Once the Hero Part 6

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Die Glocke! WWII Nazi Germany's Experiments with Xerum 525

Capt Vroom's adventures continue!

Once the Hero
Part Six
By
Grover

Chapter 28

September 20, 2008

Area 61

ETWF: Minus 12 Days

General Robert Laramie stood authoritatively as he surveyed the immense Z-Ray 13 emitter. Gruffly, he thought they should call the damn thing what it looks like, a damn cannon from hell. The latest subject was strapped down and the white suited techs were swarming about attaching the small forest of telemetry leads.

Safely behind a foot of lead infused transparent PlasSteel, he could still feel the bell shaped matrix generator and its magnetic containment fields revving up to operating speeds. Despite having to run these experiments late at night because of security concerns, as well as Project Looking Glass’s growing power requirements, not a single soul yawned. Pure fear could do that. They all knew just how dangerous this thing was. Every time this thing was fired up, they were unleashing the fires of the gods. Some said they were opening Pandora’s Box, while others claimed they were like Prometheus.

The General knew all of them were wrong. Dr. McClellan had built upon the Nazi ’Die Glocke’ Project and their experiments with Xerum 525. As a student of history, he knew the legacy of blood begun by the Nazi’s experiments continue to the present day in the form of Project Meridian. He was well aware of just how many had died in the nearly sixty years since this hellish device's invention.

No, this wasn’t any heroic Greek tale of stealing fire or a foolish woman opening a box. It was much darker than that. Blood and black, evil, sinister deeds were what that thing represented. For every shining success to walk like a god from that chamber, too many others had died horrible, unspeakable deaths warped beyond any recognition of ever having been human. That is, the ones that simply weren’t turned into black radioactive slime.

Grudgingly, he admitted to himself that Dr. McClellan had vastly improved the odds of leaving that amphitheater alive, but the deficit in lives accrued since the dark years of WWII would forever stain the ledger in red.

Yet here he was ready, like an ancient Carthaginian, to throw more youngsters into the fires of Ba`al Hammon altars, paying for the gods’ dark favor in flesh and blood. There simply wasn’t a choice. This facility represented an insurance policy not only for the United States, but for the entire world. In its depths were stored the knowledge and weapons that he hoped and prayed would never be needed. However, the universe had proved itself to have as vicious a food chain as any on Earth.

During the Alien Gray Invasion in 1996, it’d been a recovered alien spacecraft launched from here that’d delivered the computer virus that disabled the invasion fleet‘s computers. That’d given the Earth the chance to fight back. For that matter many of the other weapons that’d helped deliver victory had their start right here in Area 61’s labs. Even the aging heroes of the disbanded Eagle Squadron who’d helped defend the planet had their origins in this very room.

No, this facility had to be protected. That was not even considering the untold disaster of the transformed Blazzar running amuck. The thought of what a living atomic weapon could do in a mad rampage upon the nation he loved so made his blood run cold.

Down below, the yellow warning lights helped hasten the technicians’ evacuation from the amphitheater. That left the lone figure strapped down spread eagle before the massive bore of the magnetic coils designed to focus the emissions of the ‘Die Glocke’ onto one frail child.

Robert Laramie closed his eyes, haunted by a memory of another little girl, Joyce Sturm. She’d only been 12 when she died down there.

Opening his eyes, he saw Dr. McClellan at the control panel nod his readiness. Lifting the bright red flashing safety covers, together he and the Doctor put in their keys and turned them. The howling klaxons and the flashing red lights seemed appropriate for what they were about to unleash. He understood all too well the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions” as the Doctor pulled the trigger.

Wild purple lightning thundered into the chamber. Even with his goggles and the heavily polarized PlasSteel, he had to look away from the blinding arc of energies.

The second the radiation detectors gave the all clear, the medical team ran to the subject. A glance at the telemetry told the General the experiment still lived. Turning he checked the monitor revealing the room full of the casket-like energy stasis pods waiting their turn.

He’d had his doubts about this project offshoot when Dr. McClellan had first brought it to him. However, his experience had taught him to always have a backup plan. Looking over at the subject being hustled out of the chamber he could see the Saul Simpson clone of Elizabeth Tyree still breathed. Only time would tell if the combination of stasis pods and exposure to the Z-ray would give her true life or she would simply derezz.

Passing her gurney, another team of techs were rushing to get the occupant of the next pod in place, only twenty-nine to go.

***

South Asia, Kazakhstan

Zolotoye-Yablochko Ministry of Defense

Pyotr Savitskiy ran his hands through his short military crew cut. The current situation between Georgia and the Russian Federation had everyone on edge. No one wanted to see the Russian Bear become hungry and start gobbling up its neighbors again. The President had asked the Ministry what their military options were to help discourage them.

With typical Slavic fatalism the President listened to them give what they saw as their options. Pyotr wanted to laugh. Defense Ministry? They had one so called general and twelve colonels. All chiefs and no Indians, his sister would say. Calling their little city, a nation, was really pushing believability, but even as much as it’d grown, Yablochko just couldn’t support a standing Army.

They relied on their militia and did their best to have as highly trained officers, sergeants and instructors as they could so the rank and file could be filled out by their citizens. Even then, their Police force came closest to regular soldiers. Their real muscle was their Special Forces teams, which made the best use of their strengths, the large number of mutants that lived here. Like the Cossacks of old they would harass and hinder larger forces while waiting for the chance to destroy key elements of the enemy’s support and command structure.

Everyone in this room knew that someday the mutant haters would attack them. Their city had been built years before during the Great Patriotic War as a secret factory city far from the front lines. Nestled in the mountains, their Soviet masters had taken every advantage of that and dug deep into the very rock. With the threat of Western missiles in the Cold War, every possible service had been hardened to survive the holocaust that never came.

When the breakup of the Soviet Union had left them suddenly exposed, canny politics let them slip by the tyrannical laws of ULTIMATE. It had not escaped any of them that the organization had grown increasingly hostile toward the very group it was suppose to protect and govern. With that firmly in mind, they had burrowed even more deeply into the mountains, making use of the defensive terrain.

The unique crafts and products their mutant citizens could produce gave their small nation an economy all out of proportion to its size. Peter smiled thinking of his sister’s remarks about boomtowns. Her thoughts on the subject were whispered loudly in the right ears, pushing those planning the city’s expansion to make sure their Golden Apple was also a pleasant place to live.

The President sighed as he received their recommendations that military forces not be deployed, given it would mean putting their only standing ready force, their instructors, in harm’s way. Losing even the experience of one, whom they relied on for training the rank and file of their militia, would be a heavy blow to their defenses. However, their intelligence services with its farseers, and clairvoyants could feed useful information about the Russians’ movements, that no satellite could match, to their allies.

As the meeting was breaking up, Peter sighed once more as the President’s aide passed him the note that the Commander in Chief wanted to see him. Standing he took a quick moment to straighten his uniform, holding his service cap stiffly under his arm. He stood waiting his turn for his President’s attention.

The Commander in Chief’s mostly bald gray fringe head showed his age even if his still trim body told of his ferocious self-discipline. He’d led his people for over ten years in the treacherous political terrain of post-Soviet Central Asia.

The wily politician’s eyes lit up as he approached Pyotr. Warmly the two men grasped each other. Releasing him, the older man’s face turned serious.

“Pyotr I understand your sister’s mad mission has at last landed her in trouble. I must applaud her bravery and the lives she’s saved, but it is time she came home,” the older man said gravely.

Pyotr nodded. “She’s been taken back to the American’s secret city much like this one. This might be a good thing. Many ghosts from her past are there. Mayhap she will be able to, at long last, to lay them to rest.”

A small precious moment of silence rested between them for they both had specters of their own.

Drawing himself up the older commanded, “Colonel, I think it is time you take some leave. Events in Georgia are beyond our ability to control for the near future and I would rather have you rested without any worries about proceedings in faraway lands, if and when, things do reach us. Perhaps you can find a few loyal friends to go with you. There is protection in numbers. You hear such horrible stories about what happens to tourists in America.”

Pyotr nodded understanding exactly what kind of vacation his President had in mind. Already he had a few of those loyal friends in mind to take such a trip.

Before turning away back to his entourage of aides, he said one last thing. “When you find Valentina, tell her I and her mother loves her very much, and want her to come home. We’re still waiting on grandchildren from her.”

Pyotr’s reply was lost in the roar of voices seeking the President of Zolotoye-Yablochko’s attention. “Yes Papa.”

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 29

September 20, 2008

Area 61

ETWF: Minus 12 Days

Bill wearily stretched his arm the 6 feet to open the door. That morning Dr. McClellan wanted to check exactly what Bill’s level of physical fitness was. He’d been run half to death on that treadmill. Getting back to his room, all he could do was flop down on his bed in exhaustion.

He was surprised to find Amanda and Malak standing there. A little embarrassed at being caught being lazy, he hurriedly stood, wincing at his sore muscles.

“Huh, hi? What’s up?” Bill said, kicking himself for his stupid question.

The two smiled while Amanda asked, “Can we come in? We have something to ask you.”

Seeing them there smiling like a pair hunting lionesses made his stomach flip-flop. Bill wondered if they had seen him and Lizzie playing together yesterday. That stress made his poor digestive track twist up even more.

Thing was he did have a good time even if it had been a little awkward at first. He had a little sister, Stacy, who was even younger than Lizzie, but playing with her was nothing like with Lizzie. Once he got used to letting the red headed pint sized powerhouse take the lead, it had been fun. He was still the older looking out for her, but was learning from her just what girls her age did. Not the stereotype stuff, he thought they did.

Bill apprehensively nodded saying, “Um, Sure. W, w, what do you need?”

Amanda, still taking the lead, got right to it. “We saw you playing with Lizzie yesterday and we want to know if that means you still have those clothes you mentioned when we first got here?”

Shocked he’d been outed, Bill could only nod again, feeling like a bobble-headed doll.

Amanda, ignoring his reaction, smiled, continuing in for the kill. “We’ve been running around in uniforms or dingy sweats for two weeks now. Tonight is our get together and movie night, and we want to dress up some. We remembered you said something about the people here stuffing your closet full of girl-stuff, so we were wondering if you would mind if we had a look?”

Still pale and trying to remember how to breathe, Bill bobbled his head once more, pointing vaguely at his closet.

Both girls pounced at the invitation and started pulling things out, examining them. Chatting excitedly, they found some of the stuff even Bill was embarrassed about having.

Shaky from his shock, Bill felt distinctly removed from reality. He’d undergone just a few too many life-changing U-turns the past few weeks. A stray humorous thought made him wonder if he had a closet like Dr. Who from the BBC. First it was the Air Force and Ms. Hathaway, and then Mr. Glenn rummaging through it. Now, he had two girls hotter than any in his old school in it now. All the while he was trying not to stare at Malak's shapely rear, whom he admitted to himself he did have a kinda of crush on.

Just then, the girl of his dreams turned to him holding up a very short dress asking, “Bill just how did you fit into these? I know you can change shape but…” her voice trailed off as she struggle with the thought.

He could tell from her voice that she seemed to having trouble accepting he had all this stuff. Amanda, however, was far too concerned with the treasures she was finding to worry about them being his.

Making a huge effort to reconnect with the rest of the world, he said, “I have to concentrate real hard on the image, I want to become.” Feeling himself blushing bright red, he added, “It helps if I have a picture and a mirror.”

Malak with her very fair face blushed back asking, “But you really do wear these? Can you show me? I mean us?” she said, blushing even redder than he.

Amanda froze turning from his Grand Central Station like closet. Looking at both of them, she gave them a hard glare. “Hold on you two. Before I changed into a mutant, I was one of the 'popular girls',” she said, making ditto marks with her fingers.

“I was on the cheerleading squad and all the girls followed my lead. Then I mutated and I found out just what kind of torment I’d put others through. I went from the top to outsider so fast I hadn’t even recovered from it before they sent someone over to take back my cheerleading uniform.”

“No one would have anything to do with me. I found out just how loyal my so-called friends were and everyone else remembered how badly I'd treated them. There is nothing wrong with being different Bill, but I had to learn the hard way. Down here, we’re all misfits anyways so if you’re ready to share with us, fine. If not, we can wait. You’re more than welcome to dress and join us girls this evening. If the boys say anything, we can stick Lizzie on them,” she said, with a mischievous grin.

He immediately almost said no, but something in Malak’s eyes as she held up that dress made him bite it back. It reminded him of when his father had told him about the birds and the bees. Bill, as he listen to his father’s meandering speech, wondered how he’d been born at all if this was what his parents thought sex was all about. What had stayed with him though was his father saying that a man would do some of the most stupid things imaginable to catch or please a girl they liked.

Taking the dress from her and walking to his bathroom for privacy to change, Bill knew exactly what his dad had been talking about. Undressing, he had serious reservations, but a part of himself ferociously yearned to be her again. With a deep breath, he composed himself and there she was. Remembering to refer to herself as Billie, she was amazed at how quickly becoming Billie was almost as easy as relaxing into Bill.

Dressing, she made one or two alterations to herself to better fit the skimpy dress. Billie was glad that this was one of the dresses that had the underwear hung up with it. The white boys briefs wouldn’t go at all well with black, not to mention that panty line.

Not giving herself too much time to think about it, but still blushing scarlet, she opened the door. “Taa Da!” she announced nervously.

Amanda had that startled ‘deer in the headlights’ look, but it was Malak that gave Billie the giggles. She had the most dumbfounded expression. Both girls were still giving the stuff in her closet the once over, and had frozen as she had danced in.

Thinking back about her first time seeing Val, Billie did a clumsy imitation of that graceful twirl, causing her so short skirt to swirl. Realizing she was showing her lacy undies, Billie blushed even redder, stumbling to a stop, fell awkwardly onto her bed. Amanda and Malak’s frozen faces collapsed into mirth. Still giggling, she joined in, feeling as if a huge burden had lifted from her. Opening her heart, she let the laughter carry her worries away.

***

Josh and Malik gave each other a puzzled look hearing the riot of laughter erupting from Bill’s room. Both of them had rushed back after the morning tests, not even bothering to shower, so they could catch the beginning of the game. As intent as they were on the broadcast, the two guys couldn’t help wondering just what was happening in the younger boy’s room.

The two knew something had been going on the last two days, but wasn’t sure just what. Shrugging, they turned their attention back to the tube, but another outburst poked Malik’s curiosity so hard he couldn’t resist.

Josh grabbed his arm as he started to stand. “Don’t. Since I got my powers, I’ve learned there are some things you’ve got to leave alone. Trust me. Whatever it is they’re doing in there you don’t want to know.”

Malik hesitated, but his curiosity was getting the better of him. He really wanted to know what was going on.

The older boy sighed, explaining, “They have the door shut so they wanted some privacy. I think I hear all three of them laughing so it‘s at no one’s expense. What’s more, tonight is our night to hang out and if you get caught peeking, they won’t let either one of us forget it.” Gesturing at the TV. “Besides which you’ll miss the beginning of the next inning.”

Malik sat back down. Josh had a point and despite his curiosity, he’d been waiting for this game all week. “Girls being girls, they would probably find out soon enough anyways,” he thought and went back to watching his game, studiously ignoring the commotion.

***

Alan shook his head with a smile upon his lips. Billie had surprised him when she had appeared at movie night en-femme. He’d been apprehensive seeing how Amanda and Malak had pushed her into the public outing. It was that old good thing, bad thing. It was good that the older girls were so supportive, but bad if it was too soon for Billie to cope.

Those fears had faded as the young transgendered girl had relaxed and had obviously enjoyed herself. Lizzie had nearly put Billie in the infirmary with her very enthusiastic approval. Good thing Billie was so resilient! Well no harm done and maintenance could fix that hole in the wall Monday.

The two boys reacted favorably despite Billie’s desertion from the ranks of masculine solidarity. Josh took it more or less in stride even though he was from a military town with conservative views. Malik, since he and his sister were from LA, seemed more tolerant and even somewhat confused. It hadn’t escaped Alan that both of the Thorpe twins were enamored over Billie’s new appearance.

True there was still the occasional jarring gesture, but Alan thought she did very well. Last week they’d learned that Billie had only a limited ability to alter such things as hair and nails. She could lengthen it just so much, and so they could do little to style her hair to look appropriate for a girl of her age.

He’d done his part to liven up the activities when he’d convinced one of the guards to sneak in an order from Dad’s drive-in. The kids had descended on the burgers and fries with gusto. Surreptitiously, he’d hidden a strawberry shake in the fridge for Ollie for later on. His friend had been wordless at the generosity of his favorite treat.

The movie had been a summer blockbuster the kids had already seen but everyone was just as happy to see it again. Afterwards, sneaking off to the clubhouse, Alan had been pleased, as he’d called the meeting to order. They’d all learned much more about their powers and each other. Next week would start teamwork exercises in the simulator and he hoped he could get Doc to okay them getting clearance to go to the Geode. They needed the extra room to practice flying and really cut loose with their powers.

Alan stifled a yawn. He’d put the kids to bed, but now it was time with for his weekly progress report with Big Mac and Ollie. It was almost a sure thing that this would be his last time here in the States. His cover had been very good, but being here in the spot light he was sure it was growing frayed. If he wanted to get Ollie and Big Mac out of this dump, it would have to be now. Thing was, even with the help he was expecting, getting those two and the kids to a place of safety was going to be a bigger trick than anything his foster-dad had performed on stage.

Ollie called to him. “Alan? Are you on your way back? There is a new development you need to be aware of.”

Closing the secret panel behind him, Alan sent back, “Hold on. I’m stepping through the door as we speak.”

Wondering what the rush was, he hurried down the short passage. Turning the corner, he stopped in his tracks. Slouched down in the clubhouse’s most comfortable chair with her dirty scuffed boots on the table was a tired looking woman. Her red curls suffered from hat-hair besides being filthy. A cluttered pile of dusty equipment was on floor next to her. Her gear showed signs of hard use as did she, with her dirty face. She was the most beautiful sight Alan had ever seen.

“Maggie!” Alan sang from his heart, running to her.

She stood, wrapping her arms around him, wincing from her hurts as he hugged her back. Pulling back from his embrace to see his face, she kissed him.

Remembering they had an audience Alan turned facing an amused Ollie.

The little Gray turned on his voder, “So is there something you would like to tell me my friend?”

Big Mac’s camera red light flickered on, “Yes, inquiring minds want to know.”

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 29

September 20, 2008

Area 61

ETWF: Minus 12 Days

“So I’m waiting for you to return, Alan, and she just walks in. Somehow ignoring all the early warning sensors and traps, I have in the access way, she dumps her gear on the floor and flops down. Then she says, “I’m a friend of Alan Glenn. Could you please let him know I’m here. Then she goes to sleep!” Ollie said with his voder while waving his arms.

Maggie shook her head in amusement. She’d heard about Ollie from Alan, but hadn’t realized he was one of the aliens that’d invaded a couple of years ago. Unlike other Gray’s she’d had contact with, Ollie was very spontaneous and even had a warmness about him. The other Grays always seemed very cold and calculating to her, rarely making an individual decision. It was all part of that group mind thing.

Big Mac, the AI, added, “I was no less surprised. I’ve kept a careful surveillance on all the exits since Shaft 6 was closed. No offense, Ms Carson, but I find it disturbing you can, and have, walked right pass all my remotes, without my sensors picking it up. As a matter of fact, until you allowed it, my camera here did not see a thing. However I must say I am pleased to see help arrive.”

The self-aware machine paused. “Alan, I take it we can speak freely in front of her?”

Alan still had that bad little school boy grin she first remembered seeing on his face years ago when they met in DC during the Meridian Senate Investigation Hearings. “You bet Big Mac. Trust me! It’s difficult keeping secrets from her so I don’t bother. Whatever you need to say, let us have it.”

Sounding a bit rumpled, the computer continued, “Well yes. As you know, I have continued my efforts to discover what is in Shaft 6 as well as trying to piece together why Project Meridian was reactivated. Even with Ollie’s help, I have been unable to find any hard data. However upon examination of the power usage I have found some information.”

“Whatever is causing that progressive power drain was indeed moved to Shaft 6. It is drawing more and more energy. Without access to the raw data, I am handicapped in making exact calculations, but demands will outpace the available supply in approximately two weeks. I stress this is a very rough figure. The power flow has changed several times for reasons I can‘t even guess at.”

“Just as worrying is for the last week, I’ve tracked a lot of activity in the amphitheater area during the midnight hours. Persons of interest such as Doctor McClellan and General Laramie were spotted there. Power demands in that area has been most particular at those hours, with at times energy being added to the grid even though according to my records there isn’t a power generator present.”

“Again, I can only surmise that is that it the Z-ray devise you told me about. If that guess is correct, it has been activated 30 times in the last week, six times a night over five days.”

Her lover ran his hands through his short cut hair that she knew he hated. It was only one of many sacrifices he’d made to maintain his cover. It was the pain on his face that told the real story of his anguish. True, it was only a glimpse that he kept hidden behind that iron self-control of his. But Maggie was there when as Val, this person she so loved, had let it all out in great weeping sobs.

Other adults might have memories of childhood nightmares of boogiemen in the closet or under their bed. Val’s nightmares were real. That thing had directly or indirectly caused the death of the brother he worshiped as well as the friends, who were brothers and sisters of the heart. It was that damn Z-ray thing, and its masters were threatening to use it again, this time on another group of children.

A puzzled Alan said, “I knew that ’Lying-to-Me Laramie’ couldn’t be trusted and was probably planning on using the Z-ray on the kids anyways. What I don’t understand is why all these tests. From what I remember that thing is dangerous as all hell, and gave the techs the willies every time they cranked it up. It sounds like they were doing full power run-ups. They never did that before. The only tests were at low power and that was only right before they strapped us down to zap us. For all the world it sounds like the thing is actually being used, but on who? It’s not the kids, and it can’t be Max’s clones because they don’t last more than about 15 or 20 minutes before they derezz.”

Her lover sighed. “Just what we needed, another mystery. I’ve got the training schedule for next week. If I’m reading between the lines right, we’re safe this week. The teamwork exercises and simulations are pretty important if Laramie is planning to use the kids against whatever is going to happen in two weeks.

Assuming I’m right, we’re going to have to be careful during the weekend. That is the most likely time for them to try to use the Zapper on the kids. One week before hand would give them time to recover and get used to having more power. That jives with the figures you‘ve given us about that power drain, but please keep us informed of any more changes.”

“The good news is Maggie here is real good with machines, and this wouldn’t be her first time playing surgeon. That takes care of our implant worries, but getting you, Big Mac, out is something else again. Maggie?” Alan asked.

Maggie smiled. How like Alan to take everyone’s abilities into account. “Alan my brief training as a paramedic might be okay playing battlefield medic. But surgeon? If the devices aren’t too deep I can probably dig them out and of course, any of the electronics should be easy. But if there are any clockwork booby-traps, I could set them off.”

“The reason it took me three days to descend that damn launch silo was because of the mechanical traps. I wasn’t expecting that and it damn near got me killed,” she said, shaking her head. “The thing was designed by some raving paranoid maniac, but the electronics thankfully were years out of date. The real killers were the tripwires and booby-traps. The whole network is on a gantry-like arm. Initiating the launch sequence swings it up and out of the way, but when it’s locked down it's one hell of a maze to get through. If I hadn’t the mixture of talents I have, I doubt I could have made it.”

Maggie didn’t miss the look Alan and Ollie shared, but she continued. “If the implants are similarly designed, I’ll need to build something to let me examine them real carefully first. As for you, Big Mac, I’ll need to see your hardware requirements, but that shouldn’t be a problem. What is a concern is power. When we move you, you’ll be on a time limit until we can find another source. I understand simply storing your program and restarting cold can damage or alter the self-awareness of AI’s.”

“Also, forgive me for saying this, but I would be committing an act of insanity if I didn’t include some sort of safety protocols. Ever since your near accident back in 1983, and that Sky-Shield debacle a few years ago, no one is going to let an AI loose without taking some damn good precautions,” she said, crossing her arms for emphasis, looking at everyone in the room, making sure they knew this point wasn’t up for debate.

Big Mac replied, sounding a bit miffed, “At least in my case it was an accident. I do object to being compared to Sky-Shield. I made an honest mistake, whereas it had deliberately set out to try to destroy the human race. It was a raving paranoid that saw everyone as its enemy. Thankfully it was defeated and those strange temporal artifacts that allowed its construction were locked in one of the high security vaults.”

Pausing and sounding more humble the intelligent machine concluded, “Since I had no prospects of ever leaving here, I accept your provision of safeguards. You have no idea of how trying it is for an intelligence of my caliber, designed for game theory, to do nothing but run maintenance programs and robots.”

Maggie nodded. “Sounds like we have an agreement Big Mac.

Alan looked pleased. “Alright that’s one more item off the checklist. Now that just leaves Ollie.”

The Gray alien in a warning tone replied, “Alan, you know why I can’t go.”

Her lover held up his hands in surrender. “Ollie, right now we have more talent and skills here than we’ve ever had before. We have to try.”

Maggie looked at one, and then the other, wondering what they were talking about. She cut Big Mac’s camera and speaker a glance, but Big Mac wasn’t saying a thing.

“Alright you two! Would either of you mind letting me in on what you’re arguing about?” the tall modeling executive ordered.

Alan said softy, “It’s not my story to tell. That’s up to Ollie. Better you should show her.”

Ollie held his over large head low. “It is a very personal matter, but Alan is correct that it’s better seen than explained. I know you have had an exhausting experience reaching us. Are you up to coming with us now or would you rather wait?”

She gestured her assent, thankful that one of the advantages of being such a high level supra was rapid powers of recovery. Standing, she and Alan followed the Gray as he led them down the utility and service tunnel.

Giving them the tour, Ollie explained, “These tunnels circle and crisscross the entire complex, providing access to all the communications and services runs. You can reach almost any part of Area 61 from these with the exception of the Vaults. They are monitored, but I have long ago co-opted those systems. I’ve even helped keep everything in running order to prevent human workers from wandering around back here.”

“They have come to think the complex is haunted. Do you believe that?” he sent, shaking his head.

Tapping the buttons of a small device, that had begun life as a cell phone, he opened a maintenance door into what appeared to be a viewing lounge of some sort. The furnishings had that VIP look to it.

Maggie reaching out with her cyber-sense could tell the entry way was heavily secured, but that it was really more for looks than security. Alan directed her up to the raised platform.

Ollie stood before the podium in silence a moment before speaking. “The humans here often disrespectfully refer to this as the Side Show.”

The Gray took a cobbled together cipher-keycard and slid it into the podium.

With a hiss, the entire rear wall rolled up with a rumble. Floating inside separate vats were the damaged preserved bodies of six Gray aliens.

Maggie having something to compare Ollie against now could see how he was different from what she thought of as normal Grays. Three of the aliens were obviously taller and more muscular while the other three were smaller and had larger craniums.

Pressing his slim six-fingered hand against the thick glass-like material opposite the smaller figures, he sent, “These are my parents.”

Then rather creepily, he acted as if he was introducing her and Alan to them. “This is Maggie Carson and of course you remember Alan Glenn. Yes, it seems he did finally decide to settle down and mate. It is the old argument. He wants me to leave, but I will not go without you. I know your views, but refuse them for the same reasons I do his.”

Maggie shivered. As bizarre, as the entire scene was, her cyber-sense was sensing something. The activity was different from what she’d picked up before from dealing with the aliens. It was almost as if she was near a computer, but like it was using another very unusual language. Which didn’t make much sense to her, because as advanced as the Grays were, their computer security was piss-poor.

That was because their machines had interfaces to make use of their telepathy. Because of their group mind mentality, security measures were unneeded and just slowed processing. It was an Achilles’ Heel that human hackers had joyfully taken advantage of.

Ollie turned back to them with a smile that she’d never seen on a Gray before. “No Maggie I’m not crazy, at least by human standards. By my own people’s, I am afraid they consider me stark raving insane. Let me explain.”

“My parents and I are of the Thinker or Scientist cast. As such, at my coming of age ceremony, I would have been implanted with a storage matrix to record and preserve my thoughts and discoveries for future generations upon my eventual death. Of course that didn’t happened because of being marooned here, but my parent’s Matrixes are here, and in a way I can communicate with them.”

The small figure looked so forlorn. “After their bodies died, it was the only way I could be with them. It was not until years later, when The Rocketeers found me that I made my first friends. However, you see all those years virtually alone had scarred me. Although I can sense the group mind when it is close, I cannot merge or participate in it. I’ve become too much of an individual.”

With fierce determination he emoted, “These are all that is left of my loved ones. I will not leave them. I won’t!”

Alan took her hand. “This isn’t glass but transparent PlasSteel. It is over a foot thick and despite appearances, it is all one seamless piece. Their bodies are really in the Vaults and this is just a window to the outside. You see, their Matrixes can interact with the outside world but not well. It mostly comes across to us as unexplained and spooky stuff. So even before Doc got in on the act down here, they were locked up because they scared the dickens out of folks. They’ve stayed locked up because they are the only examples of Gray Thinkers we‘ve seen.”

“During the invasion we only saw the soldier and worker casts. The other casts tend to be protected, but the Thinkers being more creative are also more independent. Ollie’s parents needed to see Earth’s conditions for themselves because the other casts miss seeing things. That’s how their saucer got nailed by the Air Force at Roswell.”

Maggie trying to take in all the information shook her head. “How come they didn’t find these Matrix things during the autopsy? You can’t tell me they didn’t perform one.”

Alan nodded. “They did. No one understood what they were looking at. It was just too alien. The thing is, for most of Ollie’s life they were the only contact he’s had with his parents. Like you’ve heard him say, he won’t leave without them.”

Grinning humorlessly Alan pointed out, “You see that’s the kicker. Each casket weights nearly a ton, and there are three of them. Not to mention they’re in the Vaults, so while we might be able to get in, doing so quietly is something else again. Then we have to get them out but we can’t use the maintenance tunnels because of their size. We could always interfere with their surveillance, but we will almost certainly be running into live people and guards. The Buggy isn’t set up for cargo, but if we do somehow reconfigure it, we won’t have any room for passengers. That’ll mean fighting our way to the cargo elevator and then more fighting to get them to something big enough to carry them.”

“I’ve thought about removing their matrixes in the Vault, but there is a certain way that needs to be done. Moreover, removing the bodies from the tanks is going to be messy with all that liquid. All that takes time and I don’t think we’ll have very much of that after smashing our way in. Besides, Ollie has absorbed many of our ways of doing things and wants the bodies treated respectfully. I can understand that, you know?”

“With you with us, we might be able to sneak in and out of there, but again that won’t buy us much time. We might be able to convince the little guy to let us go for just the Matrixes, and that will let us use the service tunnels to get away. That will also let us get everyone out in the Buggy.

"However, now that you’ve had such a hard time getting in pass the launch silo’s security, maybe we need to double-check whether that way out is as safe as I thought it was. I wouldn’t put it pass Doc to have let us get out all those times. I probably don’t need to remind you that there is a big bad nuke down here primed to make sure nothing escapes.”

He shook his head apologetically. “I’m sorry love to put all this on you, but I’ve got a bad feeling about what’s out there in Shaft Six. It’s like if I don’t get everyone out, something really bad is going to happen.” A tear trickled down a cheek.

Maggie softly touched his face. She knew his being Alan for so long was a painful ordeal for him. “Don’t worry love. Wasn’t it you who told me doing the difficult was simple but the impossible is a little harder? We’ll work it out.”

Alan gave her his patented devil-may-care grin which she knew was mostly a just a well practiced act. That is, mostly. Her lover had been known to take some of the most hare-brained chances. Only the smiling face of fate allowed this person she loved so much to jauntily walk away from ruin.

She also knew that if Alan was making like the Oracle of Delphi the wise woman listened. It wasn’t exactly like a premonition. Just like the ability to know when the luck was on their side, her lover could tell when the winds were going to blow the other way. The last time something had triggered his Cassandra of Troy routine so strongly, they’d end up fighting off an alien invasion.

Maggie shuddered. Now that had been a nightmare trip. It’d been a few days before the Fourth of July, and Val had insisted they needed to go to Kazakhstan, now. In the movie, ‘The Marvels’ they made it look so cool when the kid had run on water, leaving a plume of spray behind him. The film director needed to try it across the Bering Strait in July while being carried. She’d promised herself, she would never ever do that again!

Stepping up close to the armored transparent wall to get a good look at what she’d to work with, she gently touched the small Gray’s shoulder. “We will get them out.”

Stretching out her cyber-esper senses Maggie lightly probed about, careful not to touch those Matrix things. Her talent was machines, and she didn’t want to be disoriented by the alien intelligences. She immediately knew why Ollie had to come here to converse with his parents. The walls had quartz imbedded within. It was a simple, yet effective barrier to Esper abilities. It was long known that areas with large deposits of quartz had much higher instances of hauntings and other psychic phenomena. That was because it was a conductor of sorts. Properly shaped and tuned quartz crystals could be used amplify Esper powers. In this case, however, the minerals in the walls acted like an extrasensory Faraday Cage.

Grimacing, Maggie pushed her powers through the barrier. The quartz couldn’t keep her out but it served to diffuse her talent, making it harder. She felt Alan at her side but being long familiar with how she worked, just gave her his silent support.

Once through the barrier her senses glided over the contents within. Like a fine mist, they touched everything, and she turned her attention to the vault door. It was what differentiated her talent from other psychics. Her instructors many years ago at the Academy had to have known she’d been holding back on them, but even then, she had different plans for her future than they. Still she’d learned much about how her unique aptitude operated while in attendance.

Her four years there had been a wild roller coaster ride beyond any of her expectations as well as achievements. The school had always been called simply the Academy. Its history went back to the founding of the new nation, and could even be traced back further before it moved from the continent because of political problems. Many countries couldn’t or wouldn’t honor the neutral status its board of directors required.

Although rocky at times, the Academy had thrived in the new world. Its purpose was to educate and train those who’d been gifted with abilities beyond their peers. Once admitted onto the grounds, you were safe from all outside influences. While they did try to instill a sense of ethics, it did not matter if the child was from hero or criminal parentage. They would be treated as equals and the neutral status of the Academy insured that the child wouldn’t be used against the parent or guardian.

The staff, most of them alumni themselves, were some of the most remarkable beings on the planet. As any parent could guess, they needed to be, given the trouble these gifted youngsters could get into as they learned about themselves and their powers. Even with the best staff imaginable, life on campus was, to say the least, interesting.

Of course, the Academy’s technical program was very progressive for the time. It had almost a dozen computers on the campus ranging from the large main frames to the novelty of the TRS 80 one student had brought back after Christmas break.

Maggie had kept the full extent of her powers to herself, despite her teachers knowing she was more capable then she let on, which wasn’t the same as not learning how to use them. She had already figured out she wanted to be a doer. Even with what little she'd showed the Lab rats, they'd wanted her to concentrate in the newly budding computer sciences.

Her telekinetic talent was rather weak being able to exert only a little over a pound of pressure. What put her in a class by herself was she had a sense of touch through her TK, a very informative sense that could literally feel the flow of electrons if she concentrated hard enough. Practice had given her an even finer touch, like now as she examined the vault’s locks. The designers had gone for a brute force design. No sophisticated gears or combinations for this one, meant to keep the spooky stuff locked within. All this needed was the right key and a powerful enough motor to spin it. From what she could tell, it was probably as big as a small car.

The alarm system was similarly simple, consisting of electrical contacts on the ends of the retracting bolts. Moving the bolts at all would open or close circuits alerting security. Getting to the contacts or the electrical supply would be difficult because they were buried within the armored vault door.

Opening her eyes from her intense concentration, Maggie smiled at the two looking to her for answers. “The answer is, yes, I can get in, but I’ll need my partner at ‘their’ best to pull it off,” she told them, passing the message along to Alan that she would need Val’s special talents.

Alan turned from her, looking at the caskets. “If you can get us inside quietly then you’ve solved one of the major problems. As for the caskets, I’ve been thinking. Could you build a pump to drain them out and then pump the fluid back in?

Maggie replied without a pause. “That wouldn’t be a problem. There are sensors within monitoring the preservatives but they can be bypassed. We would need something portable, big enough to hold all of that fluid though. Maybe an inflatable pool-like tank?”

Nearly as one, they turned to each other. “A storage bladder!”

Running with the idea Alan continued, “Then after we empty the bladder back into the caskets, we could use it as a shroud to take them out.”

Maggie going along with the brainstorming added, “Even better we could use the pump to vacuum seal each shroud. No oxygen, no decay. Designing everything shouldn’t be a problem but finding the materials down here to fabricate it all could be. I could bring them in from the outside but going down that shaft is pure hell. Dragging all that stuff with me would be a royal pain in the ass.”

Ollie, determined not to be left out of the rescue of his parents, added, “If necessary you can leave and get the materials. We can then stage another Strawberry shake run to Dad's and pick you and your equipment up on the way back. It would be simple to use the teleport pad to beam it to my lab.”

Maggie held up her hand. “Whoa! You have a transporter?”

Ollie shrugged. “Yes and no. There is one built into the ‘Rocket’, or the Buggy, as Alan calls it. For that matter, every Gray-built reaction-less drive has one. The device was intended for use outside a planetary gravity field. Inside of one, it is of short range and can only be used from one active teleport pad to another. For intra-vehicle transfers in space it is very useful, but not so much on a planet where you can easily walk the same distance. The biggest problem is that it is an effect of the reaction-less engine, meaning you have to at least have one to initiate the transport process, and although you don’t need one of the drives at the destination, you do need a considerable power supply for the receiving pad. At my lab I’ve tapped into the mains so power isn’t a problem.”

Maggie filed that information away for later saying, “It would still be better if we could avoid all of that and supply ourselves from down here. I need to take some measurements, but if Ollie can help me with his lab, workspace shouldn’t be much of an issue.”

“What will be an issue is the time constraint of how fast the pump can safely operate, plus the time I’ll need to work on the vault. We’ll also be toting a lot more gear than I would like. Pump, bladder, hoses, and whatever I end up needing for the vault. And I understand there’s a security station we’ll have to pass through?”

Alan and Ollie nodded as the little Gray sent, “Indeed, and another vault door just to get within the hallway to reach this one. It has a very secure cipher and key system. Opening it is much like the way missiles are launched, requiring two codes, keys, an outside cipher sequence as well as all three being entered at once.”

Maggie nodded her understanding of the system. “I’ll need to get a good look at it, before I can say for certain, but I think that’s doable too. What will be a problem is if there are any live guards. Alan?”

The ex-hero gave them a shrug. “There is always a pair at the security checkpoint leading to the Vaults. I’ve made a few contacts among the guards, but they’re generally a professional bunch. Convince them to bend a few regs to bring us some burgers and shakes, yes. Let us waltz into an ultra top-secret security area? Not so much.”

He banged his hand into the armored wall. “I wish we could just go in from here or from the service tunnels, but that would just make covering up our tracks impossible. There is just too damn much armor and where that isn’t, there’s twice as much rock.”

Alan sighed. “The guards patrol every 30 minutes. I can take them out so fast they won’t know what hit them, but I’m afraid we’ll need you, Ollie, to implant memories of the missing time. I know you don’t like messing around in folk’s heads but …,” he said, holding up his hands in helplessness.

Blinking her eyes Maggie tried to calculate if they could get away with this in less than a half hour. Both vault doors and alarms; the possibility of more alarms inside the secured area; Draining and refilling the caskets; sealing the bodies and escaping with them. And all the while hauling what was beginning to look like a cart of equipment with them.

She looked at Alan. “I take it you’re planning on placing some sort of counterfeit dummies back in the caskets? That’ll be even more weight and gear to lug in.”

He and Ollie gave each other a grin. “Well that part we had figured a long time ago. Back in the old Rocketeers days, Jeff and Alicia made up some great look-a-likes just for something like this. Ollie took good care of them, and they’re in excellent condition.”

His face fell a little as he remembered. “Back then, we’d always planned to bust out of this joint with Ollie, but we didn’t want to become criminals. There wasn’t a place we could go for sanctuary.”

Maggie gave him a gentle hug. “There is now. You helped make it, and there is no reason to feel any guilt about the past.”

Alan returned it saying, “I am concerned about the kids and their parents. We both know what kind of bastards we’re dealing with. The courts will doubtlessly in time throw out any case ULTIMATE brings against the kids, but who knows what will happen to them in the meanwhile? But, if we take them with us to sanctuary, we’re making choices for them that can’t be taken back. We burned our bridges a long time ago. Do we have the right to burn theirs too?”

She gave her life mate a searching gaze. “We do what caring adults have always done for children; making the best decisions we can at the time. If worse comes to worse we can always adopt them. It’ll give us something to keep us busy while we work at having more children the old fashioned way.”

The love in his eyes was plain as he said, “We did say we both wanted a big family. I think I can safely say my cover will be well and truly blown by the time this is finished. Well that should make a certain pair of prospective grandparents very happy. Sanctuary here we come. That is if we can get everyone out of here, which is beginning to look like a real tough trick.

Ollie plainly curious at what they were talking about asked, “Sanctuary? I don’t suppose that either of you would care to elaborate?”

Even as tired as she was, Maggie had to laugh as she and Alan blushed, remembering they weren’t alone. She just raised an eyebrow at Alan’s questioning look. Ollie was his friend, and it was up to him as to how much to tell him.

Her lover smiled. “Ollie, without going into details, it is beautiful, with tall snow covered peaks while the valleys below are rich with the blossoms of golden apples. Paradise Ollie.”

Together the three of them headed back to the service tunnels as Alan spoke once more, “Paradise.”

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 30

Area 61 Testing range Delta

September 22, 2008

ETWF: Minus 10 Days

The cool desert morning air made Staff Sergeant Henry Green very happy about his experimental desert uniform. Not everything they tried to load him down with was very practical, but the uniform materials did an excellent job of keeping him warm when cold and cool when hot. Something that any soldier could appreciate.

He and his spotter were nearly perfectly camouflaged as they stalked closer to their firing point. In theory, for the actual mission, they would be prepositioned in a sniper’s hide, but his years of experience had taught him never to take anything for granted. Besides this was good training as well; seeing just how well this new gear worked.

Lance Corporal Hennessy, his spotter, kept watch as he brought his 35 .lb XM-111 into position. The massive weapon seemed too huge to be called a rifle. Firing a 25mm projectile, it was officially an anti-materiel rifle. It’s predecessor, the XM-109, had a recoil so bad it was deemed “exceeding a human’s limitations.” The newer weapon had been redesigned with an advanced recoil dampening system that increased the weight of the already heavy piece another 2 lbs.

Last week’s exercises had proved to Sergeant Green that if the BFG (Big Frakking Gun) recoil was better now, he never wanted to fire the older weapon. The recoil was one cast iron bitch, however he couldn’t argue with the results. He wasn’t a small man by anyone’s standards, but lugging the BFG around was a royal pain in the ass.

Once he’d seen what it could do to a target he’d become a believer. In the last week he’d serviced a wide variety of targets out on the ranges in this Gawd forsaken desert, helicopters, trucks, armored personnel carriers, and others. Hell he’d even nailed a few of those powered armored suit things just coming into service.

He got a grim pleasure from seeing some of the blue ULTIMATE’s Enforcer suits among his targets. It’d made no difference to the 25mm rounds. They were equal opportunity, punching big nasty holes in them all.

Flicking a switch his SRVS (Super Resolution Vision System) targeting scope came to life. A lifetime of being behind a rifle butt made his acquiring the target almost a Zen-like activity. At this distance, the slightest breath or tremor could make the scope picture jump all over the place. Meditatively, he heard Hennessy call out the range and wind conditions. Without conscious thought, it was as if the BFG had fired itself.

Sergeant Green knew before his spotter had said anything that it had been a good shot. He always knew when everything had pulled together perfectly. His hands were already snapping the scope covers shut getting ready to move. One of the problems was the damn thing was so big, that when it fired, everyone knew where it’d come from. When operating way the hell away from friendlies that was not a good thing. Time to scoot before the enemy could acquire them!

Both men did just that in a high crawl, seeking to avoid trouble before blending into the background again. Neither tried to think too much about the target silhouette they’d just plastered. The big brass had been mum about the exact details of the mission they were training for.

All they and the other three sniper teams had been told was of possible terrorist attack on a top-secret installation. They had an approximate window the attack was expected, and if all went well, some warning. Scuttlebutt had it that it was some badass super villain, while rumor control had an entire gang of them were coming. If and when something, anything, made the mistake of attacking a US base, they would rue the day. That, Sergeant Green and his fellow snipers, would guarantee.

***

General Robert Laramie sat down in his executive office chair, overlooking the rest of Area 61’s department heads for his Monday morning situation brief. He couldn’t resist looking to see if that idiot Glenn was going to try to crash it like he did last week. With a grunt, he relaxed when nothing happened, a bit disappointed. He rather enjoyed watching the smart-mouth get frog-marched away but it seemed even Glenn could learn. Satisfied that everything was in order he gave a nod for the meeting to proceed.

Clearing his throat, Dr. McClellan began, “I’ll start with the status of Operation Kiloton. For the purposes of security Capt. Blazzar and the status of Looking Glass has been code named Operation Kiloton. The power drain continues although I did manage to momentarily slow it by further fine tuning the Looking Glass projector. Unfortunately I believe we’ve done all we can using that avenue. The revised estimated time for the wormhole failure is now 14 days.”

“I must stress that the last week before the collapse will be of high risk, given how unpredictably the power fluctuates within the wormhole. That risk will only increase, as we get closer to the point of no return. The construction of the trolley from Shaft 6 to the test range has been completed, as has the Pit designed to drain away and dampen as much of Kiloton’s energies as possible. In summary, we‘re on schedule to force the collapse of the Wormhole three days earlier than the expected failure of Looking Glass, at a time of our choosing. ”

“Project Meridian is actually somewhat ahead of schedule with simulator and teamwork exercises due to begin this week. Captain Vroom has requested use of the Geode cavern to make use of the larger area for training. Unless you have an objection, I’m going to grant them access.”

“As for the condition of the candidates, it is excellent. All six members have gained an enormous amount of control over their abilities, and except for some minor incidents, are coming together as a team. A point of concern is they appear to have gained an increasing resistance to mental influence. Dr. Hathaway will present a more in-depth report during her portion of this brief. Our preliminary analysis, since The Rocketeers also exhibited such resistance, is that the only point in common is Alan Glenn. We can only surmise that he has some talent that conveys immunity to Psionic abilities to those in close proximity. He always has been unreadable by our specialists, but was thought to be one of those naturally difficult for those with the talent to read.”

“However, seeing that the damage is already done and his part in the program is nearly at an end anyways, we recommend he be left to continue. It has been brought up by some of the staff that his excellent rapport with the candidates might be related to this unusual ability of his.”

“The final phase of Meridian is prepared and ready. The Z-Ray 13 exposure is scheduled for next Saturday during their usual weekly checkup and testing. Plans have been made to separate Alan Glenn from the subjects by subterfuge. He’ll be put and kept under detention until after Kiloton has been dealt with and sent on his way. Despite his resistance to Psionic and Esper talents, our staff has a high degree of confidence in the neuralizer to remove his memories of the last several weeks since it works on entirely different principles than mental talents.”

General Laramie kept his face in his normal scowl, but he wanted to soundly curse Glenn and all the damn problems he caused just by existing. Pettily, he enjoyed the thought of the troublemaker wandering about clueless about what he’d been doing the last couple of weeks with a big fat government paycheck in his pocket. As anti-establishment as he was the very idea of working for the greater good would drive him nuts.

The thing was, the eggheads had gotten it wrong again. Whatever Glenn had done to make the candidates immune to the mind twisters wasn’t trivial at all. It’d greatly complicated plans for post-Kiloton operations. With firm control, the subjects could’ve been most useful in any number of areas, given their abilities; invisibility, shape-changing, weather manipulation, and the rest.

Now, he inwardly sighed, that wasn’t feasible. At any rate, their parents would be receiving a notice of an unfortunate vehicular accident while on a school field trip killing all the passengers. The Doctor would be further testing his suspended animation apparatus it seemed. Considering the vast increase in power that was being forecast after use of the Z-Ray 13, he couldn’t just neuralize them and send them home. Disposing of them would be a shameful waste of resources, but putting them on ice until the next time they were needed was a good solution. Besides, there was also the possibility some other way to control them would be developed. Until then there was Project Hydra.

The General spoke up. “How about the status of Project Hydra Doctor?”

The senior scientist looked over his glasses at the cause of the interruption. “I was just coming to that. As you know Project Hydra was one of happenstance, taking advantage of the authorization for use of the Z-Ray 13, the release of Saul Simpson, Maxi-Badd, and the experimental stasis capsules.”

It was a great opportunity to study Mr. Simpson and his ability to create energy doubles of others, but it was limited by their temporary existence. Not an exact science, the clones lasted between 20 minutes and a half-hour before they lost cohesion and dissipated. This of course made studying them awkward.”

“The stasis capsules were a fortunate development made from studying artifacts from the alien Gray invasion. Rather than rely on chemical or temperature to achieve suspended animation, this process insulates the occupant from the very time-stream itself. This technology is much more advanced than our own, and although we can use and duplicate it, the exact how and why it works is still beyond us.”

“However, the capsules gave us the perfect chance to study Mr. Simpson’s creations in depth without them disappearing like soap bubbles. The stasis capsules worked perfectly and we didn’t lose a single specimen. Not even the one that temporarily escaped custody and had to be very near its expiration point.”

“It’s my theory that Mr. Simpson somehow has access to the same sort of energy that the Z-Ray 13 produces. Being much weaker, his power produces a shadow of the original donor using himself as the base template. That is why they all look like him and have his memories but have the powers and talents of those he touches.”

“I surmised that if these shadows could be further energized they might stabilize into true matter rather than the fleeting proto-matter. Our first six exposures weren’t successful in achieving stabilization, but did give us the crucial data we needed for the next step in our investigations.”

“Our second series of experiments confirmed our hypothesis. All six subjects successfully made the transition from a temporary energy form to true matter! Our examination of the twenty-four specimens who survived has given us a wealth of information we’re still studying.”

“The initial findings indicate that each doppelganger has the donor's powers, and general physical characteristics. The appearance is of Mr. Simpson, under those restrictions, as well as having his memories and general personality. However we’ve already seen where each group of clones, as defined by their donors, are developing different personality traits.”

“Unfortunately, we lost several specimens who were unable to deal with their rather radical changes. Dr. Hathaway will go into more detail during her brief, but in summary, the ones most affected were those who’d had a perceived change in gender. Since all of Saul Simpson’s clones have his vulnerability to mental suggestions, Dr. Hathaway has developed an effective treatment”

“The Stage 3 experiment has provided even more information about the supra-human power phenomena, although it failed to achieve its objectives. When we tried to give one of the stabilized subjects another exposure of Z-Ray 13 to supercharge its supra-abilities, it behaved exactly as an adult would. As you know there is a critical period ranging from two to three years after a candidate initially mutates that they are much more likely to respond favorably to the Z-Ray.”

“An adult undergoing the Z-Ray process, even that of the latest generation, has a much greater chance of not only of death, but of unfavorable mutations. That is unfortunately what happened to subject 20. She mutated into a form unable to sustain life and expired despite our medical teams best efforts.”

“Given that failure I recommend we discontinue the rest of Stage 3. However without being able to use the Z-Ray 13 to boost their abilities, they have roughly the same power levels as their donors at present,” Dr. McClellan said apologetically.

The General had with an act of pure will managed to sit through all of that gobbly-gook. Didn’t the man understand what the word summary meant? Restraining his impatience he asked, “How many effective bodies does that leave us with and are they mission ready?”

Not expecting such blunt question, the Doctor pushed his glasses up responding, “That is a question best answered by Dr. Hathaway. Doctor?” he asked her.

Not disturbed at all by being singled out, she stood. “Sir, my report goes into more detail and explanation, but at this very moment, none. They haven’t any training working together, coupled with the fact that they have just undergone an extreme psychological shock.

Dr. Hathaway turned on her charm. “However, we have 19 remaining subjects, 12 males and 7 females. I can transfer the experiences, of the clones training with our Project Meridian candidates, to them. Eight of the males will be ready by mid-week. The four William Riegel clones will require additional attention, as will all the girls. Since I am essentially reprogramming them with new personalities, it will take time. I am aware of the deadline and will do my best. However, while I will try to have them ready by Friday, it is more likely, that it’d be early next week before they’ll are be mission ready.

"This also means, since I’ll be spending all of my time with Project Hydra, Alan Glenn will be managing Meridian without me. His unreliability could cause problems. I would like to suggest, since we do have Project Hydra and of how much more dependable it appears they’re going to become, that Project Meridian be halted after the teamwork exercises.

That would allow me to spend that time safely with Hydra and simplify matters with Meridian. Without any exposure to the Z-Ray device, the children can be returned to their families without any sort of cover-up. Alan Glenn would not have any gaps in his memory to probe at and potentially cause problems later on. We can simply close the book and say the Chiron Project failed because of costs overruns. Nice, neat and no questions, while we’ll still have the 19 Hydra subjects no one is aware of.” Finishing, she sat.

General Laramie paused while he seriously considered her suggestion. It did have much to recommend it and did solve a number of potential problems. Except one. “Dr. Hathaway, thank you for bringing that up but I must insist we go ahead with Meridian. Quantity does have a quality all of its own, but despite Project Hydra’s numbers, they can’t be further empowered.

“With Project Meridian’s candidates having the projected potential of gaining up 20 times their present ability I cannot justify halting the schedule. The possible lost of life and property if Kiloton escapes would be a huge catastrophe. He is simply too dangerous for half-measures. We will continue. Dr. McClellan, please resume your briefing.”

To be continued.



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