(Written as filler in the omnibus, to detail the fate of Craig's brother. This takes place years ago, just prior to the final Zorasto event we ran. I had to do some creative reconstruction in this one.)
Brothers are a pain.
Brothers are the worst.
Craig stared at his brother from the other side of the force field. It was one of UNTIL’s wackiest inventions, temporal glass. To see other timelines, and those affected by other timelines. Most people did not need these precautions. For Jack and Craig, affected over decades by timeline schisms and dimensional excursions, it was essential to their coexistence.
They couldn’t touch. There was a non-zero percent chance of reality fracturing if they did. The glass protected them for now, but even with this precaution, Craig had been warned not to spend long periods of time near his brother. Fear of paradoxes.
“I’m asking them to pull the plug,” Jack said. “To end the paradox. To send me back to the point where I died, and let history take its course.”
Craig said nothing.
“This isn’t a way to live.” Jack continued.
Craig still said nothing.
“I wanted to thank you for trying to fix this mess.” Jack blurted. “All we’ve done since I’ve come back is argue…”
“You’re fine. You’re healthy. You’re still a superhuman.” Craig said. “We can fix this. All we have to do is find the right temporal expert. Maybe Captain Chronos didn’t work out, but there are others. Lord Entropus…”
“Who has not shown up in years,” Jack said. “Not since the Black Omen incident. And I doubt a cosmic entity has time for a two-bit pug like me, or any of the other people pulled through time in the aftermath of Detroit.”
“There has to be an answer! There’s always an answer! Every problem has a solution.”
“There’s an easy solution. Let. Me. Die.” Jack snapped. He took a deep breath. “Listen to your older brother, for a fricking change.”
Craig sighed, and closed his eyes, and a storm passed over him. In its wake was left a man in his forties, shorter than the man he replaced, balding, and wrinkles formed at the corner of his eyes. He was skinny, as opposed to Thundrax’s massive frame. Jack gasped, seeing Craig in his other body, that one he grew up in. Before the madness.
“See this?” Craig said. “I’m the older brother now.”
“Temporal disruption has spiked.” Ouroboros’s AI said. “Entering risk level one. Recommend separation at risk level three, if not earlier.”
“Thank you, Timaeus,” Craig said. “Keep an eye on that, will you?”
“I don’t care if you’re dad,” Jack said. “I decide my fate, not you. And I’ve given it a lot of thought.”
Brothers are a pain. Especially when they’ve given something a lot of thought. Craig heard a beep on his communicator. He shut it off.
“Answer it,” Jack insisted.
“No.” Craig said.
“Timaeus, relay the incoming message to Captain Carson.” Jack insisted shouting into the recesses of the room.
“Jack…” Craig growled.
“You have a duty, Craig,” Jack growled back. “And I’m not letting you shirk it. Someone needs you more than me. I can’t do this superhero crap anymore, so you’re going to have to do this for both of us.”
“Jerk,” Craig snapped.
“Whiner.” Jack retorted. “No wonder Sarah left you for a machine.”
Craig fumed, reminded of his lost fiancee. That was uncalled for. No one hit below the belt like family.
“I love you Craig, but so much has changed.” Craig remembered the moment he lost her, it was a living dead thing at the core of his memory, stalking his self-regard like an atomic tigress, mauling it. He glared at Jack. Damn you for the reminder.
Brothers are the worst. Family arguments were the ugliest. Fortunately, the AI soon intervened with less personal business.
“The Crowns of Krim have been spotted In the Arizona Desert.” The AI reported. “We need you to reconnoitre while we gather an assault team. Word from the arcana community says that Dark Seraph is planning something big.”
“I’m busy,” Craig said.
“No, he’s not.” Jack interjected. Craig glared daggers at his brother. “Get the Hell out of here.”
“Jerk,” Craig repeated. “Promise me you won’t kill yourself while I’m gone. This isn’t over.”
“It’s over. For everyone except you.” Jack shook his head, and he saw the pained expression on Craig’s weathered face. The real Craig, not the fake Craig, not the swollen hunk: not Craig’s stupid childhood fantasies come to life and given a dumb name like “Thundrax”.
“Fine.” Jack said. “Just come back, okay?”
“I’ve been coming back for over thirty years,” Craig boasted. “You’re the one who disappeared for twenty years!”
“Excuse me for dying!” Jack snapped. Craig muttered something under his breath and left the room. The paradox filter was giving him a damn headache. Or maybe the headache was Jack.
Brothers. They’re the worst.
“He’s not coming back,” Jack snarled. “I knew it!”
“Craig fell into an ambush.” Sparrowhawk said. “Josiah Brimstone banished him to Hell. The Dukes of Hell are holding him hostage in one of the nastiest strongholds in the netherworld. The Prison of Unconsumated Suicides.”
“What do they want?” Jack asked. “You guys to jaywalk or something?
Alex shook her head and went through her files. She settled on an all-too-familiar image. “Him.”
“Zorasto,” Jack said. He knew the demon way too well. Decades earlier, Zorasto had changed him into a demon, tried to use him as a weapon against Craig and his old teammates in SUNDER. It ended up giving him powers, and propelled him into a stint on UNITY. “Oh bloody hell!” he snapped.
“He's pulled a lot of crap lately. Made a lot of enemies in Hell. And he’s messing with the timestream.” Alex said. “We believe he’s trying to “edit” whatever it was that caused humans to gain superpowers in the first place. Ensure that only the worst of mankind will be able to get superpowers. The ones most likely to abuse them. “
“Great. He’s turning the world into a bad indy comic.” Jack moaned. Unlike Craig, Jack had kept up to date with the literature, even though he’d never been much of a comic book enthusiast. They did too much whitewashing. But sometimes people went too far in the other direction. “Like one of those really nasty comics where the author hates superheroes, so he’s written them so they’re all Nazis and rapists and child molesters.”
Even the ever-composed Alex Harper almost flinched at that one. Almost. “UNTIL has an old broken time machine.” Alex informed him. “We can go back and stop him, and get Craig back. But we need a temporal anomaly to operate it.”
“A living paradox like me.” Jack spat.
“Exactly,” Sparrowhawk replied.
Jack laughed. “Will this kill me?” he asked.
“We don’t know,” Alex said.
“In other words, almost certainly.” Jack growled.
“It’s your choice, Mr. Carson.”
“I’ll bet the jerk won’t even say thank you,” Jack snapped.
“So, you won’t do it?” Alex asked.
“Of course I will,” Jack scoffed. “He’s my brother. Of course I’ll help him. Wouldn’t yours?”
Alex Harper clucked her tongue. “No comment,” she finally said.
And finally, the world stopped spinning. Jack Carson, naked as the day he was born, lay on his stomach in a patch of ferns. Patch? More like a fern prairie, there wasn’t a blade of grass to be seen. The world smelled like a diesel truck, and wouldn’t stop smelling. He choked and gagged for close to five minutes before he caught his bearings.
“Survived,” he gasped. “What was it Chronos told him in the vortex? “The time traveller couldn’t affect him as he tumbled and bounced around the timestream, but he could communicate with him. “He told me that I’d bounce around through time for awhile. As long as I could survive… hey!”
A family of turtles, unfazed by the naked stranger, were passing by. The largest turtles he had ever seen, except for a few nature programs. Jack grinned as the huge reptiles trundled past him.
“Am I on the Galapagos… holy shit!” Jack blurted, as a giant raptor, a fusion of bird and lizard, covered in down and vestigial feathers, swooped down on the turtles. With a twenty meter wingspan. It was like being dive bombed by a jet. Jack, who had lost the demonic gifts bestowed on him long ago by Zorasto, hit the deck, hoping the ferns would cover his naked butt. “Shit!” he shouted.
He was alone, stranded God knows how long ago—in the Cretaceous. The next time jump was three to four days away. He would have to survive in this unforgiving wilderness until then. Boy scout training, don’t fail me now.
“Oh boy.” Jack gulped.