Another few panels were taken up with the heroes finding a place to take the call, in which an operator informs them that something has come up, and that Mr. Wilkins would like them to meet him at Pier 41.
Wilkins and Glory arrived at Pier 41 in a helicopter and disembarked quickly. Wilkins told Glory they were waiting for some others. Almost as he finished speaking, Fervor appeared around a corner and jogged toward them.
Fervor and the White Knight arrived at Pier 41 within a few moments of each other, and found Mr. Wilkins and Glory watching as a helicopter with "IPAC" stencilled on the side departed toward the West.
"Good to see you," Wilkins said. "I thought you might be interested in this, and you were involved in the earlier stages. I'll brief you on the way." Wilkins led the group to a fast launch, again with "IPAC" on it, and hurried the heroes on board. He nodded to the pilot and the boat leapt forward.
The White Knight nodded a welcome to Fervor and Glory.
Fervor greeted Glory, White Knight and Wilkins with warmth but went quiet when entering the boat. (of which he was the last to board.) The quiet dragged on as the normally verbose hero stared at the water, barely listening to Wilkins explanation.
"We've been working closely with Core the last few weeks," Wilkins began. "He's got sources of information which are very interesting. He says he's getting transmissions from the wizards of his home. That may or may not be true, but the information is accurate. He told us that the seismic events we've been having lately are artificial in origin. Someone or something is causing the tremors.
"With his help we managed to rig up some detectors, and when he told us another one was coming, we were able to get some idea of where the epicenter was going to hit. We're on our way there now. If we had any doubts about an intelligence guiding the tremors, this last one remove them.
"It's centered directly on the off-shore research platform."
As if on cue, the scene shifted to the off-shore research platform.
The Wanderer appeared out of nowhere on the deck of the platform. The platform was a basic flat square 40 meters on each side, with a raised control room in the center of the north edge, which led down to the research facilities below. A helipad, empty, was marked out on the flat surface, and nearby were stacked some crates and barrels, all lashed down.
The Wanderer ducked behind the crates to catch his breath, then peeked out.
Looking to make sure the coast was clear, The Wanderer, slowly made his way northward to the control center in hopes of getting a look at the research facilities themselves. Staying close to the shadows, he went from crate to crate taking note of any markings on the wooden boxes onto his destination.
The wooden boxes seemed to be aboveboard, all laden with food supplies, or fairly straightforward equipment related to the management of a floating research platform. There are also things like helicopter fuel and so forth.
There was a gap of perhaps 6 meters between the area where the crates were and the control area, which protruded above the surface of the platform in an area perhaps 5 meters by 3, with the the long edge along the edge of the platform itself. The Wanderer crouched behind a crate at the edge of the gap considered his options.
The White Knight turned to Wilkins and asked "Do you know how long it will be before the tremor will occur, and how severe it will be? Also, why do you think the research platform has been targeted?"
Wilkins replied, "We think it will be soon -- quite soon -- but we aren't completely sure. With luck, we'll beat it there, if not we'll be there soon after.
"As for why, we're in the dark. That's part of what we're hoping to find out."
With an ear out for any unusual sound above the crashing waves, The Wanderer began to slink up to the control area staying low to the ground.
He got a couple of meters forward, when the door banged open and two figures spilled out. One was an orietnal woman with slightly scaly looking greenish tinged skin, wearing a black outfit with a red sash. The other was a man wearing a blue armored suit of some kind and carrying a pistol of odd design. The woman was carrying a small metal case.
They pulled up short as they saw the Wanderer four meters away. The woman snapped, "Frostorm, deal with him."
"Jawohl, Python," he replied and raised his pistol.
The black clad Wanderer immediately put up his hands in a sign of surrender and nervously turned around with his hands clasped behind his head. "Don't shoot," said The Wanderer.
Frostorm fired a short burst from his Frost Cannon, which missed the Wanderer by a short margin. The crate a little behind him was suddenly covered with a coating of ice. Frostorm sighted a little more carefully and fired again. This time the blast was on target and the Wanderer was instantly sheathed in ice.
Python had made her way to ladder nearby and was waiting for Frostorm to join her before she descended.
The Wanderer strained and the ice surrounding him cracked and splintered leaving shards of ice scattered over the platform.
"What intel do we have on the platform itself, Commander?" Glory asked. "Is it still in operation, abandoned...?"
"You should pay more attention to the local news, Glory," replied Wilkins with a mild rebuke in his tone. "There was a protest about it just last week. It's being used for research by a group of scientists. They've covered their tracks pretty well so we can't dig up too much about what's going on, but we did get a couple of names -- Peter MacOrloch and James LeRoux. They're both brilliant men in their fields, Atomic Chemistry and High Energy Physics.
"The protesters claimed that there was illegal nuclear research going on out there. The scientists denied it, of course.
"We do know that the staff is small, probably no more than a dozen."
Glory studied the monstrous platform as they approached, looking for signs of people, or anything else that might catch her eye. She'd never been on an offshore platform before, and knew she didn't know just what she was looking for, but her instincts told her to do what she knew how to do.
The platform was forty meters to a side, and rose up ten meters or so from the surface of the water. The bulk of the platform was underwater, much like an iceberg. Two boats were attached to the platform, a tugboat of some kind, probably used to move the platform from place to place, on the western edge of the platform, and another, smaller boat tied near what seemed to be ladder on the north edge. A landing dock, another ladder and a small crane were near the tugboat and that was where Wilkins directed the pilot to take the boat.
The sea was fairly calm and clear. Several miles away to the north a few sails could be seen dimly, and perhaps a half mile to the north was a large yacht, out for a day trip.
"Commander, you disappoint me," Glory said directly to Wilkins after his crack about the news. "I'm a soldier, not a citizen. The only 'news' I care about is what I'm briefed in on."
Fervor looked at the research platform with what appeared to be both anticipation and yearning. It wasn't dry land but it was a lot closer than the boat he was on now. At times like this, Fervor was glad that he didn't sweat anymore.
"Do we know if the platform is the cause?" He said checking the sky. If Skylark wanted to sink this motorized raft there would be little that they could do except swim.
"Wilkins, What exactly is our authority here? I've pretty much been reactionary so far in my heroing. But what we appear to be doing is breaking into private property on a hunch. Do we have some sort of Court Order or at least an appointment?"
"We're not breaking in at all," came the reply. "We're going to go up there, tell them that they're in danger and then maybe do a little poking around on the sly."
The pilot guided the boat to the landing platform and cuts the motor. In the silence, the heroes heard the sounds of violence from up on the platform itself.
The Wanderer dissappeared and reappeared in front of Python. Her flinch caused his grab for the metal box to go wide.
"Python," Frostorm shouted, "we may have a problem."
"I had noticed," replied the woman, as she pivoted smoothly into a kick, "and I am dealing with it." Her kick whipped toward the Wanderer's head, but went high as he ducked. Frostorm raced around the corner and stopped as he saw the developing fight.
Python shifted her weight and thrust a quick two-fingered strike toward the Wanderer, and the stiffened fingers landed firmly in his solar-plexus.
"Unnnghhh," exhaled The Wanderer as he sailed backwards from the blow, narrowly missing Frostorm and landing in a heap. Struggling to his feet The Wanderer quipped, "Didn't your mother ever teach you when you were a hatchling that it wasn't lady-like to hit others!"
"Take this and get below while I finish this," hissed Python as she moved forward with a strange sinuous stride and handed Frostorm the metal case.
Frostorm accepted the case and moved to the ladder.
The Wanderer swung at Python with an admonishment "Luckily, manners have never been my strong suit. Take this!" Python danced away, then returned to a guard position.
Fervor rushed onto the platform almost before the boat came to a stop and dashed towards the ladder.
"You might want to circle this thing." He told Wilkins. "If someone is here who isn't supossed to be they will need a way to leave." He began to climb towards the sounds above.
"Good idea, Fervor," replied Wilkins.
Glory looked up to the top of the ladder. Pretty vulnerable while climbing, she thought. Oh well.
"Looks like we have a fight to break up, at a minimum," Glory said absently, scanning the underside of the platform.
The platform did not so much have an underside as it did walls dropping down into the depths. In effect, it was a giant square sided box, floating like an iceberg, with supporting struts and outriggers at sea level -- such as the landing jetty on which she now stood.
"Wilkins, circle round to the other ladder. I'll ascend there to cover that exit, and sweep inwards to contact Fervor and Glory. I'll co-ordinate my actions via the 2-way link in my suit," said the White Knight.
Wilkins nodded to the pilot and the boat began to move.
Turning to Fervour and Glory the Knight said "Good luck, see you topside. Stay in touch."
Fervor scaled the ladder quickly, followed by Glory, who took the last few feet in a handspring and roll.
Over by the control room, they witnessed the stand-off between The Wanderer, Frostorm and Python.
Python reached out and started to grab the Wanderer. Getting one hand on him, but not the other. She reached out again, but the Wanderer brushed her hand aside, remarking "Yes, you may have this dance....but I insist on leading."
Frostorm put one foot on the ladder, looked down, and then looked back up, "Python, there are more of them down there."
A frustrated Python snapped, "Then deal with them! I am busy."
Frostorm shrugged and raised his cannon. A blast of cold surged down and enveloped the pilot of the boat, encasing him in ice.
The Wanderer glanced at the new arrivals and said to Python, pulling her closer, "Friends of yours? I do hope they don't intend on cutting in. Follow my lead dear....no one can dip like Ramon," joked the black dressed man. The two struggled as each attempted to get a solid hold of the other.
Fervor stepped in toward Glory. "Anything you can tell me about these guys before I walk in?" The heated hero quietly asked before moving towards his opponents. "I'll cut right and try to get Frostorm's attention, give you a chance to get in close. Oh, I don't want our pilot to catch cold"
Fervor raised his arms and a wave of heat washed out toward the front of the boat melting the ice from off the pilot, who then collapsed to the bottom of the boat. Wilkins took over the wheel and brought the boat to the foot of the ladder beneath Frostorm.
After getting some response from Glory, Fervor sprinted diagonally from his position towards Frostorm.
Glory leapt forward, tucking in and beginning to both tumble and remove her quarterstaff from its sheath. She leapt from crate to crate and then sailed off to land gracefully on her feet near the combatants.
"A classic battle in the making," Fervor thought to himself before attempting to get Frostorm's attention.
"Hey, You guys went and started the party without me. Here I thought I was going to be fashionably late but am fated to show up in the nick of time. Hey, Frosty, Do you do Beer Mugs also? Can't have a party without frosted mugs."
Frostorm's response was to shift around in order to get a clearer shot at the approaching heroes.
Python tried to break free from the Wanderer's grip, but was surprised by the strength with which she was held.
The Wanderer responded by breaking Python's grip on his arm, and then in a smooth motion he lifted the woman up and tossed her nearly thirty feet toward the center of the platform. She landed in a heap and shook her head.
While she screwed her quarterstaff together covered by one of the crates, Glory observed the scene before she leapt into battle.
Frostorm needed to be put down right now. No time like the present, Glory thought.
The White Knight leapt off the boat and grabbed the ladder. He quickly scaled it and arrived at the top of the platform.
Fervor continued to close the distance between himself and Frostorm, thinking "Now Redemption for letting Skylark get away."
"Hey Frosty, If you just surrender you will save yourself a lot of hurt and embarrassment. The Hero's Union states I have to be nice if you give up and I don't want to lose my member in good standing status." Fervor attempted to make Frostorm hot under the collar.
Taking advantage of Fervor's movement, Glory tumbled forward. She jumped up and forward at Frostorm in a move she hoped would take the man by surprise. She vaulted in but the pole hit a wet spot and skittered out from under her, she landed upright, but awkwardly.
The White Knight reviewed the situation and charged in at Frostorm. A leaping knee struck the villian and knocked him back several meters. Frostorm snarled, "Der Blitzkreig is on, then!" He raised his frost cannon and fired at the ground in front of him. Sheets of ice formed and glittered on the ground. Then he turned the cannon on the White Knight, but the blast went wide and left a trail of condensation out over the ocean.
Python rose from the ground and looked around at the scene. With a snarl she charged back at the Wanderer.
With the frothing mad Python rumbling toward him, The Wanderer reared back to pop her a good one saying "Must be time for the finale, I do hope the judges are watching."
He swung, and Python reached out to delicately grab his arm and yank him over in a judo throw. The Wanderer landed hard.
Glory crouched down, rubbing her calf, "You son of a rat bas--" Glory muttered, now really itching to feed him the business end of her staff.
Fervor continued to swing around behind Frostorm [K18], avoiding the ice.
The White Knight spent a moment gathering himself after his leap.
"I'll take that as a No to my offer. OK, Can't say I didn't give you a chance. Time to heat things up a little," Fervor said he sent a heat blast towards Frostorm.
Frostorm whipped around and triggered a blast of cold to counteract the incoming heat. "Nein, mein freund, I think not!"
Glory gritted through her pain and took advantage of Frostorm's distraction to dive at him, leaping over the ice, smashing him one in the jaw.
Right behind her came the White Knight, his leaping kick finished the job Glory had started. Frostorm staggered back a few feet, then his eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped to the ground. The metal box he was carrying dropped from his grasp and landed on the platform next to him.
Suddenly the platform rocked violently. Only her great agility kept Glory from falling, and the White Knight's gyro-stablizers kept him afoot, but everyone else fell to the ground and the platform skittered about on the seas. Python shouted, "We took too long."
Frostorm shifted position only slightly, but the metal case sailed off the edge of the platform and a distant splash was heard.
The platform settled back down for a second, then ruptured! A crack appeared in the center, then a bare second later, a huge explosion ripped up through the center of the platform hurling everyone on top back from the gap. A column of strangely coloured fire streamed up from the hole in the center of the platform.
The fire twisted strangely and the onlookers thought that perhaps they saw faces and bodies in the flames.
Screams echoed up from the hole in the deck and three figures exploded up out of the depths. The first was clad in the grey remnants of some kind of scientific looking protective suit. Wreaths of fire and sparks danced around his form as he sailed out of the hole and landed hard near the edge. The second figure was smaller and sailed quite a bit further before landing. He twisted in the air and took much of the sting out of the impact in a graceful roll coming to his feet at the end of it. The final figure went straight up the column of fire. His skin was hard and rocklike, and small stubby wings stuck out of his back. Even as the heroes and villians watched, he gave a strange shudder and his skin became greyer and stonier and the wings shot out another few feet and then began to beat supporting him in the air. He wore only the tatters of clothing around his loins, the rest having been shredded as he changed form.
The fire collapsed back into the hole. For a long moment, everyone (except the unconscious Frostorm) regarded each other in some consternation.