The Road To Whateley (Part 2)
A Whateley Academy 2nd Generation Tale
The Road To Whateley
By Bek D. Corbin and E. E. Nalley
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Deep, dark depression, excessive misery
If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all
Gloom, despair, and agony on me
Buck Owens & Roy Clark, Hee-Haw
August 28th, 2016
Brennan Residence, Paradise Island in the West Caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua
Homecomings are always a raucous event at the Brennan household, even when the entire herd had gone out and no one had remained home. The entire family had seen young Nick Junior off and his father had long since given up any hope that seven children and three adults can enter a domicile quietly. His daughters raced his sons to see who could get to the television and it's Goodkind Fun Box first and having beaten the boys began to crow their victory as they debated among themselves which of the "girly" games they would play much to the consternation of the boys.
"Settle down," scolded Julie as she moved to sort the children out and calm them down even as the argument broke out over which game would be chosen.
In the midst of this the phone began to ring. Seeing that her husband was occupied and trying to console her sister wife Heather who was still worried about her son going off to a strange school thousands of miles away, Felicity rolled her eyes with a smile and shook her head. "I'll get it," she announced to no one in particular, turning her steps into the kitchen.
The phone, in it's charging cradle, looked like it belonged more in the 20s than a modern home. It was black enameled Bakelite with brass accents with a separate cylindrical ear piece connected by a wire that was held in a brass hook arrangement. Were not for the large button pad at the base of the unit and the antenna that rose out the bulbous microphone it looked like something Al Capone would've used. The antique styling was more than aesthetic, but a practical nod to the equines physiology as became apparent when Felicity picked up the device and held the earpiece to her ear, nearly a foot from her mouth. "Brennan residence, Felicity speaking."
After a moment of listening a tiny spark of concern began to grow in the back of Felicity's mind. "You can speak with me I'm… Well you could call me his stepmother… Fine if you'd rather speak with my husband, one moment." Felicity thumbed the mute button and carried the unit with her out of the main room where Nick was still rubbing Heather shoulders and encouragement. Felicity kissed Heather's cheek before she turned to look up in to Nick's broad face. "Baby? It's a lady from the school, a Miss Claire?"
Nick nodded and took the phone from his wife leaving her to comfort Heather as he held the unit up to his face. "This is Col. Brennan, how can I help you Miss Claire?" He listened intently for several minutes a frown pulling on his face which began to cause both of his wives worry. "What you mean the start of school's been delayed?" He demanded. "Explosions? I just got back from putting my son on a plane! What's going on up there?"
August 29th, 2016
30'2”N -80' 9”W Atlantic Ocean off Jacksonville, FL
Nick's sharp ears heard the helicopter long before he saw it. The silence of the open ocean and it's ability to carry sound over great distance was disturbing for some, but he was long since used to it. It was a big Seabird helicopter, the Navy's version of the Thunderbird he had ridden in at New World Simulations. It's distinctive red white and black paint scheme caused Nick to reach over to the radio embedded in the pedestal that supported the destroyer wheel he was manning and turn it up. Coming across the Coast Guard at sea was usually an indication something bad had happened.
Or was about to.
As if on cue the radio crackled to life as the helicopter began to circle overhead. "Ahoy sailing vessel, this is Coast Guard Helo 247 on VHF 16, identify yourself, over." AJ came up from below, drawn from the noise of the helicopter, a confused look on his face. Nick shrugged in answer to his unasked question and brought the microphone up was mouth.
"Hello Coast Guard, hello Coast Guard, hello Coast Guard, US flagged Sailing Vessel Aurora, hailing Hilo 247 on VHF 16, over.”
"Sailing Vessel Aurora, you are commanded to heave to and adjust to heading 289 to put into Port of Jacksonville. If you fail to comply or deviate from that course you will be fired on, over."
Nick immediately spun the wheel nosing the yacht on to the new course before he brought the mic up again. "Hilo 247, Aurora, will comply to heading 289. We are a brokered yacht on course for delivery to owner, why are we being overhauled, over?"
"Aurora, Hilo 247, your vessel is reported stolen, over."
The color went out of AJ's face. "St...Stolen?" He stammered. "That...that makes us Pirates, right? They still hang Pirates, right?"
Nick smiled what he hoped was a calming smile and shook his head. "Not to worry AJ," he soothed. "Even if somebody is using Jay in some elaborate ploy to steal this boat, the movement contract and my captain's ticket absolves us of any wrongdoing." He keyed the microphone again. "Hilo 247 I have a valid movement contract filed with Coast Guard Miami through International Yacht Brokers. If you want to put a man in the water I'll be happy to pick him up and show my papers are valid, over."
Aurora, much as I'd love to, I have this directly from my CO, I'm not allowed to resolve this in the field. My speedboat will be on station in 10 minutes, they'll escort you in.” The helicopters nose pitched over as it sped off towards Florida just over the horizon. "If your papers check out you'll be on your way in no time skipper."
"They're leaving?" AJ asked staring at the departing helicopter. "I guess were too slow to make a run for it anyway, huh?” Nick only chuckled as he adjusted luff of the mainsail.
"From that altitude he won't lose sight of us until well after his speedboat gets here," Brennan assured him. "Besides it's probably due to some paperwork snafu, we'll be back underway again in no time."
August 29th, 2016
Harbormaster's office, Port of Jacksonville, FL
AJ sat on a bench outside the harbormaster's office at the edge of the marina. While he felt a little guilty about having quickly extricated himself from the argument Nick was waging inside, he felt he could only make things worse if he tried to help. His identity had been verified without having been linked to his mother and as far as AJ was concerned the best thing he could do to help his new friend was to extract himself from that situation and make sure that association did not come to light.
There were many times being related to a Super villain had unwelcome and unpleasant consequences and AJ had become quite adept at seeing those situations coming and avoiding them. As much as he wanted to help Nick, the debate had become legalistic with a frightening amount of speed with shouting matches over certifications, contracts, and even Nick's age. And while AJ was well-versed in certain matters of criminal law, especially those laws regarding paranormals and mutants, maritime law was not something he was even remotely exposed to.
So as soon as he was able made himself scarce, retrieved his belongings from the Aurora, and settled in to wait to see what the outcome was. He took his tablet out while he sat on the bench, because both of his parents had beaten into him how important it was to have a backup plan, so he amused himself in finding other ways to get to New Hampshire.
The results were not promising.
The door the harbormaster's office was violently thrown open as Nick's rumbling basso voice rolled out of it like a thunderstorm. "Hey, bro, I'm better than half horse, what's your excuse for being such a dick?" The young Animan threw himself onto the bench with such force that it moved as his bags landed like a thunderclap next to AJ's.
The russet haired young man looked up as much larger friend. "Bad news, Huh?"
Nick turned back over his shoulder at the harbormaster office. "Ass holes!" He shouted, then bend over and buried his face in his hands. "Fuck!" He swore. "My first command too!"
"Well that's illuminating," AJ deadpanned his tone dripping sarcasm.
Nick uncurled from the ball and sprawled over the bench backwards his gaze up in the sky. "It's just bullshit bro!" He proclaimed the heavens. He held up his hand and counted off his points on his thick fingers. "They've impounded Aurora, which means the owners have to come and prove who they are, prove they own the boat and pay the impound fees. Jay is probably gonna be liable for all their travel expenses and inconveniences, which means the percentage chance I'll get work from International Yacht Brokers again is diddley over squat, and Captain Authority in there suspended my Master's ticket pending a review on whether a minimum age requirement is needed!"
"Is Jay still gonna pay us?" Nick blew air out his lips in a remarkably horse-like gesture.
"Yeah, he's gonna Western Union it. I've got the confirmation numbers, I figure we can pick it up at the train station."
AJ turned the tablet to where Nick can see it. "Were probably gonna need it."
The big horse boy smirked, his good-natured sense of humor returning. "Well, at least we will be on time now, right?" AJ shared his friends smile and stood. The boys gathered up their belongings and headed into town to find the train station.
August 29, 2016
AMTRAK Station Jacksonville, FL
The Amtrak station was a single island on a spur with a pair of small buildings tacked on almost as an afterthought in one corner of Norfolk Southern's Simpson freight yard. Despite serving a city the size of Jacksonville people rarely traveled by train anymore. Fortunately the Western Union's office was more accommodating than the harbormaster had been and the boys were temporarily flush with cash.
Although the price board promised that "temporarily" would be the operative word in that sentence. Nick was already shaking his head. "No, no way little bro, I just can't fit in that seat. We've got to at least have the private room."
AJ sighed and made another big gesture to price board. "I hear you Nick, we just don't have the money!"
"Well, what if we don't go direct…?" Before Nick could continue it was interrupted by a small explosion of profanity at the ticket window is a harried looking middle management type in a ruffled suit turned away swearing. There were a couple choice exchanges between him and the ticket girl right as he was drawing even with Nick and AJ. The man turned as her barbed comment found its mark, but before he could do much as take a step back towards the counter, Nick sidestepped into his path and held a hand up at chest level without actually touching him. "No brother," he ordered softly. "Let it go, it's not worth it."
"My wife's in labor and she's got to be a bitch?" He shouted, obviously upset. "I just want my money back!"
"Dude!" Beamed Nick. "Congratulations! What are you hanging here for? Go see to your wife!"
The man spun in place in his frustration. "I can't!" He shouted. "Glenda the bad bitch in there won't let me refund our tickets and I don't even have cab fare to get to the hospital! What the hell am I gonna do with two private room tickets to Boston with my wife in labor down the street?"
A one million candlepower lightbulb lit up over AJ's head. "Excuse me, did you say Boston? We're going to Boston, what would you want for those tickets?"
Nick scratched his fore head. "Actually little bro, we're going…" AJ waved off his protestation frantically with one arm.
"Details, details," he hissed. "Boston is over halfway there! It's moving us in the right direction, will sort the rest out there." He turned back to the man who was glancing back and forth between the two of them. "How much?"
The man blinked and rubbed his chin. "Well, they're $800 tickets…"
"Which you are not going to get a refund on," AJ assured him quickly. "I'll give you $300 bucks cash right now."
"Four and a quarter, and you can rush to your wife's bedside, final offer."
August 29, 2016
AMTRAK Station Jacksonville, FL
The Courier smiled into his cell phone as he watched the two boys run off pocketing the handful of twenty dollar bills they had bought the tickets with. "They're on the train."
August 29, 2016
AMTRAK New England Crescent, at Tallahassee, FL in route to Boston
Horst got on the train to Boston, which for some insane reason was going west toward New Orleans, in Tallahassee. Horst thought that ‘Tallahassee’ was a ridiculous name, but compared to some of the local names down in Paraguay, it wasn’t that bad. His visa claimed that he was in the United States for an agricultural conference being held in New Orleans. But Horst had no idea what he was doing on the train; he knew little about agriculture and cared less. But the fact that he hadn’t been briefed was indicative: it was going to be quick and nasty, and he couldn’t risk the chance of tipping off anyone. It was about a half-hour out of Tallahassee, when Horst’s smartphone buzzed, indicating that he’d gotten a message. It was a quick and cryptic message: ‘4/6’. Casually, Horst made his way to the toilet near the front of the train car. After a perfunctory use, he made his way through the connecting doors from Coach into the First Class cars, until he got to the fourth car, and looked for First Class compartment #6. He returned the text, and the door opened for him without his having to knock.
There were four people already in the compartment, two young men in rugged travel clothing, the kind that hostel kids wore, and a man in business clothes such as Horst wore. The fourth man was dressed in a tailored suit, but had his coat on a hanger and wore black jackboots. The fourth man stood, and dominated the room. Horst knew exactly who he was immediately, without being told. This was the man who he’d answer to, the leader of this mission. The Mission Leader was tall, powerful and barrel-chested, with a long handsome face and a formidable chin. He looked to be in his late 30s, though Horst knew that the man was well into his 90s. Horst snapped to attention, but the Mission Leader merely nodded and waved him to sit down. Without saying anything, he gestured at the door with two fingers, indicating that two more people were expected.
Horst sat, and he’d barely gotten comfortable when the Mission Leader received another message on his cell phone. He opened the door, and a couple in casual traveling clothes came in. They were a few years older than the two young men, and they had the look of a moderately affluent couple. They recognized the Mission Leader and snapped to. The Mission Leader nodded and gestured for them to sit down.
After the couple sat down, the Mission Leader began. “First of all, none of us, not even myself, are here on the mission that brought us into the United States.” He spoke in English, because in America speaking in other languages would be noticeable and remarked upon. Ironically, most people passing by the compartment would simply ignore the conversation if it was in their own language. “We are all here because a completely unforeseen opportunity has presented itself, and we were the best suited in the area to take advantage of it. The window of opportunity was very small, and we were very lucky to assemble a team as competent as we each are. We could have brought in more men and equipment, but that would have wasted time, and keeping a low profile is a top priority.”
The Mission Leader reached into his luggage and pulled out a small device about the size of a digital camera. Horst recognized it as a Display Projector, the latest techno-toy for executives, which projected the image from a digital file into a display. The Mission Leader projected an image of a grayish oval object with odd markings on it, though the scale set its actual size at only 5” long. “THIS is the object that we must acquire. It is a lead capsule, a box containing a remarkable object. The only reason that I will tell you what it is, is that it is my experience that the best way to prevent a curiosity based accident is to simply tell the operative what it is, and why it is dangerous, so they’re not tempted to open the box. The object inside the capsule is a small but remarkably potent artifact known to us as ‘The Eye of Odin’. You do not need to know what its properties and powers are, just that it would be dangerous to open the capsule. The ‘lead’ capsule is made of an osmium compound, and the markings are mystic wards.”
The Mission Leader changed the image to a headshot of a reasonably good looking boy of maybe 14 or 15 years old, with casually cropped russet hair. The picture appeared to have been un-posed, and was most likely taken without his knowledge. “The capsule is currently in the possession of this boy, who is named Alexander James Blackstone. He does not know that he is carrying the capsule. It was planted on him without his knowledge at the TSA holding area at Miami International Airport. The capsule has been hidden inside a TSA secure transport tube that he is carrying with him.” The image changed to a white plastic tube with a carrying handle, which looked remarkably like a thermos.
“So far, so simple. But there are complications. First, our informant tells us that some unknown party planted the capsule on the boy after he had spent a few hours in the MCO holding area. The boy may or may not have some special ability. We will proceed under the assumption that he does.
“Second, he has companions.” The image changed from the ‘thermos’ to what looked like some sort of winged lizard, about the size of a cat, from what Horst could tell. “The boy’s Customs paperwork describes this as a- quote- ‘unique bio-form’ –unquote-. He had just arrived from Karedonia. Details on this creature are minimal. We will proceed under the assumption that it potentially dangerous. Next-” the image was now of an anthropomorphic horse in very casual clothes, standing well over seven feet tall from the way that he towered over an adult man standing next to him.
“An animan?” one of the ‘hikers’ asked with surprise.
“You’re familiar with these?” the Mission Leader asked.
“I know a girl who’s a fan of ‘Paradise Island’,” the hiker explained. Seeing the confusion on the others’ faces, the hiker explained, “’Paradise Island’ is a Reality TV show focusing on a community of genetically engineered animal-human hybrids on a Caribbean island. Really, it’s just a freakish excuse for yet more maudlin melodrama. I’m amazed that it’s lasted this long.”
“How familiar are you with this show?” the Mission Leader asked.
The hiker shrugged. “So-so. I know a few of the family names and such like that. But those people who are fans are really into it; it ties into several fetishes. Their fan base is small but devoted, which is the only reason why it’s stayed on the air for this long.”
“Excellent,” the Mission Leader nodded. “How often do these ‘animen’ travel?”
“I’m not sure,” the hiker admitted. “But I don’t get the impression that they travel very often.”
“I agree,” the Mission Leader said. “Also this individual’s coloring closely resembles a known mercenary of this breed, known as ‘Warhorse’. We can’t afford to ignore the possibility that Warhorse has attached himself to the boy as some kind of minder.”
The Mission Leader shut off the display projector. “Third, the horseman and the boy attempted to sail a small luxury boat from Miami up to Cape Cod. We were planning to intercept them with a U-boat, but their permit to sail was revoked for some reason at Jacksonville. They somehow mysteriously gained First Class tickets on this train at the very last minute, against all odds. There is a high possibility that there is another player manipulating them.
“So! The basic plan is: Isolate. Neutralize. Acquire. Obfuscate.
“Step One: Isolate. We must separate the boy from Warhorse, preferably while he is still in their compartment, where he can be handled easily. My experience with Warhorse is that he dislikes being cooped up in cramped quarters. He will most likely take walks to relieve the claustrophobia, but only travel to the observation car while the boy- and more importantly, the capsule- are with him. On one of these walks when the boy is still in their compartment, you two will engage Warhorse in conversation,” he pointed at the two hikers, “posing British fans of that TV show.”
“British? Received Pronunciation, London Working Class, Scouse, or Midlands accent?”
“Pick one and stick with it. A detailed history is not the point. I picked British because it would be something that he’d notice and remember. If you think your French or Swedish accents are better, use those. Contrive to take a cell phone picture with him, and send it to me as you take the shot.
“When I receive the picture, I will contact you two,” he pointed at the couple. “On my cue, you will trip the circuit breakers for this car. Here are schematics for the panel,” he handed the man of the couple a folded sheet of paper.
“Step Two: Neutralize. When the lights go out, you two,” the Mission Leader pointed at Horst and the other man in a business suit, “will enter the boy’s compartment. You will each use one of these.” He reached into his luggage and produced what looked like a short plastic mace.
“GizNab22,” Horst said, recognizing the unit. “Gizmatic made them for taking prisoners.”
“The number is small, because Gizmatic actually got the design right early, for a change,” the Mission Leader snarked, as he nodded with approval at Horst’s expertise.
“You twist the head of the truncheon and press the stud, and the cap gives off a blinding flash,” Horst continued. “The next time you press the stud, the cap drops on a hinge and a charge energizes and propels a wad of memory plastic filament at your target. When the filaments hit the target, they coil around, adhere and constrict the target, ensnaring him. After that, the stud fires four shots of a potent antipersonnel spray. Twist the grip at the other end, and tines extend. When you press the stud this time, it delivers a 250,000 volt jolt, enough to take down a charging rhino.”
“Or a Warhorse?” the woman asked.
“If it comes down to that, yes.”
“Exactly. You will make a noise upon entering the compartment and flash the room. You,” the Mission Leader pointed at Horst, “will snare the boy. You,” he pointed at Horst’s counterpart, “will snare the beast. Then you will stun them with the cattle prod. Beat them if necessary. Only use the sprayer if absolutely necessary.
“Step Three: Acquire. Take the capsule from the transport tube. Do NOT take the tube itself. Do NOT open the capsule. If it’s empty, then this game has gotten significantly nastier, and we don’t need to risk you any further on it. You,” he pointed at Horst’s counterpart, “will bring the capsule to me here in this cabin. I will remove it from the train.
“Step Four: Obfuscate. We cannot afford any inane games of tag with this. So, we will confuse the issue as best we can, in as simple a way as we can. Once your partner leaves with the capsule, YOU,” he pointed at Horst, “will use the truncheon to beat in the heads of the boy and the beast. Once they are they are reasonably damaged, you will disengage the snares with the cattle prod, as it’s designed to, and remove the snares. Just toss them out the window. Then return to your seats.
“While Warhorse is in the dark, you two,” he pointed at the hikers, “will use the cattle prod on him, and drag him to the door of the compartment. Once he is at the door of the compartment, you two will leave the car for your original seats, change your hats and jackets-”
“And lose the accents?” one of the hikers said in a bland middle American accent.
“Precisely. When you see them exit the car,” the Mission Leader pointed at the couple, “you will re-engage the light, and go directly to the boy’s compartment.”
“And there I start screaming that the big freak just battered the poor boy to death?” the woman asked wryly.
“Exactly. Now, the point here is not to kill the boy or to frame Warhorse; it is to create enough confusion that I will be able to leave this train with the capsule without being intercepted or followed. The cattle prod is powerful enough that it will put Warhorse down for a few minutes. Past that, once he realizes that his mule is dead and the capsule is missing, Warhorse will waste no time getting away from here, leaving a wake of chaos and confusion behind him, which will provide a wonderful false trail for the authorities, any heroes, and most especially any competition that might be on the train to follow. You don’t have to worry about either killing or not killing the boy; what happens to him is not our concern. Once your job here is done, don’t bother speaking to the authorities to create a perfect cover-up. Just leave the train and get back to your previous assignments, whatever they are.”
“What if the animan isn’t Warhorse?” Horst’s companion asked.
“Then he will still draw the attention of the train conductors and any opposition, at least well enough for me to leave the train without complications. Again, what happens to him is not our concern.”
The leader smiled grimly. “Of course, this is the point where I say that this plan is foolproof, wishing disaster upon us all.” The group shared a laugh of professionals who had all had operations go south on them.
“That is the Best Case Scenario. I could spend weeks telling you of ‘foolproof plans’ where I was the fool. There are unknown factors, so we must assume that whoever arranged to put the boy on this train has a backup for Warhorse, or that a third, completely unknown party will enter the picture.” He reached into his luggage again and brought out several traveling cases, apparently for photography gear, the sort that well-equipped tourists lugged around. Opening up the cases, he re-assembled the gear into a crude energy weapon. “These are, of course, stealth energy weapons. They have charges for 12 shots each of a low-temperature/ high amperage plasma burst, and they hit with the force of 3 sticks of TNT. I warn you against firing more than 9 shots with these; the charging chamber has a nasty tendency to accrue a residual charge with each use, and by the 11th round, it’s like holding a plasma grenade when it goes off. Their accuracy at anything over 3 meters is atrocious, but as we’re on a train, that isn’t a problem. The rounds glow brightly in the dark, but as that will only let you know where each other are, that shouldn’t be that great a liability. THIS,” he flipped out a toggle, “discharges all the energy at once, turning it into a very nasty plasma grenade when pulled. A measure of last resort.”
Then he produced folded packets of gray cloth and wrap-around glasses. “These are armored overalls. They include hoods and gloves but not boots. They have a tear-off function for quick removal in an emergency. The glasses are thermographic visors with a 10 minute lifespan. When the lights go out, prepare these. There are letters on the biceps and back of your suits that will be apparent to the thermographic sight. You, Adam and Barney,” he handed Horst and his partner two of the packets, “will put these on before you go in and bludgeon the boy, to keep any blood off your clothes. The rest of you: Charlie, Danny, Evan and Fred,” he doled out the rest of the packets, “will put these on ONLY if there is a major incident and you can do so unseen. You will assemble and use the ‘camera guns’ and these,” he issued each of them a GizNab22, “as best suits the situation.
“I will enter the situation only if some superhuman agency other than Warhorse enters the picture.” He put on a dark blue tunic pattered after the classic Waffen-SS uniform. There were single gold ‘thunderbolts’ styled after the twin lighting flashes of the SS on either side of his collar, and he added an Iron Cross to that. He clipped a white cape to the epaulets of his tunic, and pulled a pair of dull gold metal gauntlets onto his hands,. He finished it off by fitting an electronic eyepiece into one eye, mimicking his trademark monocle. And there he stood, a shining testament to everything that Horst believed in, a man who had carried on the great struggle for over 70 years and showed no intention of so much as slowing down. Horst would have called him a living legend of World War II, but that was copyrighted.
They discussed a few contingency plans based on a few basic general complications, such as witnesses, opportunistic competition, the presence of off-duty American airmen, and so on. Then the Mission Leader said, “And now for the Worst Case Scenario: you are captured, injured, and you have provably attacked, injured or killed one or more American civilians. Understand this: if you are injured or captured, we will leave you behind. Obtaining the Eye of Odin is such a high priority that even I am considered expendable in this mission; such is the life of soldier. I tell you this: stay silent, no matter what the American police, FBI or CIA say. The movement knows that no one wins every time, and there are such things as bad luck and poor timing. That which does not destroy us, makes us stronger. Simple luck is not important in this situation. Loyalty and commitment ARE.”
Horst’s partner snapped to and recited: “Loyalty is our Honor!”
“Exactly. If you are injured, just stay quiet, ignore everything that they say, bide your time, and concentrate on healing and getting back into fighting trim. As long as you don’t try to cut some sort of inane deal with the American federal police, we WILL free you. There will always be more battles, and more than wonder weapons, we will need experienced, competent, proven and above all else LOYAL soldiers to win those battles.”
Nick put the GoodPlay™ personal gaming system down, got up and shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, Dude, but I cannot take these WALLS anymore! I’m gonna go to the observation car and chillax a little.”
“Cool,” AJ said as he saved the game that he’d been sharing with Nick. “But take it easy at the concession stand, hah? At the prices that railroads charge, they should be serving Chateau Rothschild and beluga caviar, instead of Mountain Dew and Cheetos.”
“Yeah, I already ate what my mom sent with me. ”
AJ laughed and made a gesture at his bag. “No fear! My mom thinks I'm starved, and loaded me down with crap. Help yourself.”
“Righteous! AJ, I am tellin’ you those are some killer noshies!” Nick followed his nose in the bag and took out a muffin, one of a set of 4 that smelled particularly good. "Thanks, bro! I'm going to go get something wash this down. You want something?" AJ shook his head without looking up from the screen.
“No, I'm good. But don't get anything with caffeine! Dude, it’s getting late, and I don’t want you pacing around all night while I’m trying to get some shut-eye.” Smokey gave a loud wide yawn as if to back that sentiment.
“Whutevah.” With that Nick ambled out of the compartment.
Oh well, it had been a play-break anyway, AJ thought to himself. With a sigh, he pulled out the spellbooks that his mother had given him. He was on edge. This trip had been wonky from the word ‘Go’. Before he’d even gotten on the plane, things hadn’t gone according to plan. First the shift from private plane to commercial, then the diversion to Miami, then the way that the Coast Guard had come down on them at Jacksonville, and then the scene at the train station. The part of him that had listened too much to his father was sure that the guy who’d passed along his tickets for this compartment was pulling something. Exactly what, he couldn’t peg, but there was something weird going on. His first thought was that Nick might have had something to do with it, but there was no way that a goof like Nick could be up to anything sneaky. Was the Dragon Queen involved in it? Dad had sent word that the Warlock Knight had busted her out of the Federal holding pen near Canaan, just as she was being processed to be moved to ‘the Jug’, the Supermax Superhuman Penitentiary near Wheeling in West Virginia. Well, at least Lord Balefire was still comatose. Of course, with the way those two went at it, having him on the loose, tripping up the Dragon Queen might be for the best.
It MIGHT be the Dragon Queen, if she was trying to be subtle and clever. But with a ditz that flaky, it could go in any direction, at any moment, in any way. Trying to second-guess her, IF it was the Dragon Queen, would be pointless until he got more hard facts. The part of him that had listened to his mother said that the best thing to do would be to relax but keep sharp, and deal with the situation when it happened. Anything that the Dragon Queen tried to pull would be so slipshod that not being wrapped up in a pre-planned strategy would be the best thing, as to take advantage of the opportunities DQ presented. The one thing that Mom and Dad agreed on was: Be Prepared and have at least two aces up your sleeve at all times. AJ thought it over, and went through the three spell books. Fortunately, the ‘Greatest Hits’ book had a very nice, very simple spell, and best of all, it would useful in damn near ANY situation that the Dragon Queen- or whoever it might be- would throw at him. It was a Confusion spell, a spell slip that you could throw that would attach itself to the target’s forehead, and he wouldn’t be able to focus or think or react in anything but the most reflexive way. Yeah; nice, effective, non-damaging, and it left room for mistakes. Having a few of those puppies up his sleeve couldn’t hurt. AJ tore one of the pages of printed blank spell slips from the back of the book, disconnected three of the nine slips, and carefully filled in the blanks with a special felt-tip with ink that was infused with silver.
Fracas watched the horseman in the baggies strut down the hallway, and wondered what his damage was. Oh well, at least he had the right attitude: all too many obvious mutants would hide and scurry around like rats, trying not to be noticed, which of course, just encouraged the mutaphobes. Not that Fracas really cared. No, he had a job to do, and at least for once it was simple: go into the compartment, take out the kid and the whatzit, get the thermos, get off the train, and get the thermos to the big guy. It would have been nice to know what was special about the kid and the whatzit- there had to be something off about them, or the big guy would have just sent some rent-a-goons to get the thermos- but that’s why he was getting paid. Fortunately, the big guy didn’t have any brain dead conditions on it, like ‘don’t hurt the boy’ or ‘bring me the whatzit too’ or ‘don’t leave any clues’ or any of the usual ‘mastermind’ bullshit. Just go and DO it. More jobs should be like this. And on that note, he went in to do it.
Nick winced at the cost of a bottle of orange juice in the little concession stand in the observation car, but he had to admit that AJ was right. Getting hyped up on caffeine was the last thing he wanted to do. Especially not boxed in on this train with 2 more days of travel staring him in the face. For the 6th time he took his Gizmatic communicator IX from the breast pocket of his flannel and stared at the little roaming icon next to the signal bars. He had meant to buy a prepaid SIM card that would allow the phone to work in the United States without the expense of international roaming call, but it had slipped his mind in Miami and the train station in Jacksonville hadn't had a kiosk that had them. He thought about sending a text, to let his mom know he was all right, but that would inevitably start conversations seeking details and probably a very expensive voice call.
"I'll catch hell," he told himself. "But better to wait till we're settled and I have something to tell her."
Nick paid for the orange juice, put the phone back in its pocket and sighed. One of the advantages of having a much wider field of vision was being aware of things that humans took to be "behind" you. Nick could see the young couple watching him and knew from their body language they recognized him and were working up the courage to come over. "There's no business like show business," he told himself as he popped the entire muffin in his mouth.
Brennan was completely unprepared for how fantastically good the muffin was. The flavor filled up his mouth, and his nose and finally it seemed like all of his senses had been ramped up to 11. Any trace of fatigue was gone and he felt so energized there were practically arcs of electricity moving under his skin. Because his senses had been heightened so much Nick became aware of two things almost instantaneously.
Had any of his parents been there, they could've explained to him that the feeling that welled up inside him most of them referred to as "beast sense". There was something about the primal DNA that had been used in their creation that offered a 6th sense almost in certain situations where they became aware of something beyond what they could see or hear. Nick himself had ignored it most of his life because never having been human he had no basis of comparison for it, but as the muffin and its power elixir course through his veins he instantly knew that the so-called fans working themselves up to come over were very, very, bad people. And while Nick's hearing was both directional and exceptional without the aid of the muffin he never would've picked out AJ shout of alarm two cars forward and over the noise of the train and everyone between them.
The muffin hit his belly like a freight train and exploded out into every limb with the desperate need for action. "AJ!" He exclaimed and took off running forward like a shot gun blast.
Horst waited in the Mission Leader’s compartment with his ad hoc partner ‘Barney’, both of them ready in their drab gray overalls, their GizNabs in hand. “Achtung,” the Mission Leader said tersely, breaking discipline by the tiniest margin as he kept his eyes riveted on his smartphone, and pressed the ‘Send’ button. ‘Barney’ gripped the handle to the compartment door. A few uncountable seconds later, the train car went dark, and Barney was out the door, with Horst right behind him.
Horst and Barney hurried to the compartment without breaking into a run. They could see, but there were people in the corridor who couldn’t and the chance of one of them stumbling into the agents was too high. And from the sounds of the thrashing about, there was too much of that going on already. The door to the compartment was open, but Horst kicked it in to get the boy’s attention. On previous agreement, they waited a 3-count, closed their eyes and both pressed the stud to activate the dazzle. Even through the night-glasses and the lids of his closed eyes, Horst was almost blinded by the flash.
He waited a brief split second and opened his eyes, just in time to see a body come flying at him. Horst managed to duck out of the way, but ‘Barney’ wasn’t as lucky. On pure reflex, Horst pressed the stud on his GizNab22, firing the capture filament. He had the briefest impression of a sweeping flash of something slicing at the expanding glob of filaments in mid-flight. Ideally, Horst’s next move should have been to use the sprayer, but the boy was suddenly well within his personal space, and he reflexively shifted to melee combat, using the truncheon. He gave himself a set up, swinging the truncheon several times in a calculated pattern to set the boy up for the prod. The boy fell for the feints, and Horst was about to give him the jolt. But someone grabbed him from behind and threw him into the wall of the compartment. There were some flares of energy, some energetic movement, and some muttered curses. Then there was some running, and Horst had the distinct sense of someone exiting the compartment, followed quickly by the other one. There was shouting and sharp noises and sounds like water hitting a hot griddle from the hallway. Shaking his head to clear it, Horst first turned to follow, but he suddenly realized that the capsule was probably still there in the compartment. Gaining the capsule was paramount; everything else was gilding.
Their fight had turned the compartment upside down, and Horst had a hard time finding the transport tube. But just as he had it and was about to open it, the door to the compartment burst open again. They boy was in the lead, with a ‘sword’ of purple flame in his hand, and Warhorse was right behind him. Horst swung at the boy who ducked easily, and Warhorse grabbed him by his arm during the over-swing. Warhorse relieved him of the tube and casually threw Horst into another wall. But instead of making sure of him, the two simply scrambled to pull their luggage together, even including a guitar case. The boy accepted the tube from Warhorse and crammed it into a carryall, and just as they were setting themselves to leave, one of the cobbled together energy weapons was thrown in. On what reflex, Horst wasn’t sure, but both of them threw themselves to the far side of the compartment, and Warhorse shielded the boy.
The gun went off like a plasma grenade, but Warhorse wasn’t that badly affected, and his massive bulk completely shielded the boy. Horst and ‘Barney’ weren’t anywhere near as lucky. Horst was badly burned. The grenade blew out the wall of the compartment, along with the window, opening the compartment to the rush of the air outside. Fortunately for them, the blast blew most of the shrapnel out into the open air. “Hey!” Warhorse said in a deep resonant voice. “We got our opening, li’l bro! Let’s take it! Let’s GO!” Hefting his duffel bag and guitar case, Warhorse charged for the opening and jumped out into the night. Grabbing his own carryall and Warhorse’s other bag, the boy followed. At the very last second, just as the boy was jumping the lizard crawled down from his shoulder onto his back and sort of spread out into a set of golden batlike wings that extended as the boy jumped.
Horst sat that, totally croggled for a second. Then there was a crash, and a shudder ran through the train. Not knowing exactly what was going on, but all-too aware that the entire point of the exercise had just left, Horst pulled himself together. He picked a still groggy ‘Barney’ up from the floor and helped him through the wrecked door. ‘Danny’ and ‘Evan’ were doing their level best to keep a couple of uniformed American Air Force airmen from interfering. The Mission Commander was tearing up the train car fighting with a man whose civilian clothing was already in tatters. Realizing that ‘low profile’ was impossible at this point, and that any further action there would only increase the potential for their capture, Horst yelled in German, “Commander! The Target has fled! Risk Level: Four!” ‘Risk Level: Four’ meant that the mission was a failure, and that the current prime priority was extracting themselves from the area with minimal losses to capture and injury.
The Mission Commander indicated that he heard and understood. Then he put his opponent through the wall of the hallway into one of the compartments, and from the rattling thud a moment later, it was clear that the Commander had left the train in pretty much the same way that Warhorse and the boy had. Horst used the sprayer on the two airmen and Evan helped Horst carry Barney as Danny cleared the way for them as best she could. But the corridor was blocked. Seized by an inspiration, Horst grabbed ‘Danny’ and ripped the gray overalls and hood off of her. Pulling her in front of him in a classic hostage maneuver, he yelled in an over-emphasized Prussian accent, “No one stop us! If anyone tries anything, the girl GETS IT!” Either the hostage play would get them past anyone trying to stop them, or if the worst happened, at least Danny would be mistaken for a hostage and be allowed to escape.
Then the lights came back on. Someone had finally collected their wits enough to look for the fuse box. Horst realized that he’d have to make it to the fuse box and throw the car into darkness again, in order to be able to get rid of his overalls. At a time like this, long-range planning was useless. Think only to the next foreseeable goal, one that got you closer to your ultimate goal. In this case, escape and freedom. They’d make their plans when they saw what the situation in the next car was.
Then he heard some scuffling behind him, but ‘Evan’ didn’t say anything. His position holding ‘Danny’ made it awkward, but he stopped and turned to see what was going on. Then there was the sound of a shot up close, and Horst felt something like a hammer hit him just below his right floating rib. As he went down, he heard a high, brusque female voice say with an American accent, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. Field Operative Daisy Hawking, MCO.”
August 29, 2016
Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way, just north of Atmore, Alabama
Adrenaline does strange and wonderful things in the body as Nick discovered. Already jazzed from the muffin and proceeding immediately into a confused darkened free for all in which someone decided grenades were fair game, Nick didn't think twice. Having saved his friends life by taking a grenade blast to his back and coming away unscathed and now being confronted with a gigantic hole in the compartment, Nick barely paused to grab his bags and shout, "let's go!"
Had he paused to think, he might've reconsidered his somewhat rash act; but staring the opening in the face, with the wind whipping his mane and whatever was in that muffin coursing through his veins, Nick acted. Leaping with all of his strength he was amazed to discover 2 things in rapid succession. One Amtrak trains cruise at 135 mph, and two having become a mutant meant that he could leap much further than he used to.
Nick crashed through a wall of air that felt like it was made of bricks; despite which he sailed high up in the air cresting well over 100 feet before he began to descend. "Oh shit," he whispered watching the ground rush up to meet him. At the last minute he tossed his bags away from him and reverently thanked God that his father's first instruction in self-defense had been how to fall.
He landed flat on his hooves sideways to his motion before they could even dig in he collapsed his knee rolling with the motion instead of resisting it turning what would have destroyed his knees and tendons into a neat tuck and roll for perhaps a dozen yards until he used the last of the spent momentum to roll up to his hooves once more. His shirt was ruined and he had no idea where his phone went leaving him bare chested in the fading twilight. Quickly trying to overcome his own amazement, Nick experimentally jumped, intending to land near where his bags at fallen and was amazed to find that what had felt like a short hop carried him perhaps twenty yards to where the bags lay. "Jump?!" Demanded AJ as he staggered from the trees covered in small limbs and leaves. "That was your master plan? Jump?"
Nick turned to his friend and crossed his massive arms over his equally impressive chest. "Did you miss the part where they were throwing grenades, bro?" AJ made a placating gesture shrugged while looking away, obviously a little embarrassed. "Any idea who those dudes were?"
"They… They could've been anybody," AJ hedged. "They didn't really say a word! After you left the door opened with this big dude comes in who looks like he could give you a run for your money and says 'tough luck, kid' and starts swinging! Fortunately, I had a spell slip I was just finishing so I used it and it blew him back through the door right as his two buddies were coming in. Then, the lights go out and it's everybody for themselves, till you come charging in and, say have you thought about a codename yet? Because Charger isn't half…"
Nick's mane practically stood up end on end as the unknown sixth sense warned him again just in time for him to grab AJ in a massive bear hug to protect him. The sky lit up behind them like a bolt of lightning without the accompanying thunder and a warm sensation on Nick's back told him something and struck him, but instead of doing damage young man actually felt >stronger. Practically glowing, he turned to face this new threat while keeping AJ as shielded as he could.
Hovering in the air perhaps 25 feet away, was a stern looking man wearing a uniform with high polished black boots and incongruously a white cape fluttering behind him in the breeze, fists set on his waist in dull gold gauntlets. "I am impressed, Warhorse," the man complimented in a firm, accented baritone vaguely reminiscent of Jürgen Prochnow. “I'm informed you are an excellent and skilled opponent, but there are not many can withstand my Blitztöten”
"Who are you supposed to be?" Demanded Nick being careful to keep his body between AJ and the stranger. If the man was ruffled, he didn't show it, merely drawing himself up and bowing from the neck.
"Perhaps my reputation is fallen out of favor of late," the man said with a very unpleasant grin. "In my line of work that can be advantageous. So, come now let us be reasonable; I'm not interested in your charge, whoever he is, wherever you're taking him, for whatever purpose. I only want an object planted on you without your knowledge. Give me the Eye of Odin and…"
The man in the uniform couldn't continue because a streak came out of the sky and crashed into him. He was flung into the forest that lined the railroad tracks carving a football field sized swath of destruction from the hit. The streak solidified into a tall, chiseled man whose mask left is flowing blonde locks free in the breeze. He wore a blue body stocking that was, well, spangled with white stars in a random pattern that the mask was actually integrated into, leaving his chin clear. With this he accessorized gauntlet gloves that came halfway up his forearms, knee boots, and cape that came down to the back of his knees all in bright scarlet, with a white utility belt.
The man planted his gauntlet fists on his waist, Cape billowing dramatically behind him in the breeze. "Did you think you could sneak into America, and I wouldn't know about it, Baron Blitzen?"
Nick and AJ shared a look. "Baron… Blitzen?" Nick asked. The boys stared at each other for a moment and then the ridiculousness of the situation got to them, and they began to laugh.
"Do you think they wouldn't let him play the reindeer games?" AJ demanded around his laughter.
"Dude! He lost his amateur status! He's obviously a professional asshole!"
"Good kids, bad kids, I always figured Santa was a Nazi!"
The stern looking villain in the Nazi uniform rose back up in the sky, dusting himself off as he did so. "Ah, Champion," he greeted tiredly. "Always when I think things can't get any worse you arrive to prove me wrong." With a cold smile he cracked his knuckles while fixing his gaze on Nick and AJ. "One moment, Warhorse, I'll be right with you." With that he launched himself into the hero with all the ferocity of a Panzer division.
"You know," AJ declared as he wants the two titans battle overhead. "I think we should probably be somewhere else." Nick snatched up his bags.
"Someplace else, far away," he agreed and the two boys fled in to the night.
August 29, 2016
Amtrak station, Bellereve Mississippi
Mirabel was more sleep than awake when the train finally pulled into Bellereve station. It was four hours overdue and practically midnight. The signs in the station had been useless, nearly as much so as the employees had no idea what was taking the train so long. They only made vague references to 'mechanical difficulties' and found somewhere else to be.
Now the train was actually here, Mirabel understood what they had meant. Not one but two of the cars had gaping holes in the sides, holes that have exploded out from the inside. Looking in the holes, she could see the telltale destructive signs the paranormal's had been having a 'disagreement' inside. Worse one of the cars with a hole in it had been the car her target had been in, and if she was counting right, the whole was in the berth her targets should have been in. Mirabel said softly to herself. "Sycorax isn't going to like this," she muttered.
To be continued