So I was listening to the Letters Page podcast’s episode about La Capitan’s m:otley gro:up, and I had an idea. It seems kind of obvious, so I’ll be surprised if someone hasn’t already done it, but if it is completely original to me, then I demand full credit for inventing exactly what I called it in the title of this thread.
(PS: how do I insert a special character with this software? If I copy it from my computer's Character Map, will it display properly?)
C&A talked about how the members of La Paradoja Magnifica’s crew are much more independent than other groups of minor villains, such as Dawn’s Citizens or the mini-nemeses who join Baron Blade for Vengeance, that they effectively rule by committee, each having their own motivations for working together in the plundering raids which La Capitan leads. And this led to me fantasizing about her initiating such a raid, turning all her Crew loose to wreak whatever brand of havoc they feel like, and then when the fight turns against them and she decides it’s time to leave, she cries out:
From there, it was obvious, and I couldn’t stop myself. Therefore, I present:
Stephen (or Stephanie) Graves, THE CONDUCTOR
When U.S. Army Lieutenant Graves shook the hands of an old war buddy named Tyler Vance and then headed off to take the train back home, s/he had no idea what a long strange trip it was about to be. As the massive express hurtled through black concrete tunnels and over gleaming chrome bridges, Graves took a well-earned nap, and thus remained ignorant of the view outside the windows, which was turning into an increasingly puzzling and soon a downright otherworldly one. More and more alien landscapes flashed past at 90 miles an hour, well over the train’s intended maximum speed, and there would have been many cries of consternation from the other passengers, had they not all been Vanishing Without A Trace at about the same rate as the exterior view was replaced by these otherworldly vistas.
As the locomotive finally came loose from the physical tracks and hurtled into the trackless expanses Outside Space And Time, Graves finally awoke, looked out the windows to see nothing that made sense, and charged in rising panic up and down the length of the train, realizing at last that s/he was hopelessly alone and had no idea where s/he was or was going. Plunging through a dizzying vortex of swirling half-realities, where the wheels periodically touched down on ground of some sort and squealed in protest for a moment before tearing free into the timestream again, the vehicle continued its spiral through the twisting trails of the chronoscape, until finally it chanced to land upon another set of tracks which could hold its bulk and was sized right to cradle its wheels; only then did the temporal instability dissipate enough that friction could begin reducing the train’s momentum enough that it finally STOPPED.
Having lost most of his/her mind during the harrowing experience, Graves began putting the pieces of a vaguely balanced worldview back together while stepping outside of the train, and walking in a straight line directly away from it without daring to risk a backward glance, hoping to escape whatever nightmare s/he had fallen into. But after a few hours, and right about the time Graves was close to passing out from thirst and exhaustion beneath a punishing desert sun, the train finally started to move again, and simultaneously to phase out of reality, and Graves found that s/he was phasing right along with it. Over the course of the next…well, however long it was, given that measuring the interval is by definition impossible, but subjectively it probably felt like a couple of months…Graves discovered through trial and error that he and the train were inexorably connected, that its path through the dimensions was also his/her own, and they could not be separated from each other nor exist within a single timeframe for more than a few subjective hours at a time. Appointing him/herself the train conductor, for lack of any better candidates for the job, Graves began studying the operator manuals stored aboard the ultra-modern vehicle, not only quickly gaining the necessary expertise to steer the vehicle across what s/he soon began thinking of as “the rails of time”, but also reawakening a childhood love of model trains that s/he had intentionally forgotten after enlisting, so that the distraction would not impair his/her performance in a way that might have led him/her toward feeling consistently outclassed by a squad buddy like Lt. Vance.
Once a modicum of control over the train was his/hers, Graves (or, to use his/her new self-appointed title, “The Conductor”) began to steer his paradoxical craft to more and more intentionally chosen destinations across the many timelines, gathering up individuals who seemed almost as out of place as Graves him/herself now was, and offering them a new purpose as semi-permanent residents of his traveling home and kingdom. With a sense of morality but also a shattered psyche, Graves is an ethical wild card who has made many questionable decisions and been forced to compromise any principles s/he once might have held sacred, abandoning old emotional attachments in favor of a somewhat mercenary attitude, but also frequently being compelled by an urge to fix injustices wherever s/he found them (particularly racial ones, since s/he had a few memories of having experienced such personally, if not ever that severely). Even if the Timestream itself seemed to become more unstable in the wake of such interventions, Graves was unable to let any such abstract considerations stop him/her from gathering up these potential victims and adding them to the crew of what Graves now called “the Paradox Express”. While many of these individuals are good people, they come from eras with very different ethical standards from one another, and the loose consensus government that has emerged among them doesn’t entirely satisfy the moral principles of any member including Graves. Combine that with the need to provide food and similar necessities for an increasingly unwieldy number of “passengers”, Graves feels driven with unstoppable momentum toward acts that are primarily self-serving on the group’s behalf, yet not entirely to Graves’s own benefit or satisfaction; to coin a phrase, “time will tell” whether this story ends up being about a hero or a villain “in the fullness of time”.
(Man it’s hard to avoid writing a story like this without resorting to time puns. Hopefully saving them until the end will keep the groanworthiness to a minimum. Anyway, let me know what you think.