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Issue Twenty, MUSE-V is Down, Part II

At 1:27AM Sunday night, Defender's patched together Comm system got a test. Defender, Sting, Ka-Sador, The Wanderer and the Beggar King were beeped at their respective homes. As they checked in, each received the same message from the Mystic, there was a super-powered breakin in progress at Proust Aerospace.

The Wanderer was asleep and cried out "YES BABY! DADDY WANTS MORE CHEESE ON HIS FRIES!" only to bolt upright at the sound of the signal. "Drat," he exclaimed as he popped out from underneath the covers and appeared in the closet pulling together his outfit for the evening.

Beggar King was awakened by the strange beeping. He scratched his side and rolled over. Still, the communication device Defender had pawned off on him was insistant. Max hit the button and heard the recorded messaged. He drifted out of bed and over to the city maps that adorned his walls: Maps with additions that no one from Port Alexander Above would have recognized. Of course, he didn't need that detail to find Proust Aerospace. He stuck his head out his door and yelled to Galahad.

"I'm going out for a while," he said as he ghosted the comm unit through the door beside him. "My Teen Trouble Alert just went off."

To the chorus of laughter, Beggar King faded through the ground above him and into the night.

Sting was heading towards his home, returning from a late patrol that evening, when his comm system sounded. Though exhausted from both the patrol and the game earlier that day, Sting raced to Proust Aerospace at full size to travel at maximum speed.
The Comm system signal awakened Ka-sador immediately as he peered out from underneath his wing. Quickly he stood and reached for his armour and put it on while walking out into the hallway calling out for Alden in a deep whisper.

Alden was coming out of his bedroom, fighting with his robe and costume at the same time. Mara was behind him. She watched with concern as her husband and friend headed for the garage. Defender grabbed a long coat and a helmet before hopping on his bike. His last prep was to activate the computer system and get directions for the aerospace company. Defender fired off a signal to the others asking for their ETA's and giving his own.

"You want to make best time or do you want to follow me in the air?" Defender asked his partner.

Ka-sador sniffed the air and leapt up hovering a few metres from the ground. [WILL SCOWT AHEAD, SEE YOO THERE], he announced before disappearing into the night.

The distance was short, as the Ka-Sador flies and soon he was approaching Proust Aerospace. His sharp senses were able to pick out some detail on the ground. A large truck was parked near a storage building and it was in and around that truck that he spied motion. A large figure was moving objects from the building into the truck and a crate of some kind rested near the front of the truck. A motion caught his eye and he saw that another person was floating in the air above the truck, but that scout or watcher did not appear to have seen him.

He looked around for a vantage point that might hide the Mystic and decided a nearby office tower was the most likely. A quick pass overhead revealed another hidden figure there, and he guessed it was the Mystic.

A snarl formed on the alien's face as he knew the Mystic associated with that Krai dog, but his loyalty to Defender required that he trust this man -- for now. As silently as possible Ka-sador lighted down near the Mystic and approached carefully.

The Mystic jerked around suddenly when Ka-Sador made his presence known. "Ah, Ka-Sador. You've seen them?" He indicated the truck below. "It's odd, they've a very good knowledge of the alarm systems. They bypassed many of them successfully. I think they think they got them all, since they don't seem to be in any great hurry."

[HOW MANEE?] Ka-sador asked while looking over the area.

"I've only seen the two," said the Mystic.

He then told the Mystic that the others were on their way and he best go meet them so as to not lose the element of surprise.

"I should go meet them, or you will?" asked the Mystic.

[KA-SADOR GO, YOO STAY HERE] and with that, the alien was gone. Further up the road, Ka-sador hovered in the blackness of night looking for his friends. It felt strange to call anyone friend, but he felt that cameraderie with this strange collection of individuals. He had had partners in the arena, but that was different. Then it was only a matter of time before they would be required to fight each other, here he sensed a degree of permanance.

He saw a blur of motion down the street and recognized it as Sting. He flew down to intercept the hero.

The winged alien landed ahead of the speeding hero and waited for him to stop. [MAN CALLED STING], he began as he informed him of the Mystic stakeout and observations. [JUSS TWO SEEN, MAY BE MORE] he continued. Ka-sador gave Sting directions to where the Mystic was located in case he wanted to give him a hand, Ka-sador chose to await the arrival of the others.

"If it's all the same to you," Sting intoned, "I'd rather wait here. Between you and I, there's something about the Mystic that makes me nervous...would rather wait for the rest of the crew."

Ka-sador grunted in agreement, this earthlander called Sting had the same opinion of anyone who associated with the Krai. He may prove to be a valuable ally when the inevitable Krai invasion occurred. Not one for idle chit-chat, at least not when there is an impending battle, Ka-sador took to the air once again to look for Defender.

A few moments later, he heard the sound of Defender's motorcycle and spotted the approaching hero. Again, he swooped down to intercept.

Using a derrogatory Orionid word that had made Defender blush several times when heard it through the translator, Ka-sador informed him that the Krai-loving Mystic was staking out Proust Aerospace and there were two people sighted. Their manner of dress indicated enhanced earthlanders and a definite plan of attack, in that they had disabled the alarms while proceeding methodically.

"Two sighted?" Defender asked as he activated the engine shut-off on his bike. "Probably at least one more inside and perhaps a scout. We need to hit them hard and fast. Our first priority should be disabling the truck. Second should be to try and apprehend them. Who wants the truck? I personally fancy my chances against the big guy."

[KA-SADOR SEE ONE FLYING] he thumped his chest.

"I guess that leaves the truck to you, Sting. You don't have any qualms with breaking things, do you?" Defender said. Sting chuckled. "Well, I may be stereotyped as speed and finesse but I can dismantle when I need too. I know we probably can't wait on Wandy and the King, but we're still somewhat outnumbered. Any suggestions on a battle plan?"

"I'd say just disable the truck with your first foray and then pick a dance partner to help with. I'm sure the Mystic will help where he feels appropriate. And hopefully the Wanderer will find someone to tangle with when he arrives."

"Sure", Sting thought to himself, "stick me with Hocus Pocus". But Sting nodded his assent, shrank, and headed for the truck.

Ka-sador took to the air and made his way back to Proust waiting to time Defender's arrival before attacking.

Defender leapt to the nearest building and began to make his way via rooftops and building sides. The other heroes moved into position and waited for the proper moment to strike. Defender waited until the big man -- and he was big, about four and half meters tall -- stepped out of the storage room carrying a crate, then leapt into action.

At a size of about one foot, Sting raced toward the truck from his hiding place around the corner of the building. His tiny feet were a blur.

Defender launched himself from the roof of a nearby building toward the big man.

Ka-sador circled high above the area and then paused briefly before angling downward picking up an incredible amount of speed, the ebony missile targeted on the floating figure.

Alerted by the rushing winds, Ka-Sador's victim turned, just in time to take the alien's impact full on. His target was woman, clad in blue. The impact drove the two down a few meters to a point just barely above the truck roof.

Ka-Sador regarded his victim, the woman was held aloft by a jet belt of some kind and was struggling to keep control of it after his attack. He struck again, utilizing a favored kicking move. The woman fired her jets hard to avoid the attack but was unable to get completely clear. The glancing blow was enough on top of her other injuries, though, and she slumped into unconsciousness. The jets were still firing and the woman began to rise slowly into the air.

Ka-Sador spared a glance for the rest of the fight. Defender had missed the big man on his initial leap, landing next to him rather than on him. The man was staring at the figure that appeared, so it seemed, out of nowhere.

Suddenly, a tire on the truck popped. Then a second. Sting was doing his job.

Ka-sador looked up at the "fleeing" foe and decided to retrieve his prey before the jets carried her off into oblivion, or worse into the side of a building. He flew up and grabbed the woman. She was just coming out of her momentary loss of consciousness.

Defender braced and leapt up for a spear shoulder to the big man's chest. Rather, he started to, but slipped in a small pool of oil and fell on his butt.

"Skylark," cried the big man as he saw the woman being attacked by Ka-Sador. "Sorry, no time to talk," he said to Defender, and then slammed the crate he was carrying down onto the hero. Defender tried to roll clear but failed. The big man moved past Defender to the front of the truck. "Can you bring them down?" he asked.

Defender and Sting could see that there was now another person there, standing near the front of the truck. "I can try, Panzer." came the reply.

Above them, Ka-Sador suddenly felt a shift as if he had jumped to a different planet, one with a gravity field twice that of Earth. He began to drop to the surface, still holding on to Skylark.

Sting raced out from under the truck to a point directly under the newcomer, he peered up and raised his hands to fire a "sting." The blast rocked the man up in the air an inch or two before he settled back down to earth. Or was it a man? It was man shaped and man-sized, but somehow ill-formed or incomplete. Sting would have sworn that the flesh above him deformed as the shockwave hit it and then retained that shape for moment, before settling back -- almost like clay would take a dimple and then be punched out from the other side. Man or not, his victim seemed staggered by the attack. Sting followed his initial attack with a vicious doll-sized chop at his foe's ankle. The man staggered at the wrong moment, though, and Sting missed.

Defender, meanwhile, had rolled to his feet and grabbed a crate from the back of the truck. "Hey there, big guy," he shouted. As Panzer turned, he hurled the crate at him.

Panzer slapped it down, and said, "If that's how it's got to be."

Ka-sador felt the strain tugging on his body as the pull of gravity weighed him down. He looked at the wakening Skylark and decided he'd let the increased gravity work to his advantage. He punched her with his free hand, a weak blow that still staggered her. Then pushed her down, accelerating her fall in the heavy gravity.

"No!" said Panzer and leapt to catch the falling Skylark. He was helped in the attempt when the gravity snapped back to normal. He caught the woman then set her down.

"I'll be fine," she said. "Get him," she pointed to Defender.

"Allright," said Panzer and charged toward Defender.

The Blob had by now identified his attacker, who had zipped away back under the truck. "Come out, little man," he said, but didn't seem inclined to chase Sting underneath just yet.

Skylark shook her head, the raised her hands and let loose with a blast of energy at Ka-Sador. "My turn," she cried, somewhat prematurely as the blast went wide.

The Blob stared at Sting, and now Sting felt the strange shift in gravity that had so recently affected Ka-Sador.

Panzer had closed with Defender and began swinging.

Ka-sador swerved in the air around Skylark's blast and turned his course in a tight turn lashing out with a front kick as he touched down. Once on the ground, a lunging strike from his left hand whipped around toward her midsection. A spinning kick completed the sequence. Skylark proved to be surprisingly manouvrable. On the ground, she seemed nearly as quick as Sting, and her jets enabled her to dodge in ways that an earthbound person could not. She managed to evade all Ka-Sador's blows, but got further and further off-balance with each dodge.

Defender turtled up, trying to block Panzer's punches. Panzer showed excellent form, strick Marquis of Queensbury and landed two sharp jabs to Defender's head. Defender abandoned his previous strategy of defense and went on the offense. "My turn," he said, taking the fight to Panzer. Panzer reacted as a well trained boxer should, and blocked the punches. Defender was clearly stronger, size difference notwithstanding, and although Panzer took the sting off the punches he was still battered a bit. He fired back with another punch of his own.

To the casual observer, Sting just dissappeared. In fact, he had shrunk down to just an inch high. The Blob clearly lost sight of him, for he or it turned away, and ran to aid Skylark. As Blob did so, Sting felt the extra weight that had plagued him dissappear. Blob came in close to Ka-Sador and reached out to grab him.

Defender gambled, he twisted his body, striking at the same time that Panzer did, hoping that by taking the blow himself he would be able to inflict a more telling blow on his adversary. Both men grunted as the other struck, but Defender began to feel like he was trying to chop down a tree with a herring. Panzer continued his somewhat incongrous use of formal boxing technique, looking something like George Foreman boxing a dwarf.

Ka-Sador was apprehensive about being grabbed by the Blob and took to the air. He was too late, a hand grabbed his ankle and held tight. The Blob tried for a grab with his other hand, but Ka-Sador evaded it, the stiffened as a shock raced through his body originating from the point where the Blob held him. The Blob tried to secure his grip on the gyrating alien but couldn't do so, even when another shock caused his victim to spasm. Skylark took advantage of the distraction to swing her shield at Ka-Sador missing him as he jerked like a fish on a string.

At that moment, Sting, who had raced over to position just under the Blob, rocketed up to full size, swinging his fist as he came. The Blob saw it coming and rolled with the blow. It was futile attempt, his head snapped back and his whole body flew four meters before coming to rest on the ground.

The reslient alien spun free of the Blob's grip as the creature flew from Sting's blow. Scrambling to his feet he nodded to the full-grown Sting and turned his attention to Skylark. Ka-sador sniffed the air, picking up her fragrance. [SHALL WE DANZ?] he asked striking a battle stance.

Ka-sador whirled to the left sending his leg out in a wide arc, almost instantaneously he hurldled Skylark aided by his wings and rained down a flurry of chops. Skylark yanked her shield into position to parry, but fell prey to a feint and Ka-Sador's blow spun her 180 degrees and she crumpled slowly to the ground.

Panzer and Defender continued to slug it out. Ka-sador stood over his vanquished foe and picked her up by the arm. With a quick downward strike at the base of the neck she moaned and fell silent. A piercing battle cry screech came from his lungs as he sniffed the area for any unaccounted for scents.

Slowly the winged alien reached for a bolo on his belt, and it began to spin. He launched it toward Panzer and leapt after.

The bolo struck the big man and wrapped around him. Defender took advantage of the distraction to leap up and back. He sailed gracefully up to the top of the storage building behind him.

Sting took a quick step toward the fallen Blob and made sure that he was out of the fight, then he blurred over toward Panzer, arriving just a second behind Ka-Sador.

Ka-Sador completed a snap kick at Panzer, who was able to lean away from it, even with his arms pinned at his sides. The same motion took Panzer out of the way of Sting's powerful punch as well.

Panzer struggled against the Orionid bolo with little success, he managed to free one arm and took a wild swipe at Ka-Sador, missing in the gloom.

Ka-sador turned on his heel opening his armored wings sending them crashing toward Panzer, then he lashed out with a back fist. The wings flapped lifting him skyward as both feet kicked out toward the giant's head.

Somehow Panzer managed to avoid the flurry of blows as he struggled with the bolo. That meant he walked right into Sting's sunday punch. The blow lifted the big man and sent him flying back into the warehouse and into a pile of crates at the far end.

Defender jumped back off the roof and landed next to his friends.

"Er... whoa." Defender managed, suddenly impressed with the prowess of his compatriot.

Ka-sador's eyes grew wide at seeing Sting's punch toss the giant such a far distance. [DY-NO-MITE!!!] the alien said with a grin.

Sting stared at the fallen Panzer. "There's more than one way to sting."

The crates in the back of the warehouse shifted, and Panzer stood in the wreckage dropping what was left of Ka-Sador's bolo. He rubbed his jaw with a giant hand. "Nice punch," he said, and lifted a crate.

The winged alien stood in awe at Panzer's resilence with his jaw (beak?) dropped as he meekly chirped to Sting [WHAT CHU TALKIN BOUT, WILLIS?]

"Scatter!" Defender shouted.

Ka-sador ducked into the shadows of the warehouse and disappeared from sight.

Sting whipped around in the direction of Panzer and fired his sting at him. The blast went wide blasting a hole in the wall behind Panzer.

A couple of emergency lights suddenly blinked out, and from the shadows near them came a voice, [SHALL WE DANZ?]

Defender was already airborne by that point, his powerful legs propelling him forward in a leaping tackle. Panzer dropped the crate and tried to catch his attacker but failed. The tackle failed too, though, as trying to knock down someone of Panzers mass was a long shot. The attack ended up as a strong shoulder block and the breath whooshed out of Panzer.

Defender took a full swing at Panzer, catching him solidly and a moment later Ka-Sador landed a swirling kick out of the darkness. Sting was already in motion, racing into the building and crashing into the big man, driving him back and into the back wall of the building. Defender pressed his advantage, as did Ka-Sador.

Panzer stood up and fired a quick punch at Sting, followed by a full roundhouse haymaker. Sting caught the first punch full on but rolled with the second.

Ka-sador ducked back into the darkness and a blur of invisible motion lashed out at Panzer. The lithe alien ducked down to sweep the giants legs and followed with an axe kick to the head aided by his wings in flight. Defender too kept hammering at the giant.

The combined attack was beginning to have an effect, but Panzer wasn't down yet. He concentrated his attacks on Sting, but was having trouble landing any blows.

Ka-Sador struck Panzer on the back of the neck and giant spun as if bitten. Ka-Sador lashed back across his face as Defender and Sting smashed into him from behind driving him to one knee. Ka-Sador delivered a kick using his wings to support him as Defender slammed another punch into his now accessable back.

Panzer was now clearly woozy. He kept to his gameplan, though, and shot a quick punch at Sting who tried to slide clear, but couldn't. Suddenly he twisted back with a wicked roundhouse at Ka-Sador but missed the alien in the shadows.

Continuing the motion, Panzer swung a fist back at Sting who managed to roll with the blow. That gave Ka-Sador an opening and he landed another kick to the big man's midsection. Defender, too, was able to capitalize with a massive body-blow.

The giant staggered. His eyes began to glaze he reached toward Ka-Sador, who fluttered back. Defender and Sting stepped in and delivered a synchronized uppercut to Panzer's jaw.

The big men stood full upright, then his eyes rolled back into his head and he crashed to the ground.

"Holy crow! No wonder he's named after a tank," Defender said, shaking out his fist. "That was like trying to beatdown a bronze statue. We need to see if there are others. Plus I'd like to find out what they were after. Ka-Sador, could you do a quick aerial sweep of the area, please. If you see the Mystic, send him this way. Sting, sweep the back of the warehouse, please. I'll use some of the crate banding to wrap them up."

Ka-sador stepped in, his coal black tongue running across his lips [BRAYV WARRYER MAKE GOOD MEAL]. He stood by, waiting for Defender and Sting to partake of the vanquished foe.

"Perhaps we shouldn't eat him. I suspect his gonna be tough and stringy." Defender tried to hold back a smirk. "Ka-sador, seriously. Not a Terran custom to eat our defeated enemies."

Sting reeled from the shots he took from Panzer, but he was still standing. He nodded at Defender. "I'm heading back outside to make sure the rest of them are still around and to check the perimiter for any more company." Sting sped outside to look around.

The alien looked upon the earthlanders with much confusion, how did they assure not to be plagued by their enemies? This one would surely cause trouble again. He scratched his head and nodded in agreement before taking to the air to scout and sniff around, literally. High above the area Ka-sador took in the battlefield looking for any movement which could betray another enemy, whether it be scouting or fleeing. Once the area was secure, he would get the Mystic and then check out the warehouse.

He saw the Mystic making his way out of the building on which he had been perched and heading toward the storage building, and continued his sweep. A movement caught his eye and he swooped to investigate. The Beggar King was striding through the main gate, literally.

Content that the perimeter was indeed secure Ka-sador landed and began to pace slowly around the truck, its interior, over Skylark, Blob and Panzer all the while sniffing.

With Sting and Ka-sador both out scouting, Defender took a few moments to bind the villians with what materials were at hand. He made a nice little pile. Once they were secure - or as secure as he could make them - he began to look at the crates in and around the truck. He wanted to know what sorts of gear they were trying to steal. He made sure to get as much of a scan as was posible with his video capture.

Going through the wreckage of the boxes he itemized their contents. They seemed to contain rocket and high altitude engine components and some computer parts.

Several things puzzled him. According to newspaper articles, several of these villians should have been in the custody of IPAC. He also wondered what had become of the Wanderer. He should have arrived by this point. While scanning boxes, he activated his communications link.

"Computer. Communications connect. Wanderer."

Soon a familar voice answered "Hello, how may I help you?"

"You're never late for a party. I was just concerned," Defender said. "How far away are you, still?"

The Wanderer popped in behind Defender, phone to his ear, "Can you hear me now?"

Defender leapt from startlement. Of course, with him that involved covering the distance from the truck to the wall of the warehouse.

"I hate when you do that," he said, composing himself and climbing down from the wall.

The Wanderer cracked his knuckles looking too and fro with a pugilist stance out of the early twentieth century, "Did you save me one?"

"Unless Sting or Ka-sador turned something up, I think we are fresh out of bad guys." Defender said.

Max drifted over to the fallen bodies. He looked them over, measuring out in the air how tall Panzer was. He whistled; impressed.

"Didn't you say that there were five involved in the initial theft?" Max asked the alien. He held up three fingers on one hand and five on the other.

Ka-sador corrected Max, [FOUR, MAN SAY FOUR]. Ka-sador walked over to Panzer [BIG MAN], Skylark [CHICK IN BLUE SOOT], Blob [GRAY THING] and he trailed off sniffing [MAN IN YELLOW SOOT WITH SUN THINGIE, NOT HERE]. Ka-sador tried to isolate the smells, was there a recent one unaccounted for?

There was no smell of the other man. Whoever he was, he hadn't been at Proust Aerospace tonight, of that Ka-Sador was sure.

"I am sorry I didn't arrive in time to be of assistance," said the Mystic, joining the group. "Flight is not among my abilities and although my perch was well chosen for for a vantage point, it presented some obstacles to a quick reinforcement."

Defender motioned for the others to join him. "Okay. Everyone gather round,"

"Yes, we should circle the heroes," Max quipped.

"Very funny," Defender responded. "Seems we have three of the individuals involved in the MUSE-napping. From what I was able to ascertain, they were here to steal gear for some sort of high-altitude flight. The MUSE had the energy and engine technology. Someone is trying to get off the ground awfully bad. We need answers from these folks and bad."

"Not to mention one is missing," Max said.

"And they are now missing this gear, as well," pointed out the Mystic.

"This will be a major set back for them," Defender agreed. "But I suspect our mysterious foe has resources we are only now beginning to see. We may have other problems larger than two major thefts. Shouldn't these three be safely tucked away in some IPAC facility right now?"

Sting shot a look in the direction of Defender. "Hold on a minute, fill the new guy in here. Are you telling me that these three were already in custody? How long ago was this?"

The Wanderer stepped forward, "I may be mistaken, since I'm still trying to get hot chocolate just the right temperature at the Eagles Nest, but I believe the databases indicate that Skylark and Panzer escaped from the earlier breakin at Proust. Their associate Blockbuster is still detained at IPAC. I'm all for a reunion."

The Wanderer whipped out his IPAC Beeperphone, "Shall I call our dear friend Mr. Wilkins?"

"Okay. Then I'm wrong. Not the first time," Defender scratched the top of his head. "I think that IPAC is better equipped to deal with them than us. I could keep Skylark and the blob guy in my kid's treehouse, but I couldn't even store Panzer in my basement. Ka-sador, have you matched the scents of either of these three with any you picked up at Bluhardt?"

Ka-sador pointed to Skylark, [SHE FAMILAR].

"Wanderer, did you say that this group has hit Proust before?" Defender asked.

The Wanderer pulled his head away from the phone, "Yes, I believe so. It was before my time but the databases seemed to finger our threesome here at an earlier altercation." Apparently the connection was made as the Wanderer spoke into the phone, "Wilkens please. Tell him it is his hair replacement doctor...oh, you didn't know those were plugs? Why thank you, yes I do good work. I'll hold."

"Wilkins," came the familiar cold tones.

"I have a pick-up for you," remarked the Wanderer. "Proust Aerospace, a woman, a thing, and a huge man. He looks rather strong, you better bring some really big handcuffs."

"A team is on the way. You'll have someone ready to be debriefed?"

"Of course, I'd love to share all about the dream I was having. See, there was this woman and there were some cheese fries," an abrupt click ended the Wanderer's exuberance. "IPAC is on its way," he remarked.

The Wanderer looked at the recovered booty, "These must be very important to whoever took the MUSE-V. Think they will be back for them at a later date?"

Defender stooped down to look at one of the crates. "Maybe. But this is there second attempt to raid this company. Unless this is the only place that makes the specific pinkney-flanges and grabber-gruetals that they need, I suspect they might try another company. We really need to talk to someone from Proust about this gear. Did anyone notice a security guard or a posted phone number for security?"

"Then you think the breakins are related?" asked the Mystic as he looked at some of the equipment. "Amalgamated Aerotechnics," he said.

"I'm sure of it," Defender said. "These three were stopped before at Proust. They were also involved in the MUSE-napping. I'm pretty sure we can tie Skylark to Bluhardt CompuTech. We really need to sit down and compare notes. Is there a good place to grab a cup of coffee and sort this all out? I'm not in a mood to deal with IPAC this early in the morning."

The Wanderer paused, "Do you hear that? the alarm?" All the heroes looked at him curiously in the silence. "Somebody knew how to deactivate the alarm, I believe we are dealing with a sticky web and we won't know who is involved on the inside."

Ka-sador begins to sniff around the cab of the truck, looking in the glove compartment for any kind of identification on who this truck belongs to. It appeared to be a rental.

The Mystic crossed to Skylark. "Does anyone object if I remove her mask? Anyone other than you, of course." That last was directed to the woman in question.

Defender subconciously placed his hand on his own mask. The thought made him flinch inside. "I suppose we need to know for sure who she is."

The Mystic removed the mask, and Defender and Ka-Sador recognized the vice-president they had met at Bluehardt CompuTech, Janet Dorsey.

Ka-sador chirped with satisfaction, [CONNEXTION] he voiced.

"We still need to sit down and compare notes," Defender said. "I suggest we adjure to Wanderer's favorite diner after IPAC is finished with us, unless anyone else has any ideas of where we might be able to talk freely without drawing too much undue attention."

"It's too bad we don't have a headquarters we can go to." Sting chimed in.

"You are welcome at my retreat," said the Mystic.

The Wanderer sensed an opening. Clearing his voice, "Gentlemen, I may have a place. It isn't much, and I haven't cleaned in weeks, but..." The strange man in black paced about as if he was struggling with some decision then snapped his fingers, "We can use the Eagles Nest, I don't think my roommates would mind, you all appear to be a reputable lot."

Max chuckled to himself. "I believe, sir, that's the first time I've ever been accused of that. If I didn't respect you and think highly of you and generally appreciate the compliment, I might have to let you give me a sound thrashing while I pretended to fight."

Everyone looked at him strangely. "Sorry. That should translate to 'Let's go, chums.'"

Defender looked at the fallen foes. "Shouldn't we wait for IPAC first? Seems like a reckless idea of just leaving them with a note. 'From your friendly, neighbors...'"

"Okay. Then we'll wait, then go." Max answered. "I'll be over here. Those IPAC guys give me the wiggins."

Sting mused to himself at those statements. If the suspicions that arose in him following the party on Friday were correct...I wonder how Max would feel then.

"Sounds like a plan to me." Sting piped in.

The heroes' speculations were cut short by the arrival of the by-now-familiar black vans. The jumpsuited figures hopped out and scurried to their work, while a suited man approached the heroes. "Wanderer? I'm Mr. Franklin. Is that Panzer back there? We were sorry to miss him a few months ago. Although, if one of the Fire Team had to get away, better him than Blockbuster. Are you ready to be debriefed?"

The Wanderer spoke, "Where is Wilkens? I don't know you."

"Mr. Wilkins is at the PNDF, I was substantially closer with my team, and speed often counts in situations like these," said Franklin.

With a suspicious eye he asked for identification, and proceeded to verify with a phone call. "You say it is best that Panzer escaped the first time, why is that?"

"Because he's just a crook, Blockbuster is a psychopath," was the reply.

"Ah," he answered, "then I am glad you're happy. You seem to know a lot about the Fire Team, any idea who they are working for?" asked the Wanderer.

"This one," said Franklin, indicating Skylark. "She hired them for that first job back in May. The situation may have changed since then, of course."

"Of course," echoed the Wanderer.

While the others were talking to the IPAC guys, Beggar King was shrinking away from the surface authorities. To occupy himself, he decided to poke his head into their trucks.

He saw a bewildering array of weapons, some conventional and some unknown to him, as well as a variety of restraints, medical equipment and communication gear. And, of course, seats for the passengers. Two men were hard at work unbolting a bench to make room for Panzer. The bench was clearly designed for easy removal.

"As always, we would be grateful for any information you might provide us with from your interrogations," Defender stated. "Could we perhaps skip the rigors of a de-brief this time? I'm sure you have places you'd rather be this early on a Monday morning as well."

"We need some information, Defender," said Franklin. "What the situation was, how it was resolved. We're not the men in black, we can't just dissappear people because they've got super-powers. We do need a crime, and evidence."

The Wanderer bowed out graciously, literally. "Then Mr. Franklin you do not need me, the fun was all had by the time I arrived."

"Will one account be enough?" Defender asked.

"For now, yes," said Franklin.

Seeing the uneasy looks on several of his comrades' faces, Defender offered to stay and give the details. "Everyone else can go ahead. I'll call for directions when I'm finished," he said.

As Defender headed off with Franklin, the Wanderer gathered the other heroes together and gave them an address in the warehouse district, "Look for the QuickResponse Alarm Company, it isn't much but I hope to plant some tulips soon." Travel arrangements were quickly made and the heroes departed.

After the others departed for Guardian HQ, Defender sat down with Franklin and told him what had happened, excluding the initial call from the Mystic and any mention of distrust with IPAC.

When Franklin pushed about how the heroes knew to respond, "Our Trouble Alert sounded. Hey, the MUSE had been stolen and we were on the case. It was only logical that our baddies would strike an aerospace company next. We just had to wait."

Once Franklin was satisfied, Defender retrieved his cycle and called for directions from the Wanderer.

"They're through with me," he started. "I'm going to make a quick run to grab donuts. Any requests?"

"Jelly," answered the Wanderer. He went on to tell Defender the rendezvous point and instructed, "call me when you get there."

Issue 21: A New Home
Interlude 20.1: The Cowboy Branches Out
Interlude 20.2: Flexing some Muscle

Last Updated 6 May 2002