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31. War and Consequences

The group have fought floor to floor clearing of Dr Strangelove’s Venom Troopers out of Ni’Challan’s space station in the Graveyard of the gods.  Aiding the enemy is a brother to Algernon, a powerful fighter and brilliant infiltrator on par with Algernon himself.  It is a battle of wits and brawn as the opposing sides regroup for one last push.


Rain, Peggy, Uentaru and their four remaining venom troopers 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 in the distance.  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.

Closer to the fighting, Bruce and Algernon huddled either side of the doorway leading to a large room already in the midst of battle. The room was flanked by a window looking out into space and felt more ultilatarian than the rest of the station they had seen.  As they dodged the cannon fire of two Brute Venom Troopers, a second wave of allied troopers poured out of a gate in the hallway behind them and started returning fire.

Algernon took some time scanning the room.  This place was lacking the forcefields and exhibits of the other areas and seemed to contain more crates for storage with computers for the management of the rest of the complex.  Behind a group of enemy troopers, he could just see a control panel in a wall beside the long window. Out of the corner of his eye, a movement and a small cylinder flew through the air towards him.  His counterpart had thrown another cypher.  Algernon dodged aside and let the cylinder skitter around the hallway before levitating it back into the battle.  From experience, his counterpart was too hard a target, so he directed the canister towards the group of venom troopers closest to the control panel. Before it had a chance to reach the ground, the canister exploded creating a blue dome of energy that quickly dissolved leaving three frozen troopers, caught in the moment of the detonation.

Weapon’s fire to the right of their doorway drew the boys attention to another room and a fight with more of the enemy.  It seemed there were more allies in the space station fighting back against the invaders.  In contrast, outside the long window, Strangelove’s ship loomed.  Two small dots ejected from the body of the vessel and silently grew larger.

Bruce wanted the little pipsqueak that was causing them so much grief, but that individual had disappeared in the chaos of battle.  Instead, he consoled himself with shooting the two Brutes. Both shots went wide, one lost in the battle, the other, through one end of the long window.   In morbid fascination, Bruce could do nothing but stare as spider-web cracking appeared around the small projectile hole, beyond it, nothing but the vaccum of space.

In the T-Rex exhibition space, Uentaru sprinted keeping up with the group as Peggy raced ahead on her bird-like cyborg legs.  In a few strides, she was down the hallway where the boys held their position.  Between them, the shimmer of the frozen force field still held.  Pushing her speed as fast it would go, she raced through the force field, feeling the bite of the bitter cold for only a moment before she was out the other side and with Algernon and Bruce. 

Venom troopers, having dealt with the turret now turned their attentions on the invaders from behind, two shooting at Bruce and one on Algernon.  From the cover of bulkheads, the boys were safe from their attacks.  One stepped out further than the rest to get a better shot and exposed itself in the process.  An orange beam of light streaked out from the room to the right and destroyed the reckless Venom Trooper.  The cavalry arrived in the form of the clay golem as it lumbered into the room, but no sign of the orange laser wielder.

Out of the midst of the enemy lines the doppelganger lurked, a large energy rifle aimed at Bruce. Blue bolt shot through the chaos, hitting Bruce. Crackling electricity crawled across his armour sparking at exposed skin but doing little but drawing attention to the shooter.  Now Bruce knew where the pipsqueak had gone, and he drew a bead on his target.

Algernon was still thinking.  He watched as the two dots in the widow grew large,  rectangular and ominous.  He watched the troops trying to take control of the space.

What does Doctor Strangelove want here that she’s investing so much?  If we found it first, could we make them come to us?

Second thought lets not do that.

And with that idea in mind, he raced across the battleground behind the Venom troopers frozen in time and closer to the control panel.

There was no mistaking them now, two troop carriers were lining themselves up to clamp to the side of the space station, directly onto the room they were currently fighting.

“Incoming troop landers, quick!” Bruce yelled as he fired his gun, one each on the two Brutes still dominating the centre of the room and one of the pipsqueak. The first shot hit, making the Brute rock, but the other two miss their targets, the human once more disappearing into the battle.

With troop carriers positioning themselves to deliver their cargo, Peggy went to work getting rid of the last of the old Venom troopers left in the battle.  The three frozen in time became her main interest as she started blasting away at them with her hand cannon. Powering up she hoped to blast them all away with one hit. Unfortunately tough exoskeletons meant that when the smoke cleared, two of the three figures were still standing.  The third lay in pieces all around.

Rain reached the ice wall with the allied troopers and Uentaru.  Laying down his hand of light, he made a small gap in the ice field that he quickly slipped through. The venom troopers just ran through without regard to their safety, and one died, frozen in the field.  The three remaining joined their comrades from the second portal to lay down a stream of covering fire.  Uentaru walked through, her shields taking the brunt of the cold damage.  She winced as she stepped out, ready for the next phase of the battle.

As the golem menaced the last remaining burnt venom troopers, the doppelganger threw another cypher into the midst of battle.  It fell to the floor with a thud, spewing thick cloud from both ends, obscuring vision throughout the whole room.

What’s he up to now? Algernon thought as the cloud obscured what he was up to as well.  Carefully, he moved a crate closer to the control panel and opened the door, exposing the computer systems inside.

In the fog, only sound told the tale. A heavy thug coinciding with the crack of an exoskeleton informed them the golem had found his target.  Clunk! Clunk!  The room shook as the troop carriers connected to the station’s hull.

Bruce gave up his range attacks and pulled out his crowbar.  Leaping into the fray he dodged a number of attacks on him before he found his prey. In the smoke, he found the youth that had evaded him throughout the battle and slugged him hard with the crowbar.  He should have gone down under the blow, many larger enemies had, but the boy just turned in surprise and looked up at Bruce.

“Now lie down and stay down!” Bruce bellowed into his face.

Across the room, Peggy was still trying to destroy the frozen venom troopers.  Shooting again, one shattered into thousands of tiny shards, only one more to go.  Darting in ahead of her, Rain made straight for where he last saw Algernon before the smoke obscured everything.  Reaching his brother’s side, he used a cypher to create a mind-link between the two of them.  The communication passed in a flash of thought.

I have options for you. Strangelove may appear at any moment.  You can have a boost like that in the exhibition space, or if you think she may have some voice control over you, I can suggest that whatever she says sounds like nonsense to you.  

Okay.  Why?

You understand the enemy better than me and…I want to give you the choice.

Okay, I like the second idea very much.

Rain nodded and turned his attention to the battle around them.

The battle was at its peak.  Fighting from the northern room was now spilling into the control centre.  Blue outlines marked where lasers cut entrances for the troop carriers’ were forming.  Uentaru entered the battlefield blowing away the last of the frozen venom troopers in front of Peggy.  The doppelganger slipped away from Bruce and ran towards the other room as his counterpart used a cypher to boost his intellect and started the most crucial data dive of his life.

Schematics of the space station.  

Where are they going?

What does she want?

The two thoughts lead his search as he worked through lists of collected items.  In a separate file marked, Private Collection  he found one exhibit that drew his attention, 

Fragment of a planetvore collected in destroyed recursion…

Through the mind-link, he passed the information onto Rain who groaned at the implications.  In the smoke, the Golem was unseen, but not unheard as another venom trooper was crushed under its massive fist.  Above their heads, a small bullet hole into space whistled and expanded.   Rain peered through the smoke to see a person dart out of the room to the north to a central control centre, shooting a venom trooper as he passed.


Relief and happiness made Rain’s light bloom in the fog.  Drawing it together, he formed a tower shield and placed it between the Ni’Challan and a group of troopers following him, two Brutes and a new group of Venom troopers.  Uentaru ran across the battlefield and wedged herself in behind Ni’Challan.  Using the hard-light tower shield as cover, she shot at the latest wave of Venom troopers that had followed Ni’Challan.

Amid the fighting, Bruce was surrounded by the two Brutes that had dominated the battle only moments ago.  One tackled Bruce, pinning him to the ground as the other swung a metal-clad foot back and tried kicking him.  Though prone, he was able to move and wriggled aside as the boot clanged off his armour harmlessly.  Peggy seeing Bruce’s predicament called out,
“Deep breath!” and inserted a cypher into her cannon.  The cypher, canister ammunition shot out over the three struggling figures and exploded, forming a thick cloud of hallucinogenic gas.  The two Brutes instantly stopped fighting Bruce, the one holding him lay down beside him, hugging him like a favourite teddy, the other found the spider-web like crack in the window fascinating.  Bruce swung out with his crowbar at the one holding him, but the bear hug was restrictive, and he didn’t connect with the blow.

Blind to almost everything happening around him, Algernon continued to search the computers for a strategic solution to their problem.  In a fight of attrition, they were going to lose, so they needed to change the battlefield in their favour, use the environment to gain an advantage.  He found the life support systems and the gravity for the station.  Isolating just the battle room, he went to work setting up a delay while letting Rain know what he was doing.  Through the link, he felt Rain nodd and give thanks before moving to put the plan into action.

Through the bullet hole, the smoke slowly vented into space.  The battlefield cleared.  The golem charged the two Brutes in the doorway to the second room as Uentaru shot the Venom Troopers. Across the way, the new openings fell from the bulkheads revealing two new Brutes and half a dozen further Venom Troopers reinforcements. 

Bruce hits the Brute still cuddling him and wriggled free as Rain ran across the space, replenishing the light shield on Ni’Challan and yelling,

“Get ready to run!” He yelled, pointed at the other room, its doorway currently filled by two Brutes their troops and the Golem.

Bruce climbed out of the snuggle of Brutes to see the cracks in the window, now across its full width.  He’d heard the cry to leave but wasn’t ready to flee the fight just yet.  Instead, he threw himself into the melee at the door, swinging his crowbar at one of the Brutes.  As Rain ran passed, a touch and a one-word message, “Run!” As the energy of the Strange flowed through Bruce.

Peggy heard the call and fired a plasma arc at the two Brutes as she charged the doorway.  Electricity sizzled above her head as she ran between them. Troopers’ force bolts hit her metal body, but not before she’s able to make it through the group at the door and into the next room.  Here, Doctor Strange’s deputy in the battle was tinkering once more at another control panel.  With only one enemy in her sights, Peggy ran across the room charging the doppelganger where he worked.  Even distracted, he was quicker and moved out of the way, but her actions had forced him to stop his work. He glared at her with anger that Peggy had never seen on Algernon’s face. Abandoning his work, the doppelganger swung a punch at Peggy that clanged off her metal armour.

Algernon set his delayed disaster to go and ran across the room through Vemon trooper fire from both sides.  Allied and enemy alike fell into the crossfire between the two sides as one by one Peggy, Rain, Algernon, Ni’Challan and Uentaru ran for the doorway.  In the fight between the golem and the two Brutes, Ni’Challan shot one as the Golem pounded the face of the other.  The Brute tried punching back but miss as across the battlefield fresh troops carriers opened fire on the escaping enemy.  Algernon, Uentaru and Rain all dodge and weaved their respective force bolts not finding their targets.

Algernon, the last through the door, looked back on the scene of battle.  The doors would close at any second, and the two Brutes were still inside.  Levitating one of the many crates that filled this room, he threw it at the Brute fighting Bruce.  It was enough to push it through the door as the gravity of the battle room switched, and Venom trooper, crates and broken turret fell towards the compromised window. He had the satisfaction of seeing the window explode out into space, and everything sucked out into the void before the doors shut before him.

The golem brought its two clay hands together on the head of the last Brute and crushed it into its body.  The Brute slumped to the floor.  That left the remaining enemy, Algernon’s look-a-like, fighting Peggy across the room.  Peggy sent a plasma arc towards the youth who once more dodged it with his preternatural speed.  Now bereft of enemies, Bruce once more pulled out his gun, took careful aim and shot the distracted youth.  Able to dodge a lone enemy, the doppelganger could not avoid two enemies at once, and the bullet passed through his shielding and struck.  He collapsed into a small heap in the corner, and the battle was finally over.  Outside the window Doctor Strangelove’s ship turned and started moving away from the space station, its army of clones destroyed.

Rain was oblivious to the battle in the corner as he ran to Ni’Challan, ready to embrace the man before realising it would be unappreciated and quickly brought his arms down to his side.  

“Good to see you well, sir.” He said, stiffly as Ni’Challan checked the health of his home through a control panel.

“Hm…yes. Who are these people?”

“Venom troopers from Ruk, Algernon has deduced they’re here for a remnant of a planetvore in your collection.”

Ni’Challan’s  face grew serious as he focused on the task before him, “That’s serious, indeed.”

The fight in the corner won, Algernon walked over and pulled out his crossbow aiming it at the unconscious figure.

“Algernon?” Peggy said, unsure what she should do next and concerned by the look on Algernon’s face.  She sat staring up at her companion as Bruce put away his gun and started walking over.

It can’t be allowed to live, Filtered through the mind-link to Rain who until that point had not been paying attention to the fight or its outcome.

Don’t you dare, He replied mentally.  Torn now between checking in with Ni’Challan and the big trouble brewing just a few metres away, he guiltily stayed by Ni’Challan feeling like a small child by its parent’s side while his friends fought.  It is then that Bruce arrived and saw the boy was still alive. 

For the first time in the battle, he saw the look -a-like not as an adversary, but as a human kid, at least by Earth standards.  Giving a fleeting thought to Algernon as he ‘stood guard’, Bruce quietly knelt between the boy and Algernon’s crossbow and pulled out his first aid kit.  His fingers numb and shaking, he couldn’t seem to concentrate on what he was doing. Silently, Peggy’s hands took the medical supplies and started applying them to the boy’s wounds as Bruce just sat back and watched.

Algernon froze. His whole life and experience told him that the creature was dangerous and would only cause him and his family harm.  Like cancer, it should be quickly cut out for the good of the whole.  And yet, here was Bruce and Peggy healing the thing, and Rain telling him, not asking him, to stop.  The wavering point of the bolt dropped, and Algernon could do nothing but walk away.

The air whistled through the internal door to the control centre, reminding everyone that beyond its meagre seal, the vacuum of space lay.

“Is there somewhere safer than here?” Rain prompted Ni’Challan who flicked a few switches and all around the party the sound solid metal crashed down.  Blast shields in place, there was no place safer in the whole broken space station.

“He’ll be out for a day or two,” Peggy finally announced once she finished patching up the boy as best he could.  Beside her lay the boy’s possessions, a few cyphers that she now took an interest in as Bruce stumbled away.  Amongst the lot was an item of very rare engineering.  Meant to sit on a belt it created permanent shields, much like the one that Algernon himself generated.  As a tech-based solution, it could be used indefinitely.  Peggy carefully put away the cyphers and the field generator and headed over the Ni’Challan to asking him a question.

“Hey kid, “ Bruce said his voice raspy as he came up beside Algernon. Algernon lay, curled up in the opposite corner from his look-a-like, his crossbow resting his arms.

“Did I miss something? What was the crossbow for?”

“We don’t leave enemies alive, Mr Bruce.” Algernon words came out forced and hard between clenched teeth, “We just don’t.”

“But, he’s just a kid, “ Bruce’s eyes drift across to where the boy lay silent and still, “ I shot him three times, I don’t shoot kids.”

“You should have made it four,” Algernon replied now sitting up to see Bruce better.  Bruce looked haunted, a look of horror and guilt came over his face every time he looked at the boy across the way.

Algernon made an exasperated sound at the emotions on display. “He…we were never kids, Mr Bruce,” Algernon confessed before laying back down, curling up and eventually falling asleep.

“Do you have a lab onboard?” Peggy asked Ni’Challan, joining the group at the computer console.  

“A small one, why?”

“Can I use it, I just want to run a little comparative DNA analysis.”

“I afraid the lab is not that advanced.”

Thoughts of Peggy’s lab reminded Rain of the beacons, particularly the one that led to the Graveyard. Suddenly all the guilt for the death and destruction lay heavily on him and needed confessing.

“Ni’Challan, I need to tell you something. We inadvertently left a bug last time we were here. It’s what led the ship to you.”

“How do you inadvertently leave a bug?” Ni’Challan’s blue eye now cold turned on Rain, and he felt their sting.  Peggy pointed at the sleeping Algernon.


“We didn’t know we were leaving them until a few days ago and then we didn’t make the connection to you until we found out a party we were investigating had left suddenly about the same time.  Algernon made the connection to you.  We can as soon as we knew.”

“Huh, I’ll keep an eye out, give a description and I’ll set my scanners to look for them”  He replied perfunctorily and went back to his work.

“Sir, Ruk knows about you now. The one we followed here, we will be dealing with, but the ones that helped us with support…” Rain let the sentence hang, having no idea was the Quiet Cabal would do with someone like Ni’Challan, “Is that going to be a problem?”

“We shall see, I suspect,” Ni’Challan replied stoically and gave no clue to Rain about how he thought on the subject.  

Rain sighed.  He’d forgotten Ni’Challan was almost a stranger.  Only to him did the relationship of a few hours mean so much.  Even the leaving of the card was the planting of a seed that he never took any care in tending.  Rain had so much he wanted to say, but all seemed so out of place amongst the ruins of the man’s home.  Knowing that Ni’Challan was still alive would have to be enough for now.  Excusing himself, Rain left Ni’Challan and Uentaru to talk to Bruce.

Bruce by this time had returned to the kid’s side, just staring.  The stillness from the usually active and vital Bruce was disconcerting.  Rain walked up and crouched beside him,

“Tell me what you’re thinking?”

“Wha?” The far away looked quickly flickered to Bruce’s sharp-eye angry stare and Rain had to sit down to stop for backing away.

“I’m…very angry at you,” 

“Okay,” He had no idea what he’d done wrong now, but better a Bruce angry at him for some slight than silent brooding Bruce, “So, hit me with it.”

“You…bonded to that naive kid, force yourself on him like…” Bruce searched for a hard enough word and found it, “…like you raped him.”

In reference to the Bloodbrother bond Rain had initiated as they translated into Ruk, It was a slap in the face to Rain. Hadn’t he wanted to do the best for Algernon? Indeed, Algernon himself had accepted the bloodbrother pact well, creating a similar link between the two of them through the Allsong. No rape was the wrong word… rape was the stealing of innocence and safety from the other person.  The gesture had meant the complete opposite,  physical sign of the security there was between them.  He glanced at Algernon in the corner; good intentions had a way of really messing you up.

“Harsh, but I see your position,” He replied finally, “At the time I didn’t think I had a choice, things were moving too fast for me and I needed Algernon to know he wasn’t alone.”

Bruce expression drifted away from Rain as his attention slipped back to the new kid.  Good intentions once again were finding a way to messing up Bruce too. Rain could think of no words.  Instead, he kneeled beside Bruce and hugged him.  The response was swift and final.

“Urgh! Get off me!” Exclaimed Bruce and elbowed Rain in a response more akin to a kid being kissed than an adult brushing off unwanted attention.  Still injured from the blast by the cannon, the elbow made contact with injured ribs.  Pain lanced through Rain, freezing the breath in his lungs.  The corners of his vision greyed as he fell away from Bruce and into a dead faint.

Hours later Rain awoke still lying beside Bruce and Peggy.  He felt better for the long rest.  It seemed he hadn’t slept in days and the extended rest had chased away the last of the cobwebs.  Opposite, his arms wrapped around his legs, Algernon just stared at the three of them. 

“We should have just killed him,” Algernon said, it didn’t need spelling out who he meant.

“I would have been like killing you?” Rain replied quietly as not to disturb the others.

“What? Like killing myself?”

Rain nodded, surprised by the turn of phrase, “Something like that.”

“He could be just mind-controlled, he doesn’t know any better, he’s just a kid,” Bruce replied, seemingly not as asleep as Rain had thought.

“Every enemy left is an enemy at our back,” Algernon countered, a cynical statement from a life of battle.

“Every enemy spared is a potential ally,” Rain replied, also from a lifetime of experience, “And what an ally he can be.  Smart, knowledgeable, fast and ruthless. Just like you.”

“He’s just a kid,” Bruce repeated, the fact now haunting them all as it haunted him.

“He’s not a kid, and neither am I,” Algernon said with the first notes of loss Rain had ever heard from his friend, “I know I say I’m just a kid, but I’m not. I watch documentaries. I know what kids are meant to be. We’re something different.  I don’t know what we are.”

“What, no childhood memories?” It was Peggy now also awake a listening.  Rain sat up to watch his friends.

Algernon was thinking back on his life, a probably more demanding task than he had trying to workout out how to destroy a roomful of enemy soldiers.  

“My…memories are…fragments…going back maybe two years.  I remember helping Doctor Strangelove in the lab and then… out fighting.”  He thought again, and Rain longed to look in on the process of Algernon sifting through his splintered life.  Eventually, he shook his head, giving up, “I was never a baby, never a little kid.”


“That I remember.”

Peggy fell silent and looked pensive.  She’d always known there was something odd about the boy.  Eventually, she too nodded her head and accepted the truth.

A few hours later, after giving their goodbyes to Ni’Challan, the group translated back, the unconscious boy specifically placed between Peggy and Bruce in the circle.

They returned directly to the labs of the Quiet Cabal who were pleased to see them and had made preparations for their return.  They had found the location of the secret lab and had prepared transport for the party to get out to the site.  They quickly found a room to put the still unconscious kid while the group cleaned up, ate and relaxed before preparing to head back out to find the Doctor Strangelove’s lab.

Peggy, as usual, found her relaxation in the lab.  A simple DNA comparison between Algernon and the new boy.  When Rain caught wind of her testing, he offered up a suggestion,

“Test your DNA as well,” He said and realised she was in her holographic robot form.  Not even cyborg here with some human to test with, this version of Peggy as all synthetic and had nothing with which to experiment.

“Why in God’s name would I do that?” She asked, curious as to the purpose of this endeavour.

“Nevermind, I would have liked to have seen a comparison between the boys and a fully grown human. You keep going on about telemites being short…or something. ” He lied smoothly. 

“Telomeres,” Peggy corrected, “Oh, alright. I have my DNA sequence memorised.”

Peggy sent up the DNA testing for Algernon and the still unknown boy as Rain and Algernon hung around watching.  When the results came through she set up two DNA sequences side by side and pointed out the features.

“Now, see here, the ends of the DNA sequences are shortened, we think that was because they were artificially made from the parents’ DNA.  As to the parents, the DNA sequence both hold enough evidence to prove they both had one of each and that they happened to be the same individuals. It’s not surprising.”

She then pulled up a third sequence that to Rain’s eyes looked identical to the other two, 

“Now this is the sequence of a fully grown adult, female with undamaged telomeres and…” She stopped talking for a moment as her holographic hand moved from one sequence to the other two.  Rain silently watched as the hologram glitched and faltered.  The box that held the intelligence of Doctor Peggy Martin fell out of the air and bounced once on the floor. Rain picked it up, pleased that one of his conspiracy theories had been proven right.

“What just happened to Doctor Peggy?” Algernon asked, coming over to see the results for himself.

“You’d be able to tell me better than I can tell you, but I believe she’s just gone from stepmother to sister,” Rain smirked, pleased with himself.

Algernon took no time to confirm the fact.  As incredible as it may seem, each of the individuals on display were related and had the same two parents.

“You knew, how did you work it out?”

Rain’s self-satisfied smirk faulted a little at this point.

“Well, I would exactly say worked it out…more of a hunch.  Quickened are rare and yet here we are all four of us, you two being particularly interesting being both listed as the Paradox type, at least by the literature I’ve read.”

  “If you are fifteen years old, and I must admit that is looking unlikely now, it fitted in with the time of Peggy’s parents’ disappearance being approximately twenty years ago.  You are human, and we don’t know of too many abducted humans, though again I admit that there are probably many other abducted people they could have been.”

  “Peggy has always been adamant that the Rockwheelers lived underground and the lab is underground. I don’t know where the water comes in, maybe a trip to the labs will answer that one too.”

  “I guess, what it comes down to is that Peggy made a Strange machine to look for her parents.  Not just a weird machine, but a machine that uses the Strange.  She longed to find her lost family, and the first time she turned on the machine…it found you.” He gestured to Algernon, “You being dragged to Earth was not a mistake, just not intentional.”

“What sort of people were Doctor Peggy’s parents that they could make three quickened children?” Algernon finally asked after working through Rain’s convoluted thinking.

“I would suspect, very gifted ones.”

Bruce hadn’t left the kids side.  

Rain took the Peggy box to see him in his contemplation.  When first he saw the silent box, Bruce couldn’t help but ask,

“What happened to her?”

“She found out they’re related,” Rain gestured to the figure on the bed.

“Not Algernon and…” He gestured to the bed as well.

“That too.  All three.  Siblings.”  Happy to share his confirmed theory again, he sat down in a nearby seat and shared the story of the DNA results.

“So she went into a Robo-coma?” Bruce asked once all the story was out to Rain’s satisfaction.

“It was a lot for her to take in,” He tapped the metal body making an empty ringing sound, “I thought you could relate to Peggy right now.”

Either the tapping on her metal body or saying her name did the trick as soon as Rain finished his sentence, Peggy’s box floated back up to usually operational height and started flying away.

“I have to leave…” Her tinny voice coming through even more distracted than usual.

“And not save your parents?” Rain said over his shoulder and was rewarded by another clang as Peggy once more fell to the ground.  He went and picked her up.

“Don’t go to Earth Peggy. There’s nothing for you there.”  He said gently, bringing her back into the sick room and sitting down.

“Wha…what about my family?” She asked, referring to her brother and grandmother, whose lives seemed to go along quite happily without her.

“Your family is here on Ruk,” He soothed, “Your brothers, us…your parents.”

The box shuddered and fell silent once more. Rain sighed.  

Two broken souls here and one lost one up in the labs, He thought and wondered if Algernon heard.  It didn’t matter.  They’d been there for him, and he’d be there for them.  Rocking the Peggy box, he sat in silence with Bruce while keeping his Allsong link open for Algernon.

In Rain’s world, things were looking up.

30. Brothers at Arms

 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…