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Shikarr

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Posts posted by Shikarr

  1. Re: Hellgate London Game

     

    My problem isn't the monsters those are fairly easy to recreat in hero except perhaps the orbiles and such as that. The main problem at least in my mind whether it truly is or not is the character clases and such. The Templar are fairly easy, The Marksman and Evokers also although the armor and shield combo thing is not working out as well as I hoped. So if someone would give me an idea on a better way perhaps to do the shields an armor for the characters that would help or at least your take on it. It would give me another perspective at least.

  2. Has anybody thought of doing a port of this RPG/MMO over to Hero and if so what have you come up with so far? My friends like the history and general stuff of the game and would like me to run one similar so I am starting on working up something but I wanted to check here and see if anyone else had done something on it also.

     

    Thanks in Advance

  3. Re: The astonishing powers of Kelvarite!

     

    I would go with Dr Anomaly on this one. A series of HPA's that form a campaign length adventure I would definitely be interested in. Each one could be a piece of the puzzle although as with all adventure puzzles you never have to always get to the very end to enjoy them.

  4. Re: Computer Controlled Power Armor Weapons

     

    Personally I would just go the simple route with a Conditional Modifier - Requires computer computation to function. Then the GM will just tell you when your computer is down or damaged and you know the power wont work. Still only would round out to about a 1/4 mod though. Wouldn't try to slide by with anything more.

  5. Re: GM's "Notebook"

     

    I have 2 levels of keeping track of stuff. Current Game and Long Term. For CG I use Herodesigner for characters and its export templates to provide excellent combat charts for the game. I use excel sometimes or the open office equvalent for some data for the game also. For LT I use Open office and Word for long descriptions of campaign goals and future plot summaries so that I don't forget a plot thread that I have used or am going to use. Some of my best games I have run have been multible threads from past games coming together to be resolved or to bite someone on the ***. Luckily for me one of my group is a compulsive(anal) note taker and I hate to say I use her stuff frequently instead of writing it up myself. Look on here for the thread Shikarr's campaign Notes and you will see how my campaign has went. I have been running this one for 3 years now.

  6. Re: Original Supervillain Groups -- Get Creative!

     

    One of my evil supergroups is an assassination group called The Three Ninja.

     

    They are led by The Grey Ninja - A ninja spirit able to possess normals completely and supers not so completely. Able to manifest spirit ninja equipment which is deadly to almost anyone since it targets souls not bodies.

     

    The Black Ninja - Japanese demon spirit controls darkness and shadows as well as mystical ninja abilities.

     

    White Ninja - Japanese Vampire with a multitude of oriental vampiric abilities not subject to the limitations of western vampires but still limited by japanese mythos limitations.

     

    All of them very civilized and followers of a strict code of honor. They only take jobs that they deem as neccessary and that would be challenging to them. They have never been accepted a job to kill a superhero although supers have frequently get in their way for a time during jobs usually. So far only foiled completely once.

  7. Re: Skills for Battlesuit Technician?

     

    Several KS and PS's

     

    To include:

    Aeronautics

    Robotics

    Metalurgy

    Computer Programming

    Nanotechnology

    Neurological interfaces

    Tailoring

    Cybernetics

    Electronics

    Weapon smith

     

    These would be my basic requirement for someone who invents or works on battle suits. Of course lots of other skills would be useful.

  8. Re: The Kandris Seal

     

    I second the recommendation. I greatly enjoyed the Kandris Seal. I bought it when it first came out. I have used it ever since in my campaign as part of the mystical history of it. Using the organizations and several the characters as proven to be very good and fun for my group.

  9. Re: Sanctuary?

     

    I also have something similar to Sanctuary in my game although it isn't preciesly a place. It is a set of underground clubs in the large cities that mutants go to. Generally low level mutants or mutants with deforming mutations and powers. It is not precisely a place that villans go but if they do they are not unwelcome unless they cause problems or are publically known murderers. Anyone too much in the public eye is not welcome whether for good or ill in the clubs, who maintain their aninimity by being low key. Each club has several layers denoted by powerclass to enter. But everyone leaves each other alone in them.

  10. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    And the journey continues. Here is the latest installment. After this little bit the game went on a hiatus for 2 months. But we are starting up again this coming sunday.

     

     

    August 12, 2003

    No rest for the weary or the wicked.

    It’s late I’ve only had a few hours of sporadic sleep over the days since our raid on Genocide, and then with Destroyers attack, the 11th barely ended before we were into it again; it’s been a long two days. What a day we had; I know BZYs in still in the medical bay until his nanites can finish their repairs and I’m pretty sure that Jet wouldn’t want to come out of her little furnace until some time near Christmas; but I know that both would drag themselves through broken glass to make the memorial tomorrow. I’m not sure how Geiger is going to do, he acts distant, broken, it might be a temporary thing, he does recover quickly but I have him and the rest of us up for psychiatric evaluation, hopefully everyone will do as they’ve been asked and take their appointments, I know I’m going to have at least one argument about it, possibly two, but if they want to continue fighting crime, they’ll have to. I know I feel like I’m a hamster running on a wheel, running but never getting anywhere, just running until I collapse from exhaustion or drop dead, one or the other.

     

    It’s been hard to get to sleep which is why I’m writing now; I’ve had a lot to think about today, so much has happened, I’ve had some scares that have made me think about my life differently. I’ve dredged up old photos, sentimental moments, heartbreak, my past my life and realized something, I’m not really living. I’ve got no real friends, I’ve kept myself somewhat distant with my comrades in arms, no girlfriends to hang with on Friday night; no lovers, not like I had been promiscuous but having someone in bed would be a comfort; no family at least on this side of the pond, no social life, nothing. I’ve been so absorbed in being FireFrost that I’ve lost myself, but then again, how much did I really have? I’m reminded of Chicken Run, “’My life just passed before my eyes, and it was really boring.’†Ok so my current life isn’t dull, but you get the idea, it’s all one sided I’m living for my career and nothing else. I’ve been obsessive to the point of self destructive before, hell I’m still obsessive but usually there was a break in the work, something to drag me out of the lab and back into the sunlight, I’m beginning to think that joining PRIMUS was a mistake, ok maybe not PRIMUS. My mistake was experimenting on myself and thereby irrevocably altering my life, my destiny forever. Oh yes I have had infinite amounts of fun being FireFrost but the price wasn’t something I had comprehended, the price to my health and well being, the cost of existing in a “normal†life. I hadn’t thought about it then, but I’m thinking about it now and God help me, I have no concept of how to fix it. I could become powerless, get one of the wristbands PRIMUS has that cuts you off from your powers but it wouldn’t be the same. My faith supports me though much and my time with Father O’Malley in Church when I can go has been a gift, having a father confessor who can deal with supers, thank you o’ Lord for providing, but even O’Malley can’t answer this question. How to mix two worlds together so that each version can live within? Superheroes should be schizophrenic; comic books haven’t been able to do it with their heroes; how am I supposed to do it in real life?

     

    I will sleep, or at least try and sleep after I put this down, I’m glad I started a journal, there have been times I’ve looked back over these pages and wondered how the hell we survived, how my sanity is still intact, well, I’m not sure it’s one hundred percent intact, but it’s hanging in there by bloody fingertips.

     

    Onward. It certainly hadn’t continued well from earlier. I was still enraged from losing Succor and my subsequent emotional outburst down in the Danger Room hadn’t done anything to abate it, I was so absorbed in my own misery and anger I barely registered agents dodging out of my way as I stalked through the halls of the base towards the recovery area. All of that emotion must have shown on my face, nothing like spooking your fellow agents, to make you feel so warm and loved. I found myself at the doorway to the holding cells, fingers poised above the entry lock; I came back to myself at that moment, what was it I had planned? Was I going to take my revenge on them, these two agents? Hundreds of ways of killing them had flickered through my mind, knowledge of biology makes one an efficient killer if one chose to be, I knew where I could cut them or break them, a cut to the spinal column could bring immediate death or lingering pain and suffering. I could freeze the breath in their lungs and watch them suffocate to death or I could burn them, leaving behind barely surviving husks of so much charred meat.

     

    Does it not say within the Bible, paraphrasing Leviticus: He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death. Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country. And in Deuteronomy, If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me. I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.

     

    Thoughts screamed through my head; I stayed my hand and rested my head against the cold metal of the reinforced door, listening to my heartbeat thrumming in my ears, my breath harsh and quick; no other sound resounded down that long hallway. Unshed tears welled up in my eyes, as other passages from the Bible found their way through the pain, for does it not also say, in Matthew, Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. Ye have heard that it hath been said; Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.â€

     

    The words of Samuel whispered from between my lips, “The Lord judge between me and thee, and the Lord avenge me of thee: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. As saith the proverb of the ancients, Wickedness proceedeth from the wicked: but mine hand shall not be upon thee. The Lord therefore be judge, and judge between me and thee, and see, and plead my cause, and deliver me out of thine hand.†I took a deep breath and released the handle to the security door and stepped back, “My Lord God, it’s so hard sometimes, it’s just so hard.â€

     

    I thought I felt a hand rest upon my shoulder, one offering reassurance, offering hope, offering succor. I reached up my own hand to place it upon theirs’ in gratitude and found nothing there; I spun in place finding myself alone in the hallway alone, no one by my side. There was no way anyone could of come down the hall and back out so quickly, had it been the speedster there would have been a displacement of air, or perhaps it was someone invisible, was it another enemy or a friend or a higher power? Was I hallucinating, who gets visitations from God or ghosts? I chucked gently at that thought, after all hadn’t we been in the presence of the divine and demonic, hadn’t we met ghosts as well? I gently touched my shoulder where I had felt the hand, a touch meant to heal the soul, and save from fear and anger. I made my way out of that long hallway and back towards the sickbay, to check on the new guy I had left in Carolyn’s care. Could it of been the spirit of my dead friend or the touch of God offering comfort? Had I done damage to my brain with the drug, could I be delusional, or was it something more? I pondered that as I headed back towards the medical bays.

     

    ~~~

    Our newest edition was resting comfortably; even sleeping the guy seems to vibrate. I found grandmotherly Dr. Carolyn Knight finishing up her PRIMUS file, on our John Doe. Carolyn and I had spent many late night hours during the first few years of my transformation discussing genetics, medicine, her kids and grandkids, Robert Asprin and Isaac Asimov, I trusted her with a lot, she’s a good woman, reminded me a lot of my mother, maybe too much sometimes. She’s in her fifties has a wicked sense of humor and is in great physical shape for someone with gray hair, she’s still deadly accurate with a gun or a hypodermic needle too.

     

    Our John Doe isn’t so much of a JD anymore, he’s more of an Edward, Edward Stringer actually, a.k.a. Full Throttle, owns a delivery service up in Chicago and was on a business trip towards Hudson City when he went missing almost a month ago, according to the police file. Poor guy doesn’t remember how they got him, or what they did to him, good thing we found him when we did. Long term effect of Succors last act on him are unknown, but apparently the man’s always been a fast one, his dossier has him a hyper speedster, always in motion. Carolyn couldn’t put a finger on what had caused or why he was suffering from amnesia. We speculated for a few minutes over what Genocide could of done to him to cause memory loss, to a certain extent his own mind could of done it itself in order to protect it, our brains are wonderful things like that. I gave her a hug, promised to go to lunch with her and left FT under Carolyn’s care; dragging myself to the debriefing room were I sat down to make my report on the Genocide event in Canada.

     

    Huntsman’s persistent paging found me asleep in a chair in the conference room; I think I had passed out from exhaustion, which didn’t surprise me, not after what we had been through. I pulled out the floppy screen and answered sleepily, “yes Huntsman, what do you have for me?â€

    “Your unknown soldier has changed.â€

    Now that brought me fully alert, “you sure?â€

    “Yes, I’ve been watching him since he got here.†He answered prosaically.

    “I’ll be right there!†I snapped the screen shut and ran for the examination room.

     

    Huntsman was perched on a second exam table, watching the door as I arrived, “So what’s changed on John GI Joe?†I asked, excited actually my instincts had proven right; it’s so nice when that happens with simple things.

    “Look here,†he pointed to where the skull had been separated for autopsy, we had stapled everything back together for transport. The incision scars were gone, and the staples, well I watched in a sort of dread fascination as the remaining staples slowly absorbed into his skin. I pulled back the sheet covering his body, the Y incision was healed, and barely a discoloration remained. “He is healing.†I gaped, amazing, impossible, oooh a mystery, just the kind of distraction I needed.

    “What should we do about that?†He put his hand on my shoulder and directed my gaze to the EKG and the EEG, very slight alpha waves and a heartbeat of one beat every five minutes.

    I hit the intercom, “BZY report to medical bay 5 STAT!†I yelled, it had to be nanites, it just had to be, but what was it going to mean to us?

     

    BZY came into the room several minutes later, and I immediately jumped on him, “BZY hook yourself up and run a scan on him, check for nanites and activity.†“Right o’ Frost,†he replied, as his eyes got that far away look as his computer brain began remote connecting to the diagnostic equipment in the room, “the organ in his brain is active, it is nanites,†BZY’s voice had that strangely metallic echo it held when he’s deep into his computer self. His eyes refocused on me, “anything else?â€

    Huntsman held up the pager, “how about this?†indicating the series of numbers choking the LED screen.

    “Ah yes, Matt showed me this earlier, hmmm.†BZY look became thoughtful as he looked over the pager screen, “it’s changed,†he indicated the numbers, “the codes have changed, and its a different signal from my first look at it.â€

     

    “Well crap, what does that mean?â€

    We turned to see Ranger standing in the doorway, with Jet and Shadowkahn behind him, slowly moving their way into the medical room, peering at our not quite so dead body.

    “Not sure yet,†replied BZY, “too many variables right now to determine, but one can easily guess it’s a command of some sort.â€

    “He’s not dead you know,†said Jet over her shoulder as she gazed at the solder, “He’s certainly not necromantic.â€

    “Nah, he’s too technological,†says Ranger, “I’ve gotten the analysis on his possessions, and everything he carried from, wallet to shoes has a micro titanium thread running through them.†He runs his fingers over the man’s shirt lying next to the gurney, “I’d kill for these threads, it’s the best armor I’ve ever seen.â€

    “I’ll keep that in mind, maybe our boys can make our own versions of it,†I suggest, suddenly distracted by one of the scanners, “My God, his Alpha, Delta and Theta waves are all over the place.â€

    “Er, Frost? The pager just lit up,†says BZY. I look over to see a green light blinking on the pager and I think that can’t be good, about the same time the warning klaxons suddenly ring through the base “INCOMING MISSLES,†screams a voice over the alarms.

     

    “Head out people, somebody is coming for our guest. Ranger, Geiger, BZY, Wire come with me to the roof, were going to work on the incoming. Huntsman, Kahn, Jet, keep our guest safe.†The guys follow behind me as we run for the exits in the base, and I tap my COM as we head for the roof, “OPS! Firefrost, situation status please.â€

     

    COM rang back across all parties, “6 missiles on incoming trajectory, origination point unknown possibly from low orbit, configuration looks like they’re from a XM9 portable launcher, ETA 5 minutes before impact.â€

     

    “Roger COM,†I launched into the air, “Wire, take point.†He flew past me to intercept the lead missile, I watched as he flexed his hands in the direction of two of them, trying to ram them together; nothing happened.

    “Nothings happening Frost, they don’t have anything I can grab on.†The frustration echoed through the radio, “They must be ceramic, we’ll find out soon enough.â€

     

    Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to find out as the lead canister changed it’s trajectory aiming at Wire, it exploded before we could get off another shot. Force of habit made me hold my breath (all those flights into the upper atmosphere are starting to pay off), and suddenly we were enveloped in some sort of gray gas, I tried igniting it but it wouldn’t burn, and it was heavy, falling towards the base quickly. Wire grabbed at his throat, went limp and suddenly began plummeting towards the ground. Before I can get to him this odd blur moves below me catching Wire out of the air; I shot above the gas before I radioed out, “Base Alert! Asphyxiation gas falling fast your way, it doesn’t burn; get any breathers the hell out of the area! Who caught Wire?! He needs oxygen ASAP!â€

     

    “I’vegothimandwereonourwayintothebaserightnow.†Oh, the speedster, Full Throttle, I’d ponder over how the hell he was able to jump to our altitude and get back down without killing himself later.

     

    Now that I was above the gas I looked back at our 5 remaining missiles, they had slowed trajectory behind the cloud, “Frost to all points, our rockets are manned, they’ve slowed to land behind the gas. I’m remaining airborne.†I got a “Roger†from everyone, as the base set up for whatever invasion was on its way.

     

    The 5 rockets impact the ground on the same side of the base John Doe soldier was on, coincidence? I think not. “Firefrost to Kahn, they’re coming for the Doe, get him and the rest of you out of that area.†I get a “Roger†again, but a question comes along with it from Huntsman, “his waves have increased, what should we do?†My God what a question, if he’s their enemy he could help in the fight, if he’s a friend of theirs, well it would either be the biggest mistake we’d make, one or the other, I made the decision. “Paddle him, give the nanites juice, their coming for him to either hunt or help, it’s sink or swim, might as well get him up.†“You got it,†replied Huntsman and I turned my attention to the battle that was beginning below me.

     

    Five figures in armor and one floating object stood near the remains of the missile impacts, guns at the ready, large odd rifles things we had never seen before; oh but the floating object and one of the figures, we had seen them before…a Doctor Destroyer Flyer, and one Destroyer Robot Drone, oh crap. “Frost to all points, you see the drones? Send out a call to Millennium City for backup, send it priority emergency frequency, asap!â€

    Someone in the base replied, “Were on it! Crap, why is Dr. Destroyer attacking us?!â€

    “I think we have something he wants,†was the reply I overheard from Kahn and then he was gone and the fight was on.

     

    I sent several firebolts into the drone as BZY sent several mini-missiles into one of the armored solders sending the guy staggering back a few steps, Geiger jumps from the roof and face planted into the ground next to the flyer; Ranger’s had held onto the missile launcher and sent a round into the drone, staggering it back, the damn flyer wobbled in flight but remained airborne.

     

    One of the soldiers jumps onto the roof next to BZY and pulls the missile launcher out of BZY’s hands, surprising the hell out of BZY for sure, but the soldiers follow though with a sword into BZY’s shoulder didn’t help matters. Another soldier jumps to the roof to attack Ranger, as Full Throttle buzzes past the guy’s last position and catches the grenade the solder had tossed into his trajectory, fortunately the boy is fast enough that he stopped in mid run and did a quick reverse before the grenade exploded; I swear that man’s a blur, I can barely keep up with his movements.

     

    I see one of the soldiers take a quick look at the prone Geiger before stepping up to the building and applying some sort of plastique across a section of the wall. The flyer moves to float over Geiger, and something begins to drip down from it onto him, fortunately the boy wakes up before it splashes onto him and punches it as he rises, knocking the thing off kilter. Geiger then grabs the flyer and throws it into the soldier standing before Ranger, the effect is grisly, whatever viscous fluid that thing was oozing was highly destructive, as the drone and the soldier dissolved in a mass of melting metal.

     

    Full Throttle runs up to attack the one of the soldiers that had been standing back, only to be grabbed and thrown face first into the ground, in one of the most spectacular martial arts moves I’ve seen since the preliminaries for the Death Dragon. Ranger gets another missile into the first soldier they had staggered, while BZY goes into hand to hand with the one solder on the roof with them. I send a few firebolts into the other one on the roof but my shots aren’t getting past whatever armor Doctor Destroyer has built for these guys. The plastiqued wall goes up not in a blast but a strange implosion, and the soldier that had been patiently waiting walks through the rubble into the base.

     

    Now I hear the sounds of fighting from inside the PRIMUS base, COM had been strangely silent, now it made sense; somehow they had gotten inside without us seeing them and was occupying the troops within, but how many were inside was unknown. I said a quick prayer for their safety and went back into my own fight. By now BZY and Ranger was double teaming one of the soldiers on the roof, while knock the other one off the roof. BZY had popped claws and with a howl ripped the solders chest out, but in doing so stuns himself in the process, I’ve been exhausting myself flying and fighting and so I land near them to try and cover BZY’s recovery, and to keep him safe as Ranger moves into position to shoot the other soldier of the roof. Down on the ground, Geiger’s own frustration levels had finally hit maximum and he hits one soldier with a huge plasma blast, knocking the soldier back a few yards like a rag doll, planting him bonelessly into the ground. Full Throttle had pulled himself out of the self made crater and runs for hole made by the soldier, following the man inside, Ranger and I go after the solider I had knocked off the roof. I have no idea how many shots we put into the guy between us, but after the smoke clears he stands up out of the pit that was created around him and very calmly lobs a grenade at the advancing Full Throttle, who quickly bats it out of the air right back into the arms of the soldier which blows up right then and there! Unfortunately all it did was blast the guy backwards, it didn’t even kill him, but at least the soldier looks stunned and reeling.

     

    Then I hear something else that chills my bones, whatever interference there had been on COM was finally gone, I guess the guy laying boneless on the ground a few yards away was their radio man. I hear someone in the base say, “6 more missiles incoming.†Oh God, no, we can’t handle anymore, were still fighting the first 5 that landed; ok we were down to 3 but still, how much more could we take? And what the hell had been going on inside the base while we dealt with the threat outside?

     

    The six land before I can get off the roof to do anything about it. BZY, entertaining the idea of the coup de grâce pops claws again and drives them into the skull of the downed solder he had attacked. BZY’s scream of pain was terrifying. Ranger and I spun and looked in horror as BZY’s skin was stripped away leaving behind sinew, muscle and cybernetics; from his claws in the soldiers skull across his chest, head and part of his other arm, flesh seemed to vanish. It dawned on me that the solders nanites must have done the damage, perhaps a failsafe, or BZY had hit the organ housing the nanites, either way, they had done their damage.

     

    Geiger took advantage of the soldiers, marines, whoever the hell they were landing in a fairly straight line and “flicks the rug†by grabbing turf and tossing it, only few of the marines scatter off their feet though. Unfortunately this left him wide open for a shot in the back from one of the soldiers that hadn’t been taken off his feet; fortunately, I collected my wits about myself quick enough to fly in and grab Geiger out of the way before the God awful huge blast hit him; my God was it a huge blast, some sort of plasma shot, similar to Geiger’s but it looked at least a hundred times more powerful then his.

     

    Full Throttle comes from out of the building, and manages to get himself face planted again; obviously he was avoiding whatever grenade had gone off inside the building because the entire shook and a bright light emanated from within; it could have been another grenade, after all I didn’t have any idea what was going on in there until later. I had landed on the roof with Geiger and I watch as one marine calmly walks over to his fallen comrade out in the field and drop a grenade on him, and calmly walk towards the hole in the side of our building. And just for fun, he lobs one up onto the roof amongst us. BZY thinking fast, scooped it up and threw it at another marine out on the field, Ranger shoots the marine as the grenade hits and the solder dies a quick dissolving death. Full Throttle, recovered from his face plant, grabs up the planted marine and his grenade and throws them into another solder knocking them both to the ground. Something is going on below us in the medical bay they had blasted open; the marines are running for the room. Geiger decided that it would be a good idea to jump in on the one that had just entered and promptly gets blasted by another marine waiting inside, this time the plasma shot hits him square on, knocking Geiger back several yards and into the ground. I watch the marine that had been knocked over by his fallen comrade get up leaving the solder and his grenade behind just before it goes off dissolving him; he runs for the wall and into the bay. I float down carefully and poke my head around the opening, freezing the guy who just ran into the room. I’m greeted by the barrel of a large weapon pointed at me, and my life starts to flash before my eyes; what changes the mind of the marine pointing the plasma rifle at me I will never know, perhaps it was adherence to orders, who knows; what I do know is that rifle was slung to the side and the marine pushes his frozen comrade into a silver glowing portal erected in our medical bay.

     

    I hear from Shadowkahn, who’s apparently seen what’s gone on from the inside of the building, “they opened the portal open and took our very alive and very active John Doe through it, what do we do?â€

    “Leave them alone, let them go, we’ve suffered enough this day.†I say, and it’s true, my God were hurting, Lord only knows what happened inside, “Let them go, do not engage, do not follow. Everyone got that?†Those that are conscious and able to talk give me mumbled affirmatives.

     

    After verifying that there were no other marines about, I quickly erect a ice shield at shin height right near the portal, so anyone coming out of it would trip as they exited and then promptly began building a secondary ice shield around the portal in general, heaven forbid someone start poking their noses too closely at this technology while it was still running. Full Throttle races in checking around the edges while I erect the shield, I catch a barrage of questions and a dangerously curious look in his eyes.

    “You’ll not want to get too close, the portal leads to Doctor Destroyer and you know how much he loves to experiment on us super humans.â€

    Full Throttle blanched, slowly turned and leaves; I finished securing the rest of the area; the portal takes a full 10 minutes before it automatically shuts down.

     

    Our facility it a mess, scorch marks, blast holes, electrical shorts and just plain old structural damage greets my staggering group coming down from the roof. Ranger dragged Geiger and BZY into the infirmary, where Huntsman, Jet and Wire are already laid out in various conditions of beat-the-shit-out-of, what a mess. Here is where I watch them and several regular members of Primus get patched up, nobody died, at least nobody on our side, that was a stroke of good fortune, how in the hell did that happen? Here’s where the guilt hits me, if we hadn’t kept John Doe, if we hadn’t let him regenerate, what would have happened? Would they of come eventually? Would he of dissolved like is brethren out there on the field? I watch detached, as my team gets patched; of two minds about it; it still hurts like hell when the consequences of decisions make themselves felt like this.

     

    Shadowkahn fills me in on what happened inside; it was a two pronged assault though those of us outside never saw the one they fought. Kahn, Huntsman and Jet had wheeled the soldier out of the medical bay and turned him invisible (one of Kahn’s new tricks) as they had made their way down the hall; only to find one hell of a welcoming committee from the drop soldiers at the front hall. One soldier, composed completely of energy had come looking for our guest and had spent all of his time getting the shit beat out of him and beating the shit out of PRIMUS agents and our team. Jet was exceedingly unhappy and badly damaged, when their combined attacks had finally managed to destroy the solder it exploded, singing and blinding them, but the blast had an additional effect, the energy soldier had been blessed, so Jet suffered from the effects of a holy energy explosion. Shadowkahn tells me that Wire “went a little nuts†when one of our agents got injured and had just about done himself in trying to kill the electrical soldier and the recovered John Doe. Huntsman had been taken out from behind by our once deceased John Doe; he had been severely surprised when the JD had reappeared (Khan had dropped the invisibility) and his skin had been replaced by that blue/black-green chitinous armor that had lain just below the dermal layer, and that the gurney he had been rolled around on had been completed dissolved, assumed eaten, by the JD’s nanites. John Doe got away from them at that point; we assumed he escaped with the rest of the marines that had landed.

     

    While the team sat in recovery, I questioned our uninjured agents, checked to make sure that our two recent prisoners hadn’t escaped and then dismissed myself to one of the undamaged surveillance rooms. I went through the surveillance tapes from the undamaged cameras around the facility and found something interesting; the solders that had gone through the hole they had made in the outside wall and had proceeded, in an utmost orderly and precise manner right towards John Doe’s position near the end of a hall (which now had a large hole in it thanks to them), the audio picked up the only conversation heard during the entire attack, “’Brother Captain it is time to go.’†Marines, soldiers, specialists from Doctor Destroyer, had advanced on our facility to take back one of their own, hell a commanding officer. I watched them clasp forearms in greeting and then John Doe and his cohort walked back towards the damaged medical bay. The surveillance camera in that medical bay had survived, so I watched the soldiers we hadn’t seen put together the thin metal portal, adjust dials and such until the vortex appeared; John Doe and cohort walked calmly into the portal, the exodus of the rest of the marines began afterwards; the video even managed to catch Geiger’s and my attacks on the remaining soldiers. I watched the rest of the tapes, checking angles of attacks, accuracy, the exodus; surgical assault it wasn’t but it was pretty damn close, the only reason I was alive and not fried to a crisp is because that last remaining marine had followed orders, thank you God.

     

    I had to think about it, Fact: Their captain had been recovering slowly, had we left him in the morgue when he had finally awoken on his own and the signal been sent, they would of descended in the middle of the city surrounded by civilian populace. Fact: If we hadn’t brought him to the PRIMUS facility where the incident was isolated we would have had a disaster, with untold property damage and civilian deaths. Fact: PRIMUS had survived a direct onslaught by Doctor Destroyer’s forces and walked away mostly intact and had managed to keep a hold of Destroyer’s technology. Instincts had been good, even though he had bit us in the ass; by God we had actually done something right, hallelujah.

     

    Backup and emergency personnel from Millennium arrived almost 10 minutes after the fight had ended, I suppose that’s actually not too bad, but if would have been cold comfort had this been a more deadly fight. I left them to their business and left Ranger and Shadowkahn, my least two-damaged team take care of dealing with their questions. I sat and watched tapes, recorded my findings, and filled out tablet after tablet of report; I was exhausted and my brain was melting from lack of sleep and too much stress. Someone overhead paged me that I had a phone call waiting. I must admit I was surprised by who was on the other end. “Firefrost here, go ahead.â€

    “Frost, this is Commander Stone, I’ve just gotten word about the attack on the Hudson City base; tell me what happened.â€

    So I told him everything I was including in my reports, it’s not like he wouldn’t eventually get a copy of them anyway, and I finished with the good news, a load of injuries, no losses.

    “So you fought two units of Destroyer’s space marines and nobody died, the building is still standing and you got away with some of his tech?â€

    “Yessir.â€

    “My God, you deserve commendations, medals, a raise! Who the hell else could ever say that? Took on Doctor Destroyer and survived, their needs to be a tee-shirt.â€

    Originally I was going to let him ramble, but after being so close to Detroit when it went up back in the 80’s I couldn’t let the conversation take that sort of turn. “Sir we took on two units of Destroyers, not Destroyer himself, I doubt we would have survived that. Not only that but we only survived the conflict because we stopped our aggression and allowed them to leave via the portal, I’m very sure the damage to personnel and property would have increased exponentially had they remained.†Remembering the barrel of the plasma rifle in my face. “And if you want to give a raise, I’d suggest giving it to the staff of the base who dealt with the marines without powers; they deserve as much praise if not more than we do.â€

    “Heh, of course Firefrost, I’m merely commenting. Excellent work all around, your team did exceedingly well.†Stone’s voice changed, not quite the bluster that had been there moments ago.

    I was mollified somewhat by the change in his tone, but honestly, I was just so damned tired I wanted it to end. “Yes sir, thank you sir, I’ll pass that along to my team when they come out of the infirmary. You’ll have to excuse me Commander but I need to finish the report,†my voice dropped significantly, “I need to finish…†My voice trailed off, the memorial tomorrow morning, God only how many hours away where had the time gone?

    With softness I had never expected from Stone, he replied, “I understand, you have a lot to do. Good evening Firefrost.†The line clicked closed.

     

    My finger gently pushed the button closing the line, and weariness heavier than any I had felt before fell across me shoulders, even though my eyes misted over, I was so tired I couldn’t even cry. Time passed, I could hear the base around me creaking, falling, the staff talking in rough voices, every voice that floated by was filled with a sort of somber joy, they had faced Doctor Destroyer and survived, that much heroism deserves thanks, deserves praise, I sat and let it wash over me. Carolyn found me slumped in the surveillance room chair, “I know it’s a stupid question but I’ll ask it anyway, you ok?â€

    “No, not really.†I replied.

    “Your not hurt are you?†she pressed.

    “Not in the physical sense.†I said.

    “Do you want to be left alone?†she questioned.

    “Yes, no.†I paused, turning in the chair to look at her.

    “Do you know what you want?â€

    “World peace?†I smiled lopsidedly at her.

    Carolyn looked at me, eyebrow raised, “no jokes.â€

    “I know what I need Carolyn,†I rose somewhat unsteadily and looked at her, the pain so evident in my eyes, “I need a hug.â€

    She smiled softly and opened her arms to me and she hugged me. The tears rolled down my face dampening her jacket but she didn’t pull away, she just held me. Held on and let me cry it out of my system, the way she had during my first month after the transformation, when I would scare the hell out of myself after stints in the Danger Room with Dr. Baly watching sanctimoniously over my troubles. She held me like my mother had held me when the world had become too scary after her diagnosis, and suddenly a new wave of despair overcame me. She slid to the floor with me as sobs came uncontrollably. Carolyn sat with me until my misery subsided and I was quietly snuffling into the tissues she gave me, handful after handful. She had that look I’ve seen her get when she talks to younger staff, when she had spoken to me those first months, that motherly intuitive look, having two grown kids of her own, she had it down quite well.

    “You need a husband,†Carolyn whispered, electing a teary hiccupping laugh from me, “seriously Vi, you need someone to confide in, someone to live your life with, someone who would understand you. Someone that could comfort you the way a loved one would.â€

    “I would need a boyfriend first,†I laughed harshly, “I would need a life first.â€

    “Why don’t you date?â€

    “Oh come on Carolyn, I’m a mutant, I’d have to explain why I get calls to run out of the house in the middle of the night?†I looked at her incredulously, “or having to explain the broken bones, bruises, cuts and abrasions when I come home after a fight? Come on, I’m not living a normal life, it’s not like there’s a superhero dating service out there.†My voice became mocking pretending it was a commercial, “Do you have a secret your hiding, a pair of leotards in the closet and a mask? Well don’t worry we have the perfect match, in a cape and shiny red boots! Super Hero Services; your dream mate is only a phone call away.†Carolyn laughed, and I admit I chuckled too.

    “You never know dear,†she struggled to her feet, “ooh arthritis.†She was joking, Carolyn was in better shape than I was. I rose and offered her assistance, Carolyn hugged me again and patted my hand, “you know that God makes one for everyone out there, yours is probably out there too if you look.â€

    “Your such a Yenta Carolyn.†I hugged her.

    “I don’t fit the profile of the Jewish matchmaker, but gossip yes; at least I’m not breaking into song.†She smiled at me.

    I chuckled again.

    “Ah my mission is complete, I got you to laugh.†She kissed me on the forehead, then turned and walked to the door, pausing as she opened it. “Seriously girl, you need to do something, you’ll never know unless you take a chance and tell him.†She winked and closed the door gently behind her before I could comment.

    I stared at the door not sure exactly what had transpired here, I had gone from miserable and depressed to confused in under a minute.

     

    “Boyfriend, pifft.†I mumbled to the air, but who was I kidding? How many times had I written just that same thing, thought that same thought, how much I wanted someone to share my life with? I collected my reports and the rest of the documentation, making sure to notate I wanted to be notified should they get the portal reopened or had any further information on the marines, and made my way out into the hall and to the staff on duty to place my report and collect the remains of my team.

     

    BZY remained behind, soaking in a nutrient bath so his nanites could grow new skin, Jet stayed behind in the furnace they had developed for her to heal in (extreme heat now heals damage for her, go figure). I collected up the rest of them and headed home, Full Throttle was handed over to me, assigned by Clark for my team to adopt, take care of and train; Wire was quiet, he seemed out of sorts, his berserk episode was only partially caught on tape, whatever had happened to drive him over the edge was his knowledge alone and he seemed to be fairly miserable in it. Geiger sat away from everyone, silent and brooding starring out the window a frown so deep . He’s going to worry me, I’ll have to talk to him soon, it’s difficult loosing someone this way, he’s lost his best friend and never got the chance to say goodbye, he’s got to be very angry right now. Shadowkahn and Ranger sat close to each other speaking quietly; unfortunately I couldn’t hear them. Huntsman sat next to me, his hood pulled away from his face, revealing his mask; the pain was evident in his eyes, even if the mask hid the rest.

     

    It wasn’t until I had gotten back to the mansion and into the shower when it dawned on me; Carolyn had caught me flat-foot with her comment about getting a husband that I had had totally glossed over the last two words, “’tell him’â€. Tell him? Tell him who? She couldn’t’ be talking about Shadowkahn could she? It’s not like I drool over him while were talking, is it? Do I? Is it that visible or is it grandmother instincts? I stood there letting the water beat down on me with another question bubbling through my mind, how do I tell him, should I tell him? Do I tell Cayne I’m falling in love with him and not completely blow the team to hell? Does he feel the same way? We’ve had some moments working together where I thought there could be something there but is something there or just my hopeful wishing? How to reconcile the two sides of the coin?

     

     

    August 13, 2003

    Today was the memorial. Why is it funerals always depress the hell out of me? Your spirit has passed from pain into purity, a new realm of understanding of awaking. One’s soul has gone to join the choir invisible and onto its eternal reward, it should be time of great joy. It still depresses the hell out of me.

     

    And today showed just how diverse a group of lunatics I call “teammates†we are.

     

    Word came down from on high very early, and over personal COMS as well as the general message. PRIMUS put their foot down fast. The funeral was supposed to be private, no outsiders, he had been an agent of PRIMUS after all; therefore a government agent, full honors and 21 gun salute; no such luck, some members of the media caught wind of what was going on and were already sighted in the vicinity. If we could avoid talking with the media we were to do so, but if cornered, no talking about what happened, no mention of Genocide AT ALL. We were not to mention Genocide in any way, Genocide feeds on publicity and killing a PRIMUS agent, a PRIMUS mutant would of brought that twofold. So Clark put out the word we were to say only that he would be missed and the perpetrators would be caught and punished. A tall order for such a passionate bunch of crazies you would think, but we stuck to it, Clark should be proud.

     

    The memorial started quietly enough, a little church ceremony with his picture in place of a casket; Father O’Malley graciously enough had agreed to do a non-denominational service, since Succor had never really declared a faith. I was a little surprised by the amount of agents that showed up for the memorial, either out of respect or because they had known him.

     

    We, of course, sat in the front. Everyone had dressed rather well if not, well I guess standard for his or her views on life. I was in a standard black pants suit, black blouse and heels (sunglasses for outside); Geiger sat between me and his mom, he was wearing a nice black suit with a dark blue shirt and black tie, his mom in a tasteful black dress, I watched him during the service, his eyes were red rimmed but he never cried. I watched his hands clench and unclench, his jaw move back and forth grinding his teeth together, every now and then he’d glance towards Full Throttle and his eyes would narrow in anger, raw hate. Now that was something we were going to have to nip in the bud; it was all right for Geiger to be angry with those responsible for Succors death, and I could see the wheels turning in his head adding Full Throttle to that list. Succors dying act had been to save Full Throttle by giving him all of his life force, and I’m sure in that teenage mind of his, Geiger was blaming Full Throttle for Succors death. That would need to be changed, it would not do for that kind of animosity to exist within this team, especially against a new teammate; nip it in the bud we would, only problem was, I really didn’t know how we could do it. Shadowkahn sat on the other side of me, cloaked in disguise, looking something like my bodyguard but more oriental, in formal black and white silk robes with white pleats and black on black and white on white embroidery, very stylish. Next to Shadowkahn was Ranger, in full armor, sans gun at least; he wasn’t out of place though, Huntsman sat next to him also in full costume cape and all bless their hearts. Next came BZY (recovered enough to not look strange) in black and Jet in a white business suit, Full Throttle in black and Wire Walker dressed in a white suit with black tie; the three of them looked like a reversed Oreos. At different intervals Kahn recited the sutras along side Father O’Malley. He and I had volunteered to speak at the ceremony, I read from scripture about the hands of a healer; the healing power from Jesus went beyond curing broken bones and ailing bodies. Sickness--and, therefore, healing--is not simply a biological or physical phenomenon. It touches every level of our existence as a human being: physical, emotional, social, spiritual. I carefully watched my team as I spoke; body language tells a lot when you cant see faces. Geiger tense as a bowstring, Ranger was the same; BZY sat shoulders slumped as if in defeat, Huntsman and Kahn held back but the sorrow was evident on their faces as it was on mine; only Jet and Wire seemed to be “disturbed†by all the sorrow, I later found out why. Kahn stood after me and came to the podium to recite a poem he had written to honor Succor and his accomplishments and sacrifice. I’ve copied it here:

     

    Comfort’s Gift

    Life giving fire from within

    Granted by grace without violent sin

    Given freely to those that are cold

    Is a treasure worth more than gold

    Sacrifice leaving only ash & bone

    A true heroes heart is boldly shown

    But only ideals remain to share

    To protect us all when emotions flare

    The spirit soars aloft unbound

    in this, Comfort should be found

    For into the celestial void it goes

    To add enlightenment in times of woes

    And in its memory we leave our doubt

    To pass its light, life & hope to those without.

     

    Ms. Crane was really sobbing at that point, Geiger soften just enough to comfort his mother. I thought I would of broke then as well, but I didn’t my eyes misted but not a single tear fell, I held back my sorrow, but why? Who was I fooling, nobody? I started crying along with everyone else, I wasn’t going to keep up the tough girl act. Kahn did something unexpected when he sat back next to me after reading his poem, he wrapped his arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick hug, as if to say, “it’s okâ€, I really cried then.

     

    At the end of the ceremony we filed out of the church past the curious and media and to the government private burial grounds, our own Soldier Field. There beneath a light blue sky and abnormally hot weather conditions for August, we stood fast for a 21-gun salute and Father O’Malley and Shadowkahn’s final words. I was shocked to see several figures I hadn’t expected standing in honor of Succor; a little back from the core of PRIMUS agents stood three men in gray suits and black sunglasses, my eyes traveled from them to BZY and Ranger, but the Strike Brothers weren’t here for a fight but to pay their respects, even shaking hands with us all and offering condolences. The other visitor really rocked me to my core, White Ninja the former Gray Ninja. He too shook hands with all of us and offered his condolences, the comment I caught as he said goodbye to Shadowkahn is what chilled me, “‘you’ll see him again soon,’†made my hair stand on end. Whether it was a portent of death or of Succors return as one of the Ninjas I did not know, regardless I wasn’t happy to hear it and neither it seemed, was Kahn. O’Malley bade us all good day as well, though he looked sideways at White Ninja several times while doing so.

     

    The media mobbed us as we left the graveyard, everyone held back and let me speak for the group; I stuck to the lines I had been given, “we’ll miss him, they’ll pay, etc.†Ranger and BZY helped usher us into the awaiting cars past the creeps and fanboys (yes even at a funeral there are fanboys). Ranger got tagged by a reporter before he could get into the car, the man sticking a mike in his faceplate, “How do you feel about this Ranger?†It asked, and I feel with remarkable restraint, Matt replied ever so politely, “I am here to pay respects to my friend. Please leave me to my thoughts.â€

    Huntsman pulled a Batman in the middle of the graveyard, disappearing before the media could find him; but we knew where we would find him later. Huntsman, in a rare display of camaraderie was hosting the wake at a local Jazz club called, very simply, Jazz. Providing that the man hadn’t stood us up we’d be seeing him there 3pm till 7pm our scheduled time. Matt had graciously offered to pay for all of the expenses of the funeral, even though Succor had been a government employee, Ranger had felt he “owed it to him†to do at least a little something, as Ranger put it, “I’d be dead with my heart hanging out of my chest if it hadn’t been for that boy.†PRIMUS graciously agreed to at least split the costs.

     

    We drove back to the damaged base, dropping off the agents who weren’t going to join us at the wake. Folks spread out to their cars or to their offices with the usual goodbyes. The location of the wake was well known so several agents told us we’d see them there and headed out. Carolyn caught my eye and we chatted about the team, especially Dennis; Carolyn told me she had sat next to one of the psychiatrists, a Dr. Wakeman, who had us all on his list to start talking to come tomorrow, Geiger being tops on that list. We talked about a few other things and I eventually said goodbye, as she was heading home to her grandkids.

     

    I gathered up my group, ready to head out to the wake when Dennis said he’d go home with his mother instead of coming with us; which certainly surprised her. It hadn’t surprised me, he doesn’t know how to handle what’s happened so he’s withdrawing from us. Matt tried coxing Dennis to come along with us, but it took his mom insisting that they would both be joining us for him to relent. Edward declined, saying he still didn’t feel up to par, though I got the indication he hadn’t wanted to intrude on what we knew would develop into our reminiscing over Succor.

     

    It was quiet at the club, but then again it was 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon. A simple sign posted on the door said “Private Function†and the doorman kept everyone without a PRIMUS ID out. Jazz was a pretty little place, chestnut paneled walls, subdued gold lighting, small private tables out on the floor, a long bar all the way to the stage; the stage itself was a simple raised platform that ran from one end of the room to the edge of the bar, an old upright piano stood out against the deep red curtains hiding whatever was backstage, immediately to our right were a set of stairs leading up, to which the doorman indicated we had seats upstairs as well as on the main floor. A small group of four sat at a table closest to the stage, nodding appreciatively in time to the music of a lone saxophone player on stage. A bartender and two waitresses were already serving several members of PRIMUS that had beaten us here; several were already munching off the buffet and swilling drinks. I shot Wire a withering look, “no alcohol, you’re underage,†that earned a pout but otherwise he actually looked happy and I admit I was confused by it. There was a collective murmur of surprise from the group as we got a good look at the stage, I do not believe that any of us had expected this; on stage was Huntsman playing solo saxophone, rather good actually if not a little strained, he obviously has experience just not a whole lot of it. We dazedly wound our way through the tables to the food and eventually with plates full, sat down amongst fellow mourners.

     

    “Well that blows any concepts I had about him,†murmured Matt, indicating Huntsman with a nod of his head.

    I nodded in agreement, “yep, my theories just got thrown out the window, who’d a thunk it.â€

    “He’s rather good isn’t he,†observed Cayne and we nodded.

     

    “Ok who’s up for getting stinking drunk?†Matt asked, waving the waitress over.

    “I plan on working my way through the alphabet in martinis.†I replied.

    “I’m up for the drunk but not stinking part,†said Jet.

    “I’m up for it,†Buzzy nodded.

    “I’ll drive,†said Cayne.

    Mrs. Crane declined on hers and Dennis’s behalf.

     

    Matt ordered up Cabo Wabo Tequila, I started with an Appletini; Buzzy ordered a bucket of beers, Jet asked for a Cinnamon Schnapps; Cayne and the kids decided on soda. We ate, drank and listened to Huntsman’s tunes, nodding appreciatively at his work. We sat and reminisced over our childhood adventures with music, high school band, college and the military applications of the trombone upsides someone head. Huntsman’s set lasted 30 minutes before he stepped off the stage to polite applause and a handshake from one of the quartet getting up to replace him on stage. He handed the sax over the bar to the bartender, retrieved a glass of water and a double scotch from him and sat down next to us, breathing heavily.

     

    “Well you just managed to throw several theories out the window, congratulations.†I joked.

    He smiled at my comment, knowing that his levels of personal secrecy had always irritated me.

    “Happy to oblige.â€

    “That was really good Huntsman, have you been playing long?†Cayne asked.

    “Not really, but a friend of mine got me back into playing and they let me play on amateur night every Thursday, tonight was a special request.â€

    “So you get up on stage in costume and play every Thursday night?†I looked at him incredulously, what happened to that Batman profile I had? Theories really were going out the window.

    “Yes.†He said with another smile from under that mask, “and I don’t come in last anymore.â€

    Matt laughed, “too bad none of us kept up with our own childhood talents, we could become a band of musical superheroes.â€

     

    We all laughed gently at his comment, but it did get me thinking about getting an upright sent to the mansion for me to start practicing, 12 years is a long time to be rusty. But Huntsman’s playing did get me thinking, he might be my magic teacher but how much did I really know about him, about any of them? Other than Matt I really hadn’t delved into anyone’s files, why hadn’t I? I hid my confusion by finishing the olive and polishing off the drink, I waved for my next martini.

     

    “You like those things?†asked Matt, nodding towards my newly arrived 3rd martini garnished with an orange slice, “It always tasted like I was sucking on a pine tree.â€

    “Well I’ve never sucked on a pine tree so I really wouldn’t know what that tastes like,†was my sarcastic reply. Matt coughed his tequila laughing, Geiger choked on his soda with a harsh laugh, Jet snickered through her glass, Cayne blushed slightly and Huntsman laughed into his scotch; Wire looked a bit confused but laughed along.

    “Actually I drink anything mixed but tonight is a martini night. I switch between vodka and gin, depending on what you order its vodka, gin, dry vermouth or sweet vermouth and the garnish.†I started chewing on the orange slice, “how about you? You prefer straight tequila shots?â€

    “Straight up, mixed; depends on the night. This would qualify as one of those nights.†Matt replied before rocketing back another shot

    I looked at Cayne, “how about you, any favorites?â€

    “Saki, sometimes other drinks,†was his simple reply.

    We looked at Huntsman, who shrugged, “depends, sometimes just wine or scotch, but I have a real fondness for real rum and mead.â€

    “Beer or whisky, is my preference,†said Buzzy without prompting.

    “Jet?†I asked.

    “Fire & Ice, hold the ice, extra fire,†she replied, downing her schnapps and looking for number three.

    Mrs. Crane declined to comment and the boys just shrugged, not as if they had alcohol would they admit to it.

     

    Matt cleared his throat, and raised his glass of tequila, “Ladies and Gents a toast.†We quieted up as Matt began so we could hear him over the music.

     

    “He was a simple guy,

    He loved to skate,

    Open road and wide blue sky,

    There was very little he did hate.

     

    He liked to heal,

    Caring was his call,

    Never cut a deal,

    But has helped heal us all.

     

    He stayed in the back,

    You might have thought him late,

    But in an attack,

    He did not hesitate.

     

    In the end he gave his all,

    Saving a life as was his way,

    In the ranks of heaven he stands tall,

    And waiting to guide us there some day.

     

    So my friend I will say this,

    Of people today some are worth zero,

    How ever you I will miss,

    For to me you were truly a Hero."

     

    There was a round of “here, here,†and we tipped our respective glasses back in salute. Matt still continues to impress me, despite all my misgivings at the beginning I trust this man with my life. My gaze rolled over all of them, my team and the other members of PRIMUS out amongst the chairs, I trust all of them with my life, I realized, I don’t know when the transition occurred from paranoid to accepting but it did, and I smile quietly at that though.

     

    The band was into another set of mournful tunes, perfect for a wakes and God awful depressing. We were trying desperately to get ourselves into a better mood but the music sure wasn’t helping. Wire looked positively annoyed as the music played on.

    “Don’t worry the music will pick up, their just trying to set the mood.†Huntsman said in response to Wire’s look.

    “Well they got the depressed part down,†I said.

    “Personally I’d like a rendition of Danny Boy,†murmured Matt, “that’s a great wake song.â€

    “Just ask them, they’ll play what you want if they know it,†replied Huntsman.

    “Hey! Play Danny Boy would you?†Yelled Matt, which made us jump; we had started into maudlin and mellow, his shout surprised us.

    One of the quartet members nodded and after they finished their current song, began playing Danny Boy. Matt started out low but his voice quickly rose above the conversation as he sang in time to the music. Of all people to join in, Jet’s voice rang out on the chorus and she sang along with him. A few of us hummed along, not knowing the words, I didn’t sing since I knew my voice would crack during the song (humming fine though) and each of us was a little dewy eyed by the time they finished. Who knew they could sing, and sing well? We applauded politely at their rendition and Matt took a little bow in his chair acknowledging our appreciation.

     

    Another round of drinks came up as we started reminiscing over our favorite music; I think we were all pleasantly surprised by our revelations of favorite tunes.

    Some of us were bridging into the “feelin mellow†stage by then. Cayne’s eyebrow went up at the Hershey Kiss speared in my glass.

    “Chocolatetini,†I tipped the glass towards him, “made with vanilla vodka, cream de something and a few other things as well as the chocolate kiss.†I fished the chocolate out I nibbled on the kiss, “told ya I was working my way through the alphabet tonight.â€

    “Here, here.†Said Matt as he slammed back another shot, “good thing your driving mate.â€

    “Alcohol and depression mix well you know,†Huntsman mentioned.

    “Yes but it can also help alleviate the barriers between emotions, helping to free your mind,†supplied Cayne.

    “Chocolate good, hits all the right endorphins.†I murmured.

    “Well I don’t understand what you’re all depressed about anyway.†Wire said.

     

    I swear we all looked at him as if he had grown a second head.

    “What do you mean why are we depressed, Succors dead you dolt,†replied Matt.

    “Don’t you all believe in the religious thing you’ve gone on about all day? Don’t you all believe in Heaven and Hell?†Wire asked, a little loudly, almost angry, pointing at Jet, “I mean there’s part of your proof isn’t it?â€

    A few of us nodded, unsure where he was going with this.

    “Well doesn’t that mean that he’s gone off to a better place? Isn’t that what O’Malley kept saying, that he’s somewhere better than this? What are you all so upset about, he died doing what meant the most to him and now he’s free of this crazy world, what’s so wrong about that? Why is this depressing you? Shouldn’t you be happy for him?†His last words were a question, almost pleading, trying to get us to understand. “I don’t understand, shouldn’t we be happy for him?†Wire asked quietly, looking pained trying to understand why he was making us upset.

    “Your right Stephen, we are thankful that he isn’t in pain anymore and that he’s safe from this world.†I put on hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze, “but it doesn’t make it any easier knowing that he was taken from us far too soon, even if he is up in Heaven.â€

     

    Jet snorted, “Well if any of my taint stayed with him it might not be Heaven.â€

    The looks that Huntsman and Shadowkahn gave her would of frosted Ole Faithful, Geiger blanched.

    “Oh come on, I’m with him,†she pointed at Stephen, “black is just too morbid and I look great in white, this its supposed to be a joyous occasion. I’m optimistic that he was well tainted enough that I can get to see him on one plane or another when next I visit home, hell I’ve been tempted to call down just to see if he’s there and if he’s enjoying it.†She smiled brilliantly.

    Matt looked incredulous, Buzzy looked concerned, Stephen looked a little confused, Geiger’s eyes flashed mean and disgusted, Huntsman grimaced, and something calculating flickered across Cayne’s face, I held my breath. Dennis stood up nearly knocking his chair over and stomped out, Mrs. Crane took a deep breath and gathered her purse up, “I guess were going.†She stopped momentarily to give me a kiss on the cheek and a hug and then followed her son out.

    “He was not tainted.†Huntsman said quietly, looking sternly at Jet who simply smiled back at him, “the taint that he received was with his body not his spirit. His soul has gone onto a better place than this, for I think he was enlightened at the end.â€

     

    What good mood we had tried to initiate into Dennis died a horrible painful death with her comments. Jet had just been getting our goat, and Dennis had fallen for it, I would swear that if his mother hadn’t been here Jet would have been massacred. I buried myself in my drink, praying very quietly that nobody died tonight. Another round was ordered up and I dove into the next in the alphabet martini selection. Conversation wasn’t quite the same after that.

     

    ~~~

    Huntsman had been correct, the music did pick up to more of the jazz styles I prefer listening to, a little Louis Armstrong, Johnny Coltrane, some Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum, and jazz/rock fusions. Dirty, Flying Dutchman, Golden and Sweet martinis got me through to seven o’clock without further incidents. Matt had probably cleared through one bottle of Cabo by then, Huntsman had gone to straight scotch and Jet was into another round of something burning hot. I had re-chilled several drinks and frosted over Buzzy’s beers. A few of us were in drunken sulks by then, hang Jet for freaking us all out with her comments about Hell. We talked about little things, continually steering conversations away from anything that might start Jet back on souls languishing in Hell. Poor Cayne, watching us drink ourselves further into depression, he was smart enough to keep us plied with food to keep us for getting sick, brining back trays for us from the buffet before it closed at 5.

     

    Most of PRIMUS had departed after the food had packed up, though a few of us stayed behind. Wire left with Jet tailing behind, Wire promised to keep out of trouble. I wasn’t sure who I was more concerned about getting into trouble, and I fervently wished the fates would be kind to us tonight; BZY bade us good evening within minutes of them leaving, I’m sure to keep his own eyes on them. Buzzy had kept his own distance this night, when conversations had drifted around to some of our more humorous moments in the field, he looked contemplative almost regretful when we spoke of Succor. Each of us carried inner demons of guilt, I know that now. That left myself, Cayne, Huntsman and Matt drowning ourselves in our particular poisons.

     

    As the regulars floated in, I was further perplexed by the amount of customers that nodded or said hello to Huntsman, but gave Ranger (still in costume) strange looks. The time for our private party ended as the real world intruded in on us again.

    “Your that well known here?†I asked, trying not to slur.

    “I told you I play on Thursday nights.†Huntsman answered, that slight smirk hadn’t vanished yet.

    “Yes you did, more to you than just magic and a big blade isn’t there.†I said, I was definitely slurring, boy Cayne would have some fun blackmail material if more alcohol became involved.

    “Who knows maybe you’ll find out one day.†He said as he rose unsteadily, “time for me to go folks I have to see a man about some glassware.†Huntsman put his hand on each of our shoulders and quietly slipped out of the club.

    “Still playing the dark knight isn’t he,†asked Matt.

    “Yep,†replied Cayne, “it’s what he’s good at.â€

    “You should try his magic classes, it’s all “you find your own path, each person finds their own version of magic to utilize, yada, yada, yada.†I mumbled.

    “I still can’t believe you got him to agree to teach you magic theory,†Matt laughed.

    “Well I wasn’t going to relent on it, and I think, “Shadowkahn & Huntsman’s Wonderful World of Magic and Mysticismâ€, should take off nicely once we get over ourselves and put together some time for the class.†I said.

    Cayne laughed, “Finding the time is part of the problem.â€

    Matt snorted, “we need a break before we break,†he laughed, “especially you,†Matt pointed at me, “your wound so tight I could use you for a car spring.â€

    I glared over the glass, “pfft, am not.â€

    “Are too.â€

    “Am not.â€

    “Are too.â€

    “Am not.â€

    “Yes you are,†Cayne broke the string of kindergarten banter, “we all are, we do need a vacation. Do you think PRIMUS would give us one?†He looked quizzically at me.

    I shrugged, “beats me, I haven’t had a vacation since I started working for them.â€

    “Maybe we should ask,†murmured Matt.

    The conversation died down and we watched more people come into the club.

    “Popular for a Wednesday evening,†Cayne observed.

    “Maybe we should move I’d like to get out of the armor, well at least part of the armor.†Matt muttered.

    Cayne glanced upwards, “well the balcony isn’t getting filled and we could probably find a nice dark spot up there where we wouldn’t get noticed.â€

    “I’m all for that,†Matt smiled, and stood wobbly for just a moment before straightening out and making his way towards the stairs.

    “Cripes you’re going to make me stand up and take stairs, the things I do for you guys.†I sighed, tottering myself. Cayne reached out to steady me, his hand cupping my elbow and that sudden gentle touch was electric, I shivered.

    “You ok?†he asked.

    “I’m good.†I was thankful for the dark lights and the already flushed complexion so that he couldn’t see my blush. God all I wanted to do at that moment was glomp him like a cat girl. Down hormones down, I thought and somehow managed to keep a stupid grin off my face as we walked arm in arm up the stairs to the loft. Dear God, if you ever give me the chance, please give me the backbone to do something about him, I mentally prayed. Cayne let one of the waitresses know we were heading into the loft and she nodded in understanding.

     

    Matt had already found a neat table to the far side of the loft, lighting low enough you could only see the table top; he had already removed most of the suit and was changing into a tee-shirt and jeans, at least the jeans were already on by the time we reached him so nothing embarrassing there (thank you Lord!)

    “Well you’re a quick change artist,†I quipped.

    He smiled as he packed the armor into a duffle bag he had earlier hidden away somewhere on his person, “you learn to change fast when you need to,†he replied as he shrugged on a leather jacket and folded himself back into a chair.

    Cayne held a chair for me and then slid into his own seat, his clothing rippled becoming black jeans a button down loose shirt and a denim jacket; his features altered just enough to make him looks less Oriental and more Italian, the look he had taken for my body guard. He smiled beatifically at us both, Matt rolled his eyes and I sighed deeply, “Yea whatever, ya show off.†They both chuckled.

    “Excellent seating arrangements Matt,†Cayne said, observing the layout.

    “Yea, well I’m not drunk enough I wouldn’t watch our backs,†Matt replied.

    “I think I am,†I stripped off my jacket and looked around, Matt had set the chairs so we were all facing the stage but could still see the stairs; I nodded in approval, not like I had noticed anyway.

    “We’ll have to work on that,†chided Matt.

     

    ~~~~

    Around 9pm Jazz was really jumping, the quartet had become a quintet and several tables had been moved back from the stage to allow for amateur dance night. We watched couples swaying to the music, trying complex dance steps, hitting some serious swing time. I had stopped my pursuit of the martini alphabet by then and was working on ginger ale. We were drunk, incredibly drunk, but it was all cool and detached, I had felt myself flare hot and cold several times but nothing overt had happened; a few months ago I had run analysis on my blood, it’s highly oxygenated which is part of what gives me my flight capacity, so I deduced that my body was trying to burn the alcohol out of my system, it had had enough and said no more. Matt was surprisingly lucid for someone who must of polished off two bottles of Tequila, he didn’t slur, and only bobbled for a moment when walking, I was very impressed, I later found out from Cayne that he had cheated though; had done one shot out of four the rest had been water, sneaky git. Did it so he would be relaxed enough but not out of mental commission incase we got into or started trouble. Me, well it wasn’t staggering but I definitely had more bounce to my step when I walked, it’s easier for girls to get away with walking drunk, you just exaggerate your walk, it got me lots of looks from the fellows as I sauntered past on my way to the bathrooms. Dinner had helped take the edge off the liquor. Jazz served from a simple but rather refined dinner menu, so we had ordered up around 8 o’clock.

     

    I was just slipping back into my chair from my last trip to the bathroom, when someone new steps onto the stage, saxophone strapped around his neck, and takes the mike. He’s pale, clean-shaven with short dark red brown hair and green eyes that sparkled in the spotlight, a strong jaw line and slimly built, his smile dazzled; or maybe it was the alcohol.

     

    “Good evening everyone,†he said, to jubilant applause and not too few whistles, he looks around and frowns slightly, “I have a special request from our favorite hooded familiar, who seems to of fled the coop again,†a round of laughs and applause followed. “It’s going to tone it down for a minute or two but we’ll get jumping again real soon. This is for someone who’s no longer with us, it’s called Old Friends Gone.†He turns and taps out the beat and begins. His saxophone is powerful, sad and sweet, wrapping around us like a comfortable blanket, patting us on the shoulder in comfort; the audience has hushed and we can see even the waitresses and bartender have stopped what they’re doing to watch him play. By the time he finishes the solo, new tears are cascading down my face and even Matt and Cayne have scrubbed their eyes a few times. The applause is loud after the echo of his last note dies away. He smiles sadly but warmly for a moment before smiling brilliantly again, he turns to the quintet and taps out a new beat, they launch into swing jazz.

     

    “Wow, that was breathtaking,†whispers Cayne.

    “The man knows how to play,†Matt comments.

    I blow my nose into copious amounts of tissues in reply, the guys’ chuckled.

    “So does this guy know Huntsman or is it the other way around?†Says Matt, looking contemplatively at the man on stage.

    I shrug, “we don’t even know who he is, but everyone else seems to.†I say.

    “Yea I noticed that, I guess we need to get out more.†Quips Matt.

    “Yea,†I mumble, “I guess we do.â€

     

    We listen to this new saxophone player, he switches between an alto and soprano saxes depending on the song, a few of the songs hit us with the same intensity as his solo, but their upbeat and meant to get the blood pumping. He plays for 30 minutes straight, before ending with one hell of a flourish to thunderous applause. The pianist takes the mike, “Give it up for Johnny Domingo!†and a new round of applause reverberates through the club, as the saxophonist bows several times and smiles appreciatively at their praise. “Were going to take a little break and we’ll be back soon,†the pianist announces, to more applause and the lights on stage go out. Music from hidden speakers starts pouring out into the room as the quintet plus one leave the stage. Johnny signals a waitress who brings him over a drink and he leans in close to her for a moment, she nods and turns to look directly at us, (we scooted our chairs backwards collectively) Johnny’s gaze follows hers, he gives her a peck on the cheek and heads in our direction.

     

    “Looks like were going to get a visitor,†Cayne says, shifting slightly in his seat.

    “Well maybe we’ll learn something about our Batman,†I say, which made Matt laugh; I didn’t realize I used my pet name for Huntsman aloud.

    “Batman huh? Yea, well with the exception of the chin stubble he’s constantly sporting that whole mysterious stranger attitude fits.â€

    Cayne chuckles along with Matt, and I giggle along with them.

    He kept to the back of the stairs and out of the lights as he came to us and pulled up a chair backwards, straddled the seat and leaned over the backrest, grinning at us. “So your HM’s cohorts huh? Johnny Domingo, at your service.†He smiled at us again before sobering up, “I’m sorry for your loss, it’s rough to loose a friend like that.â€

    We made polite noises in return, I answered, “Please forgive our lack of enthusiasm, its been a rough few weeks,†I smiled gently.

    “Yes, HM told me a little about what went on. For what it’s worth, you have my condolences.†He smiled slightly.

    “Oh? Does he talk about us?†I answered coyly.

    Johnny chucked, “yes and no, he plays close to his chest, but then you guys probably know that.†He put his hand out to each of us, “Johnny Domingo, you might of heard of me in the Jazz circles as Johnny Domino too,†he shrugged, “You don’t have to introduce yourselves, I think I can figure out who you are.â€

    We took turns shaking his hand, Cayne actually introduced himself as Shadowkahn, after all it’s not like he hasn’t changed his looks again. I shook his hand, “Firefrost,†and I smiled warmly. Matt kept himself quiet, but shook his offered hand.

    “So Johnny, why the name change? Domino sounded pretty cool.†Matt asks.

    “My grandfather passed away last year, so I changed it to honor him. Unfortunately it means I have to remake my stage image with this name.†He smiled warmly at us, “But it’s a small price to pay, most folks remember me anyway.â€

    “So, how long have you been friends with Huntsman?†asked Cayne.

    “HM? Hmm a few years, been teaching him sax.†Johnny smiled. I wouldn’t think of two more different individuals, Huntsman the dark brooding, quiet vanishing act and this guy Johnny, outgoing, charismatic and a stage hound, who knows what brought people together.

    “I’m used to him pulling the all ‘dark and mysterious’ tricks on me,†he shrugged taking another sip from his drink, “I guess you just start getting used to it.†We all chuckled at that.

    “Yea your right, I think were getting used to it,†Matt replied, “but he’s reliable, and good in combat.â€

    Cayne nodded in agreement.

    “Amen to that,†I said, “He saved my bacon a few times.†I sipped my soda, “one adventure we both almost died, if it hadn’t been for him I probably wouldn’t be here.†Matt nodded; remember the incident with the dagger and the frog demon I was referring to, the three of us had almost bit it that day.

    “Yea every now and then I catch him with more scars, you heroes seem to collect them.†Johnny mused, “not a healthy hobby.â€

    “Par for the course,†Matt replied, “So how well do you know, HM you call him?†Ah Matt’s curiosity was up.

    Johnny laughed easily, “HM, better than spewing out Huntsman every time I want to talk about him,†he nodded towards the crowd below, “some of them call him that too.â€

    “So he really does come here on Thursdays and plays?†I asked.

    “Yep, hard to believe isn’t it. They keep his sax behind the bar and lock it up every night before we close.†Johnny took another sip, “I think it has been three or four years? I’m not sure; he tries to keep a little distance between us sometimes, I think for my safety as well as his.â€

    “But you know about him,†I pried.

    “Oh yea, lots but if he’s keeping his secrets from you guys still, then he’s got his reasons, I’ll not betray that trust, sorry.â€

    “We understand,†replied Cayne.

    “Yea, besides as much as I want to know, I’ve kept my nose out of his files, I figure he’ll eventually trust us enough to tell us.†I said. “But I wish he would sometime soon.â€

    The three of them chucked at me.

    “What? It’s true, I mean my God, and it has been almost a year? We’ve saved each other’s butts, worked towards the common good,†I kept my voice low, but you could hear the anger seeping into it, “fought side by side and felt the pain of loss and triumph of success, what do we have to do in order to get him to trust us enough to let us in?†I quietly demanded; oh God how I wished I hadn’t said all that, especially to a total stranger, what the hell was I doing? But my tongue had run off with my common sense.

    Johnny was taken aback, but he smiled again and asked softly, “So have you told him this?â€

    I blinked at him, and looked sheepish, “No. Not in so many words, I’ve tried in my own way. I mean he comes off so standoffish and when you try to get a little closer he backs off and vanishes. I’ve tried to respect his privacy but well, it’s hard when you need to trust someone with your life and you know so little about them. I’m so new at this, for me not knowing adds a lot of stress, I’m the sort of person that has to figure things out, to know how it works, I’m trying to deal but well it’s been rough.†Lord, I was on the verge of tears again, I hated being drunk, my brain cells died in liquor, and I wanted to strangle my tongue. “Sorry.†I said, to everyone and no one.

    Johnny patted my hand in comfort, “it’s ok. My suggestion would be to take it easy with him, I’m sure he’ll come around. You have to realize that he’s been a loner for all his life, it’s hard for him to trust anyone or to work in groups, trust me I know it takes a while for him to warm up. Singular is a hard habit to break.â€

    “I’ll keep it in mind.†I sniffled for a moment or two, and felt Cayne’s hand touch my back in comfort, I guess he understood that my frustrations were still building and I was venting.

    “So where did you start playing,†asked Matt, trying to steer the conversation onto easier roads.

    “Oh years ago,†replied Johnny with a grin, “I’ve traveled a lot, all over the country, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Boston, San Fran, small and big cities, wherever I can find a Jazz club.â€

    “Your sound is excellent, by the way, not many play In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening that well.†Smiling slightly, trying desperately to dig myself out of the self-collapsing funk.

    “You know that?†Johnny beamed, “Man either your one hell of a movie buff or you know a lot about music.â€

    “Both really, I played piano eons ago. I love music and when you don’t get out much, movies become your basis for relaxation. I’ve been acquiring quite an extensive collection of vinyl and CD’s from the esoteric to movie music over the years.â€

    “I’ll have to start borrowing from you Vi,†said Matt, “you shouldn’t keep that a secret.â€

    “Well...†I started hemming and hawing, only to be interrupted by Johnny.

    “That’s cool, I’ll have to invite you guys over to trade music.†He cocked his head listening to the speakers, and looked over his shoulder, the group was working their way towards the stage, “that’s my eue to get my butt back on stage. It really was nice meeting all of you,†he shook our hands again, “got any special requests?â€

    “New York State of Mind?†said Matt.

    “Anytime At All?†was Cayne’s request.

    “Never on a Sunday?†I asked.

    Johnny laughed again, “sure thing, I think I can do them all. Hey, next round’s on me, ok?†He waved goodbye as he walked away and down the stairs to the stage.

    “Beatles.†I said.

    “Billy Joel.†Said Cayne.

    “What the hell is Never on a Sunday?†asked Matt.

    Cayne shrugged he didn’t know it either. “Jules Dassin,†I said.

    “Who?â€

    “Never on a Sunday is a movie from 1960, set in Greece about a Greek prostitute.†I snickered, their looks were priceless, “Never on Sunday was Greek before My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and the movie’s like what, forty three years old? Jules Dassin wrote, directed and costarred in his movie about the celebration of good living, which was embodied by the vivacious Melina Mercouri. It was the Cannes award-winning role of her career actually. She plays Ilya, a fiercely independent prostitute who handpicks her clientele, and Dassin plays Homer, an American intellectual enamored of all things Greek, and completely determined to steer Ilya onto the straight and moral path. He's out of his depth, of course; it's not long before his efforts are exposed as naively self-serving, half the fun of the movie is from watching Mercouri amiably deflect any attempt to dampen her spirit. Its completely innocent and good-natured by today’s standards, it’s popular for the non-mainstream crowds and the familiar bouzouki themes throughout the film makes it lots fun.â€

    “You picked a song from a movie about a prostitute?†asked Cayne, puzzled.

    “What the hell’s a bouzouki?†asked Matt.

    I smirked, “A bouzouki is a six or eight stringed, long necked stringed instrument, the sound box looks like a pear cut in half and its plucked by your fingers or a penna; you hear it all the time in Greek music, it’s very distinctive.â€

    The light bulb went off, and Matt exclaimed, “Oh, the “shut off that damned music†quote from Monty Python’s cheese sketch.†I laughed along with him, “Yea that’s it.â€

    “So why the song about a prostitute?†Asked Cayne again.

    We paused as Johnny picked up the mike and announced to the crowd they were starting; he conversed with the quintet for a moment or two and we heard one of them laugh. Johnny turned and they began to play, Never on a Sunday.

    “I don’t know really, it’s what came up in my head,†I mused; really I didn’t know why it had popped up. “Ilya sings it,†and I started singing loud enough just for them to hear me, in time to the music, “’Never on a Sunday when the church is full of people, and the bells are ringing in the steeple, la la...

    Oh, you can kiss me on a Monday, A Monday; a Monday is very, very good,

    Or you can kiss me on a Tuesday, A Tuesday, a Tuesday in fact I wish you would,

    Or you can kiss me on a Wednesday, A Thursday, a Friday, and Saturday is best,

    But never, never on a Sunday, A Sunday, a Sunday 'cause that's my day of rest...’â€

     

    They sat in stunned silence and I blushed furiously, just realizing the connotations of what I had sung, “oh crap.†I murmured and quietly beat my head on the table. They broke out in hysterics.

    “Holy shit Frost, that was too much,†laughed Matt, slapping me good-naturedly on my back; Cayne wiped the tears from his eyes.

    “We have to get you drunk more often,†Cayne laughed.

    “Heh yea, right, Oy.†I rubbed my forehead, “tension breaker huh?â€

    “I’d say so.†Cayne patted me on the shoulder.

    “So either of you two yahoos, going to sing?†I asked, trying to act testy but honestly it just wasn’t in me anymore.

    Cayne put up his hands in mock defense and shook his head vigorously no; Matt chuckled, “somehow I don’t think they’d like to hear my rendition of Billy Joel.â€

    “Why, your Danny Boy was very good,†said Cayne.

    “Yea, but I’m not drunk enough anymore,†laughed Matt, “besides I’m up for listening to Johnny the rest of the night, not myself.â€

    We nodded in ascent.

     

    ~~~

    We spent the rest of the night listening to Johnny both musically and at our table in conversation. He regaled us with stories of various concerts and clubs, we told him what we could of our lives and adventures; for starting out as such a depressing day it developed into a fairly comfortable and congenial evening. We left before the club closed for the night and Cayne drove us back to the mansion. I suppose I’m very lucky, despite much, I have friends even amongst my cohorts here, they may be few and the sum total can be counted on two hands but still, they are friends. It was quiet when we arrived, as it was after midnight I had expected it to be. I bid Matt and Cayne goodnight and we toddled off to our respective rooms for sleep, but not before I made my way outside to the roof, and stood on the widows walk staring out into space.

     

    Diverse, obtuse, unorthodox, each of us as stray as the stars in the sky and yet stars make a pattern, direction, familiarity that sailors of old and new rely upon to navigate life. In the absence of moral absolutes, the mind searches for landmarks to navigate the expanses of interpersonal waters. We establish relative criteria: points of reference against which we can measure trajectory and velocity. Largely, these are cultural: you prefer the works of Hawthorne to Melville, Hemingway to Fitzgerald, Godfather II to Godfather I. We are not so much interested in the “why†as the “where;†the solid bodies against which our radar reflects. Once these points are taken, and a direction given, course plotted, we can begin to ask the more difficult questions of each other (which becomes the subtle navigation through shifting shoals). Do you really prefer the works of Hawthorne to Melville? What’s your answer?

     

     

    August 14, 2003

    Hangovers suck.

    For the first time in 15 years I awoke with a pounding skull and my mouth tasting like the floor of a movie theater. I had fallen asleep at my desk in the lab so not only did I want to die from the hangover, my back protested with every movement. I crawled to my room and proceeded to drown myself in the shower and rebury myself under the bed covers.

     

    I awoke around 1pm, the pounding in my skull had subsided and I didn’t feel so much a doormat anymore. Some toast and heavily sugared tea later, I wandered the halls of the mansion trying to find where everyone was. No Shadowkahn, no Wire Walker, no Jet, no Huntsman, no Full Throttle, no messages, no information, no nothing. The panic attack was forthcoming until I found Ranger in the garage up to his elbows in one of the cars engines. I caught his attention and he glanced over his shoulder at me and gave a quick smile, “their out on patrol, at base, at doctors, danger room.â€

    “Thanks Matt.â€

    “No prob.†He shrugged and went back to working on the carburetor.

     

    I found whom I was expecting in the danger room.

     

    Geiger was pounding his fists into a 6ftx6ftx6ft concrete/steel reinforced brick; the block was loosing. Chunks of rebar and concrete littered the floor, as punch after punch reverberated through the block, leaving behind craters slowly shattering the block. Up in the observation room I looked out over the danger room floor, there were three other piles of wreckage, as well as mangled dummies and unidentifiable pieces of what might have been attack drones. I darkened the glass and my heart sank as I watched him take out his anger on inanimate objects. Every bit of destructive potential was driven into destroying that block of concrete. A blinking off one of the control panels caught my eye, so I ticked in a few codes to see what was up, the system was recording as it usually does, but apparently the system also has a direct feed right into Artemis, running.

    Aw shit they’ve been watching.

    I watched too.

    Near the end his grunts turned into low growls then into full-throated howls of anger, pain, frustration all rolled into each bone-shattering blow. Tears were flowing freely down my face by the end, when he finally stopped, when it was all destroyed, when he finally sank down on his knees and howled out one final heart-rending bellow that shook me to my bones. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve cried, this time I cried not for myself but for him, for Dennis Crane who’s innocence was lost before its time.

     

    I waited, gave him time to get himself together. I found him in the locker room; it’s hard to look at this 15-year-old boy with the body of a wrestler and the destructive capacity of a thermonuclear bomb as a “normal†child, it’s hard to remember he is a child, he’s dealt with more crap in his short lifetime than most adults will ever see in their entire lives, it’s easy to feel sorry for him, to wish things were better for him. But what do they say about wishes and fishes.

     

    I cleared my throat, “Hey.†He nods and keeps lacing up his sneakers.

    “Hey.†Silence, then he says, “I’m seeing Wakeman in a few hours.â€

    “That’s good.â€

    “Maybe.†He turns slightly, glancing over his shoulder, “when do you go see him?â€

    “Tomorrow.â€

    He grunts and turns back to getting dressed.

    I put forth the olive branch, “Do you want to talk about it?â€

    Silence then, “No. Not right now, I’m not sure when.†A pause, “I’ll let you know.â€

    Crap, physician heal thyself. “Sure, whenever you want.†I turn to leave to let him finish dressing.

    “Doc?†He calls, my pet name from the kids.

    “Yea.†I turn back.

    “If she ever says anything like that again, she’s going to wake up in Hell with a limp.â€

    Fifty million different comments come racing through my mind, what the hell am I supposed to say to a promise like that?

    “I’ll let her know.†I turn and walk away.

     

    And I did too.

     

    ~~~

    It’s quiet in the mansion tonight, everyone’s gone, patrols, recovery, spending time at home with his mom. I don’t think PRIMUS will let me know the results of Wakeman’s interview. Wakeman’s the therapist, I’m not sure if he’s doing the evaluation or all of it but what is the man going to tell me that I don’t already know, were loosing it; they just need to know who’s loosing it fastest and start treating it. If I was a betting woman, I say myself then Dennis then Matt, then probably Stephen and Huntsman (depending on his mental state to begin with). Edward was symptomatic of his trauma from his time with Genocide and Jet, well only Hell knew that psyche; I’m pretty sure the only one that wasn’t totally off the deep end was Cayne, but even he was feeling the pressure. Physician heal thyself indeed.

     

    I’m tired, unsure how to proceed, nothing productive was accomplished today, I walked around in a daze for the better part of an hour after Dennis left until I could get Jet and talk to her. Huh, like that was productive but I got the point across, don’t talk about Succor again, ever. After that I played video games all day, not my games, I got on the Playstation and X-Box and played every game the kids own, got my ass kicked multiple times by the computer and my thumbs ache terribly. I don’t know what I thought I would get out of it, I don’t know, some sort of connection to them? Who knows? I’ll leave that to Wakeman to figure out tomorrow.

     

    So why am I so scared about seeing him?

     

    August 15, 2003

    Doctors make the worst patients. I hate dealing with psychiatrists. How do you feel? How does that make you feel? Bah. However, Wakeman wasn’t what I though he would be, some psyches come off as haughty and ‘your oh so beneath them,’ Wakeman was warm and personable, of course that was to throw me off guard, help bridge my defenses, get around my barriers; sounds like a war zone doesn’t it. In a way it is, we become so psychologically entrenched in our problems so we can’t see them, unable to see a way out of them. I knew there was something wrong with me, I had become manic-depressive, nightmares, sleeplessness and irritability, angry, moody, so what does that all add up to? PTSD that’s what; Lord knows I didn’t see that coming.

     

    Wakeman met me outside the base, in a private office. Probably still PRIMUS owned and operated but it gave the indication you were free from the usual observations. His office is nice, cozy with little Zen things here and there, not cluttered but you know humanized. He came around his desk and greeted me with warmth and a solid handshake, and thanked me for coming. “It’s not like I had a choice,†I told him.

    “Actually you always have a choice, you could of declined, so I thank you for coming.†He said, his voice has an odd lilt to it, an accent I can’t place. Then he really blew my mind, “would you like to have lunch? I would hate to have your interview on an empty stomach.†Wakeman has a disarming little smile too; it makes you want to trust him.

    “Ah sure,†actually I had been so nervous about meeting him I had skipped lunch and was praying fervently that my stomach didn’t growl during the conversation.

    He escorted me out, told his secretary we would be back and offered to drive.

    “Where are we going?†I asked.

    “I know a little restaurant on the outskirts of the financial district, excellent Italian and Greek cuisine, is that ok with you?†Again that disarming smile.

    “Sure.â€

    We drove in silence, I had expected prying conversation but he kept quiet; again this threw me off guard, but if PRMIUS was footing the bill this was all on their nickel not mine. Taking all back streets, we were at the restaurant within fifteen minutes.

     

    Buttonwood Tree is nice, mixing modern and old styles obviously inspired by Wall Street and the NYSE. The hostess asked if we had a seating preference and Wakeman asked for a table near the back; he declined several tables until he found one to his liking (and mine), out of the way, with tables in-between us and the windows and he gave me the chair facing the door.

     

    His conversation during menu search and lunch was polite, easy everyday stuff; weather, sports (the ones I like to watch Lacrosse and Rugby), politics, education policy, etc. It turned into a conversation between professionals, stem cell research, cancer drugs, and variables in the medical field, so on and so forth. Eventually it turned into a discussion about PRIMUS, our particular fields, what we do within PRIMUS and how we do it. At that point we delved into my who’s, what’s, where’s, whys and how’s. We spent 5 hours sitting in that restaurant, talking over fries and Philly cheese steaks, beers and turtle cheesecake. Five hours, how the hell did it turn into five hours?

     

    When we did return to his office, he sat me down in a chair across from him and told me this. In his analysis of our conversation, information provided to him by PRIMUS and various other sneaky means of invading my privacy, I am suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

     

    According to Wakeman you don’t have to be a soldier to suffer from PTSD. Fifty to ninety percent of all adults and children are exposed to psychologically traumatic events such as a life-threatening assault or accident, human-caused or natural disaster at some point in their lives. As many as 67% of trauma survivors experience lasting psychosocial impairment, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); panic, phobic, or generalized anxiety disorders; depression; or substance abuse. Symptoms of PTSD include the persistent, involuntary re-experiencing of traumatic distress, emotional numbing and detachment from other people, and hyper-arousal e.g., irritability, insomnia, fearfulness, and nervous agitation. You want to guess what symptoms I had?

     

    The first step is to identify a mental-health clinician specialist who is able to provide me with consultation and patient education, assessment, and counseling. We had that in Wakeman.

    Next would be treatment. Treatment for PTSD typically begins with a detailed evaluation and the development of a treatment plan that meets the unique needs of the survivor. He used that term a lot, survivor. Wakeman said that’s what we all are, survivors in one fashion or another. His job was to identify my treatment plan as he had with Dennis as he would with the others. Generally, PTSD-specific treatment is begun only after the survivor has been safely removed from a crisis situation. Unfortunately as my PTSD originated from my involvement with the team and my fears as team leader only to be compounded by Succors death, removing myself from PRIMUS was out of the question. However, removing myself from my only source of income and outlet for superpowers was out of the question.

    The first part of my treatment would include education, how I developed PTSD, how it’s effecting me and other problems that commonly come along with symptoms. My understanding that PTSD is a medically recognized anxiety disorder that occurs in normal individuals under extremely stressful conditions is essential for effective treatment. Huh, normal individuals, I laughed at that. Wakeman understood my sarcasm, but he reminded me that despite everything I am still a normal human being still dealing with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a very gifted and powerful human being with extraordinary abilities and coping with extraordinary situations. With perhaps the exception of Jet and Wire, possibly Shadowkahn, none of us had been born into the super human world we were experiencing, I had been a scientist until my mutation brought me into the world of crime fighting, a normal person; naturally part of our minds were still trying to deal with the unorthodox astonishing world we had come to live in.

    Then we began examining my feelings, why was I so angry, why did I feel guilty, what created my tensions how I couldn’t identify what had occurred because of the entire trauma I’ve been through. Not realizing that it was trauma from my first days as a mutant all the way to Succors death, how much of it there was.

    He talked, I listened; I spoke, he listened. I spent another 2 hours with him just talking about findings, nightmares, anxiety, guilt, identifying what was making me crazy and coming up with a game plan, a treatment schedule. There was a lot of it, that in itself spooked me some, I had no idea how much of my psyche was chewing on the straps.

    At the end of today’s session he sent me home with a few books on PTSD (knowing how much I love to research everything) and a promise from me to return on a regular basis (once a week or more if necessary, especially if my nightmares came back.)

    I came home feeling better about myself, knowing that this was something I could work through, something that could be cured or taken care of, that I wasn’t just loosing it, that I was stretched beyond my means but there was something we could do about it, before I snapped.

     

    August 19, 2003

    The weekend was quiet, which was nice. Matt spent most of his time trying to figure out a way to tear apart the little black box from Genocide without destroying the components within, no such luck. Even utilizing the one damaged box from the 2nd robot we have no way of identifying how the hell they manage to track us. However, as of right now, he can at least use it to locate us when necessary. But oh how we want to figure out that tech.

     

    Matt and Dennis are also working on keeping track of John Doe’s beeper to see if any new messages come in. They’re also working with BZY on translation/code cracking of the sequences, so far no joy but its keeping Dennis out of trouble.

     

    Unfortunately all my samples of John Doe went up with that half of the base when Doctor Destroyer’s marines attacked. I’ve got nothing to study on him, so I’ve gone back to some of the FBI casework that was piling up.

     

    PRIMUS has very quietly let us do our own thing; it’s not that they’re walking on eggshells but, well in a way they are walking on eggshells.

     

    Had another visit with Wakeman, we’re working on coping with posttraumatic memories, reminders, reactions, and feelings without becoming overwhelmed or emotionally numb. Trauma memories usually do not go away entirely as a result of therapy but become manageable with the mastery of new coping skills. I’m learning skills for coping with my anxieties, like breathing retraining and biofeedback and negative thoughts; anger management comes next as well as my “stress inoculation†or getting me prepared for stress reactions; learning how to anticipate and handle future trauma symptoms and working on my communication skills so I can effectively relate with people even while under stress. I think that might be one of the hardest things to do, just learning how to talk, bizarre really. We’re staying away from pharmacotherapy, I insisted on it. Go figure.

     

     

    August 21, 2003

    I have my updates from PRIMUS on Doctor Destroyer. God above what doesn’t this man do?

     

    I had specifically asked to be alerted should PRIMUS get the transporter working, sure enough at 6:30 am this morning I got a call to be at the main base in one hour should I still be interested; I flew I was there in 5 minutes.

     

    I met Ranger there; it didn’t surprise me that he was also interested in what was behind the curtain. Promptly at 7am PRIMUS fired up the teleport arch (behind loads and loads of firepower just to be on the safe side) and sent through a mini video flyer, the same kind the Army’s used in our latest wars. SA Clark was sitting in the control room along with the technicians running the show. He nodded and showed us to chairs in front of a video screen. The flyer powered up an flew gently through the portal, it’s video feed giving us something similar to the wormhole effect seen in SG1, but not quite as pretty; however nothing prepared us for what we came across next.

     

    The portal opened up outside of a church, the flyer did a quick surveillance of the area and swooped in near the church. It was a magnificent structure and larger than anything I had ever seen on Earth, it had to be large enough to hold thousands. The stained glass work was magnificent, and ultimately disturbing. Saints in powered armor, fighting things we couldn’t identify; depictions of legions upon legions of warriors all bowing down in supplication to their god. One of our techs whispered a prayer, another murmured “Sweet Jesus, tell me I’m not really seeing this.†In full glory, depicted as their one true god, stood an immense Doctor Destroyer, laying hands upon his blessed host.

     

    “Fly out, let’s see what else there is.†Said Clark.

     

    The tech maneuvered the flyer out away from the church and outwards, Clark cursed under his breath at what we saw next. Legions upon legions of armored men and women, space marines drilling in perfect unison, marching, completing combat techniques, skirmishes, dozens of battle maneuvers; apparently the portal had opened directly into a training camp. Something caught my attention just off the corner of the last feed and I asked them to rotate the flyer 180 upwards.

    “It’s not possible.â€

    “That’s pure fantasy, it isn’t possible.â€

    “Well I’ll be.†Mused Ranger, “Be damned if he couldn’t figure a way of doing it.â€

    “Well that explains why we can’t find him on Earth and why he punched out all the satellites.†Suggested Clark.

    “A ring world, a true ring world,†I shook my head in disbelief, “and Doctor Destroyer has set himself up as god.†How the hell had he done it? “Do we have a lock on the space coordinates? Do we know where that is?â€

     

    Suddenly the image wavered as we saw two energy blasts pass by the camera lens, and just as suddenly the signal went dead. In unison we looked over towards the portal, as Clark slammed his fist down on the power switch killing the transporter. “Well that ended that little jaunt.†He said. The technicians were all a buzz and Clark waved Ranger and I out with a “don’t mention this to anyone, it’s classified,†warning.

     

    Ranger and I walked our way through the building lost in our own thoughts.

    “Well that explains a lot, the nanites, the uniforms the drop ships and such, man fighting him is going to suck.†He mused.

    “Fighting Doctor Destroyer has always sucked, ask any of the heroes who have survived doing it.†I replied.

    “You think we have the coordinates for his location?â€

    “I don’t know, even if we did what good would it do us, he outguns us 20 to 1 and his tech is even more superior than it was the last time he attacked a city.†Man I was irritated, “But now he’s got thousands of Zealots to follow him, thousands of highly trained space marines with tech we can’t even begin to crack.†I chewed my lip for a moment.

    “It’s going to suck.†We both said at the same time.

    We looked at each other and laughed, just a simple laugh.

    “You need a ride?†He asked, smiling.

    “Nah, I’m going to fly it home, I’ll be careful and stay on the radio.†I smiled back at him.

     

    We said goodbye and went our separate ways. My entire flight home I was consumed in thought, Doctor Destroyer had created a ringworld and set himself up as god. How in the hell had he done it? More importantly how in the hell were we supposed to fight him now? There were no answers forthcoming.

     

     

    August 25, 2003

    I feel pretty

    Oh so pretty

    I feel pretty and witty and gay

    And I pity

    Any girl who isn't me today

    I feel charming

    Oh so charming

    It's alarming how charming I feel

    And so pretty

    That I hardly can believe I'm real

    See the pretty girl in that mirror there?

    Who can that attractive girl be?

    Such a pretty face

    Such a pretty dress

    Such a pretty smile

    Such a pretty me!

    I feel stunning

    And entrancing

    Feel like running

    And dancing for joy

    For I'm loved

    By a pretty wonderful boy!

     

    WOOHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh strike up the band and play me some Ragtime Baby!

    I’m in love, I’m in love, I’m in love and he loves me right back, yes he does, yes he does, yes he does!!!!!

     

    GLEE!!!

     

    Oh My God I’m totally manic right now and who could blame me. My heart is doing little tap dances and my brain is skipping along throwing flowers in the air. Oh Mom, Dad I wish you could meet him, see him, know him; I guess this will have to do. Ok, ok, ok, breathe, and start from the beginning. Come on you can do this.

     

    Ok. Friday night Shadowkahn comes into my lab and freaks me out.

    “FireFrost. We have to talk.†He says

    I’m like all, “what?â€

    He’s like. “About you. The stress you are under and what it means to us and the team.â€

    I’m like all, gack! I’m gonna die.

    He’s like all, I’ve noticed the stress you’ve been under, how your this close to cracking, how bad it is, and so for and so on. I’m about ready to burst into tears, (been doing that a lot lately).

    He’s going on about how I should trust him, trust the team more, delegate and do something to alleviate the stress and all. And then he offers to take me out of the lab and treat me to a night of relaxation, to use up that bottle of saki that’s been sitting in my meditation room for months now.

     

    So I break and say yes. The best thing that could of ever happened to me, to us.

     

    I have never, ever had such a wonderful time, we went out, talked about life, liberty, our parents our education, our lives, got drunk and lost our minds. I hope we never find them. He loves me, Cayne loves me, oooh I want to doodle it across my walls in Krylon. Cayne and Vi admit to loving each other August 22nd, 2003 and have the wildest weekend of our lives, that didn’t involve blowing anyone up or having to save the world! That’s right! Just us, in a wonderful room in a wonderful city, eating, talking and having mind-blowing sex, oh my God it was mind-blowing sex. Red-hot passionate, animal screaming, backside clawing, push across the floor and up the walls SEX! The hot and heavy eventually quieted down into gentle lovemaking and oh gawd what a wonderful weekend it was. I had fallen in love with him before I got to enjoy all of this, now I was head over heels, in more ways than one! Martial artists with Chi powers and massage techniques I recommend for all women. I’m shocked I can stand straight.

     

    It’s all so amazing, so incredible, that the two of us have been hiding our feelings for so long that it took almost an act of freaking congress for us to figure it out and to do something about it.

     

    Now comes the hard part. Not letting anyone else know. Easy part, he’s still playing my bodyguard. Hard part, sneaking in touching, talking, teasing, making love; Lord above our declaration of love complicates so much but it brings us so much more.

     

    Of course, this morning after we had returned I got a chewing out by SA Clark for my “irresponsible actions†of leaving behind the mansion without telling anyone and disappearing for an entire weekend with my bodyguard. I asked Clark if I had broken any laws, done anything wrong, after all they had put us on light duty till the end of the month in light of Succors death, why shouldn’t I go out with my bodyguard in tow and do something for myself? He flustered and blustered and generally made a lot of noise but in the end Clark let me go with a stern talking to and a slap on the wrist. Yea, whatever.

     

    How can love be wrong when it feels so right, when it does this much for my soul for his? Cayne and Vi, two souls that couldn’t be more different and yet so similar.

     

    I’m going to go tap dace across my bedroom, fall into my bed and dream about figuring out how to sneak in licking his ear.

     

     

    August 30, 2003

    Well, wasn’t expecting this one.

     

    Were on hiatus, sabbatical, extended leave with pay, time off, vacation.

     

    Clark called everyone to the base for a meeting, and he meant everyone, he had to hunt down HM but he found him in the end.

     

    We were all seated comfortably around the conference table; I was trying not to play footsie with Cayne, when Clark finally came in.

    “I suppose your all wondering why I’ve called you in here.†He said.

    We nodded and made “um hum,†noises.

    “You’re going on sabbatical starting September first, we’re sending you all down to one of our units in Key West.†We looked at him in surprise.

    “Say what?†said Matt.

    “You are all going sabbatical, a vacation, for a period of three months, starting tomorrow afternoon your labs, workshops and other locations of work will be on lockdown so you better get your projects completed tonight.â€

    “Er, why?†asked Wire.

    “Because your all suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and government regulations state that you have to be sent on sabbatical for a period of one month to three months after a traumatic experience.†He sniffed, “Succors death touched you all, some more drastically then others, but it still effected you all. Therefore, we are sending you to our safe house in Key West for the months of September, October and November, you’ll be returning to active duty status as of December first.†He looked at BZY, “BZY, your going to be heading into upgrades, so I’m sorry, you wont be able to join them.â€

    “But, my lab?†I stammered.

    “Shut it down, whatever your working on transfer it to the main labs if applicable, if not, put it on ice or if necessary destroy it and start over in three months.†Clark growled.

    “But…†I started.

    “No buts! I’m locking your labs as of August 31st! No excuses, no nothing, you’re all falling apart and PRIMUS is not going to loose a team such as yourselves over this.†He marched up to me and put his finger in my chest, pointing with every word for emphasis, “you will go on sabbatical, you will take much needed time off, you will get better and come back here in three months, is that understood!â€

    I fought the urge to salute him and shout Yes Sir! At times like this he sounds just like my Dad, acts like him too, he forgets I’m only a few years younger than him.

     

    “But what if we don’t want to go to Key West?†was a quiet reply from the back, I turned looking at Geiger.

    “What was that?†asked Clark, more in control now.

    “I don’t want to go to Key West, I’d rather stay home with my mom and visit some family.†Geiger said, “I haven’t seen some of my cousins in a long time and well, I’d like to go visit, to be a normal teenager for a while.â€

    Clark softened up immediately, “if you choose to stay in the city, you will still need to see Wakeman or another specialist we identify to you should you go out of state.†He looked at Geiger with more emotion than I would of given the guy credit for. “I understand this has been very hard for you,†he looked around, “for all of you. The option is there for you to take it, you can go to Key West and spend time in the sun or should you chose to remain in Hudson city, you will need to keep up with your visits to the therapist. Whatever you choose, this group is officially on hiatus until December 1st.â€

     

    “I’ll stay,†said Huntsman.

    Somehow I had figured he would.

    “I’ll have to check with my mistress, but somehow I doubt I’ll be allowed to go to Key West,†murmured Jet, she stood and moved to the back of the room to make a phone call.

    I looked at Cayne; this could afford us some opportunities for some us time, he in turn looked at me.

    “Are you going?†Cayne asked.

    I looked at Clark and smirked, “I don’t believe I have a choice, so obviously yes.â€

    “Then I will go as well,†Cayne said, “as your bodyguard.†He added, though that word held a whole new world of connotations now.

    “I’ll go, I wouldn’t want to pass up the insanity that is Key West Halloween.†Remarked Matt.

    “I have a company to run,†said Full Throttle.

    “I hate to tell you this Edward but within a month of your kidnapping your company folded,†Clark shrugged, “since you were essentially the company after all. Why not take the time to relax, try and get your memory back and start anew in December.â€

    Edwards looked annoyed, “damn it. Ah well, I suppose it couldn’t hurt, Ok I’m in.â€

    “What’s Key West Halloween?†I asked Matt.

    “Oh just you wait, Frost, just you wait.†He leered at me, wigging his eyebrows for emphasis.

    I rolled my eyes, and then looked at Wire. “Stephen?â€

    He pulled out a coin, “Heads I go back to Deva and say hi to the folks. Tails I go to Key West.â€

    He thumbed the coin and it spun in the air before he grabbed it and slammed in down on the tabletop; we looked over in anticipation as he lifted his palm.

    “Heads it is, I’m heading home to Deva.†He beamed, nothing like the insanity your familiar with I guess.

    Jet returned to the table, looking non-too please, “I won’t be going to Key West.â€

    Clark nodded, “I’ll alert travel that Cayne Andrassi, Vivian Stratford, Matt Slate and Edward Stringer will be our guests in Key West.†He looked at Huntsman and Geiger, “you will still go to the therapist, yes.†It wasn’t really a question, Geiger nodded, grudgingly so did Huntsman. “Wire, I’ll send a letter to your father addressing your needs in Deva.†Clark said, which made Wire pout.

    Clark nodded at us, “Your dismissed, enjoy your vacation, and get used to the idea of calling yourselves by your real names, your not going to be needing code names where your going.†He called back to me before I got to the door, “Vivian, stay a moment will you.â€

     

    I nodded and Cayne shut the doors behind him.

    “Yes sir?†I smiled.

    “You realize why were doing this don’t you?â€

    â€Of course, you made it quite clear just a moment ago were on sabbatical to reestablish our mental and physical health.†I thought about telling him a few things, but I let it go. “I especially need the time off since I’ve been self destructing since the start of it all. You do realize that my stopping several experiments will destroy the samples and screw up the tests, couldn’t you of let me know earlier that I wouldn’t have my labs?â€

    “Sorry, I should of told you we were thinking about it, word just came from above last night to put you all on hiatus.†He frowned, “do what you can, see if anything can transfer back to Quantico. But unless you can leave something running for 3 months, you’ve got till 6am tomorrow morning to finish or stop, even if it destroys the work, the higher-ups will have to take responsibility for it,†he smirked, “After all, I’m just following orders.â€

    “I’ll see what I can do Clark,†thinking forlornly about several sets of samples that were going to head into the biohazard bin, “anything else?â€

    Clark looked thoughtful for a moment, “how normal a vacation do you want to have?â€

    “What? What do you mean?†I looked at his sideways.

    He took a deep breath before continuing, “Do you want to be normal again?â€

    I looked at him horrified, “be normal again? What do you mean be normal again?†What the hell was he talking about?

    “We have a bracelet, or at least we can make it look like a mundane object, but it nullifies mutant powers until it’s taken off.â€

    “Nullifies powers, oh.†God’s I thought it was something permanent they had worked out, phew. “You mean the detention cuffs? You’ve modified them?â€

    “Yes, we can make them looks mundane enough for people to wear on a regular basis.†He smiled proudly, “we’ve been trying to come up with ways to allow powers who have minor criminal offenses back out on the street after they’ve served their sentences,†he shrugged, “similar to the parolee program for mundane criminals, except of course were dealing with powers.â€

    I thought about it, hadn’t I just bemoaned my life as a midlife super hero? But still…

    “No. Thanks but no, I’ll keep them, it lets me keep my drinks cold.†I smiled at him.

    “Sure, just thought I’d offer,†he smiled, “Vi, enjoy your holiday ok, try and relax.â€

    “Well providing the safe house in Key West has hurricane protection, I should have anything to worry about.â€

    “You promise?†He looked concerned, “I mean, I know what we’ve just done to you and…â€

    “What happened to the finger in the chest, ‘you will go on sabbatical’?†I teased, “Don’t worry Dad, I’ll be good.â€

    “I’m only 5 years older than you woman, don’t you go calling me Dad.†He looked affronted, I laughed.

    “Well Clark you do a good impression of him,†I smiled again, but this time warmly, “look I know I’m newbee on the totem pole despite pushing 40 and I appreciate your watching over me, but do me a favor; watch over Dennis, I’m worried about him more than myself, I don’t want him becoming a bitter younger version of Stone.†Clark frowned at that comment, “he’s in dangerous territory right now, angry and focused, so watch over my kids ok?†I laid my hand on his arm.

    “I will, you know I will.†He promised, “I also promise you that Hudson City will be well taken care of while your gone, were going to import some newbees for training here,†His eyes rolled, “wish me luck.â€

    “Good enough, now let me go find my soon to be tanned cohorts in crime.†I gave him a quick hug, and headed for the door, pausing as I pulled it open. “Thanks for everything Clark, see you in 90 days.†I waved goodbye and shut the door behind me. I turned to see Cayne waiting patiently for me, as I knew he would, I smiled warmly at him.

    “Thanks for waiting,†I cooed.

    “Your welcome, as always,†he smiled slightly.

    We turned and walked towards the reception area where, Cayne informed me, we would find Matt and Ed waiting for us.

    “What do you want to do in Key West?†I asked him quietly.

    “Whatever, so long as I get to spend enough quality time with you.†He whispered back.

     

    We left the building, Ed, Cayne, Matt and I bunching together; one day to pack, one day to get all my little ducks in a row. Matt was already ticking off on his fingers the different things he remembered about Key West, not all of them sounding legal.

    “There’s the Key West Poker Run, during September; the entire month of October is Fantasy Fest ooh that will be fun, talk about serious party animal fun; then there is the Goombay Festival; and Pirates in Paradise in November, heh, heh.†Matt was rubbing his hands together in glorious anticipation of the upcoming debauchery. “We can scuba dive and paraglide, there’s the underwater hotel you can scuba too, and the dolphin swims, and the…â€

    “Alright, alright! We get the idea Matt, give it a break!†I pleaded, “we’ve got the rest of the day to pack and get our ducks in a row, take some time to look on the web for things to do, etcetera. I’m sure the base in Key West will have a lovely list of tourism things to do when we get there.â€

    Matt beamed, took Ed by the shoulder and led them away from Cayne and I, I head him say, “just think painted breasts as far as the eye can see…â€

    “Well, sounds like someone plans on getting laid down in Key West.†Cayne mused.

    “I hope someone else plans on getting laid down in Key West,†I whispered, he blushed.

     

    ~~~

    I found HM before I started packing up at the mansion.

    “Sorry you decided not to go to Key West.†I said, I really was, and I had hoped to get beyond the cowl and 5 o’clock stubble.

    “It’s better this way, at least someone will stay to watch the city.†He volunteered.

    “Actually Clark assured me that Hudson City wouldn’t go unprotected, but…†I shrugged, “Actually, Huntsman, can you do me a favor?â€

    “You want me to watch over Geiger while he’s in town.†He said, matter of fact.

    I looked sheepish, “Yes, would you?â€

    He almost looked affronted, “Of course I willâ€

    I resisted the idea of giving him a hug, “thank you, I know he’s in good hands.â€

    Huntsman nodded and walked away, heading out on his patrol.

     

    I found a suitcase and started filling it, that bit of shopping Cayne and I had done during our night out had netted me some fine lingerie; unfortunately I had bupkus in the way of shorts and sexy tops; when in Key West you might as well look the part of tourist shouldn’t you? Well shopping would be the order of the day once we got there, it’s not like money was ever a problem for me. I pulled out the little bikini I had gotten for our day at the hotel, fond memories making my cheeks flush, oh man Cayne and I would have 3 months worth of time to find ourselves comfortable levels of lovemaking, and oh how I was looking forward to it.

     

    I fished up my lab reports, sent what I could to Quantico, put some of it into cryo, terminated what I could and burned what wouldn’t survive the downturn. 18 experiments, suspended, terminated or destroyed, but what could I do? Clark would make good his 6am threat, if only he had given me earlier notice.

     

    I’m going to try and finish my entry into the journal but I’m going to loose access once 6am rolls around. 90 days no journal, no portable computer, its too easily lost or stolen. This is on a secure server, my own private system; I’m the only one with access. Though since I’m a habitual note taker I’ll probably break down and write it in a paper journal, just a little something to note what we do and such, obviously I’ll keep Cayne and I on a purely platonic level.

     

    So fair well Journal, I’ll be with you once again in December, until then, keep my memories well.

     

    With love,

    Vivian

  11. Re: Looking for FEEDBACK on campaign idea

     

    Definitely sensing a bit of David Weber influence. :) But overall the concepts seem sound so far it just depends on where it goes at that point. So far with what you describe the players are along for the ride. Are they going to be in a running chase throughout the ship with the aliens hunting them? Learn enough about the ship to initiate actions to fight the aliens, find a medical complex within the ship which modifies them in some way to interact with the ship and thus learn more about what is going on? Any or all of these ideas can be fun depending on what your players enjoy. But on what you have said so far the idea works up to that point fairly well well.

  12. Re: How to do Split personality

     

    Alright thanks everyone for their help. Went with multiform and it seemed to wrok out well although the character went over a little in the numbers he should be great fun for the player. And is still very close to the campaign guidlines. Again thatnk everyone for the help.

  13. Re: How to do Split personality

     

    Okay I will use Multiform. Now does anyone have a good example of a Multiform character or could point to one in the books so I can look it over some? Alas Multiform is one of the powers I haven't really played with all that much. Or if someone would like to help out the character he wants is an assassin as the dominant true most powerful form (fantasy hero type game) with a bard type as the other form. They would be completely seperate in most things although the assassin would be able to take control if he had to for survival.

  14. Re: Quote of the Week from my gaming group...

     

    And from our famous Gadgeteer in the group came this little ditty.

     

    "Something else strange, about 40 of the dots suddenly got close together and are blinking."

    "What does blinking mean?" Asks Geiger.

    "On, off, on, off. How the hell am I supposed to know what the hell blinking means on this damn machine, do I have a 101 Genocide manual on how it works!"

  15. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    And that updates everyone on the Journals of Firefrost. I know it is a lot of reading but for those that do read all the way through tell me what you all think so I can pass it on to the player. Also this represents an ongoing campaign of aproximately 2 years. It is going to go on haiatus for a few months while I run some simple fantasy hero stuff for a break before returning to the champions game. hope you all enjoyed

  16. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    August 9, 2003

    Can't sleep the clowns will eat me.

     

    That's how I feel right now; like my sanity is slipping away like sand through my fingers, the tighter I try to hold onto it the faster it slides away. Can people go mad in just a few short days? Or is it that things have built and built for so long all it takes is that one final straw to break and for it all to come tumbling down? I've been tense for so long, but now after loosing Succor, after almost getting killed in the same day, I'm quickly unraveling, maybe I should of just dealt with the nightmares and tried to sleep it off, now I've gone and made it worse.

     

    I overestimated my abilities, I thought I could tamper with my own mind the way I altered my body, heh, what a fool I am. No more making my own meds, at least not after being awake for 48 straight, freaking stupid that's what it was freaking stupid. Though if I patient it, it's a guaranteed moneymaker for the new age crowd. I wish I could scrub the nightmare out of my skull but I can't, something in the drug has etched it into my brain, maybe writing it down will help get rid of it, but I doubt it. Nothing like giving yourself permanent brain damage, all I wanted to do was sleep without dreaming, all I did was create a nightmare I couldn't wake up from, fucking 14 hours of non stop psychological screwing over by my own subconscious. All I did was mix a little somnatrol, a diphenhydramine, some melatonin and doxylamine with passiflora incarnaji and some other known chemicals, guaranteed lights out. I gave myself the inability to wake up is what I did, and a nightmare that wouldn't end.

     

    Catholics have a lot of guilt, not quite as much as the Jews, but I think we rank right up there at number 2. Guilt, whether its real or perceived can do crazy things to your psyche, I know that's why I'm having the nightmares. I had one or two at the start of the Drugan case, altered Ebola I couldn't trace, taken an over active imagination, add scientific genius and conceptual microbiology, add for extra flavor genetic mad scientist Tellios telling you he's 'doing research' on your blood, throw in a dash of subconscious guilt and shake well: end result, nightmare that belongs in a Lovecraft of Clive Barker novel. With the guilt I feel over loosing Succor to Genocide, with the knowledge that they will do terrible things to him before he dies, I'm truly up the mental creek without a paddle. So, I tried experimenting, something to let me sleep without REM state, what I got was drugged stupor and 10 hours of nightmare, 10 hours, and I'm wondering if I'm still sane.

     

    Ok, let me scoop this out of my head, maybe that will help erase it if I write it out, my God, how vivid it is even hours afterwards, I'm shaking still.

     

    The nightmare starts with, I'm walking through canyons of skyscrapers, combinations of cities I know, and it's all very 28 Days later, empty streets abandoned cars. It all looks so normal, but I keep hearing something just around the corner out of sight, strange slopping noises. I turn a street corner and before me lies grotesque devastation, people, sitting in cars at stop lights, walking, sitting, talking, holding hands with kids, walking dogs; all melting away, all carrying on like nothing in the world was wrong. The miasmic stench that hits me makes me gag, suppurating skin abscesses, bloody diarrhea, rotting stumps of arms, legs and fingers attracted flies and shows bare bones, those walking leave behind trails of the gelatinous remains of their tissue. Some sitting talking on the steps of the city library, merely continue talking as the flesh melts off their skeletons exposing reputing internal organs, all of it bleeding down the steps and pooling at the bottom; their still talking as the last of their tissue melts from the skeletons, leaving chattering bones behind.

     

    I turn and try to run from the horror, only to find myself in the middle of it all. Crowds of melting people pass by me, sticky gelatinous remains rub off on me as they pass, and slowly as I run through them trying to get away, more and more adheres to me, until I'm dragged down by the sheer mass of tissue overwhelming me. As I try to crawl forward the walking dead depart, giving me wide berth as their remains pulse and undulate around me, slowly engulfing me like some flesh colored Shoggoth. I scream until the mass reaches my face and covers me whole, and then only then do I start to feel myself dissolving. My fingers and hands go first, blurring and meshing with the bloody tissue, screaming doesn't matter anymore as it filled my mouth and throat, I want to vomit but I can't its everywhere, filling everything, and just before my eyes go a familiar face appears in the crowd, walking towards my remains like he owns them, Tellios, he pulls out a shovel and starts scooping me into little bags, my scream is nothing more than a bubble and I'm gone.

     

    Oh but wait, it gets better.

    I wake up, but not really, I'm still dreaming, my dream self wakes up. Some sort of lab, I can see, but it's all distorted and then I realize I'm seeing through some sort of suspension gel, like the regeneration cells. I reach out to touch the glass and find I have a hand again, sort of. I look closer and see that it's merely an outline of my hand, my arm, my body as I look down at myself; I'm nearly transparent, nothing more than a jellyfish human floating in a tank of suspension, mass in the form of a human being. I can't yell, there's no screaming, theirs no air, I'm not breathing. My ineffectual pounding on the glass brings forth a figure I can't quite make out, until she gets closer, I'm staring in horror at myself outside of the glass; it's a normal looking me dressed in lab coat and street clothes, black and white hair, regular skin, standing with a clipboard taking notes looking at myself under the glass. The me outside taps the glass, I inside the glass tap back, she nods and walks away checking off something on her clipboard, and now my perceptions are hers, no longer the one under glass.

     

    I look back at myself in the suspension, nothing more than an outline of myself packed with goo, I'm filled with revulsion. I survey my surroundings, ultra modern scientific facility actually almost science fiction, odd gizmos and strange equipment I couldn't guess the use for are everywhere. I explore some and find a section unlit by the overhead lights. I find the massive power switch on the side of the wall and flip it on with a noisy clack. The lights in the darkened section come on one by one, revealing other transparent, yet currently dark suspension cells, some three odd rows of 6 in each row. As I come close to the first row the internal lights come on within the cells and I fall backwards in fear; inside are 'versions' of me, each one different, horribly mutated in some way, extra limbs, formless features, a gigantic unfinished freak factory; I trip over myself falling backwards to the floor as one by one they open their eyes and reach for me their indiscernible words bubbling out of mouths and unfinished orifices. As each of them pound on the glass trying to break through, the lights behind these six come on and I see more canisters filled with perverted versions of myself, they too awake and begin their silent screaming in pain or anger I can't tell; behind them the next row of six come on, each of the cells filled with a new horror. All but one, one cell is dry as a bone and empty; it's then I notice that each of them have a symbol branded onto them, I cant figure out the symbols, but I look down at myself and start stripping off clothes trying to find one on me. Sure enough down on my hip I find a symbol of my own, some strange mixture of crosshairs and a trisklaon swirl. I hear a "tisk, tisk, tisk, should of left well enough alone," I look up and see Tellios there, with his clone bodyguards, two of the twins look like me, only, well sexier and buffer, a lot more muscle. With a snap of his fingers the four of them are on me like a pack of dogs. I fight back, using what little knowledge I have in fighting but it doesn't do a damn bit of good, they pummel the crap out of me and I'm dragged down, I feel the jab of a needle and then darkness overtakes me.

     

    Lovely visuals don't you think, what an ego I must have for me to envision myself as so important in Tellios's scheme of things, you think, heh, you couldn't be more wrong. But wait, I'm not done yet. I wake up again, feeling the cold of a metal table underneath me; I'm naked, arms, legs and throat strapped down by wide plastic belts. Tellios is standing over me in surgical gown with scalpel in hand, next to him is another me, dressed the same. I'm gagged, I think, at least there is something filling my mouth to keep me from talking, from screaming. He leans over to gloat, "Always good to have the sample awake, we get better results that way." He nods at the other me, who leans over and makes the first cut on a Y autopsy incision. I'm trying to scream, oh God I'm trying to scream; the blade is so cold and the pain is white hot. I watch steam rises from the incision opening, he hands her the clamps and they pull back the skin and muscle tissue revealing the internal organs. Blood goes everywhere, I can feel it running down my sides and then down into the blood grooves below. I can't close my eyes I have to watch them carve through the muscle mass, carve down to the breastbone and ribs, I feel each rib snap between the blades of the rib cutter, I feel them poke and fondle each organ, he pulls out my heart, I can still see it beating, and hands it to her, she looks at it with a gaze I know only too well, and suddenly it bursts into flames, only to ice over a second later, she plays with it, mixing fire and ice before putting it down; I'm gagging trying to scream from the pain she's putting me through, but not even a squeak is getting past. The pain is excruciating, I feel their touch on everything, I feel each organ leave my body as they cut into artery and vein, connective tissue, pulling each organ out one at a time, putting them aside just out of my line of sight. Finally they stop, I'm hollow inside, nothing left but bones and dermis; Tellios leans over right into my face, "were not done yet, you get to do it all over again." He snaps his fingers and my evil double hands him some sort of remote, he taps a few buttons and grins evilly at me. "Your going to be here a very, very long time, enjoy your stay." I catch movement out of the corner of my eye and see Succor walking towards us, he doesn't move right, slow and stiff; I see the side of his head, hell the side of his face is missing, replaced with wires and electronics, encased in a clear skull. As he nears, I can see his eyes, dull and dead. Tellios leans into my view again, "They play rough with their toys don't they. Good thing I'm such a genius, that I can take the dead and still make good use of it." As Tellios draws back, I watch the clone overturn a container over the open cavity of my torso, dumping in the gelatinous goo that was in the cell earlier. It's squirming and writing inside me trying to lap its way out. Succor stumbles up to the dissection table as they remove the clamps and lay the muscle and dermis over the undulating viscous crap inside of me, resealing the Y. Succor puts a dead cold hand, missing two fingers and a thumb, onto my stomach, Tellios speaks from offside, "let's see how long it takes for one to eat the other shall we my dear?" If all of this wasn't quite horrible enough, I hear my voice coming from the clone, "Of course Master, and then she gets to enjoy the next test." Succor places a wrist stump next to his mangled hand and there is a cold burning as tissue begins to knit together, sealing in the sickening jellyfish me inside, and then I feel it start to chew.

     

    I woke screaming at the top of my lungs, awake really awake, horribly awake and shivering uncontrollably. This nightmare shook me so much I spent 20 minutes naked in front of a mirror checking for every possible sign that it hadn't been real, it sure the hell had felt real, I could of sworn there would be scar tissue, visible damage, my nerves were still jagged from the pain endorphins. No scars, no discolorations, nothing; I almost didn't believe it. I stepped into the shower and scalded myself clean, scrubbed till my skin was raw; I have never felt so unclean so tainted. It wasn't ego that had me in multiple forms across a landscape of terror, it was myself; I've been afraid of myself for so long it all finally oozed to the surface like some infected wound. That's a good description, an infected wound, that's what has lain in my psyche for so long.

     

    What surprised me, after I calmed down, was that nobody reacted to the scream, either our rooms are really well soundproofed or, as I found out later, nobody was in the upper portion of the mansion when I woke up. I had slept for 14 hours, but I still felt like shit. Fourteen hours placed me in the middle of the afternoon, which meant the guys would be in the Danger Room doing their workout. I passed into the basement region like a wraith, I found Ranger in his mechanical lab mumbling something about "Firefrost proofing" a glider or something or other he was working on; Geiger and Wire blowing things up in the Danger Room, Shadowkahn in the dojo shattering dummies, Huntsman was nowhere to be seen and Jet was still out doing her mistresses work. I made my way to my inner sanctum, as I call it, the last room at the bank of my secured labs, palmed the security pad and surveyed my surroundings. Medical journals stand next to comics on bookshelves, toys and memorabilia sit next to my DNA analytic computers, family photos tucked safely away from the chaos; my life in one room, I had to touch everything just to make sure it was all real. Nobody comes in this room, just me; it's real, just how I left it, just like I needed it. But its all I have, it's all I am. What a sad world I live in, I'm solitary, cocooned within my life of science, too involved to have a life beyond what's offered to me. No wonder I'm attracted to the guys, it's like a cracker to a starving person, water to dry desert, I don't get out enough, I don't have a life beyond Primus, the team, science, I'm the living dead.

     

    I went into my adjacent meditation room; this wouldn't help me today and fished out an E.S. Posthumous CD from my collection. I plugged it into the CD player on the stand alone and sat down at my desk as the tunes started warbling from the speakers, a little dancy but relaxing. Listening, I pulled up the linked computer and started composing a letter to the PRIMUS psychiatrist; I wanted therapy, desperately. I wrote her the full version of the nightmare, gave her my theories as to why I was having them, told her about the drug I made, told her about the other nightmares, the guilt, the fear. Told her I wanted to talk as soon as we could, let her know I thought that the team would probably need therapy in general, and then mailed it with a click of the mouse.

     

    I wasn't going do to any work the rest of the day, what was the point, I was trying to forget the nightmare not replay it on my own scale. So I sat down, pulled up my laptop and started playing a game I had purchased out of beta test, City of Heroes, you get to run around as a costumed super hero in MMOG and fight evil, nobody real gets hurt, its just fun. So I ran my Nightcrawler/Spiderman combo-character, revisited online friends and fellow members of justice and had a good ole time beating the crap out of villains. I absorbed myself in gaming; changing out music CD's everyone now and then, until almost 10pm when I signed off. There hadn't been a response from psychiatry; I checked before walking out the door, hopefully I'd get a response tomorrow.

     

    I trudged upstairs, fished some leftovers out of the fridge and had something to eat for the first time today. Afterwards I plodded back to my bedroom, I had avoided everyone today, not so remarkable considering I had entombed myself again. In my room I looked over at the sake jug and cup set, sitting quietly collecting dust on my dresser. I should talk to him, I should thank him, I thought, there's a lot I should be doing, but I'm just to damn afraid to do it. I should go find Cayne right now and talk to him, go tell him how I've been feeling, tell him about the nightmares, tell him everything, I should stop being a coward and go do something, but all I could do was slump against the heavy oak door and be useless. I finally got up, changed the sheets on the bed, throwing the old ones on the floor and then apparently I was taken over by the cleaning fairy. I polished and shined the wood in the bedroom, I scrubbed the tub, cleaned the bathroom till the chrome shined and glass sparkled. I found Shadowkahn's little lavender incense burner, an unburnt cone still inside. I lit it before stepping into the shower for my second time that day, this time I was gentler on myself.

     

    As I stood with the water pelting me, my thoughts went to something I had once read; the hardest person to protect is the one who fears themselves the most. Not too long ago, I hadn't, now I did. I feared myself, what I was capable of, what I could be capable of if I turned to the Dark Side, that's what part of the nightmare was, that I could be just like him, like Tellios. The rest of my fears had bubbled to the surface in that dream, about the mutations, what if I had miscalculated and had created a monster in myself, what if that monster was still evolving even as my powers did. My fears about the Ebola case, that my published research could be part of it and I not even know it. My responsibility for the team, for loosing Succor, but ultimately knowing that I had done all I could. I did everything I could, I whispered to the wall, perhaps it was enough to try and convince myself, it's hard when you know the truth but you still have that guilt. Guilt is what was driving me, guilt and fear.

     

    I walked back to the bedroom after I had finished my toilet; the bedroom smelled wonderful, the scent of lavender permeated everything. As I dressed for the night I looked back at the sake set; Shadowkahn a.k.a. Cayne Andrassi, was someone I could talk to, confide in, I knew that instinctively he had never lied to me. But he was suffering from his own personal demons now, just as I was, it wouldn't be fair to burden him with mine. I could acknowledge what was wrong with me, but I still needed help. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the container holding the wonder pills I had made up, very carefully I picked up the jar, walked back into the bathroom and flushed the remaining pills down the toilet, no way was I going to go through that again, I'm only that stupid once.

     

    Looking for a little more comfort I opened up the Armoire and fished around the top for a box I knew was up there. Sure enough at the back was what I was looking for, a short hatbox covered in old red rose wallpaper. I shut the doors and retuned to my bed cradling the box to me. I was pleased to find everything still inside undamaged by time; a floppy red felt hat belonging to my Mother a proud member of the Red Hat society before her death, I ran my fingers and its edges savoring the texture lost in wistfulness for a moment, I plopped it on my head and went in search of the rest of my nostalgia. I picked through photos of family long gone, finding solace in long familiar scenes, but there it was, buried under all the photos, my poor little stuffed gray cat. He smelled a little musty and survived my dusting him off; Mr. Whiskers this thing was as old as I was, he was my first toy, in my crib the day Mom and Dad brought me home, he had survived my teething stages, my tantrum stages, my teen stages, my college years. Mom washed him with love, Dad had repaired him with surgeons care replacing eyes, sewing back on ears, making new whiskers, he almost had more patches then original fuzzy fur. I put the lid back on the box and placed it on the nightstand, my Mom's hat came off my head and onto the bedpost. I crawled into bed with Mr. Whiskers in hand, and buried myself under the lavender scented sheets, prayed I would sleep normally tonight, I've acknowledge my fear my guilt, perhaps I wouldn't be crippled by it in the middle of the night. For the first time in a long time, I said my prayers at night, out loud like I did as a child and clutched close my fondest childhood memory. All I ask God is that this, be sometimes, just sometimes enough.

     

     

    August 10, 2003

    I only woke up once last night, not bad really, I don't think there was a nightmare, at least I don't remember one and I fell straight back asleep, I'll have to run a brain scan, hopefully I haven't damaged myself in my desperation and stupidity. I felt pretty decent for getting interrupted sleep, though I yawned intermittently through the day. If I thought about it, I would think that today was a fairly odd day, but you know, its all starting to become routine, the oddness that is. I'm starting to think that "normal" days are really the abnormal ones. Now what happens on the odd days varies, so it's all new and unusual, but strange is becoming the norm.

     

    So were to start? Well the gang was actually all in the dining room eating brunch; even Huntsman had joined us, which should be the number one clue that it's going to be a strange day. Huntsman at the mansion, something must happen that day, make it a rule. Conversation stopped as I came in, I looked at them all, nodded and gave them a pleasant "good morning." That seemed to do it and everyone began chatting again, I settled in for eggs benedict and some strong tea. Some general talk, what had gone on during the day, reports, a review of some of our events, an impromptu meeting per usual. As I poured myself a second cup, I decided to break the news. "Gang," I said, "I'm asking PRIMUS to be ready to provide therapy should anyone decide they want it." I got some blank stares and some short nods, "teams don't usually deal with loss of one of their own very well, especially once we've become close, I want you to understand that if anyone chooses therapy it's not on record, and its totally private, no one will know, not me or even SA Clark." I got more nods, so I continued. "The reason for this is, well honestly, we're an active team for this year, don't be surprised if PRIMUS fishes up someone else to join our little shindig." That brought frowns to Ranger and Geiger's faces, "from what I understand that's pretty normal for PRIMUS teams, you don't get much time to, well, get used to it. So you've got your warning."

     

    I finished off my sausage and took another swig of tea before jumping into the next thought process, I looked directly at Shadowkahn and Huntsman, pointing my tea cup at them both, "Would either of you two be willing to donate blood samples to me?" "Say what?" came from Huntsman, all I got from Shadowkahn was a few blinks. "I am asking if you would be willing to let me have a vial of blood to run tests on." I neglected to say I already had samples from them both, but hey, if I can get extras, whose to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Why in gods name would you want a sample of our blood?" Huntsman asks. I take a deep breath before launching into my explanation, "You are aware of the differences between us all correct? Mutant and normal (I pointed towards Ranger), mystic and demonic, well I've long thought that it might be possible to isolate the gene that makes one person's DNA more susceptible to one of those three mutations."

    "What does denim have to do with it?" Asks Wire.

    Go figure, the kid with no local knowledge.

    Shadowkahn looks over at him pointing with his fork, "it's not denim it's genes, DNA. Remember that little talk about the instructions that tell your body how to build itself? Well a gene is part of the DNA instructions. It's one of the building blocks."

    Wire nodded and then shook his head no, "I don't get it."

    "That's ok, we'll incorporate it into your education later." I say, "anyway, I have the period of time when mutations started, but mysticism and the capacity to do magic has been around much longer, although magic started up stronger in persons after the incident that brought Jet's predecessor into the world. What I would like to do, with your gentlemen's permission and assistance it to figure out if it's nature or nurture. Would it of been possible with the right trigger mechanism for, say Geiger instead of becoming a mutant, to have become a magus?"

    Huntsman seemed to bristle, "it's not in the genes, its learned, its part of who you are."

    Shadowkahn broke in, "I beg to differ, my entire family, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins, do what I do and then some, it's very possible it's genetic."

    "I'm not giving you my blood Frost, no chance." Huntsman said, rather vehemently.

    "Why the hell not? It will be in a secured lab, no one else will have access to it, its not like it will vanish, it's just a blood sample. You could help me prove if what you do is unique or if anyone can do it." I replied, I kept my voice level, controlled, my scientist voice.

    "No, you can't prove anything by it."

    But I already had that argument ready, "then prove it to me, teach me magic." Silence.

    "Are you serious?" He says, incredulously.

    "Very. Prove to me that it's not something totally special about your genetic structure by teaching me how to cast magic."

    "Can I learn?" comes from Geiger.

    In unison, Shadowkahn, Huntsman, Ranger and I say, "NO." Nice for adult unity huh?

    "However," I continue in my best lecturer voice, "you can all agree that we seem to be coming across more and more mystical, magical things. Creatures, attacks, demonic, hell we live with a demon. Therefore I suggest that both of you (pointing to Shadowkahn and Huntsman) begin teaching us 'mundanes' magic lore. I am sure there is no way you can teach us everything but I'm not asking for everything I'm not asking you to teach us magic. I would like you guys to teach us enough to keep us safe, so we don't set off any magic traps, don't walk where we shouldn't (I look pointedly at Geiger), so that we're safer when we come into contact with your world." I stop and look at them both. The best part is that both of them seem to be mulling it over actually thinking about my proposition.

    "You realize that I'm mystical in nature, he's more magical in nature." Says Shadowkahn, nodding towards Huntsman.

    "Yes, which is why I asked for both of you to teach. I'm not asking Jet, I don't currently believe that knowledge of the 9 Hells would be particularly useful right now." We hear a snort of laughter from Ranger.

    "So is everyone in agreement? Will you gentlemen teach?" It's more of a rhetorical question at that point; I can see it in their faces.

    "Yes, I'll teach." Says Shadowkahn.

    "Yea sure." Says Huntsman

    It takes all my strength not to pump my arm into the air and yell, "woo hoo!" "Wonderful gentlemen, let us know how soon you want to start."

     

    Now then onto the fun part, "Now then folks, I need some footwork done, good ole fashions detective work. The Drugan case is still outstanding, it's still abnormal and we still need answers. This may not be taken seriously by PRIMUS yet, so it's my pet project, and if your willing to help, I would be grateful." I watch, each of them wrapped up in private thought, trying to decide if they want to follow. Slowly each of them answers and I'm elated, a chorus of "yea sure, yea, yes, ok's." Each of them agreeing and I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. "Ok finish breakfast and we'll get started."

     

    ~~~

    I'm on my way back to the lab when Huntsman catches me unawares coming out of the shadows like a wraith, he scares the hell out of me and I tell him so. He must have found some humor in it because I can see the edges of his eyes crinkle up in a smile, its unfortunate he covers the entire lower portion of his face, he has lovely blue eyes, I bet the rest of him looks good too.

    "Were you serious up there?" He asks.

    "Serious about what? About wanting a blood sample? Yes, I'd like one if you don't mind." I answer, I know its not what he's asking about but I figure I'll drag it out long enough.

    "That's not what I'm asking," he says, "about training you in magic, were you serious about that?"

    I look at him incredulously; he's obviously not around enough to have figured me out yet. "Yes, I meant it, if your not willing to give me a sample, then I'd like for you to try and train me in magic. I'm not just asking for my health you know, I'm asking because we're trying to figure out life, liberty and the pursuit of mutant and magic genesis; if you won't help one way, I'd like for you to help another way." I paused to catch my train of thoughts, "Scientific process is based upon theories, and theories are either proven or disproved by process. I investigate not only on my own behalf but on the behalf of humanity trying to understand itself." And for PRIMUS whenever they tell me to, but I don't have to say that out loud, I think, I look at him again, "If you can teach me magic, then that's one more step towards understanding some of the greater mysteries of the universe. If I cant learn magic then that's another step in understanding. Do you understand?"

     

    Honestly, we have been running into more magic then I would say would be classified as 'normal' if he could help me understand it, maybe we could come up with a defense against it or another means of dealing with it, there were so many questions I have about magic, he could only give me part of his experience, Huntsman is just a small section of the magic community, but still, it was a toehold. I look at him quizzically; I can almost see the wheels turning in his head.

    "Well if it's possible, I'll teach you." He says; I swear my heart did a little flip flop, I really didn't think he'd agree. "But only you, nobody else and somewhere private."

    "Privacy is not an issue, trust me." I say, last thing I want is for Geiger to try something more dangerous, "your really willing to do this? You know giving me a blood sample would be easier."

    It's easy to see the frown, his brows knit together very dramatically.

    "No, no sample. I'll teach you. I'll let you know when we'll start." With that, he fades back into the shadows and vanishes; now that is one neat trick.

     

    What have I gotten myself into?

     

    ~~~

    It was several hours later and I was in lab one when I heard Geiger yelling through the com system, "Firefrost! We have a problem! Turn on the news!"

    While I put the sample back in cold storage I asked what he was talking about, it's great having voice activated communications in the labs; I don't have to worry about hitting buttons with gloves on.

    "Your not going to like this, every news channel is saying there is a demon rampaging around downtown," was his reply.

    Well that stopped me short, "I'm on my way up." I ran all the way to the living room where the rest of the team were gathered watching several of the TVs; each channel had a different perspective, a different newscaster but they were all saying the same thing, "An unconfirmed report has just come in, apparently a demon is running loose in downtown Hudson. Several witnesses reported that the creature suddenly appeared in the middle of a crowd, grabbed a man and ran off with him." I watched the video unfold on several screens, sure enough; there was our member from down under snatching up a guy and running away with him over her head like a shield. In the background I can hear something blurted out from what sounds like a bullhorn, "Run for your lives a demon is loose in the city!"

    "Jesus Christ, please tell me that isn't Jet." I say. I certainly don't like the answer I get.

    "Yea, its her." Says Cayne, shaking his head in disbelief.

    "You know something about this doesn't look right," says Matt, eyeballing the screen. I notice Cayne nods in ascent.

    "Well that may be true but right now, we need to get to her," Cayne says, as he shifts into Shadowkahn, "if she has gone rogue, I need to put her down."

    I nod at him and salute in a cheerfulness I don't feel, "Firefrost express at your service," I look at BZY, Matt and Geiger and I tell BZY, "take the van, meet us there as soon as you can." BZY nods and galvanizes the three of them as Kahn and I leave for the roof.

    My transformations into Firefrost aren't as spectacular as they once were, I've deduced my powers are continuing to grow, I no longer need to be in what we quaintly called, 'hero form' to use my abilities, both fire and ice now flow directly from me whenever I want, no longer tied to my being frosted or on fire. However, using the rocket boost still requires a full-fledged power over.

     

    I gathered Shadowkahn into my arms and held him close, how many times have I done this? I wondered, my bosom against his back, it felt so, well, natural. I shook my head as we gained altitude before I hit the afterburners I needed to stay focused. We roared over the city and I dropped us down within a block of Jet's last position.

     

    Khan sniffs the air, like I always see him do when he's tracking and jogs off down one a street following her scent. I follow, trying to locate the guy she had grabbed up; I call into BZY and his group, "BZY what's your eta?"

    "About 10 minutes."

    "Ok do me a favor, you're going to be my telephone for a few minutes. Call Madame Duquskane, Jet's keeper and patch her thru to me on the radio."

    "What do I look like Ma Bell?"

    "BZY, your our only totally encrypted COM, I don't want this over the regular PRIMUS radio."

    "Right, ok, dialing."

    He makes the connection to Duquskane and patches me thru on his secured line, (not even he can hear us at this point) as I catch up to Shadowkahn.

    "Madame Duquskane?" I ask.

    "Yes" is her terse reply.

    "This is Firefrost, have you caught the news?"

    "No why?"

    "We have a situation with Jet, she was on Gardner Boulevard..."

    "Yes she was on an errand for me."

    "So she was returning to you?"

    "Yes, get to the point please."

    So I tell her. I fill her in on the TV report, the video, the bullhorn voice, and I hear Duquskane curse on the other side. Then I hear something else, something old, possibly Latin, but it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

    "I'll call you back." Duquskane says and she hangs up.

    Holy crap I think she just summoned Jet home. I pulled up short next to Shadowkahn, he's next to a sewer entrance, the type that has stairs and the large metal grates covering the opening, and this one is flung open, partially ripped off its hinges actually. Kahn in kneeling over something, that something it what looks to be the remains of the man Jet had picked up and used as an umbrella. "Oh crap, she didn't do that did she?"

    "I had to check, he's been torn open. Her scent is on him." His voice is tight as he puts his face close to the wounds and sniffs, "but her scent isn't inside him (he sounds almost relieved) she didn't kill him. But someone did this to make it seem that way."

    He nods in the direction of the stairs, "Her scent leads down into the sewers."

    "Be careful. We got her handler but that doesn't mean she's taken care of"

    Shadowkahn nods and heads cautiously into the sewers; like he needed a reminder from me to be careful.

    "Firefrost to all points," which sets the system open for all of the team, "Geiger when you get here your with me on the corpse. Ranger, BZY any ideas?"

    "Corpse what corpse?"

    "The guy she used as a shield is dead, Shadowkahn says it wasn't Jet on the kill but it's been made to look like she could of done it."

    "Great, why me?" Geiger grouses.

    "Because you've been training and I'll need forensic assistance so I'm tagging you for it, that's why."

    I get a mumbled 'ok', he's not happy but he'll do it, obviously. Damn me for my lack of foresight, I was so used to Succor being there to assist, but with him gone, I needed to find another in the team. Damn Genocide, if only we had some sort of lead, anything. God I hope he's died a quick death. My maudlin thoughts are drawn back to Ranger giving me a lowdown on his ideas.

    "I want to try and find where the surveillance came from." Ranger replies

    "We did an analysis on the TV report," I hear from BZY, "she was under fire by what looks to be water balloons, then she grabs the vic and heads off camera, she was using him as a shield from the attack. Were assuming it was holy water since the places she was struck smoked from the contact."

    "So it was a setup?" Who the hell would set up a demon?

    "Looks like it." Ranger says.

    "Ok when you get here, we'll do the police thing, check for tire tracks, photograph, fingerprint, etc. Were keeping this under PRIMUS lock and key gang, Jet's our problem, not the mundanes."

     

    "Shadowkahn to all points. She's not down here, she's gone."

    I nod to myself; Duquskane must have summoned her back. "You got anything?"

    "One side of the sewers is blocked off by blessed crosses, several dozen of them. There is a very intricate pentagram with an unfinished spell and a little black box with a blinking light in the center. I found attached to the wall a video camera, I avoided it. Jet apparently avoided it by crawling up the walls and onto the ceiling; her claw marks go a few feet past the pentagram and then vanish."

    I hear the murmurings of 'pentagram,' 'video,' 'crosses?' from the team in the van. The pull up just as I'm taking my first steps into the sewers to see what Kahn's talking about.

    Geiger's metal face screws up at the damage done to the guy, "I gotta do this?"

    "Bear with it, we also have fingerprints to look for, you've learned some forensics basics, do your best CSI impression ok."

    "Yea sure." He grumbles, and pulls the kit from the van. I start taking photos and giving him notes as BZY starts looking around the area for other clues and Ranger heads down into the sewers.

     

    My COM buzzes in from the secured PRIMUS line while I'm bagging the vic and Geiger is down in the sewers checking for prints on the crosses. "Firefrost, go."

    "This is Duquskane."

    "Ah! How's the patient?"

    "Currently in a containment spell. Here, you can talk with her."

    I hear "catch," and a bump, I'm assuming she tossed the phone to Jet thru the spell.

    "Jet?" I ask, "Are you ok?" What the hell am I doing asking a demon if she's ok?

    "I'm hurt but I'm alive."

    "Jet the man you took with you is dead."

    "What? He was alive when I put him down!" She growls. She's upset? Who knew, who would ever think of it?

    "Jet, tell me what happened." I patch her commentary thru to the rest of the team as Jet launches into her explanation of what happened.

    She was minding her own business, running errands for her mistress Duquskane and was on her way back to Duquskane's office when she gets nicked, nicked mind you, by an arrow. That little bit of damage makes her loose control of her human guise and she pops out in her natural green demon form. At that point she started getting pelted with holy water balloons. She tries to avoid them but isn't' doing such a good job, so she grabs this very calm man (says he's calm) and says "I'm not going to hurt you, I just need a shield" and runs away. She's hounded down a few streets by the water balloons until she gets to the sewers and puts the man down. She left the guy alive and well, apparently no worse for wear, and heads down into the sewers to try and avoid getting pelted. Jet gets about 30 feet down on side and she's stopped by all the crosses, so she turns around and heads in the opposite direction, she thinks she hears the sounds of tires as she passes the entrance on her way further down but is too intent on trying to escape. She gets another 20 or so feet down when she sees the pentagram and its little black box; now the screeching tires makes sense, she can't go one way, she cant go the other without getting captured in the pentagram and the spell but she sees a way out they hadn't though of. Jet goes chameleon extends her claws and climbs up the wall of the sewers heading over and out of range of the spell. She was only a few feet away when she heard Shadowkahn's and my arrival, but at that point Duquskane had gotten my call and used Jet's true name and summoned her home.

    We hear Ranger's voice cut over the lines, "the video is a continual feed, it's broadcasting the area of the pentagram."

    "Still?" I ask.

    "Yep, and get this, let me get close enough."

    Suddenly that strange language is heard in echo thru Ranger's radio, "That's coming from the little blinking box, what is it?"

    "A spell" says Duquskane, "a very nasty spell, it would of mangled Jet had she been captured, eviscerated her and sent her straight back to hell."

    "What?! It was a Trap! I WAS SET UP!" Jet is screaming, roaring. I manage to cut the connection to everyone's lines as the most ear splitting roar comes over the telephone line along with more words in a language that makes my hair stand on end. I rip the earpiece away from my head, listening to a demon curse in her native language is not anything I ever want to hear again. I check the unit, just to make sure it didn't melt in my hand from her cursing and tentatively raise it back to my ear; nothing not even static, the connection was gone.

     

    I looked at the body bag, in the back of the van, and down to the sewers, and then I scanned the sky and the rooftops. Who goes through this much trouble to frame and destroy a demon? It wasn't just to capture and send her back to hell, but to destroy her utterly, both in the public eye and physically. Who has that kind of hard-on for her kind of species? "Kahn? Who would do this sort of thing? Kill and innocent man and frame a demon?"

    "You know, I have no idea but I'm going to find out." He says, emerging from the sewer entrance, Ranger and a triumphant looking Geiger behind him, several little baggies in hand and a grin on his face.

    "I got fingerprints." Geiger says, "look." He hands me two print slides, they are very nicely done and for getting even partials off of such a porous wood he did a great job.

    The prints look strange, and then it dawns on me, I look up at the guys, "only swirls," I say in wonder, "the fingerprint has only swirls? Who has only swirls?" I get a round of confused looks; apparently nobody else knew the answer to this question.

    Ranger points to a bank down the street, "I'll be you they have some surveillance cameras that could of caught the vehicles coming in and out of here. BZY and I will go ask them."

    BZY points upwards, showing us the camera mounted at the stoplight, "there is also the transportation department, and they may have something as well."

    "Call in the subpoena for records, just to be on the safe side guys," I say. The COM pings in my ear, "Firefrost go ahead."

    "Duquskane again," she says. My God I can still hear Jet ranting and raving in the background in her native tongue, I shiver just hearing it peripherally.

    "Yes Madame, I can assume she's still upset?"

    "Completely, she smashed the phone which is why you were cut off."

    Thank God for that.

    "If Jet had been captured in the pentagram, all Hell would of broken loose." Duquskane continued.

    "What? What do you mean?"

    "Jet would of gone back to Hell, destroyed. The spell in the pentagram was meant to rip the demon limb from limb, eviscerate them, a very nasty little spell. When Jet returned to Hell, it would force her Master to appear in her place." Duquskane paused for effect, "right where Jet had vanished from. With the evisceration spell still going off." I was slow on the pick up, but I was catching up; she continued. "It would have eventually destroyed him, but he is a much larger, older demon. Have you ever seen those movies where big nasty monsters get banished and there are pillars of flame miles high, decimating everything in its radius?"

    "Yes."

    "That would have been him, it would have been ugly, very ugly." Duquskane said.

    "Thank you for the explanation, any idea who would of wanted to do this?"

    "God, pick one on any number of groups, including two currently in your employ."

    "Good point. Duquskane, do you mind holding onto Jet until she calms down and then send her back to us?"

    "Not at all, that's what the containment spell was for," pause, "and to banish her if she had gone against her orders."

    "Thank you."

    "Not at all, I'll be in touch."

    I look at the team, "Jet's on a little vacation she'll be back with us in a while. BZY you and Ranger have your angle," I look at Geiger, "your coming with me and the vic down to PRIMUS, we'll have our corner take at look at him and take the data and fingerprints you got." I look at Shadowkahn, he answers before I can say anything.

    "I'll go speak with Father O'Malley and see what he knows about other demon hunting groups, specifically ones that utilize individuals with only swirls for fingerprints."

    I nod in acceptance of his suggestion, and do a quick survey of the scene; we've taped it, secured it, photographed it, poked and prodded. We'll send down a proper forensics team to sweep but we had enough to start with.

    "Ok, lets go people were burning daylight." With that we dispersed off to our tasks.

     

    Geiger and I were at the corners office getting the results on what tore apart our John West when Ranger and Shadowkahn's calls came through. Duncan (PRIMUS coroner) found fragments of ceramics in the vic's tissue around the wound, whom ever it was had used ceramic blades to mimic claws. Nasty bit of work.

     

    "Ranger to all points."

    "Go ahead."

    "We got a visual from the cameras at the bank, and from the transportation department and after a lot of leg work and hunting down signals. We actually have part of it on tape, get this, it was an ice cream truck."

    "An ice cream truck?" I heard Shadowkahn on the line; he couldn't keep the disbelief out of his voice.

    "Yep, strange but true," Ranger continued, "it has a strange set of sigils on the sides of the vehicle, sort of a stylized number 31."

    "Stylized? Describe it." Said Shadowkahn, I could just hear Father O'Malley in the background.

    "Ok, very squared, block pattern number 3 with the 1 looking more like a backwards L."

    "Do you think it could actually be a backwards EL?" Khan asked.

    "Possibly," was BZY's voice, "it does look more proper that way."

    "EL." A pause on Shadowkahn's side, "Father says it's the 40th Angel of war Kaustà."

    Lovely, I think, an actual angel out hunting demons.

    Father O'Malley's voice comes on the line, "You ran into Deus ex Machina, or I guess more specifically your pet demon did."

    "What or who is Deus ex Machina Father O'Malley?" I ask.

    "The 13th Bureau, the secret bodyguard of His Holiness The Pope. The enforcers of The Word."

    "Great, so the Pope's secret assassination squad tried to hunt down and kill our 'pet demon' as you call her and murder an innocent bystander, how Holy is that?" I couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice.

    "All are equal in the eyes of God, my child." Father O'Malley says, sagely.

    Geiger watches me roll my eyes at his comment, how often have I heard that before, "Padre, they murdered an innocent man, that's hardly saintly."

    "He was touched by a demon, they probably thought him tainted, and if not tainted he would have been. They probably gave him last rights and consigned his soul to heaven before he could be corrupted."

    I must of gone purple, how arrogant, how just like the Church, so much I loved about God, so much I despised about the Church that arose from his teachings to become its own arrogant walking talking breathing monster of Faith.

    "Ah, there is more you know." Was Ranger's voice over the COM.

    "Go ahead Ranger."

    "We got a visual on the murderer, I've downloaded it to our screens so you can see him and the sigil."

    I pulled out my PDA, well technically its not a PDA its some wacky techno future data transmitter, video uplink, computer data screen that pulls out from a central cylinder into a screen about the size of a PDA, damn handy, but way too science fiction. The sigil was as Ranger describe it, a stylized 31 or backwards EL. The perp was perfect, beyond perfect, tall, incredibly blond, bluer than blue eyes, high cheekbones, incredible, breathtaking. The camera showed him and a smaller man, a dark haired man with large dark eyes and a large Roman nose, they walk off camera, at that point obviously to kill poor Mr. West who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; they walk back on camera, get in the ice cream van and drive off.

    "Oh boy." Is O'Malley's comment, Khan must of let him see the video.

    "What?"

    "Swiss Guard and a member of the Deus."

    I rolled my eyes again, great just great. "Since we know these guys murdered an innocent man we'll put out a PRIMUS A.P.B. I don't care that they work for the Pope, they committed a crime and it needs to be addressed."

    "Firefrost you do not want to cross swords with the Deus, they are extremists to the extreme. They.." O'Malley stopped.

    "They what Father?" Ranger's voice was hard, cold. He voiced it exactly how I would of, hell he jumped the gun on me, and our disgust was growing the more we found out.

    "They were the ones responsible for nuking that island during the Immortal War, just to insure the death of one immortal. Because the Pope condemned the Immortals an abominations before God."

    Dead silence across the lines, several hundred thousand people dead and the ecology of the islands ruined for thousands of years just so they could get rid of one immortal.

    "My God that's just sick."

    "Just so you understand what you're going to do if you get involved with them."

    "Padre were already involved with them, they tried to kill a team mate, even if she is a demon. Hell they probably think were all tainted by now anyway, it will only be a matter of time before they start hunting us as well." What a lovely picture I painted didn't I.

    "God bless you my child, you're going to need it." With that O'Malley signed off.

     

    I was chewing in my lip thinking hard when Geiger spoke up gaining my attention, "so what do we do with Mr. West?"

    I looked at Duncan who had remained wisely silent during the entire exchange; he shrugged, "you know standard procedure as well as I do Frost."

    "Right. Ok I leave him in your hands, let me know if he isn't claimed, he's on my tab."

    Duncan nodded and I steered Geiger towards the doors.

    "Firefrost to all points, lets go home people we have way to much work and not enough time in the day to do it."

    "You going to come get us?" asked Ranger.

    "Still at the traffic department?"

    "Yea."

    "Your on the way, no problem. Kahn you need a ride?"

    "No I'll make it back fine."

    I had a flashback of Succor saying something similar but pushed it out of my head, no need to dwell on it, I wont dwell on it.

     

    Ranger did surprise me when Geiger and I stopped to pick them up.

    "I need you to bring me back to the main base." He says.

    His explanation was forthcoming after he saw my curious look.

    "Remember PRIMUS has the two Genocide Minute Men? Well we're still pulling them apart, I've been working with the tech team assigned to stripping them down and figuring out how they work. I'm due to work in my section this evening. Sorry you wont have me for a while for the Ebola research."

    "That's ok, it's a private crusade." I say.

    "Anything cool come out of the digging yet?" Asks Geiger.

    "A few things but I'm mostly working on the sensor arrays, at least the ones that weren't damaged by us. It's tedious work but worth it if we can figure out how they track you guys."

    My thoughts cast back to that last moment before I lost consciousness trying to stop the Minute Man escaping with Succor; how its giant metal head had turned and looked down at me, as if it were debating turning to plunge down after me, I can only assume that it's programming is what kept my unconscious plummeting body out of its hands.

    "Who knows maybe we can find out something more about Genocide themselves." Ranger continued.

    Or maybe where they took Succor, those were the unspoken words that we all heard. If only they could, if only they could, but what would we do when we got there?

     

    I dropped Ranger off at PRIMUS headquarters and headed back to the mansion with BZY and Geiger; both of them will still willing to help me in the hunt for further information on the Drugan case. BZY because he didn't have much else to do and Geiger, well because he wanted something to focus on; there were a lot Geiger fist size dents appearing in the workout equipment, at least he was channeling that aggression somewhere constructive. Wire, well, Wire just seemed to be a little beyond it all, it's not that he doesn't care about what happened, it's more like he just doesn't seem to understand how it's effecting us. It's not part of an education I ever hoped to teach; learning how to deal with the loss of a good friend and teammate is a very unacceptable schooling course. Even our pizza quota had dropped, although my checkbook was breathing a sigh of relief, there was just something wrong about it.

     

    Kahn was already in the mansion dojo working up a sweat when we arrived. Geiger offered to join him in a sparing session, so I left the two of them to it. BZY sat himself down at the main computers and plugged himself into hunting down everything he could in cyber space on my pet project.

     

    I wandered down to my lab and plopped down in front of my computer currently running it's diagnostics on the last slide I had started this morning. I shuffled through the remaining slides like a robot, checking and rechecking. I plodded over the day's events, of the weeks events, the emotions and thoughts rampaging about my skull like a biochemical demolition derby. My smashing several glass flasks against the wall certain didn't help. God I would of beat my head against the wall if it would have helped any. Guilt. Undirected anger. Fear. Frustration. Tears. Need. Loneliness, a soul aching loneliness seeped through me like cold. I sat in the dark, by the flickering light of my monitors and a song came into my head, the Gilbert O'Sullivan song playing loud and strong, 'Alone Again, (Naturally).'

     

    In a little while from now.

    If I'm not feeling any less sour.

    I promise myself to treat myself and visit a nearby tower and climbing to the top will throw myself off.

    In an effort to make it clear to whoever. What it's like when you're shattered.

    Left standing in the lurch at a church.

    Where people saying: "My God, that's tough" "She stood him up"

    "No point in us remaining" "We may as well go home"

    As I did on my own. Alone again, naturally

    To think that only yesterday. I was cheerful, bright and gay. Looking forward to, who wouldn't do?

    The role I was about to play? But as if to knock me down, reality came around, and without so much as a mere touch. Cut me into little pieces. Leaving me to doubt. Talk about God in His mercy. Who, if He really does exist, why did He desert me? In my hour of need, I truly am indeed.

    Alone again, naturally.

    It seems to me that there are more hearts. Broken in the world that can't be mended

    Left unattended. What do we do? What do we do?

    Alone again, naturally

    Looking back over the years, and whatever else that appears. I remember I cried when my father died

    Never wishing to hide the tears, and at sixty-five years old. My mother, God rest her soul. Couldn't understand why the only man, she had ever loved had been taken. Leaving her to start with a heart so badly broken, despite encouragement from me. No words were ever spoken. And when she passed away

    I cried and cried all day.

    Alone again, naturally

    Alone again, naturally

    ~~~

    The COM roused me from my impromptu nap on my desk. I guess I had fallen asleep at the table, combinations of exhaustion, mental fatigue and depression does that to people. Nothing like falling asleep and drooling on equipment worth more than the gross national product of a small 3rd world nation. Oh my neck and shoulders were cramped something awful and I answered as I stretched, "Frost go ahead."

    "This the BZY we have some information for you on the Drugan case."

    I blinked a few time trying to find the clock, 2 hours had passed, just 2 hours. Apparently they had done a lot of hunting during my melancholy.

    "Really? I'll be right up."

     

    I made a quick pit stop to brush teeth and run a comb though my hair, before presenting myself to the rest of the group. They were in the computer room/conference room, a nice section of the mansion where we can all sit look at the data and hunt for more if necessary. Geiger, BZY, Wire, Shadowkahn and a very grumpy looking Jet were perched around the table, the housekeeper had obviously thought of our needs and in the middle were a nice selection of sandwiches and a pitcher of iced tea; Geiger and Wire were already munching. I plopped down into one of the chairs and scooped up a turkey and guacamole on onion roll, and poured myself a glass of tea.

    "Well thank you for being so busy on this, what have you found out?"

    Geiger had thought of trying to find any information on the missions that had been to the villages in Africa where the virus had stuck. "Which netted us a few photos of each year. We found one guy that was there each time; at least it looks like the same guy." BZY tapped a few keys and the photos projected onto the wall screen. Several different individuals in each photo, with the exception of one man; tall looks to be about 6 foot, slender but you can see he's got excellent muscle tone, in the photo the year the men died he's not wearing glasses, so you can see his brilliant blue eyes, in the photo the year the women died he's wearing glasses; similar hair styles, the exact same man.

    "Where did you get these photos?" I ask.

    "WHO database." BZY answers.

    Something in my head pings but I cant put a finger on it. "What else do we have?"

    BZY ticks the points off on his fingers, "The Asian gentlemen who died were arranging food shipments into Africa. The German worked on setting up companies to send food to Africa, of foods not able to be sold in the United States."

    "What?"

    "Food not sellable in the USA."

    "What dose that mean?" asks Wire.

    "It must mean genetically engineered food, the USA wont allow it right now." I answered.

    "Correct," says BZY, "The African villages had these mission groups months prior to the outbreaks, humanitarian WHO aid, which is what got us the photos."

    "And our suspect." Says Geiger.

    I smile widely at them, "you guys have done excellent work, I am so grateful!" I get up and hug Geiger, "I'm so proud of you, you're turning into quite the researcher, excellent work."

    "We have more," Geiger, mumbles, obviously embarrassed.

    "Yes, we contacted Ranger and he gave us a few ideas of some databases to, er, look into." Says BZY. By 'look into' Ranger meant hack and BZY was defiantly the best at that, with Ranger a close second.

    "We ran the suspects pic through several different databases, CIA, FBI, Interpol; frankly this guy is the ultimate spook so it doesn't surprise me some of what we've found."

    "Spook? What is he?" I ask.

    "We don't know," says Geiger, "CIA turned up 645 visuals of this guy with 400 different names, seen in several locations sometimes in 2 places at once, Germanic or German, Italian or Latin code names. He was first seen 15 years ago in association with a WHO relief fund to India."

    "Sounds like a real spook. Have you contacted CDC or WHO yet?" I ask.

    "No, not yet. We were going to ask you to do it since you have the best rapport with them." Shadowkahn says.

    "Ok, let me get cracking then, is there any more you can tell me?" I swing my chair over to one of the computer consoles with the little Internet video feed cameras, and start dialing. Several of the scientists I still talk to work with the WHO or the CDC, video conferencing was sometimes the best way to see old friends. I listened to Kahn's report as I waited for the connections.

    "Drugan was looking into Monsanto and Kellogg/General Mills for the food shipments. Kellogg turned up nothing but the blond guy shows up under none fewer than 15 different names in the Monsanto database. Monsanto makes chemical weapons for the USA and genetically engineered foods."

    "That's an odd diversification." I say, interrupting him. I go back to murmuring to the telephone operator at WHO trying to connect me to Dr. Brian Hayward, or at least hunt down where he is in the building.

    "That's what I thought," continues Kahn, "so I went to Drugan's editor to see if there was anything further he could tell us of Drugan's actions the few days before he died. His editor said that Drugan had told him although it had started off as a human-interest story, he had 'found something bigger than the food shipments,' and that he would be 'blowing the lid off,' something at Monsanto. Unfortunately he died before being able to present anything. His editor had no information, no leads, no files, nothing."

    "Kahn did find out that Drugan has two living relatives, a sister Regina who is a nurse here at Hudson City General and an Uncle Roy that lives in NY." Wire pipes up.

    Shadowkahn nods, "I spoke with his sister. She told me that Drugan had given her wheat sample, to see what was on it but she had been unable to detect anything significantly wrong with it. Regina said there was something odd but nothing she could find. Before you ask, yes I have the wheat sample, it's in your lab in the containment box."

    I nod my thanks as Dr. Hayward comes on the line, we chat amicably for a few minutes and sending him a quick email of the suspect I then ask him if he could identify our tall blond in the photos.

    "Oh, that's Dr. Morgan Eckhardt. A great man, a great scientist, he worked with us on a paper regarding the spread of contagion in the modern world," Hayward said.

    "Oh yea, the 'airplanes are evil' paper, I remember that." I say. I wrote down Eckhardt's name and handed it to BZY, to let him start running it through the other databases he was linked to. BZY nodded and started his search with Geiger's assistance.

    "Heh, yea, but he's been gone for about six months now. Took off for greener pastures with 6 years of work in tow, we weren't happy. Quite brilliant." Continued Hayward, "Why are you looking for him, aren't you working with PRIMUS now?"

    "Yes I am. I'm trying to locate him for information on a case I'm working on," I had to be evasive, I couldn't exactly condemn the man; we had no proof, at least not yet.

    Hayward and I chatted for a few more minutes before he had to go.

    "Got em." Says Geiger several minutes later.

    "Oh this isn't good," Says BZY, "We have 5 different faces of him in the CIA with names, get this, each of those 5 names were associated with weapons development and each name died within three months of each other, all in house fires. However his Eckhardt face was working on an aerosol delivery system to deliver mustard gas. We also have him listed as an independent contractor working on a binary aerosol system."

    "I thought mustard was a condiment," says Wire, looking at his sandwich suspiciously.

    "Mustard Gas is not a condiment," corrects BZY, "is a chemical warfare agent, it blisters the skin and mucous membranes on contact, it is a vapor product or a liquid product, it damages the skin, eyes and breathing tract, and has recently been found that levels of exposure to it damages DNA." BZY give me a meaningful look. "It says here the aerosol delivery was micro encapsulated, each particle enshrouded requiring a secondary agent to break the encapsulation and spread the agent. I'd hate to jump to conclusions but it sounds like we have our culprit."

    "It does, doesn't it? The question would be how do we go about finding this spook and proving it?"

    "Well there is Monsanto, we can try and check them out." Suggest Geiger.

    "There is that. Do we know if CDC confiscated all of Drugan's stuff?" I ask.

    Everyone looks perplexed at that, "I'd say no then. Let me check with Atlanta real quick and see what happened to his effects."

    A few transferred phone calls later I found out that CDC had opened up a level 3 facilities in Hudson just down the street from Drugan's apartment. Duh, of course they would, they set up mobile facilities all the time to deal with issues like this; they gave me the number and I called over to their unit here to see what they could give us.

    The case manager, a Dr. April Moore told us they have his home computer and his SUV and that if we would like to look at them we could come over to their site. I told them we'd be there in 30 minutes.

     

    The ride didn't take long and Ranger decided to take a break from his Minute Men research to meet us there. Drugan's SUV was held under lock and key at the mobile facility. Ranger, Geiger and myself took a look at the vehicle and let BZY take a look at Drugan's laptop. In his truck we managed to find his photo cell-phone, wedged under the seat, Ranger's sharp eyes found it. The laptop was a total bust; BZY said it was a military grade swipe of the hard drive, which pretty much included running a magnet over it and breaking it into small pieces. On the phone we found his calls. 28 hours prior to his death he had called Dr. Eckhardt, 14 hours prior he calls his sister. There were a few photos in the memory, one quick snap of our elusive Dr. Eckhardt, obviously shot from the hip. Another photo showed an office area, another showed a similar business area but with biohazard symbols around. I don't know if we can find the place he photographed, but I'm willing to bet its Monsanto.

     

    We are a few steps closer to solving the mystery. An elusive Dr. Eckhardt with the knowledge and penchant for making binary devices, a dead reporter, a possible contagion wheat sample. I have to take a look at the wheat, see what's odd with it, is it possible that like the Ebola it's tainted, altered in some way I haven't been able to figure out yet? Obviously, it all takes time, so much time. And more work than I can sometimes produce; I wish I had a full lab, access to the full systems I used to have access to. I wonder if PRIMUS can make appropriations requests, borrow time perhaps. Who knows, I'll only know if I make the requests and get shut down. Until then, I'm going to sit and chew on the wheat and see what emerges.

     

    The gang had enough for the day, Wire and Geiger (against my better judgment) went out on patrol, how can I tell them no, don't do your job? I saw the look of worry on Shadowkahn's face when he thought no one was looking. I know the same thoughts went through his head, do we shelter them, or do we let them lead? I need to go back to studying philosophy and not just reading my comic books or scientific journals.

     

    Philosophy helps shed light on the darker elements of the human soul. The past has shown we can anticipate, in the course of assignments the necessity of killing, of injuring others either as my duty, or in justice or in self-preservation. Philosophy might help me out from the crippling self-doubt that rises to the surface, a moral compass to follow when I examine the rightness of my actions. We can be forgiven much, but justice must prevail.

     

    How long can you stare into the abyss before the abyss stares back?

     

    ~~~

    August 11, 2003

    To quote a book I've recently finished, it started out as a bad hair day and went down hill from there. I'm incensed, furious, frustrated, angry, and every other synonym I can think of. I want to grab the world by the throat and shake some sense into it. I have never been so bloodthirsty, never so red hot angry, I want to mangle every Genocide agent I ever see for the rest of my life into bloody charred pulps. The abyss is staring back I know it.

     

    My test results on the wheat sample were strange, not to say that everything about the Drugan case wasn't strange. The wheat had been genetically altered, but for no apparent reason, nothing to increase hardiness, water retention, nothing, but it was obviously altered. We had nothing further on the dead, nothing further on the living; it's like being handed a thousand piece puzzle with no picture and 95% of the pieces missing. I had nothing, hundreds of questions and but few answers, whatever was happening in Africa with the wheat, the Ebola in the States, we would only know the answer once whatever "it" is happened. We wont know what's gone wrong until its too late. God help us when that day comes. This will be one of many times that sciences and research all our vigilance would net us nothing, I'm sure of it. That though was proved several times today.

     

    A call from Mike down at the City Morgue started the day with our customary oddness. "Hey Firefrost, I understand you like the odd stuff, well I have some odd stuff for you down here. How soon can you get here?" He starts.

    "Good morning to you too Mike, what oddness, Huntsman hasn't swiped a body has he?"

    "What?"

    "Never mind, what's up?"

    "We have an accident victim here, with some extra organs."

    "Extra organs?" God I hadn't even had my morning tea yet, "what kind of extra organs."

    "You willing to come and look?" He asks

    "Of course, mind if I bring friends?"

    "Ah sure." With that he hung up.

     

    Ranger hadn't headed out to PRIMUS headquarters yet so he opted to join us on our little trip to deadville. We finished breakfast and piled into the van, Wire, Geiger, Jet and Shadowkahn quite the motley crew to drag to a morgue. We met Mike inside, Wire and Jet hung back, Wire because he's uncomfortable around the dead, Jet, well maybe she didn't want to offend, its not like she was in her normal form but after dealing with Duce yesterday I guess her being low key was fine. Kahn kept to the background watching it all, as Mike brought us to the slab.

     

    John Doe lay on the slab skull cut open exposing the brain, and the usual Y incision. There was a remarkable lack of blood. I looked over the report before asking Mike, "so what killed him?"

    "Cranial hemorrhaging. He also has a broken femur from the impact."

    "What impact?"

    "He ran in front of a semi doing 55 miles an hour, snapped the femur and rattled his brain case. That was it."

    "He ran in front of a semi?" Ranger said in disbelief.

    "You're kidding, right?" I ask.

    "No, I'm not the witness report says the guy was running and ran right in front of the truck to snatch a child out of the way, our John Doe didn't get out of the way in time, semi hit him smack in the center."

    "Who's the witness?"

    "The driver of the semi. Said the guy ran right out in front of him, never saw the kid, here's the crime scene photo."

    Mike showed me the file and I pulled the photos, "holy freaking spit, John Doe did this to the semi?!" I pulled out the shocking photo and passed it to the others.

    "He dented the front fender and grill, looks like he might of impacted hard enough to bust the radiator." Ranger supplied.

    I looked over the body of John Doe with some concern, and then I looked back up at Mike, "tell me what you have here." Mike presented the cranial sample to me and while I pondered what I was seeing, he put up the x-rays and CT scans on the viewing screens.

    "Mike, is this what I think it is?" I pointed to the membrane enmeshed in the skull section.

    "I don't know what that is, why don't you tell me." He responded.

    "I'm not sure but, well, it looks like...mesh. Some sort of caul between his skull and brain tissue?" I questioned.

    "That would be my opinion, and look here," Mike pointed at the CT scans and x-rays while I looked on in fascination, "where should we start. Let's see, he has a small secondary heart down in his pelvic area. At the base of his skull there is another organ, which I believe secretes extra hormones. The bone sample I took from the skull shows his skeletal structure is oddly strengthened, mostly calcium but just enough ceramic in the sample to show it. In his chest cavity is another organ for hormone release and something about the size of a golf ball that looks like another liver, it's making leucocytes almost like extra healing factors. The muscle tissue is abnormally dense especially the white muscle tissue. Here's the broken femur but other than impact, this bone should have survived anything else. His dermis is especially tough, and there are 4 USB ports on him, here and here." Mike pointed to the Does' shoulders and hips, sure enough upon closer examination there was a port in each shoulder and on his hips.

    Ranger came over at that and took a look, "hey, I've got a cable on me, you want me to plug him in?"

    "Go for it."

    Ranger pulled out his laptop and a cable and plugged himself into the John Doe; he flipped around several programs trying to find the right one for reading whatever data was coming through the connection while Mike and I went back to looking over the body.

     

    "There is something odd about he occipital lobe, there are extra connections to the sections of brain and there is this little pea sized organ that is connecting to the rest of the brain via these connections. He has a pre-digestion implanted stomach that has nerve connections to the spinal column between the thoracic and lumbar spine where there is another implant. In his chest cavity in the mediastinum is something similar to a fish lung, with a direct connection to a sphincter on the trachea. There is a small slug shaped organ at the base of the brain that has nerve connections to the occipital lobe. He as three extra kidneys. The membrane tissue you're holding was damaged by the accident but it remained in place and connected to the rest of the brain, it floated between the top of the brain and the skull within the water sack."

    "Frost, I have no idea what we're getting but whatever it is, there is a ton of it." Ranger interrupted our observation of the body; we turned to look at him and Geiger pouring over the readouts on his laptop, "its code, all code, I have no idea where to start to try and crack it either; this file is huge."

     

    Mike glanced at the monitor, "you may want to look at our Doe's pager, and if I remember correct there was something similar on it." Ranger nodded and started looking through the Doe's personal effects, leaving Geiger to review the file and continue saving as new information came through the cables.

     

    "Now where were we? Oh yes, like I said earlier, his skin is extremely tough, but under the dermis is another layer, something black and chitinous in composition fairly even across the body but thicker in the chest and abdomen areas, and it appears that the ports are connected to this layer. If you get close enough you can see his skin has an odd tint to it."

    "Chest and abdomen, the areas you usually get shot in first," I murmured, Mike nodded. This man was a wonder of genetics and surgery, I traced the barely visible surgery scars on his torso and hips with my gloved finger, whoever had built him had done one hell of a job. This man was the epitome of soldier perfection; I glanced between Ranger and the John Doe; Ranger looked at me, then the computer and then the body, I think we were thinking the same thing, how much of a similarity there was between BZY and this man, not so much physical resemblance or even a gadget resemblance but the similarities in what they were-man made machines, super solders, altered humans. I looked at the pager in Ranger's hands, and shuddered, not from the cold but from the realization that this man had been on a mission, here in the city, and at some point, when he hadn't responded back to command, someone was going to come looking for him.

     

    "There is also a little black organ you can barely see at the base of the throat with nerve connectors to the chitinous materials in the skin." I drew my attention back to Mike's review of the Doe. "His canines are longer than normal and hollow, with glands attached; through a test I found there are two different acids once mixed outside the mouth make a highly corrosive hydrochloric acid." Mike pulls up a UV light and flips it on, "and watch this, his skin is light sensitive like the UV changing sunglasses it gets darker when exposed to UV light." Sure enough his skin darkened in the area of the highest concentration of UV light. "He also has no fingerprints or footprints, his skin is totally blank." Mike flips up the Doe's hand showing us the lack of valleys and whorls, smoother than baby skin not a single crease. "He also hasn't bled, the samples I took coagulated in one spot, didn't streak or break down, and I've barely got two tubes of blood, his skin almost broke the needles." Mike then directed me to the top of the cranium, "and here is the piece de resistance, a small gland, right in the center of the most protective spot in the skull, a little bladder of some sort that is attached to several arteries by sphincters which is full of some fluid, I have a small sample of that as well." Mike looks over at Geiger and Wire, "you should look through his clothes, they might look normal but the material is like nothing I've ever seen before."

     

    "The cipher for this is somewhere around 512 fragments, I'm not going to be able to do this here." Ranger draws my attention to his computer and the Doe's pager. "The Doctor is also right about the clothes, its micro fiber like I've never seen before, something stronger than Kevlar is woven into the material, if not the material itself, even the boots. This stuff is the equivalent of my body armor without being a suit. I also found a little container with 4 pills in it, any ideas?" Mike shakes his head no, I just shrug.

     

    I looked at Shadowkahn, who had moved a little closer to the body, his head tilted slightly. He's checking the Doe's aura and scent, I wonder if he realizes he does that little move with his head? "You getting anything?" I ask.

    "Blue, gold. It means dutiful and good. He has an odor too, otherworldly, sort of, its...odd."

    "He's got a magnetic field too," we turn to see Wire close to us looking at the Doe, "I could feel it once I got closer."

     

    I ponder everything we've looked at, everything we've said, despite the fact I'm so damned curious and would love to pick him apart piece by piece and see what makes him tick, I come to the same conclusion each time, a shiver runs through me as the nightmare pops into my mind. "Out of all of those extra organs there has to be one that involves regeneration of some sort."

    Ranger walks over to me and leans in talking low, "You're thinking he's dangerous, you're thinking someone is going to come for him or that he's going to wake up himself."

    I whisper back, "Yea, I guess your training has paid off." I see a ghost of a smile cross his face. "If what we've seen with nanites and regeneration in the past is any indication, I'd say with 100% certainty either this guy is going to stand back up or someone is going to come get him. He was sent here, he's obviously a soldier from his looks down to the hardware and software. At some point, when he misses a check in, someone is going to come looking for him. Or someone who works for his enemy is going to come looking for him, either way, Primus needs to be in the middle of that, not the police."

    Ranger nods in agreement, "On another note, we might have had a breakthrough with the black box inside the Minuteman." I look at him in appreciation and not some amazement. "We had two of them but one was fried by Wire, the one that Geiger crushed seems to still be working. I'll head back with the John Doe and get back to working on the box, it seems to be an indicator or tracer of some sort."

    It's a sad smile but its still a smile, "thanks, keep me informed."

    "You bet."

     

    "Mike," I turn to the coroner, "were going to take the Doe off your hands. Ranger, call it in for me would you? I want a team with an ambulance to bring him back to Primus base for observation and evaluation, there is the chance, once we staple him back together that he might either wake up on his own or whomever he works for will come looking for him. Either way I would prefer Primus to be between him and the guest arrivals, the city doesn't need to get in the way of whatever might come down. We'll take the samples, his stuff and take him out of your hair, put him in storage with monitors and a camera hooked up to see if he's going to start regenerating tissue like I think he is. That is of course if that's ok with you." I look at Mike, half expecting him to say no.

    He shrugs, "sure, if you think he might be a danger to us or to himself it would be better this way; let me put him back together and put everything in order for you."

     

    It took almost an hour, but the Primus medical team left with John Doe and Ranger in hand. I rode back with the others to the mansion, and we all fell back into our usual run of duties, training and such. I've got a pill, a skin and chitin sample, blood and some other viscous fluid from the gland above the brain from the John Doe. Something about this guy is scary familiar but I can't put my finger on it. I figured I'd start running tests on the stuff and see what came up but I was a little too agitated, I couldn't or didn't want to focus enough to have a "great day for science". I put everything into storage and went to find the rest of the team.

     

    I found Geiger and Shadowkahn working out together in the gym and asked if I could join. We got into a little 2 on 1 for a while before Jet and Wire joined us and then it turned into 3 on 2 and 4 on 1; basically we pounded the heck out of each other and managed some teamwork in the process. I am terrible at hand to hand, I'm not incompetent, I'm just lousy at it; but there is nothing like getting thrown around by a martial artist to show you just how abysmal you are at trying to hit someone with a fist. After having my arms wrenched around for an hour or so and getting great views of the gym ceiling, I decided to call it quits and go soak myself before my arms fell off. At least Geiger was in good spirits, or at least he seemed to be; we've been talking about Succor, about loosing friends, about being angry, I pray I'm helping him out somehow. Wire, well he's Wire, I didn't think anything would shake him, well that was proven wrong.

     

    I was on my way up to the main floor when Ranger called in a state of excitement; the rest of the team immediately stopped the workout and joined me in the communications room. Ranger was on COM, and frantic to tell us his discovery. "You're not going to believe this, the black box, it's a tracker system for the Minutemen, I'm on my way back to the mansion, we have a few theories to test but I think we have a way of finding Succor." He clicked off.

     

    There was dead silence on our end; we sure didn't know what to make of Ranger's revelation. A way to find Succor? A way to save him? Oh if only the universe wasn't that cruel, if only Genocide wasn't such a group of fanatics, if only, if only, if, lots of ifs. But our hopes were up and we swamped Ranger the moment he came into the building.

    "You still have blood samples of all of us right?" Ranger asked, as he grabbed my hand and ran us off towards my labs.

    "Yes, of course, why?" I managed to gasp out during our breather down the elevator.

    Ranger pulled out a small metal box with a small screen attached to it and showed it to us, careful to keep it in his hands, "this is the Minuteman's mutant tracker, actually people tracker. It's a lot of guesswork but were assuming the green means human like me, the blue means unknown like Shadowkahn, Jet doesn't even show up at all, and yellow," he turned to show the screen, 3 yellow dots surrounded by one blue and one green dot, "shows mutants. Its range is phenomenal, 10ft like now," he plays with a switch he's implanted on the side, " now 10 miles, now 100 miles, now 1000 miles." Suddenly there is a little red dot on the screen where none had been before, we look at it and him wondering what it means, "I think the red dot means target, which means, we can triangulate and find where they are holding Succor, providing the red dot shows up when we get close enough to his blood sample. You noticed we loose every color but the red once we went past one mile."

    "They're kept in a shielded area that could be why it isn't showing up now." I say hopefully, noticing that we only have one red dot.

    "That's what I was thinking."

    The elevator opens and we make haste to my lab, a quick keypunch and scan later were in. "Don't touch anything!" I pointedly say to Geiger and Wire, heaven forbid they touch one of the tests I'm running. I head to the vault where I keep all the 'interesting' samples and pull out a tray of blood vials and very gently place them on the counter between us.

    "Is that everybody on the team?" Shadowkahn asks, something impish crosses his features for just a moment.

    I sigh, yea so the gig is up but its for a worthy cause, "everyone but Jet's, hers went crawling back to her, I figured I'd let it go instead of having another "Thing" incident." I was referring to the blood leaping out of the peteri dish and oozing its way back onto her skin where is was absorbed, didn't want to do that again, no sir.

     

    Ranger dialed the box down to 10ft and lo and behold, we had 3 green, 3 blue, and 6 yellow, but only one red; he then dialed the box out to 1000 miles, we had two red dots, one right next to the epicenter of the screen, the other at the furthest extent. "Excellent work Matt, apparently it reads BZY as human and Huntsman as unknown like you Kahn," I whispered, "we need to move on this immediately." There was a silent nod of consent and then we suddenly all sprung into action.

    I carefully put the samples back into the freezer, but my hands were shaking, the tiny bell like sounds were drowned out by my orders. "Ranger, triangulate that, find out where the hell we're going. Geiger get me connected to SA Clark immediately, we need a jet. Wire put out an all points call to everyone, we need them at the Primus airport ASAP. Everyone else, grab your gear, take whatever you want to bring, were making an assault on Genocide."

     

    Geiger handed me the telephone, "SA Clark."

    "Clark? We need a jet, as soon as you can get it, something untraceable if you can, we have our own pilot." I barked into the phone.

    "Firefrost? What the hell are you talking about?" Demanded Clark, well that's only normal; after all I did just jump in didn't I.

    "Ranger," looking over at him, he nods and gives me a thumbs up, "Ranger has found a signal indicating that Succor is still alive, he's currently." I look at Ranger again, who's busy over one of my spare computers triangulating coordinates.

    "80 miles north of Windsor Canada." He says.

    "80 miles north of Windsor Canada," I repeat, "if we have the remotest chance were going to take it."

    "Your not declaring war on Canada." Clark begins I interrupt. "No were not declaring war on Canada just a small section of it housing Genocide agents to retrieve one kidnapped Primus agent. Do you have a problem with this?" I'm almost daring him to stop us.

    "Just keep it quiet; the jet will be ready for you at the airstrip in 30 minutes. Clark out, good hunting."

    "Hallelujah, jet in 30 at the airstrip, let everyone know, mobilize people, get going." I yell, shooing them out of my lab, for one I do not need them touching anything, and two we needed to move only God knew how long we would have.

     

    I was happy for the turn out, though it would have been better if we could of found Huntsman and BZY, only they know what they were doing at that hour. Ranger shook down the jet and pronounced her fit for flight and we all piled in as he prepped the engines for flight. The jet was a nice little private one, a Falcon 20, a versatile efficient little airplane, with enough seating for 9, seats that were turned towards each other so you could talk without bending backwards over seats. Its wings were also nicely designed allowing for it to take off and land at slower speeds for shorter runways, Ranger purred over it like a new puppy.

     

    Geiger gave us the rundown of the location we were looking for; maps were showing the location above and to the right of Tecumseh and below Essex, wooded and uncivilized. Thank God, it had suddenly dawned on me that if we had to, we would of blown up sections of Ontario Canada in our attempts to get him back. As we soared towards our unknown destination it also occurred to me that we had absolutely no plan of attack and I said as such to the team.

     

    "You know, we don't have a plan." I said.

    "Yea so, we can just bust in through the front doors you know," was Geiger's reply, he was all tensed up ready to fight.

    "Well we could, sometimes frontal assault is a good thing and right now I totally agree with that idea, but we're also going into a total unknown with people who detect mutants on a daily basis." I paused, further collecting my thoughts, "specifically, yourself, Wire and I will pop out like the beacons we do on that tracker box of Ranger's. We need to do this smart."

    Ranger spoke up from the captains' chair, "we could always say were experiencing flight problems, which would allow us to deviate from the fight pattern and over fly the area for a look."

    "Great idea, can you fly like your experiencing technical difficulties?" Kahn asked.

    Suddenly the plane ducked and bobbled throwing us from side to side, we all looked positively green as the plane leveled back out.

    "Yea, I think I can fake a problem flight," was Rangers reply.

    "Thanks for the demonstration, did you pack air-sick bags." Asked Wire.

    I cut back to the chase, "During the fly over we can drop off Jet and Shadowkahn, they're our best stealth fighters right now," I turned to look at them, "you can get in, pierce their defenses and keep us informed and we'll follow in behind you as fast as we can. I'll take Wire and Geiger."

    Geiger interrupts, "you know Wire can take me so you're not overloaded, I am made out of metal you know."

    I smile, "your right, ok Wire you take Geiger down with you, the three of us will come in behind Jet and Shadowkahn. Ranger, you're going to have to find a place to set the jet down, we're going to need it to get out of Canada, and we can't just ditch it. Besides I think Primus would like it back in one piece."

    "Right, I could of followed you all in via paraglider but your right. We're going to decompress?" Asked Ranger.

    "Yea, can you do it?" I asked.

    "Oh yea, and that will add to our flight problem announcement. I can use that as an excuse to land just about anywhere I need to. I'll bleed off the air so we don't enact the movie Airplane with explosive decompression."

    "Thanks I think we'd appreciate that." Says Jet.

     

    Ranger headed back into the pilots seat, silently checking the tracker box and keeping us in the air. Our ride is quiet until 30 minutes over the Canadian border, when were suddenly rocking in our seats as he goes into "technical difficulties" to fool air traffic control, he tells us he's starting decompression and our ears pop. Within minutes we're within range of our target area, and Geiger opens the hatch for Jet and Shadowkahn to jump, even with the decompression the wind is fierce and we hold on as the two of them leap into the sky.

     

    Minutes later Ranger yells over the roar of the winds, "Flying over now!" We peer out the windows as he banks hard; the compound is small, it looks like a ranch farm, except there is an airstrip and four buildings that don't quite pass for farm houses. "I can use the airstrip! That's where I'll land once I circle back after you guys drop!"

    "Good idea!" I yell, even with the headsets you can barely hear each other above the wind, and it wasn't quite time yet to shut the door. The circle back was difficult, the plane bucking and engines sputtering to make it look like we were in trouble, the bank showing us a distorted green blur of trees through the open door. Now that I know what it's like to fly with and without the plane around me, I much prefer flight without.

    "The tracker indicated around 50 green dots, and two red dots! Your drop is coming up!" yells Ranger.

    "Roger that! Wire grab Geiger, were going out!" I yell and wave the two of them in front of me. "Ranger can you land with the door open!?"

    "Won't have to, I'll be closing it behind you, gotta love auto pilot!" he yells back.

    We leap out; the jet banking away from us. I've never jumped from an airplane before, hell a jet, I must admit I don't like it, even with the ability to fly those intake jets were too damn close for my liking.

    We stay in freefall, underpowered for as long as we can before I give Wire and Geiger the thumbs up to power up. Strange how used to freefall I've become. We land within yards of our target point, not bad for a first ever no-parachute parachute jump, and start our way towards the Genocide compound.

     

    We're maybe 10 minutes into our trek towards the compound when Shadowkahn's voice whispers up from our headsets. "Shadowkahn to all points, we're at a wired fenced area within their perimeter, three guards, no problems." I smile at that, so far so good; knew Murphy was listening...

    "Ranger to all points, our two red dots have changed, one has flared twice and the other has gone out."

    Even from where were at out of range of the compound, our ears suddenly pop from a dramatic pressure change and Kahn's voice comes over the radio, "Shadowkahn to all points, whatever the hell that was one of the buildings in the middle just shook and sunk slightly."

    "Firefrost to all points, were on our way, burning." I grab Geiger by the collar and Wire by the hand and launch, full burners. "Ranger where are you?" I'm not thinking what I think I'm thinking, I'm not thinking that the dot going out means a mutant has died, I'm not thinking that Succor is dead, no I'm not...not when were so close, oh God please not when were so close.

    "Landing, I've got the strip." He says, "Something else strange, about 40 of the dots suddenly got close together and are blinking."

    "What does blinking mean?" Asks Geiger.

    "On, off, on, off. How the hell am I supposed to know what the hell blinking means on this damn machine, do I have a 101 Genocide manual on how it works!"

    "Jet to all points, were going in.... what the hell?"

    "What?!" I yell, even though I don't have to, we'll be there in minutes, minutes too long.

    "Kahn to all points, we just had something blur past us at with a sonic boom, I'm checking it out."

    "Ranger to Firefrost," the COM activates just for the two of us, "all 40 green dots have just gone out." His voice is monotone; he's thinking the same thing I am.

    "How many left?" I ask.

    "Ten green, one red, our blue dot is getting close to the red one. I don't think..." I break in before he can finish his sentence, my voice low and tight. "I know, but it does mean we have only 10 of them to fight,"

    "Roger that, I'm coming in."

    "Shadowkahn to all points, it's a guy, in swim trunks, badly injured and suffering from wind burn, unconscious." Kahn's voice is tight as well, "I'll keep him with me, and I'll get him to the jet once Ranger lands."

    "Jet to all points, I've got 10 Genocide agents coming out with weapons drawn and they don't look at all happy. What am I allowed to do?" She asks because we've banned her from killing, she can only take Shadowkahn's or my command to do what needs to be done and she's asking me for permission. She's not stupid either; she knows what the red dot going out means. I close my eyes briefly to squeeze away the tears, I can't wipe my face I've got my hands full. The jet roars over us heading towards the airstrip Genocide has so graciously built on their compound for us. My heart is a cold dead lump in my chest, but I'm burning with rage and a need to settle the score.

     

    Here is the hard decision, the choices between us and them, it seems like forever but it's only the span of a few heartbeats before I speak. "Open COM. Kill every Genocide agent that gets in your way." In that heartbeat of time you could of heard a pin drop. "Jet you have my permission to kill, capture or if necessary torture any Genocide agent you come across in order to find out what happened to Succor, you have my permission to kill." I hear something that resembles a strangled gurgle of disapproval from next to me over the COM; I don't even need to look to know it came from Wire.

    "We can't do that," Wire says, his voice small, "We can't kill people."

    I turn towards him; my entire body seems to creak as I do, as if my muscles are protesting the idea of looking him in the face. "Yes we can, and we will. This is Us against Them. This is Genocide, who has no qualms about attacking innocent families and murdering them all while they sleep just because they happen to be mutants. I'd like it if we didn't shoot first but knowing Genocide the way we do, I doubt we'll have the luxury." God, why does he have to be so naive?

    "We can't! What makes us any different from them?!" he yells.

    It's Geiger that responds before I do, "because we're the good guys and they're the bad guys, because they took Succor, because they've been hurting him all this time and they have to pay."

    "I'm all for shooting them in the heads." Says Ranger.

    "Can I convert anyone I don't kill?" Asks Jet, "fanatics like these guys are amazingly easy to turn into minions."

    "Of for the love of...No Jet you can't convert anyone but feel free to terminate with extreme prejudice. Everyone can, take them down." I say. Killing the murdering bastards right now sounded like a great idea but I started debating the merits of nuking them from orbit, somehow I think Canada would be upset with us.

    "NO!" Shouts Wire, "We can't do this were Heroes!" He's struggling against my hold trying to make me turn and face him, face his ideals face his innocence, it isn't going to happen; violence is going to happen no matter how much he wants to wish it away and for the first time in my life, for the first time since his arrival, I despise Wire and everything innocent he stands for.

    Shadowkahn's voice comes across the open COM, "Wire, if this is upsetting you just cycle down to my frequency only, this way you don't have to listen." Kahn's way of saying, it's going to happen whether you want it to or not; Kahn trying to protect Wire from the rest of us, is it for show or because he really doesn't want the boy to be hurt? All I want to do is shake Wire by the throat and wake his ass up to the realities of the situation; it really is them, or us because if they have the chance, Genocide is going to kill us just like they killed Succor, why can't he see that?

    I land us, after getting blown about by the jets air stream, as Ranger lands just behind us at the end of the strip. I simply let go of Wire's hand and let him fly on his own, Geiger I give a slight toss to lands well and breaks into a run heading for the buildings, only to stop short when he catches sight of a few agents standing close enough for him to try one of his powers tricks. He had done it to us before and it had wrecked the gym, outdoors this was more amusing; Geiger plunged his hands into the ground and reared up pulling the turf up and with a quick snap, flicked the ground like a rug; Genocide agents went flying. Like I said, it was a lot more amusing outdoors.

     

    Jet had already latched onto one and was tearing away at him with her claws while three others screamed as hellfire roared over them. I hear the crack of lighting and two agents are suddenly magnetized together and dazed, courtesy of Wire standing near the edge of the landing strip. There is suddenly a blur and I'm nearly knocked out of the sky by the drag from the wind; it's not the jet, Ranger has already landed and is climbing out of the plane, and then I see two figures appear next to a very startled Ranger, one of them is Shadowkahn, the other the man in swim trunks our new mutant is apparently a speedster. I hear a shriek of fear from someone behind me and then the womp, womp of grenades going off; a scream of pain that I've unfortunately become familiar with and turn to see Jet go up in a roar of flames, not of her own making. Oh crap, they threw plasma grenades at Jet, Genocide agents are using plasma grenades, how wonderful, even I can't take a direct hit with those. However, even hurt Jet has launched herself at one and is busy rendering him into small bloody chunks. I lob a firestrike at one of them near her and he crumples to the ground, dying.

     

    I hear the crack of a shot and a yell from the direction of the jet, Ranger, Shadowkahn and the new guy doge for cover. There is another rapid succession of gunfire from a Genocide agent that has run out near the airstrip and Jet screams in pain again, this time though, she falls and I'm not sure if she's alive or dead, though I'd assume that if she was dead she'd be vanishing off to Hell shortly. Suddenly, Shadowkahn's voice screams aloud from behind the agent "NOBODY KILLS MY DEMON!" and the blood-curdling shriek from the agent turns into a bloody gurgle, as Kahn's claws rip through the agent's torso spilling blood, lung and ribs across the tarmac. There is another shriek, but this one decidedly more alive and also familiar.

    "YOU KILLED HIM!" shrieks Wire, loud enough for the world to hear, never mind the headsets.

    Shadowkahn actually looks down, looks at his hands and then at Wire, who yells again, "YOU KILLED HIM!"

    "I think you broke him," Ranger says over the COM, as he sights in on an agent putting a bullet through its head.

    "I think you're right, I'll have to apologize later." Kahn says, shrugging. Either he doesn't care, didn't expect Wire to see him kill the guy, or he really wasn't expecting to kill the guy, either way Wire is pretty much useless in his state of shock. I turn, just in time to catch a blur come from the runway, come up to another Genocide agent whirl around the agent as the agent staggers about and then blur back to his position behind Ranger at the jet. The agent crumples to the ground, blood spraying from a broken nose and multiple punches; holy freaking shit that guy is beyond fast.

     

    Geiger had waded through several agents to finally make it to the doorway where they had piled out of when we had first arrived, unfortunately even as his hand landed on the doorknob he was hit from behind by several plasma grenades, knocking him stunned to his knees. Briefly I hear "Facility has been compromised!" from one Genocide agent that goes down with a bullet from Ranger's rifle. One grenade comes sailing in my direction, which I bat out of the way and then promptly freeze the guy keeping him our of our hair. Kahn, apparently decided that killing agents wasn't a bad thing and attacks one of the guys that lobbed a grenade at Geiger, knocking him out and back a few feet.

     

    "Hey, they have some device on their arm their using against you guys!" yells Ranger, "Somebody bring me one."

    I hear a weary, "ok," from Jet, who has struggled to her feet. She picks up one of the unconscious Genocide agents and makes her way towards the jet and out of combat. Again the speedster comes out of nowhere and pummels another agent down and then appears back at the jet. There is another call from Ranger, "guys I'm getting some weird thermals from underground."

    "Why is the windows all glowing?" is an almost incoherent statement from Geiger, who has woken up enough to look at the building he's standing in front of.

    The ground shakes and the building sinks another foot, I can feel the heat in a sudden rush from the ground, what's going on? "What have they done?" I say, as the heat increases, I look over towards the still stumbling Geiger, and watch the building glow white hot. "Some sort of thermal detonation underground! WIRE!" I scream at the boy puling him out of his daze, "Wake your sorry ass up and come save your teammate!" I point towards the dazed Geiger. Finally Wire jumps into action, he flies towards us and picks up Geiger who is desperately trying to get into the building. I don't think he realizes how futile it is, or maybe he does and he just doesn't want to give up just yet knowing he never got the chance to say goodbye. Wire pulls Geiger up away from the now smoking and in some places flaming ground and streaks towards the jet. I make a dive for the one guy I froze to the ground but miss on the flyby, I don't have the chance to turn back as the ground below him suddenly turns into magma and he's vaporized before my eyes. Ranger has the jet already running down the remains of the runway as I fly into the open doors, Shadowkahn shutting them behind me, it's the shortest takeoff ever as the end of the runway melts into pools of lava, the buildings burn spectacularly and melt into the molten earth below. Better than any volcano movie I've ever seen, and as we streak away, we silently watching through the windows as the base dissolves away into liquid.

    "They murdered their own people." Wire says.

    "Yes, yes they did," is my hushed reply, but there isn't any triumph in my voice, only a deep sadness, how could we of come to this. Free will is our gift from God and look at what we do with it, these insane people, these fanatics, and then it dawns on me, we have three extra people on board the jet and two of them are wearing Genocide uniforms.

     

    I look over to see Shadowkahn is putting the finishing touches on their restraints, leaving the men snug in their seats. I'm torn in two by the emotions raging inside of me, part of me wants to finish what we started back in Canada, part of me wants to see them tortured to death, and then the logical side of me demands that they be held by Primus and put to trial. I watch their smug bloody faces daring them to even twitch wrong, they sit there in silent contempt daring me to do something to them. I make the best decision possible and turn my attention to the bruised, battered and bloody half naked man sitting amongst us, I go into doctor mode, hunting down the field medical kit and plunk it and myself down in front of him; he flinches, no he didn't flinch, he's vibrating, he can't sit still.

    "Relax, I'm a doctor, were also the good guys." I say.

    "Yea,hetoldmethatwhenIwokeup." The man nods his head in Shadowkhan's direction, like the flick of a hummingbird's wing, even his voice is fast, "hesaidyouwerecomingtosaveafriendofyoursI'msorryifitwasthatsuckerguyhescaredthehelloutofmebuthesavedmylifeintheend."

    "Well I'm glad Kahn introduced himself to you properly. Our friends name is Succor, were you with him? What's your name?" I ask, I put my hand on his knee; his skin is jumping under my palm, almost kinetic, it's as if he can't stop moving. He takes a deep breath and seems to will himself to slow down; his words are still rapid fire.

    "Yea they captured me after him, they starved us both, they tortured me a bit more than him though but by the time they were ready your friend must have been really starving they threw me into his cell, to see what he would do he was like a vampire all of a sudden he was on me and I thought I was gonna die because I felt like the life was getting sucked out of me, there was this look of need on his face but then he seemed to come to his senses and he stopped feeding on me, he said, "tell them goodbye for me", and all of a sudden I got super speedy and everything sped up, its like he pushed all his remaining energy into me and then I broke out the door and I jumped out and ran around the walls of the room really, really fast which made a vortex which sucked them into the center killing them and then I ran up the building and outside and ran into you guys." I don't think he breathed the entire sentence, I'm not even sure he stopped for a dramatic pause.

     

    Ranger had come back to listen, and stood in shock. Wire had curled around himself damaged by all he had seen and heard today. Jets talons dug furrows into the armrest of her seat, I swear I heard her teeth grinding like metal on stone. I take my hand away from his knee because my hands are balling into fists, my voice is incredibly calm I have no idea how; maybe I'm in shock? "They starved him so he would feed off you?"

    "Yes."

    "He gave you his life energy so you could get out?"

    "I think so."

    "He died saving your life." It wasn't a question but a statement of fact, it didn't require an answer but he gave one anyway.

    "Yes, he did."

    I felt part of the undercarriage beneath my knees snap as I loose it for a moment and ice floods away from me for just that one second before I pull it back under control before I can damage the jet, before I'm shocked by Shadowkahn roaring like a madman, leaping over the seats and putting one glowing claw into the headrest besides one agent and his other claw between the other agents legs. Their smug indifference is gone, replaced by sudden indecisive fear, and then that look is gone, back into that calm they portrayed earlier, but now I know, and that knowledge its just a little bit comforting to my soul. I take my eyes away from Shadowkahn, he's saying something to them, low enough none of us can hear but I have the feeling he's making his statement in a way other than just threat of claw. I look to Geiger; he's sitting quietly in his seat the most haunted look on his young face, he's turned one seat arm to splinters under his hand but I don't think he's noticed it, he's too wrapped up in his loss, all that sorrow, God all I wanted to do was hug him tight right then. Ranger sat back in the pilots seat, mumbling about how it was a good thing he had to fly the plane, I would of smiled had I not been so hurt, he restrained himself as I did, as Jet did. Shadowkhan's display had been just that, a display, to keep us from succumbing to the hatred we harbored against Genocide and taking it out on our two prisoners, I’d like to think he needn't have done that for us, it was a nice gesture anyway.

     

    I turned my attention back to our damaged guest, "what's your name? Are you allergic to anything?" I asked, pulling out the kit, he was in bad shape, open wounds, bruises, though how the hell was I supposed to work on someone who couldn't sit still? As if in answer to my unspoken question he suddenly stopped moving but it wasn't for the reasons I suspected.

    "My name? I, I don't know. Why can't I remember my name?" He looked hurt, confused, what had they done to him?

    "Do you remember anything?"

    "No, just, just what they did to me, I don't remember anything before that." He was shaking now, but it was from shock. I gathered up a blanket and wrapped it around him, then began treating his wounds. "Don't you worry," I said, "we work for Primus, and if anyone can find out who you are we can. We'll try fingerprints and if that fails DNA, you might be registered or you could already be in the missing persons database, don't worry we'll find out."

     

    We spent the rest of the flight in silence, Ranger called into Primus so they knew we were inbound with wounded and prisoners. SA Clark radioed in telling us how sorry he was for our loss. Shadowkahn sat watching the prisoners, playing keep away so we wouldn't harm them. Not like we would, not now anyway.

     

    We landed at the strip near the Primus base. Ranger stayed in the pilots seat until we got the prisoners down the stairs and out of the jet, both he and Shadowkahn have strict codes they live by, vengeance being one of them. We practically threw the agents into Primus's arms, I growled at the Lieutenant that had greeted us, "Get these bastards out of our sight before we do something we'll regret." Fortunately they complied rather quickly, hustling the two prisoners into the building and away from us. Jet was helped off to her furnace to heal, I sent Geiger into medical to get himself checked out and sent Wire in with him to keep him occupied. Shadowkahn vanished he probably had the same idea I did, at least it was possible, I know Ranger did, since after the Genocide agents were taken away, he had grabbed his rifle and headed straight towards the firing ranges. SA Clark caught me on my way down to the danger room, told me we'd have the memorial for Succor in two days, I think I told him thank you, I'm not sure. I needed to take out our aggression on something, even if it was inanimate and talking to people was only going to direct my anger at them. I spent the next several hours blowing things into tiny pieces and then blowing those pieces into even tinier ones until I was exhausted, until every ounce of my energy was spent, and I couldn't even manage a snow cone or a light for a cigarette. I curled up into a ball and cried, a miserable bundle amidst all that damage, all that rubble.

     

    Blowing things up didn't stop the pain, it didn't stop the guilt, too many variables, too many "What If" ran rampant through my head, what if we had arrived sooner, what if we had gotten to them yesterday, what if we could of deciphered the tracker earlier, what if, what if, what if. The world could drown in what ifs. I’ve lost both parents, Mom from Cancer, Dad died in a car wreck, but for some reason this hurts so much more than anything I’ve experienced before. We lost one of our own, the pain is so personal, we didn't even get the chance to say goodbye. But when we had known we had lost him, we kept going we killed in our fury those that took him away from us. What had we been after back there, to rescue Succor of course but then, was what it we were after vengeance or redemption? It's supposed to be easy, everything is supposed to be black and white there isn't supposed to be gray areas the good guys are always supposed to win; were supposed to win but we didn't, and now we live with the consequences. Just like everyone else. It's supposed to be easy, but it isn't.

  17. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    August 4th & 5th, 2003

    Three days of nothing but workout routines in the danger room, no emergency calls and running enzymes tracks on the DNA samples I’ve been send from Stronghold.

     

    I’m doing something interesting with DNA again, I’ve decided I want to try and understand how magic works in the human genome, yes I know its another project to further frustrate myself with but you know me. I’ve collected samples from several magic using individuals to run tests on. Over the year, holy shit its only been a year? That I’ve been working with Ebony, Cayne and Domingo I’ve been trying to figure out why some people are predisposed to mutations and others are set for magic manipulation. I’ve got the cells to run the test on now, I’ve got the computers to run the tests on the samples, I’ve got the program running the samples, but its still going to take time. Fortunately the human genome/mutant genome program I’ve used previously was duplicated and altered, its sort of a backwards approach but it should work, the program already knows what to look for when it comes to mutants and normals, deduct out those two parameters and locating the gene for magic should be a lot faster than what it took to originally hunt down the mutant gene; how’s that for blowing its tiny little circuit boards? I look forward to being able to write a paper on the theory behind magic DNA; it’s quite ambitious really. My paper on Mutant RNA was finally accepted and published after the “desk†reviewed and revised several paragraphs “all to make sure that you don’t accidentally say anything that leads them to us,†yea, yea, usual battle cry for them, but its publish or perish, I came drastically close to loosing my PHD in molecular biology because the “desk†kept dragging their feet allowing my research papers out or worse, some of the papers go out only to wind up in some government think tank, I’m betting even money at some point in time in my life the government is going to come to me and ask for mutants to be made, I’m just waiting for it, I have nightmares about it.

     

    There are times I regret joining PRIMUS, when I regret taking the chance and experimenting on myself; I don’t regret being able to save the world every other day, and God knows I love flying, though I do hate the continual poundings; what does it for me is that I can’t always do what I love, my lab time has been cut down immensely, my access to the scientific community has been diminished to almost nonexistent, the best I can do now is supply a paper or two every year and pray it keeps my name known somewhere. I have two lives, the one where I keep myself locked up in the basement experimenting on whatever the government sends me or out there fighting crime, I miss having a social life, I miss human contact. Well maybe not so much human contact but the way I used to be able to go out to a club with some of the other younger scientists and have a night out, I miss having conversations with my peers about our different theories of life, liberty and the pursuit of God’s great mystery. I don’t do that anymore and I’m trying to figure out why I let PRIMUS and the government tell me how to run my life. Personally being called a “national treasure†by the government and then promptly getting stuck in a permanent job holding pattern has sucked severely, granted my true knowledge skills are unknown to the world, even my own scientific community my own secret ID is more of what I know vs. who I am.

     

    They had assigned BZY to me since they were afraid I’d get nabbed but that didn’t help vs. White Ninja and them taking my blood for Tellios; I’ve got Shadowkahn watching over me when we do go out, but that’s usually to functions or as heroes, still he can’t watch over me all the time, that takes away from his own purpose in battle; I miss my old life and get God awful maudlin about it in the dead of night when the lights are burning low and the last report spits out of the computer and I don’t have anyone to share that excitement with.

     

    Still, I must admit, in the months he has been by my side, I’ve taken quite a liking to Kahn or Cayne, as I should call him by his first name; he has a quite intensity that belies this quaint little sense of humor, he has quite the generous nature and a great body. Oh boy does he have a great body. I’ve watched him workout in the danger room, underneath that ninja outfit is one tight bod, six-pack abs and tight muscles, drooly, very, very drooly. It’s been fun watching our Danger Room workouts, and I’ve been quite the voyeur on the entire team; the system is set to digitally record all danger room scenarios (they can’t be deleted or altered either, insurance purposes don’t ya know), this way we can analyze team strengths and weaknesses, you have a tendency to miss a lot when your dodging the shit the system sends at you, video review does great to enhance the memory of ‘how the hell did I do that?’ days.

     

    I’ve been studying the group’s workouts for months now and man do the guys look good. Huntsman doesn’t workout without his costume but even so, he’s got a great body, Matt works out in suit and out of suit, he’s ripped as well. Occasionally Cayne and Matt and Buzzy spar against each other in martial arts, eventually they wind up stripped down to nothing but gi pants; it is truly a gorgeous thing to watch. I actually do watch the videos for information not just drool factor but let’s face it; there is a lot of drool factor. I wonder if the voyeuristic tendencies come from dissecting and looking at everything through electron microscopes? I’ve learned a lot from seeing how we anticipate attacks, counter and repost, attack patterns vs. foes, it’s helped a lot with what command I do have over the team, still I need backup but who to trust in that position?

     

    Its odd, I really don’t know Cayne’s true face, he wears one when dealing with us face to face, wore another in social situations outside the mansion, wears the mask in hero ID, I think I might of seen his real face once I distinctly remember green eyes, I haven’t seen that look since then, so it might be possible. Maybe it’s the mystique he represents, maybe its his presence and that closeness I feel with him, maybe it’s I feel so secure with him; he’s the only one I’ve talked with on a “normal†basis, other than the kids, but then again talking to them is like talking to teens, I feel more parental at that point, and there are things they just aren’t going to understand.

     

    I had to take a step back and look at my situation with Cayne, I’m sure I’m falling in love with a man I know almost nothing about, I wonder how he would feel about this 3am sudden bursts of insight?

     

    However the review of my fantasy love life ended early this morning, while enjoying a cup of strong Earl Grey and a few butter croissants at the breakfast table, I read through one of the many newspapers that had been sitting on my desk. It’s an old habit from college, letting them collect and reading them up to a week later, I try not to watch news on television but I do have my favorite shows, CSI, Jag, Discovery channel, the Medical channel and Cartoon Network, can’t live without my Cartoon Network but that’s what TiVo is good for, no commercials and TV when you want it.

     

    Anyway, I was reading thru the 2nds newspaper when something brought me up cold. A reporter, Mr. Alexander Drugan was found dead, or what was presumed to be Mr. Drugan found as a puddle of flesh and ruptured tissue, in his apartment by a friend calling in to check on him after being missed for 3 days. After the police had been called in along with the city coroner they immediately called in the Hudson City branch of the CDC, you don’t find liquefied humans every day; CDC identified the cause of death, Ebola. How does a newspaper reporter working on a story of grain shipments going to hunger areas in Africa catch Ebola? I shot out of the chair and ran for the basement, article clutched in hand, Ebola isn’t an airborne virus, you don’t catch it like a cold, you have to be exposed to the fluids and contract it from a host to get Ebola. I reread the interview of coworkers and friends of Mr. Drugan’s actions prior to his missing and death; he had no previous contact with any laboratories conducting research on Ebola, no contact with any monkeys, hadn’t changed his daily routine any and yet there it was.

     

    Dead in 3 days, that’s bullshit, Ebola is a Level 4 pathogen with a 2 to 21 day-7 to 14 days average incubation period; granted the longest it can take you is 2 weeks to die from onset of symptoms, 3 days has got to be a world record, possibly less that that, because we going off the last time his friend saw him, not only that but he would of shown signs of being ill, severe headaches, weakness and muscle aches, vomiting, abdominal pain; his friends and coworkers identified none of the symptoms, said he had been in perfect health; this guy crashed in 3 days, incredible.

     

    Cases of Ebola also don’t show up in civilized areas unless someone imports a monkey or sticks themselves with a needle in a lab, hell it only showed up in the states several years back because we imported the damn thing in from the Philippines. While all Ebola virus species have displayed the ability to be spread through airborne particles under research conditions, this type of spread has not been documented among humans in a real-world setting, such as a hospital or household. Situations like the move Outbreak or the book The Hot Zone can show you just how bad it is and how fast it could transmit but it’s still far fetched, it’s not an airborne transmission like they showed it in movies

     

    Made it down to one of the labs and pulled up the CDC profile, review and photographs. I was horrified and astounded, the photos were graphic, tissue had run off the bone, blood explosions, liquefied tissue, a puddle of used flesh. I found something else that disturbed as much as the photos, CDC recorded no further contamination by anyone who had come in contact with the remains; nobody, the man had melted all over his room and nobody had become tainted by contact with the body fluids; if he had gone viral in 3 days he’d still be a host. What the hell was going on? I paged thru a request to Artemis to find me any more Ebola blamed deaths, whole “slate-wiper†style cases, giving her the parameters I was looking for. It had to be localized, specific and no cases afterwards, Artemis chimed back that the information would be forthcoming.

     

    Then I went to find the crew.

     

    I found Buzzy, Geiger, Wire, Shadowkahn, Succor and Jet in the house, so I asked them if anybody had been watching the news lately about this Drugan case. Wire, knowing nothing of what Ebola was asked what was the big deal, and Geiger chimed in about the movies so I tried to explain in the simplest terms possible. I told him there were vast inaccuracies and dubious details in the film Outbreak. I did see the movie; I thought the early scenes in the biosafety level 1,2,3, and 4 labs looked pretty accurate. After that it became fictional and I enjoyed it as fiction because we know a virus can't kill someone in an hour. The making of the antisera in a day was ludicrous. I think all bug movies have a problem, since once they unleash the bug; there is the problem of resolving the crisis. Like in the film, 'The Andromeda Strain', the only way to resolve the story was to have the bug mutate to become harmless. The real world is not so simple. Fourteen years into the AIDS epidemic and we still don't have a vaccine or decent drugs.

     

    Anyway, I continued, “DNA is the instructions for putting together the building blocks of your body, Ebola is a “retrovirus†in the RNA family. Ebola tells your DNA instructions to fall apart, which kills you; that’s the over simplified version. Ebola is that virus you saw in Outbreak on the slide in the lab, that little figure 8-Micky Mouse Ears worm with the hook at the end.

     

    Infections with Ebola virus are acute. There is no carrier state. The incubation period for Ebola HF ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients. Diagnosing Ebola HF in an individual who has been infected only a few days is difficult because early symptoms, such as red eyes and a skin rash, are nonspecific to the virus and are seen in other patients with diseases that occur much more frequently. However, if a person has the constellation of symptoms I described, and infection with Ebola virus is suspected, the patient is usually isolated immediately, Drugan didn’t have the chance to show these symptoms.â€

     

    They looked at me as if I had grown a 2nd head but even Jet shivered a little, I had lost the boys on the medical terms but they got the gist of it, and I pointed out, the case I was talking about right now had died in a period of 3 days, impossible, fantastic, absurd, it isn’t supposed to happen. I told them I had already called Artemis for any cases that might have slipped by the CDC or WHO and to let me know of anything that met this bizarre pattern of death. Fortunately, Artemis managed to call in within minutes and transmitted the cases that had come up as ‘odd’.

     

    Five cases over three years. Three years ago a small village in a remote area of Africa the entire male population was wiped out by a particularly horrific case of Ebola. Not a single male survived, regardless of age. Two and a half years ago, another small village in Africa had the entire female population wiped out, again no survivors. Eighteen months ago, two Asian gentlemen of Korean descent died on a London street corner bleeding out within minutes. Six months ago, a German man living it Switzerland died in the same manner and now Mr. Drugan in Hudson City, two days ago.

     

    I saw Cayne’s look of concern as I looked up from the reports; I must have been as pale as a ghost. Holy Father in Heaven, had someone has engineered a virus to specific genomes? Had someone created a genetic bomb? Had someone tinkered with Ebola and made a specific singular killer faster? It hit and wiped the slate clean; eradicating the genus it was introduced to in its specific location, a specific genetic killer, a slate-wiper virus? I freaked. Oh God, I had to talk to some people. I told Geiger get on the computer see if anyone pings as being able to transmit Ebola, there might be a mutant that can do it. Please God let it be a mutant and not my worst-case scenario.

     

    I got on the hotline to SA Clark and told him of my concerns, regarding what we had found. The gang watched my pacing with growing concern, they have never seen me this way, not in all the time I’ve been here have I ever been this freaked out over something medical. I’ve been pissed off at Genesis and Umbrella at the situations at hand and the damage done, but damn it I was scared. At this point I was happy to have the backing I needed to get this done, using PRIMUS as a shield to let me look at something I might otherwise not have access to. I begged Clark to get me into the CDC and look at Mr. Drugan’s remains, “whatever strings you have to pull,†I said, “get me get to the BSL 4 labs and test the samples,†I begged for Clark to get Professor Vivian Stratford and the CDC together. Please, I begged him. He told me he would do his best and would contact me soon.

     

    I hung up and resumed my pacing a thousand theories and idea running through my head, I’ve got to see if the samples react to any antigen tests, if they won’t grow on either agar or live cells, I need to see if Mr. Drugan’s cells are inert. Please God, let the cells be active, don’t let them be inert even though the cells would be dead and his blood would look like it had been through a blender, if his cells come up active it was an abnormality; if they are inert, someone has tinkered with a bitch of nature and we have the ultimate terrorist weapon out there, a genetic bomb.

     

    While I paced back and forth waiting for Clark’s call back, Geiger let me know that PRIMUS now had a new file on a previously unknown VOICE villain called Carrier. The man is supposed to be the walking plague, supposedly killed twice but the body was never recovered; control over flies and can spread the plague with a touch. I filed it away for later reference, but somehow my gut instinct was telling me he wasn’t it. What I needed was to be in two places at once, I needed to be at Drugan’s home to check on what remained, I needed someone to interview the folks who saw him alive last, I needed to get to the coroner and check what might have been in his report, I needed to get to the CDC.

     

    I looked at Cayne and asked him, “If I can go, will you come with me?†“Of course.†So simple and I must have smiled, because Lord knows this idea scares the shit out of me, “Thank you, you have no idea how much that means to me.†Mom always said, trust your hunches, they’re usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level, I was trusting gut instinct on this one. The phone rang with Clark on the other line, “Not only was the CDC willing to accept your help, but was more than overjoyed to hear that Dr. Stratford was willing to come down and look at this case. You’ll have a jet ready for you at the airport in 20 minutes, good hunting.†I thanked him profusely, nodded at Cayne, “get a few days worth of clothes together were going.â€

     

    I looked over at the rest of the crew, “try not to get into trouble while I’m gone,†pointing specifically at Geiger, Wire and Succor. “Don’t worry we’ll take good care of them,†said Matt; God knows that’s what frightened me. “Do me a favor, while were at the CDC, get the police reports, eye witness accounts, a list of what Drugan did over the last 2 weeks in minute detail and try and get it all together soon, I’ll want to review it when I get back.†“What’s up?†Asked Geiger. “I don’t know yet, but this has me worried, we could be dealing with a fluke of nature or something as serious as a designed virus. Either way it’s not good,†I said, “Oh and get information on the other groups that Artemis listed, I need to know what went on with them as well.†I walked out of the room and headed up to the bedroom, to pack, I know that between Matt, BZY and Geiger the three of them would research the hell out of it while I was gone.

     

    Unfortunately as I packed, Geiger paged me, “Clarks on the phone!†he yelled. “Oh God now what?†and grabbed for the phone, “Geiger!†I yelled, “Keep it on conference for everyone to hear.†I heard a, “Yes mam!†From him as I picked up the line, “Frost here.†“I hate to do this to you†Clark said, “but Tellios is coming into the area in 4 days, your team is assigned to deal with him.†“What! You know I’m going to Atlanta, why us?! What the hell is Tellios doing that is so important he needs us for escort duty?†Wow, that was callous of me, wasn’t it? “Well, have you heard about the 3 year old child in need of a kidney transplant, in Hudson Hospital?†“Yes, who hasn’t, he’s been the genetic mystery case for over a month now, he’s got one of the rarest genetic types 99% unable to accept a kidney from anyone, every single member of his family have tried to donate and he’s rejected them all,†now my curiosity was peaked, “What has Tellios done?†“The Red Cross and WHO called him. He took cells from the kid and grew a new kidney, out of the goodness of his heart.†The sarcasm fairly dripped through the phone, “he’ll be flying in with Cataran and Armadillo and Ankylosaurus in 4 days, the delay in getting here is the ongoing argument for diplomatic immunity for those two bastards.†I could hear the comment from Matt over the line, “Oh I bet that looked good on our government. ‘No Tellios you can’t come over and give your life saving technology to this poor boy because you want to bring with you two known powered armor criminals into the USA.’ What a bunch of stooges.†Succor cut in, “don’t forget his current girlfriend and European model Cataran.†Clark continued, “Apparent girlfriend, it hasn’t been confirmed or denied. He will also be brining his usual array of killer female bodyguards with him Omelia and Onelia, plus the 10 other members of his standard security contingent. Tellios is quoted to of told the State Department, ‘he doesn’t feel safe operating on American soil since Genesis it out hunting him.’†Again sarcasm, “so to cover Tellios’s visit, were sending your team. You have had the best rapport with him and you’ve done wonders against Genesis, so you’ve been elected to go.†Fucking great, I think, “Fine, I’ll try and make it quick in Atlanta,†I mumbled, “but don’t hold your breath.†Clark interrupted, “by the way Frost, we ran a check on the known scientific community and who might be able to design a genetic bomb such as the one your suggesting, guess who is in the top five; Tellios, yourself, Professor Kostya Ivanovich, Professor Sun Yuan Qian, Plague of the 4 Horsemen, or Carrier.â€

     

    Wow, I’m number two in the top five, isn’t that special. I gave Clark my thanks and hung up, too much to do in such a short period of time. See same shit different day, it never ends; I met Shadowkahn at the door and Matt offered to drive us to the airport. I chewed over my notes and theories all the way to the jet and during takeoff, we had 3 hours, I had a lot to worry on. PRIMUS jets are nice, it was cushy, leather, smart interior with set in tables, more of a mobile conference room when needed, which helped since the moment the all clear came up I started spreading my notes around. Khan was gawd awful patient with me, a bottle of water appeared at my side along with something to eat, he remembered my penchant for forgetting to eat once I get wrapped up in my work. So for 2 hours I chewed, the more I thought about it, referred back to files, reports, the more I began to think I was wrong.

     

    Oh sure, its possible to make a virus to a specific genome, I know I could do it, hell I’ve done it, that’s what the mutant trigger is, but this, this seemed to be something else. I looked over at Cayne, sitting quietly in his seat, meditating, but he opened his eyes at my gaze. “I think I have an idea.†“Oh?†he says. “As I said earlier, my worst case scenario would be the creation of a genetic bomb, the redesigning of a virus to attack a specific genome, which would wipe out that race it was designed to kill. You understand basic biology right?†He told me he did. “Let me explain the worst case. Say, you make a virus that will kill only genomes in Negroes, it will kill only Negroes or individuals with that specific genetic trait of an Negro, say your great-great-grandmother 8 times removed was Negro but your family afterwards only mixed with Caucasian, this virus would still kill you because you have that genome from your great-grandmother; but it would leave the Asian or the Caucasian standing next to you alone.†Cayne looked completely alarmed at my words. “But wait it can get better, say you’ve isolated the gene that makes people mutants, like in X-Men, Xavier can see with Cerebro all the mutants in the world, well this gene is in only certain people, whether they have become a mutant or not, they carry the gene for mutations. Say you take the same idea, isolate one specific virus to the mutant population and release it; it kills everyone who has that gene active and nonactive mutant alike. Scary isn’t it?†I swept my hands over all the paperwork and my laptop indicating all the material. “But what I think has happened is someone has managed to make Ebola a binary virus, a two part system. Which is sick enough as it is when you think about it.â€

     

    He asked what did I mean by that, I am so grateful he listens well; he helped me hash out my ideas, if I need to bring this to the government I was going to need to get all my ducks in a row. I picked up the remains of the sandwich he had made me and cut it into 4 parts, I love demonstrations, “Ok, say this sandwich is the virus, together its complete but if I take away one part, (which I did and placed it aside on his plate) the virus is incomplete, now I come in contact with these 3 other parts (which I wolfed down and took a quick drink almost choking) he laughed. Man that laugh sounds so good in this serious world of mine, “now I have the virus inside of me, but its not active because its missing this part (I pointed to the section on his plate) but say I come into contact with that part of the virus hours later, I’m not going to wait though, (I popped the slice in my mouth and swallowed) now I have all the parts of the virus in me and the virus becomes active. I’d die several hours later because someone hopped up Ebola and put it into my system even though I came in contact with part 2 hours later.†He smiled at my analogy, “you didn’t have to simplify that much, I get the idea,†he said, “but I appreciate the pantomime.†I laughed, really laughed, man had I needed that. He asked, “What makes you think it could be binary?â€

     

    “Well, according to the prelims the 2 Koreans worked for WHO in the food banks, the German worked for company that ships foods for hunger areas, Drugan was working on a food shipment story, everything circles around storage facilities and the food deliveries, once the guys get me further background information on all the cases I can see more but it looks like these guys were probably in places they shouldn’t of been and were exposed to the tainted Ebola. If it was my worst case scenario, there would have been more cases of the virus spreading out from these incidents, the Koreans bled out on a street corner in London, thousands would have been infected, but not a peep, the German died in a restaurant, again nothing had it been genetic, we’d be seeing thousands of cases by now, these viruses were specific to them, which means they had to of come in contact with it on their own. The question is then elementary, who, what, where, when and why.†He nodded at me in agreement, “do me a favor,†he asked, “what exactly are we dealing with, explain it to me.†So I launched into a more in-depth explanation about life liberty and the deadly think known as Ebola.

    The virus is named after a river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire in Africa, where it was first recognized. There is something of a misconception that Ebola virus can infect just about any cell. In fact, the virus has a very specific tropism for liver cells and macrophages. Massive destruction of the liver is a hallmark feature of the virus; there are four identified subtypes of Ebola virus. Three of the four have caused disease in humans: Ebola-Zaire, Ebola-Sudan, and Ebola-Ivory Coast. The fourth, Ebola-Reston, has caused disease in nonhuman primates, but not in humans. Starting with Marburg in 1967, there was one fellow who tested positive for the virus 30 days post-infection. In fact the virus was detected in his semen and there was a case of sexual transmission in that circumstance. Another patient had virus in the vitreous of his eye for more than 30 days. But eventually the virus died out within these people without killing them. Ebola too is not persistently carried in the blood and appears to be self-limiting in the surviving patient. Because the natural reservoir of the virus is unknown, the manner in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak has not been determined. However, the patient becomes infected when coming in contact with a contaminated animal, its called zoonotic, which means animal-borne and is normally maintained in an animal host that is native to the African continent. After the first case-patient in an outbreak setting is infected, the virus can be transmitted in several ways. People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or secretions of an infected person. Thus, the virus is often spread through families and friends because they come in close contact with such secretions when caring for infected persons. People can also be exposed to Ebola virus through contact with objects, such as needles, that have been contaminated with infected secretions.

     

    Antigen-capture enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or ELISA testing, IgM ELISA, polymerase chain reaction, also called PCR, and virus isolation can be used to diagnose a case of Ebola HF within a few days of the onset of symptoms. Persons tested later in the course of the disease or after recovery can be tested for IgM and IgG antibodies; the disease can also be diagnosed retrospectively in deceased patients by using immunohistochemistry testing, virus isolation, or PCR. There is no standard treatment for Ebola HF. Patients receive supportive therapy. This consists of balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections.

     

    I ticked off the cases on my fingers, in 1976 Ebola-Zaire in Zaire 318 cases with 88% death rate; 1976 Ebola-Sudan in Sudan 284 cases 53% death rate both cases occurred in the hospitals and is transmitted by clinics reusing contaminated needles and by close personal contact without safety precautions. 1976 Ebola-Sudan in England 1 human infected, accidental needle stick in laboratory; didn’t die. 1977 Ebola-Sudan in Zaire, one person effected, died, no known cause. 1979 Ebola-Sudan Sudan 34 humans infected, 65% death rate, occurred in Nzara same places as the 1976 epidemic. 1989 Ebola-Reston, USA no human infection, no death rate, it was accidentally introduced into a quarantine facility in Texas and Pennsylvania by monkeys imported from the Philippines, 4 humans developed antibodies to Ebola-Reston but didn’t become ill. In 1990 there was another outbreak of Ebola-Reston in the USA, again into quarantine facilities in Virginia and Texas by monkeys from the Philippines, another 4 humans developed antibodies but did not become ill. 1992, Italy, Ebola-Reston, no humans infected, once again monkey contamination from the Philippines. 1994 Ebola-Zaire in Gabon, 49 humans infected, 59% death rate, occurred in Mekouka and another gold-mining camp deep in the rain forest and was initially though to be yellow fever, it was identified as Ebola in 1995. Another case in 1994 Ebola-Ivory Coast, on the Ivory Coast, one human ill the scientist doing an autopsy on a chimpanzee in the Tai forest, he was treated in Switzerland and survived. In 1995 Ebola-Zaire in the Congo, 315 humans infected, 81% death rate, it occurred in Kikwit and the surrounding area, it was traced to a patient that worked in a forest adjoining the city, the epidemic spread through the families and hospitals. In 1996 Ebola-Zaire appeared in Gabon 31 humans infected 68% death rate, this came about because 19 people in a hunting party in Mayibout found a chimpanzee dead in the forest and ate it, it spread among the family members and hospitals once they were seen. Gain in 1996 2 more cases of Ebola-Zaire one again in Gabon with 60 infected and a 75% death rate, once again a dead chimpanzee started the outbreak, the other was in South Africa where 2 people were infected one died, 2 medical professionals were traveling from Gabon to Johannesburg after having treated Ebola virus infected patients, the doctor who became infected survived, the nurse treating him contracted the virus and died. Ebola-Reston popped up twice in 1996 one again in the USA in Texas with the monkeys imported from the Philippines, fortunately nobody was infected or died; the Philippines then reported their case of a monkey identified at their export facility, fortunately only the monkey died. Now in 2000-2001 Ebola-Sudan shows up in Uganda, with 425 infected and a 53% death rate, it occurred in Gulu, Masindi and Mbarara districts of Uganda, all transmitted between case-patients family members or the doctors providing medical care to the patients without using adequate personal protective measures. 2001-2002 Ebola Zaire in Gabon and the Congo between the borders, 122 infected with a 79% death rate.

     

    I looked at Shadowkahn, “you understand now why this is so bizarre? Those 5 cases defy everything known about Ebola, that’s why I’m freaking about it. Its inhuman to screw with one of natures more specific killer viruses.†He nodded, “so what do you want me to do while were in Atlanta?†I confess although I had asked him to come along, he had no medical training, nothing that could help me out scientifically, why had I asked him? I had asked him to come with me as bodyguard, there are some scientists who know me as both Stratford and Firefrost, but was I so desperate for his company that I had other motivations? “Well, as bodyguard mostly. I sort of have a secret identity, but there are some members of the scientific field that know me as both Professor Stratford and Firefrost, my launch into the crime fighting field didn’t go completely unnoticed by the scientific community; besides you never know when Genesis or Genocide might want to spring an attack. Other than that, help me as you can, keep notes, a second set of eyes and ears is always helpful in research, you may see and hear things I miss. There is always the off chance that this could have been mystical in origin as well.†My God I so hoped that hadn’t sounded totally lame. But he nodded and smiled at me and went back into his meditative state, he needs to teach me that, how to reach that Zen state quickly and keep my mind unoccupied, I can relax but not like he does. We flew the rest of the way in silence.

     

    CDC met us at the airport, Dr. Mike Alvin and I had bumped into each other over the years, and there are simply too many scientific conventions and symposiums that we professors are required to go to on a regular basis to maintain our curriculum vitae, like I’ve said before, publish or perish. Shadowkahn introduced himself under one of his various aliases and simply listed himself as ‘bodyguard’. Alvin is one of the few that knows of my two identities so all I got was a raised eyebrow and then some good-hearted ribbing during the drive to the Peachtree to drop off our gear and then to CDC. I let Mike know that my time with CDC was limited to only 2 days, he wasn’t happy but he understood; not only that but CDC was already in the process of setting up a mobile unit in Hudson City so I’d be able to work with them there as necessary.

     

    I will admit, it was great to suddenly be back among my peers again, even under such bizarre and terrible circumstances. Mike’s team greeted us warmly and I got a hug from Marlene, an old college alumni from back at Berkley whom I haven’t seen in years. It was humbling experience, to have so many know my work; perhaps I haven’t faded into obscurity in the scientific world. We sat in the conference room drinking tea and coffee as the team reviewed everything that they had discovered so far, which as it turns out was quite a lot.

     

    The D case (as Drugen was called) Ebola was totally non-communicable, even in its liquid state the virus was now dead, even though it had been injected into specimens, it hadn’t reacted, hadn’t spread throughout the body. Remarkable, impossible, they had run test after test ran sample after sample, nothing. Immunohistochemistry testing, virus isolation, tests on the samples turned up normal Ebola, but nothing explained how the man managed to catch and meltdown in less than a day. Marlene tells me that they were able to get an idea of exactly how long it took D to go through the stages, 27 hours that was it. Everyone was mystified as to how in Gods name something like this could occur, that’s what I was there for.

     

    I started in the BSL 4 lab, it was interesting having to show Kahn how all the biohazard decontaminations worked, each test, each section, I think he was amused by it really. Then to liquid containment and selection, and then I got to work.

     

    I vaguely became aware of Shadowkahn tapping my on my shoulder, calling my attention to the time and suggesting that perhaps, it would be a good idea to stop for now and get something to eat. Some 10 odd hours had passed, with me hunched over the electron microscope and in all that time he hadn’t interrupted me at all, to my knowledge hadn’t left my side, or containment the entire time. “You’ve been here the entire time?†“Yes, as you asked, I’ve taken notes on everything you’ve said that went on and off the recorder.†He handed me the notebook, some 50 pages of my thoughts written in neat print. The voice recorder in the labs turn on once you speak, but as I flipped through the pages, he had even caught my mumblings and voiced thoughts. “Kahn, this is remarkable, thank you.†I shook my head at myself, “its also totally unfair to you, you’ve been cooped up in here with a madwoman probably bored out of your mind, I’m sorry I shouldn’t of dragged you hear.†“Actually Frost, I find it all fascinating, I’ve kept occupied,†he pointed to the notebook. “Ok, lets end it for tonight, let’s get out of here before we forget what the world looks like and food tastes like, my treat for dinner.â€

     

    The samples went back into cold storage; we cleaned the lab, went back through decontamination, and emerged on the other side some 40 minutes later. I found Mike asleep at his desk (a familiar posture for us obsessive scientists) I apologized to him for keeping him around so late; he said it was OK, as he had only finished his own work roughly 20 minutes ago. I told him we were heading out and asked him to join us for dinner, Mike graciously declined saying he would be heading home. He gave me the keys to the car the CDC had kindly loaned me and bade us good night.

     

    It had been years since I had visited Atlanta but I knew The Underground (Atlanta’s enclosed underground shopping mall) would still be open even at that ungodly hour, so I pointed the car in that direction. Neither of us had seen Atlanta after its renovation for the Olympics back in 1996, so we took the scenic walk from our parking garage to The Underground. Kahn must have been radiating one hell of a “leave us alone†aura because amazingly enough we remained unaccosted by the drug pushers and the vagrants the entire time. We passed by a dozen or so young people standing around and listening to a free outdoor concert, a local jazz band had parked themselves out of the “no loitering†zone and were jamming away, the music was actually pretty good, and it did a lot to life my spirits and I walked away humming one of their tunes that stuck in my head. We went down the stairs past people still walking around window-shopping, some milling around some listening to another free concert inside the mall. I steered us towards the Coca-Cola restaurant, fortunately since it was so late in the evening it was easy to get a seat and a fairly happy waitress, we perused the menu and ordered drinks and food, including one amaretto sour for me and a beer for him; the food arrived in record time.

     

    We sat together in silence, but my mind was 4 miles away, still in the lab dissecting Zaire. Kahn interrupted my trance, “are you going to ear your salad or push it around for the rest of the night?†I looked down at my plate; I had dissected the chicken and divided the greens for about 10 minutes, the salad looked like it had gone thru a wood chipper; I had to laugh, even if it was a bitter one. “I’m a million miles away aren’t I?†He nodded. “I apologize. I’m terrible company but I get so involved in my work I have a tendency to forget everything else,†I pointed at my destroyed salad, “including eating, talking and behaving like a civilized individual. I’m sorry.†“Don’t be,†he says, “you’re involved with this and it’s very important to you, I understand that perhaps better than most.†He smiled, “when out hunting demons you have a tendency to be very obsessed with the hunt, however,†he waived his hand in a circular motion, “you don’t concentrate your focus so much you loose sight of what’s around you. That’s dangerous and it could get you killed. If your not a part of your surroundings, your not aware of your life.â€

     

    For some reason that statement shook me profoundly, not aware of my life, is that how I’ve been living my life? I must have looked distressed because he put his hand on my wrist, “did I say something to offend you?†“Oh no,†I assured him, trying to smile, “it’s just what you said kind of, well shocked me. Your right of course, it’s ok to be focused but not to the exclusion of everything else. Again, I apologize for being lousy company.†“Nonsense, you’re very pleasant to have as a dinner companion just unnaturally quiet.†I laughed, “thank you for the compliment, and for making me laugh.†“Your welcome, now eat before I have to force feed you.†I laughed again and dug into the remains of my salad. Kahn and I talked, he kept me steered away from talking about Ebola, and we talked about little things, favorite actors, TV shows, food, etc., small talk. They were closing down the restaurant by the time we were finally ready to leave so I left the waitress a generous tip for dealing with us pleasantly.

     

    I paid attention to the road and we made it to the Peachtree in one piece, had the valet park the car and we walked up to our rooms, adjoining just incase, Cayne unlocked the sliding door between the rooms bade me goodnight and shut the door leaving me to myself. The bleakness of my thoughts overtook me then, and while I stood in the shower, I couldn’t tell the difference between the pounding water and my own tears. It’s all right to cry, Mom always said, it makes you feel better, but this time I didn’t feel better. I suddenly felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and I couldn’t figure out why, this case shook me to my core, and like a damn breaking my thoughts were a jumble of things that have ‘gone wrong’ with my life, the what ifs, everything I had written above and more. The stress of the direction my life I had chosen, the duties set before me by PRIMUS, the tasks I had set before myself seemed to be ungodly overwhelming; so I did what any ‘normal’ woman would do, I sat in the shower and cried.

     

    Eventually I pulled myself together, finished and got out of the tub to head to bed. My sleep wasn’t much better, I tossed and turned, continually awakened by little half remembered nightmares. I remember waking up suddenly from the fierce grip of a nightmare in which my flesh was melting away from the exposure to the hopped up Ebola, with some twisted version of myself standing above my decaying body laughing manically. I had screamed and slapped away the hand that had been reaching towards me, only to awaken and find my wrist in Kahn’s grip and him looking at me with concern, “Frost, you’re screaming, are you ok?†I managed to squeak out, “nightmares,†as he released my hand and turned on the nightstand light. He crouched by the foot of the bed, dressed in nothing but sleep trunks, God, all I wanted to do right then was to latch onto him and hug him for dear life. “I’m sorry I woke you,†I struggled to say, “my nightmares are particularly fierce tonight that’s all.†He nodded and the serious expression in his face softened a little in the dim lights, “I could help you with that, if you would like me to.†“With the nightmares? How?†“Well, I’m unsure if it will keep the nightmares away but acupressure, should help you sleep undisturbed, at least soothed.†Sure what did I have to loose other than my personal demons, “please, thank you. What to you need me to do?†“Just lay on your stomach, and put your arms even with you shoulders, now turn your head,†I did so, and he touched me, his hands lightly guiding my arms into the position he needed and he gently turned my head away from the light, “now take deep breaths, don’t hold them, concentrate on filling the air from your stomach level upwards.†I followed his instructions as he spoke them, noticing the cadence in his voice altered into something hypnotic, but my attention soon became focused on the way his hands felt on my back, soothing, light, magical and before I new it, I was deeply asleep.

     

    I was awakened by the sound of the telephone ringing, the front desk calling with an 8am wake-up call. I had slept the rest of the night undisturbed, and I felt refreshed, shocking since I’m usually dragging my ass out of bed like the living dead after a night like last night. Whatever Kahn had done to me in the wee hours of the morning had done the trick. Well I shouldn’t say trick, what he did is the culmination of years of an esoteric education that I can’t even begin to fathom; needless to say I conducted my morning rituals in a spirit greater than I had felt in many a month, all thanks to him. I was very pleased to hear his knock at the inner door and opened it with a smile and a hug for him, which took Kahn by surprise, “thank you,†I told him, “I feel wonderful, thank you very much.†“Your welcome very much,†he briefly hugged me back, I guess it was a shock for him to get that reaction out of me, “ah, breakfast is already on its way up.†I looked at him appraisingly, “you know we should have been to the CDC already this morning.†His response surprised me, “you’re a consultant, and therefore you conduct your own hours as necessary. Besides,†he says with a shrug,†you need something in your stomach if your going to spend the rest of the day in the lab.†He looked at me sternly, “I am your bodyguard, not your babysitter, but I will remind you when it’s time to quit.†I saluted him, “aye-aye captain.†I was defiantly in a better mood, and I was soooo tempted to ask him what he had done to me last night but I kept quiet, not knowing added to that mystique he has. Breakfast arrived shortly and we ate in my room in peace and quiet, but there was something I needed to ask him. “Cayne,†I spoke from behind my teacup, so he couldn’t catch all of my expressions, just in case. “If you don’t want to come to the lab you don’t have to, I don’t want you to be bored.†But inside I was pleading, please, please, please come with me; talk about torn in two. “No, I’m here as bodyguard and assistant, you said yesterday I took excellent notes, wouldn’t you need that skill again?†I nodded in agreement; yes his notes were certainly quite helpful they encapsulated everything I had said. “As bodyguard I’m to be close at hand, should I not be there in the lab as well?†I shook my head no, he was correct he should be nearby, should someone be stupid enough to attack a government run level 4 containment lab. “Then I will stay by your side,†a soft smile appeared on his face, “even when you are absorbed in your work, you are not unpleasant company Frost.†That made me blush.

     

    We drove to the CDC in silence; Mike met us at security looking a little worse for wear. “Rough night Mike?†I ribbed him. He looked at me with fake indignation, “you kept the same hours I did, why do you look so freakin awake and alive?†I couldn’t help but smile, “clean living?†I shrugged my shoulders at him, which made Mike laugh. “Bullshit. Come on you two,†he indicated we should follow him, “the test results we ran last night are in, so you can pick over them.†We sat in the conference room with the rest of Mike’s team reviewing last night’s work-ups; the test results were not promising. Ebola but not Ebola, my initial tests showed something, we knew it wasn’t communicable and that it had been accelerated, it had been tinkered with but how and where the tinkering was still had not been identified. Then they started grilling me, what sort of tampering could of be done, how could someone tamper with the virus, why, when, on and on and on. I answered as best I could, and they in turn answered my questions but each response seemed to dig a hole deeper and deeper into our collective psyche, science tinkers with nature trying to understand, trying to improve, trying to improvise, trying to conquer, trying to subvert, but now looking at this monster we were shocked to our core; looking at genetically enhanced death in the face usually does that to people. It certainly didn’t help when I explained the various ways I could of altered the virus (which freaked a few of them out), I still had no idea how our perp had altered this one. I knew it had been done but he or she had covered their tracks so well that it was going to take me more than one day’s worth of research to find the damn thing; disappointment showed on everyone’s faces. The meeting took a few hours out of the morning and when we adjourned we still had more questions than answers and that morning high I had, had dissolved into frustration. Cayne and I went back into level 4 and I bent to my task again, with him taking careful notes again.

     

    Unfortunately a distraction occurred which sent my research off-track for the rest of the evening.

     

    Around 3pm, I had just gotten a little more invasive on the 5 viral proteins, when our PRIMUS headsets go off like fire alarms. Kahn and I had worn them yesterday and had planed to wear them everyday just incase the team had needed to get hold of us with any information, since its voice command open channel, all they had to do was say our names to route the signal through. I now wish to freaking God we hadn’t; I left Matt in charge to test his leadership abilities, I need to find a strong second in command so I figured 3 days would be a good trial period, God was I wrong.

     

    Matt calls in a state of excitement, all 3 of them are talking over each other, the radio is blaring in our ears; we can’t turn them off or turn down the volume because were in the containment suits, its not like you can flip up your hood and blow your nose, once your in, your in until your out of the hazard room. On the way to the pizza parlor, Geiger, BZY and Matt (while patrolling their way to the pizza parlor he says), BZY sees this little oriental guy running down an alleyway towards them with a large armored partially cybernetic guy behind him aiming a large weapon at the guy to shoot him. So what do they do, they get in-between, no asking questions, no stopping they launch into action. Matt’s trying to recap while running after the oriental guy. Geiger grabbed BZY by the back of the shirt and “Fast-Ball Specials†him at the guy with the gun, let cyborg go against cyborg I guess was their thinking, BZY impales the cyborg in the chest with his arm blades, but it doesn’t stop the bot. Now a second bot has appeared and goes to shoot the oriental guy, who by that time is running past Matt. BZY yells back to the guys that the bot he’s on says “Fugitive escaping, lethal force now required,†which gets Matt chasing after the oriental guy; meanwhile the second bot shoots some sort of dart, which Geiger steps in front of and has promptly gotten blown up and knocked unconscious.

     

    I looked at Cayne in shock, what the hell was they involved with? BZY’s trying to kill the one he’s partially impaled on, Matt’s yelling he’s chasing after the oriental guy who’s dodged into an apartment building, and he’s now in a club, hunting for the guy. We hear from BZY’s com, “Contact made. Accomplices involved. Activating Mode 3.†Which is apparently from the bot he’s fighting. BZY’s calling for PRIMUS backup because the bots are beating the hell out of him, shooting explosives at the building that Matt and the fugitive had run into and the fact that Geiger was down. Matt’s yelling that he can’t see the oriental guy in the middle of the Rave club they’ve run into because the man is moving so fast he’s a blur. “Why are you guys involved in this?!†I yelled, “What the hell were you thinking? Oh wait, that’s it you weren’t thinking were you?!†We hear a “nope not really,†mumbled from an awakening Geiger. There we are in a level 4-biohazard room a thousand miles away, listening to the sound of explosions, cursing and teammates yelling at each other. I would have raved but there’s no use storming around in a suit with an air hose to screw up. We hear, “DOWN!†from Matt who’s shooting the fugitive in the back, and then a disbelieving “he’s metal? He’s a freaking robot?!†and then a “Holy Shit!†from a very disturbed Matt. “Now what?†I asked. “There’s this gigantic dog that just appeared in the Rave party and it just bit down on the fugitive tearing his head off!†We hear, “Hey I killed one!†from BZY and then “What the hell? They’re disappearing?†Matt says, “So did the fugitive and the dog bot.†BZY says, “I got a final transmission from the one I was attacking, it said ‘Continuum restored, return to non-alert status,’ and then they vanished.â€

     

    I shook my head in disbelief, and I asked “Geiger ok? Are you guys ok?†I got a collective yes, from them, “we have a head and part of the bot I destroyed,†BZY says, “Well take them back to my lab for analysis,†says Matt. “Fine, fine,†I tell them, “let me know what you find. Frost out.†I closed out my com with the voice command. It’s hard to beat your head against a table while in a bubble suit, but I did anyway. “Can’t leave them alone for a day, can we?†I voiced aloud to Kahn, he chuckled but he sounded as disappointed as I did, “It would appear so.â€

     

    I looked back over the work I had started, the vectors were completely blown and I wasn’t going to be able to concentrate until they reported back and more than likely I was going to be in a conference call with PRIMUS command within the next hour or so regarding the event. I looked at Kahn, “lets break and get something to eat, and there is no way I can work now.â€

     

    We went thru the same processes we had done the night before, shutting it all down, putting everything away, re-sterilizing the area and then decanting ourselves from the room and back into the real world. I radiated anger; Mike could see it as we walked past his office, I told him that the work had been interrupted by something stupid from back in Hudson City and that I would be back as soon as I could. He just nodded at me and let us go without a word. I was in a rage, and by the time I got down the front steps and half way to the car I couldn’t hold it in anymore, thank God it wasn’t between shifts so only the birds, Kahn and one or two people got to hear the brunt of my tirade. I yelled, and stormed and ranted and cursed, how incredibly stupid of them, how inconsiderate of them, how stupid of them (that came out quite a few times), how dangerous of them, what were they thinking; I went on and on until hurricane Firefrost finally blew out of wind with one simple statement from Kahn, “They really scared the hell out of you didn’t they?†He said. I was totally deflated, “yes, my God they scared the shit out of me.†I looked at him, God he reads me well doesn’t he. “You done?†He says. “Yes.†“Then lets go eat before you have to talk to base.†“Your right.†We drove in silence, picked up some fast Barbeque and went back to the hotel to eat incase we were interrupted by the call. Halfway thru the meal our headsets went off, Matt had the system on speakerphone and gave us the breakdown.

     

    “First of all, Geiger’s alright, I’m alright, BZY’s alright but there seems to be something wrong with the tips of his blades.†“Can you identify it?†“No not yet but were working on it. Ok, the head and remains of the body are made of a titanium alloys with some rubidium contaminates. The electronics are not made from anything I’ve ever seen before; it’s almost of a gelatinous consistency, like silicone in gel-packs as conductors, and it conducts at room temperature. There seems to be a sensor package in the head but I’m unsure what it does.†“Have you hooked it up yet?†I asked, we got a “ah, no, actually I haven’t. Lemme do that now.†A few minutes later Matt came back on, “We’ve got IR, radar, Visual and some odd anomaly reading. Hey BZY come here and hook yourself up to this and see what its doing.†Matt yells. Cayne slapped his forehead in disbelief listening to that last bit and I almost laughed, it did sound almost comical, I pulled the neck mike away from me and put my hand over it, and I whispered, “Hewy, Dewy, and Lewy,†which did get him to laugh aloud. “Frost, the anomaly reading is picking something off the tips of BZY’s claws.†“Do me a favor Matt, get a metal scraping off them and put it under the electron microscope and then send me the feed on the computer.†“Roger, give me a few minutes.†While I busied myself with setting up the computer to accept the relay, Kahn asked, “Did you guys get any visuals on these robots? Any identifying marks?†BZY replied, “Yea, some odd Arabic looking symbol but I’ve never seen it before and its not coming up in the database.†We talked back and forth with BZY and Matt telling us more about what was going on at home. Kahn and I were shocked to hear that the entire episode had evolved out of them heading to the pizza parlor to meet up with Foxbat and Jet who were out on a date. Kahn almost choked on his fries when he heard that one. “How the hell did that happen?†he asked. “She asked him out on a date.†Geiger replied. We shook our heads in disbelief, somehow the idea of Foxbat and Jet dating made the world all that much more deranged. “Ok, transmitting the signals now, here’s what the EM is seeing,†says Matt. We peered at the computer screen, looking at the scratched sample of BZY’s forearm blades, the sample looked normal enough and then in a second seemed to shiver and blink out of existence, only to return a moment later. “Holy shit, their out of phase,†I said and then something clicked, “BZY that robot you were attacking said something about the continuum returning to normal or something like that right?†“Yes, why.†“You fought something from out of time, judging by Matt’s analysis of the robots interior its probably the future. Get a hold of Commander Stone, he’s a member of the Way Police, I’m sure that Professor LaDene left something behind before she left for dimensions unknown.†I heard Geiger and Matt murmur ‘Way Police? What the hell is Way Police?†“Just do it guys, he’ll be able to help. Call us back once you get with him. Oh, describe to him the symbol as well, he’ll probably know what it is.†With that we hung up leaving the guys to contact Commander Stone.

     

    I leaned back in the chair and contemplated the air. I had made a point of studying the Charleston Champions reports since my talk with Clark, there was much I knew about them, from those reports, but there were still things I didn’t know, who they were beyond those files. I spoke aloud to Kahn, voicing my musings, “you worked in Charleston at one point didn’t you?†“Yes, actually I was part of the sub group working under the Champions at one point.†Kahn replied, reminiscing. “They were really something weren’t they,†I asked. “Oh yes, quite an enigmatic team really, it was difficult to get to know them, they kept so many secrets.†“Tell me what you remember Kahn, if you can.†So for the next hour Shadowkahn told me of his experiences with them, of the time traveling lupinoid LaDene, her demigod son Damien, Stone before he became Commander, of Scalphunter and Jester, and of Katana; how dangerous they had been, almost a careless disregard for human life, the rumors and the truths. He was still talking about them when Commander Stone broke in on the com lines with the guys in his office. “Commander Stone here, you on?†We responded yes, “You were right to send the guys here, LaDene left me a few of her scanner gizmos, one of them is a time scanner. It would appear that BZY had his claws into a time traveling robot from 40 thousand years in the future.†His revelation was met with skeptical silence, “the script reads as “terminator†under the rule of the Emperor. LaDene left something about him in the files, apparently the Emperor rules the galaxy some time in the year 42,000, I don’t know much about it other than their extremely advanced. It would appear that your guys here stumbled onto something but its not like were ever going to know what it was. Were going to have to shave off the portions of the blades that are in flux and have BZY’s nanites repair them.†He finished with his usual monotone, I swear the only time I ever hear Stone’s voice have any inflection is when he’s ranting about Viper. “Well thank you Commander for helping out my team,†I had started but Stone cut me off. “Oh, your coming home tonight by the way Frost, Shadowkahn; the jet is already on its way to the airport. Tellios got his approval from the government and his coming in a day earlier.â€

     

    I tore off the mike before they could hear my string of curses; Kahn came to my verbal rescue while I screamed my head off in the bathroom. “Commander, Stratford hasn’t completed her work at the CDC yet,†he said. I came stalking out of the bathroom and reattached the mike, “Stone, I can’t leave, we know the virus has been tampered with but I haven’t found out how yet, I need more time.†I wasn’t pleased with his response. “Is this a national crisis? Is this something that threatens the populace right now?†He demanded. “No, it’s not a crisis. But it is something that could be a threat, we don’t have enough information yet.†I replied trying to keep the anger out of my voice. “Is this currently an isolated case? Is the CDC handling it?†“Well its sort of an isolated case. Yes, so far they’re handling it. But…†He never let me finish, “Then it’s under control and its your own private crusade, not ours. You’re under orders; get your asses back here so you can greet Tellios in the morning with the rest of the team. Understood?†I responded through gritted teeth, “Yes sir.†“Excellent, we’ll take care of BZY and send him back with Ranger and Geiger. Good night.†And with that, he hung up.

     

    I stood there slumped, defeated, at least for now, so this Ebola case might be my personal crusade but I was going to find out what the hell was going on before someone else died. But I was stuck under orders for now. “I’ll get packing while you contact Dr. Alvin and tell him of the developments.†Kahn said, looking at me, “do what you have to, the come back later.†“Your right, your right.†I replied. So while he set about packing I called the Mike and told him the bad news. Needless to say he wasn’t impressed by PRIMUS’s emergency call back and he probably cussed about as much as I had when hearing the news. “I’ll be back when I can Mike, you know that, I’m not one to leave something like this behind, we need to find the pathogenesis,†I told him. “I know, I know, but it’s damned inconvenient,†he sighed. I gave him some ideas for tests to run on the samples and I assured him that I would return as soon as I could. My pager went off in the middle of our talking with a message from the airport, the jet would be arriving in 30 minutes, that gave us enough time to check out and make it to the airport; good thing it’s a private jet, its not like it could leave without us. I told Kahn of our ETA and he went to the hotel desk to check us out. Mike told me to drop of the key at the rental agency at the airport and that he would expect to hear from me soon; I packed all the notes and all of my equipment and met Kahn downstairs.

     

    I drove in silence, I know Kahn can drive but I didn’t want to be passenger, it would leave me too much time to think, it was bad enough I would do so on the ride home. We dropped off the car, headed to the jet, and took off all in silence. I simply couldn’t bring myself to be sociable, Khan knowing my mood left me to my thoughts. We were almost ready to land in Hudson City when I finally spoke up. “Kahn can you do me a favor?†He looked over a slightly puzzled look, “ask, if its within my power to do, I will.†I smirked at his formal answer, “can you do something to help me sleep tonight?†“Tense?†he asked. I nodded. “Yes, I can help, call me when you’re ready for bed, I’ll be there.†“Thank you Cayne, thank you very much.†“Your welcome Frost.â€

     

    That night after being run down by Geiger, Wire and Succor over everything that had happened while we were gone, after all was said and done; after Matt showed me the electronics, after I had filed away my notes and started the computer reviewing the downloaded data I had brought back from the CDC; after I had showered and gotten dressed for bed. I was so tired that my hair ached and my teeth itched, I called Shadowkahn and asked him to come to my room. He arrived with an incense burner in hand, which I looked at quizzically. He placed it on the dresser and lit the sticks, “Lavender to help you sleep.†He then nodded at the bed, “lay down on your stomach like before.†I did as I was told, burying my face in the pillow, he laughed. “Don’t smother yourself, we don’t want thank kind of sleeping.†I chuckled and turned to face him. He sat on the bed next to me and started massaging my shoulders, neck and back, “God your tense, no wonder you have problems sleeping.†He worked out the kinks, knots and strains the crisscrossed my back, slowly I could feel the tensions ebbing out of my muscles, and I guess when he had figured I had had enough, he started on the pressure points that he had used to put me to sleep the night before, I mumbled “thank you, goodnight.†Just before I faded into unconsciousness I heard his reply, “your welcome.â€

     

     

    August 6, 2003

    I’m having problems writing this but I need to set it to paper. I need to write everything no matter how painful it is, no matter how much my hands shake from emotion and my eyes blur from tears. We’ve lost one of our own today and God help me I want to die. I almost did die today, along with Succor, there are too many what ifs running around my head, too many.

     

    I had awoken feeling refreshed with about 10 hours of sleep under my belt, probably the best sleep I’ve had in months, again due to Shadowkahn, what a Godsend. Everyone was roused early and we started out day reviewing our plans for the encounter during breakfast. Tellios was due to arrive today via private jet. A private airport just inside the Hudson City limits was to serve as his landing strip. Matt had done his homework and had ¼ scale map with diagrams ready for use. Simplified, we were to arrive a half hour earlier to get into position and to run the perimeter checks; Wire had been called away by PRIMUS and would be joining us prior to Tellios’s arrival. Huntsman, Shadowkahn, and Geiger would be ground patrol, Wire Walker and myself would be aerial support, Ranger would be on top of the traffic tower sniper rifle in hand, and Succor would be in the tower to assist with communications and coordination. Huntsman told me that Jet had been summoned off in the middle of the night and hadn’t returned yet. “Summoned off?†I asked. “Yes, literally, I caught an echo of the invocation as it wrapped around her and pulled her off. I have no idea where she’s gone.†He replied, Shadowkahn supplied, “well she has been doing a lot of legwork for her mistress.†“If she shows up she shows up, for now she’s not included in the plans.â€

     

    We took two of the vans, Geiger wanted to drive but I waved him off, “Ranger and BZY have combat driving, if we need it, they need to be in the drivers seat.†He groused about it, but caved in since he got to ride shotgun with Ranger. I was none too happy about their antics from yesterday but there was no use in debating it now, we had another job to do. We had the vans set for transporting Tellios and his teams as well; Tellios his bodyguards, Shadowkahn, BZY and myself would ride in one car; Huntsman, Succor, Geiger, Ranger and the rest of Tellios’s crew would ride with them. I wanted Tellios’s ear, I wanted to talk to him about the Ebola case and BZY’s systems would automatically record everything said in the van, which is exactly what I needed.

     

    We arrived as planned and set up, BZY and Geiger started their search of the tarmac with BZY easily hacking into the video camera surveillance of the airport and using it as an extra set of eyes. He also did something we weren’t expecting, in contacting Artemis to see if there were any surveillance satellites in the area he put himself into direct link with Artemis and some of her lower functions, a complete visual link, we were all quite impressed when he told us he now had partial control over the small surveillance satellite and was in direct link with the AI. By the time Ranger got into position on the tower Geiger and BZY had spotted something odd with one of the trashcans down near one of the hangers, within the last 10 minutes something had moved it. The guys went into search mode on the ground looking for the perpetrator when BZY announced that the satellite had found something in the air, a small sphere about the size of a softball, flying around 3 kilometers up. That was my job, so I hit the air and headed towards it. While I was streaking towards it, Shadowkahn announced they had found a footprint in the oil next to the can, and BZY was running it thru the link he had with Artemis to see who it was. We were prepared for Genesis so it came as no surprise that the footprint came back as belonging to one of Genesis’s invisible hunter/killer robots. It was known to PRIMUS that somehow Genesis had created the best phototropic camouflage ever, rendering its wearer invisible to all but UV lighting. While Shadowkahn and Huntsman tracked the decaying footprints BZY raced for the airplane hanger looking for the portable UV lights that some airlines use in repairs.

     

    By then I had reached the silver sphere, it was softball sized and freaking fast. It evaded me all over the place, and Geiger made the comment that I looked like I was playing Quiddich, well the damn thing was about as fast as a Snitch and I was having a damned hard time trying to catch it. Succor calls in that the jet is on initial approach. Suddenly I see a little beam of light shoot out of the sphere and strike down to the airport, I can’t get a visual as to where it struck I’m up too high but I radio it in. Ranger makes the report that scares the shit out of us, “it’s right in front of me. A tall silver humanoid, looks like it’s missing its skin, it has a face and its pointing one huge freaking gun at me.†I can see a brief flair of light below me, from the top of the tower as Ranger rolls and shoots at it, but his shot goes thru the thing, as he yells “hologram!†almost tumbling off the edge of the tower, his voice shakes as he tells us he’s holding on for dear life “the damn thing was a hologram, the real one is 3 feet away and running towards the edge of the tower away from me!â€

     

    An explosion from the tarmac draws my attention, and I hear over the relay, “Found one!†Geiger had set off a Thunderclap in the direction of the grass where Shadowkahn had seen the tracks lead and caught a flicker in the air, I caught the light that emanates from Shadowkahn’s psi-shirkens, “oh shit,†I hear from Geiger, “it’s a big freaking Genesis hunter/killer.†I pause in my game of tag trying to catch the sphere to see several other silver images appear around the guys on the tarmac. But the greenish energy bolt that blasts from the tower to the robot that had appeared behind Shadowkahn blowing it to pieces is what really took me by surprise. SKADE, it had to be SKADE, “It’s SKADE!†I yell, “it’s here to kill Genesis!†I hear a rousing round of “woot hoos!†from Geiger and Succor. SKADE had appeared before and had inadvertently helped us in the last attack Genesis had made on Tellios, months ago. There is still so much about SKADE I wish we knew but it was as mysterious as the group out to capture Tellios and us.

     

    The fight below me is fierce, and I’m still not sure if the sphere is one of SKADE’s or Genesis’s either way, I was determined to catch it, but it evaded ice bolt after ice bolt. If we could capture it we might be able to find out more information and it would be something for Matt to work on and possible duplicate, gadget lover that he is.

     

    BZY announces that the UV light is doing the trick in finding the rest of the invisible ones, and Geiger takes on the largest of the Genesis bots, flattening himself against its force field, but doing enough damage to short it out so that Huntsman can get a shot in on it. Succor calls into Tellios’s jet, letting them know to veer off that we were in the middle of a firefight with Genesis and there were 5 robots on the ground. He tells us he got the ‘affirmative’ from the jet and I can see them alter their flight.

    The sphere I’ve been chasing has apparently changed its mind and I have to make a wild dive to avoid getting shot by one of the lasers that shoots from it; but in its shooting at me it paused long enough for me to get an ice bolt into it, freezing it solid, and it begins to plummet earthwards, I zoom towards it and caught it before it could fall too far. That was mistake one.

     

    I looked up at the plane flying towards us, to see Ankylosaurus jump out of the jet and begin his plummet towards ground; I could assume it was so he could join in the fight. I would not learn of his fate till much, much later. For at that moment, the little sphere at my side flared hot for a brief second enough to draw my attention to it, before it exploded; for a moment the pain was unbearable before I went unconscious and knew no more.

     

    I awoke to Succor’s soft hands healing my body; I lay in his lap looking up at him blinking away the pain, watching at his face screwed up in concentration as he healed me. Beyond him, stood the rest of the team, battered and bruised but looking relieved. Beyond them, stood Tellios, with the most curious look on his face, one of rapt attention, of a hunger, I had often seen in my own mirror when I was obsessed, he watched Succor’s work like a starved man being presented with a meal. I could hear him speaking as my ruptured eardrums healed, “I can help her you know,†I heard Shadowkahn’s reply, “no thank you.†The pain at my side ebbed away, to be replaced by the cold sensation of air on exposed skin, I glanced downwards and wasn’t surprised to see that my uniform had been blown away, exposing most of my torso and hip, it would have been provocative if it hadn’t been for the fact the skin was slowly mending from charred mangled flesh to smooth pink skin. “Well that was freaking stupid of me wasn’t it? What happened?†I asked; I knew part of the answer already, seeing Wire standing by Shadowkahn’s side pretty much explained how I survived the fall from 3k, he had to of caught me, the damn sphere had exploded on me, but what had happened afterwards?

     

    BZY and Ranger escorted Tellios and his crew outside while Geiger, Shadowkahn, Wire and Huntsman stay behind to assist Succor and myself. Geiger chuckled, “Genesis will be very, very pissed off at us for a very long time.†Shadowkahn waved him to silence, “we had 5 hunter/killer bots we were attacking, when you were blown up. One of them shot Geiger; Huntsman electrocuted one by driving his dagger into it and sending his lightning down the blade into its internals. SKADE took out the head on the one that had shot Geiger. We were in one hell of a fight when the radios erupted in static and we heard and saw the explosion from above. If Wire hadn’t just been arriving on scene, you would have been a smear on the pavement, you’re damned lucky.†He hid it well, but I could hear some anger in his voice. “During all this Ankylosaurus had jumped from Tellios’s jet and hit something invisible ½ kilometer up, how Wire missed it on his way to you, or how you missed it chasing the sphere is beyond me, pure luck I’m sure. Ranger said that the SKADE robot plugged something from its body into the large gun it was carrying and aimed up towards the air, at first we thought it was shooting at you, but its shot hit something far below you. We had another SKADE robot appear near us and do the same thing, plug itself into a giant gun and fire upwards. The ruptured power cells in the Genesis super-carrier blew off its invisibility field.†Wire interrupted, “it was huge!†Geiger added, “probably about 3 football fields big!†How the hell had I missed it? “Wait, you said a Genesis super-carrier?†He nodded and continued, “A super-carrier, it had been hovering above us, God only knows how man more hundreds of Genesis robots and agents were in that thing ready to come down on our heads. Ankylosaurus never had a chance. The plasma bursts from SKADE set off chain reactions, the entire carrier blew into super heated plasma within minutes. The remaining Genesis hunter/killers self-destructed, the SKADE bots melted down immediately after they shot. Wire got you to Succor as fast as he could. Somehow Tellios’s pilot was able to land in that pockmarked landing strip and now there here, sans one villain.â€

     

    Succor patted my shoulder, “yer done.†I smiled up at him, “thanks, you’re a lifesaver.†He beamed, “I know, I know.†I slowly stood up, the new skin was tight in flexing and I still felt sore but the damage had been completely repaired, I surveyed my torso and hip, the skin was pink and new and a slightly lighter shade from the undamaged skin. I generated my ice armor covering the exposed skin, “anyone got a spare radio?†Succor fished one out of his sling bag and handed it to me. “So now what?†Asked Geiger. I looked at him, “now we get Tellios and his kidney to the hospital to save that boy. After that, I have a project for everyone.†There was a collective groan from the boys and I waved them to silence. “Everyone pile in the vans now, lets get this over with,†I ordered. I was sharp with them, I was more mad at myself then them though, if I hadn’t been so stupid I wouldn’t of put myself into that predicament, getting blown out of the sky, stupid, totally stupid.

     

    BZY and Ranger had escorted Tellios and crew out to the vans and were waiting for us. “You better boss?†Ranger asked. “Yea, sorry I couldn’t save the gizmo for you Ranger, but it bit back.†He shrugged, “Eh it would have been neat but I’ve got Genesis hunter/killer robot parts to play with.†He indicated some parts that were being crated up and shoved into the back of the van, “We’ve swept the vans, were clean.†I nodded and gave the go ahead for everyone to pile in, as per previous orders, but Succor threw a change of plans at me.

    “I’m not getting in,†he says.

    “What? Get the hell in the van Succor.â€

    “No you know I don’t like them, especially with too many people in them.†Referring to his claustrophobia, “I’ll skate my way to the hospital its only a few miles.â€

    I rolled my eyes at him, “are you insane? We were just attacked by Genesis and your going to skate to the hospital? Get the hell in the van.†I was yelling at him through clenched teeth, “Stop being so difficult.â€

    “No. I’ll skate there,†and he turned and sped away on his roller blades. I watched his diminishing form glide away and looked around for help, Shadowkahn made eye contact with me and indicated his head towards Succors direction, I nodded, “keep in radio contact. Thanks.â€

    Shadowkahn vanished speeding off behind Succor following him, well at least that will keep him out of trouble, I though. Oh how wrong I was.

     

    BZY and Ranger drove the vans out of the airport parking lot and into the flow of traffic, Tellios, his twin bodyguards, Wire and myself in BZY’s van; Armadillo, Geiger, Cataran, Huntsman in Ranger’s. BZY recorded every word spoken during our drive.

    “Problems?†Tellios asked, with that ‘tone’ in his voice, the condescending one that gets on my nerves. I was in no mood for it, needless to say, our conversation didn’t exactly start on the right foot.

    “Never, Tellios.†I tilted my head indicating the twins nodding at the silver hand one of them sported since last time they were in Hudson City, “Easily fixed were they?â€

    “Obviously.â€

    “What did you do with my blood Tellios?â€

    He sighed, “No pleasantries eh.â€

    “I’m not in the mood Tellios. You and I have something to discuss.â€

    “I’m studying it that’s all.â€

    “I’m sure you are. What do you know about Ebola?â€

    That took him by surprise, took him completely off track what he though was going to be the conversation, “What do you mean ‘what do I know about Ebola’?â€

    I chewed into him, told him of the Drugan case, the CDC, the variables, the other cases; his face became paler as I proceeded in my narrative. I doubt I would of gotten that reaction if he had been the culprit, but I still kept him in my suspicions; when I finished, Tellios leaned back against the car seat in contemplation. “Your certain?†He asked, and then waved his hand at me, my distaste for his question was evident on my face, “yes, I know your skill I was simply asking.â€

    “Any suggestions?†I asked.

    “I’d suggest working on the proteins as your starting point. Whomever created this monster knew how to do so well enough to cover their tracks.â€

    “I had started with proteins, I was interrupted.â€

    “Then you’re on the right track. I certainly would consider this scientist a threat, this isn’t something to be taken lightly.â€

    “I’m very aware of that Tellios. I…†I was interrupted as we came to a screeching halt in traffic.

     

    “BZY what the hell is going on?†I asked as I tried to look over the seats. “Don’t know but we just lost all communications and all power. I just felt a wave.â€

    I opened up the van and stepped out to look forward, I screeched aloud, “MINUTEMEN!†Three blocks in front of us, stopped in the middle of the road just 2 ½ miles from the hospital stood 3 Minutemen blocking traffic. We had tangled with the giant Genocide robot once before but only one of them, now stood three of them; one already had a hand extended and was foaming the road near their feet. “Oh shit no. Succor, Shadowkahn!†I yelled, “they’re up there!†I ducked my head back into the van sending the ice up over my face, and looked at Tellios, “were going to have to leave you now, try not to get involved.†I shut the door before he could reply.

     

    Geiger and Ranger were already standing on top of their van, and Wire grabbed Huntsman taking him into the air. Ranger sighted down his rifle and I heard the distinctive ‘crack’ of his shot going off, but I couldn’t see if he had hit his target. BZY stepped out of the van and vanished, using his phototropic armor, “I’m going to get in close,†I hear him say and then he’s out of range.

    “What do we do?†Geiger asks.

    I look back at the rest of my team, “Shadowkahn and Succor are up there. I’m going to assume that Genocide wants Succor. Were not letting them get one of us without a fight, take them down however you can, concentrate on one at a time if necessary.â€

    “FROST!†Yelled Ranger, drawing our attention back to the Minutemen, “They’re picking someone up out of the foam!†We turned to look and watched in horror as the center Minuteman opened up its chest and placed a foam and body into its holding cell.

    “Shit! Geiger, ever been used as a battering ram?†I yelled as I lifted into the air, I had formulated a plan, now if I could only pull it off. Ranger watched in awe as I extended my left arm and layer after layer of ice formed off of it, elongating coming to a sharp point at the end, I built a large ice lance, to ram the one in the center that had picked up our teammate.

    “Nope but I guess I’m going to find out!†he yells back, totally excited at the prospect of doing damage.

    “Curl up tight, your going to hit hard,†as he grabs my right arm, I get us both airborne and then launch; not fly, launch. My super-flight takes us at breakneck speed over the stalled cars in seconds, I threw Geiger into the chest of the Minuteman on the right, satisfactorily hearing the crunch of metal from the giant as its torso collapses inward from Geiger’s impact and the humongous THUD as it falls to the pavement. But I missed with the ice lance on my target, the one holding whichever comrade it had captured. I braked hard in the air, as I overshot the battle and traveled two blocks further then I wanted to, and turned to return to the fight, only to gape in horror as the middle one launched itself into the air quickly becoming nothing but a blur of exhaust; a brief trail of lightning arcs towards it but it’s swiftly beyond Huntsman’s reach. I heard the glass shatter behind me as I blasted like a rocket upwards in pursuit.

     

    Cut off from radio contact by the field generated by the Minutemen, I had no idea of what was occurring below me. I’m praying that the team will do well enough against the remaining robot; I stayed focused on the glow from the damn things thrusters and pushed my flight trying to catch up. Higher and higher we went, I tasted the change in the air and felt my ears pop, I knew we had passed beyond the troposphere and the tropopause into the stratosphere; we had blown through the troposphere in the first few seconds of flight. Seconds, this was taking me seconds but it felt like lifetimes. I had been to this level before, I wouldn’t suffer from the freeze but whatever air I was pulling into my lungs now would be all I would get for the rest of the trip. I streamlined and pushed harder. I felt a familiar twist of pain internally; again I had gone past my level of endurance trying to close the gap, I coughed and tasted blood, nothing I hadn’t felt before. I was determined to reach them or die trying, there was a good chance I just might do that. I tried for another push and got just close enough to the Minuteman to be in range of my ice blast. I prayed that if I sealed off its thrusters, even if I could only get one that might be enough to cause it to stall, to fall. Darkness creep in at the edge of my vision, as I fired a massive blast of ice into its left foot, covering the thrusters completely, it wobbled for a moment, and looked down at me. Would it stop and catch me? Would I become another victim for Genocides dissection table? Apparently not, I saw it straighten up and pull away from me. I watched its retreating glow as I fell unconscious, exhausted by my attempts, out of air, my energy sputtered out and I went into freefall, I fell for a very long time.

     

    I awoke to the insistent yelling of my name in my ear, Shadowkahn’s voice, so the got Succor, I thought. That poor kid, horrible images came to mind, reports I had read, photos I had seen of mutants that had survived, gotten away from Genocide after they started experimenting on them; I prayed that Succor would die quickly. The weakness in my voice surprised me, emotionally and physically drained, I shouldn’t have been surprised by it, but I was, “Firefrost here.â€

    “Oh thank God your alive, PRIMUS has had you on radar in freefall for the last 5 minutes.â€

    My voice was soft, almost monotone, “they got him Kahn.â€

    He choked, his voice softening, “I know Frost, I know. PRIMUS had them on radar until they hit the Ionosphere, then we lost them. I…I’m sorry.†My thoughts wandered to what Shadowkahn must be feeling at this point, he had been there when they had attacked, he was probably wondering if he could of done something different, something that could of saved Succor from them.

    “It’s not your fault Kahn, I know you did your best.†I said, trying to take his mind off it, “tell me what happened after I blasted off. Is everyone else ok down there?â€

    “Aren’t you going to fly? We have you still in freefall.†He asked.

    I wasn’t hearing the rest of the team, he must of put us on singular channel, “I’m exhausted, and once you reach critical velocity you can’t go any faster. I’ll save my energy around a thousand feet then I’ll fly down safely. Now tell me what happened.†I was only partially telling the truth, I was still exhausted yes, I would be probably till around 3 thousand feet, but I was seriously contemplating not flying at all and winding up as nothing more than an unidentifiable wet smear across the pavement. I hadn’t thought of suicide in a long time, after Dad had died in the accident, I had spiraled into depression and had come within a hairs breath of taking my own life, it’s damned easy to do especially for us scientists, can kill people without leaving traces. I had come close, but my faith had brought me back from the brink, I had gotten help. I would have to do it again, I had too much to leave behind now to just throw it away; I had a revenge to plan, somehow we would find Genesis and rip them apart. I took a shallow long breath, taking in the thin atmosphere and focused on what Kahn was telling me.

     

    “…BZY managed a claw into its leg, but it didn’t topple it. Ranger put a few shots into the head of the one Geiger was planed in just to be on the safe side, but the thing was down for the count, only later did we find out it was still transmitting. Unfortunately BZY couldn’t get a trace, it was a broadband transmission open to anyone to receive, so we have lovely videos of us and the audio but nothing else. We had one hell of a time putting the remaining one down, it had picked up Geiger and was trying to put him into its chest compartment but we kept on it hard enough it couldn’t get the chance, plus it helped I damaged the compartment with my claws. Ranger put a shot into one of its eye screens apparently doing some great internal damage and BZY’s next cut did serious structural damage to one of its legs. Unfortunately with Geiger being unconscious it used him like a cricket bat and knocked BZY aside like a ball sending him crashing into the foam that remains on the ground here. Huntsman electrocuted it in the chest and Wire got that Frisbee of Doom of his into the opening in the leg overloading it, which is how were talking to you right now. A few more electrical hits between Wire, Huntsman and myself took the thing down.†He takes a deep breath before continuing, “BZY’s hurt but on the mend, same with Geiger, he got knocked down pretty far on your impact, being used as a bat didn’t help. Ranger radioed PRIMUS as soon as the field went down to get a track on the one you were chasing, they’re also on the way to pick up these two things, who knows what we might find out about them, Ranger’s like a kid in a toyshop, begging to be put on the dismantling team, I think they’ll acquiesce to his request.â€

    “My putting Geiger into the Minuteman’s chest knocked him out?†I asked, that frightened me; I hadn’t realized how badly I might of hurt the kid.

    “Just knocked out, he was actually waking up when the other one grabbed him to use as a polo mallet.â€

    I de-arched letting off on the drag and put myself into the box man skydivers position, improving my speed towards the ground, one of these days I’ll skydive with a parachute, I thought. I did a few freestyle tricks in the air, re-aiming myself at the ground. “How much longer before PRIMUS gets there to remove the obstructions?†“About 5 minutes.†Shadowkahn cleared his throat, “Tellios is fine by the way. Wire checked on him and found one seriously dead skelebot back near the vans. Did you know that Cataran caries a sword?â€

    “Sure didn’t. Well at least the day isn’t a total bomb. I’ll be on the ground by the time PRIMUS gets there. Frost out.â€

     

    I stayed in freefall most of the way down reverting back to assisted flight once I got past five hundred feet. Flying is one of my greatest joys, close enough to heaven to touch the face of God, freedom of movement, freedom of space. Usually I would be elated by the time I was ready to touch earth, but this time, flying held no solace for me. I landed, gently amidst the rest of the team, battered, bloody and solemn; their moods echoed mine. I ushered them all back to the vans, as the police were directing traffic around the PRIMUS flatbeds and crane picking up the remains of the two Minutemen. “Lets finish this folks.†I said and got a collective nod from everyone as they piled in. Even Tellios remained quiet during the rest of the trip; I had nothing more to say to him anyway. We made it to Hudson General without further incidents, leading Tellios and the kidney into the surgery ward. The boy who would receive the gift of Tellios’s genus went past us in the hallway less than 20 minutes later, he waved happily at us; some of us waved and smiled back, Wire defiantly did, he’s happy enough for all of us. Tellios went in to assist with the surgery and I sat and watched from the observation deck.

     

    Geiger’s voice was small, “isn’t there any way to rescue him? I mean you guys found me, can’t we go find him?†Huntsman replied, “we had leads on finding you, nobody knows where Genocide is but Genocide.†“There has to be something we can do,†says Ranger. “We can pray he dies quickly,†I said, the tears finally rolling down my cheeks, “pray he dies quickly.†No one spoke after that. We left shortly afterwards.

     

    On the way back to the mansion we get a call from PRIMUS, Clark specifically. “I’m sorry everyone,†he says, I can hear it in his voice; he feels this as deeply as we do. “Ranger you’ve been approved to work on the Minutemen, a schedule will be set for you to join a team at the main base, check your computer once you get back to the base.†There’s a little ‘woot’ from Ranger but it’s half-hearted. “Tellios has requested to remain in city for three days, you’re still assigned to watch over him, he’s specifically asked for you Frost to be with him.†Freaking great, “Sure Clark.†He clears his throat, “there will be, ah, counseling for anyone who wants it, if you ever want to talk about it.†“Sure Clark thanks.†I say. “Get home and get some rest, you’ll pick up with Tellios tonight after he gets out of surgery.†“Sure Clark.†I can’t muster up enough emotion to say a damn thing.

     

    Group dynamics states that either two things will happen once a team has a member go MIA, we’ll either become stronger or we’ll collapse like a house of cards.

     

     

    August 7th-8th, 2003

    Haven’t slept, every time I close my eyes, I wake up screaming from nightmares, made myself a Jolt cola and espresso mixer, 48 hours and going strong. I’m buried under my work right now, I’ve loaded in the dynamics from the Drugan case and have the computer cycling through it all. I took night duty in watching over Tellios, he keeps heading into a section of town that makes me question his sanity, possibly mine. Tonight I follow him as far as I can; I’m determined not to loose him, thank God Shadowkahn tails us both. The team isn’t much of one right now, we barely talk to each other as we pass in the halls, or sit down for a meal. Were going to need something to bring us back together, but I really can’t phantom what to do. I don’t think I’ll be able to stay awake past tonight’s snipe hunt; I’ll take a sleeping pill in the morning.

     

    Met the boy today, Tellios introduced us, the kidney is doing nicely, so far no tissue rejection, but then again, Tellios says there shouldn’t be any since it was grown from the kids own tissue. Pompous bastard. But I got something more out of it the just further indication that Tellios is my worst nightmare come to life. Little Max’s parents; mom and dad shook hands, hugged, cried and thanked us for everything, I tried explaining that all we had done was guard duty; but they knew better, the news reports had gone out, we were famous. Loosing one of our own on a mercy mission, my God, it’s been all over the news, but I’ve been buried so deep in my own misery that I haven’t seen it; Hudson City thinks were heroes. I accepted sincerest thanks and their sorrows at our loss, and mom gave me a hug. Tellios respectfully kept his distance and his trap shut as we walked back to the car. There is still that paranoid section of my brain that says he was behind Succors kidnapping, somehow, his track record proves he’s willing to work with whomever he need in order to get what he wants; there’s this part of my brain that says he’s got Succor under a jar somewhere on his home island. There’s also a section of my brain that says this kid and his new kidney might bear watching, that Tellios might have done something to the kidney. Of course this is the section of my brain that would get along swimmingly with Oliver Stone. I dropped Tellios off at his penthouse, I’d see him again much later this evening. I kept it together all the way down the elevator and to the car, but the moment I sat behind the wheel, I broke down, I couldn’t stop crying, I sat for a long time in the parking lot, just crying. I’m going to need therapy, were going to need to have group therapy.

     

    My watch with Tellios this evening was terribly informative, I followed him to the seedy parts of town again but this time we walked into what looked like an abandoned apartment, into its basement and into a strangely different world, Club Sanctuary. Rave club, bar, outpost and hive for scum and villainy, well only if Tellios is there. He walked in like he owned the place, perhaps he did, he greeted several patrons, others said hello to him, but what the hell was he doing down here? Then I looked, really looked; these weren’t mundane, these were mutants, but not the nice face kind like me, or Wire, the Joker kind, if you’ve ever read that series. Faces, bodies, minds, warped and mutated, wings for ears, ork fangs, troll faces, tentacles, things I can’t describe, all bumping and grinding to techno music and whatever alcohol flowed from the bar. And there, amongst them like a messiah was Tellios, how did he know them, how did they know him? Were these some failed experiments of his or people he had saved? I kept to the shadows and watched, that’s all I could do was watch and ponder. I spoke with a few of the patrons, those willing to talk to a ‘face’ as they called me, since I was mutant and normal looking. I’ll come back, keep my eyes on the place, and learn what I can. It’s almost as if he was trying to show me something, had Tellios lead me here on purpose, but to what purpose? I would find out for myself. We stayed for a few hours, until Shadowkahn came to relieve me, there is something different between us now, I can’t put my finger on it, could it be the guilt we feel over loosing Succor? I don’t know and I admit I’m a coward when it comes to talking to him, somehow it will work its way out.

     

    I’m writing up the last of this section now, my eyes red and blurry from the tears, I had another crying jag in the shower, I’m a little better but it’s going to be long time before I can feel good about myself again. Here is when I feel like a failure, as leader as a person, too many what ifs; I pray he can find it in his heart to forgive us. I’ve concocted up a nice little sleeping pill for myself, if I go without sleep much longer I’ll self-destruct. Tonight was our last night with Tellios anyway; he’s off to his home island tomorrow morning. I need to get back to work, and to be able to think clearly, no more screw-ups, can’t do that in a level 4, unless I want to die. This lovely little concoction will keep me dreamless and comatose, that’s what I need right now, the sleep of the dead.

  18. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    Sorry I haven't been updating this

     

    July 27, 2003

    I’ve never seen a Shadow Tournament before; hell, I’d hardly call watching Bloodsport or The Quest even remotely any form of preparation for watching a real martial arts tournament (grossly poor movies, honestly.) The real thing, even just a preliminary match, is substantially scarier and infinitely more important, especially when that tournament leads up to a battle for the survival of the human race.

     

    We had spent the evening of the 24th and most of the 25th in the tender mercies of Father O’Malley submerged in holy water until we pruned and then undergoing the Catholic rite of exorcism whether we thought we needed it or not. Succor was very happy to be back to “normal,†especially since Jet kept egging him on by calling him “little brother,†it doesn’t do much for ones ego knowing your tainted by demon cooties because you healed her and then passed on these cooties to anyone you healed thereafter. Needless to say, everyone but Jet (it would of sent her back to Hell) got the full treatment; that was one long night.

     

    We spent the rest of the 25th and the 26th just trying to get back to normal. Well as normal as abnormal people can be. Cayne reminded us that on the 27th he would be fighting in the first round of The Tournament and if we wanted to attend to let him know. No way I was going to miss that, especially since it would give us the chance to watch the other known contenders fight in the arena (helps for future files just in case!)

     

    So today everyone but Huntsman, God only knows where that boy went to, (probably out scaring up more strangeness in the morgues, why does he hang out in morgues anyway?) I need to check into that… Anyway, the rest of us followed Shadowkahn to the arena. I don’t remember where we went or how we even got there, all I remember is we were outside of the mansion, and then suddenly were in the stands at the arena, chalk it up to ninja magic.

     

    We weren’t the only ones in the stands, though there were only maybe a handful of others watching; I noted Dr. Wu sitting in the nice box seats. The arena floor was an odd mix of land, a small lake (I do mean lake) surrounded by a sort of Zen rock garden leading into flat but pattern raked pebble ground, leading into low bamboo trees, it looked like a miniature of “traditional†Japanese and Chinese lands all melded into one. Each of the contenders were announced by an official in traditional Japanese kimono and what looked to be a kabuki mask of some sort; in doing so we were able to get a good first hand look at some of the individuals we had previously identified in the PRIMUS databases; Hurricane Dancer, Red Dragon, Undying Dragon, Kendo (Geiger flinched at his name) John Wah the Monkey King, Shugoshin, our own Shadowkahn and AKA (disgustingly powerful ninja, yes its his other name). They were paired off by picking out of a box a throwing dagger with matching colored ribbons tied to their hilts; Shadowkahn and Shugoshin paired off, Hurricane Dancer and AKA, Red Dragon and Undying Dragon, Kendo and Monkey King.

     

    Cayne came back up into the seats to wait for his turn against Shugoshin, Hurricane Dancer and AKA would be going first. I leaned over and asked if the man who called himself John Wah was really the Monkey King and Kahn told me “yes, he really is the Monkey King.†“The real Monkey King? From the Chinese fable from over a thousand, thousand years ago? The Monkey King born of a rock, trained by a Taoist to gain magical powers, assaulted heaven and the Jade Emperor, finally punished by Buddha and then rescued and redeemed through his service to the monk Xuan Zang and gained enlightenment?†I watched the edges of his eyes crinkle up in a smile, even though I couldn’t see it under the mask, “Yes, he really is the Monkey King of the Chinese fables. Yes he really was under a rock for thousands of years for annoying Buddha and the Jade Emperor.†“You think I could get his autograph?†I asked in wide-eyed wonder, and Kahn laughed aloud, “I guess we can ask him.†My heart soared with childhood delight, what I life I have; the job occasionally sucks, but I love my life, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

     

    We turned back to the first round, which was just beginning; I wish I had brought a stop motion camera with me, because the strikes between Hurricane and AKA were hummingbird wings, blurs of motion, color and sound, couldn’t see a damned strike. Of course, Kahn assured me that they hadn’t struck each other yet, each was attempting to strike, or parry and neither had scored first blood yet. We watched in disbelief, murmurs of, I hope I never have to be on the receiving end of that and other similar statements whispered between us non-martial arts types. After about 2 minutes of blurring swords Hurricane seemed to step back in a huff, obviously disappointed at not being able to touch AKA; that breather only lasted a second as she closed again with him and the fight joined anew, but Hurricane seemed to come into it with renewed spirit and finally a cry went up from the arena floor. AKA bowed deeply to Hurricane, turned and bowed deeply to Dr. Wu and walked off. God only knows where Hurricane hit AKA, we sure the hell didn’t see it.

     

    Shadowkahn excused himself and went down to the arena floor; he and Shugoshin met each other and bowed. It was fast, not as fast as Hurricane and AKA but it was fast nonetheless, and much prettier. The attacks were smooth, simple Kahn tried for a leg takedown but Shughoshin dodged out of the way, Shugoshin took his Chinese sword and did several katas pointing the blade at Cayne and then went in for the attack, which Shadowkahn dodged easily. There were holds and strikes, kicks and misses, shuriken and swords; they dashed across the field in a deadly ballet. Really, that is how it looked, so magnificently choreographed it reminded me of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but there were no wires, just their Chi allowing them to move across the raked stones without dislocating a one, now I have seen what they try and express in all of those movies, the Martial Arts are truly an Art form, magnificent in its simplicity, intensity and complexity of its movement, I am truly in awe of its power. The two of them moved across and onto the water, and I do mean onto, their feet barely making ripples across the surface edge of the lake. The battle came to an end when Shugoshin’s ran his blade straight thru Shadowkahn all the way to the hilt, but his blade is a spirit sword, and it did no damage to Kahn; thank God he wasn’t hurt, I had screamed aloud when he had done it, fearing for Cayne’s life. Shadowkahn apparently decided to stop fooling around, his fire claws tore into Shugoshin and for a brief moment Shugoshin seemed to be surprised before dropping into the water unconscious. Before he could sink below the surface, Shadowkahn lifted him out of the water and strode back to shore. I cheered loudly for him, I didn’t really care if it was appropriate or not. A second official took Shugoshin from Shadowkahn for medical care and Kahn stepped away and towards the box where Dr. Wu greeted him and congratulated Shadowkahn on his win, “We will see you again in 2 years,†we heard Dr. Wu say and Shadowkahn bowed deeply.

     

    Shadowkahn rejoined us and we watched the rest of the matches, which were surprisingly fast in their completion. Red Dragon and Undying Dragon squared off and bowed to each other, next thing we know, Undying is on the ground some ten feet away from where they were both standing and Red Dragon is folding up his war fan and being declared winner. We blinked, I swear we all blinked, how do people move this fast? Kendo and Monkey King met each other on the field, bowed and it began, Kendo moving damn fast with the kendo sword of his with Geiger flinching at every thrust made at Monkey King, but Monkey had a plan, he simply stayed out of Kendo’s range and nickel and dimed Kendo unto unconsciousness.

     

    We all headed down to the floor where Red Dragon and White Ninja were deep in conversation, Shadowkahn reached them way ahead of us and joined them, then in the midst of taking, turned and looked at us and nodded in our direction. I felt like we were the family at the baseball game; coming down the stairs to meet the kids’ coaches and I quietly reminded everyone present to behave. Amazing how we can talk with known villains and remain civil and not get ourselves killed in the process; each of us bowed to Red Dragon and White Ninja giving them their due respect, and we were pleasantly notified how we were all invited to Dr. Wu’s home outside of Millennium City for dinner, tonight. Well wasn’t that special; didn’t I say earlier I love my life?

     

    As Red Dragon and White Ninja nodded it was our turn to leave, we walked away towards the exit; Shadowkahn explained that it would be a formal dinner and that we would need a gift, Dr. Wu liked anything antique, nothing modern. We looked at him stunned, “well I guess we’ll leave that to you all I can think of is technologically based, even if they are home grown.†“Ah, aren’t we the good guys, why are we going to go to dinner with a bunch of villains.†Geiger asked, and I for one couldn’t think of a good enough answer, finally I blurted out, “well look at it as a information gathering experience, we can talk to them in a social setting and get information we may not have in the PRIMUS database.†Honestly, other than the fact that they had asked Shadowkahn and in turn invited us, I guess it would have been rude, but I was flaked out about doing this. “That means we need to get tuxes?†Geiger asked. “Yep,†I replied. “Cool!†came the retort from Wire, “my Dad fought crime in his tux, I get to wear the purple paisley cummerbund!†I swear my eyes must have rolled into the top of my head. “Oh god, I’ve got to find something to wear!†Fortunately in the midst of our freaking out over clothing selections, Shadowkahn retained the right frame of mind to gently steer me over towards the field to ask Monkey King for his autograph. I must admit I gushed like a schoolgirl with a crush when he gently took my hand and kissed it, saying how nice it was that us westerners had such fine taste in literature. His signature is now neatly tucked into my Chinese/English hardcover of Journey to the West; I wish I had had a camera.

     

    We had less than 5 hours to find something nice to wear, fortunately tuxes are easily rented in a flash and something gorgeous can usually be found off the rack if your willing to pay thru the nose for it, (fortunately I’ve got the money). So one trip to the designer department store later, we were all decked out in fashion suitable for dining with thousand-year-old sorcerers and even older demonic martial artists. You know that shopping spree did make me realize that I’m really not spending my money on much, I mean, the comics and toys takes up a chunk but I really don’t go out and do anything with it; I don’t have the friends like I did in college, I’m very isolated here with PRIMUS, I’ve got nobody to talk to and “hang out with,†I need to get out more-if only I wasn’t on everyone’s kidnap list I could try to have a social life.

     

    We arrived in style, at Dr. Wu’s estate, a massive antique affair with equally massive walls and guards. We were shown into a sitting room where we were greeted by several other members of the villains club, the Strike brothers Quick and Death, Foxbat (oh lord), a unknown 6’ 2†gentleman of questionable occidental heritage, Red Dragon, who turns out up close and without the costume is a 5’ 7†gentleman in Chinese robes sporting long nails and dead white pupils, except he isn’t albino; Dr. Wu’s sons, Bronze Spear and Silver Hand, Red Dragon’s consort who we didn’t get a name to but looked like the most beautiful exotic Geisha I had ever seen, a European looking woman with silver white hair and shiny silver eyes and silvered fingernails (we never do get introduced to or get a name) and White Ninja dressed entirely in a white dress Gi. Oh and us, Jet, Shadowkahn, Ranger, Wire Walker, Geiger and Firefrost, good lord we were outnumbered, please don’t let any of the kids start a fight.

     

    Over the course of four hours and eighteen courses the conversations were truly unique and involved. Dinner started out pleasantly with the boys striking up a conversation with the Strike Brothers, I gently asked where Silent Strike might be at, and was told by Quick he couldn’t attend as he was out on business. The talk wound its way into Foxbat insisting that we come to his secret lab and look at the newest butler robot, this would have been tame, however he mentioned that his lab seemed to of been built over an old Mechanon lair and he had found the unactivated body of said hater-of-all-things-living. I almost spit out my soup when Geiger and Wire assured Foxbat that we would be over within the next few days.

     

    Jet struck up a conversation with our unknown tall gentleman which is how we found out that his name is Genvon and Red Dragon’s son, his moms a Korean ½ giant and whatever his father is. Foxbat kept Wire entertained with more details with his current “list†for world domination. Red Dragon and Shadowkahn spoke about how “sloppy†(to use Dragons words) Kahn was during the preliminaries. Which did prompt another question from us as to why it was only martial artist who fought against the Death Dragon and how the Watchers of the Dragon, kept up the tournaments to insure only the best martial artist fought the Death Dragon. Turns out that Doctor Destroyer was a Watcher for over 30 years, the members of the Watchers are chosen and placed under a geas to watch the Dragon and the spell keeping it asleep, there are 21 Watchers in total.

     

    I had to ask Dr. Wu who in their right mind would of chosen Doctor Destroyer to be a Watcher and he gently explained that The Keepers of the Tablets are the ones who chose and that he, himself was a Watcher. Someone asked who the Keepers were, and Dr. Wu explained the Keepers were the ones responsible for keeping the 10 Commandments safe for humanity. I was pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating so I asked, “as in God’s 10 Commandments which Moses brought down?†“Of course,†he answered simply. How’s that for a kick in the face, what do you know, the 10 Commandments are still out there, so much for Indiana Jones. I wisely refrained from asking any further stupid questions but inside I was begging to dive into that talk headfirst. I don’t know, sometimes finding out too much ruins the mystery of life for you, its like finding out how the magician does his magic tricks, it ruins you for the rest of your life.

     

    “So Dr. Wu, what’s your take on Doctor Destroyer starting the Immortals War?†someone asked, and I flinched, lets see, Red Dragon lost his son, Dr. Wu’s home was blown up, Grey Ninja was now White Ninja and were sitting around the table with them, I swear my blood pressure spiked. “Well all immortals are fairly crazy,†Dr. Wu started, “though I myself have staved off the insanity that usually accompanies over 600 years of life. I believe to a certain extent, we needed the culling.â€

     

    Somehow we got into a discussion about what DEMON was up to and I was none to happy to hear about what their current plans were. Raising the Kings of Edom, the ancient gods before angels and demons danced in our plane of existence, the true Gods of Chaos. According to the different ways the world was created, the 7 days when no man lived the Kings were evicted from our word by a great sacrifice of the “life forceâ€, locking them into an alternate dimension. DEMON was apparently trying to figure out a way of breaking down the barriers and letting them back in. The conversation continued but I became lost in my thoughts, wondering if they should succeed, how ironic would it be for them if they were only left alive to be devoured at the last moment like most Cthulhu mythos cultists.

     

    Red Dragon, his consort and Genvon had to leave around course 13 and offered their apologies to Dr. Wu. One of Red Dragon’s men from VOICE named SZYBKO (Russian for teleport) was escorted into the dining room by one of Dr. Wu’s guards. SZYBKO moved under great difficulty, as his powered armor simply wasn’t working under Dr. Wu’s roof. His area of effect teleportation seemed to be inoperable as well, at least until they reached the edge of the property and then he was able to teleport all 4 of them away.

     

    Jet split her otherworldly wiles between trying to get Foxbat to fess over his soul for ultimate power and subtly flirting with White Ninja. I felt like a gawd awful wallflower, Jet is overpoweringly beautiful, seductive as demon human guises go, the Silver lady was drop dead gorgeous, even Red Dragons silent consort was strikingly beautiful, I was incredibly self conscious, not only physically but mentally as well. No matter the conversation I seemed to be out of it, listening only peripherally, answering minimally, I felt totally outclassed and overwhelmed. I was immensely thankful when the evening finally came to a close and we were saying our goodbyes to Dr. Wu and White Ninja. I seemed to wake up at that moment and looked at Ninja, “can you tell me what your real name is?†I asked. He smiled, “Jon Drew, madam.†He bowed and I bowed back to him in thanks; we all bowed to Dr. Wu and we took our leave with a final promise to Foxbat to visit his Mechanon in two days.

     

    I complained that getting involved with Foxbat was an incredibly bad idea, to which Geiger replied in my own words of this morning, “think of it as an information gathering experience,†and rather smugly too. I have no idea how to deal with these kids, I really don’t. “Ok then, good point, here’s your homework for tomorrow. I want the two of you†I said pointing at Wire and Geiger, “to research as much as you can thru the PRIMUS databases, ask Artemis for her help if necessary on how to destroy Mechanon. If Foxbat does have a Mechanon base below his lab and he does have an inactive Mechanon body I want to know how to destroy that thing should something stupid happen.†No grumbles, what a surprise, just “cool!†and they started chatting between themselves.

     

    My head was spinning from the wine, the food and the people we had just been with; we had never learned the name of the Silver lady, or Red Dragons consort. We had had dinner with the leader of VIPER and individuals that were out to do us some serious harm and had survived intact. I was incredibly happy to reach home unaccosted and dropped into bed shortly after a nice long shower and some aspirin.

     

    Unfortunately sleep didn’t last long enough.

     

     

    July 28, 2003

    Early in the 6am o-dark thirty, this morning I get a call for Huntsman down at another city morgue (doesn’t this guy ever sleep?) we’ve got a strange corpse down here, it exudes a magic aura he says, its weak but its strange, could I come on down. Well if I wasn’t going to get any sleep this am neither was Shadowkahn, unfortunately my page down to him found him still awake and practicing katas in the gym. I announced that Huntsman had been out haunting the morgues again and had found someone with odd oogy magic stuff all over him and if he could come with me for further magic support. Kahn assured me that it would only take a moment to clean up and then we could drive down there. I managed to find Matt still awake and puttering around in the garage, told him what was up and he readily agreed to join us as well.

     

    I took a fast shower and dressed, hair dries fast when you plug flame powers on though its hell on my conditioner, and I met Cayne and Matt at the car. We drove in silence to the city morgue where Huntsman, the corpse and the coroners report were waiting for us. Shadowkahn immediately sensed that the aura was stronger near the mans head than anywhere else on the body, and as he and Huntsman talked about the condition of the body the magic found around it, I reviewed the autopsy report. Mr. Miles Brook formerly a clerk at the Hudson City museum acquisitions department, formerly of 9 Founders Way, Hudson City, was found floating in the river by a Ms. Nicki Dugan (reporter Hudson City News). Ms. Dugan received and anonymous tip regarding Mr. Brook and where his body was dumped just 30 minutes prior to finding him doing his best impersonation of a barge. According to the accompanying police report, Mr. Brook had been reported missing 2 weeks ago by his supervisor at the museum; the last time they had seen him was when he punched out from work and rode his bike away; obviously he never made it home.

     

    The report went over every grizzly detail: Subject: human male, Age: approximately 45 years of age, Visualization of the body: the subject has dark hair, short length approximately one to 3 inches. There are numerous abrasions and cuts on the body. Al seemed to have been purposely done in a manner to elicit extreme pain. There are also several burn marks on the lower abdomen and groin area. Some of the cuts and burns show signs of healing, indicating the injuries were caused over the course of several days, perhaps weeks. There are small burn marks also on the testicles and the nipples indicating perhaps electric shock being used. There is a patch of 5x5 in skin flayed open on the upper back with indications of mineral salts being applied. There is a remarkable lack of bleeding from all wounds. The right and left knees show evidence of being dislocated and relocated. The ligaments, cartilage and other connective tissue show severe trauma and stress. Indicators: this person seems to have been tortured and/or interrogated for an extended length of time prior to death. Cause of death: cerebral hemorrhage. Notes: Although death was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage, the injuries of the body would of without at doubt, caused death if left untreated. Whoever did this was either highly motivated or extremely sadistic. This is only the second body I’ve ever seen in such a drastic state of damage caused purposely. The body was found still bound in the manacles that probably kept him prisoner during his torture. Although both Huntsman and Shadowkahn couldn’t sense anything special about the manacles, the mere fact that they were iron probably had something to do with keeping Mr. Brook from doing something special. Since it was early enough and we know mystical people keep odd hours, Matt called over to Raven’s Claw Book Store looking for Mr. Lee, fortunately the man was in so Matt volunteered to drive over and do some research on how magic might of kept this man alive or the type of torture that was done to him (East Indian it was discovered). Buzzy called in and I asked him to check on PRIMUS’s current list of folks whose favorite way of getting information was via torture. Believe it or not, Torquamada was still listed on the living in sin list, along with The Inquisitor (last known location Spain), Tormentor (last seen in Seattle), Inflictor (last seen in Brazil), Death Dealer (last seen in Japan) and the Gonzales Crime Syndicate. With those guys listed, I gave Buzzy the information on Mr. Brook and told him to hunt down everything he could find on the guy.

     

    Why would a property clerk of the 3rd sub level in the library archives be found tortured to death? That was the CSI question of the day, and we were going to find out. Something Shadowkahn had said about the man’s aura being strong around his head had given me pause for thought. I pulled out my cell phone and Donnie Darkos business card and called him. Donnie could photograph anything with that talent of his, even if he swore it was his camera that did the trick, unfortunately I got the answering machine, so I left a message. “Hey Donnie, its Firefrost, I’ve got a quick assignment for you if your interested. Give me a call back, you’ve got the number.†Huntsman looked at me quizzically, “if he can photograph the aura on Black Paladins sword and see it for the thing it is, he should be able to photograph this guys body and let us see what’s left. Who knows we might get lucky.â€

     

    Buzzy called in telling us that Mr. Brook was quite the student of literature, bank account showed his last purchase was from Christies Auction house, original signed volume of William Shakespeare works penned in1700’s, Buzzy rattled off several other purchases listed in his insurance polices and check boo, several of which peaked Shadowkahn’s eyebrows. According to the police report, no will has been found so all of his possessions might go up for auction, which prompted Shadowkahn to put in a call to the family about purchasing anything that went up from the estate. The “shit,†that came from him, during the phone call pulled my attention away from Huntsman and the corpse, “what,†I asked as he hung up the cell phone, “one of the family members has gone renegade.†To our looks of concern he continued, “Killing Breeze got into a job she couldn’t’ handle and got possessed. She was on assignment to stop a follower of the Silent Way, their assassins with ghost powers and strong mental abilities; any psi abilities are an affront to God and are to be killed. Now she’s possessed.†“So what does that mean for you?†I asked. “I don’t know, I may be called away to take care of this, but more so I believe they were just giving me a warning to be on the lookout,†was his reply.

     

    Buzzy called back in with info on Tormentor, he has a file that was recently updated but it has a Level 2 CRUP file code on it, “what’s CRUP?†he asked. “It’s the Commission for Research into Unknown Phenomenon, Artemis is pulling the information from Homeland Security files.†“Well the file is flagged.†“Pull it anyway, Artemis will cover our tracks.†It took a moment and then he read it over the coms, “Tormentor’s got a full file, history, etc, I’ll spare you the details, but the last bit of highlight should interest you. He’s known to be an excellent tormentor, torturer for hire. Last known hire was Giani in NY, last seen in St. Louis 2 days ago at the airport heading onto a plane loading for Millennium City.†“Well he wasn’t around when Mr. Brook was kidnapped but he might have been around for the torture. Keep him in mind.â€

     

    “Well the guys apartment isn’t too far away, and after that is the Museum, anyone fancy a walk?†I asked, Huntsman and Shadowkahn agreed it was time to go visit the Mr. Brook’s place. Matt would meet us there, having found nothing to help at Raven’s Claw. Brook’s apartment looked simple from the outside, but what greeted us inside was anything but simple or normal. Matt picked both locks, fairly complex ones by his own admission, and we entered into the world of a bookworm. The room was awash in the early morning glow, dozens and dozens of bookshelves lined every wall in the apartment, as we passed the bookshelves, several odd titles caught my eye and I pointed them out to Shadowkahn and Huntsman, Descending Hierarchy a book on the hierarchy of Hell, Obscuria Infusea which was Latin for Obscure Potions, a copy of the Necronomicon which made both of them reel back in disgust, the odor of unclean things was apparent even to my untrained nose.

     

    We wandered around the apartment gazing at the various leather-bound antiquities until Shadowkahn caught whiff of something near the middle of the floor. Shadowkahn rested his hand over the spot on the floor, “this is it, whatever it is,†he said. If Mr. Brook had hidden his magic treasure he had done it expertly, there were no deviations in the wood, no pry marks, nothing to indicate that something would lie below the floor. After studying the floors for a moment before Matt expertly pried up the floorboards revealing a beautiful chest surrounded in soft purple velvet, “whatever’s in the box is giving off a magical glow,†Shadowkahn said. “You realize that this box was missed by the police, don’t you?†Huntsman asked; pointing to the clasp had been forced open on the front of the chest. “Well were all wearing gloves so, theirs no chance of cross contamination, we’ll take it and run analysis back home.†I picked up the small chest and I opened the lid. The center was beautiful, thick soft sheep’s wool lined every inch of the interior and it was easy to see that there were two indents where objects, roughly the size of baseballs, once nested. “Is it me or does the fleece look gold tinted?†I asked to the guys, Matt, Huntsman and Shadowkahn all agreed it did look gold tinted. I think the idea hit us all at the same time, because we looked at each other in disbelief. “You don’t think,†Matt started, “The Golden Fleece? As in Jason and the Argonauts?†I shrugged, “Why not, we work with a demon, meet devils, and immortals, we just found out the Monkey King is real, why not the Golden Fleece and the rest of he Greek mythos.†I shut the lid and placed the entire chest into the evidence bag while the guys started looking around the rest of he apartment. The Golden Fleece, I wonder if we could clone it, what could I get? If I start with the “introns†in the junk DNA and cycle out the…I had started thinking only to be scared out of my wits by my cell phone going off in the middle of my reverie, “What the?!†I fished the phone out of my jacket and checked the number, “Oh, its Donnie. Hi Donnie, got my message huh? Yea, yes please. Yea, bring the digital; I’ll want the shots immediately for viewing.†The guys looked at me quizzically as I chatted with Darko on the phone, chest under one arm, head cocked holding the cell phone against my shoulder. “Yea, no I’ll be paying you, I’ll even include a little bonus for the short notice. I’ll want the negatives too. Hm, yea that’s fine, we’ll meet you at the city morgue in 20 minutes, is that good? Ok, see you there.†I finished the call and stuffed the phone away, “Donnie will meet us at the morgue, he just happen to be checking his messages on his way back into town.†Patting the box I was holding, “we’ll be doing some photographic analysis on this with Donnie’s “camera†so we’ll take it along. Who knows their might be other clues inside as well once I get it to the lab.†Matt replaced the boards, as seamlessly as they had been before our discovery and we quietly let ourselves back out of Mr. Brook’s apartment. On the way out I noted that a book or two seemed to be sitting differently than they had when we had come in, if Shadowkahn or Huntsman had taken something, I believed it would be for the greater good.

     

    On the way back to the morgue, Geiger and Wire called in from base, apparently the only ways of destroying Mechanon seems to be physical, the known cases of destruction were plasma burst, a plasma explosion, physical pounding, 2 self destructs one of which had taken out half an airport the other had been contained in a 3 meter space, a laser had taken him out once and another had been a bio-beam of some sort. Mechanon was known for adapting the next body to resistant to what killed him prior, but plasma and pummeling seemed to be the main constants. “Good work boys, now start looking for ways that we can destroy him if necessary.†I disconnected leaving them merrily chatting away in the background; if push came to shove, either Geiger and myself, might be able to take out Mechanon; Geiger now had a plasma blast and if I were boosted enough my fire might be able to do it, Geiger was our ace in the hole. But I thought it would be good for the boys to try and puzzle it out.

     

    We made it back to the morgue with a few minutes to spare. Donnie was standing outside the doors, looking particularly disturbed, “I don’t like morgues,†he said. “Understandable, nobody really likes this stuff Donnie, that’s why I said I’d give you a bonus.†I pulled out the mint salve uncorked it and handed it to him, “rub some under your nose, and breathe through your mouth, that helps keep the smell down.†Shadowkahn shook his head when Donnie offered it too him, “messes with my senses,†he said, Huntsman simply said no. I knew Kahn would say no, he perceives things thru scent, no way would he dampen it with the mint no matter how horrible the stench in there; as for Huntsman, well I guess he’s just used to it. Matt handed the salve back to me and I smeared some under my own nose. “Oh, if you think you smell funky afterwards, take a shower with lots of fresh squeezed lemons.†They all looked at me strangely, “just buy a bunch of lemons, cut them open and squeeze them all over you in the shower, especially through the hair, it kills the “dead†smell.†Donnie looked a paler shade of green as I pushed the doors open and we walked back to cells to see the ex-Mr. Brook.

     

    I asked the corner pull him out and table him and while he did that, we pulled Donnie aside and had him start photographing the chest. “Ooh, wow, look at this!†All pretense of fear faded away as he started photographing the box, outside and inside. Donnie turned the camera around and did a quick slide show of the shots he had just taken; I peered over his shoulder intently. When closed the chest glowed completely with a golden white glow, “what does that mean?†I asked Donnie, “Well gold or white usually means good, so this entire thing radiates good,†Donnie replied; I glanced up at Shadowkahn and Huntsman they both nodded in agreement. The rest of the photos were incredible, we left the fleece in the box for one shot, it too glowed that golden white and in one photos a sort of ghost image of a curled horn ram seemed to be over the fleece. “Holy shit, it really was the Golden Fleece.†Matt mumbled; we all nodded in silent awe. The next set of photos he focused down on the two indentations, those too showed ghost images of two golden apples, one of the apples was solid, but the other apple was eaten to the core, “the Golden Apples of Hesperides,†I whispered in awe, I looked over towards Mr. Miles Brook’s body finally arranged for us on the slab, “well, you weren’t your average every day man now were you Mr. Brook?†I mused aloud. I clicked the mike open, “Buzzy, still there?†“Yes.†“Good you and Ranger here are going to get on the fast track to Mr. Brook’s home life, who he was before he got to Hudson City.†Nodding at Matt, I continued, “Do you have previous addresses and were the man came from?†“Yes, of course we do. Scranton NJ, born and raised.†“Ok, you two go do some digging, I want a history on him. Ranger’s on his way, take the hopper to NY and cut across, it will be faster.†Matt nodded at us, gave a half salute and headed out the door, “Keep us apprised.†I then looked over at Shadowkahn, “Geiger, Wire, still on?†“Yea were here.†Came Geiger’s reply, “You two meet up with Shadowkahn over at the Museum, it’s about time that we get a spotlight on his current life, see if there is anything, anything at all that pings.†I nodded at Shadowkahn, “you know what I mean?†I asked. “Yes, that’s easy enough, meet you there boys.†With that Shadowkahn strode out the doors.

     

    I turned and looked at Huntsman and Donnie, “You two are sticking here with me and Mr. Brook. Donnie its time for you to start using that camera of yours and let me know what’s going on with him spiritually.†Darko swallowed hard but nodded and moved up and started photographing the deceased, as he clicked away, various angles, having Huntsman lift the arms, close-ups of the wounds he got greener and greener. I hope he doesn’t toss it, I thought as I went back to the Golden Fleece, running my fingers over the soft fleece, soft as regular lambs wool, the Golden Fleece, the Gold Apples, what else is out there for us to rediscover I wonder, I turned to look at Huntsman and Donnie and was surprised to see Donnie backed up to the wall, eyes open horrified, Huntsman standing over him looking at the camera. I slammed the lid shut and rushed over to Donnie’s side, “what? What’s wrong? Donnie?†“He’s still there.†Huntsman said quietly, “He’s still there, whatever they tortured him with has locked his soul in the body.†I looked at the screen on the camera, a heavy glow around the top of Brook’s head showed prominently, Donnie quietly flipped to the next clip and we saw prominent glows around the wrists and ankles and neck. “Huntsman? Any ideas?†I asked, “No not really.†I thought about it, when you got ghosts who you gonna call? “I think I know who to call.†I flipped up my phone and dialed a number I had never called before; the answer came in two rings, “Allan Quartermain.†“Mr. Quartermain, I have a question for you.†“Ah, Ms. Firefrost, what a pleasure to hear from you again, another ghost problem is it?†“Actually yes, not that type of previous problem anyway. We have a person who was tortured to death but his soul is still trapped in the body, can you suggest someone to help us raise the dead?†I swear Donnie’s eyes bulged out of their sockets, Huntsman merely gave me the Spock eyebrow, and I smiled at the both. “I believe I have someone that can help you,†he said. “Crystal?†I answered. “Yes, I’ll send her along to you shortly.†He laughed and answered. “Thank you Quartermain.†“My pleasure.†I looked to Donnie and Huntsman, “and now we wait.†I rolled Mr. Brook into the large freezer, no need for him to sit out any longer than necessary, especially since we have to wait.

     

    “I have something on his life in NJ, Firefrost,†called Matt, “we didn’t have to go anywhere.†“Ok, open mike guys, give us the info.†“Ok Mr. Miles Brook, and exemplary student, top 5 in everything from high school to college. Graduated college with degree in Paleontology and Archeology speaks 10 different languages fluently. Now get this, he was diagnosed with Leukemia 14 years ago, he has one year of chemo and it goes into emission for the next 10 years. His passport lists him going to such exotic locations as Egypt and Iraq but nothing out of country in the last 5 years. We already know about the immaculate household. He made 4 recent trips to New Mexico Santa Fe. He had buying powers for the museum and has apparently purchased several sand paintings in Santa Fe. He had recently returned from a trip only last week.†Matt finished. “Good work, Kahn, anything at the museum yet?†“Yes, just a minute,†radioed Shadowkahn, “It’s a good thing Jet isn’t here, I don’t think she would like what were seeing. These sand paintings aren’t very old but they are powerful. There are 6 different paintings he purchased from the Navaho Ghickli tribe, 5 of them are protective magics in an area of effect; trust me, it felt interesting just stepping into the area. The 5th painting is a protection against demons, it also sends out a psychic warning of some sort, probably to him probably indicating trespass.†Geiger filled in at that point, “oh we also found a private note book that you’ll be interested in Firefrost, its written in a lot of different languages, each word practically another language, it looks like it gets more complex the further along it goes.†“Your right, it does sound like something I’ll enjoy, see if you can find anything else and then come on back. Crystal will be doing a séance for us when she gets here.†“Séance?†Matt asked. “Yes, Mr. Brook is still attached to his body, were going to find out why and hopefully who did it to him.†I answered.

     

    Crystal Clare joined us after 20 minutes of waiting, Kahn and the boys had made it back by then and I had started looking over the journal, journals I should say, 37 diaries in 45 different languages, the first diaries were written in only one or two different languages as they go on the combinations of words become more complex. “You were truly unique Mr. Brook, I’m sorry not to of known you,†I whispered aloud to the corpse as I pulled him out for Crystal to get a good look at him, “but you’ve left me quite the puzzle, I’m going to spend time deciphering your diaries, perhaps I’ll get to know you that way.â€

     

    Crystal always dresses differently each time we see her, this time it was neon green Mohawk with a British combat kilt, combat boots and Day-Glo makeup. “Hy ya, Crystal. Meet our guest, Mr. Miles Brook, I hope you can help us with him.†“Hey Frost, this is getting to be a habit, maybe I should start charging you.†She jokes, walking over towards the corpse, “damn, he’s pissed.†She looks at our quizzical expressions, “The iron might have been cleaned out of the wounds but his souls stuck in there because of the manacles that were on him at time of death. Somebody doesn’t want him to come back.†“Bill us Crystal, PRIMUS will pay. What do you need us to do?†I say. “Ok, give me enough room, I’ll need to draw a circle to restrain the spirit while we talk to him; one so it doesn’t escape before telling us what we need and two to keep it from attacking us while we talk to him since I’d be pissed off after being tortured to death and my soul locked away in my body.†We cleared away everything within a radius as Crystal began drawing out the circle with its symbols and intricacies that I could never understand. I looked over at a wide-eyed Donnie Darko, “pst. Donnie, take photos.†I quietly reminded him. “Crystal, can you make it so we can see and talk to him?†“Shut up! I have to concentrate! Yes I can do that, I was doing it already, sheesh what do you take me for?!†I closed my mouth with a click of teeth and motioned for the rest of the gang to keep quiet as well, oops my bad, file that away for future reference.

     

    Crystal eventually stepped away from the completed circle and hit the wall switch flipping off the overhead lights, “You’ll see him better this way,†she says. Crystal then begins murmuring something under her breath, her hands spreading wide in front of her towards Mr. Brook; I hear Donnie’s camera slowly whirring away. Then I hear him, Donnie slams against the far wall, eyes wide in fear darting between the corpse and his camera. “Donnie?†I head over to him and look at what freaks him so badly. I see in the camera the vision of a man in dark homespun robes, a long belt slashed around his waist and a set of huge golden measuring scales are in glowing illuminated relief behind him. Scales? What does that mean? Egyptian means the scales of the soul in balancing the heart to go to heaven but why here? I look up but see nothing there, so I ask the air, “Mr. Brook?†The answer seems to come from a long way away and yet from all around us as a shadowy form slowly appears in the air above his body. “That is what I was called in this life.†Freaky, I think, “In this life? Mr. Brook I’m Firefrost of PRIMUS, were here to help you but can you help us? Who killed you and why?†“Yes in this life,†replied that sepulchered voice, “I have been many people, but the soul remains the same.†“And you are?†I asked. “My soul is old, I am Archimedes.†“Archimedes?!†Huntsman, Shadowkahn and myself say aloud, in disbelief, the boys just look at us strange. “The Archimedes? You’re reincarnating every lifetime? Why? How?†I ask, and then slap my forehead, duh! I’m a dunce, “You watch over the Golden Applies!†I still couldn’t believe it. “Who’s that,†asked Wire. I looked at him incredulously, but then again he did come from another dimension, still I wondered at his education here. “Archimedes is generally regarded as the greatest mathematician and scientist of antiquity and one of the three greatest mathematicians of all time outside Newton and Gauss. He’s considered the father of science and mathematics.†Came my quick reply, I went back to listening to Mr. Brook, intently. “Yes, that is my duty. But I have other things to do; sometimes it takes time for me to figure out who I am. As for who killed me and why it was Tormentor and you have already guessed the why, the location of the apples.†“The Tree of Knowledge, or the apples you owned?†I ask. “Both.†“Well they got your apple, the one under the floorboards is gone and probably eaten.†“Good, if it is eaten then they shall die and I will be avenged for this lifetime.†“What, why?†“The remaining apple was the death apple, it kills whomever eats it, though I wonder if it will kill Tormentor if he ate of it.†My eyebrows did the Spock routine, “Death apple? I thought there was only the apple of knowledge.†“No, there are many apples, I held, death, knowledge and health.†“Ah so that explains the Leukemia going away. What do you mean ‘will it kill Tormentor?’†“Tormentor is immortal, the Death Apple is supposed to kill anyone, even immortals.†I look at his soul floating above the body, “so what is the 4th apple?†I get the Spock eyebrows from Archimedes, “Never mind, you certainly didn’t tell him your not going to tell us.†I say looking back at his soul, “Well good news is whatever your hiding at the museum is still hidden and safe.†“Two more apples,†he says. “How many different types of apples are there?†I ask, though not really to him, more of an out loud though. “As many as those that are picked.†“Your journals are safe too. Come look me up once you go through the next reincarnation and remember who you are.†“Thank you. Though everything I own goes to the museum, I cannot tell them that things are missing and in your possession.†I think of the books that Shadowkahn or Huntsman took and smartly keep my trap shut. “Is there anything else you can tell us sir?†I ask. “Nothing I am willing to tell.†“Then if there is nothing more.†I looked at the guys, none of them had something to ask, “I guess it is our duty to set your soul free so you can be reincarnated again.†“To do that, you will need to banish the circle, remove all of the lead on my person and give me a proper burial.†I look over and nod at Crystal, she nods back in ascension, “I’ll get to work on removing the iron and preparing the body, Crystal will set you back to sleep then.†The soul of Archimedes slowly faded out and I motioned for Crystal to flip the lights back on, “Huntsman can you assist me, I’ll need help finding all the fragments in the abrasions.†“Sure,†he said, and I handed him the spotlight and magnifier from off the surgery tray table nearby. “You should leave gang, this will take some time,†I looked over at Donnie’s pale shocked face and took pity on him, “Donnie, thank you for all your help, we wouldn’t of discovered as much if it weren’t for your talents.†I put my hand on his shoulder and gave him a little hug, “go home, send the pictures and negatives to me later. Hell I’d say go get a drink or two.†He nodded meekly and stumbled his way out the doors, the boys following him, “Geiger,†I called, he looked back at me, “Make sure he gets home safe and the both of you go to PRIMUS and put out an ABP on Tormentor for Mr. Brook’s murder.†He nodded and followed Wire and Donnie out. Shadowkahn stayed (I’m happy he takes his bodyguard duty to me so seriously) and chatted quietly with Crystal as Huntsman helped me go over every inch of Mr. Brook, cleaning each wound meticulously. Huntsman and I chatted as well, music, Jazz, little things, comfortable things. Two hours twenty-seven minutes later, Crystal, Shadowkahn and Huntsman declared the body clean of any magical residue and she banished the circle containing him; I will swear to my dying day, we heard him say thank you.

     

    Crystal told us goodbye and Huntsman slipped out quietly, as I went looking for Dr. Morrow to ask him about who the first body he had found tortured to death as well as some personal requests and found him asleep at his desk, I don’t blame the man, we were probably the most excitement he gets on a semi-regular basis, thank God he’s getting used to seeing us haunt the morgues. I asked him to send me the notes on the first body he found tortured to death, he agreed to send them to me later this week. Then I started talking about Mr. Brook, I asked if anyone had made preparations for the body to be interred, Jeff said the museum had called, they had found the will but there were no instructions for burial and Miles had no family left to claim the body. $75 million in books and antiquities he had bequeathed to the museum; perhaps some day he’ll be reclaiming them. As Jeff and I talked, I watched Shadowkahn out of the corner of my eye; still they’re just out of reach, a familiar and comforting shadow. Jeff and I got on the phone to a reputable mortuary to take the body and prepare it for burial, no service. We called around to the cemeteries in Syracuse, NJ inquiring if they happen to have a grave available, we finally found one in a simple church that was willing to take a fallen city son. I paid for everything, the funeral, and transportation and burial, I even called a gravestone maker to have a simple marker made up for him. I felt that all of my efforts were well spent, it was the least I could do for a man that would continue to live on into greatness, and to possibly be remembered fondly would be truly, immortality.

     

    It was strange to find that a soul from before Christ’s time was still around, reincarnated time and time again. Archimedes was born in 287 BC in Syracuse, Sicily when Syracuse was an independent Greek city-state with a rich 500-year history. It is known that Archimedes studies in Alexandria, Egypt and was one of the followers of Euclid. He was the greatest mathematician of all time and an incredible scientist, creating many a war machines in the defense of Syracuse, the compound pulley system, the planetarium, the water screw and water organ; the inventor of Hydrostatics and static mechanics, the science of pycnometry and integral calculus. He wrote on plane equilibriums, Qadrature of the parabola, on the sphere and cylinder, on spirals, on conoids and spheroids, on floating bodies, the measurement of a circle, the sandreconkoner and on the methods of solving mathematical problems. Archimedes died in either 212 or 211 BC in Syracuse when it was being sacked by a Roman army; an ignoble death, he was killed by a soldier who didn’t know who he was. Valerius Maximus wrote in his text, Memorable Doings and Sayings, Book VIII.7.ext7- I should say that Archimedes' diligence also bore fruit if it had not both given him life and taken it away. At the capture of Syracuse Marcellus had been aware that his victory had been held up much and long by Archimedes' machines. However, pleased with the man's exceptional skill, he gave out that his life was to be spared, putting almost as much glory in saving Archimedes as in crushing Syracuse. But as Archimedes was drawing diagrams with mind and eyes fixed on the ground, a soldier who had broken into the house in quest of loot with sword drawn over his head asked him who he was. Too much absorbed in tracking down his objective, Archimedes could not give his name but said, protecting the dust with his hands, "I beg you, don't disturb this," and was slaughtered as neglectful of the victor's command; with his blood he confused the lines of his art. So it fell out that he was first granted his life and then stripped of it by reason of the same pursuit.

     

    A soul born before Christ’s time still around. I thought this might shake my faith but instead I find it strengthened, we are promised life eternal, what more proof is there that we can receive life eternal than that meeting. It also proves to me something more, one may not need be a follower of one faith to receive God’s blessing, we study God in all his forms praise him in all names, oh if only the world could understand that, that there is a Universal truth to it all. Of course my own convictions would probably get me a stern talking to in the Catholic faith, but as I have my eyes opened more and more I understand that He is not merely within a building, but under a stone, within a tree, within our hearts, we need no structure to understand Him for he is within us all.

     

    As I sit here looking over The Golden Fleece and these magnificent 37 journals I have a long journey of understanding in front of me. How I wish to God I could of sat with that old soul and spoke of science and of the world, how much he must know, over two thousand years of knowledge. I will take my time in deciphering his journals, I will document the translations and I will keep it locked away waiting for him to return. Somehow I don’t feel right about discussing any of the revelations I might find within these journals with other scientists. Should Archimedes wish any of this released he will do so himself, I will study his texts they way he studied at the feet of Euclid. It will be time consuming, but not as long as it would be if I did not have a computer to help translate everything! Still, as I look at the last pages, which are written, in mathematical formula I have quite the task set before me, almost Herculean.

     

    As for The Golden Fleece, I’ve kept my samples away from prying eyes. The rest will go to PRIMUS and then probably to the museum, but I doubt it. Then again the powers that be in command might prove me wrong and actually present such an incredible finding back to the country of Greece. Who knows? Oh how I would love to actually clone little golden flossy here but I’m just going to quietly run my tests and see how it managed to come about. Maybe it’s a mutation, maybe it isn’t maybe its just magic, but I wont know until I try.

     

    I will have to study my Greek history, of the 12 labors of Hercules, the most difficult labor of all was getting the golden apples of the Hesperides, for Hercules did not know where to find them. These were the apples which Juno had received at her wedding from the goddess of the Earth (Gaia), and which she had entrusted to the keeping of the daughters of Hesperus, assisted by a watchful dragon. After various adventures Hercules arrived at Mount Atlas in Africa. Atlas was one of the Titans who had warred against the gods, and after they were subdued, Atlas was condemned to bear on his shoulders the weight of the heavens. He was the father of the Hesperides, and Hercules thought might, if any one could, find the apples and bring them to him. But how to send Atlas away from his post, or bear up the heavens while he was gone? Hercules took the burden on his own shoulders, and sent Atlas to seek the apples. He returned with them, and though somewhat reluctantly, took his burden upon his shoulders again, and let Hercules return with the apples to Eurystheus.

     

    Milton in his “Comus,†makes the Hesperides the daughters of Hesperus and niece of Atlas:

    "...amidst the gardens fair

    Of Hesperus and his daughters three,

    That sing about the golden tree."

    The poets, led by the analogy of the lovely appearance of the western sky at sunset, viewed the west as a region of brightness and glory. Hence they placed in it the Isles of the Blest, the ruddy Isle Erytheia, on which the bright oxen of Geryon were pastured and the Isle of the Hesperides. The apples are supposed by some to be the oranges of Spain, of which the Greeks had heard some obscure accounts.

     

    It will be a quite hunt, but one I will follow nonetheless. I know there are many groups watching Firefrost, perhaps as Stratford I might find more. My own private quest for the golden apples. I have also started another odd search; I do not know how long it takes for a soul to reincarnate. Some think the soul must come to the body at the time of birth, others think it is at first thought, it might be today or in 9 months or in 9 years, I do not know which it might be; but in a Syracuse somewhere in the world, there will be a boy born with extraordinary intellect and a grasp of mathematics that will make teachers heads spin and some day I will find him…and then we will have that talk.

     

     

    July 31, 2004

    I knew that I was going to regret doing this; I also knew that at some point it would be painful. I just didn’t know how painful it would be. July has been nonstop, just about every day, this month we’ve been up to our eyeballs in the “save the world†crap. I foresee hero burnout in my future arriving fairly quickly, it would be nice if the world could take care of itself for a while and let me, well us, get a good few days off. Today we were visiting Foxbat at his lair to look at his Mechanon soon to be butler, what a fiasco that was.

     

    We start the morning by the boys telling us over breakfast that the Foxbat web page has the 1-ton CZ checked off. I finally couldn’t take it any more and had them direct me to the page online; my Lord, Foxbatatron, Allan the Excelsior Man, characters of note (hero’s he’s plagued), Foxbat boy and Foxbat girl. Maybe this is like the other “heists†he’s done, perhaps he’s actually purchased the damn CZ and he’ll “steal†it for fun; we’ll have to check later.

     

    It’s terrible, I know I should live better than this but I really have nothing but disdain for Foxbat; he’s an incredible pain in the ass causing more trouble than any half-wit with a ton of money should; there is a brilliant mind lurking in that idiocy that everyone deals with, otherwise how could he have come up with some of the most incredible toys and designs he has, but he’s just so dammed annoying. Though I suppose somewhere in there is a kindred spirit, after all, hero worship comes in many forms and aren’t we all just emulating our heroes to some extent.

     

    We arrived, in force in costume at Foxbat’s lair, i.e. the mansion. Wire wasn’t with us just yet but he had promised to meet us as soon as he was done with whatever PRIMUS was having him complete and Jet was off on some other mission for her mistress. Foxbat welcomed us into his lair with open arms and a hearty hello; he escorted us all into the mansion (nice place really) and showed us around some of the first rooms. He was dressed in full gear, as we were but Shadowkahn and Huntsman immediately a “Aladdin†style oil lamp on his hip. They of course immediately asked what that was; his reply shocked us all, “Oh it’s a gift from my new best friend Trickster! He gave it to me when I met him yesterday, it’s supposed to have a Genie in it that will grand wishes.†“You met Trickster yesterday? How long have you guys been friends,†I asked. “Oh since yesterday when I met him.†See that’s the kind of insanity I’m talking about, the man’s loopy. Shadowkahn leaned towards me as Foxbat turned and continued giving us a tour, “It’s evil,†he whispered to me, “and somewhat demonic in origin, I can smell it. Huntsman sensed it as well.†“Genie’s are evil?†I whispered back, happy for his closeness, I love looking at those eyes of his. “No, not all, but this one is, demonic and defiantly evil. I need to get that thing away from him.†He replied; man our day was off to a great start wasn’t it.

     

    Geiger, Succor and Ranger kept Foxbat deep in conversation regarding his latest exploits, his web page, various ‘fighting’ equipment and building of said various equipment. Eventually one of us asked if we could see the Mechanon he was trying to transform into his new butler. “Oh yea! You want to see my secret lab?†There were varying degrees of enthusiasm in the Yes we gave him, though I know my eyes must have rolled. Foxbat waived for us to follow him and we walked thru the rest of the mansion up to a large wooden door with a sign prominently displayed above it ‘Secret Lab,’ Foxbat beamed proudly, I think we all groaned in pain, just how crazy was this guy? “Follow me, to the ‘Corridor Of Death’ walk on the yellow line only.†He warned. “Or what?†asked Ranger, “Or you’ll find out why its called the ‘Corridor Of Death’†he replied. Ok so maybe he isn’t so stupid, though I might of taken back that presumption considering the big sign over the tunnel proclaiming it ‘Corridor Of Death’ and the long yellow line with the lettering boldly stenciled at its beginning, ‘Walk On The Yellow Line’. Not taking chances with our lives just quite yet, we followed Foxbat down the yellow line. We viewed a humongous safe door at the end of the tunnel, above that door was another sign, ‘Express Elevator to Hell,’ and instead of a large combination lock there was a bicycle combination lock and an aluminum cable. Oh Christ, I take it all back, he’s nuts, I thought, “So why do you call it the express elevator to hell?†I asked. “Because when I hit L it opened up on a lava field, so it must be hell,†he answered with disgust, as if I should already know the answer fiddling with the combination lock, he proudly told us the combination was 6-8-1. “Oookay,†and I left it alone. Geiger looked at the elevator as the doors opened up, “Ah nope, not going to do it this time, sorry.†We turned and looked at him, “you sure?†I asked, noting the beads of sweat that had broken out on his forehead. “Yea, real sure.†“Ok, you stand guard then.†I told him while the rest of us piled into the elevator, Foxbat pushed the button for 3 and we headed down.

     

    As we descended I could feel the change in the temperature of the floor, I leaned over to Buzzy and asked him to check if he could do an external temp on the floor, he leaned over and touched the floor for an instant and stood back up. “I’m registering 500 degrees down below us,†he said. Well maybe it is the elevator to hell, I thought as we came to a stop and the doors opened into a dimly lit laboratory. Every gizmo and gear is down here, massive plasma televisions next plugged into old Atari game system, a giant wheel for the thousand or so gerbils he was going to use to power his lair, it was a deranged versions of the Bat Cave, prizes from cereal boxes were on display next to priceless works, it was a lab that made me cringe, things hung from the ceiling, cycles and laser guns.

     

    I watched the elevator return to the top floor and Geiger emerged from the doors a moment later, he looked at us sheepishly, “it was just too crowded.†“Oh,†I nodded, “ok.†Hey, whatever gets you through it. Foxbat was totally into showing us around, of course this was mostly Mechanon’s equipment, but as he had moved in and given it it’s ‘finishing touches’ he was quite proud to give us his examples of how this gadget worked, or how that plan had made this thing, he is totally entertaining that’s for sure. He finally introduced us to his Foxbatatron, the Mechanon body he had found; there lying on a surgical table, without its head, was the Mechanon, he had already started painting it in a butlers uniform; the head lay next to it, hooked up to Cray and a TSR 80. Ranger had been talking to me over earpiece, since his helmet doesn’t allow folks to see inside, it makes for great secret conversations when one person is talking and the other can just nod. “Firefrost, this is Mechanon’s base, you want me to start going thru the computer system and see if we can get anything?†I nodded, while looking around the base. “Wow, that’s something Foxbat, had any luck yet reprogramming it?†Geiger asked. “So far it isn’t doing so good, I mean I’m using a 286 process or 2q.8 m celeron chick with a USB tube drive but it isn’t getting there.†Foxbat picked up the head, “but I did mange to get the hyperplastics to work in the molycircuitry I developed and the emotion chip, I can get it to give a big smile but that’s about it.†“You can make it smile?†“Oh yea, you wanna see?†Foxbat was just ecstatic that we interested, he plugged in the head and sure enough it smiled huge, in a very disturbing way. “You made the hyperplastic?†I asked, I mean I know he’s a genius but I was impressed, it’s not exactly easy to produce. “Oh yea,†he nodded and launched off into a brief on how he developed the material.

     

    Unfortunately he happened to spy Ranger over at the main computer console; fortunately he didn’t seem to think anything of it and launched into another explanation of what each of the buttons did. “The red button we don’t hit, we also don’t hit the blue button,†he said. “Why?†Ranger asked. “Well if I hit the blue button it activates the …†WOOP power started coming up on all levels as Foxbat in his demonstration, hit the blue button. The look of fear on his face was enough to make the rest of us drop into serious mode, “Oh shit, time to go,†and Foxbat ran for the elevator. He didn’t get far before a small earthquake rocked the floor. Ranger saw that the computer was starting to come online with the security measures especially since the computer was talking ‘Intruders In Facility’ and I immediately agreed with him and Buzzy trying to keep the damn thing from activating completely, which might have, one, activated the Mechanon and/or two, brought the ever so touted security measures online. Considering ports were opening in the ceiling, certainly agreed with the guys to turn the damn thing off.

     

    Huntsman picked up the Mechanon head and zarked it with his lightning, although it make the eyes glow green the computer managed to pick up a digital signal from the head, I looked at Huntsman, “I agree with the idea of killing it before it activates, but would you please stop powering up the head?†He stopped. After that I lost track of what Ranger and Buzzy were doing at the computer because we heard 3 heavy thumps on the elevator. “Oh crap what’s that?†“I’m getting a reading!†Ranger yells, “I’ve got a signal, oh Christ it’s a Genesis signal!†We had just gotten either side of the elevator doors when they blew open revealing 3 Mark 1’s. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Genesis would want everything involving Mechanon, them and there lovely robots. “Take em out,†I yelled and we fired into them. This wasn’t good, not only are us mutants on Genesis’s ‘hunt em down’ list but now they were inside a partially inactive Mechanon base, Genesis doesn’t need any more help in their pursuit of mutants so I was bound and determined to keep destroy the damned things as soon as possible.

     

    I hear Buzzy trying to convince Foxbat to join the fight, I also hear Foxbat say, “No that’s ok you guys look like you know what your doing;†as he hid in the corner of the lab. Ranger managed to tap part of the bases defenses and got at least 2 of the guns to start firing on the Mark 1s. Two of them hit the floor and throw 2 disks into the room aiming at opposite sides, Huntsman managed to get one to explode with his lightning, unfortunately the other one landed and activated; 6 skelebots emerged from the teleportation field. “Oh shit, guys their teleporting in!†Geiger yells, as a Mark 4 steps out of the field behind the newly emerged skelebots. Succor using Geiger as a shield, taps him and ups Geiger’s plasma blast which, when the boy lets it rip, manages to blast 2 of the 6 skelebots into slag, unfortunately 5 laser sites (yes the Mark 4) take up a big glowing dot on Geiger’s chest and they fire, fortunately the boy was able to absorb most of the damage and stayed standing, he was reeling however. Oh but the Mark 4 isn’t done yet, it pulls something off its back which looks like a spiked ball and throws it at Geiger, unfortunately Succor had dodged to safety or maybe it was fortunate, because although Geiger dodged the thing on the first fly by, he didn’t dodge on the second; when the thing hit, it blew a hole thru Geiger’s chest severing arteries and destroying part of his lung, Geiger went down, fortunately Succor was there to stay with him and drag him out of harms way while trying to heal him. The damn thing then returned to the Mark 4’s hand like a boomerang.

     

    Buzzy stepped way from Ranger and went into hand-to-hand combat with the Mark 4. In the mean time the 2 Mark 1s that had sent in the teleport disks started forward to get Geiger, I did the only thing I could, I got in their way. I took a punch from the one on the left, which rang my bells; fortunately I got a fire blast into the one on my right. Shadowkahn was able to take out the teleport disk on the one Mark 1 that had remained near the elevator.

     

    We were getting our asses kicked, Huntsman and Buzzy were involved with the skelebots and the Mark 4, Ranger was tied up with the base computer trying to keep it from killing us; Geiger was out, Succor was busy, Shadowkahn had his hands full and I was involved beyond my capacity, the only one not doing anything was Foxbat hiding not more than 20 feet away from me. I caught sight of him out the corner of my eye, cowering. Something snapped, whether he be a hero or villain we needed all the help we could get, so I yelled at him, “You planning on helping any of us any time soon Foxbat?†Panic makes you say funny things, things that don’t make sense, at his whimper of “no†I roared at him, “You figure out a way to do something or so help me if we die, I’m coming back just so I can kill you!†And at that moment, there was a precious lull in the violence, just quiet enough to hear, “I wish I was more powerful than anything in the room.†We heard “Oh Shit,†from Huntsman and Shadowkahn, anything that makes those guys go “oh shit,†makes me panic. Then we hear a CLANK, CLANK and suddenly Foxbat Hellknight stands up from his cowering spot near the wall. I was told it was a Hellknight that Foxbat was turned into because exactly two seconds after the CLANK, CLANK, my world lit up in fiery crimson not of my own design; at the edge of my vision I saw the two Mark 1’s vaporize before the searing pain that had roared across my back made me blissfully unconscious.

     

    Some people swear that they can remember things while in a state of unconsciousness; if anything I remember repeating to myself over and over again, “STUPID!â€

     

    I awoke much later at the PRIMUS base under the gentle healing touch of Succor, Shadowkahn out of costume but wearing his oriental disguise face, he actually looked relieved when I opened my eyes, I think he likes me, but I have no idea to prove that theory. I sat painfully up, although Succor had healed the damage, I was red and sore, fire I can deal with, hellfire I cant. I noticed Ranger, Buzzy and Geiger and Wire there too, I felt like Dorothy after waking up back in black and white world, you were all there! “Ok someone tell me what the hell happened back there after my world blew up.†The laughed and Wire pulled the Mechanon head from out behind him and tossed it into my lap, “look I’m gonna make a root beer mug out of it!†“Ok someone rational tell me what happened.â€

     

    Foxbat had made a wish with the Genie in the lamp to be the most powerful thing the in room, which meant being even more powerful than the Genie, so he was made into a Hellknight. So Hellbat, as Shadowkahn and the rest of them started calling him, stood up, pointed his sword in my direction and a cone of hellfire shot out destroying the two Mark 1s, and taking me out as well. Huntsman and Kahn both agreed that they didn’t sense any evil from Hellbat, so although he had been changed, Foxbat’s inner nature had remained the same. Huntsman took aim at the Mark 4 with his dagger followed up with a lightning chaser; unfortunately it didn’t do a thing. The 6 skelebots aimed at Hellbat, 5 of them miss one hits with a plasma ball doing little to no damage, the Mark 4 took a set of blades off each forearm and aimed them at the Hellbat but did no damage and the flew back to its arms. Ranger managed to get the 4 turrets that dropped from the ceiling to make Geiger and Firefrost non-targets to their targeting system. Buzzy leapt over the Mark 4 and went into stealth mode behind it; Huntsman tries another lighting attack against it doing no damage. Wire, who had flown to the mansion, saw the devastation left by the Mark 1’s entrance, i.e. they didn’t follow the yellow line and had set off all the explosives in the floors getting to the elevator, flies down the elevator shaft and into the wrecked elevator car just in time to send his own energy bolt into the Mark 4 across the room, its blades glowed for a moment absorbing the attack. Shadowkahn yells for Wire to get back into the safety of the elevator because the turrets were still active and the rest of the skelebots weren’t going to be busy with Hellbat wading through them with his sword for too long, Shadowkahn throws the Mechanon head up to Wire and told him to “roast the damn thingâ€. To which Wire complied immediately, by simply putting his finger into the neck socket and sending magnetic pulse after magnetic pulse into the thing, hence paperweight. Succor had managed to heal Geiger up to the point of consciousness, while Shadowkahn advanced onto the remaining Mark 1 and finishes slicing it to pieces. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Wire, his making the Mechanon head glow like a nightlight had set of a series of commands that Buzzy picked up, unfortunately the computer picked up the signals as well and even as Ranger was getting the rest of the security system to attack the Mark 4 and skelebots the base computer started a self destruct countdown ‘Activate Self Destruct Base Implosion Activated’, complete with the countdown from 5. Hellbat had taken several rounds to the chest and with a whimper of “but I’m invulnerable†collapsed on the ground. Huntsman grabbed the unconscious Hellbat and Ranger rescued me off the floor and so he could take both of us up the elevator shaft, Succor tapped my unconscious behind and grabbed my superflight so while Shadowkahn ninja leaped up the shaft, Huntsman used his rope to take them both up, Geiger grabbed Buzzy and super leaped up the shaft, Succor using the superflight aims both feet at the Mark 4 and roars away and up the shaft, finally colliding with the wall of the basement, he’s lucky he didn’t kill himself on impact; Wire, the last to go watched the Mark 4 advance into the elevator, buckle the floor and fall into the rising layer of molten lava below, he made it up to the top of the shaft and joined the rest of the group in the basement. At a recovering Hellbat’s insistence they kept moving beyond the ruined Hallway of Doom where he tells them to push the black button, and to keep moving! The ceiling falls in sealing the hallway behind them, insuring that the magma rising up the elevator shaft doesn’t go further. Wire was pleased to point out to Foxbat (he reverted back from Hellbat) that he didn’t need to get the gerbils any more since he now has geothermal access right under his mansion. Shadowkahn assumed that Foxbat’s transformation was either supposed to be temporary or because the lamp was left behind and had probably melted from the magma.

     

    So, Foxbat was touted as a hero who saved the day, he’s got a geothermal energy source under his mansion, and Trickster, who I finally remembered from the database-a.k.a. LOKI of the Asguard had a great joke. Wire has is scooping out the innards of the Mechanon head and has given the parts to a very happy Ranger, Shadowkahn and Hunstman are happy the genie has been either destroyed or will never be found, and I get to live with the fact that I threatened Foxbat within an inch of his life into doing something that actually helped us out in the long run. Trust me, the guys sure rubbed it in.

     

    Either way its over and done now, I guess you never know what people are capable of until they are put into that life or death situation. But I have a new concern now; Genesis is out their just waiting for a Mechanon base to come active and this is something like the 4th or 5th time we have managed to snub them through no fault of our own. They must be beyond pissed at us.

     

    I’m tired, I’m hurt, and I’m going to soak till I’m a prune then I’m going to bed. The world can wait to be saved another day.

  19. Re: Campaign Notes so far

     

    And for more continuation.

     

    July 20, 2003

    I slept the sleep of the dead, and awoke in a panic when the alarm went off, half expecting to see the Wampa cave again, thank God all that greeted me was the warming light of day streaming through my window and the shrill chatter of the clock. I ached, mentally and physically.

     

    I felt a little out of sorts, and while I had breakfast, I looked for wind up keys and listened for clicks or whirrs from Ms. Nesbitt the cook and the rest of the mansion staff as I wandered downstairs to my labs afterwards. I was distracted while I started tests and finished others, reviewed results and wrote notes absorbing myself in my “mundane†day-to-day activities. While preparing a slide I managed to snap the plate, and at that point I finally broke down and wept. I sobbed for hours, every time I though I got it under control I would burst out tears and be a useless mess again, useless, utterly useless. At that moment I really couldn’t put into words or coherent thought why I couldn’t keep from crying uncontrollably; but now, as I sit in the black hours of the wolf, I think I finally understand.

     

    There comes a time when one’s soul simply cannot go on with all the pain it has taken on, a breakdown of some sort usually happens, for some it is a simple as tears of release, for others its as simple as suicide the release from pain. I was exposed to enough radiation to kill a Mastodon and I’m alive, but I don’t know if should be. Cancer is such a horrific thing with thousands dieing every day; children are born with active cells killing them before they even have a chance to bring joy to the world. Ovarian cancer took you away Mom; leaving Father and I to struggle along with our sorrow. His passing was quick at least, not the lingering death that ate at you for all those years. So why am I still here? Is it because I knew the right people? I’m not even sure how they were able to salvage me. I had heard the Dystergia tank could cure anything, how had it done the trick? Why can’t we offer this miraculous healing technology to the world? Because even after all these years, we still don’t know how Doctor Destroyer was able to create the tank, worse yet, we cannot duplicate it.

     

    So why did I cry? Was it long overburdened guilt, as we Catholics are almost as famous for as the Jews? Could I have studied cancer instead of pursuing my goals of the origins of mutant DNA? Would I have made a breakthrough, am I wasting my time in my pursuits? Do I foresee a time when my knowledge can be abused and utilized in the most horrific of ways? Yes, no, both, there are times I can fear more than I can hope for in our future. Do I fear what has happened to the blood sample taken by Tellios? Yes, if he’s capable of creating perfect humans, as supposed with himself, memories intact, then I am no longer unique and my expertise is out there to be abused. Though a superior clone of me is flattering, it frightens the hell out of me.

     

    So why did I cry? I broke; I couldn’t take it any more. Years of frustration, fear, guilt, pain, recent and old, your deaths, Starchild, my work, tests and more tests, PRIMUS, the team, death, afterlife, life itself? I guess it was finally time to let go and get it out of my system.

     

    I am thankful for every moment I am alive. As dull as some feel my scientific life is; it is a welcome release from the superhero life I have chosen to live. The human condition exists to die, we are dying from the moment we are born, but that next step out of life and into the next great unknown is a step we find difficult to take; hence those that try to cheat death and live forever.

     

    I believe I am more at peace now than I have ever felt before, perhaps something good will come of this, something more enriching for all concerned. But then again, who knows. Heh, why is it something that feels so cleansing to the spirit makes you look like B grade monster movie reject, gah, I just looked in the mirror, what a wreck. I look like I’ve been punched in the face. There is till so much I cant put into words and reading above looks like I hit a ramble, but I guess I needed it. They say time heals all wounds, but what about the ones we continue to open, what of the scars we create then? Too much to think on tonight, I need some sleep so I can function during the trip coming up later today.

     

     

     

     

    July 21, 2003

    Contrary to popular belief not every alien from another planet will look like little grey men or even little green men. Our lovely Wire Walker, a.k.a. Stephan Small falls into the “non-grey†category. Mostly due do the fact, both his parents originated from this Earth, even if they aren’t living here anymore. Poor Wire has been in a panic since he snapped the force field controls on his gorget and to satisfy him and get the damn thing fixed, were heading off dimension and onto The Way and to the Bazaar at Deva, I’ll write about the trip when I get back.

     

    ~~~

    Well that was different-understatement of the year.

     

    How do I explain Deva, how do I explain The Way? I don’t think I can really do its reality any justice but I’m sure the hell going to try.

     

    We piled into a PRIMUS van for our trip onto The Way and I volunteered Matt to drive since he has the best combat driving skills amongst all of us and only God would know what we might run into out there on The Way. So with Ranger in the drivers seat, Wire riding shotgun, myself, Shadowkahn, Huntsman, Geiger and Succor in the back seats (Jet was summoned off by her “master†to another job), we headed out into the streets of Hudson City. Wire gave directions to Matt like a tourist with a bad map, yelling out at the last possible moments to turn left or right, taking us down several odd back streets, until his last “this is it, turn right!†took us into a long, dead alley. I could the concern growing in Matt’s face as we got closer and closer to the alley wall, but Wire told him to step on the gas. It’s amazing how a group of adults all have the same reaction to the idea of plowing into a brick wall at 50mph, each of us tensed backwards into our seats, expecting impact. What we didn’t see in our moment of panic, was Wire’s eyes go completely white and glow momentarily as he stared at the incoming wall and in that brief second, between screeching brakes or a fiery stupid death, the wall vanished and we accelerated onto a “on ramp†heading onto a larger highway. This was The Way. Amidst the universal sigh of relief we all relaxed back into our seats, relieved laughter came from Geiger and me with Matt’s remark of “please remove car seats from your arses as we have made it through.â€

     

    The Way, easily explained looks like the universes largest highway system, which I guess for all intensive purposes, it is, The Way is a giant extra-dimensional/universe spanning highway with off ramps and on ramps to various dimensions and realities. I turned to look behind us and could see what looked like a normal entry ramp leading away from our home world dimension, but there is where all normalcy ended, for the rest of the sky was an abstract riot of color and pattern; colors never seen by human eyes, explosions of reality, star scenes of unknown universes, so much more I can’t put into words because there are no words for what I’ve seen. I wonder if Lovecraft ever gazed upon the ether of The Way when writing ‘The Color out of Space,†or when he wrote anything involving the Mythos. I had heard, whispered rumors by those who spoke with the enigmatic Time Lord LaDene before she packed up herself and her godling child Damien and left our reality for parts unknown, that such things as the Mythos exist out there in the vastness of this highway. That thought in itself frightens the hell out of me; never mind the fact that other extra-dimensional evil beings want to have our little sphere of life all to themselves, the thought that anything written could exist as a reality elsewhere, defies laws my brain doesn’t want to wrap around.

     

    I diverted my eyes away from the cacophony of reality outside my window; the only points of solid reality seemed to be at the exit and entrance ramps, and looked at my companions Kayne looked pained, and it dawned on me that since part of his extra-sensing group identifies extra-dimensional he had to be in a world of hurt, everything was extra-dimensional for him, including where we were headed; I wished I had brought aspirin. I’m not sure how long we drove, we didn’t really speak during the trip, all of us sitting in, perhaps, awed silence. Until Wire pointed to an off ramp we were fast approaching and said, “that’s it, home sweet home!†The atmosphere surrounding the ramp looked reddish dark, but I guess oddly festive. Deva is the home world of Deveels, or in our terms Devils, so I suppose the reddish dark was supposed to be normal, I shook my head in disbelief, there are things on heaven and earth, Horatio, man was not meant to know, boy did we run smack into one of those “things.â€

     

    Matt pulled the van into the off ramp and we headed onto the main road of Deva, we slowed to a stop in front of, what I would of called an “old fashioned†toll booth with a red and white striped stopping bar. What squeezed its bulk out of the whitewashed booth was not your standard stopping guard; it stood at least 10 feet tall, a small gray cap sat upon a frizzled mop of greenish gray hair, but the green didn’t stop, his skin was deep green not the emerald green of the Hulk, but a more mossy natural color, all bundled up into a toll takers blue uniform. A large mossy green hand extended towards the van’s window and Matt tentatively rolled it down; the voice that echoed through the vehicle rattled our teeth and possibly popped an ear drum or two, “PAY THE TOLL BEFORE YOU CONTINUE, PLEASE.†I think the please was an afterthought. We looked at Wire in confusion, “toll, what sort of toll,†Matt asked. “Oh yea, I forgot, you’ll need to pay a toll, any coins will do,†came Wire’s reply and suddenly we were scrambling through pockets for any change we had handy. Succor came up with several quarters a few nickels and some pennies and handed them to Matt, who in turn handed dropped them into the palm of the large green guy. “Troll,†I mumbled, “he’s a troll. Instead of a bridge it’s a toll booth.†My comment prompted a ferocious grin from the troll, “AYE MAM, DON’T HAVE NO GOATS IN THERE WITH YE, DO YE?†he asked, once again rattling eardrums and teeth. Wire responded with a “no sir,†while the troll picked over the coins with interest, “OOOH COPPER,†it exclaimed, “YOU’LL NEED CHANGE,†and it pulled out several odd looking coins to deposit into Matt’s hand. “ENJOY YOUR STAY ON DEVA,†and it lifted the bar easily, allowing us through.

     

    While I knew that our home dimension is particularly colorful, I never really considered it drab, that is until I first set eyes on the Bazaar at Deva. Even though Wire had told us it was big, I had never actually sat back and tried to envision it. It was just as well; anything I could have fantasized would have been dwarfed by the real thing. The Bazaar seemed to stretch endlessly in all directions as far as the eye could see, tents and lean-tos of all designs and colors were gathered in irregular clumps that shoved against each other for more room. There were thousands of Deveels everywhere of every shape size and description, as well as multitudes of other forms of creatures I can’t begin to describe, some looking like nightmares come to life; others I didn’t recognize as being alive until they move, all moving about until the populace gave the appearance of being one seething mass with multiple heads, tails, arms and tentacles.

     

    We pulled into the massive parking lot Wire directed us to, all of us (except Wire who fairly danced out of the passengers seat) stepping out of the vehicle with tentative anxious steps; Matt looked around and found polls with lane and section numbers on them and joked “now everyone remember where we parked.†Wire abruptly turned and warned us, “take nothing you cant pay for immediately, sign nothing, say yes to nothing that is asked of you,†I looked at him and said aloud, “so basically nobody touch nothing, keep your hands in your pockets and avoid strangers?†“Well considering if you say you want something out loud, there is a good chance someone will try and sell it to you and the price could be your soul,†Wire quipped back, “I’d say yea, that would be a good policy.†We all blinked at his comment and I think at that point the seriousness of how strange this was going to be finally sunk in. With that we moved in mass, like frightened children, following Wire into the Bazaar at Deva. The noise! I thought New York or Millennium City had been loud, but the clamor that assailed my ears now defied all description. There were shrieks and dull explosions and strange burbling noises emanating from the depths of the booths that surrounded us, competing with the constant din of barter. It seemed no one spoke below a shout. Whether weeping piteously, barking in anger or displaying bored indifference, all bartering was to be done at the top of your lungs. Hands plucked at our sleeves as we passed and various Deveels leaned out of their stalls and tents to call to us as we passed, but Wire didn’t slacken his pace; honestly, keeping up with Wire required most of my concentration.

     

    I noticed that both Huntsman and Shadowkahn seemed to be reeling as they walked and I yelled to them asking what was wrong; sure enough their “special†senses were overwhelmed by everything extra-dimensional and in some cases “evil,†around them. Shadowkahn mistakenly stated he love and aspirin for the headache and suddenly half a dozen Deveels were upon us, offering herb, potion, pill and poultice to sooth his pain, all offering anything for a price all in languages we barely understood. We desperately waved them off shouting “no thank you!†hurriedly following Wire as he maneuvered his way thought the crowds after asking for directions to the Big Top (I had assumed that his parents still worked in the circus, apparently I was correct.)

     

    We passed by tent after tent and I kept a tight rein on the rest of the group, heaven forbid any of us wander away from Wire’s path towards his parents, we would be lost or worst, purchasing something that could cost us dearly. Eventually, over the tops of the Bazaar tents we could see the Big Top, it was easily the size of three football fields combined with a 20 story building, it’s huge white and red striped canvas acting as a beacon drawing us to it. We came to a slight clearing around the circus, apparently the Deveels gave the Big Top some breathing space considering the crowds trying to get into the tent were just as big as the ones throughout the Bazaar. Wire led us around away from the lines of attendees and towards the back of the Big Top. We were about half way around the tent and walking towards what looked to be a back entrance, when from out of the shadows a huge green-scaled figure jumped out and attacked Wire. Or at least we thought it was attacking, at least until Wire started laughing wrapping his arms around the monstrosity in a mutual hug. It bellowed “Wire! You little scamp you! Just look at how you’ve grown!†it put him down and tussled his hair like a proud parent; not knowing what his mother looked like, I fervently hoped this wasn’t someone that Wire belonged to biologically.

     

    Wire straightened his hair and with a grand sweeping gesture, introduced us all to the demon that had jumped him. She (after she put him down, her 8 foot frame did look fairly curvaceous), introduced herself as Melantha, a Pervect who had helped raise him while Jester and Annissa (Wire’s mom) were in spotlight; she also worked at the sideshow as a magician and had shown Wire many of his underhanded little tricks (which, thankfully we haven’t really been introduced to). Melatha showed us into the back of tent, explaining that Jester and Annissa were currently in spotlight, walked us to the performers entrance at the back of the bleachers so we could watch them perform unhindered. Wire greeted many more members of the circus, human, humanoid and inhuman, hugging each one like a long lost brother. I was captivated not only by the death defying skills of his parents but by Wire himself, imagine, being raised were everything “abnormal†was the norm, where you were judged by actions not how one looked; what a wonderfully non-prejudice view of the world this boy had and I envied him for it.

     

    I turned my attention back to Jester and Annissa’s performance, watching with terror and amazement at the precise synchronization of flaming daggers, twirling bodies, juggled objects of destruction passing between Jester and Annissa on the high wire over 3 stories above us, without a net below. Even knowing the powers Jester possesses, I must admit I flinched in fear as, in the final act, he plummeted to the sawdust strewn ground below only to stop at ground level without so much as a lurch on the tip of a dagger placed between his teeth, then to flip over deftly onto his feet to catch his wife as she tumbling into his arms from that same height. They bowed to thunderous applause and fairly danced their way to the performers entrance and into the arms of their son.

     

    I have noticed that when it comes to living legends, rarely do they live up to their reputations, but Jester was everything his PRIMUS file stated and more. As they toweled off they greeted us as if we were long lost family, with hugs and back slaps from Jester and kisses from Annissa (call me Ann), they showed us back out into Deva’s skyline and towards a large old fashioned wooden camper and in the grand circus tradition of vibrant colors and the attraction it held within painted on it’s side; The Flying Wallendas. Even in the 20th century, the Flying Wallendas carry on their spectacular high wire acts in our dimension; I could only imagine what this branch of the family had done to find their way onto The Way only to finally come to rest on Deva.

     

    The inside of the camper was larger than the 4 walls would allow, and when I stood outside the door for a moment in utter confusion, Jester laughed and said it was a gift from an old teammate, who when finding out he and Ann were getting married, gave them a larger living space to “accommodate the growing familyâ€; I could guess he meant LaDene though only God Himself would know how she did it. As Wire showed us to sit on the multi-layered, bedazzling pillows and cushions that were strewn across the floors thick brilliant rug; Ann excused herself and was back amongst us within mere moments, refreshed and dressed in a sparkling caftan lounger; Jester had also disappeared only to reappear seconds after his wife equally collected but dressed simply, in black trousers and a white poet shirt (obviously Wire gets his color schemes from his mother.)

     

    We took our time, conversing over hot chocolate and spicy aromatic chai; the exchange was intriguing and delightful, Geiger & Succor fairly gushed with hero worship over Jester and the Charleston Champions, with Jester giving in to their admiration and presenting them with signed originals of the Champions trading cards (which, if memory serves me, LaDene had gone out of her way to see discontinued). I filled Ann and Jester in on their son’s progress, our teams exploits (the highly embarrassing parts edited mostly out) and the current known lives of their old comrades in arms; Jester was not surprised to learn neither of Commander Stone’s progress nor of LaDene’s sudden and unexplained departure for worlds unknown. Finally, the conversation rolled around to the reason we were here and Wire sheepishly extended the damaged gorget to his father.

     

    Jester looked at his son appraisingly for a moment before laughing aloud, “so, you’ve finally developed the force field for yourself, that’s excellent! I knew you could do it, see honey, I told you eventually he would be able to do it.†Jester fairly beamed at Wire, who looked god-awful confused; Jester continued, “you see son, I figured it would take something akin to my learning to fly 3 inches from the ground for you to develop the force field; so you see, the gorget was only supposed to work for you until you could do it yourself. Congratulations son, I’m very proud of you.†And with that Jester hugged Wire to him, “now then, I’ll have it repaired because lord knows, getting hit in the throat seems to be a family affliction, but it will only be a simple gorget now.†Jester looked at me, “so tell me how it happened wont you?†So I launched into the explanation of how we awoke, the winter horror, eventually awaking to find out it was all a test; Jester nodded a intervals, “yes, Stone contacted me about the radiation poisoning and the mutating, I knew about the healing process and then the test they wanted to conduct, so I approved it immediately, good thing we did isn’t it.â€

     

    As the night wore on and with Geiger’s, Succor’s and Wire’s goading, Ann and Jester suggested that we continue our conversations through dinner at Francesco’s, The Best Italian Outside Of Italy, and although Huntsman and Shadowkahn were still suffering from their dimensionally induced maladies, they agreed to join us. Jester handed the gorget to a tentacled individual in another camper as we left for dinner and asked if it could be fixed tonight (he was assured it would be) and we left for the restaurant. With Ann and Jester leading us, we once again braved the Bazaar, but this time, the Wallendas (Jester had adopted the family name) were the ones accosted, fans stopped them (as therefore us) every so many steps, autograph books were signed, photos were taken and we continued our way in fits of starts and stops. I will admit, Francesco’s lives up to its moniker, it really was the best Italian outside of Italy, Lord knows the boys wolfed down more pizza in one sitting then my pocketbook had experienced in awhile. Fortunately in honor of Wire’s visit home, Francesco gave us the meals for free, so no financial damage was done.

     

    The trip back to the Big Top was the same as getting to Francesco’s, and by the time we arrived, the tentacled individual had the gorget in hand for Jester’s inspection. Jester handed it back to Wire, who wrapped it around his neck immediately (such is the security blanket known as the gorget) and hugged his dad. We received multitudes of hugs and kisses as we gave our farewells and goodnights, with Jester handing Wire a few more gold coins to “hold him over for a few more years,†while Ann hugged Wire tightly to her bosom.

     

    Apparently the Bazaar never sleeps for although I knew the hour was very late (even though my watch was running backwards and several years off because of this trip) we fought our way back out to the parking lot and after an hour or so of searching for the van, finally strapped ourselves in and headed back up the main road, out past the Toll Troll (waving to him as we went past) and onto The Way.

     

    A decidedly happy Wire directed us back to our home dimension’s exit, Earth 3 or Klah as the Deveels called it; the Deveels also called us Klads, or as it sounded “clodsâ€, not that we enjoyed that comment much, but what can you do about it, it’s not like we named our dimension; who would we talk to about that anyway?

     

    We appeared in an alleyway, Huntsman and Shadowkahn immediately announced they felt better, no longer suffering from the overtaxed senses headache they had suffered for 3 hours, or so we thought. For we appeared at 2pm in the afternoon of July 22nd, on 5th and Summerset, roughly 22 hours and 3 blocks from where we had made our entrance onto The Way, as I said earlier, only Time Lords really know how to travel The Way, who are we but foolish mortals to wander the highways and byways of reality. After Deva and the Bazaar, Hudson City was fairly prosaic, but nothing will replace the good ole fashioned insanity of our home dimension.

     

    After some thought, I’m not going to fill this little trip out in a PRIMUS report. What would be the point, what sort of frame of reference or of any use this is to PRIMUS? It was already well known to them that Wire is from an alternate dimension and that his father is Jester late of the Charleston Champions, what good could come of the confusing report I would file based upon what we saw during our little outing; none that I can foresee. But after all, how could I explain properly any of it anyhow, I’m having enough trouble just trying to write up my own account of it in my journal.

     

    One thing I know now, Jet is not related to the Deveels of Deva, she is a bonafide Demon made in our own dimension, so that means that Hell exists as an extension of Earth 3. You know, it’s odd but I’ve come to the realization that knowing that our world was created by God, which includes our Heaven and Hell and all the dimensional spaces between and that there are other worlds and dimensions out there not created by our God but created by some other being of immense power hasn’t destroyed my faith. I believe it has strengthened it. God, Yahweh, Allah, are the human friendly names for a universal creationist, our creator, the one being that made us this little pocket called Klad, Earth 3 or whatever other names given us, made us. It doesn’t matter if I’m Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Scientologist, the name we give our religion our processes of following doesn’t’ matter, it doesn’t change the fact that we were made to be here, on this world as its stewards. Religion means a specific system of belief or worship built around God, our code of ethics, or philosophy of life. But faith; no Faith, that complete trust, the unquestioning belief in God, that hasn’t changed; indeed it’s stronger and securely in place, for I now, I know, and there is no longer any doubts. I have seen proof of the greater hands at work in our world and the lives around me.

     

    And all it took was a little trip to the circus.

     

     

    July 22, 2003

    I was unable to update you on a regular basis over the last several days so I’m lumping it all together. So much happened is such a short period of time it boggles the mind. I’m going to lay it out for you as best as I can in the order of occurrences, hopefully this will not only help you guys out but myself as well, there is just so much to remember!

     

    You know, I’m continually amazed at what you can find online; especially on one particular web page, especially when a “super villain†runs that web page, a “super villain†by the name of Foxbat. I also really shouldn’t be amazed at the amount of insanity in the world, nor should I be concerned by some of the stranger alliances I have made in the name of impartiality against a greater evil. The highly convoluted story starts as such-

     

    It started simply enough; based off of information PRIMUS had on the events with the warehouse fires, (i.e. it met their MO criteria) the file on The Instigators had been reopened, it also helped that we knew Matt’s old HAWKS friends Albatross and Gears were known members. It was found out, while we were in the gooey sleep chambers, that the Instigators while unproved that they had anything to do with the warehouses, they did apparently have something to do with a mobile tractor-trailer weapons platform (could it possibly be the one that shot at Tellios after his press conference back in June?) But hang on; the story gets more complicated from there.

     

    Gads, let me try and start at the beginning, unfortunately some of this is second hand knowledge; in other words, the kids went and did it and then told me about it. Starting off, according to Buzzy’s reconnaissance information, while the Instigators were cooling their heels at the swanky Senator Hotel, one of them found out that, someone who apparently scared the shit out of them more than we did, was hunting them down. And what is the name of that nameless dread that was making them flee Hudson City several weeks ahead of schedule? The Strike brothers-Quick Strike, Death Strike and the previously unseen and rarely heard from Silent Strike were on the warpath and hunting for not only the Instigators Albatross and Gears but for another previous member of the HAWKS team, a certain Ranger by the name of Matt Slate. Why? Who the hell knew? We sure didn’t at the time, but what we did find out was that the Strike Brothers were in town and hanging out with the local celebrity millionaire playboy villain Foxbat, God help us. You know how we confirmed that the brothers were staying at Foxbat’s? Because Geiger found it on Foxbats web page, yep, on the page, in all its pixilated glory. Freddy Foxworth, a.k.a. Foxbat the bane of heroes, and its not because he’s a real threat, it’s because he’s the biggest villainous incompetent pain in the ass we have ever had the displeasure of running across, was entertaining the Strike brothers, deadliest assassins ever to take a contract (probably #1 since the 3 Ninjas were now dead).

     

    So, Geiger, after reviewing Foxbat’s latest list of world domination plans, looking for the ones with the completed check mark next to them; including incomplete plans #743 make humongous laser and #655 find alternate power source i.e. build generator run by gerbils (I kid you not Mom) as plan #234 was ruined by electric company, and plan #63 channeling energy through a one ton cubic zirconium (House of CZ has one outside its store in the mall); reads that our lovely multi-millionaire Freddy is entertaining guests, i.e. the Strike brothers. This happened to coincide with part one of the report sent in from Buzzy’s surveillance on the Instigators, so against what would be considered better judgment, I agree with Geiger and Wire that, perhaps Foxbat’s guests needed a little surveillance of their own. So much to my trepidation, I allowed Geiger and Wire to head over to the Foxbat lair to do a little recon of their own, I did have the presence of mind to send Shadowkahn behind them in stealth mode, just to be on the safe side.

     

    With that bit of anxiety going in the background, I went to my lab and tried to bury myself in the latest chemical analysis work I was doing for the Jacksonville PRIMUS division. We specifically did not tell Matt of what we had overheard, simply because why panic the man over something we had yet to confirm. Which, knowing Matt, the moment we did tell him, he’d overreact and flip out on us and try and do something stupid like leave town, or worse, go hunt down the Strike brothers himself (note that most PRIMUS groups after running into the Strike Team aren’t running any more), so I left him to his current busy work, trying to improve the responsiveness on the vehicles.

     

    Geiger and Wire reported that they arrived at Freddy’s mansion and were met by Foxbat himself at the front door and shown in. Inside they came across 3 men sitting down at a table playing poker, Quick, Death and Silent all sitting, out of armor, playing poker with an uncostumed Foxbat. Geiger and Wire then chatted amicably with Foxbat and the brothers for about an hour or so while Shadowkahn watched inside from the shadows. Foxbat went over several of his newest plans, including the “robbery†of every gerbil in Hudson City (they were actually purchased by Foxbat who then went into the buildings and “took†the gerbils), which amused the kids immensely, though Wire seemed to be impressed by the Foxbat’s type of insanity the most and asked for his autograph, which of course Foxbat signed. The boys also spoke with the brothers, who were quite aware of who Geiger and Wire are affiliated to; Geiger asked why they were in town, because usually, once Quick, Death or Silent were in town they were after someone. The brothers explained that they were looking into information on the Instigators, especially Albatross, Airstrike, Gears and a guy named FO (Slate’s old moniker), apparently a long time ago the HAWKS team and a 4th Strike brother had been working together 5 years ago, but by some action or inaction got the 4th brother killed. So Silent, Quick and Death were in town to “talk to themâ€. Now whether or no they were really going to talk to them or speak with actions is another story. But the good news is that they don’t know where FO had gone or who he was now and since Slate’s new armor and codename doesn’t completely match FO’s so the brothers are still looking. Geiger said that the brothers’ methodology on how to find folks under aliases was hit and miss; hence they getting in touch with Foxbat Hudson City, naturally assuming since Foxbat is a villain (I used that term very loosely) he would have knowledge of the other villains operating in the city. Because Slate was one of the newest members of the HAWKS team at the time of their brothers death, so Jonathan Strike (Death’s real name) couldn’t get information from the HAWKS database on him, so for now Slate’s secret past life in HAWKS was under wraps. All I can say is thank God for active radio relays, because I immediately called up PRIMUS and put in the request to have everything in Slate’s database sealed up under lock and key. The Strike’s

     

    I was distracted by the news report that came over the radio, (I like to listen while I work,) and immediately went to check out the reports coming in on the local news on the TV feed on the computer. There were two unexplained murders, the latest of which was just reported, apparently two architects from totally different firms were beheaded, in public, one last night at 7pm and one this morning at 10am in front of hundreds of witnesses who reported they were unable to do anything but watch in horror as short oriental guy wearing black robes pulled out a sword and cut the mans head off. Witnesses reported that the man did the deed, cleaned and sheathed the sword and then calmly got into a cab and rode off. I sent off a call to Shadowkahn to get back to us as soon as the guys were done talking with Foxbat as I needed his expertise on all things Martial Artist.

     

    While I began a search on the Yellow Cab Company so we could call them and get where the guy got dropped off, flagged information on Teutonic’s last bidding war appeared onscreen. Apparently the Bourbon Street district was not going to be used for a city prison after all, but for their new Hudson City headquarters. So now there were 8 bids out for building the building, above and beyond the Teutonic’s bid for the prison. Of course Omega Corp had in bids for work, and surprise, surprise, the two architects currently missing their heads had done work previously for Teutonic and Omega Corp. I set up a search on architects who had worked on Teutonic and Omega Corp work before and came up with 17 different firms that had worked for both companies and 6 different architects (not including our two dead guys) that had worked directly with the companies during those projects. So what did we have on our case files now? Murders of architects who worked with the two companies or random killings; I was voting for the former. However, the question would be what exactly had those two worked on between Teutonic and Omega Corp that would get them killed; unfortunately we would never really know since Teutonic and Omega kept that information under lock and key, I doubted that the architectural firms would be willing to risk the lawsuits from those two powerhouses for breach of contract and confidentiality if we started poking toward them, we’d have to put it on the back burner for now.

     

    While I was pondering over that latest bit of brain tease, Shadowkahn announced that the kids were leaving and he was on his way back. That is until I heard a “what the hell†over the radio from him. I asked what was wrong and he radioed back, “hold on,†and “be damned, I’ve been hitâ€. Which made me jump, “you’ve been shot?! Do you need assistance?†It took a moment before his reply of “no, it was a paintball pellet, I’ve been tagged by The Hunter.†I mumbled my confusion over the radio, who was The Hunter? I had head of the Blue Moon Killer, our own Huntsman, Scalphunter, and a few others but who was The Hunter? Shadowkahn radioed back “I’ve found his playing card in the 4th floor window of Foxbat’s mansion, it says ‘Tag your it, HZ. Well my dark haired friend who came behind the two kids, your must be a good friend to watch over them, quite sneaky too.’ Shadowkahn continued, “The Hunter uses paintballs as warnings, otherwise it’s a flying silver disk with your blood on it. He used to be a Viper agent who had gotten captured by Genesis, he apparently escaped and robbed them of some prototype armor a fusion cannon, laser throwing disk, optic armor and a rocket powered spear, one tough customer, good thing he likes to play first. Though I wonder if I’m supposed to reciprocate the favor?†“Just get you and the kids back home please, we have a lot to tax our brains over. Firefrost out.â€

     

    Gerbils, one ton CZs, The Hunter, decapitated architects; my God we had a lot to go over. I sent out a radio call to everyone for a meeting in an hour and sent in a request to Artemis for any info she might have on the above incidents of the day and went back to working until a few minutes before the meeting.

     

    Everyone (expect Buzzy who was still on surveillance at the hotel, the Instigators hadn’t left yet) was just sitting down in the conference room by the time I got there with Artemis’s information in hand. I clicked up the video components of the meeting and started. First thing I did was tell Matt about the Strike Brothers out looking for him and the “incident†they were upset about; needless to say, Matt did exactly what I thought he would, freaked out about it, not letting me get to the part about them not knowing his name, face or current ID. I forcibly interrupted otherwise the rant about “I don’t even remember what they hell incident their talking about!!†would of continued on for a few minutes, I’m sure.

     

    I dawned on me that Matt might not really have knowledge of this incident from 5 years ago. I wouldn’t be the first time that a government agency had erased or altered memories of a mission and like our incident a week ago with our little stint in the goo, he would of signed on the dotted line and never known it. He might have been involved as FO but there is no guarantee that the life he had with HAWKS is the life he actually remembers now. I reassured him of our steps to conceal his identity, fix the record so the Strike’s couldn’t find his current info. It mollified him for the time being, but I could still see him seething underneath that sarcastic exterior.

     

    We addressed the beheadings first, with the usual “there can be only one,†comments echoing around the conference room. But Shadowkahn pointed out that something unusual was happening with the Martial Artist community in general. For fact White Ninja (the former dead Gray Ninja), Dr. Lee, Windshadow and Blackstorm had appeared in Hudson City. Dr. Lee and White Ninja were known to us (although we don’t know what White Ninja can do yet), Windshadow and Blackstorm were unknown. Shadowkahn explained that Blackstorm like do to night work, so our culprit was probably Windshadow, a very public glory hound sort of ninja with the ability to captivate the audience immobile, the very non-traditional ninja. He liked to get in close to do his attacks and was exceedingly quick, when he showed up and unsheathed his sword, someone had to die. In fact it seemed to be his standard MO, the frozen audience and the instant deaths. Windshadow also seemed to change shape, being identified as anything from 5’ 2†to 6’ 8†100 pounds to 350; apparently he’s been changing size, weight and clothing styles over the last 15 years but one thing remained the same-the sword. The sword is an old style ninjato (the smallest sword Shadowkahn explained) maybe 2 pounds, 1 ounce, about 37 inches long with the handle about 25 inches long with the blade, with a wire wrapped hilt and bamboo sheath, and a stylized pearl dragon engraved on the blade. Shadowkahn further explained that apparently the blade was an ancient sword of a ninja assassin with the sword being possessed in some fashion, it showed up over 300 years ago with death and decay in its wake and the special ability to cut through ghosts. The ninjato and Windshadow apparently originated in the Himalayas in the Igato Temple. Windshadow is noted as having 3 different employers, Dr. Destroyer, Omega Corp as protector vs. a villain formerly known as Oculon and as bodyguard of Jonathan Dreswon, a former investigator of Remington Steel, (Jonathan, killed an associate was arrested and sent to jail, where he’s currently rotting away a life sentence). Unfortunately Windshadow had vanished out of Yellow Cab 611 at an address that yielded nothing.

     

    We all sat back, reflection over the information we had been given, when Shadowkahn cleared his throat and announced he had something else to tell us. He started out cautiously enough, I believe out of trying to sort out how much he should tell us vs. his own personal code of honor; I must admit that I can understand his difficulty, I certainly cant tell everyone what I’ve done, I would imagine the mystical martial arts community must have some fairly strict guidelines.

     

    During the first week of July a high level meeting had taken place involving the big players in the Martial Arts community. The Mist Viper-shadow clan, White Ninja, Voice, etc., Although the Mist Vipers were almost wipes o8ut to the man 15 years ago by Voice, they still have a small unmistakable presence in the world, Apparently Windshadow has a connection to the Mist Vipers as does Blackstorm. Why were they almost wiped out to the man? Because they took out a contract on Red Dragon the leader of Viper, talk about suicidal. Blackstorm had been recently hired to do something, his attacks are usually at night, involving storms of great magnitude and damage capacity; Blackstorm was trained by the Mist Vipers. The 8 Immortals, Stone Serpent, Hurricane Dancer, Glorious Songbird, Divine Eagle, All Seeing Eye, Blood Tiger, Undying Dragon and Celestial Lion according to Mist Viper lore the Elders gave them immortality by taking something away from each of them.

     

    White Ninja (former Gray Ninja) was trained my Master Koshin of Sunanju style, who in turn taught our own Shadowkahn. Over 15 years ago, something freaky went on in the area. 15 years ago the worst storm seasons occurred across the world happening all at once. 6 days ago an equally horrific storm season began, only to dissipate moments later, a Typhoon laid over Taiwan and a Hurricane smashed the Bahamas for a period of 6 hours, unmoving. However, only a relatively small amount of deaths followed in those storms wakes, 20 to 30 deaths with several heart attacks. Out of all this strangeness Shadowkahn basically explained that the members of the Martial Arts world were gearing up for The Tournament. I had heard of the Tournament before, mostly because of the interest PRIMUS had with it and the repercussions it brings for the world since it involves defeating the Death Dragon every 60 years. Hard to believe, the rest of the world goes unknowing that it’s existence is endangered every 60 years; personally I would of liked to of remained clueless, it only adds to the strangeness that is our time on this ball of dirt. The Death Dragon is exactly that, a Dragon, I don’t know how it came into being but I do know that it destroys all life in its path and every 60 years a Martial Artist of extraordinary caliber, who after fighting every other Martial Artist in the Tournaments that lead up to the Death Dragon’s awaking, must then fight the Death Dragon, subduing it and sending it back into its slumber for the next 60 years. Shadowkahn basically explained this for those who didn’t know about the Tournament. Are you confused? I sure the hell am.

     

    While this jumble of information rambled around the conference room, my mind wandered; just what could we expect about any of this, what if anything would we do about it? With the exception of Shadowkahn, who was firmly embroiled in it, Martial Arts Mysticism was way out of our league, all we could do was sit back and watch. Then an idea struck me, so out of curiosity I pulled up the weather channel online while Shadowkahn spoke of mysticism, martial arts, and the unique world in which he was a part of. Sure enough roughly two days out was a massive storm front moving from off the lakes right towards Millennium and Hudson Cities. Did this mean that another strain of strange heart attacks was going to happen in two days? I really didn’t know that is until my attention was drawn back to Shadowkahn’s words, the next round of the preliminary tournament would be in two days, here in Hudson City. Well there was my answer.

     

    I looked at Shadowkahn and asked him “does this mean that what we’ve seen earlier is merely a precursor to the tournament in 2 days, are you saying that the strange deaths were going to see is nothing more than practice rounds for other members of the tournament?†Kahn looked a little uncomfortable for a moment before replying, “yes, I think it is.†“So,†I sighed, “were not really going to be able to do anything about this are we?†He looked at the team, “no, I don’t think you can.†“Your in the tournament aren’t you?†I asked. “Yes,†was his reply, and I noticed a touch of pride in that simple response. “Where will it be held†“The Tourney cent is south of the city about 200ft underground,†he smiled, “you know if you would like to watch me compete, you are all welcome to come as my guests. You might even be able to meet the 3 Watchers of the Dragon, Dr. Yin Wu, Seeker and Dr. Alligator.†Wait a moment, wasn’t Seeker dead? But I left that thought unvoiced.

     

    I stood up and in my best grown up voice told the rest of the team, since we couldn’t really do anything about what was looking like warm-up sessions prior to the Tournament, we would keep our eyes peeled for any obvious breaking of the law; if we found Windshadow prior to the tourney we’d arrest him on suspicion of murder, though how we could do that without looking at him and getting paralyzed was beyond my capacity to figure out. So folks were to stay on their toes during patrols and to keep the COM channels open, and we adjourned.

     

     

    July 23, 2003

    I’m so confused I had just come upstairs to take a shower before my latest batch of tests completed, and walked into my “sitting†room when I noticed a simple upright rectangular wooden box with an envelope set on the coffee table. I sure the hell didn’t remember it being there before I walked into the bedroom and into the shower, but with the way my minds been occupied for the last two days with this latest series you could of told me the sky had turned green and I wouldn’t of noticed. I picked up the envelope, noting the Dr. S in simple neat handwritten script. Sitting down on the settee, I studied the envelope and then the box; the box was simple, apparently teakwood about 18 inches high and 7 inches square, I was utterly confused. I pulled the card out of the stiff vanilla envelope, the cards cover was beautiful; a stylized Japanese Zen garden with rocks and ripples arranged in tranquil patterns, on the inside of the card was that same style of lettering on the envelope.

     

    Dr. Stratford. Please accept my sincere apology for having to postpone your celebratory and unwinding night out. Family business and the upcoming Storm Tournament need my utmost attention. Rest assured that I will still maintain my duties as your bodyguard as needed. The attending humble bottle of sake is a poor substitute for good company and friends in social revelry, but may help in the interim until after current events resolve themselves. Enjoy however you wish to.

    Cayne

     

    I put the card and envelope aside and lifted up the box, it was surprisingly heavy; I slid the lid of the box open and found, carefully wrapped in the most beautiful translucent silk I have ever seen, a beautiful stout sake set glazed in frosted ivories and burning crimsons, below the dividing slat nestled within a cushion of rice paper is a round earthen clay jug, stopper cork tied into place. I was stunned, a jar of sake (from Japan) and a beautiful serving set. I put the box down and pulled out one of the sake cups, marveling at the richness and dichotomy of colors, I could feel the slight texture differences between the icy whites and the lush reds. I had done some pottery during college and I knew from experience that red was one of the hardest colors to kiln, it had to be done alone and had a tendency to discolor something awful when baked with other glazes, someone sure knew what the hell they were doing when they made this, I mused, absolutely beautiful. Then it dawned on me, it was colored like me, the glazes when held to the light varied from blue/white to orange/red; it was looking at myself in pottery. I felt a blush creep over my cheeks, how thoughtful of Cayne, so honorable of him, I must admit I’m a little in awe of it and for the love of God, I can’t figure out why. I put the cup back into the box and gently closed the lid, still musing I glanced at the grandfather clock and cursed aloud, I had spent so much time pondering Cayne’s gift that the test currently running would complete its cycle in just a minute, if it over cooked, the test would be ruined and I hadn’t set the timers. I booked out of my lounge the oak door swinging shut behind me as I raced down the hall to the stairwell; I’d fly down, it would be faster. Although, in the end, I stood in front of my ruined test, I was distracted more by my own emotions in my reiteration of Cayne’s words than the loss of the work in front of me. God help me, what am I star-crossed? Don’t tell me I have feelings for Cayne, I cant have feelings for Cayne…. can I?

     

     

    July 24, 2004

    It started easily enough. It early but the boys decided to take up a Danger Room session while I worked with my slides and tests tubes. I was actually up to the mansion for some serious snackage before heading back into my Jimmy Neutron Science Experience as Wire sometimes calls my experimenting (too many cartoons, sigh), when I came across Buzzy, walking down the hallway in, what appeared to be a somnambulistic state. He stopped easily at the touch of my hand, but he didn’t respond to my calling his name, I turn him towards me and was shocked to see his pupils completely dilated and vacant, dolls eyes; he was completely unresponsive to verbal commands but walked easily in any direction I steered him in. I immediately steered both of us towards the elevator and down to the computer lab for a diagnostic.

     

    Here starts part two of our 2 days of strangeness.

     

    One of the many odd things about my life is just how much shit I have access to. Buzzy being a cyborg is basically under my gentle care when it comes to his diagnostics, health and general computer well being. He does take care of himself, as is his due, but should things go strange (like now), its either me or the lab boys back at PRIMUS, or heaven forbid, back to the Army specials division.

     

    I sat Buzzy down in the diagnostics chair and opened up the back of his head (sounds gooey and odd, yes but think of a synthetic flesh overlay over a computer case, you get the idea) and plugged him in. The terminal immediately took over his self-diagnostics and started through the various scans and assessments that are part of his programming. Immediately the terminal picked up a low frequency recall signal; however the signal wasn’t any of the standard recalls certainly not the DARPA signal I was expecting, but something deeper and worse, after I started altering the readouts and following down the frequencies, subversive.

    The recall signal was embedded on a sub-channel used for diagnostic data transmittal or emergency signals, I surmised that the Army should be the only one using this frequency, hell their the only one that should be able to even recall Buzzy as they “made†him but, funny thing that, PRIMUS isn’t aware of a recall signal implanted into Buzzy’s programming. However as I got further down into the code I could see it wasn’t coming from DARPA but in a coded signal through a VIPER relay generating from an Umbrella Corporation piece of hardware stuck in his head. That made me sit back in shock and curse aloud. Umbrella Corporation is huge, dealing in biogenetics and nanotechnology, hell I had even interviewed with them at one point in my life but after listening to their speech about the company and how much they own, and I mean OWN, their employees I decided I didn’t want to become a corporate slave owned by a group that scary and amoral, just imagine what the would of done with my technology by now if I had joined. Their had been rumors circulating about the company with their bio testing but nothing concrete has ever shown up, still those of us in the genetics bioengineering divisions of science have kept our eyes and ears open when it came to Umbrella Corp.

     

    And there I was sitting in a PRIMUS base, with a PRIMUS operative, who had unauthorized Umbrella technology sitting in his skull utilizing a VIPER frequency on the lowest possible settings, words really cant properly convey exactly how I felt at that moment but I knew what I had to do. Leaving Buzzy in standby mode, I locked down the bases datalinks, internal and external access, all information was now solely flowing under my fingertips alone, and at my command each lab division shut and sealed itself off. I reached for the COM and dialed in a number I’m only suppose to use for emergencies such as this, God help me, who knew I would have had to of used it this soon in my career with PRIMUS. The operator on the other line asked me for the remaining secure codes, to which I responded, I heard the line click twice indicating where my call was routed to and spoke one simple sentence, “Locked down, Buzzy is compromised by VIPER/Umbrella tech, advise.â€

     

    In less than a minute voice came on the line, “Secured com-scrambler, hold for Admiral Stone.†Admiral Stone? When the hell did Commander Stone became and Admiral and why the hell was he handling the emergency, shouldn’t this of gone above him? Then it hit me, PRIMUS had been working on the antigravity airships, similar to what we had seen in Marvel comics, SHIELD operations. Stone was playing Nick Fury, God help me I mentioned VIPER his persona vendetta; sure enough the next voice I heard was the deep scraping voice of Admiral Stone, “tell me exactly what you’re talking about.†So I did, in simple facts and terminology; I swear I could hear the sound of wood shattering in the background, I was sure Stone was turning something in his airborne office into toothpicks.

     

    “So what do you want to do about this Frost?†Stone asked, well that was simple enough, â€Well we have no way of tracking where the recall signal was originating from and why the hell Umbrella Corp was calling Buzzy in, a lot of investigation needs to go on here, especially the link between Umbrella and VIPER.†I thought hard about my next sentence, “There is also the possibility that since Buzzy has been compromised he may need to be shut down permanently and sent back to the Army for ‘review’.†“We’ll here is a little information, we have had indications that Umbrella Corp contributes to VIPER’s operations, but that is still under wraps, so don’t talk about it.†If he breathed, I’d have sworn Stone took a deep breath before continuing, “Where are the kids at? Specifically the metal one.†I looked sideways at the monitor, oh if only he could see me, I let the suspicion in my voice crawl through the answer, “You mean Geiger? He’s in the Danger room right now, why?†“Do you have problems working with, ah, vigilantes? I something here that can help you get to where the signal is originating from.†I was really confused at that point, but a suspicion began creeping into my head about what we were talking about, “no, I suppose I don’t,†I answered cautiously. “Take two steps to your right,†Stone ordered. I immediately complied taking two large steps sideways; son of a bitch, what was he sending me?

     

    Seconds later, literally where I was just standing, the air began to waver and swirl, almost as if reality was swirling down a drainpipe. A low ‘boom’ and the swirl expanded into a black void, a hole large enough for a man to step out (I’ll I thought was oh, shit no way); sure enough Vengeance stepped out of the void. So that’s what the son of a bitch was sending me, someone PRIMUS had on the top wanted list sending him into my secured, shut down facility, without so much of a care or a difficulty; I’m not sure which freaked me out more, that Stone was working closely enough with Vengeance that the man was in his office or immediately accessible when I called, that he has access to Stone’s information or the fact that Vengeance could just pop into a secured PRIMUS facility without so much as a blink.

     

    He was un-helmeted and dressed almost casual, I wouldn’t of recognized him if it weren’t for the scar tissue across half his body from the burns he had received from Geiger exploding all over him; no wonder Stone had wanted to make sure Geiger wasn’t anywhere around the boy would have murdered him. I mentally cursed Stone for giving Vengeance a chance to look at me without the costume, nothing like blowing your secret ID with a known villain who used to travel in similar scientific circles; so we stood face to face, unmasked, for an uncomfortable moment until I extended my hand in greeting, “Vengeance,†and we shook, “I used to follow your work before the ‘attack’ (referring back to his wife’s murder by VIPER), I’m sorry for your loss.†Hey, I was! I was exceedingly sorry that his wife had been caught in the middle of the insanity and had paid the ultimate price; I was even more sorry that a scientific genius had become, this man thing driven by obsession (an obsession I was starting to see rub off on Geiger and was already consuming Stone).

     

    Vengeance seemed to actually accept my words at their face value and nodded. He quickly looked around, noting Buzzy and the readouts the computers were running; looked back towards me and extended his hand, I extended mine and he placed three gold rings in my hand. His voice was softer than I remembered but the black edge was still there, “keep these in contact with your skin or at least on your body, these rings (he picked up two and put on my index finger another on my middle finger) will expand once it’s in contact with the air and away from the bodies magnetic field, that will teleport you, that one (he pointed to the index finger’s ring) will get you there, that one (pointing to the middle finger’s ring) will bring you back. This one, he picked up the other, you connect to the cable at the port jack on him,†he indicated his head towards Buzzy, “that one will keep track of the signal so the return ring has something to follow back. You’ll have one full minute to walk through the vortex,†a wicked smile cracked his scarred face, “don’t be late and get caught in-between.â€

     

    Vengeance stepped away from me and fingered something on his wrist, swirl of reality and the black hole reappeared behind him, he nodded again towards me and stepped through, exactly one minute later it popped back out of existence.

     

    I fell heavily into the computer chair, my God, what the hell were we into, my gaze wandered between Buzzy’s dormant face, the disconnected COM and the 3 rings in my hand. My God. I sighed deeply, well whatever it was, time was wasting away. I brought the base out of lockdown and sent out the call to everyone to return to base, specifically the computer diagnostics lab, within the next 20 minutes fully loaded for an attack/rescue mission. I got up, fitted the ring between the cable and Buzzy’s skull and watched the readout alter momentarily, a secondary signal appeared under the recall; ah, there was our signal. Then I moved out to prepare my pack for the unknown.

     

    In 18 minutes, Geiger, Huntsman, Succor, Wire, Ranger and Shadowkahn met me in the computer lab, each of them looking at Buzzy’s inert form and the trails of wires leading out of him to the computer. Shadowkahn seemed preoccupied so I asked him what was up; the comment didn’t really surprise me since we had discussed it at the morning meeting. “I had a brief meeting with Dr. Wu about my accepting the invitation for the preliminary match in the tournament, it’s in 4 days, not 2 and he hopes that I’m ‘still as good as I used to be’. But never mind, why are we here chief?†I smiled at that last comment and started into the highly abbreviated version of what had occurred with Buzzy being taken over by a hidden recall protocol in VIPER/Umbrella tech, how the corporation Umbrella was responsible by under investigation by PRIMUS and how, as this situation directly endangered a member of our team and PRIMUS, we were going to investigate what the recall signal was all about, so it was going to be part rescue operation, part reconnaissance and treasure hunt and how much it pained me to say it but, we were walking into a total unknown so be alert. We would be leaving Buzzy behind and only God knew where Jet was at this moment. I purposefully left out anything involving Vengeance and how we were getting there, only that we were getting there following the recall signal. While I had given the speech, Ranger had looked over Buzzy’s readouts and gave a low whistle, “VLF signal, no wonder its got us freaked, but its about 5 hours old, it took a long time to get to him.†“Exactly, that’s why were going now. Were recording as we go, taking samples, etc. everyone be on their toes.†I paused for effect, “now then, this is how were getting there.†I pulled out the two rings showing the one on my finger the other laying on the palm of my hand, I felt like Frodo presenting the One Ring to the Fellowship, “these are how we get there and back again. Listen very closely because our lives depend on this. The rings are to remain in contact with the body until it is ready to open up the, well, wormhole, for lack of a better term. This wormhole will open up a path to where the recall signal is coming from, we have exactly one minute to get through the gate before it shuts; should you be caught on the other side when it shuts, you’re shit out of luck, understand? There are only 2, one for getting there, one for getting back.†Pausing for effect again, “there are no second chances, just remember that. Is everyone ready?†Nods of acquiescence, “ok time to go.†I tossed the first ring into the air away from us; it hung suspended in the air for only a moment, before it blossomed into the black void I would forever now recognize. We hesitated for a moment, before I started shouting like a gorilla sergeant, “Go, Go!†Ranger, bless him went first and we all jogged in, with 20 seconds to spare before the door closed behind us.

     

    I’m not sure what I was expecting, the wormhole effect from Stargate, Farscape; I felt like vomiting and it was a bit dark before we emerged on the other side, slightly disoriented but alert and ready to rumble. We emerged into a garage area bout the half the size of a football field, several cars were overturned, one was one fire, and another had the body of a dead male hanging out of the car. Something that looked like mushed human was smeared against the front of one car and an odd blue-green ichor oozed from the remains pooling below; several body parts and parts of bodies, littered the floor, some merely draped in that same ooze others burning. One wall sized garage door, its tooth grooved doors sealed like a safe, smashed keypad keeping things in or out, was it? There was a darkened hallway to our right with, what looked in the sporadic flickering lights, three elevators; also to the right was a roll top door which probably lead into a warehouse of some sort from the parking area. Needless to say, everyone was disturbed by the carnage, but Huntsman and Shadowkahn seemed the most shaken; of course it wasn’t because of the butchery but, as they stated, the overwhelming smell of otherworldly, evil and demonic odors and sights permeating the area.

     

    We slowly panned out in teams to survey the area, I grabbed Succor and we proceeded to check out the dead body in the car. I had Succor collect some of the blue-green goo along with some tissue remains in a dish, while I checked the dead guy. The man was missing his right arm at the lover humerus; it seemed to have been chewed off as I noted multiple marks from the dermis through brachialis, brachii and into the remains of the humerus; God only knew where the remains of the arm had gone (strewn around with the rest of the various body parts?) I pulled the head upwards to set it against the backrest and was shocked to find part of his face chewed away and his left orbit open with the eye missing. I was then terrified to have something resembling a scorpion come crawling out of the orbit, hissing at me and apparently intent upon eating my face of as well. Boy did I scream and scramble backwards, as it plopped down onto the floor and skittered towards me, claws clicking double pointed tails lashing, I heard “don’t kill it! Don’t kill it!†from someone, I think Ranger, knowing this would be our first specimen, yelled back “we can study it just as well frozen solid!†I aimed an ice-blast at it, encasing it and freezing it solid. Or so I thought, because a moment later, the ice around it started to crumble and it emerged, larger and faster than before screeching and hissing and running right at me. Shadowkahn leapt towards the advancing monster slicing it neatly in two, splashing more of that blue-green ichor about, with a quick slice of his sword, its dying wail summoning eight more of them out of the mans remains in the car. To hell with specimens I thought and launched a fireball at the things roasting the car, the remains and the advancing things; the death screams made my skin crawl and I noticed that both Wire and Succor shivered in revulsion as well.

     

    Shadowkahn and Huntsman looked over its chard remains and then looked at each other, “ah guys,†Huntsman said, “that was defiantly evil; it’s a type of spell that raises these demonic creatures which infests people and raises monsters from the body.†“And defiantly demonic in origin, though not completely, it also seems to be man made,†Shadowkahn finished. Great, just great, I debated calling the entire thing quits, but the look in Kahn’s eyes stopped me from voicing what I was thinking. “Ah Frost, we have a problem,†came Rangers voice. “Another one?†I quipped back, with levity I didn’t feel. “Yea, the reading I’m getting, none of our signals are getting through to the outside, were underground and fairly deep.†Great, just great, I thought, that’s all we need, Geiger and Succor are still claustrophobic and were probably more than a mile underground or in the most heavily shielded facility unknown to man, all I needed was for Geiger to get freaky and we’d have a crisis on our hands. I sent the boys looking thru the non-charred remains for any signs of pass codes or pass-keys and gathered the guys to me, “No talking about where we are please,†I whispered to Ranger, Shadowkahn and Huntsman, don’t want Geiger freaking out, hell I don’t want to take the chance of myself freaking, getting out would be a fiery mess.â€

     

    We headed down the darkened hallway holding the elevators, with a yellow swipe-card Ranger had found on one of the torso remains. The power down the hallway was off, with sporadic flashes of emergency lights giving us a path towards the doors; what we didn’t see was the four individuals come shambling towards us, until they were almost upon us.

     

    I’ve never wanted to star in a horror move but somehow we had just stepped into one of the high budget ones from Universal Studios. Out of the lengths of darkness, surprising the hell out of us came 4 zombies with robotic parts; electronic red glowing eyes, tubes and wires plugged into their skulls and other locations across the body, clawed metal hands with wicked looking talons, and arms with metal spikes. A bizarre combination of flesh and cybernetics came towards us at a walk but with determination and death in their undead eyes. I know I squeaked in fear and I heard several “ewwws†in disgust from around me, someone (probably Geiger) said “Freaky, zombie cyborgs. Should we call them Zomborgs?†That broke the fear that seemed to of gripped us and we readied ourselves to send packing straight back to whatever hell had spawned them.

     

    “Ranger†I ordered, “give em a shot so we can get an idea of how much it will take to make them permanently dead.†Matt unslung the rifle, took aim and fired, and proceeded to blow off the right side and a robotic arm off of one of them; however, it didn’t go down. Hell it didn’t even slow it down, trust me we were all surprised. At that point we unloaded into them, for the 48 feet of the hallway, we blasted, hacked, electrocuted, magnetized, clawed, slashed, hacked, shot, crunched, punched and roasted creepy zombies in our path. It ended with me putting an ice shard into the last one that kept crawling towards us even after we had blasted its legs off.

     

    While the guys tried to figure out the best way to watch out for them (Succor couldn’t see them on IR and Huntsman’s magic vision didn’t detect them either), I collected up one of the robotic arms and part of the zombie flesh, good thing I had sealed bio-hazard bags; however, Succor still wasn’t too happy to be carrying around my samples. With the zombies being at room temperature we weren’t going to see them under IR so we stuck to normal sight parameters and got to elevators at the end of the hall, 1 cargo and 2 personnel elevators. The guys started discussing which of the elevators we should take, personally it was an easy choice the cargo elevator being the largest to house all of us an to not split the party (remember, were in a horror move now Mom, never split the party!)

     

    The pass card swiped through the reader system next to the elevators with no problems, activating all of them for use. We noted that a set of red and yellow switches with the identifier of ‘decontamination’ next to the cargo elevator, the yellow one was depressed, what that meant was anyone’s guess. Geiger hit the button for the cargo and we waited patiently with weapons at the ready for whatever might come popping out at us when it opened. Nothing alive or undead, greeted us, body parts, blood and gore flung about the elevator gave us a preview of what we would be encountering the further we went into the complex. Huntsman and Shadowkahn surveyed the elevator, Kahn commented on the taint of evil tainted with a odor of demonic permeated the elevator, though he surmised it was probably because of what had happened to the people trying to escape. Huntsman indicated there was some sort of evil remaining above the elevator. We all took a cautious step away from the elevator doors after that remark. Huntsman pulled the lasso from his side, and commanded it to hit the down button inside the elevator, the end of the rope snaked out of his hand around the edge of the elevator doors and popped the button, quickly retracting into his hands. I had never seen that before, it had completely caught me off guard; I knew he used the rope to get around swinging around like Tarzan, but the thing responded to his commands, what the hell sort of rope was that? I left my musings for another time as the summoned center elevator ‘dinged’ open and a new walking horror came forward to kill us.

     

    This one was infinitely more disgusting then the zombies, it’s elongated arms ended in vicious claws, its red glowing eyes and insectoid in its looks made us stumble back, and Shadowkahn commented the red eyes were attributed to demonic taint. Huntsman jumped it first, sending a lightning bolt into its torso, it swung and missed him and then opened its mouth and hissed, its eyes glowed brighter and a blast of energy ripped passed me and Ranger hitting Geiger squarely in the chest, staggering the boy backwards and onto his ass; Geiger actually blinked in surprise not expecting the energy to be drained out of him. Huntsman yelled something about its eyebeams being eldritch in their power, before all ways lost in the flurry of activity trying to kill the damned thing. Shadowkahn sailed over its head while trying to claw it landed on the other side to in a defensive stance, Wire began pelting it with his magnetic shots and I pulled Succor behind me to help Geiger get up. Ranger’s rifle at short range and in close quarters is rather deafening, but the shot took the creatures head off; unfortunately it didn’t kill the creature who lumbered forward reaching its claws for us. Geiger, recovered and pissed off at it, put a roundhouse right into its chest, which made it slump dead onto his arm. Geiger, in his usual, ‘get this thing off my hand routine,’ was too busy trying to push the damn thing off to notice the head sized black spiderish looking thing skitter up from the things back and towards his head (think the spider head from The Thing and you’ll get the right visual). Succor tapped my back and I felt the familiar shivering charge of ‘power-up’ rush through my nerves, I concentrated and turned my usual fireball into a sort of fire beam (no not a laser) and blasted the spider off, back into the elevator, crisping as it oozed down the back of the elevator dead. From behind us came Succor’s remark of “well at least we know fire sure kills them things,†we all nodded in mute agreement.

     

    For a moment we stood quietly, trying to gather our thoughts when Huntsman suddenly reeled sideways, as if struck. We stared at him, and then followed his gaze towards the cargo doors set into the sidewall, Shadowkahn tensed for a moment, before we heard a very familiar, “Hello?†echo from behind the doors. “Jet?†I asked incredulously, “Is that you?†“Of course it’s me and Buzzy.†To coincide with his name, Buzzy’s forearm claws extended trough the metal of the cargo doors and quickly gutting and dropping the door, to reveal Buzzy and Jet (in all her demonic glory) behind him. They came through the fallen door and joined us in the hallway, “Buzzy, Jet, as much as I love the idea you’re here to help us, Buzzy, why the hell are you here? How are we supposed to get home when the homing device was connected to your head?†I muttered; thinking how screwed we might be. “Relax, I ran the tracker to the computer for a power source, it still has the signal.†“Oh thank God,†was all I could say. Then it dawned on me, “Er, Buzzy, why aren’t you catatonic anymore?†He looked a little sheepish for a moment, before launching into the explanation, “Well you see back at base.†“Just a moment, let me tell my parts,†Jet interrupted, “You see although I was out doing other things for the mistress, I felt you were in grave danger and I had to get to you immediately, so I went to the base and found Buzzy hooked up and asleep, so I woke him up and teleported us here to help you.†Ok, that was disturbing, the Demon felt I was in deep shit so she’s come to rescue me, oh goody. Jet surveyed the remains of the bodies zombie bodies and the insectoid thing and made ‘ah herm’ noises. “Humph, summoned dead and zombies, ick. You know there is something about using technology to raise the dead I vaguely remember.†I suggested she try and remember a little more than vaguely. “There is something in the lore of Demons and Devils is part of the G’Gauc legion (which sounded like googack) dealing with summoning through technology, or summoning with technology, or something like that. It’s not my forte, so I don’t really know too much about it.†We all turned and looked at the doors opening on the last of the elevators. “But they look like that,†Jet pointed towards the two things bouncing in the elevator, their destruction was fairly simultaneous as we all blasted away at the things before they had the chance to act.

     

    We hit the button to bring the cargo elevator back up and the team prepared for the next wave of things to appear. Fortunately we were disappointed as nothing but the previous carnage remained inside (Huntsman sensed nothing else around it) and I spent a few minutes freezing the various remains into a removable block and flushed it out of the elevator clearing a slightly less squishy position for us inside.

     

    The trip down look longer than I wanted to think about, at 4 minutes we still hadn’t reached bottom and based upon rate of descent, we were roughly 2 miles down. Succor was staying as calm as possible but beads of sweat were slowly tracing down his face; that was about the time when Geiger’s growing claustrophobia kicked into overdrive and he flipped out, trying to pry the doors open and punching at the walls; which prompting Shadowkahn and Ranger into hammering him. Now imagine all of our team crammed into one service elevator with the brick of the group going ballistic, don’t you think we’d try and get him unconscious as soon as possible? While Kahn and Ranger tried pummeling him into another state of mind, Wire helped by suggesting if Geiger didn’t calm down, he wouldn’t get any pizza for the next month; I don’t know if it was the pounding or the pizza but Geiger immediately calmed down and remained calm the rest of the trip down, which took several more minutes, I believe by the time we finally touched bottom, we were about four miles under ground (a discovery I resolved to keep away from Geiger and Succor for obvious reasons).

     

    The doors opened up allowing us to view more carnage, that and one huge freakin cyborg, the descimated bodies laying in a large circle around it, “electro-magnetic field,†Wire provided. Buzzy blinked a few times at it, “funny, I seem to recall that being a Bio-removal borg, but I don’t know why I know that.†Buzzy looked at me with some concern, “By the way, I’m picking up several signals now, I think I can tap then and get some further information, and possibly some control over the signals as well.†Buzzy blinked again, “I’ve got its specs now, it’s also got 3 programs its following, kill any organics, kill specific organics and do not allow these specific organics to escape and await for Umbrella disposal team.†“So, it’s supposed to destroy zombies and not allowing anything living but he disposal team in or out?†Ranger asked. Buzzy responded affirmative. “So,†asked Huntsman, eyeing the impressive artillery mounted on the borg, “can you tell it were the disposal team so it doesn’t smear the walls with us?†Buzzy nodded he’d try; I watched is eyes unfocus and refocus as if looking at something in the distance; the borg swiveled towards us wicked claws outstretched only to stop, swivel towards 2 other zombies shambling out of the hallway behind it and splatter them across the floor and walls. “I cant quite get its programming,†Buzzy said, looking disappointed. “Buzz, you said your getting another signal, is that coming from the computer in the room beyond the borg?†Buzzy nodded in consent, “well then if you already have that signal why don’t you hack that computer system to get the disposal teams ID code and route it through the system that way?†I asked. “I’ll tryâ€, and his eyes unfocused again; “got it.†With those words the borg swiveled away from us and took up a rolling patrol between the elevators and the sealed security room we could see beyond it. We walked very carefully passed it, not to doubt Buzzy’s skills but sometimes its better to err on the side of caution.

     

    Beyond the elevator waiting area lay a hallway and what appeared to be the first security room; its viewing window was smeared with blood and the door torn off, peering through the opening we could see body parts, but nothing undead or still living. We quickly got into the room and Buzzy and Ranger hooked themselves up to the security system (with Geiger watching them) in an attempt to get us more information and if anything, some schematics of the facility. The team did well, we kept defensive positions and in teams of 2 stayed together while we checked out the rest of the security room, Shadowkahn and I found another dead half eaten body in the bathroom, Jet watched the hallway (with Succor behind her in the room), while Wire and Huntsman found the video cameras and the live feeds, “We’ve got more zombies down the hall coming our way,†they told us, and while Ranger and Buzzy continued their hacking of the computer we took turns watching the shambling horde progress towards our room. “What you think? Somewhat standard Romero zombies?†I asked, indicating the cybernetic body parts and gun ports sticking out. “If you mean the ‘shot to the head’ ones, yea probably.†Shadowkahn replied, “Which also means that if they bite you or transfer fluids, they’ll infect you.†I surveyed the room quickly, Succor wore biker armor but his hands and head were uncovered, Wire was clothed in cloth and shielded by his forcefield, Geiger was completely armored, Ranger was in a sealed suit (though his helmet was off now), Shadowkahn in light woven ninja armor, Huntsman had Kevlar and cloth, Jet was naturally armored, Buzzy in Kevlar and cloth and myself in cloth when my shield wasn’t up; some of us would be woefully out of luck with a bite or blood spray.

     

    Ranger announced that the terminal they were at wasn’t hooked up to the main server so we only had limited access to information but we had a schematic of the building. It had several layers which, after this hallway and its decontamination section, broke up into several hallways; however, although the video surveillance in this room only went a little further than what appeared to be the main security office (down past our shambling horde of zombies), there were doctors and workers living quarters, men’s & women’s bathrooms, conference and meeting rooms. Then one hallway had an id of something called the “sterilizer†and beyond that was a Y in the halls, two giant and rather permanent looking security doors, and the interestingly identified, reanimation lab, reanimation fluid lab, regen labs, stabilizer lab, nano-programing lab, and storage and holding. Down the other hallway was a set of monster sized security doors read parasite storage, laboratory and parasite warrior lab, parasite control and cloning labs, and parasite lab & marines units. Needless to say, I was not thrilled with the idea of what I was observing. An entire base of fruit loops devoted to taking demonic parasite things and mixing them with nanites, cybernetics and human parts to make creatures of mass destruction. “By the way,†Ranger’s voice interrupted by gloomy thought processes, “I can change the access card to give us full access to the facility, that cool with you?†I nodded yes, and he placed the yellow key card into a slider machine sitting on the desk, hit a couple of keys on the computer attached to it, and swiped the card, it changed from yellow to blue on the second swipe. “There ya go, were good to go,†he smiled triumphantly.

     

    Geiger called everyone’s attention to a bunch of JPEG files he found on one of the stand-alone computers, “the photos don’t have any names, just codes, but,†he swallowed hard, “well see for yourselves,†and he began a slideshow of horror. It’s hard to describe them, I can now understand why Lovecraft used to leave so much to the imagination when it came to describing eldritch horrors; they were things out of LSD nightmares, twisted devastations of human/cybernetics and demonic influence, wires, cables, cords, tube carrying viscous fluids protruded from all over the body, some walked on two legs, some on four, some flew, others had tentacles some had claws, some had both, others had teeth to rend and tear, eyes or optical sensors in places they shouldn’t be. Unnamable walking horrors, each a Earth haunting nightmare of flesh and form, God what THINGS they were.

     

    The silence following the end of the slide show was thick each of us wrapped in our individual thoughts, I turned back to the video cameras to watch the horde of zombies come closer to us. “We should let the big guy finish them off so we can go.†I quietly suggested. That suggestion seemed to galvanize the rest of the team, mumbled statements of ‘hell no’ and ‘I want a piece of that’ came from the assembly. So, using the big borg as a staging point, we sat in wait of the advancing zombies. It was a ghastly slaughter of undead, the borg wiped out most of them before the guys jumped into the fray blasting, Shadowkahn and Wire teaming up on one, Ranger and Geiger teaming another with Buzzy lopping off gun arms; the hallway was a bloody grizzly mess by the time we were done. Ranger picked up the lopped off gun but thru it down disgusted, “damn thing, I cant use it.†We looked at him inquiringly, he shrugged, “I’m almost out of ammo, and I’m hoping that they have dead security guys with guns.†I, of course ribbed him about coming to a fight without having enough ammo and he in turn joked, using the line from Tremors 2, I wasn’t properly briefed! I looked back at him, “well hopefully you wont have to go into hand-to-hand combat with them,†I retorted, abusing part of the line from the same movie. I took a deep breath at that moment and started into my battle plan, “ok folks, I don’t know if we’ll find any survivors or what else where going to run into down here, but our job is still to investigate and if necessary, were going to have to eradicate this insanity that Umbrella has developed.†I paused, looking pointedly at Buzzy, “You sir, are probably at greatest risk here, these things are created from the same if not similar technology that created you. The nanites in you may or may not react to the crap that Umbrella created; however, the zombie/demon raising crap they utilized will probably directly effect you. Do yourself a favor, stay out of hand to hand combat with them, I don’t want you catching anything.†I then looked at the rest of the team, “that actually includes all of you, don’t go into hand to hand unless we have no choice, use your distance weapons and for those of us with power blasts, i.e. Huntsman, Geiger, Wire and myself, were going to get the most tired during this trip. I want us surrounding the others and close to the front; we fire first, in waves to keep the destruction levels going, before anyone has to get into hand-to-hand is that clear?†I got various nods and sounds of agreement, and I couldn’t help but be proud of all of them right then and there. “Well then,†I clapped my hands together, “lets get moving and see what sort of damage we can cause.â€

     

    We jogged down the now clear hallway, and came across a set of storage lockers and a locker room with several UV goggles and one gun, fully loaded, that Ranger scooped up. Everyone put on a set of goggles and we proceeded down the zig-zag divided hallway. Good thing we had put on the goggles but anyone with unprotected skin wound up with fast sunburn as the UV decontamination section of the hall toasted everyone. Our clothing and skin had a light layer of ash the first few dermal layers were burned off. I had seen this sort of decontamination before, but rarely had experienced it outside of a clean lab. I myself had the armored layer of ice I wear fairly lasered off and polished to mirror sheen, it looked pretty cool actually and lasted for only a few moments before I built up the layers again. It lead to the guys joking and ribbing me as to how they could use me as a disco ball or bounce lasers off me. We came to a secondary door, which leads to another storage room were we found spare computers; some lab equipment, 2 large flat panel displays and broke open food containers; then to the back of the room was a door that lead into a locker room and then out into the next decontamination hallway and further into the facility. Ranger’s danger sense went off wild as we neared the locker room but we couldn’t go back since this was the only route, Shadowkahn and Ranger opened the door and a freaking huge clawed spiky monster popped it head out and screamed at us and launched itself at Shadowkahn grappling him. We went ballistic and it was a free for all, unfortunately it was also a mess of combat, I missed and hit Geiger, which did power him up some but I still missed; another smaller monster jumped out of a locker at Jet and they starting fighting above us Jet clinging to the ceiling and it on top of the lockers slashing and clawing at her. Shadowkahn wriggled out of its grasp as Buzzy skewered the spider parasite on its back (killing the monster underneath), but as he pulled back the thing removes itself from the monster and jumps at him trying to attach itself to him, Buzzy does a wild swing that cuts it in two killing it. Shadowkahn sends two shirkins to the clawed nightmare attacking Jet, which along with her damage sends it crashing to the floor dead. Jet is actually fairly wounded, but she says her natural healing will take care of it.

     

    We stepped around the remains of the two creatures and began searching the lockers for anything else that could help us. We found more UV goggles (we all grabbed a set), we found an empty M19-11 with a hand still attached to the grip (which we gave to Ranger sans hand). Geiger, upset he couldn’t really go hand to hand with the things, grabs a locker off the wall and begins the horrendously loud, eye blinkingly screeching job of compressing it down into a large metal bat to attack the creatures with; the bat winds up being about 5 feet long and probably a foot thick but he was happy with the results. We also found 2 torn ID cards but no other security cards to give us access. There were also disposable suits for everyone who would need them to keep from getting sunburn through the second set of decontaminations (which were longer and looked more intricate from the blueprints).

     

    We emerged from the latest irradiation and disposed of the suits, though we kept the goggles just in case (though Succor liked them enough to keep wearing them, said it added to the speedster look), and we emerged into a hallway with another bot, which then proceeded to turn and fire plasma bolts at us! Wire quickly got his force wall between Ranger (it was coming right at him) and the shot blocking most of the damage only warming the outside of Ranger’s armor. Buzzy let loose with a string of codes that put the bot into stand down mode, allowing us to pass.

     

    We arrived at the 3-way intersection; to our left was the security room we were looking for. Unfortunately it seemed that the passkey wasn’t going to work on the door alone, we needed the passcode as well. And argument started up between us with Jet and Geiger wanting to just tear down the massive doors were as Matt suggested, “If we had talc, I could dust the keypad for the fingerprintsâ€. I looked around and noted down the hallway was an office for a Dr. Kim Lewis, hopefully Dr. Lewis was a girl and believed in makeup, Succor and I ransacked the office and was able to find facial powder, which we gave to Matt. The used numbers we the 4, 5 and 9 now all he had to do were try combinations to get the code. The argument about tearing down the doors vs. keeping them up continued while Matt deciphered the code, turns out it was 9544 and took all of 8 tries to get it. The door opened with the smell of ozone wafting out, a second door greeted our gaze; “how much you want to bet it’s a clean room as well, the ozone dropping contaminates for the security room?†I mused aloud. “Well it looks like the 2nd doors wont open until the other set closes, so I’d say you were correct,†answered Matt. We briefly discussed who was best at what and decided to let our resident hackers Buzzy and Ranger into the facility and see what damage they could do. Unfortunately that meant that they met the creature hiding inside the room by themselves; fortunately it seemed to of been busy eating its last meal so Ranger was able to lob one round into it and then they retreated back into the spacer between the doors and back towards us. As they emerged from the doorway into the hall with us, we took the few minutes to devise a plan for a kill zone. Keeping the doors sealed, we took up stances around the now buckling doors and waited for the things to break through. The situation quickly became out of control though, when the creature tore a arms wide opening through the double doors, it vomited out a copy of itself behind Matt and we were forced to split our attacks, Kahn tried a leaping cut but missed and landed within arms reach of the one still inside the room, unfortunately the creature shot out an arm and snagged Shadowkahn before he had the chance to move, grabbing him up slams Shadowkahn’s back and head into the remains of the door knocking him unconscious. Jet looks between the two creatures and I yell for her to work on saving Kahn, she jumps down from her perch on the side of the wall and wraps her arms around Shadowkahn, grabs hold of the arm holding him and tears into it ripping it off. Ranger began shooting the gooey one that had appeared behind us, Huntsman sends a bolt of lightning into the door which transfers into the building and lit the lights up, I blasted the gooey vomited one smashing it backwards and burning it, which worked a little as it shrunk some. Geiger put his fist into the hole created by the creature and blasts it with a plasma burst, the scream of rage and pain echoes out through and a second set of clawed hands grab the sides of the doors and rips them in two. Jet plays keep-away with Shadowkahn from the creature, keeping him clenched close to her. Buzzy slashed the thing twice and it roared at us. Then the unexpected happened, Jet barked back at it, sending a rush of hellfire into it, hoping to roast it, but instead we watch in horror as some of the recent wounds heal up. We hear, “oops,†from her as she dances back still holding Shadowkahn’s unconscious body to her chest, “It’s a full grown demon, not a half human, I didn’t know!†Huntsman leaps forward driving his dagger into its chest, and channels his lightening through the blade into the demons body, we watch the lightning punch though it and crackle into the walls behind, the body blackens and falls to the floor dead. The creature we were fighting vanishes, and with a lot of expletives involved, we surmised that it was an illusion generated by the demon.

     

    “Jet hon,†I say, taking Shadowkahn’s unconscious body from her, “you’re going to have to hold off on the hellfire. Apparently it heals anything that comes from you neck of the woods. While were down here lets leave setting things on fire to me.†She nods in acceptance. We walk (carrying Shadowkahn) through the ruined doors and the ozone hallway into the security room. I tell Geiger to find me the first aid kit in my pack, and I hold Succor back from healing him. “Wait,†I point to Kahn’s back, showing Succor 6 neat puncture holes along Kahn’s spine, “I need to get a look at this before you heal him, we don’t want to leave anything inside.†So I bend to my task while the guys, find the circuit breakers and fuses blown. It takes some further searching but eventually the guys find new fuses, plug them all back in and reset the circuits. The first thing flipping the switch does is turn on the security systems, Buzzy and Ranger get busy checking the systems and hacking into the security systems. Suddenly Buzzy says, “Mother is coming online.†To which, we all look at him strange, “It’s the facilities AI, she’s becoming active.†“I hope that’s a good thing,†Huntsman says. I find nothing in the holes in Shadowkahn’s back, no traces of residue or, thank God, creatures, so I let Succor do his best to heal him up.

     

    “Ok guys, find me the schematics on this place, any information you can download, load it and store it, were taking it with us. See if the systems will indicate if anyone normal is still alive down here.†I tell them, as I bend over their shoulders looking at the computer readouts and the surveillance net videos. “Oh crap.†Is the last thing heard on the security system, as we begin viewing the cameras; the one marked containment shows 55 open containers A-F are open, the Parasitic warrior storage shows 2 giant spider warriors walking around, apparently still stuck inside their room, there are 2 active bio-containment units running the other 5 are off line. Ranger pulls up the last digital recording from 6 hours ago, back before Umbrella’s little freaky utopia down here went haywire, It shows in the conference room several individuals talking about a computer virus that has gotten into the system, talking about a shut down to control the virus. Suddenly there is a power surge and the lights blink out, the tape goes dark. The next activation we see on the computer readout is Buzzy’s recall code activated, 5 hours 30 minutes later.

     

    We remained in mute, contemplative silence for a few minutes before Geiger says, “Hey this guy must have been board, he’s got several self made video cameras transmitting from around the building, especially in the women’s rooms. There’s a camera in Dr. Netty Schultzs room where there I see 3 reanimated creeps, A Dr. Akens as big oogy in there. And one live, apparently still kicking one, I’m assuming Dr. Darlene McGee, locked in her room.†“Great, lets get the survivor out, find where she is,†I say. Buzzy breaks in, “I can try contacting the AI, and maybe she has more information then what were seeing.†He looks at me, “you want me to try?†I nod, “anything is better than nothing.†Buzzy closes his eyes in concentration, mostly for effects though, then suddenly his eyes pop open and he exclaims, “Well that sucks.†We all look at him, and he explains, “apparently I’m not the only one that was summoned, Yankee and Delta units are missing, whoever they were. Not only that but there is a thermonuclear device on the base, and since the base went to hell in a hand basket, and once Mother can find the 24 activations codes and triggers it, we have three minutes.†“Oh that does suck,†says Ranger, “I just picked up where the 3 life forms are, uncontaminated, say hi to our witnesses folks.â€

     

    Perfect, however long it takes Mother to find her execution codes and then 3 minutes from time of activation, nothing like working under pressure. The discussion was just starting to get underway when I put an immediate halt to it. Shadowkahn had recovered and spoke up, “I’ll got get the doc, doc, she’s just down the hallway from us.†And then he did something I had never seen before; he changed, morphed into what looked like an a-typical security guard right in front of us. “Well hell, never seen that before, aren’t you full of surprises,†I said. He gave me a winning grin, saluted and then headed down the hallway towards Dr. McGee’s room.

     

    Overhead we hear, SECURITY PROGRAM DELTA INITIATED. We look inquiringly at Buzzy, he shrugs and then ‘listens’ for a moment, “its moving Mother to a secured location for when the nuke blows.†Great, just great, “Ok, Ranger you’re the most qualified to do this, you stay here and keep Mother from getting the codes to enact the nuke, Succor will stay with you to help you and to take care of the survivors we bring back, Wire you stay with them for defense. Buzzy your coming with us to give us updates and any problems we may have with any other bots we come in contact with.†I paused for a breath, “ok everyone huddle over the schematics here,†and the team pulled in close, “ok we have this hallway to the left of us that heads in a downward angle, we’ll hit that one first since that dot is closer, once we retrieve that person we come back here. Ranger will seal these doors (I pointed to the massive metal security doors in the hallway) once were beyond them to help keep the monsters from following us. Then we all head for the last dot for final pick up. That one will have to be fast because Ranger wont be able to block Mother’s hunt for he codes and once the bomb is active we have 2 minutes after that to get our asses out of here. Is everyone clear on the plan?†I asked. “Get in, kill whatever’s in the way, grab the people, get out,†sounds simple enough replied Geiger (our master of the understatement.) We heard a gasp from the doorway and looked up to see a disheveled demure woman who I assumed was Dr. McGee. “Doctor, you’re going to stay here with my people, please follow everything they say, we’re here to rescue you.†I said, it was a partial truth; we were trying to find survivors, now. She nodded and gulped heavily, her eyes big as saucers; Kahn showed her into the room and she immediately fled to the back of the room and curled up.

     

    With that, we left Ranger, Succor and Wire (force field up and running blocking the doorway) in the security room; the rest of us headed down the left hallway towards our second rescue. Over our comms Succor’s voice perks up, “you have massive readings in front of you, just beyond the first set of doors, video shows over a dozen zombies.†“Roger that,†I copied, I looked at Geiger and Huntsman, “Ok, on 3 were going to combine our attacks and send it into the room, that should take out our first problem.†They nodded in agreement, I had Kahn hold the door and on 3 of 1, 2, 3 he pulled it open enough for the 3 of us to put hands in and let go. Plasma, lightning and fire exploded into the room, and Shadowkahn slammed the door shut, we wait. “All clear, that was ugly,†says Succor a moment later and we proceed down the hallway past the smoldering remains of the now permanently deceased undead, up to another door. “A pair of spider things is behind that door.†We try for the same tactic but when Shadowkahn goes to open the door a crack, it opens up completely into the wall. We fire off a combined shot but it wasn’t well aimed, and the 2 remaining spiders advances down the hall to us, one of them flinging 12-porcupine type spikes into Geiger paralyzing him. Buzzy leaps and gets in an attack from behind, Jet and Shadowkahn attack it from the front putting it down. Were certainly not expecting the blaster shot that nails Buzzy from behind sending him crashing into the wall, we look past the spider remains and see an undead demon mixed marine lowering the weapon to reload for the next shot. Huntsman takes the moment in-between shots to Tarzan himself over in a flying leap, planting his dagger into its shoulder sending another blast of lightning down thru the blade into the marine, it glowed for a moment illuminated from inside, then it dropped wetly to the floor. A shot flies by Huntsman’s head as a second, unseen marine moves forward to the attack. Shadowkahn attacks the remaining spider sending it crashing into the wall. Through all the chaos, I hear Matt mumble across the radios, “still stalling her.†Huntsman turns to attack the new marine but misses on the upswing, so Jet jumps in for the kill but she overshoots and misses, then she slips on the gore-coated floor and winds up next to the spider on the floor. It tries to crawl onto her, but Geiger, freed from the paralytic spikes by yours truly, leaps onto it smashing his fists into the thing killing it. I send a fireball into marine doing some damage but this thing is kicking our asses; it put Huntsman down with a shot, Buzzy is on the ground, Jet and Geiger both miss putting it out of our misery, finally Shadowkahn takes it out with one of his fancy killer ninja techniques.

     

    Our breather doesn’t last long, Wire did the smart thing and flew over the fight to where the life signal is generating from; it’s a bathroom and the door is jammed shut, but we can hear the guy inside and Wire lets him know that “were here to rescue you.†Unfortunately something that looked like a cross between a deformed elephant man and an octopus also hear Wire comes out from the doors at the end of the hall and pierces Wire’s chest with two of its tentacles. We hear in our headsets, “4 out of 24,†Matt is keeping Mother at bay, but loosing ground slowly but surely.

     

    Shadowkahn, Geiger and myself all combine our attacks and blast away at the thing attacking Wire, Kahn’s throwing stars bounce, Geiger missed but my fireball plows through its chest, but it doesn’t die! “Shit, 6 out of 24.†Jet grabs Wire pulling the tentacles out of him and brings him to safety, the thing snakes a tentacle at me, which I cant dodge and it pierces my chest just below the left breast (it was aiming for my heart!), all of a sudden I go all weak in the knees and I literally feel the blood getting sucked out of me, I shrieked in pain and tried to pull it out but it wouldn’t release. Shadowkahn and Huntsman came to my side trying to cut through it but they couldn’t and Geiger couldn’t keep a hold of it. I shriek, “It’s chewing, it’s eating my alive!†In a panic, I concentrate and explode fire out my side, down the tentacle and into it, it howls in pain but doesn’t die and I feel it bite deeper into me.

     

    Wire, seeing how badly hurt I am, sends and electrical attack into the creature, knocking himself out in the process. Buzzy finally gets into range and goes Wolverine all over it, cutting the tentacle away and killing it. Jet grabs me by the collar and drags me over where Wire is passed out. Suddenly a shot rings out from beyond the double doors and Buzzy goes down with a 44 auto mag in the back, and for those of us who are able to catch a glimpse of it, a metal coated, gun packing skeleton fades back into the room.

     

    “Holy shit what was that?!†Buzzy yells, as he crawls away from the doorway. From overhead we hear Mother’s voice say “Gun Kata Executioner Robot.†“Ok fuck,†we hear Buzzy say, “I’ve heard of them, it’s the ultimate assassin robot, it will dodge everything and kill us before we can get in close.†Geiger, disbelieving, says, “sure it, will,†and tries to attack it, and proceeds to get peppered by 8 bullets for his troubles. “8 of 24.†Buzzy drags Geiger back to commiserate with Wire and myself; Huntsman uses his dagger and carves the damaged bathroom door out of its frame, freeing the guy, who bolts past us all trying to get away, I yell for Succor to grab the guy before he gets too far and keep him in the security room with them, I get an “will do.â€

     

    Shadowkahn, Jet and Buzzy go in to attack the Gun Kata; it splits up its shots and does a full auto onto Jet and half on Shadowkahn and Buzzy; trying to help, I freeze its feet to the floor.

     

    Jet is bleeding profusely, the damage she has been taking over the course of the evening is catching up with her by now, the full auto just about did her in, so I yell for her to retreat and let Shadowkahn take care of the Gun Kata, it’s martial arts blades vs. martial arts guns, it takes time and a lot of dodging but eventually Shadowkahn takes it down.

     

    We drag our highly damaged asses back to the security room; letting Ranger close the massive steel doors behind us, sealing whatever else might be further down the hallways in. Jet isn’t healing as fast as she should, Wire is unconscious but no longer bleeding, I’ve got a hole in my chest and an exposed ribcage that I’ve sealed with ice to keep from keeling over; Geiger has several holes in him, Buzzy’s nanites are working overtime and Shadowkahn is nursing several gunshot grazes and Huntsman seems to be the only one without a gaping wound. Succor almost knocks himself out healing me and Wire and then we look at Jet. We’ve never let Succor heal her because of her otherworldliness, I mean, she’s a demon, what sort of harm could Succor do to himself trying to heal her? We discuss of it for a moment, and then I agree to allow Succor to try and heal her. One of the worst ideas I’ve ever allowed; Succor nearly keels over after touching her-healing her, as the toxins in her body attack his system, he’s staggering and looks green around the gills. Shadowkahn sniffs him, “your tainted,†he says, “oh great,†he says, “you know I still have to heal you.†Shadowkahn looks at him dubiously, “there’s a chance you might pass on her taint you know,†Kahn replies, “but if were going to survive this, you’ll have to heal me.†Succor touches Shadowkahn and heals him, Kahn concentrates, “nope, I’m good,†and smiles, “I guess it will be hit or miss with the taint.†I look at them all, “well according to the Dystergia tank information I’ve gotten from PRIMUS, the tank has even healed demonic taint from previous operatives, so I think we should be fine even if we do get tainted.†Even though I was already thinking about the effects of demonic taint on mutants being not such a good thing, there had been a cat mutant named Teague that had been exposed/injected with demon blood, his fur had grown into spikes similar to that of porcupine quills and he’s coloration had begin to change to blood red, fortunately his team mates had tanked him before the mutation had developed further.

     

    We remained outside of the security room and had our last debate, the two Umbrella scientists didn’t want to leave the facility, we had a hard time convincing them that the base was locked down and it was either go with us, or die a horrible radioactive death once Mother reached countdown. We had only one more human to go and they were at the end of the last hallway and to the right, inside the damaged containment room. God help us, we were going to make it through and out and we had to do it fast since Ranger had to come with us and couldn’t stay behind to keep Mother busy. As we all (scientists in tow) hoofed it down the final hallway, our countdown accelerated, “11 of 24â€. We passed under another set of biological cleansers, this one giving my ice armor diamond sheen; too bad I can’t duplicate the effects later.

     

    We make it to the first set of doors leading to our final objective and walk into 4 creatures coming from the other direction. One looks like a standard zombie type, one has a small set of claws and glowing green brainpan, another has a mostly organic looking gun grafted to one arm with wicked looking claws on the other arm and then a final one with really long claws. Shadowkahn and a recovered Wire attack, Kahn going after the one with the claws, Wire going after the one with the grafted gun, but Wire misses his target; it raises its arm aiming the gun and fires, literally. A gout of sickly green flame belches out of its mussel though all of us down the length of the hall. We hear the two scientists scream in pain and fall to the floor dying. Shadowkahn and Ranger are reeling from the flame damage with myself being the most undamaged (something about living in flame environment makes me immune to most fires…) “We just spent all that time getting killed saving these two idiots and that thing kills them?!!†came Geiger’s incredulous roar, Succor rushes to try and save the two humans, as the rest of us fell upon the 4 creatures in a frenzy. Geiger rushed forward but misses the two zombies he was trying to clothesline, allowing them to get in and attack on him but they miss as well. A recovered Shadowkahn goes in with claws bared and starts dissecting the one with the larger claws, Wire attacks the one with the smaller claw and the green glowing brains while I go after the green flame one. Jet attacks with claws the flamethrower one I’m attacking, putting her claws through its body. Ranger round-house kicks the one with the giant claws and actually kicks an arm off (he must be part jackrabbit, or jackass one of the above to always kick so well.) The regular zombies attack Geiger and the one with the claws digs into him; Geiger screams and falls to the floor unconscious as nanites from the zombie pumps down the tubes in its arms and into his body. I sent a fireball into the one with the glowing brain, crisping it good; it lurched forward and attacks Matt knocking him backwards into me, knocking us both to the ground. Wire attacks the “normal†zombie (like zombies are normal….) with daggers into its skull as it bowls into Shadowkahn, knocking Kahn out; Jet, seeing Kahn on the floor roars and leaps onto it and with the pull of her hands, rips it apart.

     

    I crawl to my knees and send another fireball into the one with the glowing brain, blasting a hole completely through it, fortunately killing it. The “normal†one begins to crawl its way back towards itself until Wire grabs hold of one of the daggers in its skull and pretends to be the Inside-the- Eggshell egg scrambler with its brains, it slumps out of his arms finally dead. Buzzy blasts the head of the zombie sharing its nanites with Geiger, however, the blast shorts out the nanites trying to take over Geiger’s body which makes the boy scream again and fall unconscious reverting to normal. I drag myself over to his body and check for pulse, its thready and weak, I watch in disgust as the dead nanites leak out of his wounds and puddle silver on the floor. I slumped against the wall and survey the damage, all the zombies are dead, Geiger’s close to death, Succor is about dead himself after bring both scientists back from the brink of crispy dead. There is a door to our left, which we don’t need to go to and one to my right, which leads to the hallway we need to go down to reach our last objective. “How long do we have now before Mother finds all 24 codes, Buzzy,†I ask, as I put my hand against the wall and send layer after layer of ice against the door on the left sealing it closed behind a foot of ice, no need for something to pop out of that hallway to kick our asses, I think. I stood up and went to our objective door, peeking in I see over 30 some odd zombies shambling our way and what look to be closed doors at the end of the hallway, slowly but coming none the less; trust me it took only a second before I lobbed a monster size fire grenade down the hallway at them and slammed the door home to contain the blast, but I don’t get a chance to put ice between me and the impending explosion. I felt the door warm up against my backside and the doors bulge outwards just a bit and some flames come leaking out the sides, the smell of crispy dead wafts out and I seal up the doorway, might as well let it cook for a minute while we catch our breath, I thought, and Buzzy lets me know that Mother is at 16 out of 24 codes; we still have time.

     

    We gather up our newly revived humans (thank God they really don’t know what hit them), I melt the ice around the doorway and we drag our asses down the new hallway from hell. God I made a mess, blood and exploded crispy dead coat the walls and the floor, man who knew I had it in me; we stagger down the hallway towards our final human, the one door is a little bulged inward from my explosion but the other one is still sealed tight; fortunately we still have our swipe card and the reader still works. We open the undamaged door with the swipe card and get ready for the next thing to attack.

     

    Buzzy, Ranger, Shadowkahn and Wire attack the newest thing; its huge-7ft tall with a monster size gun embedded in is shoulder, anthropomorphic legs and massive teeth. Everyone fires with Wire putting his force wall up after all shots go into the thing and before it has a chance to blast them with its own plasma cannon. Here’s a new trick to remember for later fights, if something is about ready to blast you with a monster size gun and you put up a force wall in front of the shot, the shot has a tendency to rebound into the shooter doing most, if not all of its damage to the shooter; needless to say, the monster took itself out; the shot took down the force wall but the rebound took it out. Keep that filed for future reference. The room is a large storage section, with lots of containment units around the sides and a double row of them down the center, our lone human is on the other side of the double row near the back, how I wish we could of just blown through the other lockers to get to him but we had to do it the hard way. As we head into the room, sure enough another long claws critter is stomping its way around the cells coming towards us driving us back into the hallway, Shadowkahn lobs a few shuriken into it, Wire sends a few daggers into it and Jet jumps to strike but misses and swoops onto the top of the center units running into another flame creatures popping out of a locker and flaming her. 22 of 24.

     

    Here things get a little stranger, the claw guy swipes at Buzzy, getting a solid hit on him, staggering the man down, then it grabs him and starts pumping its nanites into Buzzy, to which he locks up, but the scream sounds like nothing I hope to ever hear again-it was like Neo’s scream in the Matrix when he starts to wake up from the pill, that sonic-computer grating, gah, that noise still gives me shivers, but this was real, the mix of man and machine screaming in pain; at that time we could only assume that his nanites and the infected nanites were at war and only God would know if we would get him back. Shadowkahn does a flaming claw attack on it and then rips Buzzy out of its grip while Wire pops out the “Frisbee of Doom†(the sharp edge metal disk he carries) and sends right into its neck, severing the head (it pops right off!) Buzzy is still out of it, and while Jet is fighting the flame one in the room Geiger, Ranger and I try and figure out how to help him, questioning whether or not he would still be himself. Ranger quipped, “get me a butter knife and I’ll fish out his hard drive,†“somehow I don’t think that’s appropriate Matt,†I replied and at that moment, Buzzy’s eyes blinked hard, “are you ok,†I asked, “well with its processor down, the nanites aren’t receiving orders,†he blinked again, “I don’t know, am I still stupid?†“He’s fine,†Geiger laughed and helped Buzzy to his feed. “I’ll go secure the other door,†and Ranger goes to the door we hadn’t opened just yet. Good thing he did too, because at that moment, Jet got in a perfect strike on the tank on the fire zombie and its explodes; fortunately I had just looked her way to see it happening and got a ice wall up between us and the open door fast enough to keep the explosion from harming us. 24 of 24.

     

    We just start into the room when we hear Mother’s voice over the facility loudspeakers, “2 MINUTES TO DETONATION,†and suddenly all of our electronics go bloop. Yea, I know that’s not a scientific term but what else are you going to call it when all of our equipment takes a nosedive after being hit by and EMP blast that size? Mother’s EMP sends Buzzy down for the count, and we drag him into the last room with us, along with the 2 injured humans and a dizzy Wire, Ranger’s helmet visor pops up because he cant see using anything other than normal vision. Inside is the last Gun Kata robot, thank God its down for the count because of the EMP, I don’t think we would have had enough time to take it out and make it out before the impending nuclear explosion; but Ranger shoots it head off just to be safe. Personally, I was terrified that the teleport ring wasn’t going to work because of the EMP, I had no way of knowing if Vengeance’s tech was shielded or not. We get to the locker where the man has welded himself inside of it (yes, from the inside), I yell were the good guys and were here to rescue you and let Jet and Geiger go to work on the door. It takes Jet’s claws and Geiger’s strength to pry open the locker, only to have the man attack Geiger in the face with his mini welding torch. Geiger slaps the torch out of the mans hands with a, “for Gods sake, were the good guys,†picks him up out of the locker and stands him with the other two.

     

    With our 3 survivors by our side and us ready to get the hell out of this UMBRELLA created nightmare, I pull the ring off my finger and toss it into the air away from us. The ring clanged against the wall and lands on the floor, and for one nail biting, oh shit moment later, the portal opens up. We run through, Geiger carrying Buzzy’s inert body, survivors squashed between us all in a mad rush to make it in time.

     

    The portal opened back up into my lab, where I had left Buzzy and this entire nightmare started. I wasn’t allowing anyone to go anywhere; once again I locked down the lab and began my second call to PRIMUS. However, this time I get SA Clarke who immediately freaks out on me after I tell him about what we just did for the last 4 hours, you know, the parasites, demons, nanaites, etc. 4 hours, my God it seemed like it took forever. We’re immediately quarantined in my lab and wait for the PRIMUS emergency teams to come get us, while were waiting I put in a call to Father O’Malley as well, although PRIMUS supernatural division will take care of the possible demon taint, I know O’Malley would want us to come see him as well; sure enough he looses the accent the moment I tell him what’s happened, we’ll all (well except Jet) be seeing him for a complete soaking in holy water and an exorcism just to be on the safe side. We are all (even our survivors) given full and complete medical workups and decontamination procedures are a little more invasive than I’d like to ever experience again. My lab is also completely decontaminated (that set my work back several months). Several more hours go down the decontamination drain before were allowed to leave and rest, with a harsh reminder from Clark that we’ll be seeing him in 3 hours; the UMBRELLA employees are escorted away under tight PRIMUS security.

     

    Although we were rested we weren’t yet recovered when we met up with Silver Avenger Clark in his office for our debrief; my God, I hope I never have that man mad at me because he was furious when we walked in. We watched each other and everyone took a silent command from me to keep it down and simple, no jokes; Clark was white faced, I had never seen him in such a rage, the telephone he was holding cracking in his hand as he very carefully put it down on the receiver. Whomever he had just spoken with had obviously tripped his trigger; I didn’t want us to be the ones to receive the shot. “Please sit,†he told us, his voice carefully modulated and his took several deep breaths, calming visibly. We sat, tense and waited for him to continue, “Please give me a run down of the events of the last day,†he breathed deeply again, “please.†They looked at me and I nodded and began, after I completed my telling of the events, (everyone was horrified to learn that Vengeance had been send by Stone to my lab and that we had used his tech for the trip, Geiger more so). As each of the team followed with their view of what happened; I watched him, Clark was a tense as a bowstring visibly holding back his rage, but rage at what, not us surely, but I was beginning to gather that it was the situation we had been placed in, a situation that had been bad for sure, but would have been avoided if Stone hadn’t interfered and sent us after that bug in Buzzy’s system. Might there of been another way, perhaps, possibly, but Stone had given the command and I had been a good little trooper following orders, I wondered how badly I had screwed up following those orders.

     

    When we finished Clark stood and paced for a few minutes before dropping the bomb on us, “I believe every word you’ve said, but unfortunately, no proof survived to come back with you.†At that I lost it, “no proof! But we brought back 3 survivors, the demonic gunk, the severed arm, even some of the inert nanites, what do you mean we have no proof! Their should have been an earthquake where ever the nuke went off, possibly a thermal bloom, are you telling me there was nothing?†“You stated that the AI had set off an EMP pulse, that in turn, erased or irretrievably damaged all the memory cards in Ranger’s system and even blanked BZY’s digital storage units. And yes, we haven’t been able to register any seismic activity or any abnormal ground thermals, you must have been incredibly deep.†I looked at him incredulously, “the arm is similar to BZY’s so that’s nothing special, the goop doesn’t register as anything, the nanites are the same as BZY’s and the survivors are willing to spin whatever tale necessary to keep their asses out of jail.†Everyone was staring at Clark now, anger and disappointment showing, but Clark continued, “Although I feel that the events that lead up to your adventure in the last day to irredeemable of certain members of the organization and in my opinion personally tarnishes the image of certain members of the hierarchy, but then again all I have is hearsay, no solid proof.†Clark sighs, “You all did remarkably well, and although your contribution to this organization is unofficial it will be recognized. Thank you all.†Clark turned and stared out the window, hands clasped behind his back, “your all dismissed, go rest you’ve deserved it; once again thank you.†We all stood to leave, “Firefrost, please stay a moment, would you.†Clark had turned his head to address me; Shadowkahn caught my eye and I nodded, “yes sir,†and waived the rest of them out through the doors. What this to be the ass chewing I was expecting for taking Stone’s orders? I didn’t know.

     

    After the others had filed out and the door had locked behind them, Clark stood quietly, once again staring out the window at the world going by. I stood, hands on the chair in front of me, not really sure if I wanted hear what Clark would have to say. He finally turned, seeming to come to grips with himself and began, “I understand that you had direct contact with Vengeance and that contact was instigated by Colonel Stone. I was understandably disturbed to find out about Stone’s involvement with that psychopath but considering his history I guess it is to be expected.†Clark sighed deeply before continuing, “However; such contact with known murderers is against all we stand for. I will be lodging several complaints and memos up the chain of command to hopefully get his resolved and Stone removed from the service.†I sighed; thanking God that he was pissed at Stone and not me, but I still felt it didn’t let me off the hook any. “I think, however, that my complaints will go unheeded and I will not succeed in getting Stone thrown out. Stone is well connected and well liked by the Join Chiefs; however, if any information comes by you that may help in this please send it my way. I have a feeling I am about to create a shit storm and anything that can be used as an umbrella would be good.†Clark smiled at the irony, “UMBRELLA Corporation will undoubtedly deny any allegations we could possibly lodge so we won’t at present.†Clark looked me square in the eyes, “we shall start to simply gather information upon them and see what we can turn up by keeping a close eye on them as we will Colonel Stone.†I nodded in agreement, “yes sir,†I murmured in response. Clark nodded and gave me my leave. I paused, looking back into the room at Clark, who once again was facing the windows, such a difficult task he has set before himself, I thought slowly closing the door, I turned and noted that the rest of the team was waiting for me down at the end of the hall. We would have our time with Father O’Malley today before there was any sleep for the weary, I smiled at them as I came upon them; how dose one explain to ones teammates your supposed to spy on a superior officer? With some digging we might be able to find dirt on UMBRELLA, that much I will tell them, should we find something on this company to report it to Clark, but about Stone? I would need to tell them in time, perhaps, but for now, anything suspicious from Colonel Stone would go into a little secret file for later. But what does that make me?

  20. Re: VOICE of DOOM

     

    I like this conversion also and it is very similar to one I did on Lung Hung. I would greatly enjoy seeing anyones conversions as they always provide ideas even if I may not have done them the way other people would have.

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