Harmonious, the Glistening City and jewel of Ruk. Our group have received an invitation to talk to a representative from the Quiet Cabal, an important faction in Harmonious. Though outwardly the Quiet Cabal is on good relations with the Estate, Algernon’s own experiences with Ruk life have the whole group questioning their intentions with them in general and specifically with their wayward enemy operative.
The Quiet Cabal headquarters building was a marvel of architecture. Tall and incredibly thin it made a pure needle-like projection into the skyline of Harmonious. As the group walked up the front gates, noting the people scanning holographic passes and walking through, Algernon asked a question of the Allsong.
Is Doctor Strangelove on the way or at the Graveyard of the machine god?
Yes, Came the definite reply.
Now he knew where Doctor Strangelove had taken herself in such a hurry. He also suspected he knew why she’d taken this time to go. Peggy determined a beacon had been placed there. Keeping this information to himself, he followed Bruce and the others into the foyer of the building and up to the front desk.
“Holograms out! Holograms out!” An officious security guard called from behind the desk to the respectably dressed office and other technical workers as they filed past, “Yes, what do you want?”
Without Rain’s soothing frontman persona, Bruce had taken the lead into the building. Reluctantly, he stepped up to the counter as the guard caught his eye.
“We’ve been invited to see someone…” He started confidently enough but realised he had no idea who had arranged the meeting.
“We are here to see Tabaseth,” Rain supplied smoothly, stepping back to allow Bruce to continue.
“Yes, him,” Bruce added.
“A moment please, “ The guard put through a call via an internal network. The group could see his lips move as he spoke, but no sound was made. For those who could read lips, it was a perfunctory conversation confirming they had arrived that lasted no more than a few minutes.
“Tabaseth will be with you shortly,” The guard returned to Bruce, just a little more respectfully this time now they were guests of the management.
Tabaseth did not keep them waiting and was soon bustling towards them, a respectable member of a respectable organisation.
“Greetings, you say you’re from The Estate?” Tabaseth moved from face to face until Bruce spoke up for the party.
“We are,” He replied simply. The response seemed inadequate and Bruce was sure he could hear Rain in back of his mind say “…thank you for seeing us at such short notice…” or “ …apologies for the abruptness of our arrival…”
“Please, follow me.” Tabaseth didn’t seem to mind though and led the group into lifts that took them up several floors into the heart of the building. Here a small conference room had put aside for their meeting and Bruce looked to Rain to see if he would take up the task of communicating to Tabaseth.
“Our mission, “ Rain started without preamble, “for some time has been following the trail of Spiral Dust users and dealers on Earth and off. Recently, this mission has been hampered by a memory block on this one.” He gestured to Algernon who suddenly looked awkward being the centre of attention.
“We believe that the memory tampering was done by a Doctor Strangelove, a Ruk scientist,” Bruce added.
“…allegedly,” Rain interjected, still a stickler for diplomatic language use.
“Doctor Strangelove of the Karum?” Tabaseth asked, confirming Bruce’s information from the Allsong.
Now Tabaseth turned his attention to Algernon as if sizing up an interesting if not dangerous specimen.
“You are one of her creations?” Algernon nondded. “Amazing you didn’t set off our security when you arrived.” He said, not to Algernon but more to himself, “Well, we shall soon look into this, “ To the group as a whole he now turned, “The Quiet Cabal would be happy to help you with this problem,”
“Yeah, gives them a chance to poke around with the competition’s technology,” Peggy mumbled to no one in particular.
“Have you a scientist that can oversee the testing?” Tabaseth and the group almost as one gestured to the floating box. Peggy projected her hologram and nodded to the Quiet Cabal representative.
“This is Peggy. She is considered one of The Estates leading minds.”
At the sight of Peggy, Tabaseth was taken aback and spent a moment or two taking in this new form of life. The distraction gave Algernon a moment to slip back from the conference table and towards the door. It was only Tabaseth’s gesture toward’s a security button that sent him back to the conference table. Rain took Algernon’s hand in his.
“About Doctor Strangelove, couldn’t we get the police to arrest her?” Bruce asked, bringing the conversation back around to the real culprit.
“I’m afraid that it’s not that easy. The law can not touch her.”
“She controls the law?” Bruce was horrified.
“She has a lot of political influence, I’m afraid while on Ruk we can’t touch her.
“But while she’s off-world, would that be something you would consider?” Rain asked matter of factly.
“Yes, we had heard she put together a raiding party of venom troops, but our information didn’t tell us where she was going.”
Now that all the party had been in Ruk for a while and experienced the Allsong, they had seen the advertisements put up by the Zal Corporation for their latest and greatest clone shock troops. The lineage between the Venom troops and the vat rejects was obvious for those looking, and showed how much power the individual factions wielded in Ruk.
But, just where the elusive Doctor Strangelove had gone was a mystery, to most.
“What if she took those Vemon troopers back to the Estate?” Bruce asked, saying what everyone was thinking. Both Rain and Algernon shook their heads.
“The majority of Earth do not know about Ruk. Would she be so reckless as to destroy that advantage for one strategic strike?” Rain turned to look at Tabaseth.
“Besides, the venom troops would have to follow Earth laws once they got there, their weird science advantage would be lost.”
“Peggy’s old house?”
“Why? There’s nothing there, and why now, it’s been abandoned almost a year.”
The group started going through beacon location and an alarm set off in Rain’s logic pathways.
Brother, is there a beacon at the Graveyard of the machine god? He asked Algernon via their link.
Yes, that’s where she’d gone. Algernon replied the same way.
Rain turned to Bruce, “We need to leave, we need to leave now.” Rain said with such conviction that it bordered on panic.
“Before we’ve had a chance to examine your friend?” Tabaseth asked oblivious to the communication going on around him.
“Just a moment, sir,” Bruce interjected, “This is the most emotion I’ve seen out of this one since we got here.” He turned to Rain, “ Can it wait until we sort Algernon out?”
The imperative to leave now and to protect Ni’Challan, was overridden by the need of the Bloodbrother. Algernon’s abilities would be important for any rescue attempt. His importance had been further reinforced by the reciprocation of the blood pact Algernon had made when establishing the link between the two of them. They were in Ruk to help Algernon, nothing worthwhile could be achieved until that was done. To the logic-driven Rain, Algernon’s needs at that moment were more important than one old man.
“Yes,” Rain finally said and fell silent, letting the discussion of Algernon’s testing to flow around him.
“Well then, follow me and I will introduce you to Giqabee,” Tabaseth said with an air of pride as he led the group of the conference room and up several more floors to what was a laboratory wing. Here they were introduced to two individuals, Giqabee a stout woman of middle age and a tall thin man by the name of Torquel. Together they would run a number of tests to determine Algernon’s origins and what had been done to him
“Now please, for the sake of Algernon I’d like you to clearly tell him what you will be doing,” Bruce said remembering the many awful snippets Algernon had told them of his life on Ruk, “ Full disclosure and you will do nothing without permission, is that acceptable?” He turned to both the two scientists and Algernon, all who agreed, the scientists a little more heartily than Algernon.
“Yes, Mr Bruce.”
“Well I’ll get started with a simple DNA analysis, find out what our young friend here didn’t trip our security, “ Giqabee laughed in an attempt to lighten the mood. It didn’t work, “While that’s happening we’ll do a brain scan, non-intrusive, of course, while Torquel will run a psych evaluation.”
“Oh, I can pass those,” Algernon responded planning to get at least one over the scientists.
“We’re all sure you can fool the test, Algernon,” Bruce said staying clear of the bustling scientists around the young man, “In this case it may be better to answer truthfully.”
“They’re more diagnostic than for determining aptitude, “ Torquel added, “It will tell us what’s going on in that brain of yours. I must say,” Torquel now turned his attention to Algernon as Tabaseth had, like examining something very rare and not a person at all, “If he is a clone, he’s a very high fidelity one. I don’t think I examined such a clearly defined personality before.”
Algernon took the psychologist’s statement as a compliment. The rest of the group could not say the same. It led Bruce to ask Tabaseth a few questions.
“Tell me, what would you normally do if you found such a clone?”
“You must understand that we do have clone infiltrations from the Karum on occasion. Unlike your companion, they come in covertly with none of your party’s goodwill and honesty. If a clone was found and it was not one of ours, we would interrogate and dispose of them, naturally.” Tabaseth explained clearly, seemingly having some understanding about the Earthlings squeamishness around the rights of clones.
“He is a highly regarded member of this group,” Rain interjected as if putting a stamp of ownership on this wayward clone.
Now having inserted himself into the conversation, Rain turned it towards topics closer to their mission.
“Tabaseth, we have information that shows that Earth has been set up as a beacon to a being in The Strange. We have reason to believe that this being to be a planetovore. Knowing your people’s history with such a being, this one would be interested in learning what you know.”
“Indeed, could I look at your information on this?”
Rain pulled out his mind map, the summary of everything they knew on Spiral Dust and its link to the potential planet eater. As he stepped aside with Tabaseth to work through the details, a message came through from Algernon over their connected link,
Don’t tell them too much, I don’t trust them.
Understood, Came the simple reply as the logical mind sorted the essential information from the personal and left with Tabaseth to another room.
Now that the Quiet Cabal scientists were starting their testing. Algernon’s thought literally focused on the lead scientist who was taking a blood sample for DNA testing.
Such an intriguing specimen, I wonder how it got past our security? I didn’t realise Strangelove was this good…can’t wait to get to work.
Something in Algernon’s demeanour at that point prompted Peggy to ask,
“For safety, would you like to mind link?”
“Really, after all this time?” Her genuine offer of comfort rebuffed, Peggy took offence, “Have I ever invaded your privacy, or experimented without express permission?”
“You’ve been very subtle that way.” Algernon responded, his inbuilt distrust of Doctor’s being revealed, “Doctor Peggy, in the documentaries, when the older apologies to the younger, one usually dies.” He then added, “Usually the older.”
“Well, then you’re safe,” Peggy scoffed, on the assumption that his visual age of fourteen was his true one.
“Are you okay, Doctor Peggy?”
“Death is a natural part of life and to be expected.” She sighed, and let the Ruk scientists maneuver Algernon into a scanner. Looking much like much like an x-ray, the scanner showed live images of brain activity. As Algernon moved his telepathic link from Giqabee to her offsider, Torquel, an area in his frontal lobes flared and startled the psychologist.
“Is it always so active?” Torquel asked no one in particular.
“Yes, except when it’s like this,” Algernon replied and let go his focus on the psychologist’s thoughts. The lights at the front of the brain faded.
“Oh, that is intriguing,” Torquel added and made a note.
Torquel brought up a set of questions on his datapad and started running Algernon through them, noting the parts of the brain that responded. Nervous at the Ruk scientific attention, when Giqabee made a start at something she had discovered in the DNA, his telepathic link automatically asserted itself to find out what the issue was. That made Torquel start once more.
“You’ll find that’s an involuntary defence mechanism, “Peggy bluffed, sure she knew what was setting off the flares in the brain scan. Even Bruce figured out the link.
“If you’re doing stuff right now, you may want to let it go, “ Bruce said cryptically to Algernon nodded back.
“You do seem a little jittery,” Torquel said to Algernon, “What can I do to help you relax?”
“Send me back to Earth, “ Algernon responded instantly.
“With a world eater coming?” Peggy asked, “Wouldn’t here be safer?”
“We can go anywhere from Earth,”
“And from here too, ten more minutes,” Peggy soothed
As the testing progressed, more exclamation of excitement came from the two doctors.
What if we translated, right now? Algernon sent to Rain over their private link.
Patience, brother. Was the terse reply.
Rain was patiently discussing the end of the Earth with Tabaseth as Algernon was experimented on floors away and Doctor Strangelove edge closer to Ni’Challan. Even in his current partitioned self, Rain was having a tough time focusing his thoughts.
“Making the whole Earth a beacon, like the one you suggest, is ingenious, “ Tabaseth mused theoretically, “But, why go to all that trouble. Doctor Strangelove is a leading figure in high energy particle physics. Sabotaging your Hadron Collider would be easy for someone such as her.”
“So, you believe the Doctor would use more direct methods?” Rain thought for a moment, “Our investigations have shown a clear link to Crows Hollow and we would indeed be there now if not for Algernon’s condition.”
Tabaseth shook his head slowly, “We know of no links to Crows Hollow, you are certainly more advanced on this investigation that we are.”
“And the Karum, it is not their usual M.O. to work through third parties, such as Crows Hollow?”
“Not to our knowledge, no.”
What had seemed so obvious when the group arrived in Ruk, now seemed far fetched. Though the Karum faction would love to see Earth destroyed, the elaborateness of the plan didn’t seem to fit with their usual way of working. At least as far as Tabaseth was concerned. Rain did not feel that Tabaseth was lying, but was he providing the whole truth, and if so, for what purpose would they hide that information from an ally.
The logical mind flipped to the next subject on his list of enquiries,
“Sir, I would be interested in viewing any information you have on planetovores, possibly there is something that will help.”
Again, Tabaseth seemed more than pleased to offer the information.
“We did share quite a bit of this information with the Estate early on.” He said, offering a loaded datapad of information. As he said, it was the same information Algeron had found originally and forgotten. The very same notes, Rain had found later testing him in the library.
Rain thought about the next question he wished to pose. The need to discover Doctor Strangelove’s interest in the Graveyard of the machine god was high, but Algernon had suggested caution. The location of Ni’challan’s home and collection was not information that Rain was willing to share, but perhaps there were other reasons for the Doctor’s interest in that location.
“One more question, do you know of any reason Doctor Strangelove would be interested in the Graveyard of the machine god?” He asked Tabaseth.
“Odd place,” He thought a moment then shook his head, “Is that where she’s gone?”
“We have intelligence that leads us to believe she had an interest in that location.”
“Nothing that we know of, why do you ask?”
All his options had been whittled away. It seemed that Doctor Strangelove had some interest in Ni’Challan or his collection, spurred on by the beacon left by Algernon. If Rain could have sighed he would have. Instead, he shared the information he’d discovered with Algernon.
Ask him to send out the troops to the Grave of the machine god, Algernon suggested, before something happened at his end and connection was lost.
Back in the lab, all of Algernon’s attention was focused on the exploding and smoking brain scanner in front of him. Everyone’s attention was.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” Peggy asked, checking Algernon for any contact burns or signs of shock. Without a word, Algernon reached out and touched her on the arm, establishing a mind link.
What’s going on?
I resisted it, Algernon said through their link to his complete astonishment, I sent Rain a message suggesting a course of action that will put Doctor Strange in danger…and did not pass out!
Peggy looked Algernon over, as she listened to his revelation. He was sweating and breathing hard as if he’d just come back from a run, but there were no other physical signs of trauma.
I think your brain sent out an EMP and fried the scanner, Peggy suggested just as Torquel reclaimed his voice.
“What just happened?” He asked, gingerly checking the still smoking scanner.
“Your machine broke and smoke came out,” Algernon replied looking at the scanner as if he had nothing to do with it.
I directly put Doctor Strangelove’s life in danger, He confessed, and light of triumph lit his features.
“Well, I did see some definite signs of deep reprogramming, “ Torquel noted on his datapad, oblivious to the revelation happening in front of him.
Peggy pushed Algernon aside as she had a look at the scanner to see if there was anything she could do with it. While Peggy and Torquel were busy, Bruce, pulled Algernon aside,
“What did you do to fry the machine?” He asked knowing very well what was behind the mystery malfunction, “It would be very helpful to know what.”
“A passing thought triggered a cascade effect,” Peggy said as Bruce’s conversation wasn’t as private as her’s and Algernon’s had been, “Maybe we could recreate the thought pattern?”
“I’d suggest we’ve hit a deep safeguard, something Doctor Strangelove has put in place to stop just this sort of thing, “ Torquel added as Peggy removed the burnt-out component and started rewiring the scanner. “I’m afraid that means I will need the original notes from Doctor Strangelove herself if we want to break the programming.”
Peggy flicked a switch and the scanner started rebooting again.
“I told you she was good, “ Bruce crowed as Peggy raised an arm in victory
“Feel free to bow now.”
“The defences sent out a very strong signal, “Torquel surmised as the last of the scanner’s readings were revealed, “Impressive.”
“Excuse me, Doctor?” Algernon now got the attention of Giqabee watching fascinated from her counter, “If the Quiet Cabal knew the location of Doctor Strangelove’s secret lab, what would they do?”
I don’t want to go, He confessed to Peggy over the mind link, but if we had an army…
Can you pass that information on, maybe through the link?
Only thing is I don’t know, or I don’t know that I know. He said and shrugged apologetically.
“We’d certainly pass on that information to Tabaseth, “ Giqabee replied to Algernon’s question, “Why, do you have something you want to share?”
Bruce had not idle this whole time. Not being aware of the extent of the Allsong he was unsure of its capabilities, but he knew enough about Earth tech to come up with the makings of a plan.
“I was wondering,” He now said, gaining his party’s attention, “Is it at all possible to track Algernon’s movements through the Allsong? Maybe those records can at least show an area to start looking for this secret base.
Algernon searched the Allsong for the information that Bruce suggested. Nothing…well, almost nothing. Records from twelve months before showed Algernon moving in and out of the Scar (to hide the wings he assumed) and nothing else. Someone had deliberately wiped the records and left that small scrap behind. Did that clue get left intentionally so he would go searching for the wings on a return visit? Was it left by accident because the record manipulator did not know to look there for a record to expunge? Regardless, Algernon let the others know what he’d found.
Have you left beacons here in Ruk? Peggy suggested. None had been found in her previous searches.
I haven’t left any beacons anywhere! Algernon replied and then furrowed his brow. But he had been, hadn’t he. His fingers went instinctively to a spot on his left wrist.
“Okay, let’s think about this,” Peggy started circling Algernon paying attention to the smallest details of his clothing starting at his head and working down, “We know that when we re-enter a recursion we have previously visited we pick up the ‘skins’ that belong with that recursion just as we left them…”
“Do we…?” Bruce asked. This was news to him.
“…so anything on Algernon right now may give us clues to where he went then.” She got to his shoes, a black zip-up style boot and noticed a pale grey substance clinging to the side. It flaked off looking very much like a fine dried mud with a slight metallic sheen. A sheen of some clear liquid had also dried along the edge of the boot and up his pants leg.. Grabbing two glass slides and scalpel from Giqabee’s counter, she scrapped the grey substance off the boot onto one and the clear residue onto another.
“Well, what have you got there, Sherlock?” Bruce stood by bemused as Peggy transferred the grey mud slide to Giqabee’s scanners.
A few moments later and the samples was identified. The first was a Ruk substance called organema, a living metal and one of the byproducts of the Ruk biotechnology. Organema’s structure was disorganised and unsuitable for use but was found in a number of places outside of Harmonious, especially in the Veritax.
“The Vertiax is a system of underground tunnels, a labyrinth that has never been fully explored,” Giqabee supplied, totally engrossed in the investigation now underway.
“And we know the secret base is underground, “ Bruce added, a clue he’d discovered while searching the Allsong.
The second sample was even more telling. It was an artificial embryonic fluid used exclusively in the cloning industry. The two samples together screamed Vertiax underground lab.
“Great, pull up a map, what do we know of the Vertiax?”
Rain’s connection with Algernon went dead and for a moment the little man swayed in indecision, to continue the conversation with Tabaseth as suggested by Algernon or run back to the lab and find out what was going on. In the end, the decision was taken from him,
“Are you okay?” Tabaseth asked, looking curiously at Rain. Rain knew he was being scrutinised, it would not do to have the representative of the Quiet Cabal think badly of the group because of his poor performance.
“A thought has occurred to this one,” He stated as clearly as possible as the contradictory demands of secrecy and finding aid clashed in his mind, “If you knew where Doctor Strangelove has gone, would you send troops to pick her up while she’s out of the jurisdiction of Ruk?”
“Possibly, “ Tabaseth hedged, he wanted more information. “I assume it’s somewhere in the Graveyard of the machine god otherwise you would not have asked. You have a location in mind?”
“This one would need to know your intentions before handing over…senitive material,” Rain replied and once more felt Tabaseth scrutiny on him, “The location is of a third party that values their privacy.”
“Curious. Do you think we’d hurt them?”
What did he think? The logical mind did not have enough information. He did not know Ni’Challan’s relations with Ruk or what items in his collection could have originated from there. He had to respond, Tabaseth’s eyes were on him.
“You and your factions intentions to this individual are unknown. Taking into consideration your response to Algernon I would suggest no, “ He replied honestly, “But, he is alone and his interest in rare and unique items from all over the Strange could theoretically make him a target. Does this sound like something that may interest the Doctor?”
At this Tabaseth took a keener interest himself.
“Are you concerned for their safety?” He asked and something within Rain leapt.
“Yes.” It was a simple word, said with such finality that Tabaseth could only nod.
“I will order a contingent of Venom troopers, will you go with them?”
The part of Rain partitioned off wanted to go. Say yes and immediately with no thought for the others. This one logic suppressed the thought.
“My group are here to see to the welfare of Algernon. I would suggest if you are to send troops then we would go with them. I will need to confer to determine the correct course of action.”
“Of course, I will prepare them nonetheless for when you’ve made your decision.”
In the labs, the organema had been narrowed down to an area south-east of Harmonious. When asked, Algernon, as usual, had no recollection of the area. Even when Peggy used the scanner to determine if parts of his brain were subconsciously triggered by the location on the map, nothing appeared.
“How about doors, passageways in and out of the lab?” Bruce asked as Peggy continued to look for more samples.
“I was never conscious, I just found myself outside,” Algeron confessed and he noted the expression of sympathy pass over Bruces faces. In shame, Algernon looked away, disliking the feeling. It was then that Rain returned and Algernon instantly re-established the link.
Brother. Rain responds was immediate. In the only way he had presently to show how pleased he was to see Algernon well, Rain shared his entire conversation with Tabaseth.
The rest of the room was focused on Giqabee and Torquel who had finished their deliberations and were ready to present their findings.
“The subject in question certainly has fascinating DNA, “ Giqabee started, noted the sour faces to her use of the word ‘subject’ and continued, “…uh…I’m not quite sure what…Algernon is, but I can confirm he is not a clone.”
This was a surprise to all including Algernon who asked for confirmation.
“Oh yes, that much is clear. Clones are of only a limited pool of DNA samples and are easily identified. Besides which there are two other features of your makeup that definitely rules out you being a clone.”
She brought up an image of Algernon’s DNA, the double helix looking like any other to most in the room.
“In fact, it explains why you did not set off our alarms, your DNA does not read as either clone or for that matter, of Ruk. You are human, or at least your DNA identifies you as being of Earth.”
Peggy scanned the image in front of the group and pointed out a section of the DNA.
“The telomeres are short, this would identify Algernon as being a clone, wouldn’t it?”
“Well spotted, yes the telomeres identify that quite a bit of modification has gone on, and I suggest that it…he was not born naturally.”
“A mother and father?” Algernon asked, astounded.
“Oh yes, there are two unique individuals expressed in your DNA, another marker showing that you are not a clone.”
“So a natural egg, modified and with accelerated growth?” Peggy ask Giqabee
“My report will suggest artificial fertilisation and vat-grown,” Giqabee nodded, more comfortable discussing this with a fellow scientist than the subject of the testing.
Bloodbrother… Rain sent via the link, once more reaffirming the connection.
“Can I suggest, “Algernon interrupted, “That some alteration may not show in a simple blood test.” And he started to list his noted abilities.
“I am unaffected by alcoholic drinks, though caffeine has a stimulant effect. I have this…” And he exposed his left wrist. Bending his hand back, a small slot in the skin just above the wrist gapped like a tiny mouth.
“What’s suppose to happen?” Bruce asked as Algernon moved his hand once more.
“Something comes out,” Algernon replied, allowing Peggy to examine the area.
“Just like that.”
“Cool.” Bruce looked impressed, “One of the beacons?”
Try as they might they could not release a disc. Though scans revealed two glans just inside the radius and ulna that made the two halves of the bone beacons, none was seen or made.
“Would you let us take a sample of the gland?” Peggy asked probing at the slit to see if there was access that way.
“Would it be damaged?”
“It could be, nothing is guaranteed”
“No,” Algernon made his decision final by withdrawing his hand.
While the scientist discussed the new discovery, Rain quietly turned to Bruce.
“Doctor Strangelove is in the Graveyard of the machine god.”
“Yes….oh shit!” His expression moved from interested to deep concern as the implications sunk in.
“I concur,” Rain replied simply as he shared this conversation with Algernon via the link.
“What are we going to do?”
“Tabaseth is organising troops who await our decision. We will do what is best.”
“What is best for Ruk? For us? For Earth? For Ni’Challan?” Queried Bruce.
If we don’t go at all, he won’t know it was us, Algernon said over the link images of a stern-faced Ni’Challan and the discs giving context to the words, I do not want to go to the Graveyard.
Rain struggled with an appropriate response. In the end, he shrugged, He made me. Inadequate description of magnitude.
And you don’t resent him? Algernon seemed astounded that a creator figure could be appreciated or even admired, his experience tainting his opinion.
No. Came the adamant reply.
Aware of some of the communication via her mind link with Algernon, Peggy asked out loud,
“Would you want to stay here and look for the lab?”
“Yes, “ Was Algernon’s simple reply. With a group of troopers, he felt equal to the task, especially as the Doctor was not at home.
“Then this one will also stay and find the labs.” Rain said blandly from beside Bruce, though it was clear to the group it was not a decision that sat well with him, “It is inefficient to split the group, we are more effective together.” Rain’s shoulder’s sagged and his eyes drifted to the ground as he accepted the inevitable decision, to find the lab and clear Algernon’s mind.
Algernon looked to the scar on his left hand, not the slit in his wrist made by the Doctor, but the slice through his palm that Rain had made as they translated into Ruk. He knew the little man’s thoughts at that moment, he was still linked and saw the conflict of Ni’Challan’s safety and the mission. Out loud, he asked,
“Rain, do you need me?”
The response was immediate and unequivocally, both out loud and over their link,
Algernon took a breath, “Then we’ll go to the Graveyard.”
Things moved rapidly after that. The group were taken to the top floor of the tower where transport was waiting.
“I sent a message to Jir, “ Tabaseth said as they travelled through the building, ‘Troops and equipment will be waiting for you when you arrive. The whole trip should take two days.”
“And this the fastest transport?” Rain asked. She had two days head start, Doctor Strange was already in the Graveyard and could already be at Ni’Challan’s Spacestation.
“Yes, it’s a two day trip by troop carrier.”
“If we were to translate, “ In Rain’s hand, his black puzzlebox appeared for the first time in a while. He opened the second compartment and withdrew the card, “This one can leave a key.”
“If it takes Strangelove a day or two, we can get there ahead of her.” Bruce realised, but his hopes were quickly dashed by Peggy and Algernon.
“The venom troopers are clones,” She said.
“They can’t translate,” Algernon added.
“I have an idea, “Tabaseth excused himself a moment, before returning with two identical cyphers, “Drop these in appropriate spots and they will make gates that the troopers will be able to come through directly.”
Bruce took the cyphers, “Could they be set up with a dead man switch?” Bruce suggested, “ You know, if we’re captured immediately it will still drop and create the gate?”
“You couldn’t hold it through translation,” Peggy reminded him and put the second cyphers carefully in her bag.
With Peggy leading translation, the group formed up. Rain took one of Peggy’s hands and she felt her senses tingle as a blast of Strange energy passed from him to her. She felt her whole body glow with the power as she focused her thoughts on that small room overlooking the derelict space station on the edge of the Strange.
In an instant, they were there. Peggy once more her cyborg self, Rain glowing with a yellow light with Bruce and Algernon looking oddly the same. Outside the thick perspex window, a new ship hovered alongside the station. Black scorch marks around an access way showed that entry had been made by force.
A blue haze of smoke hovered overall giving the image an ominous feel.
Rain did not wait but ran from the room into the hallway leading into the Ni’Challan’s collection. Algernon, stopping to turn on a shield, was soon racing behind him.
Peggy pulled her cypher out of her bag to set it off in the tiny study.
“Not here, we need to get one of those gate cyphers to that ship,” Bruce said to her, ‘We can take their ship and stop them from leaving, here is too far from the action.”
From the doorway, the sound of three blaster shots echoed through the exhibit room and up the hallway.
“Well, let’s get close then,” She gestured and ran out the door.
Now fully in his full mind, adrenaline-fueled Rain ran through the hallways, every nerve on edge. As he approached an archway leading to the first of the large exhibit chambers, he instinctively fell to the ground as two guns were aimed in his direction. Two bright bolts of energy left Vemon troopers weapons and streaked across the intervening space to scorch the wall behind. A third trooper continued its efforts to disable an automated turret that was keeping the three of them pinned behind artefact force fields.
“Ni’Challan!” Rain yelled from the ground as Peggy and Algernon made a more careful approach to the archway. Bruce saw the shots hit the wall and pulled out the first of his handgun Glock 40s. Glancing into the room, he spotted his three opponents and started shooting. From everyone else’s view, Bruce simply stepped into the archway and shot the three venom troopers, ending at Rain’s side. From Bruce’s perspective, the world slowed to a crawl as he smoothly went through what he’d practice hour after hour in the firing range. First, the two who had fired on Rain, clouds of red misting through the air behind each one. Then, carefully aimed for the third, the heavy calibre bullet knocking him off his feet.
Algernon took the momentary lull to peek out further and saw a larger than average Venom trooper smashing away at a large metal door, guarded by another two troopers. He turned back to the first group, who were still reeling from Bruce’s attack. Raising a hand in a focusing gesture, Algernon pointed to one standing near an exhibit containing a sphere of clear fluid suspended by Ni’challan’s force fields. With a thought, the liquid ignited. It blasted out of the force field covering the venom trooper in liquid fire.
With the devastation that was Bruce and the spectacle that Algernon wrought, the two remaining troopers had forgotten the wall turret. One stepped too far out to avoid his friend on fire and was gunned down. Beside him, damaged by Bruce but untouched by the fire, the trooper flicked out an arm blade and advanced on Rain as the one on fire ran at Bruce.
Rain rolled and Bruce dodged as both escaped the damage meant for them. Peggy, just inside the archway, put down the first portal. A dark hole in space tore through the hallway and the first troopers from the Quiet Cabal started through.
Though he had clutched his ears as Bruce’s handgun thundered through the exhibition chamber, Rain now brought them down in front of him and formed a sphere of light. The yellow light that suffused him gathered and focused before he threw it at the arm bladed trooper above him. The blast sent the trooper reeling backwards, not with force but with raw, gut-wrenching fear. The trooper’s eyes bulged in their sockets as Rain stood becoming all his nightmares at once. It gave Rain a chance to looked around, taking in the large trooper and his two companions at the locked door.
No sign of Doctor Strangelove and it was unsure of no sign of Ni’Challan was a good or bad thing.
With the arrival of their reinforcements, Bruce and Algernon were now free to turn their attentions to the second group. Watching from around a corner, Bruce noted the siege specialist, their armour, how they held themself and how their body moved. He saw weaknesses in the joints of the armour and where chitinous panels met and then stepped out firing once more. His shots hit true, finding an especially weak point on the big guy who was making fast work of the door. The siege specialist sags under the impact of Bruce’s shot and the door finally gave way. Behind the troopers at the door, Algernon had seen another exhibition space. Taking careful aim with his crossbow, he shot the burning trooper dead before making a dash for the door.
The two venom troopers defending the specialist turned their weapons on Bruce. They both fire, but he ducked smartly back around the corner in time for the bullets to hit the metal of the wall. Rain was focused on the trooper frightened by him. The trooper hesitates for a moment, the fear taking hold. Suddenly his breeding and conditioning kicked in and he roared a bloody scream and leapt into a charge for Rain. Slipping past the deadly arm blade, Rain dodged the trooper, leaving him for the Quiet Cabal reinforcement to mop up. As he passed Bruce he placed his hand on the big man’s back and let the Strange flow. As the energy hit, Bruce shuddered and he gave an involuntary gasp, every nerve seemed to crackle with black fire. Having done what he could, Rain ran after Algernon, toward the broken doorway.
The siege specialist was no longer interested in what’s beyond the door, he’d found an enemy. Turning his huge cannon of an energy blaster on Bruce, he fired. The recoil made the shot go high and over Bruce’s head. Buzzing from the Strange, Bruce slowed the world once more, took careful aim and shot all three troopers at the door as Algernon and Rain ran past. The two regular troopers hit the ground, dead. The big guy took another devastating blow breaking through his armour at the knee join and his leg was shot away from underneath him.
Algernon was just ahead of Rain as they lept past the three at the door. He felt the tickle of the Strange and reached out with his mind to tap into it. With a grin of sheer abandon, he focused the energy into movement. It surged towards him, propelling him forward as if he’d been hit by a wave. From behind, Rain saw Algernon make a gesture and blink ahead, past the next doorway filled with another set of troopers and into a third exhibition space.
All around Peggy, the allied troopers were coming under fire. Though more were on their way, the first group were currently pinned by a well placed Vemon trooper. Peggy pulled up her arm cannon, swinging around the wall she shot, her projectile on target for the troopers head. Most of the trooper slumped to the ground as Peggy and the allied troopers swarmed out after Algernon and Rain.
Inside the second exhibition space, Rain stopped when he saw a group of Venom troopers held down by turret fire. The turret swung to add him to its blacklist. Rain held his hands up for the turret operator if any was there to see,
“N’Challan, it’s Tobias!” He called and the turrets stopped, repositioned back on the original attackers and continued firing.
Peggy walked up beside Rain taking a breath from the action when the body of a Venom trooper ragdolled through the exhibition space and smashed into Peggy. In a second broken doorway, a massive automaton made of clay swung around to face another venom trooper. One of Ni’Challan’s many trinkets had backhanded the trooper across the exhibition hall. Rain lent down and gave Peggy his hand.
“Unnecessary!” She complained, her backwards legs and cyborg exoskeleton making it difficult to stand.
“Very necessary!” Rain pointed to the golem making a paste out of the second venom trooper.
“It hit me!” She protested and for the first time in days, Rain smiled.
“Dodge faster,” As he let the Strange flow through their grasp.
As she stood, from behind Rain another two troopers appeared, guns up ready to shoot. Her cannon brought to bear, she blasted both, their smouldering carapaces falling to the ground dead.
Bruce ran into the second space, once more finding targets for every one of his three shots. With three rounds left in his magazine, the room was theirs and their allied troopers were mopping up the last of the resistance.
Alone, Algernon examined the third exhibition space, the battle petering out far behind him. There was no sign of Ni’Challan, but thankfully there is also no sign of Doctor Strangelove.
To the empty room, he asked, “Well, where to next?”