|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Liberty League | | Turn 6 ||
"Please! Give us some credit. We're villains not a knitting bee." - Heisenberg to Gaslight
Pavel reaches down to help Eleanor, only to think twice. He hadn't expected her to actually _take_ his pain. He'd presumed, like the faith-healers he was familiar with, that she'd boost him up, call out Hallelujah and wait for audience applause. He didn't want to risk restarting whatever bizarre circuit she'd engaged. "Next time, girlie, let me use Bactine," he murmured to her unconscious form. Silver Dragon rushed to his side.
"What the--what happened?!" she rephrased, reaching out with a gloved hand as she kneels down next to the other woman and giving Pavel a somewhat suspicious look.
"I, ah, don't know we should touch her just now. I'll get her inside, can you crank up NuRSE for us?"
She nods, reserves judgment, and trots ahead to get things ready, Rajni making quick, worried circuits from her to Psyche and back again.
Pavel then sat next to her, stiffly crossed his legs into lotus position with accompanying muttered profanity, and began chanting and gesturing in a way that seemed to unsettle the very grass around him. Psyche suddenly sat upright, her eyes blank. With a thin sheen of perspiration on his brow, Pavel walked her into the HQ like a puppet. Then sat her down on Dr. Z's miraculous healing machine.
Dr. Z looks up when Dee enters the room, then looks distinctly alarmed when his uncle follows with the unconscious Psyche. "Good heavens! What happened?"
"Don't know," Pavel responded, uncharacteristically without wisecrack. "I thought she was doing cosmetic surgery for me, but she took it in somehow, and then kept going. I feel twenty-years-ago great, so she can't be doing good."
The initial summary of Mr. Moonlight finished, he leaves NuRSE to handle the villain for the next few minutes while he sees to the unconscious mentalist.
"Hmmm...Lost control of the feedback loop? I was afraid that might happen..." he quickly sets up a glucose and electrolyte drip to restore some energy to the young woman.
Supremely confident in his nephew's technology, and concern satisfied by the reassuringly stable indicators on NuRSE, Pavel's eyes wander to the other patient. "Mr. Moonlight? He's still alive?" The comment didn't warrant response. "Staying close to the matter at hand, and in small words, what do you know, Z?"
"My readings need further analysis before we'll know anything for certain. Moonlight has been understandably none too forthcoming with information. Heisenberg just barely more so."
"Heisenberg? He's here too? Whereat?"
"He's with Gaslight in the violet room. Now if you'll excuse, Uncle, I must excuse myself to the lab post-haste. The seismic data I requested from the universities should be coming on-screen there now." Zach walks steadily and resolutely away from his mother's brother.
"I guess it's too much to ask that either of them confessed." Without waiting for a response. "Thanks, Z. Maybe I'll give Night Boy a hand in a bit while you trip the tech fantastic." With a final look to the prostrate Mr. Moonlight, "A little old for this aren't you?"
Once it's clear that Psyche is going to be okay, Dee returns her attention to Terry, concerned both about his reaction to the day's events and of course the events themselves.
Just outside of the "white room", Terry is standing in basic humanoid form by himself watching everyone else scurry around and talk about the morning's excitement. He hasn't volunteered himself to do anything nor has he been flipping shapes as often as normal. He looks up as Dee approaches.
"I'm going to run a couple of these samples over to Mom - I'm sure she's seen the news already, and she'll be able to figure out what they really are. Are you gonna be okay? Do you want to come along?"
Terry quickly changes into a small spider monkey and leaps into Dee's arms. He clings to the side of her head and chitters slightly.
"Why was everyone so vicious? Weren't they worried they might kill someone? I want to see Mom..."
"I don't know," she replies uncomfortably. "They didn't *look* that fragile... let's go." She pokes her head back into the lab to let Dr. Z know where they're going, and then takes a bike out -- the things look dopey, but the job gets done. She's really, really hoping that it turns out the things were something quite different. Rajni's reaction was certainly unusual. Even assuming that the things were hostile, she would normally be willing to make contact.
Terry swiftly turns into a ferret and finds somewhere warm and comfortable to hitch a ride with Dee.
* * *
As the contact built between them Eleanor became less and less aware of her surroundings; trusting the others to do whatever was necessary for her she concentrated solely on helping Mancer. After all, giving was always better than receiving she recalled her parents telling her. As the exchange continued she felt the pain building up within her, becoming more intense with every second that went by. 'I must do this right', must make him better, must take the pain away' she chanted to herself, her own personal mantra until she was only aware of the pain, the anguish. Suddenly, shockingly the contact was broken and her last conscious thought as she fell to the ground was of failure and loss.
Gradually regaining consciousness & becoming aware of the sounds around her Psyche slowly identified the wind whistling and a rustling sound as if of things around her. More disturbing though was the whispering; quiet, subversive, not quite loud enough to hear what was being said whispering. She was used to hearing voices in her head however this was different.
Sitting upright and looking around she found herself in what she could only describe as the middle of nowhere with sand in every direction, the only changing feature being the height of any particular dune. The red sand surrounding her seemed strangely threatening as it blew in the wind, little flurries spraying her face and body, stinging the exposed parts. Her face! There was something about her face that was important or maybe it was someone else's face that she was thinking of; she couldn't quite remember. Come to that she couldn't remember a lot of things like 'what had happened?' and more importantly, 'where the hell was she?'
"I ought to find the others - wherever they've got to,' she thought, 'maybe someone'll hear me if I yell.' But sadly calling out produced no other response than the sound of her own voice and the whispers echoing back to her. Deciding that being able to see a little further was a priority she swiftly assessed the dunes surrounding her for possible vantage points and feeling very alone and disorientated Eleanor began to climb the nearest dune. Just as she reached the brow of the dune the wind seemed to sweep her off her feet and deposited her back in the lee. 'Sheesh!' That's a bit uncalled for,' she grumbled. Determinedly she began her ascent again but her attempts brought only frustration as the wind this time drew the sand from beneath her feet and deposited her like a piece of flotsam on a beach at the bottom.
Starting to feel rather like a caged animal she emptied out her shoes and began brushing herself down when she became aware of a presence. It seemed that the strange whispering was getting louder _or was that closer_? 'Ok what the hell's going on?' she asked herself and was rather alarmed when the whisperings coalesced into several voices all muttering and moaning about thirst and needing water.
Feeling more alone than ever now she tried to reach out with her mind, searching for signs of life and preferably the others from Liberty League.
It was then she realised that the voices whispering _were_ in her head and demanding her attention . Shuddering with disgust Psyche tried to reach further - her friends HAD to be there somewhere! She scanned wildly with no success until, as she felt herself beginning to lose control, she remembered the exercises Dr Z had made her do when she had first become powered. Taking a deep breath she reached out again visualising a ray of light arcing into the distance trying to pinpoint individuals. She'd always found it easier to reach Gaslight (Dr Z said it was because he'd been with her when she changed) but he wasn't anywhere in range; in fact no-one seemed to be except those damn voices and they were getting more insistent by the minute.
She'd moved to Mars for the peace and quiet, trying to get away from her past her family had said but she hadn't cared, she'd been content with her lot until Gaslight and his friends came onto the scene. But this, this wasn't what she needed or wanted now; being alone wasn't right & she felt the panic welling up in her. Unwittingly she broadcast her heightened state of agitation and within seconds she found herself faced with a whirlwind of sand, it's velocity increasing by the second and approaching her fast. 'But sand shouldn't do that!' she exclaimed as it engulfed her, lifting her from her feet and hurling her into the dunes with such force that she was swallowed up.
Panicking wildly now Eleanor struggled to pull herself out of the sand but it was pulling her, pulling her down into it's bosom. Her mouth filled with sand faster than she could spit it out and she could feel the glee, the malicious enjoyment being projected towards her by the voices, 'Water, water, give us your water.....' The suffocating force was overwhelming her as she lashed out with her hands and feet. With her last breath she screamed out with all her might, 'HELP ME!! PLEASE SOMEONE HELP.................'
* * *
While Dr. Z attends to the medical emergencies, Gaslight strides into the main laboratory area with Heisenberg. Leaving the eventual scientific investigation to Zachary for the moment, GL concentrates on determining a pattern to the attacks or a connection to any known super-criminals. Seating himself at one of the lab terminals, he makes only a minimal effort to conceal his log-in procedures from Heisenberg -- after all, as the Master of Improbability, Heisenberg could probably crack Z's security programs with a "See 'n Spell," if he were so inclined.
"I suppose I should begin by eliminating the obvious suspects," Gaslight says aloud, punching up the files forwarded by his able assistant Ms. Reed. Heisenberg's name and curriculum vitae are displayed on the large monitor bank set into the wall behind the computer bank, sans any photograph (improbably, Heisenberg's image has never been successfully captured on film). The master criminal's entry has been updated with a very few minor items, culled from the databases of various local and planetary law enforcement agencies and academic institutions, as well as those of the handful of other active super-hero groups on Mars (The MissFITS, the Silver Agency, the Martian Minutemen, ...). Heisenberg appears to have been as inactive in the past few years as he claimed -- or at least, his activities have escaped all notice. "As long as I have your file up," Gaslight says, addressing Heisenberg in a marginally wry tone of voice, "I don't suppose there's anything you would care to add?"
Moving closer to the screen he can be seen to take all the data in quickly, even smiling at portions (Mason assumes the time the villain almost destabilized the Martian economy), shaking his head dismissively at others (some business regarding hallucinogenic mists and the huge Bustello coffee prop billboard downtown). "It's true what they say - the camera really does add fifteen pounds" is Heisenberg's parry to Gaslight's pointed question. Shifting his glance just as quickly as he gave it, the man reborn in etic reality returns to his pacing about the room.
* * *
"Oh, oh, oh!" Shatterman, a.k.a. Jack Dunn of the popular rock band Dusty Red Dog, squeaked as he trotted up and down the aisle of the Audio Shack. His mask was pulled back revealing his charming features. Everything had brightly colored tags promoting '90% off!', 'Must Go!', 'Ridiculously low price!' and 'Take It Please!'. Three sales people were following him, because it was not often that a real rock star superhero dropped in their store.
"We're supposed to open for Britney next month, so we'll need two of the
10 Mamp 'Devastators'. Kyle would love some new drumsticks. He's got a major crush on Britney, so he'll break some I'm sure in his enthusiasm. Give me three boxes of the kevlite ceralloy sticks for Kyle."
"Excellent choice, sir. The Sure-Sound sticks are the top of the line," fawned a young male clerk who was trying too hard.
"Winston will need a new mic. She's been wanting a good cordless ever since she ranked in Wing Chun and won't stop jumping all over the place."
"The Sony 2120 is the latest model. Guaranteed clear digital signal up to six hundred feet."
Jack stopped sharply when he saw the gleaming seven string bass guitar behind the counter. The elongated body was enameled pearly white with a great blue dog, tongue-lolling in excitement, as it streaked across hills and valleys in shades of red. Even the neck was decorated to look like the dunes of Mars. "Ohhhh, baby!"
"That," said the manager with a proud smile and flourish of her hand, "was created by my sister. She's a huge fan of Dusty Red Dog."
"Ma'am, I'm a huge fan of your sister," replied Jack with a head splitting grin. His eyes never left the object of musical art. "What's her name?"
"The guitar or my sister?" replied the woman with an impish wink to her staff. "My sister's name is Danielle. She named the guitar 'Dune Sweeper'."
"Gotta have it," said Jack as he smiled at the manager. "We need something really mega-hoopy to out-rank Britney's overblown popshow and that," he said pointing at the guitar, "will be our gaze grabber!"
Jack can hear a buzz coming from his communicator in his cowl. "Opp. Case that bad boy, I'll take her to the Lair with me." The staff of the Audio Shack shoots into action like a well-oiled military machine.
"Repeat last?" Jack says.
"Hello, Jack" the familiar tones of Roberto, the Lair's robotic receptionist (disguised to the public as a charming young Hispanic man). "Your 'fifteen minutes' are up." Roberto's referring to Jack's "free time" allotment from Dr. Z. Jack often gets separated from the rest of the team during a case due to his speed, need to sign autographs, non-chalant shopping sprees, etc. "You're to return to base now, Jack.
"Roger," Jack says, affecting a professional manner. "I'll be right in. Shatterman out!"
With one last gleeful smile at his new toys, Jack thanks a saleswoman one more time with a light touch on her arm, a "thank you" and a wink. Then he pulls up his cowl and floats into the air. A few people point and stare as he adjusts his speed and gets serious.
"So, Robster," Jack resumes his conversation with Roberto, "what's the news at the tower?"
"It appears that Psyche has been injured somehow... I am unsure of how exactly. The NuRSE is attending to her at the moment. Dr. Z is performing a scientific analysis of the data from this morning's monster mash while Gaslight attempts to piece together who is responsible from the forensic evidence. Silver Dragon and Terraform have taken samples to Audrey Norris and her crew of bio-engineers. I know none of this is your forte Jack but given the considerable intellects at work here I am sure you will be zipping and zapping along into action momentarily."
"Oh, flutz," Jack murmured. "Guess we didn't come through the day without casualties then." He slowed his speed slightly and curled into a spiral pattern. His eyes reflexively scanned the domes above and the city below. "So, is there an immediate need for me to be anywhere? With Doc, Gaslight and 'Mancer at the tower there should not be much trouble even with Heisenberg there. What can he do against those three uberbrains? Maybe I'll just head off and see if I can offer Dragon any help. Seems like every time we drop by that lab something exotic comes up. Now we're taking rampaging sand critters TO the lab." He laughed to himself. "Robster, let the chief know I'll be at Dr. Norris' lab if anything comes up, okay?"
Decision made, Shatterman accelerated to cruising speed and shot across the skyline of The Painted City.
* * *
There's nothing odd at all about soaring through the air under a clear dome that admits the pale Martian sunlight as well as a view of some spectacular cloud formations outside. Central New Philly with the scars of the morning's battle is quickly left behind for the more sparsely settled outskirts.
As amazing as it is that Zach actually routes their communications sub-dimensionally, it can be a bit of a bother every now and again. Sure it helps to make sure most bodies can't tap into their comms but the weird bits that come through every now and then is a definite con. *Most* of the team just pick up "fuzzy bits" that last for a few quick seconds at most only every now and again. Dee gets stuff like,
"Gott hat herauf den Schutz der Leute gegeben. Satan hat Befehl genommen. Wir Werewolves halten es für unsere Oberste Aufgabe zu beenden, zu beenden und zu beenden und setzen jedes schlaue und wile in der Schwärzung der Nacht ein und kriechen und suchen durch Städte und Dörfer, wie Wölfe geräuschlos mysteriously tastend."
_What the...?_ Even in her experience, this is odd. She tries to decipher some of the burst, but her German isn't all that hot. I've only got time to take so many classes, dammit.... Somebody at the lab must know it, they've got people from all over. Or there's Mancer.
Something about protecting the people, and Satan has given the command? Stop the werewolves?.... _Weird. Have to tell Dr. Z about this one. Shatty'd probably tell me it's lectroids from the tenth dimension. Heck, he might be right. Wish I knew why it's only my stuff that glitches like this._ She'd picked up most of a baseball game from some unknown time and place once; Dr. Z hadn't been able to find a thing wrong with it, but he'd swapped comms with her in case it happened again. It had, but just to her (much to the disappointment of Shatterman, who claimed that she got to have all the fun, so she'd never told him about the time it picked up what was either a *very* alien language or the ghost of Hendrix whiling away eternity). _Just one of those things, I suppose...._
Terry sits in the comfortable darkness. Thinking. He is trying to sort out what happened today. His friends, family really, had attacked the sand creatures with venom, smashing the little creatures like beach bullies smash sandcastles.
Even he had destroyed one of the creatures, trying to impress the others with smart comments. He tries to console himself that even the smartest man on Mars didn't think they were real.
Terry had thought that they were robots. If they were robots that would be all right wouldn't it?? He is still trying to convince himself that it would be all right when the trio approached the lab. Terry can tell as the machine sounds different in its approach.
He pokes his head out of Dee's coat to see his home. The air rushes past his face making his vision blur a little. But is _is_ home. He immediately feels better. Then thinks of Mom and feels worse. What is he going to say? Maybe he could let Dee talk. She's always better at it than him.
The lab is built partially into the side of a hill (inside there's a plexi wall so the geology team can admire the strata while on coffee break), and it's surrounded by a series of domes-within-domes where newly developed plant and bacterial strains can be tested against simulations of the outside environment. "Home sweet home...."
Terry bursts out of the jacket. He switches immediately to a sparrow form. He swiftly flies through the rooms looking for Mom. All the time careful words are being constructed in his head.
When he finds her he lands in his default form and runs to her.
"I killed something!"
Audrey Norris, holds her adoptive son in her arms without a moment's hesitation. "Tears" fling themselves from Terry and grains of sand gently tumble down her lab coat. Reflexively she raises a hand to wipe away his pain. As he buries his head deeper into her warmth, Audrey looks to her daughter for answers.
"We don't know that," Dee interjects doggedly, giving Rajni a scratch on chin in thanks for locating them. _Glad you're back to normal, anyway._ "Hi, mom," she adds with a quick smile. Like her daughter, Audrey is none too tall and sturdily built, with the same smattering of freckles, though her hair is worn longer and true red in color (not growing out purple dye, either).
"Hello, Dee." She looks down again at the still distraught Terry. "What are you two talking about?"
"You probably saw on the news today, those things that attacked downtown. T's worried they might have been beings like himself, and they did seem to have some characteristics in common. I'm just not sure," she shrugs. "They went to pieces pretty easily, and Rajni freaked out when I asked her to contact one - didn't just say no, either, she was really upset. We brought some samples over for you to look at when you've got a moment...."
Shock washes over the bespectacled bio-engineer's face. She shifts Terry ever so slightly to take the samples from Dee. "Terry, I need you to hold onto your sister so I can help you find out what's going on, ok? Can you do that for me?"
"Sure Mom!" Terry's voice has lost all the uncertainty and fear that's been in it since the encounter with the Terries.
He sharpens up his features and takes on his favourite security shape - Arnie. "Fell better, Dee" he asks solicitously as he takes her hand.
"Of course," she smiles at him, still secretly worried.
"Do you want to wait for the lab results in Terry's gymnasium or..." their Mother asks.
"Sure... hey, does anybody here know German, do you know?"
"Hmmm. Mr. Schultz' father was German, I believe. I would imagine he'd at least be familiar with it." She's referring to Maxwell, the patent lawyer the lab keeps on retainer, and who must be visiting in a friendly coincidence. "Page him from one of the video phones in the romper room. I'm sure he'll join you two at his earliest convenience. Now, I really should be off...." clearly Audrey is not thrilled by the possibility her scientific endeavors being even remotely connected to this morning's attack on the city.
"Great. See you soon." The two head off to the, uh, romper room, stopping once in a while to say hello to people in the halls.
Terry has already forgotten the Arnie pose and is bounding along behind Dee in the form of a Doberman pinscher (someone did mention Germans didn't they?). The floors though don't give him much grip and he is sliding more than running....
Dee never fails to be amazed by his boundless energy and resilience. _Thank God I don't have any classes this morning...._
Terry runs circles around Dee's feet as the pair wait at the door as the biometric security systems scan Dee. Seconds later the door slides open. Terry's off and running, darting past terminals that display imagery and olfactory sensations of a multitude of plant life, past the monkey bars, and Terry's specially designed "shift cube" wherein he mastered changing his shape. Dee could easily dial up Schultz from one of the many terminals with sufficient privacy if she wanted....
Seconds later, she does so.
Terry leaps for the bars changing to a chimp as he does so and swings round. Enjoying expending the energy, then realising the Dee is about to phone becomes a long-eared bat - focusing everything on listening to what she is saying...
"Hi, Mr. Schultz? It's Dee. How's life in the patent trenches?"
"If I was anywhere I else, I'd say dreadfully boring but profitable as usual but I'm always thrilled by your parent's work. How can I help you? Something for school, maybe? Finally decided to hang up your spandex and fight crime in the courtrooms?" He clearly says the last line in jest. Dee might have two majors at school but Schultz would bet his three Yamaha Spectres, the latest hover bikes in the Japanese "crotch-rocket" school of industrial design, that law isn't one of them.
"I ran across something in German this morning and was wondering if you could give me some help with it? I only picked out a word here and there, but anything you recognize would be a help."
"Not a problem. My father made sure my sister Genny and I learned how to speak it from an early age. I might be a bit rusty but let's give it a shot."
"Thanks! Um. Here goes. Pardon my accent. 'Gott hat herauf den...' something 'der Leute'. Then, 'Satan hat Befehl gen...gen... genom-something.' 'Wir Werewolves halten...' I'm forgetting it already," she sighs. "'Halten es fur un....' Drat. There was one phrase several times, 'zu beenden.' And something about the dark of night, I think, that's Schwarzung, right?" She looks at him hopefully.
Taking the garbled language in and contemplating it for a moment, Schultz leans forward in his chair. He takes a drink of water and clears his throat before proceeding. "Hmmmm."
"Lets take it from the top." He starts scribbling down the words and sentence fragments onto a piece of paper. He stares at for a moment and then scratches more on it.
"If it's any consolation, you pretty much got the "Schw‰rzung" part right." He says as he holds the piece of paper close to the monitor. It takes a moment to focus on Dee's end but when it does she sees:
Gott hat herauf den = God has given up
der Leute = the people
Satan hat Befehl = Satan has given instruction, issued command? taken control?
Wir Werewolves halten = "we werewolves... hold? consider maybe?
zu beenden = to terminate.
"Wow. Well, that's more than I knew before... thanks! Wish I'd caught the whole thing, sounds pretty interesting." She stares at the screen for a moment. "Wonder what they're planning to terminate...."
"What who's planning to terminate? I'm not sure what you mean? The whole thing seems like it came out of a history seminar. I could be mistaken but that sounds like the kind of propaganda Gobbels spewed in his Radio Werwolf broadcasts back in the 40s on Earth."
"Could be for all I know; I'm not sure where it came from," she shrugs.
"Guess I'll have to see if I can remember any more of it. If that's the source, the text would be on the 'net somewhere, I expect?"
"Hmmm" he says, trying to figure out how Dee could not know the source. Figuring he's better off not knowing he goes on to answer her question. "Oh, yes. I'm sure you'd be able to find something. I wouldn't be surprised if some metal goth or whatever band is using it as a name by now."
"Fab. I'll look for it when I get back to base, then. Thanks!"
"Glad to be of service. Maybe sometime you'll get me in Zevon's good graces. Your parents are making me a wealthy man but I'd make a huuuuuuuuge killing working with The Smartest Man on Mars." He smiles goofily and nods his head before disconnecting the line.
"Werewolves!" Terry exclaims, completely forgetting that he isn't really supposed to be eavesdropping.
"I can be a werewolf," he says excitedly leaping from the bars and taking on a frightening stance. Though the effect is probably made cartoony by his voice continuing the conversation.
"D'ya think the Terries we met can be werewolves too?"
"Hm?" It takes a moment for Dee to follow her brother's hyperkinetic thought processes. "You were listening to that, huh? You go *way* beyond werewolves," she grins. "I suppose if mom's going to be a while with those samples I can check from here." She tries Goebbels, Radio, Werewolf, and Satan as keywords.
A split second later, a list of results awaits her inspection. Skimming the first one, Dee whistles softly. "Well, I guess Mr. Schultz knows his stuff. Hey Terry, listen to this: 'God has given up the protection of the people. Satan has taken command. We Werewolves consider it our supreme duty to kill, to kill and to kill, employing every cunning and wile in the darkness of the night, crawling, groping through towns and villages, like wolves, noiselessly, mysteriously.' Sheesh, that's messed up...."
"Now we just have to figure out if the comm spazzed out and was picking up a radio broadcast from World War II, some modern neo-Nazi freak drifted into our range, or... or something else," she finishes uncertainly.
* * *
Dr. Z moves quickly out of the medical center once he's sure that Eleanor is in capable hands. NuRSE is perfectly capable of handling her injuries, while none of his computers can handle the analysis of the problem undirected.
Once in the lab he quickly accesses the New Philadelphia science centers siesmology project, designing a quick program to access and corrilate the data to find all the eruption points, speed of the tunnels formation through the ground and their points of origin. It might prove fruitful.
"Hmmmmm. Next problem."
A quick IR beam download sends all the data from his Strattontech scanner into the main computer, where Zach can perform a more thorough analysis of the recording. Moonlight's energies are definately present, but undergoing a strange fluxuation.
"What...oh, of course." With a few more entered commands the screen now displays the energy once Heisenberg's presence and powers have been accounted for. A few more and the screen is showing three bands of readings - Hesienberg's emetic wave, Moonlight's power signature and whatever else is present, to be compared to the power readings Zach has on file for Terraform.
"Identical. That's peculiar. Let's see what you have to show me..." Zach turns to one of the captured sub-martians and turns the labs energy and biological scanning apparati on it. The readings are...worrysome.
His theories supported by the readings from the creature, Zach turns to check the results of the siesmology program before rejoining his comrades.
* * *
"Moonlight, you deluded idiot." Scanning Mr. Moonlight's file, largely a timeline of one failed scheme after another, Gaslight wonders how much good the aging criminal might have done for the people of this world had he not squandered his marvelous gifts on a life of crime. He has no sympathy for the frustrated super-criminal, saving his compassion for the innocents who ran afoul of the old crook's villainous plots, but is saddened by a life so badly misspent.
Having hardly given the scoundrel any thought in the past fifteen years, Gaslight is mildly surprised to discover how ... "marginalized" ... Moonlight has become within the super-villain community since his days of clashing with the TEENAgents. Most of his later machinations were, to put it kindly, poorly conceived -- completely ludicrous and utterly lacking in elegance would be a more accurate description. In the latter part of his career, his most frequent sparring partner had been The Bungler -- a sign of just how low he had fallen.
In the end, he'd finally been turned in by his own son, formerly known as The Crescent. Gaslight recalls fighting the youth as Night-Boy and even then being unsettled by the odd parallels in his own father-son relationship. Anyway, it reads that Moonlight had developed some gas that would purportedly turn the populace into werewolves under his control. The conspiracy charges alone were enough to lock the man away for years.
According to the latest updates to the villain's file, Moonlight's been safely ensconced in prison for the better part of a decade. Although it is not unheard of for aksuper-criminal to continue to run elaborate operations from the confines of a prison cell, by that time Mr. Moonlight lacked the necessary support structure to pull off such an undertaking. Considering the elaborate preparation most likely required to carry out this morning's attacks, it is improbable that Moonlight was responsible.
"How did Moonlight happen to find you, considering his permanent address during the past ten years?" GL asks Heisenberg. "Is there a network of super-criminality, through which you 'classic villains' remain in contact? A ... 'veterans club,' so to speak?"
Heisenberg laughs. "And what would we do in this "club", hmmm? Gather about and play poker? Discuss our halcyon days of misspent youth? Please! Give us some credit. We're villains not a knitting bee."
He continues to chuckle even as he shakes his head dismissively. "Not only are most of my ...congregation a cowardly and superstitious lot but we're also generally droll, single-minded, abrasive, and boorish. It's why villainous associations are so short-lived typically...we'd get on one another's nerves. Could you imagine putting one megalomaniac in a room with another?
Continuing to review the most obvious but least likely suspects, Gaslight punches up the files for Goblin King and The Burrower. The subterranean angle fits with their "schticks," and Goblin King at least is known to carry out senseless assaults upon "the surface world" from time to time, but nothing else jibes with today's attacks. Goblin King is a master of robotics, not bio-mechanics, and lacks the expertise necessary to engineer Terraform-like creatures. In any event, it is doubtful that he'd abandon the use of his "mecha-gnomes" -- costumed villains are absolutely imprisoned by their "themes," even moreso than their heroic counterparts.
As for The Burrower, he is an equally implausible suspect. His mastery of burrowing animals is entirely biological, an aspect of his IF-induced powers that is unlikely to extend to terra-critters, and, like Goblin King, he lacks the scientific expertise necessary to create new lifeforms (indeed, his "mega-moles" were engineered for him by the Technocrat). Besides, as Heisenberg pointed out, he has, by all accounts, "seen the light." Latest reports indicate that he became a born-again Christian, married Voodoo Vamp, and emigrated to Earth. It is unlikely he could have returned to Mars without the proper authorities learning of it -- six-hundred pounds of furry, clawed mole-man is hard to miss.
"You appear to be correct regarding Goblin King and Star Pharoh." Gaslight does not bother to conceal the disapproval in his voice. "I shall have to have a 'word' with that celestial 'hero,' soon."
Tapping into the networks of the local utility companies, GL unleashes a search-bot program to isolate and analyze any anomalous readings that might suggest someone else is making use of one of Goblin King's or The Burrower's old subterranean lairs. He'd developed the program two years ago, hoping to locate a possible underground facility that he'd believed was being used by the Crimson Spider's organization, but had accidentally uncovered several of Goblin King's and Burrower's hideouts instead. Unfortunately, preliminary analysis of the current search results indicate that none of the lairs are presently being used.
Switching tactics, Gaslight brings up a 2-D digital schematic of the city. Correlating the latest news reports and police dispatches with visuals gleaned from various dome cameras, he pinpoints the currently known sites of the morning's attacks. He initiates another search-bot program, plumbing various municipal records to identify and correlate ownership of the sites in question. Perhaps the terra-creatures had targeted the holdings of a particular person or corporation?
While waiting for the data search to complete, Gaslight highlights each of the attack sites with a blue dot. Eliminating the city schematic so that only the dots remain, the Hooded Detective scrutinizes the resulting pattern. Unfortunately, he can discern nothing terribly useful. The attacks do not appear to have radiated from a central point, occurred along a single line of demarcation, formed a recognizable geometric pattern or stellar configuration, etc.
Cross-referencing the sites of attack with the layouts of all known underground municipal constructions (sewers, electrical access tunnels, steamworks, etc.) also yields few tangible results. There is no apparent pattern that would suggest the terra-creatures made use of any of them.
Indeed, the dome camera feeds suggest that they cut through the soil itself, tunneling up from somewhere far below the surface. GL is about to tap into the university databases to attempt to identify a pattern of seismological disturbances that might point to a possible origin point for the creatures' movements, but notices that Dr. Z is already conducting that inquiry and suspends his search.
Meanwhile, the site-ownership search-bot completes its work. Surveying the list of corporate and personal ownership of the damaged sites, Gaslight discerns no pattern. There appears to be no direct connection between the various victims of the assault. If anyone suffered any more than anyone else, it appears to have been by virtue of them simply owning more targets to attack. Indeed, Mason recognizes a few of the Cross family holdings in the list of damaged properties.
Tapping into various scientific and academic databases, Gaslight discovers no one who had expressed any undue interest in Terraform or the principles behind his creation. There are other scientific teams working on proposed terraforming projects, but nothing along the lines of the Norris' work.
Likewise, a hack into various commercial regulatory databases indicates that no one on Mars, outside of Dee's parents, had received any shipments within the past few years of any of the more esoteric chemical elements that went into Terraform's creation. Someone off-world might have smuggled some to the red planet, but broadening the search to look into that possibility would be prohibitively time-consuming at the moment.
"You seem to have easy access to a remarkable variety of databases," Heisenberg remarks, a statement more of slight admiration than surprise.
"It's not the first time I've had cause to use them," Gaslight replies casually. "I've left myself 'back doors' into dozens of..." GL pauses momentarily, then murmurs, "Back doors?"
Realizing that it would be possible for other people of similar skill and intellect to hack into the same systems he does, Gaslight taps into the Norris' research databsaes. Rooting around, he notices a back door that isn't quite as closed as he would have left it... Analysis suggests that there was another hacker who accessed the systems about a year ago.
Mason smiles beneath his hood. The hacker was good, whomever he was, but he'd left digital footprints behind when he left. It may be possible to follow the data-flow back to the hacker's own systems. The trace program would take some time to run, though...
Plundering the computer archives of several local newpaper morgues and broadcast media outlets in the meantime, Gaslight searches for any news items describing mysterious attacks or cryptid sightings over the past few years, news items that might have been ignored at the time but, in hindsight, suggest encounters with Terraform-like creatures. Unfortunately, nothing turns up... nothing except accounts of Terry's own rampage when he first gained sentience.
The doors slide open as Pavel joins the two. Both men barely give him notice. They seem intent in thought to say the least.
"Your innocent little Terry could be controlling them, you know," Heisenberg suggests. "How well do you really know the creature?"
"I have not discounted that possibility," Gaslight replies truthfully, "but I refuse to draw any conclusions until I have more information. Assumption is the enemy of objectivity. Facts first, analysis second, conclusions last."
"Objectivity? Phah. Can't say as I've ever placed much stock in the concept" the Subjective Man replies. "Time itself is subjective as you'll see..."
The trace program cursor blinks at the ready in response to Heisenberg's comment. Data begins pouring across the screen faster then the mainframes processors should be able to maintain. It not only exceeds it's speced performance by a hundredfold but the extent of the returned information is beyond what should be allowable by the architectural schema driving the application.
Heisenberg asks, "So who's this Eliot, Theo anyway?"
Before Gaslight has the chance to read the screen and formulate a response, the Lair's securi-systems shriek like a clarion. What sunlight poured through the impressively large windows of the tower's spires is conspiciously absent. Mars itself has gripped the Liberty League's headquarters in it's deep red embrace. The Night-clad Vigilante springs to observe what he can of the assault.
A legion of the beings are pounding at the massive super-structure's entry points - the main lobby doors, the Dune-Runner tube tunnels, and more.
Heisenberg looks over his shoulder. "Hmmm. The barbarians are at the gates, it would seem."
Moments later the doors are breeched. Another security camera display blinks into being. Another swarm is literally moving through the silicates in the flooring and walls.
"Correction. What gates?" Heisenberg quips.
* * *
Shatterman flew in low and fast likeÖ well, like a rock-star high from a good party in the morning and a phat shopping trip afterward. It was hard for him to believe the sun had barely risen on this day and already so much had happened. That was the life of a hero, he supposed. Some days were dead quiet and other days there were no breaks.
Shatterman touched down lightly in front of the labs. "This is where it all began," he said with a smile. He strode confidently through the front doors, vaguely aware of some of the many sensors scanning him to determine his identity. The guard behind the desk was more for decorum than any real sense of security. The twenty-something guard smiled when Shatterman came in and asked after an embarassed moment shuffling some things on the desk (including a portable audio disk player) he asked for the hero's autograph "for his kid." Shatterman gleefully signed the disk covers.
After a quick stop to Dr. Norris' office to say "Hello," (and receive a "You too?") Shatterman heads down to the gym to join Silver Dragon and Terraform.
Dee, who has been surfing idly for more information on Herr Goebbels, hoping to find a recording of the broadcast to see if it matches what she heard, glances at the door in some surprise. "Hey. Something come up?"
"Nope," shrugs Shatterman. "I was just doing some post-combatal shopping and Robster called and told me to quit goofing off. So I decided to swing over here and see if I could offer any unique and inspiring dramatic recreative insights into this mornings little fracas." He smiles.
"Um. Still waiting for word from Mom on our sandy pals. I haven't had any stunning insights myself, so we could use one or two." She decides to hold off on the news about the communicator flake-out until she can talk to Dr. Z.
The video phone calls through once more. "Deirdre, Terry..." Audrey begins relunctantly. "Now these are only cursory results, we need to run some more detailed tests...but" she says, clearly trying to ease the pain for herself and her children "...but they seem have more than a passing similarity to Terry. Near as we can tell they see... what?"
The light reaching into the lab she's broadcasting from darkens. Scant seconds later the same happens in the romper room and ,in fact, throughout the entire scientific compound. Mars, it seems, true to the old Irish saying, has risen up to greet the Norris'.
Over the video phone the IF powered trio hears steel and glass bend and shatter as a group of proto-terries smash through the exterior wall and burst through the floor. Audrey has been knocked off camera from the eruptions but her daughter and son can hear her cough just off camera as smoke and dust fill the laboratory. A lithe human figure can be seen to take shape through the fog.
The sand beings split into two single file lines, forming an almost miltarily precise phalanx about the form. A green garbed man with flowing red hair clearly of Scottish birth passes by the monitor. "Well, well, well. Long time no see eh, luv? You've not thought of me in years, to be sure."
Ronan Norris rushes to his wife's side and is the first to register the couples personal and professional rival, Theo Eliot. "What have ye done, ya madman? Do ya realize the damage you've done? The people you've hurt?"
"That should be the least of yer worries, Ronnie. I'm here to take *everything* that should have been mine! BWAH HA HA HA HA HA HA"
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© 2002 Daniel Harvey et al