Once the Hero Part 12

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Once The Hero
Part 12

Chapter 51

SRT-One approaching Area 61

       Sapphira kept a close eye on the in-flight repair she’d had to make after that last EM pulse. Despite the manufacturer’s guarantee that all the critical components were shielded versus EMP, one failed. To be fair, she didn’t think they were thinking about multiple exposures, but in any case she was able to jury-rig a repair.

       The good news was that almost twenty minutes had passed since the last high energy event. Above them the aurora was fading and that lightning barrage had spent itself. That was a really good sign that perhaps the worst was over.

       The bad news was, they were now of course behind schedule. An irate Major Thomas was breathing down her neck because of it. Unfortunately, the malfunction she planned for his aircraft had to be aborted, because of that shockwave and the EMP that damaged one of their V-22’s for real. Unfortunately it was the wrong one. Getting them back in the air had thrown off her plans and now the UHAB was too close behind them to risk making a run for it. So rather than hijacking their own transport and heading south of the border, they were stuck carrying out this forlorn hope of a mission after all.

        That created another problem. Like all of his ilk, Major Thomas seemed to think he knew more about tactical operations from his time behind a desk than the ones with their boots in the muck. She’d overruled his demand that they go in low and fast. This was a recon and rescue mission, not an assault, or at least that had been what she’d been told. In any case, she didn’t want the US Air Force, whose airspace they were violating, to get trigger happy. Besides, Sapphira wanted to get a good look before getting closer, considering her insider information from Inspector Imbert.

       Their V-22 aircraft possessed an excellent sensor suite, and she meant to make use of it. Multi-tasking as they approached, she used her powered armor systems to tap into that system.

       The still smoking crater where that nuclear device detonated loomed in front of them, clearly visible. Sapphira still didn’t know just exactly what kind of explosion that had been, since it lacked most of the radiation one expected of an atomic bomb. What she did know was she didn’t want to be anywhere nearby if it happened again. Scanning the area, she found a cluster of vehicles and personnel nearby. From what she could see, they were rescue vehicles and were busy with recovering their wounded.

       The crew chief gave her the thumbs down, that so far their communications request had gone unanswered. She shrugged, unsurprised. Whatever had hit this place knocked out power and services to the entire region. It wasn’t news that these people at ground zero were hit harder than the rest of the area. Giving that huge crater another glance, 'a lot harder,' she thought to herself.

       However, they were picking up the pieces down there, that in itself suggested that whatever happened was over. The good guys had won, or at least driven off their attackers. But not without casualties, she sighed, looking at the flashing lights of the military field ambulances.

       Sapphira was about to order their pilot to set them down to offer assistance when Major Thomas abruptly cut her off.

       “There!” he radioed, sending a blurry sensor image of two women dressed in black. “Do you see them? Those are the felons Kali and Tech-Witch! Arrest them immediately!” he demanded.

       She shrugged at the chief who had made a rather nasty gesture at their handler’s command. It seemed the Inspector had been correct yet again, and true to their MO, the two ‘felonious’ mutants were aiding mutants in trouble.

       She wondered if it was worth it to point out this was an American military installation and under Federal jurisdiction. By the terms of ULTIMATE’s charter with the United States, they had no power to conduct arrests without the accompaniment of US Marshals in these circumstances.

       However, what she could do was take Major Thomas temporarily out of the loop. “SRT One acknowledges,” Sapphira replied. “One to pilot! We’re deploying,” she said, gesturing to Bernado.

       Her second in command got the rest of their team ready to exit. By the time the V-22’s ramp lowered they were ready. A quick double check, and they dove off out their A/C. Sapphira as jumpmaster, waited a scant second to make sure all was well, before she too stepped off the ramp.

       Her suit’s jets roaring, she joined her team in their plummet to earth.


       Val watched as Ollie kept the Buggy in a watchful hover over the convoy of ambulances racing back to the medical facilities at Area 61. Alright, Gus and the kids were on their way to the hospital, and Maggie was going along to keep the docs honest. Josh and Malik had attached themselves as her body guards which didn’t bother Val at all. Between those two they had the brain and brawn angle covered.

       Amanda, Malak, and Billie had stayed topside with Lizzie. The six year old was far too young to be mixed up in this stuff. Val hoped all of tonight’s events hadn’t ensured the young girl a string of therapists in her future.

       A quick trip to the hanger area confirmed her suspicions the aircraft there weren’t usable. There was a certain point, that if you were too close, that no amount of shielding helped. The one plane that had suitable seating, medical facilities and range to take everyone out had all of its electronics melted down.

       It was up to Pyotr and his people now. The Kusbegi was exactly what she needed, but Val didn’t want her home at war with the good old USA any more than her brother did. She started thinking of just how they could manage the impossible.

       She didn’t doubt trying to use another vehicle as an intermediary, and transfering everyone from one to the other, would increase the jeopardy Max’s kids and Gus were already in. Okay, so how to get in close? Most of the electronics were out, and that just left the people. Just chase everyone away from the LZ perhaps, but all that had to go wrong was for them to miss just one person. Maybe if Josh used his power to mislead or hide the Kusbegi’s origins. He could blanket the whole area and … That was as far as she got before Bob, one of Pyotr's people warned, “Inbound. Two V-22s from the southeast at 4000 meters.”

         Recognizing Bob the intell expert and brick as one of those she and Maggie had rescued, Val asked, “ID?” At that height, someone was giving them the look over, but it could be the Air Force, ULTIMATE, or several others that operated the tilt-rotor. Which one, would tell a lot about the flavor of trouble heading their way.

       A heartbeat later, she was standing by his side as he observed their visitors. “Lead ship’s ramp is coming down. Looks like, yeah. We’ve got jumpers,” he reported.

       Looking up, Val couldn’t see much even with her visor. Visibility was still wonky with the fading radiance of the aurora, and the on coming dawn. Bob’s equipment was bulkier, but specialized for this kind of thing. She supposed that was a good thing about him having super strength because of all the goodies he could bring with him.

       “Five jumpers, plus one.” He paused. “I confirm the aircraft as ULTIMATE’s and jumpers as probably their SRT One.

       Val shook her head. It doesn’t rain that it pours. The Supra-Reaction Teams were ULTIMATE’s supra-heroes but were mostly useless. They were just the bureaucrats attempt to control every mutant they could get their hands on. The effective ones tended to be either real head-cases or just so damn good they could buck the system, teams like SRT One.

       This wasn’t a fight she wanted, since this was one group that was at least trying to do the right thing. “Pyotr we have a situation.”

       Her radio replied, “I’m aware. I’ve dropped off the last of the wounded and am en-route to you.”

       Their visitors were still drifting down when Pyotr landed next to her. “Well, they don’t seem to be in hurry to get down here are they? So what’s the plan?”

       The rest of Pyotr’s people were making their way to them, with the exception of Katrina who was laying out her arsenal of weapons, assembling something that was no doubt long range and deadly.

       Val cleared her throat as she watched Number One’s suit's jets burning bright as she kept pace with her descending team. “They seem to be cautious, so I thought I would try convince them that we have everything under control so they could go home.”

       Her brother grinned back her. “Baffle them with buffalo chips, yes?”

          She struck him lightly on his shoulder. After her secret came out to her adopted family, Pyotr had been mad to learn English while in his Rock music phase. His Americanese slang was as good as hers.

       Well two can play that game. “Da,” she said in a thick Russian accent, “Take this job and shovel it,” as SRT One members landed, taking in their chutes while their power-armor suited leader kept watch from above.

       Well this should be interesting.


Chapter 52

Area 61

       Sapphira landed lightly, letting her suit jets whine down. She had taken the time to carefully examine the area as well as the people waiting for her to land. First her data link with her V-22’s sensors located the one Major Thomas identified as the Tech-Witch. She’d departed with the departing ambulances with the wounded.

       However Kali, if that was she, calmly waited for them. The slim woman matched the general description with her black streamlined full face helmet and uniform, but this one’s suit was of a different design. Instead of a form fitting slick wetsuit-like or the aerodynamic racing suits skaters use, this one had a pattern of thicker material on the limbs and shoulders. However, despite the differences, there was a really good chance that this woman was who Major Thomas thought it was.

       With her were four men and one woman in the all black military uniforms, festooned with gear common to special operation soldiers. They all carried weapons, and appeared to be normal humans, even if two of the men were huge and gave some doubt to that assumption.

       A little farther away were four girls ranging in age from their mid-teens to one who didn’t look more than 6 or 7. They were the only obvious supra-humans here dressed in uniforms that resembled the old Rocketeers’ who were once based here out of Area 61.

       Speaking of which, she also spotted the gaudily painted silver and red saucer that group once used as their team transport vehicle, The Rocket. Its pilot kept the silver saucer down low and mostly hidden but her sensors located it anyway.

       Frankly, the Greek heroine hadn’t decided just what she was going to do. Thinking about it, her orders were to determine what had caused those power disruptions, and to prevent another. Since ULTIMATE seem bound and determined to begin an incident, she was predisposed to throw a wrench into their plans. Well, let’s try diplomacy, she decided, and signaled her team to back her.

       “I’m Number One of ULTIMATE Supra-Response Team One,” she introduced herself. “Earlier tonight, three high energy events disrupted power and communications from Reno to Las Vegas. Two of them were Electro-Magnetic-Pulses, but the other was some kind of nuclear explosion. Perhaps a frizzle with little radiation but still created a fireball and shockwave,” she said, nodding her head at the 200 yard diameter crater nearby. “We’ve been sent to investigate. Since your communications are out, I had no choice, but to violate your no fly zone given the seriousness of the events.”

       The woman in black took off her helmet. Sapphira with her perfect memory immediately recognized her from a series of television ads featuring outdoor activities and feminine hygiene products. Her dark hair and fine features were marked by the helmet’s padding, and she could see evidence of a battle from discoloration and scorch marks on her uniform.

       “I’m Valentina Zarya Savitskaya, one of these children’s instructors. If you look, you’ll see I’m registered in your files as Dixie Belle. Pardon my different uniform, but this one was designed by one of the researchers here, for my use while here.”

       “Since I have the courtesy rank of Captain, and Peter here is only a lieutenant, I must advise you that you’re on a restricted Federal military reservation and ask that you leave ASAP.”

       “On the other hand, you’re right. We did have a little problem tonight. One of our student’s powers ran out of control, and that was unfortunately the cause of those high energy events as you called them. We have regained control now. However things are still hectic. I must ask you again, to leave. Already once tonight we’ve had injuries because of jittery nerves, and mistaken identities. I very much don’t want another. Please tell your superiors to give us some time to sort everything out. I’m sure a statement explaining everything will be made as soon as possible,” the courtesy ranked Captain said.

       Sapphira’s onboard database confirmed Ms. Savitskaya’s identity, if not her instructor status. Her request that they leave was reasonable, and made sense considering that SRT One was trespassing. She’d already decided to burn her bridges tonight. Perhaps, she did have a chance to defuse any more trouble. All the better if she could get her people out of here without a fight. They could then disappear on the way back to Vegas.

       She clicked on her radio to explain the situation to Major Thomas.

       A chance she wasn’t given. “How dare you cut me out!” he raged. “Arrest that woman at once! Find that other one and arrest her too,” he said, sounding as if he was foaming at the mouth.

       Once again she tried talking some sense to him. “We’re on a Federal military reservation, and we have been officially asked to leave. Besides we don’t have an arrest warrant nor the authority.”

       Brazenly, he shouted back over the radio, “I will not stand for this insubordination! If you don‘t carry out my orders ASAP I will activate your team's implants. Yes, yours too. I bet even with that so-called superior intelligence of yours you never knew even your team’s tracking implants had explosive charges,” he said snidely.

       Sapphira’s face went stony. “Major Thomas I really wouldn’t advise that,” she said. “Under the circumstances I can not obey your orders, which are clearly illegal. Threats of deadly force against my team and myself are uncalled for. I can however guarantee that if you try to carry out your threat you will regret it.”

       She hadn’t known that even her implant had been rigged, but that just made her certain her decision, to end her association with ULTIMATE, was the right one. However that also created a problem. Sapphira had thought it a cute touch to relocate all the implants to a rather sensitive area of Major Thomas’s Peacemaker powered armor suit.      

       Two firecracker sized explosives going off down there would be very painful but were probably not crippling or life threatening. Five of them changed the equation significantly.

       “Number One you have 5 seconds to carry out my orders. I’m not bluffing, you bitch!” their handler threatened.

       She simply listened to his countdown while she contacted the pilots of his V-22. “I think the Major is about to activate a function on his armor that is about to malfunction. He’s refused to listen to …”


       “Reason,” she continued. “Please inform the UHAB that I have met with representatives from Area 61, and they have informed me the emergency has been contained. The authorities on the ground have given us notice that we must evacuate the area. After you’ve sent that message, please standby while we arrange for a LZ for our V-22 to pick us up.”

       Valentina Savitskaya and the others with her were looking at her expectantly. “It seems our observer has suffered a bizarre armor malfunction that has driven him to believe that you, Ms. Savitskaya, are a wanted felon codenamed Kali. He demanded we arrest you, disregarding the simple fact we have neither the approved warrant nor the necessary accompanying Federal Marshall the treaty requires.

       “Unfortunately the malfunction became severe enough that it finally disabled his armor. I understand that his injuries are not life threatening, but perhaps this incident will motivate him to a more comprehensive pre-operations check of his equipment.

       “Be that as it may, if you would inform me where to direct my pilot, we will get out of your way. We don’t want any misunderstandings as to our intentions,” she concluded.

       It didn’t escape her how still they all got when she mentioned the word arrest.   However since Sapphira had just about had it with ULTIMATE, she really did not care that she was warning a wanted felon that her pursuers were closing in. Besides, seeing how Kali or Athena, as the inspector called her, helped mutants escape to safety, she and her people might very well need that kind of help before this was all over.

       Ms. Savitskaya gave her a mischievous smile. “I would suggest the base airfield. It is a short hike, but your pilot would be less likely to suck any of this glassy residue into a turbine which I’m sure wouldn’t do them any good. Please, under the circumstances, let us escort your team for we don‘t want any misunderstandings either tonight. Or rather should I say this morning?” the Acting Captain said with a tired sideways smile.

       Bernardo gave Sapphira a nod as he got the team moving while she made small talk with their hosts. Up ahead, she could see their V-22 descending for their pickup. Inwardly, she crossed her fingers that they would get away with this. Her powered armored suit could do many things but the simple act of crossing her fingers wasn’t one of them.

       In retrospect, her decision to deploy hadn’t been a good one since it separated them from their aircraft, as much as it let her ignore Major Thomas’s orders. Sapphira sighed. Some things just couldn’t be helped. Besides, it did let her hopefully smooth out the situation here.

       All the warning she had was a short radio message from her pilot. “Sorry Ma’am. We have been ordered to abort retrieval,” he said with sorrow. Their little party was almost to where their V-22 waited, but could only watch as it roared back into the sky without them.

       Anger touched her. 'If he’d really been sorry, the SOB would have ignored that order,' she thought to herself, until a pair of deadly shadows darted over them in a whistling howl. RAH-66 Comanches, stealth armed reconnaissance helicopters, painted in ULTIMATE dark blue. The US had sunk billions into the program for them until deciding they were too expensive and that its needs had changed. ULTIMATE however was only too willing to purchase the swift agile machines, now that someone else had gone to all the work of developing it. Okay, so maybe her pilot did not have a choice after all, with those two making sure their abort order was carried out at gun point.

       Turning to her hosts, who were looking on curiously as events unfolded, she explained, shrugging, “It seems headquarters disagrees with my assessment of the situation.”


       Cursing with a vocabulary learned in 20 years of military service, Colonel Randolph Hodges assessed his options. He had already sent his SPADs high to serve as interceptors and air superiority. The machines were re-engineered booty from the ’96 invasion and were formidable, but not so much in the ground attack role. They were of more use making sure no one came in, and more importantly, to make sure not a single soul got out, to spread the news as to what really was going to happen this morning.

       Damn that mu-taint bitch to hell, he cursed SRT One’s leader. It'd been hoped that their own not-so-tamed mutants would be caught in whatever disaster was going on at Area 61. Not for her to turn around and defect to them! That fool Thomas had evidently blown his own balls off when he’d activated SRT One’s implants. The idiot hadn’t taken precautions against that gene tainted whore pulling a fast one.

       Right. He had gotten his advanced recon elements on the scene fast enough to make damn frakking sure his orders that SRT-One’s V-22 abort their pickup. His pilots reported seeing a nuclear ground burst crater, even if the radiation from it was abnormally low. They also confirmed an individual matching Kali’s description was on site.

       The report on her indicated that he would need the heavier ordnance carried by his dropships to put her down, so engaging with his recon element wouldn’t be wise. Besides that Greek bitch and her team were one of the targets now, and he had just the plan to take them out as well. Better he keep the RAH-66’s back, and have them keep watch for anyone trying to escape.

       Someone at Area 61 liked playing hardball judging from that nuke crater. Well he could play just as tough, and had just the right hammer for the job.


Chapter 53

Area 61’s medical section

       Dr.Courtney Hathaway barely glanced up as the lights flickered again. Triage had rushed another patient in, and she was far too busy to worry about what else was going wrong tonight.

       The young man of 17 had third, bordering on fourth, degree burns across his back. A quick scan with her powers revealed a broken arm as well as a number of minor injuries. His ID revealed him to be Albert-2. She recognized him as one of the clones Saul Simpson made of Joshua Dean.

       Being very familiar with their mental processes, since she'd been the one to reprogram them, she gently touched his pain centers to ease his pain when he eventually awoke. Guiltily, she reminded herself that he wouldn’t even be here if she hadn’t programmed him as she'd been ordered. Her loyalty brought her nothing. Dr. McClellan and General Laramie had still pushed her out of the program. Her drive to excel had accomplished nothing but to hurt these kids. Not subjects, nor Project This nor Experiment That Other, just children.

       Maybe it was the only way to stop that creature, but did they even really bother looking for another solution? She really didn’t know whether to hate Alan Glenn’s guts for destroying her illusions or to thank him for opening her eyes. At any rate, her so-call career here was over. After she’d managed to pull her fast one when she’d bypassed the program meant to erase Glenn’s memories, she had been shuffled away to another project, one of little importance and no chance of advancement.

       Courtney was certain her sabotage hadn’t been discovered, but that the move was simply a way of getting her out of the way. She had to volunteer, of all things, just to make sure she was here when the big event went down. Normally the Air Force doctors and medical staff would be alone in handling tonight’s crisis, but knowing something bad was coming, they were willing to accept help from the civilian staff. She, with her mutant talents and her education, made one hell of trauma surgeon, as Dr. Sinclair, the head military medical doctor, told her.

       Working quickly, she set the bones with her telekinesis, while her hands prepped his burn areas for the application of the synthetic skin that would protect and speed the healing of the damaged tissue. In time, it would be absorbed by the new skin. It was an advance that’d been developed here and a reminder that not everything that came from this hole was amoral.

       She’d just carefully positioned the syn-skin when a disturbance caught her attention. A quick PSI scan told her that all of Hydra Team Two was being treated, and although hurt badly, they should recover. Courtney left the rest of the procedure to the nurses while she investigated this newest problem.

       Pushing her way through the curtains, she found a tall woman, dressed in black assault-like gear that was bulging in pockets and equipment, arguing loudly with Doctor Sinclair. A pair of MPs was standing nearby, but what caught her attention was the wounded man on the gurney.

       He wasn’t any older than young Albert, about 17, but while he’d been hurt in that explosion topside, this patient was injured by shrapnel. Her ESPER senses told her that although there were seven entry points, the razor bits of metal had continued to fragment after they had struck. In addition to the one he’d taken to the head, there was internal bleeding and one lung was near collapse.

       “Dr. Sinclair what’s going on out here?” she demanded, adding her old bitchiness to her tone as she hurried to the wounded teen.

       Grateful for the interruption, he turned to her. “This woman is demanding care for this man, but triage has determined that he is simply too torn up inside. Better we help those we can.”

       It was true that the facility was being overwhelmed with injuries that had hit down here and topside. While the Hydra Team had been more badly injured, they certainly weren’t the only ones needing help. However Courtney’s talent told her something else about this problem.

       It was in his eyes. Looking behind them with her powers, she learned the truth. Dr. Sinclair had been briefed that if this man was brought in here, he was to make sure the young patient never left. Unable to make himself simply kill the patient with an injection, the military doctor was rather relieved that the badly wounded young man would simply die of his injuries if unattended.

       Courtney knew this doctor was just another victim of the General and the Doctor’s ruthlessness and insistence on having Yes-Men here. As their eyes met, and he saw that she could see the truth, the Air Force surgeon dropped his gaze in shame.

       The woman hotly demanded, “Is someone going to help him or are you all just going to watch him die!”

       Courtney replied, as she quickly examined her newest patient, “I have just finished with Albert, and the rest of Hydra is stabilizing.” She sent a suggestion to him that he needed to make sure of the Hydra team’s condition.

       “If you can spare a nurse, I’ll handle this one, Doctor,” she said to him.

       Thankful to be let off the hook, he turned to say something but the woman in black interrupted, “I’m a trained medic. I’ll assist.”

       Raising an eyebrow, Courtney amended her request. “I need a trauma cart STAT!” All the entry points had been treated very quickly after the trauma, so there had been little external bleeding, but the material used on his uniform was something very different from what was usually employed by the military.

       Getting her first real look at the clothing he was wearing, it hit her. This was him, the Creature, Gus Glenn. Pushing past her shock, she looked at the woman in black for help. “We need something to cut this material. The normal shears and cutters won’t work, but he's shredded badly internally.”

       She was about to warn the woman that she was going go use her TK to lift him while they stripped the decades old bulletproof Rocketeer costume off, when to her amazement a device assembled itself from parts flying about madly until they suddenly all clicked together.

       “Call me Techie,” the woman said, as she ran the devise across the tough uniform‘s surface.

       The material parted as if cut by a knife which Courtney knew was flat out impossible. The metal-weave, reinforced Kevlar might be 30 years out of date but still was tough stuff.

       Techie smiled. “Sonics. I’ve adjusted the depth to disrupt only the fabric. Always admired that English doctor fellow with the nifty screwdriver. What’s next Doctor?”   Techie asked, as they cleared the uniform away.

       Courtney didn’t look up as someone pushed a trauma cart over. “Right, let’s get to it.” They had a life to save.



       Arghun Bagudur, son of the windswept steppes, ran at a pace the swiftest horses couldn’t match and one that no land-bound machine would dare over the broken ground. He’d stripped off everything except what he absolutely needed. This was a race that he would not lose. Too much was at stake.

       Years ago when he first showed up at that lovely valley, so full of blossoms of ancient apple trees, that the Russians were so intent on turning into a city, he'd been alone for so very long. For ages he’d spent his life away from others. He was just too different. Sooner or later suspicions would grow, and after that, hate came on its heels.

       For some, it was envy of his long life and youth, while for others it was fear and superstition. The result was always the same. With a ferocious longing, he missed the camaraderie of his fellow warriors who'd long since turned to dust.

       And so he spent his time as a hermit until that night when he dreamed true. It didn’t happen often but when it did he listened. This one told of a marvelous city to come. One of mighty warriors, but more importantly, one where perhaps even one such as he might find acceptance.

       A city that would be founded in the valley of the grandfather of all apples.

       His sharp ears heard the first roars, but he slackened his pace not at all. It was easy to alter his path just enough to most hide him from the sensors he knew aircraft like these carried.

       Looking up, wave after wave of armed aircraft thundered overhead. Counting his enemies as he did ages before, from horseback with a bow in his hand, his determination grew. There were sixty of the dropships, and within them rode hundreds of armored foes.

       Pushing himself even harder he ran to the rendezvous. Never would he return to that hellish loneliness of being a tribe of one. He would not fail his companions.


Chapter 54
Area 61

       Val shivered as her Luck chanted softly. The ULTIMATE helos had backed off, but her Luck’s low ominous tone told of something nearly as bad as Kiloton. Seeing how their involuntary guests from SRT-One had warned them of ULTIMATE’s Heavy Assault Brigade thundering down upon them, it wasn’t hard to guess at the nature of the trouble.

       She sighed heavily. It seemed they weren’t going to get a break today. The blue suited ULTIMATE man on the street didn’t have a very good reputation for being kind to those he was charged with looking after. Everyone called them the Mutant Cops and it wasn’t meant in a good way.

       During the time she and Maggie fought their covert war, Val found a few of those 'cops' that were truly devoted to making a positive difference. They however were the exceptions, and as time passed, it seemed more and more were nothing more than thugs and bullies. Nowhere was that more true than the UHAB.

       In theory, these were the troops that were sent in after supervillain bases and other hard targets. In truth, while they were sometimes used for such, normally these so-called elite troops were nothing more than Brown-Shirts and Sturmtruppen. She guessed you had to be a student of history to appreciate the difference between soldiers and thugs. The UHAB just ‘happened’ to recruit the most mutant intolerant and bigoted asses into their ranks.

       Her brother Gus and the others who couldn’t be moved, were only some of those she now found herself responsible for because of promises and love. But of course the one group in the whole world that she most considered her enemy would come gunning for her. To make matters worse, her adopted brother and companions were here now dragging even more into danger.

       Time to make the best of it. “Ollie how are communications?”

       The Gray sent back to her, “Short range comms were and are still unaffected. Anything that is not line of sight is still out. Solar activity was very high prior to Kiloton’s breakout and perhaps even played a part in the early collapse of Project Looking Glass. In any case, we are not talking to anyone until after sunrise.”

       “Just great!” Val muttered sarcastically. “Ollie, I'm getting a really bad feeling here. ULTIMATE just marooned one of their supra-teams here after they refused to illegally arrest me. Added to that, their HAB is heading here, armed for bear and we can’t tell anyone about it.”

       Turning to Pyotr she asked, “Does that about sum it up?”

       Grimly her brother nodded. “That about does it. You do realize that if they are planning on what you think they are, that they will have to kill everyone, including all of the base’s personnel?”

       Bob the intelligence expert spoke up, “As well as making sure no one dares come in to investigate with modern forensics. Probably will seed a radiological or perhaps a biological agent to contaminate the area for years.”

       Looking at her, the big man asked incredulously, “I hope you’re not planning on fighting? The UHAB is primarily an air assault unit, but even with its lack of armored vehicles, it makes up for the lack in having over 100 aircraft in its TO&E. Every last one of them is armed, with two thirds being dropships carrying 10 power armor suits apiece. If that wasn’t enough, they also have a sizable number of refitted alien air to space interceptors that are well able to engage our Kusbegi pickup aircraft.”

       Shaking his head, he finished, “Those are long odds for a half dozen of us and some kids.”       

       “That’s a dozen,” The golden armored leader of SRT-One spoke. “We,” she said, waving her armored gauntlet including her teammates, “find ourselves suffering a change of loyalties.”

       Everyone looked at the recently abandoned SRT-One, seeing nothing but resolve in all of their eyes.

       Bob took a deep breath. “Alright a dozen, but those are still odds no bookie would ever touch. I know you have your reasons, but sometimes you have to cut your losses!”

       Her green eyes looked into his but they were as hard as steel. “Never tell me the odds are against me!”

       Pyotr winced next to her, just knowing she was going to say that.

       Val ordered her friend, “Ollie you need to get the Buggy out of here. Peter here can give you the coordinates and codes to get you to sanctuary. You should have room to cram the kids in there too.”

       “No,” said a voice at his shoulder. All the girls stood there, Amanda, Malak, Billie and Lizzie.

       “You’re trying to protect us again,” Amanda said, her arms across her chest. “Stop sending us away! We care about you, and don’t want to see you hurt. Maybe we’re kids, but we aren’t just kids. If it weren’t for us, you never would’ve put Kiloton down.”

       Val gave the teens a considering look. “And what about Lizzie? Do you really want her in the middle of what is coming? ULTIMATE may be bullies, but they have a lot of experience dealing with people like us. Even she may not be safe.”

       The three older girls gave the six year old a stare, and then laughed. “She was bad enough before she got zapped. Lizzie is a lot tougher and stronger now, aren’t you girl?” she asked her.

       Looking up at the circle of adults, Lizzie said solemnly, “Don’t worry I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

       Peter and Number One’s people were amused at the little girl‘s solemn pledge, but Val was wondering. The force screen she'd inherited from that clone of little Lizzie had been at her pre-zapped power levels. That had been good enough to protect her from being way too close to a nuclear fireball. Doc’s ray gun usually upped ones powers by a couple times, so maybe the girls had a point.

       Billie spoke up. “Besides where could we go that they wouldn’t eventually show up anyways? The only difference would be that you wouldn’t be there.“

       Amanda joined her. “Ever since I changed, everyone has threaten me with ULTIMATE even though I never did anything wrong. When I tried to defend myself from those that used to call themselves my friends, I was the one who got in trouble, not the ones that started it. If they want me, they can come get me. Besides you said they were flying.”

       With the air swirling around her playing with her hair, she grinned. “I’m really good with things in the air.”

       Val sighed again. “Peter would you mind having one of your people explain Density Altitude to Amanda. Better warn everyone what's going to happen too.”

       “Ok Ollie, new plan. Everyone stays unless any of Peter’s people wants to go. Bob?” she asked.

       The big man shrugged unhappily. “I still don’t think it is a very good idea, but I’m not leaving. Besides, I suppose it’s better to face down the UHAB here, where we might see help from the US military, rather than at home all by our lonesome. If we don’t get caught in the middle, this could backfire spectacularly in their faces.”

       Val grinned at him. “Good! Why don’t you make sure that you record the whole thing with whatever gizmos you’ve got there to make sure of that backfire you‘re talking about.”

       Number One from the SRT added, “I might be able to help with that since I have a recording of everything that has happened so far.”

       Turning to face her, the ULTIMATE supra said, “Since my team is now in the middle of this too, perhaps it would be best to let us have an area to defend since we are accustomed to working together?”

       Val looking over the team nodded. “Why don’t you defend the perimeter around the elevator shafts and I’ll have Peter and his people cover you since his team has more long range capability than your group. The girls will be at the center doing their stuff and will be our reserves.”

       Turning back to Amanda. “I want you all at the elevators, and you need to let Josh and Malik know what is going on.”

       Grinning again, Val said, “Since Josh already has an understanding with security, have him explain to them what is going on. If he has any questions, have him go through Ollie, who will be our coordinator.”

       She spoke to him, “That cool with you my friend?”

       The Gray acknowledged, “Yes Val. Just like old times with the Rocketeers.”

       A voice came over the radio that she recognized as the voder device that let the telepathic, though mute, alien speak aloud. “Okay Val. Should not we go to code names with battle in the offering? If so, what is yours?”

       Val closed her eyes and breathed in deep. Opening them with a smile she replied, “Why Ollie, is there any other one for me? Captain Vroom of course! Now open a comm line. I want to have a word with our unwanted guests.”


         The five men squad moved quickly into position. They'd already completed their primary mission of taking out the last of three secure landlines leading into the base. Those were supposed to be Top Secret but poor security on the part of the contractor gave them the plans and locations. Then all it took was the proper application of explosives and Voila! No more problem!

       The point man spotted the swiftly running figure who could only be a mutant. Just as they'd been trained, they set up an ambush. That was their secondary mission. To help eliminate any runners the primary assault missed.

       With an experienced eye, the leader waited for just the right time to spring their trap. They needed to do this right the first time. Unlike the rest of their brethren in the UHAB, the recondo/scout teams didn't wear power-armor. Those suits might give one man the power of a light tank, but the damn things were impossible to move in as stealthily as the teams missions required.  

       Just as men had fought for thousands of years they wore little in the way of protection, depending upon their cunning and skills to stay alive. However when hunting mutants who were often full of unpleasant surprises, putting them down with the first shot was of the utmost importance.

       Arghun snorted in disgust. He hadn’t any time to waste and this ambush was so amateurish that any of his ancestors would be ashamed of him running headlong into it. Well, he was in a hurry. Now what could an unarmed man do against five soldiers?

       Slipping into an almost light trance state, he felt time itself shiver as it slowed. As with all talented students, the teacher learns as much as the one they instruct. Being the mentor of young Valentina was precisely that way. He passed on centuries of refined mayhem, while she taught this most valuable gift, time. The one thing there was never enough of but couldn't be bartered or sold. In this case, only given.

The first sizzling blast missed, passing behind him as he lunged forward. The next two shots were high as Arghun spent his velocity in a bruising but controlled tumbling roll. A quick forceful slap of the sun baked hard ground sent him cartwheeling backwards towards his assailants. Pocks of sandy earth bit at him as a more conventional light machine gun tried to follow his erratic path.
       Throwing himself flat, he grabbed for the boots of the man Arghun picked out as the leader, another crackling blast flew over him. In a move few would believe, the agile Mongolian lifted himself into a headstand, whipping his feet around the squad leaders head. A lightning sit-up had him sitting on the startled man's shoulders. Overbalanced, the man fell backwards. A twist of Arghun's hips was rewarded with a sharp crack as his involuntary vaulting horse’s neck broke.

       Back on his feet, he threw the combat knife he'd freed from his victim. Hilt first, it smashed into the goggled protected eyes of the man who'd hesitated firing for fear of hitting his comrade. Arghun, knowing his odds were slim of finding a vulnerable spot for the knife chose to cause his target to flinch. That gave him time to close and attack with a fury of blows.  

  The trooper's regular impact 3DO-like impact protecting armor absorbed all the power of the strikes by becoming hard and solid. Unable to move for just a second, it left him open for a classic nose, heel strike causing instant death.

       Twisting the corpse around as cover, Arghun slipped his hand over its gloved  weapon's hand. All of ULTIMATE's agents used identity locked features on their high tech toys to keep them from being used against them. Squeezing the dead man's trigger finger, a long burst of glowing fire blasted the group's light machine gunner.

Two blazing shots struck Arghun's makeshift shield. Pushing it forward at the last pair, he threw the grenade he'd taken from it as he turned. They never noticed that the pin was still safely unpulled

As trained they drove for cover, giving him the priceless instant to charge upon them. Gathering his chi, Arghun released it in massive blow to the man on his left.  His goggles shattered, the body fell.

         Fire lanced up from the last soldier as Arghun danced aside. Burning pain slashed his side, but that didn't stop him from scooping up that grenade. This time he pulled the pin tossing it lightly under handed at the cover his opponent scurried for.   

         Then it was his turn to seek protection as he rolled, pulling the nearby corpse next to him. He was up and running the moment after the explosion, but his additional precaution wasn't needed.

They were all dead like so many others he'd fought over the long years.  

         Tearing open one of their first aid kits he treated his wound as quickly as he could. At least these weapons cauterized rather than tear and rip. Pushing the pain away, he looked up, checking the early dawn sky to re-find his path. This would not be the first time he'd to race time itself hurt and wounded.  

         It might be the first time, however, that so much depended on him not failing. Focusing his will, he began to run. Behind him, five men laid still, their bodies cooling upon the sands.


Chapter 55

       Sapphira Heron walked with this Lt. Peters to the low buildings that housed the elevators going down to Area 61. She and Bob, no last name, had set up three concealed and shielded stations. Even in the event of a worst-case scenario, they would beam out all the data she and the big intelligence specialist had gathered and recorded.

One of the three was data linked to her power armor, letting her feed constant updates so that all of what was going to happen this morning would be saved. Their part of this mess would survive them and would be told.

She could see the larger buildings had suffered damage from the nearby battle and nuke. However even though they were used, were just decoys. The real entrances to the underground complex were the group of smaller sheds housing the elevators going down.

       “May I ask what kind of help your people will be able to provide?” she asked the tall man in black.

       Smiling like he had a big secret, the tall man replied, “My sister and her sense of humor. I do suppose that she really didn’t lie, but she certainly didn’t tell the whole truth.”

       Sapphira had gotten good at spotting body language clues in conversations, since while armored up, her face was concealed. Cocking her head she asked, “Your sister?”

       He shrugged. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Col. Pyotr Savitskiy. I’m here to retrieve my errant sister.”

       A quick query to her onboard data bank and it all became clear. “The Kusbegi you mentioned earlier. You’re from Zolotoye-Yablochko. Then the name he gave struck her. “You’re Peter the Great?”

       Now grinning, he stopped for a moment to wave his people to their positions. “And you’re Sapphira Heron of Greece, sometimes known as Hoplite, or the Golden Amazon.” Tilting his head, he added, chuckling, “I read the papers. Such trash, oh but the turn of phrase they sometimes use to sell their rags.”

       She blushed, thankful for once her helmet hid her face. Although ULTIMATE denied them codenames, that didn’t matter for the newspapers who often named them anyways. The bureaucrats did get upset when it happened and of course did what bureaucrats did when angry, generate paperwork. The papers would print retractions, but she often thought the newsies got a certain pleasure from tweaking them. (“We apologize for calling the Golden Amazon, ‘The Golden Amazon’ and we regret using the code name ‘Hoplite’ for the super known as Hoplite.”)

       Mistaking her silence, Peter continued, “Don’t worry. My team is very good, and we will cover you as best as we are able.” Finished, he turned and headed for his own position.

       It’d been many years since a male had gotten her flustered, but she shook it off. Their very survival was at stake. It was time to get to work and maybe afterwards she would find out if Peter had prior commitments.

       Mapping out the terrain, she picked the best locations for her people. Number Five, Joachim, their strongman, she put near the blasted remains of that one elevator because the debris gave him plenty of things to throw.

       Placing herself in the center, she put Number Two, Bernardo, on her right since his ranged attacks were limited to his sidearms. The twin pistols she’d designed for him were anything but standard sidearms. However when compared to a dropship’s heavy firepower, he definitely came out second best.

       Number Three,Robert, she put on her left. His abilities controlling sound and vibrations could wreak unholy havoc on machines. Useful as well was his talent of shifting out of phase which let him not only walk through walls, but let most lethal attacks pass right through him without harm.

       Lastly, Number Four, Mariko, she had behind her. The density changer didn’t have much in the way of range talents, but in close she was deadly. Last year's fight with the Chevaliers had revealed her vulnerability to electrical attacks because of her body’s high gold content. An insulated bodysuit Sapphira had designed for her should lessen that weakness.

       What was going to be the worst part of this battle was that ULTIMATE knew all of their Achilles’ Heels. Then she gave a grim smile hidden by her helm. If those goat-humpers were thinking this was going to be easy, they had another thing coming. Very deliberately she cut out all of her safeties. For the very first time, her creation was going to be at lethal full power.

       “Well dear friends, shall we show these elite soldiers what a warrior can do?” she asked her team that was as much her family as those of her blood back in Greece.

       A round of growls and ayes answered her. Bernardo’s “Come get some!” got muttered laughs.


       Amanda took a deep breath as the woman who had introduced herself as Katrina jogged back to her comrades. Lizzie, Malak, and Billie were crouched down behind one of the elevator shaft buildings. Malak was getting ready to put up her magnetic screen while Billie was going to be her wing. While the girl was concentrating on her screen, Billie would be watching, keeping her from harm. Lizzie would be doing the same thing for her.

       But Amanda wouldn’t be doing anything like just putting up a screen or making the wind change direction. No. She was going to make this dry cool early morning in the Mohave, hot, windy and wet. Katrina explained to her that hot and humid weather simulates a much higher altitude.

       If she could do this, she could make it much harder for the people coming after them to maneuver their planes and helicopters. The problem was she'd never tried anything so, well, big. Making a breeze, or lowering the temperature was easy, but making it hotter and dragging in moisture from somewhere else?

       This was a desert, and although it got unbearably hot during the day, all that heat went away during the night. Even during the summer it was cold after the sun went down, plus in their fight with Kiloton, she had drawn off even more energy from the area, making it really cold so Malak‘s magnetic screen could work better. On the other hand, she knew that there was water here from the Geode. It might be deep underground, but it was here.

       “Alright,” she spoke to those breezes swirling about that had bedeviled her since she’d had changed. “Let’s do this.”

       Closing her eyes, she reached out with that part of herself that always seemed synced with the weather. 'Or maybe it was the local weather being in tune with her,' she thought. Before getting zapped by that Z-ray thing, as Billie called it, she could sorta like see the energy of the weather about her in a more or less local area. The flow of temperatures and pressures interacted in a wild shifting whirling dance. Afterwards she could see them much farther away. Being under the sky, and not covered by miles of rock, she was just starting to realize just how far she could see.

       Her self-paced classes concentrated on giving her all the meteorological lessons she could stand. The simulators taught her that if she made a change in the weather here, somewhere else would also be affected, and maybe not in a good way. So perhaps she needed to find something bad that was happening somewhere else and use that. Following those flowing aerial rivers of power, she found a ravening knot of twisting energy. “That’ll do,” she thought, and reached for it.


National Weather Service, National Hurricane Center

       Paul Blankenship almost dropped his beloved stained coffee mug. They'd been tracking Hurricane Kyle as it headed up the US east coast, but happily it'd dropped down to a tropical storm before making landfall in Canada. That storm worried the suits, but luck was with them. It’d missed the big population centers. However the potential for disaster kept everyone on red alert.

       It being a very active hurricane season, another one, Tropical Storm Laura, popped up on Kyle’s heels in the mid Atlantic. With the staff worn and stressed out, Paul was the one picked to watch this storm, but it looked like Laura would just meander around in the middle of the ocean for a bit before dissipating.

       What they did not do was drop so suddenly in strength you could see the damn thing disappearing!

       Staring at his area of responsibility, and tired from the non-stop stress, he could be excused for not noticing how the people on the other side of the house were freaking out over the extreme system that'd came out of nowhere over the western state of Nevada.


Chapter 56
Area 61

       “Val,” Ollie asked using his voder. “Are you sure this a good idea?”

       She was floating about 10’ off the ground with her suit’s lights on. They didn’t provide a whole lot of illumination, but they did make her stand out, which of course was the point. With the addition of that Maxi-Lizzie’s powers she was probably the single toughest person out here.

       The UHAB flotilla of combat aircraft depended on expendable munitions for their heaviest punch. Each one she made them waste on her was one less to fire at her more vulnerable companions. With Kiloton and his speed of light blasts, it was his targeting that'd been his weakness. Conventional weapons were almost exactly the opposite. Targeting was computer controlled accurate but the bullets, rockets, and missiles were only supersonic, or in some rare cases, hypersonic. Against those, her own supra-speed gave her a tremendous advantage and she meant to use every trick she’d learned in the thirty-plus years in this business.

       “Ollie my friend I’ve never been surer,” Val told him over voice, wanting everyone to hear her confidence. “I just wish I could see their faces when they realize we have them just where they want us! Have you got that hailing channel open to their commander yet?”

       “Yes Val. It took me a while to isolate which frequency he was using. You may begin,” the little Gray told her.

       Cocking her hip while in midair she replied, “Lets’ do this!”


       Commander of ULTIMATE’s Heavy Assault Brigade, Colonel Randolph Hodges, blinked as a voice broke onto his secure communications channel. Quickly he signaled Major Baka to jam the SOB, but whoever it was had their number down pat.

       The woman’s voice spoke calmly and with authority as she gave them her warning. “Attention ULTIMATE units. You are entering Area 61’s no fly zone. You are directed to immediately leave this area. Failure to do so will result in deadly force being used against you. We have official representatives of ULTIMATE here on the ground, and they are monitoring this situation.”

       A short pause later, that mutie bitch he recognized as Number One came on the channel. “This is the commander of SRT-One to all ULTIMATE units. The local commanders here have the situation under control. You are advised that further intrusion into their airspace is unwarranted, and will serve only to heighten tensions.”

       Another quick wordless chat with Major Baka assured him that whatever tricks they had used to break into his comm net, their broadcast wasn’t being received by anyone else. This pit of corruption was still cut off from the world, and they could do whatever they wanted and no one would know. The mission was still a go.

       His advance RAH-66’s were sending back images, but his own command bird was close enough now to see for himself. The telescopic imagers showed the lone woman floating in midair, lit up by lights on her suit.

       'By Gawd it was her!' he thought. “And there she has conveniently made herself a perfect target.”

       The Colonel keyed his mike. “Who are you to give orders to me?” he said, deliberately not identifying himself.

       The woman’s voice responded, slipping into a smooth sexy southern Georgian accent. “Sugar, I’m Cap’n Vroom, and if you boys don’t high-tail it out of here, ya’ll going to git a whooping ya’ll ain’t never gonna forget. Ya’ll git all of that Col. Hodges, sweetie?”

       Cutting the channel, he turned to Major Baka with a snarl, “We got their positions locked?”

       The Major nodded. For this to work, no records could survive and for the Colonel’s name to be mentioned over the air wasn’t a good thing, however they'd a fix that should cover them.

       “Well then! Let’s give this mu-tainted bitch our answer!”

To be Continued.

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