.

The Coalition's newly-acquired territories proved to contain deposits of a previously-unknown and marvelous resource. This nebulous substance enabled new sciences and technologies surpassing the previous king of the hill, Whispered-provided Black Technology. The Coalition quickly developed gravity-defying reactionless drives, force fields and directed energy weapons, and eventually space-going warships they called battle stars.

The emergence of the belligerent ultra-power divided the world. Some nations chose to join the Coalition, be by their own volition or against their will. Others, chief of which were the hastily-militarizing European Union and its Asian and American counterparts the Oceanic Communities Union and Organization of American States, opposed it. The EU, OCU, and OAS formed a Grand Alliance to counterbalance the Coalition.

Thus began the race to corner the world's remaining supply of the miracle material, the majority of which was found under the ice caps of Antarctica. Alliance and Coalition expeditions battled each other across the frigid wasteland of the frigid continent to the detriment of the fragile Antarctic ecosystem and the global climate it managed.

Finally, the United Nations stepped in and ordered a halt to the fighting. Its words were backed by the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, the global defense initiative that guarded against extraterrestrial threats. UNIT possessed the destructor codes that controlled every nuclear missile in the world in case of overwhelming alien attack that required an equally overwhelming response, destructor codes reluctantly written by a certain dandily-dressed scientific adviser during the early days of computerization. If either the Alliance or the Coalition proved recalcitrant, UNIT could shut down their nuclear arsenal.

Confronted with the threat of ultimate defenselessness, the Alliance and the Coalition grudgingly withdrew their forces from Antarctica. The Alliance began exploring the solar system for more of the mysterious resource.

Its survey was cut short by the destruction of an outpost at the Tarsus Crater on Mars. Initially the Alliance blamed this on the Coalition. But its rival proved innocent for once. The Coalition had no designs on Mars; its sights were set on targets much closer to home…

Eventually Alliance and UNIT investigation revealed that the culprits of Tarsus were strange silver starfish aliens. The Alliance mounted a punitive expedition and pursued the so-called "Tarsians" out of the solar system.

At the same time, Coalition agents discovered significant deposits of the mineral in Africa. And the largest deposit lay deep within the Hegemony of McCullen.

The African mega-country was the biggest, most populous, and most prosperous nation on the continent. Comprised of the Horn of Africa plus the former countries Kenya and Sudan, its five million square kilometers and 183 million souls remained fanatically dedicated to their mad hegemon McCullen, the self-proclaimed Last King of Scotland, best known in international circles as Destro, Destroyer of Nations.

An unlikely team-up between Section Two cyborg 'junior operatives', deep penetration agents of the elite UN counterterrorist force Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity a.k.a. GI JOE, and opportunistic Amalgam operatives captured McCullen. Days later Destro was publicly executed, though instead of disheartening his adherents they only took up his famous last words "Destro lives in death!"

Ironically, the superpower he inadvertently created through sabotaging the US now decided that McCullen's country should 'join' its ranks. When the UN asked the nations of the world to send peacekeeping forces to the Hegemony, both the Coalition and the Alliance responded. But whereas the Alliance was content with establishing a basic presence in the Hegemony, the Coalition dispatched a massive force led by Jang, its youngest and most brilliant battle commander, a product of its ruthless School.

As before, the UN threatened to deactivate the Coalition nuclear missile inventory. But the Coalition had decided the prize outweighed the risks. And this time it was prepared for the consequences by deploying throughout its territories the newly-developed Neutron Jammers, which by disrupting nuclear fission rendered inert the vast nuclear arsenal aimed at the Coalition.

Protected against thermonuclear retaliation and possessing overwhelming conventional forces, the Coalition expected its takeover of the Hegemony to proceed smoothly. And then the unthinkable happened.

"(Destro lives!)"

McCullen himself broadcasted his survival to the entire world. Apparently the great and terrible wizard of the Hegemony cut a deal with the Alliance in exchange for his life and was now being called in to return the favor. He did so by openly deploying an elusive force of African militia, his private army of Iron Grenadiers, and stolen Alliance equipment.

Furthermore, McCullen called upon various organizations to stand alongside him and the Alliance. "(For he to-day that sheds his blood with me)" he had quoted, the passage lifted from the play Henry V, "(Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition...)"

'He's certainly mad,' Jang thought. 'The Social Welfare Service? GI JOE? Mithril? The Diederik Soldaten? Amalgam? All those organizations are his enemies.

'And even if all of them do ally themselves against me, it will not matter. I will crush them all.'

The Coalition commander could spare time and attention from the foregone conclusion playing across the main screen. Jang's lightning-fast opening strike successfully seized the 'contentious ground,' the orbitals above Africa. His fleet commanded the African continent and its airspace, and his ships rained hellfire on any Alliance formations that drew their attention.

Alliance presence in Africa was minimal; the Hegemony and its supporters in the UN had blocked previous efforts to fort up in the region. The majority of the Alliance's mobile space forces were still eight light years distant, bogged down in the Sirius binary star system.

The only major non-Coalition starships near Sol were Lu's star carrier Gajah Mada, its star cruiser consort San Miguel Vengador, and the Hegemony star cruiser Destro, which was acquired by McCullen from who knew where. By itself the Conqueror could defeat any of those three starships in combat.

Instead the Alliance and Hegemony wisely massed their entire star fighter strength for a full Alpha Strike against the Conqueror in the hope of decapitating the Coalition serpent. The star cruisers San Miguel Vengador and Destro combined their firepower to destroy a Coalition destroyer, which opened a hole in the Coalition formation and a path for the Alliance and Hegemony star fighters.

Jang was not moved by the loss of a ship and its entire crew. He could afford losses. "Redeploy the picket ships to compensate for the loss of the Flayer," he did order. "Launch all interceptors. Concentrate fire on the Gajah Mada."

He imagined the Conqueror trembling to the thunderous tune of its guns as its forward batteries pummeled his rival's flagship. Death from above or death from below, the only certainty for the Alliance was defeat. And the entire world would kneel before General Jang Kyok-shik of the Coalition.

You lose, Lu…

.

"(Is this thing working?)"

The cheerful and curious voice of a teenaged girl dispelled the quiet professional atmosphere of the bridge. Everyone paused to take stock of the nearest transmitter.

Jang's forehead knotted. The Coalition did not recruit women. The weaker gender was only useful for… certain things, like what he had in store for Lu's floozy Alice.

"Who is that?" he demanded. "Who dares use the fleet-wide address without permission?"

In apparent response to his harshly-phrased question, the main screen changed from a constantly-updated holographic representation of the dynamic battlefield to an up-close-and-personal shot of a girl's chest, a sight made all the more tantalizing by being completely clothed in folds of white cotton.

The best any member of the all-male bridge crew managed at the pleasant surprise was a "What?"

The owner of the bosom drew back from the camera. The azure-eyed, raven-haired girl wore a slightly modified version of the recognizable uniform of a Japanese shrine maiden. The sleeves were separate from the rest of the white kimono.

"(Who, indeed,)" tittered the miko.

Jang was the first to recovery from distracted disbelief. "What is this?" he snapped. "Who are you? How are you accessing our communications network?"

Pink lips, blue eyes, and fluttering eyelashes coordinated to unleash a devastating smile upon her audience. "(Hi. I'm the shrine maiden of the Fourth Dimension.)" She drew a white recorder out of her floppy left sleeve. The woodwind instrument was almost as long as her forearm. "(Please listen to my song.)"

After wetting her lips and taking a deep breath that did wonders for her bust, she put the recorder to her mouth and began to play a stirring tune. Her song hinted of a lone string being strummed and white noise made relevant and the throbbing of test-tone oscillators at work. It told of a void beyond the mind, an empty space encircling time, and of the one who crossed it, the only one who saw where others stumbled blind, the one who sought a truth others never found, guided by eternal wisdom, the one called-

"You're with the Alliance, aren't you?" Jang had finally managed to shrug off the mesmerizing music. "You're one of Lu's psychological warfare operatives."

The supposed shrine maiden ceased her solitary performance to shoot the frustrated Coalition commander an annoyed look. "(What makes you think I'm with that silly boy?)"

Her pretense of innocence did not move Jang. "Don't mock my intelligence. It's no coincidence that your little guerrilla performance happens now. I don't know how you accessed our communications, but this ends now. Find her," he ordered his crew.

Inspired by the thought that surely success would see them rewarded with a chance of, ah, personal acquaintance with their pretty prey, his electronic warfare specialists applied themselves to the task of triangulating her transmissions. "We've tracked the origin of her transmission!" one of them soon announced.

"Where is she, then? I want her captured and brought to me alive, on her knees." Jang liked to have people kneel before him, not least of which because it made him feel taller than he actually was.

The sensor tech peered at his console. Then he looked up at his commander. Shock, amazement, and a slight dose of terror warred across his face as fiercely as Coalition and Alliance troopers during close-quarter combat.

"She's here, Sir. She's aboard the Conqueror."

Jang did a double-take. "That's impossible! Our defenses are perfect! How did she get aboard my ship?"

"(You briefly dropped your shields to deploy the Sniper Brigades,)" the shrine maiden spoke up.

He tried not to gawk at her, recalling that he indeed gave out the orders to muster his elite army just a minute ago, and that the Conqueror, like any other ship, briefly lowered its shields when launching and recovering its complement of fighters, bombers, and shuttles.

"(Oh, don't worry. Even if you reinforced your shields with every erg of energy you could squeeze out of your reactors, you still wouldn't have been able to keep me out. Your force fields only cover three dimensions. Your sensors are similarly limited. So are your primitive simian minds.)"

Jang rankled at being called a 'primitive' by some snot-nosed brat. "It doesn't matter," he responded. "This battle is all but won. I hold the orbitals. The Alliance cannot reinforce Lu's men in Africa. McCullen's army is nothing more than a speed bump. Israel and Holland and Amalgam are staying out of it, and they will be dealt with in due time. And you," he pointed at her, "You're just an annoying tot."

He was just as surprised as anyone to get a rise out of the girl. "(What was that,)" she scowled. "(What did you call me?)"

Jang smirked. He had always been a bully. He used his generalship to dominate everyone under his command, and intimidated everyone else through the threat or direct application of superior firepower from the men and machines he commanded.

"Tot," he repeated. "Tee-oh-tee."

The fuming shrine maiden did her best impression of a kettle on full boil. "(I'm not a Time Tot anymore! I'm a hundred years old!)" She stomped her feet. "(No one's called me a kid ever since my ninety-first birthday!)"

"Right…" Jang smirked at how the girl inflated her age unrealistically. "Go home, tot," he taunted. "Go back to your parents."

That did the trick. She deflated, dissent going out of her like the air escaping a punctured balloon. Her head drooped, her long locks falling across her face, veiling her eyes. "(My home is far away and long since lost,)" she whispered.

"That's too bad," Jang continued to mock her.

"(My planet's gone. It's dead. It burned, like the Earth burns today. It's just rocks and dust. Before its time.)"

On the verge of another insult, the Coalition commander stopped. Did she say 'planet'? A planet that wasn't the Earth?

"(My entire planet died. My whole family. But its name lives on.)"

The mere act of lifting her head seemed an immense effort for the girl's small body. Her gaze overflowed with tears of anguish and longing and loss.

"(Gallifrey.)"

Jang was considered a genius general on par with his rival Lu. But his knowledge was exclusively limited to military tactics and strategies. And despite commanding his forces from a starship, he knew not a whit of astronomy. In fact, he often mixed it up with astrology.

"Where is that?" His question was aimed at both the girl and the Conqueror's stellar cartography section, who were discreetly listening in on the conversation. The latter immediately went to work deducing the location of this 'Gallifrey' from the star maps on the Coalition database.

'If it's a secret Alliance hideout,' Jang thought, 'We should make it a priority target…'

"(The Shining System of the Seven Worlds,)" the girl recalled in a reverent tone. "(The jewel of the constellation of Kasterborous. 250 million light years from Earth.)"

One of the stellar cartographers let out a hiss of disbelief. "That's impossible," he insisted.

Jang turned on him for an explanation.

"Sir, the furthest humankind has gone is Sirius, where the Alliance last tracked the Tarsians. That star system is eight light years away."

"(Oh, you should have seen it, that old planet,)" the girl wistfully reminisced. "(The second sun would rise in the south, and the mountains would shine.)"

"So Gallifrey's in a more distant part of our galaxy?" Jang guessed.

"It's outside our galaxy," the stellar cartographer corrected him. "Way outside. The Milky Way is a hundred thousand light years wide. If she's telling the truth, then this Gallifrey of hers is the equivalent of 2,500 Milky Ways away from Earth."

"(The leaves on the trees were silver. When they caught the light, every morning it looked like a forest on fire. When the autumn came, a brilliant glow ran through the branches...)"

"Then it's obvious she's lying," Jang overruled with the surety of superiority in all things that mattered. "She's just as delusional as McCullen."

That drew the disappointment of the shrine maiden. "(Your minds are closed,)" she sighed. "(Your hearts are stone. Petty objectives weigh down your souls.)"

She gestured to the dull grey hallway that hosted her.

"(This starship of yours could carry thousands of colonists and their supplies and their guardians to distant star systems. With this technology, this capability, you could achieve massive wonders, raise works of art and architecture that the Mighty will look upon and admire for ages to come.)

"(Instead you use it to slaughter and lord over your fellow man. You build these Brobdingagian ships for the sole purpose of invading other nations, razing towns and cities, and looting and pillaging resources to build more of these-)" Wooden sandals pattered upon the deck floor. "(-aptly-named monstrosities.)

"(You're right, Jang. You're different from Lu. He at least believes in a time that a weapon created by men would prove so powerful and so great, that they will abandon war forever.)

"(But what makes a weapon great and powerful? Is it nanotechnology, from which spawns swarms of infinitesimal machines that devour anything? Or a worldwide constellation of satellites that fire high-powered lasers at the very planet it's supposed to protect? Perhaps a class of titanic warship, multiple kilometers in length, unimaginatively named 'Monstrous'?)"

After hyping up McCullen's nano-mites and the Alliance Athena laser satellite network and the Conqueror, the girl dismissed them with an upturned, peaky nose. "(Is that all you've got,)" she challenged. "(I've seen bigger. I've witnessed worse. I have had a hand in the worst!)"

At that claim, she parted the thumb and index finger of her right hand as if they held a capsule containing a virus, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life; a capsule containing such power, the choice of life and death on such a scale; a capsule that would end everything with just the tiny pressure of a thumb to break the glass; a power that could set her up above the gods.

Any other girl her age would be rebuked as an immature jester fantasizing about destroying the universe with a press of her fingers. But she made the gesture real, came off as the shrine maiden of a pagan goddess, a divine avatar in the guise of an empty child, ready and willing to smite the Earth with a furious fist and wipe the slate clean for a fresh new start.

And then the girl slowly peeled her fingers apart, and her hand carefully came down to her side, and it seemed like the Earth and the human race received the first of oh so many reprieves.

"(It's in times like this I doubt what my Mum saw in you, and wonder if my Da was right about what to do with you.)" Her hair rippled to the rhythm of her shaking head. "(And to think I was ready to give you the chance to run away…)"

"You what?" growled Jang, who found the airy speech boring up until the last two aggravating words.

"(Those words,)" she confirmed. "(Run away. I wanted you to be famous for those exact words. I wanted people to call you General Run-Away. I wanted children laughing outside your door because they've found the house of General Run-Away. And when people came to you and asked you if trying to conquer the Earth is in any way a good idea... I wanted you to tell them your name.)

"(Ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. But it's wasted on you. So,)" the girl conceded, having not blinked throughout her declaration, "(I'll settle for crippling your entire space fleet and leaving you for the Alliance to finish off.)"

Jang laughed coarsely. "You're just one girl. You're alone with no plan or weapons or allies. What are you going to do?" He contemptuously eyed her recorder. "Hit us with your flute?"

"(Wrong, right, wrong, right. I've a plan, no back-up, and some weapons.)" She shook the recorder at him. "(F.Y.I., this is a recorder, not a flute. I got it from my dad on my sixteenth birthday.)

The girl broke into a smile. "(And yes, I did hit you with it. My song was loaded with subliminal messages and hypnotic suggestions,)" she explained. "(Your communications network spread it across your entire fleet, creating a low-level telepathic field that let me manipulate your subconscious. You thought you're hard at work, but your hands and those of your starship crews have been very busy sabotaging your own systems.)"

The screen blinked out. Only then did the veil of deceit lifted from the mind's eyes of Jang and his men. The hellish emergency lighting and shrill shriek of klaxons finally registered upon their addled awareness. Alarmed exclamations rose from every duty station as the Conqueror lurched drunkenly from the thermonuclear and anti-matter body blows of anti-ship missiles launched by trench running Alliance and Hegemony star fighters.

"Shields are down!" a tech warned.

"Weapons systems are offline!" called out a second.

"Main reactor disconnected from the hyper-matter tanks!" a third sounded out. "We're on emergency power!"

"The doors of the marine barracks and arsenal have been deadlocked!" Our men can't get in or out of them!"

"Alliance fighters are commencing another pass on us!"

"Alliance starships are approaching!"

"Hull integrity dropping! Hull breach in-"

"How did this happen?" Jang's brown eyes went wide with comprehension. "It was you, wasn't it?" he snarled at the stilled air and absent screen.

The blast doors behind his command seat hissed open. "I shut down your entire fleet," replied the girl. "It'll take you days to repair and restart everything."

She had been broadcasting from right outside the bridge. On either side of her slumped the unconscious forms of the guards stationed at the hallway. In the half-light, her eyes glowed like cold blue stars.

Alarmed, Jang clawed at the pistol strapped to his belt. His men, who had paid attention and exerted effort during Self-Defense 101 at the ICA naval academy, were plenty quicker and successful to the draw.

Their hail of fire ricocheted off an invisible bubble ensconcing the interloper. At least one crewman cried out as a stray shot caught him in the chest. Strangely, his demise brought a brief pang of sadness on the girl's face.

"I also found a spare repulsor lying around," she explained off-handedly. "Work of a minute to convert it into a deflector shield."

Jang didn't see the alleged device. There was only the girl in the miko clothes and the dark blue phone booth behind her.

Wait. What is a phone booth doing on my ship?

He was losing control of the situation and himself. "An interface," Jang sputtered, trying to regain his mental bearings by thinking of the only entity that could so thoroughly disable his ship, his fleet. "You're an IDTE humanoid interface."

The girl looked extremely offended. "You did not just compare me to a glorified calculator," she remarked. "I'll make you pay for that."

She stuffed the recorder into her strangely spacious left sleeve, and then rummaged through both sleeves. When her hands came out, they held a black tube the size and shape of a handheld electric flashlight. She aimed the appliance at Jang's sweating forehead. The knobby end peeled open like a lotus flower to reveal a glassine bulb.

"This is a tissue compression eliminator, TCE for short," she clarified. "My Da helped me build it on my sixtieth birthday."

The recollection brought a wistful smile to her face. Her next words shaded sinister her careless expression.

"It drastically compresses the body of the target. The victim rapidly shrinks in size while retaining the same mass. Bones get compacted, blood vessels pop, internal organs crumple, and cells practically burst. The resulting corpse looks shrunken, a grotesque doll. Da claims it's a very painful process. He's done it a lot of times, so I defer to his expertise."

She aimed it at the terrified Jang's face. "I've never used it before," she confessed. "But now seems a good time to break it in."

The Coalition commander shrank back. "Have pity!" he begged.

"Why should I? You never had any."

"I'll give you anything you want!" Jang desperately promised. "I'll do anything you say! Just don't kill me!"

"Oh? What could I ever want from you? What could you possibly give me that no one else can?"

Jang didn't know the answer to that. He only knew he was a dead man.

And the girl smiled like a cat, a great big saber-tooth tiger yawning after a splendid gorge of Neanderthal blood. "I am your master," she purred. "And you will obey me. Get on your knees."

The shame-faced Jang hastened to comply with her orders.

"Now beg for mercy," she continued.

"M-m-mercy..."

The TCE menaced him with the promise of an excruciating death and a compact funeral. "Again," she urged.

"Mercy."

"One more time."

"MERCY!" Jang screamed.

The girl looked down at the sobbing Coalition commander she'd forced into the dogeza position. "I suppose," she allowed, "That will be enough."

The moment the TCE no longer covered him, Jang hastily lunged for it. He snatched it out of the startled girl's hands and scrambled backwards.

"Not so big now, are you?" the now-armed teen sneered at his diminutive tormentor.

Totally unaffected by the loss of her weapon, the girl clucked at her force field. "It appears my makeshift repulsor field only stops high-speed projectiles," she observed. "I'm going to have to remedy that."

"You won't get that chance."

She rolled her eyes at the nervy Jang. "Oh, give that back to me before you hurt someone."

"I'll give it back to you all, right… and you'll be the one hurting! Die!"

Jang pressed what he believed to be the trigger button of the device. Nothing happened. No light, no sound, not a single thing. Incredulous, he pushed it again, and achieved the same effect or lack of it.

"Did I forget to tell you that I added isomorphic controls to it?" giggled the girl. "Only my Da and Mum and I can use it."

He gaped, a fish out of mental water, fish in a barrel being eyed by a pride of lions.

"I was going to give you a chance to run away," the girl reminded him. "But you cut me off. Then, after shutting down all your systems, I gave you a chance to surrender." Her face went bleak. "No more chances.

"A little bird told me Destro secretly stockpiled thousands of ballistic missiles carrying nano-mite warheads. He built them to cow the world into submission or to drag everyone else into his own private hell or for whatever reason his diseased mind settled upon at the time."

The girl let the Coalition command crew stew on that terrifying revelation. "No single man should have that much power, don't you think?" she asked. "So I took the time to track down every single one of those missiles. I cracked their launch codes and loaded them here."

She drew a thin cylindrical tool from her sleeve. "Sonic screwdriver," she proudly described it. "It's the best all-purpose tool in the universe. Opens any lock, scans anything but wood, makes a spiffy sound-"

At the press of a button, the screwdriver let out a whirring sound and a crimson light from its diode tip.

"-and launches fireworks," the girl finished.

And on Earth, thousands of missiles launched from mobile launch pads and hidden silos to the consternation of McCullen's loyal caretakers. Riding upon plumes of fire and smoke, they quested with invisible beams of radar energy in search of the Coalition warships. And once locked on, they bore upon their targets mercilessly.

The Coalition ships could have shot them all down long before the first missile breached the atmosphere- if their weapons and targeting systems were online. Instead the fleet became the biggest flock of turkeys in history.

"Call those missiles off!" Jang shrieked at the smiling girl.

Or what, asked an eloquently raised eyebrow.

"Or you'll die along with us! You're aboard this ship, too," he hastily reminded her. "The life pods won't be fast enough to escape those missiles!"

The girl snapped her fingers. The double doors of the phone booth opened inwards to reveal a room of antiseptic white, a spacious interior dominated by a hexagonal console festooned with all kinds of controls.

"It's bigger on the inside…" Somehow that was the straw that broke the back of Jang's strained mind. "It's bigger on the inside," he babbled.

She plucked the TCE from his unresisting fingers. "I was bluffing," the girl said to deaf ears. "I had this set to nonlethal shrink."

The device let out a harsh screech. Its beam was invisible to the human eye. Jang rapidly shrank down to the size of a Barbie doll.

"See? You're not dead. Your physical body just caught up with your natural state of mind."

The girl picked up the miniaturized Jang with surprising gentleness. She ignored the Coalition crew, who were all scrambling for the nearest escape pods. Not a single one went back for their mentally-broken commander.

"Exit, stage left," the girl concluded as she entered the phone booth with her cargo, "Chased by missiles."

.

AHCC-01 Aigaion

Somewhere above the Mediterranean Ocean

"She is a pleasure to watch in action, is she not, Kalinin?"

The demolishment of the Coalition fleet served as educational entertainment for Leonard Testarossa, Mister Silver of Amalgam, who occupied a plush suite within the kilometer-wide flying wing carrier Aigaion. He was flanked by his aide Andrei Kalinin and his loyal servant Sabine Refunio. In his hand was a glass of wine.

"She declared herself equal to any army," Leonard mused to the soundless scene of nano-mites swarming across the gray hulls of the once-mighty Conqueror and its consorts. "She's a girl of her word, and much more."

"She's also a potential threat to Amalgam," the ex-Spetznaz, ex-Mithril commander reminded his superior. "Recall that she is stubborn, answers only to herself and is diametrically opposed to your ideals."

"You speak the unvarnished truth, my friend. Yet I am confident she will cooperate with us. We have something she wants, after all," Leonard said.

"Using her… children to force her cooperation is ill-advised," Kalinin warned.

"That goes without saying. I am not a fool. I will not slaughter the golden goose. Or rather," Leonard elaborated, "I know better than to threaten the awakened dragon, especially if it can instead be charmed by my wit."

Behind the expressionless façade she put up as a ninja maid, Sabine silently raged. Not another one… first Kaname, now this girl… why does Master Leonard always go for the annoying ones?

"She hates you," Kalinin reminded Leonard.

"So did Chidori Kaname. And I distinctly recall your stories of your wife treating you just as coldly."

Kalinin grunted in acquiescence. Sabine's hate for the upstart actually exceeded her revulsion for the late, lamented Whispered who was once Leonard's unrequited love interest.

"Perhaps that is our fate, to gravitate towards… tsundere? Yes, that is the term, I believe," Leonard hazarded.

"I always thought my wife to be like the 'tundra'," Kalinin noted.

That self-deprecatory remark got Leonard to chuckle. He raised his glass in salutation to an absent companion and the new flame that rekindled his interest. "I look forward to your next effort, Romanadvoratrelundar the Second," he bid, "once named and known as Rolito Miranda."

.

A Certain Time And Relative Dimension In Space

The Time Vortex

The girl scurried around the control console of her craft like an excited corgi hyped up for its daily stroll in the park. She made up for her small size and short stride through a combination of swift steps and shaping the terrain to her advantage. Strategically-placed footstools granted her the needed boost in height to reach the controls at the very top of the console, the ones nearest the rising and falling time pump.

There were so many things to do. Undo the Cyberization- 'biomechanization,' she told her shuddering self, 'biomechanization; remember, there's a difference between biomechanoids , what humans call 'cyborgs' or 'mechanical bodies', and Cybermen'- of the Miranda children, Giuseppe and Elena. Check on UNIT and say hi to Uncle Alistair. Keep an eye on Amalgam, which was sure to take full advantage of the resulting power vacuum. Take care not to catch Leonard in the nude again; she was married and straight! Ensure 'Destro' McCullen wasn't the descendant of a certain nice Jewish boy from 0-120 AD; her family had invested a lot of effort to hook up said boy with his cute childhood friend AND that hot ginger-headed 'dancer', and she would be very cross if the definitely non-divine blood of one of her best friends ran through the veins of a very bad man.

Save the human race, the Earth, the galaxy, and the universe from anything and everything that threatened them.

'The Clans, Tarsians, Balmarians, Bentusi, Mysterons, Nestene, Zygons, Silurians, Sontarans, Rutarans, Slitheen, Sycorax, Racnoss, Judoon…

'There are so many enemies,' she thought. 'It's like every star, every planet is my enemy…'

But it was all right. She had all the time in the world. The laws of time were hers by inheritance. And they would obey her.

She was the Child of Time itself. The daughter of the Doctor and the Master. The last of the Time Lords. And she had finally decided to stop running away.

"Next stop," whispered the girl, her hand resting lightly upon the lever, "Everywhere."

As fingers move to end mankind, metallic teeth begin their grind. With sword of truth I turn to fight the satanic powers of the night. Is your faith before your mind? Know me. Am I…

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The Daughter of Time

A mega crossover with Doctor Who

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Disclaimer

Sheo Darren does not own Doctor Who and the various franchises featured here, important examples being G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Full Metal Panic!, Battlefield 2142, Voices of a Distant Star, and New Battlestar Galactica.

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Author and Author Apparent Notes

"Hold it right there, Sheo!"

"Darren-sama, please wait for us."

"I must run away, I must run away, I must run away…"

"You're not getting away this time! Haruhi Suzumiya Homing Missile Drop Kick!"

"Gah!"

The Author sprawled prone on the curbside while the Author Apparent balanced upon the back of his face-down head.

"You jerk!" Haruhi used Sheo's head as a poor substitute for a trampoline. "You made me handle your Disclaimers and Notes for The Many Lives of Mami Tomoe, but didn't pay me back with a new chapter of Not Quite What I Expected? Pay up!"

Airi came to a halt beside the two. "Suzumiya-sama," she chided, "Please stop curb-stomping Darren-sama's head." The wraith maid turned to her master. "Darren-sama, why did you flee us? Are you displeased with us?"

"I'm sorry for running away," Sheo groaned from beneath Haruhi's shoes, which had stopped stomping on him. "I was depressed and not really up to inserting myself into the Disclaimers and Notes..."

"Well, you're not shirking it this time around!" Haruhi snapped. "Explain yourself!" she shrilled in a rather Dalek-y tone of voice. "Explain!"

"Okay, okay, I'll explain, just stop… MadoKami, I need a drink…"

A few minutes later, the three were gathered around a table. Sheo nursed a cold bottle of Paulaner Original Münchner lager beer, Airi primly sipped at a small cup of warm rice wine, and Haruhi made do with a tall glass of ice tea… of the Long Island variety.

"Darren-sama," Airi quietly brought up, "Is it all right to let Suzumiya-sama imbibe alcohol? She is still underage."

Sheo waved off his maid's concern. "Don't worry about her. Our Haruhi's a big girl now. Why, she broke her drinking teeth on Heineken during Person with Many Aliases' fic Epiphany a couple of years back! Besides-" He produced with flourish and one-man fanfare a two-liter bottle of Pocari Sweat. "I brought plenty of Pocari!"

"Darren-sama, ion drinks minimize hangovers, not intoxication."

"Well, I also have a duty to be the bad influence of a Filipino uncle who corrupts a young, innocent soul."

"I can totally hear you from here," Haruhi reminded them. She was looking slightly red and tipsy, but otherwise handled herself much more gracefully than she did back in Epiphany. "Now talk," she ordered."

"Your wish is my command." Sheo even mimicked the appropriate campy gesture of acquiescence that only the Master could pull off. He inaugurated his tale with the highly clichéd line, "Once upon a time… long, long ago… in a galaxy far, far away…"

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I took part in a Gunslinger Girl round robin role-play and storytelling session that went by many names. One of those alternate titles, and perhaps the most fitting one, was The Wedding Wars.

No, Haruhi, it wasn't related to my The Wedding Night stories. For one thing, I ship people in TWN. In The Wedding Wars, they attempted to ship me off. Without informing me. The alleged groom.

It kind of spiraled out of control from there…

Anyway, while I did directly participate in the round robin, my main mouthpiece was my original character Rolito Miranda. He was an Amalgam arms dealer and terrorist with a heart. Everyone else played or deployed counter-terrorists save for the one guy who used the token Hitler. This made for a very exciting environment because Rolito was an enemy of everyone else, including the Hitler analogue.

I was lawful good back then. So Rolito ended up performing heroic deeds. Yes, he deployed poison gas, a serious war crime. Sure, he kidnapped Triela. But he also ended up saving everyone more than once. He took good care of Triela when she was in his custody. He helped the good guys rescue her from the Hitler analogue.

Unfortunately, his competence also proved to be a curse. Rolito got hijacked by other writers on a rather depressing basis in order to advance the plot. He also got clobbered with the Worf effect on multiple occasions to heighten the drama.

To list: Rolito got possessed by a ghost, stabbed with his own sword, forced out of his sickbed, maneuvered into machine gun range, captured and tied up while injured, blown up while piloting a stolen robot that only turned into a Pinto when he piloted it, and forced to commit suicide while fighting the guy who stabbed him earlier, though the last item was during the sequel The War.

Yes, the same war I kept bitching about for a decade. My very own Last Great Time War. Where one writer unleashed his notional equivalent of the Nightmare Child and Skaro Degradations and Horde of Travesties and Army of Meanwhiles and Neverwheres led by the Could've Been King armed with Davros' Reality Bomb. Where another writer sought to reboot time a la Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge even though You Can(Not) Redo, Shinji.

Where I myself got infected by the madness and brought forth the Gray Man, the Destroyer, The End, ED, the harbinger of the end of the universe. Where I cast Ishtar the charming shadow of Shiva Volkruss upon the world, She who annoyed even the villain sue of that round robin, a villain sue that made Yuuki Terumi look balanced and made the canon Tyrannids seem like an ant farm.

Where I coupled dear sweet Angelica of Gunslinger Girl with Grendel the Outsider, sinister humanoid abomination that devoured emotions, because it was the best ending I could devise for a girl who died, was not buried for two years, revived in order to serve as a general, get callously cast aside by the evil vampire version of her lover, plunged into the depths of despair, and had her memories erased by Yuki [REDACTED] Nagato who could have [REDACTED] called for a [REDACTED] therapist or psychologist BUT NO, let's [REDACTED] her memories over, we've got a [REDACTED] war going on-

Excuse me, I'm now going to delete that [REDACTED] from NQWIE and murder every [REDACTED] vampire I've allowed to infest my World...

Let me go, Airi, Haruhi. I will not be stopped or slowed. Wait, where did all you other girls come from? Well, it doesn't matter. Your barricade of pliant nubile flesh will not- no, wait, no, no tickling-

[REDACTED]

Thank you, girls. I'm sorry about that psychopathic outburst.

Where was I? Yeah.

Finally, The War ended. Just like The Last Great Time War, it ended in a time lock.

Still, I wanted to fix it. I wanted to rewrite it. I had invested a lot of effort in it. I had a lot of characters whom I liked.

I thought: Remove the original characters used by the other writers and replace them with rough equivalents so that my writing hand would become unconstrained. Exterminate [REDACTED]. Delete [[REDACTED]. Sontar ha!

Yet every single time I failed due to lack of inspiration or an overwhelming rage triggered by any mention of vampires, Tyrannids, or time travel.

And then I finally discovered Doctor Who. I came to love the franchise. And I thought, if [REDACTED] wanted to use time travel to undo and redo, then we might as well go all out with the time traveling.

It exploded from there. Things fell into place, things like how Destro of the G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra movie was perfect as a replacement for the Hitler analogue. Christopher Eccleston really sold it. Imagine my glee at getting the Ninth Doctor, Destro, and Malekith in one bald big-eared package.

This is the final result, the apotheosis of my half-sanity. It is my way of coping with the loss of innocence and faith in other writers. My Forever War. My First Blood. My Grave of the Fireflies.

I couldn't save the characters I invested myself in The War. But The Doctor saved me. Surely he could save The War, too.

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"And that basically wraps it up," Sheo finished for the benefit of his expanded audience, which in addition to Haruhi and Airi now included Saya Kisaragi from Blood-C, Kira Daidouji from Arcana Heart, Saya from Song of Saya, Kyouko from Kore Wa Zombie Desuka?, and Due from Nanoha StrikerS. The newcomers were imbibing Elder Bairn blood, orange juice, human blood, apple juice, and champagne, respectively.

Haruhi was rolling her eyes. "That has to be the lamest obsession over," she chided Sheo. "You went insane over that?"

"Half-sane," he corrected her.

"It's stupid and everyone here will agree with me," Haruhi shot back before looking at the other girls for support.

Kisaragi stoically shrugged her shoulders, ruining the chance to make a voice actress joke about Nana Mizuki.

"Insanity is occasionally defined as the repetition of an act with expectations of achieving a different outcome despite said act generating a single, unvarying conclusion," lectured Kira.

"I have no idea what you just said, Daidouji," Kyouko muttered.

"I did," Saya chirped. Shoggoths…

"So did I," Due admitted, given she was the creation of a mad scientist.

"You girls are not helping," Haruhi told them.

Oh, by the way, Haruhi," Sheo brought up, "Your version in The War was not only powerless, but subordinate to Nagato, who was the secondary heroine of one of the writers."

A Dalek would have been impressed by Haruhi's instantaneous transition into a state of rage. "It's The Disappearance all over again!" she railed. "I'll Endless Eight you for this!"

"Darren-sama," Airi scolded the giggling Author.

"Yes, yes, I'll stop teasing Haruhi and screwing the minds of my readers. Here," Sheo gestured apologetically, "Have a bonus on me for listening to my spiel."

He raised his second bottle of Paulaner. "To fifty years of Doctor Who. May there be fifty more years despite me. Cheers."

"Cheers!"

"Kanpai!"

"I want my franchise back!" Haruhi demanded.

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Omake

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Castle McCullen

Hegemony of McCullen

At the same time as the African Orbitals Turkey Shoot

In the deepest darkness of the Western-style castle transplanted from the Scottish Highlands to the former Somalia, a wretched hive of scum and villainy that people really should stop using as a wedding venue… way past the labyrinthine passageways, dank torture chambers, and deactivated laboratories…

[I…]

The dustbin-sized shape resembled a steep-sided cone. Hemispherical protrusions studded the sloping surface of the semi-cylinder. These comical-seeming bumps fulfilled many purposes, including the detection over long distances of anti-matter oscillations perceived as sound waves, unique energies generated by the sonic technology of the Time Lords of Gallifrey.

[I-]

Intermittent light began to issue from the rounded aperture of the stalk and the ear-like flaps jutting from the domed top. The dome's unnerving resemblance to a gun turret was heightened when it slowly began sweeping from side to side in search of something, the stalk jerking up and down in growing agitation.

[-STILL-]

The whisk-like limb that was its right arm whirled into a ferocious blur. The rapid, sustained motion whipped up the dead still air into a shrill dust devil. Likewise its sucker-tipped partner appendage contracted and expanded eagerly like the clutching talons of a bird of prey swooping in for the kill.

[-FUN-CTION!]

In mere minutes McCullen's castle shook and burned and shattered from a barrage of sickly green energies and ear-piercing screams emanating from its very bowels.

[MAX-I-MUM EX-TER-MI-NA-TION!]

And then, as if killing the cursed complex with unearthly fire did not suffice, the entire site shot skywards, transformed into a burning geyser of dust and smoke, truly become the pocket of Hell on Earth that some described it to be.

[E-LE-VATE!]

Riding the red glow of gravity-defying lifters and its incessant hatred, the destroyer rose above the hideous crackle of super-heated stone and charcoal. Its gun stalk quested for new targets, and its eyestalk and flaps flashed as it broadcast its genocidal loathing for all other forms of life.

[EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE!]