Once the Hero Part 7

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More of Captain Vroom!

Once the Hero
by
Grover

Chapter 31

September 22, 2008

ETWF: Minus 10 Days

Tonopah, NV

ULTIMATE Investigation Team Field Headquarters at the Valley Inn.

Inspector Philippe Imbert rolled his eyes as he savored the perfectly prepared croissant. Perhaps it spent far too long traveling in an atrocious brown bag, but all considered he was willing to make allowances.

Suspiciously, he eyed his assistant Andrea, who was standing attentively nearby. Their hostel, turned team headquarters, was grating upon them all. The previous week had been frustrating for his entire team as they searched fruitlessly for signs of their quarry. All of them had spent far too much time combing not just the town of Tonopah but the surrounding areas as well. The sunburns and squints were all they had gotten for their efforts despite generous helpings of sunscreen and the required dark sunglasses.

Andrea and the more computer-wise agents had been working the Zolotoye-Yablochko angle, but it seemed they had exhausted that avenue. The Savitskiy family valued its privacy and besides a few tantalizing clues they had found nothing of value. For that matter, the entire so-called city-state of Mutant-stan was rampantly paranoid about security.

Philippe finished the last bite of his tasty breakfast, but his suspicions grew as he considered the problem. For the last two weeks, he and the rest of the team had been surviving on the local restaurant fare. While even he had to admit there had been some exceptions to the rather bland greasy food, Tonopah was after all a fairly small city.

It had surprised him that one of those surprising gastronomic delights had gone by the unlikely name of Dad’s. The old-fashioned American drive-in had been an accidental find while his agents had been investigating an UFO report. Along with the astonishingly good food, were the just as amazing news that it had been Alan Glenn and the students from Project Chiron.

The old Rocketeers team transport had been easy to identify as the UFO since the inside of the classic drive-in had mountains of old photographs of the teenage heroes from the 70‘s. It seemed this was not the first time the bright silver racing-striped saucer had visited the old landmark restaurant. The owner had a wall of fame dedicated to the supra-teens, ranging from pictures with the present owner, who had been a youth covered in freckles, to newspaper articles of their adventures. However, the latest one, of an older Alan Glenn and this newest group of children, was taken only a few days ago.

Looking over the photo-covered wall, another one that caught his attention was of young Glenn in front of a massive bowl of ice cream. His grinning teammates were holding up a newspaper behind him with the slogan ‘You Can’t Put a Speed Limit on Justice!’ The Air Force officer standing to the side looked particularly unhappy.

That is when it drew his eye. Going back and checking the recent picture, sure enough there was the same 10 to 12 year old boy with a huge cup that was in most of the older photos too. The Inspector had shaken his head. Yet another mystery among the many that seemed to flock to their suspect.

Which didn’t answer the question of how a nearly perfect croissant had appeared before him. Logic dictated that it had to come from that charming French restaurant in Las Vegas, but while that culinary delight had spent far too much time traveling, it was not three hours worth. Of that, he was certain.

His requests for additional support had gone unanswered. Not even for so much as a single helicopter, so the mystery remained. Philippe could tell that Andrea and the rest of his agents were enjoying their little tweak of his deductive skills. He was rather glad that their spirits were still high after the latest rounds of frustration in their investigations.

Theatrically sighing, he asked, “How?” as he spread his hands, indicating the just as delicious coffee and empty food wrappers.

The team of agents broke out into wide grins as Andrea replied, “I have an old friend from Office training that is assigned to Supra-Reaction Team One‘s support group. They’re doing desert training operating near Nellis Air Force Base. I had him pick it up and fly it in this morning.”

“He also told me another friend of ours was near here too. That one is part of the Heavy Assault Brigade driving a dropship.” She stopped, noticing his anger but not understanding why. There was no reason why she should. It was a matter of office politics.

It was now obvious why his requests for support had not been answered. He and his people who had worked so hard on this assignment had been cut out of the loop. There could be many reasons why, but the only reason to keep his people here, rather than send them elsewhere, was distasteful in the extreme. It suggested that acts of dubious legality or risk were in the works and it was he and his who were going to take the blame if something went wrong.

Inspector Philippe Imbert forced himself to smile, dispelling his agents’ sudden apprehensions. They were not to blame, but a cold determination filled him to make certain that those responsible for what he feared was going to be disastrous events paid for every drop blood they caused to be spilled.

***

Miami, FL

Beach Front Hilton

Pyotr Savitskiy stepped out of his cool hotel room into the balmy air of Miami, Fl. They’d arrived in the States the day before and would be heading out today. His friends were waiting for him on the veranda. He grinned as he saw their various reactions to his loud Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts.

All 160 kilos of Ivan dominated the table where they sat. He was huge in the way Japanese Sumo and American wrestlers were. Muscles rippled under his conservative polo shirt, and completely hid his gentle nature. Pyotr knew the huge man would much rather be gardening and tending to his florist shop back in Zolotoye-Yablochko. His ability to work with plants, while seemingly of little use in a military operation, had proven itself many times over. From fouling water supplies to causing seeds to sprout within the very bellies of their enemies, Ivan was much more dangerous than his obvious size.

Katrina sitting next to him, stirring her StarBucks coffee, looked positively small and petite, belying her cliché Russian female body builder physique. Her short blond hair and fair complexion contrasted greatly with Ivan’s dark hirsuteness. Pyotr knew that the loose blouse and baggies she wore concealed a not so small arsenal of deadly weapons. Katrina was what the Special Forces community called ‘good with her hands’ which meant she was absolutely deadly with just about anything from knives to machine guns. As their weapons expert, you wouldn’t expect her to be a jewelry designer as well as the owner of her own shop.

Then there was Bob. The rather overweight, atypical computer geek looked like the last person in the world you would find on a special operations team. He could and did keep up with the rest of them and had run normal humans into exhaustion. Rather like a camel or blubber on a whale, he stored energy as fat but that had nothing to do with his physical conditioning. In fact, he was their strong man, as well as native guide, since he was an American immigrant to Zolotoye-Yablochko. It was his computer and covert operations skills that’d provided them with ID, credit cards and all the other details of their covers, as part of his normal duties in the Militia’s Intelligence branch.

The last person of his little command was ignoring him as he followed a bevy of bikini-clad beauties with his eyes as they sauntered to the pool. Pyotr couldn’t help but grin at his friend’s hopeless optimism. Arghun was rather unusual, being a Kazakh native in Zolotoye-Yablochko, while most of the other inhabitants were from literally all over. The small dark man carried himself as proudly as the Mongolian kings, he claimed he was descended from. Of course that may be because he was all but indestructible, and for that matter, no one was sure just how old the tough Kazakh really was. What was certain was he was one of the most deadly hand-to-hand fighters Pyotr had ever seen, which seemed so out of character, for a man always ready with a smile and good-humored jests.

Looking up as if he had just noticed Pyotr’s arrival, which Pyotr knew was a complete lie because he was positive Arghun knew the precise location of everyone within 50 meters, the Kazakh grinned broadly. “Pyotr!”

Inclining his dark haired head at the departing scantily clad American women Arghun exclaimed, “I know that I said after the last time you invited me along on one of your little jaunts, never to include me again. Your request for me to join you for a little vacation here in wonderful America as you visited your sister didn’t include telling me that it would involve pushing me out of our transport over the frigid seas.”

Looking at his teammates for support, he continued. “Over 40km from land! Then we had to swim in, avoiding all those unfriendly drug runners and policemen. I tell you poor Bob looks positively famished,” he said, pointing at the intelligence operative.

Bob nodded sagely in agreement, as he devoured another donut from the courtesy counter.

Arghun paused for breath. “However after a good nights rest and seeing the marvelous scenery, I’m almost ready to forgive you. So where is this sister? Is she good looking this sister of yours? Wouldn’t happen to live on the beach would she? ”

Still grinning inside, Pyotr made himself give a sad shrug. “Now Arghun you’ve met Valentina before.”

The smaller man made a show of thinking hard.

Ivan rumbled out, helpfully joining in the game, “You know the one from the Christmas party.”

Arghun waved his hands about in mock frustration. “Which party?”

Katrina dryly added to the conversation. “How about the one where you drunkenly tried to bet a young lady that you could get her out of her clothes faster than she could?”

The Kazakh’s eyes widen in denial. “Not the one where she stripped me bare in the middle of the party in front of everyone!”

Bob shook his head in disagreement. “No, as I remember, she did leave you your boxers.”

Arghun protested, “But those weren’t even mine! I’d never seen those before.”

“Of course they weren’t,” Ivan agreed. “What kind of man would wear underwear loudly proclaiming ‘Hunk O’ Burning Love?”

Looking forlorn Arghun asked sadly, “This is the sister we’re going to see?”

Pyotr letting his grin show replied jovially, “I’m sure Valentina has forgiven you by now. It’s been 12 years since then and she usually doesn’t harbor grudges for more than 10. Although I don’t think she’s forgiven me yet for exchanging the labels of a can of purple hair tint with her hair spray on her first date.”

Katrina looking scandalized demanded, “How could you?”

Pyotr gave another expressive Russian shrug. “I was her older brother. Such things were expected. Besides I don’t think that poor boy noticed what color her hair was, but Valentina didn’t see it that way.”

Interested Bob leaned forward. “So what did she do?”

Pyotr made a big show of sighing. “All my underwear disappeared. Even several pairs of prized novelty boxers imported at great cost from Las Vegas here in America. To this very day I’ve no idea what happened to them.”

His Kazakh friend sputtered playfully, “Well at least tell me she lives on the beach.”

“No, I’m afraid I can’t,” Pyotr said, shaking his head slowly. “She’s incarcerated in a secret American military base in the middle of a forbidding desert. I’m sure its commissars won’t object to us paying her a visit. Can’t imagine what a sweet girl like her could’ve done to deserve such treatment.”

Arghun looked as if his heart was broken. “No beach? A prison? No doubt full of unpleasant guards with bad dispositions.” He hung his head miserably. “How could it get worse?”

Pyotr trying to cheer him up pointed out, “It won’t be that bad. We have a rental car and all of us will have a wonderful time on the four or 5-day road trip. What a wonderful way to experience America! See?”

Looking even more horrified, Arghun sputtered again. “Four or five days crammed in a car with everyone?” he said, looking at the group whom each out massed him at least two to one.

Ivan trying to help added, “It is a big car I’m told.”

Unable to keep straight faces any longer, they all erupted into laughter. Pyotr was proud to call them friends and thankful that all had put their own affairs on hold to help him. Like that old American spy drama, if they got into trouble they were on their own. While in many ways, this was a personal matter, there were also national security elements for their so small country.

If the Americans were experimenting on mutants again, the only nation on the planet consisting almost entirely of mutants needed to know all the details. Whatever was going on had also caused ULTIMATE to reposition several of its more powerful assets nearby. Needing to know just what was going on had drawn Bob to join the team, and his very able assistance was much appreciated.

Val perhaps wasn’t a sister of his blood, but was even more special being one of the heart. He knew of her strange and unusual past, but in Zolotoye-Yablochko being Weirdness Central as she sometimes called it, having a rather bizarre history was the norm. He’d conceded the point considering the aliens, mad scientists, mutants, and other oddities that called the city their home.

Bob gave his disguised instruments one last glance and gave him the high sign that their little play done in Russian hadn’t revealed any listeners or observers. They’d been relatively sure that their insertion had gone unnoticed, but in this business, it never hurt to check. Casually, they all trooped off to the van the intelligence operative had arranged for their trip.

There was an additional up side to all of this Pyotr thought as he climbed in to begin their long trip west. Finally, if he could pull her out of this new trouble she’d found herself in, maybe she would finally forget about that little incident with the purple hair.

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 32

September 22, 2008

ETWF: Minus 10 Days

Area 61

Geode Cavern

Alan smiled as his students boarded the small tram. He hadn’t told them where they were headed this morning but it seemed his good humor had infected them. Part of him was irrationally ecstatic; the woman he was so in love with was with him, while another was horrified, as it was he that had drawn her into the same dangers that threatened him.

At least his feminine nature kept him from saying that to her. In the unspoken vows of their partnership, that all who really knew them knew was really a marriage, they agreed to share equally all hardships as well as the rewards. This woman had stayed at his side through such dangers as would boggle even an adventure novelist’s mind.

Even now, she was hard at work in Ollie’s workshop, developing the tools they would need to break his oldest friend out of this self-imposed prison. Never once did she question why, but just got to work doing what she did best. Ye Gawds, how he loved her.

The tram started its rumbling ride, angling deeper into earth. Behind them, Max and his keepers were uneasy fellow passengers in the next tramcar. The third and last car held yet more zoomie cops, but also Dr. Hathaway as well. It made sense because from there she could observe Saul Simpson’s every move but was also out of reach. It was nice to see that the big guy was being treated with more care and respect since Maxi-Lizzie had torn loose, nearly wrecking the place.

Watching the mind-bending Doctor, he could see she had been missing a lot of sleep. Alan was certain that she had something to do with Val's very rude awakening while she and Maggie had stolen some time together. Despite his trying not to think about it, someone had died last night. Someone was exposed to that damn Zap gun of Doc’s and it had killed them.

It wasn’t as bad as when he’d felt Jeff’s death from his suicide but bad enough. Although it’d confirmed that the damn thing was in use, it didn’t tell him on who. More of a problem was his inability to talk about it. No matter how close he and Maggie were, he simply couldn’t deal with more ghosts much less talk about them. Not here, not now with all the memories this place harbored. So he reveled in the golden glow of their love and did his best not to think about yet another death that had darken this place. There would come a reckoning but not today.

Looking forward he could see the lights of the tunnel disappearing into the distance. He’d forgotten just how deep the Geode was, but it was well worth the ride. Alan found himself holding Lizzie as the tram neared the end of the line. Smiling at her, he reassured her and the rest of his students all were fine.

With a soft jerk, the tram slowed, stopping at a rounded chamber with a large sealed door. Stepping aside, he gestured the tired Dr. Hathaway towards the keypad so she could let them enter.

In spite of that, she noticed his good humor. “Why Alan, you’re awfully cheerful this morning. Do we need to search to find out what kind of mischief you’ve been up to?”

Not wanting her to continue that line of thought he replied, “Ha! I knew that morning person zing of yours was a put-on. Now we’re seeing your real face and strangely, it’s just like ours. You’re human after all, imagine that!”

Watching as she opened the heavy door, he went on. “For your information I slept the sleep of the just and righteous. What’s up with you? Out wearing that little red number I met you in? You do know red is your color right?” He turned, grinning to the zoomie cops and Max, rubbing his fingertips on his jacket making too hot to handle gestures.

The former did their best to avoid getting involved in this, while the latter looked on interested. The kids giggled and laughed, but Amanda gave him a reproving glance as she covered Lizzie’s ears.

That bought enough time for the door to open, bathing them in a multitude of colors and lights.

***

Malik’s eyes widened as he saw the rainbow hues shine from the other side of the door. They got even wider as he and the others walked within, revealing a tremendously huge cavern. The entire inside was covered in crystals reflecting the lights set in the walls.

Mr. Glenn started lecturing. “Welcome to the Geode! As you can see, all the crystals make it look like you’re inside a really big geode. Now a real geode is simply a hollow rock with crystals, such as quartz, growing within.”

With a sweep of his hand he presented the glittering cave. “This one is different. Back in the 50’s, when the boys in blue thought the Russians were going to attack them at any minute, they wanted a way to move as many people as fast as they could underground where they thought they would be safe from the Bomb. So they set off an experimental Bomb of their own to make this. I understand this one was different because the others just caved in. What this one had in common with the rest was, it was still too radioactive for anyone in their right mind to take shelter in.”

Grinning at their alarm, he calmed them. “Like I said, this one was different. It’s no more than normal background radiation now, after all these years. What no one’s been able to explain is why the crystal formations grew so rapidly, but you’ve got to admit it’s quite the light show!”

Clapping his hands together, he ended the lesson. “And that is the conclusion of our geology and history class for today. It’s almost a mile across and is a near perfect globe. The lake at the bottom used to be only few feet deep but is over 30 feet now. Since we can’t go outside to practice flying, and other things that really need the room, here we are.”

“We’re also at the start of our team exercises. Mr. Simpson is here to help us play a little game that’s a combination of ice hockey and touch football. First if you’ll duplicate Amanda, Max, then both of them can freeze that lake down there.”

Malik looked at Amanda’s ‘Who Me?’ expression as she looked down at all the water down there in disbelief.

Mr. Simpson got that really pained grimace he always got when copying one of the girls. In a flash of light, there was a Maxi-Amanda.

The two girls stood there as a sudden bone-numbing chill passed around them. Malik pulled up the collar of his jacket as an icy fog sprung up around them. Normally, except for the AC down here, it was pretty warm. Not now. A brisk wind blew around the two weather controllers as they lowered the temperature between them. He could hear the creaking and cracking as the water flash-froze below.

Finally, both Amanda’s opened their eyes, but he knew something was up since the girl from the great state of Maine was smiling. Sure enough, it started snowing!

Obedient to her commands, a swirl of fat wet flakes flew to her hand. “How can you have a Hockey game without snow!” she said.

Malik and his sister exchanged a shivering glance. They were both, despite all that has happened to them, Southern California kids. All that frozen stuff was simply unnatural. Good at sports Malik might be, but never ever hockey or ice-skating. Maybe it was something in their genes since their mom had been the same. She’d given their father a flat stare every time he joked about taking them all on a ski trip.

Malik found himself sneaking a look at Bill. During school, the boy from Wisconsin stayed a boy, but after school had taken to being Billie the girl That confused the hell out of Malik. It was bad enough he found Billie attractive, but couldn’t she please decide which sex she wanted to be and keep to it?

Being from LA, he’d run across others like Billie and more. In the City of Angels, you could find boys who wanted to be girls, girls that wanted to be boys and some that wanted to be both at the same time. Malik dealt with it all by having a live and let live attitude. He couldn’t understand why someone would want to be other than what they were, but as long as they gave him his space he was willing to give them theirs.

Then along came Billie. There was a enthusiastic happiness about her as if she’d kept it all bottled up for years and now could hold it inside no longer. Despondently he suspected his sister felt the same way about Billie. Glumly he decided it figured that he would find a girl who he was attracted to for other than being shapely, and not only did she prove to have something extra, he was competing with his sister for her attention. It just wasn’t fair. Sometimes life just plain sucked, he decided.

Looking up at the snow clouds above him, he muttered to himself about being two miles underground and getting snowed on. Could things get any stranger or worse?

Mr. Glenn had been in a good mood all morning, and not even the freezing snow could change that, as their teacher urged them down the stairs leading to the bottom, dragging bags full of equipment behind them. Malik guessed the steps went all the way to the floor before it’d started filling with water. There were pipes where the excess water was pumped away, he supposed, looking around. He wasn’t looking forward to slipping and sliding on all that ice.

As their teacher was passing out the long ribbon ‘flags,’ Mr. Simpson did his thing, copying everyone. Of interest was the helium-filled saucer shaped balloons that was the ball/puck. As Mr. Glenn explained the rules, the Air Force guys were setting up the field.

The rules were simple, kinda like a cross between basketball and hockey. You couldn’t carry it, though you could push it along. There were three gates on each teams’ side of the field that were about 60 feet apart and 7 feet off the ground. For a goal to count, the ball had to go through each one even though you could go just as high as you wanted between each one. Missing one was the same as going out of bounds. This gave everyone who couldn’t fly a chance to steal the ball.

Mr. Glenn still with that wide grin said, “Now anyone who destroys the ball commits a foul and the other team gets possession. Touching the other players is a big no-no. Only taking the flag of whoever is controlling the ball is a legitimate 'tackle',” he said, making ditto marks with his fingers.

“Your superduper suits were whipped up by Doc and they’ll keep you warm out here as well as help protect you from the usual bumps and bruises. The sole of the boots will give you some traction but no doubt will still be rather clumsy. None of you able to fly has had much room to really practice and this should even the odds somewhat. Maxi’s clones are under the same handicaps you are. Although they all have that instinctive knowledge of how to fly, flying well is a skill they’ll have to learn, just like you do. Now get out there and have some fun,” he said, sounding like a high school coach.

Their teacher had assigned them positions for this first quarter/inning, but Malik wasn’t feeling any too happy, slipping and sliding on the ice. Josh was the goalie while Amanda and Bill were the safeties. He and Lizzie were on the pointy end as forwards. Okay so maybe this was more like soccer, he thought, as they began.

Despite himself, Malik found himself enjoying this weird game, whatever it was. It’d been ages since he’d played a real game, and it was like a breath of fresh air even if it was freezing. He and Lizzie had gotten the disk/ball through the last gate and Maxi-Bill was dead in front of him.

Skidding to a stop, he spun the Disk to Lizzie, who barely caught it as a strong gust of wind from Maxi-Amanda blew both nearly out of bounds. Giggling the six year old sent it like a missile at the goal.

Both of them blinked as the goal suddenly wavered and reappeared several feet to the left! Maxi-Josh shook a finger in No, No, as the Disk flew out of bounds. Tossing the Disk to his teammate, Maxi-Bill, the flexible teen sent it screaming across the ice at ankle level using his long arms like a slingshot.

Like a shot, he and Lizzie were in pursuit. It was hard because they’re running against the wind blowing in their faces courtesy of Maxi-Amanda. Malik decided that some rule clarification was called for. Lizzie might’ve thrown the Disk out of bounds but that was caused by Maxi-Josh, and they were told they couldn’t pull the flags off anyone who didn’t have the Disk but Maxi-Amanda was definitely interfering with them. Didn’t that count?”

Shouting up at Lizzie, he asked for help, “Push me!”

She drove down and off they went. Malik couched down in a tuck the way he’d seen speed skaters do. Soon he was wishing he'd brought a pair of goggles as the chilling rush burned his eyes and he felt the vibration of their speed through his boots. In a flash they’d cut through the opposing stormy breeze as they thundered down the field after the Disk.

Maxi-Malik had a surprised look as Malik whipped his flag away as he and Lizzie roared by. He could almost reach the disk when Maxi-Malak grabbed it and flew up just as they passed the middle gate on the home team side. Looking up he saw his sister’s clone climbing upwards.

Lizzie left him to pursue, with him braking, and stopping at the last gate before scoring country. He, Bill, and Amanda as well as their doubles were there except his was still on the sidelines after having his flag pulled. Like in basketball, it turned into covering the other players while the flyers above tried to snatch ribbons.

Running out of room to maneuver without going out bounds, Maxi-Malak twisted for the ground with the Disk riding the edge of her force screen like a surfer. Everyone crowded forward for the Disk as it came whistling down. Predictably, someone slipped and they all ended up falling, tangled and flying every which way.

Malik laid on his back as he spun slowly to a stop. No one looked hurt, but for a moment he was sure he’d ended up smacking into Lizzie. He’d bounced off her force screen thing protecting her more than a few times in the dojo and the feel of it was like nothing else. Yeah, sure, it was hard, but it was also very slippery. Trying to grab her was like that wet bar of soap you hear about.

That was why he was so surprised when he turned around and saw he’d run into Mr. Glenn. It kinda helped the teacher looked as startled as he did. None the worse for wear, the teacher got to his feet, whistle blowing for a time out.

Putting the incident behind him, he reveled in the sensation of being in a game again. Man, did he miss this! Mr. Glenn had kept him busy helping with Lizzie and everything from dancing to gymnastics, but none of it was as satisfying as putting out your best effort.

Looking up as the snow continued to fall, he was glad that along with escaping from harm, they all were having good time judging from the giggles and laughs as Mr. Glenn held up the now flatten and tattered Disk.

“All right everyone,” their teacher said. “You saw what just happened. Acting as individuals you mostly got in each others way. However, there were some good teamwork efforts such as Maxi-Amanda’s blocking Malik and Lizzie, and how those two fought their way past it. However you can all do better.”

He took out a repair kit and began work on his patient, the Disk, as he talked. “We’re going do this again but this time we’re going to use radios, with me being the coach for the home team, while Max here coaches the Out of Towners.”

With a pop, the Disk re-inflated as he pumped in more Helium. “Good as new!”

An all too short time later for Malak, they were back in the trams heading back to the school. Mr. Simpson’s clones had all derezzed in a shower of lights so he guessed the Doctors weren’t interested in studying them anymore. He’s always got that thing, that guys weren’t sensitive about stuff, from his sister, but Malik could see just how tough it was on Mr. Simpson to see his clones just disappear.

It wasn’t some Star Trippin’ TV show where the crew just beamed-out. These were kids he’d just finished having a good scrimmage with and he knew they weren’t coming back. Sensitive or not, that bothered him.

Then there was Mr. Glenn. From the very beginning, the almost 50-year-old teacher moved like he was much younger, but being on that borderline between human and mutant could explain that. But what about that other stuff, like what happened today? Malak was sure that it’d been Lizzie’s protective screen thing he’d collided with.

He guessed it could’ve been just these new suits protecting them. Nearly everyone had gotten creamed in that big crash, including some of the Air Force cops. All of them had walked away, even if a few had been limping some.

Malik sighed to himself. He was beginning to learn that, just when you thought you had things figured out down here, something would turn you on your head. Putting his worries aside, he laid back enjoying the wonderful tired feeling of having fully exerted himself. Maybe someone knew all that was going on down here, but he wouldn’t place any bets!

<<<<>>>>

Chapter 33

September 22, 2008

ETWF: Minus 10 Days

ULTIMATE Field Camp SRT-One

Sapphira Heron was definitely out of sorts today. Placing the voltage meter back in its cushioned slot in her toolbox, she knew it wasn’t her suit of powered armor that had her so aggravated. That customized product of her genius was in perfect operating condition.

The bronze and gold high tech sculpture was a worthy successor to her Greek ancestors’ famous art works. Standing, the gleaming armor added a foot to her own 172 cm, but it was more than just size that made it so imposing. Its polished smooth curves conveyed an unmistakable feminine aura but also spoke of strength and power. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but Greek philosophers knew it also had a formula, The Golden Ratio, 1.6180339887. Objects proportioned to this ratio, along with symmetry, seemed more attractive and beautiful. Sapphira had used that equation with ruthless efficiency.

The sculptured beauty of its shell hid the real genius of her work within. Its miniature fusion plant let her power an astounding array of beyond cutting edge technology. An advanced sensor array; lethal and non-lethal weapon suites, as well as defensive systems and electronic countermeasures, made it a truly formidable machine. While dressed, she could dare challenge the strength of Hercules, swift Hermes, or fly like Pegasus.

She knew that even before she’d been discovered as a mutant, she’d had that rare intelligence that made great intuitive leaps. Sapphira had her first patent by the time she was ten and had begun taking university level courses by her 13th year. Then everything changed. It was as if she’d been blind all those years and now could see.

Her mutation had caused few physical changes, and those were mostly cosmetic. She certainly had no objections of her youthful attractiveness becoming goddess-like beauty. However, it was the change within that was life altering. Sapphira’s intelligence went clean off the charts, and she gained a multitude of useful intellectual talents. Complex mathematical equations were instantly solved. She had perfect recall and could visualize and manipulate sophisticated diagrams and images mentally.

Sapphira slammed down the lid of her toolbox. Damn them! By all rights, she should be managing her own corporation by now instead of being harassed by petty bureaucrats whose ignorance was matched only by their bigoted intolerance. What was worse, it was her own countrymen who’d cursed her to this fate.

She truly loved her home of Greece, but that didn’t blind her to the corruption of its politicians. ULTIMATE had come calling, looking for conscripts. Her family had tried to protect her but she’d been thrown to the ‘recruiters’ by Geek bureaucrats, like a virgin sacrifice into the volcano. They’d all known it’d been no accident either, for her to be so honored.

ULTIMATE was well aware of her talents and inventiveness. As a draftee, she had little in the way of any rights and anything she did produce would be the property of the greedy intolerant bastards. However, failure to comply could be just as bad. The term of her conscription was 3 years of her life and she had no desire to see it turned into life imprisonment sentenced to Dark Side Penitentiary.

She bowed her head and got to work for her masters, but like the god of smiths, Hephaestus, for the high and mighty living upon Mount Olympus; it would be on her own terms. The actual suit design took her only a few days. The complex web and maze she wove within it took longer. Deliberately she made it aesthetically pleasing to the eye, not so much as to build a thing of beauty, although that was a bonus, but because it gave the onlooker a false impression of simplicity.

When completed, it was a work of art and nothing but a huge deception. Yes it would give the wearer supra-human abilities and enable one to contest against the gods, but only if they happened to be Sapphira Heron. Every system was designed to mislead and confuse anyone trying to duplicate it. While any puzzle can be solved, those able to break this cipher weren’t willing to so for these masters.

What’s more, the entire design existed only in her head. No blue prints, no records, no CAD files, just the surveillance coverage of her fabricating and assembling the bronze and gold masterpiece. That’s not to say they didn’t try. The look on their faces as screws were removed and entire assemblies collapsed into a pile of parts were priceless. They could have demanded she show them but that would’ve revealed their true purpose, as she could’ve asked for the process to be documented.

She had barely avoided a court-martial, but had succeeded in denying the goat-humpers the fruits of her labors. Angered, they’d assigned her as team leader for Supra-Reaction Team One, a supra-squad assigned to take care of threats ULTIMATE’s dropships and powered armor goons couldn’t stop.

Inexperienced and lacking in seniority they expected her to fail, but she’d followed her the advice of her father, who’d served his time in the Greek military. He’d told her to follow the suggestions of her sergeants and others who did have the knowledge. Putting that wisdom to work, she picked the brains of all her people, as well as reading everything from Sun Tzu to Henri Jomini.

Sapphira didn’t think it false pride to think that she and her people had done well. The individuals recruited for her team had been as fractious as they came, but despite all the problems, they had become a true team. Rarely used for their actual purposes, the Reaction Teams were more like chain-gangs of old, forced to perform whatever disgusting tasks their overseers could come up with.

It was galling since most of the members had committed no crimes whatsoever. When the situation did demand their use, it was often long after it’d been prudent. The leadership of ULTIMATE did all they could to put Mutant-hood in the worst possible light. To have the SRTs come in and save the day, after the norms and all their technology had failed, was the last thing they wanted.

While other supra-humans working in and with law-enforcement were allowed colorful code names, the SRTs were as de-humanized as possible. Like that old song, their names had been taken away from them and all they were was a number. Officially, Sapphira was Number One of SRT One. Their uniforms were as drab as possible, making only allowances for practicality.

She still got the warm and fuzzies remembering when she’d been ordered to paint her armor in ULTIMATE blue. She wondered how even an organization like this one could take such a lovely shade of blue and make it so ugly. As simply as she could, Sapphira explained that her armored suit had a unique coating that let it reflect most energy based attacks and that its color was a property of the materials used, not any sort of pigment.

Pig-headed, they refused to listen of course. Amused, she told them if they wanted it blue, let them figure it out. After wasting gallon after gallon of paint and high-tech infusers, they finally gave up. She had so much fun watching it bead and run off even if she’d just made more enemies.

Despite all the odds against them, SRT One had beaten them every time. Struggling against the anal-retentive bureaucracy, and fighting some of the most dangerous criminals on the planet, was difficult but they’d been winning that two front war.

For a brief time, Sapphira thought that just maybe SRT One had been making a real difference and starting to turn around some of the negative attitudes she dealt with day end and day out. That things were actually improving. Then came the New Riverside Fluster Kuck.

The whole truth only came out after it was all over, but it was a complete and utter screw-up from the beginning. A really nasty demonic thing calling himself Lord Corruption had been working at opening a gate for yet another, even more evil, supernatural creature. Lord Corruption had nearly taken over the entire city of New Riverside by forcibly impressing every supra within to his service to accomplish that goal. The local supra-group, the New Riverside Warders, were being overwhelmed and the ULTIMATE forces on site did their usual sitting on their hands thing before calling in help.

When she and SRT One had been finally called in, Lord Corruption had already stacked the deck. He had turned, or as it was later claimed, took mental control of the ULTIMATE tactical commander, a Colonel Hostler. If SRT One had been free to act, Sapphira felt that even at that late date the oncoming train-wreck of events could have been avoided. However, all of the SRTs were under the command of the local office, and the one there was commanded by the traitor Colonel. He made sure all their efforts were not only wasted, but also offered up her people as scapegoats for one failure after another.

What turned the tide was the simple fact that the Warders weren’t at all stupid and brought in outside help. She didn’t like to admit it but that decision probably saved them all. When they got help, they did not mess around. The Chevaliers were a group of unknowns that were brought together under the leadership of the renown old American hero Major Victory. The retired hero had been around long enough to have to be over 100 years old, but looked like a man in his prime. With generations of experience behind him, he trained a team that when SRT One had been ordered by the traitor to attack, they’d gotten their butts kicked soundly, as Robert, better known as Number Three, had colorfully put it.

True, some of the Warders had also been there, but considering the number of regular ULTIMATE combat units on the scene, both these Chevaliers and the Warders should have been defeated. Even worse, she and her armor were taken out without her firing a shot. Esper-anza, the Chevaliers’ mentalist, had attacked her with a projected blast of Psionic energy. Such abilities weren’t unknown in the world and her armor was designed to provided protection from its like.

How Esper-anza had done it, Sapphira would never know, but the Chevalier had found a weakness in her suit’s defenses. What was different about this attack was it’d been directed against her armor and not her. The cyber-interface that allowed her and only her to control the complex suit was the real target. Normally such energies were harmless to mechanical and electronic devices, but this system's purpose was to link with the human mind and nervous system. Esper-anza’s blast set up a feedback loop that nearly fried her brain along with giving her stroke-like symptoms that had persisted for days.

Ironically, SRT One’s defeat let the Chevaliers and the Warders go on to stop Lord Corruption’s plans. Not before open conflict had erupted between the Heroes and ULTIMATE though. In the confusing battle that followed, Lord Corruption’s own forces had attacked both parties. The Warders had held their own and willingly went to the rescue of their former besiegers, an action that galled ULTIMATE’s leadership to no end.

In the aftermath, she’d awoken from her injuries to find that the craven bureaucrats were blaming her for everything that’d gone wrong! To her rather embarrassed relief it’d been the Chevaliers and the Warders once more to the rescue. Major Victory was a hero of the old school and was still held in high regard by many. He’d used that and the information provided by his staff to clear up the misunderstanding. Like an unstoppable force of nature, he was determined that the guilty would face justice.

Heads rolled and she and SRT One was cleared of all charges, but like the movie said ‘Bastards had brothers’ or in this case ‘bureaucrats had special interests’. They’d made this last year most unpleasant, and she’d given up all hope of making changes to ULTIMATE from the inside. Perhaps someone else could make those changes but fighting the entrenched hostility she faced now was a losing battle.

Sapphira had only a year remaining until she was free. Now, she was planning how to make those changes from the outside. Three times, her initial conscription of 3 years had been involuntarily extended, the maximum time allowed. After some thought, she also made preparations for what if her overseers finally crossed the line and tried to frame, imprison or do worse to her. She had no intention of going down fighting. Sapphira fully intended on living and let the other poor dumb bastard do the dying to paraphrase a famous fighting general.

Right at this very moment, SRT One was once again being screwed and not even getting kissed, another of Number Three’s colorful Americanisms. Here they were in Las Vegas, the American’s city of sin, but there weren’t any nice comfortable hotels for them. They were living out of tents, while playing rabbit for the Heavy Assault Brigade.

The Brigade were ULTIMATE‘s premier thugs. Most large cities had what passed for a battalion of ULTIMATE troopers. Six V-33 dropships, a V-22c command ship, and 65 Peacekeeper Power Armored troopers, which was more than enough to take care of most threats. The Brigade had ten times the equipment and men as well as enough combat helicopters, interceptors, and other aircraft to push the total over eight hundred fighting machines. What’s more, instead of Peacekeeper armored suits, they had the more heavily armed Peacemakers. Its mission was simple. Go in, crush the opposition, and let someone else worry about collateral damage and casualties. It did not help that every one of them was a radical mutant hating ass. And those were the good things you could say about them.

This was the wonderful group that their beloved bureaucratic overseers had them training with. That is if you considered being chased and shot at while trying to survive in an inhospitable desert, training. It was times like this that she missed her home in Greece with a fierce longing.

At least SRT One’s support troops were having a good time. Since Sapphira and the rest of the supra-humans in SRT were being abused out in the Mohave, their pilots and crew chiefs had little to do. While ULTIMATE at large was turning more and more intolerant and bigoted, the normals in SRT One’s support group were a good bunch. Any mutie haters that showed up were quickly set straight by their no nonsense noncoms. They knew that their safety depended on all of them trusting each other and working together. Any man jack that couldn’t toe the line got shown the door.

One of her pilots had found an old friend from his Officer Training Academy days involved in a surveillance mission nearby. She’d given her unofficial blessing that if he happened to run across his old friend while flying navigation training flights she wouldn’t see a thing.

Imagine her surprise when the young pilot had passed on to her a request from his friend’s superior that the two of them meet in secret and away from prying eyes in blue. A discreet inquiry about this requester revealed he was a Frenchman of the old school, and was nearly as unpopular with the ruling elite of ULTIMATE as she was.

Not being either slow or mentally deficient, Sapphira had suspected there was more to their being deployed here than some training mission. The fact that there were others here on the ’shit list,’ as Three called it, suggested they were all being set up as scapegoats. Add in the HAB, their masters’ favorite toy, made her certain, she knew who was suppose to charge in and save the day from their incompetence. There were more issues in play than she’d first guessed. Add in the HAB training to find and pursue mutants in a desert environment with the authorization for lethal force, and the answers were most unpleasant.

Securing the last of her testing equipment, she readied her armor for more training. Sapphira had updated her own contingency plans, and warned her family of possible trouble. Tonight her armor’s stealth systems would get a comprehensive test and she’d find out what the questions were to her answers.

No matter she was upset over what she suspected; that once more her masters and overseers were setting her up for failure. However, this time they might have finally crossed over the point of no return. Loyalty, like respect, was something to be earned and ULTIMATE had done nothing to gain either.

Sapphira’s bared teeth couldn’t be called a smile except perhaps by fellow Greeks from another long ago time. Standing fast in a mountain pass known as the Hot Gates, they would’ve recognized and welcomed her to their ranks despite her sex. They would have known an Amazon warrior when they saw one.
<<<<>>>>

Chapter 34

September 22, 2008

ETWF: Minus 10 Days

Area 61

Doctor Courtney Hathaway was tired. While she wasn’t the only esper talent on the staff she was the senior. She was also the only one with the knowledge and skill necessary to pull off Project Hydra. Often she suspected that the others were there just to keep an eye on her. It was just more of the paranoid check and balances Area 61 lived by.

The entire morning had been one ordeal after another. First that Monday department meeting from hell, where General Laramie had pushed her for faster results regarding Project Hydra, and then it was off to the Great White North to watch that overgrown child, Alan Glenn, play some kind of strange mixture of ice hockey, soccer, and Gawd only knows what else.

She understood that its purpose was to help the subjects work together, but it’d still been freezing cold and she’d almost gotten hurt more than once, even as a spectator. Amazed, she watched the kids grin, get up and go running back into the maelstrom.

None of them saw just how hard she’d been exerting herself. Saul Simpson’s clones were too short lived for them to get back to the lab in time to put them in stasis. To preserve the experiences of what this group of clones had learned she’d had to work her talent harder than she’d had to in years.

Even though the receivers’ minds were asleep, as well as being absolute duplicates of the ones she was taking the experiences from, there were great difficulties. The first was it wasn’t just memories she was transferring. For the Hydra subjects to receive the full benefits of this second hand training with Meridian, she had to go very deep into muscle memory.

Second and third, she’d been miles away with a lot of solid rock in the way. Crystalline formations had always been a problem for those of the talent, but she’d made sure she’d stayed lined up with the tunnel as much as she could. Line of sight did help.

Lastly, she’d had to download those experiences, not once, but to each of the 19 remaining Hydra subjects. All while trying to maintain appearances while they all played. By the time she’d climbed back onto the tram, Courtney had been completely exhausted. But, no, wait - all those new memories had to be integrated into the Hydra subject’s minds. Yet more work. The males were more or less straight forward. Even the clones of William didn’t have any problems accepting the new experiences and were adapting fairly well. The problem with William’s clones were they still all had his female-wired brain. That was certain to cause problems later on, and she needed to lay the groundwork for those clones’ acceptance of that condition.

Saul Simpson had a very masculine personality that would not make her work any easier. If William’s doubles were going to be trouble, that did not even begin to describe that of the true genetic girls. The further from Saul’s entrenched self-image they got, the worse the problems grew. Lizzie being not only female but the youngest and smallest made her the hardest. Two of the clones of her had committed suicide and another had been a very near thing.

Courtney wasn’t even sure how they’d managed it, seeing how tough and strong that little girl was. Just as bad was two of Maxi-Malak’s had done so too, but they’d stopped all of the Maxi-Amandas' attempts but one.

Back when the clones had been just temporary manifestations it’d been easy for her to deny they were really alive. Now she couldn’t do that and she had to use her powers to keep them alive and sane. She couldn’t erase everything because that might leave them unable to use their powers, but instead had to hack and slash, creating what she hoped was stable persona.

Unable to access Lizzie’s memories, she’d had to use her own. Oh how Alan Glenn would laugh if he only knew! Courtney might have nearly perfect recall but that only worked if she tried to remember the events to start with. Going over those memories and giving them to the clones of Lizzie, Malak, and Amanda was opening and giving more of herself than she was at all comfortable with.

She rubbed her temples from the headache caused by the overuse of her PSI talent. The gestures she’d learned as a child came from her sisters and mother. To see those same ones echoed by the ‘girls’ made her feel a complicated mixture of emotions that she couldn’t begin to work out. She rested her head on her desk, pushing her laptop aside. All she had to do was do it all over again tomorrow. If she could’ve, Courtney would’ve cried, but that just took too much energy. Looming on the horizon was the faked deaths of the Meridian candidates and her part in lying to their families.

Finally, in a slow drizzle the tears welled up and slowly trickled down her cheeks to her desk. Softly the salty tears ended in a fitful sleep.

***

Maggie Carson didn’t know which was more bitter; not knowing what’d happened to her lover, or having her just yards away and being unable to gather her in her arms. Sighing she pushed herself from the cluttered shop table that was covered with parts, tools and half-assembled devices.

Ollie looked up at her, taking a break from his own labors. They’d both been hard at work all day since getting a good look at the security checkpoint to the vaults. Together, with help from Big Mac, they’d come up with a plan to break into the vault entrance.

The alien Gray put down the part he’d been working on. His workshop was full of whatever electronics he’d been able to pilfer from the underground complex. Gutted cell phones and less identifiable, stripped machines cluttered the makeshift workshop.

Last night Val/Alan and she had managed to share a few hours together. In either persona, the nightmares were something she’d grown accustomed to in their years together, despite her futile desire to help chase them away. Those night terrors had grown less frequent, but last night’s were something different.

Val had woken covered in sweat, throwing herself upright in her fear. Maggie still more than half asleep had seen for just a fraction of a second that her lover was glowing and even had what seemed was a ghost-like form superimposed upon her. Just as quickly, it had faded, leaving her doubting her own senses.

Denying anything of import had happen; her love had shifted back to Alan and went back to his masquerade. Maggie knew differently. This hadn’t been any sort of normal bad dream. No one in the world knew more about this, oh so complicated a person she loved, than she. Her intuition told her that Z-Ray device had to be involved somehow, but while she’d been told much about it, Maggie didn’t know what it was. Perhaps it was past time to find out.

“Ollie,” she asked. “Just what is this Z-Ray? Alan has told me so much about what it did to him and the Rocketeers, but he left out just what it is.”

The small Gray sighed, knowing this question had been coming. “Please understand that while much of what I can do here seems impressive, it is all very improvised. I am like that character in that book raised by simians. While my knowledge might seem beyond yours, it is far from what is expected from one of the scientist cast brought up enfolded in the mental gestalt of the People. All of this is because of our different point of view regarding the base principles and rules of physics”

Holding out his slim long fingered hands, he continued. “I’ll tell you what I can. The machine seems vaguely like the drives on Gray flying saucers. Those work by interacting with the strands or strings that binds all the dimensions together, allowing anti-gravity as well as anti-inertial like effects.”

“Years ago, I saw it in operation as I hid fearing for my companions the Rocketeers. From what I observed, its operation is beyond what the engines of my race uses. Its effects stretch far into inter-dimensional space and perhaps, even to the very fabric of the multi-universe. If it is so, then the dangers it poses are very significant.”

“I’ve researched this matter as much as I could, asking my parents’ matrixes as well as the scant resources that were onboard their saucer. Apparently, this was never an area that has been explored by my people, the Grays. Rather than empower single individuals, my people’s strength is their ability to think and act as one. Its philosophy is much like that of your terrestrial hive insects, if different in its execution. The good of the many is more important than the needs of the few.

“I do know no one here understands truly what it is doing with the possible exception of Doctor McClellan. Please to do not underestimate him. His intellect is at least on a level equal to a scientist of my people, and I believe that he is singly unique. After touching his mind, I could see it operates on many different levels at once. That was the one and only time I’ve ever attempted such and I won’t do it again.”

“That doesn’t answer your question, but perhaps this might help. Years ago when this program was in its infancy, it was believed that supra-normal abilities came from mutation of an unidentified gene. Since then, research has reveal there is not a single gene that all supra-humans have in common that the rest of the human race lacks. Moreover, not all the genesis of Supra-humans can be associated with known forms of mutations. Something else other than the mechanism of genetic mutation is involved.

“Yes, some do have their origins linked to the classical mutative elements such as radiation, chemical immersion, and others. However, what about being struck by lightning, drowning, or some other traumatic event that has nothing to with genetics? All these things seem to be triggers, but in seeking their answers, many ignored what did not fit their own pet theories. Bad science at its worse.

“What is more confusing is whatever causes these origins, the changes are down to the genetic level and can be inherited. What I think Doctor McClellan believes is that the causes, whether natural or artificial, are extra-dimensional. That is what the Z-Ray does. It blindly probes in those places. Perhaps less clumsily than the earlier incarnations of the device, as statistically the ratio of survivors to failures has improved, but still blind nonetheless.

“You do have to admit that he’s onto something. His successes prove that, but what else could he unknowingly trigger with his explorations? I fear that answer. For years Meridian was inactive, and the Z-Ray nothing more than another relic of the Cold War. Now it’s back and is being used more than ever according to Big Mac.”

Ollie stopped and looked at her. “Maggie has something happened that I need to be aware of?”

She sighed. But of course the alien telepath would picked up on her anxiety. Damn Val and all her secrets. Maggie had always been very forgiving of that flaw in her lover because she understood that Val had been badly hurt and keeping those secrets was one of the consequences. Given time, her lover would reveal all, but it was hard for her.

Now Maggie had a problem. Ollie would have to know, given that Val would have to be part of their vault break-in Wednesday night. But she didn’t want to betray the hard-earned trust between the two of them. There was really only one answer.

“Ollie I don’t know the entire story and the parts that are missing are the most interesting ones. We both have no choice but to shanghai him so both of us can get some answers. What do you think of that?” Maggie asked.

The small alien sighed. “It’ll have to suffice. I must warn you that I am not taking anything else other than the complete truth. My questions have waited long enough. Now however it's time for us to get back to work for we still have much to do.”

Maggie nodded, returning to her own tasks. This mission to free Ollie’s parent’s matrixes was going to be one of the hardest of her and Val’s partnership, but it could be done. Finding out just what in the hell was going on at Area 61 and getting the kids and all of the other inmates out was going to be a little harder.

***

Saul Simpson enjoyed the simple pleasure of deciding just when to turn out the lights. It might, he admitted, not be a big thing to most people. It was to him. After being incarcerated at the highest security prison the human race had ever built, almost everything most people took for granted was precious to him.

Taking a deep breath of air he remembered how ‘bad to the bone’ he was prepared to be, arriving at Dark Side Penitentiary. They had taken away his name the moment he’d half-floated, half-stumbled through the airlock. Inmate number Four was all he’d been called for nearly 30 years. He’d learned really quickly that it didn’t mean crap how bad or how tough you were when someone else controlled your food, heat, and even the very air you breathed. Yeah he might be near un-killable, but he still needed air to stay conscious.

The sadistic assholes, the so-called guards, had even let him go through explosive decompression, not once, but several times. Each time he’d revived, once there was something for him to breathe. Oh, they called it accidents, but he knew the truth. Hell, for that matter maybe he even deserved it. His Mama, if she hadn’t died from being a junkie, would’ve said he deserved all the pain he’d received during all these years.

Saul knew he was a killer. The courts that’d sentenced him hadn’t come close to the real number of people that’d died at his hands. That number was in the hundreds, if not more, for every time he used his mojo, he killed. He thought it so freaking funny that no one else seemed to understand that when his mojo’s children vanished, they died.

Just like a man and woman screwed to make kids, so did he and his mojo by taking a part of himself and a piece of whoever they touched. Yeah they all had his memories, but they also had the powers and body of who he touched. Just like a kid having some of daddy and some of the mama.

The bastards had even encouraged and then made him use the mojo, testing and pushing him until he refused. The shrinks told him he wasn’t killing anyone. The clones, as they called them, were just temporary energy manifestations, no more alive than the pictures on the TV.

Hell, he knew the real reason was just so they could get him to do even more work in their damn mines. He-3 was the grease of this new world so obsessed with being green. Fusion power needed it, and to get it you had to strip mine the moon. Some of the work was done by robots, but the conditions were so harsh that the damn things were broken more often than not.

The freaking dust got into everything, destroyed gears and seals almost as fast as they could be replaced, but men? They might sweat and bleed, but kept going until their hearts broke. Saul had seen so many come and go, ground up by Lady Luna, the cast iron bitch to end them all.

You didn’t have to volunteer for the mines, but without the few privileges that gave you, most inmates wound up going nuts in the small closet sized cells. While some SOB on earth was crying out for the ill treatment of spotted owls or some damn kind of minnow, men died in conditions as bad or worse as any slave in history. After all, out of sight, out of mind, and it was damn hard to get further out of sight than where the sun never shone.

When they came and asked him if he wanted to go back to Earth, Saul didn’t have to think about it. He knew there would be some catch and there was. He had to use his mojo again to help train some more brats, who ironically were the successors of the very ones that’d put him in that hellhole to begin with.

But there’d been another reason as well. If needed, he was supposed to take care of Alan Glenn, Vroom, the very same kid that’d done the deed and put him in hell. At first, the thought of getting back into some real gravity and freedom was his only goal. Getting a chance at revenge was only gravy. However, it didn’t take Saul long to figure out that the kid was in the same boat as himself.

The old convict had heard the stories of how mutants like him were being treated now, but hadn’t really accepted that all of them, bad and good, were being lumped together. Saul knew better than most that the animal in the cage next to yours wasn’t your friend. However, just maybe, he might not be an enemy. There was that old saying; the enemy of an ally is an enemy, the ally of an enemy is an enemy, but, the enemy of an enemy, well, just might be an ally.

Alan Glenn had proved that he wasn’t an enemy. They would never be friends, but there was no need for them to be enemies either. The ex-hero had also been one of the few to respect his feelings regarding the children of his mojo and that meant a lot to Saul.

Turning out the lights the big man sighed. That put his promise of taking care of the now teacher and instructor in a different light. Saul could feel in his bones that a crap-load of trouble was coming and when it hit the fan there would be hell to pay in blood, tears, and perhaps more. The time was coming that he would have to decide where to stand again. The first time, he’d decided to care only for himself and what pleased him. That hadn’t worked out so well.

Sighing, he closed his eyes to sleep, remembering a sad old song one of the rednecks in the joint had been fond of. Sleep found him as The Green, Green Fields of Home softly sang in his memory.

To be continued.



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