"Hi Jenny, Fervor here."
"Fervor! Thank heavens! I didn't know where else to turn. Is there someplace we can meet," asked Jenny in a rush.
"Jenny, please take a deep breath. Of course we can meet. I can meet you at the paper if that is OK or anywhere else in the city you feel would be better."
"Can we meet at The Dark Horse," asked Jenny who immediately gave directions. "How soon?"
Fervor looked at his calender to make sure there were no immediate appointments that couldn't be rescheduled. "I can be there in about 45 minutes."
Forty-five minutes later, Fervor entered the Dark Horse and looked for Jenny, spotting her almost immediately in a back booth. The patrons of the Dark Horse didn't give Fervor much of a look when he entered, a little surprising in light of his outre looks.
As soon as Fervor sat down, Jenny began speaking, "Thanks for coming, I really didn't know where to turn. It's about my husband. He's missing. I think someone called 'Overlord' has him."
"Well I sure that I'll be able to help, Jenny." Fervor answers in a voice that he hopes she will find comforting. "Why don't you start at the beginning and let me know everything you know. How long he has been missing. Why someone would kidnap him. Where he was last seen. "
Fervor tried to get Jenny to slip back into the comfortable professional role of a reporter instead of the uncomfortable emotional role of a wife. He figured he'd get better information that way which will help everyone out. He didn't push the matter and allowed Jenny to tell it in her own way providing a guiding hand when she got off track.
"I didn't even know you were married." Fervor added.
"I don't advertise it much. We both prefer it that way." Jenny took a deep breath. "All right, let me start at the top."
"My husband's name is Jack Peters. He might be better know to you as Micron."
The name only vaguely rang a bell with Fervor.
"Jack was a hero a while back -- he's quite a bit older than I am -- but gave it up when we got married. I told him he didn't have to, but he ..." she paused to collect herself. "Anyway, he did. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, he worked with a group called the EAGLES, the Extranormal Association of Government Law Enforcers. He wasn't actually an EAGLE, but he got along with them pretty well."
"Then in, '82, I think it was. The EAGLES just ... vanished. Jack tried to find out what was going on, but it all was hushed up. That's why there is so little information about the EAGLES out there even today."
"Anyway. A few weeks ago, someone found Jack, and knew that he was Micron. This person, who called himself, 'Overlord' was asking Jack about the Eagles' Nest, the EAGLES' base. But Jack wouldn't tell him anything. He told me that he'd only been there once or twice, but even if he could remember where it was or how to get in, he wouldn't tell Overlord."
"We thought that was it, but now Jack's missing and I think Overlord's got him," Jenny concluded.
Fervor listened carefully to Jenny's story, trying to walk the line between sympathetic and professional. When she was finished Fervor waited a moment to see if Jenny remembered anything more then he asked her a couple more questions.
"Well Jenny, I'll certainly do what I can to find your husband. If you don't mind I would like to enlist the help of a couple other heroes. Also, can you tell me where your husband was last seen? That will be one place to start looking another would be your home. I think that you would be far more qualified to do that then anyone else. If your husband ever wrote anything down about these EAGLES or their base it would be a tremendous help if you could find it. Let me give you a beeper number so that you can contact me quicker then a line in your column. Now is there anything else you can think of that might be important?"
"I was hoping you could get in touch with the others, I don't have good ways to contact any of them. Just that strange 'classified ad' thing for the Wanderer," replied Jenny.
"Jack must have been taken from home, at least, that's where I saw him last. I left for work and when I got home, he was gone. As far as the Eagles go ... let me think. He said that when they took him to the base it was by way of a tunnel. And the base was underwater, offshore someplace. He mentioned a few names, too. Plasma, The Protector, Triplex. Some others too, I think."
"That's all that comes to mind right now. But I'll certainly beep you if I think of anything else."
When Jenny was finished with her story Fervor said a few more comforting words and assurances and then headed back towards the office. Once there he contacted White Knight, Wanderer and Iron Maiden through the beeper phones to set up a meeting for later on that day.
When the White Knight answered his IPAC beepherphone, he found himself immediately patched in to a conference call with Fervor, Iron Maiden, and the Wanderer.
"Good, we're all here, let me fill you in," said Fervor, and he briefed the heroes on his conversation with Jenny Peters.
"I was thinking we could meet later today," said Fervor after he put the heros in the picture.
"Sure thing Fervor. Where and when?" said the White Knight.
"Well I want to give us all a chance to see if we can come up with more information then what Jenny gave us. How about 4 hours at the Dark Horse Tavern. I'll ask Jenny if she wants to join us and since that's where we met earlier, she knows the place."
"Is that a good place to meet? Won't we attract attention?" asked Iron Maiden.
"Maybe some place more public, like a park, or more private like a warehouse," offered White Knight.
"Well guys, I had an afternoon meeting there and they didn't seem to care one way or the other. It seems to be a bar where everyone minds their own business by design," said Fervor.
"Ok, I'll see what I can dig up. See you there," said the Knight.
The heros rang off, and Fervor went off to see what he himself could find out about the EAGLES from the city records.
* * * *The Wanderer popped into existence within a dark alley, and began to straighten his scarf and hat giving a nod to the terrified homeless man who was given quite a start. "So sorry, my good man. It appears I owe you rent for treading upon your abode," said the Wanderer while fishing in his pocket and tossing a twenty dollar bill to the man.
A sleepy thanks and slurred "Any time" followed the man in black as he strode to the forefront of the Dark Horse Tavern and went inside.
Iron Maiden entered last, her face obscured by the glow inside her face plate. She hesitantly went to where the others had gathered, as if unsure if she'd be welcomed by the others or by the establishment.
The others had already gathered with Jenny Peters at a table in the back. There was some gawking from the other patrons of the tavern, but it was quiet and hidden behind glasses and mugs. Most of the habitues seemed content to mind their own business, though, and to let others mind theirs.
The Wanderer broke the silence with more of a statement than question, "Cheese Fries?" to each of the seated members, and proceeded to place a couple of orders. "Well now, it is delightful to see you all again, including you Miss Peters," said the Wanderer before dropping his voice just above a whisper. "Shall we compare notes as to what we may have learned about our fine feathered friends, hmm?"
"That sounds good to me." Fervor said while sipping his cranberry juice. "Unfortunately, I don't have much to add to what I already conveyed. It's like all record of the EAGLES just disappeared."
"Most of the info. surrounding the Eagles is classified. However, I think there's even more to this. I think the research platform has something to do with all this. Perhaps the earthquakes, too," Iron Maiden said slowly.
The White Knight, having pressed a stud under his helmets chin which 'popped' out the two halves of his lower helmet allowing them to slide out of the way to reveal his face from the top of his mouth to his chin, sipped on an alcohol-free beer and explained what he had turned up.
"The EAGLES (Extra-normal Association of Government Law Enforcers) were
formed in Port Alexander in the 70's. In 1982, they suddenly vanished
from the public eye. All the signs of a cover-up of some kind are in
place. I searched for any info on the names you mentioned:
Jack Peters - very little info at all;
Micron - a bit more. Micron seems to have been a Robin Hood kind of guy, who clashed with the Eagles once or twice and worked with them a few more times;
Overlord - that drew a complete blank;
Plasma - a hero, some kind of intelligent energy field, I think;
Triplex - a hero who could split into seperate forms;
Protector - their leader, a being of immense power. Flight, Strength, Toughness, the total package."
"The most 'informative' source of all That I found, actually, is a website called eaglesconspiracy.com. I got a few pictures of the Eagles from there, that I printed out. Here..."
The White Knight handed around the pictures, they were a bit grainy and low-res as most web pictures are once printed, but they were certainly recognizable.
"The site also had a theory about their disappearance, which runs something like this: The Eagles discovered something at their secret underwater base, the Eagle's Nest, near Port Alexander. The government didn't want them to let the secret out, so they detonated a pocket nuke at the base and killed all the Eagles."
"Now that isn't necessarily factual, but most conspiracy theories contain at least a grain of truth, otherwise they are too easy to disprove..."
"I suggest Jenny checks out the morgue at the paper for any reports of unexplained explosions or other strange phenomena offshore in '82. I don't believe the government is responsible for the disappearance of the Eagles, not in the way the conspiracy nuts think anyway, and it was more likely a tragic accident of some kind. I expect the base had some kind of nuclear power plant that failed, leading to a steam explosion and a radioactive discharge. That would probably give rise to theories about pocket nukes..."
WK sat back, drained his beer, signalled the waitress for another, and started on the cheesy fries...
Enraptured by the tale, the Wanderer said "Well done," and pulled out a piece of paper and began to read "It was twenty years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught...oh dear, wrong side." Flipping the paper over, the Wanderer confirmed much of what the White Knight revealed about an Eagles disappearance from the public eye twenty years ago, disenchantment with the government, and various theories ranging from alien abduction, continued low-profile activity to this day, and the nuclear eradication conspiracy. Supplemental talk about Micron being a man who could shrink and a "second string" team of associates featuring a woman named Howitzer helped fill out the holes.
The Wanderer stopped talking as the waitress appeared to refill beverages and then continued. "My sources mentioned a vessel called the Eaglewing Sub which served as an all-purpose transportation vehicle as it could go submersible as well as fly. It was by this fantastic machine that they were able to get to the Eagle's Nest out in the ocean. I mention this because I have been investigating the claims of the James River sea monster that Miss Peters' splendid newspaper decided to relegate to page 28. I've found some underwater track marks that surface on the bank of the James and they appear to be quite recent, although the murky depths and silt make tracking difficult. To me, it sounds like someone has reactivated the Eagles."
Jenny listened to the talk with growing impatience. "Who gives a damn what happened to the Eagles twenty years ago? What happened to Jack last week?" She leaned forward and spat the question out, then a moment later collapsed back into her seat.
The Wanderer wet a napkin from his water glass and handed the makeshift compress to Fervor to apply to the unconscious reporter. "Oh dear, her concern is understandable, where shall we begin?"
"Mrs. Peters, I understand your frustration, but given the relatively short time we have been 'in the loop' there is not much else we could have found out about. You yourself said that this 'Overlord' knew that your husband was Micron, and was after information regarding the Eagles," said the White Knight.
"I presume that Jack has been abducted in order to get Overlord onto the Eagles Nest. Let us assume they are there. Where is it? How do you get there? To find the answers to this we need to know about the Eagles, their method of operation, and so on. It isn't a simple as following footprints from your house to their current whereabouts, though I would certainly like to examine the scene if I may, it may shed some light on Overlord."
Jenny broke in again, a little wildly. "We need to know about things that happened twenty years ago? We need to know about now! The base is out there! This Overlord may be out there with my Jack." She subsiding again, "I'm sorry, of course you can come to the house."
"I also think that Glory should use her connections to fid out if IPAC have any information regarding the base and its access routes," continued the White Knight. "The G in EAGLE did stand for Government, after all..."
"As to the triphibious vehicle Wanderer has uncovered evidence of, I think that may well be the means they have used to access the base. I think the tunnel that Jack mentioned still exists, and I have evidence of it in the form of a linear anomaly heading out to sea from Port Alexander, but the anomaly fades in and out a bit, which may indicate breaches in the tunnel. I'll see if I can pin it down any further with regard to an entrance. It might still be serviceable, though I have strong doubts."
"The tunnel? You've found the tunnel? Then why don't we just follow it? If it is the tunnel, it must have ends," Jenny burst out.
"Jenny, is there anything else you can recall that has happened in the last few week that might have a bearing on Jack's disappearance?"
With an effort, she brought her mind back to the task at hand. "He ... he went out walking more than he used to. He said he was going out to think. He started after this call from Overlord. I think he was down by the docks, but he wouldn't tell me. He didn't want to worry me," her voice broke. "The rest you know."
"If this Overlord made contact with Jack then he may have contacted other members of the Eagles," said the Wanderer. "Or perhaps they know more about him." The Wanderer turned to the Iron Maiden, "could you find out about who this Howitzer madame is, and her current whereabouts. While you armoured types sift through the heavy lifting, Fervor and I can do the leg work and see what she knows about these recent events."
"The tangle we had on the research platform was Overlord's doing. They were working for him. He's trying to find the EAGLES' base," Iron Maiden said. "I'm digging into Howizer's background and current whereabouts now." She whispered into the throat mic in her armour.
A moment passed, as each hero considered his or her options.
"There's no current intel. on Howitzer, AKA Big Bertha," Iron Maiden suddenly chimed in. "These leads are drying up...."
Jenny sobbed quietly, breaking the silence.
The Wanderer commented on how delicious the cheese fries were and offered the sobbing Jenny an especially drippy one. "Now now, there's no reason to get that bent out of shape over it," consoled the man in black wagging the potato strip like a sword. Turning to the White Knight, "you say you may have pinpointed the location of the Eagle's Nest? then what are we waiting for!"
Fervor gently placed his hand on the sobbing Jenny's shoulder to comfort her. "OK, if we know where the tunnel is then let's go guys. The worst that can happen is that we have to find out some other lead later."
"I'm for that," Iron Maiden said. "We need to start getting new intel. from the ground. I'm beginning to hit a wall at IPAC--there's too much about the EAGLES that's classified."
Jenny looked up, "Now we're talking! Where's the tunnel?"
"Hold your horses, my eager friends! I said that I had uncovered evidence from the Platform's data that may indicate the existence of the tunnel, not the base," said the White Knight. "However, the anomaly is not continuous, which may indicate breaks in the tunnel. Also, I can only say that the tunnel reaches the shore in a certain vicinity... I can't give you an exact point where it starts as all I have is a dashed line pointing to shore. Even if we find the tunnel, it may be collapsed and flooded. Sure, we can look for the entrance, but we need to do this properly."
"With the greatest of respect, Jenny, your husband has been missing for a week. Rushing off like headless chickens won't help us find him. A few more hours will give us more information, and won't materially affect our chances of finding Jack."
The Wanderer pulled Iron Maiden aside for a quiet word as the others spoke at the table.
"Forgiveness, my ferrous fraulein for...for...DRAT! I do need to brush up on my dictionary. I am still learning about this world and its inhabitants, I feel I have a good month-and-a-half before I completely understand women," the Wanderer rattled on.
Iron Maiden smirked behind her mask, but the Wanderer either couldn't see it or ignored it.
An impatient look from the Iron Maiden made him get to the point "However, Miss Peters seems to be quite distressed one moment and overly eager another. I accept her concern, but she is a member of the fourth estate and thereby prone to deceit in order to get the story." Dropping his voice to an appropriate level so the surrounding noise covered his worry, "Could you verify Miss Peters' claims of marriage to Jack Peters? Something smells fishy to me, far be it for me to condemn a May-December romance being just shy 408 earth years myself, but this is a rather sudden and convenient turn of events. I do dislike being surprised."
"I was going to run a routine background check on her anyway. Now's better than later," Iron Maiden said.
Contacting IPAC, she requested a standard background check on Jenny Peters: credit check, marriage & family run down, NCIC query.
"This might take up to a half an hour," Iron Maiden told the Wanderer. "What's your take on all this?"
After examining the data stored in the Solid State Memory of his Suit's computer on the HUD in his Helmet, the White Knight said to those present "The anomaly reaches shore in a warehouse district of the docks. I suggest we commence our search for the tunnel entrance in that area." He began to sketch a map on a napkin.
"Okay, the background check on Jenny's done," Iron Maiden said privately to the Wanderer, "and she's clean. Her marriage checks out. I don't trust reporters, but she's probably on the level."
"Well then," grinned the Wanderer with a joyous clap, "we should proceed post haste to find the missing Mr. Peters." He leaned back into the main conversation, "Watson! The game is afoot!" And with that, the Wanderer disappeared from the Dark Horse Tavern, leaving the heroes staring at the empty space and each other. A knock on the tavern window revealed the Wanderer outside checking his watch impatiently.
Fervor looked to the Wanderer grins and downs his cranberry juice in a manner that indicates an active frat life at some time in his past.
"I think he just wanted to stick us with the bill." Fervor told the rest of the group. "Jenny, I'd advise going someplace safe that would be unexpected. If your husband decides to make this Overlord wait for information, Overlord may decide to use you for leverage. Iron Maiden, WK, should we join our wandering friend?"
"She looks like she can take care of herself," Iron Maiden said, giving Jenny the once over, "but if you need protection, contact IPAC--Commander Wilkins is advised of the situation and can offer you protection." She slipped a business card to Jenny.
Iron Maiden put the chair back from the empty table she'd taken it from and she and Fervor joined the Wanderer outside.
The White Knight looked at Jenny with a long-suffering air, rose, left a tip and a KnightCard, and headed out of the bar towards the KnightCycle II...
* * * *The heroes made their way quickly to the area indicated on the White Knight's map. The neighborhood was a warehouse district that had resisted all efforts to modernize or gentrify it.
All around them bustled the normal activities of a busy business street. It was Fervor who first noticed that one warehouse seemed to be getting very little activity. Very little in this case being "none." Closer investigation of that warehouse showed that it was labeled as belonging to "Quick Response Alarm Company."
Something about that name rang a bell with Iron Maiden, but she couldn't place it.
"Quick Response Alarm Company, eh? I suppose we could put that claim to test, does anyone have a stopwatch?" joked the Wanderer. "Does anyone know anything about this operation?" asked the man in black as he shielded his eyes from the sun while looking at the windows high on the wall.
"There's something familiar about the name, but I can't recall what it might be," Iron Maiden said.
She spoke quietly into her radio, contacting IPAC, asking for a Dept. of Consumer Affairs run down on the company: length of time in operation, any complaints against them, and the proprietor or corporation's name and a cross-index on that name.
"While we're waiting, someone a little more subtle than I am want to take a look around? No B&E unless you see a felony going down, okay guys?"
"Yes ma'am," muttered the Wanderer with a veil of dejection dampening his enthusiasm as he began to walk around the side of the warehouse looking for a door, window, or anything out of the ordinary.
"I guess I can take the other side and meet you around back." Fervor tells the Wanderer, itching for something to do. "I'm no more stealthy then anyone else but I blend into the shadows nicely."
"Of course," mused the White Knight within earshot of the Wanderer, "it is only a criminal offence of Breaking and Entering if you have to physically damage property to enter a premises... Opening an unlocked door or window, or simply appearing inside, would merely leave one open to a potential civil suit for trespass providing no other crime is committed within the premises... And if you enter business premises without breaking any criminal laws simply looking for the proprietor it is hardly trespass..."
THe warehouse did not reveal anything unusual on casual inspection. There was a loading dock, and also several large garage doors in front of a drive way which would allow vehicles to enter the actual warehouse. A small fully enclosed boathouse extended out into the waterway.
The White Knight makes careful observation of any visible doors or windows, asking himself, "Does the warehouse as a whole appear to be well maintained, or does it have a run-down, not-used-sine-the-eighties look [peeling paint, dusty windows, piles of litter blown up against it, rusty metalwork etc]."
It was tidy but unremarkable. Clearly it was being maintained -- windows were intact and heavily frosted, doors were in good repair, and so on.
He called the CRO, and, giving them a story about some guttering falling off the building and damaging his car, he quickly acquired the information that the registered owner was the Quick Response Alarm Corporation and the clerk gave him contact info.
The Wanderer looked around, then stepped off the pier into the river by the boathouse.
"There's just something unnatural about that." Fervor muttered to himself with a small shiver and waited for Wanderer to reappear.
The Wanderer swam down around teh boathouse, and was somewhat surprised to find that the walls of the boathouse extended all the way to the river bottom, completely enclosing the boathouse space.
Surfacing, the Wanderer revealed the odd construction of the boathouse and looked for a place of entry. "How odd -- and I should know," voiced the Wanderer saying exactly what everyone else was thinking. "This alarm company is apparently quite concerned about security."
"Um, guys," Iron Maiden began, "I'm not comfortable with this. It's not what you think, and it's more complex than this might seem." She looked over everyone. "I can't get into it, but I'd recommend you not trip any alarms and I'm not here if you do."
She wanted to say more, but a life-time of military training gave her the discipline to go past her comfort level.
"I need to do some research on my own...at IPAC."
"Duh-duh-duhhhnnnn," sounded the Wanderer for dramatic effect. "This does make things curious, I was going to inquire as to whether anyone else smelled smoke. I'm sure there is an orphan in there that would need assistance," sniffed the Wanderer looking for any support.
"We could all smell smoke if that was needed but I don't really think anyone would believe us." Fervor answers.
"Guys," Iron Maiden began measuredly, "I have to get back to IPAC. You know I-P-A-C. That's why I have to leave...and do research...at I...P...A...C." She canted her head forward anticipating their taking her meeting.
"Well, I'm going now...back to IPAC." She turned and headed back to--yep, you guessed it--IPAC.
IM walked off by herself while the others looked at the warehouse and considered their options.
"How about we ask a couple of the other businesses around here what they know. It would give us something to do and give Iron Maiden a chance to do her research."
"Right-o!" acknowledged the Wanderer. "I'll start over there," he indicated by pointing over to a nearby warehouse that had workers unloading freight from a docked ship. In an instant the man in black was gone, and reappeared beside a forklift to accept the crate from the ship-bourne crane -- much to the surprise of the dock workers.
Favoring direct action, The White Knight stepped up to the front door of the warehouse and depressed the buzzer.
A moment passed with no response.
In his own inimitable fashion, the Wanderer began to winkle information out of the workers. He soon learned that about the only things anyone had ever seen coming or going out of the warehouse were vehicles. Mostly vans, the occassional car, and a few times boats out of the boathouse.
Returning, in a blink, the Wanderer relayed what he discovered and proclaimed, "not exceptionally rewarding, however, I may have an outside shot in the next union election." The Wanderer tried in vain to look in a window and wondered about the roof, confirming what many had already thought -- he was a hyperactive sort.
He looked over at Iron Maiden and asked "Did she say where she's going?" Pointed looks of exasperation forced the alien to shrug and begin whistling a jaunty tune.
Iron Maiden walked back to join the group. "A new development," she said.
Iron Maiden motioned for the guys to follow her as she walked around to the back door. She depressed a spot on the wall and it sprung open revealing a numeric keypad. After tapping out a series of numbers, unseen dead bolts were heard to unlock. "Let me go in first and disarm the alarm."
"Well, that kind of took the fun out of it." Fervor said to the Wanderer in a voice purposefully loud enough for the rest of the group to hear.
You think this is some kind of game, mister?" Iron Maiden accused Fervor.
"Is it that different from a game? You've got two sides, rules that you try to follow even when they don't make too much sense and a desire to win. You've got fans that cheer you on one day and throw beer at you the next based on how well you did your last time out. Your an instant celebrity which makes you no longer a normal person. I also tend to enjoy what I do. So yes, part of me likes to think of this as a game. Doesn't mean I don't take it seriously and makes the load I carry a seem a bit less heavy." Fervor answered his accuser.
"It's nothing like a game!" Iron Maiden shouted. "People's lives are at stake. This isn't football. There's a difference between taking this seriously and being dedicated. You can't take this seriously and think there's sides or you can win." Iron Maiden paused to wonder why the hell she was yelling at this guy. Why she was so angry. "You don't know what it's like to carry a burden." She threw up her hands. "Ah, let's drop it. I've a mission to complete and arguing philosophy is for academics. Let's just get the job done."
The Wanderer slid aside Fervor and whispered so as to not face the wrath of IM, "Now I see why they call her the *Iron* Maiden.
Iron Maiden again went to rub her face, but stopped short when she toucher her visor. She dropped her arm limply to her side and stalked into the warehouse.
She turned the lights on and closed the door after the last of the group had entered.
When the lights came up, the heroes saw what was clearly a motor pool of some kind. Against one wall was a small but complete garage workshop including a lift for vehicles. Arrayed against two more walls were rows of vehicles, mostly nondescript vans, with a few town cars and sportscars thrown in for variety. On the wall facing the street was nothing except for the garage bay doors and a small lounge, empty at the moment. On the wall facing the river was a archway leading to the boathouse, which contained a pair of fast speedboats, one larger craft, a cigarette boat and a Zodiac. On the wall opposite the workshop was a solidly built bunker-type structure labelled "Armoury."
The Wanderer walked around the periphery of the assembled group and turned to the Iron Maiden, "Very nice. Care to let us in on where you picked up that trick?"
"The story goes like this: it seems that IPAC and the EAGLES were fairly tight in the 70s. It only makes sense there'd be an IPAC installation near an EAGLES access route."
"Ah yes, the EAGLES and the 70s. One of These Nights, We Must Take It To the Limit, lest the Lyin' Eyes of a Witchy Woman will make us Take It Easy and we will find ourselves Already Gone. Thus saith the New Kid in Town, One of These Nights," rattled off the Wanderer. Looks of incredulity washed over him prompting him to respond "I Can't Tell You Why."
Iron Maiden paused debating with herself how much to tell these guys. She decided an open approach would be best; she'd had no reason to doubt them before. "A guess would be that Overlord--if he's the one leading the effort to find the EAGLES base--is using triggered earthquakes to locate the tunnels. We don't know what's down there--at least I haven't been briefed in--but I've req'd some ground penetrating RADAR. Maybe we can find the access tunnel and get to the bottom of this."
Looking at the the toys here Fervor whistled appreciatively. "If she pulls out a large key ring now I think I'm going to propose," he quipped.
"So this is IPAC, eh?" wondered the Wanderer aloud. "Mr. Wilkens should really look into a decorator, this place is blah." The Wanderer walked about, "it's a shame to just sit here wasting time -- especially with this huge warehouse to explore." The Wanderer popped out of existence and appeared next to Fervor. "Tag," he said before disappearing again and materializing near the boathouse entryway with a wave.
The Wanderer wandered around in the boathouse, popping up to poke around a bit in the boats themselves, and walking along the catwalks above the water.
Then he investigated the lounge. Satisfying himself there, he looked longingly at the armoury, but instead rejoined the main group.
Iron Maiden leaned against the armory wall, arms folded as best she could (what with the bulky armor), fingers occasionally tapping out a random rhythm. Hurry up and wait was nothing new to her.
Time passed as the heroes idly poked about here and there, and then the garage doors began to open. A nondescript van, looking much like the ones already parked in the warehouse, pulled in, and Mr. Wilkins jumped out. The by now familiar jumpsuited figures of the IPAC operatives began to spill out of that van, and another one that pulled up behind it.
Wilkins approached the heroes. "Fervor, White Knight, Wanderer ... good to see you again. Iron Maiden. Have you found anything else since we last spoke?"
"Negative," Iron Maiden said flatly, still leaning against the armory door, her arms folded in front of her.
"Right. I couldn't get any serious underground scanning equipment on such short notice, but I did what I could. The techs'll see what they can find. I did bring this though," Wilkins brandished a cardboard tube. "It's the blueprints and architectural drawings for this facility. It's not accurate if you're right and the tunnel is here, but it might give us a place to start." He trooped into the lounge and began to set the papers out on a table.
Wilkins looked at the heroes hanging about outside the lounge and asked, "Would you care to take a look?"
Fervor momentarily gave up his position holding up the wall to speak with Wilkins. "I'm not sure what you want us to look at. If the tunnel isn't on the blueprints then looking at them isn't going to help. If you want us to search this place, well, I'm not sure why we had to wait for you to do it. I'm happy to do either but I'm not an architect and wouldn't a load bearing wall from a ball bearing wall. By the way, I seem to be confused. Is this your facility or not?"
"It's ours. There's no tunnel on them, but there might be something that looks funny." Wilkins shrugged. "No skin off my nose, either way." He went back to his maps.
The IPAC teams spread out and began to search the motor pool from top to bottom. They tapped and proddded. Every so often one or two would stop to confer with Wilkins who would indicate an area on the map and send them off again.
Iron Maiden sidled up next to Wilkins to study the blueprints. "What did you find? I'm curious if there's an official entry point."
"There's no official entry point. The men are checking the wiring and ventilation ducts at the moment," Wilkins pointed to the map. "Also the floors. There's no basement here, too close to the water table, but I suppose a sealed tunnel might exist."
"Seems like the only place there _might_ be something concealed would be inside the armory. What's the ordnance clearance on the bunker? Can we all poke around in there, or does this contain tactical stores?" Iron Maiden stared at the armored door, wondering if she could kick the thing in if it came down to it. She smiled at Wilkins, but she doubted he could see past the green glow of the sigma radiation, so she beamed even more widely.
As they walked past the heavy door, Iron Maiden stopped in the doorway and said to the heroes, "No touchy-feely, boys. I see your paws on something and we're going to arm wrestle for it...if you take my meaning," she said, a laughing tone in her voice. She flexed her gloved fist playfully a few times for dramatic effect.
The armoury was a thick-walled structure set up against the exterior wall. Along one side was a standard gun-rack, although the guns looked a little unusual. On the back wall was another rack with several of the heavy-duty two-man taser units the heroes had seen IPAC use against Jumping Jack at Proust Aerospace a few months before. The third wall contained a number of sealed cases containing more esoteric items: grenades, gas grenades, what looked like a heavy duty tranquilizer rifle or two, and a few objects, presumably weapons, whose purpose was obscure to the heroes.
"Hmm," Iron Maiden said to herself, "if I were going to hide a tunnel...." She turned to Wilkins. "No GPR, so how about a stud finder," she quipped. "That'd be me, I guess." And proceeded to rap solidly on walls, moving equipment aside as needed.
The IPAC agents provided a hand with keeping the equipment out of the way as Iron Maiden rapped her way around the walls. The results were inconclusive. Nothing sounded incredibly hollow, but she could think of half a dozen ways off the top of her head to address that issue with IPAC technology, and the EAGLES would have had access to at least that level of tech.
"Anyone with x-ray vision can lend a hand at any time," Iron Maiden said, staring at one of the walls.
Fervor looked at the equipment with a bit of a critical eye. The equipment in the armoury seems current but supposidly this place is not in current use. It also seems odd that IPAC would not know about secret passages into and out of it's facilities. Either this was a waste of time, IPAC is extremely incompetent, (which didn't seem likely, having seen them in action.) or there was something more going on here then the heroes we're being told.
The White Knight handed the techs poring over the blueprints his hardcopy of the anomaly data, to see if that helped pinpoint its entry location. He looked over at the boathouse...
"Wilkins, any submersibles in there we could borrow? Wanderer mentioned that the Eagles had a submersible, so there is presumably a suitable entry point at the base... We don't need to find the tunnel entrance, only follow the anomaly out to the base..."
Wilkins looked up and thought for a second, "No, there are no submersibles at this depot. The water level isn't deep enough to allow a vehicle of decent size. We've got a mini-sub at another facility though, we can arrange for a transfer further out in the water if there's an appropriate site."
"You were raised by IPAC, weren't you, Wilkins?" said a frustrated Iron Maiden. "Where'd you stash the entrance to the EAGLES nest? I'm a soldier, not an architect," she added finally.
"I didn't put it anywhere. If it was up to me, the EAGLES Nest would have been staffed by IPAC. The EAGLES didn't want to work that closely with us. If they had, then we wouldn't have this problem now." He looked at the assembled heroes, "You might keep that in mind. We can't help you if we can't find you. But that's why I'd be a little surpised if we find anything in here."
"If you know so much, Wilkins, why didn't you say something before we started wasting our time?" Iron Maiden said, clearly frustrated at her floundering about.
Wilkins shot Iron Maiden a hard look, "Because I might be wrong. And the stakes are high enough to cover even the long shots."
To the guys, she said, "Tell me why we're here, again? Who's supposed to have a line on where this supposed tunnel is?" She absently put her hand to her helmet visor, then jerked it away and stared at it like it had shocked her.
I'm getting comfortable in this thing, she thought, but it's still a goddamned prison!
She groaned forcibly and loudly, more like an animal's growl than an annoyed woman's. Clearly she was losing her temper.
"Why don't we split up--we can cover more ground that way. Some of you up for a ride in a mini-sub? I'm claustrophobic enough as it is...."
Wilkins expression softened very slightly, "Take a walk, Maiden. Get some fresh air and come back in a few minutes."
Iron Maiden stormed outside. Soon, the men inside the motor pool could hear the sound of metal shredding and the aggravated yells of one very angry, very strong woman.
The White Knight strolled outside, and carefully approached Iron Maiden. "Maiden, if you would care to try something more constructive than destructive, I have an idea. I noticed on the blueprints that the wall where the armoury abuts the exterior is extraordinarily thick. 5 feet or so, more than enough to hold the entrance to a spiral staircase or small elevator. We have search that part of the wall on the interior to no avail, but perhaps there may be evidence of such an opening on the exterior, especially as we know where to concentrate our search..."
He gestured to the wall in question, before striding over to thoroughly examine it for possible concealed doors, panels, buttons etc.
Iron Maiden held the metal railing that she'd turned into a compact ball in the palm of one gloved hand, marveling at her own strength. "Sorry...I lost it." Then she added, under her breath, "Correction: am losing it." She shook it off and joined the Knight at the side of the building.
"You got x-ray vision in that suit of yours? I'm thinking of requisitioning that as an add-on to mine. It'll come in handy, dont'cha think?" she joked.
The Wanderer sallied forth to join them, muttering something about That Smell and being a Freebird. The White Knight began to poke and prod at the wall, and Iron Maiden joined him. She ran her hands across one section, and then stepped back quickly. A section of wall in front of her had slid up revealing a roughly 3 meter by 1 meter opening. The gap itself was about 2 meters, leaving a 1 meter square offset. That offset, as well as the adjoining meter of overlap, seemed to be floored with the same piece of metal, while the remaining section of floor was of a different piece. The gap was between a couple of support pillars on the wall and was effectively screened from the street. On the far wall of the 1 meter offset was a single button.
Not seeing the rest of the heroes for a while Fervor went and searched for them, arriving just in time to see the door slide open. "Fantastic," Fervor said enthusiastically, "I don't think I could have waited much longer."
With an exaggerated yawn and stretch the Wanderer crooned his big finale, "Gimme three steps, gimme three steps mister, gimme three steps toward the door," as he pushed his way to the forefront. "You'll have to excuse me, but I've had an out of body experience and things are a bit hazy. This is an IPAC facility, but Mr. Wilkins was not aware of this vestibule? Miss Maiden, I trust you implicitly however I fear that IPAC is not as forthcoming as our lives should demand."
Iron Maiden looked up at the Wanderer and told him, "I know. All government agencies have these tendencies for secrecy, even duplicity. My father always told me to trust people, not organizations. Wilkins seems on the level."
"Who wants to push the big red button? I'd suggest letting me go in first. If this thing is rigged, I'm wearing more armor than you two." Iron Maiden stepped back to let the Wanderer and White Knight get a closer look. "Unless y'all are feeling confident...."
"Ladies first," said White Knight, and he joined Iron Maiden in the alcove. The Wanderer moved up close to observe. He was joined by Fervor. With a last look around, IM punched the button.
Two things happened more or less simeultaneously. The outer door began to close quickly, and the 2 mtr x 1 mtr section of floor on which Iron Maiden and the White Knight stood began to sink. The Wanderer popped out of existence and then reappeared between the two armoured figures looking a little cramped but undaunted. Fervor slipped inside just before the doors closed and was left perched on the 1 mtr x 1 mtr platform which was not sinking.
Fervor watched as the platform sank down out of sight. Looking around, he noticed that over by where he was standing a button had popped out of the wall.
The platform dropped down to a depth of about 10 meters, and opened out onto a wide tunnel stretching away into the distance to the left -- toward the river. There was a panel near the elevator but outside it with a single button on it, and on the wall down at this level another single button.
Dim lights illuminated the area near where the elevator gave onto the tunnel, but further down the tunnel was only darkness. Down the middle of the tunnel were two large rails, and they looped around to form a U near where the heroes stood. On the rails were several open cars. The whole was clearly some sort of mono-rail system. On a pedestal near the cars was another button.
A short distance away, the tunnel branched off sloped quickly down, and the heroes could just make out a pool at the end of it.
The entire area had an atmosphere of disuse and abandonment.
The Wanderer looked at the dim overhead lighting and said, "Activating the lift must have also lighted the tunnel lights. We must assume that whatever else can be activated has been so, let's be careful of any nasty security measures." He walked over to the pedestal and looked at the button.
The button was unlabled. The pedestal was connected by a cable to the monorail, and so presumably the button had something to do with the monorail as well.
"Is there a button on one of those cars? Doesn't make much sense to hit the button and then leap on to a moving...maybe they're just to signal for one if there isn't one here."
The cars had three benches across their width, two facing forward and one facing back. The back bench also had a sliding panel that would allow it pull out into a bed. At the front was a small T handle with four positions labeled thusly:
| | is the slot for the T bar. There is no label on the position, =| which is where the T bar rests at the moment. ==| ===|
She looked around the tunnel for obvious signs of panels. If there wasn't one topside, she thought, I doubt we're going to fine one here. The lack of security troubled her. A panel anyone might find and a button you simply pushed--like a couple of kids nosing around--nope, she didn't like this at all.
God, I hope there are answers here, she prayed silently. "Let's get the show on the road, huh?" she said with a note of anxiety in her voice.
The Wanderer made his way back to where the Iron Maiden and White Knight stood. "Miss Maiden, are you still able to establish radio contact with Mr. Wilkens? It would be most affirming if we were to not lose contact while in this subterranean adventureland."
"Yeah, I can still tune the carrier, but once we go deeper, I'm thinking we're on our own," she said. "Better let the boss know what I'm up to."
Iron Maiden filled Wilkins in on the discovery and their intentions.
She listend for a moment, then said "Roger that" with annoyed finality, then turned to Wanderer and said, "Wilkins wants me to wait for backup, but I want to get this show on the road so bad, I can taste it." She marched for the lift. "Back in a sec." She disappeared up the lift.
At the top of the lift Fervor waited, and the two rapidly descended. Iron Maiden ascended again, then faced the closed wall. She reached and touched it, and it slid open again revealing Wilkins.
Once she had brought Wilkins over and filled him in on the discovery of the lift, she wanted to make sure that he could get the agents down the lift without their presence. She singled out the closest agent and motioned toward the lift. "Down the hole, mister."
The Wanderer whistled jovially during these trials, taking note of any unusual events whenever Iron Maiden ascended or descended on the lift.
A little experimentation revealed that Iron Maiden herself was the only one who seemed able to open or close the panel to the outside.
"It's the sigma radiation, it has to be!" Iron Maiden groaned at the thought of just how linked to the place she was. She turned away from Wilkins as she thought out loud. "The radiation that...mutated me...the systems must be geared to recognize it. Maybe all of the EAGLES had been exposed to it. I know that Plasma was probably entirely converted into sigma radiation!" She spun around to face Wilkins again. "Let's get some of these agents down there and make a bee line for the base. My cure might be there!"
Maiden will activate the lift for two agents at a time, until a small squad is down below, then she'll ride it down, anxious to fire up one of the cars and get moving!
In a few short moments, Wilkins and six agents had joined the heroes clustered around the monorail cars.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," Iron Maiden hustled everyone to the cars and pushed the T-bar into the second position. "Let's go!"
The T-bar clicked into the second slot, and with a huge silence, the car failed to rush forward like the wind.
"Aw, c'mon!!" Iron Maiden bellowed. She returned the T-bar to the "off" position, clambered out of the car and pressed the button on the side of the track. Returning to the car, she once again tried to get the car moving.
The Wanderer, huddled in the back of a car, whined "Mommy, are we there yet?!?"
Although there seemed to be sufficient power for a few emergency lights here at the railhaid and to power the lift, the monorail system seemed decidedly non-functional.
"DAMN IT!" Iron Maiden screamed, slamming her fists down onto the front of the car. Again and again she beat the front of the car until it was reduced to fragments. It took a few minutes for her to regain her senses, then she calmly stood and began to walk down the tunnel.
Wilkins looked at his squad and the other heroes meaningfully, then set off after her.
Fervor watched as Iron Maiden took her frustration out on the poor car, not wanting to get in the way. then spoke. "Iron Maiden, We don't know what we're going up against or how far away they might be. I little more stealth might be advisable." Fervor stated hesitantly.
After only a few hundred feet, the tunnel became quite dark. The WhiteKnight switched on his his helmet light and the IPAC agents produced a few flashlights. The air seemed remarkably fresh, and there seemed to be an ever so slight breeze from up ahead.
"Air conditioning?" Iron Maiden thought out loud. She quickened her pace.
"Or a spacious cavern with dancing girls, volleyball, and drinks with little umbrellas in them," added the Wanderer as he fell into line.
"I've never really liked the umbrellas too much." Fervor added to the conversation. "They always seem to get in the way. Now being served out of a coconut always had some kind of attraction."
Fervor's quips seemed forced as though he was trying to convince everyone, including himself, of his bravado.
Iron Maiden stopped short, wheeled around and pointed an accusing finger at the Wanderer. Which turned into a dismissive wave of her hand as she turned and plodded down the dark hallway.
After a short distance, the tunnel leveled out, except, perhaps for a very slight downward slant. Clearly it was running along the seabed without much variation. The darkness was now complete.
On they walked, lit only by the few lights they had brought with them.
After half an hour or so, Wilkins commented, "I wonder if we are still inside US territorial waters."
"Ain't gonna stop me," Iron Maiden said under her breath.
Another half an hour or so passed, before dim lights could be made out ahead.
In her anxiousness for some sign they weren't on a wild goose chase, Iron Maiden began to pick up the pace, trying for the dogtrot she used to be able to keep up for hours at a time.
The others trotted along after her. They crossed a few hundred yards and found themselves at another monorailhead, much like the one at the other end of the tunnel.
Sealing the end of the tunnel was a large bulkhead.
The Wanderer let out a high pitched whistle that conveyed "WOW, look at that large bulkhead." Turning to Iron Maiden and Wilkens he asked, "any passwords or fancy electrical gizmos to open that thing?"
"Maybe we should have some kind of game plan when the door is opened." Fervor added in with an innocent smile.
He then turned to the agents traveling with them. "Do you have a fix on where exactly we are? If there is another building above ground then this might not be the best entrance to enter."
One of the IPAC agents checked a pedometer on his boot, "I make it about 6 clicks, err, kilometers we've travelled. I've been checking our bearing out, too. We went pretty straight, so there shouldn't be anything above us except a couple hundred feet of water."
Iron Maiden made a bee-line for the giant door, looking for a way to open it: electronic panels, keyholes, biometric scanners, anything.
To one side of the bulkhead was a hand crank of the type common on submarines, which seemed pretty clearly to be a manual method of opening or closing the hatch. The Maiden headed straight for it, and seemed almost dissappointed when, as she reached out to grab it, the door began to iris open of its own accord.
"Bravo!" exclaimed the Wanderer.
Ahead of them was a steep ramp up for perhaps twenty meters. They carefully approached it, and saw that it was followed by a steep ramp down for about ten meters. The scientifically inclined surmised that it was an air trap, so that if the tunnel was breached on one side it wouldn't flood both sides.
Down the ramp the heroes went, and out into a large open dome. That the area was a submarine pen was obvious for a number of reason, including the fact that a submarine was actually present. The center of the dome was pool, presumably open to the ocean, perhaps 150 meters square. In the pool, docked on one side, was a submarine perhaps thirty meters long. On the opposite side of the dome was another bulkhead/door.
The Wanderer wasted no time appearing next to the submarine and calling out to the rest of the group with its condition and any identifying marks.
The submarine was of unfamilar design and bore no markings that The Wanderer could see. It was strangely shaped and rather shallow. It appeared to be in good condition.
Calling to Wilkens and the Iron Maiden, the Wanderer asked "does this fit the specs for the Eaglewing sub?"
One of the IPAC agents immediately responded in an excited voice, "No, the Eaglewing had adjustable airfoils and ..." he trailed off under Wilkins withering gaze. "Umm. No it doesn't," he finished.
"I know I'm not as experienced or have the extensive training as some of you but I would think that taking the scenic tour would be something you would not want to do when braking into the master villians hideout." Fervor casually added to the conversation.
"I would think there would be some kind of security on the door...and we know that he has already kidnapped one experienced hero. I wouldn't want to underestimate him."
The Wanderer popped back beside the collection of funny dressed people, and asked in all sincerity, "I'm confused. Is this place IPAC, EAGLES, or Santa's Workshop? I do hate being out-of-the-loop, unless of course I'm at the height of my loopiness."
"It's not IPAC, Wanderer, I can tell you that," said Wilkins. "I'm not sure what it is. But, that might be clue." He pointed to to the door on the opposite side. There dimly visible was the outline of a stylized Eagle logo.
The Wanderer beamed, "that it is, a marvelous clue." With a curt bow and sweeping hand, "Miss Maiden, would you do your thing, to expedite our entrance?"
"Perhaps we need to go through door number two," Iron Maiden said. Then she looked at Fervor and wondered about what might be _behind_ door number two. Images of sigma radiation blasting out flashed through her mind. "Uh, perhaps you guys should let me open the door, while you take cover behind the last bulkhead," she offered. "Since I'm already irradiated--and survived--maybe I can suck up some more. I wouldn't want what happened to me to happen to you...." Then she added, "Did anyone think to bring a Geiger counter?" The tone in her voice just about yelled "Duh!"
Sheepish looks were exchanged between the various IPAC agents who confessed that none of them had.
"Well, don't worry none, boys, I didn't either. Hey, look, I don't know what--if anything--is going to happen when this door opens. Maybe nothing, but the place could also be flooded with radiation. My suggestion still stands...."
The Iron Maiden waited as the various other folks ducked around and took cover, then approached the door. As everyone by now expected, the doors opened. What they revealed was a short corridor and another set of door. When she approached that set of doors, the ones behind her closed. In just a few moments she was able to determine that the doors operated together and only one set would open at a time, in sort of an airlock kind of functionality. While learning this, she noted that there was at least one more set of doors in the series.
"Well, since I can't see a gout of radiation spewing out," she said aloud for some reason, "I may as well reconnoiter ahead and then report back."
She pushes on and hopes the second bulkhead will open as the last did. "Open Says Me," she uttered as she neared the door.
The second bulkhead opened as the first did, revealing another small section of corridor and a third door. The corridors were angled down slightly.
Maiden walked through the third door, and then up to the fourth. It opened onto a largish underwater dome. The section she are looking at was apparently some kind of control center; consoles and computer banks lined the walls. Standing by one in the back was an imposing figure in some kind of armour. To his right stood a two meter high heap of what looks like mud and slime. A jar of some kind of clear material is standing on the table near them; it contained what looked like a small man. Scattered about the room were a number of black-jumpsuited, masked figures carrying carbine like weapons.
As the doors hissed open, pretty much everyone in the room turned to look at the Iron Maiden.
"Damn," she thought, and turned on her commlink just in case. She looked around rapidly for something she could throw, where ever in the room it might be: a book, a fire extinguisher on the wall, a chair, etc. Secondly, while she was scanning the room, she shot a surreptitious glance at Micron to see if she could tell if he was conscious.
"Um, hello," she said, playing at being calm while her heart raced a mile-a-minute.
"Hello, and who might you be?" asked the armoured figure, stepping clear of the console. The pile of muck shifted, too, moving a few "steps" in the other direction. The troopers raised their weapons carefully.
"A former government agent who has become irriated with sigma radiation and is seeking a cure. Can you help me?"
"Truly? Interesting. And why are you here? Now?"
"I'm trapped in this thing--" Maiden said, holding up her arms, indicating the armor. "--for the rest of my life unless I find a damn cure. 'Now' is every minute of my life to come! There has to be something here to help me, can't you understand that?!"
"I just find it suspicious that you are in this place at this time, hmm? And alone. Or are you alone?" he added sharply. He turned to the console and punched a few buttons.
A wave of cold ran up Maiden's spine and she tensed the muscles in her legs. Her hands tightened, but she resisted the urge to ball them into fists.
Blast! she yelled at herself.
"Ah, it has friends," the armoured man turned back to face Iron Maiden. "Take it out," he instructed the troopers, "You, fetch Worm."
"Damn you," Maiden uttered through gritted teeth.
She leapt at the closest guard, grabbed his arm with her left hand and jerked him off his feet, aiming him at the table with Micron on it. With a crash the man slammed into the table and container and the whole mess went down in a pile.
"Quagmire, get her!" shouted the man in armour. "Get Worm, you fool," he repeated to the nearest trooper, who muttered "Yes, Overlord," and ran through a door.
The mound of much squelched toward Iron Maiden, as the remaining troopers raised their guns. "I'll begin this myself," said Overlord and raised a hand. A moment later a shockwave raced toward Iron Maiden, missing completely and instead smashing to the ground an overeager trooper who stepped in the way. "Damn it," said Overlord and fired again. This blast was on target.
Flashback a few moments ...
Wilkins spoke into his comlink, "Be careful, Iron Maiden. Maiden?" He turned to the heroes, "this doesn't sound good. I'm hearing her half of the conversation, and there's definately someone over there and they don't sound all that friendly."
The Wanderer pushed his way up to Wilkens. "OK, Mr. Secret Pants. Is there anything you haven't told us? Do you have any way of getting to her?" The Wanderer paced about, stopping to look at the portal that had for all intents and purposes swallowed the Iron Maiden.
"You with the GPS, is there anything on her person that we can track? The IPAC Beeperphone, anything?" he questioned. "I'm not a big fan of it, nor do I know if it is possible but if we can extrapolate her location, I'm willing to try a jump," he began to do deep knee bends bringing some minor levity to the serious situation.
The Wanderer walked back up to the door, which obligingly slid open.
"And I'm supposed to be the hot head of the group," thought Fervor to himself as he started at a trot towards the door Iron Maiden went through.
"I'm heading after her!" Fervor went ahead and states the obvious. "and the next time she talks about me not taking this job seriously I'm fuzing her mouthpiece to her...at least I know this is a team effort."
Fervor grabbed a walkie-talkie from a nearby agent, "Wanderer, I'll describe the path as I go. WK, you want to join me?"
The heroes moved forward rapidly, White Knight and Fervor in the lead, the agents in the middle and The Wanderer in the rear. As they approached the second set of doors, the first set closed behind them. The second set then opened, revealing a third set.
"Hurry for God's sake," cried Wilkins. "Something happening in there!"
They passed the third doors, and as the fourth set opened they saw a violent tableau.
Flash forward to the present ...
They were in a roughly rectangular control room of some sort. Just inside only about two meters away was Iron Maiden facing what looked like a two meter high pile of muck and slime.
At the far end of the control room, 14 meters away, in front of another door, was an armoured man. On the floor nearby was a trooper of some kind in a black jumpsuit, sprawled in a pile of broken glass.
Scattered about the room were another five of the jumpsuited figures all bearing what looked like carbines of unusual design.
The attention of most of these folk was directed at Iron Maiden, although they had enough to spare for the new arrivals.
"Get them," shouted the armoured man.
And pandemonium erupted.
Fervor cried, "White Knight, I'll help with MuckMan if you think you can keep Armored Dude occupied." He didn't wait for the Knight's response as the wave of heat left his fingers and washed toward the living refuse. The creature, whatever it was, ignored the attack utterly.
Iron Maiden herself was in motion. She raced over to where a trooper stood, trying to level his firearm and grabbed him, lifting him into the air.
An IPAC guard turned to say something to The Wanderer and received a makeshift salute before The Wanderer disappeared from view, reappearing just behind the armoured figure.
The White Knight, too, was in motion. He charged the pile of muck and leapt up to plant a boot in Quagmire's "face." His boot passed right through Quagmire's head and he nearly lost his balance and fell, but compensated and landed on his feet. Quagmire seemed to pretty much ignore this attack as well, turning to face the White Knight slowly and then beginning to swing mucky fists.
Overlord, for it was he in the armour, analyzed the situation and said, "You first, I think." He raised his gauntlet and a vibratory shockwave ripped across the room toward Fervor. "Men," he shouted, "engage the support troops!"
Fervor shook under the impact of Overlord's blast. Overlord fired again, this time missing wide.
His troopers, well except for the one strugling in Iron Maiden's grasp, opened fire on the IPAC agents. Three of the IPAC agents dropped under the blaster fire.
The IPAC agents, including Wilkins, scattered and returned fire with their sidearms. Two of the enemy troopers fell under the mercy bullets.
Iron Maiden tossed her squirming bundle at the corner where the two remaining troopers crouched. She missed high, but the trooper she threw was out of the fight.
The White Knight wasn't sure what Quagmire's fists would do, and he didn't want to find out. Servos whining he started dodging blows.
The Wanderer prepared himself and spun Overlord around before unloading a mighty right hand. Overlord went sailing back four meters and landed on his metal butt on the floor.
"You," he shrieked, "I'll kil you for that."
Wanderer was so pleased he didn't even notice the door behind him opening.
A thin man, hairless and slightly slimy looking, wearing a leotard what left much of his upper body exposed, slipped through the door and swung a fist at the unsuspecting Wanderer. The only reason he missed was the half step forward the Wanderer took toward Overlord.
Overlord himself stood, as Quagmire continued to try to pummel the White Knight.
Iron Maiden blurred into motion again, this time rocketing across the room to where the last two troopers crouched. She barrelled into one, sending him careening into the wall and the to the floor. A quick punch dealt with the other.
Iron Maiden spoke into her radio. "Wilkins, concentrate fire on the creature--Quagmire--it's the most unpredictable! Have someone fire a flare at the sprinklers--maybe the water will affect it!"
She turned her attention on Overlord. "Okay, mister, you're next!" Maiden ran to a point to his flank and charged into combat, her fist cocked for a Sunday Punch. "You're not killing anyone!" She hit a slippery patch where Quagmire had been standing, and slid a bit. She recovered her balance, but her punch was hopelessly wide.
"Get away, you," said Overlord and swung fist at Iron Maiden. Rather he swung several fists, which she was easily able to avoid.
The Wanderer felt the breeze of the thin man's blow narrowly miss him and turned, reaching for him. The wily Worm slipped clear of the first couple of grabs the Wanderer made, but couldn't avoid him forever. The Wanderer grabbed the smaller man and was frustrated when the slime on the man's body made it impossible to get a grip. Suddenly he cursed, the slime on his hands from the grab was burning his flesh! He opted to throw a punch instead, tagging the small man and sending him crashing back into the trooper who just stepping out the door behind Worm. The trooper screamed as the slime covered him and collapsed to the floor.
Worm got back to his feet and slipped back next to Wanderer, swinging a punch as he came. He grazed the Wanderer, leaving a little acid trail on the heroes costume.
Fervor saw that his blast has had little effect on the living pile of swamp bottom and hoped that stepping up the power would cause some effect. He stepped a bit closer to get a better line of fire, put his hands together like an old space ghost cartoon and let loose. "Time to turn up the heat," he quipped.
The blast of heat caused a chunk of the creature to dry up and fall off, scattering to powder on the floor when it hit.
Quagmire continued to swing at the White Knight who continued avoiding.
Overlord finally managed to lay a fist on Iron Maiden and when it struck there was flash of some kind of energy. Iron Maiden absorbed the attack and then swung a mighty Sunday Punch at the villian.
Worm contined to attack the Wanderer, landing another punch. The Wanderer took his time setting up a return punch then laced into Worm, who tried to dodge clear, the Wanderer kept the pressure on.
Quagmire kept swinging but couldn't get a solid blow to land on the White Knight.
"At least I can affect the beast." Fervor said to himself as he sighted the creature for another blast. Though the battle so far had been short, Fervor was not used to exerting the amounts of raw energy that was leaving his body. "Well, the candle that burns fastest burns brightest," Fervor thought to himself and fired again.
The blast of heat baked another large chunk off of Qugamire. He fired again and stumbled as he exhausted himself.
Maiden sucked up the shock from Overlord's punch with gritted teeth and then a smile. "Payback's a MediVac though," she said quietly. Sizing her opponent up, she uncorked several quick but heavy punches.
Overlord flew back from the force of the punch and slammed into the door on the right side of the control room, barely keeping his feet.
"Damn you," said Overlord, "Change of plans, now." Boot jets fired and Overlord went airborne heading toward the doors to the sub pen.
"No!" screamed Iron Maiden.
Wilkins and his men dove out of the way as Overlord sailed past them through the open doors and up to the next set of doors in the series. The doors slammed shut behind him.
"No! Stop him! Damn it! No! NO!!" Iron Maiden clenched her fists furious with Wilkins and his IPAC men. She poured on a burst of speed from her over developed leg muscles, sprinting for the door, nearly bowling Wilkins over. She knows she probably cannot catch him, but she has to try--she has to know what all of this is about!
The doors opened to show the empty stretch of corridor. Iron Maiden raced in and up to the next set of doors. Impatiently she waited as she was cycled through each set of doors.
When the last set of doors cycled open at the sub pen, she saw Overlord just diving into the pool.
Back in the control room, Worm's concentration wavered as he saw his boss take flight, and that was all the Wanderer needed. One punch later and Worm slid to the floor unconscious.
Quagmire slogged toward an airvent, forcing his mucky frame through the grill.
The White Knight realised that he was unable to prevent Quagmire oozing away, so turned to aid Iron Maiden, rushing through to the Sub pen as quickly as he could get the airlocks to cycle.
The Wanderer staggered from exhaustion and looked at his gloves which were in tatters from the acidic burns. "And stay down," he murmured. He turned to see his victorious breathren, "there goes our element of surprise."
"Well, This is going well." Fervor stated as he tried to get his breath back. There was nothing he could do about Muckman now but maybe he could help out the Wanderer. Fervor jogged over and helped the Wanderer make sure that Worm would stay down.
"Mr. Wilkens," said the Wanderer, "I'd suggest great care be taken with this one, he's has a caustic personality." The Wanderer walked back over to the group, "see if you can find out what those trousers are made of, apparently they aren't affected by his oozing machismo."
"Hey, this looks like a man!" said one of the IPAC agents binding up the prisoners. "Only he's tiny."
In fact, there was a miniature figure unconscious in the shattered crystal near a control panel.
Meanwhile, back at the sub-pen ...
"Oh no you don't!" Maiden screamed as she bolted for the water and jumped in after Overlord.
She hit the drink and immediately began to sink, the cold water oozing in at the joints in her armour. She struck out and her sigma- heightened strength was enough to allow her to swim.
Overlord was swimming down toward the open sea, his boot jets providing him with some extra thrust. Iron Maiden struck out after him. She was making up distance when Overlord stopped and turned to face her. He raised his gauntlets and fired. The vibratory shockwave was transmitted just fine through the water, although the impact was diffused somewhat.
The blast drove her back through the water like a torpedo, and when she was able to reorient and start after him again, Overlord had vanished into the darkness of the undersea world.
She swam back up, reaching the pen and drinking in the air in long gulps just as the White Knight cycled through the last door and raced toward the pen.
"Here Maiden, I'll help you out", the White Knight reached out to help pull Iron Maiden clear of the water and onto the poolside.
"I take it from your grim expression that Overlord made good his escape. Alas, so did Quagmire, but I think I saw the Wanderer's opponent fall. We may be able to extract some information from him as to where Overlord may have gone."
Maiden stared mutely at White Knight, furious, near berserk with anger, her fists clenching and unclenching. She turned away from him and faced the pool. "You bloody COWARD!" she screamed. "Damn you to HELL!"
"We could try taking the sub out after him, though by the time we get clear of the base he will probably be long gone..."
Maiden snickered, her head now bowed.
"In the meantime we need to locate Micron for Mrs Peters."
She stormed past White Knight and then paused at the first air lock. She was struggling for control. Turning to face the Knight, the motioned with an armored hand. "C'mon," she said gently, resigned.
At that moment the White Knights helmet radio crackled as Fervor announced that Micron had been found... unconscious in the Control Room!
As they walked back into the control room, Maiden cornered Wilkins and jabbed a finger into his chest. "You do something like that again, and next time they'll find your body in little pieces. And you," she turned toward the IPAC agents, "show some backbone next time."
"You're out of line, lady," came Wilkins voice, cold as a whipcrack. "Get it under control and I mean now." Not waiting to see Maiden's response, he turned around to face the rest of the gang and did a quick head count. "Hail, hail, the gangs all here. Good." He began snapping orders to the IPAC men. One went to examine the control panel and the rest began to fan out in pairs to investigate the dome.
The Wanderer slid up beside Fervor and said under his breath, "Sheesh, give a man a gun and take away his first name and he thinks he's a superhero."
"Hey, Do we have a medic here?" Fervor asked as he went to check on the tiny hero.
One of the IPAC'ers jogged over with a first aid kit and cracked some smelling salts under Micron's nose. The miniature hero woke with a start. He looked up at Fervor, then rolled a back somersault coming to his feet and suddenly growing to full size and adopting a defensive posture. Then his surroundings sank in, and he lowered his fists, "Fervor, right?" he asked.
"That's right." Fervor answered the hero's query. "You left some people worried about you topside and I'm one of the dog's they sent to find you."
Fervor kept his voice warm and friendly. "It's good that you friends know such important people. You want to let me in on the whole story. We've got Worm but it looks as if the other two got away."
"My God," said Micron, and raced to one control panel, "I hope I remember how to work this." He tapped a few controls and twisted a dial or two, then the room was astonished to hear what sounded exactly like a cell-phone ring. Apparently it was, and a moment later it was answered.
"Hello?" said a voice which most of the heroes could identify as Jenny Peters.
"Honey, it's me. Don't say a word, this is an open channel. I'm OK. Did you send these guys out here after me?" asked Micron.
"Yes! Thanks God you're safe."
"Are you safe?"
"Yes, when are you coming home?" asked Jenny.
"Soon, stay low until I find out what's going on here," said Micron. "I love you." He hung up and turned back to Fervor. "Allright, what do you want to know?"
Raising his hand as if in school, the Wanderer piped up "First off, you should probably call Ms. Peters back up and have her go someplace safe. That Overlord character looked mighty upset that we crashed his party, I'd hate for reprisals to be made at Ms. Peters' expense. Then you can begin to tell us all the whys, whos, wherefores, and other interesting tidbits that brought us here."
"What?" Micron raced back to the phone and had another hurried conversation with Jenny. Then he returned to the group. "Well, I'm not sure what I can tell you really. I used to work with the Eagles, off and on. This Overlord clown knew that and somehow figured out who I was with the mask off. He wanted to get into the Nest, which sounded like a bad idea to me. Luckily I couldn't help him find it -- I was never tight enough with the Eagles to get access, although I did come out a few times. I guess he was having trouble getting into one of the domes, the research dome, and he thought I might be able to help. So he grabbed me. Or had that horrible thing grab me. Quagmire."
"So were even on the great Eagles Nest quest," observed the Wanderer, "neither of us knows where it is. Were there any more baddies with Overlord that you may have seen or heard?" The Wanderer paced over to look at Worm and glanced over to where Quagmire oozed away, "Let's hope there aren't many more like these."
"Quagmire. Worm. Overlord. A bunch of troopers. That's all I saw. I overhead them mention a couple more, Frosty or something like that, and something snaky ... Python!" Micron said.
"Python!" said the Wanderer striking his palm with fist. "So our paths will meet again, things are beginning to come together."
"You know her?" asked Micron.
"We," Wanderer gestured to his colleagues, "met her and Frostorm earlier on the Research Platform. A lovely lady with a sour disposition." The Wanderer then remembered, "we prevented them from securing a case of diskettes."
Micron responded with a blank look.
Wilkins' men returned from their quick once over the dome and Wilkins heard their reports. "This dome appears to be empty except for us. The doors in that direction seem to be functional, but the doors there are sealed. Micron, can you tell us what the layout is?"
"Sure," said Micron. "That way," he pointed in the direction of the unlocked doors, "is the residential dome, and beyond that the utility dome. The other tunnel leads to the research dome and beyond that to the vehicle dome."
Fervor once again stands to the side as the agents go off and do there thing.
"Micron, Do you have any idea what Overlord wanted here?"
"He wanted me to open the door to the research dome, but other than that, no. He was none too happy when I couldn't do it," finished Micron.
"Where is the research dome?" inquired the Wanderer, "perhaps Iron Maiden has the magic touch."
"That's the door, there," said Micron pointing to the door to the right of the entrance through which the heroes had arrived.
Fervor sighed. "Maybe I should change my name to Calmy or Slowpoke." He thought.
"Maybe before we open the door into the research area of a group of superheroes who disappeared with out a trace, that also held the interest of a brand new super villain group we should find out what inside." Fervor told the group. "Then again why not just rip the door off the hinges based on our curiosity. It's not like We're The Heroes."
Fervor looked at the bulkhead thinking that maybe he could open it by banging his head against it.
"God only knows what's in there," said Micron. "The Eagles were years, decades even, ahead of their time. Protector was brilliant, and some of the others were none too shabby either."
"I'm none too shabby myself, if it comes to it" says the White Knight from one of the consoles he has been examining.
"Come on," said Iron Maiden. "We've got to see what's in there. Don't you understand? Any of you?" She calmed herself a bit with a visible effort. "It's important."
"Of course we understand it's important. That's why we want to do it right instead of just fast. It shouldn't take White Knight that long to access their data records and/or internal sensors." Fervor explained. "For all we know the Eagles quaretined themselves in the lab because of something deadly inside. It wouldn't be prudent to let it out just because you're impatient."
The uneasy feeling of not being told everything washed over the Wanderer yet again. He fidgeted, wondering about the impending danger and whether any of them could be prepared; especially those who were not privy to the super secret "spy" files. Fervor seemed not too bothered, which was good, while the stuffy White Knight was hopped up on goodie-goodie pills as usual. The Iron Maiden and her IPAC cronies, which is what they were -- cronies, were content to speak in riddles and do the gung-ho military thingy. Hmm, the alien thought, there were forces at work here that he didn't understand, and wasn't quite sure if he wanted to be beholden to that famous industrial complex. These humans were a complex species, wrapping themselves in the intricate fabric of secrecy where knowledge was finite and to share it meant to seemingly lose it -- rendering oneself without some factoid which caused feelings of specialness. He sighed, causing the cast to look at him.
"I'm with Fervor. Haste makes paste, especially when dealing with security systems," he beamed.
"So," said Iron Maiden getting right into Fervor's face, "what are your bright ideas for checking it out? Huh? Wilkins already screwed up, what's your great plan? We've got to see what's back there. Overlord wanted it, and he and it are all tied up with ... this." In frustration she slapped the armour which covered her body.
Fervor stood his ground and looked up into the armoured face of the Maiden. "The only person I've seen who has screwed up so far is you. You give me guff about looking at this like a game, but at least I'm a professional player. You seem to have forgotten that there are other people involved besides yourself."
Fervor's ire raised as the speech continued.
"First we had a hostage situation here and you go running in like a Sunday jog and we had to come and pull your stuff out of the fire. The only reason the hostage is still alive is because Overlord wanted him alive more than you did. Now Calm down and let the White Knight do what he's good at. The Eagles were years ahead of their time but the Knight is years ahead of ours. I can't believe that this base doesn't have sensors that look throughout it or a central computer system that he can access to find out what the Eagles were last working on. We've got all the sensor gear that was used to find out where the entrance was back in the armory that Wilkin's can use. We've got a lot more options then 'Maiden Bash!'"
Fervor made a visible effort to reign in his hot temper.
"I understand a bit what your going through" Fervor tapped the charred casing that surrounded his body, "but it's time you stopped feeling sorry for yourself."
The White Knight looked up from the consoles he had been examining, and went to the door in question and examined some equipment attached next to it... he nodded to himself...
"Ok, we have good security monitor coverage of this room and the sub pen, intermittent coverage of a residential wing, and a utility wing. The areas marked on the schematics as Research and Vehicle bays are not covered by operating monitors. It also appears that the base reactor is online and functioning within nominal parameters. Overlord has attached various components together in an attempt to override the locking mechanism on this door, but was unsuccessful."
"Wilkins, Iron Maiden seems convinced that this base is connected to the sigma radiation she has been affected by. Do you have any equipment for detecting such radiation?"
"No, we don't. We know little about sigma radiation," said Wilkins.
"Damn right, you don't," cut in Iron Maiden. "But the answers are probably right behind that door."
"Shut it Maiden!" snapped Wilkins, his own temper obviously fraying a bit.
"Don't tell me to shut it! You're not trapped in a tin can the rest of your life!" Maiden screamed suddenly in rage and charged over the locked door and banged on it, "What are you hiding, what are you hiding!"
With a click, the door locks disengaged. The White Knight saw a flash on the console screen which read, "Plasma ID Verified". The door swung open to reveal the corridor heading toward the research dome.
Out of the corridor boiled four large creatures, looking for all the world like amoeba. This impression was enhanced when one split in two in order to pass around the shocked and immobile figure of the Iron Maiden. The now five creatures bore down on the heroes, and the heroes had the distinct and uncomfortable impression that they were hungry.