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. 2010. Archangel created by Brother Grimace. This is part of the Shining Star shared universe developed by The Angst Guy and the Tales of the Ringbearers shared universe. Details of the shared universes and Daria Multiverse can be found at the DariaWiki.

Richard Lobinske

Temporal Conundrum

From the Chichester Chronicle:
Anno Domini 1000
Se wuce Eastre æfter, ða cynig gegaðerian hic fultum to forþstæppung se Danes in Cumberlond but standað hwonne in ða heofon steor eallníwe geætíewed und gebeorhtnende nihtlic gelic Mona. Meniga æt gehwæmlican cirice und abbotrice geclihtu Christ's edcierr to geábiden swa fóresæn be sum ereticas.
For swelc dweolda, mann und dior und wyrt unhælu geágrówen. By midnesumor, gyrehungor græpen se land und of ænig þæt dæg pleón, se sunna se scynn gebærned. Begunnon Cursung. Æfter, St. Ian cumað.

A week after Easter, the king mustered his troops to move against the Danes in Cumberland, but stopped when a new star appeared in the sky and nightly brightened until it rivaled the moon. Multitudes gathered at every church and abbey to await the return of Christ as some heretics had foretold.

For such heresy, man and beast and plant grew ill. By midsummer, a terrible famine gripped the land and the sun burned the skin of any that risked the day. Damnation had begun. Then, St. Ian arrived.

Hypersphere Supervisor Richard stretched his legs and rolled his chair back against a workstation as he savored a cup of fresh coffee. "It's always good to get the first batch of the season, Bill," he said. "Thank you."

Seated on another chair in the office/laboratory of the Agency sector headquarters was another man of about fifty, with blond hair beginning to streak with gray. He wore green and white motorcycle racing leathers with black boots. Resting on the counter nearby was a black helmet with a tinted face shield. "We still owe you, though we're getting spoiled in our old age," Bill Barrett said, also drinking coffee. "Of course, it helps to own the top coffee estate in Jamaica."

"Running a multiversal conglomerate has its perks," Richard said. "Though I'm glad I don't have to listen to shareholders from twelve separate realities."

"Why do you think I look forward to you dropping off the coffee?"

The laughter in the room died away when the telephone on the counter – a very 1990s style found in many institutional settings – begin to ring. Richard pressed a button for the speaker function and said, "Yes?"

A woman's voice said, "Ringbearer Archangel is here to see you."

"Thanks, send him right in."

Richard closed the connection as he turned back to Bill. "If he's making a formal appearance instead of just dropping in as usual, something's up and I'm probably not going to like it.," Richard said. "Sorry, Bill - but its time for me to get back to work."

"No rest for the wicked," Bill agreed, scooping up his helmet as he rose from his chair, a smirk on his face. "Be seeing you."

"I don't think either of us is ready to retire," Richard said, walking Bill to the exterior door.

Bill paused at the door to pull his helmet on. He fastened the chinstrap as the Ringbearer known as Archangel poked his head through the door on the other side of the room. "Anybody home?"

"Over here, Gerald" Richard said, waving him in.. "Come on in and meet an old friend of mine, Bill, also known as Flashrider. Bill, this is one of those Ringbearers you've heard about. Goes by the codename of Archangel."

Archangel and Flashrider politely shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Bill said, "I'll leave you to your business and be on my way. I still need to stop by DW-1983 and pick up some spare parts for the dog."

"Say hello to SJ for me when you get there."

"I'm sure she'll appreciate it. Nice to meet you, Archangel."

"Nice to meet you," Archangel replied.

Bill climbed on the bike, started the engine in one smooth operation and less than a second later, was accelerating down the road. After going only about fifty feet, he and the bike blurred into a streak that vanished in flashing point of light.

Archangel looked at Richard and said, "Did he just do what I think he just did?"

"Yeah, he has a warp-capable motorcycle. It's how he gets around."

"You've allowed that?"

"Independent development and he behaves. So, Gerald, what brings you here?"

The Ringbearer's face turned solemn. "We found a problem on Earth D-793."

"I'm not familiar with that one," Richard said, going over to his computer and typing in the designation.

Archangel looked up as a holographic display appeared over Richard's desk; Richard looked closely at a display of green threads.

Richard's fingers hit a few keys; one of the green threads was separated and locked, and Richard read the brief synopsis that appeared off to one side. "Hmm, recently identified. Most significant event was the effects of van Maanen's star going supernova reaching Earth in the year 1,000 CE. Everything looks in order. What's the problem?"

"In order?" Archangel asked, shaking his head. "You've got to be kidding."

The 3-D holo-display swiveled to display the solid green line as Richard tapped in a command on his keyboard. "All within nominal parameters."

Archangel whistled out his frustration as he opened a 'hammer-space' portal just below the holo-display. "Then you've got a real problem on your hands."

He retrieved a battered, old hand computer from the portal - the type commonly used by Agency operatives – and handed it over to Richard. "A Whisperer found this there."

Richard plugged the hand computer into a docking port connected to his primary computer, and waited several seconds as a new stream of information appeared upon the display.

"Where exactly did you find it?" he asked, as he read the results.

"At the Shrine of St. Ian in Chichester, England. He saved that Earth after the van Maanen supernova. The legends say that it was his divine book for messages from God."

Richard whistled. "You're right. We have a problem. This belonged to Ian Llywd. One of our operatives listed as Missing In Action."

"Ian Llywd?" Archangel said, distaste in his tone. "He was one of yours? That's bad. Really bad."

"He was the leader of a team lost years ago destroying an Architect's Gate distribution node. It was being used for cross-universal looting." Richard looked up. "You know him?"

The Ringbearer nodded grimly. "Recent intel identified him as one of the surviving Ringwaiths."

Richard downed a long drink of coffee. "As my friend Bill would said, this sounds like the start of an Exile's Monday."

Fifty Years Ago, Relative.

"Ready, Ian!"

Keeping up a steady stream of covering fire with his modified Sterling submachine gun, Ian Llwyd held off a group of trans-dimensional pirates while his team fitted charges around the six Architect's Gates in the room.

That's one less bastard who'll use this distribution node to loot and steal across the Multiverse, Ian thought as one pirate rose from cover – and was nearly cut in half by Ian's gunfire.

Keeping a wary eye on the explosives as he backed towards the rally point, Ian's Cornwall accent echoed through the room. "Fall back to the rally point and prepare to leave!"

Explosives always reminded him of his prior life as a lieutenant in Her Majesty's Army serving in Northern Ireland. An IRA bomb would've ended his life there in 1982 if he hadn't been recruited into The Agency and a simulacrum left in his place.

When he joined the other three team members, his number two said, "I can't open a portal. There's some kind of interference."

Looking over his shoulder, the team scientist said, "All six gates have gone active. They're jamming us."

"Use the closest gate!" Ian ordered.


Despite the prohibition against using the Architect's Gates, Ian's thoughts were on how to save his team. "It's our only choice. Go!"

The team ran for the nearest with Ian following after changing magazines on his weapon. But before he could reach the team, rapid-fire pulses of high-temperature plasma from one of the pursing pirates cut through the team, tearing them apart.

Fighting back his grief and anger, Ian stopped at each, picking up their personal computers and saying good-bye. Crouching behind cover, he set the remote detonator to a three second delay and hit the firing button.

Evading fire and returning it, he ran to the Gate. Another volley of green plasma bolts forced him to dive to the ground. Desperate, Ian scrambled back up and dove through the Gate as the demolition charges went off

And he experienced nothing. Trapped in the interface, he was nowhere and nowhen between universes and between moments in time. Ian was in the closest thing to Limbo he could imagine... and all he could do was wait and hope for rescue.

Eight Years Ago, Relative.

Ian fell and bounced on the ground in front of an Architect's gate. Sight and sound brutally assaulted him as an initially shocked crowd of people pushed past and over him to get through the gate. He rolled to the side to find a place to slide back against a wall and try to regain his senses after long disuse.

After many minutes, he recognized the sounds as panicked screams. A crowd pushed and shoved their way to the gate, desperate to escape some calamity behind.

Multicolored flashes of light against the dark sky announced the arrival of that calamity. A trio of men flew in the air, shooting bolts of electricity or fire at the crowd. Their pattern was almost random. Not an attempt to stop, but to cause further panic and disruption. They were playing with the refugees like a cat playing with a small lizard.

Next was the realization that he hadn't been rescued. By chance, or more likely, by influence of the intelligence behind the Architect's Gates, he had finally been released from the interface and into an open gate. The Agency had abandoned him or had cut him off for using the gate against orders.

Either way, Ian felt rising anger. His team was dead and he'd been imprisoned for how long, he didn't know. Along with the anger came resentment. On top of the anger came the desire for vengeance.

That caught the attention of one of the men flying above the crowd. He directed an intense beam of fire at the nearby people, reducing them to cinders in a fraction of a second. He then flew over and hovered about foot off the ground in front of Ian. "You're not from this planet."

Holding his gun at the ready, Ian said, "No, I'm not. I don't even know where, or when, I am."

"That's irrelevant. What's relevant is your desire for justice. To make things right against those who wronged you."

Ian nodded. "Yes."

The man held out a full copper-colored ring. "Put this on and follow us. Vengeance can be yours."

Ian accepted the ring and put it on his finger. With the first tingle of power and the instant affinity to air, he knew he'd made the right decision.

The man said, "Welcome, Ringwraith."

Four Years Ago, Relative. Earth D-1001.

At the headquarters of the Ringwraiths, the slender man known only as the Dominator paced back and forth before Ian. "I know your Agency has ties with this other Corps of Ringbearers. But, I need you for a more valuable mission. A mission that can use your particular skills and knowledge from your days with this Agency."

"I'm intrigued," Ian said.

"Word has come to me of another kind of ring. They are called – 'Deliverance Rings'. You have knowledge of other realities far beyond that which we know. I want you to use that knowledge to find their source. If you cause any trouble to the Agency along the way, well, you can look at that as a performance bonus."

"I'll take the mission."

"I'm pleased. Now, you may start as soon as you are ready."

"I'm ready now."

1,000 C.E. Earth D-793.

Even with his knowledge and the information Ian could tap into through his personal computer and those of his old teammates, the source of the Deliverance Rings had proved elusive. Therefore, he had moved outside of the known universes to previously uncharted ones. To simplify his search, and reduce the risk of detection, he had traveled back in time almost a thousand years to the approximate time the various rings had been first created.

As he reentered normal space/time, Ian felt a wave of nausea and shock erupt from his ring. He staggered and fell to the ground, vomiting. When he was able to regain control, he went to a nearby tree and leaned against it for support while he tried to contact headquarters.


He then attempted to try and contact any other Ringwraiths – without success.

He brought up his shields – and with the information that ran across the heads-up display, Ian realized that his ring had changed.

Somehow, the endowments his Vengeance Ring possessed were lessened and constrained – and his telekinesis, he realized, was was as strong as ever – but now totally dependant upon his force of will.

He focused himself, and a gentle gust of wind came out of nowhere, lifting him a single inch above the earth. Good, he thought. My elemental affinity-powers are unaffected.

Shifting his Ring-shields of as he began to check several known universes with his personal computer, Ian realized that there had been a massive temporal reset – one that had eliminated the history that had given rise to Vengeance Rings and the Ringwraiths.

As he continued top scan, he also detected hints of several other survivors of the reset – although the readings were unclear as to whether they were all Ringwraiths or not... They were probably like me - either in transit, or outside relative time when the reset had occurred

He could think of only one party that could engineer a reset on such a large scale. The Agency. That meant that the Ringwraiths had finally come to their attention, despite his warnings. That meant that he could easily come to their attention... and probably, already had.

That was an option that he didn't relish.

For the moment, he decided to lay low and get the feel for his new, temporary home. The village in the valley below looks medieval, Ian thought. I shouldn't have too hard of a time making myself comfortable in such a culture while I decide on my next move.

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Standing on a hill overlooking a town, Archangel said, "No Giant Strawberry - but otherwise, it pretty much looks the same as any other universe."

He glanced over at Richard. " Gotta love nexus stability."

Also looking at the town, Richard said, "Except that all the signs are in Old English."

Archangel shrugged. "Details, details."

Richard double-checked the small earbud of his translator. "Your Ring translates for you. I have to wear this damn thing."

Joking, Archangel said, "With all the realities your people visit, I'm surprised you don't have a Babel fish."

The Agency supervisor shot a cross look at Archangel. "Do you have any idea of the penalty for transporting biohazardous species between universes?"

"I'm guessing it's bad."

"Very. Anyway, now I'm ready."

"We'll go on my dime," Archangel said, opening a portal.

They stepped through - and emerged in a hotel room. Richard said, "Yep, the Dutchman Inn."

A dark-haired woman that looked to be in her mid-thirties said, "Around here, the Hollandisc Inn. Welcome to Earth D-793, Archangel."

"Good to see you again, Kate. This is my contact with The Agency, Richard. Richard, this is Katelyn – the Whisperer assigned here."

"You found the personal computer of this St. Ian?" Richard asked.

Kate said, "Correct. It was part of a travelling exhibit of artifacts of St. Ian from the Chichester Museum. I knew from our briefings what it was, and used my ring to create a duplicate."

"You made a duplicate?"

Kate said, "Manipulated some metal for the case and created glass from sand for the screen. It took a little doing, but I pulled it off. After that, it was fairly easy to swap it for the real thing and pass it on up the chain of command."

Richard nodded his approval. "Give this woman a medal for creativity."

Kate continued to speak. "From the legends, it's clear that St. Ian manipulated this planet. Isn't that a major violation of your doctrine?"

"Yes, it is. That's why we're here."

"Archangel," Kate said. "Some of the legends make it sound like St. Ian was a Ringbearer. Is that true?"

Archangel shook his head. "Not exactly."

The female Ringbearer frowned. "Why does that sound bad?"

"Because it is. Kate, you've done a great job."

"But you two are taking over," Kate spoke with finality.

Richard said, "We're here to investigate what history has recorded about St. Ian so that we can try to determine what exactly he's done."

Kate said, "If you want more information, I guess your best place to start is the Landæl Museum. That's where I saw the device - and the exhibit is still there."

Archangel said, "From what I understand about the importance of St. Ian in this culture, wouldn't a touring exhibit of his artifacts be a major attraction?"

Kate nodded. "Yes, it is."

"Then how did it end up in Lawndale, uh, Landæl?"

"The exhibit curator used to live here, and pulled some strings to see her family."

Richard said, "Let me guess. The curator is Daria Morgendorffer."

"Close. Here, she's named Daria Morgenfolc."

Richard and Archangel spoke as one. "Damn."

Kate said, "What's wrong?"

Richard spoke up. "I like to avoid interacting with a nexus."

Kate nodded in agreement. "I've met a couple of Darias. They're usually okay, in a bratty teenager kind of way, though this one's almost my age. What's the matter?"

"All of the universes I watch have a Daria and I only get out when something has gone seriously wrong," Richard told her. "It's best not to meet them because sometimes, strange things happen."

Kate's voice took on a sad note. "You're going to reset this planet."

"It's not on its natural timeline."

Richard heard the touch of despair in Kate's voice. "But it's a good timeline."

"I'm sorry."

Two years out of graduate school, Dr. Daria Morgenfolc was pleased with her work, even when it entailed leading a tour group through the traveling gallery.

"So there you have it," Daria said, addressing the mixture of adults and students. "An apparent superman that appeared a little over a thousand years ago and by our best scholarship, saved humanity from the first ravages of the Van Maanen's Supernova. Two hundred and seventy-six years later, he reappeared and protected the Earth from the physical shock wave from the supernova. Finally, he appeared in 1352 to stop the reverse shock wave. From time to time since then, he has quietly lived at the Chichester Monastery for a few months before disappearing for decades; the last time being in the mid-Nineteenth Century. Like the old legends of Kind Arthur, some say he will return when the world once again needs him."

Daria looked over the group. "From some of the relics he left behind, it is clear that Ian had access to technology beyond that we have even now. There are different hypotheses about the origin of St. Ian. Was he some kind of alien from another planet? Perhaps a time traveler from the future. One man, or many who stepped into the same persona?"

Daria shrugged. "We don't know. Almost any explanation sounds like science fiction."

After the tour group dispersed, Richard and Archangel approached Daria. "That was an informative presentation." Richard said.

Both could sense Daria's fatigue at hearing such a statement. "Thank you. Do you have any questions?"

"As a matter of fact, I do," Richard said.

Daria gave him a suspicious look and said, "Fire away."

"It all seems so fantastic," Richard said. "How do you pick apart fact from fiction?"

"Honestly, it's a royal pain," Daria admitted. We all grew up with so many different stories about St. Ian that sometimes, it seems as if everything was made up. However, when you can get to some of the first hand accounts, you start to see consistencies that you wouldn't get from embellishment over time."

"First hand accounts?"

"Things like the Chichester Chronicle. By the end of the first millennium, the monks of Chichester were recording history as it happened."

Archangel said, "Didn't you mention that St. Ian first appeared near there?"

"Yes, I did. Stories say that he spoke oddly. From his accent, at first they thought he was Welsh."

"Fascinating," Richard said.

"I think so. You almost wonder who..." Daria seemed to lose track of her thoughts before continuing, "...wrote it. Sorry, just felt a little strange for a moment."

"Thank you for your time, Dr. Morgenfolc," Richard said. "We won't hold you any longer."

After they had left the building, Archangel said, "You felt it too. She was suspicious of us."

"Not us. Me," Richard said.

Archangel thought back on the events in the museum. "You're right. What kind of vibes are you giving off?"

"I don't know."

"Richard – she wasn't suspicious of what we were doing. She was suspicious of what you are. Don't ask me how - our Whisperers reported this Earth to be clear of psi activity."

"You're right. She was suspicious of what I am, but on a level deeper than simple psi power. I've never run into anything like this before."

1,000 C.E. Earth D-793.

Seated on a wooden stool in the thatched-roof house he had purchased with silver coins made with his Ring, Ian felt a surge of inspiration. He began to study the inner workings of his handheld computer, and begin to understand the coding behind it.

Much to his surprise, one of the first things he had learned to do was to learn that, for some reason, his computer could not be tracked when it was activated. He quickly adapted the changes to the other computers he had recovered from his former teammates.

With the translation ability of his Vengeance Ring, Ian had no problem speaking with the residents of medieval Chichester, England. Though suspicious of his name and accent at first, he was able to calm their fears with simple uses of his Ring – simple healing of some of the locals, for example. To also secure the local trust, he produced enough silver to outfit a local warrior for the fyrd that King Aethelr?d had called up to fight the Danes. With no need to worry about clean food, water or disease, he felt he could settle here and make this a comfortable - and low-key - base of operations.

One of the powers of the Vengeance Ring was the ability to forewarn the bearer of danger. The sudden flush Ian felt was orders of magnitude greater than any he had felt either during his days with the Agency or as a Ringwraith. It was enough to leave him transfixed for a second or two.

A tone from his personal computer caught his attention. The readout warned of incoming X-ray and gamma radiation. The approaching pulse was massive; large enough to saturate all the facing hemisphere of the planet with enough radiation to cause moderate to severe sickness in all exposed life.

"Damn, I like this place!" he shouted. "I can't risk finding a new base!"

A faint blue glow started around him and rapidly spread outward to cover the facing planetary surface within a dozen seconds. By the time the radiation hit, the planetary surface was protected, even if the upper atmosphere took a terrific beating as the radiation. Using all of his willpower and what felt like a boost from somewhere, he kept up the shield for almost five minutes until the radiation pulse had passed.

Only when he was able to relax did he notice the faint new star in the daylight sky. "That can't be good," he said. He went back to his personal computer and let it run an analysis. The results left him in shock. A nearby star had exploded in a type 1A supernova. The star was only 14.1 light years away and variously called: van Maanen's Star, van Maanen 2, vMA 2, CSI+05-00465, EG 5, EG 005, G 001-027, Gliese 35, GCTP 160.00, HIP 3829, LFT 76, LHS 7, LTT 10292, USNO 690, WD 0046+051, or Wolf 28.

If he hadn't acted, the immediate effects on the planet would've been devastating. Ian felt a warm internal satisfaction at having saved the planet. It was now his. It, and the people on it, owed him and he would collect whenever it was needed. He looked back up at the new star. "Thank you," he told it.

Oddly, he never wondered about the added willpower, or thought about where it may have come from.

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Seated at the small table in Archangel's room, Richard said, "I ran back through our records and van Maanen's Star has gone supernova in several universes. It's not a pretty picture and honestly, even with a corrupted Defender Ring, I'm trying to figure out how he did it single-handed. I mean, usually the Corps will send out teams of Ringbearers to handle such situations in your jurisdiction. He was totally on his own."

Holding a tall glass of ice tea, Archangel sat at the table and said, "The rings are dependent upon will."

"But to cover an entire planet?"

"Don't forget about Daria Wraithkiller and the creation of Beta Sol."

Both men felt a chill at the mention of the minature star created from the funeral pyre of an Earth. "Point made. But, she was particularly motivated. What was Ian Llwyd's motivation?"

"That, my friend, appears to be one of the secrets we need to crack to solve this problem."

Laughing as she kicked back in an easy chair in her studio, Jane Lane held the cell phone close to her ear. "You, getting bad vibes from someone? What the hell are they putting in the water back there these days?"

In her small, neat apartment, Daria answered her friend. "It's the only way I can figure how to describe it. I get those kinds of questions all the time from wannabe St. Ian experts, usually just before they tell me their special theory about him."

"I'm sure that's all this was, too. Something in the back of your mind didn't want to deal with them."

"That's the thing, Jane. I didn't do or say anything to run them off. Right after I had that odd feeling, they broke off the conversation and left. Almost as if they'd known I had it."

Joking again, Jane said, "Daria, have you been sipping on the reproduction mead again?"

Daria gave her an emphatic, "No."

"In that case, did you have lunch at Tokyo Toby's or something?"


"Then I wouldn't worry about it. After all, there's no logical reason for you to get these bad vibes, right? Well, when you don't think there's a logical reason for vibes at all."

"That's what bothers me. I can't think of a logical reason for what happened."

"Why don't you sleep on it and try again in the morning with a fresh cup of coffee."

"Sleep and coffee. Traditional Lane advice."

Jane shrugged. "Hey, it works for me and still works for Trent. Well, when he works."

"I'll give it a try, Jane," Daria said. "Thanks for listening."

"Thanks for calling. When are you going to be back in Botwulfston?"

"Hopefully when we close the exhibit in Landæl I can get a few days off before we move to the next town."

"I'll be waiting."

"No bells this time, okay?"


"When have I ever been anything else?"

After Archangel had portaled them into Daria's museum office, Richard whispered, "Between the two of us, I wonder how much B and E we've done over the years."

"Probably enough to put us away for several lifetimes," Archangel whispered back. "That looks like her computer. Are you sure you can get the data from it?"

Richard opened the belt holder and lifted his hand computer. "Shouldn't be a problem, it's an early twenty-first century desktop system. I can read the data directly from the magnetic media without turning it on."

Archangel shook his head. "And you're a hacker, too."

"But I still can't fly."

The Ringbearer smiled. "That's right. Trust me, it's a blast."

After several seconds, Richard said, "Got it. Let's get out of here."

"Don't want to look around?"

"We saw everything during the tour."

"Okay, okay. Let's go," Archangel said as he opened a portal back to their hotel.

5,631 C.E. Regina system, Spinward Marches, T-1014

Despite being preemptively depressurized, the massive starship shuddered as explosions ignited by a direct hit from a meson gun tore through its decks. Protected by his Ring-shields, Ian walked down the hall with a firm purpose. If he had been listening to the internal communication system, he'd have heard, "This is the Captain. All hands abandon ship. All hands abandon ship. Save yourselves so that you may once again fight for your Emperor."

A warning light over the lifeboat station near him flashed red to indicate that it was damaged and inoperable. Just what I wanted, he thought as he went inside. No sense in attracting unnecessary attention. Between his hand computer and the elemental manipulation abilities of his ring, he was able to quickly repair the minor damage.

The dreadnaught shook again and this time, Ian began to float as the artificial gravity failed. She probably lost inertial dampers, too.. Knowing he had little time, Ian pulled on the emergency release and the pod was jettisoned from the stricken warship.

Outside, he could see the chaos of a major fleet battle. Dreadnaughts, cruisers, destroyers maneuvered for position and fired fearful weapons while smaller ships and fighters dodged among the wreckage in support.

"Too bad I can't stay and watch the fun," Ian said. After detonating a ball of fire outside the pod, he used his computer to slip the life pod to his destination.

1,000 C.E. Near the remains of Van Maanen's Star, D-793.

"All those astronomy students I knew in college would give up a year's pay for this view." Comfortable within a life pod built to sustain ten persons for two weeks, Ian floated in space and studied the remains of Van Maanen's Star. And what a view it was. Superheated gases boiled away from the stellar remains, forming a brilliant nebula.

"I could get used to this," he said. "Nobody to order me around - and the Multiverse as my oyster."

Ian lost rack of time as he floated through the nebula. From time to time, he would hop from location to location to change his view. Before he knew it, the onboard supplies were running out and a couple of months had passed. He could've easily replenished them with his Ring - food, water, air, even hydrogen for the fusion reactor.

Instead, he said, "Time to go home."

Ian set the life pod's guidance system on a course for the center of the supernova remnant. "Don't want to leave any evidence lying around," he said, before using his ring to portal back to Earth and his new home in England.

1,000 C.E. Chichester, England. Earth D-793.

As soon as Ian appeared in his adopted home, he knew he was in trouble and an alarm sounded from his computer. Damaging amounts of ultraviolet radiation was reaching the earth, capable of causing burns within only a few hours. "What the hell is going on?" Ian yelled.

He went outside and found the normally busy village to be deserted. While searching for people, he also used the computer to search for what was happening.

The computer found the source soon enough. Because Ian hadn't thought to shield the upper atmosphere from the supernova radiation burst, he hadn't protected the ozone layer, which had degraded over the preceding months from various nitrogen compounds created by radiation-caused chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere.

After trying several homes, he had a thought and went to the local church.

"Ian!" the young priest called as the Ringwraith entered the sanctuary. The village folk had gathered there in desperate prayer.

Ian saw that all of them suffered from serious burns on their exposed skin. Burns that over time were healing poorly or had become infected. The normally trim people were also showing the signs of famine.

The priest reached him and said, "You must be blessed to be so healthy. Please, please, help us. We repent for our sins and wish only forgiveness."

Ian quietly said, "Your repentance has been heard and accepted." He touched the priest with one hand and a blue aura flowed over the young man. When it faded, the priest's burns had been healed.

"Thank you," the priest said, falling to his knees.

Ian lifted him. "You have much work to do. Bring me the sickest first so that I may heal them. Then, your folk must spread the word and I must heal the sky."

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Pointing to the text holographically projected by his computer, Richard said, "Look at this. Healing, providing food, flying, lightning storms high in the air. That all looks like Ian using his ring to restore the lost ozone."

Archangel said, "I agree that it looks like ring activity, but how could a Ring restore ozone? That's not one of the endowments."

"Before he joined the British Army, Ian earned a degree in chemistry. He had the knowledge and the Ring gave him the ability – you mentioned that his elemental affinity was Air, right? But, once again, that's some serious will power to restore the world's ozone layer, not to mention healing millions."

Archangel said, "I'll give him credit for effort. He makes Ringbearer restoration teams look like slackers."

"After that, he's set up for life and living undetected on a grateful planet that thinks he's a saint."

"What else do we have from her computer?"

"A lot of personal stuff I'm not going to look at and one more folder of files. Let's see what's there." Richard opened the electronic folder and then a couple of the files.

Archangel wandered picked up the television remote and dropped onto the bed to watch. "Let's see how bad their nightly news can be."

After examining a couple files, Richard said, "Oh, crap."

"What's up this time?"

"Daria managed to activate the computer and took notes. She knows about the Agency."

"This is just getting more screwed up all the time," Archangel said.

Richard suddenly shivered and said, "Whoa."

"Now what?"

"That was the weirdest thing I've ever felt."


"Like, I was momentarily two people."

Seated at her home computer, Daria smiled as the details for the new character of her story fell into place and she began to type;

Richard felt the usual thrill as he appeared on a new world for the start of a mission.

1,000 C.E. Chichester, England. Earth D-793.

Flying high above the Earth, Ian was bone weary and tired from arcing lightning through the atmosphere. He checked his computer and let out a sigh of relief to see the ozone level back to pre-nova levels. "At last," he said.

He flew back to the ground and came to rest outside of his new home. Out of gratitude, the king had ordered a great hall built for Ian and the people of England had done so. Massive wooden beams supported the high roof and a hearth dominated the center of the main room. Two long tables ran the length of the room with benches along the outside edge of each so that no guest's back would be toward another.

Ian saw one of the young teenage boys of the village and said to him, "Go tell the folk that my work is done and the burns will come no more. Tonight, we will celebrate in my hall. There will be beef on the spit and mead in the horn."

"Yes, St. Ian!" the boy happily said before running off.

Ian awoke with a contented sigh and sat up on the bed. The wooden frame was carved with a simple interlace pattern and the wool-stuffed mattress was surprisingly comfortable. He rose and said, "Drink all the mead I want and no hangover. Gotta love this Ring."

Ian dressed himself in the local clothes. Close-fitting breeches with linen wraps around the calves, a knee-length tunic, plain leather belt with a silver buckle and leather turnshoes.

The hall was a bit of a shambles from the celebration the night before, and several locals were asleep on the benches and one on a table. The remains of a fire still burned in the hearth, so Ian tossed more wood onto it and stood by, inhaling the smoky scent.

A faint beep rose from his belt purse. Ian took his computer out and checked the display. "Hmm, that's fascinating. There is one on this Earth. I need to check it out. An Architect's Gate could be useful to move around undetected."

Something came to his mind and he checked some details on the computer. "Hmm, good thing I thought about that." He went to a locked storage box and retrieved one of his extra computers. After making a few changes to it, he said, "I can leave mine behind to keep this reality masked and carry the other on my travels. After all, who's going to touch a holy book of a saint?"

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Richard awoke from his fitful sleep to the alarm sound of an emergency transmission. He jumped from the hotel bed and grabbed his computer from the nightstand. He read the message:

Central Database security has been compromised. Intruder identity is unknown. Extent of breach is unknown. Breach has been identified as the personal computer issued to former field agent Ian Llwyd. Unrecovered computers from his team are suspected alternate breach sites.
Containment protocols have been initiated. Access of data to field units may be restricted until full security is restored.
You are instructed to use your current assignment to investigate this breach and provide any assistance in identifying the perpetrator.
Under the Nova Valdris Accords, the leadership of the Corps of Ringbearers has been apprised of the situation. Update your Ringbearer counterpart immediately.
Good Luck.
Agency Headquarters. SCR-1

"Security breach. That's just great."

"Somebody hacked into your main network?" Archangel said after letting Richard into the room. "That takes some balls."

Richard said, "It's your problem too because the hack came through our rogue Ringwraith's computer. He can use it against your people as much mine."

"No offense, but your people are looking worse and worse with each step."

"It smells like we're stepping in it each time and I have to try to wipe our feet."

"Got any ideas?"

"When it comes to Ian, we have a lot of years unaccounted for. I think we need to pay another visit to Ms. Morgenfolc. I'm willing to bet that she knows more than what was on her computer."

Nursing her third cup of coffee while working at her office computer, Daria jokingly said, "Damn you, Jane, for getting me so hooked on this stuff."

Sensing that odd feeling again, Daria straightened her back and said, "Now this is getting weird. I wonder..."

She left her office and went out into the museum gallery. Not surprising, she saw the two odd guests from the day before waking towards her.

"Can I help you?" she said.

Richard said, "If I may ask an odd question. Did you know that we where here before you came through that door?"

Daria felt like something creepy was going on, but said, "I suspected. Who are you?"

Archangel said, "We're investigators. Do you mind if we ask you some more questions?"

Wary, Daria said, "Okay, but we do it right here. No offense, but I'm getting a very strange feeling about you two."

"We are pretty strange," Archangel said, forming a glamour to hide them from prying eyes. "So your request is agreeable."

Richard said, "Is there any information about what St. Ian did before he arrived in Chichester?"

The question reminded Daria of some of the data she had retrieved from the computer before it had disappeared. Even more wary, she said, "Nothing published."

"What about unpublished?" Archangel said.

"Who are you?" Daria demanded. Unaware of the glamour, she looked around to make sure nobody was close. "What do you know about the missing artifact? You have to know about it. Did you take it?"

Richard quietly said, "We have it."

Daria glared at them. "When the Chichester Monastery finds out that is gone, my career is going to be shot. Give it back."

"I'm sorry, but we can't do that. We don't even have it with us."

Frustrated, Daria looked around. "We should take this conversation some place more private."

"Don't worry, we won't be noticed," Archangel said. "Between the two of us, things are covered."

Daria shook her head. "Follow me."

Archangel and Richard did as they were told. Daria closed her office door and locked it. "Talk."

"You're not calling the police?" Richard said.

"That's because I'm confident that you're not worried about them in the least and it will only make me look bad. Besides, if you have the artifact, you have some idea of what it is."

Richard took his out and showed it to Daria. "It's one of these. Well, an older model. As a technical matter of fact, my employer is the proper owner of your artifact. It had only been issued to Ian Llwyd."

"Who are you?" Daria again demanded. "Or what are you?"

"We represent two interdimensional organizations that try to maintain stability across the multiverse. My friend Archangel belongs to the Corps of Ringbearers. He wears a Defender Ring, from which he draws many of his abilities. Primarily, they guard against supernatural incursions of all forms. I work for the Agency. As you already learned, your St. Ian was a former field agent of the Agency. Until a couple of days ago, we believed that he had been killed on a mission. He also carries a corrupted version of the Defender Ring called a Vengeance Ring."

"How did you gain access to my home computer?" Daria angrily said. "I only started writing that last night."

Richard slowly said, "You wrote what?"

"You should know that I write fiction on the side. Okay, I loosely based a new character off of you that works for an interdimensional agency."

"I think that explains the connection."

What connection?" Daria said.

"They've always been considered theoretical before. Fascinating to be caught in one."

Archangel said, "Okay, you can fill me in now."

"We're in a Gardner Loop."

"A Gardner Loop?" Daria said. "Let me guess, something based on the Gardner Principle."

"Exactly," Richard said. "The Gardner Principle is real. Your story created an alternate version of me."

Daria shook her head. "I might as well play along. So, because I created a character based on you, we have a connection. Wouldn't that happen all the time?"

"It's more complicated than that," Richard said. "A version of me also writes about you in another reality."

Archangel said, "Even with that, shouldn't this happen more often?"

"Normally, the separation of realities is sufficient to prevent the incident. A Gardner Loop can only happen when a reality is so seriously damaged that fractures develop. This universe is in deeper trouble than we thought."

"You mean that Ian's appearance altered this reality," Daria said.

"Yes. Or, there seems to be evidence that something else was using him."

"Why?" Daria said.

"We don't know. That's why we came back to talk to you. I'll take this moment to apologize. We scanned your office hard drive last night and analyzed it. But, I have a feeling that you know a lot more than what you've written down."

Daria slowly nodded.

"That information may prove more valuable than you can imagine.

"What do I need to do?"

"Take a little trip with us."

Archangel pulled Richard aside and whispered. "You're doing this only because she's going to be reset, correct? Otherwise, you're pulling off one of the biggest non-interference violations I can think of."

Richard whispered back "The reset will negate anything we do. However, Daria's knowledge is too valuable to loose."

"You're going to recruit her."

"We have to find out who or what is behind all this and she's our only hope."

"Do you mind?" Daria said. "I've never liked people talking about me, especially when I'm in the same room."

"We were clarifying a few issues. "Now, if you're ready, we can go."

"I'm going to be missed if I disappear," Daria said.

"Don't worry," Richard said. "To them, you'll only be gone for a second."

1,000 C.E. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Because of the otherworldly spirits said to live there, only the bravest of the Susquehannock would venture into the shallow valley - and none followed the stranger as he almost cheerfully entered the woods.

While it is known that Architect's Gates are telepathic and can influence other beings, it is not as well know that they can use their telepathic powers to manipulate perceptions, and telepathy to mask their presence. Ian smirked at seeing the gate amid the trees as plain as day. "Hello to you, too," he said. "Where are we going today?"

The Gate was silent, but an unnoticed mental tug pulled Ian toward it. He said, "Let's find out."

Present Day. Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Daria looked around the laboratory and said, "This is it?"

"It's comfortable. Besides, I know that my lab isn't the most glamorous place in the multiverse."

"Glamorous? I'd have settled for something out of a Sixties' science fiction series."

Archangel laughed. "She's got the touch in any universe."

Daria turned to him. "Okay, now that's one of the things that's creeping me out. You keep talking like I'm the center of the universe or something."

Richard turned a display of his desk computer to show a schematic of the hypersphere under his supervision. "You are what we call a nexus. Basically the center of a multiverse. You exist in every one of these realities."

"It looks like a bunch of lines on a monitor to me. You need to improve your graphics. That looks like something out of 1995."

"I keep bugging him to upgrade to holo-technology like we use – but the old-timers never want to let go," Archangel teased, drawing Daria's attention to the phone on the desk.

"I'm going to take you on a sightseeing tour and then to visit some friends." Richard said, ignoring Archangel's comment as he went to a lab bench and picked up an ear bud. "Oh, and you're going to need to wear this."

"What is it?"

"A translator. Your English is different enough from ours to basically be considered another language."

Daria said, "If my speech is so different, are you wearing one?"

Richard took his translator out to show it to Daria and then replaced it. "Yes."

Daria shrugged and said, "Might as well. Anything else I need to know?"

"That you don't have to worry about the Blinovitch Limitation Effect in this multiverse."

In awe, Daria watched the massive spaceship rise from Kennedy Starport and gracefully fly off to the east. She whispered, "Wow."

Richard said, "I said the same thing watching Saturn Vs and Shuttles launch when I was younger. It never gets old."

Archangel said, "No, it doesn't. You know, Richard, one of these times we need to go back in time to watch the Apollo 11 launch. Just watch, no interaction. I've seen the photos, once that candle was lit, I could've danced around naked and nobody would've noticed."

"I could stand to watch it again," Richard said.

"You mean you've gone back already?"

"No, I watched it the first time around."

"Lucky bastard."

Daria said, "Are you two always like this? You're as bad as Jane and me."

Richard said, "Yeah, pretty much. Now, are you convinced about being on another Earth?"

"Either that, or you have an effects budget that Cameron would kill for," she replied.

"One more stop," Richard said. "They're expecting you."

John Lane opened the door of his adopted home on the Agency world and said, "Oh, hi Richard. You said that...whoa."

A younger Daria Morgendorffer walked up behind John and said, "John, what's distracted you now?"

Richard gestured to the older Daria Morgenfolc. "I believe he appreciates what you're going to look like in a few years."

The two Darias looked at each other for several moments before the older said, "Um, hello, me. Or, other me. Younger me?"

The younger Daria said, "It's a little odd, but you get used to it. Staying with people that are and are not my parents is strange."

"Parents? Are they here?"

The teenage couple stepped aside and she said, "In the living room."

The older looked in and caught her breath. "Dad?"

"Hey, Daria," Jake said.

"You're..." the older Daria said before running over and grabbing him.

Awkward, Jake said, "Hey, um, kiddo."

She looked up and wiped tears away. "Sorry, I'm still getting used to this multiple, um, people idea. Back home, my father..." Daria had to take a deep breath. "My father died three years ago. His heart."

Helen said, "Don't worry. We're keeping an eye on Jake's diet around here. With a little help."

After regaining her composure, the older Daria said, "Sorry about that."

"We understand," Jake said. "It took me a little while to get my head around another version of my Dad rescuing them."

The older Daria said, "He helped?"

Archangel, who had been quiet in back, said, "Actually, Nathan is a Ringbearer. Recruited before the horrors of Chosin that made him so bitter in most realities. He's one of our best."

She held up her hands. "Okay, I can only handle one more weird thing today, and I have to ask about John. He looks a lot like Trent Lane, only not quite."

Helen softly smiled. "I assume you have a good friend named Jane?"


"Where they're from, Jane is John, and well...I think you can do the math."

The older Daria sat down and looked at Richard. "Do you have to deal with this kind of stuff all the time?"

"Pretty much. Keeps things from getting dull."

"Do you mind if I spend some time here?"

"Take as much time as you need."

1,605 C. E. London. Earth D-1235

Rolling smoke and flames rose into the sky over London as Ian calmly flew away from the ruins of the House of Lords - and the corpse of a dead king somewhere within.

Unnoticed above the panicked crowds in the streets, he grinned and said, "Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November."

Ian found a nice boarding house on the outskirts of town, and settled in to watch the chaos unfold. After a week of observing warfare between Catholic and Protestant factions spread over England, Ian was satisfied with his efforts - so he took off over the Atlantic, and returned to the Architect's Gate.

With his return to the valley, the Susquehannock of this Earth fled in fear from him, giving him a thrill. At the Gate, he placed his hand on the frame and said, "Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Stepping through to return to his base, Ian thought he heard the faintest laugh, but decided it was his imagination.

Present day. Corps of Ringbearer Headquarters. Nova Valdris D-247

Daria, along with Richard and Archangel, walked through the vast courtyard in front of the dual spires of Beacon Terra One, the main interdimensional navigation reference for the Ringbearers. Archangel said, "So, after spending the day with your 'cousin' and now a day here, what do you think of my little home base?"

Daria said, "I have to admit that you have more style than The Agency. It's the difference between Frank Lloyd Wright and Cubicleville."

Richard chuckled and said, "We deserve that."

"Though I'm still coming to grips with meeting Jane Lane as a Ringbearer."

Archangel nodded. "Also one of our best, even is she likes to tease."

Daria said, "Though I'm a little miffed at seeing versions of myself in relationships with what look like decent guys. I'm pushing thirty and haven't even had a good date in the last two years."

Richard sighed and said, "I know the feeling."

Archangel said, "I could set you up with Pam Anderson in a heartbeat."


"Dude, in this Pam's reality, she has dual Ph.D's in Marine Biology and Oceanography, was the youngest person ever to head up Woods Hole - and has a toned bod with no augmentation."


"Did I mention that she won the bronze medal at the '08 Summer Olympics in Seoul... and she's fanatical about keeping herself in shape?"

"Well... hey, wait a minute! The Seoul Olympics were in 1988!"

"That's right - but Pammy's Earth has a weird timeframe; it's skewed in that their people exist in the timeframe that we call present-day, but as we were twenty-two years ago. We recruited her after she saved several whales from being killed - her world has no problem with us operating openly there, and she took the Ring. Hey - I know that you like the seafood... did you know that in her reality, Pammy grew up in New Orleans, and - well, ask her if she's cool with a picnic. Let her serve - I'm here to tell you that ambrosia has never been happier to be transformed."

""Oh yeah, now I remember why I don't let you set me up on blind dates. You always go over the top."

"Well, as you temporal types say: 'If you've got the time, I can get you the right girl.'"

Daria shook her head. "You are two are worse than Jane and me."

"Getting back to business," Richard said. "Now that you know what we're about, what do you say?"

Daria folded her arms and slowly nodded. "I'll do it. If one of my alternate versions helped to stop these Ringwraiths, I'll pitch in to help clean up. Just one thing."

"What's that?" Archangel said.

"I've read enough of Ian's diary to know that the Agency recruits people that are about to die. Please, let me see my family and Jane again before we leave."

Richard hesitantly said, "This situation is a little different. You are not about to die on your Earth."

"Then won't I be missed and change history, even in a small way?" Daria's eyes suddenly opened. "You're going to reset my world."

"Yes, but it's more complicated than that," Richard said. "We need to reset your world to stop the alterations Ian Llwyd introduced, but the reset won't necessarily stop him. We need your knowledge."

"So, I'm not going to be reset. I'll keep all of my memories."

"That's right," Archangel said.

"But won't that change the reset?"

Richard said, "A Daria will exist in the reset world, but she will be different because the path of her life will be different."

"And I'll be alone, "Daria said, her voice hollow. "Everyone important to be will be gone. Literally, never existed."

"It sounds pat, but it's true. They will continue to exist in your memory." Richard rubbed his eyes. "Or, you can choose to be reset."

Daria looked up at the towers. "So my choice is to lose everything, but be the only memory of my world. Or, cease to exist along with it and be spared the loss."


Daria chewed on her lip and then said, "I have a very good memory. Let's go back."

1,858 C.E. Chichester, England. Earth D-793.

Ian sat back in a comfortable chair and sipped fine brandy from a large snifter. "Four years, today, and what a great four years," he said for his personal computer to record to his diary. "Every reality is mine."

He gazed around his comfortable sitting room in a house on the grounds of Chichester Monastery. Art and artifacts from numerous worlds filled the room with wonders, from the golden burial mask of Ramses III to the general of Qin Shi Huang's terra cotta army. He went to the window and looked out at the pleasant garden, carefully maintained by the resident monks.

A beautiful young woman wearing a proper maid's uniform cracked the door open. "Blessed Ian, Her Majesty's messenger has arrived."

"Thank you, Ashley," he said. "I will be down shortly."

"Yes, sir," she said. "Do you require anything else while I am here?"

"No, that will be all."

"As you wish."

The young woman closed the door and Ian closed his eyes. "Never shit where you eat," he said, glad to have taken that simple advice in his relations with this planet. Ian sipped more brandy and then set it on the small table next to his chair before going downstairs.

The waiting messenger was in the crimson of Her Majesty's Huscarls. He politely bowed and said, "Blessed Ian. I bring you greetings from Her Royal Majesty, Victoria."

Ian bowed in return. "My greetings to Her Royal Majesty."

"To begin, she asks if your accommodations are in order."

"All is well. The brothers are as adept as they have been for centuries."

"Second, she is honored that you have chosen to return during her reign."

"I am honored that the good people of England remember me so well. So in return, I send my gratitude to the Queen and her most worthy predecessors."

"In her gratitude, the Queen extends her invitation to a Royal Banquet in your honor, two days hence."

Despite the short time since he had returned to the comfort of his home, Ian felt an urge to make another trip through the Architect's Gate. An urge stronger than any he had felt before. Behind it was also a sense of immediacy. It was not only something that he felt he wanted to do, it was something that he felt he needed to do.

Ian said, "Please return to Her Majesty with my acceptance of her hospitality. But now, you must excuse me. I have just remembered an errand that I must attend to."

"I shall deliver your reply to Her Royal Majesty forthwith. Good day, Blessed Ian."

"Good day, gentle herald."

Only moments after the messenger had departed, Ian told the waiting maid, "Ashley, as you heard, I must attend to an errand. I plan to return within the day."

"Yes, Blessed Ian. We will await your return."

In a great hurry, Ian strode out of the house and was soon in the air, flying across the Atlantic to the Architect's Gate.

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Daria leaned down to check the time and date on her computer. "Well, it looks like you kept your word, though I wouldn't vouch for getting me back at the exact second."

Archangel pointed a thumb at Richard and said, "He does that punctuality thing. I tend to leave things loose."

"That sounded like my old friend Trent."

"He usually has a lot of untapped potential," Archangel said.

Daria rolled her eyes. "I should've known. Have you guys recruited a version of everyone I know?"

Richard said, "Close."

"Have you ever recruited one of me?"

Richard glanced at Archangel. "In your reading of Ian's journal, did he ever mention Wraithkiller?"


Richard nodded.

"One of me was a traitor Ringwraith!" she exclaimed.

"No," Archangel said. "She was the Ringwraiths' worst nightmare, but was never one of them."


"She managed to kill a Ringwraith while it was fighting a Ringbearer. Wraithkiller claimed the ring. Her desire for vengeance bonded it to her in a way the Ringwraiths never considered."

"Vengeance for what?"

"The Ringwraith had just killed her Quinn."

"Oh." Daria was quiet for several seconds before saying, "What...what happened to her in the end?"

"When that reality was reset, she folded back into it. Last I saw of her, she was having a bonding moment with her sister."

Daria nodded, but said, "Something tells me that you also know of truly evil versions of me."

Richard nodded in return.

"Are you going to need my help with them?'

"No. Most will remain in their home realities and there's nothing to do. One, however...to be honest, we're keeping an eye on her, but we're not sure exactly what we can do."

"You seem to be able to do a lot."

"True, but she's done some things that neither The Agency nor the Ringbearers can figure out. Until then, we're hoping to avoid contact."

Archangel stiffened and said, "Uh-oh."

Daria said, "I don't like the sound of that."

"I just sensed a dimensional disturbance. And close."

Richard said, "Daria, is there a Good Time Chinese restaurant in town?"

"No, why?"

"That would've made things a lot easier," Archangel said. "But I can manage."

Ian exited the Architect's Gate and looked around the alley behind the Great Horde Mongolian Grill. He checked the computer he carried and said, "Hmm, 2010. Curious."

A ping from the computer caught his attention. "Damn," he said while quickly turning the computer off. "They're here."

Ian turned and moved to step through the gate, but bumped his foot against the building wall instead. "Okay, I get the hint," he said to the gate. "I'll take care of things. But first, I need a little information."

Ian's arrival at Chichester Monastery caused a minor panic before the brothers of the order calmed down and accepted that their patron had once again returned. Following a slight delay while he came down from his office, the abbot arrived and bowed. "Welcome back to Chichester, Blessed Ian. Your abode is as you left it and ready for your immediate use."

"Thank you, good abbot."

A nervous young acolyte stammered, "B-b-but what about the artifacts on traveling display?"

"Oh, yes. Thank you for reminding me, brother." Then, the abbot said to Ian, "My apologies. A few items from your home are on traveling display to select museums around the world."

"Walk with me," Ian said. "And tell me of this traveling display."

Security update begun.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -- - -
Security update complete.
Security breach has been identified and corrected. Source has been identified as the Architect's Gate Intelligence. Breach was active for four years, relative, through the field computers held by former Team Leader Ian Llwyd.
Based on the data recovered, the AGI is now an Active Hostile.
Data also indicates that the AGI is an Active Hostile to the Corps of Ringbearers.
Under the Nova Valdris Accords, the leadership of the Corps of Ringbearers has been apprised of the situation. Update your Ringbearer counterpart immediately.
Beyond previous prohibitions, Agency personnel are not to approach within 1 km of an Architect's Gate under any circumstances.
Further instructions will follow as required.
Good Luck
Agency Headquarters. SCR-1


Daria turned to Archangel and said, "Should I worry that his face just turned ghost white?"

"Yes," he said as his DRADIS activated.

==Linking to Terra Beacon One
==Confirmed: Wright, Gerald W./Ringbearer
==Origin/Designation: Earth (D-77)
==Accessing security network


==ACTIVE HOSTILITY now exists with the Architect's Gate Intelligence.
==Previous prohibitions now include approaching within 1 km.
==Coordinate with your Agency counterpart until you receive further orders.

Daria said, "It looks like you just got more bad news."

Richard said, "Very bad." He glanced up at the camouflaged Architect's Gate they had located. "And we need to get out of here immediately."

"I thought you said it was inactive," Daria said.

"For now. Look, I'll explain later," Archangel said as he opened a portal back to his hotel room.

When they emerged, he said, "Sorry, but I was just ordered away from the Gate and orders like that, I follow."

Richard showed them his computer display and said, "I was ordered away, too."

Archangel read and then whistled. "Agency training, Vengeance Ring and under the influence of the AGI. This Ian is seriously some bad news."

Daria's cell telephone rang.

Richard said, "Go ahead and answer it as if everything was normal."

She let it ring again. "Hello, this is Daria."

She listened for a few moments and then closed the phone. "That was the Abbot of Chichester. St. Ian is on his way to see me."

The crowd that had gathered around the museum slowed Ian as he made his way inside to examine the exhibit. Small blessings and minor healing were the order of the day as the gathered faithful implored his aid.

A woman leading a young boy by the hand said, "Please, Blessed Ian. My son has been blind from birth."

Ian placed his hand over the child's eyes and a blue glow grew from it. He said, "The light will probably frighten your son and he's going to be disoriented, but everything will be fine."

The child shrieked and backed against his mother, covering his eyes. After his mother lifted him up, he said, "Mommy?"

Ian smiled, nodded and continued on his way. The Museum Director ran up and said, "My apologies, please, Blessed Ian. I've looked all over and I cannot find Dr. Morgenfolc anywhere. It's as if she'd disappeared straight out of her office."

"Perhaps she has," he said.

"I don't understand," the director said. "She's devoted her professional life to studying you and your works. Rumor has it she even learned how to read your book from God."

"Please, tell me more," Ian said as he hurried the director away from the crowd.

Present Day. Morgendorffer Residence. Earth SCR-001

Jake said, "You know, Daria, these Agency guys are really on top of things. You'll be fine."

The younger Daria in the house petted a tortoiseshell kitten and said, "Dad, that's not why she's upset."

The older Daria said, "Exactly. You know that your actual daughters are okay, if having to make a new life at that dreadful summer camp and, um, my younger version knows that her parents and sister are safe back home. I don't have the luxury. Once Ian discovers I'm gone, he's going to check my family and friends."

The young John Lane said, "I know it sounds a little weird for me to mimic Jake, but they know what they're doing."

The older Daria said, "I don't like depending on others."

John nudged the younger Daria and said, "That sounds like someone I know."

Also seated in the room was the Ringbearer Jane Lane that Daria had met earlier. "You can say that again."

The older Daria smiled at them and held up the security pass that Richard had given her before leaving. "No offense, but I'm going to wait for them in the lab. I'll try to be back for dinner."

"You're not leaving me behind," Ringbearer Jane said, rising to follow.

"Fine, come on."

After they left, the John said, "I'll give you good odds she's up to something."

Jake sat down and looked at the door. "John, my boy, I'm sure you're right," he said, starting to pet the cat. "Speaking of plans, for how long did Archangel ask us to watch Sissy?"

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Ian turned the duplicate computer over in his hands. Inward, he was impressed by the skill of the Ringbearer that had made it. To the director, he said, "Are you aware that this is a substitute for my Holy Book?"


"An expertly made copy, but a copy nevertheless. I'm very disappointed."

"We had no idea..."

"Obviously, Dr. Morgenfolc has plans. Plans that I'm sure will not please me."

"I'm sure you're mistaken, Blessed Ian. Dr. Morgenfolc..."

The director withered under Ian's glare as he said, "Is now an enemy of the church - and I will deal with her my self."

"Yes. Of course, Blessed Ian."

Waiting outside the old Morgenfolc home, Archangel said, "Arranging for them to win dinner for two at Chez Pierre was a great idea to keep Jake and Helen busy for a couple hours. Let's hope that they don't get overly romantic and come back early."

Richard said, "Come on. You know if they get frisky, they're not going to wait to get home."

"Point taken. Well, in that case, I hope Ian doesn't take too long to come here looking for Daria."

"Daria's are never happy about being protected. Good idea of yours to pick Jane."

Archangel shrugged. "I know they'll get along well and Jane's definitely one of our heavy hitters."

Richard received the following message on his computer.

Original temporal deviation event of Universe D-793 has been identified.
Nominal D-793 timeline does not have a supernova event for Van Maanen's Star occurring in 986 C.E. Van Maanen's Star should be a standard white dwarf.
Sufficient mass was added to the star to push it past the Chandrasekhar Limit, causing the detonation. Currently, the AGI is believed to be the causative agent.
Restoration of timeline will require the prevention of the Van Maanen Supernova.
Field determination of method authorized and permission granted to requisition necessary resources.
Under the Nova Valdris Accords, the leadership of the Corps of Ringbearers has been apprised of the situation. Update your Ringbearer counterpart immediately.
Good Luck
Agency Headquarters. SCR-1

He whistled and showed Archangel the message.

Archangel said, "Stop a supernova. No problem. You do it all the time."

"Your sarcasm is showing."

"Who did you piss off upstairs?"

"Who did you piss off to get stuck working with me?"

Present Day. Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Daria sat at Richard's desk and stared at the locked computer. "Too bad real life computer security isn't as easy to hack as Hollywood."

Jane said, "What did you expect?"

"Well, it wasn't that hard to get into Ian's computer, so I figured..."

"He left it on a planet that hadn't developed computers yet. Why bother to encrypt anything?"


Jane rubbed her chin. "Hmm, good point. But don't forget overinflated ego. Ringwraiths were well known for that."

"Possible. You know, I still don't like depending on someone else and..."

Jane said, "That sounds like an 'and' that's going to get me in delightful trouble. Go on."

Daria stood and faced Jane. "I only have a few people in my life. I can't loose them and I don't care what Richard says. So, I need your help."

"Going to snatch your family?"

"And your counterpart."

Jane grinned. "I'm in. It's always a blast playing with my mind."

Present Day. Botwulfston, Earth D-793.

Daria's best friend looked at her Ringbearer counterpart and said, "Um, Daria, I know it must've cost a fortune to put the makeup job on your friend, but that's creepy. Really creepy."

Daria rushed in and pulled the two Jane's behind her. "Jane, what I'm about to tell you is going to sound crazy, but I swear that it's the truth."

"Does this have anything to do with you figuring out how to read St. Ian's book?"

"Yes. It's much stranger than I thought."

Ringbearer Jane said, "And a hell of a lot more dangerous. Look, I'm from another universe and things are about to get real ugly with St. Ian real fast. Daria wants to save your ass and I'm here to help."

She grabbed her namesake's hand and Daria's. "No time to explain; let's just get out of here."

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

As soon as Ian appeared outside the Morgenfolc home, he sensed the danger waiting for him. Less than a second later, he barely dodged a blast of air that focused the power of a gale into a single, fist-sized front.

Archangel dropped his glamour and hovered in the air, preparing his next strike.

Richard's light saber chopping down at Ian, forcing him to push it aside with telekinesis and once again dodge to the side.

Quickly accepting that he was out of practice and no match for the experienced pair, Ian flew straight up at maximum speed, causing a sonic boom that broke and shook windows across the neighborhood.

Even with Archangel catching up, Ian had enough time to code his hand computer and shift backward in time.

Archangel slowed to a stop where Ian had vanished. "Dammit."

Present day. Corps of Ringbearer Headquarters. Nova Valdris D-247

"Ahhh!" Jane said as she reappeared in to the courtyard of Terra Beacon One. "What the hell just happened?"

Daria said, "Your counterpart transported us to a planet in another universe."

"Daria," Jane said. "There's no way you can afford this kind of special effects. You must've drugged me."

Ringbearer Jane said, "Oh, this is real, and my home." She did an elaborate bow and showed her silver ring. "I'm a Ringbearer and this is the home of the Corps of Ringbearers. We protect the multiverse from zombies, ghosts and other nasty things that go bump in the night."

Daria's friend sat on the ground and said, "Give me a minute, will you? I want to be ready when the guys with the white coats show up."

1,997 C.E. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Ian watched the moving van following a blue Lexus approach the interstate exit. The sharp curve of the cloverleaf would be an excellent place for a gust of wind to topple the overloaded truck and then a tiny spark in one of the fuel tanks would do the rest.

"Closer..." he said, "Closer..."

His warning sense gave him a fraction of a second to avoid the light saber slash from Richard, who had appeared beside him. Straight, into the force field that Archangel has set up to trap him.

With the force bubble closing, Ian used his ring's interdimensional ability to blindly jump away, figuring almost any location would be safer than his current situation.

Richard said, "Dammit. He's a squirrely one. If we don't one-shot him, he's only going to keep getting away."

"So that sooner or later, he might succeed in killing Daria in the past. We need a new plan. How about doing the reset now? If we get rid of this past, he can't alter it and destroy Daria."

"That just might work."


"Now, there's the little issue of stopping a supernova."

"Oh, yeah." Archangel tilted his head. "You know, the detailed report said that mass had to be added to the star for it to explode. I've got a feeling that if we stop that mass, we stop the event. Stopping a planet has to be the easier course of action."

Richard said, "I wonder. We don't have evidence for a planet close enough to be pulled in. I wonder if the AGI channeled mass from somewhere else. Let me take a look."

After running a scan with his computer, he said, "Got it. There was an open Architect's Gate in close enough orbit around Van Maanen's star for gravity to go through it to the other end, pulling mass from another star. Close the gate, stop the supernova."

"That sounds like you're talking about me."

"You can survive in a vacuum better than I can."


"And only you can handle the Plan B."

"Plan B. I knew there was going to be a Plan B."

Present Day. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Daria looked at the sports car with fogged windows parked outside of Chez Pierre and said, "I guess I should give them credit for being flexible enough at their age to do it in a two-seater."

Jane said, "I am not going up to them right now. That would be way too much information."

"We can't wait around until their finished. It's too dangerous. Can you move the car with them in it?"

"That, I can do."

1,950 C.E. Inchon, Korea, Earth D-793.

"Take out her grandfather on the battlefield. That's an easy way to change history without being noticed," Richard grumbled as he struggled to blank his presence from the minds of the Marines fighting their way up from the seawall facing the landing beaches.

"Damn naval bombardment," he said, telekinetically pushing an incoming shell aside to land just far enough away not to be a risk.

Richard spotted a .50 cal machine gun team wading ashore from the landing craft. "There you are, Nathan. Now, where's Ian waiting?"

986 C.E. In orbit around Van Maanen's Star. D-793

Flying through space, Archangel had no trouble finding the Architect's Gate near the star. A torrent of superheated gas and plasma flowed out of the gate and toward the white dwarf star, bringing it closer to the Chandrasekhar Limit. "There you are, you little bastard. Time to save a star."

Present Day. San Diego, Earth D-793.

"Daria!" Quinn said as she opened her apartment door. "What are you doing here?"

"Saving your life," Daria said, pushing her way in."


Jane the Ringbearer followed and said, "Quinn, listen to your sister."

"God, Jane. Who's your plastic surgeon? Whoever they are, they're good! You look, like ten years younger."

"Did you hear me?" Daria said.

"Saving my life, yeah, Sis," Quinn said. "But really, the tabloids are exaggerating things again. Zack's only a good friend. That kiss didn't mean a thing."

Tired, Daria said, "Jane?"

"Gotcha," she said, opening a portal back to Nova Valdris and nudging Quinn through.

1,950 C.E. Inchon, Korea, Earth D-793.

Richard's light saber deflected the stream of recreated bullets Ian had telekinetically thrown toward Nathan Morgenfolc.

Ian said, "Curious. Where's your partner? It's going to be a lot easier to take you out alone."

"Try me," Richard said, avoiding the question.

Ian created a sword with a blade that crackled with quintessence. "Hanging around in the middle ages was fun. Now I can try a real interesting sword duel."

"Lay on," Richard said, advancing with his light saber held in both hands.

986 C.E. In orbit around Van Maanen's Star. D-793

The energy released by the exploding Architect's Gate almost overwhelmed Archangel's shields. As the last remains of the shock wave rolled past, he relaxed and said, "Done. Not as hard as I thought."

A bright flicker from the star caught his attention. When he turned and saw the increasing brightness, he said, "That can't be good. Looks like it's time for Plan B."

Diving toward the surface of the star, Archangel thought, If I live through this...

Present day. Corps of Ringbearer Headquarters. Nova Valdris D-247

Ringbearer Jane lead the others to the Gateway Café just off the main plaza of Terra Beacon One. "Now everybody, just have a seat and order what you want, on me."

Daria said, "Where are you going?"

"I've got to go explain to the Supreme Ringbearer – she's the Ringbearer in charge here - why I've brought four unauthorized persons and a car here. I'm sure that they've noticed by now and...they'll have questions."

"Blame it on me," Daria said.

"Oh, I will," Jane said. "But don't worry, they'll probably understand, though I'm sure to get a lecture on reality tampering. But since your old reality is about to be totally tampered, I figure that I'm safe and they'll send us on to Agency Headquarters."

Daria said, "Are you sure?"

"It would take too long to explain why, just trust me."

1,950 C.E. Inchon, Korea, Earth D-793.

Richard deflected a sword blow and rolled to the side. As he stood at guard, he thought, So much for me keeping him busy, Ian's buying time for something. That's got to be the only reason he's fighting me like this after seeing Archangel was gone. What is he up to?

Ian flew into the air and called back, "It's been a lot of fun, but I must go now. See you later." As soon as he was finished, he portaled away from the battlefield.

Richard dove into a shell crater and tracked the portal. "Landæl. He's going for the gate." He entered a quick set of commands onto his computer and followed.

986 C.E. Van Maanen's Star. D-793

The beauty of the raging energy around him managed to overcome the nervousness Archangel felt about flying into the corona of the star. As he flew, he used his ring to transmute the remaining heavier elements into hydrogen. Gaining confidence in the mental exercise that Richard had shown him to sustain his will, Archangel expanded the volume of material transmuted until it reached the size of a small moon, the thought of which brought a flicker of amusement to him.

And that did the trick. Archangel could tell the change in the star as it began grow and expand as the local density decreased with the increase in hydrogen. Almost without warning, he hit the tipping point and the star's surface bounced away from its old, core volume. Archangel barely kept ahead of the expanding wave of plasma, but in seconds, it stabilized and he was able to continue undisturbed.

After a minute, he turned and looked back at what was now a red giant star. "Not too shabby, if I say so myself." After a moment, he chuckled and said, "I'm going to have a real hard time telling him that his plans are crazy after pulling this one off."

1,950 C.E. Landæl, Earth D-793.

Sensing the impending danger of staying, Ian flew hard and fast at the Architect's Gate, not caring who saw him or what damage the sonic boom caused as he came in low over the town.

Richard barely had time to come to guard when he saw Ian flying toward the portal. His computer continuously screamed a warning that the universe was about to be reset.

Ian saw him and, with a grim smile, created a sharp, needle-like cone of diamond that he used his telekinesis to fly in front like the nose cone of a rocket.

Calm, Richard prepared his defense, knowing that he had the will to telekinetically stop Ian and his little trick from reaching the gate interface. Then, it would only be a matter of leaving him incapacitated as the planet was reset, thus removing him as a future threat.

Richard peripherally noticed the bright, blue flash behind him before something from the Architect's Gate struck him in the back with tremendous power, throwing him across the alley and hard into the facing wall. Richard scrambled to his feat and turned just in time to see Ian fly into the gate.

"Son-of-a-bitch!" Richard shouted as he hit the emergency recall on his computer. Richard portaled away only a second before the reality faded to gray and vanished.

Present Day. Agency Sector Headquarters. Earth SCR-001

Standing in the lab, Archangel's good mood fell when he saw Richard's face as he appeared. "That's not good."

Richard grumbled, "Ian got away through an Architect's Gate."


"I don't know how, but the gate pushed me out of the way."

"The gate?"

"Hopefully the tech crews can analyze my computer records to find out what it did. First time I've heard of a gate taking direct, physical action."

"First for me, too, and I don't like it."

"There's going to be hell to pay." Richard noticed the message light on his office phone. "I'm going to get this. Hopefully it will take my mind off things for a moment. I can use it before I tell my bosses what happened."

He hit the speakerphone and, after the usual menu, heard Helen Morgendorffer say, "I really don't mind helping out from time to time, honest, but I hope you can find a place for everyone soon. Having a whole other Morgendorffer family, plus Jane around sure complicates things and we've run out of sofa space for everyone. Hurry, I don't think we can survive two Jakes in the house trying to cook. Thanks, bye."

Richard sighed. "It looks like she decided to rescue her family. Why am I not surprised?

Archangel shrugged. "We really should know better than to leave any version of Daria and Jane alone and unsupervised."

"We should."

Richard entered a number on the phone and after a second, said, "Housing? I have an emergency request. Make that, several."

Standing at the door to her new cottage, Daria said, "When I thought about it for the fifteenth time, I couldn't face going on alone. I'm hoping that you understand."

Richard smiled. "I understand and honestly, I really should've expected it."

A man of Daria's age with red hair and aviator style glasses emerged from the adjacent cottage. The man waved and started to walk over."

Richard nodded to the newcomer. "I'll let you get acquainted with the neighbor. He's a pretty good guy." Turning to leave, he said, "I'm on my way to check on your parents and sister at their new places. I'll be back later to make sure you've settled in."

"Sure, thanks," Daria said.

The young man nodded politely to Richard as they passed - and then, he stepped up to Daria. He extended his hand, saying, "Hi. I thought it would be nice to meet the new neighbor. "I'm Michael Fulton. Staff archeologist."

She shook his hand and said, "Daria Morgenfolc. I'm kind of a special advisor."

"Pleasure to meet you."

"Archeologist, you say?"

Richard glanced over his shoulder, noticing the way Michael was looking Daria over. "I was never planning on you being alone."

As he stood beside Richard in front of the Agency Director's desk, Archangel looked around the well appointed room. Oh, yes, he thought, Rank has its privileges.

The Director was a woman nearing sixty with silver-white hair and blue eyes that pierced like knives. Beside her was a slender woman with very long, dark hair. Archangel and Richard knew her as Ms. Lawrence, an Emissary of the Ringmasters.

The Director said, "The situation with the Architect's Gate Intelligence and the remaining Ringwraiths have become an issue that we must now assign high priority. The Ringmasters are in agreement, so the two of you have been chosen to head up the effort."

"Yes, ma'am," Richard said. "What extra resources are we to be given?"

Ms. Lawrence stepped around the desk. "It's been agreed that you will be the first cross-equipped operatives for our organizations." She picked up a personal computer from the Directors desk and handed it to Archangel. "Until the technology can be fully merged to incorporate it into your ring DRADIS system, you are issued an Agency field computer with full security access."

Archangel took the device and nodded – his demeanor more serious than Richard had ever seen before. "Yes, Emissary."

The small woman then turned to face Richard. "We cannot give you a Ring because of the demands of your personal ethics; therefore, the Council has authorized me to gift you with several of the Ring's abilities." She reached out and grasped his hand, and they were surrounded by a blue aura.

When the glow faded faded, she said, "Now, you will have the same warning sense and omnicommuncation of a Ringbearer, as well as being able to create glamours and ambrosia."

"Thank you."

"You now possess the ability to fly, and I have also awakened your elemental affinity. I do not know what that will be, but you will discover that in time. Archangel can tell you what you need to know."

"Okay," Richard said, feeling slightly uncertain about what had just happened.

The Director spoke once more, "Archangel, we have prepared housing and work space for you here. Richard, the Ringbearers have prepared quarters and other facilities for you on Nova Valdris. Resources will be available on a priority basis. Further details can be found in your briefing files. Good luck."

Richard said, "Thanks. I think we're really going to need it."

Present Day. Unknown universe

Ian stood in the dark temple and rested one arm against the Architect's Gate frame. "That was a nice trick and trust me, I really appreciate it. Now that I don't have a base, they can't track me back to it, but they know that I exist, so they'll be looking. I have my limits and without help, all I'm going to be doing is running to keep a step ahead of them."

He looked at the copper Vengeance Ring on his finger. "That is, unless I bring in some help."

Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading.
March – May 2010