Saturday, 04 August 2012 23:10

Ayla and the Mad Scientist: (Chap 13)

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Ayla and the Mad Scientist, the 9th Phase novel by Diane Castle, Chapter 13 – Annales galantes

Ayla and the Mad Scientist

CHAPTER 13 – Annales galantes

a Whateley novel

by Diane Castle

 

The bottom dropped out of my stomach, even though I knew conceptually that this was possible.  I should have considered it inevitable, given my luck, and planned accordingly.  Instead, I had been sticking my head in the sand.  I choked, “Oh no.  No way!”

Bardue frowned, “You didn’t have any problem so far.  What’s the problem?”

I gasped, “Are you serious?  Of course you’re serious.  I can’t!  You want me to go into the sim and try to kill all of ‘em.  I…  I can’t.”

Wilson leaned in to tag-team me.  “You mean you don’t think you can win, and you don’t like losing?”

I shook my head slowly.  “No.  I mean…  I won’t do it.  I won’t attack them.  Even in a sim.  I won’t do it!”

Bardue growled, “Phase, if you don’t follow the rules, you’ll be off the training team.”

I gritted me teeth.  “Fine.  Fire me.  Report me to Lady Astarte.  You cannot make me do this!

Wilson smirked, “Oh yeah?  What if we threaten to…”

          *        *        *        *        *       

TEAM KIMBA

They appeared about fifty feet above the Quad.  Lancer was stretched out horizontally like Superman, with Chaka standing balanced on his back.

<(Lancer) Check off.  Who isn’t here?>

<(Chaka) Shit.  It’s Phase.>

<(Lancer) Forcefields up, everyone who’s got ‘em.  Move far enough up that you can see attacks from underground.>

<(Tennyo) Be ready for holdouts.  That web stuff is a pain.>

<(Lancer) Fey and Chaka, you’re perimeter.  Try and spot her before she comes out of the ground.>

<(Chaka) Hey Fey, can you do those humongous forcefields like in your sim?  Maybe block Phase from coming up from the ground?>

<(Fey) I can do my standard forcefield, but I can’t do anything as powerful as those were.>

<(Lancer) Well, anything’s a help.>

<(Tennyo) What’s she waiting on?>

<(Chaka) Yeah, totally not like Phase to let us do a ton of planning first.>

<(Shroud) Incoming!>

<crap>

Lancer glanced up and saw what looked like a dozen missiles heading at them.  He grabbed Chaka’s ankle and darted toward Fey.  He reached out with his other hand and grabbed Generator in passing.

Four of the missiles veered in mid-air, chasing Lancer as he raced toward Fey.  Four others aimed for Tennyo, while the last four headed for Fey.

<(Chaka) Shields up!>

<(Fey) Thanks, Captain Kirk, already on it.  Get in here.>

Chaka threw a shuriken that hit exactly at the tip of one of the missiles, and it exploded in an enormous blast.  Two more missiles exploded as Tennyo hurled plasma balls at the incoming threats.

Lancer dragged Chaka and Generator inside Fey’s green bubble just a fraction of a second before the missiles reached them, and Fey struggled to bring the bubble up to full strength.

Even through the forcefield, there was an ear-splitting explosion, and the green bubble rippled like the surface of a just-disturbed pond.

<(Chaka) What the hey?>

Lancer watched the bubble collapse.  When Chaka complained, he turned his head in time to spot Fey sag into herself.  Her eyes rolled up in her head, and her head tipped backward, just as she began to drop.  Lancer and Generator got to Fey at the same time, and each grabbed an arm.

<(Generator) Tennyo!  Fey’s knocked out.>

Fey groaned and mumbled, “Mom, please, just another couple minutes…”

<(Chaka) Not good.>

Lancer scooped Fey up and held her in his arms.  <(Lancer) The blasts must’ve overloaded her forcefield and hammered her.>

<(Chaka) Bet those missiles would’ve taken out a PK brick.>

<(Tennyo) All mine blew up on my warp shield, and didn’t do too much damage.>

Lancer looked as Tennyo flew over.  She apparently hadn’t noticed that she had half a dozen holes burned through her uniform.

<(Generator) Good thing you got that adamantium in your costume.>

<(Tennyo) Wha…?  Oh shoot.>  She looked down and saw that one breast would have been completely exposed if it weren’t for a tiny bit of metal bikini.  <(Tennyo) I gotta get more of these little disks.>

<(Lancer) Adamantium?  I think Phase probably fibbed to you about how much she spent on that.>

<(Chaka) Yeah.  That bikini’s probably a hundred grand’s worth.>

<(Tennyo) Oh crud, I’ll never be able to afford more.>

“Mo-om, I don’t feel good, can I stay home from school today?” Fey whimpered.

<(Lancer) We need to retreat and find a defensible position before Phase hits us with Round Two.>

<(Tennyo) Yeah, we need time for Fey to recover.>

<(Chaka) Anyone think this is exactly what Phase wants us to do?>

<(Generator) Where’s Shroud?>

<(Shroud) I’m playing dead.  I got shredded pretty good, so I’m lying on the ground in pieces.  You go hide, and I can play secret monitor.  I lost most of my stuff, but I’ve got my Spot and most of the nanowire and some other bits.  Nobody’s gonna think I’m okay.>

<(Lancer) Except Phase.  If they target you…>

<(Shroud) …I’ll be okay.  The big stuff, like the uniform parts and the beartrap and the knives and chains?  They’re all over the place, and the biggest clump that’s left is way away from me.  I’m all little stuff no one’s gonna spot.>

<(Lancer) Okay, let’s play it Phase’s way ‘til we figure out what the hell she’s up to.>

<(Chaka) And Fey comes back to us.>

“Can I sleep ‘til ten?  Mrs. Schneider won’t care if I miss gym.  I hate gym.”

<snerk>

<(Chaka) Okay, this’d be pretty funny if she was lyin’ in bed with Koehnes tryin’ to wake her up.>

<(Tennyo) Can we cut into Shuster and duck down into the tunnels?  G and I know a bunch of tunnels Phase has no clue about.>

<(Lancer) Okay, front door of Shuster.  But watch out for traps.>

<(Chaka) Too bad I can’t do an Admiral Ackbar imitation over the Spots.>

<(Lancer) Hate to tell you, but you can’t do an Admiral Ackbar imitation at all.>

They flew as fast as Lancer could haul Fey, while Chaka rode on Tennyo’s back and Generator clung to Tennyo’s outstretched hand.  They touched down in front of the main doors of Shuster Hall.

<(Lancer) Once we get in, we need to check for ambushes.>

Chaka swung the doors open and peeked inside.  <(Chaka) Heads up!>

<(Lancer) Freeze!>  He could see what was inside now that the doors were open, and there was no mistaking the powder blue of MCO power armor.  Two men in black suits and narrow ties stood there holding up MCO ID cards, while four suits of power armor stood at attention behind them.

<(Chaka) What?  Are you nuts?>

<(Lancer) Think about it.  This is the trap.  What would Phase expect us to do?>

<(Generator) Blast the snot out of any MCO or KoP troops we run into.>

<(Tennyo) Especially after those missiles.>

<(Lancer) We play it straight.  We let them make the first moves.  If any power armor goes for us, I toss Fey to Chaka.  Tennyo and I block the attacks.  Chaka and G drop the unarmored guys and then tackle the armor from behind.>

Lancer floated forward with Fey in his arms.  “I’m sorry, but we’re under attack and we need to get our teammate somewhere safe.”

The taller MCO agent said, “MCO Field Agent Derek Hooper.  We were hoping to speak with your team about Phase.”

Chaka said, “Oh, you don’t need ta do that.  She just blasted the snot out of us out there in the Quad.  You didn’t think that was fireworks, did ya?”

The shorter agent said, “MCO Field Agent Bill Barrett.  You should have another team member.  One ‘Shroud’.”

Generator complained, “Yeah!  We should!  Feel free to go interview her.  She’s the bits and pieces all over the Quad where she got blown up!”

Lancer tried, “Can we get Headmistress Carson involved in this?  She can vouch for us.”

Agent Barrett said, “Sure.  The campus had to be evacuated, but we can get her on the phone.”  He dialed a number and stared at his cellphone.  “Or not.”  He pressed re-dial.  “We’re not getting a signal.  At all.”

Agent Hooper tried his phone.  “I’m not getting anything.  We can’t even dial out for help.”

Lancer groaned, “Phase.  She’d know every cell tower in the area, and she’ll have someone who knows how to take them out.”

Agent Hooper frowned, “That could be… inconvenient.”

“Thank you, Major Understatement,” growled Chaka.

“Behave,” said Tennyo.

Agent Hooper said, “Two recent criminal enterprises that we believe to have been perpetrated by Phase have been uncovered, and both of them had incriminating evidence that pointed toward the rest of Team Kimba aiding and abetting.  The second one had two corpses, one of which was apparently killed with a distinctive plasma blast, and the other by what our mages tell us is a Sidhe curse.”

“And so you’re here to slap us in irons?” Chaka fumed.

“No ma’am,” he said.  “We’re here to find out whether you’ve been framed.  This is Phase we’re talking about.”

Of course,” Chaka snarked.

Lancer slapped himself in the forehead.  “It’s the Necromancer Ploy.”

“Oh crud,” winced Tennyo.

“That totally makes sense,” Generator agreed.

“I’m sorry, the ‘Necromancer Ploy’?” Agent Barrett asked.

Lancer nodded.  “The Necromancer framed Vamp for the murder of…  Who was it?”

“Her boyfriend,” Chaka muttered.

Lancer nodded.  “He framed her and forced her to go to work for him, or else get tracked down by everyone you can think of.  That’s what Phase is pulling.  She blindsided us with those missiles just before she herded us to your position, so we’d shoot first and ask questions later.”

Chaka said, “Right.  And if you’d pulled your usual Kal-El routine and tried to block a couple missiles off your chest, you’d be toast, and I’d be…”  She looked at the MCO men and winced, “I’d be gettin’ us into even more trouble.”

Agent Hooper said, “You lost one teammate just now.  If you had lost two, I can’t see how you would have refrained from attacking us as soon as you saw us.”

Agent Barrett said, “Now I’m thinking we need to check our orders and find out why we were tasked with four power armor frames too.”  He turned his head and said, “Sorry Chuck, no insult intended.”

One of the power armor men tilted his head slightly and said, “None taken.  We’d rather not have to take on Tennyo or Fey or Lancer, much less all of them at once.”

Agent Barrett said, “So we need to move to a position where we can contact our office, or at least a relay point, and let them know this may be a frame job.”

Chaka slapped herself on the forehead.  “It’s an escort mission!  I hate escort missions!”

Fey mumbled, “Escort?  Mom, I’m a big girl now.  I don’t need an escort!”

Lancer looked at the agents and said, “She got knocked for a loop.  She’ll be okay in a while.”

“Assuming we have a ‘while’,” complained Chaka.  “All she has to do is take out the MCO people and leave us all dished up with a nice cherry on top.  I hate escort missions.”

Tennyo said, “It’s not gonna be like those video games.”

Chaka groused, “It’ll be worse.  We’ve got two squishy MCO agents and four really slow power armor boys.  There is no way we’re gettin’ all of ‘em out of here before Phase lets loose with her nex-“

<(Shroud) Incoming!  More missiles!  And…  It’s a dropship!>

“MOVE!” Lancer yelled.

“We got incoming!” Generator yelled at the MCO men.

Lancer tossed Fey’s limp form into the air, and Chaka caught her as easily as if he had tossed her a pillow.  Lancer flew right at the power armor and grabbed one in each hand.  Tennyo followed his example and grabbed the other two.

Generator slapped a blinking disk on each of the men in suits, and they found themselves lifted up into the air and flown toward the back side of the building.  They cut through a pair of double doors.  Generator slapped another blinking disk against the doors.  The first door swung shut and snapped locking bolts into the floor and ceiling.  The second door swung shut and locked into the first door.

“Mom, the room is spinning around, I think I’m gonna be sick,” Fey mumbled from Chaka’s arms.

“Don’t you dare!” Chaka hissed.  What she really wanted to do was her best Mama Reilly imitation and holler ‘Nicole Anne Reilly, DON’T YOU DARE!’ but she didn’t dare drop Nikki’s real name in front of these MCO yutzes.  And who else besides Phase would drop them into a bunch of MCO bozos and then make them have to save the MCO guys?

A series of explosions hit the front of the building.  Tennyo dropped the two MCO power armor guys and darted back toward the incoming blast.  She didn’t have to slow down or anything, so she was passing everyone else before the blast got to the doors.  She knew Jade was trying to hold the doors using Jayna – well, she thought it was Jayna’s turn, but she wasn’t keeping track of all of the J-Team at the moment, so it might be Jasmine – but there was no way Jayna could hold those doors against a big explosion.

The blast pressure funneled down the hallway.  It hit the locked double doors and blew them off their hinges.  The blast seared down the hallway, with shattered doors and damaged woodwork flying through the air at the front of a lethal fireball.

Tennyo cast her warp field and made sure it spread all the way across the hallway.  She ignored the way the edges of the field were cutting into the floor and ceiling and walls.  She watched as the blast took the doors down like they were kleenex.  A wall of fire and debris shot down the hall at her.  It moved way faster than stuff like that did in the movies.  There was no way the MCO guys could have outrun it.  Heck, she didn’t think she could fly fast enough to outrun it.  Phase would probably know exactly how fast an explosion like this moved.

The blast hit her warp field like an avalanche.  Her shield held, but it was giving her a nasty headache.  Not for the first time, she wondered if Phase’s plan was to slowly wear them all down until they failed, one by one.  That just didn’t sound like Phase.  No, Phase would have a plan that would lead them into some sort of trap that gave her all the advantages.

The hallway collapsed under the onslaught of the blast wave, sealing them off from the front of the building.  She spun about and flew back to where she had just thrown two MCO guys to the ground.  That had to be bad.

By the time she got back to the group, Lancer had already stood the two power armor guys back up.  He asked, “Are you okay?”

One of them said, “A lot more okay than being in a blown-up building.”

The other said, “Thanks.”

Agent Hooper didn’t say anything about the fact that he was still hovering four feet off the floor in a chest-down position.  He just said, “We need to move.  There has to be somewhere we can go that we can get phone contact or computer contact, and let our office know what’s going on.”

Lancer said, “And until you do, you’re targets.”

Generator said, “The tunnels!  We can get to a ton of labs with computers down there.”

“No way, José,” said Chaka.

“That’s what I was thinking too,” Tennyo said.  “Who has the biggest advantage if we’re down in the tunnels?”

“Oh.  Right,” Generator pouted.

Agent Barrett asked, “What?”

Lancer said, “This is exactly the kind of trap Phase would set, sir.  She’d dangle a plum just out of our reach, and when we tried to grab it, pow.”

<(Generator) Boom is probably more like it.  Once we get in the tunnels, it wouldn’t take much C-4 to close off both ends of whatever hall we’re in.  We could get out, but it would take us a while.  And she could drop the entire tunnel while we’re still working on it.>

<(Lancer) So that means we need to make it look like we’re taking one of the tunnels.>

<(Chaka) We need Fey for that.>

<(Fey) Ugh.  You called?  Did somebody drop my brain in a cement mixer?>

<(Lancer) You up for an illusion?>

<(Fey) If it’s bigger than a breadbox, forget it.  I need a few more minutes.>

Lancer stepped over to the MCO agents.  “Our mage is still down.  That limits some of our options.  Right now, I think we need to move, before the next wave has a chance to target us.”

Generator pointed past them.  “We can sneak through the Crystal Hall.  There’s some elevators past the doors to the big cafeteria.  They’d make a-”

CRASH!

Tennyo looked down the hall toward the double doors into the cafeteria.  She saw a cloud of dust and debris puffing outward.  “Umm, I’m guessing there isn’t much of a caff left anymore.”

<(Shroud) Hey guys, there’s about thirty or forty guys in power armor, and half of ‘em have flight.  About ten of ‘em are lugging missile launchers, so watch out.>

Lancer looked behind him at the collapsed hallway and said, “I think we’re going to have to deal with power armor and serious weaponry.  Let’s move out.  If we have to fight, then Tennyo, Generator, and I will go airborne, Chaka will make a flanking maneuver, and your power armor will stay put and blast anything they have a clear line on.  Just remember that Tennyo moves really fast, and doesn’t bother with inertia much, so watch your lines of fire.”

Agent Hooper pulled a massive handgun out of his armpit holster and said, “Roger that.”

Lancer and Tennyo carried the four MCO power armor units, so there wouldn’t be the obvious tromping sound of power armor footsteps as they all moved forward.  Generator took the blinking disks back from the two MCO agents and stuck one of them on Fey’s side.  Fey was lifted into the air and carried down the hall.  From the Crystal Hall, they could hear the sound of structures collapsing and falling.

<(Fey) Sorry but I’m not ready yet.  My head still feels like someone stuck me in a barrel and rolled me down a mountain.>

<(Lancer) I think we’re lucky that’s all we lost on round one.  And having Shroud outside secretly giving us intel is probably as good as we could have asked for.>

Generator threw Spinner ahead of the team, and it disappeared into the dust.  Only a second later, there was the sound of gunfire and energy blasts.

<(Generator) Spotted.  Oh well.  Maybe forty armor, about half flying.  They’re moving across what’s left of the caff.  They’ve got chainguns, lightning blasters, something that looks like a big ice blaster with some huge tanks on the armor guy’s back, and a couple flamethrowers.  Five or six of ‘em have a big missile launcher on one shoulder.  Oh, and there’s two guys with huge glueguns.>

<(Fey) I’m not ready to do anything focused yet, but there’s one thing I can do.>

<(Chaka) All RIGHT!  Hit ‘em!>

Lancer grabbed Fey and flew across what was left of the doors into the cafeteria.  As they passed the opening, Fey let go.

The power armor that spotted the movement through the dust tried to open fire, but Lancer was past the hole in the wall before anyone could do more than aim.  And none of the armored forces were prepared for what happened next.

About two dozen turkey-sized hobgoblins came flying toward the power armor.  They were covered in bright feathers, and each hobgoblin was one single color.  But they were every color of the rainbow.  They flew at the power armor, their clawed feet flashing through the air and their sharp beaks pointing forward like feathered arrows.

The power armor must have had comm links, because there was no yelling or screaming.  Just hasty adjustment.  The farthest third of the Crystal Hall dome had been blown to pieces, and most of the upper two levels of the eating areas had been demolished.  So the half of the power armor minions that were on foot were having to slowly work their way across the ruins.  The flight-enabled power armor men were hovering over the ones on foot, providing air support.

The power armor minions quickly delegated responsibilities, and sectored fire to handle the incoming threats.  A lightning blast turned a bright red hobgoblin into a cloud of red dust.  A flamethrower eruption turned a neon purple hobgoblin into a fireball.  A blast of ice turned a brilliant orange hobgoblin into a massive plummeting hailstone.  A burst of brownish-gray glue coated a poison green hobgoblin, causing it to drop in an arc.

Unfortunately for the power armor, other attacks didn’t go as well.  A separate lightning blast turned a turkey-sized yellow flyer into a threat the size of a velociraptor.  A blast of ice turned a blue one into something the size of an emu.  The burning purple hobgoblin crashed into a red one and turned it into a flaming phoenix the size of a compact car.  Two different hobgoblins were hit by armor-piercing ammo from chainguns, and simply ignored it.  The glue-coated hobgoblin made a suicide dive onto a power armor minion, burying him in wreckage and glue.

Agent Hooper peered around the edge of what was once the doors into the caff.  He was using a tiny Spec Ops periscope so he wasn’t spotted by the power armor fighting the hobgoblins.  He whispered, “This is what she can do when she’s not ready for combat?”

Chaka whispered back, “Dude, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

<(Lancer) We need to stop this wave, then come up with a good stall.  And we need to figure out where we can go that Phase’s army can’t follow.>

<(Fey) Ugh.  I feel like something the cat dragged in.  Can we get to The Grove?>

<(Tennyo) It doesn’t like me.  And it might not like G either.>

<(Fey) If I ask, it will grant you passage.  And it can open up portals so we can jump to some other nearby places.>

<(Lancer) Phase knows all of that.  She’s bound to have some armor waiting for us if we try that.>

<(Generator) That doesn’t mean her army can stop us.>

<(Lancer) All her army has to do is pick off our MCO men.  Then she frames us for their murders, and she’s got us where she wants us.>

<(Chaka) Like I said.  I hate escort missions.>

<(Fey) Oh yeah.  There’s no way their cell phones are gonna work in there.  We’ll have to find a place to go so they can get cell reception.>

<(Chaka) Or you’ll have to do your mojo so they can get reception without a cell tower anywhere nearby.>

<(Fey) Honestly.  It’s not like the Sidhe spent time figuring out how to interact with electronics that didn’t even exist back then.>

<(Tennyo) Or we get ‘em to record some messages on a phone, and G charges into it, and Lancer throws it at a hundred miles an hour toward Berlin so G can fly it there.>

<(Lancer) Let’s keep that in mind as a backup plan.>

Agent Hooper watched through his tiny periscope and whispered, “Four down.  One flyer, three ground forces.  Not much major weaponry down.”

Lancer asked, “Fey?  You think you can put up a decent forcefield yet?”  He got a tired nod as a response.  He couldn’t keep the grin off his face as he asked, “Hey G, how would you feel about showing these guys why you shouldn’t mess with Nanoha Takamachi?”

Generator skipped excitedly and said, “Yes!  I even made a white battle dress and found a cheap wig!”

<(Tennyo) Lancer?  What are you up to?>

<(Lancer) Something even Phase is gonna underestimate.  Here’s what we’ll do…>

          *        *        *        *        *       

The power armor minions ignored the four downed troopers.  They had only lost two chainguns, one lightning blaster, and one anti-mutant missile.  They checked formations and moved forward.

A little girl came flying through the opening to the hallway, and took up a standing position twenty feet above the wreckage.  She appeared to be a young Japanese girl of about ten, only with bright red hair in twintails.  She wore a heavy white dress that came down past her knees despite the petticoats underneath.  It looked like there were little white wings at her ankles.  And she was carrying a golden staff tipped with a red sphere surrounded by ornate curves.  Two chainguns opened up on her, only to hit a green barrier that erupted into fern-like patterns with every hit.  A lightning blast hit the barrier and seemed to be absorbed into it.

The girl wielded her staff like a baton and then pointed it at the power armor.  She screamed, “DIVINE… BUSTAAAAAA!”

A pink beam of light shot out and struck the grounded minion with the ice blaster.  He suddenly found himself covered in shiny pink glitter.  Then another pink beam shot out and struck one of the flyers who had a lightning blaster.  Pink glitter covered his front and his weapon.  The girl smirked at the forces and ducked back through the ruined doorway into the hall.

Suddenly the ice blaster came loose from the first minion.  It lifted into the air and started shooting at the flyers.  As soon as any flyer had too much ice on his armor, he dropped to the ground with a brutal crash.

The lightning blaster detached from the flyer, although it was still connected by cables.  It began shooting at the ground forces, knocking the targeted power armor offline about half the time.

Two minions with anti-mutant missiles turned and took out the possessed weapons.  The lightning blaster erupted in sparks, and the flyer still cabled to it dropped to the rubble below.  The ice blaster exploded, coating everything within thirty feet in a thick coat of rime.

          *        *        *        *        *       

Agent Hooper watched through his Spec Ops periscope.  “Eleven more down.  That leaves about twenty-five.  Two with GDI anti-brick missiles, one gluegun, four lightning launchers, both flamethrowers, and a lot of chainguns.”  He had seen a realistic ‘Nanoha’ slide out of the purse and charge at the power armor, but he was still having trouble believing it.  He looked at Generator while the skinpours and the clothing and the staff dove back into her purse.  “And they ranked you number 263?  Someone was on drugs.”

Generator admitted, “That was fun, but I’m really low on nanowire now.”

<(Chaka) So you hit both guys with nanowires while you were doin’ the glitter?>

<(Generator) Yep.  Cut the gear off the power armor, pointed it and fired it manually with four nanowires on each.  Just had to leave the lightning launcher hooked up to the power armor for the electricity.>

A series of weapons fired, and Fey’s shield just on the other side of the wrecked doorway held up.  Bullets ricocheted, lightning flashed, and fire flared.  The barrier glinted with green energy, but it seemed to grow stronger, not weaker.

Fey muttered, “I’m not feeling great, but all that fire and lightning sure helps.”

Agent Barrett gulped.  “Being attacked by lightning and fire helps you?”

Fey nodded carefully, while Generator laughed maniacally.

Lancer said, “There’s still two dozen of them, and two of ‘em have anti-brick missiles that probably have ‘Lancer’ and ‘Tennyo’ written on ‘em.  We could make a run for the elevators, but most of us think the tunnels underground are probably a massive trap.”

“Well DUH, this is Phase we’re talking about,” Generator complained.

<(Tennyo) I think we should make it look like we’re making a run for the tunnels.  We rip out the elevator, fly down, bust open the tunnel doors, stick an illusion down there, come back up, and blow up the elevator shaft so no one can follow.  Then we go where we really want to go.>

<(Fey) I don’t think I can make a simulacrum that big without something serious to attach it to.  And I don’t think I can do all of us and the power armor too.  I’ve never done anything like that.>

<(Lancer) Let’s see what we’ve got to work with.>  He stepped aside and jerked his head, attracting the attention of both MCO agents.  Once they stepped over, he said, “There’s a safe spot off campus.  But I don’t think we can get all of us there in one piece.  And I don’t think it’ll let your power armor boys in, anyway.”

Agent Hooper said, “You’re talking like we’re going to a place that’s alive.”

Agent Barrett blanched.  “You’re talking about The Grove!  That’s a Class X site.  We’re under strict instructions to avoid it.”

Lancer nodded unhappily.  “But it will do whatever Fey asks of it.  If she asks it to give us safe passage, it’ll do it.”

“Only we’d have to get there first,” Agent Hooper said.

Lancer nodded again.  “If we get two of your power armor guys to play decoy in the tunnels below us, that may be all we need to fake out our opponent.”

Agent Barrett frowned, “So you want our guys to take a bullet for your team.”

Lancer said, “Maybe.  If Fey can’t do an illusion covering all of us, we may have more teammates being sacrificial lambs, so some of us can get away.  But no matter what, we’ll be saving Fey and at least one of you.  Fey has to be there to get The Grove to cooperate, and one or two of you have to get through there to let the MCO know what’s going on.  Both of you, if I can make it work.  Meanwhile, we need to stop the power armor.”

“Can our power armor help?”

Lancer said, “Yeah.  That screen?  It’s one way only.  Your boys can stand out in the open behind it and fire at anything they want, and they’ll be safe.”

By the time Lancer got back to the massive hole in the wall, there was a demonstration that he was telling the truth.  Tennyo was standing there firing plasma blasts at anything that moved, while none of the power armor minions dared stick their heads out.  The remaining ground forces were hiding behind slabs of concrete and steel, while the remaining flyers had all taken cover on the ground or behind beams.

Lancer asked, “How many left?”

Tennyo hurled another plasma ball, which exploded against a large slab of concrete.  The concrete exploded, hurling the minion behind it halfway back to the edge of the dome.  “I got eight.  That leaves about seventeen.”

“I got more than Tennyo!” Generator cheered.

“Yeah, just try and explain how G picked off more’n you with a magic staff and pink glitter,” smirked Chaka.

<(Lancer) We need to clear these jokers ASAP so we have time to pull our big con.  If we’re going to fool Phase, we need to make it look good.>

<(Fey) I think I can do a good enough illusion using Law of Similarity if I can tag two of the MCO men and one of us.  But that means I’m sending at least three people to their doom.>

<(Chaka) Or you’re sending three people to a safe spot where Phase’ll pen us in and give us the big ‘kom wid me if you vant to live’ speech.>

<(Lancer) We need Tennyo for speed and long-range attacks.  We need Fey for illusions and getting the Grove to cooperate.  We need G for intel and long-range attacks.  So we’ll need either me or Chaka to haul a couple MCO power armor guys around, while the other of us goes down into the tunnels.>

<(Chaka) I can jack up my strength for sparring, but there’s no way I can run around hauling two of those pieces of junk for hours.  You get ‘em and I’ll take the low road.>

<(Fey) And you’ll be in Scotland afore us?>

<(Chaka) Besides, I can stall Phase a heck of a lot better than the Hulkster.  Just give me one of the J-Team for voices and so she can let you guys know what happens if we get blitzed.>

<(Lancer) You did the big sacrifice last time.  You taking lessons from Phase on this?>

<(Chaka) I’m not planning on doing the sacrifice at all.>

<(Lancer) Okay, let me try and sell this to the MCO guys.>

<(Chaka) Rotsa ruck on that.  Escort mission, remember?>

<(Tennyo) Go right ahead.  I’m gonna start taking out some support structures, since they already knocked the back quarter out of the dome.>

<(Lancer) Good plan.>

<(Chaka) OF COURSE it’s a good idea!>

<snerk>

<(Fey) Oh Goddess, don’t make me laugh, my head already feels like I’m gonna be sick.>

Lancer flew over to the agents.  “We’ve got a plan, but we need two of…”

<(Tennyo) Oops.>

Lancer suddenly had a feeling like he had been suckerpunched.  With a cement mixer.  <(Lancer) WHAT?>

<(Chaka) Oh crap.>

<(Tennyo) I…>

<(Fey) The whole dome’s falling!>

<(Lancer) Grab the MCO’s and run for the elevators.>  He grabbed Barrett and Hooper and flew as fast as he could for the elevators.  As he flew past the opening, he could see what everyone meant.  The remaining columns and supports were collapsing in groaning slow motion, tearing down the remnants of the dome as they fell.

Tennyo tore past him in the hallway, whimpering, “Sorry!”  He knew he could depend on her to grab the closest two power armor guys and get back to the elevators before the whole dome collapsed and took out the halls with it.

Since Tennyo didn’t have to slow down, turn around, and speed up again, she managed to grab two of the power armor men and jet back down the hall fast enough to pass Lancer on his way to the elevator.  As she passed him, she called out one more time, “Sorry!”

Fey had to drop the forcefield barrier before a hundred tons of dome crushed it and knocked her on her butt.  She still wasn’t in good enough shape to withstand that kind of pounding on her forcefields.  Instead, she used the Essence that would have gone into supporting her forcefield to twist gravity in her favor.  She didn’t need to fly.  She was already past the hole in the wall and moving toward the elevator.  No, she just made gravity bend a little.

The two remaining MCO personnel in the power armor suddenly found themselves falling.  Sideways.  Somehow, the hall was acting like a vertical shaft that they were falling down.  To the side.  Or something.  They flailed helplessly as they ‘fell’.

<(Chaka) Come on G, get those doors open.  Never a good thing when one of us says ‘oops’.>

Generator cast into a couple pieces of nanowire, which slid between the elevator doors and unlocked them from the inside.  Chaka took one look behind her and hastily used a Chaka Chaka Bang Bang to blast the floor out of the elevator.

<(Chaka) Goin’ down!> She jumped in and lightfooted her way to the first level below ground.  Generator’s nanowires already had those elevator doors open too, and she leapt into that tunnel.

The Crystal Hall collapsed inward.  Massive panels that were once supported by the geodesic structure of the dome tore themselves loose and plummeted downward onto the power armor ground forces, who couldn’t move fast enough to get out of the way.  Most of the flyers couldn’t move fast enough to avoid being swatted out of the air by falling hexagons far heavier than anything their flight systems could support.

The last components of the dome ripped apart the brick wall where the dome joined Shuster Hall, collapsing the halls and smashing the floors of the building.

Lancer flew down the elevator shaft with the two MCO agents and tossed them to Chaka as soon as he reached the open level.  Tennyo had already released her two charges in the tunnel, but had inadvertently dropped them on their faces.  Fey flew down the shaft with her two charges in tow, and let her personal gravity slide them into the tunnel on their backs.

Chaka caught Agent Hooper in mid-air, passed him off to a floating blanket that Generator had ready, and snagged Agent Barrett just before he would have hit the floor.  She grinned as she imagined taking him and slamdunking him into the floor like a wide receiver catching a touchdown pass and then celebrating.

<(Lancer) Fey, can you push gravity up the elevator shaft so this stuff doesn’t fall down past us?>

<(Fey) Well, for a few seconds, but not forever.  We’d need some serious support to hold everything up.>

<(Tennyo) Got it.>

Tennyo flew up into the shaft and formed her lightsaber.  She swung through half of one of the vertical I-beams, then flew fifteen feet up to slice completely through it.  She grabbed the beam at the top cut and pulled.

Lancer saw what she was doing and rushed to help.  He pulled the beam until its top was pointing upward at an angle in the middle of the shaft.  Tennyo sliced through the other five vertical I-beams in the same way, and Lancer followed her around the shaft pulling them until their upper points formed a six-sided pyramid.  Then Tennyo used a tiny ball of plasma to melt the tops of the beams together.

By then, concrete and beams and other rubble were forcing their way through Fey’s gravity spell and lodging against the bent I-beams.  Lancer and Tennyo adjusted a few large pieces so they would catch more of the rubble, and then moved back down to the open tunnel.

Lancer said to the agents, “Okay.  Here’s our plan.  You two and two of your power armor guys are going with most of us that way.  We have a secure destination in mind.  Phase knows that it has to be a possible hideout as long as Fey is with us, so we’ll almost certainly hit more minions no matter what we do.  Meanwhile, your other two armor men and Chaka will take one of the lower tunnels as our decoy.  They’ll let Phase catch them and they’ll stall as long as they can before Phase wises up and comes after us.”

Agent Barrett said, “Won’t Phase ‘wise up’ instantly, as soon as she sees only three of us in that tunnel?”

Lancer grinned wickedly.  “She’ll ‘see’ all of us.  Fey’s going to cast an illusion using your power armor guys and our teammate as the anchors.  That’s why we need at least three people for this.  It’ll look like all eleven of us heading down the tunnel.  They’ll look like the whole group, and they’ll sound like it too, and for all I know, they’ll feel like it if anyone confronts them.  And Generator will contribute some devises to enforce the ‘look and feel’, and keep us informed.”

Agent Hooper said, “And we’re just supposed to leave our guys to get killed?”

Chaka interrupted.  “Hey!  I’m not planning on any ‘getting killed’ part in this.  Once Phase catches on, she’s still gonna try to get me to turn to the Dark Side.  And she’s gonna try to buy off your partners.  All they have to do is stall, and make her think she’s got a chance at convincing ‘em.  You know she wants MCO agents on her payroll.  It’s you guys’ shot at getting some double agents on her too.  Worst comes to worst, there’s still some Workshop labs down here that even Phase can’t get into.  Security doors, brick-proof construction, anti-everything runes on the walls, you name it.”

Agent Barrett grimaced and turned to the power armor, all of whom were on their feet again.  “Okay.  You heard the sales pitch.  Any volunteers?”

All four men raised their hand.  One of them activated a speaker so he could talk.  “Sir, in this situation, we’re cannon fodder.  We can’t move fast enough to keep up with them.  Our firepower is a lot less than every member of Team Kimba.  And the mission-critical point is getting you two in a position where you can get the collected intelligence to higher-ups.  I’m good with the plan.  I think we all are.”

Agent Hooper sighed but said, “Okay.  Hatcher and Marlow.  You two go with Chaka, and try not to get into any trouble.  Taylor and Borchert, you’re with us.  Expect to get hauled around and dropped some more.”

“Sorry,” Tennyo said again.

One of them said through his speaker, “Not a problem, ma’am.  Getting hauled around and dropped always beats getting crushed to death in exploding buildings.”

<(Chaka) Why do these guys have to be so damn reasonable?>

<(Fey) Who do you think’s running the sim?  Phase!>

<(Generator) So maybe some of these guys are gonna double-cross us?>

<(Chaka) I’m still waitin’ for it.  I’ve got a Chaka Chaka Bang Bang ready for both of my guys.>

<(Lancer) And Phase knows you wouldn’t trust an MCO agent as far as you could throw him.>

<(Tennyo) As far as you could throw his truck.>

<(Lancer) ANYWAY, so she’s got to be working under that assumption.>

<(Generator) There’s no way to out-sneak her anyway.  Except with what Shroud’s doing.>

<(Shroud) Speaking of which, only two of her power armor flyers made it out of the Crystal Hall.  As far as I can see.  Support teams dropped out of the first dropship and hauled ‘em off for repairs, but there’s another dropship here now.  It looks like it’s over Poe, so don’t go there.  They’re putting a lot of firepower all around what’s left of the caff, so don’t come out yet.  You know what?  I can’t tell where some of these guys are coming from either, so maybe there’s a couple more dropships or armored personnel carriers or something around here.>

<(Lancer) What kind of firepower?>

<(Shroud) More power armor.  About half are flyers, and there are a few really big power frames.>

<(Fey) How big is ‘really big’?>

<(Shroud) Remember that sim in Team Tactics where Diva got turned into a charcoal briquette?>

<(Chaka) Thanks for that charming mental image.>

<(Shroud) Oh, and here’s the armored personnel carrier.  ‘Bout the size of a tank.  Front end’s got tank treads too.  They parked one of the treads on my head.>

<(Generator) Too bad, so sad.  For them.>

<(Shroud) Yep.  One nanowire surprise coming up.  Wait ‘til they try to drive this guy anywhere.  Heh heh heh.>

<(Lancer) If there’s another APC or anything bigger that drives through there, try and hitch a ride without being obvious about it.  It’ll probably be coming after us.>

<(Shroud) Ooh, good idea.>

<(Chaka) OF COURSE it’s a…>

<(Lancer) Can the seven.>

<(Fey) Yeah, you already did that joke.>

<(Chaka) Tough crowd, tough crowd.>

<(Lancer) And that’s like the worst Rodney Dangerfield imitation ever.>

<(Chaka) I need a tie to fiddle with.>

<(Fey) You hate ties.  Even your mom said so.>

<(Chaka) You’re supposed to say ‘yo momma’ ya know.>

<(Lancer) If we’re done…> He turned to the MCO agents.  “I’ll fly your two volunteers down to the lower level.  Chaka and Fey will come down on their own power with me.  Tennyo and Generator will stay with you four, and we’ll be back in a couple minutes.  If you listen at the shaft, you’ll probably be able to hear us get things set up.  Okay?”

“Sounds… workable,” admitted Agent Hooper.

          *        *        *        *        *       

CHAKA

She watched Lancer lift up two power armor suits like they were paper airplanes and fly down the elevator shaft.  She figured she’d better check.  “Fey, you okay on this?  ‘Cause he could come back and fly you down if you need it.”

Fey sighed softly.  “No, I’m good.  Phase just knocked me for a loop back there.  Anybody else on the team would’ve recovered a while ago.”

She gave Fey a grin.  “Hey, we all know wizards are supposed to be squishy.  Askey says even the high-level mages in GEO can get crushed like a pop can if they don’t have spells up first.”

Fey rolled her eyes.  “Does that guy do anything besides gaming?”

She smirked, “Rumor is he might’ve seen the inside of a classroom sometime this year.”

Fey took a deep breath.  Chaka could see the lines of Ki swirl about and then dive into Fey’s body like they were getting sucked down a really big drain.  She was pretty sure all the ley lines she couldn’t see were doing the same thing.  Fey’s Ki stopped looking normal, and starting looking, well, like Aunghadhail.  There was a heck of a lot of difference besides them sitting different, and one of them being a real Ayla-level pain in the patoot about formal things.  Chaka could see that Fey’s Ki stopped looking human, and started looking more powerful.  Sometimes she really wondered what Nikki would be like in a couple centuries.

Ki swirled around and into Fey as gravity reshaped itself for her.  Fey’s hair began blowing in a breeze that wasn’t really there, and she lifted off the floor with just the tilt of her head.  She floated into the elevator shaft and smoothly drifted downward.

Chaka waited until Fey was all the way down the shaft and into the tunnel below.  Then she moved.  She leapt across the shaft, dropping a dozen feet to land on an oversized I-beam on the back side of the shaft.  She knew Phase thought she was a showoff, but it wasn’t that.  She just had all this Ki to work with, and it was so easy.  So natural.  She knew soke wanted her to strip the wasted movements out of her forms and turn them into katas that someone else could use too.  But she didn’t even have her forms worked out so she was happy with them.  Most days it just felt like she needed to work through things and figure out step-by-step what needed to be tweaked.  If someone like Phase asked her, she wasn’t going to say that.  Nah, she’d say something flip like ‘being so awesome has its drawbacks’.

She did a back walkover into the air and caught herself in a handstand on the I-beam across the shaft and one level down.  Then she used her Ki to swing around the I-beam and drop to the one under it.  A couple more flips and somersaults, and she leapt into the open tunnel, which was about a hundred feet further down.  Just how many tunnels did the inventor kids have cut through this place?  There had to be enough tunnels for a small team to get themselves lost but good from any pursuit.  Especially pursuit from some of that bulky power armor.  Man, was that shit slow.

She strolled up to the two MCO guys in their official power armor.  Seriously, who thought powder blue was a good color for scary armor guys?  Did they let Phase’s mom and sisters pick the team colors?

That would be pretty hysterical if they did.  “Yes dear?  You picked WHAT for the armor colors!?!?”  She had to remember to give Phase some serious teasing about that some day.

She let Fey scoot her over to stand with the two power armor bozos, and she let Generator slip a spare Spot into her hair. Then she focused as Fey did the spell.  She’d seen Fey whip out illusions that were way more impressive than this one, so she knew Fey was still shaken up.  Whatever the heck Phase hit them with was a lot nastier than the usual stuff they saw, and they knew it wasn’t even aimed at killing them, just confusing them and getting them off-balance enough to blast a couple MCO guys.

Come to think of it, this was exactly the kind of training they really needed.  Teaching them to watch out for sneaky traps, and teaching them to think before they accidentally screwed themselves over, like would have happened if they’d opened up on those MCO schmucks as soon as they saw them.

The illusions blossomed in a spray of Ki and stuff she couldn’t see.  And suddenly she was standing there next to all six MCO jerks and the team.  Lancer, Fey, Tennyo, and G.  Just to make it feel even weirder, Lancer and Fey were also standing thirty feet away watching.

It was time to take charge.  She said to the two real power armor jocks, “Head thataway, and anytime you see a sign for Whitman, go that way.  We’re going north so we can pull as much enemy gear off our guys as we can.  Okay?”

Both power armor guys gave her a thumbs-up and set out in the direction she pointed.  She followed them closely.  The illusions clustered around her in a fairly disturbing way.  They even made clunking sounds as they walked, and sometimes chatted at one another.  Definitely freaksome.  But she could see their Ki was all wrong for real people.

Speaking of Ki, she really wished she had those armorheads shelled and out where she could look at their Ki.  She really wanted to know if they were in on this, or if they were going to bushwhack her the first chance they got, or if they really could be bought by someone like Phase.

Okay, how many people couldn’t be bought by Phase?

          *        *        *        *        *       

TEAM KIMBA

Lancer said, “Now we’ll move.  I’ll carry the power armor and G’s devises will fly our two agents.  No sound, and no touching the floors or walls just in case there are pressure-sensitive systems in play.  Fey, if you can fly and also make the cameras not see us?”

“I can give it a shot.  I’m still not a hundred percent,” she admitted.

“That’s all we can ask of you,” he said.

Generator put a blinking disk on each of the agents, and they lifted into the air.

Lancer nodded as he lifted the two power armor guys and lifted a couple feet into the air.  “Everyone follow me.  G, you have our six.”  <(Lancer) Don’t say it out loud, but we’re going to make a slight detour to lose pursuit.  We’ll head toward Eastman, then cut down toward Doyle to put us reasonably close to The Grove before we hit the surface again.>

<(Fey) Phase has to know we’d do something like that.>

<(Lancer) I know.  But what options do we have?>

<(Tennyo) If I was playing Dark Phase right now, I’d put a plug team at every spot we can exit the tunnels, and I’d put my main forces around The Grove and anywhere else we might go.>

<(Lancer) We don’t have a lot of options with the cell towers out.  There’s no way she’ll leave the campus network up for us.>

<(Generator) Sure she would.  That way, she can target us easier.  She just wouldn’t let us get a message out.>

<(Fey) Maybe we should be glad she’s not really a supervillain.>

<(Tennyo) That would be bad.>

<(Generator) Half the campus already thinks she is, ya know.>

<(Lancer) That’s a completely different problem.  And it’s not a problem for now.>

<(Fey) I got the cameras, but there may be devises I’m not picking up.>

<(Lancer) We’ll go with what we can.  Move out, G’s top speed.>

          *        *        *        *        *       

CHAKA

She knew where she’d set up a trap.  Right at the start of the Whitman tunnel.  There were a hundred ways to get to there, but only one tunnel to that part of campus.  Unless you knew how to get into the sewers or some of the maintenance tunnels, and a lot of those places were more dangerous than an army of power armor dorks.

Still, there was only one way she knew to go through the tunnels to get to Whitman, so that was the easiest way for Phase to cover a whole host of plans.  And getting to Whitman would put you almost to the ring road, and closer to places where you could disappear into the forests around Whateley.

The power armor guys weren’t as slow as she was figuring.  They were doing a pretty fast walk, almost a trot, so her ‘group’ was nearly at the Whitman tunnel already.  The illusions were still holding up, which was kind of creeping her out, not that she was going to admit it to anybody.  Maybe the fake Generator was a bit too perky.

They turned into the Whitman tunnel, and Chaka spotted Phase.  About a hundred yards down the tunnel, in her own armor, floating two feet off the floor and just waiting for her.

Phase didn’t do ‘waiting’.  This had to be some sort of set-up.

The power armor guys just kept stomping forward, like they were supposed to.  She wondered what they thought they were going to do.  Especially when she could guess they were getting blocked in from behind.

She really hated power armor.  You couldn’t read the armor jock’s Ki, and you couldn’t tell when they were going to open fire on you, even if you still could get a sense of where they were focusing.  And there were half a dozen guys behind her, focusing on her and the MCO dorks.

She strolled up to Real Power Armor Phase, putting some extra wiggle in her walk and adding some extra ‘street’ to her movements just to bug the girl.  There was no mistaking who was in that armor.  It was as skin-tight as anything Tony Stark ever wore, and it was in those same dark, muted colors that Phase seemed to go for.  Well, it beat glittery pink.

She put a grin on her face and said, “Homes!  We be here.  Whassup?”  Darn.  With that armor in the way, Chaka couldn’t see how much she was annoying Phase.

Phase spoke, and there was no mistaking that upper-crust New York accent, or the ‘we are not amused’ ‘tude.  That girl seriously needed to lighten up.  “Chaka.  Thanks for coming.”

There was a shower of water from the sprinkler heads in the ceiling, and there was something else in the water.  She watched the illusions melt, and she looked down at the puddles on the floor.  Iron filings.  Phase somehow managed to get cold iron filings into the sprinkler systems.  That was bad.

<(Generator2) Dark Phase has us in the Whitman tunnel.  But she’s got cold iron in the water supply!  Don’t let her turn the sprinklers on Fey.>

Chaka looked around.  Her and the two power armor guys, facing Phase, with half a dozen armed power armor minions sixty feet behind her.  She gave Phase a smirk and said, “Don’t be a wet blanket, homegirl.”

Phase spoke.  “I’m hoping you’ll cooperate.  If I say ‘join the dark side of the force, Luke’ will it help any?”

Chaka said, “Come on, you can do way better than that.  Why are you even messin’ with this?”

Phase said, “Is it time for the big monologue?  No thanks.  It’s simple.  I want you to join me.  All you have to do is show me you’re willing to join up.”

“And what do I have to do?” Chaka smirked.  “Kick a puppy?  Eat a kitten?  ‘Cause if you want me to kick the snot outta Vince, I’m down with that.”

Phase said, “Let’s cut to the chase.  We both know I know where your family lives, but I’m not going to waste time threatening them.  I want you to join me, and I want you to provide incontrovertible proof first.  I’ll record you as you kill these two MCO power armor jocks.  Then no matter what you want, I’ll always have that over your head.  Simple, and much cleaner than ‘trusting people’.”

And much nastier.  Chaka stalled, “And how’m I supposed to do that?  Do I get a really big can opener?”

Phase said, “No.  It’s not necessary.  This is the MCO.  They use equipment purchased by Goodkind International.  They view GKI as a trusted source.  They’ve never checked for overrides.”  She held out her hand and pointed a finger at the MCO units.

Chaka gulped as the MCO units locked up.  The back panels popped open and the helmets swung away.  Two MCO officers in skin-tight operator suits fell backward out of their units onto the floor.  She was looking at a black guy and an Asian woman.

Phase continued, “Disarmed, and at your mercy.  You’re on camera now, and all you have to do is use some of your Chaka-fu to kill them, preferably in a really horrible way that will demonstrate your willingness to play by my rules.”

<(Generator2) Uh-oh.  Phase has overrides for the MCO armor.>

<(Lancer) Damn it.  That probably means she can trace them too.>

Chaka just crossed her arms over her chest and asked, “Whatchoo talkin’ about, Willis?”

“No?” Phase asked.  “You’re sure?  Well, I figured there was a high probability you wouldn’t do it.  Oh well, I really could have used your power set.”

“What?  That’s it?” Chaka had to ask.

“Oh, yes.  That’s it,” Phase said in the tones of a teacher who is trying to move on to the next topic.  “I’m going to ask you to go with the nice power armor minions and let them lock you up.  If you don’t cooperate, they’ll kill you.  If you do cooperate, you’ll just be in a nice room for a while.  Fully-stocked fridge, lavish bathroom, king-sized bed, the usual amenities.”

“Why?”

“Do I really have to explain it?”  Chaka nodded.  “Very well.  I’ll do the entire boring monologue routine.  Later.”  She turned her head slightly.  “Agent William Hatcher, MCO ID number 00584734.  Agent Susan Han Marlow, MCO ID number 00483916.  Both of you have solid records.  I could use another couple moles in the Office.  As you should already know, I pay extremely well, and I pay in ways that cannot be tracked.  Can I interest either of you?  This is a one-time offer.”

<(Generator2) She has their names and their MCO ID numbers too!>

Neither MCO officer moved.

Phase said, “Agent Hatcher.  You have a child with sickle cell anemia.  I can offer a radical treatment from one of my devisers.  I estimate an eighty-five percent chance of a full recovery.  Agent Marlow.  Your mother has early-onset Alzheimer’s.  I can make a similar offer, only in your case the likelihood of a full recovery is slightly higher.  My devisers are predicting roughly 93%, but that could be off by several percentage points.”

The Asian woman began to cry silently.  “Wh-what do I have to do?”

Phase said, “Essentially what I asked of Chaka.  You will have to beat Agent Hatcher to death with a blunt instrument.  On camera.”

Chaka said to the woman, “You don’t want to do this.”

The woman looked at with a terrifying desperation in her eyes.  “What would you do to save your mother?”

Chaka swallowed hard.  She tried, “I wouldn’t do something my mother would never forgive.”

The woman said, “Right now, my mom could never remember it.  She can’t even remember me.”

The black guy nervously said, “Suze, come on, you don’t want to do this.”

Agent Marlow gritted her teeth.  “You’re damn right I don’t want to do this.  But I’m going to.”

Chaka took a step forward.  “What makes you think I’m going to let you?”

Agent Marlow just looked at Phase.

Phase spoke, not bothering to conceal an icy amusement.  “No, I’m not going to ask you to fight Chaka as well.  You would have… is there a probability less than zero?  You would have zero likelihood of beating her.  You might as well try to stop an entire Knights of Purity power armor team while unarmed.  Frankly, in a fight pitting Chaka against a KoP team, I’d put my money on Chaka.”

“Thanks for that glowing endorsement,” Chaka said.

Phase paused.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  Our friends just moved out of the tunnel under Doyle and are on their way to The Grove.  You obviously tipped them off, because they sent the power armor on without them but with another illusion.  Then Fey used another spell to hide them from the campus Security monitors.  Still, our friends couldn’t quite beat the magic detection devises my people scattered around the campus.”

“I doubt they’re your friends anymore,” Chaka muttered.

“Perhaps not,” Phase said.  “But if I’m going to save this solar system, then I’m going to have to put aside paltry issues like that.”

“Whoa!  No one said anything about losin’ the whole solar system!” Chaka yelped.

Phase said, “I’ll explain later.”  Then she faded away.  The empty hallway faded away.  It was all a massive holographic projection.  Behind where the hologram had been was a massive holographic projector and another dozen power armor minions.

“Oh crap.”

          *        *        *        *        *       

TEAM KIMBA

Lancer looked ahead at the forces arrayed before him.  Even with their decoy maneuver, Phase had still known where they were going.  On the plus side, he had one MCO agent under each arm, and both were alive and healthy.  He had Tennyo and Fey and Generator, plus wherever Shroud was lurking.

On the minus side, he was facing two dropships, four helicopter gunships, about forty power armor flyers, and about eight squads of heavily armed ground forces, all in their own power armor.  And there was no telling what else Phase had bought.  Or who else.  The J-Team’s last broadcast had been that Chaka and both power armor operators were getting knocked unconscious with some sort of ray guns that were zapping her out of her speaker disk too, and then Phase was going to give them all The Offer You Cannot Refuse.

Great.  Phase as a supervillain made Dr. Diabolik and The Necromancer look like thugs.  Lancer was so sick and tired of this crap.  If Bardue wanted him to play Dark Lancer tomorrow night, he was going to tell Bardue where he could stick his personal sidearm.

At least Team Kimba was going to be able to take out a Dark Lancer in under thirty seconds, no matter who he took out first.  It was a good thing he didn’t have his ego tied up in being the big cheese on a superteam, because Tennyo and Fey could both squash him like a bug, and both Chaka and Phase could take him if they had more than a couple seconds to prepare, Generator took him down just last night in the Dark Fey sim, and Bladedancer could slice him into sushi.

Except Bladedancer wasn’t officially on the team anymore.  He was still forgetting that once in a while.  The trouble was he liked Chou.  She was pretty, and funny, and patient, and could get some of the team troublemakers to cooperate even when he couldn’t.  And she was good for Phase.  Phase was a lot happier before Bladedancer left the team and got moved out of Phase’s room.  And they were both happier before they got stuck with Vamp and the Crimson Comet.

One of the dropships opened a panel, and a suit of power armor flew out.  A suit of power armor that was so obviously Phase in really thin power armor that he wondered why she bothered.  It probably provided serious protection that she didn’t normally have.  Maybe a high-end PFG, or protection against energy weapons when she went light, or maybe high-end flight when she was heavy.  It had to be something good, or she wouldn’t bother with it when she was facing someone like Tennyo who could go through forcefields and power armor like she was going through the dessert table.

Phase stopped about a hundred yards out and spoke through a loudhailer that was probably built into the armor.  “I’m sorry, but I can’t allow you to move into The Grove.  I could really use your help instead.  Could I convince any of you to come over to my side?”

Generator asked, “Why are you doing this?”

Phase said, “You see, that’s the problem.  If I could just say ‘I need your help to stop Galactus’ then you’d understand and you would be on board.  But it’s not that simple.  I would need probably two to five years to teach all of you enough economics and business analytics to understand my arguments.  And if I can’t convince you that I’m right, you’ll never agree to cooperate.  And without your cooperation, I may not be able to save our planet.  If we lose the planet, we’ll lose the rest of the solar system within weeks.  We just don’t have that many stations outside our atmosphere, and they’re all dependent on Earth for at least some necessities.”

Lancer asked, “You can’t just let Chaka read your Ki, or let Fey read your emotions?”

Phase sighed audibly, even over the distance between them.  “I wish that I could.  But that’s a separate issue.  The empowerment that I received, which gave me this insight, has made it so that I don’t broadcast my emotions or my thoughts anymore, and my Ki flows aren’t visible either.  So I can’t just take you to some Psi you would trust and let him read my mind.  I could really use your help, but I don’t have any way to get you to trust me, except teaching you enough economics and math and stats and business and everything else, so I can convince you.  But that would require asking all of you to give up your current pursuits and work with me for years.”

“So why can’t we go to The Grove?” asked Fey.

“Because I would prefer to have you legally incapacitated instead of working directly against me, if I can’t have you working with me.  And as long as you can’t get Agents Hooper and Barrett there into The Grove and out to someplace safely away from my forces, then you’re wanted for multiple murders and you’re significantly less of a threat to my plans.”

Tennyo said, “You already killed Shroud and Chaka.  What makes you think we’d even trust you?”

Phase said, “I believe you know full well that my people only incapacitated Chaka.  She’ll be fine in a matter of minutes, although she may have a bit of a headache.  And we all know how unlikely it is that my forces ‘killed’ Shroud in any sense of the word.  I’m still waiting for her to make a surprise appearance here.”

<(Fey) What do we do?>

<(Lancer) We have no way of knowing if Phase is right.>

<(Generator) What if she’s lying about the mind-reading?>

<(Tennyo) What if she’s just plain crazy?>

<(Fey) What if she’s insane but she’s still right?>

<(Lancer) She’s already a murderer.  How far is she going to go with this?>

<(Fey) If she’s trying to save the entire world, she may not see there are any limits anymore on how far she has to go.>

<(Lancer) Okay.  Let’s focus.  We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If Phase is right, we need to back her up… or else find out what needs to be done, take her down, and do it ourselves.  If she’s wrong, we need to stop her.  But we have no way to figure out if she’s right.>

<(Fey) And even if she’s telling the truth and really believes it, that doesn’t mean she’s right.>

<(Generator) This is like those stupid logic puzzles in those books Bugs has.  I hate those things.>

Phase said a little louder, “Agent Arthur Barrett, MCO ID number 00385746.  Agent Thomas Hooper, MCO ID number 00318479.  You’re both sound MCO agents with years of experience.  Would you consider coming to work for me?  It would end this stalemate right away, and save a lot of bloodshed, including your own.  I can make it worth your while.”

“Not a chance.  You’ve killed at least six MCO agents.”

“Fuck you.”

Phase sighed, “Oh well, I had hoped I could convince you and save myself a lot of trouble.  Team Kimba, can I persuade any of you to help me out?”

<(Lancer) Stall time.>  “What would we have to do?” Lancer asked.

Phase said, “One of our six MCO agents has agreed to my terms.  That leaves five of them.  Each one of you who came over to my side would have to commit a quite grisly, quite distinctive murder of an MCO agent.  On camera.  That would provide me with all the surety I require.  After all, it’s not as if you are all fragile little Christ figures.  Every one of you killed someone before we finished our first year at Whateley together.  Lancer killed one soldier and critically injured several others when he fought his way off his family’s Army base.  And he’s got the lowest kill count except for Chaka.  The rest of you?  You make Hannibal Lecter look like a piker.  Tennyo’s up in the triple digits, and Generator’s not far behind her.”

“Hey!  It was all self-defense!  They didn’t give me any choice!” Generator yelled.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” said Tennyo miserably.

“You know that every one of those deaths was a villain trying to kill us, or kill someone else, or trying to do things even worse,” insisted Fey.  “We had no choice in the matter.  What you’re asking of us is cold-blooded murder.  That’s completely different.”

Phase insisted, “I need some sort of surety that you really will stay with me for as long as it takes to learn what I need to teach you, so I can prove all of my points and demonstrate that the entire world is riding on this.  I could accept a sufficiently powerful oath from Fey, since she could swear on her magic and the souls of all her kin.”

“There’s no way I’d make an oath like that!” gasped Fey.

“…Or not,” said Phase.  “Very well.  I see that we’re at an impasse.  What would you suggest?”

<(Lancer) What options do we have?>

<(Fey) Do we have any viable options?  She has an army.>

<(Generator) And an air force.>

<(Tennyo) We fight, we flee, we fold, or we fake it.  Faking it isn’t an option for me.  I’m not killing somebody in cold blood no matter what.>

<(Generator) Me neither!>

<(Tennyo) Maybe we can find a weak point and punch our way through so we can get past them long enough to get into The Grove.>

<(Lancer) Okay.  I say Tennyo heads straight at Phase and keeps on going when Phase ducks out of the way.  We follow.  Fey and Generator grab me, and I tow.  Fey puts up her best forcefield and we hope it’s enough to protect everybody.>

<(Tennyo) I’m good with that.>

Suddenly, Lancer convulsed.  At the same time, massive bloody holes appeared over the hearts of both MCO agents.  A moment later, the loud cracks from three sniper rifles rang out.  Lancer fell, and everyone could see there was a large hole in his back right over his heart.

<(Fey) Sniper!  Move!>

Tennyo screamed furiously and pulled up her lightsaber as she flew right at Phase.

Fey dodged sideways and then in a zigzag as she pulled up a forcefield.

Generator dove inside Fey’s forcefield just as a sniper round seared through the air behind her.

A sniper round disintegrated as it hit Tennyo’s warp field.

Phase simply crossed her arms and stayed in place as Tennyo charged her.  The dropships jetted straight up.  The power armor flyers dropped to the ground.  The ground forces dropped flat.  The helicopters wheeled about and tried to fly away.

Tennyo sliced through Phase and her armor with one brutal sweep of the lightsaber that ran from Phase’s left shoulder to her right hip.

And there was a mammoth explosion centered on Phase.

When the dust settled, they could see that the blast had flattened trees for a hundred yards and knocked all the helicopters out of the air.  Power armor minions were lifting themselves out of the ground or trying to help others.  Tennyo was horribly burned and knocked two hundred yards into the air, but she was healing rapidly.  Fey and Generator hung onto each other in Fey’s forcefield bubble, even though they were both feeling shaky.

Phase’s voice blared out just as it had before.  “Did you really think I would appear on the battlefield like some sort of medieval king?  I’m hurt you would think so little of me.”

Generator frowned, “It was a Doombot!  She used a stinking Doombot on us!”

Fey looked at Tennyo, who was still healing and an easy target.  She knew she was too wobbly to wield her full powers.  Lancer was gone.  The escort mission was toast.  Chaka was captured or worse.  Generator wasn’t a hundred percent either.  And a small army was preparing to resume the fight.

For what?  They needed to find out what Phase was doing.  And Phase only thought she knew enough to accept a binding oath from one of the True Sidhe.  Hmm…  Maybe that was the best option.

She announced, “We surrender.”

Generator angrily said, “What?”

Tennyo yelped, “WHAT?!”

The sim abruptly ended.

to be continued

Read 2725 times Last modified on Friday, 20 August 2021 01:14

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