As fathers go, Arconus ("Archie") Arkright V was quite convinced that his was by far the best, the greatest, the bee's ever-lovin' knees: patient ("Please forgive my idiot son."), generous ("What idiot thing am I paying for now?") and unsparing in his affection and praise ("Well done, idiot!"). While it's true they were not linked by blood and it was only by the most bizarre twist of happenstance that Arconus Arkright IV was essentially forced to adopt and raise an unnamed waif (a very long story, but be assured that nothing other than the promise of averting a catastrophe of cosmic proportions could have made Arkright the elder adopt a child), no one had a hint of a ghost of a chance of persuading Archie Arkright that his father wasn't the most gallant and noble creature to ever walk the Earth... and beyond. However, it was that "beyond" part that was the cause of his current difficulties and what inspired young Archie to petition the powers that be within the Temporal League to transport him from the 1920s city known as "Metropolis Zero" to 19th century New Babbage so people could shout at him on top of a city hall clock tower.
"ARCHIE, I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS!" shouted Audrey Kilcannon. "Robots are climbing the tower, Ravilans are attacking, I have to set up this heat ray device..."
"Actually," said Archie, "there's just the one robot, the Ravilan airships aren't even on the horizon yet and your heat ray whatsit looks as if it's charging up quite nicely all on its own. Sure you can't spare half a mo'?"
"She can't," said Lady Gwendolyn. "Aud, the wall-crawling robot had a passenger. And he is ferociously keen on having a word with us."
"At the very least!!" said an officious little man in a very aggressive manner. "None of you are authorized to be up here! Are you responsible for silencing the bell? Two hours! No one's heard the City Hall clock chime for over TWO HOURS!!"
”It is rather loud," said Audrey. "We'd have gone deaf up here if we'd let that thing go off."
"You're not supposed to be up here!" the official stated angrily.
"I assure you, sir, it's entirely in the city's best interest. Allow me to explain while my friends continue their vitally important work..." Gwen directed the official back toward his steam-powered wall-crawler.
"It's less windy up here than I imagined," noted Archie as his eyes went from the very big hands of the very big clock face all the way up to the very big statue at the very top of the tower. "You know, I figured it must be a bank holiday. Shouldn't this building be full of office ciphers working away on municipal business? I'm surprised no one from the city's been up here before now. So, about that sticky sitch in Met Zero..."
Audrey brandished her screwdriver in a slightly menacing fashion as she prepared to realign the heat ray lenses. "Archie, tell me what's wrong in five words or I'll push you off this clock tower."
The young man thought for a moment. "A Super-powered alien wrecked your house. That's far too many words, isn't it? Wait, do hyphenates count as one word or two?"
Audrey's mild annoyance became barely-quelled fury. "Would you mind repeating that?"
Archie didn't get the chance. Lady Gwendolyn tapped Audrey on the shoulder. "The official is an imposter. His eyes have gone red and he's sprouted fangs. Apparently, Marrow left him in town in case we showed up and he may be a vampire. Thoughts?"
"A vampire," said the momentarily distracted Audrey. She spoke over Gwen's shoulder to the fake city worker, "How are you out in the day time?"
"Alchemy," snarled the hench-monster.
"Of course. I suppose I should have guessed that." Audrey lifted the heavy heat ray off of its stand, pointed it at the creature of the night-and-early-afternoon and vaporized its upper body. What was left fell off the conveniently wide clock tower ledge.
"Very efficient," said Lady Gwendolyn, "but now the ray has been discharged. How long will it take for the power to build up again if we have to incinerate the Ravilans?"
"A few hours, I'm afraid," said Audrey. "Any ideas on how to speed that up?"
"Maybe there's some kind of electrical subsystem in the wall-crawler." Gwen reached into their tool bag and pulled out several items. "Let me check and see if there's something we can adapt."
Audrey placed the heat ray back on its mount. She then reached into the tool bag and retrieved a pair of binoculars. "Still no Ravilans," she said as she looked in the direction of the port and the Vernian Sea. "While her ladyship is poking the automaton, why don't you tell me how my house was destroyed."
"It wasn't destroyed," said Archie. "There was just a wall knocked out. A couple of walls. Four walls."
"I was just sitting there, waiting for you to return, chatting up your housekeeper..."
"Who hates you."
"She loves me, she just doesn't know it yet. But anyway, I'm having tea in your garden when this... character comes flying in on rocket boots. Turns out he's Cardinal Voldek-Kon, Blessed and Anointed Holy Eliminator of the Tesslock Order. Basically he's a hired assassin from another planet armed to the fangs with loads of impressively lethal technology. Now, here's where things get confusing: Apparently, the Cardinal is working with someone on Earth who gave him an address to go to in order to collect the head of an Arkright. Whoever it was must have checked real estate records and given the alien your address without realizing my father just owns the property and doesn't actually live there... not to mention the fact that the record was for Arkright IV not me, the prospective victim. It was just pure coincidence that I happened to be there."
"Why is someone trying to collect your head?" asked Audrey. "This time."
Archie didn't have a chance to answer; out of nowhere a metal tentacle came swinging toward Audrey. Possessed of admirable reflexes, Archie was able to quickly pull the lady out of the way. The robotic arm struck the clock face chipping the "VII" slightly.
"Audrey, could you give us a hand?" said Lady Gwendolyn who was trying as best she could to avoid the flailing metal limbs of an automaton temper tantrum. "Apparently, these maintenance robot things don't like being tampered with!"
Archie and Audrey managed to deftly dodge a scattershot volley of gunfire before once again ducking to avoid another thrashing mechanical limb. Archie looked at the machine with an air of profound incredulity. "Why on Earth is a maintenance automaton armed with deadly iron claws and a Gatling gun?"
Audrey sighed and simply said, "Babbage." She looked the beastly mechanism up and down and noticed that its violent motions were causing its grip to slowly slip. "Just give it a minute, Gwen. It'll fall off. Be patient."
"'Patient'? Are you mad?!? A minute from now and I could be..." The ill-tempered gadget came loose from the side of the tower and plummeted to the ground. Gwendolyn hoped they could finish their work and be gone before a genuine city official came 'round to harass them about paying for it.
"Ravilans are coming," said Audrey as she once again looked toward the sea with her binoculars. "I can see their airships on the horizon. I don't see Jing, though. Any chance we can try to contact her?"
"The communicator was in the tool bag," said Gwendolyn, "and since I just saw it getting knocked off the ledge by a spasming robot, I'm guessing it's some 200 feet below us in several thousand pieces."
The only reply Audrey could manage was, "Oh."
"Even if the robot had anything useful inside of it to charge the heat ray, it's now twisted bits of metal all over the sidewalk... but I'm betting with the equipment we have left we could adapt a reality enforcement device to serve as a supplementary power supply."
"You know where to find one?" asked Audrey.
"I used it to jam the bell ringing mechanism in the clock. Be right back." Lady Gwendolyn carefully made her way around a disobligingly placed bit of architecture and disappeared around a corner. Audrey began anxiously scanning the horizon with her binoculars. The Ravilans were coming closer and there was still no sign of Dr. Qian (of whose adventures in Ravila Audrey was completely unaware).
"So, where were we?" said Archie. "That's right, you wanted to know why that dashed alien is after my head. Turns out it's because of my father, oddly enough. Something that happened during that period when he was off-world, larking about in time and space with Mr. Caythun."
"The Temporal League monitors still can't locate him during this period," said Audrey. "Just the sort of glitch in the fabric of space-time that makes them universally nervous."
"Exactly. Well, apparently, at some point while he was traveling, he became ruler of a star system."
Audrey turned from her sea-gazing long enough to give Archie yet another shocked look. "You're joking."
Archie had taken a moment for some sky-gazing. "Aren't we lucky it's not raining? What a spiffing day to be up here!"
"Archie, focus! Your father was in his teens when he was travelling. Are you telling me someone put a teenager in charge of an entire star system?"
"This is what Cardinal Voldek-Kon said while he was chasing me through a department store trying to remove my head with some kind of funny-looking battle axe. About 600 years in the past by our reckoning, father was crowned 'His Majestic Brilliance, Lord High Regent of the Seven Shining Realms of the Orzedice Imperium.' Aliens seem to love their lengthy titles, don't they? But father's new title came with a truly hefty interplanetary royal bank account... which is the real crux of the problem.
"You see, even though he never re-visited any of the worlds of the Orzedice Imperium, he most definitely made frequent visits to the various branches of the Transgalactic Interbank Exchange. There are records of him making sizable withdrawals here-and-there over the last few centuries and the officers of the Imperium have apparently had enough. There are some funny rules in place, so they can't officially boot old dad off the throne, but they wanted to make very sure none of his heirs could inherit the title which would allow the imperial parliament to install a new, more thrifty monarch... one who might actually live there. The thing is, I don't think they ever knew father was a time traveler -- just that he was extremely negligent -- so by the time they called in the professional assassins, I think they assumed he was dead and they only had to worry about his descendants dipping into the till. I might be getting some of the details wrong here, but the heart of the matter is a crazed professional killer is now tearing about Metropolis Zero looking to kill the next in line to be the Lord High Regent of the Seven Shining Realms."
"And he's not looking for your father because he thinks he must be dead after such a long time," said Audrey. "And Mr. Arkright probably can't help you because he doesn't even remember any of it."
"Nearly all of his memories of his time travels... wiped out. It's very inconvenient. But it's why I convinced your bosses to send me here. I thought if I could talk to him between the time he returned and the time he lost his memories, perhaps he could help me figure out something to tell the kill crazy alien. But when I got here, I couldn't find him, just you and her ladyship dressed like old fashioned plumbers on top of Babbage City Hall."
"No comments on the clothes from you, thanks," said Audrey. "Coco Chanel is just out of diapers and Pierre Cardin hasn't been born yet. Fashion options for this era are rather limited."
Instead of a continuation of Archie's lengthy exposition, there was the unexpected detonation of a smoke bomb. Audrey stumbled backward against the giant clock face while Archie found himself set upon by an unreasonably strong, gray-haired gentleman with a beard who growled like something furry and fierce that was about to bite and claw someone into a great deal of pain.
When the smoke cleared, Audrey was able to see the cause of this latest distraction. "Mr. Marrow?"
"IGNORANT PEASANTS!" shouted the attacker. "UNWORTHY USURPERS!! You'll not stop the grand plan!! It's beyond your stupid little brains to even conceive..." at that point Audrey struck him in the head with a wrench. A more accommodating villain would have fallen down unconscious, but this one remained obstinately, rudely upright.
"Audrey," cried Gwendolyn, "what's the recharge level on the heat ray?" She seemed oblivious to the demented villain who, having heard the voice of a fresh, new victim to torment, had turned and was stalking toward her.
"It's only at 23 percent," replied Audrey after checking the weapon's instrument panel. With the Ravilans closing in, it seemed frivolous and unwise to expend another thermic discharge on just one deranged alchemist. Audrey raised her binoculars. "They're close... but so is Jing's flyer! I see it! Doesn't seem to be spreading any curative mist, though."
"Enough of your futile gestures, harlot," Mr. Marrow said to Lady Gwendolyn. "You've failed! FAILED! THIS CITY BELONGS TO THE GREAT VEHEMENT MARROW!!"
Gwen was having none of it. Two spin kicks and a roundhouse right later, Mr. Marrow was greatly occupied by his vigorous efforts to not let go of the ledge from which he was dangling.
"What is he even doing here?" asked Gwen. "Shouldn't Marrow be leading his airship fleet?"
"I'm a bit more worried about that heat ray not charging fast enough," said Audrey. "Did you get the device?"
"I have it right here. Let's wire it in and see what happens."
Audrey handed her binoculars to Archie. "Don't take your eyes off the fleet... tell us what's happening."
"Well," said Archie, "I see some sort of bonkers flying gyroscope thing buzzing around some airships..."
"That's Dr. Qian's flyer," said Audrey as she removed the cover of the heat ray, exposing its internal workings. "What's she doing?"
"I'm seeing more than one person in the flyer," Archie answered. "It's hovering over the lead airship and they've lowered a rope, two people are climbing down... wait... is Dr. Qian a nun?" Audrey shook her head. "Oh... well then I guess she's recruited some assistants. There's another nun piloting the flyer. A flying nun... whoever heard of such a thing?
"Hold on... I've lost sight of her... them. Oh, there's the doctor and the nun. They gone down through the gasbag and now they're on the bridge of the aircraft with... Mr. Marrow?!? How is that..?"
The used-to-be-dangling-off-the-clock-tower Mr. Marrow was undergoing some startling transformations: his gray hair, beard and wrinkles were changing to no hair, short scruff and middle-aged creases. His right arm was changing from a right arm into a 20 foot long, pythonesque appendage that reached out and grabbed Audrey's League-issue, tech-enhanced pair of binoculars. Unfortunately, the binocular's very low tech leather strap had been around Archie's neck and he was violently yanked backwards causing him to fall trippingly off the clock tower ledge and pull the shape-changing henchman along with him.
Audrey slammed the access panel back on top of the heat ray and shouted, "ARCHIE, FLY!"
Archie was surprised and pleased to discover his ability to levitate had unexpectedly been restored. The shape-changer, after involuntarily releasing his hold on the binoculars, was denied the pleasure of making a similar discovery. Lacking the ability to levitate, the alchemist's hired goon soon joined the smashed maintenance automaton and the charred half-a-vampire. "I'm sure he'll be fine," thought Archie. "Don't shape-shifters bounce?"
As he floated back up and alighted on the ledge, he found Audrey looking very smug and Gwen looking very impressed. "You were right, Audrey. Reality enforcer emissions are like Fherrily radiation, but now the discharges are being redirected by the polarizing bosonite coils in the heat ray's main inductor so Archie's flying trick works again. Well done, you!"
"You're too kind, my dear," said Audrey, her words positively packed with false modesty. "What's happening with the Ravilans? Are they stopping?"
Archie looked through the binoculars. "No... but the bridge of the lead airship certainly has some nice, big windows. I can see a nun holding a bunch of men at bay with a machete and Dr. Qian confronting Marrow. She's got hold of... is that a megaphone? Marrow definitely looks like he's lost the upper hand. I think your friend is about to kick him in the Ooooo she does not like him!"
"Hey, Archie," said Lady Gwendolyn, "could you get that?"
The young man was momentarily confused, but then noticed the large, loud flying craft hovering a hundred feet away, piloted by a nun. When she saw she had the group's attention, Sister Sade leaned out of the cab of the aircraft and tossed over a small cylinder which Archie flew off the ledge to catch. The nun smiled a sinful smile, winked a wicked wink, and then she was off, speeding away to rejoin the airship fleet.
"Did you see her? Even in that holy getup, she's a bit of a hotsy-totsy!" said Archie, returning with the tube. "Are those Church of the Builder nuns the kind that can go out on dates?"
Refusing to acknowledge his idiotic remarks, Audrey snatched the cylinder out of his hand and removed the note it held. "It's from Jing," she said. "Slight change of plans. Instead of releasing the Ravilans from their mesmerized state, she's getting control over them using Marrow's special megaphone. She's going to order them to turn the airships around and dump the weapons in the Vernian on their way back. She'll neutralize Mr. Marrow's mind control chemicals after they've landed in Ravila. Well, I guess we're all done here. No heat rays needed. Time to clean up, go home and find a carpenter who fixes crazy-alien-assassin-damaged walls."
Archie interjected. "We send the crazy alien assassin packing first, right?"
"Fine, we'll talk to the crazy alien assassin. Once we make it clear to him you're adopted and not in line to be the next Lord High Regent of the Seven Shining Realms looking to bankrupt the empire, I'm sure he'll go away and we can focus on tracking down your father... his younger self, that is."
"Really?" said Archie. "You think you can finally manage that?"
"According to you and the killer cardinal, Arkright IV has been making periodic withdrawals from some intergalactic bank account. We can use that information to pinpoint his exact location and maybe even find out who's been hiding him from us. Isn't it funny: All the League's superior intellects, all of our fantastic technology capable of piercing the veil of time itself, and it never occurred to any of us to simply look for a paper trail. Gwen? Wanna come with?"
"Oh, I am all for the big skedaddle out of here," said Lady Gwendolyn as she looked out over the New Babbage skyline. "When the power-hungry lunatics go away and the vampires stop pestering you and the steam-powered robots stop attacking and the nuns aren't flying... this place just gets weird."