of Masks and Marvels (Part 23)
Of Masks and Marvels
By Bek D Corbin
edited by Steve Zink
Chapter Twenty Three
I walked into the party, and every eye was on me. I was wearing a clinging black strapless gown that was slit up the side, showing off a flash of creamy thigh. My hair was done just right. I looked fabulous, and I knew it. This was MY party. It was all about me. All my friends were there, everyone that I cared about, letting me know how special I was, and how much I meant to them. Even Jessie was there, looking like a little princess in a pink gown.
Ted was there, looking studly in a tuxedo. He held out his hand, and I took it. He gallantly kissed my hand, and pulled me close to him. I didn't feel the slightest hesitation or embarrassment. This was right. It was more than right, it was fun! We began to dance, our bodies moving together in rhythm. And it felt right. It didn't matter that everyone I knew was watching us. I was Lady Lightning. I was female, I was beautiful, and I was free.
Then something changed.
Ted pulled away. He was looking at my face in an odd way. I reached up, touched my face and felt something on my lip. It was a mustache. But I haven't had a mustache in months! I don't even have to shave there anymore!
I looked around, and everyone was looking at me aghast. I started to say something, but my voice came out as an unpleasant foghorn. Then they all started to laugh.
Ted pulled away from me. I tried to get closer, to explain somehow, but he just kept me at arm's length. The laughter grew louder.
Then the falsies in my dress popped out. I haven't needed falsies in months!
Suddenly, my dress, which was already pretty tight, got even tighter. I was getting fatter! I literally grew out of my gown, splitting its seams. And there I was, practically naked, fat Dan Maxham, exposed for all the world to see.
And the laughter grew louder. I could see Kurt Baumgartner, and his family and all of his buddies, leading the laughter.
Dammit, I wasn't gonna take this shit! I _deserve_ better! I generated a powerful electrical charge. I wasn't sure what I was gonna do with it, but I knew that I wasn't gonna put up with this anymore!
Then, just as I was about to cut loose, a black gloved hand grabbed my arm. There, from out of nowhere, was Thunderbolt, the Thunderbolt that I always wanted to be, as I've always imagined him: tall, buff, masculine, competent and powerful. With his other hand, he reached into my chest and pulled The Power right out of me. The Power coursed through him, as if he were its rightful owner. Everyone applauded the downfall of the Impostor and the restoration of the True Hero.
"Who Are You?" I gasped. He opened the visor of his helmet.
It was Hughie.
I woke up drenched in sweat. I clutched at myself in a near panic. I wasn't wearing the shreds of a evening gown, I was wearing a simple nightgown. I felt my B-going-on-C cup breasts, and my smooth hairless face. Okay, I wasn't quite female, but I was still on my way. I turned on the light and went over to the mirror. I didn't see fat ugly old Dan Maxham, I saw trim, lovely Maxine Fitzgerald. Pale, and covered in sweat, but still a damn good looking woman. And that comforted me. But why did it comfort me?
And why did that dream scare me so much? This was the third time that I've had that dream, and each time, it's scared me halfway to death. My unconscious is trying to tell me something, but for some reason, I just ain't buying it.
I slipped out of my nightgown, pulled on a bathrobe and took a long shower to get the stink of the nightmare off of me. After I showered, I went down to the kitchen and made some coffee. I really didn't want to go back to sleep. Thunderbolt might still be waiting for me.
Ma found me in the kitchen when she went down for breakfast. "Maxine! You look terrible!"
"I had a really bad dream."
"The dream with the dance and--- Thunderbolt, again?"
"What's this? The Third time?"
"Yeah. And, No, you don't have to nag me into talking to somebody about it."
Ma gave a deep sigh of relief. "Oh, Thank God! I was afraid that I'd have to get that Reyes woman to help me drag you to a shrink!"
"I'm not gonna go to a shrink."
"Next time that I'm at AEGIS, I'm gonna talk with Ms. Hex about it. This way, I don't have to waste time convincing the shrink that I really am Lady Lightning, that I really used to be Dan Maxham, and No, I don't wanna be a fascinating case study."
Ma nodded. "Good. You're handling this like a responsible, grown-up woman, Maxine. Dan would have stuck his head in the ground and insisted on 'handling it' himself. Now, go back to bed and get some sleep, dear. You look terrible!"
She laid a comforting hand on mine. "Don't worry, dear. Thunderbolt won't be waiting for you. Those kinds of dreams only sneak up on you when you're not looking for them. Besides, you need the sleep. Go on, mother knows best!"
I smiled, and thanked her with a kiss on the cheek. Then I trudged up the stairs and actually managed to get a few hours' sleep.
Eli walked into the kitchenette at the station and gave the refrigerator a good swift kick.
"What's the matter, little brother? Schroeder sand-bagging you on your expenses again?"
"No! Well --- he is, but that's not what I'm pissed about."
"So, don't drag it out. What?"
"I just heard from Vic Czernick that Kurt Baumgartner and his buddies are out on some kind of bail, and the word is that they're gonna walk."
"You're KIDDING! We got them on tape, stealing the Chief of Police's CAR! What do they hafta do to stay busted, hack a Nobel Peace Prize winner to death on National TV? Oh Gawd, MISSUZ Baumgartner isn't out, too? Ma would go ballistic!"
Eli shook his head. "Nope. No matter what sleaze Kurt and Silas pulled to get out, there's no way that Missuz B. or the lawyer are walking."
"Oh, thank God for small favors! At least with her on ice, the Baumgartners won't be quite as quick to pull any fast ones." I paused. "Still, I'd love to know exactly how they managed to walk."
Eli perked up. "Y'think that maybe Reyes could find out?"
"Hey, this smells like someone cut a deal with somebody. Of course she'd like to find out! Or at the very least, it would keep her off OUR backs while she sniffed around!"
"Sounds like a Win-Win arrangement to me!"
With that, we went to find Reyes, and tell her that we had a hot piece of information that was just begging to be looked into.
We were in the News Lemon, trying to figure out what Baumgartner could have sold to the DA that was worth looking the other way to helping to rip off the Mayor's car. Anyone that Baumgartner could sell out wasn't worth letting him walk. Then Eli and I started buzzing in stereo.
It was my AEGIS communicator. I looked at Eli. "When did you get an AEGIS communicator?"
Eli gave an embarrassed grin. "Ah, Bernice insisted."
I took a moment to adjust my voice and answered the call. "Lady Lightning here. What's up?"
"Hey, L.L.!" Tigress answered back. "Get Tech Support and get over to HQ STAT!"
"What is it?"
"Can't take the time to explain. All that I can say is that it's a Full Member Alert! If you got plans for t'night- cancel 'em!"
"Right!" I signed off. "Okay, Eli, break out your 'Tech Support' suit! There's what sounds like a Five-Alarm Emergency, and they want all hands on deck."
Reyes gave me that news hound look.
"Sorry, she didn't say what the emergency was, just that there was an emergency. Okay, bro, do you have one of your 'Tech Support' suits in the News Lemon?"
"Better." He hit a button on his AEGIS communicator, fuzzed out, and was suddenly dressed in his 'Tech Support' togs."
"WHAT? They gave me shit for months about being an 'Affiliate', and waffled about getting me into their instant-change system, but YOU get in right away? You're not even an Affiliate!"
"Hey, take it up with Bernice." He handed Reyes a clipped phone adapter. "Would you slip this onto the line of the payphone out there?"
"We need a land line to teleport to AEGIS HQ, and I can't go out there looking like this."
"What? Those clothes changer thingies don't need a land line, why does the teleporter?"
"I'm not totally sure, but I think that an imprecise signal like you'd get from a cell phone results in a rougher 'jump'. Clothes and equipment can take the strain, but I wouldn't want to send anything living - let alone ME - through it."
Reyes gave him a nasty look. "I didn't go to Journalism school, just to do this." But she went outside. When the signal said go, we did, and in the blink of an eye, we weren't in the News Lemon anymore, we were in the teleportation room of AEGIS HQ.
"Well!" Bernice snapped. "You finally got here!" Come to think of it, she was being even snarlier than normal.
Eli advanced with a snarky grin on his face. "Oh, so you needed me THAT badly?"
"Of course I do! Chuckles, the brain-damaged chimp is down with the flu, and I need some other barely sapient anthropoid to stand around drooling while I do all the REAL work!" Ooohh, that was nasty, even for Bernice!
Eli started to say something, but I rapped the side of his head with a knuckle. "Sweet talk later. Bernice, Sherry said something about a Five Alarm Alert?"
"Right. A few hours ago, a few guys from the Federal Emergency Management Agency called, and Sherry had me teleport them in."
"FEMA? It must be nasty for them to be involved. Who's on deck?"
"Oh, they really called out the reserves on this one! Everyone's already here, except for Iron John, Sapphire and Titan, and they all called in and said that they'd be here in a few minutes. Now you two move along so that I can work this extremely delicate piece of equipment without being distracted!"
Eli started to make a snappy comeback about 'being distracting', but I grabbed him by the ear and dragged him into the hallway. "Snappy dialogue later! We're here for a reason!"
<Hmmpphh!> "You were never this bossy back when you were a guy!"
"Shush! Put it on the Internet, why don't you?"
Without any further chit-chat, I lead Eli down the hall to the Conference Room. As Bernice had said, most of the rest of AEGIS was seated there, and there were three men in suits, who had 'Bureaucrat' written all over them. "Hey, Guys! What's all the fuss about?"
Power Woman glowered at me. "We'll wait for the rest to show up, so that we don't have to go over the same ground repeatedly. And what is HE-" she all but snarled at 'Tech Support', "-doing here?"
"Oh, Bernice was so impressed by his work on the Teleportation system - which is back up and running again, may I point out - that she asked him here to help her out the technical aspects of this operation."
Hex looked at me. "Bernice _said_ that?"
"Well, maybe not in so many words, but the implication is obvious - I mean, she called, didn't she?"
One of the Federal types cleared his throat. "Excuse me, but exactly who is this person?"
"This is 'Tech Support', part of my backup organization. He's here to help with the technical end of things."
"This is a very sensitive matter. Can he be trusted?"
I raised my left hand and put my right across my heart. "I'd trust him with my life." And I would, too. Ma would kill him if he let anything happen to me.
"Well, I'm afraid-"
"Oh, give it a break!" Hex interjected. "You're just playing useless little mind-games! He'll be useful, and Iron John is already here, and Sapphire and Titan should be here in a few minutes - we don't have TIME to waste!" The bureaucrat backed down. Hey, it's good to know a psychic!
Sure enough, Iron John, Sapphire and Titan arrived in a few minutes, and we were finally able to get down to brass tacks.
As Diego settled into his chair, and made the near- pro forma question about 'Tech Support', the other bureaucrat cleared his throat. "Ladies, Gentlemen, I thank you for your swift response. We have a very dangerous situation that's heading this way and could possibly lay waste to large parts of this city."
"What are you talking about?" Power Woman asked. "The only kinds of situations that could do that sort of destruction that would lay under your jurisdiction would be an earthquake, a meteor, or a hurricane level storm. I haven't heard anything on the radio about a storm headed this way, a meteor headed this way would have been spotted months ago, and we still can't predict earthquakes! Well?"
The third bureaucrat cleared his throat. "Well, there IS another sort of phenomenon that falls under our jurisdiction - Titans."
"Ex-CUZE Me?" Diego asked.
"<ahem!> " 'Titans' is the generic term for what you might call 'Giant Monsters', such as are generally associated with Japanese Monster Movies, such as 'Godzilla' and 'Mothra'."
"You mean that you were approached by two tiny singing Asian priestesses?"
"Hardly. With beings of such immense destructive capability, the nations of the world have formed Titan Monitoring Bureaus, much like the Storm Tracking Services that follow the paths of hurricanes and tornadoes."
"Hey, how hard could that be?" Sapphire offered. "Just follow the trail of wreckage!"
"It's harder than it might seem. Like whales, the larger and more powerful a Titan is, the smaller the food it eats to survive. So, most Titans spend the vast majority of their time in the deeper parts of the oceans. And since the regions that they live in are so large - almost 25% of the world's surface area - and the depths that they move in are so deep, keeping track of them is actually very hard. By and large, the Titan Monitoring Bureaus keep track of them by watching for secondary and tertiary signs, such as abnormal tides, deviations of the migrations of marine-life schools, beachings of deep-sea creatures like Giant Squids, and occasional 'processionary minor tremors'."
"Now HOLD ON, a second!" Diego blurted out. "How can these things even exist? I mean, I know that they exist, but HOW? The damned things ignore the Inverse Square Law and several laws of hydrodynamics and Structural Physics! Heck, even if they didn't, there's no way that they should be able to move on dry land! Things that BIG should barely be able to move, let alone rip up steel girder buildings!"
The first bureaucrat raised one eyebrow. "That's an odd statement to come from someone who violates several of the very laws that he cites."
"Hey, _I_ have The Power!" Diego retorted. "And while I somehow violate those laws on a personal level, I still have to cope with them! For instance, when I shrink after a long time being real big, I tend to shed lots of heat. So, even I can't completely ignore the Laws of Physics."
Diego paused. "Are you telling me that these 'Giant Monsters' have The Power?"
<ahem!> The second bureaucrat cleared his throat. "Well, at least some of them do. We have a classification system that I think might help you understand."
Gee, a bureaucrat has a classification system. Color me surprised.
"At the lowest end of the scale, we have 'Class D' Titans. These are animals or animated plants that are extraordinarily large for their type, but don't exceed the Rule of Thumb limit of a mid-sized sedan. A couple of examples might be the ants from the 1950's movie 'Them', or the carnivorous blobs that occasionally pop up down in the sewers. They occasionally happen when a life form is exposed to high doses of radiation or certain combinations of chemicals. At this level, they rarely have any exotic abilities beyond their extraordinary size. They're large enough to be dangerous to individuals, but they aren't anything that SWAT or a small National Guard unit couldn't handle with conventional weapons. At this level, they barely warrant being called 'Titans'.
"At the next level, we have 'Class C' Titans. These are those animals or animated plants that exceed the mid-sized sedan standard, but don't exceed twenty feet in height. Your classic example of a 'Class C' Titan would be the Giant Octopus that practically every superhero has faced off against at one time or another."
"Yeah," Iron John grumped, "you'd think that biology students would have gotten tired of throwing live octopuses-"
"Whatever - live calimari into microwaves."
"Now, at 'Class C', while they still tend to not have any really interesting powers, we do begin to see the real beginnings of the 'Titan Effect."
Twist elbowed Diego. "Hey, you got an effect! Beyond the usual stampede for the powder room."
The third bureaucrat cleared his throat. <ahem!> "Yes, the 'Titan Effect', as the, ah, Hero, pointed out, these creatures do appear to violate several biological and physical laws, especially the Inverse Square Law, which states that when you double something's height, you cube its mass."
There was a general 'hunh?' at this.
Eli cleared his throat in a mockery of the bureaucrats. "What he's trying to say is that if you took a man who's six feet tall and grew him to twelve feet in height, the rest of him would also expand to the same scale. The problem with this is that you've cubed, or expanded to the third power the amount of heat that he's generating, but the amount of surface area that he has to expel that heat has only doubled, if that. The man would literally bake in his own heat. You'll note that really big critters like whales and elephants either live in the water, which absorbs lots of heat, or they spend a LOT of time dealing with the heat."
"Thank you, ah, 'Tech Support'. We believe at this level, a creature which is growing in size out of control to its nature, dies from being burned up from its own heat, or being crushed by its own weight, or failing to pump vital fluids to its body parts, or some other breakdown of the natural Laws of Biology and Physics. Or, the 'Titan Effect' kicks in. We think that it somehow takes all that biologically generated heat and uses it to keep itself standing and its blood and other fluids flowing properly. And it creates an 'aura effect' that increases its strength and durability, and also creates a method of venting some of that heat."
"So," said Diego, who was obviously thinking furiously, "instead of a giant creature burning itself to a crisp or collapsing under its own weight, you really DO have a creature that, the bigger it gets, the stronger and tougher it gets."
At this, there was a generalized 'oh, shit!'
"The 'Class C' is large enough to pose a significant threat to large groups of people and should be dealt with by either a superhero or a good sized unit of National Guard or Marines.
"At the next level, the 'Class B' Titan, the 'Titan Effect' is in full bloom, as it were. The smallest 'Class B' Titan on record was the Giant Octopus that attacked San Francisco in 1952, and it was as large as a three story building. While they usually don't have any fantastic powers, the creatures are large and powerful enough to pose a material threat at the Municipal level. At this point, we usually try to coordinate Police, National Guard, standing Military and local superhero groups to deal with the creature, and keep casualties and collateral damage to a minimum.
"And finally, we have the 'Class A' Titan. This is the classic super powered behemoth that wades through cities, leaving swaths of destruction in their wake. We believe that 'Class B' Titans somehow develop The Power, and this somehow allows them to both manifest the fantastic abilities that they display and to grow to even larger sizes."
Ted raised a finger. "So, are there any theories as to why these things seem to be drawn to large metropolitan areas, just to walk through them causing mayhem and destruction?"
The second bureaucrat cleared his throat. "Actually, there are several. Currently, the favored theory also explains why they seem to be so confrontational, and why they seem to seek out other Titans for those incredible slugfests that they appear to enjoy so much.
"Titans spend the vast majority of their time down in the lower depths of the ocean, as we've said. The theory is that when they're down there, they build up incredible charges of energy within their bodies. They usually use these charges to help them deal with the pressures of the deep ocean. But these charges build up to such a point that the Titans find them actively uncomfortable, and probably quite irritating. Moreover, any other energy signature would probably rile them up rather badly. So, when the charge gets so bad that the Titan can't stand it anymore, it rises up out of the depths to seek out other energy signatures - ocean going vessels with radio equipment, radar installations, communications dishes and so on. Once they've dealt with the immediate nuisance, the Titan seeks out the greatest source of annoyance."
"Which would be the nearest large city," I offered, "with its thick blanket of electromagnetic 'smog'."
"Exactly. And then we puny humans call out our Armed Forces and shoot it with everything we've got, in order to protect our cities. Now, the reason that Titans don't learn to avoid human cities, is that this is almost exactly what the Titan needs. The energy that's driving the Titan crazy is expended by the protective personal force fields that envelop them, and in the energy bursts that they use. The more of this excess energy that gets used in this manner, the less irritation it feels and the better the Titan feels."
"So," Power Woman asked, "it's like these things have really bad itches that are driving them crazy, and we're helping them scratch it?"
"More or less. When the city isn't producing as much electromagnetic energy and/or it's 'scratched its itch' enough, the Titan waddles back into the ocean."
"Then why do these Titans seem to be drawn to each other?" Ms. Hex asked.
"Well, a combination of things. First, we think that most Titans are extremely territorial. Even at the ocean's bottom, there is only so much food, and two Titans in an area would badly over-tax the region. Secondly, we think that Titans send out energy signatures that are even more irritating to each other than a city's is. Down at the ocean's bottom, this probably acts as a territory marking mechanism. But when they're up on dry land, it's an open challenge, and they come at each other boiling for a fight. They use each other to shed their excess energy, and maybe to establish some kind of territorial dominance."
Iron John nodded. "And that would explain why two Titans slugging it out way out in the boonies seems to draw more Titans who seem to want to get in on the fight. They heterodyne their energy signatures, drawing all the Titans in the freaking hemisphere who want a fight."
Then Iron John paused. "Which is all very interesting, but it doesn't get to the real point. Are you telling us that one of these 'Giant Monsters' is heading this way?"
The third bureaucrat took the question. "We don't know. So far, all that we have are several secondary and tertiary signs that a Titan approached the coast some time yesterday. We now have direct confirmation that the Titan entered the river at its mouth about six hours ago, and has been travelling upstream in this direction.
"And here is our problem: we don't know which Titan it is, we don't know what it wants, we don't know where it's going to come out of the river, and we don't know what direction that it's going to go in when it does come out."
"It's travelling up the river?" Sapphire asked. "I've never heard of a 'Giant Monster' travelling up rivers. And from what you've told us, it makes a lot more sense for it to crawl out of the ocean and head for the nearest coastal city or town, the way they usually do."
"You're right," the second bureaucrat said. "Normally, a Titan latches onto a specific signature and keeps after it. That's why we think the same Titan keeps coming back to the same city, time after time. And we've never had a Titan enter a river and travel up it, as this one is doing. And to confuse things worse, it's keeping a very low profile. The only way that we've been able to keep track of its progress is by the water swells that it causes as it passes and a few wrecks of very deep hulled river craft."
The third bureaucrat took the ball again. "Our strategy is to put the entire region on a low level alert, until the Titan finally makes its move. We have sent people to all the superhero groups in the region, and we're asking them be ready to move the second that it breaks out of the water. Besides that, we have called out the local National Guard units, claiming that it's an 'Emergency Preparedness Drill'. Also, all the Police Departments, Rescue Services, Fire Departments, Hospitals, Red Cross outposts, and Military bases in the area on low level alerts. We're even asking the local Pro Sports franchises to hold off on their games until the Titan passes their city, so that the arenas can be used as Emergency Hospitals and Homeless shelters. We've gotten a remarkable amount of inter-jurisdictional cooperation on this, on the Local, State and Interstate levels."
The first bureaucrat took over. "Besides being ready to protect your city, the Federal Emergency Management Administration is asking you to be ready to move in support, if the Titan surfaces in some other city. When the Titan finally shows itself, we want services in the cities not threatened to send what forces they can afford to, to help with the defense effort."
Battalion raised his hand. "So, exactly what are the City's protocols for dealing with a Titan?"
The bureaucrats looked uniformly uncomfortable. "Ahhh ... we don't have any. We haven't had any Titans head our way before. But we have protocols from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and New York."
"Okay, using these protocols, what do you want from US?"
"Well, from you super-types, we basically have four tasks: First, there's what's called 'Clearing'. You reduce the amount of casualties and damage by preceding the Titan, removing as much from its path that can be saved as possible. People are, of course the first priority, but things like power conduits, gas lines and trucks full of volatiles are also pretty high on the list.
"Your, Bricks, I think is the term, would be best for the heavy duty 'Clearing'. We need people who can get large objects out of the Titan's way as quickly as possible."
Battalion said, "And what about Sapphire? Her telekinesis is powerful enough to lift a good sized truck, and she can do it from a distance."
Sapphire shook her head sadly. "Sorry, no good. My ability to manifest solid energy forms isn't what it was. I haven't been able to create my 'Power Gems' in months."
"Oh?" I asked, "When did this happen, honey?"
"Some time about after that brouhaha with She-Devil and the Egg. I've been having problems concentrating, too."
The lead bureaucrat cleared his throat. "That's for later. But I'm afraid that Miss 'Sapphire' is right, she wouldn't do very well on the 'Clearing' detail.
"Then there's what's called 'Steering'. Those will be the ones of you that actually fight the beast. Your job will be basically to get its attention and try to get it to go in directions away from vulnerable targets, like hospitals or power plants. By the way, they seem to love power plants. We'll shut down as many power lines in the Titan's immediate vicinity as we can, but we can't shut down the power plants.
"I think the energy projecters in your group will do best as 'Steerers'. Besides being able to attack at a range, they are all very mobile, and the Titan might react to their energy signatures as it would another Titan.
"The third task is called 'Sweeping'. That's the job of dealing with the damage immediately after the Titan passes. The sooner that fires are put out and people are gotten out of rubble, the better. Your job will basically be to keep a lid on things until Emergency Services gets there, then get right back after the Titan to put out the next fire. Your Ms. Hex, with her telepathy and telekinesis, should definitely be on the Sweeping team.
"The last group is called 'Pacification', and it should be the most familiar to you. In the wake of the Titan, there will probably be looters and other opportunists. Your job will be to assist the Police and National Guard units in dealing with that."
Iron John heaved a sigh. "Yep, there's always some ratsass looking to take advantage of the chaos." Then a look crossed his face. "Any chance that supervillains might try to join in the fun?"
The first bureaucrat shook his head. "Unlikely. Studies in the wake of Titan Attacks and other disasters show that professional criminals rarely take part in looting. And, most supervillains are, at some level, professional criminals. Professional criminals accept being arrested and going to jail as a 'professional risk' that they all run. But under Martial Law, Military and National Guard units have the authority to summarily execute looters and other 'dangerous elements'. And they'll be taking on trained soldiers, using MilSpec weaponry, not just average cops on the beat. To a professional criminal, what they can pick up looting isn't worth the risk of getting shot. No, the average looter is either a very low-level street thug or an unprincipled civilian reacting to the breakdown of normal social patterns."
The third bureaucrat pointed to the situation room's viewing screen, where a map of the town was displayed. "Our overall strategy is really very simple. Here-" he pointed at a section just outside town, near the river. "-is a very large and very powerful microwave communications dish. Even as we speak, we have technicians desperately working to adjust the dish's moorings so that it can be turned and aimed. Our plan is to steer the Titan toward the dish, and bombard it with microwaves. The microwaves won't hurt the creature, but they should irritate it so that it should come in that direction."
He hit the remote and the display zoomed to where the microwave relay was. "The 343rd and 531st Armored Divisions are already on alert, and have moved into position near the highway. If the Titan surfaces here, they'll move into position between the Titan and the microwave dish. In addition, we'll have the 72nd, 91st, 105th and 117th Mobile Artillery Divisions will be in positions to achieve a constant bombardment on-" he went on to a very technical description of the artillery technique. "We are hoping that once the Titan gets its 'itch scratched', that it'll take the short route back to the river that we're providing here, instead of retracing its steps."
I didn't really follow the description of the bombardment technique, but Wendell did. (Figgers). "Hold on, with the array that you're talking about, you'll never be able to get the kind of concentration of firepower that you'll need to kill the Titan."
"Well, that's rather the idea."
"Why? So that the damn thing can come back and tromp on us again, now that it knows where we are?"
The first and third bureaucrats both looked at the second bureaucrat. "Well, there's a reason for that. One of the reasons why we developed the Titan Rating system was that it is actually very important to know what kind of Titan with which we're dealing."
There was a generalized 'why?' from around the table.
<ahem!> "Well, as I said before, one of the criteria for being a 'Class A' Titan is a demonstrated possession of The Power. Besides their size and the strange attacks and powers they display, 'Class A' Titans pose another threat - in 1966, the French fleet in the South Pacific discovered a Titan moving deep under the surface, near the Muruoa Atoll. They had good reason to believe that it was Raidnazera, a Titan that had devastated Manila about a week before. On orders from Paris to keep Raidnazera from posing a threat to French Polynesia, the fleet began an intense depth charge bombardment. They managed to kill the beast, but in doing so, they triggered a catastrophic detonation that, while non-nuclear, was equal in force to a Twenty Megaton bomb."
The phrase 'Twenty Megaton Bomb' echoed around the table.
"You mean these things are fucking atomic bombs?" Iron John asked incredulously.
"No, as I said, the blast was non-nuclear and non-radioactive. Even so, the French chose to advance the story that they were testing an underwater nuclear device, and the UN Security Council backed them up in a secret session. While most of the French Atomic tests in the South Pacific are genuine weapons tests, the French have taken advantage of this to, <*ahem!*> 'eliminate' several Class-A Titans underwater."
Iron John stuck to his point. "So, you're saying that if we kill this thing, that it'll explode like an A-bomb, only without the fallout?"
The second bureaucrat sighed heavily. "Yes. That's why it's so important to identify the Titan as soon as possible. Right now, we don't know if the Titan passing this way is Class A or Class B. If it's Class B, then there's no danger of a detonation. Then your job will be to keep it in one place while the conventional forces close in and finish it off. The sooner it's dead, the better for everyone.
"BUT, if it's Class A, then we have to follow the program that we've outlined, and get it to return to the ocean as soon as possible. The International Disaster Relief Agency maintains and constantly upgrades a database on all known Class A and B Titans, so we should have a positive ID within a few minutes of it breaking the surface."
Either way, I thought that it was going to be a visual extravaganza. Reyes was going to have full grown cats when she heard that we knew about this, and didn't give her a sneak warning----
REYES! If that thing broke the surface here, then every TV news crew would be on the job! She MIGHT be able to get by without me, but there's NO WAY that she'd be able to explain away not having a cameraman!
I turned to Eli, and even through the mask and visor, I could tell from his pale expression that exactly the same thought had occurred to him. I leaned over and whispered, "D'you think that you could explain to yer girlfriend why you can't be on hand for the crisis?"
"She's not my girlfriend! And, NO, I can't think of anything!"
Like a teacher catching two kids whispering in class, the third bureaucrat asked, "Is there something that you'd like to contribute?"
Oh well. "Oh, just a Secret Identity issue. 'Tech Support' here has a commitment that might keep him busy, if the Titan surfaces here. We were just trying to figure out how to handle it."
<Harrummfph!> "I don't see how-" The bureaucrat's pomposity was cut short by a universal cold glare from around the table, even Power Woman. If there's anything that superheroes understand, it's 'Secret Identity issues'.
"Hold on." Eli jumped in. "When is the general public going to be informed about this? I mean, talk about having a Right to Know!"
The third bureaucrat cleared his throat. "Well, ah, due to the, ah, uncertain nature of the situation, informing the general public will only be done when and where the Titan finally surfaces. There are no less that seven different cities that the Titan could choose to surface at; warning all of them would cause unnecessary alarm, and maybe even panic, in six cities where there is absolutely no risk. It would require usage of manpower to maintain order, which is badly needed elsewhere."
As usual, the weasel managed to make covering his own ass sound like civic responsibility. Par for the course.
By One in the Afternoon, the Navy helicopters that were tracking the Titan verified that it was well out of range of the town just down the river from us and was coming into City Limits. It was our turn in the barrel.
Eli and Bernice had worked something out where he could blip back and forth from a remote transmitter (maybe a solution to our landline problems?) and switch outfits at the same time. Of course, this meant that we had to let Reyes in on the secret. Thank God, I wasn't there to have to deal with her. All we AEGIS members positioned ourselves in our civilian clothes, all along the length of the riverfront near phones with landlines. If the Titan surfaced near us, we'd call in and let Bernice know. She'd alert the others and teleport them to that location. Scarapelli had five squads of SWAT cops on reserve with a landline to AEGIS, ready to back us up.
I had Reyes on the phone, and was blatantly breaking security. "What?" Reyes bleated, "You mean something major's going down right now? What?"
"I can't tell you, 'cause it might not go down in this town. But wherever it does go down, it's gonna be BIG!"
"So, what are you telling me?"
"That Eli will be sort of blipping back and forth for the next few hours. He should be able to handle the camera for you most of the time, but there will be times when he's badly needed elsewhere."
Reyes growled. "I can't believe that I'm bankrolling your entire operation, and all that I'm getting for it is THIS Bee Ess!"
"Reyes, I'm-" Then my AEGIS pager went off. 'CONTACT!' "OH SHIT! It's going down right now! Reyes, get into the NewsLemon, get moving south and wait for Eli to contact you!"
I slammed the phone down and dialed AEGIS and my code number.
A blurry second later, I was in my Lady Lightning costume at the loading docks along with Battalion, Sapphire and Titan. The loading dock workers were looking very surprised at the collection of long-john wearing weirdos in their midst, but we were all looking at the ominous hump in the water that was still growing without managing to show what it was.
I snapped out of it first, and set off one of my dazzling flashes. "LISTEN UP, PEOPLE! THIS AREA IS ABOUT TO BECOME A WAR ZONE! EVACUATE NOW!"
Sure enough, most of them showed the good sense to scatter. "Titan, start clearing away those trailer hitches. Battalion, Sapphire, power up and build up to as heavy a burst as you can image. Hold it until the water clears and we can get a clear shot!" I started powering up a hellacious charge.
As we stood there for an improbably long time, the dock foreman charged up, yelling, "What the hell are you freaks doing here? What do you think you're doing threatening my workers?
Straining to keep the charge contained inside me, I glared at him. "You! Are there any natural gas lines in this area?"
The foreman gave me a 'wha?' expression, and "Ah, No."
"Any gasoline tanks or other explosives?"
"No! What the fuck are you-"
"Any kind of hazardous waster, or anything else that might be dangerous if it spilled?"
"Hey, you are NOT going to drag one of your stupid super-fights into MY-"
"We're not dragging anything, mister! It's coming here, whether we want it to or not!"
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"THAT." I indicated the enormous swelling of water that somehow still hadn't broken.
The Foreman turned his head and finally saw the hump. Even from behind, I could tell that he went white as a sheet. "Oh. My. God."
"Don't just stand there with your teeth in your mouth!" I snapped at him. "Clear the area! Shut down the electricity, if you know where the junction box is!"
He jumped like I'd stuck a pin in him, and was off screaming orders left and right.
Meanwhile, the hump in the water kept growing and growing. It raised a full three stories up in the water. I was amazed that surface tension had that much hold. Finally, the tension holding the water up broke.
"ah---Bernice---It's a snail."
"It's a snail. A thirty-something foot high univalve with a spiraling shell with long spiky things jutting out of it. The shell is sort of purple and neon orange striped, with streaks and flecks of gold in it. It looks like the tourist souvenir that Liberace wouldn't bring home. Okay, it's sticking its head out. The skin is a sort of fruit punch red with a big black splotch on the head between the eyes, and it's sticking out its eyes. And it's sticking out more eyes. And more eyes. Dear God, it's got eight eyes, and they're looking all around---"
Suddenly I snapped out of the awestruck reverie. But give me a break, you don't see that much bad taste outside Las Vegas. " Oh Shit! Open fire, people!"
Sapphire, Battalion and I all let fly at once, and hit just under its mouth.
Nothing. It didn't even flinch.
Now, normally in the monster movie, this is the part where the giant beast lets out a bellowing roar and takes a swat at a curiously shoddy looking building that's conveniently chest high. Nope, not our boy. He just sort of surged out of the water and started crawling forward.
Titan grew to his maximum size of sixty feet high, pounded a fist into his other hand and said, "Well, all right! Time to wrassle!"
But I was watching where the snail-ossus was going. It didn't climb over the truck that was in front of it, it flowed through it. It didn't crush the truck, it melted it. The damn thing was dissolving everything in its path!
"TITAN! NO! Stay BACK! It's Acidic!"
But it was too late. Diego had one hand on it, and if he hadn't been wearing those gawd-awful thick armored gauntlets of his, he would have pulled back a stump. As it was, he barely managed to rip his gauntlet off in time, and he had some really nasty chemical burns as it was.
Battalion and Sapphire tried to buy Titan some time by blasting it, and I flew between them to give it one of my patented blinding electrical arc flashes.
Which, may I say was remarkably more effective than I personally would have guess. It pulled in all eight eyestalks and pulled back its head a bit. I guess snails don't like bright lights that much, especially those that spend the majority of their time twenty thousand leagues under the sea.
I'll give Diego this - he's a real scrapper. After almost getting burned like that, most people would have held back and tried to think of a safer way of handling this thing. Figuring that the acid only came from the fleshy part, Diego came at from the side and tried to grapple its shell, maybe to try and tip it over so that it couldn't move.
But then the spiral of the shell began to spin - literally spinning! - and those spikes started ripping into him. There was an actual buzzsaw sound as the spikes tore through his chest armor
"Justiciar! Power Woman! We need an intervention! Get Titan away from that thing! He'll kill himself!"
[Heads up, Crew! I've got a positive ID! It's Whelkera-]
"Bernice, if you don't mind, we're sort of in the middle of something here!"
[Well, whatever you do, keep your distance! It secretes a powerful acid!]
"Tell us something that we don't know!" Diego snarled.
[Okay, besides secreting that acid, it can also spit it up to 500 yards away, in amounts that can dissolve a good sized tank! Also, it says that it can emit an ear-shattering shriek. Hey, don't you need lungs to shriek? Do snails even have lungs?]
"Not really an issue, Bernice!" Sapphire said as she swooped by to knock out one of the spines.
[Okay, I don't know how relevant this is, but ol' Whelkera shouldn't be here.]
There was a resounding 'WELL, DUH!'
[He's native to the South Pacific, and his usual stomping grounds is Djakarta, though he's been known to crawl through Singapore as well.]
"Yeah, so?" Battalion asked.
[Well, he's a giant mutated PACIFIC mollusk!]
"Ooohhh, I get it!" I said. "If he's a Pacific Ocean boy, what's he doing Here? The river doesn't open into the Pacific!"
[Hah! Not so smug and condescending now, are you?]
"Ah, Bernice, since you have the down-load anyway, would there be anything like a chemical analysis of that slime that he's melting that Burger Clown™ with? Like maybe you could compound a counter-agent that you could teleport to Battalion, so that we can at least keep the damage to a couple of billion?"
[Uhm, well, I'd need Tech Support for that.]
"What?" Power Woman and Ted had finally finished up whatever they had been handling and were pulling Titan off Whelkera. But Brenda was still up to eavesdropping. "Lady Lightning, didn't you give me your word that that little weasel was reliable?"
"Yeah, and I also told you that he was having Secret Identity conflicts! Bernice, buzz him and see what you two can arrange. But, in the meantime, Bernice, you still haven't answered the 64,000 Dollar Question: Is that thing a Class A Titan, or can we get it drunk on some beer and kill it?"
[Weren't you listening? It has super powers and it's a repeat rampager! Do you think the Indonesian military would let that thing keep tip-toeing through their tulips, if it weren't a Class A?]
"Oh. Right. Good Point, Bern. Well, what's the status of that Microwave Irritator Dish?"
[Half a sec. Okay, they say that they need at least twenty minutes to get it aligned. They want you to keep that thing from passing map coordinate J- 14.]
"Battalion ... ?" I asked resignedly.
"That would be roughly Union and 24th," he immediately replied.
"Street or Avenue?"
[Street. Also, one of the out of town Armored Divisions says that they're on the Interstate and encountering very light traffic, so they should be here in about a half hour.]
"Cool. Nothing like heavy armor to really send collateral damage up a few brackets. What about the Midnight Watch, the Legion of Steel or the Nine Just Men?"
"MAN," Sapphire muttered, barely audible over the link, "who comes UP with these names?"
[Half a tick. Lesse now; the Legion has their hands full with a group of wise ass supervillains who're counting on every superhero around hauling ass over here. The Watch and the Nine say they're en route.]
"Of course they are. And I'll hold my breath waiting for them. After all, I look spectacular in blue. Okay, people, we know what we gotta do! Hey, Hex, I realize that controlling that thing is too much to expect, but what are the chances that you could-"
"'Read its mind'?" Amy finished for me. "You're assuming that its GOT a mind to read. And, even if I could, it's running on raw irritation. The very best that I could do was get a rough idea of what was pissing it off."
"Hey, that beats staggering around in the dark!"
"Enh, it couldn't hurt, I suppose." A few minutes later. "This is weird."
"What's up, Hex?"
"I can't get any reading off of it. I should be getting at the very least be getting an impression of animal rage, but all I'm getting is sort of a blank wall."
I watched as the huge mollusk plowed through an office building. "Hey, listen up, crew! There's something weird going on!"
"There's a six story snail plowing through the Waterfront district," Power Woman drawled, "and she says that something weird is going on. What a shock."
"Hey, people, we have a calm Titan here. It isn't lashing out at anything, it's just moving on through. From what the FEMA guys said, a 'Calm Titan' is contradiction in terms. If it wasn't really pissed off about something, it would be down and the bottom of the ocean, where it's nice and quiet. Also, even Titans tend to follow the path of least resistance, walking along streets and only breaking through buildings when they have to. But Escar-Godzilla here is moving in a straight line, regardless of anything in its path."
"Good Point!" Battalion said. "But if it's heading in a straight line, then we can plot a trajectory for it. If we can verify its exact path, then that will minimize the number of people that have to be evacuated and that will free up cops and rescue workers from handling them."
"Trust the Strategy and Tactics freak to think of the Logistics angle," Iron John murmurred. "B-guy, link up with the FEMA dorks and see what they think about it."
"Jeez, miss the point much?" I snapped. "It's travelling in a straight line! WHY is it travelling in a straight line?"
"Dammit, Max, why do you always bring things like this up?" Titan snapped back.
"Because they're important!" I snapped right back at him.
"Hey, don't get all flarey at me!"
"You're flaring! Y'know, sparking and like that!"
"No, I'm not --- wait, I AM, aren't I? Hey, Battalion, are you picking up a heavy outside energy signature?"
"Yeah, but I thought it was tall, dark and slimy here. Just a sec --- yep, we have a very sophisticated ultra-high frequency directional beam."
"Is it the National Guard Microwave broadcast dish?" Iron John asked.
"No, wrong direction and too soon. It's coming from --- over there." Wendell pointed out toward an industrial park.
"Right!" I changed my frequency. "Yo! FEMA! Squawk back! Is that microwave projector up and running?"
"No, as we told your Miss Thibideaux-" Thibidieaux? Is that what Bernice's last name is? "-the microwave projector won't be re-aligned for another fifteen minutes! You'll-"
"Listen up! We have another very strong directional ultra-high frequency energy wave heading our way, and it's coming from the general direction that King Conch here is heading. Get on the horn with the Army Engineers, and see if they can track down any energy spikes in that area."
"Do you think that whoever is projecting that beam is the one who lured the Titan here?"
"Unlikely. If they had a way of luring Whelkera out of the depths with that thing, then why would they bring it here? We're sort of out of these thing's natural stomping grounds. No, I think that one of the local smart-asses is trying to cash in on Mollusk-ossus' appearance. More to the point, do you think that your people could kludge together a wider beam for the microwave projector? Maybe we could confuse the thing long enough for us to take out this other projector. Then we go back to the original plan."
"Just a second. Let me confer with the Engineers." The sound on the connection went dead. "Oh, lovely. I'm on hold! Okay, guys, it looks like we're gonna have to hold Chowder-Boy here back until the National Guard gets the dish rigged so that it interferes with whatever Big Boy is biting on."
"More easily said than done, L.L.," Iron John said, "I'm giving it everything I got, but my hammer ain't even denting this thing's shell."
Hammer? "Oh! Of Course! Titan, Justiciar, Pow-"
"Way ahead of you, Sparky." Diego said as he dredged up an I-beam from the wreckage. "All we really need is a little distance from the acid." He swung and landed a clanging hit upside Mega-Mollusk's head. Justiciar and Power Woman followed suit.
I was trying to get FEMA back on the line, when suddenly Whelkera head-butted Diego and charged all out.
Yes, it charged. I know, I know, 'charging' isn't something that you normally associate with snails, but it charged, trust me on this one. It pushed past Diego, Ted and Brenda, and hauled shell in the general direction from which the signal was coming.
Okay, what's going on here? Why did Whelky sudden go off like somebody tried to put salt on his tail?
Then FEMA was back on the line. "I have an estimated time of completion for the adjustments. If you can hold it for another five minutes-"
Click. "Tell the Engineers to take their time. Something else is going down." I switched over to the AEGIS frequency. "Okay, people, Heads Up! Somebody's playing games here! The FEMA guys were talking to the Army Corps of Engineers about that microwave dish on an unscrambled frequency. Just about then, Chowder Boy started his mad, fifteen-mile-an-hour dash for wherever he's headed."
"You think somebody's controlling it?" Battalion asked.
"Well, that would explain not only his sudden burst of speed, but Whelky's stealthy approach, not to mention his coming up the river, and leaving the Pacific Basin in the first place."
"But how do you control a Titan?" Tigress asked from where she was doing 'sweeping'. "And why would anyone waste the crawling equivalent of a re-usable atomic bomb on US?"
"Insufficient Data. Odds are, we'll find at least a few answers when we find whatever's aiming that beam at Whelky. Battalion, Sapphire, come with me. We'll find the point of transmission. Titan, Justiciar, Power Woman - you slow Whelky down as much as you can. The rest - keep up the good work!"
Battalion and Sapphire followed me as I raced forward, following the Doppler effect of the transmission. Then, as if that were the trigger, it suddenly got even weirder.
There was a small grouping of trucks parked in the loading area of the industrial park. They started folding out, connecting with each other and generally acting like an Autobot from the old Transformers cartoons. When they were finished, they had formed a squat, quasi-saurian configuration.
Sapphire radioed HQ. "Bernice! Get on that database PDQ! Did Whelkera ever have any Titan-clashes with another Titan that was-" She gave a rough, off-the-cuff description of the construct's form.
"Just a sec. Yeah! That sounds like Tai Lung K'un. They've had a couple of sparring matches in Singapore. Tai Lung K'un's usual stomping ground is Shanghai, but-"
"I'm sure that's positively fascinating, Bern," I cut in, "but we have a robotic body double for TLK, right here."
"A robotic double for a Giant Monster," Bernice said, obviously bemused. "How Japanese. Whoever's transmitting that wave must figure that Whelky would respond to a rough body image of a known antagonist. But who could put something like that together?"
"Well, they either knew that Whelky was coming, or they work really fast. And there are only two guys in this area that fit that bill. Power Woman! Leave off trying to make chowder, and get over here! We need your expert eye!"
Battalion, Sapphire and I had made the tactical error of hanging in mid-air as 'Meccha-Tai Lung K'un' was assembling itself. Suddenly, several other trailer rigs popped open, Mega-ComBots popped out of them, and opened fire. Besides a hail of plasma-bolts, they launched missiles that reconfigured themselves in mid-air into spidery spherical robots with metallic 'tentacles'. One of the Octo-bots managed to wrap itself around me and start squeezing.
I was having a hard time of it. The Octobot had a tentacle around my throat when suddenly Power Woman showed up and ripped the damned thing off of me.
"You rang?" she asked, in an atypically sprightly manner.
"Yeah," I wheezed, "I needed you to answer a question for which I just found out the answer." I switched to the all-member band. "Okay, crew, it looks like we're up against Doctor Daedalus. Only Doctor D and Crazy Lenny could put that Meccha-doppleganger over there together so fast. And I recognize the Octobot as one of Dr. D's designs."
"You want us to help you take out that thing?"
"NO! Titan, Justiciar, I need you to keep Whelkera back as long as possible! I dunno what Dr. D wants with Escar-Godzilla, but it can't be good!"
"That's a lot more easily said than done, L.L.!" Titan called back, "Whelky here is more determined to get over there than a sailor headin' for a nudie bar!"
"Yeah," Ted confirmed, "he isn't even bothering to melt the buildings anymore, he's just crashing right through 'em!"
"Dammit," I sputtered, "we can't spare anyone from 'clearing' or 'sweeping'! We need more people! Where are the Nine Just Men, or the Night Watch?"
"You rang?" Five people flew up. Or actually four of them flew up, and one of them carried a fifth. The leader seemed to be a dark haired woman in a dark-green-and-black outfit who appeared to be vaporous from the waist down. A really buff looking African American guy in gray partial body armor was carrying a really tricked out cyborg type. Another woman with a light green cape and a weird looking silver full-face mask floated beside them, and beside her was a guy in royal blue with silver trim, visor and cape.
"We," the vaporous green woman said, "are the Midnight Watch. I am Chimera. The 'borg is Jacknife. The guy carrying him is Meteor. The other lady is Enigma. She doesn't talk much. And the one with the cape is Skybolt. We had to leave the others back to mind the store. We heard that you had some kind of giant monster on your hands. What's that thing over there?" I'll give 'Chimera' her due - she was cool under fire. Literally. She was giving introductions as the Com-bots were shooting at us.
"Take out the Combat Robots! We think they work for Dr. Daedalus! We think he wants to capture Whelkera!"
"Why would anyone want to keep something that tacky?"
"Who knows? We think it's being steered by someone. Maybe he wants to use it as a threat against the city. Y'know, 'Give me all the Left Shoes in the City, or I'll unleash Whelkera'; that sort of thing."
We went after the support Combat Robots, leaving 'Meccha-Tai Lung K'un' alone. Hey, we didn't know what nasty little toys that Dr. D had built into it! And if it could knock the wind out of Whelky's sails, more power to it. We could always pound it into Mini-Cons once Whelky wasn't a threat anymore.
"Heads Up!" Ted yelled over his link. "We can't hold it anymore! Snail comin' through!"
Sure enough, Whelky plowed through the buildings separating it from Meccha-TLK at a speed that a monopod really isn't built for. For some reason, Meccha-TLK didn't melt from contact with Whelky's acid.
[Hey, Crew!] Bernice suddenly piped in, [Good News! The Nine Just Men have landed and are headed your way! The Midnight Watch says that they should be here in five minutes!]
"What are you talking about, Bernice?" I asked, "The Midnight Watch is already here!"
[No, they're not! I have them on FAA radar - their airship is closing fast, but they're still out over the 'burbs!]
Click Number Two. Okay, now it's all beginning to make sense. "Bernice?" I said in a low voice, "I want you to contact each member of AEGIS individually. Tell them that the 'heroes' that we're fighting alongside are bogus. My guess is that it's the Symbiont Syndicate, trying to pull a fast one on Dr. Daedalus. Tell them to wait until Dr. D pulls whatever trap that he has planned for Whelkera. Then we pound the Midnight Wannabees, and get Whelkera away from Dr. D. Get in touch with the Nine, and warn them that the Syndicators are behind this, and arrange a few contact phrases and such. I think that She-Devil has taught her little disguise trick to the rest of them."
Okay, which one of these phonies is my old sparring partner, She-Devil? Come to think of it, there are five of these guys. There are only four Symbiont villains in the Syndicate that I know of: She-Devil, Kraken, Nasghul, and my old buddy Berserker. Had The Egg come out of his shell? Maybe they talked Lighthawk into joining them? Well, he was dumb enough to think that they'd cut him a break, so maybe.
Okay, there are two 'females', and 'Chimera' is way too chatty. And she'd said that 'Enigma', the other female, 'doesn't talk much'. So, my guess is that 'Enigma' is ol' Hell-Bunny. If I really clock her, I might be able to take her out quickly enough that she won't be able to pull whatever that hoodoo that she has on the rest of AEGIS.
Okay, the next most dangerous one is Kraken; he's the smart one. And he's also the one that they'd have doing all the talking, so he's in drag as 'Chimera'.
The flying blaster calling himself 'Skybolt' is most likely Lighthawk. It's probably killing him, keeping his yap shut.
The other two are Berserker and Nasghul. Can't say which, right off hand.
As we fought the Combat Robots together, I noticed that the 'Midnight Watch' was letting AEGIS do most of the real fighting. But then, AEGIS wasn't fighting all that hard, either.
I spared a moment to see how Whelky was doing against the refugee from Cybertron. I noticed that as they were going at it, Mecca-TLK was spraying two geysers of fine mist from units on its back. The mist was dripping all over Whelky. It didn't make sense at first, but then I noticed bubbles forming all over Whelky's red skin. They grew and began to join and form a gelatinous covering. Daedalus had figured out a way of not only neutralizing Whelky's primary weapon, but also devised a way of turning it into a cage to hold the big galoot.
Suddenly, Meccha-Tai Lung K'un sort of 'blossomed' out into a 'rib-cage' arrangement, which wrapped itself around the Whelkinator like a big mechancial hand. Then the 'hand' arranged its components further, making the cage even stronger.
"Okay," I announced loudly, "now, the other shoe drops. Finish off these 'bots and let's see how Doctor D is gonna try and finesse King Conch here out from under us."
As if on cue, all six Com-bots launched missiles straight up into the air, which deployed several hovering smoke dispensers. Also, directly from the robots came thick, choking clouds of smoke. Before you could say 'Strict Air Emissions Controls', you could barely see three feet away from you.
"Okay," I quietly said into my comm-link, "the other shoe has dropped. So, what are the sneakers up to?"
"Oh, they're tip-toeing toward the Snail Cage," Hex whispered back. "They think they're quite the Sneaky Petes."
"Are they after Whelkera?"
"No, they have no worries for the snail. They are after something ... more ... Something ... close ... "
"Daedalus' lab. It's the old 'Trojan Horse' ploy. They probably didn't know where this lab was, and/or knew they couldn't get past his security. He'll have opened up his lab in some serious way in order to get Whelky inside. Once he gets Whelky, Daedalus will arrange some method of transporting him to another site and abandon the lab."
"Why would they want that?" Ted asked.
"Hey, they seem to have a thing for raiding Daedalus' labs. He has something that they want Big Time."
"Okay," Ted said, "Judgement Call time, people: do we take the Symbiont Syndicate down, and keep them from whatever they're after? Or do we let them slide and keep Daedalus from taking control of a huge slithering Atomic Bomb?"
What Does Doctor Daedauls Want With Whelkera?
What Does The Symbiont Syndicate Want With Dr. Daedalus' Lab?
What Will AEGIS choose To Do?
What Are Eli and Bernice Up To, Back At HQ?
Find out in the next, building-crashing, slime-oozing episode of
'OF MASKS AND MARVELS!
Continuted in Part 24...