Once the Hero Part 4

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The adventure continues in Part 4! Better yet a day early because of limited time tomorrow. Enjoy!

Once the Hero
Part 4
By
Grover

Chapter Twenty

Charlotte, NC

ETWF: 22 Days

From long practice, Phillipe Imbert’s eyes snapped open from his sleep. Reaching for hotel nightstand and the ringing phone, he answered, “Yes?”

“This is agent Smith, night detail. We’ve lost the suspect. She left her room at the same time the nightclub crowd was going home. We think she slipped into a Mercedes that roared out of here. We’re trying to trace it now. Sorry sir.”

“Contact the local constabulary and ask they put out an All-Points-Bulletin, APB, on the vehicle. Politely mind you! I will wake the team that came with me. Do your best.”

He was dressing as he dialed Andrea’s number. Her sleepy voice answered, but he gave her no chance to reply, “Andrea our quarry has flown. We will need that search warrant for Alan Glenn’s residence right now. Meet me in the lobby.”

The inspector waited a moment to make sure she was actually awake before dialing the rest of his team. These youngsters. Blah, no staying power! Still he was grateful he had turned in early for it was only a little pass midnight.

He had gathered his bags, wanting to waste no time in departing for the west if Margaret Carson had indeed decamped. It was important to reach Alan Glenn’s house as quickly as possible even though there were agents watching the property.

Even still, he beat Andrea and the rest to the lobby. Sipping this American excuse for coffee, he tried not to make a face. At least dinner had been tolerable with a passable wine. Chivying his drowsy agents along, soon the training, they had all gone though had them wide-awake.

As the time passed, the APB had no hits and the vehicle his agents thought she had escaped in had actually been miles away with its owner safe and sound asleep. Philippe could do nothing but nod as the information came in. But, of course, the car had disappeared into thin air! He was waiting to hear from his agents watching Alan Glenn’s properties, but as yet nothing. It was always possible his cache was somewhere else in this city, but the Inspector favored the simplest approach.

His hopes faded as they drove into their suspect’s neighborhood. A Mercedes did pass them, but alas, it was the wrong color. Philippe had still given the driver careful scrutiny as she passed, but the elfin dark haired girl didn’t look at all like the statuesque strawberry blond model they were chasing. Ever suspicious he made sure Andrea ran the plates anyways.

As he had feared no one had seen anything, but even so, he decided to go ahead with the search. Entering Philippe found the abode typical of the American male. It was tasteful, but the clear primary purpose was for displaying the abundance of entertainment electronics! There was some clutter, but no sign anyone had come and gone in a hurry.

His other agents checked rest of the premises, but he was seeking to get a feel for who Alan Glenn was. There were few pictures, but it seemed sterile to him somehow. Walking to the large garage, He saw that there were several automobiles in various stages of disassembly. The work place was relatively clean and well kept, but their suspect was a professional mechanic after all.

Even this early in the morning, it was still muggy and warm in the back yard. The area was landscaped as to give privacy from the neighbors. Bricked paths wandered among the bushes, trees and other plants. A fountain was set in the center and babbled softly in the southern night.

Sitting on an ornamented bench in this garden, he breathed in seeking to relax. Why all of this he wondered. The house was much what he expected of an American male of Alan Glenn’s reputation. This garden however had a deep peace about it. Certainly, he knew many so called macho males enjoyed gardening. The inspector himself had a passion for roses, but this seemed different to him some how.

Looking about at the trees it occurred to him, five. Not a garden at all but a memorial. One tree for each for his comrades who died. Standing he looked for the best vantage point to view this rather remarkable display. He bumped into a fence.

Andrea helpfully provided a torch letting him survey the area. The property directly to the rear of this one not only did not give any privacy but also gave the best view of the shrine.

Finally daring to speak, Andrea asked, “Did you find something sir?”

Smiling the old Frenchman took her gently by the shoulders turning her to face the garden. “What do you see my dear?”

The young woman responded, “I see a landscaped backyard with a brick path winding around island like areas with trees and bushes. A fountain is in the middle.”

“Alan Glenn lost five people who were like family to him. How many trees are there? Notice how each one is of a different species, Oak, Rowan, Ash, and others. See how the shape they form, yes? Now where is the best place to enjoy this display?”

She turned looking at the same house that had caught his attention. “Do you want me to get another search warrant? The authorities here are getting testy about our requests with little or no evidence.”

“No. As you say, we have nothing of substance. However, who lives here and what make of auto do they drive?” He asked looking for a way in. Failing that, he briskly walked back the way they had come. Pausing he stopped by the trashcan. He took a quick sniff and took the wheel of their SUV.

Andrea struggling to keep up while typing into her PDA had hardly shut her door before they were off. With screech, they stopped in front of the home. The Inspector checked their trash as well before bounding onto the porch of the house.

This home had what could only be called feminine accents with planters hanging from the eaves and the flowery curtains. Peeking in he saw more signs of a woman’s touch. He rushed off the porch to peer over the gate to the backyard seeing a pool and a deck.

He saw her amazed look as he examined the house. Philippe took out his ever-present notepad and made a couple of notes. As a favor to Andrea, he had used one of those new pens that electronically recorded his words although he refused to give up his real paper pad!

“Well,” He said waiting impatiently for her to give him his answers. In all of the years, he had been on this case and now just maybe they had indeed gotten their break.

She read, “Valentina Zarya Savitskaya.” Looking up at her mentor, she said, “She drives a white 2006 Mercedes C-class sedan. That’s the same one we saw leaving as we arrived.” She said excitedly realizing just how close they‘d been.

He too felt the excitement as well but was thinking ahead.

Andrea exclaimed, “That might be enough to get us that search warrant.”

“Yes it might, and it is very tempting. However, it could alert her as well. First we must find that car if we can, but only to follow. This has given us our big break, and we must not squander it! Next, we must find out all about this Valentina. Both of these houses must be closely watched, but I doubt anything will happen here.”

“It will be at Area 61. Merde! We must make haste. Gather the team and make preparations to depart immediately to the nearest large city.” He directed walking back to their vehicle.

She replied, “Las Vegas.”

“Good. See if they have the equipment on hand for two teams out in the desert. I will be on the secure line to the Assistant Director of Investigations. Now is the time for Haste!” He said as they sped off to pick up the other agents. Who knew the number of times Alan Glenn’s house had been searched, but no one had bothered looking at that marvelous garden. A voice within him asked if it was worth it finally to know that he had been right all this time. He heard no answers.

<<<<>>>>

The engineers carefully double-checked each power connection of the rather unremarkable appearing suitcase sized box. What were outrageous were the electrical connections designed to handle loads for entire towns leading into it. In fact, the power bus and backup power supply and the rest of the auxiliary equipment were far larger than the box.

Convinced all was secure the heavy-duty forklift slowly lifted the unit free of the housing that had held it for thirty-four years. Three teams overlooking the move watchful for the tiniest problem. They all knew if anything went wrong, every one of them would be dead before they knew it.

It took hours for the procession to creep out of the high security vaults. The powers-that-be had mandated that the move had to be made at night to avoid as much attention as possible. While many of the crew breathed relived upon reaching Elevator shaft number 6, other’s palms grew sweaty as they positioned the unit in place hooking up the power cables. Muttering prayers, they then placed the explosives meant to eject it from the shaft in case of an emergency.

Emerging from the shaft, they watched as it was position partially up the shaft while the bottom was filled with high-tech foam that quickly hardened into a concrete hard stopper. Weary, the crew departed for their debriefing while another checked their work. Satisfied, they hung a sign on the shaft. ‘Out of Order, Toxic Spill.’

A pair of guards took their post. Unnoticed was the small robot that normally delivered the mail to offices within Area 61. With a whirl of electric motors, it went about its way leaving the architects of Project Meridian unaware that part of their plans had been discovered.

<<<<>>>>

Chapter Twenty-one

Area 61

September 11, 2008

ETWF: 21 Days

Alan opened his green painted locker unsurprised to find a Karate style Gi. Personally, he preferred his Aikido Hakama, but it was after all just clothing. Karate and Judo had been the first forms he’d learned here long ago.

Dressing he tried not to look at the red locker that was also his. It surprised him that so little had changed here in almost thirty-five years even though he was in what they used to call officer country. Really, it was just the instructor’s private changing room.

They all had two lockers, one green with their usual exercise clothes, and one red with their combat gear. Of course, they didn’t have the keys for those back then, but the lockers all had electronic thumb pads now.

Stiffening, Alan heard someone come in with a heavy tread that was definitely wasn’t one of the kids.

He closed his eyes as he heard Doc Mac say, “Hello Alan. I hope I’m not intruding but there has been something I wanted to ask you. When you disappeared so many years ago, just how did you neutralize the radioactive tracer? We found your subcutaneous implant you fed to that dog, but we never expected you to somehow get by the ingested tracer.”

Alan, not caring if he sound civil or not, said, “Fatty tissue. Once I realized how I’d been marked, I knew the compound would accumulate in my fatty tissues. Then it was simply a case of detoxification of those tissues.”

He got some satisfaction from Doc’s shock look of disbelief.

“Tell me you’re not talking about Hubbard?” The old scientist almost begged offended by the very thought.

Alan replied, “Then I won’t, but I will admit that while I don’t care for his works, this one did do the trick.”

Doc Mac shook head in disbelief, “You always were creative and stubborn. Performing surgery on yourself and then you went and brought your body fat index dangerously low. I hope you do know just how hazardous that was.”

More snarl than smile Alan said, “I might’ve been out this prison, but I knew I was still in the trap. Haven’t you ever heard of an animal gnawing off its own leg to escape a trap?”

The old scientist asked sadly, “Was it as bad as that here, Alan?”

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Alan said nothing.

Doc Mac waited for him to answer, but sighed at the silence that was the reply. “I don’t suppose you’re going to reveal where you hid for those 14 years are you?”

Alan only shook head.

The balding scientist shrugged his shoulders sighing. “Alan I can’t change the past. Perhaps some day you can forgive what happened. Now that you’re here there is something I want to show you.”

He paid attention to how Doc’s thumbprint opened the red locker. It figured Doc Mac’s would override everyone else’s personal space

“Come on over and see, Alan,” The scientist gestured him over. “It’s a little bulky to handle easily.”

Sighing, Alan got up and looked at the uniform in the locker. It was blue with white and red trim like The Rocketeer’s had been. The difference was this one was had hard plastic like panels unlike the flexible lightweight mesh theirs had been made of.

He’d always had to wear a helmet because of his supra-speed power. Without it, the speed of his running prevented him from hearing his tactical radio that kept in contact with the rest of his team. The helmet also let them add all sorts of goodies like GPS, sensors, and others.

This one also had a helmet, but it was tear-dropped shaped for streamlining. Picking it up he could see it too was loaded with electronics. “You know Doc. I keep telling you guys I lost my powers. This is nice but doesn’t do me a lot of good.”

“I know Alan. This is what I had planned on giving you years ago following your exposure to Z-Ray 9. Back then you could almost reach Mach 1 and I had hopes that after the exposure you could even break the sound barrier.”

The scientist sighed, “Those were exciting days back then, but even then you had problems stabilizing yourself at high speeds due to air compression problems approaching the sound barrier.”

“Watch this,” Doc Mac said press on a control on the helmet. One by one, panels on the suit opened and closed themselves like flaps and ailerons on an aircraft.

“You see these aren’t for protection so much as they are control surfaces. The computer in the helmet reads your intended destination from your biometrics and uses these surfaces to help. The entire setup would have to be calibrated, but with it I’m sure you could’ve done it.”

“I know that a number of supra-normal flyers have managed to break the sound barrier, but very few have ever done it on land. It is only in the last few years that a man in a machine managed it. Still it is a dream that I suppose will never come true now. I have waited for years thinking your powers would eventually return. Why they haven’t I’m at a complete loss to explain.”

Shaking his head the scientist shook his head sadly, “I suppose I’ll have to wait for another speedster with the old Vroom’s potential to come along. The suit is adjustable so it would take only minor changes to fit it to someone else. Thank you Alan for humoring an old man.”

Rubbing his chin, Alan had to admit it was one hell of super-suit. “It’s a real beaut Doc. Since you said the control surfaces primary purpose wasn’t as armor, they still provide some protection?”

Doc Mac smiled, “That’s correct. The flexible parts of the suit are made from micromesh like your old uniforms, but the hard panels are crafted from a bulletproof thermo-plastic. The mesh, like before, can stop pistol rounds, but the hard panels should be good against most small arms.”

Glancing up at the clock, Alan cut their conversation short. “Sorry, but I’ve got to run, a class to teach.” He said point up at clock on the wall.

Together as they walked out Alan asked. “Hey Doc since we’re talking about super-suits, have you any ideas for ones for the kids?”

Doc Mac ran his hand over his balding head saying, “Well Alan you know me. I am always coming up with ideas. There are some preliminary sketches and thoughts, but we need more data before finalizing anything. After we get them in the lab tomorrow, we should know more. Have you any thoughts Alan?”

Alan grinned, “I might have something to add. Tonight I’ll write them up.” He said walking away.

Well that answers the question if he suspects or not. That would be a big yes. Doc Mac was right. Alan did know him and the man’s brain never ever stopped. He seemed to have the idea Alan might be a metamorph with that talk about the speed suit being adjustable. Yes sirree, he suspected all right.

Now what do you suppose is hidden in that suit; Trackers, explosives, or maybe some other means of incapacitation? Alan had few illusions about his own capabilities. He’d been training his whole life to find and expand those limits. Intelligence and problem solving skills needed to be pushed to improve them just like the body did. He knew his, hard to define quality known as IQ, was up there in the hard to measure area.

It didn’t make him better than anyone else, just faster at figuring stuff out sometimes. Alan also knew Doc Mac was a hell of lot smarter than he was. You just don’t become an expert in so many different fields without having something seriously on the ball. Although no one had ever said so, he’d also thought the only difference between a mad genius like Dr. Mortis and Doc Mac was the latter was more or less on their side.

As kids, he and the rest of Team Rocket had seen that mad glint behind kindly Doctor McClellan’s eyes, and while they all grew to even call him friend, Alan never forgot it. Oh yeah, he knew Doc alright. He was insatiably curious and controlling with his desire to measure and qualify everything.

If Alan ever had doubts about that as a child, he had none now. After more than forty years, Doc was still king down here. All those so-called super-geniues with their grandiose plans, HA! Nothing but pikers. Doc had this state of the art laboratory, paid for by tax dollars, protected by one of the world’s superpowers, and as Alan’s attempt to have him pay for the crimes he’d committed by experimenting on children had proved, exempt from the law.

One-day justice would catch up with him, but for now, he still reigned. Speaking of justice, Alan saw Maxi-Badd being led in by his zoomie cop handlers. Repressing a grin, he noticed Courtney Hathaway in her usual horn rim glasses and white lab coat. Her attempts to manipulate him were almost laughable, but she was working from some mistaken assumptions.

While she might be barking up the wrong tree, he was more concerned with Max right now. “Hey Max. Have a good night?” He greeted the big criminal.

Turning an eye to him that wished him anything but, Maxi replied, “Yeah it was good having weight on my chest again Squirt. That low gravity crap sucks.”

Just like with an animal show no fear, no challenge, just calmness was how he decided was the best way to handle this. Keeping his face neutral, Alan said to him, “Okay I want to keep this as painless as possible for you, as well as for us.”

“Did you get a chance to read those rules of the Dojo I sent you and are you willing to abide by them?” Alan asked.

The con nodded his head. “Yeah, I know’em.” He said shrugging. “What choice do I have if I want’ta be free? You’ve me by the short and curlies.” He said, throwing his head in the direction of Dr. Hathaway and the zoomies holding the remotes to the cortex bomb in his head.

Alan returned his nod saying, “We’ll have each of my students come up to you one at a time for you to touch. When the clone appears, he or she will show the student everything they instinctively know how to do. Then the student will show the clone everything they’ve learned to show the difference between discovering new talents, and learning how to use those gifts.”

After your double ‘times out’ the next student will take their turn. Do you see any problems with this?” Alan asked.

The big guy shook his head. “Nah, that sounds like it will work and thanks Squirt.”

Alan raised an eyebrow in question. “Thanks?”

A sheepishly the con shrugged again. “For not referring to them as its. They’re me, you know? I know them,” He said pointing his fingers at Hathaway and the guards, “don’t think my touch makes people. To them they’re just temporary things, but I know. They’ve begged me to keep them from just disappearing, to keep them from dying, and I would if I could.”

He looked as if he wanted to say more but changed his mind. Then he asked something else. “Are there going to be chicks like ya’ said?”

Blinking Alan asked, “You mean girls? Yes, three of them.” He answered a little alarmed by the question.

The black man got a pained look, “They don’t like that. Awaking as girls, I mean. Its hard enough knowing ya’ only going to be alive for just so long without being a chick too.”

A little relived at the nature of the problem Alan replied, “If it helps any they’ll all be wearing Gi’s like mine. Nothing frilly.” Here’s hoping that Lizzie wasn’t in her tutu today.

The big guy grunted obviously not happy, but Alan couldn’t blame him too much. He was being blackmail too into doing something he definitely didn’t want to. Leaving them, he went to the Dojo where his students were warming up. Calling them to order it was time to start this class.

<<<<>>>>

Mr. Glenn had suspected that Bill might know of Maxi-Badd and he’d been right. Arresting him had been one of The Rocketeer’s more high profile cases. He’d asked him not to alarm the rest of the kids, and had enlisted him to help keep an eye on the huge super-villain.

Right now Bill had butterflies fluttering around inside him after seeing just how large Maxi-Badd was. The black man was huge! He had to duck coming into the room. Bill didn’t think he was prejudiced, but Maxi-Badd was about the scariest person he’d ever seen.

It didn’t help knowing that a whole lot of people had died at his hands. The Chicago supra-team, the Untouchables, was mauled by him. The Rocketeers hadn’t any too easy of time either, but had managed to carry the day. The damage had been estimated to be in the millions and many calls had gone out for the death penalty.

The American Civil Liberty Union had gotten involved when it’d become clear that to execute Maxi-Bad would require extreme means that they declared as cruel and unusual punishment. ULTIMATE solved the problem with the activation of Dark Side Penitentiary.

That prison on the moon became the new boogieman for mothers to threaten their kids with. Behave yourself or you’ll be sent where the real monsters were. Now here was one of the Trolls of his childhood in the flesh.

Mr. Glenn explained that Saul Simpson was on a work release program designed to help young mutants stay away from crime. His power besides being so big was to duplicate others temporarily with a clone. This copy would have all of their powers but none of their memories or even look much like them besides in general size and shape. They were more like Saul Simpson versions of themselves.

Since the duplicate had an instinctive knowledge of how to use their powers, Saul was going to help them discover more about their abilities. One at a time, they were going to take turns letting Mr. Simpson copy them. Then the clone would show them the things she or he could do with their power.

Mr. Glenn called out, “You’re first Josh.”

Bill could see the high school junior wanted nothing more than to cause another ‘Code Joshua,’ but he’d been tolerant the whole day so far. Unhappily, Josh walked over to the big convict and bowed like he’d been told.

A bloom of light and then suddenly there was someone else in the room as the mass-murderer touched him.

The new guy looked liked a younger Maxi-Badd except with hair. However in everything else but the face he looked liked Josh. Both Maxi-Bad and Maxi-Josh had their eyes shut. When they opened them, the big man breathed a sigh of relief while the clone winced as if finding out something really unpleasant.

That confused Bill. He could tell whatever was happening was supercharged with emotions, but didn’t know why.

Maxi-Bad urged the clone to bow and hesitantly he did. Then Josh and Maxi-Josh stepped to the center of the Dojo to do their thing. The older boy got some of his own medicine as his clone faded out in front of him. Then he reappeared but then Bill and everyone else disappeared!

He held out his hand in front of him but didn’t see a thing. Bill heard everyone muttering a little panicky but Mr. Glenn shouted, “Hold!”

They’d been told when they heard that to instantly stop and back away if sparring or cease using whatever power you’d been using.

Bill breathed as he could see himself again. He saw the security police guys relax some too.

Maxi-Josh said, “It’s just like your invisibility power telling everyone one ‘don’t see me’ except I’m telling everyone ‘I don’t want’ta see ya.’ I think ya’ could blind people too by telling them, ‘see nothing.’ He pointed at the security police, “I didn’t want to make’em too nervous.”

Then Josh tried doing some of the same things. Bill did see he went invisible a lot faster than the clone did, but he had problems with the new stuff. He couldn’t make everyone disappear but he could make someone else other than himself, which was neat.

Bill found himself glancing over at Malak. He still thought she was just so exoctic looking. It was awkward talking to her even though they’d been in classes together for the last two days. Morosely he thought that even if he did know what to say, he wasn’t even sure what he was at heart, a boy or a girl.

Thinking about that was how he missed what happened. Bill knew that Maxi-Badd’s clones only lasted 15 or 20 minutes or even sooner if he made more than one. He guessed it was almost time for Maxi-Josh to dematerialize when Dr. McClellan showed up!

He couldn’t hear much of what was being said, but it sounded like Dr. McClellan wanted to some tests on the clones before they disappeared. Mr. Glenn and Maxi-Bad didn’t like that, but the Doctor got his way.

Then it was his turn to be cloned. He was a little surprised at the shapes he could take but it seemed Maxi-Bill couldn’t do his disguise trick. Well he wasn’t going to show anyone that because it was his way to be her. It was a private thing.

Then it was over and Dr. McClellan came for Maxi-Bill. This time he heard the huge old criminal almost whisper, “I just don’t want’em to have’ta die alone.”

Bill just couldn’t get those words out of his mind even when Lizzie started flying, Amanda made it snow, and Malak threw a lightning bolt. As each clone was led out, he kept hearing those words. “I just donna' want’em to have’ta die alone.” Those sad rough spoken words were made by a towering troll of a man who had proven to the world that he was a true monster by the lives that had ended in his huge hands. It was something that kept the teen awake that night thinking that perhaps somewhere within that ogre was still a human heart.

<<<<>>>>

Chapter Twenty-Two

Las Vegas

September 12, 2008

ETWF: 20 Days

Inspector Imbert finished his fond farewell to the marvelous chef whom had prepared such a wonderful lunch for him. He had eaten here before at the unassuming pink brick restaurant in Las Vegas, but this time it was perfection. Philippe did not delude himself into thinking he was a gourmet. He was simply a Frenchman who missed the flavors and familiar dishes of his home.

He felt not the least bit guilty of putting the sizable bill on his expense account. After dealing with his unpleasant superior on the night before, it was only a just reward. Philippe had wanted to warn him of the American military illegally experimenting on children once more.

Instead, he had found the directors had actually aided the Americans in this endeavor by releasing into their custody a very dangerous criminal! Rather than investigate and confront them with evidence of the breaking of the treaties, they were fueling the fire hoping that it would boil over!

It somehow escaped them that there were innocents involved. Or perhaps it did not, he thought sourly. The six children were but mutants after all. No, the directors had not been dismayed at all by the possibility that Lady Athena and the Tech-Witch were also involved in this potentially catastrophic situation dangerously bubbling away. It was their fondest wish that all of their problems would eliminate each other leaving ULTIMATE nothing to do, but say, I told you so.

They had denied his requests for one of ULTIMATE’s supra-teams as well as a dropship assault company to be placed on stand-by in Las Vegas. Further, he would not even have any support at all other than his investigation and the surveillance teams that had been watching Margaret Carson and Alan Glenn.

Needless to say, if something did happen out in the Mojave those scant resources would be helpless in the face of what he thought might erupt. He had decided to have his people cover the towns nearby Area 61. They would be best used to see who went into the area and with good fortune pick up survivors on their way out.

That strategy had already had some early success by sighting Maggie Carson in a Tonopah diner. She must have driven like a mad woman all night to reach here so soon, but there she was. That opened up the possibility of following her to her destination.

Despite his age he felt the desire to finally to know if his guesses had been correct about Alan Glenn and Maggie Carson. It boggled the mind that even he failed to see just how deep a game they might be playing. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together but the picture it formed was one that was totally unexpected.

Andrea was waiting for him at one of the outrageous American Hummers vehicles. He knew of their reputation for being able to go anywhere, but did they have to make them so big and ugly?

She had looked on amused as he had profusely praised Chef Raul. Climbing into the vehicle, he was thankful this one had air conditioning. They had a trip of three hours to look forward to. Plenty of time to discus Valentina Savitskaya and the unexpected twists this case had taken.

His assistant sighed as she saw the folder she had prepared in his hands. Philippe smiled at her reaction. Often, in this profession, one must think in a twisted convoluted fashion like law-enforcement criminal profilers. However for them it was even worse given the mad genius and abilities their suspects often possessed.

Holding up the folder, he asked, “Since you prepared this, what are your thoughts on the connection with Valentina Savitskaya?”

Andrea closed her eyes giving her to gather her thoughts and began. “Valentina Zarya Savitskaya is 37 and was born in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. She immigrated to the United States in 1990 and has worked for several modeling agencies but primarily for Margaret Carson’s.”

Philippe kept his smile to himself as he observed his assistant’s happiness with finding facts that were more in line with her view of the world. Nodding for her to continue, he sat back to listen.

“She is in our database going by the code name of Dixie Belle.” Andrea got a pained look as she read the rest. “Unfortunately, she is known for saying ‘I’m just a girl from Georgia’ with an over the top southern accent.”

“The official profile lists her as a Beta class mutant with the power of heighten senses. She was one of the many mutants that suddenly appeared at the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was clumsily explained as a paperwork error, but was really just their hiding what amounted to a small army of supra-humans. She and her family lived in Almaty 3; one of the USSR’s hidden cities researching supra-humans. ”

Excitedly Andrea went on with her report. “Because her powers were combat oriented she was trained in special forces tactics and strategies. She is also a gymnast and has martial arts training. Additionally her general description matches that of Kali. ”

Gently as not to embarrass her, the inspector asked, “With an oblivious connection to Ms. Carson why was she not considered a suspect at the beginning?”

Her enthusiasm waning she replied, “Age and location. Kali’s first confirmed appearance was in 1989 making Valentina not only 17 but still living in the USSR. Moreover, although some of her powers were somewhat like those exhibited by Kali, She lacks the strength and physical toughness.”

“I can see the links, but not how it all fits together.” Andrea said irked. “She works for Carson, but lives next door to Glenn. Her house shares a view of that garden which has great emotional significance to him. She is a registered mutant and superhero, he isn’t. Both have a military background, perhaps she even more so than he, given her Spetsnaz training.”

“Carson drops everything and heads straight to where when she gets the message he’s been arrested although the entire incident was kept very low key. Not even a message to this Valentina although she’d worked for her for years. However, we both saw Savitskaya last night leaving for Tonopah where we saw her car today. But our surveillance team hasn’t spotted the Russian at all, just the car and Carson.” She said shaking her head.

Inspector Imbert rubbed his chin in thought and then said, “We need more information about Ms. Savitskaya’s family and life before she immigrated. Moreover we need to know where they are now and what they‘re doing. I feel the 14 years Alan Glenn was missing is the key to this puzzle.”

Looking at her speculatively he asked, “Let us say you’re 14 years old and running away from home. Where would you go?”

Andrea thought about and answered, “The larger cities are always good places to lose oneself. The problem is many of the children who do so are taken advantaged of by predators of every stripe.”

Phillippe nodded and asked another, “Let us change the question. How about a person who’d received several years of training in espionage?”

She smiled saying, “That is a different scenario. I would try to find the last possible place anyone would think to look. Either under their nose where they wouldn't look or some place where it would difficult for my pursers to follow.”

Shaking a finger in the air, the inspector declared, “But that is exactly the question we have to answer. Alan had four years of training in many of the espionage arts as well as being fourteen years old. He also had an abiding distrust of his government.”

“You bring up another good point with mentioning the old Soviet program to hide their supra-humans from ULTIMATE inspection teams. Did the United States have or was it developing some way of letting them pass an examination without revealing their powers? Is this why Alan Glenn consistently passes our tests?”

“Patience, Andrea. We are gathering the pieces. Trust me. We will figure out this tangle. For now look for those records, while I decide who amongst our available resources has the best chance of trailing Margaret Carson into the Mojave.” The inspector said looking out the tinted windows as the outskirts of the city disappeared. His reflection gave the illusion of him floating outside in the oppressive heat. A thought teased his consciousness, but escaped him. Sighing he turned back to his work.

***

Tonopah, NV

Maggie spotted her tail on her way back to the ‘family car’ from the café. The energy signatures from their weapons labeled them as ULTIMATE agents. Discoveries made possible by captured Alien technologies from the attempted invasion some ten years ago had found all sorts of applications. They made possible energy weapons like the GATS, but they were so expensive no one else could afford them.

She found it ironic that ULTIMATE had argued for the costly weapons because they faced threats unlike that of most law enforcement officers. The GAT was the one weapon her powers could completely control. Oh, she could shut down the fancy sighting devices most conventional handguns had now days, but she couldn’t stop the purely mechanical operation unless she was so close it didn’t really matter.

Still smiling she remembered an old line from a favorite movie as she quickly slipped into the passenger seat. ‘The fancier the plumbing the easier it is to stop up the drain.’ The actor that had said that had gone on to his rewards amongst the stars, but she wondered what he would say about their ‘family car.’ Both Val and she had given it as many ‘bells and whistles’ as they could stuff into it.

She put one of those to work now. From the outside, it appeared as if Val had been reclining on the driver side and was now sitting up ready to go. In reality, no one was there at all. Maggie had even carried a bag of food with her as if to give it to her driver. It was more smoke and mirrors if hi-tech ones. When the car was operating without a driver, the images helped eliminate anyone freaking out at the driverless machine.

However, with her ability to directly interface with the system let her produce any picture she desired. Her modeling work had refined her eye for such things and she made sure to further confuse the fact Val wasn’t with her. Maggie may not be the illusionist her lover was, but the fashion industry was also adept at creating fantasy without substance.

On her command the ‘family car’ backed out and headed towards the hotel where she‘d been planning on staying. Seeing her tail following she sighed. She’d really wanted a day or two to prepare herself before heading into the sand, but it seemed she wasn’t going to get it. Maggie should’ve expected someone would be on the ball and was watching the small towns around her objective. She could’ve hidden in the muddle that was Las Vegas, but it was three hours away. Her desire to be closer had betrayed her.

Maggie closed her eyes concentrating sending her power out seeking the vehicle following her. Feeling the web of electricity, she dripped her meta-physical fingers into the steam of electrons disrupting the current. With a crackle, the alternator/generator fried itself. Smiling to herself, she knew that with the air conditioning, radios, and whatever else running it wouldn’t take long to kill the battery. She hoped they had roadside assistance.

Soon enough she was free of observers, and free to proceed to her planned hiding spot. All the surveillance the government kept upon Area 61 and the surrounding communities made it a challenge to find a secure place. Talk about having a tough time finding a spot to park!

Pulling into the ruins of the old ranch, she used a branch to cover her tire tracks. Then it was time for some more magic. Maggie unfolded the photo reactive material and placed it over her car. It was just another piece of tech-magic inspired by her lover’s passion for illusions. This had taken her some time to get right because it needed to be primarily solar powered as well as able to reliably produce the desired images.

She changed into appropriate clothing for the job at hand and readied her gear. Settling everything into place, she turned facing her car. As she mentally activated the shroud, the material rose up assuming the rough outlines and colors of an old rusty hulk of a truck. Invisibility was hard to maintain in a changing environment, but concealment was another matter.

Turning, she set off into the waving heat of the inhospitable desert.

***

Area 61

September 13, 2008

Alan grinned at the excited looks his students gave him as they followed him to the hideout. He’d let them know earlier that they were going to sneak out to the clubhouse tonight. Tonight was Saturday and there wasn’t any training for tomorrow. As far as their watchers were concerned, they were all glued to the TV in the common room.

Big Mac and Ollie had gotten better at overriding the security cameras and they all had a lot to talk about after their first week here. The mysterious power drain had slowed and given them about another week according to Big Mac’s analysis. The AI also had another good piece of information for them. It had sneakily managed to use the little robots running around here as his spies. He’d seen the techs stuffing some kind of gadget into elevator 6.

They hadn’t a clue what it was except it required a hell of a lot of power and that the zoomies had packed explosives underneath to presumably blow it out the top of the shaft. Then they had sealed the bottom off and put guards around it. The interesting part was, whatever it was, it was the source of that power drain Big Mac had been monitoring.

Presumably, that box was why he and the kids had been brought down here for Doc Mac to use for guinea pigs. With it sealed up in that shaft, there no way to take a closer look. Nope if they were going to find out what was going on they were going to have find another way.

Getting everyone out, he shut the secret door behind them. His students had learned much in the week. Malik was more relaxed now that he had an outlet for all his pent up energy. He was happy being bounced around the Dojo, and just as glad to be the bouncer. Josh had also grown not only in his powers but also in maturity. The teenager had been surprised to learn his own physical strength and stamina were greater now.

Amanda had been unwilling at first to use her powers, but now with a little prompting by her teammates had grown more comfortable with them. She still had a long way to go, but it was a start. Malak was learning things about her magnetic powers like throwing lightning as well as projecting a protective screen not just for her, but for her friends as well.

Entering the clubhouse, Lizzie seeing Ollie jumped up into the air towards him giggling, “Ollie, I can fly!”

The small alien sent back to the happy child floating in the air beside him, “Yes. I see!”

Alan was content seeing how much the six year old had adapted to their unusual situation. After she’d talked to him that night she’d been able to get over some of her sadness. Lizzie had also learned how to use her energy field to fly and how to better control her strength.

They were also becoming friends just as he and The Rocketeers had many years ago. Josh and Malik were doing that male bonding thing, while the girls Amanda and Malak were already close. Lizzie had quickly become everyone’s little sister and their mascot.

That left Billy. He was still struggling with his feelings and desires. The teenager really needed someone to talk to, but that was a problem. Courtney Hathaway was a psychiatrist, but from what Ollie was telling him if he knew what her plans were for the kid, he would have to hurt her, bad.

That left him or Ollie. His friend the alien was one of the wisest people he knew, but the whole human gender sexuality thing was a mystery to him. That left Alan and he feared that he would have to reveal secrets that he would rather keep. Besides that, Billy was doing fairly well developing his elastic ability even if he was keeping his mimic talent under wraps.

As for the other kids, Billy hadn’t developed any close friends yet, but had an obvious crush on Malak. Alan was pleased that she hadn’t taken his shyness towards her the wrong way, and was simply ignoring it for now. Amanda had surprised him by acting as a moderator with Malak reminding her how it felt to be the odd kid out.

Lizzie had begun spending almost as much time with Billy as with the older girls. That puzzled the others a little but not Alan. Younger children and animals always knew, it seemed.

For that matter, it was still happening. Dr. Hathaway was wondering why Lizzie, and the others were coming to him for comfort and not her. After all, it was traditionally the women that children came to for such things. He couldn’t deny that his maternal side didn’t enjoy the experience, however it was a flaw in his long held deception.

Moreover, as much Dr. Hathaway might have been out maneuvered earlier she was no one’s fool. She was beginning to notice the kids weren’t reacting the way she wanted. They’d all known Ollie’s little mental mirror trick would only work for just so long. The dear Doctor would begin looking for answers and sooner or later, she would find them. This damn pit acted like a hothouse forcing all of them together in almost constant contact. Tonight was the one night she took away to decompress, but there was no such outlet for him.

Eventually, his true self would begin to show, and sharp-eyed very smart people like Dr. Hathaway and Doc Mac would see it. If that wasn’t enough stress for him, they now had only two weeks before D-Day.

Shaking his head, he pushed his worries aside and tried to enjoy the laughter and happiness as his students chattered away, free of fears of being overheard. Looking at the round table that dominated the room it gave him bittersweet feelings like always. That carved table stood for some lofty ideals but also for mutual respect and friendship.

Picking up the gravel his brother Gus had purloined long ago, Captain Vroom called the Order of the Rocketeer Round Table to order.

<<<<>>>>

Chapter Twenty-three

September 15, 2008

ETWF: minus 17

Outside of Tonopah NV

Looking out the SUV’s window at the desolation, Philippe Imbert sighed. It had been three days since his agents had lost Margaret Carson. More certain than ever, he knew she was one of the two he had sought for so long. The mechanical difficulty the two agents had suffered while clever was just too convenient for it to be happenstance.

He knew many found the desert landscape stunning, but even as he could appreciate its stark contrasts, he could not call it beautiful. The abandoned ranch with its abandoned rusting truck out front spoke of man’s endless conflict with nature. This area was where they had lost their quarry’s trail.

Margaret Carson must have stashed her car somewhere nearby, but searches had turned up nothing. Considering how tricky they were, it could be right under their very noses. He had hoped for some flash of insight like that in Alan Glenn’s garden, but alas nothing.

Philippe knew Area 61 bordered this old ranch, and that their security was formidable. The web of sensors and detection devises made movement of anything larger than a coyote impossible because of responding security police.

And it was all useless against the foe they faced. Expecting such to stop someone who commanded machines as the Tech-Witch did was sheer foolishness. Still for his own peace of mind, he had to imagine that breaking into a place as heavily guarded, as Area 61 would prove challenging for even such as she.

At least their information search regarding Valentina Savitskaya had been more successful. He turned his attention back to Andrea’s brief. With the Directors refusal to provide more support with even a helicopter, it took forever to get anywhere because of the vast area they had to cover. He had taken to doing much of his day-to-day work while moving.

“Much of the information about their secret mutant facilities was kept on paper to keep our inspection teams from finding them. When Kazakhstan split from the USSR, and our staff was overwhelmed trying to deal with registering thousands of new mutants, many of those records were lost, stolen, or destroyed.”

“There is an addendum that she may have lied about her age in the confusion. She might be 10 years older, but it is hard to be sure with the longevity many mutants share. With so many of them going rogue, one young woman lying about her age didn’t brother anyone.” His assistant reported.

The inspector nodded, “Indeed. Many went to work for the emerging Russian Mafia instead of like their American counterparts forming their own criminal enterprises. That’s not to say there still aren’t more virtual supra-Warlords in that part of the world than we would like.”

Andrea flicked her laptop screen to the next page. “Mutant-stan.”

Philippe shook his head in disagreement. “Zolotoye-Yablochko is an entirely different situation. It was one of those secret cities you just mentioned. Mutant-stan was the popular name coined by the press. It is not accurate. It is a separate country, but is completely surrounded by Kazakhstan. Its autonomy was a tactic to have the supra-humans living there out from under the ban of serving in the military.

They realized that to declare independence would simply make them a target so they have strong mutual protection agreements with Kazakhstan. Unlike Professor Mortis’s little kingdom of Haemus in the Balkans they haven’t convinced the rest of the world that they would be willing to blow up everyone if they’re invaded.”

He sighed, “I suppose there is some advantage of being a paranoid schizophrenic. A competent brilliant paranoid schizophrenic,” the inspector amended speaking of Professor Mortis.

“Between Haemus and Zolotoye-Yablochko, they have the greatest concentration of ULTIMATE resources pre-positioned against them. Haemus is dead center where, if a weapon of mass destruction did go off, it would cause untold misery. Zolotoye-Yablochko never signed the ULTIMATE accords, and with those mutual protection treaties in place, attacking them would be the same as declaring war on Kazakhstan. Of course military action in any country that has not signed the accords violates our charter. Despite that, warmongers amongst us that argue Zolotoye-Yablochko is nothing, but a refuge for criminals.”

Andrea shook her head smiling, “No sir, you misunderstand. Valentina Savitskaya is from Almaty 3, the city that became Zolotoye-Yablochko. Her family is still there. It appears to be quite large. Her parents are still living, and she has 12 brothers and sisters. She was number seven. Some of them could be adopted given the practice was encouraged during the early years of the city in the mid 1970’s.”

Meeting her mentor’s eyes she said, “Gregor and Ludmila Savitskiy were both entertainers and performers in one of the traveling state circuses. They were billed as illusionists.”

She watched his eyebrows rise, and continued. “After their oldest child Peter was discovered to be a mutant they moved the entire family to Almaty 3 rather than split up. They began a school teaching dance, acrobatics, and gymnastics as well as putting on recitals and shows. It was here that we found dates that didn’t match up which is what made us think she lied about her age.”

Philippe had to smile. “If we arrested every woman who’d ever lied about her age we would have no time to look for criminals. However, it is very interesting her family were stage magicians. It provides background into the way she thinks.”

“I know our representatives aren’t welcome there, but Zolotoye-Yablochko might be a good place to look for all of our missing suspects. Finding them would help prove a link between our two amazons and Zolotoye-Yablochko.” He said making a quick note.

Andrea nodded. “I’ll put in the request, but I understand that they consider mutants fleeing such charges as political refugees. As such they keep their names secret and even provide new identities to protect their families from reprisals.”

She hesitated before asking, “Sir is that something they really need to fear from us? I know the law has to be enforced, and mutants because of their powers are special cases. However, do their families need to be afraid of us?”

Looking up from his notes the inspector replied, “We’ve talked some about this before. In the beginning, our organization, was here to prevent national governments from using these supra-humans against each other. In a way we were protecting these unusual people from being exploited, but also to keep the criminals amongst them from taking advantage of the world’s majority which had no powers at all.”

“Obviously that has changed as some from that majority have become fearful of these special peoples and seek to control them. So many of them have let their fears turn them into fanatics. ULTIMATE has changed as more and more of its personnel come from them.”

“I would like to think that no, these refugees families have nothing to fear. However, fanatics are not rational. So, I’m sad to say that they might be right to take such precautions.” He paused seeing her troubled expression.

“There is still hope. Not everyone here sees all mutants as the enemy, yet. If the fanatics had completely taken over, open-minded agents like you would never have made it though the selection process. Soon I’ll be enjoying my retirement sipping wine at a picturesque chateau in France, but your task if you don’t grow jaded or give up in frustration will be to take our agency back from these warmongers.”

He brought his hands together signaling an end to that tropic and asked, “Do we have any information on the current activities of Ms. Savitskaya’s extended family?”

Referring to her laptop again, she gave him the unpleasant news. “Peter, her eldest brother, is a Colonel in their Army. He is one of their top dozen officers given its small size. We have little official testing data on him because he along with his files disappeared during the USSR’s breakup. He didn’t reappear until Zolotoye-Yablochko became an independent nation.”

Philippe felt an uncomfortable lump in his stomach as she spoke. He was very much afraid he knew of who this Peter was going to turn out to be. Early in the formation of the new country, a part of Kazakhstan’s army rebelled and tried to invade the breakaway republic. Tried was the right word. The short-lived rebellion was crushed so quickly that it was over before most knew it had even begun. One of the reasons for that was a man who had astonishingly strong powers of Telekinesis. He disabled tank column after tank column by simply picking up the multi-ton machines and turning them over onto their backs.

“Peter the Great,” Andrea read. “Was the name given to him by his troops and it has become his official code name. We have an exhaustive file on him, but little real data. Beyond any doubt, he is one of the most powerful telekinesis talents on the planet. Because he is so high profile, more information is limited. It was only in a cross search I found out about her being his sister by matching the ages and dates.”

The Frenchman raised his eyebrows asking, “So no one else knows of this?”

She closed her laptop replying, “No sir, just us. He didn’t become a person of interest until after she’d already immigrated. Their intelligence service did a good job of limiting knowledge of his family to the public, but I found it only because I back-tracked her data trail and not his. It was only by comparing the two I found their relationship.”

Rubbing the bridge of his nose, he made his decision. “For now let’s keep this quiet. I do not know if this would make the directors change their minds or not, but to blackmail another with safety of their family. That leaves a foul taste in my mouth that I know the others that we were just discussing would leap at. I leave it to you to find the best way to secure that data.”

He watched her as she thought for a moment and then watched as she opened her computer and deleted the information. The inspector might be old but he knew those zealots within the department did not trust his devotion to justice. It had occurred to him that Andrea might have been assigned to keep an eye on him. Perhaps she was a talented enough actress to have kept him fooled, but he thought not.

Turning his attention back to the desert, he wondered what Alan Glenn was doing right now? Where was Margaret Carson? Had she broken the security of one of the great fortresses of the age? He wondered if he would ever know.

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 24

Area 61

Alan felt good all things considered. His history class earlier in the day had gone well as had his other class the kids had taken to calling Powers 101. Maxi-Badd may be effective at making his students stretch their powers, but for their other skills, it was up to the 35 or so years of training he had.

Malik was a naturally competitive kid that needed a good workout the way a racehorse needed to run. Alan had solved part of his problem by having the youth show Lizzie the basics. He could survive her accidental overenthusiastic responses, and it served to work off energy for both of them. That left Malak, his sister, to help with the others. Since she, Amanda, Josh, and Billy, had only moderate increases in strength and toughness it worked out well.

His workout with Malik had been satisfying today. They were both able to have a good hard workout as the younger boy learned how to control his powers. In effect he was carbon fiber reinforced. It made him damn hard to hurt, and his stronger muscle fibers made him far stronger than he looked. Then had come the next surprise of the day that Alan had for them.

All the guys had looked betrayed when Alan had revealed they were all taking dancing lessons. Okay he didn’t included Billy with them. He’d looked nervous afraid someone would figure out he wanted to dance. He’d paired him up with Malak while putting Josh and Amanda together.

Malik, he’d bouncing between both his sister and Amanda, but primarily he wanted to get him to get involved in the acrobatic like break dance. The kid was fast, but with his much greater strength to weight ratio he could be a lot more agile. The acrobatic dance would help with that and maybe he could sneak in some gymnastics in too. Doing the iron cross on the rings was always impressive and a good draw to newcomers.

Courtney Hathaway was the official dance instructor, but she had been open to his suggestions. They both knew the dancing was just to help the kids learn coordination and how to work closely with someone else.

As for Lizzie, she’d been ecstatic taking the ballet lessons, but even she’d been ready to call it day after the class was over.

Finishing cleaning up, he was ready for some food. Walking into the cafeteria, he saw nothing but long faces. Taking a tray and walking down the chow line he soon saw why. Alan had to keep from wincing every time one of the cooks dumped more unappetizing gunk on his plate. By the time he’d sat down his face was just as long as theirs was.

The kids were all just kind of poking at their food, which didn’t look any better than his did. A couple of them had eaten the fresh fruit provided but that wasn’t enough to make a meal for a pack of hungry kids. You would think that Doc would’ve learned from last time that it didn’t matter how good for you it was if it looked and tasted like crap. Of course, this could just be another of Doc Mac’s tests, which it probably was.

Back in the day, The Rocketeers had figured out how to escape for brief times. They’d known going back to their families was a lost cause, but there’d been an old fashioned hamburger stand named Dad’s that’d really hit the spot for a bunch of staving teenagers. It became a test and a game for them to solve the puzzle with some good ole American junk food as their reward. More to the point, Alan had found out by a comment to one of their zoomie guards that Dad’s was not only still there, but the food was just as good.

Not able to repress his grin he asked the table, “How would you guys like to get some real food?”

As one, they turned and looked at him. Alan imagined a pack of staving wolves would look less ferocious.

“Dump this stuff, and meet me by the restricted area. Be ready for a ride.” He told them looking pointedly at the tutu Lizzie was still wearing. “Food or tutu, which is it?”

She looked down at her pink dancewear, and hurried out at a run. Alright then, food it is. Amanda grabbed Lizzie’s tray as the rest reached the same decision. Watching them leave, he reached mentally out to his friend. “Ollie? You there old buddy?”

Instantly he was answered. “Yes, Alan I’m here. Is there some kind of problem?”

He was working out in his head how soon Doc or Lying-to-Me-Laramie would be notified something was up. Hathaway was likely still in the shower, and so would be the slowest to respond. Of them, only Doc and the General would know what he intended.

No problem Ollie, just an offer. How would you like to take the buggy out for spin out to Dad’s and back?” Alan sent.

Ollie’s reply was full of longing. “It has been many years since I last enjoyed a strawberry shake, but Alan is this wise? I am certain that we can avoid getting caught, but Doctor McClellan and General Laramie will be upset at you.”

Getting up he emptied his tray while looking at his watch. Walking swiftly he missed the squad of zoomie cops storming into the cafeteria. “That’s a good thing Ollie. Hathaway is catching on that her mind control trick isn’t working on the kids. I want their attention on me. Moreover, this is just the thing to help bond them together. You know the old primitive instinct of sharing food you had to go out and run down.”

The little alien’s remark was full of humor, “You humans are a strange species, but it is sad that my people couldn’t put aside their greed for your blue world. There is much your people could have taught mine.”

Alan ducked though the gym coming out the back of the medical block. He knew now it was the General who’d been told. Doc would’ve been waiting at the hanger doors for him. Only Laramie would try old-fashioned brute force. “So you’ll meet us on board?”

Ollie sent back, “But of course. I hope you remembered your wallet my friend for you’re buying!”

He got to the intersection of the hallway and saw his students waiting. With a quick gesture, he called them over. They had maybe a few minutes before security vectored in on him using the cameras.

“This way.” he called leading them to an access door. It wasn’t normally guarded because it didn’t go anywhere. The Hanger wasn’t normally guarded either relying on the vault like locks to keep out trespassers. However, the hanger had another entrance that this access way did lead to and although the General undoubtedly sent zoomies to the front, he was betting the back had been forgotten.

His grin got even larger as they reached the unguarded door. It still had the sophisticated cipher lock, but that wasn’t a problem. Opening his sight, he could feel the last two men to use this door. Seeing deeper he saw the ten key code they’d used. Running over the combinations in his head it took an act of will not to shake his head. It seemed that some things really don’t change. Now to use a little misdirection.

Alan heard their moans as they saw the keypad. He silenced them by raising his hand. “Do either of you girls have anything that sprays like perfume or hairspray?”

Amanda and Malak looked at each other and handed him a small aerosol bottle of breath-fresher.

Spray the pad, he said, “The liquid should bead up on the keys used because of the oils on the fingers.”

All the kids were clustered around trying to see as sure enough the trick worked.

Billy saw part of the solution. “Hey it’s the odd numbers except for that 2.”

Alan decided to give them a little help, “Remember what I’ve said about tests. This is The Rocketeers’ hanger.

Josh got another suggesting, “Could be the Prime numbers, divisible only by one and itself.”

Amanda got the rest of it. “Descending order like a countdown. The first ten primes counting backwards.”

Quickly he punched in the keys with a flourish saying, “See nothing to it.”

Alan could hear the kids grasping as they saw their ride.

Billy awed breathed out, “It’s the Rocket!”

Malak’s just as wide-eyed corrected him. “That’s a flying saucer.”

“No, I don’t mean a rocket, The Rocket. Look, you can see the name as part of the red racing strips. It was The Rocketeer’s transport.

Alan couldn’t help himself from bouncing on the toes of his feet looking at the bright silver saucer. It was really only the rebuilt remains of the spaceship Ollie had come to Earth in.

Old Big Feet Lafitte had another one of his cows when he’d found how they’d repainted their Buggy with racing stripes. The design for once was all Alan’s and he was proud that he’d been able to talk Alice and Jeff out the flame job they wanted on it. Not that Big Feet appreciated the difference.

Ollie called from within, “If you still want to go, you better hurry. They are at the door.”

As one, they all clambered on board. Alan was busy seating the kids as they gawked at the interior, and that Ollie was already seated in the pilot’s bubble. The warning klaxons started their cry amid the flashing yellow lights as the saucer lurched on its way to the launch rail.

Keeping his feet, Alan doubled checked everyone’s harness before vaulting to his own seat. He’d just made it as a solid thump told him they had engaged the rail. The Rocket started tilting upwards amid the new passengers startled exclamations.

Alan yelled out over them all, “Everyone hold on! We’re beginning the countdown. I’ve got to warn you, Ollie likes to drive fast.”

He leaned over clicking a button letting them listen to the speaker outside. “Ten. Nine. Glenn! Seven. You stand down! Three. You hear me! Zero, Ignition!

Alan sent back hurriedly, “Hey! We’ll be right back! I’ll bring you back a ‘Big Daddy and some fries!” Right before they were kicked hard upwards!

Ollie ecstatically emitted, “Yah Hoo!!!”

He just couldn’t resist adding a hardy, “Yee Hah!” to his joyful friend’s cry.

With a wide grin he asked, “So what do you think of the ride so far?”

He was answered with a chorus that ranged from “Can we do that again?” to shocked “whoa’s”

The teacher in him decided it was time for a lesson. “Actually nearly all of Earth’s spacecraft are just like this one. In that invasion during 1996, there were a lot of saucers captured. Wanting people to forget just how close we came to losing that one, they did a little bodywork and slapped on some paint. Suddenly The Space Age was finally really here.”

“The only difference is the old girl here was the first after being shot down over Roswell. She wasn’t the only one either. I can’t blame the Gray’s too much about being upset at us, but Ollie tells me they were just looking for an excuse to invade us anyways. Isn’t that right, Ollie?”

For an answer, the Grey rolled their craft as he took them down in a steep dive. “That’s correct Alan. The universe is a big place and there are other life bearing worlds. However there are life bearing worlds and then there’s the Earth. Because of Earth’s unique circumstances, such as your large single moon that vigorously stirred the primordal soup when this planet was young, you have an unusually healthy biological diversity. Or maybe I should say use to.”

My people the Grays as you call them covet such worlds. They were going to invade regardless. Although my parents were scientists and not of the soldier cast they too desired this planet. As for myself, I was a child when I arrived, but grew to adulthood here. I can see the advantages of both Gray and Human cultures.”

Alan held on as Ollie hunched over his controls zooming around obstacles. It never failed to amaze him that the normally calm little guy turned into a maniac behind the controls of a vehicle.

“Mr. Glenn,” asked Malak. “If we didn’t have cheap space travel till 1996 how did the moonbase get built?”

He’d been rubbing his hands together in glee if he’d hadn’t been holding for dear life. A historian always loved to talk about their specialty. “You have two guys to thank for that, the Doctor Ferocious Foundation, and Professor Quester.”

“In the 70’s when NASA was still convinced their space shuttle was the way to go, they financed their own projects. I’m not going to talk about all the red tape they had to cut though. That is a story in and of itself. They did get their space station up and from there back to the moon. Of course when Helium 3 up there was discovered to be the perfect fuel for Fusion power, industrial operations made both those guys multi-billionaires.”

“Going back to these saucers for a moment, no one has been able to make a copy of the engines these babies use that is practical for mass production. One off and one of a kind, certainly, but nothing that would justify the cost. For that matter no one has been able to get the performance out of this buggy like Ollie can.”

“For our first couple missions, a zoomie pilot was in the bubble.” He said pointing at the raised seat Ollie was in, placing him where he could see out the Plexiglas dome.

“When they found out during one of our excursions,” Alan explained making ditto marks with his fingers, “That we could apparently fly this thing better than any zoomie they let us go alone, happy to monitor us from their comfortable seats in mission control. From then on Ollie was our pilot. He was the secret member of The Rocketeers that saved our bacon on more than one occasion.”

Ollie hung a steep left bank as they crossed over the highway leading to their destination. “I may have been of some assistance, but don’t underestimate yourself. The Rocketeers was one of a kind and I’m honored to have been associated with it.”

Deftly the Grey brought the saucer down beside the old-fashioned neon sign proclaiming Dad’s, The Best Burgers and Shakes in the Mojave!

The kids stormed down the ramp, their stomachs rumbling at the scent of the grilling food. Alan waited till they’re out of sight, and reached under one of the panels searching.

Ollie tapped him on the shoulder holding out the wad of bills that they’d always kept hidden in the Buggy for emergencies. “Looking for something?”

Sheepishly Alan held out his hand for the cash, “Yeah. You know they took my wallet.”

Activating one of the cobbled together gadgets at his belt, Ollie was covered by an image of a boy dressed in fashions thirty years old. “Come on, I hear a strawberry shake calling my name!”

Soon they were zipping back towards Area 61 at a much more leisurely pace since their pilot was busy with the largest shake Dad’s sold. Escorting them was a pair of Air Force enhanced fighter jets F-22C Predators making sure that they didn’t get lost on the way back to the stable.

Leaning over Josh quietly asked him a question that the others happily enjoying their food didn’t hear. “If it was this easy to get out of there, how come we even bothered to stop. We could’ve kept on going to Canada or any place as long as it wasn’t back in that hole!” He said with feeling.

Alan savored his chocolate malt before answering. “There are a number of reasons. One, we still have those implants and with those they can track or perhaps even incapacitate us if they want. Two. While I’m not shy about cutting into myself and ripping one of those things out of me, are you willing to do the same to Amanda or say Lizzie?

“We could find a doctor to take them out, but the things might be trapped too. So we’re putting not only our lives, but someone else’s at risk. Three. Ollie is driving and this buggy has sentimental value to him. Before you ask, he has his own reasons for hiding out at Area 61. If you want to know, you have to ask him. I’ve tried for years to convince him to leave, but if you can do better be my guest.”

Pointing up out of the dome at the two jets on each side of them he counted, “Four. Those guys are out of Edwards Air Force Base. Trying to skedaddle out of here is going to cause these fellas to try to stop us. I don’t have a beef with them. It’s the ones giving the orders, I have a problem with and that’s important because we might have to knock them out of the sky to do it. I don’t want to be responsible for some family receiving a visit from a public affairs officer offering condolences.”

“Five. I made a point of turning this into a kind of impromptu field trip. With luck they’ll see this little trip as more of my maverick personality at work, and think I’m more or less are doing what they want me too. We’re showed our disrespect for authority, but now we’re on our way back just like good little boys and girls.”

“When we do make our break for it, they’ll think it is just another show of disrespect. With luck, before they figure out it’s something else it’ll be too late.” Holding up his malt Alan smacked his lips. “No one does these like Dad’s. One day the franchises will shut him down, so this trip was well worth it.”

The teenager shrugged unable to deny that. Leaning back in his own seat he washed down some more fries. The food was good.

Ollie however had been listening and was still curious. Sending to him alone, “Were those your only reasons Alan? After all I could have dropped you all off and made it look as if the ‘Rocket’ had returned to Area 61 empty.”

Letting the dregs melt in his mouth Alan sent back privately to his friend. “Yes all of those reasons are valid. Yeah, you can drop us off, but that don’t change the problem with the implants. I don’t doubt for a moment that they are much nastier propositions than the one I dug out of myself thirty years ago.”

Besides I’m still hoping I can talk you into leaving this joint. I know your reasons, and I do respect them. It’s just that you are perhaps the only Gray in the universe that really understands us. I’m not so much a fool as to think that one little planetoid sized spaceship was the only one your people had. They are going to come back, and next time they won’t be so careless with their computer and data security! If anyone has any chance at all of stopping the next invasion before it happens, it‘s you.”

Ollie’s mental voice was just a little disproving. This was an old issue between them. “Alan you know my reasons. The circumstances behind them hasn‘t changed. I’m staying where I am.”

The human replied, “I don’t suppose you’ve had any luck figuring a way past the vault security?”

Bringing the ‘Rocket’ into a hover, Ollie sat the ship down on the landing pad blinking its approach lights waiting their return. “No more than you have. I’m afraid getting into the vaults is a good deal harder than knowing the prime numbers.”

A slight jerk was the only indication of when the pad elevator started moving the silver and red racing striped saucer back to its underground hanger.

Alan took a deep breath before continuing. “Ollie believe or not, getting in isn’t the deal breaker. The difficult part is getting back out. Even if we did dodge security, and got back to the hanger bay, this buggy isn’t set up for cargo. We couldn’t get everything out. If we try and make any modifications so we could, the boys in blue would be sure to notice.”

“The only other way out is the freight elevator and that would mean fighting our way out regardless if we do it by land or air. Our best chance is by using trickery, but the whole place is tightly monitored except for a few pigeonholes like the clubhouse and your workshop. That makes the usual illusionist methods a real bitch.” The ex-hero explained.
The Grey with sad humor pointed out, “So you have thought about my problem.”

Alan sent the warmth he felt for his friend. “Well, maybe a little.”

A solid bump signaled their elevator ride was over. Alan herded everyone out, their arms still full of bags and cups. Looking over his shoulder, he saw Ollie step into the small transporter and disappear. My, wouldn’t the brass love to know that they had one of the sci-fi gadgets all along but didn’t even know it.

Picking up the big cardboard cup-holder and the bulging sack of burgers and fries, he went out to face the music. He was pretty sure he’d timed this excursion about right, but the next couple days would tell.

“All right I’ve got a vanilla, a strawberry and two chocolate shakes.” He announced jauntily strolling down the ramp as the quartet of grim faced zoomie cops advanced towards him.

To be continued.



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