When things are their darkest it's important to give thanks and even more important to have hope.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. A very special thanks goes out to Cathy who at the very last moment spent the time to make this story readable. Another round of thanks goes out to all the others out there in BCTS land who have encouraged and inspired me to write and keep writing. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.
A sequel to the Last Halloween
I wearily leaned against the half-buried wreckage smoking in the snowdrift. The twisted and bent hot metal hissed as it melted the ice. Looking up at the sky, the morning darkness had reluctantly yielded to simple murk as the sun rose hidden by the heavy overcast. Exhausted, I needed all the help I could get just to stand. At my feet, a growing pile of thumb sized rail-gun projectiles were being spilled out onto the icy ground by the destroyed 'bot's auto ammunition supply system, unaware that its services were no longer needed.
Nudging one with my boot, it really sucked to hit by those damn things. As I was continuing to learn, it was very hard to injure me, but that didn't mean lesser efforts didn't hurt like hell. Not only that, but it was disturbing as all get out to see the golden skin, that passed as my flesh, do this dimply ripple as hypersonic projectiles tore though me as it sealed up behind their passage.
I'd nearly died for the real the first time it happened. I was so freaked out I changed back to the normal flesh and blood me, Craig Elder. Made just the way my parent's DNA mandated, that me was just so much dead meat in the type of battle Mankind and our invading Visitors were fighting over dear old planet Earth.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough that I hadn't been changed long enough to trigger a 'cool down' delay and pure fear gave me more than enough help to do my Shazam thing back onto HER, Halcyon. As much as being a seven feet tall woman sculpted out of gold with emerald jeweled eyes and hair spun out of sapphires, freaked me out, being dead was even more distasteful.
In the distance, I could hear the sounds of the Third Herd, US Army Third Armor Division, smashing their way though the remains of our Visitor's beach head here in downtown Detroit.
“Welcome to Motor City, boys.” I looked over the white frozen shroud over the ruins what was once a major metropolis. After the kinetic bombardment and two battles, not much was left standing or otherwise.
I suppose I should just say the gender neutral 'tankers' rather than boys, given nearly as many were women with losses being so heavy and the drive to put every able bodied person into uniform. Whatever their sex, the Third Herd's tankers crushed what was left after I'd finished taking out the automated command center, putting what 'bots remained of this landing attempt entirely on their own programming.
We had learned the hard way how to take advantage of the 'bots' limited intelligence. They really weren't that smart on their own and not being in coordination as one big unit, it was much easier to take them out. Of course our being able to jam our unfriendly Visitors communications really changed things. It wasn't easy and definitely had bugs, like not lasting very long, but we could and did throw a monkey wrench into our unfriendly Visitor's remotely operated invasion.
They responded by sending down these very capable heavily armed and armored 'tank-like Command' units that used 'line of sight' lasers and other means which we couldn't interrupt or interfere with their orders. While still operating on their own, the tanks were a hell of a lot better and smarter soldiers than the 'bots and drones built-in programing. Worse, they also sent along automated factories, auto-facs. If they weren't taken out damn fast, then they would very quickly turn a landing site, into a beach head, and then a fortress teeming with new built war machines.
That was where I came in.
What! Aliens landing in force in the bombed out ruins of Detroit? Send Pantheon Sgt. Elder on a suicide mission!
The Third Herd's M1A5's had our version of the invader's fusion plant and was armed with captured rail-guns. The 'crack' of the hypersonic weapons sounded like so many firecrackers going off as the tankers roared though the Alien's perimeter.
As nice as the new tech was, the Abrams were still the smallest thing we had that could mount the rail-guns. Our copy of their fusion power plant was just too damn big to fit on anything smaller and the guns drew that much power. Additionally, their recoil was a bitch and a half which the M1 was well able to handle.
A flight of A-64 attack birds whizzed over head taking the defenders in the back. Those too used captured tech. In this case, the engines from the enemy's drones that turned the converted AH-64 Apaches attack helicopters into virtual high performance aircraft. That is, very fragile high performance wreckage, if the pilots weren't careful.
I winced as one of the aircraft turned into an expanding ball of plasma as a Visitor aerial drone lit it up with a plasma burner.
Standing up, I took a deep breath of the freezing air. The stench of ozone and burnt metal was thick on the winter morning air. Besides the tank-like wrecked command unit, there were nearly a dozen mangled 'bots and about half that many burning drones. In trying to defend itself, it'd sent every nearby unit it had at me.
It hadn't been enough.
I was really starting to lose my patience about this. After all, this marked my third
'suicide' mission to date. I was beginning to the get the feeling that General Benson was getting a little put out that I had the temerity to survive.
Mind you, I should've died more times than I could count, but when Project Prometheus comes though, it really comes though. Well, except for altering that other ME so greatly that I freaked out every time I tried to use it. That part wasn't so good.
And all I did was go to a Halloween party.
It hadn't even been a month, and I still didn't know how I felt about all that had happened on that snowy evening.
Okay, I'm lying. Sheila had rocked my world to such an extent that she had succeeded where all the shrinks had failed. I'd reached a compromise, if a shaky one, with myself and that golden impossibility I saw in the mirror, Halcyon.
As a man, Craig, normal me, she and I friends and I dare say even close. However, apparently Halcyon got her 'motor' running like crazy. Should I be jealous of myself? One part of me wanted to be mad at her. Was she so shallow that she liked Halcyon while ignoring we were the same person?
However, no matter how I tried, I just couldn't stay mad at the blond Zoomie Staff Sergeant. Restored to her youth after living a very full long life, she was bound and determined to live this second chance of hers to the fullest.
A great-great-grandmother, I had the distinct feeling that she actually leaned the other way, maybe being bi-sexual. Sheila didn't seem to harbor any anger or spite at her previous life, so I didn't think she'd been a closeted lesbian. Instead she appeared to be determined try something different this time around.
As for liking one me more than the other, she addressed that this way.
“You like it when a woman dresses up all nice and sexy for you don't you?” She'd smiled, teasingly.
“Well, yeah.” I'd admitted, blushing wildly at the thought of her in lingerie.
“That goes for me too.” She'd purred. “I care for you no matter what shape you're in, but when you're Halcyon, it's as if you're all dressed up and gift wrapped just for me.”
A madly pinwheeling 'bot flying high though the chill air reminded me that I was on a battlefield. Pantheon Team Epsilon's strongman and leader, Achilles, was anything but subtle. From our very first meeting, he treated me like expendable ordnance.
I got the whole, I was sent out here to die, bit. Hell, I was expecting it since I had so much trouble dealing with Prometheus's Gift. However, I knew something was very rotten when I wasn't sent to the Alpha or Beta, the training teams, after I'd survived not once but twice after being thrown into the deep end.
With this third time cheating death, I didn't expect it to change anything. This wasn't the Army making the best use of its assets in a bad situation or even, do I dare say it, as a punishment for Halloween night. This was an attempt to kill me because I'd pissed off the wrong person.
Glancing down at my Q-Box's timer, I had just over a hour left before I would involuntarily change back to normal. I didn't doubt for a moment that, if anyone saw me 'resting' it would get back to General Benson, who would chew my ass out for goldbricking while brave soldiers put their lives on the line.
It was a good thing that I recovered relatively quickly, but that didn't make the pain any easier to endure. Even now my very nerves felt seared raw from all the plasma and rail-gun hits. My entire body felt as if I'd been skinned and burned alive.
Disregard the fact I didn't have a mark on me, my uniform Skins looked like a sieve from all the holes and burns. It was good thing that since Tash's Halloween 'treat' that my uniform acted like generation zero Skins, being tougher and self-repairing far faster than they used to. Otherwise I would be out here naked, stripped bare by all the gun fire and plasma burners.
As mentally fried as I was, I wasn't about to let either asshole, Benson or Achilles, have the pleasure of seeing me down. Besides, with the tactical advantage or not, Third Herd could use the help. Achilles' Team could take care of their own damn selves since they had three times now thrown me into the lion's den.
Launching myself skyward like a missile I tackled a drone that was lining up on an attack run on an Abrams. I couldn't keep the 'Yee-haw' from my lips as I rode the alien machine into the ground. This Suicide Girl thing did have its moments.
Staring at the blue goop on my plate, I poked it with my spoon. It was a good sign it didn't scamper off or fight back.
The debriefing, as always, was a cast iron bitch. More like an interrogation, the asses-in-charge couldn't accept or believe that I took as much damage as I stated, nor that I smashed as many 'bots as I claimed.
“Listen.” I encouraged the rear echelon idiot. “The enemy beach head has been secured. That means that command tank was put out of commission. Since I was dropped right the middle of their perimeter all by myself while everyone else stood back and watched, that means I'm the one who did the deed.
“That being the case, just maybe what I've being telling you for the past two hours of what happened and how I did it just might be true.” Closing my eyes, I counted to five.
I will not lose my temper.
I will not lose my temper.
I will not lose my temper.
A hour later, the Asshole-In-Charge finally released me and what do I have to look forward to? Soylent Blue. In the race to find something, anything to save all the people who were going to starve to death from the nuclear or more accurately, the Impact Winter from our Visitor's kinetic bombardments, the science boys and girls had come up this.
I poked the blue goop again.
Add a feed sized sack of this stuff to just about any water tight container and add water and as much bio-matter as you could. Keep it warm and don't let it freeze, and in a week or two you had this blue stuff you could skim off the top.
I understood that priorities had changed, as some fusion plants meant for the tanks and aircraft of the military had instead been set aside for Blue Soylent kits to change just about any kind of containment tank to producing food. Water tanks, tanker trailers, and even I hear super-tankers, have been pressed into duty to make food.
After all if all of your people are dead you have no one to protect. Additionally, with the intense cold that many areas were unaccustomed to, as well as the power grid being in tatters, the power from the fusion plants not only kept the makeshift food vats warm and productive, but also kept the people from freezing too.
It was great stuff, right?
Quoting a certain Australian, “Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit.”
Okay, maybe not that bad. There were lots of 'recipes' starting to float around with attempts to improve the flavor. A few like the beans and franks weren't too bad and neither were the chicken and dumplings. The tamales, chicken fried rice and a couple other tries at more worldly tastes were nothing, but world class fails.
Just plain yuk!
Plus, no matter the taste, there was nothing to do about the texture. About the best I'd tried came out more like jello than, well, slime. However, it would keep you alive indefinitely if not happy with the diet.
That wasn't the reason for my … unhappiness.
It was the smell of the steaks that the official members of Pantheon Team Epsilon were enjoying. Not all of them were having steaks, but it was at their option. Meanwhile I was stuck with Soylent Blue.
Let's just say it was all adding to the general unfairness I was feeling. Yeah, I know life isn't fair, but considering how topsy-turvy my life had been recently, I think I deserved a little slack.
With a real force of will, I lifted the spoon of pretend chicken ala king to my lips and managed to choke it down. There was only one possible response to this. Using another quote from one of my favorite childhood cartoons, “Of course you know this means war.”
“Sergeant Elder reporting as ordered, Sir.” I held my salute while standing at attention.
The man at the desk made me wait even though he'd granted me permission to enter his small office here on the airborne command center. Okay, it was really just a converted Airbus A380, but the military always had to make the most mundane things sound overly important.
That was much like the man at the desk, who finally acknowledged my existence as much as he might desire otherwise. All he lacked from being a the stereotypical, die hard Army General was the chomping on a cigar.
Tall, well muscled and with rugged features, I knew that 90% of it all was faked. He'd been Captain American'ed with the Army's super-solider formula and, because I'd seen the before and after pictures, he'd chosen a few cosmetic features not available to the normal rank and file. Rank has it privileges and apparently, looking like a Hollywood leading man was one of them.
Technically he was the commander of the Eastern United States Quick Reaction Task Force. In reality, he was the man who got the blame every time an Alien incursion did more than leave burn marks from their landings anywhere east of the Mississippi. It was, at the best of times, a thankless job, and I did not envy him in the slightest.
On the other hand, it had become clear that he was not the right man for the job. His response was like a man with a hammer. You see a problem, hammer it until it goes away. You know, the only good Alien was a dead Alien regardless of the cost.
Our General could fight, but he lacked the wily craziness to really make a difference in this kind of War. We needed a Scipio Africanus, a Napoleon, who could improvise their tactics on the run, but instead we had a Ulysses S. Grant, a Patton, whose aggressive instincts demanded they attack and keep on attacking until the enemy was dead, dead, dead.
He was also the man who was trying to kill me.
Rumors control had it that, although Sheila, Dean Miller, and I hadn't divulged the full details of what happened Halloween evening, General Benson was furious that one of the Invaders had been so close, but had escaped. Forget the risk to a major US city and the nearby very important military base. One of the hated enemy had been within reach and had gotten away.
If he'd known everything that really occurred that night, I'm sure he would've had a coronary on the spot, but just the edited version was enough for him to send me on that suicide mission I'd been expecting. Then he did it again and yet again.
Dean Miller, who dressed as a Mentat from Dune that night, was protected from his wrath as was Sheila. The other guys in our office were too, since they weren't under our dear General's command. However, I'd offered myself up as sacrifice and he was only too glad to snap at the bait.
While I was temporarily attached to the US Alien Warfare Command, USAWC, I was still part of the Joint Special Operations Command. There, he did have the influence to get me assigned to Pantheon Team Epsilon which was under his direct control.
The look he gave me was cold enough to freeze the sun itself. Unfortunately for him, his murder attempts had me burning just a mite hotter than even that.
“At ease.” He reluctantly ordered, clearly desiring to keep me locked up at attention. “I have a request from the Prometheus Project for you to report for testing and evaluation.
“You never completed testing?” He tossed the folder onto desk not hiding his disgust.
“No sir.” I answered. Maybe it'd been ages since my active service days, but I did remember two of the military's golden rules. Never volunteer for nothing and keep it simple stupid.
Besides I'd been the one to poke ole Doc Schneider. Successful recipients of Prometheus's 'gifts' had a communications priority back to the Project to keep them appraised of our progress and or problems if any. Hell, it was an outright requirement which I'd admittedly been lax about. However, it was a way of going not over the heads of my commanding officers, but legally around them.
In the stratospheric rareness that a 'problem' child like me survived their 'test' under fire, it was accepted that they had beaten whatever difficulties that kept them from training or joining a Pantheon Team. They were recalled to finish the program, and not sent in untrained again and again until they were killed.
I would have to admit that I also had a reason to live now. Sheila had made me make another of her impossible to keep promises to come back to her. So far I'd walked away from three forlorn hopes, but our Guests from faraway weren't dummies. Sooner or later they would find something that worked, and that would be very bad for me.
That was why I'd stacked the deck in my favor. Prometheus gave you access to another you in another universe and dimension. What it did not do was change your base form, shape, the you that was born here in this reality.
So why did my bald spot start sprouting hair again after twenty years? That wasn't the only change either. I couldn't help but notice I was much fitter and had lost much of that spare tire I'd carried around with me for so long.
Honestly, I could pass for being decades younger, and that scared the crap out of me. What if I was changing into THAT other me, permanently? While I had made inroads about not freaking out about being HER, being stuck as HER all the time put me in a panic that scared the hell out of me. It took a long call on a secure line I wasn't suppose to have access to, with Sheila to calm me down.
However there was no signs of femininity or anything like HER in what was happening to me. It was just me becoming younger which, while not unwanted, it was still 'not' what Prometheus was supposed to do.
Doc Schneider had been very excited by the news, but more telling was the news that he and Project Prometheus had known nothing about my case being transferred to the do-or-die category. Not that it'd been a not so subtle play on my part to put a little urgency on their end to get me out of the cross-hairs, but if the General wanted to play hard ball so could I.
Time passed as he stared at me, waiting for me to say something else.
“There has also been another request from the USAWC for you to consult with their Intell Center.” He didn't try to hide his disgust. “You've been in contact with them?”
“Yes Sir.” I answered, but this time I felt I couldn't get away with yes or no answers. Besides those communications were fully documented. “My departure from that temporary assignment was sudden and they needed my input on a perhaps vital piece of information.”
“And that was?” He demanded.
As much as I wanted to security clearance his ass and tell him he didn't have a need to know, I decided against it.
“Sir, during the events in Tampa during Halloween, things came to light that suggested that some of the Aliens' actions, while normally indecipherable to us, might be due to cultural differences because of their higher technology level.
“And that is important, why?” Clearly he was not impressed with the intelligence coming out of the Center.
Personally I couldn't blame him. We were operating in the dark, trying to make sense of actions that were, well, alien to the way we thought.
“It's not much, Sir.” I admitted. “But it is a clue to their behavior, which is more than we had before. It's also an insight into how their technology has molded their culture and possible dangers from it. We've been forced to adopt and use stuff we don't understand in simple self-defense. Knowing there are pitfalls ahead can at least warn us to be careful.”
“Such as?” He asked, almost sounding interested.
“Nanotechnology.” I answered. There no way in hell I was going to mention Project Prometheus and how I was referred to as being Quantum Cursed, a monster.
“They obviously have mastered its use and yet they use it very sparely. That suggests that the Aliens may have experienced significant problems in its development. Think of our own problematic history with nuclear energy. Despite the useful qualities, the image those words conjure is a mushroom cloud.” I added, “Sir.”
“When I see useful intelligence then I'll believe it.” He replied coldly.
“Orders have been cut for you to travel to McDill and then on to Camp MacKall.” He stared at me for a minute more before giving me my cue to leave. “Dismissed.”
Somehow I kept from tap dancing on the way out, but I did know how the game was played. Salute, about face and I was outa there!
As excited as a kid at Christmas, I had to grin at the irony. While fighting for my life, I'd completely forgotten about Thanksgiving. Not that I had any proof, but knowing Shelia and how good she was at getting what she wanted, I had a feeling she'd been behind my return to McDill just in time for the holiday.
The trip from Eglin AFB, that's near Ft. Walton Beach, to McDill wasn't too bad, all things considered. The majority of the Pantheon Teams were based out of Eglin, as well as General Benson's command group.
It being impossible to predict where our Visitors would strike, the Army had adopted the tactic of having it's less mobile heavy units positioned at key locations where the nearest would race to the sounds of the guns. Meanwhile the General and his staff, along with Special Forces and Pantheon teams, would provide the command and control as well as the heavy hitting power.
It was thought the regular Army units would be the support for the unconventional warfare elements. So far this tactic had worked. Straight out assaults without first taking out those command tanks were expensive, as the French had learned the hard way.
The Aliens had put down in the mountains where it was hard to reach them. The French, feeling the stress of knowing the autofacs were digging in preparing to setup a very short supply line of reinforcements for the invaders, charged in. You couldn't fault their bravery, but the casualties were nearly on a WWI scale. It was bad.
I'd been worrying that our uninvited Guests would come up with an answer to our tactic. Already, the latest command tank had nearly double the weapons, concentrating on the short range stuff and had better coverage, as well as fields of fire compared to the first one I fought. They even had specialized escort 'bots with more long range firepower to make up for their lack.
Grabbing my kit bag, I headed to my flight. McDill AFB, being fairly nearby and a major command center, had frequent flights going that way. It was easy to grab a 'space-available' seat on a military plane, a C-130J, the latest model of the old and very reliable Hercules transport.
The trip didn't take that long, but it sure seemed like it did. I'd amused myself by adding my latest kills to my uniform, unofficially of course. The Army's official uniform was the outmoded ACU Army Combat Uniform. With the active camouflage from my Skins, the printed design was only an affection and of no practical value. However, the Teams had learned to modify their Skins uniform to hide images in the patterns. In my case I was using pixelated images from the ancient Space Invaders game to stand for the number of tanks, 'bots, and drones I'd wrecked.
It was on my left inside sleeve so almost no one noticed, it being mostly for bragging rights. The reason I'd begun following the fad was because of a certain blowhard named Achilles. He'd given me so much grief after I survived that first, let's-throw-the-newbie-into-the-deep-end, that I wanted to rub his nose in a nice big slice of humble pie.
He really didn't like me and I think that was because of THAT change of mine. It made him very uncomfortable just because visual evidence confirmed he found THAT arousing.
That very thought was beyond disgusting, but that was his problem. Taking 'his' problem out on me with all the harassment and petty crap he caused me were my problem. Just once he tried that strongman 'let's arm wrestle' thing on me.
He couldn't budge my arm, and it ended in default when the table collapsed under the stress we had it under. For all of that, I'd feared he would challenge me to hand to hand 'training' next. Sure THAT me was one strong and tough bitch, but I was also untrained.
Achilles on the other hand, was experienced and at the top of his game. However, he never even suggested it, which demonstrated his character amply. Once I showed him I could match, or even overcome him, he backed off the physical stuff.
What I got instead was the worst food, the most uncomfortable sleeping arrangements and lots of other bullshit I neither wanted or needed.
My kill count was my only, not so subtle 'finger' at my fearless leader, although the C-130's load-master’s eyes as he saw the triple roll of icons hidden in the squiggly shapes of the camo was enjoyable. Even as my old everyday self, I no longer looked like the Pillsbury Dough Boy in a latex catsuit.
Hell, I dare say I had a chance at completing the Special Ops training without resorting to using my Q-Box. I had changed that much and yes, the Craig me was in that good of shape. That was why I was able to get close to my objective before pushing the 'button' when on a mission. That really helped, given that time limit on my staying transformed.
Then we were descending for our landing at McDill. Fiddling with my suit controls saved my 'kill' markers, and changed the color scheme back to the Skins version of Dress Blues, the Army's service uniform. Well, as close as a skin tight catsuit could come.
Pulling out my black beret, I prepared to put it on after I got off the flight line. Slipping on the gloves I got the shivers as the softness enveloped my hands. Unluckily for me since I was flying military I had to be in the right uniform. That meant my nice warm, concealing parka and mittens weren't allowed.
I had however learned a few tricks. Not all of Team Epsilon were assholes, but they did have to live with their 'fearless' leader. Athena had taken mercy on me and showed me some of the stuff that wasn't common knowledge. That is, after she saw I wasn't going to be just another faceless newbie bound for a body bag.
The molten metal shininess of the Skins could be altered. What you do is take the material you wanted to copy and place it in the inner lining of your Batman belt. Then the active camouflage system would project that 'texture' onto the suit, which the 'on-board' system wouldn't do.
That also let me hide just how good my Skins were these days, since Tash gave me an 'upgrade' during Halloween. That was one more question that I didn't need right now.
Sheila meeting me on the flight line with a big smile however, was something I needed, badly. At least this time she didn't tackle me.
“I've missed you!” She hugged me as we walked to the Air Force blue sedan. I really wished for a good old gas powered monster given those had a real heater. Electric cars? Not so much at least not in this kind of cold. Well, being out of that wind was a help.
“You have no idea.” I returned her hug as soon as we shut the doors. She'd been my touchstone that had kept me sane. Without her I would've been truly lost among those who were not my friends.
“Hey we got you out of there for a little while anyways.” Her kiss shorted my brains out. All I could do was return her passion.
“I wish you didn't have to go back.” She finally pulled away so we could both breathe.
“I don't.” It was my turn to surprise her. “I managed a chain of command bypass. I'm to report to Prometheus at Camp MacKall after this is over.”
“But you are leaving again.” She pouted.
“Yeah, but I'm not being sent out on one suicide mission after another till I jig where I should've jived. General Benson isn't the most subtle of commanders. He's been using Pantheon and me as assault troops against these permanent landing site attempts. So far its worked, but really this isn't costing them anything.” I pointed with my head to the sky.
“Yeah,” Sheila nodded her understanding. “Just more robots that the Tweeties can make by the gross. It is too bad you haven't been able to capture one of those automated factories of theirs.”
“I know.” I sighed as she set us to moving. “And our Guests are getting smarter. There is some kind of fail safe that, when the command tank goes up, so does the autofac. Probably a kind of dead-man switch, but you have kill that damn tank first because not only will it coordinate all the 'bots and drones in the area, but it's bristling with its own weapons.”
“It's like one Keith Laumer's Artificially Intelligent Bolo tanks or Steve Jackson's Games Ogre's.” I'd some time to think about this. “Think of a low tank-like chassis that has a high conning tower like structure, topped by a dome that houses the primary communications array. Because the tower prevents a single turret with a 360 degree traverse, it has two of them covering 270, one each in the fore and aft.
“Because I took out the tower with its commo gear the first time I ran into one of the things, the latest version has backup com equipment on top of each of the turrets.” I shuddered thinking about how it'd hurt when I'd gotten nailed by both main batteries. The f'ing thing had pinned me down with its escort 'bots while their rail-guns chewed away the ruined concrete wall I'd covered behind. That gave the main guns time to swing around and lock on my ass.
On the other hand, that same power that had vaporized the wall and everything around it, only fueled that energy absorption thing THAT other me had. My fist was incandescent as I'd fought though the fiery agony and punched the cause of my pain. The resulting explosion had tossed me ass over teakettle as a not so small mushroom cloud had rose above the battlefield.
“Craig?” Shelia gently touched my arm. “Are you alright?”
Taking a deep breath, and swallowing to relieve my dry mouth, I nodded. It was almost as if I could still feel that horrible burning even now.
“You said the first time?” She had never been slow. “How many times have you been sent against those things? Only three have been sent here to North America.”
“I know.” Sighing, I knew she wasn't going to be happy, but then again neither was I. “All three,” I answered. “Pittsburgh, and twice in Detroit. About three other attempts per inhabited continent have been accounted for so far. China repelled their third, right before I got back to Eglin.”
“And that cost them their 'Flying Dragon' unit and who knows how many others.” Her eyes narrowed. “They're still trying to count the dead.
“That asshole.” Her voice turned cold as she processed my words. “It wasn't Team Epsilon that took out those things out. It was you. I knew something about those reports didn't sound right, but I thought they were using you as a diversion so they could get close, but it wasn't was it?”
“No.” I admitted. “They grabbed my by my britches and threw me into the deep end. I don't think the General likes me.”
Despite the small car and our almost running off the road, she hugged me again.
“Whoa!” I grasped. “Eyes on road, and hands on steering wheel please!”
“They were trying to kill you!” She cursed a steam of colorful metaphors that only a woman who'd lived as long as her could learn.
“You're trying too!” I held on for dear life as we skidded on the icy access road.
“Don't you believe it!” She merrily denied it. “I have more experience driving in these conditions than you've been alive.”
“That's why I did my end-around.” I explained how I got out from under the General's thumb. “While I'd expected that first suicide mission, I'd proven that I'd gotten past what was keeping me from being able to train.” I held her hand after we stopped. I made certain Sheila knew it was she who was responsible.
“The only reasons why I survived was plain dumb luck and the fact I'm a hell of a lot tougher than any other Prometheus Gifted I've ever heard of.” I shook my head in disbelief. “I'm still essentially untrained, although I'm learning fast.
Walking inside, I had to keep from chuckling at the security checkpoint. Our real enemies were our Visitors upstairs against whom the measure would be ineffective. Our own worst enemies had always been ourselves. Which was one of the reasons why China did not have Prometheus.
Sure we only had that one malfunctioning quantum drive that made it possible, but we had sent it on 'tour' to some of our 'other' allies. The thing was running as much as we dared, given the Aliens would open up on us from orbit at the merest hint that it was operating. That first time it'd really been cranked up for use on that first bunch of volunteers. It'd only been luck and me, with a few others, who'd dragged the damn thing out of the blast zone. That was how I meet Doc Schneider, but the point is, while we agreed trying to figure out what just went right with that one machine, we still had the only one and it was ours.
Losing their cities of Tangshan and Shenzhen hurt China as bad, or worse, than the craters at Detroit and Pittsburgh hurt the US. With their high population density, their loss of life had been much higher. However, they had designed a clone of the Alien Quantum Drive that was smaller than the one in use by the Western World and they wouldn't share either.
Just who acted like the only kid in the neighborhood with a ball first, was a little unclear. On one hand, we only had that one and only critical piece that made Prometheus possible, but they proved they had a somewhat better understanding of the technology. You would think we could work a deal given all of our lives were at stake, but sadly, no.
It's not as if we were the only ones being childish. Russia had shown a disturbing tendency to all kinds of helpful 'after' our Guests had smashed the hell out of a neighbor. Then their Army came thundering in, to help of course.
As Shelia shed her parka, I found her looking at me.
“What?” I asked a little embarrassed.
“You're really looking good.” She replied unabashedly. “You've lost a good what, 20 pounds?”
“Something like that.” I smiled. “That's why Prometheus wants to see me. It's like I told you when I started freaking out two weeks ago. For me to change this much is very unusual. However, enough about me? Why am I here?”
“Why, you've been invited to Thanksgiving dinner of course.” Sheila grinned, her blue eyes full of mischief.
“Sheila, are you and Dean sure about this?” I had my doubts this was anywhere close to being a good idea. “This sounds more like the State Department's bailiwick or perhaps even the UN.”
“And they've been doing such a good job at it haven't they?” She replied as we drove though the snow covered countryside in the early morning. “Besides, they didn't ask to speak with the State or any other 'department.' It was us.
“Or I should say the Quantum Warrior and her intrepid companions.” She grinned as she maneuvered the big Caddy into the icy drive.
Florida was a little light on snowplows, but made up the lack with improvised vehicles, as well as many as could be salvaged from the war zones. Everyone had learned to adapt and make do, but really unless you were near one of the battlefields, life went on pretty much as usual.
Kids went to school while their parents worked. Of course some things had changed. With the internet being compromised, newspapers had made a comeback, so perhaps it was more like the 70's or 80's since cell phones too had fallen out of use.
With the military switching to fusion power, the civilians had easy access to gas and fuel oil, although transportation in some areas was problematic due to the interstate system being cut by those battlefields.
I've already talked about Soylent Blue, but most people had begun backyard greenhouses and relearning things that their grandparents took for granted. Canning, hunting for survival not sport, and other activities had taken the place of much of not only America's pastimes, but the world's.
That's what made what we had in the trunk a king's ransom.
“So this is Dean's place?” I asked, slipping on my mittens. Thank Gawd it was close enough to drive to and yet far enough away from the base, I could cheat and get away with not being in full uniform. I still had on the 'pants and shirt' because there was a real chance this could turn sour. As much as THAT form made me uncomfortable, running around naked was even more of a bad thing if I had to change. At least I got to wear normal clothes over the top of my Skins, even if my Batman belt was a dead give away.
“His parents left it to him.” Sheila replied, as she bundled up too. “He had someone house sitting for him, but arranged for them to visit their own relatives so we could have the place for our dinner. It's perfect.”
For once the sky was relatively clear, and it was only a little below freezing. A veritable heat wave compared to the most recent weather. Even as fair complexioned as I the rising sun felt so good after so many weeks of constant gloomy overcasts.
“I'll check the place out.” Walking round the house, I looked for signs of obvious break-ins and to get an idea of the lay of the land. With the situation in the cities, places like this were vulnerable to squatters and vandals, even if left for a short time. Everything appeared to be well, and I appreciated what Sheila had said about this place being perfect. Being out in the country as part of an old farm, it's cropland was normally leased out. The unused barn would be an ideal 'parking garage' for our dinner Guest's vehicle. Taking a look inside, enough room had cleared out for their buggy, and I noticed some hay that the locals probably wouldn't mind having, as farmers did their best to keep at least some of their livestock alive.
Using the key, I went in though the backdoor, doing a walk-though of the house. Leaving out the front door, I waved to Sheila, giving the all clear.
Then came lugging the food into the kitchen. I honestly had no idea of how they had come by this bounty. Just thinking about how all of this would taste after it was cooked had me salivating.
It was fortunate for us that Dean's place had a large, moderately up to date kitchen, and Sheila was no stranger to preparing large holiday feasts. I suppose it was good too that I could play escort for our chef and wasn't a stranger to cooking either. After spending most of my life as a lonely bachelor, I knew how to do more than just feed myself. I could chop and peel with the best of them.
We were here first, getting a start on the cooking, but the others were due later. Particularly our Guests of honor. Turkey Day or not, there were reports to be filed and briefings to prepare.
Some of the more traditional Holiday activities like big parades and ball games that often had huge numbers of people attending, had stopped. It was judged too dangerous for so many to be gathered in such a small place. With our Visitors being so unpredictable I could see the point.
On the other hand, the lack had generally been made up by smaller local events that, in my opinion, were much better lacking the commercialization that had overtaken the Holiday. But hey, that was me. I rather expect very few football fans agreed with me.
I did have to sigh as the smells of cooking began to seep throughout the house. It really bought back childhood memories. I'd grown up in a place much like this one. However like so many others, I'd left the country life for opportunities elsewhere.
“You guys!” She stopped his cohorts as Dean walked in the door. “Get started on the decorations.”
“There's a bale or two of hay that's not too badly moldy in that barn of yours.” I helpfully added. “Maybe after dragging it out for décor, the locals might appreciate it.”
“Indeed!” Dean without his Mentat eyebrows still managed to put on the same expression. “I had no idea that there was anything useable out there. I'm not much of a farmer I'll willingly admit.”
Handling a ladle like a field marshal’s baton, Sheila chased them outside.
“More decorating” She ordered. “Less talking!”
I couldn't help laughing at all of five foot six of her having all those much larger guys on the run.
“You!” She turned to me, waving her 'baton.' “More peeling, less mirth!”
“As you wish, my Lady.” I graciously rejoined with a bow.
“Make it so!” She imperiously crossed her arms, striking a pose.
We finally broke into laughter. That was one of the things I loved about her. We shared a love of old films and the culture of a bygone time.
“You!” She gave me a peck on the cheek. “We still have a lot to do if we're to serve on time, chop, chop!”
Like an assembly line, Sheila had everything planned. What needed to be cooked first and what needed to go where. It went pretty well and the time passed quickly with the two of us staying busy.
We did get some help in the form of Dean and his friend Stewart's 'dates. Two of the newcomers, Stewart and his date Tisha, were somewhat familiar to me since they were members of the Away Team.
Dean's 'date,' however, was our one claim to legitimacy in this, this … I didn't know what to call it. I did know that we were stretching certain conventions to the breaking point. Nothing we were doing was illegal, from a certain point of view.
Tamara Lee was from the State Department, technically here as an observer. From our brief introduction, I got the feeling that she thought we'd cooked up this whole 'event', a scam, to chow down on the food that had at least been partially provided by her bosses.
So sorta kinda, our back channel arrangements had official sanctions.
“So you two are the ones the Tweeties want to meet?” Ms. Lee's voice had that well educated and schooled delivery of a professional speaker or diplomat.
“So I'm told.” I replied, as Sheila and I exchanged a smile.
Neither one of us were impressed with this woman. While we had not attended any kind of higher education besides high school, we'd spent our lives as very active and avid readers. Sure she'd spent some time reading romances, and I'd gone though my share of men's adventure and western novels, but we hadn't stopped there.
Our debates on Hugo's original Hunchback of Norte Dame and the Disney-fied version, as well as many other works, proved both of our interests were wide ranging. Adding in years, or in Shelia's case decades, of real life experience, our actual 'education' level very much exceeded our documentation.
That was also why we were enlisted and often times thought of by our much younger officers as completely incompetent idiots. That had always been true to an extent of all non-commissioned officers, NCOs, but now it was only more so.
With Project Re-Birth returning many senior citizens to their youth and full health, the military's hierarchy became even more top heavy with more chiefs than Indians. That had a great number taking an unwanted demotion from the rank they'd been discharged as. Of course those who'd left relatively recently escaped that, as well as those like Sheila who were in a technical specialty where rank wasn't a necessarily a position.
Simply, you had a lot of formerly old 'soldiers' whom, because their military experience was dated, were commanded by those who had more recent training, but were green. That changed quickly as units came under fire. Having already seen the 'elephant' the Re-birthed tended to have higher survival rates. Those younger soldiers who did make it were also the ones who listened to their older comrades.
Due to the brutal nature of this War and of how badly we were outgunned, you either took every single advantage offered to you and learned fast, or you died. Worse, you took a lot of other people depending on you dead along with you.
A younger woman who had her position only because of her educational background and possible family connections, did not go far with us.
“A number of different approaches have been tried.” Tamara Lee lectured. “Never once have they ever agreed to a face to face meeting nor even vaguely meaningful dialogue.”
“You're assuming they have any interests in what you have to say.” Sheila shoved a stack of plates into the younger woman's hands. “I very much doubt there's a diplomat or anyone close to that job description aboard that ship up there. They came here to collect what they had paid for.”
“Think about it.” I told the diplomat. “This whole thing began because of curiosity. Dean caught Tash's attention by talking about Halloween. You should've seen his face when Tash really did show up at that party!”
“This is just more of that curiousness.” Sheila agreed. “Not only is this about another of our holidays, but Craig too.”
“Whatever it was, I didn't do it!” I held up my hands, smiling. “I'm innocent.”
“You were the one who coined the term.” Sheila giggled. “Oh mighty Quantum Warrior!”
“It was better than being called 'cursed!'” I defended myself. “From what I could gather from what the Away Team has put together, early in their space faring their engines were more prone to the 'malfunction' that makes Prometheus possible. Their transformations were more like out of a horror movie, like those Alien movies.
“So the Pantheon Teams are like something out of their nightmares?” The State Department woman asked, as she set the table.
“As far as we can figure, yes.” I answered. “I guess having your 'monsters' being your enemy's heroes isn't something even they see every day.”
“Don't forget about that Quantum Pattern thing.” Sheila reminded me.
“I don't get all of that, but apparently although there are in theory an infinite number of universes with different versions of us all.” I tried to explain what little I knew. “Each and everyone one of us has one truly unique pattern no matter how alike our other selves in other dimensions and universes might be.
“Our Visitors suggested that the Prometheus Process somehow overwrites that pattern with that from another universe and/or dimension.” I did the best I could without going beyond my limited knowledge. “It also appears that something is different with our version of Prometheus besides our Guests' experiences.
“While a couple of volunteers were transformed into truly inhuman forms, they weren't crazed or went on killing rampages like I've got the feeling happened with our Visitors.” I shrugged. “Perhaps we're accessing a different universe from theirs or something there really terrible happened to their whole race.”
“It all comes back down to we don't know enough about them to make any kind of educated guess.” I gave a weary sigh. So many people had died already and it was dead certain more were going to follow them. Soylent Blue was going to push off our extinction, but we were still very much on the endangered list.
“I will say that just maybe everyone has been barking up the tree regarding the Alien's cultural attitude.” I lugged an armload of dirty pots and pans to the sink. “They might be more warlike than we think.”
“How do you figure that?” Tisha asked, perhaps a little too defensively.
Well, it was the Away Team's job to work that kind of stuff out. Not that I blame them. We were all in the dark about everything concerning our Visitors.
“Well,” I took a moment to reflect if anything I was thinking about saying was classified. “We know all too well how good they are with computers.”
Everyone nodded. If you didn't want your machine compromised, it sure as hell better be totally isolated with no way at all to remotely access it. We had gotten slammed hard in the first battles as they used our love of technology against us. Everything from pinpointing our troops locations from their cell phones, to taking over our airborne drones and using them against us. That was why we embarked on such an enthusiastic argumentation program to make our soldiers extremely formidable, even if they were dressed only in their underpants.
“So why are their 'bots and drones so bad in their autonomous mode?” I asked. “I've seen video games that had better AI responses. Yeah, sure its tough programming a machine to interact with a real world environment, but they have beaten that problem.
“And its not because they're klutzes in combat. In direct control mode, with them being remotely piloted from orbit, those damn things are killing machines, no pun intended.” I finished, sinking my burden in the hot soapy water.
“Could be just another unexplainable under-utilization of their technology.” Sheila pointed out while testing a pie to see if it was done. “We've certainly seen enough of that.”
“True,” Smiling, I began scrubbing. “It might also be another of those cultural things from technology landmines, like with Prometheus. They might have had problems with rogue AI's that makes them hesitant to really enable their robots' full potential.”
“You're wrong.” Dean said, coming inside smelling like hay. “They have those tanks which not only are very smart, but can command whole units of robots.”
“Tanks that have self-destruction protocols.” I replied, holding up a clean brush for emphasis. “They're deliberate 'point of failure' systems. It would still be easier to just build in that kind of combat capability into all their bot's, but like I said for some reason they haven't.
“Whether they fear autonomous war 'bots or just like to do the driving themselves.” I summarized. “It does appear that they do prefer to have tight control over their machines for whatever reason. I was just pointing out that one of those possible reasons might be that, despite their doing their fighting from orbit, they might be a lot more warlike than it seems.
“They are here invading after all.” I added with a smile.
“I disagree.” Dean stated. “You're jumping to conclusions. We have no evidence that the Tweeties are directly controlling these robots. I think it more likely all of them are computer controlled. A possible reason why could be, the computer on their ship is simply more capable. It only follows they would send down local command units and I expect to see a more autonomous trend in all their designs since this strategy isn't being very successful.
“What is your prediction?” He challenged, raising that brow of his again.
“Seeing how often we've been wrong about what they're going to do next, this is only a guess.” Never once did my smile falter. There were some information I'd gained the hard way that I wasn't going to share.
“I think they'll come up with a way to fox our jamming.” I replied, raising my brows to emphasized how much it was just that, a guess. “Perhaps it'll be a tech workaround or maybe something more active like a tactic targeting our jammers, but I think they will go far out of their way to avoid just what you're suggesting, making all of their 'bots and drones smarter.
“Of course they just might do either of what we just said for completely different reasons.” I shrugged, letting my Southern accent do the talking. “They're Aliens and damn ain't they intent on proving it again and again.”
“Ain't that the truth!” Sheila mimicked my accent, laughing.
“You're not thinking about improvising from our agreed upon plans are you?” Dean half-glared suspiciously at me.
“Nope!” I grinned. “I think it's the perfect approach. Just getting them to a point where we're just talking at all is a step forward. Treating this like a social meeting, even as desperate as we are to have that 'meaningful dialogue,' is our best bet to get anything useful out of this. Besides, it's a little too late for that anyways, but we have to start somewhere.”
“What do you mean its too late?” Tamara crossed her arms. “How else are we to end this conflict?”
“There isn't a country in the world right now that wouldn't lynch any or all of them without a second thought.” I sighed. “Everyone has lost someone dear to them in someway either directly or indirectly. Assuming that we survive this at all, 'peace' is no more a possibility than it was with Nazi Germany or the Empire of Japan.
“And I'm not going to mention how similar this 'expedition' is to situations out of our own history.” My grin turned very grim. “Think about Cortez and how, with just a few hundred men, he caused the collapse of the Aztec Empire. Even if we do somehow significantly discourage this group and cause them to leave, there is no guarantee that another bunch won't show up looking for fame and fortune at our expense.”
“There are similarities between your 'Age of Discovery and this current situation.” Tash said, standing at the backdoor. “One more technological culture advancing upon another at a lesser level of achievement.”
“However, the Aztecs were only a culture on the verge of discovering bronze smelting, confronting one that had steel and gunpowder.” Yet another Visitor added, standing next to Tash. “To them the Conquistadors were completely outside their frames of reference. Your third 'Clarke's Law' applies. 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.'
“Earth,” Tash picked up from his companion. “On the other hand, was on the edge of discovering many of our technologies, needing only clues from examining our damaged machines to construct your own. Much to our dismay I might add.” He gave an Alien version of a shrug.
“May we enter?” He asked, taking in our surprise, and then making introductions. “This is my comrade, Ralt.
“Of course you can, Tash.” Dean greeted. “You and your companion are welcome here. Just don't let all the warmth out.”
What followed was the usual exchange of introductions and hand shakes. I did see Tash and Ralt's eyes widen as I did his people's open palm over the chest salute. Dean didn't forget those, but chose to do the hand shaking thing first.
And no I didn't miss his narrow eyes at being one upped. It seemed he had a sizable ego thing going. That didn't bother me in the slightest. All I was hoping for was to learn anything I could to help keep me alive the next time our Guests' toys were trying to kill me. That and of course surviving Thanksgiving with Sheila and whoever else I could save if this dinner turned sour.
“You're early.” I stepped to the door, taking off my cooking apron. “We have space in the barn to hide your ship.”
“Your military has increased its observation of this region.” Ralt replied after exchanging glances with Tash. “We had to leave early to ensure we could make it on time, given the cautiousness of our descent.”
It was us Humans' turn to exchange looks. Benson was no fool and he had his backers that also believed in that 'Scorched Earth', 'No Quarter' strategy. Dean had to knock on quite a few doors before he got even this quasi official sanction that Tamara's presence gave our venture. Maybe my colleagues were concerned, but I knew different. If the dear General had the chance he would shoot down our Guest's Saucer and dance on the wreckage afterward. As far as he was concerned a White or Truce Flag was good only for luring the unwary into his sights.
“Well” I said, picking up my parka. “We better get it under decent cover. Your stealth systems are good, but your ship can still be spotted.”
“Not ship.” Ralt corrected. “By your standards you would say a boat. It's not able to voyage between stars, just travel within a planetary system. A ship can carry a boat, but a boat can't carry a ship.”
“Please allow us our delusions of grandeur regarding our modest space exploration accomplishments.” I smiled trying to not think too much about Voyager One, the space probe that had bought this whole alien invasion thing down upon us.
“Actually it was that lack that convinced us this planet was worth the expense.” The Visitor countered. Unlike Tash who had bright yellow furry feathers, his was iridescent blue. “Most cultures who have managed to send probes or vessels beyond their solar system, usually have come much further. Nuclear pulse driven vessels are well within your capabilities, but for some reason your people declined to develop them. That deficiency convinced our backers that perhaps humans were … slow.”
“Yeah.” I grimaced. “And we accuse you guys of not fully developing your technology. Like with your problems with quantum engines we had some bad experiences. Early in our atomic age we dropped two nukes on a beaten, but deeply entrenched enemy. At the time it seemed a good idea, but we really didn't appreciate just how terrible nuclear weapons truly were. As we learned, it left scars.
“Many still have a knee jerk reaction that anything relating to nuclear power is automatically bad, disregarding any and all the peaceful uses.” Sighing, as we walked to the barn, I asked. “So was it that probe's exiting of our solar system that made us a target?”
“The short answer is yes.” Our Visitor answered. “There are protections for those less advanced, but it is thought that being able to build devices that can leave your home system passes a kind of test.”
“In truth Humans are not alone in the misuse of nuclear energy and other technologies.” He admitted, leading me to where they parked their 'boat'. “The pursuit of technology can ruin a world. The very reason we are here is because our own home is in such bad condition from not only the kind of problems you're familiar with, but others you have yet to discover.
“We rejoiced when we entered this system and found not one spacecraft that could contest us.” He stood at his boat's entry way. “It was not pleasant to find our celebration was premature. You were far further along in any number of areas than many those with more developed space flight.
“As Tash said.” He repeated. “You were nearly at the early point of our own technological achievements. Imagine if those Spanish Conquistadors had instead met pragmatic Roman Legionaries. It wouldn't have taken much for the Romans to replicate at least crude versions of the invaders weapons.”
“No,” I agreed. “It wouldn't have and the Spaniards would've gotten a big surprise when they tried to play everyone against themselves like Cortez did the Aztecs.
“Come on.” I moved things along. “Let's get this thing into our makeshift hanger. Then we can talk some more.”
Nodding, he went into his 'boat' as I watched. Conveniently he'd parked almost right next to the barn. It took a bit of work, but I got the wide barn doors open, despite the blocking snow and ice. Ralt had the hard job maneuvering the otherworldly craft though the opening meant for tractors and livestock. He had to turn, bank and twist it a bit, but he did get it inside. It was a testimony to how agile the Alien machines were with their quantum drives.
After being shot far too many time by their aerial drones I was all too aware of how nimble they were. Not that I was paranoid, but I did have my thumb on my Q-box button. Halcyon had proved very hard to kill, but as Craig, I was vulnerable. Not that Tash or Ralt had proven themselves untrustworthy, but more that I'd been exposed to far too much of Benson's 'at any cost' philosophy.
Still it was a relief to remove my hand that was casually near my Q-box as the saucer's hatch sealed seamlessly behind Ralt as he left it. I honestly had no idea of the weapons load out of one of these 'boats'. The one Visitor we had for sure killed, instead had been traveling in something like an oversized version of their aerial drones.
For all that I knew this thing could be an unarmed sports model, but I really doubted it. Trust only went so far, and that applied to all of us, Human and Alien. He probably scanned the barn really good to make sure he could blow his way out if he had to. An old wooden structure, a 'whiff' of plasma burner and it would go up like a match, which wouldn't bother the 'boat' at all.
“So,” I restarted our conversation. “How do you guys know so much about Earth history?”
“How else?” His beak like mouth gave what I thought might be a smile. “The internet. One of the first things we did after entering orbit was to copy it. However, having all that information didn't do us a lot of good not knowing what questions to ask or to even understand the answers, given your cultural context.”
In their opening salvo in this invasion, they'd caused wholesale chaos as they took down computer networks the whole world over, crashing the internet. The irony of our Visitors having the only complete copy of our archives was bitter. Sure we had carefully guarded pieces and parts, but much irreplaceable information would forever be lost to us.
Well, unless we could somehow get our hands on that copy. Hell, we don't even have a way of storing something like that. What I'm I saying? Better to fight off extinction and then we can worry about other stuff.
Touching a strength I didn't know I had, a smile came from somewhere. There could be no peace between Ralt's people and mine. Humanity had suffered way too much at our Visitor's hands. If we lived at all, just maybe there would not be war between us, but never ever peace.
I saw the truth of an old saying. “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
“That is so true.” I replied. “Knowing facts doesn't let you understand history or even the events leading up to it. They're only a tool helping you see how it all unfolded. That is of course balanced by the axiom that the 'Winners write the history books.'”
“There is always that.” The Alien agreed. “Although your people are much more creative in that regard. Our enemies usually aren't around so it's a useless exercise.”
“Ah!” I exclaimed, as we closed the barn doors. “That's the whole point of the saying. The losers aren't there to protest so you can twist the facts around to put yourself in the best possible light. It also takes into account that there are always at least two viewpoints to any conflict, but only one is being presented.
He gave me a very human-like nod to continue.
“Take the Aztecs we were talking about for an example.” I grinned as we walked back to the farmhouse. “Later historians and revisionists give Cortez all kinds of hell for destroying a large, advanced Native American culture. Without a doubt the Conquistadors were greedy bastards, more interested in filling their pockets than in converting the heathens or bringing enlightenment.
“However,” I racked my memory for as much as I could recall. “The Aztecs were also very fond of human sacrifice as were other cultures in Mesoamerica. Culturally accepted or not, the Aztecs used the practice to control their empire. Noble savages they weren't, even by their own standards.
“On the other hand, we have almost nothing from their point of view.” My grin turned into a sideways smile. “Their capital Tenochtitlan was razed and Mexico City was built on its grave. All we have is the Conquistadors and the Monks, who accompanied them, writings and reports. None of which can be regarded as non-interested parties.”
“Your account has only highlighted the fallacy of such slanted recordings.” Ralt shook his head. “Others can come back long after and dispute the actions of those involved. Additionally, those in Mesoamerica weren't the only one of your cultures to practice human sacrifice. Your ancient Egyptians often killed their servants so that their dead would have those to serve them and even your Romans were documented doing so.”
“Yes.” I agreed with him. “They did, but not to the excess of the Aztecs. From what I understand, even by Mesoamerican standards they were rather overenthusiastic about sending their enemies to their gods.
“And you are right about the revisionism thing, but Humans do tend to be rather short-sighted at times.” I shrugged. “Enough about us, how about you? What do you call yourselves anyway?”
“The Tai-sha'le.” Ralt replied, “But it has a rather unfortunate meaning in one of your major languages. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is. That's why we go by Sha'le in what communications we have with you Humans.
“As for 'us' I assume you're asking if we had similar situations arise on our world.” The Sha'leian replied. “The answer is yes and no. Yes, our history is at least as turbulent as your own, but our geography was kinder. We didn't have two whole habitable continents that were completely isolated from the rest. Some areas were isolated, but we certainly didn't have any of our steel producing nations confronting a stone age one.
“So your people are familiar with arms races?” I asked thinking about how that pushed so much of our own development.
“You have such colorful ways of stating things.” The Alien gave another of those I thought were smiles. “But yes, we became very competitive in seeking advantages over our opponents.”
“I'm guessing in the political arena as well?” I held the door open as we went inside. “The shifting alliances and agreements must've been interesting.”
“That 'arena,' as you call it, was just as competitive.” Ralt confirmed.
Trying to remember everything that was just said, I shut the door behind us. This was all good stuff. It kinda sounded as it their whole world was like Europe. The geography contributed to the restless warfare of the region. Too many groups that were too evenly matched, each pushing and shoving against each other. Adding that to the bit about their own world having severe problems suggested that when the big wars did break out, they were very nasty.
“No,” The Alien said. “We can eat your food in complete safety. One of the purposes of our probes was to bring back samples to confirm this bio-system was a compatible as advertized. Perhaps to both of our people's detriment, this world matches our own so perfectly it is not worthy giving it a percentage.”
“I think we have strayed into uncomfortable tropics again.” Dean stated after a long stressful moment. “Maybe its time to begin the festivities?”
“We're just about finished anyways.” Sheila announced. “But the appetizers were prepared just for this occasion.”
Everyone took a deep breath, and just enjoyed the home cooked food. All of us being in the military now, hadn't had such a feast in a long time. Me, being on the front and abused by my commanders, this was pure heaven. No one mentioned Blue Soylent since that was information critical to our very survival. Oh the other hand, all I had to do was say something about the poor quality of military combat rations and they all got the point. Even the Sha'leians nodded at the reference understanding at once how such might keep you alive, but it sure wasn't good tasting.
As surrealistic as it might be, we human and Shaleians made small talk and compared holidays. Soon enough, Sheila and the other ladies were carrying the serving dishes to the table.
Dean as host, kept the traditional Thanksgiving prayer or since he was an atheist, speech, short.
“We are thankful for the good food and that our friends and guests are able to meet here in peace.” He announced before carving the turkey.
Nobody said nothing as I bowed my head and added a silent, but heartfelt Amen. Honestly the biggest challenge for me was to keep from ignoring everyone and just eat. Sheila, however, was there to make sure I acted half-way civilized.
Sitting there enjoying food that had real texture, for all of their talk of the bio-sphere being nearly identical to their own, both Sha'leians used their scanners to make sure of the food. Considering my experiences with the dear General Benson, perhaps I should've 'scanned' my own rations. After all he'd tried just about every other way of killing me. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but not by much.
I actually had a good time tying to guess what Tash and Ralt would go for and what foods they didn't like. The turkey and dressing were a yes, but the pecan pie was a bust. They didn't like the caramel. The apple pie however was another winner.
However, there were limits to how much even this bunch could eat. Honestly, I was amazed that we got though dinner without any kind of major incident other than another of Dean's 'uncomfortable topics.'
Our Guests had no problem discussing Galactic Society. From their viewpoint it was mostly like strangers passing in the night. There was such a wide variety of races whose needs and interests were so different from each other that each pretty much just ignored the others. There was a set of rules regarding those times when contact was unavoidable, but the whole Star Trek thing of alien alliances and empires just wasn't there.
Where the problem came up was when we were talking about those races that served as middle men linking some of the more similar species together enough for trade. For an example, the damn them to hell SOB's that sold Voyager One to our very unwanted Sha'leian Visitors.
I can understand Dean's interest in those Bastards, given we didn't know who else they might've sold that information to. Unfortunately, that conversation drifted towards ships and just how many of Tash and Ralt's relatives were up there in that ship of theirs.
This time it was Tash who announced the 'uncomfortable topic' warning, but that didn't help dispel the tension that had arisen. Everyone, Earthling and Sha'leian alike, took a break going back for more pie or a run to the bathroom.
Me, I needed some fresh air.
The sun had been shrouded again by the heavy clouds that promised more wintery stuff was on the way. The ride back into Tampa would not be pleasant, but it was only the first part of my journey. From there it was a flight to Camp Mackall for my testing and evaluation.
The door opened behind me as I took in a deep breath of the chill November air.
“May we talk?” Ralt asked.
“Yes.” I answered simply, gesturing him out onto the wide farmhouse porch.
We were out in the country way off the access road which meant I was reasonably certain it was safe and nobody would see us. Besides I was curious as well. I'd been asked for specifically as a condition for their attendance. Perhaps I was about to find out.
“You're not like them.” He gestured to those inside the house. “They're not soldiers, you are.”
“Including Tash?” I asked.
“Yes.” Ralt made a very deliberately human-like nod. “My friend is not a solider.”
“Like you?” The question was obvious. When we parked their ship in the barn, he was the one who flew inside and did some pretty tight maneuvering to get it to fit. Of the two, the Visitor standing next to me was more likely a combatant.
Or in other words someone who had and would be trying to kill me.
“I'm a soldier.” He said, with what I thought was pride. “Our own word for it means something a little different, but the role, the duties, are the same.”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” I quoted from the Bard's 'Henry the Fifth' Saint Crispin's Day Speech. “Those who stand and fight to protect their homes and families.”
“Again the meaning is somewhat different.” Ralt explained. “Our society is more cooperative than yours, although we are far from the hive like aliens from your science fiction stories. We are naturally more communistic oriented than you. While you Americans value individualism, the forces on us stressed working together much more strongly. Most other Earthling cultures put less importance on the individual than you, they still fall short of the Sha'leian ideal. That does include your countries that think of themselves as Communist. Individuals still rule at the top.”
“I can see that.” The way their 'bots and drones weapons systems covered each other made a bit more sense. It also explained how when a critical piece was removed the whole thing tended to fall apart. There was less flexibility and perhaps initiative, but it was strong as well.
The French had learned that the hard way during their assault on the Sha'leian beachhead in the Alps.
“What I'm so curious about is how can you enter battle so alone even when you appear so powerful our weapons can't stop you?” Ralt asked.
“Well,” I smiled. “I'm certainly not going to tell you how to stop me! However, I'm not going to end this 'Uncomfortable Topic.' I can step onto that battlefield because I am not alone. My comrades stand waiting for me to my part so they can do theirs. Even if I fall, I've given them their chance at victory.”
“The Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” The Sha'leian solider quoted. “But that does not explain how you overcome the instinct to survive or do you want to die? Tash claims your quantum warped form is not insane.”
“The Wrath of Kahn” I smiled. “And no I don't want to die. Perhaps at one time I did, but that has changed. As for being insane, many believe that just volunteering to let some mad scientist irradiate you with a malfunctioning alien engine that they really don't understand how it works is an act of lunacy!”
“On that we can agree!” Ralt shivered at very idea.
“But if you asking how I don't let my fears overcome me, it's faith.” I took a deep breath. “In that first battle I knew that your plasma burners, while they were very painful, wouldn't injure me. There was a chance I could make it out alive and return to the one I loved. I had to believe it in my heart or I would've been defeated before I'd even made my first step.”
“So you lied to yourself?” Our Guest asked, looking at me.
“I suppose you could call it that.” I smiled, thinking about the many definitions of faith that I'd read about. “It's more believing in something bigger than yourself. Even my quantum warrior form gave me assurance that somehow I could survive.”
“How so?” He inquired, inclining his head as if he'd never considered that before.
“I'm past fifty years old.” Stating point by point helped me put some things into words. “As a guess, in that alternate world where that quantum pattern originates, whatever transformed the 'me' there into what we call Halcyon, happened in their 20's or 30's judging from her appearance. We could be all kinds of wrong, but if so that means that 'me' has spent a quarter century or more in a world vastly more chaotic than this one. She has survived.”
I sighed. It'd taken a lot to get me to this point, but like it or not, that 'me' was a she now and had been for quite awhile. Like Shelia had told me on Halloween, that 'me' had somehow adapted to being Halcyon. There was no other way for her to have survived, not just her world, but being trapped in a body that wasn't hers.
“May I see her?” Ralt asked. “Your quantum 'warrior' form?”
I paused thinking. There wasn't much reason to think this was some kind of trap. Any data on Prometheus would be old news to them, and even with the jamming during my battles with the Sha'leian command tanks, they had plenty of information about me.
“Sure.” I answered. “But first let me warn everyone so nobody is unduly alarmed.”
“Sheila?” I called to her opening the door. “Ralt would like to see my quantum warrior form. Would you mind giving me some moral support?”
Each and everyone in the room turned to look at me. Perhaps the Sha'leians had something right about the fear of monsters right after all, but for all that humanity might be frightened of us, we were on their side.
“Sure!” She grinned, holding her coffee mug between her finger as if for warmth. “Let me get my jacket.”
Okay, not everyone thought of us that way. I stripped off my cold weather gear leaving nothing, but my uniform Skins. It was far too hard to replace clothing these days to ripped them when I changed.
Strangely, no one else invited themselves out to see me change. Not even Tash asked himself along, but they were peeking out the windows.
Shrugging, I smiled, knowing I had the only person I needed. Sheila looked up at me, her mug steaming in the cold. There was something I wanted to try and having her with me gave me confidence I could succeed.
Knowing, I was being watched by the Enemy even if we were under a truce of sorts, I was going to attempt a trick. Older Children of Prometheus, after they'd changed enough times, could do the Captain Marvel 'Shazam' transformation thing without using the Q-Box.
It had certainly gotten easier the more times I'd 'Shazam-ed' with the Q-box 'button.' At first it'd been hard as hell even with it. The whole Halcyon thing freaked me out so badly that transforming caused me anxiety so bad, it'd made me involuntarily switch back. It was only Sheila that had helped me past that problem.
I was trying to remember how it felt when I pressed that button. Like trying to recall how being shocked or struck, I was trying to pretend, to feel, as if it was happening right now.
While I was doing it, my efforts weren't enough. At least it wasn't until I looked into Sheila's eyes. She believed in me absolutely. That was enough. Like a spark bridging a gap, it was the leap I needed.
The light enveloped me.
Looking down at Sheila, she was lot further down, now that I'd grown nearly a foot and a half. Her eyes were as bright as the stars at night.
However, Ralt wasn't so happy. He'd gone as still as if a very hungry grizzly had just appeared.
“It's alright.” I told him. “I'm in control and am not a mindless monster.”
I glanced at the cleavage that I couldn't help but see, since I was so much taller this way and had to look down. That's if you're not talking about this pair of 'mountains' attached to me, but I didn't say that. While I had stopped having panic attacks, just staring at my own personal Scylla and Charybdis, I was not happy about them.
“You should see your face!” Doubled over laughing, Sheila had put the mug on the wide railing so she wouldn't spill her coffee.
”Really, relax.” Ignoring her, I turned my attention back to Ralt. My advice was something that was easier said than done, but just maybe Thanksgiving Dinner would open the path to something meaningful. There was a chance that us poor smucks on the front lines could come to an understanding that would make a difference in this unholy mess of a War. It could happen just like the World War One Christmas Truce where a bunch of unofficial peace-fires broke out. It didn't make a big difference in the big picture as the Generals on both sides crushed that brief shining moment of hope as soon as they could. It simply would not do to see the face staring at you from the other side of No-man's Land as anything else except as an enemy to kill.
“Her humor isn't directed at me, but at you?” Ralt asked, appearing very confused.
“I don't know how much you understand about human sexuality, but are you familiar with the term pornographic?” Shelia grinned as my golden complexion blushed coppery.
A quick exchange in Sha'leian passed between him and Tash who was peeking out around the curtains. I think Dean might've been consulted as well, but his voice was more muffled for all of my Halcyon form's superior hearing.
“Entertainment material created for sexual gratification?” He asked for clarification, but was still confounded.
“Our so scary Pantheon quantum warrior, when he transforms, changes gender and has exaggerated feminine sexual characteristics that are just this side of being indecent.” She giggled, but her arm around my waist told me this was in fun.
Glancing at the faces peering at me from the windows, okay, maybe it wasn't fear they were feeling. Hell, I would rather it be fear than what I had a pretty good idea of what it really was.
The Sha'leian stared at Halcyon, me. Then he began this trilling harmonic that didn't take much imagination to think of it as laughter. The echo from inside suggested that Tash had lost it as well, laughing at the big bad Child of Prometheus.
Feeling more than a little peeved at this, I folded my arms across my chest which of course meant maneuvering around my 'mountains' which set Sheila to giggling again. I kept myself from sighing, knowing that would cause those protuberances to be even more annoying as they jiggled and bounced. Hell, not so long ago just a small part of this would've had me going to pieces.
Ralt managed to get his twittering laugh under control, but the sounds from inside said that Tash hadn't come close to stopping his own mirth.
“How is this possible?” He shook his head in disbelief or denial. “We see nothing but the most horrible monsters and yet those of your race become this? However, you are also so powerful you smash our assaults aside like they were made by mere fledglings.”
Looking at the curious faces in the window and at poor Shelia starting to shiver in the cold, I sighed. My quest for solitude was over so we might as well make everything easy and go inside.
“Why don't we move this back where it's warm?” I gestured to the door while answering. “Well for one, nobody knows if the universe where your monsters come from is the same as the one we tap for Prometheus.” I reasoned it out. “We do have some guesses, but that's all they are.
“Being like this.” I waved my hand at Halcyon's body. “It and others of Pantheon are very much like characters from a genre of our fiction. The changes and the powers could've come right out of the media we call comic-books.”
“It is the same universe.” Tash replied, as we came in. “The way the quantum drive malfunctions. It has to connect to the highest energy state source.”
I nodded, making a mental note to remember that tidbit. Doc Schneider would be very interested in this stuff.
“Tell me how, in this other world that your people are like … this and not the monsters my people are?” His laughter gone, Ralt was, the only word that came to mind, haunted. Nobody wanted to think of themselves as bad or evil much less their whole race.
No one else said anything so I guessed it was up to me.
“Well,” I began. “Let me tell you about the universe we think Halcyon comes from. It all started when a pair of good Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created the forefront of what would be known as the Golden Age of comics. Let me tell you about a character called Superman.”
In a truly infinite universe, all things are possible. However, some things are more likely than others. The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics took it a step further. Every possibility and choice we make branches out into a new world, limitless and beyond count.
Grey Wolf stepped though the sundered museum doors. No alarms had gone off and neither had any of the guards given a warning. None of that was a good thing. The problem was, the Hawkmoon Museum, while it did house a few rare archeological finds, did not have much in the way of priceless treasures with the possible exception of a few dedicated collectors. Every item had also been vetted by the Mystics Guild just to make sure there was nothing more dangerous on those stone steles and tablets than grocery lists and public notices.
Perhaps one of those collectors did pay a thief to acquire such a item, but usually professionals were much more subtle than tearing doors off their hinges, although the timing was perfect. Late on Thanksgiving night, the police were more worried about Black Friday retailers and shoppers than a rather esoteric museum like the Hawkmoon. However, the matter of the silence of the guards was also troubling, given a thief did not want to give law enforcement an excuse to use deadly force.
No, this suggested something else was afoot which was why he'd called for help from the local Protectors Bureau branch office. Dealing with the government sponsored heroes was always a pain where the sun never shines, but the way his guts were twisting, he had that bad feeling.
However, that did not stop him from cautiously scouting the crime scene. Grey had no intentions on engaging, but he did want to get as many clues as he could about what this was about.
Crouching by the first guard, his fingers found no pulse, dead. From the position of the body the poor man had no chance at all. His weapon lay nearby, unfired. Whatever had struck him, had done so with the force of a truck, killing the man instantly.
Grey's wolf totem's gift of keen senses told him that this was the probable fate of the other guards as well. The scent of death rode heavy in the air. That pushed the threat level way up. While his totem gave him superior strength, speed, and other gifts, what had killed these guards had hit all of them at once, faster than any of them could react. He was good, but not that good.
Almost he stopped right there, but if these murders were that fast then they just might be long gone before the government capes could arrive. With a sigh he decided he just had to get close enough for his 'wolf' to see what was going on. Besides, if he was good at nothing else, it was stalking.
What he found turned his blood to ice. Before him, searching a selection of Babylonian stone tablets, were six figures. Five were tall metallic humanoids with the perfection that only came from deliberate sculptured care. It was the sixth that froze him like a deer caught in the headlights.
Dressed in an old fashioned tweed suit he could've been the stereotypical college professor, but the accompanying animated statues told another story. Every hero knew of the Golem Master. The scholar turned psychotic Nazi hunter had lost his focus since so very few war criminals were still alive. The murderer had expanded his attention to anyone wearing a Nazi swastika. Droves of White Supremacists had died at the hands of the animated magical statues created by the insane intellectual. Not that those had been his only victims. Anyone getting in his way tended to end up dead, including heroes trying to stop the slaughter or even the innocent family members of the supremacists.
Honestly, Grey didn't lose much sleep over the deaths of those hate mongers, but the women, children and others who'd died just by being in the wrong place did. The Golem Master took what he wanted, be it scholarly texts or just the materials to make his unstoppable monsters. Rumor had it that hero and villain alike had died, sacrificed by this madman to bring his creations to life.
Grey was so out of his league it wasn't even worth mentioning. Those golems had defeated whole teams of heroes and, while it might seem so simple to just knock out their master, it was not. The golems protected him at all costs. Even if you did manage to get by them, they would kick your ass before carrying out their last order and then escaping with their master.
In the rare instances where a golem had been destroyed, the Golem Master would only show back up a few months later with a new one after yet another hero or villain had gone missing. It was no coincidence that the creation would exhibit the powers of the missing cape.
However, Grey had noticed the displays were marked. If he could mark just what area they were looking at, that might help narrow down what the Golem Master was looking for. Maybe he couldn't stop the insane scholar's scheme, but perhaps he could aid others who could go toe to toe with those mystical constructions.
Daring to creep forward, using all the cunning his wolf gave him, he got a clearer view. The old man was browsing the stone fragments of the old writings as if at a yard sale, muttering to himself and talking to his silent golems.
“No, it's not this one either, Ebony.” The mad scholar confided, to his golem. “This is only a tally of grains.”
“Why thank you, Kaspit.” He told the animated silver statue. “I think this is the one!”
Grey risked peeking to try see just what the 'one' was that'd been found.
Immediately, chimes like those from a music box rang out from the mad scholars automatons.
“My, it seems we have an unwanted spectator.” The Golem Master looked up at Grey. “Lapis Lazuli take of this. After he's defeated, dispose of the body in the river.”
Wolves might be predators, but they know when to flee. He was running and dodging around the displays to make it harder for the golem to reach him. A crash behind him shook the whole Hawkmoon Museum. That suggested that its master had departed, taking the shortest route though the wall. Now it was only the two of them, Grey and golem.
All he had to do was buy time for the Protectors to get here.
He bounced off of the golden automaton as it appeared from nowhere, cutting off his escape. Twisting in the air to land more or less on his feet, Grey didn't waste a moment trying to attack it. Nothing he could do would so much as slow it down. Alpha list heroes had tried and failed. He very much doubted a 'B' rater like him could better their attempts.
In his element, Grey was very good against trained and armed criminals. Even those who had powers and used them creatively to great effect had reason to be wary of him. However, those who routinely threatened the safety and security of the whole world were a little of out his league. Save the city yes, the world, not so much.
Out of reflex, he flung his 'wolf's claw' shurikens at the golem. The trio of razor sharp throwing stars sank deep into the animated golden statue. The cold emerald gems it had for eyes just looked at him as its body expelled his weapons. With a clatter his wolf 'claws' rang as they hit the floor as the entry points sealed over, leaving not so much as a mark.
Like a pile driver, its hand shot out, slamming into his torso. If he hadn't rolled with the blow, it surely would've broken something. As it was, Grey felt as if he'd been hit by a car, as he tumbled to the floor. At the very least his ribs were bruised.
Struggling to get to his feet, he braced himself for another blow.
“Are you defeated?” It asked, the voice sounding like it came from a music box.
“I'm not dead yet!” He growled, despite knowing this thing was just a construction of the darkest magic.
Its foot kicked out, lifting him completely off the floor, but he was able to twist enough to land on his feet. Grey took off running as fast as his injury would allow. That was good. The bad was his arm had absorbed much of that kick and he feared it was broken.
“Sonofabitch!” He grunted as he collided with it again. The damn thing was a nearly a speedster, the way it kept moving to block him. Worse, running into it was like slamming into a wall, but this time he hit his already injured arm.
Before he could fall, the golem's golden hand grabbed him by the shoulder.
His wolf so wanted to bite and claw at the reason for the pain, but Grey knew he had to escape.
“Are you defeated?” It asked again in that musical voice.
“Go to hell!” Grey gritted teeth.
Lean like his totem spirit, he kicked, not to hurt it which was impossible, but to get leverage to twist free. Failing, he was surprised when the golden automaton threw him one handed though the open doors like he was no more than an unweaned pup.
Clutching his damaged arm protectively, he rolled with the impact after sailing over the stairs of the Hawkmoon's entrance. Bouncing to a stop on the sidewalk, he grunted from the pain.
Looking up, Grey saw the golden form floating though the torn open doors. Rather than descend the stairs, she glided over the top of them to slow to a hover above him.
“Are you defeated?” She asked yet again.
He was beginning to feel he was missing something. Considering he was getting his butt kicked anyways, he didn't have much to lose.
“Yes.” His wolf spirit growled in protest.
As a reply she picked him up, being surprisingly gentle. With a whoosh, she covered the half mile to the river in only seconds.
“Aw hell!” He cursed, as she dropped him into the cold water.
With just one good arm he feared he would sink, being dressed in his padded hero gear, but he actually hit the the muddy river bottom. It'd put him in the swallows, near the bank.
Cold, wet and hurting he made his way to the shore. Wondering where his attacker had gone to, he turned to search, but found it's face right in front of his.
Even in the wan light from the bridge that wasn't that far away, he could see her sculpted golden complexion and it's deep blue hair and lashes looked nearly black. It was the eyes that made him double take. How had he ever thought them cold and expressionless. The emeralds in front of him blazed with life and passion.
“Grey Wolf should drop out of sight.” It, no, her voice sang. “If 'he' suspects you're still alive, he'll send me back with more explicit instructions to do what he intended instead of only what he said.”
“Do you understand?” She asked, “Because if you don't both of us will regret it.”
“I understand.” Grey replied, confused. The golems were supposed to be nothing more than magically created robots. It was the 'why' he didn't get.
She only nodded before zooming off into the night sky.
Staring after her, he muttered to himself. “What the hell, just happened?”
Pulling himself the rest of the way out of the river, he headed to the van he used as a mobile headquarters. Until he had a lot better information, Grey Wolf was going to stay out of sight, playing dead. However, that didn't mean he was dropping this. He'd learned early in his hero career that research and preparation could win battles that courage and brawn couldn't.
Turning and looking one last time in the direction she'd flown, he asked the starry night sky. “Who are you Lapis Lazuli?”
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