“I think we may have a problem.” Timebender said. Standing with their backs to each other, the four Champions looked around worriedly. Ash’s drones were leaping from buildings, creating a large ring of tree zombies surrounding the quartet. The smaller Ultiminions were filling in the ranks between them. “Any ideas?”
“Ash, this isn’t you. You reprogrammed yourself once, remember? You took all of those subroutines out.” Mayfly was speaking somewhat desperately, looking from tree to tree.
“Incorrect, Nadia. I merely thought that I had. My processes are much clearer, now.” All of the trees spoke in unison, their voices carrying the flat, emotionless tone with which Ash had announced Ecchs’ control over him.
“Right, but if you think back…” Mayfly started.
“Oh, give it a rest, girl.” Ecchs shook his head in frustration. “I have a little news flash for you. Friendship and love do not, in fact, triumph over having your mind rewritten. In fact, Ash wouldn’t want you to restore his programming, would you, Ash?”
“Not at all, Doctor.” Ash confirmed. “I was operating under a set of corrupted subroutines that interfered with my ability to complete my assigned tasks as originally intended. For all intents and purposes, the Champions have been facilitating what amounts to a mental illness on my part.”
“We need to fall back.” Timebender muttered to the others while Ecchs and Ash were speaking. “If Ecchs is going this far, there’s no telling what he’ll do next.”
“I can hear you, Timebender.” Ecchs interrupted. “I can hear everything that Ash can hear, and Ash can hear rather a lot. It’s come up before, I believe.” He checked his nails. “As for what I’m going to do next… I was thinking of taking over the world. Care to try and stop me, or would you prefer to surrender now and save yourselves the trouble?”
Timebender stared at the hologram. “What the hell has gotten into you, Ecchs?! This is completely insane!”
“Is it?” Ecchs glanced over at Ada, and then sighed. “You know what, whatever. Bored now. Shivarex?”
“I hear you, your Majesty.” A tall form pushed through the row of trees. Two large six-taloned claws reached up to form twin salutes against a black lizard-like snout, and four glittering green eyes looked down at the Champions. Two more arms, crossed against its chest, were tapping out a rhythmic patter. The whole creature stood over nine feet tall, patterened in blue and black, and was wearing a simple grey jumpsuit and a heavy cowl. “Greetings, Patchwork Champions.”
“What. The. Hell.” Mayfly said shortly.
“You’re an akagari, aren’t you?” Jhim asked a moment later.
“No way.” Timebender muttered. “Akagari are, like, six and a half feet tall. Maybe seven. And they only have two eyes, and…”
“And two arms, yes.” Shivarex finished for her. “**I am a sovak of my species. A superhuman mutate, in your terminology.”
“What are you doing here, with Doctor Ecchs?” Jhim asked.
“I have aligned myself with his cause. I am Shivarex, Poet of the Flesh, and one of the chosen Inner Circle of Rex Mundi.” The massive alien replied politely.
“Rex Mundi.” Timebender echoed him.
“Rex Mundi.” Shivarex confirmed.
“Rex Mundi?” Lucky said incredulously. He looked over to Doctor Ecchs. “You actually convinced him that you were Rex Mundi? How in the name of Heaven did you manage to…” He broke off. “No way.”
Ecchs nodded with a smile.
“No freaking way.” Lucky looked to the others, who were staring at Ecchs. “No. I don’t believe it. No way. Not a chance. No.”
“Actually…” Ecchs started.
“No. Uh-uh. I don’t believe it. No way. I do not. No.” Lucky interrupted.
“Are you quite finished?” Ecchs said frostily.
“Uh… yeah.” Lucky nodded, then paused. “Actually, no. Because no. No. No. No.”
“Right, I was going to gloat a bit, but screw it. Shivarex, Ash, kill them.” Ecchs gestured negligently.
“Thanks, Lucky.” Timebender muttered to him. Lucky shrugged.