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The Madness of The King
By Matt Rossi, Stewart Brower, Mike Mendoza, Byron Molix and Davey Jones
A thousand miles away and an hour ahead in Columbus, Ohio, Andrew Taylor was tuning out his algebra teacher to listen to the conversation being whispered in the corner of the classroom.
"I can't believe the Patrollers couldn't bust the Dome."
"The Patrol's a bunch of wimps. Wolverine would've clawed through it without breaking a sweat."
"Well, what d'ya expect from a superteam that's all girls now anyway."
As his classmates giggled, Andrew clenched his fists. One minute later, he had a black eye and his very first detention.
Across the Atlantic, Terra Patrol deputy leader Diana Halpern was visiting Bryson Killaran in his Belfast apartment. She had brought her Recharger with her, so that she and Bryson could send a message to Patrollers around the globe.
The Recharger floated in Bryson's spartan living room. It bathed Diana with a faint red light as it digitized her voice and form for transmission to every Recharger on Earth.
"...took almost two hours to quell the riot outside the Boston Dome. Now we're trying to come up with new strategies for breaking through the Dome. If any of you have ideas, please let us know. Honestly, we need all the help we can get right now. Those of you who can get away, Maverick wants us to assemble tomorrow afternoon at the Boston Dome. We'll understand if duty elsewhere doesn't permit you to get there, but we need everyone that we can get.
"In the meantime, there's another situation brewing that could get messy. Turns out that the Patrol isn't the only intergalactic law enforcement body. An organization called the Janissaries had noticed the Hyperion robot which killed Fyodor Tisharnovolk a few days ago. Even though we destroyed Hyperion, the Janissaries are sending a fleet here to fight their enemy. Bryson Killaran, who's acting as a Janissary now, can tell you more about them."
Bryson swallowed convulsively. He'd never really enjoyed being at the center of attention, and his discomfort was especially great now that he'd been drummed out of the Patrol. Rechargers made him nervous any more. He wondered if somebody was out there now, looking at him through his old one. The one that he'd lost trying to kill Willrew, who'd started this whole Boston mess.
"It's like this. The H'Agathr, who're in charge of the Janissaries, they've gotten all up in ahrms about this Hyperion thing. It's apparently a... well, ah'm not exactly sure what it is. They've told me it's a Solar Guardian, built at the middle of the First Empire to defend against something that's been forgotten. All this history is news t'me, and ah imagine it is t'you, too. Ah'll bet the Rechargers won't tell ye anythin' about it, either." He laughed softly. "Itthe Hyperion thingshouldn't be active, and they have no bloody flaming idea why it's killing Patrollers, but they're suspicious of this Enemy o' theirs somehow bein' involved. So they've decided to send a fleet to investigate. There could be as many as fifty of 'em comin'."
Diana looked at Bryson, and he realized she was wondering why he didn't know how many were on their way. The cracked paint on the walls somehow intruded into his consciousness then, and he found himself studying it intently while speaking. "And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all I really know right now."
"The Janissaries may arrive any day now," Diana continued. "If you run into one of them, be cool. Don't do anything that could be interpreted as hostility. We may have a common Enemy, and they could do us a lot of good as allies. Be gracious hosts and try to keep them from damaging the place. Halpern out."
With that, Diana's Recharger stopped recording and sent the message to its fellow Rechargers.
"So, what'll ye be doing now?" Bryson asked his former teammate.
"Recruiting. There are some new Patrollers who've heard about the Terra Patrol and who seem interested in joining us, and I want to give them my sales pitch in person. Brian wants as many as we can get in Boston in another day. How about you?"
Bryson picked up his Helmet from the couch. "Ah'm hittin' the streets again. The backlash from the peace talks is stirring up the riff-raff, and ah want to make sure things don't get ugly here. Ya know, ah started my Patroller career keeping these same people in line." Bryson put his Helmet on.
"I'll keep in touch, Bryson."
"Do that. Ah'm getting tired'a waiting... and ah smell trouble coming, Diana. It makes me nervous, and I don' like it." As always, Bryson's brogue thickened when he was agitated. "So, when the Janissaries get here, I'll try and pitch the Terra Patrol to 'em, like we agreed. But I gotta tell ye, ah'm far from confident they'll listen. They may be one great group, but they don't seem t'me t'be the joinin' types. More like the leadin' ones." The Helmet slid on, and with the humming sound that Broadcast Power sometimes seems to fill a room with, his force-shell formed around him, taking the form of motorcycle leathers. His eyes glowed red, and the featureless metal Helmet made him look as fearsome as the legendary figure the Belfast newspapers had named him after, Setanta.
Cuchullain. Sometimes, he thought, I almost feel like him. Which is the mindset to watch. That's how Willrew got into trouble, innit? And he is in trouble too... because when we finally get through that damn dome, I'm gonna do what no Patroller can. I'm gonna kill him. Slowly.
Black against black, the Janissary ships slid through the eternally starry night, silent and cold as space itself. In the largest of these ships, Admiral Ch'ol Bortha stepped up the raised platform to his command post. His boots clanked loudly against the metal deckplates. His personal guard stepped aside abruptly, clearing the way for the powerful old Janissary to assume his position. Bortha settled into his chair, and his armor automatically melded with several of the command level systems. Instantly, he was aware of all the other ships in his armada, their individual commanders and tactical positions. Everything was in order, and soon the fleet would reach Terra.
Most of the ships in the fleet were small, roughly the size of a DC/10, and each only required one pilot. The Janissary who flew the ship would simply plug his Armor and Helmet into the control and power systems of the craft, and then maneuver the ship with his mindthe Helmet possessed interplanetary flight, but it required a craft for interstellar voyages. Gleaming in the darkness, fifty-two ebony sharks waited behind Mars and prepared for their Terran descent.
One of the Janissaries in this armada was Darthe, the last surviving member of the reptilian Kll'ig'a*&. He was on his way to Earth to help assess the need for Janissary intervention on the adolescent world. But when the mad Patroller Willrew went on a murderous rampage and sealed off an entire city from the rest of the planet, Darthe decided to wait for the Admiral and the Janissaries he gathered to join up with him before intervening on Earth.
Even though he knew he would most likely need the Admiral's forces to confront Willrew, waiting for him had filled Darthe with cold rage. One of Willrew's victims was Kaltion, a Janissary who had been operating on Earth for the past few weeks. Kaltion rescued Darthe from an Emissary who ran a lucrative slave trade. After he recruited Darthe into the Janissaries, Kaltion was his closest friend and mentor.
Kaltion now sat in a Terran hospital, recovering from the injuries the mad Patroller had inflicted. His position in the Janissaries had been taken by a native. Darthe's reptilian tongue flickered out of his gaping, razor-toothed mouth as he remembered the H'Agathr who'd taken him from chains and allowed him to regain his pride. Darthe also wondered with gall who would dare replace him.
If he'd been aware of the silver-blue form rocketing from Earth, he'd have forgotten all about that.
Jessie Cochran pushed her hands back across her forehead, pressing her palms inward against her temples. She had been waiting for fifteen minutes for the ibuprofen to kick in. In the meantime, her concentration on the blinking cursor on the monitor in front of her had slipped completely away. She thought about how odd it was that programmers could also face "writer's block"how the program she had been assigned to design just wasn't coming to her at all. It seemed simple enougha kind of modified spreadsheet for tracking inventorybut Jessie's mind just wasn't into it.
It had been this way for a couple of weeks now. After she and Adrian Stillwell had covertly aided ex-Patroller Eric Summers' escape from PRIME, she expected the worst. Oddly enough, though, the investigation into her activities on the night of Eric's escape simply never happened. That same night, the MPs and a CIA operative grilled her pretty hard, but she and Adrian had figured on their cover, and played it out that they were taken captive by Summers and forced to hand over technology which helped him escape. Truthfully, she had rescued Eric from his cell and then given him a prototype weapons system, the PALADIN armor, all of her own volition.
But after that initial interrogation, the matter quietly and conspicuously ended. She was given the equivalent of a slap on the wristtold that she would be given light duty in Computing Services until such time as the investigation was completed. She was even assured several times that she would be returned to R&D as soon as possible. It struck her as though someone in power were trying to keep her protected. In the meantime though, she was stuck doing software upgrades and postmaster duties for the antiquated email system PRIME used.
"Time to escape," she muttered quietly to herself. Whenever she tired of her new job, which was often, Jessie slotted into a protected system she had created, an AI program she called Ganymede.
Working... Hello, Jessica.
Jessie stared at the blinking cursor, waiting for inspiration to come.
Getting fired is like watching a porn flick. You have to sit through a lot of pointless talking before you get to the important part.
Sitting in the office of PatrolWatch executive producer Christopher Mazurk, Mark Kristing wished he could hit the fast-forward button and get to the part where Chris lets him go. Then again, Mazurk just might have a surprise for him.
"...hell of a job shaping the show. The boys upstairs had their doubts about the leeway I gave to you, but I knew you'd do fine. And you have done fine."
"But?" asked Mark.
Christopher sighed and put his glasses on. "But when one person has the kind of influence over a show that you have on PatrolWatch, the scope of topics and viewpoints presented can be... not as broad as we may like. For example, not only were we scooped on the Willrew issue, this week you chose to barely mention the fact that he created the Boston Dome. And this isn't the first time you've let your enthusiasm for the Patrol color the show."
Mark had heard enough. "So I'm fired?"
"Heavens, no! We'd love for you to stay on as a writer-"
"But I'm not managing editor anymore."
"You won't be head anchor either. We're replacing the position with a team of co-anchors."
Mark dropped his cool exterior. "You're killing me here. This is my baby-"
"I'm the executive producer, Mark. This is *my* show!"
Mark closed his eyes. He could still write and research the stories. But his editorial influence on PatrolWatch was gone.
"You're right, Chris. This is your show, and you're welcome to it. You'll have my letter of resignation tomorrow morning."
Suddenly, sensors from the three H'Agathr scout vessels sounded the klaxon throughout the command link. Energy surges were detected and within moments all three ships went silent.
After reading all the sensor data through the World-Mind, Admiral Bortha uttered a single word. "The Stellar Guardian." His guard stiffened at the name. Apparently, Kaltion's report of the robot's destruction had been inaccurate.
He moved seven attack cruisers into a spiral flanking maneuver. Two of the larger battleships, holding position to the rear, locked their sensors onto the gleaming robot. They instantly fed its coordinates through the World-Mind to the other ships in the fleet. Now, everyone under Bortha's command would know the exact location of Hyperion at all times.
Hyperion had been built at a time when entire star systems warred with one another in a frenzy of killing; a miniscule fleet of fifty ships was little, compared to that. It countered by spinning itself into a collision course with one of the attacking ships. As it sped toward its target, three other Janissary ships locked weapons and opened fire. Sizzling plasma arched toward the robotjust as it pulled up, able to change its course as the bigger, more massive starships could not. The energy bolts flew on, striking Hyperion's original target. The H'Agathr ship exploded in a hellish blue pyre.
Not a single Janissary, not even Bortha, gave a second thought to the destruction. Losing one of your own to subdue the enemy was not only honorable, but even expected with one such as Hyperion. The robot calculated this weakness in the Janissary tactics to his advantage and pressed on. It lashed out with its own plasma beam, gutting one of a battleship's engines. Then it altered course and cut an opening in the starboard side of the Admiral's ship and slip inside the vessel.
No one screamed as Hyperion savagely waded through the individual Janissary soldiers who moved in to stop it. The few hits it took from their heat knives and other weapons were easily repaired. It moved swiftly through the ship, tossing its opponents to either side and slicing through the few who charged it head-on with energy bolts. Its sensors located the main power batteries and it moved steadily onward.
Bortha read his soldiers' dying thoughts through the World-Mind and he anticipated Hyperion's imminent attack. He countered by dumping the computer core, with its advanced tactical systems, to Darthe's ship, the closest one that was equipped to handle the data. He assigned his command to his second-in-command, and activated the ship's self-destruct. His ship immediately blew apart as the batteries dropped their shields. Searing plasma shot out in all directions.
Hyperion looked more like a comet than a robot as it flew from the expanding fiery wreckage. It casually opened fire on Darthe's ship before turning and annihilated two more of the smaller ships. As its back was turned, Darthe opened up a barrage of plasma bolts, striking the robot twice from the rear.
Hyperion's purpose here was finished. It had placed the small blue planet under quarantine while it finished analyses of recent actions. It had returned to consciousness in some future time, a time wherein the Empire it had been created to serve and protect had long since crumbled into the dust of the ages. It had stumbled across this tiny world, drawn by the anomalous energies that it had determined were the Rechargers of the Patrol. And it had almost immediately run afoul of a tainted Recharger, which had led to several weeks of rampage while it blundered about the landscape, unsure of its original mission, unsure what it was supposed to or expected to do. Several times the indigines had defeated it; each time it had learned from the defeats, and the learning had taught it more than simply the tactics used by its enemies.
It had learned doubt.
Stellar Guardian units did not suffer doubt gladly. There was something unusual about this small planet, something that made it unusual, something that made it stand out from the pack of small, ready-for-incorporation worlds. And this Stellar Guardian wished to discover what that something was.
It had learned enough to know that these beings who styled themselves Janissary were capable of doing great damage to this planet. The planet might be worthless, a fluke; but the Stellar Guardian could not take that chance. So it took the most expedient action open to it, and took a seriously large percentage of the Janissaries' strength away from them.
Now it could turn its attention back to the small blue planet that mystified and intrigued it so.
Brian Janssen finished his water and crushed the paper cup absently in one fist. A few drops of liquid wet his hand; he wiped them absently at his forehead and shielded his eyes to look again up at the man-made mountain the press had taken to calling The Boston Dome. Several Patrollers were projecting forcefields directly over the gathering; the shade was welcome, here in the late afternoon, but the sweltering heat was not easing much.
My army. Such as it is, he thought, glancing around at those gathered around him. In this heat he already dreaded the minor exertion of clambering atop the boxes he'd designated as their meeting spot. One of the group was a man in a mechanical exoskeleton; Janssen grimaced as he heard the whine of the suit's air conditioner even from here.
He spoke to his acting deputy without looking at her. "Diana. Is this everyone?"
Halpern glanced at the assemblage, then looked at the skies around the Dome. "Just about. I count four in flight up there, and my Recharger says the last two who are coming are just about in range." She gave him a tired glare. "You're convinced this is the only way to handle this?"
"Have you had any better ideas since we discussed this?" he asked in return. At the angry look she gave him he shrugged. "Neither have I, so don't feel bad. According to the evidence I've been able to get hold of, it was definitely a Patroller who did this. The U.S. Army can't get through a Patrol field with anything short of an H-bomb, and they're not going to try that for obvious reasons. That anti-Patroller government agency tried their tricks. I thought that field-walker was going to work, myself, but you saw what happened. My Recharger hasn't come up with anything to suggest; the last time I pressed the point, it seemed almost in shock."
Diana raised an eyebrow. "Yours too, huh?" Her eyes tracked out into the afternoon sun. "There! Those'll be our last two."
"All right. Call down the ones in the air. I'll get us a perimeter set up." He stood, brushed dirt off the seat of his pants, and stretched mightily. It had been a long day for him already, and it was looking at getting no easier as it went along. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled piercingly. The general low chatter of the assembled Patrollers died to a whisper. "We've got four from the east and two from the west coming in by air. Other than that, I want a wall around us. What I've got to say doesn't go any farther than Terra Patrol for now."
One fellow in gleaming black and a round helmet stuck his chin out belligerently. "Y'want me outta here, boyo, y'can come and put me out yersel'. I've wasted enough time t'day waitin' on you and yours t'get their asses in gear"
"Bryson, if I wanted you out of here, you'd be gone long before now. I already said this meeting is for the Terra Patrol. Last I looked you were still a member. If you're not in the Terra Patrol any more, take off."
"Do I look like a @#$%in' Patroller, Jimmie?" the man growled.
"That's not what I asked you," Janssen answered tiredly. "I asked you if you were still a member of Terra Patrol or not? You make up your mind now, because I haven't got time to waste on you any more." He turned and drifted into the air, landing on top of the piled crates that he had sat against. The dark-garbed man clenched his fists in anger, then relaxed visibly as long seconds went by. Finally, his mouth relaxed as he realized what the leader of the Terra Patrol had been saying after all.
Four forms dropped from the direction of the Atlantic; two others drifted in more slowly from the west. As soon as they had touched down, shimmering multicolored walls rose from the ground. Two started to curve overhead, and someone reminded their casters of the oppressive heat; the walls stopped just high enough to keep out the ever-present press and civilians.
Janssen faced the crowd, put his hands behind his back and stood at parade rest. "All right, people, listen up." He grinned slightly, without humor. "Welcome to the first scheduled meeting of the Terra Patrol. My handle is Maverick. If you need my attention, you can call me Brian." He tilted his head at the woman who leaned on the crates below him. "This is Diana Halpern, my deputy. I'm sure a number of you knew my other deputy, Fyodor Tisharnovolk, who was killed in action a few days ago." There was a low murmur of acknowledgement. "Welcome to America, those of you who haven't been here before. I count forty-three of you here, plus our three non-Patroller members." A few heads turned to glance at Paladin, Guardian and Bryson, none of whom acknowledged the attention. "The fellow in black is Bryson Killaran; he was a Patroller until a couple of days ago, and he's a Janissary now. You'll hear more from him later. The taller fellow in the blue and white is another ex-Patroller, called Guardian. Matriarch can introduce him to you. And the gentleman in the mechanical exoskeleton is Paladin."
Brian turned his attention to the crowd at large. "You all know what the problem is. I've called you here to discuss what we're going to do about it.
"Obviously, the local military is ineffective against the dome as such. The U.S. government even brought out some specialized weapons and technology for getting through force-fields; that was just as ineffective.
"The President of the United States five days ago asked us to sit quiet and let things develop. We have done so, per his request. In the intervening time, though, we've seen that nothing short of Patrol technologyif thatis going to get through that dome and let us find out what's happened to the city of Boston.
"I know of several approaches that have been tried over the past two days by a number of you. Brute force has accomplished nothing. Neither did the attempt at drilling through the field." He nodded toward a group of four Patrollers standing on one edge of the group. "The idea of pooling your resources and drilling under the edge was a good idea, too. But the dome is actually a globe, isn't it?" One of the Patrollers nodded glumly. "We suspected as much when all of the underground cables and pipes stopped carrying anything into or out of the city. So apparently brute force isn't going to work.
"The President has been made aware of two other problems we're facing now, too. I'll fill the rest of you in.
"First. There's a creature of some kind out there that's killing Patrollers. Fyodor died fighting it, and it killed two Patrollers, Hammerhand and Mirrara, in Nevada about two weeks ago. Mach Racer and an alien we've since learned was named Kaltion managed to drive it off that time. It took that alien to help Diana, Pendragon and Astra all beat the creature this time. We thought it was down for good, but it disappeared between the time we put it down and time we went to get it, so it's apparently still out there. It's capable of learning, it doesn't really care about Patrol fields, and it's faster than the tax man going to an audit. Stay sharp and call for help if you encounter it. Bryson says the alien calls it Hyperion, but he didn't have much information to give us. So far, not a one of our Rechargers has answered any questions about this thing, so we're in the dark about why it's killing Patrollers. But it's terrifyingly good at it. Watch out.
"Second. We're not alone in the universe." There was a low mutter of laughter. Janssen grinned slightly. "Again, Bryson, our fountain of information, informs us that there is apparently an alien armada on its way to Earth." The mutter was much louder, and several low questions were put to Bryson. "Most of you should already have picked up on that from Diana's broadcast yesterday. Apparently they are on their way to Earth because they have detected Emissary activity here, something many of us suspect may be behind the Boston Dome and its Patroller. Those of you who are unfamiliar with the Emissary problem, Patroller Meyers will be holding a briefing as soon as this meeting is concluded." A tall, sandy-haired man held up a hand so that people could identify him. Most of the heads turned to look at him.
"This is information you need to have, folks," the man told them. "And it's not information your Rechargers are going to give you on their own. Yeah, I know, everyone trusts their Rechargers to give them the whole story, right?" This time the laughter was louder. "Nonetheless, we believe this information could have a bearing on the Boston Dome, and it definitely will come in handy for you in the future." He did not add if there is a future. Marcus Meyers was, after all, the most optimistic of the Patrollers.
"I suggest you go and listen to what he has to tell you," Janssen added. "It's very important to your work in the Patrol in the future. Anyway, the Janissaries. To update what you've been told, something brought their fleet to a dead stop out around the orbit of the moon a few hours ago. We don't know what, but Bryson says it wasn't in their game plan. Anything that can stop a fleet of Janissaries is something for us to worry about."
"And the bad news is?" a tall, dour indian asked. There was a shift around the man of people showing their sympathy with his words. This was like a pep-talk from hell.
Janssen just gave the man a hard look. "You're a Patroller, Martin. You're here to help deal with it." He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Sorry. Long day. Now. The game plan is as follows.
"We thinkI emphasize that, we thinkwe have a way of getting a small number of personnel into the dome without being detected. We're going to test that as soon as we finish here." He pointed to the man in the exoskeletal armor. "Paladin will be leading a team into the dome, assuming that this works. He's going to pick 'em himself, subject to whether we need who he wants out here or not." The negro looked startled for a moment, then nodded, remembering the discussion earlier with Bryson about membership in the Terra Patrol.
Summers stuck up a metal-shod hand. "Point of order."
"Yes?" Diana asked him.
"I've had a request from some old contacts to let PRIME forces give us backup and participation support." A few other Patrollers were familiar with that agency's practices. There was a murmur of displeasure.
Janssen eyed him. "What would you recommend? You know them better than we do." A few heads turned to look curiously at Eric.
"Gut feeling?" Eric thought hard for a moment. "I'd say accept the hand. We don't have to trust them completely to take the help, and frankly, we need all the help we can get. If we can actually get into the dome, we may want anti-Patrol technology on hand."
"All right," Brian nodded. "Tell them they can add in whatever number you feel comfortable handling to your invasion force. Assuming our means of getting in pans out.
"On to the rest of the business. As there's an alien invasion fleet on its way here, I'll be leading a second team of Patrollers into orbit to meet these people halfway. Our mission is to keep them from getting involved in this unless it develops that we actually need their help." He nodded to his second-in-command. "Diana will be keeping the rest of you busy. If nothing else, a number of you working together may come up with some ideas that we haven't been able to. Even if you can't get through, you can keep the people around here from hurting themselves again. Those of you with a scientific background, please get together with Diana after this meeting. You may have some insight to this that we haven't.
"These Janissaries apparently do not believe in worrying about innocent bystanders, and they are headed for Earth in large numbers." He grinned hugely. "How is your day going?" There was a low round of laughter. "Last heads up, people.
"We're going into a serious situation here, no mistake about that. But we're going in with our eyes open and our gauntlets recharged. As long as we do this right, we can manage to fix what has happened with no further damage. And that's importantthere are a lot of high-level people who have put their trust in the Patrol, and we need their support to continue functioning, and they can't support us if we make things worse or fail to fix the problem.
"And there are plenty of people out there who'd really rather see the Patrol taken out of the picture completely. Talk to Meyer, people. If we don't get this licked, well" He grinned hugely. "We'll have a lot of really unhappy red pyramids hanging around."
He clapped his hands loudly. "That's all. Hang around until one of us gets together with you; we've already got our teams picked out." The assemblage immediately burst into a low roar of conversation, small groups of Patrollers forming and shifting. Janssen hopped off of his crate, and walked toward the dome side of the enclosure. The fields that had shielded the Patrollers from the onlookers slid back into the ground and disappeared, leaving no sign that they had ever existed. Summers in his armored suit and Bryson in his dark outfit moved through the press to join them, as did a handful of others.
Diana nodded to herself at the number of Patrollers who were gathering around Meyers, who was taking his group off in another direction. There had been much debate among those who already knew of the Emissaries, and it all centered on what little information those few had been able to worm out of their Rechargers. Some felt that if the Patrollers didn't know officially of the existance of the Emissaries, those beings of darkness would continue to conduct their guerilla war of nerves quietly; and that if the Patrol were to become officially aware of the Emissaries, those beings would immediately step up their efforts. In the end it had boiled down to the observation that an informed man fights better than an uninformed one. They would simply have to wait and see what happened after this.
The Dome edge was only a hundred feet or so from where the briefing had been held. By the time Brian, Diana, Eric and Bryson had reached the strangely featureless wall, two other Patrollers had drifted over to join them.
A well-built, cheerful-looking Mexican woman nodded to them. "Maverick. Diana." She glanced at Paladin and Bryson. "Gentlemen, I'm called Toci. My name is Florita, if you need to get my attention. This is my charge, Renegade."
Eric's helmet looked the slender man up and down. "Interesting handle. Got a name to go with it?"
Renegade took his hands out of the black leather jacket he wore over an otherwise featureless white bodysuit. He seemed to stare just past Paladin for a moment, before grinning tightly. "Yeah. You can call me Jamie."
Bryson sniffed audibly; the others nodded. Brian spoke then. "Dee Young tells me that you can get through a Patrol field."
Jamie glanced at him. "Yeah. So far I haven't had any problem with 'em." He leaned back to stare up at the blank mountain face of the Dome. "Can't say the description did this one justice, though."
"You can get through patrol fields how?" Eric asked. Jamie looked uncomfortable.
"I'd rather see if I can get through this one before I say how I can." Bryson muttered something softly and Jamie gave him a hard look but, aided by an elbow from Florita, said nothing in return.
"Fair enough. Any particular place you want to try first?" Paladin gestured at the featureless wall.
"Nah. Here's as good a place as any." He strode up to the Dome wall as though he owned it. One hand traced it, not quite touching it. There was a moment of silence, just before several of Paladin's alerts began shrilling. Everyone jumped, and Jamie turned back to him. "Do you mind? Some of us are trying to work here."
Eric whispered something that pacified his armor; the alarms died. "What the hell did you just do?" When Jamie snorted and turned back to the Dome, Eric turned to Brian and Diana. "My energy sensors went nuts. I haven't seen them go that wild for anything but PRIME technology, and a couple of them I've never seen go off period."
"Hang on a minute," Brian suggested. "If this works, he can explain then."
Jamie faced the wall. He relaxed, and drifted gently into the air, holding about a yard off the ground. His arms hung limply at his sides, and he half-closed his eyes. "Feels funny," he muttered. He reached back into a nondescript backpack. "Energizer. Wake up. I need your help." The others watched a silver glow crawl up the arm that Jamie had in the pack, and realized only then that they had not seen a gauntlet on his hand before now. He pulled it out; the gauntlet covered his forearm and hand under his biker's glove. He reached and touched the wall with his gauntleted hand. "What do you think?"
The others heard his Recharger; apparently this was not a top-secret exchange. It feels very strange, Jamie. This is not a normal Patrol force field.
"I could tell that when I felt of it. Okay. Here goes nothing."
Jamie leaned forward in mid-air, his attention fading from those around him as he concentrated on the Dome wall. The others were watching him until Florita's loud gasp drew their attention back to the wall.
The featureless, impenetrable dome was shifting and shivering, rippling like a light seen through water. A circle of paleness appeared on it, no more than a foot in diameter, and other circles undulated outward. The circle of paleness grew, shrank, and twisted. Jamie was doing something, but no one there knew what, yet.
The frequency of the rippling increased, becoming a steady vibration. The center circle of calm paled further, until it looked like translucent glass. Through it those watching thought they could make out vague details.
"We're in!" Eric muttered, taking a step forward.
"Hold it!" Renegade's voice was a whisper. The man in the armor stopped where he was. Jamie shook his head, wiped sweat away. He flexed his fingers, made fists again, and seemed to bear down harder. The central circle of paleness widened visibly, slowly, becoming a ring about five feet in diameter. "All right," Renegade said, more conversationally. He did not relax, did not touch down on the ground. "Put a rock in there. Dead center." Startled, no one stirred. "Move it! I can't do this forever! You, Mick! Throw something! I want to see if things'll pass through now."
Bryson bridled, stepped forward. "Ah'll put you in there, y'sonova" Halpern laid a hand on his shoulder and he stopped. He flexed his fists, took a deep breath, and nodded. It was the work of a moment to find a couple of large stones. The first one went underhand; it struck the circle gently and clung for long seconds before sliding to the ground. There was a groan from the onlookers.
"Throw it, you moron! Hard!" Renegade's breath was coming harder now. "The field's still thereit'll take force to get through it! But we ought to be able to get through now."
"Ye want it thrown, ah'll give ye thrown," Bryson growled. He wound up, brought his arm forward almost too fast to see. The stone in his hand shot through the circle without a trace, leaving only soft ripples behind. There was a gasp from the assembled Patrollers who had seen how impenetrable this field had been to date.
"All right," Renegade muttered. "Next. You. Go-bot. Put one of those arms in."
"Now wait just a minute" Eric began.
"Dammit, people, I can't do this forever!" Renegade shot back. As they watched, the central circle began to ripple, smoothing out only as the floating Patroller returned his attention to the job at hand. "I know you ain't got four arms in that get-up, and I don't see any sticks around here. I don't want anyone risking their own arm until we try something inanimate. Put your damned extra arm in and pull it back out, so we make sure nothing's happening on the other side. That rock could've disintegrated when it hit the field."
"Not likely," Halpern offered. "In that case the air would be getting sucked in to, and"
"The arm?" Jamie grunted. "Please?"
Eric strode forward. "Right. Here goes." One of his weapon attachments hummed and obligingly swung forward. He leaned forward to slide his appendage into the swirling gap, and realized that he was not balanced very well. "Damn. Hang on a minute."
Astra stepped out of the crowd. She moved up behind him and took hold of his other weapon arm. His second real arm took hold of her. "Right. I've got you. Do the test."
"Alley oop." The weapon slid into the circle with only slight resistance. Eric watched his dials carefully, and pulled the cannon back out of the gap after about ten seconds. He spent long seconds checking diagnostics while the rest of the watchers stood around anxiously, unable to do anything. Then he glanced at Brian and Diana. "All readings nominal. No problem. Whatever else happens going through, it's not disruptive to electronics or solid matter."
"Okay," Renegade said, and slid back away from the dome. "Last test. Hold tight, everyone." Before anyone could say anything, he darted forward, slowed slightly as he struck the softened force wall, and disappeared through the milkiness
and his backpack stopped at the soft-seeming wall as though the barrier were made of brick. There was another instant of rippling, and suddenly the wall snapped back into place. Ripples of light spread and faded to nothingness almost faster than they could be registered. A denim backpack crunched to the ground, the crimson-and-silver glow from inside indicating that Jamie's Recharger was inside.
Bryson was closest. He picked the backpack up, looked hard at it. "Jesus Lord." He held the straps out to Brian and the others to see. "It's been cut. Sliced clean as ye please. What'n the hell" He fell silent as the wall began to ripple again. Most hoped it was Renegade returning, but the watching group thinned slightly as people moved back from the wall. Bryson automatically stepped in front of the hole, ready for whatever monstrosity stepped out.
With a yell that began in mid-cry, Renegade came hurtling back through the circle, slowing only when he plowed into Bryson. The men went down in a tangle of limbs, both cursing a blue streak. The circle on the wall snapped shut again, disappearing as though it had never been there.
Before the tangle of men could turn into a brawl, Eric stepped forward and lifted Jamie to his feet while Brian and Diana helped Bryson get up. "Ye stupid hick" the furious irishman started. He stopped when he saw the expression on Jamie's face. "What'n the hell's wrong with yew?"
Jamie looked around wildly for a moment, then seemed to sag with relief when he realized where he was. He sat down on the ground, breathing hard. Astra handed him his backpack quietly. He glanced at it, failed to react to the clean-shorn straps, and placed his hand against the face. "Energizer. You there?"
"Deactivate, man. I need a break." The silver obligingly slid down his hand into the alien pyramid, and he pushed the backpack to one side. He rubbed at his eyes for a moment, then glanced up. "Yo."
"I take it you got in all right?" Brian asked him quietly.
Jamie nodded. "Yeah. This is going to be more complicated than we thought, though."
"Why?" asked Eric. "Did you see something in there?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Lots. You people aren't gonna like this. But I'm talking about getting in, not what's already in there."
"Again, why?" Eric pressed.
"Okay." Jamie got to his feet with Eric's aid. He brushed dirt off of his uniform and stepped back over to the wall. "I can get us in, no problem. But something's keeping this field up, something that really wants it up bad. I could feel it fighting me every inch I was opening up. You saw that last circle of resistance?" Several heads nodded. "That was the softest I could get the field before the feedback started in. I could sort of feel the currents shifting." He looked directly at Brian. "I'm pretty sureno, I'm real sure that if I'd pushed the field any harder, opened it up any more, whatever was maintaining would've sensed me, and probably done something about it."
"What happened when you flew in?" Diana asked him.
His mouth twitched. "Nothing, really. I could feel it, like putting your face in the water or something, but I was going good. All of a sudden something grabbed my pack." He brushed his fingers through short-cropped hair, grinned sheepishly. "It startled me and I let the field hole slip. Next thing I knew I was lying on the ground looking back at the field, and no backpack."
"I'll lay you odds I can tell you why, too," Eric said. Everyone looked at him. "Think of the softshell technology PRIME uses. That gets through Patrol fields by 'softening' them up enough for another field to push through. When Renegade was 'softening' that field, he said he could feel it fighting back, and didn't dare soften it up any more. Well, I'd guess that the field when he's got hold of it is soft enough for people and objects to go through, but not soft enough for something so closely related to it, like a Recharger, to get through."
"Yeah," Renegade added after a moment. "Come to think of it, it felt just like someone had grabbed Energizer or something."
"That's bad," Brian observed. "Without the Rechargers, anyone we send into the Dome is going to be powerless." He addressed Jamie. "What about your Gauntlet?"
"Worked same as ever," the man reassured him. "I couldn't raise Energizer, but I was able to put up some fields and all. I guess if it's a Patrol field, at least originally, it's close enough to what the Rechargers put out that they can still maintain a Gauntlet for us."
"Dammit!" They looked at Astra as she pounded a fist into the dome. "I wanted in on this!"
"You're welcome to try, but I'll bet you won't get through the dome any more than Renegade's Recharger did," her friend assured her. "I think you're sitting this one out."
"Damn," Eric muttered. "I'd been planning on her on the team, too. Renegade, you sure you couldn't open the field enough for her and Rechargers to get through?"
"No, I'm sure I could." The man shrugged. "But then whatever's making the dome'll know we're here. An opening that'll get us through without being spotted is too tough for a Recharger to pass. Your call, but I thought we wanted to sneak in."
"Still " Brian fell silent. Then he straightened. He turned to Eric. "What about it? It's your call. Fourteen hours is better than nothing. And you'll still have PRIME backup. Think it can still be done?"
"The Gauntlets'll last for 39 hours, tops," a young woman pointed out.
"Under conditions of no use, yes," Diana acknowledged. She glanced hard at Renegade. "But we may be going into combat. We'd better plan on the minimum alloted time."
Eric pursed his lips thoughtfully. He gazed up at the dome, glanced at Jamie, then back at the leader of the Terra Patrol. "I don't know. I'd kill for good intelligence about what the situation's like in there. How much time could we take to look around first?"
"Not an awful lot," was Brian's grim response.
"Hell, just ask me," Jamie snapped. "I got all the look around you'll need."
"I mean deep intel, not just a look around," Eric explained.
"So do I," Jamie said grimly. "I had over an hour in there to take a look around. You're really not going to believe that place."
There was dead silence at this. "Jamie," Florita offered quietly, "you were in the dome for less than ten seconds." Everyone glanced at her, then looked back at Jamie, whose irritation was fading rapidly. He shook his head.
"No. I was in there over an hour. I had time to take a quick flight around, take a look around. I've never been to Boston, so I don't know how much has changed, but it doesn't look anything like I'd heard the city did."
Brian and Diana glanced at each other. "that's about six minutes a second, if he's right," she offered. "And this is six days after the dome went up." She glanced up the featureless face of the dimly-glowing cliff. "My God "
"We've got to get into orbit within a few hours to meet the Janissaries," Brian said, changing the subject deliberately. "If we fail, they're likely to be trying to take that dome apart. You might end up safer inside than out here, or whatever's maintaining might just get rid of you when it swats the Janissaries. I think we'd better plan on a fast surgical strike. Gather your intel as you go. If the situation gets hopeless inside, come back out and we'll see what we can cook up then."
Eric nodded. "All right. I'm going to contact PRIME first and get some extra suits. The Patrollers who go in with me can wear them instead of wasting power or concentration on an outfit, and if their Gauntlets get cut off of exhausted, they'll still have some kind of backup power."
"All right. Get your team together. We'll meet back here in" His eyes met Halpern's, Summers', Jamie's."one hour. That's enough time to get your affairs in order and get the teams assembled. Eric, is that time enough to get the equipment and PRIME personnel you'll need?"
Eric nodded his head at a distant, military compound. "They're already here. I'll head over there as soon as my team's been warned."
"All right, people. Looks like we're a go." Brian held his silver-gauntleted fist high. "We're going to beat this one!"
Sylvester Grier motioned with his thumb and one of the men near the door waved back the all-clear. He sat down, straddling the chair, wincing slightly from the pain in his ribs. His battle with Eric Summers during the escape some weeks back had ended with him falling about fifty feet, cracking several ribs and breaking his collarbone. And the altercastion just days ago with that insane Patroller in the ruins of Los Angeles had done nothing to help his injuries. But he was healing fast.
Across from him, Aaron Littlebear, company medic, and Ben Coffield, munitions expert, were scoping out the latest Penthouse. Terry Best, though, leaned against a wall near the door, keeping to himself.
"All right," Grier began. "Let's talk." Littlebear and Coffee put the magazine down and looked at Grier intently.
"You said you found some action, Sly," Coffee said. "All I need to know is where and when."
"Boston, and soon," Grier replied calmly.
Coffee's smile fell away. "Youyou are not serious."
"We are under orders to stay out of Boston," Littlebear commented in a dull monotone.
"You want to follow orders, Littlebear," said Grier, "then there's the door. Better leave now before we make our plans."
"No," he responded evenly. "I'm in."
Coffee just rolled his eyes back and blew out a low whistle. "Ooookay," he said, "Count me in, too."
Standing at the door, Best just nodded his consent at Grier.
"Good," Grier said, "good. I just got word. The Patrollers are getting set to make their major push against the dome. They've officially requested PRIME assistance and backup. We're going in after Willrew, then." His smile went no farther than his lips; his eyes were hard and humorless. "Any other Patroller scumbags get in our way, we dust 'em. Quick and clean. But our primary target is Willrew. He's responsible for causing a lotta people a lotta pain. We take him down instead of the Patrol, we're heroes."
"We botch it," came Best's quiet, gravelly voice, "we're court-martialed."
"So," Grier shot back, "we don't botch it."
Best moved slowly toward the group. "Which means, Grier, your little vendetta against the Patrol gets retired for the duration of this mission. You try 'dusting' any random Patrollers on this mission, and I will personally take you out of the game."
Grier stood up menacingly, vocalizing his outrage, while Best drew out a pistol and leveled it at Grier's head. "Stay down, friend. If I'm in on this, no random killings. This is a surgical maneuver: We get Willrew, hog the cameras for awhile, and come out of this too rosy for Garrison to touch. Without the Patrol, we wouldn't have a chance to do this our way. They need us? Well, right now, we need them, too. You go messing this up with your little psycho revenge tactics, and you blow the opportunity for the rest of us. And that's assuming that you've forgotten completely about the population of Boston. We've got a mission to get them out from under that dome, too. The Patrol's our ally this timeclear?"
Grier sat back down, looking at Best incredulously. Terrance Best was a covert ops specialist. His aid was integral to this mission. He was also every bit as deadly as he seemed. He thought for a moment, then flashed his biggest smile. "Clear." He paused. "One exception, though, or it's no-go."
"And that exception would be?" asked Best, holstering his weapon.
"Summers." Grier's eyes went dark and his smile faded. "We see him in there, and all bets are off."
None of the others acknowledge the man's growl. There was nothing further to say.
The aftermath of the Boston Dome riot continued to ripple throughout the country. Opinions continued to differ widely on whether the Patrol was at fault for the Boston Crisis, or the only hope that city had of ever returning to normality. More than one fight started among normal people when differing opinions got out of control.
The Patrollers in Europe kept a worried eye on the eastern seaboard of America. Opinions were still not so strong in Europe as in America, but the seed of doubt had been planted, needing only nourishment to sprout into full-blown hatred of Patrollers.
The heads of governments conferred quietly, discussing measures to take in the event of defeat, and in the event of victory.
CNN replaced their anchor on PatrolWatch with a pair of professional newscasters who immediately made it clear that they personally would be happy if the Patrol disappeared and never returned. PatrolWatch ratings immediately dropped. FOX, long a home for the Solar Flare shows in America, pulled a 2-hour movie special, replacing it with an X-Files double-header.
FOX needn't have bothered, because their evening lineup was interrupted anyway. In fact, every network broadcast was scrambled and replaced by an image which would be remembered for generations to come.
The broadcast was omnidirectional and more powerful than anything else ever broadcast. Although no place could trace the source, there was no doubt that it had its origin in the Boston Dome. Only the fact that every cable and satellite broadcast frequency was swamped with the broadcast enabled it to get through; more than one relay station blew up under the overload.
The image was clear, and clean. The sound was loud, and full stereo. It was the dream of every air pirate, the dread of every broadcast regulator.
It was the face of Willrew. Willrew the Patroller. Willrew the King.
Willrew the Mad.
Draped in splendid purple robes, gold tracery outlining his form, he stood with all the poise and arrogance of a thousand dead kings, the presence of the greatest public entertainer.
Behind him, viewers could see a dark, stone-lined room. Torches lined the walls, but although they supplied dim light, they did not flicker. They were not flame; they glowed with an unearthly light. The furniture appeared to be of wood, heavy and dark. His throne was huge, ornate, intricately carved and gleaming with the look of gold. The room he stood in had once was the executive boardroom of the Massachusetts Metropolitan University; a few outside the dome watching the broadcast recognized enough of its layout to realize this.
Now it was Willrew's throne room. A lion's head, stuffed and mounted, growled eternal rage. To the other, a massive bear's head snarled fury back. A huge spear, larger than any two men could have even lifted together, hung diagonally over his throne. And several who later viewed and re-viewed recordings of the event insisted that they saw a human skull atop one corner of the desk.
By his side stood a regal, statuesque woman. She was silent through the address, not even moving, but radiating a feral menace, deepened by the tones of red in her regal gowns and the rubies that studded it. At one point in recordings, viewers believed they saw her eyes glow darkly scarlet as well; most chose to assume that they had been seeing things.
Willrew stood quietly for a full half-minute before he addressed his audience, waiting with the air of a trained speaker for the inevitable roar and buzz of conversation to die down. Then he spoke, his voice deep, rolling, penetrating.
"By this time, most of you have realized that we are on all the broadcast frequencies. This is according to our will. We will not have our word diluted through the voices of others." He raised his hand as he finished and displayed his Gauntlet. The soft red light of his throne room glinted as he slowly closed his fingers into a silver fist.
"Greetings, citizens of America," he began his address. "I am Monarch of the Free State of Boston, First Ascendant of the Terran Gauntlet, Lord Willrew the First, formerly Thomas Willrew the Cruxadier. The lovely being by my side is the Queen of the Free State of Boston, Focal Point Between Terra and the Infinite, the Lady Leslie Willrew." As she was introduced, the woman-form nodded slightly, silently. It was a quiet move, but nonetheless sent shivers up the spines of those who watched. This was something unearthly.
Willrew continued. "We wish to confirm what many of you no doubt already suspect: We are responsible for the sealing off of Boston from the outer world, and we are responsible for having remade this city into a shining beacon of Civilization. It has been a long road and a hard one, but a road infinitely better traveled than ignored. We regret that we had to isolate Boston, and we are fully aware of the duress this action has caused upon some of your people. For this we are truly regretful, as it has never been our intent merely to cause anguish among the innocent.
"But the fruits of this distress are sweet indeed." Willrew's majestic face shone brightly with the proud smile of a new parent. "Severed from an uncivilized world and guided by our power, the power of the Infinite, the power that has sought to guide the world at large toward Civilization, Boston is no longer the den of vice and iniquity and misery that it had been. It is now a place of peace and order and true beauty. Crime is a distant memory, and unhappiness an alien concept that no one has known in years.
"No doubt, you will have a million questions about our glorious works here. And we will answer those questions tomorrow, gladly, when we allow a single journalist inside the boundaries of the Free City of Boston to examine our wonderful, peaceable kingdom.
"We have already chosen the man who will speak for us. He is Mark Kristing, the first man to herald the arrival of the Patrol so very long ago. Mister Kristing, I request that you be at the Dome's easternmost edge tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock. You may bring with you a small crew to document your examination of our domain.
"And tomorrow night, after the visit, when the World has seen what we have done and what we will do, we will drop the Dome forever, rejoining the World, and begin our Crusade to share the fruits of Boston with you all.
"Rejoice, citizens of the world, for I am returning.
"I am Lord Willrew the First, Monarch of the Free State of Boston, First Ascendant of the Terran Gauntlet, and future leader of Terra. Until tomorrow."
The man who had once been Thomas Willrew approached the window of his throne room. He had used great willpower communicating between Boston and Earth. He knew he had to rest soon, to replenish what his intense concentration had stolen from his body. However, he knew what he had to do before he could rest, he had to make an announcement. He would get some rest, but not enough. He could see the days ahead of him as a long stretch of tiring nights, as he struggled to bring Earth to Civilization, as he had Boston. His philosophy was sound, and his rule and power were just; it was inevitable that Earth would become Civilized.
"Leslie. Bring night to Boston. I would rest before I speak with the representatives of Earth tomorrow," the king announced. He turned away from the window and walked back to his throne, his confidence evident in his steps and manner.
"Yes, Thomas," a glowing female figure said. Then it was gone.
The mighty savior made it back to his seat, with only one stumble. He hadn't fallen, just tripped forward slightly. Willrew sat in his throne and held his hands to his temples and shut his eyes. Why was it always so hard to rule?
The clunky old answering machine in Mark Kristing's apartment whirred into life as it detected an incoming phone call. "Hello. Mark's not home right now, so this would be a great time to rob his place. But he'd appreciate it if you'd just leave a message. Unless this is Mazurk offering him his job back, in which case you can just go take a flying fBEEEEEEP."
To be continued in the pages of RENEGADE and TERRA PATROL.
Next issue: FORCED ASCENSION