Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged. Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2008. This story ties in with my previous work, Three. The character Robert Nelson was created by Doggieboy and Archangel by Brother Grimace. Further information about the Ringbearer shared universe and a list of stories can be found at the DariaWiki.
Across the busy Boston street, Robert Nelson watched Daria Morgendorffer come out of a small apartment building holding hands with a young, red-haired man. At a small, black sedan, the couple separated with Daria going to the driver side and the young man getting into the passenger side after unlocking the door with his own key.
She looks happy, Robert thought as they drove away. Since the death of the Daria he'd known on his homeworld, he had made it a point to check in on her on every new world he had been assigned. Every time was difficult, but it helped to ease his mind that she lived on in so many places.
A voice with a slightly nasal, southernish accent behind him said, "Robert Nelson?"
Since nobody on this world should know his name, Robert flexed his hands and carefully turned. "Yes, that's me."
A fortyish man with long, brown hair and glasses offered his hand to shake, saying, "Pleased to meet you, Ringbearer."
On guard for any move, Robert said, "Who are you? What do you want?"
The man chuckled. "I'm neither a Vorlon nor a Shadow. My name is Richard. You can say that we're in the same business. Why don't we stop for some coffee so that we can talk about it?"
"Okay, you know who I am, what I am and saw through my cloak. Why should I trust you?"
Richard pulled his hand back a couple inches, making the ring on Robert's finger slip off and fly over to rest a couple inches above Richard's hand. "As you can see, I mean no harm to you or others."
Alarmed, Robert said, "How?"
"Like I said, I mean you no harm and the ring knows it." With equal ease, Richard sent the ring back to Robert, who put it back on with visible relief. "Can we please get some coffee? Call it a weakness, but I always need some after I travel."
"Okay, let's talk," Robert said.
Carrying a tray with two large cups and a chilled cream pitcher, Richard sat down at the small, corner table of a café. He picked up one cup and took a sip. "Jamaican Blue Mountain. As I've gotten older, I allow myself a few indulgences. I forgot to ask your preference, so I grabbed some cream just in case."
Cautious, Robert poured some of the cream into the other cup and sipped. "Very good."
"And with your ring's little trick, you can make it any time you want. I still have to ship mine in or get it when I travel."
"I'd have thought that you would want someplace a little less crowded for our conversation."
"None of the locals will notice us."
"May I remind you that you saw through my cloaking?"
"I'm not hiding us...I'm making sure that we're simply not noticed. Besides, if anyone does see us, they're not from around here and already know who we are."
Robert sipped again from his drink. "Fine. Now, what do you want?"
Richard drank from his cup. "Okay, I'll be direct. You're outside of your jurisdiction."
"What do you mean? I'm on the planet I was assigned."
"This may be where you were assigned, but it's outside of the jurisdiction of the Ringbearers. There must have been an error. It happens sometimes."
"What do you mean? We operate throughout the multiverse."
"Robert, there's only a finite number of Ringbearers; therefore, you operate in only a finite portion of infinity. I work for an agency that does a similar job; we watch realities for alterations from without. We also have only a finite number of operatives and therefore operate in a finite portion of the multiverse. You have been assigned to a planet within one of our hyperspheres of responsibility. More specifically, mine."
"What, is this is some kind of turf battle?"
"We have different ways of doing things. My agency does not interfere with your operations and we prefer that you don't interfere with ours. We have an...agreement, but sometimes the boundaries can be a little fuzzy."
"Different ways of doing things? How different?"
"We have a much stricter non-interference policy concerning local realities. Ringbearers, because of their very nature, will use their power to interfere, be it stopping a mugging or preventing an airliner from crashing."
"That's what we do. We're here to help."
"I know you are. However, to do so, Ringbearers use an outside power to alter the reality they are in. My agency strives to keep the cause of all events within a reality native. You never know what kinds of long-term effects even a small act can cause."
"Could you really stand by and let an airliner crash?" Robert said, aghast at the idea.
"I've watched species die. Sometimes, doing the right thing means letting events happen, no matter how painful they are."
"Well, I believe that evil wins when good men do nothing."
"And the road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
"You're right; we have different ways of doing things."
Richard took another drink. "Now you see why you can't stay here."
"Okay, you don't think that Ringbearers should interfere with your worlds, but you don't care when they're not yours. Isn't that a little hypocritical?"
"We accept the fact that we can't be everywhere. While my agency may not agree with how the Ringbearers do all of their jobs, they do tremendous good, and tremendous good is far better than nothing when it comes to the multiverse."
Robert nodded. "Okay, you accept what we do as good."
"Yes, I do. And I acknowledge the good in you, Robert. I know that there have been at least four Robert Nelsons with rings. Says a lot about you, though your personnel department must hate multiple operatives with the same name as much as ours."
"I haven't even noticed if we have an personnel department."
"So, assuming that I can't stay here, where do I go?"
"I can take you to the nearest reality with a Ringbearer. From there, we can send a message to your superiors or you can travel on your own."
"What if I decline?"
"Then you will be removed against your will."
"You said that you would not harm me."
"I won't, but you will be removed. There's no need to be difficult. This world is protected."
"I would be abandoning my post."
"You would be leaving it in good hands and going on to a place that needs you more."
"All I have is your word."
"That's true, though you also have your ring's judgment."
Robert looked at his ring. "There is that."
"Tell you what, I'll hang around to talk to your boss, okay? I've met several higher ranking Ringbearers and they tend to be reasonable people."
"I'm not entirely comfortable with this, but I'll go. For now."
"Good. Once you talk with your superiors, they'll agree." Richard looked into his coffee for several seconds and then said, "She's going to be happy here."
"Oh, you noticed."
"You were a little obvious to those that can see through your glamour. But then, she's a remarkable woman in many realities."
Robert said, "Before you think I'm too creepy, I only look once on each Earth I visit. It's reassuring."
"A word of advice, be careful. Daria in some realities will not take kindly to you."
"What do you mean?"
"She can be quite evil under the right circumstances. I took the liberty of tracking Robert Nelsons beforehand to understand you before we talked. In one reality, Daria kills the Robert Nelson she meets and takes his ring. The result was most unpleasant for several realities."
"You're pulling my leg. You can't take a Defender Ring away from a bearer and use it for evil."
"Take someone with Daria's intelligence, combine it with a strong sense of honor and the full resources of Latveria, and she did it."
"And also remember that in some cases, it may seem that she's in a hopeless situation, but she will rise out of the abyss to incredible heights."
"That I can see."
"Finally, her heart will go out to other people. Many good, some bad."
"I've already learned that. Seeing her and Jane expecting a child was...hard to wrap my head around for a few minutes." Robert tilted his head. "You seem to know an awful lot about her."
"She's what we call a nexus. Many realities under my supervision are linked through her, but no, I'm not looking in on her like you are. For me, that person lives in Florida."
"So you do understand."
After finishing their coffee, Richard removed a small device from his belt, similar to a PDA. "Let's see where the closest reality is with a Ringbearer."
Curious, Robert came around the table to look over Richard's shoulder at the display and saw what looked like a complex bundle of green lines on a graph around a central blue line. One red line not far from the blue stood out. Richard held up the display and said, "The red line indicates that reality has been altered from its base timeline. It happens to almost every world with a resident Ringbearer, given enough time, though usually nowhere near this much. I don't have sufficient baseline data for that reality to know what is going on, but it looks like there's serious trouble."
"Then my compatriot may need help. How do we get there?"
Richard stood and placed a hand on Robert's shoulder. "Like this."
A grimy, brown-black haze covered the sky over the devastated landscape before them. Richard said, "This looks bad."
"Very," Robert said, looking around warily. "There are zombies around, thousands of them. We have a major outbreak."
"Catastrophic," Richard said, checking his device. "Humanity won't survive another week or two here. Can you detect the other Ringbearer?"
"Weakly, he's about a thousand miles that way," Robert said, pointing. "Why hasn't he sent out a call for help?"
"I have no idea," Richard said. "Let's try to find him. We can use my scanner to help your shadow walking precision."
"Oh, so now you're fine with a ring's powers once your ass is on the line."
"This planet is dying from an extradimensional incursion and using other extradimensional powers to fight it is no problem, plus I know that your SOP is to reset the timeline in such extreme cases. Our objection was never with your fight against these kinds of threats."
"As long as we're on the same page, let's go."
After three hops, they were on the edge of a smashed town and behind a mob of zombies carrying all manner of weapons from primitive to modern. Somewhere up ahead, canon and rocket fire from the zombie mob was directed at a battle-damaged bunker. Robert said, "He's in there."
"Then we better say hello."
"This is what we're here for." Robert began using the ring to burn away the zombies, turning each into dust. Quickly, he became concerned at the lack of range and greater difficulty he had at destroying the undead. "Something's wrong here."
Richard closed his eyes and said, "There's a mind controlling and protecting them."
The zombies at the back turned toward the newcomers and raised their weapons. Robert said, "I hope there's something you can do besides a little TK and telepathy."
Richard slung his right arm out and a metal cylinder came out from within his sleeve to be grasped in his hand. A yard-long orange light grew from the end. "A few things."
The zombies with rifles and pistols began firing; forcing Robert to rely on the ring's shielding and Richard began knocking bullets away with the light saber. At the same time, zombies were telekinetically lifted in groups of ten or twenty and thrown back into others, disrupting the number of zombies able to fire and causing many to be trampled beneath the feet of their advancing brethren.
Robert and Richard began to advance into the zombies. Besides the molecular burning, Robert used his ring to open holes in the ground to trap zombies and lashed out with his telekinesis. Almost halfway to the bunker, Robert noticed that the zombies seemed to lose their sense of purpose. "What's happening?"
Straining, Richard said, "I've managed to block the controlling mind. You can crank back up to full power to burn them."
"You've got it." His range returned to normal, Robert was able to blast a path to the bunker for them and soon the immediate threat was gone.
Tired, Robert said, "Good trick, there."
"I've learned a few in my time. We better find out what kind of shape your friend is in."
Robert felt a weak link to the other Ringbearer and said, "The entrance is on the roof."
Richard telekinetically lifted both of them to the top. Robert opened the door and called down. "We're here!"
"Come in, quick," a faint voice inside said. "I don't dare leave the shield down too long."
Robert climbed down first and Richard followed, closing the door.
The resident Ringbearer was a man of about 30 sitting with his back against one wall of the bunker and clearly exhausted. "I don't know why you're here, but I'm glad to see you. The name's Alex"
"Robert. This is a Class Four outbreak, why didn't you put out a call?" Robert asked.
"I think it's that haze, I couldn't get a signal out. I need to also warn you that it keeps sunlight out. I haven't been able to recharge my ring."
"The haze came first and then the undead came out of nowhere, millions rose from the grave at the same time. They had a purpose and used weapons. Resistance collapsed within hours. There are a couple thousand people below us in an old fallout shelter complex from this planet's cold war. As far as I know, we're the only ones left alive. I even tried to open a portal to go home and get help. I couldn't. It's that damn haze. Nothing from our rings can go in or out."
"We're trapped," Robert said.
Richard said, "Maybe not. I think whoever is behind this incursion only expected to fight Ringbearers. Come think of it, I bet they only expected to deal with one."
"You have something in mind," Robert said.
"We need to pay this person a visit and this time, I'll drive."
"How do we find him?"
"We'll follow the trail left by the dark side."
As soon as they appeared, Robert cut loose to burn away the undead in the area, finding it required almost all of his concentration to affect a radius of even ten yards. Richard's light saber cut through zombies with ease as he pushed a flanking attack. Within the ruins of the Oval Office, a figure clouded in black watched as he directed his zombies to fire any and all weapons at the attackers, from bows to anti-tank rockets.
This close to the leader, Richard found it much harder to fight with the control the figure exerted over the zombies and he had to settle for partial disruption instead of the complete break he had accomplished before. Still, the slowed reactions helped each attacker as they moved through the figure's defenders. By the time Robert had reached the shattered outer wall of the White House, the dark figure raised its arms over its head and vanished in what could best be described as a flash of darkness.
The zombies stopped their attack when the control ceased, allowing Robert and Richard time to finish them off before their normal instincts could resume. Overhead, the haze was already breaking apart and natural sunlight again began to shine through.
"Archangel," Richard said, greeting the taller black man who walked with a cane. "I was wondering who they would send."
"Aren't you a little out of your jurisdiction?" Archangel replied.
"Returning one of your boys," Richard said. "Somehow, he was assigned to D-316."
Archangel sighed and said, "My apologies. I'll check into what happened, though I think it might be some of the recent overlap with D-247 blurred the boundaries."
"247? That would explain it."
"Yeah. In any case, thanks for the help. With that block, we had no idea something was happening here."
"You're welcome, but it looks like you have a problem since the controller got away."
"If he can cut off a planet like that, we have a big problem."
"If it's any consolation, now that I've made my presence known, I'm willing to bet he's not just your problem anymore."
"Agreed. We need to keep in touch."
"Our bosses are not going to be happy about this."
Archangel looked up at the sky. "They never are, but they'll have to get used to it."