June 16, 2012
4Sworn, Session Sixteen
Perdition, Psion, Shockwave, and Zap
- “I Psioned it.” – Zap upon missing an intelligence roll
The Island of Lost Souls
System 4ce gathered before monitors in the Mission Operations Center as the mighty Firehawk came to a halt about five miles southwest of the uncharted island of Maria Laxara. Reconfigured for a stealthy approach, the vessel's crew shut off all but the dimmest of external lights. Passive sensors watched the island, although the team risked a few quick scans using exotic technologies from other universes on the assumption such scans would be undetectable by the island's mysterious occupants.
Zap looked grim. “How are we going to do this? If I carry us over in electrical form, it'll be fairly obvious. I'm as stealthy as lightning.”
Shockwave said, “I can get us in.”
Psion shook his head, “If that base has any acoustic sensors, they'll easily pick up the sound of you running across the ocean surface. There's no advantage to using the PsiPlane, either.”
“We have to get over there," Perdition said, pointing out the obvious. "Let's just be as quick as we can and hope no one notices.” The others agreed and decided to rely on Zap to move each team member across in electrical form.
Maria Laxara was a black speck of land nearly lost to the surrounding night-darkened Pacific; even from the perspective of one standing upon its surface, landscape and seascape blended into a foreboding mass under a star-scape that stretched uninterrupted from one horizon to the other. Arriving in a flash of light as though deposited by a streamer of lightning, Psion surveyed the structure with anxious caution. “This is a U.S. Military base,” he had warned the others a few minutes earlier. “We run a strong risk of ending up shot.” A low rampart surrounded the complex and enclosed a series of geodesic domes. Mushroom-shaped protuberances marked where air duct heads or other HVAC-related equipment penetrated to the facility below. With the exception of a spinning anemometer atop one dome and breaking ocean waves beyond, the setting was as devoid of motion as a painting.
He reached out with his mind, probing the construction beneath his feet telepathically. As Shockwave and then Perdition and Zap appeared in separate flashes of lightning, they became obvious to his psionic senses, but no other minds appeared.
In the gloom, he shook his head at the others, then motioned towards what appeared to be the nearest entrance: a mushroom-capped air duct about four feet in diameter. He withdrew a multi-tool from his belt and knelt to loosen the bolts securing it to the top of the duct. “These are … tightly … secured. Or the salt-air has corroded the bolts enough to make removing them difficult. This will take a few minutes.”
Shockwave looked at Zap with an amused expression and the latter suppressed a chuckle. He split into two figures, one of which joined with Shockwave just as she began to phase through the materials beneath her feet and sunk into the facility. A moment later, Psion turned from his work and watched as their heads slipped through the ground. “Oh. Of course.”
As they descended into the structure, Shockwave encountered thin layers of differing resistance to her non-corporeal passage. The building wasn't made from a uniform material, she noted over Psion's telepathic switchboard. But Psion was having trouble maintaining the connection, and in a moment, she and Zap 1 faded from the mental connection completely.
Psion turned to Zap 2 and asked, “Do you still have contact with your other self?”
Zap 2 nodded. “I've already told me.”
Shockwave descended into an open chamber. When Zap told her what was happening, she returned to the top and collected first Psion, then Perdition to bring each below. After they were all in the same room, Zap 2 discorporated and merged with Zap 1.
The team stood in a dank, narrow hallway with brick walls. Flickering fluorescent bulbs hung from an arched ceiling. An odd hum or buzz droned from old speakers mounted near the domed ceiling and filled the space with a sound like an agitated bee hive. The team looked at each other in worried puzzlement – they had never encountered anything like this before. Did this indicate an alien influence?
Zap Explored the Facility's Wiring
Zap split again. One form arced up into the wiring connected to the speaker. Flickering bolts danced along, tracing the wires to their source. He emerged into a room with stone-mortared walls. Metal cabinets painted with zinc-chromate primer lined the walls, and one contained a state-of-the-art stereo rack system hooked up to a desktop computer playing a six-hour-long MP3 file named “mlquantum” … one file in a queue of many.
Zap 1 then jumped over to the power supply and followed it to an advanced battery bank supplied by several power lines coming from different generators. He coalesced in a dark room to have a look around. He could no longer hear buzzing, and over his head was a steel plate walkway not unlike those found in a ship. He climbed up to the walkway to look around. At one end there was a metal hatchway through which he poked his head to look into another darkened compartment; this one filled with diesel-powered generators.
Beyond that, another hatch led to another room, although this one was dimly lit and filled with a creaking-surging sound echoing off the walls. Large pipes with a five-foot cross-section ran between equipment. A desktop computer showed graphs and gauges indicating power and pressure-related functions.
In the next chamber, Zap found another mass of pipes. A computer display suggested the room housed a desalination plant. The room after that, a small sewage plant.
System 4ce Met Aide 4
Back in the corridor, Psion, Perdition, Shockwave, and Zap 2 heard a loud bang originating from the far end of the corridor. The group moved cautiously towards it. They found a T-intersection, with the path to the left blocked by a closed, oval hatch reminiscent of those found on a ship. To the right, another long corridor stretched into the distance, with many larger, square hatches set into the walls on either side.
Shockwave stuck her head through the closed hatch, and looked down another long corridor. About fifty feet beyond, a large figure with an odd posture and inefficient gait shambled away from her. She reached back, tugging on the others as if to encourage them to look and guided each through the sealed hatch as though it wasn't there. When everyone was on the other side, they stood in a new corridor segment nearly identical to the preceding one except now a voice monotonously recited the text of Clive Barker's “Mr. B. Gone” over the eerie drone.
“I don't think we should walk up to him in full defensive mode,” Shockwave suggested. Then she cleared her throat and shouted at the still receding figure, “Yo!”
The figure ground to a halt, then slowly turned around to look at the newcomers. He had dark, messy hair and didn't appear to be as old as his shambling gait suggested. Dressed in Navy work coveralls, he stood staring back at the party without any obvious reaction to their presence.
“We're looking for my cousin's cabin,” Shockwave explained.
“Our car broke down,” chimed in Zap. “Do you have a phone?”
Perdition chuckled, but Psion stared at his teammates as though embarrassed.
The figure heaved a heavy breath and began shambling towards them, but Shockwave interrupted, “No, we'll come to you.” The man took a few more steps and then stopped to wait.
“Habla inglés?” asked Zap.
“That's just rude,” said Shockwave.
Perdition raised his hand in a greeting. “We come in peace.”
The group stopped a few feet from the man who stared at them slack-jawed and drooling. His face was scarred and he had an unmistakably pungent scent of mold about him. A name tag labeled him as 'Aide 4'.
Psion stared at him, a little put-off by the absence of a mental presence. “Oh no ….” He turned to the others. “Remember the Men In Black? The Incident with the Rutabaga? We might be dealing with the vestiges of that organization here.”
Shockwave squinted at Aide 4. “Hi. My name is Shockwave. This is Psion and Perdition. And Zap.”
Aide 4 continued to stand staring. Acting on intuition, Psion addressed him in a clipped, military tone, “Don't just stand there drooling! Identify yourself, mister!”
“What do you require?” he groaned in a labored voice.
“Take us to your C.O.”
“How shall I identify you?”
“We are System 4ce.”
Aide 4 turned once more and dragged himself down the corridor. He approached a hatch, pressed a button next to it, and a deep-throated klaxon bellowed with a single blast. Then he slowly turned the wheel on the hatch until, grinding noisily, it opened.
“Wait here pending authorization.” He closed the hatch and a moment later the klaxon sounded once more.
The team stared at the closed hatch a moment, then at each other. No one said anything, either telepathically or vocally, but as a unit, they advanced on the hatch, and, with Shockwave's assistance, phased through it to the next section.
A moment later, the aide turned slowly. “I requested that you wait pending authorization.”
Zap 2 spoke up, “Yeah, we are authorized by the President. Buddy.”
Shockwave asked, “Who are you getting authorization from?”
Aide 4's brows furrowed as he processed this slowly. Then he told the group, “Wait here pending authorization or you will be in breach of security.” He turned and made his way towards the next hatch at the end of the corridor.
System 4ce Found Prisoners Kept in Cruel and Unusual Confinement
Shockwave rolled her eyes. This was taking too long. She broke away from the group and shot past Aide 4 in a blur. Beyond the next hatch was a vertical shaft with a ladder reaching down. She descended it and found a hatch labeled “Containment 1”. She poked her head through and saw another corridor, with doors on either side in a blocky rectangular pattern. She recognized the corridor from her vision. “Guys, I think we're in the prison!”
Within moments, she'd ferried the rest of the party past Aide 4 and into Containment 1.
Psion again tried reading thoughts in the area without success.
Shockwave approached a door. Beside it was a rectangular, hinged-top letterbox with a clear front and papers within. Each page had a prominent bar code across the top. In the room behind the door, a blond-haired man in an orange coverall sat in a wooden chair with hospital restraints holding his arms to the sides of the chair. A bar-coded tag was clipped to his coveralls and the letters “M.L.” were written in laundry marker on his sleeves. With a blank expression, the man was too zoned-out to react to Shockwave's presence. Over this room's speaker, a distorted tune that Perdition thought he recognized from the Eraserhead soundtrack wailed relentlessly at ear-splitting volume.
Zap 2 followed the speaker wires back to their source and halted the playback.
The prisoner stirred a bit and looked around at System 4ce, although from his reaction, he didn't seem terribly conscious of his surroundings. Psion verified that his psicorder was making detailed records of everything that was happening.
“Hey, buddy,” Zap 2 said. “How are you?”
A thin, wheezing voice whispered past the prisoner's lips. “What do you want?”
Zap leaned in close. “Who are you?”
“Who do you want me to be?”
Shockwave whispered to Psion, “Can you get inside his head?”
The telepath compressed his lips and, after only a brief hesitation, stepped forward and touched the man lightly on his shoulder. He knelt in front of him and rested his fingers on the back of the man's neck and skull. Pathways to the man's psyche opened up to the telepath, but only chaos cascaded back into Psion's mind. “Your mother. Tell me about her.” A slight pause, “Why have you been imprisoned here?”A moment later, he rose and gently severed the contact.
“He isn't physically harmed. And although he's almost certainly drugged, that's not what caused what we're seeing here.” Psion took a breath to collect himself, then continued. “He has memories. Flashes of things that happened in his childhood. But they're a useless swirl without almost any guidance from a conscious mind. It's as though his programming has been wiped. No doubt by his experiences here and at previous holding facilities.”
The prisoner stared at the wall without any sign of interest in it or anything else, and Psion said, “We'll get nothing of any use from him in what little time we have.”
Shockwave went on to the next room and saw the captive she recognized from her pandocal vision. He was chained by his wrists and ankles to a bar on the floor. “This is it,” she announced, and then ferried the others over. Again, Zap 2 killed the distorted music – a strangled version of “These Boots Are Made For Walking” – blasting from the cell's speaker, and Shockwave looked at him closely. “Hello,” she asked.
The man looked back up at her, a single eyebrow arching questioningly. “This one's got a brain! Maybe you can talk to him Psion.”
After the previous encounter, Psion wasn't eager to make psychic contact again. “I'll try. Sir. Can you hear me?”
“I can hear you.”
“Do you have a name?”
“What is it?”
“I have not told you?”
“Not yet, you must tell me now.”
“Is this a test of some kind?”
“It is no test.”
The captive sat motionless, staring at the telepath without any response. Eventually Psion changed tactics and conceded. “Alright. It is a test. What is your name?”
“That depends on where I am and what I'm trying to do.”
Psion looked into the man's face and heaved a sigh. “Please forgive my intrusion, sir.” His hands slipped over the prisoner's head until his fingers found the correct purchase for telepathic contact. He tried to brush past the incoherence. This man's mind was not quite so far gone as the previous prisoner's, and Psion had the distinct impression he was recognized. Indeed, the man seemed to be reciting some kind of chant in Arabic in an effort to avoid being read.
“Sir … I believe you are being held in inhumane conditions.”
“You think so,” the man asked almost with a sneer. But the effort was enough to disrupt his recitations and Psion could now see past into some of the things he tried to keep hidden. The man thought the telepath had been sent to interrogate him, although for some reason that didn't seem to make much sense to him given how much information he'd already provided to his captors.
“This is wrong. You should not be held in these conditions.”
Shockwave argued that point. “That depends on what he did.”
“I don't care what he's done. He does not belong here. No criminal we have ever apprehended belongs in these kinds of conditions. This is inhumane. This is unjust. And this is something that I signed up to stop.”
Zap 2 countered, “So … what we did to Karybdis … was that necessary because of her powers?”
“It was necessary at that moment. And we intend to rehabilitate her. We never subjected her to anything like this.”
“What if this is part of keeping him under control?”
“I want to see a demonstration of that, because right now all I see is an ordinary human being held in abysmal conditions.”
Shockwave said, “I agree, but did he murder someone? What did he do?”
Psion remained adamant. “I don't care if he did murder someone. This is no way to treat someone held at your mercy. This is not how you detain prisoners.”
“I agree, for the most part, but lets find out how he got here. What did he do?”
Zap 2 shook his head. “I'll just say, look at the extraordinary measures being taken to prevent him from contacting the outside world. This may be the equivalent of Riker's Island for somebody with extreme power … or even more extreme. We should be careful with what we do with this guy. We don't want to unleash some crazy power we don't have any understanding of.”
Shockwave said, “I don't want to torture the guy, but … well, I might if I find out what he did.”
“No, I don't want to punish the guy ridiculously,” said Zap. “I'm just saying there might be a reason for these conditions. Let's just find out before we let him loose and destroy the world. All this gold in the walls makes me worry a lot about what's contained here.”
Psion shook his head. “I don't think these walls are built to keep something in. I think they're built to keep people like us out.”
Shockwave turned to the prisoner. “So … how did you get in here? What did you do?”
Suddenly, from out in the hallway, the speakers began blaring, “We interrupt this program for a CBS Radio red alert bulletin!” The team stood up, perplexed and alarmed. Then the speakers continued with an old cartoon ditty, “When you find yourself in danger, when you're threatened by a stranger, when it looks like you will take a lickin', (cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck) there is someone waiting who will hurry up and rescue you, just call...for Super Chicken! (cluck, awk!) “ They all looked at each other as a series of loud, metallic bangs sounded out in the corridor, and Perdition, who had been standing guard in the open doorway of the cell, noticed bolts sliding into place in the upper and lower frames of the door. “Security lockdown!”
Zap 2 Encountered the Man in the Blue Suit
Zap 2 looked up at one of the hallway speakers and leapt up into it as a bolt of electricity. He followed the wiring until he found the source computer and recognized it as a different computer system from that which had been playing broadcasting into the cells. He erupted from the console into a clean, sterile-white room adorned with modern equipment and lighting and occupied by two astonished-looking technicians dressed in slacks and dress shirts.
“Alright. Who are you people and what is this place?”
One of the techs stammered and reached for his desk phone. Zap 2 blasted it with a bolt of electricity.
The other tech pulled a gun and began shooting at the intruder. Zap 2 feigned injury as bullets whizzed through him, then straightened and said, “Oh. Right. Yeah. Body of electricity. Please stop. Who are you and what is this place?” But neither tech looked prepared to answer Zap's questions, so he said, “Look, me and my friends are here. Looks like you guys are doing some pretty bad things, so we're going to bust people out. How 'bout you explain what you're doing before we do that?” He waited a moment as he watched their terrified expressions. “Or get a supervisor. Say something!”
A door opened up and from beyond it a voice said, “I think I can handle this.” In stepped a man a little over six feet tall with blond hair in a military buzz cut and wearing a bulky, armored, dark-blue suit.
Zap 2 looked him over. “So you can help. Care to explain? Because it looks like you've got a super-evil secret Guantanamo out here and it's not sitting well with my friends.”
“And what's your authorization to be present here?”
“The President. “
“You wouldn't mind my seeing that authorization?”
“Oh, I left it in my other pants.”
“That's a problem. Perhaps if you went and got your other pants. Oh, but sorry, we cant have you just wander off having breached security. Is there anybody else you can contact?”
Zap 2 looked at the man in the blue suit for a moment. “Hmmm … your mom.” He smirked and rolled on the balls of his electric feet. “I don't think you're understanding the situation here viz-a-viz super powers and stuff like that. So can you explain why we shouldn't just bust people out right now. That's all I'm asking you because we're just going to go do it if you can't. See how that works?
“Because the people incarcerated here are threats to the nation and--”
“They're being kept in inhumane and cruel conditions. So … is there a reason they need to be here in that condition? Cause, if not, we'll take care of that.”
“If they weren't they wouldn't be here.”
“I need a little more than that. Who are they? Why are they--”
“I'm giving you as much as you're cleared for.”
Zap 2 nodded. “Alright then. We'll talk about it when we get them back to the mainland.” In an arcing flare, he re-integrated himself with the networks and left the room, ending the conversation.
The Team Found the Twin Towers Terrorist and Then Collapsed
Back in the cell, Psion continued to probe the prisoner's mind, but he abruptly severed the connection when Zap 2 returned. He rose and approached the others. “Based on the what I witnessed in his mind and the insights I gained from the experiments Victorine and I conducted in an alternate universe, I conclude that this man is the one who detonated the hafnium isomer explosive that took down the World Trade Center.”
Shockwave nodded. “Alright. Turn the music back on and leave him.”
Zap 2 disagreed. “There's a certain danger when the government decides what to do with people without any kind of due process and stuff like that.”
“That's why we're deciding it, not the government. We're taking it out of their hands.”
Zap 2 turned to Psion. “Can we find out more about how he got it and why he did it?”
“Alright. Let's take him back with us.”
Perdition suddenly heard a peculiar whine … a bit like a capacitor charging up in a photographic flash, but louder. Psion thought, “That almost sounds like--” Then there was a pop and System 4ce simply fell down.
Perdition Woke Up Listening to the Theme From the Love Boat
Perdition struggled awake as cheery TV music blasted with uncomfortable loudness. He blinked his eyes open, but the glare from over-bright lamps against sterile-white surroundings made it impossible for him to make out many details around him. He groaned and sat up, squinting at the orange prison jumpsuit he wore. The Ring of Xian was missing from his finger.
The music faded out and the lighting dimmed to a comfortable level. He saw a trolley table with a TV monitor staring back at him with a test pattern Indian. Perdition frowned and wiped his brow and looked again in time to see the picture change to one of a man in a business suit seated behind a desk. “Welcome, Mr. … 'Perdition' is it?”
“Where am I?”
“You're in protective custody.”
“What do you want?”
The figure smiled grimly and spread his hands, “Oh, I want many, many things, Mr. Perdition.”
“Who are you?”
“I suppose it would be helpful to give you some sort of context for our discussion, so you may refer to me as Mr. Trent.” Trent re-clasped his hands on the desk in front of him. “You and your friends have caused us a bit of difficulty. Although we knew it was only a matter of time before one or more of your kind showed up at our facility.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“I am at all times and in all things on the side of the United States of America.”
“So you say.”
“It is a complicated world, Mr. Perdition. Individuals in your line of work often seem to lose sight of that. For the most part, though, you've been content to involve yourself in less-complex matters. Matters requiring the sort of brute-force solutions that you are equipped to provide. I suspected it was only a matter of time before you strayed into our area of responsibility, however.”
“What area is that?”
“The more complex aspects of national security. The grey areas. The compromises and misdirections.”
“Compromises with who? Are you really working for the United States?”
“As I said, Mr. Perdition, at all times and in all things.”
Perdition scowled at the monitor, his eyes fiercely defiant. “I don't believe you.”
Trent smiled. “Well that is ultimately not my concern, because whatever your motivations, you crossed a certain threshold. You interfered with a facility vital to this nation's security. And now it falls to me to decide what the future disposition of you and your comrades will be. In your case, since you are not that far removed from normal human life, I suspect it will be possible to rehabilitate you, as it were.” He leaned forward a bit to emphasize his next point, “Now whether we do that in a fashion that leaves you sapient and able to live out your days in some productive and enjoyable capacity, or whether we have to roll things back and simply make use of the more basic raw materials, that decision will ultimately be up to you. I must say, however, your current degree of cooperation is not heartening.”
“You haven't asked anything yet. All you've done is threaten me. The arrogance of power.”
“Now, a gentleman who really had the interests of the United States in mind might have been a bit more curious as to the nature of the facility he was entering … more curious as to our reasoning.”
“How do you know I'm not curious?”
“You, sir, have been belligerent since we began this conversation.”
“You've made assumptions since we started this conversation.”
“You were the individual in breach of security. You are the one that I am empowered by executive order to eliminate.” Trent paused a moment to let those words sink in. “Now if you give me a reason not to utilize that authority … to expend the time and effort to do something less destructive, then I am willing to consider that, but right now I have a lot of other things on my desk.”
“If you know what you think you know of my history, you know that I have always served what I believed were the interests of the United States, whether it was with System 4ce or before that with the American Patrol.”
Trent held up a sizable paper file. “My information on you indicates that you take your marching orders from "secret masters" off somewhere in central Asia... who live in caves... troglodytes, Mr. Perdition! The interests of these “secret masters” may or may not coincide with those of the United States, but I am not willing to stake my responsibility or my reputation on assuming that they are. Now as I said, you're a relatively simple threat to manage. We have your ring in protective custody. Beyond that, you're no greater threat to the nation than any other wild-eyed crackpot. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the department and myself to make sure that even wild-eyed crackpots don't do as much damage as circumstances may allow them to. I therefore suggest, Mr. Perdition, that you think on your situation at length, and when I speak with you again, perhaps you'll be more circumspect.”
“As I said, all I've heard from you are threats since you started this conversation.”
Trent's image cut out; replaced once more with the Indian test pattern. Perdition rolled his eyes as the room's lighting grew bright and the title song from Howard the Duck started blasting from the ceiling speakers.
Zap Intruded on Psion's Mental World
“–the watches used by the Men in Black!”
Psion's eyes flicked open. He found himself levitating in a comfortable lotus posture above a simple gray plain inscribed with a hexagonal pattern that stretched to the horizon. The sky above was black and full of stars which reorganized themselves into familiar constellations at the simplest thought. A gentle breeze carried the sweet scent of lilacs and from somewhere unseen a fountain burbled peacefully.
The telepath took a deep breath and stepped out of the air as he considered the situation. The psi plane … a virtual mental projection he'd first created decades ago as part of his early exploration of meditation and self-improvement that ultimately led to the discovery of his powers … was a familiar location for him. Infinitely malleable, but he preferred this default configuration, and it was a first stop whenever he engaged in deep meditation. But he couldn't recall ever having visited it involuntarily before.
That could only mean his physical body had somehow shut down.
Psion conjured an image from his memory of one of the Men in Black watches magnified in scale and suspended in mid-air. The watches could generate a standing-wave in sympathy with human alpha and delta brainwaves and use that to read the conscious states of people within its operational range. They then fired a psi-frequency interference wave specifically counter-modulated to neutralize the mental energy of those brains; shutting down all conscious activity. It had annoyed him that he, too, was susceptible to such a simple threat, and he'd planned to counter the technology, but most of the easy approaches he considered would interfere with his own abilities. He'd have to do something about that.
He swept the image aside and thought about the last time this had happened to him. Agents of the giant, intelligent rutabaga had dosed him and his friends with a drug cocktail known as Sweet Sixteen, which rendered their memories immensely malleable and susceptible to suggestion. Again, Psion found it frustrating that a simple chemical could invade his defenses, but he supposed it could have been a side-effect of the watch technology.
Someone cleared their throat behind him.
Psion spun in place, or rather, the world around him changed to conform to his facing. Zap stood there, on the plane … on his plane … uninvited. “What are you doing here?!”
Zap shrugged. “You tell me.”
The telepath reared back, suddenly suspicious. Might this be an intruder? “You left something in a bottle in the Amber Room back on the Firehawk. What was it?” He monitored Zap's surface thoughts while he waited for an answer.
“Uh … scotch?”
Psion followed the thoughts surrounding that response and found no evidence of deception, so he relaxed somewhat and allowed that this likely was really his colleague standing before him. “Alright, good.”
“I'm sorry, where the Hell are we?” Zap gestured with his arms spread wide.
“Right now you and I are within a mental construct of my own imagination.”
“Oh no. We need to leave.”
Psion equivocated. “The actual process of leaving can be … disruptive to you.”
“Am I stuck here forever?”
“No, not at all.”
“I heard about that Firehawk guy!”
Psion's eyebrow raised fractionally. “Indeed. There does seem to be a slot open.”
Zap buried his face in his ands and shook his head. He took a deep breath, then looked at his hands, holding them in front of him and examining both sides. He couldn't feel another version of himself, and he looked like he was at full power, so something had forced him to coalesce.
Psion took a step forward. “I'm going to attempt to release you back into the physical world. I'll be as gentle with this as possible, but you'll experience some disorientation.”
“Is this dangerous?”
“It is completely safe.”
Zap narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He could recall Psion using such reassurances rarely, and almost every time he did, something horrible happened.
But before he could object, the telepath said, “Alright, here we go. Nice and easy.”
Zap vanished, and surveyed his once again peaceful surroundings. “If only it was always so simple.”
Psion then considered the challenge of restoring himself to physical consciousness. An image of the Earth rose above the horizon, and swelled, filling the sky. Within it, he sensed the presence of his body and realized his physical form was currently in a deep coma. He began willing the form to heal, but then stopped, realizing he had no idea what threat confronted his body back in the real world. A more innocuous return point might offer several tactical advantages.
Psion's War of Wills with Desecrator While Stuck in a Psicorder
In a laboratory buried deep within Maria Laxara, Psion's consciousness manifested in the psionium matrix embedded within his personal psicorder. With this, the unit had been modified to host his psionic presence. Although the device's powercell had been removed, his mind had sufficient power to activate passive functions, and he looked around.
Nearby, he sensed a consciousness focused on some difficult technical issue involving psychic resonances and energies and their technological interfaces. He's studying my psicorder, he realized. Psion watched the man's thoughts carefully and tried inserting wrong ideas into his stream of consciousness to disrupt the man's analysis.
The man became frustrated. This would be vastly simpler if he re-inserted the device's power cell, but orders from above prevented him from doing that. Still, who would know? It would make things so much easier, because there'd probably be diagnostic routines he could implement and possibly even technical manuals. Instead he had to rely on positron bombardment and C-T scans to reconstruct the device's mechanical functionality, and that was time-consuming and error-prone. Then the man's mind briefly touched on the other person to whom they might turn the device over, but he'd rather they didn't do that. Psion sensed there was a rival involved; someone with whom the man had complicated emotions about.
If only you could wake the owner, Psion suggested telepathically from his place deep within the psicorder's housing. It was a risky thing, planting suggestions in the mind of a subject – an alert mind might detect the inserted thoughts as an intrusion. Instead of bearing useful fruit, the suggestion instead triggered a series of disquietingly sadistic thoughts about the things the man would like to do to the owner.
Psion heaved non-existent shoulders as the man wandered down a chain of unwelcome thoughts. This was also another pitfall of the telepathic trick; some minds so lacked clarity and focus that anything could waylay their concentration. He could already tell this interrogation would take some time.
The man, whose identity remained unknown so far, flitted back to thoughts of that rival of his and the suggestion of a reason that he was assigned to analyze the device instead of they. It's a good thing I managed to get the assignment and not anyone else, Psion again submitted. That steered things away from the man's personal antagonism for the telepath and back to thoughts about the psicorder's powerful technology and the potentially cool ways he could exploit it.
The trouble with identifying people by their thoughts is that they rarely see themselves as others do. Stuck within the unpowered psicorder, the telepath had no means of recognizing this man other than by his thoughts, but here at last was enough information with which to identify him. Desecrator.
It is odd, mused Psion, that the man harbors such animosity for me when Shockwave clearly had done so much more to interfere with Desecrator's plans. Those grenade attacks, which Psion had at first thought to be too blood-thirsty, must surely have engendered hostility against System 4ce's speedster. That again might be useful, he thought. I need to know the status of my team. He again worked to insinuate his thoughts into Desecrator's stream-of-conscious with a single word: Shockwave.
Now the man's thoughts flitted to the woman and his frustration that she'd been earmarked for testing for “quantum hothouse protocols”; he thought of it as a waste of time and he had far better uses for her. Another series of disturbing images followed. Nevertheless, he was left with the impression that Shockwave was still alive somewhere.
And then there's Perdition, Psion thought as he directed Desecrator to the next subject. Again, the man's mind flitted helpfully to the knowledge that the investigator was being kept with “general population”. Good. Another team mate in one piece.
But that electrical guy … what happened to him? Zap was being kept in an induced coma the same as Psion.
Gosh, I've been at this a long time. What time is it? Desecrator realizes he's been working for several hours, but some of the images that flitted by in association with this information suggested that the captured members of System 4ce had been held in isolation for a considerable length of time. A cold chill went up a spine Psion didn't have as he realized Desecrator had been working on his project for many days previously.
In two hours, Psion had instructed Captain Ramius only a relatively short time ago, the Firehawk's phasers were to blast through the wall protecting the Maria Laxara facility. What had happened? How could so much time have passed?
Psion stretched out with his mind, straining to contact the PsiPlane with his thoughts in the hope that it and the Firehawk were close enough to shift into, but felt nothing within range. Alright, this is nothing to panic over. I'm no longer in my body, days have passed since we left the ship, and a bombardment from the most powerful directed energy weapon on the planet had done nothing to secure our freedom. But I'm still alert. I can still think, and that's my most powerful weapon. How do I use it? I must gather information!
He turned his mind back to Desecrator. The method used to keep Psion catatonic? Some sort of psi-wave damper. Boy, it sure is a shame I can't put power back into that psicorder. The man's mind resisted the suggestion, but frustration welled up again from deep down. He'd expected to make more progress after five months.
The telepath recoiled in horror. Five months?!
Involuntarily, his mind briefly worried for his crewmates back on the ship, the experiments he'd been running, and even poor Karybdis, locked away in the worst possible confinement. If she was still alive.
Eventually, Desecrator had completed his work for this shift, and he prepared to leave the lab. As he approached the psicorder, he began reaching for the prescribed manipulators to handle the psicorder. This was the telepath's chance. Why bother? Using those only wastes more time.
Desecrator froze as realization dawned that he wasn't really alone in the room. He leaned forward in close regard of the psicorder. “Hello. Are you in there?” He waved a scolding finger and said, “I think you're thinking naughty thoughts! Left a little piece of yourself in there, did you?” The man turned away, seeking a device that looked like a dental x-ray machine on a long swing-arm and swiveled it into position with the business end pointing at Psion's haunted tool.
His thoughts betrayed his intention to bombard the device with high-intensity rho-gamma waves, which were apparently a psychic emanation associated with pain. The technical detail fascinated Psion, who was unaware of the existence of such waves and he began to catalog a series of tests based on the knowledge and possible application to improvements in the psicorder's hardware and software.
But those thoughts were interrupted by the machine's activation. A whirring noise quickly built into a roar like a small jet engine, and as it did, Psion felt a sensation not unlike that of dentist's drill hitting a raw nerve. He mentally flinched, but recovered by compartmentalizing the pain so that he could continue to study Desecrator's mind and knowledge. The rho-gamma phenomenon – rho referenced the order in which the wave was discovered, and gamma referenced the product of psion-particle decay – was new, and potentially useful, so he goaded the sadist's thoughts, More!
Desecrator red-lined the generator, and through his ears, heard the shriek of raw power funneling through the machine's aperture. Psion tried to squeeze eyes and clench teeth he didn't have to fight back the shrill agony, but refused to let it overwhelm him. He touched the man's mind once more, How do I even know the gadget even feels pain? But Desecrator now recognized the foreign thoughts and only smiled at the futile efforts.
Root canal … disembowelment … bone fractures … electrocution … a sickening torrent of roiling physical anguish cascaded through the telepath's psyche even though he had no physical body to feel it. The flood threatened to wash him away, but high-level functions continued to analyze the situation. These waves and their psychic component couldn't be good for the crystal matrix of the psionium node embedded in the psicorder; the very matrix that functioned as a host for his mental presence. Imperfections in each crystal's manufacture might resonate with the immense power of the emitter and ultimately compromise the integrity of the matrix.
At last Psion's suggestions worked their way into Desecrator's thoughts and the sadist grew frustrated at the lack of any sign of pain from the device even as its casing distorted and scorched under the intense radiation. He knew the telepath was within, why couldn't he read anything off of him? “I heard you talking, why can't I hear you screaming or whimpering? Is that it? Are you whimpering so feebly that I can barely even hear you?”
Put it up to your ear!
Desecrator reached out to grab the gadget, but halted. “Wait a minute, that thing's hot!” He sneered and leaned close again. “You wanted me to pick you up. Scorch myself, you son of a bitch!” Ejaculated spittle sizzled on the unit's case.
The door to the lab flew open and through it stepped a tall, stern-looking, blond-haired man in blue armor that was bulky around the shoulders and gauntlets. “What the Hell! We're getting a battery depletion alert – what are you doing in here? You're supposed to report before you use anything like that kind of power.” Desecrator dialed down the intensity of the machine as the newcomer continued, “I authorized you to do this kind of research, and I can de-authorize you.”
Psion perceived that this new man exhibited obvious signs of deep-seated contempt for Desecrator, and concern that his issues and instability rendered him a threat. Desecrator, conversely, thought of the other man as “The Colonel” and a resident authority-figure of Maria Laxara. But the mysterious Mr. Trent had greater authority, and was a friendly sponsor of Desecrator, even if Trent never visited the island. Psion found it puzzling how anyone would entrust such a disturbed mind with responsibility within their organization. He needed deep and thorough therapy.
Peering beyond the open door, Psion read thoughts from many new minds. One felt distantly familiar, and the telepath began tuning the other presences out as he focused in on it.
With a shake of his head, the Colonel left, slamming the hatch closed and cutting Psion off from the familiar mind before he could identify it.
Desecrator grabbed the psicorder with metal tongs and deposited it first in a plastic, zip-lock bag then locked it in a metal box. Now hidden, Psion mentally touched the damaged components of the tool. For all the satisfaction it had brought Desecrator, using the rho-gamma machine on the device was a stupid decision since the exotic waves left it damaged beyond functionality, and would actually set back any work to understand it. But Psion needed it operational even more than they did, so he willed the scorched and broken components back into function. He hadn't often used his healing ability in such a way on a psicorder before, but he soon realized that he might be able to do more than simply power it with his mental presence – he might even be able to invent new functions by altering its structure with some effort.
Perdition Became Aware of a Mental Intruder
Under brilliant lights and an unending stream of distorted, high-volume music, Perdition clung to the edge of consciousness by virtue of his extraordinary willpower. People came and went, though he never quite realized it until after they'd gone. The cart and monitor by which he'd communicated with Mr. Trent had vanished at some point, for example. He struggled and eventually succeeded in entering a meditative trance, then used that familiar mental state to offset the disorientation brought on by the ceaseless and fatiguing torment.
The music, he noted, was a cover for a much lower audio signal. There was an almost imperceptibly low-frequency oscillation. One probably intended to interfere with brainwave function.
He blotted out the noise and light and deepened his meditative state, then reached out to the Secret Masters for guidance. He knew they would be philosophically opposed to sending a rescue party, and that they'd prefer for Perdition to find way to help himself, but perhaps they'd allow him an insight he'd need.
He thought back to his experiences in Shambhala where brutal training broke down his personality and allowed the Secret Masters to build him back up, instilling him with deep wisdom and the willpower to survive situations like this. He realized then that there was something of a parallel between this cell on Marie Laxara and his training at Shambhala. That the people running the facility strove to achieve a similar outcome by stripping him to his core and then building new instincts and reactions that better suited their needs. But the technological tools they wielded were crude and blunt instruments compared to the centuries-honed metaphysical approach used by the Masters. Perhaps such an understanding of his predicament was enlightening, but he'd hoped for something more substantive to help him escape. Just then, a vision in the form of a series of vivid, nested flashes told him just where the Ring of Xian was stored. At last, he had knowledge he could use when the time was right.
The helpless investigator resolved to weather his incarceration as he'd been trained. This was not his moment, but that moment would come. He would use it to his advantage and ultimately confront the arrogant Mr. Trent. He'd learn who Trent really worked--
How did I get here? Perdition thought back about events on the Firehawk since he'd joined the team. The twisted paths his investigations and those of his colleagues had led him along. And the Amber Room? That had been especially intriguing, with the work to recover notes from the Nazis and Leibniz to construct a working replica. Where was it built? In the spare helicopter hangar just behind the space Psion stowed the PsiPlane. Who built it? Psion and Mindy, of course, he thought. Zap and Shockwave had helped. A number of the ship's crewmen contributed labor and workmanship. Names? Crewmen Vladimir Ivanych Kosygin and Yulia Dmitrievna Kuchenko were particularly skilled craftsmen, and tolerated changing specifications from Psion patiently. Who else had access to the Amber Room?
Perdition stopped as he slowly came to realize something had been guiding his recollections. The music? No, this seemed more like a presence. Someone speaking thoughts in his own mental voice, but with great subtlety. Now on guard, the investigator monitored his own thoughts closely, second guessing every stray idea, but could find no other trace of the intrusion. He wondered if he'd scared it off, so he tried to compartmentalize his thoughts and hoped his awareness of the presence would go unnoticed by the intruder. Eventually, an odd stray thought slipped in, what were our motives in constructing the Amber Room? How was it that we came to Maria Laxara and what were our intentions with regards to it?
Who are you? Perdition asked the presence in a neutral voice. Again the intruder retreated – almost timidly – and he was left with the impression whoever or whatever it was both non-aggressive and patient.
Shockwave Awoke to a Drugged Interrogation
Shockwave suddenly felt heavy and dull. Dimly, she realized that time had passed and she was no longer in the cell with the others. She thought she was lying on a slab on her back, and had a vague sense of being trapped, so she tried phasing down through the slab beneath her without success. Unable to summon the necessary strength, she slumped in place passively. A part of her realized she'd been heavily drugged.
She had a vague impression someone stood nearby, and a deep, male voice asked, “Can you hear me?”
Her eyelids resisted her will and fluttered only partially open. Maybe she saw a gray-haired, business-suited figure next to her. She tried licking her lips slowly with a thick tongue that didn't fit right in her dry mouth. “Um .. yeah.”
“When you came here … what were you seeking?” The man's voice was weirdly distorted, as though played through an old tape recorder with bad batteries.
“To the island.”
“I don't … know. Nothing.”
“This is a secure facility.”
“There were no signs.”
“What did you find here?”
“Bad music … prisoners … torture … bad guys. No sandwiches.”
“Did you know the prisoners? Who were they?”
“I don't know.”
“Did you want to speak to them? To release them?”
“Do you always sound like that? Or is it the drugs?”
“You are not in the best of health.”
“Because you are considered a threat.”
“Oh. So you're the reason I'm not in the best of health.”
“Well, you're right, I am a threat.”
“What are your plans regarding the facility now?”
“First I'm going to kick your ass.” Shockwave felt a slight stirring of adrenaline coursing through her, and she continued to psyche herself up. “There will basic mayhem. It's definitely being shut down and all you guys are going to pay. And then me and my friends are going to kick your asses. Again.”
The man in the suit wasn't the only one present. She sensed nearby commotion and, just as she was about to try to act on her impulses, felt the world around her blur out and fade to black.
Psion Used the Rho-Gamma Machine and Blasted Desecrator
Psion finished healing the damaged psicorder and charged it with mental energy as a substitute for the polymerized cell that usually powered the device. Spectra of subtle sensor beams showered the space surrounding him. Data accumulated and soon he had a detailed map of the room and its contents, revealing where security cameras and high-tech devices were located. He focused sensors on the security camera's connections and toyed with generating a simple, looping image of a static scene, but the hard-wired and shielded nature of the wires leading to the camera rendered such an approach difficult without resorting to power levels that would more likely damage the camera.
Next he turned to the Rho-Gamma machine and studied the control interface. After brief experimentation, he discovered a series of signals that controlled it. The machine switched on, and he ramped up its energy output to maximum, then pointed it at the door.
Soon, alerts sounded, and he knew the machine was once again threatening the facility's power supply. If he had hands at that moment, he'd rub his palms together with a satisfied smirk.
While the Rho-Gamma machine did its best to compromise the base, he searched for and found his body only 200 meters away. Unable to transfer back while it remained comatose, he swung his attention back towards the door. The machine had long-since burned out the psi-damping grid buried in the walls, but backscatter from the machine made prolonged thought-scans of the area painful. Still, he sensed conscious presences on the other side.
A far wall blew apart with a crash and Desecrator stepped through the opening. He unplugged the Rho Gamma machine and turned toward the box containing the psicorder. To Psion's horror, the box he'd been locked in began to crumble as a swarm of nano disassemblers ate away at the container. A small pair of glowing wings sparked from the psicorder's casing as Psion flew the device clear of the disintegrating box.
But Desecrator's gloved hand snatched the device from the air before it could fly away and brought it close to his head to look at the display. A thin, red beam erupted from the device and painted cross hairs directly between Desecrator's eyes, and the villain read the words “Target Locked” along with a precise range and bearing in hexadecimal notation. An instant later, a single psibolt lept from the psicorder and blasted into the cross-hairs, knocking Desecrator backwards and through the wall behind him.
At such close range, the blast of the psibolt's impact rebounded and shattered the psicorder, leaving it completely non-functional and exposing the psionium avatar node. With no way to effectively monitor his surroundings any longer, and unsure of Desecrator's condition, Psion abandoned the node and hoped to rouse his body from its coma. With luck, the chaos he'd just caused would weaken whatever kept his body inert and allow him to return while systems around him failed.
He instead lost consciousness.
Shockwave Encountered Sybil
Shockwave snapped awake wearing a crepe-paper surgical gown and lying on a memory-foam couch. An IV in her arm ran to an infusion box on a foley pole … the box looked like a power surge had burned it out. The room's lighting flickered, and a nearby wall was a floor-ceiling mirror that she was pretty certain was one-way glass. A figure stood where her interrogator had questioned her about the team's interest in the island – only an instant or two earlier in her mind, although she wasn't certain.
She ripped the IV from her arm, rose and brushed aside a tray table littered with medical instruments, and confronted the figure in an impossibly fast motion. Before her stood a woman in her late forties with long, curly, dark brown hair. Shockwave reached through the stranger's smart, pleated blouse with a phased hand and wrapped it around her heart in another blink of an eye.
Shockwave took a half step closer. “Where are my friends?” She paused a beat as the terrified woman registered her predicament and added with a fake, Austrian accent, “Your clothes. Give them to me.”
“Please don't! I know who you are.”
“Okay. Then answer my questions. And … I wasn't kidding about the clothes.”
The stranger fumbled with a cape wrapped over her shoulders and passed it to Shockwave.
“Who are you?”
“I'm a friend … or, I want to be.”
“What's your name?”
“Sybil.” Shockwave registered the name slowly. Could this be the woman whom The Auteur had offered to Psion as a choice for resurrection? She tried to remember details from old System Four case files she'd read and suspected the woman had been killed in a particularly grizzly fashion and that Psion had been affected by her death.
“Okay,” she loosened her grip, but didn't withdraw her hand yet. “Tell me something about … ah … Psion.”
“I knew him a long time ago.”
“Yes, yes. Something that makes me believe you are who you say you are.”
Sybil answered, but avoided the subject of Psion. Instead, she began to recount a series of details about Shockwave herself. Private matters. Things that no one else knew.
“You can stop now. I take it you're a telepath?”
“That doesn't prove you're a friend.”
“I want to help you.”
“Alright, fine.” She withdrew her hand from Sybil's chest and asked, “Do you know the layout of this place?”
“Okay. Which way?”
Sybil led the way to the door. “Psion is in the damper ward. Zap is in the stasis room next door.”
Shockwave nodded. “Okay, let's get him first.”
Shockwave Stuffed Zap in a Ventilation Duct
Zap lay on a bed in a room arranged similarly to the one Shockwave had just left. His IV infuser was also burned out, but he had a fraction of Shockwave's metabolism and was still unconscious. She pulled the IV from his arm and slapped him once … twice … three times, but the man would not awaken. This was taking too much time and she had to get to the others, so she phased Zap's body non-corporeal, and then hid him in a ventilation duct above the room's drop-ceiling.
“Alright. Who's next?”
“Perdition's in General Population. That would be up one level.”
“Okay. Let's go get him.” They exited the room and moved towards the stairwell. “So, other than telepathy, what else do you do?”
“That's it, essentially.”
Shockwave and Sybil Freed Perdition
They made their way to the next level and found Perdition sprawled on a slab in a cell lit with blinding lights and the theme song from Lancelot Link blaring from a ceiling-mounted speaker. Shockwave killed the lights and roused the investigator, who – once alert – silenced the offensive music by smashing the speaker with his fist.
“I know where my ring is.”
“Great. Can you grab that and free Psion?” Shockwave made swift introductions with Sybil and said, “go with her. I'm gonna go kill power to this entire place.” She turned back to Sybil. “If you can guide me or stick a picture in my head so I can get down to the power generators.”
Sybil flashed Shockwave a quick mental run-through of the route to the power room and to Psion's location as well. “I probably won't be able to stay in contact the whole time; my range isn't that great.”
“C'mon,” Perdition said to Sybil. “I want my ring so I'm armed, then we can get Psion.”
Sybil stopped him a moment to take the lead and indicated his hospital gown with an embarrassed shrug. She pointed to her head and said, “I know where your ring is, anyway.”
Shockwave Disabled the Power Plant
Shockwave ran down the corridor the opposite direction as she followed the path laid out by Sybil. She could get there faster if she could cut through floors and walls and follow a straight line to the power plant, but she'd risk getting lost in the strange facility if she tried it. It was better to simply follow Sybil's directions. Very, very quickly.
Darkened lower levels forced her to slow down a moment. Thinking quickly, she experimented briefly with running a spark of electricity between her thumb and forefinger until a continuous arc lit her way with brilliant blue-white light.
She found a room with a desktop computer sitting on a wheeled cart amidst new-looking equipment boxes faced with twinkling arrays of lights. Along the wall, there were far older electrical devices hooked to old-fashioned knife switches. But the computer looked like a good target to disable first, so she cast a shower of writhing electrical bolts into the PC's case. The unit blew out in spectacular fashion and a series of secondary failures announced themselves as flashes and sparks cascaded across the other equipment.
Perdition and Sybil Confronted Desecrator
Perdition and Sybil dodged showers of glass as many of the fluorescent lights mounted along the corridor ceiling exploded. The creepy music and sounds that pervaded the facility's sound system abruptly cut out and the entire base plunged into red emergency lighting punctuated occasionally by odd sparks from overloaded equipment.
They came to a gaping hole in one brick wall of the passage with smoke and dust scattered about. Beyond the hole lay the shattered contents of a smashed laboratory. Sybil tried to pick her way carefully past the opening, but a large figure stepped out.
“What's going on,” Desecrator demanded in his modulated voice.
Sybil looked back and forth between Perdition and Desecrator, then said, “There's … been a breakout. Up at the infirmary. You'd better take care of it.” She pulled Perdition past her against the wall.
Desecrator stormed past, his metal boots clanking down the corridor.
Perdition looked at Sybil with a dumbfounded expression as if to say, “He fell for that?” She just shook her head and tugged Perdition the opposite way to the door of another lab. They stopped there and she pulled a ring of keys from a pocket and began fumbling for the right one. A sudden weight landed on Perdition's shoulder and with it came a burning sensation.
“Excuse me,” said a deep, mechanical voice. “I don't think you're authorized.”
Perdition restrained a shriek as the flesh on his shoulder boiled up and began to strip from his body under the onslaught of Desecrator's nanotech armor.
“You get out of my way, dick.” Desecrator lifted the investigator and tossed him hard enough to bounce him off the wall and ceiling. Sybil stared in horror at the hulking, armored villain. “Where are you going, sweetie?”
Perdition rose and stepped up behind the villain. Nearly naked and unarmed, his only weapons were his fists, and he swung a blow into Desecrator's kidney that would have dropped an ordinary man. But his fist never quite reached their target before a spray of blood erupted from it as Desecrator's protective field of nanobots stripped the hero's flesh from his hand.
Desecrator whirled and seized Perdition, then slammed the brow of his armored helmet into the investigator's face. Unimaginable pain shot through his brain as skin and muscle disintegrated from his body wherever the villain touched him.
Shockwave Stuffed Zap's Body In Psion's Cell
Shockwave returned to get Zap, then followed Sybil's instructions until she ran into a room with a number of inclined tables, several of which were occupied by bodies clamped down in restraints. Two wore helmets festooned with contacts, coils, and wires leading back to complicated equipment. She recognized one of these prisoners as Psion.
She put Zap on the floor, then grabbed Psion and phased him non-corporeal, freeing him from the restraints and dragging him to the floor near Zap. She tried slapping each awake, and then tried using an electric shock to rouse them, but neither hero roused. “This isn't getting us anywhere,” she said to no one awake. “You two stay here and sleep while I go find Perdition!”
Perdtion Bloodied Himself Against Desecrator's Nanobot Armor
Perdition writhed and squirmed wildly in Desecrator's grasp until he at last wriggled free. Through the fog of pain, he knew his destination – and the ring which would heal his grievous wounds – were past an opponent who outclassed him. He charged forward, hoping to get past Desecrator and his hellish exoskeleton, but the villain clothes-lined him.
Desecrator chuckled with a roboticized voice as he regarded the man he was about to kill. Perdition's skin hung in strips from muscle and exposed bone over much of his body. Blood pooled at his feet as unstaunchable wounds oozed vital fluids. As much as he enjoyed victims who screamed and struggled to flee the onslaught of his flesh-eating cloud of robots, Desecrator found Perdition's tenacity rewarding in its own way. A proper opponent: one who was easily beaten, but stubbornly unwilling to admit defeat.
Disfigured and mortally wounded, Perdition remained standing and defiant. “Is that the best you've got?” he gurgled from bloodied lips. He drew his shredded figure up into a fearless posture. “You big pussy!”
Sybil Neutralized Desecrator Using Aura Burn
“Stop it!” Sybil shrieked from behind the mismatched combatants. Desecrator shuddered, then started flailing his arms around wildly. He spun on the woman and reached for her, but she stepped clear of his reach. Distorted screams erupted from his suit's speakers and he began tearing at his own torso. Careening out of control, he bounced off the wall to his left, then fell with a strangled gasp to the floor and lay there convulsing while his buzzing cloud of nanobots chewed the concrete floor beneath him into gravel and dust.
Perdition looked down at the figure, then up at Sybil, whose dark eyes, wide and watery, remained on the villain. He shook his head, then staggered past them both towards the place he knew his ring must lay. The door was still closed and locked and he had no time or patience for keys at this moment. He stood back and kicked just under the knob with enough force to slam it open. He'd never been in the room before, but he knew about the key in the desk drawer. This he used to open the cabinet he knew would be locked. Within, the Ring of Xian practically shone in his eyes and he grabbed it with pain-driven desperation and slipped it over a bloody, fleshless finger. Almost immediately his agony eased, as throughout his body, wounds began sealing and tissues regenerating. While his nerves still rang with searing pain – he sighed in momentary relief as the magical artifact began weaving his flesh back to health.
But Perdition spared himself only a few moments respite before staggering back out into the corridor. Desecrator continued writhing on the floor, though now multiple geysers of blood sprayed from his armor as he screamed hideously. Sybil hyperventilated as she leaned against the wall; her eyes still fixed where they'd been, and her face frozen somewhere between rage and despair. Perdition stepped forward, blocking her view as he said, “Come on. Let's go find Psion.”
Starstrike Confronted and Debated Psion
Psion snapped awake on the floor of his cell and looked around. He was in a small area about the size of a conference room equipped with inclined treatment tables, at least one occupied by an unconscious prisoner wearing an elaborate helmet. Along one wall, a bank of inoperative instruments were wired to that helmet. Zap laid unconscious nearby. Psion pushed himself up off the floor and turned to face an opening door. In the threshold stood a muscular figure of proud carriage in near silhouette.
“Starstrike?” said Psion.
“Through playing ignorant, are you?”
“Weren't you killed by Algolian vampires?”
“I left the ship enroute.”
“My function in the New York Defenders was similar to your own in System 4.”
A pang of regret stabbed at Psion and the colors in his wings flickered. His association with the Committee was one that stretched back to the earliest days of his involvement with the federal government and wasn't one of which he was particularly proud, even though he agreed with the original intent as a set of contingencies.
“I had no idea you were cleared to know of the existence of this facility,” Starstrike continued as he stepped into the room. His armor displayed three-dimensional starfields against an ink-black background. As he moved, the effect was akin to looking through him into a spacescape beyond. “Much less that you would betray such a confidence. To bring your group here, uncontrolled and allowing an attack on this facility is, for lack of a better word, treason.”
“This facility engaged in unconstitutional practices. The people responsible--”
“All of the activities performed here are necessary for national security. Constitutional niceties aside.”
“Starstrike. I wasn't 'cleared' to know about this facility. I found it because the people in charge of it were incompetent.”
“Unfortunate coincidences and accidents seem to be a hazard for those in our line of work. I talked the authorities into allowing you to be held here for a period of time until we could find some prudent disposition for you. But it seems that time has passed.”
“So, you betrayed the Defenders and now you're betraying us. And you've betrayed everything you stood for.”
“The Defenders betrayed this nation.”
“They left this planet to help people who needed them. They gave their lives for that in the line of duty.”
“Their actions, even their betrayals, were sincerely motivated but woefully misguided. They disobeyed orders with regard to operations against the Soviet government --”
Psion didn't need telepathy to see what was going on inside Starstrike, and his tone softened. “No, Starstrike, no--”
“They misrepresented their personal information to the federal government.”
“That is survivor's guilt talking. You've rationalized yourself into a position that lets you live with yourself. I know, because I also didn't go. And that ripped me apart.”
“And you expect me to believe that was unintentional? That you didn't know what fate was befalling the rest of your group?”
“I had no idea what was going on out at Tau Ceti.” Psion's head tilted slightly as new realization dawned. Sparks of red flickered through his wings, but he kept the anger from his voice. “But you did. You knew what was going on at Tau Ceti and you knew what your comrades – your friends – were walking into.”
“Not the specifics.”
“Even without the specifics you could have prepared them. You could have prepared the Adventurers for what they'd meet.”
“I knew the consequences of their planned cooperations with the Soviet Central Bureau of Superbeings were threatening to the survival of this nation.”
“That was the beginning of détente! The nation survived. They didn't.”
“And I don't believe that was a coincidence.” Starstrike squared his shoulders and made a chopping motion with one hand into the palm of the other as he explained, “They had plans for an unauthorized summit with the Soviet Central Bureau of Superbeings. I have reason to believe that Captain Defender, Dr. Palladium, and certain other members of the groups were planning to remove their respective organizations from the authority of their respective governments. That could not be allowed to take place.”
“I can assure you that the people who comprised the Adventurers of America were not making such plans.”
“So certain, are you?” The former hero didn't try to keep the scorn and doubt from his voice.
“Of course I am! Remember, not only am I a telepath, I was the Monitor.”
Starstrike turned away. “I'm not sure how much of your story I can believe.” He whirled back and leveled an accusatory finger at the telepath. “But I know that you came here, infiltrated this facility, had unauthorized contact with prisoners, and then had your ship attack the facility!”
“Your facility is completely unmarked. There is no indication who it belongs to or what purpose it serves. We followed leads from an independent investigation into the Flaming Skull's and The Auteur's involvement in the destruction of the World Trade Center. This all led us here.”
“If I can believe any of the rest of what your saying … I'm not sure I can believe--”
“I'm not a liar.” He held out his hand. “If you want, I'll share everything we've learned with you.”
Shockwave Rejoined Sybil and the Badly Wounded Perdition
Shockwave turned a corner and stopped short with a gasp. A shambling, shredded form led a huddled woman's form by the hand through gloomy, emergency lighting. It took her a moment to recognize the pair as Perdition and Sybil. “What the Hell happened to you?”
“Never punch Desecrator. And something happened to Sybil, she's in shock.”
“I left you two alone for five seconds and you get zombified and … I don't even know what happened to her!” She looked from one to the other with a look of exasperation. “You're gonna need first aid.”
“No, I'll be alright. My ring is healing me. But I don't know about Sybil. She just screamed something and Desecrator just fell down.”
Shockwave's eyebrows went up. “That's awesome! Alright, I need help, then. I can't get Psion or Zap awake.”
The Man With Green Gloves Stepped Out Behind Starstrike
Behind Starstrike, a new figure stepped into to the doorway. A tall, Asian man wearing green gloves. “Starstrike,” Psion warned quietly. “Be careful. Your base is already under attack again.”
Starstrike turned to look, and the Man with Green Gloves looked back at him with a raised eyebrow. “Mr. Green is an advisor. And I'm afraid the time for talking is passed.” A faint, high-pitched whir signaled some buildup of energy, but Psion had little personal experience with Starstrike and had no idea if he could weather an attack from the man.
Psion raised a telepathic switchboard, alerting Shockwave and Perdition to their new threats. “Starstrike, you're not thinking this through. We need to take this to the Committee.”
Starstrike grabbed Psion by the throat and lifted him off the ground. “I'm sorry we have to resort to this,” he said as he drew his free hand back in a fist that glowed brighter and brighter with cosmic power.
“Starstrike, this whole project has been corrupted. There is a procedure and protocol to be followed and you are in violation of that. You know the expectations of the Committee. Stand down.” Starstrike looked back at the Man with Green Gloves who just shook his head with a slightly amused expression. “Don't look at him. He's part of the corruption.”
Starstrike Turned on the Man with Green Gloves
With the speed and savage force only an experienced fighter can muster, Starstrike wheeled about and slugged the Man with Green Gloves with an impact as loud as a clap of thunder. The Asian flew backwards hard enough to go through a stone wall and landed in a heap in the room beyond.
“Don't take this as a criticism, Starstrike,” said Psion. “But you missed me.”
Starstrike shot an annoyed look at the telepath and tossed him aside. “Shut up and get out of here.” He then dove through the hole in the wall, following the Man with Green Gloves. Psion listened for a moment as several loud crashes confirmed that the fight wasn't going to end soon.
Psion grabbed Zap and smacked him across the face. “Wake up now or wake up later when I've got you flung over my shoulder and you'll have a good look down the back of my open hospital gown.” Zap's eyes snapped open. Psion smiled. “Good timing. We need to move, and I don't have time to tell you everything, so here's a mental update that contains the information you need.” He gripped the back of Zap's head and imparted a package of everything that had happened except any discussion of the Committee.
“Let's re-group,” Psion continued. He added Zap to the switchboard and announced over it, everyone rendezvous on Perdition. I want us in a position of strength, then we support Starstrike. No more dividing up; we're sticking together as a team. After that, we help Starstrike.
Psion and Sybil Re-united
Zap and Psion rounded a corner to join the others and both stopped abruptly, but for different reasons. Shocked at Perdition's state, Zap was even more amazed that someone so grievously wounded could remain upright, let alone lucid and in apparent command of his faculties.
Psion, on the other hand, stared at Sybil. He'd suspected this moment was coming after the frozen-moment incident with The Auteur, but even that didn't prepare him; he'd seen this woman die in his arms. Felt her mind slip away even as he fought to stabilize her injuries and heal her. His disciplined and keen intellect recalled the details of those moments as though they were still fresh. Along with the days and weeks of private mourning that followed while he kept to his duties within the then-new System Four. After Sybil, he had never again allowed himself to feel love for a woman. He'd form friendships, such as that with the Russian super Plamya, but restrict his own desires and prohibit relationships from becoming anything more than platonic.
Now his desires resurfaced and threatened to overwhelm him. He squashed an urge to move towards her. Doubt raised a cascade of suspicions about her apparent resurrection. Was she real, or an actor playing a part at The Auteur's direction? An illusion? And even if she were real, might this all be part of some choreographed melodrama destined to take her away again?
That moment's hesitation proved irrelevant, however, as Sybil dashed to him and sank against his chest before anyone else could sense Psion's pause. Real or not, she was here now and in obvious turmoil. He could only guess, based on private conversations from long-ago, what had reduced her to this state. Although logic suggested a myriad of unlikely but possible explanations for her presence, it provided little help when confronted with the tangible reality of her distress. So he returned the embrace and soon found himself holding tightly, if for only this moment, to the last woman he'd ever loved. Eventually, they'd work out the reality of their situation and how much things had changed, but for now, something wonderful had been wrestled back from all the chaos and destruction.
Shockwave and Zap looked at Psion and Sybil, then at each other with the same thought. This could only mean the deal with The Auteur was done.
After a moment, Psion broke the embrace and led Sybil through the gap in the wall and into the lab beyond.
The Team Debated Their Priorities
Zap faced Shockwave and Perdition. “I think number one, we take out whatever that thing is that zapped us.”
Shockwave said, “I took down all the power in the building … I'm hoping it powers that zapping thing.”
“That means all the prisoners are going to get loose, right?” warned Perdition.
“Well, I don't know, I mean if they're on power locks … maybe.”
Zap said, “Well, there's prisoners and then there's guys like the guy with the green gloves who we just saw. So I think we take him out first.”
“Okay, lets do that, and this place is going down. We're not just leaving.”
Perdition rolled his eyes. “Oh boy. What's to prevent the people who put us here from coming after us once we get back to the Firehawk? This guy Trent, who was with the NSA … he's not going to just give up.”
“Yeah, we're going to have to deal with him, too,” acceded Shockwave reluctantly. “We're going to have to deal with this whole thing.”
“We took out his weapon,” Zap pointed out, referring to the anti-consciousness devices, “and the guy with the green gloves is far more dangerous than Trent with no weapon. Green Gloves is here right now and he can kick our ass.”
“But Trent will keep coming after us,” Perdition persisted.
“But step one is the guy with the green gloves. Because when he's done with Starstrike, he's gonna come after us. And he will be done with Starstrike. So I think we should go help Starstrike and put him down now.”
“How much longer are we going to be sitting here?”
“We're not. We're leaving for the fight with Starstrike right now.”
“Where are we going?”
“I'm going, you can follow.”
Perdition Was Re-Armed with a Futuristic Ray Gun
Psion poked his head back out of the hole, now wearing a somewhat more discrete lab coat in place of the hospital gown. “Hey! Catch!” He began tossing SSCs to each of his team mates.
Perdition plucked the wrist communicator out of the air and delicately wrapped it around his healing wrist. “You didn't happen to see my guns, did you?”
Psion caught himself, momentarily embarrassed at having forgotten about the investigator's need for external weaponry. He looked back at the vault, and sorted through a precise series of memories about its content. “No … but … “ He stepped back to another cabinet and withdrew a streamlined pistol. Like a prop from Buck Rogers, Psion had no idea what the 'ray gun' could do, but he handed it over to Perdition and said, “Be careful with that.”
Perdition looked the weapon over with a mix of both intrigue and disappointment. “I still need to get the one gun back.”
“The Oracalcum bullets?”
“Understood. But let's go help Starstrike first.”
Perdition restrained him and pointed out a flashing red light over the lab's door. Psion glanced at the indicator. “I have no idea what that means. Sybil, what is that?”
The psychic drew a deep tentative breath, still unsure of her own voice. “It's … an evacuation command.”
The Team Learned Maria Laxara's Self-Destruct Had Armed
Zap, on the other side of the hole and eager to catch up with Starstrike, squeezed his eyes shut in frustration. “Oh dear.”
“I think it means a destruct has been initiated.”
“Right.” Zap split into two and one version infiltrated the base's computer network.
“How much time do we have?” asked Psion.
Sybil watched the blinking sequence for a moment, “One … two … three – less than five minutes.”
Everyone looked at each other. Priorities had just changed. Perdition said, “This might sound odd coming from me considering how I feel about evil, but … what about the prisoners?”
Psion shook his head. “We don't know why they've been incarcerated. Perhaps some have committed grievous crimes. But I'll bet others are just political prisoners who've been made to disappear. Either way, they each deserve a fair trial and justice. We have to help them too.”
“Then we have to shut down the self-destruct,” said Shockwave, “because we can't safely evacuate this place without letting bad guys loose again.”
“Then how do we tell which are the bad guys and which are the political prisoners?” asked Perdition.
“We can't,” she said.
Zap said, “We don't even know where we're going.”
“How are we gonna get off the island?” asked Perdition.
Psion nodded. “We might not have a ship out there.”
“We probably don't,” said Zap. “It's been months.”
Shockwave said, “So we need to shut down the self-destruct?”
Zap answered, referring to his alternate self. “I'm already on that.”
Shockwave said, “Then we need to go help Captain Spaceman.”
“Starstrike,” Psion provided.
Zap Found the Bomb
Zap 2 traced the network to the facility's security-monitoring computer which appeared to be running on local backup power. That must have been the trigger for the destruct sequence as the computer had no readings from much of the base and indications of a compromise. He tried to fool the system into accepting false readings but he couldn't guess the authorization codes required.
From monitors displaying feeds from various security cameras, Zap guessed there were about 120 cells on the island, although he wasn't sure how many were occupied.
Frustrated, he instead decided to trace the triggering circuits to the destruct device and found a large, cylindrical object about ten feet long by four feet in diameter. With no obvious penetrations, the cylinder was wrapped in alternating layers of gold and lead, doubtless to render it impervious to tampering from entities like himself.
He withdrew back to the main group and grabbed Shockwave, explaining he needed her help to deactivate it, then abstracted her into an electrical form and transported her in a bolt of lightning to the chamber. Shockwave phased her hand non-corporeal, but couldn't penetrate the dense and difficult layers of security protecting the device.
“This is impossible,” he said. “There has to be a way into this thing!” He cascaded across the casing like sheets of arcing electricity, looking for a way in, but the trigger had simultaneously severed connections between it and the outside world.
Psion Contacted the Ship
Psion lifted his SSC to his lips. “Psion to Firehawk.”
After a moment, a voice responded, “This is Firehawk, Anastasia speaking. And where have you been?”
Psion felt a smile tug at his cheeks. “Anastasia, you have no idea how good it is to hear your voice. What is the ship's situation?”
“We are currently anchored in international waters in the Arabian Sea.”
“How did you get there? How long has it been?”
Psion stood a little straighter in surprise. “Oh. He wasn't lying about that.”
The tone in Anastasia's voice shifted. “We're currently in a sort of outlaw status. We're able to defend ourselves. There have been a couple incidents, but they haven't pressed the matter.”
“We're working on that, Anastasia.”
“The problem is we're trying to work out a way to intervene properly. There's a bit of a war going on. The U.S. Invaded Iraq about a month ago, and while the Iraqi government forces collapsed fairly quickly, we're currently dealing with an insurgency that involves certain insectoid guerrillas.”
“Has 'Dave' been helpful?”
“He'd like to be, but we've had trouble getting him into the zone to actually communicate with anybody.”
Psion explained their current situation and the difficulty with the base's self-destruct. “We do not have time to effect proper rescue operations. We'll rendezvous with you as soon as possible.”
Shockwave and Zaps Tried to Use Desecrator to Dissolve the Bomb Casing
Zap 2 and Shockwave stood back from the impenetrable cylinder. “I can't find a way in … it's a rat's nest of wiring inside, and there's no clear way into the mechanism. We need another way in.”
Shockwave shook her head. “We need some way to dissolve the casing. If only we had some kind of acid.” She looked up at Zap 2 with a snap and asked, “Is Desecrator still a bubbling mess on the floor?”
Quantum-linked to Zap 1, Zap 2 nodded enthusiastically. “Sweet! I'll convert him to electricity and bring him down.”
With a brilliant, blue-white flash, Zap 1 knelt beside the convulsing form of Desecrator roiling in his buzzing haze of nanobots and converted him to a transportable electrical state. They then materialized next to Zap 2 and Shockwave where he deposited the reconstituted Descrator atop the device.
Desecrator's buzzing intensified abruptly as though reacting with something in the casing. Shockwave and both Zaps stood back, expecting the monstrous villain would recover and attack. But the writhing worsened, and a moment later his casing burst apart like an egg in a microwave and bits of the gooey, human interior spattered around the room.
They each looked at one another, both shocked and relieved and one of the Zaps inched forward to investigate the casing, only to be disappointed that it was still intact.
Psion reported that he couldn't raise Starstrike telepathically.
Perdition Tested His Ray Gun
Aware of the difficulties because of the switchboard, Psion looked at the weapon Perdition wielded. “Let's see what that does.”
Perdition warned Psion and Sybil to stand back and pointed it at the floor down the hall. As the firing stud depressed, a cascade of sparks connected the muzzle to the target and a portion of the floor disintegrated. Perdition and Psion exchanged hopeful grins. “Maybe if you fire it obliquely across the casing, not directly into it, you can use that to cut into the device without setting it off.”
Now one of the Zaps – it's hard to tell which one – brought Perdition down to the self-destruct chamber. He aimed carefully across the top of the casing, where it had already been somewhat damaged by earlier efforts and fired the gun again. With a shriek and another blast of sparks, the weapon cut a hole into the far wall and then began lancing into the shielded device. After several long seconds, the air filled with the stench of ozone and the gun's muzzle glowed cherry red, but the cylinder yielded its interior only with great reluctance. Finally, sputtering, the power pack on the gun withered and exhausted itself, and only a small portion of the cylinder's concrete interior lay exposed.
“Out of juice,” Perdition reported.
Nice try, said Psion over the switchboard.
Zap Disabled the Self Destruct
Shockwave was more enthusiastic, though. “No, no, he's in! This is good. This is exactly what we needed!”
Zap 2 – or maybe it was 1 – converted to electrical form and arced across the exposed area, and disappeared like a whirling vortex into it a moment later.
Shockwave grabbed Perdition and fled with him to rejoin Psion and Sybil.
Within the device, Zap felt around in electrical form. Electrically, the trigger mechanism was extremely simple and coupled with a mechanical timer that was itself connected to banks of batteries. This then led to a mercury fulminate detonator which was set off when the timer completed the circuit.
Set off the detonator, Psion recommended over the switchboard.
“What? Why would I want to do that?”
It's reasonable to assume that this is a nuclear device. Such devices rely on precise timing to detonate multiple explosives to force critical mass. If you detonate just one trigger, the weapon will fire out of sequence and you'll only have a radioactively-contaminated conventional explosive, thus using the weapon's sophistication against itself.
Zap considered this advice with skepticism, and instead opted for the simpler approach of fusing the mechanical timer so it would stop counting down. With a tiny spark in just the right place, the bomb was rendered inert.
Well done, Psion commended. Now … stay where you are in case we need to trip that bomb.
“What am I, a dog?” Then he realized what Psion had just said. “Wait … in case we need to trip the bomb? Yeah, see, I'd have to be in the bomb when it tripped."
Only half of you will.
"You're energy. It's just ... energy.”
Zap's shoulders, if he had them at that moment, would have slumped. He understood the logic of the request. “I hate my powers.”
It should be noted that while almost all nuclear and thermonuclear weapons constructed since 1945 have been of an "implosion" design, of the complexity referenced by Psion, the atomic bomb in Maria Laxara's self-destruct system was, in fact, of a "gun-type design", chosen for its reliability, in spite of its relative inefficiency and safety issues -- Dwayne
Starstrike and The Man With Green Gloves Were Missing
The group evacuated Sybil and Perdition to the surface, then Shockwave, Psion, and the other Zap returned to the scene of Starstrike's battle with the Man with the Green Gloves. The area was cluttered with damage, including gaping holes in several walls. Whatever had happened had been brutal, but there was no other sign of either man.
Back on the surface, Sybil and Perdition scouted out several life rafts in cannisters and began arranging them for launching.
The Team Collected Evidence About the Maria Laxara Facility
Sybil told the team about the operations of the island. The staff consisted of her and Starstrike along with four technicians, along with a half dozen aides like Aide 4 – former inmates who had been sufficiently processed that they were now tractable, but good for little more than menial labor. Desecrator joined the staff only a few months earlier, and even then on only a part-time basis. The Man with Green Gloves only visited once or twice working as a consultant for the facility.
System 4ce searched for Perdition's guns and the counter-consciousness gadgets that had knocked them out five months earlier, but found neither. Sybil's recollections indicated that the counter-consciousness technology knocked out everyone in the facility except anyone standing in just a few, shielded locations. Like the Colonel/Starstrike's office. Psion checked out the technology used to keep him unconscious, and Zap suggested they look over the office shielding for clues that would protect them from any future uses of the technology.
They also recovered memory devices from computer systems. A complete forensic analysis of their contents would teach them a lot about operations and systems at Maria Laxara.
Zap looked around at the facility. “Once they know the base didn't self-destruct, they'll send aircraft. Hawaii's what, a thousand miles away? They might not fire missiles at us right away, but you can bet there will be jets before long. They should be here pretty soon.”
Zap sifted through inert records electrically, searching for indications that any of the inmates possessed unusual powers. But he could find little indication of such. In fact, there was little personal information to be found in the files. Instead, only an indication of which programs had been used on each prisoner, and how long each had been an inmate – in some cases decades.
System 4ce Evacuated the Island
“I don't see any evidence that these guys had super-powers,” Zap told the others as they began herding the ninety largely-tractable inmates to the surface. “So I say get 'em all in to lifeboats and we'll get 'em out of the way before the government blows the place.”
“Where are we going to take them?” asked Perdition.
“A rendezvous with the Firehawk,” said Psion. “It'll take time, but if we chain all the boats together, we can probably pull them along at a respectable speed and get them far enough away from the island to be safe. Shockwave can then take me back to the Firehawk and I'll return with the PsiPlane in about six hours.”