After discovering that Doctor Strangelove was on her way to Ni’Challan’s home, the party leapt into action. From Ruk, they translated directly there, bringing the fight with them in the form of two cypher portals linked to squads of Ruk Venom troopers. Fighting through two rooms of enemy Venom troopers, the party now find themselves in a moment of peace, with a choice of two paths.
The sounds of battle in the first two rooms petering out far behind him, Algernon investigated this third space alone. It was another exhibition space, rare items from recursions all over the Strange protected and confined behind Ni’challan’s unique force fields. At the far end beside an exhibit of ancient metal armour, a set of stairs led up to the next level. 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?”
As if in response, a yellow glow appeared on the other side of the stairs from the armours. The force field on the armours also flickered and died. The armours as one came to attention with a snap of metal. Wielding crystal blue blades, the armours stepped down and clattered towards Algernon.
Rain and Peggy were in the large room near the ruins of the dead brute Vemon trooper. Their attention was pulled first towards the clay golem fighting two venom troopers, and then to the exhibition area, Algernon had raced. Either way could be the most direct to Ni’Challan. There was no way of telling. Movement in the broken doorway in front of them revealed Algernon stepping back in defence of some new threat. Moulding his yellow light into a large hand, Rain ran in beside Algernon and faced the two animated armours, their swords now burning with blue light. Peggy lined up one of the two Venom troopers with her cannon and shot it square in the back. Having aided the golem, she then turned and followed Rain to face what Algernon had found.
The yellow glow in the corner was resolving itself into a human form, a figure wearing a high collared trench coat and long-bodied gun cradled in its arms. As the party readied for an attack, the person pulled up their arm cannon and aimed it straight down the room towards them. Algernon didn’t know if the figure had anything to do with it, but he didn’t think the force-field cutting out was an accident.
In unison, the armour charged across the room one arcing its sword towards Algernon, the other slashing out at Rain. Rain dodge aside, making the armour overreach and unbalance, Algernon could not move as fast, but his shields held and kept the blow from striking him. Peggy, in her cyborg persona, interposed herself between Rain and the armour. From inside her metal frame, the whirl of electrical motors fans and gears foreshadowed Peggy preparing to unleash on the two armours. Two bolts of plasma streaked from her cannon. The bolts ricocheted off the breastplates of both, leaving dents and a cracking field of energy, but not doing the damage she’d expected. Frowning, Peggy held her ground preparing for the returning blow.
In the previous room, Bruce watched the golem as it received a bladed blow from a Venom trooper, leaving a jagged scar across its fired clay body. From behind, a squad of six allied troopers ran through from the previous fight and started firing on the enemy. Bruce could see nothing behind the golem, the room beyond was full of thick smoke, making viewing impossible. Lifting his gun, Bruce shot twice, one on each enemy. One missed, having dodged the golem’s blow at the right time, the other bullet found its mark and killed it.
The troops opened fire only half hitting the enemy Venom trooper, as the golems earthenware fist smashed into its face. With the last round in his gun, Bruce shot and killed the creature, putting it out of its misery. Returning his first gun to its holster, he drew his second and looked up at the blank face of the golem,
“That’s it, right?”
The golem bowed its head solemnly towards him as a sign of respect and turned, entering the smoke and disappearing out of sight. The sound of more fighting within the smoke told a tale of more enemies. As the squad moved to follow the bulk of the party into the other room, Bruce called three over, and they followed the golem into the smoke.
In the armour room, the figure was most definitely a woman and with her weapon fully transported she fired, shooting an armour from behind. With her front-row position, Peggy realised the gun was projecting weaponised coherent space-time.
“It’s not Strangelove,” Algernon said out loud as he levitated the armour attacking him. Floating up and back to where it had come, the armour could do nothing but flail wildly, it’s legs trying to run but getting nowhere. Algernon moved forward, directing the armour back into its case as Rain brought around his large hand made of light and put it between him and the armour still fighting Peggy. The armour struck at the hand, dissipating some of its energy, but the hand held.
Unsure and wary of the individual with the space-time gun, Peggy shot at the woman before moving to protect Algernon. The bolt hit, but dispersed harmlessly off a shield, a few inches away from her body. The woman gave a disappointed shrug and once more shot the armour on the ground. It shattered into its many parts, clattering and bonging randomly across the room. The two armours now seemingly under control, Rain touched Algernon, pushing the energy of the Strange through him before running for the stairs and up to the next level.
With a shiver, Algernon focused the energy on the job at hand. He wanted to return to armour to its case, to do that he needed to reestablish the forcefield. The timing was critical. Letting go of the armour, he trained his thoughts and the Strange on the mechanism that controlled the forcefield. It should have been hard, but Algernon found the right connections and reestablished energy flow. The forcefield sprung into life between him and the armour just as it was maneuvering to attack once more. Instead, the armour stopped, inverted its sword to point down and stood at attention.
“Impressive, “ Said the woman reloading her weapon and overlooking Algernon’s handiwork.
“Who are you?” Peggy asked, her sharp tone sounding even harsher in her cyborg form.
“Uentaru,” She replied, pushing past Peggy, “I’m a friend of Ni’Challan.”
“Are you one of his ‘found’?” The note of disdain was clear. The group had met one of Ni’Challan’s Found Gentlemen last visit. An unsavoury slaver from Railsea called Rondat tu Vin.
“No, he looks after a few things for me. When he called for help, I teleported over.”
Somewhere above, the whoomp of a large energy weapon discharging followed by the blunt smack of a body hitting a metal wall.
“We should help your friend,” She cradled her gun and followed Peggy up the stairs.
In the smoke-filled exhibition space, Bruce could barely see a few metres ahead of him. Following the sounds of a massive battle, he found the golem trading blows with a Venom trooper Brute. The Brute was trying to bring its cannon to bear on the golem, but the close combat was hindering. In one corner, Bruce could just see the source of the smoke, a machine of some kind spewing billowing noxious clouds into the air. None of it phased Bruce. His mind was on the kill as he raised his new gun and shot the Brute. A chunk of cloned flesh flew from the left shoulder, and the arm dropped uselessly to its side.
Now it was a slugfest between the golem and the Brute. The golem swung a king hit on the Brute. In return, the Brute brought his fist up between them for an uppercut, smashing the golem. Blood and pottery shard flew everywhere as the three troopers awaited Bruce’s orders.
“Shoot the Brute!” He yelled, dropping his gun to pull out his faithful crowbar. The allied troopers provided cover fire, as Bruce ran in, swinging in with his full might and skill. His crowbar connected in a jarring blow cracked the skull of the Brute. The giant sank to its knees, finally keeling over, dead.
Bruce and his three troopers had finished the enemy threat on this floor. He took a moment to enjoy the rush of power, a unique feeling for the once construction worker. Looking around, he could now see the burning machine. A full-size working tie-fighter, straight out of Star Wars had been the innocent victim of a stray blaster bolt. Giddily, not from the smoke but his success, he wandered the room until he found glass hand grenades filled with a gel that purported to be fire extinguishers. Lobbing a few of those as the seat of the smoke seemed to do the trick, and the station’s environmental systems soon started clearing the smoke from the air.
The golem, its job done, now returned to a large plinth beside a doorway. Bruce wandered over and looked through the archway as the golem ceramic joints ground and settled back into place. Inside was an elevator with floor markers going up. There were a few scorch marks, a few stray shots had made their mark, but the mechanism seemed clear. There didn’t seem to be anything to do now but head back and find the others. Calling over his three troopers, they all trotted out and after Algernon.
Rain blindly ran up the stairs into the next room, expecting the automated weapon systems of the space station to turn aside for him like the ones downstairs. In this long narrow room, he spotted four of the regular wall-mounted turrets, as well as a large turret on a pop-up stand at the far end of the room. He had a moment’s realisation that a panel in a nearby wall had been opened and tampered with before the large turret fired. The plasma bolts caught him in the chest, picked him up and threw him into the back wall. Winded and dazed as his clothes smoked and smouldered, Rain could little but lay there and wait for the turret to find him again.
Peggy was first at his side and assessing the situation. With deft hands, she provided first aid and got him sitting up behind an exhibit for protection. Something in his side ground disturbingly as he moved. A rib? Something worse? He couldn’t tell. As shock settled in and he began to slide into a passive state of being injured, Uentaru appeared and silently handed him a healing cypher.
“Er…thank you.” He choked-out and accepted the gift from the stranger.
From the stairs, Algernon called, “What did it?”
“Cannon…someone’s tampered,” Rain replied and with a shaking hand pointed out the open panel on the wall.
Algernon scanned the room and judged the threat. It seemed that only the cannon had been tampered with as none of the four turrets had fired. Pulling out a cypher he carefully moved from exhibit to exhibit until he was in position, then placed the cypher on the floor. Instantly, a clear, indestructible shield rose between the panel and the cannon. Now protected, Algernon felt brave enough to defy the machine that had hurt his friend. Standing close to the shield, he pressed his lips up to its transparent surface and blew out his cheeks, a sign of defiance and childish bravado. The cannon fired, its bolt dispersing harmlessly against the shield. Unfortunately, now the four turrets fired. Two could not get through the defences of shield and exhibition force fields, but two behind Algernon shot him in the back. His armour took the damage, but he was rocked forward, chastened and ducked back undercover within reach of the panel.
Seeing Algernon take a hit, Peggy pulled out a shrapnel grenade, she’d picked up at The Scar, and bowled it underarm under the large turret. The grenade damaged the turret but didn’t stop it from firing again at Algernon behind the shield. The shield took the blow, flickered and held as Algernon got to work on the panel.
It was curious. The more Algernon looked at the sabotage done to the control panel, the more he realised it was exactly what he would have done. He returned the circuitry to its original configuration and stood, the cannon remained silent. So did he, about his small mysterious nugget of information.
Now feeling a little more together after Peggy’s first aid and the healing cypher, Rain spent the moments Algernon worked on the panel to talk to Uentaru, his mysterious benefactor.
“Where did you come from?”
“Oh, I have a small home in the middle of The Strange. I heard Ni’Challan was under attack and teleported across. I assume you did something similar.” She said in a friendly, efficient way that reminded Rain of a military officer. Neat, efficient and respectable.
“Something like that,’ He thought, of the beacons, their group had left for Doctor Strange to follow. A point in their story well worth leaving out.
“Sorry for attacking you,” Peggy’s metallic voice joined the conversation as if fearful of being left out, “Weren’t sure if you were friend or foe.”
“Well, “ Uentaru looked sidelong at Peggy, almost dismissively, “You weren’t much of a threat, so you’re forgiven.”
Peggy fumed, and in this cyborg form, it was a physical effect as steam rose from her metal body.
“Er… I for one am pleased to know that Ni’Challan has such good and adept neighbours,” Rain dragged the conversation back to something more civil as Algernon stood, still focused on the panel. The turrets were silent.
Algernon was now wondering, looking at the control panel in front of him. He pondered what mischief he could get up to with such access and by inference, what the tamperer would likely have done. Certainly interfering with the power supply to the force-fields was within control of this panel. He thought about what he would have done in their place. His usual process was to add a remote connection so he could control the systems here from wherever he went. With that thought in mind, he easily found a remote coupler tucked into the wiring. He pulled it out, only pausing a moment wondering if doing so would tip his hand to the coupler’s owner.
Bruce with six Venom troops in tow now stomped up their stairs and took in the room.
“No time to sit and smoke Rain.” He joked before spotting Uentaru with his friends, “Who are you?”
“Uentaru, a friend of Ni’Challan’s, “ She replied as simply as Bruce’s blunt question,
“She teleported across when she heard Ni’Challan was under attack, “ Rain added context and Bruce’s eyebrow raised,
“What? Into the middle of a firefight?”
“Yes, she’s been amazing,” Rain exalted before catching Peggy’s part human part cyborg red eyes glaring down. He shrugged as Uentaru and Bruce continued their conversation.
“Can you get us out to that ship outside?” He asked. He was determined to capture the Strangelove ship.
“First, find Ni’Challan,” She said, their mission set, Rain nodded in enthusiastic agreement.
“There’s a lift on the other side, where does it go?”
“Observation level for the specimen pens.”
The revelation was met with mixed reactions as the party wondered what sort of living creatures would Ni’Challan had thought to collect. The group picked Rain up and continued past the floor turret and into the next room.
It was smaller than most rooms they’d been in so far. Nearest the group a double force field denoted by yellow safety holograms filled a gap into a massive double-height room full of forest plants, cycads and vines. At the other end, elevator doors stood closed but ready to take viewers up to a mezzanine level high above the canopy.
“Oh, this would be the T-Rex exhibition space,” Uentaru mentioned offhandedly as the force field flickered.
Bruce looked through the dense foliage as everyone else looked up to a metal walkway above the forest. He saw the thick, scaly hide, the muscular legs and a plate-sized staring eye above height level. Algernon and Rain saw a figure, tinkering with another control panel on the far side of the room. Both did a double-take, then turned to look at each other.
“You did try to tell us,” Rain said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Tell you what?” Algernon asked as the forcefield flickered again and died leaving a large six-metre tall gap into the forest enclosure
“That we may end up fighting you someday,” The figure looked precisely like Algernon himself. The moment was lost to a more pressing problem.
“You know Jurassic Park?” Bruce said, gesturing to the huge beast now pushing its way through the forest to the gap. He turned to Uentaru now pointing to the metal walkway where the figure did his best to murder them all via dinosaur “How do we get up there?”
“Elevator,” She replied as if it were obvious. Raising her gun, she shot a round into the forest, the beast roared. The six troopers took up positions in the gap and started firing at what they could see of the T-Rex through the thick forest.
The second Algernon started at the noise and looked down to see the party below. Concentrating on the Strange, one minute Algernon was by Rain’s side, the next he was up on the walkway beside Algernon2. The mix of his Atomic Dash and Levitate surprising the saboteur. Up close, Algernon could see that his doppelganger was not a complete copy, with a different mix of the same facial features. It was more like looking at a brother than a twin or clone.
“That’s weird,” Commented Bruce and he raised his gun and trained it on the Algernon2, “Algernon never jumps into combat like that.” The bullet flew true, but the other Algernon was faster and dodged the bullet swinging his body out of its path in a blur of speed.
“Ah, I’m having second thoughts!” Algernon said so the rest of the party below.
Back on the ground, the fight with the Tyrannosaurus Rex was on in earnest. Both Peggy and Rain shot at the creature and missed; Peggy with her arm cannon and Rain with his fear laidened Hard-light blast. The troopers did better as did Uentaru, but the beast was massive, the bolts barely scratching its heavy hide.
On the walkway high above, Algernon2 sprung up from the ground and tried to connect with a roundhouse kick to Algernon’s head. Algernon stepped back, and the kick missed. His reflection in this eerie dance rebalanced and was ready to defend in a moment. Algernon used Mind link to pick up his doppelganger’s surface thoughts.
Why does this guy look familiar? Nevermind, he’s hostile! Along with the thought came the idea to push the hostile away and over the railing back into the dinosaur enclosure.
On the ground, the T-Rex was showing what it would do if it got jaws on Algernon. One bite and first one trooper, then another disappeared. Humanoids were a mere mouthful for this monster. Peggy shot and hit the T-Rex as Rain gave up trying to scare the creature with his blast. Instead, he created another hand of light and waggled it in front of the T-Rex’s nose as a distraction. A trooper and Uentaru both shot the T-Rex as the creature took the bait. Between jaws that could crush a car, the T-Rex snagged the hand, flailing it back and forth like the biggest rubber chew toy. Rain and Peggy both ran for the elevator doors.
“Disperse into the forest!” Bruce told the troopers as he used the noise and action to sneak past the T-Rex’s attention, and started climbing the metal infrastructure holding up the walkway. Grabbing a support, hand over hand he climbed a triangular support to the edge of the walkway. Grabbing the walkway from underneath with both hands, he swung himself up and rolled his body onto the walkway.
Now across the walkway from Algernon, Bruce watched as the figure crouched low and swung his fist up in a deadly uppercut. Even knowing it was happening, Algernon couldn’t match his twin for speed and the hit connected. He flew up and over the railing and fell through the forest canopy and back into the enclosure. Rolling back to his feet, Algernon attacked, focused on the reality around Algernon2. The space around him warped and shifted sickeningly. Algernon2 swayed drunkenly in place, an easy target for the sharpshooter waiting his chance.
Bruce didn’t hessitate. A shimmering field of energy around the figure slowed the bullet’s velocity, but could not stop it. Bruce saw blood blossom on the shoulder of the person that could have been Algernon. he grinned at getting past the enemies shielding and moved up ready to shoot again.
From the lift door, Peggy tried shooting the T-Rex as it swung back into the forest, chewing the hand. Her shot went wide and hit a trooper. The hand finally took as much abuse as it could stand and disappeared with a pop. The look of surprise on the dinosaur’s face would have been comical if it didn’t hold quite so many dagger-sharp teeth. It turned to find prey further in its jungle, in the location of fresh blood.
“Algernon, get out of there, brother! The T-Rex is coming!” Rain called out to Algernon somewhere across the enclosure deep in the undergrowth. Hearing Rain, the spark of the Strange still found Algernon and the old familiar feeling of competence filled him.
Above, Algernon2 had also had enough. Tinkering with the control panel once more, he opened a door beside him and made his escape. Through the mind link, Algernon knew he was going for help. More like himself? No, others. Levitating up, Algernon joined Bruce on the walkway, and together they followed Algernon2 around the corner.
On the ground, Rain was frustrated by the slowness of the elevator. Even when the doors finally opened, Uentaru and Peggy took two last parting shots at the T-Rex. Uentaru gravely injured the beast, but it was Peggy’s shot that finally killed it. As its hulking body collapsed to the ground making the room shudder, she had a moment to consider her actions.
“I’ve done a terrible thing,” She said as Rain impatiently held the door for the four remaining troopers now returned from the forests. With a shudder, Rain made another hand and put it up between himself and his Venom trooper allies.
Now too far away for Mind Link, Algernon and Bruce chased Algernon2 down a long hallway from the T-Rex room. Dropping something as he passed, Algernon2 ducked in a doorway and out of sight. The thing sprang to life, another forcefield that shimmered blue. As they moved closer, Bruce could feel the bitter cold emitted by the shield and slowed. Algernon did not. Instead, he Atomic Dashed through hoping the speed would mitigate most of the cold damage. The frost field bit deep into his shield, and it snuffed out of existence. The cold did not touch him, however, his speed made him lose grip on the icy floor. Sliding out of control, he slammed face-first into the wall opposite. Running through at a more careful pace, Bruce kept his footing. He reached the corner in time to see Algernon2 run to the side of two Venom Trooper Brutes.
In a large room past the force-field, a shooting battle had been raging for some time. The two brutes had their backs to Bruce and Algernon as they shot from behind a makeshift barricade. Two more squads of three Venom troopers were further ahead trading shots with a wall turret. Algernon2 said something to the Brutes before disappearing into the fight. The Brutes together turn to face the door, Bruce and Algernon.
Algernon scanned the area for flammables, found one and ignited it, a canister filled with a swirling gas. With a violent explosion, Venom troopers scattered to the floor, and the battle was now on two fronts. Bruce stood back and set down the second of the two gates cyphers. Instantly a tear in reality, let their troopers into the fray as the two Brutes shot the doorframes inches from both the companions.
When they looked again, they could just see the doppelganger organising the second group of Venom troopers to concentrate fire on the wall turret. It would not last long under the torrent of damage.
Two rooms away Rain, Peggy and companions burst out of the elevator and started running around the exhibition space walkway. They were most of a room and a hallway away, frustratingly far from a gunfight they could hear was happening. As they ran, Rain reached out and Stimulated Peggy knowing that she was the faster of the two of them. He hoped she would get there in time.
To be continued…