|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Liberty League | | Turn 8 ||
"Actually, I intend to save all of you, Moonlight - not just the parts that are sticking out of your hospital gown. - Dr. Z.
After a half-second hesitation during which she reminds herself that Shatterman is nigh-invulnerable, Dee continues her rush to free her parents.
Dee's stride doesn't even miss a step as she finally comes to lab doors at the end of the access corridor. She pulls back her right arm, balls her hand into a fast, and releases the powerful coil. Her defensive shimmer materializes scant pico-seconds before impact protecting her hand from the same shattered fate as the door.
The team of scientists that nimbly skate across the lab to assist the Norris' are pinned to the walls and floor by earthen chains, not dissimilar from one of Terry's tactics. Their faces are exposed and can still draw breath, thankfully. Dee would rather not have more reason to put this Eliot bastard down.
Eliot is backing away from a terminal when Dee enters the room. He is flanked by a quartet of sandmen. One to the rear has Dee's unconscious parents hurled over its shoulders. They were clearly preparing for their exit.
"Ey. Ye main be audrey & ronan's wee bonnie lassie. Eh was wonderin' when yoo'd arrife. We've got whit we've come fur, missy. Dinnae be daft an' try an' stop us."
"I don't know who the hell you think you are, but you have a very bright future as growth medium," the Dragon growls. "Sic him," she adds sotto voce to the creature on her shoulder, vaulting a lab bench with every intention of dismembering the thing that has her parents, sentient or not.
Wondering the meanwhile where the hell everyone else is....
That is, until she's relieved from her reverie by slamming a jump kick through the creature's mid-section. She's shocked to see strange blossoms amidst the scattered sands. Spores release in a plume of yellowish dust and near fog. Dee can feel her strength and reflexes dulling even as her vision blurs.
The concern for her mistress is enough to throw Rajni's usually uncanny aim off just enough for the corrosive acid wretched from her venom sacks to splash against one of the mainframes instead of Eliot. The spit quickly eats through the plastic casing until a large cross-section of circuitry is exposed. Eliot darts behind one of the sandmen as Rajni's next action is being balanced between her gentile empathy or reptilian aggression.
Rajni hisses as one of the remaining silicates snatches up Dee's parents. This time coalescing around them as it absorbs mass from it's felled pack member. If they were conscious the effect would easily trigger an empathic fear reaction in the winged serpent.
As Dee staggers to her feet she can barely make out the sledgehammer-like fist before it crashes across her jaw. Though her "scales" appear as she's come to expect the force is still enough to slump her to one knee.
"Will not," she mutters, bracing her hands on the floor. "Raj, *get him*." Shaking more from the spore's effect than the blow, she concentrates her entire being into a leg sweep, figuring the thing has to be somewhere in front of her.
Her reflexes dulled and sight impacted, she misses the creature by a Martian mile. She curses under her tongue even as she coughs up blood. Worse still yet Rajni is still too distraught to focus and she misses almost as badly.
Then things get worse.
"Gie this beest aff mah back, ye nimrod," Eliot shouts at the top of his lungs turning his full attention verbally and mentally to one of the creatures. It then funnels a few hundred pounds of soil from their entry and exit tunnel into the serpent. At once slamming the beast into the wall and wrapping it in a fine cocoon.
A vine like lattice of the same flowers spring to life on one of the creatures. It's jaw unhinges like a cottonmouth's, revealing even more of the dreaded blooms. He stalks over to Deirdre and hoists her into a bear hug. In addition to the vise-like grip more spores are released further poisoning the Samurai-in-Silver. As the monster squeezes it forces any breath she may have saved in her lungs outward. Try as she might to avoid it she takes in more of the toxins riding on the tainted air.
...and still yet she fights. Struggling to keep her thoughts and senses above the onset of delirium, she has only to see Eliot stealing away with her parents to gain resolve. If even for a moment.
"Finish her!" Eliot bellows as he and the sandman with her parents secreted in his form begin to steal away into the tunnels. The creature that had entrapped Rajni turns and makes his move toward the chain mailed heroine.
Fighting unconsciousness--and her own instincts to breathe, and the onset of panic at the thought of what this stuff might be doing do her--she strains against the thing holding her for a pointless moment. _Damn Shatter... pick today to be fashionably late... can't think. Can't pass out either, got to save them. What to do... what's sensei say? Can't fight it on its own ground._ She tries to go limp. If the damn thing will relax its grip for just a moment....
The creature looks at Dee quizzically, like a cat who has just killed its vermin prey. When the second silicate joins its side the creature pauses for a moment. and then another. It seems to be waiting for some other external sign. A brief shockwave ripples through the ground signaling that Eliot's -- and the Norris' -- transit below the surface has begun in earnest. With that it simply drops Dee and the two move sloth-like to return to their underground lair.
_Thank God._ She takes two small breaths, gathering herself. Realizes that some of the fear she feels is coming from Rajni, trapped and blind and picking up who-knows-what from the lab techs. That could start a nasty feedback loop; Dee spares a moment to try and soothe her a bit. _Now. Try not to screw up this time...._
She comes off the floor into a lunge, hands joined and ready to crash down across the back of a sand creature.
The blow lands squarely across the creature's expansive hide. Muscles that can toss hovercars city blocks release enough force to split the creature momentarily. The force of the blow carries Dee through the shambling thing as it begins to reestablish it's form quickly.
Unfortunately, just as with the creature before, her attack is turned to their advantage as more spores are released into the air from the deadly flora hidden inside the beast. The neighboring creature triggers a release of the venomous cloud as well further punishing their attacker. This time the effects are much harder to resist.
The accumulation of poison in her system is staggering. When she coughs this time she produces a musty foam that is semi-hard about her lips. She barely registers that the lines dashing about her limited field of vision are the veins in her eyelids.
...and then she falls.
* * *
_Awright,_ thinks Shatterman, _time to get out of here._ Summoning the power, he starts blasting. Not wanting to damage the attackers too severely yet, Shatterman releases a single pulse of energy from his hands. The power of the blast reverberate throughout the granite-like cocoon he is trapped in causing his teeth to rattle, but does little more than free his hands. _Okay,_ he thinks as the sand creatures reform their stony encasement around his hands, _granite is tougher than I thought. These Mud-Men of Mars really suck!_
_Let's see how these weasels like a double-blast!_ thinks Shatterman, unable to open his mouth even if he wanted to against the encasing stone. _These dinking flooops are getting annoying. Just stalling me and delaying the inevitable butt-whomping the 'Master Villain' is gonna get when I get free. Knew I ought to have flown ahead on my own. *pout*_
The two mighty Shatterbolts further free his hands turning the sections of granite nearest him into so much fine powder. The attack reverberate out further still yet sloughing of shards of the stone-cold sandmen of Mars. Still, as before he his held firmly in place. A few more attacks should free him. Fortunately his adaptation allows him to have little concern for the low levels of oxygen in the rocky tomb. Now as long as they don't start squeezing in or anything like he won't have to worry about testing the limits of his enhanced durability.
The ground shakes near Jack, leaving the Hard-rock Hero to wonder if the lab was experiencing a minor Marsquake on top of everything else. Fearful of his escape the creatures summon more soil, sand, and rock through the labs damaged structure to fortify the prison they've become. Once in place they use the same control over their own forms to produce more granite.
_Ooooh,_ thinks Shatterman, _the bad guys have fast healing power too! While I can probably out blast them without exerting myself too much, I'm getting worried about the others. If they were free, they'd help get me free. Oh, sure, they know I'm like immune to damage, but they know I want to be there to help smack the villain._
_No more fun and games,_ Shatterman growls internally, _time to get mil-spec! IT'S SHATTERIN' TIME!_
Pulling out all the stops, Shatterman releases a rapid fire series of only slightly less powerful blasts from his hands. The energy erupts from his wrists, directed by his finger tips. He rotates his hands in circles, pumping gobs of energy into the encasement like a rapid fire pulse rocket launcher.
The sound of his own firepower confined to such a tight space causes Jack to grit his teeth and rapidly blink his eyes. Still the blasts do succed in carving away a bit more of elbow room. He can at least bend his bring his hands up to his chest now. More rock moves in to fill the void to pin them there however. Jack does notice that the response time is slower. As if the controlling efforts are divided. If he can take advantage of this hiccup he should be out and free and ready to reign down a righteous fury on these yotzes. It'll only take a minute or so tops. If that really. How much trouble can the others get into in that small amount of time?
* * *
Meanwhile, while Terry's form is still just meters away from Jack's struggle, his consciousness is ...elsewhere entirely. A sirocco blows past Terry, the hot arid wind stinging his eyes with sand even though it shouldn't. He can't explain why but there's a faint impression of Eleanor on the air as it the blast dies down for the moment. He's atop a dune. Alone. The faint chorus he heard before is ringing anew in his ears. The tones continue building until he can almost make them out for an instant before they evaporate from his mind.
Gor Jebbroth Anun mglw'nafh dieraran jahuror lalure oputu egag ceyenox gogan dalugar nar
AMOPANIC GAN nayolip son usiterol Nadi uhi mep gekom Necon tem egesawo odic samad salalar rinafep nehil emer
SEKATAN NA Na hod dagezo zeg nenegim
"ATAMANON ZEG??" Terry can hear the capitals in his head. He knew he should have been paying attention when they were doing the French classes, but there were so many other interesting things to be doing...
The gale picks up spontaneously. Terry is hefted into the air and tossed about in some unknown choreographer's arabesque. He can't even fathom how long he's airborne. At times it feels like seconds, other's days, weeks, or even years. When he does touch down finally he finds himself at the base of a large pyramid shape. A canal weaves across the horizon. A robed hand stretches into his view.
"Brother. It has been too long and your journey arduous. Allow me to help you...."
"Who are you? And where is Dee??"
Terry, confused by the sudden change in his environment and the loss of all the people he has known in his short life, stretches out his hand...
As the larger figure grips Terry's hand the two limbs that were once unified, then disparate for so long, commingle once more. Sand flowing in and out of one to the other and vice versa. He pulls back his hood to reveal features akin to Terry's but somehow more matured.
"We were to be as one. We were born flesh of the same flesh. Fear not for your "sister" for your true family has returned to you, wayward grain."
Terry tries to limit the merging by pulling himself back into a central core and limiting his input into the control of his extremities.
"Em. It's nice to meet you. I'm not sure I want to be one. I am one. I'm Terry."
Terry's brother responds, "That name has no meaning in The Red Land to the West. Surely you recognize your true name? It is a name of power. It was the beautious refrain in the song that summoned you here."
"But I don't know where here is. I don't think I like it and I don't think I want to stay. I was happy at home....
As for my name, Terry's been good enough for me. As for true names, well, I'm Catholic, I don't go in for that kind of pagan thing. Next you'll be telling me you're my spirit guide."
Terry's brother fails to acknowledge the jest. Instead he continues to further elucidate his kin. "Where are you? You do not recognize this place? You have been called home to glorious Duat. Rejoice for we are The Watcher at the Threshold, The Opener of The Way, Master of the Crossroads."
"Isn't that a really bad TV programme?" Terry is panicking slightly as this sounds really serious. The problem is he's half tempted by the proposition and the thought that there may be others like himself.
"But Dee is getting hurt. I'll come back later, I have to see if I can help her and Mom!"
The robed figure notices Terry's attempt to pull back into himself. "Prodigal, I do not mean to force myself upon you. The choice must be yours. Let me educate you in the true manner and meaning of our birth and then you may make your decision. Come with me into the temple...?"
"How long is it going to take? I need to help Dee. She's my sister..."
"Fear not for your "sister"," he says forcing the words from his dry throat, "the others are bringing her to us now."
Others? Bringing her here??? Oh my God, this had better be a dream of some kind, Dee is not likely to be taking too kindly to this and, as far as this bloke is saying it's Terry's fault!
"Actually I think I'll take a rain check. I'll just go back to where I came from, if I see the others I'll tell them that you said it'd be OK for me to take Dee home too."
Terry turns as if to leave...
...only to find his brother now standing in front of him sans the robe which is still behind Terry on the ground. While his form is immense and much larger than Terry's it is not without faults. Or more precisely fault lines. Fissures race across his humanoid form like spider veins and liver spots on an elderly person.
"I have struggled for so long to be near you once more. It has cost me greatly to bring you to my side. Do not make my sacrifices for naught."
"My choice, huh? Well, my choice is to help everyone else before I think about myself."
"Then help us, prodigal. We who have endured such agony for so long. Your departure pained us. Trapping us here alone. We need never be sundered again." There is an honest insistence to his plea despite the madness.
"I need to help Dee. When that happens I will come back I promise."
"If it is the female fleshing you want to see, grain then you need only step into the Great Pyramid. She has already crossed over to Duat. I can lead you to her if you but follow me." He steps past Terry and walks toward one of the sheer faces of the structure. Without breaking stride he passes through the wall leaving a small dust cloud in his wake as his sandy form seeps through the construct.
* * *
It took only a few short minutes of frantic sprinting for Gaslight to reach the massive doors of the "poppers" -- Dr. Z had rather sensibly designed the layout of the Liberty Lair so that it was possible to reach any room on any given floor quickly and easily, a blessing given the current situation. He pressed the button to summon the pneumatic lift.
A quick glance behind him showed the Mancer and Heisenberg still trailing behind. They would reach him very shortly, and were well ahead of the trailing sand creatures. The Mancer's "cattle prod" distraction had effectively opened up a little distance between themselves and the terra-monsters. Good.
A bell-like ring heralded the arrival of the lift and the popper doors shunted open. Stepping inside and pulling out a multi-purpose electric micro-tool from within the shrouded confines of his cloak, Gaslight quickly unscrewed the exterior plate of the popper's control panel from the wall. Exposing naked wires and circuit boards, he began to expertly "hot-wire" the elevator to serve his needs.
The vigilante stepped back into the hallway, dispatched the popper to the top floor, and began performing similar electronic surgery on the exterior panel used to summon the lift. He was just finishing when the Mancer and Heisenberg caught up to him.
"I've sent the lift to the top floor, and programmed it to remain locked there," Gaslight explained to his companions. "I'm wiring the popper doors to open when I press a button on my remote comm unit, and then close when I press it again. There, done." Turning to face down the hallway whence they all came, he balled his hands into fists. "Now we get dirty, gentleman. We've got to goad them into merging into one or two individual entities, or else we've little chance of getting them all into the shaft at once. Hit them hard."
Dazed and confused from the Mock Mage's spell workings, the horde of Sand-Men shambled into the hallway. Once they gained sight of the powered trio their eyes flared with hatred. Tentacles with shard-like constructs in lieu of suction cups whipped about from the first phalanx as they marched forward.
Heisenberg sighed noticeably. "Who did you say was directing this horde again? John Carpenter?"
"Gentlemen, it's time to earn our hazard pay," Gaslight replied with a quip of his own. His urgent tone was belied by his deliberately casual stance, a Mien-Chuan technique to keep one's opponents off guard. "I'll throw a flash bomb if we goad them into merging, so avert your eyes when I pull out a grenade."
His instructions complete, Gaslight hurled himself down the hallway, springing forward suddenly and executing a continuous series of cartwheels as he plowed in among the mass of terra-critters. Quite frankly, he was showing off a bit for his more experienced comrades, especially Heisenberg, and resembled a human hockey puck rocketing down the hallway on its side.
Landing Gaslight on his feet, The Machine deftly avoided one lashing tentacle and began the intricate dance of evasion techniques that would keep its host alive. Although Heisenberg was referred to as the Master of Improbability, The Machine made a run for the title as it -- impossibly! -- weaved the vigilante safely among the ranks of the terra-monsters and avoided every reaching claw, tendril, and club-like appendage despite the relative limited maneuvering room.
Freed up to think by the efforts of his subconscious alter-ego, Gaslight considered his rather limited options. Much of his standard equipment was virtually useless in the present situation -- the terra-critters were immune to his chemical weapons, their malleable forms could shrug off any blow he landed, and he hadn't had time to replace his plastique since the fracas downtown. Nor could he use his flash devices or black fog bombs, lest he hinder Mancer and Heisenberg. His laser-baton seemed the only option, but he hated to waste the limited batteries on what was little more than a distraction. What to do...?
A moment of inspiration drew a smile from Mason. Biding his time, he instructed The Machine to palm a flash grenade, keep his body safe, and wait for the proper opportunity...
Heisenberg observed drolly, "Seems your side works way too hard for its money." A fleeting emerald swirl followed the nonchalant twirl of his hand and was accompanied by a faint crackle of similar energy from his eyes. The surprisingly instantaneous bolt of energy could barely be said to come from him as it was so fast even Mason's photographic memory and keen eyesight would have trouble registering it. The beast it struck barely had time to voice a guttural response to being ripped apart and transmogrified at the sub-atomic level and beyond.
The creature doubled over and landed on its knees and hands in a pitiful position. Heretofore unseen Insects, formed from grains of sand, poured out of the creature like so many soldiers from an ant hill. The bugs rent the rest of the creature to it's component flecks and scattered them to the four winds.
"It's not the money, it's the perks," retorted Mancer. "Gaslight, I've got a flash of my own that goes to '11' If I start'em movin', can you dump 'em?"
"Of course," Gaslight responded, instantly discerning Pavel's intentions and approving. If Gaslight was correct concerning the old charlatan's plan, the Mancer's "spell" would be far more effective in goading the creatures to merge than his own meager efforts and might even frighten them towards the poppers as well. Anticipating the possibility that he might be caught up in the path of the Mancer's "magic" too, Gaslight began steeling his will to combat its effects.
With a brush of the PDA, the Mock Mage shrunk to 1", effectively disappearing from the sand creature's targeting. He accelerated to full speed directly at the roiling attack. With a dexterity and speed that Shatterman might respect, at least if it was proportionally repeatable at full size, Mancer zipped headlong into the sandscape. He darted past Gaslight as the night-clad vigilante weaved and dodged and prepared to strike, The Machine smoothly pulling a back fist to ready and out of the path of the tiny streak of mage.
Past the flash of black, Mancer might have been flying Nap of the Earth missions over Egypt, above a Sahara that roiled and bubbled with cataclysmic continental formation. Sand flailed and slung in massive columns. Rolling dunes dropped from beneath him or surged upward in irregular, aggressive waves. Granite shards, like huge triangular monoliths thrust into his path, and he as easily around them. The beasts presented as much danger in their normal motion as if directly attacking him.
Mancer looped and darted and was suddenly beyond them, for a mad moment like dropping through a portal from an earthly desert into a dimension of expansive void.
A moment to catch his breath, something he needed to do more of lately, then he brushed the PDA again. This time, he flared up, double his normal height, crowding his bulky frame into the hallway that was comfortably large, at normal scale.
Taking advantage of the momentary distraction provided by Mancer's titanic change in stature, The Machine crouched low and prepared to strike the nearest terra-monster just as a flare of static in Gaslight's earpiece heralded an incoming message from Dr. Z. "Give us a minute, we're still mopping up here," Gaslight replied to his old comrade at almost exactly the same moment that The Machine lashed out against its foe. Utilizing a little known and deadly knife-hand attack form, a technique Gaslight would never use against a being of ordinary flesh and blood, The Machine stabbed its right hand, dagger-like, into the torso of its very surprised opponent. Leaving the palmed grenade inside the creature as it pulled back its arm, The Machine hurled Gaslight's body back out of harm's way just as Mason concluded his radio conversation. "We're by the pneumatic lifts, and should be able to join you shortly. Out."
The explosion blanketed the room in sand granules. Obviously, while the effect was desirable, it was a bit unexpected. That is, unless one took into account the presence of Heisenberg.
A brief nod of acknowledgment by the master villain was all the confirmation the heroes needed to accept the amplified explosion as his handiwork. He swept his fingers over his shoulder twice to dislodge the sand. The rogue made no further comment on this odd moment of teamwork.
He did clear his throat seconds later however and, while staring at Pavel, said, "Aren't you supposed to be doing something clever, old man?"
Sweat beaded on the Martian Mancer's brow. His concentration was far too intense to respond to the villain's goading, but it did lessen Pavel's concern over Heisenberg's presence in the spell's radius. The Norwegian syllables clashed and chattered into the hallway. Where earlier the muttered 'cattle-prod', assisted as it was by his PDA, seemed quaint and amusing, there was nothing amusing about the intonations that reverberated into the bones, and granules, of those in the hallway. Mancer's face and hands were a rictus of power. Beams of light lashed out from his head, fingers, feet, each of those extremities became black silhouettes, drowned in eldritch energy. The light swirled and charged into the hallway, trailing will-o-the-wisps in their wake. The syllables echoed louder, ignoring the physics of sound and sand. From the maelstrom of light, green eyes flashed open on Mancer's silhouetted head, spearing green shafts into the hearts and courage of all present. For the beast-like sand constructs it evoked the primal predator-prey reaction that drowned aggression, control, and anything that did not involve self-preservation. The half-dozen-plus remaining antagonists merged into a pathetic, bleating generic herbivore whose sole goal was to put as much distance between itself and the searing horror behind it.
Opaque nictitating membranes appeared over Heisenberg's eyes to mollify the effects of Mancer's attack as the light functioned as the primary vehicle of the fear inducement. Some aspect of the light is likely carried over the optic nerve to the amygdaloid nucleus to stimulate the flight or fight response. Some but not all.
The man reborn in etic reality has seen many things man was not meant to know. Frightful things that can filet a spirit. Monstrous phantoms that can seperate a man from his essence like so much chaff from wheat. The terror he experienced in The Green is exponentially greater than any that the aging Sorceror could conjure. His spells, however, are enough to rekindle an ember of the emerald agony Heisenberg carries in the barren husk he might call a soul.
The same unfathomable willpower that gained him passage back to emic reality is summoned to hold panic at bay. An uncontrolled twitch sketches itself across his face connecting dots of persperation. His features almost dissolve into an etic nightmare of their own but he literally holds them in check with his hands. The silk gloves brought some real world focus to his struggle, a tactile sensation to ground him. It was enough to allow him to regain his unflappable composure before the heroes have any real opportunity to see him at this momentary loss and before they had the undue fortune of gazing upon Heisenberg's maddening true form.
The elephant-sized beast charged madly, directly towards Heisenberg and the popper doors, granules of sand spilling from its mouth. Gaslight raced just ahead of the fleeing monster, for The Machine had sprung into action the instant that the Mancer had begun creating his weave of fear-inducing power. It had dashed for the elevators, leaving Gaslight's conscious mind free to fight the effects of the Mancer's spell. Fortunately, Gaslight had been psychically armored by the rage he currently felt towards Heisenberg for amplifying the explosion of his flash bomb, transforming a simple distraction into a potentially fatal attack (he could only hope that the creature would be able to reconstitute itself), and, while he still felt the icy hand of fear upon his brow, he tamped down his fright and remained the master of his own actions.
The needs of his spell satisfied, Mancer's gravelly voice continued, in part to mitigate his spell's effects on his allies but mostly in amusement at his beast-like foes' expense. "Klaatu veritas nichto la la Cthulhu ftaghn five to one baby one in five pleased to meet you can you guess my name I am the great and powerful OZ!"
Reaching the popper doors just ahead of the terra-monster, Gaslight whirled to face it, The Machine assuming the proper defensive stance in preparation for what was to come next. Gaslight depressed a button on his remote unit and the popper doors opened behind him with a whoosh. The powerful updrafts within the shaft created a strong but resistible suction effect in the hallway. Had the terra-critter been in whatever state passed for its right mind, it might have deduced the fate its human foes had in store for it, but, its animal cunning subjugated by the Mancer's magic terror, it rushed mindlessly forward. Bellowing madly, it charged headlong and heedless away from Pavel and towards the open shaft, intent on sweeping away anything in its path... including Heisenberg and Gaslight.
The Machine stood ready for the charge and, pivoting at the last possible moment, transformed Gaslight's body into a human fulcrum. Deftly leveraging two tons of murderous sand beast, The Machine used the monster's momentum against itself, proving the old axiom that "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" as it flipped the creature over into the popper's open shaft. The pneumatic lift's powerful currents of rushing air instantly seized hold of the terra-monster and, despite the best efforts of wildly lashing sand tendrils to seize a handhold or otherwise brace the creature, the air pressure hurled the monster violently upwards. Reduced to one large mass of air-compressed sand, any semblance of a recognizable shape abolished utterly, the terra-critter was effectively pinned immobile beneath the base of the popper platform.
Pressing the button to close the popper doors and seal the makeshift prison, Gaslight said to Heisenberg in a taut voice, "I have never been a killer, Mr.. Heisenberg. I hope you have not made me one today." Wasting no time, Gaslight paced briskly down the hallway, enroute to rendezvous with Dr. Z. He was just about to radio the Indestructible Man for an update on the situation when, in a moment synchronicity, Zachary's voice crackled in his receiver.
"Mancer, meet us in the hanger bay. I'll be making you an exit, and I want you and Psyche to clear out these civilians and offer what assistance you can at the Norris lab. I'll be handling the infestation here and developing a larger method for handling these creatures. We'll be in the hanger in a few seconds.
"Gaslight, if you want to help me clean house, I'd appreciate it."
Gaslight detected an uncharacteristically hard edge to his old friend's voice, replying, "Gaslight to Z. Copy last. We're enroute and should be there very shortly. We've accounted for a dozen of the infestations, but the poppers are temporarily disabled. Out."
Pausing mid-stride, Gaslight considered their route for a moment, then addressed his comrades in a wry tone. "Gentlemen, all things considered, I think I shall take the stairs."
"...making me an exit?" Mancer wondered aloud, bemused with anticipation of the latest technological surprise from his nephew's bag of tricks. He zipped along easily. Heisenberg shook his head and fell in stride.
* * *
The fiendish pack begins to bear down on the Indestructible Man and his charges even as others take shape and still more flow in through the vents. Their large maws snap open, teeth gnashing as the form their forearms into rock-hard sledgehammers. Moonlight drops to his knees, turning his back to the horde as he cringes.
"You damn well better save my ass or my lawyers will sue" the elder villain creeks over his shoulder, still hiding his face in his hands.
"Actually, I intend to save all of you, Moonlight - not just the parts that are sticking out of your hospital gown. Why don't you...excuse me for a moment..."
Eleanor hides a snigger behind her hand at Dr. Z's remark before also retorting somewhat snippily, 'Hey! Show a bit of gratitude here for the man that's protecting your derriere,' as she averts her eyes from any parts of Mr. Moonlight's anatomy that are in view.
Two attacks flail aimlessly aside missing their mark altogether while the other two mighty blows rain down upon Zach. The protective aura holds steady showing not even the slightest acknowledgment the blows ever made contact. Zevon calculates that each blow had the force equivalent of a hand grenade.
Stopping to brush invisible particles of sand from his uniform after the attack, the leader of the Liberty League continues, "As I was saying, your clothes and accouterments are in the second drawer on the left. Gather up what you need. These things can only deliver the force of half a stick of dynamite per strike, so I can comfortably hold them off for 17.3 hours though we should leave before then."
"Psyche, could you alter the perceptions of the ones currently under your influence - making them think that the other mass were actually us and vice versa? They mass before they attack, but if all of them were in one place I could effect a more significant solution."
"Sure thing Boss, I'll give it a go but I'm not sure if I can affect both groups..." Moving slightly to ensure that she behind the good doctor's invulnerable form Psyche turns her attention back to the silicate invaders. Conjuring an image of the intrepid trio, Zach tall & fearless (or so it appears to her), the disgruntled house guest Mr. Moonlight & of course herself she sends the image to the sand creatures concentrating on the force of her conviction to confuse the uninvited guests.
The desired effect is what the heroes get when the two packs turn on one another. Psyche cringes as her doppleganger in one of the groups is gutted by it's counterpart amid the ensuing chaos. The ferocity is comparable to terran sharks.
"That could have been us..." Eleanor murmured underbreath, inwardly very grateful that the deception had been effective. Sometimes Eleanor still felt very much out of her depth and this was one of them.
"Excellent, Psyche. That's exactly what I needed. Stand back." Zach aims his newly created EMpluse Controller at the pack of thrashing silicates and (leaving just the edge of it outside his force field to prevent any unwanted backlash) presses the button.
A widening cone of energy engulfs the mass like a searchlight made of electrostatic discharges and will-o-the-wisps, temporarily disrupting the energy patterns responsible for their intelligence and cohesion. The mass heaves once, twice, then collapses to the floor, looking much like a kindergarten sand pile abandoned at the end of an-overly rambunctious recess.
"There. Now that our immediate threat has been dealt with..." Zach looks to see if Moonlight has made himself more presentable as he initiates a shut down and stasis for the systems in the White Room in preparation for his departure. Due to his preparation in case of such a turn of event,s this is just the matter of a few switches before he activates his communicator link to Pavel and Gaslight.
"Gentlemen, our situation here is stable for the moment. We're about to head to the hanger to start the trip to the Norris's. What's your ETA to that location?"
"Give us a minute," replies Gaslight unhurriedly, "we're still mopping up a bit here." A noise distinctly like a baseball bat smacking a bag of wet cement or perhaps a comic book sound effect -- THWACK! -- crackles loudly over the comm link. "We're by the pneumatic lifts, and should be able to join you shortly. Out."
"If you're ready to go?" Zach pockets his EMpulse Controller on one of his costume's convenient carryalls and strides over to the door. Sand or something has jammed the mechanism, forcing Zach to take another moment to place his fingers into the door and force it open with nary a twinge of effort. The indestructible man takes point, keeping his companions close enough to protect them as they work they way through the beleagured Liberty Lair.
No matter how many warm memories of playing in the sand on the beach back home that Eleanor had, she was only too keen to get away from _this_ sand pit and so there was no hesitation in her stride as she followed closely behind Zach, ushering Mr. Moonlight before her.
Another silent alarm goes off to Zevon's notice as his Strattontech scanner reveals more updated data about the attack. The creatures have apparently begun ransacking the "habit trail" (Jack's nomenclature, no one else's) -- the private quarters ring elsewhere in the building. Another alert reveals that another set is demolishing the "black and blue" room where the team engages in training exercises and combat simulations.
"The mag-lev platforms are no longer functional and the "popper" is in use by Gaslight if I'm right in surmising his strategy. We'll have to take the stairs." Dr. Z looks down a corridor, currently void of silicates.
"And what then?," Moonlight begs. "How the hell do you plan to get past that dad-blasted dome? And don't you have some contraption you could hook that tinker toy to to blast the whole lot of 'em at once?" His tattered oversized trenchcoat makes the cantankerous old coot look even smaller than he is.
Zach had been staring at his scanner, surveying the damage, which was becoming irksome. "Hmmmm? Oh, I'd just alter one of the anti-gravity units to project a charge giving each grain of sand its own short lived anti-gravity field, forcing it away from the others and forcing them to liquidity...."
"The other idea has some merit but I'm afraid I didn't design the Lair with these events in mind."
"Still, something must be done." Zach's mouth is reduced to a hard line.
While the curmudgeon berates his saviors, Eleanor is stunned momentarily. A new vision swirls and takes shape in her mind's eye. She can feel that it's the same terrifying desert she was in before in her nightmare. This time however she can clearly see a pyramid and obelisks in the distance. She can also vaguely make out two human shapes in front of one of the massive faces of the doorless structure.
...and then as quickly as it came, it's gone.
Fighting down the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and trying to find "the void" within herself to help her face her fears, Eleanor moves a little faster to catch up to Zach before sharing the vision with him. "Doc, this is getting very weird," although she's doing a good job at hiding it Dr. Z can probably tell she's slightly rattled by it all, "Now I'm seeing images of Egypt complete with pyramids. I'm beginning to think we could be facing some malignant curse of the Pharaohs. Perhaps the "master mind" has some sort of ancient artifact he's utilising?"
"A Pharaoh's curse is unlikely, but some sort of pre-colonization artifact is possible." He quickens his step up the stairs. "What's your maximum telepathic contact distance?"
Casting her mind back to the original assay taken by Dr. Z after her training she recalls him commenting on her range, 'Obviously I'm much stronger at close range and although I can effect people several yards away I'm more effective with line of sight situations. During the testing I could communicate with Gaslight when he was quite some way away but that's only really suitable for single mind to mind communication. I think we could touch minds up to thirteen miles away. '
With that thought fresh in her mind Psyche reaches out to try to touch Dee's mind and ascertain what the situation is at the Norris lab. It was almost like flying, reaching out with her mind, the freedom she had to go where she pleased but a bit like flying blind not knowing whether you would find what you were searching for. Shaking her head at the lack of success Psyche makes a greater effort to contact Silver Dragon, this time carefully visualising her smiling, youthful face. After a few seconds of silence Eleanor is forced to the conclusion that either she's out of range -but that was unlikely - or unable to respond.
Recognising that panicking wouldn't help their current situation Psyche resolves to share the news with Zach once they'd reached the hanger bay.
"Fine." Turning his comm unit back on to Gaslight and Pavel, his voice has a hard edge as his scanner again registers another point of attack. "Mancer, meet us in the hanger bay. I'll be making you an exit, and I want you and Psyche to clear out these civilians and offer what assistance you can at the Norris lab. I'll be handling the infestation here and developing a larger method for handling these creatures. We'll be in the hanger in a few seconds.
"Gaslight, if you want to help me clean house, I'd appreciate it."
"Gaslight to Z. Copy last. We're enroute and should be there very shortly. We've accounted for a dozen of the infestations, but the poppers are temporarily disabled. Out."
The trio reach the hanger level without incident, other than Zach becoming increasingly irritated by the rampant destruction of his home. The stairs open into a lengthy corridor with the open mag-lift at one end and the hanger bay at the other. Zach turns tot he hanger bay, not breaking stride until Mr. Moonlight yells.
"Oh No! They're right behind us!"
The mag-lift expells the sandy mass of silicates in their now familiar four beast hunting pack, rampaging with a slithering hiss towards the Leaguers and their morally challenged charge.
"Stop panicking and get behind me. Psyche, keep an eye behind us." With that Dr. Z draws an enormous breath and starts blowing in a steady stream down the hall, with everyhting between he and the silicates being swept up in the force. The creatures slam to a stop as if they'd struck an invisible wall. As the leader of the Liberty league continues his massive exhalation, the rampaging sand monsters are inexorably driven back into the open mag lift.
Just as he finishes breathing, Zach presses a button on his scanner, momentarily activating the mag-lift's external fields by remote control. Inside the now-frictionless tube of magnetic force the silicates plunge out of sight with almost comical looks on their faces.
He turns to see the astounded look of Mr. Moonlight. "Indestructible Lungs." Zach shrugs. "Let's get to the hanger."
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© 2002 Daniel Harvey et al