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Issue Forty, Good Saruva Hunting Part III

It had been a long few days for Sandstone, especially the evening following the downtown fracas. She was absolutely exhilarated at how she had acquitted herself in her first public appearance as Sandstone, but it wasn't fun talking to Defender afterwards.

At the team meeting (with Siberian Star present due to his participation in the fight) she had outlined what had happened. How the "stone energy" that had given her father his powers as both Aftershock and Sting had now been "transferred" to her, the day of the funeral. How the trip to West Virginia to inter the body saw her survive a rockslide in the mountains simply by using the nearby earth as a shield. Her experimentation of the power over the past month.

She explained that the energy that granted her the powers also gave her intrinsic knowledge on how to use the powers, and in her recent training she had even learned how to do a few tricks - levitating a mound of earth beneath her in order to fly, using different earthwave patterns to take out multiple targets at once. The strangest power - yet the most appropos - was her newfound 'computer telepathy', which allowed her to make mental contact with any computer system in a 50 yard radius and to operate it and proccess information in her mind as if she was in front of a screen typing. She had already put mechanisms in place allowing her to access the base computer from nearly anywhere in Port Alexander, and she was working on more long range chain connections as well. This allowed her to continue to be "PC" while also being Sandstone. Defender deferred comment at the time of the meeting but Lorelei was dreading the eventual one-on-one with the team leader. She had wished for so long to be a part of the frontlines, and her dad gave her that as a parting gift. She knew she was ready - but would Defender?

Her thoughts were broken by the IPAC transmission that came in. After reading it, she immediately tried to reach Defender.

Sandstone was not surprised when she got Karen on the line. "Team Defender, how can we help?"

"Karen, hey. It's Lorelei." Sandstone said. "Your boss around?"

"He's in the workshop right now. Is it pressing or is it something one of us can handle?" Karen asked.

"IPAC got back to us on a bunch of stuff regarding what went down the other day." Sandstone said. "I'll leave it up to you as to whether he can be bothered right now, but I will eventually need to talk to him about follow-ups".

Sandstone then transmitted the information to Karen, directly from the IPAC briefing.

The supers could provide little information.  They were working for Saruva,
but through the archer, calling himself Blackarrow.  They met with Saruva
only once, and it was not at his base.  Blackarrow is serving as his
field commander and lieutenant.  Python gave away very little, Quantum
was little more forthcoming, he said that something was up with Saruva
and the Net - he recognized some of the hardware and such as originating
from the Net.
Saruva and Blackarrow are being cagey.  The grunts were getting their orders
and their meds through intermediaries and at one-off meeting locations.
The crime scene didn't give a lot more information than the Protectors 
had before, but there was one interesting feature.  Among the spent arrows, 
there was one that looked like a crossbow bolt rather than an arrow.

Sandstone could hear keystrokes as she read off the information. Karen asked only once for a clarification. After the info dump, she said, "Okay. I'll print this and get it to him in the next hour or so. Expect a return call shortly. How are you holding up? New powers. That's... got to be weird."

"In a sense." Sandstone replied. "A function of how I got them gave me near immediate control over them - but it's different not being chained to the chair. Speaking of which, we'll need to get together sometime soon - my connectivity powers aside, we're gonna need live people at mission central when we're out and about, so I need to work with you and yours on that."

"That's not a problem," Karen said. "Defender's been hooking us up with connectivity from here. With a few exceptions, we can function as PC from here."

"That's good to know." Sandstone replied. "Those few exceptions may necessitate one of you be at the main console here for mission-type activities. My powers cover a lot, but if we end up being in some East Middle-of-Nowhere locale, I may not be able to connect. In any event, I'll be here when Defender's ready to chat. I have some updates to the system here I can work on. Thanks much - PC out."

Sandstone got the call about an hour and a half later. "Sandstone. Defender. Karen just told me about the call. I think we need to get someone onto the investigation. Recommendations?"

"That crossbow bolt has me thinking of our friend Richard Sherwin from a time back." Sandstone replied. "I recall reading in Flex's casefiles that he's had contact with him for at least one other case. I say we send Flex in along with someone else to ask who else might be copping his territory. Maybe Siberian Star, since Flex and he have a working partnership outside of the Defenders."

"That's not a bad idea. It might not be a bad idea if you went along. This last brawl has revealed that we need a field commander to take over if I'm unable to make it. I'd like for you to spend some time on these sorts of missions to see if you want the job. It would also be a good idea to evaluate our allies to see if they are capable or willing to come completely under the Protector's banner." Defender paused for a moment. "Do we have anyone on staff with contacts on the streets?"

"Not on staff" Sandstone replied. "Midnight Star would be the closest thing. And actually, I think in the last fight I kinda defaulted into a field commander mode...and the scary thing felt good."

"That would be because you are your father's daughter," Defender said.

Anyways, I don't want to spook Sherwin by having a brand new mask right there, and I trust Flex to give us his own evaluation of Siberian Star. In fact, based on a conversation I had with him at the site, his nonverbals were kinda hinting that he's a little hurt we haven't asked him yet. I was hoping to talk with him more about it one on one before making any sort of pitch to the team - or what's left of us."

Sandstone nodded. "Lets work for that after we get this Saruva thing nailed down. In the meantime, I'll get in touch with Flex and Star - and I'll go along too, I suppose. Get some rest - you sound very worn, and I can't say I blame you. Sandstone out."

	*		*		*		*
The door to the castle opened and Stephen Flechette, the former villian Sharpshooter leaned easily against the doorjamb. He was clad in a loose-fitting robe, almost like a smoking jacket, and seemed the picture of a man of liesure. Only slight hardness about the eyes belied the picture,and gave an indication of his criminal past. "Flex," he said. "How are you? And you are ... Siberian Star, I think? You, I don't know, miss. How do you do? To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"My name is Sandstone, I'm new to Port Alexander, and am attempting to help the Protectors and Siberian Star on a mutual case."

"PC said you'd be dropping by, but I was expecting Defender, frankly," said Flechette. "Well, come on in." He pushed the door open, "Pardon the mess, we're doing a little remodelling. Nothing major, floor refinishing, a little plastering, that sort of thing. This room is clean, though." He took them into a smallish but comfortable antechamber. "Now, PC said it was kind of important, what can I do for you?"

Siberian Star appeared disinterested at the conversation and wandered around the room paying closer attention to the surroundings.

"Consider this a request for a professional consultation." Sandstone said. She then presented to Stephen the findings that IPAC had produced in their study of the arrow weapons and residue resulting from the fight, specifically the tricked up crossbow bolt. She then also described the archer that was on the scene, including costuming. "Given the circles that you used to run in, any insight on who we might be dealing with? And why he would want to take the time to try to fake that a crossbow bolt was fired in battle?"

"Well, that whole black outfit thing sounds sort of ninja, doesn't it? Did you get a good look at the bow? Was it a European style bow or a more Japanese style?" he asked. "Not that it would be decisive either way. As for that other ... no idea. Crossbow is an inferior weapon," he barked a short laugh, "Don't tell Sherwin I said that. So no reason I can see to fake it."

Siberian Star cocked his head to look at their host, "Blackarrow," he said paying close attention to the man's reaction.

"Blackarrow? What's that?" said the man with what Siberian Star thought might be a little too much disingenuity.

"The arrow, you know" he said subtlely passing the buck to Sandstone.

Sandstone smirked under her mask. Star was good. Damn good. "Where locally could someone go for a custom job like the tricked up bolt? No offense, but if anyone would know, you would."

"Well, I could do it, of course," he said, "but I'm in retirement. Locally? I don't know off the top of my head. I've lost touch with those contacts, you know."

"Things couldn't have changed THAT much in a few months, Mr. Flechette." Sandstone said.

"It's a fast moving business. Once you're out, no one knows you anymore," he said.

Flex frowned at Flechette's comment. In his experience that wasn't always true. Besides when you came out of prison from a stretch people were always keen to see if you wanted in on another job.

"Perhaps," Siberian Star spoke up walking around the room, "there are some other retirees as yourself who haven't completely removed themselves from the business? Any referrals?"

Flex listened keenly for for Flechette to answer Star.

"No one comes to mind," said Flechette. "And, you know, I'm not sure I'd tell you if there was. Going straight is one thing, ratting out my old, ah, co-workers, is another."

"Back up a minute fella," said Flex. "I understand that a you can easily loose touch with people, but no way do you loose all your contacts. There must be someone else who you know, whose in the know about things."

"Not really. I'm poison. They know that Richard, Cutter and I went straight and even helped out the Protectors. Do you really think they'd risk staying in touch. I mean, sure, I know a few names of people I used to use, but they don't know me any more, if you know what I mean," said Flechette.

"So there is honor among...your kind," commented Siberian Star. "You are a man of faith Flechette it's a big gamble that all play by the same rules." Siberian Star looked to Sandstone for guidance.

"I think that's all we have for now, Mr. Flechette." Sandstone said. "We'll be in touch. Don't be surprised if, being an ex-villian who used a bow as a primary weapon, IPAC does a follow-up visit. Pro forma, you understand." She offered a hand. "Thank you for your help."

"My pleas ... well, you're welcome," he said and took the offered hand.

As the heroes left, Sandstone made sure that they were out of earshot from the house, then turned to Star. "What do you think, guilty as sin?" She said.

"He is definitely hiding something. I would guess that the new construction he dismissed is actually quite substantial maybe even labs. I did notice a state-of-the-art security system, one that is for protecting more than just peace of mind." Siberian Star looked back at the estate, "I doubt one such as he would leave a paper trail, but building permits could shed some light on just what was added recently."

"I agree, " added Flex, "besides a house like that and the lifestyle that goes with it cannot be easy to finance. Them two never did strike me as the homebody types. I wonder if our visit might shake a few things out of the wood work. I have some contacts on the street, I'll ask about. See what I can kick up."

"Guess that leaves me with the permit research." Sandstone said. "Part of me still thinks that Sherwin may be legit, but Flechette may have gotten the itch again." She looked to Star. "Where do you feel you would be best served in terms of research? Helping Flex on the streets, working on researching the work on the house, or something else?"

Siberian Star thought for a bit, "I'll pursue some other leads about the estate. If something is happening here, someone around here might know something."

"Sweet." Sandstone said. "We'll check in when we know something. In the meantime, lets try and keep our social calendars clear. I still think something big's going down."

	*		*		*		*
Siberian Star gently set down atop a Port Alexander warehouse down in the docks area and hailed the Fortress. It was late, secretly he hoped PC would be monitoring the board, or was it Sandstone now? Nevertheless, he took a deep breath and once again went over the spiel he had been rehearsing all night long.

After two rings, there was an answer. "Protectors Central." the voice said. Star recognized it as PC's voice.

Pushing nervousness aside, Siberian Star began "I checked with my sources regarding the castle and its grounds. Satellite photos proved inconclusive, however the supplies received don't exactly match up. Power consumption appears normal but all that tells me is that they have their own source, and what little staking out I've been able to do, a lot more goes in than one would expect for a nice retirement home." A barely audible sigh punctuated the findings signifying that he had done it, hoping that he hadn't sounded too rehearsed or too 'official.'

"Well, that corroborates with my work." PC replied. "No work permits have been filed for the city. Now, any minor work, such as fixing an exterior wall, wouldn't require a permit, nor would interior work like floor refinishing and even some minor electrical. And as far as the city knows, there isn't any new construction planned for that site.

"Some of the pics I've seen show some major excavations, but they weren't there long. Quick work, and more than a weekend project."

"That having been said...yeah, there's something up there. I wonder how advanced their security system is - it might be worth having Merlynne go in on stealth."

"Just the passing glance I got tells me that it is not an out-of-the-box system, whoever installed it definitely does not want any snoopers," Star added getting more relaxed.

"Lets meet up here and talk about this. All circumstantial signs are telling me that the castle could possibly be at worst a satellite base for something, but we should figure out a plan to go from here, and quickly, before they catch on that things aren't safe at this point."

"Da, it sounds good. I'm sure our visit there caused some concern, we should act quickly. I will call Flex."

"Thanks, Star." PC said, then paused. "Excellent work, better than I was able to come up with. Thank you."

"Pazhaluista, you're welcome," he replied blushing. "I do have contacts that can benefit The Protectors, I will see you soon. Poka." Siberian Star bade PC farewell and dialed up Flex setting up a rendezvous point and filling him in on what he had learned.

Glad to hear that Star was still on speaking terms with him Flex acknowledged the call and made ready to rendezvous. "At least someone has turned up something."

After Lorelei had left messages with Flex and Merlynne with the meeting time, she knew she had to call Defender next, but she had an idea, and dialed a different number.

After a few rings, a male voice answered. "Midnight Star Investigations."

"'Knight? It's PC." she said.

Midknight paused a beat before answering. "You're callin' me on the phone? Isn't that why we have those new shiny doodads you gave us?"

"Yeah, I know, this is a bit more unofficial." PC said. "I have a paying gig for you that might be related to the Saruva case."

MidKnight paused. "Protectors gotta pay folks now?"

"No, no." PC said. "This is out of my own pocket. I need you and Star to do some surveillance on a specific address." She then gave him the basics of what she knew about the castle.

MidKnight thought about it. "I think we can do it, gotta check with 'Star first, though. Are you talking round the clock or just nighttime stuff?"

"I think most of what we're looking for would happen at night, but some of it might come during business hours, and it may only be short term. Can you get back to me on it soon?"

"Yeah, lemme talk to Star and we'll get back to you. Don't see why we can't, except that this Frostbite guy will wanna tag along if it's got anything to do with Saruva. Bit of a hothead, if you'll pardon the pun."

"You're calling someone a hothead, Knight? That's the pot..." PC began.

"Don't go there." MidKnight said, chuckling. "We'll be in touch."

As the call ended, PC then went about getting in contact with Defender.

"Hey, Lorelei. It's Karen. What's up?" came the voice on the other end of the line.

"Hey, is the boss busy tonight? We may have found Dr. Saruva's secret lair." PC said, a hint of tiredness in her voice.

"Uh... I'm not sure. I'll... uh, I'll have to get back to you," Karen said. "Are you planning a raid?"

PC picked up the hesitancy in Karen's voice that wasn't usually there. "Well, we may need to move quickly, but I'm not about to trump his call on this. Karen, is everything OK? Nervous responses are not like you."

"No, everything's fine. We're all fine here. I'll talk to him in a few minutes and we'll get back in touch."

It was well into the night when Sandstone's personal line began to ring.

"Sandstone, Defender here," came the voice on the other end. "Sorry to have taken so long to respond. I've been spending more time at work than I'm comfortable with. Regardless, it sounds to me like you've got this latest situation well in hand. What are you planning?"

"Well," Sandstone said. "I currently have Midnight Star doing surveillance on Castle Brangore. We have a strong belief that Flechette's back in the business, and possibly that the castle is being used as a new base for someone. Perhaps Saruva."

She then went over the information provided by Siberian Star, as well as her own findings. "Midnight Star will continue surveillance. I have Flex and Merlynne as actual team members, SiStar as next of kin, and possibly this Frostbite kid tagging along to keep him out of Midnight Star's way. I'll have Merlynne pick him up and get him through customs. Haven't talked to Max yet - and the way things have been as of late with him, I'm not sure I want him in on this. Something is VERY wrong, and we can't risk having him on a case as sensitive as this one is. I don't think there's a one of us that doesn't want a piece of Saruva after what went down, but Max's cannon's too loose."

"As far as what to do - forgive me, boss, but I'm thinking proactive on this one. Flechette was acting too skittish about having us around, the specs on the work done recently - it's too much for something to NOT be going on there, and as three ex-criminals sharing living space...I have a bad feeling about waiting too long to act on this one."

"Don't assume bad apples stay bad apples, Sandstone. But you are right about not waiting too long. Okay, I'll get to Defender Central to coordinate the operation. Move quick but careful. This is your show. And loose cannon or no, Max might still be your best bet to get into any secret lab or underground facility. But we'll talk about him later."

"Check" PC said. "Maybe he is worth a shot, although he never answered his communicator when the robbery happened earlier this week. I'll gather the troops and we'll talk strategy at approx 2100 hrs. Sandstone out."

Sandstone went to try to communicate with Max. Her talks with her father regarding Max intimated that although Max may not have been Defender's biggest fan, he listened when his father talked. Taking a hunch, she tried to contact Max using her private signature line - she wasn't as close to Max as her dad was, but maybe...

"You've reached the office of Duke Maximillian Trollslayer, called the Beggar King," a very Max voice answered. "This is His Grace's social secretary. How may I be of assistance?"

"Max, it's Lorelei." PC answered. "I don't have long, so I'll be brief. We may have found where Saruva is, but we need proof of what may be there. You're the only one I have access to that can do that. Would you be willing to help the team? We need to move on this tonight."

"I'm sorry but His Grace is booked through May Tourney," Max said. "Perhaps something in June? Wait, one second. I can tell by the tone of your voice and that particular sigh that this is a matter of some import to you and His Grace does so hate to disappoint his subjects. Let me see... I can move this to... here. And that... well, that will just have to go over here on the very edge of the desk..." There is a very loud crashing sound, as if a stack of hubcap spinners just got launched down a metal emergency staircase. "Oh, I see, that opens up whole gobs of time. What was your name again so I can pencil him in? Do you want him with or without the Spear? Too bad."

PC sighed heavily. How did her father ever deal with this. "Please let me speak to Max directly."

"Of course. One moment please." There was more crashing and banging. Someone sounded out of breath in the background, although only one person seemed to actually BE in the background.

"Max here. How the hell are you, PC? Little troll slaying expedition with some peek and sneak? Brilliant! Exactly what I need right now. When and where should I meet you? I'll be the one with the carnation... and the spear."

"Come to base, we have to talk a plan first. We're meeting in an hour, will you need to be picked up or can you get here on your own?"

"I have my own transport, so to speak. Ciao," Max said.

"Check. See you then, Max. PC out.". She slumped in a chair for about ten seconds, caught her breath, then began to prepare the then and now schematics for Castle Brangore for the meeting.

Flex arrived at the usual meeting spot and noticed something different about Siberian Star. As odd as it seemed, the typically cool hero appeared sort of happy. It wasn't over the top happy, but he did say hello and even asked Flex how he was in a manner that sounded like he meant it (sort of).

Glad of some sort of breakthrough in his relationship with Star, despite the seriousness of what they were doing, Flex found himself feeling more generous toward him than he had of late. He made a mental note to try and find out what had changed, hopefully without raising the frosty Ruskies temperature again.

The two men set off toward The Fortress entrance that Siberian Star had gone through once before. He, flying over the city, and Flex bounding from building to building soon led them to the secret entrance and the War Room.

	*		*		*		*		*
Sandstone was nervous. No denying that.

What she was about to propose to the team - a pre-emptive strike on Castle Brang ore based on the suspect activity going on and her belief that Stephen Flechette was back in crime and working, at least indirectly, for Dr. Saruva was very hig h risk, high reward. If she was wrong, it could blow any level of trust Defende r had in her leadership skills, and she dearly wanted to be right. His baby wo uld be coming soon, she thought, and he needs the time away. No one else curren tly on the team had the experience...and the last thing she wanted was for Defen der to think he had no choice but to be there.

Her reverie haze was awoken by the signal that Flex had arrived. She had called the meeting for nine but had asked Flex to arrive early. She had also hoped t hat Midnight Star might have seen something to confirm the situation, but so far she had heard nothing. Making her most nervous was Max. Defender was right i n that his powers made him the most effective reconaissance scout. The problem was he was as mad as a loon and completely unpredictable at this point. Her fat her seemed to know how to keep Max in check, though, and she said a silent praye r that when the time came, she knew how to do the same.

It was at that moment that Flex walked in the room.

Flex walked in somewhat awkwardly. He hadn't been around the base that much sin ce Sting's death. Now knowing who Sandstone was and to some degree, that she wa s filling in for Sting didn't make this easier.

As he moved in he noticed that Sandstone looked nervous, turning to Star he said , "Hey could you give us a few moments." Not waiting for a reply Flex turned to Sandstone nodding his head to indicate the anti room they could talk in.

Once inside, having closed the door, Flex asked, "You ok with this? You look... awkward?"

"I'm not sure what's more disconcerting to me." Sandstone said. "That Defender seems to trust me to lead you guys into battle...or the fact that he never gave Dad the ball he seems to be willing to give to me."

Without waiting for a reply to that, Flex went on. "We can talk about this late r, Flex. There's a specific reason I wanted you here before anyone else. In fa ct..." She walks over to the door, opens it, and invites Star in. "You should be in on this too. Please come in."

Sandstone took a deep breath and began. "Tonight I'm going to try to give a sem blance of a plan and direction as we investigate the castle. However, I'd like for you two to do one thing in specific.

Flex, if we get a visual sighting of Saruva, all other aspects of the plan are s econdary to you going after him and taking him down. Star, I fully expect for h im to have one or two of his "creations" to run interference. You will need to deal with them while Flex goes after Saruva."

"Flex," Sandstone continued, " this is on you because you're the only one who has the personal issues with Saruva to drive you in nailing him...while still being objective enough not to sanction final justice on him. As badly as I want that bastard after what happ ened to Dad, if I go after him, I'm afraid I'll kill him, and death is too easy on him. I want him put away for good. I trust you to do that without killing him. If I'm wrong...tell me now."

Flex turned away, his emotions and feelings swept over him. He'd become what he was through Saruva's experimentation. The pain and horror of that night had le ft him with the means to make amends of his life, but he still woke up some nigh ts screaming. The horror of being smothered by the symbiotic skin, that was now welded about his skin. Then came the job at the house, where girls from which girls were being subjected to horrific experimentation. Flex had shut it down, but not before Saruva had escaped again. Then came Sting's death. The pain sti ll felt very fresh, but more than anything he wanted Saruva to suffer the conseq uences of his actions. Death was too easy for him.

Turning back to Sandstone, Flex nodded. "What you're easy." He said somewhat haltingly. But I want him to stand trial and face the full wei ght of the law for what he's done. I will not sink to his level, you can count on me - I promise."

Sandstone put a hand on Flex's shoulder. "I know it's not easy for you. Thank you for doing that. You as well, Star."

Roughly a half-hour later, the team was assembled...with the exception of the Be ggar King, which irritated Sandstone to no end. He was critical to a quick res olution of the situation, but, at the moment, she didn't trust him, and it showe d.

It was also odd to see Frostbite in the Fortress - Merlynne had collected Frostb ite - and took the standard precautions so that he was still unaware of exactly where the entry point for the Fortress was - he may be the enemy of Saruva, but that didn't mean he was a friend of the Protectors. Still, this was better tha n having him operate as a rouge, and Sandstone was able to explain to him that i f he was to work with the team, that he had to follow orders to a letter, and un der no circumstances take matters into his own hands in regards to Saruva, even if he got a visual contact.

Sandstone looked at the clock - it was 20 past nine. She decided to give Max fi ve more minutes before starting.

As the five minute deadline came to an end, every intruder alarm in the base beg an to sound. There was someone in the vehicle dome, then someone in the trainin g room. The living quarters then the power plant. Finally, the alarms for the Hall of Rememberance began to sound.

Using her newfound computer telepathy, Sandstone activated the nearby security c ameras in the Hall of Rememberance with a thought.

The image showed Max, spear in hand, standing before the Wanderer's display. He seemed to be ignoring the alarms.

With a thought, Sandstone shut down the alarm system, then activated the com. "Max, we're in the meeting room. Could you join us here please?"

He ghosted through the floor and the alarms sounded again. Sandstone realized h e wasn't wearing a 'day pass' badge and shut the system off in the meeting room only. Max found a seat, dropped his spear across the table, and sat.

"A monarch should always be announced with trumpets," he said once he'd settled in. "I fear your trumpeteers need their instruments tuned. You may now continu e your briefing. I will not disturb you further."

Siberian Star stood down at the sight of the others not acting to throw this "intruder" out, assuming that he was welcomed. The Russian sat down with an eye on this strange man, not sure what to make of his presence.

"It's...ok, Star." Sandstone said. "He's one of us."

Sandstone, with a thought, called up the schematics to Castle Brangore that she had, along with the areas marked where suspected changes had been made. Of most interest to her, she conveyed, was the area in the yard that looked as if change s had been made.

She then turned to Max. "I apologize, but I haven't been keeping up to date wit h you on how your powers have progressed. Are you able to "ghost" someone along with you when you move through walls and floors?"

"Not without making them a ghost," Max answered.

"Meaning it would kill them?" Sandstone said. "I'm sorry, I'm a little stresse d here, I may not express myself clearly."

"You are expressing yourself quite clearly," Max said. He held out his hand to Flex. When the young hero took it, Max took on his ghostly form and Flex with h im. It was clearly an effort. To prove his point, he dropped through his chair and took Flex's arm with him, to the gasps of those assembled. When Max releas ed Flex, both returned to normal.

"I can vary my form and carry along 'cargo'. The more cargo, the harder the str ain. For me to infiltrate a castle, bypassing moat and dragon, I would be requi red to maintain that phase for an extended time. The strain would either kill m e or force me to release my charge -- killing them. As my sense of self-preserv ation is much larger than..." He looked at Sandstone and rethought his statemen t. "... much larger than the average costumed hero, I would end up killing some one. I'm afraid I must take this task on solo."

"Fair enough." Sandstone said. "I had thought of possibly Merlynne accompanying you invisibly, but that won't work."

"OK," she continued. "Max infiltrates alone. You're looking for general foul p lay along with a fast way for us to help you should you run into trouble. Basic ally, proof that there's something there that shouldn't be."

"Everyone else is on surveillance, to a degree. Merlynne and Flex will more or less circle the castle, trying to be careful not to trip any motion sensors. Me rylynne, stay invisible from a safe distance - we don't know yet what the Castle's full capabilities are. Flex, you'll more or less take laps around the block.. only each time, you'll take on a different appearance. Just random people, at random intervals. Star, find an aerial perch nearby and be ready. Frostbit e and I will hang out a couple blocks away, ready to help if need be. That will leave Midnight Star ready to follow anyone who tries to LEAVE while still allowing us to keep an eye on the place. This might be a long night, so eat, stretch and p ee before we leave. Combat strategy is sketchy because we have no idea what to expect...but if Saruva is there, our goal is to take him out and take him ALI VE. We get him, we'll get everyone else sooner or later, but he, to the best of my knowledge, is the primary threat."

She paused and looked at everyone. "Any questions? Comments? Offers to take o ver?" She smiled with the last statement.

Flex smiled when Sandstone looked his way, although she couldn't see it. As the meeting broke up, he approached the leader. Placing his hand on Sandstone's shoulder, Flex gentle turned her around and whis pered into her ear, "He'd be proud of you today." Then walked towards Merlynne to talk, as he turned the mission over in his mind.

Last Updated 21 June 2005