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Issue Twentyone, A New Home

Defender picked up the donuts and headed to the rendez-vous. He met the other heroes at what appeared to be an empty warehouse. In a few hours this area would be bustling with activity, but at the moment it was desolate. Defender called the Wanderer who appeared a moment later with a pop. "I do love to make an entrance," he said. The warehouse had a boathouse extending out onto the river and heavily frosted windows.

The Wanderer led them into an alley. He produced a card and waved it in front of an unremarkable section of wall. That section slid up, revealing a roughly 3 meter by 1 meter opening. The gap itself was about 2 meters, leaving a 1 meter square offset. "Going down?" asked the Wanderer, entering the room, which was apparently an elevator. The Wanderer waited for them to join him, then pressed the only available button.

The elevator dropped down perhaps ten meters, then opened up onto a wide tunnel facing the river.

"Gentlemen, walk this way," an exaggerated limp followed which didn't seem to catch on so the Wanderer huffed and began to walk normally. He led the team past a branching tunnel at the end of which they could see a pool of water, and up to a large "U" of metal railing upon which sat a monorail car, and a pedestal with a call button.

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 to pull out into a bed. There was a simple T bar throttle. "All aboard," said the Wanderer. When everyone was seated, he activated the car, which accellerated smoothly down the tunnel at a fairly frightening speed.

The tunnel angled very slightly down, then leveled out. After five minutes or so, the car began to slow before coming to a stop at another monorailhead, much like the one at the other end of the tunnel.

A few meters away, the tunnel was sealed by a large bulkhead. The Wanderer approached and waved his card again and the bulkhead irised open. On the other side was a ramp up, then a ramp down, Defender realized 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 a pool, presumably open to the ocean, perhaps 150 meters square. On the opposite side of the dome was another bulkhead/door.

"Onward," cried the Wanderer and led them across the pen to the doors. They proved to be an airlock leading to a short tunnel, and then another airlock.

The airlock door opened and all save the Wanderer looked upon the famed Eagles Nest for the first time. Playing the part of the gracious host the Wanderer, welcomed them in and pointed to various seats around the main hub. There was a bank of monitors flashing with various news services, security alerts, and what looked like a game of Asteroids.

Once seated, the Wanderer teleported over to a centrally located "captain's chair" and spun around. "Welcome! I hereby call to order this meeting of the Guardians." A series of popping from all around the room by the Wanderer sounded like an uproarous cheer. Tired from the exertion he returned to the chair, out of breath.

"As ranking member of the Guardians, I propose an extension of membership to these able-bodied men of truth, justice, good hygiene, and service under a new name. All in favor, Aye.-- Aye, Opposed?" with a clap the Wanderer continued "Then it carries unanimously, by all members present." The Wanderer looked a bit distraught, "The White Knight and Fervor, were they here, would approve, I'm sure. Unfortunately they are out looking for magic beans or something like that."

The Wanderer continued, "Since my fellow Guardians are not present, I do not want to cause a stir by using the Guardians name, therefore I propose a collective name of the Protectors, in honor of the Eagles former leader and our purpose. We are assembled for a reason, there is a need here in Port Alexander and elsewhere and I think we can use the 'Fortress' as a base of operation. This MUSE-V fiasco is big and we will need to bring all the resources here to bear in order to crack it."

He got up and approached a bank of flashing lights, buttons, and levers. After punching a few, the screens switched to news accounts of the first Proust Aerospace break-in (see Issue #1 Singular Coincidences), the MUSE-V theft, (last issue) and whatever dossiers existed on Skylark and Panzer. "I have found these, but I am not a computer geek and the White Knight was repairing the systems so I'm not sure what we can and can't do."

"Shall we combine our investigative efforts in light of what we found out tonight? Defender, care to drive?" he waived to the console in hopes that it was intuitive enough for any techie to operate.

Defender stepped up to the console. First he located a chair. Second, he tried to familiarize himself with the various aspects of the control console. Perhaps he could find a manual, either paper or on-line.

"I think I'm ready. Shall we start with the basics?" Defender punched a few buttons and brought up the files on the villains they had just fought.

As Defender worked with the controls, Sting took a quick look around the fortress area. [The reader is advised to follow this link for information about the Eagle's Nest.]

Upon his return, Sting took a moment to clear his thoughts. "I like the idea of the Protectors," Sting began, "and I like this base of operations. However, I want to put forth a couple of ideas for us to bounce around if we're going to be serious about this team thing.

The first is that I feel we need to name, at the very least, a chairman, if not a field commander. This is not to say that the Wanderer is unfit for this...and I know I'm not enough of a group tactician to be the most effective...but I think that in the field it would free up a lot of confusion if we did this.

That's the first thing. The second...if we're going to be on a team..." Sting pauses for a second. "Wanderer, what were the Guardians' collective policy on secret identities within the confines of the group itself?"

The Wanderer eyed the newcomer suspiciously, "Running around like that could get you hurt, not all the security features are either disarmed or operational." He punched a few buttons and brought up a map of Port Alexander on one screen. "There are a lot of repairs still to do," and a flick of a switch produced highlighted areas representing BlueHardt CompuTech, Delmar Nautics, Marie Vladistock's house, the MUSE-V crash site and now Proust Aerospace.

"As far as secret identities, I haven't found a rulebook."

Defender had by this time called up all the database files he could find concerning the various members of the Fire Team and had them displayed on the large screen. He also had several icons on the screen representing the different heists. In a third column, he had the clues they had found at the site of the MUSE-napping. He was placing a line from Skylark to Bluhardt to the calculator.

"What order do you want to handle this?" Defender asked. "Considering the amount we have to go over, I suspect I'm calling in to work in a couple of hours. Not to mention several folks will be worried about me right now. We can organize ourselves first or go over the clues we researched first."

Beggar King, his chin covered in powdered sugar, raised his hand as if he were in class. "I suggest we handle the organization first. And as I currently have a small Duchy to run, I suspect I shall merely remain an associate member for the time being. As for 'secret identities,' you all know who I am. However, I see no need to pry into your personal business."

Defender looked to the motley-clad man and sighed. "Anyone else? Ka-sador? Mystic? Wanderer?"

As the screens spit out information on the MUSE-V, Skylark, and Panzer the Wanderer pointed to the map. "Out investigation of Delmar Nautics didn't yield any concrete evidence, just that they provide shipping to various parties including Port Alexander's garbage removal. I didn't see any impending contracts that looked fishy around the timeframe of the MUSE disappearance."

[SMELL SEA ON THEM] interrupted Ka-sador. Through some interpretation by Defender is was learned that Ka-sador had detected a scent of the sea on the villains from earlier in the night.

"If that is the case, then perhaps Delmar Nautics or the city dump could stand a closer look. They did have a couple of barges anchored nearby," commented the Wanderer. "Do you have anything to ad Mystic?"

"Only one thing," said the arcane avenger, "those crates they were trying to steal were missing a few pieces. The complete units are produced jointly by Proust Aerospace and Amalgamated Aerotechnics."

"I'm a lover, not a builder," began the Wanderer. "Are they repairing the MUSE, or modifying it for a different mission?" he asked referring to the parts.

Defender's fingers flew over the console, calling up what design specifics he could find on the MUSE-V. Momentarily, he was surprised by the amount of information at his fingertips. He brought up the list of parts from the heist and did some quick math.

"I've suspected that they were building something, but the evidence points toward a complete modification of the MUSE-V." Defender pulled up a basic scematic of the MUSE-V. "Here they have a very stable fuselage and a power source capable of escape velocity. With the parts they are after, I think they are trying to remove the exterior control. Maybe even converting it to a piloted vehicle. The increased weight would keep them from high orbit initially, but they could still reach a low orbit."

Defender slipped out of propellorhead mode. "I'd guess that they are converting the MUSE to a upper-atmospheric craft with orbital capability. So, who's pulling the strings? Sting? Beggar King? Did you get anything from the party?"

"Only that some knaves need to learn manners," Max started. "I'm afraid that my attempts to infiltrate the gathering were less than fruitful. It was an intimate social, and my appearance only proved to agitate the host. And I seem to have made an enemy in a man called Simmon Marious."

"Franklin," the Wanderer interrupted, "said something about Skylark being the ringleader of the first job. She appears to have the expertise to modify the MUSE. Maybe she's the puppeteer?" The Wanderer punctuated this image with an exaggerated dance as if he was a marionette.

[MAN STEEL MISSING] Ka-sador reminded the group of the villain from the MUSE-V disappearance who was still unaccounted for.

"Well, in regards to the party," Sting chirped in, "I was in there for pretty much the whole thing, shrunk and out of sight. There were two people in particular that caught my eye...the aforementioned Mr. Marious and a man named Stephan Clark. They got into an extended discussion about the MUSE-V, and it almost seemed as if Marious was baiting him, trying to get something out of Clark. I also observed Mr. Marious' treatment of you, Max...and I agree, he needs a good kick in the butt...but the odd thing is, when he went back in, he tried to pass the incident off as a joke of his design.

Later that night, I followed Clark, and apparently he didn't buy Marious' story about BK, or so he wrote in his computer journal. I was sorely interested in what else he had...but there isn't enough evidence pointing his way for me to commit an invasion of privacy THAT severe.

In any event, if we're looking for a specific gentleman, both Clark and Marious seemed to have more than a passing interest in the MUSE's somewhere to start, although I think Marious is not so much a potential criminal, just a serious jacka..."

"Stephan Clark is an interesting old bird," commented the Wanderer. "Too much of a neatnik for my tastes, but he does have interesting reading material, physics, chemistry and the like." With a eye toward Sting he said, "Did the missing invitation turn up any more suspects?"

"Fraid not." Sting replied. "That's what Max was trying to do...ferret out who didn't have theirs by having the missing one in his hands. But he didn't get a chance to do that, and when he left Marious took responsibility, saying it was *HIS* invitation, which pretty much shot that idea in the foot."

"At any point did the host ask for invitations to be presented?" Defender asked.

"To that, I have no answer," Max replied. "Sadly, I was detained in another room. Apparently my noble title was not enough to impress. I shall have to work on that. Perhaps you saw something more, Sting."

"She did." Sting said, thinking back hard. "There was one couple...named Arcadia and Ladilot, I think...who said the other had their joint invite. Another guy named Mark Nell said it was in his other car...and come to think of it, Stephan Clark flat out said he didn't know where his was. Said he loses things a lot once they're in his palmpilot."

Defender opened a list for suspects. "Do we have full names for some of these folks?" The heroes came up with the guest list and Defender entered the data.

The Wanderer turned to Defender, "Can you cross these guests with our Ms. Skylark and BlueHardt CompuTech? I suppose we could snoop around her place, she won't be returning any time soon."

The cross-check turned up no real connections. As the search was running, the Mystic spoke, "Janet Dorsey, aka Skylark, worked at Proust Aerospace until recently. Which would explain why she had such a thorough knowledge of the security set up."

[INSYDE JOB] responded Ka-sador in his best television cop voice. [MUSE TOO BIG TO HYDE FOR LONG, FYND MUSE FYND REST OF GANG] he surmised.

"I agree," Defender said. "So, we turned up a couple of suspects at the party. We have a couple of leads from the transport company. And we know that Skylark worked for Bluhardt. We're there other clues?"

When no further response came, Defender clicked the save button and turned around. "Looks like we've come as far as possible for now. We can check into these leads at our earliest convenience. That just leaves the issue of membership in this new group the Wanderer suggests. What are we going to do as the Protectors?"

The Wanderer didn't disappoint, "Why Protect, of course. Party, impress the ladies, sell t-shirts, kick some villain butt, all that kind of stuff."

Defender laughed. "Not what I meant. I believe Sting had some concerns. Something about street identities versus the masks. And something about a leader. Help me out here, Sting."

While the discussion was going on, Beggar King drifted around, seeing the sights. As an experiment, he tried pushing his hand through both an inner and outer wall. He had no difficulty in penetrating either wall.

"Well," Sting began, clearing his throat and thinking about how best to voice his concerns. "Without getting too much into least without a full disclosure clause...I have had team experience before, with a very loose confederation of people. I found that experience to be lacking, because there was no clear direction for the team. Leadership helps that, and I'm not saying field commander...just someone who can take all of our ideas and bottom line it. To be honest, Defender, you're already doing that for us. It may also help us to control our own individual tendencies to be loose cannons...and I'm guilty of that at have someone to answer to.

"As far as the identities nice as the signal link is, there are aspects of my public life where I really don't want that thing going off in the middle of it, and I just think that having an idea of who is who will assist with that. Plus...if we're trusting each other with our lives, and we do everytime we go out there...I feel we should be able to trust each other with identities as well. I want to know that about the people I work with...and identities would ease my mind at least. And for the record, I'm more than willing to go first."

Sting looked at each one of the heroes. "Can you understand where I'm coming from on this? I'm not asking for social security number or favorite condiments...just an idea of when and when not to set off the Troublealert."

The Wanderer popped over, "I'm not sure that knowing the man behind the mask will assist us in not interrupting whatever is going on out there," he indicated the real world. "I for one, am not going to keep up with your calendar any better than the baddies will. I am a dreadful planner. I just wander and wander with no real purpose," he said with a grin.

Ka-sador looked around the high ceilings of the dome and let out a comfortable whistle. The entire layout of the undersea base felt so much like home. The slave pits were not spacious, they were confining, and all the time he had spent on ships being shuttled about the cosmos had made him impervious to claustrophobia. [KA-SADOR LYKE A LOT. KA-SADOR LIVE HERE?] he asked Defender.

"If it were just me," Defender started, "I'd have no difficulty with pulling my mask. However, there are those that I care about that this mask protects. I don't distrust anyone here. I'm just very cautious about it all. As for leadership, I'm happy to continue being the coordinator, but I'm not too sure what level of leadership would be required."

"You are all very silly and very overly cautious," Max said. "How many do you protect with your mask, Defender? A handful? Family and friends? In my position of leader of my duchy, I protect hundreds. Yet, I allow myself to be known by all. I am Duke Maximillian Immungrun."

Defender said nothing.

"I don't see any reason why you couldn't," Defender said, grateful for the change of subject. Pulling a diagram of the Nest up, he pointed to the living quarters. "Looks like there are still four rooms available."

Defender stretched, took a deep breath and looked at all assembled. "Okay, let's handle this by point of order. Seems to me we have the following issues. One, membership. Who wants in full and who wants to be just an associate? Do we need associate memberships? Two, do we want to reveal our identities to each other? I suspect we can do this all or in part. However, no one should be forced and those that abstain should not be present if masks are removed. Three, making use of the living quarters and the rest of the facilities. Does anyone else have business before we move on with this?"

[KA-SADOR LYKE TEEM IDEA. KA-SADOR LIVE HERE AND CAN CORDINAYTE SKEDULES.] the alien proposed. Then sheepishly offered up, [CAN FIND YOO ALL ANYHOW, KA-SADOR KNOW HOO YOO ARE] gently tapping the side of his nose.

"That's actually a good point." Sting said. "K here can find me by smell if he really wanted to. Conversely, given the events of the past several days, it probably woudn't be too hard for me to figure out at least one of your identites, if I really wanted to. But I'm no snoop, and I will respect your privacy. All I'm saying is that I feel very exposed already just in the time I've worked with you all, and personally, I would feel more comfortable knowing that you trust me at the level that I would *like* to trust all of you.

"As far as everything else, I'm in full time, regardless of what we decide in the masks issue. This group can do a lot of good together, and I'm really into making the most of that opportunity. Plus...I know of someone that might be very effective in coordinating and disseminating information from here while we are out on the assistant to be exact. However, my assistant is also someone I protect, and would be loath to expose her to a group of people whose full trust I have not yet earned."

Sting looks toward the Mystic. "You've been very quiet, comrade. What are your thoughts on all of this?"

"My situation is somewhat different from yours. My path is a more solitary one. Also," the Mystic smiled, "I have a comfortable home, which I am loathe to give up. Furthermore, I do not wish to antagonize Ka-Sador, but I have accepted Ragnar as an apprentice and that is not a burden I can lightly lay down. At the same time, though, my concerns and yours often overlap, as with Darkspell and the Jewel of All-Devouring. Some threats are more suited to my skills than yours and vice-versa. If you will have me, I would be honoured to be an associate member, but my physical presence here will be rare."

Max nodded along. "I as well have responsibilities that prevent me from full membership. However, I would be more than happy to help out where possible. My skills are a little more... limited however."

To illustrate his point, he passed his hand through the table. "What you see is pretty much all you get. However, I have a network that I'm sure could be useful at times. I suspect I'm an associate candidate."

The Wanderer poppped over with his arm around the Mystic's shoulders, "Yeah, he's got a real swinging bachelor's pad. I don't blame him." The excitement of having playmates was evident in the Wanderer, "Defender, think you can figure this out?" he waved the card which opened the portals, "or improve upon it?" With a pop, the Wanderer was in front of Defender handing him the card.

"I think I can figure it out. I'll need to spend some quality time with the manual soon. So, we have two associates and..." Defender paused as he counted. "Four full members. The Wanderer, Sting, Ka-Sador and myself. That's four. That leaves the Mystic and his Excellency as associate members. I would also assume that leaves White Knight and Fervor as sort of reserve members until their return and potential integration of the two teams. Does this sound sufficient for membership details?"

When a suitable pause passed, Defender continued. "Okay. Third order of business is living quarters and occupation of this fortress. Looks like I'm going to be spending a lot of time inside of panels. That means I'll need a place to crash some nights. However, my family might take a dim view of me moving in permenantly. Ka-Sador really needs to live here, since most human dwellings don't have the necessary height for his comfort. Who else will be living here and who will be just visiting?"

"I have similar issues in regards to taking up permanent residency," Sting began, "but I certainly would like quarters so I would have another option, if patrol would run late, for example. Besides, I'm sure Ka-Sador wouldn't mind some company from time to time, and my schedule tends to be pretty flexible."

"Probably a good thing you have a flexible schedule," Defender said, looking around. "Looks like I'll have my work cut out for me here for a while. That means I'll need someone to help pick up the slack on patrols of the 'Parts while I'm occupied here. I also think it would be a good thing if we each put in a little time over the next month or so cleaning and resupplying the place.

The Wanderer saluted smartly, "I'll gladly take on the extra patrols, the 'Parts you say? Hmm, sounds like fun."

"So far, we have only one permanent resident. Wanderer, do you currently live here? How about the other Guardians?" Defender studied the floor plan of the residential sphere. "Are these apartments still occupied?" He pointed to the spaces assigned to Howitzer, Triplex and Protector.

"Sealed for our protection," the Wanderer mused. "We've spent most of our time straightening up the place, haven't had time for minor things like that."

"I plan on using the Fortress to entertain the ladies as soon as I find one worthy of such an honor, as it is I only visit to get the mail and check for any security breaches." The Wanderer looked worried as he lost his train of thought, "I don't know what has become of Fervor and the White Knight. They haven't been staying here."

"Might be a good idea to catalog and store their possessions until such time as we can find them or a next of kin," Defender tried not to shudder at the thought. "So, are there any objections to setting up the remaining rooms for those of us who will be crashing but not staying on a full time basis?"

Again, Defender awaits a response. When none comes, "I suppose that's no objection. Ka-sador has first dibs on a room since he is the only one staying full time. Afterwards, pick one if you want it. With that settled, I suggest for the subject of secret identities, we should all give it a little thought and discuss it with those it might affect outside of this circle. I will be discussing in with my family.

"I'll start making a list of repairs. As soon as I have an idea of what all needs done, I'll let you all know. I suggest we set up a weekly or bi-weekly meeting to discuss business."

	*		*		*		*
Ka-sador exited the hydroponic garden, wiping his hands with a rag as he ascended the staircase into the gymnasium. He had been working on the seaweed garden, trying to get the filters unclogged and the beds fertile. Ka-sador had been gifted with comprehension and while his speaking of this earthlander language was slow, his reading of it was progressing nicely. Perhaps the slave pits and arenas had one positive in that they had exposed him to many languages and dialects. The computer systems were quite extensive and horticulture fascinated him. Soon, he thought, he may begin to reap rewards for his labours.

The Fortress was quiet and lonely now, he liked the silence; rarely had he had this luxury. M'Krell was undecided on moving into the Fortress. Ka-sador had insisted based on defense capabilities and the safety of Alden's family. He quickly learned that insisting on matters when talking to royalty was not productive, neither was it effective when dealing with the female species he had witnessed in Alden's dealings with Mara. 'Shopping' was M'Krell's reply, this ritual of acquisition seemed to take precedence over safety; Ka-sador had much much more to learn.

As he cycled through the air lock, Ka-sador walked into the lounge area. With a flap of his wings he vaulted over to the kitchen area and grabbed a can of fruit cocktail and drank deeply. He exhaled a peaceful sigh and shot down the shaft to the apartment level. 'Home' he said to himself, finally a place of his own. [HOOME] he cooed aloud in the strange language and allowed it to echo slightly in the high-ceilinged dome. Silently he touched down in front of apartment #4, there on the door was a piece of paper with his name scrawled in his own hand in English. The Wanderer had called his crooked letters 'chickenscratch,' it was only after time in the language databases did he understand the term. He preferred the Orionid script that swirled underneath the English, but realized that humankind couldn't properly pronounce his full name.

The doors opened and the winged alien stepped into his private slice of Orionid life. Nothing was authenic, of course, but he had spent his time alone in the Fortress trying to craft traditional Orionid artwork and furnishings as best he could. Materials on this planet were plentiful, if not of different quality, and whenever he visited Liz there was always time to acquire things from the wilderness around Port Alexander. He picked up the carved wooden instrument, the Thweet'vakash, and strummed it while whistling a traditional folk song of The Hunt and triumph. The tale was beautiful, he must share it with Alden sometime. Suddenly the emotion got the better of him and he began to cry. Composing himself, Ka-sador set the instrument aside and exited his apartment.

Slowly he walked to apartment #3 and said aloud the name on the nameplate, [PROTEKTER]. A series of keystrokes and the door opened, Ka-sador stepped inside [FORE VICTRY] he said....

	*		*		*		*
Defender had been diligent in his work about the Fortress. He had a list before him as the other members of the team assembled. "As I promised, this is what we still have to do to get this base fully functional. So far, Ka-Sador has begun the work on the Hydroponics and Seaweed Garden. You've got a gift for it, partner."

Pulling up security camera footage of the Research dome, several piles of gear were evident. In one corner, the beginnings of a work space were forming with equipment that looked imported. "In the lab area, I've brought in my workshop. If we want to restore this area to full function, I estimate four to six weeks uninterrupted. That does include testing the gear, but I must admit much of it is outside of my field of expertise. Frankly, I suspect some of this gear might be on the bleeding edge of technology still."

Similar footage of the vehicle dome appeared on the screen. A small jet plane, a land vehicle and a mini-sub sat in various bays. "According to the logs, this area was flooded when the Guardians found it. The bulkheads have been repaired and the water pumped, but the damage was done to the vehicles. The mini-sub is the least damaged since its constructed to function underwater. I can probably get it working in a couple of weeks, but the other two vehicles are going to take a lot more work. And, I'm going to need a Chilton's."

The sub pen was the next to come up on the screen. A full sized sub was moored up. "This is Overlord's sub, deserted here since his initial take-over attempt was thwarted by the Wanderer and the Guardians. I've checked it out. It is fully functional as a basic submarine. The advanced equipment on board, that's another story. It would take me some time to discover its function. My opinion is this sucker is of limited use to us. It requires a full crew to run and we probably lack the necessary skills to use it. I've secured the hatches for now, but we need to decide what to do with it."

Defender brought up a list of miscellaneous repairs. "As for general repairs, we have perhaps a month's worth of general maintenance to do. Things like checking the seals, shoring up some of the exterior patches on the bulkhead, scrapping rust and repainting, rewiring, replacing obsolete gear, etc. And that's an uninterrupted month. This is the stuff that needs to be done if we are to keep the place safe and operational. Beyond that, we have perhaps three months worth of general repair and cleaning. I'm talking about stuff like replacing the 8-track with a MP3/CD combo, restocking the pantry, cleaning and flushing the waste water system, painting the place in a color other than post-war industrial and replacing furniture.

"I can do a good deal of this and will need help. Some of it is a little beyond me. My welding skills are rusty and I fear I've no skills in underwater welding." Defender brought up the master list. "I've already upgraded the security system and will need to pattern each of you for it. I've left the card reader active for the time being, but it will be deactivated when I bring the biometric system on-line. Next week I'll be integrating our communications system into the current system here. It will still tie in to the IPAC phones for now, but I hope to upgrade to comm units and pagers shortly."

He paused a moment to take a drink of water. "Any questions? Any suggestions? Any volunteers?"

"I can certainly help get the house in order," Sting said. "Painting, purchasing of furniture and such. And remember, painting a room will go much faster for me than it will the average of the benefits of superspeed."

	*		*		*		*
It was early November when a bespeckled Defender rang the buzzer to Ka-sador's apartment. The alien answered the door and Defender motioned for him to follow. He lead his winged friend to the research dome. In one corner, a motley of paint cans and scrap pipes were hastily welded together as a crude target dummy. Wordlessly, Defender affixed a bracelet to Ka-sador's wrist with the assist of a few strips of duct tape. He then unwrapped a gleaming new bola.

"Press the button on the bracelet then target the dummy," Defender said as the Ka-sador took the weapon and hefted the weight. "You have a few seconds between button push and activation, so don't dally with that throw."

Ka-Sador pushed the button, crafted for human fingers - with difficulty. Whirling the bola, he released and it zipped across the room and wrapped around the "torso" and "arms" of the target. Seconds later, an electrical discharge sent sparks flying.

"Obviously, I'll have to fit the wristband activator to you better. Perhaps a belt model would be better so that you can activate when you draw them. There's a little more work to do and it's crude. But, I'll need your help in the testing phase. What do you think, my friend?"

Ka-sador remained silent for a while as he recovered from the spark array that frightened him, then a broad grin broke out across his beak, [DY-NO-MITE!] He fingered the wristband, [KA-SADOR LYKE, KA-SADOR HELP AS WARRIOR ALDEN AS SCIENTISS].

"There's still some work to do," Alden said. "I need to give it a thorough test and once I'm done with that, I can pump out a couple for you to use. Of course, if you want to help me test, I'm sure it will go faster."

	*		*		*		*
Defender stumbled out of bed later than usual after a long night in the Research Dome trying to determine the correct correlational bio-transponder for the security protocols and shuffled out of his apartment toward the showers. He scratched his head and yawned, stretching and then snapped fully awake when he noticed that Apartments #1, #3, and #7 (formerly occupied by Triplex, Protector, and Howitzer, respectively) were open. He glanced inside Apartment #1 softly calling out "Anybody there?" and realized that it was spotless, gone were all the personal affects of Triplex. Similar inspection of the other apartments turned up the same condition, no longer were the rooms sealed; they were ready for occupancy.

Curious, he leaped up the shaft to the Lounge Level and saw Ka-sador sitting silent and softly chirping to himself in a rhythmic cadence. It was obviously some ritual, and at this point nothing surprised him about the strange bird-like alien. Only then did Defender glance up to look around the exterior wall of the Lounge. There, encased in glass display cabinets sat the Eagles' artifiacts that had been in their rooms.

Carefully he walked over to the first cabinet and looked in, not lost on him was his reflection staring back from the glass wall. This case was dedicated to Triplex and bore his nameplate from the Apartment. As Defender looked through his reflection he wondered what it would be like to have two others of him, 'Sure would make fixing this place up easier,' he mused. There were numerous photographs of the hero (or was that heroes?) in action, the three identical medals which were awarded by the mayor of Port Alexander draped over the mounted costume he wore so valiantly.

Next was Protector's shrine as Defender looked upon the man who led the Eagles. His golden uniform was mounted on the wall, near it was a letter of thanks from President Carter and his Doctorate from MIT. Several photos placed around a textbook written by Jeff Anderson, Protector's real name, rounded out the collection.

Howitzer's memorial occupied the third display case with her personal articles and her breatplate -- all that remained in the dome containing the amoeba which had nearly destroyed the new heroes in their battle with Overlord. Her favorite book of history added such a human quality to this stalwart defender, as did the signed copy of a Zeppelin II test pressing.


Defender choked back tears. He managed a weak smile and a thumbs up. "You've done well, my friend. Very well." Defender had seen his own costumed reflection dozens upon dozens of times. But staring through it into the case holding the Protector's personal gear reassured the new hero that what he was doing had a purpose. He had just found his version of a Zen reflecting pool.

[GOOD, KA-SADOR THINK THEY LYKE TOO], he replied. Ka-sador got to his feet gracefully with a flap of his wings and approached Defender. [YOO NEED TO TAYK SHOWER, WORK TO DO], he said with an exaggerated sniff and smile.

"Seems the work here only grows." Defender gave Ka-sador a pat on the back. "My Mara will soon have to put a picture of me next to her computer to remember what I look like."

Interlude 21.1: Patrolling the 'Parts
Issue 22: A Trip in Time, Prologue

Last Updated 10 May 2002