|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Liberty League | | Turn 9 ||
"Stand down or suffer the consequences, fleshling." - Bfmaat to Theo Eliot.
Confined as he was by the sand-creatures, Shatterman's mind was still free.
The sand casing around his ears was reflecting the sound of his own blood.
_Young man, hard man_ Shatterman thought as a feeling built.
The sand compressed and squeezed, unable to harm the Hard Rock Hero.
_Oh yeah! WE WILL, WE WILL, ROCK YOU!_
*BOOM* *BOOM* *BOOM* The Shatterbolts roared forth from Shatterman's hands in rapid succession. Sand and rock flew in all directions as the energy flashed the length of his legs. With his legs free, he began kicking violently in order to avoid being trapped again. He tried to get into the air, but there was still too much Martian mud weighting him down.
_WE WILL, WE WILL, ROCK YOU!_
*BOOM* *BOOM* *BOOM* The Shatterbolts roared again, this time across Shatterman's upper body clearing away more stone. With their critical mass lost, the stone yet clinging to him lost animation and became dead weight. "You got mud on yer face! You big disgrace! Gonna kick yer can all over the place! Woo-ha! Those pulsebolts are draining, but you gotta admit they be uber-effective! Who's next on the waving banner, kicked can list?"
"Jack?" Psyche's mental voice called.
"Yo!" replied Shatterman as he jumped, ready to blast whatever audacious villain it was calling his name. Then he recognized the voice, "Oh, hey El. What's your status?"
_We are the League-ers. No time for posers. We are the League-ers oooof Maaarrrrsssss!_
* * *
Dr. Z and company have traveled only a few scant yards towards the hangar bay when the sounds of heavy footfalls echo from the the stairwell behind them. Moonlight cringes, anticipating the renewed attack of the terra-monsters, but Zevon remains quite undisturbed. After all, the sand-men don't wear boots...
A moment later, Gaslight, Heisenberg, and the Martian Mancer spill out into the hallway. For the most part, they look none the worse for wear, except that the Mancer is slightly flushed. He is also nearly twelve feet tall, and squeezes through the stairway door only with some difficulty.
Striding purposefully towards his compatriots, Gaslight falls in step beside Dr. Z as the mass of heroes and villains continue their way towards the Lair's hangar bay. "Psyche, good to see you up and around. Z, what's your plan?"
Pleased to see her comrades again and apparently uninjured, Psyche allows herself a small smile of relief as she acknowledges Gaslight's greeting, 'Pleased to see you too. Its all rather a mess here isn't it, but I'm sure it won't take long to get it all ship shape & bristol fashion again,' before adding mentally for Mancer's benefit, 'Sorry if I gave you a fright earlier. I'll try not to do it again.' Mancer can sense the equivalent of a wry grin associated with the mental contact.
"Plastic surgery _is_ the less painful alternative," chided the Maxi Mage good-naturedly. The morning sky was incongruously pitch outside the blast-strength bay windows, and through the open skycycle portal. The bright halogens of the bay trickled out, highlighting the massive amber shell that had enveloped the Liberty League headquarters. "Ah yes, my exit," noted Mancer mostly to himself.
Noticing Mr. Heisenberg's presence in the group, Psyche resists the temptation to scan him preferring to concentrate on further attempts at contact with those at the Norris lab, conscious that Dee's silence was probably not a good sign. Although outwardly paying attention to her surroundings Psyche 'sent' to Shatterman, feeling for the familiarity of his mind, searching for that feeling of connection, 'Jack? are you there?'
"WE WILL, WE WILL, ROCK YOU!" clashed the thought in her mind in Jack's voice.
"Yikes!" said Psyche out loud, surprised by the outburst. _I 'see' he is a bit busy. I think I'll hang on a second until the noise in his head abates._
After a moment of enthusiastically mangled music, she tried again. 'Jack?'
"Yo!" came back Jack's voice. "Oh, hey El. What's your status?"
The momentary amusement caused by Jack's enthusiastic rendition of the Queen song brought a hint of a smile to Psyche's lips which disappeared as quickly as it came, replaced by a frown, *We're en route to the hangers to join you. Not sure what the plan is from there but I expect Dr. Z will be staying put to clear out the vermin we've got.* Jack can feel a sense of unease & worry creeping into her voice as she continues, *Are Dee & Terry with you? I can't feel Dee at all... What's going on?'
"That," replies Shatterman emphatically, "is a very good question!" Psyche can hear the concern and confusion in his voice. He scans the damaged hallway, earthen debris everywhere, but no Terraform and no Silver Dragon in sight. "Okay," he says out loud, knowing Psyche will hear him, "I'm alone."
Zach has led the rest of thr group to one of the hoverbikes, which he hunkers down in front of ans begins busily modifying with deft, sure motions."Once I finish making the changes I need to this, I'd appreciate it if Mancer and Psyche could take down the wall around Norris labs and give the kids a little help. Uncle, once you get there I'll expect that you, with Psyche's mental powers coordinating, will be able to get the situation well in hand."
"Always a pleasure to look in on the senior Ms. Norris," Mancer confirmed innocently enough, earning a quick dissaproving glance from his nephew.
"I'll stay here," he continued deliberately, "and concentrate on clearing the infestation out of the Lair and tracing it back to it's source. Things will go faster once I don't have any non-indestructible people to worry about, and at 9.67 miles I'll still be in Psyche's telepathic range to keep abreast of the situation there."
With a last shake to divest himself of remaining crust, Shatterman follows Silver Dragon's trail and hurtles through the open door into the lab. "Old man, mad man, someone better put you back in to your space," he sings ready to rumble. He is stunned, disappointed and then worried to find only scientists and lab technicians trapped in chains of earth. "Okay, the Chains of Earth are kind of cool, but no 'Dragon, no Terry and no parental units."
"Right," says Shatterman with vehemence. With careful precision he blasts as the earthen restraints of the lab technicians. They are clearly rattled by their earlier experiences and the power that Shatterman has at his fingertips. Even so, they are relieved to be free and a general babble begins as they attempt to process the events, some conveying useful information and others simply venting. "Psych, how soon can you get here and calm our witnesses?"
*We shouldn't be long once Zach has finished tinkering with the hoverbike, just a few minutes I expect, but we'll have to blast our way in through the granite that's sprung up around the labs. In the meantime, I suggest you get the techies to start the clean up operation there - it'll help them cope if they can do something useful I should think. Got to go now, Z wants me to do something. Take care & watch out for any more of the blasted things.*
"Gaslight, obviously, I can't tell you what to do but I'd appreciate it if you'd help me with clean-up. Time may be of the essence here."
"Of course." Gaslight remains convinced that the primary threat is at Norris Labs, and is uncertain that the members of the Liberty League are up to the challenge of dealing with that threat without Z's field leadership to coordinate their efforts, but he is willing to accede to his Zevon's judgment for the moment... if for no other reason than to see firsthand what he has "up his sleeve."
With that said, he has finished the modifications to the hoverbike. "Psyche, when Mancer get's the Liberty Disk within 10 meters of the wall, point these nodules at the granite and flick this switch. That section of the wall will return to its original sandy configuration - perhaps with a wave of force but nothing dangerous." Zach looks over the quartet, "You may get some sand in your hair, but that should be the limit."
From her reverie Eleanor 'mmms' & responds in the affirmative to Zach's questions. It would be a pleasure to be able to deal out some payback to the silicates but still, she was deeply concerned about what they'd find once they had established an entry point.
"If you can't find another way it, this should be operational for a second use at Norris labs, but I don't know how many uses we can get out of this jury-rig." Though the smartest mind on mars was already working on a way to replicate the effect in a smaller, more stable form for later.
"Psyche, if you could initiate a light telepathic contact with me now, you four can get out before more silicates arrive and Gaslight and I can begin the scutwork."
Eleanor nods slightly & reaches out to Zach just touching his mind gently, like a butterfly landing on a leaf.
*Psyche, now that we have some private communication, could you perform a surface scan of Moonlight? I'd like to be certain he's blameless in this before trusting him any further.*
*I did consider it earlier but there's been a lot of mental interference going on from outside & things don't seem to have gone well at the Norris's. I can't reach Dee at all - I thought you'd want to know....* Psyche's concern is resonant in her mental voice.
*I'm sure she's fine. She, Jack and I are all pretty close to invulnerable. What could have happened to her?* A plethora of bad images cross Zach's mind, which he discounts. It's inconceivable to him that something bad had happened to Dee, and therefore nothing bad has happened.
*He may react badly to it but here goes nothing.....* and with that she turns to face Moonlight gazing fixedly at him & attempts a deep scan of his mind; ready to overcome any mental barriers he may have in place conscious or otherwise.
Eleanor can't help but notice that an individual's mental landscapes are every bit as unique as their fingerprints. Moonlight's thought-metaphors are surprisingly pleasant. She's standing by the water's edge with the moon hanging low in a September night sky. She stares deeply into the reflective pool before wading into it. She laughs quietly under her breath at the sheer pleasure of it all.
Nothing in his thoughts suggest he has any connection whatsoever in the continually unfolding events of the day. There's a temptation to swim deeper. The swirling waters and the gossamer strands of moonlight mirror one another beautifully. Time is of the essence however....
Gracefully exiting from Moonlight's mind without leaving so much as a ripple of disquiet, Eleanor almost felt a sense of regret, such a beautiful picture and such a sense of innocence...
*Zach, he's clean - there's nothing untoward obvious so let's give him the benefit of the doubt shall we? Jack's waiting for us at the Norris's & it sounds like we're needed there.*
With the others absorbed in things that didn't feel like action to the old Sorcerer, Pavel cleared his throat, then broke the tableau by marching to the hoverbike. "Heisey, Moonlight you old cutpurse, you're with us." To the Master of Uncertainty, "If Gassy impressed you, there's an energetic little cuss you need meet."
Pavel motions for Eleanor to board the hoverbike first. As she does so he slyly adds, "Age before beauty." He can tell from the motion of her blonde mane that she's shaking her head mock incredulously at him. He quickly mans the controls even as Eleanor nods her head in understanding as she grips the modules cautiously holding her fingers over the triggers.
Heisenberg nudges Moonlight with his cane to put the man into motion. "The faster we get this over with George, the sooner we can get back to our everyday lives." The "door" closes on it's own accord as Heisenberg enters the vehicle.
Pavel brings the vehicle within ten meters of the dome and pauses. "Fire at will," Pavel says.
Without missing a beat, Eleanor says "Who's Will?"
Before Heisenberg has a chance to groan in dismay or Pavel has one to smile in appreciation Psyche lets loose the EMP. The bike experience a brief bout of turbulence as a blue pulse rattles free from the nodules. A strange silence fills the hangar before it strikes with a loud cacophonous twang. True to his word the villains and vigilantes are left unscathed despite the breech in the barrier.
"Granulate. _Will_ Granulate," Pavel answered in a voice straight from a Bond movie. The hoverbike slammed through in a spray of Martian soil, then into the artificially domed daylight of New Philadelphia airspace.
"This is why so few heroes get their own HBO special," observed Heisenberg archly to his villainous companion. For his part, Moonlight showed every sign of not following any of it.
Pavel would turn to wave to Zach and Mason if he didn't already know that they'd be planning some elaborate scheme. He'd pay to see what those two unleash on the three dozen or so beasties left in their home. Still there was the matter of wooing a certain Scots woman across town....
* * *
Terry isn't sure if that is a good thing. The only time he has heard those words used together it was usually in reference to somebody who had died.
Hmmmm. Terry looks about him. He has no idea where he is or how to get back to Dee and his parents. The only thing that seems to know what is going on is the sand creature. If Dee _is_ in there then she might still need his help.
The sand creatures that attacked his home must also come from here. There is only one way. Forward.
Terry follows warily.
Star hieroglyphs adorn the strange architecture. Insects and fauna not in his morphogenic matrix but still somehow familiar to Terry are etched into the walls. He can't help but think that Mom and Dad would love to see them added to their database.
He's pleased at this, it shows his mind is still primarily his own.
His brother stands several paces in front of him, still with his back to Terry. Another silicate rushes to his side to adorn him in his robes once more. A second hands him his ritual flagstaff.
Terry wears them awkwardly. He isn't used to wearing dresses and is likely to trip if has to move quickly...the staff however might prove a useful weapon.
The creature than turns his arms outstretched and held high above his head. "I, Bfmaat, once more welcome you to glorious Duat."
"Err. I, Terry, want to see my sister...."
"Speak not falsehoods in this pristine environ, my brother. This will only diminish your power more so than it already is. Speak your true name."
"but it's not a lie..." Terry mumbles, "I _do_ want to see Dee. Is that Terry? I'm thinking that your expression says no...."
Terry can tell that his connection to the land in this undiscovered country is limited. His powers aren't what they should be. Come to think of it, they haven't been since he arrived in this dark place. Would make sense if it isn't Mars...
"Claim your birthright! Speak in the tongue of our people, the one true language. Use the words The Great Serpent writ in the stars themselves with his every movement."
"Speak your name!"
"TERRY! My name is TERRAFORM!!!" he shouts.
"You know this to be false. Your heart is burdened by these lies. It was your true name that summoned you to Duat - ATAMANON ZEG"
"If you will not unleash your power for our cause and join with me willingly then I regret that I must take it, and you, by force granule." Silicates raise in a circle about Terry even as he is struck motionless again. The chorus raises once more launched in a rich tenor by Bfmaat.
"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"
Terry sees Bfmaat shake and shudder. His cracked and battered form is ripped asunder by the Chant of Unity. The remains of his sandy form swirls about the temple floor like a small sirroco. It holds in place moving hypnotically.
The sigils and hieroglyphs that adorn the surroundings begin to glow an eerie and eldritch emerald as does the flagstaff in Terry's hands. A serpentine hiss echoes throughout the structure. The remains of Bfmaat collide into him. The force of the blow dislodging the rod from Terry's hands. In his mind's eye he can see the strange arcane symbols that decorate the grand hall appear on his body like tattoos or sand painted swirls. They burn deep into him like a farmer's brand into cattle.
Terry's senses go black.
The chant ends, its foul work done. After a brief moment what was once the form of one of Mar's noblest heroes begins to move once more. The hands that wrap themselves about the staff are not those of Terraform but... Atamanon Zeg!
* * *
Watching the others depart, Zach turns to Gaslight. "Right. Despite the worries you no doubt have, I'm confident Pavel can hold the situation together until we reconnect with them. Plus, I needed him and our helpful villains out of here while I make the modifications I need to clear this mess out."
"I'm going to head to the electrical bays." With his he starts walking, trusting Mason to follow. Unlike the others, Zach doesn't bother to cover Gaslight in his force field - that sort of hampering of movement would simply get in the Machines way. "The Lair was constructed with magnetic repulsion units on all the main corridors so we could easily move large pieces of equipment when required. If I can override the height and depth settings on those I can catch everything in the lair that isn't bolted down into magnetic force tube a few feet from every surface. Once they're confined that way, I should be able to temporarily override their PE/EM fields and render them inert."
"Of course, the elevators have been compromised, and you've probably used the poppers to hold the ones you encountered before. So all we have to do is get down the four levels to the electrical bays and hold them off while I make the changes I need. Then build a larger EMPulse controller and track the location of this Theo Eliot by the seismographic traces his pets left."
He gives Gaslight a smile. "Should be easy."
"Yes, of course," Gaslight replies matter-of-factly, his tone belying an undercurrent of concern. Easy? With three dozen silicate horrors yet remaining? Sometimes GL almost regrets his carefully constructed facade of supreme competence; too often his comrades forget that he lacks their IF-induced parabilities and is as vulnerable to conventional injury and death as any normal human. It may be easy enough for an Indestructible Man to deal with two tons of murderous, sand-shifting monstrosity, but it would take every ounce of Gaslight's skill and concentration just to stay alive. "Perhaps we might forego the stairs? The elevator car is damaged, but a descent down the open shaft would be quicker than taking the stairs."
Zach smiles. "Actually, that's an excellent idea." Zach switches the button on his scanner again, turning off the magnetic tube inside the elevator as the pair are walking towards it, then checking the scanner for damage patterns.
"I was going to have to shut that off to make the changes anyway...ah, they're on the first floor and rising. Perfect. Jump with me and just stay loose, we'll be down on the first floor in a second."
Putting a hand on Gaslight's shoulder and trusting his old friend to trust him,. Zach expanded his force field to cover the two of them, then leapt into the shaft, Gaslight at his side. Once inside the shaft, the field thickens and expands, filling the whole of the shaft and giving both men some protection from impact.
Which comes in seconds, as the collide with the masses of two silicate packs working their way up the shaft -- the one that Dr. Z had stunned earlier and another that joined it when the magnetic tube shut down. The creatures grips on the sides of the shaft are shattered by the tube fitting force bubble, and they slow the mens descent with their scramblings against the tube walls to prevent another embarrassing fall. Unfortunately for the silicates, Zach's calculation of their mass and velocity from the two and a half story drop vs. the creatures admittedly prodigious strength worked in the heroes favor - in the end the silicates are temporarily crushed under Dr. Z''s force field at the bottom of the tube.
"First floor, everyone out." More accurately halfway below the entry for the first floor. Zach opens the force bubble for Gaslight to get out and have some room.
"Men's wear, right?"
"There's another pack approaching, Gaslight, but you should have a clear field of fire for them. I'll just finish up with these."
Another blast of the EMpulse controller does just that. Zach effortlessly leaps out of the elevator, checking the power levels of the controller.
Gaslight has sprung from the elevator shaft and is already sprinting down the hall by the time Z finishes his warning of another approaching pack. A flash grenade preceding him down the hallway, GL is glad to see that this "pack" is really more of a hunting pair (perhaps the last two members of the quartet to which the two silicates in the elevator shaft belong?). He wouldn't admit it to Zach and certainly doesn't show it, but he is beginning to tire and is relieved that he'll only have to deal with two of the creatures.
The flash grenade has had the desired effect by the time The Machine wades in among the roaring red silicon critters. They blindly flail about with their weaponry-laden sand tentacles, damaging the walls and each other but easily evaded by Gaslight's fighting persona. Taking advantage of a wild lunge by the nearer of the two creatures, GL turns the critter's momentum against itself, flipping it over to crash hard on the hallway floor. The instant of impact, the terra-monster lets go the mental matrix maintaining the integrity of its current form and "dissolves" into a featureless mass of sand carpeting the hallway. Carpeting the hallway and also beginning to harden suddenly around Gaslight's ankles...
"Clever boy," Gaslight admits, "Even if you can't see me, you can at least feel for me. You're not very smart, but you are cunning." Well before Gaslight finishes speaking, The Machine whips out a shiny silver rod from the depths of GL's coat. The rod resembles a polished steel version of a policeman's baton, the similarity spoiled only by the red lens capping one end... the end that The Machine is currently pointing down at the mass of sand at Gaslight's feet. "Short beam, maximum spread, two second burst, initiate."
A beam of invisible energy springs from the crystal cap on Gaslight's "laser baton." The only visible signs of the beam's progress are a large red circle of light projected onto the sand blanketing the hallway floor and the instantaneous scorching of sandy "terra-flesh" on every spot that circle of light falls.
The blanket of sand screams, filling the hallway with a disturbing and unearthly shriek. Shrinking back from the burning touch of GL's laser light, the creature reassumes a vaguely humanoid form. It does not maintain that form for long, however; The Machine has by this time turned its attention to the other remaining sand-terror, and now uses Gaslight's incomparable Mien-Chu'an skills to redirect one of the creature's heavy bludgeoning attacks against its wounded brother. A fist the size of an anvil crushes the scorched terra-monster's chest, the densely packed sandy fist slamming into the critter's body like a freight train and reducing its form once more to a featureless carpet of sand on the hallway floor.
"Thanks for the assist," Gaslight quips, palming a gas grenade and, as he had done earlier to another of the terra-monsters, plunging his hand into the creature's torso. Leaving the grenade inside the monster, he springs away just as it detonates. In the absence of Heisenberg's unasked-for assistance, the explosion is considerably more muted than the first time Gaslight tried this stunt and is partially smothered by the terra-creature's sandy form. Partially, but not entirely...
The silicate horror appears almost comical, standing unsteadily in the hallway, confused and uncertain, as a bilious black fog wafts from a large hole in the center of its torso. A comparable injury would be fatal to a human being or any other creature of conventional flesh and blood, but only serves to stun the silicate monstrosity. After a few moments of teetering unsteadily upon its trunk-like legs, the creature collapses into a heap of discorporate sand. Its "flesh" intermingles with that of its fallen comrade. Random patches of sand shift about here and there, an obscene "twitching" that confirms the creatures' continued clinging to life.
"They probably won't remain stunned for long, so we'd best hurry along," Gaslight says, striding back over to re-join his friend. "Incidentally, my little bag of tricks is emptying rapidly. Do we have time to visit the armory?"
"It's on the way. Turn left," Zach says, noticing the subtle signs of his friend's growing fatigue - things that even he would miss if he didn't know Mason as well as he does. Still, he doesn't say anything. It just isn't done. "Fifty more feet. There."
Zach catches up with Gaslight and crouches down, looking for stress fractures in the floor. "Aah. That will do."
His fingers slide across the floor and then impossibly find purchase in a hairline crack, which widens, and then explodes outward with a crunch. Zach's face is lined with concentration but there's still no visible effort from his 180 lb frame as he, to all visible examination, tears an almost perfect cylindrical, one meter hole into the floor. He stands with weak knees and leans back against the wall.
"That always takes a lot out of me. The reinforced Armory door is on the right. I'll catch up in a second..."
Watching Gaslight drop through the hole and code open the armory door, Zach starts planning the shoulder mounted EMpulse controller he'll need to deal with the problems at Norris Labs (including the gear he'll need from the armory) as a way to take his mind off the strain of his last feat of strength. Lost in that for a second, he doesn't hear the subtle hiss from the ventilation duct over his head until too late. Over a thousand pounds of silicates slam into him from above, knocking his legs out from under him and burying him from sight in less time than it takes to blink...
* * *
As the cycle tore through the air, Pavel asked Psyche, "Could you flash me the situation as Shatty understands it? Any read you can get on the lab, and where the rest or the beasts are could point us to the appropriately dramatic entrance."
Psyche nods and without further ado links her mind with his and instantaneously Pavel shares the experience of seeing through Jack's eyes. The lab is a scene of decimation, the distraught staff & worst of all no sign of either Dee, Terry or the Norris's. For good measure she also shares the vision she had had of the pyramid. *Get the picture?* she asked, *I'll scan around for any signs of Dee's parents but if I can't locate the others.....* she lets the thought trail off with the fears unsaid, releases her feather light touch on his mind and begins scanning outwards in concentric circles, searching for their missing friends.
Much to Eleanor's dismay the search, even at it's farthest edges, turns up nothing. Shaking her head with disappointment she resumes her position at the controls.
Mancer stroked his thin chin-length white mustache absently. The earthen dome-within-a-dome smothering the Norris lab started as a distant dirt pile, then marched in until it loomed into their flight path. Eleanor hastily engaged Zach's jury-rigged EMPulse when Pavel neglected to give the word to fire. "Oh, good call girlie....WHUMP." The cycle's heavy impact into the disrupted granite shell cut him off. They exploded into the darkened, musty micro-atmosphere around their friends' home. Behind them, the granite shell remained ravaged, allowing them the shaft of daylight they rode down on. Shatterman met them, zipping out ahead of a dusty contrail.
"Hey froods," Shatterman said as he zipped up. "I put the techs to work cleaning the place up like Psyche suggested. Some of them totally split -- brain rattling kind of experience even here at the labs, ya know -- and they got a few sec guys up here even-tually! The place is a total mess. Rubble and burnt plastic and sand everywhere. I even got sand in my boxers and this is a skin tight jumpsuit I'm wearing!"
As they dismounted the sky cycle Pavel realized introductions might be in order. "Shatterman, Psyche (excuse my previous rudeness), meet Heisenberg and Mr. Moonlight. Badguys, good guys; good guys, bad guys. Z gave these guys temporary amnesty."
"Yeah, we kinda met earlier today," replies Shatterman. "Although, Mr. Moonlight, you do look a lot better when your conscious and all that." Shatterman is keeping his eyes scanning the horizon.
'How are the bystanders recovering Jack?' Eleanor asks quietly,'Do you still need me to take a few minutes with them or are they ok now?'
"They could use a good aura cleaning," replies Shatterman. "Or whatever you think." He shrugs. "Even the ones who were here when Terry 'erupted' were overloaded by all the sand today."
Following Jack further into the (to her) unfamiliar building Eleanor quickly soothes the shaken technicians and counsels them about their experiences. Scanning them lightly she quickly builds up a more complete picture of what had happened. Slightly uneasy about the perpetrator's motives Psyche resolves to ream his mind when they finally catch up with him.
"Z wanted us to take charge here, but it looks like here has moved. Did you see or hear anything from Dragon or Terry before they disappeared?" Pavel asked the Rock and Roll superhero.
"Let's see," thinks Shatterman, sticking out his tongue for deliberate comic effect. "I think it was something like 'Oh crap' and 'I'll kill the bastard' and 'Ooo, look at the pretty colors'." He shrugs, "then again, honestly I was being encased in solid rock when I last saw both of them, so I'm not really sure. All three of us were about to charge in to save the 'rents when sand poured from everywhere and dragged me to the floor. When I got free, both Dee and Terry were gone. I wanted to take off after them, you know, but neither me nor the techs found any clues and those guys are pretty rattled. Maybe you guys can get something out of them?"
"Ah, if we've got nothing else, I can ..." Pavel pulled a reasonable Vincent Price impersonation, complete with flaring fingers, "...cahntact the spidhit wahld." Reading a mix of intrigue, skepticism, and no ready alternatives in his companions' body language, Pavel pulled out his PDA and brought up the script editor. "This will take a minute or two. I can trail behind. We should probably sift Dragon's last battleground for intel while I hack." Pavel folded himself into an oversized floating lotus position, tacking away furiously as Jack led the troop into the wrecked lab.
Divination throughout the centuries relied on two things:a random pattern generator (be it goat entrails, tea leaves, Tarot cards, palm lines or whatever), and a mystic with enough ego or irony to presume to interpret the patterns as a window to the infinite.The Martian Mancer easily met the pre-requisites.The former was satisfied with a scripted library of graphics routines, randomly permuted off each other.The latter was less a precondition than a complete description of the man himself.
"Okay here we go,"Pavel said as the pseudo-random coding was finished, tailored for the question at hand.At the touch of the start icon, the PDA screen cleared, and might as well have been replaced with a screen saver.Swirling patterns collapsed in and over each other, bit streaks slashed through, geometric shapes were more suggested than displayed, all of it a kaleidoscope of colors.Two ovals, streaked with psychadelia, danced at the corners of the screen, lazily tumbled together, then stuck and swirled.
"They're together," he informed the audience.The ovals exploded apart, leaving only a curved line, which promptly spun itself into a lens. Sweat beaded on the Martian Mancer's brow. The lens began a fitful twisting and jerking, jumping from one side of the screen to the another. As color-drenched pyramids, feathers, twisting serpent-like coils danced and swirled behind, the lens refused to lose cohesion. Briefly, bit lines swept across its face like hands of a clock until they were lost to a prismatic folding of hue.The Martian Mancer's ruddy complexion was noticeably pale, and the silence dragged on.
Over come with curiosity, Shatterman drifted upwards to look over the massive shoulder."Dude, It's like hand-held laser-Floyd," he informed the onlookers.Oblivious, the Martian Mancer's study went on.Bit patterns suggestive of Egyptian hieroglyphs faded in and out on its surface, pulling the lens into a pyramid of its own.Abruptly the screen went black, except for the psychedelic pyramid.The screen froze, as gradually the black background grew greener, like sunrise over a meadow.The lens/pyramid finally disappeared.
"Well?" asked Heisenberg, convinced the drama was calculated to maximize his inconvenience.Pavel looked up to his friends and enemies, a noticeably exhausted man.
"The way these things work, you formulate your questions in advance, then interpret through that lens.I needed to know they were together, the answer was straightforward.In trying to divine their location, things got...odd."He eyed each of them in turn.
"We'll try not to die of suspense," mused Heisenberg calling attention to Pavel's pregnant pause. Something within fair bounds from one showman to another. He rolled his eyes while waiting for the "hero" to regale them all with more of his communion with the cosmos. Bfmaat
Pavel focused on the supercilious villain. "Best I can guess, they've landed in what the Egyptians called their 'Land of the Dead,' and it's not connected to here or Mars in a way the Liberty Disk can find." Reading the villain's expression, Pavel added, "Yeah I know, it's whacked.Thing is, when I put as much as this in to it, I'm rarely ever wrong."Pavel sighed deeply, then fingered his comm.
"Z, we're here, the Norris' and their attackers aren't.I've got some info you might not like..."
* * *
"Careless." Zach mutters, feeling the pounding of several of the creatures against his field which stops as they solidify into a single sandstone sarcophagus to smother Mars' smartest man.
"If I hadn't used my field to stop them from anchoring to the floor that could have cost me." Using the limited space his force field affords him he rolls over onto his stomach, then pushes himself up to his hands and knees. His field has spread under the creatures and around them, making it possible for Zach to brace and lift the field well into the air.
Once they realize they aren't on the ground the creatures try to return to particulate form, but they then it's too late - they're trapped inside the field as Dr Ze regains his feet and holds the field out with a single arm. Their writing amorphous mass congeals into one of their bestial reptilian shapes at the end of Zach's fist, snarling and snapping at him.
"Growl all you want you feral semi-sentient annoyance. If I didn't have such respect for your brother I'd be tempted to find a much more permanent solution for dealing with you. And Eliot..." Zach drags the beasts face nose to nose with his, "If you can sense things around these little creatures, understand that I AM NOT AMUSED."
With a shove he sends the creature flying down the hallway, where it collides with the other two members of the hunting pack that Gaslight had disabled moments earlier. Sand flies everywhere as the stunned pack tries to get its bearings.
Zach drops through the hole to the armory door. "Sorry that took so long. Are you ready?" He asks as the weapons he'll need to modify fly across the room into his hand.
"Z, we're here, the Norris' and their attackers aren't. I've got some info you might not like..."
"Hold on a second Uncle. I'm just finishing up here."
Zach's upper body is buried inside the guts of the Lair's electrical system. It took far longer than he wanted to clear things out to make the modifications "Stretching powers. Now *that* would have been handy..." he mutters.
With the final connection made, linking his smaller EMpuse controller into the magnetic lifting grid, Zach slides out on an undulating force field and spares a glance at the door. The door is still a black space with the sounds of conflict emanating from it.
"Board's hot. Come on in!" Zach, as always is surprised by Gaslight's reflexes, as his friend is inside the room before the sentence is even completed. No longer needing to concentrate on the repairs, Zach expands his field to block the door, accidentally severing the arm of one of the silicates, which slithers madly. Gaslight's baton has fused it into a glassine mass while the vigilante is still in the air, and the baton is has vanished into the holster before his feet hit the ground.
"Sorry for the delay. Still, this should work." Zach presses a few LCD displays and smiles as the new schematics light up as active.
All across the base, Silicates are caught in mid rampage, finding themselves bobbing ineffectually away from the floor and walls. Their snarls of confused outrage only last a few seconds before the magnetic field holding them intensifies and changes frequency, stunning all of them and reducing them to their natural particulate forms.
"OK, problem solved. The fields will provide a minor propulsion for the next hour or so, gathering all of their masses to the storage bay in the sub basement. A new shock will be administered periodically until we return, preventing them from getting loose and cause any more damage. It's a temporary solution, but we can now be concerned about other things." He;s leaning against the board as he does this, and sees the mass of no fewer than eight silicates in the hall where gaslight had been. A low whistle of appreciation escapes his lips, to which Gaslight merely shrugs.
Zach re-activates his transdimensional com-link. "OK, things are clear at the base Pavel. What's the bad news?"
"The bad news is that the lovely Ms. Norris is no longer at the lab, in the City, or on the face of Mars. Her daughter either. There seems to be some dimension/plane hopping going on here, and the best I can determine is they've been packed off to *Duat*, and taken their relatives, flesh and otherwise, with them."
"The Egyptian City of the Dead?" Zach asked while waving for Gaslight to listen in. Both Pavel and Mason could hear the scientific flatness that characterized Zach avoiding processing uncomfortable emotional data.
"Yeah, that was the reaction here too. Look, there's nothing left to see here but sand. We're on our way back. If I sound a bit off my game its because I'm positive about my information, but...yeah, Egyptian City of the Dead." After some murmured comment outside the mike's pickup, Pavel closed the comm with, "Oh shut up, Heisenberg. Back in a few."
"Right. See you then." Zach chewed on his lip, then turned around and accelerated the silicate funneling process to clean the base faster.
"I need to get the main computers fully back on line. The nature of our transmitter systems means that I can track Dee's location even into other dimensions with the right equipment."
* * *
Dee wakes up slowly. Her vision is almost nil. What little light there is in the area is obfuscated by the thick film over her eyes. She can tell she's upright. She can also feel that she's trapped in earthen chains just as the scientists where in the labs. What's worse, is that she can feel that the poison has had enough time in her system to severely weaken her (usually) exceptional strength.
It's something of a first for her. Jack's normally the one stuck in the villainous death trap. She cringes as she knows what's bound to come next.
Footsteps. Boot treads across a hard dirt surface. She can hear someone clear his throat. Probably Eliot readying himself for his moment to gloat.
With a silent snarl Dee tenses slightly, confirming that she won't be able to break loose in her current condition, then relaxes again and concentrates on breathing. Her throat feels raw after the spores' assault; she ignores the discomfort as best she can and tries to stay ready for anything, senses straining for more information about her surroundings. _Still alive. All I need is one chance...._
"What? Nae preemptife retort? Nae, "the sooner yoo're dain gloatin' eh sooner i'll kick yer arse," crass comment? Eh'd expect as much it ay Ronnie's wee lassie."
His melodious yet mad voice echoes slightly off of the walls and high ceilings nearby. Her back is against a cool surface. That coupled with their entry and exit vector can only mean one thing. Dee is in some underground lair.
She coughs experimentally, painfully. _May as well go through the ritual_. "What is you want?" Something is missing, she realizes, that has been nagging her since her return to consciousness. She "listens" to see if Rajni is within range, hoping the little animal isn't hurt, or worse.... Dee can barely sense Rajni, unconscious and on the farthest edges of their empathic connection. _Hang in there, girl.... Hope Shatterman and Terry are all right._
"Whit is it eh want? wa, hen, eh want it aw. eh want everythin' 'at i've earned an' was given tae yer blasted parents insteid. eh tae ay them cheated me aw those years ago, they did."
"Ah," she says with what would have been a sage nod if she'd been more able to move. "Inferiority complex. I can see why you'd have that problem."
"Inferiur am eh? ye think yer hen mom an' dad aur keen enaw tae make half ay eh discoveries they lay claeem tae, dae ye? 'en yoo're as daft as aw eh others. they delibretely sabatoaged me." He begins pacing about the alcove fevershilly.
"if nae fur their interference eh woods hae relocated haur aw those years ago. eh woods hae gart eh discoveries in valles marineris! eh woods hae created eh patchwork fauna!" Spit flies from his lips as he pauses his rant.
"Sure you would have. Flying pigs would be first on the list," she jabs, hiding her growing worry. _Guys, where *are* you??_ "And just what do you think you're going to do now?"
"I'll avenge myself ay eh wrongs committed against me. i've awreddy used their greatest lie tae brin' mah wrath righteoosly doon upon them. eh said eh'd hae everythin' they stole fae me...ain if 'at means disciplinin' mah wayward dochter 'en sae be it."
"You want to lose that arm, keep it up," she mutters, unable to keep herself from tensing. "Where are they?"
"You're going to stand aside while I speak to the Dragon." Another voice interrupts. The tone is rich and strong despite the obvious scratchiness. "Stand down or suffer the consequences, fleshling."
Dee feels Eliot's hand slide away slowly. She half expects him to mutter something as cliched as "I'm not done with yet" before leaving. Instead he retreats as quickly as he can.
_*Fleshling*? Oh, this cannot be good._ "And you are....?"
"I am he that is one with all that surrounds you. I am but a humble servant of The Great Serpent. Its fiery breath has sparked much power in you as well."
_Not as much as I wish right now._ "Do you have a name?" Dee can make out a tall robed figure wielding a staff of some sort as she tries to gaze past the ichor blinding her.
"Names are a fleshling disease. You use them to incorrectly distinguish yourselves from one another. My brethren and I know no such plague. Our ascendancy will cure you this plight and all others."
"However, if you must address me, then Bfmaat will do in the short time left to you."
"I could just think of you as That Guy Who Hangs Out With That Loser Eliot." She tries to shrug and coughs again.
"Eliot is simply a means to an end. We have little interest in his petty jealousies. He will be spared the fate of your kind and receive his own rewards."
Dee continues questioning this new wild card, "What do you and your 'brethren' get out of all of this?"
"Mars," he says matter of factly before continuing, "The Red Land to The West chose death over life long ago. Your living presence here is an affront to the Great Serpent. You are at a Crossroads. We are meant to usher you past the Threshold and Open the Way for our dread Lord."
_Can't we all just get along?_ wanders through her aching head. _Yowch, that stuff did quite a number on me...._ "So you're... not alive?" She can't think of anything to do but keep him talking and hope.
"Do you ask to alleve yourself of culpability of your actions? Did you know the wayward grain feels guilt over his actions during our battle this morn? Your answers our irrelevant. Your sins will be weighed on the Scales of Justice, in the Hall of the Two Truths."
"Actually, I was just curious about your makeup," she replies evenly. "And if you have so much as *touched* Terry then alive or not you will wish you never existed."
Anger feels much better than being scared.
"The grain's existence as 'Terry' is at an end, that 'life' was always little more than a mirage. Did the Chieftain of your Tribe not tell you? His time with you was *always* fugitive."
What little vision she has blurs abruptly. "I don't believe you."
"His spark was greater than many of our lesser brothers spawned at our birth. That was still not enough to keep him long for your world. His only hope was to return to me. To rejoin that which he was once so willingly a part. He has finally regained his true purpose."
"You--" Words fail her for a moment, struggling futilely against the prisoning earth.
"Waste not these last few minutes with your limited words. Better to make peace with whatever small god you swear allegiance to in your last breaths. The feather of truth is as light as a breeze across the dunes. Your heart must be lighter still yet if you wish to be reincarnated in the next world."
And with that he walks away quietly.
_Lighter than a feather? Why does that sound familiar?_ An image comes to mind, of a jackal-headed god kneeling between a set of scales. _The Book of the Dead, the weighing of the heart. That's it. Christ I hope they don't mean it literally, what a mess that would make._ Dark humor keeps some of the worry at bay. Where are her parents? What's happened to everybody else?
How long has she been unconscious, anyway? Where did these things really come from, and what do they plan to do next? And why Egypt?
With nothing else to occupy her mind, sensations seem unusually clear--the cold rock at her back, grit of dust on her skin, the infuriatingly immobile weight of the rock holding her, the faint raspy echo of her own painful breathing in what must be a fairly large space.
For the moment, all she can do is wait and prepare herself, but it's preparation to fight, not to die, in case some chance appears that she can turn to advantage. She keeps a mental ear tuned in Rajni's direction, hoping she'll awaken soon, and tries to will her own return to strength. And wonders how much time there is....
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