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David van Domelen
[cover is your basic psychedelic whirlpool image with the Machine members being sucked under, clutching their heads in pain or simply zoning out]
He wasn't the best he was at what he did, but he was pretty damn close. Close enough that he could stop working right now and still live a long and luxurious life on what he had already earned. But what fun would that be?
His real name was one of the most closely guarded secrets in the Western World, and he liked it that way. Those who hired him had to work through at least three layers of intermediaries, and those were the preferred customers. In fact, those who hired him didn't even have a name for him. He was "That mututal associate" or "A contractor" or even "You know, him." Those he targeted called him words not fit for publication.
He was an industrial spy, to be as simple as possible. He was an expert in electronic intrusion as well as on-site action. There were even rumors that he was psychic...some of the information he obtained was so closely guarded that most thought he'd have to be psychic to get it. Some say he even started some of the rumors, to make prospective targets sweat. Of course, if cornered on it he'd deny it. Professional pride and all, you know. He was just that good. Once he had a target, he didn't stop until he had met with success...he wasn't obsessive, simply persistent.
His current target was the Silicon Valley plant of Karlmax's main electronics subsidiary. The information he sought wasn't in any computer accessible from the net, so this would have to be an inside job. Still, to make things more interesting, he intentionally broke into another online system and rooted around ling enough for the secprograms to get his 'fist'.
The distinctively even way he typed gave him a rather mechanical 'fist', and this had earned him the one real nickname he did have, one whispered by hackers who thought they were hot, as someone to emulate. It was like having no fingerprints on your hands...the lack is as distinctive as any real fingerprint to one who knows. And he wanted the people at Karlmax to know that Cyberfist was coming....
Sam was at an art gallery. Various people milled about him, some rich, some pretending to be rich, some rather dirt poor but pretentious enough to make up for it. Most wore AIDS ribbons...not surprising, they were being handed out at the door. Sam preferred not to speculate on what the real views on AIDS sufferers were among the attendees. Sure, some would be honestly concerned, but...he let it drop before he got too angry to stay. The work along the walls was, in Sam's eye, garbage. Abstracted to nonexistence, carefully crafted to look like it had been dug out of trash bins or simply offensive to someone without the 'proper attitude towards art'. And as Sam was finding, that proper attitude seemed to be 'Buy it so you don't look like a Philistine.' The level of hypocrisy was getting to Sam, who although not uneducated had a more pedestrian set of artistic sensibilities.
Sam did not like art galleries very much.
Unfortunately, he had to stay until the featured artist showed up. Karlson had heard of her work, and had some suspicions about it. When he sent Sam to go cool off in California, he had given the Patroller a handbill advertising a stop of her 'tour' in San Francisco.
He managed to drift into one of the small knots of people cooing over one of the sculptures. It was a freestanding image of some sort, flames which looked to be flickering from within, colored with all the shades between yellow and crimson, with some blues and violets as well. He smiled a bit, despite himself, and for two reasons. One, this was the first piece of art he had seen that was even vaguely representational in this gallery. Two, it was rather morbidly ironic given that fire season was ready to sweep down on Southern California. Looking at it he agreed with Karlson's suspicions, but decided to try for a little more evidence before ditching this scene and heading South.
Grabbing a tiny demitasse of something related to coffee, he took a seat near the front of the small auction area. After another few minutes, the owner of the shop took the podium to introduce the sculptor and begin the auction of the pieces on display.
The owner, a short man dressed a little too stylishly for his own good, pulled the microphone down a few inches, managing to almost hide his annoyance at having to do so. Smiling broadly, he said, "Hello, art lovers! You all know the artist by now, I'm sure...she's only one of the freshest faces in neo-representational photoimpressionalism. Continuing her terrific work for AIDS awareness and treatment, she's offering another collection of her Transient Sculptures today. She'd come up to the podium to say a few words, but I'm afraid that the sheer number of expectant buyers here today has made my humble establishment less than accessible." He chuckled a bit and the audience laughed politely. He then smiled broadly and simply gestured toward the artist.
Sam followed his gesture to see a woman in a wheelchair, dressed a bit more formally than everyone else here...certainly more formally than Sam was. She wore high evening gloves, and Sam smirked at the sight. When she raised her arm to acknowledge the applause of the crowd, Sam caught a glimpse of silver that told him everything he needed to know.
She was a Patroller.
Janssen pulled his tie off with a single motion and tossed it onto the bed of his hotel room, then started to unbutton his shirt while opening the closet with his free hand. Freeing one arm from his shirt, he laid his palm on the top of a chest in the closet. A palm-scanner whirred and then the front of the chest fell open to reveal a pulsating red pyramid. He took a moment to unbutton the cuff of the other sleeve and dropped the shirt to one side. He then thrust his hand into the pyramid, which glowed brighter for a moment.
"So, what trouble have you found to get into today, son?" rang a voice in Janssen's head as he withdrew his arm. Covering it was the silvery sheen of the Gauntlet, and the voice was that of his Recharger.
"Pretty big, I'm afraid." Janssen pulled off his belt and tossed it on the bed with one hand as he pulled a garment bag out of the closet with the other.
"So, you find any more dirt on that Wier character? Planning to mix it up with those Machiners?"
Janssen didn't answer immediately, as he was pulling a commando style sweater over his head at the moment. "Not exactly. It's not on him, but it's related to him."
"So, who you planning on fighting with this time?"
Janssen sighed. His Recharger had apparently taken memories of his uncle from his brain and used those as a template for a personality. His uncle had been a pacifist, and never approved of violence...which fit the instrument of the Patrol pretty well. Even though Brian was careful about the Code, habits of a life were hard to break. And threats still worked...most of the time. "I'm not going to fight anyone, I hope. If I'm very lucky, the information I found was puffed up to make the person who filed the original report look more successful. But why am I telling you? You can read my mind."
"Yes, but you need to talk about it to someone. And you're afraid that no one in the government here wants to hear about it. So talk already."
"Fine. Apparently one of Wier's colleagues at Dachau, who we can prove was experimenting on Jews by the way, got ahold of some of the papers Wier had tried to publish before the war. This colleague decided that the Tesla theories Wier supported weren't any more off the wall than some of the other work being done at Dachau in the later days, so he tried to apply them. What he got was a large pile of corpses.
"However, he ended up in the hands of the Soviets. And while Stalin was still slaughtering his own in secret, he gave a few to this 'scientist' to experiment on. Just before Stalin's death, the Nazi reported a success, but this may have been simply an attempt to keep alive a few more weeks. It failed, though...the Nazi got 'deStalinized' a few months later and disappeared from records. None of his work was found."
The Recharger affected a pause 'for thought.' "But you think there really might have been a success. You think that the only thing that kept Wier from making forcefields in 1941 was a lack of support, and your now-dead colleague of his had support."
"Yes. And if even half of what was in those reports is true, may He protect us from the abomination I might find...."
Cyberfist vaulted with ease over the fence, only 8 feet high to begin with. Apparently Karlmax was trying the Purloined Letter approach to security in this case...hide it in plain sight. Beefing up the security too much would have told the wrong people that something important was now there to steal. Too bad that Cyberfist, one of these 'wrong people', already knew. There were more guards on patrol than usual, obviously an effect of his earlier electronic intrusion. He waited until two guards were in view at once...they tended to relax and look more at each other when they were together like that.
He streaked across the few score meters of open ground while the guards nodded smugly to each other, dropping a hamster from his beltpouch as he passed. The guarddogs barked as they smelled him, but the guards saw the scurrying little animal and decided it had been what the dogs smelled.
Cyberfist made his way past the fairly standard security, a few cameras, some keycard locks and even a pressure plate almost well-hidden enough. Minutes later he was in an office with a workstation. He was too smart to even try for the main computer lab...too likely to contain someone doing legitimate work or simply guarding it.
Breaking the password of the junior executive was fairly simple, and didn't even set off any alarms. He worked into the files and found what he was looking for. The plans to the force field generators and broadcast power units that the Machine used, and that Karlmax was about to start patenting. All that hard work, and they'd lose the patent to Cyberfist's employers. He suppressed a chuckle. This is what Cyberfist really liked about his job. Not the money, not the thrill of bypassing security...the fact that he was helping to break down the structure of Corporate America. Karlmax obviously must have put years into R&D for this. Losing the patents would severely harm them as a corporate entity. Some people enjoyed hurting other people...Cyberfist derived far more pleasure from hurting companies. He was a bit of an anarchist at heart, he supposed.
He finished copying the data to disks and stuffed them back in his belt. Then he pulled out another disk with a fairly nasty virus and inserted it into the machine. Not that it wouldn't be obvious what was stolen...he felt no need to cover his tracks that way. No, he just wanted to hurt the company more.
As be broke back out of the building, he mused over the kinds of things he could do if he had suits like those Machine types. How much more damage he could do. Smiling evilly, he recalled the names of some previous clients who could help him get his own supersuit with the data on the disks.
But first to fulfill the current contract. He was, after all, a professional.
"...so I used some of my expense money to buy one of the sculptures. When I got it back to my hotel, I tried everything to mar it, and failed until I put on my Gauntlet. Then I was able to carve it up with some effort. Definitely made of force fields."
Karlson sat back in his chair. "Interesting use of the Gauntlet, I must say, if a bit naive. Still, the more ways people try to use the Gauntlet to help advance the cause of Civilization, the better the chance that Civilization will happen and we can retire. How was Laguna?"
Sam looked a bit uncomfortable. After all the public dislike he'd gotten as a Machiner, he was still embarrassed about the laudits he had garnered in the past few days...he'd been on all of the Networks, and he knew Karlson had seen him in action. "Brutal. For every fire I smashed, another three blew in. Even with a few other Patrollers in the area, we couldn't save everything, or everyone. No one died, but some of the firefighters got severely burned, especially when one of the Patrollers made a mistake when trying to put out a fire. Still, I think we made a difference. I was defintely glad for the suit's fields...I couldn't always keep a Gauntlet shield up and still maintain a firewall. Some of the Patrollers got pretty singed."
"Your Recharger happy yet?"
"A little. But it seems to have picked up a habit of being cryptic. Revenge for my circuitous arguments with it, I suppose. I can't get a straight answer about any enemies of the Patrol."
"Damn. I guess we find out the hard way. Oh, by the way, my best guess on those Agonizer things the thugs were wearing is that they're meant to get rid of the Patrollers who aren't as good. Separate the wheat from the chaff, I'd say."
Sam recalled the rather nasty devices worn on the necks of the last batch of gang members he'd fought. "Why d'ya say that?"
"Well, I'm sure you've already thought of a dozen ways around them, right? But some people might not, and shy away...or go overboard and end up losing their Gauntlet. When you're in a competition, the best tactic is to figure out who the best people on the other side are, right?"
"So, anyone who is actually stopped for very long by these things is someone the bad guys don't have to worry as much about. People who bypass them right away are foes to be reckoned with, and concentrated on. Congratulations, we just made the hit parade." Karlson grinned wryly.
"I guess we won't see them anymore then, right?"
"Probably. However, they might keep 'em around for a while just to give you something to think about...still, with three of us not worrying about hurting people, the Agonizer is a pretty stupid weapon. Check first, but figure they'll have a new main tactic next time."
"Right. Now excuse me, I gotta crash. Still catching up on not sleeping for a few days in SouCal."
Karlson nodded in understanding and Sam went back to his room at the ranch, to catch about 400 winks.
Meanwhile, Karlson brooded over the unwelcome news that his Silicon Valley operation had been hit by industrial espionage, probably the infamous Cyberfist. Not the best news he'd gotten all week, to be sure.
Jenny Dreiser was a bit bored, and frankly quite frisky as well. Sam had been gone at his crazy uncle's ranch for about a week now, and she missed the big idiot already. Out of nowhere, she got the idea that it might be interesting to go check out a bar an officemate had recommended. She really didn't know why, since she wasn't normally a bar type. Still, it passed the time.
The bar was in one of the until-recently-bad-parts-of-town that she tended to find irksome normally. Why was she even here? Gentrified buildings, a music act that so desperately tried to keep the grunge idea going and a clientele barely the drinking age...if that. Way out of character for her. So why did she stay?
Finally she left, and it was raining. Great. Dark, cold and wet...her favorite conditions. She got into the first taxi that stopped for her and told the driver her address.
People at the doorway were puzzled as to why she got into a van full of 'the bad element', but decided that was her lifestyle choice, and not their problem....
A few days later, and Sam was just about recovered from his impromptu fire fighting career, and ready to go back to Denver and see about doing something with Jenny. He was packing his stuff when Dan burst into the room. He was waving a videotape, and looked frantic.
"Sam, when did you see Jenny last?" he asked.
"Um, the day before you got your fool hand almost blown off." Sam winced as he realized he shouldn't have brought that point up. But Dan didn't even notice it.
"You got a VCR in here? Good, turn on the TV." Dan shoved the tape into the machine and fumbled with the controls to get it to show on the screen. Sam picked up the remote and set everything going. Astra, hearing some commotion, peeked into the room.
As the tape started, Dan switched between looking nervously at the TV and at Sam. Not a good sign, thought Sam, who began to worry himself. Astra looked a little too pleased with Dan's discomfort.
A dark silhouetted figure appeared on the screen. Oddly, he was in silhouette without a strong backlight. Must be computer effects, mused Sam. The figure spoke with a dangerously silky voice.
"Hello, O heroes. I congratulate you on your intelligence and skill in dealing with my minions, and also on your apparent defeat of the Patrol Code." Sam and Astra, hearing this for the first time, exchanged glances at that. The guy knew about the Code! "However, don't think that I'm a one-gimmick nemesis, oh, not by any means. And since I doubt you'll willingly submit yourself to any of my more effective gambits, I've secured something to help me lure you in. You really should be more careful about those you care for, you know."
Just before the view changed, Dan tensed up, knowing what would come next. The tape showed two figures standing in some kind of stupor behind the speaker. "I've had my allies...acquire your loved ones, Jennifer Dreiser and Ted Gerhardt. I regret causing differential suffering, but only two of you had loved ones as easily determined and taken. I'd much rather you all suffer. But enough of that. If you don't all come to the return address on the tape on Halloween night, at 11:50 exactly, they will die. Only the four of you...any others will be noticed and these two will be killed summarily. Until then, happy holidays!" The figure seemed to grin, and then the tape ended.
Sam turned to Dan, who was visibly shaken. He was in a bad way...Sam had never known Dan to get so freaked over anything. "Karlson seen this yet?"
A voice over the intercom said, "I have now...meet me in the training room in suits, in fifteen minutes."
Astra looked up. "Huh. Big Brother-in-Law. Must have a tap on the VCR. Oh, I know Jenny's your SO, Sammy, but who's this Ted? Yer cousin, Dan?"
Dan and Sam both gave Astra one of those looks that said "If you have to ask by now we aren't going to tell you."
Astra backed up as she stood from the bed. "What? What? So, who is he?"
Dan decided first that Astra wouldn't take a hint with a sledgehammer and wouldn't shut up until she knew. "He's my 'SO'."
Astra wrinkled her nose. "You're gay? Eww. Gross."
Sam covered his face with his hand. Good think Dan's not the kind to overreact to that kind of...
"Shut the hell up, you little bitch!"
Dan stood and glared at Astra, the effect ruined by the fact that he had to look up several inches to make eye contact. "It's not gross, and frankly it's really none of your business in the first place! It's not like you have a gender anymore, so what do you..."
As Dan had shouted, Sam quietly placed his hand in the Recharger and put on his Gauntlet. And just in time, because Astra didn't even wind up before smashing her fist out at Dan's face. Sam threw a force field up as fast as he could, and Astra's fist crashed through it and into Dan's jaw, cutting off the rest of the sentence.
Although severely blunted, the blow was enough to send Dan back into the wall and snap his head around. Astra then shouted "Shut the hell up!" and stormed out of the room.
Sam ran to Dan's side and helped him get up. "What the hell's gotten into you lately, anyway? She may be a brat, but she's a brat who can take your head off!"
Dan rubbed his sore jaw. "Nothing's 'gotten into' me."
"Yeah, right. You've been edgy even before this kidnapping. Snapping at me, acting like some kind of crazed vigilante when you could...you said nothing is wrong between you and Ted...were you lying?"
"No! Things are as fine as they can be with us, considering he's now been reclassified as BAIT. And before you ask, I don't have cancer, or AIDS, or any other life-threatening disease, I haven't been hit on the head, and I'm not suffering feedback from my suit. Is it a crime to just have a bad few weeks?!?"
Sam stepped back, uncertain how to advance the issue. So he decided not to for now. "C'mon, you and I gotta get suited up."
The room looked like a standard private health club, although the equipment in some cases looked a bit odd. And there were some dents in the walls that looked like they'd been made by heavy machinery or something. In a way they were, although the machinery had been the Machine. A few chairs were in a circle in front of a monitor in one corner of the room, and the members of the Machine were there. Karlson stood by the monitor with the remote.
"We've got a few days to prepare for this, so let's not run in like idiots. We know that whoever this is has access to technology on the level of our suits at the very least. And it's quite possible he also has details about the force fields we use and the signal we use for broadcast power, since the plant that makes our suits was broken into the other day.
"Luckily, the intruder didn't find the plans to our suits, the terminal he used didn't have access to the machine those were on. But he did get the plans we intended to send to the Patent Office, and from those a few weaknesses of our suits can be determined. Again, luckily, we managed to file the patent first, so we can legally block use of the technology. But illegal use we'll have to watch for.
"As far as what we know for sure about the bad guys, they have devices that seem designed to thwart Patrollers. Only Sam needs to worry about them, and I've already briefed him on that aspect. I've got Wier working on changing some aspects of your spare suits right now to blunt any tricks the bad guys might try to pull, they should be ready by Sunday. I doubt they'll have forcefields and so forth by then, but they might have some kind of one-shot gimmick to use as a sneak attack. I want all of you in peak physical condition, and I don't want you fighting each other until after this is done, you got that?"
Everyone nodded, although Dan and Astra refused to look at each other.
Snow. It lay thinly on the sidewalks in patches, having long since melted on the streets. It made everything slushy and fairly unpleasant on one's footwear. Unless your footwear was shielded by force fields, as was the case for a quartet who stepped from a van parked nearby.
Captain Justice looked around, and found no sign of life in the warehouse which matched the address they had been given. He sighed at the cliche. Still, better than having a pitched fight downtown in the middle of a street or something.
Greymask was visibly impatient. He wanted to start breaking heads, and it showed. He was also a bit cold, since his suit wasn't adequately insulated and his force field was off.
Astra looked about, looking in every direction save Greymask's. She kicked a pile of slush in boredom.
Cosmic Defender silently took to the air to survey the area and Captain Justice signaled for systems to be powered up. Greymask immediately felt warmer, but that didn't stop his fidgeting.
Captain Justice nodded to Astra, who carefully walked up to the door. At only 15 pounds, she slipped pretty easily, even wearing her boots. Bracing herself, she drew back a fist, then shouted, "Landshark!"
The door flew to flinders under her strike, and as if on cue, several dozen people streamed around the corner and opened fire with machineguns and rocket launchers. Astra was blown back at least a block, and skidded another few meters even after they stopped hitting her.
Cosmic Defender checked their necks. All wore bandanas. Clever. But, he noted as they fell to the ground one by one under the influence of the anaesthetic gas coming from the van, not clever enough.
Astra came back up the street with a shout of "Daddy, can we do that again? Ha!"
The four carefully entered the building, with Astra in the lead, followed closely by Captain Justice and then the other two. After passing through an anteroom, the came into the main warehouse, where all was dark. But not for long.
A dazzling spotlight turned on with an audible >KA-CHUNK< and focused on two figures, the two hostages. They just stood there, as if asleep standing.
"Hello, heroes. Time to die..." said the voice of their foe. Suddenly the two hostages drew machinepistols and aimed them at their lovers. Simultaneously, a hum filled the air and Cosmic Defender dropped to the ground with less grace than would be intentional. "Oh, I'm jamming your broadcast power, so your force fields won't stop the bullets. Goodbye."
Bullets spat from the two guns, only to bounce off the still-active defenses! Greymask streaked across the room on his hoverboots and grabbed the guns from the hands of the hostages, and Captain Justice pulled out a strange looking pistol and fired darts at the two. They collapsed just as Greymask skidded to a stop, out of battery power.
"Oh, ingenious! Power reserves...I applaud you. It's honestly refreshing to have to deal with rivals that have a whole new set of limitations after so long fighting the Patrol. Still, I can't let you walk away from here alive, I have promises to keep...."
The brains of the Machiners exploded in psychic fire.
Dan was exhausted. They'd beaten the badguys and recovered the hostages, taking them to safety back in Montana. He stood over the medical bed in which Ted lay, waiting for him to wake up, as he had stood for the past few hours.
Finally, Ted's eyes fluttered open. "I thought you didn't go for dress-up, Dan..." he said weakly.
Dan's eyes filled with tears as he hugged Ted. "I'm not gonna let this kind of thing happen again, man. I promise."
Ted suddenly broke away and sat up. "Damn right it's not gonna happen again. We're finished, Dan. You can keep playing your superhero power trip, but I've had enough for a few lifetimes."
Dan sputtered, "But..."
"But nothing. And another thing...all this time you've obviously been out powertripping, I've been thinking. About our relationship. And I've decided it was wrong. You seduced me...you preyed on my uncertainty about my sexuality and lured me into a debased lifestyle...well, no more of that either!"
Something was horribly wrong, Dan realized. "That's not how it happened, and you know it! My God, they must have done something to your brain when they brainwashed you to fire at us!"
"No, Dan. You're the one who did something to my brain. But I got better. It wasn't love, it was perversion, and I just don't want to be a pervert anymore." Ted got up to leave.
"No, you're not going anywhere until you're better!" He moved to block Ted, who pulled out a knife from somewhere and stabbed him in the gut.
"I am better."
What a debacle. The bad guys had called a camera crew, and when the fight was over the Machine had come out into the glare of several newsteams. Some were crawling around in the van, taking pictures of various devices. Simon motioned for the rest of the team to hold back while he dealt with the press.
"Excuse me, please leave that van. It has security systems which might harm you."
A reporter jammed a microphone into his face. "Mister Karlson, why have you been running around, breaking numerous laws and violating the civil rights of hundreds of local youths under the mask of Captain Justice?"
Simon was stunned! How had they found out? "Excuse me, but remove the microphone or it will be removed. I serve Justice, which is not always Law, and I deny that I am any Mister Karlson." He tried to push past the reporter to get to the van, which was now being hooked up to a tow truck by the police.
Another reporter chimed in, "Conclusive proof of your identity was leaked to the press not two hours ago, Mister Karlson. It's no use denying it. Nor is it any use denying that your actions have inspired no less than five people to take up shields and go fight crime...with fatal results! How do you answer those charges?"
Before he could say anything more, Astra shouted, "Go away!" and started swinging a telephone pole around, crushing the bodies of reporters and onlookers alike into a red mass. Then someone tripped a particularly nasty system on the van and it exploded in a fireball half a block wide, interrupting the broadcast power long enough that Karlson felt his back snap as Astra swung wildly in the crowd....
Astra was glad that particular bit of fight scene was over and she was back in Montana. She was really getting the hang of these flight boots now, and she soared over the mountains in the morning sunlight. She flew down into a grove of evergreens and zoomed about, enjoying herself immensely.
Then she started to slow down. She looked at her feet. The boots were gone! Then she felt a tug on her wrist, and saw a string attached to it. Holding on to the other end was a small child, walking through the woods.
She bobbed like a balloon, and empty shell filled with nothingness. Then she noticed she was drifting awfully close to a jutting branch. Somehow, she knew she'd pop if it hit her...pop like the bubble she was. Twisting violently, she tried to avoid it. Barely, she missed it. But now she saw ahead a denser area of the woods, full of spikes and needles....
Jenny and Ted had been rescued, and put under observation until a psychiatrist could determine if they suffered any long-lasting mental trauma. To take his mind off that, he decided to take a short trip to Chicago, see a few old friends from college.
When he got there, he found a fire engulfed the top of the Sears Tower! Like a beacon it lit the night. Quickly, he changed into his suit and flew up to put out the fire. Carefully he sliced off the burning part of the building and lowered it into the closest clear area, in case anyone yet lived inside. The press was thick around him by the time he'd made sure the chunk of building wouldn't collapse.
"Cosmic Defender, it's rumored that the powers of your glove come from some alien race, out to change Earth to fit their ideal of a proper world. Can you confirm or deny?"
"Well, I suppose I can confirm that those of us with the Gauntlets seek to make the world a better place, in any way we can."
"Who determines what better means? You? Aliens? What about free will and self-determination?"
"Well, there is an objective good that can be..."
"Mister Defender, the ends do not justify the means...you cannot bring Civilization by taking away the right of people to choose! What about the freedom to be uncivilized!" "Power corrupts! How can we know..." "...do you deny that you work for those who would conquer..." "...think you can solve anything by parading about in a stupid costume like some arrested adole"
The crowd pressed in on Sam, demanding he justify himself. But how could he, when he agreed with so much of what they said? He looked about in confusion, for a friendly face, or even something that wasn't an unfriendly face...people filled his entire field of view.
Suddenly, a cold clarity passed through him. An ancestral memory? A basic human paradigm? Whatever it was, he knew it was what he needed.
The Emissary stood in the middle of the room and gloated as he played games with the emotions of the Machiners. One lay on the ground, whimpering and clutching his stomach. Another frantically twisted and ducked, a look of terror on her face. The leader simply lay on the ground, very still. And the Patroller, faced with all the contradicting 'rights' at once, looked like a trapped rabbit. It was lovely...only a fairly small prod and they carried on with the emotions themselves. They were so disfunctional he considered keeping them as toys...but no, he did suppose they needed to die.
Just then, the Patroller stood stock still, a look of purpose coming over his face. The Emmisary turned abruptly to look. The Patroller had found a way to overcome the assault...he has to be given an extra dose, thought the Emissary.
"Might...does not make...Right," muttered Sam. "Might must serve Right, that I swear!" And before the Emissary could react, Sam came out of the dream world he had been placed in. As if guided by another, he reached his hand out toward Astra, and a spark leaped from her to his Gauntlet, energizing it. The spark formed into a sword made of force...and something else. It was more than a mere construct, and the Emissary actually knew fear for a moment. This could actually affect him...he knew it somehow. It was time to leave.
Cosmic Defender didn't give him the time. Raising the sword above his head, he cried, "For Right!" and brought the sword sweeping down on the Emissary.
As the sword touched the blackness, it blazed with brilliance. As it cut through the Emissary, the light burned him to his core...and the shadow faded with a pitiful cry.
The sword was then gone, and Sam dazzled by its brightness was now blinded in the dark. The humming had stopped, as had the assault on his mind, and the minds of his teammates.
Battered more in spirit than in body, the Machine picked up the limp forms of Jenny and Ted and headed back to the van, out on the deserted street.
Copyright © 1994, 1997 by David van Domelen