The Monkees finished the last notes of As We Go Along and paused, waiting.
The man behind the control booth raised three fingers, then two, then one, then shot his thumb into the air. As one, the four smiled and removed their headphones.
"I think that one will go on the album!" producer Bob R. said with a smile. "What do you guys think?"
"I think that was a great cut," Mike said with a grin. "But I also think you're forgettin' who's senior producer around here."
Bob R. lowered his eyes. "Yeah... sorry, Mister Nesmith. It's just someday... well I hope to be one in my own right, you know?"
Peter smiled and leaned into the microphone. "You'll make it someday, Bob," he rasped, his recovering voice still scratchy. "Trust me."
Bob R. nodded and smiled. "Okay. I'm so used to you four being just studio musicians, that when you sing too... well, it blows my mind."
And Bob wondered for days to come why the four shared ironic smiles when he mentioned their day jobs. After all, weren't the Monkees the best studio musicians in the business?
The battered GTO pulled up outside the beach house at 1334 Beechwood to see Babbitt sitting on the porch. The four got out and walked over to sit beside him. "What's wrong, Mr. B?" Davy asked.
"Is there some way you boys could get me the next mortgage payment early this month?" Babbitt asked sadly. "I know it's short notice and all but..."
"Say no more," Peter said, shooting Mike an order via their mental link. Mike nodded briefly and vanished into the house, tapping Davy on the shoulder and motioning for him to follow.
Babbitt actually managed a genuine smile. "You boys are something else, you know? You used to wheedle out of paying the rent, but since last Christmas, you've been —"
Babbitt's words were drowned out by an explosion. Davy came hurtling through the door, unconscious. From inside came the unmistakable sounds of Mike's lasers being fired.
Forgetting Babbitt was there, Peter and Micky gained their feet and raced inside.
Babbitt shot Davy a curious glance, then followed. He raced through the front door of the pad, and felt his jaw unhinge at the scene begin played out before him.
There was a woman with fire-red hair and emerald green eyes standing in the middle of the living room. Her face was contorted with rage, and she was hurtling beams of pure energy from her fingertips at Mike.
Dodging her barrage, Mike raised his wrists and answered the woman's onslaught with one of his own! Babbitt's eyes widened. Were those laser beams coming from Mike's hands?
"Impossible," Babbitt muttered, shaking his head to clear it.
Fighting beside the woman was a blonde man – who looked exactly like Peter! But it couldn't be him — not when Peter was floating not ten feet away, his blue eyes glowing brightly.
"What is going on here?" Babbitt demanded, trying to sound authoritative.
"Mr. Babbitt, I don't think you oughtta be standing there," a voice said behind him, and Babbitt whirled just in time to see Micky shimmer into view.
"D-Dolenz?" he stammered. Suddenly, it was too much for the older man and he slid into a dead faint.
Micky used a force field to maneuver him out of harm's way, then rejoined the battle.
The battle raged on for several minutes, and the three Monkees proved not only to outman, but outmaneuver Mara and the evil Peter. Just when they thought she may never surrender, Mara suddenly raised her hands and shrieked, "Enough!"
Mike lowered his arms, but not his guard. "Had enough?" he asked, his tone just a bit cocky. "One of these days, maybe you'll learn that you are never going to defeat us, Mara."
"And so shall it always be when the forces of evil try to conquer o'er the land," Micky said, his tone filling with false bravado. "Good shall always triumph, because..."
"I said, enough!" Mara shouted, outraged. "So, you think you've beaten me, do you?"
"Well, it does kinda look that way," Peter pointed out.
Mara glared at him pointedly. "We'll see..." she muttered. "You battle well on your own ground ... but how would you fare against me in a foreign land?"
"Listen, lady, we can beat you anytime, anyplace!" Micky boasted.
Mara's eyes narrowed, and a slow, deliberate smile spread across her face. "Oh, really...."
Suddenly, she raised her arms and began to chant. A howling wind swept across the room, sweeping the furniture over and causing the Monkees' hair to blow across their faces.
"Now look what you've done!" Mike shouted at Micky, who was too stunned to reply.
Mara, Evil Peter, Mike, Micky, Peter, Davy – unconscious on the lawn — and Mr. Babbitt, all began to glow.
There was a brilliant flash of white, and they disappeared.
Babbitt opened his eyes to feel a savage kick in his side. He rolled over on his hands and knees and gained his feet.
Peter stood there, leering. He was in different clothes — these were skintight leathers, cut to show off every physical asset he possessed. His long blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail and there was a coldness in his brown eyes that chilled Babbitt to the bone. "About time, old man," he snarled.
"You're... the other one..." Babbitt stammered.
"Oh, yeah," he said, circling the hapless landlord like a cat circles a bird. "I'm Peter... but I'm not that goody-two-shoes. I'm smarter, better..."
"....more of a blowhard...."
That earned him a stinging backhanded slap. "Have a care, old man! Your days of heroism are long past...."
Babbitt's eyes widened.
"Oh, yeah, I know about your secret past... My Lady knows the hell you put her through! She's baffled as to why you've not used the ability since you've been here. She sensed it when you appeared..." He suddenly laughed. "You have no idea what I'm talking about! You've no idea what you are! Very well..." And he raised his arm. "Go to your friends... let them protect the 'helpless old man'... It'll be one more burden for them and we'll wear them down!" Evil Peter vanished, leaving his laughter behind.
Babbitt stood there, frowning. "...what...."
"Mister B!" Peter's voice rang out. This one running over to him wore jeans and a t-shirt, and his hair was shorter. His blue eyes shone with concern. "Here you are! Come on, we gotta get you to camp..."
Babbitt let out a squeak of protest as he was lifted into Peter's arms, then into the air as Peter's eyes glowed again! "What the..."
"No need to hide from you now," Peter said. "You know. We'll explain everything later."
Babbitt couldn't enjoy the ride anyway. His brain was whirling as to what Evil Peter had been talking about. He pulled himself out of his own thoughts and began to examine his surroundings as Peter hurried to join the others, 'towing him along'. All that Babbitt could gather was that they were in very primitive surroundings. There were no signs of civilization anywhere — no cars, no buildings, no people. Just grass and the occasional tree.
"I can walk, you know," he said at one point, but Peter ignored him. The trees turned into a forest, and at last they joined the other three boys in a clearing.
"Where'd you find him?" Mike asked Peter, as the blonde man set Babbitt gently on the ground.
Peter gestured vaguely as he touched down. "Up there a ways."
"Is he hurt?"
"Doesn't seem to be .... You all right, Mister B?" Peter continued, turning back to the landlord.
"Fine, fine, no thanks to you," Babbitt grumbled, dusting himself off. "Good way to give an old man a heart attack, flying him here and there ----" His eyes widened. "Flying!"
"Guess we owe you an explanation, huh?" Micky said, grinning sheepishly.
"It wouldn't be a bad idea," Babbitt replied, still somewhat irritable.
Mike's dark brows snapped together angrily. "Now listen here...."
Peter held up a hand, cutting Mike off. "Michael, the guy's been through a lot," he said, gently. "Mister B, we do owe you an explanation of what you saw back there. You see, we aren't the same boys that you had as your tenants a year ago..."
"You're telling me!" Babbitt murmured. "You four actually pay! On time!"
Davy rolled his eyes. "Is that the only thing ye care about?"
Babbitt considered briefly what Peter's double had said about him... about the past that was a mystery to him. "No," he said, softly. "Not the only thing..."
Once all five were sitting on the ground, the Monkees told Babbitt about the plane trip and the atomic test that had granted them meta-human abilities. They told him about the Quests and how they ended up where they had lived for the past eight months. Peter's throat began to ache halfway through and Mike finished his part of the tale.
When at last they fell quiet, Babbitt sat there for a few moments, still and silent. At last, he said, "I should be laughing my ass off at this... but I've seen too much in the last few hours to discount it offhand. Now tell me this --- who is that leather-clad idiot and why does he look like Tork's twin brother?"
Peter sighed and looked at Mike. In as few words as possible, the linked duo told about the evil versions of themselves Mara brought to fight them; about Mike's double reforming and helping them; about Micky and Davy's doubles being at large somewhere, and about how Peter's double allied himself with Mara. "It's like he's her lover or something," Peter croaked, his voice nearly gone once more. "Since that first battle, we've not seen one without the other eventually popping up!"
"How many times have you fought him?" Babbitt squeaked.
"Too many," they chorused.
A shout from behind them drew their attention before Babbitt could answer that. A young man, barely in his twenties, rode into the clearing on a dappled horse. He smiled and them and wheeled his horse around, shouting, "I told thee, Dolen! Tis them!"
Babbitt's jaw unhinged. The man looked like Davy!
His jaw dropped even more when an older, mustachioed Micky rode up beside the young man. He was astride a black horse. "Aye," he growled. "Ye spake truly, Sir Joseph. Now hie thee back t'Kamlot an' tell the King and Queen the Four hast returned!"
"I shall hie t'Tork's cottage first!" declared the young man as he rode off.
Dolen rolled his eyes. Young ones," he snarled. Eyes upon Mike, he asked, "Why be you hence once more, Robert? And who be the old one?"
Babbitt was too stunned to take offence. He found his eyes drawn to the horse. He stared at the animal, taking in its colour -- black -- not even a spot of white on it....
//Funny// he found himself thinking. //It looks just like I did when I ---- what?!?!?//
Tork rode up soon after and summarily invited The Four and their friend to his cottage.
"The Four?" Babbitt whispered to Mike.
"We were here before, a few months ago," Mike whispered back. "These are our doubles, yeah. They call us The Four because... .because... Well, I don't know why they call us The Four!"
Babbitt nodded briefly. Once they reached the cottage and he'd looked around, he slipped out the door and walked down the path slightly, sinking onto a large rock and sighing.
After a little while, Mike dropped down beside him. "A lot to digest, ain't it?"
Babbitt nodded. "Harder for someone like me."
"Someone not used to weirdness..." Mike said, nodding.
"No..." Babbitt closed his eyes. "An amnesiac."
Mike's head snapped around to look at Babbitt, his jaw unhinging. "A what?"
"I have amnesia, Nesmith," Babbitt sighed. "I can't remember anything about my life before the age of 25. Thirty years of not knowing who I really am.... what I'm really like..." He shook his head.
After a moment, Mike said softly, "Mister B....I've had some medical training. Once this is over... I'd like to look at you if I may. Maybe I can find what caused it and help you."
The landlord gaped at him. "You'd.... after all I've...."
"We help people." Mike lay a hand on his shoulder and Babbitt noticed the blueness under the deep brown of his eyes. "That's what we do --- we help. Have you been seen by a doctor?"
"Alice...wouldn't let me go."
Mike blinked. "Who's Alice? Your wife?"
"No... Alice Purdy. She was Alice Grayson when she found me....Why am I telling you this, Nesmith?"
Mike smiled slightly. "Because I'm listenin'."
Babbitt sighed. "She found me.... she told me that we'd been friends since childhood. I wanted to see a doctor.... I was scared. I couldn't remember anything.... She said no, they can't find out. I asked her what the doctor couldn't find out... she changed the subject. Each time I'd bring it up, she'd say the same thing. Eventually I quit asking. You know something, Nesmith? I've never seen a doctor. For anything."
Mike nodded. "Have you any idea what Mrs. Purdy didn't want the doctor to find?"
Babbitt shook his head -- then his eyes widened. "I....think I might have an idea, now. Leather-Boy Tork told me that his Lady sensed I had some... some kind of...ability..."
Mike gave a start so violent that he actually fell backward onto the ground. "What?!"
The landlord shook his head again. "I don't understand...I'm as normal as y---.... well, I'm as normal as a normal person!"
A genuine, amused grin shot over Mike's face as he replied, "I can't take offence at that crack, Mister B -- because I'm not 'normal'. But I wouldn't stress out over it --- Peter's double's full of hot air."
Babbitt sighed. He opened his mouth to reply, but a shout from the cottage interrupted him. "The King and Queen! They have arrived!"
Mike stood up. "We need to go on in." He smiled. "Brace yourself. The king....is me."
"You?" Babbitt gasped. "Then he blinked. "Makes sense... I've seen the others...."
The young blonde woman rose from the table and hugged Mike. "Robert," she sighed with a cheerful smile. "Welcome back." She pulled away. "And who be this?"
Everyone here seems to just have one name, Babbitt thought. He took her hand and kissed it. "Henry, Ma'am. And you must be the queen."
A second Mike, with hair to his shoulder blades, held in check by a golden metallic headband, stepped forward. "She is. And I be her husband."
"Nesmith..." Mike said, holding out his hand.
The king clasped Mike's wrist. "Tis good to see thee once more, Robert. Why hie thee hence once more?"
"It was Tari," Micky said, using the name Mara had adopted as she'd enslaved Kamlot. "She brought the five of us here to fight and defeat us."
Nesmith took a dagger from his belt and slammed its point into the table. "She shall not succeed. So vows the King of Kamlot."