April 9, 2011

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4Sworn, Session Ten

Previous Session: January 22, 2011 Next Session: April 30, 2011

Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, Starfire, and Zap.


Enter Starfire

In his cabin's shower aboard the Firehawk, Starfire blasted his body with a high pressure stream of water far too hot for an ordinary human to tolerate, massaging away, amidst billowing clouds of steam, dull aches that seemed to persist whenever he visited this universe. He was impervious to gunshots and could walk on the surface of any star, but the hot water still soothed him. After a lingering indulgence, he rinsed clumps of shampoo foam from his head while humming a favorite tune and shut down the scalding stream. That's when he heard the strident chirp from the other compartment that alerted him to a general call. Rushing from the lavatory, he swept up his communicator watch and checked the display. Damn! The alert had come in right after he started to bathe, and critical time had been lost. He slipped into his aerodynamic uniform, retrieved the rendezvous coordinates, then shouted to his comrades, "I'm on my way!" Seconds later, Starfire exited the Firehawk with a nearly explosive departure, and surprised deck hands took cover as he streaked out of a hatch and blasted straight up into the cold, south Atlantic sky at full acceleration.

Desecrator in the Berlin Bunker

Southeast of Berlin, in a forgotten Nazi bunker unearthed by new construction, Desecrator raised an armored hand menacingly and pointed it at Perdition. Plangent electric guitar chords rang off the walls from somewhere deep in the lair, and brilliant white tendrils of energy snapped around the hulking thug's wrist as if a weapon prepared to discharge. Zap 2 and Shockwave were farther back down the corridor, but Zap 1 darted in closer and prepared to take two shots at Desecrator.

"No, wait! We're trying to stall him," Shockwave shouted. Starfire was on his way, and she knew he'd be their best hope for dealing with Desecrator. She jumped out into the middle of the conflict and improvised clumsily, "Alright everybody, let's just calm down!"

Perdition caught on to Shockwave's intent and raised his ring to sedate his opponent, "Desecrator ... why don't you just calm down? Take a nap." The armored figure hunched bemusedly, puzzled by Perdition's action, then took another menacing step forward, as if daring them to act. The villain's hand clenched into a fist with a sound like crushing a beer can and he drew back to swing, so Zap 1 decided to act. Twin bolts of lightning rippled along Zap's arms and leapt across space to cascade over Desecrator's armor. The electrical jolt should have fried the devices on the hulking villain's wrist, but the effect dissipated without result.

Seeing that Zap's attack left Desecrator unscathed, Shockwave grabbed a grenade from her belt and concentrated. At the subatomic level, string vibrations increased a thousand fold, forcing her body to move out of phase with the physical universe around it. Her hand, and the explosive it held, became insubstantial wisps. As physical as a mirage, she reached into Desecrator's torso and released the bomb within. Deprived of her subatomic influence, the grenade's vibrations settled back to normal and reincorporated -- its fuse already primed and burning.

Zap 2 then moved in and fired another volley of electricity, but the blue-white arcs sparked harmlessly over the villain's armor and faded. Both Zaps looked at each other as they realized they couldn't affect the behemoth.

Desecrator moved past the non-corporeal Shockwave and Zap as easily as stepping through mist, closing on Perdition. His hand, already drawn back, uncoiled with jackhammer force, slamming into Perdition's magical shield with a brilliant flare, but the hero held his place.

Then Shockwave, still insubstantial, sunk into the floor and grabbed Desecrator's legs, extending her vibrational influence and dragging him down with her through the floor as though submerging him in quicksand. She popped back up alone a moment later, rejoining Perdition and the two Zaps with a grin as she wiped her hands theatrically as if to say, he's not so tough. A few moments later, that grenade she planted would sprout explosively, but the heroes would have moved on and mistakenly believed its muffled thud proved Desecrator was no longer a threat.

The Flaming Skull and Archdeacon Hellfrost in the Buried File Room

Zaps 1 and 2 moved down a corridor neglected for over half a century. Dim light exaggerated the murky atmosphere of a place that had long ago become a tomb and where bustling, wartime activities had been traded for the industry of spiders and other denizens of subterranean darkness. But the ceaseless, heavy metal shrieks of an electric guitar ripped through the gloom and continued to grow more loud as the team moved deeper. Finally, the passage opened up into a larger room and Hellish cackling alerted them to the sulfuric presence of The Flaming Skull.

Without hesitation, Zap 1 discharged lightning at the Skull, but without visible effect beyond making the ghastly foe laugh louder. "We meet again, Zap! And this time in much more homey surroundings!"

Sensing a trap, Zap 1 fled by re-merging with Zap 2 a little further back in the hall, but then found an invisible force holding his feet solidly in place. "Heads up," he announced, "the Flaming Skull's here!"

"Yes, that's it! Tell the world! Ha ha ha--"

Annoyed, Zap threw a second bolt of lightning at the Skull. This time, the strike slammed into the center of its forehead with a clap of thunder that forced the demon to punctuate its infuriating laughter with an uncharacteristic yelp while the impact knocked it back fifty feet. Although he was still held in place, Zap grinned with satisfaction and waved the others forward.

Shockwave advanced into the room and found it staffed by dozens of Nazi skeletons presiding over dusty, rotting desks and filing cabinets. In the center of the room, at the focus of a pentagram drawn on the floor, stood Archdeacon Hellfrost, lit by candles placed at each of the pentagram's points and wailing on the Thanocaster.

Psion Is Busy with Skeletal Hordes

As Starfire approached the site, he saw the PsiPlane to the northwest spraying jets of water across a boulevard below. Now within the telepath's psychic range, he projected a thought at Psion. "Uh, you do know they're in trouble down there, right?"

Psion's thoughts coalesced in Starfire's mind with the telepath's voice, but replied much faster than possible with spoken words, "I heard the distress call, but if I leave these people right now, they'll be overrun by animated skeletons. Take out the source, while I hold these off." Along with the answer came images from Psion's point of view of the skeletal horde chasing people through the streets, held back only by strategic bursts of pressurized water.

Starfire nodded grimly. "Okay."

Zap's voice called from Starfire's wristcom, "Starfire, bring me some power cables! I'm stuck and need to conduct myself out of here."

He looked around and found a spool of what looked like high tension wire near the construction site. "Alright, I'm on it." The hero hit the ground like a bullet next to the spool and grabbed the loose end of the conductor. An instant later, he was in the air again, the pull of the heavy wire hardly slowing him as he plunged through the entrance to the bunker and down into its cursed depths.

Zap and Shockwave Vs. Archdeacon Hellfrost, Perdition Vs. The Flaming Skull

Perdition entered the room drawing on The Flaming Skull with a gun housing the special oricalcum bullets he preferred to use against magical threats. But as he targeted his nemesis, Archdeacon Hellfrost launched into a guitar solo of extraordinary complexity; the tantalizing melody caught Perdition's ear just before his finger pulled the trigger and he suddenly found himself distracted by the soloist's amazing talent.

Shockwave shook her head and plunged forward in a blur. She slid across the floor, obliterating Hellfrost's pentagram and shattering a skeleton beyond as she kept skidding. The candles somehow ignited the cloud of dust and debris she kicked up and a brilliant fireball blossomed against the ceiling, illuminating their dungeon-like surroundings in a brilliant orange-yellow flare. Even the skeletons looked awe-struck by the sight as they looked up with empty sockets in dessicated faces. Perdition couldn't help but admire Hellfrost as he seemed to weave the battle itself into his music. "This guy is good!"

Zap gestured with both hands and rippling waves of electricity coruscated down his arms and connected with Hellfrost, blasting the guitarist back with a crack that abruptly terminated his performance.

This broke Hellfrost's hold on Perdition's mind. He shook his head to clear the last wisps of the heavy-metal distraction, then returned his aim at his perpetually grinning adversary. "Hey, Flaming Skull, remember me?" A sharp crack reverberated off the concrete walls and a single bullet cast from orange-white metal streaked invisibly fast across the room and hit the Skull. The ghoul promptly erupted into a sulferous puff of smoke that then collapsed into itself and vanished. Zap suddenly lurched forward; the Skull's telekinetic grip broken.

(End Round One. Brownies arrive. Mmmmmm ... brownies. Everyone loves brownies. And they just kept coming.)

Desecrator Isn't Finished

Now free, Zap split into two again with an electric flash.

Perdition turned and aimed at Hellfrost's guitar, but before he could fire, Desecrator lurched from out of the shadows behind. The villain weaved his arms under Perdition's and then gripped his hands behind the hero's head, holding him helpless in a "full nelson". Perdition's efforts to break free proved futile and Desecrator began pushing at the base of Perdition's head, straining the vertebra and connective tissues dangerously. Then, unimaginable pain seared Perdition's back as a swarm of unseen somethings tore into his flesh. To everyone's horror, blood began fountaining from between Perdition and Desecrator as the latter began laughing with electronically resonating savagery. In agony, Perdition tried to raise his Ring of Xian to Desecrator's view, "Go. To. Sleep!" But Desecrator's laugh only intensified.

“Get this guy off me!”

Shockwave came up behind Desecrator and punched a vibratory attack into the back of his head, but he shrugged the attack off and she stood back looking confused. “I don't think he even has a brain!”

Rocketing into the bunker at his top speed, Starfire swept down into the complex in a fraction of a second, trailing a blast of dust, debris, and peeling paint stripped from the walls behind him. “Have some kinetic energy,” he quipped as he rammed Desecrator from behind with his “missile-man” attack. A loud boom shook the thick walls and debris rained down around villains and vigilantes alike.

But even as Desecrator and Perdition got shoved by the force of the impact into a wall, Starfire's confidence wained as something slammed back at him, blasting chunks from his energy armor. And even after being hit with the massive attack, and being slammed into the wall, Desecrator retained his grip on Perdition. “Wow,” Starfire exclaimed. “That guy's tough!”

For Perdition, Starfire's arrival was as much of a surprise as it was for Desecrator, and the impact left him sandwiched between the wall and his armored assailant. His front-facing shield gave him some relief, but it was like being trapped in a vice grip. And something kept shredding the flesh from his back.

Zap 1 grabbed Perdition and told him, “Hold on, buddy, I have an idea!” An odd electrical pattern washed over Perdition, but nothing else happened. He turned to his duplicate, but didn't even have to say anything as Zap 2 tried the same thing. Again, Perdition shimmered with electrical energy and when it faded, he vanished with a loud sucking noise. Desecrator stumbled at the sudden imbalance.

Starfire looked astonished. “Where did he go?”

Zap 2 snapped his fingers and made a spark, “I turned him into electrical energy.”

“You can reverse that, right?”

“I'm pretty sure … I've never done it with a person before.”

Hellfrost dove towards a sulpherous-smelling vortex in the floor. Starfire launched two power blasts, hitting with both and knocking him back away from the vortex. The guitarist sneered and strummed a chord on the guitar, firing back a jarring sonic attack, but the tightly focused sound waves did nothing to Starfire.

Shockwave grabbed Hellfrost's guitar and tried to vibrate it from his grip. The instrument resisted the attempt and the two struggled for control.

Keeping one eye on Desecrator, Starfire circled the area of the floor through which Hellfrost had just tried to escape. It looked like a whirling ripple in the floor, and the wails and moans of the damned escaping its opening.

Zap 1 shocked Hellfrost unconscious with a lightning attack to the head, and Zap 2 grabbed the guitar and dropped Perdition off. Zap 2 fled the combat area using the length of wire Starfire had unspooled down through the bunker. Perdition drew on Desecrator and opened fire. One shot with an oricalcum bullet fired from his 50 caliber Desert Eagle pistol, but the bullet disintegrated in a sparkling orange flash before it struck Desecrator's armor.

Starfire lifted his communicator and said, “Psion, we've taken the guitar from Hellfrost! Have the skeletons stopped moving?” Before he could get a reply, Desecrator charged him, moving as if to stop him. Starfire backed away, firing off power blasts as the villain approached.

Zap 2 exited the bunker and looked around. Skeletons had ceased climbing out of the site, and many of the closest ones were now stuck motionless in the mud, but those further away continued to shamble on, apparently unaffected. “Psion, what stops the Skeletons?”

Psion's voice answered back over the tiny speaker. “Once you have possession of Hellfrost's guitar, they should fall inert.”

“Negative, Psion. We have the guitar and they're still on the attack.”

“Ah. Well, then it appears my hypothesis has been nullified. Let me think about this.” Zap 2 rolled his eyes.

Starfire's powerblasts exploded against Desecrator, tossing him twenty feet back across the room.

(End of turn two … I miss the brownies already. Warm, cakey chocolate goodness) NOTE: THE COMBAT OCCURS NEAR BRANDENBURG GATE – REVISE TEXT ACCORDINGLY

Shockwave grabbed for the plate on Desecrator's chest, but missed.

Zap 2 took the guitar up to the top of the Brandenburg Gate and tried to smash it, but it was such an amazing instrument that he paused for a moment. But he persevered and heaved with all his might, putting a divot in the stone surface of the monument, but doing no damage to the instrument.

Zap 1 discharged a shower across Desecrator's figure, aiming to short-circuit the supposed nanotech cloud protecting him.

Perdition shot another special bullet at the villain, although the bullet still dissolved.

"Run Starfire, if you can. You have met your match!" The armored villain slammed a punch into him, but Starfire's invulnerability shrugged the impact effortlessly, though he could hear a whine from swarms of somethings cascading over his body.

Starfire retaliated with another two blasts. He noticed the blast damage from his previous attack was rapidly repairing itself.

Zap 2 Gives Psion the Thanocaster

Zap2 called Psion again. “Can you come pick up this guitar? I can't damage it and I want it away from the rest of the combat.”

Across town, Psion watched as local police and military were getting control of the remaining clumps of skeletons. “Affirmative, Zap. I've done all I can here. I'm on my way to your position.”

Shockwave popped the pins on two grenades, and Perdition let off two more shots with his Desert Eagles, but missed.

Zap2 saw the PsiPlane closing over the streets of Berlin and he launched himself into the air to meet it. As he approached, the cylindrical lift towards the back of the craft lowered and its door hissed open. With both hands, he tossed the guitar like a tomahawk and angled back to the construction site. The PsiPlane veered upwards, and held position about two thousand feet over the area.

The Fall of Desecrator

Zap1 had an idea. Extending his hands out, he felt for the electrical impulses he knew most modern devices used to function. If the nanobots used any kind of electrical signal to control their function, he knew he could turn them against Desecrator or at least shut them down. But no matter how tightly he tuned his senses, he could feel no electrical impulses associated with the invisibly small swarm.

Shockwave shoved the two grenades into Desecrator, but she missed and her arm got stuck in Desecrator's torso. Desecrator punched her in the head with both fists. She dropped unconscious and then the first grenade went off. Desecrator groaned a modulated cry of pain dropped to the floor. The other grenade detonated.

Starfire moved closer and a menacing cloud continued to shroud the fallen antagonist. He put four more powerblasts into the prone villain. The distortion became even more pronounced and Desecrator blurred into the floor.

The team, save for the unconscious Shockwave, stood in a circle around where Desecrator fell. Zap1 leaned in close to tend to her and winced at the sight of her mangled hand and arm.

Perdition walked around, surveying the room they found themselves in. He noted that a lot of papers, dusty and moldy and in terrible condition had been laid out on top of the rotting desks as though someone was looking for something in particular.

The Team Puzzles Over the Bunker's Contents

Psion pulled the guitar from the PsiPlane's lift and looked it over carefully. A flying-wedge pattern with a bones and skulls and serpents motif with black and white and gray coloration. The strings were covered in a tarry substance, possibly blood. He shook his head at that disquieting thought and began untwisting the pegheads until the strings were loose enough to remove. He stored these in a separate locker from the guitar body itself and went down to construction site to join the others.

Once in the bunker, Psion moved across to Shockwave and Perdition, noting their injuries. Shockwave was unconscious but appeared to be healing at an accelerated rate. Perdition's back was badly shredded, but the hero carried the injuries stoically and also healed quickly. He asked Perdition, “Do you want some help with that? I can speed that up.”

Starfire piped up, “Just say 'no'. You're better off.” Psion shot him an annoyed look but didn't press the issue when Perdition declined.

“These papers have been rifled, Psion. Some of them looked important.”

Psion nodded and began making adjustments to his psicorder. “And Desecrator?”

“Gone,” Starfire said. “He faded away right after we knocked him out.” He gestured to a spot on the floor and Psion knelt in those areas and scooped up dust and air samples in small vials he carried on his belt. Close scans showed inert nanobots.

Psion spoke into his communicator, “Miss Westerburg, you're going to want to clear your schedule.”

Mindy's voice replied, “I don't know, there's still a lot to do on this computer core--”

“Nanotechnology,” the telepath said.

“Oh, okay!” The connection cut.

Returning his attention to the psicorder, Psion began sweeping around the room. He carefully swept over every stack of papers, relying on the instrument's advanced sensor suite to scan the content as a three-dimensional volume for later reference without disurbing the delicate sheafs. They were mostly typed, some hand-written, all dated through the early 1940s. Most of the files seemed to be directed to the S.S. command office. Some from the Ahnenerbe were pulled out.

Tilting his head sideways, he stepped over to one of the skeletons standing in position around the periphery of the room. It was dressed in a soiled, musty, and badly rotted S.S. uniform. “Raise your right arm,” he commanded in German. The figure remained motionless. He poked it and the dessicated cadaver collapsed into a heap of dusty bones. “Well that was fruitless. I hoped he might tell me something about these papers.”

The telepath went back to the documents and reviewed them through the screen on his scanner. The Ahnenerbe documents related to Aryan history relating to conquered territories. Some referenced the Winter Palace of the Czars, including the Amber Room, which was supposedly moved to Königsberg where it was reconstructed as an exhibit at the Königsberg castle in 1942.

There were a number of references to the movement of antiquities, but any references to the movement of the Amber Room after that were buried.

After a couple hours, the team returned to the PsiPlane carrying Archdeacon Hellfrost and the carefully imaged copies of all the documents they found and headed back to the Firehawk.

The Team Ponders the Thanocaster

When he went to retrieve the Thanocaster, he found it had re-strung itself, with the cabinet containing the strings showing only a sticky residue where the strings had been. Fascinated, he examined the re-strung guitar closely and placed his thumb on one string as if to pluck a note.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Zap exclaimed.

“Do not play that thing,” said Starfire.

“Dude, even I know that's a dumb idea,” Shockwave said.

Psion heaved a sigh. “I had no intention of playing it, I simply wanted to see what happened when I strummed a single string.”

“Otherwise known as playing it,” said Zap.

“We'll learn nothing by locking this device away without studying it--”

Shockwave looked outraged. “You yelled at us because we fired the boom-a-rooka!”

Zap agreed, “Yeah, that's right, Mr. Don't-Mess-With-Stuff-You-Don't-Understand! Huh? Huh?”

“In the middle of an existing mission.”

“Kind of like now?” asked Zap.

“Not at all like now. We're finished with our mission.”

Starfire crossed his arms and said, “You know what, I don't care. Let him strum the thing.”

“No!” Zap turned back to Psion. “If you try to play that thing, I'm going to shoot you!”

Indignant, Psion plucked the string and Zap fired off a discharge of lightning. The electricity harmlessly arced over Psion's body. “Feel better?” Zap shot again, missing this time and smashing a light panel. Psion shook his head and willed the damage healed.

“Look,” Starfire said. “Go ahead and play it, but I don't want to be here when you do.”

Psion paused, then relented. “Very well, that isn't unreasonable." He locked the instrument up again and taunted Zap with a smirk.

Perdition shook his head then spoke up, “How about if you and I interrogate Hellfrost in the meantime, Psion?”

Psion Interrogates Hellfrost

In the brig, Hellfrost regained consciousness slowly and looked feverish and disoriented. Psion watched for a moment until he sensed the villain was fully awake, then asked, “Can you focus? Do you know where you are?”

Hellfrost blinked and fixed on Psion. “Where's my axe, man?!”

“We're … getting it polished for you.”

“Give it to me, man!”

“We'll return it to you as soon as it's ready.”

Hellfrost lunged at the telepath, who allowed himself to be tackled without resistance. A moment later, Hellfrost gasped in shocked surprise, then both men went limp and collapsed to the deck.

Perdition knelt down. “What the Hell just happened?”

Starfire spoke over the intercom, “Psion just pulled Hellfrost's mind out of his body. I've seen this before. They're going to be like that a while.”

Perdition looked back and forth. “Well then, now would be a good time to tie this guy up.”

Materializing in a world of Psion's creation, Hellfrost's scream of rage cut off mid-shriek. Pulling an image from Hellfrost's mind of a prior location, the environment around them shifted and became a recreation of a Hellish inferno. Hellfrost looked a bit put-off without his guitar, which seemed to be the tool he used to open portals to and from Hell to travel.

Psion showed Hellfrost a recreation of the Thanocaster. “Do you want this?”


“Be patient. I'll give it to you.”

“What do you want?”

“I want information. I want to know who you were working with. I want to know what your team's objectives are. Basically, fill me in on everything that's going on.”

“It was the Skull.”

“The Flaming Skull? He was organizing it?”

“I summoned him with the Thanocaster.”

“How do you do that? I won't give you the instrument until you give me information.”

“I played it, and he came.”

“Just like that? You didn't have to perform any rituals? Wasn't there a blood sacrifice involved?”

The guitarist reluctantly answered, “Yes.”

“I see. You're not giving me information. I expect you to be fully forthcoming. If you're not going to tell me what's going on, you're not going to get this guitar back. That's the way this works.”

“I summoned him and then he asked if I desire power and wealth.”

“Of course you do!”

“Of course!”

“Everyone does.”

“He told me there are ways to acquire it.”

“Such as?”

“The room. The Amber Room ...”

“The Amber Room! Everyone's talking about that these days. Where is the Amber Room?”

“We don't know. We needed information to find it … and rebuild it.”

“Hmmm … and that information could be found in that bunker?”

“Some of it.”

“Who was Desecrator?”

“After the fight at the British Museum, we decided we needed more muscle. The Skull was looking for help... to acquire his desires.”

“Your team had time to search through the bunker, what conclusions did you come to about the location of the Amber Room?”

“We weren't entirely sure. There was some information in the files … we were going to see if any of the staff of the bunker could tell us before you interrupted.

“Excellent! So the files had all the information you needed to find the Amber Room?”

“The Skull thought so.”

“That wasn't all … the Nazis had the room, but they didn't have its power. They didn't understand how to operate it.”

“Who did?”

“We're not sure, but the Skull thought that General von Ditfurth had been researching it, and might have a better idea.”

“So if we find the works of von Ditfurth, that might help us towards understanding who knew how to operate the Amber Room?”

“... right. The Amber itself. People have duplicated the amber room. The plans existed even after the Nazis stole the room. The Russians have built a duplicate, but no one seems to have any idea what it should be able to do.”

“Was there anything special about the amber that was used in the first construction?”

“We were looking into that. If we could have recovered some of the original amber, we might have figured that out.”

“And some of the original amber was in the British Museum?”

“No … the original amber was what we were trying to find.”

Psion considered these insights into the Flaming Skull's operations and extended his reconstructed representation of the Thanocaster to Hellfrost. The guitarist quivered in delight and embraced the instrument like a child, then promptly fell asleep.

Psion Claims They're Now Ahead of The Flaming Skull

“Now,” Psion announced when he recovered from the deep trance he'd shared with Hellfrost, “we are ahead of the Flaming Skull. “

“He can't come back while we have the guitar,” said Shockwave.

“He might be able to come back by other means. The Thanocaster was only used to summon him, I'm not convinced that was his only conduit to our reality.”

Starfire agreed, “But he doesn't know what we know now. Because he didn't get to analyze those documents.”

“Yes! And there might be samples of amber back at the bunker.”

“And we need to do a … full-court press on these documents now.”

“I'm also considering destroying the original documents to prevent the Flaming Skull from catching up.”

Shockwave looked dubious. “That's a good idea … after we've gone through them.”

“We've already obtained a comprehensive scan of them.”

“But what if there's something magical that your psicorder missed?”

Psion nodded. “You're absolutely right.”

Starfire then suggested, “We should go back and get those papers.”

Protecting Valuable Data and Hiding the Thanocaster from Their Enemies

As they returned to the PsiPlane, Psion ordered the scanned files double-encrypted, and handed the vials containing nanobots to Mindy. And while their ultimate destination was a return to the bunker in Berlin, they needed to do something with the Thanocaster first. There was no way Psion would let that device fall back into the possession of their adversaries again. They needed to put it somewhere almost unreachable. Someplace they could get to in a hurry, but hard for almost anyone else. The telepath thought he had just the place.

Lacus Mortis, just north of the crater Burg on the moon's surface. A basaltic flow stretching over 151 kilometers across. The PsiPlane settled in low over the barren landscape and hovered in place. Psion emerged from the main lift carrying the Thanocaster and a few devices. He dug a shallow trench with his hand and placed the guitar propped up on its side within it, then placed a psicorder coupled to a wrist communicator nearby to keep the area under surveillance. If anyone disturbed the site, they'd be instantly alerted and they'd also be able to keep a live video feed. Psion wasn't the only one who felt no location was perfectly secure. Indeed, since the guitar re-strung itself while in the locker, no one could rule out the idea that the Thanocaster itself could move on its own. But this was a great distance and unfamiliar territory for all but a few souls.

It wasn't perfect, but it would have to do.

Return to the Berlin Bunker

As the vehicle returned to Earth and re-entered over Germany at night, the team debated the proper approach to securing the documents and artifacts they needed. Starfire, Shockwave, and Zap felt the ends justified the means, but Psion insisted that simply going in and taking what they wanted crossed a line that separated super heroes and villains.

“It's like the detective in the TV show who breaks into an office in the middle of the night,” said Shockwave. “The detective is still a good guy!”

“This isn't television, this is reality. And we're talking about breaking laws here.”

Starfire looked amused. “So you want to go to the German government and get official permission?”

Perdition added, “The Germans practically invented modern bureaucracy.”

“Right. It's not going to work.”

Psion shook his head. “I agree. But expediency is forcing us to do something that is fundamentally wrong.”

The PsiPlane negotiated Berlin airspace and closed with the site. Starfire suggested, “Let's just land. Go up to whoever is in charge of the site and tell them that we suspect the area isn't yet cleared and that they should get their people out of there while we do a final check.”

“Perfect,” Psion agreed. “That gets us in with at least a pretense of legitimacy.”

The vehicle swung low over the uneven terrain and squads of paramilitary GSG-9 police looked all looked up into the night sky to watch its approach. The team dropped from it and were quickly directed to the commander who, upon being informed of the situation, agreed he'd rather not risk his men considering the dangers.

No one had disturbed the file room since they'd left. The GSG 9 had approached the area cautiously and had barely explored the first level before System 4ce returned.

Starfire, Perdition, and Psion carefully swept through every room, looking for samples of amber and more documents, but even with the use of numerous tools, they found nothing more. Shockwave, determined to leave nothing behind for the villains to find, boxed up all the paperwork and transferred it to the PsiPlane, then collected all the skeletal remains and stowed them as well.

As they collected their things and returned without any further discoveries to the PsiPlane, Perdition asked, “What about those skeletons? Have they been here for the last sixty years?”

Psion nodded, “I believe they were entombed here by an air raid. They died in place.”

Starfire looked disappointed, “These people were just clerks. They didn't have any antiquities, they just collected information about antiquities.”

“Sure, and now we have to take the long, circuitous route to find the artifacts, but it's the only way to get there and we have a head start. We no longer have to wait to react.”

Shockwave looked back towards the locker which held the bags of bones she'd collected from the bunker. “What about the skeletons? Can we take them somewhere for a proper burial so no one can reanimate them?”

“Darned if I know,” Psion conceded with an uncharacteristic shrug. “That isn't anywhere close to my fields of specialization. I haven't had too many encounters with walking skeletons.”

The Berlin Bunker Documents -- General von Ditfurth and the Amber Room

(Although she specifically stated Shockwave sought out help from Miss Cleo for the bones, no time was spent on this as of the first recording.)

It took several days to work through the documents. A lot of it was mundane, administrative stuff even though it dealt with stolen antiquities and might well have value to people still searching for artifacts stolen from eastern Europe.

There was correspondence relating to General von Ditfurth. It appeared he was officially serving as army historian relating to the history of signal communications and so on, but had various other historical interests and was operating as a consultant with both the Ahnenerbe and the Rosenberg Office under Alfred Rosenberg -- the mainstream, non-S.S. Reich history office concerned primarily with the eastern territories. The Ahnenerbe was formed in 1935 after Himmler had made public comments on a manuscript called the Oera Linda Book. Claimed to be the product of an ancient Aryan civilization in northern Europe, it was ultimately exposed as a hoax by mainstream historians, much to Himmler's embarrassment. The Reichsführer therefore organized his own office to investigate and vet historical claims before he put his official stamp on them.

Soon after the war broke out, von Ditfurth had gotten himself posted to command of a security division in occupied Poland, and used his position to conduct interrogations of some of the faculty of what was then the Stefan Batori University in Vilnius. He had specifically focused on works by, and correspondence with, Liebnitz concerning the origin of the Amber Room.

The Ahnenerbe was apparently trying to get more information from von Ditfurth after deciding he was not being entirely forthcoming with what he had learned, but didn't seem to have gotten anywhere. Ultimately, von Ditfurth resigned his command, apparently after he had learned all he could from the faculty members, and the capture of the actual Amber Room seemed to make his efforts less necessary. The Ahnenerbe files also had addresses for von Ditfurth at his command post in Poland, his residence in Pomerania, and his research office in Stetten.

There were also documents detailing the acquisition and movement of antiquities. Late-war records showed the flurry of activity to move artifacts housed in eastern European locations to more secure locations as the Soviets advanced. A particular lot of boxes, that might include materials that had been in Königsburg, and therefore possibly the Amber Room, appeared to have been placed in a copper mine in the Hartz Mountains in eastern Germany. That area was now government property, having been seized from private industries by the Soviets, but never re-opened for fear of old German booby traps, a situation common in the former East Germany.

Mindy reported that the nanobots appeared to be silicon and carbon nanotube based, but opportunistically-incorporate other materials. They also appeared to cannibalize fallen nanobots, stripping them down for parts and leaving no fallen comrades. The power source isn't clear. They were large enough that they weren't powered by atomic-level forces. Nor does she understand how they communicate with each other. She noted there are several different categories of nanobots.

Psion speculated that the nanites disassembled Desecrator and reassembled him at the destination to allow him to move through walls.

Exploring the Copper Mine in the Hartz Mountains

Investigating the location, Psion noted seven different entrances to the mines on his scanners. One in particular showed evidence of heavier traffic and use, so the team left the PsiPlane near that entrance. Woods and weeds guarded the boarded-up entrance.

(Messing with someone's Schmitter and discussions of moving cats before they vomit)

The first fifty to seventy-five feet of the shaft had collapsed, so Shockwave phased the others through one-by-one. A bunch of narrow-gauge flat cars with boxes. The remains of concentration-camp inmates lay in a heap.

Gold plates and jewels looted from churches and synagogues.

Large crates on one of the flatcars. Psion scanned for signs of TNT, amatol, torpex and other WWII vintage explosives that might be part of a booby trap.

They found part of a jet engine in a crate. Engine parts in other boxes. More valuables.

Eventually, they came to a crate with a stenciled number matching one of the boxes associated with the Amber Room. Within, there were panels with deteriorated amber, broken down by the poor conditions of the mine. The panels were wood with amber inlays with gilded carving and ceramic and gemstone mosaics.

Some crates on the flatcars had gray-green barrels stenciled with “N-stoff” balanced atop them. The group looked those barrels over carefully. “N-stoff,” Shockwave said. “What's that?”

Perdition shrugged. “It means 'N-stuff' in German.”

Psion considered the barrels and swept his gaze around the tunnel. “N-stoff … N-stoff …” He began wandering around, muttering “I wonder if,” while examining other items carefully. He audibly gasped when he came to one large crate in particular and began prying away at the aged wood to have a look inside. An engine, larger than that used in the V-2 rockets that rained down over London and also launched the space age sat within. “This is incredible!” He turned to the others. “Don't you see? N-stoff is a code name for chlorine trifluoride … it's a powerful rocket fuel. This engine here was the next step in German rocket science, possibly intended for the V3 or even V4 devices! Back in the 1950s, American and Soviet scientists would have killed to get their hands on this. I can't wait to get this stuff back to the Firehawk. It probably doesn't have much value scientifically, but as a historical interest, this is an amazing discovery. Von Braun, you cagey devil, why didn't you ever mention this?!”

Zap shook his head. “This is like watching a kid at Christmas.”

Shockwave cut in, “Psion, we're here for the Amber Room stuff, remember. Not this 'N-stoff' and stuff.”

“This is history and science and human achievement all bundled in one package and wrapped in a bow!”

“Amber Room. Take this other stuff back to the Firehawk and have your nerdgasm there.”

Psion shot her an annoyed glance and Starfire chuckled. “Nerdgasm. She's right, Psion. Stay on topic.”

Reluctantly, Psion cast one last look at the forgotten engine and returned to the stored amber. “Alright, here's my recommendation: we start by moving the individual panels out one-by-one to the PsiPlane. Leave those in the crates under the chlorine trifluoride until last and then phase them out through the crates they're stored in so as not to disturb the barrels on top of them.”

Shockwave nodded. “I can do that.”

Starfire spoke up, “If anything goes wrong with the N-stoff, Perdition's toast. Let's put him back outside to keep an eye on things in case anyone shows up while we're working. Meanwhile, Psion, since you and I can't phase solid matter through the rock wall, maybe we should check out the rest of the tunnel system for other exits and artifacts.”

Between Zap and Shockwave with Perdition on the PsiPlane to stack materials as they came in, the work went quickly. Within minutes, they'd cleaned out all the easy crates of Amber Room panels and then took more care emptying crates under barrels of rocket fuel.

The Dangers of Chlorine Trifluoride

Shockwave had a particularly massive panel in hand when she heard a creaking noise from behind her. She turned and noticed that the empty crate, which no longer had the additional support of its own contents, could not now support the weight of the barrel perched atop it. Her accelerated senses kicked in and she yelled, “Everybody out!” even as the wood splintered in slow motion. She ran forward to grab the barrel before it fell, but it collapsed like an egg shell in her arms.

Everyone sensed her voice over the telepathic switchboard saying, “Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!” over and over. Psion winced as he realized what must have happened.

In a blur, Shockwave dashed through the floor of the mine and away from the spill, her insubstantial form protecting her from being splashed by the N-stoff. Behind her, the weakened barrel, corroded by years of exposure to a hellish liquid capable of out-oxidizing oxygen, released its contents in a horrific torrent that splashed across the wood and metal and rock in the mine, instantly igniting them. Green fire jetted explosively across the entire tunnel, shattering other barrels of N-stoff and triggering a bigger and bigger conflagration that consumed everything.

Deep into the mine, Psion and Starfire turned to look back along the tunnel they'd walked. Wind kicked up around them and a shrieking howl rose in the distance. They looked at each other as green-white, daylight bright flame spilled through the mine toward them like a runaway locomotive.

From outside, beyond the rubble blocking the tunnel entrance, Zap, Perdition, and a barely-escaped Shockwave watched in awe as the mountainside before them rumbled and hissed. Jets of flame and clouds of hot hydrofluoric acid erupted from the debris. Birds called out in fear and abandoned their nests to the night and crickets stopped chirping.

After the initial eruption, Psion and Starfire walked back up through the now oven-hot tunnel. Invulnerable to the incinerating heat and toxic gases, they surveyed a hellish landscape where even the metal cars, rails, and rock walls were aflame from the violent reaction. “Why didn't you tell us this could happen,” Starfire shouted at Psion over the omnipresent roar.

Psion knelt where he thought the remains of the mystery rocket engine burned. “I advised caution. Although the volatility of the reaction did catch me by surprise.”

Starfire indicated the wreckage around them. “You could have said something else!”

“I assumed 'German rocket fuel' was enough of a warning.”

Starfire gaped, then started chuckling, “Although, I'm not sure we'd have done anything differently if we knew.”

“Of course not.” Psion got to his feet. “This reaction will continue for hours … there were dozens of barrels of N-stoff. We should get out of this tunnel and find another exit before it collapses.”

Regrouped back at the PsiPlane, the team reviewed the recovered artifacts. Only twelve panels and a few small mosaics had been removed before the explosion. Less than 10 percent had been recovered, but they agreed that no one else would get their hands on the materials, either.

At the Site of Von Ditfurth's Office in Szczecin, Poland

The von Ditfurth family estate in Pomerania had been demolished by the Soviets and Poles back in the 1950s and the government built apartments. However, the building which housed his office in Szczecin was still standing, so System 4ce elected to head directly there before returning to the Firehawk.

Downtown area in a three-story walkup with a business on the ground floor and apartments on the top occupied by students.

Shockwave took Starfire with her and phased through the wall of the building to explore its basement. They found nothing unusual there, so she tripped the circuit breakers. And they ascended through each floor. The first floor was home to a poster gallery and closed for the night. The second floor, which had historically housed von Ditfurth's office, now looked like it was home to four college students. Remotely, Psion scanned the building for thoughts and told Shockwave and Starfire where they all were.

Starfire flashed brilliantly to dazzle the girl reading alone in the living room. That and the girl's startled shout drew two other occupants from the kitchen, so he flashed again. In the confusion, Shockwave moved around through the walls, looking for hidden spaces. Under bricks behind a wall grating for heat circulation, she found two large legal suitcases.

After restoring their circuit breakers, the pair returned to the PsiPlane with their booty.

The suitcases contained personal notes, some in short hand. This defied automated analysis, for even though it was a simple matter to scan the materials and display them on computer, their hand-written nature required transcription by someone who could read them. The team turned responsibility for that over to a contractor and waited for results.

Several Lines of Research Show Results

By August 7th, 2005, results began to come in.

The team gathered in the Mission Support Center on the Firehawk. They arrayed themselves around the central conference table to brief each other on the progress of their individual investigations and compare notes. Shockwave opened with a report from her research assistant on the mysterious prisoner seen in her vision through the Pandochal viewfinder. A display lit with reports indicating that conspiracy buffs believed in the existence of secret CIA prisons hidden under shopping malls and such. The “ML” written on the sleeve of the prisoner in Shockwave's vision could, according to these reports, be one of those secret domestic prisons.

Next, Perdition announced that the amber in the recovered panels was badly deteriorated. The mosaic panels may have been laid over older amber panels. And some amber panels looked to have been cut down from larger panels and rearranged. Behind the amber on some panels, there were symbols inscribed into the wood which didn't seem to have anything to do with anything visible on the outside. The symbols were intricate geometric designs, possibly of alchemical origin, with some closely resembling Gematraic symbols, such as the Tetractys and Tree of Life from Kabbalistic Hebrew mystical traditions. Some panels, probably from later expansions and embellishments of the Amber Room, lacked any symbols.

Psion gestured at a control and Mindy Westerburg's face filled a display. Mindy reported that she was making progress on the computer core interface. She still couldn't make sense of the language, but she had isolated components of the language towards identifying an alphabet or syllabary, and she'd found imagery and categorized sections of the data relating to shipboard operations and telemetry, library data banks, etc. Specifically, there was data corresponding to gravitational and magnetic maps of the Earth, showing the trajectory of the crash including calculations showing where ejected materials might be found.

“Now, about those nano machines. I've established that they network using an evolution of our subspace communications technology. It's very low power and appears to be using technitium isomer power supplies. That's why they self-cannibalize, because those power cores are valuable to the nanite swarm, and not readily replaced by it, so they're constantly recovering them. Now this is interesting, since I found the bug technology I've looked at so far uses technitium and tantalum-based isomers.”

Psion steepled his fingers. “So Desecrator's nanobots were powered by technologies lifted from the bugs and they communicated using subspace technology found here on Earth. Evolved technology, at that, which suggests the involvement of a heightened intelligence. Or maybe a time traveler.”

The recovered papers were extensive notes of von Ditfurth's regarding his findings and objectives. But he wasn't 100% sure what he was looking for. His suspicion was that Leibniz was the impetus for the construction of the Amber Room. Something in the lost correspondence between him and Sofia Carlotta got her to instigate the construction of the Amber room through her husband, the King of Prussia. He thought this was intended to be a full-scale installation of an experimental "calculus ratioocinator". But he was vague about what that could do because Leibniz himself didn't seem to have his whole head around it. His idea at first seemed to be to conclusively prove the truth of scientific conclusions through a universal language that would allow concepts to be arranged in formulas, allowing universal truths to be arrived at as readily as mathematical concepts.

If perfected, such a system could accelerate the pace of scientific and technological progress since existing knowledge could be readily extended forward to its rational conclusions. Von Ditfurth felt the amber might have been intended to be an organic interface, making the hard light of rationality more apprehendable to human eyes. von Ditfurth's reconstruction, the room was built, but that Sofia Carlotta had died before it was completed, cutting Leibniz off from a project that had taken on an artistic life of its own. Friedrich I died soon after, and his son, Friedrich Wilhelm, saw it as nothing more than a frivolous artwork, so he gave it to Peter the Great in an effort to seal an alliance.

So the symbols on the wall panels were apparently the core of Leibniz' "universal symbolic language" for the formulaic arrangement of knowledge. The Amber Room could have been something like a realization of the “Memex” (a hypothetical memory index contemplated by engineer Vannevar Bush in the 1940s). Seated within it, one might view the core concepts of existence and follow paths through it to their logical conclusions.

Shockwave sat back, reviewing the discussion, “So … we have the designs that von Ditfurth recovered from the materials Leibniz sent to the architects, and many of the actual engraved panels. We could potentially reconstruct the original Amber Room. All we'd need is enough amber of the right quality.”

Finally, the computational analysis of the bug computer core showed two definite trajectories from the crashing ship. Two pods were ejected … one to Antarctica and one to Bouvet Island.

First Contact in the Gruber Mountains

The Firehawk held eerily steady against the raging seas of the icy south Atlantic. Ice bergs tended to get nudged aside as if by an unseen hand long before they could make contact with the ship's hull, but from the bridge, Captain Ramius kept a wary eye with binoculars and the ship's navigation instruments anyway. As a late dawn crept feebly into the sky, the PsiPlane hurled itself off the landing deck and further south towards Antarctica.

The team arrived at the Gruber Mountains in Queen Maud Land near Lake Untersee, and the PsiPlane settled in a valley lined with ice and anorthosite mountains. Although it was nearly noon, the sun hovered behind the mountain ridge, painting the entire landscape in a twilight palette.

Scans showed a chunk of wreckage at the bottom of Lake Untersee. Starfire sliced open a hole in the ice and he found an ejected pod buried in frosty silt, completely empty but for the mud. Readings showed more debris in the mountans, so the the group moved in that direction to investigate. Soon, the psicorder showed weak, fluctuating lifesigns as a cloaked figure moved across the cold, windy valley to meet them. When it drew near, a creature with mantoid form of Species 2001a hidden beneath a cloak chattered at Psion and the two exchanged insect noises for a moment before translations went out over the telepathic switchboard. “You have located us.”

“We do not specifically mean you harm." The telepath meant that to sound reassuring.

“What is it you seek?”

“We found the wreckage of your ship at the bottom of the ocean. We've had hostile encounters with two members of your species, but won't judge your race based on the actions of a few. How many of you are there?”

“Enough that we can make it costly should you choose to do us harm.”

“And if we choose not to do you harm? Do you need supplies?”

“Supplies would be useful and we are prepared to trade for them.”

“Who was chasing you through the anomaly? What is coming?”

“We do not believe anything is coming here. That is why we came.”

“Something is coming. We've stopped it. At least temporarily.”

“You stopped it, how?”

“We detonated a weapon in the anomaly.”

“The anomaly you speak of, what was this anomaly?”

“That was the region of space you came through, between two gas giants and offset from the plane of the ecliptic. It became active again.”

“How did you detect this?”

“We noticed gravitational distortions of the path of certain scanner beams.”

“We did not believe your species was advanced enough to do this.”

“Technological progress is rarely homogeneous throughout a population.”

The team became aware of the movement of other shapes surrounding their position.

“I'm worried about what might be coming through. Also, I don't see any need to force you away from this planet or back to where you came. This is a first contact situation and we'd like to proceed peacefully.”

“Something is coming through, now?” Psion wasn't certain it was a question.

“We stopped it. For now. But it may try again.”

“Almost certainly.”

“What was it?”

“Our doom.”

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