Monday, 03 September 2018 07:00

Tears and Fears (Part 1)

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A Whateley Academy Tale

Tears And Fears

By

E.E. Nalley and ElrodW

 

Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way

But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living ev'ry day...

Frank Sinatra, Both Sides, Now

Part One

 

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

The Native American girl, cocooned in a bulky space suit, rested in the acceleration couch in the open-framed, efficient space cutter, her eyes half-closed, her last conversation with her cohorts playing through her mind. "We'll join you in a few days," the gorgeous blond had said reassuringly at the airlock of the small command ship orbiting the Earth, "as soon as we finish up this last exercise." Except for the clear helmets, and various color markings in the pressure suits, it would have been impossible to tell Tansy from the other girl, Lanie, inside the small, cramped spaceship. For that matter, it would have been difficult to pick out Lord Paramount in his P-suit had it not been for the gold and red Wallachia coat-of-arms on his shoulders and his chest pack.

"Just one more exercise," Lord Paramount promised the girls. "And Shaman," he turned toward Kayda, even though the suit radios made such a gesture made it irrelevant, "please convey my apologies to your parents for keeping you a few days longer than expected."

"I appreciate you intervening with Dr. Diabolik to even get the time," Kayda replied to the ruler of Wallachia. "Lucky for me you came up to observe."


"As if I wouldn't come up to see if my men were actually absorbing any lessons from Leonides," the tall man chuckled. "He is the reigning expert on space operations, after all." He turned to Lanie and Tansy. "You two better get back to the exercises. The sooner you get done, the sooner you can join the Shaman at the hotel." With that, Lord Paramount helped Kayda get strapped into the little cutter that was not much more than a few seats crammed in among fuel tanks, controls and small thruster motors in an open space frame.

Kayda's eyes misted at the memory of genuine emotion that she felt when she'd hugged Lanie and Tansy; it was the same at every meeting and departure, especially before or after an operation. While far from the affection she felt for Debra, she couldn't deny that she loved the two like sisters. Lanie was her cuwe, her special older sister, and Tansy had proven herself a dear friend on many occasions.

"Stand by for deceleration," Kayda's suit radio crackled to life for the brief announcement. Schooled by almost three weeks of intense zero-G training under the exacting eye of Dr. Diabolik, Kayda's reaction to check the straps holding her into her chair was automatic. "Restraints, check," she replied to the pilot. She looked up, and was awestruck at the massive Hilton orbital hotel that was drawing nearer and nearer, swelling in her view as the, drum-like behemoth of a space station, covered in a wrinkly-looking gold foil which was an integral part of a complex, multi-layered debris shield, continued to expand, blocking much of her view. The girl couldn't help gasping in wonder at the sight. Almost half a kilometer in diameter, and nearly one kilometer long, the hotel was the ultimate in luxury resorts.

After a nice welcome from her father, mother, and little sister Brenda, Kayda's first priority was a shower. Then she had to call her lover Debra Matson, hero with the Sioux Falls League, "I have never felt so grungy as I did when I got here!" Kayda explained to Deb after their usual 'miss you' 'love you' greetings. "There wasn't a shower - just some moist wipes, and after sweating in a suit for several hours, it wasn't enough!"

"I'm glad you're done with those silly exercises." Deb's words were heart-felt, and ironic given that she put herself at risk frequently playing superhero.

"It was great, though! Spacewalking is really cool, and if it wasn't for Diabolik's cruiser being so cramped, it would have been a great trip! And we learned a lot, so if there's ever any need for Las Tres Amigas to do an operation in space, we've got basic plus some advanced training done!"

"I think ...." At that moment, Kayda's communication circuit went out unexpectedly. She pressed various controls, trying to re-establish the link or to place a new call, but the little terminal didn't respond at all. After a couple of minutes, the control screen displayed a message that a communications error had occurred.

Kayda frowned; besides being a shaman, she was also a gadgeteer, and she knew about redundant systems. She'd had to explain the safety and redundancy systems to her mother so her mother would even come to the station. There was no way the communications system should have failed. As she pondered, a speaker clicked to life. "Attention. This is your captain. We are having some minor system failures. While there is no safety hazard, we want all passengers to gather in the dining rooms and ballroom on deck 4. We do not foresee any danger, but we need to exercise caution. Thank you."

"Do you know anything, Kayda?" Pete Franks, Kayda's dad, asked, a curious expression on his face. When she shook her head, he grimaced. "Something's wrong."

"Intuition?" the girl asked, knowing the answer already.

"Yeah. And that was definitely not Captain D'Avino," Pete replied. "We had dinner at the captain's table last evening, so I know what Captain D'Avino sounds like."

"Let's gather a few things," June Franks, Kayda's mom, said, not having heard the soft conversation between her husband and her daughter. She'd been busy with their young - and unexpected - daughter Brenda.

Kayda shook her head with a grim look. "I've got the same feeling that this isn't right, Dad," she said. "Mom, Dad, you guys stay put with Brenda." She was already digging in her medicine pouch, and extracted a couple of small bronze charms. "Lock the door, and if you hear anyone coming in, use the Ghost-Walking charms." She slipped on her moccasins, then touched the charm that hung from a leather thong around her neck. "I'm going to look around and find out if there's something funny going on."

It didn't take long to find out that something was very wrong; that was more than confirmed when Kayda, unseen due to her spell, stumbled across a pair of couples walking nervously down a corridor, followed by three men in strange uniforms and all carrying guns casually but with a deadly efficiency. On another level, Kayda's suspicions that the orbital hotel had been taken over by some hostile force were confirmed when she came across another small cluster of men in the same strange uniforms - two of them were attaching something to one bulkhead, while the third and fourth men were consulting a tablet computer. Still unseen, Kayda crept closer to the men until she could see what looked like engineering drawings displayed on the tablet. She grimaced. If, as she feared, the men were attaching explosives, they were preparing either to destroy the station or to prepare booby-traps to repel any attempt to board.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
SS
Nikola Tesla, flagship of Dr. Diabolik, Earth orbit

It was extremely difficult for the airlock technician to maintain his professionalism as he helped the two young women in their experimental spacesuits out of the airlock and into the EVA locker room. Difficult because the suits were a new type, using mechanical leverage of a novel skin-tight layered fabric rather than pressurized gas in the suit to maintain their pressure. The various cooling lines, data control lines and other necessities of a space suit were embedded into the fabric, which being a thick cloth was closer to a wet suit than a pressure suit, but it still hugged every millimeter of skin on both women. Thus, both girls, who were spectacularly beautiful, might as well have been nude, minus their helmets and respirator packs. The airlock secure, he discreetly excused himself before his body got him into trouble.

Tansy reached up and unlocked the ring that connected the helmet to the suit and twisted it slightly to unhook the mechanical teeth - the redundant safety feature - to remove it, shaking out her not-quite-shoulder-length hair from its confinement. Sparing a glance at the door the tech had gone through she turned to her partner and smirked. "Did you notice the boner we gave poor Tom?"

Elaine had her helmet off and was unlocking her gloves. "Honey, that was all you, Ah'm just gravy."

Tansy rolled her eyes. "Mrs. Sutter always said it was the gravy that made the meal."

"Mrs. Who?"

"The cook mom...well, my mother's ex-husband, employed growing up. She was a really good cook, whose talents I enjoyed far too much."

Elaine disconnected her EVA pack from the suit and lifted it and its attachment breastplate over her head. "Well, apologies to Tom, but Ah'm spoken for," she replied with a grin as she laid the device on a frame made to hold it.

"Damn right you are," Tansy replied. "You know, I've been thinking. Have you thought at all about moving to Paradise Island?"

Lanie frowned as she reached behind her back and grabbed the zipper built into the back of the garment on a string and pulled it down. "No, why?"

"Well, their legal definition of marriage is a lot looser..."

Elaine straddled the bench next to her lover and gathered her into her arms. "Ah'm not adverse to the idea, but Ah thought you were gonna be too busy doing all your action girl stuff with the Committee to settle down?"

Tansy blushed in the way that always set Lanie's heart to fluttering and put a smile on her face. "Well, I don't know, just thinking, really, and we've had so much already with The Bastard and that...monster...Hekate worshiped and..." She stopped because both of their watches started beeping. Frowning, Elaine held up her wrist where was strapped a stylish, but obviously inexpensive watch which was outside her the pressure suit.

"Kayda?" she asked out loud. The watch beeped and a set of three tiny projectors embedded in the dial lit up and holographic bust of Kayda's head appeared floating over her wrist. Each girl had what they referred to as their AmigaComm system, and they always wore the watches - or the fancy versions for dressier occasions - so they could stay in touch. The image was transparent, and slightly blue-tinted, but otherwise her expressions could be read perfectly in the watch's holographic projection mode.

"Lanie, Tansy, we've got trouble!" the little hologram declared. "There are armed men on the Hotel, they're rounding up the guests and rigging what look like explosive charges and oops...!" The holo winked out and both girls held their breath for a moment, but finally realized the call had been dropped.

"Should I try to call her back...?" Elaine asked, but Tansy was already shaking her head.

"No, she could be ghost-walking and that might give her away. Come on, we need to make Paramount aware of..."

The loudspeaker over-head cut her off. "Elaine Cody and Tansy Walcutt, report to deck 2, room A41, Elaine Cody and Tansy Walcutt report to Lord Paramount in deck 2, room A41."

"Shit," muttered the girls as they stood and, not bothering to finish removing the pressure suits, they quickly made their way through the station to the room. Lanie knocked and the door slid aside, revealing a well-furnished room with wood appointments, book cases and leather chairs that would not have been out of place in any well to do club anywhere on Earth. It was a little more cramped than they figured Lord Paramount would usually have, but given the cramped quarters of Dr. Diabolik's space cruiser, it was still far more luxurious and spacious than expected. On the far wall was a massive television that had three men clustered around, watching it. The girls filed in just as the network's logo flashed across the screen to a loud fanfare to announce breaking news.

A handsome, early middle aged man looked into the camera with a grim expression on his face. "Good morning. Fox news has just confirmed that the Hilton Orbital Casino and Hotel has been hijacked. A manifesto, delivered to Fox News this morning claims the B-List Threat to Humanity Viridian is responsible for the hijacking. No word as yet on the status of the four thousand estimated staff and guests of the hotel nor does the manifesto make any demands for their safe release. Calls to the Hotel did reach someone claiming to speak for the Viridian organization and that further announcements would be forthcoming, but now only redirect to the main Hilton reservations number. The White House Press Secretary has informed us the President will address the nation at nine thirty, eastern daylight time. We will, of course, carry that address live. Now with a special report on the hijacking is Fox News Special Contributor Ileana Reyes. Ileana?"

The video changed to a narration of stock footage from the eighties explaining about how Hilton had seized on the potential of the General Electric Mag-lifter and entered into partnerships with several airlines to give them a destination in Low Earth Orbit not just as a means for the new craft being designed around the lifter to be semi-ballistic fast transports. It had been a coup for the partnership between Hyundai Heavy Industries and Boeing Aerospace to be awarded the design and construction contracts.

Hilton had chosen a proposed design reminiscent of the space station from Stanley Kubrick's landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey, both for the practical reasons of spin generated artificial gravity as well as a sense of familiarity. The grand opening had occurred in 1995 after nearly eight years of construction, permitting and other issues. Hilton would never say if they recouped their investment in the orbiting casino, but traffic never ceased.

Next came several retired military 'experts' arguing about how the station could have been captured and what response the United States may take. There were some claiming it would take thousands of specially trained operatives to take and hold the station, while others claimed that once the central control center was taken it meant a minimal force was needed. Responses ranged from highly improbable and treaty breaking uses of nuclear weapons to surgical strikes with special forces, perhaps augmented with paranormals.

Speculation ran rampant.

The girls watched in horror, unable to turn away as each scenario of the likely outcome was more ghastly than the last, especially due to the villain involved. He was the A-List Threat wannabe Viridian. Physically it was as though a statue had come to life, from the perfectly sculpted and chiseled form to the bluish green patina of his skin to the eerie pupil-less eyes. There was even a soft creak of metal as he moved and his cape, stiff and reluctant to billow behind him followed.

For years he had made seemingly random attacks, without rhyme or reason, merely for his own aggrandizement and, based on his only commonality in the looting that always followed the attacks, enrichment. He seemed to take his ranking by the MCO as C List threat as a personal affront and even when it had been upgraded to B he wasn't satisfied.

Much of the so-called experts on the various shows predicted grim and dire outcomes of the crisis.

The beep of their AmigaComm startled both girls as they walked a bit from the TV so as not disturb their hosts, but Lord Paramount rose and followed the girls over to the corner they retreated to. Once more Kayda's head floated holographically over Lanie's wrist. To Tansy and Lanie, Kayda looked worried as she talked into her own AmigaComm. "Okay, like I said, they're rounding everyone into the central areas," Kayda reported. "The main ballroom, the adjoining dining areas - looks like Villain 101 practice to keep the hostages centrally confined and easy to observe control. And there are observation cameras all over the place. I suspect they've already tapped into the hotel's security cameras, too. That's Villain 101, too," she added sarcastically.

"Are you and your family still safe?" Lanie asked.

"We're still holed up in my parents' suite. When I did some recon, I left them with Ghost-Walking charms to stay hidden and shielded. The room got searched once, but my parents used a charm and kept quiet, so we're all still safe."

"Keep it that way," Lanie urged her.

"Do you have any idea how many there are?" Out of habit, Tansy sought to gather information, a well-ingrained habit the girls had picked up from all their training.

"Based on what I saw, at least a few hundred armed men. The men are all wearing a ... uniform ... in shades of green with a Vee theme. They're all wearing body armor and helmets and carrying a sidearm, but most are carrying tangle-web-guns and taser-type non-lethal weapons. Every eighth or ninth one has a heavier select-fire carbine."

"Lord Paramount briefed us on what's come on the news." Lanie winced at Kayda's estimate. "What you saw so far isn't encouraging info for a rescue team."

"Is there a rescue being planned?" Kayda asked hopefully.

"Not that we know." She got a tap on the shoulder and turned. On Kayda's display hologram, she could see Lord Paramount speaking softly to Lanie and Tansy. After a few moments, during which Lanie's expression changed multiple times, she turned back to her AmigaComm. Her face was white and her eyes wide.

"What?" Kayda asked. In response, Lanie tried to speak, but the words were evidently stuck in her throat. A second try also produced nothing besides a slight movement of her lips.

"Kayda, it's absolutely vital that you keep your family, especially Brenda, hidden from them," Tansy replied, her expression almost pleading, and yet stern, like she was giving an order.

"Tansy, what's going on?" Kayda was getting worried.

It was Tansy's turn to have problems replying. Lord Paramount leaned into the image. "Kayda, the station has been occupied by Viridian, a B-list villain who's a bit of a psychopath. His intentions are unknown because he hasn't made any demands yet. The US State Department has been in contact with him, and they asked Viridian to release the elderly and young as a gesture of good faith. He did release about fifty young children and elderly - directly out an airlock."

"Oh, my God!" Kayda cried, her hand automatically going to her mouth as she automatically glanced at her little sister sitting in her mom's lap. "Brenda ....."

Lanie nodded grimly. "You can't let Brenda be taken hostage. You have to keep your family hidden and safe."

It took Kayda a second to shake off the sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach and in her heart at the thought of Brenda being among the fifty. "I ... I'll keep them safe," she said firmly. "Then I've got to get the other kids ...."

"Shaman," Lord Paramount stuck his head back into the image, "remember your training! There are over two hundred, by your own estimates. They've gathered the hostages in the ballroom and dining hall area - obviously to make it easier to guard them. No doubt they have control of the computers, which means they control all the safety doors and pressurization. Viridian is a B-list mutant villain! You can't take on that force by yourself, even if you can Ghost Walk!"

"I've got to do something to protect those kids, and their grandparents!" Kayda practically begged, feeling a desperate urge to do something, anything, to protect innocent lives.

"Cuwe, no!" Lanie said very firmly. "Think! You can't save them by yourself. You're very outnumbered and outgunned! If you do anything and get caught, it might result in more being spaced! Do you want to be the cause of that?"

"No."

"Do what you can - protect your family. Think of the sims. Rule number one - gather information and get a feel for the exact situation. Identify the opponents, their capabilities, and their vulnerabilities," Lanie directed. "It'll be useful to help a rescue team."

"O .... okay," Kayda finally stammered, tears on her cheeks. The thought of not helping protect the vulnerable civilians broke her heart, but she knew that the girls were right. "I'll do my best."

"Contact us every three hours," Tansy added, "to update us with any information you have. We won't call you, so your AmigaComm doesn't make any noise if you're trying to conceal yourself."

"Okay. I'll call at," she glanced at the watch face, which actually had a timepiece in it, "at fourteen-thirty GMT. Out." She tapped the watch, then dropped her hand.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

"What did you find out, Kayda?" Pete Franks asked from behind her, having approached closely enough that the two could talk very quietly in case the information might be disturbing to Kayda's mom and little sister.

"The hotel has been taken over by a B-list villain named Viridian, and his henchmen. They don't know why yet." She bit her lower lip, pondering for a moment if she should tell her dad, but that moment passed almost instantly; she knew that she had to tell him. "The State Department asked Viridian to release the young children and elderly as a show of good faith." She paused again, wincing. "He did. Straight out an airlock."

Pete goggled at his daughter, then instinctively turned to glance at his youngest girl Brenda, his jaw dropping. "If I hadn't ...."

Kayda nodded grimly. "I'm going to do some more scouting around. It'll be valuable information for a rescue team." She looked down and picked out a specific charm from her medicine pouch, then handed it to her father. "If you hear any noise in the hallway, hide. If they discover you, keep Mom and Brenda very close, hold this between your thumb and forefinger, and say Wakinyan while you think of lightning bolts."

"What ... will that do?" Pete asked a bit nervously. He'd seen his daughter in action, and knew she had powerful magic and the determined spirit to apply lethal force if necessary.

"It releases ... magic lightning that'll hit any human that you're not touching - the effective radius is about ten yards. Powerful lightning bolts. That's why you have to have Mom and Brenda close."

"Is it ...."

Kayda nodded. "Yes, it's lethal. The charm holds about five charges, too." She paused, thinking. "If you have to use it, use a ghost-walking charm and immediately move to another level and another room. I'll be able to find you." Giving her Dad a quick peck on the cheek and a hug for luck, Kayda activated her own ghost-walking spell and slipped out the door, closing it silently behind her.

*                               *                               *

October 8th, 2016
The Cody Residence, The Village, Whateley Academy

The twins found their father waiting for them at the kitchen table when they arrived home at dusk, drinking coffee and keeping himself amused by reading on his tablet. That he put it aside the instant the door opened whispered to both of them they were likely in trouble. That theory was solidified when he tersely ordered them to, "Sit," as he turned off the device and gave them his complete attention.

"So," he began as he gazed at each of his eldest children. "It would seem we need to have a conversation. Of course, since we are talking, I should be given the courtesy of an introduction. Evidently there are freeloaders living inside my children?" He paused dramatically. "Who wants to start?"

The twins looked at each other, then back at their father. "Dad?" Junior asked carefully.

The big Alaskan worked his mouth for a moment as if trying to chew the right words out by taste. Then the air shimmered next to him and the room was suddenly crowded by the massive form of his spirit. "You both know Kodiak," he said evenly. "You understand he is my spirit and lives within me."

The twins nodded.

The Kodiak vanished again, but only to the Astral Plane where he stood dourly behind his host and Wyatt placed his hands on the table and leaned forward. "I received a phone call today, kids, telling me all about what happened at the school today, so the jig, as they say, is up. I strongly advise you both to be honest with me. You both have spirits, yes?"

Junior looked at his sister and then back at his father. He sighed and let his spirit use his vocal cords. "We are spirits, joined in full accord with the Contract of Solomon, Mr. Cody. I am Peregrine."

"I see," the big man said tersely, then turned his attention to his daughter.

"Winyanigmuwatogla"

Wyatt blinked in astonishment. "I beg your pardon?

"I call her Winnie," Junior said helpfully. Connie, or rather it was obvious her spirit turned and hissed at her brother.

"Don't call me...!" Wyatt's broad hand came down on the table like a thunderclap. Both children and spirits were startled and their attention immediately brought back to the adult and, though Wyatt was not aware, his ancient spirit standing behind him, invisible on the mortal plane, but with dour disapproval on the Astral.

"They are children, Winnie, and so they use childish abbreviations for words that are too complex for their mouths." Wyatt Senior declared. "Get used to it. I'm told that Peregrine grants my son the power of shape shifting into his likeness. Is that also an ability you grant my daughter?"

Connie was uncharacteristically sullen and withdrawn. "Yes," she admitted after a long moment. After a long moment of gazing at his children as if he could see through their skin to the spirits beneath, Wyatt stood and crossed to his kitchen and there produced a pair of juice pouches he gave to the children and refreshed his coffee as well.

The chair creaked under his weight as he sank into it again.   "Very well," he said finally as he sweetened his coffee. "I suppose I should have expected something like this, considering my own experiences, and while I am not disposed to force the two of you out, there will be some changes, starting with I expect the two of you to be a voice of reason to keep your hosts out of trouble."

While you're dreaming, I'd like a pony, the Kodiak chuckled in his ear.

Junior's posture became straighter and he managed to force the little straw on the pouch into the nipple for it that was giving his host difficulty. "You may be assured, Mr. Cody, nothing is more important to myself, or my companion than the safety of our hosts."

"It had better be," Cody declared with finality. "I will also be considering what to do to address the two of you keeping this a secret from me. I am not happy with that, kids, and I want to make it clear to you both that nothing good comes of keeping secrets."

Connie took a big mouthful of juice and swallowed it. "We thought you'd be mad."

"Why would I be angry, Connie?" Wyatt asked. The little girl shrugged and drank more juice. "Kids, I don't ever want you to be afraid to come to me with a problem. Little problems become big problems because they aren't addressed. And being afraid of punishment will only make any punishment I have to administer worse because of the delay. It's in your best interest to come to me as soon as something happens, don't wait again. Alright?" The twins nodded eagerly. "So, Monday I will be withdrawing you from the regular classes, so be sure to get all of your things."

"But...Dad..." Junior started, sharing a concerned glance with his sister.

"No buts, son. You both know why Whateley exists and why your mother and I are here. You have powers and you are too young to really know how to control them. So I will be enrolling you both in the Junior High program and your new teacher, Ms. Grimes, will be taking care of your studies. Not another word. Actions have consequences. Now, you two go change for dinner and I have to call your mother and let her know what's happened."

Junior swallowed nervously. "Are...are we gonna get punished by mom too?"

Wyatt smiled at his son. "I haven't punished you, yet, Junior."

*                               *                               *

October 9th, 2016
The March Of Dreams

Junior soared through the uprising thermals brought on by the sun setting behind the Presidential Mountains.   It was exhilarating to be pushed up by the wind and to fly effortlessly. The view was amazing as he wheeled and rode the current he could feel but not see. He let loose a scream just from the indescribable joy of it. That and some part of him knew his sister was seething in jealousy of him being able to fly.

Not too high! Warned Peregrine.   The air is colder aloft and when this thermal strikes it the turbulence can be severe!

"But, how can I...?" Junior started then, once more he heard a primal scream of fear in his mother's voice. "Mom!" he shouted as he curled his wings and dove sideways.

Junior! Peregrine called after him, but Wyatt was heedless. He pulled his wings in tight so that he was practically falling. The green forest below was a blur that shifted and changed. Twilight became full night and suddenly he was in a canyon. No, not a canyon, a city, skyscrapers towered over head and before him a figure tumbled in the air.

This was going to be hard. Wyatt judged their intersection point as best he could, knowing he would only have one try. He banked slightly then threw his wings open and thrust his feet forward. His talons curled around a pair of windmilling arms and suddenly he was very heavy. "Got ya!" he exalted, but the weight was too much. He strained and strained then it was as if he struck a wall midair. His mother, her eyes frantic, disappeared from his grasp and then suddenly the wall was gone and Junior flailed as he tried to land without crashing. He fell to earth in a heap and rolled to a stop as a young boy once more, coming to rest against a parking meter.

"Better work on that landing, son!" a friendly, immaculately dressed Policeman advised him as he helped Wyatt to his feet as if giant falcons crashed into the sidewalk while turning into little boys every day.

Well, this was the New York of Dreams, after all.

"Sorry," Wyatt muttered as he looked around, perplexed. He looked up the tall building his mother had been falling from and saw it was white in a strange, vaguely triangular shape, next door to a square building that was bright green. Down at the bottom it said Bank of America. Looking around at the passersby, the young man called, "Mom?"

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
Ellington Field, Houston, TX


The area around the former air-force base was closed to the normal NASA and contractor workers who maintained the NASA aircraft supporting nearby Johnson Space Center. A massive hangar which normally sheltered one of the Super Guppy airplanes had been silently repurposed, housing instead a large, angular, black hulking thing which resembled an airplane the same way a brick resembled a goldfish - in other words, not in the slightest. Light seemed to vanish into the flat-black vehicle as if it was a black hole. Like all maglifters, it needed no wings, relying instead on four massive antigrav and maglev lifter pods attached to the bottom corners of the hulk. The black radar-absorbent covering on the vehicle was all angled to minimize reflection of any RF energy which was not absorbed, and the light-absorbing coating meant that reflections were almost totally unlikely. Stealth and silence were the two primary assets of this space-capable lifter.

In front of the black vehicle, a couple of dozen people huddled around a large table, and a representation of the Hilton orbital hotel was holographically projected above the table. Slowly, step by step, the person who was doing the briefing went through, highlighting targets and objectives on the station as the hologram showed cut-away views, zooming in and out and rotating as necessary.

Surprisingly, while all of the assembled team wore some type of uniform, they didn't look like any known military uniform. Most wore an odd gray and white block overall pattern, with crimson trim in key spots allowed for rapid visual identification of the team to prevent accidental 'friendly fire'. A smaller team wore outfits that closely resembled those worn by Viridian's minions, again with a few key patches of crimson, which was obviously the key color of the team. A second, smallersubset of the group were more flamboyantly attired, in crimson costumes that were suggestive of a superhero team, complete with the ubiquitous diamond masks over their eyes.

Except for the hero team, the remainder were all men, every one of whom looked dangerous, like they could react to danger and neutralize it in a fraction of a second. That wasn't surprising; the team was a baseline support team for the heroes that was recruited exclusively from the world's most elite soldiers - Rangers, SEALs, SAS, Spetznaz, and others, and with the heroes, they trained almost constantly in a huge number of simulations and scenarios with every variation they could imagine, often in the virtual reality simulation pods that were derived from those in Whateley's Arena 99. They were all ex-military, ex-special forces, and an elite, highly-trained, highly-efficient private 'security' firm, meaning mercenaries, skilled at doing things when the government really needed plausible deniability. Several governments.

For over an hour, the team went through their plan, repeating it until every person knew his or her assignments. There seemed to be more than a bit of urgency to the briefings and run-throughs; given that Viridian had already killed hostages, everyone in the world understood that the lives of every hostage hung in the balance, and waiting him out was likely a bad option.

Satisfied that they were as ready as they could be, the team leader shut off the hologram, and one-by-one, the team walked past racks of weapons, selecting what they needed and stowing the weapons and ammunition on their suits, and then past a table with special helmets. Opening it like a clamshell, each team member placed the pressure helmet over his neck, leaving the face shield and helmet front open for the time being. Then they filed aboard the stealth mag-lifter. In mere moments, the entire team was armed and strapped into the lifter.

No sooner had the hatches sealed than the overhead lights in the cavernous hanger snapped off, and only then did the lifter's powerful drives hum as the vehicle lifted effortlessly from the ground. Silently, it glided out of the hanger into the night-time darkness, and then, with a further application of power, it simply rose straight up into the air, propelled by its high-tech mag-lifter and anti-grav propulsion systems. Its flight was halfway around the world from the orbiting Hilton hotel, using the bulk of the earth to shield it from accidentally being seen by Viridian and his men. They knew that, once in space, the black of the vehicle against a background of black space would make it nearly impossible to spot visually, and the stealth radar coating would render it invisible to the space hotel's radar.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

A fleet of small unmanned satellites orbited the earth, keeping their continual and silent vigils as they observed the earth's weather, climate, land resources, ship navigation, and a plethora of other mundane tasks that few of the general public ever thought about. The satellites belonged to nations, groups of nations, corporations, non-profits, and a variety of other sponsors. They cataloged the earth in imaginable ways, and the data was used by commerce and science and the curiosity-seeking alike.

One unlikely user monitored data from most of the satellites, his computer experts having carefully inserted tiny and simple computer viruses into the ground stations, forking out the satellite telemetry and data and forwarding it through a variety of networks to his headquarters, and from there, it was relayed to the orbiting hotel disguised as normal commercial data.

In one of Viridian's ships that was docked to the hotel, several of his minions, assisted by computer programs, scanned the varieties of satellite data that streamed non-stop to the orbiting complex, searching for anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Any and all anomalies were brought to the attention of the trained human operators to sort out.

One such operator's eyes narrowed, and he studied the data more closely before thumbing a microphone on the headset he wore. "Obs 2," he called out, using the cryptic abbreviation for his position.

A moment later, Viridian's voice sounded in his headset. "Go, Obs 2."

"I'm seeing a magnetic anomaly in the readout from Goddard's Magic bird," the operator reported firmly.

There was a long pause before Viridian replied. "Anything on any other sensors? Anything on the radar sats? Anything visual?"

"Negative. The magnetic anomaly is located over the south central United States, which is in darkness right now."

"Damn!" the villain swore. If it was what he suspected, it was natural that they'd do something at night when it wouldn't be visible. A thought occurred to him. "Is it in range of any gravitic mapping satellites?"

"Give me a sec." The operator thumbed through options on his computer, looking for one particular satellite, a European bird that was making a detailed survey of the earth's gravity variations and how they slowly changed over time in response to the miniscule tidal forces from other solar system bodies.

"Affirmative. GRAVMAX has a bad angle, but I'm tracking a gravitational anomaly."

"Location?"

"It's precisely tracking the magnetic anomaly."

"Dammit!" Viridian practically screamed. "No radar echo?"

"Nope. If it is a ship, it's stealth."

"As soon as you get a tracking solution, let me know. Laser?" the villain snapped out.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
Eagle One, Mag-lifter Approaching Orbit Entry Interface, Operation Sky Hook

Strapped into their seats, the crew on the stealth maglifter were waiting anxiously as they slowly overtook the orbiting hotel from below. It was going to be a tricky insertion - having to fly the ship in a circle around the rotating station so that the maglifter could grapple onto the station. Once securely attached, the heroes and their mercenaries would breach the hull into the station, and thence quickly move to secure the hostages from further harm, and neutralize Viridian.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
The Hilton Orbital Hotel And Casino

Onboard the hotel, a crew watched their display screens intently, fingers poised over controls. Though they couldn't see anything, the orbiting unwitting spies still tracked the gravitational and magnetic anomaly, plotting a small circle on the displays. The crew moved their controls gingerly, delicately, and a crosshair drifted toward the circle, seeming to take forever, but eventually the crosshairs were centered over the dot. A final switch was flipped, and then with a nod to each other, two of the crewmen simultaneously depressed buttons on their control panels.

Inside the main hangar of the rotating hotel, in the stationary center core, a massive tubular device hung in the middle of a mass of wires, super-capacitors, and cooling pipes. It looked jury-rigged and very recently installed, which it was; it was one of the projects Viridian's men had scrambled to complete even as others rounded up hostages. When activated, it hummed with energy as a huge electrical charge built up, and then discharged in a bright flash. For a few hundredths of a second, megawatts of energy leapt from the capacitors into the device. A massive burst of high-energy photons, neatly coherent and collimated for maximum energy transfer, lanced out invisibly.

Hundreds of miles away, unaware of the danger, the stealth maglifter continued its course toward its rendezvous with destiny. Only it was a different destiny than the heroes and their team had planned. The stealth coating and the ship's hull were no match for the intense energy of the laser. A small fist-sized hole blossomed under the pressure differential between interior and exterior, splitting the hull wider and wider. Milliseconds later, the fractures in the hull spread and the ship split open, dumping the rest of its atmosphere and its startled crew, into the vacuum of space. Most of them had no time to close their helmets, not that such action would have saved them.

*                               *                               *

A group of grim-looking men strode purposefully through the hostages, most of whom were sitting on the deck due to overcrowding. One and two at a time, the men selected passengers and crew, seemingly at random, explaining that they were freeing another set of hostages to show their good faith to the recalcitrant leaders on the planet below. It wasn't clear how many believed them, especially since they were heavily armed and seemed quite tense, but eventually, fifty children, elderly, women, and hotel staff were led out.

Viridian scowled at the captain, who sat helpless, tied into a chair on 'his' bridge. "I told them not to try anything!" he practically screamed. Without taking his gaze from the captain, he punched a button. On a display screen, a huddled group of hostages, perhaps hopefully thinking that they were about to enter a ship to free them of their desperate situation, instead spilled out with a rush of air into the vacuum of space. He knew that his crew was transmitting the live images to a shocked and horrified audience all over the world. Maybe this time they'd pay attention to his instructions.

*                               *                               *

August 4th, 2009
SS Nikola Tesla, flagship of Dr. Diabolik, in Earth orbit

 "We extend our deepest condolences to the families of these brave men and women who gave their lives in an attempt to save others. Our thoughts and prayers are with you."

Dr. Diabolik raised the remote and turned off the monitor, glancing at Lord Paramount with a raised eyebrow of disdain as he did so. The contrast between the two men, despite their similar ethnic origins was remarkable between the scholarly doctor and the strapping, manly Prince. "And this is why we've spent half our efforts keeping retards out of orbit," he growled at the Prince. "How the merry Hell did Viridian get the resources to pull this under our noses?"

"I don't see that we have any choice now, but to act," Paramount replied evenly, the question of how was largely irrelevant. Viridian was already there. "If the major powers become desperate to curb this, it will inevitably lead to a militarization of space that will hamper our operations. If we do nothing that leaves us open to smeared in the press as well for standing idle."

"Would you rather be smeared for getting in the way?" Diabolik gave a facepalm.

The Prince smiled thinly. "I ask neither permission, nor forgiveness for my actions. I act."

"Despite our efforts, weaponization was inevitable. But this ass has just pushed the timetable forward," came the snarky reply. The frown on the Doctor's long face deepened. "And how will you succeed when the United States failed? They're not exactly retarded; they just aren't equipped for hostage rescue in this kind of situation. The only feasible one would be to mass-insert the Raiders via warper, but that's kind of like firing a missile at a grade school and hoping it misses all of the classrooms. But unless you have one hell of an ace you'd need to be able and willing to warper-drop a psychic who could Xavier the whole bloody station, and the two I know of are either missing, or not trained enough to know how to pull this without killing the hostages

"Can't. Viridian's MO is to use anti-psi and anti-warper countermeasures on all of his ops. The Marine Corps can't simply drop General Pearson on this one or else she'd already be aboard the Station with a Delta escort psychically lobotomizing every terrorist, known and unknown, on the station." The thin smile widened into a grin. "But first, I have the advantage of having a force already in space. Second, I have access to the genius of Elaine Cody. Let me show you her idea..."

After ten minutes of uninterrupted listening, Diabolik began outlining adjustments to the plan, and settling in the support resources needed. If they were going to actually try and pull this, the execution of the plan would have to be perfect or everyone was screwed.

*                               *                               *

Elaine Cody's breathing was loud in the helmet of her armored spacesuit as she clung to the tumbling piece of space flotsam and thanked her God that she was neither agoraphobic nor prone to nausea. The staging collar ring was remarkably intact for its age, and as she looked at it, rock still against an earth that was tumbling crazily as if some giant alien child had struck it with an equally massive marble. On the heads up display before her eyes, a dotted line was painted holographically showing the curving arch of her course towards the station. On her back, clung the space suited form of Tansy Walcutt.

"Ten minutes to perigee, thirty seconds to launch window," Carmen told her, breaking up the loud breathing sound that were she not so focused on what she was about to do would have reminded her of a Stanley Kubrick film.

In her ear she heard the slightly muffled and tinny voice of Tansy, their helmets pressed together, as they communicated via induction. "I have always wondered why you modeled that AI of yours on Songbird."

Lanie rolled her eyes. "Now is not the time for a jealousy sparked argument, mah love," she declared as she double checked the display again.

"I am not jealous of Maria," Tansy shot back. "I won after all..."

"Ah didn't know there was a contest."

"Of course not," the blonde laughed. "You were the prize. Since when does the trophy concern itself with the football game?"

"Radar paint detected."

"Acquire secure comsat," Lanie ordered, dismayed at the sound of her voice and took a quick sip of water from the reservoir nipple just at her lips. "Tansy close your eyes to be safe, Ah'm going to fire mah signal LASER."

"Ready."

"COMMWAL 15 acquired, signal laser locked on." Carmen reported.

Elaine pressed a button on her right gauntlet that sent a pre-made message of readiness to the Satellite which would relay it to Lord Paramount without giving away her position. "Radar lock on is now clear. Radar has returned to nominal proximity scanning. Three," Carmen warned. With a final prayer, Elaine let go of the ring with her free hand and continued to float on her own. "Two," the Earth came to a slow stop as the ring began to spin lazily on three axis. "Engage." Elaine with Tansy clinging to her flew past the ring under Carmen's control of the monopole drive.

The proximity radar of the hotel had locked on to the ring to be certain its orbit had not changed. Now that the computer was satisfied it had not changed, the intense scan went back to a low powered general sweep. For this mission, Elaine had coated the suit with a radar absorbent paint. By riding the ring she had gotten closer than anyone else without detection and now flew on a parabolic arc that kept the ring behind her. With the ring at her back, and her suit absorbing most of the radar pulses being sent at her, she was effectively in the shadow of the space debris, invisible to the collision radar of the station.

Over ten minutes that seemed to last forever the massive Orbital Hotel grew and grew before her in this most dangerous part of the approach. If someone happened to look out a window it was possible she could be seen. "Any change of the signal, Carmen?"

"No, Ma'am," the computer replied. "No sign of changes within the hotel. We appear to have been unnoticed." Finally a hand rail came into reach and Elaine grabbed it.

"Contact," she whispered needlessly. Out of habit, she clipped her safety tether to the steel cable for it that ran next to the handle. Tansy scrambled off her back and did the same; they were right next to the main transmission array as they had wanted, Carmen had thrown a perfect bulls-eye from halfway around the world. She got the access panel open and took a cable from her gauntlet and plugged it into the port inside the collection of switching and networking equipment that ran the transmitter.

"Accessing," Carmen told her. "Handshake complete, I have access to the Hilton Network. Identifying enemy counter measures. I own the video surveillance server, beginning to record video for spoofed all clear distraction. Madam, I have the proximity alert and radar servers under my control."

"Continue to feed them nothing is wrong, Carmen." Elaine pressed a button on her other gauntlet. "Lord Vader, I've reached the power generator. The shield will be down in moments. You may start your landing."

On the other side of the world, Elaine knew a stealth spacecraft was on its way to deliver its payload of violent liberators, now completely invisible to their targets inside the hotel. She continued to take control of the stations computer networks, clinging to the outside with her breathing loud in her ears.

"I can see the maintenance air lock," Tansy declared, looking at Elaine as she worked. Both girls had their radios at the lowest and weakest possible settings with a healthy dose of encryption in the hopes they would go unnoticed, but they still had to communicate.

"Madam, I have an anomaly to bring to your attention," Carmen declared as Elaine worked the black box from the pouch on her belt.

"What is it?" she demanded, carefully working a zip tie through the loop on the box to anchor it to the station. "Does someone see us?" Tansy immediately looked around, but there were no windows that could see them and shook her head.

"No, Madam, I have discovered unexpected data throughout the collision radar server. There is a subroutine running that has acquired and is tracking several thousand Near Earth Objects." Elaine paused in the connection of cables of her little box to the network, her eyes blinking as she tried to process why the hotel would be doing that.

"Carmen, calculate the load stress of the station, where is the strongest point?"

Tansy carefully floated next to Elaine as she got the cable snapped into place and the AI considered the problem. "The central hub on the ventral side, equidistant from the outriggers to the gravity ring. There are existing hard points where the modules were mounted to the lifters that brought the sections into orbit."

"Launch the drone and send it there."

"Yes, madam."

"What's up?" Tansy asked softly. A window was projected onto Elaine's field of vision as the little drone zipped underneath the station. There, it found a crew of space suited men frantically connecting large engines to the existing hard points. "What is it?" she asked.

"Ah, Ah'm not sure," Elaine replied. "There's a group of men strapping some kind of EM devices and what look like engines to the station. The EM is probably some kind of point defense weapon Ah think. Ah'm not sure about the motors."

"Let's get through the maintenance air lock and link up with Kayda," Tansy suggested. "We're on a tight schedule."

The two girls rose and carefully 'walked' along the station using the magnets in their boots and the stepping plates for that purpose that went from the antenna to the airlock. As expected, it was without power, but Carmen had already removed the lock from the alarm circuit and the manual controls worked fine without power.

*                               *                               *

With a final glance up and down the corridors, Kayda manipulated a control panel beside a pressure door marked as 'Emergency Airlock D-14. No unauthorized admittance'. Strangely, though, the panel that should have set off alarms and bells and flashing lights, as well as warning half the crew upon being tampered with, gave zero indication that the outer door had been open, let alone that the pressure had been cycled to vacuum. A glance through a sight-glass confirmed that Lanie and Tansy had pulled the outer door shut. Under Kayda's direction, the inside of the lock began to hiss as air entered the chamber, replacing that which Lanie and Tansy had vented to enter the lock.

As soon as the pressure was equalized, Kayda pulled the hatch inward and to one side, then with a glance up the corridor, ducked into the small chamber. "Took you guys long enough," she said with a feigned tone of complaint, even as she gave Lanie a big hug, then repeated the gesture for Tansy. "This was getting scary."

"Aw, we've been in tight spots before," Lanie said with a grin and a shrug.

"That was me. This time it's my family," Kayda shot back.

"That would tend to make a difference," Tansy observed, her voice devoid of judgment of the other two girls. "So what have we got? Anything new since we started our little sightseeing tour?"

"I've mapped out what I could." Kayda pulled out a device that looked like a cell phone, then tapped the controls. "Some of the locations are rough; I focused mainly on the areas around the hostages and control center." In the air above the tiny tablet computer, a meter-long holographic representation of the space hotel appeared, its walls translucent blue so interior details and multiple layers of compartments could be seen. "The hostages are on the main recreation and dining deck here." At Kayda's gesture, a set of inner compartments on the third deck from the core changed to a less-translucent purple in color. "The compartments around the hostages are vented, so there's no easy way in, or out." A bit more manipulation and gesturing turned some areas around the hostages light red.

"Wants to keep them from doing a Flight 93, I see," Tansy spat disgustedly, even though she wasn't surprised. Few heroes were. After the passenger revolt on 9/11 on Flight 93 that downed the airliner to prevent it being used as a suicide bomb, villains with any intelligence had taken note and now took measures to prevent the same thing from happening to their schemes.

"Do the passengers or crew know?" Lanie asked the question they all had on their minds.

Kayda shook her head. "I can't tell. I followed a patrol - he's using patrols even in the empty sections, and he's got control of the cameras and section doors ...."

"Had," Lanie said with smug certainty. "Carmen owns the hotel's computers. All they're seeing is looped 'safe' video."

"Not the doors," Kayda snapped in reply. "Not all of them, anyway. His men overrode the controls on some of them. Some are jammed open, some are closed and powered off." On the hologram, the red and purple colors faded slightly and dark orange and blue colors appeared.

"Carmen?"

A sensuous but slightly detached voice sounded from Lanie's comm speaker. "Accessing Kayda's tablet." After a moment of silence, it spoke again. "I cannot tell the state of all isolation doors, but some are providing no feedback ...."

"Probably the ones they locked shut," Kayda interjected.

"Likely. And others are reading open but with fault readings from the safety mechanisms. They are so marked on your hologram." As Lanie's AI computer assistant added information, more color was added to the hologram - orange for stuck-open doors, and blue for stuck-closed doors.

"Next, his men are very busy still unloading and stowing gear from ships he'd chartered."

"Yeah, eleven or twelve so-called commercial launchers rendezvoused with the hotel station right after he hijacked it," Tansy added.

"What kind of gear?" Lanie asked, her curiosity piqued.

"Engines, fuel, supplies for hydroponic farming …"

"Is he planning on staying long-term?"

The Lakota girl shrugged. "Afraid so. He's got hundreds of men, and what looks like ... 'comfort women'."

"Comfort women?" Lanie asked, a trifle perplexed.

"Historical reference. Some nations conscripted enemy women in occupied territory to ... service the conquering troops," Tansy explained, trying to stay a bit delicate.

Kayda nodded her agreement with the distasteful explanation, her nose wrinkled with disgust. "He's probably got some beam-type weapons, and his men are building something in the central core. Something big. I couldn't get close enough to be sure, but ... I'm pretty sure it's a rail gun."

"How big?"

"From what I could see, the barrel will be over a hundred meters long. There are clusters of what appear to be ultra-capacitor banks being installed around the barrel."

"The station doesn't have that kind of power!" Lanie objected strenuously.

"Lord Paramount said Viridian is a devisor, remember?" Tansy reminded the redhead.

Kayda shook her head grimly. "From the way he's hard-attached and wired two of the ships, he's got some kind of power sources on them. Devisor fusion reactor, maybe? Even a devisor nuclear reactor would give him plenty of power to charge banks of ultra-capacitors.

"Now for the really bad news," Kayda continued. A few more touches, and the colors faded again before dark red and black boxes appeared around the station. "These are the known locations of the explosive charges planted around the station."

Lanie studied the hologram for a very long minute, her face clouding as she did so. "Damn. If any of these charges go," she indicated by gesture in the hologram, "it'll vent the entire hostage deck. Even if we could get to those isolation doors and they were working. But the core, and his crew areas ...."

"So we concentrate on those explosives, right?" Tansy suggested.

"Not so easy," Kayda replied, her voice a little bitter, even angry. A few deft gestures on her tablet brought up another display, this time translucent pictures assembled into a 3-D diagram. "This is the explosive package. It's got about a six-stage trigger. Accelerometers, pressure differential sensors, magnetic sensor, timer ... it's got the works. If we move it, boom. If we cut its communications to prevent remote detonation, boom. If the command comes, boom. It's pressurized internally, and if it loses that pressurization, boom, If the section it's in vents to vacuum, boom. Worse, it was assembled with a timed arming switch. If you try to remove the cover, the machine screws come off dead-man switches, and ... boom."

"Dayum!" Lanie cursed. "He knows his stuff."

"Viridian is known for using a devisor explosive," Tansy reported, reading data off a wrist-display of her spacesuit computer. "

Kayda nodded. "I looked it up. Each bomb is equivalent of 2 kilos of PETN." She saw the other girls' eyes widen. "Worse. It's a dual charge. The part by the wall is a shaped-charge to cut through the structure. Then there's a pure-explosive charge to severely overpressurize the hull at the point of the breach. Any section where one of those things detonates will split open like a ripe watermelon."

"So ... how did you dissect the bomb?" Tansy couldn't help but be curious.

"A helluva lot of magic and gadgeteer know-how to inspect them, then more magic and a lot of luck to disarm one to confirm what I was sure I'd seen." Kayda shook her head. "It's going to take some magic to keep three switches from closing while someone opens the case and cuts off the power. It'll take about five to six minutes per bomb - assuming I don't run out of essence."

"And we'll have to ghost-walk when we're close to the hostages," Tansy added needlessly.

"How long have we got?"

Lanie shook her head. "Lord Paramount?" she asked into her communications microphone. Kayda started in surprise; she hadn't realized that Paramount would have been listening in on their conversation, not that she'd said anything improper. It was just a surprise.

"Leonides already did the intercept maneuver. We will intersect the station's orbit in one hour, fifty-seven minutes. He said that once he did the burn, the clock started ticking, and after all our exercises, he doesn't have any fuel margin to do more maneuvering. Not if we have enough left to match the station and dock."

"Viridian has got some beam weapons installed," Lanie added. "That's how he took down the maglifter."

"So if someone accidentally spots a glint from Diabolik's ship ..." Kayda realized the cause of the worry.

Lanie grimaced. "You two go start disarming the bombs. Carmen, calculate damage from each bomb against the structure and integrity of the station. Factor in …

"... the section isolation doors," The AI voice seemed a touch ... smug? "Yes, madam. Already calculated and priorities assigned. Transferring data to all of your displays."

A sudden thought occurred to Kayda. "My family..."

"I have already accounted for them. Move them to any room on G-deck, section Bravo 4," Carmen responded calmly.

"You two get started on disarming the bombs," Lanie said determinedly. As if reading the mind of her blonde lover, Lanie held up her hand, signaling 'no' to Tansy. "Kayda's a gadgeteer. She already knows how to disarm the bombs. You two can handle that, while Ah'll see if Ah can get into Viridian's computers so we can find out what he's up to. He hasn't told anyone yet, and Ah think it'd be good to know what his plans are, in case Lord Paramount needs to adjust his plans. Then Ah can put mah skills to use seein' if there's anythin' else that needs disabling - like the Death Star's tractor beam, maybe ..." She waited for her partners to smile at her seemingly ubiquitous references to 'that' movie. "Ah'll see that your family is safely moved before Ah do mah Sir Alec Guinness impersonation."

"One more thing," Tansy noted, a hint of worry showing in the wrinkles on her forehead and in the corners of her eyes. "There's something causing psi interference. I'm not getting anything."

Kayda nodded, already chastising herself for forgetting that detail. "I should have said something. I noticed that since Viridian came aboard, I haven't been able to communicate with Tatanka."

"It wouldn't surprise me if he has a warper dampening field, too," Lanie snorted. "Keep people like Shortcut from stealthily getting a rescue team aboard," She thought a moment. "Ah'll see if Ah can find and disable the anti-psi, and any other devises he has, while Ah'm doing mah other recon."

"Okay, let's move out." Tansy commanded. There was no formal chain-of-command, but Tansy had sort-of taken charge. It was how the girls worked.

"And girls," Paramount's voice sounded over the AmigaComm, "you are NEVER to mention the rail gun again. Understood?"

"Understood," they all replied. They all knew that if word got out that there was or had been a rail gun in orbit, there would be a race by every space-capable power to build their own. No nation's leadership could or would sit idly by while there was a threat of near-instantaneous 'rod from God' attacks by an enemy or a madman. Space would become an armed battleground, and civilian exploration would be squeezed out.

As the girls came out of the airlock, bad fortune interjected itself. A patrol of five of Viridian's men just happened to come around a corner in the same corridor where the girls had just stepped. For a brief moment, it was an almost surreal scene where the three girls and the five guards stared at the others in disbelief.

That moment was shattered when Tansy reacted, smoothly and almost instantaneously drawing and raising her pistols. Even as Viridian's men started to react, Tansy's pistols each barked once. Their aim accurate, the bullets smashed into the noses of the two men, hitting in almost identical places, then plowed through bone, shredding brain matter, and exploding out the back in a shower of flesh and brains and blood.

Lanie, too, had reacted, her exemplar reflexes letting her get the drop on two of the men. With Grizzly's power behind her already strong arms, two heads smashed together, bone crushing against bone with the ease of smashing an over-ripe piece of fruit. Though not nearly as messy as what Tansy had done to her targets, the result was no less lethal.

By the time the redhead and the blonde turned to the final fifth guard, he'd started to draw his gun, but that action was ended when a tomahawk, having somehow appeared in Kayda's hand, mercilessly cut into his arm. Though it didn't completely sever the hand, the shattered and torn bone and flesh couldn't maintain a grip on the firearm, and it clattered to the floor. The man was already backing away - drawing his sidearm had clearly been a move to try to keep the girls momentarily stunned while he backed up to get room. His maneuver turned into a fully-panicked rout as he turned to run, even as his good hand almost automatically reached to clasp his nearly-severed right wrist.

Tansy's aim swung toward the fleeing man, seemingly in ultra-slow-motion, but Kayda was suddenly in her path. Even as Tansy lifted the muzzle of her gun so her partner was out of the line of fire, Kayda's arm drew back, then snapped forward. End-over-end, the tomahawk flew toward the fleeing man, hitting his skull and splitting it with a sickening crunch. The now-dead guard's momentum carried him forward a few feet as the artificial gravity of the hotel drew him down to the hard deck.

It took a few seconds for the girls' adrenaline rush to abate. "Okay, new plan," Lanie said. "Kayda, go get your parents moved. Tansy and Ah'll clean up this mess. Carmen, isolate this section so no-one else accidentally wanders in. Can you mess with the controls so it looks like the section is depressurized?"

"Yes, madam," Carmen replied softly. "I can do that. I would suggest that you mechanically disable nearby pressure doors to enhance the appearance of a depressurized section."

Tansy bent down to pick up one of the bodies. "Kayda, I'll meet you at the bomb in ...." She glanced at the display on her wrist. "E-level, section C-8."

"Got it - E-level, C-8." Kayda reached into her always-present medicine pouch and took out two of her last charms. "In case. You know how to use them." With that, she turned and quick-stepped down the corridor to take care of her family.

*                               To Be Concluded                              *

 

Read 2717 times Last modified on Saturday, 21 August 2021 22:23

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