Fervor waved and a wash of heat spilled toward the charging (oozing?) amoeba. He misdjudged the speed and missed.
The Iron Maiden looked around her in confusion, then raced toward the amoeba attacking Fervor and Wilkins. Her punch sent the amoeba flying away, but Fervor could have sworn that he saw the creature flinch before Iron Maiden struck.
The amoeba started back toward them, then veered away to head toward Micron.
White Knight wound up and punched away at the gooey critter attacking him. His first punch passed more or less harmlessly through the creature, while his second glanced off a surprisingly tough cell membrane.
The creature lunged forward and enveloped the armoured hero sparks flew from his forcefield as the creature tried to eat its way through.
"Friends of yours, Micron?" asked the Wanderer as he ran to the IPAC guards guarding the troopers to lend a hand. He slammed a punch at one of the amoeba, knocking it back a few meters but leaving it otherwise unharmed as far as he could tell.
One of the small amoeba oozed on top of a screaming prisoner and began to sizzle. As the horrified heroes watched, the victim dissolved and was absorbed, as the amoeba grew in size. The other small amoeba began to do the same to another trooper. The large amoeba moved back in after being hit away by the Wanderer.
"Get your men out of here Wilkins!" Fervor said as he gave two more quick blasts at the creature to get its attention. A cloud of foul smelling steam rose from the creature as Fervor's blast washed over it.
The Wanderer stood his ground, just staring at the on-oozing amoeba, with an outstretched hand. The advancing creature slowed and began to flatten as the Wanderer continued concentrating, the creature stopped moving at all and began to collapse slowly to disk shaped pool on the deck.
The White Knight punched and shoved to get himself clear of the creature, but had difficulty fighting clear of the of the beast. It kept trying to eat him but the forcefield had it stymied for the moment.
"Men," shouted Wilkins fall back to the sub-pen. The IPAC guards began an orderly retreat and regrouped by the door.
Iron Maiden charged toward same amoeba she had struck before. At her approach it split into two seperate amoebas and tried to avoid her. She spun and punched one across the room where it made a satisfying splat then puddled at the foot of the wall. The remaining half rolled on top of Worm who woke a moment later with a horrifying scream.
The amoeba that had eaten one of the troopers already moved onto to another quickly devouring him as well.
Micron unleashed a volley of punches on the amoeba facing him, but didn't seem too happy with the results. "This doesn't seem to be working too well, guys!"
The White Knight suddenly stopped his struggling momentarily and looked over towards the console he had been watching when Iron Maiden opened the door to the Research Dome... He stared at the last line of text displayed on the screen, as its significance suddenly struck him!
"Of course," he muttered, "it explains it all..."
He suddenly remembered that a great big glob of oozing, acid secreting protoplasm was trying to devour him, and resumed his frantic effort to pull and scrape it off, while he turned toward Iron Maiden and called out, "Maiden, take off your armour - quickly... Trust me on this! Plasma, if you can hear me, get out as quickly as you safely can and zap these things before more good people die..."
Iron Maiden paused in her mad dashing back and forth trying to squish bugs. A strange beatific expression came over her face. "Yes," she said. "It seems so clear." She reached up and popped the seals on her helmet. She dropped it to the floor and a very faint green glow started to radiate outward from her.
"Blessing, no!" shouted Wilkins pausing in the sub-pen door.
Iron Maiden ignored him and continued to remove her armour. As the pile of pieces on the floor grew, so did the glow in the room. The amoebas stopped moving around and instead began to vibrate slowly in place. As the heroes watched, the amoebas, one by one, starting with the smallest popped with a gentle wet sound and began to run down the floor toward a drain leaving behind a faint salty stench and a few dribs and drabs of cell membrane that didn't completely liquefy under the assault of sigma rays.
Suddenly the light blinked out. Iron Maiden, looking somehow smaller, raised a hand to her brow and then collapsed.
"Wilkins! Get a medic over here ASAP," shouted the White Knight as he rushed over to Glory and checked her status, the biometric pressure sensors in his gauntlets providing tactile feedback as he searched for a pulse and checked her breathing.
Wilkins was right behind the White Knight, snapping orders as he went. "You, call for medevac. You go check out that sub and see if we can use it to get to the surface."
The White Knight looked around the control room, and calls out "Plasma, are you here? Are you OK?"
Silence greeted his query.
The Wanderer made his way back to the group surrounding the Iron-less Maiden. "Things look well in hand here, I assume she is going to be OK," he stated. "Micron, shall we go exploring?" said The Wanderer while pointing down the corridor. "I'm just giddy with the thought of seeing what Overlord got his metal panties in a bunch over!"
"Allright," said Micron. "I'm game."
The pair cautiously made their way to the door and thence down toward the research dome. The dome was a mess. Everything even vaguely organic had long since been eaten. On the floor was something that looked like, and on closer inspection, was parts of some kind of armoured suit. "Howitzer's," said Micron examing the breastplate.
The Wanderer asked "Is this the work of the amoebae, or something else?"
"Hard to say, all the," Micron gulped, "edible bits are gone. No way to know if she was alive or dead at the time."
There was a wide variety of other equipment in the dome, most of it in extremely poor shape, and some of it fascinating in design. Micron didn't know what most of the things were but was able to help identify a few bits and pieces; an experimental jetpack unit, a maser scanning device.
They moved on to the vehicle dome only to find the doors stuck solidly shut.
The Wanderer examined the doors, trying to determine if they could be forced open or if structural damage caused them to become useless.
The doors themselves appeared to be in good shape.
Fervor watched as Micron and Wanderer head off but made his way towards Glory. "Is there anything I can do?" He asked White Knight with concern in his voice. "This facility's got to have a medical bay. I can carry her while you lead."
Wilkins looked up, "Thank you Fervor. We've got to get some help for her. Medevac seems best, but if we can stabilize her while we wait ..."
"The sick bay should be in the utility dome, sir," piped up an IPAC agent from a spot near the console.
Fervor raced off to see if the sick bay was functional, and returned shortly saying that although the domes were in good shape, the sick bay had no power.
About the same time, the IPAC agent sent to examine the submarine returned, saying that he didn't think they'd be able to get it working too quickly, but that there were several sets of scuba gear in the sub and they could get Iron Maiden to the surface that way if no other options presented themselves.
"Fine, we'll do that then. Start getting the gear ready, the chopper's on the way," said Wilkins.
At this point, Micron and Wanderer returned from their initial inspection, just in time to hear the White Knight say, "Wilkins, get Glory out with the Scuba gear, but leave a set behind. I'd like to stay a while and see what info I can get from the base computer, or at least give the place a though assessment of what it will take to get it operational, and just in case there is a problem operating that access lift without Iron Maidens Sigma radiation I'll need a set of Scuba gear to get out ..."
"Right." Wilkins and the IPAC men began to bundle up the comatose form of Iron Maiden and move her out.
"If you could leave any supplies, coffee... c-rats... whatever... I'd be grateful."
Micron piped up, "The emergency food stores here should be in good shape, they were designed to survive a complete flooding."
All talk stopped for a few moments as Iron Maiden was bundled out to the sub pen. An agent piped up, "MedEvac should be here in about 5."
"Allright, get her out." Wilkins seemed to struggle with something for a moment, then said, "I'll be staying here to oversee this site. It'l take some work to integrate it into the IPAC structure."
"Sir, Why do you think that this is going to become part of IPAC?" Fervor asked Wilkins. "I would think that the city would have first call on it. Also, White Knight, Didn't you say that Plasma might be around? Given everything that might be down here and the fact that you've got injured agents and prisoners it would be best if you and your men leave until we can secure the area."
"It's outside the city's jurisdiction, Fervor. It's outside US jurisdiction, for that matter. We're the professionals, Fervor. Let us deal with it," said Wilkins.
The Wanderer appeared aside Fervor with the familiar pop of atmosphere being altered. "Mr. Wilkins, we do not work for IPAC. In fact, the only member of us who has a working affiliation with IPAC is in dire need of medical attention at this very moment. I think it would be best if you were to tend to her and let the independent professionals deal with this situation."
"Agreed," said the White Knight, "And I would hardly say that 6km is outside territorial waters... As to the 'professional' status, I'll only add that your remit is for dealing with Paranormal threats, be it aliens, mutants, supervillains or whatever. This base falls into your remit no more than Proust Aerospace or Murchison Industries does. You said yourself that the EAGLES 'didn't want to work that closely with us.' You also said that 'If it was up to me, the EAGLES Nest would have been staffed by IPAC.'"
"Now, obviously it wasn't up to IPAC then, so what makes you think it is now. Also, there is not a conscious 'Superhero' in this base that is in the employ of IPAC. What makes you think that we will let you take over? Micron here was a de facto member of the EAGLES and has at least some say in the disposition of this base. And I strongly believe that Plasma is still in existence... and may even be in the base as we speak."
"Now, you also said earlier that you can't help us if you can't find us, and we would do well to remember that. I do. That is why I intend to assess the feasibility of utilising this complex as the base of operations for 'The Guardians of Port Alexander', or whatever we choose to call ourselves... That way, we will have a means of being contacted as a group, rather than as a collection of individuals... Our response can be quicker and more effective, and may well save lives."
"You may well ask who we would be accountable to, and why we should have this place? Fair questions, and ones we could ask of you. We will be accountable to the people of this city. If we fail them, or abuse our trust, then you know where to find us. Who are IPAC accountable to? Faceless, nameless bureaucrats who hide your existence behind a smokescreen of intricate accounting? Who polices IPAC? "Quis custodet custodes?". We will willingly co-operate fully with IPAC, and allow you to inspect our facility at anytime, but being independent of IPAC is essential if we are to gain the trust and co-operation of those citizens who fear the Government or the Military, for whatever reason."
"Your organisation is too shadowy and secretive for the public, most of whom probably don't even think you exist, or if they do will ascribe sinister motives to you simply because of the shadows and secrecy that surround you. We work in different ways to you. We are out there on the streets, large as life, letting the public know "You are safe. We are here to protect you from things that you cannot protect yourself from. We will not let you down." They don't get that feeling from IPAC, even though you stand for the same things, because they don't see you out there helping. Just look at Jenny Peters... After the incident at Proust she was trying to track down info on you, because people like you scare people like her. On the other hand, people like us appeal to the public. They can identify with us."
Mr. Wilkins listend to the Wanderer and the White Knight, his lips compressing into a tighter and thinner line with every passing second. Micron leaned against a control panel, nodding as the White Knight spoke, with a smile on his face.
"IPAC needs people like us, to help take the glare of publicity away from your own people. The price for our help is this base... Your Choice."
"You people just ... you are," Wilkins spat out. He stopped and with a visible effort brought himself under control. "Very well. I do not approve, I think it is a foolish and dangerous decision. As you point out, there is little I can do." He turned and strode toward the door to the sub-pen, stopped and turned. "Be careful. We are on the same side, you know." Then he left to join his men.
The Wanderer took a step after Wilkins and turned to the rest of the new Guardians, "He's right, you know. We are on the same side, just not the same team; and let's make sure we don't forget that." He addressed Micron, "I think we're going to need another tour of 'our' new base. Mr. Knight, I think we've got a lot of work to do to ensure there are no more breaches of security."
The Wanderer removed his hat and scratched his jet black hair, "we may have to do something about that tunnel to the IPAC warehouse, a toll booth perhaps...." He turned and donned his hat again, clapped and shouted "Let's go exploring!"
The White Knight, with Micron's help was able to fairly quickly call up the monitors and internal security systems, at least the ones that were still functioning.
The basic layout of the nest was this:
/\ /C \ Control Dome \ / / \/\ / | \ / | \ /\ /\ /\ Residential Dome /R \ /S \/R \ Sub Pen \ / \ /\ D/ Research Dome /\/ \/ \/\ / | \ / | \ /\ to /\ Utility Dome /U \ city /V \ Vehicle Dome \ / \ / \/ \/The residential dome was in good shape. It was a little creepy, though, since it was obviously abandoned in great haste and the individual apartments still had personal possessions and so forth in them. The galley worked fine, and some of the stores were still good. The rest of the inspection was carried out with mugs of freshly brewed freeze-dried coffee in hand.
The power systems were functioning, although not at full output. The source was small fusion reactor in the utility dome. The White Knight was very impressed with its sophistication. Also in the utility dome were a gym and the sickbay -- which was without power at the moment. A little investigation led the heroes to think that the sick bay itself was probably fine, just the power leads themselves had gone bad.
The control room had already been gone over pretty well. The back end was the detention area with 5 cells. Most of the controls were non-functional but most of the damage looked minor.
The research dome was a mess. Anything vaguely edible had been eaten, presumbably by the amoeba. Howitzer's armour remained on the floor. There were a variety of devices in here, some of which were extremely difficult to analyze on casual inspection. A few could be identified tentatively, and Micron knew about a few more.
The vehicle dome was inaccessible. The door was closed at the dome, that is to say, the tunnel to the dome was open.
Security cameras were functioning internally in the control, residential and utility dome. External sensors and so on were spotty and intermittant, with almost no coverage outside the vehicle dome.
The heroes were able to piece together enough information from the functioning sensors to realize that the vehicle dome was flooded and the emergency bulkheads had engaged in the dome.
The Wanderer, ever the curious one about human existence, decided to linger a bit in the residential quarters. Personal effects often gave a clue about who an individual was, and solving the mysterious disappearance of the EAGLES needed help. He looked for journals, computer diskettes, anything that could describe the days before the hasty retreat.
There were three rooms in the dome that looked to have been occupied and a few more that looked like guest rooms.
The Wanderer identified the first room as belonging to Howitzer, aka Big Bertha, who must have been older than she looked if the pictures were anything to go by. One wall was covered with photos and framed clippings of an attractive muscular woman in armour -- the same armour found empty in the research dome -- with various celebrities, including FDR, Winston Churchill, JFK, Richard Nixon, and, oddly enough Led Zeppelin. Other photos included local dignitaries and so forth. One picture showed Howitzer with Micron, and three other figures the caption identified as Protector, Triplex and Plasma.
Protector was a golden, smooth skinned, hairless man with shining eyes and simple gold boots and shorts. Triplex was relatively unremarkable looking, in a blue and grey outfit with trefoil symbol on it. Plasma was nothing more than a vaguely humanoid ball of light.
There were clothes in the closet, and other personal effects scattered around the room. A coffee cup, on its side, lay at the source of a brown stain on the desk, and nearby a copy of the second volume of Winston Churchill's "History of the English Speaking People" lay on the floor in disarray.
This appeared to confirm the Wanderer's suspicion. Whatever struck the nest, came suddenly although not without warning, unless Howitzer was like the Iron Maiden and needed to wear her armour constantly. The overturned coffee mug and dropped book must have meant her attention was needed elsewhere immediately, unfortunately she did not get far.
The next room was Triplex'es. It contained three bunkbeds, and all the clothes came in identical sets of three. The room had a strange feel to it, it was obvious that more than one person lived there, but it felt in many ways like a single persons room -- the unity of taste and design showed but a single mind, and so finding three toothbrushes seemed wrong.
The last room must have been Protector's. His taste ran to textbooks and science-fiction, judging by the contents of the bookshelfs. The decor was spartan, although there was a framed letter signed by President Jimmy Carter thanking him for "service in time of great national distress." Next to that was a doctorate from MIT in Chemistry in the name Jeff Anderson. His clothes tended toward the obfuscatory; trenchcoats, turtlenecks, scarves and hats.
All three rooms had omputer terminals built into the desks, but they were not functioning -- getting at anything there would have to wait until someone got the mainframe running again.
The cursory examination revealed that the rooms were not ransacked, unless whoever led the assault was a neatnik. A shiver ran down his spine as he thought the attack was merely to destroy and not to acquire something, these humans were a complex species.
"Mr. Knight, is there anything I can do to assist you in re-establishing the mainframe?" asked the Wanderer. "I'd surmise that whatever happened began there," he said indicating the sealed vehicle dome with his thumb.
As if on cue, the console at which the White Knight was working flickered into life. Micron had not been lying when he said that some of the EAGLEs were years or decades ahead of their time. The computer system was a custom job, and although the White Knight could see a few places where some modern equipment might be an improvement, most of the design was still ahead of the state of the art. He was jacked into a dataport on the mainframe, and began looking for critical data to download. The activity and security logs were encrypted, and that might take a while to crack. The latest log, however, was unencrypted, apparently it was still open when the system began to fail and was saved in unencrypted format.
The unencrypted entry read:
A: The object has been returned to the Nest. I am convinced it is artifical, but Plasma thinks that it may be natural in origin. We've got it under the scanner, it's hollow. Density low. P:Sample for analysis. Interesting pattern of stress fractures. A: It's starting to break up. The sample ... glow, green. No real Sys: Radiation warning in Research A: The rads are up, and Sys: Damage to speciman tanks. ALERT 1. Sys: ALERT 5, Highest Level. All EAGLES to the Research Dome.
At this point were a few more damage warnings, then
Sys: Radiation warning in tunnel RV. Sys: Radiation warning in Vehicle Dome. Sys: DANGER! Breach in Vehicle Dome! Bulkheads engaging. Sys: DANGER! System o
And that was all.
The Wanderer removed his hat and placed it over his heart, "Valiant warriors must be avenged." Replacing his hat, he theorized, "Something was here in the Research Dome and escaped the specimen tanks. Yet the breach occurred in the Vehicle Dome and presumably caused a series of disasters which fell our heroes." He paced about, "Any ideas?"
On this somber note, the issue ended with a last panel of the Wanderer, Fervor and the White Knight looking at the console in the wreckage.